Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Author: Daryl Chow, MA, Ph.D. (page 1 of 5)

Have You Eaten?

I could never quite figure out the social sequence of a greeting in Australia. 

“How are you?”

“Good. And you?”

“Good, thanks.”

To me, that’s bizarre. 

One of my first few days at my clinical practice after moving from Singapore to Australia, I walked passed my colleague at frontdesk and said, “Hey Tandy! Have you eaten?” I don’t think you need to be a psychologist to figure out that the contorted eyebrows tells you you’ve just asked a rather peculiar question.

“Huh?”

“Oh… erm, have you eaten,” as if she had hearing difficulty.

“…erm, yes. I have.”

“Ok.”

Social conventions are cultivated like a hotpot of ingredients, people, and time. In my home country, asking someone “have you eaten,” is akin to “how are you.” It’s a hello, not an invitation to take you for lunch or tell your life-story. Even though I’m by default highly colonised by Western ways of thinking, I had some adapting to do in my social greeting. I still secretly want to ask people “have you had your lunch?”

~~~

Culture comes from the Latin cultus, which means care. Today is World Day for Cultural Diversity. We need to go beyond the notion of ‘religious tolerance’ (I mean, saying to someone “I tolerate you” is only something an embittered spouse would say to her husband who has eaten a burger with 2 serves of onions).

 

Especially in this liminal times, in every culture, we are each other’s healthcare workers. When we begin to un-quarantine ourselves, I recommend we do this through the invitation for a meal.

The table is a fine piece of technology. The table is not just a furniture. It patiently waits for you to bring people together. I propose the table to be the central architectural and spiritual force for diversity.

Want cultural diversity? Ask someone “Have you eaten? Wanna join me for a meal?” Maybe even ask your guest to “bring a plate.”*

 

Footnote: 

*Nearly 2 decades ago, when I was a student in Queensland, it took a kind-hearted Irish lady to explain to my then girlfriend-now-wife and I that bringing a plate means that we need to put some food on top of that plastic dinnerware.

Homeschooling?

A Smorgasbord of Tips to Keep Your Kids Engaged, Learning and Connected During Home Isolation.

Note: This article is cross-posted on two of my blog sites, Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development  and Full Circles. While FPD aims to help therapists, and FC is more for a general audience, I figured professionals and parents might equally benefit from this.

Click on the buttons below to receive an entire list of ideas to engage your kids during this pandemic that has affected all across the world…plus more relevant resources to dig in a little further!

DOWNLOAD THE HOMESCHOOLING GUIDE

When we were having our first child, we decided that we are going to enlist the help of a Doula. “Do-what?” you might say. Here’s an explainer.

The way I saw it, she was like our personal coach and companion before, during and after the birthing process, a critical bridgecrossing phase.

What we learned about our doula Catherine was that not only did she have 4 kids, they were all homeschooled!

Maybe your reaction is like my wife and I. How is that humanly possible to home school a kid 24/7, let alone 4?!

I can imagine Catherine’s response to us neophytes at trying to homeschool our kids during this outbreak. Truth is, from what I’ve understood from Catherine and reading books on homeschooling (e.g., I highly recommend Brave Learner by Julie Bogart or check out this website), what the majority of us are doing is nowhere near  what homeschooling really is about. It’s more like “isolated”  schooling. The “home” in homeschooling is not confined to our place of residence. It’s much more expansive than outsiders might think (If you are interested, read more about Jonathan Holt’s views on homeschooling.

But this doesn’t mean that we should throw our hands up. What are going to do stuck at home with our kids during this pandemic? Maybe you might be confronted with feeling inadequate as a parent, but the truth is, parenting is less like a fixed classical music piece with musical sheets to follow, but more like a jazz improvisational jam; you never know what’s come next.

When I first read Jonathan Holt’s seminal book, How Children Learn, I remember one of the early advice in his writing was “to trust kids.” This could not be further from my educational experience growing up in Singapore. Schools told you what to learn. What Holt, and perhaps more Montessori-typed schools promote is to be child-directed.

But if you dig a little further, Maria Montessori said,

 ”Follow your child, but follow your child as his leader.” 

 

There is no other more important thing for parent(s) to take the lead than during a critical crisis period that has swept the world.  We have to “follow your child” and their curiosity, but also dance in this fragile balance of exercising leadership.

I argue that the leadership we need as parents is to design our home environments that nurtures not only the mind, but also feed the soul with how they experience humanity and the world around us. (While we try to juggle working from home and caring for others, be it elderly parents and young ones).

The last few weeks, my family and I, like many others around the world, have been in home isolation. My wife and younger child developed symptoms of fever and cough, and the only prudent thing to do was to self-isolate for the next few weeks. We don’t know if it’s COVID-19, as they do not meet the criteria for testing, but speaking to our GP on a telehealth consult was reassuring.

 

DOWNLOAD THE HOMESCHOOLING GUIDE

We are all homeschoolers now.

Like it or not, we are all homeschoolers now. As a recent article states, this pandemic “will bring about an education reevaluation, if not revolution” of how our education system.

Majority of the ideas in this list to keep your kids engaged, learning and connected during these home-bound times were “guinea pigged” in our family of four, with our 6 and 3-year-olds. Some were figured out along the way, and many were grafted from resources I’ve picked up across the years (see below for some of the good ones), and others were employed through the years in my work with families as a therapist.

If you would like to have a buffet of ideas to engage your kids, moving beyond just “isolated” schooling and borrow some of the richness of homeschooling during this period of home isolation, click on the link below to get your FREE guide.


Do you have other tips for home schooling? Love to hear your ideas. Share them in the comments below.

A Line to Remember in These Times

 

I found myself telling this story to me kids a few nights ago. I believe it’s worth retelling here, especially in the current anxious climate surrounding the coronavirus:

Once a king summoned all of his wise men and asked them,

“Is there a mantra, a suggestion, or a line that I should remember that will apply in every situation, every circumstance, in every sorrow and in every joy? Tell me, what will it be?”

All of the wise men were perplexed. They become worried, as they couldn’t come up with something for such a strange request. They pondered for a long time without any progress. Finally, a soft-spoken elder suggested something, but demanded that they would write it on a piece of paper, and the king was not to see it immediately.

Only in extreme danger, when the King finds himself alone and there seems to be no way, only then he can see it. The King puts the paper under his Diamond ring.

Years past, and the kingdom came under attack. The king’s army fought bravely, but defeat was inevitable given the strength and size of the enemy. The king fled on his horse. Looking back, he saw the ruins that was his kingdom. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

As he stopped his horse, sobbing in defeat, he suddenly saw the diamond ring shining in the sun, and he remembered the message hidden in the ring. He opened the diamond and read the message.

The message read “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”

The King read it. He read it again and again. Suddenly it struck him – Indeed. This too will pass.

Only a few days ago, I was enjoying my kingdom. I was the mightiest of all the Kings. Yet today, the Kingdom and all his pleasure have gone. I am here trying to escape from enemies. Like those days of luxuries have gone, this day of danger too will pass. A calm came on his face. He stood there for a long time. Suddenly, the road where he was standing was full of natural beauty. He had never known that such a beautiful place was also a part of his Kingdom.

Even though he is now a king without a kingdom, the revelation had a profound calming effort on him. He stopped on his tracks and contemplated for a long time.

Courage entered his heart. He reorganised his remaining army and fought again. He defeated the enemy and regained his empire. When he returned after victory, he was received with much fanfare. The whole capital was rejoicing in the victory. Everyone was in a festive mood. Flowers were being showered on King from every house, from every corner. People were dancing and singing. Rejoice.

In that moment, The King said to himself,” I am one of the bravest and greatest King. It is not easy to defeat me. see how I overcame defeat…” Amidst the celebration, his ego was emerging.

Suddenly the Diamond of his ring flashed in the sunlight and reminded him of the message. He open it and read it again: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”.

This too shall pass.

His face fell flat. Suddenly, beyond his ego, beyond his Self, his eyes gazed to the crowd and he looked at his people, men, women and child, young and old, he realised deep in his bones, regardless of good or bad times, his true purpose was to serve them well.

For the first time, the king is truly alive.

 


Take good care of each other during the outbreak my friends.

Anaesthetic vs. Aesthetic Experience

Reading a book is like having a deep conversation.*

Watching a movie is like experiencing vivid dreaming.

Listening to music is like hearing the sound of emotions.

Viewing a photograph or a painting is like stopping time.

All forms of art, provides an opportunity to engage in an aesthetic experience.

A doctor applies an anaesthetic when she wants the patient to feel nothing. If aesthetic is numbness, an aesthetic awareness is a door to wonderment.

So much of what we consume today is like anaesthesia. Yet, what is needed is aesthetics that un-numbs us, that provides us a waking up to the inherent beauty that is possible to be engaged with.

As Proust says, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Engaging in art has a way of clearing the fog in our eyes and waking our senses. 

Art might be “useless” in a conventional economy paradigm, but it is highly valuable from what it means to be human.


Footnote:

* If I can say anything about poetry, reading a poem is like listening to the the truth, told “slant”.

Photo by Mr TT

Look Outside of Yourself

As a modern species, I wonder if we have become explainaholics. We start to theorise, analyse, and explain things away, and thus become detached from a lived and engaged reality. (I talked more about the phenomena on becoming an “explainaholic” in my other blog site, Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development.)

Particularly, there is a danger of that happening in what I do as a psychotherapist, which can sometimes slip into an over-focus “interiorising.”

Here’s what depth psychologist James Hillman recommends why we need to look outside of ourselves:

Say you pass a homeless man on the street and you share that with your therapist. Your therapist says to you that you feel for this man because it resonates with the homeless part of you. By the time you make that reflection, by the time you have interiorised, you have passed the homeless man on the street… you lose the emotions to the world by interiorising.

There are inner conflict and wounds that need tending to on the inside that is not visible to others, but I would argue we must not stop them. Life is outside waiting for us to be engaged with. To learn, to love, to have our hearts broken, and mended back. To create, to relate. To make blunders, and to rediscover ourselves. 

 

In his new book, Life’s Great Questions, the author Tom Rath shares a speech made by a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

 “Life’s most persistent and urgent question…

What are you doing for others?”

 

MLK was only 29 years old at that time.  Rath goes on, “Yet it is easy to see how, in the remaining decade of his life, Dr. King dedicated almost all of his time to answering this question. In doing so, he showed us how orienting your efforts outward creates perpetual growth for generations to come.”

 

Maybe we need to flip things around:

 


Image of Fremantle, WA by Charlene Nguyen 

Love’s Near Other: Loss

When we feel the weight of love and joy for the people we care about, we begin to feel the full potency of loss.

Love’s near other is loss.

This surge of pending grief can be almost too much to bear, but if we find a vessel, a holding, a way of living to contain and channel this reality, this has the potential to fully awaken us to the participation of living with presence.

Living with presence in a way that is accord to our true intentions, while penetrating through the noise that permeates most of our existence.

How to Travel Light

When we travel, my wife reminds me that I have two kids now; it is IMPOSSIBLE to travel light.

Admittedly, I may be a minimalist by desire, but I pack like an opportunist. I bring stuff like an extra shirt, markers, 3 books in case I finish 2 in one trip, post-it notes, USB/HDMI/VGA cables just in case I might need them for work…

The question I asked myself is how do we carry a sense of lightness of being in ourselves?

We approach life with bows and arrows. We relate with life and what’s to come like targets. We walk around not only with blinkers on, but with a certain sense of heaviness and visceral tension.

One quality that manifests as a weight on our being is the invisible act of rumination. This mulling and chewing over stuff makes us travel with overweight suitcases in our tow. Not only that, many of the things in this mental luggage have low utility and value.

But here’s the thing: telling someone to stop thinking about something that’s bothering them isn’t exactly going to solve the issue.

Perhaps we have to learn to clear our minds, like the way we do with our real-world and digital trash. When we are done with the item, we place them in a bin. When the bin gets full, we empty the trash. In our inner life, we seem to think it’s okay to retrieve the banana skin off the bin and scratch off more of the fruit to eat.

We can only hold so much in our heads if we want to be present in life.

In psychological studies, we call this cognitive overload. We need to learn to overload stuff from our minds so that we can tune to the unfolding of each day. Try writing, doodling, bullet journaling, create to-do lists (don’t forget to pair this with a done list, mind mapping, gantt charts, Eisenhower matrix… and if your life is complicated, use project management softwares to assist you (Trello is one of my favorites).

~~~

Do you know of people in your life who travel lightly, who has a lightness of being when you are with them? Emulate them.

Happy 2020,

Daryl

Do Not Find Meaning in Life

Instead, do what makes you come alive.

Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by theologian Howard Thurman. He said,

”Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

~Howard Thurman,

The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time

 

So the real question is one that we need to ask ourselves, ”what makes me come alive?

There is no right answers, but there are real answers. All of us need to cross invisible thresholds towards a new frontier, leaving behind old meanings, and into the existential page of creating *new* meaning. New meaning arises when we embrace the forms of vitality in life where we become fully alive.

 

“People say that we are seeking a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” 

~ Joseph Campbell,

from the Power of Myth

Life is too fleeting to be walking around deaden or beaten out of our true vocation in this pilgrimage, which is to be fully alive.

When death finds you and I, may it find us alive.*

Footnote:
* adapted from an African proverb.

Intentions and Effects

Some of the best photos taken are when there’s good natural light.

It makes a huge difference from a good versus a great photo.

There’s a catch. Though you should avoid pointing your lens towards the sun, try getting the people you want in your photo to face the sun instead. That’s what an amateur like me would put my parents, wife and young kids to do. Excellent lighting condition, but one of the most contorted facial expression you can get for a family shot at the picnic.

And it’s not like it wouldn’t be apparent. The feedback is immediate. No matter how many things you ask your loved ones to “open your eyes… smile!” isn’t going to work.

What I believe, the Pros would do instead, is focus on the result that they are after. That means, using the best available lighting, and, more importantly, making sure the subject of the photography is at their best (or the very least, able to open their eyes and able to say “chesse,” not “gesh.”)

Imagine two overlapping circles. One is our intentions, the other is the effects.

So easy to get stuck with our intentions and forget to see the effects of our intentions.

Our job as parents, managers, partners, family members, carers, and therapists is to bring the circle of intention and effects closer to each other.

One crucial step is not to get stuck on your intentions. Check the effects.

Make sure the other person is smiling.

(And Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones)

Time Management vs. Attention Management

We are in desperate need of attention management. Not of others, but of our own. Corporate society thrives at captivating our attention. In many sense, your attention has more currency that money.

Maybe it’s not time that we have to manage directly. Time moves at a constant, regardless of our approval. Time is experienced differently depending on how you navigate this moving terrain.

It’s not time management that we need, but attention management.

Mindfulness has been all the rage in this period of writing. This has been associated with the notion of “being present.” Yet, intention precludes attention. We can only enter the cracks of mindfulness through the seeds of our intention. In another way of putting it, our intentions can only take shape when we do a bit of “time travel” into our future, so that paradoxically, we can eb more present.

The closer we live our lives based on our intentions, the better well spent our time is, the better our wellbeing.

This calls for a form of intentional living. Not going through life “by default,” but “by design.” A design that is shaped by your choices, within the constraints of givens and circumstances.

Design is not just for aesthetic, “beautification or prettification” reasons. Designing something is to cultivate an environment that is conducive for our intentions to flourish.

Our experience of life is truly where our attention is. If left to a default mode, our attention is compelled to act like a suspectible scatter-brain, easily sucked into the cesspool of clickbaits, autoplay videos, and algorithmic “recommendations.”

We need to take the steering wheel. We need to craft, redirect and steer our senses towards where we want to go.

Why bother with such deliberation? Because that is where you will be. Our attention leads us moment by moment into a personal future, and you are the only one who will experience this one life.

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