Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Author: Daryl Chow, MA, Ph.D. (page 1 of 3)

Tenderness is Not Weakness: What I’ve Learned from Jean Vanier

Today, a spiritual and intellectual hero of mine has passed away.  Catholic innovator and philosopher, Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arch and Faith and Light communities

Listen to an interview with Vanier on the Podcast, OnBeing

Vanier had also inspired another one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen. 

Here’s some critical lesson’s I’ve learned Vanier:

 

Protective Systems:

“We all have a deep fear of our own weaknesses because my weakness is what makes it possible for someone else to crush me. So I create mechanisms of defense and compulsion to protect myself. We all have protective systems designed to prevent people from seeing who we are.”[1]

What I could do:

“Recently a father asked me to go and see his wife. She was forty years old and eight months pregnant. She was in tears and a bit hysterical–this was her first baby and she knew that the child had a disability. I saw immediately that I couldn’t say a word to her. There are times when you must not say nice words. What I could do was send her to visit another mother who’d had a child a year previously with similar disablities to the child she was going to have. The two women got together and wept.” [1]

 

On Love:

“If you discover that somebody really loves you, listens to you, then you begin to change. You come out from behind the barriers of fear that you have erected around your heart.” [2]

We seek security in life, but truly how insecure if really is…”[3]

“If God is love, then how vulnerable God must be.”[3]

On Culture:

“It’s the realization of how to create a culture which is no longer a culture just of competition, but a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important, and it’s not — neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. And I think that this is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It’s, it’s something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.” [3]

 

On Community:

“Some people say that communities start in mystery and end in bureaucracy…”[4] “True community is defined by how we treat the weakest.[3]

L’Arche is not a solution but a sign…You see, once I was speaking to a man in a big city in the United States. He said, ‘Give me the formula and I’ll create 300 L’Arches in the next two years.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t work like that. It’s a transmission of a vision and it’s counter culture. But that’s OK.” [5]

~~~

Dedication to Psychiatrist Dr Gwee Kok Peng, who also passed away today. May you continue to dance.

Footnotes:

[1] Jean Vanier, “Living Gently in a Violent World,” p. 68

[2] Jean Vanier, Encountering ‘the Other’ p 38

[3] https://onbeing.org/programs/jean-vanier-the-wisdom-of-tenderness/ 

[4] Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 114.

[5] Meaningful Work, by Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie, Location  2156

Moved By Music

It’s been a long time since I’ve discovered a new artist that moved me. Rosie Carneys music doesn’t scream for your attention. It’s probably not going to hit some charts. It’s quiet, but penetrating. It’s soft, but her songs invites you in.

I am so taken by her music.

I first hear this track that she did called Thousands. In this track, she had the backing vocals from someone she looks up to, fellow Irish singer Lisa Hannigan (formerly singing with Damien Rice)

Here’s a live performance of the song, Thousands.

I wanted to learn more about her. The Web isn’t sprawled with information about Rosie Carney.

I was surprised that she’s only in her early twenties. At the age of 16, Donegal’s Rosie Carney signed a record deal that guided her away from the unadorned and honest songwriting that she wanted to pursue. After that false start, Carney knuckled down and got even more real and began to address her battles with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder that occupied her teenage years. “I lost so much weight. I don’t know how I didn’t die.”

Here’s a short documentary about her battle with anxiety at a young age:

 

 

In the video above, she said that the catalyst for change was when her grandmother, who was suffering with dementia.

One day, (my grandmother) asked my mother if I had cancer, as I was so thin…. that’s when I realised I need to completely sort myself out.

Music really became a form of therapy for her. The song “Thousands” speaks about her grandmother

Carnie Rosey’s music reminds that our life is not about comfort, but about courage. It not about living an anesthetic life, but to be awaken each day to the aesthetics around and within us.

Work Hard, Play Hard?

Modern life dictates we should “work hard, play hard.”  Why must everything be so hard? Why is there such an overvalued idea on being so hard on ourselves?

When can we nurture the times for softening and lightening up?

Maybe we should  “Work well, play freely.”

Go easy. Life is tough enough already.

The Speed of Life

We attempt to lead the speed of life as if we can travel in the speed of light.

Only recently, this dawned on me, that my attempt to deal with the stresses of life was—in a true civilised 21st-century approach to living —to speed things up.

Go faster, read faster, write faster, do chores faster, put the kids to bed faster….so that I can buy more time for the next.

Inadvertently, I became impatient to others. People who were walking slower, people who were late, people who were blocking my way. The truth is, I was becoming agitated with my wife and kids. Simply because, on hindsight, they weren’t traveling in the same speed as I was. Especially for my 5-year-old, who has a very different concept of time, takes a fairrrrrr amount of time… to get ready to go out.

Something’s not quite right with this type of speed.

The speed of life is not the speed of light.

Therein lies the paradox: Time speeds up when we are rushing. 

We see much more when we are walking by our familiar street than when we are driving by in the comforts of our car.

I’m still grappling with this. Daily, I remind myself again not only to slow down, but to do less, and embrace this persistent paradox with time.  

Make Time

Sit on a chair, and look around you.

The table in front of you took many hours to be built; it’s four legs shaped symmetrically. The finishing of the wooden top, coated to protect from wear and tear.

The music that is playing in the background. A singer with a four-piece band, playing through the speakers. The layers of production to give you this sonic experience.

The building that you are in, sheltering you from the afternoon heat. The house that is now your home.

Four thin pieces plus a slap of wood on the top took more than 40 hours to be made. The 3.5mins song took more than 3 months to be written and another 3-4 months to produce (maybe a year’s worth of mulling with the muses—and writing other bad songs—to even begin writing that song). The house that you live in took more than a year to be built, another six months to make it your home, and a lifetime for its soul to come alive.

Everything takes time to be made, but so little to consume it. Even that chair that you are sitting on right now.

You are made in the passage of time.

Make time to appreciate the making of things and people around you.

Make time.

Against Resilience: Numbness is Not Strength

We often mistake the ability to persist and soldier on as a sign of resilience, an evidence of strength.  

The issue is that we overvalue hardiness, and fail to appreciate our fragility. Resilience connotes the notion of overcoming obstacles and setbacks, and the ability to soldier on. There isn’t anything wrong with that. In fact, we need to be able to go through hardships and difficulties and come out the other side with valuable life lessons—sometimes with scares to prove.

However, sometimes we need to embrace the fact that we don’t have to “bounce back.” Instead, we have to first listen to the inner workings of our body, sometimes we simply need to take the time to recharge, to re-organise ourselves, or even call it quits on certain jobs or relationships. No need for “bouncing” or moving on. Just sitting still. 

Resilience is obsessed with forward movement, as if life is a straight line. As you probably experienced it first hand, life is anything but a linear process. When we continue to persist in our belief that life is a straight line, we push ourselves ahead.

In order to “move on”, we numb ourselves. We mistake numbness as a strength.

Indeed,  numbness happens when the waves of emotions overwhelm. But if we numb-out because we want to be a trooper, we fail to recognise the our mind is there to take care of the body… not “mind over body.” As Tim Minchin said in his commencement speech, we need to learn to feel it, not fill it.

If we learn to feel it, not fill it, then there is strength in vulnerability. 

Older vs. Elder: Who We Can Become

Everyone becomes older. Not everyone becomes an elder.[1]

We get older by the passage of time. We do not necessarily become an elder. We get to become an elder by joining the realm of conversation, which entails deep listening and wonder.

If you are someone in the first half of life, we must invite people who are older than us into a space of being treated like an elder. This is not about naive reverence, but this type of mentoring relationship requires an earnest perspective that eventually, we will also become older one day.

If you are someone in the second half of life, make room to enter into conversation, not preach, and to listen to someone into speech. Question in order to listen, not listen in order to question.

To be the best teacher, we need to become great students.

The ultimate touchstone of our lives is not self-improvement. Ultimately, any form of self-improvement is for the benefit of others. Otherwise, self-improvement becomes a self-indulgent enterprise, purely for its own sake. The ultimate act is to grow the ability to be a witness (I prefer the word with-ness) to another.

To become an elder, we must be warmly invitational. To help the older person be treated as an elder, we must suspend what we think we know, and appreciate the lived experience of the other through sharing of stories.

Holding our ideas lightly—as if to pray not with clasped hands, but with open arms—invites others into a space that helps others see themselves in a truer light, either as an elder, or a to-be elder.

 

Notes:

[1] I first learned about this distinction from author and mythologist, Michael Meade.

Information is Not Transformation

If information is all we need, everyone would have become billionaires, with perfect six-pack abs, so says thinker, writer, and entrepreneur Derek Sivers.

Information ≠ transformation.

We spend a lot of our time consuming information, in hopes that we can be transformed. What if we spend our time making attempts at transformation, and then, seek to fill the information gap, when we need it instead? 

Gathering information is makes you feel smarter, but no less closer to what you want. Attempts at transformation is almost always risky. Because we might fall flat on our face. But I think it’s worth it.

Watch this video.

On Suicide: “Do Not Make a Permanent Decision…”

Do not make a permanent decision

Image by Pablo Heimplatz

Do not make a permanent decision in a temporary storm.

 

This is one of the most compelling argument I’ve seen on the topic of suicide. This is from the poet, philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Hecht makes us rethink from a nonreligious perspective our cultural position on suicide as moral freedom:
“One of the arguments I hope to bring to light is that suicidal influence is strong enough that a suicide might also be considered a homicide. Whether you call it contagion, suicidal clusters, or sociocultural modeling, our social sciences demonstrate that suicide causes more suicide (emphasis mine), both among those who knew the person and among the strangers who somehow identified with the victim. If suicide has a pernicious influence on others, then staying alive has the opposite influence: it helps keep people alive. By staying alive, we are contributing something precious to the world.” ~ from her book, Stay, A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.

Ripples

The evidence is clear that suicide impacts not just loved ones, but people around us. This is not to put people on a guilt trip. Instead, the empirical findings point towards reality, that we live in a web of relationships. Even a celebrities suicide has a ripple effect on others (e.g., Robbin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell).

Hecht goes on to make an important point: “Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment.”
Though suicidal ideation is different from attempting suicidal (The evidence is clear that suicidal thoughts are more common than we realise, and thoughts about suicide isn’t predictive of suicide attempts). If you are feeling vulnerable to suicide, or know of others who struggle with this, I highly recommend you check out the following, in order of priority:

1. 10 things I wish people understood about suicide

2. An interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht, on the renowned podcast and radio show, On Being with Krista Tippett

3. A short essay On Suicide 

Stay

Here are two points that stand out:

1. Staying alive is a life-saving social contribution.
2. We need to consider the rights of our future selves.

 

Here’s my plea to you: 
1. You matter more than you will know at this point.
2. Let’s figure out a way to end your problems, not your life.
3. Living is your right. You have a right to Life.

A recent Canadian study based on 2,884 people uncovered a really hopeful piece of information. Suicidal people are 7 TIMES more likely to recover completely from their mental health concerns when they have SOMEONE TO CONFIDE TO. [1]

Do not make a permanent decision in a temporary storm. Stay.

Blessings,

Daryl

~

Footnotes:
1. Baiden, P., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2016). Factors Associated with Achieving Complete Mental Health among Individuals with Lifetime Suicidal Ideation. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 46(4), 427-446. doi:10.1111/sltb.12230

2. I am a psychologist, but I’m not your psychologist. This short article should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional. Please seek professional help if you are at-risk, or contact your local helplines to connect with someone. The first step is to step out, because isolation hurts.
 For people in Australia, here are three helplines:
Lifeline
13 11 14 – www.lifeline.org.au – A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.
Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467 – www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au – A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.
Kids Help Line
1800 55 1800 – www.kidshelpline.com.au

Teach Me…

Teach Me-3

image by Aaron Burden

I woke up this morning with these words ringing in my ear, “teach me.”

Maybe it was because our almost 3 month old daughter was screaming for her feed at 4 in the morning.

But it struck me that as parent, we ruminate about how we are going to raise our children, and what we’re going to teach them.

What if we turn things around?

What if we see our kids as our teachers, not our students?

What if we see events as doors for learning, and not just a stimulus as we mindlessly react?

When something goes wrong, our default reaction is, “what’s wrong with me?”

Instead, we can turn things around and ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this?”

A Redemptorist priest I know used to share an antidote about Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the brutality of the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Dr. Frankl noted, “It’s not so much about what you ask out of life, but what life asks out of you.

At this moment, what does life asks out of you?

I know that I’ve got to learn strip things down. Why? I need to be a better husband, father, and a son.

Teach me, teach me….

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