Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Category: Psychological (page 1 of 3)

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 

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

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.

The Invisible Essentials

Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering.”

~ St. Augustine

Yes, we all have invisible wounds. At the same time, what’s truly essential is also invisible to the eye. And in some sense, we wake up to joy after the ordeal of trials and tribulations.

The impulse of desire, knowing what we want, is the seed of vitality. It’s a powerful life-force inside each of us exist, if we learn to tune in, adjust and calibrate the frequencies like an old transistor radio.

This life-force within us is a creative force. Not just in an aesthetic or artistic sense, but a potent energy waiting to be nurtured and shared generously with others.

Others people would often fail to see this seed of desire within you. Only those who know you in a deep way are able to sense this providence, and only a fewer selected people—mentor, teacher, wise friend—can help unearth this with you. If you know such individuals, stay close to them. If you don’t have such individuals in your life, seek them out. Everyone on this journey needs a guide, especially in two particular phases of life:

  1. Periods of struggles and ordeal, and
  2. Periods of renewal

One way to begin tapping into this creative force is to sit with this one question, “What do you want to create in this life,” [1] and refrain from settling with familiar and norm-based responses. Because each of us, given the matrix of our unique burdens and blessings, have something remarkable to give.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance.

The Invisible Wounds

Some of our most painful wounds are invisible.

Many of us not only carry them throughout our lives, but we bag them up and lug them like dirty laundry. We walk around as if one shouldn’t have clothes to wash, and silently seeking a place to find solace and relief from these painful and intense emotions.

These difficult emotions often manifest from

Traumatic experiences

Chronic pain

Experiences of violence

Imposition by others on how you should lead your life

Loneliness

Abandonment

Rejection

Unspoken fears…

If you live long enough, you are bound to have these happen to you. 

It is also our rejection of these emotional experiences “I shouldn’t feel this way,” that causes more suffering. 

We need to find a way to soothe and heal from these invisible painful emotions. Not in solitude, but with companions. As Thomas Merton would say, “Suffering is wasted when we suffer entirely alone.” (No Man is An Island, p. 85).

We must learn to not “harden our hearts” but to find a quality of grace and tenderness for those who suffer in way that our eyes can’t see—and that includes ourselves.

“The biggest questions have already been answered”

Why bother asking the big questions in life (“What brings meaning and purpose?” or “What is a good life?”), since these questions have already been tackled by philosophers of old?

The main issue is not just having the answers, but the willingness to ask the questions, and sit with the ambiguity, patiently waiting, and using questions as an arrow to guide towards what matters most.

Everyone needs to ask the big questions. Because each person’s answers are not only different, the road that leads there needs to be traveled and discovered; it’s a pilgrimage.

No point reaching the end of your holiday destination without having traveled through the new places.

Is “How Are You?” A Greeting or a Real Question?

Since moving to Australia in 2010, I could never wrap my head around the social convention of asking each other “how are you?”

I took the question too seriously at first, and I soon realised I didn’t really need to contemplate the meaning of life as all I needed to say was “Fine thank you. And how are you?”

I think I’m getting the hang of it. I’m accepting that it’s really a hello or a G’day.

But 9 years later, I rethinking the “how are you’s.” Here’s what I think we should do to this social convention:

We should ask ourselves, on a daily basis, “How are you?”

And then patiently wait for a full-bodied felt response.

We don’t check in with ourselves enough. Most days, we are bustling around getting from one place to another, nailing down one task to another, from home care to schoolcare to the workforce. Meanwhile, we neglect to listen to our bodies.

Our mind is there to take care of the mind and the body. This is not just about being self-aware, because you can self-aware and still fail to ask fully embrace this beautiful question of “how are you.”

Hint: Like a call-and-response, if you ask this question to yourself and let it ring through from the top of your head to your pinky toes—and give yourself time—you might find yourself automatically letting out a sigh. That’s a good sign.

So, how are you?

Recalculating

Jewish Buddisht teacher Sylvia Boorstein said,

“The GPS never gets mad at me… It just says, ‘recalculating.’ No matter how many times I don’t make that turn, the tone of the voice stays the same.”

Instead of being rigid and demanding of what we expect of life, perhaps our approach to parenting, relationships, and work should be have an improvisational quality of recalculating, recalibrating, or re-routing, and being openly responsive to what life presents.

The real challenge perhaps is how to stay unfrazzled.

Here lies a paradox: while we hold steady to pursue or goals and maintain our focus, we must continually let our expectations die. When we learn to let go of our demands of life, then maybe we can encounter life; the opening to live.

Daily, we must recalculate. And let the tone of our voice be fiercely gentle. 

Note to self: Remember this when my kids don’t do what I tell them to do.

“Will You Forgive Me?”

“The lesson here is that there is no fix. There is, however, forgiveness. To forgive yourselves and others constantly is necessary. Not only is everyone screwed up, but everyone screws up.”

~Annie Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

 

My spiritual director the late Fr Claude Barreteau, MEP once told me a story about a man who repeatedly climbed a hill every week to arrive a small chapel where he made his confession to a priest. He felt bad that he had been doing so for such a long time, and seemed to  make the same mistake. On the exterior, it looks like this person hasn’t learned.

But I suspect Fr Claude’s story speaks to the business of forgiveness, which is a daily affair.

Today, out of sheer frustration, I yelled at my daughter. She burst into tears. She was inconsolable. Maybe Mom would come and sooth her. I was rendered helpless. I chastised her for being rude in the first place. She cries even louder. Mom’s not coming.

Then, in exasperation and lack of ingenuity, I realised I scared her. I sat down on the floor and I said, “I’m sorry. I messed up. My loud voice must have scared you. I’m gonna try better again the next time…”

She stopped crying. She looked at me. I brought her close. Meanwhile, in my mind, I was resisting even ounce of my being to correct her faults. There’s another time for that.

For now, “will you forgive me” is enough.

We need to climb up that hill and come to our senses that “everyone is screwed up… and everyone screws up,” and come back down again.

See this video by Fred Rogers.

(If you can’t see the video above, click here.)

Older posts

© 2020 Full Circles

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑