Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Category: Reflections (page 1 of 4)

Point Your Camera to the World

In fact, tape away the self-pointing lens.

Change the focus from the Self and to the World, and then let the world teach you.

As writer John O’Donohue notes,

Love begins with paying attention to others, with an act of gracious self-forgetting. This is the condition in which we grow.
(From Anam Cara, p. 28).

When we take pictures of ourselves, our cognitive resources are channelled towards ourselves. The big trade-off when we become self-absorbed, we miss opportunities for what the world can teach us.

In virtual video meetings, once you’ve checked you are in the frame, it pays off to turn off the self-view. It is cognitively taxing to see yourself when you are supposed to pay attention to the other, as you would in face to face conversations.

Take pictures or videos of the world outside, and–is is the important bit–pay attention.

Take this as a metaphor to live by. Pay attention to the people and the world outside, and the make the picture good.

We don’t know how to rest

We don’t know how to rest.

We think that resting is for the lazy, the inefficient and the ineffective.

Yet when we think we are resting, our eyes are entranced by the endless scroll of news, clickbaits and social media feeds.

When we allow ourselves into the territory of rest, it also comes with the neighboring challenges of learning how to be bored, how to incubate, and how to retreat.

In his stirring book Consolations,[1] teacher and poet David Whyte illuminates vital points on the topic of Rest:

To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given. 

When we say being “authentic,” what we really mean is what we perceive as the best version of our selves. Thus, it would make sense that if we want to allow who we really are to come to the fore, rest is the quiet preparation that we need.

David Whyte goes on to flesh out Rest’s 5 stages:

1. Stop

In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. 

Besides the red-light at the traffic junction, when was the last time you intentional stopped yourself in your tracks to take a moment… to stop?

2. Return Home

If we have trouble stopping, we would have trouble seeing.

In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s un-coercedand un-bullied [emphasis mine] self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. 

I am fond of the words of Whyte’s close friend, the late John O’ Donahue, “Stress is our perverted relationship with time.” 

This perversion manifests in forms of anxious productivity, as if everything at hand has an urgency that pushes you to the point that you are no longer free. We think we are are stealing time, but the truth is, the real thievery happens to you.

Back to David Whyte’s third stage of rest:

3. Heal

In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival.

I would argue that without the conscious act of stopping and returning home to the inhabitant of our body “un-coerced and unbullied,” it is hard to heal; the tyranny of our speed of life is that it creates a harsh inner-terrain that is not conducive for repair, rejuvenation and re-vitalisation.

4. Breath

In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the in-and-out breath, is the give-and-take, the blessing and the being blessed and the ability to delight in both.

Someone recently told me about their experience of their smart watch. It alerted her when she was tipping over to be over-stressed and reminded her to doing some mindfulness exercises.

With or without a smart watch, we all need little moments of catching our breath, to breathe the life that that we have.

5. Presence

The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.

The call to presence is a gift-exchange between you and life.

Meanwhile, we wrestle with the tension that there’s always something more important than now. Yet, the existence of any future is contingent of the present.

Presence is a cumulation of our intentional act of stopping, slowing, healing and breathing. Try to force yourself to be present without a practice of the above is like trying to complete the Ironman triathlon without getting out of your couch.


Rest for Rest-Sake

Being an Asian born into a thriving place like Singapore, top performance, hard work, and little sleep are the lifestyle badge of honor. My wife says that I may have left Singapore, but I don’t seem to be able to leave the Singaporean in me.

But I’m discovering—especially as I watch my kids grow—that this side of me needs to be tampered.

The Japanese have a word for un-rest—when you overwork yourself to death, literally—they call it Karoshi.

I don’t want karoshi. Nobody wants karoshi. I worry about my friends back home who work like 12-hr days, along week long…

Rest need not be an instrumental reason to take a break (“I’d be more productive, or more focused, etc.”). Rest has goodness in and of itself, which is a true testament of its value and worth.

In periods of rest, we also need to cloister, as judge Raymond Kethledge and CEO Michael Erwin puts it, to have “no inputs from other minds.”[2]

So sleep, take a nap, go for a walk, hop on a bus, lay on the grass at the backyard and stare at the clouds that look like bunnies; do nothing. Learn how to rest by doing.

Stop being that amateur sportsperson who just keeps going and doesn’t know how that we need both stress and recovery in order to build strength, until he tears a muscle. Turn pro by behaving like the pros.

Stress is not the problem; a lack of recovery is.

Rest to recover. Honor Rest the way we give the badge of honor to hard work. Nature has it that we grow when we rest deeply.

When we fail to take heed of our natural rhythms, we expose ourselves to getting burned. Burnout is really cumulative and amplified stress plus the lack of recovery, multiplied by the unrealistic expectation of time and our biology.

Put in an equation,

Burnout = (high and continuous stress – recovery) x Unrealistic expectations


For more about how experts rest, read Instead of the 10,000-hr rule, why not the 60-hr rule?

And for more on Self-Care for practitioners, check out our Frontiers archives.


“Pause My Ambition”

Here’s a relevant journal entry I made some months ago.

I've been feeling exhausted the last few weeks. 

For every in-between pockets of time, I milked dry whatever I can complete. Reply an email, send an invoice, finish a case note before the next client, read a research paper, write a paragraph... 
I felt like a theft of time. 

So today, on a brink of my collapse due to my own undoing, I made a conscious decision: "pause my ambition."

It's an odd mantra. For one, I have never seen myself as an "ambitious" person. Nevertheless, this spoke to me. The truth was, over the years, I have been pushing myself to get too much done in a day. 

"Pause my ambition," when I am with my family.

"Pause my ambition," when I need to think clearly.

"Pause my ambition," when my body collapses; there's no other way.

Footnotes:
[1] Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte
[2] Lead Yourself First, by Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin.

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Parenting is…

1. An amateur sport. The moment you think you’ve turned pro, the rules change.

2. To experience little daily deaths. This grief process is one of letting go of expectations, “supposed tos,” assumptions of how kids and family life should be.

3. A bliss and a blister. It’s the greatest source of suffering. It’s also the greatest wellspring of joy. (So you can tell, I don’t buy the one-sided view that “parenting is such a bliss” idea, although I can appreciate some parents do truly feel this way!)

4. The intersection between the sacred and the secular. It’s a virtuous circle that constantly reminds you of the giddy reality of daily living, that some semblance of soulfulness is required.

5. Improvisation (originates from the Latin ‘improvisus’, meaning ‘not seen ahead of time’). Life is one big improvisation anyway, a 2 left-footed dance between plans rendered useless and surprises that behold gifts waiting to be opened.

6. A fermentation process of maturity. Not because we become wiser teachers to our children, but because we are hit with the stark realisation that we are called to become better students. Daily.

7. A mirroring of the gift of paradox that permeates through life. The parenting paradox is this: we aim create a strong emotional attachment with our kids, so that one day, they wouldn’t need us.

 

YOUR TURN: PARENTING IS…?

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.

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 

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)

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