Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Tag: action

Do Not Focus on The Self

 While it may seem contradictory for me as a practicing psychologist to invoke this paradox, this is perhaps an elemental idea we need to learn to embrace. 

Many self-help books promote the development of the self. However, an over-emphasis on the self is a wellspring of suffering. 

Instead, focus on two things:
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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.

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 

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)

What is the Opposite of Play? (It’s not work)

The opposite of play, is not work. It is depression.1

When was the last time you allowed yourself to play?

Play is an antidote to feeling depressed. Play is fuel; without it, we run on an empty tank.

Play is a spark. Many of us need that to reignite our daily living.

Even dogs play.

Dog Playing

Work on play, and play at your work.

Related posts:

Here’s One Mental Model to Change Your Life: Press Play

The Movement of Recovery: Love, Work, & Play

Note: I highly recommend Stuart Brown, MD book, aptly titled Play. See also his TED talk. 

Here’s One Mental Model to Change Your Life: Press Play

 

play-pause-stop

We don’t stop playing because we grow old;

we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

Mental models are powerful ideas to learn. They act like rules of thumb, that is, rough principles/heuristics  to guide the traffic of our minds.  The important criteria on whether to adopt a particular mental model is to evaluate, “Is this helpful?”

If you are in your thirties and above, you might recall the days of playing those bulky videotapes from a VHS machine. It requires manually forwarding and rewinding, until the tape head gets dirty and the visuals become blurry. Or you sit there, waiting for your favorite movie to play on TV, so that you can hit record (and pause when those crappy adverts appear), for many more hours of repeated viewing.

Here’s one mental model  based on this idea.


PRESS PLAY

When your life feels like is on pause, press play.
Play, do something fun, get down on the floor with a baby. Go to the beach, strum that guitar, or sing in the bathroom. tickle your partner.



PRESS PAUSE:

When life takes over and moves too fast like it’s flashing you by, press pause. Recompose, and study one frame of your life. Contemplate on it. It’s ok to take a pause.


PRESS FAST FORWARD:

When you feel stuck, it’s ok to press fast forward. Get out of the rut by stepping on the pedal to the wheels moving. Fast.


PRESS STOP:

(Ever heard a record player get stuck on the same groove on a vinyl and you just let it keep playing? It’s hypnotic).
When things play and replay in your head like a bad loop, press stop.
Then, change what is playing in the first place.

Have you ever feel like you are speeding to get to somewhere because you are late, only to meet with a red light? What do you do? You take heed of the sign, and stop. There are things not within your control. And realise the world is not about you.

Stop. Breathe. Re-treat, or just give yourself a treat.

PRESS REWIND:

Moments of transitions and change, or big events like Christmas, new year, anniversaries and birthdays, are a good time to press rewind.

Recall moments in your life that you were moved, touched and deeply grateful for. Look at pictures and journals. Put on that old song and indulge in the next few minutes. Go back in time. If you keep worrying about time, you lose time.

This is not simply nostalgia, but its a platform of creating self-continuity into your future. As the Japanese proverb goes, a good time to look at the past is on a summer’s eve.


PRESS RECORD:

Whatever the shit may be, don’t forget to press record. Then hit rewind, and play it back again. 
Learn to write things down. Date it, so that you know which time in your life you had this wisdom. To capture a moment, take a photograph. Not at yourself, but at the life that is in front of you.

Reflect:

Do you know what to press, and when?

No one strategy applies to all of life. Life has its platitudes. As the adage goes, if you hold a hammer, suddenly everything becomes a nail.

Play with this idea.

Where our attention is, that is where our life is.

Happy Christmas & a playful new year ahead.

Yours, 

Daryl Chow Ph.D.

29th of Dec 2016

 

Act-in-Order-to-Know (Not the Reverse)

Beyond Comfort Zone

“A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.” -Thomas Merton, no man is an island, p.127

My profession is guilty of adding to the problem. We continue to propagate the notion that we need to somehow figure out our lives before we act. Otherwise, God forbid, we act rashly without much thought.

Certainly, some major events in life, like making a decision to getting married, making a huge financial investment, moving to a new country and the like, requires some forethought. But for the majority, we want to stray away from “Analysis-Paralysis”, that is, thinking so much about something that we become crippled by the fear of making a wrong decision or failing. Others might argue that we should at least “think” about it before we act on a decision. I agree on this point. But after working closely with people for some time in therapy, I realise that the problem in life are often not because people don’t consider the pros-and-cons before they act, but rather people slip into the pit-holes of one of the following:

1. Analysis-Paralysis, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety;

2. Catastrophising (i.e., projecting the worst about future outcomes), leading to symptoms of anxiety;

3. Self-blame (for past mistakes), leading to symptoms of depression.

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