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Reflections on Living

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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.

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

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

 

Becoming a Gifter

i-beg-your-pardon-excuse-me-frog-sweet

   The truth is, I’m a lousy gift giver. Ask my wife.

   For the life of me,  my creativity becomes non-existent whenever I think of gifts to buy for her, or for family members (kids doesn’t count).  I once bought a jewelry box for my wife, when I later found out that she had hinted to me, that she wanted a particular inexpensive piece of earring. That wasn’t even the problem. The problem was that I actually thought buying the jewelry box  was a brilliant idea. “I nailed it,” I said to myself.

   I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Because truth resides in the other.

Insight isn’t a state of enlightenment or some form of intellectual prowess . Rather, Insight is a state of mutual agreement.  When we comment about a person, “He has good insight into his problem,” what we really mean is that we have come to a consensus, not some deep understanding of something.

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The Playful Present


Playful Present (See-Saw)

 

The present is a gift inviting us to open our doors. It flowers when we can embrace our history and welcome all  doors of possibilities of our future. 

This means that we allow ourselves to touch and heal past wounds, and live without anxiety of the unseen tomorrows.

Like a see-saw, it’s not easy (and probably of no use) to attempt to balance one side of the past and the other of the future in equilibrium. Rather, we show learn to play with it.  And when we do, we become flexible enough in the currents of change, and become inspiringly responsive, not reactive, to situations.

This form of  movement and openness – or vulnerability, is an antidote for the modern soul. Much like the jazz improviser responsing to the unforeseen musical turn that is up ahead, co-creating something vibrant and alive, and even joyfully unexpected; the moment-by-moment present, calls for our presence.

The best response you can have to any gift is to receive it. And playing with a gift is a true act of gratitude.

Have a playful new year ahead.

– Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

*playful doodle above hand drawn with Paper & Pencil  on iOS device

 

See-Saw (big trunk)

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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