The Blessings of Sorrow

It’s been way over half a year since I last posted! No promises that I’ll suddenly start a blogging habit or whatnot, but I thought that at the very least, I ought to come back and sweep the writing mat clean.

Over the past half a year or so I’ve had a very tumultous change in lifestyle, general goals, and relationships. Some things have happened that may have left scars which will take ages to heal. Other things have happened that have made me joyous beyond fair belief. But life has been settling down recently, and so it’s probably time to dedicate myself to the arts once again; or at least, experiment and see what fits for now!

One thing that hasn’t changed though, is that I still have the full capacity for feeling sad; for falling down on my knees and weeping; for letting the harder things in life get to me; for being me. What has slowly grown overtime, I find, is my ability to take the palette of sad emotions as part of life’s enlivening colours. Perhaps like me, you may have also experienced that after the tears have fallen and the heart has been tenderly given its space to grieve, a whole new world of possibilities open up – together with a calm, clarity of vision.

A friend once told me about the valleys and mountains of life: at times there are mountains, where we feel at the height of our being; happy, unstoppable, brilliant and fully lovable. At other times we descend into inevitable valleys, wherein we feel completely horrible about ourselves, and those who have ever loved us were either sorely deluded, or fools. These valleys are opportunities to be humble, to take honest stock of our lives, and to see ourselves as we are.

But just as much as it is an impetus for returning to humility, I’ve found that it serves as a reminder – the highs and lows are both only temporal as much as they feel like overwhelming realities. Gladness fills my heart to the brim, and sorrow empties it completely; the world seems brighter, or conversely, entirely engulfed. Yet as time goes by, my heart rediscovers its gentle equilibrium; there will be days when I completely forget that sensations of such great ennervations have ever passed through my body at all. When I hold on to this truth in the midst of terrible sorrow, I realize that it is perfectly alright to let the wounds wound me, to let the sobs shake me – I will be alright in the end.

And furthermore, when the trembles are at its worst, there is a paradox to be found – the is a mountain in the midst of a valley. My internet-using, materially-comfortable, middle-class self is far removed from the basic threats and insecurities that plague those who are less privileged, but it is no less vulnerable to a broken heart, or misplaced expectations, or abuse of trust. Pain caused by this sort of rejections, even if only perceived rejections, is experientially equivalent to physical pain.

It will be disrespectful to equate my hurts with the hurts of those who suffer from a lack of food and water, or in the midst of war. But through the depths of terrible emotional pain, I am privileged to be connected to those who hurt, to those whose pain may not be as temporal as mine. My heart is opened to the common human experience. In my safe shelter, I am brought low, made as insecure as those who are shelterless, without a home. And in this lowness, the height of compassion is experienced. I am made aware of how trivial my hurts are, and I learn to accept my frailty with self-compassion. I am awakened to the common sufferings of man, and I learn to be thankful for the depth of my experience. And most of all, I am united with those who hurt greater than I do, whose pains are not temporal, who wake up to an uncertain tomorrow – and my heart is galvanized to right injustice.

All these are the blessings of sorrow (not to mention, of course, artistic insight and so on and so forth hehe). But it pays to be reminded that the One who giveth and taketh away giveth as much during sorrows as during joys – an open heart always has much to receive!

Advertisements

Boundaries Part 2

Boundaries 2

This week’s Reuben’s Wednesday is not on a Wednesday! (my gosh 🙂 ) But without further ado, let’s continue from where we left off…

Disregarding the advice of my parents, friends, and family to take care of myself, I landed up in a recovery ward, where I found myself frazzled, burnt-out, and unstable… all because I decided to push one boundary too far. I had to give up midway on almost all of the projects that I undertook, say goodbye to a million on-the-whim friendships that I made, and go into fulltime retreat in order to continue my recovery. My self-confidence and esteem was shattered, and it took months to get back on my feet again.

Thankfully, that was a couple of years ago.

These days, I subscribe to the idea of pushing boundaries within boundaries. Because in the end, we are all fragile creatures and we need to know where we can go, and where we cannot. And for those places where we can go, we must go in as deep as possible, to explore as wide as we possibly could.

But then, there will be places where, for the sake of our own sanity and health, and perhaps that of those we love and care about too, we cannot, and should not venture too far into. We need to learn the self-control that tells us to jam on the breaks before things start to go awry, before the universe breaks apart and we get eaten up by something nasty in a cave deep under.

In essence, we must push our boundaries all the way but within sound limits. And therein lies the same spirit of complex contradiction that underscores all acts of maturity. So back to the story, in order to regain my sanity, I decided to establish some boundaries. Whenever I abode by them, my life would tend to be on track. Whenever I abandoned them, my life would rail off track. I’m not saying that now I’m an addict to structure, but all I’m saying is that there are some fundamentals that we should not violate too much or too often, although we can (and should!) let ourselves go once in awhile.

That being said, there is a very applicable saying, that paraphrased, goes like this: young men learn the rules, but wise men know where and when to break them. While the focus of this maxim is more on the breaking of said rules, or boundaries, it is also true that one must know which rules cannot be broken, which is often in certain circumstance. And more importantly, we must learn which rules are best left unbroken. A melody plays most beautifully on a stable chord progression, much as how the complexity and beautiful fractal divergences in communities emerge out of a solid economic bedrock. Everything in life has moments of variation supported by structures of stability, and some cannot be broken, some can be amended, while others must give way to change for progress to happen.

I am not yet wise, with too few years under my belt, but this I know: to learn the nature of these boundaries will yield great fruit. And before I get too darn pretentious with my choice of words, here is a humble experiment that I’ve started, and I’ll like to share.

Now I won’t be sharing everything because my private life is private and I plan to keep it that way (for now hurhurhur), but as an exercise on setting boundaries, here are some of the more important ones that I plan to stick to.

1. Sleep: Have at least 8 hours of restful sleep every day.
2. Morning routine: Perform morning exercise, brush teeth, have breakfast and shower.
3. Exercise: Hit 3 body parts a week, cycle to the train station when possible, and have sufficient time to recover

I know that I don’t have a thousand followers yet, or even a hundred, or even *gulp* 10 (okay maybe I do have around 10 followers), but the act of posting something on a public blog inspires accountability. So before I start on my 7-day accountability series (yes! I actually have content planned for this month as promised), I need to be accountable first: to myself, and to my present and future audience.

So I’ll update you guys on my progress. Ciao!

Boundaries Part 1

As promised, the first Reuben’s Wednesday signed, sealed, and delivered on Wednesday 🙂

Boundaries

Many years ago, I didn’t know much about boundaries. Or rather, I knew about them, but I didn’t know what it meant for me. I’ve always thought I’ll be the courageous rebel who’ll rail myself against any and all ‘man-made limitations’. To me, the sky wasn’t the limit, it was just an excuse to keep men bubbling safely within Earth’s atmosphere, instead of inventing a rocket to pierce though right out of it.

And so I began the great experiment. On the social sphere, I started experimenting with the boundaries of myself, and others. On the train, on the streets, anywhere and almost everywhere, I would try to start up a conversation with someone. And to my surprise, people were actually receptive. One guy even went on and on about how I should join Toast Masters because it changed his life and he was sure it would change mine too. So, as you can imagine, my outlook on life transformed completely. I realized that humans are not as far apart from each other as I thought. And I felt as if I’ve officially built and got on the rocket that took me out of my own atmosphere. Awesome.

But just in case you come from a liberal society, or you’re just a flaming extrovert, mind you, before all this, I was as shy as the toothpaste at the bottom of the tube. Damn. My whole family is introverted, and so am I, but not by nature. I am the curious, shy sort, the kind who needs to explore the world, but is sometimes just too darn afraid to stick my neck out. The kind who has words to say but somehow, they get stuck at the… bottom of the tube. So to me, whatever I achieved in this period was great. It was admirable. And more often than not, it was.

Until things went haywire. I began pushing more and more boundaries. Not social this time, but physical. I thought to myself – if I could reduce the number of hour I slept everyday, and still maintain the same level of functioning, wouldn’t that be the ultimate time hack? I could make a dozen more friends. I could learn things that need a lot of time to learn. I could… I daresay, become a genius! And so began my research and foray into polyphasic sleep.

But like many other things I got interested in, I never really bothered working with the fundamentals before experimenting with it. As such, I found myself getting addicted to the short sleep phases. And no, if any of you were wondering, I never actually managed to pull off polyphasic due to lack of discipline, but that’s another story. In this one, all I did was sleep less, without any compensatory REM naps throughout the rest of my day (sorry for the technical talk, if you didn’t get it, it just meant I executed the polyphasic sleep hack wrongly!).

Sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night and just work on a project that I felt ‘super inspired’ for. While it would seem brilliant then (mostly because my ability to make sound judgments was already deep fried by my lack of sleep), a careful analysis many months down the road later would have it that work done during those graveyard hours was among the shoddiest I ever produced, although I still do hold that high levels of creativity and spontaneity are often achieved during those times (go midnight junkies!)…

…if you want to know what happened to me in the end, tune in for next week’s Reuben’s Wednesday!

The Floor Hurts

Playground

I remember as a little kid, the neighbourhood playground that I used to tumble around in when pre-school was over. They were spankingly awesome.Of course more awesome than that were the cute girls that sat along the swings and bouncy animal rides. They watched as the braver boys try their hand at all the cool poles and high climbs.

And I just had to be one of those. The only problem was that my genes came with a mild defect: I was pretty darn clumsy.

Yet, it didn’t stop me from giving it my best shot. I flaunted my bravery at all the various playground attractions that demanded a fair bit of courage and skill, and soon enough, I was at the most dangerous one of them all. You had to stretch pretty hard to get to the other side. The platform was easily thrice my height then, and a fall looked rather scary.

So I steeled myself, and reached out for the ledge. But just as I almost got to the safe point, my hand slipped, and I found my entire 5-year-old body go tumbling down in mid-air. The fall slowed down time, and I could see some parents in the distance pointing at me, as well as here a couple of screams from the girls, whom I assumed were watching me (yes, even then I was a sucker for female attention). Finally, I went plop on the floor, and it hurt like hell.

Being the manly little boy I was, I tried not to cry, but tears were forced out of my eyes because of the pain. I got up, and grimaced, then straightened my pre-school uniform. Yes, I must not look weak in front of the girls! thought my 5-year-old self. Before my mother could stop me and ask if I was OK (she was chatting with my friend’s mum, who happened to see me fall), I went up the same climb, and did the obstacle again.

This time, I passed. And I was so gosh darn happy. I swear the all girls were cheering too, but then again I was too shy to take a look. My mum came over and brushed me down, and asked if I really fell because I looked so fine. She then spotted the bruise on my cheek, and like any other over-reacting mum, decided that I was done for the day and brought me home.

I didn’t mind though, it was enough glory for the day. But let me tell you this from experience: the floor really hurts.