This week has been a difficult week for me mentally. I know it is strange because after all, I am going for long trips soon, and my final exams are over. I have nothing to worry about, neither would I use worry to describe my current state of mind. I am just uncomfortable because I am not used to periods of waiting, of doing nothing significant, of contributing to nothing. I am used to a full schedule and solid, reachable goals marked out in months or weeks.
But this is it. The start of my long obedience in the same direction, never changing, always understanding that it will take years before I am settled into my new identity. I am not talking about Christianity, I am talking about work and writing. I am talking about who I am, how other people see me, and how comfortable I am in my own skin. I read books, and think thoughts, and feel feelings. I am a human being living in Singapore, a tropical equatorial country filled with cars and hawker centres.
I was thinking- so what am I really trying to achieve with my writing? Is it just for myself, because I have so many things in my head to get rid of? Or is it me trying to reach out to other people, to practise my communication skills, so that one day I will be able to write and have people who identify themselves as humans, read? I don’t mean the literal human species, I mean people who can look at each other regardless of skin colour or religion and think, “there’s a fellow human being”. I feel that there are so many divisions in the world right now that words can heal.
An old friend was texting this morning, after I sent him the Mark Manson article on the question to ask in your life. It is just one question: what is the pain that you are willing to bear?
He told me that he was struggling to study for final exams because he doesn’t see a point in it. I can identify with that. I only study because I happen to like the modules, if I didn’t then I wouldn’t study at all. It is just head knowledge to most, unless we are able to look into the future and see what is valuable and should be studied now. But he isn’t omniscient, and he doesn’t have any long-term goals in his life. Logically I know that if my friend does not care, if he does not want to do anything at all, then he will not move. It is only by action that I find out what works and doesn’t work for me, and it is the same for many people. Either they push themselves into action or they are pushed/dragged along by life and necessity. Given all that unwillingness and procrastination, how do we find obedience (discipline) and motivation to work towards tomorrow?
So why study? Why breathe? Why care about anything at all? I know that I am asking questions which are very personal, each of us will have a different answer. Why do the elderly care for their potted plants like it is the only thing that matters to them before they die. Why do mothers care for their children and feed them whatever is edible, even when they don’t have any food themselves.
In Snuff by Terry Pratchett, goblin mothers make a pot named ‘the soul of tears’, where they store the soul of a baby goblin who had to be eaten by the adult goblins as food, because it was the only way to survive. I thought to myself- that is when you care. That is when you show that you able to make decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Until you meet that cliff hang of necessity, you might never find something to care about, or to look forward to in the mornings.
Let it be said here that those who live their lives where life hangs by less than a thread understand the dreadful algebra of necessity, which has no mercy, and when necessity presses in extremis, well, that is the time when the women need to make the unggue pot called «soul of tears», the most beautiful of all the pots, carved with little flowers and washed with tears.’
My answer is that I don’t know why I do what I do, or why some of us hold on to our identities as daughter/husband/wife so seriously. And frankly there is no point sitting around ruminating about life’s choices, when right now life is not asking me to respond to anything. Although most of the time I find myself wishing I knew where this was going. I am not going to try and figure out what God/life wants of me, I am just going to go through it and pray very hard that when I embarrass myself, by stuttering or being a general idiot, I can pick myself up again.
I might be 23, I am supposed to know more than those who are still in JC or secondary school. But even so, I have much to learn and unlearn. I have to unlearn my bad habits of being overly anxious, I have to learn new habits such as caring for other people. I have to unlearn my thoughts, because so much of what I do is because of how I think, and what I think about myself. It’s like dieting, I make myself unhappy because I think that my recent weight gain is a bad thing. Being fat is objectively fat, that’s what my head tells me. Is it, really? I have more cushion when I sleep. Life is a process that takes a lifetime, I will never be done with learning.
Which is why I am reading The Book of Joy. It was recommended by Vagabond Youth on Youtube, she is an inspiration because she decided to quit her job and live off Youtube alone, which puts a lot of pressure on her because it is essentially her running her own business. As the Dalai Lama says, life is going to happen whether we like it or not. There will be frustrations, people will die in tragic accidents, and small people will grow up to be bigger people, both vertically and horizontally. What matters is how we respond.
But I wish I could progress faster. So much of life is lived in the in-betweens, the getting-to-know new people and stabilizing new routines, the binge watching of American shows and plus-sized youtubers, the making of pancakes for dinner and stealthily eating roast pork at 2am in the morning. So much of life is lived on that slope, that slight incline of progress and old age. The mundane bits that just have to be ploughed through or enjoyed, depending on who we are with.
One of the key paradoxes in Buddhism is that we need goals to be inspired, to grow, and to develop, even to become enlightened, but at the same time we must not get overly fixated or attached to these aspirations.
If the goal is noble, your commitment to the goal should not be contingent on your ability to attain it, and in pursuit of our goal, we must release our rigid assumptions about how we must achieve it.
Peace and equanimity come from letting go of our attachment to the goal and the method. That is the essence of acceptance.
― Dalai Lama,