Musings on: Flow, New Morning Mercies. Fueled by matcha espresso.

Typing this at Coffee Bean at Expo. It is raining and there is no shelter to CBP, so I’m grabbing this opportunity to have some quiet time and also to be late for work.

Reading an article sent by Austin Kleon- he has a newsletter in which he compiles all the read-worthy things that we are missing out on. There was an article titled ‘The Busy Trap. The crazy busy existence that so many of us complain about is almost entirely self-imposed’. And it is so true, but I have come to realise something more than self-regulations. It can sound very trivial and rat-race mentality to say that we are the only ones imposing (negative connotation already) our standards on us. I would say that it is part of nature’s call, that we are humans who innately want to do better, do more, and to stretch our abilities. Get out of our comfort zones. We want to know what we can achieve, because that is interesting, and we want to know how far we can go before we burn out. What happens if we die the next day, is this all we are leaving behind? Wanting to improve is a part of our DNA.

Some of us are busy, and we love it, because we know that we are doing the things that we want to do. The things that add value to our lives. Some of us are busy because we have an expectation placed on us by other people. Some are busy because even though no one cares, we still want to have what other people have. A title, money, good looks. The people who are suffering under the weight of being ‘busy’ are the people who are not choosing the right things to be busy about. You can choose to take a whole day off and go to a secluded beach to just relax, and that is it- a fulfilling, busy day. After all, the definition of busy is ‘to keep oneself occupied’ and ‘having a great deal to do’. Is it really absence of busyness if we choose to dedicate ourselves to a whole day of sitting at the beach? I am facing my inner thoughts. Standing next to them, talking to them, not letting myself gloss over them like I usually would. I am looking at myself clearly in the mirror.

I watched a tedtalk last night- it was about a book which I’ve read a few years back, it is called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

He was recapping the feelings we experience when we are doing things that give us joy- the feeling that time has stopped, hours go by like minutes, our minds and body are working to produce something bigger than the current moment. Like we have lost consciousness of our troubles and temporary to-dos, and gone into a state called flow. When I read that book in the past I was engaging with the reality of what I was experiencing then- that I had just started doing my diary entries, and flow was still an uncommon feeling. I was interested in that idea but did not have the requisite number of hours to trust that flow would come to me more consistently in the future.

When I write, flow is the feeling that I am communicating something that is really important and nothing else matters, as long as I capture the mood of the moment. It is not flowery language that helps, usually I just need a clear mind and a calm room and this need to tell someone about my day. That I have something important to say, although I don’t know what, and I will keep writing until I get to that point. Which is about 40 minutes into the diary entry.

But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.

Now, a year on (I think I first started writing in October 2016, although this domain was purchased in Jan 2017), my understanding of flow is not just an experience that can be worked at, but something to buffer me against the unhappiness of some projects and some blips and arguments in my life. It is not just a state of disciplined concentration, but something that I can make a part of me as a human being. It is not dependent on the activity- I can find flow in many things. Personally, I try to do something every week that would contribute to my feeling of ‘flow’.

flowcsikszentmihalyi

To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer exclusively respond in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstance.

Thinking about a question- ‘what makes my heart leap for joy’. It is the feeling when I am really excited to do something, I want to do it, my brain is generating new ideas for it etc. Like create articles for publication on the company intranet. Sing ‘king of the jungle’ with toddlers (off-key, but they are allllll off-key so it doesn’t matter. Really. Not one of the toddlers I know have musical talent, unless making muffled dinosaur noises is a foreshadowing of their potential Carnegie hall performance). Interview people at work, understand their needs and aspirations. I would be lying if I said that I like to analyse client data. But I like the impact, the feeling that we turfed out something that no one wanted to say explicitly, but we are able to verify that data and make some changes to the org structure because of it.

The essence of socialisation is to make people dependent on social controls, to have them respond predictably to rewards and punishments.

I am also reading ‘New Morning Mercies’ by Paul Tripp. I started reading it during the kelong trip, but also on public transport now. I guess CBP’s greatest and worst point is that it is so far from my house. I have an additional two hours of quiet time (read: less sleep) daily because I am stuck on the bus/train.

91JGyeH+glL

I don’t think it is meant to be a book for new believers, but rather, a book for people who have been in the faith for some time already and have forgotten the main tenets of living by faith in Christ. If I were a new believer, all the concepts that he is talking about would be new to me. Older believers sometimes stray into the path of sticking to intellectual theological arguments- what does this line mean etc- and the laws that they keep, rather than the premises of everlasting grace and steadfast love. The diary entries would remind them, over and over again, of the amazing things that God has done and which he has given us. Not laws, but love.

 In some way, every person who has ever lived is on a hunt for love and scared to death that he won’t find it.

In some way, everyone fears judgement. She fears the hammer will come down on her because she has failed to measure up and she will spend her life paying for her crimes.

In some way, everyone is afraid of being poor. We’re all afraid of not having the provisions we need to live. We’re afraid that success will escape our grasp and we’ll end up as beggars on the street.

There is a difference between the doctors, lawyers, hedge fund people, and the rest of the people in the cell group. The people who fall into the first three category are always busy. They have 10,000 things to do in their work and personal lives. The rest of us- the government people, budding consultants, music teachers and primary school teachers- we are still tired, but less busy. We can find time more easily. But for all our busyness and experiences, how comfortable one feels with people is not based on how much work or busyness we have in common. God made all of us with our own idiosyncrasies and struggles, even when one seems to have disadvantages or advantages in every way.

And what I personally thought was a good reminder to me.

You could read your bible every day and the entire bible each year and still live for yourself. You could be faithful in your attendance at all your church’s scheduled gatherings and still live for your little kingdom. You could regularly place your hard-earned money in the plate and still not live with God’s kingdom in view. You could be expert in the theology of the word of God and still shrink your life down to what you want and what you tell yourself that you need.

flaws, beauty, and treasure boxes.

I don’t know if I am the only one who notices such things, but ever since I had health issues I started observing the skin/hair of other people around me. If they have scars, stretch marks, cellulite, rashes just like I do. If they have heavy panda eyes and slept just as little as I did, last night. I slept at 4am because I couldn’t find the right fit on my bed, everything seemed to poke at me and considering that I have only gained weight in the past month and it is a newer, softer mattress, it doesn’t make sense. I should be able to sleep like a baby hugging his stinky comfort bolster.

I notice things about people that I never would have noticed two years ago. One thing good about observing others is that I see their ‘flaws’ and I admire their bravery. They are willing to put their flaws on show. Like not having scar-free skin, but not caring if other people are looking at them. Raised keloid scars, thick surgery scars, maybe even very dark marks against very fair skin.

I am reminded of what a tedtalk speaker said, it might have been the same talk on depression by Andrew Solomon. “It only makes what was wrong, precious.” We can’t turn back time or go back to a place where we were young and less-stressed out by physical imperfections, those are only memories and they exist in photos.

We were young once, and much older and wiser now. Or more jaded. I don’t know if I can call it happier, but I think I appreciate what I have now, rather than in the past where skin wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t even think about having bad skin, because I never had bad skin in my life. Not anything remotely close to bad acne, just maybe rough skin here and there. Or a bad sunburn.

A large part of my life in the past year centred on finding meaning in the things that I did, making sense of what I went through. It was important because when things don’t make sense, it is harder to get through. It is easier to turn to God after a motorcycle accident and trust that there is some good out of all these, I am reminded of a study that the ‘flow’ researcher did, that people who went through terrible accidents leading to paralysis found themselves scrubbing away all the petty things in life that didn’t matter. The family fights, the loss of a career, the stress that used to eat at them when they couldn’t dress as well as they did. It all seems minuscule compared to what they are going through now, and surviving what they have now is the only thing.

Another thing that Augusten Burroughs said- you can’t go back and live in the past, rehashing it with your therapist, hoping to resolve it. Because you will only have the information inside your brain, your therapist can’t help you work through issues from the other person’s point of view because that person isn’t real. We will never have all the facts in a situation. I will never know why he did what he did, or if the car crash viewed from the bus window was real. Going back to the past and living in it is a bad idea, but being unable to make sense of the current situation, seeing no meaning in the now, that is also a bad place to be in. Because it is uncomfortable, and there is no ‘why’ to live through any ‘how’.

“A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Take internships for example- I always felt that I wasn’t good enough because I was faking it. I wasn’t being true to myself, in the sense that I didn’t approach people with sincerity and I didn’t always act in the way that I consider authentic? Sometimes you just got to connect with people you would rather not connect with, because you can’t possibly like everyone in life. But it is part of the job description and it has to be done. It’s like sales, someone I had dinner with weeks ago told me that he knew what he could say to close the sale. And he is a very good salesperson. But he felt that it was inauthentic and it went against his values, because he knew that the person would be better off without the item. So he left his job for a much lower-paying one.

I can do that for the short term, but I can’t do it long term, I think it would slowly erode my centre of self? I have a personality, I might act differently around different people, but my centre of self depends on me being an honest and sincere person. Someone who won’t lie to herself just to make her standard of living better, or lie to others just to gain some small advantage.

I don’t like wearing masks, but even during the job search process- it is necessary to wear a mask because I am only interested in the job, I am not interested in the company. But to enter the company and secure an offer I need to at least pretend to believe in the company’s mission, value proposition, future, growth trajectory etc. I need to pretend that I am a right fit for the company because I don’t want to be a homeless person. It makes me intensely uncomfortable but I can’t say that “okay actually I don’t care about what you guys do, I just want to do HR, I am fine with any sort of product you sell and any innovative culture you have, I am also fine if your whole board of directors decide to support the transsexual movement.” Perhaps it is because of this that I have not started on my job search, I don’t want to go into the corporate world so quickly. It’s a bit late- I am graduating in May, and it’s already nearing the end of January.

When I was young my parents (Asian, lol) always told me study hard. They paid a lot of money so that I could have what I wanted. The best tuition centres, bloody expensive, I told my mother a few weeks ago that she shouldn’t have done that because I grew up to be an average kid and didn’t pay attention during the lessons anyway. She told me it isn’t about the money or the benefits that I had, it was for her to follow her heart, to provide the best for the kid she gave birth to. The enrichment lessons, the CCAs, the overseas trips. Even things like good beds and OSIM machines and reiki lessons, I went for everything that caught her eye, things that promised better health and a brighter future. There was a period where she was fascinated by bamboo and charcoal and the healing properties of special water. But I am pretty sure that I would have been a less insecure kid if my mom didn’t invest so much of her energy on me- I felt like some sort of treasure in a box, I have to remain shiny and stay in the box, I am not allowed to tumble onto the floor like the other kids.

A large part of my fear comes from never really failing before, I was never grimy or dusty or uncared for. Pretty sure I will be the first to die on a desert island, unless I can somehow sell my soul to the tiger gods and ask to be turned into a rock.

That was me as a kid/teenager, I am older now, and much wiser but a few days ago she bought a new slow cooker so she could make brown rice porridge for me in the mornings with chicken and lotus root bits. I wanted to tell that I generally oversleep and don’t take breakfast on school days, and wake up just in time for a late lunch on non-school days. But anyway.

My identity is tied up in people caring for me, and now I am learning to take care of myself. It is not an entirely successful endeavour and on paper it sounds so laughable, a 23-year-old learning to calm her mind down. Shouldn’t I be calm already? I am old, I should have all my shit together. But I don’t, I still am encouraged by other peoples’ flaws, their scars, their hair loss- especially girls who always tie up their hair in ponytails-their lack of ‘beauty’.