2018 Resolutions (again)

2017 was a rollercoaster kind of year.

There were so many disruptions, unexpected changes, political events… to an extent, it almost appeared absurd that many of these things were even happening. I’m not going to dwell on these things in this post, however.

While there were many instances for me to just give up and accept defeat, there were also insights and opportunities that gave me the privilege to enjoy life and what else it had to offer. Perhaps because of the resolutions I made for 2017, I had subconsciously decided to focus on my own challenges and duties than on what is going on in the internet world or what the media would report. There was just so much that needed to be done, that it became clear that there really was nothing that I could do— as much as I hoped that I could— for these events outside and far away from me.

All I had was my community, my immediate circles, and myself to deal with.

In hindsight, that’s actually a lot of influence right there. I don’t mean social media influence either, but actual interaction. The need to be in the moment and to absorb what can and cannot be done with my limited time.

Because of the challenges that 2017 presented to me, I realise that 2018 should be about focusing on what needs to be done… to rebuild boundaries and to challenge myself to say no and accept that I will be criticized for my new behaviour.

I think I got a taste of what this challenge would mean, just this past week. It takes a while for people to get used to a “new you”, when they’ve been used to a version of you that they didn’t really need to get to know or to take care of… someone who was fun to be with and agreed to everything that needed to be done. Most especially, someone who used to change themselves readily to fit into any given situation.

Now that I’m learning to say “no”, or to offer some resistance to things I actually don’t want to do, it’s been more obvious that people are surprised by this behaviour.

While it’s made more relationships a little rocky, compared to before, I’ve seen that it also brought out the people who are truly friends. By this, I mean the people who respect me as I am, rather than how I make them feel all the time. People who share common interests but also common values with me.

I’ve also realised how many friendships I had made and kept out of necessity. It’s eye-opening for me that I’d give so much of my time and effort for this level of friendship, too.  I’m not saying that gave more, either (I never thought it should be a competition of affection) but that I sincerely did believe that I valued them as individuals. For that reason, though, a lot of times I did give up my own individuality.

I think 2017 had to teach me about expectations. Both mine and others’ expectations of me. There is no doubt that everyone has expectations, but it’s not very often that people know what they actually want… they’re more likely to criticize or comment on things that did not meet their expectation.

This 2018, I begin my resolutions again… keep at trying to be a better version of me even if I don’t appease everyone all the time. At the same time, know when I need help and have to ask for it.

 

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The Magic of Cleaning

2017 is coming to a close, and we’re back to that time of the year when everyone has to re-assess the things that they’ve been doing and where they wanna go in preparation for the coming new year.

Along with these preparations, I’ve downloaded the manga version of Marie Kondo’s (Konmari) “The Art of Tidying Up” and finished reading the whole thing overnight. The next day, I felt this urge to begin reviewing the things in my room, and how much I needed to clean up. This was also the day before I was heading out to Japan with my family and preparations for the trip had pre-occupied my mind more than anything. The cleaning was a welcome break from strategising and managing tempers.

In college, I didn’t really see cleaning as something therapeutic. It wasn’t until grad school that I realised how relaxing it was (sans the scrubbing and sorting and dust bunnies, of course). Reading Konmari’s method has given me an even deeper perspective on how to tidy up, and as she claims no one has gone back after they tried her method of cleaning.

A lot of it has to do with her approach to integrate the act of cleaning with why we keep things. Through her method, you can also imagine why she usually allots two weeks for the whole cleaning-up process (of course, it also depends on how much cleaning needs to get done). From the easiest category (papers, everyday items) to the toughest (things of sentimental value), one must reflect on the significance of the  item in their present life and if it should be part of the future that they want for themselves. It sounds like a tall order, but once you get into the system, you’ll find yourself losing track of time. In my case, it felt like a presentation of my past year, and previous years— how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed. And, on the funnier side, how some things about me have remained the same.

In the end, all that cleaning taught me how to embrace both good and bad parts of myself, while staying hopeful for the road ahead. Funny how cleaning can be such an eye-opener!

Cheers to a productive, positive and focused 2018! 🙂

 

 

They’re way ahead of me

When I was in high school, I dreamt that someday I would be a teacher. An inspiring one. The kind that made you nervous to turn in your work if it was done sloppily. The kind that made you want to do more and read more.

I also hoped to be a writer. A novelist. Someone who could string words together and make otherwise unrealistic worlds into familiar ones for anyone who needed to expand their imaginative boundaries.

I believed that, when I grew up, all I needed was a laptop to write down all these stories and to keep working on my writing.

Today, I realize that I have become a teacher, but not the scary kind. I’d like to think that I inspire some (though obviously not all) to keep learning about the world around them. I have also a handy little laptop, which is a lot lighter than the one I had hoped to buy back in college.

But my dreams have also changed… and being both teacher and writer have become such huge responsibilities that it scares me sometimes to think to even get published with my real name on the cover.

I wonder a lot of times how people can publish topics which seem so trivial, awkward or even awful in writing style. But I cannot even imagine giving one criticism because of the fact that their being published is leagues ahead of my fear of setting anything onto a page.

How do you know a country has “a reading culture”?

Every September is a good time to go shopping for books. Every year I look forward to the Manila Book Fair, along with sales in many different local book stores. Being based in Manila, I have to admit that I’ve felt very limited in what book stores I can go to and which ones  can offer a cheaper price. Not to mention, the titles which usually grab my attention are not usually available in most branches and might be more economical to order online.

Over here, it’s easy to see that preferences in readership range from badly-written romance novelletas, to romantic-horror fiction, to self-help books by celebrities. A quick google search of local bookstores’ bestsellers will easily show this.

I take it as a sign that, over here, the reading preference has not only been price-based, but also based on how well titles can offer some release from daily life. In a highly-stressful capital like Manila, reading classics is a conscious and rare choice. Understandably, reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” while on the MRT, could easily launch one into existential depths when one has to walk because the train broke down.

If there’s any positive note to books and readership over here in Manila, in the past years, one thing has been constant– bookstores double as libraries. So far, I think it’s quite a welcome sight to see that Fully Booked has placed signage that it’s all right to remove the plastic and browse through the books. In an informal interview I conducted a few years back, one book-seller from another popular bookstore said that they had to cover books in plastic because of the cost it incurred to have so many damaged books– mostly due to readers who decide to finish the book and not buy it.

Contrast this to the second-hand books that I found in Japan. Our group was brought to the bookstore block of Jimbocho in Tokyo. We spent 4 to 5 hours looking at the collections of spotless secondhand books (I really wondered if they were even read). Some books went back to the 80’s, some even further. In many of those bookstores, there was a cafe inside, or right beside, for readers who wanted to take time to have coffee or tea while reading through their purchased books.

The myriad collection of books was not the only thing that astounded me while I looked through the books in Jimbocho. What caught my interest more was the amount of care that went into keeping books organized, and how readers made sure to return books properly.

While so many second-hand books and bookstores exist within Manila, with books priced dirt-cheap, often times it’s because you get what you paid for. I have yet to find a bookstore that has a cafe that allows readers to bring books and browse through them while having a dessert or a cup of coffee. I’m also not sure if the reason for this is because the local culture will take anything for free if it’s presented as an opportunity– even if it means bankruptcy for the business.

Inasmuch as I didn’t want to believe that the Philippines “is not a reading culture”, having seen the reading culture of Japan really gave me perspective on how different our priorities are. While we were browsing through books in Jimbocho, I’d notice businessmen stopping by to browse through some technical books (engineering / sciences). Also, while there were a number of bookstores on manga, I had to learn how naive I was, and realize that there were specialty bookstores depending on what genre you were interested in.

Not only was having a “reading culture” about a wide readership, but a discernment of what to fill one’s mind with. And, with Japan, this ranged from the simple to the most complex of topics and genres.

The curiosity and the ability to acquire knowledge was so available and accessible while I was in Tokyo, that now I feel so limited being back in Manila and figuring out how to get safely from one library to another. It took me a while to re-think how much I thought I knew just because I thought I had found enough books locally… only to see that the subject had been written on extensively and archived in Japan.

It’s both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. This must be a common feeling for a scholar though… and I have only begun.

Every now and then, I still dream about that bookstore tour. I still recall the wall-to-wall books, the scrolls that were for specialty scholars, the art books that cost a fortune for a young worker like myself. But most of all, I miss that natural curiosity and love for further learning that filled that area. THAT was a reading culture, and I still hope for a Filipino readership that could reach such levels without the class-based limitations.

 

 

 

 

Where to…?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering.

Not about MY suffering, but suffering as an experience, in general.

Pain comes in different forms, but suffering means pain that needs to be endured. It implies that suffering is not inflicted upon others, and is more likely to be recognized and endured in solitude.

There are also instances when it is a solitary experience, and other times it is endured with a collective.

Nonetheless, we become aware of our suffering, regardless of the levels of pain that instigated it… and perhaps for that reason, it makes sense why not everyone will acknowledge your suffering as “bad enough”.

There is one thing that I’ve been thinking about suffering, and mostly because of Viktor Frankl’s work explaining Logotherapy in Man’s Search for Meaning

that is, while we keep trying to find reasons why we must suffer, the lack of finding purpose in our suffering easily turns it into a source of anxiety.

I don’t also mean that one must invent positive and feel-good reasons to offer a “purpose” for their suffering. Rather, it might be more purposeful if, in light of the suffering we endure, we think of the good that can still come out of it.

That, regardless of our own decisions or the control that we have over the situation, all we can truly do is to avoid making the same mistakes and to keep moving forward.

In this way, suffering becomes a tool for self-improvement and reflection, rather than a consistent source of existential anxiety and angst.

Through the pursuit of making meaning out of your suffering, soon enough, those wounds will heal too— you’ll see. The world is such a big place, and you have so much to see outside of your own inner world.

Hiatus and Recovery

What Recovery Looks Like

One of the things I had hoped to do since last year was to actually put my experience into writing. Over the past year, everything was about getting better– I even had a plan about it, from the goals to the deadlines.

Many times, I fell short of my ideal goals. This also helped me learn that the decision to be better required discipline and humbling. Along the way, I found a lot of reference materials and resources. It also helped a lot to go back to the classics, reading up on both literature and spiritual reading to keep me inspired and keep working towards my goals for 2017. It was even more comforting to know that I had a safe space, with friends and family who were also very supportive of me despite my many setbacks.

If there’s anything that I have learned over the past year, I’d sum it up in three items:

  • Falling back into old habits happens in a span of two weeks
    • The first week of working on a resolution is a make-or-break. But getting past two weeks towards a third week is when you know that it has become a habit
  • Goal-setting is a holistic process
    • You are a human being, a complex and rational being. Along the way of trying to become better, you’ll realize that there are many aspects of your life that you’ll need to resolve. This is also why you need an anchor, or a center that keeps you in check after the overwhelming amount of help that comes your way. In my case, I had to constantly review my “promise” when I asked for divine intervention to take me out of my situation.
  • Your idea of your best self has a better version
    • The best part of working towards becoming a better version of you, and of being accountable to something greater than you (in this case, I decided to become more serious as a Catholic), is slowly finding out that life has even more to offer. In a way, you just needed to be prepared for the greater things ahead.

So much of the amazing events within first half of 2017 were small miracles. Moving forward from discovering that I was recovering from Narcissistic Abuse has been challenging in ways I had never imagined.

The most difficult part is that not everyone can understand that it actually happens. Sometimes, they’ll say that it’s nothing compared to what they’ve been through, but most of the time they tell you that you’ll get better– and I guess that’s what really matters.

Within the past year, this was what recovery looked like:

  • not wanting to be avenged anymore, or learning to understand that it could have happened to anyone
  • learning that love finds it way to you, despite how convinced I was that I was meant to be single forever (happily single, not resigned to it. Haha!)
  • that while the fear returns every now and then, it no longer cripples me
  • and most of all, that I’ve been able to forgive my offender– and myself for failing myself.

In the process of trying to figure out how to understand what I was going through, I accidentally found this Youtube channel. It gave me a lot of comfort and realizations, aside from the prayers and goal-setting I tried to integrate into my journey to healing.

I’m sharing this here in case you also need to process things. Her videos are very patient and empathetic towards those recovering from narcissistic abuse. And as for my story, here it is… *drumroll*

The Back-story

(Basically, what I was recovering from in the past year.)

 

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Existentialism is overrated

We’ve all come to a point in our lives where we have to confront the question, “What is the meaning of life?”, or maybe something simpler, “Why am I alive?”, or “Why should I keep living?”

When you’ve witnessed great suffering, or experience the numbness of pleasure, there seems to be nothing further ahead. Does it get any better, does it get any worse? And at that moment, you probably begin thinking about what you’ve been spending so much time on in the past weeks or years.

Sometimes, we get stuck with the question, and it isn’t easy to answer. For some existentialist philosophers, perhaps the meaning of existence goes only so far as your needs exist. But what if you wanted or needed nothing? What if, at some point of great suffering or great pleasure, death finally lost its sting, and the unknown presented itself as a better reality than what you currently have?

Are you willing to philosophize, to the extent that you’re willing to risk your life?

It sounded cool back in college to think about these things, to spout out names and words about existence and how reality is manufactured and how we’re all part of some system. But when I actually went through the reality of death, the possibility of it, while lying on a hospital bed for the first time because of some stupid sickness, I suddenly felt very small and insignificant. I wondered how fortunate I was to receive medical care, and if other people in the world even had other people tending to them when they really needed help. At this point, pursuing the why of existence came to a halt because mine could possibly come to a halt and that would simply be that– an obituary.

I obviously survived that sickness, making a promise to redeem my pointless angsty life by making a difference in wherever I was placed. It was from that sickness that I also learned that life is not about dwelling on the meaning of it, but making relationships that create greater meaning out of it.

Years later, because I had lost track of my vision and instead made pleasing people my goal, I had found myself at the same dark pit. Only this time, I had myself to contend with. The reality was that I had friends and family, but this was a reality that my distorted mind had presented differently: I did not matter, I never did. Somehow, I believed this, thinking that I only had myself, and that I can only take care of my choices and my life.

It was at this point that I wondered, if atheistic existentialist philosophy was really what I believed in… I really wouldn’t have anything to live for. If it made me happy to just die, then why prolong life? If it made me happy to be alone, then why bother trying to be with others? It was an endless cycle of trying to find some meaning where there was none to be found. A pit of self-pity that I needed to get out of, because I had lost my purpose. I had been betrayed by someone I had trusted, and realized that I did truly know who they were all along. And for some strange reason, the world just did not matter anymore, the only thing keeping me alive was the fact that I had accepted God years ago and it did not make sense for me to take my own life when He said it wasn’t time. I was begging Him to– why else should I be around?

But He stayed silent, and showed me, at my pace, why I needed to live. I wanted revenge, I wanted to hurt, I wanted to throw away everything. But He reminded me each day, through unexpected interactions, through messages from loved ones, about what I was missing out on. He reminded me that, on my own, He had already given me worth.

(If you’re reading this and can relate. Know that you are enough.)

I did not save myself that day, because left to myself I don’t think I’d be here. Thankfully, it wasn’t up to me. Since that day, life has been better– day by day, little by little. Pieces started falling into place, realities were unraveled to me, and I realized that I had almost wasted my life for such a useless thing.

Of course, to say that life is so much better does not mean that it is devoid of difficulties or of rainy days and broke days. But it has been better because I have come to accept all these realities as part and parcel of the journey to becoming an authentic human being. All the darkness and the light, and how I can decide on which one takes over me. I have come to acknowledge my darkness, and if I acknowledge my limitations and ask for help, I can keep it in check.

 

So there you are, a little survivor story. You’ll know it’s a survivor story because it doesn’t use the suffering as a focal point.

Your suffering is not the best part of your story, it’s your determination to improve and recover. And you can’t do that without acknowledging that pain or need for improvement.