Goal-setting · musings · Spirit

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.

 

Goal-setting · musings · writing

Becoming by Owning

 

 

 

Dear online shopper,
take these things I once owned for a discounted price
along with my hope, free of charge,
that they will do for you what they could not do for me.

“Reason for selling”
by Raydon L Reyes

 

The past year has been an inventory of the past decade. You know how some TV shows have that odd episode that recaps the past episodes you just watched– and after thirty minutes you wonder why one whole episode was made just to tell you what you already know?

It feels like that.

Now that I’ve entered my third decade, I can’t help but recall all my hesitation and idealization about where I should be and who I wanted to become. At thirty, I feel much younger, and it’s become easier to decide what to prioritize. Maybe it’s because I spent my twenties trying to fulfill obligations and being someone else for others, that I forgot my own priorities. It’s also been a realization of how I got by with a lot of help from friends and a supportive family.

One of the biggest realizations I had in the past few months is that I can create a safe space for myself, and that other people cannot insist to be in my space. I can choose who enters my space, and I mean this not just in terms of daily encounters but also what kind of relationships I exert my time and effort for. It’s a little strange to arrive at this only now, but as a yuppie trying to make it, I almost believed that I had to entertain everyone and make them feel welcome– regardless of rudeness.

In any case, with the second quarter of 2017 rolling in, I still have a lot of things that I need to let go of, mostly things that were an idea of who I wanted to be. Just this week, I’ve been reviewing the books that I haven’t read and no longer plan to… A toy typewriter I bought by mistake… Some clothes I never wore… Notebooks I never used… Pens that just went dry…

It’s amazing how many of these things felt like they fulfilled their purpose just by being possessed. I forgot to actually use them to become what I imagined to be. The process of becoming takes a whole lot more time and dedication that social media posts and photos justify. And sadly, for at least a year, I honestly believed that social media was the empowering tool for the youth to be heard  (it’s just a tool, and people are highly forgetful).

While there are days when I wonder why I even spent so much time for a cause that I wasn’t sure of, the good thing that I can see out of this is that it’s taught me to search for authenticity. At the end of the day, the commodification of authenticity might be the point of social media and online business– the pursuit of becoming by owning.

 

 

Goal-setting · musings · writing

Why Write

I might have gotten off the wrong foot on why I should have a blog. This was something I had easily maintained back in high school and college life, but immediately stopped when I had began working. Mostly, I stopped blogging because I didn’t want people to easily read my thoughts, and maintain a professional relationship with them. On the other hand, I still wanted people to know what I thought.

In the end, I just had a quick attempt and a few (half-assed) blogs somewhere along my working years. Reading through them tends to leave me feeling hollow, though. As if I was not encountering myself, but a bot. Being someone who has a lot of opinions on various things– both the mundane and the abstract– writing about safe topics slowly killed my spirit.

This reminds me of a question I had asked a writer friend about being a writer. I told him that I wanted to be a writer, and that I know this deep down even if I still have a lot of work to do. It was because writing sets me free, helps me sort things out, and is the best way I can express myself; I am happiest when I am able to write well. The problem is that I already foresee how some of my thoughts might not resound with people. To that, he simply smiled and said, “such is the fate of a writer.”

That being said, perhaps part of being an authentic writer and a memorable one (at least in my opinion), is the capacity to take all the goodness and sh*tiness of humanity, be authentic about it, and turn it into something worthwhile. It’s not just about expression, but about creating something. Hopefully, something that can serve others in a way that helps them grow.

Talking to friends who manage blogs for a living has helped me appreciate their talent and time management. It has also helped me realize my limitations as a writer: brevity is the soul of wit. And in blogging, wit might be the only thing that keeps people coming back for more.

This is a step towards becoming the writer I want to be, and to reclaim my authentic voice as a writer. I need to stop filtering all the time (that comes later, with editing and much thought).

I begin with blogging again, a venue for expression in my younger years. Perhaps, later on, I can take on greater strides and actually put myself out there, regardless of what expectations others had of me as a person and as a writer.

This is about authenticity.

Goal-setting · musings · writing

Minimalism

This year was a process of discarding things. Not because I wanted replacements, or new purchases, but because I needed to inventory things. Things that I had forgotten I even had, or things which I hung on to for no particular reason.

When I found posts on the Konmari technique, and other minimalism-focused cleaning techniques, I told myself that this was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t a matter of throwing things out, but of finding meaning and deliberate selection in what to keep and what to give away or discard.

The easiest to discard were the clothes ; years of clothes that I wore simply because they fit me. The challenge was not to buy anything that looked like them, or that had the same bluish hue. After discarding the clothes which stayed unused for a year, or half a year, I realized that I only wore about 20% of what was in my closet. It also meant that I slowly needed to find new clothes to wear.

This was tougher than I had expected, but a welcome change. You see, I’m not the shopping type. And in order to keep my budget intact, which mostly went to rent and to food, I had subconsciously developed the habit of not wanting anything else. Clothes were the first thing that I figured I didn’t need immediately. Until this year, I hadn’t realized that my wardrobe was three years behind.

Now that I had more resources, and had lost a bit of weight, buying new clothes seemed a breeze… until I realized that the weight I thought I had lost hardly made a difference in department store sizes. In my mind, I must have at least become an M, or size 08. But as it turned out, I was still an L, and a size 10. It reminded me of how I disliked shopping.

Minimalism is supposed to teach you to detach. I had hoped that buying new clothes would teach me to reconstruct my look and create more confidence in myself. I slowly realized that what I had been avoiding was accepting how I really am, and learning how to work with this while learning to love myself more. It sounds so selfish: to love myself more. But in the past years, this might have been the biggest breakthrough that I had to make in order to enjoy life.

It sounds strange, doesn’t it? Isn’t survival a built-in instinct for all humans? I am slowly learning that there are people who have an acute sense of survival, and there are those who are willing to sacrifice a bit of themselves for the benefit of the other. I also learned recently that these two types tend to gravitate to each other; the self-sacrificial one finding some sense or purpose in being given attention by another. The other, taking all that can be given– until the sacrificial one has been bled dry.

But I digress.

Minimalism also means mindfulness. Learning to let go of things that create some dead weight on our consciousness. So, after the clothes, the next thing I had to sort out were all the sentimental junk that I hung on to, only because I was told that it was difficult to acquire. Somehow, the gift had become a symbol of sacrifice, and required sense of gratitude on my end.

It made sense then– the gratitude hostage.

So out went the journals, the expensive planners, and the smaller junk that no longer meant anything but a ball and chain. I also sold all things that were related to those meanings, sold them for much cheaper online for people who would like them more than I did.

Minimalism also means learning to figure out what items still create happiness, or serve a purpose in your life (or at least where you are in life at the moment)

This meant sorting out my books, cleaning out my shelves. I had found books piled up which I had intended to read long ago, if only because I wanted to become something (what the book espoused). But I realized that I had spent less and less time reading books, and more and more time with people whose idea of friendship was all talk and no substance. I often wondered why I even bothered spending time with them; the answer is: because I was given attitude if I didn’t.

So, next went the books. Gift books, bookmarks, and other reminders of what I had hoped to be– but realized later on were not what I am. Why the hell did all this garbage accumulate on my shelf? All these self-help books. All these “you can be better” books, which reminded me of my constant depressive states that never really had a reason, until I figured out the reason was that I desperately wanted freedom.

And for all the success and independence that I thought I had acquired then, it turns out that I’m a lot happier now with a whole lot less. It escapes me how I spent my twenties climbing an imaginary ladder, and I am hardest on myself for this. But what good is it regretting the past that can no longer be changed, right?

So you see, minimalism is a process. It’s a soul-healing process. It must have taken me about 6 months to completely dispose of things. I think I still have spaces which need to be cleaned up. My goal is to make sure that I get to let go of things every three months; to make an inventory of the things I need on a daily basis and not to accumulate junk.

In the course of disposing things, it was funny how many things happening at work and at home slowly revealed to me how other people saw me.

Just like when I went shopping for new clothes– I thought I had been a certain size, but others really thought smaller of me.

I realized that I had unwittingly branded myself as the person who does anything and everything that everyone else doesn’t want to do, oftentimes for free!

The kind and patient one. The one who has so much time to share emotional space with others. I’m also the pushover, since students can easily talk to me and ask for a consideration and pass with substandard output. I feel disgusted thinking about how pathetic I must have looked.

At this point, my challenge with minimalism is getting out of the branding. I always wanted to be a teacher who inspires excellence. I also wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to also have a business, and then maybe become a manga artist.

But, along the way, I also lost sight of my own goals and began filling my life with so much (meaningless?) work because I had thought that’s how one creates a name for oneself– I had slowly made myself a “yes man” if only because I worries about how people thought of me.

I had accumulated all these tasks and to-do lists, without doing an inventory of my life.

On my thirtieth year on earth, I begin this inventory. With a new decade, I hope to find more meaning, and purpose, and to make the most of what me wasteful twenties taught me.

Goal-setting · musings · writing

Everyday

Over coffee one day, my friend told me about how self-help books are more to self-help the authors. It was his usual joke, driving at my interest in reading them when I don’t know who to ask about a topic (which is usually 70% of the time).

For this coffee break, we were talking about “the habitus”, mostly because I had been fixated on reading up about starting the year right. As much as 2016 was a bad year for many people, for me 2016 was the pinnacle of  my own hubris. That is, I had to learn about my failures in a way that I never experienced, and had to accept that my failings were no one else’s fault. In the midst of that tumultuous time it would have been difficult for me to know what exactly was wrong; a year later, I can’t help but feel grateful that I got myself out of a horrible, compromising relationship masked as a “friendship”.

On the plus side, losing a so-called friend left me re-discovering a lot of good things about myself, placing things into perspective and forcing me to do what I’ve always wanted to do years ago but didn’t have the courage for: to leave. Now, I just had to figure out what to improve about myself, to rebuild my habits in a way that I could re-discover more things about myself. You read that right: this friendship made me forget who I was. Basically I was setting myself up for a 2017 that could restore all the good in myself that I had lost.

Back to coffee with friend.

“We make all these resolutions, but actually most of the time you’re acting on your accepted habits. If you want to make real resolutions, you’ll have to study your daily habits first, otherwise you’re just making a list,” he said as he took coffee. “Not to seem too personal, but just my two cents’.” He was right though, and as an anthropologist with a grasp on many theories and actual experiences and fieldwork, I was not one to challenge his years of study.

So began the daily recording of my “habitus”. I realized that a lot of habits that I wanted to include in my “self-care list”, included a lot of activities that I never really did before– like weekly exercise. It didn’t take long (3 days?) that I broke the resolution and went back to my old habits (like, no exercise for weeks).

Another friend of mine said that “it takes 21 days to develop a habit.” Sure enough, as soon as I started talking to someone regularly, daily, I noticed that it had subconsciously become a habit– I began wondering if the person was all right, and wanted to talk to them.

And so began the experiment: I wanted to inculcate mindfulness. This to me meant becoming detached from my cellphone. I made it a goal not to look at my phone the entire time that I was commuting on the way to school (2-3 hours). With traffic jams  that caused commute time to extend to an hour almost everyday, I had developed the habit to read through my Facebook feed, social media sites, or whatever else I had on my phone. I thought, if I could overcome this habit of filling my commute time with social media reading, maybe I could build other habits later on.

A week into the resolution, I had a difficult time stopping myself from reaching into my bag and checking if anyone had replied or sent me anything. For someone who’s pretty low-profile, I no longer understand why I felt the impulse to respond immediately… but during that first week I can’t deny the impulse I felt to make sure that people who responded to my post were not neglected. On the third day, though, I had realized that I just checked my phone to see if I had any “likes” on a post– I felt a little pathetic after realizing that. I mean, who cares if people liked my post on Facebook anyway?

After that week, it was a lot easier to tune out my need to check my phone. I almost wanted to buy a basic brick-phone to completely tune out the need to check social media. On my way to work, I had also begun to notice some things which I never really did when I was distracted with my phone. I noticed that the coffee shop that I passed by daily had familiar faces (maybe they held office there?). I began to drop by the chapel and notice how people from all walks of life would also say a few prayers before heading out. I also noticed how many people were constantly glued to their phone when I’d be on the train.

I felt free, not feeling the need to be on my phone.

So the next coffee break, I’ll be telling my friend how right he was. And also, I’ll be taking note of how often I’ve been asking him out for coffee.

musings · writing

The Haunted House

A friend of mine explained that there’s a small difference between creative non-fiction and the essay. Since I had to teach this topic for class, I asked him what exactly that was, because I couldn’t really put my finger on that difference as well. He told me to explain by example, to tell him a story that I wanted to write about. I told him that, at the top of my mind, I wanted to write about the haunted house we lived in when I was still very young, and that because of our stay there I may have become more aware of the realities that lie beyond what can be seen–

he politely asked me to stop there. I did, though unsure why. I was at the point of recalling my memories, growing up in the large house, and the fragmented layout that my lizard brain could muster– the stairs, the library, the dining room, the bedroom.

He gave me an example of a narrative, about a beggar going about her way, trying to beg for alms. One person gave her bread, another gave her coins, another gave her a drink, and one gave her a rosary. After her collection, the beggar began sorting out what had been collected and dropped the rosary at the roadside and went on with the other items.

He stopped and asked me, “what do you think happened?”

I said, “She didn’t see the value of the rosary, because she threw it away.”

“And?” he encouraged.

“…and…” I saw the beggar, walking by a busy road that I frequently passed. In reality, I rarely saw her walking around with anything in her hands. More often, she sat by the roadside, and there was the occasional pile of empty paper bags on her side. But back to the story. She discarded the rosary. “Maybe to her,” when did she become a woman? “maybe to her, praying is the least that she needs to do right now. Maybe she doesn’t believe in God. Maybe she doesn’t know what a rosary is for. She just needs food.” I was uncertain with my response, and wondered if he could tell.

“Mm-hmm,” he nodded at that, saying that THAT was what creative non fiction is about. “Lead the reader to their own inferences, to their own conclusions,” and he pointed out that this was the trouble with my story. I began with the lesson, framing my reader to think of the insight I had drawn from the experience, rather than leaving them to draw it for themselves.

This particular insight caught me by surprise. Perhaps, being a teacher for some time, I’ve become so used to drawing students to what I need them to think, and to meet the objectives that would tell me they understood. But here I was, figuring out how to make any reader want to read my work, to stop a moment and take a walk with me down an imagined reality despite the busy demands of the moment. My friend showed me the same advice that I had heard from my previous literature classes in the past, “Show, don’t tell.”

“Let’s try this one more time,” he referred to my haunted house story, “what is it about living in a haunted house that you want to say?”

“Well, it was scary…” I answered, but suddenly realizing the redundancy of what I said. He was patient and prodded me on, “what was scary about it?”

I tried to dig deep into what I could remember about the house, about the stories my family members would share during our dinners, about the way that it turned out to be abandoned for two years.

I threw out a few lines from those memories, “I remember the haunted house we lived in when I was five years old. We would later find out that it was vacant for two years, and that there were things that happened in that house that could not be explained. There was also one time my mom had to be late for work, because of the dead body right outside our gate– a man who possibly got into a bloody fight after a drunken argument. I’m not sure which was more scary about that house…”

As my friend nodded, he saw that I had understood– even if for just a first step. I could not deny as well, the affirmation that I felt, the way that memories were lighting up in my brain, and the way that I needed to find the right words to create that picture to make a story worth telling.

Over our dinner, a plate of sushi and cups of tea, my friend showed me the world that I had missed so much that left me feeling very full. The world where words become images, the kind of images that move the heart, that capture the mind, all while one sits and watches as these worlds come into being.

I missed being a participant, a writer, a reader, a lover of words in a world where images were fed to me without me asking for it. And as I took another bite of salmon sashimi, noticing the lines and the pink meat, and how I could actually consume this, I wondered how I would write about the softness of that raw fish and how I felt like the soy sauce would ruin the fresh taste– but I realized that we had not really come towards a conclusion.

“So what’s the difference between and essay and creative non-fiction again?” I recalled the topic. He answered, taking a sip from his cup of warm rice tea, “Actually, creative non-fiction is also an essay.”

musings · Uncategorized

Parallel Universes

I recently got into the Doctor Who series, and it’s the best thing that my escapist mind could look for.

But sometimes, I do wonder if it’s possible. Maybe not so much the time-travel, “timey-wimey” stuff, but parallel universes. Consciousness that exists in a different plane, at a different place– or maybe receding memories from previous generations.

The idea of reincarnation never really appealed to me; life seems so much more tiring and loathsome with the thought that you’re making up for a past mistake. Recently, I heard of a theory that it’s possible to transmit memories through genetics– the lineage. This would probably make sense as to why some people have memories of themselves in the past. But again, it’s just a theory.

I’m searching for an answer to this because of how the vivid dreams I have often come back– deja vu. At the time when I dreamt them, they seem impossible, but eventually they just happen, and it makes sense. Sometimes, they’re completely harmless moments, like being in a certain place and saying a specific line to someone. Other times, it’s the context that really gets me worried, like knowing that it’s the end of the world, or that I’m no longer in touch with this person but they’re talking to me.

Dreams are supposedly your subconscious thoughts. I can’t seem to make sense of this because a lot of times, my dreams are complete stories, or unfinished stories which continue on some other day. Sometimes, my dreams have contexts within themselves– memories of being there before.