Jet Lag

Table for one in the slow lounge. The appeal of airports. It’s almost grounding. The hint of adventure. The burden of responsibility. The blessing of good fortune. The numerous memories of defining moments spent in airport terminals, restaurants, and departure and arrival halls. They’re all just whispers beckoning nostalgia while egging me on to want to take the next trip, preferably to a place I haven’t been before. 

Life tends to stagnate when I revisit the same places all the time. Home is not always a good anchor, but then again, neither is being set adrift without a harbour in sight or in mind. The mind can never be unleashed or kept safe and protected. The biggest bigots I’ve seen are those that have rarely travelled. Being exposed to different cultures and places tends to erode that arrogance associated with myopic ignorance. 

The irony of capitalism. Striving to serve a purpose greater than our selfish needs is always a good mediator to extract the good from the experiences and wealth of our lives. 

Slip Sliding Away

There are far too many mornings when I wake up and find myself searching for a specific inspiration before looking forward to the events or non-events of the day. My inclination to write is dwindling at a pace that is concerning, because it was part of a bigger picture ideal that I held on to for a very long time. ‘Held on to‘ is probably not an accurate way to describe it. It was part of a broader purpose that I willingly subscribed to. Still do, but just not with as much gusto as I did before.

The time when I expressed without restraint has been replaced by a time when I am measured in favour of the absence of drama. That’s not how I envisaged living my life. I still push the boundaries in my own ways, but not nearly as aggressively as I used to. Perhaps this is why I write less often, and my book has stagnated to the point of gathering digital cobwebs. Resurrecting it has its benefits in that I will once again read an old manuscript with fresh eyes. The downside is that I will feel the burden of revising something that has been endlessly revised already. It’s like solving the same problem over and over and over again. That detracts from the sincerity of the text, the rawness of the expression of emotion, and the clarity of thought that inspired the writing in the first place.

Not long after waking up with such a vapid mindset I find myself anxious and restless, with the need to achieve something meaningful with the limited time and resources I have at my disposal once again prompting me to drag my butt out of bed and into a course of action that will satisfy the yearning within me to make a difference. To contribute towards a world that I desired for myself, but was unable to achieve it, so I apply myself in the pursuit of creating it for my children, and for the generations to come. The sowing of my seed in the hope that the shade of its tree will shelter and offer a comforting repose to ones that I will never know or meet, and neither will they ever know or meet me.

I think it is in this anonymous benefit that we feel both part of a greater social cohesiveness, and simultaneously take for granted the social fabric that offers us the comfort and security to be who we are. In other words, if we don’t realise what it is that we get from society, we won’t see reason to pay it forward for others to enjoy the same benefit. In so doing, we end up in the state that too many find themselves in, including me, where we persevere in the establishment of those structures was once available to others, but were eroded to the point of disuse leaving us to establish it once again in the hope that it will one day be available to the ones that come after us.

The cryptic nature of my thoughts appear to be returning, which in essence is a good thing. It implies that I am once again looking questioningly at the world around me rather than enjoying or despising it at face value. Moments between such phases of inquiry in my life feel lifeless and vacuous. Life becomes an empty shell that demands fulfilment in the form of instant gratification and reckless indulgence when such purpose is lacking. That too often seems to explain a lot of what I see around me. Missed opportunities and broken commitments, not promises. Commitments transcend the fickleness of overt promises. Commitments set the expectation of loyalty, trust, honesty, sincerity, and so much more. A promise is merely a contract made either with conviction, or with a sense of responsibility, but not always made with a sense of true commitment to the agreed outcome.

Life slips away when we falter on the path that leads to fulfilment of purpose. That faltering arrives in the form of a distracted emphasis on agreements, and obligations, rather than mutual commitment to the spirit of the outcome of such shared aspirations. That slope is slippery. It starts with a need to take care of numero uno when we have good reason to believe that if we don’t, no one will take care of what we need, and quickly descends into a selfish embrace of life when we discover the joy of finally getting what we want before having to worry about what others need. It starts out as doing something for ourselves for a change and quickly becomes the norm when we realise how many others do exactly the same. This collective irresponsibility somehow justifies the abandonment of responsibility to those around us, and soon thereafter we become part of the burdening masses that burden our souls through their self-indulgent destruction of the lives of those that they once committed to protect and uplift.

Some may interpret this as divorce, some as betrayals of trust, and others as a betrayal of a shared dream. Either way, the betrayal is what lingers, and the selfishness that ensues appears to be the most sane response to an insane world. Our slip into the fabric of that tainted world escapes us when we lose sight of our own purpose that we abandoned in favour of the response to a tainted crowd.

Life slips away when we stop serving something greater than our selfish needs. Once we find ourselves sliding into that abyss that offers gratification without fulfilment, we grow increasingly closer to embracing the animal within, and abandoning the human without. Courage takes on a new form when we find ourselves clawing our way up that slope to break the slide that many others so willingly embrace. Courage is a rare attribute these days. Populism has killed it.

Resilience is not cheap 

I’ve watched some emerge stronger from harrowing ordeals, while others crumble from comparatively minor setbacks. This made me wonder what it is that makes some resilient while others remain fragile? Sometimes it’s the final straw that makes us appear weak when we crumble from a seemingly petty incident, while others have no insight into how many straws we carried on our backs up to that point. Yet at other times it is something that surprises even us when we find ourselves bewildered by the ferocity of a trial that strikes from a quarter from which we least expected. 
Seeing something coming a mile off, or not expecting much from someone that eventually disappoints us has little impact to our composure. It takes a lot more of those anticipated occurrences to wear us down, as opposed to a single blow from someone we trust deeply. Our apparent resilience is therefore not something that is fixed or easily predictable, but rather it is relative to what we hold dear, or what we’re willing to do without. That suggests that what we tolerate is a deeply personal choice, some of which we’re aware of consciously, but most of which is shaped quite unconsciously throughout our lives. 

Importantly though, we can’t assume that everyone is, or should be equally resilient, or that our tolerance to bear burdens or trials is equal. It’s not. We define our tolerance levels long before we reach it, and it is that tolerance level that often defines our resilience. On the other hand, our capacity to deal with troubling life events is largely the same. What we allow to consume that capacity versus what we let go of is what determines our resilience. Those choices are not so easy to make. Most often, that elusive state of mindfulness ensures that in the absence of mindfulness, we barely realise that we’re making such huge choices to begin with. 

I always picture it as a wheel barrow that we push through life. As we go along, we pack in our troubles. As those troubles pass, we offload them from that wheel barrow and make space for new growth events. Sometimes we even allocate specific areas in the wheel barrow for different types of life events. When that specific area starts filling up, we grow anxious because it threatens to take up spaces that we set aside for other important life events. And in that way, challenges in one part of our life ends up threatening experiences in other parts of our lives. In such circumstances, we may find we lose patience in one area, like work, while we’re completely composed in another area, like a relationship with a significant other. When we don’t create those unique spaces, we find that one area of our life will more easily contaminate the quality of a totally and often unrelated other area of our life. Add to this the fact that many of us don’t ever offload those events because the events themselves have grown to define the state of our being, and you quickly see how easily it is that we sabotage our ability to carry our burdens through life in that little wheel barrow we were each given. That’s when that wheel barrow fills up until it either gives in under all that weight, or we lack the strength to push it any further. That is what determines our capacity to deal with new experiences. The more we hold on to the past, the less capacity we have to embrace the present. The less capacity we have, the lower our resilience to deal with what comes our way. 

Before we can choose what we hold on to versus what we let go of, we need to know what we want. Sometimes we know what we want, but we don’t articulate it well enough to ourselves, so we go chasing after something we don’t really want, and then find ourselves devastated when we acquire it only to find that it is not what we were looking for to begin with. It sounds cryptic, but no more cryptic than how many of us live our lives. 

Our ability to face adversity, smile, maintain our composure and move on is determined long before that adversity strikes. It is determined in those moments when we hold on to a bad memory and promise ourselves never to forgive or forget, or it is determined by those moments when we shrug, smile, accept what we could not change, and move on with the knowledge we gained from the experience. 

Very simplistically, I see resilience as a sense of conviction driven from a deeply held desire to serve a greater purpose, which outweighs our need to exact retribution for a past event. But that begs the question at to what is purpose? Purpose must be greater than a selfish benefit. It has to benefit others as well. If it only benefits us, it’s not true purpose, it is more likely convenience or indulgence. Purpose becomes important for resilience because it is all that stands between us and the distractions that prevent us from reaching our goals. In fact, if your goal is not aligned with a specific purpose, it is more likely to have a fleeting effect on your happiness, rather than a lasting one. Goals without purpose tend to be instant gratification. Instant gratification doesn’t require conviction. It merely requires a short term satisfaction of a fleeting need. Such needs are usually instinctive and spontaneous, and feed an emotional state, not necessarily a spiritual one. 

The expense associated with resilience is therefore the resolve we need to establish to let go of that which no longer serves our greater purpose. We choose those greater purposes that we wish to serve based on what we believe we are most capable of influencing as a beneficial outcome to those around us. The lower our self esteem, the less likely we are to be convinced of our ability to contribute in this regard. But before you feel pity for the one with the self esteem deficit, consider what it is that they are choosing to keep in their wheel barrows, as opposed to showing gratitude for the opportunities they have, and the growth they experienced? 

Resilience is not cheap because it demands a level of conviction in who we are before anyone else is willing to invest in us. It demands that we recognise our abilities and take accountability for our contributions towards our lives, rather than pretending to be victims of circumstance or fate. Resilience dictates that we take charge, that we lead, that we own our space before it gets owned by others. When we give in and assume that life happens regardless of our input, or that we need saving before we feel significant, it confirms that we’re ungrateful for what we have. It also confirms that we choose not to learn from our mistakes nor accept accountability for our contributions to what weighs us down. When we get into that state, that victim mentality, we become a burden to others, a major deficit to society, and we test the resilience of those that have to pick up the slack because they see the value beyond the trials we placed in their paths instead of stopping and questioning why it is that they need to deal with what the fickle and ungrateful refuse to own. 

Resilience is not cheap because anything in short supply is expensive to attain. The demand for resilience on those that live with conviction increases disproportionately with every wimp that cowers in the face of adversity. 

[An incomplete thought process] 

The Iceberg Effect (Take II)

My somewhat poor attempt at describing the iceberg effect in my previous post compelled me to take a second stab at it. I think I over complicated it previously, so here’s a (hopefully) shorter but clearer explanation of what I think is an important concept to grasp.

If we view the progression of our efforts towards what is perceived as a successful state, and we compare that progression to the metaphor of an iceberg, then we need to turn that berg on its head. All the memes and the common wisdom suggests that our problems, struggles, failures, and so much more lie beneath the water line, while that which is above the water line is simply the successful outcome that is visible to others. I have two problems with this approach.

Firstly, it assumes that we experienced our problems and failures and everything else in private, and not in front of others. We know that this is totally untrue because it is in fact our spectacular failures in a public setting that discourages so many to avoid trying again. They’re the ones that are more focused on being defined by the validation they received from others rather than defining themselves according to how well they know themselves. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know ourselves well enough to be able to accurately define ourselves. Hence our inclination to take our cues from society. Perverse logic indeed.

Secondly, the above approach also assumes that our struggles remain below the surface, while we celebrate our success in plain view of everyone else. Again, this mostly refers to those that still harbour a desire to be celebrated for their struggles so that the magnanimity of their success can been appreciated that much more.

I think the truth is closer to the fact that the iceberg in its entirety is our journey towards success. The part that rises to the surface first is the steps that set us out on that journey. As we chip away at that surface, or what is visible, we remove chunks of uncertainty and doubt, and allow space for what’s next in that journey to rise to the surface. As we chisel away at these steps towards success, the success that rested at the base of that iceberg, and not the tip, slowly surfaces until eventually it is in full view. When we grow complacent, it melts away and is quickly replaced by more ice that once again suppresses the success, until it sinks to the bottom of the water line, and all we have on the surface is again the taunts of challenges and failures.

Most people don’t notice us when we chip away at what is holding us back. They only notice us when we’re in either extreme. Failure, or success. Failure, because they don’t want to be like us, and success, because they want to be like us. Everything in between is largely a private experience that we dress up in different ways for the world to see, while a few, or at least one or two significant others are allowed close enough to witness or experience that journey with us.

The moment we focus on dressing up our failures or challenges to make it less humiliating in the presence of others, we focus on their perceptions and validations, rather than the purpose that drive us to strive for that success in the first place. Keep a firm grasp on that purpose, and the ice will never be slippery enough to dethrone you.

Fleeting Thoughts (III)

[image: a collection of various koi and goldfish species in my pond at home] 

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, it never ends well.

Don’t take for granted those that show a sincere interest in your well being, there are not many of them in this world.

Reciprocate the good that people do for you and ignore the bad. The bad is a reflection of their bitterness from betrayal, while the good is a hint at what they invested in before being betrayed.

Betrayal doesn’t define your value, it only ever defines the weakness of the betrayer.

Weakness is an opportunity to acquire a new skill or perspective, while strength is a common source for arrogance and insensitivity.

Compassion wears thin when faced with an onslaught of human tragedy. Choose your tragedies carefully because there is too much misery in the world to do justice to every cause.

Justice is subjective, so don’t assume that your perspective of fairness is the only correct perspective. Choose your points of reference carefully.

Perspective is tainted by bias, and vested interest. Be sure you know what your biases and vested interests are before advising others.

Don’t play people unless you want to be played. If you do play them, be sure they’re not already playing you instead.

Trust, but not blindly. Giving others the benefit of the doubt should not be at the expense of your well being.

Naivety is only cute as long as it does not deny others your contribution in their life over which they have a right. If you choose to be naïve, be sure that you are the only one that pays the price that accompanies such an innocent approach to life.

Contribute with the objective of adding value, even if that value is taken for granted by those who benefit from it.

Ingratitude is not always a lack of appreciation. Sometimes it is a resistance to appearing weak or needy for one that is struggling to stand on their own.

Demanding gratitude is arrogance, and withholding benefit in the absence of gratitude is arrogance.

Circumstances only ever define your circumstance. How you respond to it determines your self-worth and your credibility with others.

Mindfulness is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of purpose.

Live each moment with purpose, and mindfulness will take care of itself.

The Iceberg Effect

Resilience is obstinacy in the face of adversity. It relates to our ability to resist being overwhelmed even when we face the storm alone. Facing storms alone is so much more fun anyway. It tests our limits of perseverance in ways that reveal our true strength, or at least it hints at what we are truly capable of. That wouldn’t be possible if we always had someone by our side to face the storms, because then, we’ll grow to learn how much we can bear if only we have someone to bear it with.

We go through life chipping away at icebergs but assume that we’re carving snowmen instead. Each effort is intended to yield a specific and immediate result. Those of us that have progressed beyond our formative years realise that reality has struck no such bargain with us, so we strive a little more after each setback, knowing that success often hides behind a few setbacks, or more accurately, failures. So we give it a try, and another, and another, until eventually we give up in the belief that our energies will be better expended elsewhere.

Giving up though, is rarely that simple. If the goal we courted was important to us in ways that would define our happiness, giving up becomes a bitter pill to swallow. But in the face of inevitable failure, we assume that it’s the only option to save our dignity. That’s when we convince ourselves that we’re building snowmen, rather than chipping away at icebergs.

The iceberg analogy has been used to describe many positive and negative aspects about life. Quite popular in the meme culture of late is the use of the iceberg to demonstrate the pinnacle of success rising above the water, while a huge amount of effort, perseverance, and some failure rests beneath the surface that no one seems to recognise. It is not an untrue analogy either, but there is a different perspective that I believe is equally important, if not more so.

Think of the iceberg as a problem you’re facing, but not just above or below the surface. Instead, the iceberg in its entirety represents the challenges we face in life. Now consider what happens to the bottom of the iceberg as we chip away at what we can see on the surface. Each time we shave away the top, the bottom rises a little more making it seem as if the top is never-ending. So we keep ridding ourselves of the surface layer hoping that nothing more will rise in its place, only to be presented with more each time, until eventually we grow despondent and stop chipping away.

What we fail to recognise in that process of chipping away is that each time the top was removed, even if only a little, it made way for the underlying issues to surface, and each time the underlying issues surfaced, it reduced the weight of what was beneath the surface, out of sight, until eventually so little (if any) remained, that it made the iceberg irrelevant. What once was an iceberg suddenly becomes an ice cube.

Being able to chip away at that iceberg would also be so much easier if we just moved it to warmer oceans instead of remaining anchored in the icy waters that sustained its creation to begin with. And that, simplistically, is how life presents its challenges to us.

The ocean is the environment we find ourselves in, each environment having its own share of toxicity or benefit depending on what we need to take from it. Remain in the surrounds that gave rise to our problems, and our problems will continue to grow larger than we ever will be, constantly overwhelming us and convincing us that trying to prevail is futile. Change environments and suddenly our perspectives are refreshed and solutions become easier. It reminds me of the prophetic analogy of the blacksmith and the perfume merchant. Spending your day with the blacksmith will never leave you perfumed.

Accepting our state may result in us finding comfort in the cold desolation of the confined spaces of the top of the iceberg. For some, a confined space is much more comforting  than the horror of having to venture beyond their comfort zone. In their case, icebergs are great, and so is being rooted to the spot. Unfortunately they hold others back because of the company they need on that iceberg. They become masters at making snowmen, as long as that snowman is on their iceberg.

I often wonder how many times did I stop chipping away at some of the icebergs in my life just as the final layers may have been surfacing before I gave up and moved on to new icebergs? It’s a question that could easily test our sanity, because we rarely find out in this lifetime when giving up was the wrong thing to do. The only comfort that I find in such deliberations is in knowing that my choices to leave, to abandon, or to simply stop caring about some icebergs was a conscious choice relative to what I was willing to tolerate at that point in my life. Where I realised later that I may have given up too soon, I accepted that I would have done no differently no matter how many times I could relive that moment, because the sum total of my life’s experiences, my emotional maturity, and my awareness of what was taking place would always be the same. The only thing I could do was recognise what it was that detracted from my decision being more informed, and be sure not to overlook that aspect again in future. I think that’s how icebergs melt without us having to chip as much.

Remaining in toxic settings, or relationships, while chipping away is often an unnecessary test of our resilience. What doesn’t kill us does not make us stronger, it only makes us more brittle. Eventually, we’ll discard opportunities that promise beauty while holding on to the remnants of what may have been simply because we focused on the iceberg, instead of the ocean.

[This is an incomplete thought process that has plagued my mind for weeks now. Hopefully this partial expression will lead to the clarity that escapes me at this time.]

Taken for Granted

It’s not always a bad thing to be taken for granted. It really all depends on who is taking you for granted, doesn’t it? When we incline towards selflessness, being taken for granted is comforting. It means that those around us find us to be dependable for what it is that they need from us. If we’re not inclined towards selflessness, that same feeling of dependability turns into a feeling of being used. I guess that means being taken for granted is more dependent on who we are, rather than how others treat us, not so?

What I need from a given relationship is what I use as a benchmark to determine how I am appreciated. The less I need, the more likely I am to contribute without any expectation of either gratitude or reciprocation. The moment I need something, and I don’t get it in the portion sizes that I want, I hold back and withdraw. That’s when I start feeling used. Problem is, that is based on the assumption that the other person knows exactly what it is that I need from them, and they also know why it’s important for me to get it from them specifically.

Almost everything we get in life can be obtained from multiple sources. Feeling loved can be achieved through affection and acceptance of strangers, but the value of such love is significantly less than the value from significant others. Again, it points to the worth we place on others, rather than the worth they place on us. I think this is important. It is important because we usually fail to consider our investment or contribution towards the circumstances that lead to us being taken for granted.

It is very easy to feel oppressed or persecuted when our needs are not considered. However, if we constantly strive to put up a front of independence and aloofness so that we don’t seem needy or desperate, then isn’t it reasonable for others to assume that we need that much less? Think about it. The amount of neediness I express is proportional to the amount of neediness that others witness. How we judge that need is a separate matter. Our judgement thereof is based on the biases we hold on to relative to the objective truth of the matter at hand. In other words, our prejudices and hurts determine whether or not we see something as positive, negative, or neutral.

So back to the point at hand. The pervasiveness of political correctness in the world is a result of the majority needing to feel appreciated or respected for their struggles because they generally lack the courage to take accountability for their contribution towards the state in which they find themselves. Political correctness is a polite but insincere way of demonstrating appreciation while disagreeing with what is happening to begin with. We’re insincere like that. We don’t want to be taken for granted the way we take others for granted. Awkward truth.

The point is, we’re only taken for granted in a bad way when we need more than we are willing to give. If our true purpose and conviction in life is to uplift and serve humanity for the greater good, we will contribute and invest in others regardless of reciprocation or reward. We will find comfort in knowing that someone else’s life is slightly easier, or their struggles are somewhat eased because of something we did, anonymously or not. Whether or not they reciprocate should not be the defining motivation for us to act, because in living among a social structure that enjoys such selfless contribution, we automatically gain from the harmony that results.

We rarely consider what we take from society, or from the selfless contribution of others, but are quick to assume that we’re taken for granted the moment we have an expectation that is not fulfilled. Being taken for granted is a compliment. It’s tacit acknowledgement that we can be relied upon to produce something of value. Value that is so pervasive, that we grow accustomed to it being there, while only realising its worth when it is removed from our lives. Being taken for granted is only a reality when we expect something in return, but don’t get it. If we manage our expectations, we’ll find that feelings of abuse from being taken for granted will be fleeting, while our focus on contributing towards others in ways that fulfil our lives will increase.

The logic is simple. If we truly love doing something, we’ll do it regardless of who notices or acknowledges. However, if we truly love getting attention for what we do, we’ll only do it as long as someone is noticing. Perhaps this is why in a society of attention whores, there is so little fulfilment in life.