Challenging changes

You know, pretty soon after writing that blog, Beth reminded me that I’m not Naomi, I’m me. And that my needs are unique, and I am best-placed to understand them. All of a sudden I realised I could take a day off, and the possibilities of resting and studying unflowed as if a cork had been removed from a water spirit. I felt suddenly joyous and excited about the hour break I’d have between classes where I could sit in the sunshine and eat vegan pizza and drink vegan coffee. I thought of all the late starts I’d have to work (11am-7:30pm – the closing shift) and the ripe potential of the mornings. I felt excited to have so much time to myself, and then to go to work to cuddle some kitties. And I realised that I’d been slowly working myself into a stressful, panicked frenzy, and I had stopped appreciating the richness of the day. I had shifted my mind to micromanaging the rest of my week (a ridiculous and highly stressful practice doomed to failure because of untold variables) without paying any attention to the pleasures and potential of the day. Once I had written my lines and calmed down a bit, life was just as wonderful as it had always been.

 

I set off for a luxuriously late morning walk to the train station with my mother, deciding to skip my first class to enjoy some sunshine and company. And about halfway there I felt lightheaded and I started swerving slightly on the path. Roger (and the other facilitators) are strong believers in the idea that mental patterns manifest in physical ways, and I am quite certain that if I told them what I was experiencing, they would answer that the mind is struggling to hold onto its old ways and is vying for space with my new approach. They’d advise me to go to uni anyway, which I plan to, and to work, which frightens me somewhat. Whatever happens, I’m not going to give in so easily to this new challenge, and I’ll continue saying my lines.

Trying not

I didn’t quite express what I wanted to in my post last night, so I’ll take another moment of self-indulgence to do it now.

I’m so tired. So tired. My legs ache like they did in high school. I used to lie in bed at night, feeling my legs throb as I imagined them sinking into the mattress to help alleviate the pain. I later realised that my legs hurt in this manner whenever I hadn’t given them enough time to rest – up early, down late, playing sports five days a week. That my legs have been aching in that same way lately fills me with a sense of panic. I haven’t done any training in a week, not since that run four days ago. I’ve been sleeping 8-10 hours a night. If that’s not enough rest, what is?

When I think about having to go to uni today, or work tomorrow, or work the rest of the week until the martial arts weekend where I will certainly feel more tired and sore, I just want to break down and cry. I feel close to being burned out, and I took a night off to watch TV and read and be on the internet. Wasn’t that luxurious four hours enough? It sounds a bit silly, but four hours is a bloody long time to be not studying when I have a presentation that’s been on my mind for weeks. How much more time do I need to feel better?

A little part of me suspects it’s not about time or activity. It’s about attitude. But I’m finding it really hard to dig deep and give from my heart, because I really don’t have much energy to give right now.

Naomi says truly unconditional love fills you with energy rather than takes it away. I noticed this yesterday when I was helping people at work. I suppose I have to stop privileging myself above others. To stop self-indulgently whining so that I can start enjoying how wonderful this day is, despite the aches and tiredness. It’s fucking hard man. But if my alternative is to be miserable and exude this to anyone who will listen, even on my blog, then I’m going to fucking try to be happy. Not try, actually. To be happy.

Work and unwellness

It’s been a little while since I’ve just talked about my life and what’s been happening. I don’t really have a plan or a structure for this post, and so I’m fairly sure it’s going to be rubbish even before I start it. But man, I think it’s important to ramble. To get up on the soap box and just whinge. Logically I know it’s self-defeating, but emotionally I yearn for some comfort and recognition. I’m not saying my life is terrible, because I know that it isn’t, but I’ve had a pretty challenging weekend, for not very exciting reasons.

Firstly let me say that I love my job. I’ve been putting in a much greater effort to get there early, and I think it’s paying off. I’m certainly enjoying not being stressed about getting stuck in traffic, and the pleasure of seeing my colleagues early is quite gratifying. I love the cats, with all their cheekiness, and I find it very humbling and enjoyable to clean out their litter and give them cuddles throughout the day. I’m still loving operating the register, though the magic has dimmed. But what I love most is walking up to a customer, not to try and sell them something, but to ask them how their day is going. To ask them if I can help them with anything. Often they’ll say no, and then when I ask them just a little bit more (out of curiosity and the hope that they might share more of their story with me) they’ll suddenly change their mind and start a conversation about the beloved animal companions in their lives. Walking up to customers used to terrify me because it held the possibility of rejection, but now that my goal is no longer “to avoid rejection”, a flood of possibility opens up.

Having said all that, I struggled a bit today. Yesterday was spent in a frenzy as we had huge numbers of customers pouring in for a big sale to celebrate another store opening. I stayed in the cat food aisle for about three hours, constantly filling the cans of Fancy Feast and watching with amusement as they emptied themselves out almost as quickly. Today, while there was still a big rush of people, there were quiet moments where I actually ran out of things to do. I had already done all my default activities – I’d emptied the bins, checked for dead fish, checked on the cats, updated the membership database, filled all the catfood, filled the treats and dogfood, presented the whole store… And it scared me. There were three and half hours left of my shift, and I couldn’t imagine what on earth I would spend the time doing other than wandering around aimlessly, talking to customers. As it turned out, the time passed quickly as I got engaged with more of those magical conversations and helped many people find the products that would brighten their lives. I also got to pet some baby animals that had been set up outside the store as part of the grand opening. I learned how to hold and pet goats, chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits, and bottle-fed a lamb and a pig. It was a wonderful experience, and I am reminded and humbled by the unique personalities of every living creature on the planet.

 

Writing all this has cheered me up considerably, but I have nevertheless been struggling throughout the weekend. Despite over nine hours sleep the past three nights, I’ve been exhausted all throughout the days. It really frustrates and confuses me that after 63 days of taking Vitamin B12 supplements I’m still so exhausted. I have a doctor’s appointment in a week to get another blood test, so until then I suppose coffee is my friend. Apart from struggling to find the energy to walk around the house, or even move at all at times, I’ve been feeling physically unwell. I could list my ailments and complain about them, but I know quite certainly that focussing on unwellness attracts unwellness, or at the very least makes you more aware of how crap you feel. I’d much rather focus on wellness, and what needs to be done.

 

Gashuku in five days. Mini one, just for the weekend. Stoked.

 

Getting quite tired now. Spent all this precious time writing a rambling blog, and unapologetic about it. I guess I’ll find time elsewhere to do this assignment that’s been looming over my head! Good night everyone. All the best.

Photos from England, Singapore and Malaysia

So these are way overdue. Sorry about that. I’m running off about six hours sleep right now, so forgive my taciturnity. Here are the belated holiday photos I promised from my recent adventures in London, York, Yorkshire, the Peak District, Singapore (parts 1 and 2), Penang and Ipoh. The formatting isn’t great, and captions make it worse, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

 

UPDATE: It’s been a whole month since I started this post and forgot to actually publish it once that photos had uploaded. Mah bad!

 

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A letter to myself, in times of hardship

Dear Xin,

I’m writing this letter to tell you something important. No matter how hopeless you feel, no matter how hard life seems, no matter how bleak and overwhelming and terrifying things look, do not give up. Shihan said it and I’ll say it too: it always gets better. You can and will be happy in the future. And man, let me tell you, it’s so worth it. Being happy is so much better than being unhappy, so even though it’s hard, put in the effort and never give up. Never stop trying to be happy and enjoy life in every moment. In a fear-driven state of mind, you can only project fear-driven futures.

But that is not all that awaits you. You have no idea how amazing life gets, how much you’ll enjoy the many things that could happen and the sort of person you could become.

Hang in there. Life is in a perpetual state of awesome, and if you take the time to notice it, the rich pleasures all around you can be enjoyed in every moment.

Life gets better my friend. You just wait and see.

Xin, 15/04/2013

Are you switched on?

Just a quick update to get in a sneaky post I wrote for TINO a while back!

***

I think there’s an insidious disease that’s pervading our lives, and I’d go as far to say that at least 95% of the people you know have it. Most people aren’t aware that they’ve contracted it from somewhere- it probably came into their lives so early and so subtly that they just accepted it without knowing what was happening, or what would happen because of it. I’ve been seeing symptoms of it over the past decade or so, but I think that in the near future things are going to get a whole lot worse. What’s this perfidious disease, you ask? Why, you’re staring at it right now. It’s called technology.

Okay okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But I’m actually being quite serious here. Twenty, or even ten years ago, our parents and grandparents didn’t have any of the issues that young people face today. There was no such thing as cyber bullying, the easiest way to contact someone was through landline or in person, and the kind of entertainment people carried around involved marbles and packets of cards. Today, people (especially young, tech-savvy people) face a very different kind of problem.

Have you ever woken up early in the morning because some idiot’s sent you a text? Do you check keep facebook open, constantly checking if you have any new notifications? Have you ever felt frustrated that the internet’s stopped working? These are all symptoms of hyperconnection. What that basically means is that we’re always in touch with other people, at all times, in all places. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing- in fact, it’s quite remarkable. A hundred years ago, it was practically inconceivable to imagine being able to Skype with your cousin in Indonesia, or to instantly receive an email from anywhere in the world. But being so rigged up to technology has its own dangers, and I’m worried that no one’s aware of what’s happening to them.

RadioNational’s “All in the Mind” had a look at some of the adverse effects of being so hyperconnected. Lynne Malcolm, the presenter, has a look at the psychological disorders that can develop from having a phone in your pocket, from maintaining a sense of general anxiety whenever your phone goes off, to narcissistic personality disorder. It’s a brilliant show, and well worth a listen to. You can download the audio here.

But I think our reliance on technology goes a little further than just keeping in touch with our social circles. Something I’ve noticed is that, whenever I’m waiting for something, I’ll whip out my phone and play a game to pass the time. I do this in restaurants, in shops, in my kitchen, at my girlfriend’s house, even in the toilet. And I’ve seen other people do it too- my Dad recently figured out how to read e-books off his phone, and as a result he’s always reading. Even when my family went out to lunch together, he spent a large part of it with his head bowed, staring at a tiny screen.

From examining my own thoughts and talking to him about his, I get the feeling that people are desperately trying to keep entertained 24/7. As a culture, we fear silence, boredom and stillness. At least from my own experience, there’s been a growing compulsion to maximise efficiency and to always be doing something. For example, if we haven’t used up much of our monthly download limit, my Dad will just download dozens of files that he’s probably never going to read/watch/listen to. But he feels better knowing he’s made the most of his time and resources, and that if he ever has “a spare moment”, there’s plenty he can do to keep himself occupied. He also complains about never having enough time to do things, so he’s caught in an endless cycle.

Why have we become so dependent on technology for happiness? Once during a blackout, my brother got so bored that he declared that there was nothing to do and went promptly to bed, even though it wasn’t yet 7pm. The world has changed so much in the last decade- I can barely remember what life was like before broadband, and that really, really worries me.

But last week, my martial arts club headed into the wilderness for seven days, and part of that involved leaving all electronics at home. No mobiles, no iPods, no computer access or phone calls (excepting emergencies)… And when I got back to the city, I didn’t miss it at all. When we drove close enough to receive radio signal, I turned off the radio rather than listening to pop music. When my phone started receiving messages again, I glanced at it to see if there was anything important, then ignored it. I had not the slightest desire to check emails or facebook (though I was vaguely curious to see if a package had arrived for me). My friends and I knew that none of that crap was really important, yet there are people in the world who go to ridiculous lengths to get the perfect profile pic, or who compulsively check their emails every day. And having been temporarily freed from that illusion, I considered it a huge waste of time and energy. If only people realised how much more there was to life than their Xbox’s and iPads!

So here’s my challenge for you. Turn off your phone, right now. Sign out of your facebook/twitter account. Disconnect from some piece of technology you’ve been using for three whole days. One day is probably just enough time to go through the withdrawals without appreciating any of the benefits. Trust me, it’s manageable. I didn’t tell many people I was going incommunicado for a week, and when I got back, almost nobody noticed I’d been away. The world will keep spinning if you stop trying to control it for a little while. Just try it, and see what happens. There’s so much to gain, I can’t even begin to tell you how much.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m shutting down this computer and going to go see my girlfriend for dinner.

Xin.

Fight Club: Round 4

Hm! Can’t believe it’s been over a year since the last one. October 2010, February 2011, February 2012, March 2013. More-or-less once a year on average my martial artist friends will meet up to give each other a good beating!

 

I’m quite tired so I’ll make this brief. Only four of us were there this time, the Asian crowd of Bert, Manchoon, Andrew and myself. Andrew is by far the most experienced of us with his incredible skill, ferocious attitude and amazing technical knowledge. I was keen to fight with Bert, who was of a similar skill level to me in stand-up and ground fighting when last we sparred a year ago. Since then he’s started BJJ lessons and I wanted to see how much of a difference they’d make in his skill level. The results were surprising – it was hard for him to engage me in a grapple, and when he did, I was able to hit him or pin him with techniques other than joint locks. In our later grappling-only sessions, he was much better than me and his technical knowledge really shone through. In terms of injuries, Bert came close to throwing up from an uneasy breakfast and too much pressure on his stomach during grappling. Despite a general “no face strikes” rule (due to my wisdom teeth and sword-bashed tooth), I hit a lot of people in the face. It was only after Andrew barraged me with chest-punches over and over and over and never once hit me above the shoulders that I realised he was going for body-strikes intentionally and out of kindness. Sorry everyone! But I did knee Manchoon in the head, and did get side-kicked in the cheek when I accidentally nudged his leg a little higher than intended. Few scratches and bruises, a bloody nose, but nothing too serious this time!

 

General feedback is that I’m harder to hit than previous years. It seems that I’ve spent enough time with the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts to give up my faux-kickboxing and actually apply randori- some excellent adapting of techniques and deflections. Some not-so-great ones either, but I’ll work on those! In terms of grappling, I don’t really know too many joint-locks, but my defence is quite good. I guess when it goes to grappling I’m getting an excellent idea of “bad positions to be in” and so do everything I can to avoid them. I think I’d probably benefit from a few months (or years!) of classes. Some very satisfying leg catches, cold-wind-blows-on-two-ears, back kicks, side-kicks, front kicks, seiruto and uppercuts. Gotta watch my face hits, though XD

 

Lessons include:

  • When doing a gun-disarm, move the arm first (it’s faster) with minimal telegraphing, catch in front of the trigger-guard, punch away from you as you shift your body off line, drop-step in as you punch, grab under the hammer (without crossing the front of the barrel) and flip 180-degrees to break. Flip back 90-degrees to clear, pull back, tap the cartridge, cock the slide. Or just hit them with the gun.
  • Alternatively, grab the wrist with the left hand, the barrel with the right hand, shift off-line and punch away. Flip 180 to break, flip 90 to pull back.
  • In grappling, “half-guard” is when you have one leg under your opponent and one leg between you. “Full guard” is when you have both legs between you. When you have no legs between you, you have been “mounted”.
  • To dismount someone, trap one hand, plant both feet close to your butt cheeks, drive your hips off the floor by “bridging” on the balls of your feet and buck to the side you’ve grabbed. If you haven’t grabbed an arm, they’ll reach out to stabilise themselves. Grab it and buck again in quick succession. If they’re sitting high up on your chest (and not your pelvis), buck over your head instead.
  • The hierarchy of positions is: They’ve got your back, side control, half guard, full guard (neutral), side control, mounted, you’ve got their back. I think.
  • When someone has you in full guard, they’ll probably try and pin your head to their chest so you can’t do anything. To escape, push against their chest with your hands and work your way down until your hands are on their pelvis. Arch your back, have one foot planted close to their butt, the other away from them, and get up. Push one knee down to break their guard.
  • When applying an arm-bar, get your butt close to their side, your feet close to their other side, and rotate their pinky to your chest. Pull their head down for an alternative lock.
  • To choke someone with your legs, trap one arm and catch their neck in the crook of one knee. Hook your other knee over your ankle and squeeze. Try and get 90-degrees in the bend and be slightly side-on. Alternatively, take them to the floor for a different effect. Their arm chokes one side of the carotid, your thigh, the other.
  • When you get tired, don’t stop moving. It might seem easier to just take a few hits, but it makes it so much worse. You get worn down until you fall down, and then it just gets harder. Keep moving, keep being a threat.
  • Range is everything. Charging in and being aggressive is not ideal, but at least forces your opponent to defend themselves.
  • Aggression is 90% of the fight. Be able to turn it up at will, even if you don’t want to. It is seriously one of the most important things you can learn in martial arts.
  • Don’t just take hits! Defend! No, they may not hurt at the time, but that’s because your sparring partner is holding back and wearing foam pads to protect you. Treat them as serious threats, don’t just brush them off.
  • Always be prepared to attack. However you move, move so that you can fire something off. Don’t ever compromise your own readiness.

That’s enough now. Night everyone!