Quietude

I am like the deep oceans that resound with silence.

Ever since I was little, I have sought out quiet places and found them deeply calming.
When prayer time ended and all the other kids went onto the next activity, my teacher let me finish the rosary.
At recess, a stray soccerball lead some kids to find me meditating on a tree stump behind the classroom.
At the peak of Mt Sinai I watched the sunset for hours as I thought about God and the universe.

I have a thousand examples such as these. It’s such a pleasure to me to be in quietude, to slow down enough to hear myself think. To let the waters inside of me settle so that I can see clearly to the bottom. And those waters run deep.

I take the quiet with me, and I share it with those around me. Throughout my life, many people have said to me that they feel calmer around me, that I have a grounding presence, that my energy helps them to slow down. Sometimes I really amplify it, when I can see someone is stressed and vibrating themselves to pieces. It’s tiring, but it’s nice knowing I helped bring peace to them.

I felt so incredible seen when Bud from The Adventure Zone: Graduation said, “But… for now, we will both eat our berries and be quiet, huh? I think sometimes they forget how to be quiet.”

Solitude and silence have always been important to me. But I don’t think that most people these days have forgotten how to be quiet, just that they don’t value it in the same way that I do. I find it hard sometimes to keep things light and fun, and it puts a strain on my relationships because people don’t always want to connect with heaviness and seriousness.

And that’s okay. It just feels a little lonely sometimes.

Family

Content Warning: Family stuff. Obviously.

 

I’ve been thinking about the notion of family lately.

That there’s chosen family, and family you’re born into.

And that you can’t choose the family you’re born into, so as an adult you must choose how much to relate to them. Which parts of your life to let them into, and how deeply. Which joys and dreams and fears and hurts to open, and how much vulnerability to show.

That we’re hardwired to love our family unit, and that it hurts when things don’t happen the way they’re supposed to. When family dysfunctions.

The broken promise of unconditional love and support.

 

Realising for the first time that our parents, with all their wisdom and all of their experience, are wrong.

That they don’t know better, no matter how much they insist they do.

That I have used the gifts they gave me to become a better person than they are. That I’ve worked hard on it, and haven’t stopped trying.

 

I love my family. But I’m still working out in what ways, and how much. Still figuring out the limits of my boundaries, which ground I’m willing to give up and which ground I’ll stay firm in. The battles I’ll fight, and the ones I’ll let slide.

And I know that in all of this, all of us are just doing our best. Beautiful and broken.

Responding to Privilege

As I sit here in Yallingup, lookingout across the hills and lakes, surrounded by kangaroos and kookaburras, blue sky and the scent of smoke on the wind, I remind myself that life isn’t fair.
That I didn’t do anything to earn this.
That I don’t deserve this.

So what do I do? Do I poison the beautiful landscape with guilt? Do I sabotage the opportunities I have for joy?

I think a better response is to cultivate awareness, gratitude and generosity.
To recall that very few people in the world have seen a view like this, and to know that I am privileged without rhyme or reason.
To be grateful for the gifts that have given to me, either by chance or by destiny.
And to share the resources, opportunities and blessings I have. To create something beautiful in the world for others, because I can.

I’m still figuring out what that looks like. The ways I can give to others that light me up rather than drain me. While I figure it out, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, and maybe one day I’ll find a way to give enough back to this world that’s given me so much.

Us vs Them

When people hold beliefs that threaten the things we care about, it’s easy to see them as enemies. Perhaps they believe things that attack our own values and beliefs, or threaten the emotional (or even physical) safety of our friends, loved ones or selves. That’s tough, and feeling defensive and angry is a good and appropriate response.

Yet I would argue it is not the best one. Getting angry and seeing people as enemies leads us to the absolute thinking of “Us vs Them”. The reality is far harder to consider: that it’s Us talking with Us. That there are no lines in the sand, there are no sides to pick: that we’re all on the same field and no one is the enemy.

John and Hank Green talk a lot about understanding one another complexly. That regardless of our views, it’s important to see the human in each other, and to empathise with and understand people. Even people who hold beliefs that might be hurtful, or threatening to us. Even people we are tempted to see as enemies.

Having said that, I don’t mean to imply that we should listen indefinitely to hate speech. But I think that we need to listen to others, even in our hurt and anger, if we want them to do the same to us. The world is a better place when we understand each other more deeply.

An important caveat: when we can no longer listen (because we’re too hurt or angry or whatever), it’s best to remove ourselves from those discussions. If we cannot respond from a place of grounding and compassion, we are likely to do more harm than good, to lash out and sever ties, burn bridges. We must take care of ourselves first, and if we cannot ask the person to stop speaking, we need to step away so that we can’t hear for a bit.

Why I Blog

As you might recall from my blog post celebrating my 1000th entry, this blog started off as a place (indeed, not a journal to write in but a domain to live in) for me to process and share my thoughts and experiences, and to hide them in plain sight. Thirteen years ago there was a little bit more anonymity – it wasn’t quite so easy to find information about other human beings on the internet yet, and so this was my quiet corner where I could pour my heart out to the void. I loved that idea of sharing my thoughts with someone, but I hated the risk of doing it in person. Blogging for me, then, became my safe space.

 

Things didn’t always work out. There was that disastrous leak, where my blog began circulating my high school and I was abused and threatened for sharing my inner-most thoughts on the web. It didn’t stop me, though. Over time it grew boring, I think, to keep teasing and bullying me, and the world moved on. And I kept learning and sharing and growing, writing all the while.

 

As I get older, I’ve realised that the internet isn’t quite the safe haven I hoped it would be when I was fourteen. I’ve learned that if you know how to look, you’re able to find. That where once I sought anonymity, now there is more data about me than ever before. And most importantly of all, I’ve learned that the internet never forgets. I couldn’t eradicate this place even if I tried.

 

Therefore I’ve learned to be a little more careful with what I share. Somehow the message finally sunk in that this “void” I’ve been pouring myself out to is not quite so empty as I wanted to think. It is a beautiful thing to be open and aware about onesself, but it is a little foolish, I think, to be open at all times to all people. For that reason, very few of my blogs are public these days, and they’re more for me to come to understand myself than they are for me to share with others.

 

No big announcements here. Just… thoughts.

Activating Super Zen

For a long time, I believed “If you just get into the right mindset, everything will be easier.” If you remember to practice gratitude, if you become deeply mindful, if you step into your heartspace, if you choose optimism instead of pessimism etc. etc., life is better.

I have only recently realised that sometimes it isn’t a matter of choice.

Sometimes, no matter how determined you are to think positively or to be mindful, it’s impossible until the prerequisites are met: safety, security, peace etc. If you’re on fire, you just won’t have the ability to be mindful until the fire is out. I liken it to getting enough resources to activate an ability: you can’t become Super Zen without first obtaining 200 Quiet and 300 Peace.

Just food for thought.

My Values

In my work, the word values is thrown around a lot. Everyone has them, and they define what things are important to us. Through my education and reflections, personal and professional, I’ve spent a long time thinking about my values but not really being able to figure out what they were. I had a rough idea about what was important to me but I could never really define or understand in beyond a vague sense.

And then one of my mentors gave me a list of values and the challenge of picking just a handful of ones that were important to me. I found it much easier to go down a list and tick ones which resonated with me rather than trying to figure them out for myself, I ended up ticking 97 out of the 400 listed (with a few that I’d added). Of those I picked twelve which were very important to me, and from those 12 I selected my top three. My key values are:

  • Courage
  • Fitness
  • Frugality
  • Gentleness
  • Honesty
  • Intelligence
  • Introspection
  • Order
  • Sexuality

My top three are:

  • Discipline
  • Helpfulness
  • Solitude

 

What do you think? Sounds like me, or not at all?

It’s an exercise I really valued (doubtless the introspective side of myself), and I learned a lot about Beth who did it too. If you’d like to give it a go, we used this list, but there are plenty of others on the interwebs.

http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2004/11/list-of-values/

On Being Second Best

Something that’s been on my mind lately has been the realisation that I’m not the best at a lot of things, and I probably never will be.

 

This bothered me immensely for many years – I thought that my value was being the best at something in a particular group of people, and then being the guy that did that thing. I’d “specialise” in groups at work so that I could run group activities, or I’d be the guy to turn to about hearing voices, or fixing computers, or having a caring and insightful ear. Imagine my horror to discover that there were other people at work who were better group facilitators, had worked with voices for longer, knew more about computers and were far wiser and more profound in their insight than I could ever imagine.

 

It made me feel redundant. I felt like a slightly less delicious cake at a banquet of exquisite desserts. Why would anyone choose to eat me when all around me were superior samples that I was only a poor shade of? Thinking along these lines made me seriously consider handing in my resignation and just find somewhere else where I was the best at stuff so that I could be valued.

 

It took me several weeks, maybe months, to recognise a few flaws in my thinking.

 

Firstly, I compared it to a game of Fire Emblem. Just because Ike or Titania are the strongest doesn’t mean that the other characters aren’t useful. Sometimes while the General is blocking off a choke point, you want lieutenants guarding the flank, healers in the back line, archers on the ridges and so forth. Yes it’s true, some units aren’t great at anything and they’re best left in the base or not brought at all. For the most part though, you can’t win a battle with just one soldier, no matter how strong they are; it’s the team with its many strengths that pulls through. And it doesn’t matter if some of these strengths overlap – sometimes you want three tanks in a squad, other times you only want cavalry. They’re all useful in different scenarios.

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Secondly I came up with this hypothetical: If I was the second-kindest person in the world, would it be worth being kind at all because I wasn’t the best at it? Of course it would be. Kindness is never wasted. Just because someone is better at something doesn’t mean you’re not worth it too. Like, just because someone donated $10 million, doesn’t mean a donation of $9 million won’t be sincerely valued.

 

Thirdly, I realised that even if you are the best at something at a given time in given company, it doesn’t make it your job to take over. If a friend is cooking me dinner and they’re not very good at cooking, it is absolutely not my responsibility to take the knife out of their hands and do it for them. It’s more important we all get along than we do something “the best”.

 

At the end of the day, each of us does our best to meet our needs in everything we do. It’s more important we celebrate what we do rather than compare ourselves to those around us.

EDIT: Or, to put it in the words of my teacher: “Do your best to be your best. Comparisons with others is meaningless.”

The Balancing Game

So much of life seems to be a balancing game between two crucial resources: time and money.

When I first started working full-time, I earned so much that I didn’t know what to do with all the money. Going from the sufficient income of $250 a week to  $1000 a week was mind-blowing. I found ways to spend it of course, a creeping sense of entitlement that I had always hoped to avoid when I was living comfortably enough on humbler means. “Why yes, I have worked hard this week, I do deserve that cup of coffee from the cafe rather than the instant stuff.” “Why yes, I am working more now, and that means I can definitely pursue a third martial art while I practice the other two.” “Why yes, I am having a bad day, I do deserve to buy myself a new video game, because gosh-darn it I’ve earned a little treat.” And so, in a short span of time I had cancelled out much of the extra income I was making to keep myself happy amidst all the stresses of working full-time. And that wealth that I did not spend accumulated, waiting dormant in my bank account for whatever long-term investment, grandiose holiday or material whim I could throw it at. When I told people honestly that I didn’t know what to do with it all, they joked that I could give it to them. My mother, a passionate believer in saving every cent, was happy that it was accumulating for the day I might need it. I found it so hard to fit in housework, relationships, video games, martial arts and every assortment of errand around my new work schedule. In short, I was working so much that I didn’t have time for anything else in my life; I didn’t have time to live.

This pattern has played out before, when I was working as a youth worker and a library assistant simultaneously. I found I was too busy and resigned from one of my jobs (the wrong one, perhaps), and I suddenly had a wealth of free time to pursue every pleasure in life, and not very much money to do it with. All those things that I’d been neglecting were suddenly available to me, those books and games and friends and hobbies and passions and interests that I’d always wanted to dive into… And yet no long-term goal, nothing beyond “enjoy the pleasures of today and make sure you earn enough to do the same tomorrow”. And enjoy them I did.

I face the same dilemma now. At my current workplace, I work three days a week. I’ve been offered a fourth, possibly a fifth working in another (highly stressful) team. In truth, I think three and a half days is about the right amount for me in terms of enjoying my life and managing my wellness without slowly breaking down over time. I’m sorely tempted to leave it at those three days, and yet that fourth would add an income that I am finding myself needing for the first time in my life. Yes, all my material needs are currently being met. And now that I have that much financial stability, I long for the next big expense: a house of my own. To afford such a luxury would require me to work more than I want to. And that’s the age-old problem: we work not because we want to but because it gives us money in return. If we loved our work so much, would we do it for free?

Logically I know all that. I guess I’m just stuck at the moment between working harder than I want to so that it enables me to live a more comfortable and luxurious life later. That is, if I don’t burn out from the challenge of trying to sustain more than I can handle. It may just be temporary, but I find myself slowly collapsing under the weight of this new opportunity for dosh in exchange for, it seems, my health, my wellbeing, my life. Is life worth the cost of money? Maybe. I think I’m being a touch dramatic because my mental health is not the best today. Well, I guess we’ll see how things are going a week from now.