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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Transience

Three times a week - sun or rain - I walk the three kilometres to and from the City  to attend a small but satisfying part-time job.   I am among that cohort of people who is fortunate enough to have always loved what I do for a living.

The walks back home are particularly useful for mulling over the minutiae of life, for sorting out the roil of thoughts that have pursued me as I've dealt with recent events.

On Monday this week, my walk home was particularly useful.  As I rounded the corner for the last 100 metres to my unit complex, dusk fell softly and the setting sun burnished the Brisbane River.  In the last moments of the dying day, from nowhere my thoughts suddenly settled on my father.

Now my Dad, Hals, is certainly one of the more interesting people you can meet - some would say eccentric.  And in many ways, I am very like my father.  I have has his same short temper, his same impatience with idiots, and share his interest in politics.  (Dad had two brothers who were the first foreigners to be accepted into the Komintern and who were thrown out of Ceylon - according to Dad - for subversive activities).

He is also a great storyteller (some would say, liar) and has been known to rip off someone else's yarns and pass them off as his own (the low point coming quite recently when, as Father Dear was holding forth I had to interject with mild outrage to tell him:  'No Dad, that happened to me.  That's my story'.

Like Dad, I am also prone to choosing random hobbies and past times on a whim, investing ridiculous amounts of money on equipment in a fit of enthusiasm then kind of sticking it in the garage and wondering what possessed me.

Like my Dad, too, I am prone to accidents and, certainly of late, it has been a bit of a competition as to who has had more near death experiences.  (My Dad wins: I mean, there is no way I can compete against stories of snake bites, motorcycle accidents, being run over by lorries and careening over canyons in wayward four wheel drives.)

But there are ways in which I fear I struggle to be like my Dad - especially in recent times - as I do believe he sets an example.  One is his ridiculous generosity.  My father would literally give you the shirt off his back.  He has never been particularly mercenary - although he is quite a good salesman and could sell fake sun tan to an African - and would give away all his possessions if allowed.  (My sister Nicky has taken after him in this regard).  It's really one of his lovely traits.

More importantly, I have been working in recent months to emulate my Dad in another of his traits or rather in his beliefs.

My father, you see, is a Buddhist (like many Sri Lankans) and, as he has got older, dad has really promoted his belief in disattachment.

Dad doesn't believe in holding onto anything, even life and quite frankly, his bags seem to have been packed in preparation for the Great Beyond for some time.  (Life is just a transit lounge y'all).

As a career Type 1 Diabetic, he's had a few close calls in recent years and I think we are all surprised that he's still here.  (He is down to the wire with his nine lives, I'm telling you).

But Dad's insouciance when it comes to long living is quite understandable.

My father comes from a family of short-livers (if not cirottic livers), his dad, mum, sister and two brothers all GTG (Gone to God) before their 65th birthdays.  The first to go was Aunty Mona died at 33, from memory.  Some of my cousins too, have not fared so well.  One lost her life when a land mine exploded, two years after losing her husband and two sons in the tsunami.  (Yes, this shit really does happen to real people).

It's no wonder my Dad is such a fan of Buddha.

Buddhism teaches the inevitability of suffering given the mutability of all things.   The transience of life is held as an ineluctable fact. And it is an absolute truth that the only way to deal with the inevitability of that slippage, is learning to let go (something op shop owners rely on).

In accepting that holding on is fruitless, we learn to appreciate the fragility of everything we know and have.

And from this comes a literally wonderful realisation.

Accepting the inevitability of loss teaches us that life is temporary and passing and in this we can reclaim our ability to  really appreciate this moment and all that it might.  Instead of looking ahead to what comes next ,we regain the ability to focus on what is happening right now (the state of mindfulness).

From this, most importantly we can reclaim our sense of wonder.  By appreciating what we have now, we can reposition losing and loss not as unpleasant or hurtful, but as reminders that something amazing and brilliant once existed.

Pain and suffering, while creating discomfort. also remind us of the inevitability of the transience of life and, in seizing that idea, we can look at what comes next - good or bad - with anticipation and wonder.

Certainly, in my often unpleasant trip so far, while I have been by turns enraged, perplexed, confused and disoriented, it has also been enlivening.

Because I look back and you see just how much I have overcome and how far I have travelled.  I look back ...with wonder.

And I look at what I do actually have with increased enchantment and appreciate everything that is good in my life.  I appreciate what I have right here and now... with wonder.

And I have come to understand that nothing we have can be held forever.

In ascendance, we come to realise that life really is a balance of knowing when to hold on and when to let go.

And even if you have to let go (by choice or force), you understand that what's happening is actually not loss or losing.

What is happening is the End of Suffering.

And it's wonderful.











Thursday, February 2, 2017

Oh What a Feeling

Today I am pondering the importance of feelings, following a second session with my psychologist, Leona.

It seems that the process of separation and divorce has forced me to look inside and consider the whole abject business of understanding not just what I feel, or why I feel them, but why it is perfectly okay to feel as I do.

The truth is that we are all entitled to feel what we feel when and wherever we feel them.  Emotions I have learned cannot be prescribed and instead, must be allowed to present themselves and to run their course, as they must.

Who knew?

For most of us, of course, the control of feelings is all part of the arduous business of getting on in the  world.  Whether it be for the sake of social niceties or keeping the peace or managing appearances or behaving appropriately (or within the law), there are occasions throughout each and every day when we are required or choose to hide our feelings.

We go about our business with tight-faced masks, smiling when we feel like crying, pandering to whingers when we really feel like walking away from the drama, cooing niceties when what we feel like doing is screaming profanities (and you know where that fucking gets you!).

Nobody wants to know if you feel happy or sad, angry or calm, fearful or brave, comforted or uncomfortable,  supported or neglected, seen or invisible, worthy or worthless etc etc etc.

At work, if you're doing a job, nobody asks you if you're happy about it, if it makes you feel good.  Who cares?  Just bloody get on with it.

At a restaurant the waiter doesn't care if his rude service makes you angry or disappointed.  Who cares?  Pay the bloody bill and get out of here will you.  Next!

At home, the hubby or children don't want to hear that you've been feeling unworthy and unloved.  Who the fuck cares? Serve the bloody dinner and put the kids to bed will ya.  Now what's on TV.

Whatever you do, don't show emotion on the bus or the train.  Even if you'd really love to plant a wet one on ya fella's mouth while catching the 8 am to Mount Gravatt, for god's sake, get a room you two.  PDAs.  Yuck.

Let's face it, good or bad, it can be considered rude or unnecessary or unnatural or unprofessional for you to tell people exactly how you feel.  All in all, it is ill-advised.  Most people don't like it.  Those damn feelings.

But hiding feelings may be inevitable, the natural result of one or a combination of a number forces such as:

  • Cultural background where 'talking back' as a child is taboo. For instance, in many Asian cultures it is considered the height of rudeness for a child to stand up to an adult.  All adults however screwed up, demented or stupid, are 'aunties' or 'uncles' to whom we as children must bow and scrape.
  • Institutionalisation where patience and subjection and peaceability  are considered normative.  For god's sake (literally), the amount of times I genuflected as a five-year-old.
  • Family origin where one's position in the hierarchy might disallow more fractious displays (for instance, peacemakers must never, ever, ever be war makers.  Tsk).
  • Influence of religions where it is all about self-sacrifice and splaying oneself upon the burning flames in the name of God or Allah or whoever the hell there is 'up there' (making us accountable or taking us to task or holding us to ransom).
  • Working roles that mean one must hold one's tongue such as, er hem, public relations.  (I'm not kidding you, I once had to endure an entire evening on a tiny boat, listening to a drunken, racist man rant and rave while I bit my tongue and smiled sweetly as if he were the charming raconteur he believed himself to be.  What my feelings required was to provide a quick slap across the fellow's jowl but instead, my role required me to offer him another drink).
As it turns out, I am one of the poor unfortunate suckers to whom all of the above apply.

Today, therefore, I had an epiphany.  That in fact, all of this 'keeping mum', and self sacrifice and 'knowing my place', this pathetic passivity when it has come to truly explaining how I feel has not exactly served me well.

As it turns out, folks, temper tantrums aside - sudden outbursts resulting from frustration or exhaustion or stress - are not quite 'feelings'.  

It seems feelings are the kind of things that actually hang around - such as love or actual seething anger or an infinite number of emotional responses we can label as we deem appropriate.  

Feelings are not the occasional stanza of fortissimo prestissimo in a Prelude that might jar the listener before returning to a soothing moderato melody. 

Instead, they are that consistent ostinato, the repeated phrase that permeates the music and provides the 'feel' or the actual intent and direction of the piece.   (Think Pacehlbel's Canon).

Unfortunately, there is no absolute catalogue of feelings nor, indeed, a template by which we might determine what is appropriate.  It appears they are slippery things that we must listen so closely for that we sometimes miss them, so overwhelmed are we by the music blaring in our ears.  

But recognising our feelings in  the fray of an experience is highly valuable.  Knowing what you feel and why, I am told, is essential to the process of maturity, evolution, ascendance, transformation (call it what you will).

Of course, if you happen to be a two-dimensional cyborg ... or maybe a cat ...  feelings are neither here nor there.  Instead, one focuses on the physical world, that is, the things that can be actually seen and heard and touched.    This can translate to a kind of mindless, repetitive hedonism where feelings become subordinate to  the pursuit of physical pleasures.  Or a predisposition to the repetition of mindless chores, the seizing of tedious, domestic routines.  Or even substance abuse.

Those who shun feeling can actually lack the kind of insight that allows them to connect with others on anything but this physical plane. 

Regardless, in the end, somehow, somewhere, feelings lie at the centre of how we all deal with the events in life.  And getting in touch with them can be helpful to all of us, perhaps stopping us from more drastic actions (such as packing up, in a huff, and moving to Canada's Dark North ... very tempting) ...or worse...

You just have to have the insight and self-realisation to want to do it: the point at which you achieve the plane of true Emotional Intelligence.

That's why, the exercise I have been given by two psychologists now is to sit with my feelings.

It can be quite uncomfortable to do but apparently this is the first stage of acknowledging that you have feelings,  you're entitled to them and by god, you are going to feel them.

As a result, Leona has given me another letter to add to my mnemonic of PACED being the letter F - as in Feeling PACED.    Each day, it seems, we must all seek to take a moment to acknowledge how we feel and perhaps express what we are feeling to a significant other.

In the absence of such an other, I have been encouraged to journalise how I feel. 

Right now, I'm feeling pretty good.  I gained some insights today and feel like I have taken a closer step to that far off glow that is a kind of enlightenment in really understanding myself and what has transpired thus far in my tiny little life.

What about you?   How do you feel today?  If you know how you feel, then that is fantastic (I have learned).

Your feelings don't have to be pleasant.  They don't have to be laudable.  Your feelings are brought to you free of judgement.  They are yours to have, hold and/or express as you wish. 

Frankly, I find this quite a discovery.

And if I have made you focus a bit more closely on your feelings today, I hope you will make your own discovery as well.

Onward and upward.