the vagaries of simplicity

We all want to have a simple life. But what does a simple life connote? What does it mean to lead a simple life, or live simply? Is it a life of minimalism, is it a life of detachment, is it a life of mindfulness and peace…?

As much as we say we want to live simply, it is an oxymoron because the mechanics of a simple life is just not simple at all.

I love cakes. I kind of developed a sweet tooth somewhere in my adult years, if I remember correctly, it was something that only happened in recent years, oddly. Maybe it was a result of hormonal imbalances that was fundamentally self-inflicted. I don’t recall having such a strong love for sweet things when I was younger. But much as I enjoy cakes, I don’t fancy cream so baked goods like tea cakes, sponge cakes and the likes, the “simple” stuff, are what appeal to me more than those fondant cakes that are all the rage these days, costing up to 3-digit prices for a single cake. They look pretty for sure, but the kinds of cream used on those cakes are just not for me.

A simple life, can be sitting at a cafe enjoying a cup of sugarless black coffee and a fragrant slice of banana bread. But such a life does not come ‘simple’ or ‘cheap’. It is working at job that earns us the dough to be able to indulge in such experiences occasionally. This was the week where I was scheduled to work-from-home in view of the recent virus outbreak. For me, it wasn’t so much of ‘working from home’ per se but just ‘working away from office’. I cannot bear to stay home for a long period. Maybe I am just not a homebody, or maybe my home just is not conducive because it is often replete with noise disturbances from people who are just inconsiderate for others living in the same community. Ironically, this WFH week probably saw my expenses rising because of these ‘working from cafe’ jaunts. There are pros and cons of being away from the office; while I get to work and do my stuff around my own schedule, it is hard to manage expectations when during this week, I give-and-take and work or reply emails well into the night or in the wee hours of the morning. It is not something that I will want to continue doing when I am back to the office but people sometimes may just expect the same behaviour and do not readjust their expectations accordingly.

I had considered that perhaps this could open the door for me to negotiate for a flexible working arrangement when the virus dies down and life starts to go back to normal. However, I think it isn’t just the flexibility in working hours or arrangements that is the deal maker or breaker. Despite that I was away from the office and the colleagues for a whole week and this week really saw me talking minimally (probably retreating further and further back into my cave), the core issue I have with this job is really the people and next, the nature of work. Even though I know that wherever I go, I will be bound to run into such people, the combination of a toxic environment and the overall unstructured nature of this role spells disaster with a capital D. In this week alone, every single day, I would receive sporadic emails or text messages from my boss asking me to think of or plan for this and that, usually arising from some external catalyst that elicited the reactivity in her. It is tiring to have to keep on reacting and responding, and from that point on, gaze into an imaginary crystal ball to try to predict and guess what lies ahead, what is needed, or what people want.

Then, the problem of people taking advantage of my attempt to be helpful and proactive, because in my recent appraisal, it was the apparent factor that cost me a promotion. I was further accused of drawing lines, yet somehow when others push their work to me in view of their heavy workloads or when they draw lines and progressively push the lines in their favour, they don’t suffer the same consequences but on the contrary they were the ones who got promoted!

Is there any more reason to stay? Is there anything else that I need to do to be able to get out of here? It’s said that if a door is not opening, it just means that this isn’t a door that’s meant to be closed yet. But really, in a span of two years I have felt so drained and exhausted and the rest and recovery I thought I had made in the 10-month break I took prior to this seemed to have been completely wiped out and pushed me further and deeper into an abyss that I have not imagined I could land into.

It all seems so dark and bleak. Uncertain. Hopeless.

In trying to cope with all these, I can only turn to things that I can wield a weak grip and grasp over, which have somehow translated into compulsive and unhealthy habits that seem to wreak more harm on me than help me cope.

Sigh. This isn’t what life is supposed to be is it? 

Are you there, God? It’s me. Please don’t forget about me.

Detachment

It’s something I have to constantly challenge and remind myself to practise. Be it from people or from things, I think it’s the only way for me to be able to gain some semblance of peace within, yet innately for the last few decades that I’ve been living, it is almost an ingrained part of me, no doubt I guess due to circumstances I’ve grown up in or experiences I’ve had when I was young that have led to what I am today.

It is perhaps telling, that the more I try to detach myself the harder it seems to be and the more bitterness I feel, whether it’s with myself or the people I try to detach from, when I can’t get to the state envisioned. I don’t know if it’s what I would call ‘soft-heartenedness’, if I just have a natural soft spot for these people that at the slightest hint of any positive showing of affection/friendliness to me, all earlier thoughts of detaching myself from them go out the window obliterated and I invest and dive fully headlong into it and somehow or another emerge with even deeper wounds when things again start to go awry.

I told my friend that maybe I’m just the ‘all or nothing’ kind of person, but yet the inability to practise and stand by the concept of ‘nothing’ has resulted in bitterness that in all reality has only affected me and left my heart in shreds and my mind in constant turmoil, the other person oblivious to whatever suffering I’d inflicted on myself.

The idea is to detach at an appropriate moment and not grieve, or stay too long in grief, when a relationship goes south or becomes that of an acquaintance sort of connection. The key is to understand that people come and go, and friends are made for a season and a reason. It may be true that some stay longer than others and maybe there may even be some who linger for an almost lifetime, the ‘evergreen’, underlying bedrock of friendships that somehow always remain, visible or not. Yet the truth is that there are and will be many who will come and go, and it is important to recognise and acknowledge that, appreciate it when they come and accept and celebrate it even, when the time comes for them to make an exit.

If I could only accept that graciously, even if the exit happens in circumstances that I least expect, I need to gird and ready myself for such situations and be ever ready to cut loose when it doth occurs.

I want to be happier and more at peace. I don’t want to keep on like this and exhaust myself and people around me – those that are still around.

There are so many things in life that need the mental capacity to deal with that it is needful to conserve the bandwidth for the most fundamental ones so that the candle doesn’t burn out prematurely.

Food enjoyed with another almost always taste better…

staying afloat

At the risk once again of sounding like a broken record as I succumbed to over-rumination, the mental image of a piece of driftwood out on the rough turbulent seas surfaced. Perhaps that is what describes the state I am in, physically and mentally. I really do admire people who put in the effort to live each day meaningfully and with some purpose because I think that is not something easy? I have chosen to be weak and whine about my predicaments, that my mental fog somehow prevents me to squeeze that ounce of effort from my self to do so because the dreams I have each night that oddly remain fresh in my mind when I awake in the hours of pre-dawn leave me bewildered and more weary than I was when I laid myself down to rest the night before.

I need to consider relocating my living quarters. I do not know how to handle the various sets of neighbours who create so much noise disturbances that even for the short few hours I am at home, I cannot enjoy a single moment of peace even when I try to drift off to slumber.

Change is internal, and it needs the person to want to change and make an active effort to change, starting first from the mindset before anything will see any results. I know. Many years ago, my sister-in-law told me that “change comes from within”. I had scoffed at that back then, my insolent and stubborn self who rolled my eyes and made a joke out of that with my friends. It was only after I had embraced Christ, and only after working for many more years in a role that sees me having to engage in sector development work, that I began to appreciate the veracity and value of that phrase.

Maybe it isn’t me that will effect the change, rather it is God who will bless me with what is needed to change, that I would be able to because I believe He will cause all things to happen for my good, for I have been made righteous in Christ. Head knowledge is something I have a bit of, where biblical truths are concerned (I am not that conscientious when it comes to reading the Bible I will admit that as much) but trusting and believing in what those verses say is an altogether different concept because it requires alignment of the thoughts, words and actions. How often have I confessed myself to be a blessed child of God, only to grouse to every living thing around that I am stuck in a rut I cannot get out of, then praying to God to remove me from the valleys that I am in?

That said, I came across this the other day, which made me think of what others have always talked about on self-love. What exactly is self-love and how does one demonstrate that or ‘get better at it’?

Also, is it that I am just not being resilient enough or too idealistic, and not veering on the edge of burning out as I sometimes feel, that I am just so unhappy at my workplace. Many have told me to be thankful for what I have, and perhaps then that would take my mind off the negative aspects of the role, that according to them, are just part and parcel of working that we all have to learn to accept, that if I were to stop expending so much of my brain cells on such thoughts, then maybe this “isn’t such a bad place after all”? Is it really?

This is just another set of useless thoughts that nobody needs to read about. But I don’t know where else to put them down otherwise, so this will have to do for now.

Sigh. If only..

Life just feels so tiring.

Indeed it’s all very inward looking when my view is somehow just always focused on the self and only indulging in self-introspection all the time.

If only life has a standard operating procedure for us to flip through to know how to go about it because there’s just too many times I’ve trialed and erred. Failed. In every single aspect.

How much more do I need to do? With regards to everything? How much exercise do I need to do, or how much more do I need to do or what else do I need to cut from what I eat or eat more of what or less of what so that I can keep the weight to a number that I can control through my actions? How much work do I have to keep “volunteering” myself for or not turn down and say no to before I can then not be seen as someone who isn’t proactive or who “draws the lines”? Or how many more job applications do I need to send before I will finally land a job? How can I get myself to be free from neighbours who seemed to be there every single waking moment to torment me like it’s their life purpose to do so?

It’s interesting, for lack of a better word, that influenza that we’ve sort of come to accept as a common ailment in our lives, can be a deadly condition that has claimed many lives in the past, not just SARS or the current novel coronavirus. It made me wished somehow that the flu bug I had recently was from the strain because then it seems like a less painful way to die, and liberate me from all the vicissitudes of life and the internal demons that trap my mind constantly.

Perhaps if a specimen volunteer was needed for testing purposes if treatments were being developed, I should put myself up for such experiments. After all, there’s really nothing more for me to lose and everything for me to gain even if in the event they fail.

not leading a mindful existence

Somehow these days I feel like I’m just going through the motions of each day’s activities.

Wake up, head out to yoga or work (depending on whether it’s a work day or weekend), coffee and breakfast at Yakun or some other coffee joint, yoga/spinning, home. Rinse and repeat.

It seems like I’ve not taken any interest in much other things, things which perhaps I used to enjoy or partook in, such as movies, plays or musicals, window-shopping or reading magazines to suss out trends and happenings.

Most days, I don’t really care about how my appearance is, as long as I’m modestly clothed. I don’t change up my bags even though the only bag that I carry to work has started to show wear and tear from overuse. I don’t trawl through the clothes that are hung by colours in my wardrobe to mix and match up different outfits or pick matching accessories to wear with them, along with the bags and shoes. I don’t wear lipstick or balm, leaving the lips dry, parched and pale. But I do dust on loose powder and blush because otherwise I think I’ll just look like a white sheet of paper.

I don’t get excited by anything such as sales, new launches, new dramas… I just live a day at a time, minute by minute, one foot in front of the other. Yet somehow I feel exhausted every single day.

I’m trying to stay as impassioned as I can about the situation at work and just take whatever comes my way, fair or not, until the day when the pressure cooker can’t hold it in anymore. I’m trying as much as I can to ignore the increasingly frequent and loud noises that the neighbours upstairs and next door are creating, until the day when the pressure cooker explodes.

Life is so hard. How can I have the faith and hope to carry on trusting that God will deliver me from all of these, lead me out of these deep and dark valleys to the light at the end of the tunnel.

I want to scream at all those who are causing me so much misery but how can I do that and what would that get me in return? Nothing. No one can help me and it almost feels like I’m so near to losing any nary of hope that God has heard me and that He has not forsaken me. Have I been forgotten and when will the moment come when I can finally be free from all of these?

Peace in silence and solitude

On one regular weekday morning, I headed to a cafe near my home for breakfast after yoga. I had contemplated popping into a coffee joint at the nearby mall but on a wimp disembarked the bus a couple of stops earlier and made my way to that cafe instead.

It’s probably also considered one of the “hip” cafes to visit hut amongst a list of more “hyped” ones in the same neighbourhood, there are actually times when this place offers a calmer and quieter environment in comparison.

Being a weekday when I surmise most have returned to work after the long weekend, it was almost empty save for two other patrons who sat outdoors. I vacillated between in or out but eventually opted for air-conditioning because I suspected it would get humid and muggy outside. It wasn’t extremely comfortable for me indoors due to my natural aversion to cold but it was such an experience I hadn’t had in a while – the stillness of the interior as I quietly chewed and enjoyed my hearty breakfast while… replying work emails on my phone. Reducing screen time is still something I’m working on, but it’s easier to eat and scroll on the phone as compared to eating and reading a book since I need both hands to handle the utensils while eating.

The absence of any background music that cafés usually play, or the whirring of the espresso machine or some other food prep sounds, gave the stillness an air of tranquility and enchantment. It almost felt as though time had come to a standstill and that I was the only person in the world. Of course the cafe staff were around but they were probably just minding their business and busy on their own phones, although I was slightly bemused they didn’t even bother playing any music until slightly later when I was done and about to leave.

Quietness, in our current society and world that’s constantly abuzz with activity and a flurry of noises that have become a default that we have come to accept perhaps, is something so rare and unique which I’m deeply appreciative of. It’s at times like these that maybe I can savour the moments like previous drops of water in a parched desert, and just truly be. Not worrying about tomorrow or the future, not fixating on the partiality of human behaviour or the injustice suffered, not caring about what the world thinks of me and what I’ve chosen for myself and my life.

Because even in the gloomiest of times, God is never far from us – it’s a believe and veracity I’ve to keep close to me in order for me to keep going. Until the time is right for Him to move me to the next chapter, the next step, the next leap. No matter what comes my way, the provision and grace will never stop.

connectedness of mind and body

The way that one’s thoughts in the mind are linked, or affect the ways our bodies behave in reaction, is indeed intriguing and amazing.

I don’t know if it’s the overall dark and negative nature of my depressive thoughts that has resulted in the increasingly poor fettle of my health, or my body is somehow just displaying signs of physical exhaustion arising from lack of proper sleep and rest? Or maybe even perhaps insufficient nutrition, or taking it even a step further, the reluctance to return to work?

I can’t recall that in the last few years of my life I’ve taken ill with such frequency like the past couple of years. I don’t keep track but I do remember several occasions before major events or meetings when I’ve actually succumbed to some sort of viral infection that had at that point in time caused a parched and painful throat complete with body aches, stuffed or leaky nose and the dreaded loss of voice. For someone as talkative as I am, it’s woeful to not be able to manage more than an awkward croak although probably many are glad to have their ears safe from my verbosity.

With my supposed not-so-unhealthy diet – I eat a fair bit of salad greens, veggies and fruits and of course bread but I do steer rather clear of “heaty” stuff – and the regular exercise, it’s strange that the number of times of such attacks have gone up. I don’t think I fell sick as often in the last or second last job? Don’t tell me it’s age, I don’t believe in that.

So… I’m not going to care now if taking two days’ off work to rest my body and mind right after a long weekend is going to raise eyebrows, I would but then it’s just me being sceptical as usual, though with the current scare of the coronavirus, most world probably not want to have a flu-ridden person sharing an air-conditioned breathing space with them.

When one’s mind is tired and depressed, I supposed it then causes the body’s immunity to falter. That’s why the human body works in such wondrous ways, nothing ever functions independently of the other parts.