journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

41

I read last year’s before writing this. Last year I wrote that I was profoundly sad – that sadness is a feeling stuck in the depths of my body. This year I think I am still profoundly sad compared to the average person, but I am less profoundly sad compared to my younger self one year ago. 

At the 2-year mark of the pandemic, I exist in a complex feeling of acceptance that this is the new normal, and yet also fatigued like everyone else. At the beginning it felt like so much was taken away from me. The flip side of it is that now I am used to having a lot less stimuli than before. I am more home bound than ever, and every trip out to the world seems like a delight. 

Everyone seems ready to move on from the pandemic as government measures are opening up. I am too, hoping to move on like everyone else but I wouldn’t. I still care very much about my neurological health: do I want my cognition or do I want to travel? 

It is interesting to contemplate that at this rate I may never get to travel internationally again. I try to observe my bodily reactions when I think of that possibility, and it seems to not upset me too much anymore. I zoom out and look at the history of humanity: the freedom to move around liberally was never a given, why do I feel so entitled to it? 

I realise the last few decades of progress and relative peace has made us take everything for granted, and that we feel entitled to so much. I don’t really know if it is in our prerogative to feel entitled, but I do know from a buddhist sense of perspective, this feeling of entitlement is a source of suffering. That my life should be a certain way, it should have all these qualities – if not, I would feel miserable. 

Say if covid never ever goes away, the world descends into WWIII, and the effects of climate change starts to compound while we are all still alive. This would be enough to depress anybody. But one out of those three is already happening, the other two are still up in the air but I wouldn’t call them unrealistic. 

Apart from these meta events, there is still the reality of people around me gradually growing old, getting sick and dying. I may get sick and die sooner than I expected. What matters is from now till then, how am I going to approach living? 

I don’t want to shrink into a hole of depression and despair if covid never ever goes away. I asked myself what is the quality of life I will get to have if I have to be mostly homebound for the rest of my life. I think about how I used to think of becoming a monastic, and the possibility of being homebound for the rest of my life doesn’t seem so absurd anymore. I am not Buddhist, but I like the concept of being able to let attachments go in order to suffer less. Also it is not just about suffering less per se, but it is the capacity to find richness in a small, inner life. 

Maybe this is all a coping mechanism but I think that is what year 41 of life for me is about: to learn how to cope. I am either not very good at coping or extremely good at it depending on how you see it. After all, I have been coping my entire life. I have coped with a sense of no self, a sense that I was unloved, a sense that I was never good enough, that I would be permanently depressed and suicidal, abandonment, sudden changing circumstances, debilitating migraines, etc. Life is just full of non-stop coping for me. 

But I would like to learn how to cope in a different way. How different I do not know yet, but not languishing in despair and torment. I want to find space for other aspects of myself to emerge, to experience more dimensions of life, to discover other ways of being. 

They say a leopard never changes its spots. But I have gone through so much personal transformation in the past few years – gone through states I would have thought impossible when I was younger. Many people feel like as you get older more doors close, but for me it has been the opposite. Maybe the types of doors that open for me are not the types that people want. 

For a long time I felt that being unhappy was a valid reaction to life. I still believe so. But life is already inherently tragic: terrible things happen to good people, many times there is no justice, there is massive inequality, people get randomly sick and die, we have scarcity programmed into us but yet we’re expected to be moral, kind and generous, life is quite shitty for many people yet we have to “think positively”. There are no extra brownie points for being stoically unhappy because that is a valid and probably correct response. Life is probably more blissful for the blissfully ignorant. But maybe there are other states apart from painfully aware and blissfully ignorant. Perhaps calm acceptance? Humour at the absurdity? Rich aliveness even there will be grief? 

I don’t know, and I am glad I don’t know. There are points in life where you can be lulled into thinking that everything will remain the same or start on a path of degradation. At 41 I am more curious than ever about the life that may unfold ahead of me. Yes there will be pain and grief, but maybe there will be spectrums of emotions and experiences new to me.


I write one of these every year.