Last year, I wrote I wanted to learn how to cope. I don’t think I have learnt to cope well yet, but I do think I have made some progress compared to last year. It is difficult to notice inner changes in ourselves, but because I keep a daily journal I am able to look at entries I’ve written a year ago and notice a shift in tone, choice of words and the surfaced content. I hope I’ll be able to say the same this time next year.
Psychological progress is not linear though, and cannot be taken for granted. It is like climbing a rock: it takes considerable effort to hoist myself up. It is also not something that can be achieved with intention and effort. It has its own life. Sometimes I think I’m over a psychological hurdle, only for it to raise its ugly head with a vengeance. Other times I am surprised to discover that an issue that caused me considerable distress previously is no longer at the forefront of my consciousness. Who knows? I have no idea who I am going to become.
It is quite interesting though, to get to know my self as I age. I would have never expected myself to be who I am today as a 21 year old. I say this with neutrality, I don’t mean that I have become someone who has exceeded my expectations. But I am utterly different from who I thought I was going to become. It is amazing how much one’s personality can change and yet some part of it is still the same, like you can plant the same seeds and have them sprout in different ways. I wonder who I’ll be in another 21 years, assuming I am still alive? I guess I can’t even assume I’ll be alive next year, much less in 21 years.
I really enjoy ageing (except the part where people around me are also ageing), because if we do it right it can be freeing and thus confer us more creativity and agency in the way we choose to live and exist. I like how the older I become, the less I give a shit about the impression I give to people. People’s opinions are such a great source of suffering in this world. I wish there comes a point in everyone’s life where all of us will realise that opinions are merely made up content, and the quality of that content is very much limited by what the individual encounters in life. And most people’s encounters are limited by the structures of their environment. Most environments are badly designed without the consideration of what makes a human, human. So basically opinions are like rubbish, because most of us grow up being shaped by rubbish. It takes work to find our selves and our true values when we are all layers of rubbish. Hence there are very little opinions in this world that are truly valuable, because it is difficult to find opinions that actually originate from a quality source – it is profoundly lonely to walk out of that pile of rubbish, so most people just don’t even if they are aware of it.
I think that is a huge part of my work this past year. To have the capacity to maintain my own equilibrium and inner temperature while living in piles of rubbish. The other part is an ongoing journey of letting go and acceptance: that decay is simply part of life no matter how cruel it is. I can rage at it and think it is massively unfair, but I cannot change the physics of living. All I can do is to prepare myself for grief and loss, even though I know all that preparation will not cushion me for what is to come. Grief is horrendous, but it is worse being paralysed by the fear of it. Avoidance causes me to shrink. I feel like a fragile teacup, but I hope by knowing I am going to break some day will lessen the suffering a little bit when it comes. Or maybe it is wishful thinking to think that this suffering can be lessened, but I would like to believe I can somehow coexist with it. One can hope.
The pandemic has taught me shit will happen regardless and we have very little control over it. I am coming to accept that I live in such an era, an era when our previous life expectancy will no longer apply, and the temporary stability of the previous decades are over. I think people believe the pandemic is over and we’re going to return to what was there before. But as much as I need to live in a bubble sometimes for my own mental health, intellectually I am mentally preparing myself for more instability and suffering to come. When I look at the objective data, it is right there staring at our face no matter what angle I try to spin. The earth is warming up, we’re hopeless at looking at the long term, some political leaders have the emotional maturity of children, everyone is just too overwhelmed coping with the trauma of their own lives to be capable of making a sustained effort to overcome the existential threats we are facing.
I guess all of this is pretty heavy for a birthday reflection post, but it is what that is at the forefront of my mind as I turn 42. I am depressing company, I know.
But as the world burns and everything decays, I am also learning to live a lighter existence. The heaviness is there and I cannot escape it, but there is nothing in the rulebook that says we cannot have fun while things fall apart.
So this is what I hope for my self in the oncoming year, should I survive it. That I’ll be more capable of having fun, be less stuck in my own psychological prisons, and be more creative and flexible in the way I live.
I write one of these every year.