on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

Building strength

I had always considered myself fragile, because being emotional seemed to be perceived as weak. Everything I observe impacts me in some way – I cry at the drop of a hat and my moods used to swing according to the color of my observations.

When I was younger, I took everything exceptionally hard. A word from a teacher or an off-handed comment from a friend would send me into a rabbit hole of ruminating for days, if not years. I thought it was normal for everybody to feel this way, only to discover I was a lot more emotionally sensitive than the typical person through many conversations later on.

I couldn’t help feeling so much. That was the mantra I would chant to people and to myself. They told me it was a weakness, I saw it as a weakness.

It is only in recent years that I started to see my emotional sensitivity as a type of strength. If I could choose between blissful ignorance and painful awareness, I would take painful awareness – I would make the same choice again and again.

The difference is, now I am slowly learning to discern between reacting instinctively because of all those years of mental conditioning, and taking the time to develop a reaction by understanding what truly exists in a situation. This is where meditation is helpful, because it helps me to develop an awareness of where my reactions come from. Truth be told, I don’t even have a regular meditation practice where I sit for a given time everyday. I partake in a couple of sessions at the office every week, yet it has given me the foundation to apply what I term awkwardly as ‘passive meditation’.

Passive meditation may be an oxymoron, but instead of actively meditating, it takes place in the background of my head all the time as I make my observations on my internal and external surroundings. I don’t want to lose my innate empathy, but misdirected empathy is like a leaky pipe. The pump is trying to pump water with all its might, only to lose so much along the way that the destination does not get as much as it should.

With excessive empathy it is always easy to feel a persistent sense of suffering when we are surrounded by painful sights everyday. The world is bleeding and we try to cover her wounds up by wrapping bandages, but you know in medical dramas the medical team is always trying to find the actual source of the bleeding. Covering the wounds will always be temporary until we can heal the source.

I used to be constantly overwhelmed by a persistent sadness, a sense of hopelessness as I make these observations, believing that there is nothing I can do, nor is there much that anything can be done. But over the years I have seen enough transformation, not to actually believe that something can be done, but to actually have the slightest hope that perhaps it might be worth trying.

With this tiny bit of hope I am driven to build up my well of strength. The first step is to understand what it would take to change myself before I can even try to understand what it would take to change a group or the greater whole.

I am sleeping, moving and eating better, because I am only starting to experience a fragment of what it means for change to compound.

I am having the best energy levels of my entire life, and I would have been left disappointed and frustrated if I had expected to feel this way after making drastic changes to my life in the short-term. The trick is to make tiny, realistic adjustments with very little or no expectations with the belief that one day the difference will become obvious.

When it becomes obvious, it will seem like a quantum leap, like a dam breaking all of a sudden, but in reality, the wave after little wave the water has been going at it for what it seems like eternity.

Knowing the why is the most important, and this is how I build and maintain my little habits. Each time I am tempted to break one, I just need to gently remind myself of that little hope I choose to carry, that I should be better, so perhaps on day my existence would make the greater whole better.

2 thoughts on “Building strength”

  1. Stephen Conn says:

    Hi Winnie,
    Cool piece. You make a lot of observations that go to the heart of buddhism and meditation practice.
    Meditating without sitting is not awkward, or oxymoronic. In fact, it’s a central part of many great buddhist thinkers’ practices. Check out Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, or this piece online which covers some of the same ground:….
    Speaking of books with great titles, Pema Chodron’s Start Where You Are contains a key piece of wisdom that I think is relevant to you. You begin to touch on it by saying that you need to understand what it would take to change yourself before you can try to understand what it would take to change a group or the greater whole–beautiful language, by the way.
    Start where you are says that the first step on the path to reducing suffering, whether personally or globally, is accepting exactly those parts of ourselves that we think are not worthy of love and belonging. The sparseness of the language captures a very profound truth about meditation: placing ourselves anywhere other than exactly where we are right now–whether it be a place with more hope or less, more strength or less, whatever–literally robs us of the ability to “start,” because all the practice consists of is reawakening our connection to the present moment–to what is, instead of our typical notions of what should or could or might be.
    Hope and hopelessness are part of our lives, but if we stop to look we can see how hope can rob us of the present moment by encouraging us to ignore the stuckness in our lives that it might, instead, be wiser to embrace; rather than being something to be swept away, a mistake to be fixed, as we are so often taught, this stuckness might be one of the most important parts of what it means to be human.


  2. Terence says:

    Beautifully written, Winnie.

    One step at a time. No matter how small or big that step is, the most important thing is that you’re moving forward. 🙂

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