In chinese there’s a phrase 初心, which is loosely translated as “original heart”, and it means one’s original intentions, the core of who we are. I do believe we are constantly evolving as people so there’s no permanent core but there is shifting baseline, a sort of driving force of how we make choices in our lives.
My brain/mind is like a broken radio station that broadcasts its own programmes, sometimes multiple ones at the same time. I constantly find myself being bogged down by day to day worries, getting lost in them, often forgetting what is the actual meaning I want to express in my life. Plenty of things seem worth worrying about until we juxtapose it with mortality. Is this something worth worrying about if I were to be seriously ill or die tomorrow?
I came across this beautiful quote on reddit that sums up my sentiment at this point in time:
Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.
– Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Life can seem really long, but paradoxically it can also be very short, I don’t really want to spend so much of my life thinking and worrying about things that don’t mean much in the longer run.
Sometimes I think about my younger self, and I just feel like I had wasted so much of my life obsessing about things that didn’t really matter. I just lacked the perspective to understand reality and the true magnitude of societal concerns. I spent so much time in so much angst and sadness. How many tears did I shed and how much fear did I feel just because I didn’t do well academically in school? How much sadness did I go through because I was made to feel like a failure and a disappointment? On hindsight, did the education system make me a better person? I feel like on the contrary I had wasted so much of my life simply trying to survive and thrive in spite of the system. Everything of value I had learnt was learnt out of the system. I’m very lucky it did not kill me and my love of learning. (I semi-apologise for the rant, this post was not meant to be a criticism of industrialised learning but I couldn’t help myself.)
At the end, our lives are our own. We are the ones who have to live it, to live with the choices that we make. People love to be armchair critics of other people’s lives, but they are not the ones who have to deal with any fallout when things do not go according to plan. We are the ones that have to live with the horror of betraying ourselves when we make choices that go against our personal needs and values.
Unfortunately, we evolved to be social creatures, to be part of a tribe so we don’t die alone. So we are susceptible to feeling pressure from our social circles. I am somewhat of a hermit so I don’t feel much pressure from people these days. However, I do feel pressure from the social conditioning I have had all my life – it manifests as an inner critic or wet blanket. It also manifests in behavioural patterns that I find challenging to break. For example, it took me years if not decades to finally enjoy exercising, because I had associated it with negative experiences.
I associate so many things with negative experiences that I live in perpetual anxiety even though I intellectually recognise them as harmless. I still hate the phone ringing, still dread having to talk on the phone, still dread dealing with any bureaucracy, still get severely uncomfortable with any conflict of any sort, still feel like my world is going to collapse at any moment, still get stressed for things that should not bother me anymore.
I have a newish emerging voice that tells me my stress and anxiety is ridiculous, but my body does not listen. It shrivels and tenses.
So, I often find myself swimming in a pool of anxiety in paralysis even though objectively there is nothing wrong with my life right now. I spend a lot of time anxious, anxious about how much my anxiety is affecting me, and tired from feeling this anxiety.
The other day while stuck in a doomscrolling loop, I happened to look at some of my recent tweets on my twitter profile. They were made just weeks, months ago. Yet they were enough to surprise me, because I forgot the person who made those tweets. In recent months I am only on twitter when I feel well enough, I guess that is why she feels like a different person to me now.
Once again I am realising how important it is for me to put my thoughts and memories down in record, and also designing mechanisms in place to review them periodically. Like the above quote on the impermanence of life, I cannot take for granted that my mind will always remain lucid, that I will always remember who I am. I am not even talking about conditions like dementia. I think it is part of the human condition that we often get lost in the minutiae of life, and sometimes we get so lost that we may not return.
It takes strength to want to find our way back. It is easier to live in auto-pilot mode instead of harnessing all our energy and focus to create what we want in our lives with a conscious, lucid awareness.
The ability to access the thoughts that belonged to my past selves are important to me, because they remind me of who I was when I manage to grasp a firm hold on my life and thrive. I don’t mean the selves who were successful in the conventional sense, but the selves who loved to read, create things and be sensibly thoughtful.
If I didn’t know they exist, it is possible to believe I have always been this lost person walking in circles. I may have been lost forever.
Perhaps it is easy for some people to do the things they set out to do. It is incredibly difficult for me, because I have to deal with my uncooperative mind and body, a self who used to get so overwhelmed that contemplating suicide was the norm, my sensitivity to triggers that could send me spiralling into a deep, dark, hole, my unconscious self-sabotaging tendencies, a self who is really tired from all the surviving she had to do.
Yet I find myself returning to my 初心. There is a call to return to doing whatever I set out to do, no matter how inaudible it can become, but sometimes all it takes is to get a glimpse of my past selves to snap me right back, to attempt to restart my journey again.
Round and round I go in wider circles almost getting lost, until something returns me to my core again, but perhaps one day I can find myself walking in circles within my expanded core instead.