It was very intentional when I named this space a public journal. I was hoping that the word journal would inherently mean that the writing here is transitionary and unedited – I mean who edits their journal? The word journal means “daily” in Old French, which even though I didn’t know this till now, I wanted to be able to post more frequently than the current once per week frequency.
It is not that I don’t have enough to write. Maybe because of the nature of my self, my writing has centered around topics like the meaning of existence, personal suffering and the expression of my heavy thoughts. Everytime I start a new piece I feel like I have to make Some Great Point. But plenty of times I just want to write, just for the sheer pleasure of it or simply for the desire the express what goes on in my inner world, no matter how incoherent, no matter how insignificant the details are to the audience.
I used to be a lot more afraid of what people think of me – in this context, if I write something Not Interesting Enough – but since I’ve been cannibalising my own identity I care a lot less about that. I still care, just that it no longer bothers me enough. I think it is like an invisible prison to be subscribed to Some Great Idea of our selves.
There was this vivid moment one day this year, probably spurred by a conversation with my partner that I asked: so what if people think I am a loser? That was followed by, so what if I am really a loser? I don’t know how and when, but suddenly it didn’t matter so much anymore, the idea that I could possibly be a loser. Also suddenly, I started to wonder why the hell did it make me hurt so much? The only possible explanation I could conjure is: we’re programmed instinctively to react badly to being perceived as useless, because that could threaten our survival in more primitive times. It is still threatening now, but at the very least we don’t get kicked out of our tribe and be left out to die in the open because they would rather conserve their resources than to feed a seemingly “useless” person. As I am writing this, I question too, is that a myth? There were probably tribes who were better at taking care of their weak, depending on their collective strength.
The process of personal transformation fascinates me. Time and time again, I had suddenly realised how certain things that used to bother me so, so much, no longer has power over me. It doesn’t feel very linear or gradual. It sort of snowballs in the background.
Last weekend, I was a panel to talk about passion and suffering. To cope with my social anxiety, I made a deck of slides to cue myself on what I wanted to say. I am relatively cynical, so I am not sure a ten-minute lightning talk would be meaningful or have an actual impact. But see, this is a pervasive old narrative I have, that things we choose to do have to be impactful or it is not worth doing. I want to be able to do things simply because I think I want to do them, and there could be a multitude of reasons why. In this case, I am not sure how people felt after listening, but the day after while walking to get breakfast alone I felt this inner-clarity: that the deck of slides was only made possible because of the past few years of self-analysis and investigation into my own suffering. It may not change anyone else’s life, but the process that cumulated into those slides changed mine.
I was only able to spend this much time because I quit my job and industry. I am in a privileged position for sure. I know not everyone can do this, and I have immense existential and survivor’s guilt. But to have that privilege and still continue to be a blind asshole is something I don’t want for myself. I have come to a point where I deeply recognised that my own suffering has caused me to relate to other people and myself in various unhealthy ways. It has handicapped me psychologically, emotionally and physically.
I get triggered all the time. I still do. These triggers cause me to react unhealthily to them, and I lose the capacity to respond meaningfully. It could be something as innocuous as a colleague making a remark about me, and I feel like they are attacking my entire integrity. Or I spend days ruminating over something someone said, and it may not even be directed at me. I had constantly passed on my suffering to other people unconsciously. It could be a passive aggressive joke. Or giving people advice through my narrow worldview. Or something a lot more gray and subtle like over-empathising with someone’s suffering and enabling their behaviour. Or to not be capable of seeing the whole and reacting poorly because I felt threatened.
It is of no wonder I felt so exhausted all the time. I was also exhausting people all the time. To be able to look back and clearly see that is saddening, threatening and yet illuminating. To go from I think I was a Very Nice Person to OMG I was an Unconscious Unaware Unintentional Asshole has been quite a process.
It has been a long journey, to develop the self-compassion for myself because I just couldn’t see an alternative timeline for myself, and yet to accept my role in my circumstances. The acceptance of my personal role is a shock to my identity, and I could say the majority of it was unconscious, but the power comes from making the decision to try to re-inhabit that role, this time with as much consciousness and agency as possible.
I change not because I want to be a better person, not because I want to change the world, but simply because I wish to reduce my own suffering. The hope in reducing one’s suffering comes from the hope that despite overwhelming odds, we can attempt to transform our inner-worlds, so that our inner-worlds can co-exist peacefully and meaningfully with the outer-world. I may not change the world, but I have changed my personal world: the dynamics of the relationships I have with other people and my self.
While I am still alive and I cannot prevent myself from interacting with the outer world, I wish to have a lighter footprint on other lives. Not because I wish to be a saint, but because the weight of my own footprints make me suffer.
This is not the content of the slides I presented even though I used some of its images, but rather some personal thoughts and feelings in relation to it. Hopefully I’ll get to post the actual content soon.