There’s a comic by The Oatmeal circulating today, and I could relate a lot to it. It also reminds me of this article:
Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment…While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. – There’s more to life than being happy
We make a lot of assumptions about human beings to create some sense of order in this world. For example, that every single human being is self-interested. Then, we have to unpack, what does self-interest truly mean? By extension, we assume that all of us seek hedonistic pleasures in life, that if offered a chance, no sane human being would reject the finer luxuries afforded by a lavish lifestyle. Happiness in itself is such a misunderstood, loaded term. What does being happy even mean, and why do we assume all of us seek happiness?
What does it mean to be alive, a question I keep asking myself these days, as I navigate new and untested areas which keep emerging for me. It opened a fascinating conversation with @buster:
@wynlim My guess: being alive = quality time with your loved ones, your interests, and yourself. Where quality = immersion. That's it.
— Buster Benson (@buster) August 16, 2016
…several replies later, I concluded with his gracious engagement with me:
@buster maybe it is not quality time to self per se, but also quality immersion with one's spirit. We need more diversity of stories!
— Winnie Lim (@wynlim) August 16, 2016
— Winnie Lim (@wynlim) August 16, 2016
There is this constant tension between one’s self, our immediate loved ones, and the collective. I keep getting pulled to serve the collective, only to discover my sense of self is not robust enough. There is this pervasive notion that we have to put the collective above self, but how can we truly carry the weight of the collective, if our selves keep breaking down?
I grapple with this a lot, trying so hard to be unselfish in my pursuits but it constantly backfires as I run the risk of burning out. Sometimes I am not sure whether I should blame myself for repeating the same cycles, or pat myself on the back for having the tenacity to make the same attempts again.
It is tiring, falling down over and over again and having to pick oneself up without drowning in shame or guilt, that maybe I am just not good enough. Yet I keep returning to serve the collective again and again – up to a point where I don’t actually know if it is an abusive relationship or a deep entrenched lifelong calling.
Sometimes all I really want to do is to write crappy poetry, but I look at this world and observe kids ending their own lives, it makes it incredibly challenging to focus on that quality of immersion described in the above conversation with Buster.
Maybe I just haven’t found the right intersection of work that would allow both immersion and purpose, or maybe they have to exist in seasonal cycles, I could be afraid that I may have to trade off joy, in order to do what feels right, though there is this sneaking suspicion, that doing what feels right, may not keep me alive.
We often think that happiness is binary. But the older I grow, the more I come into awareness of these complex layers of multidimensionality. It may be hard for people to understand that I could be in the most blissful states in my life right now, but yet there is always this underlying layer of sadness. I cannot possibly simply only be in bliss because I am lucky enough to meet her but yet ignore everything else that is going on in the world. This bliss makes it harder to ignore divides, because now the contrast makes it harder to accept that other people are disempowered because they did not have the privilege I had the luck to acquire.
Why is someone else trapped in a poverty cycle and I am not?
I don’t think I can be truly alive even if I could write emo poetry for the rest of my life. I am not sure yet because I am still sorting my thoughts out, but I think I have to find the equilibrium between caring enough for my self and yet understanding that the self can only exist because of the collective. I just have to be patient enough to find that position in the ecosystem where everything just flows and fits, even if it means having to endure feelings of failure, again and again.
I think that is what it means to be alive, to nurture one self to a point where the spirit is overflowing itself into the collective, to nourish one’s inherent connection to the collective. Perhaps what I am forgetting is that this is not a linear one-time process, but multiple cyclical processes in one lifetime, because if I’m lucky enough, I can only hope to grow out of multiple selves in this one short life.