breathe

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(Holland Park, London. July 2017)

Wow. I was just looking through the last post that I had written last December and it’s hard to believe that more than half a year has gone by… just like that. Of course looking back, this past half a year has been incredibly challenging in so many ways and while I was in the fray of it, it seemed to crawl by crushingly/excruciatingly much of the time. I’ve been meaning to sit down and reflect about the entire experience but all the way up till now there just seemed to be yet another thing that needed doing/sorting out. Now, finally, I can just sit down, enjoy the feeling of my butt on this couch, sift through these thoughts that have been whirling inside my head for so long and make some sense of it all.

Just a little over half way through 2017 and boy has it been more of a roller coaster ride than 2016 ever was. First, simply trying to get through 6 months of an insanely tough work rotation. Looking back, I’m just so glad that I managed to get through it, somewhat battered; enough to know that was a posting which really did make me stronger in more ways imaginable, but for the interests of self-preservation (emotionally and physically), in no way would I ever want to voluntarily go back into that place again. The shift work was hard and I knew that my physical fitness levels definitely took a dip this past half a year. It made me realise as well, what I needed in order to get through the stress. Lots of quiet time just sitting down in bed, not doing very much but being still. Lots of personal time, trying to maintain my own interests in hobbies whenever possible. Lots of time just recuperating with books, videos, cups of tea and coffee (the latter of which I ended up developing a liking/reliance on). Looking back, I do wish that I had the strength to go out and visit my grandmother more in between shifts or that I had spent more time with my parents over meals… but I know that I simply didn’t have the mental/physical strength to go out, spend energy on such activities, only to go in to work feeling already slightly tired. Sometimes the thought enters my mind – will I regret not having just spent more time with the people I love when I look back to this period of my life? Perhaps the thought will be seep in.

But then when I think about it again, I can’t help but feel that really, I was doing the best I could have done, in the circumstances that I had been in. I feel that the whole idea of the ‘hypothesis of generosity’ (which is a key part of the amazing Brené Brown’s work) has really been a game changer in my life. It is basically this – what is the most generous assumption you can make about someone’s intentions or what the person said? We are quick to jump to the conclusion that someone had meant to be nasty or was simply out to get us but really… if we assume they did not have ill-intent or that they could have said or done something only because they were trying their best in their given circumstances (be it functioning with a lack of sleep/food/rest/love), it makes things a whole lot easier. Reflected back onto ourselves, it can help us to understand ourselves a bit better too. The caveat is of course, that is not an excuse for us to be accepting of truly mean-spirited/disrespectful behaviour and it is up to us to judge what we feel is acceptable… But in the process of trying to take the step back to consider what someone’s intention could have been and to view it in the most generous light, life has been easier on the heart. And when applied to oneself, the other ingredient that’s needed is a dash of self-compassion. In order not to blame oneself for things one could have/should have done… we will need to realize that we too, were just trying our very best, in a given set of circumstances in our lives.

I suppose I digressed a little on that bit of the generosity hypothesis but it is something that I feel so strongly about now and try to use in my day-to-day life. Looking back, I must admit there have been some good points about the entire experience which have emerged and which I’m grateful for:

1. Enjoying the simplest and tiniest of things

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(Holland Park, London. July 2017)

There’s nothing like spending 8 hour shifts in a fast paced/high stimuli type environment to make you appreciate the simplest of things…

  • The pitter patter of raindrops from an early morning rain as you lie in bed slightly awakened but grateful to be able to go back to sleep for a few more hours
  • Feeling the warmth of a cup of tea and listening to the tiny gurgling sound as hot water cascades down in a small rivulet from the spout of the tea-pot into the cup
  • Sitting in bed listening to nothing but the whir of the air condition in the background layered with the intake and exhalation of your breath
  • The smell of fresh drip coffee and that fruity bitterness that wakes you up better than any other beverage…(and why does it always taste different every single time you make it?)

2. Knowing the love of parents

For all the times when I was in an ill-mood, only wanting to spend hours in my room doing my own thing (almost like a rebellious teenager, eh? ;p) away from people, knowing that they were there to provide the take-away meal when needed or to help in anything… anything at all… as they always made clear… well, thinking back, the did provide that backbone for me. As always.

3. The power of empathy from dear friends

Quite a number of times when I was in a bad emotional state from stress at work/simply feeling small/questioning my own self-worth at work and the one thing that would lift me out of that depressive bog – a sweet, encouraging message from a friend. Reminding me that we are more than our work. More than that one encounter. Those moments were just gold. I will continue to be grateful for those friends who reached out and helped pull me out of that quagmire.

4. Being thankful for the camaraderie of good colleagues

The one surprising thing that I will never forget was how lucky I was with my bunch of colleagues for the posting. Sometimes meeting them and chatting with them was the one thing I looked forward to in the day. And no one understands those grating work predicaments more than colleagues. Things could have been so much worse but in this aspect… I really lucked out. 😉

4. Feeling stronger than ever before

Things that I thought I couldn’t do… I managed to in the end, slowly by surely. Things that I was initially terrified to face, I wasn’t so terrified to face by the end of the posting. And in interacting with others in a high stress environment, it’s true that we are pushed to our limits many times. Not sure if I ever quite reached my limit but it certainly felt that…my limits grew.

I happened to come across this quote so many times over the past few months and though it is rather cheesy, I can’t help but feel that it encompasses so much of what happens when we face any form of adversity.

““In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

― Albert Camus

The knowledge that ‘if I could survive that, well hell yeah, I can stretch and grow in so many other ways next time if need be’, is without a doubt, empowering.

LIFESAVERS

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(Holland Park, London. July 2017)

A couple of things that truly helped me get through the stressful, tiring days and which I honestly would recommend anyone facing any challenge in their life.

1. Living Brave Course (and all of Brené Brown’s works)

No surprises to anyone that I am a huge Brené Brown fan. Her works have been absolute life-changers for me. I would recommend taking a look at Courage Works where she has developed a whole range of workshops. (She has also teemed up with Sounds True to provide podcasts of her teachings and I’ve pretty much listened to all of them (and I would highly recommend all!) but the one which is most relevant to someone going through any form of a challenge would be Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.)

I took the Living Brave Course which I started at the beginning of the year and it was so useful in the initial period when I was really struggling to feel better about work. The main prongs of the course are Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, based on her two books. In any challenge in life, it can be terrifying to just put ourselves out there into the arena. In this case, my arena was work. The course was so great, in that it takes you step by step through reflecting on your vulnerabilities and how it affects you showing up in your given arena. You learn about dealing with shame triggers and strategies for rumbling with unpleasant emotions. And one main part of her work on Daring Greatly is thinking about the values that you want to uphold. For example, if you value courage and simply daring to be present in an unpleasant situation, that is something that you can be proud of achieving, regardless of the outcome which you cannot always control. Then in the Rising Strong process, there is coming to terms with or ‘rumbling’ with the stories we tell ourselves…and how we as the masters of our stories can write the ending. (If you haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, a good place to start would be here. 😀 I recommend it wholeheartedly.)

Of course, even after going through the workshop exercises, it’s not as if it’s something that you automatically internalize and are able to execute flawlessly every day. It’s a life-long process and the great thing is that Brené is always open and truthful about her successes and failures. For me though, it felt like it became part of a repository of skills that I was always trying to draw upon whenever I faced a stressful encounter at work or in my day-to-day interactions with family. I would listen to bits of it on the way to work and it was incredibly comforting, thinking that we are all part of this journey in trying to better ourselves and to lead better lives.

2. Teachings of Tara Brach

She is simply an amazing teacher. If you have some time and are relaxing or just want to know more about coping with very visceral emotions such as fear, anxiety… well there is nothing like a session by Tara to help you be more mindful of such states and how to cope with them in practical ways.

I found this one, Releasing the Grip of Fear, particularly useful.

3. Words of Wisdom by Oprah Winfrey

I suppose there is a trend here eh? Strong, wise women who share their wisdom with the world. 😉

Recently I have become a really huge fan of Oprah Winfrey after listening to many of her interviews and reading her book, What I Know for Sure, which was a real gem. There are many portions in her book which I found both inspiring and comforting, to know that for such a powerful woman, she too, just like everyone else has faced numerous trials and tribulations, but has always managed to come out stronger and wiser.

A quote which stuck with me and helped me through many a trying moment was this:

‘Say thank you!’ Many years ago, those words from Maya Angelou turned my life around. I was on the phone with her, sitting in my bathroom with the door closed, weeping so uncontrollably that I was incoherent. ‘Stop it!’ Maya chided. ‘Stop it right now and say thank you.’

‘But you – you don’t understand,’ I sobbed. To this day I can’t remember what it was that had me so far gone, which only proves the point Maya was trying to make. ‘I do understand,’ she told me. ‘I want to hear you say it now. Out loud. “Thank you.”’
Tentatively I repeated it: ‘thank you’. And then snuffled some more. ‘But what am I saying thank you for?’ ‘You’re saying thank you,’ Maya said, ‘because your faith is so strong that you don’t doubt that whatever the problem, you’ll get through it. You’re saying thank you because you know that even in the eye of the storm, God has put a rainbow in the clouds. You’re saying thank you because you know there’s no problem created that can compare to the Creator of all things. Say thank you!’

I am definitely not a religious person by any definition but perhaps more of trying to develop my spiritual practices. Gratitude being the first one on the list. This particular quote from Oprah’s book really struck a chord in my heart. Because in those moments when you feel like it’s so difficult to cope, you go back to Gratitude for those reserves of strength within you, and you end up drawing upon those reserves at the same time. The faith that she mentioned need not be a religious one, I feel. It can be the same faith one would have in the goodness of people. In the strength of human nature to prevail over the odds. The faith in kindness. The faith in the generosity of people. It’s something that helped me through many difficult moments and I know I’ll be turning to that next time when needed.

4. J-drama

As funny sounding as it may seem, I really need to acknowledge just what a complete life saver this was. All those Japanese drama serials that I watched throughout the past few months really made life that much more bearable. Seriously, on those days when I really wasn’t looking forward to going to work or had a bad shift, I would watch a bit of a comforting J-drama and feel the light come back into this world.

In no order of importance but just whatever comes to mind first…

One of my favourites about a 35 year old lady who works in a travel agency who has been living a carefree life all this while… till her ex-boyfriend turns up with his fiance looking for a honeymoon travel plan. That propels her into thinking about and yearning for marriage but at 35, things are not so easy. Along the way, she ends up meeting a 44 year old confident, savvy Garden Designer who has specifically chosen career over marriage. The two become roommates and the adventures start. Lots of good music, great vibes, sweet scenes and all-round lightheartedness and humour in this drama that makes it a perennial favorite of mine.

A pretty hilarious drama that first made me realize that one can actually look cute while doing housework. 😉 About a newly unemployed young lady who ends up working as a domestic cleaner for a 30 plus year old IT firm employee… and in a turn of events, they end up settling into a contract marriage as there are mutual benefits to be reaped. I loved it for its humorous plot-line and the fact that the did address lots of realistic concerns that many (specifically female) home-makers and their spouses would face in today’s world.

One of my absolute, positive, favorite dramas of all time! 🙂 This one was a real chance find and I must have had certain uplifting episodes on loop for a few weeks at least… It’s about a former Judo competitor who had to give up on her Olympic dreams after an injury, and finds herself working for a major publishing company in the Manga comic editorial department. It’s all about what goes on behind the scenes in bringing a weekly Manga magazine to life. To anyone who has ever fallen in love with or known the magic of Manga, this is a beautiful drama to watch.

A pretty random drama that I happened to watch and it started off interesting but towards the end the recurrent theme in each episode started to get a little tiring… but essentially it’s about a paralegal who has been trying for 9 years to pass the bar exam to become a lawyer but has failed 9 consecutive times. Nonetheless, her uncompromising moral standards in a world tempted too often by money/greed/the easy way out inspire others and she makes friends for the first time in her life. (I did love watching her studying scenes ;p)

  • Galileo (series 1, 2 and the related movie and offshoot special episodes are all recommended)

About a brilliant and good-looking but eccentric Physics Professor who helps the Tokyo police force solve seemingly impossible crimes… Really interesting crimes and of course, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as listening to the Professor enlighten the Detective he works with about how the crime was committed…all the while using physics. (And the lead actor Masaharu Fukuyama is the best eye candy of all…)

An idealistic, kind-hearted newly appointed Police Chief tries to solve crimes with the Detectives in his police station but is often treated acrimoniously by the men on the floor due to their long-standing distrust of bureaucratic ‘Career’ elites. It’s a rather exaggerated show but humorous and inspiring nonetheless, seeing how good always triumphs over evil. 😉

I suppose you can see a bit of a trend in those dramas that I watched… But I can’t deny I love watching work related drama especially when the protagonists start off in difficult circumstances and always do their best to prove themselves. Kudos to those people who work to put forth well-made dramas/tv shows into the world. When made with the best intentions of inspiring the audience and making them laugh, in the depths of troubled times, they truly can make one feel that so much in life is worth living for.

~*~

Ok, that was a pretty long post. But I felt that there was so much that happened that I needed desperately to sift through and make sense of. For every bit of life that’s lived, it just feels better if I take some time to reflect on what has happened, before moving forward. Will keep trying to live with this intention.

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