How to Not Be an Existential Crippling Little Shiz

It’s 7 in the morning. Sunshine has completed its slow invasion into your bedroom. Outside, you can hear the regular hum of the traffic, of the usual faceless people who are like bees, always buzzing, always have places to go and people to see. As for you, you are lying quite unmovingly on your bed. The ceiling has been the target of your stare for the past ten minutes. If you tilt your head at just the right angle, those three dots on the ceiling actually resemble a smile. But you don’t want to smile, or cry. You’re just lying numb. Compared to the bee people outside, you feel like a rotten tree bark, rooted to one place, slowly slowly wasting away.

Sounds familiar? This is usually my friend’s usual “Oh, my God. What do I do with my life now?” episode after finishing a very good game, but to some people, this can easily be their every morning. You know, to the people who cannot help but constantly think about what they are doing with their life, and always on the lookout for ways to improve.

These people are natural tinkerer. They like to take apart a system, and then figure out how to improve it better. Involve them in a project, and before you know it, you are bombarded with observations and suggestions to make it run smoother.

And they have the same attitude towards life. They like to contemplate life from the outside and would like to ideally find ways to make it perfect. You see these people reading self-improvement books, trying out all the crazy yoga classes, and talking about “finding the meaning of life” with a person they just met 10 minutes ago, or reading this post. (I mean… if you read my blog, admit it, you’re one of us. Welcome home, Tinkerer #205, your spot of the ceiling is there from 5-6pm.)

Jokes aside though, even if it feels very satisfying and undoubtedly helpful to reflect upon your life once in a while, it can become quite inconvenient once you’re in the mood for it for a whole month and cease to be able to function normally in your life.

“Hey, you wanna grab breakfast?”
“No, I can’t. I don’t even know if breakfast is good for you or not, and I have to think about whether to quit my part time job to finally establish that goat farm I’ve always wanted, or should I quit school and become the next Bill Gates? Or…. maybe I should just sell everything and spontaneously move to Thailand and resume a new identity.”

“Uhmmm… okay… Maybe breakfast tomorrow then?”

Weirded-out friends aside, this constant contemplation of life also depletes your energy.

“To being with, it (work) fills a good many hours of the day without the need of deciding what one shall do. Most people, when they are left free to fill their own time according to their own choice are at a loss to think of anything sufficiently pleasant to be worth doing. And whatever they decide on, they are troubled by the feeling that something else would have been pleasanter,” said Bertrand Russell.

It also leaves you with a feeling of guilt because what are you doing with your life by just staring blankly into the air? You decide on something, say, you would like to become the next tortured artist, and you have a goal of improving your sketching techniques.  Day one, you watch a YouTube tutorial and sketch for 30 minutes. Day two, you sketch for another 30 minutes. Day three, you are looking up at the three dots on your ceiling, and spend 30 minutes wondering if you really wish to be an artist after all? What if being the owner of a dog shelter is really your dream?

And so you go back and forth between setting goals, feeling insecure, giving up and feeling guilty.

This is an extremely depressing process because as a tinkerer, you want to be better in life, but you seem to be caught in this perpetual cycle of setting goals and not completing them and stuck staring at nothing for hours on end and the lights at the end of the tunnel seems so far away.

But don’t you worry because there is a simple yet elegant system to keep your daily crisis at bay. The idea is originally from this post, and you should definitely check it out because damn, that person could write!

Anyhow, the idea is to stop yourself from thinking about life. Descend from the cloud of contemplation and actually live out your life.

Think of it like this, you are in a dark room and the only way to get out is to find a hidden door. You can either sit in a corner and think and think and think of where the door should be, or you can get up, feel around and figure it out along the way. And life? Life is a beautiful little dark trap. I don’t think anyone has ever found a door out successfully by just thinking about it (except for Buddha, but that’s a rant for another time). Most people learn to live a better life by groping shakily in the dark and gradually accumulate wisdoms on where to go and what to do. The point is, live life. Stop thinking about what to do and just do it! You will figure it out along the way and you can always take a new turn.

“But how about life contemplation? Is life even worth living if we don’t get to think about it?” you scream. Yes, Tinkerer #205, I hear you. I knew you would feel very irky if I told you to stop thinking, and just living which is why you should incorporate what I call a Meta Day in your month. A Meta Day is the day that you stop living and just do your thinking.

This is how it works.

These past two months, I’ve actually had a routine set up, you know, wake up at this time, do laundry at this day, and sketch at this hour. It’s so regular that my new breakfast place has my order and no-plastic-straw-request memorized. The goal is to free you of as much decision making as possible. You just KNOW what to do most of the time.

I have also chosen the 15th of every month as a Meta Day just because I fancy the fact that it’s the middle of the month. You can choose any day of the month, really. On Meta Day, I use my saving for the month to have a small getaway from town, preferably alone. Needless to say, you don’t have to flee town, but it does help make the Meta Day more exciting. On that day, I just lounge around and think about life. That’s it, none of the usual routine. Then I write down what I should change and/or try out (like maybe I don’t want to improve sketching for now).

After Meta Day, I descend from the cloud and live out my life with newly altered routines to accommodate the changes I have written down (like changing my sketching session to blogging). And the most reassuring point is that I won’t be allowed to change the life direction or routine until my next Meta Day comes around, so suck that, three dots on the ceiling!

I have been doing this for the past two months, and it still amazes me at the amount of help such a simple set up can bring. There you go! Try it out a month or two and see for yourself!

Say Hello to Ambiversion

Although I hate being labelled as much as the next 90’s kid, there come times when you discover a word and find yourself hugely relieved and validated- as in, “I knew I was not the only one to miss winning ឆ្គិះសត្វ and watching badly-translated cartoons in the morning this much”. *Hint hint*, the label, 90’s kids, anyone?

There is also another label that recently made its way into the cold bottom of my heart and snuggled in close. And that label is ambivert.

For those of you who are not sure, an extrovert is defined as someone who actually get energy (mental and physical) from being around people. They mostly get their inspiration from interacting with things/people outside of themselves.
In contrast, introverts get energy from reflecting. Large social gatherings sap their energy, and they think best when they’re left alone.

But then there are people, like me, who like to spend time alone (very much) but also have no problem getting excited for a huge event. And those people are called ambivert.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s obvious no one can be strictly extroverted or introverted since it’s a continuum. We’re all ambiverts, somewhere in between, to a certain degree.

However, if you, like me, who like parties, but also have down days. Who like to talk to new people, but sometimes would rather binge-watch a show for three days straight. If after several attempts at the 16-personality test, and you still get like 52% extrovert, then you, my friend is quite strictly an ambivert.


Here are some social life hacks I’ve found that suit the ambivert personality and can hopefully give you some ideas:

1. Seasonal fog:
There are times when you just want to get out and party every single day. Then there are times when you want to wrap yourself up in a big blanket and not meet a single soul for a month. That’s what I call seasonal fog. You just have to let go and accept that it’s part of your cycle. The moon has days when it’s full and days when it’s not. You’re also part of nature; it’s only normal to have your own cycle as well. I find it very helpful to just accept and go with the flow. Feeling social? Let’s click “going” to all those Facebook social invitations. Feeling introverted? Time to lost yourself in the glories of shows your friends have been nagging for you to see for months.

2. Social quota:
Apart from the seasonal fog, most of the time, you are both introverted and extroverted in the same freaking day. You might get up, full of energy, ready to socialize. Then 6pm comes, and suddenly the thought of you rotting in your coffin is more tolerable than running into an acquaintance and having to make small talks.
And that is perfectly acceptable. Try to observe your daily social energy pattern and you’ll come up with a quota time soon enough. For me, it’s mostly at 6pm. Schedule dates and meetings when you know your social quota will be full. And put all those writing, and reflecting activities when your social quota is down! Win, win.
3. Gathering with a large group of strangers:
When you are contemplating if you should join a new social gathering with complete strangers, it’s helpful to ask yourself if you’d have a common goal/interest to discuss or not. I bet if it’s just a casual party where everyone is there to get drunk, then you might not find yourself all that comfortable in repeating the same “Hi, how are you?” to ten different strangers. Make sure the group of strangers have a common purpose. Maybe it’s an art gathering, or social politic café. I find myself extremely charged whenever I get to talk to strangers who have the same concern/common interest. Also, if the place has a dog, you’re good to go.
4. Party:
Maybe, I’m being in my comfort zone here, but sometimes it’s great to be comfortable, you know. Parties can sometimes be your best goddamn time, or your worst cringe fest because you will be meeting all these beautiful, interesting or down-right crazy people, and what should you do? For me, I like to make it absolutely sure that I either have a close friend with me, or that more than 30% of the attendants are my acquaintances, or again, that there’s a dog there.

Well, there you go! Small tips that have made it much easier to not judge myself for my crazy social energy spikes and fall. Would appreciate it if you could also give me some of your coping strategies as well!

Worshipping Idols

“You’re so cool, idol. I love you.”

“I’ve seen you in that video today. So idol!”

“I. D. O. L.”

“អាយដូល!”


Here are just variations of how people have been jokingly employing the term “idol” repeatedly for about 300 times to me now. I know it’s all a trend and show because honestly? I’ve done it to quite a few handful of unsuspecting victims too. You have to admit it’s refreshing to be creating this culture of admiring and shamelessly admitting your respect and pride for someone. I mean, what sort of people DO NOT want to be praised for their efforts and hard work? However, just like with many things, if done wrong, this mere idolizing can mean serious trouble because if you have not noticed already, idol doesn’t just mean someone whom you have considerable admiration for, it also means this.

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 6.07.34 PM Yeah, that’s right. It also means something that you pray as part of your religion. If there’s one thing I know for sure about this implication, it is this, you think of someone as FAR, FAR above you- this enlightened know-all being who’s leisurely hanging out in the clouds spewing one genius work after another without so much as a sweat. Lowly earth-worms like you can never aspire to be half that successful.
So what do you do? You idolize them. You say, oh, he’s born a genius. That’s why. She’s been doing it for 10 years; of course, she’s fluent in it. I can never ever be that committed. Oh, you know, his mind is extraordinary. It just can’t be explained.  No, of course, he doesn’t have any flaw. There’s nothing that she can’t do; maybe save for being a failure.

You call them gods. You do whatever it takes to convince yourself that no matter how much you work, you, a chanced mortal can NEVER achieve that level of excellence.

You know what you’re subconsciously doing by practicing this sort of idolizing? You’re setting a huge air cushion ready for your future fall. Instead of crawling your way to success, you’d rather label that success unattainable; thus, relieving you of any blame for not attempting. And the result? Without the goal of achieving success, instead of practicing, instead of putting in the work and time needed for improvement, you waste your life burrowing from one hole to another, convincing yourself all the way that you can never be a god after all, so why try?

Besides demotivating you to achieve greatness, this idolizing of humans also means you are effectively removing yourself from their friend list. there-are-two-ways-to-dehumanize-someone-by-dismissing-them-and-by-idolizing-them

By idolizing someone, you’re choosing to see them as immortal instead of blood and veined humans with flaws, biases, emotional distress, and childhood trauma (everybody has those; especially artists). That’s why many fans lament about being disillusioned after getting to meet their favorite idol (mostly celebrities).
“I don’t know who he thought he was. He was not all that impressive.”
“She didn’t even know what piece of writing I was quoting! And I’d thought she was smart!”
Well, can you blame them though? You set up this perfect standard for someone, and then blame them for not fitting into the cloud-pacing goddess image that you’ve created for them?

And without leaving room for them to be flawed, to be irrational, to be dumb, you’re effectively cutting all bridges to connect with them on a deeper level. You may be able to hold a decent small talk with them every once in a while, but without giving them the chance to be vulnerable, good luck getting close to them.

Conclusion? I think what I’m trying to get across is this: it’s very tempting to put labels on people, to give them a two-dimensional mask and write them off as perfect or dumb, but humans aren’t nearly always so neat, are they? Before calling someone your idol again, ask yourself, am I merely respecting one aspect of their life, or am I effectively shining their statue and putting it on my shrink?

លែងលេងលេង (Stop Half-ass-ing Yourself)

Don’t get me wrong; I quite appreciate the fact that our society permits us to fail without being bombarded with too much shit. Try talking about your failures to anyone willing to listen and most frequently than not, you would be showered with a bucket-load of the “you-tried” stars (hopefully un-sarcastically) and an abundant pats of sympathy.
However, like all well-meaning actions, this one comes with its own double-edged effects; among them, which will be the focus of this post, is the perpetuation of the culture of “lengleng” (literally translated as play play from Khmer language which metaphorically means half-heartedly).

Instead of committing seriously to a subject, a student would use lengleng as a pretext for not exerting enough efforts. I mean, you can’t really fail, if your declared intention was not to exceed in the first place.

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“I’m just doing this course lengleng.” Followed by missed-classes, one-night-policies, and half-assed papers written literally 24 hours before the deadline with the help of the Muse of Caffeine and sleep-deprived brain cells. But you won’t feel guilty for barely making a C+ in that course; oh no, because you were only doing this course lengleng, remember?

There are only two possible results here. Either you end up getting a little over the average grade, which means you’re a genius, or you end up failing which is sort of what you were aiming for in the first place.

See? No loss, only gains.

Lengleng becomes this trusty cushion for anything risky in your life.

Not sure if you’re gonna get that part-time job as a dancing Panda on the weekends at the mall? Never mind, you only applied lengleng, anyway.

Insecure about your future with that cute girl who’s just accepted your date request? I’ve got you covered, just commit with only half your ass. Either she’ll dump you (you didn’t really want to try in the first place anyway, so nope, not your fault), or somehow, miraculously, she will stay (which just shows you’re just one helluva lucky bastard).

Scared that you will not live your life to the fullest? Stop your worrying once and for all by floating along the river of life with half your ass submerged, yelling “lengleng” once in a while because God (if there is one) certainly won’t be able to put the blame on you for not giving the river your all because hey! A person cannot be held responsible for what they had no intention of accomplishing in the first place! You didn’t intend to be happy in life, so it’s not your fault you’re discontented, sad and alone at the end!

Humor and petty goals aside, do you really wish to wake up one day, gasping for breath on your deathbed, just to realize, in your eighty years of life, you’ve never fully applied yourself in anything, not even a dramatic eco-friendly burial that you’ve always dreamed of having?someone-once-told-me-the-definition-of-hell

 

There’s this interesting anonymous quote which says maybe the worst punishment one can receive is to meet the person one could have been on the last day of one’s life.

 

 

Do you really wish to meet the person that you could have been, had you not lengleng your way through life just because you fear failure?

The person who has ridiculously silly bar stories of their teenage part time job as a mall Panda.

The person who’s married their college sweetheart and lived to have a life full of petty arguments but never run out of love?

The person who’s grabbed life by the tits and milked every single ounce of milk out of it. Who’s not afraid to face God (again, if there is one), and say, “I’ve used everything you gave me. Now just let me rest?)

Do not build a leaden life full of regrets for the fear of making a fool of yourself in front of your peers

because I’ve heard regret is the worst sound a person can hear.

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For me, I find it helpful to think of any life endeavors as a friendship. (Credit to this dude. Seriously, read his posts. He’s just a bowl of awesome-sauce).

Now, back to the friendship metaphor thing.

When you treat any project/studying/anything really of yours with a lengleng attitude, it’s like you’re being friends with someone, but not really putting the efforts to develop a deeper friendship.

We all have friends of that kind. You know, the ones that post on our walls, parroting “we should hang out soon”, but never really make the plan to. The ones whose hangouts involve taking selfies and posting about how happy we’re to finally meet each others. The ones that are not aware of 90% of your true self because they never bother to ask, or listen carefully when you talk anyway. The ones that you restrict to the weather-talk level because there’s no way someone like that would want to and/or be able to empathize with your deeper woes.

For a friendship to flourish, everybody knows one needs to invest the time and efforts, and the willingness to. Lengleng attitude just won’t cut it. Well, at least, I know for sure I won’t want a lengleng best friend. Acquaintance? Yes. But seriously nurturing friendships that will certainly last for a long time? Get that shitty attitude out of my swamp and go leng somewhere else!

For you to achieve something, or well, to put your best in something because we all know success is quite dependent upon luck (and at the end of the day, nothing really matters much but your efforts), it’s helpful to remember to:

  • Put the appropriate time and effort into the work of anything you deem worthwhile because growth needs time, dude, growth needs time.
  • It’s okay to let go: just like friendships, when it is not working out anymore, you can let the goal go. Friendships come and friendships go. Goals are the same.
  • Results are important, but like most healthy friendships, you’re just friends with that person because you like to hang out with them. What you get from them are only awesome byproducts of your amazing time together. Commit yourself to stuff because you like doing it, exploring, learning from it (even though you look like a fool for doing so).

Now, say hello to that goal of yours, and make yourself comfortable because you guys are going to be talking for quite a long time to come.

My Mindful Week- Day 7: Dealing with Materialism

It’s a lazy Sunday evening and you’ve just finished a great movie with your friends. You intend to go home but something sparkling caught your attention from the shop window on your left. You turned around and there it was, lying so gracefully, a wristwatch you’ve been drooling all over ever since it was out.

Why are we so attracted to things, especially if they are expensive? It’s one thing to want to own something because it’s practical, but it’s another thing altogether to hoard 2 closets full of brand clothes that you don’t even have the occasion to wear.

Why are you slaving your days away just to get yet another new iPhone just for internet and calling like your last iPhone?

Why should you spend 8 hours a day sitting in front of a computer like a zombie just to afford a brand new hybrid car in 8 years?

The thing is that we chase these things because we think they might give us happiness. While I do agree material comfort does give us happiness to a certain level (I mean, you can’t be exactly happy without food in your mouth and a roof over your head), but materialism is just way too much.

You know in the deepest crevices of your brain that it’s not the right thing to spend 2,000 bucks on a bike, but your heart gives a flutter when you see it.  When there’s a conflict between the mind and heart, that’s when mindfulness comes into play. Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with the urge to splash my paycheck for things I don’t even need using mindfulness:

  • Spend some time just sit and breathe.
  • While breathing, think of how everything is subjected to impermanence and change. Your house might be blown away by a hurricane or bombed to dust in an air strike. Your beloved car might just be stolen tomorrow, and your clothes may all be consumed by a house fire. If these things are very unlikely, just think about once you’re dead, they are not yours anymore.
  • While meditating on the changing nature of ownership, continue to keep tap of your breathing. It is essential to not lose sight of yourself among all these imaginings. If you’ve strayed, don’t blame yourself. Gently nudge your attention back to breathing and imagining.
  • Realize that the only thing that you will always own in your life is your body, and subsequently your mind. That’s it. You don’t need a lot to be happy. Having many things actually generate more anxieties as you fret over ways you might lost them in the future. You just need to be a friend to yourself to be happier. Materialism is all about showing your worth and status to other people.
    Why so?
    You want validation from them.
    You want them to think you’re worthy. In a previous post, social validation has been promptly dealt with, so I will just tell you what I’ve learned here. It’s this: when you seek validation from people, you’re handing a key to them while locking yourself up in a cage. When you stop seeking acceptance from them, and be content with what you have? That’s when you break the cage and boy is it a sweet feeling.
  • Look back into all the stuff that you own. Which ones do you really need and which ones you wanted just to appear in a better light in the eyes of others? Maybe it’s about time to get rid of them.
  • Every time you are about to buy something, ask yourself the same thing. Do you really need it to fulfill your basic needs, or are you doing it to get accepted?

Well, that’s about it. I’m proud of you for making it this far! Again, you are going to struggle being mindful and it’s natural to feel frustrated (and yell about at yourself for being such a loser, or was it just me?), but please, realize that mindfulness is a life change! Be patient with yourself. When you’ve strayed, just gently come back. My posts will always be here for you.

The Manual

For years, she’s searched for The Manual.

Somehow, she’s always thought life on earth came with a perfect guidance on how to live, that lies somewhere, in some random stranger’s life story, or a dusty book nobody has ever heard about.

 

You see? Every time she discovered a new manual, she would act accordingly.

Dress like this, talk like that, look at it from this perspective, they would say.

And she would gladly follow, thinking this was it, this was the key to living well.

But it was never “it”.

There often come oppositions, other ways of lives that claim to be better than the current manual in her hand.

Pursue riches, get a house, dream of fame, one would say.

The other would nudge her to travel, to be adventurous while another would sing for her to enjoy the simplicity of life, the little drizzling rains hitting her own bedroom window.

 

One manual would tell her to always be there for her friends while another told her to put her self-love first.

One told her to bear hopes; the other scoffed at her for even attempting to find any meaning in this empty life at all.

 

You see? For years, she’s flitted from one manual to another, like a confused fruit fly.

Surely, with all these contradicting guides, there must be the ultimate manual that would put these all to shame. Surely, if she talked with enough people, and read enough obscure books, she would find it.

But it surely did not turn out that way. The piled-up manuals she’s gathered one day chocked the air inside her rib cage, muddled her will to live.

 

And at that moment, during her last gasp for air, she finally realizes there’s no one true manual to rule them all. In fact, different people have different guides, and it’s okay if those contradict.

She realizes she was born manual-less, not so she can copy it from other people, but that she should write her own manual. How? She doesn’t know quite yet, but at least she knows this time, it will be her blood in the ink, her thoughts in the squiggles and her heart in the paragraphs.

The Girl with the Chameleon Soul

 

To be completely honest, ever since I was a little girl, as small as 7, I was a chameleon soul. My earliest memories were filled with rigorous attempts to rearrange my thoughts, ideas, specifically actions so that I could be like someone else whether it was one of my teachers, schoolmates, or even the random snack-selling lady I came across on the street.

Everywhere I went, I would try to discern the vibes of those around me, and tailor myself fittingly resulting in me having the ability to fit in almost every situation as long as I wished to.

Some would say it’s a good advantage in life- being able to blend in.

It certainly is, but the price was certainly too high, too. In return for the ability to blend in, I lost myself. I lost my original thoughts and ideas. My inspiration was borrowed, thoughts stolen.

You see, you’ve gotta find a balance between being able to blend in, and still keep pieces of yourself intact. I was as far removed from the said balance as one can get.

Until, in highschool, there was this popular girl I was trying very hard to imitate. I would say my imitation process was near completion until it hit me. I thought, “When I succeed, I will be the second her. How about the first me?”

That was when the agonizing, yet somehow exciting process of self-rediscovery started. I had to forge my own opinions on everything all over again. I had to come to terms with a lot of things, some life-defining, such as the fact that I am not so straight, or the trivial ones like the fact that I hate chocolate (yes, this is not a joke).

Although it has been five years since, I am still walking with feeble legs, prone to crushing and imitating the forces around me. I am still trying to get to know me. I still sometimes question my own sexuality. What if I turn out to be straight after all? And also my dessert choice. What is wrong with me? Why don’t I enjoy chocolate as much as all my friends seem to do? What if my conclusion was wrong, my taste-buds not as good? Though putting on a brave face, my self-reassurance is still on feeble grounds, prone to a fluttering moment of confusion and anxiety as soon as it receives any criticism.

This tendency to doubt oneself also leads to comparisons, a lot of them. Since you doubt your own journey, you are more likely to admire the journeys of those around you with envious eyes of the green monster. Goddamn, why is the grass so green on the other side? In my mind, I know for certain that comparing oneself to another person is wrong; it is detrimental to self-compassion and mental health. However, my mind still automatically made the comparison anyway.

That is until a few days ago, when I read (and re-read, and watch, and re-watch) the creator of brainpickings.com, Maria Popovo’s beautifully- written commencement address. She equates the word “soul” as the place where our thoughts, actions, and ideals come from.  Essentially, the moment one compares oneself to another person, one vacates one’s soul, ejecting oneself to a kind of “limbo” that is neither one’s nor the other person’s life.

Now, I truly realize everybody has a soul, a journey of their own. I, also have a soul, and a journey of my own. To compare, to be jealous of the lives of others only mean I am betraying my soul, and putting my journey on hold. One should try to go on one’s journey with a pace dictated by one’s soul. Let the others scoot past you as far as they wish; that’s their choice.

To all the chameleon souls out there, maybe social pressure, parental attitudes have made you disregard, discredit your own thoughts, and ideas- your own soul.

It’s time you packed your bag, and started your journey to discover your soul again, reintroducing yourself to yourself. How? I don’t know, but maybe finding out whether or not you really like chocolate is a good place to start.

Complimentary reading: thoughts on what part of your soul you should keep, and what you should improve.