Generosity & the proverbial water

I popped by a music event by Sofar one evening in November. It’s been awhile since I’ve attended any live performances locally; the last was probably at Wala or something near home. More for company than for music.

Sofar is the shortened and abbreviated name for Sounds From a Room. It happens almost monthly, on a Saturday evening, usually in a cosy space. What changes is the location of which participants will only hear one day prior to the gig. The evening starts and ends casually. 3 artistes or groups play for an audience of about 50. Is it open to public? Yes and no. To keep the group small, the final list of attendees are whittled down from the names of all registered folks put through a ballot system. All down to luck.

I am not a music person so I can only say, it all sounded good and felt good. AYE. I left feeling like it was a very good night.

I remember being in the lift of my apartment block. Almost home, I was going through an email newsletter from On Being. Kristin Lin, the editor of On Being studios was talking about that proverbial water she has always being in. For her, it was about chasing perfection.

This reference to water happens every now and then. I first noticed it in a talk by David Foster Wallace – I’ve lifted a quote from that talk below.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Once you have chanced upon it and read it once, the next time someone talks about water, you would have sorta understood without the person having to elaborate much what he or she is referring to. Gives you some idea of how sticky the message is, and really, it’s also about the personality behind it; DFW has quite a following. Think of it as some kind of a knowing look between a growing group of people.

I would use water – the same metaphor – to share more about what I came to realize once again that evening during the performance.

I realized how wholeheartedness is a quality that shows up quite clearly. The all-in. One lady told us her story – that she wrote this particular song after bawling her eyes out in Ireland after a heartbreak. She was waiting for the next bus to come along. She did a Kanye apparently; wanting to pursue music, she packed her bags and left everything – left her parents, and went to Europe. I was just thinking then – what an experience it would be, if I would be able to do that. I was reminded, there and then, as I hear her sing, that many creations are born out of excess. Emotional excess. She shared about how everytime when in front of the piano, she writes her music when she’s sad. Sometimes, I feel the same about my own writing too – I used to feel ashamed and wanted to hide. I have felt self-conscious of my own patterns, writing only when feeling a certain way. Do I come across as too sad? Too PC? Too…bipolar? But anyway. I imagine myself, as i watch her sing, travelling through Europe alone, meeting myself in different places, the writings, creations, born out of being situated elsewhere.

I also noticed something. About the small. In that all-out, suddenly the small numbers don’t quite matter. Maybe it does, I guess I don’t really know. But I feel led to believe, that a preoccupation about numbers and scale (we want as many eyeballs and warm bodies packed together as possible, time efficiently used, bang for the friggin buck) comes about only when someone is projecting from a distance. Not physical distance. Psychological and emotional distance.

As the night went on, I appreciated the art form. I wasn’t really hearing it. or maybe I was, just superficially. I didnt feel like i was in a good position or a good place to evaluate anything about the music, except that it was enjoyable as light listening. I was more preoccupied with looking at how the musicians were enjoying themselves. And how as an art form, making music involves putting one’s all. Whereas as a form of creation, writing somehow feels more tentative. More withheld. more calculated. less generous. It involves alot of negotiation. concealment and openness and the balance could tip anytime because the process of pouring out is slower than the flickers of the mind.

I learnt there and then, about my own water.

Almost always infused with elements of withholding & restraint. I don’t think i’ve ever “forged ahead wholeheartedly”. ‘Tentative’ is the word.

It’s tempting to say, now is the point where all of these changes (for the better). It is a resolve. But we shall see hohoho

Time

Is time really running out? What if you can make time? Continuously make time. Is it still running out?

If at first you don’t understand, replace ‘time’ with object/substance of choice. Once clear, replace object/substance with ‘time’ and give it another go.

If still unclear, rinse eyes, and repeat previous instructions.

Time flies, and doesn’t care that you disagree.

Well actually, all I meant to ask was this:

How willing are you to make time for a loved one? When was the last time you gave someone your full attention?

But do you need to know?

Do you need that extent of confidence?

What do you want to put your life behind?

3 very important and course changing questions from yesterday evening

天空无比宽阔

what is sky, even? 用思考、用腦,未必能了解這份空。但學到的是懂得問,「即使不了解又怎樣?」以心去察覺,讓心牽著你走在前端

Life as Practice

I have been sending letters into the future, and receiving letters from my past self. Earlier in January, I received one that I wrote about a year back. I was probably in Hampi, India, at the time of writing.

I went through that letter a few times, in those 2 days when it got delivered to my inbox. Every time I read it, I feel warmth. It’s a warmth I’m only beginning to understand and recognize. The warmth that happens and comes from self compassion. The care that this self has for a future self, the quality of which…is gentle, kind, perceptive. And filled with understanding. Like a friend that understands. She understands because she knows and she speaks the language of the heart, mind, soul. 

During my time in Chiangmai, together with a group of friends, we wrote, doodled, and shared about the lives we want to live, what matters to us. And increasingly, as we learn to better articulate these answers in various ways, I recognized a growing sense of clarity.

How do I want to live? Essentially, what would this life look like?

There is boldness involved when there is a willingness to imagine, and I have been afraid. I am the child and the adult who would look at you point blank when asked what my dream is. Can I hold it against the system? An answer is expected, embarassment kicks in, and I hastily put together an answer that has no semblance to truth. But the deed is done, the expectation dealth with. Moment is over.

Lately, I feel an inclination towards answering this question with a feeling. I don’t know what that life would look like, and what form it’ll take. On hindsight, perhaps this is a reflection of a realization, about a certain inner state of peace and ease that is important to me. It is the understanding about having space in my life, to be held in a certain state where I am able to return over and over again, grounded, with the preciousness of life in full view. My entire being, unabashedly, unconditionally, steeped in a life that is beautiful, wondrous, precious. Unfolding without resistance, or restraint. Like a plant’s response to light.

Have you not notice the colour of indifference? To imagine, is to give life! To will yourself to begin imagining is to give life a chance.

.

I was at the Wat Pa Tam Wua monastery near Mae Hong Son a month ago, and I remembered wanting to ask the Ajahn a few question:

How do we bring ourselves to keep up with the practice when we simply are not in the frame of mind to do so? The cycle is truly ironic. The less able you are able to make time for it is the time when you really need it.

I marvel at how serendipitous it all is, that at the time of writing, I have had conversations that drew me in in the past few days. Over and over again, I’m being told that to sit, is a way of being and always part of the answer. Even to questions that you never knew you had.

I recognize that all this talk about practice can have a rather serious veneer. Perhaps it comes across as such, because it takes a fair amount of commitment and understanding. A flavour of pressing on. But if you are with me on this – agreeing that life is precious, all life is precious, then to squander this lifetime sleepwalking would be quite a shame.

Imagine having a veil over your slightly opened eyes. Your gaze is soft. There are shadows. There is light. You catch the occasional glimpse of what is ahead. Would you lift that veil?

I don’t just want to see the world, I want to see the world , experience it, in its entirety, as it is 

snippet of a journal entry, 22 Jan 2019

It has been immensely comforting during these months that these nudges – gently persistent – have reminded me just time and again, how the nature of this process is not one of acquisition, not a step-up, or a becoming. It is a returning. Homecoming. There is no need for detours, or special contraptions. It is enough to start where I am.

Maybe it is also in this knowing that I am a child, once again.

A sense of wonder.

An unmistakable light-heartedness that bubbles and spills everywhere. Flowing, free of agenda. There is no struggle for control, because there is no necessity for control. There is generosity, because there is no concept of lack.

Untainted innocence. Not about the ability to cleanse, purify and purge, but to show up, with one’s gifts, without restraint. Without tampering.

I guess we are all children. We could be. The trees, mountains, earth and rivers – our grandmothers and grandfathers.

And I move, and flow with this living stream. Be guided by the stirrings of the heart. May I recognize the external conditions, the company I keep, the environment I am in. May I find avenues for expression to create, and to do my soul’s work. And may I find, along the way, kindred spirits and old-souls who will laugh and cry, dance and dance along with me. We will gather together, heart center to heart center. We will speak, with and without words. May there be much love. I don’t know what else I would wish for, if not these. Deep connection, love and spaciousness.

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I have enjoyed receiving these letters from myself, and they have taught me alot. But I am unsure if I will write another one soon. These letters have served as encouragement and also as a reminder of what mattered. I am unsure, because this time, I feel like I am in a space where deeds, tasks, goals expressed in the form of text – these will no longer be enough, and I will have to find another language.

.

The grain of the threshold beneath my feet. On the other side, life makes an offer. Pulsating. Messy. And also, lush. I step through.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

.

Mary Oliver; 1935-2019

Occasionally many things

It doesn’t take much to say to myself/yourself, to admit, that I/you just want the easy way out.

Sometimes, what follows the ‘why’ is a flurry of activities – the good kinda flurry that keeps wheels turning. Motivation high. Sense of agency present.

Else, there is no why. Just period. Silence.

o_o

Only occasionally.

How many foreign bodies in Peninsula

the functionings of an enclave.

who is the foreigner? 谁才是外人?

I popped by Peninsula Plaza today.

是不是閒著沒事幹呀?不夠朋友的人應該會這樣問到。如果志同道合,應該會很興奮的説,下次有機會咱們一塊去!呵呵。but anyway, i digress

As usual, I always feel led by food and I have been thinking about some Shan noodles and tea leaf salad for awhile. I first had them in Myanmar. And upon my return, I remember trying to relive the experience by having it at Peninsula. I also remember it being not quite up to the mark. Which is a pity, because I’m guessing it’s more to do with ambience and context, than the actual taste.

One of the first things I noticed was the smell of the place. An olfactory scape that is distinct from the outside of the place. 有氣/趣味. It wasnt unexpected because people who hear about Peninsula almost immediately always make a remark about its smell. It’s such a peculiar thing and I’ve always found it so fascinating that certain associations are so strong that it’s identified collectively by a certain “sense of”.

I feel tentative. Moving across the landscape. Self conscious. Distant. A foreign body. Sitting down with my food in the middle of everyone speaking everything I don’t understand. Food I don’t know the name of. Noise level I’m not accustomed to. I wondered about taking a picture and I noticed the thinking patterns and considerations that arose were similar to what had come up when I was overseas, in another country.

And then I realize, it’s not so much the “citizenship”. It is about being the “other”. Maybe I don’t yet know what I’m talking about because I’ve been part of a “majority” “race” at “home” almost all of my adult life.

The conjuring and projection of alienness onto a physical place that ought to be familiar feels queer, made possible only/happening simultaneously and in conjunction with the process of making a place feel more familiar, more home.

own economics, dynamics, perhaps the divisions I don’t even see. Without distinctions, we cannot see

Work

At every moment in every person’s life there is work to be done, always work to be done, some of it small, some of it Great. The Great Work, in a sense, always has to do with healing the world, changing the world, and, as a necessary predicate to that, understanding the world. You rise every morning aware that you are called to this work. You won’t live to see it finished. But if you can’t hear it calling, you aren’t listening hard enough. It’s always calling, sometimes in a big voice, sometimes in a quiet voice.

–Tony Kushner (in The Great Work)

I lay in bed, kept wide awake in a way that is probably artificial and not so healthy; it’s way past bedtime. For the past week, I find myself grappling with the concept of “work” once more, this time more intensely. Not that there has ever been a stop to this examination, but there’s a feeling of urgency, that the intense reckoning this season has its gravitas. More consequential.

It is only in the past few days that I found myself arriving at a point where I can articulate what matters, with a little bit more clarity. It is important to me that I am able to sustain my energy, my effort – not just in work or in life, but a way of living that takes into account how I am able to thrive moment to moment, without going into debt.

Funnily enough, I was starting to question this today. What if we don’t actually need to keep such a tight rein on “balance”? What if we decide to just fuck it, wing it, come what may.

I lay wide awake, writing this, not because I have found another line of inquiry. But because of a feeling of satisfaction I just derived from doing a work I enjoy.

When a work feels right, there is no rationalizing. And I realize what it all boils down to, what each person is meant to do, the kinda deep calling that deserves one’s deep work, is to be able to share their love with people. Whatever that love is. Art. Nature. Language. Dance. Whatever. To be able to share without restraint.

What a beautiful world that would be