Monday, September 09, 2019 @ 17:53 

do you feel stuck? lonely? deprived of something unnameable? of love perhaps? of affection? or attention? do you feel mean or unkind sometimes? are you critical of the unkindness in yourself? or critique when finding it in others? do you like to compare your life? do you sometimes feel unloveable? or do you think you’re “difficult” to be with? …is anyone in your family “difficult” to deal with? if you answered yes to any of these questions then read on.

this isn’t for everyone, but i’m putting it here in case it is for you. here’s an attempt to trace my first conscious beginning. maybe, it will help you find yours.

A still of Jitish Kallat’s Breath, 2012.
7- channel video. Variable dimensions. Taken on my cell phone.

the noise of everything

this blog was born at a time when i was so immersed in my work that it was all i knew and read about. the phrase “the noise of everything” was taken from an interview with feminist artist, eleanor antin. it was a link i’d stumbled upon in my eager attempts to learn about contemporary art trends and news:

“Maybe that’s what it means to be contemporary—the noise of everything bumping up against itself…Is it possible that in the 21st century there are no selves, at all, anymore? … That there’s so much noise we have an emptiness, a void at the heart of the world, so everybody is desperately looking for their missing selves all over social media?” — Eleanor Antin on identity and the contemporary

the quote still rings true, but everything feels much simpler now than that chunk of text. the calm i have these days knowing that i’m all here, with no missing parts and that everything will be okay — is what echoes as i type this. i’m turning thirty-two in February, re-configuring my career, and grateful that i can sit still. i can’t recall feeling this way when i began writing here.

what work meant then

it was 2015 and i worked in the contemporary art industry. though i learned so much about art and design, because of the nature of the industry in singapore (or maybe it was just different from what i was used to), i felt very disconnected from reality. my office was a white box: four white walls with a tiny window. i didn’t have colleagues, but i had one managing director and two other directors that also supervised my work remotely. i barely read the news and would wait for my partner to share whatever was trending on the internet (mostly on gaming forums and or via youtube vloggers). 

my work was so all-consuming. i love work so it’s kind of always been that way. i was the person of all trades — juggling all the hats you can think of: daily operations, marketing, communications, exhibitions management etc.. concurrently, i also dealt with so much abstraction (the art!) that two years in, i began to yearn for something to ground me and to gain a sense of my self back. i felt like a ghost. i lived my life as if by clockwork and it required so much out of me that i learned to meditate and practice my own personal brand of yoga — youtube yoga1, to clear my mind. the other most immediate and available solutions to feel human again, was to return to writing and coding. why? because they were my first loves and coding was problem-solving that had clear results. everything else was noise. everything else was a haze.

the words “lost years” still pop-up when i try to recall and wonder about the way things were that year. the life i was living was so far from what i had ever imagined for myself. i worked for a non-profit (but not in my field of expertise); i was paid well and was able to rent a two-bedroom apartment near the city with my partner who loved me. yet, i was unsettled and floating.

awareness and attention

at the time, i blamed a lot of what i was going through to “others”, mostly my partner and my cookie-cutter circumstances. without the tools to communicate the pain and restlessness i kept inside, i felt like i was “broken” but also, disappearing. it doesn’t matter how self-aware you think are and want to be (even to the point of being aggressively so, which i’d always thought i was). it’s hard to figure this all out on your own. your friends and the people you consider family — your tribe— can help you put the pieces together if you ask; if you’re open.

one of my dear friends recommended a book (see recommended readings) and it got me curious about buddhist teachings. i learned that the first of the four noble truths in buddhism is that we are all suffering. the second noble truth is that the root of our suffering is attachment. to rid ourselves of suffering, we must understand what causes our suffering (i.e. what we like —our desires—and what we don’t like: our aversions). these teachings led me to realise that the biggest desire i had at the time, was to be loved. cheesy, but true.

i held on to the idea of love so much that it was a stubborn and fixed thing in my mind. it wasn’t big. it wasn’t compassionate. it had a protective and defensive shell — even the love i gave myself. especially to myself. as a result, i wasn’t able to fully love my partner(s), or recognise that they loved me too, in the best way they knew how to. i wasn’t willing to see that they too suffered.

irrespective of your religious beliefs, when we are not self-aware or aware of our own egos, we attach ourselves to our desires, our feelings, our narratives (the stories we tell ourselves) that we have no space for change or growth. and if you add trauma and generations of trauma that run in our families… all that attachment and pain, amounts to great suffering. we become a gaping wound, festering and messy.

the most important work

but, we shouldn’t let wounds fester. physical wounds are meant to heal. and so we must also create the conditions necessary for the healing of our emotional and spiritual wounds. for these invisible under the surface things, the healing requires conscious attention and awareness. there is no one antidote or prescription to accepting and understanding your own suffering. every life is specific and unique. but, a lot of work is required — if work as we know it in our capitalist worldview, is that which puts food on the table, healing to me, is the most important work. when done with compassion and mindfulness, healing gifts you with newness.

i quite like this2 definition of work: “the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change”. that’s how work is defined in the context of physics. as violent as it sounds, that “force” can be replaced with other words like “effort”, “strength” or “influence”. healing work is meant to overcome trauma and shame, to produce molecular change. contrary to what most of us have been taught, the brain is elastic3. we can change. this type of “work” can actually change your life. work in the context of healing is the application of effort, accepting suffering, overcoming shame, and producing change.

i’m not the only one who uses the word “work” for this stuff4. it’s not exactly revolutionary, and while i’m not one to hard-sell it like that person in the link, i like using the word “work” because i don’t take it for granted. three years on from when i started to heal and be more aware of my thoughts, feelings and the way i live my life, i still find it is a privilege to understand the “why’s” of how we are the way we are and why we act the way we do.

in a time where we’ve learned to check our privilege, this is another thing we need to keep in mind. it is a privilege to know that we need to heal and also a privilege to know where and how we can begin with this. the usual resources required to survive living on the one hand (i.e. food, shelter, security, money), many of us have never been presented with the choice or opportunity to heal from our traumas. we’re all stuck. the whole world is stuck. the lack of understanding or awareness of trauma is evident in our politics, our justice systems, the way we communicate, and most especially in the way we love.

the beginning of many beginnings

so here you are, ready to heal and to put in the work. welcome to the beginning of many beginnings! buckle up, fellow child of the universe. it’s a long road ahead and it will keep on going. take a deep breath in and then on the exhale, notice yourself beginning.

if you’re already healing and putting in the work, big love to you fellow beginner.

Recommended Reading:

Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson
The Body Keeps the Score : Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Dr Bessel van der Kolk

  1. my sincerest apologies to the true yogis 

  2. via Lexico powered by Oxford 

  3. Read about: Neuroplasticity

  4. work as healing 

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