Raw Passage: Your Storied Life

Raw Passage: Your Storied Life

Your life is a story. A clutter of seemingly random events. You look back to highlight certain moments in your book of life that are vital, significant to the main plot. You trace each thread back to their origins, where you think is it’s beginning, finding omens, signs and ironies dispersed along the way. Until it all feels inevitable, and you think your life makes sense. You already know how this story is going to end but you’re still eager to jump ahead dying to know what happens next. And then, you realize that there are times when you look up and recognize that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.

You thought you were meticulously following the arch of your story. You keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t, can’t comprehend. Either something seems important or nothing at all. It’s just a mess of moments that doesn’t seem to belong in the same genus. It keeps changing on what you pick to highlight. What kind of story is this? Is it just another coming of age tale? Is it the same one your parents told you about but with the names switched around? Is your everyday life part of an origin story that’s truly classic? Or are you unwittingly getting by from people’s goodwill? Just mistaking your own dumb luck with unexpected success. Are you a character in a romance? A tragedy in a play? A travel log full of self-discovery? Or just another ordinary cautionary tale? Are you on a cusp of a heart-breaking twist? Is this the best it’s ever going to be?

As you flick through the years, you may never know where it’s all going. The only thing you know is there is more to this story. Soon enough, you’ll flip back to this day looking for inklings and clues of what’s to come. You re-read all the chapters and sub-chapters you skimmed through to get to the good parts. It’s always a bad habit you’ve have had in your storied life. Only to discover that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.

World Philosophy Day: Existentialism

World Philosophy Day: Existentialism

What gives your life meaning?

God? Money? Love? Work? Shopping? Jujitsu? Donuts? You must have a personal sense of purpose in your life. A sense of meaning is what we all crave, whether you consciously realize it or not. I believe it’s a personal responsibility to try to understand how and why we should make our lives meaningful. The reality is, we do try to convey meaning through religion, educating others, a fulfilling job, advocating for social justice or seeking beauty in artistic expression but may not entirely be aware of it. Readers (very few I’m sure) of my blog or friends who have had a chance to sit down with me for a cup of coffee may have noticed a persistent theme in my discourse. My favorite of all philosophical thought, and what I adhere to for many years now, is Existentialism. For this year’s UNESCO World Philosophy Day, I thought I’d try my best to do a very brief explanation on what this means and who are the philosophers, or rather existentialists I like and the ideas I admire to. Just a quick repudiation, existentialism is not synonymous with atheism. Just want to put that out of the way!

Existentialism is also not a set of doctrines nor a philosophical system. Rather it’s best classified as a philosophical movement that first ascended in 19th century Europe. Existentialism became especially prominent in the 20th century with many thinkers coming from various backgrounds such Franz Kafka and Jean-Paul Sartre with groundbreaking notions. Existentialists are all concerned with the problem of living life as a human being. Existentialism is an attitude that recognizes the unsolvable confusion that of the human world, yet resist the all-too-human temptation to resolve the confusion by grasping towards whatever appears or can be made to appear firm or familiar. The existential attitude begins with a disoriented individual facing a confusion that he cannot accept. (Robert Solomon) In other words, existentialist all share a common concern with what is called the ‘human condition’. They take seriously at such questions as, why am I here? What does it mean to be a person? And how should I go about living my life?

While all reject an all-encompassing system, each existential thinkers have different evaluations of the ‘human condition’. Any system that comes from the media, society, institution and body that takes away the massive burden one would have to face were they to try to create meaning and purpose for themselves in a unique and personal manner, will always lose sight of the human perspective on life. Existentialists also see the benefit to facing up to our mortality; we will all someday die. And this will give us the courage to stop living in conformity to the masses and instead take control of our own lives, and live by standards and values of our choosing. This idea of being able to freely choose a standard of value and create meaning and purpose in one’s own life is closely related to arguable one of the most famous existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jean-Paul Sartre

“We are our choices.”

Sartre is by far my favorite existentialist. He asked the question: what if we were born without purpose and it’s up to us to imbue meaning in our lives? For Sartre, it’s up to us to figure our own ‘essence’. He coined the term, ‘Existence precedes Essence’. What does this mean? ‘Essence’ came from the Greek philosopher, Aristotle that believed that every independent thing has an ‘essence’. It is the necessary properties or characteristics which are required for a thing to be what it is. For example, a caterpillar has an essence to become a butterfly someday. This is a very structural point of view. In terms of humans, Aristotle believed that unlike inanimate matter or animals, humans can choose whether or not, to act in accordance to their nature. Although, we were not free to create a unique ‘essence’ for themselves in a course of their lifetime. Sartre on the other hand, saw this situation of humans in the opposite light. For him, humans are fundamentally different from things like cars, houses, trees or phones as these are ‘designed’ for a pre-determined function. Sartre did not believe that humans were ‘designed’ with a specifically function. We have a chance to sculpt a unique ‘essence’ in our lifetime. In fact, we are painfully, shockingly free. We have a terrifying abundance of freedom. We are condemned to be free, and you might think there’s some authority you can look up to for answers but all the authorities (rules from your parents, religious institution and government body) you can think of are all fake to Sartre. Those authorities are just people like you – people who don’t have any answers, people who had to figure out for themselves how to live.

For Sartre, the best thing you can really do is to live ‘authentically’. This means you must carry the full weight of your freedom in the light of the ‘absurd’. You must recognize that any meaning you have in your life is given to it by you. The refusal to accept the ‘absurd’ and follow a life given to you by your teachers, society and so on, you would be living in what he calls ‘bad faith’. If you live in ‘bad faith’, you’re burying your head in the sand. Sartre is inspiring in his insistence that things don’t have to be way they are. We have unfulfilled potential as an individual, and as a species. He urges us to accept the fluidity of existence and create new institutions, outlooks and ideas.

Albert Camus

“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”

Camus’ philosophy is bleaker, darker. He believes that the literal meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself. Hence, the above quote. Camus won the noble prize in literature in 1957 and was an accomplished writer so early in his life. Camus argues that once we do start to think about life seriously, we start to wonder if life has any sort of meaning and whether or not if we should be done with it all. He is in a long line of existentialist with such an extreme hypothesis. Camus accepts that our life is ‘absurd’ in the grandest of schemes. However, unlike some philosophers, he resists utter hopelessness or nihilism. He argues that we must live with the knowledge that our efforts will largely fertile, our lives soon forgotten, our species irredeemably corrupt and violent, and yet we should endure.

Ultimately, Camus urges us to accept the ‘absurd’ background and then try to fill the constant possibility of hopelessness. Camus wants us to know that life is worth enduring. Endure everything, and love intensely all things relationships, nature, family, friendship and food. These can be reasons to live for. Once you realize that life is ‘absurd’, you’re more compelled to live life more convincingly and intensely. Accordingly, Camus saw his philosophy as an invitation to live and create in the very midst of a barren desert that is life. He’s a great champion of the ordinary; he praises sunshine, loves sports, the beauty of women. The Parisian intellectual wrote “If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”

Søren Kierkegaard

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

I mentioned earlier that existentialism is not synonymous to atheism. While many existentialists are atheist, plenty are theist such as Kierkegaard. For him, while God may exist, we are each born in a universe in which we and our world and our actions lack any real inherent importance. This is what we call ‘absurdity’. I’ve mentioned this word many times earlier in this post. It’s a technical term that means searching an answer in an answer-less world. We are creatures who need meaning but are abandoned in a world of meaninglessness. Kierkegaard was a gloomy and brilliant Danish existentialist who believed that we should wake up and give up our sentimental illusions. He systematically attacks our pillars of modern life, our trust in work, our faith in family and friends, our attachment to love and our general sense that life has purpose and meaning. He tells us “I was older, I opened my eyes and beheld reality, at which I began to laugh, and since then, I have not stopped laughing. I saw that the meaning of life was to secure a livelihood, and that its goal was to attain a high position; that love’s rich dream was marriage with an heiress; that friendship’s blessing was help in financial difficulties; that wisdom was what the majority assumed it to be; that enthusiasm consisted in making a speech; that it was courage to risk the loss of ten dollars; that kindness consisted in saying, “You are welcome,” at the dinner table; that piety consisted in going to communion once a year. This I saw, and I laughed.”

Everywhere he turned, Kierkegaard saw intolerable incompatibility and impossible choices. The key to his philosophy is that the only intelligent response to life’s horrors is to laugh at it defiantly. He’s often regarded as the founder of existentialism, because in him we see all the themes and interest we later see in Sartre and Camus. He coined a new word in 1844 called ‘Angest’ – a condition of where we understand how many choices we face and how little understanding we could ever have on how to exercise these choices. Our constant ‘Angest’ or angst in English means that our unhappiness is are more or less written in the script of our life. For Kierkegaard, he is the few philosophers we can turn to when the world has let us down as he encourages us to surrender to simplicity, give up material things and to love all humans. He is a companion that tells us to take a ‘leap of faith’ in our darkest moments. His philosophy is valuable to us because of the intensity of his despair at the compromises and cruelties of daily life.

I am sure I left out quite a bit of history, background and context from Sartre, Camus and Kierkegaard. I’m going to let you do your own research on them and continue to better understand their existential thoughts. For existentialists, life can have meaning but only if you assign it. On a personal level, philosophy fills a gap and answers questions in my own life. With the power of marketing, corporate branding, influx of information from social media and cults of personalities, it’s no wonder we need to think a little deeper of our existence in current times. If the world and your life is lacking purpose, you can imbue it with whatever purpose you want. No one can tell you if your life is worth anything if say, you don’t have children, don’t find a more stable government job or even achieve whatever standards your parents or the society holds you to.

Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. Whether you’re an existentialist or not, I think you should choose to find meaning in your life. There’s no real right or wrong answers when you believe in what you do.

Live a life that you think is worth living.

Choices

Choices

I’ve a problem with individuals who says, “what’s the point?” whenever it’s about self-improvement. Look, I’m a firm believer of having the right to live however you want. Even if that means eating junk foods daily, smoking your lungs out, alienating yourself from friends and family, not bothering to exercise to stay healthy, avoiding jobs with high expectations and just barely living day by day until the day you die. Because, as these individuals would say, what’s the point, right? Hey, it’s your choice. It’s your body. It’s your life. And rightfully so!

They’re in their 20s or even 30s and are probably ok with this arrangement. Alright consider now until they’re at the old age of 70. From now til then, they’ll have to face themselves every first minute when they wake up of every single morning. All that junk food, all that poison, all the people they’ve pushed away, all that unrealised potential and all that regret of doing nothing significant in life crashing down the moment they wake up every morning for at least 50 years before they die. Can you imagine how one can just choose to feel astronomically shitty every morning for the rest of their waking lives? Can anyone really choose to live without any purpose and to just wait til death? Remember, this is not because of any other means, but by choice.

Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “we are our choices.” Without going into philosophical existentialism here, the basic idea is that human beings are subjects who must freely choose to create their own meaning. Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Not feeling shitty is a choice. Whatever choice you make, makes your life.

Personal: A Dream

Personal: A Dream

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau.

I don’t usually get personal on my blog. It’s intended to be a place for my existential thoughts and creative writings. But this seems like a story (or dream) worth sharing. Months ago, I had a very foreshadowing dream.

In this dream, I sat beside an old woman, a face that I do not recognize. She rudely commented on my hair, “You need to cut it now! Right now!” while pulling on it from the back. I replied to her politely, “If I may, you are being extremely rude. Don’t worry, I will. I’ve been meaning to anyways. Perhaps, tomorrow or the day after when I have the time.” She just looked at me and smiled in agreement. And then, I woke up.

This must’ve been the most vivid dream I’ve had in ages! So, I was eager to read on this and interpret it right away. There are three key elements here: the old woman, our interaction and wanting to cut my hair. Firstly, I’ve read that the old woman represents wisdom and the desire to seek your inner voice. She represents my best interest and it would be wise to listen to her.

Secondly, my interaction with her represent what I needed to do in the waking world – or essentially, how to handle myself. While she asked for change immediately, I responded calmly and asked for patience. I was still waiting for the final pieces to complete my final puzzle. My calmness showed how I was willing and quite confidently wait for things to come to be. Now, I realized that wait was to see me leave behind my business in my final months and finally solely focus on my academic pursuits.

Finally, I’ve also read that wanting to cut your hair meant that you are going through a lot of stuff and you are ready to move on from it entirely. Usually, when you have a dream like this it is in the aftermath of having just gone through something traumatic. By cutting your own hair, you are trying to change yourself on the outside as a reflection of how you’ve changed on the inside. I think it’s abundantly clear that when you go through something so extreme in your life, you become a new person afterwards. You’ll find that you’ve grown, experienced something deeper and meaningful that has made you who you are now.

The next day, I did cut my hair. And on that very day, I finally acknowledged that I was now a different person, inside and out. I felt and looked different. I could not recognize my former self nor do I ever want to be him ever again. Though, I’ve learned plenty from the harsh lessons. As I fully embraced the change, I forgave myself. When I do look back, I would smile in appreciation. I know now that I’ve become the person that I’m meant to be. When I look at the mirror, I see a matured and well-adjusted person who’s ready to answer to his life’s calling and take on the world. I’ve grown, and will continue to grow.

While it was all business, coming back from Cambodia felt like another watershed moment, and I’ve taken the opportunity to plan the next 16 months. I’ve planned an exciting future from marathons to backpacking trips to hours of intellectual writing. I’ve put real challenges in front of me.

I’m ready to take on new adventures ahead. I’m ready to live the life I’ve imagined.

Raw Passage: The Open Office

Raw Passage: The Open Office

The open office can become a constructor of identity. It is what philosopher Michel Foucault calls ‘heterotopia’. A concept in human geography to describe places and spaces that functions in non-hegemonic conditions. Places and spaces that possess no authority or domination over others. Places and spaces that offer you an important philosophy, it proposes true choices.

These leaderless places and spaces are a comprehensive web of many themes: happiness, sadness, loneliness, voyeurism, compassion, melancholy, inclusiveness and even exclusiveness and many other complex leitmotifs. Because of this, your identity changes; never in a state of stand still.

You cannot stay in one place or space nor is it is recommendable. So you move from table to table, chair to chair, space to space. Consequently, you change from one identity to another. While your micro-movements are always subtle and uninformed, they are always with purpose and choice.

A choice in the open office can bring the virtuous and unscrupulous behaviors to its occupiers. Your place and space can become a small suffocating island. You can become lazy, careless. Cue, a Peter Gibbon quote. You can be utterly pre-occupied with yourself in unhelpful ways, if you decide to. You can place yourself in constant drama in your head: collisions, swirls and frictions. Human life becomes frustrating. You would begin to remember the agitation of the here and now. As aforementioned, depressive themes can arise in your place and space. Everything becomes unearthed from the darkness and deviously focused. Are you now a poison to others? Are you just prancing and finding ways to stay afloat in the politics of the office?

Choices are important in the open office. You can make the ultimate choice for the open office to be a haven of chaotic order. It can be where your heart is when you truly accept and respect its powerful enigmatic quality. You can finally discover your great potential, create creative cosmoses, impress humankind through kindness and ultimately, grow. You can start to entangle nodded feelings and ideas. Like Andrew Carnegie once said, “my heart is in the work”. It is our true hearts that can bring insight and light when you make the right choices.

One should not call for optimistic or pessimistic reading of the open office. But to admit that it offers you and everyone in it, true choices. Choices of becoming a Gibbon or a Carnegie. Choices that would mend you or break you. Choice that would have you stand in the light or hide in the darkness. Once you do this, not only that it offers physical health but as importantly, sanity. You will finally and greatly make progress with yourself.

A Daring Adventure or Nothing at All

A Daring Adventure or Nothing at All

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller.

After almost half a decade (close friends know that I’m a workaholic and this addiction started at a very young age) of working my ass off, there are things that I’m doing that doesn’t feel like an adventure anymore or at least not for the time being.

While losing your spark can be a terrible thing, I think it’s a chance for rediscovery. And rediscovery can be process of growth.

Time to write again, time to learn, time to go on a new adventure.

Noticing the Ordinary

Noticing the Ordinary

Let’s consider the socially awkward Clark Kent. He constantly makes a total fool of himself in front of the charming Lois Lane. He stumbles, falls and never fails to embarrass himself when he’s around her as she overlooks the ordinary Clark. As beautiful Lois is to Clark, we know that she feels inadequate in front of the indestructible Superman. This is the Superman who is after all, the same Clark Kent whose invincible knees can’t seem to keep from going weak in the presence of her kryptonite eyes.

I find that the Clark-Lois narrative can be a powerful critique on humanity’s vanity and selfishness. We constantly fail to see the love, kindness and compassion of others even when it’s in front of us. We constantly fail to value the ordinary. It’s maddening to think that we crave the perfect person, the perfect moment, the perfect feeling only to fulfill our selfish needs. While in fact, noticing the ordinary can be extraordinary. It’s an unhealthy obsession as we find ways to disappoint ourselves with impossible expectations. We are selfish partly out of fear, a fear of accepting of who we are and what we have. But how do we prevent this foolproof method of self-destruction?

We need to start valuing the ordinary around us more: the summer night skies, the taste of warm milk, old brick walls, the presence of our partners in the stillness of the dawn and the grey silence of the early morning. To take notice of the Clark Kent’s of our lives. When we start noticing these things, we will begin to hear a more humbling message. We already know this in our hearts. It comes from a deeper, quieter part of us. We can finally start to realize our utter insignificance. When measured against eons of time and space, we are nothing. When measured against Superman, we are nothing. We think ourselves as too important. Hence, we are selfish to ourselves and to others. We exist too much in the minds of ourselves, a suffocation of vanity. We are the perpetual overdramatizers of who we are and what we expect. To free ourselves from the constant debilitating fears, we need to grasp this morbid but truthful insight.

There is a weakness in our field of vision. The truth is that there is so much courage and heroism in being able to identify this selfless perspective. Perhaps we will finally learn how to give than receive, to learn how to love than look to be loved, to learn to save than to be saved.