27. The Simple Act of Showing Up

June 1st, 2020 Monday

Dear Blog,

It’s been a while since I last came to you. It seems clear by now that my decision to take a break to focus on a project that I needed to work on was mostly the resistance in disguise, pretending to be a rational voice trying to convince me it was the right thing to do when in fact it only wanted to serve itself, which was to prevent me from writing and thus sparing me of all the potential threats it may incur, which at the same time also prevented me from reaching my potential. The Resistance is tricky that way. One must learn its many forms. These two months away from blogging every day made me realize the importance of discipline, to do the work despite my feelings, and just deliver. It feels nice to finish something every day, and I need to learn to finish. Among all the things I need to learn, the act of showing up is the most important one. The simple act of doing the best to accomplish what you intended to do, even if failed, is still far better than being lead by a perpetual doubt about your abilities, which would probably accompany you as long as you walk on this earth. One cannot eradicate it completely, but can only change one’s relationship to it.

There is only one sin: disobedience to the inner law of our own nature. This disobedience is the fault of those who teach us, as children, to control God (our desires) instead of giving Him room to grow. The whole problem is to find out which is God and which is the Devil. And the one sure guide is that God appears always unreasonable, while the Devil appears always to be noble and right. God appears unreasonable because He has been put in prison and driven wild. The Devil is conscious control, and is, therefore, reasonable and sane.

— Lane-Layard

I kept coming back to this quote from Christopher and His Kind that I first read after moving to Berlin in late 2018. As a gay man, it might be tempting to define “our own nature” here as homosexuality alone, but as I grow older the unique nature of each soul is something that one must come to terms with. Soul by definition is something eternal, though we experience change constantly. Wisdom in a way is knowing the difference what we are born with and what we can change. Cowardice on the other hand, is labeling what we don’t want to change as innate. Perhaps that is why this quote is important to ponder:

With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.

— KESHAVAN NAIR

It is important because we always need courage to be more than our fear, to not be a slave to emotions, and to do the work that we intend to do despite our feelings. That is a hard lesson to learn and practice. Growing up in an unstable household I was propelled by the chemicals induced by perceived threats. My academic excellence along with many other things was mostly the product of my reaction to perceived threats, thus creating a bond between stress hormones and the motivation to work. Now as I grow older and have been living apart from my parents for an extended amount of time, I am starting to experience peace and joy, but my brain still associates motivation with threats. Without threats, I never felt compelled to do anything, as if I am addicted to the stress chemicals in my body, feeling that something is missing, and unless I have a shot of stress chemicals in my blood, I cannot do what I need to do. This is a myth that must be debunked. All myths can be replaced. I need to create a new association for my motivation, to teach myself that it doesn’t have to go together with stress anymore, that there is a better path, a more sustainable and expansive path that would lead me to the future I choose rather than the path that was chosen for me. We either make the decisions ourselves, or decisions will be made for us. For so long I am used to the latter, and I must learn to do the former.

The worst punishment is the understanding that you failed to properly use those good things which were given to you. Do not expect a big punishment. There can be no harder punishment than this remorse.

— Leo Tolstoy

The truth is, we simply have a greater bias towards negativity, meaning negative things might seem more real even though they are not. It is an inheritance from our ancestors through natural selection. Sometimes it is harder to pick between two undesirable outcomes as compared to choosing two desirable ones. Knowing this might be the key to change our behaviors.

For a while, I was fairly addicted to McDonald’s since the school started, probabaly as a way to cope with stress. I cannot pretend I did not enjoy the taste of deep-fried junk food, even though my rational brain knew it was bad for me. It was only when I started to take notice of how I felt afterward that I started to have the awareness to change. Every time after a stress eating of McDonald’s, my body would feel heavy from the food, and I would start to examine the state of this physical discomfort. My stomach felt funny. My brain felt foggy. My energy level would drop. Initially, I only noticed these sensations yet still gave in to the temptations of the pleasures of the tongue. Soon enough when my body established cause and effect, when anticipating the joy of consuming such food was paralleled with the act of imagining the unpleasant sensations afterward, I finally see that the unpleasant sensations were worse than the pleasure, thus began the change of my behavior. You see, we don’t make a decision with our minds, but with feelings. In this case, when the unpleasant feelings trumped pleasant ones, the decision was made. I stopped eating McDonald’s because I have established the link between pain and consuming such food. Cause and effect. Pleasure seems inadequate to tempt me anymore.

By the same notion, running away from my work would bring me a brief pleasure, the relief of short term stress, yet it would also leave a sense of regret. In the past two months, since I didn’t actually accomplish the project I intended to finish, I could feel that sense of regret describe by Tolstoy. It wasn’t that I didn’t accomplish anything, it was how I failed to make proper use of the good things that are given to me, my intellect, my perspective, and my will. I started to feel the many layers of such regret, which was a sensation that centered around my chest and somewhere in my stomach as well. Just like how I quit McDonald’s, establishing this new link of cause and effect is perhaps the key to change. By running away from what I intend to do, I would gain a fleeting pleasure and a deep regret. Change only happens if you are acutely aware of how the discomfort is more than the pleasure, which will guide your decision when temptation strikes again.

Today is the first day of June, also a Monday, a perfect day to start over. I will now reaffirm my commitment to blog each day and see where it will lead me. Even if it leads me to nowhere, the simple act of showing up despite my feelings is something that is worth practicing. Your reward is the lack of that regret, which trumps every fleeting pleasure.

A person understands himself not through thoughts, but with actions. It is only through making an effort that a person will understand his worth.

— JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE”

The point is not to reach a goal, but to enjoy the process, Without such enjoyment, the pleasure of reaching the goal is only fleeting. We humans just have an inherently bad ability to predict what will make us happy, meanwhile overestimating the joy one goal would bring but underestimating the sufferings that would fall after.

Real power is not in momentary desires, but in complete calmness.

Complete outer calmness is impossible. But when there are some calm periods, we should appreciate them and make them last longer. This is the time when useful thoughts appear; they become stronger and guide us in life.

— Leo Tolstoy


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