Category Archives: Mirror mirror on the wall

Fun horoscope

Horoscopes are fun. Regardless of whether you believe in them. But that’s what makes it fun: something to be taken light heartedly. Sometimes a nicely written one is like a little pick-me-up. I flipped a magazine over morning coffee and chanced upon this one:

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22–Dec 21): Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) didn’t like to work hard, and yet he was also prolific. In fact, his desire to avoid strenuous exertion was an important factor in his abundant output. He got things done fast. His most famous opera, The Barber of Seville, took him just 13 days to finish. Another trick he relied on to reduce his workload was plagiarizing himself. He sometimes recycled passages from his earlier works for use in new compositions. Feeling good was another key element in his approach to discipline. If given a choice, he would tap into his creative energy while lounging in bed or hanging out with his buddies. In the coming weeks, Sagittarius, I recommend you consider strategies like his.

Non-strenuous exertion and feeling good while being productive? Rossini’s my man!

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Taming the monster

Finally, I tamed the monster of a wardrobe over two weekends. Gone were the disobedient bulges that keep the doors from closing. No more avalanches of falling garments. Tumbling clothes are now the strict domain of the washing machine.

I was busy patting my own back. Then came this comment:

“The quantity has not depleted, though it definitely looks neater.”

But I had just packed two extra bags of things to give away!

I had the good fortune of not having to move homes in the past few years. Whereas prior to living in my current home, I was moving home every 1 and a half years on average. All the packing and shifting that came with each move was a chore. Yet each move was:

  1. An opportunity to purge.
  2. A reminder not to buy stuff next time. Not just buying unnecessarily, but even when it’s truly necessary, ask myself one, twice or even thrice – is it truly a need or is it just lust masquerading as need!
  3. Even if it is truly a need (as the little devil on the shoulder temptingly whispers), remind myself what a pain it would have to be when you pack and shift homes next. Home shifting enough times is an effective deterrent.

Suddenly I feel like resetting the button. Rejolt the system into simple living. Travel and live out of a bag for a couple of years.

The Art of Waking Up

One of my biggest fears of travelling alone is the fear of the alarm clock malfunctioning, or a dropped morning call, leading to a missed early bus or flight. Day to day, I know I’m awake by a certain time, irrespective of the presence of a ringing alarm clock or a bed partner or the cries of the neighbour’s baby. Still the alarm clock is set, like a safety net, just in case I happily snooze till noon to wake up and find that I missed a whole morning’s action. That this rarely ever happens should be statistical proof that such worries are unfounded. Yet, the alarm device is always set by default before I go to sleep.

There is so much focus on getting a good night’s sleep that we often forget that waking up is an art too. In a recent conversation, a friend and I discussed the downsides of being suddenly jolted awake by a blaring alarm. The effect of a violent jolt is sometimes described as “sleep inertia” – the feeling of grogginess immediately after an abrupt awakening. If we aim to ease into sleep comfortably, it simply doesn’t make sense to be woken up abruptly. At a meditation workshop I attended last year, one point as I understood it was to cultivate awareness starting from the moment when one is awake. If I were to take that understanding further with the goal of cultivating a good quality of mind, in that moment of waking up, as streams of thoughts start to trickle in on autopilot mode, the aftershocks of a violent alarm ring are unnecessary extras in a blurry cluttered mind.

My temporary solution to counter the jolt effect of the alarm is to set the alarm tone to the dreamy sounds of Debussy’s Reflets dan l’eau. Still, it isn’t a long term remedy to weaning off the alarm device. More importantly it isn’t the antidote to the latent anxieties associated with the fear of oversleeping.

Apart from sounds, lighting affects how one wakes up too. This is hardly a statement of sleep medicine but more of being in awe of the impressive cabin mood lighting on a Qatar Airways flight: from functional lighting to cool sexy shades of purple that lull one to sleep. When it’s time to wake up, the light gradually comes on then radiating into full glow. On the control monitor for the lighting, there is a function called “wake up”. How cool. Or is it?

Nature has already blessed us with a “wake up” lighting function – sun rise. Some studies have shown that if we synchronise our sleep more closely to the natural lighting patterns, it would be much easier to wake up. Living near the equator means the sun rises more or less the same time every day of the year. So if we create an environment in which we can wake up to the regular sun, we could wake up at a regular time everyday and the internal body clock is thus set. As I like to wake up with sun rise, travelling in a temperate country during summer means I get up very early in the morning. The chirping birds or lack thereof tells me how the weather will be, and I will get to have morning quiet to myself before the rest of the world wakes up.

I Iike waking up with the whole day stretched out ahead of me, with no place to rush to or tasks to complete in a hurry. The true realisation then is to find a way to wake up feeling like that every day, irrespective of whether there is indeed a place to rush to or tasks to complete in a hurry. I hope I have found my answer to the art of waking up.

 

That itchy corner of the brain

Recently someone complained to me. The complaint wasn’t so much that a task was too difficult. Rather it was, “because I don’t like to do it”. In another instance, I asked someone a decade younger than me, “What do you do on weekends?” The reply was “Sleep”. I hope you were joking! 

It has come to my realisation that the world probably does not have stupid people. Rather it has people who lack interest. Boredom is nothing but a lackadaisical attitude.

Often, the saying goes, “Do what you love.” “Pursue your passion.” Love and passion are very strong words. That fire in the heart may not come naturally to everyone. It just seems too idealistic and elusive to be true. Also, it is as if there is only the one thing that is your love and passion. Identifying something so precise may not be so easy for everyone.

Rather, I would advocate keeping a light heart, a sense of curiosity in whatever it is you are doing, whether it is work, play, or something very difficult or something routine that needs to be done nonetheless. It is hard to keep a light heart; perhaps with growing age the heart has become hardened with calluses of cynicism. Or perhaps the heart is weighed down by the many disappointments and pains in the journey of life. Or perhaps it is simply because we have become lazy. Too complacent and too used to the comfort of familiarity. Therefore when a challenge arises, instead of viewing it as an opportunity to learn, we see it as an unwelcomed obstacle. On the flip side, easy tasks become a chore. But doing something reluctantly makes what appears to be a menial task even more of a drudgery. So why let negative thoughts ball chain our hearts unnecessarily. Why not turn the task on its head upside down, give it a spin and take it on with a fresh new angle. 

Most of us would have heard of the “glass half full, glass half empty” saying. Rationally, we know what that means: “It is your attitude or perception that makes the difference.” But just because we are intellectually capable of understanding a concept doesn’t mean that our heart is willing or accepting. How do we get there?

Keeping a light heart is to keep an open mind. The mind does not open up by itself, nor is it forced open by mere logic or rationalisation. Like a door with a rusty hinge, it needs to be slightly oiled, nudged a little, and eased into action. Like how rust has set stubbornly on the door hinge because moisture has been allowed to build up on the surface of metal, the mind is too set into thinking in a certain way because we have allowed it to. So undoubtedly it will be a slow process to reverse that. Take these tiny but incremental steps. Like daily pennies put into a piggy bank. Over time, like all other accumulated sensibilities, it becomes intuitive and instinctive.

An open mind doesn’t necessarily absorb everything that comes its way. Rather, it is curiosity in its basest form, like that of a child’s innocent sense of wonder. An open mind does not immediately say no or yes. Instead it asks questions: Why? How? Why not? It takes its time to get the answers. There is no rush or hurry.

Because there is no rush or hurry, you will feel more sure of yourself when you finally arrive at the answer.

Confidence is a quality that effuses outwardly. Yet, it is built upon a journey of discovery – and acceptance – of the inner self.

That journey is lonely but necessary. That is why it is also important to keep yourself in good company. Buddies who egg you on to challenge yourself, who psych you up, who encourage you to do the things that you once thought is too difficult, who believe in you more than you yourself. Receive the pep talk and compliments openly. And don’t forget to return it or pay it forward.

This post may sound like I am preaching. Actually, I am writing a letter to my younger self.

Keep a light-hearted curiosity in whatever it is that you do. I liken that curiosity to locating an imaginary itchy spot that you want to give a good scratch to. Maybe that spot is in a corner of the brain. This approach of a constant sense of curiosity may just be the key to identifying what ignites the inner flame, not just necessarily for any particular thing, but for life in general. The next time you notice an itchy corner of the brain, don’t be afraid to find the spot and scratch it. Lightheartedly.

December

Year end. The air is cooler. It rains every other day, if not incessantly. A constant waft of moistened freshness, before, during and after the rain. The grass is greener. Everything seems a little bit more lustrous. I want to be by the window, closer to the lingering companionship of pitter patter. I will miss it when it stops. I turn on some music, something velvety and buttery by Zee Avi: “The turtle moves slowly and is happy with his pace of life. The flamingo walks with elegant grace, she knows she’s one of a kind.” For a brief moment I am not what other people think of me nor in a tangle of other people’s problems.

The calendar is down to its last pages. Each event past archived in the diary. The year concludes either with a bang or mediocrity, provided one only believes in two possible conclusions.

For me, I only hope I have learned a bit more about myself. Here’s to a new year, new journeys and new discoveries ahead.