Peanut butter cookies and a warm glass of Milo; that’s breakfast in a nutshell. Days have started early ever since we touched down; in part a result of jetlag and a large proportion thanks to our daily fitness regimes that begin before sunrise. We are a week into our 27-day Adventure at America starting in Orlando, Florida. In less than a year, we find ourselves in a different space together once more, rediscovering ourselves and each other. Isn’t it alarming how much can change in a single year? A year ago, the time in the States was very much one to relax – to take a breather from a years’ worth of doing and shift to just being. For this year, I hope to consciously experience last year’s head fakes and cultivate Wholeheartedness.
As a ‘Class of 2015’ Junior College graduate, the frequently asked questions revolve around “what are you studying in University” and “what do you want to be in future”. The answer is one that rolls off my tongue with ease (from practice) – “I am awaiting to read Occupational Therapy in University of Sydney, commencing in March 2017.” Many then jump with excitement, or sometimes horror, clarifying “So this is a gap year!?” In my family, we don’t call it a gap year; mostly due to the unfamiliarity of the concept and also because we have been conditioned to search for certainty; clinging onto its silhouette in the distance or chasing its shadow constantly. Call it what you may; if I had to give it a name, I would like to call this episode ‘Wholehearted Living’.
A practice I’ve been cultivating all year round but never had a name to until recently with Brene Brown reads. This year, with the privilege of speaking before an audience numerous times, I have often started my sharing with a well-known excerpt that I refer to as ‘The Paradox of Our Times’. Today we have higher building and wider highways, but shorter temperaments and narrower points of view. We spend more but enjoy less. We have bigger houses, but smaller families. We have more compromises but less time. More knowledge, less judgment. We have more medicines, but less health… We talk much, we love only a little and hate too much. We have reached the moon and came back, but we find it too troublesome to cross our own street and meet our neighbours. These are days in which two salaries come home, but divorces increase. We have finer houses, but broken homes. This resonates deeply as I am often puzzled at the inconsistency of human beings – the greatest of which is we recognise our desire for emotional connection and remain hungry for relationships of depth; yet, we ferociously defend ourselves against the vulnerability that is absolutely necessary for any extent of emotional satisfaction. It appears that the developments in the centuries have only increased our material possessions; distractions from the true investments that will bring us joy. Not just happiness, but joy – something a step beyond happiness. Where happiness is an atmosphere you can live in fleetingly when you’re lucky, joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.
Dunbar’s number, ‘150’, is the number of stable relationships one can have because of the limited cognitive resources we have to know each other. Given that these resources are exhaustive and that the number of relationships we can possibly sustain is limited, it dawns upon me that there is tantamount importance that we invest in each one of them as effectively as possible to be emotionally satisfied. (Read a friend’s insightful perspectives on this here). The year since I’ve left Junior College has seen internships at Raffles Hospital and Early Childhood Development Agency, induction as a healthcare scholar. Everything in between an immersion in service and advocacy through communities that are family (read more about Dreamcatcher, Room to Read Global Organisation, Strong Mind Fit Body and Youth Corps Singapore). Time and again, I have found deep relationships only in engaging with vulnerability. Presenting ourselves in our most authentic forms has appeared to be the most effective in creating space for truly meaningful interactions.
Still attempting to be better at cultivating Wholeheartedness and still learning the ropes of daring greatly, but for now I am thankful for this time for reflection and practice. Here’s the proposal: let’s not keep anything for a special occasion, because every day that you live is a special occasion. Search for knowledge, read more. Pass more time with family, eat your favourite food and visit places you love. Life is a chain of moments of enjoyment and Wholehearted Living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. Then, when we are ready to carry a sense of belonging and worthiness within us as we engage with others, we stop interacting to find affirmation and just interact to be with another and connect deeply.
It is scary, even terrifying. We will feel afraid, for sure; but it will also come with the feeling of courage, and of being very very alive. Perhaps then, we will be emotionally satisfied.