Advent Day 14: I’m grateful for Christmas trees.

Oops. Missed the advent yesterday as was rather busy.

I feel bad for Christmas trees chopped down from their Northern hemispheric homes to be shipped off to, for example, the tropics, to stand dying in pots but bringing such joy and lovely piney smells to homes all over the world. But I do so love them. I love pine cones and pine nuts and Christmas is just not the same without that pine smell.

I’m grateful for Christmas trees.

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Advent Day 6: I’m grateful for choice.

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Choice. We take it so much for granted, we who choose each day our outfits, what to eat and with whom, how we want our tea and coffee, what to watch on the TV or Apple TV. We choose our universities, schools, government representatives, where to take our holidays, where to rent or buy a house, what car to buy. But it’s a privilege that we were accorded by virtue of where we were born, into what circumstances, and sheer dumb luck.

One just has to look around the world not just at those who live under the poverty line or at its margins, but also at those running from conflict zones, from totalitarian regimes and dictatorships… just for a moment… to realise that external choices are afforded to the privileged of the world.

So, needless to say, I’m grateful for external choices. But I’m also grateful for lessons that came with learning to recognise and make internal choices. Older, wiser souls might not have to earn these habits, but I did, and I was pretty frikkin’ irritated about it too… because turning inwards tends to happen only when you’ve run out of places to run, so to speak, when you’re exhausted and when the old way just wasn’t working any more and you’ve really milked it dry.

It’s choosing how to feel at any one particular time. Choosing your emotions and thoughts. Not pushing them away or controlling them or twisting them into the shape you’d prefer them to be. Just choosing which ones to entertain. You know, like you’re the popular kid and you decide to whom you deign to give more attention.

On a related note, it’s also the power to choose your story, your narration. Like in the movie A Beautiful Life, only sans the sheer effort that would have required in concentration camp circumstances. It’s as Viktor Frankl said, that you have to have meaning, and you can choose your meaning, craft it (I am very broadly paraphrasing here).

Finally, I am grateful to have had enough confrontation, enough opportunity and enough freedom to choose myself. That means both choosing who I want to be at any given point (and the attendant failures and successes) and choosing to stand on my own side.

It can be as much of a burden as a privilege, because choice, like power, comes with great responsibility. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because learning to bear that responsibility with grace, integrity and compassion in a world where nothing is sacred any longer is a worthy life goal. And I’m grateful for it.

 

Advent Day 4: I’m grateful for malls.

The next-door neighbour is doing renovations, and they’re at drilling-and-pounding stage. In the last few days, I’ve woken up at 8.30 in the morning to the strains of skull-vibrating drilling. And I telecommute. Needless to say, my laptop and I hang out at the mall most days.

I don’t really consider myself materialistic, so this sense of gratitude for malls came as a surprise to me. But I’ve come to realise that as a city girl, malls are part of my comfort zone. They’re like the McDonald’s of cities. Every city, even the ones with building height regulations, will eventually organically grow a mall, and the feel, organisation and scents of the place will evoke a sense of familiarity with every other mall in the world. (Except maybe the ones in Dubai. Those aren’t so much malls as multi-storey suburbs. With epic fish tanks.).

Malls are city residents’ climate-controlled refuges, from noise, rain, cold, heat, live-in in-laws… and, right at this moment, having just skipped home from half a day at a mall-bound Starbucks doing some work, I am grateful for their existence!

Advent Day 3: I’m grateful for the space to play.

I think the moment we stop playing, stop letting ourselves play, experiment, dance and sing and be silly… is the moment we begin to age, grow old, stagnate, and calcify.

Someone once told me that you have to decide if you want to be an adult or not; but I think the thing that he didn’t understand was that there are many ways to be an adult, many ways of defining “adulthood”, and many ways to be a mature person. It’s all semantic, all relative, all cultural. I think it’s a sanctimonious and silly notion that one person’s or one culture’s idea of what being an adult is, is the “correct” or definitive, well, definition.

Because I think that if all of us were to follow one definition of adulthood, then nothing new would ever be created. Because newness, creativity, crazy ideas, passion, the courage to break convention, to question, to ask, “why”, the clarity of mind and thought to see through layers of conditioning… these things come from the parts of ourselves that are carefree, young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It’s when we let ourselves play that we throw ourselves into things with abandon, find our true calling, effortlessly accept our true selves, and connect with each other at a primal, trusting, bravely vulnerable, lighthearted and emotional level that no conventional definition of “adult” could reach.

It’s not to say that they are at odds with responsibility, care, commitment, emotional management, self-discipline, and so forth. No, I’m saying that we should give our childlike selves the space to breathe, sing, dance in the rain and play with kittens and puppies, because that is the source of such divine inspiration. I think that it’s actually our responsibility to care for and commit to letting ourselves play regularly, that self-discipline includes scheduling playtime, and that emotional management begins when we can feel all our feelings, sit with them, hold their hands, play Pat-A-Cake them, listen to what they have to tell us, and then… let them go and let our adult selves handle the big decisions.

Without play, we lose our true selves. We lose childlike simplicity, the chance to develop deep and effortless self-confidence, and we lose the strength, energy, and courage to get up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again with renewed optimism, when life, as it sometimes does, falls apart.

I’m grateful for Google Maps.

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There is NO WAY I could have navigated some big cities with such ease and confidence if not for this life-changing invention. I mean, it’s brilliant. You just key in your destination and then follow the little blue dot until it reaches the little red bubble– trains, metros, overgrounds, buses, trams… when it’s hooked up to a comprehensive, working city transport system, this thing is genius! I’m pretty sure the area of my brain that reads maps has shrunk and atrophied since I sold my soul to Apple first bought an iPhone.

Skype.

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I count four countries as home, each one at different times of my life. When I first moved, we still wrote aerogrammes and sent letters and photos by mail. I’ve seen how much communications has been transformed over time.

I’m grateful for Skype, for What’s App and Viber and Line, all these things that make connection over great distances so much easier, if we expended only a little effort. True, the art of letter-writing and reflection has quite likely atrophied (along with the fine muscles in our fingers and hands required for writing, probably!), but we are a more connected generation than ever.


Picture attribution: Photo is from http://www.pindigit.com/how-to-take-screenshot-of-skype-chat/. Picture has been altered auto comply with usage requirements.

Something to look forward to.

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Some days I find it difficult to find something that I’m really looking forward to.

It’s a little sad because when we are kids, we almost always naturally have something that keeps us hanging in anticipation: recess, ice cream after school, swimming on the weekend with Dad and Mom, playing with our cousins from out of town, going shopping for a new chemistry set or Strawberry Shortcake toy, or family vacations. Or even that new chocolate shop opening.

And then you become a teenager, and it’s looking forward every day to seeing your crush from the boys’ school, or going to a concert with your friends, or your school’s retreat (Catholic girls’ school, okay?), or ballet class, or school holidays. Or that new ice cream parlour opening.

And then we become adults. And those crushes either crash and burn real quickly in the face of adult responsibilities and expectations, or they become partners and then sometimes husband, and we start to take people who love us for granted. Appointments with friends become scheduled affairs, and, if there are kids, necessary things to keep the mothers (and after all that feminism, it’s still almost always the mothers) from going mad. Sex becomes part of the routine (so I am told), the ideas of falling in love and soulmates become a cynical guffaw (I have noticed), and we stop looking forward to simple things. Or they are taken from us, or we learn to act with our heads because people now rely on us, and ignore our hearts.

So, lately, when I wake up each morning, I sit down and plan my day, and in my day, I make sure there’s something that I can look forward to. Whether it’s walking out to my favourite ice cream place to get two scoops of salted caramel ice cream; or sending a friend a present I know they’ll love; or reading fiction; or Skypeing a good friend far away whom I haven’t spoken to in a while; or something new, like a trial class for meditation or dance.

I’m grateful for things to look forward to almost every day.