defragment.me

You see this goblet?" asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master.

"For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’

When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

via garrysub.posterous.com

Making the most out of time

I fell really sick for the past two days. It seemed like somebody was trying to drive the whole point across to me about not taking my health for granted. I thought it didn't seem like a coincidence that this bout of sickness came right after I wrote my previous post.

I had a chance to experience how does it really feel like to be totally disempowered as I lay in bed feeling really ill and restless, yet not possessing an ounce of energy to do anything.

It is kinda ironic, because I had such grand plans and hopes for these few days as I told myself after writing the previous post that I'll want to make better use of my time.

Only to be hit with a cold, stark reminder that it is not up to us when we'll like to make good use of time or not. The moment I actually felt like accomplishing something, I fell ill. While being static on bed I wondered about all those times I had been in perfect health and yet chose to idle my time away. What if this spate of illness lasts more than a few days? What if from this very moment onwards I lose my health for good?

Since am a perpetual worrier and am always under stress and not eating properly of having enough exercise, I do get sick rather often, but I usually recover in a matter of a day or two. I've been blessed with good health overall, till date I have not had any major illnesses or injuries (touch wood).

Yet this is the first time I am giving serious contemplation that my illness may last more than mere days with the possibilities following it. Not because I really feel that I'll continue to be sick, but I have has this chance to really think about it instead of just taking for granted that I am bound to recover.

How much do we have to lose…

...In order to appreciate what we have? Why does it take for us to lose, or to face mortality, before we are even willing to maximize life?

I've just read "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom. I picked up the book to read because I was feeling restless; I wonder if the restlessness I feel are subtle nudges by my guides. The book chronicles the last days of Mitch Albom and his University lecturer whom have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The story itself was nothing new, but Mitch Albom just have this way of writing that tugs the heartstrings, or maybe I am just an emotional blob. I'll rather be an emotional blob than a non-feeling human I guess.

Death is the main theme of the book, and the author repeatedly questions himself about his own values, dreams and goals when faced with his beloved dying lecturer. I don't have to face death, I've been repeatedly questioning my own values, dreams and goals regardless. However, I've been guilty of taking life for granted. Reading intricate details about Albom's lecturer's slow decaying body and lessons about life he tried to teach before he left the world, I cannot help but feel that I have been wasting precious time given to me.

Making major decisons

I've always made major decisions easily. I am blessed with the self-ability to be realistic in a manner realistic people cannot be. Realistic people are not truly realistic in my humble opinion because if they have been honest and realistic about their life and death, they would not choose to live life in a 'realistic' manner, would they? If they have known that life may end anytime, that health may degrade over time, that possessions may be lost any moment, would they still pursue a so called 'realistic' life?

So, most of my life's major decisions are made pretty simply. I just ask myself, what if I were to die the next day? Will I be at my deathbed regretting making this decision or not? And then I'll realise, what truly matters. That sucky job did not matter so I quit, I cannot bring my money to my grave so I spent it on stuff that would make me happy, I did not want a mundane life to flash past me before my death so I took risks.

When I tell my friends how I make decisions, they laugh and remark that I am being too extreme. Am I really? Does anyone of us truly know if we are going to be alive the next day? What is so extreme to be realistic about Death?

I am grateful because even if I procrastinate over work, waste my time fretting over senseless worries, but when it comes to major decisions, I  do not shy away from it. Never shy-ed away when I quit my diploma studies, when I fell in love with a girl, when I quit at least 8 jobs in 8 years because I couldn't fit into the system, when I told my heartbroken mother I want to move out and that I am gay at the same time, when I took the leap to be self-employed.

Looking back, I am proud to proclaim that they were all fantastic decisions that made my life a lot better. I struggled with the guilt when I was young, because it seemed to society that I was being selfish, but life is really not about living it so that parents can be happy or to gain acceptance by society.

Making better use of my time

Right now, I am just ruffled that I am not making good use of my time. I live everyday as though there are going to be many more 'everydays'. There's so much I want to do and fulfill, but it is always 'later when it's a better time'. Either I am waiting to do something, or I am simply busy with work. I have no desire to go back to 16 hour work days working on projects that mean not much to me.

My values have changed.

I would like to work on projects that mean something to me. I used to be working for a certain number each month, a number that would mean that basic to intermediate material needs would be met, and then hoping that after those needs are met, I would have time to work on personal projects and causes. To accomplish this I took on intense projects because I was naive enough to think that I can complete these projects in short-time frames and get paid faster, and that will enable me to reach my target soon, which equates to free time for me to do things I want to do. I just ended up very tired, dissatisfied, and burnt out.

I realised that I would be very much happier if I chose to work on stuff I really wanted to work on, design-related or not, and even if I have to compromise on my comfortable lifestyle. Chasing numbers just doesn't cut it for me. I feel that I should do what I feel is right, and simply trust that I will be provided enough for to accomplish my dreams and goals.

I no longer want to be the old self who lived just to prove my worth and to gain acceptance. I am so much more than my work, why should I let my work and material possessions define me?

Living life

I do not want to wait till someone has died, or when my senses fail, or I lose my limbs, to live life the way in order to do it justice. I want to be able to have a sense of purpose or accomplishment everyday and not feel like I have wasted yet another day.

I think for me it is very much a psychological barrier – I need to literally reprogram my mind to discard belief systems that seek to disempower me and not to fall back into the whole capitalist society syndrome whereby money-making must be the prime objective of every human being's survival plan.

I want to start living life.

Resetting my priorities and perspectives due to shame

The past few days, if not weeks, have been hugely reflective for me. It seems like a major conspiracy from the universe to wake me up from my deep slumber. I have been feeling quite disturbed for a long while now, it has been such a while that I do not even remember when did it all start.

The issue on the surface

I have always prided myself for loving what I do and being able to do what I love. This has not been entirely accurate lately and it has been bugging me from my deepest consciousness. It eats me up slowly.

Is it because:

  • I have overworked myself
  • I have taken up web projects because of the freedom it entails me and perhaps being a print designer at heart I am actually trying to condition myself into settling for less because it gives me more
  • The projects themselves are not interesting enough
  • It is not about the work but the issue is me

The deeper, actual issues

The above questions to myself may be the cause of my dissatisfaction partially, but my gut (or my higher self) tells me there is more to it.

I have been neglecting the bigger picture.

The bigger picture has never been the work itself. Would I be satisfied and truly happy if I am doing the best work or the most interesting projects? If I imagine myself as one of the best-recognised designers right now, will that take away all my dissatisfaction? If I had less work now and have the chance to rest, will that make me feel significantly better?

A couple of years ago I have realised that even if I was doing the best work, earning the best keep, I would not really be satisfied, I would not lie on my deathbed and smile, telling myself that I have lived a good life. What is the point of even if I were to be recognised as one of the best? It does nothing except to feed my ego and probably I can tell myself I have been one of the best designers – but what comes after that? This is not meant to be any disrespect to the best designers out there now, honestly, just that different factors make different people happy, and I would not say that being one of the best makes me truly happy. I love my work but it is just not what my life should revolve around.

The picture changes significantly when one is able to contribute to the greater good with the work. I have always been a fan of Stefan Sagmeister, not because of his creative, provocative work, but rather that the messages he carries by just being himself. The work he does encourages people to be themselves, not get sold into the whole materialistic lifestyle and most importantly, to pursue your dream. Or one of those industrial designers who designs something that enables handicapped people to move more freely, for example. Or the copywriter who conceptualises the ad that carries a life-changing message to the mass public.

Yet I asked myself honestly if I thought I would ever touch people in this manner and the answer was no. It is not because I am pouring cold water on myself, but a very honest assessment of my own self. I have been doing consistently good work, but it has never been in that league. I will not say never ever, but the possibility is really remote.

What truly makes me happy on my deathbed

One of my facebook contacts had linked an article that profiled a woman with the highest recorded IQ, and the article questioned if one was obligated to use his/her natural high intelligence to 'change the world'. I remember responding to it on facebook, commenting that not everybody has to be Obamas to contribute positively to the world. I really do believe in all of us having the ability to contribute in our own unique ways, however small or supposedly insignificant it may be. The point of it is to have the intention or desire. One small gesture may change someone else's life. I have had other people's small gestures that significantly changed mine.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost. My work has taken up so much of my time that I no longer had time to do things that I deeply cared about or that I originally set out to accomplish.

Success in the typical sense will not feed the soul, because we will always want more. Creativity declines when the soul is not being fed. I guess this makes up a lot of the reason why I have been feeling like something is withering inside me.

I slowly came to the conclusion that I will be happy on my deathbed if I had the chance to contribute to the world in my own ways, and if I had the courage to do what my heart tells me to. I actually came to this conclusion quite a few years ago, but in the middle of all the work and worries about the practicalities of life, I have gotten lost.

The conspiracy that woke me up

As I mentioned earlier, I have been feeling disturbed but I only started an in-depth interrogation within myself only when I was clearing my Google Reader's feeds and discovered that quite a few  high-profile personalities in the web industry have written about their stress-levels, work-related depression and significant decisions to do something about it. One has called it quits to his freelance career and returned to employment, one has decided to halt his thriving small business, another has gone on to another level by revolutionizing his life.

I asked myself what was I going to do about mine. In order to know what I needed to do, I have to find out the root of the issue first. That started my whole self-analysis. That was not all.

Feeling ashamed

I was extremely ashamed, yes ashamed of my own lack of guts when I saw Susan Boyle's courage to take the stage despite the expected public ridicule of her age and looks, while I would not even go anywhere anything that resembles a stage. I was totally envious and ashamed again when fellow local blogger Adrianna, at the tender age of 24, escaped a suicide bomb blast in Yemen by a twist of fate, not because she was there for work, but she was touring the Middle East by herself because she wanted to. Like seriously? I have reservations touring just South-east Asia by myself and someone else is enjoying her life and death tour to the Middle East?

I can continue to cite many more examples that made me look at myself and shake my head. That I am sitting here, being troubled about my work and not having enough guts or determination to change the situation. That I am moping while someone almost lost his life when he offered himself to the pirates as a hostage in exchange for the release of his crew, women in South Africa are getting raped to 'correct' them of their homosexuality. I feel very ashamed to have allowed mundane issues to depress me, when there is actually much greater pain and suffering out there – not to mention that there are people who are doing actual meaningful work with their lives at risk, some without a penny to their name.

Rectifying the situation

I do not want too much more of my life to tick by and lessen the time to do whatever I need to do to make myself proud at my own deathbed. This has been an on-going merry-go-round for me because I have been aware and yet getting lost repeatedly. I want to share and set my intentions openly with all of you. I may not succeed at first try, but at the very least I want to try.

The list of intentions consists of things I would like to do that I feel will bring back my passion for my work, as well as actions I can initiate in order to aid my quest to lessen my stress levels and increase the quality of my life, plus some perspectives of life in general I should constantly remind myself of in order to be grateful and not wasteful (the rhyming is not intentional ;p). Lastly, I want to consciously increase the opportunities that will allow me to contribute positively in my own ways, within my own capacity, as much as possible.

  • I want to learn hand-lettering. Looking at type, especially hand-drawn type, makes my heart skip a beat. I did not think I would be good at it so I never really tried because I suck at drawing anything by hand, but I do believe that anyone can learn almost anything if they set their heart to it. If I start drawing circles now perhaps by the time I'm 40 I may be remotely good at it. I should stop having the mentality that I am too old to start learning how to draw. (stifles laughter at myself)
  • I should not give up on doing things I truly love because it seems difficult to.
  • I must try to find more me-time and time for non-commercial creative projects to feed myself creatively.
  • I really need to look into how I can gauge myself more accurately and stop overloading myself with work because it is my number one stress factor. I will consciously finish whatever I have to do on hand and re-look into the type of work I should be working on in order to create a better creative and time balance.
  • I will also need to look into diversifying my income streams, especially the passive ones, which I do not even have one yet.
  • I want to explore other avenues of interest apart from design. I have always been interested in spirituality topics - perhaps more workshops?
  • Travel plans are still in place and will take place soon. This is important because I feel called to do so. I have a feeling this will open up the doors to more avenues for contributions.
  • Find ways and time to contribute more to the causes I support. I have been neglecting to give to my causes because I have been so caught up in my own work.
  • Should really start meditating regularly and having proper exercise soon. The health needs to be taken care of in order to have the ability to accomplish more.
  • Constantly remind myself to be grateful and to be aware of the suffering of other beings. That I should focus my energy on meaningful matters than to get myself down over minuscule matters compared to people starving in third world countries and people dying in wars. This is extreme yes, but it is real. There are people and animals who are really suffering out there and I feel upset with myself for feeling like it is the end of the world when I encounter small setbacks.
  • To not let fear affect my life and my desire to be true.
  • Spend more time writing to share my experiences so that some souls may benefit from it.
  • Write more openly and honestly on this blog about myself, my fears and failures, not worry about what the negative reactions to my honesty, and instead focus on those who appreciates me for me.
  • Give my best in trying to do what I want to do, but try not to let myself get attached to the outcomes, and not let my desire for self-improvement become unrealistic self-expectations. It is the journey that counts, not the destination.
  • Understand that while it is nice to be doing great and interesting work, ultimately whatever work I do should enable me to live out my purpose and live my life the way I want. I should never give up on finding the best compromise though – between the quality of life and the quality of work.

I hope I have not bored all of you to tears with my list and it will also be nice if any of you can share some of yours with me. :)

Renewing a promise made to myself on my birthday

I have been somewhat neglecting this blog, not without proper reasons. Few months ago I have decided that I want to realise my travel plans by this year, so I set my heart to it, taking on work so that I would be in a good state financially to embark on my travels later this year.

Just that I probably took on much more than I should.

I had spent the last couple of weeks before my birthday frantically trying to tie up loose ends, meet not-very-realistic deadlines, all because I wanted to go for a week's trip to spend my birthday in peace. I have never been a huge fan of my own birthdays, but have learnt to respect the special day that marks the time of my birth. This time I planned a month or two in advance, not knowing of the destination yet, but notifying all my clients that I will be away for a week.

To be really honest I do not think it is a matter of life and death if a project was delayed for five working days (four actually, with good friday), but somehow I let the guilt that should not have existed eat into me and I agreed to deadlines that were never possible in the first place. Deadlines that were supposed to take place before my birthday so that the world can continue to function during my absence.

The result was a lot of unnecessary stress, till the day before my departure, I was effectively burnt out. I could not do a single thing except wait for time to pass. I was simply drained. I still did not manage to meet a couple of deadlines despite my best effort but I was aided by the client-decided delays of a couple of projects. For the one deadline I genuinely thought I would meet but did not, I wrote a very honest email to the client describing my not very creative-state-of-mind. It would be ideal if he understood, if he did not, I can only say that I have tried my best.

The promise I made to myself last year that I broke this year

I knew there was nobody else but me to blame. I let this happen to myself. One year ago around this time of the year, my parents almost perished in the Sichuan quake, surviving only by a twist of fate that delayed their road trip by a few minutes and not less, because they found themselves in the middle of two huge landslides. If they have been earlier, they would have been gone, same goes for few minutes later.

I was in the same situation at that time last year, burning myself out with work, postponing family dinners because I was 'too busy with work'. I almost never got to see them again. I made a promise to myself, to never let work take priority in my life, never should I burn myself out again.

One year on, after seemingly having learnt from my previous lesson, I forgot about the promise I have made to myself. Ironically, because all I wanted was to be financially ready for my dream.

This has been a recurring theme of my life. It has been such a vicious cycle that I am appalled at myself for not getting it after so many attempts. It just has to recur until I get it. And a new theme starts.

I cannot promise that it will not recur again. However, I will try. My trip was almost ruined because of the guilt and baggage from work I had to carry, not to mention I almost fell sick again due to the lack of sleep and increased stress levels. Where is the line I should draw in working harder, setting boundaries, and yet maintaining the quality of my life?

I was in the same situation, burning myself out with work, postponing family dinners because I was 'too busy with work'. I almost never got to see them again. I made a promise to myself, to never let work take priority in my life, never should I burn myself out again.

Renewing my promise with the Universe

Looking at the beautiful beaches and seas of Phuket (no, Patong beach is not the only beach that Phuket has), basking myself under the solar rays blessed by the sun returning to the same astrological position on my day of birth, I made a renewed promise to myself. I will continue to put in my best for my work, but I will listen to my gut feel more. If it says no more new projects, I will need to listen to it. I have lost count of the times my gut tells me no, but I still carry on thinking that I am capable of exceeding my own expectations. How much would I have to give up to earn that extra bit? At the expense of my own well-being, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Taking in the sights, sounds and smells, pausing in the moment to appreciate Mother Earth's natural beauty – that is how life should be, isn't it?

Cape Sienna room view, Kamala Beach

Still grateful & blessed

Nevertheless, looking at the neverending horizons, I felt blessed that I was able to make it to the trip in one piece. That somehow the Universe consipired to ease my workload prior to my departure, because I know it could have been worse if not for the unforeseen client-side delays. That the clients I have understood. That I have my health intact, my parents well, my partner by my side, and that I was able to afford that bit of luxury to even be at Phuket. That I do not have a huge circle of friends, yet a handful of true ones who know me for me. I am loved by the Universe, and I know it in my heart.

I may not get the hang of finding the intricate balance between work and the rest of my life yet, but am slowly getting the hang of placing my undiluted trust and faith in the Universe.

That alone makes me feel truly blessed, because despite being trapped in my own maze of confusion I have managed to rediscover the magic of the Universe.

Happy birthday to me, and may I be blessed enough to spend the rest of my birthdays basking in the magical energy of Light – that gives life to all.

Looking back at 2008

2008 was a breakthrough year for me.

personally

  • visit Noah's Ark for the first time, which opened my heart and mind to experiencing the joy of seeing them liberated, roaming free on safe grounds
  • fostered a stray
  • got involved in a cause for the first time, inspired by the noah's ark visit as I begun volunteering as and when I can with the local stray volunteer groups
  • quit coffee as a daily fix which was a mini-miracle because I thought I could never live without it
  • went on a meat-free diet due to spiritual and animal-loving reasons, another mini miracle because I enjoy my steaks
  • paid more attention to my digestive system, or rather how the digestive system influences our overall health
  • finally launched my blog, which you're reading now
  • bought a Nintendo wii & the iPhone 3G
  • finally visited Pulau Redang and it did not disappoint
  • I started to use twitter, which actually brought me some meaningful relationships, very kind words and support in good or bad times.

career-wise

  • celebrated my 1st year anniversary as a solo freelancer in July 2008
  • tried to work in a foreign country for the first time at Bali, in an effort to try out my dream to work from anywhere in the world
  • celebrated the launch of a few websites that I am proud of
  • learnt through the hard way that it is not realistic to expect myself to design for 8 hours a day, and that not to overbook myself or there will be repercussions
  • discovered that the relationship between a client and a designer is akin to a romantic relationship. There must be some level of chemistry, and sometimes it works like a match in heaven, other times it doesn't work out as beautifully as expected

family

  • had a peaceful year with my family, which has not always been the case, so I am very thankful
  • having things put in perspective because my parents were caught in the Sichuan earthquake while on a tour, thank God they managed to return home safely
  • celebrated my 2nd year anniversary with my partner, whose support has been the cornerstone of my life and work
  • discovered my dear friend whom I affectionately call 'mudder' may well be my daughter in my past life.

spiritually

When there’s too much to say

Prior to the site going live, I was getting frustrated with myself because I had so much to write on this blog, and my lack of time to develop this blog was being the one obstacle to me finally being able to unleash all my pent-up thoughts.

Now that the site is up, I slowly realised I thought wrong when I naively assumed that I'll be so anxious to share my thoughts that I'll be publishing long thoughtful posts at a daily rate.

I have so much to say, that I do not know where to start. I wanted to make a good start, and that intention quickly became my next stumbling block. Many times, I wanted to start writing, but I did not want my rush of thoughts to literally become too fragmented to be read. Wait for a better time, I kept telling myself.

That better time never seem to come.

Too many words, trying to come out of one mouthpiece, and they all end up getting stuck near the exit.

The best thing to do, is just to let the words flow from my heart.