Sunday, March 3, 2013

Erroneous Thinking Exposed by a Backpack

After backpacking through Southeast Asia for nearly two months, I've spent a good deal of time alone. And not merely alone in the sense that I often had no other person with whom I could aptly communicate, but also in the sense that because I was without my usual distractions of my studies, romance, and extra-curriculars, I was left with only my own mind to explore. Let me tell you, it's a frightening place.

Perhaps it's just my own personal character flaw and perception of criticism as insinuation of inferiority or failure, but it's funny how many people will tell you something over and over again, but it takes time for it to really click. So is the case with many of the realizations I came to about myself while travelling. Ever since my freshman year of high school, I've had this desperate love for the world and just how transient it is. I accumulated mementos and trinkets to commemorate those portions of life that were especially precious, thinking I would see those items and never fail to appreciate the impact certain events and people had on my life. This thought process is flawed for a number of reasons. First, because just like every past event, my souvenirs from my past just accumulated, forming indistinguishable piles of junk. Instead of being a tool for memory, it dissolved into the dark abyss of the landfill that was my room. (One could liken this to the part of Watchmen when Dr. Manhattan tells Laurie Jupiter that he realizes that although each human is novel and special, there are so many that the novelty of each being is lost.) Don't get me wrong, that doesn't make the past events any less special--it's just there's an awful lot of wonderful things in life, and regardless of what I do, a lot of it is going to die a forgotten death. 

But you know what doesn't fade away? The present. As long as we are sentient, we always perceive the present. The present is never blurred by time or fuzzed by emotion. And in my quest to hold on to the past, I've often neglected the present. The things I accumulated--piles of books, papers, reminders of home--had gotten in the way of my life in the current moment. When I traveled, and was more free of the burden of my precious past, I realized just how liberating living life can actually be. 

Yet another realization: I am so afraid of failure. I have such this huge apprehension that because I didn't do everything I could, I will not succeed. And if I can honestly say that "I tried my hardest", no one can criticize me. It's not actually failure if it was destined to happen. After a while "trying my hardest" turned into "being in as much pain as possible". I wasn't seeking productivity or success--I was seeking avoidance of blame and punishment for when I did fail. and so, I sought out pain. I morphed myself into this zombie-like robotic being that slept less than anyone I knew, never complained or sought assistance, even in the face of starvation, and devolved into a state of masochistic pseudo-martyrdom, punctured by periods of absolute numbness and no volition to do anything. My consequent desire to feel anything led me to pour toxins into my body because I wanted so badly to be allowed to have emotion, and because the slight burning pain of alcohol made me feel like I was doing something right--in my mind, everything right came with pain, and every pain led to something right. 

And then, I realized I was wrong. Productivity is about doing as much as possible of the things you love (or convincing yourself that you love them).It is not correlated to the amount of pain I am in. From this realization, I've decided to make some changes in the way I work. To eliminate the excess and the distractions. To try to stop doing things that hurt me or that I don't want to do. To actually do things I enjoy and that make me happy, and not feel so bad when I do them. There are changes in my life that need to be made, and this semester, I'd like to start making them.

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