No matter where we are in the world, it’s the state of mind that you’re in that determines the life you want to live. When you’re filled with gratitude and love, you appreciate what you already have. Whereas, if you’re filled with fear, you can feel a sense of lack and worry. The experiences you have, the people you surround yourself with, the places you travel to, the books you read, the food you eat, the music you listen to, the thoughts you feed yourself and the lessons you learn. Life is unpredictable. It reminds us that living in the present is all we truly have, and that the past and the future can often rob us of enjoying, embracing and accepting the moment.
“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…”
“They don’t find it,” I answered.
“And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”
“Of course,” I answered.
And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The title is an excerpt from the book, The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This reminds us of the importance of seeing beneath the surface. We can never really know anyone, not many people, so deeply that we can understand the experiences and layers they have experienced. We live in a deeply visual world and images have so much power and influence. However, the things that truly matter in our lives, are things that can’t be seen but are felt. They are the experiences we have, not the materials. They are the relationships we have, not the status.
The life we experience is ultimately the one we feel within. It makes me think of how a person can be externally happy, but they could be going through an incredibly tough time. It makes me think of how a person can seem serious and may not always smile, but they can also have the biggest heart and kindness through their actions. It’s important to not judge a book by its cover. Nobody is perfect, no matter what it seems, and no matter what it looks like from the outside. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, what clothes you wear or how big your house is. It matters how you treat others, your sense of character and values. Those parts of you, whether that be your intelligence, compassion, wisdom, humour, or enthusiasm, are what make you you.
There are many lessons in The Little Prince. One of the lessons that stand out to me, is the topic of love. What is truly important can only be felt and seen with the heart. This world needs love. We can do many things and never be joyful, but perhaps our happiness could be found in one simple thing (“in a single rose”). Our eyes may indulge in temporary beauty and what lies on the surface. The temporary satisfaction won’t give us a sense of long term contentment. The true beauty of a person comes from their heart. Whatever you do today, remember to look with the heart.
One of the best advice that my parents would tell my sister and I growing up is to be yourself. Although, at the time it seemed really simple to say, just as it’s easy to tell someone don’t worry or you’ll be fine. However, it really ties in with authenticity, vulnerability and honesty. It’s honesty to yourself, and embracing your quirks, interests, and personality. The moments that I feel the most myself, are when I am doing something I love. Whether that’s reading, writing, going for a run, learning something new, spending time with loved ones, talking to a cat, laughing about nothing, or being surrounded by nature. It’s most often the little things.
Staying true to your personal values, acting from your heart and doing the things that bring enjoyment into your life. Having awareness that everyone experiences and perceives things in different ways can build empathy. It also allows one to judge less, and see things from different perspectives. How we judge others, can also say a lot about how we judge ourselves. In order to truly embrace ourselves, we have to love, respect, forgive and accept ourselves. There are days where I feel challenged more than others, where I feel like I should be kinder to myself. Those are the moments where I have to remind myself that no body is perfect.
I was recently re-reading The Little Prince, and one of the most golden words are: “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.” The beauty of children is that they are unapologetically themselves. One of the best sounds is hearing a baby burst out laughing or a choir of kids singing. You are yourself, in a world where every person has a perception of someone, but we are filled with layers, stories, and experiences of hurt and laughter. Everyone has their own story.
The art of being yourself, is living with what truly matters in your life. It’s striving to always be better than you were yesterday, and to continuously grow and challenge yourself. As someone who’s incredibly tough on myself, I know that I’m my own biggest critic. I remember conversing with a dear friend, and she said that we can be very encouraging towards our friends. We have confidence in them and we believe in them. However, when it comes to ourselves, we need to be our own best friend and be kinder to ourselves. It’s those quiet moments, where we are by ourselves, where we must face ourselves. Those are precious moments to reflect.
“You’re not what you have; you’re not what you do; you’re not even who you love, or who loves you. There has to be something underneath all that.” – Caroline McHugh
When I’m standing in the underground train station in Taipei, I can’t help smile when the music comes on to announce the Train is coming. It’s been such an incredible year, and I feel blessed to have met so many beautiful kind people, having thoughtful conversations and making wonderful new friends. There’s been a lot of lessons that have really been more on my mind, such as: the art of truly not giving a f*ck what others think, the importance of focusing on what adds value in your life, surrounding yourself and investing in positive, motivated people, having critical thinking and questioning the information you consume, embracing being your freaking self, that you choose your attitude regardless of the situation, the importance of not settling in a relationship, allow yourself to feel and embrace discomfort, how emotions can distort reality, what you place focus on is how you will feel and what we feed our mind and the thoughts we think is essentially the world we create for ourselves.
I was reflecting back to the start of 2017, listening to the speech This is Water, by David Foster Wallace. I highly recommend having a read or listen to it. There is power in having the ability to choose, which can strengthen our perception of what we are capable of rather than narrowing our abilities. David Foster Wallace highlights that Liberal arts fundamentally teaches us how to think critically as we advance into the adult world. Critical awareness allows us to be less self-centred and reinforces our self-control. In our daily lives, we tend to put ourselves at the centre of the universe. We are the person that feels, observes and experiences the world around us. Wallace says “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.”
Instead of placing ourselves at the centre of the universe, we can choose to see things from different perspectives. When we walk we often let our thoughts take control, rather than consciously taking control of our thoughts. It becomes natural to think about our own problems and prioritise them as the most important. This can cause a confinement that builds an invisible barrier around us if we do not learn to be aware of the world outside of ourselves. Becoming aware builds empathy even when we feel frustration in our own lives, as it creates an understanding that some people are going through hard times. Critical awareness and exercising control of how and what you think, is an incredibly powerful ability to pouring thoughts that have substance and meaning.
The mistake in how we often perceive things are that things are just the way they appear from our mind, as it would immediately dismiss the importance of seeing things from different angles. The most obvious things are often right in front of us, regardless of how they may appear. An example that Wallace uses is the story of two young fish, who swim along as an older fish swims past. The older fish says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” and eventually one of them looks at the other and says “What the hell is water?” There is a sense of ignorance and confusion that the fish are not aware of their surroundings, and have developed a limited and narrow view. We see things from the experiences we’ve had and the worldview we possess. Yet, in order to have an open mind, there’s a need to question, understand and see things from different perspectives.
In this case, the two fish were metaphorically in their own space, unaware of the water surrounding them. There is a choice in recognising these things, but we often live through our days blindly looking past them. It becomes a learned ability over time. The water also symbolises the space we move in, such as the air we walk, breathe and live in. We can see these realities when we learn to switch on the ability to see them, which makes us present and conscious beings. Wallace says “Banal Platitudes can have a life or death importance”. The seemingly obvious and boring aspects of our lives are suggested to have a life or death importance because they are the moments that remind us that we can choose how to react, how to feel and what to think. This gives us an inner power that we lack control of when we ignore it. However, we do not often become conscious of this ability, as we swim by like the young fish, without realising that it is there right in front of us. In this instance, it is not about the capacity to think, but about the choice of what to think about.
When we see something as banal, we feel that it is such an ordinary aspect of our days, that it does not deserve the attention as it lacks interest. I believe that ‘banal platitudes’ are important, even if something seems obvious or dull that it is right in front of our eyes, banal platitudes reminds that we can create value and meaning in those obvious statements. We have seconds, minutes, hours of moments that we can give value to by viewing them as meaningful and significant. The deliberate effort to be aware opens our eyes to see things from different perspectives. We have a choice in widening our horizon in what we see, by being conscious of the world around us and becoming curious individuals. Rather than blindly walking through life, we have the choice to address and observe situations, as well as the ability to choose how we perceive things. This can make those seemingly boring moments have significant meaning.
The critical awareness we have causes us to be less self absorbed in our own lives and needs. It almost makes us look through a lens where we see the world as a whole, rather than a lens that restricts our visions to the narrowed reality we imagine. This honestly makes me think of the use of phones. I really want to strive to use my phone less when I don’t need it, in order to embrace being more and more present and to cut out distractions, because as I look around I really think we are becoming slaves to our phones. When we choose to be aware of our surroundings and situations, we become more accepting, patient and tolerant. We place a focus on paying attention to what we deem important, rather than allowing our thoughts to sway towards unnecessary and often negative voices. Becoming aware of our ability to choose and giving time to focus our mind intentionally determines how we want to live our lives.
One of the best things I saw today was a guy whipping out his big bulky flip phone, and proceed to click away and text someone. I’m definitely someone that still feels it’s nice to not use the phone when I’m with friends or at a dinner table. Although, it has become a norm to have our phones present in many situations, occasions and at almost any time. Checking notifications, taking photos and messaging people. One of the ways I’ve found helpful in using my phone less during the day, is deleting apps on my phone, putting it on silence or leaving the phone at home for a few hours. Out of sight, out of mind. It makes you feel more present and feel more engaged in your day to day moments, without the interruption or distraction of a phone. I love going for bush walks and being in nature, and I find the best moments are the one’s where you’re truly present in the moment.
There is now more of an urgency and ability to receive information instantly, that we lose that sense of patience, waiting and receiving news a little later. The silent moments can be interrupted with digital devices. It’s a wonderful tool, yet everything requires balance and moderation. When I took away that aspect for most of the day, I realised that at the end of the day, I can check everything in one go. My messages, emails, notifications and so on. It took away this sense of needing to check my phone, even when I didn’t need it. It made me more observant, present and just embrace the art of doing nothing and just being. I realised how much my phone can sometimes give me slight anxiety and urgency, take away precious time and that the less I use it, the more I feel focused on tasks and the more I don’t allow it to fill up to much space in my day.
I do miss the days where phones weren’t such a huge part of our lives, that when we left home it would only often be the keys on us that we need to remember. There was a sense of interaction that is not as common now. I remember talking to strangers more and making friends through the same silence, and simply breaking it. However, now it’s easy for many people to avoid the silence by using their devices. Many of us attend to a notification straight away, a text is replied immediately and there is ongoing online noise. I think to simply minimise one’s use of their phone is to consciously decide to. You could remove apps that you don’t use often, or aren’t hugely important. You could leave the house one day without your phone, and note how you feel during the day. Presence is truly key.
When I am using my phone, I spend most of it reading news online, from politics to arts and culture. We consume and share information, but there is definitely an increasing saturation of information online. When you realise that you don’t need to capture this moment, message someone about something right this very moment and escape the silence, you enjoy the moment. I like to take those moments to just pause, go for a run, read a book, pat the cats or play the piano. Everything is more enjoyable in the long run when it’s in moderation. There is also less desire to share things, as I find the line between what is private and public is becoming increasingly blurred. I really value privacy and in person contact, and engaging in conversation in person. There are endless things to enjoy without the presence of our phones.
Every day we have the ability to make choices in what we consume, and what businesses we support with our money. Every product has an environmental footprint, which is why it’s good to purchase items that have minimal packaging. Every person has an impact and affect on the environment, from what we choose to eat, wear, and the actions we take. It’s important to support businesses that make a conscious effort to be environmentally-friendly and look out for labels when possible. Fashion is one of the biggest polluting industries in the world, which is why it’s increasingly important to become a conscious consumer in how, where and what we buy.
1) Bring your own reusable items. By bringing your own drink bottle, you can minimise the amount of plastic drink bottles that end up in landfills. Other reusable items include metal straw, cutlery, keep cup, tote bags.
2) Use eco-friendly products. Support local brands, and companies that use natural ingredients that are better for the environment. Buy things that are good quality, and will last a long time.
3) Walk or bike whenever possible. By driving less, you can reduce your carbon foot print, plus walking or biking to work can be a healthy way of spending time outdoors and getting more physical activity during the day.
4) Water and electricity consumption. You can conserve water by taking shorter showers, closing the tap when brushing your teeth, collect rainwater. Aim to turn off lights when you’re not present in a room.
5) Consume less meat. Take part in Meatless Mondays, or simply minimize the amount of meat in your diet. A large portion of greenhouse gas emissions are from the Animal agricultural industry.
In the digital age, the question of privacy seems to be ever changing, as large corporations have an increasing amount of information on individuals. Reading Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier, was eye opening and makes you ask a lot of questions in regards to privacy, technology and social media. However, Social media is a tool and a platform, and it comes down to how we are using it, and what we are using it for. In a sense, surveillance is not simply the cameras on the street or in the shop, but in our daily spaces.
Direct, personalised and targeted marketing is increasing, as algorithms are able to track what we have viewed, searched, liked, shared and purchased. Someone dear to me mentioned the book 1984, which I am currently reading and find it really interesting. However, at the time it seemed unlikely that it may occur, that Big Brother would be watching a person’s every move, but it seems that it’s the reality today. On one hand, we can decide what we want to share, and on the other hand, whatever information is searched, posted and clicked online is always recorded. The sense of mystery in ones life is not as apparent.
Reading is one of those activities that builds empathy, expands your imagination, allows you to see things from a different perspective and gives you space to learn and go on adventures all in your mind. Some of the greatest ideas that pop up are when I’m reading or engaging in a DMC with friends. As I was conversing with my lovely friend, we talked about how everyone cares about something. We all do it, but it’s also easy to hide it. The truth is, everyone is so concerned with themselves and their lives, that most people don’t care about you as much as you think. It’s a harsh truth, but it’s also incredibly refreshing. The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck by Mark Manson was fun to read. It was one of those books I couldn’t put down, and binged read in two days. No matter what, people will judge regardless of if you’re happy in your life.
One of the things I loved that Manson mentions is The Backwards Law. Manson says in his book “’The backwards law’ [is] the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.”
He suggests that by accepting that you’re not doing well, it can be more rewarding then chasing a false sense of happiness. It makes me think about the stigma of mental health, and how so many of us pretend to be fine, which can actually cause those emotions to sink deeper. It also makes me think of how growing up being constantly called nice, there are times where I can care too much in being nice to others. We have to think about the values we have. Those are what we should give a f*ck about and spend time caring about in our lives. Spend your time doing things that matter to you. We can waste a lot of time worrying about things that we might not have any control over, thinking about something in the past or future or caring too much about what others think in certain areas of our lives.
One reality hit is to remind myself that I could die any day. Then it puts things into perspective. It’s that combination of humour and reality that reminds us that there are so many things that we don’t need to take too seriously. There is so much dissatisfaction when we are constantly chasing happiness, because then there is always this feeling that we’re lacking something in our lives. Happiness isn’t a destination. It also takes us away from being in the present, accepting what is and truly living in the moment. The people we give our time to, our personal values and the things we do during our time are what we give our f*cks to. One of the most freeing feelings is letting go of caring what others think, even if it’s just a little.
Reading the book also made me think about the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It’s one of my all-time favourite book. When we stop caring so much about what happened in the past or what will happen in the future, we can be content and enjoy the present moment. We all experience failures, set backs and disappointments. Manson is emphasising in the book how caring less can actually lead to more happiness. I’m someone that can care too much about others. I consider myself an empath, and I feel really deeply for others, but sometimes we have to find a healthy balance. True happiness is like a slow burning fire. “Most people chase highs,” Manson explains. “Highs make you feel good. They sound fun. They impress people. Happiness is harder. Happiness requires struggle and boredom and sacrifice. Real happiness comes from discovering a sense of importance in one’s actions and in one’s life.”
I was reading a book by Dr. Libby, and I feel like she always has so much wisdom to share. It really resonated with me, when she wrote “What we focus on is what we feel.” There is so much truth to this, and it makes me think about how powerful our thoughts are. We manifest our reality through our thoughts, energy, and actions. A Beautiful and powerful article by Dr. Libby here on self love. In the article, Dr. Libby writes:
Remember that what we focus on is what we feel. Which is simply to say that if we constantly focus on our perceived flaws, of course it’s going to stir up feelings of lousiness because we will never measure up to our own expectations. It will also likely drive us to continue patterns of behaviour, such as unresourceful eating, that continue to confirm how we feel about ourselves.
The excerpt above made me think of when I had such a strong focus on how I didn’t feel good enough in my body. At the time, I felt physically weak and tired as I wasn’t eating enough, and from not getting enough energy from healthy wholesome foods, my thoughts would spiral into a tunnel of negative thoughts about my body image. However, once the focus was on being healthy and enjoying life, I ate healthier and had a positive attitude and a feeling of gratitude towards my body.
Comparison is the thief of joy. We are all beautifully made in our own way. Everyone is walking on their own journey. No one is supposed to be like the person beside them. Social Media is not real in the sense that no one is smiling all the time, and truly no one is perfect no matter what it looks like. We all ride through the roller-coaster of ups and downs in this thing called life. You are truly beautiful, intelligent, smart and kind in your own way. You don’t need anyone to tell you that, because you just are. You are enough.
When you think back to when you were a child, what do you remember? I think of the moments where I could crouch down and stare at a snail with so much curiosity, and it would be exciting and intriguing. The trail of ants as they strongly lift food back home or the hours spent outdoors reading on the grass, lying under the trees, sinking my toes into the sand and going for bushwalks. There are days where I feel that Social Media, particularly Instagram, can be toxic rather than beneficial. I like sharing moments that made me feel happy, but I do think Instagram can be superficial at times, and I think it’s because photos tend to be more carefully taken, rather than the spontaneous childhood photos. I’ve felt the desire to delete my Instagram many times this year.
Privacy. Too much of anything is not healthy. It’s finding a sense of balance. As someone who cherishes their privacy, it’s important in finding that balance on what one chooses to share. I was reading an article from the National Geographic February 2018 Issue on surveillance. Now that we all hold a camera in the palm of our hands, and we are surrounded by cameras around us, on the street, in the store and perhaps in moments, we don’t realise. It may be a person watching us, or a camera we are not aware of. The frequency we use apps and post and share content, the more data we are giving away about ourselves.
Numbers. Our self-worth does not come from a number. This is something I struggled with for a very long time in regards to my weight. It doesn’t matter how tall, how much you earn, how many followers you have, how many likes, how many views, how many friends you have, how much you weigh… Your value in life comes from within. There is no external factor that can take over what is in your heart and mind. If we put our value and self-worth through others validation, we will never be happy. Your happiness ultimately comes from within. A person could be poor but be abundantly happy because they live a rich life through their relationships. A person could be rich in materials, but lack meaningful relationships in their life.
Family and friends. The truth is, the majority of the time, I mostly share photos with my close friends and family. They are the ones I’ll be talking to on the phone and spending time messaging. When I think about Instagram, I think about how it’s not necessary for me to share certain aspects, but I think it’s having the ability to choose what we post. Which is why Instagram is ultimately just a snapshot, and we cannot judge a person solely from a snapshot. However, it’s interesting how with family, we don’t really need to think twice about what we send. At least I know I don’t.
Perfection, mental health, and body image. Social Media is not a reality. I think this is important to remember. I think what I want to express is that it is only a snapshot, a second of a moment, a glimpse and sometimes a filter to be perceived a certain way. Many feeds on Instagram can look perfect and I’ve found one of the most damaging aspects is the admiration of people solely for their appearances, rather than their personality and their abilities. I really want to put it bluntly, because I think Instagram has been one of the apps that often causes many people to put physical appearances more highly, rather than intelligence, abilities, talents and so forth.
Focusing on what’s important. I read a profound sentence the other day, which said: “What you focus on is how you will feel”. These words resonated so strongly because I think about any time I start feeling those emotions of anxiety, worry, and fear, it often comes from where my focus is. It may be to do with something in the future or something out of my control. Whereas, when the focus is on what I can change and I’m present, then that’s where feelings of motivation, positivity, and creativity come. I think the sentence also relates to how you spend your time is essentially the life that you create for yourself.
The good and the bad. Social Media is great for keeping in touch with family and friends. Messenger, Wechat, Line, and Whatsapp are the apps that I use for messaging, as well as the occasional emailing and texting. I remember when MSN chat was also popular. You can share moments, read the news, stay updated and keep in touch no matter where you are in the world. The online world can be very noisy at times, and it’s good to spend time offline with the phone switched off and out of reach. There have been many times I’ve almost shared something, and even written the caption, but then I realized, I just want to keep that special memory to myself.
Growing up as a bilingual child, I remember my Father telling me that I would speak to the neighbours in Mandarin with a Kiwi accent! It was before I started learning to speak English, and I could only get a grasp of what English sounded like. Mandarin is the first language I grew up listening, reading, writing and speaking. It’s also common that some Asians that grew up in New Zealand may prefer speaking in English with their friends. Language connects us with one another. It allows understanding, embracing one’s culture and communicating with more people.
The most common Chinese dialect is Mandarin (Putonghua), and it is the most widely spoken language in the world with over a billion speaking Mandarin. Growing up in a Western country, it’s easy to speak English for predominantly most of the time. Exposure is important. When I was younger, my parents would read books to us, and my favourite were the ones by 幾米. They had these beautiful, colourful illustrations, and moving stories. The more we speak a language, the more we connect with those who speak it. Your mother tongue can strengthen your cultural ties and allows you to communicate freely with your family.
English was one of my favourite subjects growing up, as I’ve always loved reading and writing. I like to joke that English runs in the family, as my grandfather and Uncle were English professors in Taiwan. In the article by Amy Tan titled Mother Tongue, she talks about her experiences of the Englishes she grew up speaking. I highly recommend reading it, as it allows us to understand the power of language. I truly feel that if we don’t keep our mother tongue alive, we may risk losing a part of ourselves.