It has been a while, hasn't it? I could write about how busy life has gotten but life has always been busy. I could write about how one thing or another seemed to take my focus and attention but again, managing my time has never really been an issue. I guess what it has come down to is that I haven't really had anything I wanted to say lately, or anything that was worthy, in my opinion, of sharing with you.
You see, I value the time you spend with me through this blog. I value the fact that you have shown an interest in my world by subscribing to it. So I want to always make sure that when you do see my name in your inbox and when you do read my newsletter you actually get something out of it. After all, there is a lot of content out there in the world. The last thing I want to do is clutter your world with stuff that doesn't add to your life even in a small way.
Over the Easter holidays, my husband, son, and I finally were able to make the trip across the Atlantic to see my parents, my brother and his family in Toronto. To say it was emotional and surreal would be an understatement. It had been 3 years since I had last seen my folks in person, 4 years since I was last in Toronto. It felt as though so much had happened in that time but it also felt as though no time had passed at all.
Amidst the family reunion I also managed to go through some old boxes in my room, boxes that were filled with photographs and memories from the person I used to be. I found some old letters from school friends when left Hong Kong for Toronto. I also found my very first diary from when I was 12 years old. As I read the letters and the entries, it got me thinking about how we can divide our life into chapters and how within those chapters we are characters; main characters in our life story and extras in the lives of others. When we look at our life in this way it can help put into perspective who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. It can help put into perspective why we see things differently from others in our life--the other characters.
That poetic storyteller William Shakespeare wrote "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." How very Buddhist of him. The many moments in my life where I thought I didn't matter to some people or where I placed such importance on others, I realise that it was simply my perception. It was how I saw things. Now perception is a whole other story but in a nutshell, our perceptions are based on our experiences, our history, and how we have been taught/influenced to see things. And this can go back to before we were even born, something called ancestral trauma or intergeneration trauma. This has an impact on so much--especially our relationships.
When I looked at those old photos, letters, and my diary entries, I realised my responses to so many things at that time were based on what I thought was real at the time and not necessarily on what was actually true. This isn't to negate or question my feelings or even my experiences. Rather, it is a recognition that life and the people in it are also playing parts in their own stories, parts that are influenced by their own perceptions and experiences; parts that have nothing to do with us nor are in our control. When we realise that even though we can feel so deeply about a situation or a relationship, until we know the story--and what part we're playing in it, whether we are a main character or a sub plot at any given moment--only then will we get the full picture.
This can benefit us in two particular ways: one, we can free ourselves from the burdens of unnecessary drama based on what we think is happening by actually i) getting to know ourselves better by learning about our own backstory and understanding why we react the way we do; ii) talking to our friends or partners and having real conversations with them; and iii) getting some emotional distance from the actual situation by looking at it as a story and figure out how we want the next scene/chapter to play out. See, whether we are the star or an extra, how we choose to act/react can change the trajectory of the whole story.
That leads me to the second benefit which is when we see our life as a story, we realise we have so much more control over our own narrative. We take ownership over our experiences and our part(s). And, importantly, how we choose to see them. We can choose to be the star of our own life and act accordingly. We can choose to not be a spectator to our life but actually live it. It doesn't mean that we keep shining the spotlight on us the whole time. It means, we make decisions that are best and healthiest for us.
When I was standing at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto looking down at the buildings, the people, the cars beneath, everything seemed so small. The distance allowed me to imagine what stories were playing out in those buildings, on the streets below, and in the cars. It's like when we are on a plane and the pilot begins their descent into a city and we see that there is a whole life below that has nothing to do with us. But when we land, we are a part of it--at least the parts we choose to go. And how freeing is that? Freeing because when we get so bogged down by the dramas in our life, it can feel as if everything is happening to us when actually it isn't. Sometimes we feel we are the only ones in the world going through tough times when actually when we zoom out we see there's a whole world full of people and their stories that are filled with struggles.
A few weeks ago, I read an article written by Fiona Miller, a journalist and the wife of Tony Blair's spokesperson Alistair Campbell. She wrote about being a partner to someone who suffered from depression. She described a "watershed moment" where during a walk in London's Hampstead Heath, Campbell, out of "fear, anger, helplessness, loss of purpose, self-loathing--(I) will never know which--caused him to start punching himself in the face." That paragraph crystallised for me the thinking that we never know what is going on in other people's lives. I used to go for walks in Hampstead Heath every weekend when I lived in London. It was my favourite place to feel closer to nature, to de-stress, and to get lost in my own thoughts. And to sort through my own personal dramas. I would look around thinking everyone was having a better time in their life than me. Never did I ever think that perhaps they weren't. It wasn't about me being selfish. It was just me living the drama in my head.
When I get lost in my thoughts, it sometimes gets the better of me. Sometimes, it pulls me into focusing on unhealthy psychological and emotional scenarios that actually don't exist in reality; dramas that feel isolating and self-critical. That's when the world feels small and where my problems are huge and all-encompassing. Reading that line written by Miller helped me feel that everyone walking in that same forest where I would go, well, we were all dealing with our own dramas in one way or another. Realising that helped me to know that my story is of one of 7.9 billion. And while we all share similar emotions and experiences our stories are unique. It means I can choose to make my part the best for me but also know that I am part of a larger ensemble, one where we we are interconnected in some way.
Maybe that's why I love reposting the stories of others. It's my way of feeling connected to the wider human experience. I appreciate their roles and I learn from them too. Because I never know how someone else's story can impact my own. If that is how I choose to read it.