STORY OF A SCAR

I shall tell not of only one scar, but rather of four scars that collectively remind me of an event that marked a turning point in my life.

That event was a laparoscopic operation to remove my gallbladder.

Growing up, I had the privilege of getting involved in lots of different sports: swimming, badminton, ice-skating, horse riding, sprints and marathons. I very much relished any activity that encouraged the release of the feel-good hormone.

At the same time, however, it seemed that my body often resisted such a feeling by responding in a way that turned my guts inside out. Every time I exerted myself a bit too much, my limbs go weak, my sight became bright and cloudy at the same time, and I would feel terribly nauseous.

The worst part was I submitted to this apparent illness and did not try harder to fight the unfortunate circumstance. I thought that that was just how my body was made to be like.

As I lived through my early teenage years, my involvement in sports lessened because I knew there was no point attempting to get a dose of euphoria only to be halted by the inevitable pain.

Halfway through adolescence, I found out why I had been feeling perpetually sick. This was after days of being ill, i.e. vomiting every hour or so, and not getting any better. The GP noted my yellow eyes, which I had not quite noticed before, and made hepatitis a preliminary diagnosis. So there was perhaps something wrong with my liver.

The GP referred me to a blood specialist at a hospital and thus began my frequent visits. After some blood tests, X-rays and ultrasound scan, it was diagnosed with a type of blood disorder quite similar to anaemia.

Hereditary spherocytosis.

Basically, instead of bi-concave shaped blood cells, those in my body are spherical. This means that there is less surface area for oxygen to bind. Now that I have a bit more knowledge about protein function, I think that the distorted shape causes the iron component to be somewhat in a different orientation that prevents oxygen to efficiently bind to it.

That would explain why I felt more lethargic than other normal people when doing physical exercises. I simply lacked oxygen when I needed it the most. And there is nothing to be done about it, as it is a genetic disorder.

But why was the operation resulted in the elimination of my gallbladder?

Well, it got a bit more complicated. Apparently, from the X-rays, it was found that there were gallstones in my gallbladder. The doctor hypothesized that they had been forming since I was a little girl, perhaps around 4 or 5 years old, and that they were the deposits from the degradation of my blood cells by my spleen, thinking that those cells were foreign material.

I suppose the presence of gallstones explained the sharp pain I had been feeling around the area between my ribs when I went through moments of physical weakness. So clearly my gallbladder had to go.

And so my skin was punctured at four positions on the right side of my abdomen. Those four sites would eventually become small, permanent scars reminding me of the pain and hardship I went through, not just physically but also emotionally.

All those years knowing I was physically weak caused me to believe that my potential was limited. I did not understand then how much being physically active was crucial to both the body and mind’s development, but I certainly only felt happy and alert when I got on a horse, danced on the ice, or sped through the tracks with my own two feet. To have that taken away from me so quickly was rather devastating.

So not only that those scars on my skin represent the physical pain I endured, they were also a reminder of the emotional and psychological affliction I had to deal with.

But most importantly, they remind me of the strength that was there all along however unacknowledged. That strength kept me going and stubbornly hoping that  I would eventually get better. And I did. Ever since knowing about the illness and having done the necessary steps to eliminate the physical pain, I began to recognise my own strength, and gradually its presence became more prominent.

Of course there will always be moments of weakness, as any kind of moment is transient, but I know that those moments can never be perpetual anymore and that each would only last for a short time, allowing the more positive aspect of my character to dominate in a sustainable manner thus inviting moments of joyfulness.

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Respect Time [5/7]

As I open my eyes at dawn, the blankness in my mind is quickly replaced by a thought: I’m still alive.

Did I dream anything? Not that I can remember. Good. Although dreams are better than nightmares, I always find either of them disturbing.

I check the time on my phone. I do not own a digital clock or a wristwatch. My phone is enough. And it flashes 7am.

That seems early to most, but to me it is almost as if I have overslept. Almost. I have half an hour before the Sun completely rises and detaches from the horizon. So I get up and walk to the bathroom. And then I offer my gratitude to God and do a series of stretches to warm up my stiff body. This takes half an hour.

I never skip breakfast and it is always oats topped with fruits and a mug of hot lemon water. I like to watch a YouTube video whilst eating. And that takes me about 15 minutes.

My mornings are easily structured because they are exclusively my time. The subsequent hours, however, depends on other commitment. Currently, it’s attending lectures and completing assignments, which are governed by other people.

I know my priorities. I have assessed my values. But they don’t quite align with what I am currently doing. And that is my predicament lately especially when relatively important work needs to be done. So it is times like this that I find difficult to maintain balance.

Time is a precious commodity and it is non-renewable.

We all know that we cannot get back time. Yet most of us struggle to use our time wisely. In my case, I guess I was not taught to value time. I had to learn it the hard way, as I suppose that is how crucial lessons are learnt. I am more aware of time and how every moment that I do not indulge in activities I deem valuable is nothing but a waste.

But of course I should not think that. I also believe, albeit paradoxical, that if at least I am doing something, even though I may not see the value in it immediately, I know that it’s contributing to a bigger cause. At least that is what I think to appease myself.

All I have to do is make sure that I spend every waking hour productively. That is easier said than done. I’ve read on many techniques to do work efficiently and so far I have gathered a few tips that might work. First, set activities in blocks. Stick to it. In each block (or hour), spend a full 20 minutes on a task, rest for 10, and repeat. And stick to that.

Of course, I struggle to “stick to that”. Not consistently, at least.

I often find myself saying no to my desire to just continue reading a book or watching informative videos that has nothing to do with the obligated task, which then brought me to think, why am I obligated to spend my time doing such a task in the first place?

But that’s a whole other matter.

The point is that despite knowing the techniques of managing time, I still struggle to be completely productive. But I think that it is mostly because of conflicting interest. I am now so convinced that an activity worth doing is time well-spent, and a task without purpose or value is just pointless and a waste of time.

At this moment, I feel like I am stuck in a rut. I need to keep assessing my purpose. I need to remind myself of my values. And they need to be congruent with my actions. But the current situation does not allow that, not completely at least. Nevertheless, I will keep moving to break free. And when I am free, as I know I will be, only then can I ensure that what I do aligns with what I feel.

Despite the turbulence of any given day, I know that at least my night time is also as consistent as my morning routine. I do the rituals in reverse, except that I stretch only the upper half of my body especially my neck and shoulders. I then switch off the lights, get myself under the blanket, and hug a pillow.

Before I enter the realm of the unconscious, where time does not seem to exist, a rather calming thought creeps into my mind: I may not wake to see daybreak.

Discipline [4/7]

This fourth virtue is represented as the wire cable covering the sumo’s crotch. Weird, I know.

I think this ties in with Kaizen in some way. Discipline is really just another word for consistent effort. Having discipline allows you to keep track of the important things and stay away from procrastination.

This is very difficult for me. On the outset, people might think that I had my life in control. I seemed to have done a lot of activities such as taking riding lessons, piano lessons, and dance classes whilst maintaining straight-As record at school, and subsequently went on to do A Levels and secured a place at a top 5 university in the UK.

Little did people know that my spirit was waning towards the end of high school. Sure I did those activities, but I did not continue on to higher levels of training. The only thing I could maintain was mediocrity. In terms of grades, I suppose my early interest in reading and learning, the original excitement of gaining knowledge felt when I was younger, helped in a way. That and the fact that the national curriculum was not that challenging. It was mostly rote-learning and I did not have to deal with thinking out of the box, which I discovered was a problem.

Because of the unchallenging environment I was in, plus other factors such as gradual depression and lack of a strong support system, I was comfortable enough to live in the mundane cycle that had no need for real discipline. All I had to do was to follow the school timetable and do the homework. None of them engaged my mind so critically and so my mind was led to a narrowed way of thinking.

That is why I began to sink when doing A Levels. You can say it was an education shock for me, getting out of the chlorinated pool that was the country’s education system to only dive into the deep salty sea that was the UK education system. I felt that the latter required a lot of effort from me, which I was quite unable to give. I had no system of my own so I could barely swim ashore to save my life.

This was reflected on my grades. They weren’t straight A’s nor were there any A*’s. Here’s a secret: I did not achieve the requirement of the university, yet somehow I was given a chance to redeem myself. I suppose my personal statement helped and I should have taken that as a sign of my writing prowess. But no, I was too proud and so I turned a blind eye.

The excitement was short-lived and guilt mounted inside me. I still did not have my own system of doing things and I still struggled with conversations. I did not have the discipline that would otherwise improve the skills needed to thrive e.g. communication and critical thinking. So of course I felt guilty. Fate gave me the chance to redeem myself despite my mediocre A Levels and yet I was throwing it all away. I appreciated the opportunity, but I did not show it.

So once I have mastered my mind and discovered my purpose, I knew I needed to be disciplined not for the sake of others, but for myself. Without that first two virtues, I wouldn’t have been able to learn the art of discipline by consistently performing small acts of courage i.e. the courage to pursue my passion and get out of my comfort pit.

Daily reminders are essential. Instead of absent-mindedly going about the day’s tasks, I now think about what I am doing and why I’m doing it nearly every hour. Basically I have created these two voices in my head: one that asks and one that answers. The pitiful voice like that of Moaning Myrtle constantly spewing malicious thoughts does not exist anymore—good riddance.

On top of it all, to give me the big push, I would conjure the vision of the outcome I would like to achieve especially when I feel like giving up. Just the thought of it makes me excited; I can’t imagine how I would feel if—when—it becomes reality.

Kaizen [3/7]

I have been writing about Enlightenment and all its wonders but really what determines whether one is truly enlightened is not merely the knowledge and realisation of it, but more importantly how consistent one is in upholding and acting upon the values. It is from the consistent cultivation of the mind, body and soul that Enlightenment is achieved.

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. It literally means ‘change for the better’. This word is ascribed to the symbol of the tough, nearly naked sumo wrestler as mentioned in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. I think it is an apt symbol as we often see a sumo wrestler as being strong and solid like a bricked wall.

It’s ironic that I would think this concept as creating a mental stronghold when in my previous post I mentioned defeating the mental barrier to act upon a purpose. They might sound like the same thing but a stronghold to me is more like the steel frames that are the foundation of a structure while the latter is just a wall separating sides.

A technique for continuous improvement is doing the things you fear, or in other words, get out of your comfort pit. I say ‘pit’ because it sounds more hazardous than ‘zone’, as it normally is in terms of life. It’s easy to just stay comfortable, but you won’t grow. I think most of us would have already felt this whereby we would live in a cycle—eat, work, sleep, repeat—and getting used to such a system that after a point does not add value to our lives. That’s when we need to step away and explore uncharted territories.

There are the ’10 Ancient Rituals for Radiant Living’ described in this book. It details 10 activities that may help you to keep on improving the quality of your life. For the sake of stating them, the rituals are Solitude, Physicality, Live Nourishment, Abundant Knowledge, Personal Reflection, Early Awakening, Music, Spoken Word, Congruent Character, and Simplicity.

Rituals are basically habits that improve the quality of your life. Again, this might sound ironic when just seconds ago I mentioned the mundane cycle of everyday life. But if we take the time to notice at which points of the day that seem meaningless and replace them with more productive, but not necessarily difficult, activities then we will see improvement eventually.

The point is to meticulously pinpoint what are the things you currently do that does not help in achieving your goals and make a conscious effort to add in the ones that will. In my case, I made the effort of taking a step back away from the mental crack that is social media, specifically Instagram. I realised that despite my interest in photography, it wasn’t helping me in any way but instead it consumed my daily life. So I replace it with reading and writing, which I had neglected or not done more frequently for some time.

Now that I know what I really need in my life, I do feel that I am gradually improving. There are still times that I falter but I take them as learning curves. When negativity strikes, I would do better than to keep it in my head so I would let out the frustration to God and call a friend. I would tell myself that tomorrow is a brand new day, and then I move on.

It does take time and effort to build good habits and it even takes a longer time to see results, but as long as you keep going, never stop and continuously be better than yesterday, then your dreams may manifest into reality much quicker than you think. And I guess it’s true that more often than not, the road to achievement is much more important and exciting than the destination itself.

The Lighthouse [2/7]

The purpose of life is a life of purpose. —The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

I never had any purpose. I had dreams, sure, but I never thought of the possibility of them becoming reality. I failed to take the hint from countless novels I’ve buried my nose in over the years that dreams are the basis of reality in most cases. The stories that lived across the pages bound in books were to me merely stories that usually provide emotional relief. Did I miss the whole point then?

My voyage across teenage years through stormy seas was without direction or destination. For some time it did not bother me as I thought that it was better to go with the flow, as they say. However, I have come to learnt that life is not worth living without the search for something.

I had had enough of aimless wanderings only to encounter and subsequently battle whirlpools one after another. Why I am going along this treacherous path when I could traverse along calmer waters more frequently? What if I set anchor at an island instead?

So like a sailor repairing damaged parts of a boat, I did a self-examination on my damaged soul. And that is key to figuring out what your life purpose is, as no one else knows yourself better than you do.

Having established the fact that I needed to cultivate more positive thoughts, I began thinking of what positive outcome I wish to contribute. And I knew that I could only contribute through doing the things that I am excited or passionate about. Whatever you feel does reflect on your actions. Moreover, I wanted to make sure that my lifework would actually bring fulfilment. So I took some time to write down what I would like to do based on my experiences, strengths, and desires.

The book emphasises on setting defined personal, professional and spiritual goals, and act upon them thereafter. Writing down the goals is the easy part but acting upon them is rather challenging. The ‘society’ or the ‘environment’ seems to be the huge obstacle that many claim to be the main cause of unfulfilled ambitions. To some extent this might be true, but really it is mostly just an excuse to not wanting to overcome the precious barrier that you have set up within yourself—the barrier that keeps you away from the daunting but maybe rewarding unknown, and instead buries you deeper into the comfort pit.

There are of course ways to overcome this problem and actually reach for your goals. The book outlined the 5-step method:

  1. Form a clear mental image of the outcome
    • I find this very helpful as the thought of my achieving something excites me. I know that this method is effective because I had done it before when I was 12 and wanted to ace a public examination so badly. The result of course was the manifestation of my everyday imagination.
  2. Get positive pressure
    • The right amount of pressure can be productive, especially positive pressure. I think the way this works best for me is to first understand why I am doing what I’m doing and constantly remind myself of it along with the mental image especially when the going gets tough. What may work as well is to associate yourself with like-minded people who would give you a nudge.
  3. Attach a timeline
    • This is particularly challenging for me because as I might have mentioned before, I never did schedule my life. I was just going with the flow. But since that did not work, I decided to be more organised and precise. I guess having a due date in some circumstances does help, as puts a bit of pressure. But it is important to set realistic timeline according to your capabilities.
  4. Make it a habit
    • Since I wanted to improve my flexibility and strength (among many others), I decided to commit to an exercise regime an hour every day for about a month, or at least 21 days. After that I allowed myself rest days once or twice a week. It gets much easier for me to get back on track even after a rest day. With a goal in mind, I am definitely more determined than ever before.
  5. Enjoy your life
    • Yes, that’s right. Enjoy every minute of every hour of every day. Especially when you are going through a difficult time. That does sound paradoxical but it is when you face Hardship that you need Joy the most. I am glad to say that I truly do enjoy my life now despite the obstacles. Being frustrated about something only holds me back and so I would try to calm myself and rationalise that this particular difficulty is only a phase that would eventually come to an end, to be replaced by ease.

In a nutshell, don’t be afraid to search within yourself and ask the pertinent questions: Why are you here? What are you doing with your life? Is it adding any value to you or others? Why is it important to add value to your life and others’ lives? Can you live without goals? If not, how can you change? What passions would you like to pursue?

I hope that this helps you in some way as it certainly helped me. Feel free to share your thoughts on this. I would love to know a bit of your story! I hope you have a wonderful day ahead nonetheless x