My Muddled Mind

Today I talked in front of the camera. Again. It was the third time. Well, the third time is the charm, no? The first time was complete silliness. The second was too scripted. The third felt somewhat natural but I have doubts about that.

Why was I going through all that trouble?

My rationale was that I need to improve on speaking. Yes, speaking. Here’s a short history: I never had the confidence to speak my own mind. I spent the majority of my late teens in the comfort of silence. I am not kidding. I did not have friends whom I was able to talk to on a daily basis. I was depressed, my mind suppressed. As a consequence, I definitely had not enough practice in speaking, specifically getting opinions across in a constructive manner. Sure I can write quite well, but speaking is a different skill.

But now I realise that doing exactly that, speaking, is vital in progressing in life. I need to speak up to show that I stand up for something. I need to be able to get my point across without stumbling on syllables. Most importantly, I need to overcome this well-built fear of judgment and failure.

You see, I’m a perfectionist at heart, sometimes without my realising it. I think way too much and when I execute something, it must be perfect or as close to. With writing, I can take as much time as I’d like to form perfect sentences. I can edit before I make a post public. This can be a problem, too. It means that I might not get any ideas published at all. This is why I’ve only been able to aspire to write a novel, and not actually write.

But when presenting something through speech, I’d have to form complete sentences on the spot so that they make sense. I would have time to prepare beforehand, but when the time comes, the words I have been preparing might escape my mind. I know that one way I could prevent that from happening is to memorise the entire speech. I did just that for my recent oral presentation, which was the first academic presentation I had done since leaving high school. I believe I did alright, but it was mostly memory work.

I have such a strong desire to speak naturally. I envy my colleague who was a part of my presentation group. He spoke so confidently and with a rather soothing tone as if he was talking to a friend. I also aspire to be like those speakers on TED. Again, that word – aspire. I should do. I want to, for goodness’ sake! That was why I spent an hour and a half talking to a camera lens.

If I were to be completely honest, the problem is not just because of lack of practice, but also a lack of knowledge or informed opinion. I can generally say that all my life I have never gone very deep into a certain topic. Once I felt that I was going too deep, I swam back up and across towards other areas. Metaphorically, I feared drowning. I did not bring up the why’s and how’s. It was somehow enough for me to just know the what’s.

And that is a great impairment in my learning process. Or lack thereof.

As a result, I know about a lot of things as well as nothing. I can talk about something to a certain extent but eventually, I would reach a limit. And that limit is my inability to expand the existing knowledge and form my own opinions, or rather the fear of putting them out in the air.

Since I can bear the what’s but not the why’s, I often find myself asking,

WHAT IS THE BLOODY HELL WRONG WITH ME????

And I think that this fear of diving deep and instead going for breadth may be the root of most of my problems. At present, I know I have many interests but none I could claim to be exceptionally passionate about. Well, I could say that I am passionate in writing, for example, but I can’t prove to you how good I am because I have not published any writing anywhere except my own personal blog that not many reads. I could say I’m passionate in horse riding, but I have not proven my skills by entering competitions.

Similarly, I could say I am passionate in biology and I should be but I feel like I have not put much effort into it even though that is part of my course that I am currently learning at university. Again, somehow I avoided diving in too deep because I didn’t want to let go of my other interests such as history and literature. That’s why my grades so far have been just average and not the best that I could actually achieve.

Is this really a problem? Or does it mean that specialising into something is not my thing? Must everyone specialise into something? Is it so bad not to do so?

These are the pertinent questions that have been swimming in my mind lately, which I have no promising answers to. I need to talk to someone about this, but who would listen? THAT is often my issue. Sure, I can talk to my few best friends but we don’t talk often mostly because we are thousands of miles apart and that we each have our own lives.

And I think that because I spent so much time practically alone growing up, I feel that I failed in building relationships or at least, learning to do so. I feel that I failed in getting people to trust me. I feel that now I have to start from ground zero. I need to learn to create lasting friendships. I need to learn to speak up and share my thoughts.

You have no idea how many times I think of bashing my head against a wall. That’s how frustrated I am with myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have learnt to love myself. Those lonely years weren’t for nothing. I did spend a good amount of time thinking and evaluating my strengths and weaknesses. And finally, now, I know what I need to do.

SO JUST DO IT!!!

God willing, I shall overcome this obstacle and many others. All I really truly need is support and encouragement. I need people who genuinely care for me and not just say that they care. I want to engage in constructive conversations with them. I need them to be patient with my stuttering and pauses.

But for now, I guess talking in front of the camera and posting on YouTube would have to do. At least, I would be able to edit and cut out the awkward pauses. And there may be a better chance that people would take the time to sit down and listen to what I have to say on YouTube—if I sound smart or interesting enough and look pleasing enough.

 

 

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A Sunny Sunday

I have been in this group meeting for two and a half hours. My shoes are off and I am sitting cross-legged on this swivel chair. I do not care if my feet stink through my socks nor do I care if my continuous swivelling from side to side irritates my colleagues. When I am sitting on a mobile chair whilst having a conversation, I like to move about because it gives my mind the illusion of activity. I am conscious of this peculiar habit of mine and I quite embrace it.

We have been discussing Bovine Tuberculosis in the UK and how best to control it, as we have done since October. We have exhaustively researched arguments pertaining the topic  and have basically come to the conclusion that the disease needs to be controlled by a mix of strategies i.e. culling, vaccination and biosecurity. Those strategies are currently being carried out albeit quite ineffectively and rather incongruently. So, we have put our recommendations forward despite not having much authority on the matter.

I find it rather amusing thinking how much politics are involved in the science, and how science tends to ignore the social aspect of the problem to a certain extent. Nonetheless, we have gathered with our knowledge of the complex facts and twisted propaganda to thoroughly prepare our presentation slides for the assessed oral presentation on Friday.

Today is Sunday the sixth. A bright, sunny Sunday.

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I am the kind of person who trusts her instincts. I texted Su on Thursday.

Me: There’s some sort of exhibition at the Botanical Garden this weekend. Would you like to   join me on Sunday?

Su: Yeah, sure!

And so after the rather productive meeting about cattle and badgers, I meet Su outside the library at 1 pm.

We climb the steep Cardiac Hill, which is a 45-degree pathway that connects the main Science Site to the Biology and Psychology departments 600 meters above ground level. I might be exaggerating but it’s basically a climb that is not for the weak. And don’t ask me why those departments decided that they are so mighty as to be isolated from the rest!

The Botanical Gardens is located near those departments. We enter the gift shop and café and out through the other side without much glancing at the food being served lest we get tempted by the strong aroma of bread and coffee. No one stops us to check whether we are actually students who are allowed to go in for free. But what about other guests? Don’t they need to pay an entrance fee? It doesn’t seem like it.

We absent-mindedly follow the pathway while exchanging trivial updates on each other. It has been a while since we last hung out and each of us has been busy with work, especially our respective laboratory practical sessions. I personally have mixed feelings and opinions about my lab sessions, but Su seems to be enjoying hers.

We are now passing by the glasshouse, which we have decided to go in. The flyer on the glass wall by the entrance door mentions the exhibition that I skimmed through online. I did not quite read about what the exhibition is about. I just thought that it’s a good enough excuse to visit the garden. It turns out that it is a showcase of traditional crafts particularly card designs and silver ornaments.

After passing by cacti, orchids, interesting insects in glass cages, a zen-like fish pond, and a water lilly pond we are now finally at the humble exhibition. It is just a set of tables with lots of crafts to be sold and a couple of enthusias artists. There are cards with quirky and ingenious designs that rather tempted me to purchase. Each card is unique as they are all meticulously designed by hand. Su and I agree quite confidently that we can actually make them ourselves so really there is no need to buy them. We just take this opportunity to get some inspiration.

The silversmith has his tools on the table. He is explaining to curious visitors how he forge a piece of silver into an intricate jewellery. It is remarkable how much time and effort he puts into perfecting his craft. Basically, he has to first make holes on a piece of silver so that the fine saw could penetrate through and start sawing off to create patterns. Then, he would have to use a file (kind of like a nail file) to create a 3D effect. Finally, he uses the pestle and mortar to beat the silver into shape. The result is a beautiful piece of jewellery.

Another interesting part of the glasshouse is the tropical rainforest. That is where we inadvertently arrive at. There is the red button by the door that when you push it, ‘rain’ will come out. It is already very warm inside and neither of us has taken off our coats so the splatter of fake rainwater is rather cooling.

“Look! A banana tree!”

“Look! Coffee Arabica!”

“Pitcher plant!”

“Bamboo!”

And so on and so forth with our excitement. I have been quite homesick lately and so being surrounded by familiar plants from home that I have often taken for granted  is very much therapeutic.

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The cool air greets us as we step out of the stifling glasshouse. Because it’s winter, there aren’t flowers blooming outside. So we spend the next half hour or so admiring large trees. Needless to say, both Su and I are awestruck by such magnificence.

Two hours in the Botanical Garden is enough to cure me of lingering negative thoughts and subsequently replace them with positivity and inspiration. Two hours feel short and I wish we could stay longer, but assignments await. I am keen to do this more often, perhaps when the weather gets a bit warmer.

 

Embrace the Present [7/7]

 

Let’s top it off with diamonds.

The trick to living a fulfilling life each day is pretty simple: live in the now. We often worry about things that have either happened or about to happen. Now this is not to be mistaken with planning for the future, as that does help in setting some sort of direction. But it is not worth obsessing over it more than necessary.

I am an obsessed thinker. I think things through a couple of dozen times over just to make sure that the day unfurls in a correct sequence or that the tofu is added to the pan after the spinach (not before) when cooking fried rice. All the while forgetting to appreciate the rainbow at one corner of the sky or smell the aroma of spices wafting right under my nose.

But ever since I consciously practice gratitude daily, I worry less. I take one step at a time and deal with situations as they come. Despite planning ahead, there will always be something that catches me off guard. Perhaps I bump into someone I have not met for quite a while, or that not enough yield is produced from a practical laboratory experiment. In any case, I would first welcome whatever feelings that come naturally in response to the situation. Then, I would assess whether such feelings are of value at that time. If so, I’d embrace them even more. If not, I’d center myself back to neutral and adjust accordingly.

Another way that I find useful in living each day to the fullest is to think of the possibility that that day would be my last. Since I think a lot, there is no surprise that the thought of death often comes to mind. Instead of feeling fearful towards it, I accepted that fact and in a way made peace with it. Death is certain for every mortal being and so all I can do is prepare for it.

I question myself every day, “If you were to die today, would you be satisfied with what you have done so far?”.

And, I think, to be somewhat satisfied is to become childlike. I realise that children are the happiest. I know that because I was also once a carefree child. Although I am aware that as adults, we have certain responsibilities, I’m sure it is not impossible to approach those duties in a positive and welcoming manner, just like a curious child who would grab a worm from the dirt, not even worrying about germs. And if it does not hurt you, hug it. If it does, let it go and seek other wonders.

So basically, laugh when you are amused, cry when you are upset, fall when you need to bounce back up higher and sleep when you are completely worn out. And if you do wake up, be grateful that it is another brand new day for you!

Namasté.

Giving Roses [6/7]

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

The 6th virtue to an enlightened life is to selflessly love others.

I used to believe that my love for others, my indispensable loyalty to a select few people, stemmed from an inherent selfless character. I always buy souvenirs for them whenever my family and I went on holiday abroad. Well, technically, my parents bought those items with their money. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Anyway, I would buy at least a unique key chain or fridge magnet with words like “London”, “Seoul”, “Paris”, “California” or “Krabi” written on those things that they may or may not use. That is one of the few ways I knew how to show my appreciation for the friendship.

In retrospect, however, I was far from selfless. I don’t think I even realised it back then. But truth be told, in a way, I was attempting to “buy” their favour for my sake so that I feel good or that I could grab hold of my fantasy of lifelong friendship, the kind you see in Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverley Place or That’s So Raven.

Yes, I did watch a lot of Disney series and my perception might have been influenced by them. But at least, I was convinced to think that long-lasting friendship is possible.

The point is that even though I did pour my love unlimitedly, it was more out of selfishness rather than not. I gave too many things and too little intangible, pertinent values. What I mean is that I did not contribute to their growth by the giving of advice, opinions, care etc, as much as they did to mine.

And this is the biggest reason of the gradual lack of cultivated, meaningful friendship over time. I realise that now. I might have realised it a bit too late, but then again, nothing is too late if you are still alive.

Just by spending a day with a group of people who value others a tad bit more than themselves had driven me to strip off of my selfish coat. Once bare and exposed, I realised how much I have got to give.

I start small, of course. I made a conscious effort, which soon became a habit, to maintain a default smile on my face so that as I walk to and from lectures, anyone who chanced a peek at my face could receive the warmth I genuinely present. And it is always nice to receive one warm smile back.

Here in the UK (or at least in Durham), daily acts of kindness are quite common. For example, people do hold the door for me when they see me coming from behind even if I am still 25 feet away, in which case I would quicken my pace and say a breathy “thank you”. The cashiers and cleaners would include the words “pet” and “love” in conversations. Shopkeepers would approach me in the midst of deciding which type of cashew nuts to buy (roasted and salted or no salt but with raisins) and ask whether I am alright and need any help. Those little things brighten my day even more.

I also realise that it is important to take the time to actually cultivate richer relationships, as I have learnt from my mistake. And so in these past months, I have been asking or asked by those I value to go to town for coffee or lunch during some weekends. And within those couple of hours, we would just talk and get to know each other deeper. This time, I know better to contribute my thoughts and ideas constructively and in a way that may benefit them. If not, well, I have at least tried.

I believe that loving others without any ulterior motives, at first, is one of the quickest and easiest ways to feel happy and content. As is the case with feelings, love is transient. So it has to be maintained by active and beneficial contributions. I now understand that my life can most certainly reach higher dimensions if I make it my mission to elevate the lives of others in any way I possibly can.