I’ve been plagued by the future, and haunted by the past. In spending all my energy on what has been and what will be, I have completely forgotten about “the now”, to savour this moment by itself, and to focus on only this moment and nothing else.
Each time I go to my calligraphy lesson, my teacher always reminds me: “focus on the stroke you are writing now, forget the stroke before, and do not think about the stroke after… the character will fall into place in the end…” Each time, I have to make a conscious effort to remember to focus solely on what I was writing then and then. I get so upset if one stroke goes wrong, and want to give up and start all over again or hurry up and finish the character so I can write another one. With that mindset, all subsequent strokes go downhill from there. Or, sometimes I think too much about the strokes after, that the stroke I am writing starts to wobble because I am not paying attention to what I am doing. How representative is the art of calligraphy for life! The silence of the ink as the black colour emerges through the swaying brush exposes my character loudly.
I always knew I had a problem of letting go, especially of the past. People, events, experience that have shaped me, particularly those I consider hurtful, painful, and agonizing, affect me to this day. I don’t just sit on a rocking chair and reminesce on the balcony — it’s worse than that. It’s like someone used a hammer and chisel to engrave the memories in my brain so I will not forget. Of course that “someone” is myself. I don’t know why I am so sentimental and always think of the past to the extent it could affect my emotions. Reading previous diary entries can still bring tears to my eyes. Those few who have sent me on roller coaster rides of emotions and feelings still live strong and clear in my head. Sometimes I get so worked up about past events I do a bad job of tasks before me simply because I cannot focus.
And then I spin 180 degrees and think about the future. Can we blame it on the teachers – how many times are kids in preschools asked to draw what they want to be when they grow up, a fireman? a nurse? a doctor? Or shall we attribute guilt to education in general for asking us to plan for exams 2 years ahead, and putting milestones of schooling in front of us? Perhaps it is the advertisements of financial planners or government policies asking us to “save for the future”, start a pensions, and plan ahead?
No, I don’t think we can blame the society for cautioning us against unforeseen risks, and to insure against the future. There is certain logic in saving part of your income for future expenditure instead of present consumption of shoes,handbags or alcohol. The problem is, like many things, I take planning for the future, to the extreme. By the age of 12 I was thinking about how to build my resume for university applications. The first day of university I was applying for scholarships and awards, auditioning for the debate team and moot teams in order to build my CV for job applications 4 years later. It was as if everything I did was for some end goal in the future. Did I enjoy the activities I was involved in? I guess so, most of them anyways. Were they simply for the sake of enjoyment or my interest? I doubt it. Was I happy? I don’t remember having the time to be happy or not. I was too engrossed in building building building, all for “the future”.
So they say: don’t just think of the destination, taste the journey with your body and soul, listen to the birds and smell the flowers along the way. My friend AniS’ words of wisdom are “Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has yet to come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.”
I knew it in my mind. Yet in practice, I was sprinting down the track to complete the journey as fast as I can to reach one destination – just so that I might start another race for the next finish line. I was stubbornly living for the future, with the past lurking around. I ran too fast, faster than I could handle. It was a never ending game and I exhausted myself. Naturally I tripped myself over. It is not surprising I got sick and stressed. And yet when I am on my IV drip at the hospital, I am still worrying about the emails I have to send to chase HR, the apples I need to buy…
The “philosophy” of life is akin to Chinese calligraphy: Do your best in this very moment, be “in” the moment, enjoy what you are doing right now with patience and serenity, and the big picture will appear as you intend.
I love writing the Chinese characters for “now”. There is a sense of liberty, of ease, of contentment. Not easy to live out, and not easy to write with the same freedom and confidence each time – unless I focus on each stroke I write at that moment…
Simply said, just be me – in the present.