Nostalgia — the past

Adjusting into a new lifestyle with limited physical freedom, I’m reminded of my childhood days when I needed permission to go to places, when smartphones weren’t common, when I rose with the sun and lived my life in the most simple and organic way.

I try to remember what I enjoyed doing as a kid, how easily I found happiness and fulfillment. I was connecting my dots, backwards. Least surprise to realize how those experiences have shaped who I am today, and continue to curate that future I work towards.

I also find much artistic inspiration in my earliest memories, through which I first learned about the world: first time seeing London in the 101 Dalmatians movie; first time meeting Hong Kong through old tunes; first time learning about life afar through folktales; and of course, the first time riding on a train, a plane, traveling solo… Now I go back to these old photos, tokens, music, books, art and films, and immerse myself in the gulf of warm memories from those days of curiosity and aspiration.

Matisse once said, “I shall like to recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth, when all the world is new to it.”

And so did Picasso point out the genius in children: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.”

Traveling back in time to visit that budding me, I’m left with a question to think about: How do I continue to nurture that child as time chips away its brilliance? Learning how to grow up is hard, but unlearning is even harder. Staying curious is not easy, and the child in us is the genius.

Riverside Park, New York City, Spring 2020.

Solitude — present

No, not loneliness. Solitude as the state when we’re alone with our own thoughts, without disruptions from others. How much of your thoughts are your authentic thoughts?

At the beginning of the quarantine, I was restless, constantly seeking distractions when there’s none. That was when I realized how being distracted has become part of my lifestyle.

You don’t have to be physically alone to achieve mental independence. Solitude can happen when you are taking walks alone or in a huge crowd. It can be a few minutes or hours.

The importance of solitude resides not only on the level of connecting to our inner self, but also the state of stepping in and out of our reality, for a deeper examination of the bigger world and our place in it.

“We often have an illusion that we made a choice for ourselves, when that choice was so fundamentally shaped by who we are and where we grew up and what was around us… that in some final accounting, it was almost never a choice at all.” — Ezra Klein

Since my quarter life crisis post college, I learned two things: 1. For twenty-some years of my life, I was such a stranger to myself but a sophisticated product of culture and society; 2. To know the world, I have to know myself first, and that is a constant practice and lifelong journey.

Voluntarily or not, we are the results of past causations. Luckily at this present point, we have the power to change who we are tomorrow. Practicing solitude brings us more awareness. The more awareness we have, the more authentic we become, the more agency we reclaim and the more autonomy we exert. Once we are more aligned with our authentic self, there’re less self-doubts and inner noises.

The More of Less — going forward

When my calendar was cleared out due the outbreak in early March, underneath a layer of sadness and stress for the whole situation, I felt a sense of relief. A needed break. But soon after, my inbox was swamped with corporate emails and virtual meetings. The surplus amount of happenings, are still finding their ways to demand my time and attention. So there’s a new principle I want to practice going forward: If it’s not a 100% yes, it is a no.

“The world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’ — Iain Thomas

With the advancement of technologies, we are in a period of attention crisis. The last time we experienced something similar in human history was the invention of printmaking and availability of information on papers. When books were invented, people felt the need to stay on top of and read everything. Now looking at this is absurd. It’s impossible to read every single book out there. Same for what’s happening on the internet these days. For me, it’s been a lesson to learn to create boundaries for myself and make conscious decisions committing to my priorities.

Riverside Park South, New York City, Spring 2020.

Start sanitizing everything, including your life.

Again and again, I learned that time and attention are the two most precious and scarce resources in our life. In this period of surplus information, all the resources are out there at a lower cost or even for free. The problem is, how can I sit still, focus, and commit? I am my toughest client, to any professional, personal and wellness goals. There are only 24 hours a day. I cannot make decisions without thinking about the opportunity costs anymore.

In my small apartment in the epicenter of the pandemic, I’m deprived of mobility, but not of time. I cannot go outward, but I’ve been going inward.

I’m taking this opportunity as a break, to check in with myself and rid all the energy draining things and activities in my life. This is something like decluttering that should be done regularly anyway, but during the quarantine it feels like an intense retreat. So by the end of this, I hope I’d become considerably better at managing my time and energy, finding out the essentials and happily ignoring everything else.

In this time of difficulties, I hope you take this pause as a gift. To practice solitude in any mindful ways and going inward for your most genuine self. To keep going, so utterly deep that you are no longer afraid of being alone. Because then, you are no longer alone. You find your innermost self within the whole, being one with all being.