The Joy Of Missing Out

Daily Thoughts

The ability to embrace the art of doing nothing allows us to appreciate periods of solitude and the presence of our own company. Social media has contributed to the rise of consumer culture and social pressures. These pressures can cause stress and a distraction from what is important in our lives. The concept of missing out is often labeled as a negative aspect, and it can often be perceived as antisocial. There is great beauty in taking quiet moments during the day to just be in your own presence. There is great love in giving yourself permission to take time to rest, reflect and reconnect with yourself. The joy of missing out is taking time to enjoy the quiet moments and to embrace being who you are.

The art of slow / Our lives can be filled with endless things one after the other, or a never-ending to-do list. Being able to say no to invitations can allow yourself to take it easy. We live in a society that praises a busy and productive lifestyle by labeling these aspects as the definition of success. But the truth is that we are really only able to experience true satisfaction in life in the moments where we feel a sense of flow. Those moments are appreciated when we aren’t rushing through the world.

Finding balance / We practice moderation through how much we consume. These include food, exercise, or technology. We can focus much more deeply when we take time to switch off, practice being mindful of our actions and become aware of where we are placing our attention and time. The joy of missing out on what is always happening in the world can also be beneficial for one’s mental health. Taking a break from technology can allow oneself to focus on being in the present.

Simplifying one’s life / When we let go of the need to chase excitement or fill our lives with things, we have more time to do all the things that make us truly happy. There is a false belief that we must always buy the latest thing, stay on top of trends or achieve something great to be happy. It’s truly the small and simple things in life that can give us the greatest joy. It can be the smallest things that can trigger a sad or happy memory.

Staying authentic to yourself / The joy of missing out means that we can spend more time doing things we enjoy. The time we spend alone is precious, as those moments are where we face our thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences. We have space to reflect and think about life. We can focus on change and growth and we can spend time doing our favourite hobbies. When we stay true to ourselves, we feel the greatest sense of freedom. It takes effort and energy to not be who you truly are.

Deeper connections / We only have so much time and the time we spend with people is the connections we are investing in. By surrounding yourself with people who truly care about you, you nurture a deeper connection. It takes time to really get to know someone, and it takes energy to be there for others. When we miss out on other things, we can spend time with the one’s we love. Relationships are beautiful things. The people we surround ourselves with and spend time with the most have a greater impact on us then we may consciously be aware of.

The path we’re meant to be on / Many things in life are a blessing in disguise. In the moment we might not understand why it happened or we might feel that it was unfair. There are aspects that may be a perception of failure but we are yet to realise that the best is yet to come. Sometimes we think something is a setback when it’s really pushing us forward to where we need to be. The joy of missing out on an opportunity can be the greatest blessing to discovering where you’re meant to be.

Art by Alja Horvat

How To Live With Less In A Consumer Culture

Daily Thoughts

We are all consumers in one way or another. Whether that may be in materials, books, films, art, food, electricity, water, social media, news, internet, advertisements and so forth. How much and how often we consume things over another varies depending on our behaviour, habits, lifestyle and interests. The power of marketing and advertising is immense as it creates the illusion of needing more. The need for intimacy and meaning in our lives is often clouded by the illusion that we need more stuff to be happy. When I browse thrift stores in an ocean of clothes, the reality sinks in that there is a vicious cycle of the production, consumption and disposal of clothes.

I strive to live by the philosophy and mentality that less is more. As we live in a consumer culture, we are encouraged to buy more, even when we have more than enough. Advertising sells us a lifestyle, status, and identity. In terms of clothing, it is one of the top polluters in the world. If we consume less, we also lessen our carbon footprint, and we contribute less waste towards the earth. However, the power of advertising covers it with the glamour of a certain lifestyle. But, the truth is, we don’t need a lot to be happy.

Fill your spaces with love and purpose. Living with less means only having materials that will be used for years to come. Advertising tells us that we are lacking in our lives and that we need to fill our spaces with materials to feel a sense of fulfilment. However, many of us have more than we need.

Buy good quality materials. Purchasing good quality clothing gives it longevity. Many things can last a long time. As I mentioned above, there are many second hand clothing that are good quality. But, the fast fashion industry is constantly moving in and out with trends that are having a heavy impact on the environment.

Money and materials cannot buy true happiness. Consumer culture means that we spend so much on material items that don’t bring us long term happiness. We live in a capitalist system that rewards us for our perceived efforts and productivity. Yet, the definition of success tells us that we are always in need of more. Living with less reminds us of what’s important.

Borrow more books. I must say that if I had my own house, I’d love to be able to fill it up with shelves of books. However, as someone who is always moving suitcases to somewhere every year or so, the library has been a blessing. I remember having to donate dozens of books over the years as they can take up a significant amount of space.

Saving money. If you are saving up for something, whether that be a car or a house, you can save money from the smallest things. For example, if you like to drink a cup of coffee everyday. You could start making your own at home everyday, and perhaps in one year you could save 365 x $3.50 = $1,277.50.

Do it for yourself and for the planet. Consumerism really costs the Earth. The more we buy, the more that is disposed of, and the more rubbish we create in the world. An example would be consuming less meat and dairy. Where we spend our money is essentially who we are supporting.

Living with less is not only in materials. In a consumer culture, we are told we need more friends, more money, more travel and more things. The focus is on having a better future, but it’s important to embrace the present and be grateful for everything you have. Advertising focuses too much on ourselves, whereas long term happiness focuses on aspects such as helping others and forming strong relationships.

What is my intention for buying this? I used to have handbags that end up only getting worn a few times during the year, whereas my black handbag would be worn every day. My trainers and school backpack are worn almost every single day. Minimalism may not be for everyone, but it really helps in having a clearer mind and appreciating what you already have.

What are some of your tips for buying less?

I highly recommend reading the article A Helpful Guide to Overcoming Consumerism

Art by Alessandra De Cristofaro

Time Is How You Spend Your Love

Daily Thoughts

We can spend periods of our lives in a cycle that repeats itself if we don’t seek the desire to change. Nature is always changing and evolving. That is the beautiful part of nature, as it takes its time to achieve great change. How we spend our time is precious. When we break apart everything, time is really all that we have. Our lives are unpredictable, and no one can be completely sure of how long they are on this earth for.

Every moment counts. The moments we stand at the traffic lights, the moments we sit on the plane flying home and the moments we are there for a loved one. The beautiful words are from Zadie Smith. It also makes me acknowledge the sad reality that there is so much time spent on the things that we don’t truly love. We live in a world where people are deeply hurting or they are bounded to a life where they are helpless.

Thoughts and Feelings / What you focus on is how you will feel. The thoughts we feed ourselves and the feelings we have ultimately affect how we view the world, how we view ourselves, how we treat other people and how we spend our days. Our thoughts and feelings impact how we experience the world around us and the world within.

Precious time / How do you spend your time? What we spend our time builds us into the person we are. If we spend time doing more of what we love, it can only benefit us in the long run. It can enable us to have a healthy relationship with people and it can make us a whole lot happier.

Leisure / The Art of doing nothing. There is praise for always being switched on in a fast-paced digital age. Being productive and busy is seen as the definition of success, when in actuality good things take time, and our focus is heightened when we give ourselves conscious rest.

People / Who do you spend most of your time with? They say that the 5 people you spend the majority of time with can impact you as a person, from your world view, character, interests and behaviour. The environment we are in and the people we spend our time with can have a huge impact on our wellbeing.

Memories / What are the good memories you can think of? Remembering memories that make you smile can bring them alive. When we focus on a bad memory, it can evoke a strong negative emotional reaction. The time that we spend to create memories that are good are often built around the foundation of love.

Gratitude / What are you grateful for in your life? Gratitude is a practice that we can actively do each day. The moment we forget all the things we have in our lives is the moment we can feel empty and unhappy. Where we put our focus and intention is everything. Our wellbeing depends on it. Remember to cherish all that you have.

Change / In what ways have you changed over time? We are always changing every day. In everyday we are learning something new. Change is inevitable and people will change, but the important thing is to know your values. What is it that you want in life? What’s important to you?

Choices / The choices we make over time influence the person we are today. What you choose to do is your responsibility. How you treat others, the conversations you have, the products you buy, the food you consume and the activities that you do all impact who you are as a person. The choices we make and how we spend our time impacts who we are as a person. 

Creativity / What do you spend your time consuming and creating. We spend a lot of time consuming content from online articles to social media. We spend more time more than ever consuming digital content and buying materials. The time we spend creating is quite possibly one of the most precious moments.

The time we spend to practice something, create something or write something is valuable. When we do the things that we love and spend time with the people we love, then we must be doing something right. Our lives are meant to be enjoyed and the purpose of being here is more than we can understand. All that one can really know is that the existence of every being is precious.

No one is better than the other person. There is a false belief that by feeling superior to someone we can feel accomplished. Whether that is through materials, status or wealth. However, it is the biggest lie that we are sold in society. External things don’t add true value into our lives. It makes me think of The Little Prince quote that reads “What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye” all that is truly important in life can only be felt with the heart “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”.

Art by Monica Barengo

Nobody’s Life Is Perfect, No Matter What It Seems

Daily Thoughts

When we fill our hearts with gratitude, we realise how much we have. When you focus on what you have, you don’t spend time thinking about what you don’t have. The constant focus on wanting to accumulate materials or external validation can never result in true happiness. There is so much gratitude in meeting so many beautiful people this year, and there have been many thoughtful conversations and meaningful moments. It’s incredible to talk with people with such beautiful minds and souls. It’s important to remember that nobody’s life is perfect, no matter what it seems. A person could appear to have everything on the surface, but feel empty within, and vice versa. Everyone is walking on their own journey, similar to how each book has its own stories in each chapter.

When I was younger, I honestly felt that everyone seemed to have a normal life. This comes down to the way we are told to present ourselves in society. As you grow older, you realise that sometimes we all really don’t know what’s going on, and that’s okay. That’s the joy of life, because if every moment was predictable it would lose its excitement and adventure. I absolutely love to smile, but I also know how easy it is to hide behind a smile and how easy it is to appear happy through hard times. This is why we truly mustn’t judge things from the surface. As I spoke with friends, we talked about mental health, and how incredibly common it is. In a way, the pressure of appearing to have a perfect life, is not authentic and true to the self.

Comparison is the thief of joy, as it can create a feeling of inadequacy and lowering of self worth. On the other hand, it can be used to motivate oneself if you desire, but where we place the focus and intention is important. What we perceive as success and happiness can be vastly different to one another. However, I really do think that the relationships we have with ourselves, and those around us hold a lot of purpose in our lives. There are so many layers to every person. Nothing perfect is defined by the way things look. Not with materials, travel, clothing, makeup or career. Nobody is perfect. The long lasting happiness in life comes down to the way we’re feeling inside.

Photography by Sun Jun

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Daily Thoughts

It’s important to look at what someone does more than what they say. As you grow older, you realise the deeper meaning of the saying that actions speak louder than words. When I was younger, I was very trustworthy of what other people said, and I liked to think everyone was a good and honest person. It’s common for people to call it innocence, but it was truly because I tried to see the good in others. As individuals, we might say things in certain ways that relate better to different people. We might like to say certain things because we know that’s what the other person wants to hear. We might say thoughts that are honest, or only half said. A person’s true intention is shown through their actions. The values that they hold are reflected through their actions, and how they treat others. 

We can say kind words to others, talk about our ideas and the great changes we want to make in the world. However, if we don’t act upon it, then the words lose their meaning. The actions we take show our character. This is also connected to change. When we want to change something about ourselves, it’s easy to say I’ll change. However, in truly believing in them and acting upon them, we prove to ourselves that we are capable of change. Have you ever met someone who had a very serious demeanour about them, but did something so kind towards you that didn’t require any words? It’s those small gestures that show the real character of someone’s heart.

Words have power, and we can comfort, give advice, share ideas and be educated through words. I find that in seeing a person’s character, we should see what they do. There are many people who are smooth talkers and promise makers, but if it doesn’t translate into one’s actions, then we lose trust. Our body language also speaks for a lot of our communication, and sometimes we don’t need someone to speak to see how they might be feeling. This is why it is more exciting to keep a lot of our dreams to ourselves, as our actions will speak when it’s time. It’s easy to say something out loud, and people can always nod a long and appear to be agreeing.

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. We’ve all been there, where we’ve said we will accomplish this or that. I still remember a wise advice from my dear flute teacher who told me to keep goals to myself as a motivator. There are some goals that don’t need to be told to the world, because over time, they will show themselves. True care towards one another is through the things we would do for one another, not always through the things we say. We can tell someone we care for them, but when they are hurting and we’re not there for them, then the words lose their meaning. It’s the time we give, the actions we take and the way we treat those around us that show our true character.

“Life is too short to be around someone that says they love you but doesn’t show it.”

― Elizabeth Bourgeret

“I never listen to what a person says. I look at what a person does because what they do tells me who they really are.”

― Patty Houser

Art by Lieke van der Vorst

Why Introverts Feel Misunderstood

Daily Thoughts

During my teenage years, I prayed that I could be more confident, outgoing and speak my mind freely. When I entered my twenties, I accepted myself for the qualities that I have that simply are a part of who I am. I’ve really accepted being an analytical thinker, spending time alone to recharge and thinking before I speak. I learned that confidence is not defined by being loud, and that it comes from a sense of security within yourself. For a number of years, I thought there was something wrong with me, until I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I became familiar with the terms Introvert and Extrovert. Often, the different parts of ourselves are some of our biggest strengths. It is important to note that Introversion and Extroversion are not one singular characteristic. Every individual will have varying levels of both. Sadly, the word introvert has negative connotations attached to it due to societal expectations. However, in order to thrive and exist in the world we need a balance of both.

As an introvert, you may have a small handful of people in your lives that you feel completely at home with. You may engage enthusiastically in deep conversations rather than small talk. If you are quite a deep thinker, writing can be one of the most therapeutic, relaxing and satisfying things. You may enjoy being in calm environments, such as being surrounded by nature, reading at a cafe or sitting by the beach. That’s not to say one doesn’t like socialising, but it simply means the time spent socialising will vary. There are weeks where I may see a few friends for tea, and other weeks where I’m catching up on doing things on my own. I enjoy meeting new people, yet I also crave the need to be able to connect with someone in conversation. The way we express ourselves are all so vastly different. As someone who enjoys listening to other’s stories and experiences, it’s a precious moment to find a friend who is also just as interested in hearing yours.

There is a certain level of comfort when we realise that in those moments that you might feel alone or misunderstood, there are those who too feel the same. We find connections in moments of vulnerability. I have found that there are only a handful of people in my life who see me completely, and those who will naturally only see certain layers of who I am or who they think I am. It may never be the complete picture, and that’s okay. Does that mean you aren’t being authentic? I don’t think so. I don’t think we have to bare all ourselves to anyone we encounter in order to be authentic. In the comfort of loved ones, you feel you don’t need to hide anything. When we are our complete selves with those close to us, it’s because we have established a level of trust and security. It’s in the silence and solitude where we can take a moment to breathe and pause. It’s in the time alone that we can recharge, reflect and stay in touch with our creativity and our true self.

The video below by Lana speaks beautifully about the many experiences that Introverts may have.

Here is an article explaining the differences between introversion, shyness and social anxiety disorder -> The Confusion Surrounding Introversion, Shyness, and Social Anxiety Disorder

Articles on Introverts:

What is an introvert?

6 Myths About Introverts To Stop Believing

6 Things Every Introvert Has To Secretly Deal With

Art by Helena Pérez García

Mindless Consumption

Daily Thoughts

The ability to take action, maintain persistence and take time to do difficult things can lead to progress and development. We can consume, listen and read a lot of good advice from people, books and online. However, if we don’t take it into action then the desire and ability for change will never manifest into reality. Fear is something that can take over each and every one of us to varying degrees, depending on the situation or when facing something new. It can be those moments that can enable us to grow tremendously when we face it head front. For example, you may have certain goals that you really want to achieve, but fear can stop you from taking the first step. It’s a matter of taking the first steps out of your comfort zone. It’s important not to rush, as the delay in a reward can make us work more carefully and use our time wisely, and when we do receive it it can be far more satisfying.

Mindless Consumption The action of scrolling down your phone, watching anything on the television, eating food without much thought or buying clothes that you won’t wear are forms of consumption that have the lack of being present and are simply an action taken for passing time. They don’t necessarily add certain value in our lives, as we are a passive consumer. This is common, and we are all part of it in some way or another.

Instant Gratification A certain level of comfort and habitual action can come from instant gratification. It can be predictable and desirable and feels good. Food is an obvious example such as a chocolate cake. Although, an example that is increasingly common and infiltrates our daily lives is social media. We have more options, voices, content, feedback and noise online. Our brains are constantly stimulated when we consume digital technology.

Digital Detox Taking time away from your phone and minimising the apps you use can allow you to spend less time using, watching, sharing, posting, reading and looking at notifications. Your time is precious, and using the time to do things that are valuable to you is important. As algorithms, content recommendations and advertisements tend to cater to our interests, it can be good to take time to read, watch or engage in conversations where it challenges our views to look at things from different perspectives.

Chocolate and Carrots After watching this video, it says that the brain will compare the chocolate and carrot, and nine times out of ten the brain will go to the chocolate as the better option. Unless you’re a rabbit like myself and would choose the carrot. However, it shows how the brain will go to the one that gives the bigger dopamine hit and allow us to consume. Consuming is the easier option, and doing is more difficult as you need to move and exert and apply yourself. Which can be more difficult. It takes time and energy.

Art of Slow We are bombarded with an extreme amount of endless options. When options are limited our time to make decisions and choose are immensely lessened. The art of slow is taking a step back to read a book and really absorbing it in. It’s being mindful and present in your daily life. Taking those moments to do nothing. We need time in solitude and peace to recharge and reconnect with ourselves. Take those moments to walk in nature, meditate, learn something new or spend time cooking a meal.

Am I better than I was yesterday? Taking a break from consumer culture can allow us to come back more productive and focused. If you are thinking about something that’s constantly on your mind, just go for it and do it. Take time to also do difficult things, and embrace the frustration. If you experience those moments that feel slow, you learn, become more patient and become more resilient. Am I better than I was yesterday? What did I learn, what can I change, what am I grateful for, and what did I do well and maybe not so well. Where can I improve and what were some of the highlights?

Art by Monica Barengo

What Is Essential Is Invisible To The Eye

Daily Thoughts

No matter where we are in the world, it’s the state of mind that you’re in that determines the life you want to live. When you’re filled with gratitude and love, you appreciate what you already have. Whereas, if you’re filled with fear, you can feel a sense of lack and worry. The experiences you have, the people you surround yourself with, the places you travel to, the books you read, the food you eat, the music you listen to, the thoughts you feed yourself and the lessons you learn. Life is unpredictable. It reminds us that living in the present is all we truly have, and that the past and the future can often rob us of enjoying, embracing and accepting the moment.

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…”

“They don’t find it,” I answered.

“And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”

“Of course,” I answered.

And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The title is an excerpt from the book, The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This reminds us of the importance of seeing beneath the surface. We can never really know anyone, not many people, so deeply that we can understand the experiences and layers they have experienced. We live in a deeply visual world and images have so much power and influence. However, the things that truly matter in our lives, are things that can’t be seen but are felt. They are the experiences we have, not the materials. They are the relationships we have, not the status.

The life we experience is ultimately the one we feel within. It makes me think of how a person can be externally happy, but they could be going through an incredibly tough time. It makes me think of how a person can seem serious and may not always smile, but they can also have the biggest heart and kindness through their actions. It’s important to not judge a book by its cover. Nobody is perfect, no matter what it seems, and no matter what it looks like from the outside. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, what clothes you wear or how big your house is. It matters how you treat others, your sense of character and values. Those parts of you, whether that be your intelligence, compassion, wisdom, humour, or enthusiasm, are what make you you.

There are many lessons in The Little Prince. One of the lessons that stand out to me, is the topic of love. What is truly important can only be felt and seen with the heart. This world needs love. We can do many things and never be joyful, but perhaps our happiness could be found in one simple thing (“in a single rose”). Our eyes may indulge in temporary beauty and what lies on the surface. The temporary satisfaction won’t give us a sense of long term contentment. The true beauty of a person comes from their heart. Whatever you do today, remember to look with the heart.

Art by Monica Barengo

Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy

Daily Thoughts

Comparison can cause us to create a false image of ourselves and those around us. When comparison can be a benefit is when it enables us to become a better version of ourselves, whether through improvement in our skills or behaviour. However, comparison can also bring us down and hinder us from reaching our full potential. Nobody’s life is perfect, no matter what it seems. Comparison is the thief of joy, as it can create a feeling of inadequacy and lowering of ones self worth. On the other hand, it can be used to motivate oneself if you desire, but where we place the focus and intention is important. What we perceive as success and happiness can be vastly different to one another. I do really think that the relationships we have with ourselves, and those around us hold a lot of purpose in our lives. There are so many layers to every person. Nothing perfect is defined by the way things look. The long lasting happiness in life comes down to the way we’re feeling inside.

Social media has caused a heightened frequency of comparison through ones lifestyle and appearances. However, the concept of the perfect body does not exist. We can choose to show people what we perceive as our good side, but underneath the layers of ourselves are parts that others may never see. Comparison causes a false reality through showing the surface of what we desire, but it makes us forget to appreciate who we are and where we are right this moment. Gratitude reminds us how much we have and it reminds us the blessing of our experiences, the small moments that bring us joy and the things that are truly important in our lives. It strips away judgment towards ourselves, it minimises the feeling of lack and it makes us more appreciative and positive. The danger of comparing ourselves to others, is that it makes us forget to acknowledge that everyone goes through their own challenges. The surface doesn’t always reflect what’s within.

Comparison can also cause unrealistic expectations. Ones happiness is not determined by when you have arrived to a certain place. It isn’t a case of “I’ll be happy when…” Contentment and satisfaction in life, is being able to accept and acknowledge where you are, right here, right now, even when things aren’t going well. It builds resilience. Some of the most successful people have failed many times, but through their persistence they have achieved their goals. Learning through ones failures is focusing on how you can grow as an individual. If your attention is constantly focused on others, it would be hard to spend the time working on yourself. How do you measure your self-worth? Our self worth can be reflected in how we treat others, how we treat ourselves and having strong values that guide the life you want to live.

Your confidence ultimately comes from within. How you see yourself can have a massive impact on how you view the world, and how you treat those around you. Also, what are the most important things to you? Why do they matter to you, and how do they add value to your life? The things that temporarily boost your self-esteem won’t add long-term value in your life. It’s interesting how often we can be incredibly encouraging, kind and friendly to others, but incredibly tough and critical towards ourselves. We can hold certain expectations and standards for ourselves that if we don’t achieve, it can feel like a failure. We have to accept ourselves at our best and our worst, because you are the one person who can completely rely on yourself. The constant need for external validation, approval, acceptance and praise from others means that you care too much about what others think of you.

If I see someone that I love going through a hard time, I want to be there to listen, comfort and embrace them. I want them to be okay. However, when I’ve gone through a bad period of time, there have been times where I get incredibly hard on myself. I tell myself I can do better. We really need to be kind and gentle towards ourselves. Perception creates our reality. How you perceive things is the lens which you’ll see things. Most comparisons are surface leveled, which can cause quick judgment, assumption and assessment on a specific situation, person or experience. There are many aspects of comparisons that can come from those two seconds of what we see, but it may often not be the reality. When we accept ourselves, we exude a natural confidence. Comparison can be good or bad depending on whether we allow it to benefit our own positive self growth. We can use comparison to motivate ourselves, but it’s important to not let it lose sight of our true self.

Photography by Sun Jun

Standing Still

Daily Thoughts

When I’m standing in the underground train station in Taipei, I can’t help smile when the music comes on to announce the Train is coming. It’s been such an incredible year, and I feel blessed to have met so many beautiful kind people, having thoughtful conversations and making wonderful new friends. There’s been a lot of lessons that have really been more on my mind, such as: the art of truly not giving a f*ck what others think, the importance of focusing on what adds value in your life, surrounding yourself and investing in positive, motivated people, having critical thinking and questioning the information you consume, embracing being your freaking self, that you choose your attitude regardless of the situation, the importance of not settling in a relationship, allow yourself to feel and embrace discomfort, how emotions can distort reality, what you place focus on is how you will feel and what we feed our mind and the thoughts we think is essentially the world we create for ourselves.

I was reflecting back to the start of 2017, listening to the speech This is Water, by David Foster Wallace. I highly recommend having a read or listen to it. There is power in having the ability to choose, which can strengthen our perception of what we are capable of rather than narrowing our abilities. David Foster Wallace highlights that Liberal arts fundamentally teaches us how to think critically as we advance into the adult world. Critical awareness allows us to be less self-centred and reinforces our self-control. In our daily lives, we tend to put ourselves at the centre of the universe. We are the person that feels, observes and experiences the world around us. Wallace says “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.”

Instead of placing ourselves at the centre of the universe, we can choose to see things from different perspectives. When we walk we often let our thoughts take control, rather than consciously taking control of our thoughts. It becomes natural to think about our own problems and prioritise them as the most important. This can cause a confinement that builds an invisible barrier around us if we do not learn to be aware of the world outside of ourselves. Becoming aware builds empathy even when we feel frustration in our own lives, as it creates an understanding that some people are going through hard times. Critical awareness and exercising control of how and what you think, is an incredibly powerful ability to pouring thoughts that have substance and meaning.

The mistake in how we often perceive things are that things are just the way they appear from our mind, as it would immediately dismiss the importance of seeing things from different angles. The most obvious things are often right in front of us, regardless of how they may appear. An example that Wallace uses is the story of two young fish, who swim along as an older fish swims past. The older fish says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” and eventually one of them looks at the other and says “What the hell is water?” There is a sense of ignorance and confusion that the fish are not aware of their surroundings, and have developed a limited and narrow view. We see things from the experiences we’ve had and the worldview we possess. Yet, in order to have an open mind, there’s a need to question, understand and see things from different perspectives.

In this case, the two fish were metaphorically in their own space, unaware of the water surrounding them. There is a choice in recognising these things, but we often live through our days blindly looking past them. It becomes a learned ability over time. The water also symbolises the space we move in, such as the air we walk, breathe and live in. We can see these realities when we learn to switch on the ability to see them, which makes us present and conscious beings. Wallace says “Banal Platitudes can have a life or death importance”. The seemingly obvious and boring aspects of our lives are suggested to have a life or death importance because they are the moments that remind us that we can choose how to react, how to feel and what to think. This gives us an inner power that we lack control of when we ignore it. However, we do not often become conscious of this ability, as we swim by like the young fish, without realising that it is there right in front of us. In this instance, it is not about the capacity to think, but about the choice of what to think about.

When we see something as banal, we feel that it is such an ordinary aspect of our days, that it does not deserve the attention as it lacks interest. I believe that ‘banal platitudes’ are important, even if something seems obvious or dull that it is right in front of our eyes, banal platitudes reminds that we can create value and meaning in those obvious statements. We have seconds, minutes, hours of moments that we can give value to by viewing them as meaningful and significant. The deliberate effort to be aware opens our eyes to see things from different perspectives. We have a choice in widening our horizon in what we see, by being conscious of the world around us and becoming curious individuals. Rather than blindly walking through life, we have the choice to address and observe situations, as well as the ability to choose how we perceive things. This can make those seemingly boring moments have significant meaning.

The critical awareness we have causes us to be less self absorbed in our own lives and needs. It almost makes us look through a lens where we see the world as a whole, rather than a lens that restricts our visions to the narrowed reality we imagine. This honestly makes me think of the use of phones. I really want to strive to use my phone less when I don’t need it, in order to embrace being more and more present and to cut out distractions, because as I look around I really think we are becoming slaves to our phones. When we choose to be aware of our surroundings and situations, we become more accepting, patient and tolerant. We place a focus on paying attention to what we deem important, rather than allowing our thoughts to sway towards unnecessary and often negative voices. Becoming aware of our ability to choose and giving time to focus our mind intentionally determines how we want to live our lives.

Art by Kate Pusley