A few personal “Yearly Awards” to summarise 2019:
Person of the Year
New Habit of the Year
Trashed Habit of the Year
Book of the Year
Mistake of the Year
Quote of the Year
Word of the Year
Interaction of the Year
Persons of the Year: Tim Ferriss and Krista Tippett
It is hard for me to say this because it is an admission of me being just another one of the cheesy podcast bros. Tim Ferriss introduced me to everything I have been spending the most time on this year: personalities, philosophies, habits, books, food, you name it. I hate myself for following him like a lemming, but I know my life is better thanks to him.
Krista Tippett’s interviews were the most important antidotes to Tim’s work. She pulled me into the world of ambivalence, art, poetry, and … the chaos of being.
With that …
New Habit of the Year: Meditation
I practiced it not to calm me down, but to explore the annoyingly transient nature of all things. Every meditation has now become a workout of trying to be reminded that nothing stuck, and all thoughts and emotions were ridiculously fleeting. Personally, it has been useful because it was the best gateway drug to become more equanimous- when everything is transient, why hang on to anything?
Trashed Habit of the Year: Notifications, social media, tech …
Why? Because I know how feeble I am against the billions of dollars tech giants have invested into messing with our attention.
I removed native Twitter / Linkedin apps on my phone. (I still like flipping through posts from House of highlights on Instagram 😅). I managed to abstain from Facebook (and lost track of world events and birthdays). I successfully fended off TikTok and snapchat. I tried to quit WhatsApp (and failed). I shut down all notifications on my watch (and reduced my watch to a glorified step counter), reduced most notifications on my phone to only badges. I tried grey-scaling my phone’s display. I re-arranged the apps on my home screen and explored what it felt like to put reading, podcasts, meditation, and writing apps on the dock. I decided to stop picking up my phone when I was in the elevator (and instead, I now count how many people pull out their phones, or I will do some stretching, or just idle 😶.)
I knew this would be a battle I wouldn’t win. Nonetheless, I have substituted my time on Facebook by reading a bit more. I know I had gained a bit more calm when my watch stopped buzzing me. Finally, whether or not the angst from missing zillion of messages was ultimately more emotionally detrimental, I don’t know; hence the jury is still out.
Book of the Year: David Whyte’s “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words”
Thanks to Krista Tippett’s podcasts, I found David Whyte. Whyte elaborated on everyday words such as robustness, procrastination, pain, friendship, etc. I felt such calm and sense of wonderment from his words. They were like Hallmark cards on steroids. Here are my favourites:
Regret “is to lose control of a difficult past, and also of a very story we tell about our present. It helps put us into a proper, more generous relationship with the future.”
Nostalgia “is not an immersion in the past, nostalgia is the first annunciation that the past as we know it is coming to an end.”
Finally, here are the Four Movements of the Final Symphony of 2019:
Movement 1: Mistake of the Year
This mistake won the award because it happened repeatedly. It was more reliable than the sun rising in the east in the morning.
I would never find a reasonable boss.
I was a hopeless father.
I was done with my diet when I ate two pieces of pineapple bread in a week.
I would never be able to remove the word “never” in my life, ever.
Words and phrases like ambiguity, paradoxes, shades of gray, etc. became my new friends. I started to learn to recognise their usefulness. Yet, more often than not, I felt I would never be able to incorporate these words into my life. Then I would catch myself and begin again.
Never say never. Sure.
Easier said than done. Touché.
Movement 2: Quote of the Year:
“If information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
This stuck to my brain like a bad song because it reminded me that no hacks or principles or whatever are new. The only thing that matters is how one adopts them, and how you conceptualise these to others.
Yes, clearly, this quote stuck because of my mistake of the year: “Never say never.” Duh.
Movement 3: Word of the Year:
Jeff Warren, a meditation teacher, plugged this word into my head. Subsequently, I found myself noticing the concept of edge-riding in everything (yes, a cognitive flaw), from how Yo-Yo Ma straddled between the awarenesses to how family therapists guided people to balance between stability and change. David Whyte calls this the “conversations.” It has since become a constant reminder that I will be riding the edges whether I like it or not. So just … ride them. Yep.
Movement 4: Interaction of the Year:
Let’s call him Nick. Nick and I were very different. He believed wholeheartedly in disciplining his kids, while I violently objected corporal punishments. He was extroverted and always spoke everything out loud. He loved grand theories and spent little time in the nuisances. He was conservative, and I was liberal. I found him superficial, and he laughed at my inconsequential dwellings. We never agreed on anything. We enjoyed poking at and humiliating each other. The only reason we stuck together was because we were two members of a larger bros’ group. We understood we would break the “bro-code” of being a real man if we let our disagreements manifest.
During one lunch, we ventured into our mid-life crises. We shared our challenges with our work and families. We realised we had more in common in our journeys, our explorations, and even our actions, even though he found peace in a new Tesla and I pacified myself with chia seeds puddings. We got emotional and became two crying bros in the middle of a restaurant (no, we didn’t hug, per the “bro-code”).
It’s a simple story, but it viscerally reminded me of the depths of the human condition. I preferred distancing myself from those who appeared different with labels and preconceptions because that’s the safe way to protect myself. It is draining and scary to plunge into the differences. It feels dangerous to expose ourselves, especially to those that we know we disagree with.
Shades of gray. Uh-huh.
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