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A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face she inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?” The answers called out ranged from 8oz to 20 oz. She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them for a big longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.” Always remember to put the glass down.

nikyatu posted this today on her tumblr.  the story has some nice perspective on why we shouldn’t let problems (big or small) weigh us down so i had to share it with you.

related: in order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets | “feed you faith…” | facing the waves of life | 8 ways to let go


here’s a fresh way to look at a glass of water (and yourself)

11/11/13 4 Comments

We grow, including the intellectual and the spiritual, without being deeply aware of it. In fact, some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is what is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or person who explained it to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. I remember the waves of anxiety that used to engulf me at different periods in my life, always manifesting itself in physical disorders (sleeplessness, for instance) and how frightened I was because I did not understand how this was possible.

With age and experience, you will be happy to know, growth becomes a conscious, recognized process. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.

– pulitzer prize-winning author alice walker from her collection of essays living by the word.


alice walker on the sometimes confusing process of growth


so let’s talk about suicide

08/02/13 4 Comments

recently, i read mary karr‘s poem “suicide’s note: an annual”, which she wrote in response to her friend david foster wallace hanging himself.  i wanted to share it with you just for literary reasons.  however, i thought it might be a good opportunity to discuss the larger issue of suicide.  i know it’s an uncomfortable topic for some, but we should devote some attention/thought to it instead of ignoring/avoiding.

let’s start by reading karr’s poem over a few times below (via poetry mag).  i’ll use some of the lines as a springboard into the broader talk:

Suicide’s Note: An Annual
Mary Karr

I hope you’ve been taken up by Jesus
though so many decades have passed, so far apart we’d grown
     between love transmogrifying into hate and those sad letters
           and phone calls and your face vanishing into a noose that
I couldn’t
     today name the gods
           you at the end worshipped, if any, praise being
impossible for the devoutly miserable. And screw my church who’d
     roast in Hell poor suffering
           bastards like you, unable to bear the masks
of their own faces. With words you sought to shape
     a world alternate to the one that dared
           inscribe itself so ruthlessly across your eyes, for you
could not, could never
     fully refute the actual or justify the sad heft of your body, earn
           your rightful space or pay for the parcels of oxygen you
inherited. More than once you asked
     that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera
           I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief
in your otherwise-only-probable soul. I wonder does your
     death feel like failure to everybody who ever
           loved you as if our collective CPR stopped
too soon, the defib paddles lost charge, the corpse
     punished us by never sitting up. And forgive my conviction
           that every suicide’s an asshole. There is a good reason I am not
God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.
     I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
           your best efforts you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
     each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
          We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.

“With words you sought to shape/ a world alternate to the one that dared/ inscribe itself so ruthlessly across your eyes”: wallace’s 2005 commencement speech @ kenyon college continues to inspire to this day.  here’s a fancy clip from it (directed by matthew friedell).

that wallace was able to uplift others while being bogged down by a depression that ultimately pushed him to end his life is inspiring in its own right.  also, when you think about the times when people are shocked by a suicide, it shows how people’s words or expressions could be part of a world that they’re trying to create (for themselves & others) but not always a complete depiction of the world that they personally see & feel every day.

“More than once you asked/ that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera/ I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief/ in your otherwise-only-probable soul”: breathing is an important theme throughout the poem.  love (as people, words & feelings) is inhaled like air, showing its bond & the high degree of necessity to a person.  at times, depression can sap not just one’s desire to live, but the mere ability to live as well by cutting off such love.  self-esteem boosts from friends and family can serve as cpr for the soul, breathing fresh belief into the depressed.  however also like cpr, sometimes those boosts aren’t always enough to ensure survival.

“There is a good reason I am not/ God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten”: maybe my favorite line.  i love the idea of thinking about good reasons why you’re not god.  there’s also a raw anger here that echoes the confusion, the frustration, the loss of those left behind by the “self-smitten.” at the same time, the speaker’s acknowledgment that it’s good for her not to have the almighty power to act on those emotions (added to her hoping the deceased is with jesus & later requesting forgiveness for her “asshole conviction”) makes me read more compassion than the words might show on the surface.

sometimes when people say that they want to die, i think they really want their specific way of living to end instead of life in general.  they’re in a rut of some design that they desperately need to escape and death looks like the way to freedom.  as wallace points out in the video above, there are everyday choices available to us that we can exercise to change our trajectory and improve our outlook on life.  however, sometimes that’s not enough.  in that case, having a support system is critical.  whatever combination of god, loved ones, counselors, and medication that works best.  and yet still for some, that too isn’t enough (or worse, the necessary support system isn’t always available).

this is important to remember for those looking at the suicide from the outside.  personally, i think suicide is wrong.  you can focus on your value to the people around you (even if that value hasn’t been fully realized yet).  you can think about how you’re throwing away breaths that the terminally ill would kill for.  however way you wanna slice it, your life is precious.  your life is worth protecting.  as long as you’re alive, your life can get better.  that said, without fully knowing the depths of one’s despair and torment, it’s not right for me to judge the depressed/suicidal as weak, selfish assholes who will roast in hell.  ultimately, that’s something between the person and god.

i want to hear from you.  what are your thoughts on suicide, from the perspective of the depressed and of those close to the depressed?  how do your views mesh with those depicted in the poem?

related: an interesting read on suicide and why we should talk more about it (via harpers) | the full audio of wallace’s 2005 commencement speech | “feed your faith…”

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

real talk from author cheryl strayed (via nikyatu).

related: scars for happiness | 8 ways to let go

crossing the bridge to healing

06/22/13 1 Comment

alabama shakes “hang loose”

just listened to alabama shakes‘s grammy-nominated album boys & girls and i loved it.  brittany howard’s voice pulls you in by dancing over the songs with playful passion.  fellow bandmates zac cockrell, steve johnson & heath fogg follow suit while rocking the bass, drums, and guitar.  here’s their uplifting single “hang loose” (lyrics below).  if you haven’t already, check out the full album for yourself and let me know which song is your favorite:

Don’t worry sweet baby!
Don’t you ever worry ’bout a thing.
Put them worries on the shelf ‘n’ learn to love yourself
Don’t be your own worst enemy.

Hang loose, hang loose
Let the ocean worry ’bout bein’ blue.
Hang loose, hang loose.
Go with the tide and I’ma take care of you.

Come with me sweet darlin’.
I got a seat ya ticket for the plane.
We gonna fly to Waikiki, it’ll just be you ‘n’ me.
And we’ll let the sun melt our cares away.

Hang loose, hang loose.
Let the ocean worry ’bout bein’ blue.
Hang loose, hang loose.
Go with the tide and I’ma take care of you.

Alright, we gon’ be alright.
Alright, you’re gon’ be alright!

Hang loose.
Hang loose!
Hang loose.
Hang loose.


how to create your reason

04/11/13 3 Comments

a must-read piece written by umair haque for hbr. think about the question at the end & answer it in the comments:

Here’s a tiny question: what do you do when reach the edge of heartbreak? Consider the story of my good friend Priya. Let go from a successful career in finance, with no new opportunities on the horizon, Priya bravely decided to write a book about careers and meaning. One long year later, Priya’s blown through her savings, broken up with her partner, moved back to her parents’ place, and generally feels like her so-called future just went Vesuvius.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of…whatever. Ah, screw it: what’s the point, anyways? In that sentiment, Priya’s hardly alone. If you’re under the age of 35 and/or worth less than a few dozens of millions, you probably get the sinking feeling, by now, that you’re being written off by today’s leaders. Here’s the inconvenient truth…you are.

I don’t mean to get post-Bieber power ballad emo on you, but the great danger of this great hurricane of a never-ending crisis is that our will to live is quietly diminished. Not in the sense of jumping screaming off the nearest bridge — but in the less noticeable yet perhaps more lethal sense of resigning ourselves to mediocrity, triviality, lives we don’t want because they don’t feel they count. Hence: the great obligation you and I have right here, right now, then, children of the hurricane, isn’t merely to give up on life — but precisely the opposite: to redouble our furious pursuit of lives well lived.

I believe that each and every one us is here for a reason. Go ahead: get it out of your system. Roll your eyes, purse your lips, LOL, luxuriously wallow in cynicism for a moment — and then consider what tends to happen to those that have no great, abiding reason to be here. They sink, ineluctably, into depression; life seems to pass them by; they feel powerless, hopeless, fatalistic, and finally, come to see themselves as refugees from life; not creators of lives.

You and I know: homo economicus is about as good a role model as the love child of Freddy Krueger and Alien. Each and every one of us needs more than mere stuff and trinkets if we are to fully pursue happiness. We know: we need friends, security, stability, status, respect if we are to have a fighting chance at glimmers of contentment, delight, joy. Yet there is a truer need still: a reason to live fully, wholly, searingly; a reason that elevates us, at our best, past the mundane, and into the noble, good, and true. And unless this need is answered, our lives will always feel somehow reduced, lessened, blunted, a masterpiece seen through a veil of gauze, achingly incomplete. Each and every one of us is here for a reason; and it is that reason that anchors our stretching branches firmly in the soil of life.

So here’s the deal, broski. You and I don’t need a reason merely for romantic reasons; to add a celestial veneer of bogus miracle to the dreary predictability of our lives. Each and every one needs a reason for the most pragmatic of reasons: to evoke the best, noblest, and truest in us; and so to persevere in the pursuit of lives well lived. The tiny miracle of life is us — and whom we can choose to become.

So here are my five tiny rules for creating your reason.

Total surrender. Everyday for the last year, Priya’s gone to the café and…checked her Facebook. The self-help books and the mystical gurus will tell you: just imagine hard enough, and the life you so fervently desire will — poof!! — manifest. Let’s be honest: it’s a pleasant fairy tale for the nail-bitingly insecure. The simple truth is: If you want to live a life worth living, you have to do a lot (lot) more than merely wish for it: you have to work for it. And not merely in the brain-dead sense of “80 hours a week, at a job you hate, with people you hate, for a boss you want to stab, doing work that makes you want to projectile vomit, to benefit sociopathic shareholders that would rather see you miserable, fat, broke, and dead than fulfilled.” I mean work for it in a more profund sense: you must work to create a reason that demands from you nothing less than the furious, uncompromising pursuit of a life well lived; and if, like Priya, your so-called reason’s leading you to spin your wheels and go nowhere fast…it’s probably not one powerful enough to surrender to.

Absolute clarity. A reason is not a purpose. Priya’s real mistake is that she’s confused a purpose — writing books — with a reason: why the books must (not should, but absolutely, totally, must, or else your whole life will feel empty, wasted, pointless, over) be written. Imagine you were a master stonemason. Your purpose might be to build a great cathedral. But your reason might be to approach the divine, to leave a legacy, or simply to do great work. A purpose, then, is a set of accomplishments — but a reason is the animating force behind them; it is the “why” that gives sense to the “what”; and without it, all our “whats” may end up being empty, barren, senseless in the terms of a life that feels well lived. Priya, like many people I know, is a stonemason with a blueprint — but no incendiary, unstoppable, inescapable reason to begin building.

Real life. So if, like Priya, you can’t quite seem to put your finger on your reason, how do you begin? Here’s the trick. The reason isn’t found, or discovered. It is created. It is the great act of a life; the culminating act that joins our choices and decisions into a trajectory that resonates. A purpose is what you make: a book, a company, a bonus. A reason is what you live: knowledge, art, enlightenment, and more. What do you want your life to be? What is it that you want to live? When it comes not just to stuff, but to life, what is that you want to enact? You can’t answer this question like Priya’s been trying to: “books”. You must answer it in a more fundamental sense — “knowledge,” “art,” “education,” “enlightenment.” All these are better answers, in Priya’s case. They’re tiny steps beyond purpose, and towards the beginnings of a reason.

Radical simplicity. You can’t create your reason if your life is, pardon my French, full of bullshit. The answers above share one thing in common: they’re radically simple. Worthy, enduring, fulfilling reasons always are — because the timeless truths of life, which reasons exist to illuminate, are deceptively simple. So, forgive me, beancounters, but (as Priya still thinks) a reason is not a corporate mission statement (“To leverage my educational assets and optimize my career path!!”): it is the very opposite: a radically simple statement of why your life matters enough to you to fully, dangerously live it…past the edge.

Brutal honesty. You can’t create your reason if, pardon my French, you are full of shit. There are many reasons; but not all reasons are created equal. And you probably can’t create a worthy one if you’re not brutally honest with yourself about it. Raising a family and imbuing it with love; this is a grand and timeless reason; it elevates life. Vidal Sassoon’s reason: to bring art back to hairdressing? That’s a fantastic one. Pixar’s reason: creating heartwarming stories that bring people of all ages together? Works for me. Making minigames for advertisers to sell stuff to people they don’t really want to buy with money they don’t really have to live lives they don’t really feel? That’s a sucky reason, because it impoverishes life. Of course, the minigame maker might feel, in the moment, his work is rewarding — and it may be lucrative. But it isn’t likely to feel whole, for the simple reason that it’s reason is wanting in terms of meaningful human outcomes. The point here is not to create arbitrary divisions between which reasons are valid and which are lacking. The point is to start asking yourself, really: what is your reason? What would make it “good”? If you want to grab the top job at that megabank — why? If your reason is “to make a big pile of money,” you might want to think again. Why do you think, having made his billions, Bill Gates is trying to fix the world? He needs a bigger, better, truer reason.

Perhaps it’s true. Not all of us successfully create our reasons. But that is precisely why we must try. For it is in the reasonless that we see the power of life’s reason: the reason gives sense to life, and without sense, life feels like a maze, a trap, a game, an absurdity. We need a reason, because our reasons are what liberate us from lives that feel senseless.

Yet, Priya’s little parable tells us: reasons aren’t rational; they are larger than that: they are constructive. They aren’t tidy equations and models of life — yet nor are they mere wishes nor affirmations. They are the words in the language of life and death; words that come to compose the untidy, messy, often contradictory, thoroughly inconclusive stories we tell ourselves about what it means to have lived. And so they matter because they allow our lives, finally, to make startling glimmers of sense amidst the cruel senselessness and insensible beauty of the searing human experience. Only a reason has the magic to ignite, in the void, the spark; that comes to make a life feel that it has been more than accidents of fate colliding with chance.

And so it seems to me that you and I — the sons and daughters of the Lesser Depression, the orphans of modernity — we have three choices. We may retreat. We may revolt. Or we may rebel. We may retreat into digiphoria; the cold, joyless comfort of softly glowing screens. We may revolt, turning away in disgust, and become, in time, something like the leaders we scorn. Or we may rebel — and choose, here and now, even in the full fury of the storm, to answer the awesome challenge of lives well lived.

Reason is rebellion. It is through the creation of reasons to live fully that we rebel — and ignite lives worth living, instead of merely resigning ourselves to those that feel as if they aren’t. In reason, we rebel against immovable destiny, and gain a measure of freedom back from the stars.

Grace, then, is born in reason. And it is grace that gives us, finally, the power to love. To, through the heartbreak, the grief, and the joy, breathe life into possibility, and so breathe possibility into life. And that is what a life that feels burstingly whole, achingly full, timelessly true, is really all about: the power to love. And only a reason as solid and true as bedrock can give it to you.

So allow me to ask you again: what do you do when you reach the edge of heartbreak? Here’s my tiny answer: you create a reason to take you past the edge of heartbreak. And into big love, mighty grace, searing meaning, and limitless purpose. Hence, my question: what’s your reason?

previously: the great collision | how to live “meaningfully well”

i have thousands of songs in my itunes and sometimes i lose track of what music is actually in my library.  a recent example, “everything’s not lost” by coldplay (i know i’ve heard it before, but i just listened to it the other day).  here, chris martin sings about not losing hope through tough times.  the band promotes a similar message in other songs, but one way this rendition stands out is in its structure.  the track is built more like a gospel choir hymn, especially with its almost spiritual call to “sing your demons away” while winding down with the title as a repeated refrain.  lyrics below:

When I’m counting up my demons.
Saw there was one for every day.
With the good ones on my shoulder,
I drove the other ones away. 

If you ever feel neglected,
If you think all is lost,
I’ll be counting up my demons, yeah,
Hoping everything’s not lost.
When you thought that it was over,
You could feel it all around,
Everybody’s out to get you,
Don’t you let it drag you down.
Cause if you ever feel neglected,
If you think that all is lost,
I’ll be counting up my demons, yeah.
Hoping everything’s not lost

Singing out,
Oh oh oh yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Everything’s not lost.
Come on yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Come on yeah,
Everything’s not lost,
Oh oh oh yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
And everything’s not lost,
Come on yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Come on yeah,
Come on yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Come on yeah,
Everything’s not lost
Sing out yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Come on yeah,
Everything’s not lost,
Come on yeah,
Oh oh yeah,
Sing out yeah,
Everything’s not lost

everything’s not lost

01/25/13 4 Comments

how gen-y and millennials can avoid the pitfalls of burnout

04/09/12 2 Comments

by noch noch for

What’s happened to Generation Y? With the opportunities and affluence around us, we seem to be more depressed than ever. There is a sense of void and emptiness within us despite our achievements. What can we do to prevent ourselves from falling into an emotional rut?

I was diagnosed with major depression in 2009, at the age of 28 years old. Today I’m recovering but still struggle. However, I have become more open about my challenge and actively seek ways to recover. Writing has become my therapy suggested by my doctors, and I also started blogging about my plight and reflections. I was caught by surprise. I had not expected people to actually read and resonate with my thoughts.

When I first received readers’ emails identifying with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, I was slightly shocked. I had not known how widespread the issue was around the world. Perhaps I hadn’t read much about it prior to my own fall, and maybe because most people do not necessarily chat about this over coffee. In fact, I think many of us still hide it from others, wary of how we’d be judged.

I was even more surprised when my friends, or people I went to school with, wrote to me and told me that they have been diagnosed with the same for a few years already. However, they were more reluctant to publicly admit their struggles. I would not have imagined these people whom I had known for so long to suffer from depression. But likewise, no one could believe I was taking anti-depressants and woke up everyday just wanting to die. After all, we all struggled hard to maintain the cool, calm, collected image.

More Gen-Yers than ever suffer from depression, anxiety, or some form of mood disorder. Of the 120 million depressed in the world, the World Health Organization estimates that the highest percentage belong to Gen Y, and in China, 50 % of those who suffer from depression are in the age bracket of 20-35 and have had a university education. More than half of the respondents in Canada and the US reported to have felt depressed because of work in the past year, which is a much higher proportion than respondents in generations older than us.

We Gen Yers are fast paced, energetic, demand flexibility, and look for more than just a job. “Happiness” is now not sufficient; we want “betterness,” as termed by one of Harvard Business Review’s thinkers, Umair Haque – fulfillment, satisfaction, and the opportunity to chase our dreams. We demand flexibility and immediacy, and get annoyed when responses take more than 2 seconds to arrive. Instant gratification is paramount. We do not follow a set path of finding a well-paid job after university and stay there till retirement. Instead, we want to chase our dreams, especially as we are more geographically and occupationally mobile.

Yet, we are overwhelmed.

We were taught to expect a lot and that we had choices to do whatever we wanted. So we went about doing it. We expect a lot from ourselves too, and become disappointed when we finally realize that we are not omnipotent, and that we are stressed out. It is this discrepancy between our expectations and the reality that trouble us. We have titles, status and money, but we feel void and empty inside.

We lack purpose.

We have drive and motivation to succeed, and yet, we don’t know what or why we need to succeed. It seems that everything society bestows upon us becomes robotic and meaningless. Our passion for life works against us. We place challenges on ourselves that we don’t even know how to tackle. We want many things, and to accomplish too much in too little time. We are plagued a deadly virus, “Affluenza,” as coined by Oliver James that is responsible for the surge in depression and anxiety.

Nonetheless, we can avoid the pitfalls of burn-out, depression, stress, anxiety and the likes easily.

1. Know our thresholds

Know when to stop stretching ourselves. Improving ourselves is one thing, spreading ourselves too thin is quite another. Unfortunately there is no blanket solution for we have different limits at different times in our lives. What is important is to remember, that we are human and we will get weary. So sometimes, it’s okay to stop sprinting for achievements and take a break by the side of the track.

2. Prepare for melancholy

Prepare ourselves to face the challenges in mood. Everyone would get stressed once in a while but it’s how we manage the stress that makes the difference. When we are upset or feeling down, find the coping skills that match our personality. We need to be comfortable with our low moods, and for some it might be spending time alone to read a book, and for others, they need attention from friends. Whatever it is, be prepared.

Every now and then, take some time to spend only with ourselves. We could talk to ourselves, write, or go shopping on our own. Removing ourselves from demands of life and work – and people – will help us focus on our own well-being, be it exercise, diet, or just some time to spend on our hobbies, through which we find more satisfaction and fulfillment.

4. Determine our purpose

There needs to be an overarching purpose in our lives, as my shrink tells me. Is it to help others? Or to create and innovate? Is it to lead, or to be a team player? We need to find something that is the umbrella goal and vision for our lives. It’s not easy to find, and it took me a long time. Through my writing and therapy, I’ve come to realize that I get this little tingle of excitement in me when someone tells me they resonate with my thoughts and feelings. Slowly, I realized that I get excited when I can influence others. That is my purpose.

5. Increase self-awareness

Bring into our consciousness our thoughts and emotions behind our behaviour, and also our reactions to external stimuli. Self-awareness takes practice. The more we understand ourselves, the easier it is to find purpose in our lives and to control our emotions to avoid slipping into that dreaded darkness. I found Jay Uhdinger’s simplified and interactive version of cognitive behaviour therapy most helpful in setting off for self-awareness.

Phenomenon shows that Gen Y is more susceptible to mental illness, but this does not mean you have to slip into depression or burnt out zone like I did. You can pull the plug before you get there. Achievements and success is not mutually exclusive from happiness and betterness.

Find yourself. And you can stay away from the rut.

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