Like the article says “Bodies of water, such as oceans and lakes, can help us to easily connect with our state of awe. This promotes mindfulness, reduces stress, and increases our physical well-being.” I can also relate to what it says about how “the rhythm of water can lull us into a deep and hypnotic state of relaxation” because I often find myself lapsing or being lulled into a state of relaxation and meditation when I pause by a river or sea.
I noted from BigThink’s article “Want Happiness? Buy Experiences, Not Things, Says a Cornell Psychologist” that experiences are the glue of our social lives and are inherently social, hence they matter more to us than material objects. That is true as I can vouch for the fact that experiences, such as attending a music concert, leave a lasting imprint for beautiful memories in the heart.
I also noted that experiences reflect more of who we really are as they are closer to our inner selves as we are – the sum total of all our experiences. Yes, whether it be a hiking trip or a Nature retreat or yoga classes and so on, such experiences are worth immeasurably more than inanimate objects as the profound experiences enable us to connect deeply to our inner selves, to others and to Mother Nature around us.
I can meditate and experience a sense of being out of time and space for a while, but I need to remember that it doesn’t necessarily make me better or more enlightened than others. The danger is that I can become overly detached or even pompous and lose my humanity and ability to relate to others at a human level.
Yes, I am in the world and not of the world, but still I am in the world and need to reach out to help alleviate suffering and pain in the world as a fellow sentient being. By acknowledging my own suffering and pain and practising compassion towards myself, I can extend compassion towards others.
For instance, I can observe without being involved in an online discussion in a cycling forum, and I find myself making judgments about how people write and respond to one another and share their viewpoints which may come across to me as calm or argumentative or wise and so on. Then again, I have been there before myself, and I may have some blind spots that others can see when they read my posts in the forum. I need to realise and remember that I am both an observer and a participant of life. I can’t simply be an observer and not participate at all because it would be like living in a bubble.
It occurs to me that one paradox of life is that to be free from being bound by the worldly concerns of life, the way out is not to numb myself to not feel the feelings and emotions, but to allow myself to feel the feelings and emotions that a “normal” human being would feel. As much as I don’t like to be held hostage by circumstances and have my moods dictated by happenings that are beyond my control, and as much as I am learning to “respond” like a thermostat instead of “reacting” like a thermometer, I have to acknowledge the fact that I am not above Nature and I am also not beyond being a human being.
Animals, for example, seem to cooperate fully with Nature by being spontaneous with emotions in accordance with circumstances – whether they be joy, fear, sadness or some other feeling. They can be very intuitive in their own ways, sometimes not in the way we humans understand or are familiar with. Whether they are conscious of their own emotions or intuition is another story, as I don’t really know if they are conscious or capable of self-reflection and contemplation. But what I can do on my part as a human being is to practise flowing with Nature as well, and choose to be conscious of my emotions while living and being in this dynamic world.
When I was a trainee undergoing Leadership Training Camp in Pulau Ubin in my first year of junior college, I looked at some of the seniors with wistfulness when they were rowing a wooden raft and enjoying themselves while we trainees were suffering from physical exhaustion. I longed to experience freedom like they do. Maybe when I become an adult, I will have that kind of freedom to do what I enjoy, or so I had thought. But years later, I still find myself grappling with the notion of freedom – for some reasons, I don’t feel completely free to be myself or to be fully at peace with myself and the world around me.
It has been said that “no one is free until (or unless) all are free.” Is that why I don’t really feel completely free? How to be really happy when I am aware that there are others out there still suffering from injustice or discrimination? Then again, will that day ever happen when all are free? Will I always have to postpone my happiness indefinitely? I know Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to live in the present moment and be thankful for that moment. Maybe I have to give myself permission to be truly happy so that it sends peaceful, healing energetic vibrations to those who are still struggling.
I am coming to think that when Buddha attains enlightenment or Nirvana, it is not only for himself or herself. Maybe Buddha knows that by liberating ourselves first, we can liberate others. Maybe the concept of merit-based karma isn’t completely selfish – maybe we do good to ourselves and others not so much to accumulate good karma and better rebirth for ourselves but also to show others that a better way and a better world is possible, and we ourselves can make it happen. Maybe our motivation for helping others can come from the understanding that we are all interconnected, hence when we help others, we are helping ourselves, and when we help ourselves, we are also helping others because we are all one.
Speaking of motivation, I am reticent to subscribe (wholly) to the national approach to “meritocracy” and “citizenship”.
Regarding meritocracy, do we necessarily get motivated to do things or to work hard in order to get rewards? Isn’t this an ableist approach to try to compete in a system that says “survival of the fittest”? Wouldn’t meritocracy result in people thinking they are more deserving than others because they are more able to do something? Wouldn’t it lead to elitism, classism, arrogance and snobbishness and cause us to look down on others who have done less or achieved less than us, or to feel inferior if we think we don’t measure up to others who have done more or achieved more than us? I would also venture to say that meritocracy can lead to repression when we feel shamed or compelled to hide our inherent human weaknesses from the society or from public view in an attempt to look good, moral and “incorruptible”.
Regarding citizenship, I understand that this concept may arise from our fundamental need to belong to something or some group or tribe. I can understand and relate to the need for belonging as it may be hardwired in our genes the moment we are born to want to have a sense of belonging. However, as much as it is a valid need to belong to a community, do we need to have a formal citizenship in order to consider ourselves as belonging to a particular nation or country? Do we as human beings only have access to basic rights such as shelter or housing, healthcare and so on only when we are considered citizens of a nation? Wouldn’t a stateless person have the same human rights as a citizen in any land or country to have access to these rights?
In essence, if a government’s definition of citizenship is borrowed or adapted from imperialism, it implies that the indigenous people usually have less rights than those who are considered citizens who conform to the system, and their indigenous lifestyle and habitats are often being infringed upon or sacrificed whenever the government wants to clear their land and resettle them in the name of “development”, on the pretext of “doing what is good for the society”.