Illustration by Author Jace Loi, MingMindfulness.com
Someone asked me recently if I was happy with my thirties, it then dawned on me that indeed I am almost done with my thirties (39 to be precise). I was somewhat surprised that I felt a twinge of pride because I have yet to get used to the fact that I can feel some contentment. I felt at ease to say I did what I wanted to and I lived as the person I wanted to be. If I would die a swift death now, my last wish would be to look at my loved ones one last time and remind them that they are enough and they are made for all the difficulties that they face. If it’s not a swift death… well, aren’t most of us already experiencing that right now?
When I was a small child, I prided myself on understanding what the adults expected, specifically out of my behavior. I have an emotional sensor that detects potential conflicts from a mile away. As a teenager, I prided myself on saying the right things, reading the room right, and fitting into any group I was in. As a young adult in my twenties, I had pleased all my bosses, even the ones that wore Prada. It’s a huge head start if you know how to ride the energy present in the room, to know how to smooth the waves and make people comfortable. Just be a tad different to gain attention but not too different such that people are uncomfortable. I call this engaged mediocrity.
In my late twenties when I turned to writing, I found that the opposite is true. Comfort zones are boring, you got to ruffle the hair and make some waves. Tell the gritty truth, and reveal secrets that couldn’t be revealed in polite conversations you have in daily life. In my early 30s, I wanted to be myself; I wanted to peel off the ugly masks. And writing became a great way to do that. There was a certain resentment and bitterness, righteousness too. Mainly because I don’t know who the hell I was, and I blamed the society, the ancestors, the dysfunctions… I blamed the world for it. It was also during this time I felt really connected to pain and sadness, mine and others, and I began to awaken a deep passion for self-discovery.
Sufferings are tremendous fuel for growth.
As I approach my big four, I am noticing something else – a lack of motivation to please or ruffle anything. Now that’s one boring way to end all creative endeavors. You have no angry point to make, and you have no target audience to please. I am not sure if this has anything to do with the incessant seeking of answers that have come full circle to naught. It doesn’t mean there are no struggles. There are. Plenty of them in fact. Yet beneath the difficulties now, there is always a tinge of excitement. I see the potential for more ease, something to possibly release, something to possibly lightened. There is no doubt that everything shall pass… And that includes the most loving, joyful and accomplished moments too, for whatever cruel reason.
Just like leaves, they will always fall… no matter the season.
Flowing with life becomes the goal that is the non-goal. It also means I don’t really know where I will end up eventually (or do any of us know)? If you only intend to act with a plan, good luck in surviving the procrastination, heartbreaks and disappointment, which obviously I am talking for myself (if goals work well for you, do it). Now, I have neither stamina nor motivation to set glamorous goals or put out elaborate plans. My signposts for success in the twenties felt like beautifully wrapped presents, only to rip them open and find nothing within. I take on a project or an opportunity as it comes. I work spaciously. I travel on a whim, because… why not? Sometimes I ask myself, could I have done more? Maybe.
But do I want to? Maybe not.
As cliche as it sounds, here is the goal. It has made me not very exciting though, if not weird at times. I find myself embroiled in insights that sound too simple or cliche to most city dwellers (e.g. “this moment is all you have”). Or sometimes too deep or radical that I fear I would be shunned as a crazy person. And sometimes the simplest things, like watching a tree, can have me soaked in bittersweet bliss for eternity.
This sense of leaning back gently; a gradual falling away from; this lesser and lesser yet fuller and fuller. These seem to be telling me about the end. The end meaning… death of the body (*sensing the collective cringe here). The end of physicality. The acceptance of the end of our physical form, which everyone has to transition through, whatever the beliefs or religious background.
This single obsession to end all other obsessions. Is it possible? And isn’t it a little too early to be thinking about death? But I have no patience for the inconsequential, I like to go to the root of it all.
To me, it isn’t about death. It’s about pervasive fear, a persistent sense of danger, the perceived lack of time, the uncontrollable striving, rushing, and the false sense of worthiness we derive from making sure we did our ‘best’ (whatever that means). Of course, it must then sound like an irony that I don’t want to waste time on the inconsequential. That I want to figure out what it means to die – the supposed deadline we have, pun intended.
It’s not exactly early at my age. My parents, who are fortunately still around, are facing this impending ending in an increasingly real way (not that it was false before). Is there a role for me to support them to face this? What is the likely probability that most of us will rest in peace when the time comes? From the way I see it, not many do.
And to me, this is my great ambition – rational and consequential.
Live, age, and die with undisputable ease.
I guess that’s the work for the forties and the rest of my life. That is once again, a huge paradox I am confronted with. Talking about realizing and continual search for some answers, at the same time, knowing that the process is a letting go, a leaning back, a practice of non-exertion, and a surrendering. And that’s ok, that’s a paradox I am willing to be with.
We are all falling leaves the moment we sprouted. Even if it felt like we were soaring towards the sky initially, or the sky feels like the goal. If one is lucky, one might enjoy a grand dramatic flight through the wind before finally landing.
But I don’t want to pretend that I could fly anymore.
Nor that the sky is the goal.
Nor cling desperately to the branches.
I am a falling leaf.
And that’s beautiful.