May 25, 2020

Shedding Baby Skin

Last Friday, after a long week or work, I was washing the dishes. Just as I was finishing, I started to notice that my fingers were spongy, similar to how they get when I spend too long in the shower or a swimming pool. Later, I saw that the skin on my finger tips for very dry and bits of the skin were coming off. They felt rougher than usual, which is a feeling I had never known before. 

For the longest time, my friends and family called my hands baby hands, because they are tiny and soft. Usually, the soft skin we have as babies sheds as we get older and our hands get rougher. Mine never did, and at one point I happily made peace that they would never harden like they do for other adults. 

But alas, at the age of 26 I finally see it happen. I am not particularly upset about my skin becoming rougher. But it does make me think about some lifestyle changes that Covid has forced me to behave more like a traditional adult. 

Before lockdown, I barely spent time at home, let alone doing housework. Washing dishes was maybe a thrice a week affair, whereas now it feels like a thrice a day affair, given that every little dish include a cup of coffee is consumed at home. A lot more time in spent cooking and cleaning too. Before lockdown, eating out was common, and my cleaning lady did the most wonderful job cleaning the house once every fortnight, leading to all my time outside work hours being entirely my own. 

All the time I would spend on eating out, or various other activities with friends was very much an extension of college life, where seeing friends every few days was part of life, and having a regular routine was rare. Friday and Saturday nights were never spent at home, unless someone cancelled. Other than the fixed work hours, it was hard to predict what I'd be doing at any other hour of my waking day or night. 

Ever since the lockdown began, it has become more important to have a routine so that I remain sane and reasonably productive. I find myself waking up at the same time everyday, and sleeping around the same time. I order groceries online every weekend, and cook nearly every meal. There is a lot more housework now that I spend all my time at home. More cooking and cleaning. 

None of this seems negative to me, but the idea of a routine, household chores and cooking every meal, is one I thought of as a far away concept, adopted by adults in other stages of life that weren't yet in my immediate friends circle. It's the type of routine and placid life I imagine, not for myself per se, but for other, mature adults. 

So yes, coming back to my main concern of the day, baby skin. I see it slowly shedding as I become used to this new lifestyle. I don't know if it's a temporary dryness, perhaps one that will go away if I moisturize enough, which I have been doing everytime I wash my hands or clean the dishes now. Or perhaps it will shed until my whole hand, not just my fingertips, are rough, similar to other adults. Part of me certainly hopes that it stays. 

May 16, 2020

An introvert's challenges in quarantine

I think of myself as an introvert. While I love interacting with people, my energy deteriorates quickly. 2 hours into a social gathering, I am ready to lock myself in a room that has no other human being in it. 

When the quarantine period, know as the circuit breaker in Singapore, started, I found myself quite calm and relaxed with fewer outings and much lesser social interaction. 

For an introvert, it is quite a pleasant surprise to find that there is no pressure to socialise anymore, from oneself or from other people. I would happily spend the weekend reading, writing, napping, exercising, eating good food, etc. 

However, I slowly started to socialise more over Zoom and phone calls. Given the time at hand, it didn't seem unreasonable to agree to online gaming sessions, phone catch ups, etc. 

I recently noticed that my social interactions in quarantine are the same in terms of hours as they were before quarantine. In some cases, my social interaction is now even higher than before because we are no longer limited to friends in our immediate geographic vicinity. In fact, socialising with friends nearby isn't so different logistically from socialising with friends living on the other side of the planet. 

As a result, I find myself with more socialising options every weekend, where people who live far away are as happy to hang out with me as the ones nearby. This wasn't always the case with my friends who live far away. Before Covid, they would have plenty going on with friends who lived nearby, therefore spending lesser time on relationships that require video calling from home on a Friday or Saturday night.

Another facet I've noticed is that social interactions tend to be more condensed and stressful online than they are in person. 2 hours of in person interaction feels like 1 hour of online interaction to me. When one meets a friend in person, there is no compulsion to fill every second with conversation. If you go out for a hike with a friend, for instance, silences are acceptable and there isn't a need for conversation the whole time. However, in an online conversation, it is awkward at best to be on the phone or a video call with each other without saying anything. 

Perhaps it would help if introverts like me were to change the medium of our social interactions such that they are less stressful. Personally, I am happy to have a text conversation spread across days or weeks, because that takes less energy from me than a phone or Zoom conversation. Some may also argue that we have the choice to say "no" to social interactions, but I think that can very quickly lead to dissatisfaction and loneliness, one that is not out of choice but out of compulsion as a consequence of repeated rejections to social interactions with friends. 

May 9, 2020

Reading versus Netflix

With so much time to spare, especially on weekends during this quarantine period, I have been deliberating ways to spend my time. There are plenty of things to do despite being confined at home.

One of the key things I like to spend my time on is learning. On weekdays, I find that 1 hour a day is more than enough, but on weekends, I find myself in a sort of absorption mode nowadays where I can spend all day learning. 

I was thinking about the various ways to absorb knowledge, and realised that there are two key ways I absorb information nowadays: reading (books, magazines, articles) or watching Netflix (documentaries, docuseries). It made me think, regardless of whether one's purpose is entertainment or to learn, is reading necessarily better than Netflix? After a few days of experimenting and reflecting on it, I found that for me, reading is better than Netflix. 

When I read, I find my imagination put to more use than while watching Netflix. There is a lot I am meant to imagine, which helps me be more creative even in hours that I am not reading. 

Even though documentaries take shorter to view than reading a full book, I find that the amount of information that reading per hour is still the same, because books tend to go into greater depth. A good way for me to gauge whether I'd like to read about a subject vs watch a movie about it is to determine how much depth I want. 

More so, I find myself emotionally and physically more exhausted after watching TV than reading. Watching TV really takes a lot of my attention and many more of my senses are involved in this process. However, while reading, it's just my sight. When I come out of reading, I generally feel less exhausted and left with more energy to do other things during the day.

When it comes to reading vs watching TV for the pure purpose of entertainment, I've had similar experiences. I tend to get very drawn into TV shows to the extent that I feel what the characters in the TV show feel. If a character in the TV show is about to get attacked, I also feel the fear that the character must feel. This takes away all my self awareness, which is why after the show ends, I am numb to other things. At times, I am impatient and expecting of more entertainment, because life suddenly seems slower now that the show isn't part of my life anymore. 

On the other hand, when I binge read, I also feel a withdrawal after reading a book, but it's not one that leaves me tired and irritable. Rather, it's one that leaves me feeling curious and enthusiastic about my next book! 

May 3, 2020

7 day meditation: Being in the here and now

This past week, I went through a 7 day meditation course. We met 2 hours every day over a Zoom call. There were 24 of us who came in with the objective of learning meditation techniques. Led by the same teacher whose Yoga Teacher Training I signed up for, this course was meant to help us create a sustainable meditation practice. 

As a beginner, who has only experienced meditation in the form of guided meditations during yoga class or using the app Calm, this was basically new to me. While the meditation during our live sessions was guided, we were meant to also meditate 1-3 times a day outside of the class time without any guidance. 

My main takeaways from the past 7 days: 

1. Be in the here and now: the first rule, is the watch your breath (be in the here), and stay in the present (be in the now). On top of that, focus on your spiritual heart, which is a point in the body that you choose to focus on during the meditation session. 

2. Monkey mind: Our mind can be described as the monkey mind because it jumps all over the place, and we follow it. In actuality, we should strive to get to a point where our mind is not leading our awareness around, but our awareness controls our mind. 

3. Detach, detach, detach: When our mind comes up with thoughts and feelings while meditating, we can observe them as if we are observing another person with those thoughts and feelings. The fact that we can observe that other person with the thought or feeling implies that we are not that thought or feeling. This idea encourages us to detach from feelings such as irritation, anger, pride by observing the mind that experiences those emotions and recognising that it is not our identity. Another great way to detach from these thoughts is to recognise these are just products of the mind and are temporary, that will come and go. 

4. Focus on the breath: While meditation, ultimately, you want to just focus on the breath and the spiritual heart. In the beginning, there might be a lot of observing the anger, irritation, thoughts, happening. But eventually, those should just become background noise while you focus on breathing and being in the now. Everything else around you, including the room you're in and the body you're in should disappear from your awareness, which should be concentrated in the spiritual heart. 

5. Boredom is a construct: Many report that meditation is boring, especially as you get into the later minutes of your meditation when the urge to check the time becomes stronger. Boredom is a construct, one that we don't have to believe. 

6. Sitting posture is important to stay focussed: When we sit cross legged or in a kneeling sitting pose during meditation, the slight engagement in the core and the effort to keep our back upright helps us avoid lethargy in a way that might put us to sleep. If we were lying down or leaning against a backrest during meditation, it might put us to sleep during the meditation practice!

7. The four stages of meditation: When you first start to practice, you are seeing a lot of different experiences that you are trying to discern (stage 1). Then you develop a muscle that lets you practice detachment from all those different experiences of the mind (stage 2). Stage 3 is when you start to disidentify with the body and the mind, and start to distance your awareness from those things. The last stage is wisdom, which is when you realise the true, eternal and infinite nature of who you are. 

Following the meditation course, I certainly found myself more awake during the day even if I hadn't slept as much and with an increased focus that didn't make me feel exhausted when I came out of it. I still think I'm around stage 1 or 2 and have a long way to go, but just the act of sitting still for a few minutes everyday undoubtably has its benefits, whether or not you are an expert at being in the here and now!