deconstructing myself

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I am probably the most self-aware I’ve been my whole life. It’s sensational, as if I’m tuned into more aspects of my being. It all started with the series of dialogues I’ve been involved in. From deconstructing masculinity, to discussing topics on identity, to brainstorming where the IFC community is at right now, I’ve spent close to 6-8 hours a week simply discovering more about what it means to be me and how that relates to my community.

I’ll be honest, I walked into these dialogues not expecting anything too personal to happen. I expected knowledge to be gained, and perhaps some form of empathy to be formed, but to see myself change and be affected was a prediction I would not have bet on.

Two of the biggest realizations I’ve made have to do with fundamentally significant parts of my life. The first has to do with National Service. As most people know, I have had very little reservations of my time in the Armed Forces, in fact being proud of my achievements and time in the army. But I’m actually surprised how little coverage has been put into understanding the psychology and systemic entrenchment of normative ‘masculinity’ that national service perpetuates. What happens is that aside from the fact that every Singaporean son can defend his country after 2 years, every Singaporean son also is unfortunately fed with the wrong idea that being a man means fitting into a box that is defined by cultural norms. Perhaps being a soldier requires you to be strong, have a command of the situation etc. , but that isn’t connected to your masculinity.

I was a part of the oppression that created a hegemony of the ‘alpha-male’ over other men. I compared weakness to lower levels of masculinity; I used terms like ‘pussy’ and ‘bitch’ when people had struggles, and even motivated myself on the basis that I had to prove my ‘manliness’. It’s difficult realizing that in so many ways, my narrative isn’t just my own, but in fact shared by so many in the country. We have a population that feeds this dangerous idea that being a man requires a certain type of profile, and this could potentially lead to violence, be it physical or emotional, internally directed or externally directed.

There’s so much more to this system that I’m slowly realizing and I wonder how to decouple the two : masculinity and soldierliness. I’ve seen great soldiers, but their self-respect as a man is questionable. And vice versa, can someone who frankly isn’t a great soldier not be attacked for his masculinity?

I’m still processing this.

Another big aspect of my being that I’ve been questioning is my emotional intelligence. For the longest time, I thought I was emotionally resilient, because I was able to avoid letting my emotions affect my logic. That was how my family raised me, and how society nurtured me. In fact, the idea that there are good emotions and bad emotions was something that was fed to me too. Being sad or crying was not good. Being angry was allowed only if you were in a place of power. Force yourself to smile on the outside even if you’re not on the inside.

But I realized recently that I struggle to label emotions I feel beyond a certain point now, and because of that cannot identify how they affect my behaviors. Once I started introspecting more, I discovered that so much of my actions have been destructive in not just building my own emotional resilience, but even those of my siblings, who in the same way I was thought to, would be encouraged by me to stop feeling sad or angry.

I even remember asking myself many times – ‘Why am I not allowed to be angry?’ , or ‘Why is this emotion not allowed to me?’

Inside Out as a movie has great take away points, but I’m only starting to realize the gravitas of liberating one’s self from the idea that there are ‘bad emotions’ and ‘good emotions’. Sure, some have negative impacts on you, but to disallow yourself from feeling them or acknowledging them prevents you from even understanding what’s happening to you and how you can target your life to resolve conflict.

___

Personal Development is a never-ending process. There’s always more for someone to gain by understanding himself, his community and society. I’m glad I put myself out there and have been able to retroactively see how I need to change my lens on the world. I can only wish more would have the benefit of these sessions.

I’ll keep working on it.

hooah.

 

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take a day off

It’s easy to fall into the trap of obsession. You focus on one thing, and your world starts getting smaller and smaller. In the end, all you’re left with is that one thing, and you look around and there’s nothing left. Many of us let ourselves fall into that trap – we’re so determined and focussed that we don’t give ourselves time to breathe and look around.

Tagging onto this though, is the negative effect of disappointment. If your life isn’t balanced out, failure in your one domain of focus, becomes failure of life as you know it for you. ‘This was all I cared about, and now it’s failed’ is the sentiment.

I was here on Friday.

For good reasons, Lambda Chi has been a core part of my life and college experience. It’s literally a commitment to brothers, and as you would know, reader, I take commitment seriously. I became obsessed with the house to the point that I depended on it for some sense of meaning to my days here. I was conscious of the path I was taking, but at the end of the day, I kept going simply because it was convenient and it was easy. Why go out of the comfort zone when you don’t have to , right?

Now the person I pride myself on being would never let that slide, and I guess I caught myself before it got bad, but it took one emotional moment for me to realize it. Friday night got me somewhere, and I re-evaluated why I felt so many ways. That’s when I realized it was all to do with my own environment – I had built a comfortable space for myself and locked myself in, but the moment it became difficult to breathe, I had nowhere to go.

Saturday let me drop everything and take a day off from my own life as I know it. All my assignments had their deadlines shifted, and I was able to do whatever I wanted. I ended up going for a long run, having brunch in town, help set up a cultural fair, watch two comedy shows and just have an amazing time completely unrelated to my role in Greek Life. I reminded myself why I loved traveling, simply because it forces you out of indulging in comfort, and enjoying diversity. I kept telling people I wish I could travel soon, when honestly there was so much I could do right here while I wait to travel again.

My mind was given space to breathe, my heart was given time to recharge, my soul was refilled. I was on the path to obsession, and I tapped out the moment I realized it. And that made all the difference.

hooah.

two stories that defined my week

Let’s take it back today. I had a heavy week, starting on Wednesday , where I caught myself in a limbo of sorts. Every week thus far had been exciting, and every day had been filled with some level of fun and success. Yet, something was starting to feel absent. That’s probably why the dreams started : two dreams that I remembered not just vividly but emotionally. Here they are:

Dream 1 – The Loss of Vision

In this dream, I was seated at a table in a bar. It seemed like I was in one of the bars I had been in, in Wudaoku, Beijing . The lights were loud, and there was music that rang back to the 80s. There were people seated next to me and I was engaged in some form of casual communication.

Then all of a sudden, everything became blurry. What was once a clear sight was now pixelated and definitely evident of my myopia. What just happened, I asked myself. I was panicking – was I going blind?

Hold on, was I wearing contacts? I felt over my eyes and noticed the lack of spectacles. My contacts must have fallen out, I assumed. I conducted my regular vision check, covering one eye and confirming that I could see clearly. My left eye had lost its contact, I determined. I felt around the table I was at, to see if the contact had fallen.

I found it almost immediately, hardened as if it had dried up after being left out for a long period. Had my contact been missing for that long and I hadn’t noticed? What was going on, I asked myself, and immediately woke up.

Dream 2 – The Memory of Courage

Courage is a difficult word to claim. Even the declaration of someone being courageous has to be supported by consistent proof of his courage – a one time act does not validate a sustaining label. I cannot claim courage as a trait as often as I’d like to. I try my best and have had my fair share of courageous moments, but there are a sizeable number of times I wish I had stepped up to the plate and done what I could have.

This dream brought me back to the advanced training area in Tekong ’12 . I was in Basic Specialist training and it was our field-camp. We were being evaluated on a training package, and were at the last leg. We were exhausted, having been in the field for almost 4 hours on consistent battles and hammered with scenarios one after another.

‘The end is around the corner, gentlemen’ the section instructor told us.

We were keeping to pace, ensuring our movement was according to drill. All of a sudden out of nowhere, the sergeant shouted ‘ Arty, Arty’ indicating an Artillery Strike. We quickly dropped to prone position and echoed the words.

‘Goddamnit’ I remember thinking, ‘We were so close.’

‘Arty over’ he shouted, indicating the start of the sprint back to the safe zone. I was carrying section equipment, weighing a considerable weight. That on top of my load-bearing vest and rifle made the sprint one of the more difficult combat tasks of the day. On my sprint forward, I noticed one of my section mates on the floor not moving.

‘What happened?’ I asked him as multiple section mates ran past me and him.

‘I’ve been declared as injured’ he responded.

‘Fuck’ I remember thinking. I didn’t want to have to take on another load, I thought for half a second. But within the snap second, I remembered that if this was war, I couldn’t leave my brother in arms behind. I remembered he could very well be someone else’s sibling or son, and I could not wish the consequence of his ‘death’ on anyone.

‘Carry this!’ I shouted to another section mate who was running behind me, as I tossed him the bag with the section equipment. He got the cue and grabbed it from me.

‘Hold on’ I said, as I grabbed my section mate, and in one motion, threw him on my shoulders as part of the fireman lift and continued sprinting.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked me as I sprinted with him now loaded onto me.

I didn’t respond, focusing all my attention and energy on making the last 80m of the sprint. I was panting, breathing heavily and feeling my shoulders ache.

Almost there, I reminded myself.

I finally reached the safe zone, heaving myself into it. I put my section mate down and collapsed on the floor.

‘Good Job guys, you’re done with the package’ the Instructor commended us.

I continued to breathe heavily, as I reminded myself in that moment about the essential truth of struggle – the existence of peace and the continuation of a normal day requires more sacrifice than realized.

___

There was probably some psychological undertone to all of this. I had sent my laptop to repair and was absent of the usual distractions. I was at the gym a lot more and had more time to think to myself. I was somber pretty much most of the week, reluctant to engage in the regular frivolities. I committed to making every choice purposeful from Wednesday night, and saw some change in perspective.

I’m not sure where I’m at right now. I’m still confused at where I am, and where I’m meant to be heading. Having so much settled in your future, in a lot of ways unsettles you.

This is a new challenge I must face then.

geronimo.