Illusions of reality

A theme has emerged in the beginning of this year. Over and over again, the courses I’m taking and the books I’m reading and the people I talk to all seem to converge on the idea of a constructed reality—a reality that is, in truth, an illusion.

I’m reading Robert Wright’s new book Why Buddhism is True in search of an interpretation of my faith in words. The unique and entirely common scenario of Asian-Buddhist-in-the-West isn’t actually captured and articulated anywhere that I could find. Where does the line between culture, tradition, and religion lie? I think I’m about 10% through the book and, so far, it has introduced the idea of illusions being ever-present and our human brains being ill-equipped to dispel these illusions. Like the illusion of self and self-importance that can lead to self-destruction.

Societal and Environmental Systems is a course about complex systems: those that are dynamic, non-linear, and very large. It is giving me a fresh perspective on the world. Namely, that the world is not as simple as we would hope and that it is constantly, and forever, on the verge of collapse. The purpose of life is to avoid the collapse of the world, which takes work—a lot of work.

Evil, a religious studies course that I didn’t expect to intrigue me as much as it does. The revolutionary modern society is constantly reimagined by the people that exist within it. The structures and cultures of society interact to develop the world as we conceive it to be, and it is this ever-changing society that gives rise to new evils. The world as we know is an illusion, carefully constructed by the evolving social order in which we all participate.

In short, there are a lot of things to learn and question and change. Excuse me while I marinate in these thoughts.

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New Years

I don’t really feel the passage of time like I used to. I think endings come so often that I don’t feel the significance of a new year. It feels the same to me, all squished up against the last school term and the one coming right after it. There are no rituals to mark the end of this year or the beginning of the next. This time last year, I was home. The year before that, I was travelling. Right now, I’m just here, sitting in my room with too much time to think and too little time to do anything.

I feel like I’ve been holding back. And I’ve been so guarded for such a long time that I don’t really know what I’m like when I’m being myself. It’s hard for me to express myself, even to my closest friends. So, maybe that should be my resolution this year. Maybe I should actually make one—just one.

I want to support myself this year. I want to believe in myself a little more. I haven’t gotten anywhere trying to fight myself so I’ll try the other thing. I want to be more optimistic and encouraging, nurturing of myself and of the people around me. I’ve been so scared to show people that I care about my affection that I’ve actually been drawing back from them instead.

It’s kind of terrifying. But this is a really good thing and, I think, it’ll be really good for me. I think I’m going to start giving people the gifts I get for them, too, instead of hoarding it all in fear of coming off as “too much”. That’s a thing I do, too.

what about this theory. the fear of not being enough. and the fear of being ‘too much.’ are exactly the same fear. the fear of being you. – nayyirah waheed

 

Photo by Anton Darius | Sollers on Unsplash

The Lose-Lose

I’m in my final year at university and, as graduation nears, I’m getting this uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like many of my peers, I still don’t know what I’m going to do after graduation because working somewhere full-time is a scary commitment to make. But there’s more to it than that. I want to go home.

I have spent such a long time not feeling at home in the spaces that I occupy that I don’t really know what home looks like anymore. I started thinking about who I want around me as I grow older and gain new experiences, and half of those people are 3000 miles away. The other half are here.

I want to see my friends get married. I want to be there for them in the middle of the night when they need to decompress from a tough day. I want to go to music festivals with them. I want to grow old with them. But my heart is split in two.

The plan had always been to go back. This was supposed to be temporary. I wanted it to be temporary. And now I need to make that hard choice again, only this time, it’s a lose-lose situation. I miss my friends in South Africa so much. I selfishly want them near me, all their obligations be damned! And if I go back to South Africa, I want to fold each of my friends into my luggage and take them with me.

Someplace I haven’t reached

I’ve had a realisation. Somewhere between dieting, getting a personal trainer, starting a nutrition program, restricting, disordered eating, and just eating–my relationship with food has changed, dramatically. And I don’t know what to make of it just yet.

Listening to the podcast Don’t Salt My Game has just confirmed these suspicions. In the first episode that I listened to, Laura Thomas, PhD, talks to Kelsey Miller, author of the Anti-Diet Project on Refinery29. They describe how food just becomes–or rather reduces to exactly what it is–food. And food can be disappointing at times, even mundane. I could relate to this. The skies opened up and a chorus sang inside my head and I thought oh. So, I paused and took a moment to process, which includes writing this post.

I’ve been feeling a little lost recently because food doesn’t make me feel the way I expect it to, the way it has for the longest time. It’s not something that defines me as “good” or “bad”, it doesn’t give me that high that I’m looking for, and the guilt that comes with overeating doesn’t hold me hostage like it used to. I’ve taken it off its pedestal. Finally.

I think there are some specific things that catalysed this change. Training led me to join a nutrition program which led me to learn more about food and I think I’m coming full circle to intuitive eating. It’s not a scary concept this time around but I also don’t think I’m ready for it.

Maybe that’s one of the things holding me back. The idea that I somehow have to “get somewhere” or “reach a goal” before I give myself permission to decide, “yup, now I can stop stressing about food”. And that somewhere or goal is always someplace I haven’t reached yet.

  • March 28: Signed up for a gym and trainer who started me on foundations. My goal was to build strength and lose weight along the way. I learnt how to squat.
  • May 5: I moved to Waterloo and took strength training more seriously. I learnt how to deadlift.
  • September: I moved to Toronto and met my current trainer. I was counting calories for about a month. My trainer started me on Precision Nutrition and I stopped counting calories. I started noticing lower back pain, especially on deadlift day.
  • January: Back to Waterloo. I signed up for Muay Thai. The back pain got too intense so I stopped deadlifts.
    February: Stopped training. Stopped Muay Thai. Started seeing a physiotherapist for my back but saw no improvement.
  • May: Moved to Toronto. I got assessed by a chiropractor, after a couple of sessions I was cleared to start training again but very slowly.
  • June: Started training again. I got into In Defense of Food and realised how simple it can be to eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I tried a Whole30 and got so far as Whole15.
  • July: Currently strength training and taking BCAAs and protein supplements for recovery. I want to set new PRs because not only am I at my lowest weight but I am also close to the body fat percentage goal that I arbitrarily set a year ago.
  • August: Still struggling to reconcile the idea of wanting to change my body while trying to let go of the harmful ideas of diet culture. Or is that just impossible?

Quarter Life Crisis

There’s been a common theme in the conversations I’ve been having recently. Passing time, growing old, and what we lose along the way. That sound’s a little melodramatic. It is.

At the ripe old age of 22, I don’t feel the same as I did just a year ago. I feel like I’ve aged more in the last few months than I have in the last few years. Or maybe I’ve just started to notice. I wake up tired and perfectly capable of sleeping into the next morning. I can’t tolerate as much junk food and I need more sleep and my back aches, I’m basically an 80-year old man.

But it’s not just the physical toll, it’s the mental and emotional toll, too. Creativity is hard nowadays, and that sucks to admit. I think I’ve forgotten how to be myself and forgotten what I’m like—forgotten what I like. I feel stifled and a little lost. Maybe it’s the fact that I graduate in a year giving me anxiety. Or maybe this is just the way I am, the way I’ve become as a result of the last four years of heartbreak, heartache, and grief.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or at least that’s what they say. But it’s more like what doesn’t kill you almost kills you.

I have some time before I have to get back to the grind at school, so let’s see what these next few months bring me. Here’s to discovering, and re-discovering, some stuff about myself.

A bad self-love month

When you have a bad body image day, you move a little slower, smile a little less, and sigh as you avoid making eye contact with your reflection. But then the next morning, or a couple mornings later, you wake up full of appreciation and poke fun at yourself with a little giggle. I’m still waiting to wake up feeling like that.

I’ve been having a bad self-love month. I don’t know what it is about this time of year, when you transition from winter to spring to summer, or the change from school to not-school, but I haven’t been very kind to myself. The list of the things I wish I could change about myself has been growing longer these past few months.

The scary part is that I’ve heard this dialogue before. I know how the story goes. And it’s still so difficult to put an end to it. This feeling of being dissatisfied, resentful even, leads nowhere but heartache—but I still feel it.

I truly believe that self-love is a daily task. You have to immerse yourself in it, surround yourself with people who believe in it and practice it, and one day you’ll be surprised to find that you’ve gained a little peace. But I am still trying to figure out how to love your body and will it to transform at the same time—still.

Encountering Injury

March 28th, 2017. My one year anniversary with lifting weights is fast approaching. I was planning on celebrating by ending my current burn phase and starting a new strength phase, so ready to kick ass.

For some time now, I’ve felt a bit of a pain in my lower back. I put heavy lifts on pause while I booked a physio appointment. The reason I started training was so I could trust myself and my own body, to not hold myself back from all the things I want to do. My physiotherapy assessment was yesterday. I sat in my car for a moment before going in, so ready to have whatever it was that’s wrong fixed as soon as possible. I didn’t know what to expect but I was stupidly optimistic.

That optimism disappeared so fast I swear I have emotional whiplash. There’s something wrong with the muscles that support my spine and my hips and likely my shoulders and my feet and my knees. I don’t know exactly what’s causing it or exactly what the plan is to fix it, I was too busy trying to process the fact that my body is no longer my own.

No Muay Thai, no weights. No running, no jumping. I have to make friends with the elliptical. It feels like I’m being denied a part of who I am, who I’ve become. I feel defeated. This body that I worked so hard to love, to train, and to trust, is holding me back. It feels like the walls are crumbling down around me these days, and I don’t know how many more hits I can take.

The things that I want

I want to see women who look like me, with features like mine – dark skin, round faces, small eyes – out there being appreciated and appreciating themselves.

I want to start taking photos again – challenge myself to find an artist in myself. I want to take portraits, capture people as they are and as they want to be.

I want to be in love. I want to be able to trust again and not find it so easy to let go.