Yang difikir itu membuahkan perasaan

“Bayangkan, untuk seketika, bahawa matlamat anda sekarang adalah untuk merasa marah, semarah-marahnya. Bagaimanakah anda boleh mencapai perasaan itu? Mungkin sekali dengan memikirkan sesuatu perkara yang bisa menimbulkan kemarahan, supaya boleh mandapatkan perasaan marah itu. Jika tidak, perasaan itu tidak mungkin hadir. ”

-Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey ‘Slowing Down to the Speed of Life’

Kata Carlson dan Bailey, yang mengikat perasaan-perasaan yang kita alami adalah apa yang kita fikirkan. Atas sebab itulah penting untuk saya menyedari apa yang sedang saya fikirkan – thought recognition – jika saya benar-benar mahu kehidupan yang tenang. Katanya lagi, cukup saja semua perasaan-perasaan yang ada itu dikelaskan kepada dua: yang menyelesakan dan yang tidak menyelesakan.  Sebaik sahaja saya menyedari bahawa suatu perasaan itu adalah tidak menyelesakan, cepat-cepat harus saya elakkan daripada memproses perasaan itu, mencari jawapan kepada kenapa misalnya. Berhenti menganalisis. Yang penting untuk dilakukan adalah mengalih tumpuan, don’t get caught by it,  kembali ke pemikiran free flow (aliran bebas, tanpa had) dan memberikan respon dari perspektif yang lebih berhikmah.

Masalah ‘terlebih fikir’ ini ada benarnya. Walaupun kemampuan untuk melabelkan sesuatu perasaan itu dengan jelas memberikan satu kefahaman baru tentang diri sendiri, tetapi terlalu analitikal dengan perasaan itu boleh menambahkan lagi beban. I have known myself good enough to boil my feelings down to either of these two categories and stop there, tinggal lagi untuk saya sedar akan hal itu bila ia berlaku dan ubah perspektif. Bila anak buat perangai, saya geram – tak selesa. Jangan bertindak atas perasaan tidak selesa itu. Jangan masuk ke mod flight-or-fight, misalnya.

Setiap saat dalam hidup ini kita berdepan dengan pilihan. Mudah-mudahan Allah tunjukkan jalan yang lurus di setiap persimpangan itu, amin Ya Rabb.

Advertisements

That Sexist Condescendence

Note: I wrote this post last year, only now I found the time to finish it. A bit outdated it is.  

A couple of weeks ago when everyone was talking about Brexit, I came across an article listing down a few things about the British Prime Minister who was then stepping down post-referendum. That article reminded the readers of one incident when he was recorded giving a ‘sexist and condescending remark’ in the House of Commons by saying ‘Calm down, dear’ to one female MP.

Of course, that, to my ears, sounds truly sexist and condescending, no matter how he defended what came out of his mouth.

And that made me recall one particular moment in my previous life as a career woman that made me feel equally angry if not more.

It happened two years back, when I was invited to attend an internal interview with the HR department of the company I worked for, after being selected into their so-called Talent Programme. The truth was I hadn’t been in an interview for a long, long time and might have been severely under-prepared (partly because nobody knows about that interview and what it was about,  being a new programme and all).

So I had this 30 minutes interview with this particular HR personnel, an HR guy with warmth that I could barely detect, and that particular session saw me fumbling for answers over questions. I’m not going to dwell on that, but I could remember how irritated I was to keep hearing: ‘Listen, lady, ….’. He kept using the word ‘lady’ over and over again it got to my nerve. The first time I heard him saying that, I felt like punching his face and leave the room in an instance. I hadn’t feel that way for quite some time, so it left me puzzled as to why I was that angry.

But now that I am reminded of that feeling upon reading that article on Brexit, I know why I was annoyed: He chose to use that word in my moment of weaknesses and self-doubt and it made me feel like my being a woman was being pointed out as a reason. I worked for male bosses all my working life and never once they made me feel that way. I wonder why that HR guy did that, if he said those lines out of habit because he thinks they make him sounds cool, or because it made him sound more English (he said them lines in an accent which, well, annoyed me but not as much).

In a work setting where my capability is the one at play, I need no reminder of my gender. Or to be really honest, in most settings no one needs to be reminded of the gender, implicitly or otherwise. I am not saying that I am free of such sexist judgment or gender-conditioning myself. Years of being fed with such fallacies certainly made some marks on my psyche, but now that I have children – a girl AND a boy – I realise that there is an urgent need for me to unlearn so many things or I risk being unjust to them both, and by doing so limiting their potential.

Yes, being politically correct can be tiring (and at times sounds utterly ridiculous) but we have seen enough as a society that words can kill.

Words certainly can.

The Greatest Joy

img-20170108-wa0029

Into the Woods. January 2017.

The coming of January marks the beginning of my third year being home; being out of the workforce and becoming essentially, as they call the profession these days, a full time homemaker and a stay-at-home mom.

I have been on both sides of the fence. So I may be able to say this with some degrees of authority that this is a life which I would not trade for anything else. Yet. For the time being. You just need to be aware of the disclaimer: just for this period in time.

Of course, while nearing the two years mark, I had at certain times, lost sight. I doubted my self-worth and purpose somewhere along that way for various reasons. It was not until that mild depression was shaken by the sudden opportunity of going back to work that I found the critical factor that makes me want to stay on the path for a little while.

So the story is I went through an episode of what seemed like a mild depression a while back. I knew at that time I was not at my best. My husband noticed that too: I was angry and frustrated most of the time. I had a hard time getting up in the morning and would stay in bed until 9 or 10. When my husband raised that point (no anger from his side or anything, he was just merely telling me his observation), I gave him some excuses which I knew were not convincing at all. But as I was soon able to see clearly what was going on with myself, I was transported back to my second year at university, to the winter of 2006. It was when I had a similar disconcerting period – I had a terrible time at school, and felt gloomy most of the time. I did get help eventually, Alhamdulillah and raised above it, but then I realised that staying in bed as long as I can was my way of escaping the real world, a sign of depressive period.

During this recent period of confusion which lasted around a month or two, I applied for several positions of full time jobs thinking that it home life is not for me. My line of work is quite niche in Malaysia, so while vacancies do not pop up frequently, if they do even with my limited experience I’d still get some attention. I went one interview (invited after several hours of applying online), noticeably impressed the interviewers, and received the job offer immediately. I negotiated for a better job position and for the salary I wanted and got them. On top of that, the HR let me decide when I could start working. They went through three rounds of advertisement throughout the year to fill in five posts and only manage to find two so far.

I was the third one. They chose me. I felt needed, wanted, and precious.

But only in the face of such opportunity of another chapter and another adventure, I began to dig deeply on the value of staying at home. When I quit working, my intention was to raise my children and become the parent I thought I want to be. I longed to cook healthy and hearty meals for them – I was tired of takeaways by that time. I wanted to read to my children as much as I want to – I still remember nearly bursting into tears due to my incapacity to do so when a former boss who knew me since my single days asked of my life as a parent. I wanted the time to enjoy the house we own, and build a home out of it – our house then felt like another hotel, we went home to sleep, and rose only to rush to work again.

But after two years, my views changed, albeit slightly. I know I am privileged financially to be able to choose this life. I know too, that food on the table is food on the table – it is for nourishment primarily. The value of food in a family life is in how they provide a platform to unite family members: people sit together and talk and share at dinner time. Home-cooked or otherwise do not matter, if they are a complete and healthy meal and served and presented well – halal and tayyib. And this value is achievable whether I stay at home or work full-time, with a bit of effort.

And the house, there is an infinite timeline on making it a home. My house is already fully functioning physically. Home-decorating is the only activity that could never stop. Once you are in the wagon, you can hardly pull the brake. The more you get inspired, the more changes you want to make, the more useless things you’ll buy as eye candies with the hope of turning the house magazine-like.

But I turned down the job offer, in the end, at the possibility of not being able to read to my children. It is a vision I could not let go.

I had been through it once that constraint in time. Hence I have known with a certainty that I would never go near such thing again. I have forgotten that as I immersed myself in self-pity. The pain; the pain of inability was too much and could never be soothed by the idea of ‘quality time’.

Of course it is not reading per se.

It is the idea that I will be losing my role as the children’s first authority, their first teacher that hurts me most. It was at that moment, I realised that that is the greatest joy in parenting and in being a stay-at-home, sort-of-homeschooling mother for me. I live for the joy of watching how my children’s eyes twinkled at the new revelation and enlightenment I present to them.

I still remember the moment my then really young son, realised the transition of day and night, and the silent he gave me once he realised that phenomenon. He was barely two I think, but I could then sense the wonder. I take pride of being the one who first introduce him to God, his Works and Attributes. I am happy to be the one who tells him that we are just a small part of the universe when he begins his obsessive phase on Solar System and all other celestial beings. I am glad to be the one who tells him that his job is to serve people, one day, by solving problems. I am delighted and humbled to be the one to make known to him the reality of this mortal life; that there is another life, an eternal one that we should all be striving for. I derived my happiness from being able to impart the knowledge I accumulated to my children, to be the one who plays an active role in their learning. I lit up just by being the witness of their epiphanies and bewilderment from the newfound facts of life.

I could not be content with passing the baton to someone else yet.

So I stay.

I am still staying away from the alternative life which would have given me for adult interaction and human contact. I am still shying away from that 9-5 routine that would have seen me with more money at my disposal, that lets me make full use of my professional expertise (Which I didn’t know I have until that nearly-three-hour interview), that will give me the satisfaction that I am actually doing something ‘real’ in the world. I am not going to step into the world of paid employment again just yet. Bye bye Jobstreet.

Someday in the future, I know I may find myself again in the pit of misery and low self-worth.  But I know too, that once I dwell enough on the doubt, I have the capacity to rise again.

It doesn’t matter if that this staying-at-home business is a thankless job. I don’t hang on to the oft-said words that the pay for this unappreciated job is the love from my children. If it’s the job that give me the greatest sense of joy, I’d stick with it.

I am selfish like that.

Blogging: There and Back Again

When I revived this old blog some months ago to mark my 10th year of blogging I thought I would be able to be consistent about it. But somehow, at one point I began contemplating about distancing myself from social media. I have lived without Twitter. Scrolling on Facebook and Instagram on the other hand, was (and is still is) something I should work on reducing – so I resolved that’s where the focus should be.

After all, they are greedy time-eaters, I told myself. The longer I immerse myself in the matter of akhlaq and purification of hearts the more I could see that these media are not compatible with the practices of the Salaf in protecting their hearts from diseases. Name any diseases of the heart, and you could see how these social platforms can make it worse. To an extent, I believe that the benefits could never outweigh their harms.

But for some reasons, including that feeling of isolation being 24/7 at home with minimal adult interaction if I were to free myself from these social platforms, stopped me from doing so. So I told myself to set a limit and work around it.

Then I am left with another social account to deliberate on – this blog. My blog.

That is an undoubtedly a difficult decision to make. It is apparent that I have been on a long writing hiatus whether intentionally and unintentionally. I am truly weighing the alternative – my friends have, once in a while, warmed my heart by remarking the beneficial things they gained from some of my writings – but I am aware that I am, albeit subconsciously, creating an online persona that is perhaps could not be further than the truth. Words I chose may portray what I am not, an image that is deceiving to say the least. The stories I am wrote may have been subconsciously curated and filtered to let only the good parts show.

I certainly am not writing to get famous or have my posts viral. If that is what I have in mind, I have no business writing in English (on another note, I have to shamefully admit that my thoughts flow better if written in my second language, English). Posts in Bahasa Melayu, on Facebook,  with clickbait titles will get better hits if that is what I am looking for. But no, I don’t seek that, and hopefully never will be.

So some months ago I decidedly abandon this blog. That was the end of my personal public rantings, I concluded.

But as I finished Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’ , I was coaxed into writing again.

Maybe a private journal or a diary will suit the purpose I was trying to achieve too. I did try to reason against that change of mind. But would not a little consciousness that somebody else may read my posts persuade me to write better? For years my writing skills have benefited from that awareness of a readership, despite small, does exist for my blog so that is a winning point I should not discount, I concluded.

Paradoxically, as Zinsser admitted, I should never write for an audience of more than one.

Soon after you confront the matter of preserving your identity, another question will occur to you: “Who am I writing for? It’s a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself.

You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.

And deep inside there is a growing urge to have my voice to be preserved – that is I am fully aware off.  As much as I know how impermanent WordPress is – I feel the desire to record my thoughts for my children to know me. Not myself as a mom, but how I feel and think as a person. It is an odd objective alright, one I didn’t particularly think of when I started the blog 10 years ago but somehow feels relevant now, and a desire not easily killed.

As Zinsser advised, I will only write on matters that I know most. And that, is certainly on myself and my life. I write above all, to introspect, to organise my thoughts, to clarify on them and understand my own feelings better.

So this is my blog: there and back again.

Because after all, I am a lifelong learner. And if I am writing to learn, there is no way I should ever abandon this again, shouldn’t I?

 

That Dream House

Whenever I check my news feed on Facebook, there will always be a post or two on home design, interior decorating and such. A part of me is glad that somehow those posts tell me that my friends are in the phase of becoming a homeowner, have just moved in, or perhaps saving up to purchase one. A lot of them tag their partners, putting captions like ‘My dream house’ and truly, I am happy for them, and understand the euphoria of moving into your very own home, paid with your hard-earned money or the happiness that comes from daydreaming.

Another part of me laughed at myself – where has all my excitement gone? My house is all practical and functional, nothing strikingly pretty or Pinterest-worthy.

When I think deeply – I admit that I introspect on matters of no importance like this – I think my relative lack of enthusiasm on interior decorating stems from the fact that I, for all the ambitious self, have never ever have one thing called ‘a dream house’. I’ve never had a vision on a future house, or a future car or anything like that. Ever. And I married an ultimate minimalist whose idea of owning a house is having a roof above his head and a mattress to sleep on, so we have some kind of parallel vision on what our house should be – sort of.

But I do have this one particular dream, ever since I was a small kid, that is I’d like to have my own personal library. Indirectly it means that I dream of owning a house with a size that allows me to build a room full of books, a comfy chair, a nice and appropriate lighting… but that’s about it.

So when my husband and I moved into our humble 1067 sq ft apartment, we allocated one room for that, which also doubles as a guest room. I started to fill the room with a bookshelf, an IKEA sofa bed, a study desk, an AC unit (should have known that we don’t need this), a nice floor cum reading lamp, a small table for coffee and finally I found that my dream has come true. My husband should really be thankful that I am so easy to please that way.

Beyond that home improvement for me means problem-solving, like finding the best storage solutions, where to put my (and the children’s) expanding collection of books (I’ve imagined a bookshelf in my bedroom, along the hallway and in the living room) , and the future needs of my children.  I admit sometimes I have this periodical obsession about putting pretty decorations on the wall and stuff like that, but with a husband like mine, that kind of proposals will need to be vetted rationally. Well, that is unless I give up and concede that I want those things ‘just because’ – no logical reasons whatsoever – to which my husband will normally oblige (I think he’s just being thankful that his wife still has some feminine traits).

Sure, I got excited too when we were first moving in. Choosing the colour scheme, buying the furniture, designing the kitchen… you should see my home notebook.It’s full of ideas. But after we moved in with the house functioning as it should, the excitement wore out. Spending for little unnecessary pretty things is never justified – I’d rather buy books than that beautiful wall art.

Then again, the little that we have is apparently enough. I don’t think we’ll be happier in a different, bigger, fancier house. These days I even dream about downsizing, moving to a smaller apartment where the chores of vacuuming the floor or removing the spider webs won’t overwhelm me. The other day my husband ranted about how he could not understand the need for people to spend money on designer coffees. I told him people pay for the atmosphere of the coffee houses too hence the price tag, but he insists that unless you are unmarried (and generally could not care much on making your house a home, like him), anyone can make his or her house calming and inspiring enough to drink coffee peacefully inside it.

That remarks, to me, subtly means that even without those fancy vases, a nice kufi art framed, or a feature wall,  I’ve somehow made this little abode a home, one that my husband (and son) eagerly return to, have a cup of hot instant Nescafe,  and find peace in it.

Alhamdulillah.

p.s. I still need to buy more cacti though. I haven’t kill enough.

 

Yang Menarik-narik itu Dunia

Hari ini suapan media sosialku dipenuhi ucapan takziah atas pemergian seorang ‘alim yang terkemuka; ada juga yang menyebut semula kata-kata yang pernah dilontarkan oleh Almarhum ‘alim tersebut. Antaranya yang menyebabkan aku tersentak, tersentuh kerana rapat terkait dengan persoalan jiwa yang aku hadapi adalah sebuitr nasihat berkisar dunia, dan peringatan Almarhum agar tidak terlalu mengejar dunia. Katanya, dunia akan datang sendiri jika kita fokus kepada memelihara akhirat.

Betapa terkenanya nasihat itu pada aku yang sebenarnya berada di persimpangan.

Sebenar-benarnya aku lemah, mudah pula untuk lupa akan hakikat tipudaya dan rekayasa dunia. Saat jiwaku kukuh memegang bahawa pilihan-pilihan yang aku hadapi seharusnya disaring dengan hakikat bahawa yang lebih penting untuk kucari adalah pandangan Allah, Bukan sanjungan manusia atas kepintaran atau kecekapan yang seterusnya membuahkan habuan dunia, aku hampir terlupa bahawa  semua tipudaya itu kadang-kadang menjelma dalam harapan-harapan yang seolah murni – menyumbang kepada kesejahteraan masyarakat misalnya. Bukan tarikan wang bertimbun.

Entah naratif mana yang menyusup masuk ke dalam minda sampaikan aku terlupa segala yang sudah lama aku tanamkan dengan kukuh dalam jiwa – bahawa keutamaan aku sudah berbeza pada saat ini, dan sekiranya sudah berubah keadaan dan keutamaan itu, maka Allah sahajalah yang membawakan peluang untuk kupergi jauh untuk menabur bakti dalam ruang lingkup yang lebih luas.

Kecukupan itu nikmat.

Sedangkan keperitan memilih, mengekang rasa belas akibat hak-hak yang tidak tertunai, perasaan terkejar-kejar itu bala.

Bagaimana aku boleh mahu meletakkan diri dalam kesukaran yang tidak perlu?

Barangkali ia bertolak dari kesangsian: adakah kesenangan ini,rasa selesa ini, sebenarnya satu ujian? Adakah aku sebenarnya harus lari dari rasa selesa untuk cabaran lain? Adakah kesangsian ini sesuatu yang sihat?

Yang paling perlu aku kaji adalah asalnya perasaan yang membuak-buak itu. Apakah didorong oleh suatu ketidakcukupan? Ketidakcukupan penghargaan? Ketidakcukupan cabaran yang menyeronokkan?

Kemudian harus aku timbangi : yang mana lebih dekat dengan syurga?

Mudah-mudahan Allah menunjukkan jalan.

 

The Unseen Struggle of a Child

I am currently reading Erika Christakis’ book entitled ‘The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups’. I still have a few more chapters left, and while I have a lot to say on how the book is organised (it’s really hard to pinpoint the proofs put forward and follow the arguments) I am struck by a number of anecdotes, examples and snippets written.

One particular passage I couldn’t help but sharing here is this, a description of how a child may struggle to put on her coat (or perhaps, any other item of clothing) all by herself, in a kindergarten setting:

Occupational therapists use a concept called motor planning to describe the steps required to plan and carry out a series of movement. Putting a coat involves more than just sticking your arms through two sleeves. From the moment a young child is instructed to put on her coat, she has to think about how to move her body from one place to another, without bumping into her peers or knocking over their block tower. Then she has to position her body so she can grab the coat without pulling her backpack off the hook or pushing her boots to the floor. Then she has to find a big enough space to put her coat on without taking up other people’s space and think about  how she can get her right arm into what only appears to be the left sleeve and the left arm into what appears to be the right sleeve. This of course assumes she can see which part of the coat is the front and which is the back and transpose that visual image to her own body. And forget about zippers and buttons and snow pants and wet gloves that have turned inside out. There are probably dozens of motor planning steps required just to get outside.

If you are still not overwhelmed by that description, imagine instead having to fumble in a spacesuit in zero gravity with a wrench the size of a pair of tweezers and being asked to repair a two-hundred-million-dollar telescope on the international space station before being blown off -structure by satellite debris, like Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity.

Just yesterday we were arguing over his refusal to take shower. I told him showering is easy and simple: take of your pants and shirt, step into the shower, pee, brush your teeth, use the shower gel, rinse, dry your body, put on your fresh clothes, and voila, you are ready to play again. To that he screamed: No, showering is difficult and a long process!

After reading the above passage, I could not help but feeling a little more emphatic.

Sure, if I list it down like that the process seems trivial to me, we adults can do these mindlessly with our eyes close. But to a 4-year-old child who has just mastered putting on and taking off clothes by himself in less than a few months, it indeed involves hard work, if from a child’s eyes the steps to take are as challenging as the author described.

Luckily, my husband has a little more empathy than I do – and seems to understand well how the brain of a child works: you will see how he lists down all the moves needed for my son to pee and clean himself, how to jump, how to turn an inside-out shirt to its right side. I could see how this approach eases the process for our son, but pheww, the waiting you have to endure for the process to finish, when you have a lot of other things to do will make any trace of empathy fly out the window. That methodic approach of the husband gives birth to another methodical person in my household (it is not something I truly dislike, but I am more carefree and now I have two persons commenting on how I do works).

But then again, that’s what a parent does. We do what is right, which is to be patient, and not what is convenient for us.

And surely, the saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is now applicable to both of us.