identity..

Jul. 24th, 2013 09:44 am
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I shaved off my five-week beard on Sunday.

I didn't mind the way it looked, but it just didn't feel like "me", or most versions of "me" that i inhabit over time.  One consistent thought that kept coming up was that it seemed to represent an 'older' look for me, which maybe doesn't correspond to how i see myself yet.  After hanging out at B&D's on Saturday, listening to punk rock and revisiting old times, i found it even harder to remember what mental image i was trying to align myself to with the beard, so off it came.

Once that was done, naturally, it allowed focus to return to other things i'm not happy about with my appearance - particularly my hair.  It's looking very straight-laced and conservative these days, which doesn't fit very well with any of the alternative self-images i might identify with, whether the new age hippy or eccentric elder goth or gypsy pirate punk or whatever.  I'd love to keep on with the semi-mohawk, cropped sides thing i've always liked, but i've had to face the fact that my hairline has receded so much that it just doesn't work any more, and i'm all out of other ideas.  My current direction is letting the sides grow out and slicking them back a la Peter Murphy, though i don't kid myself that i can pull off the receding hairline look as well as he does.  But for the moment it seems very 'normal', and i'm feeling quite ill at ease with the dissonance between the image i have of myself in my head and what i see in the mirror.

What this does highlight to me, though, is that i am still very much attached to my self image, and through it to my body and appearance.  The Buddhists say that attachment to the notion of self and identification with the body are great sources of suffering, especially with the changes that age brings, and this week i can really feel that for myself.  The difficult thing is that i'm not even close to ready to start letting go of all that yet.
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For the last official day of my holidays, today i went up to the lookout on Mount Dandenong.  In 20 years of living in Melbourne i'd never been there, and only thought of it when i noticed it in the Melways.  I took the 694 bus from Belgrave station, which climbed up winding roads flanked by forest and tree-fern lined gullies, passed through several of the little townships up there and finally drove right into the lookout grounds.  Foolishly, i'd expected it to just be a roadside lookout of some sort, not a big modern tourist centre, so it took me a bit by surprise.  It was still pleasant though, with the view out over the city, terraces and balconies, gardens with little bridges over running brooks, and gum trees and kookaburras around.  Even the touristy bits helped give me a taste of that 'on holiday' headspace, so it was okay.  I spent a couple of hours up there, wandered around for a bit, read a little, then caught the bus back down to Belgrave (only on the way out noticing a signpost for some forest walking trails, which was something i'd been thinking of doing).

Ironically, while i was sitting up there reading a chapter of my book about living in the moment, not missing now while planning the next thing, i realised that's exactly what i was doing right then, trying to decide whether to catch the 12.30 bus or wait for the 1.30, whether i should stop off somewhere else and and whether that would give me time to sit and relax at Earthly Pleasures before i had to head home etc.  All the while i'd been up there i was thinking about when i would leave. I also realised why i've felt so hassled and rushed on those days i've actually gotten out to do stuff, in that i've tried to cram too much into a few hours and ended up clock watching the whole time, always aware of how long it is before i have to be somewhere else (not to mention grasping at moments, trying too hard to relax and enjoy it before rushing off to the next thing).  I realised it's worth remembering not to try to do too much, to maybe just do one thing on a given day and to allow myself time to just be there.  To not know what time it is for a bit.  Great to know, now that the holidays are at an end. 

And when i did visit the cafe, i discovered another good lesson on the pitfalls of trying to recreate a good moment from the past, even one two days old.  Doors to Narnia and all that.

The other thing i noticed was that i spend far too much of my time writing livejournal entries about things in my head, experiencing the moment as a future reminiscence instead of living it then and there, so i think i'll make a point to not write such 'today i did this' type posts in future, so that i won't be tempted to compose them ahead of time (hey, it's not like i ever read back on them, is it?).  In fact, the real reason i'm posting this at all is to make a note of that thought, so as not to forget it.

And on that note, i'll leave the rest of the day's wanderings (and yesterday's city excursion) untold.
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I'm forever responding to petitions or e-mail campaigns for Amnesty, Getup and the like - an easy way to do something to try to change things for the better.  But whenever an appeal comes up that's asking for some money, it's only seconds before i'm clicking on the "X" button to close it.  I'd like to help, but i just can't afford to right now blah blah blah.  Every time i do, i think something hardens inside me, calcifies just that bit more.

Perhaps i should make a point of saying yes to that sort of thing, as often as possible, even if it's only a bit of small change. Might be a way of getting back to my old self and not being one of those people who'd like to help, but..

grasping

Jan. 1st, 2009 01:46 pm
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I've realised something that i do, whenever i find something exciting, inspiring or enjoyable:

I grasp at it, trying to hold on to that mood or inspiration for as long as i can. I try to read things in keeping with it, watch videos or listen to music that fit the mood, make screen savers of images on my computer at work, anything to capture and continue the feeling.

I obsess over the idea until it becomes stale and worn out then try to keep it going past its use-by date. Other things that might capture my imagination and create new moods i resist, in trying to hold on to the moment that's passed.

I think this is another area where i need to learn not to be so attached, to embrace things that move me without becoming totally absorbed in them, enjoy them as they rise and fall, then let go as they pass and embrace the next moment, partake in the things that interest me instead of being defined by one.

Again, another one of these Buddhist ideas makes sense of something close to home.

connection

Apr. 11th, 2008 05:08 pm
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Earlier this week, i started reading a book on Ghandi, the first chapter of which discussed life in his Ashram in rural India and some of his more spiritual views and beliefs.  It mentioned a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, to the effect of: "He who moves among the objects of sense with the senses under control, free from desire and aversion (..) attains serenity of mind".  It got me thinking about the idea of detachment, which crops up a lot in Hindu and Buddhist thought, and whether even having a favour or preference for any thing over another (eg ugly or attractive street scenes, styles of houses etc) would be folly according to that philosophy, leading inevitably to attachment, loss and disappointment.  Would the goal of an 'enlightened' soul be to regard all things equally, without favour or preference, and to just take everything as you find it? 

Then it occurred to me, in a flash of the bleeding obvious, that perhaps an even more immediate concern would be to regard people without favour or preference, rather than habitually rating some people as more worthy of attention than others.  On a train or walking down the street, instead of taking notice of those that i find interesting, perceive some connection with or just like the look of, what if i were to make an effort to take notice of all the people around me, seeing each as an individual rather than a stereotype and its relevance to me, and to consciously remember that behind every set of eyes is a living person with thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears and ideas?  Surely that would be a good step towards building understanding and reducing the walls we build between each other.  A very practical version of 'compassion meditation' that could be practised every day.

Just giving it a try as i got off the train really did seem to change the way i saw people, so i think it could be an exercise worth pursuing.
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Flicking through the Big Issue last night, i came across an article with samples from some 'Photo of the Year' photojournalism awards. One image really jumped out at me - a picture of a protestor being dragged away by police, thumb pushed up under his nose, forehead dragged back so only the whites of his eyes were showing, one hand clenched in a fist and the other grasping at the air. Without knowing what the protest was about or what the story was, it just stood out to me as brilliantly capturing a moment of human anguish and desperation. I flicked back a page and read the caption to the photo: "Evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip".

Then something strange happened. When i turned the page and looked at the photo again, it had changed. Instead of a picture of a terrified protestor, i was looking at a photo of a religious fanatic, his hands clutching the air not in desperation but in rage, body rigid with stubbornness rather than fear, the hidden eyes not wild with panic but burning with uncompromising zealotry, and extremist slogans on his lips instead of a cry for help.

It can be quite startling to have your own prejudices highlighted in such a sudden and obvious way.

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