Laminated dough

There is a Burmese saying that goes, “If you want good tea, let the picker climb the slope slowly.” Allow people and events to unfold in their own time. Don’t rush.

Which is why I am a coffee addict instead. Which is probably why Myanmar has been taking this long to hold (semi-)democratic elections or legislate basic social measures. Not in a rush at all. The country laid dormant for a good chunk of the 20th century and awakened to a new world of smart phones and severe opposition against genocides.

If you are like me, a third world native in and out of separate worlds with multiple visa stories, you will likely already have a degree of patience for ambiguity. Things take longer at checkpoints. Your weekend getaway plans have to be laid out with some advanced oversight. Waiting is part of the game. You are somewhat used to it.

Yet, my patience for ambiguity has never been tested to this degree as during this period. It is a common feeling for others right now. I have been trapped in dire circumstances before, even worried for my personal safety but there was also some novelty and adrenaline involved. Right now, it is just going through a protracted transitioning process day in and out. I would rather a quick snap, like ripping off a band-aid. People, teams, and flights are just taking a little while longer to get back to me. Just have to wait them out. Waiting.

The thing about waiting only for a future outcome is that you cannot find happiness in that corner of your head space. Happiness is neither in the past nor the future. Pursuit of happiness is present. I think I will be happier if I start viewing the act of waiting as an act, rather than just something that happens to me.

In the Burmese saying, you are allowing the tea picker – the external circumstances – to take their time and fall into place. Sometimes, you forget that you are that tea picker. You have to wait on yourself, too. Stillness is the move, but I just do not know how come I view my own time as so limited. It is a type of mania – this worrying about how I am running out of time to do and see things I want.

As I type this, I am waiting on my laminated dough so I can make breakfast croissants on this cool, rainy morning here in East London.

Whenever I am letting the dough stretch and rise, or when I am pickling something in a jar, or watering my seedlings to grow, I am usually able to practise what Buddhists call Upekkha – a form of gentle and loving detachment. I am not ignoring the dough or the plant. I am not trying to fight off something in fear or in restlessness. This is not a fight or flight mode. I am in care of a certain part of the process, while keeping my distance but switching my focus to something else that requires more active attention…like washing the dishes or writing this note while letting the dough thaw or rise.

Why can’t I do more of that in my day to day life?

Negative Capability

…at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…

This ability to chill and shuffle along anxiety and doubt.

Certainly worked for the poet John Keats back in 1800s, but probably not a good idea to add this to our CVs today!  Skills:  Microsoft Office Suite, Negative Capability, Financial Modelling, …

Not that I can personally claim to add this skill to my daily repertoire.  John Keats’ “irritable reaching after fact and reason” sounds a lot like my bedtime routine, along with dashes of eye cream and night sleeping mask I slap onto my face.

Dear 2015, what a reckless, stressful year.  I need to calm the hell down.  Here is the perfect piece of David Olenick’s art to express my year-end crunch time feelings.

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