step 1: changing the mindset
Do I remember off the top of my head, the first thing that pops into mind when I wake up in the morning? I try to recall any imagery that comes into focus when light breaks through the dark heavy curtains of shut eyelids. I try to recall the textures against my skin. The warmth on the back of my neck from long strands of my thick unruly bed hair, and how it contrasts the colder movements of air against my ears.
Welcome to my personal experiment.
It's an experiment that compares two controlled situations, in which I'm the constant.
In the first experiment, I wake up every single morning and lay there for a few minutes in contemplation. Those first few seconds after I open my eyes always feel like the calm before a storm. I don't care about the soft rays of sunlight that fall onto my pillow like beautiful specks of pixie dust. I don't notice the comforting warmth of a thick duvet wrapping around bare skin. Instead, I convince myself to think about how many ways the day ahead of me could go wrong. With every second, more loose fingers of thread tighten their grip and sink me deeper into the mattress. In this first experiment, I wake up disappointed because I set myself up to be disappointed. It's a mindset that feels like reality.
In the second experiment, I wake up every single morning and lay there for a few minutes in contemplation. Those first few seconds after I open my eyes feel like an opportunity, another shot to right my wrongs and see another day. The pixie dust on my pillow feels warm against my cheek, a reminder that I made it through another day of living and loving without risk. The day ahead of me doesn't seem bleak, it excites me. How can I make the next 12 hours count? In this second experiment, I wake up grateful because I took the time to appreciate. It's a different mindset, and it gives me a different reality.
Things outside you are a projection of what's inside you, and what's inside you is a projection of what's outside. So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you're stepping into the labyrinth inside. Most definitely a risky business.
- Kafka on the Shore (2002) by Haruki Murakami -
In Kafka on the Shore (my all-time favorite), Murakami writes about ancient Mesopotamians and how they predicted the future by looking at the shape of animal intestines. The labyrinth - an analogy mindfully modeled after the shape of a gut - was made up of an intricate twist of life outside you and life inside you. More specifically, it was about how the two were so intertwined and codependent.
I read this book when I was 15, an interesting period of young life for many of us. I wasn't too aware of my own feelings at that point, I was just stepping out of a protective cocoon for the first time on my own - a little overconfident and too trusting of people around me. This line in the book never stood out to me back then. I didn't understand its significance, only because I was yet to experience how my perceptions of the outside world would shape me as an entity. That experience came a few years after, hence the beginning of Experiment 1. A long, exhausting, drawn-out experiment that I only wrapped up a couple of months ago.
In full honesty, 2020 was a blessing in disguise. The distance I placed between myself and my surroundings was necessary to deconstruct those perceptions I always had. I had been climbing a steep jagged mountain these past few years, the kind with dark wet moss-covered rocks soft against fingertips but a lot more painful to slip on. I don't stop climbing, poking my head through layers of white fog that cloud my vision and pool around my waist to keep me from seeing beneath it. I see nothing but those rocks under my fingers and feet, I feel nothing but those rocks slicing through my skin. I perceive little of the world’s beauty beyond that fog because I can't see it. I focus only on the deep cuts I get along the journey because I it’s the only thing I can see.
Experiment 2 started a few days after my birthday this past July.
The first few months of quarantine were a lot to digest. I had all this time to myself, to be with these thoughts that were now louder than ever in prolonged confinement. I didn’t know how to confront my problems without hiding behind some sort of distraction. My anxiety attacks were getting more frequent, and I was consumed with guilt seeing my husband selflessly pick up my broken pieces day in and day out. I wanted to hit a reset button. I wanted to look at the world around me with awe and excitement, not fear and resentment.
So I turned to the book that helped me feel all of this once upon a time. I read Kafka on the Shore again, eager and a little nervous about how Murakami’s magically disturbing fictitious world would seep under my skin at 23.
Things outside you are a projection of what's inside you, and what's inside you is a projection of what's outside.
It made so much more sense now.
The perceptions I project onto my reality are the outcomes of my mindset. My mindset has shaped the way I look at myself, it sets me up for all the important questions - What should I do today? How should I react to this? Why am I feeling like this? In turn, those answers shape my view of life unfolding beyond me.
Murakami placed a teenage boy, Kafka, into a mysterious entanglement of past, present, and future, forcing him to be increasingly skeptical about who he was and what was real. I found myself muttering in disagreement as I now watched Kafka rashly carry his assumptions with him without stopping to think about where he was going. I agreed with him all those years ago, but now I know. He was hungry to feel loved and embraced, but he was too impatient to understand what it meant to love and embrace.
I’ve been just as impatient all these years. I wake up hoping for the stars to align, but I’m too impatient to dissect what I could be doing differently to help them along their path. I don’t try to understand how the stars move, and it becomes difficult to appreciate how far they’ve already come from their starting point.
It’s all in the mindset, the way you think and perceive. The mindset I’ve found the most success with focuses on three things: being appreciative, knowing my intentions, and admitting my mistakes. It’s easy to take a day for granted. But when I hold onto those first few moments, precious seconds that I once easily disregarded without much thought, I see how much it means to have a ‘today’ to wake up to. I see an opportunity to learn, fuck up, and grow.
I see a better version of myself tomorrow, and that’s enough to keep me going.