Re-entry

Aside


Three thousand miles and several months later, i find myself home again. Funny enough, though barely two years have passed since i left these shores yet it feels more like a rediscovery of something lost (or  the requisition of a thing once discarded). Everything is different, and, both simultaneously and ironically, everything is exactly the same. The joy of being reunited with family is tempered with the unforgiving contrast between the experience of what was home for over two and a half decades and the quiet and serene balance I had come to accept and embrace in my sojourn in the land of mountains and shores. The sprawling metropolis that is Lagos, teeming with humanity, absent-mindedly going about their business. The sky is suddenly ugly and gray, everything seems dusty and, when night falls, the unforgiving darkness and the bloodsuckers that hide within it.

Before long, I find myself regressing to the state of quiet, surly discontent in which I have, in my perspective, ambled along for most of my experience in this setting. The compromise I have managed to achieve, my most familiar method of coping with the daily contradictions of life on the continent.

My responsibilities do not afford me the time to reflect on my state of mind, on the disquiet stirring up once again somewhere deep within me and, in typical fashion, I am swept up in the flow of life in urban Nigeria once more. The days blur into one gray dull continuum with soul-numbing lectures occasionally punctuated by reunions with old friends and colleagues. Before long, I find myself fluctuating between bouts of despair and resentment at what I perceived to be my predicament (particularly the overwhelming sense that something was wrong with virtually everything) and the frustrating acceptance of the situation that the people around me had come to develop;an almost militant reluctance to even accept the existence of a state of anomy in some cases or the possibility of change in others. Before long, I found myself subconsciously expressing resistance to the not-so-new state of affairs by quietly and subtly disconnecting from everything. My nonchalance a tacit protest to what I perceive as my yielding to the gradual but relentless drift of events in a general direction that I do not necessarily agree with but can not seem to extricate myself from.

Time and again I contemplate writing something, but nothing seems to stir behind these eyes.

Then, suddenly, a package arrives in the mail, a collection of books ordered months ago and sent by a benevolent friend and mentor. In my hour of need i was afforded much-needed respite. out of this treasure-trove, I picked out Life’s Operating Manual (the fear and truth dialogues by Tom Shadyac) and rediscover what i already knew, remember what i had been ignoring. its message re-kindled a spark that has left me with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

The world might indeed be broken, and it might be our collective responsibility to fix it, but the first step down that path is to discover who we are. To, in our own way, find within ourselves our true identity and harness this as a tool to remake this world into what it ought to be. Every society has it challenges, indeed all societies are but a small piece of a mosaic and each individual contributes to constitute whichever society he happens to be a part of. Thus, armed with a deep knowledge of our true identity and purpose, we can affect people, either one at a time or in larger numbers and ultimately, effect a change in our society. Like Prometheus’ gift, this will spread and, eventually the whole world would be alight with the fire of change; positive change.

Perhaps it’s a pipe-dream, but sometimes, all it takes is a dream, and the resolve to make it bear fruit.

Advertisements

Play!…No, seriously


I recently had the great fortune of reading a book called “Play” by Dr. Stuart Brown; a Psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play. I have to admit it was difficult for me, initially, to take the book seriously based on the title. I quickly came to realise however, how mistaken my impression had been.

I cannot recall any book having a more profound effect on me. He wrote extensively on the nature and relevance of play and, more importantly, the implications and consequences of its absence. While it is easy to assume that play is important for toddlers and young children, we tend to fail to realise that it is an essential aspect of a healthy life, regardless of age. The lives of the average human in modern society is driven by many things; survival, turning a profit, turning in that term paper or satisfying your boss.  We seldom get a chance to stop and play. Even childhood, that bastion of recreation, has had to survive a recent onslaught as more and more children all over the world face growing pressure from home and school to put in extraordinary performances at school for a chance to have what ostensibly appears to be a better future. There have been stories in the news of school-aged girls committing suicide or students adopting bizarre sometimes potentially dangerous practices to either help them stay up much later than their peers or retain knowledge better.

It is pertinent to note, however, that the opposite of play is not work. It is a gray and dull blandness bordering on depression. Whether it’s going fishing on a lazy saturday, a quick game of golf at the club or yelling at your tv while your favourite athletes bring the pain on a hated rival team (go Arsenal!) we all need a moment from the near constant barrage of everyday life. And just like the typical heterogeneous approach toddlers have, everyone has their own brand of “play”.

So take a moment to indulge, discover your own type (of play) and let loose. It might be just what the doctor ordered.

Golden Afternoon…


Another bright day in the land of sunshine (and rain, bucket loads of instant torrential showers in this bipolar micro-climate). My eyes actually hurt from the incessant glare of the afternoon sun that persists well into dusk.  As I close them to get some rest, I’m drawn to a couple of thoughts that had been dueling in my noggin’ for the past few days.

I have always considered myself, for the most part, to be a realist but sometimes I think I’m drawn more towards the melancholic aspect of our reality  (in the grand scheme of things), with a tendency to paint a more pessimistic picture of the world we live in. Big corporations, corrupt  repressive governments, resource wars and the many ugly faces of the human condition seem to dominate the narrative everywhere we look.  As a result, the lines between realism and pessimism seem, sometimes, to blur to the point of non-existence.

However,there is also beauty in this world. Perhaps because it seems to be drowned out by much grimmer stories, its presence might go unappreciated; but if we look closely enough, we will always find not just things to be thankful for but actual beauty in the world around us, ranging from the scenic to feats of compassion that might ultimately redeem us as a species if we can find a way to amplify them and make them the prevailing wind in our sails.

From the pristine innocence of the young to defiance in the face of adversity. The smile or warm embrace of a loved one or even in our memories, our little victories. The simple, serene beauty of nature in  places remote and near but equally unexplored or unappreciated or that thrill you get while on your morning run, with the sun in your face and the wind in your hair. Whether in our heads, in the company of others or even actual places we can escape to, these sanctuaries could provide a much-needed buffer effect that keeps us from being overwhelmed by negative events or even the steady monotony life often brings.

It goes without saying, therefore, that, to make for a much more pleasant experience, we need to learn to seek out these oases of beauty in our world. To look at the world through a prism; to count our blessings, such as they are. To selectively hear their sweet melody over the din of the more familiar cacophony of everyday life. The balance this would create could make a world of difference when it comes to our approach to daily living.

winding down


I’m sitting on a bench and staring at the ocean; bright, beautiful calm waters that beautifully reflect and blend into the Caribbean sky in the distant horizon. The sun leaves a shimmering trail on its surface, like a golden path leading on to the distant future. I wonder, once more, what it’d be like to walk on water.

2012-12-30 15.18.17

golden path

One of the things I will miss about this place, as my time here draws to a close, is the beautiful sea; the green and tall mountains with their beautiful vista and wreath of clouds are a close second. They pale in comparison to the experience of crossing the sea to Nevis though. The quiet anticipation as we board the ferry, then, seconds later, the near-childish dash for seats at the tip of the vessel where we can feel the wind in our faces and watch the holy matrimony of sky and sea. We catch glimpses of the flashes of silver as flying fish show off their god-given talent, the fine spray of salt-water all around us and the hum of the ferry’s engine beneath our feet as we (my friends and I) ride the waves.I have found that, for me at least, it always brings a sense of being at peace. Perhaps it’s the sense of detachment as we leave the island in our wake. Maybe it’s all the empty sky above us and blue ocean around us.

caribbean blue

Caribbean blue

Whatever it is, I feel unfettered; almost understand why the fish propel themselves out of the water like they do (the sudden play impulse that comes with the magic of the open sea),  perhaps this is what it feels like to fly. Behind us, the island is slowly covered by a mist, as though some ancient deity from a long-forgotten time had drawn a curtain  to conceal it from view.

receding island

receding island

For a moment I’m lost in thought, imagining what it must have been like for the first seafarers to discover this land all those ?millennia ago. It might be presumptuous to feel some form of kinship with them but I can’t help but visualize the look-out in  the crow’s nest screaming “Land!”  at the top of his voice.

It’s several minutes later and Nevis approaches. The ride is almost over and the magic starts to fade. But I’ll always carry it with me, that feeling of being “in-between” and the strange satisfaction that comes with it. The feeling of endless horizons and limitless possibilities.

image

skydragon; Nevis

From yesterday, with Love


It’s funny sometimes how the simplest most straight-forward things can seem so complicated; like needing a way out of a bad situation and finding one but not having the courage or the will to take relevant steps. People go to great lengths to avoid doing things they know are in their best interests simply because those things, by their very existence, would threaten to upset the delicate balance of their world. They’d rather hover around the solution, carrying out a typical “ostrich manoeuvre” in which they pretend everything is just fine or fuss over the problem like they can’t see the way out staring them in the face. This is probably because sometimes, change can seem like such a bully and we prefer the relative comfort of the proverbial devil we know.

But sometimes, change is not only inevitable, it’s desirable, a therapeutic alteration of the status quo; like breaking a poorly healed fracture so you can reset it and let it heal properly. The way forward hardly ever bears a sign pointing back in the direction one’s coming from and there’s a reason the future (in all its enigmatic glory) is often portrayed as “laying ahead”. I believe it is because before we can make progress, there has to be a sense of moving on (up or ahead). The connotation that some things get left behind is evident.

An example would be the space-going vessels of the last few decades. In spite of the massive amount of fuel they use to propel them into orbit, they still need to shed part of their structure along the way to lighten the load. Each part left behind increases the ability of the shuttle to be successful in the next phase of its journey. In nature, caterpillars have to undergo a period of incarceration and metamorphosis before literally shedding their old body, trading it in for a pair of beautiful wings…and taking flight.

I believe that in similar fashion, it is in our best interest to learn to let go of the past, learn from our mistakes and shed the dead weight that is regret, anger, self-pity, or any of the other demons that are spawned in that gray area between now and our memories of yesterday.

Instead, we can focus on the good stuff, the positives, the happy times while taking, from everything else, a lesson or two; a post-card that says: “i’ve been there and i’m still okay”.

Looking Back…


It’s been a while since I tried to write anything. My excuses have usually outweighed my compulsion to finally sit down and express myself. Circumstances, however, have forced me to pull up a seat and take a  long hard look at a blank sheet.

This piece is about looking back and what value, if any at all, the past may have.

It occurred to me in the course of one of my many moments of rumination that the past is like an album, full of memories whose only true value is sentimental in nature. We can’t go back to change something or relive it. All we can do is remember, like a moment forever transfixed by an artist’s brush, we can look but never again experience.

Handsome young man lost in deep thought

Having said this, many of us still go back, through the many avenues technology affords us (social media sites and the various devices that have come to dominate our lives) to a past, sometimes happier time. like the culprit returning to the crime scene, we just want to remember where we’ve been. What is it about us then that drives this practice? Is it something we do simply because we can  or is there something more to it?(the evolutionary investment of brain power in memory storage and processing must  surely confer some advantage).

I am of the opinion that, the past, while it may play a major role in determining our current situation, has only a limited influence on our future. This allows us the distinct opportunity to take stock of where we’ve been and use whatever information we glean (past success or failures, favorable experiences or just random pointless trivia) to attempt to craft a future that we find aesthetically appealing. While we will not always arrive at the desired outcome, we might gain some measure of empowerment as we develop the illusion of control over our destiny.

Then again, not everything has to have a purpose after all, and maybe nostalgia is its own reward, in a sense. Like that old moth-eaten doll from your childhood that you just won’t discard or the broken down classic rotting away in the garage, our memories are relics of places we’ve been, things we’ve seen and experienced; love, grief, anger, success, redemption. They are like badges that show we have somehow survived our ordeal; and every badge needs a good polish  now and again.

In the end, whether we reach back to gain perspective or just for the heck of it, it probably doesn’t matter as long as we can tell the difference between where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

…Pain


So I’m sitting in my living room, trying to put together a presentation on pain in time for next week (when I have to deliver said presentation to my superiors at work). I’m looking through my books and it suddenly hits me; I don’t know how to define pain. In medicine you are trained to characterize pain (when it presents as a symptom), by its location, quality (burning or piercing?) Its severity (on a scale of one to ten), its duration, periodicity, rate of onset, aggravating and relieving factors.
There are topics on how pain works, on drugs that help control pain through different mechanisms.
But not all forms of pain are associated with a physical or medical malady. You know the type I mean, the type of pain whose location cannot simply be identified by indicating with a finger-tip or touching the spot or region with your hand. The type of pain that doesn’t exactly feel like it burns or its crushing in nature or stabbing or throbbing, yet it seems like it hurts more than any other kind. The type of pain no painkiller ever could relieve (except maybe the occasional, well-timed shot of vodka). It can cast a pall over your whole day and make everything seem gray, make food taste like ashes. It dominates one’s mood, forcing you to spend most of your energy on contemplating its unique nature. Like a ghost, haunting, always looking over your shoulder, leaning in to whisper in your ear to remind you how much you miss someone or how much you wish things were a certain way. One way or another, I’m sure I prefer the more familiar pain; the kind that can be combated with over-the-counter pain medication; cos it’s very confusing when it hurts so badly and yet you know it’s not your body that’s broken but a part of you that has neither nerves nor blood-vessels; neither bones nor muscle.
And I wonder; how do you cure this kind of pain when you can’t pin-point its location? How do you make it better when you have no idea why it hurts so much? And why does it seem worse than the pain of bodily harm?

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.