Live like we’re eating

Nov 12 — It’s indisputable that Malaysia and food are inseparable.

We Malaysians eat a lot, partly due to the amazing variety of food available, and it’s unthinkable that a year goes by for any of us without someone we know cracking a stale joke about eating to live or living to eat — especially come Raya.

But regardless of whether you are in the eat-to-live or live-to-eat camp, one thing I find funny is that living itself is much like eating — whatever goes in needs to be digested before the nutrients can be absorbed and the rest thrown out the back door.

As our days end every evening, taking some time for quiet self-reflection helps us digest lessons of the day, learn from our mistakes and start the next day a slightly better person.

But in today’s fast-paced world with its overwhelming flood of information demanding our attention at every turn, is self-reflection becoming a luxury that we can’t afford?

I show up at work every morning and the first thing I do is turn on the desktop while waking up my laptop, and between both machines I open multiple e-mail accounts and at least four news websites along with other pages I like to read, which I look at between reading and writing e-mails, making and taking phone calls, talking to colleagues — even when I take a break I would log into Skype, check out my Twitter, Facebook or have a quick chat via Gtalk. This maelstrom of distraction defines my day, every day.

Does it sound familiar to you? I’m sure many other people share the same situation at work — there’s always something demanding action, feedback, things that keep you moving and doing and making things happen. Time passes unnoticeably, and when we do notice we do so in despair at its unforgivingly steady march. Often we find ourselves with barely enough time after taking care of things to have a quiet, peaceful lunch, let alone some uninterrupted thinking time.

Then at home, tired and spent, we watch television until bedtime, or spend the occasional night out playing futsal or bowling or just hang out with friends over some drinks before we do it all over again the next day.

We go through our days being responsive creatures, increasingly so, and in the process we think and reflect less and less.

For me, it’s a far cry from what I’m used to. When I was in my early teens, for some years I would walk home from school, taking about 30 minutes of walking through the neighbourhood between my house and my secondary school back then. Sometimes I had company, but most of the time I walked alone.

And in my daily (almost, anyway) solitude, walking in silence with just my mind for company, I found that it wandered, weighing and exploring and taking me deeper in my comprehension of the things I learned and encountered during the day. I found that I thought, reflected, my mind taking a step back to relax and in the process helping me take stock of my day, how I used another irretrievable day of my life, and whether it was a day well spent, and I liked it.

I found that I liked being able to think and reflect, that it made me a better person, and I looked forward to my daily walk. Even as I grew up and went to matriculation and university I often sought time to be alone, to think, to let my mind fly free without restrictions. And in my self-reflection I found calm and contentment.

But with the responsibilities of adulthood and the demands of the working life, finding time to think every day is a challenge at best. We only have so much time every day, and every day we have so many things asking for more time than we can afford.

Lately, however, I did find time. Driving in the rain through Jalan Bangsar as I usually do during the rush hour, one day I decided to turn off the radio and just take in my surroundings. No music, no radio, just the sound of rain and traffic as I sit alone in a moving metal container.

In my enforced silence I looked out the window, at the drops hitting my windshield, at the blurry spectre of cars around me crawling forward every few minutes.

And I gave in to a slight smile as I found myself thinking again.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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