It was only a couple of years ago that I joined the tech-era and realised the brilliance of YouTube. Hundreds of videos have since been watched (mainly cat and TedTalk-related), but 1 in particular will always stick with me.
“…in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.” – “THIS IS WATER”, spoken by David Foster Wallace in a commencement speech he was giving to a class of graduates in the States. If you haven’t yet read this speech, or seen it on YouTube, please do yourself a favour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm95eZ1PZL0. In a nutshell, this speech is about how we are racing through life with the aim of fulfilling an objective so much so that we end up missing the major part of life called ‘living’. We turf aside massive parts of existence because we simply don’t see them as valid parts of existence. For me, this has hit home in the worst possible way since starting SIC.
I have constructed my routine and schedule in a way that allows me copious amounts of freedom and flexibility, however SIC has been more limiting. Nowadays my day usually goes like this:
05:45: wake up, have coffee and breakfast
07:00: morning meeting at varsity. 1 hour of wasted time
08:00 – 12:00: ward work/ clinic time/ theater time
Thereafter: sometimes a tutorial stretching to 14:00
Go home -> have lunch -> go to the gym -> go shopping/cook -> shower -> have dinner -> pack for the next day -> do dishes and laundry -> study or read -> go to sleep at 23:30ish
Day in. Day out. For. The. Past. Two. Weeks.
For someone who despises being smothered by a routine, this has been quite a painful way to spend each day. I feel like a machine – with only enough time left in each day to oil myself, and then to start the process all over again. The little free time I do get is spent in a zombie-haze of sleepiness, thus is not well-spent on past-times such as reading, painting, dreaming, musing… It’s a very new experience for me, and I’m not quite sure I like it.
After watching “This is Water” again recently, I realised that I need to accept the new dynamics of my routine, and that viewing the bigger picture is the only way in which I will be able to see the ‘water’ for what it is. Instead of fulfilling this monotonous, school-yard-like daily routine – feeling exhausted when not smothered, and smothered when not rushed – I tried to SEE the water around me, and I was shocked by the amount of time spent each day on auto-pilot. Considering that one of my biggest values is the ability to remain as “mindful, grateful and present” as possible throughout each day, I realised that I need to turn auto-pilot off, for I cannot be the kind of person who lives for weekends, or for only the good parts of each day (usually between the hours of 6pm and 8pm). This will constitute living but ONE day out of a 7 day week (if that!), and there is no way to justify that.
Time is relative – an ‘illusion’, if you will – and if you are mindful and present then you are effectively slowing down your perception of time, and living more fully in each moment, hence lengthening your life-span consciously (perceptually), right?
Instead of rushing through the day, if I spent 5 minutes savouring the richness of my coffee after I wake up on these frosty mornings, 5 minutes appreciating the fresh burst of my breakfast smoothie, 10 seconds appreciating the blast of icy air as I step outside to leave for varsity, 20 seconds appreciating the walk from my car to the hospital – and the privilege of being an almost-Doctor and of arriving at varsity warm and fed. If I spend 10 seconds greeting the security guard nicely, recognising that the people around me too have families and probably also struggled waking up in the dark and cold morning, and if I spend 30 seconds laughing internally at the grumpy sister who thinks all I’m doing is getting in her way. Won’t these small moments of appreciation ‘add’ hours to my days?
Every minute spent trudging through the day, is a minute lost. THIS will always be one of the hardest – yet most important – concepts to master, as the very last thing I feel like doing when it’s home-time is stopping and appreciating the ward’s infrastructure when I know that there are a gazillion tasks waiting for me to get done before going on call that evening.
I am struggling to achieve this mindset consistently. But I also know that the next 18 months are going to be a giant, auto-pilot WASTE if I don’t get into the habit of stopping and realising that…you guessed it…this is water. This mindset is the gateway to prioritising life correctly, and to being grateful and mindful.
My drive to Kalafong in the traffic is water. The way my feel hurt when I’m on call is water. Difficult, early mornings is water. And it’s always going to be – whether I stress about it or not. I guess it’s ultimately up to us to decide if the water we see is time in life lost… or time in life lived.
“The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.”
– Mark Manson