It’s afternoon when I walk through my yesterday. Inside, the heat is a cocktail of the sun and harmattan breeze, Litmus spooling from my phone speakers, sweat lining my forehead as I pore over the words on my laptop’s screen, in reflection of the notes I wrote last year.
The song, Litmus, fell from the shuffle button of Spotify. To talk about Litmus is to talk about Ry X and to talk about Ry X is to rewind to 2021, when I discovered him on the similar artists section of Apple Music. When I first listen to his music, I’m unprepared for the shifting of self ahead of me; how his voice would slide into my spine, touch my curved bones, inject my nerves with stillness, and reveal that two never-before-met bodies can shed their selfness and meet as one. His music sweeps the shards of glass around me, leaving me in a present where my body is one with my mind with my soul. A self-presence where I simultaneously bear witness to my joys and stressors, seeing them both as necessary and defining them for my furtherance.
There, in the form and texture and melody of Litmus, I was reminded of the need for self-presence in our process.
We need self-presence to endure the potholes and curviness of our journey, a shameless communion with all parts of ourselves, an unrelenting desire to reside with the innermost layers of who and what we are. We need self-presence, too, to give life to our wishes.
We each wear dreams around our hearts, visions for a future yet to arrive. And one of the hardest parts about being in our journey is not knowing whether our dreams will truly leap into reality. The truth is, we’re not genies. We can’t simply wish our way into becoming. None of us can know for a fact that our wishes will fall on our laps fully formed and actualized.
So, we take steps. We ease into the safety of what has been known to work—facts—to decide on what next. We listen for intuition’s wisdom on the next best move. We form habits to simplify these steps and ease into our process. It’s as Gretchen Rubin expressed: We can use willpower to get the habit started; then — and this is the best part — we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.
We take steps because, in the words of Jocelyn Glei, step by step you make your way forward.
I’m also reminded of James Clear’s work on habit building, how systems make it easier to develop lasting habits. From Clear, I learnt:
Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. Goals create an “either-or” conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment. You mentally box yourself into a narrow version of happiness. This is misguided. It is unlikely that your actual path through life will match the exact journey you had in mind when you set out. It makes no sense to restrict your satisfaction to one scenario when there are many paths to success.
A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.
To do all these — to take steps and choose good habits and create systems —, we need self-presence, an awareness of self so clear that it can’t be blurred for too long by external noise. And I’ve found that we can only be present with ourselves by first acknowledging all parts of us; our hopes, our fears, the beautiful and ugly parts that form this unravelling material called self. We can only live in self-presence when we accept that the journey is as uncertain as it is possible. I’ve written before about how silence helps us see ourselves, and we need silence — space in our lives for reflection — for self-presence to take ground, even when the road is full of noise.
Going over The Beautiful Side of Hardship, I find sentences scarred by punctuation errors. I find disjointed thoughts that cause me to rethink ideas, break paragraphs apart, undo sentences too mangled for understanding, delete entire lines that serve no vital purpose in the whole. It’s an action I take with other notes, a potent reminder that, sometimes, despite our careful approach to work (and life), we often leave mistakes behind. A reminder, too, that we are fated for change, and how we spend our lives (what we choose) shapes the nature of that change.
Reading the notes I wrote after Things Are Changing, I realize how clearer and natural my writing presents itself. Things Are Changing was a transitory note; a decision to write and publish monthly, rather than weekly (which I had done in the past). It was a decision to spend better time thinking through life questions and solidifying my thoughts with works done by the writers and artists and scientists and, in general, other lives who walked this earth before me. It was a way of coming into myself as I sought (still am seeking) clarity on my path, what it means to exist. It was, in a sense, an act of love. Love of self, of being, of my art. I lean into Octavia Butler’s expression in Parable of Talents, that ‘Love quiets fear. And a sweet and powerful positive obsession blunts pain, diverts rage, and engages each of us in the greatest, the most intense of our chosen struggles.’ Because in life is struggle, in choosing to push through our path is unrest, in our journey, our process, is a potent restlessness from the unknowns of life. And it’s love that keeps our feet rooted, it’s love that clothes us with the courage we need to keep ahead, to make choices that change us, either leading us to or away from growth.
Change is an auto state of our species, our one-sided contract with the universe; how we morph from babies to children to adults, how we’re ushered into hot and cold seasons, how we meet truths and lies that reshape our reasoning. We move across eras, pass through revolutions, witness cultural shifts that redefine the way we live. We change, whether or not we choose to, and change happens in our process of being, while we’re doing, in the pathway before end goals and milestones. This is where, alongside the influences of the environment we are born into, growth presents itself if we give it a chance, if we say yes (enough times) to elements and activities that could move us forward.
The more I expose myself to the inner selves of others—through art and literature—the more I gain clarity on the vastness of the world. And as I grow mentally, I find myself discarding old beliefs that had been formed by a linear perception of the world. I find reason in Gretchen Rubin‘s observation (in In Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives) that, ‘for a happy life, it’s important to cultivate an atmosphere of growth — the sense that we’re learning new things, getting stronger, forging new relationships, making things better, helping other people.’
It’s 5 pm when I put my laptop to sleep. Outside, a new building is being erected by constructors, their equipment consuming the usually quiet atmosphere. They, too, recall my attention to what I find in reflection: to build is to first lay a foundation. To grow in a way that is both beneficial to the self and the rest of the world is to first see that all things pass through seasons. To become is to first work, truthfully, deliberately, with heart.
The Big Question
Came from learning to enjoy the process of my growth; to stand still and decide how to move unrushed by the world’s pace. If you struggle with anxiety, then you know all too well how it feels to lose touch with yourself from trying to keep up with what your environment demands of you.
As you think through this question, here’s what you should read next: A reflection on addressing discomfort during our journey. What it means to walk at our pace. And because loneliness is often a part of the journey, the feeling of being alone.
*Kwunù is the Karekare word for the number, 3. Kwunù, in this Note, is used to represent the third month of the year. Karekare is a West Chadic language genetically classified under the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is spoken by over 300,000 people in Bauchi State, Gombe State, and Yobe State, Nigeria.
Thanks for reading.
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I started Strange Notes because I wanted an open space to ponder on existence. That’s still true. But here, too, is a body discovering itself. A house beyond borders that’s open to you, to selves in search of, to heads seeking rest. A room where thoughts turn to words turn to records and meet you.
I share notes on my questions about life, conversations with friends and strangers, and art that shifts something in me (and could in you too). In this place, there are no rules. Move the vase around the tabletop. Shift the curtains to the wall. Pull the rug to the ceiling. Daydream. Come, find, ask still.
I publish Strange Notes monthly (typically on the first or last Sunday of the month), and as you read, I hope each note initiates a question about the fabrics of existence: the things that make us who we are and the events that define life.
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