Issue #23: Developing a New Muscle

It is fascinating to watch a baby grow into a toddler. Though we are not physically present with our niece and nephew, through video calls and stories told by our family members, we are afforded glimpses into their growth.

Children embody pure potentiality. They imitate, they try new things, they learn and grow. But this capacity to grow is not the sole preserve of children. Every soul holds potential, yet, as we grow older and step into society, the seeming demands of the environment, even life itself, mold us into certain shapes, and we forget our innate capacity as human beings.

In this issue, we invite you to consider what it will be like to look at the world through the eyes of a child again. What if nothing could stop you; what might you do, who might you be? What new abilities might you gain? The muscles (capacities) are there, it’s a matter of whether you are aware of them.

Here’s what we have for you.

  1. Essay // Spontaneous Generation // by Daryl

  2. Essay // The Mistaken Identity of Ability // by Rosslyn

  3. Food for thought // Dispelling an Old Tale

May you remember your potential and regain your openness to growth.

Rosslyn & Daryl

ESSAY // by Daryl

Spontaneous Generation

I’m going to make an admission here. Before coming over to America for my graduate studies, I was terrified of cooking. Yes, cooking. There are just so many things that can go wrong. What is the right amount of ingredients for one person? How much seasoning should I use? What’s the exact temperature I need to cook said ingredient? How many minutes (or seconds) before my food becomes too tough to eat? Inundated by these questions I can’t seem to figure out, I steered clear of cooking, preferring the safety of sandwiches, cereal, or peanut butter cups.

But ever since I had the opportunity to observe Rosslyn in the kitchen and talk to her about cooking, it finally dawned on me those questions are not really necessary. It turns out, all I needed to do was just use my eyes—you know, those googly things just below my forehead—to observe the colour and texture of the food to determine if it’s cooked; likewise, just taste the food to see if it’s to my liking and, if not, just season accordingly.

But more than just being able to cook a few dishes these days, cooking was the gateway through which I developed the new muscle of spontaneity. I realized that my inability to roll with the punches stemmed from a highly rigid belief that everything in life is a science to be approached with methodical precision and accuracy. (I still can’t shake it all off; when using the measuring cup for liquids, I actually still observe the meniscus at eye level to get exact measurements.) But cooking is more art than science. After all, my mother and grandmother didn’t cook like that. It was always “a bit,” or “some,” or “roughly.” Through cooking, I began to build (or should I say loosen instead since it was held frozen in anxiety that whatever would go wrong could not be salvaged?) that new muscle of spontaneity. These days, I’m not even sure how much of each ingredient I add to the mixture. If it tastes good, I must be doing it right.

But that can pretty much be said about most other things in life too. While I should be intentional about the direction I’m headed and the means I wish to employ to get me there, it doesn’t mean I have to be pedantic about every single detail. Just as I have to taste my cooking a few more times before it’s ready to serve, a slight detour just means I get to enjoy a few more sights along the way. After all, why not?

Till next time, may you savour the transformation of your own cooking.

ESSAY // by Rosslyn

The Mistaken Identity of Ability

Before I became serious about writing, I thought I could not write. I had set a high bar for what would truly constitute the act of writing. Despite my hazy vision of that bar, I did not consider myself capable of writing because I did not feel I was “good enough.” Even after having published a book of poetry and receiving positive feedback, that alone was insufficient to imbue me with the confidence that I can write, and that lack of confidence affected how I showed up and marketed my book. The feeling of inadequacy in writing repeatedly chanted two boring lines in my head: I can’t write. I am not a writer. Yet what I truly meant was “I can’t write well yet.” I compared myself to great, accomplished writers with years of experience, and I overwhelmed myself with an outcome that seemed so distant and unattainable. The outcome could still be true for me in the future as I continue my course of writing, just not in the present moment. I have the skill, just not at the level I desire.

A simple statement of “I can” opens possibilities to new worlds; “I cannot yet” generates openness to explore; “I cannot” shuts doors to worlds. Language creates and shapes our reality. A thought, an utterance in language has the power to bring forth a world and future that would not have otherwise existed. The declaration of “I can” or “I cannot yet” holds the recognition of an innate capacity within us to learn or develop a new ability, whereas “I cannot” assumes the capacity is absent and denies any possibility for development. To begin actualizing our abilities, we first need to recognize that we are already born with the capacity.

The pressure of modern living has created a less forgiving culture when it comes to learning and developing new skills, stressing the need for competence to “earn” the title or label. But the title is not analogous to the act or ability. One may not be a writer, but that does not mean one cannot write, and vice versa. We have mistaken competence for ability. Competence is how well one can do; ability is whether one can do. Perhaps I cannot write like the great names yet, but write, I jolly well can, and as I stay on track with my practice and study, who knows what the future holds for me?

When we refer to competence and ability interchangeably, forgoing their distinction, we end up pushing ourselves harder and judging ourselves harsher. We lose touch with our beginners’ minds and some may find it extremely difficult to even consider learning anything new that requires them to step out of their comfort zone. We forget that competence begins with ability.

In terms of writing, I can form thoughts and string sentences to express and articulate them; that means I can write. Do I have the talent for it? This remains a mystery until I have tried. And if talent is wanting, it means that I require more practice and a longer time to become good at it. Ability allows us to start, talent allows us to leapfrog, and competence, that can only be realized through deliberate practice.

When we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to fail, we can learn as many things as we want. Issues like time, space, or even finances become secondary concerns because we have the inner knowing and trust that we can learn and develop. With that, we can go about living our life in a way that helps facilitate and support our learning.

Every new skill requires different muscles (not just the physical kind) such as creativity, voice, expression, strategic thinking, sense-making, and feeling. Yes, the ability to feel and be with intense emotions can be developed too. It takes stretching beyond our comfort zone to build new competencies and to develop range.

My journey from “I can write” to “I am a writer” to “excellent writing” is a lifelong process of discovering my power, embodying it, and sharing it with the world. It is a journey, like many others, worth a lifetime’s undertaking, which I believe to be the reason we are put on this Earth—each to learn how to be human through worthy endeavours that challenge and stretch and expand our souls.

Human beings are gifted the innate capacity to grow and develop. When we open ourselves to that, we see that we are more than able. An ability is a seed that has been planted in the soil of being, awaiting nurturing to bloom and flourish.

May we nurture our seeds and persevere on the journey that calls to us.


Dispelling an old tale

What old tales do you hold in terms of your relationship with your ability? Pick one “I can’t” that you say to yourself and others, even if it’s just a passing statement.

Observe how that thought of “I can’t” impacts you:

  • What thoughts are triggered when that happens or when you see others exercising that ability you perceive to be lacking in yourself?

  • What emotions does it bring up? (Helplessness, envy, fear etc.)

  • What sensations do you feel in your body?

Examine it:

  • Is it true that you cannot do it, or simply, you cannot do it according to your standards yet?

  • Who might you be with and without the ability?

  • What is in the way of you developing the ability?

  • How might you support yourself in developing it?
    E.g. research online or read books, speak to people who know it, find a course on it…

We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed our newsletters. We welcome your feedback, and if you have a topic you’ll like us to explore, do drop us a note.

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