Glass Eyes & Goodbyes

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

The moment I read that line from the book Upstream by Mary Oliver, it dawned on me how important our attention is, no matter how small. Suddenly, a memory from my childhood played in my mind more clearly as its presence always lingered and the impact it has in my mind.

In 2002, I finally had formal schooling but as a newbie and an outlier in a Chinese school (among everyone who seemed to know each other since birth), I guess I had a hard time fitting in (cliché but hopefully not a Main Character Syndrome). With the comfort of growing up around books, I knew the library was home away from home, it was my turf. So that’s where I kill time and sniffed books in euphoria (it-girl or whatever). I wish we already had smartphones back then because I’m pretty sure I probably would have snapped and shared it on my Instagram Story— the framed quote on the pillar just near the librarian’s counter. It was hard to miss. It was like a daily reminder to be in our teachers' good graces or else. Unfortunately, back then, the only stuff in my skirt’s right pocket was a handkerchief, lunch money, and an extra purple pen. So this vivid snap in my head, is proof that it really embedded and marked its way to my life even today in 2023:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words,

watch your words, they become your actions,

watch your actions, they become your habits,

watch your habits, they become your character,

watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

—Lao Tzu

I remember reading this first out of boredom until slowly as more years passed by as I borrowed and returned books and passed this wall again and again, I can’t help but re-read it again…and again…

Interestingly, I think this is the foundation of what’s trending online like in TikTok. From mantras to manifestations, affirmations and acclamations like the “LGS” aka the Lucky Girl Syndrome…isn’t that it? It starts with our thoughts. And wasn’t Oliver right? Attention is the beginning of devotion. For some reason, I feel like devotion isn’t a one way street. Probably more like a mirror, reflecting back what you see. And why it’s important because you will become and will have what you give attention and meaning to. May start small but surely it may snowball to something bigger or paint the whole picture. 

The moment this realisation hit me, it surged some sort of fear, as I knew at the back of my mind that I’d given so much attention to things that don’t matter…worse, I’ve stopped giving attention to things that I’m scared might matter. If that makes sense. As if not realising, that not choosing also means choosing. Just because it’s black vs. white and you’re in the grey doesn’t mean you didn’t choose either. You chose the middle ground and you know it. 

In Stoicism, Epictetus reminds us that “serenity and stability are results of your choices and judgement, not your environment”. And this has been one of the greatest awakenings I’ve had as I’ve almost mastered the art of isolation. Building a fabulous fortress that can only be accessed with certain codes. Having that toxic trait of reading people and the probabilities they can weave into my life and if ever there is one tendency I foresee that is unpleasant: I immediately cut-off, run, unfriend, block, make them stop existing in my world, evaporate, etc. I saw this as a problem because no matter how good we become at predicting problems, they still happen and it hurts much more when you’ve proven yourself wrong asking how I’d miss it?

But this is the tendency in human nature, to put ourselves in safety but not usually coming down to controlling our environment. Playing safe, hiding, living life like a game of dodgeball dodging everything. In its essence of prioritising safety isn’t that unusual, it’s always been a part of us. I believe Darwin called it self-preservation. I’d like to think that in the effect of our preferred self-preservation - controlling ourselves vs. our environment, we might evolve accordingly. Being better or being bitter? 

And like anything that’s too much, it can be detrimental to one’s growth. I know, it’s easier said than done but that’s the thing— no matter where we go and what we have, danger is inevitable and we cannot fully control what’s around us but we can always control what matters the most. Our minds. Our thoughts. Our attention. Our devotion. 

As much as we want to see people and places as who they are and their potentials (which isn’t ideal), in the end, we need to simply surrender to the flow. Have a stronger foundation within ourselves because no one can tell the future (perhaps for now but that’s to be discussed soon). And obviously, we cannot control the variables around us. This isn’t a math equation but maybe, we can simplify, somehow. Apparently, life seems to be a paradox of embodying vulnerability and strength. In short, shit happens and it will feel shitty. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an anthem of ‘come at me as I fear nothing’ but rather, it’s giving yourself a chance. Knowing that whatever happens, you’ll be alright.  

Nothing is safer than the security and contentment that we can achieve within ourselves from the choices and judgements that we make. That is the power that I so long to achieve because as much knowledge I can aspire to consume, it’s the doing that will seal the deal. Knowledge may be power but knowledge without action, it’s all just theoretical - or so to say, borderline romanticisations bound to be delusional. (How To Gaslight Oneself Successfully 101)


It is hard but at least, I’ve given it attention and it’s the beginning. Now all I need to do is the work. As much as I want to be delusionally safe, I can’t afford it anymore.

So here’s to saying goodbye to the wrong visions that locked the glass eyes. If there is one thing that we fully need in our lives, it’s clarity. So far (according to my trial and error experience)— the moment accountability and acknowledgement comes in, it’s more than enough to start guiding us to what we should do, where we should be and most importantly, who we should be.

So cheers to another veil being peeled to finally reveal our highest self, layer per layer. Hoping in some way, it’ll always be for the best. x

All photos are by yours truly from my travels.