Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Learning to have a relationship with myself.

The Hope of Loving

What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure? 
I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.

I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey
to find its source, and how the moon wept
without her lover's 
warm gaze.

We weep when light does not reach our hearts. We wither
like fields if someone close
does not rain their

Here's a confession: I don't know how to love myself. It's simple and maybe not factual, but it feels very much that way a lot of the time. In my mid-20s, I realized that everyone's life seemed to revolve around a personal theme. Whatever approaches we take to our ways of living, the interpretations of the experiences we have, the relationships we cultivate, they usually revolve around a certain belief (or related strands of this belief) that threads through everything.

My theme has always been hunger... I was starved for love growing up and ached in the pit of my stomach for a hearty amount of positive attention. My tastes continued to grow until I stopped consuming anything as a huge distraction to what I wanted most of all — unconditional love — but then my appetite came back with a vengeance until I was bingeing and purging everything I could place in my mouth. I gorged on approval and sought it in unhealthy relationships that further validated the misbelief that I was unworthy and undeserving of goodness in life. I craved physical affection so deeply that bear hugs became my customary greeting, yet kisses and tenderness were too ginger of a reminder that I did not know to be gentle with myself. And, because I felt at a perpetual loss of power and had no internal confidence about how to "do anything right," I could not get enough helpings of external validation though I continually misinterpreted it to mean that I would finally receive the love I was seeking after all.

This past week, I realized that it's time to become happily satiated. I'm ready to stop the process of feast or famine and find a way to fill myself up from the inside out. After all, there's no way that I can truly love another person, be it friend or partner or family member, until I can fall in love with all of myself. Otherwise, I'll continue to repeat the pattern of attempting to please another in hopes that they'll end up pleasing me, rather than asking if what I do/say/think is indeed aligned with my heart and soul and living from my personal truth. During my guided meditation today, I was encouraged to think about the things that I own from a physical, emotional, and mental standpoint. After ten minutes of this, I realized the things I truly feel I own are my negative and shadowy feelings about myself and my past experiences. It was enlightening to realize that I have a choice in what I'm holding onto and that now, as in any moment, I can have a blank slate to create fresh.

Yesterday, my friend Wendy offered this incredible article from Psychology Today, which caused me to stop and re-read multiple paragraphs, as though the author were writing it specifically for me:

Accepting ourselves unconditionally (despite our deficiencies) would have been almost automatic had our parents conveyed a predominantly positive message about us--and, additionally, we grew up in a generally supportive environment. But if that really wasn't the case, we need on our own to learn how to "certify" ourselves, to validate our essential ok-ness. And I'm hardly suggesting that independently confirming ourselves has anything to do with becoming complacent--only that we get over our habit of constantly judging ourselves. If deep within us we're ever to experience, as our normal state of being, personal fulfillment and peace of mind, we must first rise to the challenge of complete, unqualified self-acceptance.

By constantly telling ourselves that we've done the best we could helps to reexamine residual feelings of guilty, self-criticisms, and self-putdowns, and gives us an opportunity to practice compassion and understanding with each self-rejection. To fall in love with myself now, I need to make peace with the parts of myself that I've denied, shunned, and ultimately in many ways, hated with a fury. Instead of splitting and compartmentalizing parts of myself in pretty little containers, I can break apart the boxes and call my Spirit back into full, unconditional acceptance.

I love most of all that this article says that self-acceptance has nothing to do with self-improvement, because it isn't about "fixing" anything in ourselves anymore. Instead, it's about non-judgmentally affirming who we already are — strengths, weaknesses, beauty, warts — in this moment. "Self-acceptance is about already being okay, with no qualifications—period. It's not that we ignore or deny our faults or frailties, just that we view them as irrelevant to our basic acceptability."

And, because I've actually always thought that my drive to "be better" has served me well in life, getting me to where I am now and helping me to surmount significant challenges, self-acceptance means that it's possible to accept and love ourselves AND still be committed to a lifetime of personal growth. We can still make improvements that enrich our lives and those around us, but self-acceptance is no longer tied to such changes.

It all starts with seeing ourselves in a refreshed, loving, and nurturing way.

I need to do this now, because I would like to spend the rest of my life in a love affair of all sorts. From my passions and pursuits to the people in my life, I would like to embrace everything to the fullest and know that on my last day on earth, I would have done all that I could do, seen all that I could see, and been all that I could be. I want to love myself the way that everyone else tells me they love me — and then some.

There are things that are hidden in the depths of my heart as things my soul hungers for, but that I won't indulge, because I don't yet feel that I'm worthy of so much goodness. Luckily, I'm learning bit by bit how to melt into my divinity and live from that place of higher consciousness where I am already greater than I may have ever believed possible.

The article quotes Robert Holden who writes in his book Happiness Now!, "Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you'll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you're worthy of."

How do you fall in love yourself today and every day? How do you embrace the understanding that you are indeed worthy of every great thing? I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback, because each of us has invaluable lessons to share with one another — just by being ourselves right here, right now.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Words from the Wise: "Man Has Forgotten His True Nature"

"We are all boundless creatures."
-Kobi Yamada

Here is an excerpt from the book, Finding the Joy Within You, by Sri Daya Mata from a talk she gave at Bareilly, India... 

(If "God" is a difficult word/concept to grasp, feel free to replace with any idea of something greater than yourself — Mother Nature, Source, Spirit, Beloved, Divine Mother — whatever works for you!)

Unconsciously man knows he is divine. But consciously he has forgotten his true nature. The five senses were given to man that he might cognize this world, and through his experiences here, grow in understanding. But when he abuses the senses, he becomes engrossed in sensuality and loses knowledge of his infinite nature. Yet that nature continues subtly to manifest itself in pseudo-ways. 
For example, every human being seeks power; many crave it. This is natural, because the soul knows it is all-powerful. But since in the ordinary conscious state the soul is not aware of its limitless nature, it strives instead for positions of authority or superiority, or to gain control over other people, or even over nations. The ideal of being all-powerful is not wrong, but too often the method for attaining and using that power is wrong. Those who know God understand and rightly use the tremendous power that lies within the soul—the power that can move hearts, that can move nations, that through the centuries has changed lives. 
Another way in which man's hidden divine nature expresses itself is through his craving for material wealth. The soul knows that in its oneness with God it is the possessor of all things, and that it has the power to create at will whatever it needs. But because we are not consciously aware of our soul's potential, we begin instead to accumulate material things in an effort to satisfy our buried conviction that everything we need or want is ours by divine birthright.  
Man also craves bliss. The soul knows it is blissful, but because the ego is ignorant of that bliss, it succumbs to the temptations of pseudo-joys provided by maya (Cosmic delusion.) Through the ages, man has used intoxicants such as wine and drugs in an effort to forget this world, because subconsciously he remembers a more blissful one. Isn't it so? The goal is not wrong, either, because man, being made in the image of God, whose nature is bliss, automatically longs for that unalloyed joy. But not knowing how to regain it, he resorts to the pseudo-joy of intoxication. He drinks or takes drugs so that for at least a little while he can forget this world. The tragedy is that when his body becomes saturated with these intoxicants, they destroy his nerves and brain. 
Man also seeks love, an unconscious response to the nature of his soul, which itself is love. But because he does not consciously experience that pure, all-satisfying divine love, he goes around like a beggar, pleading for a little affection from human hearts. It is not wrong to crave love, but the means by which most people seek it is ill-conceived. As often as man thinks he has found perfect love in human relationships, he finds instead that death, or unfaithfulness or some other failing, has left him disappointed and disillusioned. As Gurudeva (referring to Paramahansa Yoganada) used to say to us, "Behind every rosebush of pleasure there is a rattlesnake of disillusionment." 'Tis true! 
There is also a craving in man for unity. Everything in this world is trying to come together. The law of attraction operates in even the most infinitesimal particles of matter. If you look through a microscope, you will see this power at work in many natural phenomena. Man also is striving for the harmony of oneness. His soul knows that it and all other souls are essentially one with God. But because man identifies himself with this fleshly form, he has forgotten that oneness, so he seeks union with one soul after another in various relationships, trying always to find the lost sense of fulfillment that comes from unity. 
So, we see that the goals of man are not wrong, only the manner by which he strives to achieve them. He has forgotten that he is not this body, that he is the all-perfect formless soul. He remembers only this flesh, and so strives unsuccessfully through the limited five senses to regain that which is already his.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Could we be addicted to self-help?

"Gather in your resources, 
rally all your faculties,
marshal all your energies,
focus all your capacities upon master of at least 
one field of endeavor."
-John Haggai

For as long as I can remember, I've been dedicated to self-improvement. Once upon a time, it came from a feeling of being flawed and needing to "fix" something. At a certain point, this was true — I needed substantial help to get to a point where I could stop the compulsion to binge and purge on food — but it eventually evolved into a quest of learning how to become a better person to rewrite the story that was battered into my brain as a child: "You're not good enough. You're so selfish! Ungrateful girl! You are just worthless!"(My Chinese parents did not mince words in their attempts to teach me using their version of tough love.)

I love learning, and it may be stereotypically Asian of me, but I am truly a dork. I have applied for a library card in virtually every city I've lived in — and I've lived around the world. I will consume information to the nth degree, because I'm fascinated by most everything in the world and think that one life is just to short to consume it all! It's as though I want to wrap my mental arms around everything and bring it in closer to me. 

After many years of therapy and introspection, I realize that my previous binge/purge tendencies transferred to other areas of my life, or they were always present and the eating disorder was just one of the symptoms. After I finished my intensive eating disorder outpatient program, I met a friend who was in AA and we spoke of how similar our two addictions were. He is an extremely intelligent, creative, and charming individual, and it's amazing how easily we could feel defeated by diseases that were seemingly out of our control. 

Once I began pursuing a spiritual path, I fell in love with all of the learnings from around the world. It resonated with such a deeper part of me that I could not deny it as truth. But, like everything else I've approached in life, I tried to become "perfect" at it. Somehow, I make it so that anything that starts as enjoyable quickly becomes work — it's as though I feel too guilty to have fun! 

I feel that I've become addicted to "being better." This perpetually reinforces the belief that I'm not good enough just as I am. When my beau tells me that he loves me, all of me, without my having to do anything extra at all, I picture myself looking at him with my head cocked to the side, as though he's completely crazy. 'How could you love me for not doing and for just being? How could that ever be enough??' I want to ask him, but I refrain, because I'm training myself to believe that what he says is truly what he means. (I know him well enough now to understand that he will not say something just for the sake of being nice — he means the words that are coming out of his mouth.)

All of the self-help books, this constant drive to make it so that there is less "unknowing" in my life, I believe goes to the root of what my eating disorder was all about. I was simply trying to feel safe in my environment, to feel good in my skin, to feel LOVED. I was told, "If you do this, then you will get this" and I felt that what my parents were really saying was, "If you were better, then I would love you." In this state of conditional care, I never felt like I could be/do/say the right thing to get what my heart craved — affection in all of its forms.

I no longer want to be addicted to self-help. I would like to believe that I am whole, that I was born just right, and that I deserve to be loved. I would like to open my arms and envelop sweet care rather than harsh criticisms, to fill my consciousness with beautiful emotions rather than tips and how-to's and indifferent yet interesting knowledge.

One of the exercises I've been practicing lately is to have fun purely for the fun of it and not because I need to be better. To be absolutely present in whatever I'm doing or wherever I am. Instead of walking with headphones stuck in my ears, I let all of my senses be present. When hanging out with friends, especially my beau, I aim to put my phone far away, so that my attention is not distracted as to what's happening over there rather than over here. When cooking, I put on my favorite Anthropologie apron and play with the ingredients to create dishes from scratch. And, rather than pushing myself to get to a new growing edge, I learn to play in the parameters that I've created thus far and revel in it, to let myself be here, where I've already worked so hard to be, rather than arching over there. 

Recently, my beau asked if I wanted to have children. I told him that I don't know, that I would not want them to be raised in any sort of environment that resembled the one I grew up in. "I worry about screwing them up somehow," I told him. "I think that I'd like to get to this place where I feel I've grown enough as a person, but I realize that's never going to happen, that throughout our lives we'll constantly be growing, and children further emphasize that fact."And, just like that, he called out what I really meant, "I don't think that's what you're worried about — what you're really worried about is that they'll turn out fucked up like you. You're this amazingly beautiful person and you're worried about something that's not even true."

I will no longer place my contented place outside of myself. As Shawn Achor notes, I must stop moving my target for happiness. There's nothing I need to fix, because I'm simply not broken. Now, I can practice learning for the sake of learning, just for the enjoyment of it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Taking a break for myself.

"Begin difficult things while they are easy.
Do great things when they are small.
The difficult things of the world
Must once have been easy;
The great things
Must once have been small...
A journey of a thousand miles
Begins with one step."

Yesterday, I made a decision — I was doing too much. Rather than simply treating it as an observation, it was more of a defining moment that influenced the subsequent actions I would take. Almost half a year ago, I signed up for a 300-Hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training with the Soul of Yoga that occurs over three intensive 10-day modules. The teachers and curriculum are phenomenal and, being the dork that I am, I am always eager to dive into mind-expanding learning. With the first module already complete, I was scheduled to begin the second series today. And then I realized, I couldn't do it... it was just too much.

The quality of Soul of Yoga's teacher training programs are unparalleled for numerous reasons, one of which is the intimacy with which you are encouraged to open your heart to an array of beautiful souls also completing the program with you. It's a worthwhile and hearty investment of time, money, brain, emotions, and Spirit. Normally, this would totally be up my alley, yet ever since I returned from Maui, I've had this gnawing feeling at my core that I'm not doing what I am meant to be doing.


"Y'know," my friend Carolyn shared with me this morning, "for most people, I would say, 'I'm sure you could make room in your life and still be able to do it!' But for you, I'm cheering because you're finally taking something off your plate!"

Carolyn's known me for 12 years now and has seen me transform from a young college graduate fleeing her past to a woman embracing her present. She's watched me hit rock bottom with my eating disorder, supported me as I picked myself up, witnessed my whirlwind journeys around the world, and opened her home to me when I was going through heartbreaks and happiness. She may very well be one of the greatest blessings of my entire adult life. So, needless to say, she's been privy to plenty of personal thoughts and outside observations of my character and drive and desires. Her celebration of the fact that I am taking time for myself to take care of what *I* need versus what anyone else's needs are, aside from external obligations and commitments, helps me to ease the guilt I feel for doing what's best for me.

In Chinese culture, my parents taught me that my own needs come last. Placing my needs first would be seen as selfish and unbecoming, especially for a woman. I was told to be subservient, deferring first to elders, then adults or anyone in a position of power, then even the foreign "white man." It always seemed that I came at the bottom of any hierarchical structure, so I learned that the only way to get my needs met was to serve everyone else first — if they were happy, I falsely believed that they would then aim to make me happy.

It's taken me all of my adult life to learn how to place myself as a priority and only recently, especially in my relationship with my beau, am I beginning to comprehend how to be explicit with my requests. I had hoped, for a long while, that someone could read my mind, similar to what a parent's role for a child often is. But, because I never got that, I continually sought it in everyone else. 

There's a delicate dance to expressing myself in the midst of someone else. We all have different desires/needs/wants and there's an art to honoring everyone involved as best as possible. If we never speak up, then the dialogue never begins. And, even when it does, there is occasionally pushback. I find that it's been important to understand my intention in order to stand by my convictions, yet also open up to opportunities I had never thought of.

Soon after I informed the Soul that I would not be able to attend this module of training, I was met with emails and phone calls offering me different alternatives, as well as informing me of potential consequences to my choice. It made everything slightly more confusing, yet encouraged me to return again and again to my original intent. From there, I was able to determine what the next best steps FOR ME would be.

If you're told all your life that you're a selfish little bugger, then it can become a complex rooted in the back your mind. Taking time for myself now is an amazing way to break the perpetuating cycle of not honoring my worth, my needs, my place in this shared life.

And, I'm grateful I'm doing so — even if it's uncomfortable and awkward and hard to do.

What areas of your life can you create more space for yourself? And, by so doing, become even more present for others?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Why I believe in being more sensual.

One Regret

One regret that I am determined not to have
when I am lying upon my
death bed
is that we did not kiss 

A few days ago, I had a wonderful conversation with Flossie, a teacher at the Soul of Yoga. We spoke of spirituality and living the practice of yoga through our daily lives and in our relationships with others. What I loved most was learning a bit more about how the Vedantic traditions believe in an upliftment of self to connect with Spirit, while Tantric beliefs draw Source from above into the earth and the experiences we have. I'm still quite a novice to expanding my consciousness, but one of the wonderful things my beau has taught me is how to be a more critical thinker. My independent conclusions up until this point are echoed in one of the things Flossie remarked, "I don't believe in a God who would punish me for enjoying this body He gave me. Obviously, everything in moderation, but sensuality is an important experience to connect with the Divine like any other."

Over the past few days, I've been ruminating on the idea of being my own woman. By that, I mean shunning all of the ideas that were planted in my head at an early age of how I should, behave, and simply be. What a prison this is, to always feel "less than" when compared to some imaginary and unattainable perfectionistic standard outside of myself that I didn't even set!

What's more, I grew up in a traditional Chinese household, where it was expected that I would always be quiet and subservient, perpetually deferring to the adults around me. Unfortunately, being submissive is not in my nature! And, because of it, I was constantly yelled at, demoralized, and punished. Once I grew older, I realized that the adults around me were inept and flawed. Yet, I had internalized their beliefs on what a "good girl" should be. It's taken quite awhile for me to break those ideas into pieces in order to build a solid foundation of what works for me.

Flossie believes that one of the best elements of the relationship she shares with her partner is that he believes the only unattractive thing she could ever do would be to not believe in herself and her worth. His attraction to her is not based upon any physical trait, nor is it dependent upon the clothes she wears or how she does her hair. Rather, he loves her for her inward beauty, which begins with how she feels about herself. It caused me to remember how, shortly after my beau and I started dating, I bumped into a friend who was almost taken aback at how my energy was simply beaming. Our greatest allure is not in what we say or how we act or what we look like, but it's about what's happening deep within our hearts and Spirits. This is where each of our unique beauty lies, the essence of who we are, the je ne sais quoi of our character that is harder to describe in words, yet undeniable to experience with emotion.

I believe in cultivating our uniqueness, to be free and liberated from living according to outside programming of what beauty "should" be. During my eating disorder therapy program, we learned that it's important to banish the word "should" from our vocabulary — it only makes us feel badly that we're underperforming somehow and we end up "should-ing" all over ourselves. We are a new generation of beautiful human beings who can live free to be what we would like "gorgeous" to be! And, rather than jumping on a criticism bandwagon to tear other people down in order for us to feel better about ourselves, why not help uplift one another to be the most authentic, genuine, and Divine person we can be?

Everyone deserves to celebrate everything about themselves. For me, I'd like to embrace and enjoy the gifts I was blessed with — my intelligence, creativity, exuberance, playfulness, dorky nature, and especially, my sexuality. We live in a culture that makes sex taboo, yet it's constantly in our face, so all we end up focusing on are the guilty pleasures of what we've told ourselves we shouldn't have. Plus, as an Asian-American, we rarely ever any talk about sex or sensuality unless it's in reference to men who have fetishes or China-doll stereotypes. If my parents ever brought up anything to do with intimacy, it was to forewarn us that we should never-ever-ever think about doing it, lest we become a slut. Mix in various spiritual beliefs that espouse how purity lies in abstinence, and how is anyone ever supposed to feel good under the covers? Sensuality, in all its definitions, can be an incredibly opening experience.

I like finding a path that works for me, one where I am discriminately picking and choosing what resonates with my heart. I like being in the mystery of the unfolding, and then sharing these incredible experiences with others. I trust myself enough to ask insightful questions to selective people, and am open to the response. And, as I do so, perhaps I can help illuminate different facets of the journey for others. It's also nice to find that other iconic figures, even Hafiz, challenge what's always been accepted for something even better.

In his poem, Tiny Gods, he shares:

gods say, the tiny ones,
"I am not here in your vibrant, moist lips
that need to beach themselves upon the golden shore
of a naked body."

Some gods say, "I am not the scared yearning in the unrequited soul; 
I am not the blushing cheek of every star and planet —

I am not the applauding Creator of those precious secretions that
can distill the whole mind into a perfect wincing jewel
if only for a moment;

nor do I reside in every pile of sweet warm dung born
of the earth's gratuity."

Some gods say, the ones we need to hang,
"Your mouth is not designed to know His, love was not conceived
to consume the luminous realms."

Dear ones beware,
beware of the tiny gods frightened men 

to bring an anesthetic control and relief
to their sad

I like becoming the woman I have always wanted to be. At the end of my life, I want to have lived my days thoroughly and worn every opportunity presented before me until my experiences resemble the tattered and frayed ends of a well-worn and favorite piece of clothing.

What are beliefs that you're currently challenging? How are you learning to embrace all of yourself? What does beauty mean to you?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reflections & Musings: Taking good care of ourselves begins with how worthy we feel.

"Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is costly, care for it.
Life is wealth, keep it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
Life is mystery, know it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it."
-Mother Teresa

Yesterday, I saw my craniosacral healer Gary to help me ease the pain in my ribs. As he began to palpate around my torso to find the source of the pain, he asked if I had seen a doctor.

"Yes, I went to see an orthopedic physician's assistant who took x-rays and said it wasn't broken."

"Did they check your sternum?"

"No, he didn't touch me at all except to wrap an ACE bandage around my ribs. Just came in and said he looked at the x-rays, which didn't show a break."

"That's it?" Gary asked, incredulous.

"Yeah, he didn't show me the X-rays either."

Gary shook his head. "I can't believe he didn't even palpate around — it feels to me that you may have dislocated a rib or two from your sternum, which is why it's so tender to the touch right now. I suggest you consider getting a second opinion."

This isn't the first time that I haven't stood up for myself when it comes to receiving adequate and accurate healthcare. I'm a hypochondriac at times, so I feel that when I go into a doctor's office, I already have guilt associated with why I'm there and assume that most of what's ailing me is likely in my head. Therefore, I may not speak up about my symptoms or just take what the doctor says as fact. After all, he/she is a doctor!

However, there have absolutely been times when I deserved better treatment or when the person I placed my trust into significantly crossed the line:

  • I've seen two different chiropractors in the past who behaved inappropriately — one continued to hit on me though he was married; the other stuck his hand down my shirt under multiple layers of clothing to adjust my back and after speaking with a chiropractor acquaintance I met in a writing group, she informed me that this was completely unnecessary and unethical.
  • A general physician asked if I wanted to join a multi-level marketing scheme during the course of our appointment.
  • A dentist suggested I invest over a thousand dollars in a mouthpiece that was unnecessary; another dentist said that the only way to fix my underbite was to break my jaw and put in screws. Luckily, the Chinese orthodontist I went to was able to fix everything with braces and rubberbands.
  • When I developed "hand, foot, mouth disease" in elementary school, my anesthesiologist cousin made me feel shameful by telling me it was because I was dirty.
  • After coming down with a high fever in junior high, my mother forced me to attend my piano lesson regardless of the foggy head I was suffering through; I didn't catch chicken pox until high school and before I was ready to go back, my mother dropped me off to class — I was sent home shortly afterward, because they said I was not yet fully healed.
  • I dislocated my knee in high school after a quick growth spurt, and because no one was around to help me, had to break into my house and hobble into a chair, waiting for my relatives to come take me to the doctor several hours later.
  • The first psychotherapist I saw after realizing I had an eating disorder asked how many times I was bingeing and purging. When I told her, she responded with, "Oh, that's not that bad." My instinctive reaction was, "Isn't bingeing and purging AT ALL bad?!" but I said nothing.
  • I began to come down with strep throat, but forced myself to go through multiple rounds of a job interview, even as the fever was making it difficult to sit upright or drive home afterward.
And, what comes to mind as most shocking in recent history:
  • When I developed an allergic reaction to sulfa medication I was taking, I woke up in the middle of the night with severe chills, uncontrollable shaking, and purple lips. When I brought up my concerns that I might need to go to the emergency room, the guy I was dating at the time told me not to overreact and to go back to bed. Here's the clincher: I resolved that he was right! I just forced myself to go back to sleep! I could have died!! In fact, I distinctly remember thinking, "Well, I guess if it's my time to go, then it is."
I shake my head in disbelief that I had so little self-worth in that moment that I did not fight for my health or honor my life force! I am a substantial presence in this world — just as everyone else is! — and to disavow both my purpose and power, especially because I shifted the responsibility for my well-being to someone else in the misbelief they would know better for me, is still shocking.

Before, I was in the throes of my eating disorder and constantly treating my physical form as an enemy. I've begun to befriend and fall in love with all the wonderful things that my body can do (including protecting my organs during my recent fall onto the rail of my board!) and now know my body pretty well. I may not always listen to it, because of my go-go-go nature, but for the most part, I know what it's trying to communicate with me. For example, I feel that the injury to my side body is more than a severe bruising of my ribs and when I get a second opinion, we'll see who's right.

I've fought more to get better customer service for products I've purchased than for the care of my entire being, which I'm now changing! The onus is on me to use my voice and trust my instincts, to believe that I deserve optimal care, and it starts with me taking good care of myself. As I teach every student in my class, "We all know our bodies better than anyone else does, since we're living in it day in and day out. Listen to what your body is telling you. Honor yourself through these asanas by striving to be at your growing edge, and sometimes, that growth comes from easing up rather than pushing harder."

Even though doctors may have more knowledge about diseases and diagnoses, we are the ones who feel each and every sensation. As I was reminded just yesterday, "It's okay to feel your feelings!" That means all the light, joyous emotions as well as the weighty, tugging ones. 

Many doctors don't like to admit they're wrong, but only in acknowledging our shortcomings do we see where there's room to grow. "Life is life," Mother Teresa said. "Fight for it."

I am worth every good thing in this life and beyond. And, so are you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reflections & Musings: The old ideas we hold onto so tightly.

"If you do what you've always done,
you'll get what you've always gotten."

What are the beliefs that hold you back from pursuing your most fulfilling life? What are the dialogues in your head that chatter incessantly and cause you to become distracted, lose focus, lack confidence? What are the myths you've told yourself about why this simply can't happen or why that just won't work?

Where did those ideas come from? And, how are you choosing to live them daily? When we shine light on the fact that we actually have a choice about what we believe, it seems our conscious minds would readily and firmly deny that we actively choose to hold ourselves back, "Well, of course I'm not choosing to believe that negative thing about myself!"

Yet, Malcolm Gladwell noted that when you ask the majority of Americans how they like their coffee, they'll say, "Strong. Bitter. Black." After doing extensive studies, the way most Americans actually like their coffee is mild, sweet, creamy. Why won't anyone own up to it? Does it not sound as "hardcore" as we've been trained as a society to believe we should be? Gladwell concludes that "the mind knows not what the tongue wants" and in a way, our active consciousness may not have a clue as to what our hearts need.

I loved learning that in most Eastern philosophies, it is believed we human beings are born divine and complete, yet in many Western philosophies, it's believed that we are born lacking and we need to "do more" in order to become whole. Ram Dass observed, "If I see one dilemma with Western man, it's that he can't accept how beautiful he is. He can't accept that he is pure light, that he's pure love, that he's pure consciousness, that he's divine."

Recently, I've noticed that all of the self-help guides seem to come from an angle of, "There's something wrong with you! You should fix it!" versus "You're great! And here's how you can be even better!" I grew up in an environment that perpetually reinforced the idea that there was something wrong with me. The adults would constantly say, "How could you get an A and not an A+? Why did you practice piano for an hour only, not an hour and a half? You're flat footed — you'll never get into gymnastics! This other kid's Chinese is so much better than yours!" and the criticisms would go on.

Makes sense then, that I would think there was always something about me that I needed to fix. When the outside vocalizations became a bit quieter, I had already internalized and integrated them in various ways. I became obsessively dissatisfied with my physical appearance and would go to the extremes (eating disorders and then some) to be more "perfect." When people tried to love me — friends, significant others, colleagues — I wouldn't believe them and would further prove my point by testing them until they couldn't handle it anymore. Or, in the quiet of my own apartment, my mind would suffer through repeated regrets and thoughtless abuse.

The more I practice yoga and meditation, the more present I become in my life. But, being more present isn't easy! It involves truly taking stock of what's happening, examining my role in the matter whatever the outcome or feedback, and then making conscious decisions in all of my thoughts and actions. There's this prevailing false belief that elevating one's consciousness means that life transforms into a magical play-land where anything you've ever dreamed is now a living reality and learning lessons the hard way or getting one's feelings hurt is a thing of the past — that's just not true. Becoming more aware means that no matter what's happening, you can always find your center. It's the ability to navigate life with a stronger True North, whatever the weather and the conditions.

The more I'm in the here and now, the more that I am grounded in my life. When I first came to my yoga teacher training program, I felt that I was living in the ether, in the scenarios of how I wanted my life to be versus the way it actually was. Because the two were not connected and because I felt so disenfranchised from being worthy of attaining my hearts desire in a shared reality with anyone else, I was painfully unhappy. Throughout my life, when I was forced to be present, I felt that I was plucked out of the "safe" space in my head. In order to cope, I turned to behaviors that took me away again. It became an endless cycle of misery that I was able to break with amazing teachers, a sangha of caring souls, incredible friends, a huge amount of personal grit, and a genuine openness to learning how to change.

In my growing, I can see that I still have several not-so-healthy beliefs that I've brushed so deeply under the rug of my awareness, it's as though they've created a whole new foundation. Lately, I feel as though I've been standing with a sledgehammer above these concretized stories, and I'm currently gathering the strength to pick the sledgehammer up in order to bash a huge crack straight down to the fault line. It could be an earthquaking kind of change or it could be the easiest bulldozing I've ever done — I just won't know until I've done it.

What beliefs do you hold so deeply that they may not even come to the front of your mind upon first focus? What patterns have you become accustomed to living? What types of thoughts have become grooved into your mind? And, how can you see yourself doing or being differently in order to encourage a distinct outcome from the ones you've always gotten?

I'd love your thoughts. Together, we change the group ethos and redefine what it means to be happy in this digital age.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reflections & Musings: How injuries are blessings.

"The vast majority of the benefits people derive from yoga practice 
are the simplest things they are taught: 
inhale and exhale 
or exhale and inhale."
-Leslie Kaminoff

A couple of days ago, I went surfing with my friend Chelsea, and while it's been over two years since I've been at this sport, I still feel like a novice, which is especially hard for me. My previous life tendencies have been to be "perfect" right from the get-go, to do my best to bypass the learning curve, and to never have anyone witness my "getting it wrong." All of these factors happen each time I go out, which is why I keep doing it. When my beau asked why I like to surf, he thought it was interesting that all of my reasons were intellectual ones that push me to grow, rather than for the pure enjoyment of being in the ocean and having fun. (I'm working on that.) Ultimately, because I'm too much in my head trying to get it right rather than being in the present and responding to the natural elements — all in front of countless people on the water and the shore — surfing is an incredibly hard sport for me to learn.

It was sunny and bright out, and we were at a spot we normally don't go to. A wave began to build, one that looked like it'd be fat and slow. It jacked up quickly and I was too late on my take-off. I suddenly found myself going over the falls thinking, "Oh shit, this is going to be bad!" From the top of the wave, I landed with the full force of my right body onto the rail of my board and heard a crack under the water. The force of the wave and the fall caused me to hit the sandy bottom, which was somewhat of a relief, because I knew which direction to push towards to get back above water. Once I broke the surface, I pulled on my leash to bring my board to me, hopped back onto it, and checked that I could move my legs — I was afraid that the crack I had heard had been my spine. Thankfully, all of my appendages were moving just fine, and everything was in tact. I kept paddling around for 20 more minutes until Chelsea caught a wave in and I followed.

Later, the pain began to build. When I told my beau what happened, he winced. "It's likely going to hurt really badly tomorrow," he cautioned. "No!" I exclaimed, hoping he was wrong, and that I could use mind over matter to beat the injury.

Unfortunately, he was right. By the next morning, I yelped in pain as I was trying to get out of bed, had a hard time breathing, and cross-lateral movement was out of the question. I waited another day, then went to get x-rays. Turns out, my rib isn't broken, but severely bruised. It'll take three weeks to feel better, then six weeks to fully heal. In the meantime, lifting my arm, laughing, coughing, sneezing, or plugging a socket into the wall causes me to screech in pain. And, this is all before my second module of an advanced yoga teacher training program, as well as a Vinyasa retreat I'm scheduled to go to at the end of the month.

The Universe has always had a way of teaching me to slow down, because I can't seem to do it myself — I've caught pneumonia, bronchitis, and shingles; my right ankle developed arthritis to the point that I was limping for two weeks; and now, I've bruised my ribs. Apparently, I'm not listening hard enough.

Injuries teach us how much we take for granted on a daily basis. It's amazing how many muscles go into doing the simplest things — turning the steering wheel, picking up a pen, reaching up to open a cabinet in the kitchen. The fact that most everything hurts now means that I am inevitably moving with very patient grace. I'm grateful that my ribs protected my lungs and other organs, that I didn't land on my fins and pierce through skin, that I'm healthy enough to heal over time. But, I'm also learning what it means not to rely upon my normal outlets for physical release. Surfing, rock climbing, yoga, and walking along the beach are a bit out of the question at the moment, as are dancing in my apartment to my favorite music, bear hugging my beau, and laughing with my friends.

I tend to push myself to the max, to over-achieve as my traditional Taiwanese parents drilled it into my head to do, and to not let up, even when I'm hurt or exhausted. Now, I don't have a choice, but to simplify, let go, and be kind on myself, otherwise it's going to be a miserable recovery period.

One of my favorite teachers during my Advanced Teacher Training Program through the Soul Center has been Leslie Kaminoff, renounced for his Yoga Anatomy book. He captivatingly showed us videos of cadavers that caused me to gasp in both awe and unease, and inspired a new appreciation for anatomy of the human body. He also taught us that the greatest impact we can have as teachers are the simplest of lessons — inhale and exhale, exhale and inhale.

"We are deeply attached to our old breathing patterns," he shared. "The minute we can bring body, mind, and breath into integrated movement, amazing things begin to happen."

What happens now that I have to suspend outer movement for inner development? Can I let go of my old patterns of being? Will I let go of fear, be in the present moment, go with the flow, not give a crap what other people think about me, and just have fun — all the lessons I've been trying to teach myself out on the water?

I guess we'll see what happens now that I'm forced to move less and breathe more through these challenges... and learn even better what I'm always teaching in class:


Monday, February 6, 2012

Inspirations: Because we all need it!

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive. ...

It doesn't interest me who you are, or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back."
-Oriah Mountain Dreamer

When I first began to learn more about spirituality and to actively explore the ideas and philosophies of greater consciousness with a dedicated mind and heart, I found it incredibly frustrating that I couldn't find what I was looking for. At the time, I was simply seeking more information and hadn't even grasped the even bigger concepts things like enlightenment.

Here I was, open and ready to learn, yet all I could find in my seeking were a few scattered classes I didn't resonate with, groups I felt too self-conscious to join, and mentors unavailable or unattainable. The closest things I could find to any sort of place of faith was yoga class. In fact, I used to tell my friends that it was like going to "church," because in moving through the asanas guided by superb teachers, I began to open up parts of myself that felt like they were returning to a home within.

In retrospect, I believe that the "not-finding" was actually part of the journey—there had to be work on my end in order to demonstrate that I was committed to what I was about to pursue. Even so, I would've  appreciated a bit easier access to helpful thoughts and ideas and people to support me along my way.

My friends have always said that I'm the kind of person, when I get an idea in my head, I go after it fully with immediate action. It leads to one-of-a-kind experiences and opportunities to befriend individuals from all corners of the globe, but it can also be exhausting and daunting. I'd like to create a resource for others around me who are in a place similar to where I was, where I am now, or even where I'd like to move towards. By creating this virtual sangha (community), we can remind ourselves that though each of our paths are absolutely unique, they're still woven together in a beautiful universal map.

One of the things that I still seek daily is inspiration. I find it by going to the bookstore and flipping through design magazines where creativity bursts from the pages, by meeting people who've undergone unbelievable challenges to come through more brilliant than ever, by listening to podcasts and watching videos of innovative thinkers actively and ingeniously changing the world. 

The "Inspirations" element of my blog is designed to bring forth the feel-good factor, to remind us that we are all more phenomenal than we ever give ourselves credit for, and simply because, as E.E. Cummings said, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting."

And to start, check out this live story from The Moth with Aimee Mullins, a double-amputee who continues to inspire strong ideas of living beautifully.

As Aimee says, "May we all go big or go home!"

Friday, February 3, 2012

Reflections & Musings: "You're too hard on yourself."

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
-Dalai Lama

I'm not sure when I first heard the words, "You're too hard on yourself," but it seems to be a mantra that's been repeated by every single soul who's come to know me. At first, I thought this kind of immense pressure is what drove me to success. I felt propelled to outrun an element of myself that I didn't like, a figment of my imagination created by the past, an emptiness I could not fill. The tamping down of feeling good, because I falsely believed I simply was not good enough, filled the days into years into all of my perception of time and space until finally, I arrived at a point where I finally realized that I am now the only one ruling my heart, body, mind, and soul with an iron fist— I went from fleeing the adult bullies in my family to becoming one.

My recent trip to Maui was not what I expected, but similar to my experience in Bali, it was exactly what I needed. Incredibly, though I felt that I could not relax for more than a loose string of tenuous moments, I returned to San Diego with a greater sense of peaceful awareness, a deeper love for my beau, and a clearer vision of how I perpetually project onto him (and our relationship) the ways I think about and treat myself. It always shocks me slightly that he is not in complete agreement with the beliefs swirling around my manas mind and how he can almost always offer insight that's both grounded and logical.

"Wait, you mean you don't think that I'm a flawed person who needs to change so much about myself, so that we'll work out?"
"No," he tells me, "I love you exactly the way you are."
"So, you're saying that you weren't trying to attack me or actually mean something else when you said such-and-such?"
"No babe, I was just trying to share with you my honest opinion."

My face usually crinkles at this point with a soft, "Oh" as I reflect upon the things we've just discussed and realize how lucky I am to be with a man who is a genuine partner, who truly wants me to be happy, and who endeavors with his best effort to ensure that I am.

Because I am so hard on myself, I begin to nitpick about little things that he does or does not do. I think I know best, that somehow I could presume to know how his life journey should be. I come back to the realization that if it's so incredibly hard to change anything about myself, why on earth would I think that I could invoke such an effect within someone else?

"You are so so hard on yourself, and no one is making it that way except for you. I can't see anything that stands in the way of your happiness, other than what you perceive those obstacles to be. You are one of most intelligent and talented people I know, and yet, you don't believe it," he often says.

Maui taught me — never more clearly in my life — the invaluable lesson of LETTING GO. By holding onto the past so tightly, the stories of how I think will protect myself, I am completely missing the present. "I need you to be here, in our relationship," my beau said to me one night. "Not in your own world, in your head, thinking about the past or imagining the future. Sometimes, I feel that you're completely removed from the situation at hand, so that you can be an observer and write about it later. Then, only in your writing, do you really live it. But I'm RIGHT HERE, experiencing it with you now, and I don't need you to recount it for me step-by-step later — I'm already living it, and I want you to be living it with me."

And he's right, that's exactly what I do. I take in everything but in a way that leaves me distanced enough that I can rewrite my reality later. And, when I do that, I often make it up in a way where there's some sort of struggle, because after all, what's a story without a conflict, a climax, and a conclusion? Where would the denouement be if the drama didn't precede it? 

When people have told me, "You're too hard on yourself" in the past, I agreed this was true, but there was never any offering of a solution. How does one practice compassion if it were never experienced much firsthand? How does one bring more fluidity rather than rigidity into life, inspire beautiful grace in challenging moments, and find the freedom to dance in the ebb and the flow? How does I let loose with bountiful joy and confidence worth celebrating? Well, I'm learning step-by-misstep to find my way and to transform my living vocabulary from "exactly" and "precisely" to "-ish" and "sometimes."

One night, during dinner on one of our last nights in Maui, my beau looks at me and says, "Y'know, you are beautiful from the inside out. Sometimes, I look at you, and I find it shocking. You are strikingly beautiful when you want to be, when you believe in yourself, and when you feel confident all around, but you don't let yourself feel that way all the time, and I just don't understand why."

My brain created a rut a long time ago, a groove that was dug so deep, I didn't realize how low it could go until this past trip, when I saw my inward focus become selfish tendencies that took away moments of happiness from a man I love. He shows me compassion and forgiveness in his own way, and though none of us are "perfect" now or ever, I'm learning at a much faster pace how to be fully content with the freedom of imperfection. I'm embracing the lighter side of things and grasping again and again that the past has no hold on the present if I can let it go of holding on so tightly to what I think I know. In so doing, I get to wrap my fingers around something else entirely. 

O, how wonderful it feels to breathe and expand into a new life worth living, into every single present moment!