Be Happy

I’ve been debating whether to write about this for a while now. On the one hand, I feel it was a pretty private, inner experience, which may be better unshared and given an untampered space to live in within me. On the other hand, I figure, if I’ve found something good, why not share it?

Two weeks ago I came back from a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat south of Manila here in the Philippines. It was a silent retreat wherein participants were not allowed to communicate with one another, even through eye contact or gestures, and were not allowed to engage in any activities that could serve as distractions from our morning to evening meditation. This included cellphone use, reading, writing, any musical activity, dancing, physical exercise.

I know what you’re thinking. The same thing my mom said when I told her I was going on the retreat. Why would anyone in their right mind decide to put themself through this?

Well, I actually had wanted to experience this kind of retreat since I took up Buddhism in college, and learned about silent retreats. Something about them intrigued me. To take away the distractions and unnecessary mental wanderings that come from chit chatting and an overstimulation of our senses in everyday life … something about that spoke to me.

dhamma phala

Set in a humble space in Tiaong, Quezon is the Dhamma Phala, Philippines’ Vipassana center. Vipassana is an age-old meditation technique taught by Gautama Buddha. It means “to see things in a new way”. Since 2500 years ago, it was taught and handed down from teacher to pupil, teacher to pupil, and unfortunately got lost until it was revived in Burma earlier in the 20th century. A man by the name of S.N. Goenka fortunately learned it, later bringing it to India and throughout the world.

More about the retreat – for ten days, 40 or so of us meditators sat from morning til evening, meditating and becoming intimate with all the sounds of nature. The morning roosters, the birds, the geckos or tukos, the evening crickets. The gentle breeze, the roaring wind, the thundering rain. Living in the sweltering heat, relishing the cool evenings after the rain. There was a beauty surrounding all our fear and confusion, our questions of why am I here?, our pains and aches from sitting for hours on end. The beauty lay in the simplicity of communicating through politeness; of savoring meals in silence; of appreciating butterflies, flowers, plants, trees, views that may have easily gone unnoticed.

What did I learn from the retreat? I don’t want to go too much into it, lest any of you may one day become intrigued and decide to join one yourself. However, this “new way of seeing things” is proving to be a true game changer for me. My largest learning is equanimity – to not react to things just because they are good or bad in any way. Learning to remain an observer and accepting things as they are. Reacting and clinging only generates misery. It’s true.

Grateful to those who came before me, who donated or served in order for me to partake in the retreat. The spirit of giving lives within each of us and shines a light when we embrace it. This is one small way for me to give back, by spreading the word.

Here is the link to the center’s website in case anyone is interested: https://www.phala.dhamma.org/

Tread lightly. Remain aware. Spread love. Be happy.

 

xo

J

On Raising Children

A week ago, I attended a weeklong training on child development. It was a convergence of doctors, teachers, students, farmers, parents, and like-minded individuals interested in learning about the different stages of childhood and adolescence according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophic movement (Anthropo = human, Sophia = wisdom). The gathering was called IPMT, for International Postgraduate Medical Training.

Even though I was a bit hesitant to join at first, given it was technically a medical training and I have no medical background, what I found ultimately was a community of open-hearted seekers who together created a safe space for all present to learn, share, and grow. The mix of attendees – from fields of medicine, education, and other forms of healing – added to the cornucopia of wisdom, and daily exchanges enriched the minds, bodies and souls of all.

I think the best way to sum it up is to share the top lessons I’m taking away from the conference. Here they are:

  1. Children choose their parents. They come into this life with karmic histories and this life will present them with challenges they have previewed and chosen in advance that they will need to overcome to move onto their next stage of evolution.
  2. Infants are so very sensitive and intuitive. They can feel everything their parents feel. They sense when something is off. For example, when they don’t feel safe – which may be due to a quarrel between their parents – they can’t sleep. They imitate everything, so parents need to establish good habits for themselves and set good examples because children WILL follow everything you do.
  3. If possible, a natural birth (through the vaginal canal) and breastfeeding are super beneficial and irreplaceable. The life / death situation of birth is symbolic of all living processes around us, and babies will be stronger if they struggle to enter this life. Babies also want to enter this life when they are ready. Breastfeeding provides the baby with bacteria and antibodies that will help them develop a healthy microbiome, which will lead to healthy digestion and a strong immune system.
  4. The feeling of warmth in the home is so important. Only through experiences of love, hugs, and touch will children be able to feel (sometimes literally!) the boundary between themselves and another, which will later on help them develop healthy boundaries with others and the ability to confidently say yes or no.
  5. Children do not only need loving, present parents but a community of caregivers and role models, whether it be comprised of extended family, friends, or teachers. It truly takes a village to raise a child – especially a healthy, sociable, compassionate, well-developed child.
  6. Schooling is NOT necessary or beneficial for a child under the age of seven. This one is hard for me to accept as I went to school young and feel I turned out fine. But, the brain does not fully develop for academic learning, on average, until a child reaches the age of seven. What is more appropriate and engaging for a child is outdoor play and exploration. To give a child the gift of curiosity and wonder for the world is priceless and far outweighs early mastery of the ABCs. One exception is music – a child who learns an instrument and practices music from a young age will experience enhanced brain development and intelligence of many sorts.
  7. Do not interrupt a child at play. Children need to feel they are able to explore to their heart’s content. A child who experiences this kind of interruption may grow accustomed to it, to expect it, and later on may potentially develop attention challenges. If you are worried they will miss meal time, fret not: when children feel hungry, they will naturally come to you.
  8. If a child does not want to eat, do NOT force feed. The mouth is the body’s most sensitive region. Instead, entice the child’s appetite through the smell of aromatic food.
  9. Fever and other illnesses are actually a means for the child to fully incarnate and develop his or her strength and immunity. Do not suppress fever with conventional medicines. “Support” the fever – allow it to take its course while of course making sure your child is as comfortable as possible, remaining well-hydrated, rested, and cool with lemon water towels. Often fever and other illnesses are followed by a newly developed ability in the child, whether it be enhanced ability to talk or move.
  10. As a child grows into adolescence, it is crucial for the child to feel the opposing forces and energies of mother and father. The mother will especially feel challenged by this period. It may be good for the child to experience being away from home for a while, to gain some independence. Eventually, through a gap between the mother and father (not physical, but may be engendered through slightly different perspectives on how to deal with certain situations, for example), the adolescent will emerge as his or her own person.
  11. It is only at the age of 21 that a young adult’s brain is fully developed and that his or her “ego” fully descends. This is when the young adult can make decisions clearly and confidently, according to his or her own morals and values. It can be dangerous for adults under this age to be put in situations that contain a moderate element of risk and people in position of unchallenged command (e.g. the military). Young adults under this age are not yet able to make full use of their decision making capabilities.
  12. Lastly, INTENTION is everything. As a doctor, as a teacher, as a parent, if you hold good intentions toward a child, they can feel it. Even if you are unable to carry out your duties perfectly, positive intention will carry you forward. According to Steiner, “if the patient, simply through the individuality of the physician, is brought to a point where he feels the physician’s will-to-heal, the reflex action in him is that he will be filled with the will to become healthy. This interplay of the will-to-heal and the will to be healthy plays a tremendous part in the therapeutic process.”

I’m hoping any of the above can prove useful to anyone who is raising a child, thinking of raising a child, or has loved ones or friends raising children. I believe it is crucial to be aware of how our children are being raised, and the potential effects of our decisions, because, as cheesy as it sounds, children really are the ones who will carry the torch of humanity into the future.

Feeling grateful for opportunities to share, exchange, learn, and uplift one another. Here’s to future IPMTs and other learning convergences.

xo

J

Thoughts on Turning 30

I turned 30 two days ago. I was not prepared for all that I would feel on the day. I hadn’t planned any special celebrations (I don’t like birthday celebrations much); I had only planned to attend a good friend’s wedding celebration.

To be honest among all the travel and festivities I almost forgot it would be my 30th birthday until the eve of. I felt uneasy as the hours of the night passed, and midnight neared.

Fortunately I was able to let those around me know it was my birthday, so I did get to celebrate a little bit, although I didn’t feel happy about it. I thought – this is it? This is 30? I sure don’t feel 30. I don’t want to leave the comfort of being in my twenties.

It was only during the few days after my birthday that I realized why I was so down. It had always been engrained in me, as I’m sure is true for many in society, that by 30 a woman should ideally have married, have or be preparing to have children, and have a successful career. I don’t feel I’ve “accomplished” any of those. That’s why 30 felt empty. There was no joy in it.

It took a few reminders, some thinking, and a few days for me to realize it is something to celebrate. LIFE is something to celebrate. To have good health, to live comfortably, to wake up and take a deep breath in every morning, to be able to surround yourself with loving family and friends – these are all blessings to celebrate. There’s no timeline we need to adhere to (men and women alike). We’re each on our own individual paths, working toward what we each desire in our own time.

I know in five years I will look back and think: “ah, to be young and 30”. Age is relative. I’m feeling more centered and composed. Feeling more confident. If 30 means being able to live another year of trials and errors, gains and losses, connection and love, light and sometimes not so much light, then I welcome it with open arms.

Hello, 30.

xo

J

Bali Bliss

I’m still digesting the nearly two weeks I spent in Bali … it’s only been three days since I’ve been back home and it already seems a world away. Keeping a deep knowing, though, that things may end, but you can keep them alive in your heart.

I went to Bali initially for a yoga retreat with a dear yoga teacher friend, T. To be honest, I didn’t expect much more than days filled with yoga, fun, laughter, sun, and relaxation. I came away with so much more. How can I begin …

The setting of Bali is so beautiful. Words can hardly describe. Right as you arrive you sigh in relief as your eyes are flooded with fields of green, your nerves calm as you absorb the peace radiating from the locals, it doesn’t take long until everything in your body starts to slow down and stabilize. You’ve entered what may feel like an alternate universe.

 Green as far as the eye can see
Green as far as the eye can see

Of course more than the setting, what makes a trip are the people you spend your time with. Very thankful for T and the group she gathered together. Everyone diverse yet similar, each at different stages of our lives yet able to connect in spirit. Bali blew our hearts open, from experiencing sound healing in pyramids, marveling at majestic age-old temples, rejoicing in nature, sharing poetry and song, moving with intention, digging deep within and laying our souls bare. Thank you Bali beauties for an unforgettable time … until our paths cross next and we again commune under a full moon whispering our dreams, desires, and fears, to make way for growth.

A snippet from my diary on my last day:

“Thank you Bali for being so sacred. Your land, vegetation, people, beings .. all living in such harmony. Thank you for your lessons and beauty. The care with which everyone lives here … smiling at each other as they greet each other, speaking and acting humbly, praying for the smallest things … everything is sacred. Our homes, our workplaces, our possessions, ourselves, our cohabitants on this earth. Thank you Bali for your peace, blessings, wonder. I am in awe. Bowing down at your feet.”

 Daily prayer
Daily prayer
 Under a magnificent tree of life
Under a magnificent tree of life
 Finding magical nooks and spaces
Finding magical nooks and spaces
 Discovering new foods together (durian)
Discovering new foods together (durian)
 Lounging, sharing, pondering
Lounging, sharing, pondering
 Sacred circle
Sacred circle
 Memories that will last forever
Memories that will last forever

 

xo

J

Michicant

Filmed a cover while in Bali… which I will write about at some point soon.

Here is Bon Iver’s Michicant, a beauty of a song matched by the beauty of my surroundings singing it.

For best audio, use headphones. Thank you to my lovely videographer Juliet for all her help! Enjoy x

xo

J

What I Learned Spending New Year’s Solo

Wanted to write a bit about how I spent my New Year’s, and what it’s taught me.

I spent this New Year’s in India. After attending the Learning Societies’ unConference, I went to the countryside a few hours outside Bangalore with my friends A and B. They had planned well in advance to stay in a beautiful treehouse in the jungle for New Year’s. I had tried to arrange to stay in the same area as them, but by the time I was inquiring (just two weeks before New Year’s), their resort was understandably already full. I ended up booking to stay at a forest lodge 18 km away.

I had no idea what to expect. 1) It was my first time in a jungle in India; 2) It was my first time in India period; and 3) As B lovingly welcomed me into his home for the first part of my stay, this would be my first time on my own in a country that, despite having been welcoming to me thus far, was still foreign to me. After a snafu that occurred the day we arrived in the area due to a misunderstanding over not being able to drive through the jungle after sundown (turns out tigers rule jungle territory at night), A and B dropped me off at my lodging the next day.

Here are 3 Lessons I Learned Spending New Year’s Alone in a Foreign Country:

1) Give people the benefit of the doubt. Be wary, but also be open. The way you treat others will be mirrored in the way you feel you are treated.

When I first arrived at my lodge, I was wearing a sweater and leggings. I had just bought the leggings a few days prior and found them to be one of, if not the, most comfortable pair of leggings I’ve ever worn. They are made of a sheer material but I wore them that day solely for comfort. After checking in, I noticed one of the male lodge staff staring and looking me up and down slowly. I felt very uncomfortable, and quickly went into my room to change into pants. I had heard about the male culture in India, and the horrific abuses that can happen to girls. I worried a little about whether I would be safe on my own at night, but remembered B saying he had stayed at the lodge before and that it was a trusted establishment.

That ended up being the only uncomfortable moment during my entire stay. All the other staff were nothing short of friendly and accommodating throughout my stay, answering any questions I had. Once I became aware of my surroundings and the cultural expectations of those around me, and once I let go of my fear and genuinely became curious to learn more about the lodge, its staff, the jungle and animals, my experience changed from one where I could have felt frightened and closed-off the entire time to a smooth, peaceful one filled with wonder.

2) There is no shame in being on your own.

When I was in Middle School, I remember more than a few times sitting alone in the cafeteria after school just having a bite to eat or doing homework. I was completely comfortable doing it. At some point I recall my sister telling me she herself wouldn’t sit at a table on her own, and I started to wonder if it was something others looked down on. Interestingly, when I was a bit older my mom also told me separately that if she was out on her own, she would rather return home to eat than go to a restaurant and sit at a table alone. So perhaps it is an attitude that runs in the family (?). Anyway, since Middle School, I have still had meals on my own in public every now and then. I’ve become more self-conscious during these meals, often looking around to check if I am the only one on my own, but am learning to be more comfortable with it as I do naturally enjoy my own company.

Back to India – At the jungle lodge, all the guests were to follow the same schedule. Meal times were scheduled and buffet style; safari times were scheduled twice a day; even snacks were scheduled to be given at certain times to ensure we didn’t get hungry. Over the course of my stay at the lodge, I had a number of meals on my own in the little dining pagoda that fit all 20 or so of us guests. I became quite conscious of the fact that I was the only one there on my own (others were there as a couple or family), but did my best to enjoy my meals leisurely. On New Year’s Eve, a campfire was set up next to the pagoda. I joined a group at the fire after dinner to warm up from the chill of the night. They turned out to be there as a family and welcomed me into their circle. They asked me where I was from and why I was there alone. I explained my situation – how I had wanted to stay with two friends elsewhere but had booked late. They understood, and we chatted and spent some more time together before the lodge closed up the area by 10pm and we all headed off to bed.

 Full moon on New Year's Eve Full moon on New Year’s Eve

I was quite proud of myself. I don’t typically throw myself into a group of strangers, but I learned that night that, as long as (again) I stay open and true to myself, and, importantly, as long as I don’t judge and reject myself, I won’t experience rejection from others. Thinking back, I wonder if I would have had the same experience that night if I had been there on my own intentionally. If I had decided to go to India on a solo trip and adventure into the jungle for New Year’s. I think if I explained that I was there alone because I wanted to have a solo adventure, they would have probably respected that as well. (And anyway, my newfound perspective is that if they did judge me, it shouldn’t matter as long as I myself was happy with what I was doing.)

3) Without distractions, you are free to think clearly and be creative.

There is value in quiet and peace. There’s a reason writers, artists, and creatives of the past would retreat away to their chosen sanctuary – typically a quiet and secluded space – where they could think and create without disturbance.

I had been toying around with the idea of trying to write a song for a few days before arriving at the lodge. Prior to going to India I had only ever written one song, which happened when I was in Costa Rica, funnily enough also in a jungle. I must have a special connection with jungles, because on New Year’s Eve, I started scribbling the beginnings of a song. During the morning safari the next day, inspiration continued to strike and I came up with the title of my song – “The Road Less Traveled”. Related to the poem by Robert Frost, which my father loved and taught me and my sister when we were young; related to the beautiful paths we were driving down in the forest; related to this Road Less Traveled I wish to continue traveling down this year. I’ve finished the song and may share it at some point.

 Two roads diverge in a wood Two roads diverge in a wood  Sighted fresh tiger paw prints on the morning safari! Sighted fresh tiger paw prints on the morning safari!  With our safari guide and jungle expert With our safari guide and jungle expert  Safari selfie while waiting at a watering hole Safari selfie while waiting at a watering hole

What I hope you take from all of this is that it’s okay to do things in an unconventional way even though you feel others may judge. As long as it’s what you want to do and you are happy with your decision, don’t let anyone else make you feel any differently.

Here’s to cultivating more compassion, strength, and freedom in 2018!

xo

J

Lessons from India

I have just come back from an incredible journey in India. There is so much I want to share. This may be the first of a series of posts. We will see.

My main purpose in visiting India was attending LSUC – the Learning Societies’ Unconference. I was invited by my dear friend A just a few weeks before the unconference. In a nutshell, LSUC seeks to unite people from all walks of life who wish to unlearn certain ways of living taught by society that may not serve the greatest good, and who wish to explore alternatives to these ways. After much deliberation, I took the leap of faith and decided to go.

For those of you hearing of unconferences for the first time, an unconference is a gathering of people looking to share and exchange ideas in an unstructured setting. It is a much freer kind of event than a conference, in that you have the freedom typically to create your experience.

 The loose outline of each day at LSUC. There was fluidity between sessions and during each session as well. The loose outline of each day at LSUC. There was fluidity between sessions and during each session as well.  The Open Sessions board. Anyone who wanted to lead a session on anything at all, could create a poster and pin it up next to a number with a certain location and time. The Open Sessions board. Anyone who wanted to lead a session on anything at all, could create a poster and pin it up next to a number with a certain location and time.  At the Gift table. This was a table where you could leave a prized possession or gift for anyone who needs or wants it. Anyone can come up at any time to leave something or take something. It was unmonitored, and worked based on mutual trust and love. At the Gift table. This was a table where you could leave a prized possession or gift for anyone who needs or wants it. Anyone can come up at any time to leave something or take something. It was unmonitored, and worked based on mutual trust and love.  A and I on the first day. A and I on the first day.

There are many things I learned from LSUC, but here is one poignant story I wish to share today. On the second to last day of the unconference, there was an open mic night. Given the unstructured nature of the unconference, I only found out about this open mic night when we arrived that day. That morning I had been thinking about sharing a few songs on my ukulele to anyone who wished to listen. The universe must have been listening because this open mic night opportunity showed up. I signed up with encouragement from my friends A and B.

I ended up having to wait three hours before going up to perform. Long story short – there were already performers scheduled to go on at a certain time. As I was waiting, I made a friend, S. S is a music facilitator at Swaraj University. We started talking about music. He mentioned how he had also wanted to join in for the open mic before the scheduled act had gone on, but now that they were performing, the whole atmosphere of the night had changed. What was at first a casual event where anyone was free to go up and share their talents, regardless of how “good” they were in the conventional sense, was now more of a concert setting where the performers onstage were very well-trained. The audience was enjoying the act, though perhaps some members were enjoying it because they thought they were supposed to – because the performers were giving a well-prepared performance in a style known for its difficulty.

I told S that I still wanted to perform, but that now having heard how he felt, started to feel anxious about going onstage. He told me not to worry, to just be myself. To remember, in the spirit of the unconference, that I am still learning. That everyone has their own style of music, none of which is better than the other. Each of which is unique. The important thing is that we create art for our own pleasure first and foremost, before that of others.

I kept that in mind as I got up onstage. I had prepared a few covers, which I had only been practicing for a day or so. I was nervous and uncomfortable as I don’t normally sing in public with my ukulele. I was afraid I would forget the lyrics. As I performed the covers I tried to get everything perfect. With the little screen of my cellphone as my crutch, I paused here and there to scroll down the screen for the lyrics. I wasn’t connected to the music. I was performing, and very well aware of the fact. As I had been taught to do in my classical piano and violin training and performances growing up, I was trying to impress the audience.

After my covers, my friend B shouted from the audience that I should sing my own song. I was slightly caught off guard but am so grateful that he did, because I was able to share a song I had written in Costa Rica, that holds a special place in my heart. I sang it effortlessly, looking out into the audience and connecting with them, as I no longer felt the need to keep my head down staring at my phone. I felt the song, and felt the freedom of sharing my truth with those gathered there.

After my performance, nearly every compliment I received was on my final song. Another friend B told me it was a beautiful performance, and that what he enjoyed most was how I was completely myself up there, gaffes and all. During my covers, I had trouble with scrolling to see the lyrics, and basically – looking back, quite embarrassingly – voiced my inner monologue of struggle out loud instead of keeping it to myself. It was a novel experience for me, not having to hide anything in a performance. Feeling safe to be myself.

 A dome built onsite by one of the participants. A dome built onsite by one of the participants.

I think so often we feel the need to hide parts of ourselves due to fear of not being liked or accepted. I have learned on a deep level that that is unnecessary. Only in sharing your purest self can others feel safe to share parts of themselves as well. For this invaluable lesson, I am eternally grateful to LSUC and to all those I had the pleasure to connect with through it.

My leap of faith was certainly guarded by a strong and sturdy safety net. I just had to trust that all would be well.

As we enter 2018, I wish the same for you. That you have the courage to take leaps of faith while following your intuition. As long as you have good intentions and a good heart, you won’t be led astray.

xo

J

Love Stories

Just came back from a friend’s wedding in Singapore. It was my first time attending the wedding of a good friend, and my first time appreciating weddings for what they are – celebrations of love stories.

Many tears were shed during the wedding. Many laughs shared. Memories made. Friendships created. Friends and family of the couple flew in from over 20 countries to celebrate with them. It was a massive, long, beautiful affair and I was so happy I was able to take part in it.

 Beautiful bridal henna Beautiful bridal henna  All dressed up in sarees All dressed up in sarees  Friends with the bride and groom Friends with the bride and groom  Introducing the new Mr. and Mrs. ... #ourlovestoRY2017 Introducing the new Mr. and Mrs. … #ourlovestoRY2017

As huge an accomplishment as a wedding may seem to be, it is important to realize a wedding is really just the beginning of a marriage. The beginning of hard work, of building a life together and weathering any storm that may come. There is no “end” to love stories. It’s not like in the movies. Love is an arena where the journey is just as important as (if not more important than) the destination.

Seeing my friend build this strong partnership inspires me, and makes me wish for my own bond with a special someone. Here is my prayer to the Universe: may whoever is meant for me find me; may I find him; may we see and accept each other for who we are – strengths, flaws and all; and may we commit to growing together. I wish the same for you, as well.

xo

J