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

Stories Untold, Stories Unfold

Earlier this month I did something I have thought about doing for a long time. I sat down with my grandma and interviewed her. When I was in high school, I added this item to my bucket list: “Learn more about my grandmother while I can”. I knew back then I wanted to cherish the time I had with my only living grandparent. Years passed and the opportunity never presented itself (or I was never proactive about it), until earlier this month when my grandma visited the Philippines with my aunt and cousin.

I had heard about this interesting project called StoryCorps a while back. It’s an initiative aimed at chronicling stories of people from all walks of life. They hold events throughout the U.S. where they invite you to bring someone you’d like to interview and record an interview with them, asking questions that you may not otherwise ask in your normal everyday life. I discovered they had a phone app that anyone can use to interview their subject of choice on-the-go. I downloaded it and forgot about it until recently, when I opened it up and checked it out. When my grandma visited there was a chunk of time where I just happened to be sitting in the living room alone with her, so I figured – here I go, if not now who knows how many other chances I will get.

 Grandma and me, then and now Grandma and me, then and now

I asked her about her childhood, her family, how she met my grandpa, any memories she wanted to share. It was wonderful to see her face light up and to see her talk in a lively way about these things. Normally whenever I see her we spend time in a comfortable, mundane way – watching TV together, eating together, maybe taking a walk outside together. But never really conversing about deeper issues, about her thoughts and feelings. I suppose we come from very different worlds – she grew up in a family of farmers, and even until today has a chicken farm near where she grew up in Taiwan. At the age of 80 she goes to the farm almost everyday to feed her chickens. She never went to school as she had to work for her parents growing up. A far cry from how I was raised, so it’s understandable she probably isn’t used to discussing feelings in her free time. Especially with her grandchildren!

Anyway, I’m glad I got to interview her, and hope to spend more moments with her as a caring companion and not just as a grandchild. Here is our interview (in Mandarin, but I included a translated transcript in English at the link) if you care to take a listen:

https://archive.storycorps.org/interviews/interview-with-grandma-mary/

xo

J

Letting Go

Just read a post from Danielle Laporte that’s inspired me to write my own. She wrote about things she is giving up. It’s never a bad time to let go of what you don’t need, especially now given the solar eclipse has just happened. I’m not an expert on astrological events by any means, but apparently the energies are strong right now, and the time is ripe to let go of the old and start anew.

So here we go.

I declare my intentions to let go of:

– How I often feel the need to put others ahead of myself. My need to please people. Sure, others’ opinions do matter and others’ time is precious, but for me, no one’s opinions or time should be as precious as my own. I let go of not prioritizing myself. I let go of trying to squeeze time in for everyone else. I resolve to make time for ME.

– Along the same lines, feeling the need to sugarcoat things for others to not hurt their feelings. No. We are all human. We are resilient. We can handle disappointment. We can handle pain. I will speak my truth, and not hide or back away just because I am afraid of causing someone else discomfort.

– This guard I’ve learned to put up. Boundaries are important, but not when they prevent you from living fully, loving fully, from connecting with others, even strangers.

– Self-doubt. This is a big one. I let go of putting myself down. I let go of thinking I’m not good enough. I so am – if I don’t see it, then I’m just looking at things from the wrong perspective. I so am, and so is everybody else. We are all complete, innately joyful, abundant human beings.

– Shame about my past. What happened happened, and it’s made me a stronger person. It’s made me more aware, compassionate, and understanding of myself and others.

– SHOULDS. I let go of shoulds. I will embrace WANTS and DESIRES, even NEEDS, but I will let go of SHOULDS.

– Any preconceptions, however I inherited them, of who I am supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do. I set myself free from expectations.

As Anais Nin said, “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Time to blossom!

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

Twenty Eight

Turned twenty eight a few days ago. I have never felt “different” just because I turn one year older, but this year I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past year, as I feel like it’s been a pretty transformative year for me.

Eight lessons I have learned:

1. It’s okay to ask for help. It does not show vulnerability or weakness; instead, it shows strength. Asking for help means you accept the situation you are in and you’re willing to do what it takes to improve it. It means you are taking control of whatever is plaguing you, instead of allowing it to have control over you.

2. In any situation, forgiveness begins with forgiving yourself. You can’t move on from a situation or relationship unless you acknowledge the role you played in it.

3. There’s really no need to rush decisions or bend over backwards to please others. This will only lead to unhappiness, regret (which you will later learn from so in a sense this is ok), repression, and possibly depression. It’s best to learn to befriend your intuition, and to listen to it often.

4. Not just intuition, but feelings as well. Get to know your feelings. Even though they may be negative, accept them. Do not ignore them. Be kind to them. Listen. Take deep breaths. Emotions only last for 90 seconds if you don’t re-trigger them and get stuck in a loop. Let them flow through you. Make a consistent effort to listen to them, acknowledge them, and do what it takes to feel the way you want to feel.

5. Don’t be afraid to invest in services that will help you. Especially services like coaching and therapy. Even though they may not produce tangible results immediately, or even though they are not widely seen as services you should invest in (ex. standard healthcare), remember that any step forward is a step forward.

6. Cherish the time you have with loved ones, including friends and family. Be present. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. All you have is the now.

7. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. What they say is true: those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind. Any judgment likely stems from jealousy and a lack of inner alignment on the other person’s part. Speak your truth.

8. Be open. Open to meeting new people, to trying new things, to having foreign or difficult conversations. Only through accessing the unknown do you grow.

xo

J

My Truth

Been suffering from writer’s block recently. Or perhaps not so much writer’s block, but just inspiration block. Haven’t been feeling inspired to write about much. Usually this means I’ve probably hit a roadblock, or am facing something I’m not sure how to handle. Completely understandable, and likely true. So here’s me clearing a block.

I’ve been wanting to share this for quite some time now. To be honest the thought of coming clean about it in a public arena like this has my stomach in knots. But, I know it will do me good. So I’m taking a deep breath, and carrying on. Here it goes.

Many of you who know me knew that I started attending business school a little under two years ago. I was excited at the time – fresh faced, 26, excited to start anew and have a whole two years to reroute my life and discover what direction I wanted to steer it in.

The application process had been daunting. Many days and nights of metaphorically hitting my head against a wall, not knowing how to tell my story, not knowing how to sell myself to gain admission. All my life I had seemingly been working up to this point. Getting good grades all through secondary school, participating and working hard to excel in a multitude of activities, attending an Ivy League university where I continued to earn good grades, somehow managing to land myself a coveted job in private equity. I wrote my story of why I wanted to attend business school, but let’s just say I didn’t feel it ring 100% true in my gut. At some point I had brainwashed myself into thinking that that’s what I wanted – to attend a prestigious business school, to attain the degree, but then what? Would that suddenly make me a more fulfilled and happy person after two years?

I didn’t think about it to that extent. Of course when you are in the moment, working hard to try to achieve something, you rarely give yourself the time to step away and ask, is this what I really want?

When school started, it was all fun and games – orientation, meeting new people, bouncing excitement off each other for all the amazing parties we would have, trips we would take, activities we would try. I got caught up in all of it and thought I would be in for two years of learning, connection, and growth.

The anxiety began to creep in a few weeks in. First it was signing up for clubs. Every club membership had a price attached to it, and some clubs had caps on how many members could join. I had made a mental list early on for clubs I wanted to join, but hadn’t realized many of them would have limited spots and require a sizable downpayment. Then it was signing up for classes. For the first semester most first-years take the same core classes, so that wasn’t too hard of a decision process, although it was a process nonetheless learning how the ranking-based class-matching system worked. Then – and this I think is what really hammered the nail in – came career events.

I had been warned before school started by friends and acquaintances that once career season started one month in, it would be full steam ahead. I would have barely any time to breathe or dilly dally around pondering which career path I wanted to pursue. I had written about a certain career path in my application essays, and had brainwashed myself to a point where I was almost certain it was the only viable and desirable path for me, given visa limitations as an international student. So I stuck with it, even though my inner voice whispered that it may not be what I truly wanted. Did I actually know what I wanted? No. I had never given myself ample time or space to consider it. Having been conditioned since I was young to adhere to family expectations and society’s definition of “success”, I don’t think I ever developed the ability to make decisions for myself. It may sound sad, but it’s true.

Anyway, all this anxiety ended up spiraling out of control. I attended many career events, wanting so badly to feel that intuitive yes, this is exactly where I want to be and see myself in x years, yet I never felt it. My anxiety worsened to a point where I ended up avoiding any type of social interaction because I didn’t want to have to chat about where I was in the whole career process. Everyone else seemed to have their future figured out except me. I know now that that most likely was not the case, but that’s how it seemed to me.

I’ve never considered myself a quitter, but during winter break after my first semester, I honestly could not see myself going back to school. Going back to that hole of anxiety and depression I had dug myself into. I feared for my physical, mental, and emotional health. It took courage for me to put my foot down and declare that I didn’t want to go back. In many ways, ironically, it was probably the first time in my life I decided something for myself, with little outside influence. I knew that business school wasn’t a healthy environment for me. It may be an exciting playground for others, but not for me. For me it felt stifling.

So – I’m now “on a break” from business school. I have been for the past year and a half, and I’m glad I made the decision I did. I can still opt to return and finish my MBA if I choose to in the next few years, and many I’ve spoken about this with have encouraged me to (because why wouldn’t I?!), but if you were to ask me if, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to, I would say my answer is no. And I’m learning to accept that that’s okay. I’m done making decisions based on what others say or think. It’s time I listen to my own intuition.

xo

J

Hope in Uncertainty

A series of countryside visits this month have renewed my faith in humanity and in life. There are so many opportunities out there for us to grab if we just open our eyes and minds enough to see them. I am learning day by day to let my mind wander and dream, not punishing myself to adhere to certain rules family or society have placed on me. My meditation today guided me to see everything as hope. Especially to see uncertainty as hope. Because uncertainty means there are boundless opportunities, which is the ultimate definition of hope.

Instead of thinking you are nervous, or anxious, can you replace that with excited? Can you be excited by the possibilities ahead that you either can see or don’t yet know exist?

If there’s one thing I have learned recently, it is that I am the master of my time. The past year I have been working with a much more flexible time schedule than I have been able to have in the past, and yet I still find myself beating myself up for not working long enough hours, for not putting enough in. For trying to work my schedule so that I have time to do things and attend gatherings I enjoy.

I am realizing that there is completely, one hundred percent, nothing wrong with that! We each have one life to live, and we should spend it doing whatever we wish, as long as it doesn’t hurt others and as long as we are still able to provide for ourselves. I am working to extinguish this guilt of not conforming enough to society’s standards.

How can you create space in your life for what you love? For what brings light into your heart? There are studies that actually show that working four days a week with deep concentration is much more effective than working five days a week AND checking e-mail over the weekend. There is nothing wrong with separating work and play with clear boundaries. There is also nothing wrong with mixing work with play – for the luckiest of us work feels like play.

Anyway, just wanted to share that little tidbit today. Do not feel guilty for making time to do things you love. You cannot work, or serve others, at your highest level without first nourishing and taking care of yourself.

xo

J

P.S. I’m starting #100DaysofGratitude on my Instagram. Feel free to follow me there!

Light in a Dark Room

Have been itching to write a blog post for a while now (it’s been two months!), just haven’t known what to say.

2017 has been challenging so far. I had high expectations to start the year on the right foot, but fears and self-doubt have crept in, causing me to feel more unsure and anxious than I would like. The biggest challenge for me has been this notion of my “future” – what I want to do, build, and where. Up until now, ruminating on this has brought me to almost a state of paralysis: having to decide and declare what my grand plan is.

But what if we don’t need grand plans? What if we can look at life as daily experiences building on each other? What if we don’t have to have the next ten years planned out – instead, just stay aware and focus on enjoying and giving in the present? I have tried to keep myself grounded in this way by journaling and, more recently, meditating daily.

This morning’s meditation, courtesy of the lovely Deepak Chopra, reminded me to see each obstacle as an opportunity in disguise.

He says that if we spend all our time focused on ourselves, we live life as if we were in a dark room with just a lit match to guide us. We have limited awareness, and everything around us seems dark and scary. If we focus more on compassion and serving others, then we have moderate awareness. We walk in the dark room with a flashlight, able to see objects far away more clearly, able to see that obstacles serve a purpose. The last, and highest level, is heightened awareness, where the room is well lit. We are still, connected to our intuition and purpose, and see all obstacles as opportunities to transcend into higher consciousness and awareness.

That’s what I’m striving for. Choosing to see each fear and trial as an opportunity in disguise. Asking myself, what can I learn from each situation? As my mentor likes to say, how can I see that life is happening FOR me, not TO me? How is everything I encounter a gift, a lesson designed to bring me closer in alignment to my purpose and joy?

That’s my wish for you today. To see the obstacles in your life as hidden opportunities. To expand your awareness, and shine a light on your problems in the process. The real reason they exist is so you can grow.

xo

J

Green School

It’s been a while since my visit to Bali, but I wanted to share with you a gem of a school I was able to tour there.

With only two extra days in Bali that I had on my own in December outside of the retreat I attended, I decided to dedicate one day to visiting the Green School. I had heard about the Green School from my mentors, who recommended a visit due to my interest in alternative education.

How can I even begin to describe the Green School? It’s like an educational oasis with nature as the students’ classroom and playground. Here are a few highlights from my visit:

 Heart of School Heart of School

Above is the visual the school is most known for: the intricate bamboo structure on campus called the “Heart of School”, which houses administrative units, the library as well as some classrooms. This structure was built by local Balinese builders, and amazingly, was completed without exact measurements.

 Model of the Heart of School Model of the Heart of School

Among what impressed me about the school were its environmental consciousness and integration of nature into its curriculum.

The school encourages the use of reusable water bottles vs. plastic bottles, and has its own water filtration system. They have a waste management system where they work with dozens of homes around the school and allow local children to attend afterschool activities in exchange for bags of trash that are then sorted and recycled. The school is partially powered by solar panels, and partially by a vortex which converts river flow/force into energy. It’s not completely off the grid but is already a notch above others. Students came up with the idea of a “bio bus”, which takes them to and from school, and runs on biodiesel/used cooking oil. The school kitchen has banned the use of palm oil – the production of which, as you know, is very harmful to the environment, especially in Indonesia.

 The vortex that generates a portion of the school's electricity The vortex that generates a portion of the school’s electricity  Stand selling fresh produce at the school. I love it! Stand selling fresh produce at the school. I love it!

In terms of the instruction, I liked the idea that students were able to use the school campus and surrounding nature (river, farming plots) to help in their learning. Early on in their education they start interacting with and learning about the environment around them, which I feel was lacking in my own education, growing up in a big city. Fourth graders had projects where they had to figure out how to sell chicken eggs at a profit, and how to make living conditions ideal for the chicken to lay eggs. Second graders learned how to harvest “liquid gold” worm juice from red worms munching on kitchen compost.

 The school's compost station The school’s compost station Second graders’ “liquid gold” harvesting project  There are garden plots scattered around the school. Here are some chili plants There are garden plots scattered around the school. Here are some chili plants

What I was a little concerned about was the quality of education for the older kids. From my visit I learned that as kids get older and progress through school, classes become age-neutral and a high school class can contain kids from each grade. It seemed classes were interdisciplinary – for example, we saw kids in English class incorporating photography into their project. I can appreciate that, but I wasn’t sure how rigorous the academics were for them. Not that academic rigor is a prerequisite for a fulfilled adult life, but I do believe some intellectual stimulation is necessary. Either way, I saw how happy the students were. Having classrooms without walls would perhaps subconsciously plant in their heads that there are no limits to what they can do. I do also believe that children who grow up with a strong connection to the Earth become well-adjusted, wholesome adults.

 A typical classroom A typical classroom  The school's yoga studio The school’s yoga studio  Mud pit for mud wrestling Mud pit for mud wrestling

In the end, I know no school is perfect. I appreciate the bold stance of the Green School and am in awe of how they’ve managed to create a green space that brings together a wonderful school community, while at the same time being mindful of their responsibility to the broader Balinese community. Perhaps more schools can take a page from their book and incorporate more gardening, nature, and sustainability into children’s education. In an era of gadgets and electronic everything, I think it’s much needed.

xo

J