Everything started for me in 2007, the year I turned 24. It was the year of the boar, two cycles after my birth: the year that the first woman was voted in as Speaker of the House, the Virginia Tech massacre happened, the tomb of Herod the Great was discovered, the last Harry Potter book was released, and the Saffron Revolution began in Myanmar. But it was also the year that I felt the most happiness, threw caution to the wind, ran away from my actions, and left behind everything that was safe and familiar to me. I had no idea what would follow, but I only knew that I couldn’t go on living the life I was living.
Kahala Beach, Hawaii; November 2007
I was away from home for a month and half , surrounded by ocean waves and stillness, before I saw what was covered by the dust that had settled from the course of that year. After all the nights I stayed out too late because I wanted to have fun and didn’t want to come home to tension with my parents, all the missed calls that I never returned because I didn’t want to talk about troubling issues, and all the worries that I didn’t share with those I cared about because I was scared; I found myself hidden beneath the fear, hurt, doubt, irresponsibility, and resentment. I was waiting to be found and I was waiting to live.
I returned home at the end of that December and though I had only been gone for four months, everything was different. Or more accurately, I was significantly different. It felt like everything had come to an end and I felt sad. But not long after, I understood that this ending was only the end of the chapter, not of the entire book. In other words, the collapse of the life I had known gave me the chance to rebuild.
And how I rebuilt!
The focus of the following year was overall health: how could I continue to take care of myself? My yoga practice began at this point coupled with my first attempts at meditation: these activities helped me to recenter. I also began to read some books on self-improvement and spirituality: my mind began to expand. My heart needed to heal and I gave myself more chances to do this.
In 2009, I reached a peak: with my body healthy, I switched gears towards my mental health. I had a plan: 1) strengthen and develop my existing relationships, 2) study, 3) do yoga, 4) meditate, and 5) find creative outlets. Nothing too loud and flashy, just fundamentals that I needed. I began to truly repair the relationships that I cared so dearly about but had neglected. I continued reading and absorbing all that I could. A new friend and I started a meditation group. This was also when I gave up poultry, beef, and pork (inspired by my brother who would soon be leaving to Thailand).
Near Sandy Beach, Hawaii; December 2009.
It was a tremendous year, and it was enhanced by kalyanamittas (good spiritual friends), self-care, opportunities for growth, and subsequently, the well-being to give more.
2010 was about coming out my shell and stepping outside of my bubble: I opened myself up to new people, new adventures, and new places (YWP, quitting my unsatisfying job, and visiting Japan to name a few). I stepped outside of my comfort zones and grew in more ways than I ever imagined I would! It was a little difficult balancing adventures with health but by the time 2011 came around, there was consistency.
Matsushima, Japan; November 2010
It was this year, the year I would turn 28, when I began to see some fruits of my labor. When my dear kalyanamitta Emi told me that she had been offered an internship in New York with a pastry chef, I was nervous that my partner-in-good, date for national holidays, and sister would be miles and miles away. But for the first time in my life, I wasn’t worried or insecure that our friendship would fall apart. When it came time to part, I was filled with joy for her new chapter in life . There were no tears either when I saw her last, just a quiet hug and warm smile. In fact, I felt like the sun beaming on my kalyanamitta who was ready to keep growing and reaching towards the sky.
Another example comes from my recent employment. I am excited to have the opportunity to work for a great organization and with great people. But I remind myself constantly of the impermanence: it is a temporary position and funding may be eliminated with budget cuts. And I accept it all. But I am still filled with joy to go work each day, helping people to develop skills and working with a team I respect.
Of course, there are still plenty of areas that could use improvement: cravings for safety, aversion to discomfort, ignorance of my own intentions. I’m definitely a ways away from enlightenment. But I know that there is only enough light for the next step so I don’t feel worried; there is no need to see much farther ahead.
In case any of you are interested, here is a list of books that significantly affected by journey.
- Don’t Look Down on the Defilements: They Will Laugh at You: This book gave an in-depth description of how to do insight meditation. Because of these instructions and tips, I felt motivated to commit to my meditation practice. While I did insight meditation, I felt that I had many “aha!” moments. I refer to it as my “bible” for meditation.
- Fully Present: What I enjoyed about this book was that it provided two perspectives on meditation: 1) scientific research to explain to my brain what the benefits of meditating are and 2) practice suggestions so that I could learn how to do it. My favorite part of the book was the description on how to do several different kinds of meditations, such as walking meditation and pain meditation.
May your own journey be filled with courage to grow, loving-kindness for yourself and those you encounter, and the wisdom to understand.
Sending you metta,