What Are You Packing?

Most people hate moving, whether it is to a new house, a new state or new country. I think it is not the sheer exhaustion of the actual move, I reckon it is going through your stuff and determining what goes in boxes, what gets packed. I’ve gone through the process of moving about 35 times in my life, most of which happened before I was 25. I’ve got to sift through my things and consider carefully what I want to bring along with me. The other day in the shower (best thinking happens there, right?!), I was pondering all these places that I have lived, not just the physical places but the places in my mind and its habits. The different versions of me. Not only do I pack these physical items, but the mental ones. too. I get to purge the worst in me and only bring that which I want to to take forward into my next experience. I think this is the best part of moving to a far distant place because you do not have a personal history to defend. No one knows a dang thing about you and who’ve you been and you can set the reset button if you wish.

I think about the people in my life who have lived in the same place for ages. Sometimes, their stability is seen with a sense of pride, but, to me, I wonder if it is not a prison. A while ago I came to understand why I had this opinion about the “stable” people I know when I heard  this Indian mystic named Sadharguru say,

I am not against wealth. I am not against comfort. I am against stagnation, because if you stagnate, you are only half alive.

It made me realize that I harbor a belief that being deeply rooted to a place makes you deeply rooted in the comfort of your identity. Hating to disappoint others, might one be scared to do or say something that is contrary to the opinion of others? They might never get to experience the lightness and freshness of change! Of course, I do think thamovingt one can reinvent oneself in the midst of these strong attachments, but I think it must be ruthlessly difficult to challenge people’s perception of them. When people have a definition of who they think you are, it’s often difficult to get them to change their mind. But the definition that is the most challenging to change is the one we give ourselves: the one that is full of “can’ts” and “don’ts”. That’s the stuff that needs to be released, the beliefs that we cling to, and no one but oneself can do that.

So as I stare at all of my stuff, literally, and decide what is going to be shipped, I think it is important to reflect on this passage of my life–the China chapter–and consider what memories and insights I want to bring with me:  the ready smiles of my neighbors, the curiousity of locals when they see foreigners, the kindness and generosity of friends found here, the cacaphony of millions of people celebrating, the smell of the orange blossoms and the utter freedom of not giving a rat’s ass of what you look like to others (including the bold public display of excrementing) here. I want to stow that away as well.

No matter if you are intrepridly anchored to a place or a global nomad like myself, I think this exercise of unpacking and repacking our identity is an important exercise. Evaluating the “junk” and “clutter” in our beliefs and liberating them to the garbage heap is so profoundly necessary for our minds to feel the possibility of our own potential. What is truly valuable and extraordinary about oneself that is worth keeping, and subtracting from there might be a useful strategy. I’m thinking of my own list right now of redeeming qualities and wondering what I need in this next journey that awaits me.

What about you? What would you pack?

 

 

My Mind Drowning in the Wet Cement

I joked to one of my friends that the only vice I have left is swearing–I don’t drink or smoke or eat junk food or lie or even watch T.V.–but she assured me that I have other vices. The nerve, right?! But I think I found one.

The other day my family and I were walking back from shopping when I decided to dodge one of the fire stove “popping machines” that you commonly see on street corner here in China. It makes a popcorn-like treat and, when it’s ready, has this booming noise that scares the bejeesus out of my daughter. So my husband went towards the popping machine while my daughter and I  took a long way around and encountered fresh wet cement. We jumped over it–as the area wasn’t roped off and no sign was posted–but then a strange and sudden urge took me over. My eye spotted a narrow scrap piece of PVC pipe by a tree stump and I picked it up. Before I knew it, I had written Hannah’s name in the wet cement. Hannah asked “what’s the big idea” but then she added a smiley face after I pitched the pipe.  All of a sudden it hit me–I probably just committed a crime, in broad daylight, in China, with my daughter as an accomplice. What kind of parent am I?  And all the mischievous fun that spurred this impulse suddenly vanished and I felt awful–like nearly wanted to cry because of the shame and guilt that was summoned up by my reflection of this event.Why had I indulged in such a frivolous action? I had spoilt the wet cement and there was no way to fix it. What had I done?!!!!

When I came around to the other side of the “popping machine”, I confessed to my husband who shot a barb–“Judy, they’re cameras everywhere! They totally know it’s you!” He was right. This is a police state. I was certainly busted. Inside, you would have thought I had killed someone. I was ready for the police to handcuff and cart me to jail. For at least 15 minutes, I was definitely imprisoned, in my mind, awaiting trial and execution. However, when Ryan realized that I was seriously upset, he tried to console me–“They will probably think, ‘oh wow, cool, it’s English’. Don’t worry.”

And it occurred to me–why am I beating myself up? I  can’t go back and fix it. My action was silly and irresponsible, certainly not a good role model for my daughter, but it wasn’t dastardly. I didn’t harm anyone. The real crime is if I don’t forgive myself and move on.


Weeks have passed now since I first started writing this post and I finally summoned the courage to take a look at that spot where I had written Hannah’s name in the wet cement. When I saw it, I laughed out loud because it was sullied with bicycle tire marks and footprints. You can barely make out my writing.

Although I had intentionally defaced the sidewalk, there were numerous amount of people who had unintentionally done the same. Did that make them “bad” people? Do you think they lost sleep or mildly trembled with the thought of their carelessness? Doubtful.

I am still pondering the lesson of this wet cement and the inability to forgive myself. Did I suffer such a strong reaction to such a minor infraction due to the fear of getting in trouble in China or because I was a poor example to my daughter? Not sure, but I know that it was my perspective that caused my self-disappointment, and it has made me reflect on what other trivial things I beat myself up for that aren’t really probably worth the time or effort.

Can anyone relate to this?

 

Light and Air

It’s winter time here in Wuxi, which can be incredibly dreary.  I have to remind myself that though the sun may seem obscured by the clouds, even though I do not see it, I know the sun is still radiating its light and heat. And I often rely on this example as a metaphor for my life: there are moments in one’s life in which everything seems bright and going smoothly, and then there are other times that are clouded, disorientating and confusing.  I often use “this too shall pass” as my mantra to remember how temporary and fleeting the joys and the struggles are in life. My breath also exemplifies this quote from the bible–as it is natural that we move in and out of experiences.

With that in mind, I’ve been contemplating this yoga teaching lately:

The more shallow your breath, the more shallow your nerves. And the more shallow your nerves, the more shallow your thoughts. The more shallow your thoughts, the more shallow your whole life is. So consequentially, the deeper your breath, the deeper your nerves, the stronger your nervous system, the deeper your thoughts and your experience of your life. -Guru Jagat-

It’s an interesting argument for meditation, that is for sure, but what has drawn me into reflection is the ability to embrace the moment and see its opportunity for our growth–really taking a letgomoment to look at my thoughts, are they shallow and dim, full of doubt and gloom? Or are they deep and engaged in possibility, seeing the available good that can come from obstacles and opportunities? Can I penetrate through perception to see the truth?

And then, after “breathing it all in”, having the power to let it go and “breath it out”. Observing my thoughts in this way could provide the space to let new ideas emerge. If I attach to what is “wrong” or “right” about a situation, then this too clouds my judgment, sort of speaking, because I have a level of expectation that muddles my thinking; and it also creates more highs and lows in my emotional state. As I aim to be content, no matter what, I think balancing my emotions helps me to see situations more clearly and act in more conscious ways. Of course, this is a work in progress, one that is never done. And so I keep breathing, in and out.

 

 

 

 

Moving Towards Fear

I am often in awe of people who can be so deeply passionate about something–how did they turn an interest into full-blown commitment towards a problem, cause or issue? I was reading  about solving challenging math problems, and I find it incredibly inspiring and fascinating how one can dedicate years to working on a math theorem.  I know, how geeky of me, but really? — how did they overcome the anxiety, self-doubt and worry in order to explore something so diligently and deeply. Their unfailing curiosity and dedication is really something of a phenomena.

But I think that there are lots of life lessons to be gleaned from people like Andrew Wiles. And I really appreciate his nonchalant demeanor  and advice towards reaching a goal:

It’s like training in sport. If you want to run fast, you have to train. Anything where you’re trying to do something new, you have to go through this difficult period. It’s not something to be frightened of. Everybody goes through it.

-Andrew Wiles-

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I find his perspective refreshing, in which conquering a challenge is a skill that can be developed and mastered. However, when you look at things from his point of view, you move from fear to faith in possibility.

His belief in his ability to figure things out superseded his fear of failure due to the mindset he cultivated: just because I haven’t solved this problem today, doesn’t mean I CAN’T ever do it–I just haven’t done it YET.

I think this attitude helps you to move towards your fear, engage with it, and eventually crush it because this belief creates a feeling of certainty and compels one to keep making strides. With that in mind, thinking bigger helps one to put in more effort, to the point of success.

For example, look at these beliefs:

  • Failing at something doesn’t mean I am a failure.
  • Doing something stupid today doesn’t mean that I am going to do something stupid tomorrow.
  • I can learn from my mistakes and grow from them.

Pretty empowering, right?

If you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you have what it takes right now to get started, and can acquire all the skills, knowledge and resources along the journey, then mounting an extraordinary feat seems inevitable.

As I think about the year ahead and the things I wish to accomplish, I want to do things that scare me in order to gain the confidence that comes from playing full out. Perhaps you will too.