A Thought on “This is Water”: I Know Nothing

I read This is Water by David Foster Wallace in a one-hour sitting at a Barnes & Noble cafe. I had listened to the commencement speech on YouTube years before. I remember the words feeling vaguely meaningful. Having read the words now, after listening to them, they still feel vaguely meaningful.

This is the most important lesson I took away from the speech:

People are as complex in their own lives as I am in mine.

This is an idea I’ve been struggling with for years. I used to think I was so unique and intellectual because I’d spend hours thinking and writing in a journal. (Pretentious Me type of thought: I mean, everyone else is too busy tweeting about celebrities to actually use their brain and a pen and paper.)

When I looked at other people, beautiful, easy-going people, I imagined they were just that: beautiful and easy-going. Simple people, simple-minded people. What could they know about how it feels to be thoughtful and complex?

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Sub-par photo from my Instagram story, taken at B&N Cafe.

I was Instagram-stalking, for lack of a better term, when I came across the profile of a girl I used to dismiss in college. She was beautiful and popular, one of those simple and simple-minded people. She posted a picture of a page in her journal. Suddenly, she was thoughtful and complex like me. She has thoughts and a journal, and she shares those thoughts, like me.

Or maybe: neither of us are complex and intellectual. Maybe we’re both just normal fucking people who happen to have thoughts and paper. That idea didn’t comfort me. The idea that both of us are complex was better, in a way.

After that discovery, it’s been hard to judge others as “good” or “bad”. What I see in others is a reflection of my own experience and has nothing to do with who they actually are. I wanted to feel important and unique, so I made this girl simple and simple-minded. I’ve wanted to be recognized as a compassionate person, so I make people seem selfish and self-centered.

In actuality, confining that girl, myself, and anyone else to a profile (like ‘simple’ or ‘selfish’) is incredibly unfair. Even profiling someone as ‘complex’ is problematic. But I also think it’s kind. It allows people space. If I think someone has done something hurtful, I’m not allowed to reduce them to being “a hurtful person”. They’re a complex person who, in this instance, behaved in a way I perceive as hurtful.

I allow them space: Maybe the hurtful action was the lesser of two evils. Maybe they’ve been hurt so much they feel the need to be the one causing hurt this time. Maybe they truly don’t see the action as hurtful.

This is all to say: I know nothing, and we all know nothing, of other people. We can’t know how much thought goes into every word or action or how someone presents themselves (maybe as beautiful and easy-going). We can’t know how much thought doesn’t go into words, actions, or presentation.

What we can know is how complex we are in our own right. We each do things with so much thought, and so little thought. And we can learn to extend that right to be complex to every single person we meet at every encounter.

i’m tired of inspiration

entry from my journal

i am so tired of looking for inspiration and wise words from other people. I’m tired of looking for revelations in other people’s experiences. why can they say things to change my life or outlook or mindset. they have nothing to do with me. it’s all just me. people who’ve had all these experiences and pain and travel and success or tragedy to earn the right to be searched for desperately by people like me.

i’m continually wanting more visual, creative, spiritual inspiration, but how much of it, for how much I consume, goes into creating or action? I don’t take the time to implement what I claim to understand. how useful is the knowledge if I don’t actively use it in my life?


current reflections

I wrote that at the end of a tiring day. I had spent the past hour scouring Instagram for spiritual inspiration. There had to be someone out there with the perfect aesthetic and flowy captions. (Someone who wasn’t also trying to sell me their tarot deck.)

Instead of exploring my own spirituality and life experience, I wanted someone to give theirs to me.

I do this almost every day: scrolling and following to find “inspiration”. But isn’t the idea of inspiration that it will actually inspire me to do something? Shouldn’t it inspire me to take meaningful action?

Well, I don’t. I collect and consume books, podcasts, YouTube videos, newsletters, and online courses. I read and listen and watch and do assignments, sure. I’m able to say, “Yeah, I listen to him every week. I get her emails all the time. I’m working on their course right now.”

But no matter how much I nod and mhmmm to Marie Forleo’s tweetables while I watch her, I couldn’t tell you I implemented the actual lesson of the video. I probably couldn’t even tell you what the lesson was.

This is all to say: If you’re a newsletter and YouTube junkie like me, actually pause and think about how you’re interacting with what you’re reading or watching. Ask: “What physical action can I take having learned this information?”

For me, it’s been:

  • scheduling (and doing!) focus blocks in my calendar (Asian Efficiency)
  • interacting with entrepreneur/business groups on Facebook (The Virtual Savvy)
  • asking myself, when faced with change, if it’s my ego afraid of the unfamiliar or if it’s my intuition saying this change is not for me (The Lively Show)

Marie Forleo always says,

Clarity comes from action, not thought.*

If I’m absorbing information, but not practicing it, I’m just standing still while my ego inflates. But if I absorb and practice through action, I’m moving and reaching clarity.


*The irony of using an inspiring quote here is not lost on me, but I do regularly remind myself of that quote to keep me taking action.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle: Top Takeaways (from halfway through)

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment is a New York Times bestseller. The author, Eckhart Tolle, is a renowned spiritual teacher. Both the book and Tolle are endorsed by figures such as Oprah and Deepak Chopra. The Power of Now is considered a life-changing personal growth and spiritual staple.

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Here are my top takeaways halfway through reading the book. (I plan on doing a more encompassing review when I finish.)

My own suffering comes from identifying with my suffering self
and being afraid to disidentify.

I spent most of my teenage and college years identifying as sad. Even now, I’ve considered the possibility that I am “meant” to be sad. Identifying as sad means I can cry all I want, stay in bed all day, and refuse to engage with others. In turn, my emotions, body, and relationships suffer. I identify as sad even further and continue to suffer.

‘Sad’ is easier than the alternative: taking the responsibility for removing sadness. Not being happy or at peace, but just removing sadness. It feels like a part of me by now, after so long. If I disidentify with ‘sad’, what’s left? Disidentifying with my suffering self means parting with this years-long identity. Who am I if I’m not sad? Is there any part of me left?

Working to create the future I want
doesn’t guarantee I’ll be happier or at peace.

Suffering comes from living either in the past or future.

Living for the future creates a gap between what is and what can be. If I imagine my ideal future, I create anticipation. If I imagine my worst future, I create anxiety. Both are illusions because neither exist. The gap is suffering.

However, I can work to change my life circumstances for my future: get another job, improve my health, and so on. But capital-L Life exists under life circumstances. Happiness or peace will only arrive when I learn to be present despite the circumstances. And only in the present can I train my inner state not to be dependent on outer circumstances.

I should get a tattoo.

I’ve wanted a Skyrim tattoo for a couple months. There’s a power called “Become Ethereal” that you activate by speaking in the dragon language. The words FADE SPIRIT BIND translate to FEIM ZII GRON in dragon language. In dragon script, it looks like this:

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Image from The Curious Violet.

The common use of the power is to put distance between yourself and an enemy. It allows you to change your form such that you can’t be harmed, but you also can’t harm others. That latter part is considered a “drawback”.

Back to The Power of Now, Tolle advises we make the following decision:

If you create no more pain for yourself, then you create no more pain for others.

I had to reread that sentence over and over. It felt like an alternative interpretation of Become Ethereal. In this case, an inability to harm yourself comes with an inability to harm others. It’s not a “drawback”, but an incredible gift.

You harm yourself, bring yourself suffering, by creating problems for yourself. It’s better to think of potential “problems” as situations to be dealt with or accepted. When we label situations as problems, we give them an identity we’re invested in.

So decide no more problems. Just situations. No more problems, no more pain for yourself, no more pain you can inflict on others.

Anyway, I felt that coming across this idea was a synchronicity. I interpreted it as a sign I should allow myself to commit to the tattoo. (I’ll give an update at the end of the summer on this front.)

Negativity serves no purpose other than to contaminate.

In the past few years, I made the decision to be responsible for my energy. When I’m angry, I will sit and think about whether the anger is necessary. I’ll close my eyes, breathe, and not let the negative energy seep into the way I interact with others or my surroundings. No slamming doors, no sarcastic quips, no furrowed brow.

My anger is my own problem, even when it involves someone else. If I’m angry at someone, I’m angry. It’s my anger. I have the responsibility to let it sit with me, let it out against someone or something, or let it go. If I choose to let it sit with me, I’m responsible for my accumulation of pain. If I choose to let it out against someone, I’m responsible for dispensing negative energy to that person and unlucky bystanders.

Negativity contaminates people and spaces. By taking responsibility for disposing of negativity by letting it go, we learn to recognize how futile it is.

Final Thoughts (so far):

I’m finding The Power of Now to clarify ideas and experiences I’ve already had. And I love it. I’ve had vague ideas of identifying as suffering and contaminating energy before. But Tolle has a way of explaining ideas in clear (albeit lofty) terms, through storytelling and metaphors.

The writing was difficult to adjust to. I find myself rereading paragraphs every page. What makes it worse is that Tolle is very repetitive. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve missed the message of a section, because it feels like I’m reading the same lesson over and over again. But considering how intangible the content is, it can take a couple repetitions for a lesson to truly sink in.

This is definitely not a casual pick-up-for-a-two-minute-break kind of read. I’ve only been able to read maybe 10 pages at a time in an hour, at 7:00 AM when everyone in the house is asleep. And afterwards, I’m exhausted.

But the experience is so worth it. I’m learning and growing and understanding how to exist with (and not in) my mind. While I don’t expect to be ~spiritually enlightened~ when I finish, I know I’ll be more conscious of my inner light.

I suck my stomach in, and I’m really sorry.

This is such a privileged problem to write about, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. Living my authentic self means being open and vulnerable, even if it means admitting I lie on a regular basis.

I am very thin. I’m not particularly fit or healthy, just thin. I’ve always looked this way because I have a small appetite and get full quickly. I’ve never gained enough weight to change my physical appearance in a way others would notice.

(I have gained some weight on purpose by tracking food intake, because I wanted to gain muscle. It was stressful for me to eat over 1800 calories a day and see the extra weight on my body. so I deliberately returned to my former weight and size.)

But my eating and fitness isn’t the issue. It’s my appearance. When I gain weight, I notice it first on my hips and stomach. Fat poking over my jeans or a slight bump in the front of my shirt. Whether others notice it or not, I do. I care so much.

In the past, my thinness drew positive attention. I got comments from girls saying they were jealous of my flat stomach. They wished their legs were as thin as mine. These girls wouldn’t have talked to me otherwise. Being thin was the good thing about me. Continue reading

Keep a list of your rejections.

In the past ten months, I’ve been rejected 18 times. In the same time span, I’ve been accepted 6 times. In total, I’ve experienced growth 24 times through job applications, cold emails, and requests in my personal life.

In my bullet journal, I keep a “Rejection Log”. A table lists:

  • Date pursued
  • Description of the opportunity or request
  • Whether I received an acceptance or rejection

I first heard of the idea of tracking (and inviting) rejection from this video by Matthew Kent:

 

The idea is that to be rejected means you’ve put yourself out there in a position of risk and vulnerability. The only way to be rejected is to take a risk, but the only way to be accepted is to do the same. Continue reading

Social Media + FOMO: Stay Away or Stay Present?

I struggle with social media. I used to spend sequential hours sitting and scrolling. I wasn’t looking for anything or anyone in particular. I thought it was just something to do.

But it wasn’t because I didn’t have other things to do. I recently realized my motivation was FOMO. Fear of missing out on anything, and I mean anything.

I didn’t want to miss out on the classics:

Hey, he got that job.

She finally completed her project.

Aw, they’ve just had their anniversary.

Seeing those life updates is nice. I’m happy to see other’s happiness. But it also means I’m seeing the updates that don’t make me happy, even if it makes others happy:

Wait, why wasn’t I invited to this party?

She always looks pretty. It looks so effortless for her.

I didn’t know those two were such. Close. Friends??

I don’t have the Facebook or Twitter apps on my phone. (I can still access my accounts on my laptop or mobile browser, but lack of immediate access keeps me away.) I’ve kept Instagram and Snapchat because I actively engage with them the most. But those two are the most insidious platforms. The most heavily curated ones. Continue reading

A Year of Unbelonging: Post-Grad Life

In two weeks, I will have graduated from college for a year. I had told myself I’d be doing something a year out. I’d have a job, even if it wasn’t something I wanted to do.

Recovery (May 2016 – Jun 2016)

The end of undergrad wrecked me physically and mentally. I wanted to give up with one month left of restlessness, hunger, and exhaustion. So, for my first few post-grad weeks, I rested: ate, slept, lazed around.

Mobilizing, Pt. 1 (Jun 2016 – Nov 2016)

Then the lack of routine put me on edge. I had no reason to get out of bed. I started applying for jobs. Hours every single day searching, revising my resume, hating my cover letter. I had a couple interviews, then nothing. This cycled for months.

Acceptance (Nov 2016)

I took a break from applications. I started thinking, “Maybe I’m not ‘supposed’ to be doing this.” With no responses, I figured I was unsuitable for the traditional 9-5 world at my current state. Maybe I should be trying something else for now. Maybe I’m supposed to be somewhere else. I decided to allow myself the peace to accept that idea. Continue reading

Your cynicism about Earth Day is lame.

The days surrounding Earth Day, I read a few comments online criticizing the idea of Earth Day. Not the idea that one should be aware of the environment, but the idea that there is a designated calendar day for it.

“Oh, so NOW you care about the environment.”

“Why celebrate today when you should care about the environment everyday?”

This cynicism is lame at best, destructive at worst.

The way I frame it is this: You’re walking to class and see a candy wrapper on the ground, two feet away from a trash can. What are you thinking? What are you feeling?
I’m thinking, “Wow. How can someone be so lazy and inconsiderate to litter like this?” I’m feeling disappointed that this practice is still commonplace. Anger, disappointment, resentment, disgust.

ONE wrapper: all these emotions, a visceral reaction. Continue reading

Trying to Avoid a 9-5 + My First Freelance Check

I really don’t want a 9-5 job. The idea of waking up to a rigid day, every day, for years, makes me feel dead inside. For a few months now, I’ve decided my ideal career would be location-independent. I want to work from my desk, libraries, cafes.

I’ve considered this to be a selfish desire: Who am I to want a non-traditional work life? Why shouldn’t I work 9-5 like everyone else my age? Why would I get to work wherever I want while others have to go to work?

Plenty of people don’t want a 9-5. Why would I think I can avoid it?

To be honest, I’m still not sure I can do it. I am interning for Lavendaire remotely (Aileen is based in LA) and I do contract work for a freelance service provider. But it’s nowhere near a career or work lifestyle.

But my dream of being location-independent seemed real for a moment, when I found this in the mail. Continue reading