Don’t become Buddhist! The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. Be compassionate! The world needs more compassion. – The Dalai Lama
Is compassion something we learn, or something we are born with? I’d like to think we are all born good, but some people have learned to be further from their true goodness. Further from their true selves. It happens every time we are physically, mentally or emotionally abused, treated unfairly, bullied. Not loved. Love is important. Love changes lives. Love makes you flourish. Compassion and Love, they go hand in hand. Love for humanity is synonymous with compassion for humanity. Make love, not war, as the hippies say.
You Are Not the Center of the Universe
Learning compassion happens slowly. For me, it took lost. Lost of a relationship. Lost of an identity. That lost challenged and pushed me to redefine me. Looking at myself objectively and realizing that I am not the center of the universe was the first step. Being selfish and self-centered doesn’t jive with being compassionate. You have to look outside yourself and your (small) world of problems, accomplishments, achievements. Be humble. When you get too preoccupied with what’s going on in your world–positive or negative–you forget to reach out and be compassionate. Either your ego is too big, or your self is too shattered. Both perspectives hinder your ability to look past yourself and really listen and learn from others.
Self and No Self
The best way to help other people is to help yourself. It starts from within. By helping yourself, you are able to do more good for others and by helping others, you are also helping yourself. This full circle is an indication that there is no distinction from where the self begins and other people end. We are all part of the same humanity; the same consciousness. Self and no self? It’s all the same. Both encompass a whole. You have to find yourself to lose yourself and lose yourself to find yourself. Compassion comes when self and no self merge together. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the compassion within to bring without. Do a little bit more yoga or meditation to be grounded and centered. Don’t let the inner critic win.
As I type, my inner critic is constantly telling me how crappy my writing is. I’m a perfectionist, and it takes forever to write something “decent”. If I become too wrapped up in my inner critic, I won’t have enough time or energy to have compassion for other people, let alone compassion for myself. Just let go and realize how small the problem actually is. We make things bigger in our minds than they actually are. It’s easy to do, and causes conflict. The best thing is to let it go. Combat the inner critic with gratitude. Problems don’t seem so big when you realize how much you have.
The Big Give
There is a contest called The Big Give that helps exercise your compassion by doing something kind for other people. If you’re into prompts and community support, The Big Give may be for you. Changing the world can be as simple as making someone smile. Making their day more enjoyable. Changing their perception of humanity. It’s all about making meaningful choices that affect others in beneficial ways. We all make choices, every day. We each have a hand at changing the world.
This weekend, we went to an all-girl’s orphanage to spread some joy. We played games with them, performed our Tai Chi Kung Fu fan routine, and mingled. I wish we had more time with them, because it didn’t feel like enough. I was glad that we could at least make them smile and laugh while we were there. I appreciate outings like this.
Yoga and me have had an on and off again relationship for years. The same way I’ve had and on and off again relationship for any sort of exercise regimen I try, really. I love it every time, but commitment is hard, especially when you don’t always have the funds to take consistent classes. The key is to go into a yoga studio to catch their new student specials. Bonus points for new yoga studios who usually have extra special specials. The kind of special that celebrates We Just Opened! Two weeks unlimited for $15! $5 classes for the month of May! First class free! And on and on.
I remember the first time I stepped into a yoga studio. With unlimited classes, that meant me double stacking two 90 minute yoga sessions one after the other, several days a week, because I’m crazy like that. The instructors were impressed with my dedication for a newbie. Everyone was clearly hardcore yogis–with the majority of the class as flexible as a pretzel–that I was definitely intimidated. I couldn’t even touch my toes, but within one week, I was able to touch my palms to the ground. Yoga taught me that it isn’t about what the other people around you are doing. You’re on your own mat, and your own separate practice. It doesn’t matter how advanced other people may seem, just concentrate on what you’re doing, and focus on your breathe. I think life is like that, too. What I learn on the mat I take with me.
My first yoga classes got lost in the shuffle of a move. I didn’t pick up again until a year later when I had the opportunity to do free yoga sessions with someone my then-boyfriend knew. We did those sessions together, with his coworkers, out in the rural desert horizons of his friend’s living room space. I always thought it was romantic because, well, I always think life is romantic. She was a middle-aged woman with those signature yogi arms. Toned and sleek. Her abs taut and tiny. God, I was jealous of her abs. I always looked forward to her sessions because she played ambient music in the background.
Life got busy and after a couple months, she stopped offering free sessions. I’d try other things here and there. Spin classes at the local gym. Cardio weight training. Kenpo karate. Sometimes, yoga on my DVDs. But it wasn’t until years later that I would try yoga classes again. They were too expensive for me, or, my priorities just didn’t want to make that monthly chunk of money commitment, so I only practiced during those $5 specials, or one week free. One local studio offered free “yoga trance dance”, and mostly, that’s what I’d do. Dancing freely to interpretative rhythms of live djembe music, guitar and trumpet. Once, the studio offered a free 108 sun salutation session so I went to that too.
Inhale palms to the sky, exhale forward fold, touching your toes. Inhale look up, palms to your knees. Exhale back down to forward fold. Inhale plank down to cobra. Exhale downward dog. And on and on. 108 times.
Then, I tried Bikram. The infamous hot yoga that’s practiced in a 105 degree room. This was two week’s unlimited. Every day, I’d sweat it out on the mat, giving each 26 positions my full concentration and effort. I was amazed by how much my body sweated. My clothes were drenched in liquid, but it felt so good. Yoga always makes me want to be kinder to my body. The effects usually last a full day. I’ll drink a smoothie, eat a banana and drink lots of water. Nourishment. If only I could feel that way everyday. I guess I just need to do more yoga.
Doing more yoga is fairly simple when you live in a monastery and have lots of breaks throughout your schedule. I realized that I don’t need a class, or even DVDs to have a yoga workout. I know enough poses to do it on my own now. It just never occurred to me when you’re so used to having other people hold your hand. But here, I hold my own hand. Here, I realize that I am empowered to hold my own hand. During the first month, I taught a yoga class to my fellow classmates. Each week, we’re expected to take turns sharing our knowledge and skills. For me, happily, it was yoga.
I’m a newbie traveler. The kind of newbie traveler that’s traversed back and forth from the Pacific Northwest and tropical Cebu, Philippines so many times its become my 2nd home, visited Canada once when I was too young to remember, and saw India for the first time January of this year. I’m not sure if you can really call that a newbie traveler, but it feels like it sometimes. I haven’t seen beautiful African sunsets, backpacked through Europe, or trekked to Macchu Picchu. But already, this taste of adventure has got me hooked for more.
I’m falling off the deep end. Wondering when my traveling adventure will end and finding myself not wanting it to. Dreaming of being a professional nomad. The kind of nomad with no permanent address or place to call home. Who only sets foot on American soil as a visitor, or for that matter, anywhere, as a Visitor. Who weaves in and out of people’s lives with no sense of permanency. Then I think, that’s crazy, and what am I trying to run away from? Or what am I trying to run *towards*? It’s a valid lifestyle for some people, but is it the right lifestyle for me? The further off the deep end you go, the harder it is to find someone worth sharing your adventures with. I might as well call it early and claim my Spinster role. I won’t be joining the monastery, but in the name of Feminism, I’ll reclaim the Spinster! Except, I don’t want to be a spinster. Not really.
I think about how I want to be part of community and a family. That can’t be right because they’re two opposing lifestyles. The dilemma that has always been my dilemma is my contradictory nature. This brash, black and white thinking that leaves me all sorts of confused and unable to decipher what the hell I really want. Probably, somewhere half way. Meet me in the middle in the shades of gray. That sounds cheesy and poetic but what I mean is I want some sort of compromise. I don’t want to give up my wanderlust, but I don’t want to hide from possibility and potential, either. I don’t want to quit before it can even start. So, I don’t want to be a spinster.
What I’m talking about is commitment. Attachment. Detachment. Maybe the long-term nomadic lifestyle isn’t about commitment-phobia for some people, but I know it would be for me. At what point does travel become an excuse to ignore commitments? Not just love. Certainly, love. But the “real world”, student loans, work? Travel, for me, cannot come from a place of hiding, running away from, whatever it is I want to avoid. Because, as they say, “wherever you go, there you are.”
I’m constantly evaluating myself and my motives. I don’t want to run away. That’s not what this is all about. I want to run towards and confront who I am and who I’m meant to be. I’m discovering my Authentic Self. And with all of the potential and possibilities right within my reach, I owe it to myself not to quit. I can’t. I’ve barely even begun. The moment travel becomes about avoiding commitment, I reshape my motives and change it. That doesn’t mean flying back home… It just means taking the plunge. Whatever it may be. You have to have some faith. Trust that everything will work out and do everything you can within your control to shape it, guide it along the process. Trust the process.
Reclaiming the spinster is quitting on love, and I don’t want to quit on that, especially. I’ve been burned before but it makes me appreciate love more. Appreciate my teachers (read: exes) and lessons that I’ve learned. There will always be “failures” but that just leaves more room for success. The more you fail, the closer you are to success. With anything.
The best way to deal with commitment-phobia or paralysis of any kind is to simply commit. Do the work. Write 800 words a day. Meditate daily. Practice yoga 5x a week. Be creative. Love someone. Whatever it is, do it. Do what you’ve committed yourself to doing. Don’t hold back. Don’t judge. Shut-up your inner critic and commit.
Realize that it will be hard, and that’s normal. Realize that you will want to quit, and continue doing it. Pushing through the disillusionment will take you to the sweet spot of awareness. That’s where Truth starts to happen, and you can journey closer to your Authentic Self.
100 whacks across the
Strong hands wield dough
Masculine and ear splitting
Decimals vibrate my eardrums
Gently pinch close
Supple yeast filled dough of
Chinese siopao bun
Inside: yellow camote
Like pleated white rose petals
Ready to paint
Blossoming and feminine
Delicate yet strong
II. We had a poet come in to speak the other day, followed by a cooking session on how to make Chinese siopao, a steamed bun with filling. Typical siopao usually has some sort of meat combination and boiled egg, but here at the monastery, we cook everything vegetarian, and for the most part, vegan! Siopao was the last meat item I ever ate, on March 29th when I first journeyed to the temple by way of bus and ferry. It was gross and disgusting to me. I like vegetarian siapao much better. Just for fun, we played around with words while we learned how to make it. Mostly becoming sensual in nature. Who knows what you’ll get when depraved young adults admit themselves into a monastery, especially when it comes to buns. “I’ll make a poem out of this!” I ass-ured.
I used to write poetry. Like a lot. I was on fire with the thoughts and ideas flitting about the pixel page. My muse entered when I newly became single. Lately, it seems to have died. People told me I was a good poet, which I never believed about myself and never associated with the label. It was hard to wear a new hat as “poet” considering I don’t even get poetry or read the stuff. It’s still hard to consider myself a poet, especially when my muse has been quiet. I’ve been frustrated with this blog and on writing, wondering what the “direction” is and where to take it. I don’t really know what to write anymore, lacking inspiration, and feel this, and maybe by extension, my life, a waste of space. There, I said it. You caught me in one of my funks. I fear this, I, me, is a waste of space. That’s silly, of course, and I know I’m better than that but let me just acknowledge the imperfections of my day-to-day.
I used to go to poetry slams, where I used to live. Back before my life turned completely nomadic, and was only semi-nomadic by way of 1) moving out of a house that I had co-owned with an ex (bad idea) in Small Town, population: 10,000 to Big Town population: 85,000 2) Joint move with two gay roomies (the most gloriously wonderful bearded gay couple ever) about 8 months later across town to Downtown (a wonderful spot). Downtown was the place to be. I only lived there four whole months but it was bliss. A sushi restaurant I never did get around to trying just across the street to the east (the novelty of the option to go there was enough for me). A health food store across the street to the south that I often frequented for bite-sized meals. A billiards lounge and fancy martini bar with a fabulous $5 menu and to die for red velvet cake southeast and… I could go on and on. The point is, I used to go to poetry slams, and right in downtown, I could easily walk there. And, the not so other point is (if you can read between the very obvious lines), maybe I miss that place.
The poetry slams were mostly a spectator sport. I came to watch poets, not to be a poet. I remember one particularly sexy poet named Trabajo. Who knows if that was his real name, because if you don’t know (and you should, because that’s one of those easy words that EVERYONE should know like ¡hola!), that actually means work in Spanish. Trabajo had the most beautifully toned and natural biceps I’ve ever seen, and he probably knew it too, by how he always wore sleeveless shirts, even in Autumn. That accent… It was a mix of Latin lover and Exotic. The kind of yummy accent that rolls on your tongue and maybe even melts in your mouth. Scrumptious. I wondered if it was possible for poets to have groupies, and if I could be one. But Trabajo soon left for Jaimaca, and bigger and better things than the town of Bend had to offer. There are just some people that outgrow their surroundings and Trabajo was one of them. Maybe I was too.
Someday, I guess I’d like to be a poet. I mean, not just any poet. A poet up on stage, slamming. I guess I should put that on my bucket list. #82 (I’m just picking an arbitrary number): Join a poetry slam. Who the hell am I kidding though? I’m not a poet. Not a real poet. And certainly not the kind of poet who can speak in front of crowds, rapping rhythms. Which probably makes it just the kind of thing to add to my bucket list. Who says I can’t? Who’s stopping me? Nothing short of Fear. The ever constant companion.
III. I joined this thing. This creative challenge thing. It’s over on my sidebar and it’s purple. You can’t miss it. Every day for 21 days, I’ll write 800 words. This can be anything from blog posts, business plans, poetry, personal journal entries, stories, anything. 5x a week, I’ll be doing yoga. And there’s a whole community of bloggers doing this. Creative challenges are for lazy-asses like me who can’t do anything on their own. I’m always up for a good challenge. Especially if it involves writing + yoga. Love.
You’re probably thinking, well, duh, why else would I be at a Zen monastery for 4 months? Obvious, right? But It’s taken me awhile to fully realize this and take it in. When I bought my one-way tickets to India and the Philippines, I had absolutely no plans other than the 3 weeks that I spent as an experiential tourist volunteering at a slum school. The Philippines was completely open. I knew I wanted to stay here for at least a year, and eventually work towards a location independent career, but I’ve been taking my sweet time enjoying my career break/sabbatical instead. It’s not easy acknowledging I’m on a break, and I had no idea I would ever be joining a monastery to do so. After all, admitting myself to a nunnery would definitely be out of the question. I’m NOT Catholic and it takes a better person than myself to admit themselves to a religious experience other than their own (not that I’m Buddhist, but pretty close). This unexpected path has taken my pilgrimage from conceptual to reality.
Many people seem to travel on a pilgrimage. “The gap year” is the ultimate way for seekers and searchers to discover about themselves; what their passions are, what they’d like to do with life. At 27, I guess I’m taking my gap year a bit “late”, but I’ve learned to accept that I’m a late bloomer. And really, who’s to say what late is, as if there’s a specific timeline for these things? A specific set path? I knew long ago that I wasn’t going on the fast track of college, career, marriage, house and kids. Standard and traditional is just not for me.
Eat, Pray, Love
Elizabeth Gilbert took her “gap year” in her mid thirties. Her pilgrimage turned into a delightful memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, that I read after the demise of my own relationship. While I already “knew” that I would journey back to Asia before reading the book, her words inspired me to make my thoughts reality. It’s completely surreal to me that I’m now having my own eat, pray, love journey of my own, sans the foreign lover, of course.
I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to “find”. Purpose, maybe. A meaning to this insignificant speck of the universe that is my existence. Some people might say this is the quarter-life “crisis” but I refuse to believe that life is a crisis as I am having the time of my life (cue Green Day song). Some days, it can seem daunting, like when I’m thinking about becoming a freelancer. Other days, it can seem exciting, like when I’m thinking about becoming a freelancer… It depends where my mind is. Sometimes, being in limbo feels like the scariest, most unstable place to be and other times, I feel blessed to have such great opportunities for exploration. Pushing through the transition phase can be tough. Focusing on the process, moving forward each day with your goals, is a great way to take control of your life and be happy. It’s not about finding purpose, but creating it.
Walk for Peace
Adding to my Pilgrimage repertoire, I have the chance to go on a 280 mile walk around the island of Palawan with a local. Just walking. While living in a monastery is quite possibly the craziest thing I’ve ever done, walking 280 miles might top it. With nothing but the stars and night sky as our blanket, the idea would be to interact with communities and people that we meet along our travels; offering them lessons that we would share for free. Things like yoga, martial arts, meditation. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll take the plunge. It’s quite possibly the craziest and scariest thing I’ve ever thought of doing. Oh, but it would be great blog (and life) fodder! What about that business idea I’ve been thinking about? It’d be great fodder for that too…
May 29th marked the two month halfway point of my stay at the Zen monastery. It’s safe to say that I’m past the disillusionment stage, you know, if I were in a relationship. But why can’t the “5 stages of committed relationships” apply to experiences, instead of people, as well? Two months and I can already sense the impending break-up.
At first, everything was new and exciting! Look at how we get to eat yummy vegetarian meals with chopsticks everyday in silence! How about this cool chanting in Chinese thing for half an hour every morning?? You mean mopping the floor is meditation!? I finally understand why cleanliness is next to Godliness! My boobs are really sweating out toxins while I’m meditating, holy shit! What the heck are they trying to tell me in class today? Wow, I have zero concentration skills, let me doodle on my notebook and write in my journal instead.
That kind of thing.
Now it’s more like, what’s the point of all this!?
What’s the point of any of this? This whole life thing. I didn’t actually think I was going to find answers like the Meaning of Life here, did I?
When evaluating and making decisions in my life, I try to answer the question: does this add value to my life? Of course, I answered “yes” when I decided to sign myself up for this but now, I’m not so sure. While I have no doubt this experience will help me in the hectic day-to-day of society, calm me while I try to stay positive, and even help me professionally, I no longer see value in the constant rinse, repeat lifestyle. A third of the people have already quit early, and I have to admit, I’m wondering about the same. In reality, I know I’ll stick it out because I’m not one for quitting when I’ve made a commitment towards something (a quick dodge in my mind makes me think otherwise, but in this situation, lets just pretend it’s a true blanket statement OK?), but my mind has grown increasingly less present now that it’s halfway through the program. That sense of wonder and bliss and true presence is starting to escape me. I’m worrying about what’s next and trying to secure my next adventure. Once again, I’m living in the future.
Anxieties build up again about my “career”. While it’s obvious I’m on a career break/sabbatical and I should learn to own it and enjoy it, I’m still worrying about how to get a job, or design my own job entrepreneur style. I start to think if this whole monastery stint was truly a way to experience something worthwhile, or just an excuse to put off the “real world”. Shudder.
The real world. As if this life now isn’t reality?
In Real Life
“This isn’t me in real life,” one girl kept pointing out during our stay. It struck me as a funny thing to say since our life, now, is in the monastery. How real can you get? I get what she was trying to say, though. In “real life” she’s louder, more flamboyant. Wearing uniforms that remind me of really crappy made in China workout pants and polos doesn’t exactly give much room for self expression. Her life back in Manila is so vastly different from our current experience that she equates a sort of Zen detachment towards it, boldly claiming it’s “not me”. It got me thinking. Who am I in real life anyway? I’m constantly adjusting myself to new situations and surroundings that I no longer have a stable life to base my “reality” on. The only real life I’ve got is here in the present. And the real world? It’s just an imaginary concept existing in our minds to keep the status-quo going. I don’t like the “real world” and I suspect I won’t enter it again.
In real life, I am discovering I thrive in situations I never thought I could, in the unknown. I’m realizing I am an adventurer that hates complacency, and in turn, status-quo. I’m learning how to accept that and live life more freely, without borders and on the edges. The hardest part of it all is learning how to take the responsibility of leading my own life, in my own hands, and trying to figure out my own path to carve. The meaning of life IS what you make out of it. It’s that simple, but infinitely and in turn, that much harder.
It was a brisk, autumn night, and the sky was clear. The soft rustle of autumn leaves dragging across cement like gentle whispers reminded me that things change. Jen and I walked past bars and a late night middle eastern restaurant before deciding on a place to eat. From a distance, straight ahead of us, I saw him. He was alone and walked slowly. He seemed to blend in the autumn air; a mirage. I wondered if he sensed my presence behind him or heard my voice speaking about who knows what, but speaking about Not Him.
That night, we were at a show. He had a way of deciding what to do that was exactly what I’d want to do as well. Having the same music tastes means you’re soul mates, after all. If, by soul mates you mean broken and if by broken you mean fragile. He wanted to go alone, he said. So I decided to go with Jen.
I crunched on an autumn leaf. It was my favorite childhood quirk; stomping on autumn leaves just to hear the crisp sound like a seasonal fanfare, announcing my presence. How could something so fun and enjoyable remind me of something so heartbreaking? I thought of the eggshells I walked on, remembering how I got to this point.
Maybe I was overextending my stay; crowding his space bubble. Maybe I shouldn’t have even been there. That night, there were no fanfares, and my presence seemed uninvited. So close yet so far away. Was he trying to avoid me? Was I trying to avoid him? Not one of us said a word. I tried not to look at him, let alone make eye contact. The proximity of the intimate venue was almost unbearable. Unbearably awkward. From my periphery, I could see him sitting to my left. Up on stage was Laura Gibson, an indie artist from Portland, Oregon.
She lit up the small crowd with her voice. Told us this was a participatory song and that we needed to sing the lines with her at the end. Her voice, as tentative and soft as my heart, carried me, lifting me out of my depression.
“This is not the end,” she sang.
“This is not the end.”
“This is not the end,” I joined in with a faint smile and dulled senses. If my life were a movie, this is the point where I’d cry, but I did not. All I could do was sing. And through this singing, the night didn’t seem so bad. As the crowd joined, gathering strength and energy, life didn’t seem so bad. The once tentative-sounding voice now sounded like a quiet strength.
I thought about the significance of these simple words at that exact moment in time. It was as if she was singing directly to me; reading my mind. My emotions were numb, unsure how to take it. The experience, shared with my ex yet so far removed, was completely surreal. I bought her album, waiting in line while he walked right beside me. The air between us shifted a light breeze. We were two strangers.
I listened to that song on repeat for days, weeks, months. It became my break-up mantra which encouraged me, carried me, and covered me with hope; giving me warmth from the cold of my loneliness.
This year, there will be no autumn leaves to crunch in my tropical paradise. Things change and seasons roll on. My heart has mended now, and my spirit stronger than ever. But I am indebted for this song that got me through. This is not the end, and it was the start of my beautiful beginning and becoming.
I lost my muse. She left as soon as I became Myself again. Equalizing heart-body-soul in an equilibrium. I never considered myself a poet, but for a brief moment, the words soared. Burst out of some shell I didn’t know I had and offered hope and understanding. My muse is a nurturer. She provides. She gives. She comforts. And she helps me create. Like a baby being born. Poems take on their own shape. Their own sense of life. Let me give birth to this poem. Love it and care for it and feed it. Poems don’t come when the storms are calm. This isn’t a poem, after all.
* * *
It was Elizabeth Gilbert on a TED talk that first made me think of creativity as something that we tap into rather than something we internally possess. Many creative writers, musicians and artists have been tormented with creative “genius” that often leads to a fine line between sanity and madness. Madness comes when internalizing your genius causes you to hold on and take root. Soon, creativity isn’t something that you control, but something that controls you. Think of Michael Jackson, Virginia Wolfe, Vincent Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath. All of these famous figures were geniuses in their art but were also plagued by madness. As an artist, you have to learn to let go.
I remember when words flowed out of me like poetry. I didn’t know I had it in me, but it was after a rough patch of my life. Creativity flowed through me like never before. It was as if this dry well that I had been trying to fill up with creativity was suddenly overflowing. Although the words and thoughts were mine, the creativity was a source that I had somehow tapped into. Years of searching for it, wondering why I wasn’t an “artist” anymore and all of a sudden, it all came back to me. This time, instead of paint and paintbrush, through words and keystrokes. I learned how to reclaim the artist in me. I learned not to berate myself for no longer being an “artist” just because I haven’t picked up a brush in years. The artist in me still lives on.
Sometimes, I still get jealous of former classmates from art school. The ones who look like Suicide Girls and have model pictures and tattoos. The ones who have accomplished a quirky, artsy and independent lifestyle and are self-published writers, artists and filmmakers. The grass is always greener on the other side, even when I’m having an Elizabeth Gilbert-esque Eat, Pray, Love adventure of my own.
I lost my muse and she disappeared when criticism, judgment and perfectionism stepped in. When your heart is hurting, you live life in a more raw existence. This allows you not to pre-judge anything. What you get is pure raw emotion. On paper. On canvas. The conditions are ripe for creativity. When I get jealous of other creatives, what I’m doing is only keeping myself further away from creativity, by letting judgment set in.
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. – Picasso
We all possess creativity, the problem is how to tap into it. I think of creative source as a consciousness. Creativity can be described as a “Gift from God”. We all have the ability to tap into it, but some seem able to more than others. Empty your cup. Let all prejudice and judgment go, and creativity can begin again. Give yourself permission to make bad art. Give yourself the leniency to explore and take your time. In time, maybe I’ll find my brushes again.
Imagine being discontent with life working in X humdrum job in X corporation and deciding to leave your whole life behind, walking out the door with only $150 to your name, and never looking back. For two plus years, the only life you’ll know is the road, hitchhiking your way from place to place, friendly strangers who change your life, a mix of couchsurfing experiences and different cultures along the way.
With a dream to one day set foot in India, Artyom, a fellow traveler in the Buddhist monastery retreat, has done just that. His story starts from Russia, into the harsh, unforgiving cold winters of Siberia, crossing the border into China, and receiving $100 from a helpful stranger which would be the exact cost of a ticket to the Philippines. With details aside, his story can be echoed in the past with the beatnik generation, a la Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or in the wanderlust and adventure of Alexander Supertramp (of Into the Wild postmortem fame). Many have felt the call of the road or the nomadic call for travel, and many will continue to as job security continues to fail and global technologies and location independent careers make long term travel more accessible. Whether you are a hitchhiker, couchsurfer, backpacker, flashpacker or location independent professional nomad, the seeds of dissatisfaction from the status-quo bind together as the impetus for change; a change of scenery, sights, sounds, smells and people.
Travel, in and of itself, has a very Zen-like quality. The impermanence of travel teaches us to be aware of our constantly new surroundings and live more easily in the moment, but travel on the road adds a whole new dimension. Leaving all wordly possessions behind, even selling all your furniture as I’ve done, marks an emptying of your self; a letting go of your past life as you once knew it. Being able to “lose yourself” to find yourself. It is a road–a journey–into emptiness.
Emptying Your Cup
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.” – Zen Koan
Emptying your cup means letting go of all past knowledge and perceptions and allowing yourself to look at life and experiences with fresh “new” eyes. It is not a negation of the self, but a full embracing of the self and humanity. Be like a sponge to new experiences, places, and people. Realize that all people are mostly good, and have faith in humanity. The road to emptiness is a minimalistic approach to a Zen lifestyle and the road an excellent Zen teacher. It takes a complete leap of faith to trust in the kindness of strangers, and the randomness of the Universe. Hitchhiking is the “hardest” form of travel, but in many ways can also be the most rewarding.
Sometimes You Have to Lose Yourself to Find Yourself
Getting lost is all part of the journey. When I broke up with an ex almost 2 years ago, we co-habited together and shared a mortgage. I moved out, and he kept most of our acquired furniture and possessions. For me, letting go of the possessions was liberating myself from a past life. I didn’t want to deal with “fairness” and equal splitting because I came in with little possessions and left with less. For me, It only solidified the fact that I was the drifter coming into his life. When I sold and gave away most of my remaining possessions to help get me to Asia, it was another load off my proverbial chest. I was prepared to get even more lost than ever before. I guess popular culture calls this the “quarter-life crisis” (I’m past the quarter century mark but it’s been building up since then) but for me, life is no longer a state of crisis. I’m enjoying every minute of being “lost” and I don’t want to be found!
Letting go of my possessions and of my self, “emptying my cup”, has been essential in helping me find out who I am, what my passions are and what drives me. It’s been nearly two months at the monastery. Two months of seeing transcendence in the mundane. Two months of routine in the presence. Two months of a vastly different life. Two years ago, I was living in my own house. A year ago, I was living with two gay guys and their three male cats and a whole new group of friends. Who am I? Am I lost? I don’t even know what my “real life” is anymore because each year is so vastly different. Empty my cup. Live in the moment.
The Road to Emptiness
My own journey is still at the monastery, but in August, I will be going to Taiwan for another monastery stay at their headquarter temple. After that, my wanderlust soul is tempted to walk the entire island of Palawan, Philippines with a local. The journey would be 280 miles of jungle and beaches. Since Palawan is the least developed island of the Philippines, it is also one of the most gorgeous. The vision is that we would journey on a “peace walk”. Traveling, teaching and exchanging our various skills to the people we meet along our way. He is skillfully trained in Kali/Eskrima, a Filipino Martial Art style that was most notably used for the training of Matt Damon’s role in the Bourne Identity trilogies. Learning Filipino martial arts was also part of my bucket list for the year and he’s mentioned that we could train. If this is the Road to Emptiness and learning how to let go of the self, it sounds good to me! Experiencing culture in an intimate way, on foot, with cool, clear night skies and the stars as our blanket is something no tourist rarely sees.
One thing Artyom lives by when on the road is the philosophy that asking for help is completely OK and necessary. What’s the worst that can happen when you ask for help? Either they say yes and you get what you want or they say no and you carry on as before. You don’t lose anything with the no but you gain so much with a simple yes. Faith is tested while you’re on the road. The age old rules of “do unto others what you would have them do unto you” and “you sow what you reap” is part of the exchange. Being on the road is a karmic system. Do good deeds and treat others kindly. If you give genuine kindness without expecting anything in return, situations will start turning in your favor. This is the Zen lessons of the road.
Recently, I shaved my head. What I neglected to mention was how hard it was to do it! First, I got a passive aggressive “no” from the monks and fa shi (teacher) from the temple. I finally realized why look for approval and validation for a hair cut choice when you are your own master of your life? Something Buddhism teaches. I knew I needed to let go and detach myself from any outside opinions and criticisms. I knew that by shaving my head, I was actually practicing Buddhism Dharma teachings of non-attachment or detachment in the best way I knew how in this moment! Booyah, Buddhism!
The first two barber shops refused to shave my head. It was wild, and I guess it didn’t help that my already softspoken voice was extra quiet and timid. I didn’t come in with conviction but they referred me to another shop around the corner. To my delight, the person shaving my head was a ladyboy! An irony since we were both participating in gender bending. What I would like to do but probably never do is get some tasteful nudes taken of me with a shaved head, because androgyny is fun and sexy with feminine boobies (unless you have manboobs, in which case, I’m sorry).
That’s not the point of this post, though. The point is, even though I shaved my head, I won’t be turning into a monk anytime soon (or, ever), or joining the military (I mean com’n. What kind of monk poses nude?). While this monastery retreat is NOT monastic training, it does give us a shallow glimpse into monastic way of life and culture. I’m surprised and delighted to find that some of my co-learners are set on becoming a monk, have thought about becoming a monk, or are making the important decision soon enough. The beauty of gathering 12 people together to learn about Buddhism is that we all have our own unique goals, mindsets, temperaments and cultures. For me, I’d rather take my samsara (suffering) cycle and embrace my layperson life. Guys are worth the suffering; the manic ecstacy and depression. Detachment from suffering, emotions, life, seems like a life not worth living. Some of my most profound moments have happened at my lowest times. The ability to go through failures, mistakes, rough times is actually a stasis for growth. For me, the beauty of life is the layperson life, but for some, who aren’t interested in wordly affairs and carnal pleasures, monkhood would be a great path. For a girl who writes erotica in her free time (or more like: thinks about writing it and attempts to but never starts or finishes), it’s not the life for me.
What is the life for me? Kirsty asked what my 10 year goal was, and I let it sit in the back of my head to be answered later. The downside of living life in the moment, wherever the wind blows me, and flying by the seat of my pants is that I hardly have any real plans or goals. I have “ideas”, not goals. Goals intimidate me, but ideas are free; able to percolate and come into fruition in their own time.
The truth is, I don’t have a 10 year plan, or goal. I can’t live my life that linearly. I refuse to. Why give myself expectations that will only disappoint and try to build a constricting frame that might not fit? I’d rather be an open canvas! My 10 year idea is pretty simple and only consists of two major things.
Family Building and Solopreneurship
I can’t be a monk because I DO have some “traditional” ideas of family. While I make it a point to seem inherently non-traditional, I’m actually quite conservative when it comes to relationships and family. I don’t believe in divorce, and consequentially, I’m not quite sure I believe in marriage either (though I DO believe in gay marriage and feel that it will revive the institution but that’s beside the point). The reasons I’m single is that I couldn’t be bothered with frivolous dating or hookup culture. I feel that if I’m going to be with someone, it better be someone I feel I could have longterm potential with. I’ll try not to fit square pegs in round holes if that’s not the case, but I’m very choosy when it comes to finding partnership. Dating just doesn’t cut it for me, or even looking. Still, I’d love to have a family, someday, in its own time.
The balance between being career driven and family oriented is a hard one. In one extreme, as the stay-at-home mom, I feel you run the risk of losing yourself and on the other extreme, you won’t be able to give the love and attention that a child needs if you start a family. I am willing to lose myself in being a mother but I’m also willing to find myself and rediscover what I can offer. Being a solopreneur not only makes traveling and working from anywhere easier, it could also feasibly make raising a child at home easier as well! I’ve tried being the career woman. I learned after college and two professional jobs as a graphic designer that working “in the rat race” and “Corporate America” or “working for the man” was not who I was or am meant to be. It sucked the life out of me.
How can I do this better?
I’m still trying to find this out. In reality, career development is the area I feel least confident in. I guess I’m hoping this travel journey will help me figure it out along the way. I know I’m lost, but for once, I don’t want to be found! I’m having a pretty great time exploring and having fun. Future? Anxiety? Puh-lease! I’ve been entertaining the idea of traveling for several years and being a “professional nomad”; working along the way. Wouldn’t it be romantic if I found a nomadic adventurer willing to rule the world with me? No expectations, but I can dream right?
My “traditional” family won’t be living in a house with a picket fence. I’ll blaze my trail and find my own tradition. Here’s a hint: I already am.