This time, I knew what the message was going to be, and tumblr.com provides the best format for creating short, frequent posts in a variety of media - video, quotes, text, and my favorite, chats (sharing conversations in a screenplay-like format).
My intention is to create an inspiring, healing community for Asian American women who have tried their whole lives to be "good", done everything they were supposed to do, achieved success in the forms they were told to, and still find something missing in their lives. Together we will discover all of who we are, and unlock the keys to our own unconditional joy, peace, and freedom....B.A.D.ness and all.
The inspirational quotes are the most fun, since I love getting a daily dose of the very inspiration that has gotten me to this point in my life.
But the personal stories - the memoir writing - are the most difficult to write! I've found myself wanting to find the humorous voice, not wanting to sound TOO bad, and editing myself for various reasons.
What's interesting is that these many layers of fear are EXACTLY why this blog needs to be written, and why the voice of the "Bad Asian Daughter" - the person we are trying so hard to AVOID becoming - needs to be heard.
As long as we hide and sequester the dark corners of ourselves and label them "bad", we will never be truly free. No matter what we achieve. No matter what we own. No matter who we are with.
So Bad Asian Daughter is about embracing ALL of ourselves exactly as we are, naming exactly what we believe we're not supposed to say, not supposed to do, not supposed to want, and risking our own significance in the world by actually doing the thing we think we cannot do.
In the words of poet Mary Oliver:
"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves."
B.A.D. is about the discipline of revealing to ourselves that we don't have to feel "bad" for wanting what we want, and living our own lives on our own terms. We can free ourselves from the mental prisons that have kept us small and afraid...and unleash all our goodness in the process.
Have you ever sought someone's advice, and then realized halfway into the conversation that you really didn't want them to tell you what to do?
Or have you ever followed someone's advice, which never quite felt right to you, but they were in a position of authority or had done it themselves before, and you didn't know how to get out of it?
Have you ever wished you had more trust in yourself, and didn't need to rely so much on advice from other people?
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It's been ten years now since I've set foot in a traditional academic institution. Yesterday I stood inside the walls of a venerable one right here in my own backyard.
And it struck me that there is A LOT of "advising" going on at the formative stages of a lot of smart people's lives. A lot of people who are very curious, very bright, very capable, and very imaginative. But who just don't know. So they ask. They seek advice.
And what do they get? Well, what typically surrounds them in these places of academic prestige are a lot of people who got there by playing a certain game. They navigated a particular system, they overcame their own particular obstacles, and they achieved a certain status. Usually if they are in a position of enough authority to merit students' seeking their opinions, they've hung on to this status over a period of years. They've done the work of making all the right people happy in all the right places. They consulted the rule books, they found out what was expected of them, and they met those expectations.
They have seen the world through one particular lens.
This is perfect advising for someone who wants to experience life through that particular lens, and to find out what hoop is to be jumped through next. If you're asking, "How high must I jump?" and "Where is the next hurdle?", these advisors are perfectly prepared to tell you the answer.
But there's a different kind of questioning that occurs for all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps even at several points in our lives.
Questions That Have No Right To Go Away
We come up against questions in our hearts, questions that ultimately ask us to test how much we trust ourselves, and invite us to grow into the next version of ourselves.
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it."
- from "Sometimes", by David Whyte
In these moments, some part of us actually knows the answer and knows what we must do.
The questions appear at the most inopportune times. We're "busy" doing something else. There's "not enough time". We're "supposed to" be focused on something we believe to be more important.
But the questions don't go away. They pull at us, beckoning us to pay attention to the part of us we'd rather be able to ignore.
It poses a dilemma. Should we go this way or that? Should we keep going as if everything is "normal" or actually stay with the question and listen to what it brings?
This is when we might seek advice from others.
And this is where knowing the difference between "advice" and "coaching" can save your life.
I've received a lot of advice in my lifetime. I can remember these pieces of advice quite vividly.
Some Advice I Once Received
For example, when I had made the decision in my heart that I would not be doing a residency after medical school, I started to do what all the career guides told me to do: informational interviews.
As I told people what I intended to do, I encountered a lot of advice. "Why don't you at least do an internship? Then you'll have more options, because at least you'll have a license."
These conversations never seemed that helpful to me, because I felt like my desires were being dismissed as naive, and that the risks I felt called to undertake were insurmountable (which I found insulting). As I continued to talk to more people, I heard more advice.
From one person: "Why don't you at least finish a residency in SOMEthing? You know, general internal medicine, something like that. Then at least you'll have the credibility of being able to practice something."
From another: "If you liked cardiology in medical school, why don't you at least get trained as a cardiologist? Then you'll have so many more contacts and you'll be able to get so much more done."
And another: "Well, why don't you at least practice for a few years, get some money and respect under your belt before you go off and do your little dream? Then at least you'll have experience."
And yet another: "Why don't you wait until you retire to do 'fun' things like following your heart and doing what you love? Then at least you'll have lived a full life before you go and throw it all away."
What I realized is that each of the people who gave me advice was only speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. None of them had actually done what I was going to do, for the reasons I was doing it. And none were actually helping me to listen to the voice of my heart, which was the one posing these questions.
I ended up listening to a lot of different advice and following no one's, instead creating my own opportunities through willingness and determination. I am forever thankful for my own intuition that guided me to follow something inside me, despite advice to the contrary.
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Fast forward ten years.
I've created many more opportunities by following my own intuition, and tapping that same willingness and determination, to move in the direction most aligned with my heart's greatest desire. Now that I have opened space in my life, space in my mind, space in my body, and space in my heart, to receive guidance, it just keeps flooding in. I don't ask people what to do. I don't tell people what to do.
I have since also lived the life of trying to gain fulfillment from seeing other people follow my advice. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I would always encounter an aspect of someone else that my experience could not comprehend, that my best knowledge could not penetrate. This was before I trained as a coach. I had no tools at the time to help other people access a deeper part of their own wisdom, to help them find the keys to their own locked doors. I was giving advice, where people were in great need of coaching. I just didn't know how to at the time.
Coaching Helps You Follow Your Own Advice...The Kind You've Ignored For Too Long In Favor Of Others'
The kind of reward I received from advice-giving pales in comparison to the nourishment that is provided by coaching. As a coach, I get to be free, gently observing the process of a person finally doing exactly what their hearts have always been telling them to do. I get to share in their moments of joy in discovering that the answers they sought outside for so long, in so many ways, were already inside them, waiting to be decoded.
In short, as a coach I get to watch people finally follow their own advice!
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There is nothing more beautiful in this world than to witness a person free themselves, and become enlivened by the light inside them, dancing to the music within them.
I recognize the feeling of a person's truest longing spoken out loud. I recognize the pain of staying silent and hidden for too many years. I recognize the joy of meeting yourself again, of looking yourself in the mirror with love and kindness.
This is not what comes from taking someone else's advice. This is true learning and growth. This is the drink of water I'd always been thirsty for, but never knew existed.
So the next time you ask someone for advice, listen to them very closely. And then ask yourself, "Does this feel more freeing? Or more constraining?" Any advice that does not bring you more alive in your heart is not advice for you to follow.
Follow your freedom. It is the voice of your divinity speaking to you.
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Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them?
For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words "love" and "compassion". They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me.
"I love you" was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn't exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families.
For most of my life, "love" was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. "If we didn't love you and care about you, we wouldn't bother to nag you so much," they'd say in defense of themselves.
Well, if love was such a great thing, and that was how love made me feel, then I didn't get why I should center my life around it. At all. It didn't feel good to me. It felt confining. It felt like a minefield, where I never knew if my next step would land me in a sudden explosion of admonishment, shame, and guilt about why the particular thing I just did was the wrong move to make.
I convinced myself that I didn't want my life to hurt. I created an association between love and hurt. So I did everything I could to make sure I was not dependent on love for anything vital in my life. Ha!
"Compassion" was an even more foreign concept. The images that come to mind when I think of "compassion" involve Mother Teresa, Sally Struthers and images of little kids with distended bellies and black flies on their eyelashes, and the Pope. I'm not sure why these people represent compassion, but it's interesting that I've never met any of them personally. (OK, I got within 25 feet of the Pope once, when I was eleven years old, but I was playing violin at the time and was delirious from sitting in St. Peter's Square for four hours in the hot sun of an Italian June.) My point is that "compassion" was an even more abstract term than "love", and I always thought it was reserved for saintly, selfless people who gave their lives to some grand, charitable cause. In other words, it was a luxury I could not afford to indulge in.
I've recently begun to learn that in order to experience the love and compassion I was seeking from everyone else in my life, I had to be willing to explore and discover what love and compassion feel like for me. I had to learn to demonstrate love and compassion toward myself first. This has involved identifying, questioning, and effectively unlearning many of the beliefs I had about love and compassion, which I held onto without knowing, and which were governing my behaviors without my knowing it.
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Today, I choose to share with you what I have learned, and also what I am unlearning. Each of the thoughts below are real beliefs I once had about love, and below them are the turnarounds that I am consciously choosing to practice, notice, and become more and more familiar with.
I could tell you that I am “letting go” of these thoughts, or that I have outgrown them.
But what actually feels more true for me is that I am developing a different relationship with these thoughts. By distancing myself from my thoughts enough to observe them, I have paradoxically become more intimate with them. I am able to look at them without avoiding them or pushing them away or labeling them as “wrong”. I can touch them, feel them, sense them, and know that they are within me, without loving myself less because of it.
I am willing to notice when I am believing one of these thoughts and acting on it and creating stress, and I am empowered to look directly at the source of the stress, without fear or less love of myself.
I am far from being perfect at this. It’s part of my practice to be willing to look at the imperfections long enough to choose something new and act without fear in that new direction. By acknowledging what has been painful for me and what I am growing through, I hope you can acknowledge some part of yourself that needs healing or more loving attention from the simple question, “Is it true?”
Love Lesson #1: The number of items I complete on my "To Do" list indicates my level of productivity, and therefore, my value in the world.
This may not seem to be about love, but it has been such a central belief in my entire life path, that I confront it every day. And every day I ask, “Is it true?” I am starting to get to answers that feel more true for me and set me free to do what’s truly important to me, not to anyone else. But with such a strong cultural message of achievement and productivity as the basis of human existence, this is a daily, moment-to-moment practice. I include it here because I've learned that true self-love is felt and demonstrated independent of how "productive" I am, and that becoming more productive does not help you learn how to love.
Turnaround: I am complete, as I am, in this moment. (notice that “what I do” is not part of the turnaround)
Love Lesson #2. What I am able to afford to buy indicates my level of freedom and status in the world.
This thought originated in my family’s struggle for survival and advancement and was reinforced by the strong consumerism in our culture. Without realizing it, I have created many outcomes in my life based on this belief. What I eventually realized was that ownership and accumulation of things do not equal greater freedom, and the only status that matters is the one you create from your inner world.
Turnaround: What I am able to LET GO of indicates my level of freedom and the status of my self-trust in the world I am creating.
Love Lesson #3. How I look and act in the workplace is more important than how I look and act at home.
This thought originated in so many examples I saw of “putting on a face” to play the game of work each day, and how starkly that outward face contrasted with the true self that emerged in the privacy of the home. It was confusing to me and I never understood the justification for sharing your best self with the outer world, and letting out all your stress and aggressions at home, with the people you claim to love the most.
Turnaround: I am creating a life based on authentic expression and generous sharing of my essential self. (I don’t see a necessary distinction between how I present myself “on the outside” and who I am at my essence)
Love Lesson #4. Love is an obligation and responsibility to another person.
Almost everything in my early life was framed as an obligation and responsibility. It seemed like the only reason to live a life was to be viewed as responsible and duty-bound in every possible way. Joy was not even in the equation of values. I still consider “desires” a luxury and have to practice consciously opening a valve in my mind to allow the flow of messages from my heart to enter into my awareness.
Turnaround: Love flows freely in the space between people. Love liberates.
Love Lesson #5. Loving someone means the right to criticize them in a "loving" way.
This was reinforced in every arena of my life from my family to my teachers to the higher academic training I received. I was trained to thrive on criticism. No matter how good a job I did, I wanted to know how to do better. We call this “drive” and “ambition” and hold it in great admiration in this culture. We aspire to “improve” ourselves in every way. The problem with this is we have no opposing muscle group or internal barometer to tell when “enough is enough”. We forget that by living our lives based on constant striving, we are training ourselves for imbalance and ultimate dissatisfaction, with no end in sight.
Turnaround: Love is truthful, accepting, calm, and peaceful. Love is filled with joy.
Love Lesson #6. Love means the right to hurt someone without having to apologize.
I remember the exact moment in a past relationship when I realized that this was my model of love, and the intense pain it caused me to see it in myself. But that moment of realization was also liberating, because I was able to see clearly where I was in the moment, and to consciously seek out another way to express love.
Turnaround: Love has no fear – neither of pain nor of apologizing.
Love Lesson #7. Love expects a return on its investment.
I believed that love was a transaction. I believed that I, as a person, was the investment of my parents’ love. I also believed that I owed a debt to them for providing this love, for withdrawing love from their bank accounts and depositing it into everything that I needed and wanted. As I saw the magnitude of their investment growing, I could not see a possible way to provide a reasonable return. So I kept setting the bar higher. Finally there were no more ladders to climb, and I had to come down to the realization that I am love, and that the returns on my love originate from within me and from my connection to the source of all love – not my parents but the universe.
Turnaround: Love is self-renewing, and expects nothing in return.
Love Lesson #8. Love means constant devotion, never relaxing or taking time for yourself. Love is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It’s because we love you…” or “If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t…” as the justifications for overworking, overstressing, overdoing, overworrying. There was not one moment in my recollection that the major love figures in my life ever relaxed or took time for themselves. And they took pride in their self-sacrifice, since it demonstrated how responsible and duty-bound they were. It made love look very unappealing to me as a way of life.
Turnaround: Love comes from love. If you are not loving yourself, you cannot truly or fully love another person. Self-sacrifice is not loving.
Love Lesson #9. Love means living up to the expectations of those who love you (and sacrificed to give you your life).
This relates to the “return on investment” belief. I really saw myself as an asset of my family with certain expected returns. Every time I saw myself taking a step outside my “asset class”, behaving in a more high-risk (and high-return) way, I felt the weight of not having managed expectations, and having been at least slightly irresponsible. I had a nagging sense that I was never doing things the “right” way.
Turnaround: Love is free of all expectations about the future and exists fully in every present moment.
Love Lesson #10. Love needs to be earned.
So you might be noticing a theme here. I once believed that I had to earn love, live up to the expectations of those who loved me, pay back the investment of love that others put into me, and sacrifice myself in the name of love.
Turnaround: Love is the joy, freedom, and peace that exists within each of us when we are truly free.
I still don’t see myself using the word “love” a lot. Writing this post was a struggle, actually. I suppose I learned during the writing that I don’t have any obligation to use a word, like “love”, with so many old and convoluted (and false) beliefs attached to it. I prefer the words "peace", "joy", and "freedom", as a three-pronged cluster of words that captures the feelings I experience when I love myself. These carry a more important meaning for me right now - how they make me feel and how they free me to express who I am in every moment.
And it never hurts when I’m loving myself as I am right now.
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One of the best pieces of feedback I received from a student in my recent online course was that she felt safe and open to learn from me because I am also a work-in-progress, like her.
So much of our unhappiness, self-doubt, and fear come from the concept that we "need to know". I am beginning to see that my violin school was built upon the false concept that I needed to know how to fix everyone's problems. I can also see how the path of medical training and the system of health care delivery reinforces ideas that doctors "should know" what to do in every situation.
I spent my whole life as the "A student", the "winner", the "leader", the one who was supposed to "know more". We're conditioned to "look up" to people like this, to aspire to be in their position someday. But the truth is that we all share one diagnosis - being human.
In many ways, we have been conditioned to forget one hemisphere of what it means to be human. We have been taught only to acknowledge the bright lights, the shining moments, the things we "ought to be proud of", the items that make it on the year-end highlights list when the holiday cards go out.
The reality is that human experience includes a full spectrum of moments, ranging from intense emotions of rage and fear and inadequacy to completely serene periods of silence and calm. We are carefree and joyful, and we are threatened to our core. We are goal-oriented and focused, and we are desperately lost. We believe in everything we've ever been taught, and we are dissolved into a pool of not knowing.
ALL of this is our human experience. When we begin to deny one half of the equation, either pretending it doesn't exist, or arranging our circumstances by any means possible to avoid acknowledgment of it, our soul begins to hurt. Part of us withers, atrophies from lack of use and attention.
And while the messages from the outside world - primarily those based on marketing products and services in this wonderfully industrious capitalist economy we have - tell us that our problem can be fixed by a procedure, our pain can be alleviated by a pill, our troubles can be forgotten by a vacation, our image salvaged by the right car or pair of shoes, it becomes even more challenging to muster up the courage to listen to the voice inside our hearts, and to do the work of being compassionate with our whole selves.
In the past two years I have been slowly, gingerly learning to question without fear. I have learned to listen and receive without needing to fix. It is a way of being that I am committed to practice each day, and that I am also challenged to keep practicing in each moment. If I don't pause and become aware, my reflexes are still familiar with old patterns. If I don't get out of my chair and look up at the sky, stretching my body and clearing my mind, I am easily left with the tangle of thoughts that once used to drive my every action and decision.
In my current work, as a teacher and life coach, there is the old temptation to feel like "I need to know". To feel that old sense of being a fraud for claiming to have an answer, when in many cases I did not.
The only difference now is that I am aware. I continue to learn, as I have always done, although I now model my learning process not from valedictorians and Ivy League graduates but from nature, animals, and 3-year-olds. I continue to make mistakes, the kind I previously avoided at all costs by restricting myself to a narrow range of possibilities. I continue to be very observant of myself and of others, as I have always been, although I now judge and label a little less. I continue to encounter situations - every day, actually - where I simply do not know.
The difference now is that I am starting to smile at these moments. I greet them and welcome them with a friendliness and openness that I once reserved only for that dose of approval and praise from others that I lived for. Now I can distinguish between smiling at myself and waiting for others to smile at me. I have glimpsed the sensation of more gentleness and kindness than I ever received from another person. I am becoming familiar with the tenderness in myself - the tenderness I now believe I share with every other human being at their core. I am my own gardener, as someone wisely posted the other day on my Facebook page. It's true.
With the number of "inspirational" people in my world, it's easier to "think positive thoughts" than to smile at my own fear, or to smile at my own judgment of others. The challenge is finding a smile to greet ALL aspects of life - and to acknowledge the wholeness of feeling fearful, doubtful, angry, and just plain crappy. Not to resist or avoid these feelings, or try to eradicate them, or wallow in telling about them, but simply to be with them, allow them their time, and then let them go.
Our suffering comes from resisting. Our suffering comes from turning away, and not wanting to look at what's really there. Our suffering comes from blaming ourselves, or feeling bad about ourselves, when the darker, lower, "negative" sides of our experience show their face.
What would it be like to sit with all of it, calmly, receiving it without needing to label it as "good" or "bad", without needing to find a solution, without needing to know the answer?
I feel relief...and a little smile along with it.
Photo credit: Grant Kwok, used under a Creative Commons license
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Every once in awhile, I get completely jolted into awakening. It's like the universe taking me by the shoulders, shaking me, and saying, "Wake up to your life. Look! Listen! Pay attention!"
Usually these moments happen exactly when I admit to myself that I just don't know. When I completely surrender to not knowing, and just relax there, it's my way of asking for guidance. I'm opening to the possibility of something waking me up.
Last Wednesday was one of those moments.
I dragged myself to another open mic at Angelica's. After going every week for nearly six months now, I admit that sometimes it's a bit of a chore to get myself there. But I do it because I know that playing music and seeing other musicians play - and frankly, the "you-never-know-who'll-show-up" factor - will feed my soul in some way.
I even brought my computer this time, because I had been on a bit of a writing "roll" before I left the house, and thought I might pass the time by writing.
It was Game One of the World Series, with the San Francisco Giants playing. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. In other words, we didn't expect peak attendance at that night's open mic.
Well, it ended up being proof that quality far outweighs quantity.
A young Asian woman came in, with her father and younger sister standing by the door. She had thick, black hair, with a braid draped over her right shoulder. She was confident yet also eager to please, and approached our table to sign up for the Talent Show. She'd read about it online. She was girlish, pleasant, and in a soft voice told us her name was Kelli.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"San Bernadino County," she said.
Yes, all the way from southern California. The band was on their way north to Oregon for a gig, and this was a stop along the way.
We were dazed and distracted, already having "written off" the night as a low-attendance, low-energy kind of deal. The sign-up sheet wasn't ready, we had no idea who was going to be a judge for the Talent Show, and we thought it was just going to be a low-key group of friends playing for one another. Meanwhile, we had a computer plugged in so we could get updates on the World Series game that “everyone else” seemed to be watching.
I went onstage with my guitarist/vocalist Randy to "warm up" the room, and we played some songs that I had never played before. The pressure was off, the stakes were low, so the thought was, “Why not?”. I wasn't thrilled with any of the sounds I created, and I frankly wasn't that excited to play. I was doing the closest thing to "phoning it in" that a musician can do onstage.
Across the room, Kelli's table had filled up with two other women, in addition to her father and little sister.
They were last in the sign-up order. And this is what we heard:
A smile spread across my face as I started to bop along with the upbeat, almost Europop/British invasion style groove. They had such an ease, transparency, and joy to their music.
It stopped me in my tracks. I saw a family. I saw togetherness. I saw a proud father, driving his four daughters on a musical road trip up the Pacific Coast. I saw light in their eyes, and a beaming smile on the father's face.
After their three song set as Ramekega, the band, they had signed up Kaira, age 7, to sing her own set.
Again, I saw the togetherness of a family united by something powerful. I felt it, saw it, heard it, but couldn't name it.
Everyone ended up doing a second set that night. So when I stepped onto the stage a second time, I went inward to acknowledge what I had seen in these girls. They had touched me with their obvious joy and light. They had reminded me of the joy and light I know I have, and I know were once radiating so transparently through my being, but have recently been fogged, blurred somehow.
I played with all the heart I could muster. I was happier. I felt like I had honored myself a little more this time.
And afterwards, I approached the Ramekega girls (Melissa, Kelli, Gabrielle) to know a bit more about their story. Was there another sister? Just one more, the oldest, in nursing school.
And mom is at home? "Our mom passed away. When I was 12," said 16-year-old Melissa matter-of-factly.
"Oh I'm so sorry for blurting that out!" I said as I put my hand to my heart, taking in an even deeper level of what I'd just experienced. I looked from her to her father (still smiling, sitting calmly, beholding all of his beautiful daughters busily writing down email addresses, signing forms, collecting money for CDs). And I really listened to the story. Their mom had passed away. And so this is family. This is it. This is life. This is music. On the road together. Just living the dream. When they could be wallowing in what others call a nightmare.
And then I knew what chord had been struck in my heart. The nameless place inside me that had been cracked open by Ramekega's music came into brief focus for me. It was love.
What I saw and felt in their performance was the pure joy of love when it shines brightly through words, actions, and results.
And that still-incomplete piece inside me is my love. I'm believing that I am getting closer to accessing the fullness of my love for life and everything I have come to life to be and do. And the beautiful girls of Ramekega helped wake me up to what still needs to be done.
Thank you for the wake-up call, girls! Keep spreading your love.
P.S. Ramekega will be back at Angelica's in Redwood City to compete in the final round of the "We've Got Talent" show on Friday, December 17. You can enter too...more details on the competition here>>
Photo credit: Alarm clock by Oscar Megia, used under a Creative Commons License
Are you on a fast track to nowhere?
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I recently watched the movie Talledega Nights again. It's a masterpiece in so many ways, but now, as a life coach, I see a different layer of wisdom in the story of Ricky Bobby.
We live in a culture that teaches us about winning. We worship winners. We are scared to death of losing. We avoid it like the plague.
I'm not sure when the American Dream became inflated to this point, or if it was always like this and I'm just noticing it now. But the fancy ZIP codes, the latest fashions, the plastic surgery, the fitness programs, the high-paying jobs, the flashy cars...all of these toys and amusements, which have become SO glamorous and fun as the demand for them has gone up, are substitutes for the relationships we are seeking with ourselves.
As I look around at our human condition, I see that we share a common need to belong. We share a common need to feel loved. We share a common need to love someone or something, and be able to express it. And we share a common need to tell the truth in our hearts.
The problem is, we're not taught to acknowledge what we truly need. We buy into the concept that if we just keep racing to win, we'll have everything we ever thought we needed.
Well, have you ever gotten to the very top of your game, accomplished the goals that have been put in front of you, and still ended up feeling empty? If you know what I'm talking about, then read on.
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The Hero's Journey
Ricky Bobby is a winner. We meet him at the beginning of the film as the seed for needing to win is first planted in his mind. His absentee father, a race-car driver, shows up for a brief moment in his elementary school classroom and tells his son, "If you ain't first, you're last."
The words make an indelible imprint on the young Ricky, and it leads to a career as a champion race-car driver. He's on the fast track, literally. He lives in a McMansion with a pool and a circular driveway, owns a boat and more cars than he can drive, and has a hot wife and two kids. He has all the trappings of what material success looks like in America.
As long as the prize money keeps rolling in, it's all good.
The problem arises when a foreigner invades his racing kingdom and threatens to dethrone him.
Ricky has a minor injury, but doesn't allow his physical condition to overpower his ingrained zeal to win. He's on the fast track, remember? And he won't be stopped by anything.
He powers through.
When Ricky suffers a devastating crash, and it appears that his racing career is over, he loses everything that once defined him - his house, his wife, his best friend, his career.
The Hero Sits Down
Humiliated, Ricky moves in to his mother's house, takes a job as a pizza deliveryman, and is left to mope around in an unfamiliar, egoless state.
He encounters his father, who has come back to redeem his lifelong absenteeism and teach Ricky a few lessons about winning.
The Hero Learns To Love...Himself
This part of the film is where we watch Ricky get life coaching. His coaches come in the form of his father, his mother, and a former employee - all of whom show him aspects of the love he has been seeking for himself through the substitute of "winning".
He faces his fear by learning to drive with a wild cougar inside his car. He learns to feel by driving blindfolded. He learns the value of clarity and compassion when his own mother takes over the parenting of his two foul-mouthed, defiant sons.
The final "aha" moment happens when a former employee runs into Ricky at a local bar and reveals what she has always seen in him - the love of racing, and the true spirit of a winner, who races for the love and not the prize money.
It's a hilariously cheesy moment in the film, complete with a soundtrack from "White Snake", but it's the melodrama of recognizing your own essential self that's being conveyed. It's the moment we all long to experience for ourselves. It's what we need to keep growing, keep risking, keep living - we need to be reminded of how to really love ourselves. And when we see glimpses of our essential self, it always feels like love.
There Is No Finish Line...
The fact that Ricky's final race with his foreign nemesis ends in a scratch result (both drivers disqualified for leaving their cars) is a beautiful way to convey the ambiguity of what it means to "win" in life, versus being declared a "winner". The only result that matters to Ricky is the acknowledgment of his essential self's true love of racing, and that he is free to be first or last, without fear of losing love.
At a time when our nation is lamenting the loss of teens to senseless suicides, discussing the problems of bullying, and exposing the dark side of our achievement culture, maybe it's also time to ask, "Whose race are we in? And how will we know when we've won?"
Take a moment to remember what you truly love. It will point you toward the only finish line that matters....living a life you can call your own.
This morning, as I was driving to the grocery store, there were these thoughts running through my head:
"What if I could just relax into ACCEPTANCE of myself, exactly as I am right now?"
"What if I could treat myself as if right now, exactly as everything is, it IS all exactly as it should be?"
I was trying to examine my recent thought patterns which were centered around "concern" for a variety of things in my life: was I spending enough time doing the right things, was I doing enough yoga, was I eating enough fruit and vegetables, was I working hard enough on the right things for my business, was I spending too much time on "non-productive" activities....
The list went on and on, and nothing seemed to be "clicking" or "flowing" during the past few weeks until the rare moments when I just let go and did the ONE thing right in front of me.
This morning, I was thinking about the feeling and energy around doing JUST THIS, RIGHT NOW. What is it about that thought which creates flow? It's certainly not a state of heightened anxiety and pushing and grasping. It's not an energy of worrying.
It's exactly the opposite. It's LETTING GO of all the worrying and relaxing the mind completely.
The mind - mine at least - wants to quantify and list and remind me of everything that still ISN'T done, NEEDS to be done, SHOULD be done. The mind isn't designed to be still and quiet. Its job, for which I’ve trained it systematically throughout a lifetime of schooling and high performance, is to be a machine constantly generating new thoughts, forming associations, laying down memories, accessing old information, recalling it on demand.
The mind is a beautiful thing...some of the time.
But then there are times when it gets in the way.
So back to this morning. I was breathing into that feeling of imagining if I could regard myself, as I was right in that moment -- driving my car, with my bank account, my number of clients, my schedule, my health, EVERYTHING about me -- as exactly the way things should be, in fact the ONLY way they could be.
What would that feel like? Who could I be if I felt that way toward me in this moment?
And then the phone rang. It was my friend Louise (that’s not her real name, but she’s a real friend).
She called to talk because she was having difficulty with a family situation across the country. She was being pained by the thought, "I wish I could be there. I just don't know if I should be here right now."
It was causing her to look at everything in her surroundings as "not right". The noisy neighbors, the cars going by on the street, the dogs barking. Nothing felt right as she experienced the world through the lens of thinking, "I shouldn't be here right now."
As I listened to her agonize over this, it occurred to me and I gently reminded her, "Louise, the only place you can be right now is exactly where you are."
"Oh that feels so good to hear. It feels like peace," she said.
And as I took in the reality of those words myself, I saw that wishing you could be anywhere else, right now, is fighting reality. When you're fighting, you know how you feel. Just imagine it. You're at war. You're battling. You're kicking and screaming, wishing it would be over soon.
Who wants to be around a person who's fighting right now? Not me. And how much time do we spend in our thoughts, fighting who we are right now? That was where my mind had been taking me so often during the past few weeks, believing and dwelling in thoughts about what was missing, what wasn’t arriving, what hadn’t been done.
There is such wisdom in the peace and space of RIGHT NOW. Louise could decide in the next minute that she is going to go through the steps to move herself from being here to being with her family: purchase a plane ticket, pack her bags, get herself to the airport, and so on.
But RIGHT NOW she is here. Until she settles into that feeling and accepts what she can do from the perfect place of RIGHT HERE, she is trapped in her own world of fighting with reality. Disconnected from herself and therefore less available for the family she loves so much.
I also asked her to consider what possibilities for healing were contained in the reality of her being HERE while her family is THERE right now. Could it be that her different perspective, several thousand miles removed from the hospital, doctors, and other distressed family members, is in fact a healing energy for the ones she loves the most and wants to take care of? Does she absolutely KNOW that she "needs to" be THERE, and not right here, right now?
The answer was "No."
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NO Thinking...Just Listening, and Play
Our talk led to a discussion of negative thinking that she has been noticing related to a different part of her life – her romantic relationships. "I've been thinking ‘It won't happen’ or ‘It'll never work out’, and I realize that I'm blocking things from coming to me. What were you thinking when all those good things happened to you this summer?"
"It was NO thinking!" I blurted out.
And it felt like such an opening, a blossoming realization to say that out loud! NO thinking!
After hearing that phrase for the first time over a year ago in relation to the state of improvisation, I felt like I finally got it, on a whole life level, today.
NO thinking is SPACE. It's not filling yourself up with affirmations, or convincing yourself to get rid of negative thoughts (which I've found always involves some level of self-castigation). It's not ADDING anything to your already active mind.
It's simply becoming empty. And we rage against emptiness because we are taught to be so fearful of having nothing at all.
I have felt the complete joy and freedom of empty mind when I've been in a state of pure listening and improvisation. It feels so good.
So good, in fact, that it feels criminal or forbidden. I've asked, "Is it true that life really is this good??" in disbelief, my mind wanting evidence to prove it could start punishing me.
Now I know that the true nature of life feels good, when we experience it from the SPACE of NO thinking.
And two things I read this week have come together to complete this picture. Both are from the Tibetan spiritual teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, author of the book, Tibetan Sound Healing.
The first - Letting go.
It's such a popular term now, thrown around in yoga classes and self-help workshops all the time. Rinpoche says that when we say, "Let go", we usually focus on what we are parting with, rather than what is revealed, when we let something go. In other words, we dwell on the loss, instead of dwelling on the beauty of the new possibility unveiled.
The second - Effortless doubts and spontaneous problems.
We are so quick to believe that things will go wrong, and problems will arise. We might even accept the mantra that life just has to be hard, and that’s just the way it is. Rinpoche says, "Everybody understands effortless doubts and spontaneous problems. We always seem to have some good reasons for doubt - intelligent, educated, and philosophically profound reasons."
But when it comes to feeling joy, compassion, or love, we suddenly need proof. We seem to believe that none of these qualities can *spontaneously* manifest or effortlessly arise. It is easier for us to imagine having a problem than it is to imagine being happy without a particular reason.
And so, it’s time to ask yourself, is it true? Can you absolutely know that your doubts are TRUE? Can you absolutely know that joy cannot arise spontaneously, but problems can?
I invite you to explore your own answer to these questions.
Meanwhile, what I found today for myself was the feeling of SPACE from NO thinking. And I'm going to rest there right now.