Happy Anniversary

Wow, it’s already been a year.

One year ago I started this blog, thinking that I would just write for myself. Never wanted to show it to anybody. I wrote because I knew it would help me understand myself better, understand why I chose to go to Swarthmore. I kept my blog private until my friend encouraged me to make it public, and you can bet I was embarrassed as hell – what was I thinking, writing about love. Before I dreaded writing, especially in the common app days. Now?  It is my foundation.

What excites me?

The fact that exactly one year ago, I could’ve never imagine myself as a writer, that I could bear writing alone when everybody else was doing other things. Staying up after doing homework to write, even writing to procrastinate from homework. But this is just the beginning. I took my last final today, and now my freshman year of college is over. I have changed so much in one year, and writing is something I never imagined I would be doing. I am excited about what I will become in the future. Will I continue writing, stay in college, do something completely different? Who cares, what I have learned is that it doesn’t matter. If I held my preconceived idea of what I would be doing in 5 years, no way would I be writing in my free time. I would probably be forcing myself to make some programming side projects. What comes to mind are two professors from Swarthmore – Barry Schwartz and Steven Hopkins. When asked why they decided to pursue psychology or religion, they said that they didn’t really choose it. They tried it out and fell in love with those subjects.

Almost none of the big decisions I have made in my life felt like decisions. I applied for one job what was my decision? Do I take it or not take it? So I fell in love with psychology as a freshmen in college—I never in some sense decided to be a psychology major; there was no “Plan B.” I was really enthusiastic about it so I took as much psychology as I could and I was a psychology major. So it feels to me that most of the things that looking back were decisions felt at the time more like things that happened to me rather than things that I chose. – Barry Schwartz (interview)

So my answer to the question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I don’t know, and I don’t think it really matters. I will continue putting all my effort into the things that interest me, and if those interests change, I will simply shift my efforts. I’m open to change, and I will take things as they come.

My Biggest Change

I came into college thinking that everybody had some sort of plan, and the purpose of college was to pursue those plans. College was a time to be selfish, do everything for ourselves. Define ourselves by our successes, build up a reputation, develop personality traits that will eventually become marketable business skills. Every action was chosen because it would benefit me in the future. Or as the Little Prince would say, everything was a matter of consequence. But learning for the sake of learning then became an empty phrase that I said to distinguish myself from others.

In my freshmen year of college, I have transitioned from wanting a successful life to a meaningful one. And living a meaningful life means being open and vulnerable. Now I am noticing a transition from a sense of identity defined by what I do for myself, to one defined by what I do in relation to other people. I thought that life was about building myself up to be the best, but it is others that make life fun and significant. Life’s not about optimizing. What exactly is the “best”? Nobody knows the answer to these questions, and you will torture yourself if you are committed to finding the best.

A lot of my thinking has been influenced by the Lun Yu – I feel like I have grown to understand what it really means to do something for the sake of doing it. Again, when I first started writing in this blog and my personal journal, I wrote because I knew that writing would give me benefits – understanding, writing skills, etc. But now I write because writing is fucking wonderful. 

So now as summer arrives, it’s time to keep things moving (and cut all the weight I’ve gained from my bulk :P). I have changed so much over the past year, and I’m not done yet. I’ll be headed to Kyoto, Japan and Shanxi, China to practice meditation alone in some monasteries. Planning out my summer plans reminded me of my mom’s disapproval and fear when I told her I was committing to Swarthmore. But I know that I would’ve never grown like this if I hadn’t come here. Maybe I should just continue doing the things she is scared of in order to grow. But on a more serious note, my mom is really an indicator of my comfort, and going against her will probably bite me in the ass in the future.

But when that does happen, you better believe that I’ll be writing about it here.

Advertisements

The Little Prince

Now that finals are starting and classes are over, I have time to sit down with a book, read, and write. My friend recommended The Little Prince, a book many say should be read at least three times – once when you are young, again when you are an adult, and finally when you are old.

One of the first themes the story hits you with is the loss of (seemingly innocent) creativity and imagination as you grow old. In college, I am seeing this pattern unfold right in front of me, even happening within myself.

I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man–he is a mushroom!

“Sorry I can’t spend time with you, I have to study!” It feels that the older I get, the faster time passes. I remember when I used to think that the 4 years of high school lasted an eternity. Now 1 year of college has gone by like a breeze. It seems that competitive schools are a pipeline into the rat race for more money and status, things that allow us to put on a face of pride. But the loss of creativity the story presents isn’t the only thing adults lose as they grow older. What’s important isn’t some ability to arbitrarily imagine that this hat looking drawing is actually a boa that has swallowed an elephant (or something crazy like seeing dead people in a blotch of spilled ink.

little-prince-hatlittle-prince-boa-elephant

The sad reality is growing up and getting preoccupied with what we think are “matters of consequence.” Regardless of whatever these matters of consequence are: going to college so that you can make more money, befriending this person so you can get professional connections, reading a book so you can get something out of it, I think the problem lies in the very consequences you see in whatever activity you are getting yourself into. This actually relates a lot to the practice of zazen meditation in Buddhism. If you sit with the intention of getting enlightened, you will in fact never get enlightened. As we grow older, we stop doing things for what they areEverything becomes a matter of consequence.


The story’s idea of taming stuck with me because of how intimately it describes love and beauty.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing.
Because she is my rose.
“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince. “They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry . . .”
Taming the fox, having patience and spending time with him, is what distinguishes him from all the other foxes in the world. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

It is difficult to put in words a review (if you suppose) of this book because there are still many metaphors and messages I don’t understand. For instance, why the snake speaks in riddles in Chapter 17:

“You move me to pity–you are so weak on this Earth made of granite,” the snake said. “I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–” “Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince. “But why do you always speak in riddles?” “I solve them all,” said the snake. And they were both silent.

This book was originally in French, and the English translation is written beautifully. Reading this story has left me with many questions — questions I know will unfold as I grow older. The Little Prince is worth reading, it’s also fairly short and would take 1-2 hours to read, so you should go check it out! Here’s a link to a free pdf.