Regression

“How did we go up so fast?” – My roommate

Last night I was hanging out with some of my friends, talking to somebody from Southern California about why we chose to come to college in the east coast. That made me really nostalgic about how different I’ve become after coming to Swarthmore.

I remember the day of my Chinese final – I was walking up a hill to my classroom and thinking about how I had changed this semester. I really don’t have that many friends, off the top of my head I can count the number of friends I have with two hands, and I was completely ok with that. Ever since I came back from Asia, I feel that my extroverted side has been seeping out of me, and I’m left maturing as an introvert. For the first half of the semester, my roommate and I spent a lot of time in our rooms. After classes, after every meal, we would go back to the room to do work and hang out. It was all so simple. Before I came to college, I was anxious that I wouldn’t have that many friends. I was worried that I’d be by myself all the time because everybody else would be hanging out. And now fast forward a year and a half, I’m completely fine with not having that many friends. Hell, I go out of my way so that I can chill alone. But I don’t know if me being fine with it is the same as me being content with it. To be honest many times this year I felt that I’ve regressed.

I started off this semester with 4 index cards. Drink 62 oz of water every day, stretch everyday, take multivitamins and fish oil everyday, and floss everyday. These index cards each had a 5×6 grid on the back of them to check off everyday when I completed these tasks (total of 30 days). It was a way for me to hold myself accountable and be disciplined to complete these tasks. I only held out for about 20 of the days, then my discipline went to shit. To put this in perspective, I used to go to the gym at least 4 times a week for the past 2 semesters, and I could always see consistent progress. These past 2 months, I’ve gone to the gym a total of 6 times. It really doesn’t feel good, to be back in the same hole I’ve already dug myself out of.

Discipline wise, I tried to blame my regression on emotional stresses. I was feeling pretty bummed out the first few weeks because I was conflicted about seeing somebody. There were days that I thought it was ok to just wallow in my emotions and do nothing, in contrast from my roommate who still consistently went to the gym every week. Sure, maybe having some time to wallow in my emotions was fine, but the world is gonna keep turning, and I still should do what I have to do. So that’s a lesson that I won’t forget, even if I feel like shit I should still complete the things I had committed to before. Because that’s what a commitment is about right?

This semester was also fairly academically rigorous, pretty much every single day I would stay in Cornell (our science library) till closing at 1AM, then walk back to my room to sleep. Everyday felt exactly the same and seemed was like a blur. I can’t discount the fact that I was learning a lot – it was actually fun every single night staying up and working. But at times I was left thinking if I should be doing things a different way. I’ve been journaling almost everyday, but it’s evident that I haven’t written nearly as much as I used to. I know that I was much happier last semester writing answers on Quora, blogging here, and going to the gym. Last semester I had found my routine: writing and working out consistently made me happy. And it seems that I have drifted apart from this core this semester.

You know it’s funny writing about this now. I remember in a post I wrote last February I talked about how I felt offended when my friend Vivian called me mellow. I didn’t want to be mellow, fuck that. But ask me now if I’m mellow. I will give you a sincere smile and say “sure I can be mellow” and give you a high five.

The reason why I use the word regressed is because I’ve been exactly where I am now before. It’s almost funny how similar things are – not feeling extremely driven towards a goal, not being disciplined, not wanting to be around big crowds. And the biggest theme that kind of freaked me out was that I didn’t feel driven towards a goal.

Enough with this though, I’m making it seem like this semester was just bad. But I’ve had some of the most fulfilling experiences in my life this semester, this was just what’s on my mind. The metaphor I like to use is that of a phoenix. Fly high, then burn to the fucking ground. Then rise again, soaring higher than you’ve ever soared before.

Here’s to flying back up.

Happy Holidays.

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The Fallacy of Self Discovery

Metaphors give shape to mystery, and the metaphor of self-discovery has driven me to try many new things, like going to Asia to live a monastic life. However, it is this exact metaphor that has driven me around in circles – chasing an ideal that did not yet exist.

Discovery carries an implicit suggestion that, somewhere in our mind’s recesses or in data outside the mind, there is something waiting to be discovered. For a writer, the metaphor of discovery pushes forward that writing is a way to bring that something out. But recently I’ve been exposed to the idea that using this metaphor to teach the creative process bears its own limitations.

Because discovery emphasizes the rather glamorous experience of “Eureka, now I see it,” it obscures the fact that writers don’t find meanings, they make them.

A writer in the act of discovery is hard at work searching memory, forming concepts, and forging a new structure of ideas, while at the same time trying to juggle all the constraints imposed by his or her purpose, audience, and language itself. – Linda Flower and John R. Hayes

The idea of self-discovery has become such a sexy experience to be sought for that we’ve lost sight of what it means to create meaning ourselves. What do I mean by this? We aren’t born with shit, and we’re the ones responsible for creating the meaning we are searching for. Someone asked me what I discovered about myself during my stay in monasteries in Asia. Did you discover that you are more introverted than extroverted? Did you discover that you like meditation? Did you discover the meaning of life? 

I call bullshit. Your “true self” isn’t out there floating in winter wonderland waiting to be magically “discovered.” But to your last question, I did discover the meaning of life. I discovered that the very path you’re walking now will determine how you will end up in the future. You aren’t living your life to “discover” what you want to ultimately become. Every second you are alive, you are creating the tale of your life. If you’re doing X, Y, and Z everyday but expect to see something different in the mirror when you wake up, you’ll be in for a surprise. What you’ll see is what you’ll get. Whether it’s going to suck or not though is a completely different story.

Discovering your passions by trying out a bunch of random things sounds like a crapshoot to me. I strongly believe that you create your own passions. The more you commit to something, the more meaning you will create – then you will have discovered your passion. But this passion wasn’t hiding in the “deep recesses of your mind”, it had not even existed until you took the steps to create it.

The myth of discovery implies a method, and this method is based on the premise that hidden stores of insight and ready-made ideas exist, buried in the mind of the writer, waiting only to be “discovered.” Or they are to be found in books and data if only the enterprising researcher knows where to look. What does one do when a ready-made answer can’t be found in external sources? The myth says, “look to your own experience.” But what happens when a writer on this internal voyage of discovery still can’t “find” something to say because his or her “ideas” as such are not actually formed? – Linda Flower and John R. Hayes

So is there a method to self discovery?

I must disagree.

What does one do when a ready-made answer can’t be found in external sources? Well, shit. I’ve felt the exact same way when I first came to college. Nobody grew up like me, nobody thought in the same way I was thinking. How was I going to find my “why” in college? The myth says “look to your own experience.” But that felt like randomly casting a fishing hook out into the ocean, waiting for something to bite. I was frantically searching through my experiences to find an answer, when in fact the answer had never actually formed in the first place.

Growing up is strange, but don’t commit your effort searching for meaning and self-discovery. Because chances are, you’ll have to create those discoveries yourself.


 

Check out the paper: The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem

It’s Time For a Fuck-It Bucket

I’ve just come back from Asia, 2 months living like a monk. During those two months I’ve had my head up my ass, oblivious to a bunch of shit going on in my home land – America. I missed the whole Pokemon Go hype, presidential elections drama, Arthur memes, Harambe memes. And to be honest, it was fucking great. I didn’t have to spend time thinking about these random things. I could focus just on my meditation practice and writing. Landing back in California, I remember my head physically hurting from reading the headlines of all my emails and notifications.

jackie chan

Just at first, I came across this post on Medium: Why It’s Time You Start a Fuck It List

We spend so much time ticking off our to-do lists, making aspirational Pinterest boards, and thinking about our next big goal, dream or plan. And then we wonder why we burnout?

Ask yourself, honestly: How much energy do you dedicate to things that don’t really matter? Or things you think you “should” do, rather than those you actually want to?

Because true balance takes work. It takes sacrifice.

Alright fuck it, let’s go. Write a list, mentally or physically, filled with things not deserving your time. Think of it as an anti-bucket list of sorts. I call mine a Fuck-It Bucket.

Complainers: Especially the passive-aggressive, subtle complainers. Oh my god, I have so many meetings back to back. I have so much to read. I feel like complaining is such a negative energy that kills my motivation and optimism. Especially in college, sometimes we can get into a huge complaining circle jerk that really isn’t beneficial at all. Same goes for me. No more complaining that I don’t want to wake up.

Dessert:  I’ve tried it, it’s just way too sweet. I can do without it.

Gossip: No I don’t want to hear your secret gossip about Suzy over there. I don’t want to talk behind somebody’s back, if you want an impression of them go find out for yourself.

Being Messy: Clean up after yourself, knoll everything. I lived such a simple life in Asia: a 15 lb suitcase, one style of monastic robes – and I noticed a HUGE decrease in stress. My sleep quality improved, I could remember all my dreams! I woke up singing “Here Comes the Sun” from the Bee movie, and skipped my ass out of bed.
Things will definitely change, but this is my fuck-it bucket for this next semester. None of these things matter. By acknowledging them, saying “fuck it” and waving them on their way, I free myself up to  be as energetic and present as possible.

“It’s impossible to be everything for everyone. But if you treat yourself with a little more acceptance and understanding, you’ll find you have so much more to give.” – Bianca Bass

Check out the original post, and comment if you decided to make a fuck-it list yourself! I want to hear what’s on yours.

Cheers!

It’s Time To Move Forward

One year ago, I started this blog mainly to sort out my insecurities and why I chose to go to Swarthmore. I was honest with myself because I never intended to share it with anybody, and over the year, this honesty has come more naturally the more I write. In this blog’s first post, I stated that reading other people’s experiences online had helped me in my life, so I wanted to contribute to that community.

In reality though, I didn’t know what I was talking about, I didn’t know what writing for other people meant. I wrote for myself, to sort out my problems and maybe share them with other people.

But shit is different now.

This past year has felt like a hyperbolic time chamber. I remember thinking how disappointed I would be if I came out of college the exactly way as I did in high school. But things have definitely changed.

hyperbolic
Hyperbolic Time Chamber (Dragon Ball Z)

I used to hate writing – blogging was a chore I challenged myself with to open up. Now writing has become a part of my lifestyle – waking up in the middle of the night to write, writing before homework, writing before sleeping.

I used to read because it would make me look smart, picking up trendy books about self improvement and pop psychology successful entrepreneurs shared. Now I share an appreciation for literature and understand the unbreakable harmony of reading and writing.

Now I have friends who don’t just do amazing things like win awards and make money. I have friends with personalities that inspire me, and hanging out with them feels like the fabric of our existences are weaving together and pushing outward together to grow.

I used to think of self-improvement as a solo mission, but you can only achieve so much alone. Within a genuine community, the selfish energy of achievement dissolves and harmonious successes amplify to create completely unimaginable things together like the reverberating overtone of multiple tuning forks.

Going Back: Why I started this blog

When I first started this blog, I had to choose a title and tagline. I asked myself before: “What do I want other people to see me as? Or what do I value in my life? They will probably change, but for now:”

Title: Becoming Interesting

Tagline: My reflections as I seek passion and relevancy.

So far, this blog has very accurately paralleled my life. First starting off with a lot of confusion and insecurity at Swarthmore, then moving into a strong phase of discipline and self-improvement. Late 2015 writing about my self-progress at school and some embarrassing sprinklings of romance talk. Early 2016 exploring eastern schools of thought, moving into my own theories of combing Asian philosophies. And Mid-2016 summer writing about my monastic life experience in Japan and Asia.

I appreciate this parallelism especially because when reading old posts, I can see myself progressing and moving forward with time. But I think the idea of always progressing in life can be harmful, so I prefer the term moving forward with time. More importantly, it is not my achievements moving forward, but rather my personality, which I think is what truly defines people.

Looking back at the taglines

My reflections as I seek passion. The most significant realization I had this past year was my naiveté towards the idea of “seeking a passion.” What really grounded me was a sense of purpose to challenge myself in all aspects of my life. Now, however, I feel that I have solved this passion problem and it’s time to move on to the next challenges.

I would characterize this past year as period of really questioning if I did things just because they were sexy. This past year I challenged my obsession and ultimately insecurity for success, and I realized that cultivating a pure personality of integrity is much more important to me.

But this past year, there were definitely times where I have slipped up. Thoughts, intentions, actions that I regret. And it’s time for a change. No more dishonesty, especially with myself. I would shy away from truly opening up because that would leave me vulnerable. But like I said, it’s about time I moved forward.

My reflections as I seek relevancy.  I was getting too ahead of myself when I first said this a year ago, I didn’t know what this really meant. But I’ve been starting to get a taste of what it means to be part of a community, not just living in the solo self-improvement mindset all the time. So this is something that I will continue to reflect on.

This is a small thing, but I think a good way to symbolize this move forward is to update my tagline. This relates to my previous post Finding Home where I talk about how you shouldn’t think of a commitment as losing something. It is fulfilling because it pushes you to do more. Self discipline was not a one year phase as it has become the core of my existence, and it will continue throughout the rest of my life. But this year marks my shift of focus to commitment. What is commitment, and what does it mean to me? To others?

As for the title, Becoming Interesting has grown on me 🙂

Becoming Interesting

Committing to honesty. My reflections as I seek relevancy.

In a month I’ll be beginning my second year of college. But no way am I going back to school, things have changed and I won’t be repeating the same mistakes ever again.

It’s time to move forward.

 

Finding Home

“In America, people keep arguing for rights, but what we need is consideration.”

Peace vs. Harmony

At the temple, Osho-san and I talked a lot about how Eastern thinking influenced interpersonal interactions in Asia. “In the past, there was no word for peace 平和 in Japanese, there was only harmony 調和. When we talk about peace, somebody is always giving peace to somebody else, sometimes even forcing it onto them. It is uneven. But in harmony, there is coexistence.” He described harmony like crossing your hands together. “There is nothing forced on anybody. For example, we live together with nature in harmony. Where my hands cross is where we understand each other. But while there may be some things that we might not see eye to eye on, where our arms don’t touch, some things I don’t understand about you, I don’t mind. I just accept it.”

harmony

It was surprising to hear Venerable Yifa say something very similar here in China. “In the West, people always talk about rights, but what about obligation?” Obligation to your family, friends, society. “Many people nowadays are scared of commitment, but in commitment, you don’t lose something. It is fulfilling because it pushes you to do more. This relates a lot to relationships and activities in college, we try to squeeze these things in with our busy schedule and end up either burned out or giving up on them. But if I keep sticking with what I already do, how can I push beyond my old habits. I want to commit and push myself to do things I cannot currently imagine.

The most important thing in meditation is your determination. No pain, no gain. – Venerable Yifa

If you ask anybody who knows me, most people would describe me as an easy-going guy that goes with the flow of things. During meditation, we talked about how determination was the most important thing. My thoughts will wander, my legs will hurt, but I need to be determined to bring my focus back to my breathing. You have to commit to sit. This past year, I’ve thrown myself into uncomfortable situations to strengthen my discipline and learn more about myself. Indeed, I have committed to meditating in monasteries this summer, committed to Swarthmore, but I don’t feel that I have a strong sense of determination driving my life forward. So it’s about time for a change.

If you like it, it’s a blessing. If you don’t, it’s cultivation. – Venerable Yifa

I’ve learned so many things this past year, and even summer so far, that the 1 year has felt like 3. Determination, like discipline and memory, is a muscle that I have to keep training. So one idea that I have is that when I get back to college, I can have like a commitment board with post-its of things I want to commit to that week (starting small) like doing cardio every day, meditating every day. Another commitment I learned from somebody here at Woodenfish is the 100 day meditation challenge he learnt from his Taoist Kung-Fu school: where you essentially count to 100 everyday, but there cannot be a break in concentration. If you are on 51, for example, and start to get sidetracked on excitement, you have to restart from 1. Writing about this now, I feel this fire of determination that I want to keep fueling. Discipline and determination actually sound awfully similar, but I think this new dress on the idea is what I needed to commit to something bigger than what I already am doing.

Finding Home

On my last day in Kyoto, they cooked my favorite meal for lunch – curry rice! We got to eat casually, drinking tea and chatting about our plans for our lives after this.

“I’m going to the master’s monastery in September, but after that I don’t know.”

“I’m going to finish university then join the military. But after that, I don’t know.”

“I’m going to be staying here at the temple, Sam, how about you?”

“I’m going back to college, but after that, I don’t know.”

People that are not worried about the future. People who coexist with everybody practicing compassion and consideration. People who have a sense of challenge and discipline. Wanderers. So far this summer, I have been able to put these eastern philosophies into words and practice, but I feel that they have been with me my whole life.

I feel like a fish going back to sea.

fish-home.jpg

Staying in a Zen Temple: Sesshin 接心

The last 3 days at Fumonken have without a doubt been the most intense and hardest thing I have experienced in my life. Every month, there is a period (usually 1-7 days) of intensive meditation (zazen) called Sesshin 接心, which translates to touching the heart-mind. This is quite a beautiful phrase, but experiencing it is a whole different world. I asked Eh-san (who has been living at the temple for 2 years now) how Sesshin is, and he described that “it was hell,” then chuckled a little after. Haha, man was I in for a treat. Below is the schedule of a day of Sesshin:

Sesshin Schedule
04:00 : Wake up, little toilet, morning sutras. Zazen
07:00 : Breakfast. Cleaning.
08:30 : Tea time
09:45 : Temple job
10:30 : Zazen
12:00 : Lunch, get some restseiza
13:30 : Temple job
15:00 : Tea time, bath time
17:30 : evening sutras, Zazen
20:30 : Dinner
21:00 : Zazen
23:00 : All lights off.

 

The chunks of zazen time were broken up into 30 minute sessions each, with a 3-5 minute of a standing meditation break in between each one. Also, we would have 15 minutes of kihin (walking zen) after every 2 sessions. The sutras and mealtimes were also fairly challenging because we had to sit in seiza the whole time. I think by the time we had our 5th zazen session, my knees already felt like breaking and I felt as if there was an acupuncture needle stuck in the nerve of my hip being rotated
acupuncture-big
around. However, the worst part was realizing that it was only the 5th out of 18 sessions, and that it was only the first day. I remember that when we had a 15 minute break for brushing our teeth at night, I just went into my room and collapsed onto the floor, too sore to crawl under my mosquito net, just lying there with an impending reminder  that I only had 10 minutes left.  For sure, there were times when I wished that I had never come to the temple, but that was when persisting was the most important. It was as if the pain and distractions grew exponentially, and if I didn’t keep up my practice, I would just drown in my sensations and thoughts and not get anything out of it. The stakes literally increased every minute, but there was no way that I was going to give up, not this time. I think that meditation is my ultimate challenge, I need the determination to withstand the temptations to fidget, move, complain; and I didn’t want to be somebody who couldn’t sit without moving for more than 15 minutes forever.

 

Training only begins when it gets hard.

 

For the first time in my life though, I experienced a type of samādhi, a state of complete serenity, tranquility, and concentration. It is said that there are 66 moments of time in a snap of a finger, and I felt that I could experience every 66 of those moments. Yet it wasn’t only just concentration, I also withheld my sati. It was like having a very strong concentration on one thing, and a very strong awareness of my surroundings. Samādhi and sati, each two wings of a bird. The pain was still there, but it didn’t matter anymore. It is quite hard to put in words, and as Venerable Yifa put it: meditation is not something you understand, but something you realize.

At the end of it, I learned and experienced a lot during this Sesshin. I definitely got something out of it, but the process was hell – I told myself that I never wanted to do anything like this ever again. But these challenges of determination are sort of addicting. I have to admit that during Sesshin, I had a tint of excitement coursing through my blood (albeit it wasn’t going to my legs as I was losing feeling 🙂 ). I’m not sure if I would recommend this to everybody, but I think you should try everything at least twice. Training only begins when it gets hard, so I guess the only thing to do now is to go back and face it again!

Buddhism: Religion, Philosophy, or Spirituality?

When I visited New York a couple of months ago, a student at Columbia University asked me this question: Would you consider Buddhism a religion or philosophy? I don’t remember what I said, but I do recall it being a half-baked answer skirting on the edges of classifying Buddhism as a philosophy. After all, many young people in the West do consider Buddhism as a doctrine about cause and effect, seeing most rituals and chants as moot. I grew up in a Buddhist household, attended temple rituals and ceremonies, yet still found myself doubting that Buddhism should be considered a religion. For me, religion was connected with worshipping god(s), like Christianity or Islam. But in Buddhism, there was no god to praise or worship. I’m sure that many would agree that Buddhism is in fact a way of life.

However, my view has come to change on this during my stay here at a monastic program (Woodenfish) in the Longquan Monastery in Shanxi, China. Let’s begin with the term spirituality.

I think it’s a fairly modern concept, and most people I know would rather be aligned as spiritual rather than a radical religious. Karl-Stéphan Bouthillette, a professor at Woodenfish, opened his lecture about spirituality that spirituality had an attitude of “whatever.” It puts the individual at the center of the universe, makes people selfish and unhappy. It allows people to cherrypick whatever you like, but the dangerous part is that it can lead to dismissing what we don’t yet understand or what challenges us. If we are trying to learn, we need to relinquish our authority. For example, if we are learning how to make a chair, we would go to somebody who already knows how to make a chair. If we want to learn how to meditate, we should go to a monastery where they have established practices to teach meditation. This motivation behind cherrypicking in spirituality also translates over to the fractious nature of religions institutions and political parties. There is a loss of commitment to something greater, especially something that challenges us. And being our own authority can put a lot of stress on ourself to make the perfect decisions among a sea of options.

Philosophy, from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally translates to “love of wisdom.” And refers to the study of things like knowledge, existence, what we should or should not do, language, reason, etc. And from my experience of studying philosophy in college, has a categorical/classifying nature that can seem cold.

Religion, from Latin religio, means “that which binds us together.” As opposed to philosophy, religion feels more warm and human, dealing with things like love, death, passion, birth, etc. And religion can ben seen as having 7 dimensions.

7 Dimensions of Religion

1. Practical and Ritual – In Buddhism, rituals are seen not as an end in itself. Sacrifices, baptism, etc.

2. Experiential and Emotional – Meditative jhanas, metta (loving kindness), desire to convert others

3. Narrative and Mythic – Religions have rich, emotional narratives or myths. While myths are generally looked down upon in the present because of their lack of proof, these stories motivate us to strive for things greater than us. They give us hope.

4. Doctrinal and Philosophical – I believe this is where many people would put Buddhism into, but Buddhism is much more than just a philosophy.

5. Ethical and Legal – 5 Precepts, 10 Commandments, etc.

6. Social and Institutional – monasteries, interactions between laymen and monks/nuns, interactions between people and priests.

7. Material – artwork, clothing, bowls.

And having these 7 dimensions implies that there are many different ways we can enter into religion. For me, my entrance into Buddhism came from the experiential and philosophical dimensions.

For me, this added a lot more depth to religion. Religions are in fact deeply rooted in history and culture. There are also many recurring themes among religions, for example, how the mythological monomyth (hero’s journey) is apparent in many religious narratives. Studying Buddhism academically in the Woodenfish program has been very interesting and challenging, making myself ask questions that I would have never asked myself before, which I will answer in future posts.

What if the Buddha never existed? Does it even matter?

What would be the advantage and disadvantage of believing in the narrative?