Shall I Compare Thee to a (Ordinary) Christmas Day?

“A stegosaurus in the forest munching on some hay,
Lay down to snooze in a bed of ooze and sadly passed away.
Her body changed and rearranged as she sank beneath the soil,
And over time she turned to slime and then she turned to oil.”

~ Tom Chapin

 
That’s not a blog entry-opening ‘inspirational quote’ line. That’s a verse from Tom Chapin’s ‘R-E-C-Y-C-L-E’ song that wrapped up my Christmas Caroling session at work this year.

Yes, this year’s Carol was no church choir. If anything it would’ve passed more as a heartfelt effort at indoor rain dance gathering. And a sweetly politically correct one at that. With everyone sitting in a circle creating impromptu ethnic tunes to ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ using all the traditional forms of percussion and tambourine you can name, and at one point resting to hum the second verse of ‘Silent Night’ (because you don’t just make people say ‘Jesus’ in a non-Christian-majority multicultural setting), the only thing missing was for someone to go dancing around a center-piece bonfire.

But then again, hardly anything about this year’s Christmas was a lot traditional. Apart from the rain-dance of a Christmas Carol, the distance from Home and thus the absence of Family presence, there was this year’s tree.

xmastree (2)

If you have been in a country that hugely celebrates the Chinese New Year festivity, this tree would probably remind you more of angpaos than Christmas stockings. And any random small convenience shop owner could walk in to my school library and confidently say they’ve got a better (read: more seasonally appropriate) tree than ours. But I beam at the sight of it the same way that the woman who’s responsible for this one would.

Nah, I still beam brighter than that. Maybe ’cause hers costs $4.2 million.

 
At the two high school boys who were too cool to admit that they’d rather cut out strips of green paper crepes, fold paper cranes, and crumple up cotton ball pieces into fake snow falls, than slack off on their Macs during study periods. At their insistence on keeping ‘Jingle Bells Rock’ on repeat on account it was pretty much the only Christmas Carol they were familiar with, while rejoicing in the spirit of making fun of my origami skills.

 
And the days leading up to December 25 were far from the touch of fraternity. For they were spent in intentional isolation for a self-service wish-fulfilling uninterrupted reading time in the little town of Ubud; cafe-hopping, round-town push-biking, used books shop raging, Julie Otzuka’s ‘When the Emperor Was Divine‘ and Anita Desai’s ‘Diamond Dust‘-demolishing, organic meal feasting, and meditational paddyfield strolling, while being shortly interluded by a lively and mind-opening encounter with a couple of South African and French legal experts who managed to get me all fired up about their TED talk-material Integrative Law Movement.

 
And yet as I sat in a half-occupied hall waiting for Christmas Eve’s midnight mass to begin, I couldn’t help to smile in the overcoming of a sudden heart-warming joy at the thought of it all.

When I had found myself one night earlier in December quietly crying on my bed in a somewhat fetal position – having just been hit by the notion that I wouldn’t have the same ‘perfect’ traditional endless-company Christmas I had last year – it didn’t occur to me that this year’s would awaken me to a whole new way of music-experiencing in the midst of a non-traditional Caroling where music was made from nothing but simple technology, communal energy and natural synergy.

That it would re-energize me with at least a half year’s worth of inspiration for more creativity and humanity-changing action-taking through a friendly lone bookpacking trip.

Or that it would see to it that I know and understand, that nothing in life is a consolation prize, when you put love and the joy in people’s hearts before a perfect display of pride.

 
That same night in the hall, as I wondered how those several days – despite their resulting in deep contentment and satisfaction – have honored the meaning of the very season I was celebrating (as I hadn’t exactly been participating in the traditional giving and sharing practice as my popular culture has been dictating for years), and started further wondering what it even is that I was celebrating, the Pastor’s sermon answered me with a story.

Of an ordinary day, in an ordinary place, when an ordinary family welcomed the birth of a child. A child who grew in an ordinary time, under ordinary circumstances, among ordinary people. A child who, despite his ordinary upbringing, became a man of extraordinary presence, extraordinary actions, and extraordinary love.

He then reminded us of another story, of a hundred over other similar stories. Of the hundred over people who sat at the congregation that night. Of our own births, of our own ordinary circumstances, and of our own innate capacity to become Extraordinary.

Of the underlying message that Christmas, is the celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus as much as it is of ours. It is the remembrance of the beginning of his extraordinary power as much as it is of ours.

 
The realization of which, both brought my body comforting warmth and trembling silence. At the thought of what a whole year’s worth of retreating into a reflective and restorative solitary has brought for me this year, the dawning of a slightly more refined self, with a slightly more refined mind and a refined heart; a new birth.

But also, at the sudden overwhelming realization of what that carries; the weight of my presence, the immense value of its mere existence. But most importantly, at the current absence of its substantial worth to the world, the remaining abundance still of its extraordinary capacity.

 
Some have said and believed that December this year marks the ending of an existence, an era, a something. I’m not sure about an ending, and I don’t know that much about the universe. But I believe in beginnings, and I know only as much as I have seen. And what I have seen, is a birth of mine own. And apparently, in our no longer ordinary circumstances, that counts for something. So I guess, I’ll be damned if I don’t make it the only thing it’s meant to be; Extraordinary.

 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Beginning =)

Tya

 

“Ar-Ee-Cee… Why-Cee-El-Eeee.. That’s the waaay… It’s supposed to beee.. The Earth recycleeees.. And so do weee.. Ar-Ee-Ceee! Why-Cee-El-Eeeeeee…!!”

When Life Gives You Lemons… Or Men.

“Without hindrances the mind that seeks enlightenment may be burnt out.
So an ancient once said, ‘Attain deliverance in disturbances.'”

~ Kyong Ho

 
 
So early on this year, motivated by a friend’s successful 2011 New Year’s resolution of alcohol abstinence, I decided to un-mythify the urban legend that is the New Year’s resolution in my own life story.

For the year 2012, I resolved not to become – under any circumstances – romantically involved with anyone.

For the heart-crippled lifetime hopeless romantic champion, it had become necessary – if not must-ecessary – and well, about time really.

 

 
 
By past mid year I have managed to keep myself romance-free without even (seriously) falling for interested parties I was crossing paths with. In addition to charting my career, I was channeling my energy into recovering from my last heartbreak properly (rebound-free), developing my emotional management ability, deepening my spirituality, and strengthening every aspect of my inner life that had long needed re-screwing, re-oiling and big-time upgrading.

And into the third-quarter of the year, I hit the jackpot; a claw-craned soft little fluffy plush of Peace.

 
Not the kind that stays for only the 10-15 minute of my meditation practice. Or the moments of comfort from finding my long-held beliefs affirmed while reading books about the Zen philosophy. Or the quiet deep appreciation of watching my self-created anxieties being washed off by cooling mountain waterfalls or sunset-lit seas.

The kind that was made hungry but not restless by staying in quietly the evenings after work with only a book and a cup of tea. The kind that was made lazy but not impatient by the tedious step-by-steps of dish-washing, floor-sweeping and clothes-ironing. The kind that was made hopeful but not insecure by waiting for a plate of spinach quiche and a glass of water alone at a restaurant while surrounded by couples courting.

It was nice.

 
 
But then you know, there’s always our good friend Life, with its priceless sense of humor.

Just four weeks away from the completion of my New Year’s resolution, it decided that it would probably be fun to throw a chemistry-sparking, smile-inducing and thought-stimulating (sight-pleasing) man down my committed-to-not-committing way.

 

I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with this.

 
And most unappreciatedly, poke my newly-found Peace with accelerated heart beats and unanticipated countdown in the preceding minutes to our meetings, with the involuntary replays of our conversation and eye contact automatic recordings, and (most unwelcomedly) the uninvited thoughts of his imaginary presence in my quiet book-accompanied evenings, my tedious dish-washing routines and my lone dining while being entertained by live salsa dancing.

 
It bothered me not that I was developing these feelings again particularly, or that it may be threatening the ‘purity’ of my 2012 resolution victory. It bothered me that the state of being in the present I had just recently gained and was working hard to maintain has been so quickly hijacked by these daydreamings that leave me instead in the illusions of the past and delusions of the future.

Also, it frankly bothered me that I have now basically been unwillingly entered into a contract that indeterminably bounds me to getting disappointed – if not hurt – by nonreciprocity.
In the words of Fran Kubilik in The Apartment, “Why do people have to love people anyway?” In the words of mine, “Ugh.”

 

Or, what he says.

Or, what he says.

 
So I started wondering, and in the next few days trying, if I could stop myself from (seriously) falling for this guy.

 
With the assistance of a couple of friends and a (quarter of a) book I’ve been reading, I came away with three realizations that have led me to where I currently stand on this matter of the heart:

 
 
1. In the beginning of his book The Power of Now, the first realization that author Eckhart Tolle had, which became the starting point of his journey to enlightenment, is described in this thought:

“Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”

In my case, if I am uncomfortable with the development of these romantic feelings, there must be two of me: the ‘I’, and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ do not approve of engaging in this one-sided teenage love affair.

So instead of positioning myself as a person who is helplessly crushing on this helplessly attractive man, I position myself as a person who is aware of the cupid festivity that is currently going on inside of me and well, knows better.

And here’s the difference. In this beautiful reality, I am not the process; I am merely the overseer of the process.

 
And what happens is that now that this commotion has become separate from my Being, the romantic thoughts and illusions no longer become an ongoing obsession/compulsion that takes over the present moment. They just, kinda mind themselves running around in the background.

Plus, watching yourself going all gooey girly on a handsome brown-eyed guy just takes away all the poetic seriousness of it and just makes it all look kinda cute and silly. Which also helps, immeasurably.

 

 
Until, of course, the time arrives to come face to face again with the person. Which becomes a slightly different story and leads to point number 2.

 
 
2. You’ve probably by now come across all sorts of pop psych articles discussing researches that have shown how the act of smiling can help improve the smiling person’s mood and influence their positivity.

That is because of course the relationship between our outright behavior and our internal feelings is not a one-way street. Our emotions can be affected by our actions as much as our actions can be affected by our emotions.

And thank goodness for that; because if there is anything I owe my being saved from making a fool out of myself to, is keeping an all-pro poker face.

 
poker face

 
Acting neutral in the presence of a person who is already directing all the blood from my head to my heart actually helps in tricking my system into believing that all these ‘sparks’ and ‘butterflies’ are not as big of a deal as my mind has made them out to be. It moderates the intensity of the emotions experienced, and (for me personally) allows for the ability to keep a straight head and maintain a conversation in which the things that come out of my mouth actually make sense.

 
 
3. Now to address the ultimate question of whether or not it is indeed possible for us to intentionally (and completely) stop ourselves from falling in love. Well, personally, up until now I have yet to stumble upon the off button for having feelings for someone I’ve become attracted to, if that is in fact achievable in all its literal sense.

But what I have found is the adjusting knob that functions to moderate the effect falling for someone has on my state of being and daily functioning, which is attainable by

a) the awareness (and acceptance) that ‘falling in love’ is not the uncontrollable phenomenon that pop love songs and sitcoms have us believe it to be (yes, even for the worst ‘hopeless romantic’s), and

b) the ability to separate my observing self from my experiencing self, and therefore to have control over my thoughts and emotions so as to keep myself from committing ill-calculated actions which consequences I may not be ready for.

 
So then what about the inevitable disappointment fall of event? The ‘liability to get hurt’?

 
Well, in all unsurprising honesty, such is life. And its knack for signing up you up for things you don’t even ask to be signed up for. Even when they come in the shape of bad lemons you can’t make a decent jugful of lemonade out of.

Some say it makes you stronger, smarter, whatever-er. For me, though, sometimes, it happens just to teach you how to laugh it off. And share its sense of humor.

 
Easier said than done, surely. But done-able, notwithstanding. And since I’m finding it pretty funny already,

 

ha.. ha..!

 
 
Ultimately, it is quite the happy ending for the former shameless lifetime hopeless romantic champion. A New Year’s resolution is kept dignified, and a claw-craned soft little fluffy plush of Peace is restored. And everybody wins.

Except maybe a guy out there who may, somewhere along the line, inexplicably fall for me. In which case, God help whoever that might be.

 
 
Tya

 
 

“One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice inside your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child.”

~ Eckhart Tolle

From the Pipe-Dream Whisperer

“Nature is not a place to visit.

It is home.”

~ Gary Snyder

 
 
So says the bamboo-framed glass board in the bamboo-framed classroom. In blue ink.

The teacher in cargo shorts and light blue polo shirt. Who probably wrote it.

 
My mother’s voice through her uterine walls.

My Mother’s voice.

“… It is home.” In blue ink.

In blue vibrations of my amniotic sac.

 
The doctor-guest speaker, who carried a goodies-filled suitcase and didn’t want to be formal, sat with the six year-olds like a story-teller.

 
Four things.

 
The intelligence of my half-grown peanut-sized brain to pick up my mother’s troubled sighs.

The incredible resilience of my fluid airbag.

The indomitable beating of my little heart.

Of my young thumb-sized heart.

 
Look across the room. If you can get to just one person. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

“… Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 
Slideshow.

Joint little hands around the world.

Unconscious hopeful emotions.

Joint little fingers clenched around the placentaic sense of my mother’s love.

Unconscious of hopeful emotions.

 
One person.

 
Oohs. Claps. Thank yous and smiles.

Door-less bamboo-framed classrooms. Pathway made of rocks.

Uncompromised trees. Irrepressible scent of manure. Non-soundproofed chirping of insects. Uncovered eyes of earth mounds.

 
The universe has demanded my attention.

My hope-unconscious attention.

 
But I’m not ready.

 
 
Not ready.

When the universe has demanded my presence.

My slimy, umbilical cord-ed, half-conscious presence.

 
“… It is time.” In blue vibrations of where-has-it-gone?

My mother’s voice. Through the lit end of a vigorously dilating tunnel.

 
Suddenly a person.

Reporting for life duty.

By the intelligence of my upside-down fist-sized brain. The resilience of my mother’s strands of fibromuscular tubular tract. The indomitable beating of our hearts. Our young novice hearts.

 
Not ready. Readied.

 
 
… Earth mounds. Pathway made of rocks. A Bali starling bird.

Suddenly a wasp.

A mustard yellow-bottomed wasp. Heedfully passing – fly walking? (two unused legs, upright-posture floating)

– on an invisible crossroad.

An unspoken mutual conception.

Because, one civilization.

 
The freedom-aspiring Bali starling birds. The rescue-campaigning orangutans. The attorney-seeking tarsiers.

The trees, hacked bloodless at their legs. The ocean, overfed with over-processed leftover diet plan. The fungi, single-handedly healing in their first-aid camp.

The fetuses that grow behind uterine walls. The little people that grow with little knowns. The humans that grow a memory loss. Of their mothers. Of their Mother.

 
 
… The universe has demanded my attention.

My palm-sweating, stomach-queasy, helplessly-conscious attention.

Of no more ‘them-and-us‘s.

 
“…It is time.”

My Mother’s voice.

 
Through the intelligence of a pipe-dream whisperer doctor. The indomitable spirit of an eager 14-year-old boy. The indomitable springtime spirit of joint little hands around the world. The gut-wrenching resilience of the mercilessly defiled ground which they – we – are standing on.

 
Hope. Regrown.

Because of one person.

Heart. Strong.

Because we are all that close.

Home. Common.

We’ve forgotten we belong. To live for.

 
 
Suddenly one queasy-stomached, belly-twisted person,

With an intelligent cantaloupe-sized brain. The most resilient-bodied of a Mother. An indomitable beating heart. An indomitable newborn fighting heart,

Readied.

Reporting for Life duty. Right here. At Home.

 
 
Tya

 
photoshd.wordpress.com

 
 

“The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”

~ John Muir

 
 
Written in response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight on November 26, 2012, a meeting with Dr. Alicia Kennedy from the Jane Goodall Institute Australia and Dr. Ating from Dr. Ating Foundation at Green School Bali on November 22, 2012, and the message of Jane Goodall on March, 2002.

The God of Alone Things

“Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.”

~ Winston Churchill

 
 
Sitting alone at a table on the patio of a deli along Danau Tamblingan Street in Sanur, cooling off with a glass of cinnamon caramel ice coffee in the company of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things on a weekend afternoon, it would have never occurred to me 12 years ago, that I would be so happy, wholeheartedly, being on my own.

 

 
 
I was never a stranger to the world of being alone. For whatever reason life chose to give me plenty of chances to grow up a lot solo.

Like my years in high school as a socially ostracized teenager first time living away from home, my first two years in university in another country as both a foreign third-culture kid and a fugitive of my own previous life choices without a clear point of social circle, and my several post-schooling months as a returning-‘home’ fresh graduate with a cut-short physical contact to (finally) a freshly-built strong support system.

 
While adaptation is a rather natural reaction necessary for survival, appreciation never came quite as well-automatized.

Despite the fact that the idea of me spending free evenings by myself frequenting art galleries, concert halls, cafes that offer free sessions to pick up salsa dancing, and all sorts of places encountered by chance that accommodate peaceful writing had come to be seen as rather unusual by everyone else but me, the act of it was still moments I was secretly half-vexed by because I saw them as the unfortunate result of my own prematurely developed independence and evolved lack of urgent need to constantly surround myself with people.

 
 
But now as an emerging adult with yet another life contract as a solo-sailing person with no local roots to belong, finding myself one evening at the studio-cafe where I go for my weekly guided meditation, striking up a lively conversation with a foreign music student who had just gotten off his open-mic session, I was awakened to the realization of the magic of the side of life I’ve been privileged to be shown so much of.

 
 
The beautiful souls I’ve crossed path and made continuously growing connections with because there is no axis I revolve around and no orbit I’m bound by,

the colorfully festive affair of diverse passions and skill sets I’ve developed because I see no need to wait for an interested company to board along the ship and jump freely into the water with,

the stockpile of courage and coping tricks I’ve accumulated because many a growing-up’s biggest challenges I overcome with limited external support,

the depth of insight I’ve arrived at because there is no construct to limit how much I can question, how far I can stretch my perception, how whole I can unify my understanding of the world.

 
Those are the blessings with which I know now solitary exists.

 
 
Unlike the way I used to believe and the way Google image search results seem to perceive, ‘being alone’ is not a ‘problem’ that needs solving, or worse yet, a condition that needs sympathizing.

It is merely a reality that needs enlivening.

As much as company, Solitary is, a gift. Of life-sustaining peace, of deeply-rooted love, of impeccable growth.

 
 
Are there times where I find myself wishing I was sharing a dinner table with my closest friends, listening to the November rain with my sisters and brother, or enjoying a breezy stroll with a significant other?

Undeniably.

Do I wish hard enough and dwell on it long enough to sacrifice the rich blessings of moments being on my own?

Honestly? Not anymore. Happily.

 
So finally, thank you, Solitary. Wholeheartedly.

 
 
Tya

 

 
 

“And when you get the choice, to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

Off the Camera: On Experiencing Life in HD

“Can any of you recall a time when you were confronted with a scene of such spectacular beauty?
That it took you outside of yourself into a place of great serenity, maybe a rainbow, a mountain range, a valley, a sea, anything…

 

 
 
So one day I went to a beach and watched the day turn into night. The sunset wasn’t the best part.

 
 
In the evening of Saturday last week after my weekly session with Matthew, my ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver dropped me off at the Dhyana Pura beach in Seminyak.

 
With my loyal backpack and sandals, and a piece of peanut butter ball in an over-sized paper bag I’d picked up from a nearby organic restaurant, I situated myself on the best seat in the house;

an empty spot right in the face of the 5.30 PM sun, warmly surrounded by vendors, romance-seeking couples, vacationing families, and men with their dogs and Frisbees.

 
A little past 6 PM, I watched as the sun gradually lowered itself down into, what as far as my eyes could see is, the end of the Bali sea.
Its rays at first blinding my eyes and turning all that was in front of it into shadows; but then slowly and gracefully, extracting a trail of yellow-orange-pink-purple lights and reluctant gradating blue darkness all at the same time.

 
And for a moment just right before it disappears, you’d almost swear that you could see, just below the sun, a transparent formation of exotic gates, statues and palace-like buildings – like a defined outline of an ethereal city –

which may have been the clouds, but what I choose to believe to be the glimpse of a neighboring universe discreetly revealing its existence.

 
 
And just when I thought I’d seen all that the sunset had to offer, the beach started to clear off.

The romance-achieving couples walked away hand-in-hand, the vendors retired carrying away their bags, the vacationing families wrapped up their last poses and packed up their cameras.

 
I picked up my bag and sandals, and walked towards the shore. And once the gurgling ocean waters have reached my toes, I stopped and buried my feet in the sand like how my father used to teach me to do when I was small.

 
 
I stood there and followed with my eyes the trail of yellow-orange-pink-purple rays of light that was further radiating from the arc where the sun had just taken its bow, freshly dyeing the sky and uncovering the layers of heaven above all at the same time.

 
I dipped my hand into the silk-surfaced water and watched the waves diving in, their white foams gently swaying in and cradling against my open palm. The whitest of whites. The clearest of little tiny bubbles.

 
I looked around at the two men who were still throw-catching their Frisbee, at two other friends waiting for the water to rise and lift up their surfboards, and a boy who was half-swimming half-splashing just a few feet away from where I was a witness to it all.

 
I looked back towards the ocean. At tides vibrantly crashing into the shore, water eagerly creeping up towards dry land, dropping off fizzing white foams and quickly running back into the sea as tadpole-shaped glimmering tiny particles on orchestrated spot lights.

 
Everything moved in the sharpest of motions, with a glistening touch of the faintest yellow golden glow.

 
 
All, a part of what the sun had set to arise: This Life, live, in HD.

 
 
And that Life, ever so unconditionally, basked me in a sudden overwhelming embrace of its beautiful serenity and gravitated me to my knees.

 
I reached towards the seams between the beach and its sea, and grabbed a handful of sand just to let them slip off right through my fingers again.

I swept in and around a few more handfuls, letting the surface of my skin rejoice in the finely-textured carpet of velvety pixie dust beneath me with a dance.

I observed carefully as little lumps of moistened grains took shape, the way each one fell and merged itself back into earth, in a most elegant display of obedience, phasing from a lighter to a darker shade of gray.

 
 
The grayest of gray. The whitest of white. The most yellow-orange-pink-purple of yellow-orange-pink-purple lights. The finest of fine texture. The most luminous of glow. The most visible of the smallest particles.

 
 
Suddenly in those moments I was gone. My ego, the self that knew I was me, was carried off.

The sweetest momentary absence of the soul.

 
I became but a small atom that made up only an insignificant portion of the entire universe.

 
One with the world.

 
 
As the sky grew dimmer and the watch lights lit on, I gave my hand to the smooth oscillations of the ocean and let it memorize all that I’d been shown.

In lifted spirit I turned around and made my way back towards the entrance to civilization, lightly stomping each step on the solid bed of sand that had been a 60-minute home.

 
Thinking back to the wandering visitors who had dropped by for a little more than a shiny backdrop for an impromptu photoshoot, or some kind of an I-have-a-life digital proof,

“They’ve got it all wrong.”

 
 
Off-the-camera, is Life, as the universe has meant it to be. Unbuffered. Unpixalated. The highest of resolution. The best quality of experience.

 
Came not with the tool to prove it, but with the eyes for us to see it. And the power to let go of what we make it to be, and embrace what simply is.

 
 
Tya

 

 
 

“… Have you ever wondered why that happened? The reason that happened is that somehow, for some reason, at that instant, you accepted the universe exactly as it was.”

~ Srikumar Rao

Between A Boy Learning to Lace His Shoes and A Girl

“If you understand, things are just as they are… If you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

~ Zen saying

 

 
 
Last weekend I met Matthew. Matthew is a 13 year-old boy with special needs whom I’ve recently started working with in a weekly session. Having been ill the week before, Matthew came in that Saturday afternoon sporting a runny nose, blowing onto a piece of tissue paper we’d given him every few minutes.

 
During one of the sessions in which I helped guide him, Matthew was learning how to lace his shoes for the first time.

So I watched as Matthew effortfully weaved in the white lace through one eyelet after another under his therapist’s guidance, each step pausing to figure out whether to put the lace from under or over, whether it should go on an eyelet on one side or the other.

 
At the sight of that I couldn’t help to hold myself back from shedding a tear. Partly because working with Matthew inevitably reminded me of being with my little sister, who herself is a child with special needs of Matthew’s age; and partly because for someone with a theoretical lack of ability to maintain attention, there seemed to be almost nothing else that Matthew was more focused on than that one shoe, those eyelets and that lace.

 
 
It took him a little over 15 minutes, with help, to get both shoes laced and tied.

Needless to say it was no easy task. And having a job that requires dealing with children on a daily basis, I’d expected to hear familiar sounds of frustration like, “But I just can’t do it..”, or “It’s too hard..”, or “But I’m sick, I can’t concentrate..”

 
Instead, whenever Matthew made a mistake, he’d simply say, “Oops”, or “Oh, right” when I probed him to remember what his next step should be. He would then go on. Nothing more, nothing less.

His eyes only gazed away a few times, when signaling that he needed another tissue to blow his nose with or turning to see the windows if he heard footsteps heading towards the classroom.

 
And what suddenly caught me is this:

To Matthew, lacing his shoes was difficult not because he was sick, or because he doesn’t yet have well-developed fine motor skills, or because of his disability in general (which he has come to be well aware of).

Lacing his shoes was difficult simply because he could not yet figure out which eyelet to put the lace through next, because he couldn’t remember whether to weave the lace from over and under. Lacing his shoes was difficult simply because he was only learning how to.

 

not Matthew

 
 
As I was recalling those images on my way home, I was reminded of the night I called a good friend of mine in the middle of the night crying having just had a long-winded argument with my parents.

Having just suddenly found myself retracing the last few years of my life and connecting them all in my head back to the disagreement I just had; what my parents did several years ago, about the choice I made several months ago, and about just the way I was born over 20 years ago.

Having just suddenly seen my whole life yet once more as one long piece of thread that has quickly snowballed into one giant tangled wool that I couldn’t undo.

 
 
To all that my friend only said to me what someone else had said to him when he found himself where I was,

“Tya, stop looking at your life as a story. For once, just see it as it is.”

 
 
And just like that, the voices in my head that had been long trained to say “But that’s just how I am..”, “But I had no choice..”, and “But people don’t change..” were immediately silenced.

Because at that moment, that one disagreement that night became just that, that disagreement that night. Nothing more, nothing less.

 
 
While I don’t naively deny that some problems do have their roots in the past and many other static factors, choosing to connect all our present troubles to events that cannot or can no longer be changed is often just a convenient way of positioning ourselves as a victim of our own situation, and most importantly neglecting the urgency of working towards a practical solution.

 
Imagine if Matthew were to connect all the learning difficulties he’s having to his disability rather than to the immediate challenges of his present task, how it wouldn’t get him very far. Not in a necessary amount of time.

 
 
So these days, I let those images, and my friend’s words, become a kind of mental pair of scissors that I always keep in my cognitive toolbox. Anytime that long thread is about to roll downhill and form a giant tangled mess of a wool ball, I take its front end and cut it at length as necessary.

 

 
 
And for once, examine it just as that. That one small piece of knotted thread. Nothing more, nothing less.

 
 
Tya

Ending the War between Your Past and Your Present

“We have two eyes to see two sides of things, but there must be a third eye which will see everything at the same time and yet not see anything.”

~ Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki

 
 
If you could just pause and follow me for a moment now. Sit yourself up in a comfortable position, rest your hand on your lap, close your eyes.

And as you settle in to the moment, simply let yourself breathe in, and breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Try to make it to 10 counts.

 
See how many it takes before the first flicker of thought pops into your head, about someone, about some time. Before the first urge is triggered to do something else, to be somewhere else.

 
It took me less than 5 at my first attempt at Mindfulness Meditation. About 10 at my following ones.

 
To give yourself another figure, if you’d like, note down how many times in a day you find yourself thinking about something from the past, or imagining something about the future.

 
How fascinating it is to realize, while we spend every moment of our waking hours in the Present, how much of it we actually spend experiencing it and how much effort it takes do something as simple as being in the Here and Now.

 
 

 
 
We all carry with us from the past our little hang-ups and emotional baggages. Which may not necessarily big enough to take over our present lives, but significant enough to hold us back from making use of it and enjoying it fully.

 
I for one am pretty well-acquainted with my own recent hang-up. I was carrying it with me for months. Every single day since the very start of this year, when I found myself within only the first few hours of January 1, 2012 deeply crushed by a mix of events that left me wildly confused and heavily stormy-weathered.

 
Like anyone going through a period of major emotional turbulence I spent the following several months finding ways to return to a state of inner peace, and more importantly, letting go of it first completely.

 
I went down some of the old-fashioned ways; talking about it in hope to ‘get it out there’ so it doesn’t eat me up inside, jotting down thoughts related to it in hope to ‘turn it into something tangible’ that I can physically shred into pieces and chuck away, or flooding myself with images of the event in hope that I would get tired and just grow out of it.

I even came up with my so-called own method of life acceptance, where at any time I found myself about to explode in tears, I would put my hand on my chest and to every emotion or thought I experienced I would reply, “That’s alright.”

 
The trick worked wonders in helping me remove a lot of the anger and internal turmoil. But it wasn’t enough to return me to that constant peaceful state of being.

It was as if I’ve come to accept the fact that the baggage I was carrying is heavy; but am still weighed down by the fact that it’s still on me, slowing down my every step of walking forward.

 
 

 
 
So when I read about how one of the benefits of practicing meditation is helping one ‘let go of the past’, I jumped right onto the boat.

Each time, both in and out of my meditation hours, the smallest hint of thought related to the January 1, 2012 event and everything else that predated it came over, I would deny it entrance. In my head I would mentally catch it and throw it away. Catch it, throw it away. Catch it, throw it away. Think nothing. Think nothing. Think nothing.

 
It wasn’t easy. Tiring, in fact. And a few weeks into practice, I was getting frustrated.

With only moving up my ‘staying in the present’ time record to a little less than 20 seconds, it didn’t seem like meditation was the thing. I was starting to question if it was even at all humanly possible for people to be completely absorbed into the present and unaffected by anything that is otherwise.

 
Up until I figured out what was not quite right; about both my understanding of what mindfulness meditation is, and all of the procedures I’d ever gone through in trying to ‘let go’.

 
In my attempt to push away the past and embody the present, I was actually making my past, my present.

Whenever I talked about it, whenever I wrote about it, whenever I flooded my mind with memories of it, even whenever I put my hand on my chest to comfort myself by accepting it, and whenever I caught it and sent it away before it would catch me first, all the conscious effort I was making – though done in good spirit – became the act of turning my history into my current reality.

The reality where my inner life suddenly became a war zone between my lone-soldier Present and the thousand-men army of my Past. And that certainly is no peace.

 
 

 
 

 
But the comfort is to learn that the concept of mindfulness meditation actually recognizes the fact that it is inevitable for you to start reminiscing and feeling when you’re only trying to give your mind and heart a break.

And thus the goal isn’t necessarily for you to prevent it, much less fight it; but for you to be aware of it, to acknowledge it, and most importantly, to then return your attention back to the Here and Now by putting the rest into the background.

 
Once I understood that, I was no longer on the edge of my seat trying to constantly safeguard my present state of mind from the colonizing thoughts of my past.

 
Whenever January 1, 2012 came to mind, I would now greet it briefly then gently tuck it away into the background.

I let it run around on its own in a private little secret garden – the whereabouts of which I don’t care to know – while I return to the little sounds, sights and scents that are around me, and the faintest sense of involuntary movements that take place effortlessly in my body.

 
 

 
 
Much like Death to Life, Wrong to Right, I’ve come to accept Past as something that Present can’t exist without. The trick, therefore, is to create a separate space in the back of my head for my past to exist without intruding my present.

Whenever Past starts knocking on the door of my attention, I would simply say to it, “No, I don’t have time for you. Go to the back and tire yourself out running around. I have a sound of rain to dance to.”

 
 
Once you reach that point, your past no longer becomes a baggage that you forcefully carry around and weighs you down. It merely becomes a harmless weightless crab that’s caught on to the back of your shirt and just tags itself along.

 
Sometimes you’d turn around for a second to look if it’s still there, then you say, “Oh, hi”. But then you turn your head right back around again to continue walking forward, taking one single breath at a time.

 
 

 
 
Tya

Unpinning the #FirstWorldProblem ‘Badge of Honor’

“If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.”

~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

 
 
One month into my settling into a new life in Bali, I’ve been starting to get the obligatory questions of

“So how’s it been? What’s it like, living in Bali?”

With the attached glimmering hope of excitement from hearing potential stories of exotic travels and unique cultural encounters.

 
With all politeness I reply with a short and ambiguous,

“Life here is, well, like life in any other place.”

 
 
It’s a pretty disappointing answer. Not to mention my lack of traveling photo uploads on Facebook. (Although the latter has more to do with the fact that I’m really just not the kind of person with a tendency to enjoy taking pictures of the moments that I’m in the middle of experiencing.)

But I’m guessing that the rest has to do with the letting down of the expectation that living in Bali should be some kind of an upgrade from a rather cold and monotonous metropolis routine to a warmer and richly adventurous one.

 
 
While it’s true that for someone who has always felt rather detached from the city life, the Bali experience certainly does present itself with more soul-energizing opportunities to be closer to nature and media to explore one’s spirituality (if you take on a more Eastern philosophical direction).

 
But for someone who is also starting a whole new life and career as a single female twenty-something with an attachment to convenience and comfort who’s come to a city where public transportation is scarce and living costs are high, while living on a probational teacher’s salary, the Bali life does not exactly roll out to be the way I once expected it to be with a glimmering hope of excitement either.

 
 
So no, I don’t wake up in a chalet by the beach to the shine of a morning sunrise, or travel to work passing by a line of young women in white kebaya and colorful wrap-arounds while carrying a basket of fruits on their heads, or come back from work everyday to walk on the beach and watch the sunset, or travel to rural corners of the province to observe religious ceremonies and feast on fresh organic foods.

 
 
I live in a humble little rented-room that faces a mango tree and a row of other rented rooms in the building across from where I mostly hear the sounds of passing trucks and barking street dogs.

I travel to work on the backseat of a motorcycle while holding my breath to avoid sucking in too much polluted air from said passing trucks.

I come back from work to perform manual laundry duty and settle for lunch leftovers for dinner while forcing myself to uncover the tiniest feeling of being entertained by local TV channel programs.

And at least one day of every weekend is spent in my room alone cleaning and watching replays of TV series while wishing I was eating something that’s not ‘makanan seadanya’ from a nearby warung nasi.

 
 
Not necessarily because a convenient and comfortable life that I’m more accustomed to is not possible to accomplish. But given the circumstantial limits and my priority of independently surviving as I tip-toe on the crucial stage of building a career, it’s simply all I can afford to have.

So if anything, my life seems to experience more of a downgrade in some way rather than an upgrade.

 
But you see I almost wanted to slap my own hands for typing all of that. Because for a minute there I just became the girl who cries #firstworldproblem.

 

 
(While in a parallel universe,)

Yes, I know, my memes are bad and I should feel bad.

 
 
But I don’t like that. Much less the perpetuation of what seems to be the appropriation of a cultural habit that suggests a lack of gratitude and appreciation of what we are already greatly blessed with in life.

 
I remember one morning as I sat on the back of Pak Dewa’s motorcycle that takes me to work everyday and found myself silently grunting about this less-than perfect life, I finally cut my self-chattering and said to myself,

“No, this is not okay. I don’t want to have to constantly put an effort to accept my life. I want to just live it, regardless.”

 
 
Not so long after I found the reply on the page of one ‘Zen Fables for Today‘ book:

 

“Because, damn it, that was all I had.”

 
 
And nothing has ever hit me harder than that.

Than the few simple words of the second-last line in the story.

 
 
Ever since which, when I find myself now thinking, “I’m traveling to work on the back of a motorcycle…“,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I’m traveling to work on the back of a motorcycle!”

 
And I start to notice the wonderful feeling of the morning sea breeze enveloping my body, I start to notice the giant gong that stands behind a small farm by the side of the road I never did before, and delve in the wonder of the characteristically elongated ears feature of Buddha statues that line the streets of Bali.

 
 
When I find myself thinking, “I come home from work and still have chores to do…”,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I come home from work and have things to do!”

 
And I start to appreciate knowing what it is like for people who cannot afford to wash their clothes with the help of a machine or a paid helper, I start to appreciate the thought stimulation I get from coming up with systems and ways to make chores easier to go through, and take comfort in the fact that for each bucket of clothes I wash is a few rupiahs saved to help afford healthier food purchases.

 
 
When I find myself thinking, “I’m sitting alone in my room with so much time left before bed…”,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I’m sitting alone in my room with so much time left before bed!”

 
And I start to re-embrace and devour in the freedom of long uninterrupted reading hours, the unquestioned spiritual exploration moments, the uncompromised habit-changing processes.

 
 
Because, damn it, that’s all I have.

 
This life, right here, wherever that may be and however imperfect it may be, is all I have right now.

 
 
And once you see how beautiful that is, that’s a kind of peace you can’t put a price tag on, or any paradise’s post-stamp on.

 
 
Tya

Freedom as a Love Language

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.”

~ Wayne Dyer

 
 
I’ve always thought that one of the biggest misunderstandings about Love is that it is often seen only as the manifestation of some form of an interference, whether in words or actions.

 
For example, they say that if you love someone, you should tell them how much, in conversations, declarations, songs, poems, or even books. They also say that if you love someone, you should show them how much. Through the gifts of things, the warmth of touch, the comfort of protection, the ease of service, the generosity of sacrifice.

 
 
I wouldn’t argue against any of that. In fact, should there be one, in the ranking order of Love manifestation, I regard sacrifice as one of the highest.

But should there be one, what would come in as the most Fruitful, to me, is none of the rest of the above.

 
The people whose Loves have Given me and are Worth to me the most, have manifested theirs through neither words nor actions, but rather through the absence of both.

 
 
Theirs is the kind of Love that places value in the idea that
despite their own belief system and tendency to impose,
regardless of them do I seek my truths, to them do I not owe my reasons.

 
The kind of Love that therefore lets its hands and tongue go,
and lets me tread the paths of finding the answers and explanations to my own questions.

 
 
The kind of Love that places understanding in the idea that
despite their natural concerns and tendency to own,
to them do I not belong, nor by them do I lead myself where to go.

 
The kind of Love that therefore lets its hands and tongue go,
and lets me be where I come to know the kind of peace that is peaceful to me, and the kind of meaning that is meaningful to me.

 
 
The kind of Love that places respect in the idea that
despite their well-meaning expectations and tendency to control,
by them do I not make my choices, nor from them do I claim my right to be my own soul.

 
The kind of Love that therefore lets its hands and tongue go,
and lets me give myself to something bigger than tradition, give my life for the only hope I have been blessed with from the moment I was born: to be of use to the world.

 
 
Not all the time. But most of the time. I do believe the absence of interference, the allowance of Freedom, to be a most fruitful manifestation of Love and its richest language of all.

 
 
Tya

Pacification by Paddy Fields, Desensitization of Dogs: A Postcard from Segara Beach, Bali

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

~ Seth Godin

 
 
“I divide my friends into two categories,” a college senior of mine once said. “The ones that dread and complain about their jobs, and the ones that enjoy and love what they do for a living.”

 
I have at different times found myself in both (my senior’s) classifications. So if I were to ever find myself sitting on the mid-parting fence, the choice should be obvious. But here’s the thing about this kind of twenty-something dilemma.

 
On one hand, the job I dread and eats me up from the inside comes with the convenience of organized training and orders I’d only have to follow, the comfort of a high-rise office building in the business district of Jakarta metropolis, the confidence from wearing figure-flattering skirts and high heels and carrying a smartphone and a black leather planner, and last but definitely not least, the security of a bank account that remains on stand-by to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and occasional exotic holiday.

On the other hand, the job I love and wake up looking forward to in the morning, is teaching. And we all know what that comes with, a lot of compromises. Mostly in terms of finance and convenience.

 
And for a single, independence-striving twenty-something that has known little of lifestyle beyond the boundaries of luxury and walks around with big dreams of entrepreneurship and parenthood, that love does post a concern.

 
So I spent months exploring both options, at the same time stalling my decision-making in fear of committing to either option that just couldn’t seem to fulfill my ideal.

Whenever I came close to sealing a deal with the corporate, I cursed myself for giving in, selling out. And whenever I found myself magnetically pulled by the possibility of going back to teaching, I cursed myself for being such an old soul, for knowing better, for being so clear about what my calling is, this early in life.

 
 
Oh, Ignorance, thou art bliss.

 
 
The cold shower came one afternoon during a job selection process at the last local corporate agency I applied to, when the company’s owner concluded to me, in a way, that I appealed more as a personality than a corporate figure. It was the ultimate confirmation, once and for all, that the corporate isn’t where I belong.

But the afternoon I spent scrolling through teaching job online ads and suddenly found myself caught in a kind of rush of involuntary flow of energy of natural excitement, was the ultimate set-in-stone, once and for all, that not only that this Love is undeniable; it is unavoidable, and most importantly soul essential.

 
So when a job offer came from a school in Bali, I packed up my stuff within a few days and left Jakarta to land on the side of the fence I should’ve been back on a long time ago.

 
And as it always has been, Love never fails.

 
The fact that I have a job that wakes no urge in me to distract myself by checking my phone, personal email or Facebook is the way it should be.
The fact that I work in a library building literally bordered by green paddy fields that stretch just behind the Sanur beach is just a bonus pacifying compensation for some of the convenience I’m lacking.

 

the scenic official morning greeter at work

 

Banjar Tangtu paddy fields cum lunch time view from the teachers’ lounge

The fact that I have been fortunate enough to become a part of a culture so abundant of humility and kindness is a grace.
The fact that I find myself living in a place with such wonderful energy that I feel an effortless synchronization to is a peaceful luxury.

The fact that there are so many street dogs wandering around that I can’t always run away from is the accidental blessing of fear reduction in disguise.
And the fact that I’m writing this sitting at a beach with sand on my feet, the sea breeze blowing through my hair and the sound of crashing waves to my ears while waiting for the sun to set, well, that’s just living the dream.

 

Oh, Moon, thou art full and bright.

 
The only catch is that I still haven’t come here for a vacation. I still have to put myself on a monk diet and manual laundry duty in order to stay healthy and have enough to save up, and spare plenty of time in the weekend to keep myself on my toes for my work’s sake.

But for now, it’s all enough for a life that I don’t need to escape from.

 
 
Oh, Enlightening, thou art Bliss.

 
 
I have also decided to dedicate Saturdays to go, see and write.

So, till next weekend,

 
Tya