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

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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.”

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