December 31, 2009

Embracing My Own Shadow

Grace. I have heard the word a lot lately. I have always struggled to understand this concept. Though I have read the word in countless religious texts, heard it spoken in churches and temples, and said it myself countless times, I still can't wrap my head quite around it. Maybe, like most spiritual concepts, it is not something that translates into vernacular articulations, but is something that we feel in the inner-depths of ourselves. Perhaps, it is something that brings us peace in the acknowledgement that though we are imperfect, unconditional love exists.

At the crossroads of last year's dusk and this year's dawn, I seek to embrace grace. My News Years Resolution therefore consists of writing down the traits I want to accept in myself, as opposed to writing down all those I want to change. No more cliched last-for-a-month self-expectations that will, like last year, unsuprisingly cease upon the realization that not only do I lack self-discipline, but that I am never good enough. Instead, I am starting the new year by acknowledging that OF COURSE I am not good enough and starting from there.

I must admit, it was much more easy for me to acknowledge what I already am than trying to figure out who I want to be. In order to practice radical acceptance, I first needed to identify those traits that I needed to accept. For example, this year, I'd like to accept that I am not a details person. Accept that I always end up being my own worst enemy. Accept that I am not a revolutionary. Accept that while I am organized, I am not super clean. Accept that after college sports, I have retired from all competitive activities. Accept that I don't have all (if not most) of the answers. Accept that the stupidest things drive me crazy like someone chewing popcorn next to me in the movie. Accept that I don't like pets. Accept that while I adore community, I'd rather spend most nights home alone. Accept that my eyes squint when I smile and my right eye squints more than my left. Accept that I like going shopping. Accept that I become an ashen-pale gray color in the winter. Accept that my annoying bangs are too short and my muscles are undefined. Accept that I never have the latest styles and prefer to dress in black and brown. Accept that I am a list-maker. Accept that I am hypocritical and judgmental (especially of myself). Accept that my hypoglycemia makes me cranky when I don't eat every few hours. Accept my tendency to diagnose myself with "conditions" like hypoglycemia even when there is no medical evidence in support of it. Accept that the performer in me likes to receive attention. Accept that every emotion I experience-anger, sadness or joy-results in tears. Accept that I don't like bars, despite still being in the prime of social youth. Accept my uncomfortableness with conflict and brutal honesty. Accept my love of comfort. Accept my poor short-term memory and inability to communicate ideas on the spot. Accept that my optimism can convey a sense of naivete. Accept my sadistic joy in pranking people and torturing my siblings. Accept that I am neither enlightened or dogmatically religious. Accept my unhealthy tendency to protect my sister. Accept my inability to speak my mind when I know it will hurt someone. Accept the fact that I am broken and flawed and searching. Accept the fact that I am not only human, but lacking in humanity. Accept the fact that this is okay.

My resolution this year is to find resolution in my imperfections, knowing that while they do not define me, they are a part of me, and so I must come to terms with them. Through grace, I seek to accept them knowing that while I should aim to transcend my humanity, I also must accept my own humaness as reality.

In accepting and acknowledging my naggingly persistent flaws, and not repressing them, I hope to create space from them. By being mindful of them, I hope to observe them before they take action, thus allowing them to be mere tendencies as opposed to patterns of behaviors. But, even when these flaws creep to the surface (as they always do), I hope to learn "to embrace my own shadow" and find "gratitude for the grace within my paradoxes and imperfections." (Richard Rohr). Here's to a year of radical acceptance...

December 29, 2009


I watched others read poetry last night

their hearts articulating visions

and painting emotions

through the canvas of space

My desire to make music


is stifled by the confines of words

because when I write

and look back at the sentences

I think

that's not quite what I meant.

December 26, 2009


I know I wrote this blog entry a year ago...but it still holds truth to date. Oh Family Holidays at Home... :)

From 12/17/08:
I'm heading back home today. I use the word "back" both literally and figuratively. I am literally flying home today, as in traveling. But I am also heading "back" in the sense that I am going to regress. You see, I have noticed that every time my family is together, we regress into our childhood roles. When we're not home, we're mature, grown ass people. I'm in law school doing real law school things, my brother is in business school learning about accounting, and my sister is in college engaging in philosophical discussions about social constructs. And then we get home and every day is 1989.

Scene from 1989: I'm staring into the camera, doing a choreographed dance to a "A Tisket a Tasket." And I'm really good at it... I even adlib some "doo dah doo dahs" as I shimmy my shoulders and whip my chicken legs around. My brother proceeds to run across the screen, making weird noises and holding some type of concocted gadget. He's a ghostbuster, obviously, and he's fighting the bad guys. He throws a pillow in my face and yells "you got slliiiiiimeeeedd!" "BREN-DDANN," I shriek and elbow him in the stomach. Pause. I turn back to the camera with a sickeningly sweet smile and continue dancing. My mom laughs at me (not with me) and then scans the room with her camera, wondering aloud, "where's Shannon?" And sure enough, the camera scans to little Shannon, alone in the corner, rocking away on a plastic pony, talking to herself or one of her imaginary friends, it's too tough to tell. Soon after, the camera zooms in on my dad, and he makes a goofy face, which is kinda funny, but no one really laughs (it's better not to encourage him), and the scene ends.

Not much has changed almost 20 years later. I still seek validation from my parents and try to entertain them with my trivial accomplishments (look mom! I have a blog!). Brendan spends the day playing Xbox and seeking to live vicariously through a character in a video game (He's 27, but that's ok). My dad putzes around the house making horribly corny jokes that are almost funny. Shannon is in her room, doing her own thing, and giving two shits about the scenes unfolding around her. And my mom walks in and out of each room, all up in every one's business, making comments that she thinks are funny, and laughing at us.

Part of us can't help it. We are who we are! But then there are times when we're being OTHER than who our family THINKS we are, and our family still responds as if we're the same. For example, just recently, when my parents came to L.A. for Thansgiving, I turned to my mom, gave her a big hug, and genuinely told her how much I loved having them here. My mom looked at me and responded, "Ohhhhh, you suck up." I'm sorry....WHAT??!! "Mom!" I exclaimed, "I'm not seeking validation, I'm simply expressing my love!" To which my mom laughed.

Here's another example. I come home from exams. And I'm feeling pretty good about myself and slightly knowledgeable about the law. We're at the dinner table having a conversation about politics. Somehow the law comes up. I think to myself, this is the perfect opportunity to contribute a small piece of the plethora of knowledge I have accumulated this semester. So, I chime in something about civil liberties and tell my family a story about a prolonged detention of an American citizen in Iraq. It sounds like a pretty good law school story--legal jargon, political relevancy, and exemplary of a civil rights impact litigation case. The only problem is my speech dyslexia kicks in and I add, "You can read the guy's biopsy online." Pause. "Biopsy?" my family responds in confusion. I stare blankly. "Yeah." I respond, "biopsy." "You mean 'biography'!?" they shriek and laugh hysterically. "Oh Kerry..." they say patronizingly, shake their heads, and smirk in that "you're such an idiot, I can't believe you're in law school" type of manner. And suddenly, any small bit of pride I had in my law school education has disintegrated. And I've returned to the characterure of myself from 1989.

What's so interesting about this regression is that it is actually more symbolic than I would like to believe. It doesn't just happen with family, but it happens to each of us, every day of our lives. Each day we wake up and we regress into the role we played the day before. We wake up believing that we are a certain way. Because we have told ourselves so. Because our family sees us as so. Because our friends see us as so. Because society tells us we should be so. And somewhere along the line, we started to believe that we are fixed characters. And so we start playing the part. And suddenly, we are not just playing a character, but we ARE that character.

And then we label ourselves based on these traits: I am Kerry, I am a girl, I am 25, I am straight, I am a law student, I interned here, I will be working there. And then, we begin to tell others how they should perceive us: "Oh, I'm fun, but I don't do fun things," "I'm a morning person," "I don't like watching tv," "I always do this, but never do that," "I believe in this, but not that." And the next thing we know, we've created a nice little image for ourselves. And two things can happen, we cling to the constructed roles we've created or try to free ourselves from them.

But if we're not these roles, then who are we? That's what I'm trying to figure out. I'm trying to let Kerry just be Kerry, but struggling to free myself from the confines of constructed roles. I'm trying to learn how to work outside myself, but still remain connected to my inner-being. I'm trying to be just here, in the now, but find myself creating a persona for later.

When Buddha was asked, "What are you? Are you a God or a man." He responded simply, "I am awake." And I think at the start of each day, that's all we can ask ourselves to be. Awake. Nothing else, no one else, but awake.

December 13, 2009

Dancing in front of the Mirror

When I was little, I would spends hours dancing in my room, choreographing moves to "A Tisket, A Tasket" and "Have you ever seen a Lassie?" In first grade, I completed my first (and last) dance recital--a tap dance to "Deep in the Heart of Texas." (My dad taped over the recital with a Bills Game-one that he actually attended, but a game he wanted to re-watch when he came home....this a different blog entry.)

In elementary school, I would boss my friends around, barking out the proper moves to "I saw the Sign" or any one of the Disney Showtunes. In high school, the trend continued-- in two of the talent shows my friends and I choreograped dances to "You Don't Own Me" and Jackson's 5, "I want you back." Though most people in the talent show strummed their guitars or read poetry, we found joy (and talent?) in lipsynching and jumping off chairs.

The first week of college, I naively tried out for the hip-hop team. For purposes of not reliving that humiliating 5 hours, I will simply state that trying to mimic Julia Stiles' dance moves from Save the Last Dance during the individualized dance portion of the tryout will simply not cut it, particularly when everyone else in the tryout can (1) breakdance; (2) Harlem shake; or (3) perform the full rendition to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Needless to say...I didn't get a call back.

Despite this setback, my friends and I, even in college, loved to make up dances. Prior to going out at night, I'd spend time in my room, bee-bopping around, getting ready, and practicing "new moves" in front of the mirror (and by "new moves" I mean the latest moves I saw someone cooler than me perform). My friends and I mastered the Jump Rope dance, mimicked Destiny's Child music video, and encouraged dance offs at every party.

And then one day, the music stopped. Not literally, of course, but at some point in my life, I stopped dancing in front of the mirror. I would dance at parties, at family reunions, and at weddings, but I no longer came home at the end of the day, changed into sweats, blasted some tunes, and shook my bootie to the newest jams. What happened?

I am not sure if we have a "maturity" nerve in our body or if it's a voice in our head that society has implanted, but at some subtle point in the past few years, I think when the thought of dancing in my room crossed my mind, I heard a whisper, "too old for that." The sad part is that I listened. It wasn't until this summer that something small re-awakened inside of me. After taking the Bar, I went to see Shanti, an Indian reflexologist and a healer, to help fix my study aches and pains. When I sat down in his chair, he looked me straight in the eye, leaned in, and said, "you have music your soul." I quickly admitted, "Ohh...well, I am a horrrible singer." (My sister and brother will admit I ruin every song on the radio due to my improvisations). Shanti smiled and responded, "I didn't say you a were good singer, no, I didn't. But you have music in your soul."

I don't think Shanti told me this because he knew I listened to the music; Shanti told me this because he could see I wasn't listening to it. We all have music in our soul, it is just a matter of whether we dance to it. As I get older, I cease to tap into my endless supply of internal rhythms. While it occasionally bursts out when I am driving alone in the car or attending a concert, the rhythms usually remain repressed until an "appropriate time."

Last night,the time was "appropriate." My mom and I went to see Fela, a broadway play that chronicles the Nigerian revolutionary, singer, and pioneer of Afrobeat. It. was. amazing. The drum beat penetrated the soul, the lights and colors made me dizzy, the dancing was disciplined chaos. Throughout the play, I kept thinking, "I'm going to buy this cd...and, without shame, dance in front of the mirror."

And so today, for the first time in a while, I am going to dance to the music in my soul.

December 2, 2009

Oh yeah? Prove it.

I could tell you a lot about myself that you probably didn't know. But the problem is that some of the stuff I tell myself is not always true, so when I'm telling others about it, it's probably not true either. I like to think that I'm pretty socially conscious: conscious about the environment, human rights, civil liberties, poverty. However, one thing I have learned in life is that just because you think something, doesn't mean its true. So even though I like to convince myself that "I care," my actions usually expose a greater truth. (As Maya Angelou once said, "You don't tell people who you are, you show them.")

The other night, for example, right after I made a snide comment to one of my friends who doesn't recycle, I indulged in a bubble bath. And as I lay fully immersed in the lavender scented oil, I came to a shocking and humiliating realization.....I don't really care that much about the environment. And as I came to this epiphany, my bubble of self-righteousness burst and I found myself drowning in a bath hypocripsy.

Now, WAIT, before you judge me, let me clarify. I am EXTREMELY CONCERNED about the environment and climate change. The thought of natural disasters, soiled water supplies, and deforestation makes me anxious, angry, and overwhelmed. But as far as actually caring, as much as I have convinced myself that I do, evidence proves otherwise. (As a lawyer, evidence is a necessary component of determining the legitimacy of the argument).

Evidence that I DON'T CARE: I sometimes buy bottle water, I rarely carpool (when I was in law school, I often drove separately to campus even though half of all Pepperdine students drive through Santa Monica each week), I eat meat (often the non-free range, non-organic kind), I buy fruit that was grown half way around the world, I use way too much water, I leave lights on, I haven't changed all of my light bulbs to florescent bulbs, I take planes when I could take trains, I take cars when I could take bikes, I take buses when I could walk, and so on.

Evidence that I CARE: I have a Sigg, I unplug my toaster when I'm done, and I recycle (but who I am kidding...recycling simply isn't enough these days).

Conclusion: I don't really least enough to change my ways. Why does this happen? I think my main problem is that I have confused having "an opinion" or "a belief in something" as translating into "caring." And so, somewhere in there, I have convinced myself that if, mentally and emotionally, "I care" I can justify (or ignore) my non-caring actions. Having a belief is easy. Acting on that belief is not. And actually caring about acting on that belief is a whole another issue.

I've struggled with reconciling belief and action for a while now. One of the most profound epiphanies of my life (and humiliating realizations) was in my senior year of college. I had just shared my life story (my "bio") with 15 newly met people whose only duty that night was to listen to my story and ask me questions. And after I finished my life story, cried tears of pain, and shared my proudest moments, I sat vulnerably as I awaited questions. My new friend Chatan raised his hand and simply asked, "ok yeah, we heard your story, but what do you CARE about?" Dumbfounded, mind-reeling, and annoyed that someone would even ask such a question, I defensively thought to myself "I care about a lot of things." Chatan continued, "I mean, are you the type of person who reads the newspaper, thinks 'that's sad,' puts it down, and moves on? Or do you ever care about something enough to DO something?"


And as I sat in silence, defensive, vulnerable, and ashamed, I realized that up until that point in my life, I had never asked myself, "what do I truly care about?" And I certainly never took the time to ask: "do I believe that I care...or do I care enough to DO?"

While this entry does not explore how it is that people, in general, come to care enough to act (this will be saved for a later date), I know that in order to hold myself accountable, I constantly have to bully myself, demanding, "oh yeah, Ker? Prove it." I care about the homeless? Then don't walk by them, head down on the street. I care about world hunger? Feed the hungry as opposed to talking about it over large entrees and wine. I care about how the government allocates its resources? Assess how I choose to spend my own resources. I care about the voiceless? Speak on their behalf. I care about the lonely? Sit with them and be in their presence. I care about God? Listen to Him. I care about peace? Stop judging those with different priorities.

And so, though I don't always care enough to act, I do care enough to want to act. And hopefully the bully inside of me motivates me to do good, aggressively taunting "oh yeah? prove it."

September 29, 2009

Today I lost myself.

Today I lost myself. Momentarily, of course. But moments are sneaky because they blur into the day and the day blurs into time, time forgets to tell us it is passing, and then these moments no longer seem so innocent.

It wasn't until I got Home today that I remembered to remember me.

It (the "losing me") began with the walk to the subway as I hurriedly crossed streets to a blinking of the red hand. I walked unnoticed and unnoticingly walked.

And then I sat on the subway, reading ads for learning English and plastic surgery.

And I stared at others as they vacantedly sipped their cheap coffee, getting lost in their thoughts that probably didn't exist.

And I sat at my desk, engulfed in suspected terror plots and the reasonableness of class action attorney fees.

And I walked out of the court house, thinking about the past and planning for the future.

And I checked my phone for no other reason than habit. And then 30 seconds later, I checked it again. No "new" news in the world that I was currently not checked into.

And then when I was near home, I felt a chill in the air, and I thought, "I am cold." And suddenly I remembered that I was feeling. Which led me to remember that "I am." Which reminded me that I was me. And it felt good to return to a state of remembering. To catch that moment before it fled. To truly breathe. To accompany myself back Home.

September 18, 2009

The Old New Me

I haven't written in a while for no other reason than I just didn't feel like it. But I just moved to New York City last week and the freshness of my surroundings has encouraged me to begin blogging again. It feels good to write and I enjoy the struggle to articulate my muddled pile of thoughts.

I had been anticipating this move to New York for months. In August, as I indulged in family time at my beach house, I started meticulously making lists of everything I wanted to complete, explore, and become when I moved. I wanted to start up my yoga practice again. I wanted to avoid TV and read books from the library. I wanted to join a community group and volunteer. I wanted to support local farmers and only buy from local markets. I wanted to find socially conscious people who I could discuss my dreams and frustrations with. The list, rightly named "The Next Chapter," quickly became longer and longer with my internal desires. And I LOVED this list. I carried it around with me from room to room at my house, adding character traits and habits that "the new me, in the next chapter" would acquire. Having the list was great because it meant that I didn't need to start on being "the new me," until I actually moved. Sure there was a yoga studio down the road from me in Canada, and a weekly farmers market, and people I could connect with, and places to volunteer...but I wasn't "there" in New York City yet, so while I was "here" still in Canada, I could still be the "old" me...unmotivated, undisciplined, and unable to meet my own desired standard of living. But "here" was comfortable, so I felt entitled to enjoy it for as long as I could.

So, now that there has become here, I am thirstily drinking what the city has to offer before I start my job next week. However, I must admit, most of motivation to explore stems from fear. And I am my biggest fear. I know my own tendencies too well. As a lover of routine and simplicity, I know I will quickly become trapped in a daily ritual. Of course nothing is wrong with ritual, but, unfortunately, my rituals tend to become unbreakable patterns of permanency anchored in self-absorption. And this leads me to awake each day feeling trapped by the weight of the world.

But now, I have the opportunity to choose my rituals before they start. And this is liberating!
The only problem with my new found liberation is that I have already confined it with artificial time constraints. I am only liberated until my routine begins, at which point, I am once again encircled in schedules and new old habits and routines. I quickly forget that each day is in of itself an opportunity to liberate myself from "the old me." I forget to believe that the end of each day is a death and the beginning of the next, a rebirth. I fail to realize the essence of who I am--one who is impermanent, malleable, fluid. Instead, I continue to hold onto fixed views of myself, clinging to these characteristics because they help define me to the world and offer a comfort in my own predictability. Such that I wake up each day without a feeling of surprise, with the expectation of sameness, with the entitlement of routine. And it makes me feel safe. But despite this safety, deep down, I am already planning for the future, for when the "next chapter" can begin, so that I can recreate myself, remold myself into a better version of me. And though I clothe myself each day with my traits from the day before and wrap myself in the heavy cloak of "Kerryness," I yearn to put on a different wardrobe or even no wardrobe at all. I yearn to be free of myself.

And to do this, to free myself, I need to stop defining "the next chapter" as a set point in the future. I need to go to bed each night knowing that tomorrow is already a new chapter. And I need to wake up knowing I am free to be the person I want to be today, knowing that my inadequacies and predictabilities and stagnancies of yesterday have died in the night, knowing that whether I decide to be the "old" me today or the "new me" today, I have a choice in the matter. Because on this morning, I am reborn.

March 6, 2009

Ceaseless Craving, Invincible Sustenance

The other night, right before I went to bed, I was craving something sweet. Not wanting to deprive myself of a bedtime snack (heaven forbid), I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie. And as I stuffed it into my mouth en route to my bedroom, I paused. Though my mouth was still crammed with cookie, I was convinced I needed another one. I NEEDED it. Still chewing, I immediately turned around, walked back to the kitchen, and proceeded to shove another one in my face. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was exactly what I needed, I thought to myself, as I crawled into bed with crumbs on my face.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself staring at the ceiling, waiting for the sugar high to wear off, and wondering why I had convinced myself that I actually needed two cookies right before going to bed. I couldn't help it, I thought to myself, I was craaaving them. But was I? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I was. The problem is though I'm always craving something. I crave morsels of chocolate at every meal (read: a large large piece of chocolate), I crave wine, I crave fresh air, I crave dinners out, I crave leisure, I crave coffee with hazlenut creamer, I crave a beer with my burger...and the list goes on. The utterly ridiculous thing about these cravings is that I always find a way to satiate them. It would never occur to me not to! If I want a f-ing cookie, I'm gonna buy a f-ing cookie. And if I want a glass of wine, I'm going to pour one. And if I want leisure, I embark on fun. And if I want a burger, I'm going to get a burger (medium rare, please) despite the fact that I claimed a month ago to be a vegetarian. (This is why I'm NOT a vegetarian...because five days into it, I have these pregnancy type cravings for raw meat and ten minutes later I find myself gnawing on chicken wings, thinking sheepishly "I couldn't help it.... my body was craaaavvingggg it") Ummm...??!!

I rarely do NOT act on cravings and this scares me. It scares me, firstly, because when it comes to my food desires, I know there are so many hungry people in this world who cannot simply eat what they want, when they want. Secondly, this scares me because even though I do not have an addiction (or at least one that I'm not in denial about), I could see how easily satisfying cravings could lead to one. Thirdly, this scares me because I think on principle, deprivation can lead to growth, and I should practice the act of deprivation more. And lastly, this scares me because as the cravings ceaselessly continue, I ceaselessly satisfy them, but I still ceaselessly seek for more satisfaction. To it put it simply, no matter what needs I may satisfy, I still don't feel "filled."

Don't get me wrong. If I'm craving cookies, and I wash a row of Oreos down my throat with a glass of milk, I will be FULL. But I won't be FILLED, and I certainly won't be FULFILLED. The irony is, however, that being "filled" is really all I want at the end of the day; I don't want cookies before I go to sleep each night, I actually just want peace. But, instead of doing a five-minute meditation (which my heart craves), I find myself eating cookies (which my stomach craves).

I'm not Freud, so I won't try to psychoanalyze what my cravings really might mean from a psychological standpoint (although I'm sure Freud could offer some ver-y interesting commentary). I will, however, analyze my cravings from a more spiritual perspective.

Our cravings stem from something inside of us which tells us that we need something outside of us to feel "satisfied." This is the utter lie of the world--that we are not "complete" as we are; we need something OTHER than ourselves to fill us, whether that be a relationship, a friendship, a job, a house, a certain lifestyle. But the fact is that we are already completely whole. We are born in Union with God. But as we process life and start to form our identity, we start to identify ourselves based on the world around us. We start to believe we are what we do and what we have, and we therefore start to feel that we are separate from that Union. And once we believe we are separate, our needs start to change. We start to crave the knowing of things as opposed to the knowing of our inner-being. We crave noise as opposed to silence. We crave motion as opposed to stillness. And we therefore crave the very things that take us away from our Union with God. As one Sufi master noted, "the inner truth of desire is that it is a restive motion in the a heart in search of God." And as we plow forward, desperately grabbing in vain at bubbles of guaranteed "fulfillment" that pop upon touch, we start to feel defeated. Because despite the fact we have satisfied our cravings, we do not feel filled, and we do not feel whole. We believe that we are separate from God.

As James Finley so simply (and paradoxically) stated: "We are not God, but we are not OTHER than God." And once we comprehend that we are not OTHER than God, we begin the journey back Home. We can begin to feel whole again because we realize that we need to look no further than ourselves (into our soul, our inner-being, our Buddha nature) to find everything we need. Jesus assured the Truth of this in eight words: "Behold, The Kingdom of God is WITHIN You."

And with recognition of this Union and the knowledge that the kingdom of God is within, I think we can start to flip-flop our cravings. Our craving for things, stemming from the separation from God, can lead to a craving of God, which will result in the separation of all things. Nuri, a Sufi teacher, stated it much more eloquently: "Union with God is separation from all else, and separation from all else is union with Him."

And in this Union, the oneness with the divine, we will stop believing that the externalities can satisfy our soul. And though our ceaseless cravings may subsist, we will have the awareness that God is inside us, offering "invincible sustenance" (as James Finley calls it) which is all we really need to feel "full."

January 29, 2009

Fricking Opinions

It's really easy for me to like people. Quite often, I'll meet someone and immediately feel some sort of connection. Sometimes I even go as far as picturing the two of us laughing together over a cup of coffee while divulging our thoughts on improving the world. (I'm exaggerating...kind of). This whole fantasy goes quite well until they actually open their mouth. And then I'm like "ahhh crap...this isn't going to work."

You must have had this type of experience. You're on a date. He's cute. He's charming. He makes you laugh. He's intelligent. You stare dreamily into his eyes. And then he says something like "Bill O'Reilly truly is the source of all wisdom." And at that moment the turn table stops. Silence. And you find yourself slightly cocking your head to the side and thinking "ehhhhh." And at that moment, the sparks are gone.

Opinions. Fricking opinions! They ruin it EVERY time. It's so easy to get along until the Vegetarian discusses meat with the friend who is a Carnivore, the uber-conservative realizes her friend's hero is Michael Moore, the housewife starts discussing family values with the working mom, the pro-lifer starts talking about abortion with the pro-choicer, and so on. And then, a perfectly lovely conversation quickly turns heated. And very often both sides stare back at each other with complete disapproval, thinking "I can't believe you ACTUALLY believe that."

I have one friend who vows not to date Republicans. Shocked by her claim, I asked her, "but, if you meet a guy at the bar and he asks you out, how the heck do you know what political party he belongs to?!" "Oh that's simple," she responded. "I just make sure on the first date the conversation turns to abortion, gay marriage, and his economic theories." Now, THAT makes for an "interesting" first date (one that I'm glad to say I won't have to go on).

And while my friend may appear slightly adamant in her dating preferences, we all kind of do the same thing. We have certain opinions, about certain things, which make us fit into certain labels, and then we go around convinced that "like attracts like." We basically go through life with motion sensors that beep more quickly when we're approaching a like-thinker. It's like "oh, you like the ocean?" (beep)," "and doing yoga?" (beep beep)," and you're an Obama supporter (beep beep beep), "and you're a card carrying member of the ACLU?" (beepbeepbeep beep)," and "and you think there's nothing better than sitting on the ocean, after yoga, and talking about Obama and civil rights issues" (beepebeepbeepebeep..JACKPOT). We all claim to like diversity, but at the end of the day, don't we just want to be surrounded by a group of people with common ideas?

Of course we do! Based on some nurture and some nature, we cling to certain opinions for safety and, in some regards, survival. If we are raised in an environment where those who surround us believe the same thing and then we look for cues to support that opinion, chances are we too will have that opinion. We then continue to pursue environments where others share the same opinions--communities of like minded people offer a safe haven to share opinions and ideas free of intense conflict. Communities also validate our opinions, which thereby strengthen these opinions and reinforce the truth of what we believe. Thus, our opinions are, in many regards, our truths that help us navigate through life as fluidly as possible.

So this is all pretty obvious. Nothing deep going on here at all. But the question turns back to the role of opinions. If we are not our opinions, what are we? And if we can't detach from our opinions (because it is inherent to mankind to have them), then how do we deal with them?

I know we are more than our opinions because I have friends who I disagree with on almost every political and religious realm possible and I still love them to death. If they were their opinions, we certainly wouldn't be friends. But there is something within their "inner-being" (if you will) that attracts me to them. And this inner-being (also called their Christ-like consciousness, Buddha nature, soul or whatever you want to call it) transcends their constructed thoughts on the world.

So once I became cognizant to the fact that we are not necessarily what we think (and the fact that just because we think something doesn't mean it's true), it was easier for me to separate people from their opinions. But that was only half the battle. Even though I knew people weren't their opinions, their opinions still drove me crazy! "Now whaaaat!?" I would bemoan (ahem whine) to myself, "It'd be so much easier if I didn't like these people because then I wouldn't have to listen to them talk. But now I actually adore these people, but can't stand it when they open their mouths!"

So where does this leave me? (I switched to the present tense because I'm still working on this as we speak.) It leaves me with a choice: only surround myself who think exactly the same way as me or have some friends who hold different views on certain issues. Once I decided on the latter, I knew I needed tools to deal with our different opinions. And through people wiser than me (ahem Buddha and other gurus) I found the answer...detachment!!

Now this may sound brutally blunt, but this is the best way of summing this point up--the best way to free yourself from the burden of other people's opinions is simply "not to give a shit what other people think." It simply is what it fricking is. They have those opinions because of COURSE they have those opinions because their own environment and experiences LED them to have those opinions. And it actually doesn't matter what they think, because they are entitled to those thoughts, and at the end of the day, it doesn't really affect me at all. That is not to say that there shouldn't be dialogue or discussions or debates about certain issues, because I think our opinions should not necessarily be definite; these conversations offer opportunities for self-exploration. But, if I can't change people's opinions, then the only thing I can change is how I react to them. I can let myself get frustrated and upset and angry and emotional OR I can simply "let go." Deep breaths. Mindful awareness of our constructed differences. And move on.

This is like soooo easier said then done. But I'm working on it. I really am. But, until I can free myself from the web of attachment of other people's opinions, the most I can do is take deep breaths, shake my fist and wail, "fricking opinions, they ruin it every time!"

January 22, 2009

The World is a Metaphor for itself?

We are really good at convincing ourselves that things are exactly as they appear and accepting the way the world works.

And if things are exactly as they appear to be, then we should stop looking for answers because we already have them: Things are what they are; life is life; death is death. Get over it.

But if the world is beyond what it appears to be, then that means there is something more. And if there is something more, then that means we need to find it. And if we need to find it, where do we do look?

Now as someone who likes to search for answers, I'm really good at buying books, listening to lectures, discussing issues, asking questions to the older and wiser, etc. But what if the answers to the world weren't found in books or songs or letters? What if the answers weren't "hiding" anywhere? What if the answers to the world ...were found in the world itself? What if God provided all the answers to "why" the world worked the way it worked in the workings of the world itself (say that ten times fast--maybe I should quit blogging and start writing tongue twisters?) This would be GENIUS!

Shit, I totally lost you. Too many "what ifs" and not enough examples. Bear with me. This is something I've tried to put into words for a while, but failed every time. Partially because it's so obvious and simple that it is hard to explain and partially because I'm still an idiot 65% of the time.

But here's what I'm thinking...we have largely convinced ourselves that the workings of the world is simply the world and not something OTHER than the world. We think that the sun is just the sun, a rock is a rock, the ocean is an ocean. But what if we entertained the theory that everything is symbolic? What if the workings of the world were an exact metaphor for how God planned for our life to be? What if the world itself told us the answers to why we can't see God, why our bodies are the way they are, why there is suffering, why the soul is buried deep? Would things make more sense? Would we stop being so confused?

For example, if someone asked you "why can't you stare at the sun?" you would probably respond, "I don't's too bright?!" (and then you'd laugh to yourself and mumble under your breath, "dumbass.") But if someone asked you "why can't we see God?" you would probably spend the next three days engaging in philosophical discussions, whipping out CS Lewis, seeking Jewish mystics, and using a lot of hand motions to try and convey a still unsatisfactory answer. A simple "because He's too bright?" probably wouldn't work, because we don't think of the sun as symbolizing God. But should we? Do we make things too complicated?

To better explain this, I'm going to you give some examples. My friend James Pearson ( ignited this whole thought process, so I'll share with you his own example.

He wrote: "The moon tries to shine its light on us every night, but is shaded by the earth herself. We fear the darkness, but we block the light. It is the nature of our world."

My other friend, Mitchell Moses, made a similar type of observation: "Funny how fitting it is that our body is made up of 60 -70% water. Maybe a hint from God on how our lives should look - Refreshing, Radiant, and Fluid. Water flows effortlessly from one form to another, but never loses the essence that defines it. " This is the nature of each individual.

And diamonds and gems, which lie deep below the surface, are only available to those who dig to find them. Beneath the superficiality of the grass, beneath the messiness of dirt, and beneath the seemingly impenetrable rock lies the most valuable and precious stones. It is the nature of our souls.

And the rain, the source of growth for almost all living things, is accompanied by dark, heavy clouds. At times, they completely shield the sun to those looking up. And the rain sometimes sprinkles and sometimes storms, but it always ceases when the winds from the west dissipate the darkness. And then, though the earth is damp and heavy from the water, true growth occurs and new life begins. It is the nature of suffering.

And the sun, the source of light and the source of life, is the only thing at which we cannot directly stare. We can feel it, but cannot see it. We perceive its rays, but are blinded by its core. And yet, in the early morning, as the new day approaches, and in the evening, when dark meets light, its brightness is subdued by the softness of colors, and in those moments we catch a glimpse, though our eyes burn after. It is the nature of God.

I could go on, blurb by blurb, to dissect the symbolism of nature's nature. About the ocean. About the tides. About mountains. But I'll leave it at these five examples for now because what may strike me as symbolism may strike you as silliness. Regardless, here's to searching for answers in symbolism.

January 13, 2009

Why I listen to my bladder more than my heart.

I have two persistent fears in life: severe turbulence and squirrels. Irrational, I know. But regardless, there you have it. In order to calm my fear of squirrels, I usually cross the street when I see one lingering on the sidewalk. (I am always about 90% sure that the squirrel is probably rabid.) In order to calm my fear of turbulence, I like to sit by the window. This ensures that I am able to see if the wings are still attached to the plane (not that it matters or changes the circumstances of anything, but go with it).

The need for the window seat, however, results in a certain situation: two people sit between you and the aisle. And this is especially a problem when, like me, you are obsessed with hydration and just chugged two gallons of water prior to boarding the plane.

The scene usually goes like this. Chug water. Board plane. Sit by window. Two strangers sit beside me. We smile at each other. Take off. Window staring. Ten minutes later, the urge arises. Already!? I ask myself. I don't want the strangers to think I was irresponsible in not making a pit stop before I boarded the plane, so I decide I'll wait a few minutes. A few minutes later, my bladder calls again. I look at the strangers. They're asleep. Frick! I cross my legs, put on Enya, and stare out the window. Try and distract myself. I can't distract myself, all I can think about is that I need to pee. Like bad. Deep breathing. I sneakily unbutton my top jean button. It helps for like a minute. We hit a big bump and the plane jerks to the left. The strangers wake up and look out the window. Now's my chance! I unbuckle my seatbelt to make my move and then the buckle seatbelt sign comes up with that cheerfully annoying "BING" sound. Nooooo!! I shriek to myself, as I sit back down. The flight attendant warns of turbulence. Deep breath. Turbulence plus bladder equals bad. You get the idea....

The last time I found myself in this situation (aka yesterday), I started thinking about the anatomy of the bladder. When our bladder calls we listen; if we don't, we explode. We stop what we're doing and we make the pit stop. Doesn't matter where it is. Doesn't matter if it's inconvenient to stop. Doesn't matter if we don't want to. We do it, nonetheless. And this obvious realization made me think how incredibly unfortunate that humans are wired to listen to our bladders more than our hearts.

You know that horribly cheesy techno song that is played in seedy clubs: "Listen to Your Heart, when it's calling for you...i don't know where you're going and I don't know whyyyyy, listen to your heart...before you say goodbyeeeee"? If you don't, it's better that way. But the point of the song is to "listen to your heart when it's calling your name." And this horrible song has some wisdom. Too often our hearts feel compelled to do something, whether it's in a relationship or in a career choice or in volunteering, but we still ignore it....because we can. Unlike our bladder, our hearts won't explode if we don't listen to it.

For example, homelessness truly breaks my heart. And my heart constantly encourages me (with sharp pangs of burden) to drag my ass downtown to the Union Rescue Mission and start volunteering. Deep down, my heart tells me "you need to go." Now if this were my bladder, of COURSE I would go. I would jump in my car and drive downtown to Skid Row, disregarding the fact it is "inconvenient," disregarding the fact that it is "out of the way," and disregarding the fact that "I don't have any time." I would go...because I HAD TO GO. But because these signals stem from my heart, I somehow justify ignoring these signs because I can.

This pisses me off (no pun intended). Are humans still so animalistic that the priorities of our bladder outweigh the desires of our heart? And if this is the case, why is our heart, our most vital and powerful organ, the easiest one to ignore? Why couldn't we have been created with some sort of contraption that FORCED us to follow our heart? It would have been so much better for our own emotional health and for the rest of humanity.

Apparently, that would have been too easy. We as humans are left to battle with our own hearts. And because of this, when we don't listen to it, we are the only one to blame. If I don't go down to the Union Rescue Mission, it is my fault. If I don't pursue a career that my heart calls me to pursue, it is my fault. If I don't stay in or leave a relationship based on my heart's subtle signals, it is my fault. And although our hearts will not explode if we do not follow these callings, worse things result, like BURDEN. And burden is the worst...slowly accumulating weight as we try to navigate through life. I think I've unfortunately mastered some feelings of burdenment at this point in my life and I must admit the weight of burden pangs much more than the desires to urinate.

And so, another New Year's Resolution is for me to truly listen to my heart throughout the course of the year. To act on it's desires. To listen to it's callings. And through it all, of course, to still listen to my bladder.

January 2, 2009

The Joy in the ABC's.

So, it's the New Year. Didn't that already happen like a year ago? Weird. Anyways, like most of my New Year's Eves, this new years was overwhelmingly and pleasantly uneventful. Over a glass of wine with a dear friend (and in typical new years fashion), we toasted to our new years resolution. We pledged to "do this more and that more and this more," all in hopes of having a new year filled with "joy." And in this quest of joy, I was reminded of an event three years ago, when I found joy in the most unusual package....

Three and a half years ago, prior to starting law school, I traveled to Thailand with my friend Hannah to work in an orphanage. It was an amazing experience, but two months into it, I was incredibly burdened. I had learned that almost all of the girls (age 5-18) had been sexually abused at least once and it was hard to reconcile the fact that while these girls needed a home, intense therapy, and schooling, all I could offer was my presence (which would soon be gone).

Before returning home, I had the opportunity to stay in a Buddhist monastery for a five days. Feeling particularly weighed down and hoping to gain some insight on happiness, peace, and divinity, I eagerly jumped at the chance. Hannah, who had seen the monastery before, quickly opted out, which was fine by me as it was the perfect chance to have some quiet time and reflect on the months past.

I didn't blame Hannah for choosing not to come. The monastery was not quite like the ones you may typically envision. There weren't 50 foot gold Buddha's anywhere, the conditions weren't pristine and white, there were no flower gardens, no views of the valleys, and no clear lake filled with orange carps. Instead, the monastery lay on the outskirts of town, where roosters ran rampant, mangled trees shaded a murky pond filled with over-sized gray catfish, and tin shacks offered a place for the monks to sleep. The temple itself was...let's say....understated . I, lucky or unlucky, was not placed in a shack, but rather placed in an empty room (minus a mat on the floor also known as "my bed") on the second floor of two story empty building. Next to the room was a "bathroom" which consisted of a hole, a bucket, and a faucet. My room had one window, which faced the duck farm next door. Perfect, I thought, as I tried to subdue my fears of the bird flu virus, which had just started to trickle its way through Southeast Asia.

While it wasn't quite what I had expected (but is it ever?) I was excited to converse with the monks about Buddhism. The only problem was that I quickly found one spoke English. Like at all. The only information that was somehow conveyed to me consisted of the chanting schedule: 4:30 am and 6:30 pm. I quickly made my usual "to do" list and tried to calm the panic I felt when all I had written was "chant." This was going to be a veryyyy looooong five days.

At 4:00 am the next morning, the roosters "politely "summoned me to awake, so I stumbled down to the temple to begin the one hour Sanskrit chanting fest. I had no idea what I was chanting, but I'm pretty sure it was holy. After chanting, the monks started walking in a straight line in silence into town for their daily ritual of "begging" for food. I, not knowing what else to do, brought up the rear. We walked for miles, into town, around town, through the market. And one by one, people in town waited patiently for the monks to arrive so they could place a bag of homemade food into the large silver bowls the monks carried. Upon inquisitive glances of locals, I just smiled and waved--I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked, a white girl with blond hair, wearing a mock nun outfit, ho-humming around behind a line of robed Thai monks.

By the time we returned to the monastery, we had accumulated enough food for a feast. Which was important because we were only to eat one meal a day (although we could continue to drink (non-alcoholic beverages of course)). This would not be good for my low blood sugar, I thought, already feeling myself get hungry the second we finished our meal. Trying to distract myself from future hunger pangs, my thoughts drifted to my disappointment that the monks would not be able to translate their knowledge into tangible words. I felt like the Little Matchgirl, standing in the cold outside and salivating upon staring into a window where a happy family is about to sit down for a warm turkey dinner. I could see the wisdom in the monks eyes, my brain salivating at the taste of such knowledge, yet I couldn't quuuuuiiiiite grasp it. This is a sick joke, I thought to myself and whipped out a book on Buddhism (I had thankfully brought), while grumbling that I could have fricking been reading this Buddhist book on a Thai beach somewhere and instead I'm reading it in a crappy farm monastery.

The next morning at 4:20, I dressed for chanting and basically slept-walked into the temple. No one was there. Typical, I thought, to myself, obviously no one communicated to me that there wasn't chanting this morning. After crawling back to bed, ahem laying on the mat on the floor, I was awakened an hour later by an eager nun. She frantically motioned "let's go." Confused, I jumped up and soon found myself being crammed into a van with 10 other monks. Two hours later, still having no idea where I was going, we arrived at a temple in Bangkok. Apparently there was a huge Buddhist festival going on (I still to this day have no idea what this celebration was supposed to be). I spent the next 8 hours walking around the grounds of a massive temple being a bewildered spectator. Monks were everywhere, eating, laughing, praying, chanting, reading, and meditating. I sat under a tree and hoped that through simple osmosis I would feel wiser and enlightened. Instead, I felt confused and dumb.

When we were ready to leave, ten tired monks and I got back into the van. Halfway through our ride home, we stopped at a Thai 7-11 and all got out. The head monk got a large cherry flavored slurpee and walked around the shop. Suddenly, I heard giggling. I turned around to see the head monk, in his robes, trying on cheap yellow sun glasses and doing a little dance which consisted of moving his arms in a robotic fashion. Completely caught off guard, I burst into giggles too. And then, once we were all back in the van, the head monk turned around to me, smiled, and said "English?" I smiled back. "Yes," I said. He pointed to himself and said "English." I looked at him curiously. And the monk, the wise and enlightened man that he was, started singing joyfully "the ABC's." Soon the other monks joined in and clapping their hands to each letter they sang together the Sesame Street Version of the ABC's. And, at that moment, I did what any other person could do at the sight of a van full of Thai monks singing the ABC's... I joined in. And once the ABC's were finished, we sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." And once that was finished, I taught them "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

And halfway through "Mary Had a Little Lamb," it hit me. THIS is exactly what I so desperately sought. It didn't come in the form of words or doctrine or a teaching or a lesson from a wise man. It came in the moment of an innocent surrendering. And It was joy at being where I was (in a van in Thailand), with who I was with (strange monk men), when I was there (at that moment) and feeling peace. And I realized that THIS was the fundamental teaching of Buddhism: being present and letting go and finding joy in the ABC's.

Needless to say, the next four days in the monastery were transformative. And while I often need to remind myself that joy is in the simplicity of life's moments, I am so grateful for that wonderful, albeit utterly surreal, experience. And so, my friends, Happy New Years and here's to a year filled with the joy in singing the ABC's.