I strongly considered not posting today, yet here I am. Blogging every day is definitely challenging; I anticipated it would be, and as the month wears on I come to the realization that I don’t think I could write every day. At least not in this manner. Perhaps if there was a goal, a specific project I had instead of a more free-floating target, things would be different. Nevertheless, I appreciate what this exercise is teaching me about writing, inspiration, and myself.
I almost didn’t post today because I take commitments very seriously. While overall I am proud of this trait, there are some times where I take it to an odd extreme. Take the promise to blog every day as an example: Who did I make this promise to? Me. And if I don’t feel like writing one day, who am I letting down? No one, because I am listening to myself — the self of today — that is requesting a break. Past self will understand and my desire for perfection will have to get over it. In fact, I think it’s a good idea for me to practice striving for not-perfection, to get used to the idea that if something doesn’t actually happen, more often than not it’s OK. I know the difference between important things and unimportant things. I know myself enough to know that I will follow through on the important things. The less crucial stuff can slide now and then. I say that, but I’m not really sure how much I mean it.
Meanwhile, I laugh at myself because essentially I am writing about not writing, and how it might be good for me to not write. But I feel good writing these words, so it’s all good in the end.
Maybe I’ll play hooky tomorrow. It’s nice to know I can — and will — give myself that option.
These people know how to take a break: Samgeori Park, Cheonan, South Korea.
I meditated and for a full 20 minutes, and thought about nothing. My brain wasn’t empty, mind you: rather the entire time I thought, “I am thinking about nothing.” Sure, I occasionally noticed that my jaw was tight, or that I was clenching my left thigh a bit, but for the most part my brain just kept saying over and over again, “I am thinking about nothing” in a slow, irregular pace. An idea that would flow in and out as I sat and breathed somewhat unevenly, but always relaxed. That phrase surprises me a bit, because lately I have been pondering some pretty serious topics such as rape culture and access to mental health for Veterans. I had a conversation earlier about how I struggle with believing things will turn out OK, despite the fact that, in my life, things pretty much do go well. Yet, there is that lingering assumption that things just aren’t going to turn out “right.” It’s a control thing, I know, and I work on it. I’m grateful that I am more mindful of it when it happens now, and I will continue to work on the notion that whatever happens can be dealt with and, by default, is acceptable. Many of my friends are going through some difficult times, and I feel sad for them, knowing there is very little I can do except be there, check in, and listen if they want to speak. Too much loss and heartache among those I love.
So, yeah, I have had a lot of heavy stuff on my mind, which made me surprised that my meditation mantra for today was, “I am thinking about nothing.”
Which, I suppose, is something.
On the way to Milford Sound. South Island, New Zealand.
To be able to be unhurried when hurried;
To be able not to slack off when relaxed;
To be able not to be frightened
And at a loss for what to do,
When frightened and at a loss;
This is the learning that returns us
To our natural state and transforms our lives.
[Liu Wemin, 16th Century]
Found while reading dhamma footsteps
I see these words as a great guide as I move forward in my new job, in my resettlement into Portland. I am wary that I will, indeed, slip back into the hurried state that I was accustomed to, that I witness every day in others. Taking time to stretch, walk, write, connect – these are important to me. The balance of relaxation with obligation is an ideal I will continue to strive towards. I felt this most when I lived in Toronto and Cheonan; working hard, yet still able to appreciate my surroundings and where life was taking me.
Taking a walk break in Toronto
In these two places I found a welcoming balance of routine and novelty; of unhurried and mandates; of relaxation and production. These were places where I went outside every day and experienced the community mindfully. Sometimes I threw myself into the bustle of humanity, while other times I would find a more secluded place and just sit. Refreshed, I would return to my computer and produce, create, or do whatever was needed. Rarely did I feel like I had to do something; I looked forward to the tasks that lay in front of me.
A park in Cheonan, South Korea. An escape from the large buildings in the background.
During these times, in these places, I was able to live in the experience of now. Appreciate that every moment is now without that meaning pressure, an impending deadline. Now simply is, and always will, be.
I’ve been back in the US for two and a half weeks and am starting to settle in. The moments of reverse culture shock and general feelings of being overwhelmed lessen each day, but remain. I am learning how to live in this country again. Although I am settling into a level of familiarity being back in Portland and taking a job in research again, I am not quite the same person. I feel a little different in ways that are hard to describe.
It was an amazing year and a half/two years and I learned so much about myself and others — some stuff I want to cherish, while other things make me grateful for the culture I grew up in. There are things I want to hold onto, and things I want to leave far behind. Here are some of the things I hope to incorporate in my life back in the US.
- More minimal living – I want less space and fewer possessions, especially when it comes to my wardrobe. Yes, I will invest in a new pair of jeans, but otherwise I hope to wear only the items that are easily accessible to me without going into storage to retrieve more.
- Appreciation of food for its variety and simplicity.
- Friendship and the need to be present with those I love.
- The awareness that there is little I can control. Letting go is something I will continue to struggle with and I look forward to the challenge.
- Taking day trips/weekend getaways. Even one night somewhere else does so much to recharge my mind and soul.
- Meditation practice. Haven’t revisited this yet, but planning on it! Really. Someone hold me accountable! Or perhaps it will naturally happen when I am ready.
- Tea breaks. Wherever I went, people actually stopped for tea. “To go” was rare. I want to take the time to sit and enjoy.
- Writing. Though no longer an expat, I hope to continue to write about things I did while overseas, and things I experience here as a result. If there’s anything you are interested in learning about, I welcome questions and inspiration.
I need to spend some more time with this guy.
I took the bus for the first time since coming back to Portland. It made the city feel more like home again. I like the idea of sitting down, staring out the window, and letting someone else deal with the traffic. Yes, it takes more time than driving, but in some ways that’s good. The bus has helped me feel less rushed about things. If I miss one, I need to wait for the next. If it’s late, I wait until it arrives. I have no control over its exact timing. I can plan a schedule, even look up real-time arrivals using TriMet’s website or texting center. But overall, the timing of the bus and when it takes me where I need to go is out of my hands. It’s a freeing sensation that I welcome in my usual tendencies to stress about stuff. Taking the bus is one small step towards learning what I can and can’t control, and my responses to such situations.
At a nifty bus station in New Zealand. I think Wellington.
I also use bus time to do nothing. Sometimes I message friends or listen to NPR, but usually I am just spacing out or people-watching. The pace of the United States is so much faster than anywhere else I have traveled (I have never been to Japan so there may be some places more hectic than my home country) and riding the bus slows me down. In Korea, it was more common to see people drinking their coffee at a table than taking it to go. In the hotter climates of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Oman, things literally come to a stand-still in the middle of the afternoon as shops close in the heat of the sun. In New Zealand and Australia, the cashiers always seem to take the time to really say hello, and no one behind you in line seems to mind. While the times and specifics may vary, each culture seems to have a break built into people’s daily routines. Even Toronto, Canada – a major Western city – didn’t seem as rushed as it does here.
I don’t see America’s fast-paced lifestyle as a good thing, at least not for me. I benefit much more from a slower way of life; I feel better, I’m more creative, and I’m generally happier. I believe I’ve somewhat of an empath (just like Deanna Troi!); if I am surrounded by people who are stressed, I tend to feel the same way. Living a slower life for the last year and a half has really helped me in many ways. I just hope that I am able to recall this way of being and know there are other ways to live, even though I am rooted in a culture that doesn’t seem to value this. Looks like I am going to have to build in my own break times. I’m thinking tea. Pretty much every country sits down for tea except the US.
But for now, there’s the bus. I may be the only person around expressing gratitude when I wait for it.