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While traveling these past three months in Bali, China, and Thailand, I was continually shocked by the amount of advertisements in the streets and products in stores of skin whitening creams. Upon seeing it for the first time, I was surprised, dumbfounded, and then a chuckle escaped my mouth. I laughed at the irony of feeling shock at all, as if seeing this was foreign in any sort of way. Plenty of white females in the U.S. use a range of products, from tanning beds, lotions, and sprays, to make their skin the perfect shade of bronze.
Around the world we have naturally pale girls trying to be darker and naturally darker girls trying to be paler. I have spent days outside with Asian friends who covered themselves from head to toe in 100-degree weather, so that their skin would not darken. As I return to the US for the summer months, I will spend time with American friends who will spend entire days lying in the sun, “working on” their tans.
We live in a bizarre world. There is no ideal skin color. It’s just a social construction, symbol of elitism, and consequence of historical colonialism. Don’t listen to society, listen to your body. If it craves the sun, soak it up. If it’s had enough, find some shade. See skin-coloring products for what they really are – in the physical sense, chemicals harmful to your body, and in the social sense, a contributor to producing a more divided society.
I felt inspired by this topic so naturally I wrote a poem…
A flower – sits in her throne of glamour,
Beauty so pure and divine of stature.
Rounded leafy curves and slender mid stem,
Lay beneath her colorful diadem.
No army of a wind could make her fall,
Confidently she stands. Upright. Firm. Tall.
Her beauty is her power – that she knows,
Indiscriminately used, friends or foes.
Any male she meets becomes her blind slave,
Graveling, kneeling, serving ‘til the grave.
Weeds inch closer, to soak up her perfume,
Eyes eternally lost in her full bloom.
With each new sunrise she shines a bit more,
I in her shadow, jealously galore.
Although I try, I’ll never be like her,
Simple born. Plain looking. Amateur.
Each day I watch, envy fills me inside,
Expanding voraciously, long and wide.
Filled to the brim, with no way to repress,
Green slime scales overtake my skins surface.
Not to be defeated, I scheme with stone,
Together we have a chance at the thrown.
My accomplice pushes up, and I pull,
And the sun’s light shine disappears in full.
To everyone’s awe we uproot her Grace,
I apply her and her sisters to my face.
Green scales transform to glistening bronze smooth,
Symmetrical face, and wrinkles to youth.
But what about my imperfect physique?
An hourglass shape, I’d have no critique.
I rip out the deceased Grace’s cousins,
And smother them on barren, naked skin.
Now I am truly the most attractive,
Desire gone, I can finally live.
But maybe one more flower couldn’t hurt,
Just one more for my shirt, maybe my skirt.
How about my toe, it looks a bit stub?
It too, could use a good, hard, floral rub.
As I scrub, I realize I’ve overdone,
Toe tingling, drop the flower and run.
Flesh sprouts to thin, expansive, brittle, brown,
And pulls me steadfast, hard into the ground.
Rooted to the soil, body now stalk,
I scream, but only hear snickers from rock.
The ends of my hair, now mountainous peaks,
Segmented triangles, tower my cheeks.
I try to cry, but physically how?
Human traits, my new body won’t allow.
Feelings imprisoned, green bars suffocate,
Captive Hell. I yearn to emancipate.
What was my greed of beauty for really?
But a pursuit of feelings felt freely.
Beauty was never the end, but a means,
To feel safe, happy, loved, just like a Queen.
Is not the reason of life to feel these?
And beauty deceptions of feelings seize?
Late one night, I rolled out of my hammock and followed the steps down out of my tree house. A cool breeze coddled my face, as if to tell me I was safe to explore the mystery of the obscure night. The energy of each crashing wave slithered through the grains of sand and greeted the striking of each of my feet. With every new meeting, a tingling sensation began in my arch, and slowly circulated up throughout my body, as if carried by blood stream. Gatherings between foot and powdered Earth so resilient, the prints lay shining in the sandy grains, outlined bright yellow against the stark, uneven ground. Entranced by the physical sensation of each new advance, and dazzled by the energetic aurora left in the sand, I drifted for a mile until I awoke to the flickering of light. Head snapped up. Miles away at sea, silent zig zags of brilliant light sprung from the few clouds in the clear night sky above. The jagged light seemed to have met the ocean, in the same way the ocean met with my feet – vigorously, luminously, thoroughly. Energy interchanging in each meeting of lightning and ocean, in each gathering of foot and sand. And how about the stars radiating above? Softly and delicately aglow on everything that lay below? Their alignment in the sky consciously thought out, forever mystical to ancient and modern civilizations alike. As I asked them about their place in the universe, one of them twinkled, as if to wink at me. I took it as an invitation and reached up to meet her. Instantaneously as we touched, the light flickered in a flash, and our precious moment captured. Stored in the archives of the stars, it remains safely nestled in the memory of the universe for eternity.
The world can be as magical or dull as we want it to be. Each one of us is the director, star, producer, and audience of our own story that plays like a film in the theater of our individual mind. Have you ever taken a moment to step back from your thoughts, and observe the way in which they are subjectively shaping your reality?
When I’m in a creative mood, the director of my mind has the potential to turn a walk on the beach into a mystical encountering with the world around me. It plays with some of my spiritual beliefs and questions and turns them into reality.
Sometimes the director of the movie playing in my mind isn’t so creative. But it’s important that sometimes it is. If my director weren’t ever creative, I would probably not give the sand beneath my feet much thought. I would think of the sand as small granular pieces of rock. They would seem stagnant and lifeless and therefore that is what they would become in my movie. Those thoughts would determine how I would interact with the sand physically. I wouldn’t ever become aware of its meeting with my foot. I would feel no energy. I would not feel any connection to it, the waves, the lightning, or the stars. I wouldn’t think twice about polluting something I viewed as lifeless and completely separate from me. Expressing myself creatively, even if only in my mind, has the potential to remind me that I am a small entity intertwined within the workings of the expansive universe.
The subjective shaping of the way we view ourselves influences the way each one of us interacts with the world around us. Not only in the manner in which we communicate with the environment, but also with others. It plays a role in each of our days, activities, and interactions we have. From what we do now to what we will do in the future. Our subjective thinking can influence whether we become happy or sad, a villain or a hero, average or unique.
Over the course of my last three months of travel to Bali, China, and Thailand I’ve met a thief who believed she was a hero, an aspiring writer who believed he could only produce memorable work through a life of suffering, a recent college graduate who believed he had to sacrifice his own dreams in order to please his parents. Before I left the US to travel, I stayed at a corporate job I hated for an entire year because I believed I’d look like a failure if I couldn’t last even a year at my first professional job. Only after I quit and some time passed, could I see how silly I was to think that way.
It’s crucial to occasionally take a step back, and become aware of the way in which we are shaping our story, or directing our movie. We have the potential to greatly deceive ourselves, and lead ourselves down a dark path. We are capable of convincing ourselves it’s better to conform to society, rather than follow our own true path of self-discovery. We have the power to view Mother Earth as a static rock, or we can choose to take a second to feel the pulse of her heartbeat.
The choices are infinite, but we can only choose if we become the observer of our subjective reality every once in a while. In the rolling of our personal feature film, in which interpretations are limitless, we are capable of detaching ourselves from the director and consciously choosing the movie star. Amongst the unbounded night sky, we are given the opportunity to choose the star we wish to become.
Rising, packing, another foreign land,
Never without my Whites Of Wild in hand.
Though hung from man made tent or ceiling wall,
Billowing descent. Like a waterfall.
Flowing downward in every direction,
Flexible; you allow my correction.
Your drooping drapes sway with the slightest breeze,
Dangling arms of Weeping Willow trees.
I crawl inside you – a haven of pure white,
Safe and warm from the mysterious night.
Protector of my deadly enemies;
Blood sucking beasts, though tiny entities.
A single touch to your outside webbed thread,
And instantaneously, they fall dead.
Gatekeeper of black vermin, big or small.
Gentle waves firm as a fortified wall.
Malaria, Dengue, and Yellow Fever,
For those, I’ll never be a receiver.
Though netted, you are not so transparent,
Dual in form, complexity inherent.
To a fool’s eye, your two sides seem the same,
Your true nature lay bipolar in aim.
Though a vicious warder externally,
A gentle nurturer internally.
Binary, you form the perfect cocoon,
Transforming me under the midnight moon.
A whirlwind of energy though tranquil,
I float up, taken hold by your sound will.
Your white complexion emits energy;
Strong, surging, swirling, sweeping, synergy.
Senses lost, blissfully in your motion,
Never faltering in your devotion.
Nestled in a spinning, soft cloud of white,
To your wind-powered turbine I take flight.
Peering through my wispy, white, woven bounds,
I see bright jewels amongst a dark background.
Floating above and beyond my treetop,
Dazzled, drifting, ultimately we stop.
Swallowed by auroral light – eyes tearing,
There she shines, gulping nightmares non-fearing.
A circular shape and oh so divine,
The sun’s reflection, but her light more fine.
Awe, joy, fulfillment and captivation,
Overcome by its living vibration.
Against my desire, my cloud descends,
And with that, another circle transcends!
India, Egypt, Indonesia, Peru,
My destinations outlined green and blue.
Yoga, pyramids, sea, Machu Picchu,
Oh what a dream I get to venture to.
Gaining momentum, free falling full speed,
Fatal collision with Earth guaranteed.
Darkness engulfs me, and then a bright ray,
Eyes jolt wide open and I am okay.
Wrapped in my white curtains, no harm can come,
They took me to the moon and now the sun.
I split you open, and spring into flight
Thirsty for sweet nectar pools of daylight.
Rising, packing, another foreign land,
Never without my Whites Of Wild in hand.
Compass, map, longitude, or latitude
I do not need such material tools
To explore infinite yin – Mother Earth
Basking in her wonder, I will wander
With no end in sight, forever adrift
In curious delight. Maybe one day,
I will pursue with intent her secret,
And become mad in my arduous hunt.
Some day I’ll stumble upon her treasure,
Eyes gleaming, old in age, body aching,
A moment come true of countless nights dreams,
And yet I find myself wishing, longing
To return to my directionless days.
How strange it is to exist in a world one wasn’t created for.
Even stranger, to be unaware of not belonging in ones own “home.”
And as the sun rises and sets once more,
This world trims and shapes each of its citizens,
Expediently, efficiently, with each tic of the clock.
Adulthood ingrained – the heart forgets to beat,
And ones sprouting leaves harden to robust steel.
How strange it is to awaken each intimate morning a stranger to oneself.
Even stranger, to be unaware of ones numbing self-transformation.
A bit lost, cautious down Chaotic Street,
Sixth sense directed, you approached my feet.
Inquisitive without wag, sniff, bark, lean,
Unlike most, you spoke with rings blue and green.
Awed, captivated, I stumbled and fell
Helplessly into your black pitted wells.
What I saw – I cannot really describe:
Obstacle, pain, love, bliss. Alright. Alive.
I saw you, a reflection of my own,
And continued walking the street alone.
Though now separated by time and space,
I’ve befallen known tunnels of your face.
I wish you courage on Chaotic Street,
In the land where dogs become “tasty meat.”
Fried, boiled, steamed, whichever do you like?
All for the human tongue, taste buds delight.
From the surface, my pond appears beautiful. But if I take a more profound gaze, I observe the nature of each fish. And in these fish I see the people of my country. Self interested; each of us rapidly swimming in our own directions, avoiding eye contact, doing whatever is best for our personal survival and happiness. If I scrutinize the surrounding environment of the fish, I note the tinted shades of water. And in the water I see my country’s two party political system. Colorful and yet dually divided; a socially constructed environment seeping propaganda into the minds of each fish. They adopt partisan ideas, each one believing that their party has all of the solutions to the pond’s problems and that the opposition is the culprit of those issues.
After taking some time to think, I take a big ladle and scoop out some of the ego floating in the water that was previously infecting my fish. I sprinkle in magical dust, in which the main ingredient is compassion. Over time, I notice a dramatic change in the behavior of my fish.
One day they start to swim together. They transform from individuals into a unified school. In this school, they learn that the “other” is not the source of their issues. After all, they all want the same things – a safe pond to swim in, food, equality, happiness, basic rights and freedom – they previously just had different views on how to achieve them.
They realize that the “other” is in fact their friend, and that their original differences were just one large distraction. They begin to question the greater existence outside of their pond and the bright twinkling lights that flicker above them, beyond the top of their world of water. They come to the conclusion that some energy more mystic than themselves feeds them, guides them, and provides the nourishing environment in which each of them can grow together.
The solutions to our societal issues already exist. The issues we have are ones we inflict on ourselves as individuals and as a society. The solution lies in the problem.
Part One: Losing Control in Ubud, Bali
Frustrated from practicing arm balance asanas for hours each day and seeing small, painfully slow results, I try to remind myself of yogic philosophy; Yoga isn’t about moving through asanas mindlessly, it’s about becoming increasingly aware of the self. The way you move your body from one asana to another, acknowledging the points in your body in which you feel the most resistance, empowering yourself to lengthen and strengthen, rebalancing your body as you consciously pair the movements harmoniously with the breath.
As I remind myself of these beliefs, my irritation subsides and I feel “zen” once more. That is, until I attempt my next head stand and come crashing to the ground again. Today, frustration boiling at an all time high, I had had enough of yogi philosophy. In an effort to make myself feel better, I decided to escape rather than sit with my anger, as a yogini should do. Hey, I’m working on it okay?
I knew just the thing that would instantly gratify me no matter what kind of mood I was in. And so, I hopped on my scooter, strapped and buckled my helmet onto my head (safety first of course, don’t worry Mamasita), and made my way to my secret oasis here in Ubud. My special place is located in the middle of fruited palm trees, flourishing flowers, and overflowing green. At its heart center lays an infinity pool – a liquid filled mirage causing one to believe that the water is flooding into its lush surroundings. The powerful sunlight reflects off of the pools white-floored bottom, creating the perfect light for reading under the soft shade of the fruited palm trees. You might think that this image is motive enough to name this place my refuge, but the key reason I do so is due to its seclusion. No one knows about it. And so, I often go there to swim, read, and relish in the blissful thoughts and feelings the natural setting brings me and only me.
A short drive from my home stay, I expected to arrive there in a quick ten minutes. But as soon as I pulled out of my driveway, I approached a four-car traffic jam on my narrow, pencil thin street. The majority of the roads in Ubud are extremely slim. In the United States, these streets are known as one ways. But in Ubud, Bali, where double white lines are nonexistent, any street is fair game for oncoming autos from both directions. And so I waited an extra fifteen minutes for the cars to back up, turn the wheel, inch forward, back up again, and slide past one another inch by inch, all the while I sat, sweating in the hot sun, breathing in the poisonous fumes from the cars with each exasperated inhale.
After backing up into the little space available on the street, almost falling into a ditch so that the cars could pass me, I roared my engine to life and sped off towards my destination. The locals on the street stared at me, but in that moment I didn’t care what they were thinking.
One of the rules I try to live by is, “Never allow yourself to be a passenger of a car with an angry driver.” Have you ever driven with someone who’s angry? Their anger ends up manifesting physically, on the road, speeding and swerving in every which direction, as if getting ahead of the car in front of them will somehow justify whatever it is that they are furious about. In my eyes, angry drivers can be equally or maybe even worse than drunk drivers. But what can I do if I’m the angry one in the drivers seat? I hypocritically and indignantly chuck my rational rule out of the car the window, that’s what.
Speeding and swerving, wind whipping through my hair, my temper gradually cooled. The rest of the drive went as I expected it to – down to each winding turn, nook, and cranny. I pulled into a parking spot with ease. Relief filled me at the thought that only a few footsteps lay between tranquility and me.
Enthusiastically swinging my leg over my motorbike this time, I hung my helmet onto the handle bar.
Oh, no. Please, dear God, no.
I hear two screaming, playful, young voices and my eager feelings leave as quickly as they came.
I turn the corner, and sure enough, my eyes fall on two hyperactive children pretending to be ninjas as their moms stand in the opposite end of the pool, gossiping, while “keeping an eye on them.”
So much for my secluded getaway.
Neither end of the pool ideal, I forego the lounge chairs near the two actively loud children and settle for one next to the chatting mothers.
I try to tune out the spontaneous screams of the children as I read my novel. But today, aggravation as high as it is, I am simply unable. I desperately hope that the mothers will notice me trying to read and considerately ask their children to keep the noise level down. But that doesn’t happen.
Giving up on reading, I decide to go for a swim. Having recently washed my hair, I don’t submerge my head under water, in an effort to keep it soft and silky. But soon enough, it becomes drenched by the children’s splashes. They’ve decided to take their ninja fighting into the water. Right next to me.
Although I am typically an optimistic person, on a day like today Murphy’s Law pops into my mind; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
I sigh, lift myself out of the pool, lie on my lounge chair, and shut my eyes. A mere five minutes goes by.
“WAHHHHHHHHHHH. AHHHHHHHHHHH. GRRRRRWWWAAAHHHHH.”
Anger thermometer surpassing one hundred, I pop up from my chair to see what’s going on now.
I watch one of the children throw an impressive temper tantrum as his mom tells him that it’s time to pack up his things and head home.
I feel your anger, I think to myself. But with that empathy comes another shocking thought. I am no different from that uncontrollable, screaming seven year old.
Am I stamping my feet, screaming, throwing my things around like he is? Of course not. If I did, those around me would consider me a crazy person. I would most definitely be sent to the Loony Bin, locked shut, key thrown away. But were there times today where I felt like behaving in such a way? Most definitely.
One of the things I struggle with most is practicing patience. Not only part of my genetic make up, impatience is socially reinforced in the environment in which I’ve spent the majority of my life. Having grown up in the suburbs of New York City, impatience is often outwardly and unapologetically expressed. It wasn’t until I was walking down the street one day and watched as a bicycler fiercely pedaled to make a yellow light, accidentally hit a pedestrian in the process, and then yelled at the injured victim instead of asking about her well being, that I noticed that I and all of the impatient people around me have serious issues. But I digress.
Today I let my emotions control me. I developed an attitude similar to that of a volatile bike rider as I sped down the streets on my scooter. I became an uncontrollable tantrum throwing child inwardly, suppressing the tension just enough to hold myself in a socially acceptable way outwardly.
But imagine all of that overflowing tension inside, with no outlet to release it all. It’s like putting a cap on the top of an active volcano. The cap will very briefly suppress all of the energy within the volcano, but as the pressure increases under the entrapped surface, it’s bound to explode.
How could such an intense emotion form within me simply from practicing asanas, encountering a traffic jam, and children playing at what I believed was “my” sanctuary? It’s difficult to believe that this little series of events could bother me so strongly while in Ubud, Bali, a place I often describe as a utopia. Until today, I have felt overjoyed with my time spent here.
Realizing that these trivial incidents were not the root of my negative feelings I began to ask myself, where do negative emotions truly stem from? How can we put up a conscious fight against negative emotions? How can we empower ourselves to control our emotions rather than allow them to control us?
Part Two: Taking Control
Reflecting on these questions, I began by identifying the ways in which I habitually fight negative emotions.
Today I tried to fight my negative emotions by escaping to my secret oasis. But I typically respond in a range of ways. I go somewhere, eat my favorite food, or find something or someone I know will give me instant gratification; friends, lovers, parties, ice cream, movies, social media. Anything at all to distract myself from my negative feelings and provide relief.
My favorite and most instinctual response is to run off the anger. To manifest my anger physically, kind of like a driver does on the road as I previously described. Blasting high tempo music in my ears, I replay the situation I’m angry about visually in my mind, all the while matching the pace of each stride with the intensity of my rage. Eventually my run ends and my body feels exhausted. Too tired to spend energy feeling angry, I feel neutral instead. Not happy, not relieved, just neutral.
The issue I have with all of these instinctual responses is that the results are always the same. Sooner or later I spew magma in the form of destructive words or actions. And it’s usually towards those I care most about. After allowing some time to pass post explosion, I begin to deeply regret the way I’ve just interacted with the world around me, much like I’m sure the bike rider did after her own eruption. And so, one adverse emotion feeds the next, forming one giant negative feedback loop.
You might think that running is a healthy way to let off steam – at least your body is getting exercise from these negative inspired feelings. And I want to be clear that I am not contesting that. I am only saying that for me, running helps to diminish the physical tension within me but it never seems to clear the emotional feeling, it only buries it deeper. It’s just another quick fix mechanism, just like all of my other responses.
What I have come to realize today is that even if there were no children to bother me at my secret oasis, I am certain that something or another would have. After taking some time to think, I arrived at the following conclusion;
If my external world is perceived by my internal world, and that internal world is filled with adverse emotions, then the experiences of my external world are doomed to be negative.
We frequently blame the external world for why we are upset. Today I blamed my physical inabilities, the traffic jam, and the children as reasons for why I was unhappy. But in truth, I was just projecting my internal negativity outwards. I could have interpreted these situations positively, but I was not inwardly positive. Had these events happened last week, when I felt really happy inside, none of these incidents would have bothered me in the slightest. I would have made the most of my day, but that is not how today unfolded. And I will never get today back.
So finally, I put my ego aside and stopped ignoring yogic philosophy. I thought about what I had told myself earlier that morning, when I was struggling with arm balance asanas. But this time, I applied it to my current predicament and arrived at the following; Life isn’t about going through the motions mindlessly, it’s about becoming increasingly aware of the self. The way you interact from one situation to another, acknowledging where the emotional resistance is coming from within you, empowering yourself to create change, rebalancing the harmony between your inner self and the outer world.
In order to create the harmony I yearned for, I went inward. I meditated, reflected, and journaled. I became still. Still enough to rid myself of distractions so that I could search for truth within me. And soon the true source of my negative emotions presented itself.
Sometimes the reason for why we are experiencing a negative emotion is disguised, like in my case. It wasn’t the trivial incidents during my day that was truly bothering me, but something more profound. Other times, reasons for why we are feeling upset might seem obvious. Maybe you recently broke up with your partner, your job is stressing you out, a loved one passed away, etc. But I find that the emotion almost always goes much deeper than the obvious.
Each one of us can relate to the examples I just gave, but the intensity of the negative emotion we experience for each example differs from person to person. And this is because we all interpret these things from our own subjective viewpoint. Of course the amount of years you’ve dated someone or your relationship to someone who has just passed away effects the intensity of the negative emotion you may be experiencing. But the way you view those events surely affects the intensity of your emotion as well.
For example, a 25 year old who is in a rush to get married will view a break up differently than a 25 year who wants to wait 5 plus years to get married. The former will experience anxiety in addition to sadness while the latter will be more at ease with the break up.
Someone who’s passionate about their work will view added stress as inconvenient but a small price to pay in order to wake up everyday and do what they love. This person has an optimistic outlook on stress. In contrast, someone who hates what they do for a living and experiences stress will only become increasingly stressed. There is nothing to look forward to for this person, no positive thought to alleviate the tension this person feels.
A person who views death as reuniting with something blissfully unimaginable will certainly not feel the same pain as someone who views death as a cold body in the ground, an end all be all, so to say. The former will feel the deceased person is better off than they were on Earth, while the latter will feel no comfort.
In all of these cases, no view is wrong or right, but the difference of perspectives of the object at hand surely affects the differences of emotional intensity.
By delving deeper into our emotion, investigating the emotion as well as our subjective thinking, we can better understand it. In Part Three of this article, I provide some starter tips and questions I asked myself while investigating my negative emotions. I hope that this information may be of help to you on your own personal journey inward.
Part Three: Your Turn to Take Control
Firstly, I encourage you to become aware of what it is you do when you are irritated, angry, sad, anxious, stressed, or feeling negatively in any way. I would wager your instinctual responses are similar to my own, with a little variation mixed in here and there. After acknowledging your instinctual responses, observe whether that response truly removes that negative feeling. Do you feel that feeling lingering? Are you happy for a little while until that feeling pops up again out of nowhere?
Next time you feel such an intense emotion I urge you to lay down or sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. Observe the presence of those negative emotions. Feel the emotion. Identify the emotion. Are you experiencing anger, irritation, depression, stress or a mixture of all of them?
Don’t judge yourself for feeling the way you do, our aim is not another giant negative feed back loop. Just be honest with yourself. If it pissed you off that the little kid just splashed your newly washed hair, acknowledge it in your mind, no matter how petty it sounds. Although it may have been a trivial thing to get annoyed about, it added pressure to the eruption of your volcano.
Just sit with those feelings. And I mean sit with them alone, free from any distraction. Sit with them until the intensity of them begins to fade. Eventually they will – they always do. As the intensity fades, you are now able to look at them from a more objective mind, rather than a subjective, emotionally out of control, mind.
Ask yourself what brought on that intense emotion? Was it really a series of little things or a cataclysmic event that brought you to rupture? Or are you projecting your insecurities, anxieties, anger, sadness onto these events and blaming them for making you feel this way? What is truly bothering you? Why are you unhappy with yourself in the present moment? What action can you take to reverse your ill feelings?
I don’t mean to say that you or I are in the wrong for getting upset by trivial things or significant events. But the extent and intensity to which they bother us can be changed (if we want them to) if we take the time to sit with ourselves.
By getting to the root of what is actually causing us to feel negatively, we in turn empower and liberate ourselves. We give ourselves the opportunity to learn more about that negative lingering feeling and sometimes we even discover how to rid ourselves of it. In turn, we start to feel in control. Our perspective changes. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking, “Why God, why me?” we start to think, “I’m feeling this way because of x, y, and z. But I can do something about it.“
Believe it or not, just that slight difference in thinking about your situation means a heck of a lot. In the former, we convey helplessness. In the latter, reason. And as we accept the internal reasons that lead to these negative emotions, we begin to feel the negative feelings subside. We start the transition from an active to an inactive volcano!
Ignoring our negative emotions is similar to ignoring facing something we fear. The longer we resist facing our fear, the more afraid we become. The only solution to overcoming fear is to acknowledge it, challenge its irrationality, and then conquer it. The same goes for any other negative emotion. The longer we resist facing our negative emotion, choosing to blame external things for its presence, the more negative we become. The solution to overcoming negativity is admitting that its presence lies within us, challenge it in the form of investigating it, and conquer it.
Rushing to take out all of the necessary items I’d need for my sixteen-hour flight out of my backpack, I thought to myself, Hurry up, Shannon. You’re holding up the entire line behind you. I felt ten pairs of eyes on my back, all maneuvering their heads around the person standing in front of them to see what the hold up was. This was the part of the flight that always made me the most anxious – not the take off – but choosing which things in my carry on were worthy of taking up space in my already cramped seat on the airplane. Call me indecisive, but these seemingly small decisions matter!
As I settled into my window seat and looked around me, I noticed I had forgotten a small but necessary item – my pen. Writing daily is one of my New Years resolutions, and I intend to keep it! As I looked up apologetically at the small, thin, Asian woman entering my row I was met with a smile. I smiled back and said nervously, “I, err, need to get into my backpack in the overhead bin.” And so holding up the line once more, with irritated eyes pinned on my back, I rushed to find my small pen in my disorganized bag full of countless other necessary, but not the most necessary, items.
As I nestled back into my seat, placing all of my necessary items around me in the little free space I had, the small Asian woman settled back into her aisle seat. She looked my way, and smiled. Again, I smiled back. She began, “Hello. What brings you to Taiwan?”
A typical conversation starter question on an airplane I thought to myself, but I’m also one of the three white people on this plane. She’s probably curious. I wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood, and I had already learned my lesson from a previous long flight I had taken- if you initiate conversation with someone, there’s no way to escape it once you get tired and no longer feel like talking. You’re cornered for sixteen long hours. But she had seemed so friendly and warm that I had given her a welcoming response.
“I’m only in Taiwan for the night. I have a long layover. I’m actually traveling to Bali, Indonesia, Yangshuo, China, and Thailand for three months. I just spent three months in India and became fascinated with Eastern philosophy; meditation, yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, and holistic healing. I’m visiting these countries to continue learning about those interests.”
Her eyes widened with excitement, and she began to describe how Buddhism was such a monumental part of her life. She, whose name I later came to find out is Patty, was so pleasantly surprised to discover that I was traveling to learn about something that was so dear to her heart. So dear in fact that Patty insisted that I take not one but two of her prayer booklets. Feeling a connection, Patty explained what was bringing her to Taiwan.
“You need to meet my teacher in New Jersey. She has a Guru in Australia that she communicates with through her mind. She doesn’t talk to him on the phone; she doesn’t need to. Only through her mind. She is the reason I’m on this plane right now. About twenty years ago after my mother died, my father decided that all of our land and family’s house would go to my older brother. My five sisters and I would inherit none of it. But that’s what my mother would have wanted too, they’re both very conservative and set in their old ways. Now my brother has a ton of money and doesn’t work. We got into a big fight over it, and I’ve only visited three times in the last twenty years. Throughout the years two of my sisters and I have created a family business in New Jersey. We’ve worked for what we have. My brother and father remained angry after the fight. My teacher said it was important that I make peace within my family and so I called up my two sisters and now we are all heading home. We will be reunited with my brother, father, and two other sisters in Taiwan.
You would think that after hearing this story I would have politely declined when later she and her family insisted that I come back to their home and stay the night with them. But the truth is that it all happened so fast and I was kind of desperate.
When I originally bought my flight to Bali and saw that I had a layover in Taipei, Taiwan, I booked a room for the night in a cheap hostel. I was not informed until after I made the booking and entered in my credit card information that no employee would be there to greet me at the front desk of the hostel. A few days before my flight, the hostel emailed me, informing me that they closed the front desk at 7pm and therefore I would have to walk around the side of the building, punch in a 4 digit code into the key pad, go to the locker on the left, grab my key, and then walk into the elevator and find my room. They even sent a video of how this should all be done. At first I thought it was smart. I even wondered, why don’t more hostels do this? They save money and time, and I was more than capable of following the video.
It wasn’t until the night before my flight, that I actually stopped and thought about it. That’s actually kind of sketchy, I thought to myself. That night I dreamt that I was walked to the side door, punched in the code, took the key, and walked into the elevator, only to discover that a trap had been set and I had willingly walked right into it. As the doors opened, I saw rooms full of half conscious girls, handcuffed to the walls. Simultaneously the words, “human trafficking” came to mind. I aggressively pushed the button for the elevator doors to close, but it was too late – the traffickers had already grabbed me and were injecting me with needles. As they dragged me down the hallway I heard my brother, Connor’s, voice in my head saying, “I told you this would happen.”
When I finally woke up from the nightmare to my aunt screaming down into my basement room that I had better wake up because my grandma was terrified that I’d miss my plane, I was drenched in sweat. Dammit why did I have to agree to watching the movie, Taken, with Connor. Before leaving on my previous trip to India, he had thought it would be a good idea to watch it. I knew he was making an attempt to scare me into backing out of my already planned trip.
I’m probably just overreacting…but what if I’m not?
And so, upon landing at the airport in Taiwan I asked my new friend if she knew of any decently priced, but also clean, hotels.
“I’ll ask my brother for you, just come with me.”
I followed Patty and her two sisters out of customs, the baggage claim, and out of the airport doors, where a family of ten swarmed us. They all began speaking, or rather yelling, in Mandarin to one another. The tone of their of voices sounded angry and I quickly became nervous, looking for an escape route. But then I noticed that their faces wore smiles, and that that was just the way the language sounded. They all started to glance my way soon enough, and I presumed that Patty was asking for a hotel recommendation. Two minutes later she grabbed my arm.
“My brother said you can stay with him at his house. Come.”
And with that, her brother came my way, smiled at me from ear to ear, and took my backpack off of my shoulder. I told him that I could carry my own backpack, but he insisted. Man I can’t say no to these people… He didn’t seem so angry, I thought. As I piled into the car with the rest of the family, thoughts of what are you getting yourself into this time, Shannon, entered my mind. Momentarily I told myself to just flow with it, let go, and enjoy. The universe was taking me under its wing; I was sending out positive energy to the universe, and it was in turn reflecting them back my way.
For once in my life, I felt delighted that I did not speak the language of those around me. I was exhausted from the sixteen-hour flight and had no desire to speak to anyone. But then I soon realized that the conversation was focused around their guest. My friend bombarded me with questions about my travels and translated my answers into Mandarin so her family could understand. They were equally amazed as they were curious about my solo travels.
After about thirty minutes of answering their questions, we finally pulled into their apartment. And I mean literally pulled into the first floor of their apartment, which was also filled with sofas, shelves, and a TV. As I gathered my things, my friend’s brother opened my car door for me, and his two daughters and son all around the same age as me quickly greeted me. Patty’s brother gathered my things, and said “Night market time,” in broken English while handing me a helmet. His daughters grabbed me by the arms and led me to their scooters. I yelled to Patty and her two sisters, “Don’t you guys wanna come too?”
“No we’re too old. We’re tired. You young, lots of energy, you go.” Laughing as they waved goodbye to me.
Sighing with exhaustion in the mixt of smiling at the adventure that lay before me, I hopped onto the scooter. Patty’s brother came from behind me, took my hands, and wrapped them around his daughter.
“Like this,” he said.
We reached Taipei’s second largest night market in a matter of minutes. The two girls, smiling at me nonstop, brought me from street stand to street stand trying all of their favorites; stinky tofu, noodles, chocolate pancakes that looked like raviolis, sweet potato fried balls, and some bubble tea to wash it all down. My stomach was full after the second dish, but they insisted I try “just one more.” Each time we approached a stand, I tried to pay for them in an effort to repay them for their kind hospitality, and each time they sternly rejected my money.
“My Dad gave me money. He told me not to let you pay for anything.” She said, giggling.
Around the time I became uncomfortably full, we hopped on the scooters, and made our way home. They led me upstairs to a room with four beds, all laying on the ground without western bedsprings, covered in various, colorful blankets. My friend and her two sisters lay on three of them. Happy to see me, they quickly made me feel at home with them.
As I lay in bed that night, I listened to the cacophony of mandarin noises. All three of my new friends were individually and simultaneously skyping with each of their children back home. At that moment two thoughts occupied on my mind.
The first being, how in the hell are they all laying next to each other, having completely different conversations, and not bothered in the slightest?
The second more warm and fuzzy being, wow how lucky am I for gaining a glimpse into Taiwanese culture, for having a warm, safe bed to rest my head, and best of all, for having met such a kind, welcoming family I can now call friends.
I went to sleep that night with a warm heart and a smile spread across my face. Before I knew it, I was awakened to oddly quick whispers with no pauses in between them. Happily, I thought to myself, awww they must be snuggled up, whispering to one another, telling stories like I would with my sister after not seeing her for a while. As I turned my head, to my surprise, I saw each one of them in their own separate parts of the room, chanting, to their small statue like Buddha’s.
I watched them for a while, I’m not sure why. But it was captivating to watch how they chanted without pausing for a breath, how devoutness poured out of each passionate word, how they each had their own separate space and yet were truly unified as one. The energy was powerful. I could only sit there and watch in awe.
About five hours later I awoke to “Rooooom service,” and of course, giggles.
My friend and her sisters had gone out to buy me a traditional Taiwanese breakfast. In their eyes it was imperative that I try it before catching my flight to Bali that morning. They handed me soymilk, a crepe-looking thing with egg in it, and two thin, flat pieces of bread stuffed with fried bread. “ Oh gee, I feel like a Queen. Thank you, it looks delicious.” And it was.
As I stuffed the last bite of the bread on bread sandwich into my mouth, I made my rounds, promising to visit again and saying personal good byes to each family member. I walked downstairs to the car, not without first receiving a snack bag to go of course. Patty’s brother opened the door for me and I hopped in. Yes, I have truly been made to feel like a Queen.
Before I knew it, I was hugging Patty’s brother goodbye, walking through the Hello Kitty decorated airport (my new favorite airport), and stepping onto another plane and into another exciting, new adventure.
And so begins my journey to Bali, China, and Thailand, with intuition as my guide and the universe as my compass.
September 24, 2016
As I sit on the plane traveling to India right now, I can’t help but reflect on the question that family, friends, and recent encountered strangers have asked me,
“Why travel to India?”
I would answer, “Color, energy, religion, culture, magic, warmth, history, and natural beauty to name a few.”
But if I am to be honest, I have been asking myself that very same question.
Informing family and friends that I was quitting my stable job to travel to India for three months, alone, proved to be more than difficult. While some were excited for me, others were disproving, and all were extremely worried about my safety. Their responses ranged from the following:
“I’m afraid something is going to happen to you. Aren’t there terrorists there?”
“That is amazing. I hope you have a great experience searching for TRUTH.”
“You know there are a lot of beautiful states in the U.S. you can explore.”
“You’re going to have a ton of wild adventures.”
*Eyeroll* “I just don’t get it. What will you do when you get back?”
“Have you seen the movie, Eat, Pray, Love? You’re like trying to be Julia Roberts, right?”
“India? Why would you want to go there? That’s worse than Pakistan, at least if you went there, the worst that would happen to you is that you would get shot.”
And the most frequently asked question of them all:
“Why on Earth are you traveling to India of all places?”
I was delighted by those who embraced my decision to travel to India, and those who didn’t – I would reassure. I would tell them that I was an experienced traveller, and that I would be just FINE!
As the days began ticking down until my flight, I felt some of these comments creep into my dreams at night. Dreams that made visible the doubts resonating in my subconscious about traveling alone in a relatively unsafe country. Doubts about the lapse of time off that would leave a smudge on my precious resume.
Each morning I reminded myself of all of the things I would experience in India; a month long stay in an ashram, Buddhist classes taught by Tibetan monks, and rolling green hills in the rural south. By early afternoon the fear and anxiety would all but dissipate from my mind, until my Mother would let me know that so and so said that they saw x, y, and z taking place in India on the news. And as we all know, the media loves to report stories that warn and instill fear rather than ones that celebrate life. The beautiful depiction of India I once had in my mind was slowly transforming into one full of violence and danger.
I began to grow frustrated at others for ruining my magical vision of India and replacing it with heightening fear. I lashed out at my Mother. Instead of sympathizing with her worries, I angrily asked her why she couldn’t just support me. I knew that she and others only made these comments because they cared deeply about my well-being.
As I sit on the plane now, I wish I could have been a little more sympathetic and a little less stubborn. A mix of responses from family and friends is normal for any radical decision you make in your life. Although they all have your best interest in mind, they do not always know what your best interest actually is. Only you can answer that. And that’s what I’m after-finding what is best for ME. My intuition tells me India is waiting for me with answers, and so that is why I travel to India.