the least grateful mantra

One night as my blood boiled at 12am from experiencing all the unfairness, weaknesses, mess-ups and stuck-ness of life and myself, I searched in the dark for that miracle creature that’s supposed to make even the most miserable people happy: Gratitude.

I have not done my gratitude practice for months because: 1) The day is obviously 30 seconds too short for anyone to have time for deciding and writing down the happiest moment of their day. 2) There are a couple things that I wish to/should/must be grateful for, but I can’t feel it. And that’s where my mind likes to get hung up on. It gets too busy feeling a lack of gratefulness to notice the little things like friendship, husband, health, stability, etc.

In my dark hell of a mind I would not have found anything to be grateful for. But I breathed out and felt “Hmmm it feels so good to finally lie down on the bed.”

Finally, the tail of Gratitude brushes past my fingertips. I held on. Actually it might just be its toe nails. But I saw it as a miracle nonetheless. I recited silently “I’m grateful I get to lie down now. I’m grateful I get to lie down now in a very comfortable bed. (body sinking a little deeper into the mattress). A very comfortable bed indeed with pillows and covers…”

It’s like drinking milk after you’ve eaten some hot jalapenos. Then I drift off to sleep as if I have not had a bad day at all.

my inner Shrek

For the first time in eleven months, my friends, who kindly read my blog, I got tired of believing that Everyone is Beautiful the way they are, with all their perfect imperfections etc. No I haven’t met anybody who’s making me think that, not anyone new anyway. Just myself, my good old self. And my feet’s love for tennis shoes. Let me tell you.

Last week I had my first business meeting. There was a fair bit of walking to get there so I wore my tennis shoes and carried my heels in my purse. After the meeting on my hike back to my office I realized: I was still in my tennis shoes.

I told it as a joke later but at that moment I realized just how far away I am from the woman I tried to be. The Professional Woman who not only does good work, but who looks Pretty and Polished and ideally Charming, Friendly and Memorable. 

The other joke is that out of that list of Professional Woman qualities I can ever only meet the first one. With the looks thing I can keep trying but as my feet tell you, it’s not in my biology. And the personality thing, well, my inner voice is saying “Oh honey, you know you’re not that person…”

With my big wide sweaty feet in my tennis shoes, I called myself a rather harsh name I would never call anyone. Unless you’re Shrek. You’d think I was being a bully to myself but actually it was liberating. Compared to the part of me who tries to convince me that I’m Beautiful, who pretends not to notice my aesthetic shortcomings, the name-caller is at least looking and acknowledging every part of me.

And my inner Shrek, whose Shrek-ness is only relative to the Professional Woman ideal, says “You may pretend not to see me, but it’s not like you can get rid of me. Might as well come up with a new plan that includes me so I don’t show up as a surprise to you!”

your door, my door

Just like a lot of you, I live with people, and I find living with people is hard. One day I was really brooding over a certain bedroom door, wishing it was a wall, and blaming it for just about every problem I have. Because when you get upset over people, you tend to think the people are causing you upset.

And then the door talked back,

“There’s no way you can keep me closed, because I serve only the people who live behind me. We are of no real threat to you but you think we’re an intruder. And sadly, when you keep your eyes fixed on me, you nail your heart with fear.

But look, and remember, I have a twin just across the hall. Her name is Your Door. You are free to open and close it whenever you need, whenever you want. That’s the boundary that you can control.

We all live together, I know you wish things were different. But you’re OK, because you have a door. You don’t have to let anyone or anything in that you didn’t want, even if they ask. And you are free to let anyone or anything out. You didn’t know you could, did you? You thought it would be rude, and that’s kind of why you thought you have intruders in the house.

So now I’d like to ask you to stop giving me your evil look and angry vibes, and just see and trust that you have a door, your own boundary, and it’s been here all along for you to use and control.”

And then.

A few days after that door talked to me, I’m standing at its threshold. I’m being greeted at the door to hand over something I’m bringing. When I did, I had a flashback. I saw myself barging in very self-righteously. I can understand it but I am sorry now to recall that I had stood in the middle of that room that isn’t mine, and thought that being asked to leave my thing at the door, as opposed to bringing it into the room, was a violation of my boundaries.

life in a cupboard

My daughter points to the corner of an apron trapped by the closed door. The apron is one of the few items that belong to me in that pantry cupboard that is packed from ceiling to floor. This cupboard is the magic on the fingertips of my mother-in-law. Mysterious and potent herbs casually filling up jars with their now lying mayonnaise or mustard labels. Jars of calories that I had bought, I noted, now seem to mock me with their bellyful of healthful ingredients that I’ll never know the names and uses of. They stand there unassumingly as a symbol of a traditional Chinese mother’s cooking, a feminine power far superior than my tinned tomatoes, brownie mixes and that still-brand-new, full-color hardback Chinese cookbook written by a Chinese-American I bought a couple years back, which I’d started to pretend isn’t even mine.

The other half of the cupboard is the hospice for empty jars and boxes. My father-in-law likes clear surfaces, but won’t leave storage spaces as spaces. For him, filling spaces with something, anything with an illusion of being useful such as the worry that we’ll need a seventeenth plastic yoghurt tub, is better. As if junk is harmless.

I thought this was the battleground I lost because I neither have a lot of cooking ingredients, nor a habit to hoard. When I open the door to tuck the apron back, my daughter goes in and start moving things to the floor, doing whatever pleases her toddler’s heart. She is the person with no cooking skill and who takes up the least physical space. Yet, she is at home and I’m not. Now I see that even though none of the jars, cans, boxes or cookbooks belong to her, and maybe because none of the values, habits and traditions are weighing on her, she’s having fun. That fun is hers. That freedom is hers. Now I know that I’ve had my head stuck in a narrow cupboard that has little to do with me, and now I can stop trying to squeeze myself inside it. Because there’s a whole lot more space and a whole lot other things that I can get myself into. Or not. It will be my choice. It will be how I make myself at home.

see the beauty of who we truly are

It’s a great power to see the beauty of who we truly are.

We can be outspoken, soft-spoken, passionate, calm, spontaneous, reserved, calculated, flexible, principled, talkative, cerebral, fun-loving, challenge-loving, ambitious, go-with-the-flow, musical, mathematical, creative, dependable, practical, abstract… There are as many people as there are types of people. But people really advocate for only some of these traits, leaving those who are opposites feeling a bit disadvantaged, or worse, defective.

The truth is, the person with ideas, strategies, a voice and a will to lead people can make no progress if there are no people willing to cooperate, collaborate and accommodate, and make things happen. People who don’t just think of themselves, people who trust and do the hard work.

It’s a great power to see the beauty of who we truly are, because then we unshackle ourselves from the generic voice in the media or in society. The beauty of being quiet. The beauty of being the calm one. The beauty in using your voice. The beauty in silent actions. The beauty of being more rational than emotional. The beauty of being more emotional than rational. The beauty of the strength to bite the bullet. The beauty of the strength in being honest and expressing feelings.

 

it’s all in your head: an example

What’s causing you pain and suffering is all in your head. That’s one of the main teachings from The Power of Now. I had a very vivid experience of this recently.

Our Little Precious The Most Beloved woke up crying in the middle of the night. I dragged my body out of bed to soothe her and even enjoyed cuddling her for the first few minutes. It’s always when your expectation sets in and your child is happily dancing far away from it that even a great patient mom like me begins to lose it. It did not help that husband GRUNTED and turned in the bed, as if he was having a hard time.

Part of me was feeling okay, but another part has woken up now and tapping me on my shoulder. She seemed very desperate, very concerned and very scared for me that I wasn’t doing a good job. She says, “Hey you need to shush your baby and put her to sleep.” I told her it’s fine, this isn’t so bad, I’m losing some sleep that’s all it is. But she kept going. “No you should have been able to make her sleep by now. And a decent mom and wife would have taken the baby with her somewhere, so that her husband doesn’t get woken up.”

“It’s not my fault!” I blurted out loud and blamed my husband’s grunting for it.

Finally baby was back in her crib, I went to the bathroom and next thing I know my head was in my hands and tears are dripping from my face.

What?

The desperate woman’s voice was still here. There’s no baby to distract me now and in the silent of the night, she’s screaming in my head “You’re such a bad mom Oh my gosh what have you done You’re just hopeless You’re the worst mom and wife ever”.

What?

See, up until this point, I had been tired and frustrated but not that upset that I would cry. The baby waking up did not do it to me. My husband’s grunting did not do it to me. I was sailing along. It’s that critical, mean voice in my head that did it.

It’s that voice in my head, not my baby or my husband, that I battled with.
It’s that voice in my head that made me feel so worthless and upset that I cried actual tears.

It’s not the outward circumstances that upset me that night. It’s my internal thoughts that crushed me.

What is that voice? There are many names. Call it Thought. Call it the Shame Gremlin. Call it a Deceptive Brain Message. Call it an Old Tape. Call it Negative Self Talk. The one thing people who have identified and studied it agree upon is that We Don’t Need to Listen To It. And most of the time, It’s Not True.

xxx

If you want to know more, here’s an interview of Eckert Tolle, the author of The Power of Now. If anything, just listen to his voice and the voice of the interviewer. Both are so soothing they gave me goosebumps on my head.

 

like it came from nowhere

Coconut cream body wash splattered over her palm ungracefully like it dropped from a bird. She added some peach shower gel and rubbed the mixture over her body as quickly as she could. The goal was to leave as little time as possible for it to stay on her skin and for her mind to be skeptical and feel disturbed by the act. As soon as she realizes her mind already does both and this is a daily occurrence, she found it absurd to perpetuate. She thought, what if someone is using this for the first time? Someone who has never used a body wash. Someone who has not bathed for days and weeks. The peach gel works up a great lather and covers her body with bubbles. Just in that moment she felt like a young woman taking a hot shower in a nice house with a foaming, fragrant body wash for the first time, and she was overcame with joy for the luxury.

xxx

Right at her desk, leaned back in her chair, she slipped into the music in her ears. The half-written email can wait. Music circulates her body, waking up her muscles, which she used to enliven her joints. Right there in her chair, she lifted her knees, circled her head, arched her back, and took long breaths. That was easier to do with the music concealing her breathing sound from herself. Take another few seconds, and another few, because she felt such relaxation and joy, with not a care in the world. In the middle of a work day in the middle of an email, the music, the moving and the breathing carried her to her home within herself.

what movie are you?

I was brainwashed by too many blockbuster superhero or romance movies before I remembered the obvious truth: there are as many stories as people in the world. Only few stories get made into movies. I used to think most people’s lives, my own included, are “not special” enough, until I saw a movie called Hope Springs on the plane. It’s played by Meryl Streep and it’s about an older married couple going into counselling, trying to find their affection and intimacy back. They are us, the ordinary people with a common mid-life phenomenon. The movie was nonetheless very cute and moving. The movie was possibly very cute and moving because of how we can relate.

So, what movie are you? And how many movies can we make of your life?

Remember, play the hero in your movie, not the villain, victim, sidekick or spare-parts in other people’s.

— Rebecca x

positive change is still Change

Positive Change is still Change. Change is disruption of the status quo. For us to have more loving relationships, a more fulfilling job, to achieve our highest potential, etc, the status quo cannot remain. Your routine does not stay the same. What you say and do starts to be different. Change is disruption and it can be uncomfortable. The action and process to something better can be disruptive and uncomfortable, perhaps especially for your friends and family.

What if wanting a more loving relationship leads to ending your current one? Perhaps it calls for a lot of deep and awkward conversations? Or it leads you to a lot of trying and getting disappointed?

What if getting a more fulfilling job means you must commit to taking the new job even though your parents tell you it’s a bad idea?

You’re probably rolling your eyes because these are not what-ifs. These are all inevitable and necessary.

It is a bit scary. Results are not guaranteed. Things may work out differently than you expected. Things probably will get worse before they get better.

Are you ready?

how to change the past

There is one way to change the past and it is the only meaningful way to do it.

It is to change the way we think about the past, thus altering how the past affects our present and future.

It is to reinterpret the past and come up with a better story. It is to figure out what you learned from those past incidents that continue to haunt you. It is to see each mistake, failure, disappointment, break up, betrayal, as a chapter, not the end.

When it comes to relationships, what I’ve read is this: in your memory, go back to the times you were still together. Remember the joy and love you shared with each other. Go back to that place, enjoy, feel all the warmth, and stay there. This alters the frequency between you and eventually, the conflict and hurt melt away, and you might be back in a relationship with them again.