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Why We Run

Freedom ain’t free.

Something needs to be said I think about the joy of running.

The simple pleasure of moving forward and knowing that you are going somewhere – even if that somewhere really is nowhere.

The synchronicity that occurs when mind and body come to realize that they rely on each other to complete the simplest of tasks. One step after another we come to recognize within ourselves the power we have over the present moment, the push and the drive that we possess when faced with the reality of pain and fatigue. Pressure to quit. And overwhelming desire to stop. To rest. To say no more, I am done …

There are lessons to be learned from the fight to move forward.

But I also think that there is a lesson to be learned from understanding why it is that we fight to move forward in the first place – why it is that we run.

I run because I can, or so it is believed.

Nevertheless, the reality is that I run because I feel like I am always being chased.

We run because not only is there something to be said about the act of running itself, but also because there is something even greater to be said about the desire to be free “from” something that is behind us. We run because running away feels strangely the same as running to. The importance lies in becoming aware of our running and knowing that we can never be truly free “from” what we are running from if we never take the time to find out what it is that we are running for and/or where we are actually running to.

Therein lies the key to finding freedom within the feeling.

When the fight to move forward becomes more than just a fight to become better than who we were, to get away from the negative thoughts, actions, and feelings of our past. An escape. We run to escape, but the escape should not become a means to itself when there is more to the feeling than regret, fear, and longing. There is desire. Hope. Vision. What it is that we see before us is the road in front of us. Behind us is the road that we have conquered. Let not the trail we have made drive the paths we choose to take.

Close your eyes and let yourself wander. Wonder.

May your imagination inspire you towards building a better tomorrow.

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Fighting for Familiar

If living abroad has taught me anything, it’s that no matter where you go, you take yourself with you.

Who you were where you were, will be who you are where you are going.

That despite the change of scenery, a personal change can only happen if, and when, you are open to it.

But it doesn’t always feel that way.

Instead, it feels like the move itself is the change.

That the act of physically changing locations somehow changes you.

As if it were a given …

Recently, I’ve been finding myself, like many others these days, spending a lot of time alone and feeling a sense of longing for the future.

I am fighting for a sense of familiarity again in these foreign times.

And in doing so, I am finding that nothing has really changed.

Who I was before COVID-19 is who I am now.

The landscape has changed and I feel like I should be different … but the truth of the matter is that I am not. And although it feels like I will be a different person after all this is over and done with, I have come to terms with the reality that I probably won’t be.

These circumstances are not me.

So it is up to me, and me alone, to make the change for myself.

From lonely to hopeful.

From frustrated to caring.

From anxious to more patient.

From feeling like I’m going through all of this alone to knowing that we are all in this together, working not only for a better, brighter tomorrow but also for a gracious today.

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The Chinese Curse

I have spent my whole life feeling ashamed of being Chinese …

And to be honest, even today, sitting here in my apartment located within the Middle Kingdom, I, a so called “ABC” or American Born Chinese, hesitate to embrace the fact.

I hesitate because I don’t quite understand …

How I could be “from” here.

Me. A kid born in Virginia, raised in California, and who taught school in Tennessee. Whose parents both immigrated to the States from the Philippines. Who served in the Peace Corps for two years. A current “expat” abroad. A familiar face within a sea of unfamiliar faces. Black hair, brown eyes, and looks of strong, quiet determination.

I have come here because I seek to understand …

Why it is that I feel so apart. Completely, if not totally detached from this piece of my identity. My Chinese-ish-ness. And why it is that I feel so tempted just not to care.

The American in me keeps saying:

It’s because you’re not Chinese, you’re American. Sure you might be Asian. Chinese? Maybe. But who really cares? All that matters it that you were born and raised in the U.S. of A. which means that you are and will always be a Yankee. A patriot. Someone who cares about the ideals of freedom and diversity. Race doesn’t matter. All those classifications do is divide. People are people and you are a person. An American person. We are made up of all the peoples of the world. We are “The Great Melting Pot” of a nation. We are a mixture of everything and everyone. In order to be Chinese-Chinese, you have to have been born and raised in China …

It is also the voice that does not ask before taking a pause and continuing.

Those people are different. They don’t have the same ideals of truth, liberty, and justice that we do. They’re a Communist State. An authoritarian dictatorship where the peoples’ voices are quashed and human rights are violated on a daily basis. Do you really want to identify with them? Be grateful that you were born into the greatest country in the world. Embrace your nationality and forget about your ethnic origins. You don’t believe in the same things they do. You are part of a different culture and alternate worldview. So how is it that you can expect to understand what it means to be Chinese? You aren’t Chinese so stop trying.

And it is here, at this point, that I take pause before continuing …

Because while it is true that I am American, and that it is hard for me to understand how I am also Chinese, it is even harder for me to understand why it is that I can’t be both.

Why it is that, despite the great idyllic rhetoric that comes with the title, being American in practice looks a lot like fear of not looking American enough. That by somehow hiding under the umbrella of “Asian” I can hide from the torrent of hate that comes from being someone who has to simply suffer through the scourge of looking yellow on the outside.

That being just “Asian” is not enough to avoid the negative stereotypes attached to the visual classification.

Even here, in Asia, I find myself flinching when I am mistaken for a local, and not the true, red-white-and-blue bleeding American that I am. Ashamed that I have to actually try and speak the language since 9 times out of 10 I will be expected to. Frustrated by every confused look and questioning glance. “You are from the USA?” they might ask.

The most commonly asked question I get is, “But you look Asian, where are you really from?”

… Not only here, but in the States as well.

And so it comes full circle.

Back to me here, in China, trying to figure out where it is that I am really from. And once again, to be honest, I don’t know. Really. I’m still struggling through it. Mainly I think it’s because I am afraid of what it would do to my American-ness to take responsibility for the multifaceted nature of my own individual personhood. To stand up and acknowledge my color in the face of a “colorless” collective that seeks to only give color to that which can be distanced and labeled as “other” and therefore bad and a danger to our society.

Our way of life rides on the back of an image.

And at the moment, that image is still skeptical about pretty much every yellow shade …

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Looking Up

I spend a lot of time laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling.

And as a dancer I think it makes sense – the floor is where I feel most comfortable. But lately, I’ve been thinking more about the ceiling and what it is about looking up that just feels so right. So peaceful. So, I don’t know … like home no matter where I go.

I’ve spent a lot of my time moving around. Letting go of the things that I once loved and finding new things to be excited about. Interested in. Lately though, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been moving back into old skins. Shedding brand new personas in favor of the ones that fit me best. Maybe it comes with time? Or maybe it’s an age thing. I’m 28 now and it doesn’t feel like I’m hitting 30. It just feels so far past where it was that I assumed being “grown” would be. Don’t get me wrong. I do definitely feel like a grown up. Yet, I also feel like I’m still on the path searching for direction. Moving to places that are unfamiliar in order to find old familiarities.

Which is ironic. Because why in the world would that make sense? My life has consisted of doing the things that I care about. Doing the things that most feel like me. Finding my niche in the broader sense of society where everyone seems to be searching. Looking. Constantly. In the grand scheme of things I am happy with where I have ended up. Where I am in this very moment, place in time …

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder who it is that I’m looking for up there.

Where it is up there that I will find rest – home.

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Living With Roaches

There are definitely roaches in my house.

Not like big ones, but roaches nonetheless.

Cockroaches.

I feel like it’s such a gross, dirty word.

I’ve gotten myself into the habit of cleaning my house when I feel like things in my life are not the way it should be. It’s like my go-to channel for making things seem like they are in my control. A clean, spotless space that smells of disinfectant, bleach, and glade.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

I forget exactly where I remember hearing that phrase said, but for me, it has become something of a truth that has permeated my treatment of self and habitation. Where I am should be clean, spotless because it is a reflection of myself. Who I am as a person. I should also be clean. Pure. Somehow more godly. At least that was how I was raised …

Which is why finding a small roach in my drawer this morning was a little unsettling.

The fact that the little guy scurried away before I could grab him with a tissue and flush him down the toilet makes it even more of a problem because now I know that my room isn’t the perfect, tidy personal space that it should be. There is something living in it that for me, is unwelcome. Dirty. Unclean. Ungodly – whatever that word means to me now.

Because if cleanliness is next to godliness, then ungodliness is next to being unclean.

And that’s sort of how I’ve felt for a large portion of my life – unclean. Mainly I think, because of how I’ve come to define dirtiness and what it means to just not be clean.

Weakness, fear, insecurity, stress, worry, the sound of my voice, the way my body looks, acne, my height, my hair, my face, mistakes that I’ve made, a comment someone made, how someone may or may not have treated me, being rejected, not having something be the way I want it to be, not saying something I should have said, not acting when I should have, having done something that I regret, breaking a promise to myself, having sins …

Bits and pieces of dirt. Marks. Stains that I feel like won’t wash out because I’ve come to see them as such. They claw at my brain and make me react. Sweep. Dust. Mop. Wipe. Spray. Scrub. Wash. Repeat. And yet I know that the cycle is endless. There is no such thing as clean because cleanliness, just like godliness, is nothing but a state of mind.

What is unclean, dirty, ungodly, is what I decide it to be – nothing more, nothing less.

And I can spend my whole life continuing to sweep, dust, mop, wipe, spray, scrub, and wash out the unwanted things about myself day in and day out or I can decide to start learning to not be so obsessed over this notion of having to be clean. Pure. Spotless.

What is unclean does not have to be ungodly and what is godly is not always clean.

As individuals we have control over nothing but the way in which we choose to see things, and so in following, when we choose to see things differently, the things that we see around us slowly begin to change. Like the little roach from this morning …

Cockroaches.

They’re gross and dirty right?

But maybe they really aren’t so bad. I mean, I don’t have to like them, but why feel the need to attach these labels on them? They are what they are and they can’t really do anything about it. So why not see them as they are and leave it at that? They’re roaches. And this roach is in my house. Do I want him here? Maybe not. But then again, do I need him dead and down the toilet this instant? To be honest no. He’s fine where he’s at.

And so am I.

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From Shoes to Sandals and Back Again …

It’s taking me a long time, but I think I’m slowly finding my way back.

Since leaving Thailand, I have honestly been so lost, in more ways than one. But the biggest piece of me that has been difficult to bring back has been my sense of self. That confidence that I once had in myself and my ability to be a part of something bigger.

I’ve lost my community and with it everything that I once stood for and believed in.

But this isn’t the first time that I’ve had to make this kind of transition. I’ve had to move around a lot. City to city. House to house. Job to job. Friend group to friend group. Over time I’ve grown accustomed to having to reposition myself and transition. And yet, for some reason, this time it feels different. Like I’m not as flexible as I used to be when it comes to getting used to the change. My mind is getting stuck on things that I used to be and can no longer stay focused on the present and what it is that I am trying to become.

I’m stuck staring at an image of myself that I am slowly starting to loathe the sight of.

And it’s crazy because now more than ever, I have the freedom to do what I want, be who I want, go where I want, buy what I want … the world is my motherf*cking oyster, which I think, oddly enough, is the problem. I’m not used to having what it is that I want. Growing up in a big family, being a poor college student, being an even poorer graduate student, working as a teacher in a failing urban school to working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the middle of the Manang jungle. This is the first time in my life really where I don’t have to think about anyone other than myself if I don’t want to, and it has honestly been the most difficult experience of my life. Mainly, I think, because I am slowly starting to discover that I don’t know who it is others want me to be if I can’t do something for them. I’m a sucker for service. I feel like doing things for other people brings me closer to them. And who I am, my self-worth, has become attached to this notion that if I give up what it is that I want in favor of what it is that another person wants, I can make them like me … maybe even love me – which sounds kind of nice I know, but in reality looks like you forgetting what it means to do things for you.

I feel like everything I do has the ulterior motive of trying to gain someone’s approval.

Especially now, here, in the big city, where selfishness is success. And yet that selfishness is attached to this same need to please. I’m lost, unsure of where one line ends and the other begins. What do people want if they don’t want you to do things for them, to not seem so “desperate” and simple? How is it that you can learn to complicate your life so that there is that added mysterious element of being there but not at the same time? Focused on yourself, untethered, uncommitted, and yet somehow still desirable?

I’m confused right now by the way the world actually works. When I moved to Thailand, I started wearing sandals for the first time, which for me, signified a big change. A move from caring so much about me and really just going all out on a feeling that caring about others mattered so much more. That it would bring me more fulfillment and happiness. But now, I feel like everything I learned and practiced is somehow no longer right. That fulfillment and happiness cannot be achieved merely by giving up yourself and all the things that you want. There needs to be a balance. Who you are is not attached to your desires, but they are still a part of you. And they are important. The world doesn’t need you to give up everything so much as it needs you to know and love yourself enough to understand what it is that you have to offer. Which means that wearing sandals all the time really isn’t all that necessary. And so here I am now, making the move …

From shoes, to sandals, and back again in the hopes of making some “new” rediscoveries.

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Make Peace with Imperfection

This mornings chapter from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.

I’ve yet to meet an absolute perfectionist whose life was filled with inner peace. The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with each other. Whenever we are attached to having something a certain way, better than it already is, we are, almost by definition, engaged in a losing battle. Rather than being content and grateful for what we have, we are focused on what’s wrong with something and our need to fix it. When we are zeroed in on what’s wrong, it implies that we are dissatisfied, discontent.

Whether it’s related to ourselves – a disorganized closet, a scratch on the car, an imperfect accomplishment, a few pounds we would like to lose – or someone else’s “imperfections” – the way someone looks, behaves, or lives their life – the very act of focusing on imperfection pulls us away from our goal of being kind and gentle. This strategy has nothing to do with ceasing to do your very best but with being overly attached and focused on what’s wrong with life. It’s about realizing that while there’s always a better way to do something, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy and appreciate the way things already are.

The solution here is to catch yourself when you fall into your habit of insisting that things should be other than they are. Gently remind yourself that life is okay the way it is, right now. In the absence of your judgment, everything would be fine. As you begin to eliminate your need for perfection in all areas of your life, you’ll begin to discover the perfection in life itself.