Saturday, September 24, 2011

A friend sent this to me two years ago

"On an ancient wall in China
A brooding Buddha blinks
Deeply graven is the message
- It is later than you think -
The clock of life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hand will stop
At late or early hour
Now is all the time you own
The past a golden link
Go cruising now my brother
It is later than you think."
(Author unknown)

From the Bowing Journals

"Q: How can you feel comfortable taking the time to make a pilgrimage like this? Third World people have more primary concerns, like filling their bellies. Your pilgrimage is possible only in a country where everyone gets to eat his fill. Only then are you able to sit around and think of transcendental bliss.

A: No one who understands people could say that the only concern of any person or group of people is filling their bellies. That's just a handy label that rabble-rousers use to identify "the Third World" as they call it. In fact, Third World people are people, not bellies and mouths. They think of birth and death, where they came from and where they are going. All people think about it. We just returned from a trip through Asia and we visited some backwater places, where the Third World lives. People there met the Buddhadharma with an overwhelmingly positive response, as strong and as enthusiastic as anywhere in the U.S.A. Why? Because Buddhism is the language of the heart. Everyone recognizes it. It transcends the simple concern for a full belly. Buddhism is our original home. The rest is superficial."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

From the Bowing Journals

"The Bodhisattva has broken all attachments to his self. He no longer has desires, so his work for others gives him more happiness and satisfaction than a lifetime of leisurely vacations and selfish pleasure-pursuits. The Bodhisattva rests in his work and works while he rests. Life is work and work is bliss - a truly wonderful state of mind!"
-from Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au's "Bowing Journals"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fully Alive

The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie. When you are dead you're not able to do the work of the society. When you are fully alive you are constantly saying "No" to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interest of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict.

-Anne Wilson Schaef, "When Society Becomes an Addict"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."

-Helen Keller

Monday, June 6, 2011

Life a la Einstein

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people; first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.

A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Only a life lived for others is worth living.

--Albert Einstein

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Growing Up

"The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday the body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth."

-Alice Miller

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Ask the Friend for love.
Ask Him again.

For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


"Learning to live is learning to let go."
-Tibetan Book of Living & Dying

Monday, May 9, 2011


It is the worst lie to believe that someone can't change, because, cheesy as it sounds, change is the only constant.

I went to see my doctor last week, and he told me it was the right thing for me to leave school, because if I had stayed, I would only have become an instrument of society, and would not have lived my life as Julia. I thought it was kind of him to say that, as he is obviously part of the profession I chose not to be apart of. Shows that there are still good and caring doctors out there.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Poetry of Walt Whitman

From the Thoughts Cluster

Of persons arrived at high positions, ceremonies, wealth,
scholarships, and the like,
To me, all that those persons have arrived at, sinks away from them,
except as it results to their bodies and Souls,
So that often to me they appear gaunt and naked,
And often, to me, each one mocks the others, and mocks himself
or herself,
And of each one, the core of life, namely happiness, is full
of the rotten excrement of maggots,
And often, to me, those men and women pass unwittingly
the true realities of life, and go toward false realities,
And often, to me, they are alive after what custom has served them,
but nothing more,
And often, to me, they are sad, hasty, unwaked sonnambules,
walking the dusk.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Interview with Eric Weiner

Eric Weiner is the author of The Geography of Bliss.

Interviewer: But can't we be happy anywhere?

Eric Weiner: No, I don't think so. Not any more than we could be happy married to just anyone. And that is one of the great shortcomings of the "self-help industrial complex." We're told, again and again, to look inward when much of our happiness depends on our environment. Change your environment and you can change your life. This isn't running away from your problems but simply recognizing that where we are affects who we are.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Hello! It has been quite a while since my last post. I'm writing now from the comforts (oh so comfortable!) of my living room back in California, after wandering in India for 2.5 months. As my journey started taking on an intensely personal nature, I ended up naturally stopping most of my journaling and blogging. I just checked and noticed it's been about two months since my last post. How time flies.

So now I'm back, with new eyes. So much has changed while I was gone, both within (me) and without (family, friends, environment...). There's a giant new Safeway right near my house now. I think it's trying to emulate Whole Foods. Even my favorite used bookstore in downtown Mountain View has a new trade-in system. Golly! I came in with four boxes of books, thought I was an old hand at this business, and was faced with an entirely new checkout system.

It was hard to write this post, even. I've had it partially-completed for days now, refusing to commit(!), to clicking that "publish post" button. To announce that I'm back, with nothing "tangible" to show for it. I'd rather keep the doubts and thoughts to myself for now, thank you very much. Having been resume-driven for the past few years, it is hard to admit that I spent months doing something not resume-friendly at all - perhaps, gasp, detrimental to that life-defining record!!! Yet the noncognitive skills I gained and appreciated while I was on the road are certainly not things I could have picked up had I remained in school. I feel like I have gained much wealth, though it is perhaps not readily measured and visible. It's not like a high score on the MCAT or a fat bonus from work - nothing that can be measured, nothing that affords bragging rights. I came home with half-a-dozen books on my back (always reading, that never changes), a few faded Alibaba harem pants, and a few Ganesh/Om t-shirts, with the Ganesh and Om basically washed off. A paltry haul, one might say.

But as I washed the dishes today and ruminated, my favorite dish-washing side activity, a phrase suddenly popped in my mind. "Those who matter don't care; those who care don't matter." I feel like I'm in busyness withdrawal right now. I'm so used to identifying myself with what I do that being "idle" for a few hours, let alone a few days, is practically unbearable. Never mind that I have a 17-hour time difference, and thus ridiculous jetlag, to get over. It is hard to cut myself some slack - that is not something I ever do! Or did. And perhaps that has been my biggest mistake during the overachieving years of my life.

I was listening to some podcasts from my alma mater today, free classroom lectures that are available for lifelong learners all over the world. One story of the Buddha's that has been found throughout the ages, all over the world: if you play a stringed instrument, one must neither have the strings too loose or too tight - otherwise you can't play, or you'd sound God-awful! This story is, again, found all over the world, with the one difference in what instrument is used in the story. In India, one speaks of the sitar, while in Western civilization, perhaps the violin or guitar. In China, the erhu. The widespread existence of this story points to the way human life is best lived - neither with too much "slack" or too uptightly. To live in the balance point between these two extremes is to master the true art of living. Easier said than done.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Life in Rishikesh pretty awesome.

Sometimes I hang out on a rock by the Ganges and can easily while away an afternoon. Sometimes I go to a yoga class and find myself missing my Ashtanga practice dearly. I hope I recover soon and I can return to it...

I took my first Indian "bucket" shower yesterday, since the shower didn't have any hot water. This was following my first Ayurvedic massage and shirodhara session, so I was drenched in oil (especially my hair). The "bucket" shower didn't suffice to clean out all the oil unfortunately. But it's a surprisingly water-saving way of showering!

Am meeting Nepali and Tibetan people this trip, making me more and more curious to visit those two areas on the world. So much to see and do! My mom has always wanted to visit Nepal and Tibet, so perhaps we can do that one day!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dalai Lama quotes

"This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness."

"The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness."

"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk."

"We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection."


Ahh...what a breath of fresh air to arrive in the holy city of Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges River! After more than a week in the chaos and filth and swindling of Varanasi, it was an immense relief to reach Rishikesh, where the roads are three times wider and you're not being constantly pestered at every turn of the road ("Boat, madam, boat??").

This is a place I can stay for a while...

I know this to be true: I have a lot of head knowledge, but little of it is practical experience. And right now that head knowledge is slowly being forced into practice and transformed into the knowledge of experience.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Today is my last day in Kashi (Varanasi) - tomorrow morning, heading to Rishikesh!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life in Kashi

This is the first time I've traveled and stayed in one place for an extended amount of time. Rather than going from tourist site to tourist site, I've kept my schedule purposefully open - NO schedule, really. Every day is an exercise in living in the present. It's a totally different mode of traveling, I'm realizing. I came to India largely also to study yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. In Varanasi, I had almost given up on finding a yoga teacher, because there are so many "fakes" in the tourist/backpacker ghetto. There was one elderly man who almost chased my friend and me down the alleys to convince us that we should study with him (he teaches Hindi, yoga, meditation..."anything we want"). I spent a little time looking online to see whether there was any real yoga at all, since Varanasi is famed for being a major educational center in India (Benares Hindu University is here, after all). I saw a listing for a yoga center near Shivala Ghat, and when my friend and I passed by one day, we decided to walk up and explore. We basically walked straight to the center unknowingly, and once outside the door, I was able to recognize the Devanagari script written on the sign. We walked in and were led to Guruji after a short wait. After some deliberation due to my "short" length of time in Varanasi, the teacher decided to take me on. It turns out that the teacher is Dr. Vagish Shastri, who apparently even taught Sanskrit pronunciation to Madonna! I've been taking classes with him one-on-one lately, for as long as I will be in Varanasi. It is NOT exercise, but truly traditional yoga. I learned 25 physical postures, and am currently learning pranayama (breathing exercises), which is sadly very ignored in American yoga. Today I will continue studying pranayama and also mantra yoga, which I've never done before. I had to buy two flower mala and two pieces of fruit for today. Not sure why...guess I'll see!

Life along the Ganges is very interesting. Varanasi is extreme in sacredness and profanity. Sometimes I experience the sweetest of sweet moments, awed by the common humanity we share amongst each other, and sometimes I am so angry and frustrated at how cruel and disgusting people can be to each other.

The world is such a big, crazy place. How can I go through life without experiencing it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Banaras, City of Light

Hello from Varanasi! It is a place that is hard to explain in words. Today I got to row a boat on the Ganges River and later went to visit Sarnath, one of the four holiest sites for Buddhists (Sarnath - Deer Park - is where Buddha preached his first sermon, and is considered the site where Buddhism was founded). I have another week here in Varanasi, where time seems to stand still and life seems to exist in an alternate reality.

I am meeting the most interesting people. It is giving me ideas for the future, and most of all giving me HOPE for the future, my future.

I am learning more about people and what it means to be human. I am starting to let myself experience the inherent goodness within all people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From India

Hello from Bodhgaya! I arrived here about two days ago, via Kolkata. I landed in Kolkata on the evening of Wednesday, February 9, and the first thing I noted is that I will remind myself next time to arrive in India during daylight hours! The prepaid taxi service stand was closed, apparently (or at least nobody was manning it!). I strode out of the international terminal (which wasn't very large at all! Rather makeshift, actually) and was immediately accosted by numerous taxi drivers. Someone tried to convince me to take a 890-rupee ride to the Kolkata backpacker ghetto. Luckily I didn't fall for that. Nevertheless I was already reeling from 42 hours of travel, so I found a relatively more decent deal and went with it. The next day, I visited my first backpacker cafe and had the most typical India backpacker food - banana pancake! Then headed to Kolkata's Kali Temple and was immediately latched onto by some temple priests who proceeded to take me through the rites and then demand an exorbitant amount of money. I didn't give them as much as they wanted, but it was difficult being alone and surrounded by the priests. Ugh. I then squeezed into the most crowded Metro ride EVER (I didn't need to balance at all, people were pressed up against me from every side) to Victoria Memorial. The memorial is for Queen Victoria, and built in a very British Raj style. The lawns and gardens were all manicured and well taken care of, unlike right outside the memorial's limits... I felt like I was being swindled left and right there in Kolkata. The foreigners I saw all had a hardened look (probably all weary of being swindled and not knowing who to trust), and I didn't end up approaching anybody. On a more light-hearted note, I had my first Indian McDonald's experience in Kolkata though. I went to walk along Park Street, supposedly the most "cosmopolitan"street of Kolkata and came across a McDonald's! I tried the McAloo Tikki burger, which was a veggie burger with a very Indian spicy taste to it!

Anyways, I only spent one full day in Kolkata. The next day, I took a plane from Kolkata to Gaya. It was the most empty plane ride EVER (lots of EVERs for me this trip so far). I can't see how it is profitable for Air India to fly a near-empty jet, but at least it made things easier for my jetlagged and somewhat-frazzled self. Along the way, I noticed a band of Chinese Malaysian tourists and we started talking! I was so glad to run into them. One man had been coming twice a year to India for the past 20+ years for Buddhist pilgrimages. He gave me useful advice about Bodhgaya and when we arrived at Gaya Airport, where the taxi drivers again tried to charge me an exorbitant rate to Bodhgaya, he let me tag along with his group in their hotel shuttle! I can't express how grateful I was to run into a friendly group of people.

After dropping off my things at a guest house in Bodhgaya, I headed straight to the Mahabodhi Temple, which marks the site of Siddhartha Gautama's enlightenment. There's a huge prayer meeting at the temple this week for Tibetan Buddhist monks, and it was amazing to be a part of a vast sea of monks headed into the temple and then sitting under the Bodhi Tree. My first night staying in Bodhgaya was extremely rough though. I was staying in a very budget location with a mosquito-infested shared bathroom. Bodhgaya is also unsafe after dark for solo female travelers, so I ended up eating dinner at 5pm (Tibetan momos!) and going to sleep not too late after that. Tried to sleep, that is. My room was so noisy and mosquito-infested that I hardly slept at all. I woke up early in the morning, packed my things, checked out, and headed for the Chinese Monastery (the Malaysian tourist the day before had suggested it to me, but when I arrived there wasn't any room for me yet). Since I was walking outside so early in the morning, men on motorcycles and on foot kept following me, and by the time I arrived at the monastery I was harassed to the point of tears. Fortunately there was room for me at the monastery, and I got to move in...

I realized at every point when I felt like I couldn't take it any longer, something would happen that would brighten up my view of the world again. Not long after I checked in, a few other Mandarin-speaking girls close to my age also showed up at the monastery. I ended up getting to hang out with them, sharing their room, and am heading to Varanasi with them tonight! Again, can't express how grateful I am. I realized how different it is to be completely on my own, traveling. In some ways it is freeing, but in some ways it is more dangerous for sure. I'd hardly been in India a few days and I've been yelled at by a vindictive Internet cafe owner (there were no other foreigners/customers present at the moment) and surrounded by a band of young men as I exited the ATM booth.

I spent the morning reading a small Buddhist tract I'd purchased at the Mahabodhi Temple. It seemed like what Buddha's saying suddenly clicked for me. I'd started to gravitate towards Buddhism and Eastern philosophy in general in recent years, but always had a "soft spot" for Buddha in particular. I felt like I could relate the most to what he teaches, and to his life. I'd always been longing for a way to that "peace that passeth all understanding" spoken of in the Christian Bible, ever since I'd read that phrase. I felt like it was in reading Buddha's words, his message, and seeing his life, that this end of sorrow and end of suffering finally seems possible to me.

Onwards to Varanasi...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hello from Singapore!

Just arrived in's about 1:30AM and I'm not all that tired because I slept really well (for once!) on the plane. It is indeed freeing to be traveling with just the possessions on my back. I wish I had even less stuff, but I'd already narrowed everything down to the bare minimum. I was chatting with the Indonesia-bound woman next to me, and she'd mentioned she was staying overnight in the transit hotel while waiting for this evening's flight to Indonesia (I'll be flying to Kolkata, India). She asked me what I planned to do, and I said probably find a corner in the airport and lie down there. "Like a true backpacker!" she remarked.

Yes. Now I know a little bit more what it's like to be a transient, I suppose. Umm...a bit like a homeless person, I suppose too. It's liberating, in many ways. I love being in the fancy Singaporean airport and not being drawn or tempted into their duty-free shops in any way (I can't carry more on my back! I've already got 20 pounds). It's great being satisfied with what I have and knowing that anything else is unnecessary. Singapore is also so generous with their free Internet workstations and free wi-fi! There's supposed to be a butterfly garden, koi pond, and all sorts of shenanigans in this airport. I will have until 6pm here, so I guess I can get to know this airport pretty well. Or not. I'm thinking about heading to my "corner" now and nesting a bit. I haven't been back to Singapore since I moved away in 1996, and it is making me nostalgic to be back!

I feel like air-travel and airports are "safe" spots. I don't have to worry too much, it's not all that chaotic, not too disorderly. It'll be interesting once I leave the cocoon of the airport once I arrive in Kolkata, how things will be from there. Next time I blog will be from India!

Monday, February 7, 2011

...and I'm off!


I'm off to see the world TOMORROW! I can't believe it's only been nearly two weeks since I got back from Los Angeles already. It feels like it's been a long time, and yet not. I'm glad I'm on my way again though. This waiting around is starting to drive me nuts. At least I'll have the 42-hour travel plan to Kolkata to settle my nerves.

Backpack is basically all packed. I wish it were lighter, but there's only so much I can forego bringing. I've already gone through a few rounds of cutting down unnecessary items. There's only so much I can go without, I suppose.

Who would have thought my current occupation would become that of a professional wanderer?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sexy Is

Since I'm in transition right now and questioning everything and anything in life, I've been doing a lot of thinking about gender roles. What is sex (aside from the obvious physical/biological act meant to produce offspring)? What does being sexy mean?

Movies, advertisements, societal views, culture often dictate the way we think about sex. We're taught that to behave and look a certain way is "sexy" for women, and men must act and dress in a certain fashion to be "sexy" as well. I realized it's not easier to be a man than a woman, nor vice versa. There is a well-worn code and path of behavior for both genders. There is pressure to live up to this standard.

But maybe for someone, sexy is pole-dancing and strip-teasing, while for someone else, it means cross-dressing and chain-smoking(? Too much "Mad Men" for me lately, I suppose). It could be as simple as a meaningful gaze, a caring caress, or letting the layers peel away to reveal the playfulness and innocence of the inner child.

The way one dresses - whether or not it is considered "sexy" by societal standards - doesn't necessarily have to be a means to lure in a mate, a good catch. It can be a way of self-expression and means of sharing one's identity, preferences, and choices. Whether it is dressing simply or ornately, clothing can be a form of "hiding" oneself, or instead, a form of self-expression. I realized I can take two minutes extra to use clothing in a way that expresses myself, rather than hiding myself under an extra-baggy, nondescript sack.

It's about feeling good and not being afraid to feel good. It's about being comfortable in one's own skin. It's about knowing who one is and being unafraid to share that with others.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Quote from My Mom

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already, thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, until they take firm root in our personal experience.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy Year of the Rabbit! I love how as a Chinese-American I get not one, but TWO, new year celebrations! It's almost like you get two chances to start the new year off on the right foot. I felt like January 1, 2011 was a bit of a false start for me, high-tailing it out of the Bay Area as though I was fleeing from the wrath of my father (perhaps not entirely fictional at that point). After moseying around New York for a bit, going through a certain degree of emotional turmoil and still not going crazy (yay for hanging on tight!), I am back in the glorious land of the sun, California. Why is it so achingly beautiful here while the Northeast and Midwest are being pounded by the snow?

Pescadero State Beach, along Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Filoli Mansion, along Highway 280

Monday, January 31, 2011

Time to Be Irrational

"You came up in our reading. There was a card where a young woman was bound and blindfolded and surrounded by a broken gate. It meant that someone close to me feels very trapped right now, but since the gate is actually broken there IS a way out of the woods for you. The reader told me that the best way to help you is to lead by example, NOT by telling you what you should do since that would just be adding another gate to you."

-email from my sister dated 1/29/2011, regarding her tarot card reading

I went to see the new Javier Bardem movie, "Biutiful," yesterday. I couldn't help wondering again why people are constantly drawn towards darkness. When given a choice between a dark drama such as "Biutiful" and a light, fluffy, romantic comedy like Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher's "No Strings Attached," why do people choose 2.5 hours of suffering and misery? Is it pure voyeuristic tendencies? A secret longing for pain? Or a more "noble" desire to see the truth of how the other half lives? I'm sure those who can afford a $10 movie ticket are rarely in the same boat as "Biutiful"'s Chinese immigrants who were inadvertently gassed to death in an overcrowded basement, or Senegalese workers who were deported for trying to make an extra buck selling drugs. Why the interest?

Maybe it's the same reason behind piercings and tattoos. Finding some sort of external manifestation (physical pain) and socially-sanctioned cathartic release for emotional trauma or existential paralysis encountered through everyday living.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking

It's really insightful these days to be doing "nothing" and to be "nothing" for once. The world is indeed proceeding along its merry way, and I can just enjoy and be a part of it. I went to high school in a school district that is somewhat TigerMom-esque, I suppose. I realized that I'm so used to having people size me up by my GPA/test scores/resume, that it's really odd for me to comprehend that people can be liked as they are, for who they are, and not what they do. I think deep down that's all we want though, and working for all that frilly resume stuff is just for the sake of a little more happiness, isn't it? Things go a little haywire when the frilly resume stuff becomes the goal in and of itself though, and the bigger picture is forgotten, or worse, denied to exist. It's insightful to see who sticks around through the thick and the thin too. In fact, part of me is so glad that this is all happening, because it is so clear to me now who is a true friend, and so apparent to me how much my immediate family members love and care for me at the end of the day, all former grudges and resentments set aside. I remember in college when I'd get a bunch of phone calls right before a problem set was due or before the day of a midterm. It's so unnecessary. Real friends are hard to come by.

Part of me is nervous about my impending travels, but part of me is excited!! This will be an opportunity to experiment a little with the concepts I've been toying with these past years, such as "living in the present"! I have been reflecting on how traveling is a metaphor for life. To paraphrase Don Draper from "Mad Men" (the TV show I'm currently catching up on), you're born alone and you die alone, and a bunch of rules are dropped on you along the way to make you forget that fact. Life is about the journey and not the destination, hm? After all, if the destination was the point, we might as well all go take savasana (corpse pose) now. In terms of productivity, traveling outwardly appears like one of the most frivolous things a person can do! You leave home with bare necessities, shuttle around the world, walk around everywhere, and what have you got to show for it? A much subdued bank account balance, materially speaking. Oh and maybe some cheap souvenirs (an attempt in vain to hold onto a transient experience). But in a way that's kind of how life is. You're born, you do some stuff on Earth, and then it's all over. You can't even bring any souvenirs with you.

To quote Guruji: "Why fear?"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back on the Mat

I practiced today, finally, after more than a week away from the mat. I remember that the way T.K.V. Desikachar (son of the legendary Krishnamacharya, the guru of B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi) teaches emphasizes "start where you are." Of course I've always known that in my rational mind, but I think I was far from doing that in practice. It always seemed to me there was a better, more perfect ideal to reach, in every aspect of my life. Today, with my stress-stiffened joints and overextended muscles, I am outwardly no longer the flexible practitioner I was just a few months ago, but my internal practice is just beginning to take shape. I am doing yoga for myself for once, not to teach others, not to become a better doctor, not to be a "better me," not to please my teacher, not to be in shape...not for any reason other than it feels good and right. I used to always gravitate towards "hard" teachers - the disciplinarian ones that push you and adjust you and really put you in your place and feed my tendency to believe I'm never good enough - until I began realizing that these teachers are the external manifestation of what I tell myself.

I like Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.16: heyam duhkham anagatam (translation: but future suffering can be avoided). There is no reason to suffer for the sake of suffering. If anything, suffering is often held onto with pride because one fears the possibility that happiness cannot exist.

Didn't someone say: "don't let the perfect ruin the good"?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's Not What You Do, It's Who You Are

And they say..
She's so Lucky
She's a star
But she cry cry cries in her lonely heart
Thinking, if there's nothing missing in my life
Then why do these tears come at night?

Lost in an image, in a dream
But there's no one there to wake her up
And the world is spinning and she keeps on winning
But tell me, what happens when it stops

-lyrics from Britney Spears' "Lucky"

I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that people can possibly like you for who you are, not based on your achievements or what you can do for them. Growing up, I felt like my identity was very much tied with what I "do" and my parents' love and affection for me was intimately linked with how well I perform, be it in school, in music, or in anything in life (manners? proper behavior?). My sister and I just had the best weekend of our entire LIVES - I went down to Los Angeles to celebrate her 21st birthday with her - and at times during the weekend it'd really shock me that my sister would enjoy being with me despite me currently being "nothing" on paper. I told her about this and she asked me why I loved her - it's nothing that's on her resume!

I feel like my dad is trying to change, too. I realized now that he's not trying to control me and I'm no longer trying to please him, we can have a much more genuine, trusting, and real relationship. That being said, I still need time to adjust to all of this and build trust again, but at least I foresee a brighter future ahead.

I got my first tattoo over the weekend! My sister got an identical one on her side, whereas I got this on my left shoulderblade:

We were just saying that five years ago we'd never imagine we'd be doing this together (we semi-hated/resented/disliked each other at that time). It just goes to show how unexpected life can be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Ephemeral is Eternal

"While studying as a medical student, Wolfgang Laib became dissatisfied with modern science's mechanistic treatment of the human body. He turned to art to explore the universe through its life-giving essences (pollen, milk, rice) and its substantial materials (stone, beeswax, resin)..."

-placard viewed in an exhibit of modern Buddhist-inspired art at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City

"Osamu Tezuka (1928-89) is the godfather of Japanese manga comics. He originally intended to become a doctor and earned an M.D. before turning to what was then a medium for children. His many masterpieces from that period include the series known in the U.S. as Astro Boy..."

-cover jacket introduction to the author of a comic series about the Buddha

"My animation professor said that he was 'on track' to be a doctor until his mid-20s, then realized he was trying to live someone else's life and went into film. At break, I asked him if he had any advice for someone going through the same thing. He said that he wished he knew how common this abrupt left turn (away from medicine or engineering or law into art and humanities) is actually quite common, especially amongst bright people. He said that it's too easy for smart people to go into medicine because people see that they are smart and just push them towards med school. So basically, he said not to worry too much about what's going to happen next. Many people have gone on from med school to succeed in artistic fields."

-email from my sister, a film production major at USC, dated 1/15/2011

THERE IS A WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE. I'll be leaving for India on February 7th, arriving in Kolkata on February 9th.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I used to read compulsively. I'd have a stack of textbooks and stack of "fun" books, and as I studied quantum mechanics or glycolysis, I'd take frequent study breaks to read my "fun" books - books on Christianity, on yoga anatomy, on yoga philosophy, novels, myths, Asian American studies, name it. I realized this was a way of distracting myself, in a way - of escaping and making the present moment (studying things I don't really like) more bearable. I thought this was superior to using food, computer games, shopping, or TV to distract myself. Sure, it sounds a bit more scholarly or intellectual to be escaping into books, but isn't it a distraction all the same? It is a way of avoiding the present moment, and keeping from acknowledging what I am really experiencing.

What makes books like "Eat, Pray, Love" so successful? It's a great adventure story - one can easily live vicariously through Elizabeth Gilbert as she hops from one continent to the next on her own journey. It's a great way to avoid journeys of our own, both the joys and hardships of finding our own paths. It is safe and easy to read a book like that, whereas truly setting off on an adventure or questioning whether we are living honestly can be unsettling and difficult and depressing (at times).

I realized that escapism, or borrowing and imitating others, are no longer options for me. The word "vipassanā" (a word in Pali, the language of the Buddha) means to see things as they really are, insight into the nature of reality. To truly practice meditation means to not use meditation or yoga as "drugs," forms of dulling the senses and escaping from reality into an unreal "happy place."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kübler-Ross Model

The Kübler-Ross model (a.k.a. the five stages of grief) was originally developed regarding people suffering from terminal illnesses, but was later applied to anybody dealing with a personal loss of some magnitude. My doctor had actually mentioned it to me when I visited him for an appointment during the holidays. I'd laughed it off then, and said I was fine (denial?). I remembered the conversation just now and looked it up on Wikipedia:

1. Denial—"I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."

Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of positions and individuals that will be left behind after death.

2. Anger—"Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; "Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.

3. Bargaining—"Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."

The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time..."

4. Depression—"I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die... What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"

During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.

5. Acceptance—"It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."

In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with his mortality or that of his loved one.

Apparently the steps don't always occur in this order, and not all of them do actually occur or sometimes people go back and forth between various steps. And this process should be allowed to take place naturally, neither rushed nor lengthened, until the final stage (acceptance) is reached.

Knowing my impatient personality, it was good to realize this. It is hard for me not to push myself too hard (even with getting over things like this??!)!!

But to be honest, sometimes I look back on the past six years of my life and wonder what I was possibly thinking. And I remind myself that it is better "late" than "later," and better "later" than "never."

Breathing Practice

Still wasn't ready to get back on the mat today. It feels like if anyone pushed me I would probably crack. Realized I need to be gentle with myself right now. It hurts to walk sometimes, and I need to be easy on my muscles. At least I think I'm recuperating somewhat.

Heading back to California on Friday. I need a break. I need some warmth, both literally and figuratively. I have the tendency to beat myself up over things, and sometimes it still feels surreal to me that this is all happening. I tend to try to keep myself composed...but I've had two teachers remind me that I'm human, something that I tend to forget (along with forgetting to breathe, lately).

I dream about moving to Berkeley someday and adopting a kitten. These days I question whether I'm living life in reverse.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I'd like to amend the previous post. After a hot yoga class today, my Ashtanga teacher (who happened to be at the studio) came over to talk to me. She asked me about coming back to practice, and I just broke down crying. I told her that everything hurts, that my hamstrings, hips, back, everything's tight. I lost my flexibility over winter break when I was at home and got stressed out. I can't even bend forward that well anymore. She told me to breathe. And to just. Let. Go. I guess I blame myself for so many things, and am struggling so hard to find my footing right now. To be honest, I feel overwhelmed and it's like the world is spinning. Things aren't easy right now. I wasn't breathing. We talked for a long time. About how the practice is not just a physical one. About how it is something that I have that can ground me during this difficult time. She reminded me of when she was in the hospital (the same one where I go to medical school, incidentally!) - I'd visited her there between classes, when I first started studying with her. After her hospitalization, she had to start over, not comparing her current practice with how it was before. She asked me why I push myself so hard. I push myself hard in every aspect of my life. Why is it that I have to force myself to do things that I don't like? There is no reason for that. I told her I had been doing that for my entire life. That I felt like if I didn't do the right things then people won't like me anymore. She reminded me that it's about doing things that are true to myself and loving myself for who I am and being with people who love me for who I am, not for the things I can do. I told her about wanting to go to India, and asked if she had suggestions for places. She said to just travel, because I'll make myself go crazy right now if I try to practice there. I told her that I'm so bad at doing nothing. That I can't just do nothing. I don't know how to do that. Everything always has to be for a reason. She told me to take my mat with me to India, and the beauty of Ashtanga is that it can be practiced anywhere, by myself.

I realized yoga is not about pushing. It's about letting go. Why is it that people say Ashtanga is intense or competitive or too hard or aggressive? It's not the practice that's too hard, or intense, or competitive. We make it that way with our egos.

Back to the basics.

"Let go."


And the amazing thing was, as I breathed, let go of all the tension and expectations and worries and concerns, I felt my muscles relaxing. As I sit and write this now, I am feeling significantly less pain. I was crying all the way home on the subway and in my room, got some strange glances along the way Uptown, but it was so necessary. It's as if the good cry and talk and just breathing has changed things. I hadn't even allowed myself a truly good cry after making the big decision, and I guess everything just came out.

This was a good lesson for me to learn. My teacher told me that too many people are afraid to change, and they'd rather just continue on the same miserable way. Twenty years down the line, it's even harder to change, and it doesn't get any easier.

The practice has taught me courage, for sure.

Be back on the mat on Sunday, learning to let go. I'll be hopefully practicing in a gentle way, a slower way, and a way that is not perfectionistic. The beginner's mind...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ashtanga Teachings

It's snowing outside, here in NYC! I haven't seen it snow this hard before, and I keep staring out at the window in amazement! Anyhow, here are some Ashtanga illustrations that I saw online. They're very cute. I like the pasasana one in particular.

I learned a lot from regular Ashtanga practice over the course of last semester. Ashtanga is like a mirror. It allows you to observe yourself and see yourself as you are. But that's only if you dare to do so. As one of my fellow work-study students at the studio remarked, "There's so much ego in that room!" It's easy to look at one's neighbor and compare practices, when in actuality, who gets a medal for completing Primary Series, starting Intermediate Series, or reaching Advanced Series?

Ashtanga taught me to turn my gaze inward, and see myself. It taught me to listen to my own body, mind, and spirit. There are real consequences when I don't, as I'm experiencing now. I realized that I let so many people push me beyond my capacity all these years. I allowed that to happen by not listening to my own voice and not standing up for myself. I became a disciplined automaton, taking on discipline and achievement for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end, sacrificing my sense of happiness.

On January 22, it will be three years since I took my first Ashtanga yoga class in PE at UC Berkeley. Yoga, in general, has changed my life more than anything else, and has given me hope that change - make that change leading to freedom - is possible. I write this now as I decide consciously to step away from Ashtanga practice for a while. I realize that I may have overindulged in this practice over the course of last semester, but that in itself has taught me something. I'm not closing the door on returning to this practice in the future, but for now, I need to do something gentler, something slower, something that doesn't feed into my rigid disciplinarian tendencies. I realize that no one method of yoga is THE method. There are right seasons for each and every practice. Part of practicing yoga is to know which is for when.

I'll close this post with one quote that I learned through Ashtanga practice: "Why fear?"

Courage, and the willingness to try and risk. Vande gurunam!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


In today’s world, people experience two types of poverty: the poverty caused by lack of food, clothing and shelter, and the poverty caused by lack of love and compassion. Of these two, the second type needs to be considered first—because, if we have love and compassion in our hearts, then we will wholeheartedly serve those who suffer from lack of food, clothing and shelter.

-Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Checking Out

I've been running around the school getting my checkout papers signed. Everyone sort of glances at me awkwardly and politely signs the papers without further questions. Only the bursar acknowledged the situation, and asked me what I'm doing next. I said I don't know (I have ideas, but no concrete plans), and he told me it's so common for people to leave med school. It was the first time a staff member at school had told me that, and I must have had a look of disbelief on my face (who leaves med school? Every day there are 10-20 interviewees practically begging to be let IN!). He readily reconfirmed what he'd just said, and told me he'd had countless jobs throughout his 20s and 30s too. He told me the below quote:

"Optimism is the true moral courage" -Shackleton

Which I guess means - if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you will fail, because you will not have the strength of mind or body to succeed.