A little bit about where I’ve been, and where I’m going

As a child of immigrant parents, I find myself constantly wondering if my small achievements will ever add up to my parent’s sacrifices. It is one thing to go after an unconventional dream, and yet another thing to not entirely know what that dream is.

I have been in a lot of places in the past few years. It is easy to romanticize the excitement of these experiences, and it would be a lie to say the time spent jumping from place to place were anything but. The exhilaration however, doesn’t abate the growing sense of displacement, as well as increasing anxiety about my lack of financial security.

I do not feel incentivized to work for substantial amounts of money; it seems I have built up such a large well of self-importance that I can’t commit my time or energy to anything I don’t personally deem meaningful or positively impactful. I say this with a deliberate sense of self-deprecation, because I cannot tell sometimes if I am a person of strong conviction or just extreme laziness. Sometimes it’s too hard to tell from the inside of my mind.

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From Summer 2017 to now I have spent 6 months in Mendocino county, 3 months in San Jose, 3 months in Nepal, 3 months in Marin county, and now 3 weeks in my family’s home before I’m back in Nepal again. As always tends to happen, time and distance from my work in Nepal disconnect me from the sense of identity I’ve cultivated there.

I have to remind myself, as if it were some spiritual mantra, that the work I do does matter. In the short 3 months I spent in Nepal in 2018, we built a new camp to house volunteers for many decades to come, and assisted in the completion of 30 earthquake safe homes that were made with local and sustainable materials. For the Youth Outreach Program, I worked with my Nepali counterpart Jenisha, who we hired on as a Conscious Impact staff member, to launch a new Girls Empowerment Program at a second nearby high school, increasing our reach to about 180 students in our district area.

The turn out to the first Aiselu Kharkha Girls Empowerment Program was staggering — nearly 60 girls who barely knew either of us, but after having learned about the premise of the program, were extraordinarily eager to attend.

This trip to Nepal matured inklings of opinions I once had into founded perspectives. Western views of poverty in the developing world are limited at best; non-profits and charities at the advertising level portray the alleviation of global inequality as simply “helping poor people”, when the complexity of western hegemony and globalized capitalism is more nuanced.  The work is not about simply being charitable, but getting to the source of economic and political dynamics that cause poverty and work diaspora (i.e. the oppression of women, lack of education, reinforcement of our current western-style capitalism). The phenomena of work diaspora particularly hits home, as it is the precursor to my very existence as a first generation American.

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When I got back to California for the summer, I worked as an outdoor education teacher for a Marin-based nonprofit called Slide Ranch. Without a doubt, Slide was one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived, and it was a privilege to have learned so much about naturalism in the context of my home state. While there, I got to meet and live with some of the most amazing and heartfelt individuals, who imbued in me lessons about living off the land, reciprocity in our relationship to animals, and how to create a space of wonder and learning for children. I spent my days leading kids on hikes to tide pools and cypress tree forests, taught about sustainable energy and organic cooking, played games and made watercolor paintings — against the backdrop of one of the most exquisite views of the rugged Northern California coast.

On the flip side, I traded in the opportunity to earn sustainable compensation for a holistically fulfilling experience — quite the archetypical ultimatum in this day and age. And of course, one thing that ate at the back of my mind during my residency, was the undeniable fact that the experience I was facilitating would have been completely out of my purview as a child — for reasons both cultural and financial. I still struggle with knowing little about how to make such pristine nature more accessible to the type of communities I have come from.

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The irony I face every time I am back in America is how much more spirituality and mindfulness has become commodified. Again, it does not matter how rich or poor you are, for even in the poorest places I’ve been in Nepal, no person is safe from the binds of materialism. I am intrigued by how people are attempting to both search for authenticity and alleviate their environmental impact, through their most powerful means of expression — their dollar. I don’t condone this as wrong in the slightest; if anything, it is simply the (unfortunate) diagnosis of our society’s infrastructure, that our strongest means of creating change is through our currency.

And you don’t need me to tell you this, because Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and [insert other religious or spiritual deity here] already told you: there is nothing you can buy that will bring you spiritual enlightenment. And if you find yourself bending over backwards to find it, then in all likelihood you’re only getting farther away.

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Though I like to think of myself as adaptable to different environments and groups of people, I’ve always found that I’m most comfortable around working class folks — people who operate from places of honesty, humor and a zero tolerance for bullshit. I spent this past weekend working as a cook in an airport lounge with a bunch of Filipino, Mexican, El Salvadorean, and Nepali workers, who immediately welcomed me and treated me like one of their own. I was comforted by their camaraderie, but could not repress a sense of guilt at the divide in our circumstances: the fact that even though I am strapped for money, it was not imperative to my survival to work there.

The juxtaposition between the hard working folks I met in that kitchen, and the kind of affluence I was inundated with in Marin, leaves a strange taste in my mouth about what accessibility and mobility actually looks like in the Bay Area. It makes sense that home starts looking like a foreign place the less time you spend in it.

It’s this inverted experience, being so familiar with my surroundings, and yet feeling so out of place. I am especially jarred by the smallest changes — like a movement of furniture, or noticing a closed down business I once frequented, or having to reacquaint myself with friends I’ve known for years.

Home is where I find myself incubating, re-evaluating my life choices, and reflecting on everything that has subsequently happened in my life. I am learning that it never takes very much for me to be back at square one, easily face to face with the same demons and insecurities that I have fought against my whole life. When I struggle to value the person I have become, I find myself envying other peoples’ perceived certainty and stability, the smoke and mirrors of my ego ready to exploit any cognitive dissonance I have about my life and self-esteem.

If my recent forays into zen Buddhism have taught me anything — or really just all life experience in general — it’s that life is not about reaching the goal, but about experiencing the process. I try to tell myself that my life doesn’t need to add up to some grand list of achievements, even though our production-oriented, capitalistic society has conditioned me otherwise.

Sometimes it feels like the line between irrationality and pragmatism is very thin. Maybe that is the privilege of being a millennial, or maybe it’s just my inability to feel confident during times of upheaval and transition.

At the end of the day, I have a roof over my head, and food to eat, and people I love who unconditionally love me back. I am going back to a place on the other side of the world that has become a different version of home. I am going back to continue work that is not easy, but gives my life meaning and, hopefully with all its good intentions, is empowering others with fewer options than me to have more control over their lives. Even if I struggle to feel okay with the person who lives inside my skin, I am damn happy to be alive. The hardest thing about moving forward is the not knowing. So here’s to all of us keeping on, wading through the bullshit, and honoring our authentic selves, as best we can while the earth keeps inevitably turning.

As always, thanks for listening.

All that I know now

Growing older has taught me how to mark the end of the seasons. I watched the brilliant blue of a summer sky become grotesquely marked by wildfire, felt the suffocating heaviness of heat waves succumb to cold breezes that blew through me as sharp as daggers. I watched as tree canopies transformed from lush greeneries to impressionist mosaics of dandelion yellow and burnt orange, until all that remained were the black and barren branches of their naked forms, forlorn and elegant.

The transitions from summer to fall to winter have only become more familiar, and yet they seem to change more quickly, the time passing faster every year. I mourn too much the departure of the seasons, cling a little too desperately to these chapters that I never feel I had enough time to fully savor. It is a bit like catching a glimpse of a hummingbird in a garden: just as you are truly taking in the grace of its beauty, it has already disappeared the moment you stop to blink.

This fall I said goodbye for an indefinite amount of time to the grandmother that raised me. The woman who wiped my tears and made me snacks and picked me up from kindergarten. As I got older, the role of caregiver and care receiver reversed, and like the passing of the seasons, it somehow happened without me realizing. It is even strange now, to think she is not a part of my life everyday — though I suppose she still is, because I think of her, and am grateful to her everyday of my life.

As I get older, I always find myself wishing I spent more time with family. I am constantly beating myself up over things I think I should do, even when it isn’t my first instinct to do them. I ruminate a lot over this: my tendency to suffer from internal negative feedback over every action I take.

I buckle so often under some perceived pressure from others, to show up more for them, to be more for them, internalizing and creating unnecessary guilt that dampens the quality of my relationships. I am learning to trace this back to my own insecurities about being good enough, to stop second guessing how well I am treating others, to stop doubting my own worth.

Every day is a step forward in my evolution of self. Here is the thing I continue to learn with age: as you fill it, the metaphysical cup of life only gets larger. You try to balance what you hold space for, with all your passions and career choices, your friends and your family. Despite the fact that our families created the foundations for who we are, the nuances of what shapes our lives grows infinitely beyond them. And as we grow, we become so attached to the idea of progress — to be able to make concrete comparisons that who we are now is qualitatively better than who we were before.

But I don’t believe there is such thing as linear development of growth. Not like the facts and figures and direct causations you can find in the immaculate truth of science and math. Growth in how we change as people is a phenomena that never really becomes clear until you’re past it, can turn around and see the clear reflection of who you used to be. Even then, so much of what catalyzes change is not fixed but fluid, as the actions of your past self continue to affect the decisions you make in the present, ultimately shaping the person you are actively becoming.

In many ways, growth has turned into this criminal line up of all my past selves standing in a room, shoulder to shoulder. I look at all these previous iterations of myself, and love them so much more now than I did when I was them. So maybe that is actually what growth is: honoring every version of who you used to be — their dreams, desires, and their mistakes — and learning what it means to take all the best parts with you as you keep moving forward.

It’s all a rigorous balancing act, trying to understand yourself. Wanting to know why you are the way you are, striving to understand your purpose, to once and for all know what you need to do to make yourself “happy”. But here is what we forget when we think about happiness: at the end of the day, you will live and die alone in the body you were born in. I don’t mean this to sound defeatist in anyway, but the hard truth is that our existence is ultimately a solitary one. This is where the misconception comes in — or maybe it is the very nature of being human — that we strive for structure or a sense of meaning in the ways we construct the world around us.

If we have the right amount of money, the ideal family, the prestigious job title — if we travel to breathtaking places or own beautiful things, only then will we be complete. But none of those things will ever offer you a guaranteed happiness. You will continue throughout your life making different choices that change the outcome of your circumstances. Throughout the ebb and flow of those experiences, you will encounter not just happiness and sadness, but also monotony and routine. Life itself, the day to day goings on of it all, even when you discover something new, will inevitably become boring. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t some affliction that must be immediately remedied. It’s important to discern the difference between stagnation and restlessness. Because in the end, it is your choice whether or not you are content with your circumstances. Nothing outside you will grant you the peace you are looking for. I say all these things in no way to discount the autonomy we have to construct the substance of our lives. I mean to say, there is no point in focusing on material things or goals that you hope will grant you some eternal, permanent happiness — because it doesn’t exist.

There is no actual way to convey the complexity of life’s experiences through social media. Three years ago I ran away from a routine I grew to despise, what felt like the all-consuming mediocrity of an unfulfilling life — and to this day I have no regrets. But more than ever, life is an uneven road.

Just because you figure out what makes you happy doesn’t mean that you have it all figured out. Life is not as simple as finding your passion and then going out and doing it. We live in a world where the infrastructure of society requires you to be complicit in systems that perpetuate consumption, frivolity, and destruction — and reconciling this with needing to financially support oneself is no easy feat. It’s not about being able to over-idealistically “follow your dreams”, but having the freedom to live a meaningful life, one that creates more harmony than discord, more equity than inequality.

I do not live my life or make the choices I do because I have the utmost clarity that it is the right thing to do. I do them, because I don’t know what else to do, besides follow the intuition of my own heart. I still suffer from my own self-machinations, insecurities, and constant procrastination. But the greatest gift life has granted me, whether simply a consequence of age or through experiences I chose to have, is an understanding of myself. Even when I stray, when I become fixated on things that ultimately don’t matter, I remember what motivated the choices that brought me this far.

It was love. Love for the world, that it was worthwhile to go out and see it, to try and create change in it, even amongst fears that I’d lose time or was choosing the wrong path. Love for me, that I owed it to myself to try and do something that I at first didn’t know I was capable of.

My extended time in California has reminded me that I am anchored by a deep foundation of love, instilled in me by a family more resilient and nurturing than I’d ever realized. I have also rediscovered what it means to be emotionally vulnerable, and to share intimacy with another person again, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

So this is where I stand now, with all the acuity of self-awareness brought about by age, and yet still buoyed by a sense of childlike wonder for this world, and all that I continue to discover on my journey through it. I am on a path of becoming more in tune with myself, of trusting the people I love, of creating powerful intention with my words and my actions instead of passively experiencing a world that appears drowned in chaos.

Time will continue passing, the seasons will come and go — what matters is not what is left behind, but what you continue to create for yourself moving forward. I hope you remember you have the power to make the world better, by simply loving who you are, and not accepting the reality that others force you to believe. We are the makers of our own reality, we are the sole owners of our truth.

If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read all this.

fallacy

There’s a strange kind of fallacy,
about my sense of inadequacy,
that I have so much love
that I’d give away happily,
to everyone that I know,
until there’s none left,
But for some reason I struggle,
to give that love to myself.

It’s a bittersweet truth
we don’t want to have spoken,
like fears over promises
we risk having broken,
So we fold in our corners
to avoid being hurt,
and rely too much on others
to define our own worth.

We make ourselves sick
with insecurities and stress,
forget things about ourselves
we used to like best.
Losing sleep over questions
that we don’t have the answers,
like “Who are you really?”
and “What are you after?”

Drown in uncertainty
under the weight of decisions,
convinced that by choosing
there’s something else that we’re missing.
But you are more than the fears
that you see in the mirror,
you are a vision of love
that will start to get clearer.

Trusting your heart is at once never easy,
when we constantly struggle
to define our meaning,
But believe in the universe,
in its power and grace,
trust that your pieces will all fall into place.

Be at peace with the things
you thought would not change,
remove all your shadows
so only light will remain.
Our pasts do not own us,
we are not our mistakes,
All that matters
is who we choose to be today.

 

A poem from Kathmandu

You made me remember the taste of lonely.
Empty coffee cups and stale cigarettes.
Silence heavy and sighs solemn;
We were made of moonlit midnight moments,
pinkies intertwined in uneven cobblestone alleyways.
I’d never wanted forever before you.
But now you’re just a blurry afternoon daydream,
forgotten with the rest of them;
as the sun begins to set —
I lay to rest lost lovers like one ashes out a cigarette.

The real price of freedom

It is strangely fascinating
how much freedom we barter away
for the sake of
comfort and convenience
how easily we count up currencies
yet the conversion we care least about
is the cost of time

You are not your habits
or your attachments
your shiny objects
your wants
or your fears

I spent so much time
boxing myself into
an idea
of who I thought I was
and now here I am
trading in 8 years
worth of blackened lungs
for a breath of fresh air

When you actively decide
to change yourself
you realize that everyday of your life
is a choice
there is so much power
in the time you take back
to do what you really want
to be someone different
than who you were yesterday

 

I never thought I’d be writing about this for people to read, but it struck me as one of the few things I might actually write that would benefit someone reaching a similar crossroads. 17 days ago I smoked my last cigarette, and I believe it is the longest I’ve gone without one in, give or take, the last 8 years. For anyone that knows me, my relationship with tobacco is my longest and most committed. Hell, I obviously love them so much I included them in the title of my poetry book. Cigarettes were not just a “bad habit” for me, there was something ritualistic about it that I always loved — the moments I took for myself to be alone, to think, and to usually write. And no, I was never not aware of the health risks — people do worse things to themselves everyday — and I do believe we have the autonomy to make our own choices over our bodies.

But recent circumstances have reinforced the one thing I thought I knew all along: that it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how accomplished you are, if you don’t have your health, you literally have nothing. So no, this isn’t a New Years resolution or some patronizing PSA, though I’m sorry if it sounds like one. What I mean to bring attention to, is the concept of choice.

Making a commitment to lose weight or eat better or not smoke — and in an even more meaningful sense, when we make commitments to make more art, to be more outspoken, to get more in touch with ourselves — it is not about the actual intention you are setting forth, as much as the power of making that choice in the moment. Discipline isn’t about being hard on yourself, but realizing that as the creator of your own reality, we are actively choosing what we do, every moment of our lives. “Depriving” yourself of something you think you need, or something that has come to define an aspect of your life, is not easy. However, it is more feasible than we sometimes allow ourselves to believe.

On that note, I am actively interested in healing my relationship with tobacco, by educating myself on the history of it amongst indigenous peoples as plant medicine. Rather than abuse it, I would like to incorporate it into my life as a form of sacred cleansing and ritual. For friends who have information or contacts about this kind of practice, please forward whatever you can my way. As always, if you got this far, thanks for reading.

The songs we sing

Wash the sickness from your skin,
in order to be born again,
You are made from mother Earth’s design
the same way stars burst to align
in perfect shapes across the sky
to travel light years to your eyes,
“Don’t forget who you have been,”
Speak the words til they sink in,
Each memory will start to spin,
We count them up like childhood sins,
You let the waves wash you ashore,
Someone different than you were before,
Returned to paths you left behind,
when you left home to try and find,
Some hidden truth buried inside,
when it was all right there, within your mind.
So feed for now your raging fires,
to discover what the soul desires,
You’re made from dust and ocean tears
may the salty waves erase your fears
You came here now bereft of love,
maybe feeling like you weren’t enough
but here you are, a perfect pattern,
connect the dots to find your answers,
Become what you were meant to be,
a chord that joined a melody,
creating joyous symphony
the song that you were meant to sing.