Today in history

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I’ve been putting off, putting off, putting off writing because I’ve been too consumed by the state of American politics.  I have been waiting for moment when I feel I can succinctly capture in writing the despair, the anger, and the anxiety that I have been feeling since November 8th.

But today, I can’t wait any longer to write.  Today is January 28, 2017.  Eight days ago, Donald Trump was given the most powerful position in this country.  In these eight days, he virtually declared war on the press and the voice of science, made moves to end Obamacare, declared a ban of Muslims from a list of countries he hand picked, ended funding for public arts, and the list goes on and on and on.

Today a number of Muslim refugees, including a man who worked for the US government as an interpreter, was denied entry into the US.  And thousands of people all across the country led spontaneous protests at international airports all across the country to build pressure on authorities to let them in.  Lawyers are providing pro bono services to refugees needing legal assistance.  My Facebook and Twitter feeds are blowing up with people expressing support for immigrants and refugees.

In so many ways, this week has been terrifying.  The Republican Party supported and stood by a sociopathic man do tremendous damage to our country in just one week.  Faithful Trump supporters are also witnessing this with the belief that  denying others rights will ultimately benefit them.

But in so many more ways, our country and our world is more beautiful today than ever before.  People from all over the world are rising up against fascism and racism. People who normally don’t get involved in politics are actively organizing campaigns, attending rallies, sharing political news on social media, and actively talking about it with their social circle.  There is an awakening…and I just pray that it’s not too late.

As a citizen, an immigrant, a woman, a human being, the last several months have been very frightening to me.  But as a mother, that level of fear is multiplied by a million.  On a daily basis, intrusive images of my house and my city being bombed haunt me.  I truly fear for my daughter’s life because the person who is currently running our country is mentally unstable and is capable of instigating war at any moment.

The primary thing that has prevented me from caving into my fears is the faith that I have in collective activism.  I have renewed faith in the human spirit to fight against hate and destruction. I have renewed strength in myself to be a part of that fight.

These are all the words that I have for tonight. I just needed to document that I witnessed this very sad yet beautiful day.

And I also need to express one final thing: I am so grateful to everyone who has organized, protested, boycotted, called, written, emailed, volunteered, tweeted, spoken in the movement against the new regime. Thank you for protecting the future for me, my daughter, our community, and all global citizens.

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My 30 day fast from the media and meat

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A few months ago, I got this nagging voice in my head. It told me that I needed a “reset”. This was the time when the Orlando shooting happened, when racial tension was at a national high due to the recent police shootings, when it felt like terrorists were attacking every corner of every major city, and planes were dropping from the sky.

Not many people know this about me, but I was (key word, was) a news junkie. I watched the local news every morning, listened to National Public Radio (NPR) on my way to work, watched the nighttime news with my husband during dinnertime, read Google News sitting on the toilet, and had a bad habit of clicking on all of the news articles on Facebook that reminded me how terrible the world was. As you can imagine, I was inundated. I normally prided myself in my knowledge of world events. I liked being a well-informed citizen. But in the midst of everything that happened this year, I mostly felt anxious about being in this world. I also felt scared shitless of what world I was bringing my daughter into.

I became well-aware of the extent that the media was controlling my mood and my beliefs. It made me paranoid about being in public places and anxious about strangers on the street. It made me wish I could live in a cave far far away from the evils of the world. This is what happens when we have a media infrastructure that spotlights the terrors of the world and feeds on the resulting fear and anger of its viewers. This type of news cycle keeps us glued to the TV screen/newspaper/internet because we depend on it to stay aware of the dangers of the world.

When this nagging voice inside of my head told me I needed to reset, it reminded me that there are good people in this world and good things happen every day. But when I choose to be a subscriber of negativity-driven media, I am choosing to pollute my mind with fear.

My solution to this was to abstain from the news and social media for one month. On top of that, I threw on an extra challenge of abstaining from meat, a habit that I started when I became pregnant (after being vegetarian and pescatarian for about 10 years) and continued to eat with great guilt after my daughter was born.

To replace the time I normally spent consuming the news, I instead dedicated my time to writing, self-reflection, and developing a daily Buddhist practice. I also chose to view and listen to informational media that would be helpful in advancing my self-understanding.

During this time, I discovered an amazing podcast called “Invisibilia”, a production of NPR.  Its whole theme is about exploring the things that are invisible to the naked eye, touching on topics in the realm of psychology and sociology. In one of their episodes, they interviewed a woman who had a unique set of symptoms in which she could actually feel the physical sensations of other people.  For instance, if she saw someone being choked, she, too, would start to feel as if she was being choked. This rare disorder is called mirror-touch synesthesia. It turns out that one reason why people experience this phenomenon is due to the high activity of their mirror neurons, which is responsible for our ability to understand what others are experiencing and develop empathy for others. People with this type of synesthesia have mirror neurons that are so strong that their brain is tricked into feeling the sensations of everyone around them.

Where am I going with this? No, I don’t have mirror-touch synesthesia, thank God. But learning about this made me realize that my mirror neurons are also very strong but in a different way. Much like how the woman in the podcast feels the physical pain of others, I cringe, cry, and crumble at others’ emotional pain.  I am particularly susceptible to feeling the emotional pain of children and animals.

During my one month fast, I sought to accept and understand my highly sensitive nature. There is even a term for this, I discovered. Someone coined the word empath to describe people who have a deep sense of empathy. This trait is one reason why I thrive in my profession.  But it’s also caused me to feel overwhelmed and overly responsible for the injustices of the world. My deep sense of empathy makes it hard for me to separate my own feelings and experiences from that of other people. It makes it easy for me to absorb other people’s energy and for my energy to leak out. This is why I need lots of alone time so that I can restore my energy.  And this trait explains why I am so affected by media.

Just as an example, I remember vividly when I was in a Southeast Asian Studies course in college. My professor had us watch a documentary about sex trafficking of children in Asia. I couldn’t watch the whole film–I laid my head down for half of it. Afterwards for several days, I remember walking around feeling like I was one of the trafficked children in the film and all of the men around me were johns. I felt disgusted, angered, and victimized. By the way, this is why I no longer watch documentaries.

The month free from media and meat did help me with this particular problem. I developed a keener sense of when I needed to restrict my energy output, such as when I felt very tired or needed an energy reserve for a certain activity. I also tried to limit my exposure to things and people that exhausted me.

At the end of the 30 days, I indeed felt more grounded, calmer, healthier and less pessimistic. But I also knew that I needed to develop a consistent practice in order to reap long term benefits.I’m sharing my practice in this blog post in case it can help any of you reading this:

  1. Abstain from watching the news.  Yep, I decided to do away with watching the news completely.  In the end, I determined that it was a complete waste of my time and energy.  My husband, a news junkie himself, inadvertently has done the same.
  2. Limit the amount of news articles and social media that I consume online.  I’ve figured out that I can click “See less of this” on articles that pop up on my Facebook feed so that I can better filter what I am exposed to. I also reduced the habit of reading the news and scrolling through my Facebook feed on my phone during downtime.
  3. When driving, listen to music or casual talk radio.  I commute about 20 miles each way to and from work. I became aware that listening to NPR or podcasts did not help me unwind from my job during my drive home.  Now, it’s usually Pandora’s Disney station or the local easy listening radio station 🙂
  4. Commit to a daily spiritual practice.  Although I have long believed in and studied Buddhist philosophy, I never declared myself as a Buddhist until recently.  In the last few months, I felt the benefits of a daily practice of Buddhist chanting and praying.  Along with expressing gratitude for the blessings in my life, I pray for the people who I serve in my work, the beings in the world that are suffering, and the spirits that are watching over me. I pray for greater strength and courage to make more positive change in the world. When chanting, I hold in my mind the people who I’ve encountered during my day and send them my blessings.
  5. Study myself intently.  The intense awareness of my thoughts, behaviors and feelings that I practiced in the last few months has benefitted me greatly.  I process what I’ve observed about myself through my writing, sharing with others and in therapy. I feel so much more clarity about what I’m doing and why I am doing it!
  6. Use guided imagery on a daily basis.  (If you don’t know what guided imagery is, click here). The exercise that I use most often is one where I imagine a giant cord that starts at my collar bone and connects to the center of the earth. I direct all of the energy that is not mine to escape from my body to be recycled by the earth.  I then direct all of the energy that I’ve left in other places to return to me in a giant gold orb.  Another one that I learned recently is to imagine that I have a bubble around myself; when I’m feeling overwhelmed or tired, I can direct my bubble to be smaller and closer to my body so that I do not absorb others’ energy as easily.

For those of you reading this, what part of this story resonates with you?  Even though you may not classify yourself as an empath or highly sensitive, how do you find yourself negatively impacted by the media?  What negative habits can you imagine yourself fasting from?

I’m hoping that this writing inspired you, amused you or simply bridged a connection between me and you.

 

 

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If we can build spaceships, why can’t we figure out how to stop using plastic bags?

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California Plastic Bag Ban

California’s plastic bag ban has stirred up quite the buzz since it passed as legislation two months ago (September 2014).  As someone who has been using cloth bags since I was a teenager, it still doesn’t fail to shock me that laws like this can so effectively activate the masses of people who are not supportive of government mandates and believe that “California is just plain crazy…I’m so glad I don’t live there!”.  I will accept that there are political and economic implications to this piece of legislation that are outside of my scope of understanding, so I will not even attempt to debate anyone in those arenas.  There is a good chance I will lose.  However, if anyone tries to convince me that plastic bags are not detrimental to the environmental, please don’t even try.  Plastic bags (and plastic waste in general) negatively affect our wildlife, our oceans, our landfills, and our natural resources.  If you want to learn more on this widely studied topic, I’ve happily googled it for you – just click here.

This post was inspired by my morning trip to Vons at 7am this morning.

Not only did the woman in front of me in the Express Lane (15 items or less, lady!) have 25 products in her cart—yes, I actually counted—but, of course, she also left the store with about dozen plastic plastic bags in her cart. I’ve worked as a grocery bagger before, so I understand why you need to separate certain items to avoid rippage or contamination, but it doesn’t fail to break my little hippie heart to see so much plastic go to waste.

I only expect about 1% of the Vons shoppers to come in with their own bags, so I normally am not so easily peeved by others’ plastic bag habits.  However today, I find myself feeling unusually annoyed by this woman’s grocery cart (the fact that she didn’t belong in the Express Lane likely contributed to the feeling), and I catch myself feeling overly self-righteous when I pull out the little balls that are my ChicoBags out of my purse to bag my items. I walk out of the store with my head up high as if others are looking to me as a eco role model.  The sad reality is that the majority of the people here do not care that this prego chick brought her little purple bag to the store.  It’s 7am and half of us are still in pajamas shopping at the grocery store. And in response to your  question, the answer is no, I wasn’t wearing my pajamas but, to be fair, a stranger could easily interpret my sweatpants and hoodie as sleepwear.

Whether or not you agree with the plastic bag ban, the reality is that this law is going into effect in less than a year, and if you want to make this change least painful as possible, you should start making adjustments to your store excursions now.

My husband and I are both very disciplined about using only reusable bags. To benefit all mankind, I wanted to share with you how using cloth bags has been economical and really easy for us.

Hreusable bags, environmentally friendly bag, green bagippie Asian Mom: I always carry three of the fold-up-into-a-ball ChicoBags in my purse everywhere I go.  I am normally a forgetful person (and during my pregnancy, my husband is quite adamant that I have early dementia), so carrying the bags in my purse is the only way it works for me.  I know some people are concerned that buying reusable bags is a hardship for those with low income; funny thing is that I’ve never paid a dollar for any of my bags. One was a wedding favor, one was a promotional item I got at a festival, and the other was given to me by a company that I worked for.  The other ones I have at home are free bags that were given away as promotional items at events, grocery stores, and street fairs.

TJbagsHippie Non-Asian Dad (FYI this is only a temporary label for my husband; he has not fully consented to this alias): Four years ago when we first started dating and I first saw the pile of canvas bags in the back of his car, I immediately knew that this is the man I would marry…okay, slight exaggeration, but nonetheless I love that my husband is a staunch reusable bag user.  He has a collection of beige Trader Joe’s cloth bags that he bought years ago for $1.99 each.  Since he does not carry a man purse nor is he as forgetful as me, his bags sit in the back of his car and, 95% of the time, he remembers to bring it with him to the store.  If either of us forget our bags, we have no qualms carrying out items out of the store using our own bare hands.  Yes, we are human and we have hands, arms, and only occasionally, do I have to carry something using my mouth.

This is what works for us to use these bags every time we shop.  Some people might need a written reminder (on the grocery list or reminder signs in front of the store) and a nagging from a spouse or kids. Others may end up tattooing a reminder on their hands after paying for a paper bag one too many times.  Find out what works for you.

My best advice for those of you who do not own any cloth bags yet: hit up street fairs in your city and I can almost guarantee that at least one vendor will be passing free bags.  Also, Earth Day is coming up in April; I have seen stores such as WalMart pass them out by the thousands at Earth Day festivals.

Laws like this inevitably force people to make changes in their lives whether they like it or not. For instance, my Chinese parents who do not bring cloth bags due to not wanting to be perceived as “different” (no Asian at an Asian grocery stores will refuse a plastic bag)  will undoubtedly bring their own bags because it goes against their frugal ways to pay 10 cents for a paper bag.  Other well-meaning people who clearly know that plastic bags are bad but have not made it a practice to start using cloth bags may find this law to be very helpful in starting a new habit.

Homo sapiens is a highly creative and adaptable species.

We’ve lived through famines and wars and even invented machines that let us travel to other planets.  I have complete faith that most people will learn how to adjust to this small change in their lives. I believe that consumers will figure out how to make this practice affordable and habitual.  I believe that non-profits and public agencies will help ensure that families of low income are not more disproportionately affected by this law.  I believe that businesses will figure out innovative ways to combat the fear that consumers will spend less due to not having enough bags.

In my sweetest Chinese girl voice: we please stop the first-world whining and just deal with it?  The environment, the wildlife, and my children who have to deal with our crap—both literal and metaphorical—will thank you!
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