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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One Year of Being a Not-So-Hippie Asian Mom

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A year ago on February 28th, I was rushed into the hospital, shrieking in pain, wheeled into an operating room, and met the shrieking, red-faced, cone-shaped head human that a small Chinese surgeon pulled from my belly. (Picture appropriately attached to match the graphic description).

hippie asian mom baby

I know that many mothers feel euphoria when they meet their babies for the first time.  I cannot say I was one of them.  My labor experience was such an emotional rollercoaster that it wasn’t possible for me to feel the bliss juice that I expected to flood my body.

The first few weeks were rough.  After not sleeping for nearly two days during the hospital stay and then only sleeping in 45 minutes increments after we brought our baby home, my body was wiped.  It was hard to be emotionally available to the baby when I was so exhausted.  During the first three weeks when my husband was on paternity leave, I often asked him to go and play with the baby in a different room so that I could be alone and try to sleep.  Other than my time nursing her, I didn’t really know how to interact with a human so small and vulnerable–and I honestly didn’t have the energy to figure out how to.

Even though I have always been in love with babies and been told by many that I was meant to be a mother, when I actually had a baby I had many moments of feeling unsure about motherhood.  Fortunately, these post-natal depressive thoughts dissipated about a month in.  The joys of being a mother finally started to sink in for me. I began to feel more confident taking care of her.  I started to understand her likes and dislikes.  I learned how to soothe her cries.  When she started interacting with smiles and silly noises, our times together became much more fun.

A year has passed, and I won’t be repeating the cliche thing that I hear most mothers say, “I can’t believe they’re growing up so fast!”  One of my intentions as a mother from the start is to stay present in every moment–good or bad, easy or hard, rested or sleep-deprived.  I wanted to soak in every moment that I had with my baby.  I disciplined myself to not think about work or dwell on worries during my time with her.  I didn’t want to miss a single smile, expression or moment with her.

I truly do not feel like time has got by too fast, not do I feel like it has gone by slowly.  Time has passed by in perfect speed, and I have loved watching the day to day changes that my little one goes through. I attribute this feeling to my be-in-the moment-every-moment approach to life.

I don’t want to brag…but being a mother at this stage has been fairly smooth compared to many mothers I have met who have children of the same age.  I am lucky that my baby has an easy and calm temperament.  She is the type of baby I can bring into a restaurant for long meals, crowded parties or long trips without having to worry if she can handle it.  She is well-balanced in her skills as an observer–able to watch her environment and just take things in without reacting– and as a participant–able to interact with others by waving, making eye contact and displaying interest.  When we are in public, people easily notice her high level of engagement.  We always make lots of friends when we go out.

hippie asian mom baby

One year in, I have no doubt in my mind that I was destined to be a mother.  Since having a baby, I have grown in so many ways as a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a healer.   Being a mother has intensified my love for children and a desire to protect them.  Being a mother is allowing me to re-experience life as a child, heal old wounds, and help create what I believe to be a healthy, joyful life for a little human.

Something that has surprised me–but honestly shouldn’t–is that I’ve become less of a so-called hippie since having a baby.  I’ve long been a staunch believer in not supporting the meat industry as well as an avid believer in making minimal waste.  I’ve always been one to go out of my way to make my lifestyle adhere to my beliefs.  However, after being a vegetarian/pescatarian since high school, I started eating meat again when I was pregnant and now continue to periodically eat meat. I discovered disposable food pouches and occasionally use them as travel baby food.  I primarily uses cloth diapers but find myself not hesitating to use a disposable diaper when I find it to be easier for the occasion or when I feel lazy.

Okay, so I haven’t completely thrown my environmental principles out the window.  But the reality is that I’m not able to be as much of a purist as I used to be or would like to be.  I have conflicting feelings about this.  On one hand, I feel like a complete hypocrite.  I feel like I have submitted to the demands of modern life, prioritizing convenience and self-indulgence over the well-being of nature.  On the other hand, I’m okay with my choices for now because I know (or hope, at least) that they are temporary.  Right now when I am responsible for a newly walking infant who requires an hour to eat a meal, I am extremely protective about every free moment.  And if this means, using a disposable diaper or buying store-bought baby food every once in a while, I shouldn’t beat myself up (…right?).

I am learning that a huge part of being a mother is about practicing compassion.  Compassion for myself when I mess up or when I feel ignorant, irritable, insufficient or lazy.  Compassion for my baby when she is screaming in the middle of the night or refuses to eat the food I spent all afternoon making for her.  Compassion for my husband when we get bicker. Compassion for my family when they give too much unwanted advice.  Compassion for other parents and families.

All in all, I absolutely love being a mom.  Beyond the physical, emotional and financial challenges, beyond the fatigued mornings and washing dishes late into the night, beyond the uncertainties and fears, there has been nothing more joyful than giving life and living life with my child.

And now–it’s time for bed. Until we meet again.

 

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How I met Julius, my husky companion

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Yesterday on 10-10-2015, my beautiful friend, Julius, transitioned to the spirit world. He was a Julius Huskyspecial creature and there is a special story of how he came into my life. I wanted to share it here.

Six and a half years ago, I felt the itch to add a second dog to my household. My boyfriend at the time and I already had a red-furred husky child, Sequoia, who, near the age of ten, had the temperament of a grumpy cat. I wanted to see if a second dog in the home would perk up his spirits.

And so I contacted the local Bay Area group, Norsled, which rescues Northern breed dogs (huskies, malamutes, samoyeds, and akitas), and signed up to become a foster parent. Gail, a spunky woman who coordinated the adoptions, emailed me back quickly, letting me know of a little guy named Ken who needed a foster home. He was cooped up in a boarding facility with another husky they happened to name Barbie. According to Gail, Ken had been picked up by the local animal shelter in Modesto. He had been wandering the streets and looked like he had been surviving on his own for some time. I was stoked to take him on as my first foster dog.

One early Saturday morning, we drove over to the facility that he was staying in temporarily. He was a quiet but friendly pup. He readily followed me, with leash in hand, and excitedly jumped into the back of our car. I heard Sequoia grumble, “Who is this young’un in my car?”

Ken behaved perfectly normal until we arrived at the doorsteps leading to our apartment. He suddenly froze and refused to go up the stairwell. We coaxed him. We tugged at his leash. We tried to lure him with food. He didn’t budge. At some point, I gave up and let him hang out in the front yard until he was ready. Three hours later, he finally came upstairs on his own. Clearly, there were signs of anxiety, indicating that he had been a stray dog for quite some time or he had suffered abuse/neglect in his previous home.

Newly named Julius, my first foster dog was quite skittish. He was easily startled, preferred to hang out in the corner of rooms or underneath tables and was wary of men. The biggest problem behavior he had was with other dogs. We had one memorable experience at a dog park when he drew blood from a scary-looking boxer—and he was so quick at nipping the boxer’s ear that no one in the busy dog park actually witnessed him doing it.

For about two months, I brought Julius to adoption fairs and introduced him to families who were interested in adopting him. There were no perfect matches (in my motherly opinion) and I became rigid in my recommendation of what kind of household I thought was best for him. I obviously was very protective and attached to him.

Soon after I had taken Julius in as a foster dog, Sequoia started showing signs of illness. After several weeks of symptoms that came and go, he, one night, went into a state of acute distress. We had to bring him to the emergency vet at midnight on the day of his 10th birthday. We soon learned that there was a large tumor in his abdomen and he was bleeding internally. He had to be put to sleep that night. I was completely devastated. I felt immense guilt that I caused him to be stressed by bringing in a second dog in the home. He never warmed up to Julius and did not welcome him into the family. This is a guilt that has never dissipated to this day.

Having to care for and train Julius kept me from sinking into a long stage of mourning. Now that Sequoia was gone, I wavered back and forth for many weeks on whether I should keep Julius. I felt concerned that he had already developed a bond with me and would have to go through this process again with another family, who may or may not have the ability to help him with his behaviors. I don’t know what finally convinced me to just say YES to adopting him…but one day, I called Gail and confirmed that I would keep him.

Julius was with me as I transitioned through different jobs, homes, relationships and stages of life over the last six and half years. I have walked over a thousand miles with Julius, two walks daily. I’ve declined many night time outings so that I could be with him in the evenings. I’ve spent more minutes of my adult life with him than I have with anyone else. He was with me so that I would never be alone. And I tried my best to be with him so that he would never be alone. I loved him like a son.

I was so lucky to have such a gentle, well-mannered creature be my friend for these years. I cannot write about the intensity of the pain I am feeling right now. For now, I can only share about the joy, memories and love that he brought into my life.

Here’s to Julius and to a peaceful transition to the next world.

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Reflection: Finding Happiness in 7 Years

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In the same way that I’m picky about my cream puffs, I’m super picky about what books I’m willing to invest my time in reading. I’m one of those people who will compulsively borrow ten library books, keep them for six weeks, but will have only read a paragraph from each one to determine that “the writing is just not my taste”. The thought of reading a badly written book even for five minutes feels like getting a tooth pulled out with rusty pliers.

But it’s the last month of my pregnancy right now, and all I can manage to enjoy after work is sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream. My left brain tells me to douse myself with fresh knowledge while baby is in her ultra-growing phase and mommy is her ultra-lazy phase.  So I head into the library next to IKEA and spend about an hour cherry-picking the last books I will read in a very long time (I’m assuming most new mothers don’t have the leisure or energy to finish a book).

After combing up and down the aisles, I finally made a choice. Interestingly, for someone who doesn’t typically read books a second time, I decided to revisit Caroline Myss’ Sacred Contracts, a spiritual book about realizing our life purpose. This was a book that I read about seven years ago during my ripe 20’s when I was having a hard time figuring out where my life was going.  I honestly do not remember if I derived much from this book back then, but something told me that it was time for me to pick it up again.

During my early 20s, I read a lot of Buddhist literature and spiritual self-help books to help navigate my life decisions. I was one of those crazily unrealistic perfectionist who had an impossibly high expectation of what I should have achieved by age 22. I wanted to be a world-changer, a leader, a noted activist in the environmental and animal rights movement.  I wanted to be one of those young people on the front page of the news for my worldly accomplishments.  I didn’t realize at that time that my dreams for what I wanted to be and my emotional growth and leadership skills were not in sync.  I wanted to be someone that I was not ready to become yet.  I still had a lot of growing and learning to do, but I couldn’t see through my impatience and self-criticism to realize or accept that.

As a wise person might predict, no matter how many self-help texts I read or spiritual teachers I consulted, I would reap no benefit if I could not see the truth of my state of my life. The books, spiritual groups, and classes only intensified the self-critic in me that said I was not good enough and that I wasn’t doing enough.

Amazingly, less than ten years later, I go back to reading this book with what feels like a new set of eyes. It’s only been a handful of years, but I feel like I’ve gone through hell and back to find a place of peace, acceptance, and, yes, happiness. I left a field of work that I thought I would work in for the rest of my life to attend graduate school, which turned out to be like a three year long therapy session. I left an old relationship when I met a man who I knew instantly was going to be my life partner.  I got engaged, married, and pregnant.  I held a number of very challenging jobs which tested me in ways that I never expected.  I grieved through the loss of several grandparents and my beloved canine.  I learned to be okay that there would be people who would never like or approve of me no matter how hard I tried.  I moved away from the college town that I loved back to my home town to live with my family.  I learned to forgive my parents for things I wish they would’ve done for me as a child and to accept them for who they are now.  Each life change and challenge had a purpose–I realize that now.

The intent of this short post is not to reflect on the book (I’m only on the third chapter!) or to boast about my life.  I merely wanted to express the possibility that a lot can change in a small period of time if one is willing to take the challenge to face their fears, to accept their flaws, to risk their heart in new relationships, to make big life changes and to take big leaps of faith. I am so blessed to become a mother at a point in life when I feel physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy and to raise a child with an equally healthy partner.  I am eager to have a child who can further my growth in my new life as a mother.

 

 

 

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