Sunday, January 14, 2018

Setting Intention (Essay 3, or the new Essay 1?)

This is "Deep Thoughts #1" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some deep thoughts. :)

The year is fourteen days old. We’re practically halfway through January. It is the start of Week 3. Here I am, writing my first post. I am a tiny bit late. (For the record, I did write Essay 1 & 2, but felt "meh" about it. So why not start fresh with something I feel good about ?)

My superstitions tell me that this will be an indication of what my year will be like: I will be late. To everything. (Which, to be honest, isn’t much different from last year – haha!) I try to resist this thinking, but it’s hard when you grew up in a family whose existence is braided with superstitions. I mean, do we really believe that we’ll have an unexpected guest if we drop a utensil on the floor? (If it’s a fork, it’ll be a male guest. If a spoon, female. I have no idea why. I asked both my parents & grandparents and they have no idea. Filipinos & their superstitions, man.) Still, we superstitious folks hold on to these things as, uh, “interesting” ways to set our intentions. I’m curious: does anyone else put quarters out on your porch on New Year’s Eve to draw in prosperity (a custom Hubs did as a kid – its origins are unknown)? Or wear red, again for prosperity (a custom we Filipinos borrowed from the Chinese)?

I want to do two things here:
1. I will not let these first two weeks determine the outcome of the next fifty.
2. I will deliberately, purposefully, mindfully set intentions for 2018.

*

Expectations are a funny thing. What are they exactly? We’re often told to have high hopes but low expectations. What does that really mean? Hope for the best. Expect the worst. What kind of thinking is that? How confusing to the Self! We all do it, I know. I also know that it’s a protective measure. Apply for the job –go all out—but prepare yourself to not get hired. At least the disappointment won’t be so bad. Isn’t that setting yourself up? If our thoughts help create our reality, aren’t we already defeating our efforts by thinking in this way?

*

Last year was quite a feat for me. To write 52 essays in 52 weeks was nothing short of a miracle. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to the Challenge. I was eager to write, brimming with plenty to say. I was eager to let go of perfectionism and just publish rough drafts. I just didn’t know how much actual time –as in, actual minutes and hours—it would take to write these essays. It took a lot. So I’ve been thinking about the Challenge for this year, turning it over in my hands, examining its weight, its crevices, its curves like a river stone.

Because I know what it was like, I am a little hesitant to commit to 52 essays in 52 weeks. I want to make use of my time in a different way. And while the practice of writing is, in and of itself, useful, I already spent a year doing that. Now I’m asking: how will I engage with the practice of writing this year? My dear dear friend Ross wrote what he calls “delights” – every day for a year. That book, The Book of Delights, will be coming soon from Algonquin Press. I could try that: write a delight each day. But I am not like Ross, who sees the world with such joy even in the face of tragedy and despair. He is a gift of a person. Truly. If I were to attempt this, I would probably just grow resentment in my garden of failure, watering it with tears of “not good enough” and “this sucks” until I had a full bloom of pitch black blossoms, packed with thorns.

Yeah. That’s me. This garden sounds about right. Hah!

So what to do instead? I’m not sure. I’m mulling it over. But in the meantime, I will jot down some thoughts here –maybe on a weekly basis. Just to keep the writing practice going regularly. Maybe something like “Deep Thoughts With Leslieann” (I was reminded of that old SNL bit “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy” on a friend’s FB page – it was pretty funny). That title alone gets me in a playful mood so I won’t feel pressure to have to be thoughtful or serious. I could just joke around about whatever was on my mind that day. Or muse over the latest spiritual breakthrough (or cry about it, depending. Haha!)

Yes. This will be my writing intention for the year. At least for this blog.

The other writing? Well, I’m hoping to finish my poetry manuscript. But that can only happen if I’m actually writing and revising it, actually working on it, instead of doing whatever else I do with my time.

(Come to think of it, maybe I should do a time audit. See where I’m at and then plan out my time accordingly. To be mindful, intentional in how I spend my time. For real.)

(And no, this is not me being hard on myself – this is me trying to hold myself accountable. Me being hard on myself? Hah! You should see that one! Hmmm… maybe that’s the next “deep thoughts” so-called essay. Heh heh…)

So while the first two weeks of the year have been slow-going and really rough for me, I will not let that dictate the next 50 weeks. I will acknowledge it and keep moving. We cannot change the past but we can learn from it. We cannot predict the future, despite what our past experiences might tell us –nothing ever goes the same way twice. We can only be here, present in the now. (How’s that for deep thoughts?!) So, sit back, sip that tea, nibble that chocolate and enjoy your time here. I want this to be a year of self-kindness and love.

xoxo—

Disclaimer: There may be posts in which I’m in no mood for love or compassion or joy or peace of self-kindness. I reserve the right to say “Fuck” a lot and bitch and moan and vent… as long as I bring a little self-awareness to the table. J Namaste, bitches! Hahaha! *muwah!*

my intention bracelet with the word for 2018: authentic



Sunday, December 31, 2017

What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and Seeing with Wonder

This is (just in the nick of time) Essay #52 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017. I DID IT!!! WOOOO!!!!

Last week, Shannon, my teacher, talked about the idea of not knowing anything. How, as she’s gotten older, she’s come to realize that she really knows nothing. And she’s happy about that. What it means –at least what I think it means—is that you think you might know something, but then something happens to prove you wrong or just limited in what you know. It means that knowing nothing is akin to beginner’s mind. Everything is a clean slate and you are open to receive whatever comes your way. You look at the world with wonder. I’d like to do that: to look at the world with wonder.

Besides, Shannon continued, does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter how much we know or don’t know?

Sure, knowledge gained through experience can help us learn how to navigate the world in ways that best suit us, but sometimes our histories can hold us back from experiencing something new. For example, I’ve been practicing Kundalini yoga for about a year and a half – I have a good idea of what I’m walking into. And if I’m being honest, I usually walk into the studio with trepidation. What shit is going to happen to me this time? Am I going to break down crying again? Feel my insides torn to shreds? Or am I going to burst with brilliant light that I could outshine the sun? I usually lean toward the former, but practice the yoga anyway. I know that each day is different, each practice brings something different. So maybe I won’t break down into tears. But here's an idea: what if I just put aside my past experiences? Embrace the not-knowing? Maybe I wouldn't carry that trepidation with me.

How do we practice non-attachment to our histories so that we can be open to wonder with a beginner’s mind?

I don’t have a freaking clue.


maybe wonder starts with making barrettes

*

On this New Year’s Eve, as many people do, I am reflecting on the past 52 weeks. It’s been quite a ride. To be honest, I much preferred the first half to this second half. The first half, for me, was full of love and wonder and new discoveries and time –time to read and to deeply engage in my spiritual practice. The second half was a frenzy, as if I were running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. And I have the clutter in my house to prove it! Clutter = never home long enough to put away things in their proper place. Clean? What’s that? You’re lucky I get groceries in the house and the toilet paper stocked!

Kidding aside, this year has been unlike any other. And yeah, everyone says that, right? Every year is different. Every day is different. Change is the only constant in our lives. But this one? Leaps and bounds, my friend. Transformations never before seen.

I know: I sound like an informercial for some cosmic new age retreat in the Catskills. Haha! All those abstract words! Let me try to be more concrete.

The 52 Challenge – woooo, boy. That was something else. At minimum, I showed myself that I really can do anything if I am committed to it. This challenge of writing a personal essay each week for a year pushed me in ways that were uncomfortable and brilliant and loving and, at times—dare I say it?—fun. It got me to be more vulnerable in a very public way. It also taught me how to let go of perfectionism and in some ways, to practice non-attachment. There was no time to hang on and hem and haw over a word choice or tone or any of that because the next week was barreling down on me saying: you need to write the next essay! So I just had to click “Publish” (after a quick proofread for typos – which I sometimes missed!) and move on. I look forward to printing out all 52 essays, laying them out on the living room floor, and seeing what I’ve got.

The essay challenge started out with me telling you stories. By the end, it was me reflecting on my inner self, my spiritual health. But also me being more me, more vulnerable, more true. (At least I’d like to think so.)

I just read my first essay of this year. It’s pretty good. And I’m not saying that out of arrogance. I’m saying that as a teacher of writing. I wonder how long I spent on that essay. I’m pointing this out because the essays of late are not so well-written. Perhaps this is a sign of weariness. Perhaps a sign of very little writing time. Perhaps both. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m writing. And that I’m letting go of that writing – I’m practicing non-attachment. I write a messy essay, which may or may not be an essay but rather a journal entry, and post it to the world fucking wide web. (who even calls it that anymore?! Hahaha!) What matters is that I don’t know anything, but I write to try to figure out things, to discover things, to uncover things, to excavate, to try to understand things, to learn things, to possibly know things. And then to maybe let all that go.

I’ve written an incredible amount this year. More than what you see here on this blog, in these 52 essays. Sometimes I forget that. I forget that I’ve written other things. I forget that I’ve written meditative pieces, emails, letters, poems, rants, and yes, on the biz side: personal artists statements (that counts, you know!). And what have I learned in all of that writing? Amidst all of those words? That there’s stuff I know and there’s a whole bunch more that I don’t know. There’s that saying: you don’t know what you don’t know, right? So how do we go about being aware of this? You take a step forward and fumble your way through the dark until you see light.

Here’s to starting with a clean slate, a beginner’s mind to see the world with wonder and to live as authentically as we can.

Much love and light to you, my dear readers. Wishing you many blessings for the new year.

(Will you see me in 2018? Perhaps. I just don’t know what that looks like yet. Maybe another 52 weeks of essays. I’m not sure. And yes, I know, I know: I’d better figure it out stat! Time’s a-ticking! The new year will be here any minute now!)


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Living an Authentic Life

This is (late) Essay #51 of The 52 Essay Challenge, (I'm almost there!!) a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

Each year, I choose a word to carry me through the next twelve months. I use it as a touchstone, as something to remind me of how I want to live in the world. Now, if I’m being honest (and this has been my aim all year), I’ve forgotten this year’s word. Maybe it was HONEST. Hahaha! I don’t know. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about my word for the coming year.

AUTHENTIC.

There. My word for 2018. This is how I want to live. This is what I will strive for in the coming months, and hopefully, for a lifetime. I want to live an authentic life.

I know I’ve written about it before, touched on this notion of living authentically. But what does that mean, exactly? For me, it means to really tune into your heart. Your heart-soul. To listen to it carefully. To lead with love. To live honestly. To be true and truthful in all things, at all times.

That’s a tall order, if you ask me. My smaller self is saying: are you suuuure you want this to be the word? Capital Self says: Yes! Absolutely! Otherwise, what’s the point?

Now, what I just listed are all abstractions. What does that actually look like? In concrete terms? How does one practice this life of authenticity? That’s a harder question to answer. But maybe it starts with the small things.

Example:
A friend calls and wants to get together. You would like to see this person, but you are feeling too tired or you just aren’t in the mood to go out. Do you force yourself to go out? Or do you stay home? What does your heart say? Will you enjoy being out with your friend once you get there? Or will you inwardly grumble the whole time, imagining your warm cozy bed? Are you going out because you feel obligated and/or you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings? Or do you actually want to spend time with your friend?

I’ve been learning that I need to do what’s right for me because in the end, everybody wins (even if, sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it at the time). Of course, I’m not talking about a free pass to be reckless and do whatever the heck you want. I’m talking about honoring what you need to show love and care for yourself, which will then reflect back to others in your life. Very much like the protocol on flights: affix your oxygen mask to yourself first before helping others. What good are you to others if you’re passed out?

AUTHENTIC.

For me, this means to be my true self, one-hundred percent.

We all are selective about which parts of ourselves we show to certain people. There are parts we hide from others, certain parts we show only to a chosen few. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a myriad of personas. They’re all me, but they don’t often appear in public simultaneously. For example, my poet self doesn’t show up at family gatherings. My family doesn’t understand art or poetry or what it is that I do. And that’s okay, but I also don’t need to expend energy trying to explain to them this part of my life. Does this make me less authentic? No, I don’t think so. But tucking it away in order to make others feel comfortable? Yes. So, it’s a matter of intent. My family knows I’m a poet and I don’t hide it; it’s just a topic that holds no common ground in that setting. So in this regard, I’m honoring what I need while maintain an authentic life. I think. You follow? (I know  - it can get tricky.)

Recently, I was interviewed by Lisa Factora-Borchers for a piece in Bitch on the fragility of safety with regard to sexual violence and harassment. It went live yesterday. This was me going public as a rape survivor in a very big way, on a large platform.

Yes, I am a rape survivor.

And for a long time, I kept it from people. I didn’t want others to treat me differently as people are wont to do. I didn’t want them to treat me with fragility. If anything, that would just piss me off. But keeping it tucked away did not serve me. It felt like a secret, an open secret – it was there, some folks knew, but nobody talked about it. Still, a secret is a secret, even an open one, and keeping that part of me held inside felt inauthentic. I wasn’t wholly me. I wasn’t living a whole life.

My parents don’t know I was raped. But they might know now. Will we talk about it? Probably not. Because: Asian/Filipino. Do I want to talk about it with them? Not really. It wouldn’t be useful to me. (I mean, if they wanted to talk about it, sure, I’ll talk with them. But I’m not going to initiate a sit-down.) Does this make me less authentic? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

I think the point here is that I’ve released that hidden part of me into the light, into the world. As if to say: here I am world – all of me and my messy parts! Take it or leave it. Doesn’t matter. I am me and I don’t need anyone’s approval. I love myself –all of myself—enough to not need it. This is me and I’m good with that.

AUTHENTIC.

We are all multifaceted. I joke with my friend Emily: we both are jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none. What I’m hoping to do in the coming year is to put all those “trades”, all those selves, all those facets of me out into the light. To really be wholly me. Which means to be vulnerable, to be open to hurt and pain. But it also means to be open to love, which is vast and infinite.

I’m scared shitless.
But if I lead with love, maybe it won’t be so bad.
Here we go.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas. Joy. And yes, Love.

This is (really late) Essay #50 of The 52 Essay Challenge, (I'm almost there!!) a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

I would be remiss if I didn’t write about Christmas and spirituality and everything in between. And so, predictably, on this 25th day of December, I will write about Christmas and what it means to me (man, how cliché is that sentence?! I feel like throwing up from the cheesiness dripping off that sentence! Hahaha!).

In all seriousness…

Because I have kids who still believe in Santa, we attended the Christmas vigil mass yesterday afternoon. This has been our custom. How can I reasonably expect to get this family to mass on Christmas morning? There are presents to play with, breakfast treats to eat, assembly instructions to read, family to visit. When they are older, I’d like to take them to midnight mass. There’s something sacred about being in a church lit only by candles held by congregants.

So, if you don’t know, I’m a practicing Catholic who also practices yoga and believes in yogic philosophy and Hinduism and Buddhism. My faith practices are a mosaic of these. There’s this one devout Catholic I know who believes I’m going to burn in hell for this; she didn’t say so directly, but paraphrased some priest who said, in so many words, that people who practice yoga are going to hell as it is akin to paganism. Whatever, dude. God loves all people, no matter how they practice their faith or religion, if they even do that. He loves all of us even if some of us don’t believe he exists.

This is what gets me about religion: so many rules, so many “dos” and “don’ts”. Listen, as along as it’s done with love and causes harm to no one (including yourself), do whatever you want, do whatever connects you, whatever works for you. We’re all God, you know.

Anyway, while I have my issues with the Catholic Church, I still go to mass because there is something there for me. Yes, the predictability of ritual can get boring. (Though my favorite hymns can never get boring. Sometimes I wonder why the music director even tries new songs. Let’s stick with the tried and true!) Yes, most folks in attendance are there out of obligation rather than celebration (often, I ask myself why they even show up at all – but my Tita Emma says at least they’re there. There’s an opportunity for something to happen. Ever the optimist she is.). Yes, the patriarchal structure of the Church bugs the shit out of me (remind me why we can’t have women as priests & deacons??). But still, I still go to mass.

There’s something about being in a space deemed sacred, about being in that place with other people, and sharing, more or less, the same intent. But also having the opportunity to go within oneself in the midst of all this. It’s kinda like going to yoga class. For me, anyway. Yoga is a sacred practice for me and while I have my own home practice, it’s different when I practice with a class. There is collective energy that usually, but not always, feeds me.

Christmas mass is always special for me. The familiar hymns get me misty, especially “Joy to the World” because it’s so big in its joy, its celebration over the birth of a tiny baby who has come to light our way. The packed house gets me, too. And while I know most of those folks never step into a church except for this day (no, they don’t even come for Easter), the fact that they’re there, that it fills the church where it’s standing room only – it fills me, for some reason. It could just be the sheer volume: all of these people, I tell myself, have come to celebrate the birth of this baby who is pure love, pure joy. How can we be that all the time? How can we be joy and love? How can we keep practicing towards that: pure love, pure joy?

But there are also moments during the mass itself when my eyes tear up a bit. Most of those moments are when I close my eyes in prayer. I can feel an energy in the room, a brilliant light, a high vibration. This, I dare say, is what joy feels like. And this is why I keep coming back to mass.

Know this about me: I serve in my church as a Eucharistic Minister. So last night, I played in the all-star game (yeah, I got jokes!). I always forget how amazing it feels to offer the Body of Christ to congregants. (I’ll save the religion talk about the Body of Christ for another time) For me, it’s not what you might think. It’s not: whoa – I get to hold the Body of Christ in my hands! How cool is that?? For me, I have this honor of sharing something holy with others, whether they share this belief or not. And by holy, I mean it in the sense that the act of sharing in and of itself is holy. Food becomes holy when it’s shared (this is something food writer, Simran Sethi, has said & I agree!) Yes, it’s an honor because not everyone gets to do this, but mostly because I get the serve and to share. And to do that with people who may or may not believe in the same things I do. With people who may or may not see me at all. (And when I say “see”, you must know by know that I mean for people to really SEE, to acknowledge the presence of one’s soul, one’s existence as an individual.) But then again, it’s not about me. It’s not about anyone seeing me –not in this role. I am only there to facilitate the communion of believer with Christ, to commune self with Self.

I was thinking about this while I offered the host last night. Then, I noticed each person that came up to receive was white. Seriously. I don’t think there was one person of color in my section. I remember thinking to myself: man, I didn’t think my church was this white! Hahaha! What was interesting in that moment of realization, though (and the re-realization that most of these folks put Cheetoh in office), was that I didn’t have an emotional reaction to this. It was more just a noticing: they are white, I am not.

I could also tell by how they prepared to receive the Body of Christ that they were either out of practice or, more likely, they didn’t see this ritual as sacred. I noticed their hands. Were they placed one on top of the other, palms open? At heart level? Or at belly level? Hands cupped like I was going to pour water in there? Some people just held out one hand and tossed the host in their mouths like popcorn. Some approached with a grumble; others with a smile. One person opened his mouth to receive— I raised the host and began to carefully place it on his tongue in the way I’ve been trained so as not to touch; he darted his mouth forward and almost ate my finger. Most people who receive by mouth usually hold the Body of Christ as so sacred that they cannot touch it with their own hands. I thought this was true of this person. But then as he turned away to move along, he was laughing a little with his friend, as if someone had just told a joke. I was puzzled. But the amazing thing? No emotional response – I didn’t get mad like I might have (take this seriously, would you?!), but instead, just noticed. Interesting, I thought to myself.

As I write this, I think about the neutral mind (one of the bodies of existence according to Kundalini – go look it up!) – is that what this is? I also wonder if this is a sign of my heart growing wider, expanding with unconditional love. And then I think about the sound of my kids fighting over who’s winning (or, cheating) at foosball, my skin starts to prickle, and suddenly I ask: unconditional love? Really? Haha!

But in all seriousness, if we can put aside all the shit that we have allowed Christmas to become –which, it seems, is the checking off of a to-do list by a hard deadline (when I mentioned that I hadn’t done my cards yet, my uncle’s wife said: there’s always next year. To which I said: no, there’s tomorrow – it’s still the season. Does everything end on the 26th??)—then maybe there’s room for love, for real pure love. And for joy, absolute joy.

I wish you and yours a blessed and joyful Christmas, no matter what faith you practice, because really, I’m wishing you love.