Hashtag JOMO: Joy of Missing Out

I was sitting at work one day when a co-worker was walking me through why he throws social gatherings. I had just finished explaining to him that I find him a bit extroverted and he said he definitely is not. So I had challenged him by asking why he throws so many get-togethers if he was, indeed, introverted. In an effort to explain himself, he opened up about some deep, inner wrangling that I think consumes a majority of younger people today, and so I thought I’d share.

“I have a checklist of things I want to do in order to be the type of person I think I should be. Sometimes, when I feel like I’ve been too busy being alone, I think to myself, Ok, I should try to be more social now. So I like to throw get-togethers to check off that box on my checklist. I feel like I have to be social to be a well-rounded person.” 

Whenever I hear millennials verbally rationalize whether or not they should do something or attend an event, I usually hear something similar to what my co-worker expressed. It’s the fear of not being able to check off all the boxes, as if not being able to do everything, achieve everything, excel in everything, socialize all the time, attend every event, and take on every adventure somehow makes you less of a “successful” person. In hashtag terms, it’s the FOMO on life. As if missing out on these opportunities indicates a life less lived. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love opportunities. I love to recognize them and to grasp them, to tackle them head-on. But I think we’ve lost sight of our choices and our lives are being heavily dictated by a four-letter hashtag.

I can relate to my co-worker’s sentiment. Raised to believe that tucking as many achievements under my belt, while knowing as many people as possible, made me a “success”, I was the ultimate “YES”-girl in my late teens and early twenties. I said “Yes” to everything! I don’t even think my brain had time to process what was being asked of me before the positive response flew out of my mouth. It was as if I was a robot programmed for this one particular life mission. Other robots got to shoot stuff or clean houses, and I’m over here spewing “yeses” from my antennae. Sure, it got a lot of people to like me (because I was “Oh so accommodating!”), and yes, I did create a sense of recognition (because “How can one human balance so many achievements at once?”), but honestly, I doubt I did anything much for ME during those early years. Despite all the accolades, saying yes to everything did not actually bring me more joy.

So when did #FOMO start to take root in my generation’s short lives? I think we have social media to thank for the birth of FOMO (literally), however, I believe that “FOMO” was already being instilled in us even before Instagram and Facebook started to compare us against each other. In case you didn’t know, FOMO is an acronym for the term “Fear of Missing Out”. Underlying this fear is the need to be a part of whatever it is that society thinks we should be a part of, which has been shaping us since, well, birth. The biggest factor causing this fear is really our comparison with others, fueled by social media (thanks again!). We can ask, “Missing out on what, exactly?” And the answer is, “Missing out on whatever everyone else has.” We worry that by failing to say yes to everything, we will fall behind our peers, who are in essence, advertised as saying yes to everything. The early bird gets the worm.

What I hate most about this is the falseness of the premise, which is that there is a shortage of opportunities available to us. The reality is, there are way more opportunities available today (too many, at times) than there were a decade ago. By trying to convince us that there is scarcity in the world, we wire ourselves with the need to grab everything we can. It’s a very negative image to paint, dark in color, sour in mood. Instead of seeing someone doing something great on social media and saying, “Wow, that’s so fantastic of you!”, it creates this response of like, “OMG, FOMO”, in a real-life, acronym-only-conversation kind of way.  It’s a concept that sets the groundwork for making people feel as if they are on the outside looking in on the things they AREN’T doing, when in reality, the things they ARE doing may be different, but equally fantastic, too! It creates the need to continually add to one’s life, as if it wasn’t already enough. As if we aren’t enough.

Slowly, societal expectations are limiting our choices. We are brainwashed to think that we cannot create our own definition of success. It’s a pre-determined box that we all have to fit in in order to be considered worthy. And like my co-worker pointed out, there are a lot of boxes to check off. So the fear of missing out (on being “successful”) fuels our need to say “Yes” to as many things as we can, without allowing us to realize that by saying “yes” to one thing, you are essentially saying “no” to other things. We are only one person and it would be impossible to say yes to everything, because the possibilities are infinite. We are given the illusion that we are saying “yes” to everything when in reality, we are saying “yes” to everything society expects us to say yes to. In that sense, we’ve lost our freedom to make a choice, because we are saying no to the things that society has decided has no value.

JOMO is the antithesis of FOMO. It is the JOY of missing out. It’s a concept based around the positivity of abundance, rather than the negativitiy of scarcity. Honestly, we need to take ownership of our lives, and have the power to choose what we do with it. The first step in doing that is to abandon the fear. Who wants to make their life decisions based on fear? What kind of life does that give you? Rather than constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses and living in a state of fear, embrace a heightened state of confidence, of self-belief, of self-freaking-worth. When young people are asked what they want in life, many of them don’t know. They will tell you the standard answers, such as a job, a house, a car, money, a family, but when you dig deeper, they don’t actually know. Was it them that initially wanted this, or did someone convince them that this is what they want? In being shaped at an early age to want certain things and to need to keep up with everyone else, we’ve lost that ability to say, “Hold up. Actually, you know what, that’s not what I want.” Stop the hamster wheel, hop off, and live a human life.

When I attend a party, I am choosing to attend a party, joyously, fully, whole-heartedly, and committedly. Gone are the days when I would be getting ready for a social gathering and dreading it because I did not actually want to go. But I hear this voiced dread ALL THE TIME from people I know. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. There are invitations and events that Mike and I purposefully decline, either because it does not line up with our lifestyle or our values, or what have you. If we determine that we need a weekend to unwind and relax, we aren’t going to try to squeeze in one thing to appease our great aunt, much to a great aunt’s dismay.

The funny thing is that, at times, yes I can be indecisive. But I am the type of person where, when I know, I just know. Once I’ve chosen in a very mindful way, the alternatives kind of disappear. I let them go, wholly and completely, and move on with my life. There should not be any regrets if you really, truly, joyfully choose one thing over another. There’s no looking back and wondering the whole night how the party you declined is faring, who is talking to who, etc. There is no (and there shouldn’t be) any concern for things that do not add value to your life. If you are left wondering about who went where and what so and so did, you have not completely freed yourself from those comparisons. In fact, I would like to point out that you may be obsessed by other people’s lives, at the expense of living your own.

JOMO can only be achieved once you switch your perspective to one of gratitude. It’s seeing that what you have is worth something. You don’t have to keep chasing the grass that may or may not be greener on the other side. Really ask yourself “Why?” Why are you making the choices you are making? If you are here, but you want to be over there, then go over there! But for God’s sake, don’t look back and think, “Ugh, I should have stayed over there.” Understand that you cannot have everything, but you can choose the things that you actually want. It’s the intentionality of it all that attracts me. The ability to choose. The FREEDOM. It’s so empowering. I hesitate to even embrace JOMO – because of the term “missing out” within it. You AREN’T missing out. You simply chose something else. And who’s to say THEY aren’t missing out on what YOU have? Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe. 

In 2017, YES-girl realized she had a superpower, and that was the power to say “No”. I was slowly breaking free from my robotic charm. My hardware must’ve gone a bit haywire because I started to say no to more and more things, events, statuses, and even relationships. In doing so, I became more in control of my own life. I was freer, lighter, happier, and ultimately, I learned more about who I was and who I wanted to be.

I had an old friend once comment that “I had reached an unreasonable state of happiness.” It’s not as if I’ve discovered this happiness like some fountain of youth or other mystical thing, and that it was unfathomable, as if it could not really, truly be achieved. I was pretty proud of that statement, false as it may be. I think anyone can reach this happy stage. They just have to stop being tied down by the fear of not being everyone else.

Choose JOMO.

But seriously, I’m not using that as a hashtag.

Cultivating Happiness by Going Back to the Breath.

When I first stepped into a yoga studio, I was not in search of an awakening of sorts. I was twenty and I had not started the search for my life’s purpose or meaning. I wasn’t even aware that I had yet to find my true self. In a way, Yoga was the one who found me, and has been creeping into life’s little crevices ever since, teaching me that only one thing keeps us fully alive, that which is our life source: the breath.

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I attended my first yoga class to support a best friend from high school , J. Lowe,  (pictured above and throughout this post) who just discovered yoga and was teaching her first class. A third bestie completed our trio and we brought along Mike and a roommate of his. I saw the class solely as an exercise routine. Although we were being reminded throughout class to return to our breath, I was too busy concentrating on the sweat dripping down from my forehead to my toes, causing me to slip and slide from my mat like a waterslide laid out amidst summer grass. My mind, a restless wanderer, was constantly wondering whether anyone was looking at me and what they thought of my stance. I was shy of my newbie skill set and the inability to hold postures as gracefully as some of the other swans in the room. I was exhausted ten minutes in, and realized that I didn’t have a single thread of muscle in my puny body. I kept wondering when the hour would be up, looking forward to eating something soon, despite the late hour. I thought that this would be way easier, if only I didn’t have bangs. I was looking around to see what posture to hold, what everyone was wearing, how my friends were faring.

At that point in my life, I had what they call a monkey mind. All these thoughts that had nothing to do with the yoga itself kept barging in and disrupting me and my process. Accompanied with these thoughts were a collection of emotions. Shyness, frustration, insecurity, loneliness, tiredness, empathy, embarrassment, anger, happiness, restlessness, hunger, to name a few and not necessarily in that order. It was an accurate representation of what my life was, a mirrored reflection of a million particles squeezed into a tiny space and creating tumultuous friction as they collided and fought for my attention.

A chase is a word I so lovingly use to describe my past lifestyle. Fast forward a few years later, where I started to do a bit of soul searching to answer one main question. How can I find happiness? I started with the question, “What will make me happy?” and I didn’t stop asking follow up questions. Even now, I still haven’t stopped.

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If you ask somebody what will make them happy, they may say, money will make me happy. Okay why money? Because I will have the ability to pay for food on the table. Okay why food? Because I want to go through every day knowing that I won’t go hungry. Okay why don’t you want to go hungry? Because I don’t want to suffer or feel pain. What will make you feel pain? Being constricted. What else will make you feel constricted? A work schedule, a timeline, expectations… and so on and so forth. And when you strip it down to the barest ingredient, what I found in all my answers was that external forces, things you cannot control, those are what causes a majority of our negative emotions. These external causes of unhappiness include material goods, status, pressures, expectations, and so on. Internal forces, those that we can control because they are inside of us, are the weapons with which we can yield and carve and create our own happiness. They say that happiness comes from within, and I wholly believe in that. I write all the time about how all these things we try to purchase and achieve and accomplish, maybe they will bring us happiness, momentarily, but that happiness will fade. And like some addicting drug, you will then need more to trigger that happiness again, and then even more. The chase will have you wasting your life away trying to find a happiness that is temporary, when you can slow life down and find happiness that is constant.

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As with the yoga example, the external forces are what create a majority of our discomfort on and off the mat. When I was first learning the poses, I would remember being uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of having pain, in some of the more advanced body configurations. What was even worse, was the narrative that quickly followed that pain. My monkey mind would ask me questions like, “What am I doing here?”, “There’s no way you can make it until the end of the class”, “Everybody is watching you fail”, “You’ll never get to be as good as them”, etc. And with that story comes the emotions listed above. As those emotions got triggered, the physical pain would actually feel worse, solely because it is perceived as larger than what it truly is, after being brought to the forefront of the mind. Much of the suffering comes from the emotions we tie to the actions, rather than the action itself. It’s the story that kills us. Slowly, over time, I developed a way to let these thoughts go, which then allowed me to control the amount of suffering there was. Once I let the narrative float by, like clouds, or the thoughts run through, like water, I became more able to sit in those positions with a feeling of groundedness, or contentment. There is a sense of peace that comes with letting things go and returning to the breath, focusing on the one thing that really matters in our life. I learned so much from this lesson than any other lesson about what it really means to be a human being.

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“There are inevitably going to be these pains that arise, whether they are physical, emotional, loss of a loved one, things not going exactly as you want them to go. But the story that we layer on top of that… that actually creates a more intense layer of suffering that can impede this deeper layer of happiness that we are often looking for.”                                                                                            -Corey Muscara

Do you ever notice how a lot of tension in our lives come from the resistance towards things that are happening to us? Instead of pushing back, trying to reshape what happens, forcing control over situations, try to just let it happen. Once I got into that space, I started to really feel free. It was not that everything became one hundred percent perfect, la-dee-da in my life. There were still days when I felt tired, when Mike and I had different viewpoints, when money seemed to control everything, when I had an explosion of emotions, and when my thoughts continued to be all over the place, but my relationship towards everything has shifted to a place of disconnect from these external factors, and somehow, I ended up more grounded. Imagine being tied down to all of these things when the hypothetical tornado hits. These things will just fly up in the air, and you along with it. But to be fully free from it means that you will find an easier time planting your feet solidly on the ground. The ability to watch a whirlwind of life’s surprises pass you by without being swayed is a superpower that we have, but we fail to cultivate. I have found only one way of strengthening that power, and that is to return to the breath.

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To try, at home.

Try to sit cross-legged in a room for even five minutes and focus on your breath. If this is the first time you are trying this, it will be very difficult. Your mind will wander through a rabbit hole, and may possibly never come back. But try to allow these thoughts to simply pass. Practice letting it go and coming back to the breath every time.

Do this at least once a day when your space and mind is clear. I do this while going through a flow in my living room in the early mornings, as the sun peaks through our glass door. Usually, it’s after my roommate and Mike have left, so that the space is quiet and still. Typically, I prefer to do this prior to work, just to clear my head and reap all the benefits. Sometimes, it’s good to come back to in the evenings before bed, just to let everything go. Whatever works for your schedule will be fine.

It has taken me years to get to the point I am at now, but it is still nowhere close to the point I want to be. I have an outlandish dream of being ordained as a monk at some point in my life, and while that seems too crazy to come to fruition, I try in my everyday life to at least be a bit better at letting go. While I am not writing this as a way to get all hippie on you, I am hoping that sharing this experience will (even minutely) increase happiness in the world.

For flows from my friend J. Lowe, check out her YouTube channel or subscribe to her newsletters.

Letting Go of Perfect

I grew up in a world where perfection was taught as the ideal. I was surrounded by critical (yet loving) adults during my childhood, and each shortcoming that I had was never missed, and pointedly brought to my attention. While a positive take on this particular upbringing would include a constant desire for continual self-improvement, to which I attribute my acquisition of a wide array of knowledgeable tidbits and how-tos, I would like to argue that perfectionism in excess could be damaging to any human being, and even more so, to a child.

We are all human. Meaning we all make mistakes. Perfection is not attainable by any means. Yet it is societally portrayed as an achievable goal. At an early age, we are taught to reach for perfection. Examples of this include staying within the lines when you first learn to color. Using a ruler when drawing a line. Organizing your desks into rows and columns. Dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Aim for 100% on every exam. An A+ is the most covetable grade, would you not agree? This extends into our later school years, when we have to practice our speeches before we present. When we try out for Club sports teams, or for a part in the school play. And so the cycle goes long after we’ve graduated. When we see coworkers getting promotions, friends buying new cars or new homes, advertisements showing off the latest gadgets, Instagram photos of so and so still looking fly at age 30 while you’re trying to hide the dark circles under your eyes. We get graded our whole lives, judged, measured against our peers, our progress monitored with the hope of seeing some improvement. Alas, I am not saying improvement isn’t good. I am only saying perfection is not.

For the entirety of my first decade on earth, and for the majority of the second, I believed that creating a life as close to perfect as possible will yield a very successful life. I remember my personal frustrations when I would fall short of perfect. I would throw tantrums, loathing myself for my humanness. I would watch kids close to my age and aim to beat them in everything I can. My competitive spirit urged me to fight, until I left everyone behind in the dust. If I lost a game, I would be livid. If I didn’t get the highest score on a test, I would not allow myself any joys. Once I did start getting the highest scores on the test, it stopped being enough. I also had to be the first to turn the test in. I had to be the kid with the highest grades in the highest classes with the most volunteer hours while balancing multiple jobs. I was doing well at striving for perfect. I now realize that perfectionism is unsustainable, and if I had continued down that path, I would end up exhausted, burnt out, and defeated, because I would have never, no matter how hard I tried, ever reached the point of perfection. I would have spent more years of my life, afraid of being judged, but being judged anyway.

I got to a point in my early teens where I felt I was never good enough. My ego was deflated to something akin to paper thin. I think if striving for perfection is forced at a very early age on children, it can lead to a number of insecurities that, misguided, could have life-long detrimental effects. I, luckily, am not such a child, but how many teenagers today feel a vast emptiness in their lives? How many people develop eating disorders, depression, or suicidal tendencies? How many adults play “Keeping up with the Joneses”? How many people spend every day trying to be somebody they’re not? I was able to escape the rabbit hole towards perfection before it all together consumed me. It did however, define my early teen years. I was a very shy young girl, who was not confident at all in my abilities, despite achieving more than my peers. I felt like my accomplishments always fell short, although I kept on trying, and because of that, I had a tendency to undersell myself. More importantly, I lived in constant fear that whatever I was accomplishing in life was not good enough by other people’s standards. Because of this, I kept my accomplishments mostly to myself. I was afraid to share ideas, to ask questions, or to take a risk when opportunities arose. I was hesitant to meet new people, to start trends, and to step outside of my comfort zone, avoiding activities such as sports or acting. Public speaking scared the living daylights out of me. I once had to stand up and give a speech in front of a class for Academic Decathlon. I was so afraid, I remember shaking like a leaf. A funny classmate of mine yelled, “Is the wind blowing in here?” I remember starting to cry in front of twenty other students. Not exactly the best impression. The teacher never made me do a class presentation for the rest of the year, and I was forever ear-marked as a sensitive student. Ironically, six months later, I won third place for my speech, in all of Orange County, out of more than five hundred students. It’s not that my speech wasn’t good the first time, or that I improved my delivery dramatically by practicing for the competition. It was because I was presenting in front of twenty peers who I was afraid would not understand my writing style, my topic, or my delivery, VS speaking to two judges who I felt understood multiple writing styles, topics, and deliveries. I would have forever been doomed to this constant, insecure state, if it weren’t for art.

My savior came in the form of an art teacher in 11th grade named Mr. Welke. He was an older fellow who had a gray handlebar mustache, wore a leather jacket, a white tee, and jeans every day, played guitar, and rode a bright blue motorcycle to school. He was my hero. I decided to take art class because, well, I loved to draw, and paint, and make things out of nothing. I didn’t take an art class before that point because it wasn’t considered “productive”. I was only able to take it when I was finishing up a majority of my requirements to graduate and I still needed a fifth period class. Creativity has always been an attractive soul mate, a kindred spirit that stayed the course with me from childhood until now. My problem was that whenever I created something and showed it to a grown up, there was always room for improvement. Additionally, if I ever created anything remotely avant-garde, it would be scoffed at for being a bit too creative, which, little did I know, does not exist. Repeatedly redirected to copying other famous artists’ work, or redoing mine own to be a bit more perfect, I fell into a cycle of non-creativity. I was told I was making art, when really, I was RE-making art. The same art that already exists.

When I started art class, I thought I was going to be great at it. I thought it was going to be an easy course to add to my five AP classes (zero period included), and will allow me time to relax at school. However, for the first few months, I struggled. Not because I had awful hand-eye coordination or lack of attention to detail. Mostly, because my fear of falling short of perfect crippled my ability to produce anything. I fell behind due dates, turning in assignments such as drawing vertical lines without a ruler and making circles with the left hand very late. I remember I struggled most when we were asked to make a self-portrait of ourselves in pencil. I must have stared at myself in the mirror for a hundred hours, scrapping every attempt I made because I felt like none of them resembled a hard-copy photograph of the mirror. I think he recognized my struggles, and one day told me that I was trying way too hard. He gave me a small speech and though the words are now lost to me, the message never left.

You cannot be an artist and perfect at the same time. Aiming for perfection will handicap you in more ways than one. You will not be able to produce, and you will not be able to create. You can only copy what has already been done, and continue to re-do it forever and ever, because there is no end with perfection. True art, or any form of expression of self, cannot coexist with something so definite. If you want to be a genuine creative, you have to let perfect go. The point of art is to produce. At the end of the day, if you made one thing, regardless of what it looks like to others or to you, you have still made one thing. It’s a product that you can sign, or not sign, share, or keep to yourself. You can do whatever you want with it, because it is yours and only yours. A true artist needs to learn to genuinely express what is inside their being, without fear of being judged. An audience should never shape what you are trying to make, or else they will rob you of your true self. You would be a complete waste, if you do not create for the rest of your life.

While it took me many years to start implementing this advice, and I continually tweak it even today, it taught me what it meant to be the real me. At first, I applied it solely to my art. I started to turn in paintings and drawings that were unfinished, but on time. I learned that to finish something, I had to stop spending my time lolling, overthinking, overanalyzing, and scrapping. I stopped running in circles until I was ragged, and started drawing straight lines without caring about their lack of straightness. I stopped being so hard on myself, and I started to love the freedom of making a blob and calling that art. I started to answer questions, then ask them myself. I started to challenge multiple thoughts, and reach out to other people I didn’t know. I conquered the fear of tackling any task that might initially seem too big. I stopped believing in limits. I started living life, one day at a time. My goal is to no longer be perfect. My goal is to be free. Every morning, I wake up with one mission. To be slightly better than I was yesterday. That’s it. I don’t have to reach a milestone. As long as I work towards improving myself in even the slightest bit, then I have already created a better me in a better place. I can put my signature on it, and share it with the world, or keep it to myself. By wanting to become an artist, I learned to reach for something beyond perfect. I started to reach for something completely human.

Wellness on a Wintry Night

Well, the time is upon us. It’s Christmas Eve Eve, and despite all efforts to slow the season, it has found a way to come bounding forward, whether we are ready or not. Trying to be more mindful about erasing obligatory holiday traditions such as scrambling for presents and wrapping up a frenzy and gathering ingredients for parties, I suddenly notice the flurry of a whirlwind that surrounds me. Walking in slow motion through my own life story, I can’t avoid hearing the fluttered words of frantic holiday shoppers, seeing the stricken faces of panicked mothers, and feeling the fiery furrowed brows of shopping mall drivers. And as it gets closer, I find that we trade our inner well-being for the craze of this joyous season.

As days get shorter and our to-do lists get longer, we feel a pressure to jump into holiday-mode and work twice as hard to accomplish more in less amount of time. We get so wired up and stray from our center, that come New Year’s Eve, it is no wonder that we crave some resolutions of our own. We NEED resolutions to bring our compass back to facing due north, or anywhere close. We let go of our wellness in the beginning of these wintery days, when the temperature just begins to fall, right when we are supposed to be slowing down most.

When I think of a cold, crisp evenings, the vision of jumping out of bed and running outside isn’t what pops into my mind. I think of hot coffee held by mittened hands. Of heavy layers of blankets and warm hugs. I think of wooly socks and fireplaces, of thick rugs, and cabin walls. I think of vinyls playing and cozy couches. I think of retreating, indoors, maybe towards candlelight.

I believe Mother Nature shows us best how it’s supposed to be done. With the dropping of temperatures, the flowers fall back, as the roots take time to heal and the plant prepares for spring. During this dormancy, the plant is undergoing some serious housekeeping, nourishing it with the few nutrients available and preparing it to be its best self when it is ready to spring back to life. Animals begin their hibernation process, using this time to sleep, to recharge, to refresh. Their body temperatures and heart rate slow down, to save on energy. Everything is in preparation for the next chapter of life.

We can learn from other living things that maybe what we need, to prepare for the holidays, is to give our minds and bodies the healing and reset that it needs to be our very best. As Christmas Day draws near, I had my father-in-law call us today to let us know that he is better from the flu that prevented us from having dinner together this past Wednesday. Unfortunately, now Grandpa and Grandma have the flu, and our Christmas Eve breakfast tomorrow must be cancelled, so that they could get better. He was driving medicine to them, because his sister (our Aunt) was busy delivering medicine to our cousins, who were also sick. The stress of all the sickly members has got our Aunt’s hands full, per my father-in-law. And I think to myself, why? Why do we do this to ourselves at this time?

So today, when Mike got an invitation from his high school friends to meet up at a brewery to catch up for the holidays, something inside told me that maybe it was best to stay home. Mike went to join his comrades in the usual comedic banter over a cold glass of brewed beer, but I chose to be here, at home. I poured myself a cup of tea, and smelled it before each sip. I lit a candle and cozied up in blankets, wearing pajamas and wooly socks, on our couch. I turned on a relaxing Spotify playlist to unwind to, and decided to write these thoughts. Because even I, with all the mindfulness I could muster, was surprised by Christmas this year. Even I couldn’t slow down time enough, couldn’t appreciate December for all it had to offer. Even I couldn’t avoid the stress, despite the dwindling of gifts to a handful bunch, despite ridding us of excess decorations, despite loosening my grip of what was expected of me this Christmas season. I still felt the pressures of society expecting me to succumb to traditions, such as attending the holiday office party. I crumbled at people’s probing questions as to why I would not attend. I caved to my struggling emotions when the time came that I was supposed to be in attendance. I felt all the guilt of not making it, like a burden. And I became sick because of it. I woke up this morning unwell. I might as well have attended and suffered a hang-over from jovial libations and typical end-of-the-year festivities instead of suffering in solidarity about a perceived responsibility. Still, I think to myself, why? Why is it so hard to escape the flurry, and why do we continue to say yes to speeding up and forget all about the slowing down? Why do we allow this time of year to stress us so?

In the following week, in lieu of writing a set of resolutions for the New Year, I need first to write a regimen, a mantra, for my future well-being. I invite others to do the same.

How do you make yourself well, whole, centered, and content? What activities do you keep returning to?

Do you feel balanced, relaxed, energized, nourished, focused, and rested?

In the past year, when did you feel most tired, most lost, most guilty, most burdened?

What do you need in order to maintain sanity, happiness, and contentment?

Who do you need to surround yourself with, and how often?

I choose to be like the trees, to be my very best self tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. I understand that in order to achieve this, I need to retreat today from the noise, from the flurry, from the wintry nights. Inside my cocoon, I consider all the things that make me well. I’m determined to enter the New Year refreshed and ready for what it brings, and I am ready to leave 2017 behind, along with my shortcomings and my newly shedded skin. I wish you all well. Happy Holidays!

The Art of Furoshiki Gift Wrapping

Can any one else believe that Christmas is right around the corner, less than a week away? Despite all efforts to slow down this season,  it still finds a way to sneak past us and onto the New Year. This weekend, it came time to (finally) wrap presents. With past posts claiming that I will skip on buying gift wrap this year, I must admit that I have been unsuccessful in sustaining the eye sore that lay beneath my tree. Like a messy pile, left behind by a  non-existing toddler, the presents lay askew without any sort of presentability. Unfortunately, esthetics run pretty high on my list of pre-requisites for peaceful living. Spending the past few weeks fighting the growing urge to cover everything in paper for the sake of uniformity (and sanity), I finally found the solution to my dilemma, without buying wrapping paper, and amidst my favorite activity … de-cluttering!

While preparing for our soon-to-be roommate’s move-in day, I was cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and consolidating our items into designated spaces so that she may have cupboards for her own loved possessions. Underneath a stack of placemats, I found a length of fabric, which I had bought about a year ago with the intentions of sewing my own dinner napkins. With the advent of receiving a set of 12 dinner napkins as a wedding present, I had stashed the fabric and completely forgotten about it!

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My initial thought was to add it to my de-cluttering box. Then I thought about my Christmas presents, and I proceeded to do the only appropriate solution in my mind. FUROSHIKI!

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Furoshiki are a type of of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts, and other goods. More sustainable than one-time-use wrapping paper, the pieces of cloth can be opened, then refolded and stored. The art doesn’t require tape, but rather, a simple folding tachnique ending with a bow on top. No additional ribbons or bows needed!

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The fabric is all used up now, no longer sitting useless in a cupboard, and the presents are wrapped and esthetic once again! Sanity restored.

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Sidenote: Unlike previous years when our stack of presents equaled the size of our tree, we were very selective about who we were gifting to this year,  as well as WHAT we were gifting. More focused on experiences rather than things, I can count the boxes under the tree with my fingers alone. A feat few people can claim!

 

For an overview of the art, start with this video. For Furoshiki and other non-disposable life hacks, try here.

The Daily Grind, Two Ways.

You’re dreaming of something unremembered, when the blaring of a device set in such a way to guarantee waking you brings you back to reality, to another work day. The sun is shining in your bedroom window, predicting another blissful day in Southern California. Without the time to soak up the natural warmth of the sunlight as it floods in to warm your bed, you exchange that leisure awakening for a warm shower instead, meant to shock you awake and get you started for a new day. You rush by the coffee pot and push a button, to stream a liquid medicine into a portable mug, one that is ready as you rush out the door to join others in their morning commute. The drug dilates you to match your already feverish pace. You drive by the same scenery every day, but you don’t notice the scenes, barring a car accident pulled over on the side of the road, or new construction on the outskirts of the freeway. Your mind is elsewhere, on an island far away or on your to-do list, to which you’re driving momentarily. Or your mind is still dreaming of the bed you wish you were laying on, while the gears of your car transport you to where you don’t want to be. You sit at the same desk as you did yesterday, and despite the long hours and the hard work, the pile of boxes on your checklist never decreases. It’s a time machine that takes you back to yesterday. The daily grind, one way.

 

You wake from this nightmare one morning, in time with your natural bodily workings, and only after a full night’s rest. The first sound you hear is of birds chirping outside your window. Slowly turning to your nightstand, you pick up the book you were reading before you fell asleep, and thumb the pages, noticing the way they feel under your fingertips. You read a few pages as you wake, even if you have to re-read a line or two a few times before registering the words. Meanwhile, the sunlight warms you under the heavy comforters, until the heat prompts you to stand. You slip on your warm slippers to protect your feet from the cold floods, and walk downstairs. You savor the smell of pine from the Christmas tree, as the sun light filters onto your dining table, creating glittery fractured fragments as it passes through stained glass windows. You think about coffee. You weigh the appropriate amount of coffee beans on a scale, as you heat up the espresso machine. A bean too many. You return the devilish seed back into its home, saving it for another day. The beans are freshly ground, the smell, enticing and bold. You extract the right amount of espresso, then foam the milk. You pour the milk, and regardless of the outcome, you already know that you’ve created something for yourself. The routine is immersive, the experience entirely sensory. You sip, sit, and stay awhile, with your daily grind, another way.

Welcoming the holiday season

I always love the first day of November. For me, it marks the beginning of the holiday season (sorry Halloween!). There are only a little over sixty days left to the year, and you start to feel that magnetic pull towards the new beginning promised by the following year. The holidays hold a different meaning for different people. Many look forward to gatherings over candlelit dinners surrounded by loved ones and an assortment of delectable dishes. It becomes more of a nightly occurrence compared to the rest of the year. Some envision twinkly lights hung on decks and shrubs and trees, peeking out of dark windows and above fiery fireplaces. The holiday music comes on the radio, and everywhere else, which could be a good or bad thing, depending. The wish lists are being placed in stockings, the stores are being filled with toys, and the malls are being filled with people, gathering to see the tallest of Christmas trees be lighted for the first time. The parties and celebrations may start snowballing, passing the days by until suddenly, you’re screaming at the top of your lungs, “Happy New Year!” The holiday season is fleetingly beautiful and joyous, and is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year.

This has always been the holiday season that I knew growing up. But now that I am a little older, I try to hold on to the days a little longer, and anticipated November and December happenings start to shift towards other things. Quiet mornings with my husband and slow risings out of a comfortable bed. Blanketed humans with gloved hands, holding warm mugs, both on couches and walking the streets. Turning the Christmas music off to hold conversations or listen to a crackling fire. Focusing on being present, rather than buying presents. Writing down a list of things I’m thankful for and reading it aloud on Thanksgiving day instead of placing it in a stocking. Looking at old photo albums with my parents, rather than taking another photo with Santa.  Counterintuitively making slowing down a priority, and creating space a mission.

Admittedly, I will still continue to do traditional holiday things. But the hope is that it doesn’t consume my season with traditional activities for the sake of doing traditional activities. With only a smattering of dates left for the year, these few months, days, and hours really matter. So let’s find the space to fill them with what matters most.

 

Living Slow: Creatively Escaping Mental Clutter

Raise your hand if you were born with a brain that never stops thinking. Aren’t we all these days? Most of the time, I find myself constantly wondering about what is going to happen next, what I need to accomplish, where I plan to go, what goals I set for myself. I am constantly planning for the future, and when I am not, I am constantly reminiscing on the past.

We are taught from a very young age that in order to be successful, you have to make a plan to get there. We are also instilled with a sense of attachment to things that have passed, because we assign emotions to events, people, and things. Very few of us are taught to notice the present for what it is now. For example, try to sit still, close your eyes, and focus all your attention on the present moment. I bet it takes less than a minute for your mind to wander to something in the past or in the future. When you do realize you’re thinking of this, can you let the thought pass you and return to the present moment? Can you accept the fact that your leg is itching because you’ve been sitting still for so long, and not reach out to scratch it? Can you just observe and continue observing and do absolutely nothing?

For me, this is a very difficult task. There is only one thing that could remove me from my constant state of agitation and longing, and that is creativity. I find that when I do something creative, the part of my brain that is constantly doing calculations shuts off temporarily. I first noticed this when I was a teenager, and I used to draw and do art. I would start dabbling in the middle of the afternoon on my sketchpad and not even realize that it has turned dark until I finish my work or someone snaps me out of my reverie. The same thing happens when I sing or try to play music. I could sing for hours and not even realize how much time has gone by. Sometimes, after spending hours singing, the part of my brain that is measuring my success in terms of achievements turns back on and makes me feel angry at myself for “wasting” so much time. We are so ingrained to measure our worth in terms of how much our salary is, how many titles and medals we have received, how many things we have accumulated, how many relationships we form, that we forget to create anything for ourselves, or rather, to create anything at all.

Now I am at a point in my journey where I have de-cluttered most of my possessions, removed unhealthy relationships, and allocated the appropriate amount of time to the things that add value to my life. However, after ridding my life of a lot of the excess noise, I have been left with a LOT of time left to my disposal. Prior to now, my entire life has been a race against time. I was raised to always seek achievements and had so many activities to the point where I was constantly over-whelmed in middle school and high school. I worked three jobs during my undergraduate career and still finished undergrad in three years with cum laude honors. There was never enough time to do everything I wanted to do while I was going to dental school because of the dedication it required. This is the first time in my life that I have extra time to use however I want to. Part of what gave me that freedom is really the appropriate allocation of my resources towards the things that really matter. This practice has given me plenty of time to reflect and day dream, which helps focus my attention to who I was and who I want to be. However, neither reflection nor daydreaming allows me to fully appreciate the present moment, since both require my mind to be either in the past or in the future. What I’ve found is that tapping into my creativity is the only thing that releases me from this cage of constantly assessing and re-assessing. Even if the creation is only for myself, only creativity allows me to enjoy the present moment wholly and completely.

Some may argue that if you work hard now, you will have more time in the future to be creative, but that isn’t necessarily true. This may be true if you are extrapolating in a certain way so that everything happening now is occurring or improving at a constant rate. But the question which I always use to judge what is right for me to do today is, “What things would I regret not doing if I were to die tomorrow?” As morbid as that sounds, it accounts for the single truth, which is that we are only guaranteed the present moment, and nothing more. If you spend your life working hard, looking forward to the rest of forever and forever never comes, then you just spent your life working hard and that is it. You would have accomplished much, but whether or not what you accomplished or created has any meaning past earning money or acquiring a certain status is questionable. And even if we assume you get to a later stage in life where you had once expected to spend every waking moment doing what you love, what if you couldn’t? What if a debilitating disease capable of preventing you from playing a musical instrument or creating art takes over your body? What if you suffer from an unpredictable accident? I can tell you one thing. There are many more things in life other than work that I would feel empty without. These happen to be the only things capable of diminishing the mental clutter to nothingness. Creativity is my antidote towards the incessant firing of neurons, the constant buzzing of notifications, and the little voice inside my head telling me, “You are not enough.” We are all enough.

This isn’t to say we should all stop planning our futures completely and solely be creative beings. Under-stimulation and lack of progress does not improve your life meaning. This is only to say there should be a balance. So press pause, and enjoy the now. In the end our life, fully lived, will be our best work.