Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Ex called Travel

Let me tell you about my ex called travel. 

He was my escape. He took me to places I've never been before. He made me do things that I wouldn't normally to. I parasailed, rode an elephant, partied with strangers, caught my first wave, went on a scenic hike, biked for three hours, tried exotic cuisine, haggled in night markets.

Durian Sidestreet Stall, Davao 

He made me believe I'm more than who I think I am. He told me I could be anyone I wanted to be. He never judged me when I went a little crazy. He encouraged me to befriend a sweet Malaysian girl I was sharing a bunk bed with. He gave me the extra strength I needed to play foosball with a fun assortment of characters in the living room of the hostel I was staying in.

Meander Hostel, Taipei

He didn't care that sometimes all I wanted to do was stay in and lie by the beach and read, or that sometimes I followed a schedule filled to the brim. At the end of the day, we would collapse together, having ventured far and wide via land, sea and air. He didn't get confused when I lit a candle in a church, offered incense in a temple, or wrote a wish in a shrine. He tolerated me whenever I stopped to take a selfie with one of the "must-see's" wherever I was, or when I took photos of my feet in the sand. 

Nusa Dua Beach, Bali

I miss him. But there was a reason why we broke up.

Eventually, our shared fascination with seeking adventures faded away. It was what held us together back then. Perhaps I turned into Wendy, and decided to embrace my adult responsibilities. Living for the moment no longer appealed to me. Instead of spending to satisfy my urges, I’d rather save for the future. Instead of chasing the night away, I preferred to snuggle close to my comforter. But he was stubborn and remained as Peter, the boy who never wanted to grow up, who lived for the moment but remained restless as he delayed the inevitable.

Playing with Fire, Boracay

Perhaps we broke up because how I define adventure at this point in my life has changed. I am about to turn 28. Now, what excites me is stability. Routine. The ordinary. Possibility has lost its luster; owning up to my choices is now the mantra I want to live by.

That is how we grew apart.

Yet, I will never forget the year we shared. The year I spent all my savings catching the first glimpse of the sun in the empty pier of Asia’s busiest harbour. The year I always left my hometown every long weekend to be with him. The year I tried so many things, explored so many facets of my personality, as my morals revealed themselves in the different environments I became exposed to.  

Sunrise in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

Farewell to my ex called travel. 

I am no longer enamored by the idea of you, and the possibilities you bring. I know that the next time you come back to my life, you won’t have the same hold as you did before.Next time you’ll be with me, my intentions will be different. I am no longer running away from life because I no longer want to escape it through you. I am content with where I am. I’ve found the peace I used to searched for in distant shores, mountains and metropolises, simply within myself. I’ve finally come to terms with where I am in life, and don’t need you as a distraction. Chasing the moment is no longer a game I want to play, as I want to take the present as it is – so there’s no need to chase anything anymore.  My compass is simply honoring the things and people that bring me genuine joy and peace as I navigate the waters of this new-old world.

View from Movenpick Hotel Balcony, Cebu

But thank you for showing me another side to myself. And another side of the world. You made me appreciate where I am, and more importantly, you lead me to where I want to be.

You lead me to me.

To the year that was, New Years Eve 2014, Subic

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Girls Gone Wild Abroad?

The “crazy” in every young and educated Asian woman often comes alive abroad.

Or maybe in every woman, regardless of educational qualification or nationality. 

I came to this realization when I left home to work in Hong Kong two years ago. Every twentysomething who lived abroad will have their own share of misadventures and “you should have been there” stories that people back home would have a hard time relating to, particularly if the setting is in an international city – where value systems are as transient as the people visiting its borders.

Hong Kong's Lights and Shadows

A twentysomething Asian woman will often be misunderstood once she comes back home. The stories she would share about dancing on bar tops would be deemed out of character, her experiences about her quest for independence - interpreted as boasting, and her tagged party photos, clothing choices and relationship status become favorite topics among the “friends” she had long left behind. Because of social media, the supposedly profound quest for self-discovery is up for public scrutiny and thus, devalued. You have to have really thick skin to brush off what people will think. But for some, the desire to please others still reigns. They become very careful with what they reveal online about their alter egos abroad. It’s all just wasted energy.

Just your average Ladies Night @ Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Remember that a photograph is worth a thousand words. If you were to judge at all, first try to understand. If you’re a woman, even more so.

As a young person who lived abroad, affinity was often established at the onset of meeting new people from different cultures, simply from the shared experience of being a foreigner living abroad. This is different from what happens at home, where social ties are determined by social status, educational attainment, religious beliefs, standards of beauty and other social structures. To an Asian woman, this freedom from the confines of social structures becomes an opportunity to discover oneself outside the intense scrutiny of a judgmental society, strict religious practices, embedded cultural norms, and parental supervision. You become independent for the first time - geographically (as you live on your own), emotionally (as the safety blanket of your friends is not with you) and even perhaps financially (the classic component of what it means to be independent). You can finally begin anew as no reputation of yours will haunt you in your new social backdrop the way your past did back home, where social circles tend to overlap and dictate everything - from who you could date to which companies you could work for to even something as mundane as the restaurants you frequent. You could experiment with the many facets of your personality, turn fantasy into reality, do something you have never done before, and not be judged for it.

A fun night out with friends from different parts of the world

You could be who you want to be.

And when you come to this realization, the liberation begins. Some Asian women have a few weeks or months of crazy nights partying or thrill seeking, but eventually, they revert back to who they are. Others continue on for years until they become the person they discovered abroad. Eventually, home is no longer the place they grew up in, but rather, the place where they most felt like themselves. And there is no right or wrong in whatever choice you would make. That is the greatest sense of liberation any woman could have - knowing that you always have a choice to determine which version of yourself you’re most happy with in an environment that brings out the best in you. The answer is relative to each person.

When Audrey met Ronald

In living away from home, I also discovered what spheres of influence colored my decisions and also what my sources of esteem were. This newfound self-awareness helped me discover my worth outside what typically defined me back home (i.e., what job I had, who my family was, who I was dating, where I studied, etc.) because all these imbedded structures took a halt abroad as I was free to be who I wanted to be. My esteem is firmer because I learned not to hide under the shadow of my friends, the protection of a relationship, and the stability of a job, among many other things. I learned that being true to who I was is enough. I’m lucky to have made friends along the way, who value self-discovery just as much as I do and continue to support me in my decisions without judgment.

Friendships across borders... and countless rooftops

In one’s twenties, we women fluctuate from playing “saint” and “sinner” and experiment with our identities now more than ever, until eventually, we find a happy medium. A state of being that is simply – you. You don’t have to go abroad to be able to discover yourself ala Eat Pray Love. You just need the courage to ask the question – who am I?

Tram Party!

I promise you that the journey will be worth more than the destination.

Always in my heart...
Hong Kong (2011 - 2013)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Shadow, Anxiety... and a Fourth State of Consciousness?

As I continue to absorb the ideas from Eckhart Tolle's, “The Power of Now” (I’ve been reading this book for over three months now, because it’s not the type of book that you can read in one sitting) I’m beginning to believe that there is some sort of fourth plane of consciousness. I want to bring up Freud when he claimed that there are three classic planes of consciousness– the unconscious, subconscious and conscious (id, ego and super ego, if my memory serves me correctly), and since more or less we have an idea of what these mean, I won't go into detail in describing them. Thought I haven’t finished Tolle's book, it inspired me to hypothesise a fourth plane to describe the creative potential outside the three classic planes, one that that is borne from both peace and adversity, depending on how it was processed in the mind.

I feel this fourth plane whenever I am in the midst of an artistic breakthrough or insight. I feel this when I imagine myself outside of myself and part of a greater energy or greater realm beyond where standards, judgment, fear and anxiety exist. I’m writing this not to spark an intellectual discussion or engage in the debate of proper terms and labels, but to describe what I feel when I access this so-called fourth plane. Maybe it’s still the subconscious. Maybe it’s simply an altered form of consciousness. Giving it this label makes it easier to imagine or grasp, as with everything else in the world that is easier understood by labelling them (sad fact). 

Whenever I need a boost of confidence I access this fourth plane. I think this is the plane where both the imagined and the real become murky, and where creative genius lies. Kind of like existing in the dreamlike state presented in Murakami’s novels where everything imagined is real and everything real is but imagined, depending on how the term “real” is defined.

I would say the fourth plane is outside the confines of a daydream because daydreams have no bearings on reality. There is no transformation that happens, for it’s a means to escape from rather than go back to reality. In an altered reality, however, the feelings of the daydream become the reality. I think this is what Viktor Frankl was describing in his famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, where he argued that no circumstance is greater than the power of the mind to alter reality because the meaning we attach to reality is always dependent on the person. The experience of suffering can be heroic or catastrophic for someone, depending on how it is defined and interpreted by the person experiencing it. He argues that the true dignity of man lies in having a mind that can alter reality as we know it. Maybe this could bring meaning to the saying, "there is a fine line between genius and psychotic", because both operate on altered realities. And that line is defined by the standards set by the world. The distinction between the psychologically impaired and the genius lies in how self-aware the person is in accessing this altered reality, and being able to go back and fourth the four planes without getting lost or stuck in them. 

There is no room for punishment in the fourth plane of consciousness. Here, the orientation is to always make decisions based on what will bring you peace, a peace that goes beyond blindly following the strict doctrines of religion or any powerful social construct. I’m not saying religion or social constructs are bad or that they block access to this fourth plane. I’m just saying that in the fourth plane, man learns how to be gentle with himself and begins to accept an image of a gentle God rather than a strict one, if he believe’s in God or a higher power at all. A big cause of anxiety is how we deal with our shadow – the dark side of our personality, as introduced to us by Jung. Because we are too focused on defeating it, its presence as an enemy becomes stronger and so does the inevitable cycle of guilt and shame associated when we lose to our shadow and give in to darkness or temptation. In the fourth plane of consciousness, there is no need to defeat one’s shadow or one’s dark side. The way to peace is not to defeat the shadow but to embrace it and coexist with it. It doesn’t become a battle for power or victory anymore, because that will cause anxiety. It becomes, rather, a state of being, where there is no winning or losing but a peaceful coexistence between the light and the shadow of a person.

Embracing one’s shadow and accepting it as a unique part of one’s personality is something introduced to me by a mentor early this year. At the time, I was not spiritually mature enough to understand the nugget of wisdom she was entrusting me. I continued to live in limbo – the place where thought and action intersected, the breeding ground of anxiety. There were times I deliberately exposed myself to environments that called out both the shadow and the light of my personality. To see who would triumph. To see what label I’ll give myself based on my actions. To see what label society would prescribe to me. It became a battle of choosing good or evil rather than choosing peace. Peace exists when there is balance between light and shadow. When there is no internal debate to choose one or another, only that peace is the compass in every decision or thought we create. More often than not, choosing peace is skewed towards choosing the good. You know that it was peace that guided you to make the decision when whatever you choose won't feel like you gave something else up to make it. Whatever is decided is focused on being gentle on oneself before, during and after the decision is made. 

Through deliberate experimentation, I am beginning support the idea that change in a person is simply a person getting to know himself better. New environments bring out dormant characteristics someone has always had. It may look like  one has changed, but really these changes are just external manifestations of one’s fluid and flexible personality. It’s the shadow revealing itself. Or the light. And anxiety lies in overthinking about the good and the bad, in the fear of being labeled as this or that upon action. Anxiety lies in inaction, not in the act of making the decision, but in the thinking through involved in making decisions and going over the consequences of having done them, time and time again. Anxiety lies in hindsight, where thinking about the past and future overwhelm the present. 

These are all just ideas I’ve been toying with in my quest to understand peace, anxiety, fear and the creative potential of man to transform anything “negative” into something “positive”. Reality is what you make of it, and we are all equipped with a mind that can create. We can all access this peaceful state, this altered reality. But sometimes, we forget to celebrate internal victories that are equally as astounding as conventional pillars of success such as a having a stellar career or finding love.

There is peace when man can stand his ground regardless of a positive or negative event thrown in his way by the mysterious universe. When light and shadow coexist peacefully, our existence becomes richer and our creative potential, limitless.

Altered reality?