Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Importance of Laughter in Life

Enjoyed a really fun night of laughter with a bunch of European students I've met for the first time in my life and many of whom I will never see again after this week. We spent a long day listening to what felt like a million academic talks, 2/3 of which I understood nothing; 1/3 of which I was too tired to absorb intellectually. When the torturous sessions were finally over, a couple of locals (by locals, I mean foreigners who have spend a few years here in Japan) took us visitors to an okonomiyaki restaurant for dinner. All of us sucked at cooking these Japanese pancakes things, but the dishes still tasted great even when burnt :) We had a great time laughing at how badly the food looked in our awkward hands - hands that type well, could create complex computer programs and perform advanced statistical analysis, but could not hold metal spatulas properly to save our lives (or preserve a delicious pancake), and I was noticing how all the stress hormones seem to wash away as I chucked hard every 5 minutes. It's kind of freaky how rare I get to laugh so hard for such a long period of time (the dinner lasted like 2 hours because we were so clumsy at cooking). It makes me a little sad that my regular life involves laughter so infrequently, but I am very grateful for the opportunity to bond with a bunch of strangers in a foreign city in the name of science.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spiritual beings having a soulful experience

Awhile ago, I was reading "Many Lives, Many Masters", which talks about this woman he called "Catherine" who suffered from terrible nightmares and anxiety attacks. As Dr. Weiss, an American psychiatrist, try to learn about her childhood traumas using hypnosis, he was shocked that she spoke about previous reincarnations with striking details. As she disclosed these details to the doctor, Catherine's symptoms started to ease off in her day-to-day life. There were so many details she gave that began to convince Dr. Weiss that what she was describing were real, rather than made-up stories. What was more, some sort of "masters spirits" would talk through Catherine to Dr. Weiss about spiritual lessons.

I don't know about the literal truth of this story, whether we are all somewhat haunted by past reincarnations, that our current soulfulness is the result of an accumulations of lessons we have learned in our past lives, but the idea is interesting. Even if it's not literally true, this "Catherine" could have manifested the abstract anxieties in her brain in the form of these past live stories under hypnosis. By expressing her anxieties as stories, she was able to digest and accept her issues and let go of the symptoms.

Catherine, the poor woman, went through many many reincarnations (either real or perceived by her) as a slave, a maid, or a servant. Sometimes she spent  entire life times just being angry about her existence as an oppressed being of a bottom level social class; sometimes she learned something from her existence. According to her stories, groups of souls tend to reincarnate together. For example, Dr. Weiss had been in her life before a few times, usually as her teacher and guide. Her mother and father's souls have also repeatedly reincarnated with her.

Some key points I've picked up from spiritual teachings of Dr. Brian Weiss and Seane Corn:

- We are all spiritual beings coming into a human body to have a soulful experience. Everything we have experienced in our lives, especially the most negative/terrible ones, are meant to teach the soul a lesson to transcend it to a higher level. 

- The group of souls that reincarnate together repeatedly are meant to teach each other important lessons. For example, if my mother and I have some serious issues with each other, we should really try to resolve it in this life time. If we just leave it as is, the same conflicts will just repeat itself again in a future life time. 

- Sometimes we meet beautiful beings with the terrible sufferings: for example, a child with severe mental retardation, a sibling with cystic fibrosis and does not live past the age of 25 -- these are actually advanced souls taking a short trip into the world in order to help inspire and advance other souls around them.

I talk about all this because I'm trying to interpret what I experienced today. This evening, I enjoyed a really nice Japanese dinner with a big group of researchers from different parts of Europe. It seems like for many European graduate schools, the PhD program is only 3-4 years, and one is required to publish 3-4 papers during this time. What this means is that the majority of Europeans can get their PhD in their late 20s, and with a bunch of publications in hand, they would not have trouble advancing to the next level in their scientific careers. 

Contrast this with my experience, where I spent 6 years, published next to nothing, was on the verge of quitting science all together and actually seriously considered becoming a yoga teacher instead (and maybe pick up a side job to supplement income). Many of my Canadian colleagues (and perhaps Americans as well) share similar experience with me (except not the yoga part).

It's not even about how far I get in my career; it's about how much damage the 6 years of unproductiveness does to the self-esteem. I'm trying to figure out why I (plus a whole continent of grad students) had to go through this long path while others in the world can cruise through their academic careers. What am I supposed to learn from this? How do I figure out what I have learned, and promptly let go of my negativity and bitterness? Catherine clung on to negative experiences in her previous life times without being able to enjoy the present one until she got help from Dr. Weiss; I seem to have the tendency to cling on pretty tightly to my negative past experiences of this life time. Can I learn from her stories and try to let it all go? 

This week I am supposed to network with a lot more researchers from different parts of the world and learn a ton of geeky science from them. But somehow I feel the more important lessons I have to learn from them is not the technical science stuff, but to pick up tips on how to live life from such a diverse group of people I normally will never get to meet if I hadn't taken up this job. Oh by the way, did I mention I am in Japan?

What an amazing opportunity and tonight I couldn't seem to let go of my past. I have to find a way to stop holding on to bitter memories and embrace the precious present moment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New job, no yoga practice

I meant to blog so many times but it never happened. It's what happens when I have to learn so much new things on a computer.. no desire to do non-work stuff on computer after I go home. Having no internet connection at home also discourages blogging.

I'm working in Europe right now. Getting paid less than local PhD students. So I'm the cheap foreign labor.... now I get a taste of how immigrants from 3rd world country feel like moving to a 1st world country (a mixture of gratitude, awe, homesickness, and some bitterness). So why did I sign up for this job? Well, the project is much bigger scale than most of the research I've seen in Canada. I am given the opportunity to work on something "hot" in the field for which I have very little hands-on experience. How could I resist? The upside to my job is that the office is super fancy, with those ergonomic chairs that can be adjusted in 100 different ways.  I get a giant computer screen and a fancy MacBook. I will just pretend that a gigantic part of my salary went to pay for these fancy items, and that's why my pay check is so tiny at the end of the month.

I went from dreamy-eyed "oh my gawwwwwd everything is so pretty in this European city" in the first week to an anxiety attack today, angry why the locals weren't more helpful (coz they don't know how it feels like to move to a foreign country and they were expecting the new colleague to be an expert, not a total rookie who needs step-by-step instructions on how to use the computer). It's kind of fascinating how I've been thinking myself to total happiness, being super thankful for getting this job, and to have a boss who actually cares about his employees. Today on the way home I managed to think myself to tears, because I thought I lost my wallet, and then I thought about how I've been having so much trouble applying for a local residence permit, how I don't have the same rights and benefits of EU citizens so wtf am I doing in Europe; how everyone here seems to be so happy with friends and family while I'm all alone, that it's too cold for October, etc etc ( you can see the negative vortex of dark thoughts dragging me deeper and deeper towards misery). I'm not sure why my brain does this to me, even though my actual situation hasn't changed much since I arrived here. Perhaps it was because of the unproductive struggle I had with the computer server today.

Yoga doesn't seem all that popular here. I suddenly miss home, where there are a million activities available, including a new parcour gym that just opened up, not to mention other fun activities like Zumba, the Bar Method, Jazzercise, Acroyoga, my lovely studio with all my yoga teacher friends and fellow yogis. I don't really know what people do here besides jogging and and biking to and from work. North America seems much better at profiting from people's desire to try out new things to get a good work out. Too bad there are no decent jobs in my field back home where I live. Other colleagues from my field are all struggling to find work or they put up with less than ideal job positions. I guess one must choose to either strike a balance or put more weight on either career advancement or life comforts. I chose the former while my friends/excolleagues chose the latter. Nobody can be 100% satisfied all the time I guess.

Will try to blog more frequently about my life musings. In the mean time, I will keep struggling with waking up on time (I've been a depressed, unemployed bum for 9 months and it's been difficult adjusting to the 9-5 life styles again) and making progress at work.

Also, I really need to snap myself out of it whenever I think myself into a hopeless, bitter, depressing corner again.