Friday, December 27, 2013

Enjoying the equanimity post-Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone gets to spend the holidays with family and loved ones. Santa granted my wish and I got to spend a traditional Swedish Christmas with my significant other and his relatives. I was so happy to be surrounded by dogs. My poor s.o. who's totally not a dog person had to endure an entire evening struggling to shove away a massive dog trying multiple times to French kiss him on the mouth, lol. He might have skipped the family dinner altogether (due to the dogs) if it weren't for me. I feel very loved :D

I gave my s.o. the space he needed the past couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed spending 2 days on my own doing nothing (well, a little bit of shopping :D). I slept for long hours each day. It's kind of scary how much rest I need. I don't know how other people do it working 100hrs/week and raising 3 children or something ridiculous like that. If I had a job like that I'd be a terrible employee, and if I were a mom of three I would have a nervous breakdown every other month I think.

I think part of the reason is that my family is so obsessive about child-rearing as well as pet-rearing. My s.o.'s relatives do spoil their dogs (eg. they get walked 3-4 times every day), but they don't obsess about them. Same with kids. When dogs and kids are around, they take care of them, but the focus is still on the adults. This way, kids are relatively calm. Dogs snuggle againsts guests and we the guests have the option to push them away or let them kiss us (I give them my chin and they happily lick on that :D). In a few days when I go home, I know I will be going to gatherings where the adults attention will obsessively focus on the baby in the family, and the young children ages 7-35 will be regarded as invisible (children have ears only and no mouths/voices). Conversations will be interrupted by requests for pictures with and of the baby. I know that my cousin will avoid eye contacts with me and keep her eyes on her phone or on her dog most of the time. The human interaction/connection process is badly broken back at home. But maybe, just maybe I'll be able to survive going in equipped with this knowledge. Previously I didn't understand and was sad people paid so little attention to me. Now I know, and will try my best to do the least harm to them. I can't perform exactly as they want me to perform (my mother always wants me to play a role and talk from a script that she never sent me but expects me to know anyways, just because I'm Chinese or something like that). I'm really bad at not being offensive, but I will try harder this time.

I will enjoy that last couple of days of peace and equanimity I have here in Sweden. Hope I get some time to myself when I return home to Asia. Hope dad and everyone else are healthy and happy, and can give me some space.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Feeling grateful

Compare to last year around December time, right now I feel so much more settled and at peace. I am grateful for the quietness around the house (roommate has gone home for Christmas holidays).  I feel very blessed with so much abundance. I got a slight raise at work. Two projects I started a year ago are both at a final stage where I feel like I'm in control and satisfactory about the progress (a very rare occurrence for me).  This winter season has been quite warm compared to last winter, so I don't feel like I'm freezing in my bones, which makes me happy. For the first time in my life, I have a companion who seems to enjoy my company. The past year I went through a long phase where I would start panicking whenever I couldn't see him for more than a week. I imagined he must have gotten tired of hanging out with me and was planning to gradually decrease the frequency that we saw each other. Luckily it was just an overreaction on my end. I am super grateful to have a person who appreciates me, keeps me company, and cares about me enough to put up with my long-winded rants at this point in my life.

It's taken me my whole life to get to this stage. Who knows how long this security and stableness will last, but right at this moment, I'm really happy where I am (physically and mentally).

I hope I can maintain this mental strength and be more assertive when I go home in 1 week. It will be difficult but I have to be more assertive in declining offers I do not want and insist that I be in control of my own vacation. Anyways, I look forward to really enjoying this coming week where I get to relax, do what I want, try out lots of online yoga, cook, bake, and hang out with my bestie companion :) Maybe brave the Boxing Day shopping as well.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Looking back at the past year

As I look back at my blog posts this past year, I have been struggling a lot mentally, despite my best efforts to grow out of my negativity. For me, the toughest part doing this whole personal growth thing, was that I kept reaching home to friends and family for empathy and support, only to be given   implications to "grow up" and "be more independent" and to take responsibilities for myself.

And with this "tough love", I have indeed grown much stronger emotionally. I have realized this is what made me move to Europe in the first place -- the fact I have very weak emotional and social support back home. It is a huge personal failure on my part. I have false assumed that once a good friend, always a good friend; that family should automatically be supportive and care about my well-being. I guess I was never a very good friend for my peers. With family, I guess all my uncles/aunts and cousins have enough family problems of their own that I end up as the least dysfunctional family member whining the loudest. I've been pretty retarded not realizing how much effort my cousins have put in to erect a false image that they are leading normal, happy lives. I seek them out for help, naïvely assuming that the image (stable careers, responsible husbands, happy kids, vibrant social life) is not in congruence with their inner psyche. Everyone else is desperately trying to suppress their emotional baggage, burying them as deeply as possible, while I on the other hand, have been aggressively digging through all my emotional crap, showing everyone and asking them to identify the contents for me. This hit a lot of nerves and that's why I've received a lot of cold, unsympathetic responses.

I'm not trying to say I am better than my extended family. I'm saying I just now figured out that I have been asking the wrong people for help... I'm asking people who have more garbage than me to help take up some of my junk. Of course they would refuse.. I would refuse too if my plates are totally full. This whole time I had thought that it was all about me... that they dislike me because I'm bratty, spoiled, immature, not lovable, etc.

I am lucky that my chosen field of study allows me to move to another continent at my will. Just like I did in India, while immersed in a totally foreign culture, I get to examine which of my values were culturally ingrained, do not serve me and can be let go, as opposed to values that are universal to human kind (or simply unique to this particular culture I'm immersed in) and should be treasured. I get to interact with people with other types of problem upbringings and see how they manage to partly function professionally. This sounds kind of horrible, but it's reality that most people in the world carry trauma. Some are more damaged than others. Some are less good at hiding their trouble than others. As much as I like to complain about my roommate and some of my co-workers, I see they are still able to master some aspects of their work lives, solving problems I'm not so good at solving, dealing with issues that I try to avoid/suppress myself, presenting themselves confidently in certain situations that require it.

All in all, 2013 was psychologically a very challenging year for me, but a lot of growth and maturity happened. I learned that I shouldn't depend on my family any more. It's good in that I will take more mental responsibility for myself from now on. The sad part is that this could only happen when I put up more physical and mental distance between myself and my family. The hard truth is that my extended family have never in their lives felt close to me. I'm the one who had been clinging on to them the whole time, the way my mother had been clinging onto me emotionally the past several years. It's a good thing I'm sorting out all my mental garbage just in time for a new year to come. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Need to be stronger mentally

Came home to a stuffed bag of recyclables, empty pizza boxes, a fridge full of expired food items (and no, I do not live with a guy). I never imagined I would be sharing an apartment with a messy roommate in my 30s. My bf does not like to make plans more than two weeks ahead; my roommate serves as prime example of how not to live life (working weekends on her own initiative while complaining about how much she hates her job/life -- once you have completed your higher education you should have the option to choose a job you like, or at least try out several jobs and pick the one that bothers you the least).

They say you should surround yourself with role models and people who are better than you, and that is precisely what I have done for years. My social circle consisted mainly of people who have better personalities, are better cooks, more disciplined, more self-confident, more good-natured, more athletic, more inspiring, more caring, more compassionate, more organized, more charming, more patient, more intelligent, but at the same time are tolerant of having me as their friend. My nature is not competitive; I just want to spent my entire life bettering myself and learning from those around me.

Because these people are better than me in so many ways, it's easy for me to get along with them, whereas my friends need some patience, compassion and consideration to hang out with me. The past year I have been under in a very different type of challenging situation. My social circle consists of people who are much more negative, more prejudiced, less considerate and compassionate than what I'm used to. It's been extremely difficult for me to stay positive and content under this situation. I guess what I dislike most in other people are often a reflection of what I dislike about myself, so I am shown in a magnifying glass how unlikable my own negativity, inconsideration, subjectiveness, and messiness can be to my friends and family back home. It's a useful lesson but so tough on my psyche. Oh well, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger I guess.

In a way I've been leaning on my friends back home a bit too much. It's time to learn to stand up on my own, hold my own stance, and try not to be influenced by the negativities around me. I'm not strong in this area but it's time for me to work on my weak mental aspects. It's the only thing I can do considering the alternative (finding another place to stay and finding a more outgoing, organized, domestic bf who is just as considerate and intelligent as the current one) are no easy tasks.

Also, I should work on expanding my social circles. I really could use more friends and a more compassionate support network.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Contemplations on human nature, as always

Human beings are fussy creatures. We have endless amounts of desires, many of which seem to just happen to us at random times of the day. We feel famished, we are itchy, we get thirsty, we are bored, we're over-stimulated, we want a hug, we want sugar, we want to be with people, we need some alone time right now; we are suddenly nostalgic and need to call/go home; we suddenly feel spite towards an ex and deeply desire some form of revenge action, etc.

The buddhist tradition recognizes that these desires come out of nowhere and leave again if we can just recognize this happens, sit on the desire, and let it pass. The thing is, the moment when we think we've achieved the awareness and feel good about ourselves, we let our guards down momentarily and let the next desire guide our actions again. At least this is how I've been feeling over the past few years.

Many other religious and cultural traditions use rules to tell people to suppress their desires and behave a certain way in their daily lives according to the books. They are often successful to a point, but of course, people occasionally slip. People usually either lie to themselves and legitimize their actions with some elaborate explanations or feel totally guilty and swear they will follow the "shoulds" from now on.

What I dislike about the second method is that we are made to think that without rules and religions, we would all be constantly committing immoral actions all day long, killing and cheating each other every chance we get. In addition, sometimes the cultural norm is so ingrained that people don't even realize that their ways of thinking only apply within their cultural and not worldwide. This isn't so much of an issue if they spend their entire lives only among those who were brought up in the same type of culture, but it is indeed a problem if they talk about their values as if they apply universally while living in another country.

Currently I feel like I'm seen as slightly too submissive by my colleagues and significant other, but my parents, aunt+uncles, cousins, sister etc all see me as too selfish and not considerate / compliant enough. I think my defiance is a result of them keep trying to tell me what to do and who to be. I cannot be respectful of their ways if they keep asking me to change myself to conform to how they think a person should be. I guess if I could be more charmeleon-like, I could aim to be more assertive in my normal life, and pretend to agree with everything family members say when I do go back home. Sounds straightforward, but I feel like if I can achieve that, I can be CEO or even president somewhere. Seriously.

I know the readers of my blog have kindly commented, telling me to just be myself and forget about trying to please my family. But the issue is not about pleasing my family. I don't think I've ever tried very hard in that department in my life, which why they disapprove of me so much. My biggest struggle has been how my family and some friends can live in North America for decades, have the chance to see alternatives ways of running a family, and still not distinguish the difference between "universal shoulds" (not sure if there is such a thing) and "traditional values that only apply to our culture". I feel like I have been aggressively coerced to submit to the traditional cultural norm for so long that, as I slowly and gradually make my way back up to the surface, like a deep ocean scuba diver, I'm learning about the different levels of "awakeness" -- what is human nature, what is cultural, the range of open-minded and close-minded "ness" among family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. I'm struggling a lot in my relationship because we were raised by guardians with radically different values. I know some people choose to find partners from similar cultural family backgrounds. I guess I purposely avoided that because I wanted to get as far away from my cultural as I can. Turns out whether I like it or not, I am still influenced by my culture and carry traits of it no matter where I go and what I do.

Sometimes I think like would be easier if I were one of those people who never contemplate about the purpose of life, whose sole focus in life is to be the most typical textbook mother/wife within their culture (and the definition of the perfect mom/wife is quite different in every culture). But that's not how my brain works. I fundamentally don't want to be a stereotype, not even a successful one. I guess my fate is to continue to struggle through life, trying to discover how I am meant to useful to this world while being so quirky, and try to connect with like-minded, or at least supportive beings. It's a challenging journey, but I just don't see any other way to do it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lessons I learned so far about anger

I learned a new lesson about anger today... when you are really angry at someone, or when you feel you really strongly dislike a person at the moment, be it a good friend, a loved one, an acquaintance, or even a mentor, you cannot take in his or her advice, no matter how correct or how helpful the information they offer may be. It happened that a person I normally really like and respect made a statement that sounded offensive for me (coz I have huge unresolved issues with filial piety) and then kept trying to shove advice down my throat.

I've become more and more inquisitive about feelings and emotions, perhaps exactly because those who were closest around me love to invalidate my feelings or tell me to suppress my negative emotions and show more positive ones even if I don't feel so upbeat.

My whole life has been really tough for me, not because I had abusive/dysfunctional parents or was born into poverty, but because I was born with an excessively inquisitive mind and I like to analyze ideas/concepts to death. This probably irritates the hell out of my family and friends, who much prefer simple rules of thumbs than to question conventions/social norms.

I want to talk about the emotion known as "anger". I've briefly discussed the problems with negative emotion suppression in a previous post. Basically it's unhealthy for you in the long term and what often happens is that at a later time you may explode at someone due to a trigger that is only remotely related to the real issues that you've been avoiding to deal with for months/years.

According to Wikipedia, anger is "an emotion related to one's psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged, or denied and a tendency to react through retaliation."  It ranges from being mildly, frustrated, to somewhat irritated, to outright wanting to say obscenities and hurt someone else.

My mother's side of the family, from grandparents, to my mom and all her siblings, to all my cousins, my sister and I -- are known to have bad tempers. I used to think this hot-temperament is a genetic trait that we are born with and would have extreme difficulty to shed. But I learned that it's more of a learned trait rather than purely an inborn characteristic. Whenever I got mad, my mother would quickly out-anger me by posturing up, speaking more loudly, and making sure she gains the upperhand of the situation. It's not until recently I learned that my own anger was often exactly "feeling offended, wronged, or denied", and also feeling completely powerless and hopeless, with no option to do anything about the situation. Even when I got older and realistically should be more resourceful to actively do something about my situation, getting angry became a habit, a knee-jerk response from too many years of being used to the helplessness. My mother also still habitually posture up and act all defensive no matter what the situation was.

It's not until I had a chance to live abroad, away from my family for an extended period of time, spending time with other people's families,  that I learned that other families do not get mad over every conflict or every frustrating/irritating situation. They simply asked the right questions, discussed, and made compromises. It was very eye-opening for me to observe this. Also, because other people never forced me to obey unreasonable requests, I rarely, if ever felt unbearably infuriated.  This was a complete surprise for me, since I had been used to feeling utter furor almost daily back at home.

So now that I am away for home for good, and hell-raising furor occurs relatively rarely for me, I set out to analyze post-furor what kind of things actually makes me furious. There's no way to analyze them while I was feeling like an erupting volcano. I started this post during a recent episode actually, but all that came out were blames and defensive thoughts. Rational thinking is impossible while feeling wrathful.

So the rage was actually a reaction to one of my favorite family members, who is normally quite caring. I guess she was having some trouble with her kids, and so she set out to invalidate my feelings towards my parents, and proceed to tell me that the mere fact that I was born into this world is sufficient reason that I am forever completely indebted to my parents and that I should fulfill my duty as a good daughter. A few of her later points are actually reasonable life tips.. things that she learned in her buddhist community about self-reflection and changing perspectives, but I was so incredulous and outraged that I couldn't stand to take in any inkling of information she tried to offer, no matter how relevant and helpful they may be.

I guess on top of my list of anger trigger are Chinese traditions, filial piety, emotional invalidation, and twisting my words to use against me. You may win the fight but you forever lose my trust and respect. But I've learned that nobody in my family gives a damn about my trust and respect. They care the most about tradition and saving face.

Luckily I have my own spiritual teaching to turn to that are less preachy and more thoughtful/respectful. I much prefer to internalize teachings that honors its audience rather than teachings that say, "You are all stupid/blind/unworthy, and now here are the rules to follow".

A simple teaching that I can appreciate (I heard this from Seane Corn): "First, forgive yourself for not knowing any better. Then forgive others for not knowing any better" ---  As opposed to forgive others unconditionally while continuing to be endlessly vigilant about yourself.

Another self-reminder: I am more powerful than my upbringing would have me believe. I have a lot more control of my life than I think I do. I also am allowed to make mistakes, since I have to live with the consequences of my mistakes. As much as I'm shocked about how family members only a few years older than me adhere to traditional beliefs that should have gone out of fashion with the 19th century, I am free believe something else and to live a different life. The emotional baggages are not so easily to shed but I will dedicate the rest of my life shedding them.

I also think it's okay to get angry as long as I learn something from it rather than just automatically react without thinking. I gain understanding about myself and it helps me to process my baggage / habitual patterns. If I merely suppress my anger or superficially distract myself, the baggage will never lessen.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Revisiting spirituality

Based on my blog posts, I've been progressively becoming less and less spiritual the past year, to the point that I declared life is meaningless in my most recent post.

I came to this conclusion because I realized that whether it's social science, hard core biological or physical science, spirituality studies, religious studies, health-freaks obsessed about either raw vegan diet or paleolithic diets, political fanatics, whatever you are passionate about, if you keep looking for evidence to support your beliefs, you will find them everywhere. The moderates will be able to find evidence that support either sides of a controversial; the extremists will completely ignore the evidences that contradicts their beliefs and blow up the ones that do support their claims, "See? Just as I told you, this research entirely supports my point of view, and therefore I'm right; you're wrong!"

More rigorous scientists will try harder to avoid these biases, but researchers are humans too. It is still human nature to be a bit blind to counter-evidence and over-emphasize the evidence that supports one's theories. In addition, we are pattern hunting machines. We will see patterns even when there are only random stuff going on.

It was a blessing to go back to Michael Stone's teachings to learn more about psychology and how it related with spirituality. Stone talks about four different kinds of personalities: schizoid, borderline, narcissistic, and depressed, in a way that made me understand these four types of personalities much better. We all possess some fraction of these four qualities. It's just that someone who is more heavy-leaning on one of these traits would display certain obvious behaviors during meditation and silent retreats.

When I started yoga I was depressed. I ruminated on and on about how I was wasting my life away doing my graduate degree which wasn't going anywhere, but I also couldn't quit because I had no idea what else to do with my life. Yoga provided me with a distraction. It made me more aware of how I felt in the body when I was anxious and how a yoga practice would calm that frazzled nervous system. My teachers were charismatic, charming, compassionate, beautiful people. My classmates were like me, open-minded, curious, and slightly lost in life, all thirstily drinking up all the teachings. Tension in my body were released and I was hanging out with like-minded people who are mentally in the similar space. My yoga studio was my paradise, my safe haven. I embraced yoga and its community like my own family.

Here in Europe, my job contains more "stuff" for me to work on. It's more challenging, fulfilling, meaningful, and my bosses act like supportive cheerleaders, rather than my enemy who acted like she regretted hiring me, but couldn't fire me because it would look bad for her among her peers, and it's impossible to find anyone who would do the same job for less salary than PhD students. So career satisfaction went up, but community support went way, way down. I live in an apathetic society now. Also, I've been acting like a vessel, absorbing whatever negative emotions people around me expressed. They complain not about me, but about aspects of their lives in which they deeply dislike. For whatever reason, I empathize too much and feel just as stressed and neurotic as they are, and I don't know how to block off their negative energies.  I tried to offer suggestions to alleviate their stress or hint at them to take up yoga, but yoga is not a big enough fad here so they have not taken up my suggestions. I wasn't very aware until now that allowing friends to vent their negative feelings to me for prolonged periods of time can be as energetically draining as having them complaining about me.

I guess subconsciously I have been trying to fend off all the negativity by setting up a psychological wall, ie. becoming more apathetic (socially withdrawn, wanting to disconnect from people). I don't really like it, and wish I could be more attuned to the positivity in people. I will keep looking for them I guess. Maybe I'll have to eventually move back to Canada.

According to Michael Stone, meditation will help with grounding, so I feel more connected with my inner self and the stronger buddha so I can deal with life's challenges. I will try because I don't know what alternative options I have.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Life is meaningless... but go ahead and fill it with wonderful stuff

Yesterday I wrote a piece about how chaotic I have been feeling lately. Today I came across a graduation speech video which gives exact advice for addressing my current feeling of meaninglessness and confusion. The speech was given by Tim Minchin, an Australian musician/comedian at the University of Western Australia. The 9 pieces of advice include:

1. You don't have to have a dream.
2. Don't seek happiness.
3. Luck has a lot to do with where you are today.
4. Exercise.
5. Be hard on your opinions.
6. Be a teacher.
7. Define yourself by what you love.
8. Respect people with less power than you.
9. Don't rush.

It happens that I had a dream when I grew up, and that was to become a scientist, which is what I am today. Minchin says it's fine to have a dream.. by the time you get to it and "are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you will almost be dead so it won't matter". I haven't achieved a permanent position yet, but I already see the pointlessness of it all. Also, like he said, I had too much of a tunnel vision on long term goals that I missed all the other worthy pursuits, like romantic relationships, established social circles with those with similar values, extracurricular hobbies, community service etc. My focus was on my academic degree and that was it. I was also trying to rush my whole life and still I end up feeling behind everyone else. But life is not a race and I cannot succeed in every area of life.

Because so much of my self-worth has been tied to my family's values and opinions of me, it's been extreme difficult for me to separate what I want from how I should be in order to make my family respect me. The way to make them respect me is to either 1: become an established professor, or 2: go make lots of money at a large corporation, or 3: marry some rich person (that's considered as an accomplishment for females in Asia) and have some cute babies so they can buy pretty clothes and toys and obsess over cuteness of infants.  None of these options would make me happy in the long run. I haven't taken pride in what I do because my family don't think highly of my profession. But just because my family members do not care to try to understand what I do, their opinions should not negate my decades of hard work and what I think are important in life.

Part of the reason I don't want to be a teacher is that I don't want to be a crappy teacher who ruins lives. But maybe that's because I was too dependent on my teachers. I didn't know how to think for myself and hung on to their every word and followed all their suggestions without better judgements. When I learn to make decisions for myself, can take responsibility and not be apologetic for my decisions about my own life, maybe I can start serve as a good teacher for others.

No. 5 is definitely something I need to work on for the rest of my life. It's what I said in my previous blog too: more observations, less judgements, or at least more critical examination of my judgements. Still a work in progress.

The most important take home message of the speech is that life has no meaning, so we should just do what we want with it in a way that make us feel fulfilled. We can proceed by being micro-ambitious in pursuing short term goals (like learning the second series in Ashtanga), to pursue our passions, and to feel grounded in whatever we choose to do with our lives. For those of us who have the freedom to choose what to do with our lives (only a small population in the world), we are extremely lucky indeed.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chaos in today's world and in my mind

Recently I have been fascinated by the whole Miley Cyrus phenomenon.  I kept flipping back and forth, between thinking that she's in control of what she's doing (following Madonna, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera et al.'s footsteps in using sexuality to catch attention so she can sell albums and transition into an adult market), or if she is a train wreck about to break down (like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan etc).

This piece written by Mara Wilson, the child star in "Matilda" and "Mrs. Doubtfire", helped me understand better the need for Miley and seemingly all child stars to go through this rebellion phase, because Disney forces their child stars to remain cute and innocent for the fan base when in reality they have been fully exposed to the ugliest aspects of the adult world (sex, drugs, porn, politics, power struggle, lies etc) by working long hours in the entertainment industry.

So why am I so obsessed about pop culture stars' acting out phase? Because at 33, I am really confused about life myself.

We've got a financial system that is completely unsustainable; we've got disproportionally large number of psychopaths holding power in high position political offices, financial institutions, and mega-corporations around the world; we exploit third world countries to keep the every day things we own cheap and abundant; there is an overabundance of porn on the Internet; our food sources are pretty messed up; terrorist activities and shootings seem to be a frequent occurrence now despite the billions (trillions?) of dollars put into flight security and global data surveillance system;  global warming and environmental pollution are only getting worse; the world seems to be moving towards the extreme (extreme right wing in Europe and North America; fundamentalists rising in the Muslim world); the education system cannot keep up with rapid changes in the world and the needs of the modern businesses/industries; and we're supposed to tell our children to behave, act appropriately and courteously, study hard in school, and they will have a good life?

To be fair, this simplistic message is just what my mother taught me all my life and made me resentful today. Maybe other parents have more intelligent values to teach to their children (fend for yourself, as this world is chaotic and unfair?)

I do believe wholehearted that Steven Pinker's conclusion that the world is less violent and probably today than it used to be hundreds and thousands of years ago.  I am probably more likely to encounter violence in my every day life 300 years ago than today. However back then there were no televisions, no 24-hour news channels, no internet, no Twitter, and therefore people would only know about bad things happening around their neighborhoods, and not received up-to-the-minute updates about wars happening half way across the world, or radioactive leakage in another continent that could harm the locals and eventually make it to our neighborhood.

As someone who grew up extremely sheltered and who wanted to dedicate her whole life researching cure for cancer and/or work for charities, I feel pretty disillusioned about the flaws within the field of science and NGOs.

I guess this is why so many people turn to escapism - excessive partying: sex, drugs, music, obsession with appearances and pets. Others turn to spiritual pursuits, which is what I did for awhile, but it also felt more like escaping than waking up for me.

I think my biggest issue is that I don't feel my parents or my family are proud of me, since they have no idea what scientists do and don't think highly of the profession in general. My mother associates level of success with the amount of money one makes. Rationally I know her values are wrong, but I'm still saddened to have parents who ignore current economic climate and expect me to make lots of money some day because they encouraged me to get an advanced degree.  Also, over the years, I focused too much on my studies and not enough on establishing solid friendship with a social group with similar, more healthy values. I just didn't know the importance of socializing. Now I am among people who either keep to themselves and their own social circles, or among overachiever girls who are just as confused as me. Some of them are still in their pursuit towards becoming a professor/group leader, which is not a problem in itself, but what scares me is that they also seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get there, just like how other leaders got to where they are today.

It seems that I am surprised by a lot of the happenings in the world because people are a lot more selfish than I thought they would be. I don't know why I assumed people are less selfish in the first place.. maybe because I've been taught I should be more generous? To cope with this I should really be less concerned about matters that don't affect me immediately and focus on my own life, but I find it difficult since my work requires me to think out of the box and ponder in terms of big pictures.

One way to cope could be that I aim to be less emotionally tugged by all the external stimulants. Right now I'm like a rag doll, where every provocative image, every piece of sensational news, every slight insult by someone I come in contact with invokes a strong feeling or reaction from me. A wise friend encourages me to remain an observer, to not judge if these provocative events are good or bad, and to not react to everything that's happening. I think it's very good advice for me but I find it difficult to achieve.

Back to Miley Cyrus -- she's pushing boundaries of social norms, experimenting with herself and the system. Parents and the more conservative populations  are outraged, but I think it's interesting that her performance at the VMA wasn't censored (she mentioned herself that she thought there was a chance it could). I'm not saying it should or shouldn't be censored, just that it wasn't. However, the word "molly" was bleeped out. Why wouldn't she experiment with how far she could get if she can get away with it? There does seem to be a huge disconnect with the governing censorship system and the public opinion -- breasts can be exposed but nipples are somehow a dirty thing to show and can damage innocent children's souls (remember Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction caused a huge uproar). Movies with extreme violence can get a PG-13 rating, but nudity is automatically rated R and swear words need to be bleeped from radios and TVs. I do think that the broken censorship system sends the wrong message to children, especially when kids are inclined to try all the things that authorities forbid them to do.

I'm only concerned that public opinions can get to her eventually. People are just not nice these days, especially when they can express their judgements anonymously on the Internet. I'm certainly guilty of judging people too quickly, especially when I come across something unfamiliar and radical to me.

My homework for next little while is to judge less, react less, and rein in my over-scattered thinking. I direly need to center and ground myself.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Self-Care Strategy #7: Remind myself that worrying will not improve my situation, so just stop it already

I have quite a few topics I really want to blog about, but then I also have several upcoming deadlines for work as well. Having deadlines stress me out tremendously, but instead of tackling the tasks one by one, I go into this avoidance mode where I would surf the net, play solitaire, clean, do laundry, anything but do actual work. I believe the procrastination activities are supposed to serve as panic alleviating purposes, but at the end of the day, the deadline is still there, nothing work-wise got accomplished, so the panic continues.

This has happened to me so many times during school years, and I always roughed through it (pull all nighters etc). Seeing how unaccomplished I am in my professional and personal aspects of life, I would say that the old strategy did not serve me well at all. Seems like rather than trying to push away the worrying by procrastination, I should actually deal with my feelings. Only when it goes away can I actually get some work done.

New strategy: alleviate the worrying by imagining what's the worst that can happen to me if I completely flunk my tasks (in this particular case, a presentation). I could:

- Embarrass myself in front of a whole bunch of people
- Embarrass and disappoint my boss
- have to deal with my colleague's smug satisfaction that I make myself look bad while she can seem much more put together than me.

I don't think I would actually lose my job if I screw up this particular task. But even if I lose this job, I just couldn't care less. It's a little sad, but as I no longer have high ambitions, I do not feel bad if I lose this career and have to do something else. Since this is the case, I should stop worrying. Just get something done and let nature run its course.

Even know logically I know worrying is not a useful feeling, my old patterns take over so easily. Time to remind myself over and over again: self-care matters more than work accomplishments. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Emotional maturity, Impostor syndrome, "Lean in" movement

My work and my relationship challenge me left, right and center every day. I read up on "emotional maturity" and find out (unsurprisingly) that I am pretty juvenile when it comes to EQ.

It seems to be a big topic that women are less likely to stay on track in their careers because they're more likely to feel like impostors. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, started a movement called "Lean In", asking women to stay confident, stay ambitious, keep moving up the ladder in the organization, even if they think they want to put more focus on family and children some day.

While I did often feel like an impostor (not good enough for my job), lately it's the other way around. I feel like I am not enough of an impostor to play the game of "fake it 'til you make it", and worse, "fake it after you make it, for the rest of your life".

Lately I get this strong feeling that my PhD supervisor (a woman), my current bosses and I suspect most leaders in all organization are all impostors. Even when they don't fully understand something they will behave and speak in a manner that make it seem like they are the expert on that subject. Basically whoever's the most ambitious and can act like they know things better than other people make it to the top. The actual knowledge matters less. The appearance matters more than the essence.

So, if I also direly wish to become a professor or a group leader, instead of improving my scientific knowledge, I should actually put more efforts into improving my self confidence, learning to speak and act like a leader. I should be more emotionally mature and not blow the cover of other impostor leaders, acknowledging that their "expert advice" sound totally helpful and I should give it a try, instead of pointing out that they have no idea what they are talking about and are just throwing out some random buzz words to show they are not completely oblivious to the topic at hand.

Except that's not what I want at all. I dislike being an impostor working closely among other impostors. I want to be in a position where I am actually good at what I do, and working among other inspiring people. I don't care if I "downshift" my career as long as I'm among the right people, but I don't know if there's such a community out there for me, or if the whole world is just full of impostors at high positions in governments, banks, businesses, and scientific institutions.

Maybe I'll think differently if I become more "emotionally mature", and right now I'm just ranting like a juvenile. Who knows.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Appearance vs. Essence

I was complaining to a friend back home how I don't like the political aspects of my work place, how I don't like the superficiality I experience everywhere. He reminds me that in the current world, everyone focuses on the appearance of things rather than the essence. If I can distinguish what is for appearance only and what is the essence of a person, an event, or an issue, I would be less frustrated with the world.

My friend is totally right. I have been placing my focus on the wrong aspects in life. Even though I am deeply frustrated that yoga has become this trendy, overly-marketed, money-grabbing overly-hyped activity meant for bendy, skinny, pretty girls, the essence of yoga-teaching is good. Even though like any job, my work involves some politics, some back-stabbing, some ass-kissing, tons of compromises, focus on the wrong stuff (getting grants and networking with "important" people), the essence of the nature of my work is good. I am trying to understand how living things operate. This understanding could help us combat diseases, or just understand ourselves better. It is a lot more meaningful than being, say, a stock broker (at least to me). I should look past the marketing, hype, and frustrations, and focus on the good.

Thanks to my friend's reminder, I will be looking for the essence of events and issues for awhile. It takes practice since my habit it to focus on the bad (the appearance). I am grateful to have such wise friends who can guide me during frustrating times.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Self-care strategy #6: find someone who gives a damn about me

Confession: finally got myself into a relationship. Given what an oddball I am, of course the bf ends up equally if not weirder than me. Most gratifying aspect of this relationship so far: the guy never invalidates my feelings, which so far has the greatest gaping wound in my life. My parents never take my feelings seriously; my friends and extended family are bored out of their minds about my rants and complaints. I know it won't last forever, but so far the guy actually listens to my babbles.  I'm used to people asking for my opinions and then ignoring them completely (I've have some not so supportive friends in my life), I'm always shocked when he agrees to go to a restaurant I pick, or see a movie that I suggest, or when he manages to validate my rants ("Sounds like you've been feeling misunderstood and ignored",  etc.) I feel like a small child for needing so much reassurance but it's really nice to be pampered like this.

Things I learn about myself: how severely insecure I am. For the first few months of the relationship, I kept expecting the guy to suddenly cut me off because I am too annoying or he figured out he made a mistake or he met someone who's a better fit for him. This stems from the fact that I have had many eligible guy friends whom I had crushes on who would tell me they think I'm a really nice girl but then go on to pursue prettier, more fun-loving, sweeter girls. I googled obsessively terms like "how can I tell if a guy likes me"; "What do men look for in a relationship"; "what qualities do men like about women", "why do guys fear commitment"; "why do men cheat"..... You get the drift. I was always the one who asked if he would be free the next weekend. During the week I would be in despair if he doesn't text me, so I would text him every night, and if he doesn't answer, I would be sad that I miss him more than he misses me, and I would nervously google "Do overly clingy girls drive men away". It's been several months now and judging from his manners I am finally reassured that he does enjoy spending time with me and that he doesn't get annoyed when I ask him to hang out on a week night. He's just not the proactive chaser type.

The learning curve: figuring out what types of Issues in daily life that deeply bothers the guy. I thought it's usually the girl in a relationship who are picky about the little things, but in this case it's the guy who complains that I installed new toilet paper rolls "the wrong way" (Seriously?). He hates the show "The Big Bang Theory" with a vengeance because he thinks the show paints an extremely belittling image of the nerd stereotype and people just laugh at nerds' awkwardness rather than intelligently humorous scripting (For me it's just a funny show and the main character is amazing at performing physical comedy and delivering the lines in a purposeful way). There are many other TV shows and issues that seem to seriously irriate him, which I cannot understand at the moment because they seem quite trivial to me. Since he's been so sensitive to my feelings, I don't want to invalidate how he feels, but I have been having some trouble seeing it from his perspective as to why he feels so strongly about those issues. The positive part is that since I don't have strong feelings about those issues myself, they don't stir up my emotions so we won't get into arguments over these things. I just have to be careful not to say things that might sound like invalidation, which I have done a few times by accident.

So far I feel pretty good about the status of the relationship, but to be honest I already think about coping strategies if a break up happens in the near future. This is a bad habit from being trapped in 6 years of grad school with way too little progress/accomplishments for the amount of time and efforts I put in. I keep thinking anout worse scenarios and making contingency plans for the case where I have to graduate with zero publications and that I get zero support from the supervisor in terms of career planning (I could teach English in Asia; I think I am competent enough to work at Starbucks, etc. That's how confident I feel about my education). The thing is nobody gives a damn that I felt this way, which made me felt like going to this particular grad school was the worst life choice I have ever made, and I have been regretting it ever since. Doesn't help that I had a fling about a year ago that didn't turn well, which was anticipated, but I was in this strange emotional mess such that I would burst into tears whenever the thought of that guy popped up in my mind. That's when I understood what people mean when they say "love is an addiction". I can be all scientifically minded about observing myself, and even finding it fascinating, but it doesn't stop me from being an emotional train wreck. The compulsive analyzer in me knows that the crying spells and heartaches will happen all over again should a break up happens soon, but the rational observer in me thinks the prognosis of this relationship is looking good for now. I'm crazy, I know. My family doctor one year ago refused to recommend psychotherapy (coz he doesn't believe in it; he trusts the anti-depressants more), so here I am analyzing myself to death. 

And the self-care efforts continue...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Self-care strategy #5 - Don't take everything personally

So many times I get really worked up if people make a criticism of me or if they don't like me. I feel like I am not good enough, likable enough, smart enough, agreeable enough, that I lack social skills, patience, understanding, humor. I cringe when my flaws are verbally exposed by others.

I need to remind myself that nobody is perfect. Even those who seem effortlessly charismatic on the surface may feel insecure deep down. Overly charming people are either people pleasers or can be quite arrogant. People also assume a lot of things, especially if they come from a more homogenous culture. When they say, "This is how we always do things in my family/culture/country", I have to struggle not to snap back that "I didn't grow up in your family/culture/country and you have no idea what kind of (flawed) values were taught to me when I grew up. Your values do not universally apply to everyone in this world."

Decades of biting my tongue when others make quick judgements and criticism has made me seem overly aloof. I want to appear to be a warmer person but I think I have to allow myself to process everything that has happened to me rather than feeling bad when people say that I'm an adult now and can just suddenly make the switch to be totally confident and pretend my upbringing is over and does not influence me now at all.

When people make naive judgements I guess I need to  remind myself that they are lucky they grew up in a more conventional environment, but it also makes them understand less about the shadows and darkness in this world. It makes me more sympathetic to the less fortunate people. It feels burdensome but I have to find ways to accept my knowledge and experience as gifts.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Self-care strategy #4 -- Give thanks when I start feeling anxious or develop angry/sad thoughts

Feeling insecure and ruminating about "what should have been" are my brain's default programs. They get triggered whenever I'm alone (either commuting or at home), or whenever someone innocently says something trivial that triggers my shameful sore spots, I feel an intense emotion and then try to suppress it, and then angry, anxious, and/or sad thoughts come up right after that. This seems to be my pattern.

Strategy to deal with fear/anxiety/hurt/shame:

- If circumstance permits, sit cross legged, close my eyes, clear my thoughts and just focus on breathing and body awareness

- If it's not possible to go into meditative mode, think of three things to be immediately thankful for.
1. I am thankful I am an independent adult now and no longer needs to answer to my mother and my grad school thesis supervisor.
2. I am thankful I have so much freedom in my life. There are so many available options to me right at this moment and from day to day. People can say hurtful things to be but the words do not have direct consequences to my life situation.
3. I am thankful I am surrounded by so much beauty. I have so many friends who do not judge me and like me as who I am.

This helps me to shift my attention from my anger/fear of inadequacy to the options I do have available to me.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Self-care strategy #3 -- be more forgiving to self

I am the type who likes to write a list of plans for the next day, and then 70% of the items on the list don't get done. Then I get very frustrated with myself and give up. Typical perfectionist-procrastinator-self-destructive behaviour. This habit lowers self-esteem and doesn't get me anywhere.

Change of strategy:

- Still make lists, but don't feel bad when I don't accomplish things. Focus on the 30% that I did manage to accomplish. One might suggest that I list less things, but I'm an obsessive planner and I will write up things that needs to be done within 10 years if it comes up on my mind. So, before I master my skill for prioritization, I need to be more forgiving to myself.

Counterintuitively, being more self-forgiving releases my frozen/giving up behavior, and allows me to continue getting things done.

Another strategy:

- Schedule breaks and "do-nothing" tasks into my daily to-do items. Otherwise I will feel bad whenever I relax because there's still a gigantic list of things that needs to be done. Unlike many of my friends who seem to be comfortable scheduling a million activities (Drinking with friends! music concerts! Hiking, biking, learn a new sport! Writing classes! Language classes! All in one weekend!) into their lives whenever they don't have obligations, I feel like I seriously need a lot of down time.  I am happy if I do one extra-curricular activity on a weekend rather then ten things, even if they are all supposed to be fun. I don't know why I am so mentally exhausted, but I am, and I need to be firm about the type of lifestyle that suits me rather than to follow the paths of my seemingly more accomplished friends. I'm really hoping one day I will overcome my psychological fatigue and be more motivated again.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Self-care strategy #2 -- do more yoga

Obviously! Since this is supposed to be a yoga blog!!

However, even though I started out as an Ashtangi, lately I haven't been able to get into primary series flow at all. I can't even get through the sun salutations without feeling agitated. Therefore I've switched to free-form vinyasa to get me back into yoga practicing mood.

Today I tried one of Tiffany Cruikshank's class, where she included a one minute arm balance hold. I chose handstand against the wall... I was sooooo ready to come back down half way through if she didn't keep saying "Just one more breath! You are almost there!" It was nice. I needed someone to tell me I can get through hardship. I'm kind of lacking that support in my work and my relationships. It's sad I can't just motivate myself. Seems like an external motivational source is necessary to get me to stay committed and motivated. On the positive side, there are plenty of external motivation sources available for relatively reasonable costs. I should tap into those to keep me going.

Still continuing the theme of "Yoga for Strength"... very low emphasis on flexibility and major focus on strengthening the legs, shoulder girdles, back, ankles, arms, and core.  Well, I lie. I am always working on backbends because I love them. However the emphasis is still on strengthening the back so I can do slow motion controlled drop back instead of dumping into my lower back and crash landing on my hands. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Self-care strategy #1 - Eat better food

In Scandinavia food is quite expensive. I am not used to pay that much for food so I had been buying the cheapest stuff - cheap meat, cheap vegetables, frozen food.

To be honest, they don't taste very good.

I think eating not so tasty food that are still not cheap has been contributing to my depression. Therefore, I have decided to splurge on food, paying for better quality things, and ignoring the price. It's tough for me since I am Ms. SuperStingy. I am making baby-steps by buying items that I normally don't get since they are on the pricier side, such as olive oil, sesame oil, and prosciutto. I had been trying to go vegetarian, but it's not really working, since the veggies here really aren't that fresh. Instead, I do eat meat, but try to eat healthy, with the intention of boosting my mood.

I've also been experimenting with all kinds of recipes. My go-to cooking had been pasta, stir-fries and curries (stir-fry veggies + packaged curries) and they are getting boring. I need to expand my cooking repertoire and eat more varieties of cuisine. It's tough because my social circle consists of people whose food staples consist of well-done pieces of meat, potato flour gnocchi + carrots and cucumber, potato pancakes, and cream-based cooking with lots of cheese + bread. While I do love potatoes I would like to minimize cream-based cooking. I have the kitchen to myself for 2 weeks and I'll see what I can come up with!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Self care

I've been meaning to blog many times but always gave up half way through my writing. It depended on my mood at the time. Sometimes I wanted to write to complain, other times to report a great day, a feeling of gratefulness, or frustrations. Alas, technology has erased my writings a few times and other times sleepiness just took over.

I had the fortune of going on two vacations over the last month. One was a fancy schmancy cruise trip around the Mediterranean, and another was to be a laid-back beach bum at one of the most pristine sea water I've ever experienced. How lucky is that! I never dreamed of doing this type of trips when I signed up to move to Europe.

Now that I am back to work, I am again back in a slump, not re-charged and dreading what I do. I am back to hanging out with roommate who predictably complains about everything under the sun, from the weather to her boss, her parents, her country, her love life, ie. every aspect of life. At first I complain about her to everyone else, but now I realize, I am just like her. Every day, there are good moments and bad moments, and I seem to pay more attention to the bad ones. I drain my own energy.

I don't want my energy to be so drastically affected by every small mood change (candy - yay! unmotivated at work - boooooo). I think to drown out these effects I've been playing really boring iPhone games like solitare, which gives me micro-control of my state -- every time I win a game I get a small dopamine boost, but overall the petty games are pretty boring and huge time wasters. I really need to do something drastic to take major control of my state, so I've decided to focus my attention on hardcore self-care rather than on roommate complaints. Complaining seems to drive people away from me and does not make me feel better either.

I don't have super concrete plans yet but I think deciding to focus my attention on self-care might bring some changes to my life and state of mind. It's time to take my life back in control rather than being feeling like a tumble weed with roller-coaster like mood swings. Stay tuned for my results.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Anxiety Attack

I woke up with difficulty breathing and a bit of a panic attack. I tried to sit still and take deep breaths but couldn't stay still at all. Eating some snacks helped, as the act of chewing helps distract me I think. I used to dismiss people who say they get these anxiety attacks, thinking they are such drama queens, and now I get them myself. Not sure if I should attribute this to my current diet (too much caffeine?), my life experiences leading me to this, or what. I had a 4 day long weekend and am well rested. So it shouldn't be caused by stress. I wonder if this is the effect of aging, and I will just keep accumulating more of these small annoyances as I get older. What's next, random pain in various parts of the body, and hallucinations? I am already quite forgetful. Maybe dementia is next.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to live life

It's fascinating how different people decide to live out their lives. Life circumstances puts some constraints to what you can do with your life (eg. North Koreans have less options on deciding how they want to run their own lives, as a more extreme example), but in the western world and even in the more developed countries in Asia, we do have quite a bit of freedom in determining how we want to live out our lives.

Some people devote their lives to make as much money as their circumstances allow them to; it doesn't matter if they are in the bottom social class or if they are already billionaires. At the billionaire level it's more like accumulating points in a video game, competing with other billionaires to see who can accumulate more money in this coming term. 

Some people strive to "keep up with the Jones", determined to own a car, a house, a dog, and two kids. It doesn't matter if their financial circumstances doesn't quite allow this. After all, that's what credits are for right? 

Similarly, some people live to compete/compare with others. My child is prettier/smarter/plays hockey better than your child. My house is nicer than yours. You have a boat? I need to buy myself a yacht! you have a stereo? I better get surround sound multi- media system, even if I don't listen to music!  

Some people strive for stability; the goal in live is to find the safest husband or wife, obtain the safest job (eg. Doctor/engineer/accountant, OR some type of permanent government job); never try anything novel or potentially risky; never attempt anything they don't understand. Life is about playing it safe all the way. After all, the world is full of bad people and dangerous hazards. Better go for safety at all costs!

Some people feel the world owes them everything. Why was I not born in Switerland where the scenery is gorgeous, the country is rich, the social welfare is excellent, and taxes are relatively low? Why does my boss pay me so little while they pay double the salary for the same position in Zurich? Why is the weather so crappy here when it's so nice in California? Why do stores close so early on Sundays? I want to sleep in and be able to go shopping at 5pm! Why isn't my boyfriend more wealthy and more understanding? Why wasn't I born looking more like Angelina Jolie? Why do I have to work so hard while the rich families' kids can just party all day long? Why is the world so cruel to me?

For the longest time I thought I was choosing my own path in life, but really I was trying to make a compromise between my life goals and my parents' wishes. I thought their wishes were in coherence with the Chinese society's expectation on its people. Turns out their expectations are more in line with the 50s way of thinking, ie. horribly out of date, and I've been trying to live up to that. Big time fail! Actually society's expectations might not be inline with what an individual desires to be anyways, but I was trying to be a good citizen in society (as I got brainwashed to think so). 

It's very scary a lot of things we think we want are actually external influences, ie. they were not our original desires at all. We think we want pouty lips like Angelina Jolie, but that's only because the media tells us it's the sexiest kind of lips to have. The media, schools, governments and all types of authorities have agendas to shape the public in a certain way. For Asians, parents feel like they permanently have the right to tell the kids what's wrong and what's the best way to look, to be, and to live life even if the offsprings are over 50 years old. If we don't slow down and reflect often,  it is very easy to believe that what was taught to us in elementary school, by our parents, and from the TV are things that we ourselves want. 

For me, I still have constant battles with imaginary mom's voice, justifying my actions and feeling "mom wouldn't approve of this", even though she has no control of me any more. When I lived under her roof I had to follow her rules; now I don't any more but I still have a victim's mentality. The challenge for me I. The next few years to grow out of that mentality, to realize I have full control of my life and do something about it, rather than feeling helpless because "mom said good girls shouldn't try this. Mom said I'm not good enough." It's surprisingly difficult, due to decades of ingrained preaching. Seems like I will be spending the next decades undoing some of the wrong thinking and to figure out what *I* really want rather than what others think I should be or do.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Victim Mentality

I've been totally playing victim lately. I'm not loving my current work situation at all and I have a couple of bosses and colleagues to blame for it. Like the article says, claiming to be a victim feels good. I don't have to do any work to get attention and validation from my friends; I don't have to take responsibility for the situation I am in; I shift all faults to other people; I blame the world for doing me injustice rather than trying to do anything about it.

The alternative is a lot more work. I would have to dig into myself to see what I need to change within myself. I would have to brainstorm ways to change my current situation. I would have to try new things: for example, behaviors I've never tried before. That's frigging scary! It feels totally unfamiliar! It could backfire! Better stick to my old habit and blame others for causing my life to be crappy!

The downside to not trying something new is that my situation would stay crappy forever. Complaining   temporarily reliefs my frustrations, but doesn't change my situation at all.

The article suggests I ask the following questions:

1. What is one good thing about this situation?

- Well, I learn that I have been overly sheltered for most of my life and the scientific field isn't as rosy as I thought it would be.
- Bosses like to feel like they are leading their groups, are somewhat in control, and knows their stuff. To make the boss happy I have to contribute to maintaining that illusion for the bosses.
- I really really have a TON of trouble verbally summarizing my work progress to the boss in an impressive way. I sound like I do next nothing when I actually poured in my heart into trying 10 things, except 9 of them failed.

2. What is one small step I can take to move forward or out of this situation in the short term?

- I can spend more time actively preparing for what to say and how to dress it up to make me sound good before the next meeting.
- It's a bit counter-intuitive, but I can spend less time time with trial and error analysis (the bosses don't appreciate it anyway), and spend more time on data/results presentation formats.

Do I want to dedicate the next 2-5 years honing my ass-kissing skill to perfection in the long run so I can get to some arbitrary high position and get to boss other people around instead?

- The answer is a huge NO

I think I do need some basica levels of ass-kissing abilities (or as my bosses call it: basic communication skills). I don't have much option but to dedicate more efforts working on my communications, ie. dressing up the ideas I wish to express to make them more eloquent  less offensive, more pleasant, optimistic, and more convincing. But there's a limit to how far I want to take this. I feel like I should start looking into alternative careers. It is really hard to do this in a foreign country, but I guess my ambitiousness got me into this situation in the first place, so I need to motivate myself to get ambitious enough again to work up enough energy to learn new skills/new languages for an alternative future. I don't know what I need to not feel burnt out any more, but I should try harder to get out of this rut.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Things they don't teach you at school

On the public transit on my way to work, it suddenly dawned upon me that, in order to get to a certain position I want in life, what I need to do is to be totally likable for the people who are responsible for hiring people for that particular position. Either that, or you're the top skilled candidate in that field, so people have no choice but to hire you for the reputation of their institute.

This may be blatantly obvious to most people, but I had been so focused on improving my technical aspects, that I had completely ignored the first part.

This realization happened because twice in a row, I have picked supervisors who do not really possess strong technical knowledge, yet they seem to do really well in their careers. What they have in common that verbally, they can communicate themselves in a very logical, convincing, and smooth manner that make it sound like they know the subjects very well. When I actually started work with them, it became obvious that they depended on their students and employees to be totally talented... otherwise the projects just stall. However, they also possess the capabilities to make any task done sound like fabulous accomplishments rather than minimally achieved results.

I feel like because I always juggle with a million ideas in my head, I sound very scattered and don't really know what I'm doing (as evidenced by the random ramblings of my blog posts).

They say that university doesn't really prep you for anything but to become a scholar like your professors. I feel like university education doesn't even prep me for becoming a successful modern scholar. School didn't teach me how to play politics, how to figure out who has the most influential power in the selection committee, how to tell when your boss or colleague means something else when they say one thing (and expect you to know it), how to deal with difficult people, how to sound pleasant and interested all the time, how to distribute time between socializing and doing actual work (and what proportion of time division is optimal for making me look good at this job), how to deal with psychopaths, etc etc.

Still a lot to learn... still waiting to achieve equanimity.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Yoga for strength for hypermobile people

Practiced Jason Crandall's Yoga for Strength class on YogaGlo. It was only 60 minutes long but I left a puddle of sweat on my yoga mat. I like how the postures are not super "advanced" (ie. no crazy arm balances, no pretzel moves, no handstands, no headstands), but all my major muscles got a good work out. I need strength and support in my muscles more than flexibility now so I am happy to practice yoga sequences that do not require me to twist into a pretzel. Even for this class I realized afterwards I need to further reduce the amount of hip openers than what was offered in this class (3 legged dog with the lifted knee bent and opening chest to the sky).

Yah, so for the hyper mobile me: minimal hip openers, lots of chair poses, lots of planks/side planks/push ups, lots of lunges; less twists, crazy forward folds, pigeon pose. I still love backbends but gotta be careful of neck and low back. Have to be so careful about hyper flexible joints. I'm not injured, but my body doesn't like me if I take one of those free style vinyasa classes with a million hip openers and too many fast vinyasas (low back crunch in upward facing dogs).

I also really really need to do more cardio. Spring hiking every weekend for me!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My blogging process

An anonymous reader asked me awhile ago to keep my posts short so that it's easier for readers to absorb the information, and may increase reader interests.

I have to apologize because that's not how the posts happen on this blog. What actually happens is that some ambiguous idea comes up in my head that I feel the need to sort out; I start brainstorming it in an electric Notepad. Very often I only make it half way through and my steam runs out. Often those half-written items never appears on this blog site. Occasionally, my brain transfers enough commands to my fingers such that a full blog entry appears (usually too long.. sorry). I try to do some editing, but I'm aware errors may still exist. As soon as I think the entry is somewhat coherent, I hit "publish", and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that I've released some emotional daemons from my body :D This blog is almost like an exorcism site.

The hope was that I would go back to my old entries, re-read through them, and some day organize my thoughts better so that they are more presentable. So far I notice that I seem to dwell on a few topics for quite awhile. I don't seem to be able to steadily move on to the next Yyogini -- improved version. I don't seem to cover topics as broadly as I would like to. For some topics, I just cannot seem to write a full blog entry without having to spend a ton of time doing some research. The creative juice in my head runs out after two paragraphs, just as I start getting into the details.

I know I started out writing this blog just to practice spitting out somewhat coherent sentences, since I was having so much trouble generating text for my research proposals, progress reports, scholarship applications, PhD thesis and boring crap like that. I think this blog helped me improve my writing flow quite a bit, at the expense of boring the hell out of poor readers who happened to have stumbled upon this site.

Also, as I have dramatically cut down on yoga practice time, it's been next to impossible to blog about yoga. But maybe it's a good thing not to be so obsessed about it. I do miss my yoga community badly though. It makes me wonder why I moved to another country when I was living only 5 minutes away from Fancy Yoga Studio that pampers me and boosts my mood tremendously every time I enter the facility. Before yoga I was a career-above-anything-else gal, but in the last couple years, I started to think that I could have justs gotten one of those mundane routine jobs and focus my attention on my yoga practice. Now I can't do that any more... too many other challenges in life.

It'll take me another while to sort out what I really want in life. I know now that I don't want work to be  my absolute top priority in life, but I am not satisfied with a life of only yoga obsession either. As my career path pushes me to work on a whole bunch of "professional" skills, I need to somehow decide for myself if I am okay to be pushed around by the system to do whatever it wants from me (Fill out this and that paper work, write this grant and that fellowship application, sign up for stuff just because they would make my CV look good, network with people I may or may not like, collaborate with these big name people in the field just because it might  help me advance in my career, etc.), or should I jump off the bullet train at some point and live a much more leisurely and perhaps a more fulfilling life.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting to the bottom of discontentment

A friend just came back from visiting southern Europe and the first thing she tells me is how much Sweden sucks compared to where she went. Stockholm is too cold in April; the grasses are not green yet; the beer here sucks (she doesn't even drink beer normally); this is crap; that is sh*t. It actually made me quite upset and I really wanted to tell her that she can leave this country right this minute if she wants to. Nobody is forcing her to remain here. 

It made me think why I am so upset about this.. I also think it's kind of cold for April. I guess when I stand in the gorgeous sun, seeing how it illuminates this breathtakingly beautiful city, it feels tough to stomach someone complaining non-stop about it. If one can complain being among this much beauty, then everywhere on earth is hell for her. She may like how the southern European city looks, but I'm sure she'll easily find something to complain about there if she lives there for more than 1 week. 

But why else was I so upset? The complaints were annoying but not outrageously offensive. I guess it's because I couldn't pull myself out of this situation soon enough. There are plenty of Debbie Downers in the world. One can easily walk away from them and go towards to more pleasant, grateful people. But I couldn't seem to just walk away. I just stayed at the breakfast table and listened until I couldn't stand it any more. The real reason I was so upset was my own lack of competence to handle uncomfortable situations like this. It's an old habitual pattern that I acquired as a kid, and I can't seem to kick it.

I haven't been practicing yoga lately but I am glad I am noticing these samskaras (habitual patterns) in my every day life. It's so built-in that even though I've noticed what's wrong, I am aware of what I *could* do in the situation, my behavior, still on auto-pilot mode, follows how I've always handled this kind of situation in the past rather than my logic. It's like I have 2 selves: the acting self and the (sometimes) wiser observing self. The reasoning brain also has two parts: the fast acting part says, "Your friend is the reason you're upset", but the slow acting part takes awhile to kick in and say, "You could have done something about it but you didn't. You are upset because you gave up the control of the situation when it was really under your control". 

A big struggle for happiness/unhappiness is to figure out what type of events/situations are under our control and what are not. I cannot control the weather, or other people's words and actions. I can however choose where to live, how I interpret other people's word, and how I act during uncomfortable situations. The old me still passively wishes the weather could be better, that my boss would be a better boss, that my dream job would fall from the sky into my lap, that my co-workers could be more understanding and more fun to be with, and that my friend would stop complaining and start appreciating all the nice things around her. None of these external people/issues are under my control, yet the strong desire to want to control the uncontrollable makes me (and my friend) unhappy. I need to instead work towards mastering actions that I could take to improve my situations and my well being.  The rest of the world may or may not change due to my actions, but at least I will feel better if I have done my best to serve myself.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The world is against me... or is it?

Things have not gone well this week. Nothing's going right... I got nothing accomplished at work. I don't get the Swedish jokes. The boss, the roommate, the colleagues, my family, the bus driver... everybody gets on my nerves. The weather's gray and gloomy. The air is difficult to breath.  Life sucks. I hate where I am in life right now.

Wait a minute.... Back track... Rewind, and replay. Does my life really suck that bad? Or.... Perhaps it's because I've been so anxious and stressing myself out lately, that I've been walking around looking grumpy and giving off a vibe that it's likely not safe to interact with me? Am I the one who's been avoiding eye contact with others, and not greeting people when I see them first thing in the morning? Have I been wearing a frown on my face, looking all depressed and mad? Could it be me who's been pushing everyone away, rather than people treating me in cold ways?

Either way, I don't like how this is going. I could complain forever about a million things. I could try to come up with things to be grateful for each day, which is useful but only up to a point, and/or I could think about ways to actively improve my life situations.

- I need to go to bed earlier

- I need to cut down the amount of time I stare at a screen (blogging feels therapeutic. Browsing psychology sites obsessively does not)

- I need to take more walks

- I need to do more pranayama and meditation

- I need to try to spend more time with people who cheer me up ( they are few but thank goodness they exist!) 

- I need to actively work on relieving my anxiety. It's good for myself and for the poor souls who have to be around me

- I need to be more aware of my needs.. Do I need to socialize? Do I need to eat better food? Do I need more: Fresh air? Friends? Kindness? Exercise? Pampering? Hugs? Time to myself? Nature? 

- Do I need to be less hard on myself? Less stress? Less workload? Less complaints? Less criticisms? Less negativity? Less stimuli? Less judgements? Less comparisons with others? 

- I need to distinguish my desires from everyone else's desires. Just because others crave a house, a nice car, and two beautiful kids, does not mean I should stress out about not owning these myself, since they were never big on my list of priorities in life anyways.

- Same goes with career advices. I get anxious reading about how all there are not enough jobs for PhDs; how all these PhDs stay as postdocs forever and never get any further in life. These guys want to become professors. I don't. Stop  worrying about my career outlook when I have less ambitious goals than other overly-anxious people. 

- Declutter, Declutter, Declutter.

- Cannot re-emphasize enough: do not be anxious over other people's expections of me or of how they think life should be. Everyone wants different things in life. Some are more ambitious than others. Some handle stress better than others. Some can multitask at a higher level; some are natural born leaders. Stop comparing myself to every single successful person my age. Keep my goals framed within my means and abilities.

- Be happy with what I have and what I've achieved so far. As long as the boss isn't anxious to kick me out the door ASAP, so stop beating myself up.

This list will probably just keep getting longer. But it feels good to be able to do something about the crappiness rather than just feel crappy every day. 

What little things can YOU do for yourself to lessen your crappy feelings about life?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Life recently

Last week I experienced improvements in moods, due to meeting good people, hanging out with good friends, having friends visiting Stockholm, etc. My moods predictably crashes every Monday, when I have to meet with a Debbie Downer colleague at this other office. I really wish I were more immune to the influence of others people's moods. Can you imagine becoming depressed yourself every time you bump into someone who happens to exhibit depression traits? It doesn't seem like the boss or other people in the building are affected by it as much as I do. I don't like to be this sensitive, but pretending I am not affected doesn't seem to actually improve my mood. I notice that prolonged gloomy weather also has this effect on me. Maybe I should count my lucky stars that I don't catch a cold or some other infectious disease any time I come in proximity to somebody who is sick. If you have any tips on how I would very much appreciate it.

I try to savor the moments when I am surrounded by positive, caring people. It seems like when I hang out with certain people, they make me feel welcome and that I belong with the group. At work I feel like an outsider, not really fitting in with the colleagues for various reasons (language, different sense of humour, cultural differences, scientific interests, etc). The expat friends I've met recently all seem to have developed their own strategies for surviving in a foreign country where the locals don't exactly understand why they bother to move to another country. Everyone's strategies are quite different, and catered to themselves. I need to develop my own strategies as well.

Yoga practice has been tough. Seems like I haven't been engaging my abs enough and have been dumping into my low back. Also, because of friends visiting, I haven't been able to go to that many morning practices. I am horrible at managing my sleep schedule so I don't know if I should keep going or if I should take a break and re-assess my daily waking hour allocations.

I do wonder why the heck did I get myself in this situation. I think I'm not assertive enough in asking for what I want. If I did I could have done better with my studies and careers in my own country and not have to move to another continent. Feels like working in a foreign country is something I should have done in my mid-20s rather than my 30s. Younger people are just more tolerant of foreigners I think. I don't feel that life will be better if I move back to my home city right now. The science community is the same as before I moved. I miss my yoga community dearly, but yoga is a hobby not a career for me.

Feels like the strategy now is to try to be more efficient at work. I will feel better about myself if I become more productive. I should also take up any opportunity of socializing and recreation events that will cheer me up. I need all the positivity and cheering up I could get.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Parent /child pairing

In my previous post, I made it sound as if I had the most dysfunctional upbringing which rendered me psychologically traumatized today. That is not completely true. If my personality were more agreeable, less ambitious, slightly more extroverted, more optimistic, less curious, less neurotic, more practical, less idealistic, less of an obsessive information processing machine, I would be 1000 times more appreciative of my parents. I know plenty of people who don't really know what to do with their lives. They just want to secure some income source, find a partner and build a family. They would be happy to have parents like mine who plan out their entire lives for them. I also know people who won't have problem saying, "Yes, Mother!" and then go off to do what they want for themselves instead. Instead, I am the difficult child who keeps getting angry at my mom, demanding her to explain why she wants me to do something, yet hesitant to disobey her even if she provides the crappiest reasons ever (eg. "because I am your mom"; "because I say so"). My personality makes both myself and my parents really unhappy.

Traditional Asian culture encourages people to fit in with societal roles, to be average, to obey ancestors' teachings, to obey those who are older/more senior than you, to strive to be the perfect traditional husband (work hard and brining home the money to raise a family) or wife (cook good food, clean the house, raise children). Seems to me that to be Chinese means to spend your childhood as a studying machine and a child-rearing, salary-earning work slave as an adult. To me that means to be Chinese is to have no life of my own... Until one becomes a senior; then they can boss people around and make other people's lives miserable.

As you know I have been pouring over popular psych theories trying to figure out what's wrong with me. I have a "highly sensitive personality (HSP)". I am an "orchid child" who demands more than the average amount of sensitive caring and support in order to thrive in the society, or else I wither under stress more than the average "dandelion child" (grow up as normal individuals regardless of positive or negative upbringing; does not require extra delicate parenting).

So it sucks for my parents that I have more ambitions and (gasp!) independent thinking than they anticipated. They wanted to raise the perfect daughter that turns into a classical perfect wife and mother, but with a medical degree. They are very confused that i think so differently than they do. It sucks for me that I was under the impression that my parents knew better for many years, until not too long ago when I realized they have an incredibly distorted picture of the world. Or, the world progressed but their view of the world got stuck in a time frame that's 50 years out of date. There are young people out there who would be better suited to be their children (ie. make them very happy every day). Sadly, my sister and I are not it. I of course would be free of most of the present psychological trauma, if I had more liberal parents who trusted me better, who were more supportive, who worried less about all the possible horror events that could potentially happen to a daughter, who didn't raise me with the goal of fitting into some pre-planned mold of the safest, most stable and secure life they can imagine.

Viewed in way, I am here at this world in order to work out my karma. Perhaps I did something to my mother in the previous life that made me deserve to go through this life being manipulated. Viewed in another way, I'm just unfortunate in being brought up by a narcissistic mother. Either way, it'll be a life-long challenge to work through the problems I have right now. The psychological problems are no less trivial than issues I have to solve at work. It will be interesting to look back at this blog 5 years from now. Hopefully I will have made some improvements by then.

Extended reading: Daughters of Unloving Mothers: 7 Common wounds