on twentysomething dreams

One morning, I was having coffee with A., a new friend, who asked me how it was to be 24. At first, I didn’t understand her question, because she was older by about six years, and so had gone through 24 herself. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “How do people your age view your careers? Your relationships? What do you do for fun?” Again, I was puzzled, because not only could I not presume to speak for my peer group, but I also wondered whence her questions came. Was she curious about my worldviews, specifically? But she already said that she meant the typical 24-year-old mindset, if there were such a thing.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose it’s different for everyone.” I thought about my peers. Some were running businesses and NGOs, some were still in school, some were in between jobs or dreaming of a different kind of employment or freelancing. Many felt lost, but most of us were pursuing what we liked—be it travel or cooking or activism or art—in some way. Not one of us was certain about which direction our life was going to take (really, who knows?). Some of us had considered ending it, some of us were building new lives with spouses and kids. Some of us were in committed relationships, some of us were not, and some of us had just come out to our friends and families, seeking acceptance and love. That most of us are on Facebook is why I know these things.

“I suppose you’re right. It’s different for everyone,” A. said as I my tablet beeped with the notification that she had just added me on FB. “I asked,” she continued, “because I spent the last nine years shut in. And now here I am, I’m thirty, and I don’t mind just doing my thing and being on my own.”

I recalled our previous conversation, where she told me that she had just come out of med school, and I realized that she must have spent her twenties poring over books and body parts. I studied her bright, makeup-free face, her easy grace and openness, her confident, straight-backed stance that made her look taller than her barely five-foot frame. She didn’t look like she spent the past nine years “shut in” at all. If thirty looked like that, maybe I shouldn’t feel too anxious about reaching it.

I turned 24 just a few months ago, to not much to-do, and it doesn’t feel any different from being 23, which must be why I keep forgetting that I’m no longer 23. For me, the only difference is that 24 is closer to 25, and I’m not even halfway through my quarter-life bucket list, though I’m no longer interested in pursuing some of the items there, like day-hiking Mt. Kinabalu or publishing a book, in the next year or so. How swiftly we change and our priorities shift.

I feel good at 24, though. I’m not as physically fit as I was two years ago, but I am happier. I feel a little less stupid, less anxious, less lost. I have a better idea about what I want from life and how I may give back to it, and what I can’t and should not stand. I feel hopeful and even excited about my plans for the future, though getting through all the long years and months and weeks and days ahead still seems tedious.

My 24 years have taught me, among other things, life’s unpredictability, its irreverence for even the best-laid plans. Even so, my propensity for organization, focus, and goal-setting, and my desire for security and a modicum of control over my life lead me to persist in drafting plans, from itineraries and weekly schedules that account for every hour, to lists of Things to Accomplish in the short and long terms, divided according to months and years.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the direction my life is taking. Even though I am learning the values of patience and gentle unfolding (for unintended, harmful consequences often result from rushing or forcing events into our desired ends before they have earned their rightful conclusions), this doesn’t preclude me from working hard to nudge things toward a particular direction. So while I am enjoying and learning much from my teaching practice, I know I need to start preparing for when I’ll Level Up. My most important goal now is to pursue further education abroad in the fields of philosophy and poetry (I mean poetry in the broader sense of the poetic, the metaphoric, especially as it manifests in literature, the body of our best dreams and forms of expression), at the risk of feeling that my studies are neither useful nor socially relevant—though of course I believe it is relevant (for if language encompasses our world—if language is all our world—then every event necessitates an act of literary criticism, no matter how “automatic” and unconscious the process may seem. And, after all, the important things in life, e.g. “Does he like me?!?!” are not always plain to the understanding).

Since I took a break from my philosophical studies to teach with the English Department, I’ve been easing back into philosophy by sitting in classes and reading books about the philosophy of language. Maybe next semester or next school year, I’ll re-enlist MA classes at my university and complete my INCs, as I look for suitable graduate programs that explore the intersections of literature and philosophy, and markets for selling my organs to pay the tuition.

I still plan to travel around Southeast Asia before or as I turn 25, though it may not be the month-long solo backpacking trip around Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia that I first envisioned. I’ll need to save up for grad school, after all. And then I want to visit the old Japanese Imperial Capital in Kyoto, hike along the Annapurna Circuit and go bungee-jumping from one of the highest suspension bridges in Nepal, see the mythic landscapes of Yunnan Province in China, and watch the sun rise from atop the temples of Borobodur in Yogyakarta. I want to stay for a few months in a Tibetan monastery, study ashtanga yoga in Mysore, learn Spanish in Peru, and sleep in strangers’ couches all over Europe.

I looked at A. again. She was traveling to South Korea in a few days. She was a dancer and a yogini and a doctor and a friend and a daughter and a lover, and she was only thirty. I thought, gods, what a wonder it was to dream and be young.

on my introduction to kundalini

I attended a kundalini yoga workshop taught by Tara Joy MacKeigan today. “Kundalini” refers to corporeal energy or life force, and is similar to the notion of “ch’i”/”qi” in practices like t’ai chi, reiki, and acupuncture. Kundalini flows through the body’s seven chakras or energy centers, each of which governs a particular psycho-physiological aspect of being. When these chakras are blocked (because of negative thoughts or experiences), the aspect governed by the blocked chakra becomes imbalanced, leading to problems in that area, which may even affect the functioning of the other chakras. Kundalini yoga practice tries to keep the chakras open through various activities including meditation and mantra chanting, breathing (pranayam), and poses (asana).

Today’s workshop focused on the sacral chakra, the “seat of emotions,” which governs feelings (especially that of love and hate), creativity, and sexuality. It is located in the pelvic area, which has remained my problem area through five years of yoga practice (I cannnot for the life of me get into the lotus pose and other poses that require much hip flexibility). I’m not sure what made me join the workshop, since I was only mildly curious about kundalini yoga (funny, I first learned about this style of yoga when I watched the 2009 South Korean horror film Yoga Hakwon, which gave a very perverse representation of yoga practice, superficial and vain in a Lululemon-meets-The Grudge kind of way), and I only learned about the sacral chakra’s connection with the pelvic area when I attended the workshop. Still, I’m glad I went. As Tara said, our meeting was not a coincidence. Hmmm.

The practice featured powerful breathing exercises the likes of which I hadn’t encountered in other yoga styles–it almost felt like a cardio workout, except that the breath flowed fast but easily, smoothly. I loved the kriyas (sets of exercises bringing together breath, movement, and sound), which were physically challenging but oddly hypnotic, perhaps because of the steady rhythm of our loud breathing. I also liked chanting mantras during meditation. It helped me focus more than I could have had if I’d just followed my breath (I tried zen meditation before and found my mind too restless for it).

What fascinated me most about the practice, though, was how its principles, which are thousands of years old, are supported by contemporary theories/knowledge in psychology and other sciences. For example, the aspects governed by the chakras are similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The conditioning of the lower triangle chakras, which affect how secure and intimate we feel with other people, happens during the first 5-8 years of life, which, according to psychologists, is also when we develop our attachment styles, which affect how we relate to people for the rest of our lives. It’s very cool. I just started reading Sri Isopanisad, one of the Vedic scriptures, and in the introduction by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he says that human knowlege can never be “perfect,” because human beings err and our perception is illusory and limited; thus we should not be so arrogant about our sciences and scoff at “knowledge” that comes of divine revelation. I’m no religious person and tend to be skeptical of that kind of talk, with its seeming encouragement of unquestioning acceptance, but I still like reading texts like that for the insights they hold.

Kundalini as philosophy and practice caught my interest, though I still prefer the physicality of ashtanga and vinyasa styles. Still, I would like to learn more about kundalini–especially when I just took this chakra test that told me my chakras seem to be working alright, except for my sacral and heart chakras, which means that I am “not very open to people” and “cold and distant.” Hahahaha.

back home to me

A realization hit me this morning while I was sitting on the toilet, staring at the bone-white tiles, musing about certain feelings about an uncertain person recently let go (I say the feelings were “let go,” though the phrase is carefree and belies the effort and intention that came with dis-attachment—perhaps a better word is suffocate). It was not his rejection of me or his moments of indifference or the confusion that arose from the ambivalence of his behavior, or my consideration of his predicament and a sense of empathy–though all of those played a part–that made me withdraw. What it was, was insecurity. I tried to understand, and what I understood was that I could not trust him with my vulnerability. I could not cry in his presence or talk about things that choked, not only because he would not salve me with soft words or an embrace, but also because he did not trust me with his own vulnerability, did not let me into his world of anxieties and fears and frustrated hopes, and handle any object there. And why would he? Who was I? I could talk with him about everything, everything but emotion. That was our No-Man’s Land, our Terra Incognita. But I travel outwards and into the interior extensively. And he gave no indication that he wanted to join me and go. So I moved away from him and back into myself, and realized: I like it here. My solitude is enough. I have my work, my words, my backpack, my books, my pencils and paper. There is no need for longing.

I have not been writing in this blog, but I have been writing elsewhere—my journals are filled with notes about literature, education, language, philosophy, and I’ll post those notes here when I get them in order. I have been so busy, I have summoned a whirlwind of preoccupations and let myself spin round and round and round. I am still teaching. I take long walks and practice yoga every day. I run five miles once or twice a week. Some weekends, I go hiking, some weekends, I visit my parents and goof around with my siblings about getting all soft and fat. I attend public lectures, join workshops, and sit in a philosophy of language class. I meet up with friends over coffee or dinner or drinks, go to the movies, and spend all the rest of my waking hours reading or drawing or singing to myself. I try to get enough sleep, though I often fail. I am always tired at the end of the day, but I feel fine and at peace with my life.

Romantic love is rare and thus so rarefied, in the way we speak of it and act on it and think and think and think about it. We cling to it. I clung to it. I wrote so much about it, I have written about virtually nothing else in the past year here, and I am sick of it, its high highs and low lows, its lightness and weight, its bondage to the other. There is a gentler and more constant love that rises from self-regard, from the affection of family and friends, from consideration of the sky and trees and rocks and wind and sea, from the defense of beliefs and the pursuit of passions, from the appreciation of what is. This love is more grounded and free. And it is enough. I am saying it is enough, for me, now. There is no need for longing.