An anecdote about fear

Last September, I posted this status on Facebook:

What are some moments in your life that you look back on and think “Wow, I can’t believe I did that!”?

A few weeks ago—it feels like a lifetime ago! (before Reunions and graduation)—I traveled to Cancún with Elaine, Julian, and Andrea. It was really nice and, for the most part, a very relaxing trip. One of the non-relaxing things that we did was go to Cenote Tamcach-Ha, a water-filled sinkhole that features 5m and 10m diving platforms. I ended up jumping off of the 10m platform three times, which is really unexpected because I’m quite cautious by nature, and each time was terrifying in a different way. For reference, I’ve attached a video of the third jump below, trimmed to remove the 2+ minutes of stalling and hesitation before I actually gathered up the courage to jump.

 

 

Counterintuitively to me, the third jump was scarier than the first, because I knew what to expect—the moments of nothingness in free-fall were now known to me—and also because I put pressure on myself to resist my natural urge to curl up mid-air (which happened during my first jump, and which resulted in some very large bruising that only recently completely faded), since I knew what the consequences would be if I didn’t.

I still don’t really understand why I wanted to jump three times, but even in spite of the bruising, I’m glad that I did, because it allowed me to really notice and reflect on a few manifestations of my fear. I’ve been thinking about these jumps a lot recently, as I try and prepare for my upcoming travels and “adult life,” partially because I still can’t believe that it actually happened, but mostly to serve as a foil to the fear I feel around those areas of my future life.

In the past couple months, I’ve noticed myself feeling more scared about things that I feel like I wouldn’t have been scared of in the past. For instance, one thing that I’m really scared about right now is the 7-day silent meditation retreat that I’ll be attending in July. I find myself wondering if I can even do it (because of my scheduling constraints, I signed up for the advanced rather than introduction level retreat, and I’ve never meditated for that long before…) and feeling a lot of anxiety around the whole thing.

This doesn’t completely alleviate my anxiety, but when I remind myself of how I was able to overcome my fear and jump off of the 10m platform at Tamcach-Ha three separate times, I am also reminded that fear is designed to protect us, but it often holds us back. I knew I wasn’t going to die, but part of me was still convinced that I would, out of a self-preservation instinct.

I’m in a mindset right now where I want to optimize everything, and I think that part of that is that having (a perception of) control over the way things are going to turn out allows me to reduce feelings of uncertainty and makes me feel more safe. Although I feel frustrated at myself for having this urge (as well as many others, like suddenly caring a lot about conventional metrics of success), I acknowledge that my needs are behind it, and I’m trying to treat it as another opportunity for self-exploration and self-growth.   

P.S. After I posted this, I thought of this mantra from the P90X exercise videos I did in high school that that seems relevant: “Do your best, and forget the rest.”

Living with contradictions

I love consistency. I’m pretty sure the reason why is because my father was super inconsistent when I was growing up, and I really disliked it, so I went way in the other direction. But as with everything, it’s a blessing and a curse! One of the reasons loving consistency is great is because it’s easier for me spot inconsistencies in logic and thus learn faster. And one of the ways it has made life difficult for me is that, for a long time, I’ve struggled to resolve a bunch of internal inconsistencies, so that I can feel alright with myself.

One of the first things that made me realize that it’s not “wrong” to have internal contradictions is when I was starting character work for one of the people I interviewed over the summer (for my solo show!). She is an older woman, and I was confused about how to play both the silliness in her speech and her laughter, as well as the serious, high-achieving part of her. I told my advisor how frustrated I felt, because it was difficult! And she responded with something along the lines of, all these parts of this interviewee have been developed over her entire life, and although it may feel to me like they’re contradicting each other, there are reasons why they all exist.

More recently, my experience traveling to Mexico City (last week) has really allowed me to actually internalize the previous lesson. Around a year ago, I posted this status to Facebook:

I used to believe that it was important for people to learn about metaphors and analogies so that they could use them to understand abstract concepts and the world. Now I realize they’re important because you can use them to understand yourself.

I thought about that a lot this trip while I was walking around all the different neighborhoods. The architecture in Mexico City is beautiful—the colors were so inspiring to me!—and there are so many different styles, all on display next to each other. I don’t know what prompted this, but I asked myself, why is it that I love seeing two completely different buildings right next to each other, but strongly dislike seeing any kind of inconsistencies in myself? And that made me realize that people are just as complex as cities! And it reminded me that it’s fine to house internal contradictions (and it’s so natural to have them!!), because our lives are complicated processes, just like the inner workings of a city are.

One area I’ve been trying to apply this lesson to is my thinking around my body and appearance. The “contradiction” at hand is that your body is, on the one hand, just this physical vessel that contains “you,” but on the other hand, also the thing that lets you interface with the world and vice versa. So when your external state doesn’t match your internal state (dysmorphia), it can feel really bad because the part of you that the world sees doesn’t reflect the you that you feel like you actually are. For instance, this is why I want to have a sense of fashion that reflects my personality. But what I realized from applying the Mexico City metaphor is, while I can have that, it’s also totally fine for the clothes I wear to just be the clothes I wear. And also, I’m so complicated, and there’s no way that my clothing can always be expressing that! I’ve also been able to develop a lot more acceptance towards my acne, which has been something that has been really frustrating me for the past few months.

By not having to reconcile these contradictions—in a way, prescribing less meaning to things and just accepting them as a consequence of the complexity of myself and my life—I feel so much more at peace. (And of course, the journey is never over!)

IMG_9237 copy

IMG_8799 copy

[Video] Link to me talking about mono no aware + other things

Hi all! I figured I would post the link to this “video” on my blog since it basically is just an unedited oral blog post. I recorded the audio around two weeks ago and just posted it. I enjoyed making it, and I will probably continue to use this media format for topics that are more difficult to write about concisely. Maybe I can live out my dream of making a podcast/radio program? 😊

I feel that I am in a period of many changes in my life.

(click on the video for some more context + helpful links in the description!)

Feeding swans in Geneva

Before we start, I have to say that I didn’t know that feeding swans bread was harmful to them at the time. We Googled what swans eat and the first result included bread. Lesson relearned: Don’t take everything on the internet at face value! I feel guilty about feeding them bread, but there’s nothing I can do about it at this point.

That aside, the experience was quite interesting. I hadn’t actually seen swans in the wild before, so seeing them in Geneva was a pleasant surprise. They’re so beautiful. We bought a baguette at the Sunday farmer’s market and probably used up 1/5 of it feeding the swans (~30?). There were also pigeons and ducks and birds that we inadvertently fed.

At first, I was just taking chunks of bread and throwing them into the water. What happened was somewhat interesting and sad. Some of the swans started biting each others necks – I think to scare off competition? You could definitely start to tell that the swans had different personalities and levels of alpha-ness.

IMG_5197.JPG
A swan in the process of biting another swan.

I continued feeding them even though I felt sad about causing them to attack each other; most of it was out of curiosity, some of it was probably out of sadism. I started getting more creative with how I fed them. I put bread on the ground, instead of in the water, to see how close they would get to me. Some of the swans wouldn’t even try to get the bread, but some stretched out their necks very far and successfully got the bread! Even though you know swans have long necks on some level, it was still shocking to see them in action, fully stretched out.

IMG_5182.JPG
Come to me!

Another thing I tried was holding the baguette upside down – I held onto the bagged end of the baguette and left a section of bread at the bottom unexposed. A swan actually bit a piece off the baguette! I don’t know what I was expecting with that one. The last experiment I tried was to hold a piece of bread and move it up and down to see the swan neck stretch (and to see if I could make it fly a little!). Well, I guess I got what was coming to me with that one and a swan bit me. A duck actually bit me when I was a kid, so getting bitten again by a duck-billed creature brought me back. I was surprised later when I saw someone else, who was feeding the swans popcorn out of their hand (which can’t be good for them either…), get bitten several times without trying to prevent it from happening again.

Most of the happiness I got from feeding the swans was very similar to the feeling of feeding cats at the cat café I went to in Tokyo: getting attention/”affection” from cute creatures. Deep down you know that they’re only using you to get food though. I would probably do this again if I’m ever in an area with swans, with food that is more suitable for them.