Thursday, December 30, 2010

beginner at being a beginner

For a very long time, I earned a living by doing something that I've been doing for a long time. Through a lot of trainings and experience I naturally became good at it. Do you know that “auto pilot” mode, where one can smoothly handle a wide variety of situations without needing to think? That was the case for me most of the time. Even if I needed to think, that was often because I needed to calculate the options, not a need to come up with a really novice solution.

Then I decided to quit that all together to start something entirely new. That entirely new thing had nothing in common with what I've been doing all along. It was difficult in many ways, but mostly because I forgot what it feels like being a beginner at something that matters. Learning, trying to retrieve that new information, grasping the tweaks, finding the gray shades when all that I've learned was black and white... But maybe most importantly accepting that I am a beginner and by definition there is a long path of learning ahead of me. That not all learning is smooth, fun and has immediate positive results. Somethings depend purely on experience and accumulation of knowledge and without them, one can just be “average” to start with. That some patterns are very deeply etched and it takes more than a one-month intensive training to shift.

I'm learning to teach yoga. I've always known that how I practice yoga on the mat is a pure reflection of how I play in life... Now I am also discovering that how I play in life is a pure reflection of how I teach. I cannot teach beyond my limitations, so I constantly need to expand and to transcend all the while I am struggling to be a beginner. It's mostly exhausting. Yet in rare occasions that I can pull myself a little back and look at it, then it feels good. It's very empowering to be able let go of somethings and have new beginnings, however awkward they may be initially.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

dubai lessons - part 2

Before I left Dubai in August 2009, I decided to store my items, thinking that I'd be back in a few months, to find another corporate job, rent a place and get back to “normal life”. The warehouse guys came to pack and told that my items would take 18 cubic meters of space. I barely had any furniture besides a sofa and a bed, so it meant that I had 18 cubic meters of stuff. Stuff of all sorts like useless kitchen gadgets, accessories, cables, notebooks, coin collections... and of course clothes, shoes and bags, heaps of them... I had closets full of t-shirts that I didn't even have time to wear even once. Shoes that still had the price tags on. I regularly had to buy extra shelves to be able to store shoes... That of course didn't change the drama of “Oh, I have nothing to wear to the office today”every morning.

I had a hole inside. I thought if I stuffed it with shoes and dresses, the hole would be mended and I would be complete. I kept buying, I spent with a vengeance, I thought it was my right to earn so much and to spend so much because it was my reward for putting up with the work life and nicely playing my role in it.

I kept shopping, I owned more stuff but it didn't help with the hole. I didn't feel complete. Quite the contrary, the discrepancy and the frustration felt bigger and bigger every day. In order not to notice the discrepancy, I shopped more. That's how I ended up with 18 cubic meters of stuff. Then for another year, I paid a really high rent to make sure that my stuff was well taken care of in an air-conditioned warehouse. Ironically, all the time that precious18 cubic meters was sitting in a warehouse, I was happily living in Bali with one bag full of clothes and books. 10 months passed that I didn't need a single thing other than what I already had with me. Slowly I started to realize that the need didn't come from the actual variety of t-shirts or the number of shoes that I had. It was a distortion of my perception.

It is difficult to turn the attention inwards, to notice and to admit an emotional hole. It is painful and the roots go way beyond a single shopping spree. So I had chosen the path of least resistance, to keep my attention outwards, and to buy stuff, assuming that they will make me a better person. Through yoga and one breath at a time, I started to realize that it all came from within, so it had to be completed also from within. To own and then to be addicted to that ownership wouldn't really solve anything.

I realized the true meaning of the quote “things you own end up owning you”. I had stuff sitting in a warehouse and costing me, as well as taking a lot of my mental energy how to best get rid of them.  It's idealized a lot in self-help books, however in reality letting go is not really easy. At one level, it gives freedom, but it also makes one feel really naked.

I still managed to offload the things I owned. The crescendo of it was the Dubai Flea Market two weeks ago, where I managed to sell all my clothes, shoes, CDs, gadgets etc. All items of addiction were gone within a frame of few hours. I didn't make a lot of money, but the feeling of liberation and buoyancy at the end was worth it all. The day after the flee market, I packed the remaining bare minimum, to be shipped. The new volume? 157 kilograms and only 0.7 cubic meters!

The lesson? It's hard to pinpoint one single thing. There was a time that I owned a lot but didn't feel complete. I'm still far from feeling totally complete – whatever that may mean. At least I realized that the feeling of being whole and centered has nothing to do with the amount of stuff I gather around me. Quite the opposite, the more I can let go; be it obsessions, shoes, dysfunctional patterns or money the more I feel secure, strong and “whole”. This feeling of security and strength is far less tangible than a retirement fund or a steady income, but it comes from being able to trust myself and only myself.

Monday, December 20, 2010

dubai lessons - part 1

I'm a single child and spent a lot of alone-time reading books when I was growing up. Socializing with flesh & bone humans was the least of my needs. In our tiny and very independent household, it was highly appreciated to be self-sufficient and asking help was something only needy people did. So I grew up with some defects in my sharing,helping, receiving cells.

During the Vipassana, there were evening talks about killing ego, genuinely being able to ask for help as well as being able to offer help for the sake of the other person, without boosting your ego. It touched a really deep place. It helped me realize how delicate and inter-connected our behavior patterns are; My inability to receive help fed my illusion of self-sufficiency (It is easier to believe that I am so capable that I don't need help, instead of saying “I don't know how to ask for it”). Whereas in reality, I was probably constantly searching for someone to lean on. Again, because I thought it was only the weak or needy people who needed assistance, my offers of help didn't come from a genuinely altruistic place. I probably liked helping people because it made me feel superior/better/more able in one way or the other. (Ouch, even writing this twists my guts and makes me feel horrible)

Last 5 months, I have been at my neediest. It was like a boot-camp for my ego. I didn't have money, a home, car and the brains to deal with the variety of difficult situations that I've been into. So I constantly needed to ask for advice, money, food, a bed and whatnot. It was like the life of a Buddhist monk in a very capitalist city that has no monks. (Oh well, I still could keep my hair and wearing nothing but an orange robe would be an immediate criminal offense in Dubai.)
Having very little and asking for help was ok in Bali but in Dubai where everyone is rich, able and powerful (or under the illusion of being rich, able or powerful), it felt like hell.

It was so much and too intense for me. There were days I simply felt tired because I needed to ask so many things from different people. The most difficult was when I needed anything from my parents...

It's way too early and too pretentious to say that I've learned my lesson, passed my exam and ready for the next grade. The roots are too deep for me to reach within 5 months only. Yet, looking back, I at least start to realize that my ego had nothing but rough edges and Dubai was my coarse sandpaper.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

dragging my feet

I've been contemplating on this blog entry for weeks and weeks. So much has happened that's worth writing. Then again, so much has happened that drained my energy and writing was the last thing I could possibly do...

Back in June, when I applied for a tourist visa to Dubai, the Immigration said that according to their database, I already appear in the country with a valid residence permit, so they cannot issue me a tourist visa! From that point onwards, everything about Dubai went extremely slow or terribly wrong or both. All the corporate positions I applied froze for no reason, it was summer so I never had enough yoga students, I got the stupidest traffic fines, et cetera et cetera... About two months into my Dubai adventure, I seriously started thinking if all these are signs that Dubai is no longer the place for me? There was a major gap in my resistance-free, easy flowing life in Asia and all the hassle and hardship that I was facing in Dubai. I chose to interpret all that as a learning towards persistence because I've always been the one to give up at the first sign of difficulty. I thought that I spent two months planting the seeds for a new life and I should not leave before seeing the blossoms. Oh, how things went so downhill after that...

Within the next few weeks I got seriously sick due to stress, had a mistreatment that increased my pain, had a big car accident, lost my car, lost a lot of money and got so broke that I could only afford 4 bus tickets and one meal every day. Then another corporate job opening popped up; I thought it could be the perfect opportunity for me to fix my finances. Deep down, I could not bear the idea that I needed to get back to corporate life but thought I had no other option. I felt powerless. 3 days before I needed to fly to UK for my final job interview, my visa application got rejected for a very stupid reason.

It finally flashed; I was no longer meant to be in the Middle East. The interpretation of everything that happened as a a test of persistence didn't really work. It took me many months, a lot of money and a lot of health to figure that out. I was fast becoming the person that people spoke in only checklists. Instead of simply asking how I was when they saw me, people had to go through a list to make sure that I am ok, “how are you today, any injuries from the accident, are you still taking your antibiotics, did you have any students in your class today?” I used to feel fantastic all the time and this radiated to the people around me. At some point in Dubai, I turned into this fragile and unlucky being who always had to be checked and taken care of. I didn't like it a bit...

There are no absolutes, rights or wrongs in life decisions. Even things that seem like a momentary lapse of reason, lacking common sense or plain stupid happen for a reason, don't they? What makes them precious is probably our interpretations of it. It's really easy to blame things on fate, live the life of a drama queen feeding on misery and continuing to live in the past. There's also the option to learn your lesson and move on. Dubai was my lesson on many things but mostly humbleness and the importance of friends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I've been badly bitten by the “Bali bug” about 13 months ago and I can't seem to stop itching. Even 3 weeks before leaving Bali, I was showing withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, irritability and random bursts of tears. The irony of it was that clinging to something and missing it all the while still experiencing it was completely against everything I liked about Bali and my life there.

The withdrawal symptoms were temporarily relieved when I was in Bangkok and then in Istanbul, but they came back even stronger as I spent more time in Dubai. It was a lot of stress, hardship and constant frustration. Of course none of these symptoms of helped with relieving the itch of the bite. Quite the contrary, things continued to get worse. It took me 5 long months to realize that trying to put up with unhappiness would not actually help with anything. So I took the plunge and decided to live in Bali. It was the biggest and the boldest decision in my life, yet at some level it was so easy. The itch stopped as soon as I make that decision, so at some level it feels right. Yet at most other levels, things do not feel any more stable than a steep, slippery pathway covered with ice. All I know is that it's my decision, hence it cannot be wrong for me.
We'll see, we'll see...