I wrote the following post as an email to my close friends on my 28th birthday, reflecting back on what has been the most fulfilling year of life yet. I was encouraged to share my experiences with self-work more publicly by a few people I trust and admire, so I hope you enjoy a somewhat unorganized rumination on my personal development.
If you’re getting this email, it means that, regardless of how long we’ve known each other, how many oceans separate us, how often we communicate, and [insert all other arbitrary measures of meaning in relationships], you are special to me, and have impacted my life in one way or another. Every year, I’m reminded of how utterly privileged I am to have the friendships I do, to have the life that I live. Thank you for sharing yourself with me.
When I turned 27 last year, I reaffirmed my dedication to a principle I hold in special regard–to spread compassion and kindness to as many people as possible. My ruminations felt like there were loose ends I hadn’t managed to tie up; I had realized what I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to deconstruct the concept of kindness into tangible actions that I’d be able to execute.
One year later, I’m looking back on what life has given me, and I can say with sincere honesty that I’ve never felt the kind of inner peace I do now. Does it sound crazy that I wake up every morning, not wanting to be anywhere but where I am in that very moment? When I came home last year, I thought I’d long for all that I didn’t have anymore–travels, adventures, the rich and rewarding challenges that every day in Shanghai had showered me with. For a period of time, that was absolutely the case. I feared the ambiguity the future held, and was always somewhere other than my present moment. Near the end of the summer, my growing restlessness prompted me to book a trip to Portugal. Just before that, I had completed my first vipassana. Since then, I think I’ve finally begun internalizing the truth that spreading compassion and kindness to others, begins with a practice of compassion and kindness towards myself.
Meditation continues to color my life and anchor me in an entirely self-sufficient manner. It’s been fascinating to reflect on that journey, and how deepening it subtly alters the way I see myself, and the world around me. For those unfamiliar, the core concept of vipassana is to see, and accept, reality as it is, and not how you want to see it. Rooted in rationale, it’s a deliberate practice of discipline to observe your world without giving into the instinct to react to it. I won’t go into too much detail in this email–you can find the longer write-up of my experience here. On the observables, I don’t think there’s actually that much difference, except I’m a tad less dramatic in social settings (but only a tad!). It’s looking at the fundamental shifts under the hood that have continued to encourage me in developing my practice.
What does practicing kindness and compassion on myself look like, and how does it benefit every other aspect of my life? The greatest benefit it yielded for me was that I was finally able to bring my best and most authentic self in my relationships. What I’ve learned is that people are incredibly perceptive–more than our egos tend to credit them for. Within the first few minutes of interacting with someone, it’s likely that you’ve already decided whether or not you want to spend more time with that person. Someone can perform in all the right ways, but sometimes, we still hesitate to trust them. On the other hand, some people can show up late and say all the wrong things, but we can still feel confident in their intentions. It’s become crucial for me to refrain from taking action towards another individual, before I can securely root the intentions of my actions in a foundation of respect and empathy. What this means is that, whenever I’m unsure whether or not my intentions are pure, I stop to observe myself–my breathing, whether there’s tension in my muscles, and my ability to observe my situation. These have become reliable indications of whether or not I’m ready to act. If I’m not, I practice observing the sensations in my body, and not reacting, until only pleasant sensations remain. This means that, even with those I disagree with, or don’t feel comfortable around, I can still anchor my behavior in loving kindness. Finding common ground with individuals I don’t often see eye-to-eye with is one of the most rewarding challenges of practicing empathy.
I call it vipassana, but it’s just a different way of living life. There are people who abide by these same principles, but know it under different names–self-work, yoga, introspection, reflection, journaling, religious denominations, mindfulness, etc. The monikers are endless, but they share the common denominator of wishing well towards yourself, and everyone around you. When you envelope yourself in this way of living, your entire world thrives.
In an effort to neatly tie together the loose ends of this email on self-love and compassion, I’d like to make a birthday ask of you–to support the journey of Asian-American women who are putting in work on themselves. Self-work is hard, and The Cosmos is creating opportunities for Asian-American women to do that work. The Cosmos Summit: Home–bound (August 25) is the first large-scale gathering of Asian women and gender non-binary creators to connect, learn, and build community. There’s a large volume of applicants who would directly benefit from attending this conference, but simply don’t have the financial means to go. Your contribution would directly help The Cosmos fund attendance for these women!
- Please consider making a contribution of $50-$225 to their Scholarship Fund. Their goal is to raise $3000 by August 1 to fully fund ALL of their scholarship applicants to attend the Summit.
- You can Venmo me (@chrystalzou) or one of the founders Karen directly (karen-mok-2), and mention the summit in your transaction message so we don’t accidentally refund you 🙂
- They’ve already funded 20 scholarships. Your contribution can help them fully fund every Asian woman and gender non-binary creator with financial need.
- You can view the stories of the Scholarship applicants to be funded here. Kleenex recommended!
Sometimes, my relationships are so generous that I feel overwhelmed and undeserving of them. I’m trying to be better about feeling guilty, and instead, working to channel that gratitude into helping my relationships flourish. Part of how I’m trying to do that is through habitually letting people I care about know that they are special to me, and that I do my best not to take them for granted. So here’s a big, big thank you from someone in your life who is really glad you’re here.