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Important questions I've asked in my life

I've been reflecting recently on how I started on my spiritual path. During a sit last week, the first two of these questions came back to me, with the rest flooding in shortly afterwards. Somehow I feel that all of them are deeply connected to my path. And I am sharing them because I think that they say something important about who I am and the kind of life I've lived so far.  In the 4th grade, I asked, "What is happiness?" At the time, I was living with my father, step-mother, baby half-sister, and paternal grandparents in Baton Rouge. We were living in a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs. The small backyard was full of Chinese vegetables, which my grandparents had planted (they were farmers). The house was crowded and dirty, in my memory. I slept over at my friends' houses frequently and found a lot of joy in that. When I was in middle school, I asked, "What does love mean?" This was after I moved to Charlotte, NC, to live with my mother, step-father,

Reframing lose-lose situations

Reality is objective, but how we interpret it is our subjective experience, and that governs the way we live our lives. A pattern that I've been loosening over these last few months is the pattern of interpreting reality in the way that gives me the least credit, the least benefit of the doubt. Another way to say this is that I habitually create lose-lose situations for myself.  For instance, I offered to help my friend change her fitted sheet after she hurt her neck. However, when the time came, I was dreading doing the task. I did it anyways, but felt bad that the only reason why I was doing it was because I had committed to doing it, rather than also out of a feeling of goodwill and generosity in the moment. I then realized that I was doing "this thing" again—the reality is that I had agreed to help, and then didn't want to help. If I actually didn't help (reneged on my commitment), I definitely would have felt bad about that. But even with what did happen—that

No man steps in the same river twice

I love this quote, and here is the full version: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man” (Heraclitus). In the past, I fixated on the “[for] he’s not the same man” part of the quote. I thought, every time I face a challenge, I’m benefiting from all the past work I’ve done and all the experiences I’ve had. Each moment, a new me is born, and this is the me that engages with the world anew.  More recently, the “for it’s not the same river” bit has become more salient to me. As I wrote in my ( senior thesis ) solo show, “ I thought I found myself over my gap year, I thought I had grown self-confidence, and had learned how to love myself. It’s funny which lessons you have to relearn over and over. Life is so weird, and beautiful like that.” 💕 What those lines don’t capture is how frustrating it feels to struggle with the same thing, over and over again.  But actually, what I realized, and what Heraclitus’s quote is pointing

[Video] post-monastic apprenticeship video diary

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On binge eating and yin-yang energies

tw: mentions of disordered eating I’ve struggled with binge eating behaviors for a long time, knowingly since I was in college, but likely for almost all of my life, unknowingly. I remember when I was a kid, my mom bought me a bag of sour gummy worms, and when we got home, she put it in a cabinet where I theoretically wouldn’t be able to access it. But one day when I was alone, I climbed on a chair to open the cabinet and ended up demolishing that bag after doing that multiple times throughout the day. That was way too many sour gummy worms for my stomach and body to handle, even as a kid! More recently, I’ve been aware of how I use binge eating to self soothe—as a type of unhealthy coping mechanism that in the process of doing it, causes other short- and long-term discomforts to arise. Notably, I feel like it will be very difficult for me to deepen my self-love and self-trust if I maintain this self-sabotaging pattern. During the February silent meditation retreat here at MAPLE, I had

Effecting the cause

This was a significant realization that I had during the silent meditation retreat here at MAPLE last month. I think the idea itself is very deep, and my understanding of it is still deepening.  The approach of “faking it till you make it” seems to be ingrained in me, probably resulting from a combination of societal messaging with my own lived experiences of times this strategy has worked. The classic example that comes to mind of faking it till you make it is with confidence. If you’re not confident, this strategy advises you to just act like you are—by doing things that confident people do, you’ll naturally start thinking of yourself as more confident, which will translate into actual increased confidence. I think this does work, but the reason it works is because many of the actions that you would take (like adopting a more positive mindset) are things that do have existing positive loops with confidence. In other words, both of these statements are true: if you’re confident, you

Don't optimize for flexibility forever

This is a pattern that I've observed in myself and many of my peers: to make decisions that, in some ways, decide the least. That allow you to stay open to the most options, that allow you to stay maximally flexible. For instance, I decided to major in computer science instead of chemical engineering because, even though I didn't love either, I thought computer science would leave more kinds of job options available to me.  Optimizing for flexibility forever feels like, even though you're moving, it's in many random directions. So you ultimately still end up pretty close to where you started. And to put it bluntly, if you try to stay open to everything, you'll be a prisoner to your external circumstances forever.  If you find yourself in this situation, my advice would be to take a small step, any step, the smallest step you can—but intentionally. Take a step for some reason that matters to you, and that reason doesn't have to be perfectly right or coming from a

Environment and frameworks and affordances

The most basic form of this idea is the question of how to make it easy for yourself to do something. This is an important question, because when we are trying to grow, a way that we can accomplish that is by changing  our actions and reactions. Almost all of the time, I will have some sort of mental or emotional block around making those changes, and even if I didn't, because of the inertia of my normal ways of being, making these changes necessarily takes effort. An idea that has been useful for me in this domain for several years has been the one of affordances, from design. An affordance is a "quality or property of an object that...makes clear how it can or should be used." [1]  One of the canonical examples of affordances is a door knob—the shape of a well-designed door knob affords turning. By clarifying the ways to use an object through intuitive design, an affordance makes it easy to interact with the object in the intended way. Similarly, we can create affordanc

Reflecting on my 2020 New Year's resolutions and a couple other changes

I was reflecting on my 2020 resolutions, as well as some of the other lifestyle changes I made in my life during this year, and thought it would be nice to share my progress and my reflections on my blog 😊 For reference, here were my three New Year's resolutions for 2020: No substance use (including caffeine 😮) I've deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone, and would like to transition into checking social media platforms around once per week instead of multiple times a day.  Month-long challenges. (For instance, in January I went the month without wearing makeup or applying heat to my hair.) The other two big changes that I made this year that weren't tied into my resolutions were becoming a vegetarian and limiting my online shopping, both of which I will also be reflecting on at the end! No substance use I would say that this was the biggest change that I made this year. I decided to make this resolution over the circling retreat I attended over the new ye

Pittsburgh recs (some things in Pittsburgh that I feel fond of)

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I imagine this list would probably be different if we hadn't been quarantining for the past 9 months, but regardless, here are some of my favorite things in Pittsburgh (having lived here for the past 16 months). Food Everyday Noodles - love their Taiwanese style sesame cold noodles and egg yolk buns! Salem's Market and Grill - their fries are  a must !!! Also highly recommend the baklava with pistachios :) Mercurio's Pizza - I used to be OBSESSED with this place, but the last time I went the pizza wasn't as good as I had remembered, so take this with a grain of salt. Would always get their margherita! Pizzeria Davide - also a very good pizza place. I had a couple slices fresh when I visited Pittsburgh last summer, but since then have also had it via delivery a few times.  Pamela's Diner - you have to try their hotcakes! Very delicious and unique, a bit greasy though so be cautious not to go overboard. Coffee shops Zeke's Coffee in East Liberty - this was super c

[Video] I'm quitting my job at Duolingo to go to a modern monastery

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Don't sour grapes forever

The title of this blog post is a reference to this fable I read in Chinese school growing up. I may get some of the details wrong, but the story is about a fox who discovers some grapes. Unfortunately, the fox is too short to reach the vine and so can't eat them. The fox walks away from the situation with the conclusion that it didn't want the grapes anyways, they were probably sour. Now, I think of that mental move as sour grapes-ing something. It's a coping tactic that I've used for many years, and was something that I honestly associated with maturity and responsibility and being an adult. Adults aren't supposed to get upset when they don't get their way, but as a young adult, it was difficult for me to sit with the negative feelings that accompanied that, so sour grapes-ing whatever I was trying for ended up being my approximation of that.  To give an example, I recently ordered a suitcase and compressible packing cubes online. The packing cubes came in thre