It’s been a summer of change. And heat.
July was full of everything. Temporary goodbyes to people I love in Chicago, condensing my life into two suitcases, spending time in my hometown St. Louis, traveling with my mom and dad to Thailand and Korea, attending and speaking at a gathering of hundreds of fellow Korean born adoptees from all the world, taking a trip outside of Seoul to a beach town Busan and beginning to live in Korea during the hottest part of the summer.
When I reflect on how much all of that has been for an interval of 30 days, it’s hilarious that I thought I mastered the retirement of “doing too much.” Ha! I’ll be so characteristically daring to say we all have tendencies to do “too much.” We get “so busy.” We get we are “too busy” to take care of ourselves at times and become angered when we get sick or depleted. We say, “when things finally slow down,” we’ll finally do that project/trip/thing for ourselves. Know this one? I was a master at it, not all that long ago. Many of you know my lifestyle now is into slowing down, doing less and breathing more (and I greatly prefer this lifestyle) but I am not immune to old patterns sneaking in. We are all human.
I have reliable tools that foster self awareness and restoration and these help tremendously whenever stress speaks up. I take time out to breathe intentionally and be very quiet. It’s not always easy to do. I know. We can do things that are not easy. I used to avoid time for myself. Why would I be with myself? I might think about things I don’t want to think about! I might feel terrible when I do! So I need to keep busy, busy, busy. Busy can be avoidance. This used to be my strategy.
Time for myself is my most revered practice. It the most powerful resource that has given me much peace, freedom and acceptance. It means those email replies can wait. It means the people waiting for responses might get impatient. Or upset. Alright. Self-care means taking care of your self. It means you don’t have to do everything. You can call it quiet time, meditation, writing, art, time for only yourself…it doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s worked well for me and although everyone is different, its tremendous impact on my own life is why I am dedicated to sharing it.
In other words, this shit really works.
Every one of these tools has been tested as I have been so far out of my comfort zone in so many ways that my entire nervous system has been speaking. Big life changes have a way of doing that to us all. Moving to one of the most densely populated cities in the world has a way of doing that. Especially when it’s a country that is part of me yet foreign to me and has many scars.
So I breathe.
This is my 4th visit to Korea. I’ve always traveled here alone. This time I planted my feet onto the land with my Missouri American mom and dad by my side. My parents joining might seem like the easiest story ever but reality is many years of us working through uncomfortable moments and having difficult conversations. We’ve fallen, we’ve gotten back up. Traveling together and to Korea especially had challenging moments.
As we were in the taxi from the airport to our hotel in Seoul, I saw the familiar abundance of skincare and makeup stores. They’re everywhere. Heat filled my face. I was 23 again. I remembered being naïve and excited walking into my first Korean cosmetic shop to finally get makeup for my skin color! I could clearly remember two women walking up to me. I could feel the relief as I envisioned they would shower me with makeup in all the matching colors for my skin and we’d laugh and hug and it would be so fun. In reality, these women said abruptly, “Dark! Why skin black! Skin black! Bad! Black bad! Dark bad! Need white! White good!” and proceeded to swat little powder puffs all over my face with white powder. I remember wanting to slap them but I was too busy crying. I was crushed. I had just hit up the tanning bed before my trip to, you know, show off my radiant glowing skin in Korea. The memory of this and of me looking in the mirror seeing my “bad dark black” face covered with white powder and tears was so strong I felt like I was reliving it. I took a deep breath. I told the 23 year old me that she’s great just as she is. I reminded her how damn far she’s come. She responded, “hells yes!” I exhaled and felt ready to take on Seoul with empowerment and my mom and dad all by my side.
This lasted about half a day.
We sat down for breakfast during our first morning and some people stared at us for quite a while. Longer than usual. I’m accustomed to any stares I get as I firmly defy most conventional standards of Korean women (pale skin, thin figure, bright lipstick, reserved demure demeanor, basically everything I’m not). Many years has transformed the crying when women told me my skin was too dark to, “actually, I’m great just the way I am, thanks, so it does not matter what you say. Go right ahead.” I felt different when this happened to my parents. How dare anyone stare at them, I thought. This is not a museum or art gallery. I want to defend them. I looked back at the people staring and said, flatly, “Is there a problem? Is there something you’re wondering about that you’d like to say?”
It felt honest. Yeah! I thought we’d perhaps have an entire conversation about how family has many meanings. About how unique we are and how unique is the new black. Perhaps it would turn into a discussion about awareness and transracial adoption. Perhaps this will be a moment of learning and understanding by people who might’ve never seen this before!!
I can still be naive. So optimistically naive.
Then I felt it.
Someone abruptly came up to our table and sat down next to me.
An old familiar friend.
The friend’s name was anger. And the heat was on.
Oh, this. Of course this. Fine. I have given anger a lot of time and understanding over the years so I know to give it space and honesty when it shows up. Anger is strong and without space for it to diffuse in healthy ways, it has a way of spilling out in our lives in all sorts of roundabout ways. I’ve tested out this theory plenty of times to confirm. I’ve witnessed it in others plenty of times to confirm. Ever see that person honking and screaming at you and you just know the real reason they’re yelling at you over a stop sign has nothing to do with you? Ever been that person honking and screaming? Anger is heated. And immune to none of us.
Underneath anger is a cooler energy though. It’s often called sadness.
Here’s what anger then said to my parents over our first breakfast in Seoul:
“I hate it here! I hate my memories here. I hate the way people stare! We’re real people. You are allowed to be here! And I belong here. I belong everywhere I want!”
And then sadness spoke, with tears, and quietly said,
“Thank you for choosing me.”
In that instant, I knew I was in the right place, because the most uncomfortableness yields the most growth. Dammit.
“I’m staying here until I no longer say I hate it here. I am really here now. I am here. This is real and I am here.""
A longtime beloved quote is from a Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön:
“Enlightenment is a direct experience with reality.”
So it’s been a month of real honest stuff. It’s been literal and figurative heat and cooling rain, embracing the new, enjoying not being able to understand anyone and being frustrated that I can’t understand anyone. It’s been Korean food (in Korea it’s just called food!) and Korea’s Chipotle (twice…because avocado). And it’s all very real. Instead of letting external noise make me believe I’m not enough as it did 13 years ago, I’m proclaiming that I am by being myself and loving it all.
I am here on this planet to be me regardless of where I am. I am here to be an authentic real human. I’m here to see joy. It’s all going to be praised by some and it’s going to make some uncomfortable. Or confused. Or touched. Or envious. Or inspired. That’s all out of my control. I’m focusing on living in the land of uncomfortable.
I believe being honest about reality is the gold ticket to freedom. And it is the only road to change. You are welcome to agree or disagree.
There is beauty in the beast of discomfort, difficulty and disagreement. Most days here I walk for ten minutes and am so hot and sweaty that I want to walk back to my apartment. Then I run into a kind stranger who attempts to speak to me or see some sign guiding me, in literal English. So there is truly beauty all around, even when the heat is on.