At the center of my heart–in the coziest, most tender and bright place–still lives this little girl. She likes to play and smile at everyone. I like that she is still alive in there because I love her very much, and I smile back at her too.
I’m a 1.5 generation Korean-American who was born in Korea and came to the U.S. at the fresh young age of 5. Since 1st grade until high school, I grew up as one of only four Asian kids in my entire grade.
I struggled with issues of identity for most of my life until the end of college. I thought I was American, but people looked at me as Korean. But I couldn’t related to Koreans either, while at the same time I didn’t feel completely American when I compared myself to my white friends. I wanted to fit in so badly that I tried very hard to become “more American” by attempting to erase the Korean in and around me. Long story short, I grew up with a lot of confusion and shame about wanting to know who I was while ironically rejecting my very own identity.
It was at the end of college in 2012 when I finally said ENOUGH and joined a yoga/spiritual lifestyle practice called Body & Brain Yoga. My original intention was to just find some inner peace and rest from the maelstrom of inner turmoil and self-rejection that had brewed in me my entire life. I went to a spiritual retreat for 20 to 30-something-year-olds in 2012 in Sedona, AZ on a whim because one- I had never been to Sedona before and it sounded like a nice vacation, and two- I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Little did I know that this weekend retreat would later become the springboard that shifted how I view and interact with myself for the rest of my life.
What I learned there was the starting point of finding my true self- that my thoughts nor my emotions that have troubled me for so many years do not define who I am. For the first time, I was also told the richness of Korean culture and the philosophy of Hong-ik, which the country of Korea was founded on. Hong-ik is an ancient Korean word that means “doing good unto others and myself for the harmonious and mutual benefit of all living beings.” Korean people are direct descendants of the Enlightened people who lived peacefully in that harmonious world.
I continued on after that on my journey, and 5 years later, I’ve found that the deeper I go into discovering the question of “WHO AM I?” inside, the more I become intimately connected to my Korean roots and am reminded of the spirit of my ancestors. It is scientific fact through DNA that you carry information of your ancestors in your body wherever you go. This means that while you’re denying, rejecting, and stomping all over your roots, your blood is still your blood.
I’ve come to the bold conclusion that for anyone to truly understand who they are, they absolutely must understand their heritage. To reject your cultural heritage is to reject the very real, primal, and raw spirit that lives in you.
I often say that Korea feels like my birth mom and America feels like my adopted mom. I am forever grateful to all the teachers who have taught me how to harmonize the Korean traditions that I carry in my blood with the American customs that I carry in my mind.
I encourage everyone who can claim a cultural background to study and connect with the spirit of your own ancestors. It is the very key that will return your heart back home as it has mine.
Especially for those on a path of internal growth, I feel this is an important checkpoint to think about: How do I know if I’m growing? I’ve personally found myself asking this again and again in my own mind. How do I know if I’m growing? How do I know if I’m doing a good job? And how do I know if I’m doing it “right?”
We as humans live our lives to seek more value and meaning to our existence on Earth. We want to succeed and buy nice cars and big houses because those are material validations from society that we’re worth something. So naturally, people equate possessing bigger and nicer things with their place in society being recognized as more valuable by others, thereby making us superficially feel good about ourselves.
But, for any practitioner, we know that true value does not lie in material success. Everyday we each work diligently on ourselves in our own way to get to an ideal place we hold in our minds. Within your own search for the goal you want: how can you check if you’re growing well inside when inner growth is not a tangible or visible phenomena that others can acknowledge easily?
From my own experience, the answer that has stood many tests of trial and error is that growth can be concretely measured in how you treat and hold relationships with others. The real marker shows through when we have to deal with other humans who seem to be doing nothing else but adding to our problems. What do we do then? How do we treat this person who brings stress?
When such a person stands before you as your obstacle, do you greet them with a smile? Or does your heart race as you find yourself breathing faster prepared to fight? Are you the one to say sorry first when you two fight? Or do you quickly try to find reasons and ways to cut that person out of your life? These people are precious gems whom we can use to truly check our consciousness and how far we’ve come.
I’ve realized that ultimately, no matter how many books you read and how many gurus you study under or even how many years you’ve been working on yourself, the true measure of growth shines through your grace in relating with others in the world.
Do you know what I love most about Autumn?
The turning and falling of green into brilliant red, orange, and yellow remind us how beautiful the destruction process is. To destroy the surface down to the core. How beautiful it is for the tree to completely shed what its worked all year to build to make way for a total rebirth in Spring.
It’s dead leaves that give Autumn its magical colors. Winter then purifies the destruction of Autumn and clears the space for the green to make its first appearance again. Like the seasons, I think the true meaning of life is a destructive process. It’s not about collecting more wealth, knowledge, principles, wisdoms, insights without FIRST destroying everything we’ve held onto. I think the problem is that we already “know” and “have” too much. We need to make room. Nature holds all truth.
I used to swim a lot when I was young around 2nd-5th grade. During one particular summer night, I noticed lots of bugs in the water all swimming in mad unison towards the pool lights. I’m sure you’ve seen this happen many times too. I watched on as these bugs plunged fearlessly one by one into the water towards the light in the pool. At my young age I remember thinking, “Don’t they know not to do that if they want to live?” With this question and so many others in mind, I still found myself being drawn into the sight of these bugs swimming helplessly towards the light and eventually drowning to their death. Something else that also peaked my interest was observing moths in the nighttime flying in a mad dash towards any light source nearby. I remember watching some die from the heat of the bulbs, but it didn’t seem to faze the other moths at all. In fact, it seemed like they didn’t even care or notice!
I remember thinking that these all must’ve been the “dumb bugs” who were meant to die due to their “dumber genes.” (I had just learned about natural selection for the first time in school around then.) I silenced my questions temporarily with that very unsatisfying answer, but the thought and questions still bothered me for years. It was all a big fat WHY? in my mind. It seemed like natural selection was so merciless in eliminating other genes but forgot to eliminate the “stupid” from these bugs.
Why do these bugs seek the light or die trying? I finally gained some satisfying perspective into this when I started exploring the unseen world–the spiritual world with eyes of the Law that governs our universe from behind the scenes. I believe that all living beings on Earth from an energetic perspective have an innate code in their spiritual psyche to seek the light and return to the light where all of our lives originated from. In my spiritual journey, I’ve realized that the essence of who I am on a fundamental level is light. It is only natural for us to seek the very thing that we’re made of. Especially in the midst of darkness, we seek this light even more.
What I learned from these bugs many years later is a great Law of the universe that LIFE SEEKS LIGHT. They are completely unafraid to act on what they already know in their genetic code–to become one with the light and to return to the light. They know by this mysterious instinct to throw their entire physical being in search of becoming one with the light. Bugs don’t have complex thoughts and emotions as we humans do, so I am certain that they are more purely in line with universal principles of nature. It is no mistake that despite millions of years of evolution, these bugs have not yet “learned” through natural selection that flying into the light kills them. Seeking the light isn’t learned–it is innate and cannot be eliminated.
As a spiritual practitioner, these bugs taught me a valuable lesson that I, too, should be ready and willing to throw my entire existence in search of becoming one with this light. I, too, must seek light or die trying. My spiritual teacher once told me to find the answers to all of my life’s existential questions within nature. I finally got a small sense of what he means.
The more I think about this question, the closer I come to the conclusion that the ultimate goal in this human experience of life is to become best friends with our inner selves. This inner self I’m talking about is the voice inside of you that talks to you all the time and makes you feel something at every moment wherever you go with everything you take in with your five senses. It’s the person that lives inside of your skin. Some might call it the mind, some might call it consciousness, some might call it heart, and some might even call it the soul. Whatever your name for it is–this is the person whom your goal is to befriend and keep in the highest regard with the kindest words, actions, and thoughts as your most precious and irreplaceable, one and only, ride or die person in your life.
It is to become that someone who supports you through all of your disappointments, fuck ups, and ugliness, yet still wants to be your friend and thinks you’re worthy. Someone who tends to your sadness. Someone who listens to your needs. Someone who picks you up when you can’t walk. Someone who doesn’t hate you when you hate yourself.
The first step is to get on your own team. Don’t stand in your own way against the tide. Being on the same team means working together for a common destination and purpose. Looking back on how I’ve lived, I arrived at the realization that I had left that inner voice inside of me behind for most of my life. From a young age I’ve always felt so much in my heart that my head found my inner voice useless and unhelpful in “getting ahead” and becoming successful under society’s terms. I regarded my inner self as a distraction that shouldn’t be listened to because it only made me feel, and feelings didn’t make anyone successful (this is what I used to believe so strongly). I developed this idea as a means of survival. I clearly see now that the only end point in leaving your inner self behind is burden, constant fights, resistance, chaos, struggle, and self-loathing. The realities of life already are filled with suffering and pain. If you yourself don’t have your back through it all–then who will?
Grab your heart, and don’t let go. The journey to your own heart is the greatest love song the universe can hear. You are your beginning and your end–your alpha and omega.
For basically my whole life since I can remember, I have had immense fear of people leaving me. When I was 3, my parents left me with my grandparents in Korea (I was born in Korea and came to the U.S. when I was 5) to go on a trip to the U.S. I remember my mom first telling me about it, and everyday for the weeks leading up to that trip, I had begged my parents to take me with them. I was terrified because something inside of me felt that my parents were discarding me and were going to the U.S. by themselves because they didn’t want me anymore. I thought they were never coming back and that this was all a great scheme to throw me away for good because I was unwanted.
I remember vividly the day my parents dropped me off at my grandparents’. I remember that house, my parents’ faces and what they were wearing, but most importantly, what that front door looked like as it closed behind them. I remember screaming and crying in sheer terror that I had failed to convince my parents to keep me and take me with them and that they were finally leaving me and never coming back. When the front door shut and I saw the backs of my parents go out… I was so sure I was abandoned forever. I remember crying and crying for hours no matter how hard anyone tried to console me. At that young age of 3, I didn’t know how to put into words the utter trauma and terror I was feeling. That memory has stayed with me my whole life.
It’s a memory that left a mark in my brain. It is the 1st vivid memory I can remember as a child, and ever since then, I’ve had immense fear of anyone I care about in my life leaving me in any manner. It took me 23 years since then to realize how hard that event affected me, but I realized this year that this traumatic experience had become a life-controlling drama that dictated my actions and how I interacted with people from then on.
I was so afraid of people leaving me that I never spoke what was truly on my mind and how I felt. I thought for sure I would be abandoned by anyone and everyone (friends, family, lovers, teachers, etc.) if I told them an ounce of whatever I was truly feeling inside. So, I learned to say the “right” things that were “socially appropriate” or things I thought others would want to hear. I would never dare tell anyone how much their actions or words hurt me inside or how much I didn’t like what that they were doing to me. My mind believed so strongly that if I told them how much they were hurting me then they would leave me for sure, because who likes hearing that someone has a problem with you? Even though someone who is hurting me leaving my life would’ve probably been a good thing, my fear of abandonment was so great that I would rather hurt inside over and over again than have someone leave me.
However, this year around April I awakened through deep meditation that this fear has gripped my entire being my whole life. The awakening hit me like a brick wall and brought me SO much tears and feelings of repentance. I connected with a deep part of me from the pit of my soul through meditation, and I suddenly felt a tsunami wave of abandonment emotions come up from my chest, through my throat, and out of my mouth. I found myself screaming “DON’T LEAVE ME! DON’T LEAVE ME! I SAID DON’T LEEEAAVEEEE MEEEEE!!!” uncontrollably, while crying out SO much pain that had accumulated since that day when I was 3.
I realized through this awakening that I have been denying myself since then the right to express my truth with everyone I cared about, and I won’t do that anymore to myself or to the ones I love most. My spiritual journey inside has brought me inner strength and grace to do what used to be unimaginable for me– to expose my most fragile and vulnerable side of my heart without fear of being judged. If there’s one thing I learned in life it is that those who are meant to stay by your side will stay no matter what you say, and those who aren’t will leave no matter how beautiful your words and memories. I think we deny ourselves a lot of what we want most. It’s time to be free.
The path to self-love starts with forgiveness. Forgiveness of who? And for what? Forgiveness of myself from me.
Forgiving myself for the times I let myself cry alone in the dark. Forgiving the years of subconscious self-abuse I caused in my mind from my unrealistic expectations of perfection. Forgiving myself for choking my well-being to suffocate in a life of fear and anxiety. Forgiving myself for letting my anger spiral me out of control. Forgiving myself for not expressing my truth. Forgiving myself for isolating my heart for the sake of protection from an outside “threat” that never existed. Forgiving myself for leaving my heart to dry when its been thirsting for connection all this time. Forgiving myself for feeling lonely when my heart has been by my side all this time–keeping me company. Forgiving myself for all of the things I’ve done to me physically, emotionally, and psychologically that I’d apologize for if I did the same thing to another person.
You are a human being like anyone else. Earnest introspection into self-forgiveness brought me to my knees to see just how much I have been suffering deep inside in the darkest shadows of my mind and heart. This deep, secret, and raw suffering is something that we all carry within. Like the First Noble Truth of the Buddha–“Life is Suffering.” How much does it hurt to be alone in your pain? How much have you suffered? How long?
Vow to never let another feel the same heart-aching pain that you’ve been in. I believe this is the real seed of compassion–the seed of ultimate, honest, everlasting love. Forgive yourself. Forgiveness is love. The antithesis of forgiveness is resentment, which is the opposite of love. As long as I am not able to forgive myself, I cannot love myself deeply. People say they crave a love so deep that the oceans would be jealous, but most don’t know where to start to feel that sort of immense love. Start with forgiveness. Sincere, deep, and utter forgiveness of yourself. Forgive, forgive, and forgive again. You are doing your best.
Everyone has an image of a perfect person in their minds. Whether that person be the perfect version of themselves, boy/girlfriends, friends, bosses, parents…. Whoever it is, we idealize a perfect version of a perfect human being who is in someway intimately connected and related to us in our lives. Out of all the qualities a human being can have, what is the one that you hold in the highest regard? In other words, what do you want the most from the person closest to you?
I want loyalty.
“How much loyalty?”
As much as it makes me know for sure they have my back no matter what.
“How can someone prove to you that kind of loyalty?”
Even if everyone in the world spits in my face and calls me a liar–this person doesn’t have even a dust speck of doubt against me that I am saying the truth–and stays by my side with their feet planted firmly on the ground like a tall tree with strong roots.
What top quality does your perfect person have?
People love to express their personal creativity. I would say that all people to a degree have some desires to express their own creativity in one way or another. Artistic modes of expressing creativity can take on many forms that we all know of like singing, dancing, painting, writing, speaking etc. I’ve felt from myself that this desire for me comes from a deep subconscious place at the pit of my being. If you, too, also feel this desire from the base of your heart, then what do you think “creative expression” means for us all as sentient beings?
They say that we are not humans having a spiritual experience, but rather, spiritual beings having a human experience. I wholeheartedly agree with this as the Truth that beyond the lives that we know ourselves as in our physical bodies, we are free souls that channel the divine. Creative expression happens when we channel that divine line of energy in our human form and give birth to it in this 3-dimensional world. This divine energy in other words is the Creator that lives within each and every life form on Earth.
“Creative expression” means honoring that Creator inside by first knowing that you are worthy of this Truth, and then, next, living out that life of the Creator that you are. There is an ultimate Creator who lives and breathes in your own psyche who creates your every thought, emotion, cell, energy, vibration within you. It is these things that make up your every second, every minute, every day, and every year until your last breath. Our entire existence is founded on the idea of continuous creation. Literally in every second of everything you do, you are in the motion of creation.
This is not by mistake. This is because you are the Creator. This desire for creative expression is just your heart wanting to be yourself–who you’ve always been and who you’ll always be. You are worthy of this expression right now. You are enough exactly the way you are to create something at this very moment in your life. Expressing your creativity turns everything that you do into magic of the universe and is the highest expression of the sacred being that you are.
YOU ARE MAGIC.