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.
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.
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.