Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

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Undress the Stress: Day 42

Yesterday was the last day of my stress management class, and I can’t say I’m happy about it!  Six weeks went by a little too fast for my liking.  I really enjoyed this class and I did learn a ton about stress and more importantly, myself.

In the last few weeks I’ve realized there’s three simple changes anyone can make in their lives to be less stressed.

First, practice the way you express yourself.  A LOT of stress comes from holding in our feelings because we don’t want to offend or hurt anyone and we don’t even notice but it is hurting someone–ourselves.  The DESC tecnique is wonderful for this.  You don’t necessarily need to do all four steps every time you are in a confrontational situation but it really does work.

Since learning the idea behind the DESC, I’ve been loving using the ‘I’ word as often as possible.  Saying ‘I’ avoids offending anyone and causing them to be on the defensive.  You’re expressing yourself and saying how you feel.  Expressing yourself is freeing yourself.  Of all burdens, stresses, emotions, and anything else that is better off gone.

Another easy change to make is in perspective.

For the last six weeks I’ve learned that mindset has almost everything to do with the way we react to everything.

  • Retrospect.  Every time I have a test or exam to take, I’m usually anxious, nervous, stressed.  I stay stressed until it’s over.  And when it’s over, I look back and laugh at myself for being so stressed.  After noticing this, I’ve noticed that it helps if I begin to look at moments with a retrospective eye, even before they take place.  It’s always easier to be stressed in the moment but if I change my perspective, I could avoid so much unnecessary, daily stress.  
  • Adam & Eve.  One day I was thinking about how much less stressed Adam & Eve must have been because let’s face it–life was much simpler back then.  There was no government, school, work/business, bills, banks, etc.  A lot of stress that I feel today is due to these institutions, and I thought that I deserved to have an Adam & Eve life.  There’s no reason that I should be more stressed than them.  Sometimes when I’m stressed about school or work I put myself in Adam and Eve’s shoes and ask myself if I would be stressed in their time period.  The answer is almost always “no” and so it makes me feel better about not worrying as much.  I realize that life is not meant to stress me out.  It’s supposed to be fun and beautiful, and if I’m spending my days stressed, then it’s quite the opposite.
  • Contrast.  Recognizing that stresses are not life-or-death.  This semester I did a lot of volunteering.  I worked with people who lost their homes and everything they had to Hurricane Sandy, and I met a lot of homeless people who sleep in the streets on cold nights and carry everything they own on their backs.  After my experiences with these people and seeing how different their lives are compared to mine, I made it a point to think about them during times of stress.  There are people who rely on food and clothing donations every single day to survive.  It was really difficult to see how drastically different my life was compared to theirs, and it helped me think about stress in a different way.  There are people in the world who deal with stresses during every second.  Homeless people don’t get a vacation from being homeless or starving on the streets.  They don’t get to travel like I do, and they don’t even have a warm place to spend the night.  All of these things have shown me that my stresses could be so much life-threatening.  When I think about this, somehow I feel less stressed because I know how lucky I am.  If I hand my paper in late, it’s not the end of the world.  If I don’t do well on one quiz, at least I still have my friends, my family, and my home.  At the end of the day, that’s what matters to me.

The last simple thing to do to undress your stress is to breathe (and maybe some yoga…).

Every morning, I wake up, smile, breathe and take a few minutes to think about positive things only.  I literally just close my eyes, do some deep breathing, and sometimes some deep thinking.  I think about the good people in my life, the new day ahead, the possibilities of the future, and the wonders of my past.

I swear, doing this every day for the last few years has completely changed my aura and who I am as a person.  I’m calm, relaxed, always happy and positive.  Jumping into the day in a crazy stressful rush is never ever ideal for me, and it throws me off my inner balance completely.

After breathing, I also do a little stretching.  It’s not really yoga (I just took my first yoga class last week!).  It’s more like moving meditation + breathing + a wake up routine.  Which all = nothing that makes sense until you do it and understand why I’m always feeling peaceful and alive.

Sometimes I’m so positive that I think it might be dangerous.  I scare people with my happy intensity sometimes.  But I’m alright with that cause everyone can use a little more love, am I right or am I right?

ANYWAYS.

Thanks to those of you who have been reading this Undress the Stress series for the last few weeks!  I hope you learned something through my stresses.

+signs&sunshines,
@codea

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Undress the Stress: Day 37

In retrospect I think I had more stressful moments during the day than I noticed.

  • Financial Aid.  So my financial situation with my study abroad program still isn’t 100% resolved but there is nothing I can do about it.  Different departments throughout campus are involved in updating the statement and they are all running on their own schedules, so it would be impossible to tell when the official balance will be posted.
  • Visa Application.  I had to go to the Financial Aid office to ask them to write a letter to the Spanish consulate as part of my visa application and since my financial aid statement has not been updated by my university yet, we had trouble with the contents of the letter.  I’m going to the consulate tomorrow and after struggling to get this letter, I finally have all of the materials for my application so that’s a huge relief for me.  WHEW.
  • Time.  In general I just felt stressed about time today.  It goes too fast sometimes.   I had about eight things on my to-do list for the day and they all had to be done in such a specific order so it was even more difficult because of that.  I had phone calls to make, e-mails to send, meetings to attend, etc. etc.  Now that the day’s over, I’m enjoying looking back and knowing that I got a lot done.
  • Papers.  Over the weekend and the last few days, I wrote a 12-page paper, a 5-page paper, three 2-page papers, and a 3-page article.  In case you’re too lazy to do the addition, that equals 26 pages of writing.   Once again, in retrospect I’m really enjoying looking back and seeing how much I got done.  That’s 26 less pages I’ll have to write for the rest of this semester.
  • Donation sorting.  So tomorrow night I’m going into the city with the Midnight Run again and tonight we spent the night sorting through all of the clothing donations, which was an INSANE amount.  I’m talking several bins full of clothing.  And that doesn’t include the number of bins with all of the toiletry/food donations.  Anyways, it took about four hours to sort the clothing by style and size, and then to box all of them.  I’m in charge of the men’s shirts (sweaters/sweatshirts/fleeces, polos, and dress shirts) and my pile was so overwhelming and enormous.  At the end of the night I had about ten boxes full of organized clothing that I am so excited to hand out tomorrow!  So although I was plenty stressed while doing it, I knew that it was for a wonderful cause and that I would be reward for all of my labor tomorrow night.

Another time/stress management lesson we learned in my stress management class is to make A, B, and C To-Do Lists.

Your ‘A List’ should be a list of priorities and time-sensitive errands and responsibilities.  This is the list you check first and foremost.

The ‘B List’ is a list of things that also need to be done, but not necessarily on a specific or immediate deadline.

Finally, the things on the ‘C List’ are things you want to do if you can and if you find the time, preferably after the previous two lists are finished.

This class is always pleasantly surprising to me because I find that many of the lessons and tricks we learn to manage our stress are things that I already do.  I stretch and meditate as part of my morning routine, I am generally assertive (middle ground between passive and aggressive), and my life is held together by my to-do list.  It truly is the little things that help relieve us of our big worries.

Help your body, help your mind, make a list.  That’s what I learned today.

Undress the Stress: Days 35 & 36

Yesterday (35) was not too stressful because I spent all 24 hours of the day sleeping and eating and working.  AND WATCHING ALIAS.  So I guess the most stress I felt was at the end of every episode when there was a ridiculous cliffhanger.

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As for today, I can’t really decide how much of it I spent stressed and how much I spent otherwise.

I woke up stressed because I was tired and lacking sleep and didn’t have time for my morning meditation routine.  It’s never as good of a day as it could be when I don’t get to start the day with some stretching/breathing.

The best part of my day was taking my very first yoga class, as part of my stress management class.  Our professor is also a yoga teacher and she incorporated this class into our lesson plan, which I thought was great.

She taught a pretty advanced-beginner hatha class and it was very enlightening for me.  I realized that I’ve been doing yoga for YEARS now and never even knew it.  I always thought that my morning stretching and meditation routine was just my own made up way of relaxing, but I found a ton of similarities between MY yoga and real hatha yoga.

I really enjoyed the physical aspect of the class.  Not only was it relaxing but it was challenging too.  Yoga requires concentration, strength, perseverance, and a strong sense of dedication to the moment.  Since it was a class required of my stress management class, some of the students did not really want to be there and I think that took away from the experience, but it was amazing to see everyone trying and keeping their minds open.

Practicing yoga really is a way of rewarding oneself.  You feel lighter, calmer, better.  I know today was only my first class, but I’ve been meditating and stretching almost every day for years now, and I can say honestly that it makes an enormous difference both mentally and physically.  People always tell me how calm and go-with-the-flow-y I am and I know I have my morning routine to thank for that.  Taking a few moments at the beginning of every day and shaping that day in my head every morning puts me in a mindset in which I feel empowered and invincible.  Yoga is similar in that it has the power to free.

The rest of my day was a little more stressful.  Actually, I’d say it was more busy than it was stressful.  But busyness seems to cause stress so I guess that’s what it was.  I had meetings and to-do list items to check off, a presentation in Spanish class, a networking event to attend, and also a shift at work.

Lately I’ve been telling myself that all of this exhaustion and hard work will be worthwhile when I’m abroad and feeling privileged to do so much travel because I’ll know that I earned it.  I’ve been working graveyard shifts all semester (they pay more) and I am tired every single day before the day even begins.  My fellow college students go to bed sometime between 12-3 am (I’m guessing) but I go to bed at 8 am most nights of the week.  Can you say nocturnal?

Anyway.  Despite all of this stress, lack of sleep, and endless work shifts I’m feeling wonderful.

Namaste, friends.

Undress the Stress: Day 15

I can’t say I felt very stressed today.  Actually, looking back I don’t think I felt stressed at all.  What a beautiful thought.

I started my day as usual–stretching and meditating.  It’s amazing how much this daily routine makes me so significantly less stressed than my collegemates.  I walk around campus and everyone is uncontrollably freaking out about exams and work and while I’m under the same pressures, I think I have a much calmer attitude.  There’s no denying that I have stress too.  (I mean, just look at this blog series…) The difference is that I don’t allow the little things to stress me anymore.  Hands down one of the best life choices I’ve ever made.

  • To be completely honest, the only time I felt stressed today was right before my Spanish class when I was having dinner with a friend and the line was taking FOREVER and I thought I was going to be late.  That was just about it.  To rid myself of this stress, I just upped my patience a little bit and before I knew it, I was done with my cheeseburger and happily on my way to class.

So, am I making progress?  I’d like to think so.  There wasn’t much stress to undress today, and I can’t say I’m disappointed.  This is how it should be on the daily and not just for me, but for everyone.  I just don’t believe that excessive worrying was part of the agenda when life was created.  Today (in my stress management class actually) I was thinking about how much less stressed Adam and Eve were back in the day.

Think about it.  There were no social institutions like government or school.  There wasn’t much of an economy–definitely not like ours today.  And there was no pop culture or capitalism.  Everything I just named are the major reasons that I believe we are stressed.  Do well in school.  Make a lot of money.  Be beautiful.  Change the world.  All are messages sent to us by the above.

Well, Adam and Eve didn’t have these stressors.  They didn’t carry the burdens of competition in the marketplace or the classroom.  Their lives were so simple compared to ours, and the argument I’m trying to make is that there is absolutely no reason that we should be more stressed than they were.  And my proposition is this: when you feel stressed, put yourself in Adam or Eve’s shoes (or probably lack of).  Think about whether or not you would feel this pressure if you were in Adam and Eve’s time.  Probably not right?

Life was not meant to stress you out.  It’s meant to be enjoyed and cherished, not destroyed and perished.  

In short, undress the stress.  Let it go.  And you are well on your way to immunization.

Every day, I read excerpts and lines from the book “8,789 Words of Wisdom” by Barbara Ann Kipfer.  Here’s what I liked today:

Undress the Stress: Day 1

Today was the first day of my 6-week Stress Management class.  I think it’s weird that I’m taking a Stress Management class because I am probably in the top percentile of least stressed people in the world.  But I guess since stress never really goes away, you can never be too good at managing it.  Am I right or am I right?

Class discussion today was basically an introduction to the course and the professor.  Both seem pretty great so far.  The first and most obvious question she proposed was: What is stress?

The concluding definition we came to was something like “pressure caused by various responsibilities and outside sources that can cause unwanted physical and mental effects.”  I was actually surprised to hear some of the physical and health effects of stress, from TMJ and ulcers, to cancer and in the most severe cases, death.  I’m still finding it hard to believe how directly stress can affect us physically and mentally.

Another point made today is that the physical and the mental are the same.  Your outlook on life, and the way you handle your various stresses, will carry through to the physical aspect.  Being calm and positive makes you less prone to the physical damage that stress can bring.  And in that respect, the physical and the mental really are one.  More specifically, that “one” is you.

I can’t wait to learn from this class.  We’re going to learn meditation techniques, which I’m really looking forward to so that I can enhance my daily morning meditation/stretching routine.  We are going to learn about confrontation and how to have effective, useful confrontations.  Generally, I think we’re going to be learning about how to be more positive about life, something I think everyone could be a little better at.  I hope to share a lot of these lessons with you guys.  Just trying to share the wealth.

Last but not least.  We were asked to keep a nightly journal of the stress we feel in our daily lives; where it comes from, how it makes us feel, the way we chose to deal with it, etc.  I considered being the average college student and not doing this journal until the week before it’s due, but then I realized that I really want to learn something about myself.

The purpose of this journal is to keep record of daily happenings, in hopes that at the end of the 6 weeks, I can pinpoint the cause of stress in my life.  Maybe I’m the reason I’m stressed out.  Maybe there’s a person in my life that is sending me negative energy.  Maybe I’m not even stressed out.

Hopefully I will find a pattern of negativity, or the source of all this unnecessary stress.  And so I guess I’m choosing to publicly keep this stress journal (it shall be an angry one I’m sure) because I want to keep it honest and real so that the results are best.  Here goes.

Day 1.

  • Study abroad paperwork.  I woke up to not one, not two, but THREE e-mails from API Study Abroad about my financial information, billing statement, and post-acceptance paperwork.  It was a whole lot of reading, a whole lot of money to deal with, and about fifteen documents to read, print, sign, fill out, e-mail, etc.  I filled out as many papers as I could at the time and got several done, so I felt accomplished, but since none of that was on my agenda today I felt like I wasted a lot of time that I needed for other responsibilities.
  • Internship.  I woke up early to get work done for my internship, but after seeing those e-mails from API I kind of put the work on hold for an hour or two because it stressed me out that there was so much paperwork to deal with.
  • Study abroad form.  This is another document I’ve been dealing with for too long now.  It’s been passed around to offices all over campus since the beginning of September and is still not completed.  What stressed me out about this is how time consuming it is to need several people’s signatures, who are not always available.  It stressed me out that this paper was signed by the wrong people, and A LOT of miscommunication went on in the process of completing it.  I shed a few tears because I was extremely overwhelmed by every person I went to sending me to someone else.  It was endless.  Then I took a deep breath, made a list, and started one by one.
  • Lack of sleep.  I feel a lot of stress from lacking sleep.  And I haven’t really dealt with this one yet because I guess the only solution is sleep and I have yet to have any.  A temporary and horrible solution I’ve come up with is coffee.

Today was not a good start.  Normally I would have one or two minor causes of stress a day, not three major ones.  I guess right now it’s because I’m dealing with deadlines for this study abroad program, and it’s much harder because a lot of people are involved.

I have to say that I already learned something about myself, and what I need to do about it.  Most of the stress I felt today was caused by outside sources that I have no control over.  If this continues, I would think that I need to be more patient especially because dealing with this paperwork needs patience.  My need to get things done as soon as possible makes it hard for me to sit around and wait for others to pick up the pace.

Here’s one way of dealing with stress:

I wouldn’t recommend it as a permanent solution, but today I think I deserved it.