#5 Backpacking alone in Europe
Seeing how other people live, being in a place where I understood nothing of their language, waking up with no specific agenda gave me a taste of freedom. The trip highlights were the contrast that Amsterdam has to offer, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, "coffee shops", red light districts and canals existing side by side, speedy first-class train to Paris, discovering a quaint old town in France bearing my name Nancy, hang-gliding, seeing the different faces of Italy- Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Rome, people-watching in piazzas, spending a beautiful day in dreamy Brugge, couchsurfing, walking, cruising, conversing, practicing the limited Dutch and French and Italian I learned, wandering, getting lost, sitting in park benches eating apples. The trip was far from perfect. I "lost" all my clothes during the first leg of my trip. "Lost" in quotes because I didn't really lose them. I just left them at the laundry place and was unable to get them back because my timing was all wrong. My camera started vibrating while inside The Louvre and I couldn't take decent pictures. I had to cut my stay in Florence short unexpectedly, but that led to my overnight trip to Siena. The sexism in Rome got to me. But overall, it was quite an experience. I met many amazing people whom I will likely not see again, but perhaps it did not only not diminish experience, but it made it all the more memorable.
#4 Living in a foreign country for 3 years
I lived in Beijing and experienced complete independence at the age of 25. I relied on nobody but myself. By Philippine standards, it was (and still is largely) uncommon to live separate from your immediate family. My independence led to a relationship that allowed me to see who I was. It led me to meet Scrappy, whom I took everywhere with me, from Black Sun bar in Sanlitun to Hou Hai park. It provided an organic environment to brush up on my Mandarin to the point that I could speak to cab drivers about Buddhism, the temporal nature of life, and egolessness (无我), I could present strategic plans on search engine marketing in the board room, and I could creatively and succinctly scold the person who cut in the grocery line. The first day I noticed how beautiful snowflakes were I literally stopped on my tracks and held my arms wide open. The friends I was with were part-amused and part-embarrassed, but they did not stop becoming my friends even after I left China and only saw them one more time again to date.
#3 Leaving drama behind
Relationships really do reflect who you are, what your insecurities are, and what you are willing to put up with. I had a dramatic soap-opera-worthy on-and-off relationship that kept my emotions in constant roller coaster. We broke up many times, and the getting back together always felt like a relief, of something familiar being put into place. It was a relationship I needed to have in order to understand the baggage that I carried with me, my unconscious beliefs and expectations about relationships, and my all-too-cliche parent (and specifically daddy) issues. Staying out of that relationship was like getting off a drug. It was hair-splittingly difficult, but I was sick and tired of being unhappy all the time. And looking at it now, I put the blame on each of us at 50-50, no more, no less. I now understand that we were two incomplete souls trying to find happiness in each other, but were unable to do so because we did not know how to find happiness within ourselves. Leaving the drama behind gave me the space to find who I am. It made me realize eventually that I like myself and enjoy my own company. It took a lot, a combination of Vipassana, self-help books, CODA, and Sophie, but I am here now unconditionally loving myself. So next time I get into a relationship, it is not to escape or recreate that unhealthy codependency, but to explore an equal partnership where my independence and who I am can remain largely intact, while sharing the same vision of the world and being partners to achieve that.
#2 and #1 Turning vegan and becoming a Jivamukti Yoga teacher
I cannot separate the two because these two decisions are so closely tied to one another. Being vegan awakened me. It opened my heart and mind to a new way of living, a new way thinking, a new way of being. I realized that all those years I only treaded on the shallow waters of life. Looking good literally was my top priority. Clothes, makeup, shoes, shopping, having a certain lifestyle- those were the things I spent my time on. Being vegan put my priorities in order. I live a lot simpler now, I do not watch TV at all, I own only 7 pairs of shoes (that includes flipflops too), I take public transportation, I walk when I can, even if it takes an hour, I spend less time in malls and more time reading and studying. I feel connected to animals and appreciate their being now that I do not use or abuse them. I realize that by being vegan, I am capable of so much love in my life, so much so that even if the pain of knowing about animal suffering can be overwhelming, the desire to fight for their freedom is greater than the pain. It ignited a fire I did not know I had in me. It opened up my heart and made me understand that my concern does not have to have a limit. I started to care about other causes too- the environment, sweat shops, blood diamonds, GMOs, palm oil, commercialism, Coca Cola cruelty etc. This passion to use my life in a more meaningful way led me to Jivamukti Yoga. And Jivamukti gave me the confidence to speak in front of a crowd, reconnected me with my love of words and literature and poetry, it gave me hope and love and a family- or a tribe, as Sharon-ji puts it. Family sounds mafia-like, she said and I recall fondly. Jivamukti taught me that to be a good student, you start to share with others what it is you want to learn and practice yourself. It gave me back those handwritten scribbles in scraps of paper for random thoughts I have, now in the form of vignettes I can use for dharma talks. It gave me sutras and Rumi and music and kirtan and asanas and friends and sacred geometry. It gave me back my vulnerability. It showed me who I am. And it continues to inspire me, this global community of students who are actively living in the world, courageous, bold, fierce, and radical. Jivamukti celebrates who I am, while teaching me that I-AM is the changeless reality. There is beauty in this exchange, and that is why being vegan and finding Jivamukti are the intertwined best decisions of my life.