How to Live Beyond Time

A rooftop in Seoul with a cityscape and mountains in the distance. It's sunset, with purple clouds and a yellow horizon.

The coffeeshops in this new neighborhood are full of students knee-deep into the fall semester. I peak at the textbooks the couple next to me are studying: calculus. The guy to my right, programming. The girls across the way are discussing grammar in Korean, English and Spanish, cycling though the languages every few sentences.

I’m south of the Han now, close to one of the major universities in Seoul. The energy of the cafes these days crackles with excitement- not yet the frantic stress of the weeks approaching midterms. Me, though? I’m sinking deep into the dreamtime of fall, contemplating October’s mysteries, missing the deep reds and oranges of the woods of my New England hometown, thinking about how I’ll be spending Samhain on a plane instead of calling on dangerous restless spirits- or at least engaged in masked shenanigans 😉

In a book I’m reading (I’ll keep the book a secret since I’m giving away a spoiler), twenty years pass suddenly and I’m angry that I’m expected to just accept such a large passage of time slipping away before the characters are able to act once again on behalf of what they love and believe in. But then if I look back on twenty years ago, it feels as if no time has passed at all, and I’m still a fourteen-year old, just beginning high school. There are certainly things I’ve dropped for twenty years- martial arts is one of them.

And the richness of the fabric of time just astounds me these days- how real memories feel, textured and complex and full. But the future- which is not even real!- feels just as much so to me. I confess I’m a schemer and a dreamer, and I’m guilty of spending a great deal of time unnecessarily plotting my next steps, searching like a lost soul for my destiny.

Here are some thoughts, therefore, on time and its meaning:

-My dorm-style accommodations give me access to a rooftop, so I’ve been going up morning and night to practice taekwondo. A week into this habit, I remembered a story I wrote as a twelve-year old, about a warrioress protecting her best friend, who was a princess. In one scene, she practices on the castle roof in the moonlight. And I remember thinking, that would be the epitome of cool, to spend your days on a rooftop practicing martial arts. Ha! And here I am.

-Putting aside comments that could be made about my definitions of cool, this memory brings up another thought- the idea of how we age mentally. Some of us are natural 50-year olds; others never seem to leave high school. Am I mentally a twelve-year old? When I posed this question to my coworker, she said, “Well, moving to China to study kung-fu is something a twelve-year old would do.” She herself is probably mentally somewhere in her twenties, still clubbing and staying out all night (I seem to have missed that stage altogether- except of course, on Halloween :P). I think in her heart, she’s still a DJ, something she set aside to have a more practical job.

Why is it that we drop ourselves, sometimes, when we age? We’re not allowed to dream crazy dreams once we turn 14, as in my case, or 35, as in hers. How can we get good at recognizing this when it’s happening, so we can do something about it?

-A similar idea to mental age- I’ve heard it considered in terms of seasons– there are Spring people, who flower most beautifully in their youth, and later on tend to look back with great nostalgia, feeling those were the best years of their lives. Then there are Summer people, who blossom in their twenties and thirties, working hard with great energy and enthusiasm, strong of body and mind. And then there are Autumn people, who are shy in their youth and take time to come into their confidence, or pull their energies together into accomplishments and develop strength of character.

What about winter? There was no description of winter people, in the book that I read (sadly, I no longer remember the book where I heard this idea)- perhaps they were the wise elders, a role tragically lost these days. Perhaps they were always rare, since people for so long, didn’t live past “autumn.” But I like to think there are winter people. They’re the people who share a closeness or a kinship with death. Perhaps they lost someone beloved early in life, and so for them, death is real- death informs their every move, reminds them often of its presence- never far, unforgettable.

These Winter people, they have an extra pair of eyes, always seeing the end of things. They remember the preciousness of each breath, the suddenness with which everything can be taken away. They remember: we own nothing, in this life. It’s all borrowed.

-Bringing that back to my dilemma, where the past and future are so alive- my task, then, must be to be here, in the present, and use the present to create the future that I daydream about so much. Use the present to honor the past I was gifted: both horrors and triumphs, pain and beauty. In this way I can pull the aliveness of both the past and the future into this moment- ground them in the here and now, express their realness not with daydreams but with action.


 

Friends, what are your thoughts on these ideas? On time and timelessness, on the realness of the future and the past, on pulling them into the present? Do any of you relate to the idea of mentally or spiritually being a different age? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

I get why people don’t chase their dreams.

Life feels rough, these days. Rougher than I expected.

I am in Seoul for one more month. I moved to a tiny dorm-style room south of the Han and am free of obligations (except preparing for my black belt test) until I move to China in November.

No job, for a whole month! I haven’t had a month off from working, since I was fifteen.

But every morning I wake up with a sinking heart.

In pursuit of my dreams, I’ve left my job, my life, everything I’ve become accustomed to: my colleagues, my amazing students, my beautifully lit apartment, the mountain just up the hill, where a buddhist temple hides. My neighborhood with the gorgeous views; the sound of the crickets along the tree-lined pathways. The skyscrapers, huddled together in the distance like the shy kids at school.

Dream-chasing often comes with a price. You can have everything you ever wanted, you can have it all- you just have to give up everything. 

A lot of people express envy or fascination at my life. I lived in Paris at 19. When I was 22 I left my home and everyone I knew to move across the continent with nothing but a car and a thousand dollars to my name.

Then, two years ago I moved to the other side of the planet, to pursue my dream of teaching abroad. Now, I’m moving again.

Pursuing your dreams, pursuing the things you believe in, is so exciting, such a huge adventure- but the separation from your former life is like being punched in the stomach over and over. Your net, the things that grounded you, that gave you purpose, are gone.

I do it without fear- because I’ve done it many times before. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t grief.

My adorable kindergartners- their smiles, their laughter, their progress, their play- I’ll miss that the most. My older students- their wit, their enthusiasm, the gears turning behind their eyes- that’s next. And my colleagues, their antics, their support, the idea-exchanging, the rapport, the decompressing over soju, the memories.

Now, I’m alone again, starting from scratch. Until November, when I move to China, there’s nothing but me, my tiny goshiwon apartment (66 square feet!), taekwondo, and my thoughts. And time, lots and lots of time to think about everything I’ve pulled myself away from, to pursue an unknown future.

What is this strange space? Not regret, not fear- but so much that was meaningful in my life is now gone.

I get why people don’t do it. Why they don’t make that move that they dream of, whether it’s a job or relationship or physical move. Giving up everything you’ve worked so hard to build is not easy, and maybe not worth it.

Me, though? I’ve done this before, I know what comes next.

Build new meaning. Build from scratch, a whole new life. And don’t look back.

And I know, like so many times before- I’ll find my heart again.

Remaining Vigilant to the Weaknesses in our Hearts

Another paradigm shift this weekend, as I scheme and plot the year ahead, as I wait out these final weeks before I can take action on my next set of dreams.

As I put my full heart into these last few weeks of teaching, knowing I’ll likely never see most of these children again.

It’s a strange thing, but over the years, I’ve noticed my loyalty to others actually works against me.

People take advantage, consciously or unconsciously. They trample on my boundaries, most of the time never knowing. I was always too devoted to speak up, too in love, too quick to make excuses for them.

The same goes for ideas. Beliefs, ideologies, even sets of knowledge that should turn into skill sets, that should benefit me and bring me profit, security, abundance- these fail me as well. I become too entrenched and I drown under the lifestyle, the expectations.

My problem is, I trap myself, with my loyalty. I fall in love- with a person, with a philosophy, with a culture, with a group of people in my life, with a community- but then somehow, I always trap myself, I limit my opportunities in order to continue in that world.

So the solution for me has to be: walk away. Walk away even though you are committed. Walk away from the undeserving boyfriend. Walk away from the community who at first offers all these wonderful ideas and friendships, but then inevitably starts leaking their secret opinions about how you should live your life.

Walk away, even, from the city and the culture you have fallen in love with, the job you love, the children you adore and who adore you, the lifestyle you have cultivated over the past two years. Walk away, even though you are in love, even though you could see yourself here forever.

Because the truth is, though you can see yourself here forever, though you love it with deep loyalty, and though this place is more deserving of your love than any other has ever been- in spite of all this- your nature is to be restless.

Walk away now, because this place has not yet betrayed you or disappointed you. Walk away because you’re still in love.

Walk away before you’ve been here too long, and given up too much to be here, and end up resenting this place, just as you resent the other places and people you spent too much time with.

This is my choice, that I must always contend with, must always remain awake to.

The Experience of Forgiveness

I used to be very anti-television, especially in the days when my loved ones seemed to consume it mindlessly and continuously. I was one of countless children, I’m sure, who grew up with the TV constantly blaring news and violent dramas.

These days I’m not so triggered or judgmental. We crave experience. Our subconscious doesn’t know that it’s not really having an experience, when watching TV. And isn’t it? Though it’s not our body, though it’s not our story- even our bodies get tricked, even our muscles fire off the corresponding neurons, if that’s what our brain is imagining.

I recently heard of a technique you can use to release anger and resentment, especially towards people who have wronged you. Write a letter to yourself, from that person. Write everything you wish they would say to you. It plays upon the same idea- your subconscious doesn’t know it’s not real. Because you tap into the deeply rooted volatile emotions that live under the conscious mind, and provide release for them through the writing of that letter. So the subconscious renders it as an experience.

We all have at least a few people from whom a letter of apology- full, heartfelt, saying everything that needed to be said- would be beneficial, useful to our psychological health, to receive. I can think of three right off the bat. I’m curious at my own behavior though- this kind of exercise, I would normally dive into- why do I hesitate?

When we are given the opportunity to forgive (even if it’s just a psychological trick), why not take it, unless the anger we hold has some use to us? Often, our identity crystallizes around our pain. To give up our pain is to give up our identity. Or perhaps we use the rage as fuel for great accomplishments. What happens to the accomplishments, if we let that rage go? What happens to future accomplishments?

Perhaps, for my part, I’m just too busy. I’ve been working overtime for six months. I can’t give it my attention. I can’t relax long enough around the exercise to give it true power. I can’t stop the treadmill- maybe I don’t want to stop the treadmill- long enough for this. And yes, my accomplishments this past year are absolutely fed by rage.

Or maybe it’s that I secretly believe that one letter of forgiveness- however long, however deep- wouldn’t be enough?

The thing about forgiveness is it never ends. I’ve forgiven a great number of things, a number of people- and I’ve been forgiven, as well. But more people come along who offend, who hurt, who lie, who betray. So the process must begin again and again. And I will hurt others as well- in my flailing, in my clumsiness, in my anger, my short-sightedness, my selfishness, my laziness- in all the usual human ways.

When we realize we need forgiveness, too, the game changes. And we see that forgiveness must be a lifelong companion- we must regularly pay tribute. So we must be willing to engage, to process, to call a truce here and there, to negotiate. To redraw battle lines. To give up that old territory while we claim other territory in new ways of living, growing like some wild thorny juicy brier.

Love,

Laurie

 

How to Show Up to Your Life

Show up sleepless, with the waking thoughts still in your eyes. Coffee in one hand, outdated beliefs in the other. Show up with your scars and your trophies, your playlist, your tea and scone, clutch and tumbler. Bring your crazy dreams to this war. Bring your rage and your gunpowder. Bring your apologies, half-hearted and otherwise.

Bring the smile from that guy on the bus, the gust of fresh air, the sudden showers, cicadas in the afternoon, crickets in the evening. Bring your cramps and your bleeding, bring candy or alcohol to bribe your underlings for their cooperation. Wear your mother’s brooch, or not- show up clothed, show up naked. Show up ornate, show up unadorned.

Show up lost, show up utterly, completely, dizzyingly, hopelessly lost- show up hopeless, show up happy, show up at the very end. Show up just in the nick of time, show up too late. Show up, fat parts, ugly parts. Show up still reeling from your break-up. Terminally in love. Wishing you hadn’t said the things you said. Show up still missing him, even after all these years. Show up breaking the rules. Obeying the rules. Enforcing the rules.

Think of the graveyard you walk through every day to get here. Don’t do it for you. Do it for them. And then do it for you, when no one’s looking. Show up despite the work piled up on the desk, despite your unwashed hair, despite your heart’s so shattered, shards of it stab your lungs and you can’t breathe. Show up, though it feels like you’re drowning- it will be your beginning.

Show up, always. Show up to what is and what could be-

and everything under the sky

will show itself to be

worthy.