Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflections


Looking back over 2016 there are lots of things we could talk about, politics, artists that made huge impacts on the lives of many passed away, terrorist attacks, wars etc. 
All of these subjects however tend to have a negative note to them, so that is not what I want to talk about at the end of yet another year.  Especially because we're looking at the beginning of a new year with lots of potential. What I want to talk about is about what really matters looking forward.


The end of the year for me personally is always a time to look back and reflect on the year that's gone by and to look forward in anticipation to another year. Another year of following dreams. 

In my life there are two quotes that lead me. Motto's or mantras, call them as you wish. One of them I'll clue you in on now, the other one I'll save for later. The first one is a quote by Walt Disney;  
"All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."

This year was a huge year for me personally, I switched jobs, I went back to school, and I've had to really think deeply about the direction I want my life to go in from here on out. These directional questions and thoughts shaped my year. If you know me you know that I live by the metaphor of the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The alchemist influenced my life in a way that I never thought possible, and in fact, the alchemist is directly responsible the creation of my blog in 2016. To explain a little further, the alchemist (and my life) are themed around following your heart and fulfilling dreams. That was definitely a red thread in my life in 2016 (and beyond). This year I crossed several major wishes off of my bucket list and the most influential one was my visit to China in August of this year.

In many ways China was not what I expected. The people, the language, the attitude, the culture. In general my vacation wasn't at all what I had expected. I experienced China as being way more stressful than I had previously anticipated. Yet this all turned around towards the end of my trip when I visited the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng. You see, before that I had stayed in the city of Beijing, the capital of China. With all its inhabitants and their busy lives also a hotspot for all of the rest of the Chinese population on their two week summer break in August while I was visiting. Having travelled all over the world I can honestly tell you I've never been anywhere more crowded in my life than any place I visited during my week in Beijing. The very morning I left Beijing to catch my train to Dengfeng we drove by Tiananmen Square at 5.30 in the morning and there were tens and thousands of people waiting for the flag to be raised in front of Mao's mausoleum. Interesting enough in it self, the idea that such a large number of the Chinese population views this experience as somewhat of a pilgrimage to be undertaken once in a lifetime. But back to the point since we're getting sidetracked. My time in Beijing wasn't a relaxing experience at all. However the second I got on the train to Luoyang to be picked up by a private tour guide who'd take me to the Shaolin temple in Dengfeng, the stress fell away and the whole atmosphere of the trip changed. No more rush, no more massive crowds with bodies pressing into each other. When we drove through the small towns and up into the mountains of the Hunan province and the Shaoshi mountain came into view, it took my breath away. We stopped to have lunch outside with a view over the mountains and the mist that surrounded them.

It was an instant reminder of any Chinese Kung Fu movie I'd ever seen. Yet so much better in person. And another difference with Beijing I can't leave unmentioned, the air was cleaner and crisper than anywhere else I'd been in China. Literally breathtaking. And then, we went to the Shaolin Monastery. The very birthplace of martial arts. The place where Zen Buddhism and self defense were integrated in martial arts and created Kung Fu. The beautiful graceful movements we all know and love, Shaolin Kung Fu. Just walking on the very ground left me in awe. It wasn't until we reached the shrine with the three Buddha's and the guide told me the story of their metaphor that it hit me however. 

Have you ever had one of those moments in your life where everything seems to come together and connect? Every decision you've ever made, everything you've ever done, seen, thought, learned and chosen, all inexplicably uncovered for you to see. The very reason revealed, the reason for who you are and why you are. In my Social Work and Education studies we called it an AHA-moment. A slightly more scientific term to describe what others might call a revelation of some sort. Call it whatever you want, but right then and there I had one of those moments where everything came together. 

In the shrine were three Buddha's displayed. The trinity of life. The one on the left side was the Buddha for the past, the one in the middle represented the future and the one on the right symbolized the present. 

Right at that very moment life made sense to me, unlike it ever had before. The past, future and present. And I felt like I understood the very core of Zen Buddhism. That's what it is all about, finding the balance between learning from your past, preparing for your future yet most importantly living in the now. 

It is difficult to describe what that essence of Zen is exactly and when I researched a description only I came across the following;
"Defining Zen is like trying to describe the taste of honey to someone who has never tasted it before. You can try to explain the texture and scent of honey, or you can try to compare and correlate it with similar foods. However, honey is honey. As long as you have not tasted it, you are in the illusion of what honey is."

Not very hopeful to hear, am I right? However, I do agree with the statement up to a certain degree. When I think about the concept of Zen and what it means I also look at it from a professional perspective. The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow described the peak of human experience as self actualization and theorized that someone can only truly reach this point in his or her life if all other basic needs are fulfilled. Needs such as food, warmth, rest, shelter, safety, trust, relationships, accomplishments and so on. Maslow said that all of these needs need to be met before you can reach a state of fulfillment and reaching ones true potential. 
I personally don't know if this is all of these are necessarily true. However, I am convinced that it is necessary to be at a level of true peace with yourself. To know your past and emotions that are connected to it, be able to see your fears that sprout from this, to be able to truly live in, experience and enjoy the moment. Live in the now, the present. 

2016 for me was a year to work through some of the issues from my past that held me back the most. I found the courage and strength to face them head on and resolve some of the intense emotions paired with experiences that I was subconsciously holding on to. Because I worked through those past issues and resolved some of those major set backs I learned that when you do that, it takes away some of the worries I was holding on to, that shaped my life in a major way. And at the end of this year that's what I want to pass on to you. Now is as good a time as ever to face your past so you can face your future without fears.