Voice inside your head


Last night, I wrote a post for my Japanese blog. This is basically English version of it.

I had a rough few days. Nothing serious, but I was suffering from scarcity, imposter syndrome, and uncertainty. I kept seeing my friends who are successful and telling myself “I’d never be like her.” I was also saying to myself, “Why can’t you do normal work like everybody else?”

I was down, and posted how I was feeling on Facebook, in Japanese. I won’t deny I was feeling sorry for myself and expected some “Aw, poor you.” comments from friends.
But my friends’ comments truly touched me. Some said it’s like you crouch just before you jump – and it’s a sign that I’d achieve great success. Other friend said she’s gone through the stagnant period many times before and it means I’m preparing for a big thing. My dear friend Etsuko, who has always been so supportive said that she admired my honesty. All these comments came from people I love, respect, and admire. I was extremely humbled and encouraged. And I learned a lesson. To be honest. To be seen.

That same night, I saw a video posted on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page. It was from a talk she did with her best friend and author Rayya Elias in Sydney. It was the best thing I saw that day.

Rayya is an author of Harley loco, a memoir from her days as drug addict. If you don’t have time to watch the entire talk, just make sure you watch Rayya reading her essay at the beginning, titled “A Letter to My Stumbling Block.”(4:20) It’s brilliant. It’s a letter to her voices in her head. It starts like this:

“Dear Head,
You used to be the worst neighborhood for me to hang out in, especially when I was alone. Being there with you was the scarier than walking down avenue D in 1980s by myself. It was scarier than being stalked by a serial killer, or cornered by a rapist. Being you, on my own head, meant I’d do anything to convince myself that I was a fucking reject, not worth the skin that I existed in.”

She also talks about the time when her sister came to rescue her from the tent city and takes her to a hotel. She runs a bath for her, orders room service, but Rayya ends up slipping out while the sister is sleeping, because “You told me that I was too fucked up and didn’t deserve what she was offering”

Eventuallly she got clean, and became a successful writer and musican. But she says her head still had negative voices to her.
“Why is it when I’m invited to events like this, at first I’m really excited, but then fear sets in. Then your dark voice starts to creep in like it did years ago. ‘Do I deserve to be here?'”

This was a good reminder. The negative voices in your head would probably never going to disappear. You know what I think? Here’s my theory. It’s not berating you because you are worthless. It just can’t stop itself, because it’s an asshole.

If you have time you should watch the whole video. Liz and Rayya talk about shame, truth (Another quote I loved from Rayya: “Truth has legs. It always stands.”), and creativety—“If you are not creating anything, you are probably destroying something. Usually yourself.” I love that.

We all have that negative voice in the head. You can’t numb it. You can’t really shut it up. But listening to Rayya’s story, I learned that important thing is to at least question it. Best of all, don’t believe it.

After I posted my “whining” on Facebook, several people commented they admired me being honest about how I felt.
This reminded me the vulnerability paradox by Brené Brown.
The vulnerability paradox: It’s the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I want you to see in me.

I think this problem is more widespread in Japan. I know some people would rather die than to show their vulnerability. I want to do something about that. My dream is to one day talk to all the people in Japan and encourage them to “be seen”. The first step was to write about it. So I did last night.

Baby steps.

PS: I’ve also written about courage and vulnerability here.

On Courage and Vulnerability

Photo Credit: Jessica Lucia

I’ve been unsure of what to say about what I am currently going through.

It’s been a rough couple months. Financially, emotionally. If it’s just a financial struggle, it’s simple, but I also had some family problem which I am not going to share here, for privacy reasons.
I cry almost every day. Some days because I feel helpless, some days because I’m grateful. As I wrote recently, I pray every day, and almost every day I want to ask WHY all these things are happening to me.

Deep down, I know why. Because I need it. This is yet Another F$#*ing Growth Opportunity. I hate it. Then I think about Brene Brown’s TED talk. I hate things not going the way I want it to. I hate not able to do what I want to do. I hate not being in control.
But I’m old enough to know that there is no magic pill to make it all go away. All I can do is to put one foot in front of the other, and go through the Hell. Keep going. I know this is temporary. So let’s go through this.

Then I came to a point that I couldn’t do it alone any more. I needed some help. And it took me tremendous courage to speak up and admit that I needed help. (Note: and I’m overwhelmed with everyone’s support. Thank you.)

Recently, I read “Think Like A Freak” – the third book from Freakonomics guys. It was a fascinating book overall, just like the last 2 books by them, but one story stood out to me. In a soccer game, when you have to do a penalty kick, statistically, your best bet is to kick the ball right into the center of the net. The data prove the keeper stays in the middle only 2% of the time. But players rarely do that. Why?
Because you will look so bad if the keeper happens to catch it.
“What was he thinking?!” the crowd would say. “What a stupid move!”
The point of the story: People would do almost anything not to look bad.

And this is where vulnerability and courage comes in. As many people already know, everybody wants to look good. Especially on social media. We all know half the stuff we see on Facebook is not a true reflection of who they are. As C.C. Chapman said, if our first selfie attempt automatically got uploaded on the internet? Your stream will look very different. 🙂

Why is it so hard to be vulnerable? Because you are afraid you don’t look good anymore. You are afraid people might think you are weak. You are afraid people would judge you. But all the self-help books say, “Don’t worry! Be yourself! Be brave!”

Do you know how freaking hard it is?

I’ve had many conversations with close friends around this topic. One dear friend said that she remembered her mom was always worried about her losing face and it had made an impression on her. One friend said she wasn’t pushing her nonprofit project because she was afraid of failing. I, myself, almost found myself laughable – You’re so broke, and you’re still worried about looking cool? Stop being ridiculous, Yukari.

It was really, really hard for me to admit that I needed help. I felt embarrassed and felt like a failure. I still do. Then why do we share it?

Because many people are going through the similar things.
They need to see that they are not alone.
I had so many heartfelt conversations with friends reached out to me and said “Me too! I’m struggling…”

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly is like my bible, but one of my favourite stories in the book, is the Marble Jar.
Brené’s daughter, Ellen’s teacher had a marble jar in the classroom. She had put some marbles in the jar at the begging of the school year. And she said if the class did something great, she’d add a marble. If the class misbehaves, she will take marbles out. When the marble jar gets full, they will celebrate with a party.
One day, Ellen had a little embarrasing incident and told some of her close friends about it. The sad thing is, the story spread out, and by the lunch time, all of the girls in her peer group knew her secret and were giving her a hard time. Obviously, she was devastated and the teacher took some of the marbles out of the jar that day.

It is a heartbreaking story from a parent’s point of view, and it is very tempting to feel “Fine! I will never share anything with them.” But I love the lesson from this story by Brené. She says,

I told Ellen to think about her friendship as marble jars. Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar.When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out.

Also, this.

Trust is built one marble at a time.

The chicken-or-the egg dilemma comes into play when we think about the investment and leap that people in the relationships have to make before the building process ever begins. The teacher didn’t say, “I’m not buying a jar and marbles until I know that the class can collectively make good choices.” The jar was there on the first day of school. In fact, by the end of the first day, she had already filled the bottom with a layer of marbles. The kids didn’t say, “We’re not going to make good choices because we don’t believe you‘ll put marbles in the jar.” They worked hard and enthusiastically engaged with the marble jar idea based on their teacher’s word.

In other word, you have to have the courage to be the first one to trust your friend and open up. I put marbles in my jar for you, for all of us.

This indeed had been a freaking growth opportunity, as I learned so, so much about pride, ego, courage, vulnerability, honesty, grace and kindness.

It’s okay to ask for help. And you are not a failure. Life is messy. Love it.

The Year of Living Spiritually

The Year of Living Biblically

I first learned about A. J. Jacobs at this year’s World Domination Summit in Portland back in July. I knew his name, but apparently I was living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with his bestselling book, The Year of Living Biblically. He talked about the book, and also about his upcoming project, “Global Family Reunion”. I enjoyed his talk very much, so one day, back in Victoria, I picked up a copy of this “Biblically” book.

I call myself the world’s slowest reader. It’s because English is my second language. Also, I’m sure this is the case for many people, but I don’t have whole a lot of time I can dedicate to reading. My reading time is usually at bedtime, so it’s not unusual for me to take a month to finish one book. Japanese book? Takes 1–3 days tops. Sad, I know.
Since it takes me so long to finish one book, my “kick” lasts equally that long. You’ll see me talk about a single book/topic for a month. And then I’d move onto my next book/topic. This time, I felt sheepish talking about it sometimes, because this is a relatively an old book (2006). Still, I enjoyed it very much.

I grew up in a pretty secular environment. I grew up in Japan, until I moved to Canada when I was 23.
My parents weren’t overly religious, but classification wise, my household was in Jodo-Shinshu, a sect of Buddhism. Japan being mostly multi-religious country (We go to Shinto Shrine for the New Year, eat Christmas Cake for Christmas, and have funerals in a Buddhist temple), I grew up not having a lot of religious experiences, except for funerals and new years. (Christmas part is not religious at all. We just do the Santa, cake and presents. Only the real Christians would go to a mass-which I have never been.)

However, the last few years I grew rather “spiritual” — As we grow older, we encounter more sufferings, and I think it’s natural to want something to lean on. Some people turn to religion, counselling, or in worse cases, drugs and alcohol. The last few years have been really tough for me, and combined with my father’s passing, I felt I needed something bigger than myself for guidance.

Have you seen Dr. Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”? It’s heartfelt, funny and poignant and it is one of my favourite TED Talks. In the video, she talks about Breakdown” AKA “Spiritual Awakening”. I think that is what I am going through. Things happen, and you don’t know who you are anymore. You feel lost.

I started praying first thing in a morning every day, and it has become my ritual for well over a year now. I do use my Juzu praying beads my mother gave me, but I’m not necessarily praying to Buddha. I pray to my dad, my ancestors, and the Universe.

Ever since I started praying, my stress level was reduced significantly. I still have troubles and big stresses, but I have come to realize that nothing is unsolvable. Sometimes the problem solves itself. Sometimes it gets resolved in a way I’m not 100% happy about, but I understand I cannot win every time.

I picked up A. J.’s book out of pure curiosity. I really don’t know anything about the bible. My husband is the “Olive Garden” Jewish, as A. J. puts it — he is not practicing Judaism, but some rituals he grew up with are very much a big part of him, like washing his hands before meals (Well that’s just a good hygiene, you might say.)

A. J.’s project in this book was to follow the bible’s teachings as literally as possible. He follows Old Testament first, and then the New Testament. He tries not to lie, steal, or commit adultery. He even stoned an adulterer and grew his beard (no shaving allowed). Some parts were literally laugh-out-loud funny. Some parts were quite poignant.
I learned a lot about the bible thanks to this book. My husband seems happy that I was interested in his religion too.

I don’t think I will ever convert to Christian or Jewish, but I appreciate their beliefs and culture. But what I really got out of from this book, is to be more compassionate, and to be aware of my own spirituality.

I enjoyed A. J.’s writings. As I mentioned above, it’s not always easy for me to read English books. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to turn the page. Some books are written beautifully, but somehow I cannot get into it, and it’s just a torture. A. J.’s book was one of the two books I’ve ever read that was so easy to read through, and I don’t mean it in a way that it was dumbed down. I think it was because he and I were on the same wavelength, at least in this book. I could relate, understand where he was coming from, and I was laughing, crying and reading through the whole book with ease. (In case you are curious, the other author I felt very much in sync was Pamela Slim). This is such a wonderful feeling.

I also resonated deeply with his view of God. This part resonated with me;

“I spend a lot of time marvelling. I haven’t stared at a forklift yet, but I’ll marvel at the way rain serpentines down a car window. Or I’ll marvel at the way my reflection is distorted in a bowl. I feel like I just took my first bong hit. I feel like Wes Bentley rhapsodizing about that dancing plastic bag in American Beauty.

I’ve noticed that I sometimes walk around with a lighter step, almost an ice-skating-like glide, because the ground feels hallowed. All of the ground, even the ground outside the pizzeria near my apartment building.

All well and good, right? The only thing is, this is not the God of the Israelites. This is not the God of the Hebew Scriptures. That God is an interactive God. He rewards people and punishes them. He argues with them, negotiates with them, forgives them, occasionally smites them. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures has human emotions-love and anger.

My God doesn’t. My God is impersonal. My God is the God of Spinoza. Or the God of Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian who believed that God was “the ground of being.” Or the God of the Jedi knights. It’s a powerful but vague all-pervasive force; some slightly more sophisticated version of pantheism. I don’t even know if my God can be said to have a grand plan, much less mood swings. Can I keep edging toward the true biblical God? I’m not sure.”

My God is similar to his God. My God is mother nature and the Universe. I know that sound very airy-fairy; but to me, that’s the most natural concept of God, IF I ever believe in God. This is actually what Shinto is, so I guess my religion is Shinto. But I’m not sure.

When I visited Okinawa, we learned that people in Okinawa generally worship the nature. There are places called Utaki, which was translated as “Sacred Places” throughout Okinawa, and we visited one of them. It was a beautiful place in the small forest. There was a path that eventually leads to a viewpoint to the ocean. I’m usually pretty oblivious to supernatural stuff and I don’t “feel” anything, but at the Sefa Utaki, I could believe that once was a very special place. And this nature-worship idea suit me. I often look out the window and see the way the sunlight is shining, tree branches swinging in the wind, flowers in bloom. When I walk outside I notice the clouds, birds and again the way sunlight casts shadows onto the sidewalk. When I go to the beach I’m awestruck with the way waves crush with splash. And it often brings me almost to tears, because it’s all so beautiful. That is my God. Every time this happens, I give thanks to the Universe for its beauty.

Another point I found very interesting in A. J.’s book was ‘Not to look at the bible as a self-help book.” I think we all do this- praying for God when you need something. If I call myself religious, apparently I can’t do that. Because religion is about serving God. I don’t know if I want to call myself religious, but if I did, I have a long way to go. I try to give thanks, be grateful and pray for people in need as much as possible, but I still pray, asking for help, guidance and/or solution. I guess I’m not “enlightened” enough yet.

Also, in the book, A. J. goes to see his “guru” uncle Gil in Israel. He is supposed to be this charismatic spiritual leader his aunt was once married to. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with him. He just sounded bossy and angry. But one thing he said stuck with me: “Whenever you’re sad, things aren’t working out for you look around, see if there’s someone else in trouble, go and help them. And I promise you, I promise you, I promise you, your problems will be solved.” I know we’re not supposed to look for solutions in religion and God, but I think this is a sage wisdom, and from my short time on this planet, I know this to be true as well.

A.J. wonders if the bible made him a better person. According to C.S. Lewis, pretending to be a better person is better than nothing. I think, trying to live “biblically” or “spiritually” is all about trying to be a better person. I fail almost daily, but at least, I’m trying. I had started my year of living spiritually without me even knowing it. I’m grateful that I came across this book, and the opportunity it gave me to ponder all these.

Let the light get in


(Photo credit:  Family O’Abé)

First month of 2013 is more than half way over.
2013 is going to be a great year for me. I just know it.

I didn’t do official “resolution post” here, but what I want to be mindful of this year is to practice Wholehearted Living. I read Daring Greatlyby Brené Brown last year and I can say it was one of the most important books I have ever read.

Living wholeheartedly means leaning into fear and discomfort, believing that you are worthy of love and belonging, and embracing vulnerability. Seriously, if you haven’t read the book, you should.

I had one of those “bad day” yesterday. I was tired, and despite my effort to live every day being kind to others and let go of controlling anything, some people got on my nerves. My resentment to others got the best of me and I slipped off from being Wholehearted.  I even bitched on social media—bitching on social media is equivalent of drunken phone calls in the 90’s—it seems like a good idea at the time, but the next day you just want to bury yourself. Then my great friend Raul messaged me. Basically he said “I saw what happened online. The person you dealt with is in a lot of pain. If you can find in your heart to forgive them…” His message brought me back to the wholehearted mindfullness again.

When people rash out or say mean things, it’s often because they are in pain. I’ve been there. And I forgot. And Raul reminded me. Thank you, Raul.

Then this morning, I just read Brené’s latest blog post “Light, Love and Martin Luther King, Jr.” I love this quote — “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, Only love can do that.”— that is also mentioned in the book.

And what she says here, is exactly what happened to me last night;

When there is darkness in the world, I can slip into the dark place. I can start rehearsing tragedy and let my fear take over. I can turn to blame even though I know that blaming is simply a way to discharge pain and discomfort and has nothing to do with holding people accountable.

One of the many important things I learned from Daring Greatly on living Wholehearted Life is, to be kind to yourself. It’s about letting go of perfectionism and telling myself that I am enough. I slipped, but I’m only human, and all I can do is to own it, and not to make the same mistake again.
My other favourite quote in the book is by Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” that goes like this;

There’s crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We are enough. Let’s let the light get in.