what are you living for?

14 Jun

Ok, I admit it. I have been a lazy bum for past 2 weeks. It might just be my usual, repetitive, terrible habit of being lazy, but I DID get started on writing my trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to visit my dear housemate Ambar. Well, I suppose it’s a bit too late, as the memories are fading away quite rapidly, other than the great relaxing time away from my small island.

Well, as I mentioned, past 2 weeks have been some of the pointless period. Yes, I have 2 project going on right now. One is with the Centre on Asia and Globalisation (notice the British way of writing it :)) on access to remedies for the people whose lives are impacted by lack of business ethics. It’s a huge project led by Harvard Kennedy School all over the world, and the Centre is in charge of the Southeast Asia region. Check BASES Wiki out which is an information sharing info on grievance (complaint) mechanism, access to remedies (justice) within the larger context of business and human rights. It’s not complete yet, but still pretty impressive, considering the ambitious scope of work. We all got to meet the people in charge from the Kennedy School, and it was very inspiring to talk to the experts who will compile work from all over the world. My subgroup has been working on the construction sector in Singapore and Malaysia (think I mentioned it), and I’ve learned quite a lot about it, working with colleagues who are more or less experts.

My other project is with the Asia Research Institute, which is also within the University. It was more or less of a luck that I got to work with Dr Maznah Mohamad. I was almost desperately looking for someone who can help me learn something on my thesis topic, which is Islamic family law in Malaysia and women’s human rights. Well, most of you probably know that I have been dedicated in women’s rights issues and am a dedicated feminist (now I can hear people getting nervous, hehe). And while taking Political Islam class last semester with my favorite prof at the school, I got so passionate about learning more about it especially within the Southeast Asian context. And what more could be better if I connect it with what I am already passionate about? So foolishly, I choose this topic while I have almost no knowledge of Malaysia (of course some surface knowledge based on class reading materials and reading news articles) or the religion or Islamic law. What a grand commitment but, OK, now I’m committed to it now. I luckily found Dr. Maznah, and knowing the lack of my knowledge, she graciously took me as her research assistant/intern, and I’m currently assisting her research on comparative research on Islamic laws in Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia and her editing of some papers coming in from Indonesia which are a part of global research on Women’s Empowerment in Muslim Context (WEMC). Sounds so far so good, right?

I am so extremely thrilled about what I’m working on. BUT the problem is I have been losing my focus, big time. I feel disorganized, distracted, and lazy. And I keep asking myself, “Is this kind of life style what I wanted? Is this the person who I really am?” To be very honest, I’m quite disappointed at myself, regarding my recent work ethics. Sure, maybe I’m just being Korean/Singaporean/Asian, whatever. But during the semester, I feel that I don’t get the type of education that I want, so I wanted this break to be for something that I’m passionate about and that I can see myself pursuing for the rest of my life (not necessarily professionally but interest wise, at least).

I remember about 10 years ago (oh gosh, I’m getting old…), when I went to the US for the first time, starting this nomad life. My English was poor, I was an extremely shy and somewhat awkward girl who was fresh out of the airplane. I spent countless nights in the bathroom to finish up my assignment while the curfew hour never allowed me to do so. I worked hard and had my share lonely fights. If you ask me if I will ever do it again, I will say “I won’t even allow my great grand children to go through the same thing.” But what I clearly had as a 15 year old girl was the sense of purpose. As a small fish in a small pond that saw very limited scope of life ahead of her, I only thought, OK, my goal is getting in to one of the Ivy League or similar level schools. And guess, what, 4 years later, I did it. I was a top student at my small private school, and I remember crying of joy for the first (and last so far) time of my life, because what I achieved was something more than just getting in to a good school, but something that I longed for going through all the countless sleepless nights.

And about a decade later, I’m still a small fish, but I’m thrown in a humongous ocean, and I’m just flowing around, losing the sense of purpose and determination that I had as a young girl who had no idea what she was doing. The only same thing is that I’m still small (so small) and still clueless. But the difference is that I came to a realization that my path is not so well determined. I’m in graduate school and in mid-twenties, and for God’s sake, I thought I would be married with kids when I was 7 by this time. OK, I actually don’t care so much about that aspect now, but what have I achieved? Or better yet, what am I running towards to achieve? What am I doing? How can I introduce myself to the world other than “Hi, I’m a clueless small fish”? And my everyday life does not compensate this self-pity-filled quarter life crisis.

And last Friday, I was introduced to Felicia (not sure if the spelling is right…) by my friend Ayushi (check out her blog ; she’s a great writer) to learn about Nichiren Buddhist practice. She just texted me the day before, and I was like, why not? I thoroughly enjoy learning about different religions and their roles in the society, so it was my anthropological instinct that attracted to her suggestion, I believe. Anyhow, we got together with a couple more friends there. Felicia was very calm, soft-spoken, yet quite eloquent. We were simply sitting around and talked about our personal motivation/interests in the gathering. One of our friends, who is a doctor back home, started by saying that she had seen so many people suffering from sicknesses and diseases because of poverty. She said that she is very interested in the practice because of her life goal of relieving the suffering in the world matches the emphasis of Buddhist practice on peace and social justice. From then on we kept our conversations, and what struck me from the conversation (in which I was mostly a learner) was the importance of self-knowledge. Without knowing myself deep down, how would I even dare to be a helping hand for those who are suffering from injustice?

So I had my little “enlightenment” moment then. I have been focusing on my outer-self that is very much related to my social interactions with others. I know how to relate to others very well, and I enjoy meeting new people and the challenge of environment. But how much time have I spent to interact with myself? How much of inner strength have I developed? I’m not saying I don’t know who I am any more (well, maybe this is the case…). But all I felt at that moment was that I needed something that I can hold on to, even if I lose every external relations that I have with the world. I have identified myself with my social achievement (like getting into college, etc.) but not with my core.

Well, I don’t want to sound like an enlightened scholar as I am not. I’m still trying to find what I can do to increase the depth of my life as an individual. And when I do my best to push for such depth, I’m sure I will be more committed to the responsibilities that I need to focus on at this point.

Yes, I’m still a small fish, and let me finish with a spiritual note.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

-Franciscan Benediction


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