Time v. Ambition (III & IV)
Part III: BLACKBERRY DAD
Toronto, December 2018. Having too much to say on the subject, and an insecurity around scatterbrained writing has selfishly prevented me from sharing what was promised in the last post over a year ago. But as the New Year approaches and new strategies brew for the elixir of happiness I am compelled to share the experience and advice over the last two years since I left my job that helped me find my own.
As described in Part I, I was raised with a particular brand of family pressure:
“Felicia, I’m not sure what kind of job you think you’ll get with..what was your degree again?” (Immigrant parents had a hard time grasping anything that wasn’t DLE - doctor, lawyer, engineer. It was International Relations, for the record.)
“But let me tell you something.” He paused, ready to deliver wisdom in a blue collar fortune cookie, “You don’t need to like your job, you just need to make enough money to like your life.”
The catalyst to happiness was monetary. How provincial, I thought with an entire Bachelor of Arrogance tucked under my belt. And while I felt the rebel, rejecting D.L.E. fruit sought by emerging world emigres and joining the tech boom of Southeast Asia instead, I could not escape the tube-fed adage that my happiness was somehow linked to what I was able to achieve.
As such, in late 2013 I worked my ass off out at my new job in Bangkok in a promising B2B startup, achieving insane promotions that doubled and quadrupled my salary, invitations to speak at various conferences around the region, published articles in tech media. My bosses were inspiring and became my mentors. I was elated by the ladder climb and I believed I surpassed the depression of the Second Puberty, where my spirit was broken with my youthful naivety, as I described previously:
'Because at age 25 with a couple years in the workforce under our belt, we start to get a glimmer of post-academic reality. When we look up, there are no longer only stars reflected in our eyes, but the faint beginnings of a ceiling. We shake it off at first, convinced that there is no limit to our dreams, and continue as we always had in university - industrious and practical in our own cute way. "If I can ace A, then B will be possible. Once I get B, C is totally doable...At some point we realize that while school, where we spend 20 years of our lives, was set up for us to succeed, life is not...With time and accrued life experience, I was becoming aware that some of my shortcomings were indeed incorrigible.'
Despite uncovering weaknesses from that low point, I had finally "made it." I could send home money for my mom, pay off student debts and afford to buy anything I wanted! I could take my grandparents out for fancy dinners and take trips without staying in shitholes described at length of my Lil'Fel blogger days. Little did I know that depression of not achieving our goals could be equally accompanied by the disappointment of getting what we want.
Two years at the job of my dreams, living in a penthouse with my best friend, I looked around and realized I somehow wasn't happy. What.the fuck.
Part IV: STILLNESS
I had lost who I was in my goal-driven pursuits. My joie de vivre in nightlife, arts and even my writing hobby had evaporated. All my energy being funneled into my KPIs. I was called "Blackberry Dad," (by damn management consultant no less) and had no serious relationships, perhaps because I treated men like business plans. One friend managed to catch me my making a gcal invite for "hanging out." I barely saw my beautiful best friend and flatmate because of late nights at the office and constant work travel, even when she needed me most.
Nonetheless, I was confused as fuck at my emerging discontent. I remember looking out of my ivory tower apartment at an endless concrete jungle of Bangkok and literally thinking, what am I supposed to do with my money? I thought of designer shoes, a vacay, a bigger apartment?! I had accomplished my goals to not worry about money ever and here I was no longer enjoying it. I felt betrayed by the American Dream, the Immigrant Dream and every other KPI-driven happiness project ever fed to me.
I wondered if this is how lost people found Jesus but thought my disbelief in the occult would be a slight hindrance in becoming religious. Philosophy had a fresh appeal for answers on the "meaning of life"—dismissed previously because these esoteric questions never warranted cogitation due to myopic 'paycheque to paycheque' weltanschauung necessitated my own family's circumstance.
As I questioned life, my mindless ambition lost its power and I left my job at the end of 2016 to study Eastern philosophy in India like a stereotype. I was interested in meditation as a tool to make my brain a more potent force through concentration. I ended up learning "frameworks" (heh, this is what I'll call them) that changed my life at age 29.
If you're of the skeptical ilk as I was when, and know deep in your heart something has to change but don't know where or how to start, I'm sharing the beginning of my experiences. I hope this helps :)
1. I had to rethink happiness
I realized happiness was closer to brushing my teeth—something unglamorous I had to work on daily, rather than a sexy destination I could find if I did x,y,z (make more money, shave my legs more, find a baby daddy, etc.). This may sound obvious today, but as I wrote above, I honestly believed I could find happiness once I achieved my immigranty goals to be a boss bitch. One of Harvard's longest studies shows something similar.
Having been lucky enough to achieve a bit of professional success early in my career and travel the world like a dream, I found out firsthand that that itself would not make me happy. As the old Roman philosopher Horace said, "Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt," which translates to the below. And Horace that old chap was right - we can change everything on the outside as much as we want but if we have a shit ton of insecurities about ourselves? That's gonna chase us. Instead, to sound like a martial arts movie, happiness truly has to start within. Sounds hard, I know, but there are easy ways to get started. See below.
Those who cross the sea change their skies but not their hearts.
2. I learned how to meditate.. by diving into a 10 Day Silent Retreat in India
In for an Inch, in for a mile! I always like to say. Instead of downloading Headspace like a normal person to learn the art of looking within, my second meditation ever started with me locking away my phone, laptop, journal, heart, soul and entering a Himalayan retreat center in 2016, called Vipassana.
There, I had to transform banal yogi expressions of "being at peace with myself" from intellectual entertainment to visceral learnings and battled with my brain and its capacity for boredom. Who knew that one of the hardest things in my life was to be able to sit silent with myself? I'm grateful though. Given my crazy chatter brain back then, the environment of discipline was important for me.
The meditation gave me a foundation to not be bored after 10 seconds of anything and to not require constant stimulation. How? By getting out of the thought vortex mind and sinking into the body using a combination of breathing and awareness techniques. There are many such techniques, Vipassana is only one, but because they have the centers around the world, are secular and most importantly FREE (by donation) it is quite appealing for someone taking time away from work.
Make no mistake, this isn't a fun sexy path like tantra or Osho, it requires your full commitment, but it is worth it. It gives you the laser focus and foundation on which to grow a lot of other spiritual practices. For me, starting late in the game as a total agnostic square, this was cool
My little brother's advice was, "Just make sure you make it past the first 3 days. After this, you'll understand the technique and you can stay for 30 days or more!" I don't know about 30 days, but he was right, the first 3 days were utter torture. If I hadn't had that advice I probably would have left! I ended up doing another one, I felt it was so important!
10 day silent retreats (they are free btw)
3. I practiced feeling "Thin Slices of Joy" in my daily life, by Google guru
I'm not saying Vipassana was a magical transformation. It can be looked at as doing a huge spring cleaning. To maintain a clean house one has to clean a bit every day. This article about the Google "Happiness Guru" has been an essential tool I use daily, even when I can't meditate. The idea being that we can hack our happiness by taking moments that are pleasant, like the smell of cookies, a new leaf on your plant, a beautiful smile on the street, and taking a deep moment of appreciation. Think about how much we dwell on negative things like a wrong look or someone ignoring your email.
Imagine if we spent a mere FRACTION of that attention on small slices of joy, what our happiness would look like?
4. I read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
After learning how to meditate and still my brain noise, this book has given me the greatest food for thought with the question:"What is stopping me from being at peace?" It also helped illuminate a fundamental beauty in pure existence that I can't say I have had much as an adult. Though as a child, I loved to climb trees and listen to birds, I had lost that fascination with the simplicity of being. This, as cheesy as it sounds, is a big part of happiness. Tolle's perspective is a beautiful one among many others out there. In times of extreme emotional tumult I find solace in his words. A couple quotes below.
The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.
You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge. But it can only emerge if something fundamental changes in your state of consciousness.
When you don't cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.
5. I studied Buddhism in a mountain village - Tushita
This was another 10 day course, but this time it was an introduction to Buddhism, hosted in the village where the Dalai Lama lives. And I have to say, it was one of the most beautiful experiences, the Disney World of silent retreats but also a pillar of learning. Where Vipassana helped still the mind, Tushita gave philosophy and frameworks to cogitate on. It costs $90 for 10 days, the food is wonderful vegetarian and they have a beautiful library and garden. If you do go there, keep an open yet discerning mind and remember it is possible to pick and choose what is that is useful for you and what is not.
They have a sister school in Nepal called Koppan that I will spend time in when I am free again.
6. I dove into the trauma of my femininity - Yoni Massage & Tantra
I'll save this story for another time. This was my shocking gateway to understand more about myself than was ever taught in school.
Any one of the above could be its own post, but in the interest of your time I have tried to give a brief overview only. If you have any questions on where to start, or comments/tips don't hesitate to reach out or DM me on Insta : @felicia_moursalien . Lots of love!