Monday, February 28, 2011

Into the Past

We are creatures of memory. What we remember, not what actually happened, constitute that bygone reality we call our past. Sometimes we recall specific events, or vague impressions that haunt us beyond our comprehension. Sometimes we sense familiarity with random things, as if we are responding to a residual memory, a memory of things that happened before us and yet somehow are intimately connected to us.

Hindus believe in reincarnation, a recycling of the soul that causes one to have many iterations on earth, many lives. Once we learn our lessons, we become perfected and join Nirvana. Whether this is true or not, some people remember more than others. Some are deemed "old souls."

My cousin told me of a fascinating brand of hypnosis that could unlock a subject's childhood, and go even farther into the deeper recesses of the mind. Past Life Regression. Curious, as always, I asked him to take me back into my former selves (if I had any).

The session began with the image of a library. In my mind's eye, I walked to the shelf and searched for books. I saw three books on the shelf: pale blue, gold, and black, representing three distinct past lives. I opened the blue book.

Blinking, I saw a log cabin, and heard the rush of water coming from outside. On the mantelpiece over the fireplace were a few coarse watercolor paintings. I peered over a basin of water, and saw the rotund, homely face of a black woman. It was my face. Then I heard crying and I held a darling infant in my arms, a beautiful little girl who fortunately did not resemble her ugly grandmother. My daughter-in-law would soon be returning; she lived with me since my son died in an accident working on the railroads.

It was the 1920s and I lived on the edge of the Great Lakes. My paintings on the mantelpiece, no one valued them; indeed, no one paid them any heed. My entire life, all I was remotely good at was painting, yet no one gave me a chance. And I never learned to read.

I closed the blue book. Hands trembling, I opened the black book.

Right away, I knew I had made the wrong choice. It was in the 1960's. I was in the midst of war. I was a young scholar in South Vietnam, drafted into the army without my consent. I did not know what I was fighting for. I felt very tired; my hands were sweating around my rifle and I was never handy with a gun. I returned home for the funeral of my grandmother and everything was white. White like a ghost. White like bone. White like the blankness of a new slate.

I did not want to go back, but there I was, in the jungle. Imagining explosions, gunshots, blood, and I began to shiver. I kept shivering...

I closed the black book. I didn't want to know what was going to happen.

I refused to open the gold book. I had seen enough.

The session stopped..

Afterwards, I asked Paul how much of this was real? What if I imagined it all?

My cousin answered that often when the result is the very opposite of what one would expect, and provides insight into your current life, it is authentic. It is when people fancied themselves as famous historical figures that it becomes dicey.

Here's the interesting thing: I AM a frustrated writer. I have always been. No matter how educated I become, how successful my career is, how many lands I traveled to, and how many people loved me, I still had a burning desire to become recognized as a writer. At moments, nothing seemed to matter except to acheive status as a writer.

Almost as if it had been a part of me before my experiences of this life. Like the frustrated black painter.

Another coincidence: I have always been very comfortable with African-Americans, perhaps even more comfortable than with Asians (even though I am Asian and grew up in a primarily Caucasian neighborhood.) I tend to gravitate towards their openness and affectionate way of relating to each other.

Was it because they were once my people?

I am still noodling over this one.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Meet the Hypnotist

I know what you're thinking: the dangling pocket-watch, smoke and mirrors, and infinitely embarassing moments beyond your memory and control, clucking like a chicken or running around in boxer shorts.

Three years ago, my cousin Paul informed me that he gave up his ten-year career in biotech and research to become a hypnotist. Here was a man who studied marine biology, spent summers scuba diving and pulling sea urchins off undersea rocks in Belize. While biotech did not thrill him, it was a safe, stable occupation that allowed him to jam with the bands and to meditate in his leisure. Naturally curious, I asked the inevitable question.


Apparently, there is another kind of hypnosis, a guided meditation through your past that allows you to understand experiences and events with new perspective, the kind of perspective that allows healing, positive change, and ultimately transformation.

Paul believed in the intrinsic power of human consciousness to renew the spirit and to alleviate the body. So strong was his conviction that he gave up everything for this new calling: Moodstreams Hypnosis. (Asian parents would think of it as reckless.)

I was slightly skeptical, but intrigued. I had been suffering from panic attacks since early adulthood. Any innocuous trigger like missing a bus or losing keys would cause me to react catastrophically. My heart would pound incessantly and I was instantly paralyzed by fear. Panic attacks halted my career, obstructed me from making decisions, and ruined relationships because I became an "emotional basket-case."

I had tried counseling, meditation, and a plethora of self-help books, but nothing worked.

Out of desperation, I asked my cousin for a hypnosis session.

Most surprising was the amount of control I had. As we explored my past together, I was always aware and free to proceed or stop at any point in the process. I felt my arms floating as if they were weightless. We visualized the panic, a nebulous darkness that pressed down upon my chest, heavier than a boulder. He asked me to remember the first time I experienced that sensation.

I was three and outdoors at a barbeque or garden party with family friends. I had just shown everyone the aquamarine flowers on my underpants and didn't understand why they laughed. Then the sky darkened, thunder rumbled, and everyone disappeared. Lightning flashed and I grabbed the handle of the door, but it wouldn't open. I kicked it and banged it and screamed, but nothing happened.

I thought I was going to die. I thought the world was coming to an end. Then I panicked.

"Now," said my cousin in his soft, velvety voice, "tell that little girl what you know now."

And I told that little girl, three-year-old version of myself, everything was going to be okay. I asked her to breathe. I comforted her and indicated the door was not locked, merely stuck and she only had to keep trying. I told her she had a core of strength, like iron, which could survive all odds. She could withstand anything, as long as she had herself.

Then I opened my eyes. I discovered that our most traumatic truths lie buried within us, weighing us down by the sheer hurt and pain over the years. I felt strangely lightened and liberated.

Call me a believer, but it's been over a year and I haven't had an attack yet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Roommate, the Monitor Lizard

Confession: I have never been an animal person. Early in childhood, I had a dog but not long enough to establish the well-accepted connection with man's best friend. Quite honestly, it always struck me as a bit silly how much we humanize domestic animals like dogs or cats: consistently photographing them, talking to them, dressing them, and indulging their whims.

My cousin in Waltham, Massachusetts gladly put me up for a visit, on the condition that I was "okay" with his pets. Now I knew he had a cat, a few snakes, a lizard, and I would be sharing living space with these creatures. I didn't imagine anything more than small reptiles, and I was certainly okay with that.

Welcome to the world of Tazzy, the monitor lizard. She was approximately 3 feet long and about a foot wide, with sharp-looking talons and yellow, watchful eyes. Crowned with speckled scales, she sauntered like a queen in her bed of straw and the faux log that she curled herself around. My cousin strategically placed her in a wood and glass enclosure which was quite secure, since he had built it himself. And the couch adjacent to the enclosure was extremely comfortable. Nonetheless, I had trouble sleeping that first night, due to Tazzy's intermittent nocturnal rumblings.

Tazzy was definitely female, and I was surprised by how well developed her feminine sensibilities were, especially for a reptile. Here is what I learned:

She is territorial. Sometimes I forget that she is there, waking up in that groggy place between dreaming and consciousness. She reminds me of her presence with a golden glowering glare that is uniquely her own. Admittedly, this is her room, her territory. She was here first. I AM the intruder, even though I am human, and she never lets me forget it.

She is moody. Women have their monthly cycles. Monitor lizards have their lunar egg laying periods. Whenever I visited Boston, it was Tazzy's time of the month. I learned that hormonal tempestuousness is universal among all she-creatures. She was bloated, she groaned, she grunted. She lay around acting crabby and refused to come out of her cage. I wondered if she craved any comfort foods.

She gets jealous. Whenever my cousin and I were in the room, her gaze was determinedly fixed on me. She didn't trust me. Mistress of the room was protective of her man. While amphibians and reptiles were polygamous by nature, my cousin's devotion led Tazzy to expect utter loyalty from him. Any other female was worthy of suspicion. My cousin assured me she was much better tempered after I had left.

So maybe it isn't about humanizing animals in our own image (apparently, even reptiles seem to understand affection). Maybe we are more animalistic than we think. After all, we eat, drink, sleep, lust, and we die. We are more often driven by emotion and passion than by logic. We are intrinsically selfish and focused on survival.

One key difference. With animals, their motives and actions are always very clear. They eat when they mean to eat and kill when they need to kill. They chase only when necessary. They do what they do without any pomp and circumstance. Without great visions, ambiguous words, or good intentions.

Without pretense.

I'd rather live in the animal world.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Somewhere Between a Palace and a Pavilion

Last day. En route to the occasional residence of the royal family, I marveled at Japanese diplomacy. Only non-Japanese tourists are allowed to see the Kyoto Imperial Palace on their date of arrival (with valid passport in hand of course), while natives have to make an in-person reservation weeks in advance, knowing that they will be bumped by foreigners at the last minute.

What was inside? Harmony. The upturned eaves were the shade of lapis lazuli, but the walls were bare white. The undersides of gates and columns were a flagrant orange, balanced by neutral grey. How different from the Chinese cacophony of colors, which is arresting to the eye, but too overwhelming to be comfortable. My mother nodded at me, and I knew she was going to say, "Elegant." Everything about Kyoto had been "elegant," and for my mother, that is the highest praise.

Next came the Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. It might have been the absence of crowds or my more relaxed state of mind, but I found it to be the very essence of serenity. I recall the bamboo shadows, green curvatures of the garden more so than the temple itself, its silver exterior darkening through rain and oxidation. That's also where I met Eddie.

Eddie was a fellow American traveler and a lucky one at that. His work required extensive international trips, which he always managed to parlay into personal explorations of the world. He came to Kyoto while on business in Osaka.

We bonded immediately, over Uncle Sam and mutual cases of wanderlust. We experienced the Philosopher's walk together, a willow-lined path that wound through small village temples and ancestral shrines.

Our conversation lasted long into the night, over a savory meal of fish and sake, over a moonlit stroll through the eerily lit Yakasa Shrine with its wavering lanterns. We discussed metaphysics, disappointments, and an insatiable hunger for adventure that neither of us could quench. I began to see a reflection of myself in him, albeit an unlikely one since he was a well-built, Hispanic man of 6'2" and I was a diminutive Asian girl of 5'3".

I had not conversed that freely in a long time. Kindred spirits understand something so intrinsic within you that it surpasses the confines of your present condition. I thought about everything that had defined me before, everything that I had lost: career, relationship, and health. If I had defined myself by those things, am I now nothing?

Somewhere between the palaces, pavilions, and shrines, I met myself again. At some point into the journey in another country, a miraculous thing happens to us. We find ourselves detached from the social and cultural norms of the place we left, and yet not aware enough to assimilate into the place we are visiting. For the moment, we are liberated from our past traditions and not yet bound to expectations of a new tradition. In that brief space, we are free, more truly ourselves, rejuvenated by the internal fire that burns inside of us. And we remember the infinite possibilities of the self.

Right now, I had nothing but the infinite possibilities of the self.