This is the first of many posts that will document a massive paradigm shift I experienced on a spiritual level over the past few months. In short, I have become vividly aware that if you’re not living your divine purpose, your body and mind will turn against you and attack itself. In my case, it was a combined diagnosis of depression, panic disorder, adjustment disorder and anxiety. More about that in a later post.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint a beginning to this major turning point in my life – because really, my path started the moment I took my first breath of life. However, my life story is one that is meant for a book to be published at a later date – not a blog post.
I’ll start with the first in a series of recent events that culminated into a spiritual awakening so frightening and so revelatory that it has changed my entire sense of being; a life-changing visit with a gleeful Balinese man named Corkoda Rai.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Yearning for a “spiritual” experience in Bali (and not truly knowing why until now), I sought out a traditional spiritual healer in Ubud, a la Eat, Pray, Love. After a few minutes of Googling, I came across a photo of Cokorda Rai, an elderly medicine man. I was compelled to read a blog post accompanying the photo…and then, without any reason for it, I started to cry. Soon, crying turned into sobbing. I sobbed so hard that I had to mute my no-longer-appropriate EDM playlist and sit in this visceral, emotional outpouring, broken and confused. I didn’t know what was happening and why. I just knew I had to visit this specific person, if I did nothing else in Ubud. I contacted a taxi service and booked my appointment.
Fast forward a month later. I woke up bright and early to meet Mr. Rai. I greeted my driver excitedly and hopped gleefully into the front passenger seat, excited to receive some guidance. I wasn’t too sure what specific questions I needed answering, but I figured if he was wise enough to detect an anomaly, it might reveal the questions I should be asking.
I entered Cokorda Rai’s private residence on December 30th. To my surprise, there were about half a dozen other foreigners sitting around his open-air healing room, watching him massage a woman’s temples. I took my seat around the circle, a little nervous and apprehensive about being so vulnerable in front of strangers. I watched intently as he massaged a woman’s head and shoulders, and then asked her to lie down so he could use a tiny stick to poke at her toes. Corkoda moved with the playful agility, uttering advice between pokes such as “MORE PASSION!” and “lose more weight”. The occasional sex joke from the crowd evoked a few giggles. In retrospect, I suppose it was easier for us to interpret “more passion” as more sex than applying it to more difficult endeavours, like art, relationships or vocations.
Soon, the time came for me to step up to the mat – figuratively and literally. I took my seat by his legs as he touched pressure points on my head. “You had much stress, but now you are much better. You know what to do,” he offered reassuringly. But I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted him to tell me what to do. I knew there was room for improvement, if only he could tell me to take up meditation, or do more yoga, or forgive the pas-
That fucking hurt!
“Stubbornness,” said Corkoda.
I nodded in agreement as he stood up in front of me.
“Your life has been like this,” he said, making topsy turvy motions with his hands. “Up and down. You must make a choice and follow a program.”
The intellectual part of me reasoned that he must have meant an efficient but intense schedule for my blog, a healthier diet and a vision board. Strict adherence to a plan to catapult Vagabond Heels from blog to brand. Got it.
I lay down on the floor and prepared to fall into a fit of excruciating pain, as the patients before me did when he poked certain pressure points on their toes. I figured my “mind toe” was pretty much fucked, as everyone else’s seemed to be.
I shifted uncomfortably on the mat.
“You don’t know your character,” he said softly. “You must study your character.”
He took his magic stick out and started poking away at my toes.
Hormones toe, poke. Heart toe, poke. The lack of pain revealed a clean bill of health.
Liver toe, poke.
“Too much drinking?” I said jokingly. The twenty-something girls on the right side of the room threw me a halfhearted laugh.
“No. Stress,” said Corkoda.
Oh. Right, I thought. Well that’s a given.
Mind toe, poke.
I winced in pain and tried not to shout out and embarrass myself. I had a strong female identity to upkeep at all times, after all.
“You have stress,” he said. “Worries. We will fix.”
He stood above me and started praying, but I kept one eye slightly open to watch him intently. Soon, I felt something lift and was overcome with emotion. Relaxing into the moment, I felt a strong vibration followed by a sense of calm. A weight had lifted. He poked my toe again. The pain was gone.
I sat up, and he sat down next to me.
“You are not confident,” he said. He was right. I was an excellent actress. I knew how to act confident. But I had no confidence left. I lost it a long time ago.
“Talking is good,” he said to me, “but different inside and outside.” He was calling me on my bullshit. But how did he know that I was a talented speaker when I barely spoke a word to him?
“You must connect with your character. Then you will be good. When you talk to man, be honest.”
“How can I study my character?” I asked him.
“Life experience,” he said. “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
I smiled at him thankfully, and he flashed me a big toothy smile in return.
“I wish many blessings for you.”
He meant it.
I collected my shoes, left a donation and walked away. I choked back tears on my ride to a rice terrace, where I would contemplate everything he told me.
I didn’t know then that it would take about a month before the knowledge he gave me finally sank in.
The big lessons I took away since then are the following.
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” – Charlotte Clemensen Taylor
I came to realize recently that the emotional and physical reaction I had when I first came across the image of Corkoda Rai on my Internet search was no coincidence. It was a spiritual intervention. Call it God, call it the universe, or call it instinct. I was meant to meet this person.
I already know what I must do.
I know what unadulterated passion feels like. The kind of passion that makes you forget to eat, that makes you feel “larger than life”. The kind that makes you feel closer to God. Apart from the rare sexual experience (and really rare, at that), I’ve only ever experienced this through writing, acting and speaking about the issues I care about the most: female empowerment, personal development, animal rights and veganism.
As a naturally curious person, however, everything piques at my interest. I’m also talented, clever, and pick things up easily. Because of this, it’s very easy for me to lose myself in other things that pay better, are more socially acceptable and don’t require me to be vulnerable.
So I did what I knew I’d be good at – I took a full-time job teaching kids at a Korean hagwon, believing I could build a digital business at the same time.
Of course, as some other bloggers pointed out to me – it couldn’t really be done. I thought they were underestimating the discipline I had. In reality, I had overestimated how much I could do without suffering a burnout.
Of course, my body eventually caught up with me and I didn’t have the strength to work on my site at all. I was barely writing. I had also more or less given up on acting, was no longer vegan given my lack of resources and no longer prioritized my health anyway, and I had become less vocal about the issues I cared about.
By the time I met Corkoda, I had become an empty shell that looked pretty and poised in Instagram photos, so my life had become exactly that: one big Instagram filter.
I wanted Corkoda’s permission to live a life with more unadulterated passion, but I didn’t need his permission, nor did I need him to validate what I felt I should do. I knew what to do, just as I had known all along:
I must set my intentions very specifically to live my life according to my divine purpose. My divine purpose is, and can only be, what I do when I experience unadulterated passion on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.
My twenties were defined by multiple careers, breakups, moves and different acquired skill sets. I earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs, applied to law school, became an actress, worked as a writer, took on a job as an unpaid intern in a PR office at 29, and more. My life was topsy turvy indeed. I didn’t have a one-year plan, let alone a five-year one.
About a month after my meeting with Corkoda, I decided to reaffirm my values and higher purpose with the help of this article written by one of my favorite bloggers, Mark Manson ( seriously, if you haven’t read his stuff, you need to visit his site TODAY).
The article poses the following questions, and with them are my unedited answers as written in my private journal at a Burger King in Da Nang International Airport.
1 – What is your favorite flavor of shit sandwich, and does it come with an olive?
Answer : Rejection from society.
Side note: What Mark meant was: no matter what you choose to do, there will be a tradeoff. Nothing is all wine and roses, 24/7. For an actor, it might mean poverty. For a doctor, it might mean an 80- hour work week. The point is, you need to know what you are willing to put up with in order to follow through with your passion. For me, it was people telling me I didn’t have a real job and thinking I was wasting my life. Fuck em.
2 – What are you doing today that would make your 8 year old self cry?
Answer: Shy/ devoid of self-confidence.
Side note: When I was eight years old, I was on top of the world. I brimmed with confidence, self-worth, happiness and gave about zero fucks what anyone else thought, because I knew and felt that I truly was the bomb diggity. I was always the first to raise my hand and participate in class, I loved oral presentations and I easily made friends, because I had a ton of confidence and I was Beyonce, Oprah and Sheryl Sandberg combined and personified as a white freckly-faced child.
Then I grew up.
People stopped telling me how smart I was once I hit high school and shifted my attention away from studying (one relative even said to me, “I guess you’re not as smart as we thought you were”).
My strong, well-constructed opinions were no longer welcome. One teacher even told me I had “penis envy”, though I didn’t understand what that meant at the time.
I was sexually harassed on a daily basis, and eventually assaulted, so my identity as “smart girl” quickly shifted to “sexy girl”. Sexy girl didn’t really deserve love, because she was a sex object. She also didn’t need to be too smart, because her worth was in her sexuality.
Eventually, combined with the other shit life threw at me, it culminated into social anxiety, three bouts of depression, fear, and panic attacks.
It was clear I needed to find a way back to the simple wisdom and truth of inner child and reclaim my strength of character. Though I’m sure she’d be impressed with many of my accomplishments, she’d also cry to find out I let the circumstances of life abuse me for so long.
3 – What makes you forget to eat and poop?
Answer: Writing, rehearsing, people, friends, relationships.
4 – How can you further embarrass yourself?
Answer: Wage all your efforts on a non-guaranteed income and “loser” career.
5 – How are you going to save this world?
Answer: Empowering women.
6 – If I had to do one thing everyday, what would it be?
Answer: Rehearse on stage.
7 – If you knew you were going to die one day from today, what would you do and how would you want to be remembered?
If I had one year to live, I’d spend all my time with my family and friends. I’d sell my house and with that money, I’d spend some time in India at an ashram – a month, and eat healthfully before I died. I’d write everyone a letter apologizing. I’d write every single day, and I’d work diligently on one play and give the performance of a lifetime. I’d stay in silence for one week. I’d leave behind a book that would inspire women.
I’d want to be remembered as kind, brave, and generous with my love.
Get to know yourself.
This was the most challenging of all lessons that finally hit home when I was prescribed anti-depressants, Ambien and Xanax. At 30 years old.
On my way back home from Bali, my phone died so I had no choice but to do something I used to delight in as a child, but sacrificed too little time to as an adult.
I started reading.
One of my friends and students, Nancy, had urged me to buy a book called The Life List: A Novel, so along with Committed: A Love Story by Liz Gilbert, I ordered this book off Amazon even though I’m not fond of fiction books.
And what a gift this book was.
In the story, a young woman is forced to complete her old life goals list that she wrote at 14. It’s filled with all the cute things we wanted as kids: be friends with our best friends forever, have a dog and do good in the world.
It’s no American classic or whatever, and the plot is pretty predictable, but the point of the whole story hit home for me: what were my dreams when I was young? What was important to me as a child?
I realized then that if I wanted to “get to know my character”, I’d have to:
- Reflect on my past, including my desires, my patterns of behaviour and my childhood dreams
- Do exactly what I feared for YEARS: start looking inward.
Reflecting on my past
I called up my Mom and asked her to mail me all my old diaries, but she couldn’t find them. I reasoned that the universe might want me to find another means of soul searching for the time being.
So I started thinking and remembered the following:
My relationships with friends and family were always starkly important to me.
I used to devour books, figuratively speaking (I read Cinderella to my uncle at two years old, and by 12 I had read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. Stephen King was my favorite author, as I had already read several of his books before I even got to middle school.)
I wrote every single day.
I dreamt of being an actress and begged my Dad to pull some strings to get me into an after-school drama class reserved for the older kids at my school.
I wanted to be a marine biologist, loved speaking and I have a vivid memory of telling my sixth grade teacher that I loved to argue, so maybe I should take on a career one day where I could fight for someone or something for a living.
Relationships, writing, acting, animals, empowerment.
Some things never change.
Meditation had been something I avoided for years. In fact, people I had met who told me they sat in silence for ten days at Vipassana meditation retreats pretty much described my personal idea of hell. As much as I enjoyed alone time, being alone with only my thoughts seemed a torture far worse than water boarding, Chinese water drip torture and someone repeatedly dragging their nails down a blackboard combined.
So I knew I had to do it.
I started with guided meditation and then moved on to simple meditation with a single mantra.
Soon after, I realized my vision started to get slightly more vivid right after my sessions. I also started to become a little bit more aware of an inner voice…the same voice that once told me not to marry my former fiance, though my family tried to convince me otherwise.
I also became increasingly aware that I was spiritually devoid. No wonder I wasn’t living a life of divine purpose: I had refused to believe in divinity at all.
Luckily, I had a solo trip to Hanoi coming up and would use the opportunity to trust that little voice within. I made it my reliable companion and trusted it above all else.
It paid off in dividends.
I noticed that my own voice became stronger. Since I made my inner voice my most trusted advisor, I started asking for help when the voice urged me to, asked for things I wanted when the voice told me I needed it and defended myself when my inner voice told me to use my gift of speech to respectfully stand my ground. Through meditation, study, a dedication to truth and a steadfast trust in myself, I continue to cultivate this relationship with the divinity that resides within me.
Be honest about who you are with the people you meet.
There’s a passage in Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” where the character of Amy Dunne defines a “Cool Girl”:
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
This doesn’t describe me exactly, but it definitely struck a chord with me when Corkoda said to me, “be honest when you talk to man.” When men meet me, I am Miss Love-my-life-laidback-effortless-sexy-zerofucks-world-traveller. I don’t nag, don’t get jealous, don’t care if my boyfriend goes to a stripclub, make sandwiches and bake cookies while he watches sports, go ahead and watch some porn, and so forth. I chug beer and outdrink my dates. In other words, I do all the stuff I subconsciously thought made me the ideal woman.
The problem is, I usually do all this without communicating my expectations for what I want from the men I’m in a relationship with. So, inevitably, when they don’t call or text for days on end, sleep with other women or refuse to commit, I’d get extremely angry with them. I earned their love and gratitude. I mean, couldn’t they see how lucky they were to get a woman so fucking amazing when they were unemployed/ not as hot as I was / uneducated / average and mediocre/ not worth shit?
Well, I don’t need to explain what’s wrong with the above scenario, but it’s exactly what I became. I would portray an image of being laid-back, carefree, cool and awesome and then be really disappointed and confused when I didn’t get what I wanted.
Rewind back a few years when the co-op education office nicknamed me their “Star” student. I booked almost every job I interviewed for as a co-op student, and had a very simple formula for it.
1 – There’s nothing I can’t answer, even if the answer is “I don’t know.”
2 – Be honest about what I want out of this opportunity. Only work for an employer based on their knowledge of knowing who I am and what I want, to avoid the exhausting task of pretending who they want me to be during my placement. There are plenty of jobs out there, anyway.
If I had applied this formula to my personal relationships, I would have left my fiance years before, slept with a lot less people and spent less time with people who didn’t mean well for me.
But as Corkoda reassured me, the only way to learn is through “life experience”. And when you finally learn a lesson, you can move forward.
So in conclusion…
There is nothing more important in your life than figuring out who you are, distinguishing between your important needs and temporary wants and finding your divine purpose. If the word divine scares you, then settle for “higher purpose”. If higher purpose sounds too fucking pretentious for you, then by all means, settle for “purpose”. I’m cool with that too. But if you find yourself crying on the floor surrounded by anti-d’s and Xanax at 30, living a life devoid of the things that make you feel love in a way that can only be explained by the existence of something that cannot be explained, then as Thom Yorke and Ray Bradbury once said: you’re not living – you’re just killing time.
So snap the fuck out of it and do the soul searching you’ve been calling “too new age” or “a waste of time”, like I did, and if you still don’t believe me, read this:
Share your thoughts below <3