Category Archives: Edumacation

Forgiveness, Courage, and Leaps of Faith: Why I Left My Job

Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes.  As leader of the newly formed, democratic South Africa, he rejected anger, revenge, and violence despite decades of suffering incredible injustice. Instead, he turned to reconciliation and encouraged both the former oppressors and oppressed of his country to work together to do the same. In the movie Invictus, he offered this advice to his black bodyguard who had trouble working with newly assigned white colleagues:

Forgiveness liberates the soul.
It removes fear.
That is why it is such a powerful weapon.

I was drenched in sweat. My face turned to the right, my entire left ear pressed against the soaked towel. I lay on my belly, body and mind still. My Bikram yoga teacher broke the silence in the room and said, “Time waits for no one. What are YOU waiting for?” Her words slapped my face and seeped through my every pore. The clarity I sought for years suddenly came rushing forward out of the fog of uncertainty and fear. That moment propelled me to listen to what my heart had been saying for so long.

Eight years earlier, I felt directionless and burned out. I left my job and took a leap of faith by backpacking for four months through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Portugal, and England with someone I loved. As I lived through this life-altering experience, I had no idea that the travel bug would bite me so hard. When I came home to NYC rejuvenated, I promised myself that I would see at least one new country every year.

I worked at a private, philanthropic foundation helping give away millions of dollars annually to colleges and universities. I was ambitious, driven, and pushed myself to the limit. I asked for (and got) more responsibilities, pursued a Masters degree part-time, got married, bought a house, and still managed to travel for three weeks to my new country of choice. But soon I would learn that my go-getter attitude was not sustainable. My body eventually rebelled and broke down gradually, cracking under my self-imposed physical, mental, and emotional prisons. Medical doctors only offered me prescription drugs and surgery to help me deal with the severe, chronic pain I felt throughout my body.

Desperate for an alternative, I turned to an Eastern healer and Bikram Yoga. I channeled the same hard work, focus, and determination that put me in this mess to get myself healed. Working to heal myself was hellish and grueling because it was an irritatingly slow process and went against everything that our pill-popping, quick-fix culture teaches us.

In every Bikram studio, students are instructed to look at themselves in the mirror for the entire 90 minute class. As a beginner, I could not look at myself without unceasing criticism. You’re too fat. You’re too injured. You’re not flexible enough. You’re not good enough. Each time I looked in that mirror, I confronted my own worst enemy: me.

The intensity of the heat magnified the challenge of the yoga poses. Many times, all I wanted to do was collapse, give up, or run out of the room screaming. Magically, my teachers knew when to offer me the compassion I needed to back off. Johanna, stay still. All you have to do is breathe. They also knew when I gave up too easily. You fall out, you jump back in! Johanna, what are you waiting for?”

To survive in that hot room required only a calm breath. Surprisingly, even that seemingly simple act was the most challenging. The classes where I struggled to “just” breathe were the ones that dealt heavy blows to my ego. Patience, compassion, and forgiveness were forced to set in because there was little room for self-criticism, judgment, and attachment. The salty tears and gallons of sweat chipped away at the protective walls I built so long ago against hurt and pain. It no longer mattered if I wasn’t good enough, quick enough, pretty enough, or smart enough. All that mattered was that I do my best. And when I fell down or fell out, all I needed to do was jump right back in.

As counter intuitive as it may seem, acknowledging my humanity afforded me the freedom to access my inner strength. Only when I forgave myself could I allow myself the chance to start again.

In the 2½ years of practicing Bikram yoga, I no longer feel the weight of the world.The chronic debilitating pain I once felt, is completely gone. Today, I am the healthiest I have ever been in body, mind, and spirit. I have learned to live my life the same way I practice yoga. I tackle each challenge and uncomfortable situation with a calm breath, a focused mind, and a compassionate heart. I have learned to be okay with uncertainty, fear, and discomfort knowing that these feelings ­shall pass. I am still learning.

Last Thursday, I said goodbye to my colleagues of eight years at my secure job. I venture now into uncharted territory. Yesterday, I arrived in Los Angeles for 9 weeks of full-time certification to become a Bikram yoga teacher. I have always dreamed of becoming self employed, doing things that I love most. Leaving my job and becoming a yoga teacher will make room for my greatest passion: writing travel stories and making travel videos with my husband. I feel that my mission in this post 9/11 world is to promote cultural understanding and healing. As a yoga teacher, I can help others who seek redemption. As a traveler, I can tell you stories about the places I visit and the people who live there. As an anthropologist, I can provide a unique insight to these cultures.

Every morning we awake, we are given another day for the chance to start anew. That journey always starts with the decision to forgive. I’ve learned that forgiveness first begins with ourselves before we can bestow it to others. Only then can we become courageous. Only then can we aspire for greatness. Only then can we inspire others to do the same.

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Update! Read all about it.

I notice that I’m the kind of blogger who pauses and stops writing for a long time for a variety of reasons. Then, I somehow get inspired and I pick it up again. So here I am. Back. Almost one and half years later. Lots have happened since March 08.


Celebrated my 10 year college reunion. The weekend was amazing and it made me realize how much I missed my 4 years at school.

Barack was elected president! Woot! I still love me some Hillary and was disappointed when she lost to Obama. Nevertheless, I’m happy with how things turned out.

I became an official TripVlogger for a travelsite called TripFilms and I’ll be posting some of the videos I made for them on our trip to Hong Kong. We owe them videos on the Philippines so I’ll be posting those soon too. In the meantime, you can check out my videos at Tripfilms here.

MoJo and I went to Hong Kong for New Year 2009 and then on to the Philippines for two weeks to visit my family.

I started practicing Bikram yoga in mid-March and I am an official Bikram junkie!!! I was inspired to try it because of the inspiring healing story of the creator of this yoga, Bikram Choudhury. He crushed his knee in a weightlifting accident as a young adult and Western doctors proclaimed he would never walk again. He proved them wrong. This practice has healed countless people physically, mentally, & emotionally including myself.

I had arthroscopic surgery back in 1991 and my knee was never the same. I always likened my knee to a shattered vase pieced together. Over the years, it would lock out, feel tight, feel like there were air bubbles in. I didn’t have any strength in it nor flexibility. In March 09, I was leaning heavily on a banister to go down stairs because my knee didn’t feel strong enough. I’ve been an active person despite working out at the gym, running, power walking, hiring a trainer. But over the years, my knee just weakened. Besides the knee, I had other joint/muscle issues: I pulled my back out several times, the tendons in my shoulder were starting to fray causing severe paine, my wrists hurt (I thought I had carpel tunnel), my ankles were starting to hurt. In fact, you can read me blog about it back in 2005. I felt like I was a 30 year old living in a 60 year old body. It was depressing to say the least. One acupuncturist friend who treated me told me that my body has a tendency to produce high levels of acid (caused mainly by stress, anger, and the food I eat) that is causing my joint pain/injury. She recommended that I sweat the acid out. Enter Bikram yoga and the inspiring story of healing by Bikram himself. I made a commitment to practicing 5-6 days a week and after 5 months I am so happy to say that all my joint paint has virtually disappeared. I say virtually because my knee pain has decreased tremendously and is on its way to healing fully. I feel like I’ve been given a new body with my regular practice. In addition to all the physical benefits (did I mention that I’ve lost weight), emotionally and mentally I’m also a different person. I am happier, more centered and at peace, and most importantly, I’ve been able to manage the stress in my daily life so well. Things that would make me fly off the handle before, don’t bother me anymore. It’s been an amazing and transformative experience. But I had to earn it. Healing on any level is not passive; it is an active engagement of your mind, body, and spirit. It takes commitment, hard work, discipline, and yes, sometimes pain to achieve breakthroughs. There’s a time and place for medicine. Yes. However, I feel our society has become so dependent on pills to solve our issues when in fact pills just treat the symptom (and create more problems with side effects) and don’t target the cause.

And most recently, we just came back from vacation. We went on a 9-day cruise to the Caribbean. Let’s just say I’m not running to sign up for my next cruise. It was good to spend time with MoJo’s family and not have to work for 9 days. The best part was sitting on a deck chair, facing the horizon and reading a book. Other than that, I can do without the overconsumption of food, alcohol, and goods. I’ll stick to off-the-beaten path traveling unless it’s a cruise to the Galapagos or the South Pacific!

How Do You Feel?

There it is…the diploma. I had a couple of colleagues with PhDs check it out to make sure it was real.

Everyone at work has been asking me how I feel. Quite frankly I feel numb. Of course, I’m relieved to be done but these last few weeks have been so emotionally taxing that I have nothing left in me. Between my own process and supporting MoJo through his, I’m WIPED OUT.

If you told me that I just won several million dollars from the lottery, I’d probably just say, “OK.” It doesn’t help that I’m trying to shake a cold that’s stuck around for almost 2 weeks. I just need to rest. My body is just tired. I think I need a vacation.

My turn today!

My convocation was today, MoJo’s yesterday…as you can see by the pics below.

On the subway early this morning en route to campus wearing our academic regalia. I thought we were sooo cute in our somewhat matching robes. Some people smiled and even wished us good luck. How often do you see peeps in graduation robes on the subway? LOL

After my ceremony…mom and I decided that MoJo looks like Christopher Columbus in his funny hat.

Here’s my proud momma and me later at Mama Mexico. Yum!
Holy shitake!!!
I’m…err…we’re DONE!!!
I can return to having some semblance of a life!

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Dave Matthews Band…

Is there a Doctor in the house?

Even though he’s a Doctor, he still rides the subway! :0

That’s right honey, hang on to that tree and keep drinking!

So proud of MoJo!!!
I especially like him in his funny hat.

Introducing for the First Time: DR. MoJo!!!!

BEFORE the doctoral dissertation defense
(no smiles here, just lots o’ tension)

2 1/2 hours LATER,
when his five committee members said he passed
(he’s finally smiling!)

There was a lot of this going on throughout the day
after gaining his new “Dr.” cred

I’ve never seen a man so concentrated with his drink before! :0 Too bad Dr. MoJo is much more shy than me. I would be dancing on top of a bar if I went through a doctoral dissertation defense successfully!

Congratulations honey!!!
I’m sooooo incredibly proud of you!!!


Thesis FINALLY Emailed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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George Michael Fre…

OMG. I can’t believe it. I just emailed it to my two readers. It’s late and I’m giving them precious few days to review it. I sure hope that they just pass me. Ugh.

OK, so I know it’s a bit premature but I don’t care. I’m celebrating. First, a happy dance. Then some wine. Then bed. I’m so exhausted that I can’t see straight…but not too exhausted to shake my booty for 3 minutes!!

I’ve had this George Michael song runnin’ through my head these last two weeks as I’ve tried to intellectualize Filipino balikbayans and balikbayan boxes. It’s been a living hell, lemme tell you. I would NOT recommend working full-time and pursuing part-time graduate study if you can somehow help it. These last 3 weeks SUCKED!! Actually, these last 2.5 years have been pretty rough. Be prepared to say goodbye to your life.

Hopefully, in two weeks, I’ll get to say hello to my life again!! YEAH! FREEEEEDOM!!!