Category Archives: Grad School

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.

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!!!

Fridays Off

Taking Fridays off between now and early May to write that MA thesis that is due in time for a May 16 graduation.

Still trying to hammer out my conceptual framework when discussing Filipino American immigrants (referred to as balikbayans, Tagalog words balik=to return & bayan = home) and their persistence in sending balikbayan boxes back to the Philippines to their families.

Even though my brain often feels fried, I get great joy out of writing. I never thought in a million years I would’ve said that. Talk to me in May when my a** is dragging on the floor. I may being singing a different tune!