I love reading quotes, the kinds that are like little inspirational life lessons. Often, I would jot these quotes down on my notebooks or put them into a pretty little collage. In the second year of college, I looked for a lot of self help books. I have printed them out and written little schedules for myself to follow. But it does not matter how much I read it, how many times I have heard the clichés, how many times I tell myself the same things, or how prettily I write it down, it is only when I have lived it and experienced it can I really start to understand it.
The thing about the things you read is that it is very easily forgotten. You cannot just memorize wisdom the same way you process textbook information. There are some things that cannot just be taught. Your parents can tell you to live a certain way, but if you do not truly understand the meaning behind your own morals and values, you will feel like you are living emptily. Life seems very rehearsed. When you are asked why you believe something is right, you can only perform the scripts by which you are taught.
So when I look back into my book of quotes, some that I have read so much that it has lost its meaning, these quotes came back to me with new meaning because now I understand it in a different kind of light. This is why I think that there are things you just cannot just tell someone. If they have not experienced it, they will not understand it the way you can and will not believe it the same way that you do.
I am going to throw in one of those cheesy quotes, one that I have started to understand in a different way
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ― Confucius
The difference between wisdom and textbook knowledge is that wisdom needs to be experienced and learned very slowly. You cannot absorb it over night. You take one idea and you let it boil slowly, like cooking rice. For a good part of my college career, I have been trying to cook this same bowl of rice.
I am learning how to love myself.
As easy and idiotic this might seem, it is one of the hardest things I have ever attempted. Quite frankly, I do not know how long it will really take to cook this pot, but I know that the water is at least heated.
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.
Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.
For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.
The truth — that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire.
Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.
—Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
In the same way and principle that I can love someone — to their essence and potential, I need to learn how to love myself.
I have decided to write about this because I have seen a very similar struggle in a lot of people around me. It is really a very personal post and very close to my heart. Whoever I decided to share this with, I am not telling you how to feel or how to live. I just want to share with you what I have felt and the lessons that I have found so valuable in my experiences.
This quarter started with a kind of heartbreak I had not known before.
My boyfriend broke a promise to me. It is a promise I took for granted when I entered my relationship and I think most of us enter exclusive relationships with the same kind of promise. It is a promise of boundaries. Understand that I get jealous very easily. Even when he talks about pretty girls, it annoys me. When he expresses his approval for open relationships, I start crying.
Trying to process what happened was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. The easiest thing to do was to cut it off with him, but as the cliché goes, what is easy is not always right. If you isolated what happened and tried to simplify the story, I would be the crazy idiot, the little girl falling head-over-heels, flushed blind with love to stay with this guy. I know this because I have seen and felt the underlying implications from some of my friends when I tried to talk to them about it. I understand this kind of judgement because I would have said the same, I would have wanted my friends to be in what I would believe is the “best” kind of relationship, where “loyalty” is defined by simple lines and boundaries. A friend only wants what is best for her friend, but as the cliché goes, you do not know what is best for someone else.
Fortunately, nothing happens in isolation. The kind of relationship I have with him cannot be simplified, the kind of experiences we have had, the kind of conversations, the kind of meaning he has brought to my life. Any kind of explanation cannot justify it and if you do not want to understand the kind of relationship I have with him, then any kind of explanation is useless.
In short, he has been my comfort and my shelter, my teacher and my role model, my brother and my best friend, my coach and my teammate, my hero and my side kick, my biggest fan and my biggest critic, and so much more. All he ever wanted for me is to learn how to love myself, to find myself. He has become the one I have learned to be vulnerable to, the one I do notwant to lie to, the one I want to take care of. Through loving him, having faith in him, and respecting him, I am learning to have faith in myself, respect myself, be honest to myself, and take care of myself. He taught me that as much as I love him, I should love myself the same way. As much as I love my art, have confidence in my art, and admire my art, I should have confidence and admire myself in the same way. He taught me to follow my heart, to believe in what I am doing, to trust in my friends, and to trust in myself. He taught me to think calmly, to concentrate on the things that matter, to become the best version of myself.
Through my darkest and most vulnerable moments, he always saw it — he always saw the best of me. Through the whole relationship I never felt unloved. I always felt encouraged and treasured, even when I thought I was disrespected, even when I was disappointed, even when I was frustrated.
So how do I let his breaking a promise overwrite all of that? Especially when this promise is made from what we are told is right and not what know is right. This promise he made made him felt like he was in a cage, restricted from exploration. The boundaries tied him down and put rules and restrictions. Love should not be captivity, it should be liberation. If he really loves me, I would not have to chain him to me. I should be able to trust that he will always come back. When it comes down to it, if I loved myself enough and was confident enough in my ability to still hold his heart, I would not fear losing him. I am terrified of losing him, and I do notthink that I am good enough to keep his heart.
I carried through the quarter, seriously considering what I wanted from the relationship. In the past, when I had trouble making decisions, I always sought advice from my friends. Throughout my life, I have always tried to find a shoulder to lean on when I felt lost. Even though I have been able to walk through little patches of darkness in the past, I have never done it alone. In this case, I could not rely on anyone else but myself. No one understands the kind of relationship I have with him or how I feel about him.
Being with him was the first decision I made from my gut feeling. In most of my decisions, I have always approached most of my decisions with logic, making a list of pros and cons and thinking of all the outcomes. With him, I went against logic. It was never logical for me to be staying up until 3am talking on the phone with him. It was never logical for me to have chosen a long distance relationship to be my first, especially with someone who was so bad with his phone and with my anxious personality. It was never logical for me to be with someone whose family disproved of me so badly. For the first time in my life, the gravitation I had toward him in my guts and in my heart was stronger than any kind of logic. The decision was in my bones, and I do not know how to explain it to anyone. It is not something you can put into words because it is one of those things you just cannot explain. There is some kind of bond between us, something in his eyes, something in his thoughts, something in his spirit, I just thought was so right for me, right here, right now.
Because it is based on my guts, and I did not think theres any logical explanation, I was afraid I was wrong. I was afraid understanding and embracing the way he sees life is the wrong decision for me. I think I still am. I could not tell a lot of my friends what had happened. A lot of people I would talk to would not understand and they would tell me why it is absurd. I am scared, scared that they are right, and scared that they could convince me, and I would lose him. Because some part of me is doubtful of my decision, I am hiding, hiding something that has become something big in my life — the idea of freedom in a relationship, the idea of what it means to “love.” I am hiding the reason for me to have grown this past quarter.
This quarter, I was confronted with the fear of my own power.
I am starting to realize that I have the power to take charge and the power to choose to let go, just as I have the power to choose any of my paths. It does not make sense for me to rely on someone else to tell me what to do. If I do, it will only make me miserable because no one knows what I want. Only I know what is best for me.
Around ninth week, when we were hiding out near the elevator, he asked me, “why do you think I love you?”
I could not answer him. Then his mouth stretched, the way that it did those few times when he got really, really emotional, the circles around his eyes started blushing, and the tears balled up in his eyes. “How can you not answer that?” It broke my heart. It was not simply because I had hurt him, but that I had hurt him and I was completely helpless. I could notstop his tears because I really did not know the answer.
Here, I will steal a word of wisdom from a friend of mine, (paraphrased)
When you are in a relationship. you don’t have to consciously think about what to appreciate in the other person. You have to understand what makes the other person appreciate you. Those qualities are within you — they are constant and will always be with you — but you can’t be sure you always have that other person. Being in a relationship makes you learn more about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. You are not only learning how to love someone else, but you are also learning how to love yourself. — Boris Bee
“You need to love yourself first” my boyfriend said to me a few weeks later, “to understand what I love in you.”
As long as I don’t love and accept myself, I will be scared, and this fear pollutes my relationships and my ability to be happy. I am scared of losing him, scared that I am not enough, and scared that he will leave. I am scared so I do not want to take chances. I am scared so I want to be possessive. I am scared that if I explore other careers and try new things, I will go off path. I am scared that I would not want to be a doctor, and all that I have done will have been wasted. I am scared of being unproductive, of wasting my time. But if I just continue to be scared all my life and I do things to avoid those fears, I will not be completely happy. I will not know what I really want. I think that I can be happier, and that I am fearful because I am taught that having a stagnant, stable, and structured career is what is safe. And I am scared of not being safe. But because I am scared of not being safe, I stop myself from exploring, I stop myself from going off my route and going into the beaten path. I stop myself from taking risks.
When it comes down to it, my deepest, darkest fear is that I would be all alone in this world, where no one would love me, accept me, or understand me.
In high school, I made a mistake of talking badly about one of my friends and it resulted in my best friends distancing themselves from me. I went to boarding school and I never really fit in with the cliques within that environment. I spent most of my high school career trying to forget about being homesick, battling to feel happy and my group of friends were the only people I depended on for company. When they distanced themselves from me, I started to believe that I did not deserve to be loved. I believed that I was worth nothing, no matter how much weight I would lose, how much more beautiful I tried to become. I believed that I did not deserve to have friends. I remember crying in the hallway, after trying to talk my friends and I was on the phone with my mom. I told her “我成績不好就什麼都沒有了 (If I don’t have good grades, then I don’t have anything.)” Don’t you see mom? I am nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing. If I don’t remember anything from high school, I will remember this most clearly because of what my mom said to me, “怎麼會這樣想呢…(why would you think that…)? You are so much more, how could you think that?”
I am scared of being back in there, where I felt that no one would love me and the only thing that would determine my worth would be a letter, a simplified measurement of an academic performance. This kind of fear leads to me being scared of losing my lover, of being insecure about my appearances, of not having an impressive and outstanding career.
If I love myself and see the strengths that are constant in me — the qualities that can grow, as well as the weaknesses that can be strengthened, flaws that could be fixed and does not define me, I will learn that I can always find love. No matter where I go, as long as there are people around me, as long as I am still me, I will always find love. This kind of love is constant in everyone and humans are born with it.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” — John Lennon
Many times, I have cried to him, “why are you so okay with losing me? Don’t you love me?” It is not that he is okay with losing me, it is that he has accepted the possibility. It is because he knows, believes, and have faith that love is all around. It is because he loves himself and is confident in his ability to find new love.
I am still very scared of this loneliness. I am still trying to figure out how to love myself. But at least I know that I am not alone. I believe that there is a little angel in everyone, that there is a love that all human beings share. There is a connection of compassion and understanding between each of us and we are looking for it, whether it be intentional or unintentional. I believe that I am not the only one afraid of this kind of loneliness. To some degree, we might share a similar kind of fear, but we also share the same capacity for love and courage. There is a kind of hope in love that can be spread, that we can all believe in, to embrace and forgive those who have done us wrong, maybe even to bring all the world together or to save the dying earth. There is a shared humanity that we can recognize in each other.
I believe in these little angels and once in a while these little angels come into my life and become a big part of it. To list a tiny fraction of them, some of my best friends in college, the boy who started a design club and encouraged me to take on leadership, the girls living next door who always welcomed me with open arms when I needed company, the girl who never stops inviting me back to church, the girl who never gave up on our friendship, even when I have hurt her deeply, the boy who invited me into his world of family and friends and always sincerely wanted to be there for me, and so much more. (What they have done for me, and what they mean to me are of course, much, much more than this, but I am not writing a novel.) In high school, there were people who made me dislike parts of myself, but I need to move on and improve myself. At some point, I have to forgive myself and believe in my own qualities and capabilities.
I have see a bright light in my boyfriend. I see him finding his own love so clear and so bright. He can be so happy with his own light that he radiates into the world like a ball of sunshine. Every time I see him meet someone, every person he touches, he tries to bring light into their world, love into their moments, and a smile onto their faces by connecting to them in the most genuine and respectful way. And for what? For living in the moment, for making this life mean something.
He knows what my parents raised me to believe and understand: we have one life to live and we make it bright. We are each a gift and are blessed with so many things. We can take our gifts and be the light for someone else, if we can just accept our own lights. This is why you cultivate the love in your relationships. When we cultivate this love, we not only cultivate the love we have only for each other, but the love within us. We can spread it to the world around us. When a mother learns the love she has for a child, she can love children differently, more deeply than she have ever imagined. When a brother gets a little sister, he can love her so much more differently and he can learn to love her through her growth, and look at other women with a different kind of value. When a sister sees her older brother bullied and talked down on, she sees that every human being is deeply loved by someone, somewhere. That person had connections, many roles that he has played in his life time and have meant so much to so many other people. And so this sister can learn from this love to cherish everyone’s lives and every person like a person. This is how we all learn from love — loving friends, siblings, children, spouses, and parents and let that love transcend to something greater than us.
We create some kind of unity and bond. Therefore, we know that this love is undying, and although it does not make it any less painful, it make sense for us to accept the lost of a loved one, whether it be lost connections or the lost of a life. This love will be reborn and it can manifest itself in other ways. As long as we have love inside of us, we never need to be scared of loneliness.
“Love is a form of energy, it swirls all around us. The love is still in your heart, and can be reborn in the shape of new love.” — The Guru, Avatar: the Last Airbender