Unconditional Trust and Confidence

In the past few months, I’ve a significant shift in my being. It shows up in my leadership, my actions, and my meditation practice. A general sense of calm and relaxation.

Particularly, my September retreat was very powerful where I was got sick in the beginning and powered through each day until it no longer bothered me by day 5.

Reflecting on my leadership roles lately, I joked with a friend that I feel at ease with leading because I just don’t care. I do care. But, I’m much better at not taking things personally. Other people’s behavior doesn’t have to be an immediate reflection of me, my value, or my ego. I care a lot. But, I’m not identifying with things as me.

When talking to potenital residents, I use a term that my teacher Soryu once mentioned. Here, we train to truly tap into that unconditional trust and confidence that’s always available right here, right now. No matter the outcome of anything that happens, no matter what feedback comes my way, I know it’s possible to not take it personally, to not lose my trust, to not become insecure.

Each moment, just flowing into the next one. New situation, new direction, new action. How do I serve, how do I fit into this new situation?

Don’t let myself get in the way. Don’t insert myself into things that have nothing to do with me.

It’s clear seeing my ego insert itself into situations and the rampant, endless thinking and suffering that comes from that. All of it underpined and fueled by some base level insecurity.

The deeper I go into this practice of focus, love, and surrender, the more I see the burdens each of us carry around. All of us were wounded at some points in our lives. Maybe as a child when we were defenseless to do anything about it. Unable to know how to cope or comprehend those pains. But, as adults, we keep sustaining and feeding those burdens, those pains. Some base level of insecurity, distrust, and fear. We do that. Not the world. We simply see the world through the lens of that insecurity, that wound. But, it’s a choice.

To choose to let it go. To die. To no longer be the person defined by that pain, that wound, that suffering, that distrust, that disconnection. To die and be born anew like a brand new baby. To see the world and myself anew.

This is unconditional love. This is unconditional surrender. This is unconditional trust and confidence that cannot ever be taken from you by anyone or anything. This is the supreme spiritual attainment and achievement that is no-achievement, no-attainment. This is why spiritual heroes can move entire peoples and the tide of history to a higher truth and love.

This is being with life without inserting myself into it every single moment. Just like a dance where the less self-conscious I am, the more I can dance freely and naturally.

Take the leap.


“You’re just like a white person”

When I was in college, a friend told me, “Peter, you’re just like us, you know a white person”. She meant it as a compliment. Our group of friends were all white apart from two of us Asian folks who according to her, were just like the other white people.

Although she intended well, it left a indelible mark on me. What did that statement mean? On the surface, it meant I have similar interests and background as them. I was sort of middle class, educated, and spoke the way they spoke. My race as Asian American did not stick out to them. But, of course, if I truly was like a white person then there would be no need to tell me that I was just like them.

The underlying insinuation in that “you’re just like us” means that if I start asserting my race in unacceptable ways then I’m a problem. My race is a problem. Don’t mention your race and then it’s okay. Be just like us and then you’re accepted but always different.

The burden that people of color suffer from is that we never get to choose to reveal our race. It’s always the first thing people notice. And with that noticing of race, there’s a cascade of assumptions and expectations. We never get to be individuals first. We are first and foremost our race.

Even those people who go abroad and face racism abroad as an “US American” or a white person don’t truly know what it is like. Because they can always go back home. They always have a normal home where they are truly like everyone else. Truly as in no one has to tell them “you’re just like us”. They weren’t raised always being different for reasons outside their control.

The one question Asians always get from people:
“Where do you come from?”
Well, I just moved from Philadelphia.
“No, I mean what country did you come from?”

Saying I was born in the US is never enough in a way that other white people never have to face.

I’ve had other women tell me, “You’re not like most Asian men I meet.” They also mean it as a compliment. The sense that I’m social, have odd interests, and can lead a group. Or, to put it another way, I can be confident in a group of non-Asian people.

To be fair, all of these people are well meaning and good people. The lack of diversity and real conversations about race are the problem.

So, what do you do instead?

One white friend told me once with a lot of guilt that he can’t help but notice I’m Asian first and foremost when he looks at me. It hurt me to hear that. But, it was also a relief, a starting point for further connection and conversation. He was honest, and he knew it wasn’t fair to me. And he had the courage to tell me. And, so, I trust him even more.


True Love Leaves No One Behind

Sometimes, I get angry at people. Sometimes, I watch other people getting angry at others. Sometimes, people get angry at me and share this with me.

Each time, there is this sense that this person I’m angry about is bad. I shouldn’t have to be in this relationship. They should change or go away.

How convenient. This is conditional love based on feeling comfortable and pleasant with others.

If we truly loved someone then we wouldn’t end the connection just because they did something we dislike or we consider wrong. In true love, we stay in the connection. Even if that means cutting off ties with the person, it’s done from a place of awareness and seeing the person rather than reactivity and turning away. It’s possible to care for someone and end contact with them because it’s what’s best for both of you.

A good parent doesn’t stop taking care of their child when it becomes uncomfortable. Even when there’s exhaustion and frustration. Likewise, a good pet owner doesn’t stop taking care of their pet just because it’s the middle of the night. A good friend doesn’t stop being there just because it’s uncomfortable.

So, if I lose that sense of care and love for someone, I know that I’m in deluded and in reactivity to some degree. I’m attached to myself. I’m attached to not feeling uncomfortable, to not seeing my values and beliefs challenged.

Of course, there are extremes. No one deserves to have violence upon them. No one should stay in a relationship with an abusive partner or where it’s bad for both people in the long run. But, we already know that. The question is those tiny little things we do to each other and how we relate to each other.

If we truly loved someone then we would tell them the impact they are having on us when they do something we dislike or disagree with. But, all too often, we simply don’t say anything because we don’t want to have a confrontation. And, so, that person loses out on valuable feedback, and we inhibit our own wisdom and love.


10 Habits of a Monastic Academy

Today’s society is focused on individualism. We celebrate enterprising, unique selves. We associate becoming wealthy as having the freedom to only do what we want to do and only with the people we want to do it with. Hence gated communities, addiction to smartphones, and lack of community.

Recently, I had a conversation with a mindfulness instructor for kids. We are trying to build online apps for other mindfulness folks so they can reach more students with their own online program. She asked whether it would be possible to have each student use the app? We have found that having the teacher and students practice together at the same time as a classroom has the most impact for everyone. People are social creatures and tend to follow along with their peers for better and for worse. So, it’s better to have everyone begin the new habit of mindfulness together before they can do it on their own.

It’s definitely my experience with mindfulness. I practiced in groups for most of the past ten years. Likewise, most good teachers still go to other teachers’ classes. Every good coach has a coach.

The power of groups, group habits, and group schedule is alien to most of modern culture outside of elite group organizations like professional sports, military, or religions.

Living in the Monastic Academy for over a year now, there’s a lot of good habits I acquired on day 1 just because it was part of the schedule. And like those kids practicing everyday together in the classroom, I’ve been practicing these habits until they became natural.

Here, I’m just going to list out ten of the many habits here:

1) Meditation.

Obviously. We practice on average 181 hours every month of formal sitting practice. It doesn’t matter how I feel, we always sit in the morning and evening. And we do one retreat each month. These days, I’m happy to sit in a park outside on my free time rather than busy myself on a screen.

2) Physical Exercise

We have a dedicated morning hour to exercise. I do a mix of body weight exercises, dumb bell lifting exercises, yoga & tai chi movements, and going on hikes. My current benchmark is being able to do 100+ pushups in a given hour along with 30+ pullups. After a decade, I can finally do pistol squats or one-legged squats.

3) Minimalism, Frugality, & Simplicity

A lot of people buy stuff to cope with feeling bad. They call it retail therapy. But we have very little space here for personal items. I sold or gave away most of my belongings including dozens of books and all my furniture before coming here. We don’t have any income and rely on others to decide a lot of things for us. For example, one person here does all the food shopping so whatever he gets is what I eat. Not having to think about it is such a relief. Just accepting what is available is enough.

4) Giving and receiving feedback

Our training is about continually giving and receiving feedback from each other. As a small community, we are always rubbing shoulders with each other in our work, practice, and life. It’s impossible to distance yourself from anyone here. So, you quickly realize the easiest and best way to eliminate suffering is to just give direct feedback and also take in direct feedback without getting uptight about it.

5) Cleanliness and Neatness

We are sticklers for cleanliness and neatness. We consider it a privilege and a honor to be able to live here. We don’t pay rent here. We rely on others to survive and so we don’t get attached to our desks, our beds, or any of our spaces as “mine”. We know that all of it is common property so we always clean and tidy up our spaces. We clean the entire place every day. And if anyone has a dirty space then they get feedback.

6) Circling

Circling is a relational meditation practice between two people or a group. It’s been a transforming practice for me over the last two years. I get to lead at least two nights each month devoted to circling with my fellow monastics. We’ve been progressively going deeper, and it’s very satisfying to lead them.

7) Eating organic, local, and vegan foods

Almost all the food we buy is vegan, organic, and when possible, local. We joke that our food isn’t always that diverse. Often, it’s a soup, rice, salad, and fruit. But, it often tastes much better than restaurant food.

8) Punctuality

We take our schedule seriously. It’s a relief to not have to rely on ourselves all the time but can rely on the schedule and others to keep going. Everyone learns the value of being effective in their work and being on time because it impacts everyone.

9) Wake up Early

Again, the schedule. I regularly wake up before 5am. I almost never sleep in past 8am even back home with my parents.

10) No electronics

We have a rule of no electronics until after breakfast and no electronics starting with evening practice. So, a solid 8+ hours of the day is spent without looking at any digital screen whatsoever.

Two Extras:

11) Get important things done

As a non-profit, monastery, and community, we are always doing many projects. Most of the time, the projects are just beyond our experience, but we learn and get it done somehow. It’s very satisfying to be happy to do the work I’m doing. To feel a sense of purpose such that I don’t get paid anything and still want to do it.

12) Let things go

We practice every evening and retreat every month. It took me a long, long time to being able to continually drop everything and just do my meditation practice. To let things go. To remember the freedom to choose what I concentrate on is more important than anything else. The freedom to choose to stop thinking about something and let it go.

So, that’s just some of the positive habits that come about starting day 1 here. The easiest way to change and instill good habits? Join a good community. Even better, join us.


Some joy is better than none

Sometimes, we all have to do things we don’t like. For example, a business meeting, a car accident, or filing taxes are all annoying but necessary parts of modern life.

Rather than holding tight and pushing through these experiences with suffering, it’s possible to choose a different way.

Recently, I was involved in a meeting that I felt was pointless. I practiced my mindfulness to stay present and relaxed with my experience. I realized that I have a pattern of entering unknown experiences oftne with doubt, skepticism, and impatience until proven wrong. This could mean being with a new teacher, a new practice, or new initiative.

For this meeting, I already had a skepticism and doubt about the topic and facilitator. It was a busy time for the organization with a lot of deadlines and work to be done. I thought I would do far better work on my own than attend this meeting. But I had to be there. So, as long as I stuck to this skeptical view, I was guaranteed to have a bad time. As long as I stay disengaged until convinced otherwise, I definitely wouldn’t have a good time or learn anything.

That’s kind of nice. It’s nice to have a pessimistic perspective on life and then be proven right precisely because I made it happen that way. Destroying things doesn’t really require that much work. But, in the long run, the only joy you feel is the self-satisfaction that life sucks. Not so great, right?

On the other hand, I could choose to acknowledge that I held doubts about this meeting. I doubted whether it would be as good as it should be. But, I had a choice. I could choose to accept this meeting for what it was and try to maximize what value, benefit, and fun I could have with it. The meeting itself was mandatory so I couldn’t walk out without worse consequences. But, I could choose to stay open to exploring the benefits here.

And, I did have a good time. It still didn’t seem like a good meeting in terms of meeting its purpose, but I smiled and laughed and enjoyed myself. It was far better than constantly judging and being unhappy.