mindset shifts: life, love, and spirituality

- 17 mins

Here are some mindset shifts I’ve had in the past year, or realizations I’ve come to lately about myself and the world:

Not proving my worth to anyone, even myself
In high school, I felt the need to prove myself to others. I tried my best to differentiate myself to get into college, but also because I wanted to be different and unique. I quit violin and drawing even though I loved doing them, only because I felt the need to do things that I could uniquely excel at instead. In many ways, I sold my personality and packaged myself in a neat little bow. I don’t regret that at all and I still love everything I did, but sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I developed the different parts of myself at my own pace.

In college, I decided I was fed up with proving myself to others. Instead, I tried to prove my worth to myself. I pushed myself to see what could handle. I tried my best to not care what others thought, and I tried to define my own path. I proved to myself that I could do hard things and be the best version of myself.

Now, I’ve realized that I have nothing to prove to anyone, even myself. I still care about what people think, but the difference is that it doesn’t come from a place of questioning my internal worth and inherent value. I don’t compete with others. I don’t even compete with myself—I see my past, present, and future as one. I don’t do things because I want to be better than others, or even so that I can be good at them. I do things simply because I enjoy doing them. I only want to live with ease and alignment. Perhaps it has made me less ambitious, but ambition is pointless without genuine purpose and fulfillment.

Work will never love me back
Something I tell myself often is “I may love work, but work will never love me back.” I feel blessed to had the opportunity to pursue my passions and found something I love at a young age, something that makes me lose track of time and sometimes feel more like play than work. But at the same time, I’m careful of not losing myself, of losing the part that makes me, me—the free-spirited, wild child that is curious about not just my work, but about life. The part of me that cares as much about random silly things as about work. The part of me that wants to pour myself into people I love, as much as the things I love to do. I need so much more than work to fulfill me as a human being. I don’t want to be defined only by the work I do, but by my particular way of seeing, being, and doing.

The best thing you can do to resist capitalism is to love yourself and those around you deeply—even if it means caring less about work. (I’m not opposed to capitalism as a system—I just don’t believe that the system should entirely dictate how we live our lives, both philosophically and practically. Or at least, if we allow it to dictate us, we should be aware of its influence.) You cannot pour from an empty cup—you must fill your cup before you help the world in any capacity. We can’t build a future we love if we don’t find joy in the present.

Spirituality is humanity’s only salvation
As long as we exist in our current human form, humanity will continue to suffer due to our innate sins. Whether you believe the origin of our sinful nature is due to a spiritual deity or through evolution, we all have dark sides that never end. Even if we expand to other worlds, even if we have the best technology, even if we figure out how to never die and stay eternally healthy, we will continue to suffer because of the side of us that is greedy and has the propensity to sin. So, what are we trying to do in this world? I believe spirituality is the way out, although not necessarily as a dogmatic practice—rather, a holistic knowing and appreciation of those who came before you and those who will come after. The only way towards salvation is through inner healing, reflection, and transformation.

The futility in changing the world, and improving the world from within
I used to want to change the world. But then I saw how people in high-powered positions who wanted to “change the world” could treat people so poorly—whether it’s their own family and closest friends, or their workers. I recognize the moral gray area we live in–it’s impossible to try to optimize the good you do in the world. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we should recognize the futility in it all.

I also used to want to change people around me. But then I felt how painful it is to expect people to be different than they are, and that people will only change if they want to change or are somehow forced to change.

Now, I only want to change myself. Because I have learned that is the only thing you can really change. You can even indirectly change others, and thus change the world, simply by changing yourself. Just by being yourself, you are changing the world. But that is not the focus nor the end goal, because to focus on changing others or the world around you is difficult–rather, the focus is on changing oneself. Of course, there are systemic changes that the world needs, but I still believe the best way to improve the world is from within–that is the prerequisite.

True love is giving without expectation
I believe love exists in many forms. But true love (or what I believe love is in its purest form) is giving without expecting anything in return—whether it is attention, time, energy, presence, care, etc. I’ve never agreed with the idea of karma or religious beliefs that if one does good, one should expect to receive good in return. The expectation and transactional nature are what bother me. We should do good not to get anything in return, but simply because it is the right thing to do. To me, if we do good because we expect salvation from God or because of some other ulterior motive, that is not true good. Similarly, we should love not to get anything in return, but simply because we care deeply. That is true goodness, and that is true love. Perhaps that is overly idealized and simplified, but maybe it is that ideal and simple. Yes, boundaries are necessary, and sometimes giving love without return only brings a world of pain and heartbreak. But I think true love is what happens when no one else is watching, when one person gets sick and the other one stays through the pain and heartbreak, when everyone else leaves but you.

So many relationships are transactional and ego-based. Even parenthood can be full of ego—people have kids to feed their own egos and call their bond love—when in reality, it is not true love, it is out of a desire to fulfill their own needs, and not their kids’. I think that is actually at the core of a lot of problems in modern society—that “love” as people see it is a transaction, not a pure form of giving.

I’ve often wondered whether unconditional love even exists. The term “unconditional” makes me skeptical—meaning under all circumstances, regardless of anything, love persists. I believe unconditional love exists, but perhaps it is not a healthy form of love. I believe that all healthy love should be conditional.

The beauty and importance of friendship
There is so much emphasis on romantic relationships in our society, but friendship is one of the most beautiful, rare, and exquisite things in the world. To me, true friendship is like true love. It is giving without expecting anything in return. It is both parties setting boundaries, giving space, understanding the other’s soul, and feeling seen.

Emotional compatibility in romantic relationships
When it comes to romantic relationships, someone can be perfect on paper (checks all the boxes), but if they aren’t emotionally compatible, they aren’t the right person for you. Similarly, someone can check none of your boxes, but still be the right person for you, because emotional compatibility (which is more and sometimes different than chemistry) is difficult to pinpoint or describe. What you think you want and what is truly good for you can be quite different.

It took me a long time to realize what truly matters. What matters is how the person makes you feel, whether you feel loved and accepted exactly as you are, and if you love and accept them exactly as they are.

Accept yourself to accept others
Accept yourself for who you are, now. This doesn’t mean you don’t want to change yourself or grow—life is a continual process of change and growth. It means learning to accept where you are. Only by accepting yourself can you be more accepting of others. Acceptance is at the root of compassion and understanding.

Most people, including your parents, bosses, teachers, friends, etc., are walking around with unprocessed trauma and emotions. If they act emotionally immature, it is because they never had the tools to deal with their feelings or recognize their own hurt. Be compassionate without anger. Accept them where they are. They aren’t trying to hurt you, and even if they are, it’s probably because they were hurt at some point. You can end the cycle of reactivity and pain through empathy (unless they’re seriously physically or emotionally abusive, in which case, run). I used to crave acknowledgement for the hurt I felt. I used to be angry for being the one to change. Now I know that I can validate who I am, and no one can take that away.

Fall in love constantly
The best thing you can do is fall in love constantly. Fall in love with the world. Fall in love with those around you, the small moments in between. Know that life is full of love, and it starts from inner love and acceptance.

Life is a reflection of your inner world
The more you level up in life (which to me means loving yourself and others more deeply), the more everything in life will align. The more you work on yourself through the love—including doing the work to journal, go to therapy, eat/sleep/exercise, put your best foot forward in how you look/present—the more people and opportunities come. Your life is a reflection of your inner world.

Healing in the same place that hurt you
You do not necessarily have to leave to heal. I used to want to cut my hair, move across the world, and start anew. But even if you move across the country or to the other side of the globe, your problems will still exist, just in different forms. A friend told me that you cannot heal in the same place that hurt you, but I don’t agree. You will need external help, but if you can heal in a place that hurt you, you are golden. Nothing can touch you if you don’t let it. (This doesn’t include truly abusive situations.) I used to be so good at walking away. If someone hurt me, I could walk away and harden my heart to protect myself. But now, I don’t need to run. I can let the hurt come and pass. I can respond, not react. I can still walk away, but now I know that’s not the only answer, and sometimes not the best. Now when I walk away, it’s a choice made from acceptance of differences, not fear of losing myself.

If reading fiction is a waste of time, so is breathing
It makes me sad to hear people say “fiction is a waste of time”. It is such a joy to imagine and live another life through the writings in a book. And I also think it’s a funny thing to say–if you think about it, everything yet nothing is a “waste of time”. That statement reflects the values we live in our current society. I don’t think time is ever wasted, it exists (or maybe it doesn’t), and we’re simply submerged in time, unable to change it.

Life will continue teaching you until you have learned (or suffer the consequences)
Life teaches you what you must learn at every moment. You just need to be receptive to its teachings, or else it will teach you again and again, with greater and greater consequences.

The default in life should be rest and ease
I don’t believe in pain being the only way towards victory. I believe in ease. I believe I deserve to be at ease, that rest is not a privilege, it is a necessity. I believe we’ve been taught that the only way towards fulfillment and happiness is to work hard, but that’s a lie fed by capitalism and those who hold the power. We live in a world where people in power want to stay in power, so they perpetuate a narrative that there is not enough, that we must do and make more, and that the only way to a good life is through pain and hard work. But no. I believe the default in life should be rest and ease, not pain and suffering—although every shade of pain to bliss must and will exist, internally and collectively.

However, I love the grind, and I can be completely masochistic in the way I approach life. I love the pain of doing hard things—but only because I find it fun and fulfilling. But I don’t think it’s the only way, or always the best way.

I’ve learned (or I’m trying to learn) not to push myself and listen to my body. Recovery and rest are just as, or even more important than, the work itself. There are many forms of rest and recovery, and it can often be active, like stretching or yoga. Likewise, for the mind, active recovery can be journaling, making art, listening to music, spending quality time with people you love, and anything else that makes you more in tune with your feelings. Not recovering the body can lead to injury and chronic pain. Not recovering the mind can lead to burnout and chronic depression or anxiety. Not recovering the spirit can lead to a lingering sense of loss and listlessness.

Relearning how to exist in my body
When I was younger, I wanted to transcend my body and enter the consciousness of my mind. I dreamed of some cosmic entity, divorced of thoughts and feelings, yet a being of knowing. I dreamed of existing only as a mind without being tied down to my human form. Now I know that my spiritual form on earth is my body, and only through taking care of my body, can my mind be whole. Through doing this, I’ve learned that my mind is just one part of my being—an important part, but not the only part. I now know how breathwork unlocks certain parts of my mind, and how my body, mind, and soul are inextricably tied. Especially learning more about chakras (which I may not believe in but still find fascinating) and yoga, the body is truly a sacred portal to the universe.

Committing to something, someone, or somewhere isn’t always a loss of freedom
Commitment isn’t a loss of freedom. Committing to something, someone, or somewhere actually allows you to invest yourself into a thing/person/place of your choice, which can actually give you more freedom than if you were to wander around and never settle. I find this especially true in choosing what problems to work on. You can explore and try to open as many doors as possible–and sometimes, that can be hugely beneficial. Or you can decide to fully commit to a cause or project that resonates with you deeply, and see where that takes you. Sometimes the latter approach of committing doesn’t take away your options, but it actually widens them. In relationships, you can date around without intentions to commit, but to truly find freedom in another person requires commitment and sacrifice. Even in choosing a city to live in, there is so much freedom in deciding to settle down in a certain area for a while–you know where you’ll be and can root yourself in the community, thinking in decades instead of years.

Being an interesting person is being authentic and having a rich inner world
The desire to be an interesting person is by nature, egoic. I used to want to be an interesting person, to have a polished resume and a list of things I’ve done, but now I’ve realized that being an interesting person is really about being authentic and having a rich inner life. Each human being is already so unique and interesting. Being an “interesting person” is just being so authentically you, because even if you may have the same traits as someone else, only you have the unique combination and intensity of traits. Only you have seen what you’ve seen, only you have experienced the highs and lows of your life, only you know what it’s like to be you. The more you learn about yourself, the more there is to learn.

That’s why I love writing: it makes you realize that even if you were to live in a quiet cottage, you can create a full and interesting life. A masterpiece is already inside you, waiting to be uncovered. Whenever I feel a bit bored with life and want some flare and excitement, I think of Emily Dickinson, and how she created so many beautiful poems while living in a house with her mother. You do not need fancy cars, expensive houses, or exotic travels to experience the richness of life. You just need to unravel the complexity of life through observation and self-examination.

The art of detachment (or the acceptance of duality)
I’m learning the art of detachment. Sometimes you can only get what you want when you are willing to accept the opposite, because you realize that the difference between having something and not is tenuous. Nothing is permanent, and life is always shifting. You can only be rich when you can accept being poor, because you know money is an exchange of energy and can always be made. You can only be in healthy relationships when you are willing to be alone, to walk away from everyone, and be in your own company. You can only live a genuine and full life when you accept the possibility of death, of total oblivion, of the universe not caring if you were ever alive.

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