As I brisk-walk out of my house this morning to catch the 8.12am bus to work—which is always a few minutes late or early, never on time—I am very suddenly seized with anxiety: I need a hobby.
I had spent the morning slowly letting myself wake up. I sat cross-legged before the tall mirror on my bedroom floor, gazing at the reflection of the mess of furnishings—perfectly scattered form—in my dimly lit room, starkly—but not intrusively—eclipsed by the outside trees swaying in the mellow morning sun, peeking through the kaleidoscope colored stained glass windows above my cupboards. They invited me to sit and watch them. So, I did for a little while.
I then walked to our upstairs kitchen—the small, cozy space shared by eight twenty-something year-olds whose paths somehow converged in Los Angeles—where I can often find a few of my housemates preparing breakfast or work lunches, listening to podcasts, brewing various forms of caffeine, and engaging in light start-of-the-day conversation. The atmosphere was thick, saturated with laughter, the shameless teasing of a jazztronica bassline, the smell of coffee, eggs and tortillas softly sizzling on a pan, the sensuous caresses of a Californian autumn breeze that found its way through the gaps in our kitchen windows, the unoppressive and seemingly perpetual sunshine holding our bodies close to its adolescent glow. A smorgasbord for the senses.
I am present. I am at ease with being. I have arrived.
I need a hobby.
I am immediately anxious. I am learning to let my thoughts come as they are. I do not rebuke this anxiety. I do not try to suppress or suffocate it. Instead, I sit with it. Ask it questions. Try to understand it.
I want a hobby because I do not feel productive or fulfilled. I feel restless.
Productivity as a virtue has been embedded in me from birth: it is the mark of every satisfactory child, student, citizen, and worker. This was reinforced by four years in an undergraduate academic culture that emphasized accumulation and achievement. All my outward and inward movements have, for years, been motivated towards more: gaining more knowledge, acquiring more experience, becoming more established in my talents, skills, and social standing.
It has also driven my urgency to do more for those around me. This addiction with progress has also been entwined with my pursuit of justice and equity, of the ideal world I want to shape. Throughout my time in college, I threw myself into leadership roles in multicultural student societies and involvement in various advocacy groups and protests in the city. I powered on the desire to do something with myself, with those ideals; I was being driven by anger and discontent, and very certainly, by the fear that, if I were to pause and breathe, I would no longer feel the sense of fulfillment I believed I was gaining from the pursuit. Maybe I was also afraid of what I would find if I let my mind become silent. I was doing, doing, doing, and dying a daily spiritual death.
A critical turning point came early this year—a separate story to tell. The process was, and is uncomfortable, sometimes painful, always healing. Being and serving in LA has given me the space to breathe, to grow further and deeper into knowing myself more intimately, to truly focus on the experience of living—not only in relationship with my fellow corps members and co-workers, or in such a vibrant city, but more essentially, as human.
I am learning to lean into what is—to truly live in the present joys and fears—rather than trying to seek more, somewhere, someplace else.
Now and then, old ways of thinking drop in for a visit. This morning is one such time. It is a precarious journey being in daily confrontation with my innermost fears, insecurities, desires, and brokenness and, in the silence from distractions, constantly discovering the parts of me that have been shaped by forces of familial histories, the intersection of colonial-patriarchal-capitalist-religious structures, and geography, the traversing back and forth between the worlds I straddle—all of which I had left largely unexamined.
Sometimes, I find myself asking the question, What for? The writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti have offered me much solace and solidarity throughout the past few months. He writes:
…When I understand myself, I understand you, and out of that understanding comes love. We fill our hearts with blueprints for world reform and do not look to that one resolving factor—which is love. Love is the missing factor; there is a lack of affection, of warmth in relationship; and because we lack that love, tenderness, generosity, mercy in relationship, we escape into mass action which produces further confusion (and) misery… The world is the projection of ourselves and to understand the world, we must understand ourselves.
There are times when I become anxious that I am observing, learning, and living life: it feels decadent, like a sin, like the ultimate deviance to be taking my time to be and feel human. To live so fully in each moment feels like a blasphemous Fuck You to the system that has for so long conditioned my mind, structured my days, my sense of time and space, my hopes, my longings, that has for years, directed the course of my actions—but I am learning to embrace the tumult and the silence of each moment.
I am learning to listen.
I am present. I am at ease with being. I have arrived.
Voices of Service
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee Year and the Episcopal Urban Intern Program. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service. For more, go through our archives below