As I look back upon the years that fashioned me, I find a few consistent strands ever present and ever thickening. Today marks the one out of 365 days during which it has proven fruitful to reach back and trace these spacetime worms. When this practice first started there was considerably more chaos in my life. As the years wear on, I am finding that the tumult tends to pattern. It is reminiscent of that all-important phase in neural development that prunes connections between neurons in their trillions, the result of which is improved learning and communication between those that remain. And indeed, the image is pertinent as one of the primary events of the year involved a pruning of my social connections for the purpose of continued ascent. But the strands that have arrived to my reflection from the doorstep of previous years can be classified into the following cryptically named groups, which I’ll discuss in more cryptic detail below: vision quests, branch pruning, hardening bark, unfolding lotus, caveman desires, pollinator games, budding flowers.
Vision Quests: This questing after botanical messengers has always been a constant guide on my path. This parting year is no different. The bundled chaos of last year we have seen to its end. And in addition the fruit of the dead has been once more beseeched for further inspiration. But alas, this door to the undercurrents cannot remain open. Having learned what there is to learn and seen what there is to see, I will enter this new phase of my life the stronger and the wiser for the experience.
Branch Pruning: Several branches of my social tree had to be pruned this year, as with every year, although the pruning was especially dramatic in this instance. Even though I have attempted to analyze this series of events to its depths and have uncovered many themes that help to understand it, it will probably remain at its core quite mysterious. First, we can analyze the situation from the perspective of inherent personality types. Being more introverted by nature, too much social engagement, partying, and recklessness ultimately exhausted me as I have always been keener on reading and writing than mingling and schmoozing. Though I have always been a chameleon capable of blending in to any situation and have in fact quite enjoyed my days of frolicking freely upon earth and sea, I have been transitioning to a different phase in my life and so felt the need for more of a foundation upon which to launch myself as a professional. Secondly, the most pernicious but also the most insidious reason was the growing feeling that I have been living under a shadow, and that my development was stalled or halted because of an externally imposed rigidity. It had never fully revealed itself in the past when it was just the two of us and it took the reflective quality of a third pair of eyes to bring this stifling dynamic to light. Finally, a growing ideological rift, though at first bridgeable, eventually became too vast a chasm to stomach. This of course regards the philosophical foundations of our personae. In one case, this emphasized hierarchies that climb up and look down, and in another, lotus flowers that unfold out and look in. In the former, arrogance and narcissism are inevitable, leading to petty competitiveness and A-types. In the latter, confidence and authoritativeness result, and enable inspiration and teamwork. A departure was always inevitable. I had indeed foreseen it from the first days after clearly seeing that the paths we trod carried us along different trajectories, though they crossed for a good couple of years for the mutual benefit of what lessons carried from nether regions may be imparted to those traveling elsewhere.
Hardening Bark: The image of a soft green stem hardening to sturdy wood is one that resonates very deeply within my psyche and represents yet another continuing strand I can trace back to my earliest days. I have always been interested in cultivating the quality of toughening up in the face of the difficulties of everyday life. This theme gained additional relevance this year as I learned about the importance of tough love and discipline. It manifested itself in the experience of aiding other younger plants’ development by exerting pressure where it was necessary to motivate action. This should not be mistaken for a stern and disciplinarian approach at all times, but rather that this approach should be used only when needed and should be alternated with praiseful and rewarding approaches at other times. I also needed to further develop this inner strength at the times when I myself was tested. For example, I was dealt a quite severe blow after returning from my summer retreat to find my beloved vegetable garden destroyed by my landlady who unilaterally decided that this was not allowed and instructed her managing agency to uproot it. I understandably generated a tremendous amount of negativity in response and tried to fight them for what I perceived as cruel and inhumane treatment. But ultimately, I accepted it, barbaric though it was, and learned to be more resilient against the assaults that the world will inevitably throw at me. Another example of where this lesson found relevance was in helping my mother and sister deal with the tremendous separation anxiety and empty nest syndrome resultant from my sister’s starting college and moving away from home. This was hard on both of them and I did my best to instill a sense of hardiness. For a few months, the situation came to appear quite dire, but after a while they were both the stronger for it. This showed me how natural it was that the blows that life deals engender the requisite strength to face them head on, and that this requires no intervention on my part, but rather that I must play a purely supportive role in such circumstances and be there to provide a shoulder to lean on in difficult times.
Unfolding Lotus: A theme that is starting to emerge regards the continued difficulty in maintaining my habit of daily meditation. The vast majority of the year was spent without it, though I would occasionally sit when it was sorely needed. Surfing remained a good motivator to meditation as we had developed the habit of almost always meditating before a session. Nevertheless, I attended yet another retreat in September. It was powerful as always, and cleansing, though I spent a lot of time distracted with app ideas. On returning, I kept to the 2-hour daily meditation regimen for about three weeks or so. After that it all came tumbling down. I had a brief stint with herb for about two weeks, then my desire to get faded faded. Meditation came to a full stop at some point after I stopped going to the weekly sits a group of us at the center had organized for the first month or so after coming back. Later on, I visited a Buddhist temple in Koreatown with John and Dorrie on a Sunday morning, and this reminded me what it was that had attracted me to it in the first place and gave me a good opportunity to meditate in a healthy place with good vibes all around and the serenity of the six monks who were present with us. All in all, I am becoming much less hard on myself for these continued lapses, without letting go of the strand altogether. I have learned enough to make sure that I carry the torch of meditation forward into the future and that when it is time for it to light up the whole conflagration, it will.
Caveman Desires: This strand represents my desire to make something of enough value to enough people to get compensated for it. A key event that took place this year was that I read “Gödel Escher Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter and the ensuing reconsolidation of my interests around its central themes. In brief, the book tackles the problem of thought and whether this can be deconstructed enough to be representable in a formal system, and if so the consequences of creating thinking machines. The insights and profundities that fill that book to brim reinvigorated my interest in cognition and especially the possibility of utilizing machine learning to better approximate human minds in silico. In fact, my interest in Artificial Intelligence had already been on the ascendance, but this book served to give me a foundation upon which to launch my foray into that fascinating frontier. On a related note, my yearning to become a developer for the Android platform also began to be realized this year. This started with tutorials and demos, a few marathon coding sessions, and finally culminated with a fully functional meditation tracker application that I have been using to time and keep tabs on my meditations.
Pollinator Games: I have learned much about how to attract the pollinators this year. From the outset it had been my goal, and the opening chapters of the year witnessed me playing the games with a high degree of enthusiasm. At the conclusion of this phase, its results have changed my life entirely. To my lovely lady: I love the warmth and serenity of your smile and the light in your eyes. I love your obsession with socks and cats, or socks on cats, or cats on socks, or any combination of the two. I love your goofy clumsy charm, and your enthusiasm and vitality. I love your contemplative moments of awe at existence. I love your silly yet admittedly imaginative hypothetical situations. Most of all, I love the love that is at the core of your being, and that is why I call you my lovely lady. Our connection was always multifaceted, commencing with the sharing of much music and few words, a mangled coconut to drink and a beach-trodden foot to be rubbed, progressing into surfing outings and shared meditations.
Budding Flowers: This strand traces my growth as an academic and my progress along my doctoral program, which have seen faltering, and then progressively more confident, growth over the past year. Foremost, I rejoiced when I finally heard that my first study that I conducted at UCLA had gotten accepted for publication. This represents my formal entry into the scientific literature and is a crucial first step in developing into a professional and a scientist. Though it was a frustrating and at times soul crushing two years to get the paper published, I am relieved and euphoric to have finally gotten it done. Second, getting my thesis project in order after a few showdowns with my advisor, resulting in a partial resolution to the problems of the past few years, a pruning of my excess of projects, and the setting up of the thesis project that I will work on for the next few years leading up to my defense and dissertation and doctorate.
Verdant Upshoots: Looking back on the whole year, it can be summarized by recourse to my favorite family of metaphors. For its proper growth and development, a tree must be pruned of its excess branches. Similarly, there is much in the events of this year that represents the same in regards to my trajectory. It is similar to the snake doffing the skin of old to produce a new layer, or the butterfly that emerges from and abandons its silken womb and takes to the air. In each of these cases, an encumbrance is eliminated, in order that new growth may take place. Though we may have formed attachments and are in general hesitant to part ways with the comfortable, it is a process that is of the utmost importance. We must be wary of the stagnant tendencies of our minds and be brave in the face of these growing pains. In the coming year, I would like to see the trajectory that has been thus traced out continued, and so resolve to keep walking the path that has not yet led me astray.