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I was never allowed to be weird. Not at home, not in school, not anything that would make me stand out other than to be stellar when it came to grades.
Yet, back when I was still in single digits of existence, I always had this sense that things were... different than everyone else perceived them to be.
I could see the undercurrent of what was happening beneath the surface of conversations among adults, the intentions that were being shared versus the ones that were true, the meanings behind the gestures that were made.
Adults would say one thing, yet it seemed absolutely apparent to me that they truly meant another.
By the time I was in my mid-20s, a colleague made a comment about our supervisor, "Do you ever notice that she has this weird sixth sense about things? It's like, she'll ask you a question about something right before you're about to say it. I wonder if she was abused as a little kid. I feel like most children who are from abusive households are extra-sensitive like that, as though they know when something's about to happen, since they always had to be on the lookout growing up for the other shoe to drop."
Her question stayed with me, because that's exactly how I was.
As the eldest of four, I was perpetually afraid for myself and my siblings, since we had no idea when our parents would go from happy banter to hellish brawling.
I learned to anticipate when to exit the room lest I be hit by flying shrapnel, and how to distract my mother and father from one another, so that perhaps they could forget about their argument, if even for just five minutes.
But, beyond this knowingness that grew from fear was also a sense of intuition I had no words to describe. I'd occasionally and randomly receive flashes of awareness, which made me realize that there were definitely more layers to life than the level everyone else around me was operating on.
Two especially memorable moments affirm this indescribable ability:
The first happened in seventh grade. Every day after junior high school, I'd go to my friend Megan's house across the street after I stopped by my own house to say hello to my Grandmother and to let her know where she could find me if she needed anything. I'd then walk out the side door, across the street, and let myself into Megan's front door where she’d already be making pizza bagel bites.
One day, right before I was about to push open the brass handle of Megan's front door, I felt a jolt of warning that started between my ears and vibrated throughout the rest of my body, "Ring the doorbell!"
I paused for a moment and shook my head. I've never had to ring the doorbell before. Megan knows I'm coming over. Why would I ring the doorbell now?
So, I didn't. I let myself in like every other day and suddenly, Megan's mom was yelling at me at the top of her lungs. She'd been upset at Megan for something else, and I happened to come in at just the wrong time, so that her anger seethed onto me.
"Don't you ever walk into this house again without ringing the doorbell first!" she reprimanded.
I more than remembered to obey her command, but forever recalled something else much more significant — I had known something before it had actually come to pass, and I didn't trust my gut and look what happened. I don't know why I knew, or how I knew, I just knew. And at 12 years old, that freaked me out.
The other incident was in college, when my boyfriend and I would regularly go visit his parents' house in Marin. His father loved me; his mother, not so much, but mostly because she only had one son and three daughters and in a traditional Chinese household, the boys are most important.
One day, we walked into the front door and his father greeted us, like he normally did. I stopped everything — breathing, walking, moving. Something about him was off, and I couldn't figure out what it was. He looked the same as he ever did, spoke as jovially as he ever had towards me.
But something wasn't right and it was so distressing that I actually couldn't look him in the eye. I had to immediately excuse myself and walk into another room to calm myself down. Eventually, we all ended up having dinner and my boyfriend and I returned back to Berkeley.
In the middle of the night, my boyfriend got a phone call from his mother who was absolutely frantic. She informed him that they had to call an ambulance. His father had had a heart attack. We immediately got into the car and drove to the hospital, only to find out that his father had passed.
Even though there was nothing that I could have done, I felt responsible somehow. Like I'd known a secret and didn't tell the people who would have benefited most from knowing. Maybe it would've enabled him to go to the doctor in advance and check himself out, or perhaps it would've given his children an opportunity to tell him that they loved him.
But what would I have said?
Smaller events, where I had a sense about things before they transpired, would happen repeatedly, but I'd keep it to myself. I thought that if I brought it up with anyone else, they would think me strange or worse, crazy. I had no proof for my "feelings," just that I felt them. It was the same sense as when I knew when relationships were over or not right, when I could anticipate what someone was going to say before they said it, when I would show up or make a phone call right when that person was thinking about me. Just a gut instinct.
In parallel, I'd also be able to feel a deeper sense of truth when people spoke to me, something that was way beyond my years. When I try to explain this, it's almost as though I can see someone else's real feelings even though it's not with my eyes.
I've had a yoga mentor tell me that this is a version of clairsentience, but what I think it is, is the fact that we all have these intuitive gifts, and it's a matter of whether or not we want to acknowledge our truths or live in a sense of maya (delusion) that our daily routines enable us to play.
I thought at first that it I was simply overcompensating for an unhealthy childhood in "pretending" that I knew things would turn out okay, or that there was a greater purpose out there for me. Something bigger than the black hole my upbringing subjected me to. But for some reason that I could not explain, I knew I wasn't lying to myself or to anyone else when I finally admitted, "I'm on this planet for a purpose — and it's a big one. I'm here to help people in a significant way." Over and over, I would be told by countless people that I have an old soul and it was no surprise when I began to explore yoga further that somehow, I had always known about this all along.
Yet, growing up with immigrant parents who are already afraid of the majority and unsure of how to navigate society for themselves or for their children, one doesn't often develop a lot of confidence to be different. In fact, my parents regularly admonished me to do everything I could to "fit in" and "be the same as everyone else." They lived in fear, when all I wanted to do, by nature, was be in love.
As Anais Nin once said, "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom," I began to outside the lines, to color with blends of various hues, to take the lead rather than sit back while watching everyone else thrive in their own unique ways.
The more I did so, the more I learned to be vulnerable and speak the truth with my own words, the more that people — and the Universe — responded to me in unbelievably wonderful ways. I was so welcomingly honest towards everyone around me that it encouraged others to share their truths with me in often surprising and spectacular ways.
"It's kind of amazing," a former beau had said after watching me in group situations. "People tell you things — really personal things — and they barely even know you."
I told him that by taking that first step, offering a part of myself that few would be willing to share, it created a sense of sacredness that invited others to step into deeper ways of being with me. By doing so, people remembered me and I remembered details about them, so that when we met again, they were more than willing to go the extra mile for me, as I did with them.
This is how I've become a travel writer and explored the world, how I've come into contact with celebrities and notable individuals in industries that support the growth of my careers, how I have anecdotes that make my life worth re-telling. This is also what I do when I teach a yoga class, to create a safe space that enables everyone to explore themselves and perhaps potentially scary parts of their lives in a way that is hopeful and helpful.
As Brene Brown, now renowned for her talks on vulnerability shared in one of my favorite podcasts, On Being, "... maybe one of the deepest paradoxes about vulnerability... is when I meet you, vulnerability is a very first thing I try to find in you and it's the very last thing I want to show you in me... it's the glue that holds connection together."
Now, it turns out I'm not so weird after all. Instead, I've embraced my nature and found my calling. I dove into the "woo-woo" and made it "whoo-hoo!" for me. I write with an open heart in all my honesty, I teach from what I know, I offer Reiki that has turned naysayers of energy healing into potential believers. I'm also lucky to live in a city that nurtures this type of exploration, where most of my friends are yoga teachers, holistic healthcare practitioners, acupuncturists, homeopaths, energy workers, and onwards, so that being different is now only a matter of degrees.
As friends share stories of all sorts of activities that are anything but mainstream, I get excited when they invite me too. In the end, what we're all doing is practicing what e.e. cummings shared, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else is to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
I will never, ever stop fighting.