Because, sometimes, we don’t have to figure everything out to start something.
Because, sometimes, not knowing is part of the journey, and knowing how the story ends is merely an unwanted spoiler.
Because, sometimes, striving for perfection only takes the fun out of everything we do.
Because, sometimes, we don’t need to know exactly where we’re going.
Because, sometimes, we just need to be on our way: knowing that we can pack our bag and leave, but also knowing that we can change our destination, or stay longer somewhere, or… we can come home.
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to be able to do and be everything.
Because, sometimes, we can stop, or cry, or get frustrated.
Because, sometimes, we are allowed to feel tired and exhausted.
Because, sometimes, we can give up on some things and slowly pick up the pace to start new ones all over again.
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to aim for success.
Because, sometimes, failing is also an option.
Because, sometimes, we just need to try things out and make mistakes and go back to zero.
Because, sometimes, we don’t have to live the idea of a big flashy life if we’re not resonating with it.
Because, sometimes, we can live one tiny step at a time: to wake up slowly and smile, to sniff the rainy clouds and serve our simple lunch on a pretty plate, to fall in love and wash the dishes and be goofy, to pluck our brittle nails and laugh at our Pinterest fails.
Why do we have the tendency to feel guilty when we have to stop, to give up, to rest, to slow down?
Maybe because we’ve been brought up believing that to be ‘productive’ we need to keep going, keep trying, keep moving, keep running…
But sometimes, to travel further, we need to stop and rest to recharge ourselves. When things are no longer serving us, we need to give them up instead of holding on. When we want to enjoy the journey, appreciate the experience, and make memories, we need to slow down.
This month, let’s give ourselves the time to do all of them–when we need to, unapologetically. Let’s give ourselves the ultimate permission to dedicate this month for ourselves, so we can have the chance to stop. To give up. To rest. To slow down.
This was the thing that didn’t go as planned: we’re supposed to reach Munich, Germany, in 8 hours.
It was Friday afternoon—the first day of our 21-day road trip in Europe. We were supposed to pick up our rented car earlier at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, but we went into some last-minute frenzy and arrived a bit later. When we left Schiphol, already behind schedule, it started raining. With thunders.
We applauded ourselves for ‘leaving this rain behind’ and decided to adopt our happy, sunny summer mood. So off we went, accompanied by Despacito blaring from the stereo.
We should be in Munich by 7 PM. Or maybe, on the pessimistic side, 9 PM. But the reality was this: we didn’t reach Munich on our first day.
Entering Germany, we got caught in a horrible traffic jam.
I told D that the traffic jam made me feel as if I was on Jagorawi highway, back in Jakarta. I never thought there could be such a long and massive traffic jam in Germany. Sure, we started off in the middle of July, when summer vacation was in full swing and everyone was out with their campers and caravans. But there must be something more than this.
We sat in the traffic jam for hours: talking, singing, making jokes, and trying to find some means of entertainment until we got tired of them all. We also found out the culprit of the traffic jam: massive road works.
The good news was that recently, in June, the EU was set for free-roaming. This means we can use our Netherland or Italian SIM card to access the Internet without any roaming charges, all across the EU!
With the help of Google Map, we decided to find a detour—leaving the highway to avoid the road works. This detour led to another detour since the alternative road suggested was also undergoing road works and (un)welcoming us with roadblocks.
At the end of the day, we found ourselves being on a detour of a detour of a detour, driving along small and winding countryside roads.
That was when we realized that we would not be in Munich by the end of the day. Surrendering to this, we decided to adjust our plan and tried to find a place where we can camp, put up our tent, and sleep for the night before continuing our journey the morning after.
That day, we ended up in a small town called Frickenhausen.
Early in the morning, we left the camping ground and found out that the highway was not getting any better.
The traffic jam was still as bad as yesterday, so we had no choice but to leave the highway and once again, took the small countryside roads. This wasn’t all that bad, actually. I had to admit that I liked it more than the boring highways.
Sure, you would need to drive slower and it might even take a longer time to reach your destinations, but I love the view from the window of my passenger seat. The houses, the farms, the hills, the fields, the mountains, the charming old towns… I thought suddenly I understood the meaning of the sayings: the journey is the destination. It’s the moment when you stop counting the hours to your point of arrival; realizing that you are somehow enjoying these in-between hours to get ‘there’.
And then, I screamed.
I screamed when everything turned yellow.
We passed rows of sunflower fields!
Not many people are aware of this, but I have dreamed of standing in the middle of a sunflower field since I was a child.
For this reason, I love sunflowers. When I started a photography business with a friend of mine a few years ago, we called it Sunday & Sunflowers. We launched the business by sending pots of sunflowers to our friends and colleagues.
So, I was smiling and laughing and screaming uncontrollably when we were passing a random town that day and seeing sunflower fields along the way! It was like finally having your childhood dream in front of your eyes! Seeing this, D stopped the car in a quiet patch of road, and let me absorb the beauty of the flowers while jumping and dancing around happily.
I didn’t walk to the middle of the field, though, because the sunflowers were planted very close to one another and I was afraid that I might harm them. I just walked around back and forth sniffing the sunflowers and jumped backward in surprise when a huge bee was buzzing from one of the flowers, almost kissed the tip of my nose. I giggled. My heart was filled with a simple kind of joy, a simple kind of happiness.
Maybe, sometimes, things don’t go as planned because we need a detour.
Because maybe, if all goes well, we won’t see the things we would love to see, we won’t experience the things we might be happy to experience, or we won’t grow to be the person we could have been. Maybe things need to go wrong before it can get right. Maybe we are forced to go on a detour because we are too comfortable riding along the wrong path. Maybe it’s about surrendering instead of fighting, about trusting instead of fearing.
I wish you all a happy summer. And may you, too, find your sunflower field anytime soon.
PS. Could you remember a time in your life when things did not seem to go as planned; and later in life found out that it had actually help you to be who/where you are right now? I would love to hear from you!
Because you’re independent, and always seem to be so confident going about your days by yourself. Because you seem fine all the time. Because you’re the one taking charge when everything goes out of line and making it all once again calm. Because you’re the one that keeps trying to find the way out when the other has given up. Because oftentimes you would refuse a helping hand being offered your way by saying, “It’s alright, I can do this.” Because you always seem so happy and full in your own little world, even if you have to wake up and go to bed alone, every single day.
They called you a strong woman.
You, who forever postpone your dreams to ensure that the ones around you can chase theirs. You, who make sure that everyone has enjoyed their meals before picking up whatever is left on the table. You, who always let everyone else voice their concerns and opinions first, before starting to speak. You, who will only cry when nobody is looking.
You, who always be the one retreating from a relationship when they begin the conversation with, “I know you’re a strong woman,”—as if being a strong woman makes you immune from heartbreaks.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes wish they do not see you as someone strong. You wish you could rest because life can feel so exhausting. You sometimes imagine how wonderful it is to be the one others are fighting for, instead of being someone who is constantly fighting. You wish someone else would want to carry your life’s burden without you even asking, and not the other way around.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes wish you could shed some tears when you’re sad, explode in anger, or pour your heart out whenever you are in doubt. There are days when you feel like crying—but you simply forget how to: it has been too long that you force yourself to smile whenever you’re feeling down.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes want to cry out, “I want that!” and let others withdraw to give you what you want. You want to be a bit spoiled and stubborn, to have others give way to your will, not the other way around.
Sometimes, you want to be the one who gives up.
You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes want to admit the fact that you are lonely. That after facing such a backbreaking world, you would love to come home to loving arms, that would envelop you in their embrace. Sometimes, you wish to be the one being protected; you wish you could be this vulnerable being that would invite endearment and affection.
When a relationship went wearisome, you would like to hear: “I need to stay with her, I cannot imagine hurting her,” instead of, “She’ll certainly be fine without me, she has always been a strong woman…”
You, whom they called a strong woman, carry so many burdens, so many dreams, so many responsibilities on your shoulder. You, whom they called a strong woman, sometimes question the fact: that if you are not the one to be strong, who else could carry all these?
But, you, whom they called a strong woman—yes, you: you deserve to be happy as well.
You deserve a break, to sometimes be a bit ‘selfish’, to ask for what you want, to say, “Help me, I cannot do this alone.” You are allowed to let your tears fall without having to be shadowed by a smile, to be someone who is being kept—instead of being released.
Because you, whom they called a strong woman, you are not always as strong as they may think you are.
Recently, this was the first thing people said to me–especially if they haven’t seen me for quite a while. Then the follow-up questions soon ensue: Are you on a diet? What have you been doing, are you exercising a lot? Are you a vegetarian now? The fact is, I did lose some weight these past 2 years, about 10 kilograms all in all. Which, when you look at it that way, is not that impressive, really, as this means losing only around 0.5 kilograms per month. That’s quite slow–at least compared to the promises of various dieting programs out there. But, this is not the point. The point is this: I started losing weight when I had given up on losing weight.
For those of you who have been following this blog for quite some time, you know that I used to have issues with my body image. There were times in my life when I hated the way I look; and up to this day, I could still recall that memory of feeling ugly, worthless, unloved, and unwanted.
When I looked into the mirror, I only saw a girl who was overweight, with an oily face and bad acne, straight oily hair, with excess fat here and there and I hated what I saw. I thought I wouldn’t be able to wear a certain dress or carry on a certain hairstyle or following a certain fashion trend because it would only make me look even more ridiculous as if I was trying too hard. There were times when my diary was full of harsh comments I uttered to myself–again and again, repeating the self-pity rants about how ugly I looked, about how ugly I felt.
I tried various diet pills and herbs to no avail. I used various acne creams and capsules and went on painful facials but the pimples kept coming. Until a few days before New Year’s Eve 2013; when I took an impulsive decision to travel with a guy I liked to Penang. I thought it would be fun, to actually celebrate New Year’s Eve with someone, some place new.
We arrived in Penang quite close to midnight. On the ferry, we met a couple who was about to head in the same direction as we were, and so we decided to share a cab. The cab driver brought his wife along with him, so the front seats were occupied. Thus, the four of us squeezed ourselves at the back seat, but the space was quite small, so the guy I liked decided to have me sat on his lap, to give more space for the couple–as they brought some huge bags with them. After a while, he laughed and said, “Wow, you are heavy like a fat whale!”
Maybe he was joking. Maybe he didn’t. But at that very moment, I hated him for what he said; and on the following days, I hated myself because I realized that I had said that kind of things to myself too, quite frequently. Why did I hate him for saying the same thing I had been saying to myself when I had called myself names worse than “a fat whale” and had become my own worst bullies?
That was when I started looking at myself (the bullied self) with a wave of compassion like never before. For the first time, I had this strong urge to stop being mean and harsh to my body and committed to stopping trying to change it. If this was the body I needed to live in for the rest of my life, so be it. I better started to accept it as it was. Because it was too tiring, depressing, and sad, to call yourself names worse than ‘a fat whale’ and play victim all the time. This was the time when I couldn’t care less about my body. I decided to shift my attention somewhere else: my work, my personal projects, my writings, my arts, my love of books, cultures, and languages. I left my body alone. I accepted it but did not befriend it.
At the end of 2013, my father got a lab report presenting his high blood-sugar and cholesterol level. Good food has always been the heart of our family. And I have always believed (still am) that the kitchen should occupy the largest space in a house. But having that lab report changed something: we needed to alter our lifestyle. Yes, our. It didn’t seem so supportive to have me eating all those food we used to love while his options were limited. I looked at the long list of food my father was not allowed to consume (basically everything we usually savored), and the short list of what he should consume. This should be a team effort.
“Let’s do it,” I said to him. “From tomorrow, let’s start by replacing white rice with brown rice.” We did not reduce the amount of food we consume, we just made a healthier choice. More fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies, soup, green juice, salad, or stir-fry (with olive, canola, or coconut oil). Less red meat and more fish. Less coffee and more lemon water. Less sugar (now almost to the point of no sugar), less salt, and more healthy spices and herbs. Eat dinner before 6:30 pm.
I browsed through dozens of healthy recipes, along with some vegetarian options.
Since I went to Bali quite frequently those days, I started getting myself familiar with the world of raw desserts, and when I got back, I started making those healthy treats for my father’s love of sweet things. The only difference is that we’re using dates instead of sugar, butter, and egg, as well as unsalted nuts and shredded coconut instead of flour.
We have our weekends when we sometimes eat meat (but cooked it in a healthier way) or pig out on that delicious chicken noodle we love, but 5 out of 7 days, we were pretty comfortable with our new habit. My father started swimming again, and I did, too. Plus I did a bit of yoga (home practice by using YouTube videos–thank you Adrienne and Tara Stiles–apart from one or two Kundalini yoga retreats per year) and introduced my father to Lee Holden’s qigong.
Getting in touch with yoga made me feel more comfortable with my own body, especially because my yoga mentors were always highlighting the fact that yoga is not a competitive sport. Just because a friend can do a headstand it doesn’t mean that you need to do it, too. You just need to follow your own pace and listen to your own body, and it will evolve with you. You don’t have to compare yourself with others or parade what you have achieved. I love how yoga has become such a serene and personal practice for me, a time and space I can dedicate to myself every now and then.
I started learning to befriend my body and thanking each part of it every day. When I am in the shower, I talk to various body parts of mine as I cleanse, rinse, and wash them. I say my gratitude and telling them the reason why I am grateful for having them, then sending my wishes and blessing them accordingly.
This can be something like brushing my teeth and saying: “Thank you, my mouth, my teeth, my tongue. Because of you I can speak and eat and taste good food. Because of you I can smile and laugh and sing. May you only speak good words, kind words, may you only speak things that people need to hear, kindly. May you bring out good things and bring in good things–in the form of words, food, drinks, or voices. Be strong and healthy, my teeth, and bless you all.” And then I move on to the next body part: face, hair, arms, legs, stomach, shoulders, back… everything. I walk out of the shower feeling grateful, relaxed and refreshed. How can I NOT be thankful? How can I not look at my body in a different way, with loads of respect and admiration?
I couldn’t remember when it was exactly, but there was this one day when I looked at myself in the mirror and I started liking what I saw. I could really see that I am beautiful–not based on society’s or industry’s standard, but simply beautiful as a human being who survives her ups and downs and keeps marching along, happily. I hadn’t been weighing myself for quite some time–and when I weighed myself that day, I was surprised knowing that I had lost 10 kilograms. I didn’t expect that at all.
On the other hand, my father’s recent lab report has also shown great progress. All the alarming numbers have gone down, returned back to normal, and even turned out really good for the blood-sugar level.
These days, I do not weigh myself. I don’t really care. I have enough comfort, confidence, and positive body image now to say that I just want to live healthier and to love my body more–for whatever it is. I do not want to be measured by numbers on a scale. Do I lose weight? Yes, I do. How much do I weigh now? I don’t know for sure.
Today, I am measuring my body’s performance through the way I feel: do I feel happy and energized or tired and sleepy? Do I wake up in the morning feeling calm and inspired, or greasy and in doubt? Do I move a lot and create many things, thinking and reading, or lazying around a lot and wasting my time scrolling my Facebook newsfeed?
I am also getting better and better at not to let other people’s compliments or critics determine the way I feel; because what’s really important is not what other people think or feel about us–but what we think and feel about ourselves. It’s about looking at the mirror when we’re all alone and pose that defining question: “How can I love You more?”
Because at the end of the day, that’s the only question there is.
Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make and break the rest.
Love by giving it all out. Love by seeing it whole instead of seeing it partially. Love by loving it all in. Love by knowing that the person in front of you is made of mistakes and tears and wounds and past regrets, as well as wonder and wisdom, hopes and promises, present dreams and future longings. Love by seeing the other person as who they were, who they are, and who they could turn out to be.
Love by being fully present during the best and the worst of times, by bringing your highest self to the table first and foremost, by knowing that everything that is pouring out of you would be none other than love and respect, understanding and compassion, happiness and acceptance.
Love by knowing that people get hurt sometimes, that people have to go through their darkest days and alleyways, that some are trying hard to keep their heads above the water every now and then–and though wherever they are and whatever they are going through may not be able to keep the two of you together, you would still love them nonetheless, since being separated from each other does not make you love them any less.
Love by storing the best memories until they are ripe with meanings, by blowing away the worsts to the winds until they slowly disappear. Love by being honest about how you feel and how you want to feel, about what makes you sad and what makes you happy. Love by knowing that you can’t share something you do not have, by understanding that no matter how much someone loves you, they can never make you feel full if you feel empty when you’re alone. Love by asking yourself every single day, what would I do if love and respect myself; and what would I do if I love and respect the one I love?
Love by listening to the unspoken, by speaking without words, by seeing without judging, by being emphatic of the oblivious. Love by being aware that each word was spoken, each gesture presented, and each moment shared could bloom or wilt a soul; that it takes only a second of carelessness to leave a scar that would faint but won’t completely disappear, that it takes only a second of mindfulness to leave a loving memory that would spark someone’s inner light brighter than ever.
Love by knowing that everything is temporary. Love by knowing that it will not last forever. Love by knowing that it could be the first and the last, the best and the worst, the only one or another one. Love by knowing that nothing is permanent. Love by knowing that this moment can make or break the rest.
Love kindly. Love courageously. Love thoroughly.
“We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”
Even if our only prayer is gratitude, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only ablution is acceptance, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only service is being compassionate, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only invocation is words of blessings, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only offering is non-judgment, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only ritual is forgiveness, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only pilgrimage is being fully present, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only scripture is love, maybe it’s enough.
Even if our only way is peace, maybe it’s enough.
Maybe it’s enough.
You don’t need to offer anyone an apology for not being okay. You don’t need anyone’s permission for showing, owning, and honoring your feelings, no matter how far-from-okay those feelings actually are.
Don’t ever feel guilty for not being able to fake a smile when everyone’s dancing and laughing some evenings, and don’t ever feel ashamed for not being able to lift the veil of sadness from some of your heavy mornings. It’s okay to not be okay.
You don’t have to repress your feelings to please others, nor push away your sadness to comfort others. You have the right to feel whatever it is that you feel; to talk about it and to try to understand it in all honesty, unapologetically. You have the right to not be okay.
Release the tension from not being able to bounce back so easily and drop the pressure from not being able to snap yourself ‘out-of-it‘ so quickly–you know you would if you could. You are allowed to be sad; to cry your eyes out when you feel like it. You are allowed to be vulnerable; to reach out when you feel like it. You are not a failure just because you allow yourself to feel what you feel.
You are just being human.
And it is okay to not be okay all the time.
It was not Louvre. It was Musee d’Orsay I fell deeply in love with.
From one floor to another, from one alley to the next, those enchanting paintings and sculptures never ceased to amaze me.
At times, silently, I hovered around some visitors who were accompanied by a guide–most probably an art student–and eavesdropped as the guide explained the symbolism behind “the color orange” or “the appearance of a tiger” used in a certain painting.
I do not ‘understand’ art–though I wish I do. Eavesdropping the guide’s detailed explanations suddenly threw me away to another miraculous realm–where all shades, shapes, lines, tints, colors, brush strokes, hues, shadows… hide deeper meanings beyond what the eyes can see.
But the deeper meanings behind the paintings in Musee d’Orsay struck me on the 5th floor–where they exhibit the works of the ‘impressionists’, like Monet and Renoir. It might not be a coincidence that one of my most impressive moments in Paris happened exactly there.
I was sitting on a bench overlooking walls of paintings, resting my feet while looking at the museum’s guidebook. In front of me, a father and his son stood side by side. I guessed they were African-American. Both were dressed stylishly–very Parisian in a way.
“I don’t understand this!” the son, most probably a 9 or 10-year-old, let out a sigh of desperation. “We keep looking at these paintings and I just don’t understand what to make of them!”
The father turned his face towards the boy and smiled. He casually lowered himself so that the two of them were on the same height, and then he said, “Hey, man. It’s okay if you don’t understand. You don’t have to understand it. You just need to feel it.”
There was a pause in the air, and I realized that I was actually holding my breath.
“Now, here, look at this painting here,” finally the father pointed out at a painting and looked at his son once again. “Do you feel anything by looking at it? Just recognize how you feel about it. That’s it. Just note the feeling.”
“What if I feel nothing?” the boy asked.
“If you feel nothing–nothing at all, then just move on to the next painting,” the father smiled calmly.
That conversation was the first thing I wrote in my notebook that day. Later that evening, the conversation was still playing ever-so-vividly in my mind.
When the feeling has surfaced, actually we will only have two rhetorical questions left: is this the kind of feeling we want in our life, or is this the kind of feeling we do not want in our life? When we have come to these two questions, an answer is no longer needed. We just intuitively know.
And on those particular moments when we “feel nothing”…
are we ready to move on to the ‘next painting’?