Finding beauty in the ugly

Back in March, I spent two weeks at the beautiful island Koh Samui doing yoga, doing pranayama, learning about Buddhist philosophy, and having a little (alot?) fun in the sun. It was a time when I was surrounded by beautiful yogis from all over the world–from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Ireland, Africa, to Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and Phillippines. The list goes on. I was away from the stressful city life and living in a place where the loudest thing you hear are the occasional waves that hit the beach or the sound of the fishermens’ boats sailing off for a night of fishing.

sunrise at Koh Samui

I enjoyed sunset beach walks, plentiful coconuts, nourishing food, meaningful conversations with fellow yogis who are obsessed with this thousands-year old stuff just as much as I do. I was living in yoga heaven and being good at it too.

Despite it being two short weeks, I returned to Taipei having forgotten what living in the city is like. Suddenly, people, cars, pollution, tall buildings, flashing lights, and loud sounds seemed so unfamiliar, and kind of scary.

One week later, I was in San Francisco visiting my boyfriend. Now, if you’ve never been to San Francisco, it’s a melting pot of all sorts of people. And when I say all sorts, I really do mean all sorts, not just by ethnicity. Sure, you get the European Americans, the African Americans, the Asian Americans, the Hispanics, and who knows what else, but you also see the tourists, the businessmen, the hipsters, the young people trying to pave their ways in this big city, the street performers, the street vendors, the cheap laborers, the homeless, and, more often than not, the crazy homeless. And then there are the different areas and districts. You can seriously be walking down a dodgy and sketchy street, and you cross the road to the next block which is suddenly filled with colorful apartments with little patches of flowers (nobody living in San Francisco really has a yard), cute boutiques and cafes, and the air just seems nicer.

I call the purple house the "storybook house"

Well, you can see how stressed out and distracted I was in SF after two weeks of paradise at Koh Samui.

I complained. A lot. And you bet it was getting on my boyfriend’s nerves. I complained that the buses are dirty, the streets smelled, that the local people seemed dull, fatigued, burnt out, that the weather’s too cold, that I don’t feel close to nature at all. I was sad because I was comparing everything to Koh Samui, where life is easy and the local people are vibrant. What I didn’t realize was that I was allowing myself see only the bad sides of the city, and that all I needed was to shift my perspectives.

Gradually, over the two week-time, I acclimated. I began appreciating the hole-in-the-wall eateries, the used bookstores that I could probably spend hours in, the cafes that feature creative coffee drinks and delicious homemade pastries, the small, local grocery stores, the friendly and helpful store employees–all these things that I loved about SF before but this time turned a blind-eye to.

So easy to get a good cup of coffee and good eats in SF. And yes, I am reading "Bossypants" written by Tina Fey.

And who said I can’t be close to nature in a big city like this? A trip to the harbor or the Golden Gate Park provedthat wrong.

The sun setting near Fort Mason
A path inside Golden Gate Park

Sure, the weather was still a tad cold for my liking (although now that I’m back in Taiwan and summer is setting in, I’m wishing the weather here could have some SF flair), but I was beginning to love the city again. I felt much happier now that I had loosened up a bit, and glad that I could still function in a city life. Living in the city doesn’t mean I have to be stressed out all the time (which, I tend to be due to my easily-stressed personality), because the real refuge is within myself. If I let myself find peace, then I find it. If I let my mind shut up about all the negatives, the positives appear. It’s all about perspective. Sometimes, the beauty may not be easy to spot amid the loud, in-your-face ugly stuff, but If you allow yourself to see past the ugliness, dust off the little gemstone, you suddenly see yourself staring at a kind of beauty that you didn’t expect to see.

That was what I experienced. I was criticizing so hard that my mind just set up a barrier (the mind is a very stubborn thing, you know) and wouldn’t allow a single positive thing enter. Eventually, the barrier cracked a little and a little light shone through. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns and butterflies, but it was something worth smiling for.

The greatest takeaway message I got from my trip to SF was from this little man working at Philz Coffee, a San Francisco-based coffee chain that is always bustling with tourists and locals alike. They have maybe 50 different types of coffee blends, all very delicious (well I haven’t tried all, but from the 3 or 4 I’ve tried, they were very tasty! :-)), but what really attract people about that place are the baristas working behind the counters. I’m pretty sure the requirements for the job includes being chirpy and happy all the time (actually, it does, just take a look here under “What We Do”). You couldn’t help but smile when walking out of the shop, not because you now have an awesome cup of coffee in your hands, but because the barista probably made your day. That one barista did. As he handed us our coffees, he bursted into smiles, “Have a great day!” I turned to say, “You too!” And then the unexpected happened, he returned with “Already having one!” as we were walking out the door.

Philz motto: "Enjoy your cup of love"

If everyone in the world wakes up every morning saying to themselves, “I am already having a great day!”, then wouldn’t the world be so much nicer? Without knowing it, that barista reminded me to always think the positive first, because once negativity touches you, it spreads like a virus.

While Yoga Thailand taught me the concepts of yogic living, it wasn’t until San Francisco that I learned how to utilize them and put them in “real life” perspectives (we can’t ALL live on places like Koh Samui). After all, life (and therefore yoga) is “99% practice, and 1% theory,” right? 😉

Advertisements