Children of Immigrants

When I look at other young men and women around my age, I realize that the majority of people in my generation are first generation Canadians. Our parents have immigrated here from back home to give us a better life, and this is not just families who grew up in Sri Lanka, but from other Asian and South Asian countries as well. My sister and I, like many others, were born and raised in Canada. The environment that we grew up in was mixed between learning about our culture and learning to blend in with the other children our age. When you’re young, you don’t notice things like differences in religion or culture.

Because my sister and I were born and raised here, we were able to learn English as our first language. Oftentimes my dad would phone or text me while he was at work to ask if I could proofread an email he needed to type out or how to spell a certain word. I grew up reading the manuals for new home appliances that we would buy or read out Ikea instructions for my parents so that they could understand the complex language. I’m sure there are other children of immigrants who also have the same experience with helping our parents to install computers and cleaning viruses off the hard drive. Sometimes my father and I would sit on hold with Rogers for an hour together trying to figure out why the Wi-Fi wasn’t working. I typically offer to make these calls myself but my father always jumped at any opportunity to learn something new. He is now able to expertly deal with Rogers in a way that always give us the best deals and discounts on our home plans. I find that our parents have an impressive learning curve, which is amplified by the fact that they came to such a progressive and developed country while barely knowing how a lot of things worked.

My parents always made every effort to make me feel like the other kids around my age. Growing up, we would celebrate American holidays like Thanksgiving as well as other religious holidays such as Christmas. During Thanksgiving we would sit down for a family meal, sometimes catch a movie, or embark on an adventure in downtown Toronto, if weather permitted. The Christmases that I remember were always filled with presents under a tree. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, we would unearth the plastic fir tree from the basement and spend time together decorating it with ornaments and candy canes. My childhood was spent leaving out milk and sugar cookies while waiting up for Santa Claus every year until I realized that Santa wasn’t real. Even though we don’t carry the same traditions now that everyone is older, we still string lights up outside the front of the house and have Christmas dinner together as a family. It wasn’t until later in my young life that I realized Christmas is a religious holiday, one that we don’t really need to celebrate as a Hindu family. Despite that, my parents still wanted my sister and I participate in the wide-spread festivities.

There are other days such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween that weren’t really holidays, but were still a cause for celebration among other American families. My parents did not really understand the concept behind these days merely because they were not typical holidays that were celebrated back home. Regardless of that, they did their best to ensure that we were able to participate in customs that other children were also taking part in. My mother would go Valentine shopping with me and help me write out cards for all of my classmates back in elementary school. She would make sure that I had one card for each classmate and sometimes a small dollar chocolate to go along with it. If I had not participated in these activities, then perhaps I would have been ostracized by the other children for not taking part in something that all the other kids were doing. Halloweens were special days because of all the fun I had dressing up as a witch or a clown or an undead zombie. My mom would help me paint my face with fake blood and gashes and send me off to school in full costume, and my dad would volunteer to take us around the neighborhood for Trick-or-Treating. I’m grateful that I was able to have this experience as a child. It helped me feel like a part of something bigger, even if it was something that my parents didn’t understand.

I realize that as we all grew older, we developed our own personalities and our own distinct opinions. Typically, people my age have a very Westernized mindset since the large majority of us grew up in a Western world. Our parents still carry their old fashioned Eastern ideals, since that is what they have known for most of their lives. There’s a gap between what we think is acceptable and normal, versus what our parents think is acceptable and normal. For example, our parents would not often mingle with the opposite gender in a casual setting, whereas a lot of children of immigrants have platonic friends from both genders that they like to spend time with. Our parents believe that there is a set and strict way of living, while most of us live by the philosophy that life is short and we have to live it to the fullest. It’s not that either perspective of life is wrong. The issue is that both generations believe their own standpoint to be the right one.

When I think about everything that my parents had done for me and given me as a child, I realize that they’ve helped me in ways that I definitely took for granted. Only now do I remember all the times that my mom spent her time trying to make out my illegible handwriting to type up an essay assignment for me on our old dial-up computer, or my dad making me help him assemble furniture for the house. Our parents should also realize that we do try to make them proud in everything that we do, because we understand the sacrifices that they have made to leave their childhood homes and start a new life for us in this country. I try to repay my parents in the small ways that I can, such as introducing them to new technology and teaching them how to use it so that they can keep up with modern changes. When I was younger I always wanted everything that the other kids had, and my parents gave me whatever they could. But it was after I grew up and starting working to make my own money that I realized how much of a struggle life really is. By that time, I learned to be more appreciative of what I already had.

I think that there is a lot of opportunity for discussion between us and our parents. Our parents don’t often understand our Western language and a lot of misunderstandings take place as a result. That being said, there are ways that we can bridge this gap. If our parents are willing to sit down and have a discussion about what is considered normal in Western culture, and learn to accept it as easily as they accepted things like Halloween and Thanksgiving, then that is just the first step to a better relationship between parent and child.

On the other hand, our generation will also need to work on finding the time in our busy lives between work and school to ensure that we meet our parents halfway to have these discussions. A friend of mine mentioned to me that her parents are very logical and progressive, but despite that they still sometimes don’t understand what it’s like to be in our generation in the Western world. Facilitating conversation is the best way to alleviate the stress and frustration that we sometimes have when we argue about the differences between Eastern and Western culture. Our generation has all these brand new influences, namely the media and fast-changing technology that our parents were not exposed to in their time. It’s up to both sides to set aside our pride and try to foster communication between us. Having an old-fashioned mindset is not wrong, what matters is your willingness to learn and progress.

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Ocean Breath

Ujjayi breathing: the act of taking long, smooth breaths as a means of both relaxation and energizing your mind, body, and soul. Also known as ‘ocean breath’.

There is something so meditative about the simple act of breathing. Think about back to when you used to run marathons for track and field day in elementary school. All I can remember is how the gym teacher would chant, in through the nose, out through the mouth, as we jogged lap after lap. At work I take the stairs up five flights from the lunch room to my desk and repeat the same words to myself when I feel like I’m losing my breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. This control in your breathing actually strengthens your lungs and your heart, leading to a healthier body. Think of ujjayi breathing as a way to mimic the push and pull of the ocean tide. You pull in your breath and with a whoosh you let it back out, like the sound of the waves.

Yoga is an excellent place to learn to control your breathing. The classes that I attend are quiet spaces where I encounter people from many different walks of life. I usually sit right behind a group of surprisingly nimble elder women who are there to bring some life back into their ageing bones. There are middle aged men who attend the classes to heal their back pains, especially after hunching over a desk all day. There are also other people like me, young professionals who sometimes just need a moment of peace and quiet in an age where everything feels like its moving at light speed.

The word ‘yoga’ itself is a Sanskrit word for unifying the mind, body, and spirit. The practice brings an awareness to your body that improves alignment, flexibility, strength, and balance. It brings you a sense of being comfortable in your own skin, and it teaches you to be patient and, above all, forgiving. It is said that people who practice yoga also learn how to deal with the self as well as deal with others. You learn to listen to your body and gently push your limits with every breath that you take, which carries over into our daily lives as well. We, as a collective community of individuals, need to learn to be patient and understand how to push without going too far.

The yoga studio that I currently frequent is located in downtown Markham, in a unit that has windows that face the northern and eastern directions. The yoga room is a large, rectangular space with two walls of windows and one full wall of mirrors. We enter the room and instantly feel the heat from the heated ceiling panels opening our pores and soaking our bones with warmth. I place my mat down, lay out my towel, lie on my back, and wait for class to begin. The first thing the instructor tells us to do is to always give thanks for the opportunity to practice yoga, and to take a deep breath in through our nose, and out through the mouth with an audible sigh. This is the sound of all our troubles and worries dissolving into the air as we sharpen our focus into the present. We then utter a single Om (more correctly pronounced as Aum) in unison with the class, followed by a silence.

The symbolism of the mantra Aum runs deep in yoga practices. The sound of Aum is in harmony with the sound of the universe, by chanting it you are planting a tiny seed inside yourself that allows you to tune in to everything that exists around you. This is how you acknowledge your connection to all other living things in the universe, with a simple vibration of sound that passes through your lips. Aum is a powerful spiritual symbol in Hindu culture that refers to the duality between Atman (the true self, your soul) and Brahman (the ultimate truth and reality of the universe). It’s used during traditional ceremonies, during rites of passage, and for meditative and spiritual practices such as yoga. It is thought to be the elemental sound associated with the creation of the universe.

It’s pretty mind-blowing, actually.

The instructor leads us through several poses once we complete our initial chant. We do a variety of warrior poses, sun salutations, eagle poses, child’s poses, upward facing dogs and, of course, the ever-popular downward facing dog. When I first started this practice, I struggled to do a decent crow pose, which is where you start in a squat and then lean forwards until you are balancing your full body weight on your hands with your knees resting just above your elbows. I kept falling over and feeling like the palms of my hands were on fire. My warrior poses were shaky and I couldn’t balance on one leg for more than six seconds. It’s kind of intimidating to be in a room full of people who are better than you are. That being said, it’s increasingly rewarding when you are finally able to breathe deeply into a pose with the correct stance and posture. You feel your breath permeating your body and absorb into each of your organs, filling you to the brim.

At the end of our classes, we transition into our final Shavasana pose, which is where we lie down on our backs with our palms facing skywards and take deep, ocean breaths. I always feel that the end of the practice is the best part. I feel the sweat from the past hour roll down my skin and soak into the mat. I relax my shoulders and let my body melt into the ground, limb by limb. There comes a point where my ocean breaths have become shallow and more spaced out without my realizing it. I tune into my body and listen as my muscles tell me how tired they are and marvel at how much I strained myself. Everything else just comes to a stand-still. You tend to forget what you were stressed about at work that day, you forget the argument you had with your friend/parent/significant other. Your mind goes blank and you zone out, almost until you fall asleep.

Finally, the voice of the instructor calls us back to our bodies. I wiggle the awareness back into my fingers and toes and blink my eyes open into the darkened room. We slowly sit back up, backs straight and legs crossed. We take a moment of silence before the instructor thanks us all for sharing our energies with each other. We then take a final breath in through the nose and breathe out with a sigh through the mouth, and say Namaste in unison to formally end the practice. We roll up our mats, put our things away and head back out into our separate lives. The hour that I spend with these strangers means so much more to me than the hours I spend at work or at home with my family. It’s the quiet peacefulness that you absorb into your body and carry with you throughout the rest of your day.

Yoga is for the people who want to bring a sense of balance into their lives. The feeling that you get when you leave the hot room and step into the refreshing cool air beyond it is like no other. Being a part of the practice helps me feel like I’m more in touch with my spiritual side. My breaths have more meaning now and every step I take feels more firm and grounded.

This is what I learned from this practice: inhale the awareness into your body, and exhale the doubt and negativity. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

If not, it can’t be helped

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
(Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969)

I first came across the Gestalt Prayer while I was in high school. The moment I did, it completely resonated with me. I couldn’t forget it if I tried, it truly stuck with me and became my mantra. It’s the first tattoo I had gotten and it’s the one thing that continues to hold me together everyday.

The definition of a gestalt is “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts”. It’s when something that is made of many parts is sort of more than just its pieces. It’s what I believe about soulmates, that when two people are so deeply and utterly in love, they become two halves of one being. In a way they are people who are more significant together than as individuals. This goes back to what I believe about the universe, that everything that happens in our lives is meant to happen for a reason. We are meant to suffer, we are meant to lose, we are meant to cry and meant to die. It’s what makes us human. We should be celebrating our individuality, but at the same time, we should also take every relationship and cherish it.

To live is to meet new people and have their influences in our lives. Not every person who you come across in your life is meant to stay in your life, and that’s the way it is. What matters is what you take from that interaction, whether its a relationship or friendship or a random encounter with a stranger, and how you learn and grow from it. Maturity comes from age, and wisdom comes from experiences. If by chance you meet someone who has completely changed your perspective or loves you for your unique weirdness, then that is a beautiful thing. Your mind has expanded and you are all the more wiser for it. Some people are meant to come and go, and if they go, then so be it.

What I have come to realize is that we are all in this world to be ourselves. We are constantly changing. Humankind is both independent and interdependent. We rely on others as creatures of habit, but we also value our autonomy. The prayer taught me to live in harmony with my whole self and to be okay with attending to my own needs before others’. It means that once we are self-fulfilled, then we will be able to help others in the same way, thus creating beautiful relationships. Once you are able to truly be at peace with yourself and who you are as a person, then maybe you will be ready to be completely selfless and help others achieve the same.

If I were to write about all the lessons that I’ve learned from the universe, then I would be writing forever, for we never stop learning.

The Universe

Every night I try to make it a point to look up at the sky and gaze at the stars. Of course I can’t do this on cloudy nights, but my favourite nights are warm summer ones when they’re at their brightest.

How amazing is it that we are looking back in time when we look into the sky? Every single star has it’s own story, it’s own surface that is yet to be explored by mankind. Looking at the stars always makes me feel like I’m so small, and it’s a very humbling feeling. You realize that you are only one small, tiny part of our great universe, barely having any effect at all. You realize that your problems are so insignificant compared to how big and wide our world really is. We don’t even completely know how large the universe really is, it goes on forever as far as we know. It’s so hard to wrap our heads around the idea of infinity, the fact that the universe might not have an end is so mind-boggling in its complexity that I feel as though my head may implode whenever I think about it.

The universe is so complicated in its fabric, it’s an intricately woven tapestry that hangs over us. I hope that mankind will always be striving to unearth its secrets, and explore further and further as our technology gets more advanced. We can’t be naive in thinking that we’re the only intelligent forms of life out there, maybe one day our descendants will bridge the gap between our world and others.

So every clear night, I gaze at the stars, hoping that someone or something out there is looking right back at us. I admire the patterns of the constellations, and hope to learn all the stories that they tell. I want to map out the path of the stars as they move positions and watch the planets enter their most visible times. The stars are truly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I hope that they don’t fade out in my lifetime.

The Difference Between Shy and Introvert

When I was younger I used to dread the days where extended family would visit our home to catch up and chat with my parents. I would always ask if there was a child around my age with whom I could play with, or if I was allowed to scamper back to my room after saying hello when they arrived. My parents laughed off my behaviour, telling our guests that I was shy and didn’t like to meet new people.

Now that I’m older and have had the time to understand who I am, I realize that introversion is something that very much defines me. I like to be alone and watch shows all day, I like to stay in bed for hours and read a book while I sip on some tea. With that being said, I enjoy a good party and I love to get together with my friends. None of that means that I’m shy, it just means that I sometimes need to be alone more often than what people may believe is normal.

Shyness is to be afraid of being judged negatively by those around you. It’s akin to anxiety, to be uncomfortable when you’re meeting new people . To be an introvert means that you prefer to be in a quiet environment, especially if it’s a mentally stimulating one. Many people get these two traits mixed up with each other. I’m often perceived to be awkward or standoffish because of my introvert nature. I do like to meet people but sometimes I simply don’t feel like I have the energy to do so. The most important thing to me is my own mental health, so sometimes I’ll make up excuses for my absence at events. I could be invited to something as simple as a catch-up session over coffee, but when the time comes I’ll fabricate a doctors appointment to get out of the plans.

I think it’s important for us to start being truthful when we can’t make it to an event due to any kind of a personal mental strain or issue. I understand that some people don’t want to come outright and say, “oh not today, my anxiety disorder is weighing me down”. Not everyone is comfortable enough to be so honest about themselves, and that’s okay. What we should be doing is starting the conversation so that others can be more accepting of themselves. I’m still trying to be comfortable in my own skin. I’m trying to stop making excuses for why I sometimes don’t want to hang out and just honestly say that I’m feeling too exhausted to leave my room. It’s time that we understood each other and are okay with our individual needs.

So to all my friends who I’ve cancelled on because of a doctor’s appointment or a random last minute thing my parents needed me to do, I really am sorry. I was probably just needing some alone time that day.

Religion

Religion is one of those things that people either love to argue about, or avoid all together. It’s a topic that’s led to wars and crimes against humanity. But you know me, I love to talk about stuff that makes people uncomfortable. I identify myself as an agnostic rather than as a Hindu like I was raised, although I used to tell people that I am the latter to avoid questions. To be agnostic means to believe that the existence of God is unknown and may always be unknowable. We’ll never really prove that God is real, but we also don’t have a sure method to prove otherwise.

I personally don’t believe in creationism. Evolution is what makes sense to me, but I know that there are those people who believe in both. Science and religion are often seen as opposite sides of the same coin but it is possible to see truth in both. Some say that the two are complementary as they deal with different human experiences. Accepting one doesn’t mean that you’re dismissing the other.

I always wonder back to when humans first started believing in a higher existence. Why is it so powerful that people today are still divided into religious beliefs? The three major Abrahamic religions are a great example of religious division. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all based on a similar monotheistic premise. Christianity and Islam believe that Jesus was the messiah. Judaism and Christianity say that Jesus died at the cross, which Islam does not follow. Only Christianity believes that Jesus was resurrected, while Judaism does not believe that there will be a second coming of Christ. It’s a little confusing, but the point is that these three ancient beliefs are very similar to each other, yet the relationship between them isn’t fields of daisies and roses. People like to play the “my religion is better than yours” game. Why they are divided instead of following one common belief could be due to a difference in how they interpret their religion. It’s similar to how Christianity is further divided into different denominations such as Catholicism and Protestants, each with their own varying practices.

I may not believe in God but I do believe in karma. It confuses me when people ‘ask’ God for things. We ask for better grades, a well-paying job, good luck for our children, but the temple is not a marketplace where we ask for things and wait for it to happen. I believe that we are supposed to make our own decisions and give thanks for when we feel that thanking is necessary. We live our own lives according to what we feel is right, and hope that through whatever guidance we have, we make the right decisions. We shouldn’t ask an invisible being to place a shortcut on our path, we need to learn how to take the long way around, mistakes and all.

People like to have something to believe in, we want to know that there is someone out there who is looking after us, because to know that we are completely alone in the universe is a depressing thought. We like hoping that there is a reason for the good and the bad in our lives. Over the years we’ve all become divided in our faiths because we all see religion with difference perspectives. Some people believe in a single god, while others believe in polytheism. We can’t really judge someone for their beliefs, your faith is your own and no one else’s.

My Story

I grew up hating myself. I always thought that I would be the quiet awkward kid for the rest of my life. I thought that I would be alone, and that no one would love me because I didn’t love myself. I’m ashamed of the destructive thoughts that used to fill my mind, they were not pleasant. I felt ugly, fat, dumb, and like I wasn’t good enough to reach the standards of the people around me. Sometimes I think back to my childhood and wonder why I felt these things. I wasn’t bullied, I had plenty of great friends, but I realize that what I was missing was confidence and reassurance that I was okay the way I was.

My parents aren’t the sentimental type. I get it, they didn’t grow up in a self-obsessed generation like ours, so they didn’t really teach me how to love myself. When I was a kid I never really gave too much thought to how I looked or what I was doing, it was more until I hit puberty and became a teenager that I became more self-conscious, just like every other kid at that age. It’s normal to doubt yourself and to wonder why you look a certain way or why you don’t look a certain way. Maybe for some it’s worse than others.

If you knew me in high school, then you’d know that I had a ton of acne on my face. It was disgusting, to say the least. I cringe every time I think back to those days. There is nothing anyone can say to me now that will make me feel better about my face from that part of my life, and I’ve come to terms with it. It made me feel incredibly self conscious about myself, and I started to find other things about myself that I didn’t like. I hated how my front teeth were slightly larger than normal, it made me stop smiling wide. I hated my big thighs, they rub against each other and made holes in the thigh areas of my favorite jeans. I hated my small eyes, I always got huge framed glasses to make them seem bigger. I hated my hair, it used to be puffy and flat. There were many, many things that I wished I could change about myself. Like any other girl my age I wanted to be skinnier, to be smarter, to be cool, interesting, funny, social. I wanted to be happy, and I wasn’t happy with the way that I was.

Sometimes I would stand in front of my mirror and just stare at myself. Years ago, all I saw were imperfections. All the curves that I wanted to flatten out, all the scars that I wanted to hide. It was at some point in my post secondary career that I finally committed to clearing the acne off my face, I refused to be discouraged by things that I can’t control. Someone taught me that my odd teeth are endearing. Someone showed me how to dress to my body type. Someone showed me how to use makeup to my advantage. Someone helped me realize I didn’t even need makeup to feel pretty. Someone tells me I’m beautiful every single day. These people in my life have taught me to love myself, all of my curves and imperfections included. When I look in the mirror now, I see a young woman who’s on the way to loving herself in all her glory. I adore my love handles, I love my smiles, my wild curly hair, my slender fingers. I love my body, the way my tattoo wraps me in a hug and my curves that make me feel fantastic in a dress.

It’s important for people to start being confident in themselves. By loving yourself, you gain control over your life. Sometimes I still feel like I’m a bore, a bland wallflower in the background. That’s something I’m working on, it’s not shameful to admit your insecurities. I think that I’m a creative, beautiful person. I think that I’m a smart and caring person. I think I’m pretty awesome, and I’m proud of myself for coming such a long way from an insecure teenager to a confident young woman. I’m so grateful for the people in my life who’ve gifted me with pieces of confidence that have built up my self-esteem, and I hope that I can do the same for my friends who need a little extra boost. Just keep doing you, and along the way you’ll love who you are.

Nature or Nurture?

I’ve been meaning to write my thoughts on this subject for some time now, so I figured I’d finally try to put my mental babble into words. We all know of the age old question of what really makes us who we are. Are we more influenced by what we are taught, or do we inherently have traits in our personality that have been there all along? Take me for example, I can be incredibly stubborn when I need to be, a trait that both of my parents also possess. So does this mean that their tenacious nature was passed down to me through birth or have I grown to be stubborn from watching and learning from them?

I am often thinking about my personality and who I really am, something I’m sure a lot of us have wondered about at some point in our lifetimes. Exactly what events had had the most change in my being, and how different would I have turned out if something in my life had gone differently? If I had never moved from Scarborough to Markham when I was younger would I be more introverted than I am now? Or less? If I had never taken Visual Arts in grade 9 would I have never been inspired to pick up a pencil and try to draw something? If I had never decided to start a Tumblr blog, would there have been another opportunity for me to pursue writing?

Question: What do the above things have to do with Nature vs. Nurture?

Answer: Everything, actually.

If I continued to live in Scarborough for my whole life, then of course the behavior of my friends at the time would play a role in my personality. Back then I was a much more carefree and spirited person. I was a rambunctious tomboy who loved to auction off snacks at recess and played epic games of red rover with the class. The move from Scarborough to Markham had completely changed me. I retreated into myself, mourning the loss of my friends and the familiarity of my old home. I was very shy at my new school, a trait that I know I’ve always had but never really became more pronounced until after the move. Similar to this is the art situation. If I had never opted to take Visual Arts in grade nine to satisfy the required arts credit, then who knows if I would have thought at a later point in my life to try putting pencil to paper. Is my artistic talent now a result of what I’ve been taught from class and various tutorials or has it always been in my genetic makeup? As is with my writing, Tumblr is my personal space for when I write poetry and prose, something that I know I’ve gotten a lot better at over time. If I had not discovered the site, would I ever be as good of a writer as I am now, or was I always destined for it through my DNA regardless of how I got there?

See what I mean? Nature vs Nurture is everywhere. It’s such a crazy thought when it really sinks in, that something as small as making an account on a social media site or as big as deciding to pack up your family and move to the next city over can have such a tremendous impact on who we are. That isn’t to say that I don’t love who I am now, I’m glad that whatever big or small decisions I’ve made have led to me becoming my current self. And I mean, I’m pretty awesome if I do say so myself.