“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop.” – Rumi
When I was a child, I always felt awkward, like I didn’t fit in. When I arrived in the United States at age 7 with my family, I spoke with a heavy Filipino accent, which some people made fun of. I felt inferior, like a second class citizen. When I started 3rd grade at a new school, my teacher made fun of my clothes, because they were old and I had outgrown them, and encouraged the other kids to make fun of me as well. I began to feel ashamed that my family didn’t have the financial means to afford things that the other kids had. However, as I became accustomed to the new school, and made more friends, I began to feel less and less awkward.
A turning point came in the 6th grade when suddenly, one of the girls that used to make fun of me, walked by, pinched my ass, and said something flirty and suggestive. It became apparent that things had changed over the years and I was outgrowing my ugly duckling phase. My peers spontaneously decided I was one of the cool kids, without any scheming or intention on my part.
For years I appreciated the attention, having known what it was like to be on the low end of the social strata. Towards the end of highschool unfortunately, I hit another ugly duckling phase. It reached its zenith when I collided head to head with a friend of mine when playing basketball and my left ear was nearly torn off in the impact. I had the rear part of my ear stitched back on, but the swelling made it stick out awkwardly. One of the cool, attractive girls at school saw me the week after the accident and called me a freak, with a look of disgust on her face.
I was once again ashamed of myself, and in the several years that followed I did my best to compensate for, or mask the aspects of myself that I was unhappy with. To do so, however, was a painful burden. I was always afraid that people would discover that I was a fraud – that underneath it all, I was an awkward, afraid, writhing little child, pretending to be cool.
At some point, I simply could not carry the burden anymore. The mask felt like a 50 kilogram weight on my back that I carried around most of the day. Yet I was too afraid to take it off, because it was the only version of myself that the people around me had ever seen.
In what seemed like an act of serendipity, my subconscious mind, or the higher intelligence, steered me in the direction of quitting my job and moving to Bali. I shed all aspects of my previous self including my LA clothes, in exchange for a pair of flip flops. It was not a conscious, deliberate act at the time. In fact, it was only in retrospective self-reflection that I realized the true motives behind my trip.
Because people in Bali didn’t know me, I felt the freedom to be whoever I wanted. I felt the weight of my mask lifted. I felt so much lighter, so much more free.
Society has taught us to conform, and to be ashamed of our differences. I believe we all have a creative self inside of us that wants to burst out and live to our full potential, and it’s our challenge to let go of old patterns so that the true self can shine through.