How I overcame the mantra and learned to do it anyway.
My Chinese parents taught us that it was imperative to “save face.” No matter what happened at home, our biggest responsibility was to not bring disgrace to our family. And to always be good, humble little children who aced every exam—including any extra credit points.
Behind closed doors, my parents fought endlessly; in the midst of their war zone, verbal shrapnel would hit us again and again.
They attacked us separately, but always in symphony.
Whatever we did, we always could have done better. There was no margin for error. Asking questions was not okay. At school, I always played nice, even if someone else was being mean. I hardly ever raised my hand, except to read from the textbook, because the words were right in front of me. No mistakes there, no creativity necessary.
I learned that talking out of turn (especially when sharing a truth others did not want to hear) was like throwing an opinion grenade.
By the time I got to college, and I realized participation was part of our final grades, I would go to office hours to compensate for what I was too timid to share. “Why didn’t you say this in class?” one English professor asked, curiously. “You have such good ideas that the rest of the class would benefit from. I really wish you would speak up.”
In relationships, from the mundane to the momentous, I was perpetually afraid to share how I felt. If I’m not agreeable, I thought, then he won’t love me.
My quiet had become my armor, but it was a weapon that did not suit me at all.
I’m headstrong by nature. My rebelliousness and precociousness were the exact traits my parents and relatives tried to tamp down when I was growing up, because that’s just not how good girls behave. Over and over, I stuffed my feelings into an eating disorder that then became part of a heavy traveling backpack I could not unload. What I thought I was supposed to say or do and what I truly felt became so intertwined that I could not discern the difference between the two.
Eventually, I felt like I was plunging into cold, dark water where the light from the surface began to disappear. My soul tried to burst forth from my lungs, but the more I resisted following my truth, the more my life could only move forward in gasps and spurts.
Learning how to be me meant going against everything I’d ever learned. To not be perfect? That was like slapping my parents across the face. Twice.
I had no guidelines, no mentors, no one’s footsteps to follow; all I had was me, myself and I.
And up until that point, none of those people had been on my side.
How did I finally discover what was right for me? How did I learn how to be okay with making mistakes?
It started by unearthing my body and resurrecting my soul from the depths to which I had let myself be buried. Then I had to find the will to fight. To fight against the stories in my head, to challenge the myths I was taught. At first I took delicate and timid steps, to see what the responses around me would be. It was terrifying. I felt as though I were shoved completely naked in a dank cell, my palms feeling along the walls until I pushed a way out.
When I wasn’t met with extreme and undue anger or criticism, I learned to take bigger bounds. Eventually I found myself leaping through the air. I explored every healing modality under the sun, and everything I learned felt as though I were going through childhood again. This time, however, I was the mother and the father who loved myself in tender and nurturing ways, rather than suffering through the violence of bulimia.
Most steps were tripping missteps. The words fell out of my mouth in ways that felt like a toddler rolling through newly learned vocabulary. I persevered. I stumbled a lot. Bruises appeared. They healed.
Initially, most of my dialogue could only come through writing.
I taught myself how to look someone else in the eyes when talking to them. Then, I taught myself how to look into my own eyes in the mirror. I forced myself to raise my hand, admit there was something I didn’t know, and even to talk out of turn.
The more I pursued my self, the more I would hear this mantra repeated by the people in my life, “I’m really glad you brought that up.”
I started to see that the mistakes are where I learned the most about myself and about others.
Today, there are many moments where I still need to remind myself to let go and live free. When I teach a yoga class, I often share with students:
“This is called a practice for a reason. There is no point of perfection—your body is not the same today as it was yesterday, or the way it will be tomorrow. Instead, we can enjoy what the now is offering. Our yoga practice is about refinement: losing our balance and gaining it again, finding our places of power and areas that could be strengthened, discovering where we have freedom and where the energy could flow a bit more smoothly. It’s not perfection, it’s a practice.”
After all, every expert started as a novice.
These days, I make mistakes. I even make them in front of other people. It has offered me a sense that I’m human. And, because I’ve learned to laugh it off, not take myself so seriously and rebound with valuable life lessons in my heart, it also affirms that I’m divine.
Now, I give myself permission to get it wrong all the time.
By letting that process happen, I often end up getting it all right.
Judy Tsuei has explored the world as a Registered Yoga Teacher, Reiki Master Practitioner, and travel writer dallying in spots like Shanghai, Brasil, Fiji, and Mexico. She is a Cozy Luminary Brand Ambassador for Cozy Orange Yoga Apparel and contributes regularly to MindBodyGreen and Triathlete Magazine. Driven by a love of nature and movement, Judy inspires every individual to be strong, wild and joyful through her company, Hawk and Lily [www.hawkandlily.com]. Now, she’s crafting a memoir [www.judytsuei.com] that explores a battle with bulimia, what it means to be in the hyphen between Asian and American, and how to thrive blissfully both on- and off-the-mat.
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