nothing personal


When I meet people who have just come to Korea and they ask my advice, the first thing I’ve always told them is not to take anything personally. It’s easy to get upset living in a foreign country. We tend to think people are treating us like this because we’re foreign. Sometimes, that is the case, but after a while, you start to see that it’s the way they treat each other as well, nothing personal, just cultural. I remember my friend once commenting, “Know I understand how African-Americans feel!”

The nature of extremes is that we notice them more, give them more attention. Something I’ve learned through Vipassana meditation is to focus more on the in between moments, the 90% of our existence that we pretty much ignore while we’re busy in pursuit of our desires or averting discomfort. Being a foreigner in Korea can be extreme at times, it’s not that difficult to come here and say to yourself, “Hey, don’t take that personally,” and walk away. It took a little longer to realize of how many other things I didn’t realize that I was taking personally, basically the other 90% of my existence!

Being a husband, a father, a teacher, and a haphazard Buddhist, among other seemingly personal things, was getting to me. After the rather shameful experience versus the wall (officially ruled a “no contest”), I took a very long moment to reflect on all the different ways I’d been a total fool, leading up to the situation. Finally, examining the sense of shame itself, I realized I was taking myself too personally.  If there’s one good thing about having a shiny, red (self-inflicted) welt on your forehead, it’s that it can be deeply humbling. There wasn’t anything left to be ashamed of. It was like a reset button was pushed.

When you stop taking things personally, you can see how little anyone actually has to do with anything. Physically, we are the products of thousands and thousands of years of other people combining their DNA. Mentally, we are a product of our environment and experience. Anything we feel, think, or do is influence by something outside of ourselves, even our most personal thoughts. How can I take myself personally, let alone strangers, friends, family, what does any of it have to do with “me”? It took a couple of years, but I started getting a glimpse of what Ramesh Balsakar was talking about. Ironically (because I make it), his realization was also brought on by a massive headache! After three weeks, I think it was, he let go, and the headache vanished.

Since moving into a more sanitary, livable apartment, our lives has been very calm. I didn’t realize how much the other apartment was bothering EunBong. Whether it’s personal or not, our moods have a very strong effect on each other. Tonight she commented that over last couple of days, I seem much more at ease and relaxed and that it makes her happy. I’m wondering if I’m not that much more relaxed and at ease because, since we moved, she’s happy! ^^

Buddha on Ramesh's window sil


One response »

  1. Hi Joseph!
    It sounds like you all are doing well these days! (Except for an absence of hollow walls!) Are you still in the same area as before? Fina must really be moving about!

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