Eye-Opening Moments Podcast

Episode 37: Not Until I Was Twenty-One (and more)

October 11, 2022 Emily Kay Tan Episode 37
Eye-Opening Moments Podcast
Episode 37: Not Until I Was Twenty-One (and more)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. In this episode you will hear about a moment of adversity called Not Until I Was Twenty-One,  a moment of an encounter called The Tiny Kingdom, and a moment of a perspective called The Meaning of Life Found.

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Hello and welcome to Episode #37 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan.  In this episode, you will hear about Not Until I Was Twenty-One, The Tiny Kingdom, and The Meaning of Life Found.

 A moment of adversity called: Not Until I Was Twenty-One
Many kids get lots of toys and teddy bears when they are young, but not me. I did get a few toys;  I got a toy with a handle on it and at the bottom of the handle was a circular dome on wheels. Inside the see-through plastic dome were small balls of different colors that would bounce up and down with popping sounds when you rolled the gadget with the handle. This toy was the only toy I remember having. I later got a doll from Mom, who rarely bought something just for me. It scared me, so Grandma put it on the bureau in her bedroom. Occasionally, I'd go into Grandma's room to look at it because it was something from Mom, but it still scared me, so I didn't touch it.

I wanted a teddy bear. I don't know why I wanted one, but I did. Maybe I wanted something soft or something to hug. Why did no one ever get me a teddy bear? Someone might say, "Why didn't you ask?" That wouldn't be me to ask. Even as a teenager, no boyfriend got me a teddy bear. And I never thought to buy myself one either. Anyway, it wasn't like something I thought about much at all.

And then I was graduating from college. My auntie, whom I was very close to at the time, sent me a big package as I was in college in a different state from where I grew up. It was a big box; if it were heavy, I wouldn't be able to lift it. Luckily, the box was very light. Before I opened it, I couldn't guess what it could be. My auntie told me to think, but I couldn't imagine what it was. Finally, I opened it. I was so happy; I couldn't believe it was a teddy bear! 

In all my imaginations, I couldn't guess that anyone would buy me a teddy bear. I must have told her some time while I was growing up, but I don't remember. She couldn't have known if I didn't tell her. Since it escaped my memory, I must have also given up on the dream of having a teddy bear. So, when I saw the teddy bear, a big one, the size of my torso, I was elated. The teddy bear was white as snow, and it reminded me of the white snow in Boston, where I grew up. Twenty-one-year-old me hugged the bear and shed tears of happiness. Luckily no one witnessed this because it would be embarrassing to see a twenty-one-year-old cry from getting a teddy bear. But I never got one before.

Full of joy, I saw that I also got a necklace with a gold-colored heart on it, and the chain was around the teddy bear's neck. I was feeling love and joy all at once. It was the best present ever!

But there was more! My auntie had folded one hundred one-dollar bills like fans and covered my teddy bear with them in the box. I unfolded each dollar bill to believe that they were authentic dollar bills! Being a poor college kid, getting a little money was exciting. That day, I got love, what I needed most. And I got money, what I needed in practicality.

Not until I was middle-aged did I buy a papa bear, mama bear, boy bear, and girl bear as part of my dream board project for a personal development class. I thought I had forgotten all about teddy bears, but the desire for a teddy bear didn't go away. I wondered, introspected, and found out why. I wanted a warm and loving family, and I never got it.  

But now I have my teddy bear family that is always there for me by my side. I wanted love. I think I got it on and off at different moments in life, but my boy (Richard) and girl (Emily) teddy bears, who are my adopted son and daughter, are my loves. All I want is love and happiness, and I can count on Richard and Emily to be with me always and forever.

A moment of an encountered called: The Tiny Kingdom
I arrived alone, wondering if it would be safe to meet with my tour guide and driver. After all, I was in a foreign country and about to travel with two male strangers. As soon as I came out of the airport, I saw a sign with my name. A small sigh of relief was that I booked a tour that existed. Next, the tour guide said his name, and we quickly proceeded to go in the car. I can't remember his name because it was a long name in a language I did not understand. This encounter would leave an imprint in my memory to be unforgotten. 

It was nothing romantic, but it was something puzzling. The tour guide's behavior and actions differed from anything I had ever experienced before. Each day, we were hiking up mountains from high altitudes. After only 5 minutes, I would be huffing and puffing and wondering how to reach a destination above me. I wanted to skip the mountain climbs, but each time I stopped to catch my breath, he only stood a couple of feet ahead of me, patiently waiting for me or on his phone doing something. He did not ask if I was okay. He did not ask if I wanted to continue, even though I said I didn't think I could make it further. He asked nothing of me and demanded nothing of me. I wished he would carry me on up, but he didn't say anything.

He wouldn't say anything unless I asked questions when we were in the car for hours bound for the next destination. I thought this was unusual for a tour guide whom I thought should be telling me all about the area. Though I asked as many questions as I could think of, he only answered me in brevity. It was odd; through all the bumpy rides and quiet walks, I felt a sense of peace I had never experienced before. My mind was empty. There were no worries, no fears, no anger, no hate, not even many thoughts. There was just being present to where I was and what was happening before me at each moment.

One night at eleven, while high up in the mountains, I received an emergency phone call from work to help solve a problem immediately. Full of calm and smiles, I quickly solved the problem, but it was at that moment that I realized just how much at peace I was because the call shattered my five days of peacefulness. 

Perhaps this trip was a spiritual journey for me; after all, I came to the kingdom of happiness searching for happiness. From my interactions with this tour guide, from my experience in this small country in the Himalayan mountains of South Asia, I found peace, a feeling of peace like no other. There were no demands made on me for seven days, be it the tour guide or be it from myself; there were no pressures or worries about life; there was only living in the moment.

Most impactful was not the initial encounter but the last interaction when I was about to depart from Bhutan. As I was heading to the airport in the car, the tour guide said he wouldn't say goodbye because that would mean we would not meet again. He stated that the world moved in a circular motion, and meetings go round and round. He said our meeting was no accident and that somewhere in the universe, we would meet again. What was that? I thought. Buddhist philosophy?

When I got out of the car, he too got out of the car and wished me well. I proceeded to go through the airport's sliding doors to the ticket counter. I turned around and saw him standing sideways. I was almost to the ticket counter and turned around again. He was still there, standing sideways, not facing in my direction and not facing leaving the airport either. I didn't turn around for the third time, but I thought, what was he doing standing there for so long? Was he praying for me? Was he trying to savor all the moments of this trip? What? I remained puzzled and wondered.

Five years later, I jetted back to Bhutan. That first trip as a tourist and that unforgotten encounter gnawed at me long enough. I had to go back to understand better the peace and happiness that exuded from the people of Bhutan and catch some more for myself.

I participated in a volunteer program in education which allowed me to stay in the country a bit longer. I was hoping to enjoy more peace and happiness with the extended stay.

Staying at a hotel, I had the chance to speak with the hotel manager. I told her I had previously been to Bhutan as a tourist, and the tour guide left a remarkable impression on me, which led me to want to return to Bhutan. She asked to see any travel pictures. I had some on my computer and showed them to her. She said she knew the tour guide. I told her about our strange departure. She called him up and asked him if he remembered me. A surprise to me, he remembered me. She asked him why he was standing there at the airport as I described. He didn't explain and didn't ask to talk to me, so I left it at that. Let the mystery stay unsolved.

What I gathered from my second trip to Bhutan was still memorable. The mountainous nature that surrounded me exuded peace. The people, much like the tour guide encountered, left me feeling happy and peaceful. Accepting people with no demands, cherishing moments in the present, respecting nature, and caring with community interactions, were extraordinary to see firsthand. 

One image that stays with me was one Sunday morning walk. I went out walking around and exploring near my hotel. I knew I was in a small town surrounded by nature and could likely run into people from the high school where I volunteered. I was correct. As I walked along a riverbank, I saw several pairs of high schoolers walking. Each set of students I did not know greeted me with a nod and a smile. Their nods made me feel highly respected. Their smiles were so pure; they made me feel joy. 

But most importantly, I realized that a simple nod, a simple smile, a short moment of connection could make all the difference to another human being. Bringing happiness to ourselves and others is simple and uncomplicated. Just stop, take a moment to connect, and brighten someone's day.

A moment of a perspective called: The Meaning of Life Found
After six years of working and living abroad, I came home to America. I was not met with the excitement I thought I'd feel. I was looking forward to driving my car and going anywhere I wanted without waiting for a bus or train or walking. I was so looking forward to the variety of foods I could eat instead of about the same kinds of food day in and day out. I was even looking forward to hearing people speak proper English instead of correcting someone's English. All this I enjoyed, but it seemed so short-lived. 

Looking at myself living in an apartment, I remember living in a house and owning a home. Looking at myself going to work and doing the same thing as before, I felt I had regressed – since working abroad. Suddenly, a rush of unhappiness, a feeling of failure set in. I used to own a house, have a business, have a long and successful career before my business, and now I had nothing. And this nothing feels incredibly horrible when you are middle age, because if I were a teenager or a twenty-something, I could chalk it up to being young or uneducated, but I am neither of those things.

Dissatisfied, I decided to take a year off from work, searching for the meaning of life. No answers appeared, so I turned to one of my greatest passions, learning the Chinese language. It could bring a little happiness to me. I went to China two times on two different programs to continue learning Chinese. I loved it so much. If I didn't need money, I thought to myself that I would spend my days learning more Chinese and traveling like I was doing before. As fun as it was, something still seemed missing in the meaning of life.

Next, I returned to Bhutan for the second time. I was a tourist for the first time, which left me with unforgettable memories and feelings of peace and contentment. It was so memorable that I had to find a way to go back a second time. This time, I went back as a volunteer teaching high school literature. I had never done this job before, but I was excited to do something different. The smiling faces of the high school students, their respectful attitude toward teachers, and their willingness to learn were most satisfying. Once while preparing for class, who could have guessed that I would stumble upon an essay that would give meaning to my life like never before?  

I once had a house, a business, a career, and love, and I thought that was happiness and success. When I lost them all, I thought it was a failure even though I knew full well that money isn't everything. At any rate, while preparing for an English literature lesson, I read through some essays and saw one entitled: Gross National Happiness: A Tribute by Thakur S. Powdyel. Though I did not teach about this essay, the title piqued my interest, so I proceeded to read it. Unbeknownst to me, it was a new beginning in my journey to the meaning of life. I had gone to Bhutan for a spiritual journey, and I found something outside the box.

In Powdyel's essay, he wrote, "gross national happiness demands courage, the strength of character."  I thought I had that, so I have hope; let me read on. He also said, "everything we do is bound to have an impact on others…."  Though I knew this as a truth, I always shrugged it aside like it didn't mean much to me. Sure, my attitude was that I would try my best to make a difference for others, but I think my impact is small, so the difference isn't much in this great big universe. As a teacher, I didn't feel the difference I made was significant enough, so I shrugged it off. This time, however, just by being in the presence of the Bhutanese people, I gained a different perspective and attitude. 

By observing the smiles on many Bhutanese faces, enjoying the kindness of Bhutanese people, and seeing how they help others regardless of who you are, unbeknownst to them, they have impacted my life. Their smiles remind me of purity. Their smiles remind me that a simple smile from one person can bring joy to so many others. Their mannerisms and kindheartedness remind me to be more generous and compassionate.

One day, I decided to walk around the neighborhood because I had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning and thought I would run into some students because it was a small town. As predicted, I did run into two sets of students who saw me. They smiled and nodded to greet me. I felt a smile come onto my face and I felt acknowledged as a valuable human being. Indeed, as Powdyel said, "everything we do is bound to have an impact on others…." 

What gripped me most was when Powdyel said, "the worth of people is measured not by what they have, but by what they are." Here is where I found the meaning of life for me. 

After losing everything, my house, career, business, and love, I thought I had nothing. I had no value. But with the experience in Bhutan and with the experience of a few new friendships, I gained some new perspectives.  

With all the challenges faced in my life, one after another, like they were relentlessly ceaseless, I was busy overcoming them. I wondered what the point was and got to a point where I was so tired that I again asked what the point was. Mind you, I have no desire to die, but what was the point of living if there is no meaning or value? 

Of course, I learned in Landmark Education that the meaning of life is empty and meaningless. And it is we humans who need purpose, and we decide the meaning we give to it. Since we are making the decisions about the importance we give to everything, as to the interpretations we give to everything, we can also change them. We can change our perceptions and our perspectives to help ourselves. It isn't about the correct interpretation or the right perception; it is about the understanding or perception that will help us feel satisfied or happy. On that note, how has Powdyel's statement, "the worth of people is measured not by what they have, but by what they are," helped me find satisfaction and value in the meaning of life?  

Through sharing many challenges in life, sharing many ups and downs of life, and sharing the good and the bad, my new friendships revealed that it is precisely all those things that make for an abundant and prosperous life. At least I can say, the chapters in my life don't have blank pages or pages with few words. And importantly, the challenges that I overcame aren't negative things to frown on, but experiences that have built the strength of character and courage, the ingredients to happiness as suggested by Powdyel.

Here I thought, the fewer challenges and the more achievements I accomplish are the value of my life. What comfort it is to know that my ability to overcome so many challenges is not only what has built my character but what has created the unique me. And it adds to the value and meaning of my life.  

Every nobody is somebody because we all have our unique personal stories. Whether we have a positive or negative story, we can move and inspire others to greatness if we share them. A few new friends asked me for all the details of my stint in business as a sales representative in life insurance, financial services, and mortgages. Though I shared about them, it was not enjoyable to share because I viewed the business as one of my most significant failures, and why were they so interested in hearing about my failures? Was it entertainment for them? They told me it inspired them. At the time, I could not understand.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how we inspire others. It is not the failures that define us; it is how we get up from the losses that define us; it is how we face challenges that inspire others. While possessions and accomplishments are nice to have, it is our life experiences with the strength of character and determination to get up every time we fall that matters. When we can face difficulties and overcome them every time, when shared, we can make a difference for others and create value in the meaning of life. 

Key Takeaways: Though I never got a teddy bear when I was a child, I got one at 21 and bought a family of teddy bears for myself as an adult.

Though I went to a tiny kingdom for a spiritual journey, I also discovered simple ways to give happiness and make a difference for others.

Though I didn’t teach about a particular essay, I read it to myself and found the meaning of life.

Next week, you will hear three new real-life stories called Who Had The Saddest Story, Encounters With Buddhism, and Explain Why.  If you enjoyed this episode of Eye-Opening Moments, please share it with others, subscribe or click like on Youtube, support the show by clicking on the link in the description, or go to www.inspiremereads.com and leave a message. Thank you for listening!





Not Until I Was Twenty-One
The Tiny Kingdom
The Meaning of Life Found
Key Takeaways