There is a point in every challenging experience where you go from questioning whether you’ve got what it takes to survive and to feeling secure that things will be alright. You’ve been staring up at an impending wave, not sure you’ll get to the other side, but now you’re on top, and you can see the horizon.
For me living in Korea, I passed that point a few days ago. Nothing really has changed around me, but something inside me clicked. Finding my balance point is less of a daily struggle, I’m starting to groove my daily paths and activities and get a sense for my surroundings. A and I have slowly transformed our apartment into a living space that reflects the kind of lives we want to live, so we are no longer fitting ourselves into someone else’s living space.
I feel like I can see further and, while I may not feel that I’ve accomplished that state of security just yet, I know it is attainable.
The result is that a very subtle resistance has untied itself within my mind. I feel lighter and much freer. I don’t feel like everyone I meet is a potential complication and that, if I need to, I can acquire the things I need and do the things I want.
Looking back, it seems like this state was inevitable. Of course, if I live in Korea long enough, I’d start to feel at home here.
But if I’m honest, I didn’t feel like that when I started. I knew it, intellectually, but I didn’t feel sure that I’d eventually feel at home here.
Clearing the Wave
This is something I’ve learned throughout my life, most especially when I was a kid going to camp. The first few days, I was dead certain that I’d never feel okay being away from my home for so long, even though I knew the homesickness faded eventually.
After a few days, I started to wonder how I’d ever been so scared in the first place.
Any challenge that forces you to change the way you think and live is going to meet resistance in your mind. No matter what, the mind thinks that it can never be okay in any other state than the one it is in…right now. It does not like the idea that it can be something other than what it is now.
After all, that would meant that its current mindset, which was built with much effort, is not the perfect one!
Our egos are fragile things, aren’t they?
Of course, this reality applies both ways. Once you’ve changed the way you see the world, the new mindset suddenly becomes the ideal one, and the mind thinks, “Boy, I’m sure glad you had the willpower to push me to grow and change. I’m a much better mind now than I was before. I can’t believe how scared/immature/deluded I was back then. Let’s never change again, okay?”
I’m no Zen master, but this seems to me like a classic Buddhist lesson. No mindset is the best one, since the best way to get a handle on any situation is to change your mind to meet the challenge.
The mindset that is not a mind-set is the only one that can be flexible enough to change itself to best deal with the situation.
I get the impression that this is the mental growth my mentor said I’d experience if I lived abroad for a while, which would make me a valuable hire when I got back.
Some Tactics I Used to Adapt
I think a lot of what has allowed me to adapt in Korea was the willingness to change my lifeways. While these specific things might not help you, the idea behind them can be taken to any situation you’re in where you feel trapped and stuck. These actions are a combination of being willing to adapt and being willing to make active changes to better suit our needs. You have to work to swim up the wave to avoid getting washed away, but you also have to let yourself be carried a bit too.
- The first day we were here, A and I started rearranging furniture in the apartment.
- We threw out things that belonged to the previous tenants that we knew we wouldn’t need. Some things we ended up replacing, but we wanted to make it our own.
- We try all sorts of Korean food, without worrying what it might be. Who knows? We might discover something we love and is healthy for us we didn’t expect (like ginseng chicken soup!).
- We are actively exploring all the food options in our town, working our way down the main street, but trusting our sense for what is good food and what is cheap fast-food.
- I joined a gym yesterday, selecting the one with the atmosphere I like, even though the employees don’t speak English, as they do at the other gym I don’t like.
- We’ve actively made an effort to make friends outside our school environment, both expats and Koreans.
- We try not to stress too much about spending money. Obviously, as we get more knowledgeable, we’re able to save more, but for now, if we accidentally spend more than necessary, we write it off to experience.
- Since hot water seems to be an issue, I’ve simply decided to start taking ice baths again as a means to help me sleep.
So, as you can see, we have gone through the trouble to change things rather than let them sit at odds with the way we like to live, but we’ve also let our definition of comfortable move around a little (that last item is a bit of a joke…we need to fix that).
If there are any big changes in your life you’ve undertaken as part of your journey to grow and improve yourself, I wish you luck with overcoming the inner resistance, which is the hardest part. Just remember that it never seems like it will change, but have faith that it will.