It's Okay to Feel Uncomfortable and Uncertain
Do you see yourself as spiritual, religious, or anything?
Not particularly. I'm looking into it. I'm learning about philosophy and different religions, but I'm not necessarily leaning toward or identifying with any particular one. But I do like learning about, I guess, Christianity, the most.
How did you find out about DRBU and decide to come?
I'm grateful that I ended up choosing this place. I never really had too many expectations going on. I just kind of came across DRBU after graduating high school. I had a gap year. I was also taking community college classes, but I felt like that was never really motivating to me. I fell into a depression. I was really just being aimless and not knowing what to do with myself. So then my family recommended this place. They happened to know about DRBU because my mom visited CTTB before. Then I sat in a couple of classes and thought that the people were funny. I was in Yihuan's class—Classical Chinese. She was so energetic, and the people were really welcoming. I was like, “I'll give it a shot.” That's how I ended up here.
What's your overall experience at DRBU?
I enjoy the philosophy and being around people who I can feel safe with. People are just really unconditionally supportive and generally like-minded. It's helped me to mature and feel secure in myself—emotionally. That's one of the main areas of growth I've experienced here. I guess, intellectually, as well.
I feel that the discussions are conducive to that inside and outside of the class. Like [with] service scholarship, I'm kind of required to be in communication with people. I don't take it for granted, I guess. I just know that we have responsibilities and need to be accountable and really communicate with people what I need to do and know what I need to do. I think that's entwined with the classroom aspect. Discussing in our cohort and talking to people in the community are all kind of connected. It's an active process...stilling the mind, relieving anxiety, trying to stop distressing thoughts and all that. So I see the practicality of it. I'm not really connected to the spirituality of that...it’s just therapeutic.
How does shared inquiry helps you articulate both intellectually and emotionally?
Yeah, I think that's pretty intertwined. Intellectually, we're speaking in terms of the texts for our reading. That's somewhat the shared authority and reference point. But each of us has a big individual stance and interpretation on the text. So it's also personal in that regard. I think through the discussion you can't help sharing some of your personal side as well. I think it's a seamless, intellectual and personal, personally driven discussion through shared inquiry. It helps me develop both sides of myself, thinking technically and analytically, also articulating how I feel. It's helping me grow, for sure.
What's your experience with DRBU service scholarship?
There's a broad range of activities in service scholarship. I've done a few, like helping out with cleaning, dorm chores back in the Sudhana Center, mopping, sweeping, doing dishes, and all that, which at first I was kind of tired of, but I realize that it's just about helping others and being a part of the community. Like I'm washing dishes and stuff for the sake of others. Viewing it that way, it's kind of less of a chore. And some other stuff, like I worked on the magazine, the school magazine; I was helping out with the social media and website at one point. So there's a wide spectrum of stuff, and I think there are also opportunities if you have interests. Every interest you have, I think people are really open to guiding you in that area in terms of service scholarship options. So I think it's a good deal, having it as a part of our education.
There's communication inside the classroom with respect to shared inquiry, but outside as well, since you're part of the community during the service scholarship. Necessarily, I kind of got to learn about other people. Take accountability. Communicating with others would be like, there's the chore that I'm going to be doing or "hey, can I ask you for some help?" To some people, it might be small, but I was never used to being in a community and communicating with people in that way, feeling responsible for others, I guess, like taking charge, so to speak, I can just do my part. I think that's an area that certainly helped me in terms of communicating, feeling like I'm part of the group and just helping out.
Was there any turning point in your experience here?
During my second year, I guess my first year as well, I was actually struggling a lot, like feeling some tension in the classroom, having trouble speaking up, and feeling like other people were talking too much. I just wasn't feeling like I was getting what I needed in terms of the education. And I was really, I think, repressing that. I didn't really communicate that with other people. But then, when I took the time to try to tell people, my professors, my classmates, it's like: This is how I'm feeling. Can we do something about it? People were actually really, surprisingly, open and welcome to change. And I was just really grateful for that. I feel like everyone has everyone else's best interests in mind and helps each other out if one person is struggling in the class, and generally, you're going to receive support. That's what I felt. It really made me feel like I don't have to feel like other people are against me. You know, we're together in the class, and it's a collective learning experience. I was really grateful that people heard me in respect to what I had to say and changes were made, and I felt better in class after that. That might be one turning point.
Is there anything memorable outside your cohort in the DRBU community?
Maybe I'll go back to my first year. There was a senior named Frank Liu. He was really funny and just kind of like a role model, an older brother to me in a way. He was kind of like leading some of our activities and chores. I would look to him for advice. And he'd be like this easygoing about the stuff you got to do. Being in relation to him as someone who could guide me felt really good. I feel like it wasn't such a shock transitioning to the service scholarship and all that. It feels good that there are role models and people who show you around and allow you to transition to community and help you out a lot. I guess that's memorable to me.
Is there anything in your study that you found particularly interesting?
Yeah, I guess generally, I like the Western classics the most. It feels the most familiar. I appreciate all the other strands as well. I guess generally, what interests me is the power of my subjective experience that I can interpret what's going on in the text and relate it to what's going on in my life. In all these classics, there are nuggets of wisdom that I can then articulate and apply in my own life. Knowing that there's always ready access to something that can actually help me, maybe spiritually, intellectually, emotionally. It's really great. Authors across time have written these things, and it's like, I can seek that. That's right there. It's like I can find some security in that, I guess.
Before DRBU, I wasn't really, you know, I didn't know much about philosophy or great books. And knowing that there's like the whole world out there right now. It's like I always have that, I don't know, like a safety net of wisdom and information.
Are you interested in continuing to pursue such knowledge after DRBU?
Yeah. Maybe not like a Masters or anything. I just figure that in my pastime, I'd still love to just pick up books and read, whenever I can. I don't know if I'll be pursuing higher education—more philosophy—but I think these books, cultures, and traditions are something that I would like to keep with me, to continue learning about them.
Could you share three of your favorite philosophers?
Sure. One of the first was Marcus Aurelius, who wrote Meditations. He was a stoic philosopher. This is kind of like a journal with really pithy statements. His own suffering, but he's done the mechanisms by which he can overcome that, because it's really personal. And he develops this mental fortitude. I was reading that during one of the sessions, the Guan Yin session. I was like, “oh, you know, it's kind of helpful,” like applying stoicism to my own life. So that was one of the first ones I resonated with.
I guess others may be Zhuangzi from Chinese Classics. He's this really fun philosopher, like a total contrarian. He likes to poke fun at others, like Chinese philosophers at the time. Just really whimsical and therapeutic reading about his stories, it is like fantasies. So there's like, I guess the intellectual seriousness of some philosopher like Aurelius, and then the therapeutic—like Zhuangzi.
And the third one, maybe, Nietzsche comes to mind—Friedrich Nietzsche, just a really powerful writer. Like a controversial one as well, but some of his ideas really stick with me. He doesn't portray them in a systematic way, more like, revealing and unraveling of what's going on during the time, undermining what we take for granted, so that we can turn around and look at the others' perspective, like in really general terms, that's Nietzsche.
If you have to face depression again, how would you deal with it differently now?
Yeah, entering DRBU, I still felt kind of depressed and anxious. I haven't necessarily...I don't think that just goes away. But I learned to cope with it. I think one thing that helped was being candid about it. The first time entering this place, like in my admission essays, there's a part where you get to talk about your personal situation and what you're struggling with, and I just opened up, and I was like, “these are my mental health struggles. If I'm going to be a part of your community, then I'm going to be dealing with this as well.” And I think I've been able to maintain that vulnerability while being here and not suppress it, learning that it's okay, that I struggle with these things. It's a part of me, but I don't have to let it really burden me, make me feel like this is reality when I was feeling really depressed or so anxious that I didn’t want to talk to people or go to class. It's just that it generally passes, I think, over time, by being in an environment where it's safe to let those things pass. I've kind of learned that it's okay. I'm going to be dealing with this, but it's okay. I just keep telling myself that. So I don't know. It's not like a clear-cut solution or defense. Dealing with these things is just like merging with them, letting them happen, and letting them pass, knowing that it's okay to feel that way.
How do you see friendship?
Honestly, I'm still like a loner for the most part. And I think that's okay. Because people respect that. I think people come and go in the community, and there's almost like a transience to it. I meet people; I'm friendly with them; they graduate; they go and live their life. We're all kind of, I don't know, we're not crying about it. [laugh] I think we can trust in each other. We learn together and things like that. I think I've developed close relationships, like learning to be honest and authentic just with other people on a daily basis through shared inquiry. I wouldn't say they're close friendships, but more like, definitely, I don't know. Or maybe they are friends. [laugh] I can't tell. But I develop important connections with people here.
This is your senior year. Is there anything that you want to say to the community or anyone who by any chance will read this interview in the future?
I don't know. Maybe that it's okay to feel uncomfortable and uncertain. I think that's an important lesson I learned by being here. You know, I'm not Buddhist. But I'm in a community full of them. I wasn't initially familiar with the culture here. I didn't really know what I was getting into. But by being around all these unknown variables, I think I have grown. We deal with challenging texts at times; we got busy schedules. But by going through that, I've learned that it's really okay to feel, that discomfort doesn't mean that it's the end of the world or anything like that. But I guess the important thing is that I'm in a safe environment in which I can feel uncomfortable. That makes sense as opposed to a different four-year college, for it might be really stressful, and I wouldn't feel like I'd be a part of that community. I don't know if that makes sense. I think that's an important takeaway. Just learning to feel okay with my own discomfort, my own emotional issues like depression and all that...to feel secure in myself. I feel like being a part of this place has helped me in that aspect. So I'm really grateful.
When you feel down, do you have any practice that can lift you up?
Exercise. You know the gym across Sudhana. I play basketball as well. Sometimes not finding an immediate solution to it, just knowing that it feels uncomfortable right now, but just letting it pass without panicking. Because it's occurred so many times, being up and down, I generally know that it's gonna pass and I'm gonna feel okay. Like I can rationalize it because of the experience of going through it.
You also worked for the Student Magazine. What's your relationship with writing?
I learned to really love writing, actually, while being here. It's one of the first ways in which I've learned that this is how I can articulate myself and communicate to other people clearly, my ideas and how I'm feeling. That's the first means of communication I resonated with. I think I learned while being here that writing is a form of thinking. It's a reflection of what's on your mind. Like, you write, and then it's a vulnerability because you can see exactly your thought process. There's no hiding it. Once you put it down on paper, it's clear that this is what you're thinking, and this is who you are at this moment in time. So I enjoy writing. At times it's difficult, but it's meaningful because it helps you to articulate and gain an understanding, not just the text or essay or whatever that I'm writing on, but also yourself in your own thinking. I think it's a kind of spiritual exercise.
What's the topic of your senior essay?
It's on the topic of faith, and I'm using Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. I came across it. I was looking at existentialism, and Kierkegaard is known as the father of Christian existentialism. So he goes into depth with the story of Abraham. I think he is essentially telling us to have the courage to look at it, you know, because it's a deeply disturbing story in some ways, that God is asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. And so there are people who like to soften that language, but then there's Kierkegaard who's asking, “how do we make sense of this as Christians, and how can we call Abraham the father of faith?” And that's why I'm looking at the nuance behind faith because I did occasionally go to church back home with my brother. But I always felt like an outsider to the community. I'm wondering about these people—how they have such confidence and faith—and what is faith? So maybe looking at Kierkegaard and Abraham would help in that sort of exploration in terms of a faith and a strong conviction in God and meaningfulness. It's a huge, I guess, interest of mine, but it's always been so difficult for me. So that's why I fell on the topic of faith.
Maybe the last question would be: Is there anything that you are grateful for in life?
[Pause] Family is the first thing that comes to mind. I think being away from family by being at DRBU has taught me to actually be more grateful for them. I learned about accountability, cooking, and cleaning. And like how I take for granted their presence when I'm back home. It's like gaining a different perspective by being somewhere else and returning back home. I see them with a different kind of perspective and clarity. So that's what comes to mind—being really grateful for my family even though I feel like we're distant at times, but learning that it's for a certain reason. We're kind of a quiet family and hardworking, but there's always a reason for that. I've kind of learned to appreciate it, I guess. There's silence, and there's distance, but that’s just how they have their own form of love for me. I don't know if that makes sense. But yeah, a gratefulness for my family as who they are, rather than wanting them to be something else.
Can you recall a moment that makes you feel heartwarming when you think of your family?
I remember actually showing them my application essay for DRBU. It's the same one where I was really like, honest with myself, with what I was struggling with, and my mental health that I've been dealing with, and my depression and all that. And when they read it, they were like…my stepdad gave me a hug. My mom and brother were really touched as well. Maybe that was some first indication of how my writing can be a way of communicating myself to them. And that they feel for me, they do love me, but they don't always show it, especially because I have a hard time articulating myself before them. So that's one moment I can think of.
It's a beautiful moment.