Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 5

Today I need to travel back in time a bit and think about my childhood, around age 6-8. What do I aspire to be when I grow up? This age range is good because I’m young enough not to feel jaded by the realities of life but old enough to consider my real desires and fascinations. Usually answers to such question can be far-fetched but it’s not so much of the specifics but rather what it was that I love about my career choices at that age. Hmm…..

I seriously do not recall a huge chunk of my childhood. I don’t know if it’s because my childhood was rather uneventful or I just have a poor memory. In any case, I don’t think I was very self-aware at that age. I tried asking my mom and siblings but none of them remember what I wanted to be when I was a child. What I do remember is what I fantasized about. I know for certain that I was very hooked on Enid Blyton’s series of fairy tales! I’d save up the allowances that my parents gave me to buy these books. It became an obsession and I look forward to days when I can visit the book store to pick a copy. I spent a lot of my younger days reading them and living in a fantasy world of enchanted forests, gnomes and elves. The stories played out in a very visual way in my mind. I don’t remember making up an imaginary story of my own but I could “see” these stories vividly in my mind as I read them. What I can draw from this memory is that my intuition was pretty active as a child. I am also a highly visual person so I am sensitive to visual stimulation. But all these doesn’t give me clues to what I wanted to be. The closest to an answer to this question is a time, I believe it was towards the end of middle school, that my older brother asked me something along the line of what kind of life do I envision for myself. I remember vaguely that I struggled putting into words a vision of a simple country life surrounded by beauty and living happily ever after, just contented being my own space at my own pace. I remember feeling embarrassed that my brother might find me overly simplistic and unsophisticated. Gosh….how far have I strayed from that vision. My life now is nothing like that. Still, this does not answer the question about vocation. So let me try searching my memory bank a little more.

I remember being part of an unofficial student-initiated cheerleading team and I enjoyed staying back after school for practices. When I moved to middle school, I got excited about participating in a fashion show showcasing traditional cultural costumes. There was also a time when I sang a Boy George song solo in front of class and it freaked me out. I never attempted it ever again! I signed up for external aerobics dance classes with my sister and looked forward to those too. When I think about these seemingly uncharacteristic activities for introverts,  I deduce that they point to a desire for freedom of expression even though I am uncomfortable being in the spotlight. I enjoyed participating as a group rather than solo, perhaps to reduce the discomfort of being the center of attention.

So that’s it. These are the insights I gleaned from this exercise. Can’t wait to get the next one over and done with.



Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 4

In this exercise, I write about where I usually park my thoughts when I am idling. In other words, what I daydream about. According to Tsh, they speak volumes about what our real, innate and instinctive desires are. How true? Let’s see…

Firstly, before anyone thinks I have lots idle time, I don’t. I am a full-time working mom. Though my kids have grown some and I have more time now than when they were younger, I still struggle to find “idle time”. The thought of being idle is counter-intuitive to me because I am a “work first, play later” kind of person. And of course you know that work never ends, there is always something that needs to get done! I can be restless like that. So yeah, it’s a struggle even though MY WHOLE BEING CRAVES AND HUNGER FOR IDLE TIME! City life is not exactly conducive to idleness either. When I do choose to ignore the multitude of “things to do” and give myself some idle time, I am still rarely alone with my own thoughts. I find myself consuming content, either through reading, browsing the net, watching or listening. There was a time in my life when I had time and space to process my own thoughts a lot and that was when I was actively writing my blog journal. Those years were one of my most creative and inspired moments and one where I feel close to a flow state. I was self-aware and sensitive to that inner voice. It was no coincidence that during that time when I was also ferociously consuming spiritual-religious content. It was a period of intuitive awakening! Even then, I wasn’t exactly day dreaming about my desires. Rather, I was drawing connections and seeing meaning behind people, things, thoughts, emotions and, events etc. This is not day dreaming in the classic sense. For that, recent years prove more fruitful. Perhaps it was out of desperation – a need to escape a sense of staleness and sameness in my life. I find myself dreaming of living a simple, serene and unhurried life in a modernized hanok on the outskirts of South Korea, close to nature; a mountain to be exact. I dream of taking long leisurely hikes in these mountains whenever I want to and of traversing large open plains dotted by cute, pretty homes on a bicycle. I dream of being immersed in nature, not necessarily actively engaging it but more like absorbing it. I see a need for beauty, for freedom and space. I dream of wandering the picturesque and charming alleyways of Seoul’s cultural and historical district of Anguk with its interesting mix of old and new coexisting together, creating an interesting kind of harmony. I think this speaks to a need for exploration, for discovery, for variety and novelty and for welcoming newness and change in my life. I dream of a modest life rich in meaning and purpose, lived in harmony with its people and its environment; a life of moderation rather than excesses, be it pleasure, productivity, energy or creativity. Too much of something, even things that we enjoy or are good for us, can bring about dissonance. I dream of a life where I have freedom of expression, where I am free to be me; stripped of the need for pretense and people pleasing. This speaks of my need for harmony and balance, of moderation, simplicity, intention and authenticity.



Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 3

Up next, I am to think of a film or book that really moves me. In other words, what story stays with me and why. Sounds simple enough but it took me 2 weeks to work on it!

I’m not sure how helpful is exercise because there are many movies and books that have moved me. The general theme is humanity’s triumph over evil, of overcoming odds and life’s challenges and adversity, stories of love, courage, sacrifice and selflessness. I think these are universal themes that move people everywhere.

I enjoy a wide variety of ideas and usually am able to draw something meaningful out of each. Perhaps what I can single out from this smorgasbord of stories is one that is closer to home – stories of self-discovery, of not being afraid to be my own person, of being at peace with myself and my place in this world, living a life congruent with who I am, of having the courage to start over and go after what brings me joy and contentment, of the grace of being given a second shot at happiness and of finding beauty and significance in the quiet, small and ordinary. For this, the story that stands out is a Korean melodrama called On the Way to the Airport. It is not on my list of favorites but the story and certain scenes and character stuck with me. Firstly I like the setting in autumn, my favorite season of the year! So there’s enough romantic and nature backdrop, though not as abundant as what you’d find in Goblin, another memorable drama in terms of excellent cinematography! I like the scenes set in a hanok-cum-art gallery and workshop of exquisite Korean handicraft. Life there is so tranquil you’d think all your worries will melt away sitting by the top-hung windows of the room overlooking the garden, sipping tea! The male lead’s wife and mother owns and manages the place. I also love the juxtaposition against the male lead’s modern apartment overlooking the city-scape. I especially love the setting of another small and cozy art gallery in a secluded and scenic spot in Jeju. This is where the male lead displays the artwork of his late mother in memory of her. It’s a home cum gallery. Very cozy, very personal. There’s nothing loud about both places but they have a distinctive character of their own.

This is a story of 2 married individuals who meet by fate. One thinks she is content with her life while the other discovers, while grieving for the loss of his step-daughter, that he’s been living in a deceptive marriage. Circumstances brought them together and for the first time they get a taste of a different and deeper kind of happiness; one that comes with having a heart and soul connection with another person and of having their own needs met. Amongst the characters in this film, the male lead leaves the deepest impression on me with his sensitive and quiet spirit and warm and gentlemanly ways. He’s an old soul with a spark of innocent expectation. Both are understandably guilt ridden because their life is not just their own. Yet they couldn’t ignore their heart’s desire. The tension between following ones heart and fulfilling ones expected role in the family and society is palpable. With time and patience they worked on what needs to be sorted out in their own lives so they can find happiness again without the burden of guilt.


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 2

The next part of finding my purpose is to “discover my greatest vexation” as Tsh puts it. Because what’s bothering us is usually what we wish would change and that in turn can reveal our desire to fix those problems or to be a part of the solution. Even if our life purpose is not to be an agent of change in big spectacular ways, our irritants point to what we want to make better at least in our own lives. So in this exercise, I get to rant and write down what irritates/ angers/ bothers me most, without over analyzing the meaning behind them. I then look to see if there is a common thread among them.

What irritates me….

Laziness. Incompetence. Not being proactive. Overly reliant. Poor time keeping. Indecisiveness. Stinginess. Inability to live up to role. Interruptions. Multitasking. Not taking ownership. Lax attitude. Clutter/messy spaces. Hoarding.
Lack of knowledge. Out-of-touch with society. Not planning ahead. Insensitive. Poor service. Being imposed upon. Disorder. Too many ridiculous rules. Office politics.
Excessively concerned with pleasing a certain figure/group of people. Rigidity.
Mindless small talk. Networking events. Too much paperwork. Lack of independence.
Intrusion. Poor service. Loud. Wasting time. Passivity. Phone calls. Chores. Pressure to sell. Tight spaces. Hectic. Lacking discipline. Overly simplistic – not acknowledging a deeper issue. Lacking integrity & trustworthiness.



Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 1

My Purpose

…and the self-assessment continues!

I must admit, this is getting really tedious and daunting for me. I thought I’m was done with data collecting from all the self-assessment exercises in lessons two and three but there’s more in this lesson! I want to cry! But I’ve come this far, I can’t stop now. So let’s move on….

I’ll pause here and share an excerpt from Tsh in this lesson. It encapsulates how I feel about starting this upstream paddling in the first place.

I believe a person’s universal purpose in life involves his or her Maker. I really like Catholic scholar Harold Koenig’s explanation of our universal life purpose: he says we’re all here to simply “to love and serve God, and to love and serve others.” He then goes on to say, “It’s really so very, very simple. When we are fulfilling that purpose, then that place deep down inside of us fills up and we experience peace and happiness. When we’re not, and we begin focusing on our own self and our own needs exclusively, then other emotions start flooding in.” In fact, I’d argue that part of our journey in life involves the very practice of discovering why we’re here on earth. In other words, part of our purpose on earth is to explore our purpose on earth. It seems like we were made to wrestle with this kind of stuff, to talk through it, to deepen our relationships because of it, to become more whole and alive and at peace when we pursue our reason for being here in a healthy manner. And I believe part of that health comes by knowing ourselves deeply, knowing ourselves well. That’s what we’re doing here in Upstream.

For ease, I like to think of the foundational, basic answer to the question, “What are we here for?” with that answer from Harold Koenig: “to love and serve God, and to love and serve others.” 

Exercise 1

Tsh recommends that the most direct way to understand our purpose is to understand our desires. What do we enjoy? What fuels us? What keeps us reading and learning more; what moves us to tears? I will now attempt to draw insights from the exercise I did on My Best Day in lesson 2 and see what they reveal about my desires. Because the entire exercise is based on a scenario birthed purely from my desires, there should be plentiful breadcrumbs to follow. To work on this more efficiently, I reproduced a copy of that exercise here and next to each clue I put down the desires they’re pointing to in brackets. I will then consolidate them and draw up the common themes that I see.

I start the day fairly early (intention) after a night of restful sleep (health). There is no agenda for the day (freedom, spontaneity) so I am completely free and unhurried (slow pace). Everyone else is asleep (personal space and time) and there is complete silence (peace). I tidy up the house a little and ensure my space is clean and uncluttered (intention, beauty, simplicity, minimalism, order). I down 2 glasses of purified water with some ACV to kick start my body (health) and puts the kettle on the stove for a cup of herbal tea (nature’s gift). I put a few drops of grounding EO blend in the diffuser (balance, stability, sensory, sensitivity, nature’s gift) and starts it while I take my shower. My bathroom is bright (clarity, optimism), clean and dry (sensory sensitivity). After a pampering shower (self-care/love) I step out to a lovely scented room (sensory) which I have all to myself (personal space) and starts to blow dry my hair (self-care). I change into something comfortable (comfort, sensory) and settle down on a cozy couch (comfort, home) with my herbal tea to start my devotional time with God and prayer (spirituality).

I put together a simple and healthy breakfast (health) and eats it while catching up on the day’s headline news on TV (overview, general knowledge) . Everyone else starts to wake and prepare themselves to leave for work and school. After cleaning up (intention, order, beauty), I head out for a hike in the mountains (nature, beauty, activity, sacred) with my daughter (companionship).

The fresh cool mountain air (sensory, optimism, clarity), lush greenery (nature, beauty, abundance) and scent of fresh dew (sensory, newness, fresh start) in the woods is grounding for my soul (stability, security, peace). I feel like I can hide away from the world (invisible, smallness, security); like a sort  of refuge (security, safety). My daughter makes good company (companionship). We chat about everything under the sun (camaraderie, connection, friendship) as we make our way up (exploration, advancement). After a while we seek out an open valley (beauty, nature, space) and take a break by a scenic stream (beauty, peace) surrounded by picturesque landscape (beauty, nature) and the gentle sound (gentle, sensory) of rustling leaves and flowing water (nature, sensory). We brought some snacks along and ate them (down-to-earth) as we enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings (beauty, peace, nature, comfort). For a change of energy (active energy) we engage is some people-watching (passivity, observation). We like that the crowd is just right, not too large (balance, moderation). We then make our way up to one of the peaks for the awesome view (space, freedom, openness, beauty, clarity). I soak in the liberating sensation of being on top of the world (freedom, in control, smallness). Feeling small and insignificant in such massive spaces (space, freedom) feels strangely comforting and reassuring (comfort, reassurance); like it’s OK to be imperfect and make mistakes (acceptance, ordinary, human) because the world is so much more than just me and my life (higher purpose).

After taking some Nat Geo worthy pictures (skillful, creativity, recognition) we make our way down, reaching the base in time for lunch at a cozy cottage style eatery (home, comfort, laid back) overlooking the valley (beauty). We sat outdoors (space, freshness, nature) and enjoy a nice leisurely lunch (slow pace) before heading home.

At home I catch up on some updates on social media (current, relevance, social), check my emails (on track) and watch an episode or 2 of my favorite k-drama (intention, Korean culture). The weather is beautiful outside so I hopped onto our garden swing (innocence, playful, novelty) with a soft blanket (comfort, home), a good book (intuit, absorb, knowledge, connect, inspire) and a warm cup of tea and freshly baked scones (home). Soon I am asleep (rest) to the gentle lull of the swing (comfort) and the sweet aroma of fresh flowers and herbs in the garden (sensory, nature). It was a short nap but I wake up refreshed and energized.

I head out for a walk (activity) in the neighborhood (familiarity) with my daughter. I love the juxtaposition of old and new (old & new, variety, novelty, roots) in this quaint neighborhood (charm, attractive, unique, character) and the mix of energetic vibe and creative air (energy, creativity). The people here are quietly warm and friendly (mild, warmth, casual, friendly), without imposing (privacy). The streets are filled with pretty and interesting things at every turn and corner (variety, novelty, unique, fun). We enjoy our stroll exploring the alleys (exploration) in this hilly (elevation) neighborhood. Interesting cafes and tea houses with al-fresco sitting and scenic patios dotted the landscape (beauty, charm, quaint, character, casual elegance, laid back). We stop by one to enjoy a cup of hot sweet potato latte (Korean culture) and some fine cakes and pastries (sensory pleasure). On the street in front there’s a young busker playing the guitar and singing a ballad from one of my favorite K-drama OST (sensory pleasure, music, Korean culture).  We reminisce about old times (nostalgia), laughed and joked about how silly we were then (laughter, camaraderie). After picking up some desserts for dinner later, we stop by a florist that looks more like a greenhouse (nature) to pick out a cute potted daisy for our kitchen window (home, beauty, cheer). It’ll add more cheer to the place! Next to the florist is a small art gallery (art, beauty). We spotted a piece of fine Korean art (art, beauty, hand-crafted) and thought it’ll look great in the dining room so we got that too.

The free market is on today! (carefree, vibrancy, variety, novelty, alternative lifestyle)  We can’t miss it! We love the vibrant, carefree and bohemian atmosphere there. The plethora of things to see, taste and hear is fun and exciting (fun, excitement, sensory pleasure). We pick-up a few interesting trinkets, accessories, handcrafted scents and wares and sampled some home-baked goods (hand-crafted, authentic, original). Soon it’s time to head home. We chose to walk (intention, activity, leisure) instead of taking the metro or public bus to avoid the crowd and congestion (space, privacy).

I look forward to meet my siblings and mom at my sister’s place for dinner tonight (family, home, roots). Each of us takes turn to host a dinner every month (balance, fairness). We enjoy catching up on each other’s lives as we bond over a home cooked meal (family, home, connection, camaraderie). I get some work done on my laptop (productivity), freshen up (self-image) and headed out with the family. We enjoy a nice meal together, laughing and chatting. After dinner we chill out at the patio with drinks and desserts (casual, connection, rest). The night went by quickly and soon we’re headed home. I do some end-of-day tidying (intention, productivity, tidiness) before winding down for the day. I diffuse a relaxing blend of EO (nature’s gift, sensory pleasure) and dim the lights as I prop myself up against the pillow on my bed and spends some time journaling and in prayer (reflection, spirituality) . I turn in early to ensure I am well rested for the next day (self-care).

Common themes that point to my desires.
State of being:
freedom, peace, health, balance, stability, clarity, optimism, self-care/love, comfort, home, spirituality, abundance, newness, fresh start, security, safety, gentleness, down-to-earth, moderation, openness, in control, smallness, innocence, intuition, leisure, reflection, harmony, higher purpose, relevance, inspiration

slow paced, laid back, spontaneity, intention, exploration, advancement, active energy, passive observation, absorb, creativity, playful, rest, familiarity, fun, carefree, vibrancy, excitement, productivity, nostalgia,

personal space & time, beauty, simplicity, minimalism, order, sensory pleasure, nature’s gift, nature, vast spaces, novelty, old & new, variety,  elevation, quaint, character, casual elegance, laid back, music, tidiness, harmony, sacred

companionship, camaraderie, connection, friendship, acceptance, reassurance, recognition, warmth, casual, friendly, privacy, laughter, cheer, family, harmony

ordinary, knowledge, roots, charm, attractive, unique, character, fairness, self-image, Korean culture, art, hand-crafted, alternative lifestyle, authentic, original, quality, skillful, big picture, general knowledge, to be current.


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The Art of Simple

Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 3 Who Are You Lesson Part 2-2

My favorite quotes.

In this exercise I take time to search, gather and curate quotes that resonate with me, to which I can say an emphatic YES! to.


“You have to let people go. Everyone who’s in your life is meant to be in your journey but not all of them are meant to stay till the end.”

Quiet people has the loudest minds.” – Stephen Hawkings

“Actions prove who someone is. Words just prove who they want to be.”

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” – Sigmund Freud

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”–Carl Jung

“I love having context that’s so much bigger than I can fathom. It’s fantastic to realize how insignificant you are.” – Benedict Cumberbatch

“If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
– J.K. Rowling

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot loose.”

“An intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfill the intention.”

“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we let our minds dwell upon.”

“Every human relationship is a tool for character formation.”

Spirituality is living the ordinary life extraordinarily well.”

“I freed 1000 slaves. I could have freed 1000 more if only they knew they were slaves.”–Harriet Tubman

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”–Marcus Aurelius

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”–Steve Jobs

“Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know.”–Bertrand Russell

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate to others the things that seem important to oneself.”–C.G. Jung

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”–George Bernard Shaw

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”–Charles R. Swindoll

“Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than material force, that thoughts rule the world.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” – Parker Palmer





Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 3 Who Are You Part 2-1

What do I find beautiful and why do I love them?

This exercise is meant to help me be more aware of the beauty around me, whether tangible or intangible and take time to appreciate each one. I will then use a few descriptive words to describe why I find them beautiful.

  1. Reunions with my mom and siblings- being myself, warmth, bond, acceptance, nostalgia, authentic, loyalty, home, camaraderie, belonging
  2. When a co-worker/ acquaintance spontaneously buys me snacks with no strings attached – unconditional, kindness, thoughtfulness, not-forgotten, generous
  3. When my daughter takes care/ does simple things for her older brother without complaining –  family, kindness, thoughtfulness, loyalty, innocence
  4. Being on the same wave-length with another person in a conversation – connection, understood, not alone, encouragement
  5. Exploring the alleyways of Samcheongdong-Bukchon – novelty, culture, surprises, adventure, familiar but different
  6. Vast open plains of Jejudo – freedom, free-spirited, renewal, largeness, abundance
  7. Being on the peak of Seoraksan – hope, transcendence, invisible, on-top-of-the-world
  8. Hiking thru the mountainous forest of Kamikochi – spiritual, inner sanctum, grounded, hidden, solitude
  9. Curve lines of the eaves and roofs of Hanoks – quiet elegance, simplicity, character, bold
  10. Wood grains and bright color of Hanoks – cheerful, fresh, newness, character
  11. Korean stone walls – symmetry, raw, unrefined, safe, authentic, elegance, character
  12. The smell and sound of rain and thunderstorms- cozy, rest, refreshing,