Love in Southeast Asia: Cookies for My Facebook

About three times I week I decide to delete my Facebook account.

I call my best friend:

“I’m going off Facebook.”

“Oh great, I should do that too.”

She knows I’m full of shit.

I imagine all of the life-enriching consequences: All that free time! A break from my computer screen! A unique, non-digital identity!

But Wait! What if someone gets married or engaged? How will I know when to feel bad about myself?

I call my best friend:

“I can’t do it.”

“It’s o.k., maybe next time.”

At the Hanoi Cooking Centre in Hanoi, Vietnam, Priyan, Parker and I are taking a break from rice paper rolling and banana flower chopping. I’m eying three giant cookie sheets lined with freshly baked chocolate cookies. I haven’t seen a cookie in two and a half weeks. My first thought is to stash a couple of them in the front of my dress and sneak out to the patio to eat them.

Somehow, I resist.

As I’m ogling and drooling, a tiny Vietnamese man appears. He’s an inch or two taller than me and weighs maybe eighty pounds. I’m wondering how he ended up here, and not on the disney theme park circuit playing Tinkerbell.

He bounds in front of us wearing a flour-dusted black Cooking Centre apron.

“Do you want a cookie?”

Yes. He speaks my language.

“I like to bake cookies and put them on my Facebook.”

I almost fell over.

I am on the other side of the world having a magical moment at the intersection of globalization and social media.

I look up at my friends and I see their acknowledgement. This guy is my Southeast Asian soulmate.

I squeal with delight, “I bake cookies and put them on MY facebook**!” We jump up and down uncontrollably yelling nonsense back and forth. The words don’t matter. We are having a moment of pure, human connection.

Our cooking instructor calls us back to attention at the front of the kitchen. I reluctantly leave my new friend behind.

When class is over, we head upstairs to feast on our creations. I look longingly towards the oven in the back of the kitchen hoping to get a glimpse of my Vietnamese keebler elf.

No luck.

I sigh, it was good while it lasted.

Then, at the top of the staircase, I see him, beaming.

LET’S BE FACEBOOK FRIENDS! I scream in his face without even greeting him, “hello.”

With complete sincerity and uncensored satisfaction he says, “really? that would make me so happy.”

Minutes later me and Link are Facebook official, posing for our first tagged photo together, still overwhelmed by the joy of the entire experience.

Before we leave, my new friend invites us out for a beer with him in Hanoi to celebrate Vietnamese Independence Day.

When we say goodbye, I squeeze Link extra tight. I hold him in the space of our similarity, in awe of our unlikely exchange, moved by the first-hand experience of the truth that, deep down, we are all the same.

I traveled all the way to Vietnam, to finally find something beautiful, positive and life-affirming, on Facebook.

** I love to bake. I bake cookies. Frequently. I’ve never once put them on my Facebook. But my ideal self does. She posts exquisite shots of perfectly rounded, delicately browned, elegantly arranged chocolate chip cookies. In that honest moment with Link, my ideal self was talking.

I judge too fast

I went to this yoga workshop once called “Slow Burn.” We started seated in a circle. The teacher said we would go around the circle and each person would say I ____ too fast. We were all supposed to fill in the blank according to where in our life we need to slow down. When my turn came, I proudly declared, without hesitation, “I drive too fast.”

The circle ended with the teacher (one of my all time favorite mentors) proclaiming, “I judge too fast.”

What? That’s an option?

I need to change my answer.

A couple of months ago, while mindlessly perusing Facebook, I had a memory of that moment. I spend more time on Facebook than I’d like to admit. It’s a weird anomaly in my otherwise non-digital life. I recognize how much of a life-waste it is, yet sometimes, after a long day, I spend more than thirty or forty minutes sifting through electronic pages of people’s lives. Nowhere in my life do I judge more quickly than on Facebook. In fact, if I’m not actually writing/responding to a friend, I spend my time passing judgments on people I barely know. “Damn that bridesmaid up-do is hideous, poor thing, I wonder if she realized?” “Wow, I can’t believe she’s dating that guy, she is way too good looking for him.” “I can’t believe that’s what that girl did with her life!”

They say, in yoga, “we resist what we need the most.” In five years of practicing yoga, I haven’t so much as scratched the surface of my judgmental behavior. I don’t even make excuses for avoiding it. I’ve never felt compelled to deal with judgment because I’d never really witnessed it come up on my mat.

Until recently when I made an important connection. I started to observe the way in which judgment interferes with what I’m trying to cultivate on my mat, the higher order stuff I want to take out of the studio and into the world. Specifically, I’ve noticed how judgment interferes with my desire to be a loving and compassionate person in my everyday life. As soon as I judge someone, I cut off the channel connecting us. I can no longer see their light and love, or, our similarities, or, the meaning of our interaction. All I experience is the judgment.

I’m a firm believer that as I am judging others, I am really judging myself. I am comparing myself either to an end of “at least I’m not like that” or “ugh, I wish I was more like that.” Either way, I am generating internal negativity. In the first instance, I have immediate guilt and shame for being compassionless and critical; in the second instance, I am denigrating my own value and failing to see the truth of my full beauty and wholeness. I’m undoing all the serenity and open-heartedness I sweat my butt off for.

It’s a lose, lose. Over and over again.

Once I could see how judgment blocked my other intentions, I started dedicating my yoga practice to non-judgment. Slowly, I could see the way in which my practice helped manifest my off-the-mat intentions.

I found myself judging about the same amount, but observing it more. The observation helped me slow down the process of disconnecting. Sometimes I’d recover just in time to balance out the judgment with a positive affirmation. “but damn that wedding is beautiful.” “He must make her so happy.” “Good for her for following her dreams.”

I’m still on Facebook and the judgments keep coming. But the awareness gives me the opportunity to witness the effects of judgment and resolve to do better.