year of surrender

PROGRESS ON MY PH.D. (PURE HEART DEGREE)

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BACKSTORY:

Over the last several years, I’ve been seeking.

I’ve been looking inside, outside, everywhere, on a journey of self-exploration trying with determination (and sometimes desperation) to find myself.

About two years ago in late 2016, I recognized that while on paper, I had “made it” achieving my dream in the material world, something was missing...

ALIVENESS

To quote the wise words of poet Mary Oliver, I was, “breathing just a little and calling it a life”.

I projected this feeling of dissatisfaction externally. Even though I was living in my dream city with a meaningful job, a loving partner, and freedom to travel, I still felt stuck. It seemed mad. I didn’t understand.

I wondered:

  • Who am I?

  • Why am I here?

  • What is my purpose in life?

  • How can I contribute to the world in a meaningful way?

  • Where will I go next?

My colorful messy process of self-inquiry...

My colorful messy process of self-inquiry...

This self-inquiry hit an existential tipping point and I decided I needed a change. Without a clear idea of where to start, I took a more traditional approach and began looking at higher education somehow thinking this strategy could solve all my problems. I began a lengthy research process and over the course of a few months, I looked into about 45 schools and graduate programs mostly in the U.S. and some abroad.

After all that research, I couldn't find a single program that fit my variety of interests and budget. The average cost was $60,000 USD for two years!! Which was all of my savings and I couldn’t justify that when I didn’t even feel the programs fit all my needs. I felt frustrated and deflated.

Finally I said, “Fuck it”.

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I decided to design my own customized self-funded curriculum that combines traveling, working, and learning. My friend Ann also decided to pursue the path less traveled with an alternative education all her own.

We both yearned to go deeper and awaken our hearts to love in every form, so we made a master spreadsheet full of everything from yoga retreats, meditation, Ayurveda, Thai massage, divine feminine gatherings, social innovation institutes, design thinking workshops, global leadership programs etc. and we began calling this process, "Getting our Ph.D.'s = Pure Heart Degrees". (See her blog post on her journey.)

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Almost two years later, I’m in the thick of my Pure Heart Degree (I wrote another post at the start here: "Pursuing my Ph.D. Pure Heart Degree" ).  With all of this travel, learning, and growing many friends and family have asked, "How do you do it?" While that question involves far more than I can put into one post, I decided to document the journey and share my progress so far.

May this serve as an inspiration for anyone who is ready to take a leap of faith and is interested in designing their own life curriculum. If you’d like any support on envisioning the next step in your journey, I am happy to provide some visioning coaching and guidance for you. Reach out to me directly – hi@kelseykwong.com.

Hridaya Yoga School | Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

Hridaya Yoga School | Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

PROGRESS ON MY PH.D. (Pure Heart Degree)

START WITH WHY:

The first step when starting anything is to ask, why? what is your intention? For me it was:

  • To heal and purify the heart

  • To expand my capacity to lead, love, and create in the world

  • To return to my true nature

  • To become an instrument of generosity and love

Next, what do you value? What is important to you in your learning journey? Make a list of those important elements. For example, for me it was important this experience include:

  1. Variety of Interests - psychology, spirituality, nature, culture, art, social innovation, conscious leadership, international development, dance, movement, creativity etc.

  2. Experiential Learning Environment – on the ground in person learning as well as flexible online learning for digital nomads

  3. Cost – for the costs to be manageable and allow me the freedom to work minimally and travel as much as I want

  4. Process – to be playful, dynamic, and flexible, an ability to move with what’s present in the moment and not to be rigid or take oneself so seriously

  5. Love - the most important ingredient for anything. Self-love and self-care seems to be my ongoing lesson and something I struggle with often. It was important that I design the right conditions to care for, nurture and love myself through the journey. Being able to take breaks and slow down when I needed to.

Words of wisdom at Hridaya Yoga School | Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

Words of wisdom at Hridaya Yoga School | Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

While many people separate work, education, and travel, I chose to integrate all three by funding my travels and education through my consulting work. What makes this more achievable is that 70% of my work is remote and 30% is in-person, on-site. Plus I worked for American based companies but lived in mostly Southeast Asian countries so my dollars stretched much farther and I could work far less than if I lived in America.

While this all makes perfect sense looking backwards, I will say it wasn’t as clear when I started. But something in me called me from every cell in my being, it was ever so soft and enormously loud all at once. I knew I had to do this, so in December 2016, I said farewell to my partner, friends and family, I put my stuff in storage and took off!

A wise friend said to me, “life is either a problem to solve or a mystery to be revealed” and slowly but surely the path has revealed itself.

WHAT I’VE BEEN UP TO SO FAR:

COUNTRIES TRAVELED:

  1. Thailand

  2. Vietnam

  3. Indonesia

  4. Australia

  5. Cambodia

  6. USA

  7. Mexico

  8. Taiwan

  9. Canada

DSIL Global Course  | Bangkok, Thailand

DSIL Global Course | Bangkok, Thailand

EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION:

1.) LEADERSHIP : Designing for Social Innovation & Leadership Course – The DSIL Global course is a 5 month executive leadership course certified by the UN University of Peace. The course is designed to expand one’s creative capacities and develop one’s skillset in design thinking, conscious leadership, entrepreneurial mindset, sustainable development, and social innovation (Bangkok, Thailand; Phnom Phen, Cambodia, and Virtual Classrooms). I loved it so much I did it twice, once in 2017 and again in 2018, I then joined their epic team of Creative Consultants and Design Thinkers (DSIL Global) that facilitate around the globe.

Tantra Heart Yoga Retreats  | Koh Phangan, Thailand

Tantra Heart Yoga Retreats | Koh Phangan, Thailand

2.) TANTRA HEART YOGA:·

Tantra Heart Kriya Yoga is a profound and playful way for learning to live in bliss. What distinguishes Tantra Heart is the focus on realizing your true Self, attention to emotional flow, and the skillfully designed sets of yogic techniques for safely activating your kundalini (most powerful and creative) energy.

Hridaya Yoga | Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

Hridaya Yoga | Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

3.) HRIDAYA YOGA & MEDITATION:

Hridaya Yoga & Meditation School - Hridaya is a school dedicated to teaching students to live with an open heart and discover their life's potential.  Through meditation sessions, Hatha Yoga classes, silent meditation retreats, and daily life awareness practices, Hridaya shares a path for the revelation of the Self and a way to live a life of joy, compassion, and gratitude. This is the path of the Spiritual Heart.

Social Enterprise Fellowship Program with  Unbound  | Sydney, Australia

Social Enterprise Fellowship Program with Unbound | Sydney, Australia

4.) COACHING & CONSULTING WORK:

Delivering Happiness (DH) started as a book written by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, on his business philosophy and lessons learned in focusing and prioritizing company culture and employee happiness. Today, DH is a coachsultancy [hybrid coaching + consulting], working with individuals and organizations around the world to create successful companies and meaningful lives.

  • Organizational Development and Culture Transformation consulting projects for six companies ranging from 75 to 10,000 employees on behalf of DH (USA and Hanoi, Vietnam)

  • Internal culture development and special projects for DH - 6 months part-time (online, remote)

DSIL Global Consulting - DSIL is a Bangkok-based design company that is dedicated to building creative capacity in people so that they can build innovation, together. DSIL Consulting serves teams in progressive companies working to learn design thinking as a process for development and as a path for innovation. 

  • Social Enterprise Fellowship Program & Changemaker Summit – facilitating experiential workshops for 14 Fellows and 30 Changemakers from 17 countries with Unbound (Sydney, Australia)

  • Branding & Marketing Strategy for 2 months full-time with DSIL Global (Lubao, Philippines)

  • Co-facilitated a Leadership Development Program for AAPTIP with 8 Program Directors for 1 week (Australia Asian Program to Combat Trafficking In Persons)

  • Co-facilitated a 2 day “Design for a Resilient Mind” POP OUT class with Stanford d.school and StreetCode Academy.

Design for a Resilient Mind Pop Out  with Stanford d.school and StreetCode Academy | Palo Alto, California

Design for a Resilient Mind Pop Out with Stanford d.school and StreetCode Academy | Palo Alto, California

More consulting work on my own:

NUTS & BOLTS: HOW

How much did 2 years cost?

  • $19, 800 Education

  • $24, 000 for travel, lodging and expenses to 9 countries and staying in approx ~80 places

  • $14,800 other misc expenses

  • TOTAL: $69,600

How much did I work over 24 months?

  • 60 hrs/week for 2 months

  • 40 hrs/week for 8 months

  • 15 hrs/week for 8 months

  • 0 hrs/week for 6 months

How much did I make? ~$78,000 + used some savings to fund my travels

How much fun did I have? WOW – I can’t even begin to describe this. More than I could have ever imagined and worth every penny.

Practicing my life-juggling | Nogales, Mexico

Practicing my life-juggling | Nogales, Mexico

LESSONS LEARNED:

I don’t think I can compile these in bullet points. While so much of it has been practical, I can’t say it’s concrete. Who I am is what I’ve learned. I’m living, practicing, and breathing it day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath.

The learning journey continues. But somehow I’ve found a resting place in my heart. I’ve discovered that though life will take many forms, there is something unmovable and unchanging, a background of stillness, of peace in my heart. And a really simple but profound truth, that my essential nature is love. I don’t need to do anything to become this love, only to let go of everything preventing me from being what I naturally am.

What's next?

My intention for this year is to SURRENDER.

To be as open and available as possible. To live in alignment with the divine, continue deepening my spiritual practice, to activate the artist of life within, and to engage in meaningful consulting projects along the way. That said, who knows what’s in store, many wise people have reminded me to listen to my heart, it knows the way.

"The only spiritual authority is the sacred heart."

With gratitude and grace,

Kelsey 'Lotus' Wong

A visual expression of the life I want to create with an inner feeling of WHOLENESS and a spirit of ALIVENESS.

A visual expression of the life I want to create with an inner feeling of WHOLENESS and a spirit of ALIVENESS.

HEAVY RAIN & ROSE WATER: ADVENTURES & SELF-CARE IN TAIPEI

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Today it rained in Taipei. Hard.

I got swept up in the rain, soaked after getting lost on the train and having a fight with my partner.

It has been a long week and an intense month living in Taipei for the first time. We came here on nearly blind faith, offering ourselves to the Universe. Six months ago we had hatched an idea with another client friend who wanted to introduce us to their friends and potential partners in Taiwan.

After three and a half months of attending a yoga, meditation, and spirituality in Oaxaca, Mexico our hearts and calendars were so open we decided, why not?

Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico | Photography: Sabina Mac

Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico | Photography: Sabina Mac

Arriving in Taipei, the culture shock was real. Going from living in a tiny coastal town in Oaxaca where the farthest we traveled was 1km to and from the yoga school to living in a bustling city in Taipei was startling. We had spent three and half months getting grounded, increasing our awareness and sensitivities and then BOOM! Another country, another language, another culture, and way of doing things.

Welcome to Taiwan.

You could say we were naïve and a little unprepared. We had no idea what was in store.

Songshan District, Taipei, Taiwan 

Songshan District, Taipei, Taiwan 

And yet for all the challenges of city life and the identity confusion for me of being Chinese yet still a foreigner, Taiwan has been amazing. I love the people who for the most part have been so kind, generous and willing to help. The city is incredibly clean and well-designed. The train stations are spotless. I love the food, lots of traditional dumplings, scallion pancakes, and steaming hot pot. The island is full of lush green mountains and tea gardens just outside the city center. And more than anything there’s this air of peacefulness and this love for family and a good, simple life I appreciate so much. 

Wisteria Tea House, Taipei, Taiwan 

Wisteria Tea House, Taipei, Taiwan 

Taiwan has never been on my radar and I knew very little about the country before I came but the explosion of creativity and richness of culture here is astounding. The cultural history dates back to the prehistoric Stone Age when many aboriginal tribes lived here. During war times in China, much of the art and culture was destroyed. However, what was preserved still exists in Taiwan and to add to the mix, Taiwan has a true melting pot with Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, American, Portuguese, and Spanish influences.

Jiufen, Taipei, Taiwan 🇹🇼 

Jiufen, Taipei, Taiwan 🇹🇼 

But even with all this cultural wealth, the metropolitan area of New Taipei City is not immune to the struggles of city life. The air quality isn’t great with lots of noisy cars and pollution. Like most modern-day cities, many people you see are glued to their screens. This is the power of technology; it holds within it both the seeds of creation/innovation and destruction. When we lock our attention on it, our minds fall under a collective hypnosis. We lose ourselves.

Taipei, Taiwan 

Taipei, Taiwan 

That includes me. It’s been a mental, emotional, physical rollercoaster. Trying to work fulltime again and navigate my way in a busy new city. I thought I’d moved beyond “living for the weekend” but wow, I’m thankful it’s Saturday and I have a night to myself. A night to go IN.

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I’ve drawn a bath for myself, a salt bath of rose water. I’ve lit candles and diffused some essential oils. I’m drinking creamy honey in my rose tea. Listening to the soul-caressing sacred songs of Peia's album "Four Great Winds" and the heart-moving mighty ballads of the new album "High As Hope" by Florence + The Machine.

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There’s something so feminine about being in the water. A beautiful bathtub that makes even a busy city feel like home. Back to the mother, back to the womb. It’s so comforting, I feel so held. Slowly but surely I begin to relax, the suit of armor that I unconsciously wear to protect myself comes off. I peel back the layers and reveal my still beating heart. I breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with the scent of rose.

In this moment I wash away the rains from the day, the month, the year and I let myself be my own inner mother. Held closely and intimately by my self.

Wherever you are, I wish you some nourishing “you time” soon. It’s a wild world out there. Take care of yourself.

With love and gratitude,

Lotus

Da’an Park, Taipei, Taiwan 

Da’an Park, Taipei, Taiwan 

STEPPING INTO STILLNESS | 17 DIAS EN SILENCIO

“Be quiet in your mind, quiet in your senses, and also quiet in your body. Then, when all these are quiet, don’t do anything. In that state, truth will reveal itself to you.” — Kabir

Tomorrow, I begin 17 days of silence as a part of a silent meditation retreat at Hridaya Yoga in Oaxaca, Mexico.

While I mostly feel open, willing and ready to step into stillness, I also feel scared.

It’s amazing to paint yourself up to be this strong, capable, trail-blazing woman who of all things, is scared of silence and sitting still.

In the yogic tradition, realized beings transcended themselves and surrendered to something much greater. They sat in silence and meditated in caves for days, months, even years, reaching states of Samadhi (ecstasy, absorption in the essence of reality) and Nirvana (ultimate bliss) that most of us could never imagine.

While I won’t be sitting in a cave, I will be journeying inside into my innermost chambers, where I hope to come into deep resonance and intimacy with self (and Self). It is there that I also hope to engage in a process of discernment.

You see, while I know I have the gift of “a voice”, I also recognize I’ve accumulated many perspectives over the years, countless stories, media, messages, and loads of social and cultural conditioning. And while I accept and embrace all of this as a part of my karma, I also understand that the mind, even a beautiful mind, can be a prison.

Yogic sage and mystic, Ramana Maharashi says, “Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world.”

I dedicate this time in silence and this lifetime as a whole in service of That.

100 blessings to you and see you on the other side.

xx,
Lotus

#heroinesjourney #yearofsurrender

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM SILENCE?

I have a lot to learn about life.

I think I know some things but the truth is I’m only touching the surface.

The world is vast.

They say God speaks in silence and everything else is a poor translation.

So I wonder, what can we learn from silence?

I suspect many things. In society, if you don’t have a voice you are considered weak. At an early age, our very survival depends on our ability to cry out.

Silence can also be dangerous. People and the planet suffering in silence. Many of us who notice look away because we don’t know what to do or too afraid to act on what we know. 

For a long time, I’ve found strength in having a voice. I found that my voice is what got me through countless life situations and provided a direct channel to my heart. Over the last several years my channels have opened to receive messages from my higher self, guardian angels, and Source itself.

I have given these energies a voice.

But I’ve also had times of forced silence where I’ve lost my voice. At first, it was difficult and felt like a punishment. Partly because of societal conditions and partly because time out or being grounded was the preferred method of punishment growing up.

But then I found peace in silence. I found the world opened to me in an entirely new way. I felt so relieved to not have to talk. I felt like people who were willing to engage with me understood me in a whole new way. The three or four times this has happened have been some of the most revelatory experiences of my life.

My dad always said the only thing that will get you in trouble is your mouth. And I get that, I overpromise and under deliver, I commit to things I know are unlikely for me to live up to. Why do I do this to myself and others?

Simply put, I’m afraid. Afraid that if I don’t I won’t be lovable or good enough. I make the same mistake over and over that other people’s happiness is dependent on me. That their state of being is contingent on me. The truth is it isn’t. But I do have a responsibility to be in integrity with my word. Every time I don’t keep my word it means less and less which makes me try more and more but I’ve set myself up for failure.

My word is my wand. My voice is my truth. It has an impact in many ways I’ll never fully know. So perhaps it’s time to think before I speak. To choose silence and wisdom over the need to control conversations and be liked. 

Time to try a new way.

So let's begin with silence.

THIS IS MY HEARTBEAM.

I don’t know how else to express this feeling welling in my heart. In short, my heart is beaming. Beaming with the gift of this existence. If at first I was fighting with life, today I am flowing, surrendering, and learning to trust again.

I ask the Universe many things. Every morning I ask to be a vessel. A vessel of light and love, a beacon of hope and truth, an instrument and spirit of generosity.

I ask to experience love in all forms. To remove as many barriers to the heart as possible and to help others do the same.

Then life hands me what I perceive as obstacles and the mind asks, WHY WHY WHY? I thought I already did this work, this isn’t what I asked for!

But what if we suspend that judgment? What if the “challenges” we receive are EXACTLY what we’ve asked for in a form we hadn’t considered yet.

What if these aren’t obstacles but divine lessons providing exactly what we need for our souls to evolve?

What if we stopped fighting and started trusting? How might we love and accept these obstacles and watch the suffering melt away?

What if we shifted our perspective, from the mentality where we have to fight for everything towards a posture of surrender, of gifting and receiving?

Imagine living in a world where we are free to give without needing anything in return. No matching. No accounting. Trusting in ourselves, one another, and the Divine that our needs will be met and that it’s okay for things to be easy. Effortless. Natural.

The simple but profound recognition that we are of infinite value. Each of us. Not from a position of self absorption but from a place of grace.

That yes, we can and will still stand up for what we believe in. That we will pursue work that meets the inner and outer worlds needs AND that we can also do absolutely nothing, that being in integrity with ourselves is more than enough.

So today I break the chains and take a swing of faith. I liberate myself from needing to know everything and trust in the divine orchestration unfolding.

Today I surrender and let my heart beam.

With gratitude and grace,

Lotus

 #yearofsurrender#heroinesjourney #heartbeam 💖💖💖 #returntolove