Vietnaps

Every summer when I was in undergrad, I worked as a research assistant at a hospital in Calgary. I loved the job, but the 6:00am wake-ups killed me. I’m not a morning person (which is an actual thing), and was routinely a groggy mess by mid-afternoon. It was difficult to complete any task efficiently at this point.

One day, I decided to embark on a mission around the hospital to claim a quiet space to nap. I eventually found a small lounge in a very low-traffic wing. Here, I moved two love seats together, curled up on them, and closed my eyes. It was a great relief. 

I returned to work 15 minutes later alert, focused, and noticeably kinder to everyone around me. I also got a lot more work completed than I ever had during these hours, and went home happy. So, from then on, I did this everyday during my afternoon break. 

Yet, despite this clearly being a win-win-win situation, I accumulated a ton of shame surrounding my on-the-job naps. I didn’t tell any of my colleagues and was embarrassed whenever the occasional hospital inhabitant noticed me snoozing. I knew how unprofessional this looked, especially in our Western culture where we are expected to simply pound down another cup of coffee to forge through the rest of the day.

However, when I recently visited my parent’s birthplace in Vietnam, I noticed that EVERYBODY took afternoon naps. People everywhere stopped what they were doing, picked a spot on the floor, and went horizontal. In fact, if you ride a bus during these hours, the seats are horizontal, so you have no choice. 

It amazed me that Vietnamese culture chose to honor our afternoon circadian dip, the natural decrease in energy and alertness that occurs around 2:00pm – 4:00pm (which I eventually learned about with great validation after that hospital job). Upon returning, I yearned even more for this fantastic nap culture.

Yet despite the recent rise of work-from-home conditions which have made it easier to nap during the day, there is still so much resistance, shame, and clinical-controversy around them. For example, in CBT-Insomnia sessions, we are often told to avoid naps as they will relieve too much sleep pressure and disrupt our nightly slumber.

While this is true for some people in some circumstances, it isn’t for everybody. For me, short afternoon naps make everything feel 1000 times better in my body and mind, and don’t affect my sleep later on (sometimes even improving it). Individual differences matter big here and while I can’t speak for you, I would suggest experimenting for yourself instead of taking anyone’s advice so strictly.

Anyways, I hope we can one day get to a point where we respect the choices of nap-lovers and haters alike, so we can all work and rest in a way that nourishes our unique bodies and circumstances.

…P.S. yoga nidra can be a beautiful nap companion :)

They aren’t here for your entertainment

On Friday nights when the weather is right, my partner and his friends will set up a portable floor and speakers in Uptown Waterloo and break dance. It’s a fun time. 

Passersby will often stop to watch, with some admiring curiously from afar while others express their appreciation more directly. These are usually cheerful interactions. 

However, there is another category of people who occasionally approach uninvited—White folks who actively believe that my partner and his friends (all racialized men) were there for the sole purpose of entertaining them. They will literally bark orders, “YOU! You’re up next!” “Do a head spin!” “AGAIN!” “Okay, now you go!” “Don’t stop, keep going!!!” basically as they would to circus animals.

It is truly a buzzkill. Thankfully, the crew has an unspoken protocol whenever this happens, which essentially involves sitting down and doing nothing. The entitled asshole soon gets bored and moves on. It works pretty well. 

Though, I sometimes wonder if these people ever reflect on the situation. Do they ever consider the possibility that maybe my partner and his friends were out here to enjoy their art and culture—which is a street dance… on the streets? Or, that they were supporting each other’s creativity, training, and development? 

Who knows… White supremacy conditioning can run deep. But, at least in these cases, the monster’s not being fed. 

I didn’t want to fight

Thich Nhat Hanh placed a haunting stock photo of a shocked, dissociated, teary eyed Vietnamese soldier in an article of his about compassion. Every fibre of the soldier’s being emanated an unspeakably tragic pain and worse off—one that was not allowed be expressed. He spoke to me: I didn’t want to fight.

My heart dropped and my gut wrenched. He must have been no older than 20 years old. The following thought was: He could have been dad. But he wasn’t. My dad evaded enlistment during the Vietnam war by hiding inside a wall in his home for a long time. Later, him and my mother fled the country on a small boat by bribing the police with gold. We’re now grounded in Eastern Canada.

During the war, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam for his immense efforts in peace activism. Even after the battle played out through to its brutally long end, the victorious Vietnamese communist government was still threatened by his influence. For these reasons, they banned Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, exercising forceful control over his mindfulness practice communities.

You may be asking why? How could such an innocent practice like attending to the present moment pose such a risk?

I learned the answer after undertaking vigorous mindfulness training myself. It’s because when you practice mindfulness, you develop a greater capacity to question all conditioned beliefs (e.g. political ideologies), and explore in your Heart what truly feels right. When you practice mindfulness, you learn to release hatred for “the other” and replace it instead with compassionate understanding for all sides. When you practice mindfulness, peacebuilding skills grow naturally from the inside-out.

Of course, the Vietnamese communist government did not favour a population of freethinkers and nonviolent resisters.

The image of the soldier is still menacingly burned into my head. Though I can’t help but believe that Thich Nhat Hanh strategically placed that photograph there for me (and of course, others like myself), because it had triggered a deep grief in my ancestral history that cannot be forgotten.

This is not acceptable. This cannot happen again. This should still not be happening now. What do I do? The answer arose spontaneously from the very core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mission itself: Spread the practice of mindfulness.

Burning the seeds of suffering

In yogic philosophy, the physical body is a storehouse of samskaras—thought, emotion, and behavioural patterns—laid down and then reinforced through repeated experiences. These loopy chains may foster activities towards self-actualisation, neutral experiences, or self-destruction.

Journalling your mindsphere is one way to expose and observe patterns of thought. Though I recently looked to my own pile of journals which were written from age 10 onward, with a feeling of irritation and burden. For me, journaling has always helped release tension during moments of emotional distress. So, it really just appeared as huge pile of baggage I have been lugging around with me everywhere I moved, slowing me down from truly welcoming a new day.

I thought that enough was enough. I have come pretty far in trauma processing in the last year, and announced that it was time I burn this bullshit to the ground. On a sunny spring evening, close friends joined me around a fire pit with their own journals, and we watched the pages of our past turn to ash and smoke together. It was an exhilarating experience.

As I looked to the flames, it reminded me of the process of silent mindfulness meditation retreat, which involves an exploration of one’s own body of stories. It can be a practice of meeting and greeting all painful thoughts, emotion, and behavioural patterns with an attitude of compassion… so many times, until they become so boring and redundant, they lose their original potency.

At that point a weight is lifted, and the path moving forward becomes that much more clear and intentional.