(Minghui.org) Greetings, Master! Greetings, fellow Dafa disciples!

When people ask me, “Where are you from?” that is usually one of the most unconformable questions for me to answer.

As a child, I grew up in two different countries, back and forth every five years or so. As an adult, I lived in a third country for over a year and a fourth country for 13 years. When people would ask me which country or city I consider home, I did not know what to say. The fact is, no matter where I have lived, I have always felt different and partly excluded. That human sense of feeling excluded has been one of the main attachments that I have had to let go of again and again.

I will never forget the first time I took Zhuan Falun into my hands when a friend gave me the book in 2000. It was at that instant that I knew what “home” really meant and it penetrated my very being. I felt elated, absolutely and incredibly grateful. But not too long after that initial thunderbolt of a realization, I started to have doubts.

After I finished reading Zhuan Falun for the first time, I was not sure if I was cut out to be a practitioner. I asked myself, “Is this really meant for me to take on? Do I really have what it takes to be a practitioner? What does xinxing mean anyway?” Then I told myself, “Well, I should read the book again to figure it out." So I read the book again, and at the end of the second reading, I still had doubts. So while I endured a fever that went up and down for the course of about a month, I happily read it again, and again, and then again without realizing at the time that re-reading Zhuan Falun was part of the process of cultivating. I learned the exercises about eight months later. It took me about a year to decide that I really did want to be a Dafa practitioner.

I participated consistently in different short- and long-term truth clarification projects, ranging from sending forth righteous thoughts in front of Chinese consulates, to editing torture cases that were submitted to international organizations, to personally clarifying the truth to government officials, ambassadors, NGO's, and doctors in different countries, to singing in the European Choir “Coming for You,” to working for NTD first part-time in Vienna and later full-time in New York City, where I eventually produced an 8-minite video exposing organ harvesting in China and then working as an editor full-time for the English Epoch Times and now as a writer for the Arts section of the Epoch Times.

Now, more than 18 years later, I no longer doubt whether I consider myself a Dafa disciple or not. Instead, I ask myself different questions, such as: Am I in the Fa? Am I following Master's arrangement? Is this thought or that thought a notion, an attachment, or a thought coming from my true self? Am I validating myself in this instance or am I truly validating the Fa? Am I fulfilling my vows? Am I really saving sentient beings? How can I best save sentient beings in this instance? And so forth. I imagine that, further along in my cultivation, I won’t have to ask myself these questions anymore, because I will have incorporated this way of being in everything that I think and do.

While my cultivation does go through ups and downs, I understand that when I stumble and fall I should get up quickly and keep striving forward—no matter what. At some point in recent years, however, I came across a stubborn stumbling block—one that was not readily apparent. Many attachments—such as fear, jealousy, lust, sentimentality, and seeking recognition, which I thought I had eliminated completely—resurfaced in new guises. I also reached a state whereby I did not feel any joy or enthusiasm about anything. I did not trust people and felt particularly sensitive to any semblance or hint at being excluded. I felt exhausted most of the time and unmotivated. My voice sounded to me as though it was coming from outside of my body, the way it sounds when talking through a microphone. I became hypersensitive to noise and loud voices. It was as if I was being separated from fundamentally being rooted in that unbreakable faith and vow that I believe brought me here at this time in history.

From an ordinary person's perspective, it could be seen as if I was depressed, with easy explanations for the causes. After all, I had experienced one big loss after another, and many small losses in between, going through some rather 'dramatic' changes: I went through a divorce after a 12-year marriage with a non-practitioner, I returned to the United States in 2011 and had to re-adapt to the American culture again, I took on more responsibilities at NTD as the English News Director, a year later in 2012 my father died. At that time NTD was going through some precarious structural changes. I was trying to manage a team of people who already seemed to be at the limit of their forbearance working 12 to 14-hour days at the station, and ready to quit any second. I was taking on several roles without succeeding in any of them it seemed. All of my savings were depleted and I started to get into debt. To top it off, I also went through a life and death test.

Of course all of these so-called 'dramatic' changes are trivial in comparison to any Chinese practitioner undergoing torture and persecution in China. Besides shouldn't I overcome all of these obstacles as fast as possible in order to clarify the truth better and save more sentient beings? I think so. So while I understand this conceptually, it is something more challenging to actually put it into practice. And while the tests always seem grueling at the time, once I overcome them and elevate, looking back they are nothing. So, I go through the process, I am cultivating after all.

Several people have pointed out a fundamental attachment in me that I had not fully recognized. It would manifest in several ways. For example if I would be interrupted during a conversation, I would immediately interpret it as if I was being rejected or excluded. In a strange way I felt invisible. In some cases I would be talking about something out of context, or I would tell a vague personal anecdote from my past. It was as if I was constantly seeking a sense of connection or validation. I would also immerse myself in long hours of work, equating that with being good, instead of prioritizing my time to do the three things well. I was trying to avoid the pain of facing myself. I was trying to fill a void in the wrong way, in a human way.

That void, I discovered, was a bundle of notions connected to the attachment of fear, fear of actually being seen playing my part on this main stage practitioners share to save sentient beings. I feared others becoming envious or jealous towards me. I felt rejected because I was not being authentic. Instead I was playing a game with myself, pretending that I was no longer capable of doing anything effectively because of all the so-called dramatic changes I had not fully gotten over or because I had some kind of fundamental flaw. That is not my true self. All of that was attachment to self, dueling in the past. And those notions would get bigger, of course, whenever I would slack off in Fa study and exercises.

The old forces took advantage of that gap when I was working for NTD producing a series about organ harvesting—the third one after what has been routinely called among practitioners “the eight-minute video.” After a full day of calling mainstream media I had a severe migraine headache that had been intensifying throughout the day. It felt as if my head was a pressure cooker about to explode. The pain was so acute I really feared my head would explode. When I went into the restroom someone told me that I looked "terrible." I started crying. She suggested that I lay down on one of the beds designated for anchors who work overnight. Once I lay down, I continued crying and then started hyperventilating for about half an hour. It felt so isolated and as if I was drowning in quicksand as I kept hearing a nasty voice in my head telling me that I was "worthless," that I should be "ashamed," that I was "not worthy of being a Dafa disciple." It was something attacking me based on a loophole of me feeling excluded.

It was the first time I called out to Master for help.

I sent a text to a practitioner asking for help. She brought me some water. Even though she could not understand what I was trying to say while I was hyperventilating, she responded with reassuring words reminding me of who I am—I am a Dafa disciple, I am here to help master save sentient beings! Nothing and nobody can stop me from doing that.

I eventually calmed down. She called a couple of other practitioners to send righteous thoughts next to me. In less than an hour I felt better. By the time I got home that night, I still had a headache, but it was bearable. The next day it was as if nothing had happened. I was full of energy and continued to work on the video.

I am truly grateful to the practitioners who helped me overcome that tribulation. The old forces had tried to drag me down—amplifying any thoughts of unworthiness that I had harbored, any doubts I had of whether I was a true Dafa disciple. My fast recovery is a testament to how practitioners are one body, to the power of righteous thoughts, to Master's boundless compassion.

Since then I have still been tested again and again on this fundamental attachment to self-validation or seeking recognition on the one hand, and to feeling unworthy or rejected on the other—two sides of the same coin.

In 2013, when NTD took on a new direction with the new and current president, the English team was almost completely eliminated. I was transferred to the English Epoch Times. Although it was probably the best opportunity for me, I took it very hard. Again, I felt rejected and excluded from NTD. Working for the Epoch Times seemed like a decision that was made for me without my consent. After all, the only reason why I had moved back to New York City was because NTD had asked me to manage the English News team. It was a big commitment that I had taken full heartedly.

After two years at NTD in New York when I was transferred to the Epoch Times, I realized that instead of fully recognizing the situation, I had relied on NTD as a way of enforcing my sense of identity. I had grown attached to my positions as a news director or as a producer, practically regarding it as “insurance” for clarifying the truth.

Master said:

“Even if you are involved in Dafa disciples’ projects, in the heavens above there are no such things as television stations, nor do gods have newspapers. Those are forms in ordinary human society. If you don’t use righteous thoughts to guide yourself, and if you cannot manage to conduct yourself and look at the world and others according to the standard of a cultivator, like a Dafa disciple does, then you are the same as an ordinary person.” (“What is a Dafa Disciple,” Fa Teaching Given at the 2011 New York Fa Conference)

At the Epoch Times I was told that my skills as an editor were very much needed, but that they were not sure what my position would be. I was first put under two departments: the web team and the local New York news team. My position and desk changed three times within one year. The uncertainty of not knowing where I fit in or how I could be of best use was predictable given that the company was still establishing itself. Despite my understanding, it was still frustrating.

After a year I quit, partly for financial reasons, partly because I was tired of editing news articles, but mostly out of a sense that I did not belong, especially after one of my managers told me that I did not have the heart to work for the Epoch Times. I was actually exhausted. My living situation was very precarious. I was still mourning the personal loss of my father passing away, among other things.

My eight months away from the Epoch Times was a nightmare to say the least. I will spare you the details. In a nutshell, I was in a situation where I felt ten times more excluded than I had felt before. I knew something was amiss.

When I eventually returned to work for the Epoch Times I felt my decision came from my own free will, which was affirming. I started writing profile stories about influential and inspiring people in New York and later started to write for the Arts section, which matched my interest and education. I was striving to do my very best, full heartedly. I received compliments on my articles from the Deputy Director and one of the top curators at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as from a Senior Curator at The Frick Collection. These are two of the most prestigious art museums in the city as well as internationally. It was encouraging for my writing process and dispelled a lot of insecurities and doubts I had harbored, of not feeling good enough.

So when the Epoch Times was again going through a major transition, more than a year ago, when I was told that I was among some of the people who were being laid off, it came as a great shock to me. I was told it was strictly a financially-based decision that had to be made, but I did not believe it. I knew I was working my hardest, full heartedly, but still I felt I was being judged unfairly.

Needless to say, I felt yet again excluded, a deep sense of shame, confusion, and suspicion. Again I wondered, was I too attached to validating myself through work instead of having the pure heart to save sentient beings? Where was my starting point? The only shortcoming I could find in myself at the time was that I was not exercising regularly or consistently, and that I still had to let go of sentimentality on a fundamental level.

The sense of rejection I felt and the anger that built up lasted for months. Even though I was rehired in less than a month, ironically I felt even more rejected by the way I was rehired. Instead of being rehired face to face, I was sent a kind of standard email about having to go through some trial period to see if I would join group exercise more regularly. Again I felt confused, wondering if I was working for a company or a monastery? I thought that if I worked really hard, that would be good enough. It turns out that that is not the criteria for a Dafa disciple working for the media. The criteria is to work hard, and also to be part of the one body.

My colleagues seemed to pretend as if nothing had happened, with the understanding that I should carry on as usual.

Master said:

“When you are not cooperating well together, and your righteous thoughts aren’t strong enough, this will cause your mind to, while sending righteous thoughts, dwell on attachments that lead you to look outward, rather than inward, in cultivation.” (“What is a Dafa Disciple,” Fa Teaching Given at the 2011 New York Fa Conference)

I had to make a choice, either I was going to continue to let the resentment and anger grow or I would have to let go and fully commit to cooperate, to trust in Master that everything happens for a reason, even if I can’t understand the reason at that time.

Now looking back I know those were great opportunities for me to improve, to temper myself, to continue striving forward. I know I cannot rely on being part of a large project, like the Epoch Times, as a guarantee for doing the three things well.

Still I have to continually remind myself that I am first a Dafa disciple. Everything else is secondary. Working for the Epoch Times is an honor and a golden opportunity for me to cooperate well with fellow practitioners to help save sentient beings, but of course I cannot do that well unless I cultivate well.

I would like to end with a quote from Master:

“You have already passed through the hardest part. What is left won’t be so trying. You just need to do even better with it. The more hopeless things may seem, it’s possible hope will appear right before your eyes. Especially during those times when you are feeling so bored, perhaps you are in fact establishing your mighty virtue. I hope that you can really manage to cooperate well, have strong enough righteous thoughts, look within when you run into things, and be enthusiastic like you were when you first took up cultivation.” (“What is a Dafa Disciple,” Fa Teaching Given at the 2011 New York Fa Conference)

Thank you, Master.  Thank you, fellow practitioners.

(Presented at the 2018 New York English Experience Sharing Conference)