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This is Michael He (Huh).

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Tender Lightness

October 2021

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What makes life worth living? Fortunately, some moments are self-evident answers to that question. For example, right now.

I'm sitting outside the biology department building, looking at the four-way street intersection. The sun is shining but the temperature feels just right. IU's 'Ah Puh' is playing in my ears. I'm smiling from head to toes. Literally.

I live for this feeling. I call it "tender lightness".

Maybe you know the feeling of lightness, but what does "tender" lightness mean? It means to be fully immersed, to let everything but your sense of self envelop you.

Tender lightness doesn't come around often in life. Many things have to line up for it to happen, but the feeling is infectiously positive. Once you have experienced it, you can never go back. Chasing this lightness becomes part of life's mission, whether you realize it or not.

Tender lightness is unpredictable. Drinking iced sparkling water during a hot day feels wonderful, but it doesn't guarantee tender lightness. Walking in the blistering cold doesn't sound pleasant, but I once felt incredibly light when walking in Tokyo's cold wind.

Tender lightness is not the same as happiness. When you feel tender lightness, you are happy. But when you are happy, you don't always feel tender lightness.

It's the same with feeling "bubbly". Sometimes I confuse the "bubbly" feeling and tender lightness. They are very similar except for one fundamental difference - bubbles fizz away quickly and lightness stays much longer (usually for the day and sometimes multiple days). Of course, I'm making this claim with a sample size of one (i.e. me), but I believe something is crucial to feeling tender lightness.

You need to feel no weight on your shoulder, literally and figuratively. When I eat cold watermelon on a hot and humid day, I feel great for the time being. What sustains that feeling is knowing there is no homework, no chores, and no restriction to where I can go and what I can do. I'm very much in the present. No weight about the past and the future is messing with me.

I feel light right now because I finally got to let go of some heavy personal baggage yesterday. You not only feel better, you feel great, amazing, fantastic, wonderful, spectacular, marvelous, phenomenal, awesome, and fabulous!

If I'm taking a temporary break to enjoy the moment, the good feeling disappears as soon as I go back to life's drudgery. In comparison, tender lightness persists throughout the day and people will likely comment on your cheeriness and wonder if something great happened to you.

The difference between world-class musicians and excellent musicians is usually not in the nitty-gritty. I cannot claim Yo-Yo Ma's techniques to be lightyears better than a professional cellist, but Ma's music makes me feel things no cellist can. He performs with a soft, calm, and tender soul, which translates to delicate and precise musical poetry. You cannot practice that in advance. In a way, that light and cheerful energy can channel God's grace.

You can also see tender lightness in ballet. The best ballerinas jump and spin with such ease, you know they are not thinking about their tax return during the performance.

So how do you achieve this state of being? I don't know, but I know it when I feel it and so will you! Just be patient, let go of the invisible weights if possible, and be open to the random moments when the stars align in your favor.

And this is precisely why I'm writing about tender lightness, so I can look back to this time and remember all the times I feel so nice and light. I hope you can enjoy these beautiful moments in life as well.