Crossing the Street in Hanoi
I love to travel and find the experience of visiting other cultures enriching and often life changing.
I recently returned from a vacation in Southeast Asia. It was a fantastic trip and a feast for all of my senses. Hanoi is a Vietnamese city of 9 million people and 8 million motorcycles. The city streets are jammed with motorcycles swerving and manoeuvring around each other. There are very few traffic lights and where there is one - no one obeys it. In fact, there was very little evidence that there are any traffic rules at all.
Thrown into this mix is the pedestrian. Our tour guide told us that we must be assertive when crossing the street; that we can’t stand and wait at the curb as the motorcycles just don’t stop. “They will swerve around you” she assured us; “You must walk slowly and purposefully”.
My first few attempts to cross made me want to cry. To step out into the street with motor cycles driving towards me went against every self-preservation instinct I had. I wanted to run or to retreat back to the starting point which is dangerous as this is not what the drivers are expecting.
Gradually, I got the hang of it.
I stretched my arm out with hand in a “back off” gesture and proceeded slowly and purposefully. I watched the closest motorcycles in my peripheral vision, but I did not turn my head to stare at them as this only served to scare me. It was an exercise in both assertiveness and trust.
Surprisingly, it all worked. The motorcycles swerved around me as I walked and my confidence in my ability to take care of myself amidst this chaos grew.
I’ve thought of this experience quite a bit since my return home and I believe it is a good metaphor for practising Fierce or Yang self-compassion.
One of the important functions of Yang self-compassion is self- protection; things like setting boundaries and saying no. Saying no can be difficult for a people-pleaser like me as I have to risk disappointing someone.
It occurs to me that I can strengthen my fierce compassion muscle just like the way I crossed the streets in Hanoi. If I visualize myself hand outstretched in the “no” position, eyes ahead, I can move slowly and purposely though moments that call for me to protect myself.
Just like on the streets of Hanoi, I can move calmly forward in faith that I will keep myself safe and trust that other people will be able to manoeuvre around me.
In Kindness, Patricia
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Cathy & Patricia