I caught up with Chong for a behind-the-scenes look at the book.
You start your book with a powerful quote by Jung – in a way, is your story an illustration of the American dream? You can reinvent yourself if you choose to?
I think the ‘American dream’ means different things to different people. However, I do believe that the common themes the American dream carries are justice, equality and freedom. I believe that these big lofty ideals can only be realised if each person can dig deep within and re-write their programs of limiting beliefs.
When Carl Jung says “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become,” we can look at it as a collective intention to reinvent ourselves not just as Americans, but as a global society. Every single person who is born into this world will face countless obstacles. If we don’t know how to develop a healthy relationship with these obstacles, they will fester into traumatic scars that will create the impression that we are nothing more than a collection of our greatest pain stories.
As a gay Chinese American man with conservative parents who are refugees from Communist China, I am constantly on a path of reinventing myself and rediscovering my values. My deepest wish is that everyone can step into their own power and realise that they too, can reinvent themselves if they choose.
Why was this the right time to write the book and share your story with the world?
I’m one of those people you have to push over the edge because I take so long to decide whether or not to jump. I have some pretty amazing coaches who encouraged me to write, and they figuratively pushed me over my edge to deliver this story.
It felt right to write a story that blended spirituality and self-development in a very relatable way in the only authentic way I knew how – through my own personal experiences. There are enough academic dissections about various spiritual traditions. I wanted to create a more personal and relatable book that tracked the forks in the road of a spiritual journey through my own lens in the hopes that it will help others find more clarity on their own journeys.
The world needs more people to step out into the limelight to share their stories because stories have the power to change perspectives. And stories also build empathy. If we look around us today, wouldn’t you say the world needs more of that?
Was writing the book a form of therapy, or had you worked through all of that before sitting down to write?
Some of the more recent events later on in the book where I did an ancestral tomb-sweeping ceremony with my father in China are still fresh to process. So, I think writing the book certainly had therapeutic effects. Who I was ten or even five years ago was a very different person from who I am now.
When I was writing, it was difficult at times to recall the specificities around the struggles I had because I really have evolved. Overall, the entire writing process was very reflective, and made me appreciate all the obstacles and challenges I have faced with even more gratitude.
Did you have any concerns or reservations about how your family would react to the book?
My parents aren’t very literate in English, and have gotten by with basic English. They essentially had to start working right away when they got to New York in their thirties, and didn’t really have time to get an education. Plus, being surrounded by so many Chinese immigrants in New York City, it’s easy to never really have to speak English. So, I never was really concerned with them about reading it because they can’t.
However, I did tell my parents what I was doing, and my mom reacted by saying, I would sell more books if I wrote a book about returning to heterosexuality. I have also thought about getting it translated into Chinese so that my parents could perhaps understand me better. That may or may not happen in the future. Let’s see.
If someone was grappling with issues in their life or some form of personal baggage, what steps would you advise to begin trying to get some perspective on everything?
Of course there are different gradients of personal baggage and so many different ways of dealing with it. Essentially, the first thing we must do with anything is to bring awareness to the issues at hand. So, for example, let’s say John Doe is having relationship issues – because who doesn’t have that? – and he’s trying to figure out why he gets so jealous when his partner doesn’t want to spend time with him. In this example, John is clearly attached to a story that if his partner is not spending time with him, he doesn’t love him.
Before any shifts in perspectives can happen, John needs to acknowledge that he needs to create a healthier story that isn’t framed around jealousy and the lack of trust. This is where meditation is very helpful, and what I help people do in private coaching sessions. We use the power of self-reflection and inquiry to go inwards to figure out why we are doing what we are doing, and then re-write the old stories that no longer serve us anymore.
Meditation allows us to distance ourselves from our issues, and in doing so, we realise the root of what is keeping us enslaved to our issues. So perhaps, in this example that I’ve given with Joe, during meditations and lots of inner development through coaching, he realises that his jealousy and lack of trust comes from a series of events when his parents didn’t give him the attention he craved when his baby sister was born. And, ever since then, he’s always felt not as loved as his baby sister. Every relationship we have with our emotions can be traced back to our early relationships between the ages of 0-7.
I would highly suggest using meditation as a tool to gain clarity and perspective. If you need additional guidance, search for coaches who can take you even deeper into yourself.
What do you hope that people feel when reading Sage Sapien?
My hope is that people turn their pain stories into opportunities for healing, especially in the queer community. Marginalised people can definitely fall into the trap of wearing their victimhood like a badge of honour. The past is for remembering how not to repeat the same mistakes, but often, we may find ourselves holding onto our past because it feels more comfortable to keep what is familiar than to surrender into the unknown.
My intention is illustrated through the title itself. The title, Sage Sapien, is a play on words – where both words come from the latin root sapere, meaning to be wise. So a sage sapien is doubly wise. My hope is that people learn to elevate their ability to make better and healthier choices in their lives that is connected to their true inner wisdom.