Vietnam Adventure 8: Openness – curiosity or judgment

Tet - Vy and Van

Openness is a word I’ve contemplated a lot since beginning my spiritual practices of 12-steps, yoga, meditation and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. At times the word hasn’t had stirred much inner movement because it’s so familiar. Recently I was invited to reflect on the ways in which openness has served me since moving to Vietnam, and then to take those learnings and experiences and apply them to other challenges.

I can’t think of a better time to accept that invitation than now – just nearing the end of celebrating Tet. Kevin and I had been told by many westerners that Tet was a time to leave the country because everything is closed down. We were curious about it, but didn’t come to any conclusions initially. As the holiday began to draw nearer, we both became really excited about not only staying put in our home, but also about learning and engaging in the celebration as much as possible. Our curiosity was leading the way as we inquired often about the traditions and customs surrounding Tet. It led us to buying many bottles of red wine, gift bags, and red envelopes, and to bringing 100 $2 bills back from the U.S.

Never would I have imagined how much our openness and curiosity would be mirrored back to us Tet - Khanh Hathrough the continuous, overwhelming hospitality and warmth of our friends, colleagues and even acquaintances here in Vietnam. It is truly difficult to put into words the feelings of pure gratitude, respect, and love I have felt over the past 10 days. The lingering handshakes and warm eyes, the beautiful flowers and wood furniture, the tea and typical Tet treats, the feasts laid before us over and over again, the playful flow of beer and wine, the closing tea and fruit… The attempt to connect through language (with and without friends to interpret), the non-verbal communication that I’m sure left us on different pages. All the smiling, laughing, meeting of gleeful glances. The gardens, the floors, the tables, the stories, the pride and love that came through as so many shared their family traditions around the holiday. The spirit and reverence for the ancestors. The prayers in the pagodas. And most of all the insistence that we continue to eat and drink no matter how we looked or what we tried to say. My heart is full, my belly even fuller. I cannot imagine having missed this opportunity. I can’t think of a time when my own openness was not only met but surpassed by those to whom I had opened myself.

 Tet - ThuongEven in such a place of unbelievable gratitude, I still found myself experiencing moments of judgment. Moments where I was held in the tension of wondering why there seemed to be such a wide-spread experience of very distinct gender roles amidst the joy and beauty of celebrating. I not only witnessed that within the members of many households, but even experienced the disparities myself. The gender dynamics present in Vietnam are something I have known about long before I’d come to live here. It was the one thing I was most concerned about facing in this culture. It has challenged me to be curious, to suspend judgment, and to ask myself to reflect on how social justice constructs can be culturally based. This is a topic I’ve stayed away from so far in my blogs thus far – I think it is because I’m not ready to draw conclusions or make judgments. And yet I feel and experience the discomfort of being in the tension.

And so I wrestle with other places where the space between curiosity and judgment might be exactly the place for me right now. What a perfect time to be starting my 4th Step – a time to inventory my assets and liabilities inTet - Buddha a searching and fearless way. The intention I’m creating, and now sharing with you is to be open, to be curious, to bring beginners mind. In what ways are you wrestling with being open, being curious, and suspending judgment. I invite you to simply hold the question as you move through the many facets of your existence personally and professionally. May we be granted much grace and love for the journey!

Please feel free to check out Kevin’s blog at for more detailed information on the customs surrounding the celebration of Tet according to our experience here in Vietnam.