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Observing the Mind


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Claremont Academy

Freedom City, New Jersey

Wednesday January 17, 2018; 3:28 PM


"Thank you for taking the time to come and meet with one of my students Giang."  Callie Summers said as she walked down the hallway of a Jasmin Summers Administrative Building.


Walking alongside the school headmistress was a twenty-two year old Asian woman with shoulder length black hair.  Standing about five foot three, the young woman had a lithe build and moved with an easy grace.  She was dressed in dark blue jeans and wore a jacket much to light for the cold weather outside, a red windbreaker with a Del Mar Lifeguards crest on the left front breast.


"I am always pleased to help Headmistress."  Giang Trang replied.  "And it is always nice to have an opportunity visit once again."


"So you will be finishing your degree this Spring correct?  Settled on any plans for the future?" 


"Nothing definitive.  There are a few offers for research projects I could work on for the short term.  But I likely will take a bit of time off to visit Lord Zandar and his family in the Lost World, and likely spend a bit of time in Atlantis with Thaelia."


"I trust those destinations were not choose just because they are beyond the reach of your father?"  Headmistress Summers asked, glancing over at the young woman beside her.


Giang gave a small smile.  "No, although it is much easier to relax when one is not looking over their shoulder."  She paused a moment and then asked, "so, is there something in particular you are hoping I can help Zhu with?"


"Well, beyond just being a well-grounded, non-teacher young adult that she might feel more comfortable talking to and confiding in, she does have some confidence issues and has frozen up in stressful situations."


"Not exactly uncommon for most teenagers, although here it is somewhat less so and certainly is a problem in situations many of us tend to end up in."  Giang stated with a nod.


The two continued to talk a bit more as they began descending down the building's central stairway.  A short while later they arrived down in the main lobby of the building, where Zhu Xieng had been instructed to meet the pair.  Quickly spotting the teenager, Headmistress Summers moved over toward her.   "Good afternoon Miss Xieng, may I introduce one of our somewhat recent alumna, Giang Trang."


Giang gave Zhu a small formal bow as she was introduced, along with a warm smile.  The Asian young woman possessed something of a serene presence, combined with a casual confidence.  <"I am pleased to meet you Xieng Zhu.">  Giang said in Mandarin.  The Mandarin style she used, along with her accent, was a bit formal, but perfect.

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Often times, being smart was as much a curse as a blessing.  It was hard to relate to people at times and at times her peers has shunned her because she just had different interests and activities than they did.  Today, she was happy for that 'curse'; the Headmistress had asked her to come in for a meeting this afternoon.  The exciting part was that she was to meet a mentor, which was something that Claremont often fostered from it's students.  The difficulty was that she was going to miss two classes which while excused, did not excuse her from the work that was assigned in them.  That was why she didn't mind being different today, because she was well over 8 weeks ahead in all of her classes, even with the increased difficulty that had been assigned to her.


Of course the downside was that she tended to over analyze everything, which at this moment was centered on what exactly she should wear to greet her mentor.  She twirled left then right, looking at the dress she was testing, giving it a critical eye in the full length mirror.  Was it too short for a mentors meeting?  Did she need to have something more active on?  Did the color match her eyes?


With a sigh, she stripped off the outfit and tried on another.  This process repeated itself four or five times before she finally settled on a short white cotton dress that clung to her thin body paired with black leggings and calf length boots.  It was hopefully enough of a combination of formal, fun, and still able to be active if she needed too.  Not that she was overly athletic.  She was a runner at best and athletics had often escaped her otherwise.  Realizing that she was nearly starting to get late, she picked up her purse and dashed out of the room to the administrative building.


Luck, and her stamina built up from countless morning runs was with her as she arrived just before Headmistress Summers and another woman walked down the central staircase to meet her.


What surprised her was that her mentor was both Asian, and spoke Mandarin!  She tried not to grin as she made sure to bow lower than her new mentor did and responded, <"No, the honor is mine!  Thank you for your time, which I am sure is as limited as everyone's.  I really appreciate you offering to help me... because I think I probably need more help than many students here.">


Then looking over to the Headmistress, she apologized, "I'm sorry Headmistress, I should use English..."

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"That is quite alright Miss Xieng."  Headmistress Summers replied with a small smile.  "Seeing as I still have a number of things to attend to, I shall leave you in Giang's capable hands."


Giang gave a slight bow of her head to the Headmistress as she departed, then focused back on Xhu.  <"Not with academics, from what I have heard.">  She replied, staying with Mandarin.  <"But I am very happy to be what help I can.  Claremont is a very special place, and I will always look back fondly on my time here.">


With a small gesture Giang led Xhu to the entrance to the building and back outside into the cold January weather.  <"Now, I have spoken with the Headmistress, but I am interested to hear what you feel you might need help with.">

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As they stepped outside, Zhu pulled her wool Pea Coat tighter around her.  The frigid New Jersey had a windchill hovering just 10 degrees Fahrenheit above zero and it was just shy of painfully brisk.  Wrapping her scarf around her neck, she wondered where they were heading, but she didn't presume to ask.  Mentorship was definitely something that she had been culturally ingrained with and while perfect adherence to their eccentric methodologies wasn't required, respect and deference was.  She did hope that they were not going far as her leggings were not quite up to the nearly arctic winds.


<"Well... I wish to be a hero.  Someone who protects and helps people, but I fear I am not really up to the task.  Last month I... was part of a fight with a Deep One, more or less.  That's not the point.  It's that while others were busy reacting, I couldn't even remember the simplest bubble sort.  That's something everyone should be able to do in their sleep, and yet I froze up.">


She had been embarrassed by that and other times where she just couldn't do the most basic and simple things.  On one side, she had access to powers that most people couldn't dream of.  Yet on the other, she was nothing more than a teenager.

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If Giang was bothered by the chilling cold that waited for the pair outside, she did not show it, as she started off along the path that led toward the center of campus.  While she was not bothered by the cold, she clearly noted that Zhu was, so she kept a good pace as they moved along the cleared path past the accumulated snow.


<"Do not be so hard on yourself, or give up so easily on your goals.">  Giang replied with an understanding nod.  <"A large number of people find that they hesitate or freeze in stressful situations such as combat.  Training and experience can help reduce or eliminate such reactions.  Not that that is likely much consolation, as you may look at other students who seem much more confident in such conditions.  While I was here it seemed there were quite a few of us whose backgrounds involved years of intensive training to prepare us for combat.">


As the two had talked, their path had taken them over toward the school's gym.


"While I cannot promise instant results, I can share some techniques that I learned which help me keep my focus during combat.">

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Zhu stopped in the path as they approached the gym.  There would be students in there, and she wasn't sure she wanted what she was going to say be available to prying ears.  Or, more likely, ears which had far too much sensitivity for their own good.  She waited a moment, composing her thoughts as this was not the easiest thing to confess.  Biting at her bottom lip, she couldn't quite eet Tsunami's eyes as she started talking quietly.


<"Well, it's more of why I froze up... I mean, look at all of the students here.  They're strong, and tough, and have all sorts of powers.  I mean, I met someone who could turn into a bear the other day.  A real bear!  Lexa, my roommate, is part machine.  I know she doesn't always like that, but she's really strong and is made of metal!  I don't have any of that.>


She swallowed, trying not to let it show how much this bothered her.  Actually, what made it probably worse was that she had never really even articulated it to herself either.


<"I guess... what I'm trying to say, is that I'm scared.  I mean... I'm a 17 year old girl who's smart.  I know that I have some great inventions that help and logically I know that it's about the same thing.  But I just see some of the people that are causing problems, and if my technology isn't there, or doesn't work... who am I to try and stand in the way?">


She kicked at some ice on the sidewalk, looking down at the patterns her foot was making in the snow.


<"I'll understand if you don't want to work with me... I think I might not be the heroic type.">

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Giang came to a stop when Zhu did, waiting patiently as the younger girl began to explain what was troubling her.  When Zhu had finished, Giang calmly replied, <"why would any of that make me not want to work with you?  Whether or not you choose to become a hero does not make you any less worth of respect, from me or anyone else.">  The young woman's tone was still friendly and encouraging.


<"There is no reason to be ashamed of being afraid.  Fear is healthy and it takes wisdom to truly recognize ones fear.  What matters is how you react to that fear.  I know it is easy to look at some of those about you and be in awe of the power they possess, but I believe if you look closer, you will see all of them are dealing with their own fears, even if they may differ.">


<"I think a good first step is to help you ensure that when you need it your technology is there and you can use it effectively.  Then you can more objectively consider you place here and what road you may wish to take.">

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Zhu took a deep breath, trying to calm the swirling emotions.  It took two tries before she could properly speak, <"thank you very much... I worry about these things.  It's hard when, well everything else has come easy.  I've worked hard, but it seems so simple.  Whether it's school, or movies, or inventions.  How do you study to not be terrified when someone who can crush you without thinking turns their attention on you?">


She breathed again, breath coming out in a heavy white cloud, and wiped at the corner of her eye, <"I'm sorry, I'm not making much of a good first impression.">

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<"Unfortunately I cannot provide any shot cuts to conquering fear.  Increased self-confidence, in yourself and your inventions, is the best way to help reduce your fear when you find yourself facing a superpowered villain.  And that comes with time and experience.  As for dealing with what fear remains, there are many ways to learn to control and focus past that emotion.  Some of the techniques I learned when I was young may be should help with the latter, which in turn can help with the former."> Giang replied as she started toward the gym once more.


The gym was considerably warmer than the grounds, if not quite as warm as the regular classrooms and other common areas of the school.  While a class of students were using the basketball courts, Giang led Xhu off to one of the smaller sections of the building, the one filled with gymnastics equipment. 

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Feeling better that she has at least laid bare her soul to her mentor, she followed along, <"I was hoping that you would say something like that.  When I first heard of this school, I wanted to be here because I wanted to learn more.  Figure things out that I couldn't on my own.  All my life I wanted to be an effects technician... like the people that worked on Star Wars, or the Avengers.  Make things that people want to see.  Make them happy.  I mean, I still want to do that, but after moving here, I guess my priorities changed.  I figured that I could do some real good.">


As they walked through the populated areas of the gym, she had to smile at some of the other students.  The normality of the situation was in stark contrast to what most of them had the capability of doing, <"I'm lucky to be working with you to make it happen.">

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<"Bring happiness to others is a wonderful calling, and one to be proud of.">  Giang replied once the two were alone in the gymnastics studio.  <"And there is no reason you still cannot follow that calling, as well as be a hero.">  Walking over to a water fountain on the wall, the Asian young woman filled two cups of water and then walked over towards one of the balance beams, motioning for Zhu to follow.


Giang sat the two cups of water down on the mats under the balance beam and then took off her windbreaker, revealing a UCSD T-shirt underneath, and then removed her shoes.  <"What I want to try to work on for you is some meditation techniques, learning to focus on your thoughts and emotions, without distraction from outside influences.">


Moving over next to the beam, Giang easily hopped up onto it, smoothly standing up into a Virksasana or tree pose, her eyes closing as she did.  <"When I was a young girl growing up in Vietnam, I used to have to practice meditating like this everyday, balancing on a fence post.  To be sure I fell quite often, but eventually, I learned to focus my thoughts and mind, while still maintaining my balance.  And that focus is what we want to achieve for you, controlling your inventions, without allowing external distractions to hamper that control.>"


As Giang spoke, the water inside the two cups she sat down rose up into the air where it began to circle around the young woman, eventually stretching out to form two rings of water that continued to spin.  After a few moments Giang open her eyes and looked over at Zhu, as the water rings pulled away before lowering back into the cups they had originally been in.


<"So, are you ready to begin?">

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Zhu looked at the woman balancing on the beam skeptically, "you... want me to balance on that?"


Taking off her Pea Coat, she folded it carefully and set it on a bench in the room.  She had never possessed the easy grace of her mentor, and while she wasn't clumsy, that looked to be a rather daunting challenge.  "Balance on that while standing..." she tried to emulate the pose while standing on the ground, holding it for a moment before having to put both legs down to catch her balance."...like this?"


The question wasn't a challenge to Tsumani's request, but appeared to be more rooted in the young girl's confidence issues.  As was evidenced by her hesitancy as she climbed up on the balance beam and shakily stood there.  "You're sure about this?..."

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Giang gave Zhu a small smile as the other girl hesitated at the thought of trying to balance on the beam.  "I want you to try."  She said calmly in reply, lowering her arms down to her side.  "It will not be easy, but that is the point of the exercise.  To provide a sufficient challenge to your focus and take you outside your comfort zone."


"Be prepared to fall, but do not let that fear control you.  Start by just focusing on maintaining your balance, then you can start trying to meditate."

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She looked at the balance beam again before climbing up too it.  For the second time in a few days, she came to the realization that dresses were likely not going to be very practical for her career as a hero.  Flying with Rev had been her first embarrassment and this had the potential to be the second.  As she got up she wobbled back and forth, windmilling her arms in the air trying to catch her balance.  With a small squeak, her flailing arms failed to provide sufficient counterbalance as she tumbled to the mat below arms and legs splaying akimbo.  She looked back up to Giang with a rueful smile, "I think it's going to take some real practice."


Knowing that she was likely going to fall a number of times, she rubbed her backside and stood up, she giggled a little at her plight, "is this going to be a long session?  If so, I probably need to wear bubble wrap."

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Giang gave Zhu a small smile in return.  "It took me some time before I was able to stay on the fence post more than a few seconds.  But I imagine you will make a bit quicker progress." 

The young woman hopped down off the balance beam as Zhu climbed back to her feet.  "We will not go too long for today, but we can make the fall a bit easier."  She walked over to one side and pulled over one of the thicker, softer mats along one side of the beam.  "The beam should also be softer than the fence I would occasionally hit when I would fall."

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"Ouch" Zhu said with real sincerity, imagining what it would have felt like to hit a fence over and over.


She continued to get back up on the balance beam, and became very well acquainted with the new mat, enough so that she really appreciated it being there.  Certainly it saved her from looking like some kind of battered fruit by the end of it.


"Did you appreciate it?" she asked after falling for the tenth time or so.  "Being forced to stand on a fence?  I mean, now... I'm sure you understand how useful it was.  But did you resent being forced to do something so hard and painful?"

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Giang had quietly been watching Zhu as she continued to try and balance on the beam, offering some additional encouragement at times.  When the teen asked her questions, Giang seemed hesitant for a moment, as if she was deciding how to answer. 


"At the time, it was just one of a number of harsh training regimes I went through."  She finally answered.  "Growing up in a remote village, I did not go to school with the other children from the village.  Instead, from as early as I can remember I led a very regimented life.  I was given private lessons that covered the normal subjects, with great focus on Chinese classics, the teachings of Confucius, the works of Sun Tuz, the I Ching.  I also had regular training sessions, where in addition things like having to learn to meditate balancing on a fence post, I studied Vovinam and Wushu as well as gymnastics.  All of it was structured so I would be ready when my powers manifested."

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She had managed to almost get into the pose this time before falling in the familiar heap.  "I did take a unit in school on gymnastics... I think it was the only class where I didn't get perfect marks.  Much less than perfect marks.  But this is probably good, it would be nice to be more athletic."


Picking herself up, she put her clothes back in the places they belonged, straightening them out, "So your parents knew you were going to have powers?  Was there some kind of indication?  I think mine were more surprised than anything.  Not that I have much in the way of real powers.  I can talk to machines and that's about it.  Which, by they way, you have a new text, not that I'm peeking."



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Giang only gave her jacket on the nearby bench the briefest of glances before focusing back on Zhu.  "Whomever it is from it can wait."  She replied


"But yes, my father knew I would have my powers.  In fact, he did everything he could to ensure that I would have the powers I do.  I have four half-siblings, and each of us possessing the powers of one of the phases of the Wu Xing.  I was to be the final phase, water.  So when he entrusted me to his two followers who would raise and train me, he had very specific instructions on what they were to teach me."


"Yet, somewhere along the way the couple who I grew up believing to be my parents failed to ensure blind loyalty to my true father, who I did not meet until I was about your age.  So, when he sought to have me join him and my half-siblings in seeking to expand his criminal empire, I instead fled, eventually finding my way here."

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"You did not know your father until... I have a hard time imagining that.  My parents were such a central part of my life."


She looked over at her mentor as she climbed back up on the beam, although sitting on it instead of standing for the moment, "you said criminal too... that had to be really hard.  How did you handle it?  I mean, that's not an easy choice to be forced between family and morality.  I don't think I would want to have been in that spot."

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"It was something of a dilemma for a short while after I was taken to Hong Kong to meet my true father."  Giang replied.  "I of course had been taught to honor family, but I had learned that the people who I had believed were my family all my life were just guardians, tasked with watching over me and training me.  My real family were strangers.  As I reflected on the classic Chinese philosophy that was part of my training, I decided I owed no duty to the family I had never known, let alone one that intended to use me to further their criminal endeavors."


"Since then, I have never regretted my decision.  It has brought some danger to those who were my friends here, as both my father and others working for his superior have come looking for me.  But those friends were more than willing to stand beside me at those times, just as I have stood with them in their times of need."

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As long as she wasn't thinking about it, Zhu seemed perfectly capable of sitting on the narrow balance beam, cross legged and very at ease.  It wasn't as if the girl was clumsy, in fact she was reasonably average when it came to physical graces.  However, what did seem to be an issue was her mind which continued to get in the way of the limited abilities her body had.  Granted, this was not the yoga position that she had been asked to perform, but the casual ease in which she sat and talked with Giang was a striking difference to the girl who seemed to fight herself while standing.


"That makes sense.  Why would you have any loyalty to someone who was never a part of your childhood?  I'd say it's a shame, but it doesn't sound like your biological parents were anything you wanted to deal with.  In fact," she gave a warm smile to Giang, "I think it probably worked out better.  I'd hate to think of you working for a crime syndicate."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Giang noted Zhu's ability to sit on the balance beam when she was distracted in conversation.  “I am glad not be working for a crime syndicate as well."  She replied to the younger girl with a warm smile of her own.  "I have found much contentment in helping or protecting others.  One of the reasons I sought a job as a lifeguard while attending college."


"Tell me, what is it that goes through your mind while you are trying to stand in the yoga pose?"  Giang then asked Zhu, turning things back towards what they were working on.  "I believe we might need to take a further step back.  Before learning to focus beyond external distraction, you must first learn to focus past internal ones."

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As Zhu thought about why she wasn't unbalanced, she of course wobbled some on the beam and had to put her hand down to steady herself.  "I don't know, I guess I'm trying to think about how to keep my balance?  I mean, where my arms and legs are and how I can stay standing here longer."


She slid down so that she was standing on the mat, leaning against the beam, "I think I also have realization that I'm not good at this and try to count the seconds until I could break my previous best."

Edited by BlazingCoconut
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"Hmm…"  Giang said as she thought a moment.  "I believe," she began as she reached up with one hand to lightly tap Zhu's forehead, "that the main problem is here.  Your overthinking is interfering with you just doing what needs to be done."


"I think I need to give you some homework to work on."  Giang then said.  "I would like you to spend some time each day finding some time and a quiet place to meditate, hopeful for at least half an hour.  This can be done just in a sitting pose, so no need to worry about balancing.  What I would like you to try to focus on is what the Soto school of Zen calls 'Observing the Mind.'  You should just strive to be aware of your stream of thoughts while meditating, but allow them to arise and pass away without interference or focusing on any.  Do you think you can do that?"

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