A little bit about Monet

Monet, aka @monetcheung, is a true polymath. A physician by training, she also holds a background in psychology and design. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, she now shares her time between the islands and the west coast. Over many visits to the On & On space in Hanalei, we soon discovered our shared philosophies on health, community, and creativity. Her knowledge of yoga and meditation led to our collaboration on Embodiment, a workshop series for gentle movement, mindfulness, and self inquiry. Monet’s ability to show up and share with others is potent – read on to fill your cup.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOURSELF?

That I’m in constant pursuit of my own truth. I’m also learning to love how I’m a little heartbroken all of the time. The truth hurts!

WHEN DO YOU FEEL THE MOST SEEN?

Being so present with someone that I forget I have a face, or a body, or where I am.

WHAT IS YOUR PATH TO VITALITY?

I remember becoming aware of healthiness when I was in elementary school with unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, which if I were to self-diagnose now, were probably somatizations of emotional conflicts within myself and my family. That experience really launched me onto a path of health discovery. I was so fortunate to have a loving mother who offered the world to me in terms of healing modalities, from allopathic medicine, therapy, herbalism, acupuncture, prayer, everything. I eventually grew out of my symptoms, but those were the “gateway drugs,” and I haven’t stopped seeking. It is an immense privilege to have the time, resources, and safety to explore a relationship to the mind, body, and spirit. I naively began yoga when I was fifteen in exchange for physical education credits in high school, which led to meditation at eighteen in an honest attempt to sort out what the hell it means to be in a body, with all of these thoughts and sensations. I now hesitate to label any “practice” as one thing or another. For me, hiking and stopping to feel the moss on a tree, or actually chewing and savoring a bite of a meal, are both forms of meditation – or more importantly – mindfulness. The challenge is applying this sense of pause to all moments, from brushing my teeth to caring for a patient at the end of their life.

The truth is that after over a decade of experimentation, refinement, and an incredible excess of formal education, I am still figuring out how to feel vital and find pleasure in the human experience. I do promise that the answers are not in any book, or degree, or some other checkbox of external validation. As said by one of my best mentors – new levels, new devils.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST BELOVED EXPERIENCE WITH WATER?

Surfing. Standing up on my first wave since I was a kid earlier this year was incredible. So was wiping out. I was like, fuck yes, finally, I am not living in the illusion of control! The ego needs a solid reminder every now and then. It feels extraordinary to match your energy to a force that much greater than yourself.

HOW DO YOU REMAIN FREE?

In our modern world, freedom is a state of mind. It lives somewhere between staying informed, and staying sane, which can feel like an impossible task. You have to simultaneously define and believe wholeheartedly in your own truth, and radically accept the truth of others, which you will inevitably disagree with.

HOW DO WE CARVE OUT SPACE FOR BOTH?

I often ask myself what it really means to have “healthy boundaries.” You have to know with precision where your limits are in order to employ a boundary, and that can be hard to get to know. We either shy away from our limits out of valid fear, or blow straight past them, get burned, and then have to do the work of cleaning up the mess and retracing our steps. Or worse, someone or something violates

a limit that we weren’t previously aware of. I’ve experienced all of the above and am still like, ok, so what are my boundaries that everyone tells me I should have? How do I put words to these sensations of “yes” or “no” that are in my body? Translating the somatic experience is something that I’m really interested in, and we explore this in our Embodiment workshops.

Some spiritual teachings can be heavy on transcendence and renouncement, which inevitably leaves me feeling disconnected. Personally, I find it much more freeing to acknowledge the body and material plane, and actively engage with them as much as possible. Ask questions, be a witness/observer, approach yourself and others with childlike curiosity. This way everything is useful, everything is divine, and heaven is earth.

WHO ARE YOU WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS AROUND?

Less clothed, more lost in thought.

WHAT IS YOUR SUPERPOWER?

I think anyone’s superpower is taking part in this human experience.

YOU ARE HAVING AN OFF DAY, WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MOVE TO GET CENTERED?

Having a rinse-off in the shower, if even for two minutes. I need to literally wash it away. It’s an easy reset, and cools down the mind.

SHARE A STORY ABOUT COMMUNAL BATHING.

I was recently in the Catskills with a couple of close friends, and we took daily swims in a cold pool that overlooked Hunter mountain and the Kaaterskill wild forest. I’ve mentally returned there a hundred times since, when I can’t physically make it to a shower for a rinse-off (laughs).

WHAT WAS YOUR LAST REALLY GOOD IDEA?

Gifting myself a custom surfboard for my 30th birthday! Really though, stepping away from my medical residency this summer. A series of personal and worldly events over the past few years left me feeling more depleted and unsure of myself than I’ve ever been, and forced a deep existential reckoning that I’m still going through. I kept waiting for one more “sign” to justify making a change, and then the sign would come, but I would ignore it or ask for another, and the cycle repeated. White-knuckling through life is a dangerous place to be. I’m relieved that I finally gave myself permission to rest. Now I’m redefining what success looks and feels like to me, which is exciting, but also very scary. I have to remind myself that I worked really hard to always have the letters “MD” after my name, and that I deserve to, even if my path is not as expected. I look forward to returning to medicine in a way that feels authentic and sustainable to me, when I’m ready. If I’m not a practicing physician, that is ok. There are as many meaningful ways to make the world a better place as there are people on this planet.

In another life, or maybe even this one – who else could you be?

An acupuncturist, architect, woodworker, farmer, mother, monk, basically a master of craft. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Jacques Cousteau and wanted to be a marine biologist. I would borrow all of his books and documentaries on VHS from the public library. I also remember thinking it would be cool to be music supervisor. Choosing the perfect sounds to resonate with an emotion or a visual seems really satisfying. I was the lonely kid carrying their Walkman around school. Growing up I tended towards the arts, but somehow began denying my own creativity after a certain age. Maybe having the name “Monet” had something to do with it. Who could ever live up to that? I’m finally reacquainting with that side of me, which has been so nice.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR SUMMER?

Good thing I made you this playlist. It’s meant to move with you throughout the day, and bookended by instrumentals to stave off the mental chatter around waking and especially sleeping. There’s definitely a late morning/early afternoon section of sing-along, guilty-pleasure throwbacks for pre/post-surf or just being out and about, and another similar, maybe post-hang/date/dinner section for a groovy and moody drive home before the come-down.

WE ARE COMING UPON A TRANSITION OF SEASONS, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO AS WE MOVE TOWARDS AUTUMN?

Warmth in the sun, a slight chill in the shade, the last of the south shore summer swells, and settling in somewhere for a while.

WHAT ARE YOUR STAPLES FROM THE ON & ON PANTRY?

  • - On & On Frankincense Hand & Body Wash
  • - Iris Hantverk Skin Brush
  • - Palm Massager
  • - Riverpath Incense
  • - Roma Stone Incense Holder