experience Sharing of the day

16 Sep

In which my dad engages me in a conversation about dreams vs reality and the investment banking industry:

Dad: You know, I really don’t think you’re going to be able to make that two million you want to have before you get married if you stick to PR agencies.

Me: But dad, I’m pretty good at doing what I do.

Dad: You know the Char Kway Teow seller around the corner? HE is really good at what HE does too (*makes stir frying gestures to demonstrate*) How much money do you think he makes? His Kway Teow is damned good!

Me: …

Dad: The point is, there’s a difference between doing the thing right… and doing the right thing.

suffering is Optional

10 Sep

For most people happiness and suffering depend entirely on external conditions.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the subject of what causes unhappiness and I’ve found myself dwelling on the concept of suffering which I read on a website on Buddhism.

The Buddhists believe that life is painful and reality is cruel, these are external truths that cannot be changed.

They also believe however, that once you understand the roots of your pain, you’ll be able to see what you need to deal with to end the suffering.

Since Buddha’s already been there, done that and walked away from the tree-I figured I’m don’t really need to rethink the whole matter. So I simply digested the words based on my own liking and kept what I found useful to understand my own barriers to happiness.

THE FOUNDATION OF UNHAPPINESS

For the Reader with Short Attention Span:

Clinging is suffering, and we cling on to too much.

The root of the problem really, is our conscious belief that “’I’ am separate from the rest of the world”, and to certain degrees, we believe that we are inordinately more important that other beings. We want to prove our existence. This in turn generates a desire to “feel alive”-and that is where the suffering comes from.

Everything begins from the ego.

THE DELUSION OF ME, MYSELF AND I

The ego by itself is abstract, therefore it needs to identify with other things to express itself. For example, we might identify ourselves with our bodies by saying, “I am 5 feet tall”, with our qualities, “I am honest”, with our work, “I am a doctor”, with our relationships “I am the husband/girlfriend of so and so” and very often with our emotional activities: our likes and dislikes, frequently with our possessions.

The ego makes us restless, we cannot sit still, we need to do something all the time, even as we sleep our bodies toss and turn and our minds go on to dream. We cannot enjoy “just being” because the ego-self would feel uncomfortable, for it would feel itself disappearing or dissolving. A lot of the time, we’d rather get angry or irritated at trivial things simply to generate more excited energy and make the ego feel like it is alive.

CLINGING ON TO OUR EXISTENCE –

DESIRES TO POSSESS

In reality, the ego is simply a projection of our desires. Since we have concerned ourselves with the need to preserve our egos, we identity ourselves with a matrix of desires.

The desperation of the ego to exist makes us struggle to cling and possess.

POSSESSION OF SENSUAL EXPERIENCES

We attach ourselves to our desires that bring us sensual pleasure and gratification through sight, smell, taste, touch and sounds. Each of these senses have the power to spark emotions within us, giving us the thrill of feelings that we rely on to make our egos appear “real. Each thrill however, is only temporary, and it isn’t long before we desire something else to satisfy the egos needs.

Sensual pleasures and displeasures are addictive and pretty soon, we cannot imagine ourselves (or I suppose, our egos) existing without them. We fear loss and change, and this fear causes our minds all kinds of pain and distress. We constantly need to reaffirm our sense of ownership towards things that in reality do not belong to us. We try to possess or control things. Ultimately, we trap ourselves in our obsession to possess. And should our desires become thwarted, we despair for the loss of conditional happiness.

In truth though, it doesn’t matter what objects we like or dislike. Any random thing –of objects or relationships-is in itself sufficient to keep our egos from dissolving. All the same, our egos come up with all kinds of noble sounding excuses and justifications for why we need to obtain something or get away from something else for fear of appearing superficial.

We cling on to the the views that “belong” to our egos. We want to possess the approval of others.

POSSESSION OF THOUGHTS

The ego also connects itself to our thoughts and ideas in order to secure its sense of existence.

We desire to possess specific views and opinions because we need them to identify as a part of ourselves.  Thus, when we are confronted with thoughts which contradict our own, we take it as a personal threat-because we fear losing the thoughts that “belong” to our egos. We fight to defend certain positions, cling on to certain thoughts simply because we want to cling on to the convictions that fuel our egos.

Other times, we also want to possess the thoughts of others. We expect other people to conform to our expectation, we want others to think like us, to see things the way we do, and often times, to see ourselves as we perceive it. We desire the approval of others and we feel unhappy when we do not get something we want out of others.

The truth is, everyone is ignorant of the vast Reality in the background of their lives but people are so unwilling to admit their ignorance that they will argue incessantly just show how clever they are, that they “know it all”; some have gone into war just to prove their shrewdness. In the end, their minds still suffer from the ignorance.

WHAT DO I DO NEXT?

I have to admit that I personally don’t know how to detach myself from worldly emotional turmoil–if I did I would be a Master wouldn’t I? I can share my latest theory with you though.

STEP ONE: ACCEPT THE TRUTH

For most people happiness and suffering depend entirely on external conditions. But Pain is in the mind.

(notice how in Inception, people could feel pain in their dreams, and their dreams within dreams, and so on and so forth?)

STEP TWO: BE AWARE OF YOURSELF

The problem with being highly emotional is that you often miss the point of your own unhappiness, sometimes you even miss the point of it. You just keep expanding the “unhappy” to every irrelevant area of your life to the point that your life feels like a tragedy-but it’s NOT.

I think what it comes down to is being aware of what’s going on within you, to know where the sadness is leaking out from so you can then choose what you want to do about it accordingly.  I find the Buddhist “clinging” logic to be a good guideline for that.

Think: I am just a speck of dust inside a giant's eye

STEP THREE: BE MINDFUL OF THE VAST REALITY

Think of it from a rational point of view. This excerpt from the earlier site works well for me:

“The conditions usually taken to be an individual or self, ‘me’ or ‘you,’ are simply a stream of physical and mental phenomena, constantly arising and ceasing, related and connected by the cause and effect process. This stream is in a state of constant flux. We could say that a ‘person’ is simply the overall result of the feelings, thoughts, desires, habits, biases, views, knowledge, beliefs and so on, at any particular point in time, that are either inherited from social and environmental factors, such as through learning, or formed from personal, internal factors, all constantly changing”

or as the Kimya Dawson song goes:

Say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye

(If you’re feeling miserable need further relief, I suggest reading Zhuang Zi or Lao Zi who have excellent grasps of the bigger picture, the Taoist philosophy is pretty light for subjects that are heavy)

Positive Inspiration

30 Aug

Two nights ago, I experienced a brief incident which left me feeling brilliantly inspired and I thought that I would share it here.

JUA AND THE STEP STOOL

My parents were hosting a small dinner party and I was in the kitchen helping Jua, our Indonesian maid to waitress out the drinks, desserts and what-not.  Jua has stayed with us for the past 7 years, she’s currently in her late 40s and her most distinguishing physical trait is that she extremely short and rotund. I’m pretty sure she is no more than 4 feet tall because my 11 year old cousin exceeded her in height about 2 years ago.

Jua likes to talk and laugh loudly, but she was a little stressed on this occasion as she bustled around the kitchen putting together hot and cold drinks at the request of the guests. It was not easy for her to work quickly as the cups were stored in overhead shelves that were almost twice her height and she had to climb onto the kitchen counter to get them, meanwhile the ice compartment in the freezer was also quite a reach for her.

I felt a little bad for her and offered her the services of my slightly longer arms.

At the offer, her eyes suddenly lit up in excitement as if remembering something and she chortled to herself. I watched as she disappeared to the back room and came back seconds later carrying a white Ikea step stool the way a kid might carry a new toy.

“It used to be inconvenient to be short, but now I have this!”she told me as she proudly demonstrated to me how terrific her step stool was. The height of the chair got her precisely to the height needed to reach the middle shelves, where all the teacups and tea leaves were kept and she turned to beam at me in an“I’m so awesome because I have a step stool” kind of way.

Watching Jua in her satisfaction made something inside me smile and I felt awfully happy for her.

How many times had I myself resisted help or ready-made solutions to my problems out of pride?

But more importantly:

How many times did I forget to be grateful for what was there, rather than what wasn’t?

How often had I missed out on life’s little excitements because I had my head buried deep into the problem?

It made me see her with a newfound respect.

a Review on Optimism

27 Aug

To quote Leonardo DiCaprio’s opening line in the movie Inception:

“An idea is like a virus..resilient and highly contagious”

Optimists can inspire themselves to learn and grow from adversity while taking strength from success.

CHOOSING OPTIMISM

Optimism is a contagious and resilient idea,  if you don’t watch out, you might be stuck wearing a big goofy smile on your face all day.

That’s what happened to me today. I decided (with cynical humor) that just for one day, I would embrace my recent circumstantial breakup, temporary unemployment, and all the nasty things in the world by choosing to only look at them in a bright light.  I did…and the next thing I knew, I couldn’t quite turn it off!

I was suddenly uncontrollably cheerful. My head found itself in an inexplicable state of giddiness whereby the most random thoughts in my head would irresistibly finish themselves with joyful exclamation marks ( which ranged from “I’m free of commitments!” to”Omg, a snail!”), I laughed, I cackled, I whooped to myself whenever I caught sight of my smiling reflection, and my heart floated on throughout the day in a lightness that I’d never known.

THE HEART OF THE PESSIMIST

3 months ago, I attended a workshop on Emotional Intelligence based on the Six Seconds model. In my EQ assessment report, there had been some advice for me about how I could develop my second biggest weakness- Exercising Optimism, but I had been too skeptical at the time to read it.

As a generally affirmed young pessimist and self proclaimed realist, I always found the concept of optimism rather disturbing. I was the kind of person who would sit through monthly review meetings, listen to the enthusiastic chatter of the optimists about the “possibilities” of achieving targets by the deadline next month even though they’d failed to meet their goals for most of the past year and feel nauseous from the can-do cheeriness radiating off them.  Many times, I thought to myself, my God are they serious, are they intentionally ignoring the evidence that makes it impossible for them to succeed in doing that? Can they not see all the things that could go wrong with A, B and C? Are they not worried that they might be over-promising and setting themselves up for disappointment?

I didn’t voice my thoughts aloud in this tone of course, but I secretly prided myself in my pessimism.

I knew I would not be caught unprepared to deal with all the worse possible circumstances because I’d already found all the imperfections, and if it didn’t work out it wouldn’t be a surprise because I hadn’t betted on its success anyway. I was a winner no matter what, because I was right, nothing could hurt me.

But something did eventually, the negative thoughts that swirled in my head, like goldfish swimming in a bowl and eating away my happiness. The thing with pessimism is that like all ideas,  it quickly becomes the way you process all of your thinking- and your brain ultimately reroutes itself while you’re busy scrutinizing the latest problem with the future.

In my case, it became difficult for me to believe in good things. I held reservations about everyone I met and who they really were. I heard the worst in everything that was said to me, including compliments. I was always speculating about the ways that good things could go wrong or be lost to the point where I could no longer fully enjoy anything.

WHAT I BELIEVED THEN (…THAT OPTIMISTS WERE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVED IN LEPRECHAUNS)

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in realistic thinking, I am a cynic at heart and I do believe that one can strike a balance and be both happy and cynical.

What I’ve come to realize is that my former reasons for being pessimistic were starting to make me counter-productive.

I thought by being pessimistic, I could deal with pre-anticipated setbacks more efficiently, never be caught unprepared and increase my chances of success by playing things safe. But the problem was that I personally had low self esteem and it became a habit for me to hide behind the pessimism because I was scared of getting my hopes up,  of being let down, and of letting down myself.

I also had a rather distorted understanding of optimism.  I basically thought that optimism was thinking without a logical basis and denial of the real world (I thought people who believed in pixies and elves were “optimists”) and that it made you blind and oblivious to the disorders and imperfections of the world (I thought that optimism would make me a vulnerable victim to snatch thieves and swindlers-this was of course, naivety) . Optimism was to me, a counter-productive practice.

A LITTLE MENTAL TWEAKING

I'm still smiling!

It turns out that optimism isn’t about living in delirium at all. Rather, it is an attitude of believing that personal effort can change the outcome of things. A realistic optimist does see all the challenges in the world, but the difference is that they believe that they can proactively change things by contributing their own efforts, that the darkness is only temporary, that it is possible to move forward and have a better future.

Unlike realistic pessimists, realistic optimist see the potential setbacks and choose to rise above them by bringing their A game rather than simply be depressed about it. In this sense, optimism is extremely productive.

But you probably already knew that, otherwise you didn’t you wouldn’t have read this post up to here. 🙂

HOW TO SHIFT YOUR ATTITUDE

Once you decide you want to stop resisting optimism, it’s actually extremely easy to change your outlook to a more positive one (really, it takes like a  minute’s effort).

The following steps are based on theories of the American psychologist, Martin Seligman.

1. Identify the problem that’s making you unhappy or a challenge that you are dealing with .

2. Think: Is this permanent (always going to be like this or never change) or temporary (it will pass)?

3. Think: Is this pervasive (always happening and ruining everything) or isolated (a single event/situation in one area of your life)

4. Think: Are you powerless (nothing you can do, your actions are futile) or is it Effort Possible (I can do something, things can change as a result of my efforts)*

*this really surprised me because as it turns out, it is the pessimists that believe in luck over effort, not the optimists!

It’s really easy because by asking yourself these 3 simple questions, you actually become aware that you have a say in this, that you can choose your attitude towards a problem and it directs you towards doing something about it or towards letting it go. Just knowing that you have these choices empowers you to be happier about it.

PLUGGING IT IN WITH AN EXAMPLE

1. “I’m worried that I can’t get a job/love someone/lose weight”

2. I haven’t got a job /lover/ideal body this week, but it does not mean that it will be like this forever. I see that it is temporary”

3. “This is an isolated problem, and I am here because of a specific mistake I might have made by being passive/antisocial/lazy to exercise.”

4. “I can take action by calling up the company that hasn’t responded/being actively social/going out for a run right now”

See, that makes you a functioning optimist already!  Doesn’t that thought alone just make you want to smile?

The difference between the realistic optimistic and the realistic pessimist is that not only do they not give up, they are sincerely happier throughout the process and that makes it just as likely that they can succeed.

what people don’t tell you about following your heart

26 Aug

When you follow your heart, you are essentially doing something that you know you need to do for yourself based on an intuition. You can’t always explain it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

“Follow your heart” is probably one of the most common pieces of decision-making advice that people will give to you in life (unless they are members of the “Follow Your Head” party, which is another story)

It sounds  just like the perfect warm and fuzzy thing to say to someone who just shared an unconventional dream with you: embrace the dream, attain the success you deserve and all that nice fluffy stuff.

And why not? Many success stories started out with people following their hearts. Why, we wouldn’t have out Ipods if Steve Jobs hadn’t followed his!

While there is plenty focus on the initial motivation for making life changing decisions based on the morse code of  one’s heart, what people fail to mention is what to expect when you actually start to“follow through” with a decision that is led by the heart–which to say the least, is nothing at all like the plot of your favorite Feel Good movie.

So before you, dear reader, jump aboard the bandwagon of burnt down bridges that leads to the Great Unknown, here’s something to chew on regarding what to expect in the first month, which will essentially be the step 2 in your journey of the heart.

THE TRUTH ABOUT FOLLOWING YOUR HEART

–what people don’t tell you about the first month and how you can deal with it

#1. EXPECT TO LOSE EVERYTHING

Once you make the decision to “follow your heart” and go for your “dream”, it’s easy to get so caught up in self congratulations, future speculations and other delusions, such that you go into it thinking your decision has just helped you gain something.

Wrong. The truth is, your decision just lost you Everything. “Everything” meaning whatever was normal to you before this: your routines, social circles where people knew your name, whatever stage you’d worked up to in your career, maybe even the barista who knew your coffee preferences at the Starbucks in your office building-Everything that once pieced together your zone of comfort.

Meanwhile, your dream will still be in an abstract state at this time because you haven’t started on it yet.

It means you start off with Nothing. You’ve erased your past and you can’t see the future. This change can be emotionally overwhelming, especially once you start losing something you didn’t intend to sacrifice.

HOW TO DEAL: It means you need to be prepared to let go and be prepared to start over.

In the beginning, you will be tempted to turn back, because as much as your Everything was the comfort zone you set out to get rid of, it was comparatively easier to handle. Perhaps the uncertainty will make you pause, the same way a first time skydiver might pause at the exit of an aircraft, wondering if you should turn back while you still can. In an instant you fear the freefalling sensation, you worry that your parachute might not open, anything could go wrong. But here’s the thing, if you don’t let go, you’re never going to know if you’ll land yourself at the spot where you want to land.

#2. ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR DECISION

By embarking on this journey, you have chosen to take over the reigns of your life. It means that you can no longer blame your failures on other people, things or mechanisms. By empowering yourself, you’ve also taken a step towards holding yourself accountable to your dream.

The scary part is you might not succeed- knowing all this, can you still stay strong, hold your head high and stick to your chosen path? You might find yourself unhappy-are you able to accept regret? You may not like what you find- are your ready to make the best of it? Are you ready to take responsibility for both your happiness as well as your unhappiness?

HOW TO DEAL: You might imagine that you can put a pause button on Everything and have Everything be the same when you want to return to it. No. It’s not going to happen that way. You need to accept your decision and its consequences, for better or worse and you will need to move forward.

# 3. TRUST YOUR STRENGTH AND THAT IT WILL GET YOU THROUGH THIS

It may be that right now your eyes feel angry with your heart for making it overwork its faucets, you might feel scared more often than you would like, but you will get through it.

How to Deal: You will be forced to think about who you are and what you really want. You will be forced to be strong for no one other than yourself. And you will learn to think positively and be optimistic, and you will start seeing with more clarity. You will start to love yourself more, because you realize that no one else can do it better than you can. You will trust yourself more. You will grow up a little and you will be ready for the next step of your journey.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE:

With all honesty, the process was agonizing for me.

Since the day I chose to leave Beijing and got matched for an Education Traineeship in Bogota, I left behind stable job offers, I left behind my friends, I lost the familiarity of living in an environment that I was used to. I also lost a lot of certainty and from that I lost confidence. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have wanted to call it quits, to go back to what is safe and secure, but managed to resist.

When I became aware that I would soon be losing my boyfriend whom I still love and believed I had a future with, that was when it felt like I’d hit my rock bottom.  I realized for the first time that I was going to have to sacrifice something, and that there might be no turning back once the the last string I could clutch onto had snapped.

The fear of making a horrible mistake pushed me to think about what I really wanted-for the next year, if not for the rest of my life. In a way, the complete discomfort of everything brought me to the realization of just how much I really needed this time to figure myself out, to learn about what makes me happy and to work on my weaknesses.  These were things that I felt needed to change and move past before I can truly move forward, towards something that’s real. And at the moment, it was urgent to me than is being in a stable relationship.

Then, I let myself accept the consequences of my decision. I grieved for what I had lost. But I also became more confident about what I was doing for I had found my true motivation for it. I started thinking with more clarity.

I started feeling thankful for each day that passed in which I did not give up. And I’m kind of proud that I’ve gotten past the second big step.

making Today your best day

25 Aug

Today, I discovered an inspiring blog called “The Happiness Project“, and I am reposting here the article I liked best. I love that it focuses on each one day,  because it feels so much more achievable if you think you just have to focus on getting it right in the Here, Now and Today-like taking little baby steps.

I’ve been in a funk with all the uncertainty going on lately and I’m going to try it out.

10 TIPS FOR LIVING A BETTER LIFE, ONE DAY AT A TIME–from Pope John XXIII

1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Lord cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

take a leap of Faith

20 Aug

It’s the weirdest thing.

I got inspired by own post (the most recent one) and took a leap of faith.

As I mentioned, I’ve been stalling to make a decision for my “What’s Next” for quite some time now.

I had two main options.

The first was a two-year financial journalism program in Hong Kong that would have offered a great platform to kick start my career in the field. I would get to write. It matched my academic background, granted I’d need some time to get used to the financial lingo. It was decently paid and offered me a chance at financial independence. There probably would have a bit of travel around Asia involved too considering my language backgrounds.  Hell, I’d be able to stay in the same timezone as my boyfriend! Basically everything stable a girl could ask for.

The second was a teaching position at an institution in Bogota, Colombia that you’ve probably never heard of. It did not match with my studies to say the least. Didn’t pay as much. And I couldn’t for the life of me, figure out how I was going to connect it to my long term plans (if I knew anything about those either!)

You would think that Hong Kong would have been an easy win but I took up the offer to teach in Colombia.

I think the real question is how’d it get to be between two such peculiarly contrasting options anyway?

Financial Journalism – An Odd Sense of Obligation to be Normal

In retrospect, I think the reason I’d applied for it was because I believed that I HAD to have a nice 9 to 5 (though really, I doubt that is possible in either Journalism/PR/Marketing jobs that I am likelier to take on when the time comes, more like 10 to 12), be all grown-up, have a nice paycheck at the end of every month, pay rent, and possibly start saving money towards a house, and I don’t know, make my parents feel proud of me or something. I was charmed by the idea that the job would make me a normal contributing member of society and make it so I would not have to explain myself to other people because everything I was doing “made sense” based on their values. I’ve made many unconventional decisions in my life. (FAQ#1: Really? Why would you want to study JOURNALISM in CHINA?)  I was tired having to explain myself to people. I saw it as a way out.

South America – The Dream that I was Afraid of Messing Up

The truth is, I’ve wanted to live and travel around South America for 4 years now. I feel like it’s the adventure I’ve always been preparing for, I started taking up Spanish 3 years ago, talked to different people, read different books, compared the different countries and looked into different ways of getting myself there.

I’ve been saying that I’m going to do it for such a long time now that I choked a little when I first got the offer from Colombia, having it so close within my reach. It was difficult to believe that it was all real. And I think another part of me was afraid of what I may find there, that I might hate it or that it might be a disappointment. Kind of like Hemingway’s Old Man and the gigantic fish.

Even after all the drastic steps I’ve had to take to get this far-turning down job offers in China, leaving Beijing and going long distance on my boyfriend-I was still paralyzed to some extent, with the fear that I might make a mistake with it. I was comfortable with everything as it was, did I really want to take the risk of messing it up?

So I stalled and tried to rummage together a safety net in case the dream should crumble.

The Tipping of the Scale

I just couldn’t get excited about Hong Kong or financial journalism. The 3 hours I put into preparing for the interview depressed the life out of me. I simply wasn’t interest in financial markets.  The notion of waking up every morning, going to work and feeling indifferent about the assignments I would be given to write was dreadful. I thought that I could cling on to my hope that the pay would make up for it, after all, money does add a spoonful of sugar to most things. But ultimately, it just didn’t feel right. (and don’t I know how vague that sounds)

Moral of the Story

If you want something big, you’ll have to leap past the fear of uncertainty and just do it.  Don’t waste your time building safety nets that you’re not going to use, but rather trust yourself, and spend those precious hours getting ready to make what you really want work out for you.