On Being Kind

“That should teach you not to be so kind-hearted next time.”

That was what one of our close ones said to us recently after the tussle A and I had with the seller of our newly purchased flat. The seller had asked for a month of stay before she moved out of the flat, and we obliged. When the move-out date got nearer, she asked for a few more days of extension, which we gave in to as well. On the day she was to finally move out, she asked for yet another extension. We were forced to say no this time, because we simply had no more room on our end to accommodate that. We had to literally force her out of the flat. A and I gave her an ultimatum, turned up at the flat and made her move all her belongings out of the flat that very day. It was nasty, messy, but we felt it had to be done. Left on her own, we believed she would have needed a few months before we see her move out.

“She’s just taking advantage of your sympathy.”

We have heard it before. We have been told we are too soft-hearted, too naive, too kind. It did get to our heads for a while, making us feel we are indeed too stupid to be taken advantage of. We wondered if we should just be harder on people the next time around. I’m really glad we didn’t turn out to be that way.

I don’t think we are too kind. We get angry with people too. We have felt resentment for others and judged people unfairly as well. Sometimes, we even feel we are not kind enough. Take the flat seller, for instance. I wished that resentment wasn’t the very first emotion that came to me when I saw her text message in the early morning asking for yet another extension, but it was. I wished I was able to put myself in her shoes, but I couldn’t. I’m only glad that I was able to become aware of that negative feeling in time and realised what it was doing to me, and I was able to communicate with her in such a way that I felt was reasonable and at the same time was not putting myself in a difficult position.

I believe that if we can, we should always choose kindness. Whether someone takes advantage of your kindness or not is besides the point. When someone says that I should not let someone take advantage of my sympathy, it’s as though they are saying it’s partly my fault for the situation. But, given another chance, I’d still choose kindness. Because you will never know when your kindness will move someone or change someone’s life for the better, even for a moment. If a person takes advantage of your kindness, it’s on that person, not you. I’d give anything to have that chance of touching someone with kindness, than to worry about getting the short end of the stick.

I want to be clear, though, that being kind doesn’t mean I should keep obliging ad infinitum or take on something way beyond my means. Being kind means that even when someone oversteps the line and keeps taking and taking, you are able to say no, but with compassion, and not deep resentment. How to tell the difference? Soft words and empathy don’t necessarily mean you are soft and weak. You can still stand your ground without being harsh and offending. To me, that’s being compassionate.

So, yes, I will still be kind-hearted next time. Because, how else can we bring more softness to this world if we don’t stop worrying about being kind?


Photo credit: Aki Tolentino 

Truthfulness

Vishuddha, or the throat chakra, is the fifth primary chakra associated with the action of speaking and hearing. It is believed in the Hindu tradition of tantra that this chakra can become blocked by a sense of guilt, or the inability to speak from one’s own heart.

I sat in a throat chakra meditation session last Sunday. It was not the first time I had experienced this meditation technique, and the group discussion on truthfulness afterwards was very similar to the one my group had when I was first taught the same technique in my own teacher training. Perhaps it was the benefit of having gone through such a conversation before, this time, I felt like an outsider listening in on the things that were being said in the group, and I found myself having a rather strong viewpoint that’s different from what the rest were wrestling with.

“I’m forced to lie”

As the group talked about how many of us have to withhold truths not out of free will, but because of circumstance, I saw a pattern of how when we talk about why we lie, we always place the blame on the other person. It makes me uncomfortable, because it seems we have a problem with taking ownership of our lying. Instead of saying “he won’t be able to take the truth” or “it’s not like they will change even if I said anything”, if we frame it as “I don’t want to hurt his feelings” or “I’m too powerless to convince them to make any changes”, I feel that even though it seems we are still saying the same things, it puts the onus on ourselves. This might look trivial or perhaps look like just picking on semantics, but stay with me.

Only by first taking ownership can we even begin to find a resolution. By framing those statements with us as the subject, we find ourselves in control and being able find a position to take. From “I don’t want to hurt his feelings”, we start to find a way to break the news in a gentler way. From “I’m too powerless to convince them to make any changes”, we begin to recognise what steps we can take to make a stronger case.

I know it’s all easier said than done. In fact, one of the things that can be done is not to do anything at all. Finding peace with ourselves is also an action that can be taken. If we recognise that we are unable to change someone, a relationship or an organisation, but we can be at peace with ourselves, I think that’s a good outcome too. More often than not, we feel that we need to do something, which adds to our own suffering when we find that we are helpless.

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Joy and Boredom

I was recently reminded by Tumblr that I had left a previous blog abandoned for four years now. I’m more than happy to retire that blog, but there are some posts that bring me memories of the years past that I do want to preserve here. This is one of them, written on April 10, 2012.


Boredom exists only when the mind starts coming closer and closer to enlightenment. Boredom is just the polar opposite of enlightenment. Animals cannot become enlightened, hence they cannot become bored either.

– Osho, “Joy: The Happiness That Comes From Within”

A couple of years ago, I was constantly bored with my life. To fill the void inside of me, I signed myself up for driving lessons and tap dance classes, and I announced to myself that I’d try anything once as long as it didn’t kill me. I even took up Hindi classes and went out with people I didn’t usually hang out with. I was scared of being bored, I felt I was wasting my life away.

But that void in me was insatiable. It kept wanting more. So the more I stuffed things into it, the hollower I felt. I remember once after making a pinhole camera for three hours and then stepping back to admire my creation, I broke down in tears. If a black hole could form in a human body, it must feel the way I felt at that very moment: a hollowness that keeps tearing and ripping at your body as it sucks your body inwards, until it collapses into itself.

If only I had known what Osho had to say about boredom. He believed that boredom arises from an understanding of the futility of the life that we know, the endless cycle of desire and want, action and reaction. I can see what he means. As soon as you realise that you are not experiencing true happiness, but just moving from one gratification to the next gratification, it’s hard not to feel jaded and tired about chasing after that next emotional high. But did I feel like I was closer to enlightenment? Hardly. In fact, I felt numb and powerless. It was that powerlessness that drove me to tears and made me feel everything about me was worthless.

And then, today, I read this:

Cancer has shocked and terrorized me into a wakefulness that I didn’t know existed. Now every decision, every moment feels both meaningful and fleeting.

– Suleika Jaouad, Life, Interrupted: Countdown to Day Zero

It always takes that powerlessness to make us take a good, hard look at our lives. What I had gone through is hardly anything compared to what Suleika Jaouad is going through (she’s in her twenties, she’s hardly bored, but she fears she’s running out of time), but it nevertheless made me realise that, in the grand scheme of things, many of my decisions are but a drop in the ocean. My opinions on what constitute meaningful pursuits have been reset. That’s not to say I’m going to have a “whatever” or “I don’t care” attitude towards life. Rather, I need to be more detached, and be able to enjoy the present and stop dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future.

Have you ever been unhappy here and now? Right this moment–is there any possibility of being unhappy right now? You can think about yesterday and you can become unhappy. You can think about tomorrow and you can become unhappy. But right this very moment–this throbbing, beating, real moment–can you be unhappy right now? Without any past, without any future?

– Osho, “Joy: The Happiness That Comes From Within”

I still think of the past, but I no longer want to hang on to it and show it off like my war wound. That has been the cause of my unhappiness for all these years. I’m ready to stop brandishing my sorrow as proof that I’m not completely void inside.

So, goodbye, boredom. Next stop, bliss.


Photo credit: Priscilla Westra 

How I Dived Into Meditation

You can talk to me anytime about meditation, just don’t ask me to teach it. Sure, I’ve tried guiding a group or two in meditation practice before, but I don’t consider it teaching, not in the true sense of what the word really mean. For one to be able to teach meditation, I feel one needs to be well-established in multiple meditation techniques and very consistent in their own practice. For me, I’m just not there yet.

I love talking about mindfulness and meditation, though. It helps me in my own practice to be able to articulate, share and learn with other practitioners. So when I wrote “Meditation for the Non-Spiritual Types” over a year ago, all I really wanted was to share the practice of meditation with meditation beginners, or just about anyone who’s ever wanted to try meditation for the first time.

This post is not to repeat the why and how of meditation that I wrote about a year ago; this post is about the little story behind how I really started knowing meditation.

Meditation was not easy for me to get into. It took me a year of bouncing about, feeling that the practice was out of my reach, pushing on even though I felt very conflicted about what to feel about meditation. I did feel almost like a fraud to be sharing meditation techniques with other people, even though I didn’t fully understand it. That’s still very much how I feel, which explains why I don’t think I’m ready to teach.

It was not until I was to talk to a group of meditation practitioners at a local meditation group a couple of years ago that I chanced upon the wonderful “How to Meditate” series of videos by Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu while researching on the topic.

The first two videos in the series threw wide open the doors of meditation for me. With his simple explanation, he talked about what meditation is truly about and how to make use of four foundations of meditation — body, feelings, thoughts and mental states. It worked for me like no other meditation techniques, and I quickly found that where other techniques distracted me from being able to focus inwards, his method was able help me to ground and centre myself easily. The fact that it’s still the only technique that I use for my personal meditation practice shows how comfortable I am with it.

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“Canisters” of Loneliness

My first heroes in photography were Ansel Adams and Steve McCurry. That explains why black-and-white photography, street photography and photojournalism have always been fascinating to me. Their works evoke feelings of awe and empathy with their storytelling through the lens.

Despite the recent scandal surrounding McCurry’s work, his “Asylum in Afghanistan” continues to haunt my memory ever since I saw it in a photo exhibition here many years ago.

mccurryslide6
Asylum in Afghanistan by Steve McCurry (via http://dirty-mag.com/v2/?p=4518)

The photo features four patients in a mental asylum in Afghanistan. I remember that the very first thought I had when I saw the piece was how the four in the photo looked like “canisters of loneliness, despair and misery.”

I’m not sure why the word “canisters” came into my mind that day, but it stuck ever since, and I can still feel that exact emotion through this word. Looking at the photo, each felt like they had a whole lot of story in them that they could not express, and their stories would continue to be locked inside them, following them, taunting them, driving them further down the spiral, making it all the more heartbreaking for me.

Teaching Yoga for Beginners

It used to be that before every one of my yoga classes, I’d spend up to hours to prepare detailed lesson plans. Not so much these days. It’s not that I now slight the need for lesson plans; rather, it’s because experience has taught me that sometimes lesson plans have to be thrown out the window because things don’t go as planned, so being able to adapt and think on your feet is far more important than planning out lessons in painstaking details.

Don’t get me wrong. Going into a class with nary a form of a plan is a disaster. In order to teach any class, you need to at least have a structure in mind before you step into class, a structure that serves as a guiding star towards which you want to direct the students, but just enough so that the details can be filled in as you learn how each student responds to your teaching.

Having said that, when you are new to teaching, a lesson plan is a must. Making lesson plans is the only way to really hone your planning skills. Without the experience and confidence of adapting your lesson on the spot, a good lesson plan can help you think through the important stuff before stepping into the class.

Sitting in on a yoga teacher’s training class today brought back memories of my own teacher training experience and my first time practising in a mock class giving instructions to my fellow trainees on yoga poses. Looking back, I can see how much I’ve grown in my teaching method now. I thought to myself, if I could give advice to my old self about teaching as a new teacher, what would I say?

Here are three things I think are what really matter, in my opinion, when setting up a lesson plan. I hope this may also come in useful for other budding yoga teachers in taking their first steps.

Continue reading “Teaching Yoga for Beginners”

The Driver and the Loanshark

For those who are keeping a tally of grumpy old taxi drivers versus cool Uber drivers who are full of fascinating stories to tell, add this regular taxi driver that I met today under “non-Uber drivers who are not grumpy and old, but pretty fascinating too.”

Before he picked me up, his fare was a thuggish guy who turned out to be a loanshark on his way to collect a debt. He needed to make two stops, he told the driver, and because it wasn’t a legal debt collection, the driver needed to drop him off at a distance.

As they were reaching the first stop, the taxi fare was coming up to nine dollars. The loanshark had a proposition — the entire trip was probably going to cost no more than twenty bucks, and since he needed $30 change to return to his debtor who was going to pay up his loan of $820 with only $50 notes, why not have the driver give him $30 first, and when he comes back with the money, he will pay the driver $50. The math is sound, so it must be legit, right?

The little scam there sounds really ridiculous. I wonder if any driver would actually fall for it. Not this driver, luckily. Cool as a cucumber, he told the loanshark to get off the cab, which he immediately obliged. I was pretty impressed that the driver wasn’t angry at the scam attempt, but was very amused and happy to just chalk his $9 loss up to bad luck and laugh it off. Well, he could have been scammed almost $40, so he has something to smile about, after all.


Photo credit: John Cobb