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 

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 

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


Here’s that new blog you asked for, Eve!

Like one of those things that start off all heady — new year resolutions, love affairs that give you butterflies in the stomach (wink wink) and blogs that your best bud tells you you should start writing again because, come on, it’s your birthday — this blog may crash and burn and die a premature death like all those blogs before it. But, still not a good reason not to try anyway.

I turned 38 yesterday. I got handmade cards from the kiddos in my life, a playlist, a surprise dinner with friends, and lots of love from my tribe. It’s a cliche (though not untrue), but there’s nothing more I can ask for, and it’s everything I would wish for.

I’ve been joking that all my birthdays after the big 30 will be plain and boring, until the big 40, another major upheaval, maybe. (I hope not, for the sake of the people around me, if nothing else!) But it has not been plain and boring. I have discovered a very grounded sense of love and connection that can be best described as a warm fuzz, and I think it does me good in a rather profound way.

Yet, this year, by no action of my own, my life has become more open in a way I have been anticipating, but not in a way I’ve been imagining all this time (it never does, does it?). I’m still wrapping my head around how I truly feel, and it’s probably going to take a while.

The words in the Coldplay song “Amazing Day” from the playlist that Eve put together move me and give me a much needed morale boost. I’ll leave it here, and wish for everyday to be an amazing day.

Sat on a roof, named every star
Shed every bruise and showed every scar
Sat on a roof, your hand in mine, singing
Life has a beautiful, crazy design

And time seemed to say
Forget the world and its weight
Here I just wanna stay
Amazing day, amazing day


PS. In the post image are the birthday cake and downward dog mini sculptures handmade by my sister and niece.