Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.
With the plethora of wellness trends, from Tibetan bowl meditations to dynamic meditations, peace and calm seems to come with many things. You need to book a class, wear yoga outfits, go through different rituals or have a teacher….
Are we overcomplicating mindfulness and meditation?
Here are two short videos that brings us back to the simple foundations of mindfulness practices.
1. 1 Minute to be present 2. 2 minutes video dispelling meditation myths
1 minute to be present
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, a Bhutanese monk from the Tibetan tradition shares a very simple practice for people who only have a minute, and want something accessible and effective. We found this useful because he goes straight to the point and removes all fluff. He keeps the practice unbelievably minimalist, suitable for the folks who are running from one meeting to another and have an exploding inbox to clear. Give it a try!
You never know how much you needed this!
“I’m not even going to tell you to do positive thinking, sunrise, rainbow or stuff like that”
Identify opportunities in your day where you can take a moment to be present, ie walking, taking the lift, sitting in the bus/MRT.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a monk also from the Tibetan tradition breaks down the myths that many people have about meditation. Is it about emptying the mind? Do I need to create any special states? Am I wasting time?
He also helps us to experience a simple sound awareness meditation and encourages us to try that for today!
“Meditation can be done anywhere and at any time”
Contemplate: Am I holding on to any expectations about meditation?
Practice makes progress! Try these short videos out!
TLDR: What does independence in Buddhism look like? Zeb shares how awareness, compassion, and acceptance help him to experience some liberation from suffering in daily life.He also discovers what the Buddha’s half-smile represents to him.
Quick quiz, it is the month of August, what comes to mind? Fireworks may come to your mind since it’s the month of the celebration of Independence in 3 countries in Southeast Asia. The 3 countries are: 1) Singapore Independence Day, which is observed on the 9th of August; 2) Indonesia Independence Day on the 17th of August; and 3) Malaysia Independence Day on the 31st of August, respectively.
For me, independence refers to experiencing the fruits of the Dhamma, liberation from the suffering of daily life. Gaining ‘independence’ from the grasp of suffering.
This August, I wish to share my experience with you on how awareness, compassion, and acceptance can help you realise ‘independence’. When we can free ourselves, we are freer to free others of their suffering in turn. As a bonus, I would like to share what the Buddha’s half smile represents to me.
Awareness helps us stay on course:
If we are not aware of what is on the ground that may trip us over, we may suffer serious injury. Looking at suffering when we are suffering can make the pain seem endless. But if we look deeper, we may note that there are two levels of pain.
The Buddha uses the parable of the 2 arrows, with the first arrow being the actual pain, while the second arrow is our reaction to the initial pain. Knowing the difference between them brings to mind that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
We suffer because we are afflicted by the three poisons in Buddhism – greed, hatred, and delusion. We suffer because we are greedy and desire more. We want that extra serving of ice cream when we are already full leading to unwanted stomachaches.
We suffer because we are angry that we missed out on the popular Taylor Swift concert tickets purchase, while our enemies got lucky. We suffer because we are lost in our own delusional thinking that we should not have to suffer in life.
We ignore the 1stNoble Truth, that “There is Suffering.”
When we are aware and realise how we are afflicted by the three poisons, we may have a chance at suffering less.
We are less caught up with the pattern of clinging, pushing away, or being lost in our faulty thinking that life is unfair just because we suffer in our daily life.
I lost my job as a Counsellor in June 2023. I practised letting go of my desired identity as a healer. I accepted the emotional turmoil that I experienced as I faced the loss of my coveted career. I saw the pain of losing my job and discerned to not burden myself with additional suffering, by playing the blame game.
Pain is pain, we do have to honour the power of pain in its ability to overwhelm our senses. In meditation retreat practice, we are encouraged to watch pain in earnest mindfulness, because pain is also subject to the law of impermanence. Yet the truth remains that some pain may take a little longer to go away than we can handle.
A strategy I found to be helpful in cases where the pain was overwhelming was to apply compassion to myself.
The traditional phrases that we can use to apply compassion go like this: “May I be free from pain and suffering.”
Just reciting the compassionate phrase repeatedly, can have a calming and relaxing effect on us, and I observed that my pain slowly reduces in its intensity, because I was not so tense and uptight about the pain anymore.
I know it works for physical pain because I have not once, but two different hospitalization experiences in the past 4 years, with a combined hospital stay of 26 days in total!
I became an unwilling participant in observing human pains, both of myself and others, in a hospital setting. I am also grateful to have excellent medical care at Singapore’s Hospitals.
Using my medical pain – being hospitalized, was a valuable lesson in understanding suffering. I observed that I can choose to suffer less because I was able to apply mindfulness and compassion in facing my pain with much patience.
There are limits to what painkillers can do to mitigate the pain. I tried to observe the pain mindfully, but my mind was just too confused and distressed under the cocktail combinations of physical pain, painkillers to manage the pain, and the mental pain of being alone in a hospital ward.
I tweaked the compassion phrases to “May I be free from pain and suffering, as much as possible,” given that the strongest painkiller was only capable of dulling the pain so much, and I cannot realistically expect the pain to disappear.
Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, when I notice that I am more relaxed and accepting of the pain, the suffering naturally reduces in its intensity.
Acceptance of our reality:
The 1st Noble Truth states that “There is Suffering.” No need to run away from suffering. We are not choosing to embrace unnecessary suffering, but we learn not to run away from inevitable suffering.
We are learning not to add the 2nd arrow of suffering, on top of the 1st arrow of pain.
When suffering arises, we can watch it mindfully, and observe the ever-changing nature of the physical, emotional, and mental nature of the suffering.
Acceptance is not about being a defeatist, it is instead a courageous act, to accept reality for what it is. It is having the inner confidence that one can tackle whatever things life throws at us. Of course, we are armoured with the Wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching, to have various practices such as Mindfulness, 4 Brahmavihārā, and Forgiveness, to help us face and overcome the challenges in life.
With mindfulness, I pay attention to my ever-changing thoughts and emotions about the loss of my job. Sending loving kindness to myself, I try to maintain a positive mindset with the inevitable change.
Practising compassion, I strengthen my empathy for myself and others who are affected by layoffs and retrenchment.
I remain joyful for those who have a job now, for they are not suffering from the uncertainty of job loss.
And I try to stay equanimous, knowing that change is inevitable in life and that I will be employed in due time, with the right effort placed in my job search process.
Finally, I try to forgive myself for being less office politics savvy which may have led to my job loss; and I resolve to continue to learn and get mentoring to up my game in the workplace.
Hence, I suffer less, by having the wise understanding that there is suffering in life and recognising that it is not a personal failing to face suffering, or that I am being punished by some invisible beings out there.
I also want to thank and express my anumodana (gratitude) towards my kalyāṇamitta (spiritual friends) who have inspired me to continue learning and practising the Dhamma.
My spiritual friends reminded me of the impermanence of life’s ups and downs, and that I would suffer if I were stuck in holding on to my perceived identity loss of a Counsellor when I lost my job; but by turning to the Dhamma, I can find some solace and further deepen my understanding of the suffering and impermanence of one life’s status.
The half smile:
As I journey through life and the inevitable challenges in life, by practising the Dhamma, I come to understand the Buddha’s half smile, as realising, and accepting the suchness of life that there is nothing that I need to push away or to cling to and that is okay.
When I am secure in my acceptance of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in my life, I too smile contentedly like the Buddha, that I will have both wisdom and compassion to meet life challenges resolutely, with calm and ease.
The ultimate independence:
In conclusion, I hope the above personal sharing inspires you to continue to practice the Dhamma to attain the ultimate independence, which is Nibbana (Enlightenment). If we practice the Dhamma, we can find moments of mini-independence and freedom, that will help buffer against our day-to-day living stressors.
Whatever small amount of ease and lightness in our life that we can glean and experience, it will surely continue to build upon our faith and practice in the Dhamma.
I wish you too will have a taste of experiencing liberation and smile like the Buddha’s half smile. Sukhi hontu – May you be well and happy.
Explore how you can practice Mindfulness and Compassion in recognising and enduring the minor inconveniences in life.
See if you can adopt the Buddha’s half smile in accepting the inevitable challenges in life.
If you are in a position to support your friends who are in career transition, extend your help. You may refer to this past HOL article by Livia Lee for additional ideas to support those who faced layoffs.
TLDR: We often go through life unaware and miss out on the treasure in our heart. The jewel within that is self-awareness is this treasure that differentiates humans from animals.
What is self-awareness? We use this term to describe whether someone is self-aware or not. For example, I never thought that my father had no self-awareness when I was young. He was and still is quick to anger, dislikes any slight form of challenge (depending on who the challenger is), and loves to pick on me. I had thought that he just hates me for reasons unknown.
But as I grew older and encountered some new age spiritual books and later rational teachings by the Buddha, I realised my father has no self-awareness. Although realising his denial of this inner awareness changed my feeling of low self-esteem (being the object of his tirades) to compassion, I feel sorry he does not see the jewel within that is self-awareness.
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness theory is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection according to positivepsychology.com. Although it is not possible to attain total objectivity about yourself based on the theory, there are degrees of self-awareness and it exists on a spectrum. Having inner awareness allows you to accept yourself, see the perspectives of others, change yourself, communicate better and to make better decisions.
When I was a young adult, positive psychology and studies into self-awareness was at its nascent stage. I never thought I had awareness of myself.
I thought that being able to see others’ perspectives, probe my values and how others see me, was me being overly sensitive or having empathy.
I thought my ability to reflect caused much suffering because those around me who did not reflect much, seemed to enjoy life better. They were happy with sensual pleasures such as food, exercise, travels and work while I felt there is something more than these things in life.
Thus, instead of being glad I have a tendency towards self-reflection, I detested it. It made me miserable. I wasn’t able to occupy myself from one thing and the next like the others do. I read and reflected a lot on philosophy.
This inner sense that something is not right with the general purpose in life (to work, earn and buy a home or get married) disturbed me.
I even rebelled against such a life cycle by wanting to be different. Unfortunately, I did not encounter Buddhist teachings till my 30s.
The Difference Between Humans and Animals
I was teaching a Buddhist class recently and shared how the contemplation of death can bring about a purpose in life. Based on the dhamma talk given by Ajahn Anan, he asked what is the purpose of life? He said if we ask this question, most people would not be able to answer. He added that most people live to fulfil their physical duties (work for food), eat and sleep. They repeat this cycle until the day they die. He asked, if this cycle of life is different from that of a chicken? A chicken too forages for food, eats and sleeps until it dies.
Until I encountered the Buddha’s mind training, I wished I had no self-awareness. What is the purpose of being aware of myself when I suffer pain and death? I’d rather not know. Moreover, my reflections were a torture more than a joy because others said I think too much.
But being able to be aware of the self, is what differentiates us from animals. It is also this quality that produces human intelligence.
Ajahn Anan continued to say, if we do not utilise our intelligence and mindfulness, we are no different from animals. His words made me thankful today that I have a sense of inner awareness.
The Purpose of Having Awareness
Why is having an inner sense of awareness considered having a jewel within? Without an inner awareness, we cannot embark on the path, whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhism or even scientific inquiry to find out what we really are. Our lives would be buffeted endlessly by the vicissitudes of life while we strive over and over to find impermanent solutions that are outside of us.
Self-awareness is used to great heights in the teachings of the Buddha. One can realise the liberation of the mind through inner reflection, and probing into what makes up the self.
The self is made up of the mind and the body. Both the sensations of the body and mind are conditioned by the objects our senses come into contact with. The sensations arising from our contact with objects of our senses come and go and are impermanent.
Due to our wrong views that what we come into contact with are permanent, we cling. For example, someone may make a passing critical remark and we hold onto that remark as attacking our permanent self. We may feel insulted. This causes ill will to arise, even if the person who made that remark forgets about it entirely because s/he is not mindful. This is not to say we become doormats for people to be rude or to criticise us, but there is no need to hold on and hurt ourselves. We can simply inform that person and forget about it.
We neglect to see what we see as the self, is easily collapsible. The more we hold onto having a precious self, the more fear and ill will can arise. In today’s world, catching a virus such as Covid-19 can kill us. Taking the vaccine may also kill us. In fact, natural disasters can also easily kill us. We are unaware of our vulnerabilities. St. Teresa of Avila asked, why do we crave living so much when there are so many uncertainties? She was a Catholic Carmelite nun living in the 15th century and had several episodes of ill health that nearly took her life.
The Buddha taught us to build our self-awareness – the ability to be objectively aware by first quieting the mind through the practice of virtues and meditation.
With our awareness sharpened by these practices, we begin to see in our mind the constant flux of things – such as the impermanence of materials and our thoughts about them. Seeing the constant flux teaches the mind to let go instead of clinging onto things.
Ajahn Anan often extols in his talks that we never know when we will die. The body does not belong to us. Make use of the body we have towards the true purpose of life – to build treasures in our heart (the cultivation of the heart in love, compassion, joy and equanimity) with the path taught by the Buddha before we die. It is our unenlightened hearts which clings that go on, we cannot take the body or our material possessions with us upon death.
If you find yourself reflecting on your actions and values, you have a sense of self-awareness. Be glad that you have this jewel in your heart!
Cultivate and strengthen your self-awareness with meditation.
Utilise your awareness to look within to see a constant change in your mind and body and find out what you are.