4 things I never realised until I studied overseas…during a pandemic

4 things I never realised until I studied overseas…during a pandemic

TLDR: Being stuck in lockdowns isn’t the best way to start university, but here’s what I have learnt! Studying overseas allowed me to have an open mind and embrace challenges as they came. 

“Congratulations! The world is your oyster.”  

Like many undergraduates studying abroad, studying overseas was a significant milestone for me. I had many aspirations for personal growth, academic success and ultimately, a successful career. 

Though I had many worries about what the future may bring, I knew that it was something I have longed for. I couldn’t contain my excitement as the days approached – the start of my journey in England! 

Groups of students were at the airport with their friends and family, but I was alone pushing the airport trolley. It was a familiar yet strange feeling to be at the airport. This time was unlike all previous trips: I felt uneasy and lonely. 

This was just the beginning of my journey. It was later filled with moments of unexpectedness. An identity I thought was solid was shown to be transparent.

Here’s what I have learnt during my year abroad:

1. Being at peace with my emotions

Lugging heavy luggage up and downhill, then up a few flights of stairs marked my arrival at college. A physical workout I never expected at a world-class institution. 

Then, came my greatest shock: 2 boxes of food that were for half a month of quarantine. Hot meals that I expected to be delivered to my room were merely my wishful thinking. 

Instant food and more junk food greeted me as I rummaged through the boxes, only to find out that I was given the same food ration daily. 

The reality was vastly different from what I had expected. I was disappointed because I had high expectations of university life. One disappointment after another coupled with homesickness just made things worse.  

Being in an unpleasant situation, I learned to slowly acknowledge and accept my emotions. Recognising that emotions were fleeting and impermanent calmed me down. Labelling my emotions made their fleeting nature more obvious.

I was more mindful when unpleasant emotions arose and l grew to be more gentle towards myself. Unhappy times would eventually pass, and so would happy ones. 

I started to live in the present and realised I had limited control over the future. We, humans, desire pleasant feelings and want to cling to them, while quickly escaping from unpleasant ones. 

Suffering is experienced when things do not go according to our wishes. We feel uneasy and become reactive towards the unfamiliar.

My comfort food was a warm bowl of noodles and not potato chips in the cold weather. I learned to be grateful for the food which provided me with energy instead of viewing it as an unpleasant meal. 

All conditioned phenomena are impermanent; When one sees this with Insight-wisdom, one becomes weary of dukkha (dissatisfaction). This is the path to purity.” Dhammapada Verse 277

2. Learning to slow down

In Singapore, I was used to the fast-paced life where everything has to be done quickly and efficiently. We are always in a rush to complete yet another task. 

In England, I began immersing myself in my surroundings and noticed the little things. I took time to enjoy the brilliant colours of the autumn foliage, sheep grazing the field, birds chirping at dawn and dusk and the paw prints of bunnies when winter arrived.

I made so many discoveries when I slowed down to observe. 

The little things which I once paid no attention to were the ones I looked forward to each day. 

By relaxing my pace of life, I started to appreciate the people, culture and environment. I was slower in jumping to conclusions and was more willing to understand and learn. I was responding and not reacting to different situations

I felt happier and more relaxed by focusing on what I had, rather than worrying about the future.

3. Staying calm in the face of challenges

One of my favourite places to take a walk

Stuck in the middle of a pandemic, I had to do my laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, etc., amidst many assignments and exams. These were previously handled by my parents in Singapore.

Moreover, schoolwork greatly increased in depth and breadth compared to polytechnic. There were much more readings, preparations for seminars, and numerous modules to handle.

Besides, I was studying a subject that was foreign and needed more time to understand the content. The accumulation of the tasks and workload consumed me.

I was experiencing high stress, yet I need to increase my productivity to complete my tasks. Thankfully, I managed to set aside time to find some solutions to get me through these difficult moments. Having exposure to the Dhamma through groups like BFY and NPBS gave me the tools to get through these moments.  

– Meditation 

Before a study session, I would calm down by doing a short meditation. This was beneficial in decluttering thoughts and giving clarity to focus on tasks. 

Day-tight compartments

Day-tight compartments prioritise focusing on the task we have at hand, without being trapped in the past or future. 

I would plan out my agenda for the day and break it down into small manageable tasks. Having a plan assures me that I would be able to complete my agendas on time. 

During each study session, I would focus on my planned tasks. However, if important stray thoughts arose, I would jot them down and attend to them later. 

4. Being appreciative 

Being away from my family and friends made me realise their importance and how much I have taken them for granted. 

All the little things that I have taken for granted all these years, such as a bowl of home-cooked food or even a short face to face meet-up with my friends and family were the ones I yearned for. 

These made me more appreciative of the unconditional care and support that I once took as given. Now that I am back at home, the experience abroad reminds me to spend more quality time with my family and do more for them. 

Even though I am currently back in Singapore, studying abroad was one of the most memorable times –  wonderful memories and the ones that made me grow. 

It made me realise the impermanent nature of things. I was once full of hope for where my educational journey in England would bring me, but ultimately things change, and so do my purposes. This is truly anicca.


 Wise Steps:

  • When an unpleasant situation arises, observe & label the emotions you are feeling and note your reaction to them. What can we do differently the next time it arises?
  • The next time you’re on your daily commute, take time to observe your surroundings and the greenery that surrounds you.
  • Identify methods that calm yourself down in the face of adversities (meditation/ taking walks/ day-tight compartments)
The ultimate guide to Vesak Day 2022 in Singapore: 9 things to do this long weekend!

The ultimate guide to Vesak Day 2022 in Singapore: 9 things to do this long weekend!

The ultimate guide to Vesak Day 2022 in Singapore: 9 things to do this long weekend!

Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Day, is a sacred day to millions of Buddhists worldwide. It commemorates the day that Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and passed away. It gives us an opportunity for quiet reflection on Buddha’s teachings and the values of compassion, wisdom, and kindness.

It has evolved over time and brings different meanings to different people!

After 2 years of muted celebrations due to the pandemic, this year’s May 15 will see practitioners gathering and celebrating it in different ways. If you are trying to plan out your Vesak Day weekend to bask in the spirit of Vesak, check out these 10 things you can do!

1. Plan your calendar for your temple-hopping!

Torii Gate, Japan

Find an excuse to head out for the long weekend by visiting the many temples that are open. Use our directory to navigate the many online and offline activities. Who knows?

You might find yourself in the middle of a concert or peaceful chanting session.

Your directory is right here!

2. Three steps, One bow

Vesak 3-steps-1-bow Practice 31 May 2015 – Ramblings of a Monk
Photo Credit: KMSPKS

The three-step, one-bow ceremony is an expression of devotion and serves to lessen mental defilements or build virtue as one goes through the activity. This practice, which symbolically reminds us of the difficult but rewarding journey to enlightenment, has been passed down and has evolved into the 3-Step, 1-Bow we know today.

Book your free tickets here

3. Check out some Food carnivals!

brown bread on black table
Unsplash

While tuning in to some peaceful Buddhist teaching (food for the heart), why not check out food for the body?

Check out food fairs organised by Buddhist Fellowship near newton or spicy tteokbokki and takoyaki at KMSPKS’s Vesak Carnival

4. Help fill the stomachs of the needy

person slicing on the wooden board
Unsplash

In the spirit of Buddha’s compassion shown to many beings, why not give back by volunteering at a Soup kitchen? There are multiple time slots and different tasks you can choose to volunteer with Willing Hearts. 

Hone your chopping and cooking skills here!

5. Find a quiet space to experience peace

Marina Barrage - Visit Singapore Official Site
Credits: Visit Singapore Website

Visit nature places with your insect repellant to reconnect with nature by taking in the good vibes. Plug into the sound of nature to meditate or try one of the meditation audio guides!

We highly recommend botanic gardens, marina barrage, or a nearby park!

6. Be a Buddy to seniors

Supporting seniors in going digital for life - Infocomm Media Development  Authority
Credit: IMDA

We often think that giving means the gift of money. This Vesak, we invite you to rethink the idea of generosity! Volunteer with YouthCorp SG & Healthhub to strengthen the digital literacy of our seniors by empowering them and reducing the waiting time at the polyclinics. 

Giving starts here!

7. Go vegetarian!

vegetable salad
Green Yum! Cred: Unsplash

In the spirit of non-harming, why not go vegetarian? The possibilities are endless with vegetarian food. Check out this sleek guide to vegetarian food places in Singapore!

FYI! Circuit Road Hawker Centre has one of the highest concentrations of vegetarian hawkers.

8. Watch a movie related to Buddhism

Buddha Netflix show - OnNetflix.ca
Netflix: Buddha (2013)

Netflix lover? Watch this live-action TV series about the Buddha. I was personally hooked on it!

Alternatively, watch a short < 30 mins documentary about the late famous zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh. Be inspired on Vesak!

9. Kick start your meditation habit

woman sitting on cliff overlooking mountains during daytime
Unsplash

Always trying to start the ‘meditation habit’ that every productive/mental health guru has been talking about? 

Why not join HOL’s free meditation challenge for 30 days? Who knows you might just start a new meditation habit that last!

#WW🥰: Dhamma advice for hopeless romantics…a nun shares more

#WW🥰: Dhamma advice for hopeless romantics…a nun shares more

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

As more peers get married, there is sometimes a creeping sense of urgency to find a partner. How should we react to the idea of love? For those in love, how do we maintain our relationship through the tough and easy times?

1. Waiting for someone to ‘supply’ you love? Think again

2. Curiousity may kill the cat…but not your relationship

Waiting for someone to ‘supply’ you love? Think again

woman on bike reaching for man's hand behind her also on bike
Unsplash

What’s going on here

Venerable Tenzin Palmo, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, shares why and how we should rethink the way we approach love. Most people fall in love with the idea of love and not the person. She explains, in under 4 mins, why that is a tricky approach to understanding love.

Why we like it

As we grow through the stages of life and see more friends get married…we may feel the rush to settle down. But Tenzin Palmo reminds us to chill and first understand ourselves. We have to first be fulfilled before ‘chasing’ love.

“They think that the more they hold on to someone, the more that it shows that they care about that. But it is not, they are trying to grasp at something because they are afraid that they themselves might be hurt.”

“Attachment says ‘I love you therefore i want you to make me happy’. Genuine love says ‘I love you and I want you to be happy.’ “

Wise Steps

Reflect on our idea of love. Is it attachment or real love? The more we grasp, the more afraid we are to lose.

Watch the video here!

See what we wrote on expectations and finding love

Curiousity may kill the cat…but not your relationship

black and white cat lying on brown bamboo chair inside room
Unsplash: The cat

What’s going on here

@alifecoloredamber, a therapist, shares how we can reshape the way we ask questions in our relationship to build deeper bonds.

Why we like it

This short post reminds us of actionable ways we can interact with our partners. When tough times strike us, we often resort to destructive ways of communication. Amber, the therapist, gives us ways to rewire our communication style.

“Remember, you both come to life with your own subjective experiences, and making assumptions is often damaging.”

Wise Steps

Follow her tips for a happier and more curious relationship!


Being In Love with Love vs Being In Love with a Person

Being In Love with Love vs Being In Love with a Person

TLDR: Being in love with love is different from being in love with a person. Being in love with another brings sadness, excitement and passion. Being in love with love brings peace, joy and rapture.

This is a reflection piece as contemplated by the author based on the Buddha’s teachings. As such, it may not contain the truths as taught by the Buddha. The author hopes the reader takes away useful bits that may resonate and discard whatever parts (or the whole article) that make no sense without any aversion. 

I have not listened to popular music for quite a long time. I wouldn’t know what are the most popular songs of the last decade. I also have not had that intense rush of passion or interest in another person for that same amount of time. Recently I decided to listen to songs of my youth. I don’t know if it is the right choice because these songs brought up particular memories for me. 

It is interesting how most of my strongest memories have to do with my youth. I am guessing raging hormones of youth brought about stronger emotions that led to deeper impressions made on the mind. According to Buddhist cosmology, we have been reborn countless times–however, as the music carried my mind to the past, experiences of my youth still seem so fresh in my mind as if I’ve lived them for the first time.

What is love?

Love is too big a word for anyone to express. In Western movies, characters who express love toward one another make it seem like a big deal. But still, that is not love.

The word, “love”, is used too frivolously in our society. 

We romanticise feelings for another person just as we romanticise love itself. Love in its true meaning is unconditional. Unconditional love is hard to find on earth.

The closest would be that of a mother’s love towards her child. Therefore love would have the elements of sacrifice, forgiveness, compassion, perseverance and faith.

The mother is also able to let the child go because of love. But she is readily available when the child needs help.

Attachment not love

If you are unable to wish your other half happiness and goodwill if s/he leaves you, what you have is not love but attachment.

Also, if you are unable to accept and forgive your partner’s bad habits with patience and compassion, that is not love. What we have is attachment and a sense of responsibility towards our partners.

I found that in all of my relationships, I have never really loved anyone. I would do things to make myself feel better and make others feel bad in the name of love. There is an egoic possessiveness towards all of them. Looking back now, I can only feel compassion for my own ignorance and for the ones who had to suffer me.

Our obsession with love

The human race is always looking for love. This is evident from the many popular romantic and breakup songs in pop culture.

We seek happy endings in love. Many years ago, a friend’s father passed away. The only wish he had not fulfilled was finding true love. This is even after being married, begetting children and divorcing. That is because I was judging my friend’s father from my perspective. I would not marry unless I love the other. Therefore I was surprised he was still seeking true love on his deathbed.

I have not consciously looked for love with another person for the longest time. Although that thought did pop up every now and then. Listening to songs of my youth reminded me of my first love and despite it being such a long time ago, I still cherished that relationship and have goodwill towards my first love. The relationship brought up bittersweet memories. But the relationship is not something I would like to experience again.

Recently, I witnessed a friend’s misery and happiness from her attachment to her partner and it reminded me of the pitfalls of romance. 

Romance brings about happiness only when the other meets our conditions and vice versa.

Being in love with love

There is a way to be in love and be happy without involving another person. That is to be in love with love itself. In all religions, from Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism to Sikhism, there are practices on the contemplation of love. Love is universal as taught by all religions, and we seem to have misunderstood love by trying to find it in another person.

Jesus and the Buddha (two of whom I am most familiar with), both taught and possessed unconditional love. These two great teachers were themselves unconditional love and so they did not need to seek it from elsewhere.

It makes sense why they need not seek love from others. If we feel that we are enough and full of love within, we will have lots of love to share and there will be no need to get it from others.

In Buddhist practice, the Buddha taught us to cultivate love in our hearts and to share it with all beings. I think the difficulty lies in cultivating love in our own hearts because we are so used to romantic love which is dependent on the sight of another. Though love itself and our ‘love’ for another differs in quality. Our “love” for another is narrow because we only can love the object of our affection and depend on this object to further grow this love in our hearts. Love, in reality, is wide and does not depend on others to do certain things or be a certain way for us to have love in our hearts.

How to cultivate love in our hearts?

Buddhist meditation teaches us various ways to develop love in our hearts. One way is to think of a person we love and respect and to pay attention to the love that arises in our hearts.

We then radiate it throughout our bodies and spread it out in all directions.

You can also spread the love by thinking of various people, animals, the earth and the universe. It helps to smile when doing this meditation because smiling relaxes oneself and helps to develop love and kindness.

Similarities between being in love with love and with another

When we are in love with another person, we can’t help but think of that person. We feel drawn to that person, we yearn to understand them and to know their secrets. We want to be united with that person, to be intimate and to relate to him or her. We also hope to be able to please our partner.

When I was doing a home retreat on loving-kindness, that was how I felt. I enjoyed thinking about love. That love in my heart contained elements of joy and lightness. I wanted to draw close to it and was not interested in others. However, I did not go deep enough to become intimate in that love or to know its secrets. 

Thinking of the Buddha to cultivate love

For those who need the image of another to bring up love, you can always think of the Buddha or other religious teachers.

I thought of the Buddha’s immense love and compassion for all those around him. This exercise managed to cultivate those qualities in my mind during meditation.

However, I am not spending enough time thinking about the Buddha’s qualities of love and compassion in daily life. I wish it would occupy at least two-thirds of my mind at all times. 

Being in love with love is indeed different from being in love with a person. Love that depends on a person includes elements of sadness, longing, discontentment and excitement.

One could even get depressed when ignored or rejected by the object of attraction.

But love itself is different. There is no rejection, no longing, no sadness or excitement. Love includes feelings of joy, peace and rapture. 

Since it is virtually impossible to find love from another person, perhaps we can only love another when we ourselves become love by being in love with love.


Wise Steps:

  • Love begins from the self. To be able to love others, we have to love ourselves. Love is like a fire on a candle that lights up the room. Start to love yourself by first forgiving yourself.
  • Bring to your mind a living spiritual friend whom you admire and think of his or her qualities of love.
  • Contemplate the loving kindness, compassion and equanimity of the Buddha. Thinking of these qualities can also help to bring up these feelings within yourself.
Ticking Boxes to Find your Life Partner? Here is what I Realised

Ticking Boxes to Find your Life Partner? Here is what I Realised

TLDR: It is not uncommon to start any connections/interactions with exchanging expectations, the transactional nature in mind. Have we stopped and asked ourselves, is that helpful in living fulfilling enriching relationships?

“You have changed” – this ran through my mind when my then-boyfriend told me he preferred to spend the weekend apart from each other after long busy weeks at work when we had plans to meet. Little did I know that it marks the beginning of my conscious contemplation of what a ‘life partnership’ constitutes.

Long story short, we spent the final moments of our ‘relationship’ trying to point fingers at each other and wanting to change the other person into the ideal image in our mind.

I was exhausted and felt I have turned into this ugly person (not figuratively, of course 😊) and called it off. 

Having been immersed in personal development themes for some time now, I took the subsequent weeks and months to reflect and review. “What was that experience trying to teach me?”, “What have I learnt from it and how will I respond in a more helpful way for the relationship in future?” – these questions were coming up, nudging me to honestly find answers within. 

Life Keeps Sending You Messages…Are You Receiving Them?

It is true, life will keep sending the same lessons in one form or another if we did not fully understand the whole message the first time around. Deeper reflection surfaced to me that I was holding onto certain expectations strongly. 

The idea that my boyfriend should be caring, consistent with his words and actions, generous – written in ‘the list’ (no joke, I did have a list of 10 qualities of a life partner!). 

On the surface, it might seem reasonable to have expectations for someone I consider spending the rest of my life with (or however long it turns out to be). Many relationship experts even encourage both parties to clarify expectations early and regularly to avoid future misalignment or disappointment.

While I am not speaking against these experts, I have now taken another angle to this topic. 

Reviewing my experience to date, I realise I have adopted my parents and society’s view that I need to have the career, the spouse and the child(ren) to be considered successful in life (whatnot with my mom’s regular comment of “You are my only worry now, that your brothers have their own families”). 

There were rebel days when I challenged my mom with “Is my life purpose only to get married and have children then?” which she had no ready and convincing answer to. 

Ticking The Boxes Of Society

Sure, many are happy with ticking these boxes and it is not the intention to reduce those ‘accomplishments’ and make them any less. I too would find joy in simple family life, at the same time I have the inkling there is more to life than just ticking the boxes. 

I restarted contemplation practice in silence, coinciding with the Circuit Breaker period which gave much-needed space for such retrospection.

Various thoughts and feelings arose; from questioning my worth as an individual, to swinging moods of wanting to take back my decision – all are valid experiences, though might not be the truth. 

I dutifully journal the thoughts that arise during those sessions and find myself acquainted with a friend who nudges me to review my beliefs and expectations on everything. This included the impermanent nature of life, personal relationship expectations.

And the journey begins.. more questions surface “Who’s to say life has to be lived only this way?”, “How can I be sure that my expectations are reasonable?”, “Where have I picked up these beliefs, do I truly believe them?”. With more contemplation, the questions get deeper and more challenging. And I face them one after another as there isn’t much to lose. 

Monologues And Realisations

The first realisation arises: this person is not my boyfriend, he is a person of his own – with his habits, preferences and nature of mind. I cannot dictate how he should behave to my liking and not to my disliking. 

It was my strong grasping of an image of how he should be that contributed to the arguments and blames. It was almost like I had these monologues in my mind during our interactions – “You do this, that’s why I love you”, “You are like that, and I dislike that part of you”. Although it is part of human experience to have preferences, it does not mean these preferences are the be-all and end-all. 

It is okay to have them, it is even more important to be aware of them as they are, preferences – which is also changeable.

The outside world serves as a mirror to me, reflecting the part that I value and dislike of myself. Being clear on my values serves as the lighthouse for life’s journey, though it is not my position to demand that others align to them

In the case they do have similar values, we might have a great time together! Otherwise, it is an opportunity for me to expand my worldview or even practice being kind to others who are different from me. At the end of the day, there is no need to see me and others as opponents in a battle.

Wanting to be with someone with qualities in the list is probably not as within my control as being someone with those qualities. 

And if I need to ask for someone to be a decent human being (there might be judgment here too), he/she is probably not someone whom I want to associate with, at least not for long. 

Even more, wanting someone to be a certain way so that I feel pleasure or ‘happy’ is fleeting – like trying to draw on the sandy beach, it will be wiped out by each splash of waves. 

That pleasure and happiness will change when (not if) the person changes for whatever reason. As we learn, the nature of life is ever-changing – the impermanence lesson which we are trying to truly understand.

Of course, I have not decoded the mystery of relationships and dare not claim to know even a tiny bit of it. This is my learning so far, and I have felt more peace today with what is than ever before. Who knows, life might consider me receiving the message now and send me another lesson to learn 😊


Wise steps:

  • Understand the difference between grasping on expectations and practising our life values

  • Embodying values within ourselves, rather than demanding the qualities from others, will bring about a more peaceful state of mind

  • Whenever there is an inclination to place a source of pleasure on something or someone, pause and ask “is this right action based on right view?”

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