Ep 12: Dealing with difficult emotions (Ft Sis Ratna Juita)

Ep 12: Dealing with difficult emotions (Ft Sis Ratna Juita)

Kai Xin  00:03

Hey friends, this is Kai Xin, and you’re listening to the Handful of Leaves podcast where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.   If you’re going through a rough patch, this episode is for you because we’ll be unpacking lots of practical tips to deal with difficult emotions in our lives.   Unless we’re saints, whenever we meet with life challenges, negative emotions will inevitably rise to the occasion. Fear, anxiety, sadness, and worry. These are the usual suspects. In fact, these emotions creep into our everyday life in one way or another, and oftentimes make us feel terrible. If you’re like me, you would rather feel positive rather than negative, or you would rather feel happy rather than sad. As a result, we end up running away from these emotions unconsciously or subconsciously and miss the vital lessons they have to teach us.

Kai Xin  01:10

In this episode, we have our special guest, Ratna to share with us how to anchor our life with positivity while mindfully embracing negativity. Ratna is a living example of how best to use one’s vulnerability as a strength. Her personal journey is inspiring. She migrated to Singapore at a young age. She wasn’t proficient in English, and struggled with low self-esteemed. Then, during a public speaking engagement, she blanked out and froze. That’s pretty traumatic and totally crushed her confidence. But she picked herself up. And today, she is an esteemed coach in mindfulness and public speaking, and has even become a TEDx Speaker! Ratna is truly an inspiration and I’m thankful to have witnessed her rise in popularity and success over the last decade. Want to know how she did it? Tune in to the full episode. Right now, she is truly an inspiration. And I’m so thankful to have witnessed her rise in popularity and success over the last decade. Want to know how she did it? Tune in to the full episode as she shares how to use positivity as a superpower, and how to leverage negative emotions for growth. Finally, the ABC guide to dealing with difficult emotions. Now, let’s jump right in.

Cheryl  02:32

To kick things off, Ratna, what is your superpower?

Ratna  02:36

My superpower is positivity. I strive to have optimistic outlook in life. As much as possible, for my friends and family I try to offer them genuine encouragements and also at the same time making people feel a bit better about themselves. So I think that’s one of the superpower that I have.

Cheryl  03:02

And why do you consider positivity a superpower?

Ratna  03:06

In a world where we have so many negativities we face so many challenges in our life, I think it’s so important to have these qualities of positivity. Not ignoring the negative part of our emotions, but really having the positive thoughts and emotions as an anchor in our life that whenever there are any challenges any thing that we face in our life that may not be favourable, we can always use this qualities to be able to help us navigate challenges and changes in our life.

Kai Xin  03:45

Currently, you’re a mindfulness and wellbeing coach, and I think people can really benefit from your positivity. Can you share a little bit about some recent challenges that you face? And what are some of the steps you took to overcome them?

Ratna  03:59

In fact, for the past few months, navigating the uncertainty of solopreneurship (was challenging). It was just like a lot of things that were going through my mind, from ‘what if’ scenarios where certain things may not go according to my plan, and to like the feelings of fear of choosing the wrong path. Having different expectations from my parents to some family members and facing financial instability as I navigate this solopreneurship myself, it was quite a lot of things happening at the same time. It was kind of overwhelming for me. There were lots of uncomfortable emotionsthat I experienced, from feeling confusion, anxiety, as well as fear. I just felt like “I’m not sure if this is something that I really wanted to do.” At the same time also, there were a lot of things that were not within my control. So it was quite tough to actually go through that period for the past few months There was a time that I couldn’t hold it anymore, so I cried. And I should say it was a good way of releasing my emotions and the tension that is being stored in my body.

Ratna  05:27

For me, I took some time to actually unpack my emotions, and process them sharing this with the people that I trust, they are my mentors, as well as my trusted advisors who have my best interests at heart. So by sharing it with them, and listening to what they have to offer, from their own perspective also helps me to open up a different perspective about things in different ways as well. But at the end of the day, I have to make a decision for myself, and what really helps me a lot was the practice of mindfulness meditation practice, to actually come down my emotions, my thoughts, and it helps me to also quieten down the noise and silencing that inner critic to also bring my attention back to the present moment to really focus on what really matters the most. One more thing that really helps a lot is the journaling practice. So every day, I took some time to basically just journal my thoughts and my feelings kind of like just put my thoughts and feelings on paper, and not to overthink too much. So that really helps a lot in navigating all those uncertain moments that has been happening for the past few months.

Kai Xin  06:51

Wow, thanks for sharing this very vulnerable journey, it’s definitely not easy being a solopreneur. And I hear you mentioned a few things that are helpful, of course, your superpower came in very handy. And then beyond that, it’s also not suppressing it too much. Because to a point when you’re holding back, then you have to release. And after releasing your consult others, and you also notice your inner critic, then you take time to reflect. I’m just trying to expand on this inner critic part a little bit, because I think some people can find it challenging to balance, sometimes we can be overly positive, we call it toxic positivity, where we misjudge the reality, and everything feels like rainbows and sunshine, when actually it’s not. On the other hand, we are overly critical to a point where it’s not constructive. So to you based on your experience, how do you know when to release your emotions and when to hold it back and just be positive?

Ratna  07:48

I think for me, I kind of took quite a bit of guidance from my body. So whenever I feel a certain emotion, will come back to my body and really feel ways this emotion resides in my in my body. By having that, it helps me a lot to release a lot of tension, especially the negative emotions that is being stored in my body. Gounding exercises, such as, the breathing and all that helps me to recalibrate myself to the baseline, in a way not to spiral down into a much one negative emotion. And knowing that whatever I’m experiencing right now might not be really real, like what we thought it is, because our feelings and emotions are sometimes are just guidance or compass to what we are experiencing right now, but still have the power to choose whatever we wanted to experience in our life or whatever we wanted to create, to have a different kind of outcome in whatever situations that we experience as well.

Cheryl  08:56

I really appreciate the fact that you say that our body is a guidance to our emotions, and at the same time you say acknowledge that we have the power to be able to decide how we want to deal with these emotions. And it’s so true, right? Our body holds all our emotions. If we feel stress, we feel it in the stomach area that we feel angry, it’s in the chest area. And once you’re able to learn how to kind of, I think be comfortable or accept the sensation to able to move on. I was wondering if you would be able to maybe share what exercise helped you to be in tune with your body in a way and respond appropriately after that?

Ratna  09:36

I do quite a bit of grounding and breathing practice. For example, if I wanted to relive whatever events that is happening not according to what I expect it to be, and then you will kind of like probably come up with all sorts of emotions that might not be really pleasant. Because of that, then I will ask myself,  “Where is this emotions residing in my body?” Sometimes it can be around my shoulders area or my chest area, and I can also feel a tingling sensation in certain parts of my body. When I felt that way, I will take a deep breathing, and then I’ll just release my breathing into the areas where I feel the most tension in my body to help to ease the tension. And one more practice that I also use is to use humming. Basically, I take a deep breath, and as I breathe out, I will hum into that part of my body that feels that tingling sensations or elevated emotions. And other practice that I do is walking in nature. So as I walk it, it really helps me to feeling much more grounded, you know, connecting to the nature, and all that. So it really helps to, in a way, bring that more positive emotions as well.

Kai Xin  11:06

I’m quite curious, what if you do all that, but you still feel very tense?

Ratna  11:09

I think another practice could be sharing it with others as well, like, you know, sometimes by by just sharing it with others. It’s to process our feelings and thoughts, and then having a sounding board helps you to probably give some kind of suggestions or good advice helps to, in a way shift our emotions or feelings into a more empowering one. One of the thing that I also felt was really important is to have self acceptance, because a lot of times when we feel unpleasant emotions, we want to resist it, because we just don’t want to feel it. But the more we resist it, it keeps persisting. What I find it useful is to really acknowledge that, hey, I’m feeling a certain way, I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling this way, you know. And to label the emotions and observe it as the third party. So not saying that, “Oh, I, I’m angry,” or “I’m, you know, I’m feeling fear, but to distance ourselves with the emotions itself, and looking at it as a third party. I can say, like, you know, I’m experiencing this anxiety in my body, I’m experiencing whatever feelings in my body.  By doing that, it kind of like helped us to detach from the emotions and feelings itself.

Kai Xin  12:46

And I think it also goes to show that it’s not always the solution to run away, because I mean, based on experience as well, if I feel very tense, I feel frustrated, I want to meditate it away. And then if I don’t feel that I have become more at ease, I get even more frustrated. So I think it’s kind of a combination of the feelings are signs to tell us that we need to act on it, and it’s also a clue, it’s serving a purpose in telling us what exactly is the underlying cause that I’m feeling frustrated. One thing I also found really interesting from one of the retreats is, oftentimes we get too caught up with the intense sensation. But we can, let’s say in our body, right, we can draw a line and say, “Where does the tense sensation stop?” So if I feel very tight on my shoulder, then I can draw a very tight, they’re getting less and less tight, and probably my fingers are relaxed. And it just opens up possibility that the whole situation isn’t all that bad. There is still some goodness within sight. Personally, I found that to be very helpful.

Ratna  13:53

Yeah, exactly. I do agree with that as well. I always find the self awareness will set us free, you know, when we are being aware of like, hey, this emotions, what is this emotion trying to tell me? It also gives us a clue into what we are feeling what we are feeling right now.

Cheryl  14:11

Just going back to what you shared just now. I think there were two points that caught my attention. I think the first was share with a trusted friend, how you feel and to kind of have a sounding board. I think that is very interesting, because for myself, at least, I tend to close up or isolate if I feel like I’m in a bad space. And the last thing I want to do is, is to show like the super ugly side to my friends. That’s why the second thing that you mentioned about you know, distancing yourself from the emotion and depersonalising it is so powerful because it then takes away some of the shame, or the power of guilt that I’m feeling to just say, “Okay, this is just an experience that I’m having. That is not the whole of me and it’s just a part like, you know, the what Kaixin mentioned as well, it ends. Certain sensations end at a certain part of your body. So I would like to ask how can we make it easier for us to open up and have that courage to reach out to our friends for support when we’re in a very tough space?

Ratna  15:15

For me, instead of keeping it to myself and feeling helpless, not being able to find solutions to the challenges that I face, I might rather reach out to people, especially not to everyone that you probably don’t trust, because you want to ensure that it is a safe space for both of us to really share whatever problems that we have. I think it’s also very important to really choose whoever, people that you wanted to share. And knowing that, you know, they also have our best interests at heart and knowing that they wanted to help us to be in a better space as well.

Kai Xin  16:03

It reminds me of a book called chatter. It’s by this author called Ethan Cross. So you know, we all have those narrative and voice in our head. And in one of the chapters he actually mentioned, it’s so crucial to pick the right friends, because there are some friends, when you confide in them, they will reinforce that negativity. So let’s say if I complain that  my boss really is terrible, or my situation is terrible. They’ll say yeah, your situation is terrible. You should blah, blah, blah, blah. And it just makes you feel worse. But I think a good friend is someone who knows when to listen, when to ask the right questions, so that you use that as a way to clear your thoughts or when to just be a sounding board. And yeah, I think it’s really important to reach out.

Ratna  16:48

Yeah, as what Brene Brown said, right, and vulnerability is not weakness, it is actually strength. Because the more we actually share, whatever we experience, with courage,, it actually helps to open up a certain part of us, that helps to heal as well. Take, for example, I’ve always shared one of my biggest challenges in my life, which is  my fear of public speaking. When I was young, I was afraid to really share that, but as I get older, and I also have to overcome this traumatic experience I have, I need to slowly open up myself. So, I kind of like started to share my own personal story with a small group of friends. And then of course, I also seek for help, with the practice of mindfulness in managing my speaking anxiety. When I do that, it actually helps me to open up my own personal scars. It’s not comfortable sharing that, but as I open up myself, and when people actually resonate with my own personal stories or struggles, it helps me to heal from within as well, because it’s not that  I’m asking for validation, but it helps me to connect with others.  I’m sharing this because I’m just a normal human being, you know, who wants to be happy, who wants to be free from suffering. By sharing this personal experience, it helps me to open up myself and heal at the same time. So that really helps a lot for me.

Kai Xin  18:36

I’m wondering where you are now, in your journey of healing.

Ratna  18:40

I think the journey of healing is a never ending journey. It’s always a continuous journey and progress. I will really credit my own personal journey of healing through the practice of mindfulness that has really bring so much courage for me to be able to really face that fear. That is really, quite big to face. Because when I faced that during my teenager days, it was so big to the extent that it literally crushed my self confidence. Yeah. So because of that, I was also looking out for ways to help me rebuild that confidence back and  to really face and embrace that fear because it’s something that is so uncomfortable for me.

The practice of mindfulness has helped me a lot in that healing process. So I always call this ABC of mindfulness. The first one is awareness. The awareness part of it is that it helps me to just be aware of the things that I’m afraid of. Knowing that hey, if I keep doing the same thing, keep feeling the fear I’ll end up not being able to really move forward. So, the awareness part really helps me to,  opens up that willingness to be able to take the small steps to be able to change my life. In order for me to be able to improve my life for a better, I need to make a change so it helps to open up that self awareness part and take that small little steps to be able to face my fear. Because of that, I started to join a Toastmasters community to be able to help me overcome my fear. And eventually, it slowly built up my confidence as well. 

The B part is our balance. It’s really finding the balance between embracing the feelings and emotions itself, not resisting it, but at the same time to also knowing how to take action, despite feeling a certain way. In the early days of my healing journey, the first part of it is to really accept that, “Hey, I feel a certain way because of that past, traumatic experience I had in the past, I’m feeling this way. I know it’s not comfortable, and I wanted to, you know, take the steps to help me improve myself and become a better speaker.” And because of that, and when I came into the acceptance part of it, I slowly move into,  taking some steps to actually also help me to to do better. So I do a practice called incantation. So basically incantation is like, you know, reciting an empowering mantras or empowering sentence or whatever it is to help me feel better. For example, “yes, I can!” That also helps me a lot. So I did that quite often during my run in the mornings. As I run, I keep repeating the incantation part of it, that really helps a lot. Yeah, so that’s the second part of it.

And then the third part is curiosity and compassion. So, you know, whenever I felt fear or whatever emotions that I’m feeling that might not be comfortable, it’s always an invitation to kind of like also ask deeper what are these emotions or feelings are trying to tell me. Are there underlying emotions that we are trying to solve right. So, I think that asking, having that curiosity, approaching that emotions with that curious mind also helps to opens up and helping us to be a bit more comfortable with the emotions itself. The last but not least, which is the compassion part is also because a lot of times when we feel when we have friends who is like feeling a bit down, we will have a tendency to kind of like you know, console them and all that. The compassion part of it is also the compassion that we have towards the feelings and emotions that we are experiencing as well. Treating them as a kind friend, you know, like knowing that “hey, I know that these feelings or emotions exist because there is a certain kind of needs needs to be met, right?” So really being a kind friend and having that compassion to really self soothe myself whenever that feelings and emotions appear.

Ratna  18:51

I really love how you share you know, the process of ABC in terms of transforming and healing yourself. But, you know, let’s dig a little bit deeper into facing the demons. Right and going back to the traumatic experiences, where, you know, the inner critic was the winner. So what what are some of the things that you were saying to yourself and how did that in a way suffocate you?

Ratna  24:15

Whenever I felt negative emotions or even that self talk, I’m not good enough. I’m stupid, or or I’m probably not as good as someone else. It makes me feel guilty makes me feel shameful, it makes me not taking action. So whenever I felt that way, right, they always felt disempowered. So I couldn’t, you know, do anything because of that kind of like negative self critics and it was definitely not helping me a lot to improve myself as well.

Kai Xin  24:55

It is like going back to asking how do we find that balance? So if the inner critic is our friend, we use it to get better and improve. But the moment when the inner critic put us down, and we start falling apart and we don’t perform well, we can’t function, then that’s where we have to put a stop to say, hey, what exactly am I doing right here? And I think at the end of the day, whatever anxiety, fear that we are feeling, it’s all trying to protect us in some sense. So it’s having that mindfulness and reminding us over and over again, what is it trying to tell me? How can I make it useful? With regards to Cheryl’s question on how the inner critic has kindled your potential? Now with mindfulness, how did your narrative change?

Ratna  25:45

I think probably in the past, when I experienced failure,  I noticed there is like, inner critics that is popping up and all that, it kind of like made me feel, oh it I’m not good enough to do something about it, right. And so it makes me feel afraid of making mistakes and made me small. Yeah. So with mindfulness, it really helps to change the narratives like, “Hey, this is probably something that I’m experiencing currently in my life. But what is this event or situation trying to teach me? What’s great about this? It’s really taking that opportunities to also finding the goodness in whatever I’m experiencing the failures that I’m experiencing right now.

Cheryl  26:35

I think the cool thing that I am taking away here is that the inner critic is not necessarily an enemy, and learning how to befriend it can help you to go towards your goal be it self improvement, or growth in a more skillful manner, right in a way that actually helped propels your journey rather than, you know, just throwing stones at yourself and making your journey a little bit harder. And I think a lot of times, you know, when people approach this topic of inner critic as well, it’s always on the, on the kind of topic of like, an inner critic is negative. Let’s just do away with it, just push it away. But I think there’s value in seeing what is it really trying to inform us and and how can we tap into curiosity, as you’ve mentioned, many times and really get the good value there.

Kai Xin  27:21

Yeah, and I think it does require a lot of self love, not in a sense that, you know, everyone is bad, and then we should just love ourselves and not improve, everything is okay. But I think self love to know when to be kinder, and then when to be tough. And I’m wondering, how do you offer yourself some compassion? Is there any advice you can give to our listeners to do the same for themselves?

Ratna  27:48

We are our own biggest critics, right. And sometimes, you know, we probably beat ourself without realising it. And I think, instead of comparing ourselves with others, it’s also having every comparison in terms of like, our own personal journey, and how much we have grown. It helps us to looking at our own personal journey as like a journey of growth, instead of I am not better, I am not as good as compared to the other person. Yeah. So I think that also helps a lot to give ourselves more loves and self compassion towards our own personal journey to be a better person.

Ratna  28:29

 At the same time, self Compassion is like a continuous journey as well, for me is also to understand ourself a lot more  better, by also understanding our own personal boundary. What are the things that makes us happy? What are the things that probably doesn’t serve us well, and having the courage to also say no, to the things that don’t serve us? Well, another tip will be taking ourselves less seriously. Because sometimes we take ourselves too seriously,  we probably get offended if someone says certain things or have things not meeting our expectations. So I think learning to really take ourselves less seriously and just having fun really helps a lot to also cultivate a self compassion.

Cheryl  29:20

If there’s one question that our listeners can use to reflect on a daily basis, what would that be?

Ratna  29:29

 Some of the questions that I use on my daily journaling will be what are two things that I’m grateful for today? The second one is “What are the things that I wanted to let go of today?” That practice really helps me a lot to let go of whatever things that doesn’t serve me because a lot of times, we always think the letting go part is like such a big thing. But I think is that in the daily practice of letting go really helps us to ease a lot of tension as well. And the third one is “what are the things I’m proud of?” It helps us to also remind our own personal growth and milestones every single day. A lot of times we forget to really remind ourselves about what are the things that we have accomplished.  Last but not least, is the fourth question that I always ask myself is, what are the things that I wanted to focus on today? So, that really helps me a lot to really focus on what truly matters today. Those are the four questions that I always ask myself every day during my daily journaling.

Kai Xin  30:34

Thank you so much. I thought those are really helpful. And to wrap up, I think we can talk about some of the common themes that we have been discussing, I think it comes back full circle to really identifying what serves us and what doesn’t serve us, whether it’s the voice in our head, or whether is it finding friends so that we can move ahead. Inner critic isn’t all that bad if we use it correctly, and also to not take things too personally to see from a third person’s perspective, so that we don’t feel so much shame. Shame is not ours. Fear is not ours, but it is us who experience it. And those are very transient as well. So thanks a lot for helping us to reframe our mindset to overcome our negative self talk.

Cheryl  31:17

I really love how throughout the episode, sister Ratna always shared about how mindfulness is really the anchor point, and it’s really the foundation in which these transformations and this reframing of perspectives and narratives come from. It’s a good inspiration and a good reminder to always use mindfulness as a foundation, and more importantly, apply to the challenges that you’re facing. And I think with that, we could wrap up today’s episode.

Kai Xin  31:46

Thanks for being here. Thank you. And that’s a wrap for this episode. If you’d like to stay inspired by Ratna, you can follow her on IG or Facebook. Links are in the show notes. And if you’ve benefited from this episode, do share it with your friends and leave us a five star review wherever you’re tuning into this podcast to the next episode. May you stay happy and wise!

3 Wise Lessons I Learnt From My Internship

3 Wise Lessons I Learnt From My Internship

TLDR: Internships are valuable opportunities for one to learn and grow. Every internship is different and there’s no need to compare. As great platforms for networking, internships can allow us to be bold and to speak out.

Internships have now become a rite of passage for university students. Lessons are learnt. White hair appears. Overtime (OT) drags. I was part of a challenging yet exciting project as an intern. Here’s what I did and my 3 takeaways.

During my internship, I worked for and with a group of solopreneurs – people who set up and run a business on their own- who were commissioned by the Chinese government to organize and host a regional China-ASEAN Startup competition. 

This competition aims to bring aspiring startups and established businesses across Southeast Asia (ASEAN) into the hub of Nanning. 

Being a politics and international affairs geek, I was excited to be a part of this project! 

This competition is one of the subsidiary events of the high-profile China-ASEAN EXPO, where state leaders of both regions regularly attend. This attachment was not your typical corporate internship. With my unique experience, I learnt not to compare with my fellow schoolmates. 

1. Comparison is the thief of joy  

It’s our human nature to compare. At times, comparisons encourage healthy competition and push us to improve. However, we must be careful of envy’s trap. 

When I was in my polytechnic days, I used to envy friends who secured internships with internationally renowned firms. I was dejected, demoralized and desperate when my applications were rejected.

I felt that opportunities were only reserved for the rich, bright and powerful. 

Little was I aware that I was a victim of the “three poisons” (Anger, Greed & Ignorance) and experienced Dukkha (Suffering). This cycle of anguish formed from Taṇhā (Craving) as I desired to conform to stereotypes and to be accepted as a contributing member of society. Thankfully, this mindset was all but in the past.

As I aged and gained wisdom from the Dhamma, I realised that interning with big firms does not necessarily mean that they are the right firms for us. 

These firms may mass employ undergraduates and drive more competition. However, interns may get less opportunity to learn and shine as the same ‘workload’ gets diluted with many other interns. 

Coupled with high expectations and added pressure, internships with these firms may not always be the thriving spot for some. I gleaned this insight from my friend’s experiences with global corporations.

Everyone learns at different speeds. In large firms, interns are often put together in a graduate program and expected to be on the same learning curve. 

I used to be a slow learner and appreciate colleagues giving me the time and space to find my feet. Working in a small group for my internship with the startup competition project, I could take adequate time to learn the ropes. With more confidence, I contributed more to the project. I had greater exposure and was able to learn more.

Every internship is different and each internship brings something different to the table. No one size fits all.

Some questions to ponder for those finding internships: Prestige or growth? Short-term or long-term? The questions help us recognize that no path is the same and it’s in our power to chart our path. Instead of comparing our internship experiences, we can focus on our learning journey and choose a firm with a culture that we stand to gain the most from.

2. Linkages – Our network is our net worth

The best part of an internship is the opportunity to network and establish links. Internships are not merely for us to gain exposure to the working world. 

As cliché as it sounds, our potential net worth is indeed determined by our network.

Internships present a valuable opportunity to speak to industry experts, high net-worth individuals, business leaders, and even government officials. 

From left: Remus, his work buddy, and his boss

I like having choices. An internship opens as many doors as possible. We never know which door will be open. For those of us considering a career switch, we could potentially chance upon someone in your desired industry during networking events.

For instance, my interest is to become a sinologist and this internship presented me with the opportunity to network with key Chinese government officials and intermediaries. Pushing boundaries, and seizing networking opportunities led to me meeting personnel from Alibaba Group, Chulalongkorn University, Startup founders among many others.

How do we network? 

Start with weak ties such as old friends in industries you are keen on or seniors from previous internships or acquaintances from networking events. 

We’d be surprised how many people say yes to small favours to connect with us. For the brave, you can try lunchclub.com (https://lunchclub.com/) which connects you to different like-minded people looking to network.

Networking helps expand’s one connection and creates potential opportunities to open more doors. However, it requires stepping out of the comfort zone which I know some may be fearful of. This brings me to the next lesson. 

3. Understanding Fear

Buddhism teaches us that all beings feel fear and anxiety. It’s normal to feel a sense of apprehension about joining a new firm or saying hi to strangers in networking sessions. 

Often, our nervousness, anxiety and fear engulf us, making us meek out. Having faith in our potential to learn and grow counters that fear with gradual confidence. Confidence is crucial even as an intern! There are benefits to honing our confidence. 

Being open and ready to speak out conveys our knowledge of your material. As an intern, speaking out establishes clear boundaries to co-workers and signals to others that we are not easy pushovers. 

By speaking up, we learn more and gain respect for being humble at learning. Internships are all about learning so it is alright to make mistakes. Be bold and optimistic rather than submit to the corporate hierarchical order. 

Remus (Second from left) & his team

Here, I am not endorsing interns step over authority! 

Rather, I believe we learn a whole lot more by speaking out (whenever necessary) since we stand to lose more opportunities to ask questions by staying quiet.

During my internship, I liaised with an external firm for creating marketing collateral. The firm assured us that the final product would align with our expectations. I suspected that the firm inferred our instructions differently and might produce something that’s below expectations and might cause delays. 

Recollecting the Buddha’s teaching of Ehipassiko – come and see for yourself or simply to investigate – overcame my fear of speaking out. True enough, upon further probing, my suspicions were proven true as there was indeed some misunderstanding. 

Beyond practising mindfulness we must also investigate before jumping to any conclusion. By doing so, we would not just seek the truth but also insulate ourselves from false accusations. 

It’s also crucial to be firm and speak up if we have any concerns. In normal circumstances, as an intern, I have limited right to speak out against leading marketing experts for an area where I have got no experience in. 

However, by knowing the project’s needs, in this case, the direction where the competition should be headed, I had the duty to manage these external stakeholders. 

The purpose of an internship is for you to learn. Thus, it’s important to step out of the comfort zone, be bold, not be fearful of making mistakes and always be ready to speak out. 

Through these lessons, I have grown to be a much happier and confident person. By not comparing, I was able to block out negative externalities and focus my time and energy on what matters. Doing so, I gained confidence and was able to expand my connections and overcome fear.  

These are my 3 takeaways from my experience as an intern. I hope this advice would provide you with some useful insights to gaining confidence and overcoming fear. 


Wise Steps:

  • Comparison is the thief of joy: Understand which internship path helps you to reach your learning goals
  • Build that networking muscles by reaching out to old friends in exciting industries or seniors from previous internships. Getting the first ‘hello’ is probably the hardest but most fulfilling step!
  • Know that dear friend fear. Countering it with knowledge, courage, and mindfulness can slowly decrease its grip on us
Cultivating Faith In Fearful Times

Cultivating Faith In Fearful Times

This is adapted from Sylvia Bay’s bulletin for Buddhist Fellowship written in March 2020. This is a great reminder for us as we greet each new year. This pandemic throws all the curveballs we could never expect. Here is how we can l

TLDR: These are unprecedented times. The past few months have been very hard for us as the world gradually descends into a Covid-19 pandemic and we watch an accustomed way of life slowly disintegrates. Here is how we can develop faith in fearful times

Every new day seems to bring worse news and we are seized by worry and fear for the safety and well-being of ourselves and our loved ones.

It doesn’t help that nobody knows how long this pandemic will drag on. What more damage will it inflict on society and the economy before it passes? Will it even be over? Will ‘normal’ life as we know it ever return?

Why Must We Not Give In To Fear & Worry?

It brings out the worst in us. In our practice, we must learn to recognise racing thoughts driven by worry and fear.

Recognition, seeing rightly, is a necessary first step to breaking away from being trapped in an endless, vicious cycle of anxiety and panic proliferating frightful thoughts which in turn heighten the overall sense of doom.

Fear and worry are powerful akusala (unwholesome) mental states that can and often do bring out the worst in us. We become selfish and self-centred. We do silly and illogical things. We hoard food, masks, sanitisers, washing detergents, toilet papers! Fear and worry drain our goodness and humanity.

Our capacity for metta, compassion, generosity, empathy and so on dissolve under the deluge of worried and fearful thoughts. Even our noble aspirations to be good Buddhists and to do the right thing for ourselves and for others are terminated in mid-stream.

That is why it is critical that we try our utmost not to give in to fear and worry. It is not easy, but it can be done.

When you see those two mental states arising, take a deep breath and acknowledge their presence.

Call them out by name: “That is fear. That is worry.”

But don’t get defensive.

Don’t self-flagellate.

Don’t blame yourself for their presence.

Just be aware of them and other akusala mental states trailing in their wake: greed, anger, resentment and so on. Then consciously and deliberately choose not to give in to all the mental negativities.

We must not because if we are decent people and especially if we want to be good Buddhists, we will regret any unkind word said and selfish action made while caught in the grip of fear and worry.

What Do We Turn Our Minds To?

Turn our minds to Faith

Instead, turn our minds to faith (saddhā). As Buddhists, our faith is in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The stronger our faith, the more we will feel fear and worry dissipate. Faith is so powerful that it can bring up intense joy and immense gratitude.

If you don’t believe, try this: take a deep breath and say slowly, mindfully and with conviction, “My faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha will protect me.” Don’t think. Don’t over-analyse. If you do as instructed, you will see faith surge. Joy, gratitude and humility will wash over you.

Like all mental states, faith has to be cultivated. Therefore, set aside quiet time to pay homage to the Triple Gem. More importantly, use that time to reflect on the meaning of the ancient words.

Right reflection is necessary to strengthen faith and protect the kusala (wholesome) in the mind.

Buddha

We start by recalling the Buddha’s virtues as follows but in a language that we understand and can appreciate: “The Blessed One is an Arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.”

What stands out here is the fact that the Buddha was the epitome of wisdom (vijjā) and goodness (carana).

He had realised entirely on his own how his mind works and how suffering can cease.

And then out of compassion for all sentient beings, Buddha devoted the rest of his life to helping others to the same intuitive realisation. Buddha was an incredible teacher: ingenious and creative, uplifting and inspiring, with boundless compassion, drive and energy.

He taught Dhamma literally to the end.

As he laid dying beneath the Sal trees in Kusinara, Buddha reminded his students to strive on and to realise Nibbāna for themselves.

Buddha’s life was profoundly inspiring.

In these difficult times, we must remind ourselves to bring out that ‘Buddha’ potential in us and not give in to our darker instincts, namely, greed and anger. We must believe that we too are capable of great wisdom and goodness. We only have to stay committed to the practice and not lose faith.

Dhamma

Reflect on the virtues of the Dhamma as follows: “Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Exalted One, directly visible, immediately effective, calling one to come and see, leading on, to be personally realised by the wise.”

This is a reminder to ourselves to not get caught up in the running commentaries in our heads. Thought constructions are often unhelpful but they can be downright destructive if fuelled by fear and worry.

Instead, live in the present moment or as the Buddha had put it: “sandiṭṭhiko” (visible here and now) and “akāliko” (timeless). Learn to enjoy the NOW.

Be aware of how our mind can stay in the present, without chattering, at least for a while before it drifts off again. Be grateful each time you are aware of this present moment where the mind is quietly watchful.

Treasure this moment in the Dhamma. Feel blessed that with the guidance of a 2500-year old teaching, we too are enjoying this wondrous experience

Sangha

To recall the virtues of the Sangha is to remind ourselves that we must stay kusala and not willy-nilly stray into akusala. As the first part of the homage recitation goes, “The order of the Exalted One’s disciples is practising well; … is of upright conduct; … has entered the right path; … is practising correctly.”

Indeed, the noblest of Buddha’s disciples were all paragons of virtues. If we profess to be Buddha’s disciples, the least that we can do is to restrain our akusala instincts and to conscientiously cultivate kusala ones.

We learn to speak kindly and gently. In this trying time, where everyone is anxious and agitated, we should not add to another’s pain.

We shall act with consideration. We take (or buy) only what we need for survival and not clear the shelves because we can. We must be giving (cāga). For those of us with means, this is really a chance to cultivate generosity because there are very real and desperate needs out there. If we find our mind resisting to give, tame that stain of miserliness by giving more.

What must we do?

Be empathic.

We must be empathetic. Covid-19 obviously does not respect national boundaries. There is no one race or religion immune to Covid-19. The entire human race is in this together.

So we will not point fingers and look for convenient scapegoats. Instead, we should embrace all and help all alike. And finally, we will be grateful for our blessings to be living in a country where we have good people and resources to contain Covid-19 outbreak and save lives.

The fact that we remain hopeful despite the body blows to the economy and complete disruption to our social lives, shows that instinctively we trust the people in the forefront know what they are doing.

We must not add to their burden. Instead, we will be humble and wholly support them. We must think positive, stay optimistic and believe that this pandemic will pass.

May we all emerge from this defining challenge of our time, stronger in our faith, kinder in our words and conduct, and wiser in our thoughts. May your faith in the Triple Gem keep you well and at peace

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

TLDR: Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. Here is my story and why closure is not always a necessity.

Once upon a time,

Birth and Death were lovers.

They have always been in love and

had never been separated.

But one day,

Life separated them.

Like all great love stories,

They will find each other again someday,

because they always belong together.

Birth & Death are inseparable.

Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. It started with my grandparents, my good friends, and then my father. 

I have not seen my father for over a year after my cancer treatments because he was suffering from Pneumonia, an infectious disease. Due to my low immune system, I had to move out and keep a distance away from him. How do you say goodbye to the person when you are not right by their side? Grief only becomes harder. It hurts a lot and it took me some time to go through the grieving. 

Death is a selfish B*tch. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is no warning or a good ending. Death never left anyone behind. The lucky ones will get to depart first. The one that stays on will linger on a bit longer facing grief.

Death will eat you up, mess up your mind and when someone we truly love dies, it can feel like the end of the world.  

I remembered the story of Kisa Gotami vividly from the Buddha’s chronicle. After losing her only child, she went crazy, holding her dead son desperately seeking someone that could bring her son back to life. Her grief was paralysing so an old man advised her to look for the Buddha, a man well known for his wisdom. 

The Buddha asked her to find mustard seeds from a household where no one had died so he could bring the child back to life. After hearing this wonderful news, she eagerly went from house to house, but to her despair, every household had suffered from a loved ones’ death. Eventually, the realization struck that there is no house free from death. She buried her son and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. 

I always wonder why would the Buddha agree to save her son although it is not possible? 

The first stage of grief is self-denial, refusing to believe that the person had gone. There is this strong attachment that keeps holding on to the person. Buddha is a wise teacher, had he not assigned Kisa Gotami an impossible task she would not have understood the inevitability of death by herself. 

We don’t have to find “closure.” Seeking closure is akin to someone trying to ask a question with no answer.  Closure personally for me seems harsh, like trying to shut the door and end it with a bang. How can you shut down the love you had for someone?

The ability to face the truth is better than closure, it allows us to come to terms with what’s happening. It can help us to process the overwhelming reality of death.

Grief is like a stream running through our life, and it’s important to understand that it doesn’t go away. Our grief lasts a lifetime, but our relationship to it changes. Moving on is the period in which the knot of your grief is untied. It’s the time of renewal.

— Martha Beck, “Elegy for Everything”

Dhamma is the best Psychiatrist

Dhamma helps to clarify. There is no right or wrong way to grief. Everyone has their way of coping with it. 

Don’t let anyone judge how your grieving should be. Some people travel, some people take a break from their job and some people just need to get help from a professional by seeing a psychiatrist. The truth is it will get better as time goes by. 

However, it takes effort to understand the Dhamma, read what Dhamma has spoken about death. The purpose of Dhamma is to help our mind to expand and grow, to clarify. It should uphold us and create an inner sense of peace, joy and clarity.

No one can tell you how long this grief will last or how to make it right. 

What is important is that we should stop concentrating on what we have lost and instead acknowledge what our loved ones have achieved in this life. Doesn’t it make sense that life is not subjected or defined by how long we live, but by how we make an impact on our surroundings, family and friends?

Metamorphosis

When a caterpillar metamorphoses, it doesn’t want the other caterpillars to feel sad for him. Instead, every caterpillar knows it will get through this process naturally. There is no pain, no sorrow, and no guilt. It is merely how nature works. No one can stop the metamorphosis. Death is just a temporary end to a temporary phenomenon.

Also, part of me selfishly focused on my grieving and on what I’ve lost, failed to understand that this person doesn’t belong to me and his presence is not existential. Our loved ones are not born for us to grieve. I realised that everyone, not just me, had experienced grief before and we have to understand that everyone was born to die.

We all will become someone’s ancestors someday.

After the preaching from the Buddha, Kisa Gotami was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arhat (An enlightened being that goes beyond birth and death). We too can work towards enlightenment by realising these small truths of grief along the way.


Wise Steps:

  • Don’t let the grief destroy love, shatter hope, corrode faith, suppress precious memories that you have for the departed.
  • Closure is not necessary. Don’t beat yourself hard by asking questions that don’t come with an answer.
If You’re Scared Of Ghosts, Read This

If You’re Scared Of Ghosts, Read This

Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.


TLDR: Cultivating a harmless and blameless way of life gives you internal confidence in the face of fear. We can also try to practice compassion towards supernatural beings, in place of fear.

If you clicked on this article because you read the title and thought “that’s me!” – there is no shame. I feel like most people have some level of fear around the supernatural – even those who claim to believe in scientific evidence, who say they don’t believe in ghosts. Put anyone in a graveyard in the middle of the night and all rationality goes out the window!

I'm trying to get over my fear of ghosts - Meme by KnightOfCydonia :)  Memedroid


I’m nowhere near the level of Ajahn Chah who literally overcame fear itself, but I’ll try to share some of my own tips for dealing with fear of ghosts.


Sīla Protects You


When I was a kid, I was definitely afraid of ghosts.

When I told my mum this, she said something like: “If you never do anything bad, why would they need to come after you?” She always said this with such conviction and fearlessness. 


Her statement was a teaching in sīla (morality). It’s the idea that when we take care of our speech and conduct, we offer the gifts of harmlessness and fearlessness to ‘limitless numbers of beings’. In return, we gain a share in this freedom from harm and danger (see AN 8.39).


I once heard a story from my Ajahn, a monk from the Thai forest tradition, who said that one shouldn’t practice in the forest if one’s sīla is not well-kept. He told of an incident where an Ajahn brought a group of monks to stay in the forest for a few days. In the end, all the monks made it out except two who had died during the journey. When asked why this happened, the Ajahn replied that it was because they did not have good sīla.


In case you didn’t know, the Thai forest Ajahns are super hardcore. They live in deep forests with nothing material for protection, putting their lives on the line to do the practice – that’s the depth of their faith in the Buddha and his teachings. 


That may have made you go ‘sure anot’, but I resonate with it because I’ve seen the impact of practising sīla in my life. When I was younger, I had a lot of fear around the idea of supernatural beings. But I found that as I grew up and started practising Dhamma, that fear began to reduce and a sense of confidence began to grow. In situations where fear arises (e.g. alone in my apartment at night, in a dark forest on a retreat), I recollect my sīla. Knowing that I have done my best to keep my precepts well and to live a wholesome life helps to soothe that fear.

Since I consistently put in effort not to harm other beings, I have no reason to be harmed or to fear being harmed. It’s reassuring, and not in a ‘wishful thinking’ kind of way – it’s a sense of real confidence in my actions and their results.


Good Vibes Are Important


I believe that cultivating wholesomeness creates wholesome energy. OK, this may sound a bit like hippie flower child stuff but hear me out.

Have you ever been to a monastery or church and the energy there just feels serene and safe? I think it’s because the activities and intentions carried out there are peaceful and wholesome, and this translates into the energy of the place.

In 2019, I stayed at Wat Buddha Dhamma (WBD) in New South Wales for a retreat. This monastery was located deep in the forest of a national park and there were times where I felt fear walking from the meditation hall back to my hut in the dark of the night, with only my torch and the moon for some light. But I realized that this fear was all in my mind; there were probably no beings around that would harm me. That’s because I could feel that the energy of the monastery was light and wholesome, given that all activities there were aimed towards peace.

The forest at Wat Buddha Dhamma


I think wholesome energy is important because energy attracts and influences, a bit like how we attract or gravitate towards like-minded people. If one constantly aims to cultivate wholesomeness in thought, speech and conduct, this is bound to permeate one’s surroundings. A good example is a friend of mine who has had many (sometimes aggressive) encounters with ghosts throughout their life.

Recently, they noticed that since performing more acts of generosity and wholesomeness, they haven’t been visited by such beings lately.

Perhaps a good landmark example of the importance of “good vibes” can be found in the teachings of the Buddha: In the time of the Buddha, there was a group of monks who were disturbed by certain beings when they tried meditating in a particular forest. When they went to the Buddha and informed him of this, he taught them the Discourse on Loving-Kindness (Metta Sutta) for their protection.

The monks then went back to the forest, practised this instruction, and radiated thoughts of loving-kindness, so much so that the beings were subdued by this and allowed them to meditate in peace.


What are Ghosts Really?


I think movies and stories throughout human history have created a universal perception of ghosts as scary beings that pop up out of nowhere and want to kill you for some reason. But actually, what is a ghost?


The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated every July of the Lunar calendar in Chinese culture. It is believed that during this time, ghosts are allowed to come to earth for a visit… In my mind, the concept that ghosts wait all year to ‘come out’ only to hang around for one month and then obediently ‘go back’ to where they came from is pretty funny. I think ghosts are everywhere all the time since they’re just another type of being in one of the 31 planes of existence according to Buddhist teachings.

They are born into this lower realm because of past unwholesome deeds or the lack of wholesome deeds. They are in a state of constant deprivation, equivalent to beggars or homeless people in the human realm who need help because they don’t have enough to fend for themselves.

Based on the principle of rebirth, these beings could even be people we knew, such as departed relatives and friends, who may come to us looking for help.

If we keep this in mind, then we don’t need to be afraid – what they need from us is compassion and merit.

I have another friend who often has supernatural encounters at home. It’s come to a point where we no longer speak about these beings in a taboo or fearful way; they are like any other being in need of help. Following the Buddha’s advice, my friend makes offerings on behalf of them and shares the merit with them as an act of generosity and compassion.

The Bottom Line

If you took nothing else away from this article, just remember this: continue cultivating wholesome qualities and abandoning unwholesome qualities, and trust in the strength of that for protection.


Wise Steps:

  • Mindfully watch the fear in your body. For me, fear arises in the heart space like a sharp, cold sensation. Centring your attention on bodily sensations can help you focus on the reality of the fear rather than the narratives in your mind being fueled by it.

  • Recite the Metta Sutta and emit thoughts of loving-kindness.

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