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
#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!


Ep 3: When does doing good become bad? (Ft Sylvia Bay)

Ep 3: When does doing good become bad? (Ft Sylvia Bay)

Kai Xin  00:07

Are you a good person?

Well, if you’re listening to this podcast, I’m pretty sure you ask yourself this question sometimes, because you’re constantly trying to find ways to develop yourself to become a better person. And doing good for others and yourself is such a big part of this self improvement journey, however, is doing good, always good.

Who exactly defines what is good or what’s bad? What is right or what is wrong?

So we have the king of fried rice to king of fruits, the king of the jungle. What about the king of goodness?

Hi, my name is Kai Xin. I’m your host for this episode. And you’re listening to the Handful of Leaves podcasts, where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.

You know, the path to happiness isn’t a smooth one. We will definitely meet with setbacks and challenges around work, relationships, mental well being and so much more. In this podcast, we discuss these realities of life and explore how we can bring the Dharma closer to home so that we can navigate the complexities of life just a little better.

Besides this podcast, we also share resources and insights on our Instagram, Facebook and Telegram channel. Please subscribe if you haven’t already done so.

In this very episode, we have a chat with Sister Sylvia Bay. She graduated with a BA Honours first class in Buddhist studies from the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka in 2000. Sister Sylvia isn’t just academically smart. Since 1992. She has been dedicating her life to the practice and serving the community, she has been doing so by dedicating time outside of work to give Dhamma talks and lectures, and practical application of the Dharma is always heavily emphasised in all her sharings.

Today, she’ll be opening our minds on a topic of what it means to be good. And the tipping point when doing good, turns bad. Trust me, it’s filled with so much insights. I personally had a lot of ‘aha’ moments. And I encourage you to take a notepad and start taking down some notes. Now let’s begin.

Kai Xin  02:22

Hi, Sister Sylvia, good to have you here.

Sylvia  02:24

Nice to see you too.

Kai Xin  02:27

Yes, it’s really good to have you because today we are exploring something that it’s quiet, I would say, mind-boggling because you know, in Buddhism, we talk about doing good, avoiding evil, and purifying the mind. What I think is mind-boggling is the definition of good. Because you know, people sometimes will justify their actions to say, Oh, I do this because, but it’s a little grey as well. There are a lot of questions that I have for you to kind of explore that grey area. Perhaps we can start off with, what is your definition of good.

Sylvia  03:07

This thing about good? People kind of know, right? I mean, we all have all of us, any of us, even the little ones will have some sense of what’s good and bad. And typically, if you ask people, why is this good? Or why is this bad? It will boil it down to a few things. One, it has to do with feelings. Meaning, if you feel really unpleasant, and because it’s so unpleasant, your instinct is to react to that in a way that will cause pain or more problems for yourself or for others. And because you do that, it will create pain, or, or suffering for yourself or others. Generally, it’s like that. 

If you think about it, let’s say I get angry. Anger is an unpleasant sensation. When one feels anger, one will say something or do something that allows one to express that anger. And in saying or in doing, the odds are, it hurts someone, whether it’s yourself or another. And when you step back, you who were angry, when you look at the episode, there will arise a sense of maybe conscience, maybe a bit of shame, a sense that maybe I shouldn’t have done that. There’s regret, and there is remorse. Anybody in a similar situation is likely to say that’s bad. That’s not good.

Conversely, suppose let’s say, you were very kind, you saw people hurting, you came forward, you help. And then you turn away and say, ‘That’s a very nice feeling. I really feel happy I feel light there’s pleasant sensation.’

And then others observing that act, and will also say, ‘Oh, that’s a very good act’.’ Because they also feel pleasure, they feel the pleasant sensation. One thing about what’s good or bad has to do with feeling. Which is why for many people, there is generally some common instinctive appreciation of the act as good or bad. We understand the feeling involved in that. But it’s not all about feelings. We know that. For instance, sometimes you feel unpleasant. Like righteousness, right? Someone gets bullied. And then you look at it, and you go, it’s not nice. The sense that this is wrong, there is unpleasant, but you know, when you feel sorry for someone that’s considered good. But the feeling is not good.

Kai Xin  06:26

I hear a couple of things. So one is you yourself must feel pleasant.

Or it has to stem from wanting to do good, then there must be some form of feedback as well. Right? So other people are approving of your act.

However, I’m just thinking of a very grey situation where maybe somebody is bullied. And I feel righteous that this person mustn’t do this. Then, I act on my feelings, and it might either be scolding that person or maybe I might retaliate, and people around me might say, ‘Wow, you’re so brave to do that.’. Then is it still good?

Sylvia  07:08

Now we go back and we unpack this one. Okay. Let’s unpack this, when you feel sorry for the victim, at that point, what arises is empathy. Empathy is the condition that allows you to continue doing something good for another. Empathy is a good thing. But because our feelings and actions proliferate fast, they react fast, and they proliferate fast. The result is anger will come up, you basically put it righteousness. Righteousness is anger, a sense of justice, which is anger, okay? When that comes up, what is good is now being stained. What would have been good, has now become somewhat stained by our sense of righteous anger. And that’s why there is also that sensation of unpleasantness that because it’s unpleasant, you want to react, whether to score or to stand up for somebody you want to react, and the words that come out is intended to hurt, to beat the other bully. So all this is downstream.

Now, what was initially would have been a good reaction has now become not good. Because now we are experiencing a lot of wanting a lot, which will create more pain for yourself and for others.  If you ask me, what would I consider good, is a speech or an act that will lead to benefits and happiness for yourself and for others. It’s always for Buddhism, it’s always for yourself, and for others, it’s not a zero-sum game. It has to be when there is the raising of common interest, benefit, happiness, welfare. In my mind, that’s what I would consider is good and correct.  Anything that leads to pain suffering, it will cause hurt for people. It would diminish interest, welfare, happiness, those are considered bad. No good. It’s actually not difficult. It’s pretty straightforward.

How do you know what is good or not, you will experience it through the feelings, for sure you will have the sensation. I’ll give you an example. Suppose let’s say you lost somebody, someone very close to you. And there is a part in you that griefs. No one would say that’s bad per se because it doesn’t hurt another person. But it’s pain, right? You lost somebody, you miss the person, you experience pain. The fact that you experienced pain means there is attachment. There is longing, attachment, longing, it’s always a condition, for problems now and in the future. And in that sense, any form of craving, or wanting or longing, any form of it is not good, unskilful (Akusala). Any form of it.

Kai Xin  11:08

Let’s go back to what you said about any speech or action should be for the welfare and benefit of others and yourself. How do you measure that benefit? Because I’ll give you an example. I think in today’s day and age, there are a lot of activists, you know, small groups wanting to fight for social justice, or environmentalism. And it’s always, there are two sides to a coin, right, somebody feels that it’s valuable to be a vegetarian. And some people feel like no, it’s not really to my advantage and my welfare, and it’s such an inconvenient thing. And I don’t feel happy about it as well. So then it becomes like a dichotomy, or in the process of wanting to do good, perhaps somebody else’s happiness is being compromised?.

Isn’t it vary based on what an individual would value? Then is that something which everyone would agree upon? Who defines the benefit, and who defines what’s good? Isn’t it very subjective?

Sylvia  12:21

Then, of course, there’s some degree of subjectivity. That is true, in fact, in how each person view the world, it’s subjective, in anything that you undertake. If someone perceives that his interest is infringed on that his happiness is compromised, he will perceive you as not nice to him not doing good by him. That is true. There are many causes that people get themselves into that they get very righteous, they are very active and very enthusiastic. But you think a bit harder, it’s questionable about the end results of the causes. That is true, I acknowledged and agreed to that.

Let’s think back about what makes it right and what makes it wrong. The Buddha talked about intention, and how it’s done, and then the results. There are three parts to it.

If your intention was wholesome (Kusala), and you really wish for a common good and everyone can benefit from it. If that’s your intention, then you will experience that it is pleasant. If your intention is pure, your experience will be pleasant. If you say the cause is pure, like protecting life, it is pure, but the way you’re expressing your feeling about it is unpleasant or painful, Then at that point, whatever you say, your motivation is still unwholesome.

I’ll give you an example, let’s say pro-life, people who fight for pro-life and then some of them get so angry, right? That you respect life is pure.  But because you’re angry with others who don’t share your views, and therefore, at the point when you feel pain, that motivation has already turned into unwholesome. You just didn’t realise it.

Do you understand? It’s the same thing when you campaign for the weather and climate. You’re doing that because you understand the science that men are paying for the sins of the past. That now you’re angry that there’s a bunch of people who are irresponsible and unreasonable ,and they really don’t care. There is anger. Your cause is maybe good. But because your mind is now narrowly focused on the selfishness of others. The cause is still wholesome, but your motivations are no longer wholesome.

Kai Xin  18:24

Yeah, that’s such a good point. Because I also personally would notice, perhaps there’s some form of attachment, wanting other people to kind of fit my own ideals. And there’s a lot of judging in the process as well. And it’s a valuable point that you pointed out that it doesn’t matter how people judge you because, in my mind, it’s very difficult to please everybody, right, my intention might be pure. And I might go through the motion and execute my pure intention in a skilful way. But if the other person is going to be angry about it, then do I have to feel the need and the sense to fit that person’s ideal, then it will just be a very stressful life to me.

Sylvia  19:09

Then you’re in the world, really. It’s in action reaction.

You know, in some countries, in some regional countries really good. They you see pots and pots of water that they left the leaf outside their house for travellers to be able to drink. It’s very pure. It’s like, I want to be timing and take a drink if you need one. And that’s correct or not. You put the you put the item on the table, and you walk away without because then you’re saying I’m not invested in the outcome. I’m only invested in the purity of the act, but the outcome of it, I’ve walked away from it. I don’t want to hang around and be really caught up in why is it not working.

Kai Xin  19:58

Speaking of that, when you talk about not being invested in the outcome?

Personally, I think it’s very difficult because the outcome is the most tangible. People can’t read minds. And you know, when we talk about being good, we have certain guidelines to follow, don’t lie, don’t kill. And that is the experience also in the process, like, oh, perhaps I have accidentally told a white lie, or I’ve like intentionally out of habit. And then I go into this self guilt kind of mode. How do you reconcile because the outcome is bad, right? I’m not supposed to lie. But then I’m judging my intention.

How does one not be invested in the outcome?

Sylvia  20:47

You know, we’re talking about campaigning for the climate. And that’s a cause, a social cause, a social set of conditions that you’re trying to create what you were referring to separately, it’s about precepts, not telling lies and not killing, not stealing, meaning, the choices you make at a very narrow tactical level.

The other one is you’re talking about a goal. In its most strategic things, it’s like, how do I live my life? How do I raise children, that’s a goal. In that goal, there are many steps and many acts. Many things that you do those minute ones is a separate thing.

Can we take them separately?

Specifically on this issue about precepts, keeping to precepts, that you’re feeling bad because you didn’t do it right. I believe if you understand why the rules are crafted like this, meaning what is the larger objective, then you know how to calibrate your life, calibrate the choices, and you don’t feel bad when you are calibrating.  I’ll give you an example.  Let’s take lying. The reason is that the consequences on our mind if you generate shades to explain reality, and your shades do not directly correlate with reality, you’re shading the truth, right? When you do that, your mind starts to store your version. In the process of all these narratives being stored in all the different shades, not absolute truth, you’re murky with the truth.The point will come when the mind can’t quite tell, accurately, what is the fact and what is not? The perception of reality of fuzziness, becomes very fuzzy, at some point becomes your reality.

For anyone who’s practising seeing reality as is, this condition of the mind really will be a huge obstacle to practice – to realising the true nature of the mind and be able to kind of shrug away the negative instincts and become a good, wholesome, wise, clear person. Your effort to become all these is going to be seriously undermined by fuzziness. That’s one part of it. 

The second part of it is regarding your reputation in society. This is the part that not many people talk about because they don’t realise they may or may not realise that this is an important point, which is something that Buddha had talked about, when someone does not tell absolute truth. It will hit his credibility, social standing, his credibility, his words will not be taken seriously. In assembly, this is how it was set in the Sutta. You think about it, you shade truths, people find out about your shading because truth has a certain way of kind of emerging, right? Then at some point, you have a reputation, she’s very loose with truths. Now you have a problem. You have a credibility problem.

For yourself internally, you can’t quite tell what’s real. For the world, externally. Your words are questionable. If people say, is this a lie? If you’re asking me that, the odds are, you know, you’re being loose with the fact, then you decide do you want to proceed with the elusiveness knowing that at some point, it may cost you your ability to see things clearly. And why do you want to do that?

We uphold these precepts, whether it’s about the truth, whether it’s about not being greedy, and taking things not given to you, whether it’s about honesty in relationship, etc. It really is because all these choices, leaves serious imprint on the mind, it can change your character, it can affect your relationship with people, it can cost you what I call it, social costs, your standing in society, and so on. Those are the practical ones.

Now comes the bigger issue, the most strategic one — the goal, the end goal, the big cause. How can one not be invested in the outcome. If you’re invested with any outcome, there is in you, a clinging, a craving, a desire. It’s not right or wrong, you must know that the more invested you are, the more stress you will feel, the more pain you will experience, the more disappointment is likely to come your way. The more intense your attachment, the more you must be prepared to accept disappointment. That’s the cost.

Kai Xin  26:42

I’m hearing a lot of common thread in your points that the attachment to the desire, having anger, these are considered unwholesome. But does that mean that we shouldn’t have desire at all? How about the desire to be good? At what point would we know that the desire for good will actually turn sour and become bad?

Sylvia  27:06

Desire for good is good only because it leads to good.

Desiring to be good means it’s the start point of downstream choices that will lead to an outcome where you experienced peace, calm, contentment, the cessation of angst, that’s why the desire for good is good. Any other forms of desire that leads to an increase in agitation, increase in pain and suffering, then those desires are unconducive for your welfare too for some it sounds “Oh this is so tall order” for some people. You just have to bring it down to your personal level, bring it home to your daily experience practice. If you say I wish to be a good person, I want to learn to be a good person. 

What does it mean downstream? I will read up on what makes a good person, I listen to talks, I watch shows and I try and model behaviour to learn from others. And if you’re very serious about wanting to be a good, person, you will build upon your sense of guilt when you are not good, you feel shame when someone tells you “This is not nice” you feel shame. You’re basically quietly gently generating the conditions that will keep you on track to be a good person who causes nobodies harm and create pain for others, when people in your space they enjoy being with you, okay?

Now let’s take it differently. Let’s say I now desire to push for vaccination for everybody. Can you see the difference? You get agitated. You go ahead. Send out paper flyers, go and hound somebody. What is wrong with you? Why are you not vaccinated? Let me explain to you. As you talk you get more agitated, the fellow listeners get more agitated, the whole world around you get more agitated.

Kai Xin  29:34

What I’m hearing is that there are many causes. They really are a means to an end. Like I want to keep my precepts, or I want people to take the vaccine at the end of the day. It’s really about the welfare, the harmony or feeling peace. I will use my mental state as a yardstick. But you also mentioned shame and guilt. In the Buddhist space, we talk about Hiri Ottapa, this sense of moral shame. And then I’m also thinking on behalf of the listener and the viewers, isn’t shame and guilt an unpleasant feeling?

Some people might think, ‘I don’t think I am moral enough ,or I’m good enough to even be on the path.’ Or I cannot, you know, it’s too hard. I cannot meditate because I’m  always not very peaceful. I feel like shame, it is very unpleasant. Is shame and guilt or unpleasant feeling part of the process, we have to be patient with it and see the peace, and again how do we tell it’s so such a fine balance?

Sylvia  30:35

Okay, Hiri Ottapa, Hiri is moral conscience, this is internal, you like it or not it’s there it’s built into all humans the condition, and we know that it’s built in because studies have shown that psychopaths don’t have, that it cannot be turned on that part of the brain doesn’t light up. It actually lights up, okay? And what the Buddha has taught is use this natural state to protect yourself in your practice, it’s considered a good thing because it’s what will keep you from undertaking actions that will cause you problems in your cultivation exercise. For instance, you know these precepts, don’t lie, don’t take what’s not given. If you have conscience, you don’t need this precept to tell you that you cannot do that, you cannot kill. You just don’t want to do it because you know when you do it you feel bad. Then on days when you’re very angry, very, very angry. You want to smack someone. But that part of you that holds you back is this conscience it is very strong, you are reminded that there is a cost to undertaking an action that costs another pain, you will be reminded so that you are taught never to do it. Not that you will never do it. But if you’re constantly reminded, don’t do it because you cannot sleep at night. Then when you’re confronted that situation a new situation, but it’s similar you will not do it because you remember, it will cost you sleepless night. That’s conscience. 

Shame (Ottapa) is this sense of a need for communal approval and I believe that this is also in a DNA this part about needing the approval of others, right, I believe this I have no proof. I believe this is also part of our DNA because possibly built in during the time when men was living in a very dangerous world, and the only way he can survive this way he has others like him, and together they help each other in order to be able to continue staying with others, then you must conform to a certain behaviour that communally they agreed to. Your sense of shame is cultural, it is a condition or thought. It changes over time, but it’s really because there is a constant internally, you want to be accepted. And the manifestation of that is you will mirror behaviour, you will follow what people do, you will learn where all the OB markers (“out of bounds marker”) are so that you are accepted within this community. These two pillars for practice, right? It is to help the individual navigate and stay on the path that will give him a sense of peace, when you undertake an action that straight out of these two OB markers, you will have no sense of peace, they are what I call the hard parents smack you then you “I will not transgress” because they are hard.

Initially, it is difficult. But over time you can appreciate it, you can appreciate these two, if you are generally okay. And these two in your life, hold you to a wholesome path. You’re okay with it. Overtime, you feel very peaceful, then you are very grateful for these two that had kept you in check initially. 

Conversely, you’re very angry person then this two you will resent then you act on your anger, you get more frustrated. These two fellows now come very hard at you. And they’re trying very hard to hold you in check. But if you refuse to at some point, you drop these two. “Heck I am already so bad, who cares” You will drop your conscience ,you will not allow people to shame you right, now you’re forcefully removing these two pillars, you have no sense of shame, you have no sense of guilt, you will continue to do whatever you want. Creating more pain, discomfort, no peace of mind, more things for yourself. Now you’re spiralling into the negative. It’s very hard to attain these things because really they are conditional.

And you just basically pick a point in this circle, that chicken and egg story. You pick the chicken, and you work from there ,and it leads back to the egg and lead back to the chicken. It sounds like that. Unfortunately, that’s why you just got to start somewhere.

Kai Xin  36:07

I know because some people would say I need to be peaceful first, and then I do all this, you know, good causes, but some people say okay, I do causes first and then eventually I will feel more at peace right then that’s where the chicken and egg comes.

I think it does require some kind of patience, isn’t it? To kind of go through that bump to say, I’ve tried so hard, but I’m constantly getting it wrong. And then dealing with the guilt that is very intense. How would you then advise people to be a bit more patient when they’re trying to be good?

Sylvia  36:41

I always try to start on the side choice because that part you can control. I mean, to the degree that you can,  “Do I scold or do I not scold?” “Do I speak out, or do I not speak out? ” At that point you still have a choice. The condition of your mind at that point you didn’t choose. I mean you get angrier and angrier and angrier, it just happens. You didn’t choose to be angry. But once the anger starts, you can choose to react or not. If you have clarity, that if you give into anger today thinking that it’s temporary venting. Now it doesn’t work like that, for whatever choices that you make, it would leave some kind of an imprint on the mind leaving similar imprints for stretches, means those imprint very hard to erase. 

That’s why we must start somewhere if you want to overcome anger and become a more peaceful person, you must make a determination to say anger hurts, it causes problems for physical form for the body for the mind, it causes problem, it leaves lingering effects. Therefore, I will learn to moderate my anger, I will learn to tame it, make the determination that you must get started, every time anger peaks its head out, you must smack it back and say, I will not give it to you. I will now bring up friendliness, you will choke on trying to cough up friendliness initially. But if you link these two, I will moderate my anger I will bring up friendliness I will moderate my anger I will bring up friendliness. At some point, that balance will tilt, it becomes easier to bring up friendliness than anger. And it all started with you saying you know what I have enough of this anger, I would get started.

Kai Xin  39:02

Does that require some sense of wisdom and internalisation; otherwise it can sound quite wilful, right? Like we are just clenching our teeth and say, I will be friendly, I’ll be friendly. I mean, speaking for my own experience, when I started walking on the path, I was picking myself up a lot. And there’s a lot of agitation in the process. And sometimes I kind of just want to throw in the towel, you know, and it’s like, how do I do it?

How do people do it? Why are they so nice, you know? How do you balance striving to be good? But then at the same time not being too wilful and just like you know just accepting things as they are and have that restful state.

Sylvia  39:46

You know, in the method right in the training for lay people I always talk about four mental states that you need, sometimes the Buddha mentioned five, but sometimes he mentioned four. You have faith, morality, generosity, wisdom, and you notice wisdom tags number five, four or five. If it’s five, it will be faith. I use the Pali word Saddha which means having confidence, conviction having faith in the teaching the teacher and so on, then morality, and then he introduced one more Sota which is learning the doctrine. I repeat, it can be four, or it can be five mental states. When it is 4 mental states, it is faith, morality, generosity, wisdom. If he talks about 5 mental states the third one, faith, morality, learning, generosity, wisdom. The extra one is learning.  Now, why these five mental states right, when you have faith, faith in itself is a pleasant sensation. Very powerful, very pleasant. If you have faith in Buddha, Dhamma or Sangha.

The Buddha, his teaching, the monastic practice. If you have faith, people carrying that mental state will experience a pleasant sensation will be pleasant. Will not be painful. Then you say, but sometime faith is painful. Nope. Faith is not painful. What is painful is something else. Depending on the individual got to figure out what it is, but it’s not faith, faith in itself is very pleasant.

You believe it or not, if you don’t believe me, you just sit down there at where you are. You say to yourself  “I have faith, I believe” and you just pause awhile to look at the mind. You will see the mind as either neutral or for those of you with very strong faith you will immediately experience a surging joy. That’s how powerful it can be. This is not difficult to polish for a Buddhist, every day, you go before the Buddha statue, the Buddha Rupa, you take a bow, and you say to yourself, I have faith in you. You just have to do this every day, momentarily, you will experience joy. And this joy, this faith, is very important. It’s very inspiring, motivating. It keeps people saying, I know it’s difficult, but because I have faith I can continue.

Kai Xin  42:59

Would it be different if we turn it inwards? I mean, for those who are non-religious, can they say, ‘I have faith in myself to be a good person or to be happier, to be more at peace.’? Would that be a difference?

Sylvia  43:14

There is a slight difference. Because if for the longest time you were not exactly the nicest person, you say, I have faith in myself to be a nice person. Great. At that point, you enjoy a little “Yes, I do feel good about this”. Then you don’t know how, if you don’t know how, you only say I can do it, but you don’t know how to do it. At some point, disappointment, doubt, will start.

That is why you need other mental states. Faith is step one, right?

And step two is morality then generosity, then wisdom, right? These are the mental states, they work collectively, to inspire you and keep you on the practice. You take away the other mental states, and you have only faith, nothing else. Then this faith is not strong. It’s not sitting on some foundation. It is where that individual say, I believe in Buddha, then when life hits you all kinds of curveballs and you at some point, your faith will wear thin for sure because you have nothing beyond faith.

If you have faith, and you are a good person, so morality right, I’m a good person I learned to do good avoid evil etc. Then I practice generosity, and generosity is another lecture by itself. But let’s say that you practice generosity, giving is just one small part of generosity, generosity of spirit, generosity of its forgiveness, generosity, embracing another’s generosity, giving up your views and your biases is generosity, etc. You have generosity and then you have wisdom.

Wisdom is understanding the transient nature of life. Understanding mortality, so to speak, learning not to hold on to things because holding on will only give you pain, so all these as a whole there is yet another series of talks there. But all these understanding of the nature of mind, all these put together that then you have the relevant tools that will keep you anchored to being good doing good. You are only occasionally true. Because you’re overwhelmed by emotions, and then you tripped a bit. But you basically hop on to the train again, and you are okay. On this wholesome adventure, you’ll be fine.

Kai Xin  46:25

Do you have a mantra or a sentence to help people who are too harsh on themselves?

Sylvia  46:33

You said earlier was correct, patience. But having said that, I will be a bit careful here. Patience must not be used as an excuse. I’m patient, and therefore I can forgive myself anything. It should not be used as an excuse for laziness or for giving yourself a discount on the practice. Patience is to me it’s more like you moderate the harshness moderate part of you that is very judging that you hold yourself to very high standards, and you judge yourself to fall short of that standard that you set. And you tell yourself, it’s okay to moderate. Patience to me, is moderation. It’s accepting that there are some conditions that are hard to overcome. And you moderate expectations. And you at every step, when you do well, you tell yourself now, this is the correct thing to do. Well done, good job. You learn to pat yourself on the back so patience lead to this kind of practices.

Patience is powerful because if it sits on wisdom. Understand that, in our practice in our cultivation, the mental states are not held in isolation, they must work in conjunction with others. Which is why if you look at the Buddha’s teaching, very often they tell you about seven factors of enlightenment, or the five powers of the mind, or the four Iddhipada, superpower states of mind, etc. It’s always a few mental states, all of them are mental states. And all these mental states are always taught as a cluster. Because alone, it doesn’t work. You need a few to hold together a set of conditions conducive for practice, conducive for staying good. Why? Because you are overcoming habits and instincts, and habits and instincts have been formed through a millennium a long time, you cannot overcome these states overnight, can’t be done. When I said earlier about patience, moderation, lowering your bar and all those things, is in recognition that whoever you are, whatever you are, today has been form through millennium. If you don’t even remember all the conditions in the past that led to a takeaway. Set baseline that now, centuries later still surface, you don’t remember what was the condition. But now you got to bear with it. When you understand enough that who you are is the result of conditions from a long ago, therefore it needs time. To understand yourself better, you need time to learn to overcome or overwrite an earlier setting of your instincts, you need to overwrite the earliest software to create new software.

Kai Xin  50:29

So, it can’t just be a sit back and see what happens kind of patience, but it requires an active and deliberate effort to say I forgive, and now I’m acting with certain mental models or framework to be better. How do we know when it’s okay to give in to our desires, say if I have a stressful day at work, I know meditating will help me relieve stress. And it’s good for me. But I don’t have the mental capacity and energy to sit on the cushion. I would rather watch YouTube videos. And then again, the cycle repeats. Oh, guilt trip. ‘Why do I do this?’

Is it more helpful to say it’s okay for me to just indulge in sensual desires and pleasures for just one day until I have the capacity to be more spiritual again. How do you know when to give in to desires and when to not give in to desires?

Sylvia  51:44

No hard and fast rule about these things. It’s individual maturity. And this is what the Buddha had said that if you truly understand through direct knowledge and understanding, we truly understand impermanence meaning, mortality and the pain of birth, if you truly appreciate that and truly get it, that can generate its own momentum for not letting up on practice.

It’s true understanding and wisdom, that then you won’t cave in. The rest of us are not to that level of direct knowledge and understanding. In fact, for many of us, our embracing of the Dharma and the practice is abit of I want my cake and eat it. What do I mean, I experienced Dukkha periodically, I find it so frustrating, life is so Dukkha, I agree. Therefore, going to the Dharma, in anticipation that we practice, my experience of Dukkha diminishes. We go into Dharma to raise the pleasure quotient to reduce the Dukkha quotient.

And because of that, actually, we are still attached to pleasure, we have never really understood, we just want our cake and eat it. We want to enjoy sensual pleasure and life as we always do without the punishment. That sense of pain that comes about because we don’t understand dhamma. For most of us, we fall into this category.  And that is why in our practice, our so-called meditation, the putting time aside for meditation, right? It’s always lower on the list of things to do. Most of us are like that meditation, oh gosh, it’s like upstairs, my mind just going to be so boring. Because on the list of pleasurable things, meditation doesn’t usually rank really high. Meditation becomes like duty, which then adds on to the unpleasantness of it, and we equate practice with meditation, which is really jialat because that’s not true.

Practice is not meditation. Meditation is one part of the practice. If you have true wisdom, true insight, true understanding, you will never let up. Because if you don’t have true wisdom, true insight true understanding, then practice is just a list of things you want to do. And sometimes it’s higher (on the list) because you’re inspired. Sometimes it drops to rock bottom because on these games, the world beckons, it is just like that. 

Is there a right or wrong? There is no right or wrong, I would like to say right means: no press on full steam ahead! But we are laypeople. And laypeople means priorities a little different, and the priorities will start to change only with growing understanding and wisdom. The wisdom is what will cause you to reprioritise at some point because you now rank practice very highly. Because of that, your progress, your insight, your understanding, will take on a new momentum.

And then it will spin in that wholesome and very energetically in the Dhamma way by itself. It’s like you’re driving on the floor. Initially, you have all these road bumps, so you cannot go very far. But at some point, you have overcome the road bumps. And now the road is clear here. And you can speed up and how fast it takes for you to speed, depends on how fast you want to get there, how fast you set the condition in place. And how fast you want to set the condition in place depends on how much pain you are now seeing.

Kai Xin  56:23

What I understand from your explanation on wisdom is that when we truly internalise that, this is something that can be more sustainable than the fleeting pleasures, then it really just propels us there’s no sense of like willpower, I have to do it. It’s a chore. And that’s a very important quality, right? Because I also noticed that some people can feel very gung-ho at the start and say, ‘I want to meditate’. It’s all about clocking the number of hours of meditation. And of course, that’s just one part of the practice.

Or some would say, ‘oh, I am so good at keeping my precept. What is this other person doing? Why is he not living up to that particular moral standard?’

But that itself might lack wisdom, because it’s not so much about transcending Dukkha and it’s not so much about being more at peace and that then becomes like the yardstick isn’t it?

Wisdom is the essential mental quality to really help us be on the right track. And then circling back to where we started. In the process, when we have wisdom, we will naturally feel pleasant, when we’re doing a good act or doing a good cause, did I get it right?

Sylvia  57:45

Wisdom is a very deep mental state. And you can approach this from a different angle, when there is wisdom, there is understanding, understanding of the concepts taught by the Buddha. Correct understanding at a deeper level, when there is wisdom, there is not just understanding, but there is an ability to notice that in your daily life, you form a conclusion that correlate with the teaching. Oh, I can see this. This is what the Buddha meant when he said all these things, capture in this Sutta or this is what the Buddha meant. Wisdom is an enabler, it enables you to understand the teaching, be able to observe the phenomenon in daily life, in direct reflection of the teaching. And wisdom also enables you to make the right choices, it means the choices that will help you grow in understanding, be a more peaceful and calmer person, more content, more at ease.  Wisdom enables you to pick wisely, choose wisely. Focus your attention correctly, all gearing you towards realising the driving forces of your mind, how it works. And so you continue in daily life, you continue to do the thing that will enable you to be happier. 

Wisdom fundamentally, enables you to live happily, there is no unhappy, wise person. I mean, you can have bad conditions. But when there is wisdom, you don’t feel too bad about your experience. Not great. But it’s okay, I can live with this. Wisdom helps you to accept, and therefore you’re okay. Even though the conditions are bad, this person knows how to let go. He may not know how to articulate to you how he managed to let go but he knows how to. Buddha is just so brilliant. He captured it into a training formula, DIY for everyone. Buddha wisdom is superior to everyone else because he knows how to sum up the driving forces that leads to growth of wisdom. Therefore, growth of happiness.

Kai Xin  1:00:45

I have one last question to wrap up this episode. Talking about wisdom, do you have any actionable tips that the listeners can take away to grow in wisdom and happiness?

Sylvia  1:01:00

What is this wisdom that, I think, would really help is to constantly remind ourselves whatever is transient, whatever is impermanent, feeling perceiving from mental polishing or activities and so on so forth. For everyone, they last for a mere nanosecond. The state itself lasts for mere nanosecond grief, pain, anger, frustration, lalalala. Whatever it is, all that short in a snap of a finger, it’s over. The only time you really realise the meaning of this teaching, right? That in what is impermanent, it is painful. It’s when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or someone you love is dead. But the reality is, it’s always a condition of life. It is a condition of life that we will all die. But you see, we will happily blindly roam through life completely oblivious, of what is an inevitable situation. In what is inevitable, we are oblivious. Aha! that’s our problem. Because of that, we have the delusion of control. What are you talking about? The illusion of control, I can control people’s mind, I can convince people, so I can get the outcome I want, isn’t it? It’s all about control. When you are mindful of this, its transient and impermanent, and therefore actually, the reality is to Dukkha. And because of that. You don’t have control. Control is a figment of our imagination. Then why is it so important to get this, internalise this, why is it so important? So that you have an incentive to avoid evil, be good? And why is that important? Only then can you be happy, only when you can build your life rich with kindness, compassion, patience, etc. Then moment to moment, you are at ease, not disease, dis-ease, you are at ease you are peaceful.

Kai Xin  1:03:46

To remind ourselves of the fleeting nature of life, we can do it through reflecting on death. And also in the process, we would see the first noble truth which is, there is suffering, that is Dukkha. And that will propel us to then do what is beneficial, what is right. And through this cycle. That’s where we become wiser. We are more aware and mindful of our actions, and it is like rinse and repeat. Correct?

Sylvia 1:04:16

Yes.

Kai Xin 1:04:48

All right. Thanks a lot, Sister Sylvia. It’s been such a pleasure to hear from you and alot of insights. Thank you.

Thank you.

Thanks, listeners for tuning in. I hope you got as much value as I did. Please share with us what is your biggest take away, you can do so on our telegram channel or wherever you are listening to this podcast. Please give us a review because it would really help us to reach more people. And please share if you know anyone who can benefit from this. In the next episode, my co-host Cheryl and I will be touching on this topic a little deeper, exploring perspectives of how we can stand up for what is right in the Buddhist way, and whether Anger is ever justified. How can we treat a person who has committed a bad deed?

Stay tuned for the next episode. Meanwhile, stay happy and wise.


Special Thanks to:

  • Sopisa for helping with the transcript
  • Key Seng Tan, and Lynn Leng for sponsoring this podcast


More about Sylvia Bay’s work: 

Website

Books 

Talk – Dhamma is hope

Article – Cultivating faith in fearful times

Suffering! How I Found Love In That S-word

Suffering! How I Found Love In That S-word

TLDR: Once you fall in love with suffering, you won’t have to suffer anymore. Here is why and how to go about doing it.

What? Have I read the title wrongly? Fall in love with my suffering? Why would I ever want to do that? Well, to begin with, we have misjudged and misunderstood suffering.

Recently, I was invited by the Singapore Buddhist Mission to speak on How Buddhism has transformed my life? Throughout the 45 mins, I noticed most of what I talked about was how I overcame my sufferings.

Sufferings come in many forms. 

“Lucky” for me, I’ve experienced many from the grief of losing my father, the guilt of not seeing my father for a year before he passed away due to my medical condition, go the physical and mental pain of my cancer treatments, I could go on and on, but that would make this article too depressing. So, why don’t I turn my sufferings around?

Suffering does not discriminate

If you take a closer look, suffering is an inevitability in life. I have not heard of anyone who has not suffered, whether it is physical or mental, we all suffer. It is bound to happen, and I’ve not heard of anyone immune to it as well.

All existence is Dukkha. According to the first noble truth in Buddhism, there is dukkha, often translated as suffering (though a sense of dissatisfaction is a closer meaning).

When I first came across the word dukkha, I didn’t pay much attention to it. 

I simply thought it’s true, and it makes sense, but I didn’t heed the advice as a warning. I mean, I have had my fair share of sufferings, and I dealt with them promptly. But I neglected to pay attention to the second noble truth, which said that our constant wanting and resisting causes suffering. 

What I failed to understand is my resistance to suffering when I’ve been warned. Can accepting the fact that bad things do happen in life reduce suffering? Apparently, it does.

It’s ok to not be ok.

Mended heart from suffering

Acceptance does not mean you are ok with it. But by reacting against the pain—resisting or rejecting it—we create unnecessary suffering. It doesn’t mean that you’ve chosen or agreed with what has happened to you. 

It doesn’t mean you like panic attacks, the side effects of cancer treatments, or suffering an injustice that has happened to you or someone else.

Rather, you’re choosing to allow it to be there when you can’t change it at that moment. To make space for it. To give yourself the patience to understand what’s going on, feel what you feel, or have experienced what you’ve experienced without creating unproductive anger or anxiety. 

The pain might still be there, but some of the “by-products” of the suffering will be alleviated.

Sufferings are to be embraced.

One of my strengths, or I personally like to think of as a strength, is I have the ability to go deep into my experiences and examine what is truly happening to me. My life experiences are like a school; I attend to each experience like a student in the class, waiting to see what is going on and what I can learn from it.

What I have learnt is that I haven’t become stronger after much suffering. I just feel more exhausted and weak, but I also feel more resilient towards suffering.

It’s like if I embrace every suffering, wouldn’t I get better at dealing with the unavoidable? Wouldn’t it make sense to embrace it rather than detest it?

Whenever I face any bad situation or problem that happens to me willingly and enthusiastically, it eases me into making better decisions. I feel less stressed out in dealing with it.

Suffering can be a valuable teaching.

Most of the time, we misinterpret suffering, thinking it comes from the world or the people around us. But it’s impossible for the world to cause you suffering if you don’t allow it. Also, suffering is a good thing, a kind of nourishment.

In order to be happy, you have to first find the meaning of happiness, and suffering becomes a catalyst for you to define it. It’s like using the dictionary – in order to understand happiness; you need to read up the definition of the word. 

You can treat suffering as nourishment, a kind of tonic for your life that activates your willpower and allows you to discover your own strength and clarify your doubts.

For instance, the side effects I suffered from cancer treatment reminded me to stop procrastinating and postponing the things I really wanted to do. It also helped me focus on the present and discover the meaning of life.  

Pain is certain, but suffering is optional.

External forces have always caused us much suffering. Although they can trigger our negative emotions, we forget that peace in the heart is also there. Our lack of awareness might be the cause of many of our sufferings, but it’s not like we can’t do anything about it. 

We might not be able to control what has happened to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. So, my point here is that no matter how horrible a situation may seem, we can still stay focused in the present moment. 

Being in the present moment helps us to become aware of our peaceful mental state within. We shouldn’t let bad situations rattle us into a corner and face defeat, thinking there is no way out of it. 

A bad situation could be an opportunity for something good.

Sapa looking for Opportunity

Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as we think they are. It just so happens that we’re conditioned by society to get what we want, and if we don’t get it, we automatically feel disheartened or disappointed. 

Bad things in life can also be a stepping stone towards good things that may happen in the future. 

I remember desperately wanting to secure a job which I was rejected. But that allowed me to apply and secure another job opportunity that was far greater and better than what I had expected. 

Suffering doesn’t belong to anyone.

Suffering does not belong to anyone

Suffering is only as bad as you want it to be. If I remove “me” from my problem, it will just be a problem and not “my problem.” Suffering no longer becomes personal; the problem is as it is. 

There are no good or bad experiences. An experience is an experience if you see it for what it really is. It only becomes good or bad when we judge it.

If I know something will be bad for me, it will be bad for me. I choose to suffer; then I suffer. It all depends on how we look at things. 

When we stop owning our sufferings with our egos, our sufferings will end. In Buddhism, phenomena are characterised by impermanence, no-self and dissatisfaction (dukkha). Suffering as taught by the Buddha, only occurs when there is an “I” (Self-identity), “Me” (Self-ownership), and “Mine” (feeling of a Self) due to our erroneous belief. 

No-Self, or anatta is the hardest to comprehend because it is a deep-seated belief that we own our thoughts, feelings and body when in fact we are more a slave than a master to these impermanent phenomena. 

We tend to attach ourselves to problems due to our egos. As a result, we make suffering a problem, my problem.

Every suffering will be worth it.

Suffering can be valuable if we can understand the underlying truth that suffering is the gateway to enlightenment. Although it does not mean we pursue suffering, it can help open the door to awakening if we become aware of it. 

Pigs can eat rotten food and still find it delicious. Lotus cannot grow without the mud, and enlightenment cannot be attained without becoming aware of the causes of suffering.

Only when we are aware, can we change suffering.


Wise steps:

  • By accepting that sufferings are inevitable and can’t be avoided, we can learn to embrace them as a catalyst for happiness.

  • Treat sufferings for what they are; they don’t belong to you or anyone.

  • Not every suffering is bad; we can choose to look at it differently and turn it into an opportunity leading to something better.

  • Sufferings are worth having only if they lead us to our own awakening.
Ep 0: The start of an imperfect but beautiful journey

Ep 0: The start of an imperfect but beautiful journey

You’ve got the Handful of Leaves Podcast here to tackle all these big and small issues in life from a Southeast Asian perspective! We cover topics like mental health, finance, career, to the juicy details of sex, and we are not afraid to ask the tough questions. 

Hosted by two friends Kai Xin and Cheryl who crossed paths and bonded over a shared curiosity of “Is there more to life?”, we hope to share practical Buddhist wisdom that uplifts your mind and heart for a happier life!
Join us as we laugh and cry and embark on a roller coaster of an episode 0 premiering Episode  This Sunday at….on….. All platforms. 

In Episode 0:  We learn more about the two hosts, Kai Xin and Cheryl as we dig deep into our hopes, fears, insecurities and bare it all out for you! We also talk about why having representation as an Asian Buddhist Podcast is so important and share our hopes and aspirations for this season!

Resources: 
Amaravati Buddhist Monastery (UK)
Article on Spiritual bypassing – I have let go. Or have I?
Article: Which type of Buddhist are you?

Listen directly on spotify with timestamps.


Cheryl  00:11

Hello, and welcome to the Handful Of Leaves podcast. I’m your co-host Cheryl,

Kai Xin  00:27

and I’m Kai Xin, bringing you practical Buddhist wisdom for happier life. 

Before we start this episode proper, if you are new to Handful Of Leaves, we are a boutique Buddhist Publication, featuring stories by Asian writers on topics such as relationships, mental well-being, work, finance, productivity, and the list goes on. Through sharing these stories, we hoped that individuals like yourself would be able to navigate the complexities of life just a little better, and to lead a happier and more fulfilling life. 

In this episode, we’re going to share why we started this podcast. You’re going to know Cheryl and I as individuals throughout our backstories.

Towards the end, we’re going to get into some pretty deep conversations and answering some tough questions.  That’s the part where Cheryl made me cry. Well, we hope that you’ll take away something useful. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe. Now let’s begin.

Cheryl  01:31

So, can you tell me what made you want to start a podcast? Because Handful Of Leaves is already a blog.  Why go into a different format? Why Audio? Why not just blogs and the stock videos that is already there. I’m not sure about you, but I feel that people enter deeper conversations in a podcast format.  It’s not like I skimmed through something in two minutes, right? Or I can go on Tik Tok or Instagram, but what is the value? Not to say that articles don’t add value. I think our writers are doing a good job. But I want to learn more. When they write stories, I’m curious to know how do they derive a particular thought or idea. That’s why I think this podcast acts as a platform for us to discover that more and to go beyond.  Yeah, because it’s candid, right? And it also really brings a human out, rather than just you know, behind a picture or behind a couple of words.

Are there topics that you’re excited to learn about in this podcast?

Cheryl  02:31

I’m just particularly interested in like just exploring the unknown, because you don’t know what you don’t know. Of course, they are topics I’m interested in, like relationships, love, career, and so on. But sometimes through conversations, you really dig up a perspective that you didn’t even think about before. And you question assumptions that you already have, and your blind spots. And I think that is something that I really look forward to that only conversations can kind of dig out. Yeah.

Kai Xin  02:58

Were there assumptions that you have but you invalidated them after listening to a conversation or a podcast?

Cheryl  03:07

I think this is a conversation, not a podcast. I was talking to someone who went through a bad breakup, and they were in the relationship for five years.  Before talking to the person, I had a very fixed idea on how a person should deal with grief. I have this picture of them, just hiding in their room and crying forever. Then just disappearing. But once I spoke to them, I realised that some people’s way of coping with grief is actually through getting into another relationship almost immediately.  So, I think from the conversation, I learned to not judge people so much, because I understand that everyone is really in their way, just having suffering and wanting less of that suffering. The way that I am accustomed to seeing or the way I feel that it’s the right way to deal with it may not apply to everybody and to be open minded of the different ways people could work with their grief. 

I was also talking to another person who lost her daughter in a car accident. And then it was just very interesting to see how an accident like that actually caused her to become a very cold mom. From the outside, usually you’ll see a cold mom would mean that the person is not good. You immediately jump into judgement, right? Not a responsible mother. How can she be like that? But when I spoke to her, I realised that it was really because of her need and wanting to protect her children from her pain. She didn’t want her pain to seep out to them and affect the way they interacted with the world.  I think like from these two stories I’m sharing it’s really about allowing yourself to see the human before letting your judgement get the better.

Kai Xin  04:59

Yeah, I think there are a lot of layers to a person that will determine how they act, how they behave. I totally resonate with what you said about judging. I find myself guilty of that. I mean, who doesn’t?  And one thing I hope this podcast can do it also for me to peel the layers of the onion, to see that there’s actually many different perspectives to look at one same topic. It’s not to say that who’s right or who’s wrong, or like, who’s better or who’s not so good. But it’s just to have that nuanced perspective and increase the level of empathy. Life is not so black and white and right, and whatever stories and decisions that we make, or live by then, hopefully, you know, to interviewing different people and having the chit-chat sessions, we will make more informed decisions, and live happier lives, I suppose.

Cheryl  06:11

Handful Of Leaves’s vision is to offer practical wisdom for happier life. I’m curious, like, what’s the most important, either a piece of advice or most important thing that has changed your life towards a more like a happier trajectory?

Kai Xin  06:32

Well, I don’t think I can pin it down to one specific.

Cheryl  06:35

Cannot. It must be one.

Kai Xin  06:38

Okay, I wouldn’t say that advice made me happier. But it did inform my decisions in life that contributed to my overall well being.  I’ve shared this story with you and with many others before, which is my trip to UK. Okay. So, a little bit of background for listeners.  I started a business when I was 19. And I hustled a lot, a lot of burnout, sleepless night. So I was two years in and I needed a break. Some people call it soul searching, or a trip to find yourself. Something in me was pulling me and I went all the way to UK, to Amaravati, a Buddhist forest monastery. I stayed there for more than a month. And I’ve met different people from different parts of the world, and that’s very interesting to me: why they are there. Because it seems like everyone is searching for something.  And there was this lady whom I spoke to, when we were doing the dishes in the morning. I realised that she stayed there for a really long time. I think she was there for more than two months. And I was very curious as to 1. Doesn’t she need to work? 2.Why stay there for so long?  What does she want to get out of it? Maybe like myself, people were asking me the same question. 

Something hit me when she said, she used to work at a hospice, which I thought was a meaningful career. So I asked her why she stopped? And she said that, over the years working there, she realised there was a pattern. People were coming and going, and of course, people, you know, passing away. There were a lot of regrets. And the regrets are not around, how much time one can clock in the office, or how much extra work that one has done. But it’s a lot about family, as well as doing what their hearts desire.  And that helped her to reprioritise what she wants in life. And then this whole accident, existential thing, right, like what is life all about, which brought her to the monastery. And then she realised there’s something beyond even like, she’s doing such meaningful work, she realised there’s something beyond, which is to like, free our hearts from all this dissatisfaction and she wanted to gain more wisdom.

Why it left such a deep impression all the way till now, I think it’s been almost seven years is because after I came back, I started to wonder, what am I so busy for.  I was doing like a lot of things, not just on the business side but also volunteer work. Then, I realised I was neglecting a lot of important parts of my life like family.  So how it helped me be a happier person was that every every single time when I would to embark on certain projects or work on certain things, I would ask myself, “What is this for? What’s the purpose?” So, I became very purpose driven. And that became my Northstar. And whatever I do, even if I’m busy, I would know that this is something that I want.  So, if I were to live a short life, hopefully, I woud have less regrets and, I would time box and carve out time for my family on weekends. Because when they are working, Sunday is the only time. You know things like that. So, it helped me prioritise a lot in life and generally, I think, live quite a happy life. 

It’s important for me to clarify this: So, busy has a negative connotation where people would say that if you’re busy, you’re kind of doing the things that you don’t like to do, or you would rather not do. But for me, I would differentiate it from being occupied. So, from an external point of view, I might be doing like 10,000 things. And people might say, Kai Xin is very busy. But I feel like I’m occupied. And that’s because I am doing the things that I like to do, like recording and starting this podcast. So yeah, it’s important to differentiate that. Having said that, I do have my busy period, where I wish I would have less on my plate. So it’s about finding that balance.

Cheryl  10:47

Yeah, it makes sense. And I guess my question to you then is like, how do you find that balance?

Kai Xin  10:54

Yeah, we’re definitely gonna cover more of that in the next episode, How To balance contentment and ambition. So I would save that for the episodes. Stay tuned.

Cheryl  11:04

I think why being apart of Handful Of Leaves is important to me personally, is because I think there are a lot of Buddhist resources, but there’s not a lot of Buddhist and you know, youth-focused and Asian resources available. I still remember, I don’t know if it’s something that you can relate to, but when I was a teenager, and when I was having crushes on people, I would be reading Tiny Buddha —  signs that a crush likes you back or like, you know, things like that to get advice, and really just how to navigate through all these kinds of things.  Of course, it is helpful. A lot of the human conditions are very universal in the sense that sometimes we struggle with depressive states, or sometimes we just do not know how to deal with stress and anxiety. But I think having content that can help to acknowledge the nuances in our Asian upbringing, like in our culture of being not so expressive in saying that you like somebody, for example, just using that same relationship picture again, will really help people to feel seen. 

And I think sometimes I find it very ironic, because if you think about it, like the first Noble Truth is about life is unsatisfactory, right? There’s a lot of suffering. But a lot of times when we listen to Dharma, which is the Buddha’s teachings, it is always so theoretical, idealistic, and I find it so ironic when it doesn’t bring the human piece together. So, I think for me, being vulnerable is very important. I at least want to be a part of bringing the voice of telling stories of telling the truth, whether it’s nice to hear or  not nice to hear, and ensuring that these stories are told, even if it’s difficult to tell.  And I think that’s very important, because, if your experiences are being acknowledged, with, you know, with the nuance of Asian and young and stuff like that, it really helps you to bring to life what it means to be a Buddhist as a human, rather than Buddhism as a religion, which can be very dry and very theoretical.

Kai Xin  13:31

Yeah! I definitely resonate a lot with what you said. So three things.  First, about the nuances in the Asian context. In the Asian context, we are very conservative. So there are certain things even relating to mental well being it is not until the recent years that I think our society starts to open up more on this topic. But previously, it was a taboo subject, right?  Or like to talk about your relationship issues openly without the fear of being judged, etc. In those areas, we can help people to connect the dots better to really navigate all the complexities in life and to apply more of the Buddhist wisdom and principles to lead something that’s more fulfilling. And also to recognise that it’s not about saying, “Oh, let go!”, “This too shall pass!”.

I think that is where the second point comes in. Sometimes it can be a little bit idealistic to say, “Oh, if I’m spiritual, or I’m religious, then I have to uphold certain moral conduct and there is no room for failure.”. If we were to do something bad accidentally or because we are still work in progress, there can be a lot of guilt tripping, or a lot of feeling like we are not good enough. And it’s very tempting to just throw in the towel because everything or everyone else seems to be doing well.   Then, we might feel, “Am I really cut out for this? Maybe, not so much.”.  So, I think a big part of why we started Handful of Leaves is also to paint a holistic picture and to say that it is a journey, to show the vulnerability of people. When they are growing spiritually to say, it’s not just a destination, but there are so many bumps on the road, it will be bumpier at the start, and the journey will be smoother towards the end. So we are hoping to be with people along this journey. 

Then, I think the third thing is more about the application. If you read the the discourses, and you really understand how the Buddha taught, he tailors his teaching to different people. To merchants, he would speak in a very different way. And he uses a lot of analogies and brought it very close to home, and taught things that can be applied.  I think why it feels that sometimes the teaching can be very dry is because we might, or rather the teachings that we hear might be disconnected from our day to day struggles. So it’s kind of a very blanket approach to say, ‘Oh, yeah, just be kind. Oh, yeah. You know, don’t think too much about it.’. And then there’s a lot of spiritual bypassing.  And how can we apply in a practical sense? Say, if I’m dealing with workplace politics, or like if I’m dealing with relationship issues. Example, now in the Asian context, the COVID phenomena is children moving out of their parents place. I went through that journey. And it was such a weird concept to think about, because Asian parents are like, ‘Why do you want to leave the family when you’re not even married?’. And, you know, thoughts like, ‘Are you abandoning us?’.  And there’s a lot of like…

Cheryl  16:36

Filial piety?

Kai Xin  16:39

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the whole filial piety thing. So, I think it’s about meshing all these together. Number one, how can we make it more nuanced in the Asian context? Number two, how can we show the holistic picture to say that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and that’s perfectly fine? Then, number three, bring it close to day to day and say, How can I take small steps to improve my life?  Let’s backtrack a little bit. I’m not so sure how you started Buddhism, I hear bits and pieces of stories. But when I first came to the Dharma, and learn about Buddhism, it was it was such an eye opening experience. Because I’ve always associated Buddhism to something that is very ancient and very ritualistic.

Cheryl  17:25

Not relatable.

Kai Xin  17:27

Yeah! Also because it’s an Asian upbringing, right? It’s so unrelatable, because you’re not allowed to question. And then I feel that the faith is so blind. When I first got to know the Buddhist teachings, I was like, ‘Wow! This is completely opposite from what my parents have taught me!’.  Even the whole concept of like going to the temple, it’s not the Buddha’s teachings. There’s a lot of like, Chinese culture infused, a lot of rituals. And it is not to say that the rituals are not helpful. But I think a lot of us, if you were to ask 10 Singaporeans, what do they know about rituals? I would say, nine of them or like 9.5 of them would say, ‘I don’t know, just go pray, go to Kwan Yin Ma temple and pray for good luck. I usually go there during exam period.’.  When I’m like, going through certain life challenges, difficulties.

Kai Xin  18:20

yeah and if I can’t find answers within, then you have to seek out, for divine intervention. But then I realised actually a very big part of Buddhism is about finding the answers within, which is so ironic. I hope that, you know, through this podcast, and also the content that we post on our website, people would be able to find that clarity in their journey of growth. And it’s content that I personally wish were out there many years ago but are not.

Cheryl  18:47

I think, really, the power in Buddhism is really when you’re able to apply it into into your life. Like there’s no point saying, Oh, I understand impermanence. Theoretically, I understand the concept of non-self. It really doesn’t help you at all, if you can’t apply it to help you to be someone who’s more compassionate, less judgmental, and less critical of yourself and, and others.

And I think perhaps it’s it’s the disconnect in the kind of Buddhist teachings they’re exposed to, right? Maybe it was just never linked to how we can apply in our workplace, for example, or how we can be very skillful in applying in our family relationships. So I think, hopefully, this podcast can connect the dots for people and really enrich their lives in that sense as well. But I do feel that more important is also planting the seeds to liberating oneself from like suffering completely. 

You mentioned earlier that you want to highlight that this is kind of a journey with ups and downs. And I think on top of that, it’s not just ups and downs, but also to illustrate the different kinds of journey everybody could be on by sharing as many stories as possible. Someone could be, you know, maybe just completely new to Buddhism and finding it extremely challenging. But someone could be maybe a couple years in to the path, feeling that their faith is wavering a bit, or someone who’s like, crossroads of wanting to renounce but then the family is pulling them back. So it is really about showing the different journeys a Buddhist could be on and the different flavours that it could entail.

Kai Xin  20:38

Everyone’s life is different, right? The monastic life is not for everybody. And just like how the corporate life is not for everybody. So, hopefully..

Cheryl  20:47

That’s a very nice comparison.

Kai Xin  20:49

Yeah, it’s so true. So through the like, the journey as well as gaining all these different perspectives, hopefully, one would be able to, again, make a more informed decision to what they feel most at peace with. It’s not so much about what other people want, but having the clarity within on what’s best based on..

Cheryl  21:10

and that’s the most important.

Kai Xin  21:11

Yeah, that’s the most important. Based on the readiness, the capacity, and everything. It is not to shoebox ourselves to one mould to say all Buddhist’s should be like that. 

Chery 21:21

Maybe get to know us a little bit more! So, Kai Xin, how did we meet?

Kai Xin 21:23

I think your story and my story is very different. Yeah, different versions. To be honest, I can’t remember fully how we met. I vaguely recall, it was through a camp. You came all the way from Malaysia to Singapore, just to attend the youth camp. And that was a few. How many years ago 5? 6? 7?

Cheryl  21:45

More than I think about seven years ago, maybe around 2014.

Kai Xin  21:50

Wow, we’ve known each other for eight years, or some would say many lifetimes. I always remember seeing you at the meditation session. So we have like this Tuesday sit at one of the Buddhist centres. You’re always there.  And a fun fact is now we are housemates because I had this random concept of hey, it would be so nice to live with a Dharma friend. And then we have another friend of ours who was also renting and I just floated the idea that it would be good to have a dhamma house together. And we are housemates now.  I think how I really got to know you more and then we became a lot better friends through working on Handful Of Leaves — getting feedback relating to the website and relating to the content. And yeah, just naturally, I think there was a lot of like to and fro…

Cheryl  22:52

completely inaccurate

Kai Xin  22:53

Alright. Present your version of the story.

Cheryl  22:58

So yes, we first met camp. I need to tell the story you when you were really awkward. I think I met you and for some weird reason, I decided to go up and tell you that I admired that you meditated a lot. And then you were super uncomfortable. And I was thinking to myself, ‘this Kai Xin hates me forever.’. And then I kind of just stayed away from her every other time I saw her.

Kai Xin  23:25

Wait, I have to cut you there. I mean, wouldn’t it be awkward if someone just randomly comes up to you and go, ‘Oh, Cheryl, I really think that you are a very good meditator or  you meditate a lot.’. I mean, it’s out of no where. It’s like seeing a lizard like popping out of no where.

Cheryl  23:43

Why you will compare this to a lizard. That is terrible!

Kai Xin  23:46

Okay, sorry. You are much better than that. I mean, you can’t blame me for being awkward. Now, continue.

Cheryl  23:55

No, people would have graciously accepted the compliment. But anyway, our paths didn’t cross. And then I moved to Singapore and then there was the regular meditation at BF (Buddhist Fellowship) where I would occasionally see Kai Xin. And then, yeah, we didn’t really get close because it was more of hi and bye, and how was your meditation kind of short conversations.  And then coincidentally, she asked me about the Handful of Leaves feedback. That is correct, that is so far true. And I think what bonded us was like the deeper curiosity to I don’t know, life? The approach of how to be better how to be a nicer person, kinder person and discussions around that. And then yeah, somehow we just became housemates, and podcast-mates.

Kai Xin  24:46

Now that you mentioned I can recall because I had very deep conversations with you about friendship. And then also because like, I’ve moved out from my parents, right. I mean, back then we weren’t housemates yet. And there was a transition.  And yeah, I think through a few conversations you kind of ask very deep questions. And of course, I have to give very thoughtful replies, which can take days.

Cheryl  25:12

Weeks

Kai Xin  25:13

Fun fact about me, I take really long to reply people, especially if they are texts that makes me think I don’t want to just reply people while I’m like multitasking, because I don’t think it’s going to be thoughtful. So yeah, because it takes so long, it is like snail mail. And then just a wall of text, and very deep conversations, which I really appreciate.

Cheryl  25:37

But I guess, you know, I one question is, what is a question I should ask you but I think I don’t know enough about you to ask?

Kai Xin  25:48

How would you respond to this yourself?

Cheryl  25:50

Eh. You don’t question me with a question. I think this question is for you to own. You can rephrase it as you like, but essentially something that I don’t know about you yet that you would like to share.

Kai Xin  26:03

I don’t know this, this is so hard to start because I think you know a lot about me, but I’m not so sure whether there are certain assumptions that you have made in the process that I might have a backstory to say, actually, the assumption is false. What are your current assumptions of me? Like? How would you describe me as a person?

Cheryl  26:28

Oh sorry, my internet is very bad! (Joking)

Kai Xin  26:32

I mean, it’s a very tough question.

Cheryl  26:34

True. Not sure. But I think you could be someone that could be very hard on yourself. And you will probably tend to extend more compassion to other people than to yourself.

Kai Xin  26:48

I am quite hard on myself. As to whether I’m compassionate to others, I think this is an assumption that I would have to, like invalidate. Funnily enough, I used to think that I’m quite a compassionate person. I wouldn’t deny the fact that I do compassionate stuff, but I’m not as compassionate as what other people think.

Cheryl  27:13

It’s funny that you say that. Because I think if we would, say, just ask any mutual friend, I think compassion will be one of the terms they would probably associate you with.

Kai Xin  27:23

Is it because of the things that I do? Or say? How did that assumption come about?

Cheryl  27:29

I think mostly from your actions. You help people proactively.

Kai Xin  27:32

I actually don’t do that proactively, which is something that I discovered. So I think COVID brought a lot of learnings, I have come to discover that I’m not such a compassionate person, because during COVID period, I’m pretty much a hermit. And to some degree didn’t really help with my whole mental well being. I was just alone. And I don’t proactively reach out to friends. And I guess friends just think that I’m fine, because I’m usually the one reaching out to them. And I realised the reason that was the case was because if you’re in sight and if I see your suffering, I can’t just unsee it. I would then reach out to you and help.  But if you’re out of sight, I wouldn’t keep you in my mind all the time. Yeah. So I wouldn’t say I’m compassionate enough, or like, in the way I want to be.

And so I think some people would then see the first part. Yeah, Kai Xin, you’re being too hard on yourself. Like there’s a pattern.  I think I’m compassionate, but not as much as what I think other people associate me to be. One thing I’m really guilty about, like, is when I got out of my hermit mode. And like, some of my friends actually reach out to me to catch up and then I realised that actually many of them are struggling.  I was struggling as well. And then I felt like I could have reached out to these people. Why am I so selfish, just thinking about myself? It’s not like I was deep in the pit. There were days when I’m just savoring my alone time and I don’t want to talk to anybody. And then it got a little bit unhealthy.

Cheryl  29:20

But you’re enjoying it. Why is it unhealthy?

Kai Xin  29:22

There’s a tipping point, right? At first, I enjoy it. But then I realised too much solitude is not conducive. Because I don’t interact with people, I don’t get triggered. And I can just be in my own world. I don’t broaden my perspective. So it becomes unhealthy when I am just with my own thoughts, and that it comes more unhealthy if my thoughts are not healthy, then it becomes a very

Cheryl  29:52

vicious cycle, but it could also be that expectation that Kai Xin needs to help as many people as possible? The expectations you have of yourself, which nobody kind of imposed on you?

Kai Xin  30:04

I wouldn’t say I have like very ambitious goals, like a lot of people to say, I want to have like a million people and you know, overcome poverty. For me, I don’t think I’m driven enough to say that. But within my capacity, I want to help.

Cheryl  30:21

It’s very interesting, I guess how I perceive you and how you perceive yourself. It’s almost contradicting the certain extent. I think this just goes to show how much perception is so subjective, and to always, you know, be open to seeing people as they are, rather than seeing people as a reflection of your own ideas.

Kai Xin  30:50

I think it’s interesting that you think that I’m very compassionate. I mean, I like I would appreciate, I appreciate that and think that as a compliment. But I also realise it can be quite unhealthy to some point, because I’m not sure whether people hold on to certain expectations of me. Because I’m always the one reaching out to people hence. I don’t need to reach out to people you get what I mean?

Cheryl  31:19

Hence, people don’t need to reach out to you, you mean? You’re the person that is always caring, and people forget to care for the carer?

Kai Xin  31:26

Yeah. And they kind of just assume that I’m fine when sometimes I’m not.

Cheryl  31:31

So all our listeners here, personally, please reach out with a heart shape. She would appreciate it very much.

Kai Xin  31:39

Yes! Not that you can see me but I’m, I’m giving a heart sign. \ Yeah, I think it was quite a tough learning for me to come to realise, actually, I do need a lot of care. Because I used to be the person to say, ‘Oh, self love, I can be self sustaining.’.  To some degree, I still believe that. But I realised it’s important to have the option to lean on others as well. And it’s especially important in times when I personally don’t have the strength to be on myself.

Yeah, so please break the stereotype that I’m all sound.  Because like someone ever, one of the youth, came to me and said, ‘Kai Xin you are so perfect.’. I was like, wow. And it really affected me in a negative way. I mean, not that a person had any bad intention. I think it just stems from a place of admiration. But I felt so bad for myself. Back then I used to post a lot on social media, I would share my learnings. And you know, I was starting out and I was connecting with a lot of people. It’s part of the process of growing a startup.  And people would say like, well, because you’re doing so many things, like I’m so disappointed in my life. I don’t know something in me just can’t sit well with being the cause of somebody else’s unhappiness. I know, I’m not directly causing them (to be unhappy) because it’s not like I have any ill intention. But just the thought of having that option where people look at me and then they feel sad about themselves, what the hell I don’t want that. I would rather not be seen as successful if it makes you sad. 

Then, I think I start to downplay a lot of my successes. I think also to some point, sometimes it can be a little bit annoying for some people. They might think why can’t just accept that you have achieved certain things? Why do you always have to have to say that actually you are still in the process of learning and there’s so much more.  I think one of the friends also said, ‘why can’t you just accept praises?’, which is something that I find very hard to do, which I’m still in the process of trying to learn. 

So, when people have certain stereotypes of me, it’s almost like an ideal, like idealism? And they project it on me. I feel scared. Because what if one day I do something that is out of line and un-compassionate? What would they think of me? I have flaws. You know. If they see me as a perfect person, then I have no room to be imperfect. It’s a very scary thought.

Cheryl  34:19

And you’re just human and definitely as a human you are vulnerable, you have flaws. You’re not perfect. You’re really just learning.  And when there’s this kind of expectations put on you it kind of restricts how you could be free as well as a person. And I think if you look at celebrities, like why all of them kind of have a sudden rebellious phase is because of all the expectations that all their fans put on them to be this ideal person. So they just kind of need to really break that mould by doing something completely extreme.  But also, like you’re not responsible for other people’s insecurities, and I don’t know, I feel sorry that you have to feel like there is the need for yourself to minimise your glow just so that you don’t shine so bright.

Kai Xin  35:12

Oh you are making me tear up. Why does this get so heavy? Help

Cheryl  35:24

Virtual hug!

Kai Xin  35:26

Let me grab a tissue. This conversation has taken a turn. We’ll be right back.

Cheryl  35:32

Sorry. That’s my expertise making people cry.

Kai Xin  35:35

Sorry, continue.

Cheryl  35:38

No, I mean, there’s no should or should not because it’s really your journey, but rather learning to own your space. And I think just standing, standing proud probably that long. And yeah, really people’s insecurities are not something that should affect you.

Kai Xin  35:52

Intellectually I know that and I am trying to learn that. I mean, even starting this podcast is a little bit daunting.  Let me blow my nose.

Cheryl  36:09

ASMR to nose blowing begins in 3,2,1.

Kai Xin  36:16

I was saying even starting this podcast is daunting, because I’m putting myself out there. And I mean, you are also putting yourself out there. And I think we, to some extent, want people to learn to very personal experiences or like tough conversations like this right from our guests, or like from both of us. And it puts us okay, I can’t say for you, but I feel like I’m in a very vulnerable position.

Cheryl  36:45

It is very courageous of you also to do that.

Kai Xin  36:49

Hesitating, try to like process? Yeah, I think it’s daunting because for for many years, I have stopped putting myself out there. And in moments when I do, it’s to like, I mean, it’s nothing about me, right? It’s like getting support for maybe fundraising projects, or perhaps its work I feel obligated to because, I mean, like, if our company achieved something, or if me and my co founder choose something. Yeah, like, I feel obligated to publicise it, to share that joy. And I’m struggling a lot. Because I feel like when I do that, I, and then put on a higher pedestal. And it’s very tough for me to come back.

And I’m, then I realised it’s a learning journey to say, I can use or leverage my glow. Or if I were to have a glow, I can leverage that to, to help people. But then also not to be too hard on myself to say it’s my responsibility to help people or it’s my responsibility when somebody else feels bad. And I hope that I can show more sides of me that are vulnerable so that it breaks this stereotype that everybody has on people, like, oh, just because a person is out there. It’s life that I want to lead or like you, you look at them from a place of admiration, rather than inspiration. It’s very different, because admiration is like, wow, you know, I wish I could be like that, versus inspirations like, I can do that. Let me try.

Cheryl  38:39

It gives that sense of empowerment back to the individual. Rather than, like, oh my god, yes. Or like self criticism, right? Like, I suck so bad. Like, I would never be like that person.

Kai Xin  38:50

I also want to just make a disclaimer, it’s not like I am like super successful or anything like that, but it’s just in a closer circle of friends, they seem to think so of me. I just cannot fathom the amount of stress and things that most successful people will go through or I wouldn’t say successful, but people who are more out there who are more exposed. Yeah, I can’t imagine how it’s like for them because I’m not even putting myself out there and I’m really feeling stress. What about them? So, I just want to make sure that I navigate this in a healthy way.  A request also on air: I hope that I can lean on you as a co-host to to pull me when I’m straying off the path or when I’m being too hard on myself or when I get a little bit fuzzy with the situation.

Cheryl  39:46

Yeah, and I think like my only hope for you is that like, I don’t know, like wherever your journey takes you to greater heights and brighter stars and brighter glow is to remain true to yourself, and telling the true story, being always being vulnerable and never ever feel like you need to be perfect and then like painting a fake image of perfection or whatever, you know, being those uptight and snobbish people.

Kai Xin  40:16

Which is why, like shout out to Khema, one of our Dharma friends. I was asking her for advice for his podcast. And she said it shouldn’t feel like a performance. And why it hit me so deeply is because exactly what you said just now, it shouldn’t feel like it is decorated, or I’m putting up a show just because I want to maintain a particular image. I mean, we still want to do quality shows but in terms of like the content, yeah, you get what I mean?  Well, I hope you get the answer from your question about what is something that you don’t know about me that you want to know more about? Can I throw the question back to you?

Cheryl  40:54

Yeah, but I think first and really thanks for answering it, truthfully, and not taking an easy answer. You went through the real answer. So thanks for that. Opening up very courageously.

Kai Xin  41:07

Yeah. Thanks for giving me space.  I think I’ll describe you as like a ball of sunshine. You’re 笑点 (laughing point) is rather low. And it feels like anything makes you happy. I think it’s something that’s very good to have but I also know that of course, there are really downtimes for you as well. And my impression is perhaps you might not necessarily be very ready to show that to people. I do feel like you’re talented. But you also deny that.  Yeah just from your rolling of eyes. And…

Cheryl  41:47

this is so uncomfortable.

Kai Xin  41:54

I feel like sometimes you can downplay your personal strengths or like qualities. You feel like you’re very nua, you’re not a very determined person. But I disagree. I mean, just look at your whole journey of becoming healthier, and your fitness journey, I truly think that it’s not something that everyone can do.  Personally, I’ve tried to keep fit. I mean, ever since I’ve graduated, I haven’t been very actively exercising. But you you stayed true to your word. And it’s like you you set your goal on something or determine and you go all out, you know, I’m not sure whether you see that in yourself. I have a lot of other assumptions. But yes, so these are things.

Cheryl  42:42

A few more! Buying myself time.

Kai Xin  42:45

I feel like you care a lot for others, and you want to hold a space for them. But sometimes it might also come at the expense of, you know, holding space for yourself. And you might downplay some of your qualities, like your good qualities and strengths. When you’re seeing others, right, it’s like, ‘oh, how come they are able to structure their thoughts so well? Or why are they able to answer questions on the fly?’. But I realised the context is very different. Because it’s not that you can’t do it. I mean, you do it really well. But it’s just in a situation or it is a topic that you don’t blossom in, when there’s a there’s a misfit misfit of role, then you would think that you’re not good at it. But it’s not that you’re not good at it. It’s just that you’re in the wrong place. But you have all these good qualities that will make you thrive if you’re in the right place.

Cheryl  43:43

I don’t think these are necessarily assumptions. I think these are more observations, which I think you’re quite right, in pointing out. I think I’m by no means super successful or anything. But I think I do share similarities with you in the sense of the need to downplay a little bit.  So, just for context: I come from a family where,  my sister is not the smartest in terms of grades. We used to get compared a lot and I usually did okay in my exams. Then, like a lot of things as well such as when I was younger, I eat food faster my sister didn’t eat fast and and she would get caned for that. So I think inevitably I was felt like I need to make myself smaller in that childhood context so that she doesn’t get scolded or, you know, get like, reviewed negatively. 

And I think that also comes up in my life now. I feel I really need to kind of attune because I also do not want people to think a certain way of me. And I also do have maybe stronger negative self-talk, maybe some insecurities. So then, I guess that fear of being perceived a certain way, plus my own negative self-talk makes me just very fearful of doing things on my own.  So for example, like this podcast also, I hesitated doing it on my own. And then when you asked me also, like, hesitating so much, because I think the question of like, who would want to listen? Will I be able to produce good enough content, will I be engaging enough? These thoughts were often in my mind, and even up to today, before we were recording, I was stressing over it.

So, I think I’m still working on myself, like trying to, I guess, find what space I should be in to thrive.  But at the same time, also, being patient with myself to really take things one step at a time, because it’s impossible to want to conquer everything at once. And, yeah, it’s just I think, I guess, balancing know that long term, incremental growth, still being courageous enough to put myself out there and trying different things. And being more open to failures, rejections and see where that eventually leads into.

Kai Xin  46:32

I hear that whatever you’re doing stems from a place of care. Like, I mean, it’s quite similar, right? You don’t want to shine so much, because you’re afraid that that might cause other people to have a certain negative repercussions or that there’s some for comparison involved. And you don’t want that. Then at the same time, that’s also you comparing yourself with your own standards. I’m just curious, like, why don’t you want to do things for your own sake? Or just now you mentioned something about, ‘I may not want to start a podcast on my own? I don’t want it.’. Why is that the case?

Cheryl  47:15

Yeah. I don’t know why I always have that feeling of like incompetence, I won’t know how to do it. Yeah. And I think that has stopped me from a lot of things. From along of side hassle, so maybe important decision. Like career decisions, and even I think, even like relationship boundaries that incompetency and feeling not good enough. So I’d rather not pursue it because if I’m involved, I destroy things. It is always a result of comparison. It’s always never about ‘I feel incompetent’, it is always ‘I feel incompetent, as compared to X, Y, Z ideals, expectations, people.’.

Kai Xin  47:18

I wouldn’t say that (you’re incompetent). I mean, going back to admiration versus inspiration, right? Like, would it help to reframe how you compare, because comparison is healthy. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a benchmark, and we also have like, something better to work towards, right. And it’s how we use that comparison to inch forward rather than slight backwards.

Cheryl  48:40

I think a healthier comparison would be looking at things in a more balanced way, which is not just comparing using my weak spots, but also comparing with my strengths, if it makes sense. So I get a balance, self esteem, rather than one that is leaning towards more negative.

Kai Xin  49:00

Yeah. And then you will realise actually, there are a lot of positive traits that you can compare with. Thanks for sharing.

Cheryl  49:11

Thank you for opening the space as well. And I think you’re very astute in your observations. I think it’s more observations than assumptions because I think they’re fairly accurate.

Kai Xin  49:23

So, what is season one all about?

Cheryl  49:28

The general theme of it is, of course, covering a lot of different areas in life, finance, relationship, career, things that are generally important for us to function as a person in society. But more importantly, really exploring how we can do that with ease and balancing out the demands and the rigour of it to be able to achieve success in any of these areas but doing it in a balanced and happy way. Because after all, we are seeking for practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life.

Kai Xin  50:10

Practical that leads to happiness. In terms of the format wise, it would be an alternate between interview style with experts in the field and also chit chat sessions like what we are doing right now to share my perspective on a single topic. And if any of the listeners you have questions that you want us to talk about or discuss, you can subscribe to our telegram channel, and put your comments there any thoughts and key takeaways. Of course, it will be really helpful if you click the subscribe button on Spotify as well as YouTube. And we have a lineup of speakers, Tan Chade-Meng, the author of Search Inside Yourself, as well as the book Joy On Demand. We also have a very popular Buddhist teacher, Sister Sylvia Bay, and we have sister Amy on board as well and many more speakers.  If you would like to hear from other speakers or interesting people you want us to chat with, let us know in telegram channel. Cheryl and I, we wish all of you listening, stay happy, healthy. And if you’re not happy, that’s fine. It’s all part of a process and we are excited to be on this journey with you.

Cheryl  51:25

See you in the next episode. Thank you! Bye bye!


Resources: 

Amaravati Buddhist Monastery (UK)

Article on Spiritual bypassing – I have let go. Or have I?

Article: Which type of Buddhist are you?