If The Last Time You Felt At Peace Was Ages Ago. Read & Try This

If The Last Time You Felt At Peace Was Ages Ago. Read & Try This

TLDR: Is Metta Meditation really beneficial? Jin Young shares his own personal practice and his relationship with loving kindness meditation. A 30-min guided meditation is included. You’re invited to test it out for yourself.   


When you don’t know what to do, try out metta or loving kindness meditation.

Encountering Metta MeditationMy first encounter with metta was listening to Imee Ooi’s “Chant of Metta ”. Imee’s voice was angel-like, saccharine and soothing. I especially enjoyed her chanting of the Metta Sutta in Pali language, albeit not knowing much about the actual meaning behind those words back then. 

My mom would sometimes play the CD around bedtime, and I guess it must have had some sort of sleep-inducing effect, much like lullabies for babies.

Lighting My Fire Of Metta

When I was fifteen, I sat through my first metta meditation under the guidance of Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn explained that the cultivation of metta is analogous to starting a fire. You can’t start a fire by lighting up a huge log. 

Rather, you need kindling, easily combustible materials for starting a fire such as papers or small little twigs. Once the fire is started, one then adds on larger and larger twigs before moving on to solid pieces of wood. 

When the fire is well maintained, you can further grow it until the passion of loving kindness is strong enough to embrace the whole universe and even your worst enemies.

But first, we need to start with kindling. Ajahn told us to visualize someone whom we can readily feel and send loving kindness to. For me, it was my late grandmother who had taken care of me when I was young. She showered me with unconditional love.

“Dear Ahma”

“The door of my heart is open to you”

“I will take care of you”

“May you be safe, well and happy”.

With these words, I felt my chest and heart glowing with love and warmth. We then proceed to send similar thoughts and wishes to our other family members, friends, acquaintances, animals, and all sentient beings. 

It was an empowering experience to meditate on metta with Ajahn Brahm. The flame of “metta” was passed on from Ajahn to us, and from us to our loved ones and on and on.

Keeping the Metta Flame Glowing

Since then, I’ve tried my best to keep this flame alive wherever I go. In Selangor, I joined the Buddhist Gem Fellowship and attended a weekly guided metta meditation by Datuk Seri Dr. Victor Wee, another lay-teacher and compassionate mentor. 

Dr. Wee’s cues were slightly different from Ajahn Brahm’s, but the spirit of loving kindness was the same.

I brought the practice of metta meditation with me to Japan and China, where I studied abroad for four years. Whenever I missed my family, encountered negative events, or felt like I was stuck in an uncertain and helpless situation, I turned to metta meditation for help. 

I like to believe that by sending my thoughts of loving-kindness to my family and friends, they are protected by my wishes, and become well and happy. 

By sending metta to a professor or a superior, he or she would give me an A+ or a pay raise (I’m only half-kidding). By sending it to someone with whom I’ve had a negative encounter, relationships will slowly turn for the better, enmity and ill will shall be transformed into love and light.

No, Metta doesn’t Solve Everything

Of course, there’s no guarantee that metta will always convert “negativity” into “positivity”, nor is it a panacea for everything in life.

However, I believe that it can help transform the state of one’s mind – To face life’s suffering and problems with a heart of loving-kindness and gentleness.

Over time, as I became a yoga teacher and started leading mindfulness retreat expeditions to the Himalayas, I’ve developed and come up with my practice and cues for leading metta meditation.

These cues are of course consolidated from the various teachers mentioned above. During this pandemic lockdown, I decided to record a 30-min long guided metta meditation. I share it with anyone keen to explore and integrate this practice into their lives.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” This quote is often attributed to Laotzu.

Can we make metta “loving-kindness” the character and destiny of our life?


Wise Steps:

  • If you find it hard to send loving thoughts in your mind, find a safe space and utter them out in words. 
  • Make it a habit to randomly wish someone to be well and happy each day, whether it’s mentally towards someone you love or to random strangers on the streets.
  • Meditate at least once a week to reset yourself energetically and spiritually.
Having the courage to quit my job and start again. #Mindfulchats with Yanda

Having the courage to quit my job and start again. #Mindfulchats with Yanda

TLDR: Why quit your job during a pandemic? How do we help our friends who are thinking about quitting?

When the pandemic plunged the world into recession, university graduates felt nervous. The fear of not finding a job or having your job offer rescinded was real.

Hence, to land a job and then quit your stable, full-time job during a pandemic makes you pause and say “Huh, why?”. Yanda has a different take. He asks ‘Why not?’.

Sipping coffee as Yanda shares his story

The Job Hunt Hype

Yanda, a final year student in 2020, took his time to enjoy university while it lasted. He mentioned that “everyone was rushing to secure a job. There was great hype for job hunting.”

It was definitely not an easy climate to be in. Rather than worrying about uncertainty, Yanda volunteered for Buddhist Organisations such as NTU Buddhist Society/ BYN (Buddhist Youth Network). He then took on the job search in his own time.

(No. Yanda doesn’t come from an uber-rich family where a job falls on his lap. He didn’t see the need for an all-or-nothing chase.)

Eventually, Yanda obtained a few offers in the engineering space and took on a role he thought he might enjoy. That is where things changed.

Is This It?

Work soon became monotonous and a routine for him. He noticed a routine of “working, going out for lunch, sitting back down and going home.”

This made him wonder, “Is this it? Is this how I am going to spend my life? What do I want? If I lived to 60 years, will I be content with doing 40 years of the same thing?”

In response to his musing, I mumbled: “Definitely not me.”

His attempt at sharing work struggles with some friends did not yield something he could relate to. They alluded to “finding meaning in your job rather than have the meaning come to you.” It was cold comfort.

I could see his thought process unfold and why that advice didn’t sit well. Yes, there was this sense of job security during a pandemic but it brought little meaning to him. That meaning was nearly impossible to find.

The turning point came when this question popped to mind, “If tomorrow, I am going to die, I would only remember that I did paperwork here and there. That’s it”. That spurred him into action. He tendered his resignation and left the company to the shock of his peers. New hires are usually expected to stay in that job for at least 2 years, but he stayed in that role for less than 6 months.

The Pains Of Change

“I had fear and felt scared”, he gulped when recalling the moment he quit and had no job offer on the horizon.

“So what helped you through the uncertainty?” I quizzed.

The fellowship of his Buddhist circle who listened patiently was what brought him to a brighter state of mind. Friends that were slow to advise but quick to listen to his pain helped him greatly. “That is what matters…being there for me,” he concluded.

“Confidence in the Buddha’s teaching, knowing that all these negative emotions would fade,” he added, gave him strength when he was alone. He viewed the transition as “uncertainty at its very core.”

Over the years, having done mindfulness practice enabled him to watch his emotions and to make  necessary changes without attachment. That gave him the conviction that it was not an impulsive move but an informed one.

Starting Again

Smiling as he recalled his Buddhist work, “I have done a lot of Buddhist work that brought joy to me. If this (engineering) job doesn’t fit me, what can I do?”

As causes and conditions came together, Yanda didn’t need to wait long for an answer.

“A friend told me that she had an opening at a preschool where they wanted a Dhamma friend to help build the school’s curriculum.” He recalled. He mulled on the idea of facing kids all day and decided to take the plunge.

Yanda is now studying for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education while working to help build the preschool’s curriculum.

“Uncertainty,” he answers immediately when asked what he loves about his job. “What the children can bring to you every day with every interaction presents uncertainty,” he added.

When he dived deeper, he felt lifted about being able to help kids appreciate this ‘thing’ called the mind. Letting them know that there are ways to develop their minds. Equipping them with Buddhist concepts, techniques and emotional awareness to thrive in a stressful world really motivated him.

“Kids are easy to teach, as they are free of concepts,” he quipped. At that moment, I recalled being an inquisitive child, something I felt I have lost along the way. It was interesting to see how uncertainty could bring us pain (job transition) and joy (teaching kids).

Helping Others Start Again

I was curious to hear Yanda’s take on how we can help our friends’ transition from one job to another.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but what I can say is that this is something cliché,” Yanda shared.

“Listen to them and be genuinely happy for them. Recognise that they took a courageous decision to step out of something that did not fit them,” he added.

On a practical side, Yanda shared that we should remind our friends to also financially plan ahead if they choose to resign without a job offer. As a rule of thumb, one should have at least 3-6 months of expenses saved in cash to weather them through their job search.

His advice was grounded heavily on the Buddhist idea of appreciative joy which is a joy in the achievements/victories of others.

“How can I support you? Do you need resources/contacts?” has been one of the most helpful questions friends asked. I instantly agreed by nodding furiously as I felt that we often are quick to develop solutions without considering our friends’ needs.

Turning Back Time

“Your first job is super important” is one piece of advice that Yanda recommends ignoring for graduating students. It adds unnecessary stress to the individual. That person may then seek out the perfect job which may not exist.

Having wisdom is crucial in helping us see the world properly. If he could turn back time to advise his graduating self, he would say this: “Have an attitude in life that let the results take care of themselves once I try my best. If it doesn’t go my way, what can I do next?” and “We are our own boss, only we can understand our emotions and the true nature of our mind.” 

Asking that question gives us the courage to be open to what life can bring. What we can do is to create conditions for success while developing a sense of non-attachment to the outcome.

“Understand we have a mind, and emotions are never truly ours. Just like a cup. The reason why we wash it is that we are confident that the dirt can be washed off. The dirt was never the cup.” he summarised.

It was a mind-blowing summary of expectations and emotions. Recognising emotions as transitory and being at ease with the unpleasant is a skill set we all need as we go through the different changing phases of life.

Yanda showed that Singapore youths are hungry for life and meaning. We need not stay in the same job just to clock a magical number of years before leaving. Asking ourselves “Is this it?” can spark conversations and paths we never dreamt of.

Yanda is currently working in Blue Lion Preschool as an early childhood educator trainee. 

Pandemic Diaries: Lessons On Right Effort And Morality

Pandemic Diaries: Lessons On Right Effort And Morality

TLDR: ‘Right’ Effort is not always obvious. Walking the Middle Way applies – especially to our actions during the current pandemic. While it’s important to adhere to guidelines, it’s important to practice self-compassion.

In the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta, the Buddha advised his son that if an action is viewed to bring harm of any sort, then it should not be done.

If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do…”

(MN 61 Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta: Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone, emphasis mine)

The global pandemic is a situation where one person’s actions could harm themselves, others, or both. So it seems that the wise thing to do would be to stay home as much as possible.

Extreme #1: Going out 238423 times a week

Some people may outright ignore this advice. They may even be in denial, downplaying the dangers of the virus and thinking “aiya, I won’t get it one la”, or “I probably already got it and am immune to it already”.

When looking at the mind, it seems that the desire to go out unnecessarily comes from restlessness. Because we usually find it hard to sit with unpleasant feelings like boredom and depression, we search for distractions.

As Ajahn Jayasaro recently said, one of the most severe forms of punishment in our society is solitary confinement – putting someone in a room with nothing to stimulate the senses. The lockdowns and restrictions we are facing globally are similar but on a grander scale.

As people generally have not trained themselves to find a reliable form of happiness from within, this condition seems unbearable. So it’s understandable why people would find it challenging to adhere to guidelines.

These conditions are tough, and something we can empathise with and have compassion for.

Extreme #2: Hermit mode

Some people (*raises hand slowly*), however, veer towards the other extreme. At the beginning of the pandemic, I made it a point not to go out except when necessary – even if government restrictions allowed it. I turned into a full-fledged hermit.

When considering whether to go out, I would ask myself, “Am I doing this out of necessity or just for pleasure?” Knowing that my actions could put lives at stake, then if this came from a desire to indulge in sense pleasures, I wouldn’t really act on it.

I would miss important family gatherings like the Winter Solstice. Or when Aunty cooked her special homemade chicken noodles for the whole family. Or when a relative turned 60.

I practically never saw my friends, even though I was due for many catchups after coming back from overseas.

In Chinese culture, family, togetherness, customs and tradition are incredibly important. So what I was doing seemed pretty blasphemous.

I received remarks from my relatives like:

“Why you so long never come visit me???”

“But it’s legal what”

“Your head square square one la”

Despite all this, I stood my ground, believing that I was keeping my sīla very well. I thought people around me just couldn’t deal with being cooped up at home and were being heedless.

I called up my Dhamma friends and ranted to them, complaining that I didn’t feel understood.  People didn’t bother understanding my good intentions.

I reflected that a benefit of keeping sīla is freedom from remorse. I thought to myself, in the future, I’ll feel at ease knowing that amidst all the suffering, sickness and death endured during the pandemic, I did my best not to consciously contribute to that.

That probably sounds well and good… except for the fact that I was miserable and depressed.

The Middle Way

Recently I had a series of insights that have helped me move closer to the ‘right’ effort. I realized that self-imposed isolation (on top of other things) was causing me depression and that it’s actually not a crime (literally and figuratively) to go out. As we’re social beings, we do need adequate levels of human connection, and I’ve learned that it’s especially important to me personally.

Close friends of mine know that I have a strong defilement of self-denial and borderline asceticism, which often throws me off the middle way. My behaviour during the pandemic has been a case in point.

Let’s revisit the Buddha’s advice introduced at the beginning.

This whole time, I thought I was doing the right thing because by isolating myself:

1. I’m not harming myself physically

2. I’m not harming others physically

3. I’m neither harming myself nor others physically

But I never really considered my mental health when reflecting on this. And even though I knew I was feeling depressed, I thought that it was better for me to endure that state of mind than put lives at risk.

I thought I was doing the right thing, especially when I looked to the monks as role models. Even in ordinary circumstances, my Ajahn (monastic teacher) rarely ever left the monastery unless there was a good reason (e.g. to visit sick devotees at the hospital). This sent the message that Dhamma practitioner should focus less on the external world and more on doing inner work. As long as there is food, shelter and medicine, a practitioner can remain in one place, limiting their movements and restraining the senses. This solitude is important for the practice.

Again – all well and good. If you can practice the Dhamma at that level – Great. Amazing.

But personally, I was punching above my weight. I was trying to practice like that and it was not working. I was just not at that level yet, but I was forcing this onto myself because my logical mind willed itself to do something that I was not emotionally and intuitively ready to sustain. It was an effort, but it was the wrong effort.

I’m reminded of a quote by Ajahn Chah:

When you practice, it has to be in line with your own strength. Here you have a single cart and your ox is the size of your fist, and yet you want the cart to carry as much as a ten-wheeled truck. You see ten-wheeled trucks passing you on the road and you want to be like them. But you’re not a ten-wheeled truck. You’re just a cart. It’s sure to break down. You’re what’s called a fruit that’s ripe even before it’s half-ripe, food that’s burned even before it’s cooked.”

(In the Shape of a Circle by Ajahn Chah, translated by Ajahn Thanissaro)

So in realizing this, I tweaked my behaviour.

Now, I make a conscious effort and set aside specific times during the week to spend quality time with close friends and family.

In addition to that, I’ve also taken a gentler approach in my practice (e.g. it’s OK to be watching more Netflix), as I feel that this is just what I need at this time.

That being said though, I’m still careful not to be heedless – not to veer towards Extreme #1. I give myself a quota: two outings or gatherings a week – just enough to keep me uplifted and mentally well. I do this with the underlying intention to take care of myself, not simply out of pure, unrestrained pleasure.

I think this is ‘the middle way’ for me – although it may look different for other people.

Over the years, I’ve learned that sīla and right effort are not black and white. It’s more of a gradual training in skillfulness and understanding rather than something that you ‘get right’ or a list of ‘to do’s’ to check off. The ‘right thing’ can look different, depending on circumstances and your capacity to practice at that time. For example, the monks observe 227 rules, and some do it with great ease – but if I tried to make myself do that right now, I’d probably have a nervous breakdown.

I think what’s most important is one’s intention – knowing what our intention is when doing something, and how pure it is. You could tell yourself that you don’t have much capacity for self-restraint, so you HAVE to go out 10 times a week. But is that really true? Or are you just making excuses and being heedless? It’s therefore also very important for us to be honest and true with ourselves. Then, we can truly act with goodness in our hearts, bringing goodness to others and ourselves. I believe this is right effort.


Wise Steps:

  • Reflect on the middle way and ‘right effort’ for you, so that you can rest assured that you’re not being heedless and also taking care of yourself. Set up systems and take intentional actions, like setting a quota for how much you go out per week.
  • If you’re experiencing peer pressure from others to go out more than you’re comfortable with, practice establishing right view. Reflect wisely so as to establish goodwill and empathy in your mind. Reflect on how all beings are the owners of their actions and its results and know that your actions do matter.
  • Practise gentleness and self-compassion. The pandemic has shaken up the world. While we work towards cultivating an unshakeable mind amidst turbulent conditions, it’s important to have mettā as a foundation during these tough times, accepting and receiving whatever we may be going through before trying to ‘fix’ any of it.
How I Stayed Zen In The Face Of Pay Cuts

How I Stayed Zen In The Face Of Pay Cuts

TLDR: When faced with unexpected financial hardship… see things as they truly are, ask yourself ‘so what’, and live within your means.

‘At least you still have a job okay.’ 

The usual reply I received when speaking of pay cuts. Though the replies have compassionate intentions, it often falls short of comfort. In the loud narrative of ‘up skill, up skill, up skill’, these are 3 ways of how I stayed Zen in the face of pay cuts. 

See things as they truly are 

When I first received news of the pay cut, it caught me off guard. I thought that business was going well. I felt that it was ‘unnecessary’ to do so and that I and my peers were ‘victims’. To us, our pay was already low, hence getting pay cuts was a crazy possibility. The gap between perception and reality is where suffering arose. 

Seeing these thoughts in my head, I recalled the term ‘Seeing things as they truly are’. This meant reframing the way we look at reality. This shifts our perspective away from ourselves and to the bigger picture.  

We distance ourselves from the negativity by removing the ‘I’ & ‘my’ & ‘me’. This prevents us from cycling around the stories born of our perception. Through this thought exercise, we find our calm and have a clearer view of reality.

Asking ‘so what’ rather than ‘why me’? 

It takes great effort to remove the ‘I’ & ‘my’ & ‘me’ from your thoughts. Hence, this step is another useful tool for staying Zen. As my mind played out many crazy scenarios of the pay cut, a thought bubbled up…’so what?’.  

That cut through all the self-victimization. It made me pause to count my blessings. Asking ‘so what’ places you mind to see the possibilities that one can undertake, it widens your mind. Counting blessings and seeing possibilities is one crucial way to uplift your spirits. This redirects your emotions into creating something new. 

My inspiring friends who had a job and pay cuts took the path of ‘so what’. They started selling masks and even durian to generate a new income source. By directing energy away from ‘why me’, they found possibilities to not only remain Zen but also thrive. 

Finding the essential 

“But I am super not creative or enterprising” could be a reply to talk of entrepreneurship. If you feel now is not the right time to increase income, that’s fine. This last tip helps you remain calm by finding the essential in your sea of expenses. 

Having pay cuts challenges you to live and be content with less. Being a finance nerd, I started to look at all my expenses after my pay cut. Asking myself, what is essential to my welfare and happiness?  

Asking these questions in front of your spreadsheet may seem mad, but this is crucial to reaching essentialism. Through this expense cutting, I realised I could do away with certain expenses I used to deem as essential. Essentialism by Greg Mckeown talks about changing the mental statements you make to arrive at what is essential.

Non-Essenüalist 
"l have to" 
"It's all important " 
"l can do both" 
Essenüalist 
"l choose to" 
"Only a few things really matter" 
"l can do anything but not everything"

By directing your energy towards finding the essential, you avoid spiraling into monetary stress. You also find that you can live on less. This slowly builds you up to pursue a life of essentialism and keeps your precious Zen-ness (calm). 

Summary 

These are little tools I found useful in my journey, I hope you find them useful in these difficult times.  

A key takeaway is that when negative thoughts do arise, don’t just indulge them or push them away. Rather than blindly being led by them, question them. Ask yourself why you feel shame or self-doubt. Learn from it. Use your emotions to your benefit. 

Stay calm. Stay zen!


Wise Steps:

  • When faced with unexpected financial difficulties, ask yourself “So What?”, this brings about new perspectives
  • Find an open window of time to cut down on spending that no longer serves you beneficially. Reset & Rethink!