TLDR: There are lessons hidden under any experience. Have you ever thought of going through life like a painter working on his/her painting?
Recently, I picked up a new interest to embrace a slower life pace. Registered for acrylic painting for adult beginners, I went to first class with an open mind, even though I couldn’t draw a proper stickman for that matter 😅
While the first painting I created was not exactly something I am comfortable showing around, I may have gotten a hang of the process for now.
“So what has painting got to do with internal/spiritual growth?” You may wonder.
These are a few things I learned from the couple of lessons I have attended:
There is a sample picture for reference, but everyone’s painting will be different
A sample picture is given for each class to guide amateur painters like me. Similar to journeying life, we learn from others who have lived before us.
Intriguingly, the painting process mirrors the defining steps in expressing one’s autonomy in face of the reference picture: Do we choose more vibrant or darker blue for the sky? Do we place the trees closer together or further apart?
Even when the person paints the same composition again, the result may be different. It is impossible and unnecessary to make a carbon copy out of somebody else’s art and life.
A painting can be completed in two hours or ten hours; depending on how much effort we consciously give and how much detail we enrich onto the canvas. The time spent and the number of stages completed are subjective to the person going through the experience.
Feeling unsatisfied, I may continue trying to ‘fix’ the painting. Often, it might be better to stop trying to fix something and continue to the next step. When I return to that troubling area again eventually, it may have blended into the overall painting.
We decide individually if we have done enough to our best ability – whether we are satisfied or whether more could be done. There isn’t a fixed stop line.
I can draw a frame of the expected result, though it may not turn out that way
All the students sketched the initial composition for their paintings: light and shadow, trees’ form, pathway’s lines. Multiple adjustments to the original sketch were made throughout the session.
When the tree’s form looked odd, I enhanced the tree size to match the distance proportion. When the shadow didn’t look natural, I added shades of blue or white.
This is closely akin to life in general: I can plan how I would like my day to go, though it may unfold differently many times.
I may have to adjust accordingly, for example, starting a meeting later when the train is late, choosing another restaurant when the one chosen has a long queue, etc.
These adjustments do not mean that part of the day is ruined. The day is just how it needs to be. Like scaling tree size for a more proportionate painting, holding things lightly and making adjustments as needed makes a peaceful day.
When I want to correct a part of the painting, I need to recall which colours I had used to recreate the same colour mix
Even after several sessions, I still find it difficult to recreate blended colours. Throughout the session, mindfulness and keen observation of my actions were required to recall which green and how much of green I’ve mixed into the blue to get colour for the background.
Making mistakes and corrections are part of life. It may be helpful to reflect on what had been done previously to make restorative actions or even to pick up from where I feel I took the wrong turn and follow a different direction from there.
Nature is not symmetrical; the imperfect strokes are what makes nature paintings beautiful
I enjoy the symmetrical look of buildings and architecture for the clean and tidy vibes. This preference sneaked unconsciously into my painting classes.
I still remember having asked my art teacher during the first lesson, “Why does my flower field feel odd?”
Her answer: “It is too planned. Too symmetrical. And nature is not that way.”
That need for orderliness was just the tip of a ‘perfectionism’ iceberg. I’m aware of the many times I stare at the canvas or the times when I hold back my brush just before it touches the canvas, thinking “What should I do next?”
Such hesitance is not unlike many decision-making situations I have been in. Worried about making the wrong decision, I revisited my thought process to ensure I cover all angles before actually setting course. While it is essential to do my research and decide carefully, I often find myself ruminating longer than necessary before taking action.
When I spent more time hesitating in class, I fell behind in the subsequent steps and eventually just rushed along to complete the class.
As the serial late-finisher among the students, I was still not yet fully satisfied with the result!
I have learnt to pace myself for more balanced efforts in each stage of painting and it has worked quite well now.
Wanting to follow society’s commonly accepted ‘rules’ to make the ‘perfect’ choices, I gave myself an unreasonable amount of pressure. Through painting, I learned that life is imperfect.
As much as I’d like it to be ‘perfect’, there are many areas beyond my control that could look better with imperfection – like nature’s asymmetry
The full picture can be seen clearer from a distance
When I’m deeply immersed in class, I can see every single stroke up close: colour gradients and shapes that can look unusual from some angles. A comment will arise in my mind “This looks odd. It’s not as nice as I’d like it”.
The teacher then reminds me to stand back, view the painting from a distance or even look at it through my mobile phone’s camera. I often realise the colours and shapes gel in well as a whole with this view.
I recall the times at work or in my personal life when I was deeply entrenched in the situation that I forgot that in the grander scale of things, the conflict was not the most important thing.
The few times I managed to catch myself getting too entangled in my position/view in the disagreement, I took a breath and a step back. It helped to diffuse the tension I was feeling and loosen the grip of my perspective.
Thanks to the painting experience, I learnt the usefulness of taking a step back and catching my breath.
Learning from Painting
These are the few lessons I gathered from my painting lessons, not only the painting skills but also general life lessons 😊 I am glad I registered for them and I look forward to more learning opportunities.
I hope this sharing would encourage others to pick up new/old interests that have been put off due to ‘life demands’.
And who knows, there could be hidden lessons underneath the activities or at the very least, an additional experience for a richer life?
There are life lessons in mundane activities, we could be pleasantly surprised if we are aware and remain open to seeing what we can learn
Like painting, lift the tendency to control every single stroke/action. The result may be a positive one
When we are immersed too deeply in the situation, it may be helpful to take a step back and assess it from a distance
TLDR: Good Friday is a time to contemplate more deeply the teachings left to us by Jesus Christ. We look at the parallels between Christianity and Buddhism in the practice of virtues.
The author is a practising Buddhist who also finds many aspects of the teachings of Jesus Christ inspiring. She writes this article based on her understanding of the parallels between Buddhism and Christianity that does not necessarily reflect the teachings of Jesus or the Buddha. She hopes readers can read with wise discernment.
Good Friday is a time where all Christians observe fasting, penance and contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus. To me (as a Buddhist), Jesus showed us how to carry our crosses (suffering).
Remembering the iconic image of Christ carrying his cross during difficult times can help soothe one’s heart. Unlike the majority of us, he did not get rid of suffering through impatience or aversion. With great faith, he showed us it is possible to face suffering with forgiveness, patience and love. To me, this is one of the reasons he is so deeply revered.
Similarly, the Buddha taught us about suffering. He taught us what suffering is, the cause of suffering and how to cease suffering. Patience is a virtue to be cultivated in Buddhism so that we may endure suffering and let it go every time it comes up.
In this post, I would like to celebrate the spirit of Good Friday with the teachings of Christ that have inspired many people in the world.
Perhaps one of Jesus’ most famous teachings on virtue is that of giving and loving our neighbours as we would love ourselves. The Buddha too taught this in the practice of loving-kindness meditation, where we cultivate a love for ourselves and share it with all beings
The teaching of virtues
Another parallel between Christianity and Buddhism is that Jesus too, taught morality as the Buddha did. Morality helps us cultivate virtues (such as patience, joy, forgiveness and love) in our hearts.
In one episode of his life, Christ was criticised by the Pharisees for breaking the ancient fathers’ ceremonial tradition of washing hands before eating.
Jesus replied that whatever enters into a man from the outside (food) cannot defile him because they do not enter the heart but into his stomach and out into the sewer.
But what comes out of a man’s heart defiles a man. From the hearts of men come evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetousness, envy, pride and foolishness.
Jesus was pointing to us that the crucial thing is to cultivate goodness in our hearts instead of placing our attention on rites and rituals only.
Due to the evil that can emerge from the hearts of men, Jesus taught those who listened not to commit murder, steal, adultery, lie or swear. He encouraged us to love, instead of hate our enemies.
Although these moral precepts seem easy on the surface to follow, they are not. We often see the faults in others instead of our faults. One of the famous quotes from Christ, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?”
Easier to see others’ faults than our own
Jesus was right to say we are eager to see the trivial faults in others while ignoring our massive shortcomings. We often jump to hasty judgments based on our projections.
Recently, my sister told me that she is cutting down to two meals a day to lose weight. But she still drank protein to stave off hunger. I asked her why she was consuming protein shakes as I thought it is for vegans and those who are weightlifting. She said protein shakes contain 200 calories as opposed to 500 calories from a meal.
I told her that’s still three meals a day and commented that I too took two meals a day but without any meal replacement. She quickly jumped to a conclusion and said, “This is not a competition.” I was surprised as I did not make the comment to compete but rather to clarify that two meals a day meant no meal replacements (if she wanted to lose weight).
I cannot say that I have not projected my habitual thoughts onto others.
I often make baseless assumptions and have annoyed many people. One of the many assumptions I make is that no one ever listens to what I say and I also assume I know what others are thinking.
The list of prideful assumptions I make about others is too long to mention here.
Often, we enjoy judging whether others are keeping their morality well instead of perfecting our virtues. Doing this grows our pride instead of virtue.
Human laws do not necessarily follow nature
We look for ways to benefit ourselves in this world and are often encouraged by others. In a recent conversation, a friend said that it is not wrong if she were to take money from the ATM if the person before her forgets to take the money.
In her view, she is not stealing but merely taking. I would have agreed with her in the past. As a practising Buddhist today, I told her that is stealing because she is aware of taking another’s possession.
I have understood adhering to the precepts as laid out by the Buddha and Christ is for our well-being. It is because natural laws exist and we are not doing it to please the founders of religions.
Ayya Khema, a late prominent German Buddhist nun asked her students, “What is natural?” She said we often look for natural and organic food. But aren’t we a part of nature as well? We cannot escape the natural laws of birth, decay and death.
Emotionally, we are also constrained by nature’s laws because when we become extreme in either sadness or happiness, misery follows. We understand that sadness can become depression. Extreme happiness can also bring on a heart attack.
We often praise the intelligence of someone who can lie to get what s/he wants. We are also in awe when someone can cheat the system as featured in movies like Ocean Eleven to self-righteous murders in numerous superhero films.
Virtues are heroic acts
We admire heroes who save the world. But if we were to closely examine popular violent/action films, to the number of wars fought in our history, the heroes are as responsible as the villains for causing calamities.
Growing virtues in our hearts is an act of self-denial as opposed to self-aggrandisation. We are always looking for opportunities to grow our pride by increasing our education, wealth, network and possessions.
I am not saying it is wrong to educate or upgrade ourselves in our lives, but rather, we look outwards to grow our pride more than looking inwards to examine our hearts.
Virtues are heroic acts because we need to have the courage to deny the unskillful qualities in our hearts.
For example, someone who is impatient seldom thinks s/he is wrong and wants to get things done quickly their way. This can cause anger in himself/herself and in those around them.
Being impatient and self-righteous can make it hard to listen to differing opinions and not argue with another. By being patient, we can avoid arguments with another, and reduce the chances of getting angry. By taming our unvirtuous heart, we can become happier and as a result, reduce suffering for ourselves and others.
Conquering our bad habits and cultivating virtue is a heroic act because it is so hard to recognise and admit to our faults as opposed to blaming others for not accepting our views. Virtues are for our well-being and also do not cause harm to others. This is how we can love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
The purpose of developing virtues
The Buddha said that it is not necessary to believe in heaven or hell to practice virtues.1 While alive, virtues can bring joy and make life easier for us. As we do not create suffering for others, they do not cause us much trouble.
If upon death, we discover heaven and hell do exist, we are safe because having virtues in our hearts is the way to heaven. Cultivating virtues is like buying insurance for the present life and also the afterlife if we are unsure of the existence of heaven and hell.
In Christianity, the existence of heaven and hell is highly emphasised. Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal; lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, your heart will also be.”
Jesus clearly tells us virtues in the heart is a timeless treasure compared to our temporary material possessions.
Holidays like Christmas, Good Friday and Vesak Day are not just holidays to take a break and be with loved ones but for us to remember the teachings of these two great teachers, the Buddha and Jesus Christ.
1. Sutta MN 60: “Even if we didn’t speak of the next world, and there weren’t the true statement of those venerable contemplatives & brahmans, this venerable person is still praised in the here-&-now by the observant as a person of good habits & right view”
Wise Steps :
We can remember the virtues of patience, forgiveness and love by recollecting Jesus carrying the cross when carrying our own crosses (suffering)
Before you criticise another, whether commenting on a politician, celebrity or friend, look at the speck in your eyes.
Spend time recollecting your heart every day. Is there anything you have said or done that has made your heart uneasy such as criticising a friend? If you can do something to unburden your heart, do it the next day. If the deed cannot be undone, forgive yourself and those around you to lighten your heart.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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..
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..
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.
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?
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…
Kai Xin 22:53
Alright. Present your version of the story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
Oh sorry, my internet is very bad! (Joking)
Kai Xin 26:32
I mean, it’s a very tough question.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
Kai Xin 35:26
Let me grab a tissue. This conversation has taken a turn. We’ll be right back.
Sorry. That’s my expertise making people cry.
Kai Xin 35:35
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
TLDR: Many of us resort to habits when we are unconscious of what arises in our minds. Being aware of the moment as it happens does help in navigating daily ups and downs.
Meditation is the household term nowadays, with various methods, teachers and even mobile apps to help anyone take on the journey within. The practice is not reserved just for the select groups as many people are welcoming to the idea.
It is the age-old method sworn off by many to help in mindfulness, mental health and spiritual journey, among many benefits. I’m not writing for or against these views, but rather to share how I have experienced it so far.
It does not have to be perfect
I, like many others, have been introduced to meditation for years now and have taken the time to sit quietly on the blocks ( the typical cushion height does not support the posture as well for me 😊) every morning and night – sometimes to contemplate, other times to just stay in silence.
Just as there are days of stillness, there are also days of a rambling distracted mind – which I have come to accept.
While I can’t say for sure whether it has been successful (how do we measure success in meditation, anyway?), the regular practices do help me to be less reactive in daily life.
Take the recent occurrence at work. A team member retorted to a question I asked out of curiosity via company internal chat, commenting that I should probably tell her exactly how she should handle the situation if I was unhappy with her way.
My first reaction was feeling surprised, then a thought “she does not have to react that way”.
A reactive me would probably take on a stance to protect the ego-personality and try to ‘put her in her place’ for being rude (notice the judgment here?).
When emotions arise, breathe
Instead, I took a couple of breaths and decided to leave the chat to attend another meeting.
I called her thirty minutes later and asked “What has happened to cause you to respond that way?”. Probably still holding on to her earlier emotions, she responded with increased intonation in her voice and started to comment on how I was, to borrow her words, being a ‘micro-manager’ and she does not agree with my view of letting the team figure things out for themselves instead of giving guidance right away.
She has called this ‘leaving them in a lurch’. A training method I had applied when training her and she felt it was wrong, considering she had felt lost and had difficulties previously.
The split-second gap in mind
During the few minutes of listening to her, I can feel the heat rising within my body and the internal push of wanting to stop her. Then another thought came into my mind “She is probably under pressure and has internalised her own experience rather than her colleagues’ actual experience”.
Once she was done, I started apologising for not realising she had felt lost before and was unable to help her alleviate the negative experience. She probably did not see it coming, considering it might not be the typical response others would give.
We concluded the conversation with acknowledgement of both of our experiences in the current conversation and agreed on the next steps that both of us are comfortable with.
This incident has highlighted to me the importance and usefulness of awareness and mindfulness I cultivated on the cushion as I go about the day – when the habit of protecting myself and shifting the blame to anything and anyone but me arises.
Keeping friendliness (Metta) in my response and intonation probably helped in preventing the situation from escalating further. After all, I can only control how I respond to the external world by taking self-responsibility for this inner journey.
Meditation does not have to happen only one way, at a specific time and in a dedicated space
Rather than going on auto-pilot into our (unwholesome) habits, stop to consider what might have caused the negative response
Try to consciously maintain Metta in the mind, it might help to keep heated situations neutral