#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!


#WW: 🤭And…I wish I didn’t say that

#WW: 🤭And…I wish I didn’t say that

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

We often talk about finding love. However, it is rare to talk about how we can maintain love. With Valentine’s Day just flying pass us, how do we maintain relationships? (Clue: It has nothing to do with creating catchy couple hashtags). Here are two stories we have got for you today!

1. How to not screw up your relationship with poor communication

2. Overthinking? This horse’s advice might help you

How to not screw up your relationship with poor communication

purple and yellow abstract painting
Unsplash: Poor Communication

What’s going on here

Nawal, an Instagrammer who talks about neurology, shares four ways we can screw up our relationships by communicating wrongly. Avoid the four horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Use the antidotes she recommends!

Why we like it

Nawal places the 4 things to avoid in a relationship in a very accessible manner with the solutions to them. We all have tendencies to fall into one of these traps especially when talking about difficult topics in a relationship/friendship. Don’t kick the can down the road and engage mindfully and holistically!

“When the conflict becomes too much to handle, people might fade out of the conversation by turning away, staying quiet, replying with one word, or completely ignoring the partner. This is ineffective because it’s an evasive response where no problems are solved.”

Wise Steps

Be very mindful of any of these horsemen in your relationships. Capture them before they capture you

Read it here or below

2. Overthinking? This horse’s advice might help you

woman covering eyes with hand
Unsplash

What’s going on here

A Grenfell Firefighter shares how he overcomes overthinking by borrowing a quote from The Boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse. He shares how that quote helps us to shift from a huge far-away goal towards our next step.

Why we like it

“Think long term!” can sometimes be jarring advice as we navigate an uncertain world. This Tiktok video helps us to prioritise what matters now and reduce the overthinkers in us.

“We look at how long a journey it is and feel overwhelmed. Instead of thinking of that. Just go right, I am not going to worry about that because that will come”

Wise Steps

Sometimes we tend to tie our self worth to huge outcomes, crippling us from taking the first step. Maybe just start by taking the steps ahead of us!

Enjoy the video here or below!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Keeps Sending You Messages…Are You Receiving Them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ticking The Boxes Of Society

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

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

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

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

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

Monologues And Realisations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wise steps:

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

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

  • Whenever there is an inclination to place a source of pleasure on something or someone, pause and ask “is this right action based on right view?”
My 3 Lessons Learnt From LDR

My 3 Lessons Learnt From LDR

TLDR: Surviving a long-distance relationship is not easy and some say it’s a work of art. It requires firm conviction with a goal in mind, effective and mindful communication as well as the willingness to compromise.

“Hey, since you are enlisting soon, aren’t you afraid of long-distance relationships (LDR)?”, “You are going to Tekong, how is your relationship going to survive?” 

These were the exact words directed to me when I enlisted back in 2016. I am certain I am not the first to receive such comments. As a terribly unromantic person, I had concerns about keeping the relationship going. 

Thankfully, despite the distance, my partner and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary. We have emerged stronger and closer than ever before.

Before sharing my observations, it’s crucial to note that LDR has the disadvantage of being subjective. Hence, no single manual works for everyone.

Nevertheless, I hope my 3 observations provide a brief guide to survive the “apocalyptic nature” of LDR.

1. Sharing Commonalities

It’s a common misconception that sharing commonalities means sharing common interests and hobbies. Of course, when both parties share the same goals, values, interests and hobbies,  this alignment ideally benefits any relationship.

What happens when interests diverge? Do relationships naturally break apart due to the lack of shared passions? 

The sustenance of a relationship need not be based on shared hobbies. My partner and I are on the opposite ends of many spectra. I am more liberal while she is conservative; she is idealistic while I am pragmatic. Touch is her love language while I prefer to take a step back. 

We do not share many common interests. I find her interest in Korean drama stodgy while she sees my interest in books boring. However, we share the common goal of tying the knot. To me, having an end goal in mind is crucial as it sets the relationship’s foundation in place.

The author & his partner celebrating their 5th-anniversary over dinner

With a firm foundation, both parties can erect pillars to grow their relationship.

Just like the black pepper tree that requires a stake to lean on to grow, every relationship would require a pillar with a firm base. This helps in both managing conflict and strengthening communication.

Many conflicts in relationships arise from selfish thinking and rash decisions made without consultation. Working towards the goal of marriage, my partner and I discussed issues ranging from career pathways, education prospects, investment and housing plans, and even which side of the family will look after our future kids. 

We thought that if we aligned from the start, there is less chance of being in a rude shock when communication falters. If one individual was prepared for marriage but the partner refused to be tied down, it would end in eventual separation. 

In the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship, having a pillar of shared commonalities mitigate squabbles. A firm foundation realigns us back on course if we deviate.  

Living in a separate time zone, I often take Singapore’s safety for granted and forget to check if she is back home safely from work. A conflict might arise if there is an assumption of me lacking the effort to show concern.

Now and then, we clash over ‘trivial’ pickings. I would much rather have these ‘trivial’ arguments than have her suspect my intentions when I am abroad. This is because she knows that we have marriage as the end goal.

By doing so, trust is built. We may argue over the ‘processes’ but never the outcome. In turn, she understands that I live by the Buddhist’s 5 precepts and thus has the faith in me to do the right thing. 

2. Mindful Communication

Communicating effectively is a crucial aspect of any relationship. The willingness to communicate effectively. At the start, it was difficult. We were both used to the physical presence of one another. 

From meeting up and chatting all day to not even chatting at all on some days was tough.

As a result, we fought a lot more. However, we realized what we fought over was not due to the absence of physical presence. What we fought over was the lack of effective communication.

Effective communication entails presenting your views, feelings and values in the way best understood by the receiver. I was not doing that. When we spoke, my replies were often monologue, indirect and anti-climactic. I was merely regurgitating what happened throughout the day and mainly talking about “myself”.

I assumed that sharing my daily overseas routine would keep the conversation going and promote understanding. These assumptions proved to be wrong. While it is instinctively in our nature to talk about ourselves to feel a sense of validation and sympathy, boredom eventually sets in and attention wanders.

Such boredom or agitation is a result of your neural receptors being starved of the attention needed to feel a sense of self-validation.

In simple terms, people don’t always want to listen to everything about you. 

My self-esteem was boosted at the expense of my partner and it soon became one-way traffic where our communication was living off the other. There wasn’t an outlet for her to express her daily discontent or the opportunity to talk about “herself”.

Being aware of this, we made the effort to rectify it and that has helped us tremendously in our LDR since. Be mindful of the tendency to unconsciously fall into the “Self-Appreciating trap”. We unintentionally fall for such traps because we are not mindful of our speech. The lack of tack in our speech tends to cause offence, which may gravely affect our relationship. 

The Buddhist teachings of the noble eightfold paths include right speech as one of its core tenets. I view right speech as not just abstention from telling lies, slander or abusive language but also mindful speaking. 

Being aware of how we speak and what we talk about, clear boundaries are set.

As I hone my mindfulness, I started talking less about myself and presented my partner with opportunities to speak up. Our communication soon improved and became a two-way street.

Moreover, incorporating mindfulness in our everyday speech and actions allowed us to be considerate of one another’s needs.  

By practising mindfulness, we have transformed the way my partner and I communicate and have mitigated many potential flashpoints. Until today, even when I am studying abroad, our communication has improved and that boils down to being aware of how we communicate.

3. Put in the Effort & be Willing to Compromise

Humans can be selfish. However, we humans can cooperate too. Each partner can coexist in a relationship but opt to pursue his/her interest. Be it to flaunt the relationship as social status or to be satisfying sexual needs. If one is not putting in the effort into the relationship and is bent on pursuing his/her own “selfish” endeavours, the relationship is unlikely to last.

It takes two hands to clap. For the couple to succeed in a relationship, they must put away their differences, identify potential weaknesses and cooperate to work towards the goal.

If both parties share the same commonalities, then the relationship has a set goal.

However, the outcomes only become real if the process is set in place and acted upon through effort. 

This involves compromising on some of your interests for the relationship. For example, living in different time zones, I had to stay up past midnight and she would wake up early to skype. Although this does not seem like much, it reflects two points in maintaining a healthy LDR: 

Firstly, we both share the same commonality and are willing to put in the effort to achieve it. Secondly, that process meant that both parties had to compromise, forgo sleep, etc to keep the relationship growing. 

My mentor once mentioned, “Sharing similar hobbies doesn’t necessarily make the relationship work, it’s about you putting in the effort to settle your differences and make sure it works. It’s important to note that every relationship is a collective effort. Both parties must be prepared to put in the effort and willing to sacrifice some short-term interest for longer ones.”  

Closing Thoughts

Undergoing an LDR or any relationship for that matter is no easy feat. Our relationship had to overcome numerous obstacles and social stigmas. However, our relative success can be attributed to these 3 takeaways. 

These 3 lessons must be seen as complementary to one another and not mutually exclusive. Like me and many others who have gone through LDR, it’s not going to be easy but it is possible if one bears these 3 lessons in mind. In any relationship, it always takes two hands to clap.


Wise Steps:

  • Develop commonality in your relationship on how you envision it to be and the dreams you hold together
  • Practice mindful communication with your partner by avoiding the ‘self-appreciating trap’
  • Be willing to compromise, even if it means putting your ego & interest aside.
How Seeking To Balance Everything Nearly Cost Me My Relationship

How Seeking To Balance Everything Nearly Cost Me My Relationship

TLDR: Be mindful of the underlying metaphors that shape your view of relationships. Relationships are not transactions to be balanced out, but collaborative artworks that are infinitely deep. Give selflessly with no expectation of return. Ironically, this is also how you are rewarded with beautiful and deep connections.

My Journey Into Seeking ‘Balance’

I am not sure which came first – my fascination with order or obsession with building card towers. Either way, this childhood hobby created an attraction to balance. I recall many Chinese New Year holidays where I would eye decks of poker cards and make mental notes to squirrel them away as building blocks for my castles and city blocks. 

And though I certainly delighted in the splendour of a make-believe cityscape, my deepest absorption was reserved for the delicate balancing act of 2 plain poker cards, repeated ad infinitum.

Years later, this hobby faded away, leaving a faint but indelible psychological imprint. This shaped the way I arranged my academic life, family time and relationships.

My secondary school life was the first proving ground for this worldview. Friendships were cordial, positive and respectful. I excelled in group discussions, where everyone gets proportionate air time. I was a reliable team member in group projects, where I always put in my fair share of work. 

Being a natural listener, I made sure to listen and speak in equal measures, I was an easy conversationalist who struck up many acquaintances. Favours were always reciprocated. All these made me an uncontroversial choice for the class monitor, and eventually the consortium council chairperson.

Everything stood in beautiful order, and I played my discrete role in this tower of cards to the tee.

When Balancing Everything Frays

And yet, these neat, clean lines showed signs of fraying. Somehow, I was deeply unsettled in more personal settings like stay-overs and class barbecues, where our roles and lines blurred into a confusing mix of funny personal stories, boyish mocking and crude jokes. This discomfort didn’t entirely stem from a growing sense of moral superiority.

Even as a council chairman, there was an invisible wall that separated me from the rest of my executive committee. This wall thinned during official meetings, thickened in informal work sessions and get-togethers. Was I drawing my boundary lines too thickly and sharply? Could they be drawn any other way?

Someone once told me that life will keep teaching you the same lesson until you learn it. In my case with relationships, the lesson first came in pricks and then bludgeons.


Who Should Pay for The Food?

We were at a Bishan hawker centre filled with the usual lunch crowd. I parked our bags down on a recently vacated table and signalled my girlfriend to buy our lunch. She hesitated a moment and then merged into the crowd. I sensed something was off but brushed it off.

Later, on our walk home, with eyes downcast, she remarked with a touch of resentment that she had paid for our meal.

“I footed the last few bills, isn’t it only fair that we split?”, I protested almost immediately. In my mind, our 2 poker cards had started tipping over, and her paying for our last meal tipped them back into poise. At that moment though, something else hung in the balance.

“Yes, that makes sense dear, but in our relationship, I had expected you to pay for the meals.”, she said softly.

That comment hit a deep, raw nerve, setting off an emotional quarrel about values and equality, a quarrel that did not resolve when we reached her house. 

I turned away, fuming, without so much as a goodbye. She later called, apologized for the comment, and we agreed to an uneasy truce that we would split our couple expenses down the middle.

Like a hastily plastered band-aid, this agreement tided us through easy and safe couple activities over the next few weeks but tore apart in the face of the truly difficult issues.

When Seeking ‘Balance’ Spirals into Pain 

We were talking about settling down, and the question of who was paying for the house naturally came into the picture. I wanted us to split the expenses proportional to our income; she wanted me to shoulder the entire cost. This was the meal payment quarrel all over again, on a larger magnitude.

Almost immediately, the same disagreements erupted with greater fury. We argued for weeks, with frustration and mounting anger.

I was adamant about following the principle of fairness, of staying true to the idea of gender equality in treatment and contributions. 

I was taken aback by her outdated concept that males should be the leader of the household. She wanted to be assured that I could provide for the family and felt insecure about her economic future because of her hip condition which might render her wheelchair-bound in a few decades. Above all, she sincerely believed that relationships shouldn’t be about transactions. The house of cards was coming apart.

In a moment of darkness, after what felt like our umpteenth call that ended in logical logjams and emotional breakdowns, I seriously wondered if I had made a wrong choice of partner.

Uncovering The Author of My Pain

What hurt me the most was how this recent row contrasted with the deep sense of connection and resonance we shared in every other aspect of our relationship. How could such an otherwise beautiful and stable relationship crumble so quickly just because of a crude matter of dollars and cents? 

Our shared vision of a future family, the beautiful child we dreamed about, the cosy home we talked about all felt like naive lies we told ourselves.

Tall, black walls of emotional anguish enveloped me. Our house of cards was being demolished.

She called again, I answered.

“I had been thinking. If we can’t agree on such a fundamental belief, then perhaps, we might not be meant for each other,” I said quietly. She paused. In that heavy pause, the whole world ground to a standstill.

“Why would you…why would you say that?”, she managed a feeble reply, in between muffled sobs.

Right there and then, it struck me how much pain I was causing myself and her. It struck me that the way out of this impasse was not more incisive logic. It struck me that perhaps, just perhaps, I had dead-ended in a maze of my creation.

“Actually, you know what,”, I sighed a breath of relief, “I’ll pay for the house.”


The Givers, The Takers, and The Matchers

When I came across Adam Grant’s work about giving, it gave voice to my growing realization of how my metaphors for relationships had stretched beyond its limits. 

According to Grant, there are 3 broad types of people, namely givers, takers and matchers. Givers derive immense joy from giving to others, takers burn bridges by asking for favours and not giving back, and matchers always seek to balance every favour and thing. If it is not already obvious, I was a true blue matcher.

Though matchers may seem the most pragmatic in this dog-eat-dog world, it is the givers who experience the most unbridled joy in their relationships. 

Rethinking Balance and Seeing Artwork in Relationships

If anything, my most intimate relationships have taught me that this metaphor of balance between 2 people hinders deeper connection. This idea of balance creates a  misconstrued duality between the self and others.

Perhaps a more enriching metaphor is that of a collaborative artwork, where every single brushstroke, regardless of who it came from, adds to the beauty of the infinite, ever-deepening whole. Give selflessly without any expectation of reward, and ironically, you will be rewarded with the most breathtaking and meaningful masterpiece.

If you are wondering, these days I generally pay for meals and she foots the other bills. This is not so much a calculated arrangement as an organic evolution in how we express our contributions to this piece of art we call our relationship. 

We also don’t keep score anymore, but it does seem that somehow, we end up shelling out equal amounts at the end of the day. Maybe, just maybe, the 2 cards don’t need the straining attention of this recovering matcher to balance after all.


Wise Steps:

  • Review how you view and treat your relationships. Are you a giver, taker or matcher?
  • Evaluate if your relationships are where you want them to be. Are they a source of joy and beauty? If not, what are the underlying reasons?
  • In your most important relationships, think of 3 ways in which you can give selflessly, solely for the joy of the other party. Act on them as soon as you can.