I am a romantic. I want to love someone beyond rationality. I want to love and take care of someone unconditionally, shower him with love from morning to night, be supportive of his goals and interests. The issue with such desires is that you end up giving this big love before it is warranted or natural. At that point, you just become irrational. I suppose that is the trouble with all romantics. We are dreamy and delusional.
I started swimming when I was 4 years old. I used to love art, I had a way with colours. I used to sing and write songs. I was good at maths and won awards for chemistry. The things I used to be good at, I did not develop those skills and they slowly faded away. Bygones. If only I were my own parent, I would've nurtured my child to pursue all my interests. I would tell my child that it is okay to fail and in fact there is no failing, just experiences that enrich your life.
Shelving your agenda is a tactic in relationships where you temporarily delay your own needs to meet those of another. We often get into disagreements where both parties want empathy from the other. When someone is in distress, they are in limited capacity to empathise with another. The more emotionally mature party can choose to 'shelve their agenda' and take care of their partner's needs first. It can sound like "I'm really in need of some understanding but I see that you need me to see this situation from your perspective so let's focus on you first, please tell me more about what's bothering you, I'm happy to listen." You then summarise what they are trying to say and check if you heard them right and then ask if there is more. Partners need to listen and understand before they get defensive and try to explain away why they acted the way they did.
S: But I still love you.
L: So love me.
S: But I miss you.
L: So miss me. Send me love and light every time you think of me... Then drop it. It won't last forever. Nothing does.
There is a book called "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie. I read it ages ago but I didn't understand it at the time. It was during the pandemic that I attended her live sessions and read about her four question "The Work" method that I finally appreciated what she is offering to the world.
Our lives are so full of drama. Especially mine, I hear anger and fear around me growing up. It's so easy to get sucked in and feel like you need to give a dramatic reaction to their dramatic emotions. This year I've learned to take it easy and put that emotional boundary between myself and everyone else. People can freak out and get upset, but "nothing's gonna change my world" jai guru dev.
I have learned to not fight with myself. We so easily dismiss ourselves and chastise ourselves for feeling a certain way or liking or going back to people and things that we are not supposed to, and in that process, we added more hate into the equation. Feelings come and go, and we all make mistakes and like unhealthy things and may not act in our best interest. Just let it be. We're so afraid of losing or looking stupid that we want to control the narrative, we want to make sure the next chapter puts us in the good light as if we were always this consistently smart and good person who was not influenced by any irrational emotion. We blame, ourselves and others, get ourselves all riled up for the injustice we endure.
Byron Katie says "love what is". It means we accept and embrace reality as it is. I said something and made a fool of ourselves. Man that sucks and we move on with life with this information that we made a fool of ourselves. No lessons necessary, no need to teach ourselves new tricks to prevent our foolishness from happening again. It's okay and it was always okay. We accept reality and deal with it as best as we can. That deep pit of loneliness at the bottom of our soul, it sucks, we suffer from that hollowness and what do we do? Nothing because it's fine. So we're feeling lonely, it's not necessary to recreate our identity to get rid of this feeling, especially when it's ephemeral (someone described me with this adjective before, I didn't know you can be an "ephemeral" person). Feeling uneasy, incomplete or embarrassed? Join the club. I find comfort in accepting reality as it is. Without catastrophising, without minimising.
Making peace with reality and yourself is majority of the battle.
Last week I received a few heartfelt thank you's. I still feel a bit weird receiving appreciation from others. My refugee client expressed how much I changed her life and how she went on to change others because of the things I've taught her. How beautiful. My boss also told me how much she appreciates me running a matter and picking up the slack that no one paid attention to. That's nice but I brushed it aside. In emotionally focused therapy, I often ask clients if they can take in what someone said. The irony is that I find it hard to take in compliments myself. It's unfamiliar. I hear it, part of me is happy, part of me questions whether I deserve it. It means I haven't heard right. It means I didn't take it in. These people are trying to express appreciation, which is a form of love, one of the 5A's of love (Acceptance, Affection, Appreciation, Approval, and Attention) according to David Richo, and can I fully receive that love and savour in it?
I have a theory. I think we like other people loving us because it's external validation that we are worthy of love. When someone loves us, we believe them, and we treat ourselves better and learn to love ourselves from the way they treat us. When we say our partner has changed us, it's because they love us and we see that love and learn how we can love ourselves and with more love within ourselves, we are generous enough to love others more. If only we all had the self esteem, self worth and love within us from childhood, we can freely love without being afraid of getting hurt.
There is a type of preserved rose that remains fresh for more than a year. If placed in a sealed enclosure, such roses can last up to three years. These are real roses, not dried, but using a mix of glycerin and other natural plant elements, they stay fresh and plump. This week I have been looking at the feng shui elements for the year of the tiger. There is a corner that would benefit from fresh flowers. Previously, I had bought fresh flowers every few days to maintain luck in that area. It was a lot of work. Fresh flowers don't last for more than 2 days and they start wilting. The very expensive garden roses I bought a few days ago are already drooping. Then I thought, ah what if I bought preserved roses? Preserved roses are "fresh" and do not require water. Will these preserved roses bring the same luck as traditional fresh flowers that I have to replace every 3 to 4 days? We shall see.
My door also opens out to a direction that is prone to gossip and arguments this year. The way to mitigate these risks is to add red to this corner. I had originally bought a red flower wreath for my door, which I think is a good compromise between feng shui and aesthetic. Then I read a few more articles where they suggested using a red doormat, so I caved and bought a red doormat today as well. With red doormat plus red flower wreath, gossips and arguments be gone.
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget then as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely,
with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.
For awhile, I had been making bone broth myself by collecting all kinds of bones and boiling them for hours plus veggies and seafood leftovers. Honestly the results have been patchy and I am really not sure how nutritious the broth is. The past few months I've been making broth from freeze dry powder instead. More precisely, I've been mixing different brands of broth into the mixture hoping it would boost the overall nutrients. I also add two scoops of collagen powder, because why not? It tastes way better than the athletic greens I was drinking everyday previously. Actually I still have green protein powder in my fridge but I think it's only worth drinking if I were still regularly training at the gym. Unfortunately the "lockdown" situation in Hong Kong will probably last for awhile, so I bought an exercise bike and a bench. I already have a trampoline, yoga mat, abs wheel and a pull up bar. May we all stay healthy during these times.
I have a few close friends who are from a different socio-economic background than myself. A few years ago, I asked my friend whether she is envious of the opportunities I get in life. She says no, she is not envious of me because from her perspective, I have a different starting point than her so it's not worth comparing but she is envious/jealous of people from her elementary school or others whose background is similar to hers. That was a pretty interesting perspective to me. I think I am envious of people who have a better starting point than me. I'm envious precisely because the starting point is different whereas my friend is not envious when starting point is not the same.
It reminds me of the time a friend had cited that viral video where someone dressed like a homeless person and pretended to faint at a metro but no one tried to help him but when that person dressed smartly and pretended to faint, many people came to help. The video narrator, and my friend, concluded that this is evidence that people are biased and discriminate based on people's socio-economic status. I don't agree, at least not intentionally. As a pedestrian, I might not help someone who dressed like a homeless person because his problem is more than what I can handle. A homeless person's problem is not merely of sending him on a cab to go back home or to the hospital or calling loved ones. It's a lot more complicated. In order to "save" a homeless person who is fainting, you would have to take full responsibility for another adult's livelihood. Thus, I don't think it's fair to judge random pedestrians for only trying to help someone who's well dressed verses someone who dressed like a homeless person. The difference is not just in the appearance, it is the connotation of what it involves. We want to be productive and impactful and know that our efforts matter. The complications in helping a stranger whose needs are more than a cab ride somewhere is too much to expect from a random pedestrian.
Applying this sentiment further, some people are upset that the same people that are so keen on helping refugees of Ukraine were unhelpful towards to refugees of Syria or Yemen. Is it racism? Is it just due to colour of the skin? I don't think it is that simple. Location obviously matters. Do you get mad at people for volunteering to help homeless people in their cities instead of homeless people in other countries? We obviously try to help those in closer proximity to us because it is easier for us. It is easier for us to take a few metro stops to volunteer at a homeless shelter versus taking a plane to a foreign country to volunteer to save the homeless people there. To be sure, it is obviously important for some of us to make that leap and be generous to those outside of our comfort zone but I am sympathetic to volunteers who are more comfortable in trying to help those who are in closer proximity. One might argue that it is our job to learn more about other people's suffering. I draw parallels where some LGBTQIA activists have high expectations of the public to understand their sufferings. Unless you have a friend who's part of that community, it is difficult to expect someone to learn all about it, in the same way how most people wouldn't suddenly learn all about down syndrome unless they know someone who has that condition.
I would also love to live in a society where people are treated equal and we can demand that of random strangers but our life in 21st century is obviously becoming a lot more sophisticated and complicated. How much knowledge does a person have to consume and how many people's feelings do they need to consider in every decision they make? Certain words we can no longer use because it is politically incorrect or emotionally triggering for some. People are 'cancelled' for using these words or taking actions that cause harm to others. It's as if people are guilty of being a bad person even when everyone agrees that this person probably did not appreciate the potential harm it can caused. It is like intention does not matter anymore. We expect people to know better, if they made a mistake because they did not have the right information, they are guilty because they should have known. It is a crime to be ignorant. I guess ignorance is no longer bliss. Were we always not tolerant of people's ignorance? Is our ability to be compassionate reduced over time?
This year Netflix released The Apprentice: One Championship Edition and it was amazing. Half of the contestants are from Asia, passionate about mixed martial arts or fitness in general and more importantly, the products and presentations were very high quality, at least compared with the UK counterpart. The Apprentice UK restarted this year with its season 16 and the contestants were failing on every task. There are no star contestants and they bicker and blame each other and any "win" is marginal. It is as if the contestants are trying not to lose rather than trying to win, unlike Asian counterparts. In the most recent episode 10, the final six contestants made obviously fatal errors and neither team got any orders. It is just so disappointing. The entrepreneurship or desire to win is just not there.
On this reflection, I am wondering during this pandemic, have we been miserable because we have been focusing on trying not to die? For many people, living connotes trying new experiences, eating at new restaurants, travelling, building a business, making progress on life goals, etc., many of which have been non-existent or scaled back. I have watched previous seasons of The Apprentice UK and there have been star contestants who were charming with leadership qualities. I wonder, if the miserable bickering dynamic of the latest season is reflective of our mental health from the last 2 years of COVID. If I can see this obvious deterioration in these contestants, I wonder if we have generally become more pessimistic and low energy compared to the version of us two years ago?
Did past decisions culminate into the present where you are reading this paper now? You may have the freedom to not read this but since I am living in the same reality as you, and in a linear fashion, I will never know for sure if you actually had the freedom to choose otherwise.
Sometimes I wish I don’t have freewill, then I get to blame my parents and other forces for the way I am. To what extent are my actions determined by my genetic makeup, upbringing, trauma and other limitations that I have no power over? I think we are dealt a set of cards and it is up to us how we play with them such that I am partially the source of my actions. Thus, I agree with compatibilism. Freewill means the freedom to choose, not whether we actually exercised our right to choose. If we are lazy and did nothing with our cards, we still have freewill because we freely chose to be lazy, so we are morally responsible for all our mindless actions where we let the law of nature guide us instead of intervening with our conscious decisions. There is a reality that is completely determined by the past which is the status quo if we do nothing of consequence but we have the power to intervene and change the course of our future. Thus, I believe we should hold ourselves morally responsible if we are absent-minded when we should have been more intentional, and where we should have known the difference between right and wrong.
While physicists have their theories about why our actions are causally determined, and we may never have actual proof that the neurons in our brains behave in certain ways that create our random thoughts and dreams, my anecdotal experience is that there are many moments when we are conflicted about our choices and have made mistakes that we tried to correct afterwards. These moments for me are evidence that we have agency over our lives because we are literally making life-changing decisions. Hard determinists may say these conflicting moments themselves are causally determined but then to me that is equivalent to saying freewill itself is causally determined, which is an unhelpful, circular explanation. To be sure, there are only so many choices I can make. For example, I cannot choose to be a chimpanzee. Within the scope of possible choices, I do have the agency to make specific choices in that scope that changes the outcome of other events.
Contrast this with a computer, which is an absolutely deterministic machine that computes data and has no organic conscience to be conflicted like human beings. All possible outcomes from the computer can be determined based on the codes and dataset we feed it. We are not merely a complex version of computers because we have the freewill to intervene with laws of nature. Thus, my belief is that we generally have freewill and that freewill is compatible with determinism.
The immortal words of David Hume. I've been studying moral philosophy, aka ethics, and it's super interesting. I wished that we all had the chance to study ethics back in primary and secondary school. I sincerely believe that we taught ethics in prisons, the relapse rate will dramatically decrease.
I have been volunteering at the refugee centre for a few months now. Refugees cannot work in Hong Kong but they can study. Despite having access to many resources by way of libraries and the internet, many refugees psychologically feel trapped and do not see the point in education. I enlightened them to the Bard Prison Initiative and introduced them to coursera, edx and free youtube videos on all kinds of topics. The beauty of education is it makes your intellectual life more rich, it gives you more opportunities in life, it allows you to appreciate things and develop more self confidence. Slowly but surely my refugee clients are breaking out of their depression and opening their eyes and exposing themselves to ideas, perspectives, cultures and news. It got me thinking of how education can happen anywhere, not necessarily in a classroom and ponder how I will teach my children. Aside from traditional school, I might arrange for my own homeschooling curriculum, in which case it might be more efficient to have a few more children.
In the summer of 2005, I had the privilege of completing a few mini-pupillage placements at some chambers in Lincoln's Inn. I distinctly remember being in a room full of Oxbridge men and then there was me listening in, eager to learn and feeling proud that I'm surrounded by intellectually sharp minds. The barrister route never happened for me, for good reasons. I'm intimidated by people who speak well. I suppose I can speak well if I wanted to but it's against my style. I like being casual and natural and speaking my mind. The whole slick and humble approach is quite repressive and not expressive enough for me.
There's a liberal arts college in New York state called Bard and it has been teaching prisoners in New York for years with private funding. It's known as the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) and there's a Netflix documentary about it. It's so inspiring. I'm seeing these prisoner-looking people in jumpsuits articulating ideas so eloquently and intelligently, speaking in mandarin and Spanish, writing papers, citing philosophers, debating about the ethics of stem cell. They're crazy intelligent. It's like a boot camp. They go to class from morning until late and then they get together for group projects in the evening. They debated other colleges including Harvard, and BPI won! Maybe because they are incarcerated so there is less distraction and they can focus on reading or maybe because the professors are just that captivating and these people have never learned these things that the professors are teaching. An education, it's so important isn't it? It gives them a reason to live. They want to graduate from Bard.
It is just so inspiring. I love school. I love learning. Watching them learning all kinds of topic from science to culture to philosophy, I'm envious. It's such a beautiful thing to learn. It also shows you how a great teacher can really change your life. The opportunities you get in life can make or break you. A talent with great potential to become a scholar did not become a scholar because he was a poor teenager and he committed a robbery that went haywire to survive.
"A certain hospice worker talked about accompanying hundreds of people in their dying process, and one of the greatest regrets she heard expressed over and over by those on their deathbed was that they had not lived true to themselves. We can spend a whole lifetime trying to meet the expectations and standards of ourselves and others and end up never having lived our own lives. The Persian poet Rumi asked a question that remains relevant today: do you make regular visits to yourself?"
Do you feel a sense of accomplishment from finishing a book? I like starting books before finishing the ones I'm reading. Sometimes I read a few books at the same time. Then maybe after a few weeks I finally focus and concentrate on one book and finish that in whole in a day. I've read some pretty books. Especially during those times when I meditate and do breathing exercises everyday, my brain was absorbing information at a high capacity and I was able to read really quickly. However, it takes awhile for concepts to sink in. It's through repeating and practice that we can embody certain concepts. Being super productive, sometimes I find it a drag to reread things I've already read but if I didn't pay enough attention or process enough then it is worth rereading. I've reread this one book three times and every time I learn something new. With good books, good content, it's worth savouring it and rereading and reviewing over and over and juice everything out of it.
Yesterday my clinical supervisor gave me a book about self esteem published by Sounds True because we're planning a series of group therapy sessions on self esteem. The book is a collection of chapters from different writers and at the top was Mark Nepo, a name I hadn't heard in awhile. Two years ago I went to the inaugural Sounds True conference in California and met Mark Nepo in person. I'm reminded of the story that he told and the post that I made afterwards.
Mark Nepo told a story about a monk on a long journey alone. To cross the many rivers the monk brought with him a raft. After many weeks and months of carrying this raft it occurred to him that there are no more rivers to cross. He looked at the raft and remembered all the rivers he crossed with it and said "I would rather burn you in reverence than to carry you with resentment" and with that he left the raft behind and continued his journey.
The moral of the story is that many things in life, like the raft, were so useful to us at one point in our lives, but one day we may find that they no longer serve us and have now become a burden. We may hold onto things for sentimental value but it's hindering us. Maybe it's better that we let things go, the people we were once so close to, the promises we made that had meant so much to us, when they no longer help us get to where we want to go. What are you holding onto that you can let go?
I once flew to Johannesburg for a weekend of safari. I managed to book three game drives from three different parks. On that Sunday morning, I was at the Lion & Safari Park. Me and the park ranger were alone in a closed vehicle inside the lion enclosure. If you don't know what a lion enclosure is, it's basically a plot of land surrounded two electric fences. It's basically a bigger cage for the lions so that they don't run out and eat other animals. Think Jurassic Park.
So 6am, it's still dark out, me and the park ranger were inside the lion enclosure shining a flashlight at the lions and talking about what they eat, how they sleep, etc. Suddenly the park ranger got super distressed and starts telling me to back off from the windows and start making loud noises to scare the lions. I was just like what the hell is going on? Apparently, she saw the lion ears go up and walking towards us, which could mean that the lions are stimulated and may try to open the door and attack us.
Thankfully, nothing happened in the end. Once the lions got bored and went away, I was keen to get the hell out of there. I was freaking scared. The day before, I was super relaxed taking photos next to lions only 2 metres away at another park. But after this lion enclosure experience, I am now afraid of lions.
A couple years later, I was in Kenya for a safari and I was really struggling with the lions. There were prides of lions hanging around; while everyone else took their cameras out and got super excited to see them up close, I was freaking out. Chris Germer, the cofounder of mindful self compassion was near me and I sat right next to him because I was freaking out. He told me, hey maybe now you can have a corrective experience.
Corrective experience. It means experiencing a previous trauma but this time you feel safe. Security, safety, is of the utmost importance. With trauma, one good experience is not enough to be corrective. You need repeating good experiences for it to be corrective. Whatever trauma you are dealing with, you need multiple corrective experiences to change your neural connections but it can be done. Thank God for brain plasticity.
Once upon a time, I wanted to be nutritionist. Truth be told, if time or money isn't an issue, I'd still like to become one but hey I only have one life and I've lived awhile. So back in 2014, I was actually enrolled in a master degree in nutrition policy and took some classes on macronutrients. I learned about protein and stuff but it was never brought to my attention that protein is so freaking important! Now that I'm training at least three times a week and building muscles, I'm taking protein and collagen supplements. For most of my life, I think I accidentally did the keto diet and intermittent fasting because I never ate breakfast and ate a lot of meat and very little of anything else. The thing with protein is that we have to keep eating protein every few hours because we don't keep it and it's good for building muscles and skin, hair and nails. I wish I knew earlier so that I can stock up on protein for better skin and better health. I've been skinny fat for a few years now and now I'm hoping to build more muscles so that the percentage of fat is lower in comparison. I just wanna be stronger. I've always wanted to stand tall, walk tall and have better posture. Here's hoping I build loads of muscles this year and still look super youthful and healthful.
My favourite book series as a teenager is the collection of teen novels by Melanie Stewart for Generation Girl, which was one of the brands for Barbie. It’s set at an international school in New York featuring Barbie and her classmates and friends.
I have been to New York many times before. I used to visit almost once a year and every time I went I schedule all kinds of events packed full from morning until evening. One of the more memorable times I went is in 2008. I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn, walking distance to the examination hall for the New York Bar. I was jetlagged so I woke up really early and got breakfast at a diner. Back then, even getting a coffee at Starbucks was glamorous. I really wanted to live in New York. It represented a dream, a lifestyle, success, excitement, all kinds of positive feelings. I used to keep a US one dollar bill in my wallet to remind myself to live in New York one day.
I spent a few days in Brooklyn for the NY bar exam. I remember walking out early for both the morning and afternoon sessions. I learned my lesson before. When you have too much time on your hands, you start changing correct answers for wrong ones, so always go with your first gut feeling and once you’re finished, leave, don’t look at your answers again. After Brooklyn, I stayed at a hostel in New York. It was so run down but it was all I could afford on my meager assistant salary. I can’t believe people spend over US$100 a night on hotels, let alone US$200. I didn’t want to do all the touristy things so I ended up just walking around the city, as if I could absorb success and luck just by circling the buildings. I thought being a New York attorney would be amazing. I couldn’t even believe that I was eligible to sit for the bar.
Those days I really didn’t understand the world and I guess I still don’t. So many things seem so magical and so out of touch. I added so much meaning to things. I guess I am a romantic. Sometimes I feel like I make certain life decisions as if I’m building a third person character in a novel rather than thinking of me myself as me.
Recently I finished reading this book about LTCM and I was very fascinated by how power and greed distracted these geniuses at LTCM and the folks from the banks from appropriate risk management. I guess there is FOMO. No one wants to miss out on making big bucks that everybody else is making.
Although the loss at Archegos is nowhere near as much as LTCM, the coordination and cooperation among the banks there were pitiful. To be fair, the bank cooperation for bailing out LTCM almost fell apart a few times, too. With the pandemic raging this past year, the international cooperation among countries was also terrible. Are we all just becoming more nationalistic, protectionist, self-centered and selfish? Is that the global trend?
The quality of your life is the quality of your habitual emotions.
Pain is a part of life but suffering is a choice. I'm going to choose to live in a beautiful state everyday no matter what.
The author of "Educated: A Memoir" Tara Westover said "You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them. You can miss a person every day and still be glad that they're no longer in your life."
Love is just love. We love people. We give them that for free and then you decide whether that's something you want in your life. The alternative is to say that I'm going to change them and then I'll have them in your life. That's not love. That's not what love is. It's not the power that it has. We accept the fact that we need them to change in order to have them in my life and whether or not they change is something we have no control over.