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.
My favourite lines from my favourite film.
And so he told me his secret formula for happiness. Part one of the two part plan was that I should just get on with ordinary life, living it day by day, like anyone else.
But then came part two of Dad's plan. He told me to live every day again almost exactly the same. The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing. Okay Dad, let's give it a go.
And in the end, I think I've learned the final lesson from my travels in time, and I've even gone one step further than my father did. The truth is I now don't travel back at all, not even for a day. I just try to live every day as if I've deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.
Some say people can't change.
Past behaviour is somewhat indicative of future behaviour, but not really.
Seligman says the best way to find out what I will do next Sat is not to look at how I spent my last Sat.
The best way is to ask me directly what I plan to do next Sat.
That's why you can't judge people by what they are doing today.
It is the movie playing in their heads that determines what they will do.
What movie is playing in your head? Is it a story of success, love and respect?
Recently I've been watching episode after episode of "Botched". It's the most fascinating thing. It caters to my curiosity about medicine and the personalities on the show are so interesting. It seems there are many people who really want attention and don't know how to get attention other than to be different physically. There are some people who want really big breasts and enjoy the attention that big breasts bring. I suppose each to its own. We all want to feel accepted and be worthy of someone's attention and affection. Some of these individuals do not want to be just another ordinary person which I totally understand. It comes from the belief that you have to be outstanding, extraordinary to be deserving of love. If you can't be unique in this one way, then be unique in that other way but the bottom line is to be unique and not just the girl/boy next door. It's a human condition to feel less than unless you have this and that.
It's kinda funny though because there are also characters who are born with imperfections and all they want is to look normal so whatever flaw they have is de-emphasised. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe we're just never satisfied. We want to be normal in this way and extraordinary in another way, maybe it's all just code for we want to be loved more and we think whatever change we need will get us that extra love.
Recently I watched the documentary "Anelka". I have never heard of Nicholas Anelka previously but mainly because I'm not a football fan (although I have heard of Thierry Henry). What's very interesting about the documentary was learning about Anelka's personality. First, he's an introvert. There is usually this presumption that introverts are calm and at peace because they keep a distance. However, he's emotionally all over the place. When he's triggered, he blows up. At the same time, he's the loveliest father who tells his kids he loves them every day. It's a very interesting personality.
Although I don't know much about football, it didn't seem right to me that he kept moving clubs. Every one or two years, he's sent to another club. I really wonder if it was due to people around him who didn't have his best interest at heart. He's so freaking talented and it's a shame that he wasn't able to play to his maximum potential. I guess that happens. Not everyone maximises their potential. You need a good group of people as your support system to be the best version of yourself. I am however impressed that he's very independent and don't care too much about what other people think. He's now living in Dubai with his family and seems very happy to be with his kids.
There is only one mistake you are making:
you take the inner for the outer and outer for the inner.
What is in you, you take to be outside you
and what is outside, you take to be in you.
The mind and feelings are external,
but you take them to be intimate.
You believe the world to be objective,
while it is entirely a projection of your psyche.
That is the basic confusion . . .
By: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
I've been watching the TV series "New Girl" and I'm learning so much about relationships or life decisions in general. It seems people break up when they realise their partner is not who they want to spend their life with. It doesn't matter if they like them as a person, doesn't matter if they're good looking, nice, warm, friendly, smart or whatever, because this brilliant, lovely person is just not the one. You want to break up so that you can be single and find someone who's more right for you. Interesting perspective. It would require forming an opinion or having a general idea of what you want in life and then knowing that this person does not fit into that ideal. What if you don't know what you want in life?
When I was young, I often answered questions with "I don't know."
My mom and my sister got annoyed at me. They said I was just too lazy to think of a real answer so I just respond with "I don't know."
After that, I became more mindful of how I answer questions and somehow learned that smart people often have an opinion about things. Or French people, who are cool, often have opinions about all sorts of things. So I established a new rule in my head: have opinions even if you don't. And try to be unique and controversial, that will make me more interesting.
I remember once my housemate in London bought some new clothes and I felt compelled to say which ones I like and which ones I didn't like but I honestly had no opinions on the clothes. I just felt like I needed to give an opinion in order to look smart.
Now I have this really bad habit of making people wrong. It's a manifestation of my fear of looking stupid. But then I make people feel bad because I make other people look stupid. It's almost as if I'm hunting for loopholes and flaws in what people say. Whether that's correcting grammar or logical fallacies or whatnot. The purpose is for me to feel accepted by others so they don't think I'm stupid. Seriously, I have major inferiority complex in relation to intelligence - pretty obvious from my high achiever streak. In my attempt to look not stupid, I've successfully managed to sound super arrogant.
The coping strategies we come up with... the original intent is now so far away from the actual current result. Well now it's become a habit, as in I don't even have to actively consciously try to contradict someone, my brain will automatically do that for me. It's a useful skill for my day job but pretty awful for my friendships and relationships. So let's bring the unconscious actions into consciousness and be a little more mindful of when I'm making people wrong. No one wants to be told they are wrong. The customer is always right! Remember, the customer is always right, and you can always add your opinion after agreeing with them. That is if you have a real opinion, sometimes I don't think I have an opinion, it's just a habit, and I say stuff that I may not believe in that much or at all.
It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection. The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race; that we will all cross the finish line; that waking up to life is what we were born for. As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk slowly into the mystery.
I almost feel like I haven't grown up and I'm still figuring out who I want to be. I picked up this book at Swindon in Pacific Place. I wasn't planning on buying more books since I've bought so many recently but thankfully I'm reading quickly but I'm buying more book than I am finishing books...
I was captivated by the title of this book and thought it might be useful for my brother. I read the whole thing in one sitting, within 2 hours. It's a great book. Very easy to read. It's written by The School of Life. There's this passage in the book that was kinda interesting.
"Imagine you are getting dressed -- but you are only allowed to use one hand. It's an intriguing challenge at first and it is possible. But after awhile it's frustrating. It seems so silly not to use your other hand. This little thought experiment is telling us something important. We get frustrated when we can't make use of our abilities."
It also lists out 12 types of pleasures which may indicate what sort of jobs you would be interested in.
1. The Pleasure of Making Money
2. The Pleasure of Beauty
3. The Pleasure of Creativity
4. The Pleasure of Understanding
5. The Pleasure of Self Expression
6. The Pleasure of Technology
7. The Pleasure of Helping Others
8. The Pleasure of Leading
9. The Pleasure of Teaching
10. The Pleasure of Order
11. The Pleasure of Nature
12. The Pleasure of Independence
There are a few of these that resonate with me but maybe the pleasure of creativity attracts me the most. I like doing things in a new way. I like making things better. In fact, when I took that "why" test to figure out my purpose, the result was that I want to make things better. I guess that's why I love taking classes and reading self improvement books so much.
What's your favourite sense?
Smell. I like smelling fresh flowers, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables.
What's your experience of moving at your essence pace?
I feel most at ease with slow walking.
What most nourishes you?
Eating healthy food and doing yoga and meditation.
What color/textures support you?
I like soft pink. Silk comfy materials most support me.
What movements delight you?
Slow sensual movements.
After a period of expansion, how do you like to integrate/rest?
I like to sleep on my big comfy bed that feels like sleeping on a cloud.
What's the ideal flow of a day?
Quiet reading preferably close to nature.
Where do you most like to be?
Close to nature. I would like my own garden or farm.
What qualities of people/places do you like being around?
Calm introspective people. I like quiet sunny places with birds chirping in the background.
What would you like to add to or clear from your environment (including people)?
I like to clear pollution from my environment. I like to add warmth. Wouldn't mind a fire place in the winter.
What are your favourite action verbs?
Wondering and wandering.
How do you most like to play?
Making myself and other people laugh.
I just finished reading this really great book by Jan Bergstrom who studied the developmental immaturity framework (formerly known as codependency) from Pia Mellody of The Meadows. It's a much easier and concise read than Pia Mellody's books so I really appreciate Bergstrom's examples and perspectives. There are five core areas to address developmental immaturity.
1. Loving the Self - Self Esteem
2. Protecting the Self - Boundaries
3. Knowing the Self - Being Real or Authentic
4. Taking Care of the Self - Needs and Wants in relationship with Others
5. Balancing the Self - Moderation
A few days ago I took the School of Life's How to Develop Self Knowledge. They suggested that we from time to time do a philosophical meditation to understand ourselves. In this philosophical meditation, we ask ourselves if there is anything that is making us feel anxious, upset and excited.
A couple days ago I took the School of Life's "How to Enjoy Life" virtual class where the instructor introduced the concept of "radical acceptance". It is the name of Tara Brach's book and the idea is that suffering is optional, pain is not.
Pain + non-acceptance = suffering
Radical acceptance means we don't fight with reality or things that cannot be changes, like the past. This idea reminds me of Byron Katie's "Loving What Is". I believe I read that book back in 2014 but I've virtually forgotten what I learned.
Byron Katie came up with 'The Work' which is an exercise of asking yourself four questions.
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?
I wished that I actually practiced that. Sometimes I convince myself of the worst possible situation and I behave and act as if the worst has happened when it has not and may never. In other words, I suffer for a non-reality, which is stupid and a waste of time.
I learned about the G.I. Fallacy from taking the coursera course "The Science of Wellbeing" from Yale. G.I. Fallacy refers to how wrong it is to think that knowing is half the battle. The moral of the story is that knowledge is not even half the battle. Whoever says knowledge is power wan't quite complete in that assertion.
Therefore, despite reading so many books over the years, I have only improved on my knowledge but not practice. The only way to really better myself is to practice the things I read. Consequently, I have reprioritised my strategy. It's not good enough to just read so I am shifting more of my time and energy into practising what I preach. I'm taking a lot of classes, especially live classes, to practice self compassion, mindfulness and nonviolent communication.
If we could just say, "Here are the needs of both sides. Here are the resources. What can be done to meet these needs?," conflicts would be easily resolved. But instead, our thinking is focused on dehumanizing one another with labels and judgments until even the simplest of conflicts becomes very difficult to solve. NVC helps us avoid that trap, thereby enhancing the chances of reaching a satisfying resolution.