Monday, 30 June 2014

Nothing is too small to make a difference (Part 2)

Touches my heart, every time. If everyone does good without asking for returns, wouldn't the world be a much better place?

Don't settle for just good, aim for great!

If you have the ability, why not? Believe in yourself!

Having faith is...

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” 
~ Alan Wilson Watts

Dealing with success with humility and gratitude

Often we downplay our own successes, to not appear conceited or that we don't think it's much. But every little success does count, and we should give ourselves credit for it. Though not in a bombastic, self-promoting manner (you know how you get put off by those who hoot their own horn over nothing?). Here's an article that promotes a holistic way to celebrate success, that not only lets you feel good about yourself, but also lets others feel good too. The bottom line? Gratitude =) Have a good Monday, everyone!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Nothing is too small to make a difference

Listen more, talk less

When there is no lack in your heart...

"Be content with what you have. 
Rejoice in the way things are. 
When you realize there is nothing lacking, 
the whole world belongs to you."
~ Lao Tzu

The power of love

"There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.
~ John Lennon

"The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it's in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I'm caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me."
~ Ram Dass

p.s. "in love" refers to embodying the idea of love (acceptance of what is, and seeing life as a miracle), not being in a romantic relationship.

Let your light shine through

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

~A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

Friday, 27 June 2014

Treat everything as a miracle

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." ~Albert Einstein

Focus on the abundance in your life. Every experience is a mirror of your inner thoughts and beliefs.

Further additions with a quote from a reader, E, and my response:

A quote from an old film (Joe Versus the Volcano):
"My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement."

Isn't this so true? When you're thinking of the negatives, you're focusing your energy inward, into your small being, just as you do when you're asleep, trapped in a state of unconsciousness. When you see the world as a miracle, you focus your energy and attention outward, just like one does in a state of wakefulness.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Why child-like wonder can be good for you

This talk did not only open my eyes to how babies think (which is actually really fascinating), but also supports why having an open mind and child-like wonder is good for learning! Indirectly I think it also helps to explain us why being present in the moment, not being distracted by focused thoughts (your thought bubble above your head), helps you experience the world better.

Anyone can change the world

Do you think that you're just one person, you can't make a difference? Do you think that only the privileged and rich can make a difference? Think again.
Below is an example of how anyone, no matter which walk of life they origin from, can change the lives of many. All it takes is a good, well-intentioned idea, determination, and hard work. And watch it snowball into something big.

So why not you? =)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Manifest Desires Freely by Having No Expectations

Sharing the following article:
It explains how to live with desire yet with no expectations, an extension of my previous post

With no expectations comes an open mind. With an open mind, one can see possibilities in both 'success' and 'failure'. One is not brought down by what could be perceived as 'failure', because the term 'failure' simply refers to an outcome that was desired. Without a desired outcome, one is able to see the big picture more clearly, and be guided by what truly happens, instead of being bound by what we think should happen. 

Quoting the key message from the article:
"The only expectation you need is the expectation that everything is happening for good and not evil in your life. You can expect good no matter what the outcome seems to be.

The best way to live life is to be like a little child, having no cares and expectations. You are just doing what brings you joy and expressing yourself fearlessly in every moment. You completely accept yourself and whatever is happening without judgment. You are trusting that you are always provided for and there is nothing that is stopping you from attaining all that you truly desire. You are free to live fully in the moment without worrying about the future."

Awareness of the present

"Our suffering stems from ignorance. We react because we do not know what we are doing, because we do not know the reality of ourselves. The mind spends most of the time lost in fantasies and illusions, reliving pleasant or unpleasant experiences and anticipating the future with eagerness or fear. While lost in such cravings or aversions, we are unaware of what is happening now, what we are doing now. Yet surely this moment, now, is the most important for us. We cannot live in the past; it is gone. Nor can we live in the future; it is forever beyond our grasp. We can live only in the present. If we are unaware of our present actions, we are condemned to repeating the mistakes of the past and can never succeed in attaining our dreams for the future. But if we can develop the ability to be aware of the present moment, we can use the past as a guide for ordering our actions in the future, so that we may attain our goal."
~ S.N. Goenka

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Be yourself (Part 2)

"We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own or to other peoples' models, learn to be ourselves, and allow our natural channel to open."
 ~Shakti Gawain

The power to shine lies within you

You were born to shine, to fly, to dare, to dream. You are brave and worthy and loved. Risk being loved. Never let fear decide your fate. Connect with your inner strength. Have confidence. Push your inner boundaries. Experience EVERYTHING with gratitude and joy. Never allow your light to dim. Choose happiness. Be your authentic self and do it proudly. Share your love and light openly, passionately, honestly, and gratefully.

Credit: Creig Crippen

Thursday, 19 June 2014

It all starts with the first step

Everything -- a major breakthrough, a big project, the way to a better life -- starts somewhere. All you have to do is take that first step, no matter how daunting it seems. Taking the next few steps will be easier after that. 

Priming your brain to enhance productivity

We are always looking to increase our productivity, but did you know that what you do during your first few hours, even before you start work, can influence how productive you will be over the course of the day?
The following article addresses the priming effect, something that I practice as well (without realizing the concept before).
Be warned, it is a long article, but worth a read.

As an example, have you noticed that when you start the day angry/upset at something, you can't focus well at work? Alternatively, if you start the day cheerful, you get more done?

You don't need to jump out of bed excited all the time, but you can force yourself to smile until you feel better (fake it till you make it). Or use some of the tips outlined in the article above. Some personal examples: I make sure to relax with a good cup of tea (English Breakfast and Japanese Green tea are my favorites) in the morning with a healthy breakfast, so that I start the day on a good note. Sometimes I play happy music to get my spirits up in the morning. Or dress up in bright colors to feel good about myself and lighten my mood. If I feel upset or flustered for any reason during the day, I take the time to step back for a few minutes and meditate. Relax your body, and your mind will follow. Remember to breathe. 

Priming is more powerful than one might imagine. Don't believe me? Give it a try.

Life is like a dream (Part 2)

I had a moment of enlightenment the other day, that I would like to share.
My epiphany: Life is like a dream.
What does that mean?
All our desires, all our expectations, all the ideas we hold on to, things that rock us up emotionally (inciting hurt, fear, anger), are nothing in the grand scheme of things. When the moment of intense negative emotion is over (ie. when you 'awaken'), you will always look back and think how silly it was to have felt and responded as such. 

All things are temporary, impermanent in the flow of life. Yes, even the emotional triggers that we perceived to be important to us (pride, ego, expectations). No matter how we may react to a situation, time and life goes on. However, how we decide to react (or not react), changes how our own life can change. React negatively, your life changes negatively. React positively, your life changes positively. Or even, choose not to react (!), accept things as it is, absorb the experience, and then release it. Be a passive observer. Learn from the experience, be grateful for it. Reflect within why you may be perturbed, question your own triggers and response. Resolve the trigger internally so you won't be perturbed by it again*. Your life changes positively in this case too.

Our expectations are a reflection of what we lack in ourselves. Be the master of your happiness, heal internally, and you will lose your expectations of others. Our suffering and pain is the result of the divide between our desires and reality. Only by bridging that gap can we reduce that suffering. And the way to do that, is to accept and embrace things as is. 

Acceptance and letting things go doesn't mean you lose hope. It only means you trust that things will happen in their own way in their own time. You do the best you can, accept your own flaws and perfections, while living in the moment.

* Triggers may stem from childhood wounds. You can heal them. It's never too late.
**Thanks to Kat for the enlightenment.
*** Now I know why I liked this song so much. The answer was there the entire time! 

Additional note: 
Your suffering is the result of an identification with a sense of 'self' and its entitlements, which contribute to expectations and hurt. When you lose your sense of 'self' and see yourself as part of a bigger picture, you will not be perturbed as much. You will be able to see and accept things as they come, without feeling that events/actions are targeted at you (at a personal level), and accept that people act on their own will and desires, and react according to their own level of woundedness. 

An article related to why we should avoid having expectations:

Fake it till you make it

I wrote earlier about how wearing a mask that is not your true self may not be a good thing. However, in some cases, if you are looking to improve, especially in an aspect that is challenging (such as self-confidence, letting go of emotional pain), wearing the mask you wish to become can accelerate your progress. In short, fake it till you make it. Amy Cuddy puts it across well in this TED talk, where she uses body language as an example.

Dedicated to my friend Ag

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Adversity makes you a better person

Life's challenges and down-times are times to help you improve and learn. Embrace the pain, use it as your motivation to improve. =)

For Ag. =)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Find success and fulfillment in your work

Sharing an article on how to find success and fulfillment in your work:

As a preview:
"There are three things you can demand from your work:
  • Work you're good at
  • Work you love
  • Work you can be paid for
Extraordinary success comes to those who will not settle for less than all three."

Enhance your productivity

Sharing an article on how to increase your productivity. Tried and tested by yours truly.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The gratitude exercise

Want to know another trick to happiness?
Try doing this gratitude exercise!
At the end of each day, write down one thing (or more!) that you are grateful for from that day. It can be as simple as that nice man who held the door for you, or as significant as your mentor who guided you in your work. Try it, and you will find yourself feeling better about your life!
Today I am grateful for my PhD advisor for being a great mentor (I was writing a recommendation letter for his tenure process and recalled all the things he has done for us in the lab). The other day, I was grateful for my aunt who taught me the meaning of zen and altruism.

What are you grateful for today? =)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Don't afraid to be yourself (Part 2)

From one of my favorite authors, 幾米 (Jimmy Liao) !




English translation:

A mask isn't that scary.
It is simply a disguise, a tool to protect oneself.
The only thing you should be scared of is, 
After wearing the mask for too long,
When you finally take it off, 
You realize that, your own face
Has become the same as the mask.

Healing your childhood wounds

Do you sometimes wonder why you react to certain situations the way you do? If and when you reflect upon your behavior, do you feel bewildered at the impulse or lack of reason? Was there an experience in your childhood/past that might have led to that 'instinctive' response? Is that triggered reaction having an negative effect on you or your interpersonal relationships?

For example, were you teased as a child for being plump? (This is especially common in girls.) The dip in self-esteem can carry onto adulthood, where you will always feel that you are never slim enough to be attractive, and you refuse to believe your loved ones when they tell you otherwise. 
Were you scolded as a child for not learning concepts fast enough? This can manifest as an innate need to always have to prove yourself, that you must understand everything right away. And if you can't, you beat yourself up mentally over it, and think you will never be smart enough.
How about single word triggers? If someone used a word or phrase in a hurtful context when you were young, do you notice yourself reacting badly whenever the same word or phrase is used, regardless of the situation?

It might be time to heal your childhood wounds. 
Only by recognizing and facing your past hurt and inner demons, can you learn to counter the irrational reactions, achieve peace of mind, and stop the triggers from affecting your quality of life. It is not an easy process though. It requires delving deep into your past to search potentially painful memories. It is likely that you might cry in the process. It may require forgiving someone who hurt you in the past. But believe me, if you go through this self-reflection process, you can leave behind your hurt and emotional baggage. Your quality of life will improve. You now have the power to stop your past from hurting your current relationships, whether with your parents, friends, or loved ones. You now have the power to simply react (or choose not to react) to the present as it is, without the shadow of the past.

Healing is not an overnight process. It takes time, but simply being aware of the triggers is a good first step. The second step is having the ability to mentally check yourself whenever you react instinctively. The third step is to move on from the hurt. One approach is to imagine meeting your wounded past self at the time of the event, and tell him/her that everything is OK now. You are safe now. You will not be hurt or judged the same way. Things are different now.
Every little step counts. So why not start today? Stop letting your past define the present.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Don't be afraid to be yourself

Often we feel like we have to act in a 'normal'/'accepted' manner, though that may not be our true nature. When we do that, we can feel uncomfortable in this mask that we wear. The conscious effort also drains our energy, which can be better used elsewhere. Therefore, isn't it easier to stand up against what you perceive to be 'norms', and simply be yourself?

Let me give an example. In a field such as scientific research, being critical of other people's work is an important skill. However, some people take it too far by becoming cynical. For a long time, I interacted with quite a number of individuals who were not only cynical about other researchers' work, but all aspects of life as well. Even though my own personality focuses more on seeing the good in things, I felt a need to 'fit in', and picked up the habit of being cynical myself, not just at work but also in life sometimes. I thought that was the way to excel. However, I always ended up with a bad taste in my mouth, and felt uncomfortable on a subconscious level. I eventually became less enthusiastic at work, as it became mentally draining, a sign I took as a mismatch in interests. Just recently though, I brought up this 'problem' to a good friend, that I was doubting my path in science because I could never be truly critical, as I was more adept at seeing the potential, rather than shortcomings, in others' work. My friend asked, 'Why is that a problem? Why not treat it as a strength?'. As I mulled on his question, I recognized the source of the cynicism that was making me uncomfortable in my own skin, and weaned myself of this poisonous 'habit'. Being able to act naturally, I now feel so much better and lighter in my own being. I no longer feel bad if I am too positive or idealistic (within reason), and I feel happy about it. Being able to act in my true nature gives me more energy to focus on what is important, instead of trying to be something I am not.

So, why not be yourself? If you want to do something, go ahead and do it your way! If you want to randomly laugh at something silly, laugh! Who cares what other people think? (Don't act like a maniac though, of course.) They are not you, and they might not understand you, but you only have one life, and do you really want to live it as someone you are not?

Life is a dance you choreograph. Be brave, dance like nobody's watching =)

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Enjoyment through a state of flow

What kind of activities make you truly happy? Do you derive the most pleasure from extremely challenging, or extremely easy tasks? Or from activities that you have control over, versus those that you cannot control? 
It turns out that there is a state called 'flow', when your skill level (which gives you control) and the challenge of the task complements each other optimally, giving you a feeling of ecstasy as you progress through the activity. At such a high level of enjoyment, time also loses its significance (there is no sense of time passing, or stress of time constraint).
This concept is applicable to all aspects of life -- work, fun, human interactions.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the meaning of flow nicely in the following TED talk.

You can aim to achieve a state of flow in what you do, to derive the most pleasure from it. For me, I reach a state of flow when I bake, dance, play the piano, make presentations about my work, and write on this blog. =) Of course, the state of flow is not always attained quickly, as you will need to build up skill and experience at the task to be proficient enough to enjoy the challenge. For example, I learnt dancing and the piano for >10 years, hence it is natural to me now. It also took me 2 years of graduate school to really enjoy making presentations. On the other hand, if your skill is too high, boredom can set in. In that case, try to look for a more challenging version of the task to tackle (such as learning a new piano piece, a new recipe, or increasing the quality of your work).

Where does your flow lie?

Make your dreams come true

Friday, 6 June 2014

Letting go of control

Today I just want to share an exercise that I am currently undergoing: learning to let go of control.

I admit that I am an instant gratification person. I think fast, I react fast, and I want results fast. It is OK if I only expect it from myself. But the problem is, I used to expect others to be that way too. I also expected people to think and feel like I do. And when I didn't get what I expect, I suffered from disappointment, and strain in my relationships. 

Thanks to conversations with a good friend, I recently came to the realization that I need to learn to respect that other people think, feel, and act in their own time. I had thought that I was an understanding person, but boy, was I so wrong. Yes, I can empathize, but I did not fully understand that everyone runs by their own clock. By respecting that, I can understand them more. With respect and understanding, comes acceptance of who they are. With acceptance, comes the removal of expectations. With no expectations, comes an open mind. An open mind lets things happen in their own way in their own time. An open mind removes stress upon ourselves, and upon our relationships. An open mind also invites appreciation of what truly is.

It is not an easy process, but I believe that this will vastly improve the quality of life. If you are like me, I invite you to join me in this learning process! =)

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Girls, love yourself

Women are always bombarded with messages from advertising, magazines, other women, that they are not good enough. So many of us lack self-confidence, we wish we had longer legs, slimmer faces, bigger eyes, smaller waists, clearer skin. But we always forget that beauty isn't just skin deep. 
We need to learn to love ourselves for who we are, and stop comparing ourselves to that supermodel beauty capturing the eyes of all the men in the room. We have our own beauty, if only we can see it. Only when that happens do we really shine. 

I dedicate to all women out there who feel they are undeserving of love the following song by Sara Bareilles, a lovely woman in her own right. 

p.s. I wrote earlier about what makes a woman beautiful.

Don't count the miles, count the 'I love you's

Are you living far away from your family, or loved ones? Are you studying or working abroad? Are you in a long-distance relationship?

I was driving to work today and this song came up on the radio, Christina Perri's "Miles". I was thinking of my family and my grandparents then, and the lyrics "Don't count the miles, count the 'I love you's" really spoke to me. 

Whether you are far away or close to people you love, the distance does not reduce your love for each other. In fact, the distance makes you treasure each other more. Living abroad for so many years, I have never felt distant from my family. On the contrary, I have learnt to communicate more with them, and appreciate their presence, whenever I am able to spend time at home. I miss them a lot sometimes, but knowing that they are loving and supporting me from afar keeps me going. Because, one day, we will be together again.

Distance makes you lonely sometimes, but it shouldn't drive you and your loved ones apart. Lack of communication would. If you are missing your family, hang in there. I feel you. Let each other know how much you care. Count all the 'I love you's, and treasure every moment that you can spend with each other. Love transcends distance.  

You always have a second chance

Tinybuddha posted this today. How true!

"If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down." ~Mary Pickford

The quote above was reminiscent of what my friend, Max, told me many years ago, when I was upset over failing a test (I had never failed a test before in my life). Hearing that made me get back on my feet immediately, and try again with more fervor. 

I hope this does the same for you! =)

And just copying a response from one of the readers:

Nothing is impossible!

A quote from the all-time beauty Audrey Hepburn. Believe in yourself! =)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Let not the behavior of others destroy your inner peace

A few days ago someone I was close to got angry at me regarding something that I had not informed her about. When I first heard the news, I was very distraught. I even felt angry at her for misunderstanding me, and for imposing her own expectations on me. But after a brief moment, I told myself to calm down and questioned why I was so affected by her behavior. I tried to see things from her point of view, and I regained my inner peace. I stopped myself from blaming myself (not miscommunication) and her (for getting angry) for the inner trauma, and managed to communicate with her over the incident. With calm words, everything was resolved quickly, and we understand each other better now. But this incident was another reminder of how easy it is to over-react, especially when you care very much for someone. Imagine if I had lashed out at her and called her stupid (something I would have done quite easily in the past)! Luckily I calmed down and thought through what really happened. Just another reminder that we can control how we feel and react to situations. When we take a mental check and remove strong emotions, we can see things more clearly, and regain inner peace, which is also important for regaining peace between ourselves and other people. 

*Note that letting your emotions take over is usually satisfying at that moment, but often lead to regret in the long run.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Do unto others what you want done unto you

Just sharing a personal mantra today:

"Do unto others what you want done unto you" ~Confucius 

From a selfish point of view, this is a way to have your efforts reciprocated.
When you are kind to others, others will be kind to you.
When you help others, others will help you.
In short, karma. What goes around, comes around. Treat others well, and others will treat you well too. Harm others, and others will harm you too.

However, expecting returns does not always bring peace of mind. With expectation, you will always find yourself thinking, "When will I get rewarded?" 
While I believe in the goodness of human nature, I, however, do not promote the expectation of reciprocation. In fact, I advocate for removing any expectations. Why should you, if you are acting purely from the goodness within your heart? Personally, I act as I would, should I encounter myself as another individual, in a world driven by my beliefs and values. In other words, I simply think, "What would a second me do if that was me in that situation? What would I like to be done to me?" 
Therefore, when I see a friend in need, I always extend a helping hand. Not so that I can exchange the same kind of help in the future, but simply from a place of love and caring. When I see an unemployed man homeless on the street, asking for any form of employment or help yet not aggressively begging, I buy him some food while offering some kind words and encouragement. Our lives will likely not cross in the future, but that would be what I would be grateful for if I were in his position.

I am not a perfect person, nor am I trying to be self-promoting. But I do think that when you do what you believe is good and right, you will feel happy about your own being. Your own actions fulfill yourself, and you do not require another's validation for your own happiness. You act true to your values, without any regret or guilt from holding back on what is right. You also spend less time and energy second-guessing your own actions, or worrying about someone else's opinion about you.

I believe that this kind of selflessness* and not having to worry if you are worthy of anyone else's love and kindness, is the origin of true happiness.

And who knows, just by living happily and being kind, you may touch another's life in the process. That, in itself, is another form of happiness. =) 

Have a good week ahead!

*Also promoted by the Dalai Lama. I will write about some of his lessons in the future.