I look back at the last decade of my life in retrospection as I cross over to my next decade today. Of the many things that has taken place, beyond the detailed 1,3, 5 & 10 years plan I had written under that tree in Flagstaff Gardens when I was 20. I did not get many of the things that I wanted and had planned for. Instead, I was given many more things that was bigger, better and beyond my own 20 year old capacity to ever imagine and let alone dream of.
Time is rather fascinating, from hours, to months and years – one can’t help but wonder what life would be like without any concept of time? Without any regard of time there will be no such thing as New Years no? But the concept of time, amongst its many other function serves as a tool of reflection, consolidation and integration of experiences into something meaningful. Because man is always out to find and attach meaning to everything that happens to them, Viktor E. Frankl certainly got famous from it, and I am not far behind in agreement.
This year has been nothing short of magical. Cliche I know, but it is one word that I can use with all honesty and still feel that it falls short of encapsulating the essence of 2014. Since it is also the end of my twenties, that “defining decade”, it feels really good to be exactly where I am today, to look back on all the big life decisions I have made to bring me here, and to feel a sense of excitement entering into my thirties.
If there was a word I could use to sum up my entire year it would be blessings. I am infinitely blessed and for this I am endlessly grateful to the Universe and the Higher power that governs it. From the opportunities that came in a steady stream and watching Mind Body Breath grow from strength to strength (with the 2 coolest thing to happen to it was the appearance on TV3 Berita Utama and coverage in Her World magazine), the kindness of strangers, the meeting of beautiful souls and mind blowing connections that transcends all my understanding of what it means to really and truly connect with another person, and ultimately the expansion of a group of people I hold close and dear in my heart.
Delivering a report and having a Vietnamese translator by my side (and discovering that having your presentation translated actually gives you plenty of time to calm that public speaking nerves – woohoo!), appearing on their national news, embarking on this teaching thing full time, sharing my written thoughts with others and seeing on it print, sharing what I love and what I know to others and watching them experience similar benefits and positivity, that maiden trip to India, falling in love with Saraswathi and her energy, discovering the value of parampara, falling head over heels with the entire practice and discovering an entirely new world around it, kick starting a business partnership with a person who is so similar to me in values yet so utterly different in certain worldviews and looking forward to the kind of boundless beauty that will result from this communion.
There were a couple of lessons that became really clear to me which affirms some of my understanding of the world or whatever it was that I may have read from before. I understood the concept of making space by first releasing the things that doesn’t serve you anymore. Magic happens in those spaces. They really do 🙂 I understood every quality that which we love, admire, hate or detest in other people are merely the reflection of the exact same qualities within ourselves, shedding an entirely different light and meaning on my understanding of ‘one-ness’ and the self. And I have also come to understand that the Universe awards you with many, many gifts in different forms and that you would only have to be present and aware when it happens to fully appreciate it. Of the biggest lesson in this though, I have learned that sometimes this gifts are not meant to be kept, sometimes to be let go as immediately as they came, sometimes to not be owned but appreciated as they are, and on other times, to be experienced and then to allow distance from it and to admire it from afar. The challenge that remains for me at least is to learn not to grow attached to any of these wonderful gifts.
Equally as the affirmation occurs, so too did the disintegration of certain beliefs that was accompanied with a lot of questions that was really uncomfortable leading to days of unease and sleeps underlined with meaningless nightmares. I am still questioning a lot of things but I have managed to find comfort in this very uncomfortable process, to make peace with certain things that remains unknown and to embrace fully my ability to question the very foundation of my faith and trusting this entire process in and of itself. Certainly these questions arise from within for the mere purpose of drawing one closer to the self.
here is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which growshigher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apartE.E Cummings
I have been struggling with defining MY own version of success for a little while now. If you had been following my writings in the past 4-5 months, you will see this has been the main theme running throughout the past entries. Truth be told, I had been so fixated with the idea of success which I had formed in my early 20s that letting go of this rigid definition of success became a starting point to which I began to question what truly, and absolutely matters to me.
My TTC last September-Oct was not the starting point to reconstructing my own idea of success, but it was definitely an enabler which opens up a floodgate from which passion, interest, and the desire to serve others were rekindled. Since the conclusion of the TTC last Oct, I had been teaching beginners-intermediate Hatha Yoga to a handful number of mostly women. Women who are my close friends, my colleagues, and also strangers that faithfully walked through the door of the multipurpose hall every Saturday to attend the sessions that I lead.
The more I teach, the more humbled I am. I know for sure, joy for me resides in the light that shines through the eyes of these women as they slowly open their eyes from their final Savasana pose. One weekend ago, a woman who had been practicing her shoulder stand with the support of a wall eventually pushed off and held her pose on her own. As I was assisting another person from across the room, she let out a tiny squeak and soft “wheee” as I am sure the exhilaration of mastering something new washes through her.
When she eventually got out of the pose, and 5 breath of Matsyasana later, she rolled back up and told me “I did my first shoulder stand at home this week, and I was so excited I nearly wanted to call you straight away”
I smiled to what seemed like a HUGE grin, as a big ‘WOW!’ moment reverberated through my mind. In that moment, I know everything thing that has brought me to this very moment, was absolutely, and totally worth it.
Maya Angelou once said – Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
I have not reached that point in which I can crystalize my own idea of success so coherently into one sentence as that. But I know it comes pretty close. And I have this suspicion that it has something to do with sharing what I know of yoga to the masses so that they too can journey through their own lives in the most peaceful & rewarding way possible.
All the same, the more I teach the more I feel that I am learning of the essence of humanity, what drives people? what is important? where are they now and where do they wish to go with their own lives?
I came across a powerful advice from the words of Sri T Krishnamacharya who is also the man responsible for the sparking the birth of Ashtanga Yoga and Iyengar Yoga (both Sri Patabhi Jois & Iyengar were his students). He said “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other”
Thus serving as a constant reminder that to teach is not always to dump all your knowledge onto the next willing passerby, but to consciously form the understanding of where the other is at that very moment and structuring the next 75-90 minutes of your time together as it applies to them. And if I can do this, and have the same desired effects from every single person that attends my classes, that to some degree, is success to me.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what life would be like for me in 10 years time. Not so much in the essence of a 10-year plan but if I was to visualise what life would be like at that point of time, what will I be doing? who do I have in my life?
Obviously, all of this is sparked from that one conversation I had sometime towards the end of 2012 which I had written of in one of my previous posts.
The big mother question of “what is my Dharma? what could be the thing that I am meant to contribute to mankind during my lifetime on earth?”
Coincidentally, one of the women who turned up on my Saturday classes that I had been teaching consistently since January told me about an ashram in Nashik, India. Upon further Googling (don’t we all love technology) that night I found out that they offer a 1 month yoga therapy teacher’s training which will place emphasis on healing through yoga.
I thought to myself, perfect! This will be my next adventure!
Just before heading to bed, thoughts filled with excitement, possibilities and imagination it occurred to me that by going through with this plan, I could eventually combine all of the things that nourishes me, and finally come face to face with the desires that I have rooted since young.
Fascination with dance, movement of the body and desire to express through movement
I have always loved the idea of being a dancer. The grace that all dancers posses and bring to the stage, be it a ballet, or a hip hop performance and the ability to manipulate their bodies in order to express and communicate their emotions to the audience leaves me in awe and pure admiration. Yes, this is where I admit my favorite reality tv show is So You Think You Can Dance. Everytime there is a stellar performance, where the dancer, the choreography and the music culminates to perfection, I get goosebumps.
Someone once commented that I have the body of a ballerina. And I silently added to that sentence, “only that I can’t move as one”. Through yoga though, I eventually found a medium in which I can move according to how I feel, and it is now one of the channels I use to ‘unload’ some of my residual emotions which alone, I could not have worked through.
The desire to help people be their best self, the desire to heal
As a young girl, my favourite TV shows were Chicago Hope and ER. Not much has changed since then. These days I catch Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice whenever I have the time to do so. I always thought I would be a medical doctor someday. In high school. biology was one of my favorite subjects and I would be one of those annoying ones that gets overly excited on days that we are due to dissect some sort of animal parts. One of my best memories of Biology was seeing a pair of cow’s lungs and watching another classmate blowing through a tube to inflate it. Gross to many, completely fascinating to me.
Through the years, I find the things that leaves me feeling strong are when I can positively add value by helping another person to feel better, be it about themselves or about a specific challenging situation. I realised I liked helping people. And I realise to a certain extent that has been the one common thread that has been guiding me through the all the critical life decisions I’ve had to make concerning my education and my career. It explains why I was obsessed with the kind of work that United Nations Development Program are involved in, why I spent 2 summer breaks interning with them, why I got a Masters in Social Development. It is what that has guided me into a job as a public health consultant, and now, a change management consultant.
People fascinate me, helping them and seeing positive changes in them, enlivens me. So the thought of being able to combine my love of movement on the mat together with the possibility of helping to influence people to make healthier, better choices towards a more empowering life felt like I had just discovered the solution to a very complicated algebra question.
Which then brings me to my next realisation, your dharma should not necessarily be something that you have to search for, sometimes it is already there, always have been a part of you, just waiting for you to piece it all together and come to a realisation that this perhaps could be what your life’s purpose is.
Growing up, the thought of making money and becoming exorbitantly rich never really crossed my mind. And then those teenage years came and when I entered high school I was inducted to a world where my friends were being dropped off at school by their chauffeurs , where their parents were members of coveted golf clubs so we got to dine there at a great discounted price and where every girl I knew wanted to look like the girls that appear in the Seventeen magazine.
Sometime in Uni, determined not to bend to this delusional demands of the crazy society, I remembered telling myself that I will always do what I love, and the money will come. Do what I love, and the money will come. And so came my first job with a reputable bank, the money then to a young 21 year old seemed plenty, the bonus, jaw-dropping. Then again looking back, I’m convinced it was due to the novelty of going from a student who earns zero income to a 4 figure sum that suddenly appeared in my account one day.
But I came home crying to my parents, I remembered sitting in the living room and just balling my eyes out telling them how unhappy I was whilst the both of them look on with the most bemused expression on their faces. A year shy of employment, a partial scholarship offer from the University of Queensland and after a fateful meeting with R, then the Resident Representative for United Nations Development Program, I handed in my resignation letter.
Then came my second career path as public health consultant. The people were great, and I got paid what I had asked for. The job were various, and meaningful. I was even given free reign to construct and conduct my own social research. But I could never shake off the tinge of worry that perpetuated every time my mum brings up the fact that the employees I chose to work for is NOT a large, world renown MNC, hence how can I be possibly building a promising career track that will bring in recognition and status? On occasions relatives or family friends asked her where I work, I would always detect a tinge of embarrassment in her answer and quick diversion to a different topic .
2 years into it, and at a time when I began to questioned every single thing that forms my system of beliefs, I wrote my second resignation letter. This time to join a global consulting firm, at a 15% paycut and a slight demotion. Why? These days I believe it was mostly driven by the need to make my parents proud, so that they can answer with pride and a beam in their faces when someone asks them about their first born daughter. At that time though, I was driven by the need to learn, to achieve, to be someone. I was drawn by the 2 months bonus (which ended up having me tied down to the company for 2 years, a move that in hindsight always gets me shaking my head wondering why I was so gullible). I endured 2 years of long, gruelling hours that sometimes stretches beyond midnight, zooming down the Federal Highway because everyone else is already home and probably sound asleep in bed, being screamed at for a whole 2 hours in a glass room that obviously was NOT sound proof, and eventually finding refuge from a lookout point in a women’s toilet at a client’s site.
I am still here though. Enduring still, long hours and perpetual feeling of having completely no idea what I’m doing and why I’m doing it for. Just recently I had gotten the promotion that I felt I had sacrificed many mealtimes, shed many tears, and swallowed many antibiotics for. Never in the history of my career had I fallen sick so often. I have made the responsible, young adult decision that this is stability. This is safe. This will lead me to a house ownership and financial freedom. But will it? And at what expense?
Yesterday I wrote to my friend on BBM – “I always thought more money will mean a little bit more happiness. But I am SO unhappy right now. Why is this so??”
Last week our annual bonus was credited into our accounts. I took a look at the sum, and though for the first time I saw a 5 figure sum that actually wholly belonged to me, I felt nothing. Except perhaps a deep sense of dissatisfaction. Not because I am ungrateful for what I got and what I have, but because I felt what I had given up, is not being compensated as equally. My health, my sense of wellbeing and the confidence of being sure in what I am doing, how do you compensate any of that with a figure in your savings account?
And yet again I confided to my dad, that even with all this supposedly “good” things that are happening to my career, heading to work in the morning feels like a march towards my grave. I know what I want, and it is what I had felt while I was away in Koh Samui. It is what I feel now when I lead a yoga class with clarity and peace. It is true, that everything that shines will not always be gold. Sometimes it resides in the simplicity of just being in the moment.
Beyonce performed “I was here” at the United Nations World Humanitarian Day, and let me tell you, this is one of those rare songs that gave me the chills AND made me tear at the same time. Click on the play button and you’ll see what I mean.
The song has since received 4 million hits, and it was put on Youtube a mere 10 days ago. It reminded me of the very simple fact that every one of us has the ability to create change, be the change and contribute towards a better world. Even in the smallest gesture.
But more importantly, and oddly enough, this song brought forth all the things that I forgotten from my early 20s. The desperate wanting of achieving something important, doing something remarkable and meaningful, and the yearning to have a direct association with the United Nations as my employer. Yes, almost everybody who is involved in the international development and non-profit work knows the breadth of influence United Nations has these days is questionable. Gone were the days when Kofi Annan would deliver a convincing speech, and developed nations would willingly join forces towards peace. Heck, even Kofi Annan can’t seem to stop the Syrian conflict these days. Ask the general bystander if they know who Ban Ki Moon might be, and a blank look will follow suit.
Still, you cannot deny the awesome feeling that entails (or maybe it’s just me, nevermind, let’s just pretend you know that awesome feeling I’m talking about) when you answer that all too familiar small talk question – “Where do you work?” or “What do you do for a living?” with “I’m a programme officer for [insert any one of the UN bodies here]”
I remembered a time when my attempts to get one foot into the UN door kept failing. And a heart-to-heart conversation with one of my mentors made me realise that getting into the UN was the ultimate for me. Sure it was a goal, but it should never be viewed as a Point B, the be all and end all of everything else. So what if you are not in United Nations, or you don’t work in the office that manage Global Fund and Bono is on your speed dial? That does not mean you can’t make the life of a single mother in your town happy by dropping in for a chat, or the child esteem a little better by helping him/her with their homework.
S, my lovely boss and mentor who cried and sobbed through her farewell speech for me when I left 2 years ago once told me “It is how you feel about yourself on your deathbed that matters. Before you leave this world, you want to feel like you have given your everything to have a life that you are proud of leaving behind”
I was here,
I lived, I loved
I was here,
I did, I’ve done everything that I wanted
Nevermind that you have had heart breaks, disappointment, and a lot of people saying “No” to you. You might not be helping to provide clean sanitary drinking water to the children in India today, but that does not mean that you will not ever do so in this lifetime. Nevermind the tears and the frustration that sometimes follow a burning ambition that is not quite met. It does not mean that it will never be met. The very fact that you are here today, right here, right now, allows you the power to do something about it. To do everything that you have ever wanted, and to do it with all your heart.
This video was blogged about by a fellow yogi-blogger whom I had been following recently. And I have to say, watching it was not only a joy but it became a true highlight of my very long, and very challenging Monday. This was such a breath of fresh air at the end of a long 14 hour day at work. And what a relief it is too.
Tell me that you did not tear up as you watch the transformation in this man, and his sheer determination to walk and run again, all through yoga. I would have to say though, there were parts which I wasn’t sure I would be capable of doing myself had I been in his shoes – those headstands that ended up crashing into the cupboards behind him didn’t look too fun, neither did it looked anything too safe. But he defied all that and found himself capable of walking unassisted and running at the end of 10 months.
What an inspiration this guy must have been to so many others, but to me this video spoke volumes on a number of things the obvious one being the many benefits that one can experience from consistent practice of yoga. Then there is persistence, and absolute faith in yourself that no amount of toppling over from an inverted triangle, crashing over backwards from a supported headstand gone wrong, or even losing balance from the various warrior positions could deter you from trying again, and getting better with it over time.
The message here is crystal clear, when you believe in yourself, magic happens. It happens not because of some cosmic blessing, but simply because there is complete and absolute belief that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. There are a million destinations you can arrive at in life. And a million more made possible if only we see past our own doubts and fears. A quote by Ambrose Redmoon that was repeatedly used throughout Srinivasan Pillay in his book on fear and its function in molding the human brain quickly became one of my favorites too – “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear”
I have been practicing yoga irregularly for the last 5 years or so, of which time I have never gone past the fear of breaking my neck (then again who does?). Which really means any poses that require me to be in an inverted position is something that I have been able to avoid with much success. I know this won’t be possible when I begin my teacher’s training course in September. I know most definitely lots of handstands and headstands and ploughs will be in the horizon. Watching this guy crash over backwards while he is upside down taught me that..heck, if he can eventually manage an unsupported headstand, who is to say that I can’t too?
There’s a million constellations and this is one
There’s a million destinations and this is one
There’s a million ways to show your hand
There’s a million ways to prove yourself –
Kaiser Chiefs (Listen to Your Head)