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Goodbye…and hello!

February 24, 2012

Dear readers,

Since the creation of this blog on 22 March 2007, I have had over 79,500 views of my 222 posts and 64 pages, and attracted 634 comments on this site. When I first started blogging in 2007, I didn’t realise that my words could attract so much attention. This site has launched me into a variety of opportunities: offers to publish my work, requests for me to commission projects, and not to forget, the invaluable opportunity for me to share my stories and experiences online to an international audience.

One opportunity that has arisen is to begin to turn my random blogging into writing that (hopefully) serves a purpose to my audience besides just entertainment. After considering the problems that prevail in modern life, I’ve decided that  my next website can be tailored to exploring how to find peace and contentment within the hustle and bustle of the rat race. I present to you ‘Little Piece of Calm’: http://www.littlepieceofcalm.com

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you, dear reader. You’ve encouraged me to pick up my pen and encouraged me to take a different perspective on how I see life so as to share it with as many people as possible. So thank you, and I hope I can see you at my new site, ‘Little Piece of Calm’.

With love,

Tina Ng

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How to Deal with Conflict

September 15, 2011

I deal with conflict every day. Professionally, I deal with other people’s conflicts, but I can’t escape from conflict in my personal life either.

Someone once say to me that conflict arises when you put more than one person together. I say, that conflict happens even when there is only one person – after all, conflict doesn’t only occur when we are with others; it happens within ourselves as well.

I haven’t got all the answers to resolve the world’s conflict, but I would like to share what I have learnt about dealing with others’ conflicts and our own.

I have learnt that there are different skilful ways of dealing with conflict – consider when, where and how you should approach it. Always be open to the possibility of not dealing with conflicts as a way to deal with them. Sometimes, time is the best healer, and letting raw flaming emotions subside may be the answer on its own. If action is required, don’t be afraid to take it.

When you decide to act, consider your intention. Do you want to discuss how you’re feeling or thinking because you want to be understood? Do you prefer to leave emotions and feelings out of it and towards resolving the issue? Is the conflict your problem, the recipient’s problem, or both? Are you trying to gain something for yourself, or to help the recipient, or both? Try to be as neutral and honest when answering these questions. Really, do you want to resolve the conflict for your sake, or that of others? Depending on your answer, it will change your approach to the conflict.

You should also think about whether you are ready to deal with the conflict. This requires an honest reflection about yourself and your capacity. If all goes well, that is good. But if the conflict is not resolved, or is exacerbated, will you be ready to deal with any consequences. If your actions are merely to prove your point, are you ready for the recipient to speak his or her mind about your possible contribution to the conflict?

Choose a suitable time to do it; consider not only your mood, but the receiver’s mood. The best time isn’t when you need to talk, it’s also when the receiver is open to listen to you talk. You may need to drop a hint to the receiver that you want to discuss something important with them by scheduling a time to speak to them. This would give the receiver some time to collect their thoughts, without feeling like they have just been sprung upon and immediately bring up their defensive shields.

It’s important to create a ‘space’ to resolve the conflict. Often moving away from the immediate battleground to a neutral environment helps, such as in a park over coffee or in a restaurant over lunch. You may want a place with minimal distractions, or if you’re afraid the talk won’t go well, you may find a place where distractions are around in case you need to change the topic. You may choose somewhere more comfortable, such as at the receiver’s home if that is what the receiver prefers. You may decide somewhere more formal may be required if you’re trying to negotiate with someone on uneven grounding.

The ‘space’ that you create is not merely the physical environment. It is the presence that you give to the receiver when they are with you. For example, sometimes you may see couples in a world of their own as they sit for hours in a busy and noisy restaurant, oblivious to the mad rush around them. That is the space they have created for themselves.

Self-awareness is key. You need to know how the conflict has come about (whether you have contributed to it as well), how you want it to be resolved, and what you want the recipient to do in order for a resolution to take place. So often we just want to complain and make the recipient feel bad for what they have done as punishment, but if the recipient asked us what could be changed, we cannot answer them.
Just as important is an appreciation of the recipient’s motivations, and an objective assessment of their actions and how their actions contributed to the conflict. Sometimes we may start accusing the recipient of a particular intent or the way they act towards us, only to hear an explanation that makes us pause and reflect on how absurd our interpretations of their actions have been.

Flowing on from this is an understanding of the conflict itself. One question that a lot of people don’t ask because they too readily assume the answer is: what is the actual conflict? Many of my clients say they want something, but when I talk through the practicalities of what they want, they realise that’s not what they want at all. We can then discuss the different options in getting what they really want, and seeing whether the other party would agree to the new option.

To give a more concrete example, I remember doing a particular exercise during my mediation training. Group A was given a sheet of paper with what they wanted. Group B was given a different piece of paper with what they wanted. They were then asked to negotiate to get what they want. The groups then commenced negotiating on the number of eggs they should receive from the other. Of course, the groups got nowhere because there was no middle group since they were just negotiating on numbers. The best outcome they thought they could get was a 50/50 split. No one looked outside the square. No one asked the other group the crucial question: what did you want the eggs for. If they did, they would have realised that Group A needed the egg whites for a secret formula, and Group B needed the egg yolks for their special recipe. If they had asked, then they would realise that there really was no conflict at all, and both parties could have left with getting 100% of what they wanted; not just 50%.

To take a real life example, it is not uncommon for separated parents to fight over the frequency each parent gets to see the kids. At first glance, it seems as if the parties are fighting over numbers – the number of days. However, every case presents a different reason as to why one parent justifies why the other parent should have more/ less time. In one case, for example, the other parent would not budge on increasing the number of days my client was to see the children. It was only after some discussions that it became clear to me that it had to do with the cost of sending the children to see the other parent. When I suggested that both parties share in the transportation costs, it was a like a breath of fresh air and the negotiations were renewed with much success.

Another analogy I use is about trying to divide a pie. When you look at a pie, you can really only split it in so many ways. However, another way to look at it is to see that this is only one pie. Then I start exploring other options to get another pie to be split.

Another aspect of understanding conflicts is to remember that often in a conflict, what is said and what is meant are two different things. This is particularly true if the conflict is emotionally-charged. Some people may say they want what’s best for their kids, but really they just want to hurt their ex-partner for running off with another wo/man. Without dealing with the underlying issue, any resolution may be superficial, or even unworkable.

Some issues/ people may need you to tackle the issue side on, rather than front on. A well-known method of mediation is to look to any agreements between the parties, and use that as a basis for further discussion. This is a much better starting point that encourages fruitful and amicable discussions, than to start with all the things the parties don’t agree upon. I have seen how even the most stubborn party would come around when I offer something that even they want, without compromising the needs of my client. This requires some creativity in thinking of different solutions/ options beyond just what was initially placed on the table.

Finally, please don’t lose sight of the real antidote to conflict: harmony. Harmony and making peace with others is underestimated in these modern times of practicality and efficiency. Yet, they are so important to a workable world – whether it is the world as a whole, or our microscopic family or office unit. Sometimes by refocusing away from our immediate and self-centred goals and look to the greater good instead, we can place our conflict into its proper perspective and make sense of the situation for us. In all of this, try to humanise the people who you perceive to be your ‘opponent’ in the conflict. Once you dehumanise them, any negotiations and settlement that you come to will be degraded.

So now whenever conflict visits my life, I like to see it as me being in a situation of conflict, but not in a conflict with others.

As for conflicts with ourselves, the same themes of understanding, honesty, harmony and humanity apply. We deserve peace and happiness. We deserve to be understood and given the benefit of the doubt. Like the conflict with others, the resolution of the conflict within ourselves start and end with one person…ourselves.

I wish you all harmony within and without.

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Spring Cleaning the Home and the Heart

September 14, 2011

I never thought too much about spring cleaning until I had a real yearning recently to clean after months of living comfortably with the ‘stuff’ that was neatly stacked in strategic corners of my house.

It seems to me that animals weren’t the only ones who needed to hibernate and feel a need to store up during the colder months. Winter brought with it lethargy, depression and…hoarding.

Spring Cleaning the Home

Then spring comes. There’s something magical about the first few days of spring. Like the light at the end of a tunnel, the warm sunshine brings relief to the months and months of winter chills. The sun cheers up our moods, energises us out of hibernation, and opens our doors to the adventures of the great outdoors again. It makes us see the world in a different light – including our own homes.

So with much enthusiasm, I diligently went through each pile and each piece, rearranging things into their new homes or throwing them out if they were no longer needed. There were times when I hesitated and asked myself, “Should I, or shouldn’t I?” However, after seeing the piles of stuff I had kept “just in case” I might use it one day, but then not really using it anyway, I realised that if I hadn’t used it in the last six months, I wasn’t going to use it ever.

If I chose to keep a particular item, I would store it somewhere to create that sense of order. If I chose to throw something out, then I would do so without hesitating.

Surprisingly, each time I decided to throw something out, I actually felt glad to be ridding it from my life. I didn’t feel a sense of loss, but more of a sense of lightness. After all, the material clutter that surrounds us translates to a mental clutter within us.

Spring Cleaning the body, mind and spirit

Reflecting on this experience of letting go of the unwanted things in my life, I can see that we carry so much useless ‘stuff’ with us wherever we go.

Our bodies are in a continual state of tension and tiredness from the stress that we impose on it. I believe that many of us have forgotten what our bodies feel like when it’s truly relaxed because we have become so used to it in its tense state.

Our minds hold a lot of ‘stuff’ too – worries, fears, anxieties, daydreams, memories (good and bad), and that voice in our heads that is forever commenting and judging.

Finally, our hearts become a safe filled with hardened emotions and emotional baggage, some of which we may have even forgotten we deposited in there until it shocks us when it decides to resurface.

How to clean within

We can use the same clearing process of the physical home with our inner home.

We need to take it one piece from one pile at a time. We can start with any recurring thoughts or feelings that we do not find useful, or even harmful. We need to begin by seeing those thoughts or feelings objectively, because we can never clear anything if we still see it as ‘ours’. You then need to make a conscious choice: ‘Do I want to keep this, or do I want to throw it away?’

If you decide to keep it, then at least you know you have made this choice and you can then ‘store’ it in a place that is comfortable for you. If you decide to throwing it away, then you can visualise yourself letting it go with a triumphant smile. If it helps, you can even write it down what you are trying to rid and then erasing it or throwing the piece of paper away as a symbol of discarding those useless thoughts or emotions.

Surprisingly, we don’t only hoard material things ‘just in case’ we use them one day; we also attach onto a lot of emotions and thoughts in the same way as well. For example, we may hold onto a particular expectation or hope, believing that if we don’t then we would lose sight of our goal or lose our motivation. We may hold onto memories, for fear that should we stop replaying the scene in our heads, the moment would be lost forever. Memories, thoughts, emotions, play an important in our lives. However, if they begin to overcrowd our lives, then it’s a sure sign we need a spring cleaning to de-clutter.

Finally, one of the reasons I need to throw things out is because if I don’t, then I won’t have enough space to bring in anything new. In fact, by being conscious of the limited storage space at home, I become more mindful and vigilant in what I decide to buy. So before I make any impulse buys, I ask myself whether it’s needed and whether I am willing to sacrifice valuable storage space for this item.

Likewise, people fall into an emotional rut or an endless daydream when they are stuck in their old thinking styles. Until they can alter their way of thinking and open up their hearts to change, then it is difficult for anything new to enter into their lives in a profound and moving way. If we can think in this way, the next time that we choose to keep a particular thought pattern or negative emotion, we can consider what valuable space we are sacrificing that could be used to accommodate positivity instead.

Then, like a breath of fresh air in an early spring morning, we can experience a piece of calm and lightness, where our burdens no longer hold us down.

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Wide-eyed Six-eyed

September 12, 2011

I do not have ‘four-eyes’; I have six.

Since I was a child, I have been wearing a pair of prescription glasses to correct my vision. I am lost without it, and have come to see them as forming a part of me. Sometimes, I don’t even realise it’s there (like looking for my glasses when I’m wearing them).

However, since I was born until now, I am also wearing another pair of invisible glasses that warp my vision.

In fact, everyone was born with these invisible glasses. Very few feel it’s there because they have become so accustomed to it. Even fewer ever learn to take it off.

So every day we walk around with these glasses on, and we peer through them at the world thinking our vision is correct. Over time, dust falls on them and clouds our vision. Cracks form and we think our life is falling apart. Colours start to emerge on them that make us like or hate the world around us.

We start to believe that what we see is true and real, and we even begin arguing with others over the colours of the world, “The world is blue!” “No, it is red!” without realising that it is only so because one person is wearing blue glasses, and the other person is wearing red ones. The world itself lies beyond the frames, untouched and unseen.

Sometimes we are able to see life through someone else’s glasses, to understand why they do what they do and why they are the way they are. Yet, to really know, we first must recognise that we are still wearing our glasses looking through theirs.

If anyone tried to tell us that what we are seeing is not real, but merely a coloured perception created by our mind, we may think they have lost their minds or we may even become defensive about the reality that we see. This is because to us, the world behind the lens is the only world we have seen.

Soon, not only do we see the world outside with these coloured lenses. We begin to look at ourselves with the same dirty and cracked glasses. We start to see our flaws and we don’t like what we see. So we don’t like ourselves as a whole. The tears well up and leave spotted marks on our lens that we carry with us throughout the day.

Just imagine if you were able to take off those glasses – even for just a moment – and clean them. Wipe away the grit, the dust, the grime. Wipe away the hurt, the guilt, the anger, the sadness. Seal the cracks to see the world as a whole again, instead of in pieces.

Or even better, imagine if you were able to take off those glasses forever. To be able to see the world for what it is, to see others for who they are, and to see yourself for the person you have become. To see all this so clearly, and not be clouded by your perceptions, intentions, misconceptions, fears, expectations, disappointments, and negativity.

Just imagine what you would be able to see.

Just imagine if this became a reality…to see reality for what it is.

Inspired by an analogy used by SN Goenka at his Vipassana Retreats

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Mindfulness and Multitasking

July 17, 2011

Before I embark on this topic, I first want to introduce some terms, and the best way is by way of an example.

If you are you reading this article whilst chewing your meal, listening to music, or chatting online with friends, you are multitasking right now. If you have to read this sentence again because your mind has already wondered off somewhere else, then you were distracted. Finally, if you are fully here reading this article, then that is mindfulness.

I think this is an important distinction because in the literature I have read so far on the topic many writers have mixed up multitasking and mindless distractions, and then implied that multitasking is “bad”, while mindfulness is good. To them, multitasking and mindfulness can’t go together hand in hand.

Being Present

When I was a first-year law student, I recall sitting in the classroom listening to my lecturer whilst I madly scribbled down notes like everyone else around me. Then one day, the lecturer said to us, “For today, I want you all to put your pens down and just listen to me.” Throughout the class, there was no writing allowed. I remember a slight anxiety creeping up as I kept thinking to myself, “How am I going to remember all of this?” I looked around me and saw other people fidgeting too. One girl even reached out for her pen, only to drop it down sheepishly after she got a “look” from the lecturer.

It took a while, but eventually I just listened. Surprisingly, it took a lot more effort than I thought would be needed to just listen, because my mind would wander and I had to continuously bring it back into the classroom to really focus my mind on what the lecturer was saying. I had to understand what she said, rather than just writing down her words. I had to appreciate each moment I was there because if my mind wandered away, I wouldn’t be able to follow her subsequent logic. After class, students were complaining and even I didn’t find value in it. I felt I didn’t retain much of the information, compared with when I was taking notes.

Then I graduated from law school and became a junior solicitor. One day, I went to court with an experienced barrister, and during his cross-examination, I was again scribbling like mad to ensure I got down all his questions and the witness’ answers. At one point, he kindly told me to put down my pen and just listen. So I did. This barrister got out very detailed information from these witnesses, including dates, times and places for when things happened. He didn’t write a single word down. At the conclusion of the case when he was addressing the jury, he recalled everything in great detail all the evidence to support our case. I was amazed.

Now when I run my own cases at court, I still scribble notes here and there, but the most valuable times are those when it’s just me being present with the witness. Not only do I recall the information later on, I also pick up on body language and the subtle facial expressions that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen if I was too busy scribbling away like mad.

When I reflect on it, I realise that my pen and paper are like my safety nets for fear that my memory will fail me, and they were like an anchor point so my mind doesn’t wander off too far. I now realise why it was so difficult for me as a first year student to just listen: I hadn’t trained my attention, memory and mindfulness. Over time, by exercising my attention and memory, and practising mindfulness meditation, I began to develop this invaluable skill of listening and being present to each moment that arises.

I won’t be surprised if readers find my ‘pen and paper’ story outdated, because by my last year of uni, pen and paper were steadily replaced by laptops. Laptops are probably a more difficult distraction to overcome than writing. Sitting at the back of the class, I can see students flipping between their Word Document and Solitaire game. (This is also before UNSW had wireless internet available to all students, so I can only imagine what students do now.)

When I was studying, I would find myself just checking my email, reading the news, chatting with friends – basically finding a distraction to occupy my mind each time I was bored. In my chill-out time, I would be able to chat to three different people at once online, reply to my emails, pay bills online, and sometimes even clean my room in the process, with music playing in the background. I used to think I was making the most of my time by multitasking.

Multitasking

If you look up the definition of “multitasking”, you will find that it is actually a computing term, in which the CPU executes various diverse tasks concurrently or in interwoven execution. A secondary definition of the term describes a person carrying out two or more tasks at the same time. So the term “multitasking” was first used to describe the function of computers, not humans.

I remember in my uni days I used to argue that humans were capable of doing a few tasks at the same time. Others would argue that the mind can only do one thing at a time. I still don’t have the definitive answer to this, but looking back I realise that we were actually disputing different things (typical bored students) and I now think both answers are essentially correct.

This is because I can do tasks simultaneously (multitasking), but when I do this, I am actually undertaking one task at a time in quick succession. So I am able to listen to the radio while I drive, and file my nails while on the phone. However if I slow down the processes, I can see that my mind is only attentive to one thing at a time. This became clear to me during meditation, when the level of distraction is diminished and the level of awareness is heightened.

With this view in mind, I don’t think that multitasking and mindfulness are at odds with one another. After all, multitasking has become a fact of modern life and as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”

To illustrate this further, let me share a Zen story with you. A Zen master used to tell his students to be mindful of what they do, and his instructions are simply, “When you read, just read. When you eat, just eat.” One day when his students came down to the breakfast hall, they saw their Zen master reading the newspaper over breakfast. One horrified student approached the Zen master and asked, “Master, how can you read the paper while having breakfast? You always teach us, ‘When you read, just read. When you eat, just eat’?” The Zen master smiled and said simply, “When you eat and read, just eat and read,” and then went back to reading the paper over his breakfast.

Hindrance of Multitasking

Even though it is possible for multitasking and mindfulness to go hand in hand (and later I will discuss how mindfulness enhances multitasking), multitasking can become a hindrance to our mindfulness training in our initial training stages.

This is because multitasking hinges on jumping from one thing to another, and if this is done repeatedly, it becomes a habitual tendency. Our mind – which is very delicate – then is used to short bursts of attention before it moves onto the next object. We become less patient with what is difficult and boring. We become less-inclined to follow through with long projects to their end because we give up in search for something else.

In time, excessive multitasking and distraction–seeking can erode our ability to concentrate on one object at a time, and finally stillness becomes seemingly impossible to achieve. After all, stillness only comes if we allow the mind time to settle without attaching onto the next distraction to keep itself preoccupied. Lao Tzu once said, “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the mind is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

Mindfulness achieves more than Multitasking

If we think multitasking makes our life more fulfilling in being able to fit more into it, or make us more productive, then I think mindfulness practice is more effective in allowing us to achieve this.

When I am chatting online with three different people, the quality of the interaction is very different to if I was only talking to one. If I was reading a book with music in the background, the quality of my reading (or listening to music for that matter) is different to if I only read or listened to music. If I was racing down the motorway to get to my destination, I am likely to have missed the whole journey.

To me, it is possible to experience many things at once, but the fullness of each experience is lost. The subtle nuances of life aren’t heard, nor felt, nor understood. We race through life, without really experiencing it completely. In that sense, even if we fit more stuff into our day, what we get out of it is much less.

As an exercise, next time you are dining with someone, give them your whole presence and then take a moment to give your food your full presence. Observe any changes in the quality of your experience.

As for productivity, if we have too many things happening at the same time, we are likely to miss out on something or forget something. As the Buddhist saying goes, “When busy, go slow.” After all, when you are busy, you don’t have time for mistakes that are made by hasty action.

Why Mindfulness Practice is so important when Multitasking

Multitasking is life in the fast-lane, while meditation is a time for you to slow down and recuperate after a busy day of running around, physically and mentally. With a fresh mind, you are able to tackle the busy day that awaits you the next day.

Further, mindfulness practice is also about being aware of what is happening in this present moment and seeing things as they are (vipassana). Even if things are busy around you, you are neither subsumed in the workload nor drowning in your own anxiety or stress. So much of our mental energy and time is wasted on thoughts of self-doubt and unproductive mental chatter. Imagine if you could just watch the raving thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them – how efficient can you be! Externally, say studying, you can focus your whole presence on your studies, without being distracted by the internet or Facebook.

Finally, with the joy that comes from mindfulness, hopefully you can enjoy each moment of your life with equanimity and gratitude for all that is happening right now. Even studying! It takes a lot of favourable causes and conditions to allow you to have this time to study and learn, and pursue your life accordingly. So I hope each of us can fully embrace our mindfulness practice in our lives, so we can stop the computing process and become more human.

 AWAITING PUBLICATION IN UNIBUDS SACCA – WINTER/ SPRING EDITION 2011

(Word count: 1,900)

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The Quarter-Life Crisis Rain Pour

July 11, 2011

“It’s not about who is or isn’t in your life but how you relate to them;

It’s not about what is or isn’t in your life but how you relate to it;

It’s not about what will or won’t but what you do with what is.”

- Tina Ng

For months, I walked around with brooding clouds hanging over my head. It clouded my perception, and enveloped me with a thick uncertainty and misery that made me doubt myself and my life direction. When I was in the thicket of the rapidly-forming clouds, I didn’t realise just how embroiled I became in it all and how deeply unhappy I was with what I was doing with my life.

It began with few bad cases at work, a few betrayals and a few too many seeming failures in helping people help themselves. This snowballed into a long reflection on whether this is what I want to devote my life to. After all, what is the point of helping those who simply don’t want to help themselves and who bite the hand that feeds them? All this was coupled with watching all my friends doing jobs that seemed less stressful yet earn many times my salary. I began to think, well if I’m no longer in it for the passion, maybe I should start thinking about being in it for the money? My fishing line of thoughts was thrown deeper into the future: what can I do with this life to make it a meaningful one, one that I can be proud of when I look back one day to be able to say that this truly was a life well-lived?

Ironically, as I went through this process, feeling utterly alone and not understood, I realised that I wasn’t the only one who was going through these clouds of thoughts – I have friends who had gone through this ‘phase’ and even some going through it right now. I was told I’m just going through a quarter-life crisis, which is the Gen Y version of the mid-life crisis. I even looked up the definition online, but it didn’t seem to apply to me at all. It did, however, make me think about this whole quarter-life crisis phenomenon. Of course, I’m no expert in it all, but I think the quarter-life crisis has come about because this generation has the freedom to choose from seemingly endless possibilities, as well as the luxury to pursue these possibilities that aren’t based on simply choosing the job that puts the food on the table (hence so many Gen Y’s still live with their parents and are more focused on social development and travel). Our most recent ancestors only had this luxury when they got to their late 40s – 50s after a long life of hard work, and hence their existential crisis only occurred when they were in their mid-life. That may also explain why Gen Y’s quarter-life crisis takes them travelling overseas, while Baby Bloomers’ mid-life crisis takes them travelling in convertibles with the roof down blowing what hair remains on his/ her head.

Looking deeper still, I realised that these ‘crises’ were brought about by two things: the power of choice coupled with a deep sense of dissatisfaction and discontentment for the present. Now I’m not talking about discontentment with the superficial and material; often these people are in quite a comfortable position in their lives to be able to act upon choices that don’t involve money/ survival as its focus. The discontentment I’m talking about goes to the very core of one’s being, the heart of one’s life. The Baby Bloomer races down the freeway in a flashy sports car because he thinks, “What the hell, life is short, I’ve worked so hard all my life, this is my turn to live.” Similarly, the Gen Y travels around the world thinking, “What the hell, life is short, I’ve got the rest of my life to work like a dog, now while I’m young is the best time to live.”

It is true. Life is short. In a roundabout way trying to find their core, find their home that gives them real happiness, these people deal with their crisis by living life in its moments. Others find their way through other avenues, but I think (and remember I’m no expert at this) at its very essence these crises exist because these people begin to appreciate their mortality and the urgency in making the most of this life.

As for me, I didn’t rush out and buy a sports car or travel three times around the world to find myself. But I did look within in an honest moment of reflection to figure out what all this angst was all about.

In my meditation, I watched the clouds hanging overhead, and I watched the way they gather and the way my thoughts stir them up. I watched how my mind schemed to try to find its way to a clear day (and a new job) and how turbulent my emotions were in response to all of this. Then it rained. It poured. I realised that I could not fully control how my future would be shaped, which was something I had been trying to do in my way to create direction for my life. I felt hopeless, and I felt the spark that always kept me going through difficulties extinguished by the rain.

If you’ve ever watched rain fall, you would realise that ever drop is unique: it has its own shape, own speed, own direction in its drop to the ground. If you ever just sit until the rain stops, you can hear a profound silence that rings so loud.

That rain that poured on me was like that. It seemed like the thoughts were just streaming through in an endless barrage to find a solution. But each thought, like each rain, was a singular thought with its own quality, its own direction, its own nature. It was only when I stopped the chain of ruminating thoughts that the rain finally stopped, and the profound silence ensured. In that silence, the answer came, not in words, not in thoughts, not in pellets of rain. A sense of knowing that made so much sense to me. I still can’t verbalise what the answer is, but yet I know the answer so well.

So I haven’t quit my job. I haven’t given up. I haven’t become just another jaded worker. In fact, externally, I haven’t really done anything different.

Yet internally, I have moved mountains and slowly the sun shines through the thinning clouds.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I can’t be sure that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. But you know what? It doesn’t matter.

At least I can say that at each moment, I know exactly what I am doing and I’m finding meaning in it. Sure I might not be able to help everyone, but that’s an impossible aim anyway. Sure I am in the line of fire and need to protect myself from the very people I reach out to help, but that’s just about being smarter in my interactions. And sure I’m not going to be a millionaire, but I’m hopeful that I will have a million reasons to smile one day and know that I have lived a life well lived.

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The Rhythms of Life

March 24, 2011

This blog is not deserted! I know it’s been about three months since my last post, but rest assured, dear readers, I’ve still been writing in the meantime.

I’m pleased to announce that some of the pieces posted on this blog have inspired me to collate them with some new stories and poems into a book, which I have entitled “The Rhythms of Life”. It has been quite the journey, each story like a small part of me being shared with the world. There’s been some writings that didn’t make the final cut because I didn’t feel they met the required standard to be published, and more importantly, because they didn’t fit in the whole book, which I have arranged by themes. So instead, I will share them on this blog: Celebrating Clay and Mr and Mrs Wright.

I anticipate the book to be published sometime this year. Watch this space to get your own copy!

THE RHYTHMS OF LIFE

and other spiritual short stories and poems

By TINA NG

Here is a collection of stories and poems that portray the different rhythms that compose our dance through life. It is a creative expression of key universal themes from the Buddha’s teachings through stories, poetry and textual commentary. The themes explored are interdependency, impermanence, attachment, truth, practice and enlightenment. The creative pieces are thought-provoking, as the reader peels away at the different layers of meaning, finding potentially new depth each time the reader embarks on this journey within.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

TINA NG was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in Sydney where she continues to reside. A lawyer by profession, she aims to apply the principles of Buddhist morality and practice to the field of family separation and child protection. As an English tutor for over 7 years and a Primary School scripture teacher, she has a real interest in educating the new generation to think widely and deeply about the life they lead. She is an active member of the Buddhist community, having been involved in organising monastery retreats, curating exhibitions, editing dhamma books, writing and performing in Buddhist plays, and even had her couple-of-minutes of fame on television. She gives dhamma talks and has been published in Buddhist and non-Buddhist publications. The Rhythms of Life is her first book, drawing on some stories she had written for her blog.

*Photo courtesy of Chiang Hiang

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