defragment.me

Quake of change

The Japanese quake has shifted everyone's consciousness in different ways to a certain extent. My personal shift took place a couple of weeks before the quake, but it served to emphasize and magnify my shift. I, personally (please assume every word in this entry is my personal p.o.v from this moment onwards), don't think we have seen the last of it. Something in my gut tells me we're in the midst of a major transition on Earth.

A lot has happened in the past year. Apart from the Japanese quake, there was Christchurch, the Brisbane floods, Haiti, *that* oil spill, fish dying everywhere, etc. Even Singapore, the typically organized nation with well-equipped infrastructure were not spared flooding, which was an almost non-event compared to what was happening to the rest of the world. But it was a sign to me nonetheless.

My generation has not witnessed such a frequency of major events. It is not all doom and gloom though, as we are witnessing positive events such as the Middle-eastern uprisings. The astrologers and other 'new-age' people have anticipated these for years.

What we have been accustomed to for the past decades is not sustainable in the long-term. The ecologists, scientists, researchers know. It is a fact that our resources *are* going to run out soon, it is a matter of time. To put in crudely, even if there were no natural disasters, we're on the pathway to self-destruction.

But we're all in denial about it. Our lives carry on as though we live in another dimension. We indulge in ego-boosting pursuits, meaningless power stuggles. I am in no illusion about my personal well-being even though I live in a country free from natural disasters. I am very clear that anything can happen at any point in time, that is why I have made it a personal goal to be more mindful of my choices.

But it still took me almost 30 years of my lifetime to truly realise what it means to lead a purposeful life. There is no point knowing or understanding these concepts intellectually, it is another issue altogether to apply these concepts to my daily life. To be more aware, to have proper priorities, to know what truly matters. I have to gradually wipe away years of conditioning, I don't even think I am 10% done. Yet I am still blessed, because I don't have to be near-death for myself to wake up.

I have no idea what is going to happen in the next one-two years. I don't believe that the world is literally going to end, but I do think there is significant transition that is already taking place now, and we're all going to witness the effects in the next two years. I am not afraid nor worried, I have begun to accept the inevitability of natural cycles. I just hope to be as conscious as possible while making every choice.

I believe there is a silver-lining in every dark cloud and we can now see how a disaster spurs people uniting to a common cause and delivering goodwill with no agenda. I wonder if it would be in this lifetime that I will get to witness people uniting globally and stop the senseless power struggles. We have the means globally to eradicate wars, poverty and other issues that do not have to exist. But we don't bother except for the minority groups championing for their individual causes. We are all intricately linked and in doesn't make logical sense at all to fight for power for the sake of power. What is the point of having people accumulating all that wealth and power when we all die at the end of it? Is it about a place in history? Nobody is going to look back at him/her fondly – wow, the richest person in the world. We don't remember Bill Gates or Steve Jobs because they're one of the richest people in existence. We remember them because they made significant contributions to mankind. Mother Theresa was not wealthy. How about Martin Luther King?

I no longer wish to be all talk and no action. I no longer want to be very uncomfortable at witnessing all the disappointments of this world and yet try to be detached to it. I know I cannot be Mother Theresa. I don't have the energy nor the patience. But I can make a difference in my own little ways. All of us can. If each and everyone of us makes a small little change, the entire collective effort can change the world. Imagine if everyone of us become more conscious of our usage of resources? Perhaps less trees will be cut down, less fish will die, less nuclear plans have to be built. I am not naive nor extreme. I don't think the solution is to stop using resources or to be vegan. But actually to practice moderation and not to waste. Respect the food you're eating, respect the farmers who harvested that grain of rice. Why do we have to wait for disasters to strike before we appreciate what we have?

I have personally come a long way. I was the biggest waster you would know. I would throw away food and will not bother to recycle paper. The tap would be on full blast when I wash my hands. Now, with every single clean drop I use to wash my hands, I remember the people who do not even have water to use, not to mention clean water.

Initially, I made all these changes out of love for my partner, because she hates wastage. She has been through tough times before and it makes her see resources in a vastly different light from my peers. Somehow slowly, though my own self-awareness, empathy, and a short trip in an eco resort in the Philippines, something in me just clicked. I can no longer be the waster I was. I had to use pails of conserved water in that resort. No toilet paper which was really, really difficult for me.

The next time I arrived at a place with water and toilet paper, I knew I was changed forever. Again, I am blessed, because it didn't take a real hardship for me to make this change.

-

I have this inner fear that I will die young, suffer from bad health, or something will just happen to me before I get to do things I really want to do. Now, it is no longer a fear. It is an acceptance that it will be inevitable. Some day. I am not sure when. It could be when I am 80. It doesn't matter, as I have repeated so many times on this blog, as long as on my deathbed, I can be proud of the life I have led.

Previously, I have been waiting for the day I am in a better financial position, because how the hell am I going to do things if I am struggling to survive myself right? I now quote from an article that I have read about Buckminster Fuller, who went bankrupt and took a vow of silence of two years before coming out of it and embarking on numerous amazing projects:

If one attends to the problems of humanity and commits oneself to solving them, the universe will care for that person the same way it cares for a flower or a bird. So he committed himself to working on the bigger tasks of the world on the absolute faith that the universe’s integrity will pay him back.

And it did, for him.

I have made the conscious decision to only work on projects that I truly care about, even for my commercial projects. They will need to serve a function I actually believe in, no matter how small it may be. I will also try to make a headstart on a couple of non-profit community projects that I have put off for the past 2 years, because I was too busy with surviving. I have a few other like-minded individuals with me, and the best part of it is not knowing what is going to happen.

I am still coping to survive, but synchronistically I remembered my primary school motto, "Now or Never".

Action plan for change

I've been in a state of limbo for the whole of 2010 – a year which I thought will bring tons of positive developments to my life, after all the groundwork I've put in for the past couple of years. The previous year in 2009 I have been hard at work to try and curb all my personal fears and issues in order to give myself the platform that I need to pursue my various goals in life. I've took the step out to:

  • write openly about my low self-esteem
  • end my hermit-dom (aka social phobia) and meet people from my online social circles which cumulated into attending an industry event full of 200 over people I don't know
  • start travelling solo which ended up my life-long fear of sleeping in the dark & various paranoias of being alone in a foreign land
  • take various metaphysical courses which have always been an interest that I've put aside for 'proper' work

Life can only get better I thought since I'd gradually overcome the issue that was affecting me the post – myself.

This was a significant life-lesson to me, never be complacent and expect things to run smoothly within your expectations, ever. Life always has this uncanny ability to throw us curveballs when we least expect it.

Background story

So, the story of 2010 can be broken down in 3-month parts from January to September.

First 3 months was spent in anxiety and denial about the situation which transformed to a delayed reaction of anger and it ended up with myself breaking down physically, mentally and emotionally. I can't really write about the actual situation itself, except that it involved me having to shift my entire plans for this year which included a drastic breakdown of a relationship that was very dear to me. Having a fear of conflict didn't help as I tried desperately for it not to evolve into a conflict and it backfired instead for all parties involved as buried feelings and forgotten childhood hurt rose to the surface.

On the surface, the situation is not that big a deal. I think it could be difficult for people to understand why it affected me so much. I actually didn't understand it myself and it contributed to the worsening of the situation as I repeatedly asked myself whether I was over-reacting. On hindsight, I think I was just very weary of fighting similar battles in my life – I had this feeling that I've spent all my life fighting, and just when I thought the worst is long over, everything crumbled again. It drove me into feelings of helplessness, self-resentment, half wondering if I didn't try hard enough, and half wondering if the Universe was intent to make a joke out of me. I have done my best, but my best just wasn't enough. It seemed like no matter what I did was enough to earn me a period of peace and quiet.

The second 3-month period was spent cleaning up the mess as I gathered every last bit of my sanity and energy to rationally handle my responsibilities. I was blessed because most of my clients understood as I tried to make my poor health and emotions take a backseat.

It wasn't just poor health and unstable emotions though, it was a loss of something that makes me never ever want to feel that way again. I lost my enthusiasm for life. Even travelling didn't help me feel better, but what it did was to give me the space I needed to pick up the pieces, thankfully.

The final 3 months of June to September I spent trying to heal. I was able to stop working for at least a month from mid august to mid september. I went through several transformative experiences during this period and I would like to write about it in the near future.

I came back in mid-september and amusingly (it is amusing to me now) went through another stressful period house-hunting, dealing with awful property agents, feeling anxious about my housing-budget, packing and finally moving.

I am back to the physical state I was before my travels, tired. But this time it is different. I am carrying the same physical fatigue, but my mindset is totally switched. If I cannot control my external circumstances, I may at least be in the optimum state to deal with it.

I thought it would be good to share my action plan with all of you (as well as a reminder to myself). I no longer want to give myself excuses or be in denial about myself.

1. Build my fitness

I've always suffered from a chronic lack of energy and I wonder if I was predisposed to it. I guess I will only know if I actually did try to make an effort to build my fitness. I admit I don't exercise much and I should. Now with a swimming pool near me, I really have no excuses. Water calms me down as well. I forgot to mention building my fitness involves taking greater care of my diet.

2. Learn to calm my mind

I think this is closely related to the one above, I guess if I am always twitching with nervous energy from lack of exercise, then I cannot really blame my mind for going wild. Will like to try regular meditation practice as well.

3. Condition my mind

I suffer from fear and anxiety in relation to several issues that are no longer relevant to me but I still suffer the long-term effects of having to cope with (or run away) from these issues for so long. For example, I have absolute faith in the Universe's integrity yet my mind tries to make me paranoid because of the fear of lack. I know security is an illusion and yet sometimes I unconsciously strive towards it. I want to truly live in the now, make the best of each and every moment instead of worrying about some event in the future that may never happen. All things shall come to pass.

4. Practice detachment

This is also closely related to point 3. The reason why I am prone to depression, anxiety, fear (apart from possible faulty genes) is because I tend to feel emotional about anything and everything. I am proud of being emotionally sensitive, but it gets to the point whereby I don't stand up for myself or my mood gets affected feeling upset about something that I should not get upset with, if only I can put aside my emotions to gain a clearer perspective.

5. Trust

I suffer from an immense distrust in myself because of what happened in the first 3 months of 2010. I have this paranoia that my breakdown will happen again. I find it difficult to trust myself to rise from adversity. There is no reason to feel that way if I do my best to manage myself well. The worst situation can happen but I have no reason to fear if I truly believe in myself and the Universe.

At least I've tried

Despite of what had happened, one belief has never changed. I rather die trying than to never have tried before.

Adversity happens for a reason. I now look back and realise that the events were immensely beneficial to my growth. If everything went as smoothly as expected, I wouldn't have the time to reflect on what truly matters. I also wouldn't have been pushed to such a corner – to make drastic changes to my life. I wouldn't have been reminded again that never to put all your eggs in one basket, we need to constantly renew and rejuvenate ourselves in order to stay progressive in life. The pursuit of security is a tiring, endless and fruitless game. Think about it, the Universe has ways to take away your comfort, money, anything whenever it wants. The point is to make the best out of every moment. Keep the faith.

A personal tribute to Denise Ho (hocc)

Disclaimer: This is very much personal and is made up of my personal recollection. There may be inaccuracies due to old, failing memory. ;p

I've always been particularly enamored by singer-songwriter types. I've spent a large part of my teenage years obsessed over Faye Wong and when she retired I was convinced there won't be any artiste that would set my heart fluttering again.

I have to admit, when I first noticed Denise Ho (she's relatively unknown in Singapore because cantopop is no longer in the musical diet of the people here these days) it wasn't because of any of her talents. It was because a good friend had pointed her out to me during a karaoke session – nope, not because of the song she was singing, but because she was strongly rumoured to be gay. And that she is the late Anita Mui's protégé.

Her appeal

She always had this androgynous quality, even back in those days when she had long, silky hair. She was always charismatic, though not in the same league as her mentor and definitely different from the unapproachable Faye Wong.

She's not naturally gifted with a voice that would take people's breaths away, neither is she blessed with drop-dead gorgeous looks. She knows this herself and acknowledged it during her 2006 concert. However, she makes up for it with musical ability – she has produced a stage musical, written several memorable songs and is great with the electric guitar. Most of all, she has a lot of heart. That unflappable drive and determination to succeed – not as the most popular artiste, but as the one who stays true to the path she wants.

2004-2006: transformation

Her first concert was held 10 years after she started her career. 10 years is a long time, especially for an artiste. The passing away of Anita Mui, her beloved mentor was the unfortunate trigger to her transformation. I believe many a time we all have to sink to the bottom in order to rise up. That was quite literal in this case.

I remember her speaking in an interview, admitting that she had always been stubborn in executing her musical career, never wanting to wear fanciful costumes or attract publicity. She simply wanted to be herself and perform great music. Her mentor once told her, once you become an entertainer, you belong to the stage and the audience. You have a responsibility to entertain.

I guess the passing away allowed her to take a look at the bigger picture and reset her priorities. She probably felt very much inclined to carry on her mentor's legacy, not only to entertain, but to do good in her capacity as a celebrity. And sometimes, in fact most times, in order to fulfill a greater purpose, you will need to step out of your own comfort zone and be committed to do things that you typically will not want to do.

So she started putting on the glittering costumes, included smooth, complicated dance routines into her songs, made the effort to put herself into the mainstream. I apologise if I made it sound like she was a sell-out, but that was far from the truth. In taking those steps forward she brought her talents out into the open. (At barcamp 4 last year, Joe Augustine pointed out that if you have a gift, you owe it to society to market yourself. To enable the sharing of the gift. I would not have really agreed with this one year earlier, but now I feel that it is very much the truth.)

So what if you need to do a little packaging, a bit of mass marketing, ultimately the goal is to get the message out to as many people as possible. It is all about looking at the bigger picture and doing the necessary bridging to your desired destination.

She had the blessed help of a truly gifted lyricist, Wyman Wong, who writes the lyrics of 95% of her songs. His lyrics are so haunting, intricate and beautiful that no words of description will do him justice. Strings of cantonese words that makes your heart wince when you listen to them. She was also blessed with a personal band – Green Mountain Orchestra, which consists of her brother and three other talented musicians.

What started of as pure curiosity when I took notice of her the first time at the ktv developed into pure admiration (okay, almost obsession lol). The more I found out about her, the more I listened to her music, the more I watched her perform; the more my admiration grew.

So when the news arrived that she was finally due to hold her first concert in Hongkong, I bought the concert and *air* tickets almost immediately. I was not doing very well financially back then but I knew it would be worth it. I was not let down. While artistes naturally gifted with amazing voices (no names mentioned lol) would perhaps run out of breath during a dance segment or struggle to reach the high notes during a live concert, Denise delivered an almost flawless performance. And it was only 'almost' flawless because the flaws came at those times she could no longer control her delivery – due to tears.

Every single cent I spent flying to Hongkong was not only worth it, but I probably had a double ROI (return of investment) in terms of the memories I brought back, at least.

2009: losing in order to gain

So when I attended her concert again last year, I went with the same expectations of a good, live, performance. But I was stunned. Just when I thought it could not get any better, she proved me wrong. She managed to deliver a vocal performance that was even better than the last. While previously she betrayed split-moments of doubts and weakness when switching to falsetto (pardon me, I have no knowledge of the proper musical terms), this time round she sounded better than a studio recording! It was better than a studio recording because apart from the impeccable vocal delivery, she infused her charged emotions into every single note. She sang as if every note would be her last.

Having been to concerts whereby the artistes sounded like they were regurgitating the song from their distant memory and as though they cannot wait to finish it, it was difficult not to be appreciative of her performance.

Synchronicity in action

I always believe in synchronicity and I believe I was meant to catch her 2009 performance. It was written in the stars. I had actually made the decision *not* to go, my Tokyo trip had blew my travel budget for the entire year. With a strange twist of fate, an ex-client from Hongkong decided to visit Singapore and meet me up for coffee before she was due to be back. I have never met this client before and in fact I had never met any of my clients (by choice), but a few months before that meeting I made the conscious decision to end my hermit-dom. If she had decided to drop by Singapore any other time, I would never have agreed! ;p (Seriously, I had a very serious case of hermit-dity.)

So we were having a good conversation and I casually mentioned that I was supposed to be in Hongkong that week to catch Denise Ho's concert. She was like, hey, come, you can stay over at my place! This was a person that I never met before in my life and we only worked together for a couple of projects and she had no reservations about inviting a near-stranger over to her place. If this was not in pure, good faith, I wouldn't know what to call it. (Thanks, Belle.)

Anyway, I told her that the tickets were sold out, it was too late to go anyway. She flew back to Hongkong that evening, saw on facebook that a friend was selling the tickets (I said it was written in the stars) and bought them as a gift for me. She emailed me right away, complete with a screenshot of that facebook status and scans of the tickets.

I was speechless. Events like these restore my faith in humanity.

Meant to be there

I was experiencing a low period in my life at that time, fatigued in every manner possible. The moment the concert kicked off, I felt a surge of energy (very similar to how I felt at the AWARE egm), the atmosphere and energy level was electrifying. If you had been in a place whereby tons of people come together, united by a common cause, you would know what I am trying to express. This is beyond words.

Midway through the concert, I understood why I had to be there. She said to us, that in the past 3 years people would have thought that she had lost a lot, but she felt that she has gained more than what she had lost. That if you believe in a cause, you should stay strong in that belief, even if means being the odd one out or going against the flow. (Isn't this what I've been writing all the time at this blog!?)

She could have gone on to greater heights from 2006, during the peak of her career. Just when everyone was expecting her to move forward from there and perhaps take the crown off Joey Yung (the reigning canto-pop queen), she almost retreated back into obscurity.

Going against the flow

Instead of doing what everyone is expecting her to do, she took what most people would view as steps backwards. She took a lot of time out to get involved in charity and social causes, produced albums that were more of an artistic ambition than an attempt for mainstream success. She married artistic ambition and her effort for causes when she produced an album (Ten Days in the Madhouse) that was accompanied by a documentary on people living in a mental institution, as well as staging a free concert themed "Happiness is free".

Her mainstream popularity waned during this period and probably people thought her career was going downhill. But she probably understood that in life, you win some and lose some – this was a tradeoff she was willing to make. Her decisions were validated during that concert. If you had been there, as part of the audience, you would have felt what she felt. Ultimately it was the people there that mattered. The support that stayed with her throughout the years, the people who understood her. She managed to influence less people, but on a much deeper level.

What really matters

I have always maintained while writing this blog that it doesn't matter if the mass audience think I am writing crap or if I am delusional, because I know that there will be people who will connect with my writing, however few and these are the people that matters. When you want to make a difference you cannot expect to change the world single-handedly, there is a reason why there is diversity in the world. Diversity is what that unites and divides people, it is what that makes the world so beautiful and yet so ugly.

You can only hope in faith that you will manage to touch the lives of a few people genuinely, and these people will go on and touch a few other lives. Just like how I was touched by a few good people and I am now trying to do the same.

She spoke of the difficulties she faced while trying to stay true to her path and the many times she has contemplated giving up, but standing at the stage that day, feeling all that love and support, she knows she has to carry on.

I swallowed back tears of empathy when I was listening to her, because it stroke a chord with me. How difficult it can be. To try and do what feels right.

Me, being part of the audience that night, I too, knew I had to carry on.

She asked the audience, was the past 3 years smooth or difficult? And that what matters was that despite whatever that happened during those 3 years, we are still there with her. I had a flashback of my past 3 years and I couldn't help but feel emotional. How much have gone by. How much I have survived. But I still did. I still survived.

I thanked my guides silently, I had felt immense gratitude to be there. That it was kind of a nice reminder for me to stay true to my cause. I went back to Singapore refreshed.

Bringing peace

She came to Singapore last weekend to act in a stage play directed by Edward Lam, "Man and Woman, War and Peace". This time, I went with no expectations (I saw a few promo clips and didn't think it looked very interesting, see am not a biased fan), and in all honesty, it was just because I wanted to see her, not because I wanted to indulge in any cultural activity of any sort.

And I am glad I went with no expectations because it provided me a clean slate to really enjoy and appreciate the play. Again, it reminded me of the time she has taken out to go on this tour, just to stay true to her ideals.

"When two people are together, they only see each other. The "third party", however, represents a way out instead of a dead end. Because two people in love only have eyes for each other, they only see each other's strengths and weaknesses, no matter how keen their perception. What's more important, however, is the turning one one's gaze outwards, away from the self, beyond each other."

"...there is no peace without war. And peace is but the temporary respite before a war."

– Quoted from Man and Woman, War and Peace's programme guide.

The play tried to incorporate lots of ideals and messaging, to me, it was rather successful despite the complexity it was trying to accomplish, coupled with many moments of comedic relief. I don't think it is everyone's cup of tea. Regardless, I could fully appreciate the effort and ideals, and I was particularly impressed with the change of parts of the script in an attempt to localize the play to a certain extent. They even brought up "Little Nonya"! The play would still be accessible whether the script was changed or not but it is really all the small details that count because it would definitely make the local audience relate to the play more.

I was suffering from a lack of sleep and was feeling rather down when I went to watch the play (yes I know, I have a pattern). I marvel at the timing of how these events seem to co-incide. Once again, both the play and Denise Ho seemed to remind me of where my priorities lie – that I should stay true to my path. It is just so difficult to find that intricate balance between survival and purpose and I don't deny I have veered off the path countless times. Sucked into a comfort-zone and and selling my soul to maintain that status-quo.

Once again, a grateful, subtle, reminder in the best way possible. I mean, how can you find fault with a reminder that consists of entertainment and an outstanding performer?

Doing what that matters

All in all, I was extremely appreciative of the performance, regardless of whatever connotations or meaning it had to me. I wanted to show how much the play meant to me, to tell her (and the cast) that hey, you've touched my heart. I very much wanted to give a standing ovation but I knew it would be very embarrassing if I was the only one who stood up. There I was, having this internal battle within me, but I eventually came to realise that my embarrassment was nothing compared to the appreciation they deserve from me. Even if it was just from that one, lonely me.

So I stood up when the director and the main leads took the stage to give thanks. As I've expected, I seemed to be the only one who was standing up (I think the local audience is generally either very shy or very hard to please ;p). I felt really awkward but I kept telling myself that it is not important. Thankfully, when it was her turn to take the mic, there were a few other fans in the front rows who stood up together, at least I felt a little less silly lol.

This act of mine is rather significant to me, because people who know me will know I am extremely shy and have issues with being in public. It is like I finally had enough and I really just want to do what that really matters. If I want to stand up and applaud, just go ahead and do it right? Why does it matter if people think I am some crazy fan or not? It doesn't matter what people think or if they really understand – as long as I know what I am doing and why I am doing it, and that I really want to do it.

Hi, to a fellow alien

Some time last year after her series of concerts, she left this blog entry that says something along the lines of, "I am an alien. I do not belong here".

I don't think most people took her literally. I don't think people take me literally either when I tell them that. And I've been telling people this all my life. And the discovery that it may just be quite literal. (I don't care if you're rolling your eyes now lol)

So, Denise, if you're reading this: please know you're definitely not alone on this. :) And please know that I admire and applaud your efforts to continue doing what you believe in.

Thank you for your persistence in your beliefs and purpose.

Why I wrote this post

I really wanted to share my after-thoughts and significance of her concert to me last year, actually right after the concert. But there was just too much I wanted to express and I never had the time and space to put them all down in words. The words have sort of taken a life of their own in my head ever since I watched the play and I think that they want to be published.

I really want to share these thoughts for various reasons. I think you can see it as a personal tribute or dedication to her, or an ambitious attempt to summarise her and her efforts in a few thousand words.

It is again, my attempt to show and share my appreciation.

Additional links (yup she's a social network's dream as well):

Confidence

There are generally two types of people in this world. People who have innate self-confidence and people who needs others to deliver confidence.

I happen to be the extreme end of the latter.

The downfall of my confidence

I think I used to be self-confident as a child, maybe because I never needed to study much in primary (elementary) school and still managed to ace my papers. I was the child that my parents would literally be boastful of. My achievements year after year was trumpeted like a media press release. Perhaps I was never confident actually, more like complacent because of my environment.

The turning point came when I was 11 and having my primary 5 year-end exams. As the routine goes, I never put any effort into revision, I had never needed to. I stumbled horribly for my maths paper, because usually I would finish any paper an hour ahead of my peers – thus I took my own sweet time and I only managed to finish 60% of the paper before time was up. For the very first time in my life, I experienced failure. (And for my poor parents, the beginning of the end for their trumpeting.)

This set the tone for the rest of my years until my mid-twenties. The vicious cycle of failure, disappointment, trying really hard not to fail again, even more disappointment. The bigger the disappointment I had grown into, the more pessimistic I became of life. And of course, the discovery of the fact that there are millions of people smarter than me, so much so that I was convinced that my primary school achievements were a fluke.

Letting go of past achievements

I remember looking my primary school report book wistfully for many years later, until when I was about 17 and I threw it away accidentally in the middle of a move. Perhaps that wasn't an accident. I spent years mourning about it, thinking that I would never be able to look at it proudly again.

Till I realised that my 'success' as a kid was holding me back – what could the past for for me? Even if I were to ace my education till the tertiary level, that would not guarantee me success or happiness in my adulthood. I bore a grudge towards my parents because I felt that they were holding on to the past too much and thus I could never be the prodigy they envisioned me to be. Never did I realise, I was also holding myself back.

For the world can have so many plans and visions for me, ultimately it is my own destiny. (lol, pardon me for the cliche.)

Taking ownership

I think my life really transformed when I took ownership of my own life. It only happened after I had tried really hard to please my loved ones and realised all the attempts were futile. I could never be someone who would live a life someone had designed for me. It was a matter of time that I would break free – the choice was either breaking free or ending my life. Around this time I came across a book which the theme revolved around "You are what you believe" and it all became so clear to me.

All my life till then, I have been trying to get people to believe in me, but I never really believed in myself.

That was a start. I wouldn't say I found my confidence overnight, but I think what started the process was that I desired to find my confidence back. Or my life back. To own my life and not have it owned by circumstances or the environment.

I think that was in 2005.

Still taking baby steps

Now, in 2010, I am still seeking confidence. It has been a slow but sure process. Baby steps. I still fear speaking to people, and I would not remotely consider speaking in public, and I still feel very nervous about my work, or go through countless sleepless nights when I question whether I am cut out to be a designer.

A huge difference is – the future looks bright to me. Quite bright actually from where I am standing. Whereas life used to be a pain looking forward, now I am slowly getting excited about what is in stall for me.  I had been truly blessed, for there have been a few good people who have shown the faith in me that I could not even find in myself. But I had to open my life up to even have the opportunity to meet these people in the first place. The desire to push myself out the comfort zone.

Serendipity

I am currently in a new set of circumstances whereby I would never imagine myself to be. In a place where I am given a huge vote of confidence and an incredible amount of validation by some exceptional people. I would not have met these people if I did not push myself out of hermit-dom. The experience I am having now can be all traced back to that single flip of that switch in my mind. (Aided by some strange dude from the UK named Andy who never gave up asking me out for coffee lol.)

For many people, making a change in their lives seem really difficult. Many a time, the results would not be visible until a long time after. We just need to have that desire and commitment to make changes, even how miniscule it seems to be. Who would have known that the casual coffee I had with two strange Caucasians would be the beginning of of a mini-revolution in my life?

Though I should include a standard disclaimer that says, there is a thin line between self-belief and insecurity-influenced arrogance.

Looking forward with confidence

I don't know what is life going to bring me from now onwards, I just know that I am immensely grateful. It does not matter if the bright future I envisioned turned out to be not bright at all – it is really the process that matters. I think many of us are just fearful of losing what we have now – and if it helps I can remind all of us that it is not in our hands entirely whether what we have remains with us or not.

"Confidence, Sir Alex Ferguson once said, is the key to about 99% of what is achieved in any walk of life."

I wouldn't say it is 99%, but it is a major influence on how we perceive ourselves, and in turn, that determines how we perceive life. Having that bit of confidence has definitely made a huge difference for me – that confidence allows me to dictate many of my choices and not let it by dictated by my circumstances.

As long as I have that bit of confidence, the competition doesn't matter, the economic conditions doesn't matter, because if I believe that you have something to offer and you work really hard, there will always be something on that plate for you. And if it really turns out that the plate is empty, if I have the confidence in my own survival, then what is there to be afraid of?

There is only one self to be afraid of, because it is the one self that self-determines whether he/she can survive or be fearful of any circumstances or conditions given to him/her.

Living life without limits

"Now is the time to integrate with kindred spirits while continuing to leave internal and external limiting factors behind."

Quoted from The Aquarius-Leo Full Moon of January 2010 - Creativity Crystallizing in Forms of Power by Robert Wilkinson.

Astrology works in funny ways (No it is really not the monthly column you read in newspapers). I was just having this whole thought process about the limiting beliefs I have in my life for the past few days, and this article cropped up in my feed. Regardless of whether the astrological transits influenced me or not, I thought the above quote aptly summed up what I feel now, and will probably be the theme for my 2010.

Moving forward

I wanted to write my customary New Year's resolutions post quite a while ago, but I did not really have any specific resolutions. Not because there wasn't anything to improve on, quite the opposite actually. I think I am on the brink of a crucial transition phase in my life, and mere words will not be enough to express how I feel.

The great fear of moving backwards always seem to stop me from moving forward. I cannot help but feeling that the best solution is not to move, stay in limbo, until I know the best way to move forward. But there's no "best way to move forward".  How do we determine what is the "best"? By basing on experiences of others?

I've always believed, from a young tender age, that the best way to live life is to live it spontaneously. Yet how many of us can truly be spontaneous? Not worry about bills? Even if we don't care about our own survival, what about our loved ones and whether we would be able to afford medical care for them if necessary?

Bad news can be catalysts for growth

A while ago I had some news which threatened my financial stability. All the plans that I've made for this coming year either has to be shelved, or I have to find some miraculous way of pulling it all together. Perhaps if it was in the past, I would have been crippled by the news. Devastated, and think that nothing in my life goes according to plan. The reality is, even the best laid plans can be thwarted. A dip in the economy, a war in some country, a natural disaster, tons of things can happen. We can only try our best.

I could have continued moping about my situation, which I did, for a short while – I think sometimes we have to reach the bottom in order to rise up. Problems can be solved by money are not problems. I sound frivolous by saying this, but look at little Charmaine, whose banner I put up on the right sidebar of this blog. We can garner all the donations for her expensive treatments, but her life is still in the hands of fate. We can only hope and pray for the best. Money cannot solve her problem, neither can money really solve Haiti's problems. Can money bring peace and stability to a nation? But that doesn't mean we stop giving or trying, because trying our best is better than not trying at all, isn't it?

We all have choices

Some of us are trying their best to deny this, but we all have choices. I used to hold a deterministic view of life, I believed that everything was pre-destined and we don't have a choice if we're destined to suffer. Somehow I was blessed because a series of events changed my views. I can choose to mope, or I can choose to be hopeful. If someone without limbs can lead such an inspiring life, why the rest of us who can walk, talk and eat, feel so aggrieved?

I have realised it is all about being able to exert control over your mind. Most of us allow the mind to rule us, to tell us we have to be richer, to do better, to be slimmer, whatever. I am blessed to know a few people who are not bounded by the restrictions of the mind or society, and these people are truly exceptional. They take risks, live life to the max, and are truly happy. You don't even need to know them to know they are happy. They exude happiness from their very core.

Wiring & beliefs

Being raised in a materialistic society in Singapore, (and it didn't help having a very critical mother), add my natural melancholic self to the equation, I seem to be wired to believe that I was destined to fail. I worry about anything and everything, and I worry what will happen in 50 years time. I worry about the future and problems that doesn't even exist. I think of the worst case scenario in every situation. It can be a good trait. It is always good to be prepared for the worst consequences, but not when you actually believe that the worst consequences are likely to happen all the time. Sometimes I think I actually will my problems into existence. Isn't this what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy?

So when I received the news that could threaten my financial stability, I went through the entire process of 'shit, I am never going to make it'.

This time, a switched flipped in my mind. If there's a 50/50 chance of failure and success, why do I seem to think that failure is the higher possibility? Why do I subscribe to the notion that I was not capable of rising up to the new occasion, that my situation will improve instead?

As I allowed myself to conjure hundreds of solutions to my problem, I realised that a solution was not impossible. It was just how much I was willing to do it. A difficult solution does not mean impossible.

Removing limits

Now, I am in the process of removing all my limiting beliefs. Whatever that held me back in the past. It is not easy, and some mornings I still wake up with slight panic attacks over what I am going to do about my problem, some nights I still get dreams of being late for exams. I seem to dream a lot of the past and it gives an accurate picture of my whole psyche. I am still wired to the past, still haunted by it. In reality my life is getting better every day but there is still this part of me that thinks that this is all too good to be true, and that it will end soon. I am like ending my own happiness even before even any sign of trouble. I am already planning for doomsday.

Nobody is threatening my happiness except myself. I cannot change external circumstances but I can learn how to cope with it positively. I wouldn't be in my 3rd year of my solo career now if I didn't choose to let go my fears. I would never have imagined having the life I have now when I was still working long hours under employment. Back then, I only wanted my life to improve slightly, to stop working nightmarish hours and I was even prepared to suffer and earn less money in exchange for having a life back. Now, I am almost living the life I have always dreamed of, I still have to work long hours and suffer the stress every now and then, but I have the freedom (to travel, to sleep in, to choose clients, etc), and that is most important to me.

Instead of fretting over the possible problems in the future, I rather spend my energy being the architect of my ideals. I want to dream of an improved life, not plan for the worse. Because even if unfortunate incidents do happen, there's usually nothing much you can do. Probably the very most, is to be properly insured and have some emergency funds. Even the deepest emergency fund you have in the world will not help much if life really decides to throw you a curveball.

Grateful for the unexpected

Now, looking back at the news I'd received, I am amazingly grateful for it. Like truly. I was in some form of a comfort zone and I needed it to push me out of it. If this did not happen, I would not have been spurred on to be creative about the ways I can change my lifestyle. Something that I thought that required a financial miracle is turning out to be seemingly possible – all because the situation called for extreme solutions, and one of the solutions do not seem so extreme after all...In fact, based on the current situation it is quite do-able within my means, and who is to say my means will not improve? At the very least, it is worth trying and hoping for.

If this did not happen, I would not even contemplate this particular solution (sorry for being ambiguous but it is too early to write about it), because my own limiting beliefs thought it was impossible.

Just trust

Some time last year, I was in a very bad shape and I let go. I let go of my worries, my fears, and any attachment to any outcomes. I told myself to trust the Universe and see what happens. It was very scary, but looking back now, whatever followed up actually turned out much, much, better than I could ever have imagined or expected.

This time, and for the rest of my life, I want to do the same. Just trust. Implicitly. As long as I can eat, talk and walk, whatever that comes along is a bonus and a blessing.

It will not be easy, but I really do want to stop being so affected by my past, whether is it memories, phobias, conditionings.

I want to re-wire myself.

I want to live my life without my self-imposed or society's limits.

"Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they would get. But if you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen." – Conan O'Brien

Looking back at 2009

2009 has been a tough year for me, personally. It wasn't because of the economy. Reading my previous year's 'looking back' post, I remember that I had ended the year with lots of optimism and hopes. It wasn't to be as I endured a difficult time mentally and emotionally as I struggled to balance all aspects of my life, but I remain grateful – for no matter how difficult it was, I am still able to remain relatively healthy and my loved ones are all well. That to me, is already a blessing I am happy to be able to count, because I know for a fact that many people are not aware of how blessed they are on an everyday basis.

What I could have done better

1. Managing self-expectations

I wanted to title this as time-management, but I have gradually grown to realise that the root of the problem is not that I don't know how to manage my time properly or that I am not disciplined enough. For almost all my life I have pointed the finger at myself for being a procrastinator and that led to feelings of self-guilt and undermining my own value. I had almost come to accept the fact that I simply cannot manage time.

The problem was never the management of time, but the expectations I have laid upon myself. It is ironic because I have a relatively low self-esteem but somehow I have sky-high expectations of myself. I have this super-woman mentality that I can manage a few major processes going on at the same time and come out fine. It is one thing to have a survivor's mentality but another thing to put myself through all the unnecessary stress. I had overestimated my ability to multi-task and the time it takes to accomplish things. I always seem to think that I can be fast (very Aries of me).

If I had set reasonable expectations for myself, I would have met them well and would not have put myself in the stressful situation of being in danger of not meeting deadlines, or trying to manage multiple timelines at one go. I have learnt time management is all about setting small, achievable targets – I mean, if I expect myself to be superwoman (which I am not, or else I wouldn't even be writing this), obviously I wouldn't be able to fulfill the tasks I have set up for myself.

At one stage in 2009, I was in the middle of a huge residential move, taking on a new spiritual course, plus juggling about 5 major work projects, taking care of a dog with behavioral problems; all at the same time. It did not come as a surprise when I was on the verge of a breakdown, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If this was to happen a couple of years earlier, I would be blaming my luck or whatever else I could blame upon. However, I took this setback very personally, it took me a long time to stop blaming myself for it.

I fell out of love with my work, my work which I so preciously hold dear to my heart. I tie my self-identity to my work and the work I create, when things do not go well with my work, I crumble. It is hard not to fall out of love with it when I am just so burnt out. Not to mention my living quarters had more than 50 huge un-packed boxes. And a dog who refused to stop barking.

I was lost. But I took responsibility for it, I sent apologies to all parties involved and decided that the only thing I could do, is just to put in my best. I stopped accepting new work apart from those I was sure that I could manage. I took myself apart to rebuild my self again.

And I think I am still in the midst of rebuilding it. Right now, I am careful with every decision I make, especially with work. I cannot help but feel apprehensive because I have this phobia of repeating the same mistake. However, I know I cannot be over-protective or I will just miss out on plenty opportunities. I can only put in my best and hope for the best.

2. Loving myself

This past year, I've been putting in a lot of effort into loving myself more. I know this sounds egoistic, but I haven't been loving myself for most of my life. Like honestly. I don't give myself enough credit and I beat myself up hopelessly when things go wrong. This whole self-image thing is central to the many other issues that is going on in my life and to the previous point as well. When things did not go well, all I could do was to lament how incapable I was instead of encouraging myself to do better the next time.

If I had loved myself more, I would have allowed myself more time to play and rest instead of working all day long, I would have valued myself more and not under-charge for my work, which would allow me to take in less work. See how this self-image thing affects me in and out? It creates a whole vicious cycle:

Lack of self love -> Under-value self -> Under charge -> Takes in lots of work to survive -> Lots of stress generated -> Procrastinate because of stress -> Unable to manage timelines properly -> Creativity takes a hit -> Start blaming myself for being unable to create to my own expectations -> Self-hatred begins.

Sidenote: I have seldom missed a deadline in the past year regardless of all my issues. I would rather slave-drive myself than to disappoint my clients. Unless I fell physically sick, which I took full responsibility for.

3. Achieving balance

Work and other personal responsibilities took over my life for the past year, I think I could have read a bit more, played a bit more, watched a few more movies, relaxed a bit more, exercised a lot more.

I tend to swing from extreme to extreme so it is important for me to learn how to go in-between.

What I can be proud of

1. Bringing myself out of the hermit-hole

Being energetically sensitive (okay stop rolling your eyes now ;p), I sort of stopped going out to meet people since 2006. It makes me feel drained and I take quite a while to recover from it. It was a good and much needed break, but I forgone plenty of opportunities in doing that. Everything exists in duality, in avoiding negativity and I had to avoid positivity as well.

Plus, I had self-image issues so I have a phobia of meeting strangers.

It all started from the AWARE incident which made me realise that I need to know like-minded people to achieve any cause. That it can actually be empowering instead of disempowering.

From coming out of my self-created hermit hole, I managed to meet tons of great people who have in turned brought tons of great relationships and opportunities.

2. Going to Tokyo and Hongkong

Amidst all the mess going on, I am glad that I managed to squeeze the time and resources to visit Julia, my spiritual mother in Tokyo, which whetted my appetite for more. Each time I travel out of Singapore I feel a sense of liberation and joy I cannot simply explain in words. I am proud that I did not allow my financial insecurity to stop me from travelling. It was a priceless experience.

An ex-client from Hongkong I worked remotely and briefly with, popped by Singapore and bought me tickets to watch Denise Ho's concert after I casually mentioned it to her. I haven't even met her prior to this and she graciously bought the tickets for me, and invited me over to stay at her place during my two-week trip. I could have burgled her house for god's sake but she trusted me unconditionally; I was almost a stranger to her. Thank you, Belle. I appreciate all of these from the bottom of my heart. This happened at a time when things was not going well for me and it re-affirmed my faith in people and the Universe. If not for my earlier decision to reverse my hermit-dom, I wouldn't have accepted the invitation to meet up and I would have missed this learning experience.

The Hongkong trip was significant to me because it was the first time I sort of travelled alone (my partner left for Singapore after one week). I am the sort of person who is afraid of being alone in the dark and this was a major step out for me. It gave me the confidence to do this traveling thing alone. Apart from that, I had the chance to catch one of the greatest concerts I've ever watched and the concert inspired me very much, both on a professional and personal level. Again, I put aside my financial insecurity to make this trip and it was very, very much worth it.

3. Finding my voice

This is again, tied to my self-image and I have been afraid to voice my true feelings and opinions because I was worried about how people would take them. Will they see me as some weirdo? Or will my clients get upset if I tell them what I truly feel? Can I stand up for myself against nasty clients?

As I grew in self-confidence after I re-valued myself (like some property, haha), I decided that it was very important to me that I find my voice back. I used to be totally self-confident and vocal when I was a kid and I lost that part of me when my life turned up-side down during my teenage years.

I needed to be true, true to myself, and to people. Finding my voice was triggered by the AWARE incident as I struggled whether to air my potentially radical views publicly or not. I finally came to the conclusion that I am my Self and I need to stay true to that self. I put my true self out there and it is up to people whether they want to accept me for me or not. Those who can't, will not be a good fit for me anyway. It will only be tiresome and will not be of any value to both parties if we all have to put on fake fronts and hypocritical smiles.

4. Realising my greatest enemy is – myself

This was a major epiphany for me.

For realising it was never about the luck, the environment, the people, the circumstances. It is all about how I choose to perceive and believe. Everything, everything can be good or bad, it is how one looks at it.

The difference between success and failure is the ability to control the mind. To train the mind and not let the mind train you. The mind is truly powerful, it can sabotage or it can empower. It just takes a flip of a mind-switch to make a radical difference but the difficulty is to convince oneself to flip that switch.

If I truly want something, I have to make that effort, no matter how great it is. It is entirely up to me whether I want to put in that extra inch or mile. Everyone has the power to will themselves into doing anything. "Cannot help it" is a bad excuse. The circumstances can be bad, people can be critical, but if you don't believe in yourself at the very least, or make the effort to go that extra mile, who's going to do it for you?

Nobody. So I have to do it for myself. And if I don't have the will to do it for myself, then who else but myself is the greatest enemy?

Nobody has the ability to create that negative situation or that bleak outlook apart from oneself. If there are people who can make the best out of crappy situations (Stephen Hawking, for example, has lost the use of his limbs but he is still contributing to the world, or Avram Grant's dad who had to bury his parents and siblings during world war II and still feel positive about life), then it is up to us to determine how negative or positive a situation can be. It is all relative.

Gratitude time for the ones who made a significant difference

  • Julia, as always. I do not know how would I have survived without you
  • My partner, for her unwavering support and love
  • Belle, for her invitation to Hong Kong
  • Andy & Jussi, for taking that effort to convince me that meeting strangers can be a pleasant experience
  • Adrianna, for being that inspiring example
  • Danny, for your moral support
  • All the great friends I have made during #barcamp
  • All my clients, especially Kevin, who has not only been a great client but a business mentor to me. The rest, I won't mention all the names because all of you have been great. Thank you for your support and understanding
  • All the Stevens (two, actually) that I know, for they see in me what I cannot seem to see for myself
  • Twitter and my twitter friends, for being my source of comfort when the going gets tough. Not sure what I'll do without the internet, seriously. I wouldn't even have a career! Can't imagine if I was born a century earlier.
  • Those of you who believe in the magic of the universe, thank you for making me feel sane.

Here's to a great 2010!

It is all about perception

This post was triggered while I was reading Avram Grant talk about his father. He was deeply influenced by his father, who at the age of 13 had to bury both parents and his five siblings during the second world war. His father could have become very bitter, I think nobody would take that right away from him.

But he did not. As Avram Grant recollected:

‘He actually couldn’t understand why I had gone. “Why do you live in the past?” he said. “The future! That is what life is about”. Incredible.

Avram Grant was the caretaker manager of Chelsea, almost bringing them the coveted Champions League trophy, only for John Terry to miss his penalty.

I could have been one of those stories of people who went the very wrong way. Unlike quite a few exceptional people I know, I do not seem to possess that sort of healing mechanism when one encounters a setback. I would typically be very harsh upon myself, and would end up wallowing in self-pity that could last for months, if not years.

One's greatest enemy

I have learnt that one's greatest enemy is not society, not survival, not anyone – but yourself. There are plenty of people out there who have gone through horrible childhoods, encountered the worst situations you could ever imagine in their youth, survived cruel twists of fate in their adulthood, and yet they take all of it in their stride and still choose to live life in the most positive manner possible.

So what is it that sets these people apart?

I feel it is the gift of perception. The perception to perceive that life has to go on no matter what, and you may as well make the best out of it. The perception to see the silver lining in every cloud. The perception to recognise that there will always be people who are worse off and yet happier. The perception to realise that truth is the better choice over deceit.

Everyone possess the gift of hindsight but not many choose to use it positively. Most people use their hindsight for lamenting about making the wrong choices. For regret. For all the things they could have done and didn't do.

Putting it in my perspective

I had a great week this week. Not just great, but GREAT. And you know what?

I realised that I am just so grateful for all the major setbacks I have encountered in my life. It is the sort of gratitude that makes me well up inside and feel totally blessed. If not for my setbacks, I don't think I would take myself out of my comfort zone and find that courage to pursue my happiness.

And I feel even more blessed when I realised it could all have been so different. I could have taken the 'easier' route of accepting that reality that I didn't want to live in and forced myself into being someone I am not. I could have taken the other extreme and chose to numb my pain with substances.

I am fortunate, for my perception allows me to see things in a different light. I must say, this was not innate in me, it was a conscious but slow shift for the past 3 years. I was almost a completely different person if you have known me just 3 years earlier,

I guess I simply reached the bottom then, decided not to stay there and try climbing up instead.

"You cannot choose the cards you're dealt with, but you can choose the way you play the hand".

Further reading

How much do we have to lose…

...In order to appreciate what we have? Why does it take for us to lose, or to face mortality, before we are even willing to maximize life?

I've just read "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom. I picked up the book to read because I was feeling restless; I wonder if the restlessness I feel are subtle nudges by my guides. The book chronicles the last days of Mitch Albom and his University lecturer whom have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The story itself was nothing new, but Mitch Albom just have this way of writing that tugs the heartstrings, or maybe I am just an emotional blob. I'll rather be an emotional blob than a non-feeling human I guess.

Death is the main theme of the book, and the author repeatedly questions himself about his own values, dreams and goals when faced with his beloved dying lecturer. I don't have to face death, I've been repeatedly questioning my own values, dreams and goals regardless. However, I've been guilty of taking life for granted. Reading intricate details about Albom's lecturer's slow decaying body and lessons about life he tried to teach before he left the world, I cannot help but feel that I have been wasting precious time given to me.

Making major decisons

I've always made major decisions easily. I am blessed with the self-ability to be realistic in a manner realistic people cannot be. Realistic people are not truly realistic in my humble opinion because if they have been honest and realistic about their life and death, they would not choose to live life in a 'realistic' manner, would they? If they have known that life may end anytime, that health may degrade over time, that possessions may be lost any moment, would they still pursue a so called 'realistic' life?

So, most of my life's major decisions are made pretty simply. I just ask myself, what if I were to die the next day? Will I be at my deathbed regretting making this decision or not? And then I'll realise, what truly matters. That sucky job did not matter so I quit, I cannot bring my money to my grave so I spent it on stuff that would make me happy, I did not want a mundane life to flash past me before my death so I took risks.

When I tell my friends how I make decisions, they laugh and remark that I am being too extreme. Am I really? Does anyone of us truly know if we are going to be alive the next day? What is so extreme to be realistic about Death?

I am grateful because even if I procrastinate over work, waste my time fretting over senseless worries, but when it comes to major decisions, I  do not shy away from it. Never shy-ed away when I quit my diploma studies, when I fell in love with a girl, when I quit at least 8 jobs in 8 years because I couldn't fit into the system, when I told my heartbroken mother I want to move out and that I am gay at the same time, when I took the leap to be self-employed.

Looking back, I am proud to proclaim that they were all fantastic decisions that made my life a lot better. I struggled with the guilt when I was young, because it seemed to society that I was being selfish, but life is really not about living it so that parents can be happy or to gain acceptance by society.

Making better use of my time

Right now, I am just ruffled that I am not making good use of my time. I live everyday as though there are going to be many more 'everydays'. There's so much I want to do and fulfill, but it is always 'later when it's a better time'. Either I am waiting to do something, or I am simply busy with work. I have no desire to go back to 16 hour work days working on projects that mean not much to me.

My values have changed.

I would like to work on projects that mean something to me. I used to be working for a certain number each month, a number that would mean that basic to intermediate material needs would be met, and then hoping that after those needs are met, I would have time to work on personal projects and causes. To accomplish this I took on intense projects because I was naive enough to think that I can complete these projects in short-time frames and get paid faster, and that will enable me to reach my target soon, which equates to free time for me to do things I want to do. I just ended up very tired, dissatisfied, and burnt out.

I realised that I would be very much happier if I chose to work on stuff I really wanted to work on, design-related or not, and even if I have to compromise on my comfortable lifestyle. Chasing numbers just doesn't cut it for me. I feel that I should do what I feel is right, and simply trust that I will be provided enough for to accomplish my dreams and goals.

I no longer want to be the old self who lived just to prove my worth and to gain acceptance. I am so much more than my work, why should I let my work and material possessions define me?

Living life

I do not want to wait till someone has died, or when my senses fail, or I lose my limbs, to live life the way in order to do it justice. I want to be able to have a sense of purpose or accomplishment everyday and not feel like I have wasted yet another day.

I think for me it is very much a psychological barrier – I need to literally reprogram my mind to discard belief systems that seek to disempower me and not to fall back into the whole capitalist society syndrome whereby money-making must be the prime objective of every human being's survival plan.

I want to start living life.

How the Universe worked its magic on me

I have been buried in work, which in turn makes me feel like crap because I can't seem to output anything that is of my own standards when there are deadlines everyday. I can point fingers at client-side delays inducing clashed schedules, unexpected events in my personal life (passing away of an uncle), bad luck (falling into a drain), but I won't.

Deep down in my heart, I know I can blame nobody but myself for the situation I was in.

Positive intentions, bad execution

The intention started out positively. All I wanted was to kick-start my travel plans, so I took in more work to steady myself financially, believing that I will have the strength to overcome tight schedules and an increase of workload with the bigger picture in sight. There were also a couple of local startups in need of design help, I have always been a supporter of local talents and I felt that it was something I could do to give back.

I ignored that little voice.

That little voice that tells me that I was risking over-extending myself, taking my energy for granted and that I should think carefully whether I was capable of survival myself before offering my help to anyone else.

On hindsight, perhaps I was meant to go through this period. It was the much needed splash of cold water on my face, telling me that I need to respect myself and my time more. That it is not to be taken for granted that I can work any piece of canvas into well-crafted websites. My own carelessness taught me a harsh lesson as I started to produce work that nauseated me.

Falling into that pit again, quite literally

I am not sure why, but I seem to be overly harsh to myself. Each stumble I made, I cruelly chastised myself for being inefficient, unproductive, incapable, ill-disciplined, whatever negative word I can think of to describe myself. The high expectations upon myself is a double-edged sword. I could feel the shadows of my depression overcoming me once again. I felt my life-force slowing draining away from me.

It is just work, right? I know. I just cannot tolerate myself for stepping into this vicious cycle, or ignoring my gut feel. I reminded myself repeatedly that my issues are non-issues compared to warring countries and starving children; I just can not help feeling as though I was sinking deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit.

When I fell into a drain amidst really tight deadlines for my work, I started laughing at myself. No, I was not going mental because of the unfortunate events, but rather I was getting amused. I looked up at the sky above and asked, "What else?". Amazingly, despite the really bad cuts on my leg and bruised ribs, I knew I was blessed. I knew I have been riding on my luck because I did not have any serious physical injuries since I was a kid. I knew the fall could have been worse, I could have ended up really badly injured rather than just cuts and bruises.

The magic begins

I had ordered a few books from Amazon.com a few days before and for unknown reasons, they shipped half of my order by UPS even though I did not pay for it. In this particular shipment there was a book by Michael Newton – "Destiny of Souls". I have read Newton's first book on past life regression and hypnotherapy many months back and was totally fascinated with it. I put his second book on my shopping list for a long while and have only decided to buy it after I needed to buy a few other design-related books as well.

Michael Newton holds a PhD. in Counseling Psychology and has been a professional hypnotherapist for years before accidentally regressing one of his cases to his past life. Since then he has handled thousands of cases, regressing them into their past lives and also in between lives. He was an atheist with a logical, scientifically trained mind and it took him quite a while to reconcile what he was experiencing.

This was mind-opening for me personally, because though I have always believed in higher powers, it is altogether different when a doctor writes a book detailing thousands of recorded cases. Thousands of people from different walks of life, many non-religious, but providing very similar information pointing to dimensions beyond us.

The Universe conspires

Due to my fall I was not able to work for a day as I was in considerable pain, forced to be bedridden. This is why I always say, we can all have the best laid plans but the Universe usually have other ideas for us. Co-incidentally (no, actually I don't believe in co-incidences anymore) the books arrived by UPS within a few days after the order! I have ordered books from Amazon many times before and this is the first time they despatched my order into two within the same day, to two different postal carriers. The usual wait is two weeks at least but this time I ordered on a Friday and received them on Monday morning. I had time to read the book because I cannot do much except to be in bed.

I finished the book while nursing my wounds, throughout the read I was constantly getting reminded what life is all about. The book was gradually pulling me out of my self-built pit and was somehow gently telling me that I have better things to do than mope (which I have already known but was too caught up with perceived practicalities of life).

Remembering

I was still contemplating about the contents of the book when I had to reply to an email by my spiritual mother (long story) and was halfway lamenting about my sorry situation before it dawned upon me that this is not the way I want to spend my life. Moping. I want to remember my life as a life I am proud of, not a life full of wallowing in self-pity.

I can be plagued by a series of unfortunate events but so what? There is no point in feeling 'unlucky'. It does not do anything to help the situation. When one stops fearing misfortune and the unknown, one achieves a sense of liberation. I have been blessed enough to be aware enough not to be tied down too much by the supposed practicalities of life and the reality set down upon me by others, but being human I kept losing my way. I accept this because this is part of the human experience. No matter how spiritually aware one can be, there is always bound to be ups and downs, greater challenges than the previous one. This is the point of life. To keep learning. I am grateful because somehow I am being guided back to the path intended for me. Silently and steadily.

When one stops fearing misfortune and the unknown, one achieves a sense of liberation.

I understand that I will need to learn how to cope with my overwhelming emotions and underwhelming self-image. It cannot be expected to be eradicated so soon after a lifetime of deep-routed programming and god knows how many past life-times.

My obsession with past-lives

My spiritual mother (yes this sounds funny but I cannot think of a better term), Julia, once commented I am the only person she knows that is so obsessed about past-lives. While signing up for the Soul Realignment course, Andrea Hess told me that I would not want to sign up if I am not able to do it. Thinking about this along the same line, perhaps there is a reason why I am obsessed and intrigued about past lives. There is a reason for every soul's desire, right?

So halfway typing the email to Julia (yes I have an issue with digression) I realised that this is what I really want to do and why not? What is stopping me? To be honest, I am afraid to cope financially. This a rational fear and I am sure many others while seeking their way to their goals feel the same as well. However, this time I am determined not to let it stop me. Pursuing my spiritual interests has been part of me for a long while now and why should I not? I can only get too impatient and eager to learn.

In denial

Perhaps I have been in denial about my work for a long time. Each time I think it is a passing phase caused by stress, but it has been a long time since I genuinely feel excited about a design project. The catch-22 situation here is, perhaps if I can find ways to diversify my income streams, I would not face so much pressure from my design work and that will enable me to produce work of a higher quality, and that will in turn allow me to work with better clients and budgets, which will also allow me to rediscover my love for design again. It is very much a part of me, so much a part of me that I am afraid to let go.

Yet I know I have to let it go first in order to find it back again. This applies to a lot in life isn't it?

Why spiritual therapy

I have had irrational fears, behaviors, reactions, inexplicable happenings. I had felt I do not belong to this world. There are just too many things in this world that cannot be explained by logic. When I was a child I never understood why I had to live, the thing is, people are so afraid of death right, most of them want to live. For me, everyday I wished for death. I did not know why. To be honest I never had a particularly harsh childhood, there was a lot of rejection and emotional pain but it was not as though I was made to beg on the streets.

Awakening spiritually was a life-turning point for me.I still don't quite get it why we have to progress spiritually in order to rejoin the Source one day, like why even start this process in the first place, or why was there even a Source in the beginning. However, it meant a lot to me that there are reasons why I have certain feelings.

I realise (thank god for the internet!) that there are many others like me. They are still in the minority, and there are many who did not have the luck or blessing to experience spiritual support (like I have Julia with me) or an awakening process. I know how it feels like to feel alienated and weird and I feel that I can learn to provide some form of support to these people.

I went through a Soul Realignment reading for myself and introduced Julia to it. We both found it really beneficial in different ways individually, it brought a lot of clarity to what we have been experiencing in the past.

Imagine being able to remember why you came into this life, why you have seemingly unresolvable issues with a parent, why you are afraid of heights or water, why you have an unexplainable pain in a certain part of your body. There is always the conflict of – perhaps we're not supposed to know that much, but I am slowly believing in 'when the student is ready, the teacher appears'. We're supposed to gain the information we are already meant to know.

I feel my empathy is gifted to me for a reason. This will not be my only stop. I have a deep-rooted interest to learn spiritual regression, animal communication, alternative healing, the list goes on. I am not sure when I will be equipped to actually provide any help, but I will know it when the time comes. I hope to blend whatever knowledge I will eventually acquire into some form of personalised support to people drawn to seek my help. I hope to be a conduit in some form because I had felt helpless before and I know how much difference it makes to have means of support and empathy.

This is what I desire, I do not know if I will eventually succeed or if I will lack the patience to persevere but at this very moment I will give it my best shot.