Author: Tim Ong

Mental Habits, Nutriment and Happiness

Mental Habits, Nutriment and Happiness

The Pattern that leads to Depression 

As I see more and more patients, especially the elderly, and especially during this Covid-19 pandemic, I see a pattern.   

This is the pattern – our mental states, whether happy or otherwise, is very dependent on our mental habits that we have cultivated and strengthened over time.  

This is especially so in the elderly because as we grow older, our mental states tend to be dependent on our dominant mental habits. As we start to lose control over some of our physical functions, we seem to also gradually lose control over our ability to direct our mind. Thus, our mental habits become the dominant determinant of our mental states. 

This loss of control over our life is a source of fear for us, and especially so for the elderly. This fear, coupled with the dominant mental habits, become the trigger for anxiety and depression. 

Thus, if we have the mental habit of wanting to control people, circumstances or outcomes, we become fearful in old age as we gradually lose control. If we have the mental habits of focusing on the negative, we become more worrisome over time, and again, this leads to more anxiety and depression. 

Training the Mind 

Another pattern that I notice is this – it becomes increasingly difficult to train the mind as we grow older. This is understandable as we become more and more set in our mental habits, in our ways.  

Therefore, the wise advice of the ancient sages – that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second-best time to do so is now. The best time to cultivate and train our mind is 20 years ago, but if we have not started, now is the second-best time to do so. 

What kind of mental habits should we cultivate, and how do we do that? 

Well, one of the best mental habits that we can cultivate, that will continue to be beneficial for us now and into the future, is the habit of focusing on the positive. Learn to see the positive in any situation. In fact, if you can see the positive in even the most negative situation, then you have won a prize hard to gain even though you may have lost something else. Therefore, train your mind to see the positive in any situation. 

One effective way of seeing the positive in any situation is to learn gratitude. Gratitude trains our mind to see the good in everything. Open your eyes in the morning and you can be grateful for being alive. Walk into the bathroom and you can be grateful that you are still mobile and strong. Eat your breakfast and be grateful that you have food on the table. Walk outside your house or go to work, and be grateful of the freedom that you still have. Return home at night and be grateful that you have lived another day. There is just so many things you can train your mind to be grateful for.  

Secondly, unlearn the habit of wanting to control people, situations or outcomes. Learn to accept things as they come to you. Be OK with whatever comes along. Just make the best of the situation. Look for your best possible response to the situation that is beneficial to both you and those involved. Let go of your fear or feeling of discomfort at not being able to control the outcome. If the fear or unpleasant feeling persists, be OK with that too. Just learn to watch your fear or discomfort non-judgmentally, and see that they will dissipate with time. They will go away when you don’t feed them with your judgment. On the other hand, if you do feed them with your attention and judgment, they grow stronger and more persistent. This is the wisdom of non-judgmental awareness, and the insight or realization that you will gain. This is also the concept of nutriment is action.  

Too Old to Train the Mind? Try Chanting 

It is often said that “you can’t train an old dog new tricks”. Although not an absolute rule, this observation is generally accurate. It is difficult to train your mind when you are old because you already have a strong set of mental habits. So, start training your mind when you are young. Start now. 

For those who find it difficult to train your mind now, you can try chanting. Chanting, done regularly and diligently, is also a form of mind training. When you chant, you are focusing your mind on something positive or neutral, and therefore not focusing on the negative. The longer you can chant, the better the benefits. So, learn chanting.  

Another method is to keep your mind busy with some kind of work or activity, such as gardening, exercise, walking in the park, playing mahjong with friends. If you have a hobby, then focus on the hobby. Spend more time at your hobby. Any kind of activities that can take your mind away from thinking negatively is a good activity for this purpose. 

Be of Service to Others 

Finally, look for and join societies or clubs that give meaningful services to others. Become a volunteer. Do some charity work. Be of service to others. 

Be a Problem Solver, not a Problem Creator

Be a Problem Solver, not a Problem Creator

This is a very simple, yet effective, principle to follow that leads to success in any area of your life.  

If you are a problem creator at home, you will soon lose your family. If you are a problem creator at work, you will soon lose your job. If you are a problem creator with your friends, you will soon lose your friends. This is a very natural and predictable outcome. 

On the other hand, if you are a problem solver – at home, at work, anywhere – you will be welcome. You will be wanted. You will be needed. That is why there is such a term as a “solution provider”. A solution provider is basically a problem solver. A solution provider provides a solution to your problem. 

Think about it. The supermarket solves your food problem. The doctor solves your health problem. The accountant solves your accounting problem. Even entertainers solve your boredom problem.  

Most of us do not want to be a problem creator, nor do we set out to be one. However, we sometimes create problems unconsciously and unnecessary due to our lack of self-awareness. We constantly react to people and situation automatically, out of habits. Our past experiences condition our reactions. In other words, we continue to live in the past.  

Once, a lady patient came to see me due to stress. On further discussion, her problem started because of a simple phone call from her mother-in-law to her husband late at night. She was totally upset with that late night phone call, and therefore upset with her husband. When I asked her whether she would have reacted in the same way if the caller had been her own mother or sister, instead of her mother-in-law, she was stunned for a while. Then she responded that she would not have reacted in the same way.  

On further examination, the issue was not really the phone call. The real issue was her own relationship with her mother-in-law. She has had a troubled past with her mother-in-law, and from those old experiences had come this conditioned reaction that she was not aware of.  

Often, we are caught in similar situations where we react to people or situations simply out of past conditioning without our conscious awareness. Many of our relationship problems arise in this manner. Thus, if one has a high degree of self-awareness, many problems can be prevented in this way. 

While most of us may not consciously set out to be a problem creator, we need to be aware of those who intentionally set out to create problems, and then pretend to offer you the solution. We see this modus operandi a lot in politicians. Many politicians love to divide and rule. They create or fan racial or religious issues, turning them into big problems, and then offer themselves as the solution provider. 

 Unfortunately, this simple modus operandi is easy to implement and succeed because we ourselves have inner prejudices and biases which we are either not aware of, or not willing to admit and take responsibility for. In this way, we become easy pawns for their manipulations. Thus, we see here how denial can be harmful not just to ourselves, but also to others, and to society at large. Denial can make us an unconscious and unwitting participant to problem creation.  

Reality itself does not create problems.  

Meditation on Fear: Fear is Optional

Meditation on Fear: Fear is Optional

1. Fear is optional. While fear may be quite real in our lives, there is a state that is free from fear and it is possible to achieve it. Since there are two possible states – one with fear and one without it – we have a choice, but this choice is only available to us when we have the wisdom and insight to see it.

2. Fear is mental. While pain may be unavoidable in our physical body, we do have a choice not to be fearful of it. As a doctor, I have seen patients who experience similar bodily pain, yet one may suffer more than the other. The one who suffers more is the one whose mind is totally absorbed in the pain, creating stories around it and embellishing it with all kinds of fear.

3. Fear is an error in thinking. It arises out of a wrong view, belief, perception or thought. When our thought departs from reality (from what is) or when we want things to be other than what is, then we become fearful.

4. Resisting reality is futile. No matter how hard we try to resist reality or want things to be other than what is, we will fail and suffer for it. The more we resist, the more we suffer as we are going against the flow of what is.

5. We resist out of ignorance. We believe the story we have created around our experience. We do not realize that our views are wrong. In truth, no belief is true. No perception is real.

6. A belief is merely a perception of reality. We must realize that our perception has severe limitations. There are at least 3 ways our perceptions are limited.

  • We are first limited by the limitations of our sense organs. We can see light only between a specific range of wavelengths but unable to perceive those beyond this range. Further, our eye structure allows us to see an image that is different from the compound eyes of a fly. Our other sense organs are similarly limited.
  • Secondly we are limited by our perspective. We can see things only from a specific point of reference, very much like the story of the blind men and the elephant.
  • Lastly, we see things through our own filters. These filters are our mental prejudices, concepts, assumptions, beliefs, experiences and ideas. It is like a camera catching a shot through a certain filter, changing its original colour. With so many limitations to our perceptions, how can we be absolutely sure that our perception is true? Is it not more likely wrong?

7. We are deceived by our thinking mind. Our thinking mind is coloured by our ego or self. It’s rich with its own experiences, assumptions, beliefs, concepts, desires and expectations. Ultimately, our thinking mind itself is limiting our life experience. It locks us into a self created reality, a world of our own creation – an illusion of reality.

8. We can live intuitively beyond the ego-mind. Beyond this thinking mind is another that serves us intuitively. It has the ability to dip into the all-knowing, all-pervading universal mind. It is free from judgment and prejudices, and is therefore free from error.

9. There is no fear in this mind. Living like the lotus is then possible – to be in this world but not of this world. We can then live in this physical mundane world and still not be afflicted by it.

Where you find fear, there you will find a wrong belief.

Healing a Broken Relationship

Healing a Broken Relationship

Understanding a Relationship 

Before we talk about healing a relationship, it is important that we understand what a relationship is, or rather, what makes a good relationship. 

  1. A relationship is a mutual responsibility. A relationship can only happen when there are at least 2 people involved in it. A relationship is like a clap. It can only occur when two hands clapped. One hand alone cannot produce the clap. Therefore, a relationship is a mutual responsibility. 
  1. A relationship is a privilege. It is a privilege because one can always choose not to have a relationship. One always has this freedom of choice. A relationship is not one-sided, coerced or compelled. One must be free to enter into or walk out of a relationship. 
  1. A relationship must be mutually beneficial. We choose to have a relationship because we see its potential to enrich our life, to make it better, to flourish together. Therefore, both sides must benefit from it. Without these mutual benefits, the relationship will eventually fail. 
  1. A relationship is a mirror. We like someone or fall in love with someone because that person mirrors something in us that we like, admire or want. At the same time, we must bear in mind that he or she will also mirror our fears, insecurities, weaknesses and limitations. This is not necessary a bad thing. In fact, this offers us ample opportunities to recognize, acknowledge and heal our own fears and limitations, that may otherwise go unnoticed, unacknowledged and therefore unable to be healed. It is here that you can turn a crisis into an opportunity for growth. Use it well. 
  1. In a relationship. honesty is the best policy. At any time, a relationship can go bad, go sour or become broken. This often happens because one or both in the relationship fails to or is unwilling to face his or her own inner fears, and therefore ends up unable to communicate truthfully or effectively with each other. In fact, the most common reaction is one that looks for someone to place the blame on. Most ego understand this but cannot seem to help itself. Unfortunately, this is not only unhelpful but often worsen an already bad situation. It is here that honesty is the best policy. For any relationship to flourish, truth must be the foundation of that relationship. Honesty is needed for truth to be upheld. 

Healing a Broken Relationship 

When a relationship is broken, these are some of the things we should keep in mind. 

  1. A broken relationship needs a safe space to heal. A healthy relationship creates a safe space for communication. In this safe communication, the goal is NOT to find someone to blame, or to look for a scapegoat. The goal is to find CLARITY and UNDERSTANDING of the dynamics in the relationship that had led to the unhealthy situation. It is here that we need HONESTY and COMPASSION. We need empathy – to be able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Once we see and understand the dynamics involved and can acknowledge it, we can have the opportunity to heal it or to make it better. At times, that may require some compromises from both sides. 
  1. A relationship offers us opportunities for self-understanding and self-knowledge. It offers us self-growth. This happens through the mirroring effect in a relationship.  We can choose to accept these opportunities when they present to us, or we can reject them. Again, this requires HONESTY, and also COURAGE to face one’s own vulnerabilities. A safe space needs to be created for this.  
  1. Some common, and often unconscious, dynamics need healing because they are no longer serving us well. They may have served us well in the past because they were needed at a time when we were more vulnerable and less mature to be able to handle the situation. Presumably, we are more mature now to be able to see the limits of those dynamics and coping mechanisms.  
  1. Seek to recognize and acknowledge unhealthy habits and beliefs. One of the most common habits is our habit of looking outward for someone to blame when things go wrong, instead of examining ourselves inwardly. This habit persists despite the fact that it is one of the most ineffective methods in solving any problem. In fact, it often aggravates the problem. We should learn to see it for what it really is – an ego trying to protect itself from perceived threats.  
  1. Be aware of self-deception and denial. The ego is cunning, and often can and do try to deceive itself through taking a self-righteous position and offering all kinds of justifications for why the blame should be on someone else. Denial is a common coping mechanism, together with rationalization and justification. As we have said before, the goal of the enquiry is not to blame or find a convenient scapegoat. It is to find understanding. Still, some egos may choose this route rather than take the more courageous route to face its own vulnerabilities. While we strongly encourage self-honesty, we also need to recognize that some egos may not be ready or willing to do this. They may reject this opportunity to heal, or they may choose to confront this issue at another time. Self-growth cannot be forced. It has to come willingly from the ego. 

Things to Avoid, or How Relationship Fails 

It is useful to keep some of these pointers in mind in order to preserve a relationship. Very often, these are what keeps a relationship healthy. 

  1. Do not take things personally. This is a very good advice from Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements. Very often, problem arises because we take things that are not personal to be personal. This is because we tend to see things from our own perspective, from our own life experiences. We think that everything the other person does is about us. In fact, this is often not true. Everything the other person does is about him or her, not about you. If you are honest with yourself, you will also see that this is true for you. When we take things personally, we get a skewed view of reality, a distortion of what is. This leads us to form wrong or inaccurate conclusions about the situation or person. Based on this wrong conclusion, we act and disaster follows.  
  1. Do not make assumptions. Often a relationship goes wrong because we simply jump to conclusions about things. We assign a motive for the other person’s actions without knowing for certain whether that motivation is true or not because we did not verify it with him or her. Based on that assumption, we act as if our assumption is right, and disaster follows. 
  1. Do not be accusatory in your approach. Nobody likes to be accused of things, and especially things they did not do, or motivations they did not have. For the same reason, do not put words into the other person’s mouth. 
  1. Do not be judgmental. Our habits of being judgmental and taking things personally are the main reasons problems arise in our relationships. Avoiding these two habits goes a long way in preserving and nurturing a relationship. 
  1. We do not have to stick to our original narrative. We can always change our narrative. There is a deeper truth in this simple statement. Everything and every experience in our life is a story we tell ourselves. Fundamentally, there is nothing true in our narrative because we base our story on our past experiences, that are themselves also not true. In this way, we create for ourselves an illusory world of make believe. It is important for us to see this and to know that we can change this narrative. When we see things from a different perspective, that is essentially what we are doing – changing our narrative. 

Lastly, it is important that at every point in this journey of healing, stick to the truth – the deeper truth. Let truth be your guide and motivator in everything you do and say, and remember to do this with compassion. It is here that the truth will set you free – free from guilt and free from worries. It is a very liberating feeling, a joy. 

Understanding Emotion with Mindfulness

Understanding Emotion with Mindfulness

With mindfulness practice, not only are we able to look at and understand our thoughts, but we can also similarly look at and understand our emotion. When we watch the arising of our emotion without judgment, we can learn a lot about how emotion arises and unfolds.  

Some people find that watching our thoughts is more challenging than watching our emotion. This is because thoughts are swift and fleeting. On the other hand, emotion is usually more intense and obvious. So, emotion becomes a useful window into understanding our inner world. 

The Origin of Emotion 

What gives rise to our emotion? Emotion arises with thoughts. These thoughts may be something that we are consciously aware of, or they may be just below our conscious radar, in our subconscious mind. When we observe these thoughts further, we learn that they are not just any thoughts. Specifically, they are thoughts of wanting – wanting things to be in a certain way. They are our desires.  

When we want things to be in a certain way, and we expect to get them in the way we want them, then we feel hopeful. On the other hand, when we want things to be in a certain way, and we expect not to get them in that way, we feel fearful and apprehensive.  

So, both hope and fear are projections of future outcomes.  

It is said that hope is expecting what is desirable to happen, while fear is expecting what is undesirable to happen. Both are almost identical. The only difference is what you choose to focus on. When you focus on the positive, hope arises. When you focus on the negative, fear arises. 

Types of Emotion 

We can group emotion into three categories – positive, negative and neutral. 

A positive emotion is what makes us feel good, pleasant and hopeful. A negative emotion makes us feel bad, unpleasant and fearful. Neutral emotion neither make us feel good nor bad. In general, we do not have a problem with positive or neutral emotion. Our problem is with our negative emotion. Thus, learning to understand and manage our negative emotion is essential to our well-being and happiness. 

The most fundamental of all negative emotion is fear. We can say that fear is the mother of all negative emotion. Fear manifests itself in a great variety of ways. It can give rise to small irritation and frustration. It can also give rise to anger and rage. It is the cause of our anxiety and worry, and our depression. It is the cause of our obsessions and compulsions.  

So, to manage our negative emotion well, we must learn and understand fear. We must be willing to face our fear, befriend it and be totally familiar with it. Only then can we do something about it. If we deny it, or hide it, or push it away, we will not be able to confront it and know it well. We will be denying ourselves a great opportunity for transformation and growth. 

Understanding Fear 

We are often told that fear is an acronym for “false evidence appearing real”. This is a simple, yet accurate description of fear. Why? Because fear is not real. Fear is an illusion. It is a creation of our own mind. This is not to say that danger is not real. Danger may be very real, but fear is still optional.  

Fear arises when we feel threatened – physically or psychologically, or both. When we sense a lack of safety or security, we feel fearful. That is why safety is one of the human needs listed by Abraham Maslow.  

Fear manifests itself in many ways. Fear is mind-made, so it manifests itself as unpleasant sensation of the mind. When it is mild, it may manifest as mild irritation or discomfort, frustration, or a lingering sense of unease. As fear grows, this sense of unease becomes more obvious and troubling. We may even direct it outward, putting the blame on an external person, thing or event. This may show up as anger, or in severe cases, rage or hatred.  

Unmitigated or uncontrolled fear is costly. Psychologically, it is painful and unpleasant.  

We often express fear in unhealthy ways, in the form of anger and hatred, thus damaging or even destroying important relationships and friendships. When we deny fear or suppress it, fear may be expressed physically in the form of physical discomfort, pain and even disease. Fear, or any negative emotion that is not expressed properly in a healthy way is toxic to the body and mind. So, it is important that we learn to express our negative emotion in healthier ways. 

Managing Negative Emotion 

The way to manage any negative emotion, including fear, is to first acknowledge its presence. Do not deny it.  

Denying it or avoiding it only makes it more difficult for us to resolve it. Running away from our problem is never a good solution. We may need to step back once in a while to give ourselves some space to recover or to regain our strength, but we can never avoid a problem indefinitely. At some point, we must find the courage to confront it. 

When we are faced with our negative emotion, there are two options for us. One option is to confront it as if we are going into a fight. Our adrenaline is flowing maximally, our muscles all tensed and ready for a fight. The other option, which is a better one, is to face the negative emotion with compassion. This means we do not go into the confrontation ready for a fight. Instead, we go in with an open mind, with a compassionate mind, with an attitude of learning and understanding the emotion. In this way, we become more relaxed, not tensed. We become more accepting and allowing.  

Often, this second option of facing negative emotion is itself very therapeutic and healing. It allows us to recognize and acknowledge the negative emotion, and to allow its expression. A lot of pent-up energy can be released in this way. 

Pent-up negative emotion needs an outlet, preferably one that is neither harmful to self, nor to others. One simple way to do this is journaling. Journaling offers us a few benefits. Firstly, when we write in a journal, we have time to reflect, analyze and understand our emotion better. Writing it down provides clarity. It is also a gentle way to release the pent-up energy.  

On the other hand, some people may prefer a more overt physical expression. This is especially true if we have pent-up anger or frustration. Some people find it useful to release their tension by doing physical exercises, such as running, boxing or other physically intensive sports. Others release this energy by punching a bag or screaming out loud in a controlled and often private environment. Yet others may benefit from attending workshops that are designed for this very purpose of releasing pent-up energy, guided by an experienced facilitator. 

Best Time

When is the best time to manage emotion? Well, the best time to manage emotion is before it arises, at the point when your thoughts arise. The next best time to manage your emotion is when it first arises, before it gathers momentum, and especially before it explodes out of control.

Let’s use an analogy of the river.

Imagine that you are in a paddle boat that is floating slowly in a calm river. Then you notice that the boat is picking up speed on its own. Now you begin to hear the roar of a waterfall up ahead. At this point, it is easy for you to divert the boat to the bank with your paddle. However, as the boat picks up speed, it becomes harder to do so, and you will reach a point of no return if you leave it too late to divert your boat. When that point is reached, you cannot avoid falling down the waterfall as the momentum of the boat is now too strong for you to fight against.

In the same way, our emotion is like the boat in the river. If we can note its arising early, we can easily manage it. We can change our thoughts, replacing them with something more positive or useful. We can also divert our attention to a different topic, situation, person or event. We can distract ourselves. In this way, we can diffuse our emotion.

If we leave it too late, we may reach a point of no return with our emotion. By then, the inevitable outcome is that the emotion will burst or explode out in the open for all to see. Often, this complicates an already difficult situation.

In this way, mindfulness is an essential and useful tool in managing our emotion as it allows us to be aware of the arising emotion as early as possible.

Summary 

In short, mindfulness is a great tool to help us understand our emotion. It allows us to observe, reflect and analyze our emotion, and to bring about an understanding of how our emotion arises and unfold. It helps us to face our fear, to befriend it and to finally be free of it. 

As Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Fearlessness is not only possible. It is the ultimate bliss.” 

Using Mindfulness for Personal Transformation

Using Mindfulness for Personal Transformation

What is mindfulness?  

According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-reactively, to the unfolding of our experience moment to moment. Mindfulness is done purposefully, with a conscious decision, to be aware of our present experience. It is also done non-judgmentally, non-reactively. This means we merely watch the unfolding of our experience. We do not add on to the unfolding experience with our habits of dramatization, exaggeration and fantasy.  

Dr. Gordon Coates in New Zealand has a simpler definition for mindfulness. To him, mindfulness is the constant, non-judgmental awareness of our body, feelings and thoughts. 

Two Layers of Reality

Mindfulness practice helps us to unclutter our mind. To be more specific, mindfulness helps us to unclutter the content of our mind.  

It helps us to see that there is a layer of reality that we are experiencing, and then, there is another layer of reality that we have added to the first layer. This second layer is the result of our mental habits, our conditioned mind. Our everyday mind has the habit of adding to the first layer of real experience through dramatizing and exaggeration – habits that come from our conditioned mind.  

The problem is that we get lost in the drama of our own creation without even being aware of our own role in creating it. With practice, as our mind watch purposefully and mindfully, we begin to see these two layers of reality. We begin to understand our own role in creating and maintaining these fantasies in our life. Our joy and our pain are all our own creation. 

What mindfulness is not

Mindfulness practice is not about the thoughts. It is not really about the content of your thinking. It is more useful to understand your own thinking process – how your thoughts come about, and more importantly, how you react to those thoughts. With enough practice, you will soon realize that you do not have to believe in those thoughts. And once you stop believing in them, they no longer hold any power over you.  

Mindfulness is also not about not thinking. We are not asking you to stop thinking. It is not necessary to do that. All you need to do is to train yourself to become more aware of your thoughts and your reactions towards them. Understanding and insights will come gradually.  

Mindfulness practice is not a mean to escape from reality. In fact, when done properly, you actually train yourself to see things as they really are – free from your own drama.  

Mindfulness is about attention and focus, but it is not just about attention. It is also about awareness.  

Mindfulness is not about getting rid of unpleasant thoughts and emotions. It is more about understanding your unpleasant thoughts and emotions, how they arise, and how you react to them. 

 Lastly, mindfulness is not Buddhism. It is not religious. It is a mental practice, a mental skill, that anyone can acquire, learn and master.  

Looking inward for personal change

So, with mindfulness practice, you learn to look inward to your own body, feelings and thoughts. You learn to be more aware of them in a way that is non-judging. You train yourself to merely watch them as they unfold in your experience. In this way, you are able to now differentiate facts from fictions that you have created. You learn to see things as they really are, and this leads to insights and self-understanding. 

As you learn to become more mindful, there will be some useful insights rising in your experience. You will realize that your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. This is an important insight. It means that if you can train yourself to focus only on the positive, you can free your mind, and therefore yourself, from the sufferings and pain that follow negative thoughts.  

You will also learn that whenever your mind wanders to the future or to the past, you can always bring it back to the present moment by focusing on your body, or body sensation. Why? Because your body is always in the present. It does not exist in the past or in the future. So, this is a neat trick to easily bring your mind back to the present moment.  

You will also observe that there are actually two types of feelings or sensation – one arising from the body, and another arising from our thoughts. Unpleasant, and even painful sensation from our body may be inevitable. However, mental suffering from our thoughts is optional, meaning that we do not really have to create that mental pain once we can master our thoughts. When we are unaware of this fact, we often have no choice but to suffer both physical as well as mental pain. Once we know this, however, we do have a choice. We can learn to endure or tolerate physical pain without dramatizing or exaggerating the pain with our thoughts – a habit we often inflict on ourselves without realizing.  

Common Mental Habits

The more we learn mindfulness, the more we begin to understand ourselves and our mental habits.  

For example, we realize that we pay too much attention to what is happening outside of us, and not paying enough attention to what is happening inside of us. And we learn that paying attention to what is happening inside of us offers us more insight and self-understanding.  

We also notice how we often personalize experiences, meaning we misinterpret experience to be about us even when they are not necessarily so.  

We also make a lot of assumptions and jump to conclusions without verifying the facts. We are often not able to differentiate facts from fictions we have created ourselves. Our mind also has the tendency to focus on the negative, rather than the positive, and is often judging, criticizing, belittling and blaming – ourselves and others.  

We make a lot of generalization that may not be true. Our mind has the tendency to proliferate, fantasize, dramatize and exaggerate things. It also has the habit of looking into the past or the future, rather than staying with the present moment.  

Mindfulness is a potent tool for personal transformation

So, we can see here that mindfulness is a potent tool for self-understanding. With mindfulness, we become more aware of our own mental habits and beliefs, many of which are no longer serving our present needs. This awareness allows us to change ourselves, our mental habits and our beliefs.  

We can also use our emotions as windows into our own inner processes. However, be aware that looking inward is a journey for the brave. It requires us to adopt the policy of being honest with ourselves. We must learn to accept 100% responsibility for our own life. Although this journey of personal transformation may be full of challenges and difficulties, it is still a journey worth taking as we are likely to come out stronger and better in the end.  

As Sun Tze used to say – Know thyself. Know thy enemies. In a thousand battles, win a thousand victories. In this case, the enemies that we need to confront is not outside of us. Rather, they are our own inner limiting beliefs and mental habits that are no longer serving us well.  

Mindfulness is therefore an essential tool for personal transformation. 

The Importance of an Open Mind

The Importance of an Open Mind

Having an open mind is an important requirement or prerequisite for personal transformation.  

This is because the reason we are stuck where we are right now is our rigid and unyielding mind. It is precisely because of this rigid mind that we do not seem to have changed, to have progress, to have moved forward. We are still stuck in our old limiting beliefs, and therefore in our old attitude that has become a hindrance to our own progress.  

With this rigid, unyielding mind, we are blind to opportunities and possibilities that are there for us. We are building walls and closing doors. We imprison ourselves in our own little world, our little cocoon of comfort and apparent safety. We may feel safe, but it is actually a false sense of safety. In the long run, it is detrimental to our psychological and physical health. We are constantly validating our fears. 

When you have an open mind, you start to change all that.  

An open mind allows you to see more possibilities, more opportunities. An open mind allows you to consider other views, other options. They are all there, waiting for you. But you need to have an open mind to see them. With an open mind, the doors disappear. The wall disappears.  

With an open mind, you can start to see and recognize your own limiting beliefs and attitude. And once you are aware of them, you can change them. With a rigid mind, you cannot even see them, let alone recognize and change them.  

Thus, an open mind is an important prerequisite for personal transformation. If you want to change your life, start by having an open mind. 

The Power of Beliefs

The Power of Beliefs

What are beliefs? 

A belief is merely a perception of reality. This perception may or may not be accurate. Nevertheless, we believe it to be true.  

Knowing something to be true is different from believing that something is true. In knowing, we have either seen the truth for ourselves, or we have strong evidence to support our conclusion that it is true. 

With beliefs, there may not be a knowing of truth, or any evidence to support our conclusion that it is true. We merely believe that it is so. 

However, a belief is not to be trifled with. Beliefs are almost always associated with, or invested with, strong emotions. That is why it can be difficult to get someone to change their beliefs. When their beliefs are challenged, their automatic reaction is to resist or push back. This may manifest in the form of anger or outright confrontation. 

Beliefs are also very powerful. Once you believed in something, you create a potential for it to become true to you. Acting on this belief validates it, and gives you the corresponding results that is congruent with your belief.  

The positive power of beliefs can be seen in spontaneous healing. The negative power of beliefs can be seen in all the fanatics in religions that end up as suicide bombers, murderers and manipulators.  

How do we form our beliefs? 

We form beliefs in two ways.  

The first way is through the way we interpret our own experience. This, in turn, is dependent on our own attitude towards life and our pre-existing beliefs. Our attitude itself is formed by our pre-existing beliefs. So, we can say that how we interpret our experience is greatly influenced by our pre-existing beliefs. Thus, we form new beliefs on top of old beliefs. Therefore, we have layers upon layers of beliefs, most of which we are not even aware of. They reside in our subconscious mind.  

The second way is when we accept what other people tell us as truth, often without even trying to verify or validate them. From young, we have been conditioned to believe that what our parents tell us are true. Likewise, we believe in those in position of authority, such as teachers, police and religious leaders. So, we automatically believe in whatever they tell us as truth. We do not try to, or even bother to verify them before accepting them as truth. 

This is erroneous on our part. The job of verifying the truth is our responsibility, and we should take it seriously. We should not be so gullible as to believe what people say without verification. 

We should also be careful of manipulators who are good at using words to evoke our deep emotions, and to arouse us to act in their interests. Using the right words that resonate with your beliefs, they can easily lead you by the nose and push you to act in a self-destructive way, and often, by staying out of harm’s way themselves. 

A belief does not have to be true for it to work for you 

 This is important to know – that a belief does not have to be true for it to work for you. In fact, that is why beliefs are so powerful, but used wrongly, they are also extremely destructive. When you truly believe in something, you basically hypnotize yourself with that belief, and live its “truth”, oblivious to reality.  

That is why people who are paranoid can behave in ways that are consistent with their paranoia, and may even resort to harming others in their attempt to protect themselves. Likewise, religious fanatics are willing to blow themselves up or kill others in the name of their beliefs, even when those actions are inconsistent with the real tenets of that religion.  

In a more positive way, a belief can cause spontaneous healing.  

So, be very careful what you choose to believe in. They can make or break you. Be aware of your beliefs.