The Good Friday long weekend has just passed, and the Labour Day + Hari Raya long weekend is coming up.
What would we prefer?
As working adults, would we prefer to have these long weekends without emails, without work-related messages, without proposals to write, without colleagues and bosses to bother us? And just have time and space for our minds and bodies to take a break from the hustle and bustle of work and decision-making? To have the time and space to explore our interests, our hobbies and spending time with loved ones?
As parents, would we prefer to take these long weekends to spend time with our children, have conversations, bring them out, do art, play sports, go shopping, binge watch movies and/or netflix, play computer games together? Would we prefer to have the whole weekend off, so that we can develop meaningful relationships with the ones we love, not just our children, but with our spouse, our parents, our extended families?]
As teachers, would we prefer to take these long weekends to also spend time with our loved ones, doing the things we love, beyond our work, beyond marking, beyond curriculum planning, beyond events, beyond minding our students, and have time to mind our own children, our own parents, our ownselves?
Then why, do we give "holiday homework" to our students/youth? Why do we feel the urge to have to "make sure" that they don't while away their time during these long weekends? Why don't we allow them the time and space to do "nothing", to allow them the time and space to play, pursue what they love? Why do we have this belief that they don't know any better, on how they will want to spend their time over these long periods of break, and therefore, we must "give them work to do"? Send them for more enrichment programmes, so that they are not idle?
Are we aware?
Are we aware, that we are already creating the future culture by doing so, where they will grow up to become managers and bosses who will also be the ones to give their staff work to do over the long weekends, and email them over the annual leaves and MC days? Because, we are now the role models to this future, of how we reject these periods of pause and idleness, of allowing for time and space to pursue our own interests, our own hobbies, our relationships with those who truly matter. Our children see us, hear us, feel us. And there are two extremes that they will become : hustle more, because that is what they see and learn and have been conditioned to do, or perhaps slack more, because they want to rebel and push for the opposite to happen. You might already be seeing these amongst your kids.
How about, we spend these next few days, already starting the conversation of what they might like to explore this weekend, that you can do together? How about, we practice the openness of this exploration, together with them?
For the first time, an adult can choose to ask them "What would you like to do this weekend?" and being students / youth, who have been so conditioned to being told what to do, you might hear a resounding "I don't know" and followed by apprehension, with a small voice at the backs of their heads "Is this a trick question?". Let them know that it is ok, that they don't know what they would like to do; let them know that actually, truthfully, you also don't know what you would like to do. And you would like to invite the exploration together. As teachers, as parents, as student/child/youth. And come up with a plan collectively.
If the youth/child/student comes up with the suggestion of wanting to spend time with their friends, say ok, and also arrange to spend time with your friends.
If the youth/child/student comes up with the suggestions of playing games, watching netflix, perhaps spend some time together to list down the games and shows that you can watch collectively, and also identify which ones you might want to watch independently, and come back and share with each other how the experience was like.
If the youth/child/student is the one who suggests taking time during this long weekend to study and do some additional worksheets, try and understand why, and allow for some time to do so, so that the youth/child/student is also empowered to make that decision, in awareness, in consciousness. And that also then gives you the space to share why you might want to do work or not, while the child/youth/student is studying. This helps to open conversations about the culture you would like to build, and it can be very empowering for both the youth/child/student and the adult.
If the youth/child/student is the one who suggests to read, or to go shopping, or to go to the playground, see if you have it in yourself to also do similar, to allow yourself to explore these, instead of allowing your mind to jump straight to "What a waste of time!". See if you can find it in yourself to savor these moments of pleasure, to stretch and challenge yourself too. Let the child/youth/student know, that it is challenging for you to do that, and that you are not doing it because of them (this is a sure-fire way of placing guilt and shame on the child, and eventually lead them to coming back to "Then I will just do what you want me to do lor."); you are doing it, to allow yourself to feel the discomfort, and to challenge yourself to do something different, out of your own comfort zone. And that it is ok to try and perhaps even fail. No one is to be blamed for the failure of the trial; it is a learning experience. And will you try again, if the child/youth/student suggests a similar activity, the answer is "yes", because it will always be a new experience with the child/student/youth.
If you have read till here, thank you so much for enduring this read.
Bottom-line : I am not saying that the child does a singular activity for the whole of the long weekend, for example, gaming. I am saying, allow the child/youth/student, with the guidance of the teacher/parent/adult, to have some conversation and empowerment of what to do over the long weekend that is to come. Allow the conversation to happen, not just between the teacher and the student, or the parent and the child/youth; allow the conversation to be amongst these 3 parties. And allow the time and space for these conversations to happen. Which is why I am sharing this post today, 2-3 more schools days before the start of the long weekend, because there is still time to turn things around.
It can be this evening's, or tomorrow morning's assignment, depends if you are a parent and/or a teacher reading this. And to support you and guide the conversation, ask the student/youth/child :
* What would you like to do this weekend? I have no clue for myself, and I would like to hear some suggestions of what you would like to do, and I might like to explore them too!
* As part of the "research", I would like you to go home/to school, and ask your parents/teachers, what they would like to do over this long weekend.
* Let's take some time over this Friday, to discuss/share and come up with our personal list of things that we would like to do this weekend with and without our families and/or our friends.
* It is ok to have similar and different activities; that's what makes it fun!
* We will also be taking some time to decide how much time we would like to spend on each activity. And it is also absolutely ok, to put in a space of doing absolutely nothing, and just stare into space, or look at the sky, or take a nap.
And let's just experiment and allow for this to happen, not just for this one long weekend, but for the long weekends to come for the rest of this year and next year. If we hope to change the future of work, and have more life-work balance, then let's start from our youth and our education culture.
Note : I understand that there are many parents who are front-line workers, and who will not have the luxury of spending these long weekends with their children/youth, and are grateful to the teachers for giving "holiday homework" and feel safer giving their own children "holiday homework" in the form of enrichment classes and worksheets/assessment books, to "compensate" the challenge of not being around. I am not against "holiday homework" per se. There is value in it.
But this value needs to be articulated and shared with the youth/child/student.
"Holiday homework" can still be provided as long as the meaning of it makes sense, rather than left to "no choice".
There is always a choice : do we choose the one that is easy, or the one that is meaningful? And meaningful for who? How might we co-create meaning, through education, with our youth/child/student?
This 1.5 months have been an interesting adventure of going online and digital. Due to the COVID-19 situation, many things have changed, and many things remain the same.
What remained the same (just a few to mention)
Working from home
Before COVID-19, I was already working from home. My office is within myhome, and I somewhat had a calendar/schedule of work to be done. Some days, I will be out and about, meeting with clients, partners, collaborators, to speak, share, brainstorm on how we might work together. Other days, I will be out and about, conducting workshops, training, facilitation and coaching work. And a few days will be set aside for administrative and consolidation work. I felt that there was quite a fair share of what I loved to do, what I liked to do, and what I need to do. Working from home also allowed for me to spend time with my elderly parents, when they are not out and about with their own meeting of friends and/or volunteer work.
When COVID-19 first hit, and the number of activities outdoors started to reduce, it just felt like that the number of days in the calendar increased for more administrative and consolidation work, and potentially more time and space for allowing my conceptual mind to wander, and take time for my structural and analytical mind to put the concepts in place.
Video Calls and Video Conferencing
Before COVID-19, I was already involved in some video calls and video conferences with colleague and associates from Centre for Mindfulness — Singapore and Reactor School. That was how we have used platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts to meet, discuss and brief each other of the work. We have also been actively using Google Drive and Dropbox to share files and folders. I have also had calls to friends and family overseas via Skype and WhatsApp calls.
When COVID-19 first hit, we just saw an increase of the usage of such platforms, and gratefully, it was something that we were used to, and therefore the change curve was not steep.
Motivations through Social Interactions and Support
With my preference for Social Thinking (based on my Emergenetics® Profile), the opportunities for me to work with people and through people, seemed to have significantly reduced. Even though I could still connect with them through social media, phone calls, video calls, etc, something seemed to be missing. It just didn’t feel the same. And there was a huge part of me, that could not pinpoint what it was for the longest time, and basically that emotional tension built up, slowly and surely.
When the first official advisory came out at the end of March, where the 1 metre social distancing and not more than 10 people can gather, that was one of my triggers. The day that announcement was made, I found myself absolutely restless and perhaps a tinge of frustration/irritation and almost a sense of helplessness. How do I now continue to do the work I love : facilitation and training? I can’t just sit here and let things be. And that afternoon/evening, that’s just what I did; I let things be, and just allowed myself to feel the restlessness, frustration, irritation and helplessness. Was it uncomfortable? Absolutely!
What came out from that moment of negative emotions, was a surge of courage to do something, that I had planned to do, but have been holding off / procrastinating on, because I was afraid : let me start taking videos of myself, in the work that I do. It wasn’t like a snap of the fingers moment, where I came out roaring and showing myself, because I had still no idea, what was it that I wanted to demonstrate through the videos.
And then I had the idea : my first few videos need not be directly related to the work I do; it can be something that I have done before, and was easier for me to try and experiment with : morning stretch exercises. The thoughts was also :
These thoughts supported me to give it a try, and in one morning (and a little into the afternoon), I videoed 7 “episodes” of “WFH Exercises”, each episode lasting between 5 to 16 minutes. An example of the episodes is here : https://youtu.be/jDRXLns9ZyI. I shot the videos directly on my phone, downloaded the app “InShot” to make some simple edits. They are not professional in any way, as there was no intention to, so please hold your judgements :)
This series was also a way to prepare myself in conducting a Facebook Live session in a newly set up group : SilverGood, which was set up to support the elderly community to keep and remain active and connected through simple activities. I volunteered for the first week’s activities, and one of it, was under the category “Exercises”. I conducted another session that same morning on “Art”. These 2 Live sessions helped me to gain confidence with taking videos, and conducting Live on Facebook.
Motivations through Ideas and Concepts
The Facebook Live session with SilverGood was on 3 April 2020, and after that Live session, I was intrigued with the concept and had an intention to potentially explore more of it. And all it took was the next announcement by PM Lee Hsien Loong that late afternoon at 4pm, where it was announced that, work from home will go full force on 7 April 2020, and home-based learning will also go full on on 8 April 2020. This announcement was made at 4pm on a Friday, and it hit me hard, because : most teachers would have packed up, and prepared to leave work, looking forward to a restful weekend (hopefully), and I empathised the most with teachers, because I have worked closely with them for 15–20 years, and I have many friends and relatives who are currently teachers and school staff. I know how hard they have been working the past few weeks to continue to support the students in their learning and managing the feedback of home-based learning, from students and parents. It has been challenging for them, and when news comes in so late in the week, with the timeline so short to achieve execution, I instinctively knew that their weekend was burnt, and there goes their rest.
And because of this one announcement, I cared enough to act. The next Monday onwards, on 6 April 2020, I did my first official Facebook Live on my company Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/chrysalists/videos/146647760114106/.
Again, keeping it simple, and easy to do, without too much preparation and planning, I decided, that something within 5–15mins would suffice, and to just experiment with the Facebook Live platform. And because my initial target audience to support was the educators, I scheduled the Facebook Live sessions early in the morning (6.45am) and at night (9pm) : https://www.facebook.com/chrysalists/videos/309737050002356/.
And it hit me on that first night that, it was not just the teachers that was going through this change of patterns, but the parents as well, and on Tuesday, 7 April 2020, onwards, the morning centering and grounding exercises and night compassion and gratitude exercises then focused and hoped to reach out to these two large groups of people.
By the end of the week, I was tired : physically, mentally and emotionally. And I learnt through this experience conducting Live sessions, that regardless of the duration, was not necessarily less demanding than a physical face-to-face training session. And it needs getting used to, and I will need time and space to build that muscle.
I took the weekend to recuperate and found myself still tired on Monday to do another Live session. And that was when I thought, perhaps it is not in the doing; it is in the intention of the doing. And I took the next few days to just be ok with resting and consolidating my thoughts and ideas. And I leveraged on the confidence and courage built over these last few trials and experiments, to attempt something a bit more : 4 x 30mins Facebook Lives, with not just simple practices, but some content too. And that gave birth to a mini-series : Curating the Home-based Learning Environment (Week 2), and a slightly longer series : Ramadhan x Circuit Breaker 2020 (which started with the idea of running for one week, purely based on my previous experience of how tired I felt after one week, but organically became a two-week series, which just ended yesterday).
And to increase the challenge of my own learning (my Gallup strengths of Connectedness, Learner and Input have been triggered), the 30-min sessions on Curating a Home-based Learning Environment was conducted via a third party web app called Streamyard (I chanced upon a few Lives over that weekend, where each of the Live streams used different apps — Streamyard, Be.Live and ecamm Live, and decided to try Streamyard amongst all, for its ease of use and affordability):
To further challenge myself, for the Ramadhan x Circuit Breaker 2020 series, the episodes were an hour long FB Live each, and this time having guests on board, and done in an interview style.
And Canva.com became a good friend throughout these experiments.
I am also experimenting with monetising the Live sessions. This time round, through the Ramadhan x Circuit Breaker 2020 series, I am asking for donations to RAHMATAN LIL ALAMIN FOUNDATION, for their fundraising efforts of the Buka Puasa SG initiative. I am heartened to see some responses, through the clicking of the QR code that I attached in the Live sessions. That is an indication to me, that the possibility is there for such an approach to be implemented. The details of the process will definitely require finetuning.
What have I Learnt?
1. Going Live takes Courage and Motivation
There must be a compelling enough reason, whether for self or others, to encourage me to go Live. And the reason must appeal to both my social and conceptual thinking preferences. I have learnt to embrace these aspects of me through this process of going Live, and it allowed me to flex my preferences in behaviours in expressiveness, assertiveness and flexibility.
I was clear of my motivations : to support others and to fulfil my sense of curiosity and keenness to learn something new and relatively novel. What sustained my motivation was also these two reasons. Affirmation from friends and my guests on the Ramadhan x Circuit Breaker 2020 series was a bonus.
This journey also allowed me to experience the value of courage :
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Supporting the community at large to tide through this period of time was the motivation I received to take this journey. In all honesty, I have no idea if these videos ever reached the audience I hoped to reach out to. I just held the intention of the service I wanted to provide, and took that leap of faith. Some might call me foolish and/or naive. I choose to trust the intention of doing good.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela.
2. Going Live has a greater outreach
I was pleasantly surprised when my first night Live session hit a reach of 300+ people, when I know I have not been actively marketing my company and my business. That excited me, but also caused me to lose focus. For the next few days, I was almost obsessed with how many people the videos reached and how many people viewed. I had to consciously take a pause from that mini-obsession, relook at the purpose of why I was doing these Lives and anchored myself back to my intention of starting these Lives.
Through the Ramadhan x Circuit Breaker 2020 series, my Malay Muslim guests super encouraging and supportive, and did their best to share the Live sessions. They felt it was meaningful and beneficial as lessons to the community at large, and even to their own community, and the largest reach was about 1000+, as of now. I know this is not a lot, compared to celebrities, etc. However, I am already very happy, as I learnt to differentiate, reach, views and the different segments within the views, and to be able to analyse this data a little bit more, for me to better execute digital and social marketing in future.
3. Going Live is playing the long game
One of my Live guests, Imran Tahir, who also invited me for a Live session as his guests on his Facebook page, Paperbackpackers, shared that the lesson in conducting such Live sessions is not immediate returns. It is about curating content and knowledge, and then perhaps looking at how to repurpose them, for other platforms and uses. It is also about leveraging on the outreach and marketing capability, and converting them later, into potential sales. Through him, I will be conducting a sharing with friends in Brunei and Singapore next Friday.
I am already preparing on repurposing some of the content I have developed into podcasts, as well as generating more in-depth content, to conduct some of these topics as workshops, trainings, sharing sessions.
These Live sessions have also transpired into other Live sessions and collaborations with others from different industries : https://www.facebook.com/SingingTechniques/videos/2602261906717701/ and it might just open doors to other possibilities.
This COVID-19 pandemic is challenging in many ways, and I am as affected by it, financially and emotionally.
There are days when I feel so overwhelmed by emotion, that I just do not feel like doing anything. Selffulness : heartfulness and mindfulness, has supported me to manage that. There are days when I just needed to head outdoors for a walk, to take a deeper breath, to not be around people.
I look at my bank account and see it depleting, month by month. The consolation is that the depletion is slower, as the spending is generally lesser too. It is nevertheless, still depleting.
However, I still see hope, in the form of doing good with the talents I have, that I can still continue to serve. There is hope, as I continue to learn and challenge myself, and look further into the future. There is hope, as long as I choose to ask for help and receive support, and pivot. I am not going to reassure anyone that the journey will be easy. However, we do not have to journey alone.
I am grateful for learners in action such as Syukri, Aifa, Yati, amongst many others, who are keen to learn and journey with me.
If you do start trying out something new, I appreciate that you can share with me too! I would love to learn together with you!
This article is written based on what is in my mind. It is possibly not my most well-thought out article. Just random thoughts of the current COVID-19 situation.
What an ironic start to the first quarter of the new decade! As we celebrated with such eagerness, enthusiasm and hope for what the new year and the new decade might bring, in a twist of events, it brought in a new state of things, bringing in a whole new dimension and definition of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).
And there are perhaps three lessons to learn :
1. Back to Basics — Focusing on what is truly important
What we truly need, and recognise as important, is essentially freedom, water, our breath and ultimately, our health.
With the turning event of DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) changing from Yellow to Orange, fear seems to set in, that we might lose the freedom that we have: the freedom of movement/accessibility and the luxury of excess and abundance. The escalation of this sudden awareness and consciousness that we might perhaps be placed in a “stay-home” situation, created some level of panic, and supermarket shelves were wiped out overnight of “basic necessities”, such as toilet paper.
It is in these moments, that voices of reason spoke up, to say that, perhaps we don’t really need toilet paper — water and soap does the job, and perhaps does an even better job. Even the instructions of keeping clean and healthy, boils down to simply using water and soap to clean our hands to reduce and, perhaps, prevent ourselves from contracting the virus. A simple class experiment (https://www.mothership.sg/2020/01/wash-hand-with-soap-experiment-us/) was also able to demonstrate the effectiveness of water and soap on bacteria.
With the spike in price of face masks as demand far surpasses the supply, and what would we give to have a breath of clean fresh air, without the fear of taking in the virus in the process, especially since it is transmitted through respiration.
And in light of the number of patients affected by this virus increases day by day, I sincerely hope that the awareness and attention placed on taking care of ourselves can be maintained beyond this season, that we need to learn to be be responsible and take of ourselves first (personal hygiene, personal health), and therefore better able to take care of others.
2. A Moment to Pause— A Universal Slow Down
This event has also created a “forced pause” impact, individually, organisationally, globally.
Individually -- taking moments to notice ourselves : how we are feeling physically, and if need be to go and see a doctor, with an extended Medical Certificate (MC) of five days, to allow for ample rest and recovery. Before this, the MC is perhaps about two to three days. Through the turning event of DORSCON Orange, there is also now a heightened awareness of how we might be feeling emotionally, and what thoughts and considerations / motivations might be encouraging certain actions / behaviours.
Organisationally -- Work-from-Home (WFH) schemes started to take a greater implementation and effect in businesses and organisations. Business sustainability has never had such great emphasis till now, and it seemed to be working to the advantage of many, as organisations now are forced to trust their employees to be responsible while working remotely. Employees have a bit more rest (don’t need to wake up as early to transport themselves to work, don’t have to beat the crowd), can spend a bit more time with family and friends (meals at home with family), can have a bit more leeway in spending time on other things, such as their hobbies. Just having a bit more of these, can provide the people a bit more sense of empowerment and ownership of themselves, and thus creating a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose towards the work that they do. These are essentially part of the aspects of psychological safety that can be implemented in the workplace, to create safer environments for people to thrive and flourish in their lives.
Globally — As businesses and organisations generally slow down in the work they do, people generally do not go out as much, and turn to going home earlier and/or eating at home more. Overseas travel has also slowed down, as the advisory is to cancel or postpone all non-essential travel to reduce / prevent the spread of the virus. With all these slowing down, retail and F&B businesses also notice a significant downturn of revenue and profit. Overall consumerism is reduced to making sure there is enough of the essentials for the households. Thus affecting overall global trade and economy.
This basically reinforced the chicken-and-egg situation of income and expenditure, that affects the individuals, as they might potentially earn less, as businesses cut back on their expenditures, as they might not be receiving as much revenue as before, and therefore spend less. Some companies / organisations have also retrenched staff, because of this fall in revenue affected by the global demand and supply of goods and services. And these people will spend even lesser.
Short of coming to a total standstill, this “crisis” has pretty successfully allowed us to take a pause, and take stock of what is happening around us. For this past month or so, more and more people seem to have taken that step back, and just notice what is happening around : to ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbours, our world.
Some examples are:
It feels like the universe has decided to take charge, and to step on the brakes for us, through the means of this virus, and to prevent us from going into greater burn-out, or even collision, in a bid to “save our economy”. I might not be an economist, but it doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to know that one of the reasons perhaps we are working so hard, is due to the market forces of defining success as owning more. To own more, we need to earn more. To earn more, we need to work harder and longer. When we earn more, we can buy more. And we buy more, there is a greater push to make more, and therefore, we work harder and longer :P
Anyway… If we just notice how it is now, there seems to be a realisation that we do not have to own more, to be happy / successful. If health is a priority, and taking care of our health is as simple as washing our hands with water and soap, then perhaps we do not have to work so hard and so long. We just need to have enough, and keep ourselves and our family safe.
3.Ground-up Initiatives — The rise and growth of the power of communities
In the midst of the flurry of events during the change from DORSCON Yellow to Orange, there were many concerned citizens who wanted to help/support the nation. Without any governmental and/or financial support, they took it upon themselves, reached out to friends and family, to support those who are more vulnerable. Many new hashtags and community groups popped up during this period, all in a bid to do good. One of them that I was involved in is #SGwholecommunities. Through this, I was also able to support #braveheartsg and many others.
Some community groups do not have a formal name, or organisation to them. I know of an uncle who owns a bag shop in Queensway, who in his own capacity, with the support of his regulars, raised money to purchase health products, to care for the healthcare workers. He is a small business owner, and he wanted to do something to support others working in the frontline. These people do not ask for recognition, just motivated by wanting to do something good for others.
“A Good Space” (https://www.facebook.com/AGoodSpaceSG/) helped by consolidating a list of people doing good, so that they can leverage on each other’s efforts, and maximise the support that can be provided during this period. This is the consolidated list : https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1PJHxr_SFMn3Vf52f6L7pVZjhkAjBcKZdftw1WR08RaM/edit?fbclid=IwAR3g0_sm71Fea8b0HuqlEJ0rXm7s57TtLA_35_sQtO4ICplD5MJj3gPNr5E#gid=1246211150
Schools and youths have also taken steps forward to start initiatives to benefit each other within the various communities, whether it is to enhance awareness of social responsibility, or it is to provide daily necessities to those in the frontline, and/or those who might be more vulnerable. Social media was also used as a force for good, even though it is also potentially the source of the rumours and fake news going around as well.
However, I choose to look at the positives, and say that with the initiatives and positive intentions of everyone involved, I see the power of community and ground-up initiatives in this event. We might not have created enough impact alone, however, together, I believed it made a loud enough noise, for the positive vibes to impact and uplift some people who might need it the most.
Wrapping up the “Crisis” with Compassion, Courage and Hope
There were many things that turned out bad and ugly during this period (deaths, uncouth behaviour, irresponsible behaviour, retrenchment, loss of business, etc). For now, I choose to look at the good, some of which I mentioned above.
My hope and wish is for these lessons to stay :
For us to be more mindful in the things we do, and the way we be; noticing the small things, so that these small things take care of the bigger things eventually.
Like just settling for the basics, and know that it is enough.
Like just noticing yourself, and the immediate people around you, and when they do the same, the effect of self and social responsibility will grow exponentially.
Learning how to love and care for the self and my immediate sphere of influence.
Learning to pause and trust.
And through this, cumulatively, we can be a force for good. Through individuals, through people like you and me
Compassion means “to suffer together”. Through this event, we are suffering together, whether we choose to or not.
It takes courage, to truly want to be involved, or to be directly involved in the suffering.
And by making that choice, we can perhaps see some hope in humanity, to continue to thrive and flourish, as a community, as a society.
2017 was a year of lessons in self compassion.
I hurt a lot in 2017, and perhaps I have been hurting since 2011, or even before that, since 2000. I have suffered several losses, and before I can recover from one, the next one hits: a senior from school committed suicide, a close friend died from drowning, my grandmother’s death, my grandfather’s passing, the loss of a dear colleague from a freak bike accident, the imminent closure of my beloved business, which led to the dismissal of my wonderful staff, that caused me to be hung over from guilt and shame. Eventually I was driven into depression.
In the midst of all these losses, I continued to give of myself to the people and situations around me, without realising how thin I must have stretched myself. I was not even sure I was in depression, as it was not a “thing” yet, during that time. All I knew was that I was not truly happy, and I would have bouts of irritation and frustration, and a lot of insecurity. I was never truly excited or enthusiastic about anything, as I used to be, before the year 2000. Taking on responsibilities to lead seemed like a natural progression in what I was doing, and yet, the more responsibilities I took on, the more expectations I had of myself, the more weight and burden I felt. I equated responsibility as heavy, burdensome, tiring.
Perhaps the moments I truly felt alive, was when I was involved in facilitation, when I felt that I was making a difference to someone else. I didn’t notice the patterns then.
In 2017, I was forced to look and go deeper within myself, to search for the “dark side”. I struggled; I did not understand why, and I resented the process. It hurt again, and it was so painful. I didn’t understand why, and I retreated within, deeper into my heart, hoping to protect it, even though I was filled with tension, between who I may be and who I thought I was. I did not want to feel the pain, and yet, I felt it tremendously. I blamed the people responsible for teaching me how to feel, for inviting me to open my heart, and then crushing me with the torrents of emotion. I blamed me, for allowing myself to be manipulated, for trusting, and giving permission to get hurt again.
It was through conversations with neutral parties, mindful friends, that I slowly healed. I learnt to be mindful to myself: to be able to acknowledge and accept whatever emotion I was feeling, to allow them to either gently wash over me and/or to come crashing down on me, wave after wave; to allow myself to experience each emotion fully. It took courage to be able to go through with the experience, as it called out to me to be vulnerable. And I have so constantly been told that vulnerability is a weakness. And now, I know otherwise.
It took compassion, to myself, to be able to accept and acknowledge my own suffering, to let go of my own judgement, and seek to understand what I was going through. I do not need fixing; I only need to be heard with compassion, so that I can connect with my inner wisdom. I need patience, and gentle support. I was seeking happiness outside of myself, and now I know, happiness comes from within.
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.
One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.
So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon.
The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.
Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Life's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. Remember: nature needs no help, no interference. There are processes of life, things we all go through. The struggles are a part of our journey and are preparing us for what awaits. They are preparing us to fly.
About the Author
Michelle Ow is the founder and Human Experience Facilitator of Chrysalists Pte Ltd.