What’s a good death?

I recently went to a talk on The Art of Living and Dying by venerable Sogyal Rinpoche, one of the most highly regarded and world-renowned Buddhist leader of Tibet. The concept of death is the subject of much contemplation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, although not so much in the Theravadan tradition in Thailand. It is said that one’s state of mind at the moment of death has a major impact on one’s future lives.

Beneath the fear of death is the fear to face ourselves. The moment of death is the moment of truth.

As someone with Buddhist influence, I’ve talked about death pretty openly on this blog before. In fact, it’s even in the title of my first spirituality essay. Death is something I think about often, not due to the morbidity but its effect as the reminder of how I can live the rest of my life.

I want to die a good death. By that, I don’t mean to die without pain or die quickly, as are often associated with dying well. A good death to me simply means a good life–an intentional life filled with passion, purpose, gratitude, and love. One of my spiritual mentors once asked me: “If you’re on your deathbed, what would be the one thing you wished you have accomplished in life?” This, in my opinion, is the prime question that we should keep asking ourselves.

Dying well means living well. It means remembering to be mindful of every breathing moment and the limitless potential of the human mind. It means remembering to care, to love, to laugh, and to cry when we need to. It means not wasting our times on things that don’t matter to our physical, emotional or spiritual health. It also means letting go of things that hurt us.

A good death means being ready for death, because you never know whether your death or tomorrow will come first (according to the wise words of a Tibetan teacher). A good death is a good life.

May we all live well this 2016 and beyond.

May we all die well when our time comes.

 

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2015 – A Year to Leave Behind

As we are about to enter 2016, I’m suddenly hit by a realization that I’ve just let 2015 slip by.

To kill time on a recent flight, I watched the movies Me, Earl and the Dying Girl as well as the movie Just the Way You Are, and somehow both movies (although one was just a romcom) proved to be quite surprising reminders that I cannot self-loath and hide behind the facade of a comfortable life. I cannot live my life alone without being vulnerable and putting myself out there.

As I was engaged in deep reflection on the plane, I looked out to the sea of clouds all perked up in its golden glory in reception of the rising sun. Hidden beneath those clouds were the beautiful mountains of the Alps, and vast blue lakes that embodied mystery and the limitless depth of nature. I realized then and there that I cannot simply remain idle. I have to change. I have to stop playing my game. I have to stop wasting my time with stupid tasks. I have to stop hiding in my shell.

The story of how the protagonist in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl slowly becomes attached to the cancer-stricken girl really spoke to me and told me that I’m perhaps ready for a relationship. I’m ready to find someone out there who can figure the mystery that is life together. I want someone out there who I can laugh and cry with. I want someone who share my pain for all the inequalities and discrimination in our world. I’ve always told myself that I’m not ready for a relationship because I haven’t figured out who I am yet. The truth is… I lied. I’ve always yearned to have someone beside me to figure this world out together. I just never knew where to look. I still don’t, but now I know I need to actually try.

In Just the Way You Are, the girl decided to not give her love to anyone because she’s been hurt in the past by the people she loved the most. She reasoned to herself that if you don’t love someone, you can’t be hurt by that person. I imagine such a shield is comprehensible to most INFJs (including me), who typically are very cautious of the world at large and rarely place our trust in anybody. Living like this may be safer than opening our hearts, but perhaps one misses out on the most sacred forms of beauty.

Both the movies spoke to me in different ways, and combined to send a sheer force that knocked me to my senses. I can no longer pretend that everything is okay. I can no longer pretend that I am fine. I can no longer lie that I am better off alone. At least I have to try to change things.

Next year, I hope to restart my mindfulness journey. I want to open my heart more and give. I’ve been rather selfish with my time and money. I’ve thought so much about myself in the last year, and it disgusts me. I have to change. I hope to start doing more volunteer work – both with my money and my time. I hope to allow more time for quiet in my life, so I can pause and reflect on what truly matters.

I hope to divide my time more wisely – not deprive myself of sleep and not waste too much time with entertainment. I hope 2016 will be a new me. In a way, this is the end of another chapter. It sure seems like it. I feel ready now. I’m entering a new phase, filled with hope of renewal and redemption. 2015 was a thoughtless year, but perhaps it was unavoidable. I needed to experience it so I can leave it behind. A purpose-driven life–and a happiness-filled one–is the promise of 2016 and beyond. I hope to fulfill that promise. I sense an imminent change. I sense a renewal. I sense a rebirth of the soul. I sense the deeply repressed thirst for spiritual growth and the yearning for harmony.

Yet I’m anxious, for I don’t believe that I can change. I’m anxious because I don’t know what the change will bring. I’m anxious because I know I haven’t been acting anywhere near my best self, and the collective weight of guilt and grief is suffocating. Today, I pray that I can garner enough the strength to lift the weight off me and start anew.

I still hope.

Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. — Isak Dinesen

What’s my ideal city?

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Bangkok. While there are some positives like the food and low cost of living, I’m not a fan of the pollution (be it noise, light or air), lack of access to green space, extreme heat, traffic jams, lack of concern for environment, high corruption rates, … Okay, you get the idea. The list goes on.

This brings me to a fun question: What’s my ideal city?

The OECD Better Life Index runs a pretty neat customizable index tool that lets you rate cities based on the relative importance (decided by the user) of each of these topics: Housing, Income, Jobs, Community, Education, Environment, Civic Engagement, Health, Life Satisfaction, Safety and Work-Life Balance. Check mine out here. According to this, the top 5 countries for me are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Australia and Switzerland. No surprises here.

However, I find it rather backwards that you have to rate the importance of topics like life satisfaction and health, since these are the goals you strive for, not the basic characteristics of the city. Anyway, it still makes sense that if one of your main goals is to have a high life satisfaction, you look for cities where the citizens report high life satisfaction. They still seem counter-intuitive to me though. Here’re the things I look for in an ideal city:

  • It’s walkable: Extensive public transportation system, bike lanes, large footpaths, low traffic jam
  • It’s not so chaotic: I suffocate in overly crowded cities. If I have my way, my cities will have an open and orderly feel.
  • It’s green: The city should be dotted by large (and well-maintained) green spaces, with plenty of room for R&R
  • It’s civic-minded: The citizens should be actively engaged in the state of affairs of their own city and the betterment of the community and beyond it.
  • It’s safe. Self explanatory.
  • It’s got a good welfare system: Healthcare for everyone, sufficient vacation days, flexible working hours, safety nets for the low income community. Yes, I’m willing to pay a 50% tax for this.
  • It’s not so hot like Bangkok 🙂

Too much to ask for? I don’t think so. Although it’s a far cry from where I currently reside, I believe such places exist in the world. I hope to eventually make my way to one of them.

Winston Churchill once said this: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” In a similar way, I believe that we shape our cities; thereafter they shape us. Although my true destination is to find the happy place for my soul, being in a city that’s more aligned with what I consider to be ingredients of a good life will make the journey smoother.

What’s your ideal city?

Thailand needs to be more critical about Thailand

<Note: It took me a while to write this post about Thailand. I’ve never written about my hometown because I don’t think I know enough about it, but the recent bombing incited a nagging thought that I’ve had about Thailand for a long time now. So here goes.>

Last week, a bomb detonated in the heart of Chidlom district, a busy area with lots of foreigners, especially those from China. The incident, a shocking and tragic act of terrorism, left Bangkokians stunned and flustered. Many wondered who was heartless enough to commit such a barbaric act. True to the Thai compassion, many offered help, whether through blood donation, acting as a translator or offering free food and transportation to the relatives of those injured or deceased in the bombing. The outpouring of support was uplifting, yet I was left with an uneasy feeling at the depth of the conversations that took place afterwards.

You see, I think Thailand isn’t critical enough about Thailand. Now, let me say upfront that as someone who had studied abroad since middle school, I have been jaded with Thai politics and stopped following it for quite some time now. Since I didn’t spend my most formative  years in Thailand and was heavily influenced by Western values, my lack of ‘Thainess’ perhaps means that I’m not in the best position to critique Thailand. But whatever Thainess that’s left in me is making me concerned about the country that I was born in.

People used to know of Thailand as a peaceful, compassionate, relaxing, and smiley country. After all, we are (was?) The Land of Smiles. We used to embody this moniker. We used to always (well, not always, but more often than now)  be in a good mood and we used to really look out for one another. While examples of the Thai goodwill can still be seen from time to time, we really weren’t the nation we once was. Alas, as Thailand continued to open its arm to foreign tourists as well as investments, we also brought in the Western model of capitalism based on materialism and the incessant race for more. Shopping malls started appearing all around Bangkok, seemingly without end. As more money and people flowed in, the lucky few who had the means and the business know-how started restaurants, bars, high-rises, massage parlors, and sports clubs to cater to the increased wealth amongst the Thai elites and expatriates.

The influx of wealth was never distributed equally. The income disparity in Thailand continued to grow at an alarming rate. Our obedience has made it really easy for the elites to rip us off, pay us piss-poor wages while pocketing the majority of the wealth. Thais, along with the rest of the world, became more absorbed in this race for more–and more self-centered in the process. Nowadays, we are infinitely more conscious about our social image; our happiness is increasingly being defined by others. Ironically, as we become more concerned about our social status, we have been really focused on making sure we are enjoying our lives and never really stopped to question the status quo. Why do the poor remain poor? Why is there so much crime? Why is women still not getting equality in the workplace?

Part of the blame can be attributed to the Thai system of hierarchy based on seniority. We are taught not to question those older than us, and to be submissive to authority; they always know better. Teachers who have taught Thai students know them for their reticence. Even when students don’t understand what’s being taught, they are afraid to ask questions. Or if they disagree with what the teacher says, they mostly keep their opinions to themselves. (This is perhaps the single most infuriating habit in Thailand. It drives me insane.) Consequently, in various education rankings worldwide, Thailand performs very poorly. Students are taught how to memorize, but not how to think critically.

Thais today seem more engaged in the celebrities’ personal lives than the state of their city or government. We love learning about who’s dating who and what this celebrity has been up to lately, but why are we not as fired up about the media censorship in this country or the number of homeless people in Bangkok?

Nobody knows why Bangkok was targeted for the blast. Many people were engaged in the discussions/speculations of suspects, but what was lacking was a higher level of discussion around the state of Thailand today that I felt the bombing should have prompted. What got Thailand to the point where we have become a bomb target? Why are we facing such heavy criticism from the international community? Why is Thai politics perpetually in flux?

My point is this: Considering the state of Thailand, why are we not more pissed off? Unless we become more engaged in civic issues, we all will have to watch as other well-prepared countries pass us by as we descend into further chaos.

On Impermanence and Death, aka Life

My eyes have been bothering me a long time. They would be perpetually dry and irritable. I would also occasionally get styes. My doctor finally gave me a diagnosis: MGD—Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. Another day, another acronym to remember.

While not life-threatening, the symptoms of MGD are very bothersome, especially because it worsens when I’m in front of a computer for extended periods of time. Lucky for me, that’s exactly what I do at work. However—you can call this unlucky, but it really isn’t, there is no cure. In other words, I would have to live with this disturbance for the rest of my life. Doctors say MGD is often only found in people over 50 years old. I haven’t made 25, and my oil Meibomian glands are already completely blocked, and 60% of my tear ducts are already gone—a severe case of dry eyes. The กุ้งยิง I’m getting are the consequences of these clogged glands becoming infected. My doctor told me: “This case happened at one of your glands. The other 200 of them are like ticking time bombs.”

Great.

In the moment I was given this diagnosis, I initially felt angry. Yet, surprisingly, soon after an air of calmness descended upon me. I felt resigned… no, that’s not the right word. I felt… at peace with the things I cannot change. (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”) Our manifestation in the physical realm is so delicate, and its fragility and the cycle of degeneration, death and renewal is a truth that we all are too familiar with. The diseases that we get are simply an integral piece of this cycle. Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the impermanence of life. The temporal boundaries of reality are yet to be overcome, and I personally believe it is foolish to try to do just that.

After learning about my MGD, my thoughts started to drift towards the idea of death—a usual subject visited by my brain. I think I’ve already blogged about death multiple times, but I’m going to write about it again.  I’ve never understood why so many of us fear death. What does death represent? The end of fun? A missed opportunity? An unfulfilled life?

I once wanted to live a long life, but I can’t remember when the last time I felt that way was. In fact, I could sense that my time here on earth may be limited. Buddhists are taught that to be ready for and mindful of the possibility of death at any given moment, and thus we are all advised to lead honest and compassionate lives at all times. In addition to the kindness in our everyday interactions, what is important to me too is a life driven by meaning, a life well-examined, and a life defined by selflessness and dedicated to the greater good. While I have not made any impact on the scale I demand of myself, I know that if I die now, I can rest knowing that I have put in my effort to challenge the status quo defined by the discord between the soul and the systems that we have created. Furthermore, I can die knowing that I have made progress in the self-examination of my existence. Have I found an answer? Have my life created enough worth? No, not even close. However, it may not matter so much if one starts to realize the ripple effects of small acts of goodwill that can occur daily. Once one can overcome the need for self-validation (see We Do Not All Have to Shine) through tangible outcomes, then death is not to be feared; it can be embraced as a potent reminder of the tremendous opportunity we are given, otherwise known as life.

Ultimately, when we talk about impermanence and death, we are in fact talking about life; they are all intertwined. We are talking about the undeniable truths of life and how we should embrace every single breathing moment that we have to make this life worthwhile in a way that you define it. (Though I must add a caveat that your way of life must not be infringing on others’ same unalienable rights to life or else you face my wrath.)

I will never forget Steve Jobs’ words:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Is Your Family More Important Than The Planet?

(Also cross-posted to Medium.com)

An online course I took on the state of higher education in the USA introduced me to the popular online lecture series called Justice by Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard University. Originally intended to show a refreshing approach to online education, I also took some fascination from the content. We were asked to watch Episode 11, entitled “The Claims of Community.” In this episode, Sandel had the students debate the “obligations of solidarity and membership.”

The full 1-hour is worth the watch if you have the time, but I’ll briefly describe the most intriguing part according to my own lens. Competing obligations may arise based on our memberships in different communities. How do you choose which is more important? The debate ventured into this very question. A student suggested that we can view ourselves as ultimately a member of the human community, and this most universal community should take precedent over the smaller spheres of solidarity, such as the country or the university you belong to. Another student objected, claiming that he can as easily choose the most specific of his obligations — for instance, his family first, followed by his town and then his country. Should one’s loyalty lie more with a community where one interacts with more frequently, intimately or with more obvious reciprocity? Sandel posed a fascinating question: “Is patriotism a virtue, or a prejudice for one’s own kind?”

Many students seemed drawn to the notion that due to the closer connection — let’s call it kinship — that one feels to the smaller communities that one belong to, they would be more inclined to act in favor of these small units over the larger/more universal identities. A student named Dan gave a common example: If he saw his roommate cheat on a problem set, he would not turn his roommate in despite knowing that cheating is not the right thing to do. A more public example given by Sandel is the story of Billy Bulger, then the President of the University of Massachusetts, refusing to reveal information about his brother, Whitey Bulger, a gang leader who wreaked havoc on the Massachusetts community. Many students seemed to agree with Dan and Billy Bulger; the more immediate community prevails.

This provoked me to think about whether this is the basis of the climate crisis. Many people believe that their obligations to the units of family and community take precedent over their obligations as a homo sapien. In fact, this tends to be the prevailing belief of our time. Is this wrong? I don’t have an answer to this question, but what I do know is that it is understandable for someone to feel this way. The physical association and the intimacy one feels as part of a smaller community are so much more palpable than the connection one has with humans from a different continent for example. However, we must admit that the connection is there, whether through global trade, the flow of money across borders, or the limited collective resources. I’ll give an example. Let’s go back assume that this was before the shale gas boom in the US, where the American lifestyle was heavily dependent on foreign oil. If OPEC decides to stop selling oil to the US, the American lifestyle would be severely disrupted. One could then argue that Americans owe a large part of their livelihood from foreign oil. Did Americans feel a sense of solidarity with the OPEC countries back in those days? They probably felt the opposite. My point is that these global connections are less palpable than the physical connections, but they are there nonetheless. Even more obscure than the foreign oil example would be the sweatshops that your clothes are manufactured in or the classic climate change dilemma — the impact of your greenhouse gas emissions on your fellow beings.

I personally believe it is dangerous to hold your moral obligation to your family and your country to be more important than your responsibility as a human. Many people take the resources that Earth offers for granted. They believe they have a right to these resources. What they fail to recognize is that people are using more than their fair share of resources. In fact, the Earth Overshoot Day this year is on August 13 — a week earlier than in 2014. This day keeps getting earlier and earlier. Currently, as you read this, we are borrowing — no, stealing — resources from the future generations.

For mankind to make any meaningful progress on the climate crisis, people must start to ask “To what do we owe this planet?” And the answer is a whole lot. Technology can only successfully mitigate climate change insofar as the moral crisis is averted. This would take nothing short of a revolution in the hearts and mind of the people — our livelihood, our thought process, and our understanding of the interconnectedness of our planet. In fact — dare I say it — the planet has to become as — if not more — important as one’s family.

Is this achievable? I’m not so optimistic. But perhaps there is no need to distinguish between one’s duty to the planet and the family. I feel great solidarity with the tiny community of people that are working to usher in this new paradigm of consciousness; they are my family. Judging by the conversations I’ve had with this community, many of them are so passionate about their work because they are deeply concerned about the well-being of their grandchildren. So the choice between familial obligation and environmentalism is perhaps a false distinction. Neither is more important than the other. They are one and the same — the obligation to sustain the well-being of all generations of mankind.

Redefining impact: Nudges that create ripples

As I promised (to myself) in my last post, We do not all have to shine, I’m exploring the idea of what makes an impact important. I’m a dreamer. I dream of changing the world. I dream of making a huge difference. Previously, I thought this means you have to do something so groundbreaking that the world knows who you are. Well, I’ve changed my mind.

So let me tell you a story.

Reflecting on my life and how I become the person I am today, I realized that I had no way of knowing I’d end up with the thoughtful, analytical, and yes, cynical and judgmental mind that I have today. Looking back, the path that I went down was but one of the infinite possibilities possible. Given the right–well, wrong–circumstances, I could have easily become a drug addict. Or a typical student without regard for the meaning of life.

What brought me down this path? Well, that’s hard to say, isn’t it? It’s a combination of the people I met, the environment I was in, the opportunities that were handed to me, and perhaps genetics too. Whether these elements were part of a divine plan I do not know, but what I do know is that my path–and yours–was truly a unique set of ingredients that coalesced to form who we are today. Even small events–seemingly insignificant at the time–may lead to new ideas, new inspiration, or new connections, a ripple effect that amplify the impact of the original incidence beyond any reach of imagination. Such is the beauty and complexity of life. What this means, then, is that if one of the ingredients were to be removed, our lives could have turned out profoundly different. Let me give an example from my own life.

I’ve spoken at length about my love for the LeaderShape program and how it changed my life. Without LeaderShape, I probably wouldn’t be complaining about how our higher education system is failing or why the widening income disparity is not okay. I would have just been the person who thrived in this current socioeconomic system, not asking too many questions and not protesting against it. I still shudder at this thought. So how did I get to LeaderShape? Let’s trace it back.

I first heard about LeaderShape from Circle K–no, not the convenient store, the other Circle K, a service organization that I got involved with during my time at Michigan. How did I get involved in Circle K? Well, I first signed up for it during Festifall, an event organized to bring together all of Michigan’s student organizations in one day. Without Festifall, there may not have been LeaderShape in my life. So this event put on by Michigan’s Center for Campus Involvement turned out to have a larger impact on my life than it seemed at that time–more than it was designed to do perhaps. But wait! Let’s go further back.

To get to Festifall, I would have to first be at Michigan. How did I get to Michigan? It wouldn’t have been possible without a scholarship. Now here’s where it gets interesting. I took the scholarship test once in 2007 and didn’t make the cut. I could try to take the test again the next year, but I thought the test was impossible and did not want to do it again, especially since I would have to fly back from Singapore, where I was studying at the time, to take it. Furthermore, the test date was during my school’s examination period too. So despite my mom’s insistence, I decided not to come back. But this was not the end.

What happened in 2008 was just… mind boggling, to say the least. Thailand was bogged down by political unrest at that time, and the testing date was right in the middle of the heat of the crisis. Transportation systems were disrupted, and many people would have been unable to travel to the test site. So they decided to postpone the test for a few weeks! My mom again insisted for me to come back, and I relented this time.  I took the test, and with luck and grace, haven’t looked back.

So my participation at LeaderShape could have also been attributed to my mom, who both found this opportunity for me and forced me to take it (mother knows best!), or the political unrest in Thailand. I could go further back in my life’s history, but you get the point. Many things could have gone differently. I could have not listened to my mom. The political unrest could have come at a different time. Or I could have just simply decided not to go to LeaderShape, which, mind you, was almost the case. Right before LeaderShape, I was having an especially unhappy time questioning myself repeatedly why I wasn’t happy. I was trapped in a mundane life, and I thought no program could answer that question for me. It turned out I was wrong.

Anyway, my point is that any single event in one’s life is a convergence of many other countless occurrences. If LeaderShape is important to me, then Circle K, my mom, and even the political unrest, are all important too.

My two biggest takeaways are:
– Since you really can’t know what impact you may have at any given moment, then you should always put your true self forward.
–  We tend to celebrate only the change agents who have a visible impact, but not the people or events that made the change agent possible. It’s time we give more credit to those behind the scenes. This is why I’ve given a lot of thought to teaching. A great teacher’s impact can be amplified a thousand times.

Linking this back to my earlier post We do not all have to shine, I’m trying hard to change the way I approach impact creation and meaning-making in my life. It shouldn’t be all about finding a way to create another big bang. What it should be is an honest and compassionate life that’s true to my values. And if you know me, I’d have to sprinkle in some passion and stubbornness too 🙂

Next up: I’m still playing around with this idea that we have to redefine impact. Lately, when I watch movies I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who helped to shape the protagonists. What would Stephen Hawking be like without Jane Wilde? Solomon Northrop without Samuel Bass? What about Hazel Grace without her mom? Or even Tony Stark without Pepper Potts?

Examples of meaningful impact are everywhere, but in my own narrow lens, I refused to see them.

We do not all have to shine

In an op-ed column by David Brooks in the New York Times entitled The Small, Happy Life, there’s a line that struck a chord so deep within my heart:

Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ [emphasis mine] This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”

Every time I reread this phrase, the sound of it still sends waves through my brain like someone hitting a small bell inside my head.

We do not all have to shine.

Sure, some people may have differing ideas of what it means to shine. To you, it may be as simple as being compassionate to those around you. However, I’ve always taken a more macroscopic view of ‘shining.’  Shining means making a palpable difference in the world. It means doing something meaningful that would change the world forever. This restrictive view of shining has haunted me since I can remember. So the phrase “we do not all have to shine” is almost a slap in the face that’s saying to me “Wake up! It’s okay to be small!”

I suspect this is a struggle shared by only a few of my fellow inhabitants of our beautiful but fragile planet. My urgency and insistence that we have to shine is partly influenced by my Buddhist uprising, and the rate at which our habitat is degrading. There is much work to be done. We need more passionate and committed individuals to step up and reverse the ecological moral decline that’s plagued the 21st century. Accepting that it’s okay not to shine, in my interpretation, is like a resignation, an admission that I cannot make a difference, or an irresponsibility, a belief that the world’s problem is not my own.

So far, my thought process has been especially toxic to myself. I am especially hard on myself for not being able to do better. I feel like a burden, taking up our planet’s resources without giving anything meaningful in return. I’m especially adamant about this last point. Some people view it as their birthright to be able to utilize the earth’s resources without restraint. This is selfish and irresponsible, and a topic for a later post (What do you owe to the country? What do you owe to the planet?)

With all this said, I must also question why I want my impact to be felt on a global scale. To say that it is out of pure altruism is not quite valid; there is definitely an element of ego involved. I wonder if it’s the same for the high-achieving individuals who work in the social change field. Are they truly selfless? Or are they too partially motivated by a desire for validation? Viewed this way, the idea of “we all don’t have to shine” becomes no longer black-and-white.

I’m a firm believer that there is a plan for us all, and that plan doesn’t necessary involve us becoming famous. After all, shining is not a synonym of fame. As I probe this idea further, another thought is circling around my mind: It’s NOT okay not to shine, and it’s not okay to stop trying. What I’ve been wrong about is what shining can be. Impact can be defined in different ways. It doesn’t have to be big; it just have to be meaningful. I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea of ‘indirect impact’, and how one small impact event can shake up a whole system–a topic of my next post.

Now I just have to convince myself of this thought.

PS I’m back!!! After a long absence, I finally forced myself to write this post. It’s funny how you have to work really hard to make yourself do something you know would be laborious but ultimately enjoyable. These blog posts are pretty taxing on my brain, but they help me process ideas and find answers to my own big questions. So thank you to those who read my blog or encourage me to continue to write!

The price I pay for my fleeting happiness

Here’s another glimpse inside my head.

I am currently addicted to a mobile game called Summoners War, along with millions of other people in this planet. (To date, the app has over 10 million downloads on Android alone.)

I’ve been trying to figure out what makes this game so addictive. Maybe it’s the chance to disconnect (ironic as that may sound) from the world around me. Or an actually reasonable set of missions to complete, unlike in real life. Actually, the very fact that I know my goals in the game make me feel good too. The truth is… it’s probably all these things. The game is so good to me because it aids me, in those fleeting moments, to forget about my worries. The game is good to me because it makes me believe I can solve the problems. The game is good to me because it gives me agency, something that I despairingly lack in real life. I’m sure you have your own version of Summoners War. There’s something that just gets you to forget about everything else and allows you to be happy, however long it may last. Hopefully, the price you pay for it is not too high. But my point is this: This happiness is and will always be fleeting.

What was the price I paid for this game that keeps on giving? $0. Well, the game is modeled like most other games: free to download with optional in-app purchases. I’ve been tempted several times, but so far I haven’t spent a dime on it. One could then say that perhaps the price for my fleeting happiness is nothing, but that’s not entirely true right now.

The price I pay is not zero. The price I pay is guilt.

I view pleasure disdainfully. Despite scientific evidence of the positive effects of pleasure on other aspects of life, I still believe it to be an inferior form of happiness to eudaimonia. I feel it an unaffordable luxury considering how many problems there are on this world. This really is my main argument: What have we done to deserve pleasure? I think most of us believe we’re born with this sense of entitlement over everything the world has to offer. I don’t believe so. I believe that we have to earn the right to our air we breath and everything that we do. We don’t deserve happiness unless we work for it.

Perhaps it’s my Buddhist ideology (life is suffering) that brought me to this belief, but regardless of wherever this view towards pleasure came from, I know better. I know that pleasure has its positives. I know that pleasure can help my body function more effectively and hence pleasure can help me do my life’s work better. Alas, this is yet again another prime example of how difficult it is to rewire the brain. It is a work in progress; a part of my letting go process. This one is to let go of judging myself for spending too much time on pleasurable activities. I really am weird. Who else in the world actually has this problem?

The price I pay for simple pleasures should be zero, but I can’t stop myself from slapping a tax on my very own pockets of joy.

Blessed Curse: What I see in my world

Here’s a glimpse inside my head.

I walk into a fancy restaurant. I see people dressed very polishedly and I think about classism in our society. I wonder whether these other people in the restaurants ever think about the widening income inequality. Do they think about what they can do for those who are less fortunate? The food was good, but not as tasty as it would have been if I did not have that lingering thought inside my head. I just did not deserve to be there.

There are many street vendors in Bangkok. I buy food from them all the time. Sometimes I wonder if there are days when they do not make enough. Do they have health insurance? They sometimes use really old stoves to cook the food, which are really energy inefficient. Some of them use coal. Some of them use gas—fossil fuel nonetheless. They’re so integral to the Thai livelihood. How can we ever become fossil fuel independent?

I get into a cab. I feel uncomfortable knowing that I probably make more than the driver does. What does he feel about me? Does he think I’m a middle class snob? His earnings are so unpredictable. I won’t be comfortable living like that.

The cleaners at my office never complain. They clean and clean and clean. It’s kind of a terrible job. Do they have other things they want to be doing? Why are we paying them so little when the CEO gets millions? Do they ever think about the meaning of life? If everyone pursues their passions, who will work as cleaners? Shouldn’t we be paying them a lot more for doing something they don’t want to be doing?

These are what I see in the world around me. Sometimes, it really is a curse, because I can’t go by a single day without noticing how much shittier this world is for some fellow beings than for me, which makes the world very shitty by my standards.

People tell me I think too much. I wish I can be one of those people that think too little, but that isn’t going to happen. I’ve been blessed with this curse—one that I think is probably intended to really be a blessing sometime in the future, which makes me always think about equality and justice in our world. I just can’t relax.

How can I get out of this torment?

Or do I really want to?