Onwards to 2016

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I wrote a recap of 2015 in my previous post Adieu 2015, Hello 2016. This post is about things I did in 2015, what worked and what I will keep doing, and what didn’t work and what to change.

What worked

Using a calendar app to manage my schedule
I used to keep my schedule in an old fashioned way with a Moleskine weekly planner. One of the productivity tips I often read is keeping a “one calendar to rule them all” – and it was difficult to do it with pen and paper.

I started using the Google calendar app on my phone since October 2013. Along the way I experimented with several calendar apps and found one that worked really well called Business Calendar, I’ve been using it since then. Leaving a 9 to 5 job and switching to freelance yoga teaching made my schedule became more varied and flexible. Having a digital calendar on the phone means it’s always with me, can be quickly updated, and I can modify it from the computer as well if needed. I’ve been relying on it more and more. I will continue to use it, and I’m going to use it more by scheduling in my other activities too.

Cook more often
I’ve been cooking more last year, mainly because I’ve been at home more. I started to stock my fridge with relatively hardy vegetables like broccoli & zucchini, and started to stock aromatics like onions garlic & ginger as well. Prior to 2015 I hardly cook, and I rarely bought fresh vegetables as they tend to just wilt in the fridge drawer. When I did buy them, I bought those ready to cook portioned & packaged veggies, so I used everything up in one go. Now I’m comfortable with buying a whole head of cabbage as I’m cooking it up in a few days.

I think cooking is like a chicken & egg situation for me, I didn’t buy vegetables because I didn’t get to cook them and they just ended up in the trash. On the other hand I couldn’t cook because I didn’t have anything to cook with. Now as I always have something around to be cooked, I cook more. So I’m gonna keep the fridge stocked, not overwhelmingly ambitiously so, just enough to allow me to whip something up quickly.

Keeping a gratitude journal
For years I had journal that I write on, but I had never been able to consistently keep it. I wrote everyday for a few days or weeks the most, and somehow trailed off, not writing for weeks or months, and then came back to it, and same thing happened again, writing on it for a few days, and off again.

I stumbled upon this Five Minute Journal with this headline “The simplest, most effective thing you can do everyday to be happier”. I agree, I think journaling is one of the things we can do to improve our quality of life, if only I can do it everyday. The creator of Five Minute Journal, Alex Ikonn & UJ Ramdas, posted a digital version of the journal that I can flip through. Essentially it’s a journal with prompts, so one just need to write responses to that prompts. A set of prompts is for the morning before we start the day, and another set of prompts for the end of the day.

The journal ships internationally but I couldn’t wait that long – plus the shipping charges makes it very expensive. I decided to try creating my own, using a plain notebook and writing the prompts manually.  At the beginning I wrote the prompts at the same time as writing the answers. After a few days I tried writing the prompts ahead, and I found that having the prompts already there worked better. After a few more days I tried differentiating the color of the prompts and the color of the content – I use black for the prompts and blue for the answers. After a few more weeks I tried writing the prompts with capital letter. I’ve been keeping it that way since then.

How did I fare? I started the journal on 23 July 2015. Out of 162 days ( from 23 July to 31 Dec 2015) I wrote on the journal 94 times, that’s just slightly under 60%. There were two main reasons for not writing. First reason was I finished the first notebook, and I didn’t have a new notebook ready. I meant to immediately set up a new notebook, but it dragged on for more than a week. Lesson: prepare the new notebook  a few days in advance when the existing one is almost finished. Second reason was because I didn’t bring the journal with me when I was traveling, because the notebook is a bit thick and I wanted to travel light. Lesson: make a lighter, portable version to bring when traveling.

Did it work? Yes I think it worked. The journal made it really easy to write things – literally just five minutes a day – so easy that my success rate is close to 60%.  I think the journal helped setting up positive condition at the beginning of the day, and closing the day with a short reflection. I’ll keep at it hopefully with better percentage in 2016.

What didn’t work

Exercising regularly 
With a flexible work hours I should be able to find more time to exercise, yes? Well it didn’t work so well. When I was still working in an office, my weekdays schedule was rather predictable; I woke up at the same time everyday, did morning meditation, left the house around 5:40 am, arrived at the gym or track around 6:15, did my work out, and be at the office by 9. Now as I teach morning yoga classes, I couldn’t exercise in the morning. Theoretically I could use the time after teaching to exercise, but I didn’t, for various reasons, that boiled down to the failure of setting up a new exercising habit.

What will I change this year so I exercise regularly again?

  • I will try to actually schedule exercise time in my calendar, just like my teaching schedule
  • In the days where I’m not going to the gym, I can run around my neighborhood. Or I can do a functional type exercise at home with a youtube video

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So that’s three things that worked and I will keep doing and one thing that didn’t work and I will change in 2016. What about you? What worked, what didn’t work, and what will you change in 2016? 

Image: Sunrise over the mountains – November 2015, Dharamshala, India.

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Inner revolution

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The seventh post of Live Your Legend blog challenge: “What revolution will you lead?”

Definition of revolution from dictionary.com: a sudden, complete or marked change in something.

So in other words this question is similar with the previous prompt “What difference do you want to make?” but with more power and more urgency.

Last week I wrote about how people can only change if they want to change themselves – we can’t force people to walk through the door, we can only show them the door, and if they decide they want to walk through it they will. Now in order for us to notice the door, and get thinking about what’s on the other side of the door, and whether we should walk through it or not, we’ll have to be in a certain degree of non-reactiveness and awareness.

Non-reactiveness and awareness is quite rare these days, as we are bombarded with stimuli all the time from all around. Phone is ringing. Messages coming in through several different platforms. Non-stop emails pouring in. Pressures and deadlines at work. Stressful commuting. And many more. And we react to them. It’s even addicting, having to react to something. When there’s less stimuli, we seek out stimuli because we are bored. Because we want to react.

But if we react all the time, and have no time to be still, to be aware, we won’t be able to see the door of change. The door is not hidden, it’s there in plain sight, but if we don’t take time to pause and be still, we tend to not notice that door.

How to be still? How to be non-reactive? How to be aware?

First step: be comfortable in our own body, take charge of our own body, feed the body with enough nutritious food, keep it fit by staying active, give the body enough rest to recuperate. It starts with the body first because the body is the seat of the mind. Smoothly functioning body will help the mind to progress to the next step.

Second step: take time to train the mind. How? Through breath and meditation (both stillness meditation and moving meditation). The simplest way to train the mind is to watch it. Just watch, witness, and observe. Then we’ll start to see thoughts forming, out of nowhere. Like clouds form in the sky. If we pursue that thought, if we don’t abandon that thought, that’s where the trouble begin – pursuing thought generate other thoughts and before long we are worrying. If we just observe that thought, it’ll move on, or disintegrate, like clouds. After a while, we get better at noticing the thought cloud forming, and we get better at not pursuing the thought cloud. Then the mind sky become clearer, because the thought clouds moved on.

Another way to train the mind is to anchor the mind’s attention to one thought. So where there were many thoughts, we train the mind to hold just one thought. And that one thought can be breath, can be mantra, can be sound, can be a form, can be anything. By placing all the attention to that one particular thought, all the other thoughts moved on, cleared away, then the mind sky become clear.

When the mind is clear, the water is still, the ripples are gone, the mud has settled down, then comes clarity. We can see through the clear water. We can access the inner wisdom that’s in everyone of us. We are in touch with the buddhi. We notice there’s the door of change, and we can see what’s on the other side of that door, and decide whether we want to walk through the door or not.

The revolution I want to lead is an inner revolution. I want to inspire and help people to pause and be still, to overcome reactiveness, to arrive at clarity, to allow the inner wisdom, the buddhi, come forward and make decision. Then they’ll be able to change, perhaps to change something in their life so they can live a happier and more meaningful life.

Image credit: wallpapersdesign.net

Difference I want to make

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Sixth post of the Live Your Legend Blog Challenge, the writing prompt is “What difference do you want to make?”

I had to take a step back and ask myself “Do I want to make a difference? Why?”

Do I? Nothing is permanent and everything is perpetually changing anyway, nothing is static, even if I don’t do anything things change and will be different. And whether the changes are perceived as positive, negative, good, bad, they’re all depend on the experiencers, the situation and condition we’re in, etc.

“Things do not change. WE change.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

If we want to make a change, we can do it only through the thing that we can be in control of, which is ourself. We have only limited control of the outside environment, but we are capable of being in full control of ourself. Until we realize that we are actually in full control of our response to the outside stimuli, we are reactive.

Many problems are caused by humans being reactive to outside stimuli. The common mechanism towards a stimuli is as below:


Stimuli > Perception > Reaction


This mechanism is actually key to survival. Example: there’s a snake (stimuli) > snakes are dangerous (perception) > avoid the snake (reaction).

However in current modern times, where there aren’t too many immediate physical dangers around, if we still rely on this mechanism in interacting with the world, we’re in trouble. Example: someone bumped into me while I’m walking straight ahead (stimuli) > he is breaching my personal space, an attack (perception) > attack back “Dude are you blind or something?” (reaction). From there many things could happen – angry glares, verbal fight, or even physical fight.

Even if nothing ensued, for example that person who bumped into me apologized right away, there was already that adrenaline rush, the fight or flight reaction happened. Adrenaline rush is necessary at times to prepare the body to face a high-stress situation eg: preparing to run away the snake. But the body couldn’t tell the difference between the adrenaline rush generated by a real danger, or the adrenaline rush from someone accidentally bumped into us, or the boss or customer yelling at us, or the traffic, etc. And being constantly on the ready to fight or flight condition is not good for the body.

So, what to do? Remember that we are able to control our response, we are able to take back the driver’s seat. How? By modifying the mechanism, instead of jumping straight into reaction, insert a space, then in that space the buddhi*, the higher mind can think and decide what’s the best thing to do for that situation, and choose the response. Not reacting is also a response.


Stimuli > Perception > [ s p a c e ] > Thinking > Decision > Response


Example: this person bumped into me (stimuli) > he is breaching my personal space, an attack (perception) > [ s p a c e ] > he didn’t mean to bump into me, that wasn’t an attack, he wasn’t breaching my personal space, he may be distracted, he may be rushing to go somewhere, etc (thinking) > I will not let myself get angry over such a small thing (decision) > smile and shrug it off (response).

How do we insert that space? By slowing down the thought process, through awareness and mindfulness. By training the mind itself. Training the mind to sustain a one pointed attention for as long as we could, for example breath awareness. Through meditation, be it meditation in stillness, or meditation in movement eg yoga, walking, running, etc.

So. Coming back to the question. Do I want to make a difference? Yes I do. Why? Because there are many unnecessary and avoidable problems caused by the reactiveness of humans.

What difference do I want to make? I want to help people take back the driver’s seat, to help them empower their buddhi. I want to help people remember that we only have one vehicle (this physical body), no trade ins or upgrade so we better take care of it nicely if we want a nice ride. And since we can’t trade in the vehicle, we better be comfortable in it, feel at home in it, love it. I want to help people remember that we are actually in control of the vehicle and we are actually the driver.

I believe if more people realize that we’re actually in full control of their response to outside stimuli, the more people will take a more compassionate, less violent response, there will be less avoidable & unnecessary problems in the world, and the world will become a much happier place. Instead of spending our energy to solve those unnecessary & avoidable problems, we can focus on other more serious problems eg: taking care of mother earth, using resources sustainably, distributing food to the hungry, etc.

*Buddhi is the determinative faculty of the mind that makes decisions, it is the doorway to wisdom. More info on buddhi at veda.wikidot.com 

Image credit: Welcome new light by Alice Popkorn