The Case Of The Dog And Its Tail

Dogs have taught me a great deal about life. This article is about one of them. (Image source)

It felt just like yesterday when I had taken my UPSR exams (note: an exam one takes in Malaysia before entering secondary/ high school). I remember that teachers would oftentimes give prep talks before lessons regarding how important that exam would be. They would say that not only is this exam important to get into a good high school, but also in employee selection. If there are two candidates of equal standing to choose from, employers would then go back to as far as your UPSR exam results to make their pick.

Imagine being a 12 year old boy and believing that is true. The UPSR exams felt like a mountain to overcome. There were countless hours of studying, extra tuition, and even an overnight camp at school to prepare for this.

I remember a great deal of anxiety leading up to that event. When it was all done and the results announced, a big sigh of relief followed. Wow, I finally did it?

Life After The Exams

About 20 years has passed since that exam. Was it a life changing event? Not as much as I thought it would be. It now feels like a passing moment I had went through as a 12 year old boy. As much as the teachers believed in its importance, the exam results were never shown on my CV.

Since then, I had gone through similar events in my life. I went through a couple of important school examinations, a pre-university exam, completed my degree, completed a master’s degree, got my first job, started my first business… and the list goes on.

Each one of these events felt the same like when I was sitting for my UPSR examinations. In my mind, it was a big challenge that I had to overcome, and that it was really, really, important that I accomplish it well.

Did it matter in the end? It somewhat did, but not as much as I thought it would be. When I’m done with a challenge, I move on to the next. Each time, thinking that this next challenge to be more important the one preceding it. Each time, thinking that it will somehow make my life better than before.

A Dog and Its Tail

Have you seen a dog chasing its own tail?

I did. One fine day, I managed to catch a glimpse of this amusing occurrence. As the dog spots its tail at the corner of its eyes, round and round it goes, thinking it can outsmart the tail. Lo and behold, to both the dog and my surprise, it did manage to bite on it. A long pause followed, as it mentally processed through what had just happened.

All its life, it has chased the tail to no avail. And now that it has managed to do it, does not know what to do next. There was a look of confusion. It let go of its own tail. And then it walked away, as if nothing happened.

The Chase of Life

While it may seem amusing to watch this happen to a dog, this is what we do in our lives as well. We continuously chase after our own metaphorical tail, thinking that this upcoming accomplishment will significantly alter the course of our lives.

Most of the time, it doesn’t. We move on to the next thing.

Looking at things objectively, we will continuously achieve our goals, one presumably bigger than the one before it. It is in the very nature of a person’s development. As we develop more skills and resources with the passage of time, we develop competence over incrementally more challenging tasks. This is life.

But I think the important question to ponder on here is: What is the purpose to all of this?

Process > Outcome

After all, what really matters? (Image source)

Looking back at the time of my UPSR exams, what I remembered fondly of wasn’t the grades that I received. Instead, I smile when I think about discovering what a leaf is comprised of. There were also the long walks home with my friend while eating snacks under the scorching afternoon sun. And we played games using whatever we had, such as pencils, erasers, papers in between classes.

What I most valued out of working towards that goal was the time spent being a 12 year old boy.

Whether or not we are able to have great accomplishments in our lifetime remains uncertain. But what is certain is that we cannot relive a moment. And you’ll find that the best moments aren’t the times when you actually accomplish your goals, but the memories made working towards it.

A great poet once said that “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women are merely players”. I think wisdom comes in knowing that we’re all playing our roles in this show of life; and savoring the time that we have doing it makes all the difference.

The Reason Why I Write

I have been fond of writing ever since I was a teenager. Before I had even known that there’s such a thing as a therapist (ironically, I’m one now), writing has always been my instrument to bring into awareness inner thoughts and emotions. It acts as a mirror, staring right back at me. As I write, the words that is on the screen is void of emotion and judgment. It’s matter-of-fact. If I can allow complete honesty with myself, I can see what I am really thinking and feeling. It can feel like I am ironing out the knotted mess that is my mind.

Aside from blogs that I used to have (and have now long forgotten, or have lost access to), I also used to have a notebook with me to pen my thoughts. In it contained entries as short as a few words, poems, grocery and to-do lists, random sketches of lines and circles, and whatever that could possibly be on my mind at the time of writing. That notebook became so emotionally significant to me, that the pages from the book was also cut out and used for love notes and letters that I would send to my girlfriend at the time.

I was the most creative, present, and emotionally aware during the period of time when I was consistent in writing and meditating.

There is a kind of warmth that I feel when writing. Just like how this picture feels.(source)

Unfortunately, I no longer possess that notebook. I have since dropped the habit of regular meditation. Based on the duration between entries on this blog, I have also lost touch with writing. I am guilty of taking writing for granted. It seems to me that I only willingly approach it when I am in pain, and in need of cathartic self-awareness. Like a mistreated lover, I only showered it with attention when I needed something from it.

Why do I abandon writing in good times, when it was the one that had kept me there in the first place? I am a walking paradox. But so is going through the passage of life, which can be rather confusing and out-of-order; despite its sweetness if I’m ever so present to stop and notice. This further validates my point that I should be writing more consistently. I can benefit from taking notice.

To be really frank with myself, I haven’t been feeling my best lately. In the past couple of months or so, I’ve felt like I’ve disappointed myself in various aspects: relational, financial, physical, and emotional. The past 2-3 years have been rather draining, and it feels as if the platform that is supporting me slowly thinning down.

I haven’t been allowing these emotions to come into full awareness and to just let it breathe. Writing was one of the ways to catch these feelings, and so was meditation. I just went on with my days, denying these feelings its right to exist during times when it rightfully should. And so here I am, writing about it, staring into these words that I’ve just written. It’s like a mirror to how I look on the inside, and I can live it in its full flesh. I’m appreciating this, more so in the silence of the night.

Emotions can be rather tricky. Despite how disappointed or down I feel about myself, I know that when viewed rationally, I have accomplished a great deal of things throughout this year and have held myself together considerably well given the circumstances. But then again, these accomplishments has its time and place. And for this moment, I would like to instead allow what I’ve been denying to claim its own space.

There is a kind of relief and warmth that comes from being honest with myself. Being truthful almost feels like being naked (guess that’s why they call it the ‘naked truth’). To just feel my truth, despite the pain, is actually a rather pleasant experience. I’m glad I took the time to do this. This is the reason why I write.

My thoughts after watching the new movie: Logan.

I appreciate going for a late movie, followed by the calm and stillness that the night could offer me on the way back home. I decided to watch Logan, which to me was rather different than the usual explosions and attempts at witty banter that such a “genre” usually offer. Instead, I was greeted with a rather depressing tone which touched on a variety of human experiences such as love, relationships, isolation, and death.

Prior to the current setting in the movie, Professor X and Logan had lived in isolation for the past year and had gone through some very difficult experiences. This had got both of them in a rather depressed mental state. There was this scene that had struck a chord in me. It was a scene of Professor X resting in bed at a family’s home who had welcomed them for dinner and the night’s stay. Professor X, being old, frail, and at times displaying dementia-like symptoms, went into dialogue that it has been a long time since he had last felt safety, comfort, and togetherness. He strongly suggested to Logan that he too, should take some time to experience this. “This is what life is about”, Professor X said.

Logan (Wolverine) and Professor X in the later part of their lives.

This scene of him lying in bed and communicating his feelings of safety and being loved was rather touching in several ways. I began reflecting on how fortunate I am to be able to fall asleep in a warm bed in my family’s home, knowing that everything will be safe and as is when I wake up the following day. As much as I may be bogged down by daily troubles or worries about the future, it is rather easy to be less mindful of the treasures that are here in the present. I dare say that a majority of the world would, in a heartbeat, be more than happy to switch life positions with me, just to experience simple pleasures that I have every single night: sleeping in a warm bed, being together with family, and knowing that everything will be safe.

Why do we suffer?

It is perhaps a great mystery that I will have no answer to for the rest of my life, on why some people are born or have to experience great difficulty or suffering in life, while some others may not. While I may comparatively feel more helpless in alleviating external suffering such as poverty, I have chanced upon meeting individuals from all walks of life sharing experiences of suffering from within. I have met strangers, acquaintances, friends, and clients, who have shared feelings of being unloved and unsafe, similar to how I have felt at certain times. Despite differing backgrounds, this is the common ground that I can share with others, and to which healing is possible.

There was one particular ex-client that had come to mind as I was reflecting on that scene in the movie. He had come to me presenting with a relationship concern, in which his ex-partner had displayed a variety of erratic behaviors stemming from feelings of deep insecurity. He had suffered in the relationship, and had since let go of it. A sturdy and independent man, he was involved in high profile dealings which may not be necessarily legal (details of which was not disclosed in session). Due to safety concerns, he had to distance himself away from family and have minimal contact with people in general. He was not able to enjoy social relationships due to his work’s demands, and will not be able to assume an identity in society.

It was clear to me as sessions progressed that he has moved on from the past relationship. It was also clear to me that he will be continuing in his life choices and has little motivation to do otherwise. It had come to a point in the consultations with him that I found myself to be of little help towards improving his well-being. Objectives have already been met in terms of his mental health. We came to a conclusion that it was time to part ways, and therapy ended.

As I reflect on my time with that client, I strongly believe that he would continue coming in for sessions had I not brought up the topic of ending therapy. We might not even talk about anything relevant towards addressing his life concerns. My feeling is that we could be just sitting there, not speaking a word, or just having tea, and he would still see the value in coming in for sessions.

We all need a safe space.

Just like the scene of Professor X resting in bed, this client too derived a feeling of belonging and safety during the therapy sessions. Due to his life choices, he could not afford to feel belonged to or safe in his day to day life, and our therapeutic relationship was his way of satisfying such needs.

Love, safety, and belonging is indeed a fundamental human need. While I take the time to appreciate the scene in that movie, I also wonder if I had ended the sessions too soon. On the larger scheme of things, with the world lacking so deeply in fulfilling such needs, in what way could I help better?

The Year That Was 2016.

2016 could have been a better year. Over hundreds of thousands of people are displaced from their own countries, in a desperate attempt to avoid persecution, famine, and war. To escape such horrible conditions, a lot of them ended up losing their lives, are stateless with nowhere to go, having no food, shelter, or appropriate clothing to brave the weather, and not an idea of what the next few days would be like for them. 2016 also saw the escalation of primitive rhetoric based around geographical location, race, religion, and gender, which stirred emotions of the masses and opened the floodgates to behaviors stemming from hate and ignorance, not fitting of this day and age.  In 2016, many people suffered.

2016: When happiness could have been found within the turmoil. Image from

I am very grateful to be able to sleep on the same bed every night, safe within the four walls of my room, not needing to worry if there will be food to eat, or water to drink, or if I’ll still be alive. Despite the troubles that this part of the world is facing with the economy and rampant corruption, I am thankful that I have the ability to enjoy the next breath that I am taking, and to have the opportunities that presents itself to me at every moment. I am grateful to be living in a relatively peaceful neighborhood and country.

Despite this, suffering presents itself in many ways. From the people closest to me to strangers that I have met by coincidence, what became clear to me in the past year is that suffering is universal. Yes, they may be driving luxurious cars and live in big houses. Yes, they may be in good health and having enough rest and nutrients to be healthy. Yes, they have others around them to interact with and to go through these times together. And yes, they will still be very much alive in the foreseeable future.

But they are suffering. The unhappiness is clear from the frustration that they express. They believe that the story of their own lives are unique, that their suffering is something that no one else is experiencing. They believe that others often have it better, that what others are showing through their social media feeds, or from their brief exchange of pleasantries shows that life is great for everyone else. Everyone else but them. They feel alone in their own world of suffering.

How did we become so disconnected from others that we fail to see how others, too, are suffering? How did we become so unaware of our own blessings and instead blame or pity ourselves because of what we are lacking?

It seems that with advancement in how fast paced information could travel, and how much opportunities we have to consume new information, we started becoming greedy and impatient. Our greed and impatience caused us to consume knowledge of others in bite sizes, often wanting to only know what other people are like on the surface. We have many friends, but none that we really know.  Our greed and impatience caused us to fit in as many things to do as possible, in hopes that we could gain more enjoyment, but without having the time to do the heavy and time consuming stuff, like personal reflection, developing self-awareness, and addressing our insecurities. After all, everything is at the convenience of a click of a button, right?

In 2016, we started failing in understanding both others and ourselves. We end up covering a mile wide, and not a mile deep.

Did behaving this way bring us any happiness?

On a personal level, I am hopeful. I am currently in the midst of writing a book scheduled to be published by mid-2017 (fingers crossed). In my book, How To Live A Fulfilling LifeI hope to illuminate the fact and fiction of happiness, meaning, fulfillment, and the good life. Clearly, a lot of what we are doing are not working for our own good, and a lot of what we could do in order to improve our lives have not been done enough. I’m hoping that my experience in practice, the research that I’ve been doing to write the book, and my own understanding of human life thus far, could offer a small contribution in improving the lives of all of us who are suffering.

Although I am almost half a month late, I would like to wish all of you out there a happy new year 2017, and may the year bring you bountiful opportunities to grow happiness in your daily life.

I think, therefore I am.

It’s been more than half a year since my last post on this blog. Much has been lost, and much has been gained. The most significant of losses would be  the sale of the cafe that I used to operate. One year of caring for something can bring about a kind of emotional attachment and feeling of loss. However, with the sale of the cafe, there were significant gains too. I have gained:

1) Good experience in running a business.

2) Good experience in running a business… as a sole owner (trust me, this is really tough. But also in my experience a necessary step to develop to the next level).

3) The necessary capital to start on my next business venture (this time, with more confidence placed on me by others due to my experience) with other business partners.

4) Knowledge of what works and what doesn’t for the product and applying it in the next business.

5) Fond memories of staff, family, friends, customers, and the struggle of making something work.

6) A new appreciation of doing business and what is required of me as a person to operate one.

Me in the cafe: our last picture together.
Me in the cafe: our last picture together.

The sale of the cafe was a business decision that I felt was the best step forward in order to grow, both for my self as a person and the business entity. It sits well in my heart because it was the right time and the right move.

How is this small snippet of me and my (ex) cafe related in any way with the title of this blog post?

For the past few months, I have been reciting gratitude before I sleep every night (i.e. 10 things that I’m grateful for today). While I cannot tell for sure if it provides a direct, positive effect on my mental health, it sure did develop a habit to think in a more positive way. And with that habit, came improved mental health.

To me, it is a fact of life that the bad and the good are inseparable. Sometimes, it may appear that there is more bad than good, and vice versa. Deep sadness comes from thinking that life is all bad, and overwhelming anxiety comes from wanting things to be good at all times. Such psychological disturbances, I believe, comes from a projection of  personal expectations, thoughts, and beliefs, that do not reflect how life is supposed to be.

The mind is just like a muscle; it needs to be regularly trained and fed with the right nutrients in order for it to grow. Among the many things that can be done for good mental health, practicing gratitude in daily life is one of those that I highly recommend. This is not a way to gain instant happiness, but instead to develop the habit to be happy and to allow ourselves to be fed with the positivity that we require in daily life.

A philosopher by the name of Descartes once came to a conclusion that he exists based on the principle of “cogito ergo sum”, which means “I think, therefore I am”.  To me, this carries a personal meaning of “how we think defines who we are”. As I end this blog post, I implore my readers to ponder: What kind of person would you like to be, and how do you think in order to be that kind of person?

5 Personal Lessons From 2015

Time is a great teacher, only if the student is willing to learn. 2015 hasn’t been an easy year, but many lessons were learned throughout that time period. Here are mine:

1) Always practice gratitude. There were many times when I felt like I do not have the necessary resources to go on. Whether it was resources (encouragement, understanding, finances, etc.) I felt I needed from my family, friends, business-related associates, or that I did not have enough money, network, mental and emotional strength (and the list goes on), I tried my very best to focus on the resources that I do have and expand from there. Every night, I review my day by being grateful about 10 things that had happened during the day. At times, I might practice this before I get started on my day. It helped me to move from perspective from a mentality of scarcity to an mentality of abundance. Believe me when I say that we often take very important things for granted, such as the air that we breathe, or that we’re able to sleep on a bed at night (these come up rather often in my gratitude exercises).

Despite having very limited resources, I managed to start up 1 failed business and 2 sustainable businesses in one year. Not too bad, eh? In fact, I’m rather proud of my achievement. The bonus here is that I live my days feeling rather positive and motivated, because I have all these awesome things in life to be grateful for. The air feels and smells great!

2) A life well-lived is a life of purpose and passion. A big lesson that I’m continuously learning is that life feels full when I am living it in accordance to what I believe is purposeful and what I feel passionate about. I have to be aware of this, and to maintain continuous effort to ensure that this holds true in my life. As of now, I do not think that I’m able to define which part of my day is work or leisure anymore. Life does not feel segmented in a way that I am supposed to dislike a part of it and to like another part of it. How I live daily is just that: I live my life. It doesn’t feel like work when I find a purpose from doing what I do. It’s instead a pretty awesome feeling.

3) Start doing, as the time is nowIf I had spent my time constantly building grand plans in my mind (which was a mode that I was in for a period of time), rather than to execute based on whatever little resources that I have (note: it isn’t as little as you think if you do practice lesson number 1), I would still be stuck earning a salary which will never be enough, not feeling fulfilled with my job environment and what is derived from it, living a cycle of workdays and weekends… basically, settling for crumbs in life.

They say the graveyard is the richest place on Earth, because in it are all the unfulfilled dreams, ideas, and plans, which are worth way more than what is actually available in the physical world. And the reason is this: Nothing was done about it. Nobody cares or puts value in an idea that is not executed. They certainly will not reward me, let alone provide me with an opportunity to sustain my livelihood, just because I believe I’m the next “big thing”. The only thing that matters is that I started. All others will follow.

4) Time is limited. If you had one day left to live, how would you live your life? This is the reality of the life we are living, except that our time to go remains (for the most part) unknown and perceived to be in the distant future. With every second spent on things that makes us unhappy, it takes away those precious seconds that can be lived otherwise. We will all eventually die, but very little of us take this as a definite fact rather than an abstract idea. We live in a constant slumber, as if life will begin some time in the future when our worries and goals are achieved, when actually, life has already begun, and it is waiting upon us to live it now. 

I find that living as best as possible in the present makes my time spent in the best way. The little conversations that I have, the heat of the sun, the gust of wind, the smell of coffee, the flickering of light from my laptop, the pleasure of trying something new… it becomes all the more meaningful if only I am present to experience it. As such, I prioritize and take active effort in managing the biggest life-sucker of the universe: worry. 

5) There will be resistance when moving forward. When practicing lessons number (2) and (3), there will be resistance to your effort. You may be surprised that this will come from not only strangers, but the people who are close to you. It is just the way it is, as people have the tendency to believe that their aspirations, dreams, and/or how they wish to live their life should also be reflected in how you live your life. It is a projection (onto you) of their inner desires and fear that maintains their own reality.

What I have learned is that practicing (2) and (3) requires me to be an individual, rather than to submit myself to a reality that I may not necessarily be comfortable with. Being an individual also means that I am unique. It means that I have to find my own voice and to live my own story. It requires me to practice (1) constantly. What follows is an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that money cannot buy.

Thank you 2015 for the many lessons that you have given me. Welcoming the new year with much enthusiasm!