Finding happiness, my way
This June, there is no need to travel abroad to be on a path of self-discovery. The journey starts right here at home for digital marketer and influencer Chevonne Cheng who shares her personal lessons on mindful living.
The week I enrolled in biomedical school in May, I chanced upon cell biologist Dr Bruce Lipton’s study on epigenetics. Loosely defined, epigenetics is the belief that you can alter your genetics by modifying your behaviour and environment.
According to Dr. Lipton, “Between one-third and two-thirds of all healing is down to the placebo effect, not therapies, drugs or surgery.” In essence, the key to your well-being may be through being in the right state of mind.
With his advice in mind, I embarked on my own mindfulness journey in the hope that one day I can achieve the so-called placebo effect.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned so far.
Tune inwards and be in touch with own thoughts and emotions
One way to raise our energy level is through meditation. One popular meditation technique is Vipasanna, where mindfulness is about observing our six sense doors: Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Traditionally, the “object” of meditation is centred on one’s breath. When thoughts arise, let them go without judgement or force.
Good news is, you don’t need $90 yoga tights or a Buddha lamp to begin your mindfulness journey. We can start by tuning inwards and observing our own weaknesses without beating ourselves up, recognising that what we see as possible stumbling blocks could be just shadow play in our minds.
Practicing mindfulness is simply living in the present and not letting your mind get in its own way. Our distractions in everyday life— notifications on our smartphones, or beeping sound as our car crosses an ERP gantry during peak hours—might never go away. But in the midst of the mindless motion, breathe and acknowledge every emotion you feel – let go of the impulse to act on each one of them.
The question is, how do we let go of anger, fear or stress, when we’re conditioned to cling onto more? I am trying to figure this out.
Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, a hit Netflix series, has sparked decluttering fever among many viewers. Does decluttering spark joy? I believe being mindful isn’t only about packing our stuff neatly, but having less stuff to pack. Subtracting from our lives and not adding more material possessions than we need sounds simple, yet it’s a concept we struggle to grasp.
When we throw ‘away’ things, where do they go? Everything ends up somewhere. As someone who works in marketing and media, I advertise products to pay the bills. But owning things is only a joy until things own you. This year, I turned down every sponsorship I didn’t need. I also turned vegan and replaced fast fashion with thrift shopping. Even though my bank account took a hit, I learnt to be more accountable for things.
By remembering impermanence, we learn gratitude. In a numbers-driven society, we’re often cynical, selfish and competitive. That’s why it’s even more important to practice gratitude for others and to connect with our environment — and not just our social media followers.
For me, keeping a journal and creating an ideal morning and night routine helps me create a life I want. I also track daily habits like meal preparations in advance and keeping a time log to be more accountable for less purposeful activities such as sending the fifth cat meme to my friends.
Pay it forward
I received one of my biggest lessons on kindness from a Japanese stranger I met in Kyoto: He travelled three train stops away from his destination to return me my lost phone.
When I rang my lost phone, a man picked it up and told me to wait at Karasuma-Oike station. When he arrived, he said: “Sorry to keep you waiting. I am student in Kyoto University. Enjoy your stay in Japan.”
I was so touched and humbled by his action I never forgot the feeling of being indebted to a complete stranger, which inspired me to pay his kindness forward by helping strangers in tiniest ways possible—helping an old lady cross the road, or returning a lost wallet.
Change begins with you
To change the world, we should start with doing our own dishes. My mum often quips: “If you want to do charity work in Indonesia, how about do charity for your own maid?”
Her comments made me reflect on my own actions and I have since become more conscious of the impact of my actions on others and my living environment.
An old lady who has a hunchback also left a deep impression on me. I once helped her to carry cardboards that she took from a HDB block’s trash bin. When I was about to ask her how much she was earning from selling scraps, she pointed to a recycling bin and said in Mandarin, “Girl ah, you open the lid. I put these inside.”
I realised that her rummaging through dustbins every night was not to find items to sell, but to separate recyclable items from regular trash.
I’ve now replaced my single-use plastics and reduced my use of single-use plastics by bringing my own collapsible mug and container to “dabao” food and drinks. I imagine the hands of “Cardboard Auntie” getting dirty as she tries to sort the items in the dustbin, so I tie two knots before tossing liquid items in bags and separate my recyclable items from regular trash.
With a bit of nagging from me, my fiancé is starting to do the same, too.
Volunteer and get social
There are many community centres and volunteer programmes you could start with to make a difference: Create art with mental institute patients, walk dogs at shelters or cook food in temples.
You could join Facebook support groups, meditation classes or meet-up sessions to share knowledge and skills with others. Or discover new activities to bond over with loved ones. Don’t make friends on Facebook with someone two continents away while forgetting the ones beside you.
Most importantly, strive for progress, not perfection. It is still work in progress for me.