The purpose of this website is to be a resource for those who are curious about how to live a joyful life. Why? Because a joyful life means a more peaceful life.
The content is largely free to keep it accessible for as many people as possible.
How often we believe we don’t have what we need to be joyful, and yet we have the potential within us already. True Freedom is dedicated to supporting you in discovering this, not through dogmatic teachings, but rather by encouraging you to be an independent thinker and walk your own path.
Perhaps you’re here for a reason. Take a look around, and see what happens!
- Where does my food come from? How is it raised/cultivated?
- Are my daily words and actions affecting others? How so?
- In general, do I feel like I’m contributing or taking away from the world?
- Quality of life (ex. living like a pauper or working long hours at the office)
- Family or personal relationships (ex. you have your sights set so strongly on accomplishing something that you begin to neglect others)
- Your physical and/or mental health (ex. heart disease, anxiety)
Have you noticed something is changing? Does it seem like the world around you is a little crazy right now? Maybe you turn on the news, read the paper, or hear what’s going on in your neighborhood and you think to yourself: something’s up.
Before you go crawling into your bed, never to return -- everything has phases and cycles. Only out of destruction can new forms be born so the evolutionary process can continue.
Not everyone will notice this. Or for that matter, feel compelled to evolve.
But for those of you who do, it may help to keep in mind the old adage: Necessity is the mother of invention. Times like these call for us to evolve to a higher level of awareness.
It’s imperative for our survival.
Think of it like the end of a past relationship; many times something has to end for something better suited for you to come about. However, when you’re in your pajamas for the third day straight, hungover from the night before, and/or eating your feelings out of an ice cream carton -- it stinks. But later on you move onto another chapter, or relationship, that you find healthier in some way. What breakup?
Sometimes things fall apart to make way for growth.
Some of you may even agree with this, but think to yourself: yes, but what am I to do about it? Just by being aware of a few things, we have the potential to affect others in a great way. What you do in your life has a domino effect on other people. They may see what you’re doing and emulate it. Sure, maybe not. But what if they do?
Understanding the Connectedness of All Things
We’ve come to believe we are individually-functioning entities. As a result, we have lost sight a bit on how much what we do affects other things. To give you an example, I used to go into a local bookstore chain and read books for free. I thought I had really won the jackpot; I could just wander in there, buy a drink, and read their books. And, when I was done, I didn’t even have to put them back because someone else will put them back for me. Brilliant.
But then as time went on, I noticed these bookstores were slowly going out of business one by one. Every few months, you would hear of a store closing – surely losing business to the growing internet booksellers… and making it worse were people like… me! People who looked at it like they were getting something for free, but we all know since there’s no such thing as a free lunch -- someone’s paying.
Well guess what happens after awhile?
After that, I began to look at buying books differently. If I enjoy browsing through books and magazines while I sip a tea, I do feel it’s right to actually buy some books now and then. Will my actions alone keep this book chain in business? Not even close. But, maybe if more people go through the same progression of thought, then it has a better chance of survival.
There’s a “that’s not my problem” mentality present in our society. Sometimes we put the responsibility on others and don’t think beyond our own needs. We’ve managed to exist this way because we haven’t been pushed to the breaking point… yet.
But, as life has it, there will come a day when this mental perception is no longer sustainable. If you pay attention, you can see it slowly happening already. And when that day comes, one will probably be better prepared to adjust to a new way of life if they’ve seen this coming.
So What Can I Do?
The good news is you can still enjoy your life, and develop your own awareness. If you’re like me, you may actually enjoy your life much more. A good way to start is by asking yourself some basic questions such as:
I know some of you are going to feel guilty over this. You might even block it out because you don’t want to think about it. Relax. It’s cool. I’m not perfect either and I never will be.
However, merely being conscious of these things is a giant first step. Once we’re aware, we may begin to make different decisions (or at least think about making them!).
If you think this is idealistic, I encourage you to just play with being more conscious. Small steps. This isn’t an instant Mother Teresa starter kit.
What do you notice? Are you benefitting from being more aware?
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Sometimes we let our circumstances determine whether or not we’re satisfied. The bad weather, the rush hour traffic, and our growing stack of unopened mail can put us in a foul mood. However, the right meal, the right outfit, or the right person can make us feel like we’re floating.
Do you ever feel trapped because you think you don’t have any power over your current situation? Or, maybe you’ve had the opportunity to make plenty of choices, so you’re only satisfied if certain conditions are met.
Either way, it’s common to believe your happiness is not within your control.
The other day I was sitting on the porch with a friend of mine from Tibet. He’s been imprisoned, tortured, and now resides as a refugee in India – far away from his family and friends back home.
All things considered, he’s a pretty mellow guy.
I asked him if he minded if I put some music on. He just kind of laughed at me and said: “Of course not.” He explained that because of the things he’s been through, he’s fairly happy in most situations.
Unlike him, I’ve had a smorgasbord of life decisions available to me. Do I want to turn on the heater or the air conditioner? Do I want to be a financial consultant or a yoga instructor? Would I like to have a grapefruit or a pear for breakfast? Would I rather live in Arizona or New York?
Although I don’t deny the benefits, and this is not a woe-is-me tale, the result of this is that I’ve been slowly conditioned into believing there is a certain set of requirements in order for me to be content. I give off the faint scent of unease unless I have nice music, nature, and good quality dark chocolate in my life.
Suddenly it struck me: maybe my Tibetan friend was the one who actually has the “easy” life now because of his ability to be content in whatever situation is handed to him. It was at this moment I realized I had unconsciously voiced this out loud.
He supposed I was right.
Oftentimes, those with more feel bad for those with less and those with less envy those with more. My intent is not to downplay the struggle of those less fortunate, but is that to say there’s no upside?
Those who have grown up without being able to create their ideal circumstances have adapted by making do with what they have.
Wait, I never learned this in school! But on the other hand…
Choices Can Be Privileges
Even the simplest of choices can seem like a real liberty. For example, the other day I was looking at two jackets: one was lighter and one was heavier. I could choose which one would make me the most comfortable.
That feels like a real luxury to me.
There’s no denying that having choices can make your life easier as well. Whether you feel inundated or deprived of choice in your life, there are benefits in both.
The Sweet Spot
All this being said, I can’t help but think an element of balance comes into play. Yes, it might behoove us to practice being authentically content in all conditions, however is that not to say we shouldn’t try to ease our suffering when possible? Notice I said suffering, not discomfort.
Otherwise, this might be misinterpreted as inflicting torture on oneself whenever the opportunity presents! I know some people are into that, but I don’t think that’s my path.
Perhaps it’s best if we alleviate suffering whenever possible, without intentionally hurting others in the process. However, if we don’t have a choice in the matter (which sometimes we don’t) then there’s a real opportunity to practice using our abilities to adapt so we can live in peace — even in conditions we may not like.
What do you think?
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What do you do when things don’t go your way? I found out the answer to this question on an unplanned, 24-hour sojourn at the Taoyuan Airport in Taipei today. Stuck in a self-created, steaming mound of crap, I was left forced to practice what I preach (I hate when that happens ;) ).
Allow me to share the story.
As I write this, I sit in the airport in Taiwan. Why you ask? Because I am on my way to Indonesia… and I missed my connecting flight. The reason? I thought the clock on my computer, which I was watching very closely, updated automatically to local time – but it didn’t. I was watching it so closely, in fact, that I failed to notice that it said ‘10 PM’, and it was mid-morning. So yes, I was sitting in the airport at a cafe, a five-minute walk away from my gate, and I missed my flight. After a few hours going through immigration and waiting at the ticket counter, I come to find out the next flight isn't until tomorrow AND I get to pay a pretty hefty fee.
I was angry.
Generally, I try to avoid being angry with myself at all costs. I frantically searched for other things to blame or excuses. When it failed to come up with any good ones, I just felt dumb. Luckily, and I largely attribute this to a regular meditation practice, I was able to watch these things play out in my head, instead of actually voicing them like in years past.
After seeing this all welling up inside of me, I told myself to drop it. I do this frequently. I let go of my frustration when I realized it wouldn’t make my situation any better. No, I would’ve just been pissed off… and still stuck in the airport.
I was forced to surrender. Instead of using my dwindling energy on fighting the situation, I had to accept it and go from there. Could I have gotten a hotel near the airport? I guess, but I’m on a budget and sometimes I like to do things the hard way, because it’s a challenge and it’s good for me.
I felt pretty homeless and I had certainly shown up dressed the part. At the Taoyuan Airport, they make sure to keep it turned down to a temperature I’m pretty sure only penguins would appreciate -- or menopausal women. It’s probably so people like me don’t dare linger for too long. They underestimate my prowess.
This forced me to put on every piece of clothing readily accessible in my bag, which was a sad lot. I looked like I had dressed myself at Goodwill. Not in a cool, edgy way -- as if I went there by choice to do some shopping – but rather by desperation, as if I resigned myself to bundle up in whatever the bums had picked over and didn’t want.
Had it not been for my MacBook Air and my cute sneakers, I probably would’ve been booted from all the coffee places and restaurants. It’s funny how a pair of decent shoes and nice electronic devices can instantly upgrade you from ‘homeless’ to ‘backpacker’.
I asked myself: Will this matter in a week? Will I still be thinking about this next month? What about in a year? The answer was a resounding ‘I sure hope not’ to all three. I felt myself relax a bit.
Finding the Bright Spots
I discovered when push comes to shove, my standards for sleep go way down. Who needs a comfortable mattress and a soft pillow? Heck, any piece of furniture that allowed my body to approach anything near horizontal was okay with me. A cold, marble slab! A bed of nails even!
The situation was grim.
After 30 minutes of searching, I managed to find a group of seats without any armrests to get in my way of achieving my dream of 180 degrees of perfection. As soon as I laid down, my body sighed in gratitude and my eyes began to drift closed. My right arm began to fall asleep, but that wasn’t good enough reason to make this girl move. Nope, not until that sucker falls off. I woke up an hour later and went to go floss my teeth in the ladies’ room. When I returned, I was disappointed to find my turf was compromised.
Suddenly I had company.
A group of twenty or so Taiwanese college kids had also found the groupings of armrest-less seats in Terminal 2. I was still pretty pathetic at this point, but at least when I looked over now, I saw the soles of pairs of sock-covered feet to remind me we were all in this together. It was touching.
Traveling has its downsides too. Most of the time it’s pretty fun, but sometimes you want to pull your hair out. After several hours, despite my best efforts, I actually began to enjoy myself a little. I paid a visit to the Hello Kitty gate and got a fair amount of work done. It was part of the adventure, and a lesson in paying more attention to the time. And luckier than some, this wouldn’t be my life for more than a day.
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Kuala Lumpur is a cluster of exotic action (at least for the average Westerner). Large skyscrapers tower amidst ramshackle buildings; a few still reminiscent of the colonial period. Once in awhile a Hindu or Chinese temple crops up between the pharmacies and restaurants.
A true mix of cultures, I sit on a bench in a heavily-trafficked square near the Central Market as I wait for it to open. I watch the various shades of skin go by. From pale caramel to deep black red, and every shade in-between. A flurry of bindis, headscarves, and men wearing kopiahs (skullcaps) pass by.
It’s hot today: 90 degrees and humid. Walking the streets is no joy. Sometimes it’s paved, sometimes it’s not. Cars and motorbikes fill the streets. Like a lemming, I scurry across when I see other people crossing. I rationalize that getting run over might be slightly more bearable if done so in a pack.
Eyes spinning from stall upon stall of uninspiring and dime-a-dozen tzotchkes, I wander away from the knockoff Burberry purses and fake Rolexes. I veer off of Petaling Street into a twisted maze of market stalls known as a wet market. Although it sounds wholly unappetizing, a “wet market” here just means they sell fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood.
As I enter, a butcher says “I love you” to me as he slices the head off a chicken. Along with the usual cuts, there are livers, intestines, and fish guts. The air is tinged with the smell of unsettlingly fresh blood. I look down and see several chickens in a tiny cage on the dirt floor, awaiting their fate.
Forget about farm-to-table; it’s more cage-to-cleaver here.
The narrow aisles, along with the smell of humid meat makes my stomach turn. I’m grateful to see some light at the end of the market tunnel. Fresh air fills my lungs and sunshine floods my eyes again.
I find myself dizzy in choice of where to go. I’ve been reading about an intriguing coffee shop/gallery that’s supposed to open at 11AM but the door is locked. I look down at my phone: 11:05AM. Irritated by walking in a sauna, I begin to wonder: should people be more prompt, or should I be more patient?
11:15AM: The shop opens and I sit down. Too hot to even think about coffee, I order a blended orange drink, with hints of ginger and lime. It’s small and refreshing. I scurry frantically on my phone, searching for where to go next.
My mind starts spinning, and I feel blasted by bits of information torpedoing at me from all directions. I sit and close my eyes and enjoy the periodic breeze from a fan as it rotates around.
When my eyes feel like opening again, I suddenly notice the eclectic artwork around me. The plants hanging from the ceiling. The carefully-staged retro TV set, serving more as a table for books from travellers past.
I put my phone away.
I pay and step outside. Refreshed, I decide to wander aimlessly. Fresh fruit and vegetables are all I can muster an appetite for in this weather. However, I’m desperately trying to find some without luck. Figures. When I wasn’t looking for fruit, I couldn’t turn around without running into a papaya.
I see a large crowd gathering outside a bank. Expecting to see a live Malaysian holdup, I see dragons instead. It’s a celebration of Chinese New Year. Giant stuffed dragons and a cartoonish Buddha are taunting the white-collar bank employees, much to the amusement of the onlookers. I stop to watch.
A hand from inside the dragon’s mouth is giving out oranges. He stops in front of me and offers me one.
I gratefully slip the orange in my bag and continue on.
I come upon a street hawker where I order the first thing I recognize: roti canai. Chopped up flatbread served with a small dish of lentils. It’s delicious. The man working at the stand greets me and offers me something to drink. Without thinking, I just nod and say yes. A glass of teh tarik arrives (hand-pulled, milky sweet tea). Served in small glasses, he cautions me to wait before drinking it. No problem. Hot tea was not exactly what I had in mind anyway.
While I wait for it to cool, I am left with nothing to do but sit and look around. I see a woman with red lipstick and spiky hair wearing bright pink hotpants and galoshes. I decide she must be up to no good and my eyes follow along with her determined gait. She stops and puts on rubber gloves. Yes, up to no good indeed.
She approaches a large black, cast iron wok. She takes two large spatulas, one in each hand and stir fries whatever the young boy brings to her: heap after heap of long beans, piles of chopped spinach, a mound of diced chicken. The young boy brings back the slightly smaller now, stir-fried mounds, shiny with oil, to the buffet counter where it waits to be tucked into by a group of construction workers – helmets in one hand, plates in the other.
I’m being eyeballed by the locals as it appears I’m the only foreigner. I realize I’m staring at them too. Fair enough.
I wander around; playfully getting lost and finding my way again. From the street I see a restaurant filled with people. Looks decent. I see a man on the corner selling mee rebus (boiled noodles): typically a noodle dish with a thick curry sauce on top. Sounds good. I decide the technique of nodding and not ordering anything has been working adequately so far. The man says something I can’t understand and I nod.
I sit down and size up the lunchtime crowd. Again, a mix of Muslims, Christians, and Hindus all sitting at the same tables. No matter your religion, we all have to eat.
The food comes, a bowl of small lumps covered in a reddish-brown sauce. I eat a piece of something. There are no noodles in mine, so I don’t really know what I ended up getting, but instead pieces of savory doughnut-like fritter, a hard boiled egg, and bits of seafood are served over a base of raw mung bean sprouts, diced cucumber, and daikon.
One could describe the dish as a culinary representation of the inhabitants of Kuala Lumpur: a real hodge-podge; united by something distinctly Malaysian. Sometimes the individual elements are easily identifiable, sometimes not. However it all works in harmony because the faintly sweet, spice-filled curry sauce -- an eatable history of spice trade and Portuguese colonialization -- ties it together.
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Why Set Goals?
Are you someone who creates goals for yourself? Many people do, but we find it hard to follow through, whether it’s in the form of a picture of what you looked like twenty years ago taped to your fridge or a New Year’s resolution that never changes because you gave up by February.
Or, maybe you find them relatively pointless.
I used to do everything I could to reach the goals I set for myself. In my early to mid-twenties, they were mostly financial because that’s what was important to me; trying to save up a certain amount of money or to be able to retire early. When I would succeed, I would be overjoyed, but if I failed to achieve them, I would become disheartened.
I’ve also been through a stage when I saw no reason to make them. Why did we need goals? Everything happens in its own time, right?
Over time, I’ve come to believe goal setting is important because it sets our sight on where we want to go. It provides us with direction. It helps us get clarity on how we want to spend our time and energy. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate what we want in life, and perhaps more importantly, why we want it.
For example, perhaps you have a goal to retire by the age of 50. If you’re too caught up in the end, rather than the means, you might find yourself really sacrificing a lot to reach your goal:
Perhaps you accomplish your goal of early retirement. Then what? Do you know what you’d like to do with your newfound free time? Maybe you get bored because you don’t know what to do with yourself. Did you put yourself (and others) through hardship for all those years just to… languish?
Once you become clearer on why you want to retire early, for example pursuing a passion, spending time with family, or traveling more, then you won’t set yourself up for disappointment later on. Even better, maybe you’ll find a way to begin doing some of these things before retirement.
But it doesn’t end there.
It’s just as crucial to release your attachment to the outcome. This may sound illogical, or even for those of you who are tough on yourself, it may sound like you’re being too “soft” -- or giving yourself a way out. But in reality, I found this actually helped me to achieve my goals.
If we’re too attached to an outcome, good or bad, we have so much riding on it that it can discourage us if that plan doesn’t work out as we’d hoped. This may cause us to give up on our goals altogether. We might quit too early.
Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of opening up a restaurant. You have everything riding on this venture; you’ve invested your money (perhaps even the money of other investors), and you’ve been working day and night. The restaurant fails. You become distraught and give up on your dream altogether. This is because you were too attached to the outcome of the restaurant succeeding. Because it didn’t, you quit.
What would happen if you dropped your attachment to the results?
By the way, this doesn’t mean you don’t try. But what if you started out with the mindset that you would approach this as a big experiment. If it works out -- great, if it doesn’t, that’s okay too.
Why? Because you’ll try again.
Maybe this time you’ll make some adjustments to your overall costs so your profit margins are larger, change the location, or revisit the menu. You attempt to learn from your mistakes and give it another go.
Because you’re not attached to a certain outcome, you don’t kill yourself in the process. You work hard and give it your best, but you don’t sacrifice your health or personal relationships in the meantime. You don’t lose your temper frequently because you’re stressed out and under financial strain. If you run out of money in the process, you’ll just try something else to earn some more or borrow money until you have enough to try again.
How would this new mindset affect your decision to take a risk?
How to Set Goals That Will Actually Help You
1.) Allow yourself some time to journal or think about what you’d like to do in your life. What would you do if you knew you had two months to live? What would you do if money were no object?
2.) Now give some direction and set parameters to your desire. If you want to write a book, schedule a start and end date for getting your first chapter completed. If you want to get in better shape, set a bar for your weight, endurance, muscle mass, speed, etc.
3.) Once you have your goals set, do a check by actually imagining yourself not reaching your goal. Are you dissuaded from trying again? Then imagine yourself reaching your goal. Are you so elated that future failure will disillusion you?
If the answer is ‘yes’, you may want to wait until you can honestly say these feelings won’t affect your persistence. This may take you multiple tries because our minds are not conditioned to think this way. However, you’ll be better off by embarking on your mission with a balanced mind ahead of time.
You can now take the first small step toward your goal without all the pressure of your happiness being dependent on a positive result.
If you reach your goal successfully, that’s great and you can fully enjoy it. However, if it doesn’t, that doesn’t necessarily signify the end. The ability to maintain your desire to do the things you want in spite of “failures” along the way is a clear test of whether or not you are too emotionally invested. Rarely do people succeed on their first try; usually they have large bumps along the way. Think about the hugely successful people you hear about; they usually have a story about their multiple struggles in the process.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Heck, fail over and over again. You’ll learn more, and give yourself an opportunity to improve each time. Rarely is it just: success. But rather: failure, failure, failure, and then maybe success.
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