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?
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here. About three months to be exact. Over the summer, I took a small break from the blog (however, I was surprised to see the site still receives over 600 visitors per month!).
This self-imposed hiatus began when the site got hacked. Much of the content was lost, so I slowly had to re-build it from scratch. In the midst of some anguish and frustration, I opened up my mind to include the possibility that this was in my best interest. And sure enough, it ended up working out, because it allowed me to reflect on whether or not I should be writing.
I thought this would be a good time to do a post about releasing expectations. When I first started this blog three years ago, I did what many people suggested, and set myself a goal. The goal was to write one, well-thought out post per month. And for awhile, I kept up with it. I diligently sat at my computer until I produced something. I was really enjoying writing. I received encouragement from readers who said they gained things from the content, but after a couple years I noticed I wanted to do other things more.
Sometimes we set goals for ourselves, and along the way we come across some roadblocks, but we keep going. In the end it might feel worth it due to a sense of “accomplishment”, but are you sacrificing your happiness and stressing yourself needlessly? I enjoy setting goals because they give my direction, but I prefer mine to be subject to change.
Think about a bear. A bear hibernates every winter. It has periods of low and high activity. This is an example of a natural cycle of life. There is not just the larger cycle of birth and death, but there are many cycles within a life – periods of low or high energy, creativity, money, etc. If we ignore these cycles and try to fight against them, there may be mental, or even physical, consequences. Do you want your life to be a drag, or would you rather enjoy the ride?
The Struggle is Real
Think about something you’re really into right now. It could be anything – a hobby, your job, or a relationship. Are you trudging along, going through the motions, just because you “ought” to, or feel like you “should”? Of course you’re gonna have your “off” days. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, but when I sit down at my computer, I suddenly get a spark of inspiration… and I’m off! But if the majority of the time you feel like it’s a big struggle, you could consider re-evaluating. Are you flowing down the river with ease, or attempting to fight against a current?
Nothing is Forever
Sometimes we think if we change direction, it means we’re giving up -- or that others will think we’re a quitter. Who says it’s a ‘stop’ as opposed to a ‘pause’? Who cares if other people think you’re a quitter if you have the confidence to do what’s in your best interest?
We might end up rejecting other opportunities because we’re so focused on a specific target that we can’t see anything else. I did end up writing again because I have the creative spark and energy to share more with others; using writing as a medium. Just because you stop something, doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up again in the future.
Life Without Hard-Set Goals
Now, I let myself write without abandon, without any heavy expectations or goals. As a result, a natural flow of vibrancy goes into this blog. I think this will only serve the readers better!
Sometimes we have to do things we may not want to do, but we’re grateful we did them in the long run. Sometimes our resistance, or lack of will, is a sign we should change direction. No one knows but you!
If this post speaks to you, why not see what happens if you ditch your original plans (even if it’s temporary)?
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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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