My Insights and Ramblings

As I go through cycles of personal transformation sparked by the uncertainties of business and self doubt, I come to realize that there is only a limited time I can spend in this life, so I thought, why not share my thoughts, insights and knowledge about the human existence, which I cannot bring to my grave. Hence on this page, I share with you who I am, how I see the world, and how I think one can live a happier life.

Hwee Boon Counselling Services
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Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.

- Rollo May

Make the Hard Life Bearable

28 Jan 14
I have clients coming to me who lament about how they cannot do stuff, and things are just too hard, because life is supposed to be a breeze.  But that's not true. Life is hard, from the first cry of protest the baby makes when he/she is ousted from the comfort of the womb, to the last moments when one reflects on the meaningful or unspent life. Do not be disillusioned that life is, or can ever be easy. There are times when it's easier, but those are exceptions rather than the rule. However, while life is hard, there are things that make it bearable. Things like supportive and loving relationships with people, moments when you feel amazed, happy, touched, or grateful for being alive. Times when you have been good and upright, when you act with integrity, times when you feel that what you do gives you purpose and meaning in life, and times when you felt that you are impacting and contributing to the world.

On the other hand, you can also see that life has ebbs and flows, highs and lows. There are good times, and there are other times when you are challenged to grow beyond your current comfort zone, into someone bigger, brighter, and after the challenging times, you realize, hey I can do that, I can survive that. I am stronger than I thought!

August: Osage County

6 Feb 14
The first thoughts I had when I finish watching the movie is: life can be so hard. It really is a sobering thought for me, especially when things in my life are not exactly very smooth sailing, but their lives beat mine hands down. August: Osage County is about the Weston family and how their harsh life experiences gives many of them a mean streak of bitterness. Violet, the matriach had a tough childhood, when her sister Mattie Fae was mother's favourite child and she was the one mother was cruel to. Violet grew up, married Beverly, and had three girls Ivy, Barbara and Karen. In the movie, the distant family members come together when Beverly went missing and was eventually found in a lake. In their togetherness, Violet will lash at each and everyone with her sharp and poisonous tongue, under the  guise of being honest, and the influence of too many antidepressants. The one she loves most is Barbara, whom she felt is as tough as she is, but Barbara is also the one who is harshest to her, and tear her into bits. Barbara had fled Violet's toxic influence in marriage, and now she has become as bitter as Violet, and treats her daughter Jean and husband Bill harshly. Of course, there were many unsavoury secrets amongst them: Beverly's affair, Bill's affair, Violet and the money, but the hard, bitterness goes on and perpetuates down the family generations.

I wonder why it has to be so? In family therapy, this will be what we call transgenerational transmission, and in the Weston family, members cannot easily break off because of the numerous secrets kept, and how one has to be tough. If they have not settled, and felt they deserve better, maybe someone might have differentiated and get out of the cycle? Maybe Ivy was close, but Little Charles was too enmeshed to ever break free. No matter if one is the aggressor or the people pleaser, everyone is a victim and loses, and it's very, very sad.

Parenting Tips: Roles and Demeanour

7 Feb 14
Having been a school counsellor earlier on in my career, I had seen many children, and gave many parenting talks. After some time, I have distilled what I think are important in being a parent. Some of my ideas about what works best in parenting comes from Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend's book 'Boundaries With Kids', while other ideas come from various aspects of my life. Here's some of my insights:

- Parents play 3 important roles with their kids: 1) as Guardians who keep the child from danger and unsavoury influence, 2) as Managers who sets goals, targets, rules and consequences, as well as give incentives and motivation, and 3) as A Source of All Good Things, including shelter, love, care, nurturance, food, support, warmth, safety and more. The parent need to play all three roles and should not neglect any part. If the parent only acts as a guardian but not a manager or source of good things, the child may perceive the parent as a strict and controlling jailer who does not love him/her, so will either act out of fear or defiance without knowing how to control his/her impulses and behaviours. If the child perceives the world negatively, he/she may be very compliant, but will become very dependent on the parent for protection and decision making, and will become anxious very easily.

The parent who only play the role of the manager may grow a child who becomes materialistic and argumentative, because they do not have a chance to do things out of generosity and love, nor feel protected by the parents. The child learns that he can only count on himself for survival and so will become competitive, greedy and selfish, hoarding everything he deems good, and arguing to always get the best deal. The parent who is only a source of all good things provides everything for the child without conditions (manager role), and tend to grow a child without drive and motivation, is often wasteful, and will take things for granted. Often, parents do not just play one role, but will play one role more frequently. If you see your child developing certain characteristics that I have described, you may want to spend more time playing the other two roles to balance things up.

- Discipline is best done in a Firm, Fair, Clear and Consistent manner. Firm refers to having the 'No means no' demeanour. Many parents dote on their child too much to be able to say a firm no, so the clever child soon learns that 'No means I have not tried hard enough'. And what does one get? A child who becomes an expert in manipulating you to his will!

Being fair is especially important to parents who have more than one child, but it cannot be neglected for those with a precious one at home. What is being fair? It is really rules and ways that parents have chosen, that the child is able to understand. This means that you can tell your younger child that in the family certain privileges are only given to children of certain age, and they are not exclusive to the older sibling. This means that telling your child 'You do this because I say so' will cause your child to think that his situation is unfair because you are an adult and he is a child, so prepare for the explosives to fly when he grows into a teenager.

Being clear is about the child understanding your instructions, rules and consequences. Oftentimes, children want to do what parents tell them, because they love their parents and want to be praised and loved. But parents sometimes forget that the child has an immature brain and expect the child to understand that 'You must do your homework so we can go out later' means i)having to know what homework teacher gave today, ii) taking them out and completing all blanks in a legible manner, iii) let parent check through, iv) keep homework and stationery into bag, v) by 5pm. Your child does not know that you want him to finish everything before 5pm. Your child does not know that he has to keep his stationery and books. But you know, and you have an intelligent and mature mind, so let your child know what you expect, and give reminders.

Lastly, consistency is something that helps the child predict your reaction and behaviour, so that he can act in a safe manner. This is related to the other three factors, and allows trust to build. If you always act in a firm, fair and clear manner, your child looks at your track record and knows even before trying that a)whining does not work, b) you will not shortchange him, and c) if he follows your directions he will get his praise and rewards. What happens if the parent is inconsistent? The child learns that the parent may not be firm at any given time, may not be fair, may not give clear instructions, and may just act according to his/her mood. What does the child do then? If I were a child, I will learn to always test and see. Who knows, it might just be my lucky day! In school, this will be your unruly and disruptive child who is always testing boundaries and limits, until a point of time when he meets a firm, fair, clear, consistent teacher who is nurturing and kind, will take at least 3 months to a year to learn to trust, and slowly become more obedient and calm.

Stewart of the Miracle

7 Feb 14
While parents may have given life to their child, the child is a separate individual, and not an extension of the parent. If you felt that your child will and should fulfill some childhood dream of yours, it is likely that you will be disappointed, because he/she will most likely not be strong enough/ smart enough/ focused enough/ diligent enough/ talented enough, like you. However, your child may have an insatiable curiosity, a musical talent, an introverted side, or a liveliness that you never had. Now if you can recognize your child as a separate being, and truly love him, you may want to accept him for who he is, and being the custodian for this young precious human being, encourage and grow him to where his potentials, passions and happiness lie. You have a miracle waiting in your hands, it's up to you to guide him to his amazing life.

Ramblings: The Current Version of Myself

12 Feb 14
Since the start of 2014, I had been receiving bad news about my employment, which brings me again to reassessing my needs, motivation and other aspects of my life. Is financial discomfort a result of certain expectations for success or affluence in life? How much is enough? Will life really be different when there is much more, or much less? I will be lying if I said that I wasn't expecting my private practice to boom in a big way since I started out in 2010, but choosing to persist has its own advantages: I have plenty of time to do my inner reflection, and through that, get acquainted with my ever renewing versions of myself. In this phase of change and reflection starting from mid 2013, I realize that

- I am getting old and losing the drive to pursue money, fame and success. They are good things to have, but somehow they don't make it to my priority list.

- I am most happy in my helping role, and when I have time alone doing stuff like thinking, reading, looking at beautiful things, encountering touching moments, meeting good people, writing Chinese calligraphy, taking photographs, and observing things happening.

- I can handle money, marketing, administration and do it well, but actually I really dislike these tasks and handle them with extreme dread. When I did my personal list of traits, I thought, man I should have been a nun or something so that I can just help people without worrying about money, food and lodgings. Unfortunately, I am spiritual but not religious, so that is unlikely to happen. 

- I am very curious about people, and connect very easily. I can be very exuberant and friendly, but I am also introverted and feels awfully drained each time I schmooze, which the polarity is kind of strange. When I lack time in solitude, I long to be a hermit somewhere in the mountain/forest and not see people for months.

- My gift lies in empathy, and having a clarity about people's situations and problems. Somehow this draws people to me and I find that strangers like to talk to me all the time. Conversely, I find a strong need to help 'enliven' most people I meet. Missed opportunities sometimes bring me guilt and sadness.

So here I am, gravitating between active propulsion in opportunities and drifting with what life brings, while observing myself and my life. This is the current version of myself, not something very inspiring or riveting, not someone very brave, strong, bright, but this is me and where I am, right now.

Unchecking My Inclination to Busyness

7 Mar 14
One of the things that came to my mind this morning is my 'To do list'...I was mentally planning, okay today you have to look at that website you've got, and work on it. You still have to take photographs of those sets of toys you are selling, then there is the photography component you need to put on the website, you want to read up resources, prepare for talks in the school, housekeeping. And then I caught myself: hey what's the rush? Why do I rush to, and need to complete a whole list of things I set upon myself to do? Why stress myself about such things?

I have been reading about the theories of Zen, and also this new book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton these few days, so some of the new knowledge that is in my head revolves around the idea of scarcity, emptiness, and the comfort and knowledge of being. When I catch my automatic inclination to fill my day with activities, I found that perhaps it's all these unexamined ideas roaming inside, that
- Idleness is bad, and busyness is a virtue
- Time is scarce, better to seize every minute and to hoard as much free time as I can so I have spare time if needed
- The more I finish now, the more time is available to do other things
- There are more things I want to do than I have time for

But I realize that
- I enjoy using time to read, to learn, to understand things than completing goals
- I enjoy not having to do things when I am not motivated to
- I enjoy spending time according to my mood: rest when I am tired, read when I want to learn, write when I want to share
- I am the controller of my time and deadlines: there is no one else chasing after me for all these (except in some time-limited contract work)
- I am not going to become more free by rushing to complete everything. There will always be more things to handle, and more things that I find for myself to do. If I rush too much I will find time/resources/freedom even more scarce, and end up eating more, spending more and wasting more just to feel compensated.
- If assuming I happen to be extremely efficient and finish everything that I need to do, and start to enjoy a whole length of free time, it may initially feel free and good, but after a while ennui sets in, and I will start to think of doing unnecessary things to occupy my time. Boredom may push me towards consumerism: movies, travelling, excursions, shopping, just to pass time.
- If I start to do things that I want to do, maybe there will be less things that I 'haven't had time to do'

For all that is worth, it seems that my automatic goal setting busyness seems to have become outdated. The time to live is now, and not some unidentified future when I have finally accumulated enough free time.