The Golden Key

 by Chuan Ling Tan

Most of us are conditioned socially during our years in school, at home and at work that certain traits or characteristics, such as, competitiveness, assertiveness, proaction, forthrightness, efficiency and one-upmanship, will lead us to success in life. Very soon, our lives are consumed by the desire to conform to these traits and the anticipation of the rewards they supposedly promised.

Throughout our lives, we spend more time contemplating future goals and objectives than the present moment. As we make strides in life, we proudly wear badges like our academic, professional and personal accomplishments as if they truly define who we are. Eventually, we became attached to them. Along the process, we easily forget these are already in our past. Unknowingly, we let every precious moment in the present slip away to become the past while we set our sight on the distant unforeseeable future!

We are keen on or even obsessed with forms of all kinds: appearance, attire, who we are associated with, what we have, (and what others have), what we don’t have, achievements, desires, success, failures, etc. and we willingly let them govern our lives.

Earlier last year, I had a precious opportunity to reexamine my life through Chan. It has been a humbling experience. What I had been told and taught in my earlier years that would lead to a lifetime of happiness was completely nullified. The characteristics that are usually frowned upon and considered signs of weakness are viewed at from a new perspective. Soon, I realized that being flexible, agreeable, reticent and passive are nothing to be ashamed of!

Instead of dwelling on the past and anticipating the future, I learned to focus on the present moment. The only way to a new life is being mindful.  Mindfulness is such a simple yet powerful concept; it has the power to deconstruct our original way of thinking and rebuild it from pieces. It can be applied in all endeavors in life, be it trivial or significant, in personal life or in professional life.

Practicing mindfulness is a constant exercise that is gradually becoming part of me, leading and keeping me in the right path. Combined with meditation, I now have a clearer picture of my habitual tendencies and how they are the impediment to my personal progress. I am less rigid in my thinking and approach to life; I pay less attention to myself and more to others; I do not have to be right all the time, and if I don’t get to speak my mind, that’s okay. I also became more tolerant of people that are different from me, and I remind myself to appreciate variety in life instead.

Another lesson I learned is the true meaning behind volunteering, or charity giving. By giving what I hold dearly – time, physical effort, money, skills – I am in fact helping myself. I’m sincerely grateful of the opportunities that shifus have given me to contribute, to learn to let go.

Every chore is, in reality, another chance to practice, fine tune, improve and cultivate what I learned in class. Being able to observe how shifus go about their daily monastic duties and to interact with them are invaluable lessons. I realize that I am like candle flames that flicker in the smallest of breeze, while they can be soft as silk or firm as granite but always at ease.

The golden key to unlock a life of true wealth is now in my hand. The door is wide open for me to embark on a new journey. Every moment is a new beginning and an opportunity to make a difference in my life.  By tirelessly practicing Buddha’s teachings, I know I will be on the right track to eventually bid farewell to the world of relativities, and actualize a new life of the Middle Way.