It's time to reflect on the year. The good and the bad. The areas of progress and the places that have regressed. The celebration of successes and the lesson from failures.
2022 had been a challenging year. To sum it all up: research, graduation and long COVID. There wasn't a year without any challenges, as if life had too much to teach me, one lesson after another.
This is my second publicly published personal annual review. I find these yearly exercises rejuvenating. Writing an annual personal review challenges me to acknowledge my achievements, reflect on significant events and, importantly, celebrate my personal growth.
May the year-end with love and light, and may the new year set you toward your dreams!
Enjoy the read. 🥰
What went well this year?
Fortunately or not, self-care was the lesson learned from 2021. This year I was forced to put it into practice.
Long COVID-19 hit me hard. I was first infected with COVID-19 during Christmas of 2021, followed by a booster jab end of February, and I was re-infected again in July 2022. Since my booster shot in February, long COVID symptoms persisted till early October. In the final weeks of long COVID, my body showed signs of premature menopause, which meant my body was highly stressed with hormones out of whack. That was 8 months of sadness and fatigue, which meant I needed to monitor my fluctuating moods and energy carefully.
Social activities and travel drained me. In the early days of long COVID, every outing, even for a casual coffee meetup, meant I had to stay indoors the next day, mainly in a horizontal position. My physical movements felt as if they were moving through mud. My mental processing chugged along in a persistent fog. My sleep hours would be longer than usual. I'd still have an appetite but would not be able to eat as much as before.
The last few weeks in Malaysia and the first few weeks in Lisbon was hardest for me. The weeks before leaving Malaysia, I went out nearly everyday to collect data for my research, and cleaned/packed for Lisbon. Hardly anytime for rest. The first few weeks in Lisbon, I went out nearly everyday too. Before long, I burnt out and stayed indoors for nearly an entire month. Hardly anytime for anything other than sleep. And so, self-care meant that I'd:
- schedule frequent breaks along with every outing, zoom call or mentally-taxing activity
- longer sleeping hours
- maintaining my daily meditation
- taking slow and short walks outdoors
- eating, especially vitamin D supplements
- being kinder to myself for not recovering/healing faster or not being productive enough
Now that I no longer have long COVID symptoms, I have continued to make self-care a priority. Compared to last year, I feel better emotionally and mentally, although not physically.
Focusing on essentials, ignoring the rest.
Along with managing long COVID, I needed to strip my activities to their bare essentials. Hence, I've decided that my main goal was to maintain my meditation practice, complete my master's research and graduate. Long COVID symptoms only disappeared in early October. This gave me the much needed time/energy to make final revisions to my master's thesis for submission at the end of October.
Every other goal, project and task was placed on hold. And so, I learned how to discern essential tasks that support my goals from those that didn't. Also, I learned to say "no" to non-essential outings/meetings/activities.
Masters in Psychology of Intercultural Relations (MPIR)
After two years, I graduated.
I'm a Social and Cultural Psychologist!
No words could describe the incredible experiences and learnings from my 2nd year of my master's program. One of the main reasons why I embarked on this adventure is to learn how to do social psychology research.
Briefly, my research looked into the psychological processes of refugee adaptation in a host society. We specifically investigated the Zomi refugees in Malaysia, mainly because we had the most responses from them. The master's research experience taught me how to
- formulate a research question
- conduct a literature review
- plan and create data collection
- get hands-on experience in the field
- draw up a statistical analysis plan
- analyse the data
- craft the thesis
- present my findings
This entire research experience was under the guidance of my two attentive and patient supervisors, experts in the field. I'm ever so indebted and grateful to their teachings. This master's research resulted in a thesis we may submit for publication in journals. cross fingers I hope we get accepted somewhere.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to share my research at the 2022 virtual conference organised by the Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG) of the British Psychology Society (BPS) in September 2022. Soon after, I had the opportunity to participate in a round-table discussion about displaced people at the International Council of Psychologists (ICP) virtual conference in December 2022.
I hope to continue my research, in some form or another. Research about refugee adaptation and integration is an increasingly important area, primarily when the number of refugees globally has recently surpassed 100 million. With climate change and increased polarisation, the number of refugees is anticipated to grow.
Soon after submitting my thesis, I headed over to Dhamma Sacca, a beautiful meditation retreat in the countryside of Spain. Dhamma Sacca was about a 2-hour drive away from Madrid and a 5-hour drive from Lisbon.
I've been waiting for four years to attend another 10-day meditation retreat. My last sitting was in Kathmandu in 2018 in an equally enchanting retreat called Dhammashringa. By now, I had attended five 10-day meditation retreats in the UK, Myanmar, Nepal, Malaysia, and Spain and volunteered to serve in a 10-day course in Malaysia.
This retreat was timely. For ten days, I could fully concentrate on deepening my Vipassana practice without worrying about my thesis or being distracted by long COVID symptoms. To top off the experience, there were beautiful views of Sierra dos Gredos, a full moon and clear night skies. I haven't seen as many stars since my last meditation retreat in Nepal. A great way to celebrate the submission of my thesis.
For the year, as of the 20th of Dec, I had completed 376 meditation sessions with a total of 390 hours and 45 min, Including the 10-day retreat. This is an increase of an estimated 11% increase of sessions from 2021.
Lisbon is a walking-friendly city with various hills and stairs, narrow alleys and wide avenues, parks and miradouros, not forgetting the slippery sandstone sidewalks, which can challenge one's balance.
As of the 20th of Dec, I had taken 1,270,470 steps, or walked 895.5 km. However, I had forgotten my smart watch or my smart watch's battery died an estimated 30% of the time. Indeed, my walks will most likely have exceeded 1.3 million steps or 920km. Compared to last year, my number of steps and km increased by an estimated 15%. Despite the long COVID, I still managed to get some good walking!
What will I do differently next year?
Culture Spark Global
As I was more focused on completing my master's program, Culture Spark Global was less active than I would've liked. I will incorporate my newly certified expertise into the business in the coming year. To simplify my efforts, I combined the articles from KulturKraft and added them to the blog section of the Culture Spark Global website.
Additionally, I'll offer webinars and workshops better aligned with our mission to cultivate compassionate communities. Please subscribe to our website for updates on events/programs in the coming year.
Miss Elle Tea
Having long COVID meant that I could not maintain consistency in my writing. In the coming year, I'll focus on publishing deep and meaningful articles consistently.
In 2021, I reduced my social media usage to make time for reading. It continues to be the case this year. With long COVID, I couldn't finish many books. In fact, I quit reading most books that I had started. This year, I could only finish these books, about one book every two months. The list below is in no particular order.
- The Wander Society by Keri Smith
- Richest Man in Babylon by George S Classon
- Happy Money by Ken Honda
- Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
- The Art of Dying by SN Goenka
- The Little Book of Dialogue for Difficult Subjects by Lisa Schirch
Perhaps, the urge to quit reading is a good thing. I wouldn't know if the book is relevant or valuable until I have read some of it. And there is no point to continue reading a book if it is no longer helpful. For the next year, I aim to read more consistently and identify better books that are better suited for the different needs and phases in my life.
Ashtanga Yoga & Portuguese Language
While I am adamant about learning the entire Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series and achieving conversational fluency in Portuguese, I wasn't able to accomplish these in 2022. As I regain more energy and focus, I hope to learn the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series and converse fluently in Portuguese by the end of 2023.
What were my lessons this year?
Impermanence and non-attachment
Life continues to teach me that nothing is certain or permanent. An essential phase in my life that began two years ago has come to a natural end. Friends and lovers appeared and faded away, in and out, ebbing and flowing like the ocean. Just like the ocean, life has its rhythms, temperaments and mysteries.
Fighting against life is futile. It cannot be controlled. It does not care about my rage, fears, or sadness. It will not listen to my angry tears for all the things and people I have lost or the anxious screams of an uncertain future. Life will continue whether I like it or not.
So, I've learned to unmoor from the harbours of a "safe" plan and surrender to life's mysterious currents. When life does not happen as planned, I'm now better able to stay present, observe reality, maintain equanimity, and move on with life's flow.
I am blessed to be introduced to Vipassana over a decade ago, it has taught me how to keep a balanced mind and heart in times of vulnerability, uncertainty and impermenance.
Now is the only way to live.
The mind is a funny thing. It is restless and impatient. The mind loves to recall stories of the past and stoke feelings of shame and regret. Or the mind fantasises about the future and fills you with desire or fear.
But the past is gone, and the future is not yet manifested, just as the loss of a loved one. Once they are gone, you can no longer say what you want to say or do things you want to do with them. It is only in the present moment that one has power and control. Even when shadows of the past may taint actions of the present, with awareness, anyone could break free from past conditioning and start anew.
It is possible to live in the present. Now.
Listen to your heart. Explore options. Follow your instincts.
In 2020, I enrolled on the master's program that took me to Lisbon. When the world was in lockdown, I trained to be a social and cultural psychologist. This was one of my best decisions, and it transformed me entirely.
The many leaps of faith have revealed a life path that had not been known or accessible to me. This could not have happened if I had not listened to my heart, explored possible options and followed my instincts.
Next year, I shall continue to regularly consult my heart, my gut and trust that it will lead me towards the best possible situation where I can manifest my highest potential for the benefit of the greater good.