Half of 2023 has passed; before you know it, 2024 will soon arrive. Taking stock during the mid-year will give me the opportunity to reflect on my achievements, challenges and lessons. Also, it'll give me a chance to make adjustments in my lifestyle and achieve my goals before the year ends.
I've made my annual and mid-year reviews as simple as possible, asking myself only 3 questions.
- What went well? What have I achieved?
- What were my challenges? What will I do differently?
- What have I learned? What were my most significant lessons?
If you have your own personal reviews, do share them in the comments below.
Let me know what you think. Enjoy the read!
What went well? What have I achieved?
Spending time with loved ones
In recent years, I've prioritised spending time with loved ones and dearest friends. Every year, my relationship with family and friends grows deeper and richer, and they fill me with love, joy and happiness.
After receiving my master's results in December, I returned to Malaysia in January. I feel blessed and grateful. In four months, I caught up with many of my dearest friends, people I had known for decades.
I was fortunate to attend a childhood friend's wedding lunch. I hugged, shook hands and laughed with the bestest of friends and former colleagues when I visited them in Bangkok, Belgrade and Doha. Surprisingly, I've reconnected with long-lost friends in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as old colleagues from London and Hong Kong.
Also, I've made some new friends and potential long-term colleagues. These people follow the Dhamma path, people in human rights activism and academia. I'm looking forward to seeing how our friendships will continue to grow and how we will support each other.
Rescued 4 kittens
At the end of February, my family and I rescued four stray kittens. They were stranded and hungry in the neighbour's front yard. The neighbours were away for the school holidays, and the kittens' mother passed away. Our initial plan was to get them medically checked, vaccinated and then put them up for adoption.
As it turns out, we all fell in love with them. All four of them. Three male kitties and a female kitty.
We were kitty-pulated!
We decided to keep all four. Now, my family has grown from four to eight of us! The kittens were a blessing in disguise, as they brought joy and comfort. Mostly, it brought our family closer together.
Completed Satipathanna Course
Since 2020, I have wanted to attend the Satipatthana course, an 8-day silent meditation retreat. This retreat focuses on examining the Satipatthana Sutta and practising Vipassana meditation. Satipathanna means the establishment of mindfulness, Vipassana means to see things as they are. Both are central to Buddha's teachings.
These courses run globally but are organised once or twice yearly in each centre. Yet, COVID29 and timing kept me away.
But not this year. I was determined.
By hook or crook, I made my way to Dhamma Sacca and attended my first Satipathanna course. Dhamma Sacca is a beautiful and peaceful centre about 2 hours drive from Madrid in the province of Ávila and near Candeleda. From here, you have a stunning view of the Sierra de Gredos mountain range, with the Almanzor Mountain majestically overlooking the centre.
The timing was perfect.
Had I attended the Satipatthana course in 2020, the teachings would not have made sense. The past three years of consistent practice were needed so that I could understand the sutta at the experiential level, not just with the intellect.
After the 8-day course, I stayed an additional ten days to serve. To serve means to voluntarily offer time and effort in the running and maintenance of the centre. Here, I've met many kind and compassionate souls who were also walking the Dhamma path. I am truly blessed to be introduced to the Dhamma and Vipassana meditation.
Sharing of master's results
As promised, I returned to Malaysia with my master's research results and presented them to the organisations and communities that had supported the research. I presented my research to a Malaysian NGO supporting refugee communities, a refugee learning centre, and two refugee-led organisations. The link to my thesis was shared with many interested researchers, social workers, volunteers, activists, and anyone interested in refugee psychological adaptation. You can read it here, if you haven't done so already!
Two articles were published based on the data and with the collaboration of SPEAK! Check them out.
- A Long Journey Home: On The Road to Refugees' Integration
- Are Refugees in Portugal Finding Well-Being in a Safe Space?
The best news of the first half of the year... I've been accepted as a PhD candidate with ISCTE-IUL, where I will continue researching the psychology of refugees. Hurrah!
What challenges did I face? What will I do differently?
Delays and redirections
It's my habit to make plans. A lifetime of constant travel and migration has ingrained the habit of planning for the next steps, so that I can travel and arrive safely. Daily, my mind would roll in endless mental acrobatics by creating task lists, timelines and resources.
As I have learned, and as with all plans, it doesn't turn out exactly as planned in my mind. The universe throws different obstacles and challenges, keeping me alert and on my toes. So, my other unconscious habit is to adapt to delays or changes in my plans constantly.
For the first quarter of the year, I made many plans, but something else always needed my attention. I planned to run some online and in-person workshops, but it was either cancelled or delayed. I intended to complete drafting a paper for publication in a scientific journal, but it didn't go too far. My return flight to Lisbon was postponed (twice) due to the housing crisis in Lisbon. Forget about my plans to continue practising my Portuguese and deepening my Ashtanga yoga. Those didn't happen.
It could also be that I wanted to do too many things and overestimated my capacity in the time and energy needed. For the second half of the year, I'll do better to pace myself, working on one task/project at a time and being more realistic about what I can achieve within a specific timeline.
What have I learned? What were my most significant lessons?
The truth hurts because of our attachments.
As the saying goes, the truth hurts.
Though, I've learned that it is not the truth itself that is hurtful. Instead, the pain and suffering come from losing one's attachments to the stories, beliefs, ideas, or desires built up in the mind when the truth reveals itself.
The truth pertains to facts and reality. The stories, beliefs, ideas or desires are vivid images created in the mind and often do not accurately represent reality. When there is a deep desire, and one becomes attached to these mental images, it becomes ever more challenging to let go of them, even when the fact shows otherwise.
There is a sense of loss. When you thought you found your dream home, but it turned out to be a nightmare. When you thought a friend to be genuine, only to discover they had a personal agenda and you are only a pawn. When you thought you got the job, only to have it delayed, postponed and eventually cancelled.
When you reconcile and accept the truth and the hurt, you find freedom. Freedom from the continuous chase after a desirable illusion. Freedom from beliefs that limit your capabilities and potential. Freedom from the burdens of caring for someone who doesn't care about you in return.
With this freedom, you regain your power to choose different paths, your energy to explore other opportunities, and your time to invest in meaningful activities. You have the freedom to select friendships that support your healing or growth and venture into more joyful and nurturing spaces. Getting hurt is a reminder that I wasn't paying attention and overlooked the truth.
Given a choice, I'd rather know the truth than hold onto illusions. I'd rather be free than be shackled by mental images. So, the saying also goes - the truth shall set you free.
The universe conspires to help you
I've learned that when things don't go your way and you've done all you can, the best option is to let go, surrender and flow. There is a reason for obstacles and delays. Even though plans didn't turn out as hoped for, the universe has its reasons. I'd like to think that the universe is guiding me down different paths in which my limited human capabilities cannot comprehend.
One morning, while on vacation in Belgrade, I received news from my rental agent that my rent in Lisbon had increased. The room was booked seven months in advance, and I hadn't yet checked in. Shocked and panicked, I felt the ever-increasing financial burdens weighing upon me. So, I had a (mini) breakdown.
My Serbian friend comforted me and said, "You never know. Maybe you talk to the landlord and see if you can negotiate." A few days later, I arrived and checked into my room. I was looking forward to staying in this apartment and picking up my life in Lisbon again.
Almost instantly, I was disappointed. The room wasn't right for me.
On the booking platform, the advertisement showed that the apartment had everything I needed - a fully equipped kitchen, a living room and a fully furnished bedroom with large windows. As it turned out, my room was on the 1st floor and next to the main road leading towards the highway.
Not only, my room has a balcony that sits exactly above a bus stop and across the street from another bus stop and a primary school. The apartment is situated underneath the flight path of aeroplanes descending into Lisbon airport. For nearly 24/7, I hear noise from cars, motorbikes, buses, planes, garbage trucks, school kids, and drunkards at night. The entire apartment has no sound insulation.
There was no peace. Impulsively, I cancelled my contract with the landlord, opting to leave at the end of the month without confirming another room. It was risky because there was a housing crisis in Lisbon.
Frantically, I searched for my next room, fearful that I wouldn't be able to find a room within my budget and end up homeless in the next month. I sent messages to almost everyone I could think of. Within a week, I made 4 room viewings, and in two weeks, I confirmed a room. This room is a little further away from the city but closer to my university. And surprisingly, for the first time in many years, I can finally say this place is my home. I have a home in Lisbon.
There were many other such instances in the first half of the year. So, I've learned to do the work, let go of my expectations and trust the universe will take care of the outcomes. As a senior meditator I've met at the Satipathanna course repeatedly said, "The universe conspires to help you."