Author Archives: siewfan

Instant Gurus, Weekend Masters

May be it’s just me, but I’m a bit nervous about the pletoria of spiritual gurus, holistic coaches, master practitioners on the internet. Take the 3 day course and call yourself a master of something. Pay via credit card and have some one sitting on the other side of the world who claims to have ascended masters read your life….. how to separate the wheat from the chaff?

One thing I know for sure. From my training experience with Russ Hudson and Tim Mclean of the Enneagram Institute, these 2 gentlemen definitely practise what they preach. When a teacher gives of himself/herself without avarice, from the heart, magic happens in the class. There is no need for loud music, no need for hype, no need to jump up and down. The senses are engaged. The mind is tuned in. The heart is open. When the teacher is ready, the students are FULLY PRESENT.

The Hero’s Journey: Descending into the Underworld

Feeling Stuck?

In the archetypical journey of the hero, the first half of life is about individuation – building a self – birth, childhood, growth, education, striking out on life’s adventure to claim one’s stake on the world. The second part of life is about dismantling the self – being discontent with what was once desired, trying to find deeper meaning, departing into the wilderness / the enchanted forest / the underworld – pick your myth – to confront our deepest fear / retrieve the golden fleece / rescue the princess and hopefully, transcend into wisdom / ascend to the throne / enlightenment – again, pick your myth. 

Symptoms of having reached what pc people call the mid-life transition, others call it the mid-life crisis:

Middle-age gent in red ferrari installed with young blond in front seat

Successful corporate exec suddenly looses all sense of self – retrenched, identity-less, worthless, lost

Men and women living lives of quiet desperation – grinding to a halt.

Everything feels stuck, stagnated, stifling. Life becomes disenchanted, meaningless, directionless, demons come out and play with our fears. Our shadows overwhelm us. We loose faith in ourselves and the world. We escape into online games, tv, illness, dramatic love affairs…. Or we seek wisdom, solution, resolution.

Depression, despair, desperation, defeated. Welcome to the descent. It’s the opportunity to drop all your baggage.

Relishing in your drama? Losing yourself? Running away from the world?

Relishing in your drama? Losing yourself? Running away from the world?



It’s not a nice place to be. It will be hard. It will be painful. The danger is not the pain you will face, cos you are equal to that which you create. The danger is not that you won’t find the golden fleece cos that is pre-disposed to be found. 

The danger is you might get seduced by the wilderness / underworld / enchanted forest and wish to dwell there forever.

Themes: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Collective Unconscious, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero

Musing about Self and Non-Self

In therapy, we very often use the process of integration to reconcile “conflicting” or “disowned” parts of ourselves. We tell our parts, “I welcome you back to my family of selves”. There may be a 3-year old self who was afraid, a 5-year old self who was angry. These are the selves who react to our lives and sometimes run it. So who do we mean when we say ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘me’, ‘mine’? How do we define our identity? Most of us introduce ourselves by our name, and immediately attach another label to it – tinker, tailor, soldier, spy… We are what we do? We think therefore we are? In the Buddha’s estimation,  to be or not to be is NOT the question.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, the buddha introduced the concept of non-self as an antidote to the concept of self. It was that attachment to a “self” that caused people to live in the grips of the “I”. And if then we abandon the self and latch on to the non-self, well, then we have jumped from the pot into the fire. Self and non-self, attachment and aversion – tricky stuff. The over-inflated ego is a “self”. The over-afflicted ego is also a “self”. Perhaps to transcend both is where there is non-self?  

So one would never find the non-self by seeking it, neither could it be found if one never seeks it. So it is not able getting, finding, having. It’s about seeing, accepting, embracing. In the end self and non-self are just concepts, fingers pointing to the moon. If our eyes are glued to the fingers and we will never clearly see  the moon.

24 Tenzin’s Story Zermatt to Tibet

Tenzin T is an ex-political prisoner. He was my “volunteer” subject. My job was to help him practise English. He had entered a monastery when he was 7 in his native Tibet. One day he joined 2 older monks in a freedom demonstration. He was put into jail for 2 years. He was 12 years old at the time. When he got out of jail, he tried to escape to India across the Himalayas, as life became unbearable for him and his family. He was caught. He ate his identity papers because he had already a record. They beat him up and let him go.

At 16, he gathered money and tried again. This time he succeeded. Now 21, he looked like he was in his 30s. He had been living in India for 6 years, first at the Tibetan Children’s village, then when he turned 18, he ordained as a monk. He left after 2 years because he wanted to be more socially engaged. He wanted to campaign actively for his country. So he came to the Gu-Chu-Sum, an NGO that provides support to political prisoners and organises campaigns for their release. He’s only allowed to live here for a year. During this time he takes computer, Tibetan and English courses. On Sundays, his off-days, he shows videos of the life of Gandhi to school kids and monasteries. When his year is up, he needs to move out and get a job. Money will become an issue. Jobs are scarce for Tibetans. He is also waiting to move to a western country on their refugee program.

Tenzin shares a small room with another young man who smiled a lot but didn’t talk much. One day he offered me some plain boiled potatoes. I didn’t feel right having any, and I didn’t ask him about his story. They each had a single bed and a desk. A door curtain ensured privacy and without shutting out the world. 

Tenzin spoke of the instruments used in prison, and his injuries from being beaten up. He suffered electric rods, belts, whips that break your ribs. He said facing racial prejudice in the US or Australia would be peanuts after his prison experience. In all his conversations having his country back is the only and most important thing. There was no anger, no animosity in his manner or speech. “All this is past” he said with a shrug and a smile. His is not the worst story, probabaly becuase he was only 12 years old at that time. And he never saw or heard of the other two monks who were arrested with him.

The night before my departure, Tenzin presented me with a white khata. It was a very nice way to wish someone well. I had nothing for him in return, except my Swatch watch. He had talked a lot about snow mountains so I decided to give him my Zermatt Swatch. He refused, and grabbed my wrist to stop me. I felt his quiet strength and singularity of purpose. His face was completely relaxed and his eyes were clear. There was a glow about him. In the end we exchanged watches so now I have a casio watch with the Tibetan flag on the the face. 

On parting, he asked that I support the Tibetan cause by talking to people about it. From his manner, he is still very much a monk, and much wiser than he ought to be at 21. In the end he helped me much more than I helped him. I’m seeing that there are many different ways to be. I’m noticing the emergence of my “I”, “my”, “me”, and “mine”.

At 7.45pm, I’m standing in Lung Ta Restaurant with a khata around my neck and tears running down my face. Luckily neither Liz or Thomas thought it weird.