Only a teacher who has experienced dukkha (suffering) can heal other’s dukkha.”
This quote by T. Krishnamacharya popped up on my FB feed this morning, and jumped out at me.
It’s interesting because a couple of days back, a connection wrote a lovely message to me:-
I don’t know what it was that I posted, and I can’t recall writing anything particularly inspirational. Yet, here’s someone whom I’ve not communicated with since 2016, reaching out unexpectedly & sharing her thoughts.
The Making of a Storyteller
Ever since I was young, I knew that I wanted to write stories. I didn’t know why I wanted to do, I just knew that I had to do it.
At the age of 9-years, I created a monthly gazette that was filled with my original stories & my brother’s sketches. I made 10-20 photocopies and sold each for 20-cents to school mates & friends, a huge amount of money in 1986. I always sold out.
I never knew why they were always keen to purchase my black & white scribblings. But their support encouraged me to continue writing.
In Secondary 1 (Grade 7), our Form teacher asked each of us if we knew what we wanted to be in future.
My answer was, “I want to write, to tell stories.” The only thing I didn’t know then was what type of stories I wanted to write about.
Each time we submitted a creative composition, I was asked to read mine out to the class. I was the only one who wasn’t considered an A-student (95 marks out of 100) by Singapore standards—I only happened to excel at English, thanks to my compositions.
I realised that the reason why I called up was because my stories were set in environments that, in 1990, most Singaporeans had never experienced—a tropical storm on a country farm, a prison stint through betrayal, a heist on a train, are some of the examples.
As I progressed on my writing journey, I never made it to journalism school or even a communication studies or writing course. However, I was fortunate to be trained on the job by former Straits Times journalists and editors.
The technical writing and editing know-how, combined together with my own inquisitive mind and imagination allowed me to create stories that speak to those who read them.
Writing Articles vs Telling Stories
I’ve realised that the best type of writing aren’t those filled with huge words or even statistical data.
The best form of writing involve stories that inspire, motivate, and spur people to become better versions of themselves, or discover their personal fears, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Even if there’s statistical or empirical data, the numbers can be spun in a way that inspires people to seek or create solutions for change.
Somehow, in the process, I realised that when I use my own experiences to convey the lessons that I’ve gleaned, these writings become more relatable to others.
Yes, I share raw emotions and reactions, and these are stuff that most people are uncomfortable with.
Because humans have been told by our elders/ media/ personality experts that showing emotions is a sign of weakness.
Some of these we’ve been exposed to are that males have to “be a man, suck it up”, or that females need to be as steely as their male counterparts to achieve their goals in life.
Thus we have silently pushed our emotions within, afraid of the consequences if we release their full power for everyone to see.
Therefore, when someone comes along and writes about despair, anxiety, sadness, depression, self-doubt, despondency, uncertainty, and betrayal, it jolts the person who is reading about it. It’s an unexpected shock that most are not prepared for.
At the same time, when someone writes about delight, joy, satisfaction, contentment, glee, self-awareness and growth, it can create envy or jealousy in someone who feels that their life isn’t as successful or glamourous. Happy experiences are another form of unexpected sharing that highlights what people view as lack in their life.
Expressing Universal Emotions
Be it written words, spoken words, dance, music or paintings, these are all channels for humans to express their emotions.
My chosen channel is writing, followed by dance. One allows me to express emotions through written words, the other through movement.
When I asked for the divorce, I was accused of many things during the separation period. I was often exhausted from the highly charged exchanges that usually began just after dinner, and would drag until 3am or 4am.
I took to writing, as usual, to make sense of my emotions.
It was around this time that I found movement, again, having abandoned it in the months after relocating to Bali in mid-2006. Through HIIT workouts, yoga, and pole dancing, the mind chatter and whirlpool of emotions eventually calmed down and dissipated.
The reception to my physical activity was overall positive, with silent observers of my Facebook posts picking up yoga or starting their own fitness routines.
Reactions to my writing were more wide ranging. They included outrage, admonishment for airing dirty laundry, disdain, and encouragement.
I hadn’t expected my personal experience of navigating a separation that involved children to trigger off so many nerves in so many people.
However, this made me realise that I wasn’t alone, because regardless of the reaction that my writing elicited, it meant that people related to what I was going through. Their reactions were an expression of the way they would have handled the situation, if it happened to them.
Unexpected Threads That Bind
However, the most unexpected reaction that I’ve received from a few people was when they told me:
I wish I had the strength and courage to make the choice that you did.”
You see, at any point in life, we are faced with decisions that we have to take, that need to be made—choosing one means forgoing the other.
Each option comes with our what we think we know about that choice (past experiences), and what we have have no clue about (something new).
Our final decision will invariably be driven by a two factors:-
- It’s less painful/ tiring/ disruption by taking this option or remaining status quo.
- The future is unknown but it could be less painful/ tiring/ disruptive on my life than if I continue the way I do now.
As you can see, it is how we view the world and our life, that will propel us to take on choice over the other.
When I made my choice to leave a marriage that obviously wasn’t serving me or the partnership any longer, I opted for #2, but only after choosing #1 for a couple of years.
It’s not to say that #2 is better than #1, or vice versa; they’re both different, with different outcomes. The decision was in choosing which outcome I wanted to continue living, for another 10 years.
The wide range of emotions that accompany the decision-making—uncertainty, fear, sense of loss, hope, relieve, determination—are universal, and everyone has felt at least one of these at some point in their own lives.
It is in these emotions where our shared existence lives. It is these emotions that connects us to each other, and makes us realise that we aren’t ever alone.
My Driving Force
Every once in awhile, I lose inspiration for life and living it. As a human, I do wonder what is the purpose of this life and how does my journey make a difference.
It is messages like these that remind me of why I do what I do:-
- I continue to write, so that people know they’re not alone in their experiences or emotions.
- I continue to inspire myself, so that people can draw strength from my own journey.
- I continue to put one foot in front of the other, even when I am feeling beaten & exhausted, because others have seen the strength in me even when I didn’t know I had strength in me.
I’m not a celebrity, guru, millionaire (much less a billionaire), CEO of an MNC, or inspirational speaker.
At the crux of it, I’m a student of life and I relate what I’ve learned through stories that I write. So that whoever’s reading my stories can draw inspiration & encouragement to become better versions of themselves, and to live—truly live—life.