What is Spiritual Cultivation?

Some friends and family members have wondered what I do when I say I’m on a spiritual cultivation journey. After contemplation, here is my explanation of what it is, and why it’s important to cultivate our spirit.

A spiritual path is not necessarily one that is religious. It is the journey we go through this life as human beings. The thing with spiritual cultivation is that it’s not so much about doing. Yes, there are various practices one can take on to support the process, but a spiritual path is more about being, than doing. Essentially, we explore and learn what it means to be human, and how to be with our Selves and others in our humanness.

Spiritual cultivation involves doing the inner work to develop our capacity to be with suffering.

Spiritual cultivation involves doing the inner work to develop our capacity to be with suffering. Suffering is part of the human condition manifesting as illness, loss, aging, and death. As humans, we are vulnerable, we get hurt, we suffer, this is the truth of life. To live as a human is to undergo suffering. But to undergo suffering is not necessarily the same as to suffer. We do not actively or voluntarily suffer, and neither do we want to identify with our suffering.

When we develop our capacity to be with our suffering, experiences such as positivity, joy, beauty, and love can still emerge amidst the suffering. When we are aware of the deeper part of us, our greater consciousness has the ability to hold both the positivity and the suffering. This is not the same as looking on the bright side while turning our gaze away from suffering. To truly be with our suffering is to be awake and present to how we are in the suffering. For instance, how much does it hurt, how sorrowful does it feel? Can we get in touch with our human vulnerability and remain soft and open-hearted to be touched by life?

I am reminded of the last moments I shared with my grandmother, holding on to her palm, feeling her pulse fade. I wanted to be there to witness her in her pain and fight till she breathed her last. It was a strange experience to be overflowing with a myriad of emotions. Sorrow for losing one whom I love, joy and gratitude for being able to share those last moments with her and to have been able to love her in this life. The entire experience was a blessing as I surrendered and allowed grace to enter.

What we bring presence to is given our sacred attention. It is an act of honouring and love. When we presence suffering, we mark the experiences we undergo as worthy of and significant to our life on Earth. No part of our life is dismissed, every part of us is honoured.

When we can be with our suffering without reacting or collapsing, we can begin to taste the subtleties that arise along with it. Like our physical body, our spirit has the ability to grow too. And it grows with awareness and presence. When we are awake to the greater consciousness within us, when we are willing to do the Work to look at our fixations and free ourselves from the trapped emotions and stories we tell ourselves, our spirit grows and deepens. It descends deeper into the world, deeper into the reality of our experiences, allowing us to experience more of the subtle differences of life. And herein lies the richness of living, herein lies the ability and resource to recover and respond to life. When life throws us lemons, before we make lemonade, we taste the sourness in them and allow our whole body to shrivel with it. And who knows, taste the delicate sweetness within, or savor the refreshing fragrance in the zest, or cringe at the bitterness in the rind.

True liberation is not a release from suffering—that would eventually come when death greets us. True liberation lies in the acceptance of suffering being part of the human condition, allowing it to wash through us and, in some cases, crack us open, knowing that we will work and heal again. Nothing truly gets us down when we surrender; nothing has a hold on us. We love and suffer, suffer and love; it’s not one without the other. And we do it with open hearts. We presence our suffering and sorrow with loving-kindness and compassion.

We do not choose our experiences, we live awake to this life. We know that whatever will come, comes. We do not push or pull, rush or resist. We walk this Earth allowing all the human experiences to meet us and enrich our soul. This is the path of the Spirit.

May you find the path that speaks to you, and grow to live from your essence.

“The Work” is any way, school, or method that recognizes the fact of suffering and the cause of unnecessary suffering and works to lead a person back to his true nature, which will eliminate the unnecessary suffering.

A.H. Almaas, Diamond Heart

If this is new to you and you are interested in doing the Work, let’s have a conversation. I am a developmental coach who helps people embark on this journey, and I can provide you with the safe space and the guidance to do the Work.

Abode

A 1-bedder apartment unit in Maryland, the temporary abode that houses us during our time here in the US as the husband pursues his doctorate. Temporary yet I spent almost every hour of my life here since Halloween 2019.

“How is it temporary?” I wonder about my use of this term. Is it because we rent and don’t own it? Is it because this is not where we will eventually settle after he completes his program? This temporary abode sheltered us through the major crises over the past year. When I couldn’t hang out at the café to work; when I couldn’t travel overseas to see the world; when I couldn’t fly back to Singapore to visit, this shelter kept me safe and well through the seasons and the protests and the virus. Each time I thought I was losing my sanity, this room I now sit in to write this kept me sane.

This is the place we live in as a married couple, it feels almost like our first home together. Temporary sure doesn’t do it justice.

Ten years down the road, will I still remember its white doors with silver handles and hinges? The white doors were one of the first things I fell in love with in this apartment. Will I remember the light cool gray walls that hold up the white ceilings? And the carpets in the bedroom and the walk-through wardrobe that are in the same shade as the walls. Yes, walk-through because the wardrobe is a space connecting the bathroom and the bedroom. How convenient and well-designed. Will I remember the days and nights I slouch and sprawl on the bedroom carpet as I write, or log on to virtual worlds for calls or webinars? What about the light switches? Will I remember their old-fashioned design that makes my compulsion of turning on/off lights an easy flick?

There’s so much more to this humble abode I’ve not noticed. How much will I recall, what will I take, with me, when it’s time to leave? Will I remember the blazing sunsets from autumns through winters that lit my window views, like now, the sun’s bidding me farewell as it draws my day to a close. Humble like this splendid roof over our heads; each doing what it does to perfection.

Impermanence gains permanence in my heart when I bring presence to it.

Rosslyn

“I wonder”

Death really has a way of forcing upon us the immediacy of life. But that’s better than forever existing, twice removed from the vitality of this life…

DARYL LI

I wonder. Two words that form the bedrock of what I do as a student of philosophy, and also how it’s conditioned the way I live. In wonder, I’m able to stretch myself out towards knowing not only the infinite expanse of the world I inhabit but also the world inhabited by the loved ones I’ve lost. Indeed, the afterlife is what I wonder about the most. I’ve lost a grandmother, two mentors, and a teacher-friend who’s like my second father. I can’t help but wonder all the time if they are well, or if they are even flourishing now that they’re unencumbered by the burdens of this bodily existence. Death really has a way of forcing upon us the immediacy of life. But that’s better than forever existing, twice removed from the vitality of this life I’m living right now. As all of us here in this room have some relation to death and have come to know it intimately, I wonder if we’ll ever be free from its grasp. I doubt it. But that’s not a curse. In fact, I think it’s a blessing. Because in all our wonderment about those we’ve lost, we breathe life into their very beings as they dance through the thoughts we have of them, and the stories we tell about them in the days to come and the nights to past. I wonder. Such simplicity that holds the sheer manifold facets that life has to offer.

by Daryl Li

How exciting life can be when there’s so much unknown? How amazing when we can be comfortable with the unknown, rest into ourselves, and watch the world in wonder.

ROSSLYN CHAY

Will I ever get tired of this prompt? Perhaps not. I hope not. I wonder, I wonder. I love the way it rolls off my tongue, something about it pleases my heart. I wonder how I was as a kid. Did I wonder about the sky? The trees? The birds? Did I wonder where things comes from? My dad once told me I asked a lot of questions when I was little. I was glad he shared that with a smile on his face. I took it as a compliment, not a complain, and I felt heartened. My guess is he probably tried his best to answer all my queries back then.

If only adults were as accepting of this behavior. It saddens me to think that most corporate environments are less forgiving with one who asks too much. I know. I was in there once. I was afraid once of not producing answers to my questions. I was afraid to be seen as inexperienced.

Reflecting, I’m so grateful I’m here now, sharing this lovely space with two others, writing about wonder, pondering over the mystery of one another and the mystery of life. How exciting life can be when there’s so much unknown? How amazing when we can be comfortable with the unknown, rest into ourselves, and watch the world in wonder.

Wonder, it’s what keeps me going. I have once described to my spiritual teacher that my inner world is like an amusement park changing themes and rides every now and then. And I have so much fun just exploring myself each time I dive in. It’s a joy to be alive!

by Rosslyn Chay

The Window

The sun has just arced past the porch. The swans have departed east. I’m near freezing as I fought to pen this. Shaky scribbles amidst the gentle winds inviting themselves in through a window. The only window ajar. Sheepishness bounces off the glass. Am I frozen from the wintry breeze or the dismay (I might’ve spoilt something?) Sshhh… The stay is dislodged, I couldn’t wind it in.

My other half is on the upper floor reading Wittgenstein. Right now, I’m embracing his theory for some warmth and hope. I’m buying into his argument if it can save me from my current plight. There is no cause and effect. I might think I’ve caused the window damage, but it’s not real. What’s real are two singular, independent events that occurred consecutively: I pushed the window; the stay was dislodged. One did not cause another. Yes, let it be so. Relieve my guilt.

But my trouble remains. Here I am withstanding the cold air rushing from the bay, my insides shivering. 15 minutes more. 15 minutes more before he comes down for tea, and I welcome him with the truth of the window hidden in this piece and my awkward grin.

Chance and Choice

My mum’s passing was briefly mentioned in a few of my writings. I’ve referred to myself as a suicide survivor instead of plainly spelling it out that she took her own life. I’ve personified Death and told about her date with him. Perhaps these were my attempts to romanticize her passing. I can no longer recall the storey, was it the 8th, or 9th, or did she make her way to the rooftop? In short, she jumped off a building. What a glamourous leap. For one who loved to doll herself up, that end must have been unsightly. I could only imagine for I was not allowed to grace her body before it was dressed up by the mortician.

I had wondered countless times throughout my life what she was thinking every step of her way that fateful January evening. She left a note in her wallet, not for me though, for my Dad. I need no detective to tell me it was neither a spur of the moment nor foul play. She deliberated. And she decided. The thing about my mum, she was great with surprises. Whenever she prepared little notes and gifts for me, she never failed at surprising me. She was meticulous, thorough, even till the end.

Dad and I were clueless. So were her parents. And her siblings. And her friends. Nobody had any inkling or picked up on anything amiss.

My teacher, Angela, once asked me, “Every painful experience has a lesson to offer, what might you learn from your mother’s death?”

“That life is precious?” I replied, without much thought or hesitation, a slight spike in my voice.

Resentment.

My answer conveyed a fact. It did not speak of my truth. It was a statement repeatedly shoved into me by others who cared and worried for me. I regurgitated it. I have no qualm, neither interest in refuting that.

My mother’s death speaks not of the preciousness of life to me. Rather, the contrary. She demolished the notion of it when she chose to end hers. I took no offense in her passing. I wasn’t naïve to conceive of immortality since she wasn’t the first death I’ve experienced in my life. It was how she died.

It is still heart-wrenching for me to consider the circumstances surrounding her before she leaped into the afterlife. How distressing, excruciating. How lonely, helpless, she must had felt. How tortured within she was.

Did she have mornings when she woke up and wished she never did? Or perhaps she was too bogged down with worrying for the well-being of her family that she got up and started her day immediately. I wished she continued those worries. What inner demons were she fighting? What and whose expectations did she bear?

I don’t want to die like her.

I am my mum’s daughter through and through. I’m aware I carry much of her unresolved trauma. And as much as I pray for a release, I don’t want to die the way she did. Too cruel.

“How do you need to live to be sure you do not die this way?” I stared at the question, my hands gripping the sides of the book a little tighter, shaking.

Alas! Two and two meet.

The painful experience from my mum’s passing was to show me how I might seek a way out, break the cycle, and live. I need to work through my experiences and free myself from the same chains that weighed on her.

How might I want to die?

Gently.

Gently, if God permits. Gently like the sun receding beyond the horizon, like a tungsten bulb dimming, like the autumn leaves fading. I don’t need many people physically around me. I just need them in my heart. I hope my last view will be of the sky or the clouds or the trees or the lake or warm smiles. A peaceful, silent dwindling, contented and grateful for the breaths I’ve received.

How do I need to live then?

Boldly.

Boldly, as I can be. Boldly as me.

Along with the lives of the women in my lineage, live the life I truly desire, whatever it may be, live it free and fully. I need no grand vision to fulfil that, but a new belief in what I possess within. To be faithful to the seed I carry; meeting it, knowing it, resting in it despite not yet having the full grasp of it. I trust my seed. I will be true to God’s image of me. I will get out of my way to let his grace flow through me.

I am braving each day, working on myself, mining my past in hopes of a different path from my mother. Writing is salvation. I need not wait for a rescuer. I am saving myself each day by writing. Still approaching an eventual end but with my own volition. Chance is for the moment I die, choice is for the moment I live.

She chose. A quick release from the human struggles.

I choose too. A gradual release as I explore the struggles of being human.