When I'm asked how Mekhala came to be, I say that Mekhala was founded at the Asian Leadership Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when my co-founder, Jang, decided to create her own products because she couldn't find any quality food for her retreat's clients.
Sometimes, curious enquirers follow up with questions about the retreat - is it a spa? A resort? Can they come visit? I direct them to the Asian Leadership's website for more information. It's a corporate retreat where companies, public and private, send their top brass to learn about Mindfulness in the leading of organizations. Of course, anyone can sign up, you don't have to be head honcho at Mckinsey to qualify. And as part of the training, you enjoy delicious, vegan Mekhala meals, massages and a herbal sauna.
It was at this retreat that I heard the 14 words that would change my life.
Mindfulness, which has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, is all the rage these days in the business world, but back when Jang's husband, Brian, an American buddhist monk turned life coach, began his teachings, it was not commonly known or understood. This is Brian. He's a pioneer in the field of Mindfulness as a philosophy for leading organizations.
I met Brian back in 2007, through my husband who was a client of his in the early days. They had become firm friends, Brian officiated our wedding in 2008, and I didn't see Brian again until 2011, when we returned to Singapore for my husband's work. Our reunion was at the retreat, and it was the first time I met Jang, who would become my business partner and a lifelong friend.
At the time, my life was great. I had a wonderful, loving marriage. We had a comfortable life in Singapore and I was now back in the country of my birth, close to my family. But I was seeking the next stage in my career. I had left a job in banking and I was looking for my calling. In my early 20's, a personal tragedy led me to become an avid reader of "self-help" books, but the thing about self help is it demands an incredible amount of self awareness and determination, as well as a clarity about what about ones' self needs helping. It's not easy gleaning all this from books, but I liked the "arm's length" therapy vs the arm chair sort. I used these teachings through my 20's as a rough guide to achieving goals and therefore "happiness", with a certain amount of success.
That day at the retreat, we sat down to our meal, and as is Brian's habit, we said what we were grateful for. Later on, my husband spoke candidly and openly about various issues with Brian, and then Brian said, "Remember - your personality is the single most limiting thing you will ever create for yourself."
"Your personality is the single most limiting thing you will ever create for yourself."
It was provoking, it caught my attention, but what did it actually mean? It is beyond this blog to explain in detail, but the summary is, we create our personalities and then cling to them like they define us absolutely. Instead of asking ourselves how we might change and respond and grow, we imagine that this personality is who we are, which severely limits what we can do with our lives. For example, how often have we had an argument with a partner and said, "well, this is who I am! You can take it or leave it!", or huffed internally that their behaviour was driving us crazy (when it was the same exact behaviour every single time and should come as no surprise), or justified a response to someone's actions by some sort of moral high ground that allegedly is deeply intrinsic to our personalities?
This is the typical "fight or flight" mode. When confronted with a situation, how should we respond? The only thing we can control is how we react, not the other person or the situation. To do that in a way that allows us to grow, we must first have compassion for others and let go of our personalities. It makes us stop being victims, and to really be responsible for our own happiness.
So instead of thinking we are "this sort of mother, wife, husband, daughter, boss, worker", and therefore be chained to a static personality, we should be thinking, "I have compassion for my boss even though he's being an #$%^^, and I can choose to get mad or I can feel XYZ because this gives me a better outcome." I have a choice in who I am, how I react to and deal with people and situations around me, and this gives me power over my life.
It's a simple sentence. 14 words. And it may seem obvious to you readers, but to fully understand it and make it the guiding philosophy of your life requires constant reminding and practice. Because we are emotional animals. It's taken me years, I've read the rest of Brian's teachings and try to practice them (despite the buddhist roots, the actual practise is secular), and more often than not, I fail to fight my instincts. Yet bit by bit, I see the improvement in my relationships with others, growing especially closer to my loved ones - husband, mother, sisters, children, in-laws, and living an even more fulfilled and mindful life.