Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 4

In this exercise, I write about where I usually park my thoughts when I am idling. In other words, what I daydream about. According to Tsh, they speak volumes about what our real, innate and instinctive desires are. How true? Let’s see…

Firstly, before anyone thinks I have lots idle time, I don’t. I am a full-time working mom. Though my kids have grown some and I have more time now than when they were younger, I still struggle to find “idle time”. The thought of being idle is counter-intuitive to me because I am a “work first, play later” kind of person. And of course you know that work never ends, there is always something that needs to get done! I can be restless like that. So yeah, it’s a struggle even though MY WHOLE BEING CRAVES AND HUNGER FOR IDLE TIME! City life is not exactly conducive to idleness either. When I do choose to ignore the multitude of “things to do” and give myself some idle time, I am still rarely alone with my own thoughts. I find myself consuming content, either through reading, browsing the net, watching or listening. There was a time in my life when I had time and space to process my own thoughts a lot and that was when I was actively writing my blog journal. Those years were one of my most creative and inspired moments and one where I feel close to a flow state. I was self-aware and sensitive to that inner voice. It was no coincidence that during that time when I was also ferociously consuming spiritual-religious content. It was a period of intuitive awakening! Even then, I wasn’t exactly day dreaming about my desires. Rather, I was drawing connections and seeing meaning behind people, things, thoughts, emotions and, events etc. This is not day dreaming in the classic sense. For that, recent years prove more fruitful. Perhaps it was out of desperation – a need to escape a sense of staleness and sameness in my life. I find myself dreaming of living a simple, serene and unhurried life in a modernized hanok on the outskirts of South Korea, close to nature; a mountain to be exact. I dream of taking long leisurely hikes in these mountains whenever I want to and of traversing large open plains dotted by cute, pretty homes on a bicycle. I dream of being immersed in nature, not necessarily actively engaging it but more like absorbing it. I see a need for beauty, for freedom and space. I dream of wandering the picturesque and charming alleyways of Seoul’s cultural and historical district of Anguk with its interesting mix of old and new coexisting together, creating an interesting kind of harmony. I think this speaks to a need for exploration, for discovery, for variety and novelty and for welcoming newness and change in my life. I dream of a modest life rich in meaning and purpose, lived in harmony with its people and its environment; a life of moderation rather than excesses, be it pleasure, productivity, energy or creativity. Too much of something, even things that we enjoy or are good for us, can bring about dissonance. I dream of a life where I have freedom of expression, where I am free to be me; stripped of the need for pretense and people pleasing. This speaks of my need for harmony and balance, of moderation, simplicity, intention and authenticity.



Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 3

Up next, I am to think of a film or book that really moves me. In other words, what story stays with me and why. Sounds simple enough but it took me 2 weeks to work on it!

I’m not sure how helpful is exercise because there are many movies and books that have moved me. The general theme is humanity’s triumph over evil, of overcoming odds and life’s challenges and adversity, stories of love, courage, sacrifice and selflessness. I think these are universal themes that move people everywhere.

I enjoy a wide variety of ideas and usually am able to draw something meaningful out of each. Perhaps what I can single out from this smorgasbord of stories is one that is closer to home – stories of self-discovery, of not being afraid to be my own person, of being at peace with myself and my place in this world, living a life congruent with who I am, of having the courage to start over and go after what brings me joy and contentment, of the grace of being given a second shot at happiness and of finding beauty and significance in the quiet, small and ordinary. For this, the story that stands out is a Korean melodrama called On the Way to the Airport. It is not on my list of favorites but the story and certain scenes and character stuck with me. Firstly I like the setting in autumn, my favorite season of the year! So there’s enough romantic and nature backdrop, though not as abundant as what you’d find in Goblin, another memorable drama in terms of excellent cinematography! I like the scenes set in a hanok-cum-art gallery and workshop of exquisite Korean handicraft. Life there is so tranquil you’d think all your worries will melt away sitting by the top-hung windows of the room overlooking the garden, sipping tea! The male lead’s wife and mother owns and manages the place. I also love the juxtaposition against the male lead’s modern apartment overlooking the city-scape. I especially love the setting of another small and cozy art gallery in a secluded and scenic spot in Jeju. This is where the male lead displays the artwork of his late mother in memory of her. It’s a home cum gallery. Very cozy, very personal. There’s nothing loud about both places but they have a distinctive character of their own.

This is a story of 2 married individuals who meet by fate. One thinks she is content with her life while the other discovers, while grieving for the loss of his step-daughter, that he’s been living in a deceptive marriage. Circumstances brought them together and for the first time they get a taste of a different and deeper kind of happiness; one that comes with having a heart and soul connection with another person and of having their own needs met. Amongst the characters in this film, the male lead leaves the deepest impression on me with his sensitive and quiet spirit and warm and gentlemanly ways. He’s an old soul with a spark of innocent expectation. Both are understandably guilt ridden because their life is not just their own. Yet they couldn’t ignore their heart’s desire. The tension between following ones heart and fulfilling ones expected role in the family and society is palpable. With time and patience they worked on what needs to be sorted out in their own lives so they can find happiness again without the burden of guilt.


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 3 Who Are You Lesson Part 2-2

My favorite quotes.

In this exercise I take time to search, gather and curate quotes that resonate with me, to which I can say an emphatic YES! to.


“You have to let people go. Everyone who’s in your life is meant to be in your journey but not all of them are meant to stay till the end.”

Quiet people has the loudest minds.” – Stephen Hawkings

“Actions prove who someone is. Words just prove who they want to be.”

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” – Sigmund Freud

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”–Carl Jung

“I love having context that’s so much bigger than I can fathom. It’s fantastic to realize how insignificant you are.” – Benedict Cumberbatch

“If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
– J.K. Rowling

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for the sake of what he cannot loose.”

“An intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfill the intention.”

“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we let our minds dwell upon.”

“Every human relationship is a tool for character formation.”

Spirituality is living the ordinary life extraordinarily well.”

“I freed 1000 slaves. I could have freed 1000 more if only they knew they were slaves.”–Harriet Tubman

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”–Marcus Aurelius

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”–Steve Jobs

“Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know.”–Bertrand Russell

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate to others the things that seem important to oneself.”–C.G. Jung

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”–George Bernard Shaw

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”–Charles R. Swindoll

“Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than material force, that thoughts rule the world.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” – Parker Palmer





Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 3 Who Are You Part 2-1

What do I find beautiful and why do I love them?

This exercise is meant to help me be more aware of the beauty around me, whether tangible or intangible and take time to appreciate each one. I will then use a few descriptive words to describe why I find them beautiful.

  1. Reunions with my mom and siblings- being myself, warmth, bond, acceptance, nostalgia, authentic, loyalty, home, camaraderie, belonging
  2. When a co-worker/ acquaintance spontaneously buys me snacks with no strings attached – unconditional, kindness, thoughtfulness, not-forgotten, generous
  3. When my daughter takes care/ does simple things for her older brother without complaining –  family, kindness, thoughtfulness, loyalty, innocence
  4. Being on the same wave-length with another person in a conversation – connection, understood, not alone, encouragement
  5. Exploring the alleyways of Samcheongdong-Bukchon – novelty, culture, surprises, adventure, familiar but different
  6. Vast open plains of Jejudo – freedom, free-spirited, renewal, largeness, abundance
  7. Being on the peak of Seoraksan – hope, transcendence, invisible, on-top-of-the-world
  8. Hiking thru the mountainous forest of Kamikochi – spiritual, inner sanctum, grounded, hidden, solitude
  9. Curve lines of the eaves and roofs of Hanoks – quiet elegance, simplicity, character, bold
  10. Wood grains and bright color of Hanoks – cheerful, fresh, newness, character
  11. Korean stone walls – symmetry, raw, unrefined, safe, authentic, elegance, character
  12. The smell and sound of rain and thunderstorms- cozy, rest, refreshing,




Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 2 Who Are You Part 1-3

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What is my MBTI type?

In this lesson I work on figuring out my MBTI type. I’ve struggled with this for years and keeps revisiting it whenever I feel stuck and lost in life. As mentioned in my intro post to Upstream, I’ve recently typed as INFJ after 2 years of thinking I was INTP! Oh well…At least I can get straight to working on this exercise since I already have the answer to this one. How long will it stick before I start doubting myself again is another matter! Over the years I’ve read multiple personality sites and took the free test on their webpage. There are a couple that I find offers more depth and clarity. One of my favorite is Personality Hacker. It was here that I first thought I could be an INFJ after all! Their INFJ info page cleared some of my doubts. If you’re curious what your type is, you can take their free test here.

My MBTI type is  – INFJ

These are some of the key characteristics of INFJ that resonates with me.

I – Introvert.

Craves and thrive best with lots of alone, uninterrupted time. Withdraws to my inner world. Socializing and small talk is tedious. Networking is stressful and makes me feel phony. Intense. Easily distracted and overwhelmed by too much environmental stimuli (highly sensitive). Uncomfortable with attention.Thought before action. Communicates better in writing than in person.

N – Introverted  Intuition (Ni).

Perceives meaningful connections between thoughts, concepts, events, occurrences and feelings in my life and my environment. Highly sensitive to beauty. Draws meaning from it. Feels the need to create beauty/immerse myself in it. Cares a great deal about meaning of life, purpose and passion. Concerned with big picture; tries to understand the whys behind events, feelings etc. (usually intangible things). Looks for meaning and tries to identify root causes behind them. Dives deep into things that interests/intrigues me, researching the subject/object of interest to death! Able to reconcile paradoxes and contradictory evidences. Highly aware of body language, facial expressions, tones of voice, that may reveal something about how someone is feeling. Picks up copious amounts of details from the world around and people, absorbing and storing them haphazardly in my mind while constantly scans for clues or patterns, drawing connections between them. Over time more and more pieces of the puzzle fits and a vision/understanding starts to appear.

F – Extraverted Feeling (Fe).

Understands and empathize with others emotions, feelings and moods. Able to quickly size up the mood/energy/emotional atmosphere of the environment. Able to sense what others are feeling at the moment. Helpful, obliging, supportive and encouraging. Form of help rendered may be less practical and more insightful. A good listener. Can feel used/taken advantage of. Knows how to put people at ease and make them feel better. Works to maintain a sense of harmony in the outer world. Have a harder time understanding own emotions. Needs to throw feelings out into the world (by talking or writing) to help process them effectively. Desires to make people feel understood. Make choices that takes other people’s feelings and needs into consideration (uses harmony to drive decisions). Understands social dynamics, unwritten social rules, and culture.

J – Judging

Refers to how I approach life in my outer world. Prefers a planned, orderly way of life. Organizes my world to achieve my goals and desired results in a predictable way. Gets my sense of control by taking charge of my environment and making choices early. Self-disciplined, task-oriented, decisive, seeks closure in decisions, prioritizes work before play, good time keeping. Specific and clear with requests and expects others to follow through. However, inwardly (in my inner world) I am curious and more open-ended than how others perceive me to be on the outside because I my dominant function is i perceiving function called introverted intuition (Ni).


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 2 Who Are You Part 1-2

Who do you admire?

Next, I am to think of at least 3 people I admire, why I admire them and in what ways am I similar and different from them. This is going be a tough one because at this point, no one comes to mind. I’ll have to search my memories of past and current people who’s made a strong, positive impression on me, enough to deserve this place of honor. Tsh says it can be a real person, living or dead or even fictional.

So here’s my attempt to shortlist these 3 admired individuals.

After a little research, I managed to come up with more than 3 names actually! None of them I know personally. The first is almost cliché but deserves the spot. The other 4 are actually people whose blog I have followed (i actually scrolled through all the blogs in my IE favorite folder!). Their blog is the gateway to their personal stories, motivations, hopes and dreams and their fears.

#1 Lee Kuan Yew (the late founding father of modern day Singapore)
My admiration for him was first influenced by my late father who regarded him very highly even though we are Malaysians, not Singaporeans. I am now a Singaporean and I think I can better appreciate his legacy then younger natives especially when I contrast it with the leaders in my own country. For the purpose of this exercise, I shall go straight to the point. Why does he deserves my admiration? He was radical with the reforms that were needed. He stood his ground for what he believed in and argued his case before naysayers and oppositions. He has great foresight. He did was was needful for the people, not what gain him the most love. He is willing to get his hand dirty an walked his talk. He conducts himself with honesty and integrity in both his personal and public life. His love for learning and personal development. His relentless efforts to improvise and stay relevant. His no-nonsense decisiveness and his well known devotion to his wife.

Similarities: stands firm in my beliefs though on the outside may appear to be more open, comfortable with being different but dislikes drawing attention, can predict outcomes of small scale matters, love for learning and personal growth, mostly honest and integrous, devoted to my children.

Differences: afraid of standing out, drawing attention and being criticized for being radical, avoids conflicts and arguments, won’t say i have great foresight, struggles between doing what is needful and what creates less conflict, idealistic but may lack drive to walk the talk, uncomfortable with change, could be more decisive.

#2 Seth Barnes of  Radical Living & Eugene Cho (formerly Beauty & Depravity)
Both are great examples of people who not only know and live out their calling but that they align it with the greater purpose of serving the cause of Christ. That I think is not only deeply meaningful but also powerful. Imagine the efforts you put in on this earth reap rewards that count not just for the here and now but for eternity. They are laying up treasures above while changing lives below. Barnes’s genuine passion to empower and inspire the body of Christ to live up to their higher calling shines through every blog post. He focuses his efforts on discipleship mentoring, missions, christian living and leadership. Cho is a relevant, edgy pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. Imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to inspire and rally this generation to action, he also founded a grassroots movement to alleviate poverty and a non-profit community cafe and music venue. I admire both for their single minded focus and commitment to their cause, their genuine love for people and the body of Christ, their ability to not only understand the issues and what needs to be done but also have the courage and drive to lead and inspire change. I also admire how both are able to remain relevant despite the changing landscape, leveraging on multiple platforms to reach their audience while being in tune  to their heart’s cry. They are then able to lead them to heed the greater cry, the cry to live radically for Christ.

Similarities: Christian, believes in the centrality of the cause of Christ, agrees that aligning our purpose to God’s is the best way, understands human issues and in tune with peoples needs to some extent

Differences: lacks a cause that motivates me enough, focus and commitment may wane over time, does not love people and the body of Christ enough, lacks courage and drive to lead and inspire change, uncomfortable with change.

#3 Gordon Atkinson of Real Live Preacher
What endears me most to Atkinson is his writing. A reviewer of one of his books puts it succinctly, “Due to his honest, unique, and characteristically “unstuck-up” Christian ways, Gordon Atkinson’s blog became an online haven not just for people of the faith but also for those that have none…..He makes no attempt to hide the messy realities of faith; as such, he is able to transform the insignificant, the unlikely, and the problematic into something genuinely beautiful.” Yes, these are what I love and admire most about Atkinson. His “unstuck-up” Christian ways and brutal honestly leaves no room for whitewashing the abuses of religion, or sugar coating answers to the problem of unanswered prayers, or insisting that a victorious life free of the curses associated with living in a broken world is the entitlement and reality of every believer. It is a refreshing change from the ra ra Christians who pretends and propagates that such a life is served on a silver platter garnished with a personal note from God “How can I serve you?”. Atkinson is an honest skeptic who had battled his own demons and journeyed through a faith crisis. In all his writings is an underlying theme about the God who, he confesses, may or may not be there yet not one he can ignore or forget for He continues to pursue him! Atkinson helps me feel comfortable with my doubts, that it’s OK to question matters of faith, OK to linger on the fence. No one says I need to have everything figured out and put in boxes!

Similarities: plagued by doubts, skeptic, willing to question and challenge set beliefs, OK to sit on the fence and mull things over till the jigsaw fits better, battled my own demons, not wiling to just follow the heard and ignore nagging doubts, loves writing.

Differences: less comfortable to share and be open about my doubts with others, processes them internally instead, tries to have issues figured out and put into boxes.

# John Steele (photographer)
I’ve followed Steele’s photography for a few years. First got to know of him when a photograph of South Korea which I am a big fan of caught my eye. I do not know much about him as a person since his blog is a photo blog mainly showcasing his work. All I know about him is contained in this post, How I Became a Photographer. So why do I admire him? I guess there are plenty of skillful and well known photographers out there but John is different to me because I have followed his growth not long after he started and saw how he progressed. I admire him first and foremost for his photography skills and the fact that he is living his craft in my favorite place. His love for S Korea and the beauty of the land, the people and the traditions and culture are evident in his photos. I also like how he started as a photographer. He was just like any regular person with a point-and-shoot camera with no special training, sharing his travel photos with family and friends. One day a  friend tossed him a used DSLR and his started taking his first landscape photo 2 months after and uploaded it on FB. The first likes motivated him to take more photos and improve his skills. So you could say that I admire his small, modest beginnings and that he did not just stop at a few likes on FB but he dug deep to learn what he can about the craft and keeps refining his skills. So I admire his persistence, his curiosity, his drive to constantly improve. I assume that he does not shy away from saying yes to photography requests and assignments. He probably used them as a platform to hone his skills. That’ll require courage to face the fears of not meeting expectations.

Similarities: Loves South Korea, enjoys taking photos especially landscapes, humble beginnings, received compliments from family and friends, can be curious, motivated by approval and recognition from others.

Differences: non-pro skills, not living in the land of inspiration, limited language skill,  did not refine my skills despite having a DSLR at home, lacks persistence, driven to improve but lacks action, lacks confidence, fear of failure and rejection, unlike Steele, I do not live alone with lots of space and time to explore and hone the skill, do not have a pet companion.


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 1

In lesson 1, Tsh talked about simple living and asked what it means to us.

What comes to mind when I hear the phrase “simple living”? Living stress-free. Minimalism. Only what matters.

She also gave her own definition, which I thought is brilliant. Simple Living simply means living holistically with our life’s purpose. I love it! In just a few words she captures the essence of this idea. Yet there is much food for thought wrapped up in this simple definition. It feels freeing and daunting to me at the same time. What does it mean to live holistically?  Also, the word “purpose”, that’s a huge one. People can live a lifetime not knowing their purpose!

Not knowing who I am at the core, what I’m called to and my place in this world is one of my life’s greatest fears. Without the knowing the answers, how can I move forward? It’s the starting point from where and how I orientate my path. Choosing to live simply is to choose to go against the norm, against the of tide of living with a hundred distractions, waking up everyday not knowing where you’re headed, to navigate the wilderness without a compass. It is to paddle upstream. To say no to merely existing.

Through Upstream Field Guide, I hope to get clarity on

  • Who I am at the core (know myself)
  • My life’s purpose (know my calling)
  • How to live simply accordingly