When the COVID-19 cases first started being confirmed in Singapore in early 2020, I said that it was a non-event here. Now I cringe when I think of what a privileged thing it was to say. The pandemic hasn’t affected my life very much so far or those around me for that fact, but it has impacted so many lives here, in particular in the migrant community, and in some cases tragically so.
When I went back to my co-working space recently, the bar and restaurant there was no longer operating and I thought about Jason, the friendly bartender who is now likely without a job. As I was making my way home later through Robertson Quay, the reality of seeing restaurants and bars shut and shuttered hit me. I wondered about the people who’d been working there. They had likely lost their income and jobs too because of the pandemic.
I just don’t see my privilege sometimes. It’s only been through conversations over the years where I’ve been challenged by friends and mentors, who tried to explain to me the nuances of privilege and how it’s tied to legacies of racism, colonialism, genocide and slavery that I began to really question my narrative. I mean many countries and communities have abused their power in history and most of us have experienced oppression and hardship right? We all struggle in our own way and have suffered. Yes, that’s true we have. But some of us suffer more than others and some of us benefit from the very structures and legacies that cause others to continue to suffer.
Are you feeling uncomfortable? Maybe defensive, wanting to share counterpoints or make me feel better about my ignorance or say to me that it’s human or understandable to see or not see things like I did, after all, it’s our karma or past lives that determine our lot in life. I would like to invite you to stay with the discomfort or desire to make me or yourself feel better and give it space to exist. And further to see what other emotions are present. For it’s only when I did that I found further clarity, healing and purpose.
Spiritual teacher Adyashanti said, “In order to be truly free, you must desire to know the truth more than you want to feel good. Because if feeling good is your goal, then as soon as you feel better you will lose interest in what is true. This does not mean that feeling good or experiencing love and bliss is a bad thing. Given the choice, anyone would choose to feel bliss rather than sorrow. It simply means that if this desire to feel good is stronger than the yearning to see, know, and experience Truth, then this desire will always be distorting the perception of what is Real while corrupting one’s deepest integrity.”
The Truth That Freed Me
The truth is that seeing my privilege was painful. I felt like it made less of the ways I had struggled and my own efforts to heal and build what I had in my life. I noticed that under the pain was feelings of fear. I was afraid that if I really admitted my privilege, I would be asked to give more of what I had, which never felt like enough, and that I would be disadvantaged by giving to others, even if it was just more empathy, understanding and acknowledgement.
But when I started to feel more resourced emotionally and on course with my life, I was able to be with my discomfort, pain and fear then find space and a sincere desire to further examine my privilege, to consider and contemplate the views of others who had challenged and taken the time to correct me. I read books and articles about racism, colonialism and the realities of systemic and structural oppression from academics, historians and intellectuals. Experts who had spent their lives researching and rigorously educating themselves.
I observed as my mindfulness and ancestral healing teachers modelled their commitment to addressing inequality and privilege by teaching us about these issues and sharing relevant resources. I appreciated that they required us to be culturally aware, offer reduced cost sessions and encouraged us to be inclusive and learn to be with difference and diversity. These same teachers offered payment plans, financial support and scholarships to minorities, BIPOC communities and those in financial need so their programmes were accessible. They believed that doing meaningful spiritual work must also include engaging in social issues and making a concerted effort to support those of less privilege. Their attitudes and the real-world practical action they took impressed and inspired me. They made me realise that the discomfort and resistance to examining my privilege had roots in feelings of shame at being held accountable because I knew deep down that I could and wanted to do more with my privilege.
The Legacies We Are Born Into
In an interview with the Paris Review that was published in 1984, James Baldwin said, “Once I was in the civil-rights milieu, once I’d met Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and Medgar Evers and all those other people, the role I had to play was confirmed. I didn’t think of myself as a public speaker, or as a spokesman, but I knew I could get a story past the editor’s desk. And once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.”
You may be wondering why me, a Singaporean, would bring up a reference to a different culture, country and historical context. We didn’t have a history of slavery here in South-East Asia for one. Except that we did. I know because my ancestor was the biggest known local slave owner in Malacca in the 1820s and I have seen records of slaves my ancestors owned. I also have ancestors who were slaves. One of whom was called XNN. She didn’t even have a name, just initials. Was it a Chinese name, since she came from Macau? I will probably never know. The Portuguese brought slaves to Macau from Africa, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea and Malaysia. She could have been from any one of these other countries.
Singapore didn’t have segregation like the US though you may further add. Well yes, we did in fact. Eurasian uncles would tell me stories of playing sports in teams from the Singapore Recreation Club against the British team members of the Singapore Cricket Club but later not be allowed into the Singapore Cricket Club to eat with the members, the very same members they had played on the fields of the Padang against. Because they were not British or European, they would have to eat on the steps at the entrance of the Singapore Cricket Club while the British members ate inside in the restaurants.
To this day in Singapore, minorities suffer discrimination, racism and disadvantage. Likely in your country as well, if you’re not local to Singapore. Slavery, colonialism and segregation is the legacy of much of the world and the privilege or lack of associated with it has had a real impact on many communities, cultures and countries.
Many of my ancestors benefited from being Eurasian by getting jobs that were in the civil service, working for the colonial powers and acting as intermediaries between the Europeans who colonised South-East Asia and the local inhabitants. These are the privileges that led to my father being recommended for his job by his aunt because of her position in the same multinational British company. Yes, he worked hard, in fact, he subsidised his own education abroad by working as he studied, even though his parents offered to help him. But I can see now how his privilege helped to give him both the resources and opportunities that contributed to his later success in his chosen career. It doesn’t mean that my father wasn’t capable or diligent, but it does mean that he got a head start that not everyone has and this helped me also get a head start in my life that gave me the ability to think more deeply about life and what I wanted it to be at a very young age, at a time when many are just hoping to earn a good living so they can pay their bills and help support their family.
I’ve had years of therapy, coaching and healing support. At the age of 21, I was told that my dreams matter, that I matter and not only deserve to but can live a life of peace, meaning and purpose. I’ve also had the good fortune to train with experts in counselling, coaching, business development and masters of meditation, yoga and healing. This has equipped me with the know-how to guide others and do work that is fulfilling in a sustainable way.
The Purpose of Privilege
Buddha was an aristocrat and lived in comfort and privilege, wanting for nothing. He was also married with a child so had likely fulfilled the expectations of his society and many of his own personal needs well before he went in search of enlightenment. He knew that his wife and child would be well-looked-after in his absence, thus was able to focus on his spiritual life which not everyone can afford to do. Regardless of the outcome of his spiritual search, Buddha had somewhere to go back to. The security of knowing he would always be provided for surely helped him to push beyond normal boundaries. It is to the benefit of the world that the outcome of his search was an enduring wisdom teaching on the path to true inner peace and liberation, one I’m personally deeply grateful for. Buddha embodied his understanding of how when even one person is not free, he is not free, as we’re all ultimately connected. He redefined nobility as one of the heart rather than coming from caste, social position or power. This is a great example of how privilege can be used to help reduce suffering and generosity brings healing and liberation.
When I reflect on what’s helped me and others to heal and find deeper peace and meaning and what may be missing for some, resources are a big factor that jump out at me. Resources that are directly tied to privilege.
There can be many privileges we enjoy, the privileges of social class, looks, wealth, education, safety, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation and nationality. Many of us have a mix of more or less privilege, some leaning more in one direction.
Once we start to really recognise our privilege and the resources that come with it, we may feel called to do something to give back and help others. This is what led me to do the work I now do helping others to address and heal unresolved personal and ancestral issues that may be limiting them so they can find clarity on their next steps and live a meaningful and happy life. I’ve also felt called to put together a resource which is a collection of personal services such as healers, intuitive readers, life coaches, business coaches, healthcare and wellness professionals offered pro bono, low cost or on a sliding scale. I call it The Underground Resource. Through this resource, I hope to do my part to balance privilege through the redistribution of resources so that others can find support to escape from the legacy of the systemic and structural disadvantages they have struggled with and live a freer and happier life. The name speaks to a desire I’ve always had to be a part of an underground resistance movement against oppression.
Dreaming a New World
If you’re in a position of privilege, my invitation to you is to look at your privilege, really reflect on it, the history and legacy of your ancestors and how you came to the position you are in your life today. And let yourself feel any discomfort or pain that is present when you do. Let it all be. Allow any desire to deny it to be there or urge to explain all the ways your ancestors have struggled and you still do and your life is not perfect. But then stop and further explore your feelings, because my hunch is that beyond the uncomfortable feelings, you might find a deeper calling, even a sense of clarity about your purpose. This clarity can help you take your next steps as you create a life of meaning and bring with it more joy, peace and healing.
If you’re a minority or in a vulnerable position because of your identity, social position or past trauma and abuse, you may be feeling frustration at not being where you want to be in your life because of a lack of privilege or resources. You may not have been able to afford resources or gotten access to the right resources.
It could also be that you need to heal emotional wounds from the past that are making it difficult for you to reach out for help and get the resources that you need to heal. Unresolved pain and trauma often cause difficulties in regulating emotions, leading many to act out in harmful and self-destructive ways, perpetuating a cycle of harm. It can also make it challenging to take action in a consistent and constructive way.
If you feel to, reach out and I can help you to give back and offer or access resources. You can both offer resources and receive help as I’m not currently going to vet anyone asking for help. If you can afford to pay the full fee, please do so though because by paying the professionals on the list, you’re supporting their ability to serve and work with those in need.
Isabel Allende, the Chilean writer, wrote that the pandemic is showing us the reality of inequality when we see one person spending the pandemic on a yacht in the Caribbean while another is going hungry. But we’re also learning that we’re one family. That what happens to one person in Wuhan also happens to the planet and the most important thing now is to dream a different world. I believe that if we share our resources, we can dream a world where more of us can find greater peace, healing and fulfil our potential. That’s why I’m committed to building The Underground Resource and helping anyone in a position of less privilege and vulnerability who wants help. In addition, I’m continuing to educate myself about colonialism, racism and learning how to be more inclusive and use my privilege for a purpose.
My sincere wish is that more of us can give or reach out for more resources so we can deeply heal and live a happy and meaningful life. This can be actual physical resources like time, service and money or inner resources of kindness, compassion and care. Everyone deserves to get their needs met, to feel safe, validated, seen and live a life of peace. dignity and purpose. And if I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out as it would be my honour to have you join The Underground Resource or help you find a way to share your resources and a true privilege to offer more resources to you.
What are the privileges that you enjoy and have afforded you the life that you live?
What are the ways that you feel called to give back and share your resources?
What are the ways that you can resource yourself further?