Cultivating Spirituality: A Kung Fu Panda Guide

By Lillian Lai Ruey Yee

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What is Spirituality?

To each and every person, spirituality is a word that could carry many different meanings. Although closely associated and often intertwined, religious belief can be completely separate from spirituality. I believe that at its core, spirituality is centered around an innate peace that stems from yourself – it’s about discovering meaning, finding purpose, and embracing growth. 

“Anything is possible when you have inner peace.” 

– Master Shifu

Even through days filled with sunshine and rainbows or storm and thunder, the sky remains bright blue underneath all of it. And that, to me, is the true meaning of inner peace with equanimity; of having a state of mind similar to the sky – one that can’t be affected by anything that occurs outside of oneself, fully aware of the impermanence existing around us. 

You see, I first heard about the concept of equanimity through watching a TEDx talk, and ah… there it is! A simple way of procrastinating that always leaves me feeling somewhat productive. It’s never a waste to learn something new, which brings us to our first point:

1) Be Open To Learning

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In order to begin your spiritual path to self-discovery, you have to always keep an open mind. Solutions can only be found if you’re aware of the problem. Likewise, if you want to improve yourself, you have to be prepared to face your flaws. In fact, many of us are already aware of our bad habits and the guilty pleasures that we fall into – Exhibit A: watching Youtube videos instead of starting on that article that’s due sooner than you thought it was. Despite intimately knowing all of our own shortcomings, we have a natural tendency to be in denial of them or to swear never to do them again, only to fall back into the same patterns. (Cue the seemingly endless loop of guilt.)

“There is always something more to learn. Even for a master.” 

– Master Oogway

Here’s the secret to improving yourself quickly – there is none. Changes don’t happen overnight, they build up little by little; it takes time, but more than that it takes consistency. If you set steep standards and raise your expectations of yourself to an unattainable level, you’ll only feel disappointed at the end of the day. Are our efforts only worth our time when we can see the results? 

Take things one step at a time. Some days, putting one foot in front of the other is all that we can do, and although it may not feel like it, it’s still progress.

2) Practice Mindfulness

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Now, I’m sure some of you have heard of mindfulness before, but allow me to reintroduce it to you. Mindfulness is defined as the act of being mindful (surprise!) and aware of our present moment, to feel every sense, to hear every sound, to breathe, in and out, and in and out. It’s typically associated with meditation and all things calm, but there’s more than one side to it. To me, mindfulness is all about being active.

There are so many things in our lives that we subconsciously take for granted until we no longer have them, like the feeling of security in our health and safety, or having the option to leave your house. Meditating can aid in halting your thoughts and focusing on actively feeling instead – to feel the gentle push of wind against your cheek and the plunge of your lungs as you exhale, or to listen to the whirling of your ceiling fan and the inflection of your own breathing.

“Before the battle of the fist, comes the battle of the mind.”

– Master Shifu

Aside from meditation, you can also practice mindfulness by journalling and reflecting on anything you can show gratitude for. There are so many things in our lives we take for granted without noticing, whether it be the near-constant presence of someone in your life, or the cold air your broken air conditioner can no longer provide.

Journaling as a way of expressing your gratitude to everything around you can be wonderfully calming. If you’d like to, you could take some time out of your day to help and do favours for other people as a way of showing your gratitude; even a simple compliment could brighten someone’s day. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that helping other people makes us feel better too. After all, it’s a simple science – smiles spread easily!

3) Explore Your Interests

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Spirituality revolves around the journey rather than the destination. If you can, surround yourself with nature, and breathe in the environment around you along with deep breaths of fresh air. Life is today, repeated – every day turns into a week, and then a month, then a year. Truthfully, our lives are formed from the little fragments in our day-to-day life. So, start there. Try to make yourself happy and fulfilled in the present moment, rather than being too focused on the future. 

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” 

– Master Oogway

What consistently makes you feel good? What’s something fun that doesn’t leave you feeling guilty afterwards? Find things that leave a pleasant aftertaste in your mouth. Read new books, listen to music, or dance, or anything, really. Create spaces for yourself in which you can relax, do things that are healthy for yourself, and don’t be afraid to attempt things that intrigue you, even if you’ve never done them before.

Recently, it feels like there’s been a surge of interest in the concept of perpetual productivity, and on turning everything into a side-hustle. But just because you enjoy doing something, doesn’t mean you need to monetise it. Your hobbies are still valid even if you’re not profiting financially from them. Of course, it’s wonderful to share your hobbies with others and find people with similar interests, but it’s completely okay to have memories you’d like to share only with yourself.

4) Take A Shower

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Nonetheless, everything is easier said than done. Starting your journey or consistently keeping up with your expectations of yourself is tough, and can be overwhelming. Some days, even the seemingly simple act of getting out of bed and taking care of yourself is something you find yourself losing the will to do. And that’s perfectly okay – as cliche as it is, this too, shall pass.

“Your mind is like this water, my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear.” 

– Master Oogway

Let yourself do things little by little. A bath may not be much, but it’s a start. Allow your thoughts to flow freely and endlessly, or not at all. All things are impermanent, so isn’t that enough reason to treat yourself well while you still can? Take care of not only your mental, but your physical health: drink lots of water to stay hydrated, stretch your arms once in a while, eat well, and don’t forget to take a shower!

Whether it be washing your face or flailing your limbs around, if you have a routine of sorts to signal the start of your day, repeating that routine mid-day can feel like a fresh start. By having a nightly routine, it could also act as a soothing way to wrap everything up cleanly – to know that even if today didn’t go too well, you have many tomorrows ahead of you. 

  1. Accept Yourself

Time feels fleeting, but if you load your life with meaningful moments, your memories can last a lifetime. It’s good to aim forward and look onwards, but if you turn around, you’ll see that a lot of things you once thought were almost impossible to do, you’ve achieved. You’ve walked a longer path than your feet can remember. Sometimes taking a break to admire the view can be a large step forward. Learn to be okay with yourself and your innate value, but don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Life is long, so fill it up!

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” 

– Master Oogway

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