Interview: Toh Yeng Yen, Waldorf educator

As I have shared before, I had to unlearn many things I was taught in school. And learn many things that were not taught in school.

So when I learned about the Waldorf education model years ago, I was interested. Then when I met Chrys Soenaris, a parent who was well-versed in it, I was amazed. And when I met her daughter, Gabby, I was completely won over. Gabby was sagely, inquisitive, deep compassionate, energetic, artistic, JOYful and so many other beautiful things. I recently got to meet other parents and teachers who use the waldorf method and am deeply inspired.

So what is the Waldorf way? If you’re curious, please watch this short intro and share with parents, educators and leaders in education.

Toh Yeng Yen is one of the Waldorf educators I met recently.  She was brimming with passion for her work! Below is my short interview with her. What she says about teachers is especially important.

Q:You’re incredibly passionate about Steiner’s work! Please share more about your personal journey and connection with it.
A: Thank you for your comment! I got to know about Steiner’s philosophy when I was attending a ‘Creative Discipline’ workshop by Linda Hall in the year 2007. That opened me up to an education that allows me, as a teacher, to work on myself while nurturing our children. I find myself loving myself more over the years. And I find this crucial for all human beings.

Q: You mentioned that who the teacher is matters alot in Steiner’s work. Please share more.
A: Yes. I have learned from my training and conferences that it is the teacher that matters, not the subject that the teacher is teaching. If the teacher cares and builds relationships with the children, he/she would be able to attend to the needs of the children. When the children love their teachers, you will be amaze how much they could learn.
Q: Who are you as a Waldorf educator?
A: An educator who learns, unlearns and relearns. Every child is unique. What do I learn from this child and what are the things I can do for her/him to support their grow to become a balanced, warm and loving human being? “Education is not filling a vessel, but lighting a fire.” Carl Jung.

Q: What is it like to learn to be a Waldorf educator?
It is the beginning! I have colleagues from overseas who learn on-the-job to become a Waldorf teacher. We are simply one step faster by learning the essences through courses. It’s how we live what we have learned that matters, not the number of courses that we have attended.

Please click Waldorfcourse for more information on an upcoming course for 6 to 8 year olds by Yeng Yen.

This is another wonderful video on the inner life of the teacher by the Center for Courage and Renewal.

Related: Resources on Education


Interview: Rob Laidlaw

Rob Laidlaw and I used to be colleagues in the animal protection field a long time ago. We lost contact for many years and I’m so happy that we have recently resumed contact. He’s now an award-winning author. And I just read one of his books, “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts”, a book on animal sanctuaries and rescue centres.

Those of us in animal protection sometimes are surrounded by news and images of immense cruelty. This book helps us take a different perspective – a hopeful one. It is healing and restores our faith in people. It is also a great book to teach compassion to children.  It is full colour and full of endearing photos of the animals.

Rob shares many stories of how animals who were in danger or suffering were rescued and now live a much better life. I love the story of Little Pig who fell off a truck on its way to a slaughterhouse and is now in Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary. And the story of Maggie, the elephant, whose family was killed and who was then sent to a zoo. After another elephant died, Maggie was alone. Rob shares how in 2007, Maggie was lying on one side and couldn’t get up.  She was finally sent to Performing Animal Welfare Society in 2008, where she is with other elephants.

I’m glad Rob warms us to not be taken in by entities which claim to be sanctuaries but which aren’t. And also points us to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Here’s a short interview I did with Rob.


Q: Among your various books, you say you like the sanctuary book best? Tell me more. 

A: My sanctuary book was a bit of a departure from my other books in that it focused less on the problems of wildlife in captivity and more on some of the solutions. I think it’s a positive book that demonstrates that it’s possible to have a more humane and equitable relationship with animals, even animals in captivity, in a way that doesn’t exploit or diminish them and that puts their interests as the highest priority. I think it’s important to remember that and to try to learn lessons from good sanctuaries and apply what we’ve learned to animals in all kinds of other situations.

Q: You documented animal suffering for decades. What made you turn your attention to those doing good for animals?

A: I’ve seen many people in the animal protection movement lose sight of the fact that you can’t always be negative. With the sheer scale of animal suffering I think it’s easy to fall into that way of thinking, but sometimes you also need to think about the good that has happened, even if only at the level of individual animals. We all have to realize that sometimes if we think more positively about how to approach the problems that animals face and offer some solutions then we can push forward faster with an animal protection agenda. I think the best sanctuaries do that and that’s why I wanted to highlight them.

Q: How did research for the sanctuary book impact you?

A: Even though I don’t usually show it, I’m always affected by animals. While I was visiting sanctuaries prior to writing this book I was more amazed than ever how forgiving the animals were. Some of them had come from the most horrendous backgrounds imaginable, yet they were curious, friendly, playful and engaging. Seeing them that way after all they’ve been through motivated me to work harder to try to help animals.

Q: When you recall your time in the sanctuaries, which animal do you remember the most? What was its story?

A: I remember many of the animals. I find all of them memorable in their own way. One group of animals that I clearly recall are a group horses at a California sanctuary. They came from a variety of different backgrounds. Some were seized by the authorities because they were being badly abused, while others had been abandoned. Those horses had formed bonds and friendships with each other and it was a delight to watch them and see how much they relied on each other for comfort and security.


The bears at an Indian bear sanctuary also stick out in my memory. After horrendous lives on the street, some of them existing in dire circumstances for decades, they were enjoying life in large forested enclosures and were doing all kinds of bear things. It was amazing to see them foraging, digging and even climbing trees, just like their wild counterparts would. For some of those bears, I wouldn’t have thought they could recover to that extent. It goes to show we should never give up on any captive animal. If we have a chance to give them a better life, we should make every attempt to do just that. I have many similar kinds of memories.

Photo credit: Rob Laidlaw.

Thank you, Rob, for sharing!


~ This book was a shift for Rob. He used a different lens to look at animals and contribute to their welfare. Could your own work do with a new approach? An approach that may be more appreciative or healing?

~ Teachers, parents, travelers – why not visit an animal sanctuary and learn of the stories of healing and transformation that have happened? It will help the animals and yourselves more than visiting entities that profit from animal suffering. Visit the GFAS site. Not all sanctuaries are open to visitors. Please check directly with the sanctuaries.

If you’re in Asia, visit Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.  I’ve met Lek and she’s a very courageous woman dedicated to elephants.

~ You can buy “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts” at Books Depository which has free shipping. Please recommend that your local and school libraries get a copy. 

 – Check out Zoocheck Canada, an organisation that Rob co-founded. 

– This interview was done for my new page, For Those Serving Animals. If you like it, press the “like” button and we can stay connected there. Please share with fellow animal advocates and other supporters of animals. Thank you.

Empowering Public Servants

My letter published the The Straits Times Forum Page, 12 Oct 2012.

I really want to thank Germaine Chow for sharing the video of Mr Tan and his dogs with me and making me aware of this case. We both cried watching the video and I’m glad the tears have been transformed into this published letter. Thank you, Germaine, for CARING!


Empowering public servants

I APPLAUD Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam’s support for cancer patient Tan Cheng Chu (“Minister speaks up for cancer patient”; last Saturday), who was asked to give up one of his two dogs as the rules allow only one dog in an HDB flat.

I hope leaders of all government agencies empower their officers to practise wisdom and compassion.

This requires courage because if they make an exception to the rule or do something compassionate that is not usually done, they might get some flak for it.

But if they do not, then the humanity vital to the proper exercise of their duties is absent, and the job could well be one that a machine can replicate.

Vadivu Govind (Ms)

Five Languages of Appreciation at Work

Dr Gary Chapman’s work on the five languages of love helped save many marriages. Now he has teamed up with Dr Paul White to bring his work to the workplace.

People have different ways in which they want to be appreciated. At work, it’s mainly Acts of Service, Words, Quality Time and Gifts. 

Mass thank you emails to staff or staff appreciation dinners can now be complemented with a way of appreciating employees that is much more personalised and effective.

Watch videos on “Why Most Employee Recognition Programmes Don’t Work”, “Appreciation at Work” and more.

Learn your language of appreciation. And that of your colleagues. And start connecting with each other in a way that you really enjoy.

If you’re interested to build a culture of gratitude and appreciation at your workplace, I run a programme on that , which incorporate Dr Paul White’s work. Contact me at vadivu[at]

On a hectic lifestyle

I’m at that point of exhaustion…I have a very stressful and hectic lifestyle. What are some daily practices that you can recommend for me?

– I have found that life has a way of correcting our imbalances.  So we may have illnessess or other painful incidents feeling imposed on us to “force” us to rest, exercise and take care of ourselves. Sadly many of us may only learn and grow from such painful encounters. If we choose to learn our lessons in easier ways, then hopefully some of these suggestions can help.

 – Is this the life you really want? Regardless of how much you may love your work, how about balance? Time for play, family, friends, exercise, rest, learning?  Get some perspective on balance. Try to minimise regrets on your deathbed on not having spent enough time on what mattered most. Watch Click.

– A mind training/stillness practice such as what Matthieu Ricard recommends has different names and modifications. Researchers have found immense benefits of meditation such as its ability to help you think more sharply. There are many meditation techniques; take time to discover what works for you.

My Christian friends – I know “meditation” has sometimes been linked to certain religions so I can understand your hesitation. The local Christian Meditation Community can be found here.   If that doesn’t resonate with you, look at examples of other practices in the Tree below (click to enlarge), especially the branches on Stillness, Movement, and Contemplative Arts .

Resources in Singapore include mindfulness training by the The Potential Project, Joanna Tan’s work with art therapy (does NOT require you to be artistic) or if you’re inclined to Ignatian Spirituality, the people who facilitate labyrinth walking at the Centre of Ignatian Spirituality.

© The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman

– I would always recommend setting aside time, each night, for self-reflection and “cleaning” up emotional business for the day. What were you grateful? What did you appreciate about yourself? What did you appreciate about others in your life? Where do you need to forgive yourself or someone else? What lessons did you learn to become a better person?

These help you go to bed with less unfinished business and start really afresh the next day.

(Here’s an app you can use for counting your blessings each day.)

I would also recommend taking a mid-day break to do something similar so you can make the second half of the day better.

(This is part of an interview I did with Matthieu Ricard. These are my thoughts to the questions I posed to him. They complement his responses. Please click here for his responses. )

On happiness at work

But you know, as a leader, my main responsibility is to bring profit to my shareholders, not to look at things like compassion or the happiness of my employees. That’s their personal matter.

– There’s extensive research to show that happier employees benefit their organisation. 

– Progressive leaders care about the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. Leaders have a powerful opportunity to positively affect many lives so if you look at the welfare of all your stakeholders, and not just your shareholders, you are working to build a more progressive and sustainable business. It requires a long-term mentality because in the short term, it may cost more to make some changes. Have a look at this example. 

– I also believe there’s no such thing as “personal matter”. Our lives are all interconnected. Here’s an illustration. Life may not be as direct as this of course.

Consider one of your employees who has been treated well at work and is happily driving home. He is present and mindful and driving safely.  He passes your son or daughter on the road, who’s also driving. He gives way, and is kind.

If, however, he’s been overworked, stressed and under-appreciated at work, he may drive home feeling stressed, upset and distracted or even taking yet another work call on his cellphone.  If he’s on the road and your son or daughter is also driving, he’s more likely to be a danger to the safety of your child.

At the end of your life, what is the legacy you want to have left behind? On your deathbed, what matters most, according to people who have worked with dying people, is how much love you have given and received, and how much service you have rendered.

(This is part of an interview I did with Matthieu Ricard. These are my thoughts to the questions I posed to him. Please click here for his responses. )

Inspiration to Help You Find Your Calling

Learn about your strengths, as a first step to discovering your Calling.

My article, “Are you being Called?” in Challenge Online, especially for those who may not leave their jobs but still want greater meaning in their work.

Here’s a short video clip of a Singaporean who found his Calling.

Watch this inspiring and short video of someone who expresses who he is even in what we’d call a “mundane’ job: The Simple Truth of Service

Movies to Help You Find Your Calling (Scroll down the page)

Read The North Star by Peter Reynolds online.

Read An Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton online.

Read Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus.

Read Whistle While You Work by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro.

Read Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy

Read autobiographies of people whose Calling inspires you. Here’s one I recommend: The Wheel of Life by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Get up close with people who have found their Calling and ask questions! :)

If you’d like me to run workshops on discovering your Calling for your community or friends, please contact me at vadivu[at]

Related – Resources: Courage, Discover Your Strengths

Discover Your Strengths

Many of us grew up in a critical environment and a society which looks at what we don’t shine in compared to what we do. And we do that to ourselves to. Scientists calls this a “negativity bias”. It means we are built to look for what may cause us harm. It’s a protective mechanism.

However we don’t always need to use this mechanism. It’s possible to look at what’s working; what’s beautiful in us and others and make best use of that.

Having personally benefitted from learning about my strengths, I became a strengths practitioner and now strongly recommend people to learn about their strengths. It’s one of the most important ways of discovering your Calling in life.

I recommend taking the premium version of Realise2, a strengths survey.  It shows five families of strengths – thinking, relating, motivating, being and communicating. To supplement that, I’d recommend the VIA Character Survey, which shows you your character strengths. Having a debrief done with a strengths practitioner is really much more useful that doing the test and interpreting results yourself. But in case you don’t do the debrief, here are some notes to support you.

  • Familiairise yourself with how Realise2 works. The notes below will only make sense if you do this first.
  • If you want clues to discover your Calling, look at the Realised and Unrealised Strengths in your Realise2 results. Which of these really speak to you, and call you to bring more of them into your life and work?
  • Strengths can be overused. More is NOT better. Wisdom researcher Barry Schwartz actually calls Wisdom the master strength because it helps you use the right strength, at the right time with the right person.
  • Do have a look at your learned behaviours to see if any of your strengths had been overused and ended up draining you. Or perhaps a certain strength only drains you in a certain context but could really energise you in another context. For example, technical writing may drain you but creative writing may energise you and could very well be part of you discovering your Calling. So don’t write off learned behaviours completely! It needs careful investigation.
  • While weaknesses are meant to be minimised in the Realise2 model, sometimes a weakness is a “hole in the ship” as Dr Robert Biswas-Diener said in a talk in Singapore. Such weaknesses would of course need to be developed.  For example, if you have Compassion as a weakness, I would certainly encourage you to develop that and not minimise it. There’s lots of research to show that compassionate people are happier.
  • One key difference between Realise2 and VIA is that Realise2 measures how energising it is for you to use a strength whereas VIA doesn’t include this element. So in Realise2, if you are very good at somehting but it drains you, we would call that a “learned behaviour”, not a strength. So when interpreting your VIA results, do ask yourself if your top strengths actually energise you.
  • People change and so will their profiles. In fact, trainers at Realise2 advise that you take Realise2 every six months. (Trainers at VIA say the profile is pretty stable through life except if there are major life events.) If you’re using such surveys to do long term planning or discover your Calling, ask yourself which strengths are pretty stable, and can be part of such long-term planning.

If you think you and your colleagues would benefit from strengths debriefs, learn more about my strengths work at organisations. Contact me at vadivu[at] to explore further.

I also do individual sessions when time permits.

Enjoy using your strengths to be of service to the world! :)