Sangha Retreat’s Frederick Tsao on the true meaning of wellness, what makes for the best advice and the importance of staying vulnerable

frederick tsao

The Answers With… Frederick Tsao, chairman of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group and founder of Sangha Retreat by Octave Institute

For someone who heads a multinational conglomerate, Frederick Tsao, chairman of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group, is as unfiltered and candid as they come. One moment he’s shedding light on the commodification of yoga in the market economy; the next he’s visibly dismayed about the dire predicament of humanity’s own doing—the depletion of our natural resources, climate change, breakdowns in social structures… (the list goes on).

The founder of Sangha Retreat by Octave Institute—a state-of-the-art wellness resort blending Eastern traditional practices with Western science—Tsao’s philosophy of wellness is underpinned by the inextricable connection between the individual and his external environment. “What is wellbeing?”, he ponders aloud, then proceeds to expound in the same breath. “Wellbeing is an entire system that’s congruent and coherent. I cannot be well until the whole system is well. Love is holistic. It’s not enough to just eat right and sleep right.”

Such a comprehensive notion of wellness might seem overly grandiose to some. But clearly not to Tsao, who’s embarked on a series of books based on quantum leadership—which advocates a shift in consciousness to embrace oneness and holism. His latest book, Dawn of an Era of Well-Being, is co-authored with world-renowned philosopher of science Ervin László, and delves into “a holistic view of the world as the necessary foundation of human well-being”. “We need more responsibility in the world,” Tsao observes, “Response-ability—the wiser we become, the more our ability to respond increases.”

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Every day, I enter a meditative state twice. At night, this helps to facilitate sleep. But in the morning, there’s this moment when you’re just awake but not really awake. You have a choice during this time to go back to sleep or stay there. I sometimes stay there for hours—sitting or lying down, it doesn’t matter. It’s in this state that we’re most clear. Sleeping helps in our physical and mental rewiring. Meditation has the same effect, except you’re consciously observing and participating in that process.

What do you crave most at the end of the day?

Sleep. Don’t you? Although sometimes the bed feels so good, I don’t want to fall asleep just yet.

If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?

Learning is the ultimate skill—learn to learn more effectively. Learning anything that’s not applicable to your life is a waste of time learning. Learn something because you have a use for it, not so you can brag about it. All forms of learning must be motivated by how it can enrich your life.

What have you done recently for the first time?

Cry during an interview. There’s always a first time for everything—you can’t predict what comes out in the moment.

What’s your favourite neighbourhood in your favourite city?

Every neighbourhood has its own charm, so I can’t really say.

What’s a recent book you’ve read?

People think I read a lot. Actually, I rarely finish a book. If it’s an English book, I usually read the last chapter; and if it’s a Chinese book, I usually read the first chapter.

What’s your latest Netflix binge?

The last movie I watched was a cartoon based on the ancient Chinese story, Legend of the White Snake. It’s about two snakes who become human, and how one has to go through the six stages of samsara to help save the other—but on a deeper level, it’s also talking about the journey of life.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My life. Everybody has one life—no more, no less.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

There’s no such thing as the ‘best’ advice. It’s never about the advice. It’s about what the advice provokes and triggers inside you. Maybe it’s not even an advice, but an action, reaction or passing comment. Whatever stimulates wisdom in you is the best advice—especially the unintentional moments. Those have always surprised me.

What drives you?

You don’t need any drive. There’s a difference between calling and mission. A calling is easy—you just need to surrender to it. If you’re on a mission, you’re going to get very tired. When you’re following your calling, you have a constant direction you’re going in—which some people might mistake for a mission—but to you, it’s pretty relaxing.

What’s your idea of happiness?

What makes me unhappy is more like the question. I respond to what’s going on outside. Sometimes that makes me sad, sometimes unhappy—or rather not unhappy, but emotional. Otherwise, we are naturally happy. Just be mindful of what makes you off-balance. Those are the areas you need to work on.

What’s your greatest vulnerability?

Everything. If you think about it, we’re always vulnerable. There’s only one truth in this world: change. We feel vulnerable because we’re uncomfortable with change. People think vulnerability is no good, but it is. It’s like the gym for courage. Courage is the ability to practice feeling vulnerable—knowing that it’s just a feeling—until you feel comfortable with change. That’s growth. It’ll make you a better risk and opportunity observer, to better manage the risk and focus on the opportunity.

Lastly—and this perhaps relates most to the theme of your latest book—what does it mean to be human?

A very good question. Humans are the most highly evolved beings on Earth. Of all the animals, we’re the most spiritual and creative, with the highest level of consciousness in the evolutionary chain.

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