2021 Asian Regional Conference on Covid-19 and the Givens of Existence:
An Asian Transnational Dialogue About Regional Response

August 21-22, 2021

Welcome to the 2021 Asian Regional Conference on Covid-19 and the Givens of Existence:  An Asian Transnational Dialogue About Regional Response. The International Institute of Existential Humanistic Psychology and HELP University Malaysia is pleased to invite you to participate in a unique online conference titled Covid-19 and the Givens of Existence – An Asian Transnational Dialogue about Regional Response.  As the name of the conference suggests, the conference will bring together existential thinkers and practitioners across Asia from a variety of existential orientations to present and dialogue about how various geographical regions have responded to the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Each of the presenters will be asked to discuss how the Covid-19 pandemic has enriched their understanding of existential psychology and how their particular geographical region has dealt with the pandemic, including how the various wisdom traditions of their culture have helped with coping.   In line with the concurrent International Conference which will be taking place during the month of August, the presenters will focus upon the following four existential givens, which serve as the main themes of the International Conference:  Freedom, Finitude, Relatedness, and Meaning.

Conference Schedule

Click on each photo for more information regarding each presenter

09:30

COVID-19 Has Not Turned My Life Upside Down; It Has Turned It Inside Out

There was a sense of homecoming for Magdalen when she learnt of the opportunity to pursue Existential Therapy in London. However, chasing this dream meant sacrificing stability for a future that was uncertain. After all, existential psychotherapy carries a scarce presence in Singapore, where she lives. Still, displaying much courage, she embarked on a road less travelled. Six years later, Magdalen is closer to finding her voice, becomes a researcher on authenticity and accepts her calling to introduce existential therapy to in her home town. She plans to start her private practice and settle down as a Mrs. 2020 should have been an exciting year. Then COVID landed. As expected, Singapore has taken on an authoritarian response to the situation. How does living in Singapore at this time impact on the dreams and plans of this Asian woman? How has the country’s response to COVID re-shape her position on existential ideas like authenticity and freedom? In the end, 2020 turned out to still be an exciting year, just different.

Magdalene Cheng, M.A. (Singapore)

10:15

Courage and Resilience in the Middle Space: A Filipino’s Perspective on Grief and the Philippines’ Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

What meaning and purpose could a pandemic have for us when it brings so much suffering and loss?  The year 2020 was to be filled with meaning and joy.  Yet when Covid-19 arrived, retreats and reunions were replaced with loss and sorrow.  The government inconsistent response was filled with confusion and the pressure to portray resilience. Politicizing the pandemic, disseminating misinformation, prioritizing the economy over and above science and physical and mental health, created significant distrust amongst the people.  Media personality were also complicit through the distribution of fake news resulting in public mistrust, belief in pseudoscience, mistrust of healthcare workers, vaccine hesitancy, and the discrimination of Covid-19 patients and their families. What can the Philippines learn or gain from living through the pandemic?  What lessons are available when one has the courage and resilience to stay in the middle space – that space where one stays with the difficulty and pain while maintaining the capacity to ask what message exists when there is so much suffering and loss?

Vincent Evangelisa
Vincent Thomas Evangelista, M.A. (Cebu, Philippines)

11:00

Break

11:10

Freedom Lost, Freedom Regained: How I Situate Myself in a Divided City (Hong Kong) with the Impact of COVID-19

The past two years have not been easy for Hong Kongers, with the political strife dividing the city of Hong Kong into opposition and polarization, COVID-19 compounds the impact by reminding us of the transitoriness of life. What further complicates the situation is the emphasis of political stance: governmental policy against COVID-19 was interpreted as conspiracy, social media selectively reporting ‘news’ according to their political presences, and people digesting information through their tainted glasses of political beliefs. Our freedom is not only limited by the threat brought along by the virus, or the isolation induced from different kinds of restricting policy, but also our own imposing limits that hinders our freedom of choice. The combination of COVID-19 and the current sociopolitical atmosphere shattered the sense of meaning for many people in Hong Kong, including the presenter.  Therefore, the presenter will also discuss his own personal experience of losing his sense of freedom and how this experience was clouded with anger, confusion and despair.  At the same time, the struggle has also led the presenter to reacknowledge his personal and spiritual freedom. 

Arthur Cheuk-Man Li, Psy.D. (Hong Kong)

11:50

The Uncertainty of the Epidemic Leaves Us in the Midst of Impermanence

In his article “Death in Everyday Life,” Trungpa Rinpoche wrote, “We have all grown up in a culture that fears and hides the truth about death.  Yet nevertheless, we experience death all around us.”

From the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 till now, the world remains in uncertain turmoil. We do not know when we will be immune to the virus, nor do we know when we will be able to travel freely, unimpeded.  In many cultures, death is a taboo subject. Though in China we are taught off and on from an early age about death and impermanence.  Among the traditional Chinese festivals, there is Qingming Festival and the “Ghost Festival” to remember those who have been lost. We also use these ceremonies to express our remembrance and learn how to face impermanence. The Buddhist scriptures also talk about the impermanence of all actions. All existence in this world is impermanent, and nothing is immutable. The earliest reference to “impermanence” is found in the I Ching, and impermanence is strongly emphasized in the Chinse culture. 

The existentialist psychologist Irvin Yalom wrote about the loss of passion for life when death is denied. Yet when we begin to confront and contemplate these issues, it inevitably leads to “anxiety” and “fear”. Covid-19 can be understood as a “border/awakening experience” as proposed by Yalom, challenging us to face how we exist in the world.

As psychologists, we have experienced numerous changes in our clinical practice in the aftermath of the epidemic. Our clients’ occupational, emotional, and family life situations are impacted by the pandemic.  Under such conditions, how can we be more grounded, both within ourselves and in our work with our clients, is something that all of us psychologists need to deeply reflect upon and explore.

Gracee Luo (Chengdu, China)

12:30

Lunch Break