Doorways to Wholeness

24 Feb 2021 (Day 13 of CNY)

“May your paths be smooth,” says the chinese blessing. These red temple door panels are more than 100 years old. My brother and I used to take turns to lock up the doors when the temple visiting hours ended.

I love taking pictures with doors and gates. They are symbols of invitation and transition.

Many years ago in a cab turning into Clementi Ave 6 on my way to work, I spotted a homeless dog lingering at the back gate of Park West Condominium.

I saw much longing in the way the animal tilted his/her head at the slip gate, as if hoping for someone to open it to let him/her in. I might be projecting my own need to belong on the dog. But till this day I continue to send prayers of comfort to the dog whenever my cab exits at Ave 6.

For as long as I remember, I rarely enter or exit a doorway mindlessly. In my childhood, like many kids, I could sense energy at doorways. I was a fairly sociable kid, but there were instances I felt great unease & reluctance to enter the homes of perfectly fine people.

“May you meet Happiness when you exit this door,” the chinese blessing says.

The only doorways I could enter with ease then were the ones leading into temples. I took and still take great delight in lifting one leg after another to cross over the raised temple threshold (门槛)that separates the secular world from the spiritual world.

Perhaps in sacred spaces of worship at some temples, churches and mosques, I feel complete as I am.

A photograph that captures a moment between 20 Chinese New Years for my young cousin and I. She has taken on the duty of photographing CNY moments ever since she acquired her own camera.

To be able to stand at the temple doors of my childhood year after year for 50 plus years, and feel its centering energy calling back all the fragments of my life is a blessing I’ve never taken for granted.

So may I take this chance to wish all friends and sentient beings, their very own special doors to wholeness & healing. 🙏

This picture of my cousin and I is very special to me because the photographer is my brother’s son. When my nephew was born, my sister-in-law invited me to name their child. That was 23 years ago. And this is the very door where my brother (the photographer’s dad) and I played at in our childhood. 😊

吉星高照 (ji xing gao zhao)

May the rays of the auspicious star shine brightly upon you.

18 Feb 2021 (Day 7 of Ox Year)

My affinity with auspicious Chinese sayings started in the temple days of my childhood half a century ago.

I did my English homework on the very table that my maternal grandpa wrote out words of blessings for people and for the gods.

It is always a delight to see this ancient tradition of displaying sacred words in black ink on vermillion papers alive in the modern homes of friends who are educated in the English medium.

So in the spirit of heritage, and in honour of our South East Asian birthplaces, may the aspiration of this beautiful calligraphy come true for you and all sentient beings.

🌈🙏🐾

Enduring Presence

22 02 2021

Each year on the 9th Day of the Chinese New Year, old folks turn up at the temple to observe the birthday of the Heavenly Deity.

They come from the neighbouring housing estates. Like members of a spent army which has braved too many wars, these silver haired devotees trudge on unsteadily and sometimes painfully, to celebrate and to give thanks.

Their uncompromising grit inspires younger devotees to rush to their aid. Someone offers to steady a tottering grandpa, and another helps a granny too shrunken to reach the urn to place her incense sticks.

This pair of Father and Son has been celebrating the Heavenly Deity’s birthday yearly. This year, the son has become a first time dad, making his own father a grandpa!

We are familiar with the adage that children are our future. However, it has to be the enduring presence of older folks who have lived through life’s every imaginable challenge and still remain thankful, that gives the younger generation guts to flourish in the future.

Ancestral Protection

2 Feb 2021

I welcomed 1 Feb 2021 by bringing home a pot of Desert Rose. This is one of my late father’s favourite plants. He was hugely successful in growing them. Till this day, the balcony of my mom’s little flat is a hanging garden of “Flowers of Abundance,” (Fu Gui Hua 富贵花)as the Desert Rose is known in chinese.

I was born in the Year of the Water Rabbit. This year my lunar birthday fell on 22nd Jan 2021.

My paternal Kinmen grandmother was 50 years old when I was born. I was her first grandchild. As a mother who had lost two daughters even before they turned 5 years old, my arrival must have felt as if one of her little girls was being returned to her.

Thus I was raised with much care, and given every chance to wear whatever beautiful clothes available to children of my neighbourhood.

On the same day as I gave thanks for my birth, I was happy to see a Facebook feed from Kinmen Blog explaining the origin of my grandmother’s surname, 翁 (pronounced as “weng.”)

One of my dominant childhood memories was of her pointing out the chinese character of her surname on her citizenship document, and getting me to pronounce it accurately. That could have been the first chinese word I laid eyes on.

Full Moon rising on the old city of Houpu, Kinmen Island, Taiwan.

I made my first trip to my grandmother’s birthplace on her behalf in 2019 and walked the streets she might have played on in her childhood.

At the doorway of an ancestral shrine belonging to the descendants who share the same family name as my grandmother.

As I stood under the golden brush strokes bearing my grandmother’s family name above the entrance of one of the many ancestral shrines that dotted the island, I felt energised.

Perhaps there’s a reason for my deep affinity with black ink strokes against vermillion & scarlet, and gold characters against black. What may appear tacky to some feels like home to me.

I think when ancestor veneration is forbidden or discouraged in the name of progress, religion or politics, we lose our connection to the wisdom and protection of our forebears.

And for me this loss can never be compensated by promises of power or paradise.

Ollie and the map of Kinmen Island.

Ancient Patterns

28 Jan 2021

On the morning of the final full moon of the Year of the Rat, Emmanuel the Cat slumbers on.

He dreams of Sumerian cuneiforms, Egyptian hieroglyphs and pictographs of the past as he tallies up his lives’ scores.

The distinct letter ‘M’ marking on his velvety forehead that extends all the way to the top of his head and separates into wispy lines down the back of his neck like some elaborate headdress lends the sleeping cat a majestic air.

Perhaps Emmanuel had been a prince.

Emmanuel’s kohl lined eyes, bib of pristine white, ringed limbs and white socks also evoke a priestly presence.

Perhaps this cat was a priest before, and all the ring markings on his furry limbs were bangles he wore for ritual purposes in a bygone era.

Or perhaps this now portly feline had been a prisoner, and the ring markings were once ropes that bound him to suffering.

As I look at the blissful form breathing in the morning breeze, I get the feeling that whether Emmanuel had been a prince, a priest or a prisoner in the past, one thing is for sure.

And that is, someone from his past must have loved him & did all that was required that have resulted in his current life of relative ease.

Birthdays

25 January 2021

Gold letterings say “Happy Birthday” in mandarin on my 57th Birthday yesterday. (24 Jan 2021). Ollie is not impressed.

Yesterday and today, I felt all the love and birthday wishes from near and far. There were texts, fb messages and even a voice mail from the desert.

This time last year I celebrated my birthday with caution. We were facing a world wide health threat and closer to home in Singapore, a family was grieving over the loss of their son in the military.

Birthday in my 20s with my first batch of students. We were staying in a bungalow in a remote part of Changi so I don’t know how the cake got there.

Sagging body parts and pigmentation spots or not, aging allows us to reflect on our thoughts and actions, to give thanks for mercies shown and to atone for offenses made.

Surprise Birthday in my 30s. A lovely child brought a cake to school and kept it in the refrigerator of the school canteen operator till we could eat it during recess.

Through their words and deeds, students, friends and family have indulged in my many whims and flaws, and point me the way to generosity & forgiveness.

So here’s wishing them back all the good that they’ve been to me, while I shall try not to disappoint, but do my very best to grow into a gracious old lady.

Hard boiled eggs dyed red given by my 77 year old mother to celebrate my 57th birthday this time.

May All meet Wisdom and Compassion in all stages of Life, so that every encounter may become a doorway to Grace.

40th Birthday celebration with Peaches, symbol of longevity and aspirations for divinity.

New Moon Mandala of Heavenly Ease

13 January 2021

May the new moon’s heavenly presence ease our burdens, for our benefit and for the benefit of all sentient beings.

May we meet all worldly obstacles with the Light of wisdom, compassion & courage, so that we do not transfer our hardship onto others, but learn to adapt to all circumstances with heavenly ease.

At Heavenly Ease

13 Jan 2021 (New Moon)

I’ve been looking at chubby monk clay figurines for some time. And last Friday, a catholic artist gave this to me.

Yesterday the service staff in his early 50s was struggling with the cash register at the cafe I was having a meal. He might have found the multitude of payment methods these days rather overwhelming.

It didn’t help that the patron before me had left the transaction midway to make an urgent call outside. She said she would come & get her card later.

In between attending to her & handling my order, the older worker might have made an error while keying in the details. As a result he needed his colleague, a lady in her 30s to unlock the cash register for him to proceed.

When the younger staff appeared to rectify the mistake, the older staff was as apologetic as he was nervous. I also saw in the “rectifier’s” face some tension. Perhaps this was her break time. Or perhaps her elderly colleague had made the same mistake too often. And maybe she was shoring up her defense in anticipation of my complaint of poor service etc.

The giver of this chubby monk clay figurine is coincidentally an artist who works with glass.

Before the tension escalated further, I offered what I think should be my most benevolent smile at the nervous pair, and said very deliberately, “Don’t worry. Take your time to sort this out. I have time.”

In hindsight, I realised simply saying, “I have time,” causes our facial features to light up. 😄🙏

As soon as my words left my mouth, the energy threatening to suffocate us in that tight little triangle around the cash register dissipated. The younger staff lost her frown as she smiled awkwardly back at me. I could feel the relief emanating from the older staff as he looked at me gratefully.

This glass figurine of Avalokithesvara seated in heavenly ease pose has been with me for years. The chubby monk clay figurine in the same pose was given to me recently.

And in that moment I felt so rich, not because of having money, but because I had averted a potential conflict. My refusal to get irritated might even help restore some confidence in the man trying to navigate the digital maze at his age.

I love looking at the portrayal of Avalokithesvara seated in heavenly ease pose. And maybe some of that peaceful energy has rubbed off on me.

So on this new moon day, may I wish all my friends and sentient beings, the heavenly ease of Avalokithesvara in your daily encounters.

May we be at ease, so that others can be at ease too. 🙏🌈🐾