In our village home at Covent Garden along one of the Singapore canals, there was a fallen tree trunk by the doorway. Depending on who was using it, it was sometimes a bench and sometimes a table.
The tree trunk of nearly black wood was often my grandma’s work bench.
On it my grandma could often be seen crafting her much sought after anklets and necklaces made from embroidery threads of 5 colours.
These “Five Coloured Threads,” or “ngoh sek sua,” as they are called in our minnan dialect, were meant for babies and toddlers, especially those who cried for no apparent reason at night.
Judging by the visits of parents to our home, grandma’s handiworks must have some positive outcomes.
My grandma had suffered unexplained losses in her life. Yet she could provide this support to her community willingly & cheerfully, as she rolled the 5 threads representing the 5 elements into one wearable work of Peace to soothe a restless baby and to calm an anxious parent.
Years later when I wear rudraskha beads on my wrist and pass them over the head or back of animals as I pat them, my grandma’s hands were on me.
And who have known that my grandma’s simple blending of the elements to make peace would prepare me for my affinity with prayers flags 40 plus years later in Nepal?
Oliver came to sit on my lap during morning prayers.
Half way through my mala beads, the sky darkened, the wind rose and the rain fell. It was bright & sunny just a while ago!
I resisted the urge to get up and rush about to shut the windows in my home.
“What if the wind sends in more dust?”
“What if the rain wets my study table?”
The what ifs were threatening to unseat me.
Meanwhile, Oliver, the Grandmaster of Sleep, continued to nestle more comfortably on my lap, paying no heed as the sky darkened further and the wind swooshed about, sending hangers in the balcony clattering.
After I decided to let them be, I realised maybe Rain and Wind had come to assist me to scatter my prayers further to reach more sentient beings! It was a precious moment in my practice.
With that thought in mind, I stay put and completed the morning dedication.
By the time the prayer ended, the rain had also stopped and the sun appeared again. It was all so brief!
Oliver did not protest when I put the mala beads over his neck. He simply went onto another cane chair and continued his morning nap. 😄
I thought of the occasions when non-action was my only option.
For example, holding an umbrella while walking is not possible for me. And when a light drizzle suddenly becomes a downpour in the midst of a traffic light crossing, I cannot run. But I’ve had strangers offering to share their umbrellas with me.
Then there are times I cannot make the crossing from the steps of a bus to the kerb. One time a youth with tattoos from his arm to his neck gave me his hand.
We’re often told to take initiatives, to be proactive, to solve problems, to eat lunch or be lunch, but sometimes staying put or not having any option, IS the way out.
So my wish is, if anyone is feeling trapped or lost, may he or she not panic and seek unhealthy distractions, but to try & stay put with the situation, because a solution could be just round the corner. 🙏
In mid April 2020, in the midst of lockdowns and stockpiling frenzy, a friend’s beloved dog passed away in the Middle East.
In her grief, my friend found lighting tealights, butter lamps and candles deeply comforting. She was also a little concerned that her supply was running low. Travel restrictions and curfews also made it hard for her to make purchases.
On 23 April I mailed her a box of butter lamps. My intention was for them to lift her spirit from the darkness of loss and to light a path for her departed Nepalese dog child.
It took a long time for the parcel of light to reach her. It had to first leave Singapore to go to the USA, and from there, it then made its way to the Middle East.
Two days ago, more than a month later, the butter lamps finally arrived at my friend’s home in the desert.
When she opened the parcel, it was also Day 49 of her dog’s passing.
Today on full moon eve and on the Tibetan holy day of Saka Dawa, my friend in the Middle East raises one butter lamp from Singapore for her Nepalese dog son. She puts it in a holder that has followed them from his country of birth.
I like to think that the butter lamps that I sent out on account of a humble dog must have blessed many postal workers and handlers as they passed oceans and deserts in time for his 49th day observation.
And I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious timing for my friend’s gloom to be lifted as she celebrates her beloved companion’s entry into the full moon and into Saka Dawa.
May we continue to be Bearers of Light for one another, regardless of what forms we take and what kind of crossings we make.
I didn’t witness the stalking nor the hunting. But the little black cat, crouching by the dead bird on the pavement in the midday sun were some tell-tale signs that I might have just chanced upon the aftermath of a hunt.
Arms folded under his velvety chest, the round headed feline, barely out of kitten hood himself, seemed stunned at how quickly he had brought his prey down.
He scampered off as I got closer, probably afraid that I would hurt him. But I wasn’t even going to chastise him because a cat’s instinct is to hunt.
It was very unfortunate that this bird, still a fledgeling herself, met her end so soon. Her soft feathers of black, green & yellow were not yet fully grown. Parts of her delicate skin were still visible under the downs. I found out later that she was a Black-naped Oriole.
Could this have been her first attempt at flying? Or did a strong gust of wind toss her in the direction of the cat waiting below? Or did she know her time was up & offered herself to be hunted? But most of all was she frightened during her last moments?
She was bleeding from the beak, indicating something inside her was broken. The rest of her 100 gram or so body was still intact as I picked her up from the pavement with tissue papers.
“You’ve just died. But don’t be scared. You’re not alone.” I communicated my thoughts to her.
I didn’t save her life, but I could at least make her last memories on earth a little less traumatic. As far as I understand it, death is not an easy experience even if we know it is inevitable.
So I brought her home and placed her facing the sky & windhorses. Then I lit incense to purify her trauma and a butter lamp to light her way.
I anointed her feathered head with essential oils to purify her mind, and asked her to forgive the cat and go in peace.
A sprig of flowers from the red radish plant was placed on her heart to purify fear.
And between her perfectly formed talons which hadn’t been to many places yet, she held a rose, so that in her next birth she will walk freely without mishaps.
All was peaceful and quietly completed.
During the lunar new year a month ago I was intrigued by the gold & red offering papers for invoking spirit horses to send gods on journeys. I bought some just for fun.
And now these Spirit Horses would accompany the Oriole home.
In the evening, I wrapped them in a khata and buried the bird under a young tree, with my mother’s help.
I’ve named the bird, Beauty, because this was the word that kept coming to mind as I prepared the Oriole’s body for its return to Mother Earth.