Hand on Heart

10 May 2020

“Ms Ong, is that Mother Mary?” a young voice rang out during zoom tuition.

The kids on zoom saw the painting of the Madonna behind me as I adjusted my notebook.

“Yes, she’s the Perfect Mother. She knows when to hold on and when to let go,” I explained.

When I assured the kids that Mother is always watching our zoom meetings, the girls smiled and one of the boys started singing, “Let it Be.”

To soothe a fearful child or animal, we often hold them close to our chest. And babies and animals often place their hands or paws on the heart area of those who are cuddling them.

It’s an honour to have one’s heart physically touched like this, and perhaps even healed.

So hand on heart, on this Mothers’ Day, may I wish that all male & female hearts be touched and healed of all imbalances, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of all sentient beings. 🙏🌈🐾

Life Affirming Ways

12 March 2020

Last week, after a dinner of porridge, we stopped by a neighbourhood housing estate to buy some fruits.

An elderly lady came by with her happy little Jack Russell on leash. I smiled at her & greeted her dog to show that I had no issue with her dog brushing against me as we crossed path.

As they walked ahead, I heard shrieks. They were from 3 young children who seemed to suddenly appear from nowhere.

In unbridled delight, the Little Humans huddled around the Jack Russell as the owner stopped in her track to let her dog meet his/her fans. Parents followed to supervise their offspring’s canine interaction .

While the adults chatted, the kids looked adoringly at the dog, each seeking for a cuddle with the Jack Russell.

After the Jack Russell, we chanced upon a Red Poodle sitting pretty like a toy in traditional wedding shop. Her tiny yelps alerted her owner, who was mending a quilt, to our presence. Not to be outdone, Red Poodle’s little sister, Snowy, joined in the barking.

We laughed in amusement at the cuddly burglar alarms taking their guarding duty so earnestly.

Seeing that we were not afraid of her dogs, the proprietress of the wedding shop, Ms Clara Pay, invited us in.

The Red Poodle took an immediate liking to El and had eyes only for him throughout our time there.

Snowy was a bit more selective and hesitated before leaving her basket to check us out.

Meanwhile, our eyes feasted on the splashes of red & gold of the traditional bridal paraphernalia in the shop. They had an energising effect on the viewers, and facilitated the flow of conversation between us and the shop owner.

In between asking her dogs to stop barking, Clara shared her interest in handicrafts with us and spoke candidly about her overseas travels. She visited traditional craft fairs where she learnt new skills and came home inspired.

A Malay couple passing by paused outside the shop to smile at the poodle sisters. They waved back when we waved at them.

El asked about the lacquered baskets on the top shelves and learnt that they were antique wedding baskets. Some of these black, red & gold pieces painted with auspicious symbols had found their way to Clara after their original owners who had lived a long & rich life passed on.

She restores the baskets if needed, displays them and safe keeps them till these heralds of joy find new owners who can appreciate them all over again.

On the surface, Clara may seem like an ordinary Singaporean woman running a traditional bridal shop in an ordinary housing board estate in the west.

Clara & I happened to share similar sounding Chinese names. She is 素珍 (su zhen) while I’m 淑贞 (shu xhen).

But to me she’s an important custodian of heirlooms of people unrelated to her. Her shop holds pieces of someone else’s personal histories & memories, much like how she mends and stitches together the tears on the old quilt on her glass counter top.

So even as life can be fragile and uncertain, there are people not necessarily medically trained, such as little children who gush over a Jack Russell, and Clara, who runs a bridal shop, affirming life in their own exuberant and quiet ways all the time.

Of Turquoise & Rainbow

12 Feb 2020

The turquoise stone necklace from Nepal. Turquoise is cherished among Tibetans, First Nation Peoples, Egyptians and many old cultures for its many healing & spiritual purposes.

Today I wore my necklace of turquoise stones from Nepal to an animal shelter in Singapore. My friend had invited me to join her for some volunteering work there.

Turquoise is called the Sky Stone by Tibetans. It has many healing properties. By having turquoise on me, I wanted to remind myself to constantly project vibes of health & vitality, and not pity on the animals that I saw or touched. And of course I also wanted to look good and dress up for the cats and dogs.

Like most animal shelters, this one is located in a fairly remote part of Sg. Volunteering is a commitment that requires planning, time and travelling.

Not one to take such an opportunity lightly, we decided to dedicate today’s work at the shelter to my friend’s late brother. He had set an example of kindness to animals for his younger sister during their growing up years.

When he was studying in JC (Junior College), he rescued a kitten. He was the first in her family to persuade their parents to adopt a dog. And because of him, their home has become a refuge for a number of animals over the years.

Upon our arrival at the shelter we met a young man who was there on his own. Daryl had just completed JC and wanted to spend his time helping animals.

When my friend’s brother rescued his first kitten years ago, he was around the same age as this volunteer, Daryl. ♥️

So the morning went by with us unwrapping metal frames, hooking them to each enclosure to increase vertical space for the cats, and slipping pillow cases over the frames to form beddings for the feline occupants to sleep comfortably above ground.

“Hurry up, housekeeper! Make my bed!” Miss Tortoiseshell urged.
Our labour gave the shelter operator who is on 24/7 a bit of rest, and freed up time for the more experienced volunteers to tend to the cats’ feeding & cleaning needs.

A few were trying to climb onto their midair contraptions even as their “housekeepers” were still making their beds.

When the beddings were secured, the cats took to their mini airmocks with gratitude.

A very talented dessert chef also came to make the beds for animals! She brought SWEETNESS to the shelter.

Meanwhile, the rain came, followed by the glorious sun.

This little calico girl demanded cuddles from everyone.

Towards tea time, every single cat that was visible to us was acknowledged. Eye contact, smiles, head rubs, cuddles and wishes of healing were given & received.

This shy one came closer and put her face against the wire netting for some contact after hearing the steady intonation of the prayer of compassion.
This ginger baby and his mom were rescued from culling at a resort. May business owners be kind and wise to all sentient beings, not just to the ones that can talk and pay.
Even the more nervous kitties stood their ground, calmly facing us as we spoke softly to them.

And the kitties in hiding would have felt our goodwill, for the whole shelter was bathed in a golden afternoon light when our mission was completed.

After the shelter, we stopped by a cafe for some needed hydration & reflection. The cafe was located in a garden nursery with very strong balinese landscape features.

We took pictures with the balinese stone carvings of dancers and frangipani, and the Rainbow showed up to join us. Of course there are scientific and technical explanation for its appearance in the photos. But we were thrilled with the unexpectedness of it all, as if we had been bestowed some divine blessings even as we were simply having fun.

The Rainbow is a much loved symbol in many cultures. It is ever present even if we’re not consciously seeking it.

When I got home later in the evening I checked a text that was sent from Nepal during our time at the shelter.

The text came with a picture.

“Lisa, what’s this?” Reena texted. I lost this turquoise earring in the hills of Hatibaan. We searched outside and inside of Reena’s car. Her driver nearly took the car seats apart. But the earring refused to show. Now months later, it appeared.

It showed my Nepali host, Reena, holding on her palm, one half of the turquoise earrings that matched the necklace I wore today. I had lost that earring last December in Nepal.

And just this morning I was wondering if I would ever see the missing half of my earrings again.

The surprise emergence of a little turquoise after being lost for months seemed to be showing me that what is spoken or thought of with love can never be completely lost.

And this thought encourages me to dedicate whatever remaining time and energy I have to seemingly “lost” causes.

It also strengthens my habit of performing deeds of relief in the name of people and animals that have left this earthly realm.

Like the Rainbow that arches over us, we are constantly held and supported by the sacred presence of those we love.

“Run to the Rescue with Love, and Peace will follow.” – River Phoenix, the late brother of Joachim Phoenix.

First Bloom in My Home

29 Jan 2020 (5th Day of CNY)

Yesterday I hosted my first ever canine guest in the Year of the Rat at my home.

Overnight a little pink flower bloomed.

With the heavy rain all day today, I’m not sure if the flower can take the cold.

And yet amidst news of contagions & quarantines this lil’ wisp of a flower has chosen to unfold.

As tiny as she is, this delicate messenger has petals which she unrolls bit by bit, without haste and almost unnoticeable, giving me hope that the simplest prayers that we make for healing and reconciliation with Nature will be heard & answered. 🙏

Canine Blessings for the Rat Year

28 January 2020 (4th Day of CNY)

Nicki Ning-en with a rat toy.

My friend brought her adopted dog to my home for Chinese New Year visit today.

Dog approves of cny cake.

Dog girl looking at Windhorse Prayer Flags for the first time in her life. (4th Day of CNY, 28 Jan 2020)

At only 8 month old and of a slight built, Nicki Ning-en strutted about my home, sniffed around and made sonorous barks at the cats. Her 20 black nails and kohl-lined eyes gave her a touch of gothic vibes.

Black nails are cool especially when you don’t have to paint them.

Oliver the Cat hid behind the washing machine, wondering when this lanky girl would leave. Behind the glass door of the cat room, plump Hakim sat cross-pawed, daring Niki Ning-en to come closer.

Nicki Ning-en raising her head to look at Avalokithesvera and Ganesha.

Satisfied with her exploration, the girl dog lay down contentedly on the floor by the altar while raising her head briefly to look up at Avalokithesvara (Compassion) and Ganesha (Wisdom).

She had also chosen to relax on the same spot where Shoya, my dog, transited into Light in 5 years ago.

I smiled at the way she seemed so at ease resting on Shoya’s space.

Perhaps being born on an industrial site, losing her own mother, taken to the pound and living so close to death had given this dog an extra ability to sense peace.

As I gave Nicki Ning-en her Chinese New Year red packet, I wished her good health and a long life to accompany her human mommy for a long time.🌈🐾

To give or not to give

13 Jan 2020

It had been on my mind since last December to contribute to the veterinary bills of a shelter dog called Dahua.

Because of my other long term financial commitments in animal relief, I wasn’t sure if I have enough to make a small once off contribution to her vet bills that have amounted to slightly more than 5k.

On Boxing Day 2019, this 9-year-old girl dog survived a surgery to remove a growth in her spleen. The next day she had two cardiac arrests and she was gone.

Dahua was the sole survivor of dog poisoning that killed her mom & siblings. Although much loved by her rescuers and shelter caregivers who took her on adoption drives, she never got adopted.

The shelter has been posting appeals for donation to cover Dahua’s vet bills. I wanted to help but was unsure if I should since I only have a part-time income.

So I made a wish as my birthday was near. I wished that whatever cash gifts I get, they will go to animal relief work.

But I would have to give first.

Yet this morning at the ATM, I hesitated. I wanted to transfer $200 to the shelter for Dahua, but ended up giving $130 instead, for fear of not having enough for myself.

After that I did some grocery shopping, making sure I bought just what I would eat. I did however, buy 4 red Chinese radish to welcome Spring. 😄

Ollie welcomes the red chinese radish.

On my walk home from the supermarket, I stopped by the park bench for a rest & saw a mynah picking up twigs to build her nest. The bird got me thinking of the pregnant mouse found by May Sarton, still holding in her paws bits of straws for her unfinished nest as she lay dead from ingesting poison laid out by farmers. My thoughts went naturally to Dahua again as she had been poisoned when she was a puppy.

What humans casually consider as pest or strays have very real life & death struggles of their own.

As I was sitting there thinking about these animals’ often unseen and hard lives, I received a message from my bank:

“So-and-so would like to send you SGD 200.00. Use the passcode provided by him/her to accept this amount at…”

Is this a hoax?

I texted my friend whose name was on the bank’s message for confirmation.

Indeed the SGD200.00 was from her. She wanted me to use the money in any way I deemed fit for animals.

I was teary. Less than 2 hours ago, I was lingering at the ATM, wondering if somebody like me with reduced earnings, and aging, was still in the position to donate $200 to help an animal.

“God told me to send the money,” my friend texted. She had been very busy at work. But divine intervention had led her to make the money transfer at the period when I was asking if my giving would deplete me.

My friend and I are from different spiritual backgrounds. She’s been questioning God’s existence and the teachings of her religious community. She felt that her role in the giving episode was a gentle reminder that her faith hasn’t been in vain and her relationship with the invisible God is real.

And I learnt now faith is not really about the absence of doubts nor the presence of unquestioned obedience. Or feeling capable and being in-charge.

Faith for me is perhaps the constant practice of testing & forging ahead, guided by the practice of kindness to the most vulnerable, despite the doubts & uncertainties at the back of my mind.

Dahua trusted her caregivers, and in faith they had put her through the surgery.

The dog’s physical life may have ended on 27 December 2019. But less than a month later on 13 Jan 2020, she has become the portal through which two friends felt the giving hands of the Divine.

What a well-lived life!

Dahua being loved and giving love.

Order and Chaos; Clean and Unclean.

19 Dec 2019

With its chaotic traffic, massive swirls of wires hanging above ground, crumbling buildings and air pollution, Kathmandu is not a place that readily comes to mind when one is thinking of retreat and rest.

On my way to the washroom I looked up and saw this. El took this picture for me.
Framed by the temple door, I felt balanced and secure. (Golden Temple, Patan. Dec 2019)

Yet, in the midst of the valley’s madness, intricately carved and perfectly symmetrical woodworks & stoneworks adorned doorways and windows, creating an air of unmatched serenity and inspiring me to seek alignment from within.

From this valley of unpredictability, where power cuts happen regularly unannounced, craftsmen go about calmly setting semi precious stones against impossibly detailed & highly decorative silver works of filigree.

Perhaps this constant practice of melting, cutting, shaping and welding metals to minerals to create objects of beauty has alchemised in these workers a high tolerance for the ugliness of difficult customers, exploitative employers and other hardships.

Then there are the buddhist arts (tangka) drawn free hand in such breathtaking precision and with such a pleasing balance of colours that the seller has to keep reminding us with great pride, “this not machine made…this MADE BY MAN,” as we stared in mute wonder, at the scroll he unveiled before us while cars honked impatiently behind us.

I saw this spritely grandma circumambulating the stupa in the midday sun in 2018. This year in 2019, I spotted her among the pilgrims, but she was too fast for me to take a picture with. So I gave up the idea completely. But my wish was fulfilled when we wandered into an alley to look at tibetan fabrics and she walked right into our path!
We took tea at Jamuna’s shop at Chetraparti. This dog named Jammy came to visit when we were looking at dear Kali who is now 15 years old.

Like the mangy fur of a dog that holds a clean heart, Kathmandu has shown me that using observable evidence to appraise someone’s inner world or history may be convenient and even natural, but it’s still not the truth.

Kathmandu forces me to cover my nose, slap on sunblock, drink only boiled water and take other safety precautions, while liberating me from prejudices and insularity at the same time.

I’m deeply honoured to have been allowed to visit Nepal year after year since 2011.

Namaste. Tashi Delek.

🙏🌈🐾