Each week day morning for the past 30 odd years, a single question filled me with dread. And that is, “Will I be able to get a taxi to school on time?”
And I cannot even describe the existential crisis that awaited me on rainy days.
Pre-Grab App mornings, my senses were attuned to only ONE thing. And that is, the automated response from the taxi company handling my booking.
I was all dead to morning birdsongs as my whole being was focused on listening for the robotic voice to tell me the car number of the taxi assigned to me.
With Grab App, my eyes were glued to the iphone screen, tracking the rush hour cab rates & availability, while trying not to hyperventilate. Some days I felt as if my heart would just stop and I might black out on my way to the cab.
With so much going on in my mornings, I never really noticed the Sun.
If I made it to school on time for the morning assembly, my thoughts would be on whether I could log onto the digital attendance marking platform, or whether a student had brought the letter of excuse or medical certificate after the umpteenth reminder. And if I still couldn’t log on by then, I needed to update the support staff asap about the attendance. Missing the cut-off time would raise questions about my efficiency or duty of care as a teacher.
The Sun’s warmth on those mornings felt like a thousand needles poking on my neck and back.
But eversince I stopped working full time, I started noticing how each morning, the Sun reveals his gentle presence in my home bit by bit, setting my flat aglow with gold while doing so.
A shaft of light against the wardrobe, a set of gold rectangles on the floor and speckled shimmers on a cat’s fur all announce the Sun’s arrival!
This morning, a friend gave me a ride to the temple on his way to work in town. The Lunar New Year festivities will be ending in a few days’ time. And while our lives and plans are affected negatively by the novel corona virus, I thought I should at least use some of my dearly bought time to dedicate prayers.
After I got off my friend’s car, I didn’t have to rush for my appointment with God. I was able to sit on one of the benches along NAFA Campus and steady my legs before making my way to a vegetarian breakfast and then for prayers across the street.
I think I’ve spent the best years of my youth not seeing the Sun because I was trying to hold down a job.
So with whatever years I still have, I hope to be able to keep my meetings with the Sun and other natural elements. And it’s great that for most of these appointments, there’s no need to take a cab.
Today being a high holiday, I thought it’s good to raise a new set of windhorse prayer flags. They are called lungta in Tibetan & originated in the shamanic cultures of east asia.
Each coloured flag representing each of the 5 elements has a horse and prayer inscriptions printed on it.
Blue for the sky, white for air, red for fire, yellow for earth and green for water.
One of the beliefs regarding the purpose of windhorse flags agrees with my practice. And it is that as the prayer flags flutter in the wind, all the auspicious words printed on them are carried by the windhorse energy towards all sentient beings in all directions.
I started raising these prayer flags in hope of blessing & protecting homeless dogs & cats living in the industrial areas near my home.
Later on I started dedicating prayers of safety to their human feeders as well.
On the recent reunion dinner evening, an elderly feeder was busily cooking for “her” factory dogs when I dropped by her home to hand her a small donation.
Her home was beautifully decorated to welcome the Year of the Rat. This dog feeder has a husband, grown up kids and grandkids. She thinks cooking to feed the factory dogs is as important as cooking the reunion dinner for her family.
Her dedication renewed my interest in prayer flags.
There are also slaughter houses near my home. It is my intention that the consciousness of each duck, each chicken, each pig, each goat, each lamb each cow and each animal being that is killed be free from terror as the windhorse guides it towards an auspicious beginning.
And may the windhorse prayers also lead us to act kindly, wisely and calmly as we learn to placate the flu elements without causing further harm to ourselves and to all sentient beings.
I first learnt of Barry Lopez maybe 10-15 years ago while reading up on issues related to animals & conservation. At that time I was trying to read “Of Wolves and Men” by him but somehow his language eluded me.
But still, each time I visit a bookshop, his name would catch my eye and I would find myself saying an inward hello.
The day after this new moon, an interview of Barry Lopez by Vincent J Miller popped up on my FB feed. So I read it, counting on the fact that words from an interview might be more accessible to me.
It was a long interview called “The Literary Landscape of Barry Lopez.” And every word from him felt like God speaking to me!
After I recovered from the near spiritual experience, I felt compelled to share Lopez’s interview with two friends. One is still on his pilgrimage at La Verna where St Francis of Assisi received his Stigmata and the other will be taking a retreat in a Cistercian Monastery two days after I leave for Nepal.
The La Verna pilgrim texted back to say he would be drawing on Lopez’s interview to close his journey.
The Cistercian pilgrim thanked me for the share and he’ll be reading the interview as part of his preparation for the retreat.
Their responses rekindled my courage to read Lopez, especially now that his new book “Horizon” was available at the Jurong East Regional Library.
I was completing some errands at Clementi Mall when the thought of borrowing “Horizon” came. I resisted the urge to make a reservation and told myself if I was meant to read it, it would still be there by the time I took the train and walked to the library.
When I got to the library, I looked up “Horizon” on their online catalogue & noted its call number on paper.
As I was walking to the lift and trying to visualise where the shelf that held “Horizon” might be, I asked a library staff for direction.
“You just take a seat & wait here, I’ll bring you the book,” the young lady offered enthusiastically!
In no time time she was back. She smiled triumphantly as she placed a beautiful blue book in my hands.
When I opened the book, the first thing that greeted my eyes was a painting with the Himalayan Mountains as its backdrop. The painting, known as “Remember,” was by Nicholas Roerich, who spent time among the Himalayas.
I’m heading for Nepal in a weeks’ time and I couldn’t have hoped for a more suitable book to begin this trip.
And this whole experience feels that forces beyond my understanding were collaborating to assist my learning.
So I wish for everyone the grace to remember past aspirations & the faith & patience to wait for the alignment of causes & conditions to bring their aspirations to fruition.
“I want to draw the devil!” the lanky boy replied as he studied my reaction. I had asked him if he would like to do art since he wasn’t in a mood to do English work.
He had been having one altercation after another since morning.
During English class a casual request from his fellow classmate to fill up his drinking bottle had easily spiralled downwards into a shouting match of vulgarities.
It’s difficult to imagine this doe-eyed individual capable of setting fire to public property. But then again there’s also an African saying that goes, “An unloved child will set fire to the whole village to feel its warmth.”
“Why don’t we give the devil a rest today and do some mandala colouring for a change?” I asked him calmly.
His defiance dropped a little. Perhaps he was puzzled by my suggestion.
I quickly produced Susanne Fincher’s book of mandala templates and a box of Derwent colouring pencils.
The sullen boy was mildly intrigued by the display of colours before him. But the residual anger from the storm that had broken held him back.
“Yes, you should try the mandala colouring! It took me damn long but it’s nice,” one of he boys who had an earlier confrontation with him quipped. This boy had completed two mandalas to date and was very proud of his ability to start & finish well.
The boy moved closer to my desk to have a better look at the mandalas completed by other students.
“Wow! This is nice! Who did this?” Hatred gave way to fascination as he ran his fingers over the beautiful circles.
It took him a while to choose his mandala template. When he finally did, he retreated to the corner of our study room and faced the wall to get started.
I desperately wanted him to face the large window to receive the healing light of the morning sun. His battered soul needed it.
But I knew that his brittle nerves would not tolerate being told where to sit. It was good as it was that he agreed not to draw the devil but colour a mandala instead.
So I watched him quietly from my desk.
Suddenly he stopped colouring and asked, “Miss Ong, how come these two colours on my mandala look the same even though I’m using different colour pencils?”
He was referring to chrome yellow and lemon yellow. He had used them side by side in his mandala.
I looked at what he had put on his mandala and said, “Your first colour is blue representing water. And your second colour is green representing earth. And you have used two kinds of yellow to represent the Sun. The Sun must be very important to you!” I said.
He beamed at my interpretation and like a primary school child, asked me to repeat every thing I just said.
The way he smiled and breathed as I repeated what his colours might mean looked like he was listening to some beautiful secret language that his soul understood.
I then went on to explain that the reason why he couldn’t tell the 2 yellows apart was because where he sat didn’t allow enough light to see clearly. Had he faced the window where the Sun was coming from he would have been able to differentiate the colours easily.
Without a word, he gathered all his materials and turned his chair towards the Sun.
And for the rest of the lesson there was peace as the boy concentrated on making his mandala beautiful. Whenever he looked up, there was the Sun smiling back at him.
So I wish for myself and all sentient beings the grace to look towards light for healing when disappointments in life make darkness feel good and inviting.