This weekend if you’re looking for a chance to ground so that you can reach the sky, please consider dropping by the National Gallery for “Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia,” exhibition, ending in 3 days’ time.
I rarely rave about art because firstly I’m not trained, and secondly I lack the words to do justice to works that speak to our subconscious.
But the experience at this exhibition that I visited a few weeks’ back keeps coming back to me. It was my first time consciously seeing pigments made from earth and minerals painted on barks of eucalyptus. I inhaled the paintings as it were, even as I stood & stared at the mesmerising dots, crosses, and tiny strokes that appeared so childlike and so sublime at the same time.
I was entranced by the Rainbow Serpent which I only read about in books rendered in floor to ceiling dimension at the exhibition. It was swimming energetically before our eyes even as it appeared to be still.
I regretted not taking a picture of the aboriginal dancer drawn in white pigment against black background. His calves were strong & elegant. And I could see the energy emanating from his stomping legs & turning torso while he held a spear and and a shield.
In these turbulent times I hope this exhibition will go to many places and bless lots of people with its ancestral wisdom and life affirming power.
This morning, decked in traditional finery that spoke of ethnic pride & brimming with benedictions fresh from morning prayers, First Tutee touched the back of my hand with his forehead to wish me peace.
For the past few years, my home has been his first place of visit after prayers at the mosque on Hari Raya mornings.
This year he brought a friend with him. He wanted to show him how to interact with Oliver the Cat.
First Tutee explained to his little friend how he used to be scared of cats before he met Oliver.
He then taught him how to sit still while waiting for the cat to approach, and how to offer food respectfully to the animal.
“Don’t touch him when he’s trying to eat cos it makes him nervous,” said the older boy to the younger one.
While they were sitting by the window, First Tutee pointed out the direction of Batam, Indonesia, to his fascinated guest. He also told him the body of water he saw was called a reservoire, not a swimming pool.
Although First Tutee and I are not related by blood, and these days we don’t see each other much, he seems to have taken after me in the way he explains things. And now & then when he spots a full moon, he’ll send me a picture of it.
While we make material provisions for our children, showing them how to live peacefully with all despite our differences could give them the wisdom & compassion to journey further & do better under all circumstances in life.
Last week, one of my cats, Emmanuel, was admitted for diabetes. His conditions have since stabilised and will be discharged soon.
Since March last year, Emmanuel & Oliver have been waking me up at all kinds of hours through their daily territorial disputes.
Sleep deprived & anxiety-ridden, I wandered the mall last Friday in hope of getting a new cat carrier for Emmanuel’s follow up vet trips as the current one has rusted and is being held together by cable ties.
Emmanuel is 15. Oliver is 16. Both cats are as healthy as can be given their age. But realistic as I am, signs of ill health trigger memories of the suffering of my 10 cats and 1 dog before they passed on over the years. And in Emmanuel’s case, concerns over if I can administer the twice daily insulin jabs occupied my mind.
In the midst of meditating on syringes, the image of the world’s largest mandala, the Boudha Stupa came to me. I was gently reminded to unfetter my mind by accepting all things.
And as I was about to pick up the new cat carrier & head home, a friend texted to ask if we could meet up for tea.
Tea? How could I have time for tea? Don’t you know I’m in the midst of a meltdown? But I resisted my self-centered habitual responses and said “Yes” to tea. And yes, worrying is so dangerously seductive. It gives a false impression of feeling responsible even as it keeps the worrier fixated & drained.
During tea, my friend found out that his evening appointment had been postponed. Since I had no plans except to worry, I accepted his invitation to see the art space he had set up to pursue his pottery passions.
Still thinking of syringes, I was content to just watch my friend at the studio throwing a pot on his newly acquired potter’s wheel.
But he being generous, insisted that I gave the clay a go. He would help me touch up the final product if needed.
And so on Friday evening, while my cat received intravenous fluid at the clinic, I sat at the potter’s wheel in my friend’s studio to connect with the silkiness of wet clay and the coolness of water as I attempted to throw a pot for the first time in 36 years.
As I leaned my elbows on the basin for added stability as taught by my friend, and held the lump of clay firmly in both hands, my breath returned. A centering peace soon emerged from the spinning mandala of a potter’s wheel. It seeped into my fingers, travelled up my arms, touched my shoulder & ascended my head through my neck.
And in that moment, my mind was still even as everything before me was in motion. Sitting at my friend’s potter’s wheel was the break I needed to be unhinged from the cycle of constant worrying & feeling of inadequacy.
I wish all who are reading this post timely inspiration from the Divine and supervision of wise friends in your hour of need.🙏
Today I offered the last spoonful of the incense powder purchased at Boudha in 2017. This concoction of herbal wonder was unceremoniously scooped and dropped into a plastic bag for a few rupees.
Having limited mobility & lacking confidence in my online shopping capabilities have strengthened my appreciation of resources. I learn to use every thing sparingly regardless of its price or how it comes to me. For me a bottle of soya sauce from the local supermarket has the same status as a bottle of truffle oil from a specialised store. Both are precious.
Today’s incense from Nepal is the last of its lot that I personally bought.
Despite its age, it seems to have gained potency as its wafting fragrance triggers many pleasant thoughts & memories.
As I watched Fire transform the juniper into healing aromas through the dancing smoke, I sent wishes of goodwill to all sentient beings. Among which was just as we aspire to abundance, may we also be able to accept scarcity for its hidden blessings.
I just learnt that today is the start of *Ganesh Chaturthi.
My first eye to eye contact with the elephant headed deity was in Nepal in 2011.
Now, 10 years later, the symbol of resourcefulness and wisdom continues to inspire me to take things as they come without fear or resentment so that I may see clearly and dance lightly through all obstacles.
And while wondering how I could mark the occasion without leaving home, a dancing Ganesh pendant from my brother given a year ago and a recent hand drawn sunflower from a student combined to fulfil my intention.
Here’s wishing all friends, family & strangers the blessings of Wisdom & Resourcefulness to meet challenges with ease like my favourite Hindu deity.
Om Gam Ganapateya Namaha! 🙏
*Ganesh Chaturthi marks the anniversary of his arrival from Mount Kailash.
The rain started last night and continues to this morning. I lit a light to thank Rain that cleanses, hydrates and heals. Then I thought of the animal shelters that flood during downpours. My mind went to the street animals having to brave the torrents on their own.
So I asked Fire to give them warmth and keep them dry.
Although I tended to incense and candles in the taoist temple of my childhood where my grandfather was caretaker, my friendship with Fire as an adult only began when I lit my first tea light in the Notre Dame Catheral in France.
After that, I lit my first tea light in Singapore at the grotto of the Church of St Peter & St Paul at Queen Street to support a friend who had to put down his dog, Socks.
Then I found out I could also meet Fire below the image of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus at the Church of St Mary’s of the Angels.
In my 40s, visits to Patan and Boudha in Nepal brought me closer to Fire. Aging has somehow given me a porosity that allows me to soak up the illuminating presence of Fire at the prayer rituals I withessed there.
And so certain am I of Fire’s loyalty that one of the first thoughts that comes to mind whenever loss or hardship befalls me or my friends is to raise a lamp to shine a path out of fear and confusion.
After all, my favourite catholic saint, Francis of Assisi addresses Fire as Brother Fire in “The Canticle of the Sun.”
So on a cold and wet day such as today, may we invoke the Fire within to keep ourselves and others warm and dry.
May this film on the significance of rituals which I’m happy to be part of energise you and enhance your equanimity.
In my experience, rituals are series of deliberate steps undertaken to invoke an internal order through external actions.
They can be personal & non-sectarian such as making tea or lighting a candle in the privacy of our home. They can also be public & religious, involving the community in specific locations.
When performed with focus & intention, a simple act can become a ritual.
In the absence of full participation with our senses, a ritual becomes a routine.
So central to all rituals I believe is the mindful enacting of gestures to invoke a sense of order & strength within to manage the turbulence without.
When a child has a chaotic day at school and coming home to the sight of a loving adult making tea and arranging biscuits on a plate for him for the thousandth time since he started kindergarten may have a calming effect on him. And maybe then he will have the courage to share his thoughts.
Unfortunately more and more of us are just too knackered to initiate any kind of ritual with our children. Some of us abdicate our role as ritual masters in our kids’ life to therapists, counsellors or even strangers.
The adult working world can be unforgiving& unpredictable. So having some place to be still or set the table even if it’s just to eat a simple meal of porridge, may provide a moment of peace to our battered being.
In short, rituals sustain us and lend us the motivation to give whatever we’re trying to accomplish another shot.
The pandemic has generated wave upon wave of unease & difficulties. Distrust among nations and between citizens and their governments prevail even with the availability of vaccines.
While pharmaceutical developments race to keep up with the virus, and authorities we count on are understandably none the wiser, we need to look within for that sense of balance.
And the cure that keeps us from the panic that causes harm to self and others, might just be invoked through the discovery of new healing gestures or the enacting of old restorative.
A couple of days back First Tutee turned 9 years old. I’ve known him since he was 6 and a half.
From being scared of cats, First Tutee now calls Ollie the Cat his best friend. He cried over Kitty’s passing last year & told me he would like to keep her ashes in his home when he buys his own place one day.
From struggling over differentiating “b” from “d”, he now learns his weekly spelling and dictation with ease. He composes his own stories by watching clouds and turns William Blake’s “A Poison Tree,” which he has memorised into a rap.
He listens to “War Horse” being read and learns to identify BBC accent from his favourite youtuber’s American accent. He likes Albert Narracourt a lot for his bravery and loyalty to Joey, his horse, and sketches out scenes from the book after his weekly reading aloud on ZOOM tuition.
On their morning rides to school, he’ll remind his uncle to slow down for pigeons, mynahs and sparrows feeding on the pavement.
I’ve always held the number 9 in high regard. In old Chinese culture, 9 is the number associated with the Emperor and longevity of all things positive. 9 in my minnan dialect shares the same pronunciation for “dog” which stands for faithfulness & abundance.
So on the morning of his birthday, I donated $99 to Metta Cats and Dogs Sanctuary in First Tutee’s name. I wished for him a healthy and happy long life, full of kingly attributes while staying humble and sharing his abundance with all sentient beings.
A while later, the shelter updated their list of sponsors on facebook and believe it or not, First Tutee was sponsor number 9!
In the evening I realised First Tutee’s full name contains 9 letters, and in his religion, God has 99 names. 🙏♥️
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?