December 2020 Musing

24 December

Since 2010, the month of December has taken on a strong mellow glow for me.

It was in December that I travelled along the coast of Atlantic Ocean in Rabat, Morocco to visit SPANA, and touched a donkey for the first time.

The lowly donkey holds a very prominent position in my understanding of the birth of Christ.

It was also in December that my dog child, Shoya, passed on.

This morning I decided to oil the coconut shells that made up a necklace bought years ago. I had washed the necklace last night and hung it out to dry.

Flamenco music was playing softly in the background as I prepared the oil mixture of Moroccan argan oil with a dash of French lavender and Indian Patchouli. When I swept the oil mixture over the cracks and roughness of the necklace with my fingers, aromas wafted in the air and filled up my senses.

Images of Bedouin farmers and the cats I fed at the villa and hotels floated up in my mind, as if summoned by the scents of the oils and the music being played.

Then I thought of the magi’s gifts to baby Jesus- gold symbolising kingship, frankincense symbolising spirituality & myrrh symbolising suffering & death.

And I thought of the oils I anointed my dog with and the silver chain I put on his neck before he was cremated.

If even the Son of God was not spared from separation, pain and death, then we need to stop promoting the illusion that if we do everything “right”, or have power or wealth, we’ll be able to escape suffering.

The “Uncle” at the Incense Shop

6 Dec 2020

Shopping alone gives me time to study things and sometimes learn life lessons from shop staff.

Whenever I’m at Fortune Centre I would make it a point to navigate the maze of escalators to visit an incense shop tucked away among the eateries on the 3rd floor.

The shop sells incense from Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, and other ritual and aesthetic items for spiritual and leisure purposes.

The shopkeeper, whom I addressed as “Uncle” out of respect, would be watching comedies on his phone while I browsed and asked all kinds of questions about his products.

“Uncle” was always patient and allowed me to touch the prayer flags, tangkas, dorjes, incense burners and inhale the incense samples without asking me to buy anything.

Having travelled to many places in his youth before retiring as a keeper of his sister’s shop, he had learnt to always be kind to strangers.

“Always be nice to strangers,” “Uncle” once told me. “Don’t think only of your own family. For example, when you fall down outside, it’s a stranger that calls the ambulance. The ambulance driver is a stranger. The nurse attending to you is a stranger. Lot’s of things are done for you by strangers even before your relatives arrive at the hospital.”

Yesterday I was at the shop but “Uncle” wasn’t there. His sister whom he spoke fondly of was standing in his place.

“Take your time to see what you need,” the sister extended the same hospitality to me.

“Uncle” had passed away last year (December 2019). He had lived well and went peacefully.

Seeing the incense was like seeing old friends again. Every thing I touched was imbued with the kindness of the old man who was no longer there.

Before I left the shop, the silver haired sister weaved a bracelet of sacred threads from a tibetan monastery and set a turquoise bead on it. It was a gift for my mother to protect her in all encounters.

“Here, you take these. They are made by the lamas,” she spoke softly, as she placed an auspicious symbol of infinite wisdom and the union of empathy and knowledge woven in yellow thread in my hand.

The Most Expensive Ingredient in a Meal

23 Nov 2020

A dab of olive butter scented by basil on crackers and a cup of 2-in-1 coffee taste precious when time is given to take them slowly.

The bitter sweet coffee warmed my throat, travelled down my neck and spread across my shoulder. Its aroma lingered at the back of my head and exited through my brow and crown.

Scent of basil on creamy olive augmented the crispy plainness of the crackers.

Perhaps that’s why simple & inexpensive foods might also enrich us.

A friend’s dad is contented with plain basmati rice mixed with a bit of water as long as no one disturbs him when he eats. And he is very fit.

On many late afternoons, my own dad would take his crackers soaked in coffee while reading at the kitchen table. This image always comes to mind whenever I need to connect with him.

Letting Light Through

13 November 2020 (Eve of Deepavali)

To be like these leaves, solid enough to withstand the elements, yet translucent at the same time to let Light through might be how glowing softly from within looks and feels like.

Emerald and jade jewellery have to be cut & polished before they can shine.

Likewise our pride needs to be broken before we can listen. Our thoughts need to be polished before they can be spoken. And maybe after all these, there may be space for Light to pass through, and we acquire the assuring glow of the leaves.

Biscuit to My Lineage

5 November 2020

When 84-year-old Granny Weng (翁奶奶)knew that we were coming to Kinmen Island the next day, she hopped on the bus to do some shopping in the city.

Among the gifts she bought us were little round biscuits called “Kao So,” (口酥) which means crispy in the local Kinmen dialect.

Granny Weng put on this dress called qipao for this picture taking.

Over tea by the doorway of her ancient courtyard she offered us the treats which my grandmother would have eaten during her childhood more than a 100 years ago.

El sharing a joke with Granny Weng at the ancient doorway of her home. We saw the full moon together the next day.

As she eagerly removed the packaging, the hardy grandmother explained in our dialect, “kao so si lin ah ma zou gin na eh si zun siang si kiah.” (Rough translation: This biscuit was popular during your grandma’s childhood).

Granny Weng (翁奶奶) went to town to buy us the biscuits the day before we arrived. She married at 17 and raised 10 children with her husband through the war. She is now a great-grandmother of 6. The next day we watched the full moon rise together, not knowing that in a few months’ time cross border traveling would become impossible because of the pandemic.

November is a month of harvesting, uprooting & stock taking. The biscuit episode happened last June, months before border closures because of the pandemic.

Some of us may not have pedigree lineage to speak of, nor scholars or high fliers among our forefathers. But as ordinary as some origins may be, they are worth remembering.

Biting on a “Kao So” biscuit that day felt like breaking bread to renew a shared heritage that had been quietly waiting for me all these years.

And I have an octogenarian’s affection and efforts to thank for this realisation.

Salam & Namaste

2 Nov 2020

On full moon morning just 2 days ago, I placed a gift of chrysanthemum tea to quench thirst and groundnuts to give energy, on a basket outside my kitchen window.

The workers painting the outer walls of our block were in the gondola on their way up to the 40th floor. From there they would descend & paint unit by unit till they reached the ground.

The items had to be packed compactly to occupy minimum space in their gondola and not to compromise their safety.

I wrote a note to express my intention and most importantly to prevent any misunderstandings with their supervisor/employer.

SALAM means “Peace be Upon You,” and NAMASTE means,”The Light in me greets the Light in you.”

And so it was on the morning of the full moon, an exchange of offerings and blessings took place 30 plus floors above ground outside a kitchen window.

When I recalled how I placed my palms together and bowed wordlessly to the two painters while their joyful Thank Yous filled the air, I felt God visiting me. 😄

Circumambulating the Big Box (of Compassion)

22 Sept 2020

Ollie gives the mooncakes a final QC before the send off.

I was sending a parcel of mooncakes that might cheer up a friend who hadn’t been home to Singapore for some time.

The courier company was located in the Big Box Mall which was now deserted as many businesses had closed and vacated.

The island wide safe entry requirements had closed off a number of exits and entrances in the cavernous building. Coupled with a lack of signages, and with the premises boarded all around, I couldn’t tell which was the correct drop off that would lead me to the courier office.

My Grab ride was only $ 7. And for that little sum, the Grab driver drove me around the circumference of Big Box compound 3 times, and once up into the multi-story car park, hoping to find someone who could direct us to the correct door so that I wouldn’t have to walk too much.

“No, no, no! We have to find the right entrance,” he insisted, his hands clutching the steering wheel firmly.

Boudha Stupa of Compassion & Wisdom in on 8 Dec 2018.

While we were circumambulating the expo-like compound in his car, he told me about the ridiculous lengths he had to cover during his recent medical visit because the usual access routes in the hospital were blocked off for safe entry/ exit purposes.

He didn’t want the same thing to happen to me.

When I pointed out a possible drop off, he kept asking incredulously,”Are you sure?”

Actually I wasn’t sure, but I felt it wasn’t fair of me to use up his time and energy like that.

I had to practically assure him that I would be alright, before he would let me alight. And for a brief moment, I thought I saw him calibrating in his mind if he could defy the rules and drive beyond the barricades just to ease my journey.

May my friend who asked for these mooncakes and gave me the chance to experience such uncommon compassion of a Grab driver be protected in all her journeys overseas.

And may the Grab driver be restored to good health. 🙏

Consecrating a TV Set

7 Sept 2020

7 days ago, a new TV set arrived to replace the one that had been broken since 2017.

It had taken me nearly 3 years to get a new a TV set. The hesitation was due to a character flaw that I noticed about myself.

About 3 years ago, when the old TV was still working, I found myself being overly critical of whatever I watched. I judged the actors for their looks and acting skills, the journalists for their pronunciations and so on. One day a voice in my head told me to stop committing speech sins.

So when the 14-year-old Toshiba TV broke down in 2017, I made a vow not to get a replacement till I could control my mouth.

Without a TV, I got used to watching less and listening more on my iphone. I would have mantras playing all morning. I would watch talks and interviews instead of shows etc.

In fact I got so used to not watching TV that I even toyed with the idea of putting a tanka or a spiritual painting in the space that was customised for a wall mounted TV. But the renovation cost of repurposing that space would cost more.

7 days ago when the technician asked me to test the new LG TV he had set up & programmed for me, a voice in my head said,”Play Tara mantra.” So I did just that.

So now I not only have a new TV but changing digital tankas and sacred arts to look at each time I tune to listen to mantras.

Flowers from Children Happy Teachers’ Day!

4 Sept 2020

Flowers not only beautify our life, but remind us to always bloom our best.

The first bouquet in my adult life was from a bunch of kids who accepted me as their teacher when I was just 23. What did I know about learning then?

Today, a bouquet of sunflowers from one of the students in the group that gave me my first bouquet arrived. ♥️🙏

A while later, a sunflower in the form of a dessert also came.

And my 76 year old mom got to enjoy the sunflower konyaku jelly with me.

I’ve like sunflowers since I was a young woman. And I’m very honoured that in my greying years, the kids have sent them to remind me to keep shining.

So here’s wishing all my friends, all the light and sweetness of life as embodied in these gifts from lovely adults who were once kids. ♥️🙏

Different Boats, Same Journey

19 Aug 2020 (New Moon)

These days the safe entry requirements make me think twice about going anywhere.

Two days back I was running through my mind the logistics of getting flower offerings to celebrate this new moon, and Ganesha Charthurti this Saturday. Would the florists be operating? Would the familiar short cuts I know be blocked?

I was on the verge of saying to Ganesha, “Sorry, there’ll be no flowers for your charthurti celebration this year because going to the florists is getting a bit complicated for me,” when a Muslim friend offered to drop me off at the florists in Little India.

He would settle his errands at Mustaffa Centre and come back to pick me up and send me home when I was done with my jasmine garlands and marigold shopping.

Some time back when mosques were closed because of circuit breaker measures, I was very honoured that he and his nephew conducted their prayers in my home. He also blessed my home and thanked me for facilitating their spiritual obligations.

As we seek to connect with the Divine in our different ways according to our race, culture, history and geography, may we be secure enough in our own beliefs & practices to facilitate the spiritual journeys of others.

Happy New Moon to All Sentient Beings!

May every gesture to harmonise and facilitate for the benefit of all be blessed.

Salem. Namaste. Tashi Delek. 🙏😊