This morning while making a sage smoke offering, I looked up. A straight line of clouds had formed in the sky, as if extending the smoke from the scallop shell in my hand to the heavens.
My prayer this morning was to be free from past hurts and wrongs, that we have experienced since childhood, whether we deserve them or not, and whether we’re conscious of them or not.
Working closely with youth & young kids allow me to see that hang ups, if not managed wisely, can ruin relationships with ourselves & others.
Disappointments in warring parents can result in trust issues and constant craving for assurance.
Humiliations suffered in the classroom or family can lead to overcompensation at work, fixation for validations & hunger for vindications.
All these cravings and fixations drain us, while leading us to attach ourselves to entities, people & organisations that can cause us further damage.
So this morning at 4am, the cats meowed, the moon blasted her light on my face and together they forced me out of bed to play the Ganesha mantra to let Wisdom in. And I finally understood “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” has such a centering effect on me because it’s an invitation to release my enemies.
A young girl from a dysfunctional family cut out a picture of a boat she found in a magazine and put it on the wall. During episodes of domestic violence, she would cope by imagining herself taking her younger brother with her and getting on that boat.
When she went down on her knees to scrub the kitchen floor, she imagined herself wiping the deck of her boat & making it shine.
This vision sustained her for many years, and kept her from developing self-destructive behaviour.
She would grow up, make something of herself & eventually owned a real boat!
This story has helped me in my dealings with young children, especially those from desperate circumstances when immediate escape was not possible.
I once gave a friendless young boy in a foster care facility a palm sized cat plush toy. It had travelled a long way from Finland to Singapore and got tossed about before it reached me, I told him. So whenever he felt lonely, he must remember to look at the toy to remind himself that he too would survive the hardship because there were people caring for him even if he couldn’t see them.
The next day when we met, the boy told me he had hidden the cat plush toy inside his pillow case so that it would be safe.
The one needing protection had become the protector!
As I was searching for pictures to accompany this post, a former student texted to say she has been accepted into a summer programme at a reputable university. She thanked me for writing her the letter of recommendation.
The girl who once needed a simple letter to help her get started will be studying & writing scores of far more complex materials to bring about a better world for herself and others.
So here’s wishing all adults to use whatever limited means we have to create safe spaces for our youth, and wish them well, so that unlimited and unexpected good may come through.
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.
This recent full moon observation on 14 April 2022 was extra special to me. Not only it was Good Friday, but it also marked New Year for friends of Nepalese and Khmer heritage.
The confluence of the above high holidays got me on the lookout for auspicious items that would align with the idea of death & resurrection, release & renewal to dedicate a full moon mandala.
However, the reality was eversince Emmanuel the Cat was diagnosed with diabetes a month ago, I’ve been preoccupied with syringes, insulin vial & blood glucose tracking.
As someone with a nervous disposition, I was at first terrified of handling the sharp needles and getting the dosage wrong for Emmanuel. This was apart from having to locate the injection site without making the cat suspicious & without injecting myself accidentally.
It got to a point where my anxiety levels were tied to the fluctuations in Emmanuel’s blood glucose readings.
Doubts filled my waking hours and even in my sleep. Did I really insert the needle correctly? Did the insulin go under his skin? Did I over feed him?
Yesterday I had a mental breakthrough of sorts. I realised I can and should medicate my 15-year old cat to the best of my ability & means, but the medical outcomes are not mine to decide.
That acceptance also liberates me as a caregiver from the fear of not doing enough or not doing it right. Such fears when left unchecked, can turn mean & morph into accusations against the patient for not trying hard enough to get well.
And this morning, as if to show his approval of my approach to his medical issue, Emmanuel turned around to lick my hand as soon as I pushed the plunger to deliver the insulin under his skin. 🙏
A young girl harboured a mixture of hatred and pity for a bad tempered older sibling who would hit her regularly.
At the time when we met, she was seeing a counsellor. Her family dynamics were also volatile.
As she ranted on, I realised she not only needed protection from her brother’s beatings, but also from her own fears & what she might do to him. She was an alert and well built girl whom I believed would have no problem picking up a sharp object and plunging it into her attacker if she was provoked beyond her tolerance.
After learning that she could recite the “Hail Mary,” prayer by heart, I asked if she would consider invoking Mother Mary’s help as soon as she sensed a conflict brewing.
I explained to her that some things in life are beyond logic, and there is a limit to what external intervention can do for us. Prayers are needed to do the inner work of calming hearts and deflecting blows.
Shortly after that, the girl told me that one weekend her older sibling was having a meltdown again.
This time instead of feeling scared and anticipating a fight as he moved towards her, she just looked at him and recited “Hail Mary” silently.
“My brother was walking towards me when he suddenly stopped, turned and left my room ,” the girl narrated the episode with a mixture of awe & gratitude.
Sister & brother would also begin talking after that encounter.
To some, the girl’s offering of a prayer to diffuse a potentially explosive situation could have been coincidental, but the benefit of knowing that there are other ways of facing difficulties in life besides hating those who cause us pain, must have been such a relief for that young lady.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in a few days’ time it’ll be Good Friday. On this day the mother of Jesus would witness attacks on her son. This may be why the memory of a young girl invoking the help of Mother Mary has come to me, for they are quintessential examples of grace under pressure.
May all who suffer from war, sickness & separation be delivered from fears & pain. And may all who engage in hurt & harm be touched by grace & awakened by wisdom.🙏
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.🙏
On the first full moon of the Year of the Tiger, a new supermarket opened one unit away from the tuition centre where I work.
Heritage, as the supermarket is named, is a paradise of instant massala tea of my favourite brand, spices that evoke memories of my first & only Indian neighbour from my childhood, and lentils of every colour and size.
But most of all, this little supermarket unlike its larger competitors, allows customers to buy their potatos, tomatoes, onions etc in small quantities.
Big grocery stores pre-pack perishable goods to prevent customers from damaging them. This practice also drives sale and gets rid of stocks fast. However, pre-packing of fixed quantities can also cause customers to buy more than they need and eat more than they should, while leading to food wastage when expiry dates dawn.
It is perhaps not enough to harp on food wastage while others starve, and expect our relationship with food to improve when packing & unit measurement practices to justify costs to consumers are not taken into account.
Also food wastage for me is a kind of disrespect shown to natural resources & the human labour behind their cultivation.
Whenever I’m required to buy 6 carrots instead of 2 at bigger supermarkets, the cash strapped person who can really only afford to pay for 2 comes to mind.
Thus I’m grateful to all the little supermarkets and provision shops that allow me to buy just what I need. In return, I will handle their produce with care and promise not to quibble over prices.
May Goddess Laskhmi bestow great prosperity on the proprietors of Heritage and small businesses, so that nobody goes hungry and nothing is wasted.
Yesterday I completed a recommendation letter for a young girl applying for a summer programme in one of the Ivy League universities. Given her impressive academic credentials & balanced disposition , I think she’ll be accepted regardless of what I wrote.
Nonetheless, when I recalled the limited options available to girls & women of my grandmother’s generation, I wrote that letter with extra care & gratitude for this young girl who was born a 100 years after my grandmother.
So my wish on International Women’s Day is for all female children to be raised fairly & firmly, so that they can determine the trajectory of their lives with tenderness & tenacity.
For it is easier to build a well-adjusted child, than to fix a broken adult.
First Tutee and his uncle dropped by with Nasi Lemak today to wish me Happy Chinese New Year.
First Tutee is now nearly 11 years old, as tall as me and seeing Ollie for the first time since 2020.
Pleased that Ollie still remembered him, and that the scene outside the window where he used to sit to practise his spelling and writing, had remained unchanged, he gushed shyly about spotting his childhood sweets on my dining table.
I asked him to help himself to the White Rabbit Milk Candy pieces. I had prepared a new bag of them for him to bring home later on.
As he unwrapped the candy, he mentioned several times that White Rabbits were his favourite childhood sweets and that he was also born in the Year of the Rabbit.
First Tutee’s delight at seeing Ollie and recalling the names of Hakim, Kitty & China Black who have since passed on, his smiling at the sweets of his childhood and feeling right at ease in a space where he started his preparation to enter primary school showed me a reunion doesn’t always have to revolve around a big meal.
Food & drinks aside, a reunion is also about returning to the people & place that make us feel supported.
And if reunions are meant to evoke memories to embolden us to move forward, then it is wise that during that encounter we refrain from fishing for details in someone else’s personal life unless they are offered on their own accord.
Going home for reunions is such a big deal across cultures & evokes many conflicting emotions in some. May each reunion be a time of reconciliation and mutual support like the one that took place with First Tutee today.