“What you seek is seeking you.” -Rumi, 13th century Persian Poet

9 April 2021

Be it material or spiritual attainments, it’s natural for us to seek the best. And when it comes to viewing highly elusive creatures such as birds, we earthlings strive for the closest distance to catch a glimpse of them.

We were assigned to sit 2 rows from the bird show space.

At the “King of The Skies,” show at Jurong Bird Park yesterday, we had been assigned seats that would bring us up close and personal with raptors, vultures, eagles and kites.

My friends gave up their choice seats to be with me so that I needn’t take so many steps.

But noting my walking cane, the young usher kindly suggested that my friends and I took the upper tier of the spectator stand. The “good” seats would require us to descend a number of steps.

I took the usher’s advice and my friends gamely gave up their choice seats to join me.

And this was how we came to settle under a beautiful tree whose emerald branches laced the sky of azure blue.

I remember thanking the tree silently as I took pictures of my friends smiling against his verdant backdrop.

When the show started, one by one, the Brahminy Kite, which was one of my friends’ favourite birds, flew from their handlers and came to perch on the branches right above us!

Brahminy Kite’s underbelly is a gorgeous sight!

Raising my face, I saw the underbelly of the Brahminy Kite. Holding my breath, my eyes drank in the distinct markings of warm browns, black linings and pristine white torso of the creature.

We couldn’t have gotten better seats than these, I screamed inwardly.

Over the years, my weakened leg has taught me to see clearly and not to feel bitter or shortchanged by the limitations that come along with it. Speed is important, but it’s not the only thing or everything to worthwhile living.

As the ancient poet Rumi says, “What you seek is seeking you,” and in my case, regardless of physical barriers, has happened to me many times before, and yesterday at the Jurong Bird Park again.

And because I’ve experienced the grace of this particular Rumi wisdom, extremes such as the fastest, and the latest or even the best cannot make me feel unseated easily.

Emmanuel’s Search

31st March 2021

Hakim and Emmanuel on Christmas Eve 2020.

It’s been 20 days since the passing of Hakim, the orange cat.

Hakim’s cat buddy, Emmanuel, continues to call for him at all hours of the day.

He has also been lying on the spots frequented by Hakim. Now and then he’ll walk about the house and let out a wail here & there like he used to whenever he wanted Hakim’s company.

It must be so confusing to the white-socked tabby that no matter how he pleads, his fiery play mate of over 10 years just won’t appear.

Emmanuel does not allow anyone except Hakim to come close.

This afternoon Oliver tried to get on the couch but Emmanuel wouldn’t allow him to take the spot that used to be Hakim’s.

Good natured Oliver then retreated to the kitchen and squeezed into the tuna can carton on the floor for his nap.

I’ve been told that cats have short memory and are disloyal. The first trait makes them difficult to control and the second makes them less reciprocal to goodwill.

But watching Emmanuel search for Hakim the past 20 days has made me wish fervently for him to be forgetful & disloyal.

Holding Space

22 March 2021

These boys have become men, holding jobs and being responsible sons and partners.

In my teaching days working with male students, I regularly got complaints from mothers that their sons often kept them in the dark about issues that they were facing.

Whether it was about learning challenges or relationships, these boys seem unable to share their burdens with those who loved them most.

Some parents wondered if there were special communication or questioning techniques they could use to help their sons share with ease.

But the reality for me was, boys probably told me stuff more easily because I did not have emotional attachment to them. This emotional distance allowed me to let them talk without offering solutions, or feeling the urge to “set things right,” for them.

To grow into women of means & balance, lovely girls like these need to be given safe spaces to sort out whatever growing pains they encounter.

See, if you are a boy or a girl, and, having a tough time in school, the last thing you need after telling someone at home about your trouble is having to manage their upset reactions. And even worse than a parent going to school to “solve your problem,” is being told that you should have done this or that, or that the problem you speak about is all in your head.

I’ve learnt not to offer unsolicited advice when a young person speaks to me.

Red winged starling perching on my hand. (18 March 2021)

Often times, like birds needing a temporary perch to stand and rest their tired wings, people just need a safe space to bring up what’s hurting them. That space enable them to call up all the hidden demons and laid them out in the light to rest. And we know Light brings clarity and healing.

So as our offspring, nieces and nephews enter Term 2 of the school year, and the older ones take on internships and industrial attachments or even a first job, may we have the wisdom and discipline to hold safe spaces at home for them to articulate the difficulties they meet outside, so that all the aspirations of benefits for themselves and others may take flight.

Red-winged Starling taking flight to reveal the fire under the wings.

Emmanuel’s Loss

17 March 2021

Emmanuel calling for his buddy, Hakim.

Emmanuel the Cat walks around the flat, calling for Hakim, his buddy, since they were 2 years old.

Hakim (2007- 12 March 2021)

5 days ago, he watched me from a distance in wary silence as I supported Hakim in his final stages of life.

I continue to place Hakim’s supper in his usual place with a light. Hakim ate fast and would go to Emmanuel’s plate for round 2. And Emmanuel always backed off & gave Hakim his food as he approached.

Emmanuel’s nightly calls for Hakim after supper to join him in the cat room is much like a human who cannot or refuse to accept that a loss has occurred.

Ever since Hakim’s passing, Emmanuel has been lying at the spaces frequented by his orange buddy.

A yellow khata for Hakim, my sunshine boy. (2007-12 March 2021)

A “khata” is a fabric inscribed with auspicious symbols & scripture in the tibetan tradition. It is offered as a gesture of blessing for all important events in life. This yellow khata is a gift bought from Boudha Stupa.

Hakim, my orange boy cat left his body at 2.20am this morning. He was 13 going on 14.

He remained soft and warm when I gave him one more hug before he left home for the crematorium.

Last night he listened quietly as I bless him with pomegranate leaves. He heard about all the good that he has done for me and all who knew him, and the names of people praying for him.

Hakim loves to lounge. (Dec 2020)

Then I assured him I will look for him again and he will never be forgotten.

At the crematorium he was surrounded by fresh orchids. A simple altar by a staff articulated the deep bond between human and animal.

I gave thanks for Fire’s cleansing and transformative power, and hugged my Sun one last time before he entered the Fire to merge with Light.

Hakim loves treats. My students called him 胖爷 pang ye meaning the Well Fed Gentleman.

Hakim crosses his forelegs regularly like a well mannered person.

I placed a pearl from Oman in Hakim’s mouth to wish him a prosperous new birth and a sprig of pomegranate leaves between his paws to bless his heart.

Learning from a Flower the Discipline for Joy

5 March 2021

Desert Roses in full bloom on 5 March 2021.

The pot of desert rose plant I brought home on 1st February is in full bloom.

Desert Rose plant on 1 Feb 2021.

A month ago, to manage my expectations, the seller told me that desert rose plants are hardy but their flowering depend on other factors.

I assured her I would be grateful if it survived my care. The flowering would be a bonus. I paid her $18, carried the pot and made the short walk home.

Except for the knowledge from google , I have little experience in desert rose care.

So even when it started budding around mid-February, I didn’t dare expect too much for fear of disappointment.

And bud by bud, the desert rose came.

Desert Roses on 1 March 2021.

The whole experience has given me the chance to face my fear of disappointments and living things dying on me.

While searching for a quote to honour this plant’s teaching, I came across catholic writer, Henri Nouwen’s writing on the discipline of being surprised by joy.

After reading his thoughts I realised in bracing myself for disappointments and suffering, I have forgotten about joy! And being joyful is as much an effort as being able to handle pain.

I shall close this post with Nouwen’s quote in full to do justice to the man’s profundity and the desert rose’s inspirations within a month of being with me.

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road. . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” – Henry Nouwen

Divina

2 March 2021

Divina

Yesterday my friend who was painting the enclosures at the end of the animal shelter alerted me to an elderly cat that needed some attention.

Estimated to be around 12-14 years old now, the frail but alert creature has been on medication to manage her health issues. She was found sick on the street a few years ago. Details of her background and even her name if she had one was only known to the late founder of the shelter.

Gently, I passed the wet tissue over the length of the cat’s body several times to ease her into the change of temperature. Then I moved a fresh piece of wet tissue up the back of her head and sort of passed it over her temple and face lightly to relax her. I was a stranger after all, even if I meant well.

When she with the unknown name allowed me to touch her facial region without backing off, I was then able to see the dried tear stains and hardened snot that needed removing.

And throughout the cleaning and being shifted about, the cat took every opportunity to turn around and face my friend who was watching us from outside the enclosure.

My friend’s feelings for this cat’s plight must have been so intense to generate such a phenomena.

Today when I played the encounter over in my head, some of the lines from “The Divine Image,” by William Blake came up:

K2 thanks Marcus for setting up a bed for him.

“Mercy has a human heart, /Pity a human face/ And Love, the human form divine…”

Perhaps the cat saw God in my friend.

Bubbles walks about to learn to be at ease outside her enclosure while K3 (Tenzin) and K2 look on like some gangsta cats.

And “Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell /There God is dwelling too.”

We will never know what this old cat was called before. But based on her behaviour and her ability to call up “The Divine Image,” naming her “Divina” might be appropriate. 🌈🙏🐾

March Mercies

1 March 2021

At the shelter this morning I found a mug to hold my iphone to amplify the song of White Tara for the cats and dogs.

Tenzin, the big orange boy wasted no time in showing his appreciation.

When I came home, more desert roses have bloomed.

May the mercies we receive multiply as we pass them on to other sentient beings.

Doorways to Wholeness

24 Feb 2021 (Day 13 of CNY)

“May your paths be smooth,” says the chinese blessing. These red temple door panels are more than 100 years old. My brother and I used to take turns to lock up the doors when the temple visiting hours ended.

I love taking pictures with doors and gates. They are symbols of invitation and transition.

Many years ago in a cab turning into Clementi Ave 6 on my way to work, I spotted a homeless dog lingering at the back gate of Park West Condominium.

I saw much longing in the way the animal tilted his/her head at the slip gate, as if hoping for someone to open it to let him/her in. I might be projecting my own need to belong on the dog. But till this day I continue to send prayers of comfort to the dog whenever my cab exits at Ave 6.

For as long as I remember, I rarely enter or exit a doorway mindlessly. In my childhood, like many kids, I could sense energy at doorways. I was a fairly sociable kid, but there were instances I felt great unease & reluctance to enter the homes of perfectly fine people.

“May you meet Happiness when you exit this door,” the chinese blessing says.

The only doorways I could enter with ease then were the ones leading into temples. I took and still take great delight in lifting one leg after another to cross over the raised temple threshold (门槛)that separates the secular world from the spiritual world.

Perhaps in sacred spaces of worship at some temples, churches and mosques, I feel complete as I am.

A photograph that captures a moment between 20 Chinese New Years for my young cousin and I. She has taken on the duty of photographing CNY moments ever since she acquired her own camera.

To be able to stand at the temple doors of my childhood year after year for 50 plus years, and feel its centering energy calling back all the fragments of my life is a blessing I’ve never taken for granted.

So may I take this chance to wish all friends and sentient beings, their very own special doors to wholeness & healing. 🙏

This picture of my cousin and I is very special to me because the photographer is my brother’s son. When my nephew was born, my sister-in-law invited me to name their child. That was 23 years ago. And this is the very door where my brother (the photographer’s dad) and I played at in our childhood. 😊

吉星高照 (ji xing gao zhao)

May the rays of the auspicious star shine brightly upon you.

18 Feb 2021 (Day 7 of Ox Year)

My affinity with auspicious Chinese sayings started in the temple days of my childhood half a century ago.

I did my English homework on the very table that my maternal grandpa wrote out words of blessings for people and for the gods.

It is always a delight to see this ancient tradition of displaying sacred words in black ink on vermillion papers alive in the modern homes of friends who are educated in the English medium.

So in the spirit of heritage, and in honour of our South East Asian birthplaces, may the aspiration of this beautiful calligraphy come true for you and all sentient beings.

🌈🙏🐾