Journey to Jasmines

22 May 2020

Tomorrow is new moon observation.

With the nation wide restrictions on human movements and activities, I wasn’t sure if flowers would still be available at the supermarket near my home.

Medical safety aside, getting dressed and donning a mask to make that walk in our humid weather did threaten my flower offering practice.

But I finally made the flower trip while being fully aware that it might turn out to be a “wasted” one.

Outside the supermarket, the styrofoam box that was used to contain the jasmines was empty except for the crushed ice that was meant to keep the flowers fresh.

The bouquets on sale were too large for the vases at home and it looked like I was going home “empty handed.”

Oh well…at least I got to buy new sponges for the sink and some bread, dried fruits and nuts, I thought to myself as I reluctantly accepted the reality of my unproductive trip.

As I made my way home, I turned to take one last look at the bouquets, hoping I could perhaps find a smaller one.

It was then I spotted a burly man showing great interest in the empty styrofoam box, much like what I did earlier on.

Burly Man wore dark clothes and had industrial shoes on. He looked like one of those container truck drivers, not someone you would associate with flowers, especially jasmines.

He gesticulated at the cashier with great familiarity to ask where the jasmines were. The latter made a quick dash to someone inside the supermarket.

Before long, a young male staff appeared, cradling a large bag of packed with little packets of jasmines & showed them to Burly Man. Both men smiled widely at the treasured florals & exchanged pleasantries.

By then, Burly Man knew I was also looking to buy jasmines and garlands, if they were available.

As the packets of jasmines rained down into the styrofoam box, Burly Man helped me sort out the garlands which were in limited supply from the unstrung ones, while picking a few packets for himself.

I paid for the garlands for Ganesha, for Avaloki and for St Francis, and thanked Burly Man for getting the jasmines out of cold storage for me.

Burly Man will never know he had played such an important role in a stranger life’s yesterday.

His timely appearance assured me that making “inconvenient journeys” without the certainty of their outcomes, except that they be a gesture of commitment, must be done even when things don’t pan out the way I hope or want.

Bench of Blessings

16 April 2020 (Day 10 of Circuit Breaker)

One afternoon, before 2012, I was sitting by the window of my old flat just looking at the rain trees outside and the badminton court below. It was the June break so I had lots of time to be still.

Then I spotted a man with a backpack making his way to the cast iron bench at the periphery of the badminton court.

He had a dark complexion and was dressed like one of those hundreds of young foreign workers I saw at Mustaffa Centre.

It was a work day so it was unusual to see a worker sitting by himself.

My flat was on the 7th floor. By the time I really noticed the man, he had already sat down. And so I could see only the top of his head,his shoulder and his backpack.

Perhaps something about the way he sat told me he was troubled. And suddenly almost without realising it, I found myself addressing the top of his head with, “Whatever is bothering you, may you be well.”

I wasn’t feeling particularly kind when I made that prayer, if it could be considered a prayer at all. In fact it came out of my mouth almost mechanically.

And as if he had heard me, the man got up.

It was then I saw that one of his hands was newly bandaged.

He must have gotten injured and was taking a rest on the bench after returning from the clinic.

And as for me, I’m glad that I had been spared the shame of making unfair remarks of a man looking “so free,” when the opposite was more like it.

That episode always pops up in my mind during social gatherings when harmless chats can often spiral downwards into trading unkind remarks on others whose lives we know nothing of, in our attempts to sound “interesting.”

And over the years I have avoided meet ups that I feel can make me judgemental or worse still, condone irresponsible speech in my efforts to fit in.

Hand on Heart

10 May 2020

“Ms Ong, is that Mother Mary?” a young voice rang out during zoom tuition.

The kids on zoom saw the painting of the Madonna behind me as I adjusted my notebook.

“Yes, she’s the Perfect Mother. She knows when to hold on and when to let go,” I explained.

When I assured the kids that Mother is always watching our zoom meetings, the girls smiled and one of the boys started singing, “Let it Be.”

To soothe a fearful child or animal, we often hold them close to our chest. And babies and animals often place their hands or paws on the heart area of those who are cuddling them.

It’s an honour to have one’s heart physically touched like this, and perhaps even healed.

So hand on heart, on this Mothers’ Day, may I wish that all male & female hearts be touched and healed of all imbalances, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of all sentient beings. 🙏🌈🐾

OK is Very Good

May 2020

These days temperature taking is the norm. And a sticker that says, “I’m OK” is given if one’s temperature is normal.

Standing in the temperature taking queue, I’ve never been more sensitive to these two hitherto nondescript words, “I’m OK.”

“I’m OK,” gives me permission to go into supermarkets, post offices, banks and other enclosed public spaces.

“I’m OK,” tells me that breathing is a gift that can be forfeited any time.

And I’ve also become very conscious of the fact that temperature taking requires someone to point directly at my forehead with an instrument, even though there’s no physical contact .

The forehead is home to the third eye and the pineal gland, among other important features.

Perhaps this mode of contactless temperature taking is an invitation to us to connect with dimensions beyond human sensing.

So today for my OM writing practice to purify my pride & ignorance, I’ve included an “I’m OK” sticker from this morning’s grocery trip as a gesture of gratitude.

Here’s giving thanks to every “I’m OK,” in my life, and may all my friends and all sentient beings be very OK today and the days to come. 🙏🌈🐾

“Feed others as you are fed.”

15 April 2020 (三月二十三)

Today is the birthday of a deity in the female form called 妈祖, pronounced as Ma Zu.

Ma Zu is the Mother Goddess that watches over oceans & seas, and is highly revered by fishermen and all who make their living by water. In Taiwan and Kinmen Island, shrines and temples are dedicated to her as she grants seafaring safety and plentiful harvest.

Last year we visited a Ma Zu shrine on Kinmen Island that was about 600 year old.

This morning I brought clean water and cat kibbles downstairs for the block cat, Aquarius. I dedicated that feeding to the Mother Goddess Ma Zu since it is her birthday.

As Aquarius was slurping up her water and eating her kibbles, a voice in my head repeated, “Feed others as you are fed.”

I didn’t think too much of it as I was more concerned with the cat getting her sustenance and me not seen by anyone to be lingering longer than necessary. I had my mask on and identity card with me in the event that my presence raised question during this semi-lockdown.

A short while after I got back from feeding the cat I would receive food gifts of biscuits, bananas, mango and even a coconut!

Gifts from Ma Zu, courtesy of a friend who dropped them off today.

For that one meal I gave to a cat, I was given more than enough to last me a few meals.

Unsought mercies like this helps me to give, while fighting off the urge to hold & grab.

I also read that Ma Zu was the deification of a young girl who protected her village with her life.

And perhaps during difficult times as we learn to protect and care, instead of destroy & blame, each one of us is potentially a goddess or a god in the making. 🙏♥️

Invoking Grace

13 April 2020

This is Day 7 of the semi-lockdown in Singapore in response to Covid-19 and the 6th day of my cat, Grace’s passing.

This morning on a piece of blue bandana I assembled some of the items that have supported Grace in the past few months as her health deteriorated.

Nebulizer kit for breathing, syringe for hydration and flower essences to comfort.

The nebuliser kit that helped to unblock her nasal congestion so that she could breathe, the eye drops that moisturized her eyes so that she could blink comfortably and the syringe that delivered liquid to her mouth to quench her thirst were duly thanked as I visualised the Medicine Buddha through the fire of a blue butter lamp.

Her little turtle neck of blue & white argyle that protected her from chills and cushioned her as she lay in her cat condo on days she needed to rest was also blessed.

There were other important containers such as her stainless steel water bowl that had to be of a certain weight and depth so that it wouldn’t topple over when she accidentally walked into it and the carrier that served as a nebuliser chamber.

Then there were the flower essences and comforting oils that calmed both of us down as her end drew near.

Every birth has an end. And every end is an invitation to practise grace.

My cat has given me 13 years’ worth of lesson on grace, the quality from which all good springs from.

On the night of her passing, when it was evident that all the external tools were no longer required, I recited “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha,” to help her to cross to the other shore.

And today, by looking at the tools that facilitated her exit with gratitude and affection instead of dread and fear, I hope this little ritual will invoke grace to come & stabilise the hearts of all healthcare professionals and we who are now learning to walk in the shadow of Covid-19.

May ALL be well. 🙏🌈🐾

Holy Week

10 April 2020

This week little pink buds in clusters of fours are appearing quietly on the palm sized plant that I received during the lunar new year this January.

“Clusters” has taken on an ominous tone these days, so I hope seeing clusters of flowers helps to provide some balance.

3 days ago the super pink moon graced the night sky even as residents in Singapore retreated indoors to avoid Covid-19.

And on that full moon night among the pink buds and under the pink moon, I sat up with Grace, my 13-year-old cat.

She had suffered rat glue trapping in her kittenhood while living on the streets of Little India and endured spaying and dental surgeries after her rescue. Now in her old age she had to battle blindness and ill-health.

Her life hadn’t been great in the normal sense, but she was loved, treated for her discomforts and had outlived the vet’s projection of her life span by 11 years.

After a final drink of honey water to quench her thirst and in anticipation of a sweet rebirth, eye drops on her eyes to regain her sight in the life to come, and a brief cuddle, Grace left her body without struggle.

The stars were sparkling that night as I lit a butter lamp to give thanks for her easy passing and to guide her home. 善终 meaning a peaceful death is one of the 5 blessings (五福)

Yesterday on Maundy Thursday, Grace’s ashes came back to me in a small porcelain urn.

Amidst the restrictions of physical movements, sufferings of loss and shortages of tangible goods, I hope that acceptance of whatever we’re facing will also allow compassion to flow, so that our heart can expand a little & we can breathe a bit easier, even as our body retreats temporarily from the outside world.