My Psalm 23 Moment

10 Aug 2020

“Remember, no matter what you see, the whole thing is just up to my knee!” the kindly museum guide assured me. I was trembling a bit in my walk on the glass surface of installation art piece by Mark Justiniani.

“Stardust: Soaring Through the Sky’s Embrace,” takes the form of a bridge lined with mirrors, creating the illusion of endless depth.

Half way through the short bridge, I felt a bit sick as I peered down at the abysmal blackness beneath my feet.

But the museum guide’s voice brought me back to the reality that the nauseating depth I was fixating on was in fact only knee deep!

How often have I allowed my flawed vision to dictate what I should think or feel? How do I differentiate reality from the utterances & projections of the ego?

When I finally cleared the “depth” open-eyed without falling down, I felt immensely grateful to the museum staff, my friends for walking beside me and my cane.

And one of the verses in Psalm 23 which I learnt in my teens came to me: “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.“

May we be guided by Benevolence as we scale the steps of Life.

In My Father’s Name

5 Aug 2020

My father in the batik shirt I bought and his grandsons.

Yesterday was the full moon. Some families that observe the lunar calendar, also made and ate dumplings to mark the passing of the first half of the year.

The final birthday red packet I gave him in 2009.

Yesterday was also the birthday of my late father. The man who taught me to sing to the moon would have been 82 years old this year.

In the morning I made a donation to abandoned and homeless animals in my father’s name. I hope my being able to do something for the needy would comfort the man who was always worried that his daughter would be at a disadvantage because of her limp.

In the afternoon I went to place a fern at my father’s niche in the columbarium.

In the evening I received a pendant of dancing Ganesha from one of my brothers. He had bought and kept it for two years. It was made in 2014. A couple of days back he decided I should have it.

Ganesha in dancing pose has been on my mind for some time, but I don’t recall telling anyone about this particular liking of mine. The details on this pendant carving from the floral patterns on Ganesha’s forehead & trunk, to the intricacies on his pants “sparked joy.” 😄

Seeing Ganesha so poised, despite balancing on one foot, fills me with grace & courage.

And all these coming together on full moon and on my late father’s birthday assure me that every thing that we do with love continues.

Visiting my brother in Batam.

A Dream of Mind & Knife

22 June 2020

A sword wielding Manjusri statue in lapis lazuli. Source: Rendition Artifacts.

On the eve of the Solar Eclipse I raised a small butter lamp for someone who had exited this world painfully just a week ago.

As a language teacher whose main work has been about redirecting the powers of the mind for the best answers and therefore the highest good, I care how the mind works.

I’ve always taken for granted that the mind can figure anything out. So the abrupt ending of a brilliant mind belonging to someone I admired greatly despite not knowing him personally, bothered me.

That night after lighting the butter lamp I had a dream that went like this:

Some goods from Tibet had arrived for me 6 months late.The whole consignment was dropped off by a helicopter onto the roof top of a commercial building in Chinatown.

I had to go and pick up the goods myself.

I stood at the traffic junction outside Chinatown Point and looked across the street and up the building where my challenge stood.

As I explored options on how to get access to the goods, I found myself being able to direct the consignment to move just by thinking about it.

The whole process felt like I was simply using a cursor to shift files around on my computer. I watched the bulk lift and swing down gently as if an invisible crane was doing all the work.

This newfound skill didn’t make me feel superior or anxious.On the contrary it felt very egoless & peaceful.

When the consignment from Tibet finally landed, I found sacks of rice, food items and a knife. I was delighted to know that I was to distribute all the edibles to others, but not so happy to learn that the knife was meant for me.

“What kind of an omen is this? Am I supposed to kill myself with it?” Questions rose in my fearful mind as I looked at the shining metallic blade in my hand.

“No, the knife is to help you cut through all the bullshit,” came the reply, strong and clear as daylight, and as if someone was talking directly into my ear as I opened my eyes.

In Buddhism iconography, Manjusri is an enlightened being of wisdom that transcends knowledge & concepts. He holds a sword in one hand and a lotus or sutra in the other. The sword cuts through the mind’s illusions and ignorance (aka bullshit). The lotus holds the Heart Sutra, the home of compassion.

I remember reading a few years back that Manjusri is the guardian of those born under the zodiac of the Hare. And my zodiac sign is the Hare.

Sharp and metallic objects especially knives and blades make me nervous. I don’t even like seeing a pair of scissors lying about.

But this dream of a knife gift has created a mind shift in me. While a knife can certainly cause injuries and even death, it is also absolutely essential for cutting loose a noose to save a life.

So I wish to dedicate this post to all who are troubled with issues that look and feel hopeless. May they be given Manjusri’s sword to cut through all attachments that are directing their mind towards harmful paths. And may the sword help to make a clearing in their mind, where they can feel safe & heal in their own time. 🙏

Lord Manjushri – Arya Nargajuna and the Naga Queen. Artist: Ben Christian

Wearable Peace

9 June 2020

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?

Stitching Connections

3 June 2020

I found a tear in one of the pajamas bottoms and decided to sew it shut with a bit of thread instead of discarding it.

My grandpa in dark pants with a friend at the temple he cared for all his life. Behind them are the painted door guardians of the temple.

And in that instance of stitching up the hole, I felt the knobby hands of my grandparents from across the years.

Vivid memories of my grandpa’s stitches on the edges of his pockets and sides of cloth carriers appeared in my mind.

My grandpa was always mending and repairing things. He was always short on money, but never short tempered. He had this gift of approaching chores with an almost meditative attitude which made me want to potter around him more.

Whether it was sweeping the temple compound, arranging grand offerings for the gods or preparing leftovers to feed stray cats, my grandpa did them all carefully & methodically. No work was above or beneath him.

Those wordless afternoons with him would later shape my learning with male teachers and male mentors when I entered school.

The temple door guardian was witness to many of my wordless afternoons with my grandpa. He is now my gateway to my grandpa and my childhood.

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.

Apology as Medicine

20 April 2020

Twenty years ago, I taught English & Literature to a Science Class whose students were mostly aspiring to be engineers, doctors, accountants and businessmen, and maybe lawyers.

Looking back now I can see the glaring mismatch between my subject offering and the boys’ subject combination & career trajectory.

When their literature exam scores didn’t measure up to their science and math scores, Literature was the blight that marred their otherwise pristine achievements of straight “A”s.

For every difficult student there is an unusually mature one like this Asean Scholar who made sure his Literature teacher doesn’t die under the pile of admint paper work.

A couple of students who understood the relevance of Literature fought the school admint tooth & nails when they were asked to “drop Lit so that they could better focus on other subjects.” They got to keep Lit and did well in it.

However, I would learn later about a boy who questioned my teaching abilities and actively sought to humiliate me at every opportunity.

He contradicted me during lessons or asked me questions he had read elsewhere about the texts which he thought I wouldn’t be able to handle.

He even included plagiarised materials in his essays and showed off to his classmates that I wouldn’t be able to spot.

In hindsight, it was an act of grace that I didn’t know about his acts of mischief.

Had I known of his stealth, I might have become nervous, and started to channel all my productive energy to prove him wrong, and ended up neglecting my teaching, and thus becoming exactly the lousy teacher he believed I was.

Hence blissfully ignorant of the childish traps he had set for me, I continued to entertain his questions to the best of my knowledge and complimented him for his essay writing.

Years later, this boy got to study in one of the Ivy League universities in USA.

My intelligent and wonderfully compassionate girls.

By then I had moved on to teach English and Literature in a girls’ school. That year I was teaching Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” when the boy who had become a young man dropped by my school during his vacation.

Right on the bench outside the staff room, this young man surprised me by holding both my hands in his, and asked if I could ever forgive him for all that he had done to make life difficult for me during his school days.

He revealed that we had met in a period when he was facing some unresolved personal issues and I had unfortunately become the target of his bitterness.

Over the years he matured and became reflective. The turning point came when his sister became a teacher, and was treated like the way he used to treat me.

I thanked him for the courage to confess and even though there were some awkward times between us, I didn’t take his defiance to heart.

School teachers have thick skins or else it’s a one way ticket to the asylum.

Looking back now I see that in a weird twist of fate, a brother’s pranks on his school teacher not only did not achieve the intended results, but had been eerily stashed away for his own sister who at that time was not even a teacher yet.

By seeking me out to make peace he had offered me a valuable lesson on never to use personal problems as an excuse to hurt others. And in apologising, he had also released his own sister from the torment of her students.

“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. 🙏🌈🐾