Thursday, October 30, 2008

I am Blessed and I Bless

My desk sits in front of a wide glass window through which I look up into the branches of ancient fig trees. Peeps of ice blue sky fill the spaces between branches and leaves, some of which are drenched in spring’s sunlight, others in shadows of varying contrast.

Rainbow lorikeets make good use of the trees while offering a different voice to the urban sounds of traffic and domestic equipment. It is easily possible to forget that I am only a fifteen minute walk to the city.

What makes this dwelling home after twelve months of a somewhat nomadic existence? It is knowing that I won’t have to move unless I want to. Having moved house six times in the last ten years because landlords have decided to sell or raise the rent to levels I have not been able to afford, it has become the most relevant reason.

So I have been setting up home once again. It has been a joyous experience. Finding new items to bring into my space while delighting in the pleasant surprise of unpacking old favorites has been part of this joy.

This move is different to all other moves because this time, my children have not moved with me. I feel as if I have been instructed to start from scratch. It’s not just a new home. It’s not just a new beginning. It’s a new life.

It’s not that the old has been discarded. It is rather that the old has transformed and I must be ready to meet it on fresh terms. And the old includes who I have been and how I have been, not just a few months or years ago but even a few moments ago, a second ago!

In all this movement and change, and now this settling down, I feel the strength and the ever-growing sense of two things – Gratitude and Faith.

Deepening gratitude, strengthening faith.

And so I am blessed. And so I bless.

May I live for the greatness and goodness of all.

You wreck my shop and my house and now my heart, but
how can I run from what

gives me life? I’m weary of personal worrying, in love
with the art of madness!

Jalal Ad-Din Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks in The Soul of Rumi

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Calling Bloggers and the 'I Love Your Blog' Award

Well, what can I say? Early this week, I had a thought about how nice it would be if bloggers actively helped each other out. Now, I know that this is already happening in a number of ways through Entrecard, however, I feel that more, so much more can be done. Perhaps there are bloggers who are already doing ‘so much more’ but I am not one of them…yet.

So, this thought that washed up on my mindshore went like this: Imagine a group of bloggers who shared similar interests, aside from blogging of course. And imagine if we decided we would help promote and support each other and that we would do this in one or more of the following ways:

• Read each other’s blogs regularly (by subscribing to an RSS feed)
• Write about each other’s posts, blogs and/or interests/activities on our own blogs
• Send emails to our mailing lists recommending each others' specific posts (rather than the blogs )
• Send emails to our mailing lists alerting recipients of any goods/services that our blogger mates might be offering
• Develop a circle of friendship

So thinking, I made an intention to that effect. Well, the next thing I know, I was alerted of TWO AWARDS that I’d been honored with! Woo Hoo! How absolutely smashing! What a gorgeous surprise! I was thrilled, AND, I do not want to let this slip of serendipity slip away. This is one of the reasons why I am writing this post. Please read it carefully!

Dear Blogger LikeMinds, would you care to join me? Would you review my list of mutual support/promotion items above and let me know if you’d like to be part of this? We each have our particular talents and interests; the overlaps can facilitate joint ventures while the tangents can provide useful trails that we ourselves and our clients, friends and people on our mailing lists might explore.

All of this must, however, be undertaken with utmost honesty. In other words, I would not want you to write favorably about any of my posts if you had nothing favorable to say. By the same token, neither will I about any of yours! In my case, if I have nothing good to say, I won’t say anything at all. But I might be getting ahead of myself here. If you think you’d like to be part of something like this, leave a comment or contact me at

Before I conclude this part of my post, I do want to say that I believe that for something like this to work, there must be:

• Pure, loving motivation/intent
• Frequency and consistency of promotion (at least one/week)

Alright, that’s all I’m going to say about that for now. I’d now like to say a few words upon being given the following award:

Firstly, thank you Tim for sharing this award with me. As a recipient of the award yourself, it makes more sense to me that you are sharing it with me rather than giving it to me, a difference that may not make sense to anyone but me!

Apart from what I’ve already said about being thrilled and honored and unashamedly delighted is that I hope that we continue to share this award in the spirit of true respect, admiration, appreciation and support for each other and the work that we do through and beyond blogging. May the light of our spirit, our passion and our spontaneous desires guide us and all those drawn to our light!

Before I share this award with a couple of others (I believe that as a recipient of this award, I now have the honor of doing that!), I would like to share some of my impressions of Tim (who is kindly sharing this award with me) and a couple of his blogs that I frequent, Cloud Pillows and Smoke Signals.

To start with, what charming names they are! I am a sucker for charming names/titles, so I was already feeling partial to these blogs when I first went visiting. Well, one good thing led to another and I found myself falling helplessly (and willingly) into the irresistible depth and untouched beauty of Tim’s poetry at Cloud Pillows. At Smoke Signals, I heard the voice of an earnest sojourner, exploring, observing, questioning and all the time, trying to find sense.

All these qualities of Tim’s writing, thinking and feeling often also happen to find their way into the comments he leaves at my blogs for which I am always grateful and by which I am often inspired. Comments like his give me further insight into the way we think, what we believe and why we do what we do. So well considered and composed are they, they just about make up for the lack of other comments! Yep, Tim’s comments are often the only ones my posts attracts! Thank you again Tim for your comments and for sharing this award with me!

Right, that said, I can now move on to the delightful duty of sharing this award with two others. I feel I should explain my reasons for choosing these two. The truth is, the title, ‘I Love Your Blog’ got me a little concerned. The word, love, in particular, caused concern. No blog that I could unhesitatingly proclaim ‘love’ for sprang to mind! However, there are several blogs that I have enjoyed visiting, if only for their visual beauty. Others, I have enjoyed for their unique voices, their sincere take on life matters or their irrepressible desire to share what they can with others. These are the sorts of things that I most enjoy in blogs.

Does enjoying something mean loving them? Oh absolutely! It invokes the sheer nature of love, without the trappings of attachment and exclusivity. At least, that’s what I would like to believe. And so, with my ‘criteria’ spelled out, here are two of several possible blogs that I would like to share this award with:

Soul Meets World
Live Passionately

To Alexys of Soul Meets World and Christine of Live Passionately and to all bloggers who currently share this award: Thanks for your contribution to the world of blogging and the lives of many!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Drop

A drop




On the surface

Of consciousness

Ricochets into the cosmos

Returning instantaneously

With moments

Packed full of


Monday, October 13, 2008

Kindness is all Around

This article, written by my brother, was recently published in a local newspaper, The Star, in Malaysia. I know he won't mind me posting it here and I am quite sure that you will enjoy reading it as much as I did! Let's have more of this in the media!!!

In times of stress, it is all too easy to condemn others for apparently offensive acts. Often, we may see a prettier sight if only we weren’t so quick to pass judgment.

IT was 11.30pm and I was heading home aboard the last KL-Klang bus. After a hard day’s work, many of my fellow passengers and I had no difficulty nodding off for a well-earned snooze.

The dual carriageway had not been built then and, although the traffic was not as heavy as it is today, driving at night was not without its dangers.
All of a sudden, the serenity was shattered by a scream. “Sudah lepas! Ayoh! (I’ve overshot! Oh dear!)”, an elderly Chinese woman cried out.

So much for the snooze! Was it her poor tired eyes, I wondered, or was it the dimly lit road that had caused this.
The driver was visibly annoyed. “Apa pasal tidur? Turun! (Why were you sleeping? Get off!)”

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the hapless woman but what could we do?
As the lady was about to step out of the bus the driver shouted, “Balik! Balik! (Get back)”.

She was confused. She had no intention of proceeding to Klang.

“Balik! Balik!” he insisted, the tone even angrier and more impatient.
She had no choice but to comply. And then we saw, or rather experienced, the ride of a lifetime.

Driving a big bus forward on a winding road in the middle of the night was no mean feat. To do it in reverse under such conditions required great skill and will.
And that is what he had. And that is what he did ­€“ moving backwards some 200m to her intended stop.

“Terima kasih,” the old lady gushed as she blessed the gruff-yet-kind driver with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks.

It was a beautiful sight. Everyone was happy even if it meant we’d all reach home a little bit later than we’d hoped.

I chose to alight last as we arrived at our destination. Going up to the driver, I told him in Tamil: “You are a kind-hearted man.”

He understood what I was referring to. “What to do, sir?” he said, “Paavem (poor thing), how to leave her like that?”

On another day, a public holiday in conjunction with a Muslim festival, I was waiting for my bus to move off, along with several worshippers who had apparently just finished their religious obligations.

The bus was parked with its engine running, ready to set off on its route any minute.
Suddenly, a Volvo roared up and screeched to a halt right in front of the bus, as if to prevent it from moving off.

You needed a strong measure of callousness and a stronger measure of gall to do that. The driver, unquestionably, had both. I could well imagine the other passengers’ disgust at what they had just witnessed.
Indeed, I concurred with a guy who remarked: “Dia mahu eksyen pasal Volvo (He wants to show off his Volvo).”

The driver, a Chinese youth, got down, opened the rear left door and - to our surprise and shame - helped an old blind man (who too must have come from the mosque) to alight.

“Perlahan perlahan, Pakcik (Slowly, slowly),” he said, gently leading him by the hand to the bus. He helped the old man up the steps, found him a seat and returned quickly to his car.

Next he opened the rear right door, helped out an old lady, probably the man’s wife, and helped her to a seat beside him.

I, and like-minded people, were humbled at our ability to pass judgement at such great speed.

My attempts at restarting my motorbike proved futile. It was about 6pm, and you certainly didn’t expect people returning home after work to stop and lend you a hand, especially in a narrow one-way motorcycle lane.

Some 10 minutes later, a young man saw my plight and came up to me.

“What’s the problem, Uncle?” he enquired. I told him. He tried his skills on my stubborn two-wheeler, but to no avail.
At least he stopped, I told myself, as he mounted his bike to leave. But no, he wasn’t leaving me.

“Uncle, naik motor, pegang bahu saya (Get on your motorcycle, hold on to my shoulder),” he said. He was going to tow me!

So, I got on to my bike and held on to his shoulder. It was a good 6km ride fraught with much fear and anxiety until we finally came to a motorcycle shop.

The good lad refused to leave and proceed home until he was satisfied that my bike was attended to.

No amount of persuasion would permit him to take a token of appreciation from me. He even refused to give me his name and address. My thanks seemed good enough for him.
We may be strangers belonging to different faiths, but love and compassion make us brothers.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Entwined in Presence

I still have the image of his beautiful face in my mind every time I choose to recall it. It is adorned with a joyous smile and eyes glistening with the freshness of early morning. Dreadlocks hang loosely against his glowing rust-black skin.

For a few moments, our eyes are entwined in a gaze, looking for nothing, simply enjoying each other's presence, a presence that I am tempted to call divine. Recalling that gaze, I realize that it was free from egoic interests relating to such conditioned concepts as age, attractiveness, color, ethnicity, socioeconomic position, religion, culture etc.

For those few moments, all preoccupations ceased bar one - holding each other's gaze. And it was pure - sparklingly so. It was joyous - spontaneously so. It was fulfilling - unattachedly (yes, I just had to make that word up) so.

In those few moments, I, as a separate self, ceased to exist. We were not two but one. Presence was our name. Presence was our state. Now, writing about it, I realize it goes by another name - Love.

Presence - Love

No attachments, no demands, just joy, beauty, peace, oneness.

Imagine holding such a gaze with your reflection in the mirror! Imagine holding it with your friend, your estranged partner, child, colleague. And I do mean
'imagine', for from that imagination, the wheels of inspired words and action are set into motion!

Every person is called to become transparent to the divine life,
to rediscover the lost image of God within, to become a living
icon of Christ
Dennis J. Billy at

Monday, September 22, 2008


My cat Basil and I were reunited about a week following my return to Brisbane. Bonnie, our Tibetan Spaniel friend, and I, however, had an earlier reunion by about four days.

I've had Basil for six years now and Bonnie for two and a half. They were both inside eleven weeks when they were brought home, both from pet shops and both purchased somewhat unexpectedly.

In Basil's case, I had gone to the pet shop hoping to get some goldfish. I left the store without goldfish and with the cheekiest little kitten (I'd been observing him for close to an hour).

The kids were thrilled as I expected they would be. You see, we were not allowed pets in the townhouse we were living in at the time and because I very much wanted my children to grow up around animals, pet goldfish seemed better than no pet! But, as I was to learn, the intelligence 'out there' does conspire to bring about our true desire and so Basil became the fourth member of our family.

Four years later, a similar conspiracy unfolded. Once again I was in a pet shop, this time looking for flea treatment for Basil. On my way out, despite my mind telling me not to, I wandered toward the big glass box in which was tighly nestled a litter of six white and biscuit pups.

One thing led to another and before fear had a chance to show up (I was in another house now where dogs were not allowed), I was cradling this tiny bundle while the lady at the store was putting my credit card through a test run to see if I had enough funds. I had warned her that there might not be enough and we had agreed that if it didn't go through, I wouldn't be taking the bundle home with me. Well, I'm sure you can guess the rest.

She cost me a return flight to Malaysia, It was a particularly painful time for me. My son had decided to go and live with his father and although I could see him everyday, the 'parting' hurt deeply. What made it so was the circumstances in which that decision was made. I was grateful for Bonnie's entry into our lives - mine, my daughter's and Basil's although I am sure I benefited the most from it.

My daughter has since left to live with her partner. My son is happy or at least happier. I am at peace, happy for both of them and for myself. Grateful for them. They are precious, as is every being. Yes, Basil and Bonnie too. The Zen Master and the Irrepressible Beauty!

Life is multidimensional theater enlisting an unlimited cast for a limited number of roles. Somehow, we each get a turn at each role for shorter or longer periods of time, depending. I suppose, on how quickly we master it or uncover it, upon which we are moved along to give someone else a chance.

I am enjoying my current role, still exploring it, still discovering quirks in my character, still stumbling in its shadows, still bumping into its unexpected and unfamiliar walls and forever drawn to the bright and brilliant curtain call, when at last the character is unmasked.

I wonder if Bonnie and Baz feel the same way. I wonder what they are really like unmasked...

The theatre, when all is said and done, is not life in miniature, but life enormously magnified, life hideously exaggerated.
H. L. Mencken at

Monday, September 15, 2008


I've just realized something. My settings for this blog did not allow 'anonymous' comments. To leave a comment, you would have had to use a Blogger account (if you had one) or an Open ID account. Could this be the reason no one apart from Ellumbra (who has a Blogger account and is happy to use it)has been leaving comments?

Well, I have since changed the settings so now I shall expect to find a flood of comments :-).

In case you have been tempted to share some of your thoughts, longings, enchantments and desires or experiences of sacred space and were not able to, I hope you'll give it another go. I do love to read what you have to say. It often reveals something of myself...

Negative feedback is better that none. I would rather have a man hate me than overlook me. As long as he hates me I make a difference.

Hugh Prather at

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Under the Spell of Love

Why do you crave the inner
And meanwhile shun the outer?

I do not shun the outer
I meet it at Joy’s door
But I seek to know what lies inside
And thus knowing, savour both outer and inner
It is as if I have fallen under the spell of love

You are wise Prophetess
But you are more than wise
You are the Waking Dream

Lucy Lopez

I have a longing. It is to penetrate reality. Why? To know. What? Ah, I almost fell for that one!

What is it that I wish to know? The unknown? The unknowable? The Nameless? The Ein Sof as it is referred to in the Jewish tradition?

Or, do I wish to know whatever there is to be known or whatever can be known? And if so, why?

Well, in either case, Why? is still an important question to ask. And answer.

Why do I wish to know anything? Because, on some level, I believe I will be happier for it. And actually, I am sure that on some level, I believe I will find complete happiness when I do know whatever it is that I am longing to know.

The child asks questions. It seems to have an innate need to know. Or at least to ask. Interestingly, it only begins to question after it has learned to speak - only after it has acquired a new toy/tool. A tool of separation - language.

Did it have questions before it acquired this toy/tool? Unlikely, since 'it' was not limited to the boundaries of 'its' skin. On the contrary, 'it' was everything and experienced 'itself' as (part of) everything. No sense of separation.

And the child, now grown up, has been conditioned by a need to know. But the need to know can sometimes overpower the longing to know, the desire to know. A desire, so sweet and so intoxicating, as if under the spell of love....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Place called Community

Imagine living in a suburb, town or village where, when someone dies, the whole community wears black as a symbol of solidarity with the immediate family.

Or imagine if all members of the suburb, town or village felt free to attend the funeral service and many did.

I know I would feel deeply touched and greatly supported if this were to happen where I live. It doesn't nor do I suppose does it happen where you live. But it does in Tonga, a little island, north-east of Australia.

Village/communal mourning is just one of the ways in which Tongans hold strong their sense of community. So is the communal and male only drinking of 'cava', a natural alkaloidal hypnotic narcotic extracted from the roots of the pepper plant.

In Tonga, males congregate for a ceremony where they are served this yellow-green extract by females who must not be related to them. Drunk from well-used coconut shells, the drink disposes them to a state of mild euphoria during which they launch into harmonies of uplifting songs.

I happened to see both of these traditional Tongan practices on the television this evening. I couldn't help feeling what masterful ways these were in keeping the bonds of community strong as well as engaging in safe social drinking. In the case of the latter, it seemed to me that drinking was undertaken not only for the pleasure of it but also for the purpose of reinforcing solidarity, kinship and male bonding.

I believe these interests did originally lie at the heart of most social drinking. However, it seems to me that, particularly in western societies, the importance of these interests has diminished, if not been lost completely, by a corresponding erosion of community living and community spirit/mindedness. It has certainly made me appreciate the value of these practices in cultures such as the Tongans and other Polynesians.

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.

Starhawk at

Friday, September 5, 2008

Two Apparent Worlds, One Reality

I've been back in Brisbane a week now! I have left one 'world' and returned to another. But of course, they are interconnected and I am not the only interconnecting thread either! So much else in this physical form of consciousness connects them - the air, the ocean, the aircraft that took me from one to the other, the people that were on that plane, the communication between the two and so on. And how vastly different these worlds appear to me! Yet, how much a part of both I feel!

The ability to travel such great distances in such short periods of time allows for rather fascinating experiences. For instance, I find my typical perceptions of difference rapidly clouding in the penetrating realizations of sameness.

My access to people in both 'worlds' gives me a sense of continuity and connectivity between them. For instance, while I was with my brother who is currently only mobile by means of a wheelchair, I noticed some design drawbacks in the wheelchair. Upon returning to Brisbane, I have found myself in the home of another person who uses a wheelchair, the design of which I consider ideal. I happened to think to myself how nice it would be if my brother also had something similar. A day later, I receive an email from another brother saying he had found a wheelchair that, by his description, is rather like the one I've seen here! And this has happened without my even mentioning wheelchairs to my brother!

I guess what I am trying to say in all this is that my sense of continuity and connectivity is one that has perhaps been heightened by my travels between these 'worlds'. The truth of the matter, however, is that this continuity and connectivity have always been. They just hasn't been noticed.

Right now, across the world, there must be others doing something similar to what I am doing right now, feeling some of the things I am feeling, having needs and desires similar to mine. Right now, across the world, there are people being abused, entertained or cared for. Common needs, common emotions, just different details that thread our individual stories; individual stories given meaning by the enchanting and forever unfolding story of divine love!

I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story.
My place is the placeless, a trace of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one
and that one call to and know, first, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing human being

Jalal-Ad-Din Rumi at

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Bliss that calls Me

The last few hours of my visit are here. What a visit it has been for as visitor and family, I have been touched with a warm tenderness and rich affection by all. I trust they have been touched in turn by the love and gratitude I have felt.

If it weren’t for the calendar and clock, I would not be so certain that an entire month (and a bit) have passed. While the focus of attention has mostly been on my darling brother, Joe, I have managed to attend to the needs and interests of one or two others. For that, I am truly grateful.

During this visit, I have been drawn into the ‘flowing mirror’ of my soul, as James Hillman describes it, aroused by its ever-shifting imagery, seduced by its haunting forever-ness.

Had it not been for the daily invitations so sensitively sent to my attention by the two people here who most need care i.e. by brother, Joe, and my mother, I could have easily been lost in the shifting sands of my soul.

Life is truly enchanting even when the thorns of its rose-bushes stab you unexpectedly and almost mercilessly at times. Keep your attention on the rose-bushes and you soon forget the pain. Instead, you soon remember the Garden of Eden you were born into and in which the divine that you are lives in bliss!

"You begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss and they open the doors for you. I say follow your bliss and don't be afraid and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."
- Joseph Campbell

I believe it is this bliss that calls me and bids me follow it and so I shall, physically to Brisbane for now and metaphysically into the wild, enchanting, sacred spaces of my soul’s longings! See you there…..

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gentle Ironies

Mum relates an internal dialogue an older cousin has been having with God. That lady, now 88, is just three years older than Mum.

For some years now, Mum has lived with what I perceive to be an anxiety over her tenancy on earth! It stems from a belief that she should have been called to her true home by now. So many others of her generation have been called. Why hasn’t she?

Here's the test to whether your mission on earth is finished. If you're alive, it isn't. ~ Richard Bach at

She also believes, like so many others, old and young, that old age is fraught with illness, loss of physical and mental abilities and a purposelessness that is burdensome to others. I can’t help feeling that she feels compelled to fulfill her prophecies of poor health and an inevitable degradation of her lifestyle.

Fortunately, she retains an enviable sense of humor although these days, she calls upon it less frequently than she used to. Thus this somewhat rare recount of her cousin, Fidelis’, conversation with the supreme personage is one that I am keen to hear. It clearly has amused Mum intensely and continues to as it brings on a paroxysm of laughter.

“I asked him, “Why haven’t you taken me yet? How much longer am I supposed to live like this? I am getting tired and weary. You had better call me soon”.

But that man up there doesn’t seem too interested. In fact, I’ve observed his preference for younger people. The likes of you and I are too old for him.

(Mum is forced to pause as more laughter interrupts).

Anyway, I’ve pressed him for an answer and he has finally told me that he doesn’t want me yet. Well, I decided then that if that was his position, here was mine: “If you don’t call me now, when you eventually do, I shall refuse to go””.

Mum is in tears by now. I am enjoying this. I love to watch Mum having a good laugh. It was a forbidden thing when my father was alive. We, children, all nine of us and Mum weren’t allowed to sit in conversation with each other and we most certainly weren’t allowed to laugh. If, by some extreme misfortune, we did, we were pulled up, slapped across the cheek, told off in language we ourselves would not dare use in his presence, and sent to ‘exile’ i.e. some corner of the house away from everyone else. But today, Mum is able to laugh freely, even if sometimes feeling too frail to!

Ah, such ironies that life serves up. We enjoy the present as best we can as we nervously undo the shackles that keep us fettered to past fears…

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Sacred Space of Meaningful Conversation

I notice that people here tend to speak rather slowly, as if they are in no hurry at all and as if they are offering each word as a fresh utterance, a fresh composition. It is so charmingly different to the well-oiled, automated delivery of cliched scripts that I have become accustomed to in Brisbane - tired, old, uninspiring scripts that recycle stale energy, their originality used up a long, long time ago.

Worse yet, these lifeless, conversational detritus are frequently scattered in company to avoid silence, a state apparently so threatening and uncomfortable, it has to be filled with non-creative dialogue:

How are you?

Pretty good, thanks. Yourself.

Yeah, not too bad. Could be worse.

Hot enough for you?

Yeah, it's been shockin'

I had to shower twice this morning. Cold shower.

Me too. They say its gonna stay like this for the rest of the week...

And so it goes. Or does it? And if so, where?

Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Oscar Wilde at

On the other hand, I was drawn into a different kind of conversation last night, just as we were about to tuck into our 'steam boat'*.

What is the difference between liturgy and ritual?

The five of us at the table remained silent as we pondered the question. After at least a minute, one offered an answer.

Rituals are like habits with certain connotations. Right? But liturgy is...

Someone else sought to fill in the blanks...but stopped.

I acknowledged the first response regarding rituals and waited to see who else might respond. Soon, however, the immediate demands of the steamboat 'ritual' distracted us, or should I say, drew us back to the purpose of our gathering.

I continued to ponder the difference between liturgy and ritual and felt almost ready to offer my answer. Sensing, however, that the timing was not quite right, I refrained and instead allowed my attention to be absorbed by the joyous process of 'trawling' (with a strainer-ladle) freshly cooked assortments of seafood from the cheerfully steaming 'boat' in the center of our table.

The conversation gradually meandered towards apparent paradoxes in the Bible and then onto local politics. No surprise at all as I have long been aware of Malaysians' fondness (or is it an addiction?) for two subjects - religion and politics.

And so our dining, interspersed with periods of silence, progressed to a happy, open-ended closure. Had you been there, you would not have complained of verbosity. You might have been intimidated by the silences though. But, if you were sensitive enough, you would have felt the unspoken respect and care that held us all in the sacred space of meaningful conversation.

Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
Robert Benchley

*In case you're wondering what that is, it comprises a small gas-fueled wok in which a tasty soup is kept boiling and into which you drop all manner of tasty meat and vegetable bits to cook. As they do, you dish them out into your bowl and consume. Our steam boat last night was a seafood affair. Most delicious :-).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Life's Kaleidoscope

"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus"

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been feeling somewhat dissatisfied over the fact that I have not been posting here everyday. Somehow the hours just slip away and from wake-up to shut-eye, I am in another world so different to the one I experience when I sit down to compose a post. Perhaps I am finding these two worlds impossible to straddle. Perhaps it is silly to even try!

Life here is unnervingly different to what I am used to. Crime, particularly robbery and theft, is rampant. At least three out of five people I meet have been robbed, most more than once and almost all in broad daylight in the midst of terrified onlookers.

On the weekend, my nephew, a strapping young man of nineteen, was hit on the head with a helmet by two young men not much older than him. They had lured him to assist an elderly man who had been dealt a similar blow earlier and who was lying on the ground groaning from pain and shock. All this to relieve him and my nephew of their mobile phones! My nephew was able to make a quick getaway despite his injury. The elderly gentleman, however, was not as fortunate. The last we heard, he was still recovering in hospital from shock. Two other teenage boys who had witnessed the entire event felt powerless to help.

It was this same nephew’s older sister who had been twice robbed a couple of years ago by a couple of motorcycle snatch thieves. In the second incident, my daughter, here on holiday, was with her and was threatened with a knife to part with her handbag. She did and so escaped physical harm. To think that the incident happened at the front gate of our house!

A few days ago, I was told of the recent murders of two people who are relatives of close friends and just the other day, my eighteen year old niece described the loss of five friends in road accidents last year. I am told this country, Malaysia, has one of the highest, if not the highest, road fatality rates in the world.

All of this happens against the backdrop of incessant rumbles – allegations of corruption within the government and its racially discriminatory practices. Prominent political figures seem to be prone to notoriety relating to crimes ranging from bribery to murder.

You can see why I feel this world is so vastly different to the comparatively peaceful and placid world I inhabit in Brisbane and frequently in front of the screen of my laptop. But to leave you with the impression that this is the sum total of life here would be unfair and untruthful. In the middle of this festering wound of Malaysian society, I have met so many caring souls, several of whom volunteer their services for the hidden faces of this same society – the poor and the marginalized.

Take, for instance, a family friend who dropped in to visit my mother and my brother, Joe, (who is very slowly recovering from a surgery that left him bedridden for several months). A retired teacher, she now volunteers at an orphanage. A significant part of her time is spent tracing or submitting applications for birth certificates for the abandoned children.

Or there’s the sister of an ex-classmate who works at a school for children with learning difficulties. And another family friend works as a volunteer fundraiser for the homeless. And so it goes on. These people and their services leave me with just as, if not more, powerful and empowering impressions than do the callous acts of others.

It is as if I am being offered a choice of views of heaven and hell. It only requires a slight adjustment of attention to bring heaven into view. And it takes an equally small adjustment to bring up the horrors of hell on the screen of my mind!

"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world".

Albert Schopenhauer

These are but some of the images of life’s kaleidoscope. So vast and varied is its imagery, I could easily find myself lost in a sliver of it, convinced that it is all there is and that my entire world is ensconced within. So tantalizing and compelling are its local dramas, I could easily forget the infinite other dramas happening simultaneously and involving people and things so far removed from my current field of view! Yet, even the slightest turn of the kaleidoscope reconfigures the entire life-scape before me and for such magic I am abundantly grateful!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Helplessly Fascinated

I am helplessly fascinated by what I see and hear in this place that was once the only home I knew. Curiously, I find myself occasionally still calling it home even though I feel so much more like an onlooker rather than one who belongs!

There is, without doubt, a sense of my past, my ‘roots’, as it were. This is, after all, where I, the youngest of ten siblings, was born and where I lived for the first eighteeen years of my life and this is where I return time and again to be with my mother and my six brothers and two sisters, some resident, others visiting. So, this is home insofar as it is where we gather as family and where we recall memories, distant and recent.

This is also home because we plan for things that involve the entire family such as my sister, Michelle’s, recent birthday. Or at least, this is where such plans originate and are conveyed, where necessary, to family members no longer living here. And this is home because it is here where we meet, once again, friends from childhood and friends more recently acquired.

And all of this, against the backdrop of the brief and intense togetherness of family, punctuated by the much longer and more mundane cycles of separation, appears to create gaping holes of awareness from which fascination taunts me mercilessly!

For instance, as I am driven along local streets, now different to how I remember them, I hold in my mind, images of old, dilapidated shacks that were the dwelling places of families, some of which comprised at least three generations.

There is a bitter-sweetness about such images which I cannot explain nor adequately describe. I close my eyes and I hear sounds of evening chatter. For some reason, it is intense and not relaxed as one might expect at this time of the day. I hear the sound of a metal spatula striking the wok as the evening meal is prepared in a dim, yellow light and the distinctive smell of fish paste hits me as it used to so many years ago. In the dusk, I can still make out the shapes of stray dogs sniffing in vain for food.

I feel I am losing myself as my senses heighten and I wonder why I feel like I am teetering on the edge of pain, as if my next breath would cause me to free-fall into an interminable abyss? And yet, do I not also sense a tenderness waiting for me there - a tenderness I am finding so very hard to resist?

Or, for instance, I watch and listen as a family friend talks. His soft voice and local accent feel melodious and are achingly familiar. I am far less interested in what he is saying than in how he says it. It keeps me suspended in a place I feel I have been but never explored, so that there hangs over me the question, why?

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened

By T.S. Eliot taken from

As I reflect on it now, I think I know the answer. I was in a hurry to leave this place of family and familiarity for, as my discriminating mind would have me believe, my most significant experiences growing up here were painful ones. Even now, I cannot seem to shift the heavy curtains they have drawn across my past. Perhaps if I could open them just a little, I might catch a glimpse of one or two joyous events that must have surely claimed at least some of my childhood. But just now, such optimism escapes me.

So this is the aching from my fascination. I want to go back in there and remember the past, the familiar, without the pain. I want to explore those places I so hurriedly withdrew from or was never allowed to enter without the fear of being imprisoned forever in them. Pain and fear that were intensely real to me all those years ago. Pain and fear that a part of me still fears. And yet, it calls me, like a lost spirit longing to return home. I realize now that I am its home!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I noticed something for the first time

I noticed something for the first time yesterday. Visitors to this house (my oldest brother's, which is rather like the family home), and there is a fairly regular stream 0f them, are able to sit with whoever is at silence!

In all the years I had been a living-in member of this family, we have had people, from close friends to acquaintances, drop in at various times of the day and evening. Whoever is home does whatever s/he can to make them feel welcome and our visitors always do. We have treated them both as guest and as family. And although conversations may have begun animatedly at times, and tentatively at others, they continued meaningfully and in a personal yet sensitive way, often interspersed with periods of quiet - phases in which those present simply shared silence. This has been true for as far back as I can remember.

But yesterday, I actually noticed the shared silence for the first time, having taken it for granted so many times before. And it felt familiar. It felt intimate. It felt so comfortable, so tender, so sacred.

Because in the school of the Spirit
man learns wisdom through humility,
knowledge by forgetting, how to speak
by silence, how to live by dying.

By Johannes Tauler from

My heart continues to thrill in the memory of shared silence!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

That window in my heart

What change! I am, at what I still refer to as, 'home' although I first left it over thirty years ago! Since then, I have visited, on average, once every two to three years. Yet, it remains a place of strong sentiments, triggered by memories that awaken unpredictably.

Voices, smells, scenes that I rush past in a moving car, a name mentioned here, family friends who drop by without warning, certain that they are always welcome, and they are of course... All these and more remind me of a time and place and family that are no more, in some sense, yet by no means lost. They are all there, every bit of them, in the secure vaults of my memory, released, from time to time, by daily moments.

I watch my oldest brother, a shadow of his former self following an operation several months ago to remove a tumour in his brain. I watch his inability to care for himself or to speak for himself. I watch as he is fed and cleaned and changed by a number of caring, competent hands. I watch as he is prompted to speak and answer questions as if a child. I watch as if I had expected to see all this. I watch as I become aware that regardless of my expectations, I have been shocked and I am deeply, deeply saddened.

I find myself resisting old memories, fearing that they will only make the difference between what was and what is simply too unbearable. It is better, I say to myself, to remain right here and now. And mostly I do. But in the two days that I have been here, I have sobbed in the confines of our daily family prayer. This has been the only time when the gulf between Life Was and Life Is has stretched so far that it has torn the heart which holds all three.

How can the human being have such indignity enforced on it? How can what so majestically was have become so unceremoniously is? And yet, these moment to moment displays of tenderness, caring, patience, unconditional love, encouragement, faith...where do these come from, if not from that same gulf which separates was and is? It is as if a window has appeared in my heart and through it, I see god in many forms.

Listen, open a window to God
and begin to delight yourself
by gazing upon Him through the opening.
The business of love is to make that window in the heart,
for the breast is illumined by the beauty of the Beloved.
Gaze incessantly on the face of the Beloved!
Listen, this is in your power, my friend!

Jalal-al-Din Rumi

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nature's Elements deifying Me

"I see the spectacle of morning from the hill-top over against my house, from day-break to sun-rise, with emotions which an angel might share. The long slender bars of cloud float like fishes in the sea of crimson light. From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind. How does Nature deify us with a few and cheap elements!"

From Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson at

How, indeed, does Nature deify us with a few and cheap elements"!

I was speaking to a friend on the phone this morning and in the middle of our conversation, I heard what sounded like the cheerful chatter of birds all the way across two suburbs! I interrupted to check if it was in fact as I thought. "Yes, it is", she said. I could hear the bright smile in her voice, delighting in this 'cheap element' of Nature's that we were able to share at the one time!

The call of birds often brings my mind back from its incessant wanderings to the here and now, interrupting its unproductive preoccupations with a gentle reminder that here and now is where the fullness of my life comes into its own.

Right here and now, as I type this post, I am still aware of the mild anxieties incurred as I have prepared for my month long trip overseas. I am hesitant to call it a holiday, perhaps because the various 'matters' that I am leaving behind and which I will have to attend to upon my return still sit close to my chest (almost literally). They are not life-shattering matters but they are life-influencing ones, such as tax returns and accommodation and income and animal friends.

For a month, I shall be physically away from all these concerns. To what extent I'll be able to remain mentally and emotionally distanced from them is something that my intentions will determine.

So I intend now to let it all lie quietly until I return. I intend now to remain 'here and now' while I am overseas!

I feel lighter now and there is a smile on my face. Something has lifted. I have shifted from what 'has been' to what is becoming as I intend it! There is hardly a sound of birds and the sound of my typing is the loudest sound around.

Ah, now I hear it, the evening call of a pigeon - ooo -oo. And another call of another bird. Three notes, this one. And the soft shadows that fall as the first star of the evening appears, heralding no doubt the arrival of the moon. All of this in constant greeting of the god that I am. I return the same greeting to each in recognition of the god that each is. Truly Namaste!

And truly, Nature's elements deifying me!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yielding to daily Graces

One of my great longings is to write that piece of prose that will lodge itself in the hearts of many, filling them with sweet enchantment, thrilling them in unimaginable ways to leave them drowning irredeemably in love! Could anything be better? Not much, I don't think!

"An enchanted life has many moments when the heart is overwhelmed with beauty and the imagination is electrified by some haunting quality in the world or by a spirit or voice speaking from deep within a thing, a place or a person. Enchantment may be" ~ Henry Louis Mencken

There exists for each of us a state of consciousness that is enchantment itself. It is the enchantment of the child, suffused with wonderment and thrill. I long for it. No, I don't mean in a way that holds me back from engaging with life and all its shadow play. I do partake as fully as I can in the creative work of staying alive as well as I know how to. But what I long for are those runaway moments when, rather unexpectedly and to my breath-taking delight, I find myself in the softness and freshness of new life, a new form of beauty, disarmingly so!

Perhaps this is why I so love softly, falling rain. It seems to caress life forms, blessing each one indiscriminately. You know it, I'm sure.

Yesterday, I sat in bed with my laptop, as I have been doing in these recent wintry days, working away, stopping often to watch the rain fall upon the native just outside my bedroom. I am certain the green leaves on it looked even greener and the raindrops suspended from their tips were priceless diamonds. I knew the 'diamonds' would disappear in time, but while they lasted, I remained enthralled.

Water has this way of enveloping you so completely, it's silly to resist! What could be more intimate? Air, which we take so much for granted, is just as complete in his embrace. It is these moments of recognizing and yielding to daily graces that I long for. They leave me feeling full of something. I think they call it life.