Sunday, 5 October 2014

Much ado about Trees

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This long weekend, I decide to reward myself by devoting a post to my greatest love -- trees.

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From "L.S.O.D: Little Shop of Dreams"

I have always loved trees. Each part of the tree bears characteristics that represent all that I desire to be -- the tree extends outwards, extolling ambitiousness and curiosity; its branches reach out far and wide, reminding one to stay hungry and curious; the solidity of the trunk allows the tree to stay calm and still even in strong winds; and most of all, the tree stays rooted, firmly planting themselves where they are, never forgetting where it comes from.

Trees are a great solace to me too during this period of my life. I realised today, during my 1.5 hours bus journey on my way home  from my Ayurveda session, why I relished this long but never tiring journey. The journey on bus 52 past Adam Road, Sime Road, all the way to King Albert Park traverses along roads lined with thick foliages of trees. It is such great joy meandering down these roads with its soothing green like a balm to my weary soul. And each time I watch them wheeze past as I sit in the bus, I feel like I received a sayang from Mother Earth. Sitting on the left side of the bus, I can never get enough watching the branches of the trees extending themselves. Some do it so gracefully, looking like they never needed much effort or attention to see where they are reaching. The foliage of different trees form different visual architecture and every one is so beguiling -- I will never tire of them. I even spotted a dinosaur among these foliages!

Recently too, I received a dear gift from my good friend  -- that of a drawing of a tree. The depiction of the tree is beautiful. The bottom-up view of the tree, extending towards an open space paints a forward-looking perspective. A green expanse replaces the typical blue that would have usually formed the backdrop, depicting a strong theme of renewal. The roughness of the lean trunk is grated, solid and quiet. It extends upwards into an orange heart, reminding me to be brave.

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Am greatly blessed by these wonderful gifts from Mother Earth and friends!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Observations of a dental visit

This afternoon, I went to visit a dental clinic I have not visited before to have my braces fitted.

Before the visit, my nervous energy about this life-changing decision I recently made meant I have several questions that cropped up at different times of the day resulting in calls made at different timings. The lady who took  all these calls was very patient -- amused no doubt but never missing a beat and provided very clear replies. 

This morning, I could not find my way there and had to call the receptionist. It was another lady who picked up the call and equally friendly. Her pronunciation was not very clear though and I had some difficulties understanding her. However what I found interesting was she has a certain self-awareness about her limitations and took pains to spell out 's-t-o-o-l' as she explained that I know i have reached the place when I see "colourful stools on my right" (I kept hearing the word "school"). 

When I reached there, the ladies at the receptionist counters were professional and friendly, with an easy-goingness in the air -- there was something more which I could not quite put a finger on then. The missing piece in the puzzle came as I stepped into my dentist's room, meeting the important person who will be with me in this 2-year journey for the first time. 

My dentist was a kindly middle-aged gentleman who has a very congenial smile that sets one's heart at ease very quickly. He took my bags and offered to put them on a stool for me in a warm demeanour, not of the sleek type. I always love to observe the interactions between a dentist and his/her assistant. Much can be gleaned from the small actions from each individual, which is difficult to fake in a small room with many tools and wires around you. What I found endearing was how they relate to each other in a very respectful manner, treating each other almost as equals.

What touched me most of all is a huge painting of a cottage house set against a lush green field with an overhanging soothing sky  on the wall right in front of me. It is obviously there to provide a relaxed visual focus for the patient, many of whom would obviously not choose to step into a dental clinic if given a choice. For some reason, this meticulous act touches me a great deal. 

And while the screwing, tightening and adjusting was going on at the dental's chair, I suddenly realised what it was that I felt earlier at the receptionist area -- there was happiness pulsating in the air. 

It was not the outrightly ostentatious type but a quietly contented type. Because the genteel dentist himself appears to be a happy man, the staff under him and his dental clinic appears to emanate a touchingly sincere spirit that I must say is hard-pressed to find in a clinic these days.

And then it dwells on me the true meaning of a 静思语 that I have been reading this holiday -- 有快乐的老师, 才会有快乐的学生. It makes me wonder how happy my students are when they are in my class? 

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Art of Being Mindful

This June, I was able to go slow in a way that I have not been able to do for the past few June or December breaks.

Perhaps it is because I did not go for an overseas trip, hence, there wasn't the pre-trip busyness as well as the post-trip tiredness that I have to deal with. Also, I ended up not being able to do quite a bit of work I was planning to due to various constraining factors at work (which turned out to be a beautiful thing!). As such, I was able to go really slow in my daily activities and engage (and indulge) in mindfulness in many things I do. And from being mindful of the everyday things around me, I experience much more each day.

Just yesterday, I discovered (from reading the back label of my body moisturiser bottle while  eating my afternoon snack)  that body moisturiser is meant to be applied on your body in an upwards direction towards the heart! I never know that.

This evening after a slow walk around the big field opposite my flat, I found  there are lovely baby's breath growing alongside the sidewalk. I stopped to meditate over the baby's breath but as I was very conscious that passers-by would find this woman eccentric to be focusing on her breathing as she stared at the plant, I incorporated some stretching exercises as I admired the fluffiness of the plant. It has been a long time since I deliberated for so long over a plant...

And I also found to my horror during the same walk that I never realised my flat and the neighbouring flats have been painted a shade of beige and orange, with the flats opposite painted brown! All along (since 1996 when I first moved into the neighbourhood), when friends ask me where I live, I always give the standard reply -- "Just look for the block of lighter shade of green flats opposite the darker shade of green flats behind IMM" -- even up till not too long ago. And it's not as if I didn't know the neighbourhood went through major refurbishing some time ago (erm, though I must say I forgot when). Somehow the fact that the colours of my neighbourhood would have changed after the refurbishing did not strike a chord in me, until today when I saw them truly as they are. How mindlessness  can just creep in amidst the busyness of one's life in such a scarily-frightening way...

The past week, I also gained a new-found appreciation for my 2 wrists -- body parts which I seldom think much of, until they hurt. I sprained my right wrist after I dragged an air purifier home from IMM last Monday; subsequently when I relied on my left hand to carry heavy stuff, I also sprained that as well. Both are minor sprains thankfully but they hurt in different areas, hence restricting the type of movements each hand can execute, allowing me to make very interesting observations of the way my hands work.

For the record, the fore muscles in the right wrist were injured while the back muscles in the left wrist were hurt. I observed that we seem to rely on fore muscles more as there were so many activities I could not do with my right hand last week such as shampooing, cleaning myself after going to the toilet, compared to when the left hand's back muscles were hurt. I ended up having to creatively use the front part of my right hand to rub my back during showers since I could not really twist my right hand. The fore muscles in the right hand also took a much longer time to heal compared to the left hand's back muscles. I have to rely on my left hand to do many things and I never really realised how capable it is until now. And because they hurt easily if I am not careful, I have to consciously remind myself to slow down in every daily action, from dressing myself to washing the dishes.

How clever the month of June is, in reminding myself to be more mindful in my life!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

My Plum Village Meditation Retreat

Logging into my blogspot account, I was quite surprised to learn that I had only put in a blog entry once this year, and half the year has gone past. That probably shows how much in a wheeze my life has been spent, and how hectic it has been.

And so it was a much needed rest that I sought after as I signed up for the 5-day meditation retreat at Kong Meng San Monastery which just ended.

More importantly, I wanted to find back my 'breath', as strange as it sounds. Being conscious of one's breathing is the first step to developing mindfulness of oneself and of one's life. It is at the core of Plum Village meditation retreats. As I grew mindful of my breathing having attended Plum Village retreats for a few years, I am quite happy to know i am more mindful of my breath which is a good sign that I am developing greater consciousness and mindfulness.

That said, that meant i was growing more unsettled about the fact that while I have no problems knowing I am breathing in, I had great difficulties knowing I am breathing out. In case that sounds too abstract, it means i have difficulty 'locating' my breath as I exhale. For as long as half a year, i felt I could not 'find' my out-breath (my exhalation breath). As elusive as it sounds, the most concrete description I can give is that of someone trying to catch her breath as she pants after a run, except that I felt this way even when I am in a calm state. It is a very unsettling feeling whenever I cannot locate my out-breath -- it is almost as if a part of me is missing and I cannot find it. Stress and anxieties at work have a part to play definitely.

I was hoping to find it then during this meditation retreat. The first day went by with no sign of that improving during the half-hour sitting meditation in the morning. Not did it improve on the second day. As the days of the retreat went by, I was getting quite impatient with myself and am judging my meditation (and my breath) which defeats the whole point of enjoying breathing during meditation. Things did not improve on the third or fourth morning. By this time, I decided to let go and decided there was no point judging myself harshly.

And then, it happened. I found my out-breath on the last morning of the retreat today. And it came so easily without me having to search high and low for it. And when it happened, i  experience a quiet euphoria in my heart, and a feeling of meeting a long-lost friend after a long time of losing contact. The amazing by-product that quiet consciousness the past few days brought!

But I admit there was some difficulty in sustaining my awareness of this out-breath during these precious half hour. Though I felt vulnerable (not knowing if i will lose it again), it comforts me to know i am still able to go back to my breath from time to time, whenever my monkey mind goes in search of some bananas.

I will spend some catch-up time for sure with my long-lost best friend the next three weeks. :)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


Styled like a tent, it is meant to symbolise the “tent of meeting” from the Bible

I went on a trip down memory lane recently by signing up for the Queenstown Heritage Trail, organized by a group of volunteers keen to preserve the heritage of Queesnstown. It turned out to be a journey filled with much quiet happiness. Mainly because Queenstown was a place where my adolescent days were spent, when I was a student of Cresent Girls’ School. I spent my first year in the old campus next to the Alexandra fire station, and the next three years in a brand new campus in Tanglin.

It was amazing first and foremost to know that before I know Queesnstown in the 90s, it was the Orchard Road of Singapore in the hey days of 60s and 70s!

It was even more fascinating to hear of stories I never know existed about Queesnstown. Such as how a notorious jewellery robber in the country who purported once called the police commissioner to boast that he would never be caught was gunned down near two popular cinemas back then which are now churches. Or how the Queesnstown Hawker Centre used to have only tables that were fixed to the ground. This meant seats could be moved from table to table and the guide shared this meant many seats were often moved to outside of the hawker centre as it was much more airy since it faced an open field. What a scene then I could only imagine!

It was even more fascinating when my father and uncle added further stories from their childhood days, during our Chinese New Year reunion dinner. It turned out that the practice of having movable seats stopped the year when two stall vendors fought over customers due to the unclear seating. From then on, my uncle and father told me, that was where hawker centres came to have seats fixed to the ground. Am not sure how true that was – but what a great urban legend it made!

Several familiar sights were now gone, such as the Queenstown Remand Prison, the Hawker Centre and the shopping centre where the NTUC Fairprice was, replaced either with condominium projects or open fields with fates yet unknown. Unknown too is the fate of the Queenstown Sports cum Swimming Complex – a place which brought back lots of memories for me. After all, it was the place where I first picked up swimming under the tutelage of a terrifying swimming coach back in secondary two. The sports complex was also a place where Crescent Girls held all of its sports days, of which I never took part despite my athletic interests because I was just too shy! When I was 21 and had the rare opportunity of an internship with Straits Times Sports Desk, it was also where I interviewed tall, lanky and handsome Lim Tong Hai after one of the S-league matches there. Those were indeed memories!

It is heartening to know some places will continue to stay. Such as the Queenstown Library where my then-best friend SY and I usually headed to, for our post-exam celebrations (by going on a reading spree!). And the very fact that we have our very own church here in Singapore (see picture above) which is entirely beamless (and grandeous to boot!), a la, the Luce Chapel at Dong hai University in Taichung, Taiwan! It was the church I always passed by whenever I headed to SY’s house to do our school projects, which I never really took a second look back then.

Am very grateful for this opportunity to remember these places which brought me so much memories.