Sunday, 30 December 2012

Hello from Korea

I am on my first visit to Korea, experiencing the cold winter.  I have taken the opportunity to travel whenever conditions are right. The temperature two days ago was at -2 degree Celcius. At night the temperature can drop to -16 degree Celcius. It is really cold and I have to wear several  layers of clothing and wrap myself up from head to toe each time I walk out.

I spent the night in Yong Pyong, a ski resort, then Mount Sorak Resort. I tried my first ski lesson. I did not know that ski shoes were so heavy and felt like the iron man walking around. I very gingerly manouvered myself on the skis and it is an interesting experience.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Year End Reflections

As 2012 draws to a close, how many of us do sit down and reflect on the year gone by? Do you give yourself a report card for your achievements, successes and failures? Do you have a goal post which you have set to gauge how near or far you are from your personal goals? Do you have a vision of how far more you have to go? And where you are going?

Taj Mahal India 2011
Every moment that we are alive is a treasure full of hope. Sometime during the year, we may have run into difficult situations where we feel hopeless that things will  ever turnaround or feel overwhelmed by problems which we do no know how to resolve. Yet, we are still here, ushering in another year. In the words of a friend who succumbed to cancer, how wonderful it is to be alive!

Betong May 2012
Life is not easy. I have known that since I was old enough to remember. I have had my share of tough times. There have been times when it seemed almost insurmountable. Yet, the difficulties have shaped me.  I recognise the immense suffering in this world. And I also recognise how crucial our own attitudes are, in creating our own happiness. No one is spared of suffering. The question to ask ourselves is what we learn from that suffering and how it can be used to benefit others.

Many Chinese families make money their foremost priority. Rightly so, because we need to survive. Beyond that, does money override parental and sibling relations? Is it worth sacrificing our health and mental wellbeing over? Is money a measure of how much we love our parents or children? The more we give them, the more we love them? Or is it just a replacement for love and devotion?

Gaden Monastery, Mundgod 2012
I have been faced with issues of life and death this year, with my parents failing health and hospitalisation, Chang's death and the birth of this blog. I worried over losing my parents. Yet, life and death is a fact we cannot escape from.

What counts is what we do in the present moment. As each year comes to a close, I will ask myself whether I am  more peaceful and happier than the last. It is said that our inner world is reflected in our outer world. If there is turmoil within us, then there will most certainly be turmoil in our external world as well.  If we are peaceful people inside, we will most likely attract peaceful people into our lives.

I wish you a time of reflection as you usher in 2013. And a New Year of Peace, Health and Happiness.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas !!


Wishing all  Christian readers and friends a very Merry Christmas!

I always look forward to the year end festivities because I like the air of merry making and fun. I also enjoy shopping around this time because the shopping malls are beautifully decorated and clothes are more glamorous. I hope it will be a joyful occasion for everyone!

Sunday, 23 December 2012


I first laid eyes on her on Wesak Day in 2010. She was a cute and adorable 2 month old baby with big, black expressive eyes. When the caretaker held her and placed her on my daughter's lap, she was enthralled. My husband, cat lover was not amused. He was very sure of what he did not want. It took us, mother and daughter a long time to talk him into bringing the baby home.

The baby whom my daughter named Oreo, is her good natured, expressive  and playful dog. My daughter was heartbroken after her stray cat, Pansy died and she wanted a dog as a replacement. Because I grew up with dogs around the compound, I wanted my daughter to enjoy the same experience. In my growing up years,  I have found them to be a source of comfort. They are responsive and expressive and somehow able to sense my moods. 

I decided to adopt a dog because there are already too many unwanted canines needing homes. Besides hoping to teach my daughter responsibility and compassion toward animals, I decided to give a stray, a home. For this reason, I did not want to select any particular breed but to take a suitable one that comes along. I personally disagree with the commercial breeding of dogs which has caused so much  suffering.

Oreo was a stray in a litter of 6 puppies and was placed out for adoption. Her mother was also a stray. Yesterday, she was injured when we were out shopping in the afternoon. We received a call from our neighbour who reported that Oreo tried to climb over the fence in desperation after some thunder and lightning. Her hind paws suffered cuts after they became stuck and bled quite a bit. Our good neighbour came over with pliers to help her. 

We took her to the vet who cleaned her up and gave her 2 injections. I held her throughout the procedure and she was very well behaved. She looked into my eyes seeking to understand and we comforted her. Her paws have been bandaged and she is wearing a cone around her neck. She has to be fed antibiotics twice a day and her bandage changed daily. I am glad Oreo survived. It could have been worse. Nonetheless, I am rather worried about her as she seems to have been traumatised by loud sounds recently.

Yes, my husband is indeed right. She does require a fair amount of work and my plate is full. I have pondered over this. I think any form of non-monetary contribution to others require us to set aside our time and put in some effort. But is that not the point of giving? To draw away from our basically self-centred approach to life and include others less fortunate than us, even if it is for a minute? The beauty of giving is that it never leaves us, the giver, untouched. And Oreo has given us back in intangible ways which cannot be measured.

I hope we have been fair to her by taking her in. Though she has a home, we are nevertheless busy people. She runs around the compound and we take her for walks when we have the time. We love you, Oreo. You deserve love and care,  just as we humans do.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Winter Solstice Festival

We celebrate Winter Solstice (Dongzhi Festival) tomorrow. When I was young, I used to prepare the tangyuan or glutinous rice balls for my family. It was my yearly duty rolling the red and white coloured dough into small round balls for the family. I would make a batch of  white ones, another batch of red ones for prayers and a mix of red and white coloured ones for fun.

After I finished rolling, I would throw them into a pot of boiling water to cook them. My mother would then use them to make a sweet dessert of tangyuan in sugar water flavoured with pandan leaves and ginger. My father, however, loved them in a savoury soup of meat and seafood. We would have them for our lunch. I loved it too.

Though I looked forward to this yearly festival, my parents never did share what Winter Solstice was all about. So, I associated it with eating tangyuan and a special feast for dinner. My mother said that after eating tangyuan, I became a year older but I could not see why. I think it is quite a shame not to know the history behind our rich Chinese culture and traditions. Over time and with the younger generation, more and more is lost if we do not make an effort to impart to our children.

The Winter Solstice is the day when the distance between the Tropic of Capricorn and the sun is the shortest. Because of the earth's tilt, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning farther away from the sun than at any other time during the year. This makes the Winter Solstice the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. The Northern hemisphere on this day experiences the shortest daytime and longest nighttime and marks the arrival of winter. The Chinese characters for Dōng Zhì are 冬至. The first character means “winter” and the second character means “arrival.”   In traditional Chinese society, the arrival of winter meant that the farmers would lay down their tools and celebrate the harvest by coming home to their families. A feast would be prepared to mark the occasion.

Also, because ancient cultures were unaware of the changes in the Earth's position, they feared that the sunlight would never return. To bring it back, they engaged in many celebrations and ceremonies. In fact, there are more ceremonies and "rituals associated with the winter solstice than any other time of year" .

Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. The glutinous rice balls symbolize reunion. The festive food is also a reminder that we are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is "a year older" right after the Dongzhi celebration instead of waiting for the Chinese New Year.

I will be celebrating with my parents and siblings. As my parents are now old, the grand feast has been replaced with packed restaurant food as the younger generation is too busy to cook. Maybe that is the price of progress.

Monday, 17 December 2012


As human beings, it is difficult not to have any expectations. From the time we are babies, we start to have expectations. When we cry, we expect to be responded to. If we fail to get any attention, we wail even louder.

Trouble brews when expectations are not met. It is said that the difference between what should be and what is,  is where sadness comes from. It is true that if we do not manage our expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment. However, is it possible to live with no expectations at  all? Imagine having no expectation of how that steaming cup of coffee would taste like as you bring it to your lips? Or have no expectation of how your latest Ipad would perform.

I have seen how shattered parents have been when their children fail to live up to their expectations. And terminally ill patients who cannot accept that their spouses do not support them in the manner they expect. It is said that having expectations is the source of our problems. Yet, is it unreasonable to expect that your spouse would take care of you when you are sick? Or that your children would care for you when you are sick or old? Which expectations are considered reasonable?

We tend to draw conclusions and make assumptions based on a person's profession or religion. If you meet a religious person, you may unknowingly expect that they behave in a more humane manner.  Recently, when I was sick, someone shared with me that  we should fend for ourselves and not expect help, unless it is from spouse or family.  It was an eye opener for me because that was not how I view life.  Whatever it is, I take it as a learning experience. This experience taught me a lesson about how different our individual perceptions can be  and to be very careful about expectations.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Scenes from Mundgod

Monks leaving after attending teachings
Out shopping at the refugee settlement
Milk tea with roasted rice served Bhutanese style

Tibetan Medicine Centre

My typical breakfast
Sitting with the locals on the last dayof teachings

Ice cream from Norbu's. Very good, cheap and creamy.

Gaden Monastery, the first venue of teachings

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Bye Mundgod, Hello Bangalore!

The teachings ended on Tuesday, yesterday was an off day for us. This morning, we attended prayers  at another section of Drepung Monastery. We sat outside with the locals. During teachings, we were served tea twice a day. The morning tea is usually Tibetan butter tea or po cha, a salty milk tea with some butter in it. It is said to be an acquired taste but I love it. Morning tea is accompanied with a huge chunk of bread (our kopitiam style type of bread). Afternoon tea is sweet milk tea. Lunch is also available, served to the masses, usually saffron rice or Tibetan bread with dhall.

I  will head for the town of for Hubli by car, to catch an evening flight to Bangalore. After a night's stay, I will fly back to Kuala Lumpur. I am leaving earlier than the rest of my friends due to work commitments. The end of the year is coming, much work needs to be done in the office. As is usual in many situations, I have some mixed feelings. I can't wait to be back home to see my family but I also treasure this experience. It was definitely an experience out of my normal comfort zone and it is good for me.

It is two totally different worlds, here and in Kuala Lumpur. A simple  life versus a modern and materialistic life. I can understand why some people have left their homelands to spend most of their time here, on spiritual practice. I met two male Westerners during the teachings, a Swiss and a Scotsman. We sat together for 6 days. They have been spending the last 8 to 10 years here in India, attending teachings. When their visa expires, they leave and come back in two months after renewing their visa.  

I don't know what impact this experience will have on my life just yet. I know I want to achieve a  harmonious balance of spiritual, family and work. Every once in awhile, I get derailed but I know I need to get back in balance a bit faster.  I also have to be more focused. To quote Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Success, Begin with the End in Mind.

" If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It's about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen."

Monday, 10 December 2012

More Stories from Mundgod

I came for this teaching with a group of people I had never met prior to this trip (who are my friends now). The only person I knew then was Chang's former doctor (for intravenous Vitamin C therapy) whom I met once. Because I was slow in making my decision to travel to Mundgod, I contacted him. His group had not submitted the PAP (Protective Area Permit) applications yet so I could submit my application together with them. They made all the travel arrangements for me including my visa application. I just had to turn up at the airport on the day of departure.

I am sharing a room with two ladies. The facilities are good and clean. We get hot water baths through the solar heating system. We also get to do our laundry here. Meals are fully provided for and cooked by monks. The variety can be slightly limited. However, I have no complaints. I am happy just to get my meals hot when I need them. Anyway, I hardly had any appetite for food when I was sick. I ate plain porridge and soup  for breakfast and lunch. The monks specially planted vegetables in the garden in preparation for our stay.

My group as well as the people I have met here are seasoned practitioners. They are very committed and focused. All have travelled far, some travelling for two days just to get here. What is it that they have found? What is it that I am looking for in spiritual practice? I think it is to help myself, understand my mind  and  learn ways to transform for the better. My hopes for the world starts with me, taking the first step. After all, I cannot change my boss or my parents, my husband or daughter. But I can change me. It is not easy and takes time but it is worth striving for.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Stories from Mundgod

I am still not well, having a sore throat and cough. The Mundgod area is polluted and dusty. It is a common sight to see locals walking around wearing cloth masks around their noses and mouths.. It was something I was not aware of so I spent the first few days here walking around bare faced. As this area is basically a Tibetan refugee camp, it is a protected area.  Foreigners are not allowed in without a permit. For the purpose of the teachings, we had to apply for the Protected Area Permit (PAP) a few months in advance. Anyone without a permit can be deported and fined.

Life here is very basic. Many of the males are monks, from the young to old. Before and after the teachings, the area is  a sea of red robes. Spirituality is an important part of their lives. Adults chant as they walk around. I am into Day 8 of the teachings. Teachings go on as usual on Saturdays and Sundays. I must admit I feel extra tired because of the flu.

 I took quite a long period of leave from work to come here.  I  attend to work issues  now and then when I have access to the internet. I  made the decision to to set aside time in my life to do something which has been in my heart and brings me meaning. I love to learn and this is another learning experience in my life. I realise with each step that I have taken,  I have to look a bit deeper into myself.

I have always wanted to spend a period of  time on spiritual pursuits in India. So here I am. I give thanks to the people who made this possible, the group I travel with as well as my family. And, I am very grateful for the blessings I have received.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

H.H. Dalai Lama's Teachings

I am in Mundgod, India for H.H. Dalai Lama's Jangchup Lamrim teachings. The teachings, are held in Gaden Monastery and Drepung Monastery, located in the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod, in the North Kanara district of Karnataka State, South India, approximately 400km north of Bangalore (Bengaluru) and 600km south of Mumbai (Bombay). The nearest large city is Hubli, which is approximately 45km north.

The Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod is one of the largest Tibetan refugee settlements in India, with a current population of approximately 13,400. The settlement consists of eleven camps and includes seven monasteries, twenty schools (from nursery to secondary), two homes for the elderly, several modern allopathic hospitals, a Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute, and a co-operative society engaged in various activities such as farming and handicrafts.

H.H. Dalai Lama is a person I deeply revere and admire. His Holiness first commitment is "the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self discipline. All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their lives happier. His Holiness refers to these human values as secular ethics. He remains committed to talk about the importance of these human values and share them with everyone he meets.His second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions. And his third commitment is the Tibetan issue."

There is an estimated 25,000 people attending the teachings, of which 17,000 are monks. I have met foreigners of diverse cultures here, from Costa Rica, Colombia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Taiwan etc. It is a very great privilege to see the Dalai Lama in person as well as listen to his teachings.

I wake up before 5 am, have breakfast at 5.30 am and head for the monastery by 7 am as there are tight security checks. Teachings start latest by 9 am but H.H. Dalai Lama is usually early. We usually finish at about 3 to 4pm with an hour lunch break. His Holiness is having a cough. I have also not been well in the past few days, with a sore throat and fever. My intake of water during the teachings is limited. As everyone is seated on the floor, which is tightly packed with people, walking through creates much inconvenience to everyone. Nevertheless, I am very grateful and thankful to be here to listen to these teachings, which are said to be rare.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Animals, A Passion

Jimmy and Tommy at Root Institute, India
Dear Little Pansy
Ginger with her brood,Toffee and Sorren

Animals, whether they are pets or not, have a special place in my heart. I have watched them being abused and treated nothing more than an "animal" Animals have their vital function in this world. They are not here to "serve" us. They need a voice. And society has to wake up to the voice of conscience.  The killing  and torturing of dogs or cats or chickens, etc We put down animals which no longer serve our purpose. Why? Do we really "own" them? They, too can be our teachers and our friends. There are countless stories of the comfort that animals have brought to human lives.

When I was about four or five years old, I saw a sick dog suffering in our garage. I did not understand then but I gave it water and and cried because I saw its suffering.  That experience made me realise that I am a being with feelings and compassion in my heart. Over the years, whenever I did something unkind, that experience reminded me to go back to the path of kindness.

Sorren, Checkers and Caramel driniking milk
We all are beings with compassion. We just need to open our hearts and minds to allow it to flow. Whenever we have done something unkind, we just need to come back to the essence of our being, forgive ourselves and tap into that compassion within ourselves.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Spiritual Sojourn

I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. My posts probably do not make easy reading. They are topics close to my heart. They are also reminders to myself to practice.

Recently, I  met a wonderful teacher. When he spoke, he touched my heart, for I could relate to everything he said. He seemed to answer questions which had been on my mind, without me having to ask. I feel inspired by him and  feel thankful to have met him.

I have found so many learning experiences in my life. I read somewhere that you can either choose wisdom or consequence as a teacher at any one time, not both. If we do not choose wisdom, consequence will be chosen for us by default, and it is by far the tougher of the two, and much costlier. If you don't learn wisdom, you experience the consequence. How true.

I shall be leaving on a spiritual sojourn. I am not sure if there is wifi available where I am going. I just want to wish all of you a life of spiritual and emotional wellness. May you have good health, success and happiness always. Choose wisdom and travel light.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

No Baggage, Please

Have you come across people who spend their time complaining about others? They can complain about the same subject for years and years but don't seem to get tired of listening to themselves.  People around them start avoiding them after awhile.

In their stories, it seems that they are the perpetual victims. The perpetrators  maybe their spouse, children, neighbour or even strangers. But the stories are essentially the same. They have been treated unfairly or badly yet curiously they allow the cycle of mistreatment to continue. They do not make the effort to confront the source of their complaints. At times, they are so absorbed in their suffering that they are not aware.

It seems that human nature is such that we are sometimes attached to our suffering.  The old and familiar is comforting. It is nice to play the same old records and get the sympathy of others and to get some attention.

Maybe all of us have been or are stuck in some old stories. We cannot move forward because we are not willing to confront the issues which keeps us stuck. It is too painful to dig up the old stuff.  This old stuff is our baggage, issues from the past we have not dealt with, usually out of fear.  Maybe it is to face up to the reality that our lives did not turn out the way we expect.  It could be the way our parents abused us or favoured our siblings over us.  Or we may be disappointed with our careers, spouses, children or friends. Maybe we felt we deserved better. Or that we were passed over by our bosses for a promotion.

Whatever it is,  if we don't deal with our hurt, pain and disappointments now, our emotional baggage just keeps getting heavier. Are we going to drag all of it to our graves? Or will we choose to unload them while we still can? Like it or not, we cannot run away from the truth of our lives. It catches up with us sooner or later.

Friday, 23 November 2012


What is your definition of success? There is a very common definition of success. Money, status, property, expensive cars, successful children. We cannot run away from the fact that money is important in this material world. But how much is enough? How do I maintain a balance? And what do I really want from my life? Do I want to take society's definition as my own? Or do I want to live by my own standards? These were questions I pondered over, time and again.  I realised over time that my priorities had changed. Some things had become less important.

Yes, it can be a very comfortable life. It is also easier to stay with the mainstream. To get the approval and recognition of peers and society but then what....?   And at what cost? Most importantly, am I happy pursuing this success?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Bites of Delight

Bites of Delights Children's Music Theatre
I watched  Bites of Delight tonight with a group of  friends and my daughter at The Temple of Fine Arts in Brickfileds, Kuala Lumpur. It is a musical extravaganza told through acting, dance and gamelan. Their interpretations of Asian folklores and contemporary take of gamelan, performed by 26 children had a very fresh appeal.

I found it thoroughly entertaining and was impressed by the professionalism and excellent timing of the children. They worked very hard for this production and are a talented lot. My daughter was wonderfully delighted throughout the show. It was a great ending to a wonderful day because she obtained good results in her public examination and exceeded my expectations. It was a musical treat for us. It was unanimous. We loved it.

 If you are in Kuala Lumpur, don't miss it! Visit the twirly whirly world of bopoluchi, jackals, crows, goose, camels and busy bazaars amidst exotic music and singing choruses all in little ‘bites’ featuring original music compositions. Whether you are young or young at heart, you will be enchanted as these magical stories from the Spice Route takes shape through the eyes, passion and talent of our young performers. You will be charmed.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Different Minds, Different Paths

From a tender age, I asked my mother questions about life. My grandmother was not spared my incessant questions. She used to complain that I am the type who asked questions till she had no answers left. At that time, I took it to mean that I should stop bothering her. It also made me wonder why they did not share the same curiosity. It did not squelch my desire to seek for answers, however.

In my early teens, I challenged my mother with more questions in spiritual matters. I then decided to try out a different faith from hers. At that time, it was a cardinal sin to question, let alone embrace another faith. I received the strongest punishment. I think she must have found me one tough kid to handle. I could see then that the punishment was motivated by fear. She feared I was too young to think for myself. Or that I was influenced by my friends and that she would lose control of me. Very often, teen years are years of experimentation and decisions made could be temporary only. I suppose it is also very natural for parents to assume that their children should follow in their footsteps.

Later, I continued to explore different spiritual paths. I have met religious teachers from different faiths. To me, spirituality is inclusive and not divisive. Spirituality teaches us to accept one another, not punish, alienate or judge another who chooses differently from us. Does proving that my path is better than yours make me a better person than you? And how does one prove that? Will winning this intellectual debate mean that I have experienced more personal transformation and added on to the peace of this planet?

Is it man and his ego who works to separate and to have the "one-upmanship"? Mine is better and purer than yours. Mine is the real path. Is that not ironic when the goal of many religious practices is to encourage the letting go of the ego? Loosen our clinging to I, me and mine? Sometimes, it is not the religion per se but the wrong view of its practitioners. I think, what is really important is the right view and whether there has been any real transformation for the better.

We have different minds and so we are inclined and drawn to different paths. Everyone has their own time. However, this does not change the fact that in our hearts, we are seekers of the truth. If not, at least we seek to be better people through our spiritual paths. Why be dogmatic? Have we considered that people who are free thinkers maybe more spiritual than "religious" people? Are we enlightened people? Who are we to judge? And who says we know better?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Passive Violence

Violence is a term that conjures up images of brutality, hatred, cruelty, pain,  bloodshed and even death. We would like to think of ourselves as generally peaceful  people so the idea that we could engage in violence seems remote.

 "We often don't acknowledge our violence because we are ignorant about it. We assume we are not violent because our vision of violence is one of fighting killing, beating and wars, the types of things that the average individual don't do. - Arun Gandhi

There is a type of violence which is more insidious and the pain and suffering caused is more mental and emotional. It is the "passive" type of violence. Examples of passive violence include oppressive behaviour, harsh words, name-calling, insults, verbal abuse and hostility masquerading as jokes. There is also the non-verbal aggression of passive-aggressive behaviour. Instead of communicating honestly when one feels upset or disappointed,  one instead bottles the feelings up, gives angry looks, becomes sulky or puts up a stone wall. A passive-aggressive person might not always show that he/she is resentful. He/she may appear in agreement, polite, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath there may be manipulation going on - hence the term "passive-aggressive".

Passive violence ultimately generates anger in the victim who, as an individual or as a member of a group, responds violently. It is passive violence which fuels the fire of physical violence. It is because we don't understand or appreciate this, that all our efforts to work for peace have either not fructified or that peace has been temporary" - Arun Gandhi.

Today, I invite you to reflect on the the numerous acts of violence which we have inflicted on one another. We could start by noting down whenever we commit acts of passive violence. How as human beings, we often use our words and body language to hurt and inflict pain, intentionally or not. We cut off, put down, ostracise and humiliate another person for as small a reason as that WE do not like their face or attitude. Or that WE had a bad day. At times, it is just carelessness on our part.

Tragically, the victims are often our children and our family, our nearest and dearest. The very people whom we profess to love. Have you ever wondered why "seemingly good" people desert their parents in their old age? It could possibly be that as outsiders, we do not understand the passive violence which had been inflicted on them when they were children. This is not to condone anybody's behaviour, however.

thought form - explosive anger

 thought forms - sustained anger (left) murderous rage (right)
Because thoughts produce energy and vibration, negative and violent thoughts are harmful. Sometimes, the victim can actually feel that he has been stabbed or punched with mere words. Yet, because the damage is not physical, people often get away with it. They hide behind the masks of a parent, spouse, friend, teacher, boss or colleague to justify themselves and avoid "prosecution". However, the resultant pain and hatred takes even longer to heal than physical pain. The question is, do we want to continue communicating this way?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Let Thy Music Be Thy Medicine

I have always loved music. It has been my constant companion throughout my life from as far back as I can remember. It has deepened my entire life experience and brought colour to my life. Studies have shown that engaging in musical activities not only shapes the organization of the developing brain but also produces long-lasting changes even after brain maturation is complete. For example, those who frequently play a musical instrument are less likely to develop dementia compared to those who do not, revealing that music works not only to train the brain, but also to protect cognitive functioning.
Dr Sharon Chong is an accomplished musician

Last weekend, I attended a talk held at a local hospice on the use of  music as a complementary medicine. The speaker, Dr Sharon Chong, is a pretty medical doctor and accomplished musician.  She has combined her medical knowledge and passion for music to spearhead the development of music as a therapy in Malaysia. To this end, she has set up the Malaysian Society for Music Medicine and she is the Proterm President.

Although music was used as a healing agent in indigenous cultures throughout time, it has become widely recognized internationally as an evidence-based approach in the care and treatment of challenging clinical problems. 'The many fields which benefit from music therapy are Alzheimers disease and dementia, Parkinsons disease, stroke, depression, anxiety,  cancer and also coping with end of life. Listening to music from 45 to 60 beats per minute helps synchronise heartbeat and reduce anxiety. It slows down breathing and  helps quieten the mind. Watch this video of how music therapy helped a breast cancer patient relax and gave her a welcome respite in dealing with the disease.

With sprouting evidence on how music affects our bodily systems, the belief that music plays a supportive complementary role in various clinical settings has been much researched upon. In the aspects of hospice and palliative care, numerous studies have shown positive effects of music therapy. Therapeutic goals are aimed not only on the patients but hospice caregivers and family members as well, particularly in improving communication and assisting emotional expression. Music can ameliorate pain, and symptoms of fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, agitation, sleeplessness and labored breathing while enhancing mood and overall feelings of comfort and sense of control. At the end stage of life, music can play a role in helping patients and famillies cope.

Music therapy is administered by certified music therapists after assessment of the individual patient's conditions, inclinations and cultural background  Thus, it is prescriptive and maybe active with the patient playing an instrument or singing along. A variety of instruments can be used from the guitar, harp or any local musical instruments as well. In  patients with advanced conditions who are unable to sing or play instruments, it is receptive or passive. Patients with Alzheimers disease who cannot remember their loved ones were able to respond well to the music they loved. Watch this interesting video of  Betty Friedman

In the western world, music therapy is used widely in hospitals while in Malaysia,  it is still in its infancy stage. There are seven music therapists in the country and not all are practising. Of those practicising, there is strong emphasis in the paediatric field, especially helping with children with special needs such as autism. Singapore is more advanced with more than 20 music therapists whilst  Indonesia brings in foreign therapists to educate their people.

As medical technology becomes even more advanced, its practitioners recognize that there is suffering that eludes even the most sophisticated medical treatment. Many physicians and caregivers welcome music vigils as an integral form of care that offers an opportunity for relieving suffering and bringing comfort. The time may have come for caregivers to consider it seriously in view of its many benefits.  However, it also depends on whether the patient has a liking for music. To me, music is food for the soul. When my daughter was a baby, I would waltz around the house with her, in our own little perfect world. Life would never be the same without music.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Happy Diwali



Happy Diwali and Happy Holidays to everyone!!!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Desperately Seeking Toffee

TOFFEE, our stray cat went out and has not been home for about two weeks now. We have had her since she was a month old kitten. When she was little, she was very fearful. She used to run away whenever we approached her. One day out of my zealousness, I tried to hold her and was bitten. I ended up needing an injection. I learned my lesson that day.

Toffee (on the right)  with her sister on their first visit to the vet.
I took in the strays in at a time when I had no liking for cats.  I thought that they were a  lazy lot and only came home when they needed food. I laugh at myself now. How could I make such judgements without knowing or understanding cats? And that is how we, humans can be, not only to animals but our fellow men. We are so quick to jump to conclusions looking through our tinted glasses (biased minds) though we have little knowledge. Over time, I grew to understand and  love them while caring for them.  Not only  was I changed but my neighbour too. She really disliked them, not letting them near her house even. But now, she supports my decision to help the strays after understanding their nature. Now, I think cats are so relaxed, cool, smart and very much like us. They respond to love and have their distinct personalities. Toffee is feisty, protective and gentle. She is the big sister of the lot.

One morning last year, I heard Toffee whining non-stop and decided to check on her. I examined her and found a deep cut on her abdomen. I took her to the vet and she was given antibiotics. I was instructed to use hibiscrub and iodine solution to clean her wound twice a day to prevent infection. But how would I be able to do that? I was packed and ready for a family holiday in Cameron Highlands the next day. I immediately decided to bring her and her sister along, much to my husband's chagrin. So we packed their food and they travelled in a carrier with us for the three hour journey. They were surprisingly very well behaved and we spent our holiday together with them in the cool mountains.

I have been waiting for her for the past two weeks. Where is she? I miss her presence.  I keep on looking out for her, hoping to see her trotting along. I pray that she is well.  Toffee, please come home. We miss you.


I named her Toffee because she has a beautiful dark brown colour and deep brown eyes. Besides Pansy, she is my very special cat. I used to give her a nickname, Toffee Moffee. She has a special quality. When I am sad, she rubs herself against my legs, curls up next to me and meows very softly. But now that Toffee is missing, I feel very sad. I really hope she is not dead. If she is somewhere else at another house, I hope she is happy. If  Toffee has passed on, I hope she is standing at the rainbow bridge, waiting for me.
(Written by CF's daughter)

This is a post that was written jointly with my daughter before Toffee came home to us. She came back yesterday but I decided to post this as a tribute to her and to record here, the significance of her presence in our lives. It was when she went missing that I reminisced about the past and wished to have more time with her. It reminded me that I need to make more effort in my relationships with  friends and loved ones while they are still with me. Every living being is important and precious. They are in our lives for a reason and a season.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Our Perfect Selves

I attended a talk by Jeff Oliver about perfectionism. Jeff is a former Buddhist monk and meditation master  who is exceptionally in touch with his inner self. What is perfectionism? It is a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards. Thus, a perfectionist is a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards.

Consider this. If we were to look deep within ourselves, we will find that we each have mental images of who we think we are. This image is closely connected to our ideals and beliefs. For many of us, this image is most likely the more ideal version of ourselves. There are many sources from which this image is derived. It could be instilled in upbringing, from our parents and teachers. As we grow up, it could be from our religious teachers, our friends and the media. Some say we inherit perfectionism from our genes. We see ourselves as the perfect parent, sons or daughters, Buddhists or Christians, the successful and caring family man, perfect boss etc.

How does our childhood contribute to our perfectionism? Adults who do not allow mistakes and with overly high expectations. The most common example is when we break cutlery and adults get upset. Or we are made to write and re-write until our handwriting is near perfect. We are expected to score the maximum number of As in our exams. While they may have good intentions, the message that we hear as children is that it is unacceptable to make mistakes and we have to work to get approval. We learn early in life that we are valued for our achievements, and that we may just not be good enough. In the media, we are constantly bombarded with pictures of how the perfect man, woman and family should look like and behave.

As adults, we constantly judge, compare and criticise ourselves against the mental images of who we think we should be . As a result we always feel that we are never good enough. We live in a world of self criticism, beat ourselves up and wallow in guilt. We are not perfect but we believe that we should be. And we spend our time looking to what we want but not what we have.

Perfectionism tends to have two components: a positive side, like setting high standards for ourselves as in the high achievers; and a negative side, which involves fears and concerns over mistakes and failure. While high achievers have high but reasonable expectations, perfectionists' goals aren't always reasonable. High achievers enjoy the process of chasing a goal. Conversely, the underlying motive present in perfectionists is the fear of failure and fear of rejection. It can be sad and painful because they blame themselves when they fail to meet expectations. They think erroneously that they have to achieve to get love, like the students who commit suicide because they fail to obtain the string of As they think their parents expect. They think that their parents will love them more if they are perfect. It is heartbreaking.

The antidote is acceptance and forgiveness. Accept ourselves for who we are. Learn to love ourselves for who we are and not who we think we should be or the world should be. Forgive ourselves, because human beings were meant to be unique and not perfect. Otherwise, we are only setting ourselves up for a host of problems by chasing the illusion of perfection because there is none.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Full Moon Baby Blog

Today marks the "full moon" of my baby, this blog. It has been a full month since I started this blog. To me, it is an achievement. I wish to congratulate myself for my perseverance and making time to blog even though I am working and taking care of my family. We all deserve a pat on our backs now and then and I shall give myself one today. Pat Pat. To all of you who have been working hard, maybe on your job, family duties, or just being a good person, give yourself a pat on the back too. If you have overcome a crisis, learned from a mistake, gained a little awakening, give yourself another pat. You deserve it. We need to give ourselves that acknowledgement, not out of self-centredness or pride but to accord ourselves the same appreciation which we also bestow on to others.

I don't know if you have noticed that I now have pretty pink lotus flowers on the top of my page. They were from a photograph taken when I visited the Summer Palace in Beijing, China. The lake was filled with them and I just could not resist taking a few shots.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Alley Cats

My daughter's creative learning class organised a scavenger hunt last Sunday. The hunt was a fun way of practicing the skills that had been taught in class during the year. It was centered around a very inspiring theme,  the Hero Within. In class, the children had explored the qualities of a hero and that anybody can be a hero. As part of the hunt, they were asked to create an inspirational poster that would encourage others to be heroes to their family and their community. On top of that, each child painted a tee shirt which was to be auctioned off for charity. The proceeds were channeled towards buying solar light bulbs for the orang asli or indigenous people.

My daughter chose to highlight the problem of stray animals and the steps which can be taken to help them as well as curb the growing population of strays. I believe she chose this subject because she is familiar with it. We have been taking care of four stray cats at our backyard for the past few years. It all started after her first stray cat,  Pansy died. Pansy's playmate,  another stray cat  named Ginger, gave birth to two female kittens which were left with us. Six months later, she left another two male kittens. After the third set of kittens, we sent her for spaying.

We feed them, give them medical care as well as send them for neutering or spaying. Neutering them helps curb the increasing population of strays. Each year, thousands of healthy and lovable animals are euthanized at shelters and pounds in our country because their numbers greatly exceed the number of available homes. To me, spaying them helps reduce the suffering and abuse of unwanted animals in our society.

I used to think that I did not have the time to help out and that I had to wait until my retirement to contribute to society. After thinking it over, it occurred to me that it is so true that charity begins at home. I actually do not have to travel very far or wait for the perfect time. The perfect time is always now. I decided to do what little I can first. So I started with the stray cats because they were right there, right before my eyes.

Animals can be pretty helpless. For example,the dog pound goes after strays. They are hunted and put down. There are cruel people who take delight in torturing them. How does it feel to be treated so cruelly? Don't they care that animals have feelings too?. And animals do not wear masks like human beings do. You can take them as they are. Which is more than what can be said about the human beings who torture them, isn't it?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Tinted Glasses

Have you read the story of Dr Richard Teo, a 40 year old millionaire who died of lung  cancer on October 18? His story has been going viral in cyberspace, being shared in emails, facebook and twitter. There is also an online memorial which you can login to pay your respects.

Dr Richard Teo, by his account was a product of today's materialistic society. He was given a  research scholarship by National University of Singapore to develop lasers to treat the eye. He was given 2 patents, one for  medical devices, and another for lasers but  he decided that training in eye surgery was too long a process. Instead he opted to study aesthetic medicine to earn the big bucks. According to him, he became a "glorified beautician". Vanity was good business. He was raking in millions in his first year and expanded his business to Indonesia. He lived the good life, drove a Ferrari, bought land to build a bungalow, had the best cuisine whipped up by Michelin chefs and of course beautiful girls.

Everything came to an abrupt end on the discovery that he had Stage 4 lung cancer which had spread to his brain. Just before his diagnosis, he was still working out in the gym.  Subsequently, he shared his story at the Dental Christian Fellowship.

While most people would say he was sharing his story to benefit people, my colleague,  Don had a very different opinion. He was quite critical of Dr Teo's motives for sharing. According to Don, "Dr Teo has had the best life ever. He should have died without regrets. What could have been his  purpose for "promoting" his story? Even if he had any regrets, he should have just kept it to himself instead of blaming it on materialsim or his previous "God-less" life. Making money is a very practical and important way to survive and live well. Why the switch all of a sudden just because of cancer. In fact, the cancer maybe due to his genes and not materialism, arrogance or God-lessness".

I find human behaviour so interesting. One story but so many takes and the opinions so vastly different. Each one of us is different and unique. We perceive the same world differently. The way people look at life really depends on their value system, their lifestyle and their past. It is almost as if we are all wearing tinted glasses. What we see is what the glass allows us to see. However, our glasses maybe distorted or blur yet we rely so much on them.

My neighbour had a father who was unfaithful to her mother. Because of this, she grew up very distrusting of men. Today, even though she has a loving husband, she feels she cannot trust him. She is wearing the "all men cannot be trusted" glasses. Even though I tried to show her a different perspective, she remained adamant. Until she lets go of the old fears and removes those glasses, she cannot move forward. Not knowing that she is contributing to her own unhappiness, her relationship will continue to suffer. That is the power of those glasses. Could you also be wearing glasses from the past?  How is it impacting your life now? Has it ever occurred to you that if  you removed those glasses, the view could be entirely different?