Movie: Mary and Max

Brilliant. Poignant. Profound. Nuanced. Quirky. Contemplative.

Here’s my super-quick version of what this movie is about.

Friendship. Loneliness. What makes us different. What makes us similar. What connects us. What drives us apart. Our imperfections. Apologising. Forgiveness. Our fears.  Inter-generational patterns. What breaks patterns. And most of all, what this piece of candy says below…

Writer, director and designer Adam Elliot writes:

“A lot of people say they often feel different; that they don’t fit in. I am one of those people. Even with all the success, acknowledgement and acceptance that has been derived from my films, I often still feel alone and not in tune with the rest of the world. I often feel sad, persecuted and unsure about things; I find the world so often unjust. I truly empathise with the lost and disregarded; marginalised and melancholic. I am drawn to these people and their stories; I cannot help it.”

So expect the movie to have dark moments. It isn’t a feel-good movie. But it has many gems.

Watch trailer. Visit website.  Watch at Orchard Cineleisure in Singapore now. Available on itunes in the US.

PS: If you watch it, what did you connect with the most and why?

Related: Love story – with yourself, Greatest Love of All, Be compassionate – to yourself , The “F” word

Peace Poem + Help Needed

Hi all,

In one part of the world, we watch the aftermath of the tsunami and in other parts we witness or personally catalyse man-made violence. We are shocked by nature’s fury and destruction yet we hold so much in our thoughts, speech and actions. So I want to share something very special today and ask for your help.

Mattie Stepanek was a gifted and wise young man, a poet and philosopher. The first time I saw him was on Oprah many years ago and I was moved to tears by his wisdom. I highly recommend his poems for both adults and children.

Mattie represents the good we can do, and speak and be even if we are dealt with harsh blows in life.

Mattie suffered from muscular dystrophy and died in 2004 just before his 14th birthday. I recently got in touch with his mum , Jeni Stepanek, author of “Messenger: Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs” to ask for permission to re-publish a few of his poems here.  She is on a mission to  spread Mattie’s poem, “For our world” as much as she can.

In a message, Jeni writes, “This poem was written by Mattie on 9/11/2001, as he watched his personal friends perish during terrorist attacks. It is his response to universal questions of “What now? What next?” He hoped that one day, these words would serve as an international poem for peace.”

Jeni’s looking to get it translated in as many languages as possible. So I’m hoping our community can help her. She has some European translations so she’s looking for languages from all other regions. She’ll publish names of volunteer translators on the new website. Or let me know if you’d would like to do this as a member of the community. 

Email me at vadivu[at] if you can help translate the poem by 2nd April. Let’s ensure we translate with accuracy so we can keep Mattie’s message true to what he meant. I’ll try and get translations checked so there might be editing of the original translation.

Let’s take a moment to read and share the poem in our networks – with self-awareness of how much more of it we could practise and how much we can intend for those we send it to to have enough space in their hearts to receive it.

I have highlighted my favourite section. What’s yours?

With gratitude, Vadivu


For Our World
   By Mattie J.T. Stepanek
We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.
September 11, 2001
© Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek
Used with permission from
Hope Through Heartsongs, Hyperion, 2002 and
Just Peace: A Message of Hope, AMP, 2006

PS: Since I wrote this post today morning, here’s the status of translations in the following languages:

Chinese – kindly done by Bridgette New.

Malay – Yati working on it.

Japanese – possibility (no confirmation yet).


Tsunami Lotus

Dear Friends,

This lotus represents the healing and transformation that could come out of the tsunami that I shared about in my earlier post; healing and transformation related to areas such as self-care, wisdom in compassion, hope, balance, appreciating life and loved ones and being sensitive to more common silent tsunamis we may catalyse in others’ lives.  

If my earlier post resonated with you, I’d like to ask you to download and post this lotus as your Facebook profile or put it on your blog/website. But before that, I’d be grateful if you could

Connect with the contents of the earlier post, especially on what you already practise in your life or are striving to practise. Reflect on what else you would like to try more conscientiously. (Why? I believe that when we pass on messages that we ourselves practise, the impact is far deeper than if we don’t practise what we preach. We are overloaded with information and advertising so I believe that messages that ripple out from the actions of role-models have the highest chance of reaching people’s hearts.)

Intend that as you spread the lotus to others, you are spreading healing and positive transformation.

The beautiful artwork of the lotus is by Melissa De Silva with further design support from Winston Cangsuco from The Patatas.

Thank you for helping me help me spread this lotus with awareness, intention and love. May we evolve as a global community from this tragedy. ~Vadivu

PS: If you use the lotus, drop a comment if you feel inclined. Would be nice to know where the lotus travels. Thank you.

Tsunami – How can we respond beyond donating?

Some of us are overwhelmed by the tsunami. Some of us think “it’s terrible” but has little to do with our lives. Some of us are quick to donate and then think we have done our part. Some of us are not sure what to do.

 I offer some suggestions for all of us to consider…

1.     Care for Self. We can transform any shock, trauma, feelings of despair to hope, healing, humility (with respect to nature) and compassion…How can you get support to do this? Petrea King’s post offers tips on taking care of ourselves during this challenging period. We can only be of good support to others when we are well ourselves and maintain perspective.

2.     Connect. For those of us who feel disconnected from a tragedy “far away”, we can take a moment to empathise with the suffering in Japan… What happens in one part of the world sends out ripple effects to the rest of us. In this case, it literally did, for people as far away as the US. If you or your country were facing a disaster, how would you like people from other countries to respond? How could you offer that to others now?

3.    Reach out to Japanese contacts. We can support our Japanese friends and neighbours by gently asking after them, listening to them if they choose to talk to us, giving them a card, dropping them a note on facebook…and asking if and how else we can be of support, always being respectful of their space and their needs. This takes sensitivity and listening.”Tending to Japan’s Psychological Scars” provides a good idea of what could help and what could hurt. The article, “Positive Psychology for Tsunami Survivors” by H’Sien Hayward, a research fellow at Harvard University, provides a quick overview of the role of “hope in the wake of trauma”.

Sometimes we need to dare to care and reach out. People may not take us up on our offer and we need to be gracefully accepting of that…and not let that prevent us from reaching out again to someone else.

We can also send healing intentions and prayers.

4.     Be wise about donating. We can look out for voices which call for discernment when donating so that what we give is used where and when it is most needed…and listen to what the Japanese people themselves are asking for…

Check out “Good Intentions” on facebook or twitter for the latest updates in Japan. They have a useful article on “Do’s and Don’ts of Disaster Donations”.   (This initiative was started by Saundra Schimmelpfennig, who was sent to Thailand to help the Government coordinate the nonprofits that were thronging there during the last tsunami. During her four years there,  she saw “the best and the worst of aid and its impact on the people it was sent to help”.)

Giving money is the most obvious way we think we can help from afar. Sometimes, though, if our help is not tempered with wisdom, it may hinder or not meet the actual needs of the people.

Importantly, sometimes only donating and not making any other changes may not help us grow as a global community at all. 

5.    Focus on hope, courage, resilience. We can look out for stories of hope, compassion, courage and resilience that come out of this and the other tsunami/tragedies (if you find any, please post on the facebook page) instead of only focusing on the destruction…Here’s a letter from Anne Thomas in Japan now on some unexpected gifts this crisis has brought. (Ode is carrying several inspiring pieces from her under their “People, Passion, Possibilities” category).  And here’s an asia! magazine article, “Touched by Amazing Japan”.

We can be symbols of hope so Japan can take stock and rebuild a brighter and renewed future…

6.     Live a life of Balance. We can live a life of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual balance. We can balance giving with taking. We can be compassionate to ourselves and others. We can balance fast with slow. We can balance the material with what feeds our heart and soul.  We can balance needs of the old with that of the young, needs of the economically well-off with those who aren’t etc.

We can live a life of balance so that we don’t depend on external shocks (such as illness and tragedies) to give us wake up calls and bring us back to what is important that we have forgotten or never even knew….

7.    Be sensitive to silent and daily tsunamis. Upheavals, shocks, tragedies happen in our lives and the lives of others more frequently than physical tsunamis…We can proactively heal these so that we can collectively create peace in the world with the peace we have within.

And we can become sensitive to the silent tsunamis we may catalyse in others’ lives through our decisions and choices….and prevent these with love and wisdom.

8.    Be prepared. Although we do not want to call disaster into our lives, we can manage risk and have plans in case of emergency. We can be prepared physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Having a contemplative practice (such as prayer, meditation or other stillness practices such as those listed in the tree below) helps us remain calm and centred during crises so we can make better decisions if it strikes. For me, being spiritually ready means we develop the faith, courage and resilience and other virtues to overcome disasters and transform them into opportunities for deep growth.

9. Make decisions that are earth-friendly and don’t pose large risks to human health. We can become acutely conscious of how we care for the environment and human health….on a daily basis. Let’s not depend on disasters and loss of many lives to bring this message home.

10. Be humbled by Nature’s power. We have become a destructive species to the environment and animals (along with fellow humans).  We misuse our power. Let’s take this tragedy to awaken us to our vulnerability and use our power wisely and for the greater good. 

11. Deeply appreciate the preciousness of life. Forgive, apologise, appreciate and express “I love you” through actions before it is too late. I call these The Big Four and to me, these have incredible potential to bring healing and joy to our lives.

12. We are One People. We can be gentler, kinder and more forgiving…for we are all connected by the fragility of life and the certainty of death……
Woon Wee Min, a writer to The Straits Times Forum Page (15 March 2011) said that the Japanese PM’s call to his people to “exercise the spirit of fraternity and act fast and to assist one’s family and neighbours” made him ask himself  “whether Singaporeans could, like the Japanese, band together as a national tribe, dig  in our heels and call upon this spirit of fraternity, to help one another and overcome adversity.”

I believe we can form this spirit of fraternity by realising that despite some differences, we are all similar in many of our deepest needs, fears and desires; in our striving to reduce struggle and pain and have more joy in our lives.   We can only be one united people during a disaster if we are one people now.

We can transform from being witnesses who might donate money from a distance to being an engaged global community that knows how to see in a tragedy, opportunities for Compassion, Hope, Resilience and Growth.  We can allow what we learn from this tragedy to transform us into wiser, more humane and evolved global citizens.

There is so much that is positive that we CAN do. Let us not write away all these opportunities with a cheque and then forget about it till the next tragedy strikes.

PS: Would you like to help me spread the tsunami lotus?  


Video: Brene Brown on Authenticity

In this TEDx talk, Dr Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, speaks of the importance of being comfortable about our imperfections and vulnerabilities and overcoming shame with the courage to be just be ourselves.

Highlights –

She addresses something that plays in many of our heads: “I am not good enough…”

She says that the one variable that separates people who have a  strong sense of love and belonging and those who don’t is that the former believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.

She speaks of people who have the “courage to be imperfect, compassion to be kind to themselves first before others and they have connection as a result of authenticity. They are willing to let go of what they should be to be what they were”.

What does vulnerability look like? Saying “I love you” first. Doing something when there is no guarantee. Willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.

“We numb vulnerability…you cannot selectively numb emotion….you can’t numb those hard feelings without those other affects…we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness…”

“Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.”

“We perfect most dangerously our children…our job is not to say, ‘she’s perfect’…our job is to say, ‘You’re imperfect, you’re wired for struggle and you’re worthy of love and belonging’.”

She asks us to “let ourselves to be deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee”.

More at Brene Brown’s gorgeous website.

Anila Angin, Author of The Little Dreamer

I recently was guided by a wise match-maker to Anila Angin’s online book, “The Little Dreamer”. The match-maker was right! I love Anila’s work. I recently had an email chat on following dreams with Anila…

Anila's goal is to "help people remember who they really are, and thus find themselves again, somewhere in the milky cosmos of the heart..."

This initiative looks like a product of your heart’s dream. How did you develop the courage to listen and act on your heart’s dream?
You’re right: the journey to writing this book and getting it out online has been a very long one… But to get back to the beginning: I graduated in the summer of 2004 and was about to come back to Singapore and work but something happened on the way home when I was in transit in Los Angeles. I picked up a copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” when I was in the airport, and the story spoke to something deep within me. I realised that what I really wanted to do with my life was to write. To write stories that is. Stories that had the power to move people, to touch the heart. And it was then that the idea for The Little Dreamer was born.

So in a way, I was fortunate that I recognised my real passion before I started work. Before getting sucked into endless late hours and weekends toiling in the office. It was that which kept me alive, which gave me hope. I was fortunate enough to have an enlightened boss who understood that young people should explore what they wanted to do. I spoke to him often about my need to write, and after 2 years of work, he gave me 2 years of no pay leave to write this book.

What kind of relationship do you, your heart’s dream and your parents have?

I have my parents to thank for being remarkably, courageously and generously supportive over all these years. Without them, the book would never have been, and I appreciate that they gave me the best possible space and freedom to grow as a person, to live, dream and write.

Anything else you’d like to share with 1) people are feeling pressured to not follow their heart because of financial considerations 2) people who feel it’s too late to follow their heart?

The first question is a tricky one actually. Given the way the world is structured today, I wouldn’t say that it’s a great idea to quit the day job and plunge yourself wholly into something you’re passionate about before it begins to pay. Because at the end of it, you still have to find a way to pay the bills. So if it’s possible at all, take little steps every day towards following your heart. If you do what you do with love, and there are other people interested in what you do as well, you will find a way to make a living out of it, and maybe one day you will be able to quit the day job and focus solely on your passions.

Too late to follow your heart? Never! Not even when you’re 90. Seriously.

Images are copyrighted and illustrated by Sara Chong whose work can be found at

Read The Little Dreamer online, especially the inspiring chapter on following one’s heart and dreams.