Healing Presence – Dr Dennis Choi

Dr Dennis Choi heals with his Presence. (Photo copyright: Mt Pleasant Vet Centre)


“We heal with our presence. In order to help others to heal, we need to bring our wholeness into the examination room with us: our strengths, our courage, and even our anger and fears and doubts…

Yes, we cure with our expertise, but we heal with our life experience and our attention. We heal most often with our presence, and perhaps the most common tool of healing is just listening…We listen just to know what is true for this person at this moment in time – to witness it and validate it – and accept it.”

~ Medical reformer, Dr Rachel Naomi Remen writing on how doctors can heal with their presence

Presence is hard to describe. I don’t mean loud presence. I mean a quieter, soulful and heartful Presence. You know it when it’s there. You know when you are transformed or healed by it. It is subtle yet profound. And it lingers with you long after the person left.

Before I share about this Presence that Dr Remen talks about, I want to share about its absence. I felt its absence when I went to the first vet on the day my late dog, Max suddenly lost use of his hind legs. I left feeling confused, distraught and afraid that the vet simply did not know what she was dealing with. She also didn’t seem connected to me and my emotions. That night was one of the worst nights of my and Max’s life. We were both in pain and helpless. And so when I brought Max to see another vet, I could appreciate him more.

Dr Dennis Choi of Mt Pleasant Vet Centre has the kind of Presence Dr Remen shares about.

He practices generous listening.  He allowed me to finish sentences. Sometimes there were no more words and he allowed a silence to emerge in the room. In a society where we try to fill up every gap in space and conversations because many find silence to be awkward, this stands out.

He answered questions patiently. When I asked him to check if the supplements I wanted to give Max were ok, he did, via email, even if that was not part of a billed consultation.

He handled Max with gentleness that made up for what cancer did to Max.  Once when Max lost control of his bowels and soiled Dr Choi’s hands, he didn’t flinch, and didn’t make us feel bad. You may say this is part of the work for people in his profession.  I don’t remember his words, I remember his tone.  He embraced the sh*tty moment in the most elegant, graceful and kind way possible.

Max with his wheelchair

Presence shows up in the eyes since the eyes are the windows to our soul. Dr Choi has kind eyes.

It’s hard to teach someone to look with kind eyes. It’s something that emerges from the person from the inside. There are all kinds of courses that teach helping professionals to communicate better. These are important. But we need more support for the inner life of the healing professional. It is more difficult work but it is more important work.

Some time after Max died, I left Dr Choi a note in his hospital. About a week later, I received a call. It was him. He spent about 15 minutes with me. Unhurried. He didn’t have to have this conversation. Max was gone.

One of the things I had shared with him in the note was that there were not many resources for people grieving over the death of their animals in Singapore. And he agreed, adding that not much is covered about this in vet studies as well.  He said that even if we are professionally trained (he was a vet and I was trained as a social worker), we are not immune from emotions such as grief. This was a moment of real connection and authenticity. It is the connection that comes from shared vulnerability that Dr Remen speaks of:

“I like the archetype of the Wounded Healer which symbolizes that two people in a healing relationship are peers, both wounded, and both with healing capacity. Just by being here, in these bodies, we are wounded, we are incomplete, if you will. But we also have the capacity for wholeness as part of our birthright. It comes out of our human nature. If you and I are participating in the healing process together, it is my woundedness that allows me to connect to you in your woundedness. I know what suffering is. I also know that you may feel separated from other other people by your suffering. You may feel lost, frightened, trapped. My woundedness allows me to find you and be with you in a way that is nonjudgemental. You are not the sick one or the weak one. We are here together, both capable of suffering, both capable of healing”. (Source: Healers on Healing which I highly recommend for those in healing profession.)

I have now learned why I value people like Dr Choi.  He values relationships in a society that seems to have less and less time for it. And he extends that to not just his animal patients but their caregivers too.

Dr Remen distinguishes healing from curing. Max couldn’t be cured but he was healed by his family and his vet. And I was healed by various things, include Dr Choi’s kindness.

Max had soulful and powerful Presence in my life. He gifted us with quiet grace, sensitivity and consideration.  His last vet gave Max and us the same gifts.



(This is simply a personal account of my experience. Please choose your veterinary professional based on what is important to you. Thank you.)

Dr Rachel Remen’s is a healer of the healthcare system. For articles by her, visit her website. 

On Leadership by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

I have looked up to Aung San Suu Kyi for her nonviolent approach to change for many years. In her speech at Singapore Management University, she shares the mindset of a leader. Although she doesn’t use the term “servant leadership”, what she says is very much the essence of servant leadership to me. I have, made in  bold, specific lines that capture servant leadership.


Here are excerpts of her speech, which can be watched on youtube.

Leadership must begin with commitment; with conviction.

This, in the end, is what I think leadership is about. You should be able to fulfil the need of the people who are willing to be led by you. They are willing to be led by you because you fulfil their need for hope, their need to believe in themselves. If you cannot make those people you are trying to lead believe in themselves, you cannot really be a leader. So to make people believe in themselves, you’ve got to respect them. You’ve got to truly value them.


That is what leadership is about…making it possible for people to work together…


…What we are talking about are leaders, not commanders. Leaders lead. Commanders command. And they expect their commands to be obeyed, whether or not they are reasonable. Now leadership means convincing those whom you aspire to lead that the way you have chosen is the right one. It has to be a choice. They have to choose to follow you. That is what leadership is about. With a commander, there’s no choice. You either follow or else.

…Leadership entails vision. Otherwise where are you leading people to? If you don’t know where you want to go to, you have no right to ask people to go along with you. So that is what vision is; knowing where it is you want to go and and to be able to explain this to those whom you aspire to lead. Why you want to go where you want to get to in a particular way. It’s not just getting to a goal but how you get to a goal that is decisive; that is important. And you got to decide: Are you going to take more time to make sure that the way is smoother or do you want to put an emphasis on speedy achievement?  And why? You have to balance…

…Stewardship is a kind of leadership we should aspire to in a democracy; not commanders but stewards who know that they have given the responsibility for a particular society; for a particular people; for a particular nation for a set period of time…It’s stewardship to guide this people, society, the nation during the time you have been given in the best possible way; in the most civilised way possible in the broad sense of the word, “civilisation”; to make that society more civilised; more human; to retain the values that are best for human society.

…Everywhere I go nowadays, people talk about economics all the time and this is important of course because we are physical beings and we need to be physically well-off. So our material situation is very important. But I would like to say, also, that we have to think of our spiritual situation. Now of course people think talk of EQ (emotional quotient) as well as IQ but I think we also have to think about the spiritual (SQ), which is not quite the same as emotional. I think the spiritual is reaching out to somewhere higher than you’ve been. And I think this is what leadership is about; reaching out to somewhere higher…reaching out together and reaching out as a responsibility; as a steward and not as somebody who will decide what the destiny of people who follow them are going to be.

We all decide our destiny together. We decide, as a nation; as a society where we wish to go to. But sometimes because there are so many of us, we can’t come to a single decision. And then it is up to those who aspire to be leaders to unite all the diversity that exists in any healthy, normal society into a unity of purpose; a unit of purpose that will get us to a place that is better and higher than where we have been before.

So that, simply, to me, is the mindset of leadership; the determination to serve, not to lead. And it’s a determination and commitment to serve that decides who is a real leader, not the desire to be a leader itself.                  


I deeply appreciate that she speaks of the spiritual. It is the piece we need to connect to more, and urgently.

If you’re interested to bring servant leadership to your institution, please contact me at vadivu[at]joyworks.sg.


Lists of Inspiring Movies

"This is a story of two teenagers from opposite sides of the tracks fall in love during one summer together, but are tragically forced apart. When they reunite seven years later, their passionate romance is rekindled, forcing one of them to choose between true love and class order" - The Fetzer Institute

List of movies recommended by the Campaign for Love and Forgiveness by The Fetzer Institute.

Top 10 Movies on Character Strengths by the VIA Institute on Character which also has questions we can ask ourselves so we learn more from these movies. And here’s a list of movies for various character strengths.

"One of the most popular films ever made, perhaps due to the ease an individual can relate to the story of a man wrongfully imprisoned but never giving up hope." - Ryan Niemiec of The VIA Institute on Character

The Positive Psychology Oscars of 2010 by Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist, coach, and Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character.

The Positive Psychology Oscars of 2011 by Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist, coach, and Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character.

Positive Psychology Oscars: Honorable Mention by Ryan Neimiec

"Sometimes our best teachers are situations in which we use too much or too little of our best capacities. Natalie Portman’s brilliant and raw portrayal of a competitive and troubled ballet dancer depicts an overuse of perseverance and self-regulation and underuse of judgment and perspective to create an imbalance that leads to her downfall." - Ryan Niemiec

Uplifting Films by Elliot Landy, a well-known photographer whose images of Woodstock and sixties music personalities such as Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix are recognised worldwide.

"The film shows that love and communication are more powerful in getting what you want than violence and intimidation, that you should believe in your ideas, even if no one else does, and has lots of other positive messages for kids and adults alike." - Elliott Landy of UpliftingFilms.com

Here’s a list of movies to help you reflect on finding your calling in life.

Reel Therapy – Meaningful thoughts on meaningful movies

Positive Psychology at the Movies

Movies on Integrity

The American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time.


Enjoy these movies with family and friends, in schools, community and grassroots organisations, companies and religious organisations etc.

(PS: I’ve learnt the importance of respecting intellectual property over time. If you are watching/screening movies outside of your home, you need a licence in Singapore. You can apply for licences from the Motion Picture Licencing Company (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. You may also need other approval from authorities.)

Video: Following Your Heart


How can you parent from faith rather than fear? Illustration by Sara Chong of www.bitbin.co.nr.


Anila Angin’s “Mother and Child on Following Your Heart” is the kind of conversation I wish more parents had with their children.

Are you living the questions in your life and allowing others to as well?

To enjoy more of Anila’s work, log on to Scribbles for the Soul

Video: Greatest Love of All

Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All is probably one of the psychologically healthiest and wisest songs I have heard.  

And a great reminder on Valentine’s Day. A reminder that the most important relationship in life is the one with ourselves. I’ve learnt that if that’s strong, positive and affirming, then relationships with others are more likely to be.  

How is your relationship with yourself? Do you know how to love yourself?

Related: Love Story – With Yourself

Links – Positive Publications



I have created a list of recommended books on the Joy Works website. I also encourage adults to read picture books. Although they are profoundly simple, they can be simply profound too.

30 good minutes – This is more than a publication, and has video clips too – all food for the soul.

Goodpaper.sg – a Singapore-based newspaper that supports greater awareness and action on making a difference.

International Journal of Wellbeing aims to “promote interdisciplinary research on wellbeing”.

The Intelligent Optimist – “the online community for intelligent optimists”

Oprah“Live your best life”

Positive Psychology News Daily“provides the latest news about happiness, the “science of happiness,” and positive psychology. Our goal is to be your fun, collaborative place for a research-based daily boost of happiness.”

Superforest.org “is a positivity blog. Everything you find here has personally been chosen to make you happy and inspire you. As time has progressed, the blog has also become a record of our journey as we work together to create a more just and sustainable world.”

Utne“independent ideas and alternative culture. Not right, not left, but forward thinking”

yes! magazine“reframes biggest problems of our times in terms of their solutions…we outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world.”

Huffpost Good News

Click the “Have you read…” section.

Do you know others? Let me know at vadivu[at]happiness.sg.

How Can We Celebrate Love Everyday?

In the animation, “Danny and Annie”, Danny says of his wife of 27 years: …she lights up my life when she says to me at night, “Wouldn’t you like some ice-cream?” or “Would you please drink more water?”…those aren’t very romantic things to say but they start my heart…

How can we express and celebrate love when Valentine’s day is over?

Communicating compassionately and mindfully. Forgiving. Being vulnerable.  Providing a safe space for the other to share. Being thoughtful of their needs, preferences when we buy things for them. Caring about their health and well-being.  Seeing their flaws and still loving them anyway. Appreciating. Apologising. Celebrating achievements. Sharing chores. Paying attention to what’s new with our partners. Saying “no” to an extra hour at work or bringing home too much work. Doing errands. Dealing with difficulties instead of burying them. Touching to express care. Hugging. Saying “I love you” in the language of love your partner prefers. Listening deeply to how the day went. Listening for underlying feelings and  needs. Going for walks together. Organising surprises. Loving ourselves. Making time for our partners when there is “no time”. Praying/meditating together. Talking about things that matter. Doing fun things together. Writing a love letter. Doing what we love so we’re happy, encouraging our partners to do the same. Supporting our partner’s dreams and life purpose, and where dreams have been abandoned, helping them bring them back to life. Being truthful mirrors to each other. Speaking the truth with love. Growing together to become better people, better parents, better partners, better children, better community citizens, better bosses, better devotees of our spiritual paths. Being involved in a higher purpose of serving others better.

Celebrating love on Valentine’s day and less so during the other 364 days every year is robbing ourselves of much more love that we can access and enjoy. The best gift is less likely to be the rose or expensive gift but your quality time, attention and yourself.

How do you keep your love alive outside Valentine’s day?



SoulMating.com has excellent articles – By psychologists, Basha and Jeff Kaplan. Their book “SoulMating for Singles: The Journey from Dating to Life Partnership” will be out in January 2012.  Basha Kaplan, together with Gail Prince, wrote a seminal book, “Soul Dating to Soul Mating”.

Joyce and Barry Vissell’s articles on developing a healthy relationship. They have a powerful book, “The Heart’s Wisdom”. (Have recommended to National Library Board to procure. Will update when I hear back.) 

Imago’s “Conflict to Connection” DVD on how to resolve conflicts. (Have recommended to National Library Board to procure. Will update once I hear back.)

Soul Dating to Soul Mating by Kaplan and Prince is hard to get but exceptional for both singles and couples. Have asked national library Board when the item will become available.

Go to oprah.com and type in “relationships” in the search button.

Love Story: With Yourself

Why didn’t they teach this in school? It’s such an important lesson and most of us have to learn it the hard way. I spent alot of my life helping others but didn’t really know how to love myself. I am learning how to do this now, thankfully, though not perfectly…

So what does lack of self-love look like?

Some examples – Habitual neglect of one’s own wellbeing whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual  sometimes at the expense of doing alot for others or even emotionally taking on others’ responsibilities.   Habitually not being able to say “no” or draw boundaries around one’s time.   Habitually being highly self-critical and beating oneself up for not being good enough or making mistakes. Habitually seeking external approval. Habitually doing self-destructive things. Don’t feel whole when not in a romantic relationship (even if it’s an unhealthy relationship). Feeling bad about our bodies or parts of them!

Slimming ad. We need antidotes to such messages that surround us everyday. What's your antidote?

Recognise anything here? We develop such thinking from our upbringing, the media, societal pressures and even people close to us who focus on our flaws.

What’s the importance of self love and what does it look like?

Not comparing yourself to others is an act of self-love
Forgiving yourself and learning from your mistakes is an act of self-love.

Here are some excerpts from a wonderful book, “Soul Dating to Soul Mating” by Basha Kaplan and Gail Prince:

“..our primary relationship is not with a beloved but with ourselves. Understanding that we cannot  love another first loving ourselves is the foundation of any healthy relationship…”

How well do you meet your deepest needs?

“Most of us felt and still feel that we have to earn love and that we are only lovable if we meet certain standards. In response to this, some of us become overachievers, afraid to stop striving for fear we won’t be admired or loved. Others stop trying altogether, stating, “Why even try, I won’t be successful anyway.” If our parents, who loved and wanted the best for us, were judgmental and critical, what can we expect of others? We must learn that a healthy relationship involves accepting, encouraging and understanding, not judgement and power struggles.”

“Loving ourselves is forgiving ourselves for being human. It is accepting that humans cannot be perfect. Loving ourselves means striving for excellence on the path of “becoming the best possible me.”It is knowing that, within realistic limits, we can accomplish anything.”

“Embracing the attitude that we are here to grow, learn lessons and accept our humanity can greatly help us on this journey to find self-love and commitment.”


Learning to say "no" to that which doesn't serve your highest interests is an act of self-love. What would be an example of this in your life?


Rest is an act of self-love.
Stopping self-destructive behaviour is an act of self-love.

What are three ways in which you can practise more self-love? Who can support you best as you strive towards this? What’s the main obstacle to you loving yourself? And how can you overcome this?

Find out more about how to Love Yourself

Dr Robin Smith on self-love (audio)

Your Trump Card: Self Love in Psychology Today

Self-love on Valentine’s Day

See the part on self-forgiveness in my post on forgiveness


Various articles on self love, including the difference between self-love and narcissm and steps towards self love by a self-love coach, Sarah Elizabeth Malinak. (Click on self-love section.)


Go to oprah.com and key in “love yourself” in the search button and enjoy the many great resources there.

Video: Love Story of Danny and Annie

It’s approaching Valentine’s day and I’d like to share a touching animation clip of Danny and Annie’s love story.  

Danny wrote his wife a love letter every day…and says some wise things about loving his wife of over 27 years….

“We try to give each other hope…”

“The only thing I have to give to you is a poor gift and it is myself and I give it…”

…she lights up my life when she says to me at night, “Wouldn’t you like some ice-cream?” or “Would you please drink more water?”…those aren’t very romantic things to say but they start my heart…

More than that rose or expensive gift on Valentine’s day, how can we show our love daily to people we love?

PS: Danny’s a horse-betting clerk and Annie’s a nurse…and they have much to teach us…the service people who surround us…the waiters, the construction workers, the nurses, the taxi drivers, the salespeople….also have love stories, like we do. … and lessons to teach us…..if we care and are humble enough to listen… 


Thanks to my former professor, Barbara Becker of Equal Shot for introducing Storycorps (which  recorded Danny and Annie’s story) to my “Communications and Social Change” class. She’s helped me understand the power of story-telling.