Love is….

I wrote this in preparation for an activity run by PIES cafe at Greenleaf Centre (Asia). We were asked to reflect on what Love is.

Love is a verb.

Love is Presence.
Love is most precious when it is most tested.
Love Heals.
Love Transforms.
Love Liberates.
Love is Forgiveness, Gratitude, Apology, Growth.
Love needs Wisdom.
Love is needed where it is most forgotten. At the workplace. On the roads. To ourselves. To those who hurt us. To those we never meet.
Love is the journey. And the destination.
Love is why we’re here.


Letter: We should know when to hang up the mobile phone

Thanks to TODAY for publishing my letter today. :) Please help share and discuss in your own circles of friends and colleagues.

Watch this powerful video.

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Thank you for helping us improve our relationship with gadgets, which will help us improve our relationship with each other!

We should know when to hang up the mobile phone
by Vadivu Govind 04:45 AM Jan 07, 2013

I am grateful to Ms Lee Seow Ser for sharing, in “Spooked by the hook of the phone” (Dec 24), about her wake-up call on her dependence on her mobile phone.

I am happy that she has realised the importance of connecting with loved ones more than a phone, a message I support.

Some time ago, a car almost rammed into the taxi I was in; when I looked at the driver, he was looking at his phone. Drivers like him helped me to stop walking and looking at my phone last year.

I thought of the people they could hit, including my loved ones. I do not drive, but it jolted me to improve my relationship with my phone.

Recently, I saw someone watching pornography on his iPhone while in a public bus. I have seen people watching television or movies with the volume turned up loud in public transport.

I see people crossing the road, climbing the stairs, boarding buses, driving cars while looking at their phones or other gadgets. Some of us do not seem conscious of the terrain or people around us.

We bump into others or have narrow escapes on the road. We slow others down. We do not see when people need help.

In the case of the man watching porn, he did not seem to care about exposing others to images that may disturb them.

Some of us seem disconnected, existing in our own bubbles, unaware of the safety and well-being of ourselves and others.

Institutions have a role to play. Workplaces, schools, religious groups, the Government and private institutions could educate people on improving our relationship with technology. We need role models to come forth and speak up on this issue.

Even if institutions do not do this, let us do it ourselves. Let us wake up before life gives us painful wake-up calls. Let us experience the joy of being fully present wherever we are, feeling connected to people around us and staying alive and healthy.

Anna’s Story

29 November was a special day. Anna Boo and I met to complete something we had started months ago.

I met Anna through the Thye Hua Kuan Moral Society. And I started listening to her life story. She did a photo montage (three folders full!) of h

er life, and every time we met, I listened to her tell me the stories behind the photos. Her photos were accompanied by captions, inspiring quotations, etc that she wrote.So I was a witness – a witness to her journey, her beauty, her strengths. And wow, she has some amazing strengths in Love, Wisdom, Courage, Resilience. I was deeply moved by her spirit.I asked her how she felt about this project and she said:“I enjoyed collecting the pictures and putting them together because it has rekindled my creativity. It has brought back my love for writing. It’s meaningful. If you just keep photos in your album, it’s not interesting. If you plan and organise it in this way, at the end, you have something Amazing.Everyone has the potential to do this. Sometimes the years just ago by and we work, and become mothers and wives. But this project is about YOU.It’s a JOY to be able to complete this…a Great Achievement.”To me, Anna is the great achievement herself.

We were strangers. And now I am a witness to her life. And today she said to keep in touch even though the project is over…so we can be friends…

Be a witness to someone’s life. Listen to their story. We can do that everyday. And especially if someone is unkind to you, remember that they too have a story…they too would have strengths…and a folder full of memories.

Related: Listening to Stories


Groundhog Day

In my recent interview with Matthieu Ricard in Singapore, I asked him what some of his favourite movies were. He said he likes movies that “give hope in human nature” and gave two examples. One was Groundhog Day – one of my favourite movies too.

So I watched it again, after some years, and appreciated it even more. (This post has spoilers so please come back if you’d prefer to watch the movie first.)

Scrooge-like Phil is made to re-live the same day over and over again. It’s a call for him to transform. And he does, first negatively. Initially he breaks all the rules and takes the hedonistic route, since he only has one day to live. Then he tries to court his producer but more as a conquest.  Then an encounter with death starts to transform him. He learns to love more and more people…and breaks through.

As Ricard said,  Phil’s way “fails, fails, fails until compassion comes in.”


The links I share below have many enlightening thoughts on the movie. I would just add:

  • One of the most precious messages of the film that I take away is that life lessons present themselves to us again and again and trigger pain until we learn them. There’s no point changing jobs or a relationship that isn’t working if you don’t change.
  • Phil’s breakthrough comes only when his love becomes much more expansive and includes many others, beyond trying to win the love of one woman.
  • People change, even if sometimes the change is initially tiny and imperceptible. If you believe in your own power to change, you’ll find it easier to believe in other’s.
  • If you had a day/month/year to live, how would you spend it? Phil learns to love people, a town he hated, himself and his work. He learns new skills that add beauty to the world. Each encounter with someone becomes rich and meaningful.
  • He is transformed by the death of the old man. Will you let your own impending death or those of people around you transform you? For most of the past two years I’ve been living as if it’s my last year to live and I would recommend this to most people. More on death. 

I recently read “Wheel of Life” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who was the world’s eminent expert on death and dying. Some of the key messages she shared in the book were:

” The sole purpose of life is growth.” 

“When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.”

“Every one of the thousand of patients I spoke to about their near-death experiences recalled going into the light and being asked, “How much love have you been able to give and receive? How much service have your rendered?”

This movie captures these very lessons powerfully.

The following links provide excellent, deeply reflective observations and questions on the film. I’ve pulled out some extracts from each of them.

“The first thing that most of us do when we realize we are stuck is to look to make changes in our outer lives. This might mean changing jobs or leaving a relationship or making a grand new year’s resolution to change the way we look. Such changes rarely have the desired effect because we are changing the wrong things.

A new job, a new car or a new look might bring a fleeting send of happiness but it soon disappears. To bring about genuine change we need to change the way we see ourselves and the world, we need to change our inner lives and escape our conditioning….

When you accept you are stuck, and accept that only you can change your life, you start to move on and break out of your rut. Like Phil, you accept that your old self and your old beliefs are no longer working; and you stop blaming others and begin to change yourself instead. This is truly transformative.”

Groundhog Day: A Values and Vision Guide by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

“If your spiritual task was to work on diminishing your egocentricity, where would you begin? What tasks do you believe you’re here to accomplish? What character flaws would you like to work on?”

“What have you learned about the shadow side of your personality in love relationships? What flaws in yourself have you come to accept?”

Groundhog Day – Breakthrough to the true self by Ken Sanes

“Like many of the heroes of fiction, he can only escape his exile from himself by being exiled in a situation not of his choosing.”

Seeing the shadow by Dairyu Michael Wenger Sensei (For Buddhist readers)

Why not screen the movie for friends, at work or other communities you belong to and have a discussion after? Share this post. The above links provide excellent possible discussion points.  After your screening, do post any comments you have in this post or on the facebook page.

(Please note that a licence is needed to screen movies outside your home in Singapore. Contact the Motion Picture Licencing Company (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.  )

Thank you to Matthieu Ricard for sharing this gem with us. Let us make best use of it.

PS: Punxsutawney was the town that Phil wanted to leave yet finally ended up staying there – not because it had changed but because he had changed himself. It reminds me of my relationship with Singapore…. 

Related: More Inspiring Movies


Against all Odds

In “The Path to Love”, Deepak Chopra shares a deeply moving true story that happened during the Holocaust. A doctor was performing a tortorous medical “experiment” on a young Catholic woman. The woman suffered immensely and died a slow and painful death. Just before that, she whispered something softly. The doctor thought it was a curse and withdrew from the young woman. The young woman reached out. She had difficulty lifting something from her neck. Finally she held it out to her torturer. “For you”, she whispered, as she handed her rosary to the doctor, leaving this world with a blessing in exchange for her suffering.

Relationship and Parenting Resources


Katherine Woodward Jones’ book, “Calling in the One” is also a programme.


Check out the Vissells’ articles and book, “The Heart’s Wisdom”.

Basha Kaplan and Gail Prince – “Soul-Dating to Soul-Mating”. Basha and her husband, Jeff  also offer counselling. (Phone counselling available.)

Conflict to Connection dvd

Fetzer Institute does alot of work on love and forgiveness.

A friend recommends an Imago workshop or therapist for couples who are ready to give up. Details of Singapore-based IMAGO therapist are on the site.

Relationship & Family Resources by the Greater Good Science Centre


The Dance

Another beautiful poem by Oriah…re-published with her permission, with deep gratitude….


The Dance

I have sent you my invitation, the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living. Don’t jump up and shout, “Yes, this is what I want! Let’s do it!” Just stand up quietly and dance with me.

Show me how you follow your deepest desires, spiraling down into the ache within the ache, and I will show you how I reach inward and open outward to feel the kiss of the Mystery, sweet lips on my own, every day.

Don’t tell me you want to hold the whole world in your heart. Show me how you turn away from making another wrong without abandoning yourself when you are hurt and afraid of being unloved.

Tell me a story of who you are, and see who I am in the stories I am living. And together we will remember that each of us always has a choice.

Don’t tell me how wonderful things will be . . . some day. Show me you can risk being completely at peace, truly okay with the way things are right now in this moment, and again in the next and the next and the next. . .

I have heard enough warrior stories of heroic daring. Tell me how you crumble when you hit the wall, the place you cannot go beyond by the strength of your own will. What carries you to the other side of that wall, to the fragile beauty of your own humanness?

And after we have shown each other how we have set and kept the clear, healthy boundaries that help us live side by side with each other, let us risk remembering that we never stop silently loving those we once loved out loud.

Take me to the places on the earth that teach you how to dance, the places where you can risk letting the world break your heart. And I will take you to the places where the earth beneath my feet and the stars overhead make my heart whole again and again.

Show me how you take care of business without letting business determine who you are. When the children are fed but still the voices within and around us shout that soul’s desires have too high a price, let us remind each other that it is never about the money.

Show me how you offer to your people and the world the stories and the songs you want our children’s children to remember. And I will show you how I struggle not to change the world, but to love it.

Sit beside me in long moments of shared solitude, knowing both our absolute aloneness and our undeniable belonging. Dance with me in the silence and in the sound of small daily words, holding neither against me at the end of the day.

And when the sound of all the declarations of our sincerest intentions has died away on the wind, dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale of the breath that is breathing us all into being, not filling the emptiness from the outside or from within.

Don’t say, “Yes!” Just take my hand and dance with me.


By Oriah from her book, THE DANCE (c)2001. Published by HarperONE, San
Francisco. All rights reserved. Presented with permission of the author.


I love how this poem reminds us to live in the Now. The past is over. And Ondrea Levine says, “tomorrow is a fantasy”. There is only now. This sounds simple but I haven’t found it easy to do…but I try to practise.

I diverge a little from what the poem says though –  I want to change the world, even as I love it, and change myself in the process.

What speaks to you?



I was recently not in the best of spirits. I really appreciated the care shown by a friend, who called to find out how I was doing and made arrangements to meet in a healing nature area. How thoughtful!

However my friend tried to shift my mind to connect to what was positive. Hm…I wasn’t ready for this although I usually have a positive way of looking at the world…then I was asked why I hadn’t shared what I was facing with some specific people in my life…this didn’t work for me either. By this time, my pain started hiding from this friend…an opportunity for real emotional intimacy was lost…

I am now reflecting on when I may have done the same to others. When have I jumped in with ideas or suggestions too soon when all my friend needed was a warm hug, holding her hand or sacred silence? Yes, I have sometimes forgotten to respond from the heart. And I am reminded of a process I learned some time ago through a tele-seminar with Kate Marsh, a Virtues Project facilitator. It’s called Companioning.

When we companion, we never ask “why?”.  We use open-ended cup emptying questions starting with “What” and “How”. We always end with a Virtues Acknowledgment, which helps to restore someone who has been vulnerable enough to share openly. – The Virtues Project

To me, the most critical part is the cup-emptying element, especially when I am asked, “What’s most painful? or “What’s the hardest part?”It allows me to bring out to the surface, the deepest part of my pain/grief/anger etc.

I would be more open to suggestions, ideas, or potential lessons for me to learn only after I first feel that my feelings and needs are heard and in some instances, have had some time to heal.

I can see that my friend was just being caring and helpful and I really appreciate that and still love my friend dearly.  However I am also reminded that processes such as Companioning and Nonviolent Communication are intimate, caring, gentle yet powerful ways for us to connect with others so that they feel emotionally safe to be vulnerable with us. We can also use these processes on ourselves. Such processes are not often taught in school – it’s important that we educate our hearts ourselves so we can nurture more loving relationships.

Related: Please see The Virtues Card app 


On dying and living…

Elisabeth Kubler Ross was an expert on dying. Here are some of her wise words…

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”


“And after your death, when most of you for the first time realize what life here is all about, you will begin to see that your life here is almost nothing but the sum total of every choice you have made during every moment of your life.  Your thoughts, which you are responsible for, are as real as your deeds.  You will begin to realize that every word and every deed affects your life and has also touched thousands of lives.”


“We run after values that, at death, become zero.  At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford.  That’s what dying patients teach you.”


“Dying is nothing to fear.  It can be the most wonderful experience of your life.  It all depends on how you have lived.”


“If you live each day of your life right, then you have nothing to fear …”


“Throughout life, we get clues that remind us of the direction we are supposed to be headed … if you stay focused, then you learn your lessons.”


“There is no joy without hardship.  If not for death, would we appreciate life?  If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? … At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.”


“When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.”


“When we have passed the tests we are sent to Earth to learn, we are allowed to graduate.  We are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our souls …”


“We make progress in society only if we stop cursing and complaining about its shortcomings and have the courage to do something about them.”


“Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.”


“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose….”


“You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.”


“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”


“Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon.  It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh,  and to be able to grow.”


“For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.”


“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”


“People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”


“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”


“There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”


“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.”


“We need to teach the next generation of children from day one that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”


“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their carvings.”


“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.”


“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”

Do you have a gunshot wound? We all do.

I took a transformative workshop by Dr Donna Hicks when I was at Columbia University a few years ago. It was on healing and reconciling relationships through the power of dignity. And one image she painted through her writing has stuck with me for years – that emotional wounds are like gunshot wounds…

“The desire for dignity is a powerful force and the time has come to recognize and understand it. What is so critical to understand is that the experience of humiliation, resentment, and anger that these dignity violations instinctively create does not go away on its own. The injuries are as serious as a gunshot wound, but no one is rushed into an emergency room when they happen. There is no 911 call for when we have been shamed, misunderstood, treated as invisible, or had our identity dishonored, and these unattended injuries can fester in our inner worlds for a lifetime, severely affecting how we feel about ourselves as well as our capacity to be in relationship with others. They leave a vengeful and often crippling mark and without attention paid to these injuries, they can linger on in perpetuity, dominating one’s personal and group consciousness. (by Donna Hicks, as quoted in Berfrois. Donna has written “Dignity:The Essential Role it Plays in resolving Conflict.“)

Our emotional wounds can affect us in different ways:

– As she notes above, our relationships can suffer. We can unknowingly inflict our unhealed emotional wounds on others. I have also noticed that I attract certain relationships (whether at work or on the personal front) that seem to mirror any unhealed wounds I have.

– We can become physically ill.  Scientists are now discovering how our emotional and mental states are linked with our physical wellness and illness.

So healing our emotional wounds has immense benefit for us.

The way we choose to heal may vary. There are many methods, tools, professionals – some more effective than others. We need to use our intuition and wisdom to choose wisely.

I have tried different tools over the years. Finally though what helped me were simple and fairly inexpensive things

– sharing my feelings and unmet needs to deeply compassionate and wise people (some were not even helping professionals). Some may have gone through a similar experience and come out wiser and more loving (not bitter or fearful).

– listening to the life lessons in the wound. What could I learn from it? If the wound could speak, what was it trying to tell me? How could I become a better, instead of bitter, person because of it? What was I grateful for?

– accepting that it is part of my story with grace and thinking, “How I use it for the betterment of others is what matters now”.

reading books and articles that have wisdom to offer. These books often chose me instead of me choosing them. They would draw me naturally at bookshops, or online.

homeopathy (at specific times only)

What could help you heal? Set a powerful intention to heal, and can attract the right resources (people, tools, books etc) to help you on that journey. Please note that sometimes professional therapeutic help is needed.

(This piece focuses on our wounds. However we are not only wounded beings.  We have strengths such as resilience, courage and compassion. We have both light and darkness.)

Related: Forgiveness