Reach out, nearby

What could you do for low-income workers near you?

There are some new workers from China near where I life. I would usually pass one of them and he would always be looking down, sweeping. Every time I passed him, I tried to make eye contact and smile.

Initially, he looked away (and I recalled a time when a migrant worker told me that he and his friends were instructed by their employer to not make eye contact with Singaporean women).

But I continued to try and make eye contact whenever I would see him. Then one day, he  looked at me briefly. Then one day, a smile – a breakthrough! :) Then the other day, he actually waved before I did! :))

Today I gave him an angpow (red envelope with money, given during Chinese New Year) and some chocolates and wished him Happy New Year in my broken Chinese. He was beaming.

Another cleaner looked shocked when I did the same for him. Then he smiled and thanked, heartfully.

Also asked the taxi driver to keep the change as “angpow” , a little more than what is usual. Shocked, he said, “Huh?? Really? Thank You!!” (We don’t have a tipping culture here.)

We don’t need to go far to let others know we care about them and wish them well. We are surrounded by opportunities everyday. :) And of course it needn’t be money that we give. A smile can go a long way to show them that we acknowledge them as human beings.

Deepavali and Inner Light

Happy Deepavali to all Hindu readers!

How do you keep your inner light bright? Who are the witnesses who mirror your light back to you?

Deepavali is about the triumph of good over evil. And I value what Indian mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev shared in 2008:

The evil need not necessarily come in the form of demons. Desperation, depression and frustration can cause much more damage than to one’s life than the demons that you have not seen.

Diwali is a reminder to slay all that is negative in our life. Especially in today’s global economic situation, on this festival of lights, let your inner light remain on.

How we go through tough times determines what we are made of. If only you can go through difficult times with an inner grace, you could see that every situation we face is an opportunity to enhance our lives.

—-

To me, the inner light represents love, truth and wisdom.

May you strive to keep your inner light bright. And also see the inner light in others, even when it’s difficult to. And when someone is shining their light very brightly, I hope you share with them how you’re impacted by that.

Eid

Today is Eid, the end of the fasting month for Muslims. Here are some reflections by Imam Khalid Latif in NYC during Ramadan…here are some excerpts that spoke to me:

From Day 24: The Hunger of the Soul

Ramadan teaches me how to fill that hunger in a different way. I don’t need to always consume to feel satisfied, and when I do consume, it doesn’t really have to be as much as I am used to. I can gain a deeper contentment by understanding really what my heart is in need of in order for it to feel at peace. The company of good people from all backgrounds, the moments to break away from the day to day monotony of my working life, the ability, want and desire to give of myself and resources to those who are in need, they all feed me in a different way.

In Singapore, I think many of us turn to shopping, the internet or our mobile phones to fill this deeper soul hunger. I use books, silence and reflection, and conversations with people in which I try to connect to our deeper truths to fill my soul hunger. What do you use?

Day 13: The Blessing of Solitude

Moments of solitude are important depending on how we use them. It’s very different seeking solitude in order to remove yourself from frustration, anxiety, and irritation of people versus seeking solitude to grow and develop as you reflect upon and contemplate the world around you and how you fit into it. Setting aside time on a regular basis, whether it’s daily, even few days, or once a week, is important for all of us.

This aloneness is worth more than a thousand lives.
This freedom is worth more than all the lands on earth.
To be one with the truth for just a moment,
Is worth more than the world and life itself.
~ Rumi

Solitude helps me see myself fully, appreiate the beauty, be kind to what’s not so perfect and forgive, understand people and where their actions are coming from and make better decisions.

If finding time for solitude is hard, you could start with the toilet! Extend time there; make it work for you more so you can return to the world, not just more relieved but also a little more nourished!

In my favourite poem, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, there’s a line:

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

In this way, solitude is about truth-seeking…

What are your ways of finding solitude?

PS: This blog is not tied to any specific religion. Where possible, I try to promote inter-faith understanding and harmony.

Resource: Message from The Vatican on Christians and Muslims working together for mankind’s spiritual dimension.

Special birthday wishes

Sending good thoughts to all in Singapore on her birthday…May we learn what choices bring true joy, the importance of emotional and spiritual intelligence and the transformative power of love… May we know when it’s time for silence and when it’s time to connect meaningfully with another….May we learn to say “Thank you”, “I forgive you” and I’m sorry” to ourselves and others….May we remember that we all suffer and also all have the potential to soar. May we come to understand money as a means and not as an end… May we remember to live consciously so we can die with peace and pride about how we have lived. May we grow in love and wisdom and radiate that to the rest of the world….

If you had a magic wand that could transform Singapore by the same time next year, what is the Singapore you’d like to see? What is one step you could take to make that happen in your own life? (If you’re not in Singapore, you could of course do it for your country!)

Honouring our Common Humanity on Vesak Day

I wish all Buddhist friends, a Happy Vesak Day today!

We all belong to different social groups – families, companies, neighbourhoods, religious groups, clubs, countries – and sometimes these put up barriers in how we connect with people outside these groups.

Here are some excerpts from Self-Compassion by Dr Kristin Neff, that elaborates on this further:

Our sense of self is imbued with social labels that define us and make us feel safe and accepted within clearly defined group boundaries. Although a sense of belongingness can be found within these groups identities, it is still limited. As long as we’re identifying with subsets of people rather than the enture human race, we’re creating divisions that separate us from our fellows.

Sadly, these divisions often lead to prejudice and hatred…According to Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory, when we incorporate a group into our identity, we derive our sense of self-worth from being a member of that group. We therefore become heavily invested in seeing “us” positively and “them” negatively. It’s our investment in social identities that underlies group discrimination and racism.

Neff speaks of our human limitations that is our common denominator. The Dalai Lama reminds us of two more things that unite us – we want to reduce our suffering and increase our happiness.

In honour of Vesak Day, here’s a short and thoughtful clip of the Dalai Lama speaking on our common humanity.

PS: This blog has a multi-faith perspective and strives to promote inter-faith understanding and harmony.

Vote Wisely

We have general elections every five years in Singapore. And of course these are important times.

But we don’t need to wait such long periods to vote.

We vote when we

buy.  How often do we buy green or ethical products? For those of us who can, are we prepared to pay more for things which have have been produced so people who produced them were treated with dignity? How often do we buy more than we really need? How often do we shop to numb realities we don’t want to face? How often do we buy branded things to make ourselves feel like we matter more?

eat. How often do we eat healthily? How often do we eat humanely? How often do we eat so it helps instead of hurts the environment?

make our career choice. Do we learn about our gifts, strengths, passions and let them guide us towards what we could do? Or do we do what others expect us to? Do we work for money only? Or do we create meaning and purpose through our work?

start a relationship – any kind of relationship.  Do we have fairly positive relationships with ourselves before we seek romantic relationships? Or do we expect someone to make us happy? Do we spend more time planning for our wedding than our marriage? Do we blame the other or take responsibility for our lessons? Do we learn about marriage or parenting or think it will come naturally? Do we express gratitude, forgiveness, apology and love when it is time?

 – spend our time in a myriad of ways. How much time do we spend on TV/shopping/facebook/zoning out on the internet/checking emails or the mobile phone/reading and watching things that don’t enrich our lives in the ways we truly yearn for? How much time do we spend truly connecting with friends and family? How much time do we spend helping others? How often do we say we have “no time” to do the important things and then at the end of our lives, when there is really no time, we wish we had done less of what had taken up most of our time?

 – speak. How much we do criticise and how much do we appreciate others’ strengths and our own? How much do we focus on what is above the surface and how much do we speak of underlying feelings and needs that give rise to conflict? How conscious are we of our tone? Do we know when to be silent and when to speak?

how we treat ourselves and others. Do we leave people feeling better or worse off after we interact with them? Do we love and feel compassion for ourselves so we can love and feel compassion for others? How often do we focus so much on the destination that we forget how we treat our fellow travellers on the way there?

how we respond when people hurt us or life deals us harsh blows. Do we shrivel up in pain but put on a hard armour and hurt others with it? Or do we let the pain open us up to a new and brighter way of being; forgiving, loving and growing?

Let’s be awake to how we vote everyday.

A friend, Karen Loh, recently pointed out, “I agree that happiness is a choice. However, there are times when an amalgamation of environmental and social factors can overwhelm the individual, and the individual becomes incapable of choosing and feels somewhat helpless. The result could be depression, or any other host of emotional problems we see nowadays.”

I am grateful to Karen for reminding me of this.  Sometimes we need other kinds of support before we can access our choices.  My post is aimed towards those of us who can access choices now. 

We have tremendous power over our lives. And we can be leaders of our own lives. As Barack Obama said:  

 Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

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.

Martin Luther King Day

The spirit of non-violence unites Gandhi and Martin Luther King (Image source: The Association of Global New Thought)

Today is Martin Luther King day and a federal holiday in the US.

King isn’t someone we talk about much in Singapore and maybe many don’t know who he was. But his commitment to nonviolence in creating social change, especially with regards to racial discrimination, inspires me along with his desire to inspire those who follow Christianity to support social justice. He was a pastor so his message was framed for Christians but many of his calls for action are universal and can be appreciated by non-Christians too.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize when he was 35, making him the youngest man to receive it at that time. (Learn more about the Nobel Peace Prize.) 

Here are some pieces from him that inspire me:

Excerpt from “The Drum Major Instinct” (audio)

Acceptance speech at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony (audio and text)

From this speech – “…man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Martin Luther King said the following of the segregated bus system they had in Montgomery in which white people boarded through the front door and black people boarded through the back and black people had to give up their seats to white people:

“The basic conflict is not really over the buses. Yet we believe that if the method we use in dealing with equality in the buses can eliminate injustice within ourselves, we shall at the same time be attacking the basis of injustice – man’s hostility to man….”

This quotation has close personal relevance to me since what triggered my current journey was also a transport issue.

I have 349 days to live in my experiment to live as though this is my last year.

Becoming a walking library

The gift of shared wonder and laughter is priceless

As I try to buy fewer physical gifts, I am learning to give experiences as gifts.

So my belated birthday gift to my friend was to be a mobile library.  I brought my picture books for her to browse during our lunch. I also my Virtues Cards for her to do a random pick. And shared with her my joy of having found Kaliktos – a sticker-transfer sheet people in my generation would have played when we were kids.

If you are a 70s child, do you remember Kaliktos? :)

She loved it so I gave it to her but other than this spur of the moment gift and our lunch at the wonderful Veganburg, my gift cost me nothing, cost the earth less, and we had a wonderful time connecting over what we were reading together.

I became a walking library for the rest of the day too at the nails shop and a dinner I attended! And it was wonderful to see adults enjoy picture books and get some beautiful messages from them!

Here’s one book from my collection. Maybe you too would like to become a mini-mobile library for your friends and others you’d like to share some uplifting messages with? Let me know how it goes? Send me pictures or post on my facebook page?

Party with a Difference

I want to share with you about one of the best parties I have attended! A couple I know, who would like to remain as anonymous angels, threw a Christmas party for domestic helpers in their housing estate. This was the third such party they have thrown and around 40 domestic workers came. And I was very lucky to be invited!

I admire the ladies’ exuberance, how inhibited they were when dancing, how sporting they were in playing the games, how thoroughly they were enjoying themselves, laughing, being fully present. I was really impressed by the creative fashion parade costumes they made from newspaper – I would never have thought of such designs! I have some things to learn from them…

Fashion parade competition. The designs were wonderfully creative!

The anonymous angels  had sent invitations to the domestic helpers’ to show their employers so that they understood what the party was about. I really applaud and appreciate the employers who were fine with their helpers coming for this party. We even had some employers and their children come and join in!

Party games!

Then there was a small group of Singaporean residents who sat nearby, watched and chatted. And they were invited to be judges in the fashion parade competition in which the helpers made costumes from newpsaper.

This couple honours the dignity of about 40 helpers and more (including those who received the invitation but weren’t allowed to attend the party) each year. This party is dedicated to them and they are the ones who get served on this day – served food, women’s magazines, prizes, games. I like surprises so I really liked how each worker got a prize from a lucky dip.They celebrate like and along with us.

This party is a simple but profound act of extending dignity and kindness and I truly appreciate the anonymous angels for thinking of it and making it happen. How wonderful it would be if more such parties were held around our island….

Perhaps what inspired me the most though was that the couple is role-modelling virtues of equality and kindness to their child…who was watching…and learning.

Do share your experiences if you, too, celebrate festive occasions (in your own way) with migrant workers or others who could do with having their dignity honoured more. I know there are institutions which organise such events and that’s wonderful but I’d love to hear of people in Singapore doing such acts of kindness in their personal capacity.

(I have 362 days left to live, in my experiment to live as though this was my last year.)