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.

Video: Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself

Actress Thandie Newton gives an inspiring TED talk that guides us to an exploration of who we really are, our Essence and Connection.

I admire her open and authentic exploration of her own journey from hopelessness and confusion as a child of mixed parentage in a white neighbourhood to the self-aware and compassionate woman she seems to be.  

When are you in touch with your Essence so you can see what Connects you to others and the divine?

Video: A New Hope for Peace

Mattie and Jeni Stepanek - messengers for peace

This is an inspiring TEDxTeen talk by Jeni Stepanek, mother of the late Mattie Stepanek, poet, philosopher and peace-maker who died from muscular dystrophy.

Some highlights…

….Within reality, there’s still the choice of your attitude… how you think and speak and act…and how you reflect your realities back out into the world…

…Hope is real. Peace is possible. Life is worthy…

A heartsong is our unique gift…our reason for being, whatever it is that we need, what we want most for ourselves in the world…we understand why that matters…that’s what we’re called to offer to others… 

We know hope best not when life is going well but when we’re going through some burden…when there’s suffering…when there’s some storm in our life…hope isn’t simply a positive attitude or wishful thinking…denying the facts…hope is very real because hope is an attitude..an attitude is always our choice…

…Peace begins within each one of us when we’re ok with who we are as a person… 

…We must find ways to share peace with people we don’t know, people we may not like, people we disagree with but who have basic needs just like us…

Every story matters…Mattie’s story was about peace, faith and hope. What about yours?

Related: Peace Poem + Help Needed

Hope for our World translations

Mattie, Jeni and Micah on Larry King Live, spreading the message of peace and hope

Dear Friends,

In March I had appealed to you to help translate a peace poem, “Hope for the World”, by the late Mattie Stepanek.  Amber Sawyer, a reader and friend, mobilised her contacts to translate and we submitted translations in Chinese, Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, French and Malay to Mattie’s mum, Jeni.

Huge gratitude to Amber, Kanya Kanchana, Sujata Cowlagi, Jocelyne Girard, Padma Navaratnam, New Fang Fang, Rachel Neo, Govind Cowlagi and Hayati Suaidi for enabling this poem to reach more people around the world.

Mattie’s new website is complete and the translations have been posted! So if the poem speaks to you, please send it on, use it in class/place of worship/at home in a language that is useful for your community.

Mattie inspires me because despite his illness and struggles, his didn’t become embittered about life. His resilience, hope and optimism shone through. He inspires me because he believed that to have peace in the world, we need to practise it in our lives, moment to moment. We can learn much from him.

Watch Jeni speak about Mattie’s life

Peace, Vadivu

—-

Here’s the poem again:

FOR OUR WORLD

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.

Mattie J.T. Stepanek ©
September 11, 2001

Hope Through Heartsongs
Hyperion, 2002
Just Peace: A Message of Hope
Andrews McMeel, 2006

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.

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 happiness.sg community. 

Email me at vadivu[at]happiness.sg 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 – 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 happiness.sg 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?  

 

Movie: Crash

If I were to choose one word to describe “Crash”, it would be “stunning”. Watch trailer. It won an Academy Award for “Best Picture” in 2006.  Oprah says, “I believe everybody should have this in their movie collection.”

Some experiences are hard to describe and this is one of them. These are the words and themes it brings up for me – Hurt people hurt people. Dignity. Power. Race. Prejudice. Grey areas. Unlikely friends. Shared humanity. Real. Honest. Miracles. Transformation. 

Quotations

Graham:  It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

Reflection: Perhaps this applies here in Singapore too…? Conflict is ultimately a yearning for connection.

Jean: I am angry, Yes, at them, yes! At them, the police, at Rick, at Maria, at the dry cleaners who destroyed another blouse today, at the gardener who keeps overwatering the lawn. I…I just thought that Carol..I just thought that I would wake up today  and I would feel better, you know?  But I was still mad. And I realized…I realized that it had nothing to with with my car with stolen. I wake up like this every morning! I am angry all the time… and I don’t know why.
 

She slips and falls down the stairs after this.

Reflection: Are you like Jean? I sense quite a lot of people moving around with anger, waiting for the smallest thing to trigger an explosion or a criticism… and in a way, this scene shows that when we hold so much unresolved anger within us, they manifest in the external world. In this case, she fell down. Science is also showing how negative emotions lead to serious illnesses.

—-

Jean has a fall and she calls her friend of ten years who can’t help her because she is having a massage. The only person who is there for her is her helper.

Jean: Do you want to hear something funny?
Maria: What’s that Mrs. Jean?
Jean: You’re the best friend I’ve got.

Reflection: Have you ever thought of your domestic worker as a potential friend? And first, a human being?

—-

Daniel, whom Jean called a “gang member” because of the way he looked, turns out to be a very caring father. 

Daniel: She had these little stubby wings, like she could’ve glued them on, you know, like I’m gonna believe she’s a fairy. So she said, “I’ll prove it.” So she reaches into her backpack and she pulls out this invisible cloak and she ties it around my neck. And she tells me that it’s impenetrable. You know what impenetrable means? It means nothing can go through it. No bullets, nothing. She told me that if I wore it, nothing would hurt me. So I did. And my whole life, I never got shot, stabbed, nothing. I mean, how weird is that?

Reflection: What’s your invisible cloak?

Farhad: She was my firishta. (Referring to a little girl)

Dorri: What are you talking about?

Farhad: She was my firishta…My angel. She saved me. She saved us all.

Reflection: Angels can come in unlikely shapes and sizes. I have found angels and teachers among migrant workers, taxi drivers, our dog, Max, and others who don’t have big titles. We lose huge opportunities for wisdom, joy and growth when we look for angels and teachers who only fit into our image of what a teacher should be (highly educated, hold a big title, etc).  Would you be able to recognise yours when they appear? They are sometimes much closer than we think….

Angels come in many forms...they don't always have wings or fancy titles...can you see the angels and teachers around you?

Oprah’s interview with “Crash” cast members

“Crash” star Thandi Newton speaks eloquently of what she learnt from Oprah about moving from being a victim of racism to a change agent.  

“Crash” is available at Video Eazy in Singapore. Watch the section where the director and actors share their thoughts about it too.

Related: Would you sit next to me on the bus? Healing my Prejudices, Ways to Build Unity

Book: Drax the Dragon Shows his True Colours

Luke, Mark and Drax

“Drax the Dragon Shows his True Colours”, by local author, Christy Lee-O’Loughlin, is a book about a dragon who is different from other dragons and his journey from challenge to acceptance.

What I love about it is Drax discovering his uniqueness and what he is good at. How is your difference an asset? What is your life purpose? These larger questions can help us break free from living lives which are limiting.

I also love how, at the end, Drax looks out for others who are also different and might be having a rough time, like he used to. Sometimes when some of us have “made it” and are part of some majority in-group, we may not want to speak truthfully about difficult issues affecting people of our minority grouping. We may even deny those problems exist. Drax is an example to us all on demonstrating the love, truth and courage he shows when he remembers, reaches out to and empowers others who are struggling like he used to.

I am also delighted to share with you the insights of a family which read the book:

Mark (7) says: “I learnt from this book that everyone is special in a different way. That means that you may be good at soccer, and your friend might be good at drawing. But everyone can still be friends and enjoy playing together.”

Luke (4) says: “I enjoy copying the drawings in this book!”

Mommy Linda says: “This book does a good job teaching kids about feelings. My younger son is now more aware about how his friends feel.”

Thanks to Mark, Luke and Linda for taking time to read together and share their thoughts on this book!

Drax is available at the national library (Singapore), Times, Popular, Borders, Kinokuniya, Page One, Amazon and Select Books.

Click here to check if item is available at the national library.

See author’s collection of materials on teaching children about diversity, bias and bullying. She also has notes to parents and teachers.

~~~

(By the way Mark is wearing a t-shirt from the Futr Adult range. Futr Adult (say: “future adult”) is an online store that sells gifts for kids. What’s unique: the designs aim to encourage creativity and
curiosity, and provide a friendly alternative to gifts that promote commercial products or cartoon brands. Mark and Luke play an active part in generating new ideas for Futr Adult designs, and they enjoy learning about the e-commerce element. I like how the children are involved with their parents in this venture!)