Do Not Mourn


This is the one of the most inspiring obituaries I have seen.
What would you want yours to read?
Thank you to Jacelyn who’s teaching us even after leaving us, and to her family for honouring her spirit and life in this way.
It was in The Sunday Times 14 April 2013 and so was Sumiko Tan’s article on death where she says: “We will all die, there’s no doubt about that. The question is, while we are alive, do we know about to live?”


This is my third year of living with death awareness and enjoying its benefits. Read more death-related posts under this category.

Uncle Sweets

Today I met “Uncle Sweets”, a taxi driver who keeps a bowl of sweets for his customers.
Me: What made you start doing this, Uncle?
Uncle Sweets: I pick up all the drunk people and after vomitting, they ask me: “Uncle, do you have a sweet? My throat is bitter.” So now I give sweets to everyone!
Me: Ha! Who takes them?
Uncle Sweets: Adults! Not children!This started a long conversation of him sharing about how he has triumphed over a stroke, a lung operation, heart surgery. He spoke on the power of positive thinking. I was inspired by his resilience, hope and humour. He spoke of customers who sometimes don’t pay him. And how he chooses his own safety over money. He was effervescent, wearing pink pants and a grey shirt.

I said: You’re so fashionable Uncle!
Uncle Sweets: Eh, look at my belt!
And he showed me a stylish red belt. We both laughed.
And before we knew it, the long trip was over.
All this from asking about the little box of sweets.

Reach out and start a conversation with someone new…

(Written on 14 May 2013)

Synchroncity-led Interview

I met Priscilla through synchronicity.
I go for an art class (which is very unusual in the first place) in a lovely faraway place in Bukit Batok called heartspace.
And I sit down and the art therapist, Joanna Tan, introduces me to Priscilla.
I ask her what she does. And she says she’s a local designer.
I ask her the name of her label. (not that i know anything about labels but i had a strange inkling of what she might say.)
And she says, “Chalk”.
And my jaw literally drops.
I had just bought a dress from Chalk to wear for my debate on happiness on Channel News Asia.
What are the odds?
And later when I showed what I had drawn to the class, Priscilla said she had had a vision of what I had drawn before I drew it.
Anyway, we have met up a few times with Roland, her husband.


Priscilla and Roland have just started a blog and here’s an extract from it:
“Recently married and constantly searching for each other and for ourselves. Through all these moments, apart, or in each others’ embrace, we shape each other, and in so doing, shape ourselves. This process is sometimes easy, often painful, but never wasted. The easy part is falling in love. The pain comes from being in love, staying in love.

This shaping hurts, because it wills one against oneself for the sake of another. But yet it is not martyrdom, because the shaping occurs both ways. This will is called compassion.

Through the past year, we realize that this love and compassion cannot be limited to ourselves if we want it to be true. We are sentient beings living amongst other sentient beings. We can no longer ignore the sufferings caused by our wants and desires. And for this reason we have decided to abstain from animal produce as a first step to grow in our love for each other.”

Priscilla recently interviewed me for her blog and here’s the piece:


Thanks, Priscilla and Roland, for expanding your love to include animals!
And thanks to my friend, Usha Das, for choosing the dress for me and introducing me to Chalk. You never know where things may lead! :) Life is magical.

Lost dog

9 March 2013

So i saw a little dog wandering on the street just now.  It had a collar. I looked around. Nobody. I stayed around him for a while just to make sure he was ok since he was near the road. Then saw one house with its gate open. Wondered if I should call spca or ring the bell. Decided to ring the bell.

Domestic worker answered and I said, “Did you lose a dog?”. She shakes her head and hands at me. Perhaps she couldn’t hear me and thought I was a salesperson? Nevermind, I was thick-skinned. I asked again, “Is your dog lost?” and then she looks around and has this look of shock. So i guided her to the dog. And she was reunited with Spark! Total look of relief on her face. And a look of joy on mine.

When we are fully present to our environment and not looking at our mobile devices, we never know what we may find…someone else’s treasure perhaps…:)

“You can do it”


i was one of the last to get on the train.
and i thought the doors were going to close.
so i stopped.
and a man held out his hand, looked into my eyes, smiled and confidently and calmly said:
“you can do it.”
so i took his hand and smiled and stepped into the train.
and he was right – there was still time before the doors closed,.

that is what we can offer those who think the door has closed on them, their dreams.
just reach out, and give them the calm confidence that they can do it. :)

(that kind of gesture is rare here so i want to thank the man –
wherever you are, thank you for your kindness and courage to offer your hand. that little act of yours is something i remember from time to time. and it warms my heart. it’s little acts of Connection like that which add extra sparkle to our days. )

David Rand on Mindful Leadership

On 21 March 2013, David Rand gave a lecture on “Mindful Leadership” at the INSEAD Business School in Singapore.  He is the Executive Director of the Tenzin Gyatso Institute in New York. The Institute promotes compassion, empathy and universal responsibility through education, social action and religious harmony.  In 2012, they organised the first Compassion and Empathy conference in London attended by around 600 professionals and students.

David Rand

Here are some of my notes from the talk as well as some highlights from our lunch together two days later.

On Mindful Leadership

Mindful Leadership places emphasis on self-awareness, empathy, altruism, intentionality, being aware of the consequences of one’s actions and speech, emotional connectedness and transcending one’s ego. Without it, we are seeing a rise of ethics-related scandals, turnover and loss of talent and greater sickness in society.

Leaders are responsible for making many decisions that affect many lives. And when one is stressed or angry, David said that one sees about 10% of the picture. So emotional regulation is key to rational decision-making.  Having a mindfulness practice such as sitting in silence and counting one’s breath helps with this. Researchers have found that doing this for 20 minutes a day, thrice a week for 8 weeks will show benefits.

David said those studying brain science highlight how mindfulness and self-awareness strengthen one’s ability to empathise and reduce aggression.

“Your happiness is connected to mine”, David reminded us, and leaders who think in this way will make different decisions.

Mindfulness helps to address a wandering mind.  David cited a Harvard study which found that people spend about 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. This mind-wandering makes people unhappy.

One member of the audience said that leaders have to learn so many skills, and said people have a limited bandwith so adding mindfulness, self-awareness, empathy and compassion to that was stretching that bandwith. I found this interesting, I see these as life-skills, not only leadership skills. They help you have good relationships with your family, friends, community etc. Also, I see these as foundational leadership skills, not “extras”. This is the core, the roots, the anchor. And mindful leadership sounded very akin to servant leadership which I am a proponent of.

Over lunch, David and I chatted about …

Mobile phone addiction (people driving or walking while looking at their phones)

David said: “It’s wonderful to stay connected to friends and family but it’s symptomatic of another distraction. It’s easy to be more distracted than focussed. Distractions keep us from being present.”

What effects mindfulness has had on his life

“Healthier relationships, seeing oneself and others differently”


David was open to picking a Virtues Reflection card from the deck I brought. He picked Awe. And so I asked what brings him awe. He said: “I am in awe of how it is easy to lose sight of how awesome life is.” :)

The Institute’s Work 

Videos of the Compassion and Empathy Conference are available online. Check out resources for youth. 

Professor Richard Layard on the Government's role in increasing happiness and reducing misery

In April 2012, the Institute organised “Happiness and Sustainability” a dialogue between Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Dasho Karma Ura, President of the Center for Bhutan Studies.  (Under the leadership of Bhutan, sixty-eight countries co-sponsored a UN resolution titled “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development,” and on April 2 the Royal Government of Bhutan convened a high-level meeting at the UN on “Happiness and Well-Being.”)

"Happiness and Sustainability" dialogue at Rubin Museum. Photo Credit: Michael Palma

The Institute has plans to run the Compassionate Decision-Making and Leadership  conference in 2014. 

You can support the Institute. 


For more information on mindfulness,  see

Walking a labyrinth

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego



Ratan Tata

On 6 March 2013, I heard Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritues of the Tata Group, speak at the Singapore Management University.

The Tata Group of Companies is known for being a socially responsible corporate citizen with exacting ethical standards. He is the Tata Code of Conduct. In 2012, Tata Steel was listed as one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere in 2012 and 2013.

Importance of Values such as Empathy and Integrity

Mr Tata stressed the importance of integrity in their work, and certain values that are part of their DNA. For example they would not work with companies which are involved in trade in arms or landmines.

One student asked what three of his lessons were from his University days. He said the lessons he learnt were learned in more casual, off-hand circumstances. One of these was the value of empathy, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. He said this has helped him in his relationship building. He said what he does much stand public scrutiny. And that there are some things he wouldn’t do even if it meant “losing out”.

He spoke of how it’s important to do what is right so one can sleep at night.

He said the Tata values and Integrity are their “most precious things… and should be guarded.”

On Leadership

Mr Tata said: “You have to lead by example not by exception”.  He said not to expect others to have standards that the leader does not set through his own bhevaiours.

When asked what three traits a 21st centure leader must have, he said

  • a leader must be his own person
  • a leader must be honest in what he is trying to achieve and stand up to criticism
  • a leader must be ready for everything eh does ot be subject to public scrutiny and abide by what he believes himself.

On Philanthropy

Tata was one of the companies that helped in the rebuilding after the Gujarat Earthquake after the media and others had left.

After the shootings in the Taj Hotel, Tata helped employees and their families and also created a Trust that the public could contribute to to help those who were outside the hotel but also affected by it.

Tata staff also tend to respond by themselves when disasters strike and raise money etc which the company then matches.

He said one of the challenges Tata faces is finding NGOs/organisations to support and monitoring use of money.

On his early years when he had to work as a frontline manual worker

Because of these years he said he has compassion for workers who work at that level.

On happiness

He enjoys the affection of his dogs who give him alot. He said we have forgotten how to do simple things like this.