Holding on to anger is like grasping on hot coal…

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“But why does it have to happen to me?” The ultimate question in all suffering. And the question I was not surprised to hear eventually being spoken out loud by the cab driver that was taking me to the airport that morning. It was way too early for such a deep and somewhat heart wrenching talk about betrayal, divorce, court orders and joint custody. Especially between complete strangers like that.

I am not a family lawyer, neither am I a trained relationship psychiatrist. But for some reason or other, a conversation that began about where I was headed to, veered towards the upcoming implementation of GST to the story of his wife who decided to file for divorce last year and his 2 hours a week visitation time with his 8 year old daughter granted by the court on his last hearing.

It made me think about the time I had the same question revolving in my own head. It could have just been minutes, but to hear it echoing around in my head made it seem as if it was an endless pursuit of an answer that was never really needed in the first place. Why is it rare for people to pose the same questions when they are experiencing joy and happiness? Or when they just won a million bucks from the lottery?

He was clearly lost in this conversation that I hadn’t want to continue any longer than it already has been. We were probably halfway toward the airport. Looking out the window of his cab, watching at the sky that is patiently waiting for the sun to lit its horizon, I heard him continue “Before I die, I only want to see one thing happen to her, to see her suffer in the way I did, to have her feel exactly what I had felt from her own decisions”

Completely normal human reaction no doubt. But I think the precious lesson in such circumstance is often overlooked, missed or sadly never discovered because we are just too busy planning, contemplating, imagining and wishing for the same dire circumstance to befall the person who has ’caused’ us this suffering. Perhaps it us that is inflicting the suffering on ourselves. Like that wonderful quote by Siddharta Gautama Buddha:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”

There are infinite perspectives to a single situation, and to focus on just one interpretation incredibly limits our ability to evolve as a person. More than anything else, anger, I believe are one of those precious emotions granted to us as an avenue to seek meaning within ourselves to enrich our experience in this lifetime.

I am

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I am with you in every breath
Every thought of every single man

I am, I am, I am
I am with you in the whisper of the wind
Softly whistling into your ears
Je suis, je suis, je suis 
 
I am in every streak of the red burning sun
I am the tears from across the split broken sky
I am the pain in every desires of your heart
I am in the sound of every running brook that joins the sea
Wo shi, wo shi, wo shi 
 
And I am the silence which exists eternally within you.
I am that.

Perfect

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O my faith, my untamed knowledge, how shall I fly to your height and see with man’s larger self pencilled upon the sky? – Out of My Deeper Heart (Kahlil Gibran)

I remembered once, while peering into the viewfinder of my newly acquired camera some years ago, a seasoned photographer gently reminded me that “the difference between painting and photography is the canvas that you begin with. With painting, you start with a blank canvas and you gradually add in your subject. Whereas with photography, you begin with a full canvas, and it is the eye of the photographer which is required to skilfully edit out the subject that is not needed to make the picture meaningful and beautiful”

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

This was during one of those random phases in my mid-20s in which I wanted to try every aspect of art, like throwing pieces of bait into a lake and seeing which one gets hooked first. I was in Petaling Street, and it was a short walking photography course. It was also when I learned that critical difference between a beautiful painting and a beautiful photograph.

Like photography, our understanding is framed within our own experience, coloured by an understanding that is unique across individuals, and almost always never the same between two people. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, the way we view the world is edited. Certain subject are given extra focus, while the rest, and sometimes equally as important subjects are given less emphasis, blurred into the background. We truly see what we really only want to see.

Yet, I believe we stand to miss out on the beauty of life if all we do is to remain perpetually stuck in this ‘editing’ mode. If we are constantly busy removing subjects out of our frame because it is less then what we view as ideal. If we are always kept busy at focusing on one subject, and allowing light to expose the best feature of a single item amongst a sea of equally beautiful subjects. Part of what makes photography exciting I believe, is also the waiting. Time spent in a momentary stillness, watching and observing within the viewfinder until the ‘right’ subject walks in and captured at the perfect time. But what if there is no such thing as a right subject nor a perfect time? That every moment, every frame and every picture stands in its own right, perfect as it is. Because what may be beautiful for you, may be something that I may not be able to appreciate at all. Art is subjective, and elusive. And that is why it can be called beautiful even if it is the most random lashing of spilled paint on a blank canvas.

An artist (who paints!) once said on an interview “art is not meant to be understood, because by trying to understand you confine its meaning within your own experience, interpretations and biasses. Art is to be felt by the heart, and not to be interpreted by the mind”

And so it is, rather than spending so much time editing, creating and moving our life about towards that one perfect, ideal picture, perhaps it is better to go beyond and above this concept, “to fly to the height of your untamed knowledge” and feel the vastness and perfection of life from this perspective instead.

Perfect
You know this has to be
We always were so free

“Can you love what you do not know?”

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I shall ask these questions 
As if they were mine 
“What is this faith?”
Or “who is the Divine?”

I will ask these questions 
Which resides in every breath
“Whose words were these?”
And “who dictates our death?”

All of these questions shall I ask 
So that I may know every corner of my heart 
My own beating heart 
To understand surrender 
And loving the unknown 

And soon the question shall be less of 
“Can you love what you do not know?”
But rather …

“What more is there to love?” 

Nari

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Government warnings of the impending typhoon arrived as early as 2 days before Nari hit the central city of Vietnam. It seems expected. Like this almost annual occurrence of Mother Nature is as normal as day and night.

I remembered how absolutely clear it was that day. Beautiful blue skies, and clouds like brilliant cotton candies scattered low across the horizon. The calm before the storm they say. The days preceding had been wet, filled with angry thunderstorm and brief reports on CNN covering this lesser known part of the world. We were right in the eye of the storm. And it was exactly how science would have described it. While everything around the neighbouring state of Danang was experiencing some sort of torrential thunderstorm, at least in the little office I was given in this NGO to work on my project, it was bright and sunny yet underlined with an eery silence you don’t often experience on such a beautiful day as this. No birds were chirping in the trees. No dogs barking in the streets. Only the incessant beep beeps of motorcyclists in the adjacent street of Le Duan.

By 12 noon the skies began to darken. At 2 we received news from the University officials, of which the French NGO was closely affiliated with, to send all of the students and employees home. A citywide curfew of 6pm was apparently announced across the city. Then it started to rain. And the wind came. It never left, only growing stronger in speed and velocity. The cab which took me back to Novotel, a mere 10 minutes scooter ride on any given day, refused to send me to the entrance of the hotel. Located next to the Han River, I guess any local with a sane mind, would have done the same too.

He dropped me next to the public tennis court, about a block away, muttering between broken English and fast, urgent Vietnamese about ‘road ahead is closed’. I remembered arguing for a minute and realizing my efforts were in vain, paid and stepped out of his cab.

The wind that hit my face reminded me of the time I was in Melbourne in winter time and had accidentally walked through a wind tunnel. I was leaning so far forward just so I could keep walking. A few times, my frame of 46 kilograms kept being pushed back. I was physically experiencing that famous metaphor of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Literally. Between fear of possibly being swept away by this powerful wind, I humored myself with two thoughts, my work laptop is possibly heavy enough to keep me grounded and if I had carried an umbrella, I would’ve probably be Mary Poppins by now having a wonderful aerial view of the entire city of Danang.

That night I experienced Mother Nature wrath in all its glory. The capacity of this Universal energy to summon the entire city into its palms, heaving centuries old roots that has dug its way deep into the earth, and dropping all of humanity onto its knees was astonishing. All within the span of one night.

Before Nari hit at its full force, which apparently came at 4am, I sat down on the floor at the balcony of my hotel room, 10 floors above ground level and within relatively comfortable distance away from the torrential thunderstorm that had already began hours before. It was after dinner. I remembered the sense of awe watching this entire scene unfolding right before my eyes. A sense of being in extremely close proximity with the source of the energy that governs us all. Like I could reach out my hands and almost touch the center of God.

Earlier in the day, many of the locals were relating stories of the last major typhoon that hit their town some years ago. Rooftops being blown off. Electricity cut-offs. Sitting in the darkness. Random objects falling down unexpectedly in the middle of your living room. And that inevitable call of death that some had to answer overnight.

I remembered thinking how small we are as humans against the ultimate strength and energy that moves the earth around the sun, the powerful unseen hands that pulls trees, bridges and rooftops off its place. And how extremely minutiae our human problems are at that moment.

At some point, the hotel bellboys came knocking from door to door to remind guests to keep their balcony doors shut and tightly locked for safety reasons. By then I saw what the locals were trying to tell me earlier. Zinc rooftops dancing in midair as high as where I was standing from. And a perpetual, ongoing shrill wailing of the wind. Like the sound of a grieving mother holding on to her lifeless offspring.

I woke up the next morning to a quiet city. The balcony half flooded with rain water and littered with leaves. I looked down to the crossroad and saw every single tree, save for a few palm trees, uprooted and lying down on its side. Like a playful giant that came visiting overnight and decided to pluck every tree from its roots for fun.

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Life went on pretty much as normal the next day, the only reminder of Nari was the cleanup that city officials were left with in its wake. Someone in the office said they had to stop their motorbike midway while crossing the Dragon bridge because the wind got too strong and they were forced to hold on to the railings for dear life. Someone else said the roof on top of their kitchen got blown off.

And I was left mostly with a deep contemplation of Mother Nature and the power that resides within her.

“Fate will carry the willing man…”

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“Surrender” she said.

There’s a bolster lying vertically down my mat, and I’m standing at the top, feet apart. I had just come up from what seemed like a failed attempt of an unsupported drop back…because the floor seems so far away, and the breath just wants to leave me hanging midway.

“But it’s not the same as letting go. If you let go, there will be too much weight suddenly on your hands when you reach the floor. Just..surrender”, adding in the technicalities with a little smile.

I am beginning to marvel at this one simple word “surrender” that embodies within it an immense articulation of what it really means to allow life to play out on its own course. On the mat and equally off the mat. A word that is supercharged with a lot of energy and emotions that not many are willing to venture past beyond the point of contemplation. Because surrender is possibly the hardest thing one could attempt to do in the face of the unknown.

Fata viam invenient, Seneca once wrote. Fates will have its way. Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt, fate will carry the willing man and drag the unwilling. Reminding us all that there is a higher hand that is at play, or a discourse of life that has perhaps been written somewhere beyond our own ability to see and understand.

It is not even the end of the first month in this year, yet the word which I have made a point to work on more, delve into deeper, understand it further has been featured so many times since the start of the year – both in my own personal life and in the conversations I seem to hold with those around me.

Like that conversation I had with H a couple of weeks ago over lunch when she related her desire for a child and the emotions that arises as she goes through rounds of fertility treatment. I asked what it felt like every single time the process did not work, that time of the month that arrives to let you know yet again your effort, money and hope has yet to produce the kind of fruit you’ve been wanting. “Agony” she says. “Partly because of the effort you put into preparing your body to be at its healthiest, you plan your life and your schedule around this process and mostly because the doctors and those around you are confident that it will work this time around…and then it doesn’t”.

“This time, I’ll need to get things in order up here before I go in for the second round” referring to her second upcoming IVF treatment while pointing to her head. We spoke of expectations and keeping that in check, but mostly of surrendering to the process. And preparing the mind to accept the possibility that she will never be able to experience the sensations and emotions of an expecting mother.

But the word is steeped in so many different connotations. Letting go. Acceptance. And in a less positive light, complacence, or even worse having the ‘je ne sais quoi’ attitude to life. But these are just semantics I believe. There are inevitable situations and circumstances that we have to eventually acknowledge as being out of our control. As Gregory Maehle puts it “totally accept that you are a machine operated upon by God”. That our own bodies can betray the best of us for reasons unknown.

There is however, a distinct beauty that lies beyond that point of surrender. A beauty that presents itself in moments of silence unravelling a bigger picture that is so often overlooked because the desire to have things the way we want it to be, at the time we want it to happen, to have the final say to the outcome is far more persistent than the desire to see what may lie ahead and beyond the actual ‘wants’. Which reminds me of a beautiful verse from Al-Baqarah that reads “…and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know” (216:2). And perhaps that is the essence of surrender, giving in entirely to the unknown despite our best efforts and allowing fate to carry us through willingly.

Forefathers

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Stories of our forefathers 
Their beliefs and sacrifices
Where have their souls returned?

“…and to Him we shall surely return”

And if we were to turn our heads
Not away, not astray 
But to a pathway less explored
A road less travelled 
What does that make us? 

The blasphemous? The cursed and ceaselessly lost? 
Or the ones guided by the unseen hands of God? 

And if we were to turn away our heads 
From the beliefs of our forefathers 
The thread that binds us together 
Where would that leave us? 

Floating freely, like a ship without anchor? 
Or moving steadily towards the strange pull of Love itself?