Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
Mine is filled with fragrant flowers. Welcome.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Memento Mori

Nothing has been so difficult in my blogging journey than to actually sit down and write this piece. When the thought of the promised end hover over your consciousness like the evening shadow and life in its wholesome design so effortlessly provide reminders through the passing of those around you--how do you, approach the subject of death? It has always dawn in me that I will too follow the footsteps of those before me but never was I always conscious of its impending, mysterious nature.

Death needs no introduction--throughout our life we are constantly visited by the occurrence of death--It either occurs in your surrounding or that, if you subscribe to any form of media, will appear in the form of news and stories. A bloody, civil war in the heart Middle East, terrorist insurgency in Africa, a boat carrying 100 asylum seekers sinks in Asia, death of a motorcyclist at the scene of a traffic accident in NKVE, a friend's mother diagnosed with cancer, you diagnosed with...
Talking about death is venturing into a realm of familiarity that is laden with smokescreen of a lingering fear, not of death itself but the process of death. As Christian scholar Ken Kramer aptly said, "There is a point in your life where you will become absolutely certain of your mortality. It comes to people at different stages of their life. For some it happens very early and for some, it comes really late,"

Nothing teaches you the meaning of life other than the experience of one's mortality. History showed us that great triumphs were achieved by individuals who had experienced their own mortality and gain a deeper, different take on life than others. At age 23, Fyodor Dostoevsky was caught and jailed for his involvement in Russian radical groups and was brought out to be executed in public in St. Petersburg.  Laid in front of his was a row of coffins for him and his cell mates while the crowd gathered to witness their death. The executioners raised and aimed their rifles at the intended target. Just moments later, a messenger came running to whisper something to the head executioner and the rifles were brought down, Dostoevsky and his mates get to live another day. The near death experience of the young man shaped him to become one of Europe's most important novelist till this day. In a letter to his brother after the near fatal experience, Dostoevsky said,

"When I look back at the past and think of all the time I squandered in terror and idleness...then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift...every minute could have been an eternity of happiness! If youth only knew. Now my life will change; now I will be reborn," 

Perhaps a much modern example of a reflection on one's mortality comes from one of the most iconic figure in the 21st century. A man most of us owed our digital lifestyle for, a revolutionary genius compared to the innovative breakthrough of Henry Ford, that is Steve Jobs. Diagnosed with a rare pancreatic cancer in 2003, he went through several procedures including a liver transplant but succumb to respiratory arrest related to the tumor in late 2011. Sharing with you his Stanford commencement address in 2005, just a year after he underwent an intricate procedure to remove the tumor, Jobs provide brutal but poignant honesty on his reflection of his life and death by telling the audience stories centered on three themes: Connecting the dots, love and loss, and death.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart...

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true...

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary,"

"Everyone succumbs to finitude," said Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi in a moving article on the experience of facing death, "I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed," 

Time moves much slower for someone facing death, if my understanding of Kalanithi's Before I Go does it justice. Every moment is just another knock on the door of death, that the knocking is most real and constant to someone facing his mortality. Kalanithi who was diagnosed with an incurable lung cancer at the height of his career passed away just a few months after the article was published. He left behind a loving wife and daughter, who, in the last paragraph of his article, personify the meaning of our existence in each other's lives. That we carry within ourselves the ability to fill others hearts with so much joy and love. 

"When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing,"

As I was writing this piece, the news of the passing of Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was publicized. Odes, gigantic tributes, heartfelt messages of respect and gratitude for the nationalist were pouring in from all over the world. Regardless of political views, LKY was remembered for his leadership and austerity, his courage and sacrifices for Singapore. I dawned on me that LKY left behind a legacy of not just the most economically-advanced and prosperous nation in the region, but a legacy of his characters. It made me think of what other people might say about me if my time comes any time soon. What adjectives would they use to describe me? When I dig deeper within myself, I am forced to look at me in a third person point of view and found characters within me that I wish would not be mentioned in any conversation people might have about me when I die. I don't want to be remembered as the 'overly shy girl' or a 'girl with potential but could have done better'. I want to be remembered as a kind, gracious person but when I think of it, who would stand up and vouch for these characters that I assume I have? maybe none...maybe I haven't try hard enough. 

I dont know why the thought of death suddenly vapor around my mind and I decided that I have to find an outlet to understand it better. In Islam, death is regarded as a blessing, death is THE destination and nothing else. Death is the path every soul has to go through in a journey to meet their lord. As Fadhilah brilliantly said, we tend to think that our life is a linear journey but it is more of a circle. We were created by god and come from Him and we will soon return to Him. I hope I will always remember that I will leave this earth and my loved ones one day but I can't help but hope that when that time comes, I would have given enough of myself to the good of this world and the happiness of those I love, that I have learn to give love accordingly and receive in return, that I embodies the sweetness and honesty of our vulnerable existence and that I will learn to give much more than what I want to gain. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A New Found Love

A couple of months ago, I fell in love with the practice of yoga. As I straddle into the class for my first time, having googled images of wondrous, sometimes gravity-defying poses, I had full confidence that I can pull it off...and that is as good as fiction. It was harder than I thought and for the first few weeks made me sweat in pain and feels more like self-inflicted torture to numb other issues within me that I can't specify. But I keep coming back to the studio like a helpless lover. 

There was no specific reason why I keep finding myself laying a yoga mat in the small studio every other day of the week. I realised that everytime I hit the ground, however ungraceful, I feel alive. The pain of stretching under-utilised muscles in my body morph into a relieving sense of gratitude and humility. Any stretch that pains the first few times will dilute into satisfying sense of flexibility after every practice. Perhaps its the intimate experience of having my body responding to my efforts, I have found a connection with myself that I never knew before. I am not flexible person, it is to the point that stretching any vital muscles, the hamstring, for example, feels more like an attempt to break a piece of branch into two and assemble it again. That's what happens when you don't bother to be active while growing up.

As anyone who has ever commit to a group yoga class know, there is such a 'phenomenon' called the yoga "pose-off". Some people are born flexible and some have twigs for joints (me). Flexible folks are able to flaunt a yoga pose effortlessly as if their natural standing posture is the handstand. Even when they're doing it for the first time, they are poise. Then there are the  senior and more advanced students who become flexible through practice. Sometimes a slight tense can be felt in the studio as students participate in the "pose off", competing on who can go into poses the fastest and hold the longest. I, at some point, was a part of the cult. I would be so adamant to get into a pose that I couldn't care less how. Then I started to realise that I have stop enjoying the class much less the sensory and spiritual experience of yoga.  I was no longer connecting to my body, I was connecting to my ego. As always when it comes to any ego-serving actions, the universe retaliate with a cruel vengeance. I become easily frustrated when I can't go into a pose and blame my twiggy limbs for it.  

Word of advice: Don't be that kind of person. Don't be a yoga douche.

When my face was close to exploding in frustration, a wise yogi told me to learn how to BREATHE. It sounds so simple and basic. Well, that's what I've been doing all my life so it should be automatic right. Am I not breathing? If not, how is it I'm alive? But apparently proper breathing, which is essential to yoga, meditation and ancient health practice is a lost art in the modern world. People just don't know how to breathe properly anymore and this leads to agitation, nervousness and lack of self-control, not realising that breathing is the god-given ability that not just gave us life but soothes our nervous system and relax the muscle. The proper way of breathing involves engaging the abdomen--the easiest indication is the expansion and contraction of your stomach as you inhale and exhale the air from your body. The usual way of breathing will usually be short in length compared to proper breathing and only engages the lungs, denying the body time to fully absorb the grace of air in our body. 

Only when I tried it that I notice the difference--not just that it makes it easier to go into a pose but also gave me so much peace in mind and body. I learn as I focus more on my breathing that I couldn't care less what the girl with the pink yoga mat at the edge of the class is doing and instead engage with my body more and learn to love its imperfection and stiffness with optimism that eventually my limbs and muscle, my breath and soul will learn to co-operate in perfect harmony. Getting rid of the stiffness in one's body, having the ability to bend and fold gives me freedom that I never knew I have. The more the muscle stretch, the more blood flows and oxygen the body receive, the healthier and stronger I become. I no longer rush into poses and understand, in humility, that some poses are hard for me and that it is okay as long as I don't give up. With that, my body is no longer constrained by pain and stiffness but empowered to be stronger and softer. The trick in yoga and breathing is practically simple and essential to life, not just the practice. As I begin to embrace the journey of growing and nurturing my body and soul, I learn the essence of being present for nothing can be achieved in truth without it. 

In fact some of the yoga teachers I know are not overnight yoginis--their practice did not take place in a month or two but years and some have to travel far and deal with injuries to be where they are. One of my fav yogini is Kino MacGregor and upon discovering her yoga tutorials on Youtube, I was instantly hooked. She was also stiffed and 'hard' when she first started the practice but now her strength and flexibility is an inspiration to many. As she said it perfectly;

"In the yoga practice, we cannot control when the body will release and open. All we can do is show up each day and practice while letting go of the need to get any particular result. The openings and transformations that happen through yoga practice occur because we surrender ourselves to the divine and in that grace we experience our natural freedom. There is no way to rush the process," - here

(This video relates to a pose that is very difficult, if not seemingly impossible for me to do--the straddle split--as I have a very, very tight inner thigh. But watching this video and practising continuously give me hope that maybe one day I would be able to do it)

Friday, March 20, 2015

A letter to my younger self

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at broken places," - Ernest Hemingway
one of my favourite writer of all time with his cats 

Recently, my mentor came up to me and said, "Hey, I found someone who reminds me of you," I thought to myself, "How cute," then he said, "She's a damaged girl too," 

To be honest, such statement is not something you expect to hear in any given circumstances, even more when you are struggling with patching 'broken places' of your own. But it managed to strike a chord in me and a frail, 22-year old girl in tight blouse and oversized knee-length skirt manifests in front of me. She's waiting for the bus at 7:30am sharp, as always, thinking about the crisp thosai breakfast she might have from a shop opposite the office, if public transportation ever comes on time in this country. Suddenly, the ground shakes and loud screeching comes out from every vehicles on the crowded road, every thump of the brake pedal being pushed brings out a long wail. She struggle to grab on to a solid structure and keep on standing in the dizzying state, "Going to work without breakfast can do this sometimes," she thinks to herself and manage to hold on to the lamp post next to the bus stand as she recovers her breath. The bus finally emerges from a distance, like a mysterious wayfarer in the heavy smog of carbon dioxide, dust and construction debris. She hop on the bus, not knowing that in a few hours time she will be taking the same bus again to an unexpected stop. 

"She's still young, only 22. I want you to talk to her and help her,"

It struck a chord in me. Will talking to someone who remind others of a younger me be of any help to her? It struck a chord in me. If someone had intervened for me when I was that age, would I be in a better state and place by now?

click for pic credit

The late night conversation hover over me for the next few days and as I stare into the monitor, my fingers dance on the keyboard following a combination of memories and lessons I've gathered in my short, young life; a combination that weaves a rhythm only my heart can understand. I start to write a letter addressed to my younger, then 22-years old self. And if I'm given the opportunity to go back in time and talk to her, this is what I will say:

Dear Self, 

I know times are hard, more often than not, it has always been but perseverance and patience will take you places, so hold on to that. Listen, honestly, listen to yourself. Listen to your intellect and instinct. These two are powerful gifts that will guide you and most importantly, protect you. 

There are good people in this world. Learn to see that everyone is beautiful in their own way and there is goodness in them. But know, that there are bad people too. Sometimes they can be the people you trust most, so be careful.They might present themselves as your saviour but a wise woman knows that there is no saviour for her than herself and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, go back to the lethal combination. Most often that not, they are lying anyway. Look, they can't even save themselves.

There are times when you will fall—that your heart and mind just refuse to co-operate—don't go for the easiest option even when you have never feel more unloved than at that moment. Trust me, it will get better. 

Don't procrastinate.

This could be the hardest thing that you need to do but learn to love the reflection you see in the mirror every day. Don’t wait for the so called ‘one’ to come and show you what love is. He’s not going to come, not anytime soon, at least. And the only way to attract the right ‘one’ is to learn to love yourself first. Learn to open your heart to yourself, know your worth and then, only then you can open yourself for others. It doesn't work in reverse and usually when it does, the results are ugly. You know that. Often the ugly you see in you are just the manifestation of your fears. They are unreal. They need to be conquered so do it and your will emerge stronger. 

Lets move on to the second hardest thing to do then...Forgiveness. It takes courage and a big heart to be able to forgive those who hurt and betray you. But nothing can be of better benefit for you, nothing is more liberating than to forgive yourself.  

The decisions you make in the next few months will change the course of your life. Choose the path to take and choose the best path for you.
People are in your life for reasons that sometimes goes beyond your imagination. Respect that and know that the people are in your life to teach you lessons and sometimes they are not meant to stay.
Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Be courageous and take responsibility of your own actions. 

Life is fleeting every second. Don’t spend it in the past. What’s over is over. Everyone has a secret wish to turn back time if they can, so do you, but be brave to brace the future. It will get better. have I told you that?
Stop worrying about the big things you can’t control. Do the small things and do them good. 

Your endless curiosity is a gift. Don't stop wondering about everything and write about them. be consistent too. 

Read. Read. Read. That’s the only path to good writing. 

By about this age, you will wonder about the kind of woman you want to be. Lacking guidance from adult women in your life and limited interaction with those of your peers with experience, it is imperative that you thread into the wilderness adventure of maturity on your own. It will require several big steps but unless you do it now, you will have to face it eventually when you are older. So do it now. 

A grieving heart is a heart on the path to be strong and courageous. Don't dwell in the negative that surrounds you. Keep your heart open for every possibilities. Know that vulnerability, openness is the key to give and receive love. The greater you want it to be, the more open you must become. 

Good luck :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Anwar & the Millenials

The millennials form a generation that grows up in an environment rich with information and resources but when it comes to politics, they are stuck in an unfathomable series of consequences derived from the past battle of their parents generation. And even though they know an awful lot about the world and the environment around them, not all of the information accessible represent the truth. In Malaysian politics, most of the discussion is convoluted with propaganda steered by the crafty hands of political strategists and in turn, the millennials view of politics is deeply rooted in interaction with the adults in their lives. This, I realised as a millennial myself, does not necessarily bring them any benefit.

When we were born, DS Anwar Ibrahim was still a well-respected minister and political figure. As most of us started school, the table turned and depending on which household you grew up in, Anwar became the 'boogeyman'--a man obsessed with the grip of power that he became a monster who threatens the country's stability or the 'fallen hero'--a man who wants to dethrone a 'dictator' prime minister and bring democracy, only to be framed and thrown to jail. Most youths are unaware of Anwar's roles in the government aside from the fact that he was once the favourite candidate to replace Tun Mahathir Mohamad as the prime minister while serving as a financial minister. However details on his involvement in the 1998 currency hedging scandal that cost BNM more than RM30 billion loss, for example, was left to our imagination.  Nor was his role in the Asian financial meltdown caused by taking economic lessons from the IMF and western-backed 'experts', almost rupturing our economy, only to be saved by BNM.

The voter turnout for the last general election, with vast participation from first time voters, showed that the youths desire to be politically empowered. The adrenalin rush of invoking political change in a country ruled by the same political coalition for almost 60 years is too tempting to let pass, even though some youths lack maturity and information in understanding our political landscape and its players. This might be caused by the fact that our political arena for the past century has always centered on Anwar's struggle against the BN-led federal government only--from the early days of Reformasi, the initial cooperation between PKR, DAP and Pas, its failures and the revival to form Pakatan Rakyat, its success as a formidable opponent that almost stripped BN from its grip of power and to the events that took place these few years, the deafening sound of 'Reformasi' losing its relevance when shoved into the minds of a much different, constantly-changing crowd. The youths are no longer so eager to change governments anymore as the available option presented by pakatan fail to show any form of credibility to address the pressing issues in our society.

It is then not surprising that the generation who will soon comprise the majority of the country's population (and electoral, come GE14) is so divided and confused. It is also expected that most of us are inclined to shed off Anwar's shadow in the political discussion after years of being dragged into the political fist-fight between the 67-years old politician and his opponents, who, though might have shed different skins throughout the battle, is in essence, the same being.

The younger generation know that the sodomy trial, the call for 'Reformasi' is not our fight. And it will never be. Even if Anwar had won the trial and becomes the prime minister, he is still an archaic remnant of the past that refuse to give way to change. Years of political drama centered on this man and his so called 'Reformasi' have driven the whole nation away from facing our actual problems.

More millennials know about Anwar's sodomy case than perhaps the state of poverty among urban and rural households in the country and that is a problem (unless you don't see it as one, then its a bigger problem). Not to forget the fact that most of us are susceptible to believe and accept the narrative of politics regardless of its absurdity and irrelevance in addressing the issues of our time. When some millennials are pulled into national politics and given space on the stage, their roles are limited to caricatures of 'rebellious youths' who rally to demand change, clueless marionettes groomed and marketed by strategists to fit global and local political trends. Remember when Adam Adli became a household name? Was it a coincidence that the Occupy movement was also at its peak at that time?

The situation couldn't be in a ruckus more than the fact that there are many youths with genuine concern for the country, who don't want to be just another politician's mouthpiece. These people realised too that they lack opportunities and avenues to voice out their concern. As it is, we are known as the 'clueless generation' for a reason. These past few years, some youths resorted to small, independent events and realised that these initiatives only invite 'like-minded' groups and has limited potential to grow. Some succumb to the influence, convenience and possibilities presented by political parties. Many activists I know during my students years are now working with politicians or political parties. In the end, you either leave the system or let it consume you as part of its cycle.

I can't help but hope that Anwar's imprisonment, which many dubbed as a sign of the curtain closing on his long-winding political career, will force people to reflect on our future. Are we willing to have another power-obsessed politician steer the future of this country and continue to allow others to manipulate the people for their ambition are questions we need to ask ourselves before we set out to support any politician and cast our vote again.

Never Let Me Down

by J. Ivy

Never Let Me Down

We are all here for a reason on a particular path
You don’t need a curriculum to know that you are part of the math
Cats think I’m delirious, but I’m so damn serious
That’s why I expose my soul to the globe, the world
I’m trying to make it better for these little boys and girls
I’m not just another individual, my spirit is a part of this
That’s why I get spiritual, but I get my hymns from Him
So it’s not me, it’s He that’s lyrical
I’m not a miracle, I’m a heaven-sent instrument
My rhythmatic regimen navigates melodic notes for your soul and your mental
That’s why I’m instrumental
Vibrations is what I’m into
Yeah, I need my loot by rent day
But that is not what gives me the heart of Kunte Kinte
I’m tryina give us “us free” like Cinque
I can’t stop, that’s why I’m hot
Determination, dedication, motivation
I’m talking to you, my many inspirations
When I say I can’t, let you or self down
If I were of the highest cliff, on the highest riff
And you slipped off the side and clinched on to your life in my grip
I would never, ever let you down
And when these words are found
Let it been known that God’s penmanship has been signed with a language called love
That’s why my breath is felt by the deaf
And why my words are heard and confined to the ears of the blind
I, too, dream in color and in rhyme
So I guess I’m one of a kind in a full house
Cuz whenever I open my heart, my soul, or my mouth
A touch of God reigns out


By Wislawa Szymborska


I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here
to many things I've also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.