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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

It’s been a while. So much has happened yet so much left unwritten. But in a way, I feel that I am more alive these days than I had been before.

As I strive to live in each and every moment, I am thankful too, for every person and blessing along the way that has brought me to the beginning of another new journey.

This is a story about a new beginning many years ago.

~~~~~~

Some partings are poetic. My favourite sensei gifted me one literally.

Years ago, she ignited my love for the Japanese language when she came to Singapore to teach at the foreign language centre run by our education ministry. I looked forward to every lesson she taught and enjoyed every minute of the time she spent with our class. Sadly, her contract ended two years later, and she had to return to Tokyo with her family.

Before she left, she gave me a book of poems by a Japanese writer Yuri Mitsuhara (光原百合). The title was Michi「道」, which means “The Path”. It was a pocket-sized picture book, or e-hon as the Japanese would call it. Each poem was accompanied by a delicately beautiful hand-drawn illustration of forests, fields, hills or lakes by the award-winning Niigata-born illustrator, Ken Kuroi (黒井健).

Mitsuhara herself was born in Hiroshima and studied English literature and linguistics in Osaka University. She is well known in Japan for her large volume of works, ranging from Japanese mystery novels and translations of English novels to poetry and e-hon. Michi was published in 1989 and was one of her earliest works.

The book featured 14 short poems and my favourite was the opening piece Tabi no Hajime ni 「旅の初めに」, which means “The Beginning of a Journey”. It aptly summed up the anticipation and trepidation that I, and probably my sensei too, had felt at that time – she had found a new job in Tokyo and I was awaiting the start of my junior college years.

As our paths diverged and took us further and further away on our respective journeys, we lost contact with each other.

Three weeks ago, when I retrieved the book from my bookshelf, it suddenly dawned upon me that perhaps there could be clues to where my sensei was right now. I decided to turn to Google.

Thanks to the proliferation of social media, her profile popped up in one of the search results, much to my delight. With the click of a button, and an email that she wasn’t expecting, we were reunited online.

Amazingly, both of us were about to begin our new adventures once again. I am going back to school for my full-time studies, while my sensei is taking up a new teaching position in Paris. It felt as if everything had gone a full circle.

And here’s the poem. I couldn’t find any English translation, so this is my feeble attempt at translating it.

The Beginning of a Journey

The mountain paths are difficult

So set your sights on the tree in the distance

And take your steps towards it

Look up if you think you have lost your way

Keep your eyes on the tree

And you will arrive there someday

You can reach for a milestone far away

Or aim for a goal, oh so high

When you traverse a path that is long and far

「旅の初めに」

山道はわかりにくいから

遠くに見えるあの木を

目印に行くといい

迷いそうになったら見上げてごらん

あの木をめざしていけば

いつか必ず着けるから

目印は遥かなものがいい

高いものがいい

遠い道を行くときには

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Inspired by my band mate, Ivan Chew’s incredible attempt at making one digital sketch a day in 2013, I started my year by making one of my first digital sketches on a phone app.

My original plan was to paint the colour(s) that best summed up my mood each day of the year. Blue = calm and contented. Red = irate and cantankerous. White = pure joy. Black = awful, quite obviously.

Seemed like I had an idea of the colour to assign to each type of mood. And so on a day full of ups and downs, I could mix hues and shades. That would be visually spectacular, I thought, though it would also mean spending my day on an emotional roller coaster.

Three days later, I aborted the plan. This was what I ended up with.

20140109-231303.jpg

I wasn’t getting lazy. Keeping up with the plan wasn’t the issue.

What I discovered was that at the end of each day, I was focusing on things than turned my day into a colour other than blue and white as I tried to decide on the palette. Which meant that I was trying to recall the negative parts of my day to complete the sketch – the not-so-nice people, things that went awry, moments that made me go argh and so on.

That was an unpleasant way to end the day.

So I pulled the plug on Day Four.

Nay, I’m not an escapist. I don’t believe in escapism. But I’m pretty sure negativity breeds negativity.

Because every thought or feeling we have is like a seed that can either take root in our hearts and minds, or wither away if starved of the elements to keep it alive. Its fate depends very much on what we feed it.

Problem with bad stuff is that they don’t defy Newton’s Law – they pull us down all the time. So I figured, the only way to face any negativity I face each day is to focus on the other parts – the positive events and feelings, even if I only get to experience them for a fleeting moment.

I’d rather feed my mind and soul with the healthiest thoughts and feelings from the most wonderful, uplifting moments – enjoying some aromatic coffee with in the good company of my co-workers, being greeted with a friendly smile from a neighbour, or feeling warm and touched by the gestures of support from my loved ones.

It’s okay that my plan didn’t quite work out. This might very well be the most positive thing to have happened this year.

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Sing a melody and everyone around you could be playing it to a different beat in his/her head.

That’s what I realised after making my latest half-yearly appearance on my ccMixter (ccM) page. (In case you are wondering, ccM is a Creative Commons-licensed music-sharing site and home to an international music-loving community.)

I was halfway through the first of John Campbell’s two-volume biography of Margaret Thatcher when “The Iron Lady” reached our shores.

The combination of Campbell’s vivid writing and Meryl Streep’s exemplary acting set me thinking: what could have gone through a person’s mind – and a famously tough one – when she was faced with naysayers and obstacles in her path to the top?

So I wrote a song.

The title, “Heart of Steel”, is admittedly nothing creative for a song inspired by a book and a film about a lady with a metallic nickname.

It’s not a political commentary, just a song about an imaginary emotional world of a person. This person could be anybody.

In our quotidian lives, we too would come across people who do not share our dreams and beliefs, challenge us or even try to put us down. I’m not doing a poll here but my guess is that there could perhaps be some kind of universal experience shared by those determined souls who doggedly pursue their dreams and succeed against all odds.

Anyway, when the Muse visits, he would usually present me with either the lyrics or the melody each time. It’s always one or the other, but they hardly appear together. So I was somewhat excited when the lyrics and melody came to me together this time. This is definitely a rarer occurrence than the transit of Venus happening next week.

And so, I recorded this vocal track on my iMac with an imaginary piano playing in my head. (No, I still can’t play any instrument decently.) I had to keep my imaginary accompaniment simple; it can get rather confusing when I record a cappella stems without any real music track.

Not long after posting the stems on ccM, I received two pleasant surprises.

One fellow ccM musician, Jeris, showed me that this track could be given a Celtic treatment. Another ccM musician, stellarartwars, responded later with a dubstep version.

This is amazing.

The beauty of music mesh-ups is that you can’t predict what you’re going to get when you share your music. And it is intriguing how people could come up with songs that sound so different when they are presented with the same raw materials.

I don’t know how this works in our brains.

One thing’s for sure: this world gets a lot more musically interesting when we share the songs playing silently in our heads.

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A marble statue of Buddha sits regally atop the mountain. Leading up to the statue is a long flight of steps, carved out of marble from the same quarry.

Everyday, streams of devotees would climb these steps to offer incense and flowers to the statue. Finally, the flight of steps could no longer contain its displeasure.

“Why should you be sitting up there all day long to be revered by all these people, whilst I lie here trampled under their feet?” the flight of steps asked. “We were carved from the same piece of marble after all. This is so unfair!”

The statue replied:

“My friend, you were completed after a few cuts under the knife. I had to endure tens of thousands of cuts and slices before I became who I am.

“So, why should you be complaining?”

– An inspiring story heard at a talk by Beijing professor and writer Yu Dan (于丹) last year. Yu is known for her über popular lecture series broadcast on China Central Television.

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I finally understood what it meant by watching a person’s life slip away.

When you first opened your eyes and saw us at your bedside in the early morning two weeks ago, your first words were those of concern for us and our work at our offices.

The fatigue showed in your eyes but we could hear you well. The frown on your face when you heard us cracking silly jokes gave us the assurance that you were still with us.

Day by day, your breathing grew shallower. You were uttering less words. Soon it was down to a simple “uh” to our questions, not even a yes or no.

More than once, you feebly raised your hand to stroke your scalp, as you laid helplessly on the bed. For a moment, you looked as if you were trying to tidy your hair, or whatever that was left of it from your lengthy chemotherapy treatments.

Little did we know, that you were trying to soothe the pain that was tearing through your skull.

An unspeakable pain that triggered you to gather whatever strength that was left in your shrunken body to lift your stick-thin arm. A pain that eventually sapped all your energy, so you ceased to even knit your brows as you heaved and moaned.

But you held on, ever patiently, to the very end, waiting for every one of us to return to your bedside before you took your final breath and let your heart slow to an eternal pause.

Back before your health spun into this uncontrollable descent, I remembered you saying that you were getting too weak to write as beautifully as before.

I saw the diary that you left behind, after your departure. Pardon me for my impertinence, but I could not resist the urge to flip through the pages.

There, on every page, were neat handwritten entries made during the times before the chemotherapy drugs robbed you of your ability to even hold a pen.

Pages after pages detailing your days alternating between carefree shopping trips with your sister or catchups with friends, and hours of agony from your chemotherapy treatments. And lines after lines that you painstakingly copied from Buddhist scriptures as you sought refuge from your physical suffering.

It is now clear how crippled you must have felt to lose control of your writing hand, and later, all your limbs.

Yet despite all that were taken from you, you have left behind far more than you could have possibly imagined.

You have been a teacher all your life. In school, at home.

In your demise, you continued to teach.

At your wake, over a hundred friends and relatives, many of whom we have never met, turned up to pay their respects and pray for you. A sizeable gathering for someone who had never lived in the limelight, nor craved for any for that matter.

Somehow, in your daily acts of kindness, faith and generosity, you have touched the lives of so many individuals.

As I looked at your portrait in front of the coffin, it dawned on me that for a long time I have been seeing you so ravaged by the disease and the drugs that I have forgotten how you once looked. Cheerful, radiant, and always ready with a big smile. That was how everyone remembered you.

The disease might have ridden your body of all functional organs, but you were able to pass on knowledge even with your cremated remains. That we realised when the young man from the casket company asked if he could take photographs of your jawbone fragments before we placed your remains in the urn.

Jawbones were rarely seen in cremated remains, he said, as they were softer and less likely to withstand the intense heat in the furnace. These images would help their company’s trainees learn to identify such fragments in future, he added.

We gladly agreed.

In your passing, you taught us what it meant to be strong, to be kind. And that a life full of ups and downs could end on a high inspirational note, if we will it to be.

This is not a eulogy.

You have never been the sort to brag and boast. You wouldn’t have wanted one anyway.

It is but an account of a lesson learnt. A reminder that no one dear to us can be with us forever. That a life lived to the fullest is not one travelled alone, but with your loved ones.

Thank you for this final sobering lesson.

And may you be blessed with eternal peace.

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