Thursday, January 22, 2015

Letter 721: Evolution of a Vicious Cycle

Step 1: Marvel at the wide empty space. Breath in the scent of newly-polished timber floors. Unfold the white wooden blinds to let the sunlight filter through. Smile at the rosh bushes in your backyard. Unpack.

Step 2: Fill the space with furniture. Thick, soft pieces of fabric cushions, teak tables, books. Sink into your couch, and heave a sigh of relief that furniture shopping is finally OVER. 

Step 3: Erect a corner of enlightenment. Phone lines, cables, laptops, stationary, study lamp-- they are all part of the education shrine.

Step 4: Fill the corners with lemon and lime. Deck the entertainment unit with a 50-inch neoplasma to conceal the bareness of the white-washed walls. While awaiting the arrival of such an indulgence, make use of the entertainment unit as a bookshelf/ coffee table/ magazine rack. 

Step 5: Keep the dining hall spick and span. Rice is a necessity, and so is a wok. Open the doors that lead to the backyard patio and let the cool evening breeze be your dinner companion.

Step 6: Arrange your most prized possessions on the shelf of the guest room/ study room/ library/ storage room. Color-coordinate if you must. Make use of available space to store boxes. Have a sofa bed ready for guests, and a thick cotton quilt for their comfort. Spare a heater for those cold wintry nights too.

Step 7: Deck the halls with symbols of festivity if celebrations are round the corner. Arrange your shoes neatly on the wooden shelves. Plug in a night light to guide you to the lavatory in the dark. Pray that you won't be knocking your head against wood when nature calls in the middle of the night.

Step 8: Take funny pictures. Create memories. Because when the time comes for packing up all the books and furniture and boxes and clothing and cutlery again, there won't be anything left except for an empty space, and the memories you create in your first year of living together.

**Pictures of a house in Mount Waverley, taken in 2010. Possibly my favourite rental place so far, not just because it has timber floors and white-washed walls and an ornate fireplace, but because it was the house in which we moved in together for the first time, in a new city to which we both relocated for the first time, and fell in love with countless times after.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Letter 720: Letter to My Unborn Child

My child, 

One day, you will find that the most soothing action is rolling out your yoga mat in your sun-filled living room. That little gesture of unrolling your mat speaks volumes of serenity, peace, and love. It signifies the start of your "me" time, a time I once suggested to myself I needed more of. It is important to have quiet moments like this to yourself, whether it's a Thursday evening after work, or whether it's Sunday morning and the sun is shining. You may choose to curl up in bed with a book, or sip on some green tea while watching the sun set, or unwind with a glass of wine with the telly on. But one day, I hope you will find peace in this chaotic world through taking time to understand yourself and your body, just like I had mine.

When embarking on a spiritual journey to self-enlightenment, it is most natural for you to question everything, especially those outside your locus of control. Questions may lead to more questions, and in the end, you may not even find any answers. It is understandably frustrating at first, but over time, you will gradually start looking inwards for the answers you seek; into your self, your heart, your spirit, your mind, your soul. I cannot tell you how to start your introspection, but I can tell you that when I say "spiritual", I don't mean to imply a religious component to it. Though all religions centre around the ideologies of peace, love, benevolence, tolerance and honesty, I don't believe one needs to pray to a single deity or multiple deities in order to set sail your voyage to spiritual enlightenment. There are seemingly "religious" people who commit all kinds of moral sin, yet there are many others who are non-denominational but who maintain the wonderfully divine practice of kindness, integrity and empathy, the noble trinity which makes us better human beings. 

Have you ever watched a horror movie and squeezed your eyes shut during certain scenes because you're afraid of that scene? And that trepidation you get when you slowly open your eyes again, not knowing if that horrible scene is over? Looking into yourself can be scary like that, and it takes a lot of courage to accept the dreaded truth that you are just as human and just as imperfect as others, but with love, it takes only an ounce of love to dissolve all that horridness into a concoction of acceptance.

So the first step is to love yourself. And once you have done that, the next thing is to listen to what your body has to tell you so that you can take care of your shell better. People often say that meditation is one of the best practices you can do for yourself, but I find it extremely restless because one minute I'm focusing on my breathing, the next I'm focusing on my list of never-ending chores. I find yoga to be a form of meditation that best suits me. It may not be for you, but I'll tell you why it's for me.

Now, I am not a person who can sit still and be idle for 10 minutes. Although I need time to unwind, I also need to be pre-occupied with something. Yoga provided that beautiful bridge for my needs. It is my form of meditation. As I am performing my poses, I am also syncing my breathing to each action. It helps to have soft music in the background, because my mind is then focused on the music, and it never wanders. In that 30 minutes of "me" time, I am fluid, I am flow, I am focused, and I am free.

Of course, there will be days when you just aren't able to adhere to your regime for a variety of reasons. Do not be disappointed, my child, because yoga is not a chore, but a choice, and, dare I say, one of the better choices I have made in my life. It has taught me, amongst many things, the art of patience, and the wisdom in surrender. You see, yesterday, after an absence of almost 6 weeks from my mat because I was too busy with work, I returned to my mat, anxious to continue my usual routine. Alas, my body was aching after a few stretches, and I decided to discontinue my activities. For once, I was listening to my body, because it was telling me I had to stop or I'd risk injuring myself. I looked at the clock and was admittedly somewhat disgruntled because I was only on my mat for 10 minutes. But I told myself to allow my body to rest, because there was always tomorrow.

Tomorrow is today. I rolled out my mat again and discovered, to my own amazement, that my body was much more accepting of my asana's today after an overnight's rest. I completed a 40 minute regime, and was awash with wave of contentment. Moreover, it was the sense of gratitude I felt for appreciating what my body had to tell me. I surrendered to its needs, and it rewarded me with renewed grace.

When I was researching yoga, I came across a quote from Joel Kramer, author of several books on yoga. In The Passionate Mind, he writes "Yoga is a dance between control and surrender – between pushing and letting go – and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being". I cannot agree more.

So, my child, if you think I am writing this because I want you to take up yoga, you are completely missing the point. The point is that at some stage, you will come to understand yourself, whether you do it through practising yoga or not. And I hope you will love yourself and know that the truests of truths is intangible in form, but substantial in principle, for after all, everything is maya, an illusion. Including you, including me.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Letter 719: Day 1

So. The first day of the new year is almost coming to an end. What have you done today? Did you lie under the covers with the luxury of stretching your limbs languorously till noon? Or did you have a long lazy lunch with your loved ones? Or perhaps you suffered a perennial hangover that often bestows the party-goers who frequent NYE countdown parties, and took to a couple of aspirin and a greasy breakfast at 3 in the afternoon?

As for me, I spent my day "spring cleaning". I could look at it symbolically and say that I was purging the old in welcoming the new year; however, realistically speaking, I was packing up the house in light of yet another epic move. January seems to be the month of relocation. It started in 2010, then 2011, then 2013, and now. You'd think that by now, I'd be more of a minimalist, considering the recurrent nightmare that is the whole packing/unpacking phase. But no. Each year, at every move, I have boxes of stuff to throw out. It's not just clothes or shoes, because I am proud to say that I have been more of a minimalist in this department; it's the amount of paperwork that gets accumulated over the months: hand-written notes, hand-outs, bills, letters, cards, statements, notices etc. Today, between my husband and I, we threw out 5 large, full boxes of crap as such. 

I am getting stressed again, not just because the act of moving and packing/unpacking is stressful in itself, but I still haven't found a place to rent in the city I'm moving back to, and therefore I haven't been able to organise the removalists because I have no address yet. And then there is the very tangible reality that my husband and I are going to be long-distance again because we will be in 2 different states, 2 different cities, 800km apart. I guess it's slightly better than the 7 years of long-distance we used to do between 2 different continents, 2 different countries, 5000km apart. I'm going to miss him, no doubt, as well as our baby. The dog's going with him, unless I can find a pet-friendly rental, in which case our baby boy may alternate his stay between us. 

I'm packing all my books to go with my husband, except for medical texts. I wanted to bring some novels along with me, but the sad truth is that I know I won't be reading anything other than medical books for the next year or so, until I've passed yet another lot of exams. These upcoming exams are going to be my toughest challenge so far, and I have a feeling I might not get through them the first time round. So I'm saying goodbye to 5 boxes of books-- books I never had a chance to start or finish since plunging into this new line of work.

I don't know if I'm prepared for this year, I really don't. Even though I am moving back to the place where it all began in 2003-- the city in which I have called home for 7 years-- I feel as if I don't know this city at all. It seems frighteningly familiar yet drastically foreign. Everything has changed, yet many things still remain the same. I don't know if I'll ever get used to it again.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Letter 718: Sleep/Wake

I somehow always have the urge-- no matter how tired I am-- to write, after an exhaustingly long shift at work. It may have something to do with the accompanying adrenaline surge, or the fact that I am so charged up at work that I just want to let everything out when I come home, and then breathe, and forget about it after a good night's sleep.

Like today: Being in charge of A&E over the holiday season with skeletal staff and 4 doe-eyed interns floating around the floor pretending they know all about medicine, and having to deal with a resuscitation that involved lots of phone calls ping-ponging between the retrieval service, ICU, and toxicologists, as well as having to review a possibly deteriorating patient in HDU, while supervising interns who may or may not have adequately assessed the patient as suitable for discharge or admission, and at the same time only ever having had one cup of coffee throughout the whole 14 hours, have made it officially the Worst Christmas Eve Ever. I mean, one cup of coffee. Not even two, let alone any solid food. No wonder I was grumpy. 

But the saving grace came in the form of kindness from the nurses. Here, have some pizza, the HDU nurses said, nudging a box of pizza towards me at what I hoped was the end of my 4-hour overtime clocked today, when I checked in on my patient in HDU before leaving the hospital. Do you want coffee? Tea? I can make you one, they offered. Are you okay, Junnie? Asked another one, in a manner that reminded me of my aunty. You look a little cranky today and it's not normal for you. They sounded genuinely concerned, and I was practically moved to tears. Kindness. It's sometimes the least expected nugget of hope after a harrowingly long day when you're kicking yourself in the gut because you didn't know if you had made the right decision for the patient a little too late, but the problem is always that hindsight is 20/20. Should you have done this earlier? Would it have made a huge difference? Should you have given this medication? What if this side effect occurred? Is it worth the side effect if it's a life you're trying to save? It's like saving fish from drowning-- the fish is already in the water; would it make a difference to the outcome?

Tonight will be one of those nights where I will go to sleep knowing that I could have done better. And tomorrow, when I wake up, it will be Christmas morning.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Letter 717: Under the Light of a Thousand Stars

December invariably fills me with a deep-seated sadness that wraps itself around my core like a thick woolen jacket. Maybe it's the final month of the year, or maybe I've always imagined myself to be wading through miles of snow-filled streets, walking under strings of colourful fairy lights strung high on the bare branches, looking for what most people are searching for at this time of the year-- hope.

This week has been made even sadder, first with news of the Sydney Siege, then with news of the Peshawar massacre, and yesterday with news of the Cairns stabbing. I remember being gripped by terror as I watched the drama of the Sydney Siege unfold on television, unable to fathom how close to home it was for me. Australia, I daresay, is one of the safest countries I know, yet when something like this happens to ordinary people living ordinary corporate lives in ordinary CBDs, it makes one feel vulnerable-- vulnerable to fear.

I remember the list I wrote after due consideration, a reminder of what I'd hoped to achieve after turning 30. At no.9 was this-- cry less. So far, so good.  But when I read about the Peshawar attack that left 148 dead (132 children amongst them), my eyes couldn't help but water. More so after I saw the news of a young boy, a cherubic lad with chestnut hair and big brown eyes no more than 8 years old, who, when interviewed about his brother's death at school, vowed to avenge his brother's death when he grows up. How fucked up is the world, when people gun down defenseless schoolchildren and unknowingly instill this kind of backlashing mentality in the young and innocent? What kind of messages are we sending the next generation? Fear, vengeance and violence? The kids who survived are never going to be the same again. They have been robbed of their normal childhoods, their state of inculpability, and their outlook on life. Perhaps some of them will never be able to go through adulthood without constantly fearing for their lives (or their children's lives). Heck, even most of them are afraid of returning to school for fear of a second attack. Thank you, Taliban, for taking away one of the most basic human rights-- a child's education.

So yes, I am angry, but moreover, I am sad, so sad that I cannot bring myself to follow the latest news of the Peshawar killings because I will cry reading about it. I don't know how much of it is because it happened in December, or because of the state of the world. I make myself listen to jazzy Christmas songs because December memories are made of Starbucks and Coffee Bean and eggnog and Christmas pudding and turkey and cranberry sauce and artificial trees and tinsel and baubles, not gun-wielding terrorists running amok, slain babies, and the sight of classroom walls splattered with the blood of 132 children and their brave, honourable teachers.

The world needs to be a better place, and it starts within us. I have said it before, and I will say it again-- the world needs more kindness, understanding, and tolerance. If you're reading this, please take time to reflect and incorporate it into your new year's resolutions, and please spread the word: kindness makes the world go round.

-Now playing on Spotify: Michael Buble's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"-

Picture source: WeHeartIt