In prayer there is dance

In prayer there is dance, and in love there is prayer.

by Lily Jamaludin

My life is a love story. Caesarean-ed out of my mother’s holy belly, crying as if already lost; first breath the hot humid air of the 90s, father singing a prayer into my baby earlobe, and I am born, woven in love and already loved.

But life as it can, unravels us. Your father’s fears won’t skip a generation, they are passed down to hold you. A new language can leave you exiled. A disease can hurt you in more ways that one. And sometimes a mouthful of tongue comes with a handful of gunpowder

So when I learned not to give a love unguarded, I gave it to language. I wrote poetry into the joints of my limbs, and the cracks of my skin, I dreamed in verse and handed it over, I gave a boy under a lamp post a Sufi poem that says break your heart until it opens.

Standing here, now, I am handing over to you

This heart. Still learning to open. This prayer. No matter how small.

That you never fear being human. That you stay soft, no matter how hard things may be.

That when you have to choose between fear and love, you choose love. And when your islands crumble you choose to rebuild. And when you can: laugh. Laugh harder, it sounds like sleigh bells in snow. Dance. Lose yourself. Like this: like In the music, and the lights, and the night time. Like this: Like Once, in mouth of the Iowa prairie, I held hands and spun in a circle moving at the speed of 80 proof everclear and the joy of a soon coming summer, somewhere in between the choke of a sob and a cry we learned we were something close to beautiful, or damn near infinite because we were




From the Pipe-Dream Whisperer

“Nature is not a place to visit.

It is home.”

~ Gary Snyder

So says the bamboo-framed glass board in the bamboo-framed classroom. In blue ink.

The teacher in cargo shorts and light blue polo shirt. Who probably wrote it.

My mother’s voice through her uterine walls.

My Mother’s voice.

“… It is home.” In blue ink.

In blue vibrations of my amniotic sac.

The doctor-guest speaker, who carried a goodies-filled suitcase and didn’t want to be formal, sat with the six year-olds like a story-teller.

Four things.

The intelligence of my half-grown peanut-sized brain to pick up my mother’s troubled sighs.

The incredible resilience of my fluid airbag.

The indomitable beating of my little heart.

Of my young thumb-sized heart.

Look across the room. If you can get to just one person. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

“… Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Joint little hands around the world.

Unconscious hopeful emotions.

Joint little fingers clenched around the placentaic sense of my mother’s love.

Unconscious of hopeful emotions.

One person.

Oohs. Claps. Thank yous and smiles.

Door-less bamboo-framed classrooms. Pathway made of rocks.

Uncompromised trees. Irrepressible scent of manure. Non-soundproofed chirping of insects. Uncovered eyes of earth mounds.

The universe has demanded my attention.

My hope-unconscious attention.

But I’m not ready.

Not ready.

When the universe has demanded my presence.

My slimy, umbilical cord-ed, half-conscious presence.

“… It is time.” In blue vibrations of where-has-it-gone?

My mother’s voice. Through the lit end of a vigorously dilating tunnel.

Suddenly a person.

Reporting for life duty.

By the intelligence of my upside-down fist-sized brain. The resilience of my mother’s strands of fibromuscular tubular tract. The indomitable beating of our hearts. Our young novice hearts.

Not ready. Readied.

… Earth mounds. Pathway made of rocks. A Bali starling bird.

Suddenly a wasp.

A mustard yellow-bottomed wasp. Heedfully passing – fly walking? (two unused legs, upright-posture floating)

– on an invisible crossroad.

An unspoken mutual conception.

Because, one civilization.

The freedom-aspiring Bali starling birds. The rescue-campaigning orangutans. The attorney-seeking tarsiers.

The trees, hacked bloodless at their legs. The ocean, overfed with over-processed leftover diet plan. The fungi, single-handedly healing in their first-aid camp.

The fetuses that grow behind uterine walls. The little people that grow with little knowns. The humans that grow a memory loss. Of their mothers. Of their Mother.

… The universe has demanded my attention.

My palm-sweating, stomach-queasy, helplessly-conscious attention.

Of no more ‘them-and-us‘s.

“…It is time.”

My Mother’s voice.

Through the intelligence of a pipe-dream whisperer doctor. The indomitable spirit of an eager 14-year-old boy. The indomitable springtime spirit of joint little hands around the world. The gut-wrenching resilience of the mercilessly defiled ground which they – we – are standing on.

Hope. Regrown.

Because of one person.

Heart. Strong.

Because we are all that close.

Home. Common.

We’ve forgotten we belong. To live for.

Suddenly one queasy-stomached, belly-twisted person,

With an intelligent cantaloupe-sized brain. The most resilient-bodied of a Mother. An indomitable beating heart. An indomitable newborn fighting heart,


Reporting for Life duty. Right here. At Home.



“The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”

~ John Muir

Written in response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight on November 26, 2012, a meeting with Dr. Alicia Kennedy from the Jane Goodall Institute Australia and Dr. Ating from Dr. Ating Foundation at Green School Bali on November 22, 2012, and the message of Jane Goodall on March, 2002.

Three Young Monks Were Sent to a Brothel…

(A Zen fable for today, taken from the book Zen Fables for Today)

To a brothel the controversial Zen master took three students, paid the madam, and announced to the startled youths,
“I will see you tomorrow after the third bell in the Zendo [meeting hall].”

Next morning after the class assembled, the master quizzed the three monks one by one with the question,
“What lesson did you take from this experience?”

“Unlike certain others I learned that I can rise above desires of the flesh. I made the woman sleep on the floor,” announced the first.

“I consciously resolved to have intercourse but for only one reason,” said the second, “to prove that I could treat this woman not as an object, not as something separate from myself, but as an integral part of my person. In all truth I tried repeatedly and was unable to achieve that elevated state of mind – five-and-a-half times.”

The third young monk began, “My objective was to know a woman truly by being one with her, hiding nothing – not even my heart.

We talked and made love and talked and made love until we could do neither anymore and we went to sleep like nested spoons. I discovered how lonely I have been and must now reconsider my commitment to a celibate life and this monastery.”

“What lesson should we have taken?” the class asked in unison.

“No lesson,” said the master with a shrug. “Other than what you teach yourselves. No teacher other than experience.”

Between A Boy Learning to Lace His Shoes and A Girl

“If you understand, things are just as they are… If you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

~ Zen saying


Last weekend I met Matthew. Matthew is a 13 year-old boy with special needs whom I’ve recently started working with in a weekly session. Having been ill the week before, Matthew came in that Saturday afternoon sporting a runny nose, blowing onto a piece of tissue paper we’d given him every few minutes.

During one of the sessions in which I helped guide him, Matthew was learning how to lace his shoes for the first time.

So I watched as Matthew effortfully weaved in the white lace through one eyelet after another under his therapist’s guidance, each step pausing to figure out whether to put the lace from under or over, whether it should go on an eyelet on one side or the other.

At the sight of that I couldn’t help to hold myself back from shedding a tear. Partly because working with Matthew inevitably reminded me of being with my little sister, who herself is a child with special needs of Matthew’s age; and partly because for someone with a theoretical lack of ability to maintain attention, there seemed to be almost nothing else that Matthew was more focused on than that one shoe, those eyelets and that lace.

It took him a little over 15 minutes, with help, to get both shoes laced and tied.

Needless to say it was no easy task. And having a job that requires dealing with children on a daily basis, I’d expected to hear familiar sounds of frustration like, “But I just can’t do it..”, or “It’s too hard..”, or “But I’m sick, I can’t concentrate..”

Instead, whenever Matthew made a mistake, he’d simply say, “Oops”, or “Oh, right” when I probed him to remember what his next step should be. He would then go on. Nothing more, nothing less.

His eyes only gazed away a few times, when signaling that he needed another tissue to blow his nose with or turning to see the windows if he heard footsteps heading towards the classroom.

And what suddenly caught me is this:

To Matthew, lacing his shoes was difficult not because he was sick, or because he doesn’t yet have well-developed fine motor skills, or because of his disability in general (which he has come to be well aware of).

Lacing his shoes was difficult simply because he could not yet figure out which eyelet to put the lace through next, because he couldn’t remember whether to weave the lace from over and under. Lacing his shoes was difficult simply because he was only learning how to.


not Matthew

As I was recalling those images on my way home, I was reminded of the night I called a good friend of mine in the middle of the night crying having just had a long-winded argument with my parents.

Having just suddenly found myself retracing the last few years of my life and connecting them all in my head back to the disagreement I just had; what my parents did several years ago, about the choice I made several months ago, and about just the way I was born over 20 years ago.

Having just suddenly seen my whole life yet once more as one long piece of thread that has quickly snowballed into one giant tangled wool that I couldn’t undo.

To all that my friend only said to me what someone else had said to him when he found himself where I was,

“Tya, stop looking at your life as a story. For once, just see it as it is.”

And just like that, the voices in my head that had been long trained to say “But that’s just how I am..”, “But I had no choice..”, and “But people don’t change..” were immediately silenced.

Because at that moment, that one disagreement that night became just that, that disagreement that night. Nothing more, nothing less.

While I don’t naively deny that some problems do have their roots in the past and many other static factors, choosing to connect all our present troubles to events that cannot or can no longer be changed is often just a convenient way of positioning ourselves as a victim of our own situation, and most importantly neglecting the urgency of working towards a practical solution.

Imagine if Matthew were to connect all the learning difficulties he’s having to his disability rather than to the immediate challenges of his present task, how it wouldn’t get him very far. Not in a necessary amount of time.

So these days, I let those images, and my friend’s words, become a kind of mental pair of scissors that I always keep in my cognitive toolbox. Anytime that long thread is about to roll downhill and form a giant tangled mess of a wool ball, I take its front end and cut it at length as necessary.


And for once, examine it just as that. That one small piece of knotted thread. Nothing more, nothing less.


“The trick, is not minding that it hurts.”

~ T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)

The unreciprocated attention. The unappreciated kindness. The unpaid sacrifice.

The unmet expectation. The hard cold truth. The cut-short hope.

The final sentence. The irreparable damage. The irretrievable loss.

The unchangeable history. The uncompromisable reality. The irremovable memory.

The unfulfilled longing. The irrelievable pain. The thousand-night irrelievable suffocating invisible pain.


“The trick, is not minding that it hurts.”

So I said ‘Yes’

“Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Letter from Your Calling

(A re-blog from tiny buddha‘s contributor Tara Sophia Morr)

It’s me. The one who keeps talking to you about that thing. That project. That possibility.

I know you think you couldn’t be the one for the job, but honestly, if you weren’t the one for the job, I wouldn’t have come to you with it.

I wouldn’t have come knocking at the door of your mind. I wouldn’t have come into your dreams, into your imagination, into your heart.

I wouldn’t have made it so compelling to think about me.

I wouldn’t have planted in you the frustration with what is.

I wouldn’t have planted in you the vision of what could be.

You say you want more meaning, more adventure, and to have a greater impact.

I’m offering you all of that, but you keep telling me I’m silly, unrealistic, too big, when here I am, ready to give you the greatest adventure of your life.

I don’t take it personally, but I do weep about it.

I weep for the joy you are missing out on. I weep because you aren’t getting to witness your immense strength and brilliance. I weep for what the world is missing out on too.

When I took this job, they told me much of it would be waiting. Waiting on you.

I want to make sure you know, I’m here, close as breath, waiting. I’m waiting for you to say yes.

We can do this. Together, we can do this thing.

It’s true, part of my job is creating challenges and dark moments along the way—but only enough of them to teach you the most beautiful lessons you’ll ever learn.

I need you. Your hands. Your heart. Your mind. Your circumstances. Your strengths. Your weaknesses. Your wounds. Your wit. Your tale.

I need you, just as you are.

Say yes?


Your Calling

And the sun will rise in the Land of the Gods for me tomorrow. I’m one safe flight away from a long-overdue first date with destiny.


Till a postcard from Bali,


“It’s Good like how Tiramisu is Supposed to be Good”

“Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

My mom, a tiramisu enthusiast in her own right, brought home a tiramisu cake from a newly-found bakery in town yesterday. As I was taking a bite out of my mini slice, she said to me, “It’s good, right?”

In my mouth, I tasted the soft layers of kahlua-soaked lady fingers that harmonioulsy marry with sweet creamy smooth mascarpone cheese and bitter dark cocoa powder that finely spreads on my tongue.

There was nothing particularly special about the tiramisu. For a classic hand-tossed slice of the Italian dessert, it was, well, good like how tiramisu is supposed to be good.


But what was brought to my attention is this, why should this particular tiramisu surprise her as good in the first place? It tastes just like how a tiramisu is supposed to taste like. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Back in August while I was going through a career switch exploration, I met with Mas Alex, the founder of a local human resources consultancy that a friend of mine had set me up with.
After spending a few days with him chatting through my selection process, I told him how incredibly taken I have been by the level of genuine commitment and sincere human touch they apply into their services.

Until then – I told him – so many times had I come across organizations that boast about their commitment to a meaningful client partnership, learning process, and goal-oriented development, yet have very little understanding of what each term truly means and commit to nothing more than getting their share of the work done and achieving ‘company target’.

Until then, so little had I seen a company with such a strong organizational identity and so much integrity in their adherence to the very values that they have set up to be the foundation of their work.

Daily Meaning, this small company that Mas Alex has created and has now captured every corner of my professional heart, was nothing of the former and all of the latter.

Yet when I shared my fascination with Mas Alex, he neither denied nor affirmed the special nature of his company’s character. Instead he said,


“Now let me ask you. What really surprises you so much about what we do here?

What you said about what we do here as a firm; making our clients close and informed partners in our work relationship, doing our homework in providing solutions that bring meaning and added value to the learning process, working with honest passion and adherence to our own company vision and mission, isn’t that what any organization is by right supposed to do anyway?

So why should it surprise you?”

I’ve been thinking about what he said since.

I thought about it over the slice of good tiramisu that my mother bought yesterday.

I think about it now whenever I find myself at first taken by what seem to be extraordinary actions of human beings only to soon realize that for so long and in so many ways, our lives have so many times been shortchanged. That something as natural and ordinary as doing something the way it’s supposed to be done becomes voluntary and glorified.

The kahlua-soaked lady fingers in my mom’s bought tiramisus are being shortchanged with instant coffee-soaked sponge cakes.

Genuinely tailored business services are being short-changed with impersonal instant formulaic approaches.

Children’s conversational quality time with parents is being short-changed with smartphones and tablets-accompanied silence.

Direct community involvement is being short-changed with sharing videos and liking statuses on Facebook.

Authentic food, service with a human touch, a fully-present pair of listening ears, and tangible acts of good will become extraordinary rarities and luxuries.

We come to forget that the actions we often perceive are extraordinary are often truly nothing more than what we’re just supposed to do as nothing more than people.


If I think about it now, when we watch in inspiration as a group of young designers take the initiative of constructing chairs to be placed at a busy bus stop in Kuala Lumpur, aren’t making use of our talents and helping our fellow citizens without being asked to just what we’re supposed to do as people?

When we read in admiration about Hollywood celebrities who take in adopted children into their homes and raise them as their own, isn’t channeling our abilities to provide a safe shelter, loving family and good life to those who need and equally deserve them just what we’re supposed to do as people?

When we follow in awe as leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Teresa sacrifice so much comfort in their lives just so that the people around them could feel at least half of what they could have, aren’t sharing our blessings and preserving harmony in our society just what we’re supposed to do as people?

And if my mother thinks about it now, whenever she buys a tiramisu, shouldn’t it have been made by right to taste like one?

By right? With no short changes. With no surprises.


Just Helen Keller

Now and then I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see.

Recently I asked a friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, what she had observed. “Nothing in particular”, she replied.

How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note?

I, who cannot see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch.

I feel delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In spring I touch the branches of trees nature after her winter’s sleep. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.

~ Helen Keller