A Person

This happened about a week ago.

It was a bad-foot day, and I found myself sharing a lift with a guy in a wheelchair at the train station. He started making typical Aussie small-talk with me – He very kindly asked about my foot, and enquired if I was Korean. I told him no, I’m something else, and we shared a laugh about how it can be difficult to tell where a person comes from based on just their physical appearances these days.

Just as the lift doors opened, signaling the end of our conversation, he made a poignant statement.

“Well, it doesn’t matter what kind of person we are. As long as we’re a person.”

I didn’t have the chance to continue the discourse with him, but I believe he was referring to the inherent sense of humanity and humanness rooted within everyone. And as he zoomed off on his motorized wheelchair (which I wished I had right there and then), I quickly noted his statement down in my phone.

I love timely reminders from the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places.

Buddha Mind Buddha Body

When we know that our suffering, hatred and fear are organic, we don’t try to run away from them. We know that if we practice, we can transform them and they can nourish our happiness and well-being. Meditation is grounded in the insight of nonduality – nonduality between good and evil, suffering and happiness. So the method of handling our suffering is always nonviolent. When you accept the non-dualistic nature of reality, your way becomes nonviolent. You don’t feel the need to fight against your anger or fear anymore, because you see that your anger and your fear are you. So you try to handle them in the most tender way. There’s no fighting anymore. There’s only the practice to transform and take care. Anger and fear should be taken care of in the way that best gives them the chance to turn into love and compassion. In this way, the nondualistic foundation of meditation gives rise to the nonviolent way of practice. You handle your body and feelings in the most nonviolent way. If you’re caught in the dualistic view, you suffer – you’ll be angry at your body and your feelings. You’re trying to run away, looking for something that keeps you from being in touch with your emotions. But happiness cannot be without suffering, the left cannot be without the right. 
To say that either “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” – shows that you’re profoundly attached to the dualistic view. It’s like saying, if you’re not a Christian, you’re against Christ. That’s not sound theology. To say if you’re not with the Buddha, you’re against the Buddha, is also not correct. In the teaching and practice of Buddhism we are reminded that the Buddha was a living being and that there is no distinction between Buddha and living beings.
We live in a time when meditation is no longer just an individual practice. We have to practice together as a community, as a nation, as a planet. If we really want peace to be possible, then we should look at reality in such a way that there is no separation. It’s so important to train ourselves to look in a nondualistic way. We know from our own experience that if the other person is not happy, it’s very difficult for us to be happy. The other person may be your daughter, your partner, your friend, your mother, your son, your neighbor. The other person may be the Christian community, the Jewish community, the Buddhist community, or the Islamic community. Because we know that safety and peace aren’t individual matters, we will naturally act for the collective good. Anything we do to help our friends, neighbors and other countries to be safer, to be respected, benefits us as well. Otherwise we are caught in our arrogance, and our dualistic view causes us to act in ways that will continue to destroy ourselves and destroy the world. 
I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ishmael again, especially when I read the last quoted line. If we continue to see the world as an adversity to be conquered, then we are naturally heading towards the path of total destruction, both of the world and ourselves. But if we realize the fact (which is unchanging regardless whether we believe it or not) that we are not separate from the world or each other, that we are really all beads on the same string, and work towards collective good, then… Life might still stand a chance.
Good read.

Train Therapy

My first inkling that he could be Special came from the moment he entered the train. His elder sister and mother were behind him as he ran from seat to seat, his eyes not looking anywhere in particular, all the while keeping a happy grin on his face, seeming happy just to explore the space in the train carriage. He came to the seat next to me and plonked himself down. His sister, giving me an almost-apologetic look, came to lift him up and brought him to a more spacious part of the carriage, where he could sit with her and their mother.

As the train started moving, he became fixated by the moving scenery outside. He moved to the window, and pressed his face against the pane. All was quiet for a while.

Then -

“Thud”. “Thud”. “Thud”.

As the little boy continued hitting his fist against the window, all I could think of was how to musically engage him through his rhythmic pounding.

We might start with basic mirroring. He’s an energetic kid – I might try a Mixolydian or Lydian mode. From the basic beat, we could either accelerate or slow down. Or I might subtly change the accents so that we’re not just playing in 4/4. Maybe change to 5/4. Or 7/4. Or introduce subdivision of beats. The musical environment could help him see that his actions can be purposeful, meaningful, responsive. His sounds and actions could be directed to become communication. And with time, he would learn to use his sounds with purpose, to move with purpose, knowing that people will respond when he has something to communicate. He would be motivated to want to communicate. The music could do that for him. With him.

Of course that was all in my imagination and thought – by the time I had ended my fantasy therapeutic session for the little kid, they had alighted at their stop.

Still, a music therapist-wannabe can daydream, right?


Last year, I had a class of 38 thirteen year-olds under my charge. Somehow they managed to get hold of my handphone number and would occasionally send me messages like: “Cher! We really miss you!”
I am happy to hear from them, yes, but… I just don’t feel as affectionately towards them, you know?
I know teachers are supposed to love and nurture all students equally, but I can’t help having my biases.
And to this batch of students I had barely known for a year, I’d feel:


But. When last year’s batch of Sec 4 students – students whom I have seen grow up since they came in as small puny Sec 1s – send me similar messages, I am a totally different person.

Omgosh. They still think about me. I made a difference!! 


Everything in its Time


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