(written on 1.1.2018 ^^ and finally being released into the cosmos)

It’s New Year’s Day, 2018, and I’m on the plane back home. Just a short trip in the hopes of being present in the delivery room when my sis pops out her much awaited baby. All I can do now is pray that she doesn’t go into labour while I’m on on this 13 hour flight back!!

It’s hard to believe that 2017 has moved on to 2018 in just that passing of a second. I’m sure it’s not just me who feels emboldened by the thought of a fresh canvas in my life that I can start to paint with. It’s funny how we tend to wait till occasions like this when we give ourselves a bit more time to reflect on things that have happened, rethink our lives and chart out a new course for the coming year. Perhaps it’s something to try doing even every month in baby steps. But the over-arching plan for the year is still so important. I know some people do 5 year plans. In my mind, I do have a vague idea of what I would like to be doing/where I would like to be in 5 years time but I like the idea of it being a little hazy, with lots of room for Serendipity to come in for a sit and cup of tea.

Thinking back, what an absolute whirlwind of a year 2017 has been. Compared to 2016 which was relatively smooth sailing and accorded me the chance to explore various creative outlets and attain what was probably my best fitness level in many years. (Insert the crying till laughing emoticon here ^^;;) I’ll always remember my sewing classes at Hong Lim Centre with a great deal of fondness, in no small part due to the warmth of the two middle aged teachers who spoke mainly in Mandarin and always exuded a sort of amicability and understanding of any mistakes I’d make. That was the year I really went on in with those amazingly fun Body Combat classes with my favourite instructor R, managed to materialise a joint project with my dearest Ahpo in the form of a zine of her hand written accounts of her life along with recipes and other anecdotes, got to know a colleague at work who’s now become one of my dearest friends in life (and we all know how much harder it is to get to know work colleagues outside of work as one gets older), and also equally importantly, gotten back in touch with one of my first loves – the Japanese language, by restarting lessons after a long…maybe 5 year hiatus. I love how looking back, there were so many beautiful memories that come to mind immediately when I think of 2016.

2017 on the other hand… really started out extremely challenging for me. What with needing to be rotated through a department that was the exact opposite of what I had requested for and dealing with all the attendant excruciating consequences of shift work, high stress scenarios, crazy bosses and even crazier…’clients’ so to speak. It’s still gives me a dull ache in my chest, when I think back to those days, of spending hours in the morning before work holed up in my quiet room, trying to study Japanese, read comforting novels, listen to podcast, do some soul work…before mustering up the determination to go in for the 8 hour shift (with lots and lots of coffee required before and during the process). Friends are often surprised that I became such a coffee addict but it was a bit of an unexpected benefit I suppose. I don’t mind the fact that I now have a better appreciation of coffee and some of its brewing methods. Nothing like making my own cappuccino at home to feel absolutely on top of the world… at 9am in the morning. 😉

But as with any challenge that we manage to overcome, I must admit that I have come out stronger. If anything, having survived such a difficult rotation made me realise that I’m always a lot stronger than I imagine myself to be. And perhaps having seen so many life/death situations up close, it’s given me a greater sense of equanimity. While it still takes a conscious effort to remind myself to not sweat the small stuff, that awareness is now so much stronger.

Thankfully, despite the challenges of the first half of the year, there were many other momentous occasions that made my life incredible. 2017 was the year I got married, for one. 😉 It was the year I started delving deeper into ceramics and learning so much about this beautiful art form that I want to explore if I can, for the rest of my life. It was the year D and I went for our honeymoon in Japan and cycled an insane 32km across the Shimanami Kaido cycling route linking a few islands across the Seto Inland Sea. (Some things in life, you know you only need to experience no more than once, and that was one of them). It was the year I managed to pass my Japanese language proficiency exam as well as a professional diploma exam I’d honestly thought I might fail but thankfully, thankfully… managed to pass. It was the year I managed to take leave from work to move to Berlin to join D for his work. It was the year we first started realising the challenges of living together as a married couple in a place of our own. It was the year I learnt how to do housework (of notable mention, learning how to iron D’s work shirts without burning them, discovering the magic of microfibre dry mopping cloths, and how much joy can be obtained from transforming a disgustingly dirty toilet bowl to a sparklingly clean one.) It was the year I lost of dear uncle suddenly, but in spite of it all, thankfully, amongst close family who had gathered for a trip together. It was the year I discovered the Tea Ceremony, in Berlin, of all places, and before I knew it, started on my journey along the Tea Way (for life). It was the year I met T-Sensei and a host of so many wonderfully interesting people through Tea (as T-Sensei puts it perfectly, ‘tea freaks’ – and always in just the right amount to make life fun). It was the year I was able to start appreciating the incredible changes of the season. It was the year I was able to notice the subtle differences in flowers sold at the florists each week, as I bought small bouquets of seasonal flowers for our place. It was the year I started to feel that there is so much beauty in the littlest of things – such as the vibrant blue of a hydrangea petal or the incense wafting from our wooden Gluhwein Man toy as a coil of smoke escapes from his mouth across the room. It was the year of lots of travel to amazing places – Cotswords, Bhutan, Paris, London, Stockholm…and nearer to Berlin, there was Leipzig, Nuremberg and Rothenberg for Christmas markets too. It was the year I had to give myself a break for not wanting to go out or exercise in the evening because once the sun set sometime from 3 – 4pm, I would feel my entire body droop with fatigue. It was the year I had to learn over and over again that being married and living with someone you love is hard, hard work.

Thinking back, all in all, it was a really incredibly beautiful year. With all that I had gone through, it makes for a year of good memories and stories to tell my niece when she’s a little older and in want of bedtime stories. 😉

Looking forward, I’m just grateful that I even have the time now to sift through these thoughts in my mind while sort of pressing the reset button for this year. It’s been a long time since my mind hasn’t been preoccupied with anxiety/worry over work around the New Year’s period. Even waking up now every day, I’m still incredibly grateful that I can sleep in with D on the weekend and lounge in bed listening to his really noisy breathing if I want to (usually the desire doesn’t last very long). A few things that I’m excited to try doing this time, are:

– doing a mind-map/illustrated plan of sorts for the year ahead
Something that will allow me to plan out my goals in the different aspects of my life that I would like to work on. There’s always lots of talk about how by drawing a goal out and seeing it a little more clearly, you’re able to work better towards achieving that goal. I’m all for trying it out.

– filling in my Hobonichi Techo 2018 Planner. 😉 Saw an article about how this is something than many people find extremely useful as planners and I’m so looking forward to decorating, writing down my plans for days ahead as well as jotting down memories to look back on. The adorable stickers and illustrations that are possible complements are also a big draw.

– re-reading the book, Ikigai, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. How fitting is it that the name and theme of the book fits the theme of my blog exactly? I read it over the Christmas season and it was such a great, easy read, with so many suggestions about how one might be able to find one’s Ikigai that I really need to peruse it carefully again and extract the essence of the book for another post here.

It’s interesting, looking at my previous blog post in 2016 and seeing what I had written for my new year’s resolutions:

1. Cultivate and maintain relationships with family and friends 
2. Cultivate and maintain good health 
3. Cultivate and maintain my creative interests 
4. Cultivate and maintain my spirit, to have the grace to accept and withstand challenges and to always be grateful for the blessings I have” 

For this year, while those resolutions definitely still apply, I suppose what I would like to do is to make things more succinct and to have a few key goals in mind to turn to when I feel out of sorts/lost. Looking back, those were great guideposts but really rather broad and not specific/actionable enough.

In the end for me, it seems I always aim to cultivate the ‘holy trinity’ of mind, body, and spirit.

For body, after reading Ikigai, I think I would like to try to explore something a little different from the usual HIIT exercises, perhaps Taichi or Qigong.

For the mind, the overarching aim would be to keep my mind open to learning things. To always have the courage to follow my curiosities. As simple as that.

For spirit, this year especially, it would be to really try to cultivate a meditative process of sorts. The Tea Ceremony, to me, is also a form of meditation but it’s always subject to me wanting to perform the various ceremonies as perfectly as possible so there will always be that stress knowing that there is a ‘right’ way of doing things. So perhaps, a more gentle form of meditation, even for 15 minutes a day, to learn to quieten the mind. But the biggest gift that Chado has given me, is the awareness that I’m on this Way/Path and it’s the journey that matters, not the goal. Rush too quickly to achieve something, and we lose the beauty of the process, the excitement of the Beginner’s Mind. May I always keep that idea of Beginner’s Mind in my heart.

What I love most about the new year of course, is the abundance of hope that fills my heart. There’s no better time of year than to make dreams for one’s life and hope for the best.

To a wonderful 2018 ahead, to everyone.



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