Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014: What a Year!

There's only a week left to 2014 and if anyone were to look at my Facebook timeline, they'll be able to see how much of an adventure this year has been for me. This year has seen me through two storms followed by a beautiful childhood dream come true. God has tested my emotional and psychological endurance and rewarded me with something so memorable that I believe I will remember until my last breath.

MH370 was a storm of a mission that proved to me that I can remain functional and effective despite my severe depression. MH17 mission ensued far too soon and as much as I tried to continue functioning, I had to confess it was too much for me to handle. Both tragedies were equally devastating to my beloved country and national airline; but in different ways. As terrible as MH17 may have been, at least there was closure for the families and relatives, unlike MH370 that remains a mystery until today. Documentaries were made by international channels, one of which made it appear as though I was one of the grieving family members. See for yourself in the video below, 30 mins 38 secs into the documentary. 

During the time I took to recover from MH17, my father spoke to me about his concert that was going to be on 13th December. It would showcase his compositions and symphonic arrangements, with a huge orchestra of 60 musicians. He invited me to perform 3 of his compositions, one of them being a song he had composed for his father entitled Oh Papaku (Oh My Father). I was both excited and nervous as the months reduced to weeks and days approaching the day of the concert. I attended all rehearsals equipped with vigour and enthusiasm. 

I remember fondly how I used to follow my father to his orchestra rehearsals and watched him conduct the orchestra, backing up our nation's superstars such as Anita Sarawak, Saloma and Sharifah Aini. I dreamed and fervently wished that one day, I will be able to get a chance to sing with an orchestra under my father's baton. I waited for 45 years. It was worth the wait. And the day of the concert arrived.

As I sang the first line of the song Berdebar Rasa Hati (Nervous Beating of the Heart), I heard my voice quiver. I was nervous. Among the audience were my mother and brothers, relatives and very close friends. They were emotional and nervous too, because they know my story. They know how much this night mean to me. 

After the first song ended, my father proudly introduced me to the audience. He then went on to speak about the song he had composed for his late father, Mohd Salleh Bin Mohammad. It was a very emotionally touching moment and I feared my emotions might get in my way of rendering the song. I knew that if I were to sing that song with my father in mind, I will break into tears. I decided that I will sing the song on behalf of my father, for his father. I focused on my late grandfather's face. His smile. His quiet demeanour. I focused on Atok Salleh.

The audience responded to Konsert Maestro Dato' Johari Salleh with a standing ovation and two encores! I felt so much pride in my heart for my father, I could feel as though my chest was going to explode! It was a truly spectacular night and emotionally charged. 

I am ready to move forward, leaving painful past behind. I am ready to start a new book. As I turn 50 a month from now, I will begin a life that is going to look very different from my past. I will be embarking on several endeavours that I have never taken on before. I am truly excited and nervous at the same time. But I fear nothing except Allah.

Thank you to Noorazah Aziz, my Mak, who brought up my brothers and I with so much love, grace and elegance. 

Thank you to Johari Salleh, my Ayah, who always wished for nothing but the best for us all. 

Most of all, thank you to Wan, my grandfather, who took my brothers and I under his wings and groomed us to be such refined and educated people that we are today. Without him, we would just be mediocre underachievers.

Yesterday, I looked like this.

Today, I am back to the simple but intricate me:

Now, I am ready to make the rest of my life to be the best of my life. May Allah bless me with the strength, endurance, talents and intelligence to make Him proud of humble me. Ameen. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A True King

End of 1989 was the peak of my singing career. I was lucky if I had 4 days of rest. I had just finished competing in Kingsway's Pesta Pujaan and I was on the roll. I had engaged a very good friend to help manage my gigs and preparations for shows. I also had a team which consisted of a wardrobe designer, choreographer, back up dancers and musicians. 

I was known for my unique repertoire of singing jazz standards with contemporary musical arrangements. During my early years in singing, I was always the singer who was asked to perform during dinner. I found that quite demotivating, as I would hardly get anyone's attention when they are all busy satisfying their hunger for food. I lamented this to my mom. She said, "Take it as a challenge! Sing so well that they will put down their cutleries and turn to watch you sing!" And so I did. I chose my songs carefully, purposefully avoided cliche numbers, and I put it to the test. Mom was right! The satisfaction of seeing people stop eating and turning around to watch me sing gave me such a rush!

When Sultan Azlan Shah became the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, he requested for me to sing for one of his official functions at the National Palace. I was so pleased that I was accompanied by a wonderful orchestra. It was an open air dinner function and it was such a glittering night. I remember that night so vividly. When dinner was served, I was cued to start singing. I sang Fred Astaire's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and when I turned to look at His Majesty who was seated right in front of the stage, I saw him put down his cutleries and gave me his full attention! And after several more jazz standard songs, I ended my singing and His Majesty gave me a very long applause. And the rest of the audience did not stop applauding until the King stopped! Bliss...

I'm sure you know by now, given the news of his passing, where I am leading this entry to. It's this: I don't care for other people's opinions on him. I don't care if there's any truth to what's being said of him. All I know is that His Majesty Sultan Azlan Shah was a true king who touched people's hearts. He was a wise king. He was a caring king. I have sung for many royalties and dignitaries during my singing years. But he remains the best audience I have ever had. He paid attention to my talents and appreciated it. He was generous in his comments and compliments. He was a loyal fan of mine. And that is how I will always remember him. 

May Allah bless your soul with His Loving Mercy. May He forgive all your sins and include you among those He loves most of all. May your soul meet the soul of our beloved Shaykh and your prince. May Allah grant you Jannah in eternity. Inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji'un. 

Putting the Pieces Back Together Again.

I've always been aware that I had splinters of different personalities in me. Three main characters with contrasting traits: Johana, Joe and Ana.

Johana is the first person everyone meets. She's very friendly, approachable and warm. But at the same time, she is fiercely private, keeps people at an arm's length, only showing the public what she allows them to see. She's the performer. The artist. The singer. The public figure. She does not tolerate fools and she doesn't take crap from anyone. She's opinionated and speaks her mind.

Joe, on the other hand, is a tomboy who loves to play football with the boys. She's a rebel and she is very defensive. She protects and defends the underdogs. She doesn't think twice about getting into a fist fight with anyone. She mostly dresses in jeans, t-shirt, and a baseball cap. When she's angry, she reaches for her baseball bat and doesn't hesitate to swing it at anyone who tries to hit her.

Ana is a very feminine personality. She loves being a wife and mother. She loves cooking, baking and sewing. She loves floral print dresses and is a very sensitive individual. She easily cries when watching soppy romance movies. She's kind hearted, ultra sensitive and is afraid of anger.

I believe these personalities came into being as a way for me to cope with the traumas I had suffered throughout my childhood. Ana is too fragile and gets easily bullied by others. Joe came into being to protect Ana from abuse. Joe fights back. Johana puts herself so far apart from others to the point she becomes untouchable by others. 

A few months ago, I started working on putting myself back together again. I could have done it a lot sooner but the main obstacle was that Johana and Joe were angry and ashamed of Ana for being such a wimp. Both Johana and Joe resented Ana for not fighting back when she was abused. It was never Ana's character to fight back. She takes and takes and when she can't take it anymore, she breaks. And then Joe will step in to get the abuse to stop and Johana will put a distance between Ana and the abuse.

During one of the therapy sessions with my psychiatrist, he asked me what I thought of myself. I asked him, "Who are you asking?" That was when he discovered I was splintered. There and then, the process of putting myself back together again began. He convinced Ana that she's not a wimp. Ana is the strongest of all because she took the abuse while Johana and Joe ran away. Johana said she would never have allowed anyone to treat her like crap. Joe said she would have hit back. They both saw Ana as weak. They were wrong and they were made to realise their mistake. They were made to apologise to Ana. Since then, Johana, Joe and Ana has merged. I am whole again.

Of course I have simplified the lengthy process with just a summary and the outcome. But the process was indeed very difficult and trying. In the end, it was all worth all the tears I had shed. And now I need to say something to the 5 year old me: the child who suffered and survived so many heartbreaking abuse.

Dearest sweet Ana,

I'm so sorry you were dethroned when your younger brother was born. I'm sorry you lost your place as the centre of the universe in your parents' eyes. I'm sorry you were the punching bag for mom to let out her frustrations. I'm sorry for the betrayals you endured. I'm sorry for the whelp marks left on your tiny body and the whipping that caused your eyes to bleed. I'm sorry you were molested and it went unnoticed. I'm sorry you were blamed and beaten for things you did not do. 

You deserve to be happy. You do not need to feel guilty because you did nothing wrong. In fact, many people should apologise to you for what they had done onto you. You deserve peace of mind. You deserve to be loved unconditionally. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be notice. 

Do know that you are beautiful. Do know that you are brave. Do know that you are a wise soul. Do know that you're kind hearted and generous. Do believe that you are loved and needed. Do believe that you are appreciated and cared for. Do believe that you deserve honesty. Do believe that you do not need to tolerate anymore lies. You have suffered unnecessarily. You have suffered enough. There's no need for you to carry on punishing yourself for what others have wrongly blamed you. 

It's okay for you to love yourself. That does not make you selfish or self-centred. You need to take good care of yourself, Ana. You must know and believe your self worth. Be wary of the deceit from others. Not everyone is as sincere and genuine as you are. You are a gifted soul. Use your gifts well and make God proud of you.

Forgive others for their transgressions. There's no benefit in holding a grudge against them. it will only burden your soul and taint your pure heart. Enough is enough. Stand up. Stand tall. Speak up and let yourself be heard. You matter to the world. You are a survivor. You are a champion. And that's the truth you deserve to know.

It's safe now. You can come out of your cave. There's no need for caves anymore. You've always had a place on earth. Claim what is yours and be proud of your virtues. You're a beautiful you. Thank you. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

What Do You See?

When you look at me, tell me what you see. Do you see the fine lines on my forehead getting deeper and more profound? Do you see the absence of nicely defined eyebrows? Do you see my droopy eyelids? Do you see my tired eyes hidden behind grey contact lenses? Do you see the little crows feet at the outer edges of my eyes? Do you see the eye bags that ages me ever so suddenly? Do you see the little sunspots that can no longer be passed off as freckles? Do you see the gaunt look on my face? Do you see how my lips are no longer full and luscious?

Or do you see the lines on my forehead as a result of years of worrying for others? Do you see how little attention I pay to applying make up on my face? Do you see my laugh lines? Do you see what night time crying does to these windows to my soul?

I've never been a woman who thinks of herself as beautiful. Thirty years ago, one man made me feel beautiful without even saying anything. It was never his words. It was always how he paid attention to every little thing I said. It was in the way he remembers every detail... Except for the part that he lit up my cigarette with a lighter and forgot that I smoke.

I wonder if anyone really truly sees me as who and what I genuinely am. I wonder if they see me through filters of their ideals, or a memory of something that never really happened. I guess I'm too often stuck in my own head that I find it surreal when really nice things happen to me in reality.

What do I see when I look in the mirror? I see lost youth. I see ageing. I see fatigue. I see anxiety. I see sadness. I see battle weariness. I see scars of forgotten fights. I see fresh wounds of abandonment that still bleeds. But I also see the sacrifices I've made for my loved ones. I don't see any regrets for that.

I see passion for my profession. I see the determination to leave a mark in the hearts of mankind before I leave this world. I see promises made and promises broken. I see hope. I see love. I see forgiveness. I see Him. Do you?

My Life Path Number 6

My dear friend in Houston, Bart McSherry, told me about a website on numerology. I checked it out and it turns out that my Life Path is number 6. The description of my personality is spookily accurate. Read it for yourself:

Life Path Number 6

You possess great compassion and seek to be of service to others. 
You have concern for the weak and the downtrodden. You are a healer and a helper to others. You are capable of giving comfort to those in need and will frequently offer a shoulder for others to cry on. Your task in life is to develop the tools necessary to be truly helpful to others, rather than to simply be a sympathetic ear. 

You must find the balance between help and interference. In the same way, you must learn the delicate art of the counselor who knows when to leave the struggle to others and when to avoid taking away the necessary experiences and lessons of life. You are naturally balanced. Therefore, you are well equipped to support and ground others in times of trial.

You Strive For Balance

It is in your nature to take on responsibility - you often fill the void left by others - and do not turn away from personal sacrifice. At times, you may feel overburdened by the travails of others. However, the love others bestow upon you is your well deserved reward. You try to maintain harmony within the family or group, balancing and fusing divergent forces. 

You seek marriage and are often a wonderful parent, offering warmth, protection, and understanding to children. You are generous, kind, and attractive. You are often admired even adored which baffles you. You are humble and yet you carry a deep pride.

Avoid Sweet Foods

You move well and gracefully, but will have to work to stay in shape. Seek out physical exercise and limit the sweets and dairy you crave to keep yourself from becoming plump and round. 

Choose Your Relationships Carefully

When young, you must be careful not to chose partners for the wrong reasons. Do not let sentimentality influence your decision, especially those involving the choice of a spouse. You need to be needed, but must learn to discriminate between those you can help and others who are made weaker by your care. After all, it is in your nature to be attracted to the weaker brothers and sisters among us.

Appreciate Your Talents

The temptation and the danger for you is to think of yourself as the savior of the world, carrying the burdens of others on your shoulders. You are blessed with musical talent, as well as in the visual and performing arts. However, your creativity may well be suppressed due to your willingness to sacrifice, or your inability to fully appreciate your talents. This is not to say that you cannot excel in these areas; on the contrary, you have the talent, and with effort you can make a success in a number of artistic fields.

You also have enormous talent in business. You are blessed with a great deal of charm and charisma, which you use effectively to attract the people and support you need.

Bart made me promise to include his Life Path in this entry. His number is 1. I think he's a Trekkie. Hehehe..

Life Path Number 1

You are a born leader.
As a life path 1 you insist on your right to make up your own mind; you demand freedom of thought and action. You have drive and determination. You don't let anything or anyone stand in your way once you are committed to your goal. 

Life path 1's assume the responsibility to be the protector and provider for those you love. You demand respect and attention and become irritated and even domineering when important things do not go your way. 

Life Path 1, You Like The Spotlight

You need to feel in command of important undertakings, and resist supportive roles. You seek the forefront and the limelight. You are exceptionally creative and original and possess a touch of the unusual. Your approach to problems is unique and you have the courage to wander from the beaten path. You can be impatient with your shortcomings and those of others.

Life path 1's are very concerned with their status and foster the appearance of success and self-satisfaction. The need to appear well off propels you to strive for growth, success and the finer things of life. You should watch out for selfishness, conceit and the over-concern with appearance. 

Learn To Stay Calm

You must guard against overzealous behavior, anger and aggressiveness. If these qualities are not brought under control you could become excessively domineering, vindictive and even violent. 

You perform best when you are left to your own devices. Ideally you should own your own business and be your own boss. Hold fast to your life's dream and work with the determination you possess to realize it. You can become overly stressed by your driven nature. 

Be careful about the food you eat and maintain an exercise program you enjoy. Competition sports are often a healthy outlet for a person with your drive, particularly sports involving running and swimming. Don't let pride and overconfidence be your masters. Remember, your talents and abilities are a gift from a higher source, which should promote gratitude and humility, rather than pride and conceit.

More often than not a person with a 1 Life Path will achieve much in life as long as the drive, creativity, originality and pioneering spirit are fully employed!

If you're interested in checking out your own Life Path, click here.

Thank you, Bart. Now it all makes perfect sense. You're my bestest buddy. Hahahaha...!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Legacy of Divorce: Holding it Together with Duct Tape and Glue

Divorce is such a normal thing in this new age of technology and science. More than 30 years ago, there were stigmas attached to children of broken homes. Society expects them to be failures at life, losers, scum of the earth, trouble makers, and whatever else that's negative. Even some of my relatives expected me to get pregnant out of wedlock, become a drug addict, drop out of school, or all of the above. Their 'kind' exchanges with us were often laced with sweet sarcasm and disguised disgust. It hurt deeply to hear people whisper behind our backs, saying things like, "Poor kids. They are gonna grow up to be losers." Unfortunately, we disappointed them.

If it weren't for my mother's strict parenting and my grandfather's strong conviction on how important education is, maybe my relatives and the sceptics might have had something to rejoice and celebrate. Of course they weren't able to empathise. They came from intact families. Their parents stayed together (regardless of the reasons for it) until their dying day. How can they possibly understand what challenges we faced. At their best, they may have been able to imagine how it must have been like for us. But in the end, their ignorance surpasses their efforts to understand. So, we were given the only thing they can muster: sympathy.

My mother is a strong willed, independent and principled woman. Through her example, I learnt that there's very little women cannot do. She frequents DIY shops to purchase tools in order for her to fix whatever that needed fixing around the house. She worked day and night to put food on the table and the clothes on our backs. She scrimped and saved just so we can afford a budget holiday once a year. Her father may have been a very rich man, but she insisted on being financially independent. 

While mom was busy at work, I became the caretaker of my brothers. Being the eldest child comes with a huge sense of serious responsibility. We had to take care of each other, because others had turned their backs on us. We became second class citizens within our own family circle. We were the lepers.

My brothers and I may not be among the most successful people in our country. We have no assets to call our own. We have no riches to splurge on frivolous wants. We worked hard because we didn't have the support that should have been provided by those who are related to us. In fact, many were just waiting for us to mess up or fail, just so they can smirk and bitch about how mom has failed as a single mother.

Despite it all, despite the inevitable occasional disputes and disagreements thats normal to have in a family and among siblings, we stuck together. We do this because we had no one else. My grandfather took us under his wings and adopted responsibilities that weren't his. He loved us deeply and we felt every ounce of it.

Whenever I enter the home of an intact family, with both parents being actively involved in the wellbeing of their children, it leaves me feeling very poor. Not financially poor. Just the deep sense of deprivation: the absence of a father living with us: an intact family.

Yes, I am fragile in that way. I believe my brothers feel the same way too. But we don't talk about it. We just fight through the tears and heartache and move on. We move on together. Mom and dad are my parents. But my brothers are my family. That sums up all the reasons why I do the things I do to keep things together. 

And now, my brothers and I focus only on one thing: caring for mom. Whatever makes her happy. Whatever gives her peace of mind. Whatever that makes her smile and laugh. Whatever that we can do to care for her health. These are our top most priority. She never abandoned us. She never left us. She stayed on and fought hard to keep us together. We will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Blessing in Disguise

Several years ago, my mom suffered from a slight stroke that rendered her speech slurred. It happened shortly after her father passed away. As a result, she became quiet, disoriented at times, unable to indulge in her favorite hobby, which was reading. The slight facial paralysis she had at the time has slowly faded and her smile and facial expressions are no longer lopsided. However, she still remained quieter than before and whenever she spoke, her words still came out slurry at times. 

When she took a very bad fall recently, the right side of her head hit the floor and bled badly. And because she has been on blood thinner due to aggressive diabetes, she bled profusely. The baby blue baju kurung she was wearing was soaked in blood. All those who loves her, feared the worst. She looked so frail and it broke my heart to see how my strong mother had been reduced to this thin and fragile little woman.

However, as she slowly recovers, her head injury stopped bleeding the next day and she was able to move around unaided, albeit a little wobbly.  As the days go by, her physical strength grew and her appetite improved. But the best part is this: her speech is no longer slurred! She's back to her talkative self, participating in active conversations with her loved ones and is now able to express her thoughts and opinions without any paused hesitation or broken train of thought! Somehow, the blow to the right side of her head may have released whatever pressure she had suffered in her temporal lobe area during her mild stroke several years ago.

As difficult as it is to see an accident as a blessing, apparently this is exactly what had happened to my mother. The way I see it, this is Allah's way of reminding us that He is indeed God, Most Loving and Most Powerful. And that He knows what's best for us, for His love for us infinitely surpasses the love of any or all mortals put together. 

Mom's head injury has now scabbed and healing. And the same goes for my own emotional wounds. Faith restored. I'm deeply grateful that He never gives up on me. And He never grows tired of being patient with me and my shortcomings. Alhamdulillah. 

Taking care of mom is the most important and significant mission of my life. And I feel honored to be her only daughter. I feel blessed and grateful to be her first born. I truly believe God has blessed me with the best mother I can ever have. She's my mother and she's a fighter. All that I am, she shaped me. Now, it's my turn to give my best to her. She will never forsake or abandon me. And neither will I. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Minus Two, Plus Two.

What's the value in having the respect of strangers when your own flesh and blood are ashamed of you? You may have been a straight A student with brains oozing out of your ears while I was the joker, the dunce, the girl who always got called to the principal's office because she forgot to do her homework. What would you understand about what it's like to be a child of a broken home when you're so blessed with having a teacher as your mom to tutor you for free.

So now you are surrounded by socialites and you think it's okay to belittle me and talk down at me in front of our friends because you're on the cover of elite magazines. As "wild" as I may have been, I've NEVER dragged my family name through mud like you did. Just be grateful my mom brought me well enough to not mouth you off! Well, I must credit you for the best lesson I've learnt from your own words, "With you as a friend, who needs enemies." You got it, sistah! Adios! This dunce will never "talk about your work" anymore. And you can keep that "unfinished business of yours." You both could've save a lot of people plenty of heartaches and annoyance by just being honest with yourselves and each other. 

I'm done. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Prayer for Mak

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Rahiim.

Ya Allah, I beg You, God Most Loving and Most Merciful, please heal my mother. Please stop the bleeding on her head. Please bless her with stronger leg muscles so she won't fall in a public restroom again. Please heal her of all the illnesses she has. Please keep her safe and strong. I'm not ready to lose her yet. I don't think I ever will.

Ya Allah, please bless me with the strength to help care for her, to be strong for her. Please grant me the inner strength I need to manage my anxieties well enough to be there for my mother when she needs me most. I'm leaning on no one else but You. I implore you, oh Allah Most Magnificent, have mercy on us and not test us with more than what we can carry.

Please oh Allah... Forgive us for all our sins and be gentle on us. We are nothing without You.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Divine Messages for Me Today.

He is The Healer!
Nobody was meant to understand you and your pain. This specific test was written for you, only you and nobody else. People will say insensitive things. They will make comments trying to say they understand and at other times they will want you to just get over it. But really if you’re bleeding internally, people can’t even see how bad the pain is and you’ll only know because you feel it. So be it. This is how God wrote the test and wanted the pain to be so you can only seek help from the Healer of broken hearts.

Syekh Ibnu ‘Atha’illah mengatakan:
“Ilmu yang bermanfaat adalah ilmu yang membantu menuju ketaatan, mendatangkan rasa takut pada Allah dan menjaga rambu-rambu-Nya. Ilmu yang paling bermanfaat adalah ilmu tentang Allah. Orang yang banyak berbicara tentang tauhid, tetapi mengabaikan syariat berarti telah mencampakkan dirinya dalam samudera kekufuran.
Maka, orang yang benar-benar alim adalah yang didukung oleh hakikat dan terikat oleh syariat. Karena itu, seorang ahli hakikat tidak boleh hanya berada pada tingkat hakikat atau berhenti pada tataran syariat lahiriah semata. Tapi, ia harus berada pada posisi keduanya.
Berhenti pada syariat lahiriah saja adalah syirik, sedangkan hanya menetap pada hakikat tanpa terikat oleh syariat adalah sesat. Petunjuk dan hidayah terletak pada keduanya.”
--Syekh Ibnu ‘Atha’illah dalam Taj Al-‘Arus

"If you feel sad or emotionally hollow and confused as to why you’re just not feeling like yourself lately, then pray. Make dua that Allah detaches your heart from anything worldly and temporary and anything that will tarnish your good intentions or keep you from improving yourself. Ask Him to remove this dunya from your heart and ask Him to make you among those with whom He is pleased with and close to. Just ask. That’s all it takes."

"I’ve realized that the easiest way to check up on where your relationship with God lies is to notice the next time you’re really upset, emotionally volatile or just pure angry. Notice where, who and what you look for first to try and comfort yourself. That’s pretty much it. It’s scary sometimes when you realise."

"Ramadan is coming up soon inshaAllah and it’s often the case that we rarely prep ourselves for its arrival and expect to go into it, full of vigor and enthusiasm and with that alone, we expect that we’ll just get right into it. But just like any other event, you really have to get ready before hand. Because it runs far more smoothly if you do, and you can tell.
Fast on Mondays and Thursdays. It was a sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to fast on these days. You’ll be physically prepping your body whilst gaining some immense rewards too.
Start reading the Quran. Try to read at least one page a day, or one page after every salat (prayer). Start re-familiarizing yourself with the words of Allah.
Reduce the amount of time you spend online. Try limiting the amount of time you spend on facebook, twitter, tumblr . The more time you spend being idle, the less you’ll have to be productive. And this is important especially in a month where you want to reap as much rewards as possible by actively doing those things which will benefit you both in this life and the next. It starts small.
Go to the masjid. Try going to the masjid at least once a week. Somehow, someway. Bring your heart back there and let it soak in that kind of serene atmosphere to prep it for taraweh.
Watch your diet. Start staying away from fast foods and processed foods. As silly as it sounds, you’ll want to be top notch once Ramadan rolls around. Keeping your body in a healthy and mint condition will make fasting much easier. Drink more water, eat more fruits.
Start making a Dua-list. Make a list of your hopes and aspirations, things you want, people you’d like to pray for, anything and everything. Start making a list on paper and use it during Ramadan. Read it often to remind yourself what you want to pray for, because remember that the duas of someone fasting are not rejected.
Pick your top 3 Ramadan goals. Choose three things you want to accomplish during this Ramadan. Keep reminding yourself of these three things.
Purify your intentions. Start today. Simplest of all. Make an intention to really want to work hard towards getting closer to Allah, to improve, to reap the blessings of this blessed month for His sake.
Pray for the Muslim reverts/converts. Keep making dua for your new brothers and sisters. Ramadan is often a very difficult and testing time for new Muslims, especially those who have yet to tell their families of their conversion. May He make it easy for them."
Say “Oh Allah, let us reach Ramadan”

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Woman of Missions

Recently, I had the pleasure of revisiting the film "Gandhi." I simply found him to be such a remarkable man of principles and excellent values. Being a simple person with such idealistic vision of how he wanted to contribute towards life and humanity. His legacy lives on. Considering his view on western commerce, I'm sure he would be appalled to see his face on all Indian currency notes.

But after watching the film as well as documentaries made of Mahatma, I realised something he had in common with the rest of the remarkable people who had left equal, if not similar, legacies. They all were on missions. They lived their lives dedicated to some bigger purpose or rather. They were ordinary people with extraordinary visions, ideas, passion, drive, and ambitions. And they also had the drive to achieve such great heights by completing their missions.

When I reflect upon my own life, I realise that I've always been on a mission of sort. Being born an Aquarian makes me prioritise humanity. Being helpful and useful to others are key driving forces in the direction I steered my life. And being born in the Dragon year equips me with the determination and leadership to design my life as how I see fit. Although I am always well aware I cannot change the world to fit me, I knew that I can make it better by simply being me. I started by being honest with my inner self.

My friends in school remember me as the joker, the student who never stops singing whenever the teacher was away, the person they could come to for comfort and for a wise word of advice. I have to admit that even back in those years, I had no vision of my own future. I was clueless as to what my ambitions were gonna be. All I knew was that I wanna do the best of what I can do.

I purposely chose not to work for others because it was a priority for me to be there for my children while they were growing up. It was a non-negotiable thing that I must be there for them during their formative years. It was only after they have grown up to be independent individuals that I decided it was time for me to live my life doing what I love best: helping others.

It started with counselling runaway youths. They were rejected by their disappointed families. They mixed with the wrong group of friends. They were influenced to make all the bad choices you can imagine. And then it went on to healing others. I was always fighting for someone or something. I was always on a mission to rescue or save someone. And along the way, I got beaten, down trodden, attacked, framed, betrayed. I took many 'bullets' for others and thought nothing of it. It was just the right thing to do and I didn't think twice to make such decisions. It was instinctive. I knew for sure that's my purpose.

It was never difficult for me to see the best in others, especially those I was helping. They could only see their mistakes and bad choices. I only focused on their best potentials. Positive assumptions came easily to me. I never struggled with that.

Ironically, the pinnacle of my helping mission was when my country was experiencing it's worst tragedy: the missing flight of MH370. I thrived! I flourished! I was very driven. I felt I was born for that mission. I belonged. But after months had passed with no clue as to what had happened to the aircraft and it's passengers, all volunteer professionals, including me, were put on standby. That's when I began to spiral down depression again. It is very hard to be a warrior, all suited up, armed with the best weaponry, just waiting for deployment that has yet to come. This experience taught me something about myself: I am a warrior. I am a woman on a mission. I am a person who has a constant need to be useful.

For 7 years, I was on a mission to save someone. I gave that mission my all, to the point I had nothing left for myself. I had endured immeasurable pains, uncountable number of attacks, slander, betrayal, lies and whatever else that I never knew existed. But unfortunately, I am unable to complete that mission. I was cut off. I covered their backs but my own was left vulnerable and unprotected. That left me feeling useless, redundant, unneeded and unappreciated. It left me feeling like a huge failure. Like a sophisticated weapon that had failed to function and now thrown into the garbage and left to rot.

I am well aware of the advice often given by my supervisor when it comes to working in a helping profession: we cannot save everyone. We cannot help everyone. We can't do our work without permission from the sufferer. Its a bitter pill to swallow, but that's the reality of my purpose. God reminding me only He can do it all.

I need to learn to be less naive. I'm inclined to thinking that we treat people as how we want to be treated in return. That adage turns out to be more idealistic rather than realistic. I don't care for scars of attacks, abuse or whatever else that may have hurt me. But the wounds of betrayal and lies remain deep cuts in my psyche. And even when I can bring myself to forgive my betrayers, my wounds continue to bleed.

So, all I need now is a colossal mission. The kind that may inflict the worst possible pains. I hope the wounds will be far greater than the ones which are still bleeding now. I hope those huge wounds will render my current bleedings simply forgettable and insignificant. That's the only way I know I can stop bleeding and heal.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mawlana Shaykh Nazim: Who He Is To Me

I have often heard of Mawlana Shaykh Nazim. I am a big fan of his writings; and also his wife's, Hajjah Amina Adil. In the past, I had purchased several of their books and felt their words benefiting my spirit and deepening my love for Allah Ta'ala and our beloved Prophet Muhamad (peace be upon him). I was also aware that my father's side of the family were students of Mawlana Shaykh and followers of the Naqshahbandi order. And although I read his books and enjoyed The Lore of Light written by Hajjah Amina Adil, I refrained from following the sufi order.

In January 2012, approximately 2 weeks after my beloved grandfather passed away, I had a very vivid dream. It was Mawlana Shaykh Nazim. He just looked at me, not saying a word. The way he looked at me sent a very clear and profound message: "I see you." For almost 5 years prior to that dream, I had felt as though I had 'fallen from the Grace of God.' I was in a state of perpetual fall, just waiting for the impact of hitting the ground. That never came. When I woke up from that dream of Mawlana Shaykh just looking at me, I felt I had stopped falling. He had caught me. I felt saved and safe.

Several weeks after the first dream, came a second one. I found myself being in a big room, with wooden panels on the walls, red carpeting on the floor. And there were many young looking men, dressed in green robes and wearing turbans. I couldn't see Mawlana Shaykh but I felt his presence in the room. When I woke up from that dream, I got curious and decided to google about him. And among my findings was a video of him with his followers in Lefke. What I discovered was that the room in the video is the exact room that was in my dream.

I consulted several people who have been followers of the order about my dream. And it was very clear: Mawlana Shaykh had chosen to include me in his order. And from then on, Mawlana Shaykh was my spiritual teacher. The rest is history.

But today, it saddens me that Mawlana Shaykh Nazim has passed on in Lefke, at the age of 92. All those who love him feel the void he has left in our hearts. He's simply irreplaceable. He died at 6:40pm (Malaysian time) on Wednesday 7th of May, 2014.

It pains me that despite the many videos of him I have watched, how many times he came to my aid when I needed his help and how much his wise words help shape my soul, and knowing that he has gone home, I still cry. I cry because I still need him because I'm still so messed up. I cry because I did not get to meet him in person. I cry because despite having met Shaykh Hisham and Shaykh Adnan, it was with Mawlana Shaykh Nazim that I had a spiritual connection with. He came to me. He stopped me from falling. He saved my soul.

And now he has gone home, leaving behind all those who love him in this cruel world. Indeed this world is a prison for those who truly love Allah Ta'ala. I will continue to pray for my Mawlana Shaykh: for the connection of the spirit is never severed by distance or death. 

Al Fatihah.

Here are his last words:

Bismillahi 'r-rahmani 'r-raheem 

Everything which has a beginning has an ending. You are asking me to stay. But if I was here for 20 years instead of for 20 days and it would end today, it would be the same. In this life this is how it has to be. No-one is together forever, even children and families, neighbours, friends, relatives, murids and sheikhs, students and teachers, all go different ways one day. We can continue in our hearts. We are always together in our souls, even if it is not physical. It tells us that we are servants of Allah the Almighty. All of us are creatures. Even if our clothes change, our original position never will. We are not giving a lecture, I am not a professor but a simple person, like all prophets were. They were sitting on the ground with poor people, slaves, women, children... We have been created from earth and we must try to be closer to earth. This will give you a good character and make you more humble. If you sit on strange chairs, you think you are important. Being close to earth gives benefit to your body. Scientists tell us that there are so many bacteria there. The closer you come to earth the friendlier they will be with you. They will run after those who escape from them. Just like with dogs: if you are friendly with them, they will be too... People nowadays are living in skyscrapers far away from earth. They are in concrete buildings surrounded by plastic and metal. They are escaping from nature and all kinds of illnesses come to them. They want to know where cancer comes from. It is because people are running away from nature. Befriend the earth! You have been created from earth and you will return to earth. If not today, then tomorrow, after one week, one month, one year, or even after 100 years. You cannot escape, you will return to earth. Don't run away from earth, it is your mother. If you come closer to earth it will change your nature for the better. It will give your face more lights and take away the darkness. Disturbing bacteria will leave you and you will be more in peace and in comfort. T'his is why all prophets used to sit on earth. But nowadays people want to be elegant. Physically you take benefit by sitting close to earth, spiritually even more so. Your spirituality will increase, because you will accept to be humble. No-one can develop spiritually without becoming humble. The most humble person is the highest one spiritually. The characteristic which prevents spirituality is pride. Satan was on the highest position when he was humble, but when he became proud he fell to the lowest. The best quality for a servant is to be humble. Whoever wants to reach the high stations of Heavens must accept that they are nothing. If you want safety, you must throw your weight away. In the old days when ships were travelling through difficult straits, people would throw their luggage overboard. If you want to reach Heavenly Stations you must throw your burdens overboard. The heaviest part of you is your ego, asking to be something, never sacrificing itself Sacrifice it! When you have done that, you will reach Heavens and be like lights without any physical body stopping you. It can carry you from earth to Heavens.
- Sheikh Nazim al Haqqani

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Acceptance of Pain

In life, when we experience any form of pain, we cry. Crying is acceptance of that pain we feel. After the acceptance, comes the healing. Then only can we stop crying, get up and move on. 

There's no weakness in crying. Accepting pain is strength. But be careful who and what you reach out for while in the throes of painful crying. It will either help you or break you. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Prayer for the Broken

Ya Allah SWT, you are As-Salam, the source of peace. From You is all peace and tranquility.

Ya Salam, there are those across this Ummah that are living in broken homes, that are in broken relationships.

Mothers that are broken with their children, spouses whose relationships is broken, friends whose relationships are broken.

Slaves of Yours whose relationships with You are broken.

Ya Allah SWT, You are the Healer of wounds, You are the Remover of pain, You are the Giver of peace.

Heal the hearts of those whose homes & hearts are broken. Soften the hearts that have become hard with sin.

Give patience and courage to those that are mocked and suffer as they struggle to remain on Your path.

Guide the families that are far away from guidance. Heal the hearts that are hurting and take away the pain.

O Lord of Mankind, make every hardship a means of returning back to You.

Give us peace in our hearts so that we can face every storm with an Alhamdulillah.

Allahuma Ameen.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

She's Gone

Facebook notifications deleted without reading,
emails piling up in inbox folder,
text messages unanswered,
whatsapp chats muted,
missed calls,
phone on silent mode.

There goes the phone again,
blinking incoming call,
one of many,
I don't respond to anything at all,
the person they are looking for is gone.

My War and Piece of Mind

Yes, I'll be the first to admit that I am like an open book for most people. But I choose which page you see. And I'm not ashamed of my mental health issues. Neither am I ever ashamed of writing about my struggles with whatever obstacles God puts in front of me. My intention is never about being 'inspirational' or anything of that sort. I'm just the kind of person who sees what needs to be done, and if I can do it, I embrace the challenge wholeheartedly and hold nothing back. I'm the kind of person who's born a warrior of sort. The type that's always on a mission to either help a human or save humanity. And now that I no longer have any mission of any sort, I turn to another way of being useful: baking cakes and making chocolates.

All those in my inner circle as well as those who have been cordial and caring enough to communicate with me regularly know that I bake and make chocolates to manage my anxiety and major depression. The level of anxiety I experience can be measured by the difficulty level of the kitchen projects I take on. 

Several days ago, there was something really wrong with my precious MacBook Pro that required me backing up the whole of my hard drive and that took around 3 hours. And after that, I had to hard reset my device and reinstall Maverick and all data that I had backed up. That took almost 6 hours. And the way I coped with that high anxiety was by making eclairs which, to a novice like me, is Mount Everest.

Those who don't know me will see my food posts on Facebook as showing off. In all honesty, I post them to journal my journey battling my disorders. I may be a counseling psychologist but I am only human and not immune to any disease or disorder. I know, by comparison, my struggles are nothing next to those with bigger and more tragic battles. I don't know what lies ahead of me. All I know is that I need to prepare myself for whatever that comes.

We can't win a battle without knowledge, preparation and strategy. We can't solve a problem if we deny it's existence and have the willingness to do something about it. Only we can fight for ourselves. And only God will allow us the strength to carry through and grant us victory. And at the end of the day, we go home to Him. He gave us freedom of choice and free will. Let's use them wisely.

All I ever hope for is to be remembered as someone who tried to make a difference in life. I want to leave a legacy of sort: the kind that motivates people to do something about whatever that's stopping them from doing what makes them happy and feel significant. To feel purposeful. I want to be remembered as someone who fought inner battles and evil like a warrior of light. I want to be remembered as a kind hearted woman.

It's not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems...what's hard is to decide to do it." - Robert Downey Jr.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In the Kitchen with Kak Joe

Hmm.... This title has a nice ring to it. Maybe I should start a new blog dedicated to only my culinary achievements. But then again, I suddenly remember someone having a 'food blog' with his 'friend' and I decided that's not what I want to do. Anyway, back to the subject title.

It all began after I was diagnosed with having major depression and acute anxiety. Being a therapist myself, I knew that in order for me to manage my condition, I need to get myself involved in something that is truly engaging... something that will force me to get out of my head and focus in the here and now.

Pinterest sparked some ideas in me. I love how it made any form of information or knowledge regarding almost anything so easily accessible. I created several boards and among them was entitled Fabulous Food. That's where I pinned all the kitchen projects that I want to try. I started out with making chocolates and the easiest I found was making fresh strawberries covered in dark chocolate.

 Followed closely by fresh blueberries covered in milk chocolate.

And then came Peanut Butter Cups and it's twin sister: White Chocolate Cups with Mixed Fruit Swirl.

 One weekend, I walked into Borders at The Curve and found Star Trek chocolate molds and I made these gems, with blue coloured mint fondant filling.

And I also tried out this very delicious recipe for Cream Cheese Truffles.

 After a while, I got tired of handling chocolates in this hot humid weather. I moved on to baking. And the first thing I did was pay homage to my 'hometown': Swansea, by making Welsh Cakes. And these babies sold like... hot cakes! Hahahaa!

Well, this year is full of firsts for me as far as making chocolates and baking are concerned. I became a little more ambitious and made a double layer Moist Chocolate cake for Jazelia's 22nd birthday. This is how it turned out!

 ... and how it looked on the inside.

 And upon request from another birthday girl, I made moist chocolate cupcakes for her. I think Laton and her family loved them.

When I got called in to volunteer for the MH370 mission, I knew immediately that I needed to clear my head and prepare myself for the challenge. So, I made up my mind to handle yeast for the first time by making Nutella Cinnamon Rolls. They turned out gorgeous and delicious that I got the affirmation I needed to know I was ready to go.

 After 105 hours of volunteer work, I then needed to unwind. So I went back into the kitchen to bake my mom her favourite cake: Walnut and dates cake.

But I didn't just stop there. I went on to make my own version of fairy cupcakes.

Pretty soon, I grew tired of making sweet cakes and desserts only. I decided to try making something savoury and I made these Savoury Muffins with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, beef, grated cheese and potatoes in them. They were so delicious! 

 And on the same day, I made hubby's favourite dessert: English Bread and Butter Pudding served with custard.

 Soon after, I was invited to a friend's 40th birthday party and I decided to go the extra mile. I made a 2 layer Mississippi Mud Cake, complete with chocolate ganache frosting. I think I did fairly well decorating it.

 On the next day, still high on the adrenaline of the day before's achievement, I decided to make my late grandma's steamed fruit cake. Another Ace for me!

I even dared to try making Red Velvet Cupcakes!

And yesterday, I made English Shortbread...

 and Chocolate Marshmallow Brownies.

In between, I've also dabbled in several savoury dishes such as Beef stew in the crockpot

 Kefta Tagine

 ... and Chicken Tagine with green olives and lemon.

 So! There you have it! My kitchen expeditions and achievements. I am proud of myself for being able to manage all the above projects. And its good to know this cooking and baking therapy works for me. I'll post more achievements as and when it happens. Meanwhile, please remember: this is NOT a food blog page.