A Smooth Departure
by Ng Wei Chin Creative & Executive Director of TVQS
Distinguished Guest of Honour Ms Sim Ann, and all distinguished speakers and all fellow friends and Singaporeans. A very warm welcome to all of you. I am the creative director of TVQS The Very Quiet Studio... and the convenor for this interfaith forum on A Smooth Departure.
We have a very tight program today. So I shall cut my speech to the very essential of the why, how and what of TVQS.
The Very Quiet Studio was named as a state of mind not really a place. But this quietude is a happy place, not an unhappy nor a dead one. Hence, mental health, resilience or wellness, whatever the trend is in naming this mental thing, TVQS is simply focusing on works related with cultivating this MIND. And why should we care about our mind? Because we need it. If we were to lose it, I cannot imagine what could happen next than what is already happening now in the world.
Nowadays, many agree that we need mindfulness, some “awareness of being aware”. TVQS is not entirely about mindfulness or about building this awareness. It is more about bringing people from different backgrounds together, to accept our shared cultural heritage, and to understand ourselves better, intrinsically. TVQS serves as a creative platform for arts and culture, heritage and philosophies, stories and life, related with and around Asia. Asians live and breathe and grow up among many cultural treasures but we seldom take ownership of this heritage, and engage with our culture except as consumers. Yet we all know Asian culture offers deep resources for spirituality and creativity, which those with genuine interest and the right methods can tap into, and sometimes the results get repackaged and rebranded, and we might not even recognize that these are really our own treasures.
Hence you can now know that TVQS is not a social work nor a health related program. But why this concern with mental health? I would say that mental health is not purely a medical concern anymore. It requires multi layered multi disciplinary multi religious multi racial efforts, and most crucial of all, self-cultivation. A whole village is not enough, because caring for our mind is our personal duty too.
Our concept of “A Smooth Departure” comes from the understanding that our mental state is most vulnerable at sickness ending in death. Though Singapore is so rich in cultural diversity, we hardly pay attention to how other religions work to give their devotees A Smooth Departure. With our own experience in Singapore – living just next door to different ethnic neighbours, working within systems that tend to put aside our religion differences to preserve our hard earned harmony, will we one day be desensitized instead to what we may ultimately need to call upon at departure – our spiritual needs?
Even more representative of the TVQS mission are original arts and heritage related creations such as our Sound Sanna project. The Story Kasina CD which you may have seen outside is the first work. I brought this to the 6th Parliament of World Religions in the US and to a conference in Bangkok to showcase and promote ancient Asian stories. This work came about with special friends like Dr Sri Ghanavenothan, the late pianist Mdm Elaine Wu who performed here on this stage at an earlier Older but Wiser forum in 2017 and artist friends from different countries, who also concur that we should not miss out on our own Asian heritage and arts.
In a moment you will see a TVQS performance which draws on ancient Asian philosophy – the concept of the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space, found in both Buddhist and Hindu thought. Today’s performance is the Wind Element, one part of a larger Five Elements Movement, which is really a contemplation on impermanence: We draw on Impermanence to heal our mind, and we draw on Impermanence to forgive and grow too. How could mental resilience not be based on this infinite concept of impermanence? I shall stop now.
Good Evening, special guest speaker Ms Chee Waiyee and all kind guest speakers & Moderator, Singapore Kindness Movement, Buddhist Fellowship and all our sponsors, and audience - Thank you for your support, trust and interest in The Very Quiet Studio 2nd forum on Grief Separation.
I am the creative director of TVQS and the convenor for this 2nd interfaith forum today, on a topic which we probably cannot ever escape, Separation, and experiencing Grief from Separation.
TVQS The Very Quiet Studio was founded in 2007 because of a documentary I shot in 2006. On Boxing Day 2004, the Asia Tsunami devastated many areas, and in 2006 Bhante Dhammaratana from Singapore led Singaporeans to Sri Lanka for tsunami relief work. I followed him and filmed this documentary of their work in person. Not many of you have watched it or even know of its existence. But during the shoot, I came across people of different religions who suffered immensely due to that unfortunate natural calamity. There is no difference in how we suffer grief of separation, is it not? And that applies for animals as well.
The changes that came to the world at this turn of the millennium were deeply felt by everyone. Nature turned violent. So did we. Nature turned unpredictable, so did we. Nature turned crazy, so did we. Or could it be the other way around, that it is us who failed more than Nature did? The Very Quiet Studio then was thinking how faiths of the world can heal it back. But before we know it, things have actually got worse since 2001. 10 October is World Mental Health Day and almost no-one has been spared from some kind mental suffering here or there... . or at some point in life. How could we not care?
The idea of TVQS is that it is better to use Arts and Heritage to transcend what religion, politics and education cannot do or have not done, which might sound arrogant or wishful to some. So it is better sometimes to just be very quiet. But Arts and Heritage should not be ripped off from spirituality, forces of reality nor contemplation, nor should they be inaccessible, found only in the museum. Hence one of the first projects of TVQS was to work on ancient stories and philosophies, and give these sunken treasures a lift above the ocean by taking them to the digital platform, and inventing a new genre 'audiocinema' to normalize their existence. I am referring to TVQS project “Sound Sanna”, of which the Story Kasina CD you might have seen outside is the first creation. Story Kasina involved several well-known musicians in our region, like Imee Ooi, the late pianist Mdm Elaine Wu Yili, and Dr. Sri Ghanavenothan Retnam. They not only contributed their music, they themselves personified a good mind, arising from their genuine, humble pursuit & journey in heritage and arts -- and I found them right here, locally.
The “Older But Wiser” forum series – another TVQS project – speaks for itself. Indeed wisdom is not necessarily proportional to age. But how important it is to have both at the right time. Older but Wiser is a platform for collaboration with speakers who also have the same kindness or share of wisdom in life that we can meet here, regardless of their religion or cultural backgrounds. TVQS has also created a shared platform with other artists, such as our past photography and painting exhibition and original performance works like the 5 Elements Movement, which some of you saw a part of this afternoon. TVQS 5 Elements Movement performance draws on ancient Asian philosophy – the concept of the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space, found in both Buddhist and Hindu thought. The 5 elements represent characteristics of our material world, which is everchanging, and invite us to contemplate impermanence: We draw on Impermanence to heal our mind, and we draw on Impermanence to be allowed to die too. How could mental resilience not be based on this infinite concept of impermanence?
It is never quite the form of art that OBW pursues - be it photography, painting, dance, singing or drama, but rather, how we might understand truth, experience some degree of wholesomeness, and enjoy beauty through some work of art, and through its practitioners, even though the work or the artist could appear fairly simple and unsophisticated. The form is not the message, the artists are not the focus. Yet from these forms and through their owners, we can nurture and heal our minds, that always seek for an equilibrium.
There will always be people who throw stones at our’ efforts based on their own sometimes inaccurate perceptions. Reaching out often feels like hearing the sound of one hand clapping. Yet if we allow the unkindness to go on, we become the wall of contact for one hand slapping. TVQS is not a social work agency with a mental health cause, but it is taking on creative works to shine a light on those underlying causes – maybe psychological, maybe naturally found in our uncultivated and unenlightened states of mind – that can bring ourselves unnecessary grief.
I hope you may never have to grieve over any separation – but if you do, or are still grieving, may this forum and our speakers’ insights bring you wisdom and peace, and compassion in acknowledging, how every other being would feel when they have to leave or be separated.