‘Nirvana’ by Lilith




Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 at 12:19 PM
Lilith to J:

… look back in history and consider Rupert Brooke, Anne Frank, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Oscar Wilde … among the many great writers who have written in the worst of circumstances, amidst war or from prison. Indeed, prison literature, born of desperation and violence, fear and boredom, is marked by its own transformative power and persistence through the ages. As Max Nelson writes in the Paris Review, “No writer intends to produce prison literature” and yet “to this loose canon … new work is still added daily.”

— Leimbach, 2020 [1]

I’m adding to that prison literature too, huh?


Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2020 at 2:12 PM
J to Lilith:

Well, the imprisonment and torture I endured is certainly nowhere near the level monks suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge at S-21.

But they didn’t write prison literature. They meditated through their imprisonment, their torture.

To monks, suffering is the perfect place to train one’s mind for enlightenment.

In my case, my family was torture and imprisonment. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) / the Early Psychosis Intervention Programme was imprisonment and torture. The residential mental health rehabilitation centre was imprisonment and torture. People’s attitudes and mindsets then and now are imprisonments and tortures. I have actually been locked up by police twice, for attempted suicide and self-defence.

Institutions are imprisonment and torture, in an exclusionary sort of way: so much is denied me because I don’t belong to any, big and small. It’s not that I don’t want to belong… have I not tried, as much as one in my circumstance can try, after all?

And speaking of meditation…

When I was staying in the women’s shelter, I meditated every night, half-lotused (sometimes full, because I wanted to feel what the big deal was) in the garden, occasionally with children circling and giggling around me (they would leave me alone after realising that I wasn’t going to budge or open my eyes).

One pre-dawn morning, I was awoken by a loud noise—my roomie had slammed a cupboard door shut, intentionally loud or otherwise. I awoke with my eyes still closed. I also remember not feeling what one would usually feel when startled awake. I felt calm. A strange, ethereal calm. And in my closed-eyes state, a bright white light blanketed my entire vision. It was like I was floating in it…

Later I thought it might have something to do with the fluorescent lights overhead being on, but when I opened and closed my eyes again under that artificial light, it just wasn’t the same anymore.

Throughout that entire day, I walked around in that strange calm state too. I wasn’t worried like how one would expect someone in my position to be. Rather, I walked around in this surreal floaty yet still alert feeling… lightly aware that my legs are moving, even though I don’t see them moving because I am looking straight ahead… like I have a mind that is aware it is in my body, but separate from it… I wasn’t disoriented—I was just in awe of this blissful state I was in while going about my day doing what needed to be done.

If that calm state is enlightenment, then enlightenment is not some difficult-to-achieve grand thing, despite what those Buddhists tell you. It is just a state of mind… and perhaps a state of feeling—which isn’t much feeling at all, actually.

Even now, when I go into meditation, which can be anytime, anywhere—I don’t actually have to close my eyes—I get in touch with that state of mind: a calmness, stillness, emptiness. I am just a mind in a body that happens to be where it is right now.

It’s not that I don’t feel emotions like sadness, happiness, agitation, frustration, for others or for myself. It’s just… they are mild, and they arise and disappear rather quickly (don’t you know it). I am not sure if I am capable of feeling the happiness or smugness of some major achievement, like I once did, anymore. And I think I have run out of tears to cry. Do you want to try me?

I have wondered about the possibility that this nigh-on-emotionless state is a psychopathic state, but… psychopaths don’t have empathy and compassion, do they? From what I have read on the subject [2], psychopaths wouldn’t have the natural, instinctual will to write something like what I have written in previous chapters, my prison literature, hoping it can be transformative for others in a good way.

This mental state is subject to change as long as one is breathing though, because one has to respond to one’s environment. As long as one responds (and that includes inaction along with action), one creates karma, also known simply, secularly, as cause and effect.

But I never asked for ‘enlightenment’. Don’t like the tests I’m being put through. Yet what can I do but breathe through them all…

Maybe this calm state is just a trauma response.


Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2020 at 2:07 PM
Lilith to J:

Didn’t I write, before COVID-19, about what joy it is to reach a state where all I am concerned about is what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

PS: while you’re probably holed up somewhere enjoying your ‘solitude’, I’m on the frontlines during this COVID-19 pandemic, screening elite patrons coming in. Some patrons are decent while others treat us like loathsome human shields.

“Fill in the form for me. I don’t want to touch anything you’re touching.”

“Don’t touch me.”

My life is more dispensable than yours. My solitude is different from yours.



[1] Leimbach, M. (2020, March 19). Writers (Not Entirely) In Isolation. Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Retrieved from https://queenmobs.wpengine.com/2020/03/writers-not-entirely-in-isolation/

[2] For example: Fallon, J. (2014, June 3). How I discovered I have the brain of a psychopath. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/03/how-i-discovered-i-have-the-brain-of-a-psychopath



Nirvana is the continuing story of Lilith, in COVID-19 times, which follows Love, Arguments, and Ravings of a Madwoman.
Lilith is a monolingual Peranakan Singaporean, from a maternal ethnic Chinese lineage that spoke Malay and Hokkien, not Mandarin. She comes forged from Hellfire, has been described as some kind of journalist and, in the words of Bob Dylan (cranked up by Rage Against the Machine), does not want to work on Maggie’s farm no more.

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