Personal Development

Mystery Triangles

Triangle |Where my heart leads

You’d be surprised to find TOTO toilets in wooden shacks. TOTO toilets are swanky Japanese toilets complete with customisable bidet functions and most appreciated of all – the perennially warm seat. Waarmnesss…

The wooden shacks ain’t just any ordinary wooden shacks either. They were out in the boonies in Japan at a Vipassana meditation camp. Naked incandescent light bulbs lit each wooden stall. For 10 days, men and women stay at the camp to learn and practice Vipassana meditation. 

The Considerati

Since Literati describes those who are learned, the “Considerati” would then describe those who are considerate.  

The Japanese are culturally courteous and considerate. I remember removing my shoes before entering the chado (Tea ceremony) mizuya (tea prep area) and upon exiting found my shoes and those of others mysteriously arranged right way up for those leaving so we can put on our shoes more easily. It felt very attentive and welcoming. (細心 – heart into the details)

At the Vipassana camp, I noticed mystery triangles surfacing in the wooden shacks every now and again. The place out in the boonies had volunteers help make meals and manage the upkeep of the space. From the minute I arrived, I felt how well we were taken care of. Nothing was fancy, but we had everything we needed. From the basket of amenities in the bedroom – facial tissues, sweeper paper for cleaning the floor, to the extra alarm clocks or change of beddings one might need – were all in place for anyone who needed them. 

Since the place was run by volunteers, the mystery triangles appearing in the toilet stalls – the type of folded triangles you see in hotels seemed improbable. The small folded triangle at the end of the roll is saying, “This toilet has been cleaned and taken care of for you. Please enjoy!” Did the volunteers do that? Out in the boonies at a meditation camp? Strange – those mystery triangles.

Solving the Mystery

Towards the end of the camp, as one lady came out of a stall, I thought silently to myself, “Oh look! There’s the folded triangle!”

Since we do not speak or make eye-contact with one another during the camp, aside from speaking with the assistant teacher or the mens/women’s manager, I waited.

On the last day when silence lifted, everyone was happily hung out in small circles. I went up to the lady and asked, “Was it you? Those triangles?” She smiles – a bit cheekily and nods. In my broken Japanese and a mix of gestures and English, she told me that yes, it was her! Because she wanted to leave the next person using the stall feel that it has been taken care of.

Energy of a place

The Vipassana camp is not a fancy place. However the camp is well-designed. When something is well-designed and well taken care of, its character builds like well-loved leather. Although the main buildings at the camp were built at least 20 years ago, the space felt in flow and in harmony with the foothills and fields amongst which it sits. And most of all, those wood shack toilet stalls – well-loved.

I had often shared this New York Times article with my students on Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. The 2014 Pritzker Prize winner designs buildings using materials sourced locally. He also builds with paper tubes. His paper tube structures – mind you – are not one-off; his buildings are built to last.

“A concrete-and-steel building can be temporary. It can be taken down or destroyed by an earthquake. But paper can last. It’s a question of love. If a building is loved, it becomes permanent.”

Shigeru Ban

A question of energy

On the day we said our goodbyes at the camp, some of us chanced upon a Harvest Festival. After the day, we were at a station getting ready to head back into the city. I noticed distinctly the sterile washroom stalls at the mall – how spotless and functional, yet lifeless compared to the simple wooden shacks.

The Chinese say, “Use your heart.” “Do it with your heart.” As a child, my teacher would tell me, “Use your heart” be it copying Chinese characters or listening to the teacher speak. There is no saying, “Use your brain” except in a derogatory way.

When comes from the heart, it’s different from when done without. Even with cleaning and tidying up. (Or in this case the cleaning of washrooms). I reckon it’s not a coincidence that Marie Kondo asks people to thank and communicate with their belongings when tidying up.

Everything is energy. We are and emit energy

“Do you want someone with loving energy make you breakfast in the morning, or someone with grumpy energy?” the Pranic Healing instructor asked. Obviously the former, coz the loving energy goes into the food that is made. Lovingly prepared home-cooked meals have a different vibe to them, don’t they? (Vibe…vibrations = energy) In Japanese tea ceremony, after we receive the prepared tea or food we are to consume, we will say grace, we say “Thank you, for the blessing.”


In Japanese tea ceremony practice, I came to see how much care and consideration is in the practice. From how food is prepared, why certain things are placed the way they are, how both hosts and guests conduct themselves in consideration for the occasion and one another. The Chinese have an expression 為大局著想 – meaning to “Consider (your actions) in relation to the bigger situation.” For the welfare of the greater picture, what is the best action to take?

Food for thought

  • Have you been on a receiving end of someone’s awareness and consideration? What touched you?
  • Are you a Considerati? Do you think about others and how you might be impacting them in the office, in the home, in the day-to-day?