Chinese New Year – it is all about intent

Posted On: January 28, 2012

This article first appeared on

We are most definitely now into the year of the Water Dragon! How was your Chinese New Year? Did you use the occasion to catch up with family and friends, take a well-deserved break, or “escape” the contrived pleasantries by travelling overseas?

After reading the piece, “My Secret Grief. Over 35, Single and Childless“, on Huffington post, I posted this on my Facebook wall:

“Martha is urging for greater sensitivity towards your fellow humans this Chinese New Year. Don’t be one of those well-meaning people asking others if they are in a relationship, going to get married, have kids, have more kids, blah blah. It really doesn’t affect the quality of your life, but it may affect theirs!”


I received several “likes” to that post with these assenting comments:

“Great point: a friend was just sharing how utterly relieved she was to be ‘excused’ from CNY visiting by parents. She’s over 40 and unmarried and hates those armor piercing rounds coated with good intent”.- Male

“Never fails to irritate me for the past 4 yrs before I had my kid… I hope they’ll spare me this yr since i’ve just given birth… wont be surprised if they ask when I’m gonna have more… aaarrrggghhh”.- Female

“Yes, those annoying questions and smart remarks”,- Male

“They ask it for their amusement; I don’t think it’s even ’well-meaning’”. – Male

Let’s not forget how 14-year-old Amos Yee sparked off a storm of online criticism after uploading a video that mocks the upcoming festive season, what he calls “a joke”. Watch it for yourself and decide. His disdain seems obvious to me, and I don’t blame him. I often thought Chinese New Year was passé and a burdensome chore the younger generation had to endure. That was until a few things happened this year.

I was reading this book, Sacred Ceremony by Steven D. Farmer. It highlighted the difference between ritual and ceremony. In it, Farmer attributes his friend Jade Wahoo’oo Grigori in describing ritual as “something that we do in order to call upon or beseech the forces of creation to act on our behalf. Ceremony is the inspired expression of our dance in creation. Even in ritual there are certainly those times when in the performance of the person is inspired, and it shows through because all of a sudden it has that glow or quality, and so it’s actually broached into the ceremonial at that time.”

I interpret this to mean that the difference between ritual (just going through the motions) and ceremony (which invokes specialness) is the intent! That’s not all:

“Rituals certainly serve a purpose, and while most are performed with sincere intention, the substance and meaning is often lost both to the practitioner and the adherents. They risk becoming habitual routines stemming from a sense of obligation and dogged commitment, rather than a heartfelt, embodied sense of spiritual presence. All sacred rituals started out as ceremony, and some are faint echoes of the original ceremonies from which they stem.”

It dawned on me: How many of us give hongbaos (or red packets) with resentment rather than that of being able to bestow blessings on the younger? And do the recipients of these hongbaos honor and receive such blessings fully? What of us dragging our feet when doing house visiting, completely unaware of the privilege in being invited in the first place?

Farmer tells us that it is not about trying to follow meticulous and detailed instructions, but really about executing with the intuiting of spiritual direction and guidance. The power of Spirit is invited without demand or expectation, and results will be achieved in alignment with the will of Spirit.

The meaning of Chinese New Year seems to be lost to us.

This year, I had no reunion dinner. My mother is not well. She has stage four breast cancer and has another two out of 12 chemotherapy sessions to go. Her immune system has been severely weakened. We visited a relative’s place as a family without her as she was not up to it.

I have been taking things for granted, from the labour of love behind preparing that one dinner (“too expensive outside”, “all the restaurants will be booked”), the ability to give or receive hongbaos (depending on whether you are married, separated or divorced), to house-visiting and witnessing how much my nieces and nephews have grown from last year, even if it was all pleasantries. They are still family, the extended family I wish I had taken more time to know.

I also think about those who have no roof over their heads, no family, no meal to look forward to. So how was your Chinese New Year? Remember, it is all about intent.

Dr Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching in Singapore. She is a certified sexuality educator with AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), as well as certified sexologist with ACS (American College of Sexologists). She holds a Doctorate in Human Sexuality from Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality as well as certificates in practical counselling, life coaching and sex therapy. She is available to provide sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conduct sexual education workshops and speak at public events in Asia. For more, visit

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