Saturday, August 21, 2004

Shelf Life

Shelf Life

A time capsule is "a container used to store for posterity a selection of objects thought to be representative of life at a particular time.".

I like to think of my books as time capsules too. First of all, every book that I have read has helped, in one way or another, shape my thinking during the different stages of my life. I always make sure that I jot down on the title page, the time and place where I first purchased a book. I also have the habit of inserting pieces of old receipts, airline boarding passes and movie tickets between their pages. You see, they serve the dual-purpose of being convenient book markers and also as representative fragments of my life through the different periods of my life.

That's why I never sell or give away my old books. Embedded within them are the innards of my soul. It is always a joy to flip through some of the old tomes lying on my shelf, check the date of their purchase and rediscover those fragments of my memories. Each book carries with it an epoch.

Today I pulled out De Bono's Textbook on Wisdom from my shelf. On the title page, I had scrawled 28th February 1998 and Bangsar as the place where I'd bought it. I simply have no recollection of buying the book at the Times bookstore there but I remember many happy nights reading it in my rented HDB room in Singapore. The year 1998 was the time when we were in the thick of the Asian Financial Crisis, and the IT industry was also starting to enjoy the heady days the dot-com boom.

The riots in Indonesia had not occured yet (it sparked off on May 13, 1998), and I was still doing my alternate-weekly trips to Jakarta. Those were reasonably good times for me, despite the financial crisis. It was also to be the best of times and the worst of times.

Back to the book, Textbook on Wisdom by De Bono: It is one of the easier reads from the Guru of Thinking but no less insightful. It contains short snippets of De Bono's core philosophy on thinking--namely, how limiting our traditional ways of thinking are, and how it is possible for everyone to learn how to think creatively.

I've been reading De Bono since I was a university student and I think his books have influenced me a lot. Rereading them makes me realise how much my own thinking has evolved since then and how time and age have brought clarity and insight into so many things.

When you read a book, you engage in a mental conversation with the author; and once a thought has been introduced in your brain, it can never be removed. It changes your internal wiring forever.

It is not only De Bono's books, there are so many other books on my shelves (and in boxes under my bed), that have affected me in so many subtle ways. My life is deeply intertwined with the contents of the books that I've read; my thoughts have mingled and synthesized with the ideas of so many different authors--both living and dead--from all over the world.

When I look at the books on my shelves; I see a mirror of my thinking: I see my hopes, my passions, my curiosity and my ignorance. Those books have dissolved themselves into my soul have become a part of my DNA.

And lying there on those dusty shelves, like uncoiled strands of the Double Helix, those silent blocks of dead trees, are my entire life.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Crow Island

Crow Island

It's good to be able to blog on a Friday night--something which I've not been able to do for quite some time. My past few blog entires did not reveal where I was but I've been back in KL since Sunday. It's good to be able to catch up with friends here and to take a breather before I start working on my next trip back to the City of Victory, Ja(ya)karta again.

One day, I hope to be able to go to Jakarta via Singapore and Batam. You can catch a local flight from Batam to Jakarta but I suppose it is more fun taking a Pelni ship from Batam and land at the port of Tanjung Priok, north of Jakarta.

Batam is not a beautiful island but it is nevertheless an interesting place. You'll find Batam swarmed with visitors from Singapore during the weekends--usually men on their weekend "golf" outing. And because of its close proximity to Singapore, Batam has become a cheap and convenient place for the Singaporean men to keep Indonesian mistresses.

Pity the Singaporean tai-tais: if their husbands are not spending their weekends "golfing" in Batam, they are being targetted back home by mainland Chinese women who seem to have invaded every nook and corner of the island state. These so-called wuya (or crows) are even preying on old Ah Peks, sipping coffee outside their HDB flats.

I suppose it is one of those inevitable consequences of globalization. There are always cheaper sources of "labour" from elsewhere. All this while, Singaporean men have had to live up to the exacting standards demanded by their women--the 5Cs (cash, credit card, car, club, condominium). But now the men realise that with the 5Cs, they can easily attract the sixth 'C'--a concubine. It's still a man's world out there.

The Seduction of Anger

The Seduction of Anger

Negative emotions, like anger and hatred distort the soul. Whenever we entertain anger, we are more susceptible to becoming angry the next time a similar situation arises. Anger eventually leads to the more permanent state of hatred. Anger and hatred are such costly feelings to harbour: they become blotches in our souls that will end up sucking up all our mental and spiritual resources.

Everytime we accomodate these negative emotions, we make them stronger, and we let them gain more power over our lives. The soul eventually becomes so warped that a man who is so full of anger and spite is an instinctively repulsive person. One can feel it from miles away.

How then do we prevent anger and hatred from arising? Don't they arrive spontaneously? In a way they do. But often we are also guilty of encouraging their growth. We know anger is seething, but we continue feeding its flame by finding more justification for it. We gather all the negatives together and further reinforce their strength.

Most of the time we choose not to see the positives in a person or situation for our minds abhors ambiguities. The mind has a habit of "digitizing" the world into '1's and '0's. A digitized world makes it easier to handle--because everything is either black or white. Someone is either very bad or very good. If a person is slightly bad, he is very very bad. He is hopeless and stupid. Judgement becomes quick and easy.

We "enjoy" being angry because the emotion of anger gives us a false sense of strength--it makes us feel very right. By reinforcing someone else's "blackness', we emphasize our own "whiteness".

Doesn't anger have any value at all? It does. Anger--like fear--is at best taken as a signal for action. Something is not right and something needs to be done. That something is definitely not more anger but action that will help eleviate the situation.

Anger, pain and fear are all feedback emotions. We are supposed to interpret and analyze their root causes and do something to remove them. These feedback signals help to trigger action that will ensure the stability of the system. And that certainly does not include hurling abuses or bashing the person you dislike.

Anger and hatred are very seductive emotions. When we have so much to be angry about, we have a "cause". We want to lead a revolution to change the world. It could well turn out to be a good thing, but often we just want to inflate our ego. We want to proclaim to the world how self-righteous we are.

Sometimes people say we need to vent our anger--all those bottled up emotions could be very harmful. We need a punching bag. Unfortunately, the more we vent, the more we reinforce the cycle of anger and violence, turning it into an undesirable habit.

It is much better for us to learn to build an early-warning system to detect potential hot-spots, and defuse them before they grow to the point of no-control. To do that requires a mindfulness and awareness of one's thought processes--a subject I've touched on so many times before.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Sleep and Meditation

Sleep and Meditation

I'm extremely envious of people who could sleep at midnight and still wake up at five in the morning, feeling fresh and ready to take on the world. I'm trying to learn how to sleep less but it is tough because I have a tendency to work late at night. Sleep is rejuvenating but it can also be addictive like a drug. As I've said in my previous entries, anything that is pleasurable is potentially addictive. There's an optimum amount of sleep that's needed by everyone and anything more than that is pure indulgence.

Yogananda like to say that when we are sleeping we are like gods because we disengage ourselves from all bodily sensations and enter into a "higher" state of mind. It is similar but not exactly the same as the state of consciousness that a yogi enters into in meditation. By removing ourselves from body consciousness, our physical bodies enters into a natural, self-maintenance mode--they are no longer subjected to any mentally imposed stress and strains, the breathing slows down and everything is at an optimum state of rest.

The yogi in meditation enters into a state in which consciousness is heightened but the body is completely at rest--like someone asleep. Only difference is when mere mortals like us are sleeping, we lose complete consciousness, allowing our minds to be taken over by our dream personality. We get the rejuvenation of physical rest but not the spiritual transformation that comes with meditation.

Wisdom arises out of meditation because we consciously allow the natural divinity within us to unfold itself; and that only happens when the mind is disengaged from the action and reaction of the sensory world. Sleep does not promote spiritual transformation because we are merely retreating into sensory-diminished mode but are still subjected to the mental turbulence of our sub-conscious.

Meditation is hyper-consciousness--physical rest but heightened state of awareness. It's a deliberate state of mind where we filter off external bodily sensations and consciously control the thought processes that goes on in our minds.

If what I'm writing sounds like mystical mumbo-jumbo, it's because my mind is not yet fully conscious yet--I just woke up (from sleep, not meditation) and immediately started blogging. Time to start another (hopefully) productive day!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Engines of Life

Engines of Life

Everyday I ask myself the question: Have I been using my time productively? When it comes to time, we are all born equal--all of us get a daily wage of 24 hours a day. The only difference is that some people can do so much with the 24 hours allocated, others just waste them away.

And what exactly do I mean by being productive? Does it mean that we always have to be thinking how to translate time into money?

Yes and no. Money can be one measure of one's productivity, but that's just one aspect of it. Even when time is efficiently translated into money, it is still in an intermediate form and has not realised its full potential yet. We have only managed to transform one transient resource--time--into a slightly more durable form: money. But money is only meaningful when it is used to set things into motion.

To me being productive means that we are constantly using our resources to make things happen, creating something out of nothing, making a positive difference on our immediate surrounding. Sometimes we can even do that without the aid of money.

You see, all of us live within a series of concentric circles. Forming an immediate circle around us are our family members and loved ones. Beyond that comes our circles of friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances. Our influence also radiates out to a certain degree into the larger circles of our neighbourhood, city, country and the world at large.

We are all little suns within our own private planetary systems. We are the sources of energy feeding into an ecosystem of life. We are given a a daily fuel tank of 24 hours. How we use it is up to us. We can burn it all up and lose everything as random heat or we can turn ourselves into engines that power families and communities.

We can be a very closed system--choosing to use our resources to feed ourselves by satiating our egos and senses. Or we can choose to be radiant suns--feeding our energy into our surrounding, enabling life, growth and transformation. The choice is ours to make.

Our fuel tanks are topped up every day. Let's start the engine.