Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Next Thought

The Next Thought

All action originates from a thought. Thought and action are just two ends of the same spectrum--we can think of action as being a gross form of "thinking" or thinking as a subtle form of "acting".

Every thought or action has its consequences--even when at times they may seem personal and harmless. Just like how it is impossible for anything to touch the surface of water without creating a ripple, it is equally impossible for a thought to arise without generating certain consequences.

Well, if we keep certain thoughts to ourselves, how could it have an effect on things or events in the world? Am I again indulging in mystical mumbo-jumbo about mind-over-matter phenomena?

Not necessarily. You see, every thought that we bring into existence affects us in two ways. Firstly, it determines what our next thought is going to be; and secondly it changes the structure of the mind itself by making it more susceptible to similar thoughts in the future.

Let's examine the first one. Thoughts always come in a train--they form a causal chain where one thought determines the next one. One stimulus from the senses--could be the smell of food or the sight of an atrractive woman--can trigger an automatic series of thoughts in succession. And these thoughts could eventually lead into us deciding to act in a certain manner; action that could affect our lives in many subtle ways.

At every moment in time, the thought we think forces us into a choice among an infinite number of possible futures. Once a choice has been taken, we can never turn back--the universe has forever been altered.

The second effect of thoughts is this: once we entertain certain thoughts, we immediately start developing a mental habit. To use De Bono's analogy, when rain falls on the ground and start flowing along certain paths, it erodes the soil and cuts deeper channels into it, making it more likely for water to flow along the same paths next time. That's how rivers develop.

Most of us would have developed a huge network of such mental channels, which is why we always seem to think and behave in the same manner. Every thought, no matter how minute, tends to flow along existing channels in the mind and when they do so, they cut them even deeper.

It is difficult for us to come up with an original thought or idea because our mental channels are already so deeply entrenched. Water cannot flow any other way. De Bono's famous lateral thinking techniques are all about triggering the mind to jump out of these mental ruts. Creative people do that instinctively everytime they are looking for fresh ideas.

We can use this channel-forming behaviour of the mind to our advantage by learning to cultivate good habits. This can be done through the conscious repetition of desirable thoughts. Once a habit is formed, behaviour becomes automatic. Unfortunately most of the time, we don't think consciously--we simply react to the world and people around us. We end up living our lives like balls being knocked about randomly on the billiard table.

To take charge of our lives, we need to determine what thoughts enter our minds. We need to seize the moment and decide: my next thought is this. It seems like a simple thing but in reality it is very tough.

If we could just do that, we'll have complete control of our lives.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Four-Stroke Ego

Four-Stroke Ego

As much as I dislike driving, I still find myself behind the wheel quite often in KL. But I am a bit perplexed as to why people associate so much pride with their cars. To me it is just a metal box for transporting a person from point A to point B--no different from a building lift.

I've suggested before in a previous blog entry that cars in cities of the future (if we still need cars at all) should be public and "disposable"--like supermarket trolleys. Grab one when you need it and just chuck it away when you're done with it. Isn't it amusing if for some inexplicable reason people start owning supermarket trolleys and take pleasure in parading their newest and fanciest models while shopping for their weekly supply of toilet paper and Maggi Mee at Carrefour?

Maybe people treat cars like the clothes they wear. You can't dress sloppily to go to work; it creates a bad impression. Fair enough. But why do we get so mad when another car cuts into our lane or when we get honked for being slow to move at the traffic lights?

Most of us won't behave in such a manner when say, we are a walking in a crowded mall--isn't it common to bump into people and to get obstructed all the time? We might not be courteous enough to say "sorry" or "excuse me" all the time but we don't get that mad. We just get on with it. Why can't we do the same on the road?

The whole problem stems from the fact that cars are such status symbols. Whenever our cars get knocked by others, it is more than our car bumper that gets dented--the ego gets bruised too. This unconscious association of the car with the ego is the cause of a lot pain. It is not surprising that road rage incidents are quite common nowadays and have even led to tragic consequences.

Driving a good car can be a very pleasurable experience--just like any other sport on wheels such as riding a bicycle or roller-skating--if we know how to keep it at that. But I think, we all get a little bit too car-ried away sometimes, turning a simple four-stroke transport vehicle into an instrument for stroking the ego.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A Sower of Seeds

A Sower of Seeds

After spending the last week-and-a-half on the road in Bangkok and Jakarta, I'm finally back to my cluttered room in Subang Jaya. I still have a big chunk of my report to finish up and I'm hoping that my next project doesn't come until next month. Hopefully my next trip to Jakarta is solely for pleasure and not business.

This last trip to Jakarta was a quiet one for me--I kind of sneaked in without telling many of my friends like Marlyn, Wiwie or Titi. I wanted complete isolation to concentrate on my work. But I did manage to meet my old friend Gunawan last night and we had a good dinner at Pecenongan.

And for old time's sake, we paid a short visit to some of our favourite nightspots in Kota. But I guess we are not accustomed to the loud music anymore. Things have changed a lot since we first met eight years ago; Gunawan even reads Osho these days.

How much have I changed over the last eight years? A couple of weeks ago I met an ex-Singaporean colleague here in Jakarta whom I've not met for at least four years. He told me that I looked exactly the same as he last saw me. Well, I'm not sure whether that's good or bad.

Maybe physically I've not changed that much--I still maintained my weight, my hair has not turned grey. But mentally, I think I've undergone a great deal of transformation over the last five years. A lot of what I write on this blog is an attempt to rationalize what I've experienced during this period.

So many things that I've read during my teenage and university years which I did not really understand then, over time revealed themselves to me in crystal clarity. These are the Tetris moments that I talked about.

I consider myself lucky that when I was younger and my reading appetite was voracious, I wasn't bothered very much by things that I did not understand. I just kept on reading. The mental soil might not have been right for the seeds to sprout but the important thing was that the seeds were sown. They are never wasted and will always lie dormant, waiting for the right moment to germinate.

There are a lot of things that I still don't understand. Books are not my only teachers; friends and even strangers that I meet everyday--they all have something to teach me. It is what keeps me going. I'd like to think that I wake up every morning a better person compared to who I was yesterday. That to me is the only thing that matters.

And I look forward to sowing more seeds (not wild oats :-)) tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Ngobrol-Ngobrol about Darkness and Loneliness

Ngobrol-Ngobrol about Darkness and Loneliness

Worked on my laptop for four solid hours at the Phoe Nam cafe this morning. Satisfied with my morning burst of productivity, I plugged on my earphones and rewarded myself with songs by Dewa from my MP3 collection which I also carry with me on my mobile office. The song Mistikus Cinta still fills me with a bit of nolstagia made me slightly misty-eyed.

The weather has been quite hot in Jakarta lately (but still not as bad as Klang Valley though). I decided to have soto Madura for lunch at Kantin Surabaya a short distance away--with the customary twist of lime and a dash of sambel and kecap manis. The place wasn't air-conditioned and the meal made me sweat profusely. But it's good to sweat sometimes, especially when you have spent the whole week living in a hotel.

I don't intend to blog on any "serious" topic today. Just want to ngobrol-ngobrol a little bit about the weather and the food...

I forgot to mention that I went to watch the Exorcist: The Beginning at the Block M Plaza cineplex during the weekends. The first Exorcist terrified me when I first watched it as a kid at the Lido cinema back in my hometown. For weeks I was afraid of the dark and dared not sleep alone.

This latest installment of the Exorcist franchise is a little bit disappointing because it has to cater to modern audiences who expect a cheap shock every few minutes. The first Exorcist starring Linda Blair was a cinematic masterpiece with good acting and a slow atmospheric buildup heightened by the clever application of religious motifs. Even Exorcist III directed by the author himself, William Peter Blatty did a reasonably good job.

In trying to modernize this classic of the religious horror genre, director Renny Harlin (of Deep Blue Sea, Cutthroat Island, Die Hard2 and Elm Street IV fame) made generous use of the latest CGI techniques and ended up making the movie look like it had been stitched together from rejected takes from The Mummy and Hellraiser II.

Obviously it didn't scare me one bit. I had no problems sleeping alone that night. It's strange how when kids grow up, their main fear is no longer darkness but loneliness. It takes some time, but thank God I've outgrown that too.

The Superman in Us

The Superman in Us

It's great spending my weekend working on my computer from my favourite cafes in Jakarta. This morning, I spent a couple of hours working from the 24-hour Starbucks near Sarinah and later adjourned to the Internet cafe to catch up on the latest news.

It was there that I found out that Superman actor, Christopher Reeve had passed away at 52 years of age. Since his unfortunate riding accident nine years ago that made him paralyzed from neck downwards, I've had the opportunity to watch him in many interviews on TV; and everytime I was inspired by his indomitable will to live and his undying belief that one day he will be able to walk again. Besides being a very active campaigner for spinal cord and stem cell research, he had also managed to direct and act in several movies, despite his condition.

This evening I managed to catch a rerun of his interview with Tom Brooks on the BCC Hardtalk program. In the interview, he said something very interesting: he said that everyone is in a way paralyzed--if not physically, it's by fear, low self-esteem or other psychological shortcomings. It's all relative.

A physically paralyzed person may not be able to run and walk; but someone who is mentally or psychologically paralyzed is also severely handicapped in many ways. Think of all the great things that we could do in our lives if we are not limited by fear. Simply because of these often irrational fears that we harbour inside, we cannot realize our full potential and as a result, live the life of a handicapped person, confined to a mental wheelchair.

We should all follow Anthony Robbins' advice: Ask yourselves, what would you do in your life, if you know that it is absolutely impossible for you to fail? Let it all go, the sky's the limit--fantasize. Then work backwards from there to where you are now--you'll realize how much the fear of failure has held you back.

We are all living our lives, one way or another, in a wheelchair. Hopefully one day we'll have the courage to learn how to walk and perhaps even fly...

May God bless the soul of Superman, Christopher Reeve (1952-2004).

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Tetris of the Mind

The Tetris of the Mind

Most of us at one time or another would have played the game called Tetris before. Tetris is one of the most popular and successful computer games. Simple yet engaging, not to mention addictive, it has been ported to almost every computing platform that's available out there--from cellphones, Gameboy machines to applet versions, played directly from the browser.

The game allows the player to control the orientation and the fall of various blocks built from a random mosaic of squares dropping down from the top of the screen. The object is to manipulate their fall so that their square protrusions align neatly in a row when they reach the "ground"; and when they do, you are rewarded with a burst of flash and sound--kerrush!--the row collapses and disappears from the screen. If you don't get them aligned, these random blocks stack up very fast until they touch the "sky"--and game is over.

You often see people absorbed in the game as if they are in a trance. Everytime they get a row or rows aligned--kerrush!--the player experiences a kind of digital ecstasy. It may seem like a mindless game but there is actually a deep-rooted reason why our minds latch on to it so instinctively.

Even though I personally don't play computer games very much, I see Tetris as a good metaphor of the mind. The blocks that drop from the sky are like our sensory input or information we receive from the external world. Sometimes by chance when certain facts fit together, we get an "aha" feeling--everything immediately clicks, a realization"sinks in", the veil of ignorance is suddenly cast away and you get a flash of illumination. It's a great feeling--like an orgasm of the mind.

That's how I see intellectual and spiritual insights. Sometimes the things around us don't seem to make sense very much; but as you keep on experiencing and engaging with the world, continuing to read, observe, meditate and reflect, one day they will all "align in a row"; and kerrush! you'll get that eureka moment. And often the experience changes the way you view the world.

Everytime that happens, your internal wiring changes--a mental transformation occurs. That is the essence of all insights. Whether they belong to the mundane intellectual plane or to the spiritual one, our mind progresses through these occasional steps of illumination. But unfortunately, a lot of people get one kerrush! and they run about shouting about their experience and stop playing the game altogether.

You will never know when the next insight will come. It's never game over. In Tetris, every row of blocks that align disappears from the screen--the entire structure collapses neatly downwards.The more insights you get, the simpler your world suddenly becomes--and you realize how brilliantly elegant nature is and you stand in complete awe of its grandeur.

That's how I view my world--it's a game of Tetris. One never finishes playing the game; and oh, how I live for those kerrrush! moments.