Saturday, November 27, 2004

My Fragile Heart

My Fragile Heart

I'm bracing myself for a very painful weekend ahead when Liverpool meets Arsenal on Sunday night, or rather early Monday morning. With all the injury woes that the Reds are facing, it will be quite miracle if they could even manage a draw. If Liverpool does lose again, it'll be three consecutive losses in a row and my heart will definitely be shattered into smithereens.

How does one overcome a broken heart? Some people never get over it. Our lives are often shaped by the bitter experiences that we've encounter in the past.

I'm reminded of the character Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations--one of my all-time favourites. In the book, Miss Havisham decides to forever isolate herself from the world because her bridegroom didn't show up on their wedding day. She remains dressed in her bridal gown and spends the rest of her life sitting in the room where her wedding banquet was supposed to be held, with rats crawling all over her rotting wedding cake.

In that memorable scene where the young protagonist Pip is brought to Miss Havisham's house to play; the conversation goes something like this:

Miss Havisham: (pressing her hand to her chest) Do you know what I touch here?
Pip: (hesitant and shy) Your heart?
Miss Havisham: Broken!

Miss Havisham vows to take revenge on the entire male species. So she adopts a pretty young girl, Estella, and briings her up to be cruel and heartless to men; the poor little boy Pip--the one with "great expectations" is intended to be one of her victims. There are about a dozen adaptations of the novel for the cinema and TV and I've watched and enjoyed at least three of them. The last one was the modernized version set in present-day Florida (!), starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Will I wake up on Monday with my hand clasped to my heart? Broken!

Well, maybe I should have more confidence in my favourite team. Perhaps all of us should learn to emulate manager Rafael Benitez's spirit: "The good thing about football is that, if you lose, there's always a next match".

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Depths of Silence

The Depths of Silence

Most people find it very difficult to sit still and study or to do something that requires concentration. When we were students, we had to force ourselves to study because the pressure of examinations was very great and we were driven by our fear of failure. Exam season was a time of great mental pressure for most of us during our schooldays. When we finally left school, we vowed never to subject ourselves to that kind of torture again.

But still life is an endless series of examinations. Even if we do not have to mug for exams anymore, the everyday tasks that we do also requires concentration and clearness of mind. The inability to recognize that is actually a cause of a lot of our miseries. It is the cause of a lot of shoddy work and a lack of creativity in the corporate world. I even suspect that many executives have actually forgotten or do not realize what real thinking is.

We are so used to operating in this "degraded mode", that most of us forget what it is like being in a concentrated state of mind. We consciously recoil from getting into that state of stillness and clarity because our hyperactive minds abhor a vacuum. We must always have something--noise, visuals, random thoughts--filling our mental screen. When the mind is blank, we are scared. We think we have no idea what we are supposed to say or do. We think we are being indecisive.

Decision-making is not thinking. We should not confuse the two. We decide on something based on what we have learned and experienced before in the past; the level of thinking involved is usually very superficial. Sometimes decisions are even based on emotion. That's how most executives operate everyday.

When it comes to situations where real thinking is required--an original idea is demanded, something needs to be created out of nothing--very few can excel. And this is not due to the fact that we lack the ability to do so--it is actually because we have forgotten that there are deeper levels of the mind that we have not tapped. These deeper levels only reveal themselves when we are in a deeply concentrated state of mind. And most of us never ever bother to enter that state.

When is the mind considered to be "concentrated"?

When we can actually "hear" silence itself. When we can "feel" thoughts arising from the depths of our subconscious in a very granular manner. Only when all mental noise is completely silenced, can we drink from this wellspring of creativity deep within us.

But unfortunately we fear silence so much. We equate that to loneliness, boredom and dullness. And because of that we are forever wallowing on the surface of the water, being trashed about by random waves, when the real treasures of the ocean are lying deep down in the stillness of its bottom, undiscovered.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Work as Workout

Work as Workout

Everyday I ask myself the question: how do I use the day productively? And because I work for myself, the temptation to abuse the freedom is always great.

Everyday, I have to remind myself that I need to keep on learning, exploring new possibilities and driving things to happen. There must be a forward momentum all the time, a snowballing effect to all activities.

It is always very tempting to just indulge in things that bring me immediate pleasure--such as reading a good book, chit-chatting with friends, surfing the Net or watching a movie. But I've developed the habit of using these simple pleasures as tiny rewards for work done.

Work is easier if it is divided into manageable chunks with small rewards tied to its completion. Writing a hundred page technical report can be a very daunting and laborious task; if I imagine one hundred pages of blank paper staring at me waiting to be filled, then I might not even have the motivation to start at all.

But if I tell myself that for the next two hours, I'll complete the section on say, datacenter infrastructure and then reward myself with some teh tarik and nasi lemak at my favourite mamak stall, then I am more inclined to start work. Of course, I can always skip work and go straight to my nasi lemak; but I mentally reinforce to myself that rewards "earned" through hardwork always tastes a lot better.

Once a piece of work is done, there's a satisfying sense of accomplishment, no matter how small the work is. You know that it is good work if it has a transformational effect--either on yourself or the enterprise that you're working for, because creative energy has been released into the universe.

Good work will always do you good; it's like a workout session in the gym--you get rewarded immediately because it makes you feel fresh, energetic, relaxed and cheerful. A workout has transformational effect--your body grows healthier and your mind becomes stronger.

If you treat work like a workout, work will always work for you.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

To Err is Human, To Forgive...Practical

To Err is Human, To Forgive...Practical

I wrote about the difficulty of remembering people's names the other day. In certain situations however, the "ability" to forget can be a very good thing.

There are things that we want so much to forget but we can't. Usually these are painful experiences of the past, like a hurtful remark by a friend or loved one, an embarassing moment or an unwise act that brought about negative consequences.

Tell someone who has just broken up with his or her lover to forget about the relationship immediately--they can't because the emotions involved are still very strong. Forgetting is a process that takes time. Those who study physics can liken the process to the exponential decay of radioactive material: it will taper slowly towards zero over time but never ever reaching it.

In previous blog entries, I'ved discussed how we can deliberately use time to dissolve pain by thinking of pain as a drop of ink dissolving in water. Some stains are stubborn and will remain for a while, but if you are willing to let go, the force of time will be your ally.

How do we resolve to allow time to act on the things we want to forget? By forgiving--forgive yourself or the person who caused you that pain. True forgiving means completely absolving all blame or unresolved emotions associated with someone or something.

To forgive doesn't mean we do not take responsibility to rectify a wrong. We forgive because we do not want to be driven by negative emotions. We forgive because we have the wisdom to see things from a wider perspective and choose to act based on positive principles.

The moment we forgive, that drop of pain dissolves in the ocean of Time.

You see, it is very tempting to cling on to a hurt or a need to take revenge because it gives us energy and a sense of purpose to do things. It could work for a while but unfortunately these are negative driving forces, which will ultimately bring only destructive consequences. Nothing based on negative emotions has the ability to create lasting changes.

If we are driven by negative energies such as these, some other part of your life will have to end up feeding it: It will warp your relationship with your loved ones, isolate you from friends and colleagues or take a toll on your physical well-being.

To forgive and to forget are acts that are so creative because they free up trapped energy and allow it to pursue its true potential. To forgive does not mean you are being soft. It means you are mature enough to see beyond the immediate pleasure of blaming and latching on to easy excuses; it means you know how to use your emotional and mental energy productively to bring positive changes to the situation.

By choosing to forgive you do not allow your emotional bank account to be continuously drained by the past. Instead you cap your losses. You free up resources so that they can be invested in more lucrative projects. It is simply good, prudent emotional management.

You have to realize that you are also not responsible for making sure people who have wronged you get what they deserve. Punitive measures are His responsibility; and you should be grateful that there's Someone up there who's willing to do such a thankless job! For those who do not believe in God, there's this law of nature called karma. Same thing; works everytime.

Not only is forgiving divine, it is actually practical.