Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Quest for Perfection

The Quest for Perfection

One last blog entry before the year ends. It feels good to be tucked comfortably at home, while the rest of the world is out there partying. New Year Eve to me is a good time to reflect, to reassess and to enter into "calibration mode".

When you are young, you feel a certain restlessness, a certain longing to belong to the world, to be a part of something--a cause, an image or an idenitity. When you are older, these things don't matter so much anymore for you are more secure in your own beliefs, in your understanding of the nature of Man and the world out there. You define what is meaningful to yourself and you go about doing it. That's your dharma, your duty, the reason you were born into this world.

A lot of people fear growing old. It is a fear that one has to come to terms with sooner or later. All things in the universe are subject to decay. If we can watch nature unfold in fast-motion--like what you see in some of those nature documentaries on TV--you'll realize that nothing in this universe is static and the apparent solidity and permanence of your physical body is but an illusion.

The molecules of your body do not belong to you--they are part of the continuous flux of energy and matter that is nature. You are but a temporary conglomeration of energy and matter--like a star or a planet--that will ultimately dissolve back into that Great Void.

This illusory, Matrix-like nature of the world is something that mystics have known for ages. When you realize these things, then you begin to see your life in a completely different perspective. All this clinging to the temporary sense objects in the world seems so foolishly futile. Which is why sometimes in life we are never satisfied--nothing ever seems to be the way we want it to be. Why shoud it be? Your idea of perfection is one that is doomed to fail from the very beginning because it means shaping Nature in a certain way to suit your liking.

Nature is already perfect as it is. How can something that is already perfect be further "perfected"?

Now hang on: How can we say that Nature is perfect when you see natural disasters, wars and calamities taking away thousands of human lives every year?

When I say Nature is perfect, what I mean is that Nature cannot operate in any other way. It is the way it is. There's nothing personal about it. One can accept it or fight against it. Only acceptance brings peace and harmony with our surroundings.

Our human views of perfection are very narrow because they are ruled by our egoist and selfish ideas of what perfection should be. When we seek to create our "perfect worlds" by reengineering Nature, then we have upset the balance of forces in the world. One country seeks "perfection" at the expense of another. So the balance of forces in the world have been disturbed, and Hegelian dialectic begins.

You are conscious of your own being. You care for that small part of Nature--your body, your family, your friends, your possession, your country, your planet as "your world". You want this "world" to be perfect. But it is not a closed system, it is part of a larger system which is Nature itself. As long as you see your world as a fraction of the whole, it can never be "perfect". How can it be?

Imperfection exists because we care for a small part of the whole. But that is all that our small mortal selves are capable of. So, as long as our souls are small, and our wants are selfish, we have to accept imperfections. Take it with a sense of acceptance. Take it with resolve, with understanding, with courage, with wisdom. Take it with equanimity.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Nature of the Effulgent Soul

The Nature of the Effulgent Soul

It's good to finally get the opportunity to blog again. So let's cut to the chase:

It's year-end, perhaps we should all slow down a little and reflect on the lessons we have learned this year before we begin another. One thing in life that I've found to be always true: there's always something to learn, always new things to discover; and whenever I stumble on some fresh insights, I marvel at the spiritual vistas that open up before my eyes.

Life is exciting because it is a never-ending school. Every lesson that is learned, elevates the soul to the next step in its evolution. I've been documenting my "progress" on this blog for more than two years now; still there are so many more insights that I have yet to put down in words. Some are difficult for me to express; if I do so, they will come out as mystical mumbo jumbo. But I will continue trying because it is this very act of putting down thoughts and insights into words that help me in my learning process.

Most men find enjoyment in sense pleasures. It is well and fine; one can probably spend one's entire life that way, shifting from one sense craving to the next. But sooner or later one will find them unsatisfactory because they never last. All sense experiences come in waves--the clinging to such waves will only bring pain.

Self-mortification and asceticism is not the answer either for they take the other extreme position--inflicting pain on oneself so that one avoids pleasure only serves to intensify one's attachment to the senses. It harms the instrument of the body, which is a necessary vehicle for the soul to progress.

The slightly more learned man finds pleasure in knowledge. He thinks of himself as "higher" than the common men and takes pride in his intelligence. I've highlighted the danger of the intellect many times in the past. Most educated men are stuck here. They think they have read enough books and come to certain conclusions and they spend the rest of their time arguing, debating and criticizing others who don't subscribe to their ideology.

The intellectual mind is a necessary instrument to progress but it can also be a great hinderance to one's spiritual progress. This hurdle has to be overcome, sooner or later. But it takes time to dissolve the intellectual ego. It takes the next great leap in the soul's evolution.

Formal religions give a certain glimpse of hope to the spiritual progress of man but it too falls short at times because they are perpetrated by less than perfect men. The true insights of religion are usually lost and get diluted when disseminated to the masses. Dogma, superstition and fanaticism take root. And so guillible are we to these things that we get attracted to religious practices that promise us material wellbeing and the guarantee of an afterlife. Like ignorant kids, we are easily taken in by acts of the supernatural, by the professed "powers" of certain "holy men". Again, another great hurdle has to be overcome.

The only true path to spiritual progress is constant practice. Kriya. ("The Malay word for work, "kerja" which comes from the same Sanskrit root, would shed light to the meaning of this word). The instruments of the mind, heart and body must be put to work. In the end no theories or dogma will bring us salvation--only the work we do in this life, from which a gradual purification of the mind, heart and body can be attained.

We are all like wound-up clocks. There's so much stored up samskaras in us. We react to the world of sense impressions and in the process, create more samskaras. As long as we have attachment towards certain sense objects, we will always react to the world and create fresh karmas. Our store of karma is always "topped up", and our souls will forever be cast out in a vast sea of senses, like flotsam, lashed about by the waves, never finding a way towards the calmness of the shore.

When I say we must "work" towards spiritual progress--we must not again see it as an external ego-driven attainment. Spiritual progress, unlike material growth is not a process of accumulation but one of "letting go". Work or kriya means constancy of purpose, being in touch with the core of one's inner being, never losing sight of the soul.

Again, when such things are put to words, they sound unnecessarily complicated. But then again, words are but imperfect expressions of the soul; they only serve to point to the Truth. Truth is ultimately, something to be perceived and experienced. It's like humour: a joke loses its impact when you try to "explain" it.

All the words that I've written mean nothing if there do not trigger that spark of realization inside, no matter how faint. It is this spark that grows slowly, day by day, gradually, turning into a steady illumination at first, and then spreading into a dazzling radiance; a radiance that is the true nature of the effulgent soul.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mental Static

Mental Static

The extremely sparse entries in my blog recently is an indication of how hectic my work schedule has been this year. But that's alright for I always enjoy making full use of my time. My only regret is that I won't get a chance to travel to Jakarta before 2005 ends.

I spent the entire weekend doing some programming work. It has been a long time since I've done any software development but slowly, I'm regaining my old touch again. As long as I'm given a few uninterrupted days of quiet work, I can pick up any programming language. But alas "uninterrupted days" have become such a luxury lately!

It's probably not very healthy for me to be always working over weekends but I've kind of turned it into a habit. Weekends are the only time when I can be "uninterrupted". The week is starting again, so here comes another tsunami of SMSes, phonecalls and e-mails!

The best way to handle work-related stress is to see work as just a series of actions that need to be performed, irrespective of who you are dealing with. If we only focus on the task at hand and not worry too much about the response and reaction of the people whom we have to work with, work becomes less of a pressure. I've given the analogy of a craftsman at work before as the model to follow.

It is people that gives you stress, not work. You are afraid that your boss will be mad at you if you are late in submitting your report; you are afraid that your peers will look down on the quality of your work, you are afraid to be embarassed in front of your colleagues--all these things contribute to stress. It is your ego's reaction to the world that gives you so much pain, nothing else. So get rid of it.

Stress is a mental thing. It is a disease peculiar to the modern man because we have consciously chosen to lead a mental life. Animals don't face stress because they react to the world instinctively. We react to the world mentally: the result is fear, worry and stress.

An animal in danger will instinctively fight or take flight, depending on the enemy. Life is simple. Animals never commit suicide. They just live and die. The average modern man is rarely in mortal danger but somehow he makes a big fuss about dying and spends his entire life worrying about it. I'm not saying that we should be driven by our animal desires--these are usually the least of our problems--but it is craving of the mind, that incessant mental noise that is the cause of so much of our problems.

Our brains, in its "normal" mode of operation is like a short-wave radio with poor reception--full of irritating static. If we know how to eliminate it, we will achieve a much greater level of creativity and efficiency. If you are one of those who suffer from this man-made mental disease called stress, then you should know that the cause of it is nothing external but the incessant static in your head caused by compulsive negative thinking.

How do you reduce this mental static?

First, recognize that it is static. Any thought that is not creative or life-enhancing, is potentially noise. Observe the thoughts that arise in your head: how many percent of them are either negative or fear-driven? Some people have a habit of constantly criticizing the world around them: their backstabbing colleagues, their stupid customers, the incompetent government. These comments usually don't serve any useful purpose except to elevate the ego; it is merely an indirect way of emphasizing your own superiority: "I'm not like those ignorant masses". "I'm smarter than them". "I've done more than them".

After a while you'll recognize how repetitive your thoughts are. Nothing much that is new actually arises in your mind--it's the same trite negative thoughts playing itself again and again like an old record. Once you see this pattern, you've gained a step further in curing yourself of this chronic mental disease.

As long as this static occupies the greater part of your mental bandwidth, your mind will forever be operating in a degraded mode. So to regain the creative dynamism of your mind, get rid of this static first!

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Diamond Soul

A Diamond Soul

When I was a secondary school student, organic chemistry was one of my favourite subjects. I found the study of carbon-based compounds quite fascinating because there are endless variations in the way carbon combines with other elements. Carbon is also the basic building block that forms all life on this planet.

At one time in the evolution of the universe, there were no carbon. The element of carbon was formed in what is called the "triple-alpha process", where three helium atoms fuse to form carbon, deep in the interior of stars during a particular phase in their evolution. So we have to thank the stars for the abundance of life that we see around us. No one puts it more eloquently than the late American astronomer Carl Sagan: "We are star-stuff, harvesting star-light".

Carbon is a restless element. With its ability to form four covalent bonds with almost every other element especially hidrogen and oxygen, it is present everywhere in the air, sea and the earth. The blueprint of life itself, the DNA, is essentially a carbon polymer, made up of four nucleotides--guanine, adenine, cytosine and thymine ("GATTACA"). In other words, carbon is not only the building block of life, it is also Nature's "memory"--providing a persistent mechanism to encode, store and transmit information to create the multitude of lifeforms on this planet.

Why am I writing about carbon? Well, I find that we who are carbon-based creatures, exhibit some of carbon's natural tendencies too. We are eternally restless. Like carbon, we are always trying to search for perfection through external relationships. We search for the perfect life partner; we want a work environment where we can express our abilities to the fullest; we want friends who understand us and whom we can talk to--we want to shape our environment through our actions and relationships so that we can be "happy".

In the process, we are constantly frustrated because the world of form is never permanent. Happiness eludes us because no relationship can bring complete satisfaction. Our relationshp with the external world repeatedly exposes the imperfections that we carry inside. So we keep on trying to shape and reshape our bonds with the people around us, in the hope that there is a perfect combination of relationships that work. Unfortunately other people are trying to do the same too; what is perfect for you may not be perfect for other people.The whole of human history is but a neverending process of bonding and unbonding between people to find happiness and perfection.

Under intense pressure and heat, carbon turns into a crystal and becomes a diamond. In a diamond, carbon bonds with itself--each carbon atom bonds with four other carbon elements and forms a 3-D lattice of tetrahedrons--the most durable compound that can be found in nature. If there's such a thing as perfection in nature, it has to be diamonds. It is almost indestructible, yet translucent to light. Carbon finally finds its peace, within itself, by becoming a diamond. To borrow Eckhart Tolle's words, diamond is the stone's enlightenment.

We cannot find true happiness by manipulating the external world. Like carbon atoms, one day, we will have to realize that what is required is an inner transformation; a new way of looking at the world from inside-out which will bring inner and external harmony. We have to find peace within ourselves first. We have to quell the restless promptings of the ego and understand the imperfections that we harbour within.

Perhaps like diamonds too, we will have to go undergo intense pressure and pain before the soul can be transformed into something that is at peace with itself. A perfect soul, like a crystal, allows Divine Light to shine through. It exists in complete harmony with the universe, because it does not need to hold anything inside.

How do we attain that? Ask yourself, what is holding your peace inside? Is it your fear? You insecurity? Your ego? Why do you need the external world to acknowledge you before you can find happiness? Let them go. They can only impede the flow of Divine Light. Allow your soul to find its peace from within, and let yourself be guided by your inner purpose.

Allow that diamond within your soul to form.

Monday, December 05, 2005

One Moment at a Time

One Moment at a Time

It started raining early this morning. Usually a wet Monday morning would make the traffic crawl at snail's pace but thank God I do not have to join the rest of the city folks in the mad rush to work.

Before the events of the day overwhelm us, it is good to remind ourselves of what's important and what's not. Most of the things that we worry about in our daily lives are actually not that important. They are usually things that matter to the ego, and nothing more. They stem from a need to acquire more, to satisfy an ego that can never be satiated. Realizing this helps us put things into perspective.

Why do we go to work with so much anxiety in our minds? We think of all the unfinished work from last week, the meetings where we have to face the scrutiny of our peers and superiors and the thousand and one petty little things that add up to what we call stress. Collectively these things weigh down heavily on our minds.

We often forget the fact that no matter how much work or responsibilities that we have to fulfill, at any moment in time, we can only do one thing. Nothing more, nothing less. The one thing that you have to do is--whatever you are doing now.

Ensuring quality in whatever we are doing requires presence and peace of mind. If we contaminate the present with worries about the future, then we can never produce quality work. We are merely sacrificing the quality of the present moment to consider a hypothetical future that might not even occur.

The present moment is the seed for all future outcomes. The seed does not worry about how tall it will grow into when it becomes a tree or how many fruits it will bear in the future. It just grows. Simply water the seed of the present with right-minded attention and intention, and the creative forces of the universe will do the rest.

The processor in your laptop or desktop computer only executes one instruction at a time, even though on the screen, it appears to be doing a lot of things simultaneously. The processor does not "hurry". It executes at a regular clock speed, one instruction at a time, while you curse over how slow your Internet connection is.

No matter how difficult a position you are in now, at any moment in time, you can only do one thing. Execute that one thing well, without fuss. And move on to the next thing. Any other response is a merely a reflection of your need for self-pity, your identification with the Victim archetype and your ego's need to be praised and recognized.

Why make the present complicated? Take it, one moment at a time. And allow it to realize the fullness of its potential.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Lunch with the Professor

Lunch with the Professor

Last week I had lunch with an old university mate of mine who is now the dean of the faculty of engineering at a local university. I haven't met him for a very long time and I remember him as someone who is very passionate about his academic profession and maintains a very disciplined lifestyle.

Like me, he is also a "confirmed bachelor". Recalling the austere lifestyle that he used to keep, I jokingly told him that I'm becoming more and more like him these days--going to bed early and waking at 4.00am in the morning. He told me that he still keeps his old habits. We both agreed that the early hours of the morning are the best time to work.

I wanted to find out from him if his engineering faculty produces the kind of quality graduates that our former alma mater used to produce. He understood what I meant. Under-graduates today grew up in a different world: they are probably better off, they have better facilities and they also have more distractions to deal with--satellite TV, computers and the Internet.

Today's undergraduates are more computer savvy and even smarter in many ways, but unfortunately they are also deprived of the opportunity to learn to be self-starters and to make do with very little. Our generation did not have access to instant information over the Internet or the latest software tools but we were well-grounded in the basics: mathematics, mechanics and electromagnetics. That became part of our DNA. When we came out to work, we could pick up anything very easily because we had a strong foundation, and we did not expect to be spoon-fed.

In the end, it is not the content which you have acquired in school that matters, it is the nimbleness of the brain, the creativity and the thinking skills that you've learnt to apply that make all the difference.

My professor friend seemed to be happy with his job. He promised to help me should I need to hire fresh graduates of calibre from his faculty in the future. He also advised me to follow his practice of taking at least a week off from work every year. He told me of his exicting trip to the Silk Road which he made last year.

Ah, a vacation! That's something that I definitely need. In an instant, my mind raced to my beloved Indonesia again: I see vistas of lush green valleys, farmers working in the fields and I hear strains of soft Sundanese music, and I see myself in a slow train, snaking its way into its volcanic heartland...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Way of Nature

The Way of Nature

It's that time of the year when it drizzles everyday. I love it because it is a relieve from the usual tropical heat, plus it brings out the pleasant smell of damp earth and grass, evoking nostalgic memories of childhood...

As a kid, I used to love playing soccer in the rain. Ah, those wonderful days full of Wordsworthian delight. We were closer to nature then: we knew the night sky so well--Orion's belt, the Big Dipper, the glitter of Venus above the horizon and the many metamorphoses of the moon.

Here in the city, we rarely even look up to the night sky. We have forgotten about the moon and the stars; we have lost our connection with nature. We are like lost children of God.

How do we regain our connection with the universe? How do we rediscover the Divine Innocence which we all possess inside?

We must always remember that we are part of that universal intelligence, that creative force that drives the evolution of the universe. "The force that through the green fuse, drives the flower, drives my green age...", writes Dylan Thomas.

We must tune ourselves to that creative force and understand its nature. We must listen to that inner silence that speaks. We must follow the promptings of the spirit. We must let this force drive whatever we do so that our work will bloom like flowers too.

We must learn from nature and not abuse it. We and the universe are not separate: we are one. We must take time off the TV, the computer, the shopping malls and see that out there, nature has provided us with wonderful sights to behold. Everything that we need to know--the infinite wisdom of God--is reflected in nature, if we care to observe and learn.

Who accepts nature's flow becomes all-cherishing;
Being all-cherishing he becomes impartial;
Being impartial he becomes magnanimous;
Being magnanimous he becomes natural;
Being natural he becomes one with the Way (or Tao);
Being one with the Way he becomes immortal:
Though his body will decay, the Way will not.

- from the Tao Te Ching.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Anchored in the Present

Anchored in the Present

Time to reflect. Time to be anchored in the present. Time to remain still, at least for a short while.

It's always the future that gives us stress. Whenever we worry about something, it is always something that's in the future--never the past, because it is simply impossible to worry about the past. It is gone. It cannot be undone anymore. The past only gives us regret, guilt, pain and anger; the future, worry and fear.

The key to peace of mind then is to remain anchored in the present. At any moment in time, we we are. The future is not here yet, the past cannot touch us anymore. So we should never tar the perfection of the moment by dwelling on the baggage of the past nor the burden of the future. The present is what matters and the present is perfect because you are alright, right now. Are you not?

Worry and fear happens when we anticipate the worst; when we are attached to the fate of the physical body and the ego. Our ultimate worry is death--the final annihilation of the body; and for the rest of the time we worry about things that affect the ego--failure, humiliation and rejection.

What does it mean to be "anchored in the present"? Don't we need to at least plan for the future?

Yes, we certainly do. But effective planning is still an activity that is anchored in the present. True "planning" is an act of achieving a state of preparedness--a conscious state where one perceives all the dynamic forces that are at currently at work and willing oneself to move in a direction where one's energy and resources are channelled in the most creative and effective manner.

The sailor senses the winds and the currents and adjusts his sail and rudder in the most optimal position and remain ever-ready to readjust them again show there be a shift in nature's forces. The sailor, at any moment in time, is "anchored in the present". He has to be in such a state, to be able to "plan" his next step.

The present is always neutral of emotions--negative or positive ones. Even when you say you are "very happy now", what you actually mean is that you are very happy now compared to how you felt in the past (or the future, because whatever that is pleasant now can never last forever). Emotions only arise when we compare the present with the past or the future. Whenever the mind starts to compare, hope or desire something, mental tension is created and waves of emotions are generated.

When a thought arises in the mind, it is always about something in the past or the future. If we are able to just perceive this very moment--our immediate sense of being and presence--without a thought of the past or future, then we are completely at peace with the universe. This is the bliss that transcends pain and pleasure--the enlightened state that all mystics seek for.

Unenlightened beings such as we only get to catch glimpses of the present--what spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls the "Now" and medical-turned-spiritual health doctor Deepak Chopra calls the "gap between thoughts". That is why, most of us are seldom at peace: We simply worry (future), fear (future), regret (past) and complain (past and future) too much. So starting now, learn to anchor yourself to the present. Now.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Spiritual Architecture

Spiritual Architecture

The biggest obstacle faced by anyone along the spiritual path is the intellectual ego. A person who is religious can easily learn to become outwardly charitable in his conduct but as he progresses spiritually, he begins to acquire a certain pride in his spiritual knowledge; he begins to think of himself as morally and intellectually superior to other people. And this becomes the biggest obstacle to his further progress.

The ego works in many devious ways. At its most basic form, it manifests itself as physical and emotional selfishness. It wants to acquire more and more for itself. But as a person learns to become more selfless through religious practices (at least on the material level), the ego then attempts to find a new vehicle for perpetrating itself.

So it creates a new ego-center, a mental form or identity, which it slowly strenghtens until the person becomes completely identified with it. "I am a religious person", he tells himself. And suddenly those who do not choose the path he took are seen as "lesser beings"--lost souls who have to be led to the right path.

This person, driven by his new ego vehicle, begins to find "pleasure" in criticizing other people who do not conform to his view of life. He embarks on a crusade against the supposed evils of the world. He elevates himself to a position of self-importance and takes it as his mission to save the world. He thinks he is right and others are wrong.

We must always be aware that the religious path is one that has to be tread very carefully because it can be a very slippery one indeed. Once a person gains certain spiritual insights, he begins to think he has achieved the ultimate. I've likened it to the experience of first love. The world suddenly reveals itself in dazzling beauty and clarity. He does not believe he could be wrong, or others could also be right, simply because it feels so damn right inside.

Throughout history, many religions in the world have bred such individuals. These individuals are more attached to the external forms of their religion because it gives them a strong sense of identity--something that the ego loves. The ego will do anything to defend its identity, even to the extent of killing others.

Every individual will have moments ini his life when he awakens to the spiritual calling. Some encounter such moments during times of crisis; others are driven by a deep yearning from inside which they cannot explain. And when that happens, the old ego realizes that it faces annihilation; so it creates and latches on to a new intellectual or mental identity. An old label is cast off only for a new one to be acquired. And the person progresses no more because his consciousness is now restricted by his new "religious" identity.

All organized religions are "best practices" or "frameworks" that have worked well at certain times and places in history to guide people along the spiritual path. They are like the scaffoldings that need to be in place for the construction of a building to be possible. But we must always remember not to confuse the scaffolding with the building.

Ultimately, when the building is done, it does not really matter what type of scaffolding was used in its construction. We will then realize that, all this while, we have been constructing the same building, the same house or worship, the same divine temple, because all of us, either consciously or unconsciously, have been guided from within, by the same spiritual architecture.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Beginning, Middle and End

Beginning, Middle and End

It looks like the problem I had with my notebook PC wasn't thorough solved by HP; I had to return it back to the service center because it was still crashing on me. They'll need another 3 days to get it fixed. And hopefully they can fully pinpoint the real problem now.

So, I'm handicapped again without my computer. But luckily, my Sun workstation is now working beautifully after I've connected my new Samsung LCD monitor to its NVIDIA graphics card. Now I have a professional Java development environment set up. It'll keep me occupied while my notebook is being fixed.

Lots of blog ideas have been floating around in my head for the past few days; I just didn't have the time to sit and write them down with all the problems that I had with my notebook and other worldly matters that I had to attend to.

Every word, every sentence we write is an act of creation. That is why I see writing as a wonderful thing. Something intangible from the mind is brought into existence through the act of writing and by doing so, powerful forces are set into motion.

The mind is always gushing with ideas; if you do not give them expression, its flow will be impeded. The more you write, the more ideas will come to you because it is the natural state of the mind to be creative, provided that you make the effort to create. Once the creative wheels start spinning, it's difficult to make them stop; they will only gather momentum.

So in everything we do, it is important that we allow ourselves some easy "latch-on" points. Get started first. Tackle the details later. A lot of people get blocked before they even start doing anything because of anxiety and doubt. Write the first sentence. One sentence. I'm sure we can all do that. And then see what happens. Like what Hemingway advised: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know."

Whenever I'm preparing a new Powerpoint presentation, I'll always start with an agenda slide: Point one: Introduction; point two: whatever the subject is; point three: Summary. Everything has a beginning, middle and end. That's the rhythm of the universe: rising, peaking, falling. Movies, plays, books--every work of art follows this simple structure.

This three-act structure is good because it gives the audience a natural sense of comfort. They get eased slowly into the subject through the introduction; then they are served the heavy "main course" before everything is finally tied up nicely in the end. You create a sense of expectation (beginning), you fulfill it (middle) and then at the end you remind the audience how all the expectations have been fulfilled (end). That leaves the audience with a sense of satisfaction.

A presentation usual fails when the presenter does not sense this natural rhythm in the audience. Sometimes they stretch the introduction too long, creating a prolonged sense of expectation and then finding themselves short of time to fulfil it. Or sometimes they over-stretch the middle part when the attention of the audience has already reached saturation point and is expecting an ending.

Well, maybe I'm already over-stretching my point in this particular blog entry! Time to end it. And remember, every ending is also a beginning to something new--and the creative wheels continue spinning...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Worldly Matters

Worldly Matters

I have been occupied with more "worldly" matters for the past couple of days: My notebook PC had been crashing on me intermittently. Even after I had reinstalled the operating system, it was still giving me the blue screen of death. My worst fear was confirmed after I sent it to the HP service center: it was a hardware problem. I had to replace the system board. Forked out about a thousand ringgit to get the thing fixed. Even had to pay extra for same-day "express service".

Anyway, I'm now typing these words on the "new" system. With my old hard-disk completely wiped out, I had to go through the hassle of reinstalling everything again from scratch. But fortunately I do keep proper backups of all my work. Well, maybe it's good to start with a clean slate again; like what I've blogged something back before: a good way to clear one's mind is to clear one's surroundings first.

I also have another new toy with me: A spanking new, mean-looking Ultra 20, Sun's new 2.6GHz Opteron-based workstation running Solaris, which was loaned to me for a project. Solaris used to be my preferred working environment (I still have a Sparcstation 5 workstation gathering dust in my bedroom) but it's been a long time since I lay my hands on a Unix machine.

I'm a bit embarassed to admit that I was (and in many ways still am), a PC illiterate--I never learned how to use a PC until my third year at the university! And when I started working, I was doing development work on Unix platforms. So I never had a chance to work with PCs. For a long time, I actually wrote proposals using the character-based vi editor!

Only when I started doing regional work and was required to travel quite often did I start using a Windows laptop. Since then I haven't really touched a Unix system. All I ever do these days is produce thick Word documents and fancy Powerpoint presentations. I suppose that's what "consultants" do.

So for a change, I intend to start polishing up my Unix and Java skills again for my next project. The Sun workstation will be my second home from now onwards.

My trip next week to Sri Lanka has been postponed. I was actually looking forward to go there to sample the atmostphere before the Presidential Election. But now, I'm not sure when I can go there again--there could be violence and curfews after the elections. We'll see.I guess I'll take the coming week to attend to some worldly matters: bills, banking, invoicing, shopping etc etc. I need to get a large LCD monitor too...

Yesterday, I was out for meetings and later had a few rounds of beer with friends until midnight. So I allowed myself the luxury of waking up a bit late this morning. But tomorrow, it'll be back to my 4am routine again. I'm beginning to look forward now to those sublime hours of silence before dawn--that womb of darkness from whence a new day breaks, slowly, releasing its weight of worldly cares on my stirring mortal frame...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Householder and the Renunciate

The Householder and the Renunciate

It's good to be able to blog early in the morning for a change. I've already worked for two hours since I woke up at 4am, and now I can hear the neighbourhood stirring: cars starting, reversing, mothers fussing over their school-going kids, the bustle of morning joggers and people walking their dogs.

The stillness of the morning is already broken but I'm glad to have awakened early today to enjoy at least two sacred, uninterrupted hours, graced in between by the pleasant call for prayer from the nearby mosque. It's good to be reminded daily of one's obbligations to the Almighty, especially early in the morning before one is overwhelmed by the maddening stress of a new working day.

It is a great challenge for the modern working man or woman to balance the material with the spiritual. But it is this balance that is the whole purpose of our living. A material life unguided by spiritual principles makes us feel empty, unsatisfied and aimless.

Yes, we will all have our material goals in life, but it will inevitably make us feel like we are living in a rat race--always competing, fighting and compromising on our core values. We achieve something--a cushy job, a house, a car--but yet we still feel unsatisfied.

Why is that so? Maybe we need a life partner; so we get one. And then we realize that it comes with a heavy price: you need a better paying job, a bigger car and a bigger house to support the family that you have built. It consumes your entire life. Happiness is suddenly limited to the "quality time" that you get to spend with your loved ones during weekends and holidays when the rest of the world is also trying to do the same thing. So the whole mass of humanity spills into shopping malls, parks and resorts during this time. Quality time.

Can a householder's life be guided by spiritual principles? Most certainly. I admire the values expounded in the Tirrukural--an ancient Tamil manual for virtuous living. There's an English translation written by the late Gurudeva, called the Weaver's Wisdom. Precept No. 45 says:
If a man masters the duties of married life,
what further merits could monkhood offer him?
No. 50:
He who rightly pursues the householder's life here on Earth
will be rightfully placed among the Gods there in Heaven.

By being a householder and through caring for one's family, one learns how to share and to love selflessly. These are virtues that are difficult for the sanyasin or renuntiate to learn. The renuntiate has to make extra efforts to master these virtues because he is not thrust into an environment that demands it. A family man is always thinking about the needs of his family. His ego, at least, expands to embrace a wider circle--his family.

The challenge that a householder faces is pressing material needs which makes him forget his spiritual roots. Sometimes neverending family strive caused by clashing demands between husband and wife can also knock one off course. Or one party's overpoweringly ego could warp the ecosystem of love in the family, to suit the person's selfish needs. The family then becomes a tool to be manipulated to feed the person's own ego. It is not a process of expansion anymore but one of sucking and draining. That is the danger that the householder has to watch out for.

The householder has to take these as spiritual challenges that help him to uncover the inner essence of his being--like the process of extracting precious minerals from dirt. Deep down inside, we all have a spiritual core. It is simply covered by the soil of selfish desires, which seeks to accumulate material things and to build false images of oneself.

One has to choose one's path to purge oneself of this outer dross. If you are a householder, then make full use of your opportunity to cultivate the virtues of selfless love. But beware of the pitfalls. If you are a sanyasin, dive deep into your inner core, and let love shine forth from within, like a divine lamp dispelling the darkness in the world.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Happiness List

The Happiness List

I've been starting my day very early for the past two weeks, waking up at 4.00am in the morning to start work. I think I'm going to try and keep this routine as I find that the early morning hours have been very productive ones; the mind is completely fresh and you are able to clock in four hours of undistracted work.

With four hours of work in the bag, even before the day begins, I feel extremely good for the rest of the day. Nothing makes me happier than having a productive day. But hang on, life isn't all about work, is it?

Now, let me think: what else makes me feel happy? Simple things make me happy. Let me make a happiness list: a morning jog, a nice glass of teh tarik, kopi tubruk and Indomie for breakfast in Jakarta, a movie at Block M Plaza, beer with friends, a nice bottle of red wine, a Liverpool win, a train journey and of course, a good book for company. There are certainly more in my happiness list but the point I want to make is that, these are usually simple things which don't cost a lot of money.

What about money itself? Well, I do feel happy whenever I see money credited into my bank account but I try not to work consciously for it. It's more fun if money is just treated as a "by-product" of what I do. So, receiving money from work always comes as a "pleasant surprise".

Having to run my own business, I do need to be conscious of money all the time. It can be a challenge to be constantly dealing with money-related matters and yet not being a slave to it. But I try to imagine business as a sport with profit and loss merely a "score" that I keep. Of course, you must also play all out to win!

We need to give ourselves lots of reasons and excuses to be happy. The longer the list, the better. Everytime you encounter something that makes you happy, you remind yourself how blessed you are. Finishing a blog entry always makes me happy too. When I checked my Blogger statistics, I realized that over the past two years that I have blogging, I've been blessed with happiness a total of 764 times. What a wonderful way to accumulate happiness!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

My Wonderful Co-Worker

My Wonderful Co-Worker

It's a week-long break for most people this week due to the double celebrations of Deepavali and Lebaran. I'm still maintaining my "batch processing" momentum, at least for another week. Perhaps after this project, I'll take it easy for the rest of the year.

I have not been able to blog that regularly this year due to my heavy workload. It's going to be like this at least for another year. Oh, how I wish I could blog everyday like what I used to do in Jakarta!

But I'm back in KL now and after more than a year, I've gotten used to the life here again. Life here poses a different kind of challenge to me: Keeping my stress level down, for instance. Especially when I'm driving. In Jakarta, I didn't have to drive because taxis and three-wheeler bajajs were cheap and available everywhere. Here in KL, one has no choice but to drive.

The traffic jams in Jakarta are much worst of course, but Indonesian drivers are a lot more patient than their Malaysian counterparts. Enough has been written about Malaysians' bad driving habits and I don't wish to repeat them here. These days, I always have an audiobook with me everytime I'm driving; not a single minute of my time on the road is wasted. So I'm not complaining.

To lead a stress-free life, one needs to learn how to let go. Most of the things in this world are beyond our control; so you just do what you can and let the universe decide the outcome. The unhappy people that I often meet are those who tend to find fault with others. Why should it be our problem when it is other people's fault?

We tend to forget that we all have a wonderful "assistant" at our disposal: God. Let Him be the judge of people's actions. Just "delegate" all your displeasures to Him and trust that He will do the needful. All you have to do is to concentrate on doing what you are supposed to do and God will take care of the nitty-gritty details for you--things like reward and punishment. This is exactly the principle behind karma yoga--work without any attachment to the fruits of your labour.

Sometimes I just imagine myself to be a worker in the factory production line: I'm assigned to do that one thing that I'm supposed to do. I just concentrate on achieving quality on my particular portion of the work and then pass it on to the next person on the assembly line: God.

If there's anyone who should be thoroughly stressed, it's God. Tireless, uncomplaining and eternally creative--how fortunate we all are to have a co-worker like Him!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

My Personal Classroom

My Personal Classroom

Experience is a great teacher. We all know that. Unfortunately this does not necessary mean that we are always able to extract the right lesson from every experience.

How then do we ensure that we gain the most from each and every experience that we encounter in life?

The best way to learn is to consciously play both the roles teacher and student. Learning and teaching are inseparable experiences--we absorb our lessons better when we learn with the intention to teach.

If you go to a lecture with the intention to just listen, your mind will probably be able to absorb 50% of the content; but if you go into a class knowing that you have to immediately relate what you have learnt to a friend who is not able to attend, your mind functions in a completely different mode: you have to understand and also figure out how to articulate what you have understood. That makes you learn much more effectively.

Similarly, we understand something better if we immediately apply what we have learned. Teaching is just another form of application. Learn and teach. If you have no one to listen to your teaching, then teach youself!

Which is why I am always in a "preaching mode" here in my blog :-) It is certainly not my main intention to dispense my half-cooked words of wisdom to the world--I am merely trying to learn and internalize what I'm writing about. I turn my life's experiences into lessons and then attempt to lecture myself into understanding.

My blog is my personal classroom, not a public rostrum. Here I am both the teacher and the student. But anyone is welcome to join the class, if they are inclined to do so. Well, oftentimes the student can also teach the teacher a thing or two. Learning is a two-way street.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wavelets in His Mind

Wavelets in His Mind

I have a habit of seeing everything in terms of energy. Every interaction between people is an exchange of energy. Love is an energy; so is hatred and anger. Every thought that occurs in the mind is like a small wavelet within a larger wave, which is our existence-- ripples in a vast ocean of energy.

Energy can be accumulated, channelled, transformed, transmuted, focussed and redirected. The wavelets of our thoughts can be built up through concentration, accumulating energy through the power of the will and through other external sources of energy to acquire the power of tsunamis.

Energy can be used for creation or destruction. How we use our personal store of energy determines the quality of our lives. Even if such an energy does not really exist physically in the real world, I will still find it a useful model to deal with the world. It's a convenient way of thinking.

Love is a special energy which we transmit to a specific person or group in a way that is nurturing and binding. This energy can however vary in terms of quality: love can range from lustful possessiveness to unconditional love. The love between lovers usually lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

Selfish love will never produce a stable relationship because one party is draining all the energy from the system. This inbalance will always cause the system to collapse. Some relationships/systems oscillate wildly, maintained by a fragile balance because both parties are jostling for power and are constantly testing each other's tolerance.

A healthy relationship between a man and a woman is one where the energy transmitted by both parties combines, synergizes and transmutes into something higher and more refined; it becomes a source of radiance. This energy spills over to the people around them--family and friends--enveloping them with a nurturing warmth.

A person with mental strengh has the ability to channel his energy to a specific point or purpose. It makes his actions more effective. Such a strength is built through the power of concentration, through the precision of of his thoughts. The more precise our thoughts are, the clearer our intentions, the purer the energy transmitted.

At some point in our spiritual development, we will come to the realization that from a macroscopic perspective, our lives are but tiny fluctations in a universal ocean of energy. We will come to understand that what we call God is but the source of emanation of this universal energy. We are, in the larger scheme of things, small wavelets in His infinite mind.

We shall all rise and flicker momentarily--this local agglomeration of matter, space and time--to return back to that infinite ocean, that is our source.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Perfect Pebbles

Perfect Pebbles

I haven't emerged from my "batch processing" mode yet but I guess I can spare half-an-hour to deposit my thoughts in cyberspace. Sometimes when you are facing the computer screen with your fingers poised over the keyboard, you don't exactly know what to type. The only way to kick-start your thinking process is to just let your fingers do the thinking...

Pebbles. Smooth pebbles. Why are pebbles on the river bed so smooth?

Well, of course they are smooth because they have been eroded by the incessant currents of the river over a long period of time. Probably these pebbles had very sharp jagged edges in the beginning, but the torrents of time had already smoothened all their roughness.

The river needed a lot of "patience" to tame these rough pebbles. It had to find ways to "work around" them initially. But because of its infinite patience, it slowly chipped away at their protruding edges. The pebbles had to suffer "pain" from this incessant friction but ultimate they had to learn the way of the river. Pebbles and river now live in complete harmony with each other.

That's how our souls evolve too. We all have sharp edges which we so boldly thrust against the world. We think the world will make way for us. Only after we get ourselves repeated bruised, do we learn to accept that our viewpoint--no matter how right it feels inside--is not always the correct one. We learn the virtues of uncertainty. We learn how to work around obstacles. We learn to give and take.

We learn that all the pain that we go through in life carries deep lessons. Every pain reveals a roughness in the soul which requires polishing. We must always ask ourselves: Why do we feel pain? Is it because of our pride? Our stubborness? Our selfishness? It is because of our need to control things that are beyond our control?

If we learn our lessons of pain well, we will know where our sharp edges are. We let them go. We release these lumps of stagnant energy so that we may be free to transform ourselves for the better.

And slowly, over time, after many lessons of pain, our souls too will be as smooth, chaste and perfect as those shiny pebbles lying in perfect bliss on the river bed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

In Batch Processing Mode

In Batch Processing Mode

Planning to start a new routine for the coming days (and possibly weeks): go to bed early and start work early the next day. You see, I'm still trying to fine tune my day for maximum productivity--I want to ensure that I reserve my most productive (and hopefully creative) hours during the day for "batch processing" work, and leave the rest for miscellaneous activities.

I categorize activities that constitute "work" into two categories: online transaction processing (OLTP) and batch processing. Every working person has to deal with both. The former are those "transactional" type of activities such as meetings, phonecalls, e-mails, SMS and nowadays Skype and online chat sessions.

These OLTP processes are relatively short duration "request-respond" type of tasks. A greater part of our working hours is dedicated to these activities. They are only taxing when the transaction rates are high--e.g. trying to squeeze as many meetings as possible into one day.

However, OLTP processing are easier to handle in a sense that, you usually don't have to prepare too much--you just think on your feet and respond immediately. OLTP can come in a varied mix: a con-call, followed by an SMS response and then a quick meeting at Starbucks downstairs and then back to the office to send off a fax. They can even happen in parallel (most people send and receive text messages during meetings these days). No problem.

The difficult tasks are the batch processing ones. This include any kind of lengthy writing work--reports, articles, papers--and deep analytical work. You need a stretch of uninterrupted time--a whole day or a whole week or months even. You need research, you need inspiration. You need time to immerse yourself into the subject before you can settle down to work.

You cannot for example, write your article or report for five minutes and then interrupt yourself to make a phone-call for the next ten minutes before resuming exactly from where you left off. Your train of thoughts would have already been disrupted. Your mood is already spoilt. You need to start all over again. That's what I mean by batch processing.

In data centers, you typically don't mix the two workloads together in one server because you can only optimize computing resources for one type of job at any one time. Most data centers do their batch processing runs at night. Which is the same reason why some people are forced to work late into the night--you don't get interrupted so much.

But unfortunately we are not machines that can perform consistently throughout the day. The mind gets tired. It's difficult to do lots of transaction processing for the whole day and then go home and be expected to be equally productive doing batch jobs.

Emotions affect us too. If you have just concluded a very heated meeting, you are certainly not able to plunge immediately into writing a thesis on the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. Your head will still be swirling with thoughts and emotions. You'll most likely pick up the phone to call a friend to vent your frustrations; or if you are a geek, you'd be inclined to pour everything out in your blog.

What I've been trying to do is to lump all OLTP work for the week, if possible into one or two days and leave the rest for batch processing. But you can only schedule things that are within your control that way; you cannot stop people from calling, texting and interrupting you during your batch processing days.

I've been thinking maybe, early morning rather than late at night would be the most conducive for doing batch processing work. You go to bed early and your mind will be fresh when you wake up at 4.00am. There'll certainly be no interruptions during that time (hopefully!). So, a few quality hours of batch processing followed by OLTP for the rest of the day.

I woke up at 4.00am this morning and was able to put in some productive work. Planning to do the same again tomorrow morning. It's getting late--I've got to go and hit the sack now. Goodnight!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Night's Plutonian Shore

Night's Plutonian Shore

I managed to spend time this morning jogging around the neighbourhood park today. Feel so much fresher after some exercise. If I don't sleep too late tonight, I'll probably try and wake up early for another session tomorrow morning.

My productivity today is about average. But the day is not done yet--I'm only taking a short break to deposit my random thoughts into cyberspace. There's another long night of work ahead.

Not sure what I'm going to write today but as usual I'll just ramble on until I hit a topic. Or maybe I'll pull out one of my books and see if I can dive into any interesting passages for inspiration...

Ah, let's talk about Poe. When I was a teenager, I loved reading Edgar Allan Poe. I still do. Every now and then I'll reread one of his Tales of Mystery and Imagination and immerse myself in one of his dark and atmospheric pieces. As a schoolboy, I had tried to imitate his style in my essays. My English teachers were of course not amused with my morbid imagery and ridiculously ornate sentences!

Some of my favourite stories by Poe include Berenice ("Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of the earth is multiform"), the Pit and the Pendulum ("I was sick -- sick unto death with that long agony"), The Cask of Amontillado ("I must not only punish but punish with impunity"), The Masque of the Red Death ("Blood was its Avatar and its seal --the redness and the horror of blood") and The Tell-Tale Heart ("here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!"). Of course, the famous "Raven" poem is also a personal favourite of mine ("quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore'").

I've always been intrigued by Poe's masterful ability to blend sound and imagery in words to such great effect. It is sheer pleasure to read his works aloud. In fact I think both his prose and poems are meant to be read aloud.

In my computer notebook, I keep a copy of The Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection--a wonderful selection of his most popular stories, dramatized by the booming voices of Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone. No one could evoke the terror and mystery of his stories better than these two actors.

Now whenever I feel a bit weak and weary from working late into the night, I'd play my Poe audiobook and allow myself to be transported into his strange world--a phantasmagoric world so terrifying and yet so nostalgically familiar to me; and then all that wonderment of my boyhood years would come back; and slowly, I'd allow myself to drift deeper and deeper, into the dark and haunted recessess of my mind, into that nether-realm of half-conscious dreaming, into Night's Plutonian Shore...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Craftsman at Work

The Craftsman at Work

A weekend of continuous work leaves me quite exhausted indeed. I hope to find some time to go jogging again this coming week--it's something that I haven't been able to do very regularly these days.

Come to think of it, it has been a long time since I had the time to go for a long and unhurried breakfast with the morning papers. I used to do that a lot when I was working in Singapore. At that time (and like now), I was working mostly from home.

When you work from home, it usually means that you are virtually working the whole day. The good thing is that your time is more flexible and you don't have to join the mad rush to work every morning. However this flexibility can also be easily abused if one does not have the necessary self-discipline.

Self-discipline is so critical to anyone who wants to accomplish any kind of job. But how does one supervise oneself? Isn't that close to an impossible task?

I use my favourite pain and pleasure technique again. There must be enough push (pain) and pull (pleasure) factors to drive one forward. I constantly remind myself of all the pleasure that I could enjoy once I accomplish something. It is important that this pleasure is made vivid and real in one's mind, so that it is enticing enough. The pleasure could be material (money), emotional (sense of pride and accomplishment) or spiritual (success in subduing one's negative impulses).

The push factors are usually pretty clear: pressure from the customer or your boss, plus the ever-present need to make ends meet. For some, the fear of failure (resulting in loss of face or pride) is another big push factor.

But once the twin forces of pain and pleasure are set into motion, you are quite assured of not remaining static. It is as if you are on auto-pilot, provided that you remain in conscious contact with the push/pull forces.

Because work usually means making sacrifices for some future pleasure, the immediate "pleasure"--such as procrastination--can often be a much greater pull. One can counter this by organizing small rewards--like allowing yourself to watch your favourite show on TV--upon finishing a chunk of work. Break up a huge job into small chunks of tasks, with rewards thrown in upon their completion. That way the long journey to completion will not feel so tedious.

I also like to see work as a spiritual cleansing exercise. In a previous posting, I used the paradigm of a "workout" to describe the benefits of working. That way, work is never a pressure-filled experience. It is an act of meditation. How is that so?

If you watch a skilled craftsman at work closely. say an engraver or even a cobbler, you will find that his motions are never hurried. He works at a steady pace and there's a certain harmonious ease in the way he moves. He is completely at peace with his surroundings.

This is what I mean by work being an act of meditation: the worker and the work fuse into one. That's the state of mind that I want to achieve whenever I'm working--the mind of a craftsman deeply and happily engrossed in his task.

Well, I must confess that I don't always succeed. I'm definitely not a craftsman yet in what I do. But I'm working on it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Silencing the Mind

Silencing the Mind

I need a moment of silence--here and now--to center myself again.


I've extolled the virtues of silence before. We often think of life as being filled with activities and neglect the "empty spaces" between them. We always feel that if we are not actively doing something or talking to someone, we are not being useful. How mistaken we are!

I've said it before in a previous posting: it is in moments of silence that wisdom arises. But why is that so?

We cannot talk ourselves into becoming a wiser person. There must a time when talking has to stop and the mind--both conscious and subconscious--are allowed to assimilate the information. The body regenerates itself when we rest; the human body in general is self-healing, we just need to give it the opportunity (by not stressing it further through rest and sleep) to allow it to do its work.

The mind works in a similar fashion. You can pump all the information in the world into your brain, but at some point it will tire. When tiredness is felt, whether mentally or physically, the mind and the body is telling us that it needs time to do housekeeping. The brain needs to subconsciously file, compare and assimilate the information received. Mental digestion takes place best when all input is temporarily halted.

The subconscious mind kicks into high-gear when all sensory inputs are minimized. All creative ideas arise deep from the subconscious. The subconscious mind, when fully developed, taps into the universal creative wellspring, into the collective unconscious. The silent mind tunes in to the natural frequency of the universe.

Monks regularly take vows of silence. The great Mahatma Gandhi during his lifetime, used to spend one day of the week in complete silence. People around him would communicate with him on that day through written notes.

The divine in all of us unfolds when we have successfully quieten down the mental noise inside. Sit down and start listening to that noise. How do you make it go away?

Well, you just let it go away naturally by not adding more noise to it.

Observe it: the noise is but residual thoughts, expressions of hope and desire, likes and dislikes--all running wild inside your head like an unruly class of students when the teacher is not around.

When you are able to see how "childish" these noisy thoughts are, then you will slowly let them go. Without the support you give them, they lose energy very quickly and die away. You must realize that they are all sustained by you--by the promptings of your ego.

Let them go. Let your mind reconnect to its creative wellspring. And watch how it blooms.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Why I Blog

Why I Blog

When you blog, you are actually adding another dimension to you life: you start a parallel "lifestream" in cyberspace. This lifestream serves to transform and counter-balance your life in meatspace, enriching it in the process.

One might ask: What's the difference between blogging and keeping a personal diary? In many ways a blog is like a diary but with one major difference--it is public. How you conduct yourself in public is very different from the way you behave in private.

In meatspace, you have a public life and a private life and they are firewalled from one another. Only close friends and loved ones are allowed entry into your private life. In cyberspace, you allow anyone to enter your "private" life but it is not exactly private because you are fully aware that it is publicly accessible.

So your blog adds a third dimension to your life--something that is private, yet public at the same time. It is something that is both outward-facing yet introspective. What occurs daily in your life is reflected, analyzed and resolved in your blog; the result of that reflection is then brought back into your real life, altering it in unexpected ways.

The effect is different from writing in a diary because your views and reflections do not only affect you, but also people who read your blog. Even if no one reads your blog, the effect is still there because you will always assume that you are writing to an audience. This extra element makes all the difference. You are always conscious of the fact that you are in interaction mode with the external world.

Blogging is like singing in the bathroom--it's a private affair but you put all the verve and zest into the act as if you are performing in public. Whereas writing in one's personal diary is like humming your favourite tune softly to yourself--you are not performing.

My style of blogging is generally formal, perhaps even dull. I also don't like to publicize my blog because I think my "bathroom singing" is too unpolished--like preliminary sketches that an artist makes before commiting paint to canvas. It is certainly not of publication quality. But at the same time, I don't mind other people perusing my rough sketches--if they are interested enough to do so. They might have something interesting to point out to me and help me improve both my writing and thinking in the process.

I am happy blogging in a quiet corner of cyberspace. It puts me at ease: I am neither obligated nor interested to comment on the latest political developments or issues. To me that area is already very well-covered in blogosphere. I am happy reading what others have to say and I reserve my right to agree or disagree.

I blog to develop my ideas further--exactly like the rough sketches that an artist makes. I have a few favourite themes which I come back to again and again--a bit like the improvisations of a jazz musician or variations on a theme that many classical composers like Beethoven produce. Each piece develops an idea further--there's always an intent to explore, to study and to understand.

To me, it is important to be spontaneous yet disciplined when blogging. This fomality prevents my blog from degenerating into an unrestrained platform for venting frustrations. I do have lots of things to vent like everyone else but I find it more productive to transform that need into something with creative possibilities.

There's another important reason why I blog--it gives me a daily sense of accomplishment. Every day that I am able to blog is a good day. It means that my day is not wasted. At the very least, I managed to leave a trace of my thoughts in cyberspace for posterity.

I blogged today--so it is another good day!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Glimpse of the Soul

A Glimpse of the Soul

I don't want to write anything heavy today. So let's discuss something light and easy, something which everyone loves: music.

Like everyone else, I carry a personal collection of MP3 music in my notebook. Whenever I feel tired working or when I'm unable to concentrate on my work, I'll plug in my earphones and listen to some of my favourite albums. As one might expected, my taste in music is pretty eclectic. Here's a sampling of what I keep in my MP3 folder:

1. All my favourite Dewa albums:
- Bintang Lima
- Cintailah Cinta
- Laskar Cinta

- They never fail to bring back sweet memories of Indonesia to me.
- Songs like Mistikus Cinta and Risalah Hati always make me misty-eyed

2. Chopin's Nocturnes - by Sandor Falvay
- brings me back to my childhood of moonlit nights and pastoral splendour

3. Kini - Feminin (anyone still remembers them???)
- evokes memories of a specific period in my life when I was so full of youthful exuberance

4. Always in My Heart - Los Indios Tabajaras
- No, I'm not that old, but for some reason I have a deep nostalgia for the 60s
- I also love this album because Wong Kar Wai used it as soundtrack music for Days of Being Wild

5. Chant I, II and III - Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos
- I use Gregorian Chants to put myself immediately into a meditative state of mind
- comes in handy whenever I find it difficult to concentrate on my work

6. Bossanova Jawa Vol 1 and 2 - Various Artists
- these two albums are gems that I found in Jakarta.
- Evergreen Javanese classics played and sung to an easy Bossanova beat

Isn't music great? It immediately puts us in a specific state of mind. Music communicates directly to the heart. The music I keep provides a glimpse of my soul--something that words often fail to convey.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Greatest Power of All

The Greatest Power of All

We live in an age of terrorism and we have to learn to deal with it. I do not think our own country is safe from the horrors that we see occuring in neighbouring countries. We should never delude ourselves into thinking that such acts cannot happen here in Malaysia. I personally feel that the level of security that we have in public places here are inadequate. But I pray that we don't have to learn it the hard way.

There's no way that suicide bombers can be stopped. They will keep coming because they believe whole-hearted in their cause, however misguided they are. We can only endeavour to make their job more difficult. At the same time we also have to find ways to tackle the injustices that are allowed to perpetrate in many places, which often provide the fuel and breeding ground for such movements.

If there's enough love, tolerance, compassion and magnanimity in this world, terrorism will never have a chance to take root. But we don't live in such a utopian world; the human species is still at the stage where the selfish interests of nations and ethnic groups will always take precedence.

Genetically we are programmed by evolution to ensure the survival of our own kind first, even if it means the obliteration of others. We have not matured beyond the tyranny of our genes.

Through force and violence, certain selfish aims can definitely be achieved. But it is not something that is sustainable in the long run. Empires built through the might of the sword will rise to certain heights but they will also fall, eventually.

No movement that is driven by greed and narrow selfish aims can be sustained. It requires the energy of tyrants and the sacrifice of many for the few. Unfortunately no man, no matter how powerful, can defeat time. The law of entropy will triumph in the end.

The Roman Empire, powerful that it was during its heydays, is but a distant memory now. But one soul, sent so cruelly to his death by Roman soldiers continue to inspire millions today, because he preached something that is infinitely more powerful: love. By turning the other cheek, he managed to conquer an empire.

Weapons can conquer the world, but ultimately only love can conquer hearts.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Killing Two Birds

Killing Two Birds

I've been spending the last two days listening again to my audiobook: A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. The last time I listened to it was on my train journey from Solo to Jakarta, one-and-a-half years ago. What an entertaining book it was--full of warmth, wit and mouth-watering descriptions of the gastronomical wonders of Southern France.

I have two large boxes of audiobooks which I've been rummaging through lately to savour again some my most memorable audio listening experience--I want to make better use of the time I spend behind the wheel and being stuck in traffic jams. It certainly makes driving less of a chore. Furthermore I'm getting sick of listening to our local radio channels--those repetitive and silly radio ads I suspect, will sooner or later cause permanent brain damage to the listener.

I've really been making full full use of all my input channels lately--reading while eating, listening to audiobooks while driving and even sleep learning during bedtime! Does sleep learning really work? I don't know--I just enjoy listening to something while my entire system does a slow shutdown for the day. Karen Armstrong reading one of her scholarly tomes is my favourite bedtime lullaby. People who have insomnia should really try this technique--it's a win-win thing: if you don't fall asleep, at least you learn something!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Transcending Suffering

Transcending Suffering

"I am not the breath; I am not the body, neither bones nor flesh. I am not the mind or feeling. I am That which is behind the breath, body, mind and feeling."

- Paramahansa Yogananda

All of our sufferings are due to the fact that we completely associate ourselves with our physical existence. We worry about growing old, losing our hair, gaining weight; we worry about making enough money to lead a respectable life; we worry about finding a suitable life partner, we worry about the future of our children and we worry about a thousand and one things that affect our appearance, image and ego.

We have to go through all this suffering because it is (unfortunately) the only way for us to realize that ultimately these things are not important. It's not enough for us to just read the book of some wise man and then try and convince ourselves that this is indeed so, instead we have to experience all the suffering ourselves to be able to grasp the actual root cause of it all.

To overcome suffering, we have to come to the realization that suffering itself is but a transient state associated with our body and mind. How desperately do we cling on to a specific image of ourselves: a young, fit and beautiful body, a life of material comforts, a respectable social position!

To achieve all that, we have to work hard and suffer. Sometimes in our desperation, we resort to bending the rules: we lie, we stab people's back, we hurt our loved ones. We suffer so much just to gain the pleasure of pride and respect. And when we have finally achieved what comes through so much sacrifice, we realize that we have created a different set of problem: we have to maintain what we have achieved (because we still attach importance to them), so we continue suffering, ad infinitum.

Only after we have come to a point where we realize that these things are all empty and that we have finally outgrown all these childish pursuits, do we realize how foolish we have been to have suffered so much for them. Then only are we mature enough to move on to the next stage of our evolution--one that is beyond pain and pleasure, one which lies beyond the body, mind and feeling, one which lies in the realm where suffering and enjoyment, as we know it, has no meaning at all.

The Romance of Solitary Travel

The Romance of Solitary Travel

Paul Theroux writes in The Old Patagonian Express on his preference to travel alone:
It is hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. ...What is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in my private mood to be special and worthy of interest. There is something in feeling abject that quickens my mind and makes it intensely receptive to fugitive impressions. ...Travel is not a vacation, and it is often the opposite of a rest. ...I craved a little risk, some danger, an untoward event, a vivid discomfort, an experience of my own company, and in a modest way the romance of solitude.
I suppose I also share Theroux's view. Even though I enjoy the company of friends and colleagues on my travels, somehow I find that I'm a lot more perceptive whenever I'm travelling alone. I get to see and observe more; I can simply loiter aimlessly if I choose to and I get a chance to read or write in my journal. I'm also lucky that I've never been bothered by loneliness on the road because there's always something about a place that interests me--whether it's the people, culture or history. There's so much to learn and explore.

Solitary travel may sound very anti-social but my experience is actually the opposite: When you are travelling with a group of friends, you'll never bother to talk to strangers because you are constantly occupied with your own conversations. But when you are on your own, everyone you meet in the streets is a potential friend--someone who can enlighten you with a glimpse of his or her world. You are open to so much more possibilities, you are more outward focussed.

Perhaps different people seek different things when they go on a trip. Some people look for things to do--diving, golfing, shopping or bungee-jumping; some enjoy sight-seeing and eating. I simply enjoy observing ordinary people leading ordinary lives: What do they normally eat for lunch? Where do they live? What time do they wake up and go to bed at night? How do they furnish their homes? What do they do on weekends?

Travel is definitely not a vacation. Well, there's nothing wrong in going for a vacation--everyone needs one once in a while. But if you really want to enjoy the true romance of travel, try travelling alone. You'll learn more about the world and yourself.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sri Lankan Nourishments

Sri Lankan Nourishments

I enjoyed the food in Colombo very much: the sheer variety of rice and curries available in every restaurant menu there made me commit the deadly sin of gluttony everytime. I think If I were to stay in Sri Lanka for the long term, I I'd definitely put on weight. Beer, rice and curries--a sure-fire recipe for obesity.

I am a rice person; in Sri Lanka, the varieties of rice served in a typical buffet meal are quite amazing--you have short and long-grained ones, coming in a variety of shades from white to yellow and red, and cooked in so many different ways. Nothing is more appetizing than a simple meal of rice and curry. I am also quite fond of a dish called lamprais--rice cooked in meat stock and baked in banana leaf with some meat and vegetables. Makes a great self-contained lunch meal.

Apart from rice, Sri Lankans also eat a lot of hoppers--which are bowl-shaped pancakes made of fermented rice flour and coconut milk, sometimes cooked with an egg in the middle. There's also the string hopper, which is the closest thing to mee hoon in Sri Lankan cuisine. They are eaten with curries and "sambol".

Enough of Sri Lankan food for the moment. I'm back again in KL--back to my diet of teh tarik, nasi lemak and Starbucks coffee. I managed to get some sleep during my flight back but it wasn't sufficient--so I slept for another one-and-a-half hour this afternoon. I'm feeling slightly refreshed now and eager to dive back into my routine of work.

My diet for the coming weeks will be the huge stack of information that I have collected and which have I to try my best to digest and draw conclusions from. Hopefully there's sufficient nourishment there to keep my mind constantly occupied and most importantly, working creatively.

Leaving Colombo

Leaving Colombo

It's been a whole week since I last blogged. I'm typing this at the airport lounge in Colombo, waiting for my SriLankan Airlines flight to KL via Singapore. I'm becoming quite a regular customer of SriLankan Airlines now; the main reason why I'm taking this airline is that unlike MAS or SIA, their flights to Colombo do not arrive in the wee hours of the morning.

I arrived here last Sunday at 5pm, when it was still bright. I checked into the Galle Face Hotel and immediately settled down at my favourite spot overlooking the sea and setting sun, with a nice cool mug of beer melting in my palm. It has been my daily routine every evening here to just lounge by the beach after a hard day's work. Work has been very hard indeed: I managed to conduct at least 15 meetings over the last five days, including a very interesting one at Malabe--the "Cyberjaya" of Sri Lanka--just outside Colombo city.

I've only been able to get a bit of Internet access at the office early in the morning before my daily meetings. There are not many Wifi hotspots in Colombo and it costs around 1 USD for an hour of access here. But anyway, I wasn't too keen on being connected all the time as I wanted to try and avoid unncessary Internet access here in Colombo; sometimes productivity can actually increase with less surfing.

All I need is my notebook--both paper and electronic--for writing down my notes and observations. I have tons of materials--sketches, notes and hardcopy printouts--to digest back in KL. It'll take me almost 6 hours to reach KL ( including a one-hour stopoever in Singapore ). I have opted for a light but educational read for this trip, so I'm going to enjoy my way home. I think I'm beginning to like these short sojourns to Serendib...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Total Living

Total Living

Another trip to Serendib awaits me. It's one week of sheer hardwork but I look forward to it as an opportunity for me to regain my mental fitness in real-life "match situations".

I've always been asked by people as to how I keep up with the rapid developments in the IT industry. Most IT professionals will tell you that it's a very tough thing to do. After a while they just "give up" or decide to just focus on a very narrow area of the subject.

I would love to do so too but unfortunately my natural instincts rebel against it. Furthermore, doing the kind of work that I do, I simply do not have the luxury to be a specialist in any area. So I've resigned myself to adopt a "total football" philosophy--one has to be willing to play the roles of a defender, mildfielder and attacker when the situation demands it in a match.

Such a role is also reasonably interesting for me because I don't get bored being stuck in one narrow area of specialty. I try my best to acquire sufficient foundation knowledge at least to be able to converse intelligently with any network engineer, systems administrator, storage engineer, database administrator, application developer or IT business manager that I meet during the course of a typical consulting engagment. Often I learn a lot simply from my conversations with them; I get to know what are the areas of importance in their respective fields and I follow up with research on those areas that I'm unfamiliar with.

I always do my homework before every consulting engagement. A good football coach will always ensure that his team has a well thought out game plan before every football match. One must understand the playing style of one's opponent and anticipate their every possible move. Ideally nothing should take you by surprise, but if surprises do come up, you'll know how to tackle them based on some clearly defined principles and strategies.

It's important for the consultant to read every signal coming from the client, to digest all relevant facts related to the problem at hand and never to leave any stones unturned. The only way to ensure quality delivery of one's work is to over-exceed the client's expectations.

I believe one should always stretch oneself in any kind of endeavour. If you don't you'll never grow. I've said it many times before: to learn and to grow is what we all live for. How can one live life to the fullest if one does not expand mentally and spiritually? Keep your waistline in check but let your mind and spirit expand continuously. That is what I call Total Living.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Creative Anger

Creative Anger

"Beaneath every experience of anger is a huge body of emotional experience"

- The Heart of the Soul by Gary Zukav & Linda Francis
When we are consumed by anger we often act without regard for the consequences of our actions. How does one control one's anger? No, the question should be: How does one prevent anger from arising in first place?

No wave can surge above the surface of the sea without a concentrated movement of water beneath it. Anger is merely the tip of the emotional iceberg, exposing deep layers of fear and pain. The angry man may sometimes appear to be extremely brave and bold but the fact is, he is acting from an underlying weakness. An angry man can be defeated easily because he is often too blind to see his own weaknesses.

Anger can be a seductive thing because it gives us a momentary surge of fearlessness--the effect is almost like a drug. And it can be very addictive. We feel righteous and strong. But the feeling passes away very quickly, and one recovers from the experience full of regret and shame.

We see injustice around us all the time. Injustice can give rise to anger. However reacting to injustice out of anger is not the wisest thing to do. Of course, it is our duty to fight injustice, but certainly not at the expense of anger. Being human, anger will often arise within us spontaneously. Just let it rise and subside but do not feed on it. Feel its wave-like motion--rising, peaking, falling. And then when it is gone, analyze why it arose in first place.

Why does the situation provoke such anger in you? What fear does it stir inside you? Understand that fear. And then act with the full knowledge of that fear, without judgement or malice. That's how we learn from anger.

All of us like to think of ourselves as gentle creatures, incapable of drastic acts of violence. We'll never commit the kind of violent acts that we often associate with other lesser human beings. Think again. If you are capable of anger, you are definitely capable of violence. Every spark of fire has the potential to turn into a raging inferno under the right conditions. Similarly, under the right set of circumstances, our anger can also ignite into violence. Anger and violence reside in the same continuum--they are just opposite ends of the spectrum.

An angry man has a lot of energy. But unfortunately he is not using his energy in the most efficient manner. So often, this energy is used to destroy. If one is capable of so much anger, one is definitely capable of harnessing the same energy to create. Anger can be transformed into a beautiful act of creation.

When anger arises next time, ask yourself: Why am I reacting this way? What fear does it stir inside me? Why do I have this fear in first place? How can I overcome this fear? Can I use this anger that has arisen in a creative manner?

Harness this surge of energy called anger. Act creatively.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Spirit and the Flesh

The Spirit and the Flesh

Seeker: Teach me the way to liberation
Zen Master: Who binds you?
Seeker: No one binds me
Zen Master: Then why seek liberation?
In all spiritual endeavours, the greatest enemy is ourself. It is not the environment or the circumstances of our lives that we need to conquer, it is the our own mind, our own thinking that we need to overcome.

Like what the Zen Master was trying to tell the seeker, it is we ourselves who stand in the way to enlightenment or liberation. We think that it is something "out there" to be sought, like how we chase after worldly success; when in fact perfection is already there within us. Spiritual liberation is not a process of "accumulation" but one of "shedding" or "uncovering".

You see, deep down inside, the soul is perfect. We fail to see our own perfection because we are drowned in noise--the noise in our mind, the noise of our desires and the noise of the external senses that seek to pull us into a thousand and one different directions. We never bother to listen to the Sound of Silence that emanates from inside.

It is ironic that the greatest spiritual challenge that we face is not one that requires great external exertion but instead it demands us to "let go". It is a process of letting go of our attachment to the world of the senses, and allowing the soul to return to its source.

My my, the week is just beginning, I really shouldn't be indulging in so much mystical mumbo jumbo!

But then again, this seems to be my natural tendency these days--to view everything from a spiritual perspective. While I'm deeply mired everyday in worldly pursuits, I'm always conscious of my true quest within, which is spiritual in nature.

It is not an easy task balancing the material with the spiritual. To completely ignore the spiritual is to put oneself under enormous risk. We could so easily lose our bearings if we are not careful.

Ideally, it is the spirit within that guides our actions, the body merely executes. The body is of no less importance because it is the divine temple which houses the soul and the vehicle that allows the soul to interact with the world. Without it, the soul cannot dissolve the residual karma that binds it to the world. So take care of the body, like how we would take care of our house or car.

Which is also why I need to finish this posting now--my body needs rest! I'll have to wake up very early tomorrow to drive to the city for a conference. Have a good week ahead, everyone. Let's all nourish the spirit and learn to command the flesh!