Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Cessation of Thinking

The Cessation of Thinking

"You see, it's all very clear to me now...the whole thing. It's wonderful."

- Astronaut Dave Bowman in 2010: Odyssey Two

The life that we experience is nothing but a continuous stream of thoughts. A person with an undeveloped mind has very little awareness of what goes on inside his mind. He reacts to his world of sight, sound and touch and thoughts arise in his head automatically, which in turn triggers other thoughts, ad infinitum. He usually wields very little control over what he thinks; he merely responds to the situation around him and his reactions are determined by his thinking habits.

If such a person does not make an effort to train and observe his thoughts, then his learning can only come through the conditionings of pain and pleasure. The person has to experience a random course of punishment and reward inflicted by life's experiences for a very long time before his mind can slowly perfect itself. It is certainly not a pleasant way to improve oneself.

We can choose to train ourselves to control our thoughts if we have a better awareness of its processes. Which is the whole point of meditation. Meditation comes in many forms. Often they involve some form visualization or deep concentration on a specific object, sound or thought. In essence meditation is a deliberate act of observing thoughts and thinking itself, so that the mental muscles for controlling them can strengthened. It is an act of halting one's normal stream of thoughts, so that the next thought can be introduced deliberately. And when that can be successfully achieved, the meditator attempts to will himself to not dwell on any thoughts at all, in other words to completely blank his mind.

That is very difficult to do. No matter how hard we try, we cannot free ourselves completely from thinking. The moment we do anything, it is always preceded and followed by a thought. Nothing happens without a thought. Even when we are sleeping, we dream and dreams are just another form of subconscious thinking. Every word, every sentence that I write here are the result of thoughts which comes out of my thinking mind.

Thoughts make the mind and vice versa. To eliminate thought is to eliminate the mind altogether. And what happens when we get rid of the mind and stop thinking altogether? Do we cease to exist? Do we die?

I'm again lapsing into my usual mystical and esoteric mode: When we cease to think, what's left is pure Being, or what Eckhart Tolle calls the Now, or Presence. That is the real you, free from all the cause and effect of thinking and the illusory image of self created by the mind.

Yes we die. But it is the illusory self which dies leaving behind something that is still you--not the old egoic, self-centered self that you formerly identify with--but something that is omniscient, free and boundless. Something divine.

When you glimpse that awareness that is pure Being, you merge with that Godhead that has always been inside you. You've come to the the beginning and end of thinking. And when you do, you'll know with great clarity and insight what all the religions in the world have been trying to tell you.

And you'll probably wonder why we fight so many bloody wars and have so much bitter dispute over something that is fundamentally so simple, so clear, so wonderful.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Soul of the World

The Soul of the World

Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World and it will one day return there.

- The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Sometimes you come to critical junctures in your life when you have to make difficult decisions. It could a new job offer, a major financial decision or a change of direction in your life. No matter how long you mull over it, you still can't seem to find a clear answer.

One day you appear to favour one decision and the next you find yourself flipping over completely to the other side. You try to be logical: you list down all the pros and cons of each alternative on a piece of paper; you analyze it, weigh the points carefully and attempt to come to a "logical" conclusion.

Still you are not so sure. You try to get advise from people you trust but different people give you different opinions based on their personal biases. In the end you still have to rely on your own personal judgement. And you spend sleepless nights, tossing and turning in bed searching for the right answer.

I have a personal rule-of-thumb: I never suffer more than one sleepless night over a problem or decision. One sleepless night is enough; In the morning I will always have the right answer. All logical considerations, in the end reduces to a gut feeling: you will know deep inside what is right. That feeling is the cumulative result of all your analysis.

When you suffer many sleepless nights over a decision, you are basically over-thinking. You are trying to juggle all the pros and cons in your mind but you end up frustrated because they are subjective and cannot be quantified and analyzed like a mathematical problem. Thoughts keep spinning round and round in your head without any logical conclusion. The mind goes into an infinite loop. You are attempting to find a logical solution when there's none to be found.

I believe that when you have done enough conscious thinking over a problem and still find that there's no apparent answer, then the answer has to come from the heart. The heart observes everything that the conscious mind does plus more: It is also in tune with the Soul of the World, with the Wisdom of the Universe.

This is equivalent to a religious person seeking an answer from God. To seek divine guidance, one must open one's heart completely, be honest with oneself and be willing to accept any outcome. One must not resist. One must embrace the Soul of the World.

The answer sometimes may not be one that is easily acceptable by the conscious mind. It may require one to give up certain things which one holds dear to; it may also force one to face certain truths about oneself. But trust this Inner Voice, it has all the wisdom that your intellect lacks--for it comes from the Soul of the World.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Snail Mail Meditation

Snail Mail Meditation

I guess I'm going to refrain from bitching about the heat in KL which has been keeping me indoors. This is the kind of weather that makes one fall sick if one is not careful. My body tells me that I need to recharge my batteries but I have so many errands to run this week--mostly bills to pay.

I charge most of my bills to my credit card from which I pay through Internet banking but unfortunately there are still a couple of bills that require me to write and post a physical check. That to me is the most tedious task of all. Writing a check can sometimes be a real test of your spelling ability (how to do you spell "15"--fifteen? fifthteen? fiftheen? ), and then sometimes you have these odd amounts such as 15,237.34 (fifteen thousand two hundred and thirty-seven and cent thirty four you need a hyphen between thirty and four?)

Once you have overcome that, comes the next challenge: posting it. Sometimes you need to write the address on the envelop yourself, which is another tedious task; and of course you also have to find stamps for it. (Can I use a thirty cent stamp to post to Singapore?).

If you happen to run out of stamp supplies at home, then there's no choice, you have to make a trip to the post-office and face all the hassle that comes with it (parking, queueing, slow counter clerks and the ubiquitous "tutup" sign). And after you have successful overcome all those hurdles, you'll still have to put your trust on Pos Malaysia's snail mail system to deliver your check on time to the intended recipients. All that trouble just to update a couple bytes of information in the database.

I guess the only way to handle the tedium of it all is to treat the whole exercise as a meditation: you focus on doing one task at a time, executing every tiny task in the sequence like a monk counting his prayer beads. This requires great clarity of mind, focus and an awareness of the present. If we are irritated at the slowness of the process, then we tend to make mistakes. The mind must always be anchored in the present: accomplish one quantum of task and move on to the next. After you have finished the entire sequence, let go of the outcome completely--do not be attached to it. Let the universe (Pos Malaysia) handle the rest. Pass and move.

Every chore in our daily life can be a meditation. If we are mindful of what we are doing, we grasp the real essence of our being. Once mindfulness has become a habit, then we are always calm in the face of life's challenges and as a result, we able to make wiser choices in life. We become in tune with the (snail mail) rhythm of the universe and all our actions will consequently be more harmonious with our surroundings. One can distill wisdom even from a snail.

Yes, after taking six flights over the past five days I really need to slow myself down to the pace of a snail again...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Illusion of Life

The Illusion of Life

I'm on my way home to KL via Singapore. I don't mind spending a couple of hours transiting at Changi airport because the atmosphere here is very pleasant: free Internet stations are everywhere plus the entire terminal has Wi-Fi. It's also fun to check out all the latest electronic gadgets that they are selling at the duty-free shops.

I slept through my entire one-and-half hour journey from Jakarta. For some reason I'm feeling a bit tired, even after a full day of rest in Jakarta on Saturday. I even went to watch a movie at Plaza Blok M. I vow to find time to watch more movies this year because good movies can be very inspiring and thought-provoking.

When we live our lives in the same surroundings and getting the same sensory input everyday, our minds can become rather dull and the consequence of that is trite thinking. Movies are a good way to inject fresh sensory input into the mind, triggering fresh new lines of thought and ideas.

Watching movies in the theatre is always preferrable to viewing DVDs in the comfort of one's home. First of all, no matter how high-tech and mammoth your home theatre is, nothing beats the picture and sound quality that one can get in a proper cinema. But more importantly, watching a movie in a theatre is an immersive experience--you go in and enter into another world completely; you are enveloped in darkness and your concentration on the movie is total and absolute. That makes all the difference.

At home, you are simply too comfortable: you tend to go to the toilet a bit too often, you take breaks to raid the fridge; phones will be ringing plus a thousand other things will distract your concentration away from the movie. The end result is a watered-down experience. It's good enough if you just want to follow the plot of the movie and perhaps marvel at some of the flashier scenes; but you'll miss all the subtle nuances that make a movie great.

I think writers can also improve their craft by studying movies. A film director has to tell a story--which can sometimes span across a few generations--within two or three hours. Hence no fat can be admitted. Every scene, every piece of dialogue must contribute to the overall plot. Good movies need to control its pacing and rhythm--you need to achieve the right balance between slow and fast scenes and build up to a climax, also not forgetting how to blend music and colour skillfully to enhance the mood of every scene.

A good movie, like a good book, stays in your mind forever--it becomes a part of you, part of your life's experiences. It is not unlike a love affair; you always come out of the experience, changed. And after a while, you begin to realize that life itself has the illusory feeling of a movie too...