Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Art of Exhaustion

The Art of Exhaustion

I have been occupied by too much "transactional" work lately. That's usually the case whenever I'm back in KL. But these periods in between projects are the only time for me to get a lot of things done--things that I've had to put off for a long time. So, I'm not complaining.

When I'm on a project, blogging becomes a necessary recreation--a break from my intense work sessions, allowing me to take my mind off IT-related stuff. But I find that running errands back in KL can be even more exhausting than being on a project: the mental strain is less but physically I get so drained that I often collapse in bed at the end of the day and fall asleep in half-a-minute.

My jogging routine has also been disrupted lately due to my travels. I need to get started again this coming week. When I exercise regularly, my energy level goes up tremendously. The solitary activity of jogging also helps to put me in a meditative state of mind. I get a lot of good ideas (including topics for blogging), whenever my mind is quiet, especially when I'm in close communion with nature.

Sleeping late every night also makes it difficult for me to wake up for my early jogging sessions. There's only so many hours in a day. I've been trying to do with six hours of sleep lately but my productivity drops when I don't get enough rest at night. I need to find better ways to rejuvenate myself than to rely on sleep alone. Meditation is one of them.

The other day a friend told me that he finally figured out why he suffers from chronic insomnia: his daytime job is simply too easy! As a result he doesn't feel mentally tired at the end of the day. So he doesn't go through the necessary cycle of waking and working which then leads to mental exhaustion and sleep. All he experiences is a perpetual wakefulness of the mind coupled with physical tiredness. The body wants to rest but the mind can't. It is certainly not a pleasant state to be in!

I don't think I'll ever end up in the kind of situation my friend is experiencing as I am always mentally pursuing something. There's not a single moment of idleness. "Idleness" only comes when I deliberately empty my mind in my meditative moments. Usually a whole day of activity--of any kind--makes me very very exhausted. Right now, I'm feeling quite depleted already. All I need to do is to lie down in bed, and I'll be deep in slumberland in no time!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Demons of Loneliness

The Demons of Loneliness

Let me touch on the subject of loneliness again. Because I often travel alone, people always ask me if I feel lonely whenever I'm on the road. The truth is, doing things alone is actually not such a big deal to me because I'm a solitary creature by nature and habit. Sometimes I even welcome it. But I do know a lot of people who, unlike me, are quite bothered by loneliness.

I must admit though, this disease called loneliness fascinates me quite a bit. Some people dread being alone, even for a couple of hours. Why is that so? Loneliness has also driven others to do stupid things like plunging themselves into relationships which are clearly doomed from the very beginning. But then again, when you are lonely and depressed, how are you expected to see things clearly? All you wanted was companionship, love and care from another fellow human being, and you latch on desperately to the first person who gives you even the slightest hint of intimacy.

That is why we find people who never stop drifting from one relationship to another because they fear those intervals of loneliness so much. But why is loneliness so difficult to endure? It is not like we are going to die if we are alone. Why can't we learn to see the positive side of it?

When you are alone, you have complete and total freedom. Why not learn to appreciate that? Being alone gives you a lot more time to pursue things that interest you. You don't have to make compromises. Go read that book you've always wanted to read. Pick up a new skill like painting. Go on a backpacking trip. Frequent the gym more often. Visit the art gallery. The list is endless. There are a thousand and one things that one can do. And the best thing is that you only have to be accountable to yourself. Isn't that a great feeling? Why the reckless hurry to get into relationships just because we feel lonely?

One of the problems I see in some people is that once they are in a relationship, they neglect their usual circle friends. They neither nurture existing friendships nor cultivate new ones anymore. So when the relationship ends, they have absolutely no one to talk to. The world seems to have collapsed around them. The loneliness that results can plunge one into great depths of depression. People fear that so much that they'll pay any price--even prolong a bad relationship--to avoid the abyss of loneliness.

Being alone doesn't necessary equate to loneliness. Neither does being in a relationship cures one of loneliness. Loneliness arises from fear and insecurity. We must learn to love both solitude and companionship and find a healthy balance between the two. Only then can we slowly learn to exorcise the demons of loneliness.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Wisdom of His Infinite Mind

The Wisdom of His Infinite Mind

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

- Albert Einstein, upon being asked if he believed in God by Rabbi Herbert Goldstein of the Institutional Synagogue, New York, April 24, 1921.

My earliest ambition as a child--as far as I can remember--was to become a scientist. When I was ten years old, I read a biography of Thomas Alva Edison (in Malay) which I'd found in the school library and was greatly inspired the story of this great man. From that day onwards, I dreamt of becoming a scientist like him and I began to read widely on scientific subjects.

When I grew older, I realized that my deep interest in science actually stemmed from an impulse that was spiritual in nature. Science to me was a way of understand the workings of the universe, from which I can fathom God's mind. What better way to understand the Creator if not through observing His Creations? I had and still have complete faith in the discipline of science because science is never dogmatic--it is always self-correcting. It is thus the best tool for deciphering the mysteries of the universe. And being a tool, not unlike religion itself, it can be misused for selfish purposes.

Despite the many disagreements between science and religion over the centuries, I've never really considered science and religion as being in conflict. Those who think science is the enemy of religion understands neither science nor religion. To me, God Himself should not fear the cold scrutiny of science for if He truly exists, He should be extremely pleased that His creatures are using all their God-given faculties to critically examine and question every religious assumption out there. There is no greater evil in the world than that of ignorance. A closed mind is the breeding ground of the Devil.

I believe I've alluded somewhere before in this blog that a true scientist is no different from a spiritually-inclined person. The quest to understand the universe is but a search for God, driven by a deep-seated faith that there's order in the universe and that every phenomenon in nature has an underlying harmony. The exhiliration that a scientist experiences when he is able to grasp the essence of the fundamental laws of nature is equal to the deepest ecstacies that spiritual followers find in prayer and meditation.

No, I did not exactly achieve my childhood ambition of becoming a scientist. But being trained as an engineer, I like to see myself as an "applied scientist". It's perhaps a small consolation but I know deep down inside, the spiritual instincts that guided me as a child are still there, urging me on everyday. It is this impulse that drives my insatiable hunger for learning and understanding, through which I may marvel at the splendour of His Creations, honour Him through selfless hardwork and industry, and celebrate the wisdom of His Infinite Mind.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence

How often do we allow ourselves to sit quietly in total and complete silence? I'm not even talking about meditation yet, just plain and simple silence where only nature's ambient sound can be heard--the distant bark of a dog, the hum of night insects, the gentle rustle of leaves stirred by the wind or the murmur of waves lapping on the shore.

Silence is so important. We must be able to reserve at least a couple of minutes a day to listen to the "sound of silence". When the mind is emptied of all artificial or man-made sounds, it unfurls itself like a flower. It is no longer reacting to our thoughts and actions anymore; it is like a sponge returning to its original shape, after being stressed by all sorts of stimuli from the external world.

Natural ambient sound does not provoke a reaction from the mind and hence can only induce relaxation. When we talk to people, we react to the words we hear. We are constantly judging: right or wrong, agree or disagree. The mind cannot assume its original form that way--it is always under various different stresses and strains.

Imagine, if we are constantly living in a noisy environment full of artificial sounds from the TV, radio, stereo system or the city traffic, we are not allowing our mind to return to its original state. Our mind becomes "warped" and we "forget" the true nature of the mind.

Certain types of man-made music like Baroque music and keroncong, does induce a relaxed state of mind but still nothing beats pure silence. Music, no matter how relaxing it can be, sometimes evoke strong emotions. When emotions arise in the body and mind, we are no longer relaxed. We are reacting.

Many of us like to switch on the TV or radio the moment we sense a bit of silence in our environment. For some reason, modern people like us are too used to being distracted by external noise that we immediately feel so uncomfortable and even lonely when surrounded by the most natural sound of all: silence.

Wisdom only arises in moments of silence because only when there's no external sound, the mind begins to resolve the residual reactions that's left in the mind. Once these actions and reactions find its equilibrium point, an insight is gained--something which I refer to as a "Tetris moment".

Embrace silence. Do not fear it. Silence is our friend. Silence is the greatest teacher of all.