Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Experience, The Great Teacher

Experience, The Great Teacher

I have been having this feeling since the beginning of the week that my "holiday" is about to end soon: and sure enough I received a phonecall today from my contact asking me when I can start work on another project.

By right I should be happy that my cash register is ringing but the thought of plunging myself into another difficult project made me hesitate in giving him an immediate yes. I need at least two weeks to get myself back into "match fitness". I have been spending the past couple of weeks handling a lot of "OLTP" matters; switching back to "batch processing" mode would require some time.

So, I'll need to work out a program to get myself mentally fit again to tackle another project. I do look forward to such challenges because only by immersing myself into difficult tasks do I get to know my weaknesses and be able to improve myself. I try not to worry too much about the outcome because I know I'll always give my best and the rest, as always, is up to God.

In executing my work, I always aim for quality but at the same time I also try not to be a perfectionist. Whatever the outcome of a project is, I know I will definitely reap benefits from it: I always emerge a better person. If we know how to distill the essential wisdom from our life's experiences, be they painful or pleasurable ones, we will never stand to lose.

And whenever I talk about experience, a quote from Vivekananda would spring to mind. I shall leave it here for us to ponder its deeper meaning:

You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly...So get this experience of husbands, and wives, and friends, and little loves; you will get through them safely if you never forget what you really are. Never forget this is only a momentary state, and that we have to pass through it. Experience is the one great teacher — experience of pleasure and pain — but know it is only experience. It leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small...that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness.

- from the commentaries on Patanjali's Raja Yoga, Chapter II, Verse 18

Monday, June 13, 2005

Running the Mind in "Interpreted Mode"

Running the Mind in "Interpreted Mode"

You wake up everyday with eagerness, ready to savour the beauty of the day. And then you turn the pages of the morning papers, and you are suddenly reminded of all the ugliness that is out there.

Sometimes in your moments of self-pity, you recall all the ugliness that you've read--befalling other people--and you feel slightly better, even fortunate. You thank God for all the small blessings that you already possess.

I know of people who suffer from depression. To outsiders, the circumstances of their lives do not look that bad but from their own point of view, they feel that they are in the deepest of ruts. They don't see light at the end of their dark emotional tunnel. They feel alone, unloved and miserable. In some bad cases, thoughts of suicide might even surface.

The cycle of depression can be a very vicious one: A depressed person spends the whole day worrying and reinforcing his self-defeating beliefs. This leads to further arousal of intense negative emotions, which could affect the person's sleep and end up causing him to feel exhausted. Exhaustion weakens the mind and the body, which further diminishes his ability to break away from his depressive mode of thinking. It ends up like an infinite loop in a computer program, and the mind "hangs".

To break out from this state of depression, one has to somehow disrupt this pattern of depressive thoughts. It is difficult for the suffering person to do it himself; some kind of external help is needed--someone to initiate the "Control-Alternate-Delete". In bad cases, professional help is even necessary. But if you realize that you are already going along this extremely slippery path of depressive thinking, you'd better break the pattern now!

I've often stressed the importance of learning how to control our own thoughts. If we let them run riot on their own, depressive infinite loops can occur. The other important skill that one must master is the ability to always see the positive side of things. To use a computer analogy again, one must run one's mind in "interpreted mode". You see, It is up to us to interpret how good or bad an event is. In "interpreted mode", the mind never hangs because control is always returned to the interpreter.

How does one run in interpreted mode? Using the right mental vocabulary helps. Instead of feeling "angry", why can't you feel "peeved" (to take a cue from Anthony Robbins). See the big difference between "angry" and "peeved"? "Anger" is red hot with emotion; "peeved" is a mild and even funny way of describing your dissatisfaction--but it sure makes a hell lot of difference to your mental state of mind. You have a choice on how you want to interpret events. So exercise that choice.

I've written a lot about equanimity and mindfulness--these are all techniques on how to run one's mind in interpreted mode. Try it out. Don't wait until you have to use that nasty three-finger salute!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Biblioholic's Sunday

A Biblioholic's Sunday

Biblioholism: n. [BIBLIO + HOLISM] book, of books: the habitual longing to purchase, read, store, admire and consume books in excess.
After a whole week of running all over town, it feels great to spend my Sunday at home. I didn't even step foot outside my house today, instead I spent my entire day rearranging and rediscovering all the books that I have buried in boxes under my bed. I ended up quite surprised at the amount of books that I have collected over the years. There were books that I had even forgotten were in my possession.

Being an incurable biblioholic, I must admit to buying books not solely for the purpose of reading. You see, the time I have for reading is extremely limited these days, but that doesn't stop me from continuously adding new titles to my collection. There are books that I knew I had no intention of reading from cover to cover when I first purchased them--they were just titles that I thought would be useful for my "research" someday.

There were also books that I had bought because they were collector's items. For example, I have a beautifully bound harcover version of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations, a few illustrated versions of Edgar Alan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination and the entire collection of Beethoven's pianoforte works (sheet music, not CDs).

I also have a collection of chess books, including the bible of chess openings, the so-called "MCO-14" - Modern Chess Openings, Edition 14 by Nick de Firmian, the three-time US chess champion. I don't play much chess these days, but that doesn't stop me from perusing the chess section whenever I visit any bookstore.

My problem is, I can go into any section of a bookstore and still be able to find something that interests me; I am even interested in books on subjects that don't interest me! For example, I don't play golf, but I have a book on golf too. I am also amazed at my habit of being able to purchase books almost anywhere I go. When I was staying overnight in the backwater town of Tanjung Pinang on Bintan island, I also ended up buying a book--Deru Campur Debu, a slim anthology of poems by Chairil Anwar--from the local stationery store. I had a good time reading that in my cheap hotel that night.

I realized long ago that the only sure way of preventing myself from buying anymore books is to not set foot into a bookstore at all. But that is easier said than done. Last Friday, I had a few minutes to kill while waiting for my friend at KLCC, so I made a mistake of sauntering into the Times bookstore and not surprisingly, I came out five minutes later clutching a hardcover book: The Born-Einstein Letters 1916-1955: Friendship, Politics and Phisics in Uncertain Times, and ninety ringgit poorer.

People tell me that I must be crazy to be spending so much money on books. But I know most men my age squander even more money on women, drinks and golf. At least books are still cheaper compared to vintage cars, Rolex watches or keeping a mistress in Dongguan. And I am not even into first editions or rare books yet. If you have read or watched The Name of the Rose or The Ninth Gate, you will know that some people will even go to the extend of killing for a book...