Friday, June 24, 2005

Retirement Thoughts on a Friday Night

Retirement Thoughts on a Friday Night

It's Friday night, no heavy stuff today--time for a light session of ngobrol-ngobrol. It has been a long time since I last blogged five working days in a row. When I was in Jakarta, I hardly missed a day of blogging. Life was so much simpler and blogging fitted very nicely into my daily routine, even though I had to blog from the Internet cafe sometimes.

But it wasn't like I had no work to do back then. Far from it: I was working on my IT projects, teaching part-time at the university writing and researching for my magazine articles. My weekends were all completely occupied. I purposely kept myself very busy then because I knew the "good life" in Indonesia can make one feel very complacent. One could easily be seduced into the decadent lifestyle of an expatriate there.

I wanted to turn my time in Indonesia into a useful experience that I could draw upon for the rest of my life. And true enough, my "exile" there had allowed me to be much clearer about my priorities in life. It was there that I started this blog, and the sheer amount of words (or rubbish) that I have managed to churn out since then surprise myself too.

As usual, every now and then, I get all sentimental over Indonesia. I feel ecstatic whenever I get phonecalls from my contacts in Jakarta, inviting me for projects over there. There have been a couple over the last few days. And now I have to look at how I could juggle my schedule over the coming months to fit in all my activities.

Another weekend coming up, another week in KL. I'm enjoying a much needed break before I start ramping up my work again. And slowly, but surely, I'm working towards my retirement...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Sacred Glory of Writing

The Sacred Glory of Writing

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.
- John Steinbeck

I for one, follow Steinbeck's advice quite religiously. Which is why my blog is laden with so many word omissions, repetitions, spelling and grammar mistakes! Writing is a process of letting go, an outpouring of thoughts and emotions. Only when you let yourself write freely will you find your true voice. Write first. Edit later. That way, you are never blocked.

I try not to labour my blog entries too much. It has to be spontaneous and raw. Like musicians jamming. To overwork a blog is to turn it into serious journalism, which was never been my intention in first place. All I want to do is to deposit my thoughts, passions and ideas in writing and set them free in cyberspace. Once my thoughts have been released, I am able to see more clearly the driving impulses behind their birth, the meaning behind their subtle nuances and the weight of their consequences.

Writing is cathartic, of course. Especially if your writing stems from the inner recesses of your soul. When you write, you become the bridge between vision and reality. Writing is an act of creation and maybe even the most enduring way of leaving one's mark in the world.

When you write, you sow seeds. If the seeds are strong, they will germinate in someone's mind. You don't need to worry whether the seeds would grow or not; the true potential of a seed is already there in its DNA during its moment of conception. It just needs to find the right soil and environment to sprout into a colossal of a plant.

It is that magical moment of conception, that brief flicker of a second when the nib puts a mark on the surface of the paper, a universe is created anew. And when writers write, they, like God, become creators and in doing so, they raise themselves to the level of Godhood.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

At One with the Universe

At One with the Universe

In August 1982, I read a book which had a profound impact on me: The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra. In the book, Capra, a physicist by training, expounded the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism. In his preface, he writes about a beautiful experience he had one afternoon when he was sitting by the ocean:
Being a physicist, I knew that the sand, rocks, water and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms, and that these consisted of particles which interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I knew also that the Earth's atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of cosmic rays... All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experienced it through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on that beach my former experiences came to life; I 'saw' cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I 'saw' the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and I 'heard' its sound...
What Dr Capra experienced then was something that went beyond the rational, analytical thinking of which his scientific training had accustomed his mind to; it was a direct, intuitive and holistic experience of the entire universe--a world view well described, often in quite incomprehensible language, by so many of the mystical traditions of the East.

The cold rational way of describing the universe using science is but one approach for understanding the universe. It requires one to master the language of mathematics, which is even more incomprehensible to the layman than any of the mystical texts.

Why is the universe so difficult for us to describe in simple layman's language? It is because we are only capable of understanding the world around us based on the experience from our senses. When we think, our minds are capable only of conceptualizing things using metaphors, symbols and references that are familiar to us in our everyday world, as interpreted by our senses.

So we think of matter as being composed of atoms, which are like indivisibly small billiard balls that have "solidity". But when we peer deeper into the structure of matter, we find to our surprise that matter actually consists of a lot of empty space. What is the substance of nature? Is there such a thing as "solid" particles? And then we find that there's actually no difference between matter and energy--they are interchangeable. How could something so solid like matter transform into "nothingness"--energy? How could particle which has a position in space behave like a wave, which spreads out over space?

When we look at the universe through our eyes, we are actually "peeping" into the world through a very tiny band of the electromagnetic spectrum. When we touch something solid around us, the "feeling" that we get are nothing but electrical impulses sent through nervous system, interpreted by the brain as "solidity". When we hear a sound, we are interpreting the vibrations of air molecules and even that is within a very narrow frequency range.

We have to realize that it is through our experiences sampled from this extremely limited and narrow view of the world that we are attempting to describe the entire universe. So shouldn't it be unsurprising that our language and understanding be found wanting? Shouldn't the universe be far stranger that what we are even capable of imagining? To quote JBS Haldane: "Nature is not only stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think."

The world of our senses is extremely limited indeed. Through science we find that the universe is far grander than we can ever imagine it could it. To fully experience it, we have to break away from our old paradigms of thinking, even from thinking itself. The mystics knew that long ago. They understood the limitation of language and sensory experiences. So they sought a more direct experience of the universe through meditative practices, using a whole range of techniques which alter our conventional states of consciousness.

We are a product of the universe. The universe is "experiencing itself" in a limited way through our eyes and ears. We think we walk on a solid earth, drink its water and breathe the air out there. We even think we can conquer and exploit nature. This separation between us and the universe "out there" is nothing but an illusion. It is only when we learn to experience it directly, like the mystics, will we ever truly understand, that we and the universe are actually one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Sleekness of Dolphins

The Sleekness of Dolphins

I wish to expand on my blog entry last week about learning from experience. I've also mentioned before that being adults does not mean that we always behave in a mature manner for maturity is a relative thing. Sometimes it is just plain stubbornness and dogmatism that are disguising themselves as "maturity".

Vivekananda said that we need to progress to the "state where all things become small"--where every experience, no matter how exhilirating, intoxicating or beguiling does not knock you off your pedestal of equanimity. You experience it, and you let it go without having to suffer any after-effects, because the lessons from the experience have been thoroughly learnt and assimilated into your system.

If we still have not distilled the essence from our experiences in life, then we will have to continue enjoying or suffering their after-effects, until our systems have been completely rewired or conditioned to take such experiences with zero or the least amount of pain (or pleasure). And when that state has been achieved, we move on to even subtler experiences and leave behind the dross.

A fish slices through water with minimal resistance and makes use of the power of the currents to propel itself forward. Life presents us constantly with wave after wave of challenges and obstacles. Our task is to slice through them with the least amount of effort and pain; and wherever possible we will even ride upon these waves, turning them to our advantage. A fish, merges and blends itself into that continuum of water and waves--its sea of karma.

We all have our own karmic seas to swim. Some flounder and drown. Others dart across the waves with the astounding sleekness of dolphins.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Life Outside Cyberspace

Life Outside Cyberspace

My phone line has been down for a couple days, cutting me off completely from cyberspace. I've also been too occupied with a string of mundane but necessary matters to have time to stop by at my usual Wi-Fi oases. Hence the huge gaps in my blog entries. It's quite inconvenient not being able to access the Net from home but I shall refrain from using this blog entry to bitch about our inept Tele-koman, oops, Telekom (or TM or whatever they choose call themselves these days) because it is not my nature to do so and there's enough of such bitching in blogosphere.

I'm also trying not to complain too much about my lack of Internet access because I'm learning not to over-indulge in unnecessary surfing. I know that if I don't spend so much time online, I will have more time to read my books and even watch my DVDs. There's a huge backlog in both areas and I must say, they are rather essential to my continued education.

I'm building quite a collection of old Malay movies too. I'm not sure if anyone is old enough to remember our very own Malay James Bond--Jefri Zain--played by a very young and skinny (Datuk) Jins Shamsuddin. I have fond memories of watching them on TV as a kid. Now I think I have managed to acquire all the Jefri Zain movies in my VCD collection! Well, the plot and acting in these sixties movies may seem a bit too corny for our modern taste, but they are sure fun.

I'm also a devoted fan of P. Ramlee; so it is not surprising to find a huge collection of his movies in my collection. Most of his movies were shown before I was born, but for some reason I seem to have a great nostalgia for the sixties. Which is why I am also very fond of the old Sean Connery Bond movies (Goldfinger being my favourite). Needless to say, I also have the entire James Bond collection in my library, including audio CDs for all their wonderful theme songs. There's not a single Bond movie that I do not like--even George Lazenby's one and only appearance as 007 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

So there is life for me, even without the Internet. Of course, with access to cyberspace, my interests in everything have been multiplied a thousand-fold because of the vast amount of information that are immediately available at my fingertips. But alas, the pleasures in life are many and time is finite!

As you grow older, you become much clearer of your priorities in life. I guess now you know why I can never bring myself to pay attention to such "mundane" matters as career and marriage :-) But I might just consider a date with someone who's interested to spend the evening with me watching Jefri Zain in Jurang Bahaya...