Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Light of Truth

The Light of Truth

The Seven Storey Mountain, written by the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton (1951-1968) is one of the most widely read spiritual autobiography or our time. Being someone who admires those with the courage to pursue a spiritual vocation, I had read and enjoyed Merton's book greatly when I was working in Singapore five years ago.

Thomas Merton belonged to the Trappist movement, one of the strictest monastic orders in the Catholic tradition. He, like Saint Augustine centuries before him, decided to choose a life of monkhood after having spent a riotuously passionate youth plunged in worldly pursuits.

Despite the many restrictions of the Trappist Order, which Merton described as "the four walls of my new freedom", he was a major voice in the non-violent activist movements of his day. Through his many writings he was recognized as on of the most influential American Catholic in the twentieth century. In his later years, he developed a strong interest in Eastern religions and was a key proponent for better East-West religious dialogue.

Merton, who rarely travelled out of his monastery, was ironically killed in a freak hotel room accident on his first trip to Bangkok for a religious conference in 1968. He leaves behind a valuable collection of spiritual writings which continue to enlighten and inspire Catholics and non-Catholics alike around the world.

I was flipping through my copy of The Seven Storey Mountain, when I chanced upon these lines on page 223 which I had underlined in pencil when I first read it:

Now at last I came around to the sane conception of virtue--without which there can be no happiness, because virtues are precisely the powers by which we can come to acquire happiness: without them, there can be no joy, because they are the habits which coordinate and canalize our natural energies and direct them to the harmony and perfection and balance, the unity of our nature with itself and with God, which must, in the end, constitute our everlasting peace.

What a long sentence that is! I'm sure it confuses most readers. But how profoundly it expresses the concept of virtue, and why it will bring peace and happiness. We act virtuously not because the religious scriptures or the law says so, but because it is the practical and ultimately the only way to achieve everlasting peace.

Why? Because virtues are "habits which coordinate and canalize our natural energies": which actually means that they constitute the right set of actions, in accordance with the universal laws of nature and if executed consistently, can only bring good returns to us.

Perhaps that may still sound a bit mystical to some people but in a way it sums up everything that I've been trying to say all these years in my blog. And I suppose my challenge is to continue writing such things, marshalling all the possibilities of words, imagery and language, to express what I feel deep down inside to be true, until the light of truth shines forth with unequivocal clarity.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Dynamics of Emotion

The Dynamics of Emotion

Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia): We should kill him before he kills ...
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino): No. Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.

- The Godfather: Part III, directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Even a hoodlum knows that it's not wise to let emotions cloud one's judgement. According to Gary Zukav in The Heart of the Soul, emotion is nothing but a movement in our energy system. Whenever energy leaves our system, it produces an emotion, which is just a physical sensation localized on certain specific parts of the body: Sometimes it's felt deep in the heart, sometimes it's a "gut feeling", other times it's like a lump in the throat.

Let me save the discussion on this "energy system" for a later posting for it will be too esoteric to go any deeper. Suffice to say that, emotions are but a perturbation of our inner energy system, manifested as a sensation in the body. And if we are wise enough to read them, we'll know how to gauge our state of mind accurately.

A person who observes his emotion, is like a pilot who watches over the instruments on the dashboard of his cockpit carefully. Every tiny fluctuation of the dials is interpreted and the appropriate action taken immediately. The emotions we feel should be treated that way--as feedback signals, and nothing more than that.

We must always ask ourselves, why does this feeling of hate arises? Or why do we feel this intense jealousy towards someone? It always point to some kind of fear or weakness inside us. Sometimes it's because they trigger certain painful memories from the past. To evade the pain or to allay our fears, we often proceed to do something that seeks to cover, evade or postpone the issue. In doing so, we are merely acting on impulse, which further compounds the energy loss from our system.

When an emotion arises, we read it, like how a navigator would read the winds and the currents before deciding what course of action to take. This emotion is a reflection of our inner state--a spectral reading of our energy system. What is the underlying cause of this perturbation and how can this root cause be dealt with? That is the question that everyone of us must seek to answer--every single moment of our lives.

To be able to read the message from our emotions, we must learn detachment--or what I would normally refer to as equanimity (again!). The only productive way for energy to leave our system is through selfless love. But the so-called "love" that we mortals claim to give our loved ones is never a hundred percent selfless--that is why it causes so much perturbation in the energy systems of the parties involved.

I've used this analogy before--true selfless love is like sunlight: It is an emotional energy that radiates out harmoniously, giving life to everything surrounding it. No energy is every wasted that way because they are always used creatively to nurture growth.

Learn to read your emotions. Are you processing energy in the most efficient, productive and creative manner? You are the pilot and navigator. Check the reading on your emotional dials.

Learning to be Sane

Learning to be Sane

When we focus our mind and concentrate on a particular task, we are actually aligning all the mental energy that we possess in one direction. People who are always successful in what they do know how important concentration is. When you concentrate, the mind becomes spontaneously creative. Ideas and possibilities come flooding in.

The problem is that many people have lost the ability to concentrate. Concentration is but the starting point for meditation. But let's not even talk about meditation yet. If people know how to concentrate well, they will improve their performance many fold in any task that they pursue.

We have lost the ability to concentrate because we have become so easily distracted by the immediate gratification of the senses. A lot of the input we absorb through our senses are the equivalent of junk food. Junk food does not have any nutritional value but serves only to gratify our tastes buds. And because of this instant gratification that we get from such input, over time we become addicted to them, and forget that it is not normal behaviour.

Two good examples are watching TV and surfing the Net. The TV and the Internet can be two very good sources of knowledge, if we only know how to use them wisely. Unfortunately most of the time, we switch on the TV or surf the Net with no apparent purpose but to satisfy our need for escapism.

It's quite alright if we we indulge in such activities moderately as a form of relaxation--letting the mind wander aimlessly on its own, like a leisurely stroll in the park. But the sad thing is that, after a while, we begin to believe that that's the only way the mind functions--completely out of our control. We allow our mental muscles to be weakened, setting the monkey mind loose in the process.

We should not let that happen. We must always remember to reassert control of our minds. If not, it is desire and ego that will rule our lives. Eckhart Tolle calls this kind of ego-driven consciousness a form of "insanity".

We are all insane to a certain degree. It's not too late to check the slide. Simply start by determining the next thought that comes into your mind, consciously. Do that, and learn to be sane again.