Friday, September 30, 2005

Killing Two Birds

Killing Two Birds

I've been spending the last two days listening again to my audiobook: A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. The last time I listened to it was on my train journey from Solo to Jakarta, one-and-a-half years ago. What an entertaining book it was--full of warmth, wit and mouth-watering descriptions of the gastronomical wonders of Southern France.

I have two large boxes of audiobooks which I've been rummaging through lately to savour again some my most memorable audio listening experience--I want to make better use of the time I spend behind the wheel and being stuck in traffic jams. It certainly makes driving less of a chore. Furthermore I'm getting sick of listening to our local radio channels--those repetitive and silly radio ads I suspect, will sooner or later cause permanent brain damage to the listener.

I've really been making full full use of all my input channels lately--reading while eating, listening to audiobooks while driving and even sleep learning during bedtime! Does sleep learning really work? I don't know--I just enjoy listening to something while my entire system does a slow shutdown for the day. Karen Armstrong reading one of her scholarly tomes is my favourite bedtime lullaby. People who have insomnia should really try this technique--it's a win-win thing: if you don't fall asleep, at least you learn something!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Transcending Suffering

Transcending Suffering

"I am not the breath; I am not the body, neither bones nor flesh. I am not the mind or feeling. I am That which is behind the breath, body, mind and feeling."

- Paramahansa Yogananda

All of our sufferings are due to the fact that we completely associate ourselves with our physical existence. We worry about growing old, losing our hair, gaining weight; we worry about making enough money to lead a respectable life; we worry about finding a suitable life partner, we worry about the future of our children and we worry about a thousand and one things that affect our appearance, image and ego.

We have to go through all this suffering because it is (unfortunately) the only way for us to realize that ultimately these things are not important. It's not enough for us to just read the book of some wise man and then try and convince ourselves that this is indeed so, instead we have to experience all the suffering ourselves to be able to grasp the actual root cause of it all.

To overcome suffering, we have to come to the realization that suffering itself is but a transient state associated with our body and mind. How desperately do we cling on to a specific image of ourselves: a young, fit and beautiful body, a life of material comforts, a respectable social position!

To achieve all that, we have to work hard and suffer. Sometimes in our desperation, we resort to bending the rules: we lie, we stab people's back, we hurt our loved ones. We suffer so much just to gain the pleasure of pride and respect. And when we have finally achieved what comes through so much sacrifice, we realize that we have created a different set of problem: we have to maintain what we have achieved (because we still attach importance to them), so we continue suffering, ad infinitum.

Only after we have come to a point where we realize that these things are all empty and that we have finally outgrown all these childish pursuits, do we realize how foolish we have been to have suffered so much for them. Then only are we mature enough to move on to the next stage of our evolution--one that is beyond pain and pleasure, one which lies beyond the body, mind and feeling, one which lies in the realm where suffering and enjoyment, as we know it, has no meaning at all.

The Romance of Solitary Travel

The Romance of Solitary Travel

Paul Theroux writes in The Old Patagonian Express on his preference to travel alone:
It is hard to see clearly or to think straight in the company of other people. ...What is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in my private mood to be special and worthy of interest. There is something in feeling abject that quickens my mind and makes it intensely receptive to fugitive impressions. ...Travel is not a vacation, and it is often the opposite of a rest. ...I craved a little risk, some danger, an untoward event, a vivid discomfort, an experience of my own company, and in a modest way the romance of solitude.
I suppose I also share Theroux's view. Even though I enjoy the company of friends and colleagues on my travels, somehow I find that I'm a lot more perceptive whenever I'm travelling alone. I get to see and observe more; I can simply loiter aimlessly if I choose to and I get a chance to read or write in my journal. I'm also lucky that I've never been bothered by loneliness on the road because there's always something about a place that interests me--whether it's the people, culture or history. There's so much to learn and explore.

Solitary travel may sound very anti-social but my experience is actually the opposite: When you are travelling with a group of friends, you'll never bother to talk to strangers because you are constantly occupied with your own conversations. But when you are on your own, everyone you meet in the streets is a potential friend--someone who can enlighten you with a glimpse of his or her world. You are open to so much more possibilities, you are more outward focussed.

Perhaps different people seek different things when they go on a trip. Some people look for things to do--diving, golfing, shopping or bungee-jumping; some enjoy sight-seeing and eating. I simply enjoy observing ordinary people leading ordinary lives: What do they normally eat for lunch? Where do they live? What time do they wake up and go to bed at night? How do they furnish their homes? What do they do on weekends?

Travel is definitely not a vacation. Well, there's nothing wrong in going for a vacation--everyone needs one once in a while. But if you really want to enjoy the true romance of travel, try travelling alone. You'll learn more about the world and yourself.