Saturday, December 03, 2005

Lunch with the Professor

Lunch with the Professor

Last week I had lunch with an old university mate of mine who is now the dean of the faculty of engineering at a local university. I haven't met him for a very long time and I remember him as someone who is very passionate about his academic profession and maintains a very disciplined lifestyle.

Like me, he is also a "confirmed bachelor". Recalling the austere lifestyle that he used to keep, I jokingly told him that I'm becoming more and more like him these days--going to bed early and waking at 4.00am in the morning. He told me that he still keeps his old habits. We both agreed that the early hours of the morning are the best time to work.

I wanted to find out from him if his engineering faculty produces the kind of quality graduates that our former alma mater used to produce. He understood what I meant. Under-graduates today grew up in a different world: they are probably better off, they have better facilities and they also have more distractions to deal with--satellite TV, computers and the Internet.

Today's undergraduates are more computer savvy and even smarter in many ways, but unfortunately they are also deprived of the opportunity to learn to be self-starters and to make do with very little. Our generation did not have access to instant information over the Internet or the latest software tools but we were well-grounded in the basics: mathematics, mechanics and electromagnetics. That became part of our DNA. When we came out to work, we could pick up anything very easily because we had a strong foundation, and we did not expect to be spoon-fed.

In the end, it is not the content which you have acquired in school that matters, it is the nimbleness of the brain, the creativity and the thinking skills that you've learnt to apply that make all the difference.

My professor friend seemed to be happy with his job. He promised to help me should I need to hire fresh graduates of calibre from his faculty in the future. He also advised me to follow his practice of taking at least a week off from work every year. He told me of his exicting trip to the Silk Road which he made last year.

Ah, a vacation! That's something that I definitely need. In an instant, my mind raced to my beloved Indonesia again: I see vistas of lush green valleys, farmers working in the fields and I hear strains of soft Sundanese music, and I see myself in a slow train, snaking its way into its volcanic heartland...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Way of Nature

The Way of Nature

It's that time of the year when it drizzles everyday. I love it because it is a relieve from the usual tropical heat, plus it brings out the pleasant smell of damp earth and grass, evoking nostalgic memories of childhood...

As a kid, I used to love playing soccer in the rain. Ah, those wonderful days full of Wordsworthian delight. We were closer to nature then: we knew the night sky so well--Orion's belt, the Big Dipper, the glitter of Venus above the horizon and the many metamorphoses of the moon.

Here in the city, we rarely even look up to the night sky. We have forgotten about the moon and the stars; we have lost our connection with nature. We are like lost children of God.

How do we regain our connection with the universe? How do we rediscover the Divine Innocence which we all possess inside?

We must always remember that we are part of that universal intelligence, that creative force that drives the evolution of the universe. "The force that through the green fuse, drives the flower, drives my green age...", writes Dylan Thomas.

We must tune ourselves to that creative force and understand its nature. We must listen to that inner silence that speaks. We must follow the promptings of the spirit. We must let this force drive whatever we do so that our work will bloom like flowers too.

We must learn from nature and not abuse it. We and the universe are not separate: we are one. We must take time off the TV, the computer, the shopping malls and see that out there, nature has provided us with wonderful sights to behold. Everything that we need to know--the infinite wisdom of God--is reflected in nature, if we care to observe and learn.

Who accepts nature's flow becomes all-cherishing;
Being all-cherishing he becomes impartial;
Being impartial he becomes magnanimous;
Being magnanimous he becomes natural;
Being natural he becomes one with the Way (or Tao);
Being one with the Way he becomes immortal:
Though his body will decay, the Way will not.

- from the Tao Te Ching.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Anchored in the Present

Anchored in the Present

Time to reflect. Time to be anchored in the present. Time to remain still, at least for a short while.

It's always the future that gives us stress. Whenever we worry about something, it is always something that's in the future--never the past, because it is simply impossible to worry about the past. It is gone. It cannot be undone anymore. The past only gives us regret, guilt, pain and anger; the future, worry and fear.

The key to peace of mind then is to remain anchored in the present. At any moment in time, we we are. The future is not here yet, the past cannot touch us anymore. So we should never tar the perfection of the moment by dwelling on the baggage of the past nor the burden of the future. The present is what matters and the present is perfect because you are alright, right now. Are you not?

Worry and fear happens when we anticipate the worst; when we are attached to the fate of the physical body and the ego. Our ultimate worry is death--the final annihilation of the body; and for the rest of the time we worry about things that affect the ego--failure, humiliation and rejection.

What does it mean to be "anchored in the present"? Don't we need to at least plan for the future?

Yes, we certainly do. But effective planning is still an activity that is anchored in the present. True "planning" is an act of achieving a state of preparedness--a conscious state where one perceives all the dynamic forces that are at currently at work and willing oneself to move in a direction where one's energy and resources are channelled in the most creative and effective manner.

The sailor senses the winds and the currents and adjusts his sail and rudder in the most optimal position and remain ever-ready to readjust them again show there be a shift in nature's forces. The sailor, at any moment in time, is "anchored in the present". He has to be in such a state, to be able to "plan" his next step.

The present is always neutral of emotions--negative or positive ones. Even when you say you are "very happy now", what you actually mean is that you are very happy now compared to how you felt in the past (or the future, because whatever that is pleasant now can never last forever). Emotions only arise when we compare the present with the past or the future. Whenever the mind starts to compare, hope or desire something, mental tension is created and waves of emotions are generated.

When a thought arises in the mind, it is always about something in the past or the future. If we are able to just perceive this very moment--our immediate sense of being and presence--without a thought of the past or future, then we are completely at peace with the universe. This is the bliss that transcends pain and pleasure--the enlightened state that all mystics seek for.

Unenlightened beings such as we only get to catch glimpses of the present--what spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls the "Now" and medical-turned-spiritual health doctor Deepak Chopra calls the "gap between thoughts". That is why, most of us are seldom at peace: We simply worry (future), fear (future), regret (past) and complain (past and future) too much. So starting now, learn to anchor yourself to the present. Now.