Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quotes From The Honest Guru

Most people fail at most things most of the time; make failure your friend

Friday, January 29, 2010

Is honesty good for relationship?

A man arrives back home from work. The woman immediately notices he isn’t well (women have this sense) and tries to cheer him up in a womanly way. That is, instead of offering passionate sex and a relaxing massage, she first needs to figure out what’s wrong.

W: how was your day, dear?
M: (groans, while turning the TV on): crap.
W: (being sympathetic): Why? What happened?

Now the man must decide if he is going to be honest (as they made a deal that honesty was above all), or should fake honesty to keep the peace. He decides to be honest.

M: I really don’t feel like talking. Can I just watch football quietly? We can talk tomorrow.

Now the woman, understandably, feels rejected and hurt. She, as well, can be honest, and express her true feelings, or try to keep the peace. Following her own mantra, she chooses honesty.

W: it really irritates me when you come home, turn on the TV and don’t want to talk. Why don’t you want to talk to me?

The man, once again, is facing the same dilemma, but still trying to follow their agreement to be honest.

M: Why don’t we just have sex now? I really don’t feel like talking.

The rest of the evening is easy to imagine. So what went wrong? After all both side fulfilled their agreement to be as honest as possible. However, as long as at least one of them is capable of feeling hurt, rejected or insulted a balance between honesty and keeping the peace should be struck. Otherwise, when honesty wins, relationship will lose.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Effortless Himalayas

When my friend asked me if I’d join him on a three-week mountain climbing, thrill and anxiety were the emotions I experienced, especially when I learnt that the climb was graded 'extremely strenuous’.

As an untrained middle-aged man who couldn’t run a mile, I was under no illusion about my physical ability to endure such a feat. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to change this condition in the couple of weeks leading up to the departure. So rather than working on my physical fitness, which I hoped would take care of itself during the adventure – albeit the hard way – it was my mind that needed some intense preparation. I realised that being so unfit, my body wouldn’t cope with my normal mindset of achievement, competitiveness and overcoming challenges. To survive the trek, my attitude would need a major readjustment.

Unlike physical training, my mental training routine (which consisted predominantly of mind games and visualisation exercises) could be done anywhere, anytime – even during the hectic preparation schedule that preceded our departure. So when the eight-seater aircraft was finally dropping onto the steep Himalayan airstrip from which we were to start our trek, 3,000 metres above sea level, effortless trekking was my frame of mind. That is, if it gets hard, slow down; if it’s still hard, rest.

The first day involved a mild, short walk to let the body acclimatise to the altitude and the walking. At night we met other climbers. Those who were also on their way to the mountains were boasting about their preparation, training and fitness; those on the way back were talking about how strenuous (though amazing) their experience had been. Hearing this, I knew, more than ever, that it was my mind that would make this journey either an experience of a lifetime… or a disaster.
The awe-inspiring Himalayan scenery kept changing as altitude increased. The mountains grew taller, the vegetation was replaced by ice-covered cliffs, and as the air got thinner, each move was harder than the one before. But otherwise, the days were all alike: getting up before first light and walking and climbing for the rest of the day. Step by step, up or down, I concentrated on keeping my state of mind. I had nothing to prove to anyone – least of all to myself. Other could be slower or faster, it did not matter. I was continuously conscious of my breathing: never moving too fast to lose my breath; never too fast to miss a sight, a flower or a passing bird. Climbing was not to become a routine, and there was not a single moment when I was unwilling to pause, look around, and feel astonished that I was really there.

As the days passed, fitness did not seem to matter any longer. Even the fittest of climbers were starting to feel the accumulated strain: the minor injuries that had become major irritations without proper rest and care, and the effects of the many too-cold-to-sleep nights. In some way, it seemed as if the fitter the person had been, the more they found it harder later on – as if they were not accustomed to dealing with situations in which their fitness alone was not enough. But there was no choice. With no communication or means of transportation, carrying your body weight was the only way up, and the only way back home.

However, this lack of choice was liberating, and I realised how enslaving my full-of-choice life back home really was. What should I do today? Who do I go out with? Having choices had taken my freedom away. Enslavement to choice is a curse, just like any other enslavement. But in the mountains there were no options: I was moving on because I needed to reach the night’s shelter; I was eating because I was hungry. There was no other option whatsoever.

I had always believed that choice meant control. But in the world’s highest mountains range, which emerged millions of years ago from the sea and will eventually go back there again, what meaning could the term ‘control’ have? Frequent avalanches and rockslides in the surrounding mountains made me aware that at any moment a new name may be added to the hundreds of memorial stones along the way. This, I realised, was no different in the world I left behind, only there I was too vain or preoccupied to notice that control was nothing but an attractive illusion.

Like getting used to carrying a heavy backpack, barely noticing it was there until the moment you remove it; in losing choice I experienced a similar feeling. As nothing was under my control any longer, there was nothing to worry about. My mind could roam free, and I experienced happiness I never knew existed.

All my life I had made plans, set priorities and believed that my ideas were important. But now, without plans and worries, my mind was working like it had never done before. Every sight could trigger a flood of knowledge, some of which I hadn’t accessed since my school days. I recognised the stars I saw at night and remembered how they were formed; I could recall the details of the creation of the Himalayas and the history of its people. I could also easily acquire new memories and remember every turn along the way and every flower I saw. It was as if a new mind was bestowed upon me. 

And then, half-way up, my perception changed. Sensations were floating through my mind without touching me. There was no difference between the brightly coloured rose finches pecking the snow patches in search of food, or the smell of the smoke coming from burning yak manure in a nearby village. Words like ‘beautiful’, ‘magnificent’ or ‘ugly’ lost their meaning, and the bright white glacier above my head was no more amazing than the little pebble at my feet. How can I say that one is more magnificent than the other?

I was still the same person with the same body. I could feel the cold breeze biting my face; I was not immune to severe diarrhoea or sinusitis. Discomfort was still discomfort; pain was pain, but it didn’t bother me and I didn’t suffer. I still got hungry and needed food, but hunger was not suffering, it was just the need of food.
It was an experience I couldn’t find words to convey to those around me, who had noticed the change. “If it’s only the next step that is important,” they pried, “why do you insist on reaching the peak, and not simply stay here?”

Was it just another illusion that it didn’t matter, one of so many lies you convince yourself to be true? I had to know, and I decided to stop, and the very last mile before reaching the pinnacle – the ultimate goal – I had to know, maybe for the first time in my life, how it would feel not to reach my destination.

The others kept climbing up and I stayed. There was no feeling of missing out on anything when they were having the view from the top while I was looking at the rocks and moss at the bottom. There was no jealousy when they returned, told their stories. The magnificent view they saw and my sitting a few hundred feet below were all the same to me. It made no difference whatsoever.

Then we all turned back and started the long descend – one step at a time.

Time has passed and the intensity of the experience has diminished. In some sense, life back home is still as it had always been: I still make plans and strive to achieve my goals, my imperfect memory is back, and so are my old mental abilities. But something subtle, barely noticeable, yet fundamental has changed. The big ancient tree in the back yard is still beautiful, but no more than the weeds in the pavement. I enjoy looking at both just the same. I still try to avoid failing, but there is no pain when I do; there is no feeling of urgency or struggle, even when urgency is required. Yet, in some mysterious way, I now achieve more with less – more than ever before.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Cuckoo & The Nightingale

A woman I knew once confessed that at times, whenever she becomes horny for no apparent reason, she gets a glimpse of how men feel most of the time, and sympathies with them. This is a novel confession, as many women would simply blame men for being what they are, rather than what women believe they should be.

But this is not merely a problem of men and women. How often do we criticize others, or think they are stupid or useless without trying to understand their viewpoint, feeling and thinking?

Under normal conditions, you may not be able to understand how anyone can be gay, enjoy being an accountant, or goes on a suicide mission. But have you ever tried to truly imagine yourself in their shoes, and see the world the way they see it? You will then discover that your own point of view may be just as wrong as everyone else’s.

The nightingale does not resent
The cuckoo’s simple song.
But you,
If I don’t think like you,
You tell me that I am wrong.
(old Zen poem)

A Trick Question

Self Help

The more you read and learn,
the more you realize
that everything in the books,
of how to live
you know already.

All the books in the world,
will not
make it better.
So put them down,
and live.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quotes From The Honest Guru

I have always known that one day I would take this path, though yesterday I did not know it would be today

Ariwara no Narihari - Japan 11th century


Not In My Back Yard attitude is universal, and although common here, Americans cannot claim any rights over it. Some recent NIMBY encounters reminded me of a taxi ride I took in Singapore the week after the Sep 11 attack. 

At the time, policemen were roaming the empty streets, and the air was thick with tangible mourning. We were all feeling that the end of the world was coming. All but my taxi driver, an Indian guy, who was laughing his is head off when the radio was estimating the death and casualty toll.

It was the first laugh I’d heard in days, so I could not help asking what he found so funny. He said: “until last week I didn’t know that Twin Towers even existed. Now I know that they exist but they don’t.”

Still I couldn’t understand how he was so heartless to find the funny side of such a monstrous disaster.

The driver, on the other hand, was perplexed by my reaction, and said, “Only a few months ago all the area around my village back home was flooded and millions lost their homes. We don’t even know how many dead, and how many will die of disease and starvation. Here, it’s only a few thousand people that died very fast. No pain. What’s the big deal?”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Horror of the Beast

Warning: some images in this blog are not suitable for the faint hearted. 

In a classroom, as well as in a professional environment, the appearance of a mouse is one of the only occasions when you are allowed to get hysterical. “A mouse, a mouse! Get it out of here before I die!” screams from an otherwise properly behaved professional standing on her chair or desk, is a call for the brave cavaliers to pick up whatever weapon they can lay their hands on: books, brooms and rubbish bins, to scare away the monster before it launches its deadly attack on innocent humans.

No wonder that even the mighty elephant is horrified when such a beast appears. So, as part of the tough military regime I subject my children to, I decided to expose them to the horrors of the beast in the deep dark forest. It was a grey, cold day when we arrived. At first we found no tracks at all. But just when we considered giving up and return empty handed – yet alive, we were attacked. The images below are the only ones you’ll ever see of a person who survived such an attack to tell the story.

The Spice of Life

If we all agreed on the same things, it would be impossible to find a decent dessert anywhere.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quotation from Brian’s Mother

He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!
(Monty Python)

Monday, January 18, 2010

And What About Sex?

Below is a 'how to’ column from about 50 years ago. Three things are obvious:
1. The world has greatly changed
2. Man has not
3. Sex was not mentioned at all

I think I prefer our times after all.

(click on the pict to enlarge it)

Quotes From The Honest Guru

Half the people you know are below average. Are you one of them?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Evolution Theory and Old Chinese Wisdom

Today I saw a hawk chasing a sparrow. This reminded me of an old Chinese tale of wisdom.

The master and his disciple were sitting in the forest studying the sutras when they noticed a fox chasing a rabbit.
Disciple: Let’s watch and see if the fox catches its prey, master.
Master: There is no need to watch. The rabbit will safely escape.
Disciple: Oh great master, teach me how to tell the future.
Master: It’s no future telling. The fox runs for his food, but the rabbit runs for his life.
This is just to show how little the old Chinese knew about evolution. And if you are curious, the hawk did catch the sparrow.

Quotes From The Honest Guru

Men think highly of those who rise rapidly in the world; whereas nothing rises quicker than dust, straw, and feathers
Lord Byron

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Corroboree Frog

This is my favorite frog. 

It is only 1” long, and it lives in the Australian Alps. 
Isn't she a beauty?

Do animals think and feel?

I've always found it fascinating to hear people argue that animals don’t think or have genuine feeling, and that they are merely preprogrammed for their behavior. From my experience, this claim can be made only by those who have never bothered to watch animals, to learn about them and see the complexity of their behavior and emotions.
For the sake of honesty, I don’t know if we, humans, do have true thought or feelings, or if we are simply machines programmed to believe we do. But, if we do, animals do just as well.
Any dog or cat lovers will swear that not only their pets have personality, but that they are actually human. Behavioral researcher, on the other hand, would swear that dogs believe that we behave just like them. 
But feelings and emotions are not limited to our beloved pets, for any animal watcher, birds, rodents, and even reptiles all have their own personalities. No two lizards behave the same, each has its own preference, its own liking, its own emotions. Each is a unique organism with its own idiosyncratic personality.
The picture below is of our two Bearded Dragons: Mr. Spoke and Lieutenant. They both have their likes and dislikes. Mr. Spoke likes Grapes and will hardly touch his veggies. Lieutenant, on the other hand, likes green veggies and will happily snatch it from Mr. Spoke, he doesn’t mind, as long as she leaves his grapes alone.  Mr. Spoke has no sense of humor when grapes are concerned.
Mr. Spoke is lazy and would wait unmoving for his crickets to come and enter his open mouth. Lieutenant chases them relentlessly. Mr. Spoke loves being handled and played with, Lieutenant prefers to be left alone.
It wasn’t so long ago that women were considered without real thinking power, or that some ethnical minorities were considered ‘animals’. This was only the reasoning and the excuse behind so many atrocities. So if you believe that animals are nothing but machines, be honest with yourself; how much of it is simply an opinion based on lack of knowledge and observation? How much do you really know about them? How much of it because it gives you excuse not to think what we do to them?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The wisdom of the old

Yesterday in the pub I had a chat with an old man who felt he was a very lucky person. He said: ‘All my life, the future was a threat to me. But now, when I know I’ve none, I have nothing to worry about. It’s the first time I really feel free and happy.

‘You know,' he continued, 'No one has a future; not even yourself, It’s just a pity that it took me so long to realize it. I could have had so much more fun.’ He sighed for a moment, paused, and started laughing again.

Once I met superman

Having been a fitness freak myself for most of my life, as far as fitness was concerned, I thought I had seen it all. But I was wrong. It was neither in the military Special Forces nor in the fighting arena that I finally realized what superhuman fitness really meant. It was in a remote location of the Himalayas, inaccessible to any type of transportation other than the human body.

In villages that have not seen a car, motorcycle or even a bicycle; places so high that for lack of oxygen every few steps you must stop to take a rest; places so steep, that even bulls or yaks cannot pass, the mountain porters ascend to the highest picks carrying more than twice their body weight, occasionally up to 270 pounds (120 kg).

The building of entire villages is relying on their endurance: from nails to heaters from hummers to generators, all is carried on their backs. No terrain or harsh weather will stop them from carrying their loads, for weeks, from the tropical heat of the valleys to the highest snowy mountain-passes that only with ropes can be crossed.

They are neither big nor muscly; just the opposite. Most of them are quite short and no heavier than 140 (60 or 65 kg.) That is, while chatting, smoking and always smiling, they carry twice their body weight along the steepest slopes of the globe.

They hold the records for fastest climbing to the top of the Everest – and many other summits. They hold the record to the highest-altitude marathon, the Everest marathon. Nothing seems impossible for them, nothing seems beyond their abilities. And yet, with all their abilities, there is no hint of arrogance in their manners – just the way a true super human should be.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The best pets are rats

I've always had many pets of all types, shapes and forms. But nothing is like having a rat. It’s affectionate, intelligent and can be taught many tricks, more than a cat or a dog. You can carry it in your pocket or on your shoulder, and it’s always up for a new adventure. It's more fun than a hamster, rabbit or a mouse. Believe me, I've had them all.

So if you want a fun, interesting pet
try a rat
you won't regret.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jerusalem under snow

A beautiful city is Jerusalem. Even more so when it snows.

Bird of the high Himalayas

Even though the picture is of poor quality (a pocket camera after all - unbelievable what you can do with them nowadays), Isn't it the most amazing bird you've ever seen?