Posted in Psychology

Exploring what it means to be conscious

I can meditate and experience a sense of being out of time and space for a while, but I need to remember that it doesn’t necessarily make me better or more enlightened than others. The danger is that I can become overly detached or even pompous and lose my humanity and ability to relate to others at a human level.

Yes, I am in the world and not of the world, but still I am in the world and need to reach out to help alleviate suffering and pain in the world as a fellow sentient being. By acknowledging my own suffering and pain and practising compassion towards myself, I can extend compassion towards others.

For instance, I can observe without being involved in an online discussion in a cycling forum, and I find myself making judgments about how people write and respond to one another and share their viewpoints which may come across to me as calm or argumentative or wise and so on. Then again, I have been there before myself, and I may have some blind spots that others can see when they read my posts in the forum. I need to realise and remember that I am both an observer and a participant of life. I can’t simply be an observer and not participate at all because it would be like living in a bubble.

It occurs to me that one paradox of life is that to be free from being bound by the worldly concerns of life, the way out is not to numb myself to not feel the feelings and emotions, but to allow myself to feel the feelings and emotions that a “normal” human being would feel. As much as I don’t like to be held hostage by circumstances and have my moods dictated by happenings that are beyond my control, and as much as I am learning to “respond” like a thermostat instead of “reacting” like a thermometer, I have to acknowledge the fact that I am not above Nature and I am also not beyond being a human being.

Animals, for example, seem to cooperate fully with Nature by being spontaneous with emotions in accordance with circumstances – whether they be joy, fear, sadness or some other feeling. They can be very intuitive in their own ways, sometimes not in the way we humans understand or are familiar with. Whether they are conscious of their own emotions or intuition is another story, as I don’t really know if they are conscious or capable of self-reflection and contemplation. But what I can do on my part as a human being is to practise flowing with Nature as well, and choose to be conscious of my emotions while living and being in this dynamic world.

 

Posted in Equality, Freedom, Uncategorized

What is freedom? Are meritocracy and citizenship necessary?

When I was a trainee undergoing Leadership Training Camp in Pulau Ubin in my first year of junior college, I looked at some of the seniors with wistfulness when they were rowing a wooden raft and enjoying themselves while we trainees were suffering from physical exhaustion. I longed to experience freedom like they do. Maybe when I become an adult, I will have that kind of freedom to do what I enjoy, or so I had thought. But years later, I still find myself grappling with the notion of freedom – for some reasons, I don’t feel completely free to be myself or to be fully at peace with myself and the world around me.

It has been said that “no one is free until (or unless) all are free.” Is that why I don’t really feel completely free? How to be really happy when I am aware that there are others out there still suffering from injustice or discrimination? Then again, will that day ever happen when all are free? Will I always have to postpone my happiness indefinitely? I know Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to live in the present moment and be thankful for that moment. Maybe I have to give myself permission to be truly happy so that it sends peaceful, healing energetic vibrations to those who are still struggling.

I am coming to think that when Buddha attains enlightenment or Nirvana, it is not only for himself or herself. Maybe Buddha knows that by liberating ourselves first, we can liberate others. Maybe the concept of merit-based karma isn’t completely selfish – maybe we do good to ourselves and others not so much to accumulate good karma and better rebirth for ourselves but also to show others that a better way and a better world is possible, and we ourselves can make it happen. Maybe our motivation for helping others can come from the understanding that we are all interconnected, hence when we help others, we are helping ourselves, and when we help ourselves, we are also helping others because we are all one.

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Speaking of motivation, I am reticent to subscribe (wholly) to the national approach to “meritocracy” and “citizenship”.

Regarding meritocracy, do we necessarily get motivated to do things or to work hard in order to get rewards? Isn’t this an ableist approach to try to compete in a system that says “survival of the fittest”? Wouldn’t meritocracy result in people thinking they are more deserving than others because they are more able to do something? Wouldn’t it lead to elitism, classism, arrogance and snobbishness and cause us to look down on others who  have done less or achieved less than us, or to feel inferior if we think we don’t measure up to others who have done more or achieved more than us? I would also venture to say that meritocracy can lead to repression when we feel shamed or compelled to hide our inherent human weaknesses from the society or from public view in an attempt to look good, moral and “incorruptible”.

Regarding citizenship, I understand that this concept may arise from our fundamental need to belong to something or some group or tribe. I can understand and relate to the need for belonging as it may be hardwired in our genes the moment we are born to want to have a sense of belonging. However, as much as it is a valid need to belong to a community, do we need to have a formal citizenship in order to consider ourselves as belonging to a particular nation or country? Do we as human beings only have access to basic rights such as shelter or housing, healthcare and so on only when we are considered citizens of a nation? Wouldn’t a stateless person have the same human rights as a citizen in any land or country to have access to these rights?

In essence, if a government’s definition of citizenship is borrowed or adapted from imperialism, it implies that the indigenous people usually have less rights than those who are considered citizens who conform to the system, and their indigenous lifestyle and habitats are often being infringed upon or sacrificed whenever the government wants to clear their land and resettle them in the name of “development”, on the pretext of “doing what is good for the society”.

 

Posted in Love, Unity and harmony

There is no mountain

While pausing to attend to something important before setting out on the bicycle to run an errand, this realisation came to me:

The greatest mountain to overcome is the realisation and revelation of the elusive, esoteric truth that there is no mountain to overcome, no competition to be won, no race to prove who is better, faster, stronger or more powerful; indeed, there is nothing to prove.

It is all in the head (mind or mindset).

Only Love shall prevail. Only compassion shall preside. Only friendship shall win. Community and communion is our only hope.

Posted in Equality

Dealing with privilege

The Everyday Feminism article about the 160+ examples of male privilege in all areas of life is true and comprehensive. It really helps to be aware of these examples, because as the article put it, male privilege hurts everyone, including me because accessing male privilege often requires me to conform to a toxic norm of masculinity, which to me is simply another form of misogyny, and which marginalises men who don’t fit into that which the patriarchy-oriented system think men are “supposed” to be.

I find this related article to be helpful as well, as it recognises that having privilege can also mean a person can be privileged in some ways and experience oppression in other ways, which calls for intersectionality, and also I am reminded that having privilege means I can choose to step up to the responsibility to use the privilege for good, such as supporting the most vulnerable among us to strengthen our individual and collective struggles against any oppressive or discriminatory system or mindset.

Posted in Inspiration

The power of inspiration

This morning, a colleague emailed some of my team members and me to congratulate us for winning a finalist award for the publication of an educational book series. I replied to thank her for her congratulations, and I added: “It (The award) was so unexpected, as I wasn’t aware there was this awards thingy going on. All I know is we had this project to be worked on, and we did our part. If anything, everyone in this company deserves an award or recognition because we all have contributed in some ways to the publication of the books we are working on, due to our interdependence, regardless of whether these publications are publicly recognised in the industry.”

Having said that, I think people, including myself, like to be inspired. Whether it is meant to be a contest, competition or the like, people like to be inspired by those who challenge themselves to rise to higher heights, or who work for the betterment of society, and so on.

Also, I think everyone appreciates being credited or acknowledged in some ways, whether expressively or reservedly. Sometimes I wonder how to respond to awards or praises in an appropriate manner, as my response may be perceived by others as being humble or being proud. Then again, perhaps humility and pride are strange bedfellows, for they can in a way co-exist in a contradictory fashion in which we are somehow wired to be, given our complex, multidimensional nature. While we may not be expecting or looking for praises or recognition when we seek to do something meaningful or fulfilling, sincere compliments and acknowledgments can go a long way to keep us motivated to continue doing the good work we are doing, as they serve as feedback to let us know that our labour of love is not in vain as it has shown to help make the lives of others better in some ways. It appeals not to our ego but to our conviction that we are on the right track to help alleviate people’s sufferings and so on, and it brings refreshment to our weary souls and renews our vigour and resolve to advocate social justice, emancipation, empowerment of the disenfranchised and so on.

In fact, Jesus himself might be saying that he appreciated being appreciated for helping others when he spoke about the leper who returned to thank him after he was healed, while the other nine lepers who got healed didn’t return to thank him. Jesus, of all people, would be someone who is humble and secure in who he is, and still, he is moved by sincere praises when people acknowledge his good work, even though he often tells others to not announce to anyone after he heals them.

Jesse Williams’ recent BET award acceptance speech taught me how it is possible to use his award to inspire others as he dedicated his award to all those who have also contributed to the humanitarian cause of social justice and racial equality and freedom from oppression. He is wise and mature to know that everyone plays a part in working together for the common good, and everyone deserves to be recognised for the good work that they have done and are doing to make the world a better, safer and more equitable place for everyone. As a representative of these contributors, he uses his platform to speak on behalf of them and gives them the credit they deserve, so that they too can be mutually encouraged and inspired to continue with the good work for the healing of humanity.

“Now, this award – this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country – the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.” Jesse Williams

Posted in Healing, Nature

Deconstructing the health industry

Come to think of it, why is the health industry so called? Is the emphasis on health or industry? I suppose it depends on our perspectives, and I am going to share a perspective shaped by my experience of going to a hospital yesterday.

Yesterday I accompanied my mother to a hospital for her routine quarterly medical appointment. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience. For a start, I started having runny nose when I reached there, probably due to the air-conditioning and the invisible bugs that struck when my immune system was low. I also found the place rather crowded, and I disliked having to wait for the number to be called or wait for the lift to arrive.

In addition, I noticed a rising number of people on wheelchairs at the hospital over the years – is the nation getting sicker and weaker due to the aging population, the unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, and so on? Last but not least, the hospital has been renovated recently to look more modern, more corporate, more office-like, with computers and modes of payment devices, and so on. The hospital – in a nutshell – has become a corporation in a capitalistic world.

Busy hospital corridor activities nurse patient in queue waiting doctor
© Photographer: Bakhtiarzein | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Indeed, the whole hospital environment has been looking more and more crowded and complicated to me. Long queues of patients waiting, coupled with the machine-like efficiency of the system processing information, give the impression that I was in a modern hi-tech factory rather than a healing sanctuary. The hospital seems to have become an industrial cash cow – patients are the customers, and the staff are recruited to attend to the customers and process their payment for the services rendered and the products bought from the pharmacy.

I was wondering to myself if it is really necessary for most people to go to hospital in the first place. I mean, I understand the hospital can be useful for making diagnoses of symptoms, attending to medical emergencies, and so on, but for the majority of the cases when it comes to less serious or less urgent conditions, wouldn’t it be better to seek alternative treatments such as naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, ayurvedic therapy and so on, or practise healthy lifestyles or engage in health-giving activities in the form of doing yoga, meditation and so on, rather than going to see some doctors and get pharmaceutical medicines that only treat the symptoms and not the root causes of the symptoms?

In indigenous societies, how do people stay healthy or seek treatment when they are ill where there are no hospitals? As much as their native ways of treatment may look primitive or backward to most modern scientists, they are at least tried and tested and proven and passed on from generation to generation. I believe their treatments also usually don’t have side effects, unlike chemical drugs or treatments.

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Most of all, people living in or close to natural environments such as forests, mountains and seasides, aren’t usually bogged down by stress that is often associated with an urban lifestyle that saps people’s energy levels, through the wage slavery system, the media propaganda about meeting societal expectations and climbing the proverbial career ladder, the corporate doctrine that glorifies hard work at the expense of health and rest, the materialistic view of “success”, and so on.

So, at the risk of sounding simplistic, I think most of the patients I saw at the hospital would be much better off going to a beach or a park to get some exercise and enjoy relaxation than having to go to a factory-like environment and bear with the misery of being cooped up in a concrete building with all sorts of machineries and electronic devices surrounding them for hours, and then paying for pharmaceutical products that only treat symptoms and tend to produce side effects when they are taken in the long term.

Phuket beach resort
© Photographer: Pixelation2 | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Nature is free, enables us to reconnect to our true self, provides fresh, health-giving air, and restores calm and peace to our inner being, with no negative side effects. Isn’t it better if everyone chooses to take care of their own health through diet, lifestyle choices and so on than to depend on the pharmaceutical health industry to do it for them?

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Posted in Rest

Finding my flow and balance

I seem to have found my flow and balance when I was cycling late at night, and the cool weather helps in experiencing the almost effortless feel of pedalling the bike throughout the journey. It is an exhilarating feeling of freedom and lightness, not having to feel as if I need to perform or compete with anyone, or feeling any pressure of time constraint, and so on. I naturally and willingly slow down when necessary, allowing others to overtake me, and I am not feeling like I need to overtake others in order to prove or disprove something. Maybe this is what harmony with nature looks like and feels like.

 

Posted in Love

Breaking the ice of fear and sowing the seeds of love

As it is written, in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. God is love, so it is logical to say the word is love. Sometimes, words can break the ice and start a friendship.

When it comes to meeting people, silence can be scary. There can be an icy air of silence that poses as an invisible barrier between us and strangers. But maybe that’s where the idiomatic “ice breaker” comes into the picture. By saying something simple like “Hi, how’s it going?” to start a conversation, we can break the ice. We can dispel the air of tension and tenseness and apprehension. We can allay or alleviate the fear of rejection and abandonment that lingers in the subconscious of others that may stem from childhood trauma.

By taking the first step of saying hello, we put ourselves out on a limb, and risk rejection ourselves. We may find ourselves hanging for dear life onto a cliff face (hence, the term “cliffhanger”), or clutching at straw like a drowning person trying to keep ourselves afloat, as we wonder what might the response be. But our very act of sacrifice saves others from that fate of which we are afraid. Whether they respond in kind, at least they feel their presence is acknowledged. They feel that they matter, that they are significant, that they must be worth the time and attention that someone out there gives them.

Even if we get rejection, at least we know we try. As a saying goes, when we do things out of love, we become fearless. We know that we are sowing seeds of love, and the ripples of kindness will spread out to the universe, regardless of how the seeds are received.

Posted in Equality, Identity, Love

Human dignity and self-immolation

Quote by refugee

What caused a person to resort to such a drastic act of suicide in the form of self-immolation? I have read of similar cases in which Tibetan monks have taken their own lives by self-immolation, which also served as a form of protest against injustice and oppression by the ruling system. Similarly, the Arab Spring revolution that inspired Occupy Wall Street movement was sparked by a Tunisian man who set himself on fire in 2010 to protest against injustice, corruption and poverty.

Refugee Rights Action Network WA offered a sound explanation for such an act of self-immolation by an Iranian refugee, whose quote was shown above:

“On October 15 last year, Khodayar Amini, a Hazara man, set his body alight in a park in Dandenong, in fear of being redetained by immigration authorities. A patch of scorched earth marked his site of death, a silent testimony to an incredibly violent end.

Before Khodayar’s death, he stated clearly,
“My crime was that I was a refugee. They tortured me for 37 months and during all these times, they treated me in the most cruel and inhumane way, they violated my basic human right and took away my human dignity…They killed me as well as many of my friends such as: Nasim Najafi, Reza Rezayee and Ahmad Ali Jaffari”

For these men, the physical burning and scorching agony brought upon by fire, can be seen as a visible expression of the unacknowledged suffering that had plagued their lives under Australia’s merciless immigration regime.

As racialised bodies in a system designed to deny care to those deemed ‘unworthy’, these men have cried out to Australia, asking for care. In a system that renders their suffering invisible they have sought to make their suffering visible. With nothing else within their control, they have cried out with their bodies.”

I believe the underlying message is: Do I matter? As human beings, we all have an inner desire to be respected, acknowledged and treated with basic dignity. I am sure most, if not all, of us would have experienced in some form of discrimination or other, and the experience can be downright humiliating. In a recent incident on social media, I was chagrined when my post was removed twice by a group administrator without explanation, despite my request for an explanation, and I decided to raise an issue openly to challenge the perceived discrimination.

I can only imagine how much worse it has been for refugees whose voices have been drowned consistently by the uncaring system. It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to compare my own experience with those who had to deal with the systemic oppression day after day, which threatened their very survival and well-being. But I can certainly relate in some ways to their pains and suffering.

“Do I matter? Does my life matter?” is the question that continues unspoken in our lives whenever we undergo struggles and setbacks. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement exemplifies the need to vocalise and highlight the issue of anti-black racism and institutional oppression of the black community that had resulted in white police brutality against unarmed black men and women.

May we all come to the realisation that we ourselves matter and so do others, and may we unite to subvert the inhumane system that threatens to strip us of our basic dignity and humanity.