The Theory of Everything

April.13. 2015

It was said that after he discovered the E=mc2 equation, Einstein set out to try to uncover the ultimate secret of all, the theory of everything.

The premise was simple.

There must be an underlying theory that explains everything. A so-called elegant principle that ties in all the disparate forces in the universe.

He never found it.

That doesn’t mean of course that it isn’t there. I believe one day, someone will find it.

But the idea is intriguing and one that particularly resonates with me.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always believed in reducing things to their basic elements in an effort to understand them.

It’s what I tried to do with the Art of Virtuosity, where I was able to identify several basic principles that are absolutely essential to virtuosity.

Well, the other day, I uncovered, purely by accident, one even more basic principle that ties in all these principles.

This principle is so powerful, I have to call it the theory of everything (well at least for the guitar).

I have been aware of the principle for years and have written about it in numerous short articles.

But I had not been aware of its fundamental role as the basic principle that connects all techniques.

What is this principle?

Without giving away the plot too much, I’ll have to say that it involves the fingertips.

A way of manipulating the energy at your fingertips so that they function like automated engines.

This principle is so powerful that when you discover it, speed, power, and precision occur effortlessly.

Your fingers will seem to be filled with a special kind of energy, they will seem to play themselves.

Of course, this may sound like so much mumbo jumbo to some.

It is always hard to understand something when you haven’t experienced it yourself. But believe me, this principle is very real and its results are very real.

So how do you discover this secret for yourself?

Practice is the key, many hours of practice, countless hours.

Next, patience—because you’re probably not going to get it next week, or maybe even next year, or the year after. So how long do you have to wait? As long as it takes.

And an open heart, no preconceptions. Just give your body and fingers complete freedom to explore their possibilities and go where their instincts lead them.

Truth is stranger than fiction

April.3. 2015

Let us imagine a fictional country.

Rich in natural resources, an educated population, all the trappings of a modern country, twin towers in the capital city, gleaming subway system, and beautiful peoples of all races living side by side.

A virtual paradise on earth.

Now imagine that a new President was elected.

One of the first things he did was to come up with some catchy slogans to stir the patriotic spirit.

And the second thing he did was to form a public corporation, which he called Some Development Corp.

The corporation was charged with investing the country’s wealth to create more wealth for the populace. The country was wealthy, and the pensioners’ coffers were filled to the brim with cash that was just waiting for someone to invest it.

The slogans worked.

The spirit caught on. And the populace loved the new dynamic President.

But behind the euphoric scene, something else was going on.

The corporation hired a brilliant young financier who cooked up a scheme to transfer money from the brimming pension funds into the pockets of who else, but El Presidente himself and his family.

For his trouble, the young financier gave himself a hefty commission too.

So how much are we talking about here?

Millions? Tens of Millions? Or how about hundreds of millions?

No, we’re talking billions.

But apparently raiding the pension funds was not enough.

The corporation set out to borrow yet more Billions from the local banks. That’s Billions with a capital B.

And what did the young financier and his buddies do?

They threw lavish parties in Hollywood and in the south of France and paid millions to hire professional celebrities (let’s call them modern day flower lounge girls) to grace the occasions.

But that’s not all.

No story of crime and corruption is complete without the presence of a young beauty.

And what a beauty she was, young, sophisticated, and exotic.

She jetsetted with this elite crowd and had a wonderful life.

But when you play with fire, you will get burned which was precisely what happened to this young beauty.

And so amidst this sordid tale of corruption (or is it Grand Theft National Treasury), is a murder mystery which is inextricably linked to El Presidente himself.

But why would an educated populace put up with this free for all at the nation’s expense.

With his newly acquired personal wealth, the President formed a protective shield of sycophants around him by paying them handsome monthly allowances, besides giving them ‘projects’ which rewarded them well with even more handsome kickbacks.

And those who would dare try to speak the truth about his nefarious activities, he jailed them with special laws.

Just to make sure his fortress is impenetrable, he deliberately sowed discord among the races. It’s that famous ‘divide and rule’ maxim he learned so well from his former colonial masters.

And so gone were the happy slogans. The once happy valley became a place of endless strife and discord between the once happy peoples.

Which ensures that the looting and the rape of the national treasury will go on unabated for years to come.

You can say, this can’t be true.

Nobody can make this stuff up.

Yes, but as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Just such a scenario is playing out in one distant corner of the world, and as one commenter said, this cliffhanger is even more of a nail biter than the one from ‘Dallas’–Who killed JR.

Stay tuned.

Wisdom as a tool

March.28. 2015

Wisdom for me is a tool.

A tool to elevate your existence and create a more effortless life for yourself.

That’s what tools do—they make life easier for you.

For example, have you tried driving in a screw without a screwdriver?

Or a nail without a hammer?

Or tried to cut a board without a saw?

Without tools, life is a constant struggle. With tools, life becomes easy and effortless.

And that’s what wisdom does for you.

It gives you the tools to cut through the crap of life and see right to the essence of things. So that you can concentrate on the things that matter and not bother about the rest.

This makes life easy and effortless.

You don’t waste time and you still get to produce great results.

For example, if you work in a big impersonal organization. Organizations tend to operate with many layers of bureaucratic red tape (otherwise known as policies.)

You can blindly follow every one of these policies, but you’ll be wasting precious time and worse, you won’t be able to do your job, the job you’re hired for.

Or you can figure out which of these ‘policies’ can be dispensed with and focus your energy on doing your job well.

And this is where wisdom comes in.

What is your job?

Is it to fill out countless reports for your supervisors so that they can cover their butt and look busy and engaged?

Or is it to get things done?

For example, if you’re a teacher, the essence of your job is to educate.

Once you figure this out, you can focus all your energy on teaching.

And do the minimum on the rest. (Minimum here meaning doing what you need to do to give the appearance of having done what is ‘required’ and nothing more.)

This way, you’ll be able to produce the goods and still look good to the paper pushers and rule enforcers.

In guitar playing, wisdom will tell you that the essence of what you do is to play and express yourself on the guitar.

Everything else is secondary.

So if you’re playing well, but your teacher still tells you that you need to change your hand position because it doesn’t quite fit his idea of what is a good hand position, it may be time to look for another teacher.

Because obviously, he is more interested in enforcing his preconceived ideas than in teaching you.

Wisdom is especially important in sorting out the real from the phonies, the sincere from the scammers.

If you go to a church and the pastor tells you God wants you to contribute more money so he can expand his church, that’s an instant red flag.

Because wisdom will tell you that the essence of religion is to bring you salvation and not to help someone build his own megachurch. (Which sounds more like an ego trip than the word of God.)

Or if he tells you God wants him to have a new jet, stay very far away.

Because you’ll be financing his lavish lifestyle instead of finding salvation.

This has nothing to do with not being generous with God’s gifts to you, it has everything to do with not being taken in by some scammer.

Wisdom to me is a functional tool. Something that is actionable, something that actually makes a difference to your life.

It’s not to be confused with the ‘sage-like’ wisdom that does nothing for you except make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Yes, you can find your ‘inner child’ or ‘live in mindfulness’ but that’s not going to put food on the table or pay your bills.

The natural order of things

March.2. 2015

Wisdom, I’ve found, has a lot to do with the natural order of things.

What is the natural order of things?

It’s how things work in their natural state.

Take a mountain stream. Left to its own devices, it will find the straightest and most direct path to the ocean.

That’s how streams operate in the natural order of things.

And that’s how we operate too when we gain wisdom.

We begin to act like the mountain stream. We naturally find the straightest and most direct path to our goal.

And usually this means a path of least resistance.

A path of directness of purpose.

A path with only one objective, to reach the ocean.

That’s the simple scenario of working within the natural order of things.

But it gets a little more complicated at the human level.

Because along the way, your directness of purpose and efficiency must not create any resistance.

Because if you create resistance, you bring the forces of the universe against you.

(Think of the resistance as obstructions in your path to the ocean.)

Suppose your directness of purpose has to do with defrauding people, and you’re quite efficient at doing that, and for a moment it might appear that you have been uplifted—you’re living in your fine downtown mansion.

But you can’t defraud people without creating ill will and bad feelings, and this creates resistance in the universe (for you), and you soon find that your uplifting was only temporary.

This is the problem with some people.

They forget that the universe is full of energy and you want that energy to work for you, not against you.

The minute you create bad feelings and ill will, you invite that energy to work against you.

In other words, you’re not working with the natural order of things, and sooner or later, you will find your reality has been downshifted instead of uplifted.

Let’s see how this relates to the guitar.

Let’s say that you’re filled with directness of purpose and efficiency and you practice diligently every day.

But your directness of purpose is to follow someone’s prescriptions for guitar playing rigidly, without considering whether it’s working within the natural order of things in your body.

And the result is resistance within your body.

And sooner or later this resistance will manifest itself in subtle and unsubtle ways.

Subtle—by limiting your technical development and unsubtle—when you start suffering from all kinds of “overuse syndromes.”

(Neither one of which you might call uplifting outcomes.)

There’s, of course, no such thing as overuse syndrome, only misuse and abuse syndromes.

If you work within the natural order of things in your body, you can practice ten hours a day and not experience any ill effects.

To rephrase my original point.

Wisdom, I’ve found, really means understanding how the universe works and working with it in a way that creates least resistance and brings you to your goals simply and efficiently.

Some additional thoughts

February.28. 2015

So is wisdom an intrinsic thing which can only be accessed by people with special ‘talents?’

Can it be imposed from outside?

Can you buy wisdom and become a wise person as a result?

Can you seek a master and become a man of wisdom too?

To answer these questions, let me recount the story of a great musician.

In the middle of a great concert career, he suddenly lost his technique. Somehow, he found he couldn’t play as freely and as naturally as before.

The critics noticed it also, the old brilliance was gone.

This is someone who, as a child, had played to ecstatic crowds from Berlin to New York and then somewhere around age thirty, he suddenly lost his technique.

The story goes that despite his best efforts to try to regain his former technique, he never found it again.

His playing was still great by any standards, but that spark of pure genius, the effortless touch of the prodigy was gone.

So what changed?

Did someone take that wisdom away from his hands and fingers?

Did he wake up one day with new hands and fingers?

No, everything was essentially the same.

Still the same old body, the same hands.

What happened was he had lost the wisdom in his body.

A wisdom he had intuitively found from years of playing and experiencing as a child.

A wisdom that enabled his body to find that sweet spot where everything clicked into place to produce a perfect alignment of hands, fingers, muscles, and mind.

That wisdom had nothing to do with his body or with any innate talent.

Because when it left him, the body was still essentially the same.

And it was unconscious, because if it was conscious, he could have been able to recall it in an instant.

Imagine someone with a deep intimate knowledge of something (his own body) and of a particular body experience (playing the instrument), and yet suddenly not being able to reproduce that experience, no matter how hard he tried.

It just goes to show.

Wisdom can’t be imposed from outside.

It is an internal thing which means no one can give it to you, you’ll have to find it yourself.

It has nothing to do with a particular body or mind.

And it operates at an unconscious level, which means you can’t force it to happen at will.

The second thing

February.20. 2015

So perhaps you think you’ve found the wisdom you’re looking for, but how do you know that it is really ‘it?’

Especially if you’ve been searching a while, you’ve probably experienced a few false alarms along the way.

How do you know you’ve arrived at your goal?

The answer is in the results.

Perhaps you’re looking to play a certain technique on the guitar and for some reason, you’re unable to get what you want.

Your fingers just wouldn’t cooperate.

No matter what you do, you could not produce the effect you’re looking for.

Then one day, by accident, you change something in the way you attack the strings, or the way you hold the thumb and suddenly, voila, you’re able to produce that effect.

The change is instantaneous.

Almost miraculous.

This is what it feels like when you finally stumble onto the truth.

You will see instant results.

But the principle doesn’t only apply to the guitar.

You see the same principle at work in life.

For example, the uplifting power of wisdom creates good positive energy.

When you surround yourself with this positive energy created from your newfound wisdom, you will find that whatever you want to accomplish is suddenly easier.

Consider the carrot vs. the stick approaches.

You can try to force an outcome with a stick but it takes too much effort and involves violence which means that whatever outcome you get, if you get any, is not pretty.

Plus, you create resentment which will come back to haunt you.

But if you use the carrot, it’s effortless and the outcome is filled with positive energy.

That’s because everyone wins in the carrot approach. The other party gets to eat the carrot and you get your outcome.

The reason why you get instantaneous results is because the wisdom to accomplish what you want to accomplish was always within you.

You’re just setting it free.

That great guitar technique was always in your fingers, but may have been locked up by some misalignment in your body and by realigning your body, you’re finally setting it free.

That wisdom within your mind was always there, and by a shift in perception, you’re finally seeing it for the first time.

In other words, that wisdom you were searching for was always within you in the first place, unable to emerge, and when you finally discover the secret, the pivotal principle, you’re finally setting it free.

This is the second thing you need to know on your wisdom journey.

When you find what you’re looking for, it should feel like you’ve come home.

Everything finally feels right, no more struggle.

All the imbalances, the misalignments in your thoughts and body are suddenly resolved and now you’re able to see the whole situation perfectly.

So do not believe those who will try to sell you their ‘wisdom,’ and when you tell them that it’s uncomfortable and unnatural, they tell you to be patient, that it will take time for you to get ‘acclimated’ to it.

The truth is that true wisdom should feel right and work immediately.

You should see the results immediately.

Yes, there will usually be a transitional period, when you’re between the old and the new.

During this time, you will find yourself lapsing back into the old and the old problems will come back again.

So you want to stay vigilant and keep yourself focused on the new in the early stages, and you might have to do this consciously.

But once you solidify your new wisdom state, it should become automatic.

It will become a part of your natural state.

The period of adjustment has nothing to do with acclimating yourself to the new. Rather it’s in making sure that you do not lapse into the old.

The pivot principle

February.7. 2015

Most of the time, in wisdom journeys, you’re just wandering around, trying different options, different approaches, hoping to find the one that will bring you to your destination.

Sometimes you will get lucky and stumble onto the right path by instinct, or by accident.

Sometimes you will have someone else’s road map and know what to look out for and your journey is shortened considerably.

The problem, however, is that when you do find the ‘right’ option, how do you know it’s really the one?

It will look just like every other option. There will be nothing to indicate that this is it, this is the one that will lead you to where you want to go.

Well, there is something that will help give you a clue.

It’s what you might call the pivot principle.

The pivot principle is the one key element that will crystallize all the other elements. When you find this element, the others automatically fall into place.

You might call it the key to the kingdom.

Or the breakthrough principle.

Because it will literally unlock the door to the wisdom you’re searching for.

For instance, in guitar playing, once you find this key element, the other elements will become immediately obvious.

Let’s say you’re searching for your ideal hand position, that sweet spot where playing becomes effortless.

And you don’t know where to start—how should you play with the thumb, what angle do you hold your fingers, should you play from the left side or the right side or square against the strings?

All critical issues which have no answers.

That is until you find this key element.

And when you find it, everything else immediately falls into place.

You will know exactly what to do.

The reason is that nothing works in isolation, everything works together.

For instance, how you play with the thumb will impact your fingers, will impact the angle of your attack, will impact the direction of your strokes, which will in turn impact how you play with your thumb.

And there are no clear answers until you find that one principle that clarifies everything else.

The same principle applies in life.

Many times, you will struggle with a seemingly intractable problem until one day, almost miraculously, you stumble onto the one concept that will put everything else into focus.

And you know exactly what to do.

So most of the time, our search for wisdom is to find this one principle that unlocks all the others.

And the only way to find it is to keep searching.

To never give up.

And to understand that the journey can take years.

Sometimes I hear the word ‘frustrated’ in connection with a particular search.

‘Frustrated’ indicates that the person has certain expectations of finding what he’s looking for quickly and when he doesn’t find it, he gets ‘frustrated.’

Unfortunately, the search for wisdom does not follow any schedule, especially not one that you set. It will happen when it happens, and until it happens, you keep on searching.

This is the reason why wisdom is a rare commodity, because it takes so much time and effort.

But the payoff is immense.

Because when you find it, life (and whatever goal you’ve set for yourself) becomes effortless.

Next, the second thing you need to know on your wisdom journey.

A simple guide to embarking on a wisdom journey

January.26. 2015

Wisdom journeys are filled with pitfalls.

First, the incredible (one can say even infinite) array of possibilities out there.

Just to take one example, if you’re searching for that great guitar technique, there’re an infinite number of ways to hold your hand, to strike the strings, etc.

Or if you’re searching for success in life, there’re an infinite number of choices lying ahead of you.

How do you know what combination of factors is the right one, the one that will give you that great technique you’re searching for, or lead you to that fulfilling abundant life of your dreams?

To complicate things, there will be false prophets at every turn who will obfuscate the situation and mislead you with half-truths and/or false ‘truths.’

And some of them will be very persuasive.

How do you separate the true prophets from the imposters?

(True prophets being those who will help bring you to your destination, imposters those who will lead you astray, mostly to serve their own interests.)

To help you navigate the treacherous waters of wisdom seeking, I’ve come up with this simple guide to help you on your journey.

Keep in mind this is just a guide and not a prescription.

Before we start, let’s define what true wisdom is.

True wisdom has one basic component.

It uplifts you.

“Uplift” here has no moral connotations.

It simply means that it has a positive impact on what you do and brings you to a higher plane of existence, hence the word ‘uplift.’

For instance, in guitar playing, it makes your playing better.

In life, it helps you achieve greater success in whatever you do.

The basic premise is that when we achieve progress in what we do, we move to a higher level of existence, in other words, we’re ‘uplifted.’

An additional clarification.

The wisdom we’re talking about here is simple practical wisdom, the kind that helps you get the job done, become a better person, succeed at a venture, perhaps play better guitar…

No sagelike wisdom or anything of the sort.

So how is wisdom different from knowledge?

The first difference is the uplift component.

Knowledge can bring you up or down–it does not need to have the uplift component.

(This explains why so many smart people do dumb things. Knowledge does not equal wisdom.

Knowledge that uplifts is sometimes also called wisdom.)

The second difference is that knowledge is conscious while wisdom is mostly unconscious.

For example, being able to play the guitar requires tapping into the wisdom of your body which is unconscious.

Unconscious because it’s a part of your psyche, your being.

It operates in the background without you being aware of it.

The third difference is that knowledge comes from without while wisdom comes from within.

For example, teachers give you knowledge.

But practice gives you wisdom.

A teacher can give you the knowledge to execute a particular move but until you gain the wisdom in your body to execute that move, you will never fully understand that knowledge.

This is what the great teachers mean when they say we must look inside ourselves, not outside, for our own salvation (or enlightenment).

Next, the two things you need before you can reach your goal of attaining wisdom.

To set the record straight

January.10. 2015

This is something I had never expected, people crawling out of the woodwork claiming they were my teachers.

I’m not sure how to take this.

Should I take it as a compliment?

A sign of success? After all, if I was a dismal failure, I doubt there would be anyone trying to take credit.

The first time I encountered the problem was when someone in Kuala Lumpur told me that there’s this teacher in town who was going around telling people he was my teacher.

The funny thing is, I had never met the guy, not then, not now.

I had heard he studied in London with the famous pedagogue, Wyndham Waffle. Other than that I have no clue who this imposter is.

And now there’s this old schoolmate who is going around saying I was his “first student.”

My recollections of this person are rather hazy but I remember he had always been a friendly (or unfriendly) rival back in the day, and he was always trying to catch up with me, even back then.

Great strategy—to make yourself feel better, tell people you ‘taught’ the other guy.

Now, why should these things bother me?

Because I can’t have every Tom, Dick, and Harry try to rewrite history at my expense.

After all, they say if you tell a lie often enough, people will actually start to believe it.

And to dissuade any would-be loser from staking any more claims on me.

So to set the record straight.

I have had only three guitar teachers in my life.

David Wong Hie Bing who gave me my first lessons in Sibu, Colin Henderson of Burnside High School, Christchurch, NZ, who nurtured my playing, and Karl Herreshoff aka David Hagemeister, of Nights in the Garden of Spain fame who inspired me to become an artist.

The rest are imposters, to put it kindly.

Or losers, to put it less kindly.

The Great David Hagemeister

January.7. 2015

Gina Berriault is not a household name by any means. In fact, I had never heard of her until I read her short story, “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.”

You can read the story here.

The story is about a guitar teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area and his protégé’s encounter with the famous Spanish guitarist, Tomas Torres.

While the bulk of the story deals with the teacher’s struggles to come to terms with his own lackluster career as a player, the story is really about the young boy who had been selected to play for the master.

The boy played well for Torres, but was underwhelmed by the self-important pompous Spanish guitar master and decided not to go to Palermo to study with him and opted instead to go to Mexico City to study with a guitarist by the name of Salinas.

Great story.

Ms Berriault, however, failed to mention a few details about the boy.

Named David Frederick Hagemeister III, the young boy featured in the story was actually the descendant of an offspring of an illicit union between a court lady and a captain in the court of King Frederick the Great. The king loved the boy so much he named the boy after him.

That’s where the ‘Frederick’ in David Frederick Hagemeister III came from.

Somehow, after the king died, the illegitimate offspring and/or his descendants (I’m not clear about the details) made his way to the New World where he established a boat building business on the East Coast.

But one of his descendants ended up in San Diego and later San Francisco, which is where the story took place.

So what happened to the boy after he went to Mexico?

Let’s see if we can continue where Ms Berriault left off.

After his time in Mexico, David Hagemeister, the young boy went on to attain quite a bit of success as a classical guitarist. But his independent streak and refusal to accept authority meant that true success would elude him.

He did get to teach at a few colleges but did not survive long at any of them, nobody liked an independent thinker, especially not college bureaucrats.

In his thirties, Maestro Hagemeister spent a few years in New Zealand where he taught a number of aspiring young guitar players there, among them an impressionable young player from Borneo.

To make the plot more believable, let’s say that the guitar player from Borneo himself ended up in South Texas sometime after that.

But here’s the icing on the cake:

David’s teacher in Mexico, called Salinas, was actually a Dutchman who had studied with the great Maestro Miguel Llobet, who in turn was the star student of the father of the modern guitar, Francisco Tarrega.

A direct line to the great Tarrega.

David Hagemeister passed away in 2006.

Sometime ago, the student from Borneo, living in South Texas, managed to have a phone conversation with David’s mother, a few months before she passed on too.

The mother was 94 years old and living by herself in a beach house in Hawaii as a Zen monk. (Yes, you can say independent streaks ran in the family.)

It was a good conversation. And he was happy he could talk to her. She was quite broken up by the death of her famous son, but remained philosophical.

It’s a good story, quite implausible, of course.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.