The second factor

April.24. 2016

Life is about growing and reaching your full potential.

That may sound like a personal life-philosophy, but it’s not, it is actually a law of nature.

Think of it this way.

To be alive is to exist in one of two states—you’re either growing or you’re dying. There is no middle ground.

To paraphrase the great poet-philosopher Robert Zimmerman, “If you’re not busy growing, you’re busy dying.”

Take a rose. During its short life span, it will bloom (grow) and then it will die. (And during its short life, it will fill the world with the most exquisite scent.)

Contrast this to a plastic rose, which stays immutable and unchanging until one day, maybe you get tired of looking at it and throw it out into the dumpster.

Between growing and dying, I think most people will agree that the former is a preferable state of being.

And that leads us to the second critical factor.

To grow (we’re talking about spiritual growth here as opposed to the physical), you need a receptive mind.

And that is the second factor.

A receptive mind is based on the proposition that the job is never done, the journey never finished.

As soon as you reach one state of being, you’re already moving to the next.

It’s based on the simple philosophy that life is a work in progress, that we never truly reach our goal. (Because to reach our goal is to imply that we have stopped growing which means that we’re already dying.)

How does one acquire a receptive mind?

Start with the self-awareness that you’re incomplete, that you can never know everything. And because you’re incomplete, you’re constantly trying to fill in the gaps, which of course can never be filled.

Because as soon as you fill one gap, you realize there’s another gap that needs to be filled too. And so you keep on moving forward, growing as you fill in the gaps in your consciousness.

A realization that we’re incomplete may seem like a form of humility, but to me it’s more like brutal self-honesty.

Because it is a true reflection of things, it is the reality of our existence.


A grateful heart

April.17. 2016

There are two things I’ve found that are essential for a happy and fulfilling life.

Two absolutely critical factors.

You can call them the secret ingredients of life. (Actually not so secret but often overlooked.)

The first is a grateful heart.

(You’ve probably heard of this one before, and everything you’ve heard is true.)

A grateful heart is the source of all joy.

A grateful heart operates on the assumption that you deserve nothing, that everything you have is a special gift. And because it’s so special, you value it, and you give thanks just to have it.

When you think about it, nothing really belongs to you.

Everything you have is a temporary gift, which can be taken away from you at any time.

Perhaps you’ve worked hard to get to where you are.

And you feel (quite rightly too) that you deserve everything you got because you’ve worked hard for it.

But think of a farmer who works hard in his fields. For a while, it may appear that his hard work is paying off, the crops are gleaming golden in the midday sun, but then, one night, a storm comes and floods his fields. The entire crop is wiped out.

So where is that hard work now? Is it still producing the bountiful harvest?

If you think of it this way, every good harvest is a gift from the heavens.

And everything that you have has come to you because the universe was working on your side.

A grateful heart finds joy in everything because it sees everything as a special gift, a blessing.

Whereas a heart without gratitude is one that takes everything for granted. And because it takes everything for granted, nothing gives it joy.

A person with a gratitude-less heart can be blessed with every gift from the gods and he’ll still find something to whine about.

You can say it all comes down to perspective.

A young man blessed with everything in life can still complain he’s bored with his life, while in the fields, his migrant counterpart may be finding joy in the fact he’s made it to this great country and able to work for a living.

So does that imply that we all have to look to the least fortunate among us to feel gratitude?

Not necessarily, but sometimes a little perspective may help.

Next, the second critical factor.


The perversity of human nature or how to be a fool

March.19. 2016

Years ago, in one of my primary school textbooks, there was a story about a man and his camel.

The two were sleeping in the desert. It was a particularly cold night. The man was in a tent, the camel outside.

After a while, the camel said to the man, “Master, it’s very cold out here, can I stick my feet into the tent?”

The master, being a kind man, said, “Yes of course.”

The camel put his feet in the tent. Then after a while, he said, “Master, my legs are cold, can I put them into the tent?”

The master again said, “Yes of course” and the camel put his legs into the tent.

Well, you know the rest of the story. The camel ended up sleeping in the cozy tent while the master was left out in the cold.

Now, you can read this as a fable of human kindness or you can read it as an allegory of the perversity of human nature—the more you give some people, the more they want from you.

And if you expect them to be grateful, you’d be very much mistaken because the perversity of human nature is such that it includes zero gratitude for any kindness received.

Not only will they be ungrateful, in the end they will usurp your place and kick you out into the cold.

The perversity of human nature.

The kinder you are to some people, the less they appreciate and respect you.

To be kind to them the first time is to be a good human being, to be kind a second time is to be a fool.


How to be a scumbag

January.5. 2016

I have been a keen student of scumbology over the years, having wittingly or unwittingly made the acquaintance of some of its finest exponents over the years.

So this short essay is culled mostly from personal experiences, not first hand, of course, but from observations.

As a subspecies, scumbags are usually not the smartest cookies in the world.

But what they lack in intellect, they more than make up for in their acute understanding of the human mind.

And this is crucial to their modus operandi.

Which is sucking up to get what they want. (In some parts of the world, this is referred to as holding a log.)

To suck up to someone, first, you must know the person’s weaknesses.

For example, if a person is vain, you have to appeal to that vanity.

Or if a person is insecure inside and need constant validation, accord him special respect, stroke his ego, and he’s yours from then on.

But what’s wrong with according someone special respect or making him feel good?

Nothing wrong except that in the field of scumbology, there’s an essential added component which we might call the “flipside.”

This flipside is crucial, without it, a potential scumbology action will not qualify as one.

The flipside is this.

For every show of respect you show someone, you must show an equal disdain for someone else.

If you show respect to everyone, irregardless of who they are, you are just a nice guy.

To qualify as a scumbology action, your schmoozing must be selective.

In other words, the scumbag differentiates between people.

(In Chinese, this is often referred to as “look at people.”)

He reserves his special attention only to a select few, those who he thinks deserve his respect.

And the rest of the world? Well, they’re losers so they deserve only his disdain.

And this is what really separates scumbags from the rest of the world.

To the scumbag, the world is divided into the haves and the have-nots—those who “have” his respect and those who “have not” his respect.

In the former category is anyone who is useful to him, powerful people, his bosses, his superiors, maybe a school principal (so he can become the head prefect), or maybe a rich patron, (especially someone he once knew at school).

In the latter category are those who have not attained any great status in life, people who are beneath him at work, people who clean his offices, former friends who he deems to have lost to him in the game of life. In other words, the losers (in his mind) of the world.

Once he has neatly divided the world into these two camps of winners (according to his criteria of winning) and losers (according to his criteria of losing), then he simply accords to them the appropriate actions.

Knowing the art of scumbology is useful in all areas of life.

It’s particularly useful in the workplace.

Don’t waste any time on the lowly janitors, or the clerk, or that secretary. Treat them like the losers they are. Be short and abrupt with them to keep them in line. You know if you’re too nice to them, they’ll start climbing all over your head.

But your superiors? Keep a smile ever ready for them. Every morning, greet them with a warm friendly smile. Ask them how they are. Ask them about their family. Be prepared to laugh at the slightest joke.

You want them to know you’re the friendliest and most helpful guy around.

Scumbagging is important too outside the workplace.

Especially when you need something from someone.

If you need a favor from anyone, make sure you give them the full treatment too—the charming smile, the ever ready laugh, the jovial attitude, the helpfulness.

But of course, once you have accomplished your goals and gotten what you want from them, don’t forget to turn on the flipside.

Toss them onto the dungheap of losers where they belong.

Sure, you’ll make a few people unhappy with this kind of abrupt about-face but life is too short to worry about people who don’t mean anything to you.

Best to put it down to jealousy—they’re just jealous you’re getting on in life while they’re not.


Two movies

January.1. 2016

Imagine a disaster at sea, a ship full of people—men, women, children.

The ship sinks, people are thrown into the sea, there’s general mayhem.

And then what happens?

Men start fighting each other for life jackets, men stabbing each other for a piece of plank. And men snatching life jackets away from little children.

Hard to believe, but apparently, it did happen in the sinking of the “Great Peace,” sometime around 1949.

What manner of men would snatch life jackets away from children?

It brings to mind that other disaster, the Titanic, where the opposite happened, gallant men giving up their places in lifeboats to women and children.

Admittedly, both depictions are fictionalized scenarios—in the Titanic and the Crossing II.

It’s hard to know what really happened.

The worst part of it (for me anyway) is, is it a cultural thing?

Did the disaster in the Crossing II really happen as envisioned by John Woo?

Are the Chinese people really so selfish and cruel, will they do anything at self preservation?

Recent stories coming out of China seem to confirm it, that the mercenary and mean side of the Chinese psyche cannot be underestimated.

Melamine spiked milk, dumplings filled with lard enhanced cardboard and what else. To the point where these days, I refuse to buy any food made in China.

Among some of the subplots in the Crossing is that of a woman by the name of Yu Zhen played by beautiful Zhang Ziyi.

The woman, in searching for her true love, had to resort to prostitution to try to get a ticket to Taiwan where she was told his battalion had ended up. Throughout it all, she remained pure in heart and spirit.

At one point, a dying soldier entrusted her with a ring to give to his family.

She found the family, but they were already dead from starvation, and went back to the soldier to find that he had died too. Instead of keeping the ring and selling it to get the ticket she so desperately needed, she put the ring back on his dead finger.

It just goes to show, you can defile a person’s body but you cannot defile the spirit.

Talking about prostitution, I saw the Force Awakens recently too.

And what a letdown it was.

Trust Disney to take a great franchise and turn it into corporate crap.

With precious little plot to speak of, and what little there was were complete rip-offs of earlier Star Wars movies.

It doesn’t take much to connect the pieces together and figure out that Lucas had sold his great legacy to the highest bidder, a fact he unwittingly let out in an interview with Charlie Rose.

Mr. Lucas, you are right, no need to backtrack. Disney is a bunch of white slavers.

It just goes to show, with money, you don’t have to defile a person’s body to defile his spirit.


The Three Wise Men from the East

December.10. 2015

On this advent season, my thoughts turn once again to the three Wise Men from the East.

No, not the fabled three riding on their camels through the desert following the Wandering Star, but rather the other three wise men, the three who actually left their wisdom behind.

Buddha, Jesus, and Lao Tzu.

It’s interesting how the three perfectly complemented each other.

One dealt with how to live with oneself–by following the middle path.

One dealt with how to live with others–by loving your neighbor.

And one dealt with how to live life itself–by working with nature.

Three great philosophers, each dealing with one area of life.

If you think about it, these are the great fundamental issues of life:

Living with oneself.

Living with others.

And living life itself.

Interesting too, how all three had their philosophies later twisted and turned into organized religions that were more intent on enslaving man’s minds than in freeing them.


Priorities

December.9. 2015

Just watched a PBS Newshour story on gun control. (Typical knee jerk reporting from the lame stream media.)

Somehow the focus shifted to Australia and their gun control laws after the 1996 massacre. Apparently the conservative PM of the time, John Howard, had to ram the legislation through despite opposition from his own party. But he did it, which includes complete background checks and a ban on all assault weapons.

In the story, the reporter asked an Aussie gun shop owner how he felt about the legislation, since he could be making a lot more money if it had not been enacted, to which he replied, “There are some things more important than money.”

Now here’s a man who’s got his priorities all wrong.

There’s nothing more important than money!

Who cares about a couple dozen kids blown to pieces in their school or some holiday party goers going down in a hail of bullets.

It’s all about making money, and the more you can make, the better.

I suggest he come to this great country and learn a thing or two from the NRA about priorities.


Season of joy

December.4. 2015

With the holiday fast upon us, and the season of Black Friday joy just behind us, it means just one thing–that it’s time for my annual introspections.

And my thoughts turn to Father Christmas.

That old warm fuzzy Giftster from the North Pole.

All a bunch of myths of course.

Old fairy tales.

But, nevertheless, still exerting a very powerful pull on our emotions. (Mine at least. Christmas was a big event at the Hii household when I was growing up.)

It brings to mind all the other myths in our general human consciousness about the figure behind these myths.

How much of it is fiction, how much fact?

Who was the man who left behind all those radical sayings?

Things like “love your neighbor.”

Or “turn the other cheek.”

Or “blessed are the meek.”

Powerful stuff.

But what does an old geezer from the North Pole have to do with this otherwise obscure wise man from some desert in the Middle East?

Or for that matter, a manger and sheep grazing in the night?

And three wise men bearing frankincense and myrrh?

We’ll never know of course if these stories are fact or fiction. (My money is on the latter, just like old Santa.)

But it doesn’t really matter.

Fact or fiction, myths have amazing power.

That power came from us of course.

When we place our belief in something, that thing automatically assumes the power we ascribe to it.

For example, when you worship a tree or a rock for a long time, sooner or later, that tree or rock will begin to assume the power that you project to it through your belief.

Whether that power is real or not is immaterial because your belief makes it real.

And so too with ancient myths and beliefs.

Our beliefs in them make them very real.

But this holiday season, my thoughts turn once again to this wise man lost in the distant mist of time.

And the teachings he left behind.

Still powerful, despite the attempts to subvert them and turn them into another tool to control man’s minds, or money making machine for others.

Some have tried to turn this great wise man into a divine miracle worker, a glorified supernatural magician.

But the true miracle of this man lies in the teachings he left behind.

(The teachings that are collected in the authentic books, like the Gospel of St Thomas, not the government approved versions.)

I find it absolutely amazing that a man two thousand years ago could have attained such a high level of enlightenment. And left us teachings that are still eluding us, in the twenty-first century.


The subtractive approach

November.16. 2015

According to Lao Tzu, the virtuoso accomplishes his objectives through daily subtraction rather than through daily addition.

I find the strategy works in many areas of life.

Subtraction is of course getting rid of the fluff, the unnecessary. It’s only by getting rid of the unnecessary that we can focus our attention on the necessary.

And that’s where the strategy works best, in focusing.

The method is surprisingly simple.

If you want to focus on something, just remove everything else.

When you have removed all the unnecessary peripheral stuff that surrounds a thing, you’re left with only that thing, which means that you’ll be able to focus all your attention on it.

The problem is in determining what is necessary and what’s not.

Here, the dispensability test that I wrote about earlier comes in useful again.

When you remove something, does it have an appreciable impact on the end result?

If it does, it’s necessary, if it doesn’t, it’s unnecessary.

Try it.

If you want to get better at guitar playing, get rid of all the toys and paraphernalia of modern life, delete your Facebook account, empty your fridge, change your cell number, whatever else you need to do to regain control of your life.

When you strip your life down to the bare essentials, if you have nothing to distract you, I guarantee that you’ll be playing that guitar all day long.

If you want to focus on your schoolwork, get rid of everything that gets in the way, minimize your commitments and I assure you that you will graduate in no time.

The subtractive approach is really the virtuoso approach to life.

Because it provides you with an effortless way to attain all your goals.


A spiritual journey

October.12. 2015

I had mentioned the materialistic component of virtuosity in a previous post, which might give the impression that I am all about materialism.

And that might be true.

Unfortunately, we live in materialistic times.

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, it’s hard to live a virtuoso life if you’re struggling with the basic necessities of life.

Of trying to put food on the table.

Or if you have to work two jobs just to pay the bills.

To me, a virtuoso life has to include all the basic creature comforts of life, being able to do all the things you want to do without having to worry about constraints, financial or otherwise.

But as I also mentioned, it’s not something you have to worry about.

Because if you attain virtuosity in what you do, that virtuosity will almost always result in some material gain for you, either directly or indirectly.

But virtuosity itself has little to do with materialism.

In fact, the reverse is true; all journeys into virtuosity are spiritual in nature.

No I do not mean spiritual in a pseudo religious sense. (In fact, most religions have less to do with spirituality and more to do with enforcing strict rules of conduct and conformity.)

The word ‘spirit’ here refers to the essence of things.

The soul of things.

As in “capturing the spirit’ of a thing.

All journeys into virtuosity are a search for that essence, for that soul.

For it is only in discovering the essence that we can achieve mastery over it.

In guitar playing, it’s about finding the soul of the guitar, understanding it in every detail, and knowing how to blend with its lines of energy so that we can achieve a perfect union with it.

The only way to achieve this perfect union is to spend countless hours with it, day after day, week after week, year after year.

With no thought of material reward, driven only by the thought of knowing that one day all its secrets will be revealed to you.

Hardly a description of someone in search of material wealth.


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