Archive for January, 2015

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.

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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.

The paradox of paradise

January.1. 2015

Every religion seems to have its own vision of the afterlife, of paradise, but they seem to tell more about the people who came up with the visions than the afterlife itself.

For example, people who are downtrodden dream of a paradise where they will be free. Case in point, the spirituals of the old South.

People who are poor, for them paradise is a place where they will attain a position higher than the rich. Case in point, the parable about Lazarus and the rich man.

And people who are beset with problems in their present life dream of a trouble-free and carefree paradise where they don’t have to work, where all they do is laze around serenaded by angels playing harps. That seems to be the definition for the rest of us.

So what does this say about those who dream of 72 virgins waiting for them in paradise? Clearly, lust is no barrier to paradise too

Somewhere in the Philippines, on some mountain, is a paradise on earth—filled with beautifully manicured gardens and pretty maidens presided over by the Son of God himself.

But who takes care of the gardens? Surely not the Son of God, he’s too busy consorting with the maidens.

I can just imagine some guy arriving at the paradise on earth to be greeted by the Son of God.

“Welcome to paradise, I have both good news and bad news. The good news is you’re in paradise, the bad news is you’re the gardener.”

The paradox of paradise. It can’t feel much like paradise if your job is to slave over the gardens.

Or some pretty maiden arriving at the afterlife to be greeted by another keeper of paradise.

“Welcome to paradise, I have both good news and bad news. The good news is you’re in paradise and the bad news is your job is to service some scruffy guy who has just laid down his life for the cause.”

Our concepts of paradise are so banal my local parish priest constantly makes jokes about it.

My favorite is this one.

Three guys arrived in heaven to be greeted by St Peter.

The first one came up and St Peter asked him. “So were you ever unfaithful to your wife?”

The man was full of remorse as he said, “Yes, but only three times.”

St Peter said, “Because you were unfaithful three times, you only get a compact car to drive in heaven.”

The second guy came up and St Peter asked him the same question and he answered, “Only two times, St Peter.”

“Okay,” St Peter said. “Two times, you get to have a medium sized car to drive in heaven.”

The third one came up and when asked the same question, he said proudly, “Not even once, I was a faithful husband all my life.”

St Peter said, “Well done my son, you get to drive a luxury car in heaven.”

Two weeks later, the first two guys met the guy with the luxury car at a stoplight in heaven and they noticed he was crying.

So they asked him, “Why are you crying? You should be happy, you have a luxury car to drive.”

He said, “I just saw my wife, she’s on a skateboard.”