Seoul Diary

When you are travelling, you are open to new experiences and people. Here’s a Japanese musician I met in Seoul, Korea at a restaurant in Insa-dong. In between morsels, he strummed his guitar. We got to talking, at least, my Korean friend translated his simple Korean for me. He showed us pictures of himself jamming with famous Japanese musicians(they are unknown to me). Request for my favourite and this free spirit of a troubadour acquiesced. Have a listen. Japanese musician sings Arrirang, Korea


Starry Night

credit: stars-nasas-hubble-space-telescope
Took a walk last night. I looked up to drink in the stars and imbibed a cocktail of peace, happiness, contentment, all blended in a delicious glass of eternal now. “That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.” – Henry Thoreau. Yeah, I am pretty loaded, hung up on a bunch of hot air many light years away.

Quite a lot of stars were hanging around, though not as bright as in Desaru’s night sky where they positively glitter and seem much closer to earth. However happy to have what I’ve got. I am not there, I am here.

Starry, starry night – first three words of ‘Vincent’ song. To us earthlings, they have always symbolise an unknown beyond. Some have been around for a long time -13 billion years.

The age of any life form throughout history, including mine, is an iota compared to the star’s. When I am gone, the stars still shine or don’t they? Guess it won’t matter after this form has disappeared.

But there again, Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh and many in the zen tradition expresses that “we, the stars and the earth are one.” What does it mean?

A Soto Zen teacher/actor uses the analogy of the ocean and the different waves to illustrate the point. We are the different waves on the ocean, coming forth in different forms, intensity and brevity and then returning to the ocean.

What ocean – of dna, atoms, energy? This ‘I’ have yet to realise the Truth.

I am a sceptic, X’s files’ ‘help me to believe’ describes me.

My Japanese roshi likens meditation as returning to one’s native country. Cool, that’s why I am still meditating after 3 decades and I haven’t reach there yet. I would like to know the Truth. I can handle the Truth even if it means there’s no Truth, only the daily living. Sometimes life can be boring, dull but sometimes it’s brilliant.

Buddha saw a ‘star’, some say it’s actually the planet Venus. Anyway, it’s a shiny body in the night sky that prompted his enlightenment. I eyeballed plenty of ‘em and never had such experience. Well, just me and the stars out there is good enough.

The Stars on earth, those celebrity of sorts out of reach, some folks that are out of reach and looked up at. Them I don’t fancy but I treasure those hanging up there and the stars in some lover’s eyes.

Sometimes, there’s a one-eyed black cat up there with the luminaries. I am referring to the crescent moon on a dark night.

Do chin up every now and then, does add a subliminal quality to your everyday life.

Days of Being Desperate

Henry Thoreau, Walden (1854):

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

How not to live days of quiet insanity? Confucius says,

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day of your life.

Well, if folks enjoy their work, then no problem, no angst, life’s perfect. However, for most people, it is rare to find your one and only love-work and sometimes the love affair ends.

You know the 7-year itch in relationship? I have you know that’s an itch at work in toil too. So job switching happens when the itch arrives, to a different profession even.
You may never ever find your calling. Maybe you are meant to wander in the bardo of job buffet.

So the discontentment wells up, sooner or later. Or by that later time, you are retired.

Seoul Boring - outta control
Seoul Boring - outta control

Actually any work is okay. It’s the attitude you bring to it. If you put a positive spin on what you do, regard it as service to humanity or because of love for your family relying on you to put rice on the table.

Is the solution then to change your mindset to love what you do, to tolerate your belabouring like an inconsequent little new mole? Is it really the solution?

How long do you have to lie to yourself? Till the day your body, a gauge of inner sadness, complains by getting sick? It has a way of showing its discontentment by having allergic reaction(let me break out), irritable bowel syndrome(let me out, let me out), gastritis(I can’t stomach this any longer) and the like.

If you continue to suppress your emotions, there may be a chronic illness in the horizon. Note that I am not saying that all sickness arise from dissatisfaction. However stress has been proven to be a factor in causing life-threatening diseases.

work and meaning of life

Schrödinger's cat
Schrödinger's cat

So how can we see work, in whatever boring form, as practice, like in a meditation retreat? So how do I carry my attitude of peace/acceptance into a job?
More practice, keep trying, everyday, fake it till you make it?

No. I can’t.

Because retreat is a withdrawal from the everyday place to a special place, so just like the sides of the rail-track, both places can never meet i.e. I can’t attend to a deadening dead-end job for long.

To me, attending retreat is special ‘cos my priority, before I kick the can, is to know the Truth, my true self, God or Whatchamacallit and I reckon retreats are good places to be open to it.

Whereas at the workplace, I would question my motive; are you doing this for the moolah or for your ego or both, why are you doing this… ad nausem, barking up every tree.

One of the reasons why I left jobs is that I don’t want to be in a rut. If I were to continue doing boring, unchallenging work, then I am not true to myself. I do not make time to realise my potential. And time is your life, btw.

Then I would have failed myself. I say, you can be a success in the eyes of the world and yet deep down, you feel a failure because you didn’t dare to strike out, to draw out the budding talents to bloom in all its glory… or not.

You condone the ordinary and the mundane at your own expense – you sold out, you have sold yourself short.

Stand up for your whatever you want to do, even if you fail to achieve ‘success’ as defined by you or others. Yeah, you might struck out ‘cos you are ‘not good enuff’.

I say it’s okay because you get to enjoy the process, hence you are at peace with yourself.* So if you want to do something, do it even if you suck at it.

The journey, not the end, matters because your life IS the journey. And you want to savour the journey.

*This advice is for those who have settled their bread and butter issues. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if your stomach’s growling, peace don’t come easy, for most. And you have to test your threshold.

Seoul Diary – Work

Seoul Lost
Seoul Lost

Dongdamun girl lost in her own world, just like us. Does she want to be there directing traffic? Well, it’s a job and under this harsh economic condition, work’s a comfy blanket.
Not far away in Taipei 101, tallest tower in Taiwan, pretty, young lift operators in the departmental store grin like marionettes as they punch elevator numbers. Is that the most boring job in the world?

How about the work of semi-conductor factory operators peering into microscopes sussing out the chips?

Or is YOUR job a close competitor to the title? In a boring, unchallenging job, you are on auto-mode and your mind’s a trillion kilometres away.

However, why do I, restless and easily bored, come alive at meditation retreats? The centers have the same rigid schedule throughout the three weeks and yet I wanna be there forever. What gives?

I conclude : because of mind, my perception. In a retreat, I paid to be there. Just be-ing there is enough, no reasons needed. Well, a chance to know my true nature; enlightenment or whatever, after nearly 30 years, still hankering after it – probably, at the back of my mind.

At the retreat center, I am at one with my practice, as much moments as possible, restraining myself from taking on additional repair projects outside of work period.

So the days passed by well and easily. Solitary, wonderful moments are aplenty; mainly appreciating the art in nature. Beauty in a sunflower, miracle designs of an aged leaf.

In normal city life, I don’t have these moments.

Hmm, it‘ll be great to integrate those nature moments outside of retreat because everyday life is also practice life.

Life’s a bowl of salad

Here's to good healthy breakfast - salad with Asian Dressing
Here's to good healthy breakfast - salad with Asian Dressing

Life’s a bowl of salad, especially when you don’t enjoy eating salad and you are lost, not sure what to do with your life. You want to write but ‘fraid you can’t hack it. You are blocked, there’s no passion to write. Oh no, when you first left your last job, your aim was to live happily ever after, to give vent to your creativity and let a thousand ideas flow. And now it’s zilch.

You read and read – other people’s stuff, not yours and do nothing else.(Inner voice says: That’s fine) You can spend your whole life reading and not living. What is living? Does it mean to work at a freaking job or …be in a retreat?

Are you retreating from life, either way?

Why is it difficult to tear away from what the rest of the herd is doing and just be? Under pressure from my mom to work but I don’t want to succumb to that. I want to be free not to work. Yes, money’s running out but not yet, not yet minus. I see my mother’s point of view, she wants me to have a financial buffer, money in the bank and be like everybody else, but I want to listen to my inner voice.

Maybe I haven’t got the courage to write, hence this blog, for starter.

My salad dressing recipe, Asian :

4 tablespoon Yoghurt with fruit, 2 tablespoon classic coleslaw dressing(Kraft, ‘cos no preservative), drooling, dried flaky white preserved(lotsa preservatives) lime peel bits that makes salad tastes tolerable and Asian and a dash of honey or prune juice. Add nuts and cranberry bits(cut up finely, else too sickly sugary).