Sunday, 20 January 2019

Han, Sim, Hawking and their search for God.

If you read the papers today, Insight section, you will see two towering public personalities sharing their experiences about life. 

One of them is Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-Large, and the other is Sim Wong Hoo, the founder of Creative Technology. 

Fook Kwang just went on a 49,000 km trip around the world on a ship to 21 countries - including but not limited to Dublin, Iceland, New York, Havana, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Hawaii and so on. 

The other, Sim, just launched his Super X-Fi.

He croons that “Super X-Fi allows headphone users to experience sound in expansive, three-dimensional detail, like in real life.” So, no more sound being forced and “claustrophobic” - he said.

But I write today not so much about their journey or invention. It is about their view on life, that is, their horizon-perspective about life and God. 

Sim was born a Christian, but if you ask him now, as Sumiko did, he said “his religion is “my own””. Although he did not elaborate on that, Sim gave a hint of it when he maintains that “money is not important”.

Sumiko asked, “because you have it.” 

“No,” he replied. “It’s not important.”

When delved deeper as to whether he lived a Crazy Rich Asian lifestyle, like driving a Ferrari, Sim said: “I think it’s a sin to drive something like that.” 

He currently drives a Toyota Camry. 

And when asked, “what he wants to be remembered for, he shoots back: “Nothing.”

Then, Sim in general said this that seems to hint to what he meant when he said “his religion now is “my own”. He said: “I’ve kind of transcended above all these earthly things.”

At 63, Sim spoke like an Asian oracle in a faux pas matrix-structured world. He said, “I’m at peace”, and added, “to have happiness, you must have sorrow. When you want to keep peace, then you don’t have a lot of happiness, you also don’t have a lot of sorrow.” 

Well, it is really for anyone reading that to decipher what he means, for you would recall that to Sim, his religion is his own.

From that cliffhanger of a perspective, I move on to read about Fook Kwang’s reflection about life and God. 

His is a search for beauty as he posed this question: “Where does it come from, this idea of the beautiful? It can’t be from the mind alone. The heart? Our soul?” 

Then, he answered it to some extent: “It does not matter what you call it. Only understand it is what makes us human.”

And what makes us human guided Fook Kwang to see the full extent of his own ignorance in a vastly extraordinary world beyond his own epistemic backyard. 

He said: “My travels made me realised how ignorant I was about the world, despite the digital connection of modern life linking us to everything and everywhere. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the more we rely on our usual sources of information, the narrower our view of the outside world.”

Fook Kwang confronted the endless sea the way a hermit would confront restless space. They somehow (in my view) force you to abandon your own insignificant obsessions of self, that is, your cravings to be special, known and superior, and force you to unravel your innermost vulnerability, fragility and brokenness. 

He wrote: “Out at sea, you become acutely aware how fragile the ship is amid the uncertain elements. One minute it is all calm, and suddenly, the weather changes, the waves climb, and the ship rolls and pitches.” 

Then, Fook Kwang asked: “Question: Why is the sea so relatively calm and hospitable, enabling people over the millennia to travel great distances, to trade, to explore and sometimes to raid and plunder?”

Here is what his reflection led him to write: “The answer has to do with the unique set of circumstances that made this planet what it is: Every conceivably coincidence coming together almost perfectly, to create the conditions necessary for life to flourish, and all the countless things we take for granted, including sea travel.”

“Did all this occur out of a grand design from an omnipotent creator (I believe so), or was it the result of a random cosmological accident? You can’t run away from this question out at sea when the world confronts you so nakedly.” 

Lesson? Mm...there you have it, two gurus in their own rights confronting life and God and the mind-boggling mysteries in between.

One (Han) took a Moby-Dickesque trip to confront the Captain Ahab of his existential search for meaning beyond this world, and the other (Sim) created a sound system so real it transcends everything earthly in this world - and that (in my view) about represents his view of religion and God, that is, he is at peace in the right balance between happiness and sorrow, and in realising his own insignificance, he said that there is nothing he wants to be remembered for. 

In other words, God is an endless marvel to one, beyond comprehension because “every conceivable coincidences coming together almost perfectly” cannot but suggests to a “grand design from an omnipotent creator (more so than a “random cosmological accident”). 

And for Wong Hoo, the reply that my religion now is “my own” hints to a maturity and curiosity to never settle for what others tell you to think - that is, own your thoughts, make it personally embraceable for you.

And for him, it is definitely about things money cannot buy, like a peace of mind, happiness deepened and authenticated by sorrow, and a mind still at work, tinkering and inventing at 63, living alone, unmarried, and without being tethered to (or undermined by) the material creed of this world. 

So, when it comes to God, the ultimate uncaused cause, Fook Kwang and Wong Hoo have taught me to think for myself, to confront my ignorance, and to be willing and open to contrarian positions because the human experiences beyond our own confined experience are more diverse and enriching than we think. 

We all see God differently. Even an atheist I believe - when confronted by the endless sea, the open sky and the mysteries of this world beyond the futile mortal chase - cannot resist the existential itch to question, “Is there really nothing more than this?

The late Professor Stephen Hawking was once asked: “How does God’s existence fit into your understanding of the beginning and the end of the universe? And if God was to exist and you had the chance to meet him, what would you ask him?”

He said: “The question is, “Is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science?” I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science “God”, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to. Although, if there were such a God, I would like to ask however did he think of anything as complicated as M-theory in eleven dimensions.”

And...FYI, Professor Hawking died concluding there is no God. 

He said: “Do I have faith? We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation: there is probably no heaven and afterlife either.”

In the end, he is right - "each of us exercises the freedom to believe what we want." Because borrowed belief has no power, and won't last.

For Wong Hoo, it is largely a DIY-ish-religion, piecing it altogether, and finding a sustainable peace that maintains the balance of all things.

For Professor Hawking, his life’s search ends with an atheistic conclusion. For no one created the universe. It just came about by a science-driven spontaneity we have yet to uncover. 

However, there is, to me, always the reminder from Professor Hawking that his views are not ours. As a scientist, a fact-finder for life, it is still a personal existential search towards a conclusion that our conscience can live with when we heave our last breath. 

And for Fook Kwang, it is about...erm...a turtle crossing the road. Here is how he wrote about it. 

“We were on a public bus in Honolulu when the driver stopped by the road, jumped out of his seat into the pavement, then hopped back in, yelling cheerfully: Everyone out of the bus and take a look, there is a turtle trying to cross the road! 

Startled, we did as we were told. The sight of a giant reptile in a busy street crawling nonchalantly by was something to behold.”

Fook Kwang however said: “But I was more amazed by the bus driver and his spirited attitude to work. He had as much time as the crawling turtle. It was a beautiful sight.”

This is where I end with Fook Kwang’s observation: -

“When you see how differently people behave elsewhere, you appreciate the diversity of humankind and acknowledge more readily how limited your own experience is, no matter how wealthy a society you live in.”

That is my point in this post. For until and unless we confront our own ignorance, by whatever means possible and conceivable, we ought never to say that our belief tells us everything we need to know and there is nothing out there that we need to know. And after we have confronted our ignorance, I trust we would be even more clueless than before. 

Even our search for God can end up with different answers; that is, from the simplest explanation to the most complex, from there is probably no God to, and if there is, ”I would like to ask however did he think of anything as complicated as M-theory in eleven dimensions.”

Ultimately, the point is, never think for a moment that at where you are now, you have all the answers you need; and I am speaking to theists and atheists alike. 

In this long, most time hardscrabble, journey, many things can surprise us, and surprise us most serendipitously. 

All I ask is to keep searching, don’t take anything for granted, and like the turtle crossing the road, even in the most unexpected crossroad of life, there is still wonders to behold. 

In our busyness, let's hope we don't short-change ourselves by thinking that nothing surprises us anymore. For this world does not lack wonders, but a sense of wonders.

I dreamt that I came to visit myself.

I dreamt that I came to visit myself last night. The me that came to visit was much older than the me that is now. 

Honestly, I didn’t think I changed that much but he told me that he is the me twenty years later. He said that he can’t be with me for long. But for the brief moments he had with me, he wanted to share some things he felt I needed to know. 

The first thing he said to me was not to take things too seriously. He said I am given the room to ventilate and even mope about things, but once done leave it behind. 

He reminded me not to carry the pain or bitterness with me. He said that anything that I could not let go becomes a part of me. This part of me seeks to take over me. It seeks to change me for the worse. 

As he went on with this, I detected a hint of desperation in his voice. His tense face betrayed his calmness as he shared. But I realised he was serious about me not taking things too seriously because it dawned on me that whatever happens to me now happens to the me twenty years later. 

He reminded me that too. He said that like a long rod, by lifting one end, I lift the other end too. That is how connected we are, that is, my now and my future. 

He said that it is just a matter of time before he becomes the receiving end of whatever I think, do and even not do, now. He said we are deeply connected by the unbroken passage or affinity of time. 

It is like the universal principle of sowing one end and harvesting it the other end. He said the principle is simple but often forgotten by me, common but made uncommon by my living on autopilot, and as such, I often take things for granted.

It was at this point that he looked at me in the eye and muttered these words: “Mike, trust me, I know what I am talking about. You do not want to live the way you are living now and regret it deeply twenty years later. By then bro, it is too late.”

Then, he calmed down a little and told me about the next thing that was on his mind. He said that he is living my future and the one thing I often pass down to him over time is a heart of discontentment. 

He said that I was not like that in the early years when I graduated, started my career and family, and have children. He said I was happy then, living in a modest house, sharing the bed with my kids and going for walks with my wife. He said the ability to enjoy the simple things in life is the key to living a contented and joyous life. 

At this point, he put his hands firmly on my shoulder and shook me a little as if to tell me to never forget about that. He felt it was important to lay emphasis on the importance of being contented in life. 

But then, as he continued, he said he noticed that I changed almost overnight when I hit my forties. Suddenly, he said that I started to compare with others, with my neighbours, and I became envious, superficial and less authentic. 

He said quite sternly that I became less authentic when I pretended to be someone I am not. He said that from that day onwards, I lived in subtle deception, being ashamed of my past and hiding my present from people who enquired.

He said I was ashamed of my status quo, ashamed of what Iittle I possessed in titles, names and credentials because I can’t stop thinking about what life could have been if I had been different, if I had chosen differently. 

But he said that that is not the problem, that is, the choices I have made to get to where I am - it is however the heart of envy that robbed me of the life I deserved, and inevitably, robbed him of the future he craved after. Recall the lifting of one end of the rod or stick?

He also reminded me firmly that they are choices that resulted in marriage, that is, marrying the first girl I ever kissed who had never despised or regretted that day she walked down the aisle with me, and the family I have, that is, three lovely, healthy kids who have brought me untold joy, comfort and assurances. 

Somehow, at that part of the dream, I experienced REM and it nearly jolted me up from my slumber. But, he said he was not finished. He said he had one more thing to share with me before his time is up and that he has to return back to the future. 

He promised to make this one short. He said that what he was about to say can be captured in a nutshell, and it is this: “Don’t cry over spilled milk”. 

He said this was quite similar to his first point but he added this part in my dream that made a lot of sense to me. 

He said, and he quoted: “If men could regard the events of their own lives with more open minds they would frequently discover that they did not really desire the things they failed to obtain.”

He repeated that quote thrice to me as if to tell me that I should never forget to remind me to remind myself about it. 

And with that, the me who was twenty years older left just as suddenly as he came into my dream.

Well, I can’t say that I am not grateful for his sudden intrusion into my slumber and his planting of a seed of chain-reaction in my heart. 

That morning I promised myself to make the conscious effort to nurture that seed to fruition. And when the time comes, when we meet again, I hope that by that time, he will be proud of me. Cheerz.

Will Byler and Bailee Ackerman: Wedding tragedy.

Some mornings make you think about life, more deeply. This morning is one of them. 

Entitled “Newlyweds die in copter crash after leaving wedding venue,” the tragedy is how brief their lives together were.

“Mr Will Byler and Ms Bailee Ackerman, both 23 and final-year students at Sam Houston State University, had married at Mr Byler’s family ranch.”

One was pursuing agricultural engineering and he belonged to the school’s rodeo team, and the other was studying agricultural communication. The helicopter pilot was a private commercial pilot, Mr Gerald Lawrence, 76, and he worked for the groom’s father.

A friend of the couple posted this: “We celebrate their fairy-tale wedding and they were surrounded by their family and friends as they flew off in the family helicopter. Sadly they crashed into the side of the hill about a mile (1.6 km) from the family ranch. The pilot, Jerry, was also on board. There were no survivors! Please keep everyone associated with this tragic event in prayers.”

Many have offered their peace and tribute to the couple. The maid of honour, Ms Jessica Stilley, wrote this: “I’m so sad to even be captioning these pictures with this, but you know I just have to share with everyone how beautiful you looked on your wedding day like I normally would have.”

Jessica added: “I’m so happy you married the man of your dreams and found the precious love you deserved with him.”

Another friend said: “I have peace in the fact that you left this earth so full of happiness and love...Our hearts hurt now, but we know this is not forever.”

Lesson? Just one.

A cruel twist of fate was what the papers commented. Alas, when we were asked to be conscious of living intentionally, to number our days, where do we even start and end the counting?

Well, in the normal run of things, actuarial science would have the pet answers. If we are playing with the most likely of probabilities, then it is a safe bet that the majority of us - short of a climate catastrophe or a meterorite crash - would live above sixty or seventy. 

An insurance agent would be able to map out our living years with some confidence and accuracy. They will be able to plan out our retirement nest so that we may live the rest of the retirement years in financial security. They can’t promise how happy or how full of life each day would be lived by us, but at least, they can give us a peace of mind - provided all things remain constant and according to their projection - barring any “cruel twist of fate”. 

So, with the help of actuarial science, with graphs, charts and statistics, you will be able to number your days with some self-assurance. 

But the point of my post this morning goes beyond the actuary to what is essentially existential, that is, the meaning and object of our existence. 

You see, stripped of all our busy schedules, the targets we strive to meet, the people we are eager to impress or prove to, and the preoccupation of a moment (or a season) that can be economic, social, political or even religious, ultimately, what doesn’t get resolve or settled fully as we are going through the motion of everyday action is not so much how we ought to live our life but ”why” we ought to live it. 

Yesterday, I was at a meeting where young adults who had just started work, or thinking of a career change, or were in-between jobs gathered to learn from a couple of above sixty on how to plan for their lives, how to pick the right career, how to choose a career that they are able to excel in, how to save for retirement, how to pray for breakthroughs, and so on. 

Undergirding all that is the overarching desire to find meaning in their young lives, to search for how they can connect with that meaning in a way that moves beyond the financial or the tangible, and to live a life that is as authentic as it is possible. 

Most times, from an existential point of view, we are not so much looking for the right fit, as we are craving to fit into what is right, what is true, what is endearingly beautiful, what is intrinsically worthwhile, and money, fame and power generally come secondary to all that. 

Some people however feel that there is no such thing. What is right to you is not right to them. What is your belief is not theirs. What seems true to you is unproven (or unprovable) to them. 

That is why the search for authenticity never ends for many. And that is also why seeking and resting on the immediate, the sensorially pleasurable, the tangible bring about much more certainty and consolation than putting one’s faith and hope in the unproven eternity, that is, a source of life beyond the here and now. 

So, this struggle will always reside in us, that is, the struggle for meaning, and relying on one that is sustainable, enduring and empowering. Some find it in religion. Others in secular philosophies. And still others in being merry today, for tomorrow we expire. 

For me, I have yet to find a resting (settled) position. My search, and I believe for good reason, will last a lifetime. Ignorance to me is somewhat empowering, because it is always forward looking, always searching, and always understanding; never arriving, but always journeying from one inn of insight to another. 

As such, I can’t be sure enough of anything and of everything, as the limit of my knowledge confronts the infinity of my ignorance. 

So, this brings me back to the lovely couple whose lives ended in a cruel twist of fate. What caught my spirit in the news is that in their last moments, they died in each other’s arms. The brevity of their lives together cannot rob away their undying love and the meaning of their union that they held on to firmly and reassuringly in their final hour.

Maybe that is what authenticity means in a life, young or old, that is, while you can’t be sure enough of anything, you know however that even in the face of death, you are able to find unsurpassed peace because you have found unfathomable strength and hope in the one you love. That is how a lifetime of meaning can be experienced in a life, even one so brief. Amen. Cheerz.

The selfie couple and their final hour.

Is our life worth just one photo?
That question was posed by a couple in their blog called “Holidays and HappilyEverAfters” that chronicled their adventures worldwide. 
However, Mr Vishnu Viswanath, 29, and Ms Meenakshi Moorthy, 30, met with a tragedy last week “after falling from Taft Point - a popular overlook at the (Yosemite National Park) that does not have a railing and their bodies were recovered by park rangers last Thursday.”
Mr Viswanath’s brother “told local media in India that he believes the couple were taking a selfie when the tragedy happened. The investigation revealed so far is that the couple fell 245m in an area surrounded by step terrain and rescuers had to use a helicopter to recover the bodies”. 
It is reported that “some 259 people have died worldwide in recent years while taking selfies.”
So, going back to the question - ”Is our life worth just one photo?” - I have nothing much to say about the couple because I do not know them, and God rests their soul. 
But I would like to think that they were genuinely happy before the tragedy. They loved what they did and they did it with great passion, and fanfare - just look at the blog and Instagram posts of their many adventures. 
They were wholehearted travel enthusiasts and their lives might be short, and cut short by an act many may find incredulous or foolish, but at least they lived it up in a way they have the most control over until that fateful fall of course.
Mind you, I am not in any way encouraging such reckless/mindless adventures, or as Ms Moorthy puts it in her post “”daredevilry” of taking pictures from dangerous locations””. But what kept me going with this post is the question that she had posted before the tragedy: “Is our life worth just one photo?”
Honestly, I really don’t know how you measure a life. By seconds? By hours? By days? By months? By years? Or maybe it is not about time passed, for nothing is worse about living when we live it just to wait for time to go by; where every second stretches to what seems like an eternity. 
So, Is our life then worth anything at all? 
For Ms Moorthy and her husband, life is not just about the photos taken at dangerous locations, because the still photos can never capture the depth and intensity of emotions they feel everytime they travel to a spot to take that all-consuming, gravity-defying shot. It’s what make up the journey they take together that matters, that is, the planning of it, the nights talking about it, the days leading up to it, the actual day, the days after that, and the destination, and then the cycle of passion and meaning starts all over again. 
Corny or otherwise, I will risk that to say that life is an adventure. Even the worst part of our life we are going through is a tale, a story or a narration waiting to be told by us. 
And have you read about an adventure that is smooth sailing all the way till the end? That kind of adventure never gets written or read because it has little or nothing to offer or fill the pages. It practically ends the moment it starts. 
And life is not just one photo, obviously not, but it is many moments captured in the moving pictures of our hearts. Every challenge adds up to make life either worth living forward or dreadful going forward. It is still our choice to fill the pages with chapters going forward or end it there and then, hanging, incomplete. 
Recently, my wife booked her parents’ barbecue pit and swimming pool for my daughter’s birthday, Joy. Then this week, while my wife was driving and talking to the management office (with Joy in the car), my wife was told that the pool can’t be used because it was still under servicing. 
When Joy (seven years old) heard it, she broke down in tears. She literally cried with her small palms covering the whole of her small face. She kept saying: “My party is ruined. My party is ruined.” 
When I heard that, when my wife told me that, I shed a tear too. My heart broke because her heart broke. 
That is the price of being a father. You do not own your heart anymore. The moment you have a child, in corporate-speak, it becomes a hostile takeover where your heart is occupied by the life of your child. You do not have 100% shareholding of it anymore. She has taken over it - at most times, 99% of it. She becomes the majority shareholder. And what ruins her, ruins you. 
That interconnectivity at the spirit level is at most times your greatest joy, and it can be your greatest pain. 
Anyway, to cut the long story short, we managed to resolve the issue but I have learned that life is indeed worth more than a photo. It is worth more than what we do for fame, wealth and power. It is not about the mindless accumulation we are normally (by autopilot) obsessed with. 
Life’s worth is ultimately about opening your heart to the heart of another. It is a risk you take to be vulnerable. It is the price of love with the sharing of your heart with the people you love. That is the only way your heart can grow and expand. And that is the only way through consistent sacrifices and love that the heart of another can grow and expand too. 
The fruit of that growth is a flourishing relationship. And that relationship is the ink you need to write your story, to end it on a note that makes life worthwhile, purposeful. 
For a heart given over to another selflessly is life affirming. But a heart that is kept to oneself, jealously guarded and protected, and stored in a coffin of social isolation, is a death sentence. Cheerz.