Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Death, the great leveler

Death is the great leveler. To be the richest man in the graveyard is as outstanding as a straw in a haystack or a strand in an Afro. A rich man rots no slower than a poor man. Maggots treat all men with equal respect and digest. Still, the rich leave behind an inheritance and the poor leave behind a debt. But, children born to wealth may end up squandering it all. While children born to poverty may end up overcoming it all. Wealth is not a constant. It is the character that is. Regardless of wealth, the man with character dies leaving an enduring legacy while the man without leaves behind a bleeding heresy. Therefore pursue character, covet after virtues, seek truths, be the lamp in the darkness, a city on the hill. These things are prized above all else and not even death can rob it from you! 

Trouble opens a thousand doors!

Thoughts are thoughts. They are like rumors running wild in your mind. They flock together and create a hype we call the rumor mill. You are still in control. You decide the color of your thoughts. You can paint it black, red, blue or any hue. You can discipline your wild thoughts and "de-commission" them. The mind's rumor mill can work in reverse; instead of churning out a feedback cycle of gloom and doom, it can come awash with confidence and hope. Bad news need not darken your thoughts. It need not spoil your day. Remember, you control your thoughts. You can lift it up above the storm or drown it. Learn to see bad events as a door leading to many doors and each of these doors lead to even more doors. You are not paralyzed by bad news. Neither trapped by it. Bad news are a gateway to discovery or exploring. What lies behind door no. 1,4 or 99? Your options are limitless and your choices boundless. Each pathway leads to an adventure. Each adventure leads to self discovery of strength. You better yourself by taking on a challenge. You realize your course by discovery the many paths that stray from it. That's what life is about...opening doors, discovering new landscapes, exploring and ultimately, overcoming!

PS: I wrote a nutty letter about cults two years ago called "HOW TO GROW A CULT", interested?

Control FREAK Control FREE!

I discovered that control is nothing and everything at the same time. This sounds contradictory, even oxymoronic, but in my defence, let me borrow the wise sayings of a Nobel laureate: "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth."

So, here's my offering of two profound truths, held together in a taut tension of mutual symbiosis.  We are powerless to control how life will turn out. Things will happen the way they want to happen. Control, in this sense, is nothing. It is a delusion, a vain effort, that can even be counterproductive.

Try controlling how a dice will turn out. You are better off in the long run to rely on random chances. To add to the chaos, try adding another dice to the mix, and maybe another and another. Now, it gets even more unpredictable. Life is like that. Our actions, like a dice, do not stand alone. Our actions interact with another action, and more others. As actions collide, it adds randomness to more randomness. It becomes a hopeless concatenation of chaos.

Life's not a scripted drama. Happiness and misery are not paid thespians who make their appearances at directed and timed intervals. They come and go as and when they please. Life's more like a cascading avalanche and each snowflake represents an individual, his thoughts and actions. How can a snowflake dictates the path of the monstrosity that is the avalanche? How can a snowflake ever feel responsible for its action?

We are an atom in the huge morass of matter. Our efforts are seemingly particle-like in the vastness of quantum space. How can a grain of sand tells the beach to park somewhere else? We can't and our dilemma is our refusal to admit it. This denial is also the source of our frustration. We refuse to give up control in this aspect. This obsession is an abscess in our soul - swelling into bitterness and inflamed into discontentment. But the message does not end here.

And here's the paradox of human becoming; the second profound truth. Earlier I said that control is everything also. This is the  upbeat part of the message. Control is everything; but this control is the control of another sphere. It is the control of choices. This is of course no big secret. But the full understanding of it is. Once the principle is grasped, the power, like that which can be harnessed in an atom, is boundless.

The world of choices is without boundaries and this is where we can make a powerful difference. And our control in this world is crucial. It is in fact everything. While a grain and a snowflake cannot make a difference in the world of it's external realities, the rules are different in the world of choices. In this world, our response determines our destiny. It is no revelation that we can choose our responses in the face of uncontrollable tragedy.

Our choices determine our actions and our actions determine the ultimate outcome. This is therefore the paradox of control: We can't control our circumstances but we can, through indirect means, control how the circumstances will turn out via our choices. This is the backbone message of all human flourishing.

The problem is that we reverse the order. We try to control the world we cannot control and dismiss the world (of choices) that we can control. Our myopia is to mistake that which we cannot change for that which we can change. And because we refuse to see otherwise, we bemoan our frustrating attempts to change the unchangeable. This is also the source of our quiet desperation.

A Nobel laureate once said, "I believe that I am not responsible for the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, but that I am responsible for what I do with the life I've got." This is, in a nutshell, the mustard seed of choices. In a tragedy, we can bemoan the hopelessness of the situation which we have no control over or celebrate the hopefulness of our choices, which we have.

Please don't overlook the subtlety of the differences - at times, it's a matter of life and death, success and failure. In the end, when we cannot change our situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Question: Are we up to the challenge?

PS: I've got a letter about evil which may tickle your fancy, entitled "Cavalierly Evil".

We are freaking MAD!

Are we all insane? Maybe, if we think we are reasonable creatures. They say a mad person has lost everything except his reason. So a mad man is a reasonable man? Note that a "mad man" acts in ways that are "reasonable" in the face of a distorted reality. Therefore, it is not his faculty of reason that is fractured. It is his perception of reality.  The truth is that it is difficult to tell who is mad and who is not. A megalomaniac (even a psychopath) may be insane but he may be your president! There is a little insanity in us. If sanity is a person free from all illusions, then, except for the clinically depressed, none of us is sane. We live with self-reinforcing illusions and sometimes delusions all the time. We therefore deceive ourselves to survive and thrive. We deceive ourselves in three ways: an exaggerated sense of self superiority, an exaggerated sense of control and an exaggerated sense of reality, largely, unrealistic ones. Self deception is the grease that oils modernity, its society, it's financial markets and most of all, it's government. Groucho Marx once said, "The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. Once you can fake that, you've got it made." Self-deception, in sports, is known as the "championship mentality". This ace mindset would require athletes to primp themselves up with exaggerated self-confidence, which they know are far removed from the truth. And we all can readily agree that self deception is far from being a reasonable act. It is said that the reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. The unreasonable people adapt the world to themselves. Therefore, all progress depends on unreasonable people! In the end, we all suffer from some form of madness, whether we like to admit it or not. We cannot be free from positive illusion, or delusion, unless we are heavily sedated. Seen from this obtuse angle, zombies have better chance of sanity than us! So, the next time, when we are tempted to make a disparaging judgment on the insane-ness of an act, spare this thought in mind: we all suffer from some form of self-delusion, or insanity, and it is much better to try and understand the person than to pigeonhole him into a nutty corner! (Last thought: One writer concludes that sanity is having an "optimum margin of positive illusion").

How about a second helping with this long letter called "HERESY PHARISEES"?

Men are the weaker sex

This is the irony of the common man suffering in silence. Contrary to common wisdom, men are the weaker sex. Our manhood is actually a facade hiding our victimhood caused and moulded by society and our upbringing. The statistics are undeniable: men suffers more than women and this is made worse by our need to uphold a public image of the idealistic "superman." Here's the statistics: Although there are twice as many women (than men) being diagnosed as suffering from depression (mostly due to the fact that women are more open and forthcoming), there are however 4x more men taking their own lives! The inference? What is male machismo is sadly just a masquerade for male weakness. And up-keeping our invulnerability is truly costly.Then, how about the fact that men outnumber women in drug and alcohol abuses and related violence. In prison, the male population far exceed the female population and most of the men there are diagnosed as suffering from various psychiatric disorders. Lastly, it is an established fact that men's mortality rate is higher than women, that is, they die younger. Whatever the cause, women ultimately outlive men. So, who is in reality the weaker sex? We are indeed suffering in silence.

I wrote about lies some years back and stretched it a little with some controversy. It's entitled "Corrie ten boom's lie". Have a go?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Sin becomes us

Dearest all, this is what I learned during the KL weekend:  Most of us do not desire to be "healed" from the sin condition. Just as there is glory in being religious there's also glory in being irreligious. Most of us can't imagine a world without private sins. The private heart is where we protect jealously against the onslaught of true conviction.

More importantly, we cannot imagine losing the joy of pleasure (sin) for the dread of righteousness. This, I guess, is why apostle paul penned this very honest scripture, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil do not want is what I keep on doing."

This confession essentially spells out the main scourge of humanity. Many of us try our honest best to purge ourselves of this scourge by faking it all: we fake repentance, we fake church attendances, we fake prayer, we fake religious experiences, we fake fidelity, we fake even the self-deluded feeling of authenticity. We layer ourselves with the cloak of righteousness; but try, with our surreptitious best, to keep the  "maggots and worms" of the underside of our cloak from public view.

So what's the alternative? Rather than carry the cross christ borne on his back, we carry one made of bamboo: it's more portable and lighter on the conscience. It is also easier and more eye-catching to ensure that we send out the right social cues.

Indeed, GK Chesterton had felt the pulse of religion when he said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it is difficult and not tried". It used to be that Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread - but nowadays, it seems like it is one club member telling another where to hide it.

It's no wonder one theologian surmises the modern religion as such, "Worshipping a god without wrath who accepts us without sin to enter his kingdom without righteousness under the ministry of a christ without the cross for a purpose of self-deification without sacrifice."

So, where do we go from here? How are we to live our life? Well, sorry, I am equally stumped. I think religion's greatest false advertising is this: there's a 5-step way to everything - holiness, healing, perfection, repentance, good marriage, joy, peace and answered prayer.

I thank God that when Jesus asked Peter to be his disciple, he simply said, "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men." Jesus did not spell out a 5-step salvation manual or a 22-step to prosperity. The truth is, you have to find your own way because Jesus' call is personal. But if there's one thing we must guard against, it is self-righteousness. They say success covers many flaws; it is the same with self-deluded holiness.

If the world is kind of like a spiritual kindergarten, where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks, then none of us is any wiser, holier or better off than others.

Let me end on this open-ended note: If Christianity is one beggar telling another where to find bread, then there are two kinds of beggars in this world...the "poor in spirit" beggar and the rich, pompous and arrogant ones. Cheers for now!