When I go out to meet the light, the shadow of my body follows me, but the shadow of my spirit precedes me and leads the way to an unknown place
- Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the night before Christmas

Here it is upon me once again that time of year when the days seem compressed into a frenzy of purchases crammed into an already overloaded routine of work, personal and family life. Once again my family has gathered from around the world here in Midvalley except for my younger brother who is celebrating with his new wife in Texas where they live. Both of my brothers married in this year.

And once again the decorations festoon, the carols play to herald the acknowledgement of the birth of Jesus the Son of Man. And who is He? Well, there are many versions, many opinions and mine has evolved though my respect and admiration for the man has not waned. He is to me, my most cherished bringer of the Light to the world. To light the way, to awaken and free us from slavery and blindness. The Good News is here.

And yet this year, personally I have a detachment from Christmas. This year I am not swept away in the euphoria or is it the insanity of the advent season as the rest of this society seems to have been from my vantage point living here in the heart of the most popular shopping center in all of the country - a place I commonly refer to as 'MadValley" instead of 'Midvalley'.

Nay, this year perhaps it is the burden of my job here in Malaysia that has increased in weight upon my shoulders as the year draws close, a frantic hustle dealing with issues constantly leaves me numb and frayed. I've worked through most weekends this month. The difference in working environments between Asia and North America has been indelibly impressed upon me by now.

Or perhaps it is the barrage of the mob of the shoppers that force their way into Midvalley, my dining ventures into the masses feels like a minnow dodging a school of grown tuna. And surely also a factor, this observation that as the size of the masses grows the more absurd Christmas has become. As with things that become rote, the spirit is lost in the doing. It has become mandated by some higher power that I suspect to be capitalist, that on this day all people who have a concern for their reputation or stake in their job shall make purchases for people that they often barely know, buying them things they don't really want with money and time that they don't really have. And the wheels of the economy grind a few more degrees as our consumerism reaches new heights...

Sitting in my car attempting to come home from a long day at work but caught in an outrageous jam of shoppers, I wondered to what extent can this mass spectacle be drawn? With exploding population growth, everyone doing the same thing on the same day is bound to have its physical limits. So this year I have chosen to rebel and step out of the mob as much as I can. It is my contribution to the rest of the crowd to allow them more room. I shall risk that my friends relatives will continue to love me just the same if I do not produce a wrapped gift on Xmas day. Forgive me that the ever mounting burden of a job and scarcity of space and time both current trends of modern society at large has burgeoned to finally displace tradition. Is the material worth of an item given truly a measure of how much someone means to you? Not likely but we have been programmed to believe so at some level.

Perhaps in the future when a less frantic pace of life and less hampered place of living once again is my fortune then perhaps a return to the simple celebration of being with loved ones without undue distractions shall once again be.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night...

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Perfect Day

Today passed perfectly. The weather, temperature, wind speed, the amount of clouds and humidity. My clothes seemed to fit like they were tailored; and portrayed the inner me accurately. The amount of work didn't seem too overwhelming, I quickly kept on top of it effectively knocking off tasks quickly and correctly. The amount of rush hour traffic on the road was ideal because of the holiday season. People seemed to be less harried in general. There were no negative thoughts burdening me. And it didn't rain when I left work, just a gentle breeze and pleasant fading sunshine. What a difference, a big contrast to the past few weeks. I can't recall a working day going this smoothly and perfectly for such a long time. I've been working through too many weekends and feeling raw from the relentless pace of work, being micro-managed to the point of feeling like an administrative assistant. I've not ever wanted to run from a job until lately. Having a day such as today was a comforting reminder that there is still a sane level of existence, that truly nothing lasts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lessons from my cousin

I've been spending the weekend with my 13 year old cousin - E. She came to stay with me and my mother who is herself staying the month because of the holiday season. She has this quality of curiosity, innocence and sweetness that is so compelling.

Maybe it is her age, but she strikes me as someone that doesn't question her worthiness to be loved, it is refreshing to spend time with someone as such. Having her around has affected the ambience at home, now the energy at home seems fresher and more dynamic, like a window left open on a spring day. I enjoy interacting with her, she sees the world so differently. There are minimal assumptions on her part, and she catches humor and irony in many situations that adults tend to overlook. I suppose in that way she reminds me of The Little Prince. For example, when the 3 of us were sitting at a restaurant and 3 servers came to serve me my beer that I had ordered, she remarked how absurd it was. "One to hold the bottle opener, one to hold the beer and one to speak", she laughed. The novelty of the situation had escaped me entirely, perhaps I was too preoccupied with crafting an intelligent and refined manner. And when she laughs, it is unrestrained and infectious without any undertones nor is there any no pause whatsoever to assess the appropriateness of it.

E is incredibly gifted in music. She is a prodigy in that sense if I ever met one. In fact I have admired all my cousins on my mother's side for their talent for music, it seems they picked it up overnight and I have been envious of their magical creative expressions. It is SO nourishing for the spirit to do so. To me, musicians are also magicians for ability to change the composure of a space magically and instantly. I can imagine that doing so is like methamphetamine for the soul, it's almost unfair to everyone else seeking that sort of contentment. Yet, E stands out from my talented cousins - she learned the organ a few years ago and had performed on TV.

And then a month ago, she picked up the guitar and taught herself how to play it. She gave us a performance of some Taylor Swift and Xmas carols, but what really moved me was a song that she had composed herself. I could only listen and bask in the purity of her creation, her voice doused out the din of the rest of the world.

Yesterday we stopped at 7-11 on the way to the tennis court. She carried her guitar so she could practice her songs while I practiced some tennis serves. As we stood at the cash register, I encouraged her to perform her song in front of the two service clerks. Initially shy and reluctant, but then as she strummed the guitar, a connection instantly occurred between us - I felt precisely the same smile of gratitude, joy and wonder that was written on their faces. It was a sort of miracle. And later as I practiced my tennis serves, I felt so proud of her for I knew that her song was being carried to the open windows of the tenants surrounding the tennis court.

I took her to a Karaoke at the mall because she had never been to one. We had a grand time singing our hearts out to all kinds of songs. Then as we walked home through the mall she grabbed my hand so we could walk hand-in-hand, my immediate reaction was how this might be misperceived and I found myself looking for an innocuous moment to slip my hand out of her grasp. Then I came to my senses over how foolish I was being, this was my typical reaction whenever any sort of girl held my hand and yet here was my own dear cousin. I realized that the time was not far off when my cousin would no longer reach for my hand, once she had 'grown up'. So I held her hand with gratitude and felt loved as we walked home.

I had an opportunity to have an uninterrupted conversation with her after a swim one Saturday morning. As we sat on the deck chairs under an umbrella, I took the chance to speak some words of wisdom hoping to imbue a sense of responsibility and heightened consciousness in her. Things I had learned from books, life and that I wish I had been told when I was her age. I think the only things that she really got from me was: "just because everyone thinks something, it doesn't make it true", and she could readily understand my lengthy discourse on how important it was for us to live in harmony with nature. She listened without interruption, with undivided attention. I wondered if I was perhaps marring her innocence with the heaviness of the topics I was sharing and so I stopped after awhile. I suddenly felt old... and for the first time it occurred to me that my cousin could have been my daughter. I was actually that much older than her, funny... it had never dawned on me before.

Now that she's left, I've realized that my 13 year old cousin imparted me more knowledge about living than I did to her about life. And it was all just from her BEING - simple invaluable lessons in how to brighten ones path. Live freely, play/create/listen to music as much as you can, laugh without restraint, be fearless, love and do not doubt that you are loved always.

Her song...

Catching up with an old friend

Until today my friend J and I had not met for a few years. We've known each other since we were 10 years old and were very close as kids. Our families were good friends.

He moved to California before I did; and there he met a lovely girl and married her. I had the fortune of attending their wedding in California since I had moved there by then. When his work permit could not be renewed easily he and H left for England to work for awhile before returning to Malaysia.

I had not seen them since until I was startled at a restaurant near my work during lunch break last week. A woman standing beside my table called my name and I didn't recognize her until she told me hers. And then it became quite obvious that I should recognize her, she was J's wife. She too worked in the area and was on her lunch break. We exchanged numbers and this afternoon we all met for lunch along with their 2 year old son.

Catching up I learned that J had quit his job a year ago and lost 15 kg in the 2 months bracketing that occasion because he was consumed by the stress of the life altering decision. "I couldn't endure a job that seemed to go nowhere. I had always felt that there was more for me", he said. A part of him felt unfulfilled and he couldn't ignore it any longer. Hearing him say that reminded me of what compelled me to leave California in the first place.

And so now he was working full time on a novel and looked well - happy. I was surprised, I had known J was creative from the romantic artwork and poetry he had crafted around his apartment in California largely dedicated to his wife. I had looked at it and used to wonder if I could ever meet someone who inspired me to such degree. But I had not known he had a passion for writing. Apparently he didn't ever think he could write in volume either, he admitted. But the fictional piece that he was working on was something he was so passionate about that he loathed to spend any time away from it. I envied him saying that. "Another one breaks free to live from his heart and chase his dreams", I thought to myself. I then felt abashed over how I had been consumed once again by the grind of a job that served to further enrich vastly over-paid executives.

I asked him what the topic was and he said that it was about long distance running and then added almost reluctantly that it was also of romantic love. "But it's not a romance, romance novel", he insisted. It bothered him when people instantly categorized it as such. It impressed me that he was writing this book, I knew he was not a runner by any loose use of the term. It didn't daunt him. "It's like as though the story just comes through me", he explained. I knew what he was speaking about, there were some blogs I had written that seemed to be channeled rather than originating from me.

As we parted ways, we agreed to get together once in awhile to work. I thought it to be a great way to spend time with someone at a cafe with our laptops, him working on his novel and me blogging or working the job.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tai Chi updated

For over a month now I've been practicing Tai Chi daily. I had been looking to get into Tai Chi ever since my first exposure to it in New Zealand but it had seemed rather inaccessible to me until the yoga studio that I practice at started offering it a few months back.

Prior to joining this class, I had tried to learn with a private Tai Chi instructor but it didn't quite work out. There were two reasons for this, one was the language barrier and the other was that it just didn't seem like Tai Chi. I tried 3 lessons then gave up, I remember having to check each at each lesson to confirm that he was teaching Tai Chi because it really seemed more like ballet or ballroom dancing. At one point, we were literally dancing arm around each other and he was telling me in broken English that I was 'the girl', I think it was at that moment that I decided to quit.

Now, I have access to a class with other beginner participants. It's also nice to expand into a new circle of friends. One of them is passionate about tea and he's been trained by the Tai Chi master in the art of Chinese tea ceremony. He seems to have a long standing relationship with Master Lim as his protege, he clearly adulates the man. "Master Lim only learned until Grade 2, but he is an expert on Chinese history, tea, Tai Chi and Chinese medicine", he said once. And so I held a tea ceremony in my apartment a few days ago with some of the classmates. It lasted a few hours, there were many kinds of tea, and it was a great way to socialize around a table.

Tai Chi means "Ultimate Form" and it originated over a thousand years ago in China. It was initiated as a means of self-defense for monks or spiritual folk in general since they were otherwise often trounced by bandits as easy prey. The routine I am learning in the long Chuan style and it has 108 steps in it. We've covered only a fraction of them.

I practice it every morning right after my Ascension; it helps to still the mind, and increase my body awareness and balance. I always start with some Chi Kung as a warm-up to get the Chi moving. 'Chi' becomes more of a fixture of reality as I awaken it through Chi Kung and Tai Chi.

From the outside it doesn't appear to be much, it is not impressive to look at nor does it seem to serve much purpose - it is "stillness in motion". Some mornings I even find myself wanting to skip the practice because I am short of time, it seems to be the easiest way to make more time if I did so. But I've learned that the things that appear most insignificant tend to have the largest impact and TaiChi falls into that. Over this time, I have grown in confidence, poise, focus and all areas of my life are enhanced - sports, professionally, relationships, sexually.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Let There Be Fresh Air

A few days ago I had a confrontation at work with the office administrator over the quality of the air in my department. The encounter highlighted for me a general difference in the cultures of the East and West.

For 2 weeks the air in my department had steadily degraded since the number of users frequenting the smoking room had jumped due to the displacement of personnel affected by renovations throughout the various departments. To make matters worse, the extraction fan in the smoking room had broken down a while back and it was not repaired. It came to a point where my office smelled like a night club. My coworkers and I were feeling progressively ill throughout each day and our repeated emails to the O.A. were being ignored.

With the approval of my manager I moved into a different department where I had access because of my collaboration on two projects. I seated myself amongst the other team members where there was a non-assigned seat available, in fact I seated myself literally next to an air-purifying machine and was pleased with the cleaner air.

It didn't take long for me to catch the attention of the O.A. and his right-hand man. They pounced on me at my new desk and berated loudly me at length over how I was breaking company policy with this new choice of seating. I reminded them that this was temporary until the renovations were complete and if I needed a higher authority to approve then I would; I then countered with, "now that we are speaking face to face, I'd like to know what is being done about the air quality in my regular work area?". His response was to be curt and dismissive, calling it a "minor issue" to him and did I actually expect things to be resolved immediately? "I expected at least some kind of acknowledgement on your part that you received my request, some kind of assurance that it would be addressed at some point", I answered. It galled me to hear him, I knew that the O.A. had knowledge of this issue from months back when the fan quit.

After the heated exchange, my access to the area was revoked in a matter of a few minutes. I half-expected that to happen out of spite but I had not expected a security person to be summoned to pressure me to vacate the desk. I did not comply to this either. I assured this fellow that I would get approval from the general manager of the division, for according to him that was how high I needed to go for a simple temporary change in seating. It all seemed very absurd, and though unsettled, in my heart I felt justified to remain where I was since I was among teammates and I had the support of the manager of the area I was sitting in.

Over lunch a coworker from my old carcinogenic work area informed me that the smoking room had been shut down and locked by the O.A. and the air was already improving - finally! The long awaited relief among my coworkers brought assurance that I had done the right thing.

Later that same day, my access card was restored and the O.A. confronted me in the kitchenette; he seemed like a difference person, full of apology and very remorseful to the point that I actually felt uneasy. He never realized how bad the situation actually was. I kept assuring him that things were cool, it dawned on me that this was a man that had at last come to his senses and realized what a poor situation he had put himself in by being negligent in his duty and then revoking my access without proper cause. I could see that he certainly didn't want me going to the G.M. pleading my case for my rights.

It was a small step on my part, but it led to a big outcome and no one had to lose anything. I'm no Rosa Parks but there are times to make a stand, however insignificant it may seem at the time. It was a valuable learning experience.

The only tired I was, was tired of giving in. - Rosa Parks