Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Year-end Reflection

And here we are on the last day of 2008. The new year is going to be here any minute now. I am sitting here thinking about everything that happened this year and am amazed by how much changes one can go through in a year both as an individual and also as a member of a community, a country. Life is full of changes and surprises, and that is the beauty of it.

As the last post of this year, I am going to look a closer look at my own changes over the last 12 months. I will attempt to do this every year from now on.

Major Achievements -
  1. Finished my Masters program in Electrical and Computer engineering. I'll be honest - this program is a breeze and it is hard to consider it as an achievement. But after twenty months of being in school it is also difficult to not list it.
  2. Read over 65 books. Not too bad. A pretty good selection on a variety of topics and authors. Tremendously fun and educational. This is the second year in a roll that I read over 60 books in a year. I doubt I will do the same next year - it is very time consuming. I probably will take a different approach and tackle fewer but more difficult books.
  3. Blogging. This one came as an accident, but it is well worth it. I blog almost entirely for myself. It is a great way to sort of keep tabs on myself. There is no greater way to achieve clarity in your thinking than writing. When I write things down, my confusions fade away. It is also very helpful to look back on my posts and see where I have been, the journey I took so to speak. TweakMyLife in particular has affected my life, for the better.
  4. Healthier lifestyle. I made a number of improvements on my dieting and exercising. I was able to set up better and more efficient routines and stick to them. Generally speaking, I eat fairly healthy now and my weight fluctuates within a good range. I also supplement my diet with a number of exercises such as Aikido, general gym workout, and Yoga. The result is satisfactory.
  5. At the beginning of the year I decided to gain a better understanding about all the major religions of the world, and that is just what I did. It was a very enriching and worthwhile experience. Religion, in all its shapes and forms, is the gem of all human wisdom. By studying them, I opened my eyes, not necessarily to their uniqueness (there is that too), but more to the Universal Truth that is shared by all religions. I find that each one is just a different path to the same mountain top. And I am in awe of the beauty, the absolute beauty, in almost all of them.
  6. Buddhism. During my study of all the major religions of the world, I was particularly struck by Buddhism. I found a connection with it in a very special way. I love its pragmatism and its rational approach. As a result, I devoted some time to study it in depth and that has become transformational.
  7. Goal-setting exercise. With two other classmates from the IEM program, we conducted a goal-setting exercise for the duration of the year. We tried a number of approaches, used lists and other means to help us track our goals. I believe the overall result was very good. All of us have become more productive in our lives. Many of the techniques I will carry over to the next year.
  8. Improving trading skills. I have spent some considerable time to improve my trading ability. Arguably I studied four of the most important trading books ever written and I believe they have fundamentally changed the way I think about trading. More importantly, I think they helped me to get rid of some of the bad habits I have grown accustomed to over the years. I am confident that what I did this year will shape my trading result in the years to come.
  9. Aikido. I consistently went to the class this year and practiced. I did incur some injuries and had to bail out for a month but other than that I kept up with my practice. Now I am a redbelt with four qualification tests completed and I am on track to become a blackbelt next year.
  10. French and Chess. I have been studying French for most part of the year and I have made some good progress. Same thing with Chess. I believe my overall understanding of Chess is improving but I do need to continue to play in tournaments in order to improve my rating.
  11. Overall I believe there is a good amount of personal growth this year. As an individual, I am more centered, and more ready to deal with changes. I have found a set of internal principles that I will use as my moral compass, and I am more at peace with myself. I credit this to the work I have done with religion/philosophy, meditation, and self-reflection. Although I have much work to do, my direction is clear.
Some Areas for Improvements -
  1. I wanted to write more, and eventually have some of my writings published, I but never got around to it.
  2. I wanted to at least put some effort towards working on a business idea, but that never happened.
  3. For a good six months there I was working on too many goals; a small number of goals with more focus would be better next time.
  4. I have not made much improvements on my career. However, my view on that seems to be changing. What is a career? Do I really need one?
  5. I need to make more progress on music.
  6. My weight is around 140 lbs. My goals was to reach 137 by the end of this year. But I am not really disappointed.
Fundamental Insights -
  1. One of the most important things in life, perhaps the most important one, is maintaining my mindfulness on the present. Living in the moment. The quality of my life, my overall happiness, depends on it. The past matters not, the future matters not, what I do today, this hour, does.
  2. Everything that ever happened to me, that is happening to me, that will happen to me, is supposed to happen. There is other way it can happen. Whatever the result is, it is for my benefit.
  3. There is a way that you can achieve happiness, systematically. Happiness is not only possible, but it is probably. It is not only probable, it is, in fact, inevitable. Work on your salvation with diligence.
  4. The answers are not out there, they are in here. If I want happiness, look deep within, and unearth what I already know.
  5. Trading is just like poker.
  6. Everything in life is the same. If you understand one thing through and through, you understand everything.
Conclusion:

Overall 2008 has been a good year. I put in some effort working on the things that are important to me and I made good progress. I am happy with my work and where I am today. I am ready for the challenges and adventures next year.

Happy New Year! :)

Freedom of Choice

What is the freedom of choice?

One interesting way to look at it, as I learned recently, is that regardless of what event happens to us, we have the freedom to choose how we react to it. No one can tell us how we can, or should react - we, and we alone, have that power. We can choose to let that event to get us down, to elate us or inspire us, or to not bother us at all. If we want to, we can make every event an empowering experience. The choice is ours.

Lies, Hypocrisy, and ... Chess?

On the Chess-board lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite. Our little Chess is one of the sanctuaries, where this principle of justice has occasionally had to hide to gain sustenance and a respite, after the army of mediocrities had driven it from the market-place. And many a man, struck by injustice as, say Socrates and Shakespeare were struck, has found justice realized on the Chess-board and has thereby recovered his courage and his vitality to continue to play the game of Life. Later generations, not so narrow-minded as ours, will recognize and appreciate this merit of our noble game.

- Lasker's Manual of Chess

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Natural Enhancements

Besides Vitamin pills, there are three other supplements I take regularly. I find all of them help my body in numerous ways, without being addictive or having other side effects.

Yerba mate

1. Yerba Mate is very much like coffee and tea, is considered safe by the FDA, and is on their GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. Consumed in moderation, it is recognized as one of the most healthful natural beverages on earth. However, unlike energy drinks, coffee and tea, it can give you sustained energy, focus and alertness without the jitteriness of caffeine.

2. It can help eliminate fatigue, while stimulating mental and physical activity. It has a beneficial effect on nerves and muscles; it can also enhance intellectual work.

3. Yerba Mate health benefits have been documented by research such as being anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, thermogenic (increases fat burning), aids in weight loss, and can help with mental clarity.

4. It contains vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, B... and complex minerals like Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Zinc. It also contains Carotene, Fatty Acids, Chlorophyll, Flavonols, Polyphenols, Inositol, Trace Minerals, Antioxidants, Tannins, Pantothenic Acid, and 15 Amino Acids.

5. Yerba Mate also contains saponins which are phytochemicals ( natural plant sources) that have been found to specifically stimulate the immune system and aid the body in protecting against disease.

6. It contains polyphenols which are a group of phytochemicals that act as powerful antioxidants and are considered to have anti-cancer effects in mammals by strengthening their natural defenses.

Fish Oil

1. Less Pain and Inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, have a very positive effect on your inflammatory response. Through several mechanisms, they regulate your body's inflammation cycle, which prevents and relieves painful conditions like arthritis, prostatitis, cystitis and anything else ending in "itis."

2. Cardiovascular Health. Omega 3 fatty acids have also been proven to work wonders for your heart and the miles and miles of arteries and veins that make up your cardiovascular system. They help to lower cholesterol, tryglicerides, LDLs and blood pressure, while at the same time increasing good HDL cholesterol. This adds years to your life expectancy.

3. Protection from Stroke and Heart Attack. When plaque builds up on arterial walls and then breaks loose, it causes what's known as a thrombosis, which is a fancy way of saying clot. If a clot gets stuck in the brain, it causes a stroke and when it plugs an artery, it causes a heart attack. Research shows omega 3 fatty acids break up clots before they can cause any damage.

4. Better Brain Function and Higher Intelligence. Pregnant and nursing mothers can have a great impact on the intelligence and happiness of their babies by supplementing with fish oil. For adults, omega 3 improves memory, recall, reasoning and focus. You'll swear you're getting younger and smarter.

5. Less Depression and Psychosis. Making you smarter is not all omega 3 does for your brain. Psychiatry department researchers at the University of Sheffield, along with many other research studies, found that omega 3 fish oil supplements "alleviate" the symptoms of depression, bipolar and psychosis (Journal of Affective Disorder Vol. 48(2-3);149-55).

6. Lower Incidence of Childhood Disorders. Just to show how fish oil fatty acids leave nobody out, studies show that children (and adults) with ADD and ADHD experience a greatly improved quality of life. And those with dyslexia, dyspraxia and compulsive disorders have gotten a new lease on life thanks to omega 3 oils.

7. Reduction of Breast, Colon and Prostate Cancer. And finally, omega 3 fish oil has been shown to help prevent three of the most common forms of cancer – breast, colon and prostate. Science tells us that omega 3s accomplish this in three ways. They stop the alteration from a normal healthy cell to a cancerous mass, inhibiting unwanted cellular growth and causing apoptosis, or cellular death, of cancer cells.

Nettle Tea

It cures diseases and inflammations of the urinary system, and also urinary retentions. It has a slightly laxative effect, being recommended in depurative remedies. For hepatic, biliary affections as well as for affections of the spleen, the treatment with nettle tea will last for a number of weeks. Nettle tea can also be of great help to those who suffer from diabetes, because it leads to the decrease of blood sugar and implicitly, of the glycaemia level. It is useful in eliminating virosis, and bacterial infections. Preparation: the tea can be prepared through soaking the fresh or dried leaves in boiled water. This method allows the retention of active substances.

I find Nettle Tea to be very calming to my mind. I try to drink one before I go to bed each night.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Spirit

A friend of mine and I decided to do some volunteering work this Christmas. We called up Jimmie Hale Mission and they told us that they had more volunteers than they could handle this year, but they suggested Birmingham Hands On as an alternative. So we called there and, guess what, same story. All shelters are manned and there are plenty of drivers for food delivery. They thanked our interest and put our names on a list just in case.

You would think, given the economic condition, given all the turbulence and chaos we gone through this year, maybe people would be a little less giving, a little more conserving with their time and energy, but no, there is an overwhelming number of volunteers turned out this year. They care, not less, but more for the unfortunates.

It just goes to show that there are plenty of goodness in this world, all you have to do is pause and look.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Courage

Being a successful trader also takes courage: the courage to try, the courage to fail, the courage to succeed, and the courage to keep on going when the going gets tough.

- Michael Marcus

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Ordinary Teacher

A roshi is a person who has actualized that perfect freedom which is the potentiality for all human beings. He exists freely in the fullness of his whole being. The flow of his consciousness is not the fixed repetitive patterns of our usual self-centered consciousness, but rather arises spontaneously and naturally from the actual circumstances of the present. The results of this in terms of the quality of his life are extraordinary - buoyancy, vigor, straightforwardness, simplicity, humility, serenity, joyousness, uncanny perspicacity and unfathomable compassion. His whole being testifies to what it means to live in the reality of the present.

Without anything said or done, just the impact of meeting a personality so developed can be enough to change another's whole way of life. But in the end it is not the extraordinariness of the teacher which perplexes, intrigues, and deepens the student, it is the teacher's utter ordinariness. Because he is just himself, he is a mirror for his students. When we are with him we feel our own strengths and shortcomings without any sense of praise or criticism from him. In his presence we see our original face, and the extraordinariness we see is only our own true nature. When we learn to let our own nature free, the boundaries between master and student disappear in a deep flow of being and joy in the unfolding of Buddha mind.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What is Zen?

The Zen of doing anything is doing it with a particular concentration of mind, a calmness and simplicity of mind, that brings the experience of enlightenment and, through that experience, happiness.

Done correctly, happiness is an inevitable end.

What is enlightenment then? What exactly did Buddha experience and why was it so powerful? What in the world could make that much difference in one person's life?

The realization of their oneness with the Universe.

This is what enlightenment is: knowing everything in the Universe is created from and is part of the same energy, and knowing that we are related to all of that. Once that awareness is obtained, all else falls into place.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Simple Gifts

The Shakers is a religious group with the belief that everyone could find God from within himself or herself, without external help from meditation, rituals, or clergy. It is a branch developed from the Quakers. Because their belief in celibacy, today there are only a handful of them left. What is interesting to me about the Shakers is their devotion to simplicity, living a simple life. One of their most famous folksong is called "Simple Gifts".

"Simple Gifts" was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine in 1848. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
And here is a very nice video about the Shakers and performance of "Simple Gifts" with guitar.


video

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Gospel of Relaxation

William James, dean of American psychologists, in his little essay "The Gospel of Relaxation,", said that modern man was too tense, too concerned for results, too anxious (this was in 1899), and that there was a better and easier way.

http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/jgospel.html

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where is the Franny in my life?

I miss Franny. I miss her idealism, her wit, her obsession, and her courage. She is perfect.

Where are you Franny? Why haven't I found you yet?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Zen Mind

video

Emptying Your Cup

One of my favorite stories concerns a Buddhist scholar and a Zen Master. The scholar had an extensive background in Buddhist Studies and was an expert on the Nirvana Sutra. He came to study with the master and after making the customary bows, asked her to teach him Zen. Then, he began to talk about his extensive doctrinal background and rambled on and on about the many sutras he had studied.

The master listened patiently and then began to make tea. When it was ready, she poured the tea into the scholar's cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, "Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can't get anymore in."

The master stopped pouring and said: "You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about Buddha's Way. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup."

This story is and old one, but it continues to be played out in our lives day-by-day. We are so enamored of our own ideas and opinions and so trapped by our conditioning that we fill ourselves up to the brim and nothing can get in.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What is Wabi-Sabi?

Let's start what it is not - a dipping sauce for sushi.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that embraces a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The emphasis on subtle details, even if noticed only by vigilant viewers.

Less is more. The importance of small doses and looking closely. Having quiet authority without having to be the center of attention. Simplicity. Working with a limited palette and keeping features to a minimum.

Realize somethings "interestingness" has nothing to do with how complex it is.

It is the opposite of being monumental, spectacular, and enduring.

The simplicity of wabi-sabi is best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence.

In Japanese they have a phrase for describing it - "natsukashii furusato," or an old memory of my hometown.

It is a richly mellow beauty that sticks with you for a long, long time.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lonely Sherperd

video

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Pebble

While sitting still and breathing slowly, think of yourself as a pebble which is falling through a clear stream. While sinking, there is no intention to guide your movement. Sink toward the spot of total rest on the gentle sand of the riverbed. Continue meditating on the pebble until your mind and body are at complete rest: a pebble resting on the sand. Maintain this peace and joy for a half hour while watching your breath. No thought about the past or future can pull you away from your present peace and joy. The universe exists in this present moment. No desire can pull you away from this present peace, not even the desire to become a Buddha or the desire to save all beings. Know that to become a Buddha and to save all beings can only be realized on the foundation of the pure peace of the present moment.

- From The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, August 31, 2008

When we see ...

When we see that there is already a precious jewel in our pocket, we give up every attitude of craving or coveting. Seeing that we are lions, we do not long to nurse from a mother deer. Seeing that we are the sun, we give up the candle's habit of fearing the wind. Seeing that life has no boundaries, we give up all imprisoning divisions.

We see ourselves and our life everywhere. That is why we help all living phenomena, all living species, like someone who has attained awakening.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Anicca

The Buddha listed impermanence (anicca) as the first of his Three Marks of Existence - characteristics that apply to everything in the natural order. The Buddha believed that we are free from the pain of clutching for permanence only if the acceptance of continual change is driven into our very marrow. Followers of the Buddha know well his advice:


Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp - a phantom - and a dream.


The depth of the Buddha's wisdom is astounding. It is very difficult, at least for me, to understand how it is possible for a human being to achieve so much in his life. Yet, the Buddha's achievement is undeniable. His followers testified from their own experience that advance along his path enlarged their lives as well. Their worlds seemed to expand, and with each step they felt themselves more alive than they had been before. If increased freedom brings increased being, total freedom should be being itself.

A thousand questions remain, but the Buddha is silent.
Others abide our questions. Thou are free.
We ask and ask; thou smilest and art still.


And you know what the Buddha said on his deathbed?

All compounded things decay. Work out your own salvation with diligence.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chess Lesson (Take Two)

Ozgur, a strong Chess expert, sent me this article - http://www.kevinspraggett.com/badhabit.htm

Fantastic Chess advices, something every Chess player should adhere to. And, just like many other things in life, lessons we learn here can be applied everywhere.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Chess Lesson

My friend Kyle is a Chess master. Kyle's supreme knowledge of the opening theories, skillful handling of difficult positions, and ever present tactical alertness make him a deadly opponent; I have never played anyone as good as he is. Sometimes when we play a game, I feel as if I am not just fighting another chess player, but Chess itself.

One day I asked him for some guidance, and this is what he said:


A healthy, "connected" position is the basis of all things.

Play in harmony with the position. Seek strategic guidance from the pawn structure (e.g. pawn targets, strong squares, spatial advantage in a sector of the board); think of how your plans may change if the pawn structure changes.

Think of how you can generate play/how play will "flow" from your position. Think of the same about your opponent's position. Have an idea of what your next few moves will be (call it an "operation" or "miniplan") if your opponent does nothing to distract you.

Before you move, try to take into account all of your opponent's possible replies that contain an immediate threat. Make a "prediction" of his most likely reply or replies, and how you will probably respond.

Look for multi-purpose moves (e.g. a way to deal with an opponent's threat which also furthers your own play, rather than being purely defensive).

Lose yourself in the game and enjoy the battle of ideas.


As far as Chess advice goes, I would be hard-pressed to find a better one.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Either now or on your deathbed ...

you can come to the inevitable decision that there is no reason NOT to be great. Just be. Greatness is within everyone of us. Do you ever feel the burning of that internal fire? That is greatness. There are no reason, no excuses, no circumstances in the world can stop you from being great. Except you, that is.

So be great. Don't let anyone, most importantly yourself, tell you otherwise.

Imagine how sad it must feel to realize that on your deathbed.

A Musical Treat

I love the performance in this video. The music itself (theme from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is hauntingly beautiful, and then the performer's intense concentration, combined with the silky smooth movement of his fingers as they slide up and down the neck of the cello, just make the whole piece very enjoyable to watch.

video

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Joy and Happiness

Happiness is more than joy. According to the teachings of the Buddha, joy is less pure because there is desire and excitement in it. When we anticipate a special occasion, we are often filled with excitement and joy - "I can't wait!" We should, however, be mindful of the fact that if we are too excited about something in the future, we tend to forget about the what is happening in the present moment. Joy is not the same as happiness. In the beginning, we need joy. But as we develop our happiness, the excitement that is present in joy disappears.

The example given in the sutra is of a man dying of thirst in the desert, who sees an oasis, a fountain of water, in the midst of a grove of trees. He feels joy and excitement. His body and mind race towards the pool, and he bends down, puts his hands in the water and brings the water to his mouth. Until the very last moment before he drinks the water, he feels joy.

But, when he finally drinks the water, he tastes real happiness, and his excitement has completely disappeared.

True happiness is the emptiness of desire.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What an old movie taught me

Remember those wonderful characters in The Wizard of Oz? There were the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion: Dorothy's compatriots on the journey to see the great wizard who would grant each of them their most desired wish.

The scarecrow wanted a brain, a mind with which to reason and know the truth of all things. The tin man hoped for a heart so that he would feel the presence of love which he longed. And then there is the cowardly lion who wanted courage to face his fears.

And we remember what happened: by the end of their journey, after everything they went through because of their love for Dorothy and each other, they discovered that they don't need the wizard and the wish at all - the very quality of character for which they had gone out to look for was already living within them!

We all have that within us. However, it cannot ever be gifted, granted, or given; it must be earned through our personal journey. Otherwise it will not be authentic and be truly ours. So take that journey, and find whatever that is you are looking for, from within yourself.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Be Like Water

Bruce Lee, not only was one of the greatest martial artists that ever lived, but also was quite a philosopher. He thought deeply about the essence of martial art, often breaking the boundaries set by traditional teachings. During the years he shared many of his findings, here is one example:

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

Similarly, in Karate they often talk about having a "mind like water", which means keeping a mental readiness like a pond, dwell in stillness, quietly reflecting. When you throw a pebble into the pond, the pond does not overreact, nor under-react; it takes the pebble as is, accepting it, and then softly, calmly returns to its original stillness.

Be like water, my friend.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Il faut cultiver son jardin

Indeed, we all must work in our garden. To me, this has several meanings:

1. Life's reward comes with hard work, dedication, and persistence; there is no short cut to success. It might be nice or advantageous to be smart or good-looking, but they are poor substitutes for real, authentic labor.

2. It is "our" garden we need to work in, not others. What other people do or don't do with their gardens are not our primary concern; our garden is. Focus on that and everything else will take care themselves.

3. There are many people in this world who want to sell you "gardening tools" - how to speak well, how to network, how to be social, etc., etc.. Or better yet, Life Coaching. Although these techniques do have value, they pale in comparison to the work that we MUST do internally, if what we desire is true, long-lasting happiness.

It is we who must work on our garden.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What Is

It is not our duty to suffer over what will be or won't be - to live with painful regret or guilt over what was or wasn't. Our sole task is to be responsible for what is - and to allow this relationship with life to produce what it will. There may or may not be suffering in this order of responsibility, but, if there is, it will be transformational as opposed to self-tormenting - which is the negative effect of every act born of assuming some false responsibility.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Veggie Sausage Patties

I love sausages, but they are unhealthy - too much FAT. Recently, a friend of mine (thanks Kim!) cooked me some veggie patties from Morningstar, and oh my God, they are delicious! They taste just like real sausages, if not better. Above all, it is packed with meatless soy products, herbs, spices, and contains only 3 grams of FAT, where a regular sausage patty has 12.

Nutritional Facts:

Serving: 1 pattie, 1.34oz.
Calories: 80
Fat:5%, 3g
Cholesterol: 0%, 0mg
Sodium: 11%, 260mg
Protein: 10g
Carbs: 1%, 3g
Fiber: 6%, 1g
Sugar: <1g

They are very easy to cook - you can heat it over a skillet, microwave it, toast it, or bake it.

At Walmart, a package with 6 patties costs a little under 3 dollars. (They also have other products, like veggie hamburger, chicken nuggets, etc. I have to try them.)

Morningstar, I love thee!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Strong and Weak

Sometimes we try to project an image of being strong to people around us. But at the same time, we often realize that we do it in vain - the more we demand or crave the respect of others, the less likely we are to receive it. If you've ever tried to raise children, you know this is true.

Here are some examples of how we may be unknowingly sabotaging ourselves while wrongly assuming we're strengthening our position with others.
  • Fawning before people to win their favor
  • Expressing contrived concern for someone's well-being
  • Making small talk to cover up nervousness
  • Hanging on to someone's every word
  • Looking for someone's approval
  • Asking if someone is angry with you
  • Fishing for a kind word
  • Trying to impress someone
  • Gossiping
  • Explaining yourself to others

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sufi Poem

video

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Unmoving Center

Religions are beautiful. I am not sure how religious I am but I often find the world's religions breathtakingly beautiful . Somehow, the relentless effort by human beings to reach for the heaven tends to lift us beyond what we think is possible, and beauty ensues. If we only take the time to appreciate all these beauty, we might find people of different faith are more alike than not, and religion could simply be the same God revealing his glorious image in different ways.

The great Sufi mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, seeing children whirl, thought that there must be something that the children feel but they cannot express, and perhaps they are not fully aware of what it is. So he tried whirling himself, and he was amazed that if you go on whirling there comes a moment when the center of your being remains static and your whole body and mind, whirls.

Once Jalaluddin realized that you can find the unmoving center of your being, he tried for third-six hours non-stop -- he was determined to whirl to his absolute capacity, not to hold back anything, so for third-six hours he whirled, and a great crowd watched.

After third-six hours he fell down, and Jalauddin was laughing loudly.

He said, "You think you have seen me falling, I have also seen myself falling. These third-six hours I have not moved a single inch. Now, I don't have to go to Mecca in search of God, I have found him. In the unmoving center of my own being, he is."


video

My dear readers, isn't this beautiful?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

How to Give a Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

In 1962, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” Privately, he felt he did not deserve the honor. In his acceptance speech, he said:

"the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."

Steinbeck Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

A Brief Guide to World Domination

Yup, you heard it right, World Domination!

Such is the goal of Chris Guillebeau, a man with interesting experiences and fascinating ideas. A Brief Guild to World Domination is his manifesto of a social experiment, and you can track his progress here.

The manifesto starts out with this:

If you want it badly enough, and are willing to make some changes in your life to cause it to happen, you too can take over the world... or do anything else you really want to do. Yes, you really can have it all. The only things you'll need to give up are assumptions, expectations, and the comfort zone that holds you back from greatness.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life is short, fall in love maidens...

life is brief.
fall in love, maidens
before the crimson bloom
fades from your lips
before the tides of passion
cool within you,
for those of you
who know no tomorrow

life is brief
fall in love, maidens
before his hands
take up his boat
before the flush of his cheeks fades
for those of you
who will never return here

life is brief
fall in love, maidens
before the boat drifts away
on the waves
before the hand resting on your shoulder
becomes frail
for those who will never
be seen here again


life is brief
fall in love, maidens
before the raven tresses begin to fade
before the flame in your hearts
flicker and die
for those to whom today
will never return

Scent of a Woman

My friend Bob reminded me how good of a movie that "Scent of a Woman" is:

1. First, the Tango scene!

video

2. Then there is the court room like scene where Al defends Charlie:

Lt. Col. Frank Slade: [Lt. Col. Frank Slade is speaking in defense of Charlie Simms at meeting at the Baird School] Now I have come to the cross-roads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here's Charlie. He's come to the cross-roads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.

Thanks Bob!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Evernote

It is necessary to organize your mind, especially when it is overcrowded in the Information Age we live in today. A good tool I recently discovered is Evernote, an online utility that can accept your thoughts from virtually anywhere - web, email, PDA, desktop, and more.

A couple of features I really like:

1) It has a tagging system that can be used to categorize and search your notes.

2) Its browser plugin can easily capture any web content you are interested in and turn it into a note. This is super convenient.

You can find Evernote here.

The Big Four

Tim Taylor, one of my personal heroes, fondly recalls what his NASA mentor told him once about life in his book "Launch Fever" -

...
I remember him saying, "You need to know who you are and what you enjoy doing so when one of the life changing opportunities comes your way, you will recognize it as one of the big four. You should then do everything you can to make it happen. Most people miss those four opportunities and live a life of quiet desperation. Your contentment in life will be determined by the choices you make regardless of all the negative events in your life. To enhance your life you will need to find a couple of those big four opportunities to create success in your life. No one is responsible for your success but you. Not your government. Not your mom and dad, and not your employer. You will determine your fate in life, and in the end you will have no one to blame other than your self. Those who continue to be the victim and blame others for their condition will never grow and be successful. You have to be your own bus driver."

If there is only one life lesson one can take, this is probably should be it.

Useful Money-saving Blogs

Gas price seems to be going up everyday, and of course, other expenses follow suit. It seems obvious that the economic downturn is not over and the worst is yet to come. Just about everyone is feeling the pinch. After all, it is hard to cut down driving and impossible to quit eating. So what can we do to make our dollars work harder? A few excellent Blogs might shed some clue.

Money Saving Mom
Lots of shopping advices, great deals, and coupons.
Offers very specific strategies on stores like Walgreens and CVS.
Updated daily.

Get Rich Slowly
An overall financial advice blog. Many tips on how to save your money, and how to make money as well.

Frequently list links to other great sites and articles.

Gas Buddy
Enter your zip code and it will find out where you can get the cheapest gas!

Deals to Buy
If you have to buy something, electronics, gifts, what have you, check here first. It almost always give you the best deal on the web.

Half.com
I practically ditched Amazon all together after I discovered half.com. Fantastic saving on books, music, movies, etc.

Know others? Write me!

Aikido Secrets Revealed!

As I looked at my Blog today, this showed up on one of the Google Ads: Aikido Secrets. I had a good laugh after reading its first page -

* A Nage-Waza (throwing technique) so dangerous that most insiders won't share it with anyone outside of our inner circle... It is that controversial!

* How to use a "Iriminage" (body throw) that is so dangerous that your attacker or opponent will have nightmares for the next decade after being humiliated by you with this insider technique...

* The top Aikido pressure points techniques... If used properly will insure your opponent drops to his knee's within 3 seconds. (He will start crying after 5 seconds.)

Sounds like another product of our instant-gratification-on-sale culture. O Sensei, bless his heart, must be turning in his grave somewhere.

I have discovered some Aikido secrets of my own. And I give them out for free!
  • Find an excellent Dojo like this one - http://www.usamartialarts.com
  • Put your heart and soul into the training. Go to class and train every week.
  • Think less and less about how to make yourself look good, think more and more on your understanding of the Art.
  • Don't worry about the belt - it is not important. Train and the belt will come.
You might have joined for the techniques, but if you train correctly, you will leave with everything else. If you do choose to leave that is.

For many Aikido becomes a life-long journey, a way of life.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Father's Letter

I read this posting today and was quite moved - it was a letter from a father to his 19 year old son. You can't help but feel this tender ever-lasting love he had for his son. Some of the wisdoms he tried to pass on are just timeless.

It is comforting to know that the human race we are all part of has such extraordinary capacity for love.

Perhaps writing letters is a lost art now days; I often wish it is not. In a world filled with emails and text messages, this one reminds me of the older and simpler times, when real and quality communication had its place. If I ever have a child, I will write a letter like this one.

Some of my favorites from the letter:

#6 Girls can be handy. They are nice to talk to and smooch and some times they take pity on poor helpless males and cook them a meal + iron for them.

#10 I know the time will come when you may go on an adventure such as a move out of state or a trip to Australia or whatever else crosses that mind of yours. We will probably throw out all kinds of cautions. That’s just what parents do but follow your dreams anyhow. Please don’t ever move off without letting us know where you are and dropping a note once in a while just to say your OK. Parents have spent 18 years listening to your every breath and loosing sleep if you missed a breath and they just can’t get out of that habit easily. You can do most anything you want and you will have our approval as long as we know you are OK.

Happy Father's Day!

Aikido Poem

This poem was written by Gaku Homma Sensei, a Japanese Aikido instructor living in the United States. His first teacher, referred to by the title of the poem, was none other than Morihei Ueshiba, the O Sensei himself.



TO MY FIRST TEACHER
With thanks for having known you living in the Way.

O-Sensei, you once asked me,
"Why haven't you practiced today?"
"I had to cut the grass, Sensei," I replied.
You smiled and said,
"You can cut the grass any day,
but this old man won't be around forever
to teach you."

One beautiful afternoon you told me,
"Go mail this package, and then we'll practice."
You taught me suwari-waza
in your everyday kimono.

I watched you on the train
as we travelled to Headquarters in Tokyo.
You bought a box lunch and some fruit
for a little girl who sat across from you.

Later, at home in Iwama,
in the quiet dojo
after all the students had left,
you sat facing the direction of Headquarters
and expressed disappointment
in the high-ranking students there.

Some men call you divine, a superior being,
but I don't think that is right.
You were a great martial artist,
but at the same time,
an ordinary, kind old man
when not in the dojo.

That's why I try to follow,
only because it is the way of Aiki,
to which not a god, but a man
opened the door.

Soon, your memorial day will come
and I write this poem in gratitude.

Gaku Homma - Aikido NIPPON KAN

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Library of the Living Dead

Elizabeth Spiers wrote a great article for Fast Company, April 2008 issue. I wholeheartedly agree with her position and am thrilled that someone finally put some intelligent thoughts behind the matter. Here is some of her observations (bolding is mine) -

"So many books promise financial riches and personal professional growth, as long as we abide by the rules. 'There is a formula,' Donald Trump assures the reader in his book, Think Big and Kick Ass (No. 8), 'a recipe for success that the top 2% live by and that you can follow to be successful.' Naturally, Trump's formula isn't the same as Suze Orman's (No. 7) or John Kotter's (No. 14). So which road leads to success?

The answer is that, sadly, none of them do. When managers buy those books in bulk for their employees, there may be some well-intentioned hope that the books will provide a useful framework for solving problems. But the real utility of 7 Habits and 12 Disciplines and 50 Ways is that they create the illusion of progress simply by adding another layer of busyness.

Business books let us amble zombielike through our careers, freeing us from responsibility for the quality of our own decision making. Better to delegate that responsibility to other people -- Jack Welch, perhaps. It's a fresh spin on the old saw that no one ever got fired for buying IBM: No one will ever get canned for leaning on something with a Ken Blanchard blurb on the front cover. The alternative, too frightening to contemplate, is to admit that problems are usually too complex to be reduced to one-size-fits-all solutions, to train ourselves to do our own analysis, and to be a little more skeptical when the shrieking man on TV tells us to buy shares of Google right this very minute. If we can't do that, let's at least reshelve business best sellers where they belong -- in the self-help section."

Well said, Ms. Spiers!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Food to avoid

Don't walk, run away from the following foods:
  • Chips
  • Non-Diary topping
  • Doughnuts
  • Fettuccine Alfredo
  • Sausages (grr!)
  • Fried Chicken
  • Imitation Cheese in a Can (who eats that?)
  • French Fries
  • Spongy White Bread
  • Fried Wantons
There is no reason to go into the details for each one; trust me, it is better not to know. :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Movies that make you think

Here is a good post with a list of 10 movies, many of which are my own favorites -

http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2008/05/27/the-red-pill-10-films-guaranteed-to-blow-your-mind/

Take a look at the comments - good suggestions there too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Zen Miracle

"What is the most miraculous of all miracles?"

"That I sit quietly by myself."

Simply to see things as they are, as they truly are in themselves, is life enough.

Zen often wears the air of divine ordinariness: "Have you eaten? Then wash your bowls." If you cannot find the meaning of life in an act as simple as doing the dishes, you will not find it anywhere.

Asked what Zen training leads to, a Western student who had been practicing for seven years in Kyoto answered, "No paranormal experiences that I can detect. But you wake up in the morning and the world seems so beautiful and you can hardly stand it. "

//Side note, that reminds me of "American Beauty".

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brevity is Vigor

William Strunk JR. and E.B. White's brilliant book "The Elements of Style" has many great writing advices that everyone should follow. For me, the one gem on top of the list, most likely because I am so bad at it, is "brevity is vigor." "Omit needless words!", "Omit needless words!", "Omit needless words!" - cries the author throughout the book.

But his wisdom is timeless. Today's media, Internet, the Information Highway, and even the Academia is filled with "dumbed-down" and "bloated-up" trash that is frequently wordy and vacuous. What can be said in two sentences are expanded into five. "Words are cheap", the authors seem to say. Unfortunately, so are their ideas - they are like the prevalent fast foods: cheap, fast, in large quantities, but ultimately bad for you.

Here is what some other people said about brevity:

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief. ~William Shakespeare, Hamlet

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books - what other men do not say in whole books. ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought. ~Dennis Roth

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Breathe! You Are Alive

Breathe and you know that you are alive.
Breathe and you know that all is helping you.
Breathe and you know that you are the world.
Breathe and you know that the flower is breathing too.
Breathe for yourself and you breathe for the world.
Breathe in compassion and breathe out joy.

Breathe and be one with the air that you breathe.
Breathe and be one with the river that flows.
Breathe and be one with the earth that you tread.
Breathe and be one with the fire that glows.
Breathe and you break the thought of birth and death.
Breathe and you see that impermanence is life.

Breathe for your joy to be steady and calm.
Breathe for your sorrow to flow away.
Breathe to renew every cell in your blood.
Breathe to renew the depths of consciousness.
Breathe and you dwell in the here and now.
Breathe and all you touch is new and real.

- Annabel Laity

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Go to Jail!

I never heard about this one before but I immediately liked it.

You know sometimes you are stuck with doing something you don't like to do? You can't wait to get it over with so you can go do something else that is more exciting and fun? Heck yea, we all know how that feels. In fact, isn't life filled with things like that?

Try this - put yourself in jail!

Imagine you are in a jail. You have nowhere to go, no one to talk to, there is nothing more exciting coming up later that day than this thing you are doing. How do you feel now?

Next time when you clean your house, practice guitar, or wash your dishes, give it a try. It might put you in a calmer, focused state, and bring more quality into the mundanes.

Traffic Light

Sometimes when I stretch or exercise I don't know how far I should push myself. Here is an useful visualization I recently learned: picture a traffic light with red yellow and green signals. Green means "no problem", Yellow is "pushing it a little with effort", red is, of course, too dangerous o try.

In training, or in any other goal-oriented activities in life, it is essential that you reach into the yellow light zone frequently. When you do this, it should be voluntary and intentional. You should also always know when your "signal" turns red, and stop when it does.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Glycemic Index

Glycemic Index is not the name of some new bio-stock mutual fund, but a measurement of how fast a particular type of food releases glucose into your blood stream. Low GI food tends to do it slowly, which keeps your energy levels balanced. Further more, Low GI diets
  • increase the body's sensitivity to insulin
  • improve diabetes control
  • reduce the risk of heart disease
  • reduce blood cholesterol levels
  • prolong physical endurance
Sounds good, doesn't it? But how do I get my hands on some delicious low GI food? Fear not, you can find out with web sites like this one.

Or, follow some general guidance:
  • Use breakfast cereals based on oats, barley and bran
  • Use breads with wholegrains, stone-ground flour, sour dough
  • Reduce the amount of potatoes you eat
  • Enjoy all other types of fruit and vegetables
  • Use Basmati or Doongara rice
  • Enjoy pasta, noodles, quinoa
  • Eat plenty of salad vegetables with a vinaigrette dressing
But how can I give up white rice? I am Chinese!

in-betweens

"Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Too often I lose sight of what's happening in the current moment because I am too busy anticipating the end, planning for the future, or worrying about hitting the goal. I move on, lost to the experience of the moment that is full of opportunities and sensations waiting for my presence and acknowledgment. I can feel that even as I sit here write this entry. Too often our focus is given to beginnings and endings and the in-betweens go unnoticed. How many moments have we lost in our lives because we failed to fully engage them?

Presence is that quality that arises from the awareness we bring to our actions.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stop on Yellow

I used to never wait on the Yellow traffic light - Yellow almost signaled for speeding up back then. I was always in a rush to get somewhere, and stopping at Yellow seemed to be such a waste of time. As a result, I ran a few red lights, and got caught a few times. Now thinking back, I think it was just stupid. What is the rush? It is so not worth it to save a couple of minutes by taking the risk of getting a ticket, or worse, get into an accident. Life is too precious to take that risk. Now I make a conscious effort to stop at every yellow light, regardless how much a hurry I am in. Before you know it, stopping becomes second nature.

And if you are really in a hurry, leave a few minutes earlier.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Power Shower

I learned this trick from Tim Taylor - author, rocket man, entrepreneur, family man; he is quite a character. Tim believes that it is important to remember just how lucky we are every and each day, so he suggests that every time when you take a shower, you count your blessings, literally. In that ten to fifteen minutes, he could usually come up with eight to ten things, even on the days he feels like crap. This tiny investment sets his perspective right, and changes his outlook for the entire day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Two Ways to Wash Dishes

There are two ways to wash dishes - First, you wash the dishes so you can have clean dishes for your next meal; Second, you wash dishes to wash dishes. In the first case, you are thinking about the meal afterwards, and hurrying to get the dishes out the way; you are never present in the moment, and therefore not really "alive". When you do wash the dishes to wash the dishes, then the entire activity becomes alive with possibilities, which makes you capable of realizing the miracles of life while standing at the sink.

I won't pretend that I understand any of this. But I do want to write it down so I can reflect on it. Because I think, this might very well be, the very thing I am missing in my life right now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Relax your shoulders

This might be one of the most effective "techniques" I learned last year. When you feel tense, pressured or just stressed out, relax your shoulders. Throughout the day, make frequent mental checks of how tight your shoulders are, and relax them. It works!

Here is a tip, use telephone ring as a trigger - every time when you hear an incoming call, relax your shoulders. Do this a couple of times you'll find yourself do it automatically, without effort.

Once your shoulders are relaxed, you are more focused, calmer, and better equipped to deal with whatever life throws at you. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Think C.A.L.M

Calm represents a peaceful state of mind. A calm mind is not easily distracted - it is resilient and effective. It's reassuring to be around someone who has a calm mind because they exude a sense of quiet confidence.

C - Centered
A - Alive and Attentive
L - Lighthearted
M - Magical

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Your mind is what you read

With the help of RSS readers (e.g., Google Reader), it is very convenient to keep track of the Blogs you read. Take some time and select one with a good writer, read it consistently, and you'll find its benefits are tremendous. Don't go with the trashy ones though - they are just a waste of your time.

Remember, your mind is what you read. :)

Personally, I love this one.

Read a poem

Poem is one of those things that can tickle your brain in a funny way. Sometimes when I am stressed out, tired, or frustrated, a good poem can bring me comfort, inspiration, and clarity. Unlike a book, reading a poem is not so time consuming, but its impact can linger on your mind for days, months, or years. Good poem is like high-grade chocolate - best in small doses. Try this one on for size:
___________________________________________________________

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Wallace Stevens

I

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Personalized Google Home

My number one productivity tool is the personalized Google homepage - a personal dashboard with a variety of gadgets to meet your needs. And here is the best part: It is always right in front of you! Why? Because you use Google to search a lot. Every time you do a search, you look at the dashboard. You can't avoid it, and that makes it very valuable. This is what I do with it:

1) To-Do List - An obvious choice. I want my tasks to be always visible so I can get them done.
2) Weather - Why not? We all love a good weather report.
3) Top Stories(News) - Let's not let the world go by us without knowing it.
4) Wikipedia - Who doesn't need that?
5) How to of the day - Learn!
6) Word of the Day - Won't hurt to increase my vocabulary.
7) Google Reader - An RSS feed reader. Very handy and highly configurable.

I think it is important not to have too many items to make it feel crowded. You want it to be useful so don't stick everything on there. Maybe 7 is a good number, maybe less. The arrangements of these gadgets are also important. For example, I always put my To-Do list on the top left, because my eyes tend to look there first. I also categorize my items in three columns. When I am busy, I only check the most important column, and leave the others alone. Do what works for you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Carry a shopping list

Long time ago, a colleague recommended that I could carry some blank checks in my wallet, and that turned out to be quite useful. Today, I am going to add one more thing to my wallet: a shopping list! Maybe not a list for your weekly grocery shopping, but a list of things you are looking for for the long term, or maybe for a good price. This way, when in doubt, just pull out your list, and you don't have to rely on your memory all the time.

Modification 1: If you have a PDA, you could use it instead of the wallet.

I suspect most women have been trained to do this all their life; it's our men who need to be clued in from time to time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

GreaseMonkey Rocks

I just installed a new FireFox extension - GreaseMonkey. This baby can add scripts to web pages you view and modify their behaviors. Here is something immediately valuable: you can download a popular script called "Better Tube" and now when you view a YouTube video, there is a download link right under it. How Sweet!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Walk After Every Meal

We'll start with a simple one: walk after every meal. My dear grandma used to tell me, "walk a hundred pace after dinner, and you'll live to be a hundred." So instead of sitting down in front of the TV or the computer right after you eat, take a stroll. Thanks grandma, where ever you are.