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.

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


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.