Thursday, January 31, 2013

Performance Poet

Last night was the last upcountry literary event scheduled in the library for 2013. The featured artist was the poetess Glenis Redmond, an amazing writer who was one of those who started the poetry slam contest in the upcountry in the early 90s. From her talk, I felt that she has strong intuition in the way she pursues her themes, fearlessly going to her roots and exploring her heritage, particularly the brutal history of slavery in the South. She also has graduate degrees which gave her a certain polish and academic distinction but she never loses her earthiness and common touch, her sassiness and verve when displaying her Southern roots. But I am struck by the way she listens to herself when she crafts her story, listening to her dreams or the urgings of her subconscious to complete a certain theme, never failing to grasp intuitively the meaning of her work. But the best part of her handiwork is her performance, when she surrenders herself to the ecstasy of her poetry, delivering a presentation that complements who she is with her prose.

After her talk and reading of poems, a young lady in the audience, an aspiring poet herself, asked for some tips. Redmond advised that she should do a lot of reading, writing and speaking, especially if she aspired to be a slam poet, delivering performances of her poetry to get herself known, describing her early experiences reciting poems in girl scout meeting and other non-artist events, (perhaps traumatizing young girls with her raw work on civil rights like prose on the Birmingham violence). At least that advice gave me some comfort since I am almost doing the same thing, though I also learned the importance of intuition and to listen to one’s inner voice especially on one’s identity. For example, Redmond mentioned that her last name is not her ‘true’ name; since it belonged to the slave owner; or speaking on the language of her people, for example, when asked when they worked the cotton fields, the illiterate laborer answered from ‘can’t see to can’t see’ meaning before sunrise and after sunset, when darkness covered the land.

One can learn more about the Carolinas and the South by listening to these local writers, while also gaining writing tips. For example, from Vera Gomez one learns about celebrating one’s roots, from Dot Jackson one learns about perseverance, from George Singleton one learns about the ease of writing naturally, and from Glenis Redmond one learns about intuition, courage and identity. It was a good month where one starts the year right, with one’s literary aspirations bolstered by the examples of these artists, a good turn after attending the Modern Poetry course in Coursera last year.  What next? I am still deciding whether to attend the Creative Writing 101 course (USD $ 300.00) or should I just proceed and write following the example of Singleton, Jackson and Redmond. But I believe both Singleton and Redmond had creative writing instruction, perhaps achieving MFAs, while I am cobbling together a sort of MFA experience by attending online courses and joining local literary events in the library. But the development of the whole person is important (reading, writing and speaking) following Joseph Campbell, Werner Erhard and Stephen Covey with perhaps Toastmaster contributing to this goal.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day Tripper

I still have not enrolled in the writer’s classes that are scheduled in February. I have been busy catching up on my reading and watching movies borrowed from the library. I am also in transition, mainly at the office where my team completed a project in December, resolved several major issues on the warehouse system I was working on the past 3 years and continuing on another major project regarding inventory levels. The last project on inventory has been taking a lot of my time, involving technical skills which I need to brush up especially on the Oracle database, batch jobs and other highly technical stuff; work that I am engaged in as an analyst. But since last year I am moving towards a project management role and 2013 will be no different when I assume another position managing small program changes – sort of like a mini-project manager. This is a management role as compared to an analyst role, something that I had been doing four years ago in Singapore although I had both management and analyst roles combined.

As part of my training, I have been reading many emails and attending meetings to get acquainted with the actors in the new job. Overall it’s not difficult but requires a lot of personal interactions which I like. In fact the task is heavy on administrative and management with only brief requirements on specific functional expertise and analysis. This brings back memories of the support function I used to do with the boss man in Singapore but without the aggravation. The assignment requires organizing meetings and following up deliverables so this means I must be more organized and efficient to be able to do my vocation well. In fact, the job will be a combination of analyst role and management with me juggling 2 separate chores. But I look forward to the challenge because it removes boredom and requires a move away from the internal thinking that marks the work of analysis. This is a true role of a manager although at a lesser scale. It is also a subtly powerful one if done correctly.

Other challenges in 2013 are my Toastmaster experience where I am nominated for Area Governor, another role that requires interpersonal relations and communication. I am working on my DTM award which is the highest level that one can achieve. I have been fairly active in Toastmaster, doing speeches and helping out in the registration last Saturday in the district leadership training seminar, driving to the conference after a day of sleet and ice in the road. The news reported 500 automobile mishaps last Friday which I avoided by working from home, evading any accidents the next day when I drove to the conference late in the morning. I stayed until noon, whereupon I went to the gym and swam for 30 minutes, did some shopping in the Asian store, coming home by 3:00 pm to watch ‘Warm Springs’ - an inspiring movie about FDR. I realized during the weekend one’s loneliness without the kids, studying in college. In these poignant moments, I think of my parent who I hope can travel this year to see me and my brother’s families.

One achieves a certain grace through experience and achievement, plus detachment from the events at work; but still my mind cannot avoid being empty which is the best state to write. Instead delves into churning thought, keeping itself busy. Last Thursday, I attended a short seminar called ‘Transform Your Life’, inspiring me to write a speech for Toastmaster. Still, despite my reading of Werner Erhard, Joseph Campbell and Eckhart Tolle, I am not successful in being a serious writer, preferring procrastination to actual work. FDR was an inspiration, rising above polio to be president, as I watched the movie last weekend, thinking that his physical ailment forced a change, similar to a writer who turned to writing after losing her job, her circumstances pushed her to blogging and eventually becoming a published author. Perhaps an external event is needed to push me that I realized I had been lucky, escaping numerous auto mishaps in the Philippines and enjoying a relatively easy life, travelling, reading and indulging in my passions. But age and the loneliness of life can move one forward; I am like the character in the graphic novel ‘Day tripper’ who needs to understand that death maybe in the corner for one to truly live.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Literary Upcountry

Last Tuesday I attended a talk by local author George Singleton, a prolific writer with several short stories and novels under his belt. He is an intriguing contrast to the previous speaker, Dot Jackson who completed a well-regarded book though not as prodigious as Singleton. Singleton is one of those natural writers, seemingly capable of producing works like water spilling out from a faucet, speaking at a rapid pace especially when reading his books to a rapt audience. He made an interesting remark when he spoke about writing; how his work improved when he shifted from the third-person to the first-person point of view, an advice given by his creative writing teacher in high school. It was like a revelation according to him, freeing him from whatever constricted his voice, allowing him to burst forth into an inventively hilarious form of narrative, sort of like a folksy common sense humor that Mark Twain is famous for but with a more Southern bent.

Singleton speaks the way he writes, like an exuberant fountain that naturally discharges words into elegant sentences then forming into humorous tales. I borrowed a book of short stories displayed in a table, reading the first few sentences, attracted by the elegant and deceptively Southern style of narrative. His work is entertaining but lacks the sarcasm and biting commentary of Mark Twain, a majestic voice when compared to Singleton. But Singleton has the same wit, describing Southern characters and situations like Flannery O’Connor, but without the morbidity and Gothic humor. This seems to be his charm, a combination of Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor, delivered in a modern tone like a lesser Salinger. But Singleton can really write; the way his words flow and how the story unfolds; a natural story teller but without substantive heft. One is entertained but one wonders if his time is better spent reading Cormac McCarthy, where one is left with his soul opened to a new reality.

Admittedly, I have not read a lot of Singleton’s works, just judging (which I should not do) from his talk, the two stories he read plus the few paragraphs I browsed from the borrowed book. Of course, one feels envy with the ease with which he seems to have when writing. In fact, one seems to note that he expresses his personality in his books; he is the narrator in the way he speaks in real life, as opposed to Dot Jackson who said that someone took over her when she was scribbling her book ‘Refuge’. But both writers are similar in the way a writer’s personality expresses itself; there is a completeness that one notices, a fullness of spirit. One wonders if the person evolved because of the writing or did the writing evolve because of the person? In other words - does one develop the person first: read many books, have many life experiences, travel and explore the world? Writing sensations like Emily Bronte or Jane Austen seem to belie this assumption and contrary to the teachings of Werner Erhard.

Tonight I will attend another library event which I hope will answer that question, the session entitled ‘Transform your Life: Become Who You Are and Live Your Whole Life.’ According to Erhard, one should just BE, becoming in one instant the writer that one can be, similar to Eckhart Tolle’s edict to live in the moment, and focus on the task at hand, instead of having the mind float away to achieve some future goal, attending numerous seminars to become SOMEONE. One does not BECOME by attending all these seminars because one already IS. At work, one does not have existential angst, one just jumps into the fray, accepting any challenges that come along, to make a living, to stay on top of the heap and learn on the job. Of course, Hemingway and Dot Jackson became writers after being reporters and learning the craft while George Singleton just BECAME the writer he wanted to be. But at least he had a creative writing instructor in high school.

Erhard teaches that one attends seminars or talks not because one should expect a transformation but one attends because of WHO one is. It’s the consequence of one’s context not in the striving for something. A contradiction since Erhard made a lot of money attracting people to attend his seminars only to tell them that they are already are who they want to be. The goal is to change one’s perceptions, to reverse the expectations from reading, travelling, watching and attending to achieve a certain state. Instead one acknowledges that one enjoys the multitudes gained from reading, watching and so on because of who he is: someone who enjoys input and ‘drinking from a fire hose’. Therefore one falls back on Tolle who advises to live for the moment and to focus on the task at hand. Learning craft is important because it’s a necessity like learning to drive and nothing else. One is not thinking and one need to ‘drink less from the fire hose’ if one wants to accomplish something. Perhaps it’s more a challenge to be mature and responsible.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How You Lose

I finished listening to Junot Diaz’s latest novel ‘This is How You Lose Her’ last weekend. While listening to the book, I browsed the latest swimsuit edition of Sport Illustrated magazine. A fitting combination considering all the sex and twisted relationships explored in Diaz’s book. This is a good example of making use of one’s vices or weakness in the creation of a creative work. It was like Diaz let it all hang out, allowing himself to acknowledge his peccadillos while struggling to be an artist. Hence, his excesses did not hinder his creative output, instead wallowing in the excess of his sexual energy to spill out into his novel. I may be mistaken into thinking that the hero in his book is Diaz himself, a mistake that Orhan Pamuk pointed out in his essay on writing, but one is sure that the raw episodes of sexuality is one which the author is intimately familiar. His slam bang approach with all the swear words and sensual stories is raw, earthy and authentic;  capturing the voice of the South American immigrant experience, portraying the Latin migrant story with authentic Spanish words one is familiar, with voices from Columbia, Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic where Diaz hails from.

I am also reading Graham Greene’s book about Omar Torrijos and Panama in ‘Meeting the General’ which is a more elegant accounting of the South American experience, especially in the relationship to the United States during the canal treaty negotiations. The contrast is interesting: the elegant memories of the esteemed English writer and the brash upstart Latin immigrant, both dealing with the American experience, one experiencing imperialism and the interventions in Latin America while one living in New York (New Jersey, Brooklyn or the Bronx?) and Boston while trying to maintain his identity in the melting pot of the United States. Earlier I read Ha Jin and the Chinese immigrant experience, particular the inflow of Chinese citizens after the Tienanmen Square massacre. These stories are all about travel, displacement, political intrigue with America somehow involved in the mix: as a refuge for political refugees or those seeking a new life or as the instigator of imperial will on the backyard of their Southern Hemisphere.

Both Ha Jin and Junot Diaz stories reflect life of the writer as a young man, as they strive to achieve their artistic goal while living as an immigrant in the new world. An interesting contrasts again: Latin American machismo and the Chinese literati scholar, compared to the old writer Greene, a former spy who travelled the globe, a weary nomad and raconteur expanding his stories with elegant erudition.  Another mature raconteur is Dot Jackson who wrote only one book that sealed her reputation, hashing out a work with difficulty, keeping her book hidden for many years under her bed, or kept by a friend in a refrigerator, finally convincing an editor to print her book. Jackson is one of those legendary Southern writers, writing about life in the Appalachian hills, striving to maintain a living and pouring all in one book unlike the prodigy of Ha Jin and Junot Diaz who seem to churn out books without the care of subtle prose or without anguish and self-doubt that plague writers like Jackson who struggled for years before her book was published and recognized. 

I wonder myself about my path: thinking of attending another expensive writing course  while joining literary events, filling time reading and watching movies, like last weekend. I realize that BEING a writer requires drastic change in priorities and focus. But change is coming nonetheless; moving to a new role at work that requires more interaction and attention, plus another larger role in Toastmaster as area governor (to be confirmed soon) and in the analyst network in the office; new challenges coming as if by fate. The coming changes are inevitable, something that one can do with a simple request unlike BEING a writer which require conscious attention against self-doubt. I read some excerpts of a new book about Sherlock Holmes who has contradictory ability to focus and to allow his mind to wander to explore new knowledge. So I realized my strengths: my ability to accept input and learn that it’s my nature to accept input like drinking from a water hose, not as a way to be ‘someone’ as an accumulator of knowledge and experience. Hence, it is more a tempering of one’s nature, changing perception that one is ‘flighty’ but instead, in need for discipline to focus, just like Sherlock Holmes. 

Friday, January 18, 2013


In the past, I used visualization to help me in my projects; walking through presentations and meetings in my mind before the real events take place, like a rehearsal before the actual action. It is well known that this helps people succeed in their endeavors; from sports like golf (visualizing the shot) or in one’s everyday life (proposing to a girlfriend and so on). I guess it’s a sort of mental practice so one is more confident before doing the actual act itself in real life. Recently one uses visualization to reduce stress or induce sleep; think of lazing in a tropical beach or in the cool mountains to reach a calm state. It’s branching off to dream land. I recall in one’s youth that visualization was a form of day dreaming, where one is a master spy fighting enemies in secret lairs or a detective chasing criminal in the streets. Hence, it was a form of entertainment when one needs to fill his mind and avoid boredom. Holden Caulfield dreamed he was a hood, shot in the guts in some of the most hilarious scenes in J.D Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ Like in Holden’s case, it resulted in his being more detached from reality, living instead in his fantasy land, finally resulting in his mental breakdown.

Fortunately in some cases, a breakdown does not result; instead procrastination and a never ending mental churning of thoughts. In other words one is not alive to the moment, forever lost in a future salvation; one is not living in the ‘NOW’ as Eckhart Tolle and Werner Erhard often extoll. There is always planning for a future event, neglecting any benefit in the present moment, preferring to kick the can down the road and avoid the final reckoning.  Erhard with his brutal honesty tries to shock his est participants into the present moment, provoking people into ‘waking’ up like those ancient sages of the past that try to push people into enlightenment with the equivalent to a slap in the face. Erhard makes the case that one is COMPLETE right ‘NOW’, no need for more training or seminars to become what he wants to be. Hence, there is no need to read more books, enroll in more courses, and attend seminars because one does not become who he is via his experiences but instead one undertakes his experience because of who he is. (Sometime one can get into confusion while trying to make sense of the verbal contortions that philosophers often use).

The other day, as I left for work and drove through the rain to go to the library in the city, I doubted whether I needed to go to the literary talk by Dot Jackson. As often is the case, I left the event, at about 8 pm, happy to have gone, relishing the enjoyable banter with the author. But Erhard’s question haunted me: do I need to go to this event so I can be a better writer, or am I going to this event because I already have the sensibility of the writer and a fulfillment of my own inner desire. In another case: I wonder if I should enroll in NYC writing class again, costing about USD $ 300 for a six week session – thinking that I need this seminar to be a writer or should I change my perspective and say instead that I am a writer and this course will teach new techniques. One viewpoint is reactive (glass is half empty) while the other is proactive (glass is half full). Is this a perception or cognitive error? One is a ceaseless quest for experience while another is a self-actualizing act. Day dreaming or visualization does not help because it often prolongs the final goal, resulting in procrastination especially if it’s a dream of BEING: to be or not to be? I guess the question is whether one has the courage to accept failure if the dream does not pan out. In other words, one can attend the seminar as long as the perception is right.

Some interesting quotes from Joseph Campbell’s biography:
•    Myth (rather than a guru or spiritual guide) could serve in the role of a personal mentor, in that its stories provide a psychological road map for the finding of oneself in the labyrinth of the complex modern world.

•    Meanings of mythological tales (their symbols, metaphors, imagery, etc.) as a source for psychological realization than upon psychoanalysis itself.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chakra power

The last lecture in Joseph Campbell’s ‘Mythos’ series was about yoga. I had read Patanjali’s yoga sutras before and I vaguely remember the passages on the general benefits of meditation, at least on the sections I had understood. Campbell focused on the concept of chakras, the different levels that really connote the development of the person. Yoga is supposed to help one progress to a higher level with chakras as mystical levels of transformation. But from my understanding of the concept, I still belong to the lower or gross level, still entrapped by beautiful forms and mental stimulation. I am aware of my shortcomings and I had planned to seriously pursue yoga but I do not have the time or at least reluctant to apportion the right period; instead prefer to stay at the vulgar level of self-indulgence. Hence, I am stuck in too much stimulation via books, DVDs and all sorts of activity as I try to be a writer (what a contradiction!), an objective that is not feasible in my actions, as my attention is not in the goal. In other words, I am back in the ‘monkey mind’ that both prevent me from rising above to the higher chakras or in being a writer. Could it be that I could combine est and yoga to achieve breakthrough?

In a sense, yoga is a physical activity that tries to center you and focus the mind. The Chinese Tai Chi Qi Gong which I try to practice is similar to the concepts of chakra via its own concept of meridians. In essence, both speak of energy centers or channels in the body which one should utilize to achieve a certain transformation. The physical nature of the exercise maybe easier to achieve than the mental ‘aha’ moment of est if one is physically healthy. Erhard has acknowledge the lessons he learned from Zen Buddhism which focuses on the ‘now’ by focusing the mind on the present moment. But this is difficult to achieve as may require a mental exertion, especially by those ill-informed of the methodology when the secret is just to ‘BE’. On the other hand, yoga is a physical practice that one must regularly engage in to realize the benefits. Am I trying to say that one could be a writer by practicing yoga? But I am a writer but the proper distinction must be ‘blogger’; nevertheless yoga I can foresee as a way to focus and still the mind which I am unable to do with my current practice of Tai Chi Qi Gong. I had read somewhere about a Chinese sculptor that practices Tai Chi before he starts sculpturing in order to still the mind which show the link between mental practice of ‘silencing’ the mind and creativity.

Last night I attended a talk by Dot Jackson a local author and former news reporter. Last week it was a talk by a poetess, part of the literary upcountry series staged by the library. Jackson is a wonderful old woman, full of stories with a charm and frankness that is disarming. She did not seem to be someone who indulges in theories such as est, yoga or Zen Buddhism. Instead, her primary focus is writing, first as a reporter and finally as a creative writer. Her mind seems to be focused on writing unlike someone like me who is all over the place, jumping from one idea or another or from one activity to another or from one theory to another. Clearly mental discipline will help, and even yoga if this type of physical endeavor does focus the mind and open up the needed chakras. Placed in this condition of mental agitation, my urge is to enroll in writing classes again – at least one is learning the writing craft in the absence of a good work ethic; a substitute to the lack of concentration. Some sections I copy below on chakras that seem relevant:

•    When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalization, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessen. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arise which results in the self-reaching out for experience.

•    The practice aims to liberate from negative conditioning and leads to control over perception and cognition.

If the combined learning from Werner Erhard’s est, Joseph Campbell’s ‘follow your bliss’ and world mythology, yoga and the opening of chakras don’t help me then nothing else will!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Campbell as Mystic

Joseph Campbell is the type of teacher one would read if one has travelled to many countries, experienced different cultures and religions and would like to get an understanding of the things he had seen. He seemed to be that gifted teacher who happened to be at the right time at the right place, meeting the right person. Based on his biography, he has travelled extensively in the Orient to countries like India, Japan and China with the appropriate learning in comparative mythology, religion and ancient cultures. He also met people like Krishnamurthy, Carl Jung (possibly even Sigmund Freud), Zen Suzuki, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and other famous people who could help in his quest to achieve an understanding of world culture and mythology. He is much better than those ancient sages because he brings scientific and empirical methods to his learning. Hence, he is exactly the kind of educator one would read if one has had a similar journey. But it’s a mistake to consider him as one of those mystical teachers like Eckhart Tolle or Krishnamurthy as he has the impeccable background of a scholar and social scientist.

He is more like Werner Erhard, a teacher who strives for scientific and empirical knowledge but steeped in Eastern religion like Buddhism in his effort to teach people self-transformation. But in a significant way, Joseph Campbell is not overtly like Erhard, who strives to make money via his seminars, but more as an educator whose teaching can lead to transformation. Campbell was a big influence to modern filmmakers like George Lucas who structured his epic ‘Star Wars’ on Campbell’s ideas on the hero’s journey. Campbell is also influential to writers who seek to find a theme in their works, by following the arc of the hero’s journey. His ideas are evident in software like ‘Novel Writer’ that helps writers outline a plot following Campbell’s ideas. Significantly, his last interview with Bill Moyer’s was conducted in George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in California. I have watched Moyer’s series on Campbell as well as the 3 DVD series ‘Mythos’ which featured his lectures. All these confirm a convergence towards a world culture all the more important today to increase understanding and tolerance.

This morning I read that George Lucas wanted Toshiro Mifune to be Obi Wan Kenobi, being his first choice before he asked Alec Guinness, another actor I also admire. But Mifune would have been a fantastic choice, highlighting a world culture by creating a modern myth in his Star Wars epic.  It’s like we are turning around a circle by combining all these different strands into a global narrative like one of those mandalas that Campbell often shows in his lectures. It’s fitting that I would rediscover Campbell, I writer I read after college, before I travelled extensively in Asia and beyond, but through my book readings was exposed to a wider world in my inner mind. Now I have lived and visited places like Thailand, Japan, China, India, Malaysia, France, Algeria, Singapore and USA, plus observing close hand Indian cultures and religion as well as Buddhism and Islam. I have seen many foreign lands and read many books that re-discovering Campbell is like attending a finishing school where all my travels and learning is better understood for Campbell is a great synthesizer of world culture.

I re-discovered his work when I found Erhard who himself trying to implement the Buddhist teachings of self-transformation via a seminar that is both brutally honest and though provoking. One can say he has created a formula of ‘transcending self’ by provoking a re-assessment of one’s life, by combining elements of philosophy, logic, Buddhism and transcendental meditation plus Western do-it-yourself psychology popular with the self-help movement. Perhaps he is a beneficiary of Campbell’s work by combining elements of East and West to breakthrough one’s self-imposed restrictions. It’s a reflection of a world culture when one combines all this learning to achieve a practical result, which makes such knowledge a dangerous threat to entrenched religions because it breaks boundaries. Perhaps this is why Erhard was prosecuted that he resorted to self-exile. But this action could not be done to Joseph Campbell because he possessed all the academic qualification of the erudite scholar.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Secular (not mystical) Journey

During the weekend, I woke early to read Erhard’s articles and write a blog entry about it. I also watched some video clips from YouTube where he is the speaker though I also watched another video with a trainer from the Landmark Forum – the current reincarnation of Erhard’s est seminars. My weekend was relatively busy with my kids preparing for college. We went to mass on Saturday evening and had dinner in a nearby Thai restaurant as we won’t have the opportunity to eat together as a family for some time as the kids are away in college.  On Sunday afternoon, we brought my eldest son to his university, where he had transferred from technical college and will complete two more years to achieve a four-year degree.  My youngest son’s return to university after Christmas break is this coming weekend. I also managed to watch several DVDs from the library about Iraq, mystical religions and two excellent Hollywood movies: ‘Source Code’ and David Mamet’s ‘The Spanish Prisoner’. But I also particularly liked the Iraq documentaries ‘Iraq in Fragments’ and ‘My Country’.

I still have several DVDs to watch: Joseph Campbell’s ‘Mythos’ and a film on Sufism. I had purposely borrowed these films to augment my studies on self-transformation. Last night I also watched a video clip about meditation by Eckhart Tolle. It is ironic to supplement my reading on Werner Erhard with mystical films (often about the Middle East or Eastern religions) because he explicitly was against any linkage to religious mysticism, focusing his est training as a secular ‘technology’ for self-development. In fact, his teaching lean more towards psychotherapy, logic and philosophy, particularly on concepts of ‘self’ and ‘being’; a subject I had been reading in the graphic novel ‘Logicomix’ about the life of Bertrand Russell who was seeking to merge the disciplines of philosophy, logic and mathematics. Self-transformation is not a mystical journey but a conscious effort to improve oneself following certain techniques. These techniques are what I would like to master following the principles of Toastmaster as an example – a self-help proactive endeavor like going to a gym.

Hence, I liked the steps enumerated by the Landmark forum trainer who outlined the steps needed to create ‘a life you love’. The steps are:

1.    Distinguish fact from fiction

2.    Know yourself – get clear about commitments

3.    Discover unrealized potential – put it in a calendar

This is a simplification of the process that had started with est. My understanding of these steps relate to a need to know oneself better before undertaking a process of transformation – to put in a simple context. For instance, one must understand what is true and factual and need techniques like cognitive therapy to correct any false perceptions, correlation or attribution errors due to erroneous thinking. Hence, this is the process alluded by thinkers like Edward De Bono or Eckhart Tolle or any significant Buddhist teacher or person who talks about transcendental meditation or mindfulness with the intent not only to perceive true reality but discipline the mind; particularly to separate mind and thinking from ‘being’ or ‘true self’. Once the mind is disciplined plus the realization that thinking is not ‘self’ just a reflection of a certain thought process that can be shut down or improved (like any other skill such as playing golf) can one proceed to the next level.

After improving one’s cognitive skills, the next step is to understand yourself – your abilities and what you can do. This may involve seeking additional training like attending Toastmaster to improve one’s speaking skills or attend writing classes to learn about the writing craft. Generally it’s an honest assessment of one’s ability and commitments. For instance, one may have the skills and temperament and cognitive ability but one may not have the time. It also means the discernment of one’s errors such as procrastination, reading too much or allowing one to be distracted and tempted towards other useless activities. This is where I am - I spend too much time in other activities, neglecting to allocate time to my true goal of writing. Instead I waste energy playing golf, watching movies, surfing the internet and reading too many books - all with the deluded intent to make myself a better writer by increasing one’s knowledge and experience. This is where Erhard’s teachings come in – where one does not need lots of training or experience (if one has had enough already) and proceed to transformation – just be what you want to be.

Making the jump is the missing link for the final transformation. I was already aware of cognitive therapy; meditation and mind control techniques; participated in Toastmaster where one undergoes actual experiential training (where speaking is a close cousin to writing). I also determined my skills so I undertook writing courses and practiced by blogging. But I deluded myself by remaining in this stage; seeking more data or empirical proof of growth. For instance I recorded reading about 500 books in, completed about 35 speeches, wrote 500 blog entries in in the past 6 years plus attended roughly 4 writing classes and workshops in the past 3 years. The third step is completing the jump to self- transformation; planning for actual work by putting tasks in a calendar, to undertake concrete commitments to work on. This is where I am at today; with my recent attempt to survey work saving techniques and tools like dictation, cloud computing and speech-to-text software to improve productivity. Discovering Werner Erhard maybe the last step I need to move forward and complete my goal. My kids in college plus my new home gives me the ‘space’ I need to succeed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Being is not self

Achieving transformation, according to est training is to be able to make distinctions, to be able to observe in the proper way what is required in that specific experience.  In this way, the action undertaken is appropriate to the situation. Therefore one achieves’ ‘being’. For example the phrase, ‘never do we consider that what makes a great manager is NOT the school, books, or education, but simply BEING a great manager’. This is one of the more difficult passages to understand if one is not familiar with the terms used, a danger that Erhard has mentioned himself, mainly due to the reason that the phenomena being mentioned may not be expressed accurately in words. To illustrate, he cites Einstein as an example as his theory of relativity could not be explained in the framework or vocabulary of Newtonian physics of that period. Hence, one needs to understand a new framework before one can have the words to describe an experience unknown previously.

In other words, transformation requires a change in paradigm. Mainly that ‘self’ as described by ‘thinking’ or ‘mind’ or ‘point of view’ is not ‘being’ in the way that involves transformation.

‘Transformation is a discipline which explores the nature of Being. A discipline devoted to possibility and to accomplishment, in the sense of the source of accomplishment.’

‘All the learning, apprenticing, practicing, and thinking are still necessary. But none of those practices is the source of it. They provide the conditions for it, but none are the source of the greatness itself. The source is, very simply, Being great.’

‘Just be’ maybe the best way to say it but does not mean that one has the conditions required ‘to be’. One cannot become someone out of ignorance. There is a mental cultivation that is needed but not in the way of changing one’s point of view or one’s mental models or one’s mind but moving out of the conceptions of thinking itself.

‘What blocks our ability to appreciate the phenomenon of Being is that we do not ordinarily distinguish the action of "thinking" from that of "Being."’

‘The source of the experience is his creation of it at the instant that he has the experience. Experience is creative in nature; it is not induced by circumstances.’

‘We now know that the "ah-haa" is a product of bringing forth a domain of distinction, literally creating it.’

Therefore the journey of self-development requires a cultivation of the mind, perhaps via study, self-reflections, academic learning, meditation, Toastmaster, reading, etc. but will not achieve the final step of transformation because the result maybe a cultivation of ‘mind’ or ‘thinking’ or ‘self’ and not of ‘being’.

'This technology of breakthrough is distinction-creating, or paradigm-creating, or context-creating.'

Hamlet’s famous question ‘to be or not to be’ contains more meaning than just trying to be a king or planning to kill his father’s murderer, but a longing to achieve a breakthrough in his growth as an individual. Is ‘being’ then some sort of mindless evolution? I think it simply means a state of becoming without the confusion of thinking and self-delusion. It is the mind that is pulling you back from becoming or from the transformation that is open to everyone. Oftentimes the ‘mind’ seeks to survive after all that learning, which ultimately prevents individual growth.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On Transformation

The notion of transformation is intriguing especially if it relates to a person’s psychology as compared to one’s physical attributes. For instance one can easily transform his body by going to a gym or change his looks by going to a cosmetic surgeon.  But the transformation of psychology is much more difficult unless from a religious context which is sometimes superficial.  Quoting from Erhard’s website:

‘Transformation is a shift in the experience of "I am" from seeing yourself as content of experience to seeing yourself as the context of your contextual experience.’

‘Graduates of the est training  regularly report that their ability to be, to be with themselves and with others, and to engage with others in a full participation in the opportunities of life have been transformed; i.e., shifted from a thing-determined to a self-determined context’.

Hence, transformation entails a change of the conception of the self from one of content to one of context. In my case, I always revisit my past experiences, checking my blog entries, photos of past events, courses attended and so on to give me a view of myself (‘or who I am’); someone who graduated from certain schools or worked on certain projects or lived in certain countries and so on. Sometimes it feels like a sort of baseline, that I need to touch base every time I begin a new assignment or experience. Perhaps it’s following the precept of examining one’s life following Socrates.

But Socrates dictum was good for an earlier age and needs to be extended for the person to develop to the next level. In this regard, one may be anchored to his past and not able to be ‘alive’ to the moment. The focus needs to be on ‘being’ instead of ‘self’ that is defined by his point of view which is a result of past experiences.

‘Being is awareness, recognition and attention to the experience at hand. It is at the cause of experience rather than at the effect. It is to "be" something rather than to "have" or "do" something’.

‘The poetic experiences of love, health, happiness, self-expression, and satisfaction are but a few of the feeling-action descriptions that express the process of being’.

‘Process of being defines through abstraction what is actually experienced rather than a thought or concept of what is experienced’.

Therefore, changing the conception of one’s self is the primary challenge because it means getting rid of one’s past, as defined by his ‘point of view’ – the result of one’s many experiences and training. Hence, one just needs ‘to be’ and react to the moment, without need to protect his ‘fixed’ self-conception.

‘The "point of view" is a function that we all possess, and it is that aspect that limits our ability to be authentic, to create new experiences and to see life as it exists in the present’.

‘Recognize that one’s fixed point of view limits his ability to experience what is true, as well as the richness and joy of life’.

Therefore, in my example, I had tried to widen my point of view by reading more or watching movies more or travelling more while actually perpetuating an old conception of self – intellectual, mind and body advocate, Socrates follower, etc. I was striving to seek transformation by increasing the quantity of my experience when what I needed was to improve the quality of experience - by changing the lens of my perception. Hence, to ‘be’ something (i.e. a writer) instead of to ‘do’ something (i.e. constant travelling, reading, watching in order to be a writer, etc.). Nevertheless, all these efforts were useful at a certain point in time because of the journey and experience and skills learned in the context of my career and other endeavors that required a particular skill.

Perhaps I have become what I had already wanted to be: financially literate, modern investor, sportsman, cultured and modestly successful in career. But I never achieved a breakthrough in my goal to be a writer – trying to learn the various techniques, reading and blogging more and trying to gain more experience rather than just ‘being’ a writer. The old point of view of the Hemingway writer is not applicable to my situation as well as all the other writers that I have studied.  After all, it is too late to be a war correspondent or a news reporter or a poet but just be a writer based on what one has already learned. In other words I am trying to be a writer based on an old concept that I have learned, rather than just being one.

From another perspective, one undertakes all these self-development activities:  joining Toastmasters, blogging, travelling, attending lectures, playing golf, doing all these stuff is not because one needs to do something but because it is a result of being – to be alive. Hence, the cause of experience not the effect of experience – therefore one is who he is not because of doing all these stuff but because one has done these stuff because of his ‘being’ (his awareness, recognition and attention to the experience). Therefore, confusing one’s motivation maybe the problem.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Enlightenment = Responsibility

I have continued my readings on Werner Erhard and his est training, which has evolved into The Forum and now currently called The Landmark Forum. I have been reading articles in his website and watching videos of his lectures; his teachings remain relevant and powerful as when his words were first uttered 10 or 20 years ago when est was in its heyday and before his self-imposed exile.  It’s interesting  that he is a first rate teacher considering that he never had any formal or academic training, like he had achieved his insights in the crucible of actual experience not via academic learning, although he had his start as a motivational speaker and trainer. He does not have the academic credentials that give him validity as the usual tradition in today’s society but instead has changed his name and left his family, which I suspect is necessary in attaining any relevant insights; perhaps a reminder of Gautama Buddha’s journey, fleeing a life of princely responsibility, leaving his family and journeying into the wilderness to seek knowledge.

In one of his articles, he mentioned that people are afraid to be enlightened and prefer to remain in the journey, forever be seeking enlightenment when in fact they are already enlightened. This is due to the fear of responsibility, hence, people who attend est training sometimes remain as they are or are transformed but still continue in their journey when in fact their enlightenment is already something that has driven them forward. Here are some of Erhard’s words:

‘I think what frightens people about ultimately being enlightened is that it's an ultimately responsible position’.

‘So the training is not an end of anything. It's the beginning of something and what it begins is that process of community’.

‘But then, instead of trying to get enlightened, you live as an expression of the enlightenment’.

‘To be enlightened is the ultimate statement of responsibility’.

‘People who'd give up anything to be enlightened, except the idea that they are not enlightened. They will not give up not being enlightened, it's too painful, and it’s too terrible to give that up’.

What does his teaching say about me and my journey to be a writer or my quest for self-transformation and improvement? I guess it means that I am already enlightened; that my efforts in Toastmaster, journal writing, mind-mapping, have already borne fruit but I still persist in believing that I still need more experience, more guidance or more learning. Hence, the reason being that I am afraid of responsibility – to live as an expression of enlightenment, to live in the process of community. Instead I am afraid to give up my quest of trying to be enlightened, living in my own world of reading, surfing the internet, watching movies and television, all in the hope of achieving some new insight instead of living in the moment, enjoying the simple pleasure of community – enjoying home life with my wife and kids and contributing to their development.  The closest thing that kept me involved in my family’s development is Steven Covey’s 7 habits which talks about helping your family grow – hence our trips to restaurants, museums, musicals, plays and other travels.

I started that involvement without any feeling but as a necessary move, as an intellectual concept but now that my kids are in college or now that we have a new home, a more engaged and authentic sense of community is needed.  But I had persisted in borrowing more DVDs or attending online courses because I was afraid of being enlightened, to accept responsibility and live as an expression of that enlightenment. Instead I had succumbed to fear, indulging in primal desires, narcissism and self-indulgence. Hence, the important insight is to accept the responsibility of enlightenment. This means growth not only of oneself but also with regards to one’s development as a writer. All my efforts of reading, writing, self-analysis and clarity of thought have borne fruit already but I was just too stupid not to accept it. In other words, I have to live at a higher level befitting a transformed level of awareness and responsibility. Accepting responsibility (without blame or credit) is the true sign of transformation; this is my understanding of Erhard’s teachings.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Transformative Technology

I have been reading about Werner Erhard after watching his documentary over the internet the other day. It struck me as the next step toward self-transformation. I had heard about est (or Erhard Seminar Training) a long while back but the controversy or noise swirling about est prevented me from studying it further. Instead I studied other forms of techniques like Silva Mind Control, Zen Buddhism,  transcendental meditation, readings about Eastern philosophers like Krisnamurti, Greek classical thought like Stoicism and the basics of Socratic thought (‘know thyself’ or ‘an un-examined life is not worth living’), Confucianism,  Taoism and Edward de Bono (‘six thinking hats’). Furthering the learning process along, one started to write to make sense of the ideas that came swirling in; mostly as diary writing. I had read recently that Obama used to write every day to help in his thinking; hence writing has turned out to be a technology for self-transformation by increasing understanding and improving the quality of thinking. The confusion came when the act of writing was thought to be a start of a creative writing career instead of an act of self-improvement and sanity.

This effort soon evolved by reading the writings of Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey especially his ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. This became an important part of my development as one strove to achieve a holistic growth of the whole person. Soon this became a foundation for personal growth in addition to regular diary writing which eventually evolved into ‘blogging’. I have experimented with other self- transformative technology like:

Mind mapping – visual thinking techniques to clarify thoughts and understanding by associations
Toastmaster – self-help public speaking organization that develops leadership and confidence in speaking
Blogging – evolution of journal writing into a public forum, initially as a way to learn about new trends in the internet

This drive for self-improvement was driven by my early readings mentioned earlier and evolved with the discovery of thinkers like Edward de Bono, Joseph Campbell and Eckhart Tolle. But I realized that Werner Erhard had taken a further step into developing a technique that extends all the learning of self-development (basically Zen Buddhism) into a program that can be taught to people in a seminar. His aggressive and sometime off-putting ‘in your face’ technique is similar to those Buddhist sages of the past who provoke enlightenment by drastic means. He has termed his work as a ‘technology’ - a tool that can used to transform oneself. Inadvertently I have been heading towards this path with my journal writing (or self-reflection) with the intended effect of clarifying thought plus the addition of mind-mapping. This also led me to ‘cognitive therapy’ which helped me alter my thinking by analyzing stressful situations in my life (especially in Singapore) and reach alternative interpretations. Hence, it was an act of changing one’s perception to events happening to me which is similar to certain teachings of est.

Toastmaster was a further advance as it brought experiential learning into the picture, in a ‘club’ or public setting; where one gets feedback and learns from a group of people, similar to a seminar setting as in est. Studying Werner Erhard brings me full circle by clarifying the objective of self-transformation, it’s the missing link that makes sense of the different strands of my journey, bringing in the collective and experiential learning of Toastmaster, self-understanding via cognitive therapy and journal writing and the clarity of thought brought about by mind mapping and writing, all within the framework of spiritual growth as embodied in Zen Buddhism, although est attempts to remove the mambo jumbo of religion. This is a calculated move to make their teachings acceptable to a secular world but possibly a mistake. Meditation and techniques like Tai chi or yoga are also trans-formative technologies that also change people to become better selves.

This is true trans-formative technology not the electronic or digital kind that is marketed by iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows 8 or cloud technology and so on. Of course, it does make one’s life more efficient and productive by freeing up more time. It provides ‘space’ but perhaps the wrong type of space because without spiritual growth, one is just tempted to fill space with more clutter and distracted activities. It also increases distraction by multiplying the temptation available; hence one is always downloading the latest app or monitoring the latest trends or cool idea. It becomes a rat race where one is ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Perhaps that has been my problem as I seek to be transformed by all means possible including chemical such as alcohol. These are all external influences which may provide a misguided sense of transformation. Unlike meditation, cognitive therapy, journal writing, Toastmaster and, yes, est which all provide a means towards real transformation. This requires work and diligence unlike the latest digital gadget or app that can be easily purchased or downloaded.

Perhaps this is why digital technology has become a way of life with the popularity of the latest Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon product; it masks a real need for spiritual transformation which cannot be obtained in the previous manner – by religion. In other words, the failure of organized religion had made digital technology popular as a fast means to transform one’s life by freeing space through labor-saving techniques. But that is not the answer. Werner Erhard via his est technique moves you away from all sorts of self-delusions (or rackets) including the fixation on digital products. I plan to read more about est to achieve real growth especially as I strive to be a writer. Becoming a writer requires self-transformation by creating a new mind set, to overcome self-doubt and self-inflicted criticism. This cannot be achieved with the latest iPad or the latest book but by a self-disciplined technology like meditation and trans-formative learning like est and Toastmaster.