Monday, November 25, 2013


I found an interesting Yale Course in YouTube about emotion and health. I already knew some of the important points; the most important ones are: sleep is important in processing emotions and one should have a lot of sleep to be able to process emotions and experiences; secondly, anxiety is more of my affliction rather than fear as fear refers to a present danger (i.e.  tiger chasing you) while anxiety refers to a future event. One of the cures of anxiety is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and so I am back to the old ball game of analyzing my emotions via CBT though there seem to be an escape from work and doing my usual self-diagnosis: anxiety is attributed to a.) New work assignment, b.) Increased work load and c.) Emotional disorders like anxiety, all of which contribute to a paralysis. I have reached a level of near incompetence due to paralysis and as the lecture shows maybe due to the fact that the situation is more than a match to my personal capabilities.  Hence, the solution maybe longer sleep periods and CBT and plus other mental techniques that help one handle emotional distress.

Churchill was an emotional man, crying often during times of sentimentality, unafraid to express his emotions and at times childish, though he has admitted episodes of depression - his ‘black dog’ he calls it every time he succumbs to his personal disorder. In my case, I am unable to proceed with the increased workload, attacking the tasks in a piecemeal and delayed manner, giving the impression of being overwhelmed while still indulging in time wasters and abusive and procrastinating behavior. But I realize it is not a lack of technical skills but the emotional reaction to the stress or pressure of work.  I have seen or worked close to people who have mastered high pressure jobs, though succumbing now and then to physical ailments. Sometimes the ‘monkey mind’ is all over the place, for instance thinking of one’s possession, his house, his station in life: trying to see if more effort is needed. Visiting the different houses of my wife’s relatives in Canada made me want to compare my own house, to determine if I had succeeded. It is the pressure of the rat race that drive one to retail therapy, the consumption mentality talked about in ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ and ‘Time to Think’.

I am glad that I could understand my personal challenges by watching a YouTube lecture from Yale. In fact, I was not able to work during the three days at home; preferring to read and watch movies or videos instead of working. But indeed I am on vacation and I am not obligated to work since I am supposed to be relaxing. This is the guilty conscience; attributing stimuli like text messages or phone calls and giving sinister meaning and realizing that it is not fear but anxiety that is causing the paralysis. It is just that I am unable to move, fearful of what I will find in my emails and unable to respond to the situation at hand, being inadequate to the challenge, aware that there maybe people waiting for me to fail. But I realized during my vacation that I needed to cross a threshold, to grasp what is mine, to throw away all that self-defeating thoughts and, yes, to cure mania or obsessive compulsive behavior that keeps my mind and emotion in the same wrong patterns of thought. This is the problem that I had neglected to understand focusing on surface therapy:   meditation, exercise and journal writing with some CBT thrown in.

But I have already crossed the threshold both physically and figuratively in a rapid manner and it is the temporary disorientation that one gets, still unable to get one’s bearings as one faces a new set of challenges; one’s skill sets being tasked if one does not throw out the garbage of the past. It all makes sense from an intellectual and technical perspective but it is the emotional component that is not up to speed. Therefore one is prone to anxiety, an emotional disorder that need to be addressed by sleep, relaxation and CBT. I had wanted to achieve some distance in my work while on vacation which I had achieved but now I am back in the grindstone, relaxed but facing the same set of challenges. It was my friend’s remark that controlling one’s emotion is the key, setting a course of unconscious research that culminated in my finding the YouTube video about emotion and health. The previous day I had watched a lecture from Robert Shiller, coming back the next day to find for his lectures on finance and fining the series on emotion. Perhaps it was serendipity coupled by desperation.

Impressions in Canada

I just returned from a whirlwind tour of Canada, visiting Niagara, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa in seven days, meeting my wife's relatives and visiting places of interest that would fit in a day, eating local foods promoted by television shows like Diners and Dives in the Food Network channel. It was an enjoyable trip despite the hectic pace, focusing on reunions, meeting relatives and eating local food, sharing a camaraderie evolving out of a shared lineage, culture and country. It was a time of reminiscing and story telling, of road trips filled with jokes in the Ilocano dialect as old friends were met, going into grand churches built in the ancient and ornate Catholic manner (way too much in my opinion) as compared to the Puritan lines of the Protestant churches of the South. We walked the streets at night and in the morning, talking and discovering the city of Montreal and Ottawa and Toronto, swapping stories and jokes, drinking hot coffee to relieve the cold of the coming winter.

It is interesting to know that English Loyalist in the Carolinas migrated to Canada particularly to Quebec and Ontario after the English defeat in the American revolution, escaping the wrath of the Patriots after the defeat of Cornwallis in Yorktown. Centuries later, their Canadian descendants would come back to the South to help their poor cousins by buying bankrupt banks; the icon Dominion of Toronto bank significantly displayed in both cities of Toronto and Greenville. It was a fitting conclusion to my studies in American history after reading Barbara Tuchman's 'The First Salute' and attending various revolutionary war reenactments in Musgrove Mill, Spartanburg and Camden and, finally,  visiting the English dominion of Canada where the Loyalist fled. I also enjoyed a brief visit to Buffalo, the former great industrial city bordering Niagara falls, where William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, paving the way for Theodore Roosevelt, both figures who played a significant role in the occupation of the Philippines on the way to the rise of American global power.

It was a welcome respite from my hectic work and I had a chance to meet an old friend in Toronto, talking about old times and discussing the future, seeing how the Filipino diaspora has thrived in cities like Toronto and Montreal, with flashes of history and connections all around as Filipinos migrated across the seas into a better life. Now we have become part of the affluent class, the consumer society declining in the West, as documented in a book I brought along with me 'Time to Think' written by Luce an English reporter of the Financial Times, serving as a modern Tocqueville by relaying the malaise that inflicts American Society, seemingly drifting into decay like those old industrial cities of the north like Buffalo and Toledo and Detroit, overshadowed by the resurgence of the American south where multinationals now build their plants, benefiting from lower cost and the right to work statues. I had an interesting discussion on this topic while drinking with a Canadian who was born in Jamaica, a kind man who worked as an accountant before retiring, listening to him rail against corruption and decay in both sides of the border.

I had dreaded the vacation before leaving, reluctant to miss a day of work, neglecting my responsibility to my relative, but I had needed a break, to recharge my batteries and rethink new strategies. Travelling to a different country is the best solution, recalling the biography on Winston Churchill by the historian Paul Johnson who wrote that Churchill's gift was in conserving his energy and in seeking a break from his hectic job; Churchill was an expert in having a good time, eating good food, drinking fine wine, painting, travelling and having excellent conversations. I had hopes to achieve a certain relaxation and distance from work by travelling to Canada, meeting my wife's relatives and being embraced into the closeness of their community; eating bagels and smoked meats in Montreal, Buffalo wings and roast beef in wek sandwiches in Buffalo, Saigon noodles and spicy curry in Toronto, lamb and basmati rice in Ottawa and reunion dinners with pakbet, roast pork, Chinese takeout, German beer, Philippine sausages and suman in the warm rooms in apartments and large  houses of friends and relatives. It was enough for me to gather my wits despite minor episodes of irrational fear and doubt, by a mind that never fails to dwell in the past. One should just breakaway and walk in the glass floor of CN Tower, aware that one would not fall to the ground though paralyzed with fear and unable to move because of a mental delusion.

My close friend in Toronto gave me the answer; to avoid being emotional and attack the problem without emotion or feelings, similar to the lesson of the Bhagavad Gita, not to dwell on the fruit of the effort but on the necessity of the task. My mind never fails to dwell on past thoughts, perhaps fueled by a wrong turn in one's mental growth, when trying to develop creative skills, to delve in the past with sentimentality, perhaps that is what hindering me, the sentimentality of a fool, prone to emotions and feeling when there is no place for such trivialities in the modern world. The government shutdown was an act of sentimentality, of emotion,the inability to accept facts and logical reasoning; perhaps that is the reason someone like the president, known for his coolness cannot tolerate the fierce emotionalism of the tea party as they hanker for the past. Canada on the other hand, did not seem to have any emotion, like the government is ran like a machine, its citizens taxed in an all expense paid welfare state; perhaps that is why the Toronto mayor is popular despite his drug filled excessive lifestyle, an  episode of color a midst a drab though highly sophisticated surrounding, where a leading cause of teenager death is by suicide.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All is Lost

The new Robert Redford movie has a good title, apt since it is descriptive of the disarray in congress, with threats of another shut down, stopping government appointees from doing their job, with Middle East issues grabbing attention again, with the executive branch seemingly paralyzed by these external forces; much like the Redford hero battling the elements, alone in the vast ocean. Sometimes I feel the same thing, helping my friend make sense of the byzantine ways of government bureaucracy, trying to make sense of senseless paper work, with many forms to fill, undertake phone interviews and so on. I am fearful because it’s like fighting a giant machine that is supposed to help people in need, the helpless in society, but instead, shackled by a minority who believe their ultra – conservative ideology is the answer when really compassion for the sick and needy is all. The greatest nation on earth had begun by welcoming the poor and wretched of the earth and now whose modern descendants, wealthy and powerful, are clinging to their money and closing borders.

But I am being emotional, my nerves fraught with visions of catastrophe, fearing the worst when really it is not bad; man’s better angels always rising to help their fellows. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is tainted with fear and hatred, one’s only recourse is to escape in self-degrading abuse, looking for ways to get lost in distraction and fantasy. When did it all go wrong? Based on Stephen King’s book on the Kennedy assassination, it all started in Dallas with JFK’s death; looking at all these JFK programs in television it seems to make sense; but one wonders whether the killing of the American president started the road toward ruin. King has come out in concluding that it would be worse if JFK had survived because circumstances would play out with the failure of the civil rights act (which JFK’s death had mobilized), the atomic bombing of Vietnam and proliferation of nuclear weapons. But this is speculative history, and one cannot base his philosophy on fiction despite its inventive brilliance and impeccable research. So to improve my spirits, I went to a flea market in Highway 101, purchased 2 large ceramic vases for US $ 20 dollars, and watched several movies - the best of which was ‘Sherlock Holmes 2’ and ‘The Madness of King George.’

The mind has visions of doom but it is just the work of the overactive imagination. What will happen? The earth will continue to circle the sun and life will proceed as before, our children will grow up, discover life and find their place in the world, discover themselves and have families and children; we will be but a memory; our struggles today lost in the span of time. But it will all turn out well; thinking all is lost or the center will not hold is temporary lunacy, similar to the madness of King George with the loss of the colonies unnerving his sanity. But he gets well and continues with life. The secret is not to lose one’s nerve despite the many challenges at work, at home and in all of life. The children will survive and live good lives, the sun rises and the sun sets on everyone with equality. Yesterday, I read books in the patio, sitting outside and watching the trees turn into their fall colors, driving to Conestee park, riding the bike in the asphalt road and back down  the nature trail. It took about an hour to prepare the bike for transport and riding the trails but I thought it was important to get outside and away from one’s thoughts, enjoy nature and heal the mind.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Camden War

The soldiers ran in the open field, firing old muskets and rifles, dressed in their revolutionary garb, the militia in their ragtag uniforms and the continental army dressed in blue uniforms, battled the British soldiers in their red coats as cannons ablaze and smoke arose from the battle ground as the sound of mortars and gun fire reverberated in the old town. Long ago, the revolutionary army lost against Lord Cornwallis with General Gates leaving the field of battle in disgrace, today an actor galloped here and there across the grassy meadow as spectators gaped and a film crew filmed his every movement, his beautiful horse galloping elegantly amidst the battle and running soldiers; tech crew speaking in radios as they arrange fake explosions and orchestrate the soldiers’ movements. It was the worst defeat in the South, after the fall of Charleston and Savannah, though paving the way for the victories at King’s Mountain and Cowpens and eventually leading to the surrender at Yorktown as the Southern strategy collapsed. On the way to Camden, I listened to Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The First Salute’ to get the historical context of the encounter.

The oldest inland town in South Carolina said the sign, staging the annual battle re-enactment in a historical park, with old houses scattered along rolling hills and former parade grounds, tents sprung up with mock stores and supplies, soldiers walking about, women and children playing, shop keepers selling period ware and engaging spectators in conversation. I walked around the makeshift tent town, entering the old houses and enjoying the exhibit and the mock battle in the open ground. Later I walked through the nature trail, surrounded by tall trees, walking beside a small pond and an old armament ruin, leaving after the battle and driving around the old town, laid out in a straight grid, no modern confusion of curving side streets, all geometrically square like some huge chessboard. I made the 2 hour journey back home, a Sunday well spent under the beautiful blue sky where the day previously I had tried mountain biking in the nearby park close to home, going up the asphalt road and going back through the forest trail, swerving into twisting earth and trees, finally emerging into the road and heading back to the car park. A hectic day with the evening spent remotely meeting with my relatives via the internet, enjoying his presence after the near death experience on Saturday night.

On Monday, the work week began,  bewildering again, deciding to go back to work sitting down instead of standing, raising the laptop with the screen  at eye level  and resorting to standing only when needed, trying to work through my backlog and to do list. At the same time, I had resolved to help my relative in any way I can, to chisel away at the huge financial burden they face, calling hospital administrators in California long distance to discuss, cajole and plead for help and in the evening calling him to discuss strategy and next steps, trying to find a way out of the distorted mess that one’s father had done in the goodness of his heart plus ill decisions made in one’s youth coming back to haunt us. This will be the significant event of my life (as well as my relative), giving meaning so I could put my efforts to help resolve this family tragedy; the sins passing along generations; there is nowhere to run, no one to turn to, a destiny where one realizes that blood is the most important thing, and the character flaw of escape, distraction and frivolity still plaguing the next generation. But it is the children that are one’s salvation, to raise above this tragedy so the offspring will live a better life; to struggle in hardship so the next generation can break free into a better life. A lesson of the revolutionary war, too.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Good Week ?

A day ago my relative left the hospital, talking to him on the phone as his family drove him home, he sounded fresh and, yes, different: more articulate and perhaps self-aware, although difficult to tell in such a short conversation. Today is his birthday and he replied to my birthday greeting,’ 2nd life is the best gift ever’. So it is turning out to be a good week despite my mental and physical exhaustion at work.  Still scrambling, fighting fires; unable to define a systematic process that will help me, instead of being reactive to the events as they come. I scheduled several meeting to meet with customers and development team, writing minutes and updating tickets. Oftentimes this has made me inefficient, finding it difficult to multitask due to my aging brain(?), adjusting not only to the physical decline but to mental decline (?) as well. Oftentimes I am unable to continue working the rest of the day after these meetings.  Therefore, a systemic way of working is truly needed.

But I have too many excuses: adjusting to a new role, learning new tools, meeting and working with new people, increasing workload, continuing support to 2 systems, increased extracurricular tasks (as Area Governor in Toastmaster) and, lastly,  family problems. All these have added their burdens and my usual method of coping: exercising, Tai Chi meditation and journal writing to fight stress and pressure are not as effective today.  I also try to learn new things to keep my mind active by having new experiences (war re-enactment, electronic art, exploring parks, etc.) similar to what I tried to do in Singapore: learning to play the guitar and roller blading. The mind is elastic; participating in Toastmaster has been good but I may have reached my limit. But is it a mental boundary? Although I do feel that I have reached my physical boundaries as well. But one must go on and the fluid mind is the answer, to be light on one’s feet and not dwell on mistakes or embarrassments like the speech contest gaffe that occurred in last Saturday’s conference. But these are all trivial when compared to my friends’ ordeal.

I want to start a new, simpler life; borrow fewer books, see fewer movies and focus on important things: do I quit Toastmasters, stop my cable subscription and other insignificant things? Last weekend, I went and threw my bundle of junk mail, throwing away stuff like old boxes that piled up in the garage, placing my equipment in a new place so I can free up space in my cabinet; inconsequential ways to improve for sure, trying to rid the mind of old patterns that strive to be in motion, following the dictates of a ‘monkey’ mind. A hint of mortality has come with my friend’s episode, re-focusing life to the important things, seeking authenticity and relevance, trying to find signs of a life well – lived. Being middle aged, still unable to write and live the life of one’s dream, but pressed by challenges; aware finally of one’s mortality brings new freshness; to focus on what is important. One has to discard the dreams of a young man as no longer feasible, to travel more and seek more adventures; instead to stop wandering and hunker down as one prepares for the final fight with mortality.