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Monday, December 31, 2012

The New Year Haiku Trio: A Commentary

 

Prologue

 

During mindfulness practice, it’s often the case that I’m faced with thoughts and emotions that can’t be satisfactorily expressed using conventional language. During those times, I tended to rely on rhyming poetic verse - that is, until I discovered the Haiku which I found to allow me to open my awareness to a vaster array of interpretations - especially during times when I am faced with a lot of turbulent thoughts and emotions.

 

One such time is the new ear where we may find ourselves looking back at how we spent last year. And, as I felt I needed more clarity on what 2012 meant to me as a human being, I wrote a haiku to capture my state of mind. It’s actually a haiku trio and so, I’ll go through each haiku segment and share a few personal meditations on the words as they flow:

 

A New Year Haiku Trio


From: Haiku Flow, 

URL: http://haikuflow.gordongd.com/2012/12/a-new-year-haiku-trio.html 


1

An other year is over,

Many days we have forgotten -

Dried up … like raindrops.

 

 Commentary

 

If you think about it, we only remember little of what has happened to us over the course of last year. Hopefully, we retain a sense of who we are - even if our sense of who we are (or our sense of self) is a transient one. Like all other things, we have changed as persons whether we are aware of it or not. e don’t realise it but even our bodies have literally been changed as old cells are replaced by new ones.

 

However, these changes happen so slowly and on such a minute scale that we just move on through life thinking that the only significant changes that occur are external to us. And, even then, our memories forget. This isn’t neither good nor bad. Yet, it’s sometimes the case that we take what we have for granted - even with a sense of pride and entitlement - without acknowledging or appreciating the source of all we have to keep on living as physical beings - the living world around us.  

   

2

Do we remember?

The tears shed, laughter shared… Do we?

Yet, this is our life….

 

Commentary

 

These verses follow on the theme of time and impermanence. At the same time, it goes beyond that and compels us to ask ourselves what, exactly, have we learned from life during the course of this year. While we may have gained plenty of knowledge and experience. We may have had many experiences of suffering and joy, but if we didn’t take the time to reflect on what we have gone through, where these moments in our life worthwhile? 

 

While we cannot change our bodies and minds in radical ways, we have a choice whether we grow out of the experiences we encounter in life or give up and indulge in a life where we blame others (hate), believe our solutions are external (desire) or go on through life without being (ignorance). These three poisons often might lead us to pursue the same life and ineffectual strategies that we have grown used to. Unfortunately, growth that resists change and doesn’t allow change is no growth at all. On the other hand, change that is made for the sake of it can be equally toxic.

 

3

Another year is born.

Our chance to live again. Anew.

To be here. Fully.

 

 

Commentary

 

This last verse of the haiku trio I wrote appears to be an invitation to accept life as it comes. At least, now that I read it again, it’s not just about a new year. For, in truth, given the different ways humankind has measured time, any day can be a new year. And, yes, in many ways, a new day is a new year. In truth, if you take away the fuss that we make out of adding a number to a calendar year and creating a day when we can take time off work, a new year’s day is just another day. It follows that it doesn’t have to be a new year to compel us to improve on our ways. Everyday offers us the possibility to grow and change. Everyday is the opportunity to experience our life in  its full potential.

 

And, perhaps, this is the main reflection underpinning the haiku trio. That, in order to live our full potential as human beings, we first need to recognise who we are in the world. We may dream to fly like birds, but our bodies are currently not equipped to fly. However, we can fly because some have considered the limitations imposed to us by nature and explored solutions around these apparent limitations. However, the reality of things had to be factored in so that we could, in some way, be able to fly.

 

Concluding Remarks

 

I don’t think I should add more commentary. I just hope this has provided you, the reader, with some food for thought. I remind you that the reflections I make in the haiku I wrote for Haiku Flow attempts to capture that sense of impermanence and transience. While below I provide my own interpretation of what the haiku verses appear to tell me, other ideas about its meaning to you might 


 

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Holy Days: A Time for Renewal?

december will soon be ending. The world didn’t end last Friday 21. The pain in the ligament of my right leg haunts me still after two weeks. Apart from that, life continues as it had before. There is change, of course, but the process of life follows the same cycle most of the time.

 

As I look ahead at the new year of 2013, I can’t help but look back at where I was this time in 2012 and where I am here today - a few days before the new year. I know that there were successes and moments during the ending year that had an ending I didn’t expect. These one may call “failures” and, in a sense, they are failures. And, perhaps I feel my greatest failure has been my attempt to live independently at the Akwarell. Especially since, as readers of this blog know, I had high hopes for this step in securing my future independence.

 

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why I felt that this wasn’t working out. Besides, it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk here about why I have decided, after considering everything, that I wasn’t ready to live the way I was living at Akwarell.  I know and regret that I have failed and disappointed the many people who have helped me to go through this experience. And yet, as the days passed, I grew painfully aware that I was living a lie. That I was unhappy and that this wasn’t the way I wanted to live my future if I had the choice. And, thankfully, I had the choice.


Right now, I still feel bad about this decision. A decision which was announced in the local news and will probably continue haunting me some time after the new year. This makes me feel like a failure. And as I struggle with the pain in my leg, I do feel rather alone because there’s so much that I’m going through on an inner level that I admit that I don’t always understand myself. I feel like crying during meditation as I uncover thoughts that appear to be ever present in my mind. Childhood thoughts, when I was more active and physically independent, where I would dream of the time I would be an adult and live my life as I wanted. The time, perhaps, I was less cynical about the world and when I still saw hope in others and in the world. A time when I still believed in myself.

 

Adulthood revealed a different reality. A reality where people do their best to get what they want at the cost of exploiting or ruining the lives of others. Adults who seek for themselves and only for themselves or those thy said they “loved”. Adults who go on through life without values or ethics while pretending to be self-righteous, if not holy, people. Adults intoxicated by their desires, consumed by their hate and comfortable in an ignorance that fails to see beyond prejudice and discrimination. This is a painful reality but I refuse to become more of the same for the sake of fitting in and “being nice” at the expense of others.. Just to conform.


And we are often forced to conform. This is the way we are socialised in order to survive in society. People who refuse or somehow challenge the “system” risk to be put aside in one way or another. I realise that I have gone through most of my life trying to conform and trying to be liked. Perhaps it’s time to act in a way grounded in the value of compassion which not always conforms to social norms. 

However, this is NOT my new year’s resolution. This is a lifelong commitment to be authentic to myself and open to the contribution of others in my life. A choice that goes beyond faith and is based on reason and the fact of humanity. A humanity prone to the wasting of time. A humanity that is impermanent, not immortal and vulnerable to the forces of matter and energy. A humanity that is permanently dependent on the world and other human beings living on this world.

Some critics may conclude that this message I share on this holiday or even “Holy Day” is rather secular and inappropriate given the feeling associated with this season - love, peace and compassion.


However, a close reading might reveal otherwise. For why is this time the West has long associated with the birth of Christ, the only time during the year when we are urged to give to those society considers “less fortunate”? When, in truth, society itself tends to create the conditions of social injustice leading to the wrong distribution of wealth, abuse or exploitation? As if the state of fortune is an inevitable, even inalterable, fact of nature?


Renewal, I firmly believe, doesn’t require us to make any radical changes in our life and may co-exist with existing belief systems or philosophies. This time when we celebrate holidays should become more of Holy Days. Not in any religious sense of the phrase. But, rather, as times when we awake to the reality that surrounds us. To our own limits and inescapable vulnerability as animals endowed with the potential to think.


This renewal can be painful because it forces us to face that, in reality, we own nothing and that, at the end of it all, we are nothing - if it wasn’t for the people in the world, the life that surrounds us and the elements that have been here before us and who have played a part in who we are today.

Genuine renewal requires us to to be authentic to ourselves.


To recognise that our whole is more simply than a sum of our individual characteristics. And, yes, renewal requires us to strip away any delusions we might have about who we are and our place in the world. It might mean accepting our vulnerability as persons. It may require that we stop and admit to ourselves and to the world that we have failed. And, perhaps, it is then when we can hope to gain real growth. When we can look beyond the pretensions that cloud our judgment. However well intentioned and sincere we may be. For no one is in our same situation, our life remains often misunderstood or even rejected.

 

I confess that it was difficult putting this entry together. It may be unclear at times. However, before I can speak of renewal I thought I should first look at my life. While I see faults in the world around me, I also see faults in who I  am and what I have gone through as a person. As long as I remain a human being, I can’t separate from the world as I remain dependent on the world. It feels bad to feel a failure. But it’s sometimes necessary to look back and realise your mistakes. Mistakes we do and do. And even when you try to do the right thing, it is sometimes the case when you’re excluded and rejected because you’ve got a different account to share. You are dehumanised and robbed of your sense of humanity just because you’re different. I’m afraid to face the future at times.

 

I  come to some kind of end. An end to a stream of thoughts about my life and my hopes for the future. This will be the last entry of 2012. I hope next year will bring about better days and bright futures. Yet, I do not know. The future being an unknown shaped by every decision I take today. I know already that it will be hard as I have to deal with health problems. Again, I am scared but also hopeful that I’ll be able to live my life day by day. Building my strength and continue in my practice of self-growth.

 

To you, the reader, I wish all the best for 2013 and for every day of your life. May you find the peace, health and happiness to live your life to the fullest. For, whatever we have, the present moment remains the only thing we have for a while. Everything comes and goes and we must be prepared to give meaning to our lives for no one will do this for us. And we shouldn’t expect that either.. 

 

I thank you for reading through this entry. I hope that you have found parts that are useful to your life. I may have not succeeded. But, in either case, accept my gratitude for supporting this blog over these past months.

 

I wish you all the happiness for new year’s day. More importantly, I wish you that in 2013 you continue to grow in happiness and compassion.

 

I hope that 2013 will be an occasion when we may all may find authentic happiness and be true to our shared humanity.

 

Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Home, A Place of Happiness



I can’t hide the fact that when I wrote the last entry Longing for a Place to Call Home, I was gripped by fear. Fear of change as I was embarking into the unknown. Today, I realise that I was too attached to an ideal state of happiness. As if there’s a particular location which guarantees one’s happiness. I was also afraid of change and a transition that appeared to threaten the very core of who I am.




Even if I still feel a strong need to be in silence and for contemplation, the fact is that it was a mistake to think that a particular place can guarantee my peace and happiness. I realise that I can be in that place of peace in the present, wherever I am. Happiness, I am reminded, isn’t something that can be bought or attained by external objects. While objects we desire might give us momentary happiness, the feeling quickly fades away. And we find ourselves longing, wanting and craving for another object which appears to hold the promise of happiness.




Now that eight days have passed since I moved in to my new house, I am hopeful that it’ll become my home as well. I have learned a lot from my own self and in relating to the others who are sharing in this experience. I know that I may still be scared of change. I learned that when it feels I’m isolated, instead of reaching out to people, I tend to distance myself more. And, most importantly, I have realised that the more we hide from what seems to be an oppressive reality, the more problems and challenges appear insurmountable - until the only reaction is for us to escape or deny ourselves the chance to explore other possibilities or solutions.




This post appears to be a happy ending to a tale that appeared to end on a tragic note. However, these last hours have opened my mind to the possibility that, maybe, if I wasn’t so resistant to change, I could make things work. I can always find a place of peace and refuge in my heart. I recognise that there can be no lasting happiness in a material world that remains impermanent, prone to a cycle of entropy. I can’t even be sure of a reality beyond this life. However, what I am sure of is that as long as I remain aware of the present moment and appreciate its preciousness and uniqueness, I can be truly happy.




Life may be hard or draw us in moments of sadness and melancholy. We may be robbed of all our possessions and denied our friends. And, still, we can be happy. Yes, this is a tall order and I’m still far off from achieving such kind of happiness. For one can be rich or have all the things one desires and still be unhappy. Indeed, happiness isn’t simply an emotion or a feeling. 




Happiness is a state of being...


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Longing for a Place to Call Home

It’s now almost a week now since I’ve been living in my new house. Yes, it’s still a ‘house’ to me for now. There have been different emotions that have emerged as if from a deep part of who I am. Even if I’m in a community setting, there’s still a sense of isolation and alienation. I am discovering that settling in isn’t an easy thing. I have doubts at times on whether I was prepared for this radical change. I find myself in a reality that I have to accept. A reality that I wish to deny but is one that I face every waking moment.

I find value in this opportunity as it made me realize that I need my personal space, silence and time to reflect and meditate. I like to socialize, mind you, but I am aware that I like to be on my own. Perhaps this reflects badly on me but I prefer to lead a quiet life and I certainly need some time alone. This, I feel, what still lacks in my new life. I may not be cut out for a community setting. This isn’t anyone’s failure, I know, and I will try to stay here and be open to this experience. I know that many have worked hard and still working to make this transition I success. I owe it to them to, at least, do my best.

However, today, I feel like a refugee, a man without a home. A restless soul seeking peace. The peace of a place to call home. I may need to adapt to my new life but there’s always that lingering sadness and a deep sense of abandonment. I trust that this feeling will one day cease as it is, like anything else in the cosmos, impermanent. I may have to be more willing to reach out to the others who are sharing this experience together with me. But, I admit, that I long for the moments when I have the time to meditate - just listening, just witness life that is unfolding in my presence.

I can’t expect anyone to relate to my need for a time to contemplate. I Know that in my active life, I am expected to be on the go and to react (rather than act). I need a time to reflect about my life - how I am here and where I wish to be. I can forget the past but also   acknowledge the present that I’m living. For every day I am living, I am shaping the future. I must accept that it’s up to me whether to go on living this new life. Inasmuch as there are many things that I can’t control or choose in my life, ultimately, I remain responsible for my own future. A future, I hope, will lead me to further growth and happiness.,  

Having said that, I still struggle with the feeling that I don’t belong here. A feeling that there’s an emptiness that rules my days. An uncertain future, hopes and dreams that have been crushed. A profound longing for a home that I never had and which, it seems,, I will never have. Like the ancient Hebrews during their exile in Babylon, I find myself thinking of the ‘promised land’.


By the rivers of Babylon,
         there we sat down, yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
         and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

Yet, in my case, this promised land of Zion is where I can truly express who I am. A place where I can find a silent place to manifest my full being. I still feel that I am in a strange  land. I feel I don’t yet belong here. This may be a failing on my part. And, I will try to do my best to make it work. The only thing I can truly say is that time will tell. Experience will guide me in how to proceed.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Renewing the Political Contract

Preamble<

 
I hesitate to write about political issues for a number of reasons. One is, of course, that anything I say risks being interpreted in one way or another and I don’t want to be given a political label. Second, the fact that, as a visually impaired person, I am forced to vote in front of what is called an “electoral commission” means that, in a way, my vote is an open secret. Don’t get me wrong - I do trust the representatives of the electoral commission to a point. Besides, members of the commission are bound by law to keep my vote a secret.who are bound by law to keep my vote a secret but everyone knows human nature and how easy it is for people to break that trust for ulterior motives. 
 
I am hopeful, however, that with Malta’s ratification of the United Nations  Convention Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), this situation will be rectified since Article 29 of the same convention sets out to guarantee the right to participate in public and political life (including the right to a secret vote). Indeed, as the implementation of the UNCRPDin Malta goes underway, our country should redress this situation of inequality in voting as the issue of secret voting is one of the areas identified as needing change (according to this press release
 
However, this isn’t just something we, disabled people, will benefit from. True, all of us who are blind or have a visual impairment, those of us who due to a physical impairment can’t use our hands or have a print disability are bound to benefit. But this right will also provide people who cannot read or write, for example, with the chance to vote in secret. Regrettably, I am also aware that certain disabled people, including people with an intellectual impairment or those with mental health conditions are often denied the right to vote altogether.  
 
I admit that I feel anxious when it gets to the voting season. The fact is, as things stand, I know that I must reveal my political affiliations once again to another group of perfect strangers. Trustworthy, perhaps, but still strangers. While I don’t find any problem with sharing my political views with those I trust the most, I’m not comfortable with revealing my positions to others (whoever they may be). The fact   that most citizens can vote in secret means that, come election time, I am unequal when it comes to the secret vote. Moreover, I do fear the consequences  of revealing my political views to members of the electoral commission as they are also    political representatives who may put party or personal interests over my individual freedoms. I am concerned that certain people might not respect my political opinions and might hold my political beliefs against me resulting in unhappy repercussions.
 
Having said that, any political beliefs I might have doesn’t mean I think  of  disability in terms of party politics. Indeed, I firmly believe that disability is an issue that shouldn’t be politicised in the sense that disability  should never become victim to partisan political exigencies. In addition, it would be irresponsible for me to bring party politics into this issue - especially since I became  involved in public life. 
 
However, I also feel that, even if I won’t take a position in favour of some party or another, I am still entitled to comment on what, I believe, is wrong with politics in general and in the local context in particular and what changes I would like to see in contemporary politics. I want to make it clear from the onset that I don’t claim to have any level of political expertise but the ideas I present below are based on my relatively short experience and reflections on the issues of politics and democracy.     
 

Respecting the Principles of Democracy

 
Indeed, two principles that I feel are essential to ensure a true democracy are equality before the law and freedom of expression. However, the latter principle is inseparable from the right of every citizen to equality and freedom of expression. Thus, it’s debatable whether a far right party which campaigns to deny those it judges to be ‘a threat to national identity’ from their rights and dignity have a place in a true democracy if their campaign incites intolerant or hateful conduct. In addition, the secret vote can be seen as a way to allow citizens to express their personal opinions without fear of discrimination or intimidation. 
 
Now, I will try to move from an overview of the principles, I believe, are important foundations of democracy to how, in practical terms, politicians should apply them in their political careers. As I already said, these are only my suggestions on what I observed.
 

The Need for Constructive Dialogue

 
It’s important that politicians:
  • •In a debate, listen to each other.
  • •Listen to each other.
  • •Allow each party to develop an argument in reasonable time.
  • •Listen to the people out there.
 
It is regrettable that debates sometimes end up like shouting contests or meeting the public becomes more of an event where politicians seem to be fishing for voters...
 

The Need forCooperation

 
I regret that sometimes it appears as if politicians live in different countries, if not planets. While it may be understandable for each politician to have partisan interests, their duty remains to serve the whole population and not just party followers. 
 
Indeed, politicians of different political views should do their best to serve the people as they have been elected by us, the voters. Any successes and failures a country faces will affect all of us, including them. We remain, as a people, interdependent and, thus,  should be united as a people. It’s unhealthy for certain politicians or staunch party followers to take pleasure when an opposing party fails in some way. If the country fails, it’s just a lose-lose situation. No one will benefit.
 

The Need forReconciliation

 
I can’t emphasise enough of the importance of fostering a politics that fosters reconciliation. We might not agree on ideological grounds and we should value our principles. However, there’s space where we can reach a compromise and put a genuine effort to find a middle ground that will be of benefit to the whole rather than to just a few. This isn’t implying that we should forget the past as if nothing happened for the past can offer invaluable knowledge and insight and help both avoid repeating past mistakes and making sure that future plans are directed by experience.
 

The Need for More  Political Pluralism

 
Our political system has been largely influenced by the British system following years of colonisation. Consequently, we have largely retained a two-party system. While this system has worked well, it does have some downside to it. The fact is that a two-party system tends to polarise parties rather than encourage more healthy debate and exchange of ideas. Political pluralism shouldn’t just remain confined to media (as it is at present) but should also be reflected in parliament or in the parliamentary or similar institutions where national decisions are taken.
 
More voices representing fresh voices can help to encourage a healthier debate and, in way, help ensure that majority parties are kept in check. However, whether a country’s citizens will be ready to elect people representing a third voice is in their own hands. More voices, of course, may create problems in the running of a country but there can be much value in having greater diversity within the decision making process. . 
 

My Final Appeals...

 
To conclude this entry, I feel the need to make two appeals that, first, gather the main points I tried to make in this entry, and second, emphasise the importance of every citizen’s to participate in the renewal of the political contract based on the principles of democracy. Thus:    
 
First, I appeal to local politicians and all those who are involved in politics to respect the principles of democracy. Not to put party or personal interests before the people. To remember that we, the people, have elected you and we expect you to serve us responsibly and with integrity. We also expect you to practice your profession skilfully, including ensuring you engage in constructive dialogue that is based on cooperation. A dialogue, I believe, which should foster reconciliation on matters that affect us all as a people and a dialogue that opens up to more voices. 
 
Second, I appeal to all readers of voting age not to take the vote for granted.  Failing to vote because you’re disillusioned with politics means you’re forfeiting your  right to have a voice and evading your duty. A failure to vote is not a protest vote but simply giving a go ahead for others to decide your future on your behalf. 
 
As someone who is still denied the right to a secret vote, I also wish to express hope that, if not in the next general election (due in a matter of months), I will have the opportunity to vote in secret for a change. Then, I would be truly included as an equal in the democratic process! 
 

Post-Script

 
I hope my ideas have given you some food for thought. Even if it’s important to make it clear once again that I’m no political expert, I have considered these principles and practical suggestions based on an understanding I have gained through my Buddhist practice. In fact, I find that the principle of co-dependence or how we remain essentially dependent on each other in life has inspired large part of my approach.
 
More content by this blogger can be found at gordonGD.com

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Akwarell Speech: A Message on Independence, Hope and Thanksgiving



Opening Statements

A photo of me taken by one of my brothers, Daniel,  during the inaugaration of Akwarell.

Welcome your excellencies, members of parliament, distinguished guests, family and friends and all those of you who came to celebrate this occasion.

An occasion so important in my life and in the life of my other friends who will be joining me in this new experience...

Today, we are here to celebrate the official opening of our new home, Akwarell*.

To mark this occasion, I wish to share some of my thoughts about what this means to me.

About Community...


At present, Akwarell is just a building. But, I hope, together with my friends, we will turn this building into a home, in the best senses of the word. I think that the name we have chosen for this house: 'Akwarell', expresses how we want this home to be a place to express who we are both as individuals and as a community.

Indeed, in the same way an artist would paint the akwarel, we hope this building will serve us to express our best colours but, at the same time, create something that we could only create with one another. A community of friends.

About independence


However, what Akwarell means goes even beyond that. Akwarell is a place where we can be more independent. Here, it's important to explain what I mean by independence.

Independence does NOT mean we will do everything on our own. Independence does NOT mean we don't need anybody any longer. Independence means being able to make our own choices. Independence means having the necessary help and support to fulfil our full potential. And, in truth, no one in society can live on his/her own. We all need each other in life.


Concluding Remarks


There are many people whom we must thank for making all this possible, each in our different way.

For my part I must thank my parents and all my family, my friends and my work-mates at KNPD. If it hadn't been for all of you, I would not be here today.

However, today was only possible because of the work carried out by pioneers such as Mons Azzopardi who wanted to give us, disabled people, back our life and dignity. Mons Azzopardi who also helped change the Church's approach to disability from a question of false charity to one of social responsibility. I must also thank those who followed in his footsteps at Id-Dar tal-Providenza, Mons. Gatt and Fr Martin Micallef.

I think that my friends who will be moving in Akwarell in the coming days will agree with me when I say that we are indebted to all those of you who continue to help and support us to achieve the best possible quality of life.
I trust in your continued support.

Thank you all!

Have a good day...

Footnotes

As explained in my last entry Meditations in Watercolor, last Thursday, I participated in an activity to inaugurate the official opening of our new home at Qawra. I explained how I was asked to be one of the speakers for the occasion - especially since I‚ll be one of the ones who will be living there for the forthcoming future. Since some have expressed the wish to get an idea of what my speech was about, I have decided to share the text I used as a guide in document for my speech. Incidentally, I would later discover that November 22 was also Thanksgiving in the US, so it‚Äôs a speech appropriate to mark such a day - which was, in a sense, an occasion of expressing my thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to live more independently.

*The word "Akwarell" is the Maltese word meaning "water-colour painting".

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Meditations in Watercolour...

It’s official. I will be moving soon to my new house at Qawra. This house, made possible thanks to the funding and support of, mainly, the local Church and the state, was officially opened. Given that, behind this project, there were important stakeholders, it was inevitable that this event was covered by local media.

I was asked to be one of the speakers. As one of the three residents who are going to live there, I was chosen to write a short speech and deliver it during the official opening. I am not a stranger to public speaking but I always get a little bit anxious before speaking. Especially since I was asked to talk about an event which will radically change my life and the lives of two other mates who I will be sharing my house with.

In my speech, I wanted to convey two main ideas as I reflect ed on what this move would mean to me as a disabled person. I remember how I often thought about the prospect of living on my own but, recent occasions when my health and general condition regressed, I feared that this dream would remain just that. A dream. So, when I was asked whether I would want to live in my own place, I grabbed the opportunity. I had my doubts, of course and I still do.But, sometimes, you must take a leap into the unknown.

In my speech, I also wanted to express my deepest thoughts about this important moment in my life. I expressed my hopes that, together with my mates, this building will not remain a construction made of stones but, I hope will become a community of friends. We chose to call our new home “Akwarell”, which is the Maltese word for “water colour painting” and I explained how our individual differences as disabled people could be compared to the colours found on an artists’ palette. We all have our distinct qualities. We all have our unique beauty. Yet, like the blend of colours found in a water colour painting, together we can create a thing far greater than who we are as individuals.

Another reflection I shared concerned the question of independence. I tried to explain what I meant to me to live independently. That is wasn’t about doing everything on my own. That it wasn’t about denying the support of others. I tried to explain how independence meant to me, as a disabled person, the opportunity to make choices over my life. And even if I may need the support and assistance of others to realise my choices, as long as it’s my decision, then I’m independent. I also reflected on the fact that nobody in real life is truly completely independent from another as we all, disabled or not, depend on one another to live in this world (1).

Finally, I talked about how all the people in my life have contributed to making this moment possible. How, if it wasn’t for the people who sustained me throughout my life - my parents, family, friends, work mates and many others I knew and others I didn’t know - I might have been a different person. I also talked about how if it hadn’t been for visionaries like Mons Azzopardi, a charismatic priest, who worked to promote the idea that we, disabled people, had a right to an equal human dignity which challenged the false idea of charity which belittled us to inferior examples of human beings. I expressed my gratitude because thanks to people like Mons Azzopardi and those who followed in his footsteps, Mons Gatt and Fr Micallef (today), that we have a culture shift also in the Church (2).

Even if I am committed to Buddhist practice, I cannot deny that if it hadn’t been for the good works carried out by the Church in ensuring social justice, I wouldn’t have the opportunity today to live my life to its full potential. I’m also grateful for this and for being able to have a choice in how I live my life and in how to express my authentic being. I remain indebted to the many people who have helped me every step of the way. That, I may never be able to repay. I decided to spend this weekend at home where I have lived most of my life. I’m sure I’ll have moments of doubt on whether I was really ready to make this transition.

However, I feel that, as with any change, there will always be a degree of uncertainty. It’s part of the process of life and refusing to accept the cycle of change leads to decay and death. I will be probably doing a lot of meditation over the coming weekend. However, I trust that this change will bring me new experiences and a fresh insight into who I am and on my relation to others and the world.

For now, I can just say thank you to all those who helped me get to where I am today. To who I am today. Thank you!



Footnotes:
(1) This idea was inspired by the idea of co-dependence found in Buddhist teachings, or the idea that everything depends on another to exist.
(2) Another idea borrowed from dharma, or the idea that we create and are created simultaneously by other objects in the world (whether material or abstract).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yesterday's Child: A Few Afterthoughts

Since my last entry where I shared a few thoughts following an encounter with whom I called yesterday’s child, I find that there are a lot of emotions and feelings that I still need to process. I admit, I’m still unsure from where in my heart did these feelings flow. 
 
On one hand, this child took me back to my own childhood. Perhaps I was nostalgic as I was reminded of a past that I could never recapture. To realise how foolish it was for me,at the time, to become a grown up. To become an adult would mean, I believed, being able to live my life as I pleased. How foolish I was for wanting to grow up so soon and miss out on that precious time that childhood is.
 
I also felt a certain fear that I may never become a father. Or, if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do all the things fathers do with their children. I am not particularly keen on sports either - which would be an issue if I had a boy or girl who liked sports. As yesterday’s child did. I know that there are things which, I hope, I would be able to impart on my children. But, still, there’s still that lingering thought that I would never live to an ideal.
 
On the other hand, in retrospect, these thoughts are just thoughts and don’t have any real basis. Rather, they may help me live better today. For, I may not be able to recapture my childhood but I can commit myself to cherish the present and try to live the now to the full. The present moment remains the only one we can be in and the only time we have a choice. In this sense, my concerns for the future are, in a way, only the cause of unnecessary pain. For, I should accept whatever life offers and do my best. For whether I have a child or not, whether s/he will accept me and so on remain questions that can’t be answered or will never be answered at all.
 
This life of mine, I realise, is the only one I’m sure of. It’s precious because, I know, all lives will end. I can’t live forever. And, as I remember what yesterday’s child taught me, it’s important for us to reach out to those around us and to every other person living in this world. I have failed in this and still fail. But I know that I need to be compassionate to others. Not just for the sake of others but for my own sake.
 
I thank all those who told me that they liked reading my last entry on yesterday’s child. I admit, I was flattered. But, later, I felt a certain feeling of guilt. Had I used the child in my account for my own ends? In a way, I did. I did like many others who help others for the sole reason to receive praise. I might have fallen to an arrogance of those who help others only to be praised and photographed. People, I’ve met myself, who make a living exploiting those who are going through injustice and inequalities to appear as saviours - when they’re in fact, in some way, abusing the dignity of others for personal gain.
 
I hope, at least, that my post didn’t go so far. But, then again, I am aware that - without knowing or wanting - we may be doing the same thing. We may be inflicting needless suffering on those who are victims of injustice and inequality. We may waste food and water capriciously when people in some parts of the world are dying of hunger or thirst. We may take our homes for granted, when there are millions of people homeless or living in poor housing conditions. We may take our loved ones for granted, when there are people out there who have just lost their loved ones because of war or natural disasters.
 
But, of course, we are helpless. We can’t save the whole world. I feel bad because I know that I may never meet yesterday’s child again. Nor do I know if I can help in any way if I did meet this child. Yet, I feel a kind of guilt for not being able to do more. Yet, I have to be realistic and focus on what I can achieve today. To return to the beginning of this entry, it’s important for me to focus on the present. This doesn’t mean that I ignore the future and fail to plan ahead. But, inasmuch as it’s wise to set out plans for the future, the present is the one moment we have that is truly guaranteed. 
 
So, how can I help? How can you help? I feel that even if I may be unable to help yesterday’s child, there are a lot of people I meet on an everyday basis - some I know, others not. It’s there that I can make a difference. For one may aspire to go abroad to help others experiencing poverty and all that which is good. But, on the other hand,one can also do a lot here where you live. You can change things in the way you relate to the others around you. You can practice compassion today. You can take the time to understand others here. You can relate to others as equals now.
 
The only thing I can offer you here are  my words. I know that what I have written might not make any difference in your life or the life of others. I don’t expect it too. But all I hope is that somewhere, someone will stop and reflect on what I wrote. For life passes quickly and we may miss to appreciate the moment we’re given. A moment that, like our childhood, is lost forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Child...

To yesterday's child:

I thank you for not judging me because I appeared different. For recognising my difference and, yet, not holding it against me.

I know that you might have been fascinated by my wheelchair and wanted, as you did, to drive it around. Actually, to drive me around…

I appreciate the little time we spent together. The short time we spent getting to learn something about each other.

Perhaps, then, you filled within me a need of a little brother or sister, whom, you know, will seek you when they’re afraid of the dark and trust you will reassure them and take away their fears.

You might have also stirred deep in my heart, a paternal instinct that desires to care and protect all whom may feel unsure about life. Frightened of a a life which sometimes appears so new and unknown. Especially when facing moments of sadness and doubt following a disappointment or an ugly event you still can't express or have the words to describe..

I am not sure whether I gave you anything in return. I know that I was tired and maybe I could have shared more of myself to you.

I am neither sure what impression I left on you. Or whether I could have seemed distant. If so, I am sorry.

For sure, you have renewed my commitment to look beyond the illusion of the self.

A self so preoccupied in defending its hollow existence that it finds no place for others.

A self so absorbed in the lies it tells itself that it is ignorant of its unreality.

And the reality of life?

A life made up of joys and sorrows, life and death, love and hate.

A life where we share a common experience of humanity.

Born into a world and a life we don't choose - to live on through all the good and bad, and, ultimately, to die without knowing what there is beyond with any degree of certainty.

This life. Precious and unique. And, yet, a life we take so for granted.

We experience dissatisfaction as we seek refuge in a material life that is, in itself, impermanence and empty.

There's no happiness...

Until we are ready to recognise our vulnerability not as a sign of weakness or servile submission but as a matter of fact. That we were never meant to be divided amongst ourselves and accept we all need the help and support of those around us - whoever we are..

A humility that forces us to look at at each other on the same level because we are the same human beings. Similarly prone to the ravages of time and decay of matter. .

Birth, ill health, old age and death. No one can escape them. But we can make our life and the life of others worthwhile if we're ready to be more compassionate and less judgmental. Less accusatory. Less ready to fit people into boxes when we come to relate to them on a personal, human, level.


And, yes! It had to be you, a young child who reminded me of the need to open my heart to the other. To open who I am also to my own awareness.

Only with a motivation to learn from our experiences.

Dear yesterday's child,

Since we never had the time to say good bye, I would like to tell you that I will cherish our short encounter for as long as my memory will serve me..

I wish you all the peace and happiness for the future and for the present - which remains the more important as all futures depend on it..

I assure you that you have given me more than I can ever give back.

Thanks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Poppies of Flanders Fields

The Poppy - Used as a Symbol to Remember the Horrors of War


"In Flanders Fields" 
By John McCra

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands, we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields

 

A few reflections... 

Yesterday, 11th November at 11 in the morning, Commonwealth countries celebrated Remembrance Day. However, you may know this day from many of its titles, such as Poppy Day and Armistice Day.

This day was originally intended to remind us of the thousands of men, mostly young men, who died in the trenches of World War I and World War II. The poppy, used as a symbol of this event, was inspired by the poem above entitled “In Flander’s Field” by John McCrae who served in the First World War himself.

It appears to be a simple poem but it prompted me to reflect on the futility of war. Indeed, all the horrible killing that took place on the fields of Flanders, Belgium, were overtaken by nature. The human acts of murder and destruction were replaced by rows and rows of red poppies. In a way, one can see this of nature’s way of expressing mourning for such a great loss of life.

One can argue that the wars taking place in the beginning of the 20th century were necessary to protect our civilisation. Yet, I don’t know whether this was our only option. It appears to me that amongst the chief causes of war is our tendency to separate ourselves from others. A misguided belief that we are somehow better and far superior than other people. And that those who don’t conform are keeping us back or, else, taking from us what we think is our by right.

However, the poppy fields appear to teach us that even from the worst acts of humanity, not all is lost. A hope, perhaps innocent, that death isn’t the final answer. That, terrible as things may be, there’s still hope for growth and renewal. A hope, perhaps, that we recognise the futility of war and violence. To take care not to repeat the patterns of violence and genocide.

Alas, wars are still with us today. And, the poppy day has been sometimes been misappropriated to promote the idea of patriotic duty and, perhaps, lure young men and women into war. A war that remains ugly as it goes against our basic need for each other to make it in this world.

This is more relevant today as we have greater power to destroy the world thanks to our nuclear technology. With these means of apocalyptic potential comes great responsibility. A responsibility that is unprecedented in human history.

For, while we may think the ‘end’ will never come, we should be careful about making the right choices in how we live and what decisions we have to take. We may not be able to stop it if we are faced by war. But we must make sure we have tried. The people living in pre-war Europe never imagined the terrible wars they would have to suffer. Yet, there were signs but people forgot or just remained silent. Until, of course, the human tragedy of war happened.

It may be time for all of us to reflect on the past which, for many of us, happened decades before we were born. Reflect on what remained of all the bloodshed. Memories, perhaps, but even those are slowly fading. Have we progressed? In some ways but there’s still war and fighting around the world on similar issues. Can we afford to be unconcerned? I can’t answer this for you.

The only thing I can say is that everything must come to an end. Even our human species in the course of time. It’s in our interests to protect our world and to invest in each other instead of destroying each other.

If we kill ourselves off tomorrow, the Earth will go on living.

Maybe poppies will die too.

But life will probably prevail.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Meditations on 31 Years of Life

My First Photo as a Newborn Baby…
I’m writing this post before the anniversary of my birthday. I hope it will appear on the day I was actually born on that afternoon of the 8th November 1981. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be 31 which is almost one third of a century.

I don’t know where I’ll be when this gets published on my blog. I might be eating, working or checking my messages. That’s what I expect to be doing on a Thursday afternoon at least. Indeed, as I’m involved in my work and other commitments I find that I’m always on the go. The tendency, of course, is to go through life without really engaging with the unfolding reality. Without being aware of that passing moment. Without realising that you have lost that point in life forever.

I return back to my birthday. It’s very easy to be distracted from focusing on what I should be writing about at times. Thoughts from the past, concerns about the future and my present situation appear to take over my life even now. I was born 31 years ago.

I am expected to remember this occasion.

Yet, how many of us wonder about what was there before you were born? Can we contemplate a time when we were not?

Of course, we have learned that there was a time before we were born. The time of our parents and all the generations that came before them. Each person, no matter how we might judge them today, had a role to play in our being here alive.

In my case, I must also be grateful for scientists who have permitted me to live until this age.

If these people hadn’t survived for one reason or another, I would NOT be here.

The birthday I celebrate and the celebrations of the birthday many others celebrate throughout the year is a testament to an infinite chain of events that arose out of a cycle of co-dependence.

I might dare look even further back in history and trace my origins back to the genesis of our galaxy and even to the point where the universe was created in the first place.

But, as I contemplate the mystery of my being, I am also mystified by the very creation of our universe. For, my experience of time is so short and finite and my knowledge so restricted and limited, that I can only refer to the beginning of time itself but, as I am a being in time, I cannot conceive of a timeless state.

I may be writing this for my own self, I admit. But, the point is simple. As I reflect on my 31st birthday, I am humbled by the fact that I am born of a mother, a father. I am humbled because if it hadn’t been for the many people who came and went before...

If it hadn’t been for the way history has turned out..

If it hadn’t been for the birth of the Earth, the Sun and the solar system...

If it hadn’t been for the fact there was a universe to be in...

If it hadn’t been for life itself.

I WOULD NOT be here…

There’s no more to say.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Old Self That Clings On

It’s the end of another day and as I take a good look at myself, I realise how much I have changed on one level and, yet, how difficult it is to manifest these changes. Indeed, during the times I’m alone and have to face my inner being, if you may, I do notice a conflict between who I am discovering to be authentic about who I am and how I come across to the outside world.

It’s not that I’m living a double life or expressing two completely different identities. Both this new sense of being and the old self seem to co-exist but, at the same time, each self has a story and a history and world view. These may be not necessarily opposite and they certainly don’t represent any split personality. They are more like an inner light that is hidden away by clouds. While the light is there and sometimes feel strong and clearly visible, circumstances only serve to obscure the beauty of this light with its preoccupation with what should be and a dissatisfaction (dukkha) that diminishes our appreciation of the present moment.

I do realise that there is a struggle between part of my being which opens my heart to a basic humanity. A being, so often misrepresented by popular media, of a compassion beyond conditionality or status. A compassion that recognises a universal dependence our essential impermanence.

Yet, it’s not easy to start to be the change you want to see in the world (to take line from Gandhi). It is painful because the safety of habit and the life we get used to provide us with a sense of comfort and relief. Considering another way appears too painful - not just for us but, yes, also for others in our life. A change of mind and engagement with our harts and the hearts of others requires more of us than simply uttering a few words of allegiance or a prayer. It may require to accept our nothingness in the light of a vast universe. It may mean recognising that our life is an ordinary life when compared to the life of the people inhabiting this world. It may be extraordinary in many other ways, but we all have to go through the same stages of life.

The habits we inherit from our previous past remain part of who we are today. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I believe I must accept that I have lived a life in the past I may need to change some aspects of this past. I feel that without accepting the reality of the past, there can be no growth and a great risk of getting too attached to truths that present themselves as absolute and never changing. Reality - a reality, which in itself, is ever changing and always being renewed.

In this sense, a radical rejection of the past would mean uprooting our roots without finding fertile soil to grow our sense of being. At least, at this point, I do find it difficult to really express what I feel inside. And I can’t expect that I will change overnight. But change must happen progressively like any process of growth one finds in nature. For, yes, we remain creatures of nature. Unique and impermanent.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Myths of independence and the Self-Made Person

As I try to figure out what is the matter with my laptop, I realise how much I have become dependent on technology in my daily life. Indeed, one may say that I might be more dependent than other people on technology, especially information technology due to my physical and visual impairments. I realise that if I had just been born just 40 years ago, much of what I have today would have been unthinkable. 

It’s sad but true, but I would probably be staring at the wall waiting for the time to pass, forgotten perhaps, in some institution with no hope of release. And, yes, today I would be 71 today. OK, given that medical treatment to treat my condition were only just being experimented, I would probably be dead. Six feet under. Caput! Finis. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for technological progress (here I’m including medical discoveries) and reform in the socio-political landscape, my current life wouldn’t just be impossible but inconceivable.

I used to believe once in the fairy tale of the self-made individual. A person who goes from being a pauper to a prince, from rags to riches… You get the picture. But even the great “geniuses” of history that we, including self, have thought to have achieved what they have out of sheer will or determination had lots and lots of help and opportunities that allowed them to reach their peak.

However, we tend to mythologise the lives of these so-called “geniuses” and, perhaps conveniently, forget that they had access to opportunities that improved their chances of success.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that such individuals did nothing. In fact, they have developed extraordinary skills and abilities. But to assume that they were born with special abilities would be stuff of fantasy and Hollywood movies. Yes, people may be born with a predisposition to excel in music, science or the arts, for example, if they are not exposed to the right stimuli or in an environment that cultivates their minds, they would not manifest anything.

What if Mozart had been born in a poor family where children had to work the hard way and there was simply no place for music as this wouldn’t contribute to thee livelihood of the family? What if Einstein was born in a part of India where the poverty was so pervasive that the only maths and physics necessary were to calculate how much money you can spend and whether you can balance your food or water to reach home - if you have one that is.


My point is simply that it would be false to believe that individuals can make it on their own. There were many factors, often omitted from biographies, that contributed if not made it possible for people to maximise their potential. This myth of independence and independent actualisation is particularly dangerous when applied to disabled people. I don’t know how many times I was praised for my resolve and determination to go on with life. While my choices had a certain influence on my current position, I would be pretentious and ‘full of it’ if I declared I did it all on my own. Indeed, people with impairments, like myself, may need more help and support to maximise their potential. Will and determination have only a little part to play in all this. If you have a choice but do not know you have one in the first place, it is unlikely that you will take it.


That’s why I believe that we should recognise that the idea of complete independence is but a myth. No one can make it on his or her own in modern society. I also think that we must refrain from mythifying the lives of others just because we think they “have beaten all odds”. Instead, we should be asking why haven’t more people experiencing the same conditions and situations failed to improve on their lives. Is the myth of independent autonomy, as we may call it, a way to rationalise the injustices of poverty and inequality? Are these our way to deny responsibility for the welfare of the whole of society not just those we deem ‘deserving’.

And, I believe, we shouldn’t start pointing at our leaders, our politicians, or those in authority, but first ask ourselves what we are doing ourselves. And, many times, this means distancing ourselves from our own affiliations, biases, prejudices and assumptions and start to treat each other with equal respect and dignity as any other human being.


Yes, I should start with my own life.

The Remains of a Hurricane

It’s unfortunate to hear about the deaths and destruction left behind by the hurricane Sandy. Indeed, as parts of my family live in parts of the US which were the hardest hit by Sandy, I couldn’t help feeling concerned. Fortunately, everyone appears to be ok. Of course, the aftermath following these natural disasters will involve months of repair and things will regain a semblance of ‘normality’ over a long period.

Ironically, Sandy made its appearance during a heated presidential campaign - as if it was trying to present its political agenda. Perhaps it wanted to have a say in the discussion which often focused exclusively on the economy, employment and foreign policy. However, although it blew strongly and inflicted billions of costs on an already struggling American economy, it didn’t appear to have made such an impact on the current contestants for the US elections. Indeed, apart from welcome messages of solidarity, Sandy appears just to be another chapter for the history books.

However, if nothing, what Sandy should teach us is that we avoid dealing with the ecological crisis at our own peril. A crisis that extends from an ongoing extinction of known and unknown species to climate change. Issues that seem to have become subjects suited for children or for light discussion. Unfortunately, the extent we preserve the ecology and the environment will affect every aspect of human life as we know it.

This is fundamental because the ecology is the basis of all living beings. It’s essential for human survival. If we continue prostituting planet Earth for our own political and economic ends, we must be prepared to face more devastation and hardship. While I cannot claim that Sandy and other recent natural catastrophes were caused by the human impact on the environment, these events should be a wake up call for us to realise that without the sustenance of nature and without the environment, all our human achievements - ranging from the most advanced, such as art, science, religion to the most basic, such as food and water will not exist any longer.

In this sense, politicians around the world should take the ecological crisis more seriously than other crisis. For if left unchecked, an ecological crisis will leave our economies worthless.

That would mean the end of the human world.

Shall we stop it?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lets Talk about Pain...

When I started writing this entry, it started raining. Now, the rain seems to have stopped and I expect it to rain again in a few minutes. I Love this weather but I enjoy it most when I am indoors.

Yet, even if I usually enjoy being indoors listening to an audiobook in bed, for example, when it’s raining, my positive experience is dampened by a persisting pain in my back muscles. I have meditated during these moments of pain but I still need more practice in effectively accepting the experience of pain. However, while meditation does help address the suffering caused by pain, it’s a misconception to believe that “it’s all in the mind”.


Indeed, Buddhism doesn’t deny that there is a biological factor involved in the experience of pain. However, Buddhism makes an important distinction between pain and suffering (or more accurately “dukkha”). In this sense, while pain is real, discomfort itself or how we relate to this pain causes the real suffering. Thus, by choosing to reject or deny our experience of our present pain, we give this pain control over ourselves. We become slaves of an idyllic past and mourning a future that never was. By resisting pain, we don’t change and, if there’s no change we are bound to wither and die.


This may all sound defeatist, but I’m not saying that one shouldn’t take any action to reduce pain. However, an experience of pain can teach us about what it means to be human. It reminds me that I am limited. I am reminded that I share with others in a human experience,.

I discover that, in spite of any pretensions, my body is no different to that of other living beings. Pain is an invitation to appreciate how precious life and how life is impermanent and how it could end at any minute.


With all its unpleasantness and discomfort, pain awakens us to the present moment.

And, the only moment that we can truly change is but now.

For, like the rain, our lives can end at any time.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Virtues of Pain

It’s now more than a week since persistent back pain caused by an injury has forced me to consume pain medication which adds up to the daily dose f steroids I need in order to keep my general condition under control. These days were also more difficult following a number of disappointments I had in my life. Indeed, only now can I seem to have renewed hope in a better tomorrow. A tomorrow when I can return back to work and join my work mates once again.

Even if I wish to escape the pain, I must admit that, whatever we do,. certain type of pain is inevitable and may be even necessary.



Here I am not saying that I just accept the pain that's purely physical without making use of medication to relief the immediate pain. Indeed, one should make proper use of technological innovation to address the symptoms of pain. But, then again, we should accept the fact that not all pain is valueless and that pain itself can help us connect to others and to our basic humanity.



Such an approach to pain appears to be a contradiction to the pleasure seeking or hedonistic ideal that equates pain and suffering with evil while pleasure and physical comfort are the higher goods of our current age.


While it’s a natural response to reject pain, not all pain can be removed. I have experienced moments of pain where I even questioned if there was any point in going on. These moments often led me to consider even suicide. But these thoughts eventually would last for days or even months until I would realize that, instead of brooding on my bad fortune, I could learn from this experience. It’s not easy as it might appear when expressed in words and I don’t judge those who failed and and are no longer with us.



However, I can’t help worry about the implication of a hedonism that aims to reject pain because it often leads to the elimination of those people whose lives, due to their pain, are deemed unworthy of living as their lives are perceived as insignificant burdens and ‘lies not worth living’. A life such as my own. In addition, a pleasure seeking attitude to life may result in a decrease in palliative care treatment and lack of funding in pain management research. It would mean removing the person instead of alleviating the pain.



There were many things I reflected upon during these times of pain. Things that I had forgotten as I went about with life until I was forced to stop. I realized how, in spite of any disagreements, my family was there to support me.

I realized that my friends hadn’t abandoned me in this moment of need. I realiszed that if it wasn’t for the work of many others unknown to me, I would’t have anything to brink or eat, no electricity, no means of reaching out to the world. If it hadn’t been for those who encouraged me to ask the right questions, my life today would have been different. Finally, if it hadn’t been for doctors and scientists that have developed treatment and medication to deal with conditions like my own, I would not be here today.

In this sense, pain reminds us of our own vulnerability as human beings and awakens us to the fact that we need each other in life and that we are part of one single human family.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Renewing Trust After Betrayal

Recent experiences where I was misled and deceived led me to question once again, my trust in other people. In the past, I had been taken for a ride so many times because I was young, inexperienced or even because I was disabled and different. I had also my fair share of disappointments were I built high hopes and expectations, only to discover these were just hollow illusions. In time, I would start to trust again and took care in choosing well whom to trust.

However, we remain human. And, despite my meditation practice, there are things that can blind, metaphorically, the best of us. Not that I’m the best. The point is that when the self hears things that it likes to hear, it tends to lower its usual defences. And, as the illusionary ego grows and grows, it has the tendency to take over common sense. From then on, there is a danger that the delusion becomes reality and, in effect, any doubts are countered by irrational thinking, you’ve reached a point of no return.

Thus, when you learn that all your time and energy you invested was entrusted to deceitful people who just want to exploit your pride for their own advantage, then there is your reality collapses. You wake up from a dream into a hard reality. And, as in my case, you only want to hide away and cry. You start blaming the people who betrayed your trust. You want to find a way out. You don’t want to face the fruits of your mistakes. You even try to pretend it never happened. And you return back to reality, you cry and cry until you want to escape from the fact that you’ve been betrayed.

Even if other people may have had a large part to play in breaking your trust, deep inside you blame yourself for being too trusty or even stupid for not spotting the red lights. Then, you discover that you are angry at yourself. At letting your guard down and following the chants of the tempting sirens. At that point, you start questioning yourself and, perhaps, doubting all the decisions you take from then on. Not that you didn’t do this before but, now, there’s greater suspicion and mild paranoia. Can you recover from betrayal? Can you trust again?
Some time has passed since these events took place in my life. I haven’t yet recovered from the feeling of being betrayed. I am not fully recovered from a feeling that I am still vulnerable. In this sense, this was a painful experience but also a wake up call. It reminded me that inasmuch as I have moved forward in these couple of years, I will never be completely immune from temptation, emotion and desire.

I remain human with all the good and bad that comes with being human. Whether or not I renew my trust depends on many factors. What I can say is that there’s no magic formula. People are people. The nicest of human beings are capable of deceiving or betraying you if they believe they’re somewhat justified in their actions. Yet, it’s impossible not to trust anyone in the world. The very foundations of human society is based on a degree of trust. We trust that the water we drink is safe. We trust that the food we eat is free from poisons or contaminants. We trust that the builders who build our houses used the right material. The list is endless.

The only thing we can do is to be aware of who we are. To be mindful of what we are thinking. To take the time to know yourself. My mistake was that I noticed the warning signs but I chose to ignore them in pursuit of a flight of fancy. If I had been perhaps more receptive to the thoughts that were going through my mind before I took the wrong decisions, I might have prevented all this from happening in the first place.

While I will try to be more careful in whom I place my trust, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be forever safe. For, unfortunate as it may be, human beings will continue to find more subtle ways to betray and deceive others. On the other hand, you cannot give up on trust completely. Knowing yourself is a great way to protect yourself but it isn’t foolproof.

And when you’re betrayed, you should have the courage to accept what is and take remedial action if you can..

But denying it will only render you a slave to the betrayer.

A slave to your own self.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Way of Water

Today, I chose to talk about water. A simple enough molecular structure composed of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom. Everyone needs it and, no, you don’t need any chemical formula to appreciate its value. Water is an example of a liquid that much to teach us about reality and about ourselves.

It’s a liquid that changes structure depending on the environment. It can be ice, snow, rain or steam. In each case, the experience of water changes but, at its foundation, it is still composed of the same molecules. Water may come from the river, the ocean or through the sea. But it remains water and it’s continuously being recycled as it shifts back and forth from the solid, liquid and gas states. The same water falling as rain in New York is not that different than the rain falling in China a few days later. Water droplets are, of course, not exactly the identical ones as they are distinct but, in essence, they are similar.

In this sense, humanity is like water. We constantly change the way we look, the way we think and what we believe. But, at the core, we remain human beings facing the same challenges of life. However, water itself is something that has been instrumental in the creation of life on Earth. Our bodies cannot survive without it and we are mostly made up of water. All our organs depend on it to keep working. Without it, we will die. On the other hand, water can kill us if we drown in it. Water helps us survive but can also be a destructive force when it causes flooding or organises into a tsunami.

Thus, it is only in moderation that water is sustaining and preserving. Excesses at both extremes can either lead to dehydration or suffocation. Water can cause hypothermia. And when you realise how vital water is for our survival and how it makes up over two-thirds of the world’s surface, you quickly realise how, if we continue to pollute our seas with waste, chemicals, nuclear material and oil., we may be compromising the future of all living beings and condemn us to extinction. Lacking an impending space programme that permits us to live on other planets, the water we have on this planet is the only source that can keep life going.

We may have bad experiences of water. W e may have been close to drowning, have an entire life and livelihood because of a flood. You may have even lost loved ones because of the sea. Yet, even if it’s no consolation, water itself is not good or bad, it just follows its nature. We, on the other hand, can adapt to the world and even change our reaction to life. At the same time, like water droplets, we are different in our own ways but so much alike in so much, much more than we want to admit..

For a start, we all depend on water as long as we live.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This isn't really my life...

We are often exposed to news stories reporting on the deaths of motorists, people still dying in places far away as a result of war, natural disasters or the injustices of poverty and intolerance. But, does hearing these accounts day and night, stir us in any way? Or have we become so used to these stories that we don’t perhaps stop and reflect that, behind these victims, there are real people? People who are suffering or even dying? While the killings still happening in Syria are cause for concern, many other people this minute are dying out of unnatural acts of our human failure to love and respect each other as equals.

So, we have the rich and the poor, the so-called ‘developing’ and the ‘developed’ worlds. There are the fit and the unfit. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and many other religious traditions. There are secularists, humanists, and atheists. But, if I think about it, all these categories are created by us. Yes, all of us continue reinforcing these differences, often without knowing. We want to belong to a group in society that we feel is more like us. It’s irrelevant whether we identify as criminals, drug dealers, practicing believers, or convinced atheists. If we are given the opportunity to express our feelings, we tend to like those like us.

But, then again, can we really claim that our lives are ‘ours’? Many would claim this is a fact. Our life is our life and nobody has the right to impose anything on us against our will. In this, I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is when we lay claim to all our achievements and to our current position. The illusion manifests itself when we believe, without question, that our bodies belong to us, almost as if they were an object or property we have. With that I would have a problem. For, in truth, if you aren’t careful, you might run off with the impression that you can make it on your own on this Earth. In its extreme form, such a delusion may lead us to neglect our bodies or, worse still, harm others because they become simply possessions and objects to manipulate like any other utensil.

There are a couple of questions I will put out there. I won’t answer them or presume to know the answers to any of them. And, once you start reading, you will quickly realise the answers are pretty straight forward. I will, however add a short comment at the end of each question for further reflection.

Did you choose to be born?

Who brought you to the world?

Have you created the society, the culture, the science, the structure and the world you are now living in?

Have you created the planet Earth and all the living beings that populate it?

Have you created the Earth itself, the planets in the solar system and the Sun?

Have you created this galaxy, this universe and the cosmos beyond?

Have you created the stars and the matter forming the basis of material reality?

Have you sparked off all of this and can truly claim that this life, which spans for an infinitesimal stretch of time your own making?

Of course, we remain responsible for our own thoughts and actions to a point. And, even there, we are always limited as human beings. We still need many others to make it through the day. We need other living beings to survive on this planet. Starting from what we think insignificant such as flies and bees to those we deem beautiful and worth preserving. Yet, if you think about it, all beings contribute in their own ways to the welfare of the planet. Even if it may be yet unknown to us.

Unfortunately, the human species is perhaps the only animal who has actively exploited nature for its own ends. The only ‘self-aware[ being that still assumes that everything will go on as before in spite of the impact of waste, pollution, deforestation, nuclear disasters and so much more.

But, wait, I am a human being too! My life depends o so many people, so many living beings, the Earth and the stars that populate it. I cannot keep detached from all that is happening. Like you and the rest of humanity, my life depends on others. To what extent, I and others, are committed to preserving our Earth. To how far we are prepared to put our differences and desires to control and gain power for the welfare of all human beings. Indeed, our life, our bodies and even our thoughts are not exclusively our own. They are constantly shaped and sustained by the Earth. Even the very atoms and molecular structures that form our bodies originated in the beginning of the universe.

Indeed, as I ponder on the ending of another day. As another night falls beckons. I look around me with a sense of gratitude. As I look at the night sky with my feeble eyes, I ask myself…

Are we all sons and daughters of the stars?

Made of the same stuff.

Matter that will not last forever.

What exists beyond that is a matter of speculation and personal faith.