Being human in an ever-shifting landscape of thoughts and emotions


In a computer RPG (Role Playing Game) game such as Ultima, the character is always in the middle of the screen. It may appear to be moving when we press the direction arrow keys to move it around to explore the virtual world, but it is the landscape that is moving while the character remains stationary.

In a way, each of us is like the character. The scenery around us may change as we move from place to place going about our lives, but in a deeper reality, we remain stationary – only the circumstances around us change, and we feel compelled to react or respond to changing circumstances.

Maybe therein lies the secret of remaining grounded in inner peace and stability? Maybe what we need to do isn’t so much as to remain unperturbed and emotionless, but to observe with equanimity our thoughts and emotions that rise and ebb with each changing circumstance.

mapmyride 24 july 2016
Source: MapMyRide

On my way cycling to Waterway Point via the Northeast riverine PCN (Park Connector Network), I thought to myself it was one of the most scenic and enjoyable places to cycle. The nature scenery, the breeze, the relatively few people compared to the usually crowded East Coast Parkway.

But when I reached Waterway Point, my mood changed. The buildings in the vicinity looked rather opulent and soulless – they looked more like an extravagant display of affluence and grandeur at the expense of the migrant construction workers’ blood, sweat and tears who built those buildings. They reminded me of the Babylonian Hanging Gardens – once a symbol of material success and status, now a relic of a fallen kingdom that has been reduced to ruins. Maybe Singapore would be destined to such a fate if the relentless quest for materialism, capitalism and mass consumerism continues unabated, unchecked and unchallenged.





Identity and consciousness

I am, and I am not.

If I declare “I am”, then I am also declaring “I am not” at the same time.

If I say that I am something, then I am also saying that I am not something else. This is duality as I understand it. But there is also non-duality. I would like to propose that there is a tension and balance between duality and non-duality.

For example, from a dualistic perspective, I can choose to say that I am a Chinese by race, which is one of the artificial social constructs we often use in a societal system to label ourselves and others. So, if I say I am a Chinese, that means I am also saying that I am not a non-Chinese; that is, I am not Malay, Indian, and so on. Similarly, from the same perspective, if I say that I am a male, by virtue of the fact that I am born with masculine characteristics, I am also saying that I am not a female, or androgynous for that matter, if I were to subscribe to cis-genderism. For some reasons, I was born in this human body that is considered “male” and recognised by the society as “Chinese”, which I have no control over. Whether this social identity is considered “privileged” depends on whether I was born into a society that is patriarchal, or a society that is dominated by a certain majority race, and so on.

At the same time, from a non-dualistic perspective, I can say that I am neither this nor that. That is to say, I am – in essence – neither Chinese nor non-Chinese, and I am neither male nor female. This is because before I came into existence as a human being on planet earth in this time and space, I am that which is raceless, genderless, timeless and formless, who came from an unknown, mysterious realm.

I suppose the challenge for me is: how do I balance between the two “polarities” as I try to make sense of my existence on this earthly realm? How do I consciously use my multifaceted identities to effect change and make the world a better, more humane and more equitable place?

Vastness and voyage of discovery

Teklanika river valley panorama (Source: Wikipedia)

“Normally, we limit the meaning of perceptions. Food reminds us of eating; dirt reminds us to clean the house; snow reminds us that we have to clean off the car to get to work; a face reminds us of our love or hate. In other words, we fit what we see into a comfortable or familiar scheme. We shut any vastness or possibilities of deeper perception out of our hearts by fixating on our own interpretation of phenomena. But it is possible to go beyond personal interpretation, to let vastness into our hearts through the medium of perception. We always have a choice: we can limit our perception so that we close off vastness, or we can allow vastness to touch us.”

Chogyam Trungpa

It’s true that we live in a multi-dimensional universe in which each phenomenon can have more than one interpretation. Perhaps there is a built-in tendency in the human psyche to simplify and categorise phenomena to standardise meanings for everyone in order to achieve some form of order and understanding for the majority, if not everyone. For example, road signs and traffic lights are designed to communicate only one meaning to everyone – red light means stop, orange light means slow down, and green light means go. In the context of traffic communications, there is not much room for any other interpretation. But the very attempts to simplify the meanings of phenomena in some other contexts can limit people’s perceptions.

Like what the above quote says, we all can allow vastness to touch us even as we recognise we live in a multi-dimensional world. We can see the same phenomena through different eyes and come to a broader understanding of the world we live in. Sometimes, our interpretation goes beyond words because words are only a means to an end, and words can only convey so much meanings to communicate conceptual ideas about something. When that happens, we can turn to art, poetry and music, which transcend language barriers and speak to us in ways that are beyond the literal meanings of words.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

In some other cases, silence is the best way to behold and appreciate the vastness of universe as we meditate or contemplate on the phenomena we encounter. What that happens, traffic and traffic lights can become to us more than what they are supposed to be. We may see beyond the colours, the motion of vehicles, and the seeming routine and humdrum of transport and communications. The buildings and roads in the cities may become no different from mountains and valleys in a countryside: Same structures, different materials but same origin. Both urban and rural landscapes come from distant stars in their atomical composition, which brings us to my next post about iron and stars.

Blurring of lines between Nature and Us: Buildings and roads in a city resemble mountains and valleys in a countryside.
A view of the Bear River near Fielding, Utah (Source: