Learning from the Master of Happiness

Credit: Jan Michael (via Flickr).

Only one person on the planet could draw a crowd of fourteen thousand in Perth, Western Australia, to listen to nothing but a two-hour long speech
on happiness. That person is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14thDalai Lama, exiled leader of Tibet.

The speech was essentially a long ramble – and I say that not in a pejorative way but because ramble is what the Dalai Lama does. And it works – he says whatever comes into his head, flowing seamlessly from one topic to the next. It’s unorganised and probably even impromptu, but he keeps the audience in rapture throughout.

The topic of this particular conversation (I call it that because the audience asked questions at the end) was on ‘Spirituality in the Modern World’.

He covered everything from the weaknesses of pride and the strengths of compassion, to the downfalls of capitalism and the potential positives of socialism, to the overwhelming need to use peaceful solutions to solve global conflicts wherever possible. One of the quotes I remember vividly was: “The 20th century was the century of war. Let’s make the 21st century the century of peace.”

There’s a reason why everyone sits up and takes notice when the Dalai Lama has something to say. To me, he’s simply the wisest person I’ve ever come across. I’ve never read any of his writings or heard him say anything that I can genuinely and with conviction disagree with. And when I do initially feel as though I don’t share the same opinion, I usually come to the conclusion later that I just don’t know enough to have a valid view on the subject – whatever it is.

It seems to me he really does have the answer to everything, even if the answer is not having an answer at all.

For example, one lady in the audience said:

“My seven year old asked me this question and I didn’t know the answer – but I said I knew the man to ask… Your Holiness, if God created Jesus and the Earth, who created God?”

Admittedly a nonsensical question to an atheist like myself. But the Dalai Lama had a great answer:

“Sometimes it is best not to try to go beyond our human capacity [for thought]… Science and reason cannot be used to explain the existence of God. They also cannot be used to disprove the existence of God. Sometimes it is better for these things to remain a mystery.”

I think even an atheist can appreciate sentiments like these.

One of my favourite things about the Dalai Lama is his humility, and the way he doesn’t try to force his ideas on people or proclaim them as the ‘truth’, like other self-help authors I’ve read.

Also in contrast to a lot of the quick-fix happiness solutions floating around, the Dalai Lama admits that achieving happiness, or at least more happiness in our lives, is genuinely difficult and can take many months of disciplined training. I love this assertion – it’s so much more realistic than the idea that enlightenment is so close within our grasp and we just have to unlock some kind of secret to reach it. To me that’s utter bullshit.

Posted in Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Free stuff! For me, not for you, sorry

Once a year my local council collects and disposes of everyone’s household junk. For two or three days prior, the roadside is strewn with a hodgepodge of all things deemed too old, too broken and just too damn ugly.

It’s high time for the indiscriminate. We scavenge the wastes like hungry sharks, picking off weak and injured kitchen cabinets, coffee tables and ‘vintage’ wardrobes. It’s first come first serve, and the offerings don’t last long with so many of us circling the streets.

If I was in a less cynical mood I might make a kinder zoological comparison. Perhaps we are more like the bower bird, fastidiously furnishing our homes only with the objects that suit our taste. Some bower birds decorate their nests with pretty blue flowers; others are minimalists, opting instead for small balls of dung.

Bower bird nest, with litter taking the place of flowers.

Anyway, enough yibber yabber – I’ll get to the point. My girlfriend moved house recently (we’re not living together yet) and she has very little furniture. The junk collection couldn’t have come at a better time.

Checkout the stuff we found on the street. As you can see, it has all made its way into her new home.

Both chair and desk were bound for the landfill. Only thing wrong with the chair is missing wheels.

The padlock looks weird, I know.

Bar a small chip in the corner, this baby could've come straight from IKEA.

Desk and chair from the roadside. Not the computer, unfortunately.

Outdoor table in this indoor ex-shopfront part of the house.

Self-explanatory shelves.

When I’m standing on the street, struggling to cram a wardrobe into my tiny Ford Laser, cars streaming by, I admit I’m a little embarrassed. I sense the critical stares. “Pfft, what’s he doing? There’s an IKEA, like, down the road...” But the embarrassment is short-lived. Inside I’m proud of the fact that I’m getting my girlfriend a free queen-size bed – and all it needs is a few new bolts. Plus I’m doing something beneficial for the environment – however microscopic – by reducing the need for new production.

So, what dead and discarded treasures have you found on the street, or anywhere else, and brought back to life?

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Letter from a favourite author

Today I discovered a letter in my mailbox from one of my favourite authors. It feels strange to say that…

Sure, it was only a short reply to say thanks for my full page of sycophantic drivel – but hey, I’m not complaining. It means so much to know that he took the time to personally reply. And I honestly didn’t have that much hope of hearing back… I mean, he must be busy with his next masterpiece, right?

Letter from a favourite author.

And the best part about it is that he sounds as genuinely appreciative of my letter as I am of his.

So, which of your idols/heroes/whatevers have you written to? And more importantly, which have been kind enough to reply?

Posted in Other things, Writing | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Rubik’s cube: Why almost anyone can solve it

Not as difficult as it looks. (By cbuckley, Wikimedia Commons).

Everytime I’ve shown off my Rubik’s cube skills, I’ve managed to elicit some pretty astonished responses. I can solve it — without fail — in less than two minutes.

For anybody who’s taken the time to learn a little about Rubik’s cubes, you’ll know that this feat is far from remarkable. For many of the other people, the cube seems like some sort of magical enigma reserved only for the exceptionally gifted and the mathematical geniuses.

This post is directed at you guys. I want to dispell some of the cube’s mystery and maybe encourage you to pick one up yourselves.

Firstly, I’m absolutely not any sort of mathematical genius. I’m quick with my timetables and can calculate everyday sums like grocery shopping pretty well, but that’s all. A strong background in mathematics is not necessary for solving the cube.

Here are the attributes that I think are important. All you need are 1, 2, and 3, and either 4 or 5, and I’m certain you could solve it.

  1. A decent memory and ability to recognise patterns.
  2. Finger dexterity beyond that of a toddler.
  3. A day or so when you seriously have nothing better to do than sit down with a Rubik’s cube and watch Youtube video tutorials.
  4. An interest in puzzles and challenging your brain.
  5. An unusually strong desire/insecurity to showcase your hidden intelligence to friends and family.

Here’s the thing most people don’t realise: there are very methodical, logical, and memorable ways to solve a Rubik’s cube. Only few truly gifted people have the ability to simply look at a scrambled cube and immediately understand everything they need to do to set it right (and some of these people can solve it in under 10 seconds).

Most beginners, including myself, use a particular method that tackles the cube layer-by-layer. Don’t worry, I’m not about to explain the whole process — just a general gist. The method is broken down into logical steps — each step involving, say, four turns of the cube. (With a ‘turn’ being something like: ‘turn the left side of the cube clockwise’).

So from starting out with a completely scrambled cube — colours all higgledy piggledy — each layer starts to gradually come together. And all of a sudden you’re one or two turns away from that ever-so-satisfying perfectly organised cube.

It’s not as complicated as you would think, but do expect to spend at least a few hours memorising all the steps (in the simplest method, you need to learn eight different steps, or algorithms). And the best way to do it? Youtube. There are excellent tutorials available for free that take you through the entire process.

This isn’t a post to explain how to solve the Rubik’s cube, just to let you know that it really doesn’t take a genius. Have a go for yourself!

Posted in Other things | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

How to pay for Australia’s floods? Cut money from climate abatement, decides PM

It is certainly difficult to attribute a specific natural disaster to climate change. But if you’ve chosen to side with the 95% of climate scientists who believe that the Earth’s climate is changing and that we are mainly responsible, then you probably know that one predicted consequence is an increase in the intensity of natural disasters. (At least that’s what the people who have spent their careers studying the Earth’s climate say – you know, the people whose opinions actually count in this sort of debate.)

The devastating floods in Queensland and Victoria should be a wake up call. Ocean surface temperatures around much of our coasts are 2-3° C warmer than this time last year, and that means more evaporation and more rain. But rather than taking this into account and saying, “Maybe we better prepare for more devastation by combating climate change,” PM Julia Gillard is doing the polar opposite.

An article in today’s West Australian outlines the government’s plans to pay for the massive clean-up bill – something like $5.6 billion

$1.8b is to come from a controversial tax levy that amounts to about $5 a week for someone making $100,000 a year. Sounds pretty reasonable, I think. Checkout where some of the other money is coming from:

  • Abolish Green Car Innovation Fund ($234m)
  • Reduce Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships ($250m)
  • Reduce Solar Flagships ($250m)
  • Cap solar hot water rebate scheme ($160m)
  • Not proceed with the second stage of Green Start ($129m)
  • Cap LPG vehicle conversion scheme ($96m)
  • Reduce Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute ($55m)

The list goes on.

It’s an unbelievably short-sighted plan. It’s like paying to care for AIDS sufferers by cutting back on condom supplies. It’s like covering a black-eye with makeup and saying everything will be OK.

There are such logical alternatives. Where are the extra levies on the industries responsible for emitting so much carbon dioxide in the first place? The mining and manufacturing industries? The people that can afford to pay.

Please, Julia, stop trying to please the big businesses and start looking a little further into Australia’s future.

Posted in Climate Change, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Milk your travel insurance in Cambodia

Some travel advice: if you’re in a place like Cambodia, you have travel insurance, and suddenly you need to go to the hospital, TELL YOUR DRIVER that you want to go to the best, most expensive hospital in town. You poured your savings into travel insurance – you damn well better use it.

Just make sure you get receipts – the insurance companies will obviously do anything legally possible to reject a claim. I only hope they can’t cheat you for choosing decent medical care over a dingy, unsterile hospital room. That’s not quite the sort of place where I ended up, but I would’ve been much better off asking for the good hospital down the road, instead of the one ‘famous for being cheap’, as I later learnt from my driver. (He only thought he was doing me a favour). Anyway, what follows is a sort of diary entry of my hospital trip.

 (I’m doing a lot of bitching here but in all honesty, the hospital facilities were far superior to what I expected, and the doctors and nurses were truly very kind.)

Probably better conditions than I make it out.

I woke to mild pains in my stomach and weakness throughout my body, but nothing too serious. Ready for breakfast, I gathered my touristy shit and was about to head out the door, when suddenly I felt dizzy and faint, and told my girlfriend I’d have to rest for a little while. Eventually I staggered my way down the two flights of stairs to the restaurant. A few steps before the bottom, the dizziness came back, more intense than before and getting worse.

There are some fragments of time here I can’t recall and so I assume I blacked out. But I wobbled closer to the tables, towards a blue blur that I hoped was my Amy’s top. An intense welling of pressure was building up in my head and I flopped into the chair opposite Amy breathing heavily. ‘I can’t see or hear anything’, I mumbled, but my senses were returning. Amy told me to rest my head on the table while she rustled a tuk tuk and suddenly we were zooming along the streets of Siem Reap to a hospital.

The doctors and nurses spoke no English, so I explained what happenned with the help of my semi-english speaking tuk tuk driver. They were quick to set me up in the V.I.P. room (important here synonymous with white) with an intravenous glucose solution that would drip into my arm for the next five hours. They injected medicine into my bum for diarrhea that I didn’t really have.

The day dragged by uneventfully (other than more injections), and when I’d absorbed the entire solution it was time to leave. Walking down to the hospital entrance, I blacked out again – the exact same as in the morning. Which, if we were able to communicate it well enough, would mean the medicine and the hospital stay had done absolutely nothing for what I assume now was just severe dehydration.

If I had been somewhere a little more well established, the doctors may have spoken better english and I could’ve properly explained how I felt. They might have given me a meal to raise my blood sugar levels instead of telling my girlfriend to buy bread for me down the street. They might have given me some water, instead of relying on the slow-dripping glucose solution to rehydrate me.

You might be thinking I’m exaggerating my illness and bitching excessively about the service. You’re probably right. But I’m just trying to make the point that Cambodia is the type of place where it would be wise to look after your health. In case there really is something seriously wrong with you, you better be in a hospital that can treat you effectively. If you bought travel insurance, I say milk it for all it’s worth.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Grammar riddle that has little to do with Kanye West

Certain phrasings I come across from time to time make me stumble for half a second and re-read them. One of these is the consecutive repetition of a word, for example, “Before yesterday I had had doubts about bothering with this blog.” Even though it’s perfectly grammatical, it just seems so strange to lay those hads side by side.

But I discovered a riddle at increasebrainpower.com with more consecutive repetitions of the word that than even Kanye West could manage in his song Stronger (“Now that that that that don’t kill me, could only make me stronger…”). And hot damn, girrl, this one was grammatically correct, too.

Now that that that that don't kill me. (From Wikimedia commons.)

See if you can solve this grammar riddle by inserting the correct punctuation:

I said that that that that that man wrote should’ve been underlined.

Don’t scroll down yet. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

You’ll feel better if you solve it for yourself.

No, I said don’t scroll down!

OK, fine – here’s the solution.

I said that, “That ‘that’ that that man wrote should’ve been underlined.”

If that doesn’t make any sense to you, you can click here for a detailed explanation.

But I think I managed to top the riddle with an extra ‘that’:

I never said that ‘that’; that ‘that’ that that man wrote should’ve been underlined.

I’m always surprised by the infinite possibilities of the English language… Have a go at creating something just as strange – something to raise a grammar Nazi’s eyebrows. I’d love to see the results!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | 12 Comments