Experiencing Vipassana

Vipassana is a ten-day meditation program where you take the first steps in the journey to control your mind. It is famously tough – you don’t speak for the entire duration and live a simple, ascetic life with no solid food after lunch. What got me hooked was the claim that this was a method to learn equanimity, which is something I lack in droves.

Overall, I would recommend this to everyone who wants to make a sincere effort to learn about themselves. I didn’t learn anything new necessarily but had a deeper realisation about the issues that make me unhappy and how I can fix these and be a source of joy for myself and the people around me.

So what did I learn and experience during this period:

  1. The mind eats matter for lunch. A bunch of thirty-five people of all ages, backgrounds and sizes made it through ten days of sitting cross-legged for twelve hours a day. Almost everyone was able to make it through the ‘additthana’ by the end of the course. These are hours of strong determination where you do not change your seating position for an hour, three times a day.
  2. What drives you becomes clear. Talking and video chatting with my wife and three-year-old son was my biggest source of energy and it was excruciating to not be able to do this.  I could not care less about talking to the other course participants once we were allowed to do this on the tenth day. I simply wanted my phone back so I could chat with my family.
  3.  Multi-tasking is a myth.  Having the ability to focus on a single task with no distractions made me the most effective that I have ever been. It also felt great to also find simple solutions without using Google (eg: how do you clean a room without the right cleaning materials).
  4. It was a confidence booster. Over the one-twenty hours of meditation, you build confidence in your own ability to face some of your issues and develop a method to do this in the future. Just finishing the course itself is a huge confidence booster since it can be one of the toughest things several folks experience.
  5. It makes you fitter. I mentioned earlier how much of a physical toll this can take on your body and the week after the course, I was able to run a 10K something I have not done in years.

At the end of the day, I felt fabulous, a little like this picture.


Oslob and whale-sharks

There has been much controversy about the whale shark watching at
Oslob recently. I was in Moalboal primarily for a diving holiday and
decided to visit to get a first hand experience. I reached Oslob after
a two hour drive and was a bit surprised at how amateur the operation
looked. Essentially it was a few fishermen with bangkas (outrigger
boats) and a few folks to manage the crowd. The fisherman throw food
(krill or other crustaceans) into the sea to feed the whale sharks who
surface to gobble it down between 6am- everyday. The briefing
mentioned marine biologists and water police who would monitor the
proceedings but it was difficult to spot anyone who kept either
tourists or whale sharks from coming to genuine harm.

The experience gave me rather mixed feelings. On one hand, it was
eerie and exhilarating to be close to such a magnificent animal while
on the other it was strange to see them reduced to essentially puppies
following a food trail. I don’t know why I particularly feel this way
– dolphins and other animals perform at various shows and this
domestication rarely elicits such a reaction. Perhaps it’s the fact
that whale sharks are considered ‘wilder’ than dolphins et all but
this seems far from a water-tight explanation.

The debate online has raged about the pros and cons of this behaviour;
I am not naive enough to think that this can just be stopped since
there is a huge economic incentive for the local community. However
would it be possible to limit the damage – real or otherwise? For
example, if these gentle giants migrate to Oslob for a few months in a
year anyway then could the feeding be stopped and visits arranged for
tourists only during this period? Assuming this happened then the fees
to see them could be jacked up considerably for the community to stay
revenue neutral – 1000pesos could easily be raised 3-4 times for
foreigners considering this is very much a unique experience? What if
the Philippines government invested in setting up a conservation
centre and actually looked to get the local community involved with
raising awareness combining forces with Donsol perhaps? While there
would be a significant startup cost, I am hoping that this would
change the landscape of interaction for future generations and
actually generate research grants and so on. I simply refuse to buy
the argument that there are only two options – status quo or the local
community returns to fishing.


Musically me

2013 has been a good year for music – what with a great line-up of rock and roots artists and Norah Jones coming to town. Discovering and buying new music has become unbelievable easy as well ever since iTunes started allowing that in Singapore; Apple truly revolutionised music delivery. Anyway, with the Killers and Mark Knopfler’s new albums and Robert Plant shifting some space here in Singapore, there isnt much more one can ask for. Oh, except that the Killers are playing at F1 this year.


As a late 20-something, couples falling in and out of love is not something new to me, it happens fairly often. However, when one such couple broke up over the weekend, I was shocked. A six year relationship was broken in a matter of two weeks. And not just any six year relationship but one in which everyone outside only asked the question – so when is he going to propose? Having known them over the last five years, it seemed like they had survived everything and were a source of inspiration for me – If they can do it then maybe I can too logic. Its the first time in a long time that I have been shocked by a breakup and while it probably wont be the last, this one does erode my faith in relationships a little bit. If this couple cant survive then it honestly cannot be easy for the rest of them out there.

Cricket, Food

This and that

I’ve just come back from a vacation plagued by flight mishaps which has had me spend loads of time in airports. Its dawned on me just how important a welcoming airport is. I’ve been thinking of things every big city airport should have (other than the important things like clean loos) – a ‘real’ sleeping area with curtain separations and keep silent signs, accessible wireless internet, an entertainment area with books to borrow, video games, movies to rent and perhaps a gym/swimming pool. I dont mind all of these facilities being charge-able, I’d pay a lot for a comfortable bed for instance. This might seem over the top but I spent eleven hours waiting for flights so all this could have been very useful. However, not sure if these investments would actually be profitable.

I also (with my abundant powers) ban the production of dip-tea – the kind with teabags. Why oh why would anyone drink this when tea-leaves-tea is so divine?
A team of Karnataka cricketers – Kumble, Srinath, Prasad backed by Dravid are now running the Karnataka State Cricket Association. This can only be a good development I feel since these individuals are known for their integrity and ‘change maadi’ mindset as Cricinfo says. There is however a risk of extremely high expectations and it will also be interesting to see how they manage their many commitments. However, if they succeed then it could potentially pave the way for several ex-cricketers to actually give back by managing the game – be part of the change process instead of simply griping about it. This is great but also disastrous, cricket fans like us might have to tolerate Arun Lal and Sivaramakrishnan’s commentary for a while more.