Thursday, October 20, 2005


For over an hour now I've been lying awake in bed. Probably it's the coffee I drank earlier tonight, or that short nap I had while I dozed off in front of the TV. Nothing seems to help soothe my mind and drive me toward Sleepland; not more lying around, not more TV, not more reading. Thoughts running again, on overdrive. Maybe by typing my thoughts, I can organise them, and lay them to rest (for now), so as to lay myself to rest.

Already the bottom half of the month of October, and many questions await answering; many decisions await making. After beginning to read about Buddhism's Four Noble Truths, I realise that (maybe) all my troubles at this very moment are due to my 'attachments'. Indeed, I seem to be perpetual consumed in my own problems, in my own 'suffering', so am unable to stand back for a moment and look at myself objectively. Only in looking at the situation from a distance, only if I'm able to recognise that it is my desires and aversions that is causing me grief and sleeplessness can I begin to escape the state of suffering. Easier said than done.

What 'troubles' me most is I'm lost as what I should do. The choice is between staying here in Taiwan longer (say until sometime next year at least), or returning to Europe within the next two weeks. Do what the heart tells you, so they say. But my heart and mind seem clouded, and I've never been good at making decisions and feeling comfortable about them. Again, there are too many attachments; to the 'what ifs', the way other people may think, the lost opportunities, the uncertainties... And as I weigh up the options, I see there are of these stumbling blocks which form the troubles and worries that cloud me at this very moment.

First, there's the issue what I would do here, and what I could do if I returned to Europe. It's too early for a study to begin, so I will have to find a job to support myself if I returned. Here, I could reconnect with the migrant worker centre and finally get some more information about the issue, and I could also spend more time in Puli, and spend more time finding out the spiritual aspects of life and living. Being in Taiwan longer will also enable me to maybe find a way to reach my dad, and maybe bridge the broken connections in the family.

But then, on the one hand, I worry that by staying on, I may spend the months here living the same unplanned, lethargic and undisciplined life I've been having (especially while at home!). And what of my 'career', as dad questioned me when we communicated on the phone...what of my 'future', of 'making money'? Valid questions, which make me somehow wonder whether pursuing a life of 'reflection and contemplation' in the mountains is really something that is worth pursuing... Though the latter is something I feel I've needed and sought, somehow I cannot turn away from the questioning eyes and belittling comments of others. Then again, if I were to step beyond myself and look at the situation objectively, I myself (with my doubts, my ego and fears) am the cause of all this worry. Where is the problem? Buddhism would say within myself.

So...what to do?
What to decide?
Who to talk to?

No closer am I now to when I first started writing this.
Only, in the meantime I've written down my thoughts and tried to see them through, to understand them, and to lay them to rest.
That is a beginning to solving them, right?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Formosan spirit

With each passing night , walking around in short sleeves and trousers has unexpectedly become like an childish attempt to catch a cold. While riding the MRT, I noticed that some trees have putting on a yellow, and even red, coat. It's Autumn , and one season has already passed since I set foot on this island. That day, seemed like yesterday. Where did all that time go? The moon tonight was almost perfectly round, exactly one month since I last wrote. Looking back, at that angry entry, those feelings on Mid-Autumn festival seem so distant. I've been away, originally the plan was for a couple of days, but eventually it turned into weeks, and now back again. Full circle, back to where I started. A journey, into the mountains, into the heart of Taiwan, and in some ways, into myself.

After coming back from Japan early September, I was again lost in that state of not knowing what to do. The days went by quickly, filled with much wasted time staying indoors. Sleep, TV, food and surfing the web filled my days. Gone were the motivations I had at the beginning of the summer, those plans of mine to conduct a fruitful research here in Asia seemed like distant memories, yet all the while promises and expectations of those around me echoed. Then one day mum suggested there is somewhere I could go, somewhere where I might 'learn a thing or two'. And so off I went, to Puli (埔里).

I didn't know what to expect, except that there would be an American bhikku (monk) of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, and a publishing house waiting for me. All were strange at first, and mum knows of the place only barely from the Buddhist meditation class she attends on Fridays. With some doubt, fringing on fear, I left home.

The natural beauty around Puli took my doubts away. With mixed emotions, I entered a place where exactly six years ago the devastating 921 earthquake (September 21, 1999) scarred the mountains and lives of many people. But gone are the crumbled buildings from , the bare mountains, crying orphans, gone are the terrible images I've seen on the news...In their stead, a thriving town, really down-to-earth people and a landscape of green greeted me. Pictures can only describe the beauty of a mere moment of an everchanging natural painting captured through the lens of my camera.

The first day passed slowly, as I made myself used to the place...or rather, the place got used to me. A tale of a 'city-boy' out and about in the countryside. Without me knowing, those two imposing mansions perched half-way up a mountain, overlooking the plains below were to be my 'home' for the next three weeks to come. That first night when I went to bed, I lay in bed listening to the symphony composed by the creeking of insects, the croaking of toads, and the occasional background support by faceless creatures of the night. At times, I must admit, I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering what or who may be next to me... The silhouettes of betel nut trees towered above me like a collection of witches' brooms. Somehow, the dark and rugged outline of the mountains outside my bedroom window seemed calming to look at in the dead of the night. It's true, now that I look back, what they say about the only thing that you have to fear is fear itself...
Much simple, yet benficial attitudes of living I've ingested in the past weeks. I can still hear the echo of the words 'mindful!' coming from the good reverend. He constantly reminded me to attentive and concentrated in whatever I did. With the same effort and time, why not do something mindfully? Why not do it well, and do it with pleasure? A mindful action, or even a mindful word, is a simple attitude, but it takes practice. Especially when you're feeling irritated, frustrated, distracted by sadness or even joy, people tend to be more careless and less mindful. The mindfulness routine never ends, and begins the moment you wake up, until the moment you sleep.
After a while, time seemed to become meaningless, and for a long time I've never felt I made use of a day to such a full extent. All those times I spent doing chores, talking with the 'locals', seeing strange and spine-tingling creatures for the first time, and getting to experience a different side of life would forever be unique moments for me...but most of all, I tried, probably for the first time in my life, to live life at the present moment. I tried to forget all those people, events and places behind and ahead of me, and instead, tried to take each moment as it came and went. It's difficult, especially since I always seem to have a million thoughts rush through my head at any given moment...'thoughts' may be understating it; it's more like fears, questions, doubts, silent voices and dialogues with my inner mind. The trick is, as I learnt, to concentrate on the task at hand, not to let the mind wander, for only then will one be at peace. It was a life of little worries (as I now realise, compared to the life I've just returned to here in Taipei), a life composed of manual labour, rest and 'play' (a relaxing shower, followed by a warm cup of tea and a DVD...), and all the while there were plenty opportunities for me to discover another world beyond that of study and work (in the conventional, 'modern-capitalist-society' sense). And it was also a chance for me to discover others, to interact with others, to try and observe people's actions and words, so as to improve my own.
So my 'retreat' into the mountains ended two days ago.
The question which begs to be answered awaits an answer...what now?
clouds Posted by Picasa
clouds Posted by Picasa
clouds... Posted by Picasa
watery might (Neng Kao Waterfalls...artificially created by the Japanese decades ago to irrigate the plains below ) Posted by Picasa
giant toad Posted by Picasa
betel nut tree reflections Posted by Picasa
yellow flowers Posted by Picasa
wild tomatoes Posted by Picasa
Puli panorama (clear day) Posted by Picasa
Puli sea of clouds Posted by Picasa
Puli panorama1 Posted by Picasa
veil of fog Posted by Picasa
trees and fog at dawn Posted by Picasa
wood cabin and mist in the morning Posted by Picasa
orange clouds over Puli Posted by Picasa
sunset from bedroom window Posted by Picasa
mountain ranges around Puli Posted by Picasa
dusk Posted by Picasa
clear day  Posted by Picasa
hazy morning Posted by Picasa
Cloud sea over Puli Posted by Picasa