We Are Making Progress

We Are Making Progress

I mentioned in the last edition of this newsletter my objective to focus more on the good news as opposed to the gloom and doom of the headlines. In that spirit, I picked up Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. Pinker wrote this book with the intent to show that overall as a society we are making progress, and that contrary to popular opinion things are actually getting better and not worse. He asserts that further progress will materialize so long as we continue to embrace the ideals–reason, science, humanism, and progress–of the Enlightenment. He believes these ideals are the impetus for the social betterment we currently enjoy. And he fears we are in danger of forgetting them, which would be detrimental. Thus, he took it upon himself to revisit these ideals to showcase their value and to preserve them. Hence the book’s subtitle The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I vaguely recall the works of eminent Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Paine and Immanuel Kant from my university days. I was intrigued to revisit them.

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The Good News Is

The Good News Is

The good news is that I finally made it to Denmark, specifically Copenhagen! I’ve wanted to go for years as I was curious to know why the country often tops the index of happiest countries. I don’t care for the word, happy, and think it is superficial and Hollywood-esque so I find the notion of such a list preposterous. Still, I was curious.

To get as close to living as a local as possible in five days, I rented an Airbnb apartment in a residential area a good distance from tourist attractions. Every morning, as many of ‘my’ neighbors did, I made my way to the beach to exercise. I had to make the most of the privilege of living less than 5 mins walk from the beach. While walking on the beach I saw many jogging, some doing yoga, a Crossfit group grunting their way through lunges. I watched a surprising number undress (some down to their “birthday suit”) and ease into the sea. It was early May and before 8am so the temperature hovered below 12 degrees Celsius with some rain, and at times it was very windy. Intrigued, I approached a young man who looked to be in his late 20s as he was about to start to undress. I asked him how cold the water is and, why swim in the cold?

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Parallel Worlds

Parallel Worlds

On a recent sunny day in Dublin, Ireland, walking along the canal I noticed there was a young woman in front of me wearing a tank top and shorts. This got my attention because even with the unusually bright sun, it was 11 degrees celsius. I had on three layers, and a middle-aged couple heading towards me were wearing puffer jackets and wooly hats. I checked with my partner who I was with and had two layers of wool on, if we were over-dressed for the weather or the young woman was under-dressed. We concluded that she must live in a parallel world to ours where winter feels like summer. I’ve been mulling over whether we all live in parallel universes with our own weather, facts and realities. This, I assumed, would be the reason why our politicians think that invasions and wars are solutions to resolving disputes or that economic sanctions are an effective method for punishing leaders they dislike or that inflation could be kept at a perpetual rate of around 2% per annum. I’ve found the latter view of inflation especially puzzling given the current global crisis has pushed inflation rates to 4.7% in the US, 7.4% in the UK and EU. I asked how they can be certain that they can bring it back down to the ideal 2% mark by 2023 as being projected? To answer this question I decided to educate myself on the formation of our financial and economic systems.

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What’s Going On

What’s Going On

In the past month, like many I’ve asked myself plenty of times “what’s going on?” and “how is it that ANOTHER war has started?” Isn’t it well documented that “war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate”? Yep, I’m quoting Marvin Gaye from his track “What’s Going On” as I’ve been playing this track over and over again out loud and in my head. This is my go-to song in times when nothing makes sense. Rather than just avoiding the headlines which were really getting me down, I decided to educate myself instead on how we got here.

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All Things Chinese

All Things Chinese

2022 is the year of the tiger and since I was born in the year of the tiger, it’s my Ben Ming Nian (本命年) too. Chinese friends reminded me that since it is my Ben Ming Nian I should wear something red on the first day of the new year to ward off any bad luck the year can bring. I did. According to Chinese culture, when your Ben Ming Nian comes around it is likely that it could clash with Tai Sui, the guardian God of the year which could bring year long misfortunes. Another way to ensure you have good fortune for the year is to be kind and do good deeds. In that spirit, I’m going to share with you all things Chinese that I’m loving right now.

Light The Night
I’ve mentioned before how much I love cooking dinner because I get to “yibian zuo fan, yibian kan dianshi ju” (一边做饭, 一边看电视剧, I cook while I watch TV shows) because I can consume hours of TV guilt free. I mostly watch Chinese (Mandarin) TV shows (and occasionally Mexican shows) so I feel like I’m working to keep up my language skills. However, for a while I was bored with the Chinese shows on offer on my TengXunShiPing (腾讯视屏) app. I tried watching some movies but unlike with TV shows they don’t give me the desired effect of me feeling like I’m back, living in China. Cooking became way less fun!

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The Book Of January

The Book Of January

Reading about the death of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu I was reminded of the impact he had had on the world through his activism during apartheid and with the Truth and Reconciliation project. To pay homage I thought I’d read one of his books. I settled on the Book Of Joy as I thought it sounded like a most fitting book for January. I’d like to have plenty of joy in this new year.

A bigger reason why the book caught my attention is because I have been thinking a lot about joy. I’ve been struggling with the fact that I’m doing ok, but so many aren’t; How could I live with joy when there is so much suffering in the world? There was a period last year when this question really got me down. Scanning the book before diving in, it seems that this is the most popular question that was put to both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama, his co-author. The book is based on a series of conversations between the two spiritual leaders over a five day period to answer questions about cultivating joy sent from people all over the world.

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Joy In Unusual Places

Joy In Unusual Places

I stepped out of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio back into the kind of Tuesday morning that makes you wish you were at home in bed with your duvet keeping you warm and safe from the chill and Omicron infused day, but I didn’t mind being out at all. I felt snuggly, filled with joy. This was in complete contrast to the feeling of gloom and dread I felt going into the class. I wondered how could being thrown,pinned down, and arm locked while trying to free myself repeatedly for an hour make me feel so good? While meditating on this, I realized that in 2021 I have found joy in the most unusual places.

One day in the summer in a park, I saw a guy in his martial arts outfit, practicing. I said hello, and I asked him what he was training for. He replied he was doing some Judo drills. He explained to me the principles of Judo and gave me a demo of some of the moves. I told him that I had wanted to learn martial arts for the longest time. He said I should do it. There and then I decided it was time for me to do it and I was going to learn Judo as I really like that it means the “gentle way”. I waited a few months, until I had moved to a new city and figured it would be a great way to meet new people. Unfortunately, the closest Judo place to me was a 35 minute bike ride away and only had classes two late evenings per week. I knew I wasn’t motivated enough to cycle that long on dark winter evenings. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (a derivative of Judo) studio, on the other hand, was more conveniently located and had a schedule that worked for me, so I signed up.

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Breathe

Breathe

Meditation is a daily part of my life, and to keep it “interesting”, from time to time I change my focal point during the practice. During meditation you turn your attention to either your breath, a mantra or to counting from 1 to 10/100. A couple of months ago I switched to watching my breath. It was unsurprisingly hard to stay focused on my breathing which is why it’s been my least used focal point. Every time I sit and attempt to watch my breath, I marvel at how I don’t notice it the rest of the time, something so critical to me being alive. And then I wonder why can’t I concentrate on it for more than 10 seconds without drifting off. I’ve also been trying out new yoga routines by following the immunity classes on the Yoga Studio app. I’m loving them, but I feel I’m only partially getting the benefits because I can’t seem to inhale and exhale as slowly and deeply during the basic breathing exercises as the instructor, and I skip the advanced one, kapalbhati as it is difficult. Every time I did the class and meditated, I made a mental note to learn more about breathing to improve awareness and ability but I didn’t get round to it until two weeks ago when I came across A Long Now seminar with James Nestor talking about the future of breathing.

James Nestor, a science and sports journalist and author starts by saying how he was motivated to write his book Breath because of the insane stories about the powers of breathing that the free divers he met while researching his previous book Deep told him:
“They told me about a man who had been injected with the bacterial endotoxin E. coli, and breathed in a rhythmic system to simulate his immune system to destroy the toxins within minutes. They told me about a woman who had overcome decades of auto-immune diseases by simply changing the way she breathed. And they told me about an 85 year old who rediscovered an ancient practice to superheat himself and sit out in snow for hours without ever getting hypothermia or frostbite, again using only his breath… After months and months of reading scientific studies and talking to experts I discovered these impossible stories were actually true.”

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Life Altering Book

Life Altering Book

Even though we are three months away from the end of 2021 I’d like to tell you about the most life-altering book I have read this year. I didn’t use the word “change” because every time I see and read a list of “life changing books everyone should read” like this one (I’ve read most of the books mentioned), it usually ends up not changing my life. Maybe I don’t know what change means but it always seems hyperbolic when used with books one ought to read. However, I can definitely say that the book Treat Your Own Shoulder has altered my life. Since I bought it at the beginning of May this year I have used the instructions given every day. Reluctantly.

My elation at being able to go back to swimming and the gym was soon dampened by a nagging shoulder pain. I had been complaining to my osteopath about shoulder pain for about 3 years, and the last time it was really bad, he prescribed no swimming for a month. As I had just been reunited with swimming after over a year without it, I didn’t want to stop. So I sought an alternative solution and I went on YouTube where I came across Bob and Brad, “the most famous physical therapists on the internet” as they love to say. One of the tools they recommended for correcting poor posture during sleep, which can be one of the causes of shoulder pain, is a McKenzie Night Roll. As I often wake up with a more aching shoulder, I went online immediately to purchase.

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Re-constructing Bad Habits

Re-constructing Bad Habits

I have spoken before about how consuming materials about scientific research and discovery gives me hope, while reading about architecture, construction and manufacturing gives me great pleasure and allows me to dream–preparation for “that” big construction project in my head. With that I’d like to share with you the most inspiring things I read this past month.

Re-constructing Bad Habits

It is no secret that we humans have a sugar problem. For example, an average American ingests more than nineteen teaspoons of sugar every day. We know it is bad for us and that we should eat a lot less, hence why things like Coke Zero and the plethora of sugar alternatives such as Saccharin and Splenda were invented. But the problem with sugar alternatives is that they taste from a bit to really yucky. It is true that we could eat a lot less sugar or even stop altogether. But like with any addiction (I think sugar is addictive but some might disagree), it is easier said than done. I gave up drinking black tea in my teens because I couldn’t drink it without 5 teaspoons of sugar. Soft drinks and processed foods were easy to eliminate–too many calories for a body-conscious teenager obsessed with reading Vogue magazine. However, I have come to accept that no amount of health benefits are going to make 100% premium pure dark chocolate palatable, but add 15% sugar and it becomes a superfood to be consumed daily. Then there is the question of how do you make hong shao rou (braised pork belly) or kombucha without sugar?

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