05 November 2012

Finding your door

"He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him."
--Dutch Proverb

How often do you find yourself in the wilderness outside the home that is your heart? Finding the way and the door is hard enough. Recognizing you are lost is quite something else.

17 April 2010

Growing Into Our True Freedom

In today's Daily Meditation for April 17, 2010 written by Henri Nouwen, I am reminded that freedom does not come naturally even when oppression is absent. Rather it is an inner life which we must cultivate by internalising the realities of God's grace.
In Nouwen's own sagely words:
'True freedom is the freedom of the children of God. To reach that freedom requires a lifelong discipline since so much in our world militates against it. The political, economic, social, and even religious powers surrounding us all want to keep us in bondage so that we will obey their commands and be dependent on their rewards.
But the spiritual truth that leads to freedom is the truth that we belong not to the world but to God, whose beloved children we are. By living lives in which we keep returning to that truth in word and deed, we will gradually grow into our true freedom

04 November 2009

Amateur graphic designer

It's always fun to learn new skills. And especially when a Mac is there to serve you.

This is my experiment with designing a brochure for our annual society biggie. Not bad for a surgeon no?

I had to climb all the way up Mt Kinabalu for that sunrise shot (from our climb in 2006), for your information! I don't think any printing company would do that for you...

22 September 2009

Revisiting Work Theology

I spent a lot of time reading, thinking and even teaching the integration of faith and work during my varsity days. Having completed my Masters, armed with hard-earned knowledge and skills, I reentered the work force with a passion for great work.

Instead I descended into a major crisis in my early years as a specialist. I was busy, but the work I was doing was nowhere near the kind of challenge and excitement I had envisioned for years. That in its own way was depressing. I got through those early years of meaning-less-ness by seeking and creating opportunities for my own growth... which I succeeded in doing. But in turn I became a victim of my own success. I became chronically overworked. Five years down the line, having tasted both extremes of too-little and too-much,... I'm glad to revisit work theology with new eyes.

I've started reading Matthew Fox's 'The Reinvention of Work - A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time', and I'm excited just by the introduction. If I could summarise his thesis/rationale for the book in my own words:

The institution of WORK can be defined as an individually unique expression of our inner beings, in co-creating with God, allowing us to connect with the world (environment and human) by virtue of serving it, hence making us conduits for blessing.

Even as Fox describes these themes, though he doesn't explicitly refer to it, I can see how he unpacks the creation narrative - man as steward-caretakes of creation, blessed to be fruitful, representative authorities of God to sustain the order and harmony of creation, and to fill it with the same functional beauty in which it was created.

Life and livelihood,
work and jobs ought to be a functional unity. 'To live well is to work well', Fox quotes Hilden. And 'jobs are to work as leaves are to trees' - subordinate but contributory. Lose the theology of work and jobs lose their meaning.

He then looks at the major crises of modern man as really the result of that, the corruption of our view of work:
1. Disintegration of work-job unity -- leads to meaningless work
2. Reduced create-ivity in the AUTOMATION of the industrial and post-industrial age -- spawning psychological ill-health, entertainment industry, environmental degradation and even unemployment
3. End of co-creating, conduiting blessing, and connection by service with regnant CONSUMERISM -- dulls our sensitivities to moral, political and spiritual issues, enslaves us and substitutes true living

The major environmental crisis and occupation-related health impact should wake us up to redefine work. If we in our industries are killing the planet and ourselves in the process, there must be something very wrong with the way we work. The need of the moment is to recover the spiritual and rediscover values of justice, compassion and a sense of beauty in work. Fox calls us to be prophets, who 'by definition - interfere' to call society back in this critical moment in history. It is a time of 'metanoia'.

As I write this I get the sense that 'reevaluating' and 'redefining' work is not enough. I don't think I'm even ready for that if I am so submerged in the work-job dualism and consumerist culture of the day that it is impossible to pull myself out of it, by my own bootstraps as the saying goes. The biblical picture of work seems to be a fantastical far-away ideal that is nowhere near practicable nor do we see it often embodied in any person or work-body. If we/I have never seen it in real life (imagery) or tasted the experience of it,.. how can we work towards it?

02 August 2009

Healthy pride

It's good to have a little science to reinforce the point that healthy pride is important for self-esteem. Self-abasement masquerading as humility neither dignifies the 'image of God' in us nor helps us grow as persons. The author points out that a healthy self-esteem not only spurs you on but also encourages others to esteem you more correctly - 'pride, as long as it stems from a real success and doesn't slide into know-it-all obnoxiousness or narcissism, not only pushes us to keep trying hard but actually makes others like us more..'

In short, let's bin self-flagellating false modesty and be real so that others can also relate to the real you.

If you are in the habit of self-devaluation, it may be helpful to do a little reality check from time to time. Ask yourself:
1. Have I received any words of appreciation or approval recently?
2. Did I display some virtue recently?
3. Did I perform some job with particular competence?
4. Has someone commented about something attractive in me?
5. What do I know from religious scripture about God's love for me?

Feeling proud makes people more dominant and likable in social tasks

Think back to the last time that you beat a friend at a card game or outdid your previous record in a 5K race. Did you try to suppress your satisfaction so that others wouldn't think you were conceited? In fact, new research suggests that pride, as long as it stems from a real success and doesn't slide into know-it-all obnoxiousness or narcissism, not only pushes us to keep trying hard but actually makes others like us more.

"Contrary to the idea that pride is an emotion that we should tamp down, the experience of pride can be very socially adaptive," says Lisa Williams, a graduate student in psychology at Northeastern University and the new study's lead author. She and Northeastern psychologist David DeSteno found that people who were told they had excelled on a spatial rotation task subsequently took more control over a similar, team-based task, regardless of their mood or how competent they reported feeling. Both teammates and outside observers rated proud participants as more dominant and as more likable than participants who had not been tricked into feeling proud.

The study did not examine the signals proud people send that make others like them, but other research has shown that feeling pleased with yourself tends to change a person's subtle nonverbal behaviors — for example, triggering more smiling or a more confident posture.

Carpenter, Siri
Scientific American Mind; 2009, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p9

01 August 2009

Scene from the underworld

Malaysian: Oi Lu Si Hami Lang?
Singaporean: Sinkapoh lang lor...
Malaysian: Cho Ha Mi Lu Bo Ming Kia Chiak, Boh Cheng Kor?
Singaporean: Lu Em Chai Meh? Sin Ka Poh Beh Sai Burn Liao.
Malaysian: Ani Cham Eh? Wah U iPhone 3GS, Mercedes 10series, GPS, Bungalow, Chap eh maid...
Singaporean: Wah Hami Toh Boh... Jiak Sai Nia..

Gifts for the dead could be dying out in Singapore

Men are autocannibalistic but not women?

This is the strangest thing I've read in scientific literature ever. Apparently men's neurons are programmed to self-destruct in starvation (eg. an ischemic stroke) while women's will burn surrounding fat. Now why would we be wired that way? A man would be better off dead than brain dead but it's ok for women to be brain-damaged because no one would tell the difference? (Let's see who will flame me for this... 1, 2, 3,...)

Starvation brings out sex differences in brain cells

Scientists have long known of dissimilarities in anatomy and activity between the brains of women and men — now a rodent study shows that even individual neurons behave differently depending on sex.

Robert Clark of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and his colleagues found that cultured neurons from female rats and mice survived longer than did neurons from their male counterparts when facing starvation. Such sex differences had been evident for decades in other body tissues, but so far no one had looked at brain cells, Clark says. When he and his team deprived the cells of nutrients, female neurons consumed mainly fat resources to stay alive, whereas large amounts of male cells started to eat up their own protein-based building blocks — and subsequently died.

The findings suggest that tailoring nutrition to a patient's gender during critical care — for example, after illnesses that temporarily cut off the brain's nutrient supply, such as stroke — might help prevent brain cell death, Clark posits. Men's neurons might fare better on a high-protein diet, for instance, whereas high fat content would probably nourish women's brain cells best, he adds.

Self-cannibalism makes sense for body tissues other than the brain, but why male neurons engaged in it to such a large extent is a mystery, Clark says. "You can understand why during famine, you would want to break down muscle to preserve the rest of your body, but it's harder to understand why you would want to break down proteins within your brain."

Branan, Nicole
Scientific American Mind; 2009, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p9

Dont talk about it

Now we know for sure sitting around and complaining never helped anyone. There's a difference between ventilating (to get it off your chest) and ruminating (going on and on to reinforce the excuse for inaction.) This is the very reason I avoid inter-collegiate bitch sessions or meet-the-VIP forums. Nothing positive ever comes out of these; if anything they concretize the negativity and lead to more depression as this little study featured in Sci Am Mind shows.

Too much chat about their problems may lead middle school-age girls into depression, according to a recent study at Stony Brook University. Past research indicates that girls are more likely than boys are to co-ruminate, repeatedly discussing difficulties with friends, speculating about causes and excessively dwelling on negative emotions. In the new study, psychologists confirmed that girls who co-ruminate more often than their peers have more depressive symptoms. They also found a new link with romantic experience: co-rumination was most likely to result in depressive symptoms among girls who were most active romantically.

Scientific American Mind; 2009, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p7

Close calls count

If GAME OVER happens very close to my high score, I just have to play again. Doesn't matter if it takes me ages to reach that level and it's past midnight. Addiction? Maybe. Sci Am Mind features a study that shows we are wired that way; fascinatingly, to keep us breaking our own ceiilings. I realise I choose subjects, projects and sports that have high potential for discovery and pushing limits. Now I know why.

To our brain, a near miss is as good as a win

Close but no cigar, the saying goes. But new research shows that when it comes to gambling, the human brain seems to take a very different approach. In our head, near misses, such as a lottery ticket just one number away from the jackpot, are interpreted as wins.

Using functional MRI, Luke Clark of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues looked at the brains of 15 volunteers who were playing a computerized slot machine. Unsurprisingly, wins activated the players' reward system, whereas complete misses did not. When the wheel stopped just one position from the pay line, however, the reward system of volunteers' brains got excited the same way it did after a win — there was much activity in the striatum and the insula, areas involved in reinforcing behavior with positive feedback.

This type of reinforcement makes sense in behaviors that involve actual skill, such as target shooting, because a sense of reward provides encouragement to keep practicing, Clark says. "A near miss in a game of chance doesn't mean that you are getting better," he notes, yet it seems that the brain mistakenly activates the same type of reinforcement learning system in these situations.

The findings expose the underpinnings of gambling addiction, according to Clark. Even though all volunteers were nongamblers, those whose brain showed a greater response in the scanner also reported feeling more desire to continue trying after near misses. Excessive recruitment of these reward areas, therefore, may be a risk factor for compulsive gambling, Clark says.

Scientific American Mind; 2009, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p6.

03 May 2009

Facing difficult circumstances

With the recent and current increase in difficult circumstances (aka shit) I have been facing, I realise I must evolve in my problem management for long-term survival and to preserve my home and sanity.

When the same experience keeps recurring, it's a signal to take steps to move beyond it. I need to grow. And sometimes growing means getting new eyes to see rather than moving on to new vistas (ala Marcel Proust). When problems come in an onslaught, too many to handle, I either become paralysed or regress to primitive coping strategies (ala Jean Piaget and Aaron Beck) - ie. moralistic, absolutistic, irreversible, non-dimensional, generalising, character-judging, invariant, and personalising thought patterns.

The weak thought patterns are especially that:

  1. I allow problems to accumulate without resolution

  2. I overestimate the difficulty of individual problems

  3. I take an all-or-nothing view of each problem

(The two anxiety-provoking and stress-inducing mechanisms are in predicted difficulty and impact/implications).

New strategies should include:

  1. Solving the problem immediately where possible

  2. Consciously estimate the difficulty on a scale of 1-10

  3. Consciously estimate the implications on a scale of 1-10

  4. In my mind,:
Anticipated Impact = Probability X Perceived Impact (AI = Pr X PeI)


Anticipated Difficulty = Probability x Perceived Difficulty (AD = Pr x PeD)

The strategies above aims to:

  1. Reduce the AD by adjusting the PeD

  2. Reduce the AI by adjusting the PeI

  3. Eliminate the AD and AI by approximating 0 in the Pr

Methods of reducing PeD and PeI is to tackle

  1. Labeling (’ridiculous, unbelievable, disastrous’)

  2. All-or-nothing thinking (’completely, impossible’)

  3. Magnification

  4. Also, after resolution of the problem, it will be good to learn about our estimation accuracies this way:

    Difficulty Estimation Factor = Anticipated Difficulty / Real Difficulty
    (DF = AD/RD)


    Impact Estimation Factor = Anticipated Impact / Real Impact

    (IF = AI/RI)

    By looking at our DF and IF, I gain insight on how badly I overestimate (or underestimate problems) and learn to adjust for more realistic projections.