Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Buddha

Arriving in Hong Kong with a day before the schedule for my first meeting, I ‘ve got an opportunity to spend some time seeing things that I have not been able to visit on my earlier trips.

The Tian Tan Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery sit atop a hill on Lantau Island north of Hong Kong. I got to the site by taking a cable car that is similar to the ones that are commonly used in the European ski resorts. The ride took me very high about the islands and the northern territories and the trip up was beautiful. They also have a hiking path to the site, which is a 4 hour walk (I hope to do the hike on a future visit).

The Buddha itself is massive. The statue rises 34 meters above the top of the mountain and is reached by climbing 270 stairs. They had a presentation that outlined how Sidhartha became the Buddha and what in his life had led to his journey of enlightenment. I was especially moved by the simplicity and honesty of the story. The setting of this monastery is perfect for the reflection and self-awareness that Buddhism promotes. The woods that surround the peak are filled with Lilacs and the aroma on the paths that wound through the woods was intoxicating.

The temples that are interspersed amongst the trees are filled with the scent of incense as the believers send their prayers to the sky on through the burning of long sticks. I was completely at ease and completely mesmerized by the entire site. I am still searching for the religion that has the most meaning for me, that speaks most directly to my heart and mind. If the Buddhists are not there, then they are as close as I can find in any modern religion. This is a philosophy that works in this life and the next and that tells us how to live and treat each other without the mixed messages that seem to cause so much hatred and grief.

God Bless the Buddhists!

Best! Norm.

The Space Between

As I write this post, I am on a plane flying from San Francisco, California to Seoul, Korea. I find this time away and out-of-touch during my trips to be very interesting; I even wrote a post about it several months’ back. This post isn’t about the time away, or even about my thoughts during these long trips. I want to talk about the little things that people do to make life better. Also, this post isn’t an advertisement, but I’m sure it’s going to sound like one.

The flight from America to Asia runs about 14 hours. This gives time for reflection, but it is definitely one of the worst parts of traveling. You find yourself cramped in a very small space for a VERY long time, cabin fever tends to set in at about 8 hours and after that you are just dying to land and get off the plane. Today, I am traveling on Singapore Airlines. Whenever I see Singapore Airlines on my itinerary, I smile...

I am a Capitalist and I believe that businesses need to be smart to stay in business (and to keep us employed), but too many people make their buying decisions on cost alone and businesses today are cost conscious to the extent of being insensitive to the people; they don’t think we care and maybe we don’t, but we should. Singapore Airlines is a little piece of heaven. The Stewardesses are uniformly: beautiful, attentive, professional, and caring. The airline provides hot towels and real food in coach (with reclining seats). These things may seem trivial, and maybe they are, but they give a little comfort when so much of our world seems cheap and impersonal. I get the feeling that Singapore Airlines cares about me, but more important, I feel like the PEOPLE at Singapore Airlines care about me. It doesn’t really take much; a smile, a friendly nod. When I fly on American airline companies, I expect them to be cheap but what is worse is that they treat me more like a box that they are moving from point to point than like a human being. This seems to have permeated right down to the attendants and ticket people, all of whom seem to feel like they have no reason to treat others with respect and kindness.

It’s not the wine, or the ice cream that they just brought to me. It is the feeling I get from everyone here that I matter and that they want me to be comfortable. When I think about it, we are all on a journey from here to there. We all get caught up in little things that have no real meaning (like how well we’re doing and how many things we have). I think how much nicer the journey would be for all of us if we’d just take a clue from this small Asian Airlines: respect each other, be kind and caring, do the little things…smile, listen, and care. The funny thing is that it takes so little, but it still seems like too much for most of us (me included).

Best! Norm.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Where do I look?

I sometimes think I give you all a slanted picture of me because I tend to post a lot of spiritual stuff in this blog. I am not a particularly religious person and have actually spent very much of my life wondering if we didn’t invent God because we feared death and needed to convince ourselves that there was more after this. This thought still rumbles around in my head, but it no longer causes me discomfort because I believe in more. Even if this is all there is, I am very happy and not at all afraid of that “long dreamless sleep”. But I do believe in God….just not the same one as most of you. Well I just complained of focusing too much on religion, but here I go again (I don’t really talk about it with anyone else, so I tend to put it all here).

I was raised as a Catholic and spent my formative years in the church. While there were times when I felt exalted, most of my years in the church were a sham. The ritual and the aloofness overcame the sense of community for me. I never found God in the church. I can feel God in my heart and in the hearts of some of the people that I know and meet (certainly not all of them and actually the number is less than I’d like).

I have written a lot about my belief that this world is a lie and that we need to look within ourselves to see God. I have also said that sex and love are windows on truth and beauty…God is here too, but we need to be careful not to hold on too tight, as these will make us turn toward the material and away from the truth. There is one other place where I see God in this material world…it is in nature. I believe that whoever built this world (of lies) tried hard to copy the real world of truth and beauty; I don’t think he completely failed at this. When I am at peace, in the woods, and far from man’s devices and desires, I can often see God in the material beauty of nature. I have said before that if I have a church, this is it. When I look for God, I look to the trees and the flowers; I look to green things.

I hope you can find him/her somewhere too and I hope that when you find that place, you can still your emotions and drink in as much as you need. I have tried many times (without much success) to really meditate, like the Buddhists. I have a trip back to Hong Kong coming in a week or so. I am scheduling a side trip to see one of the Great Buddha’s. Maybe I’ll try to talk with one of the monks? At the very least, I’m going to try to sit and still my mind….Let’s see if I can’t make another connection and find another place…the one deep within me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Best! Norm.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Ancient Empire

This post was written in August '07

I have now been to China at least a dozen times. I have traveled the more rural parts of the country and I have spent a fair amount of time in Beijing and Shanghai. I find myself drawn to this land and these people in a way that I never would have expected. The Chinese suffer the same personal shortcomings as the rest of us (malice, prejudice, greed, etc.), but there is something here that speaks to me and that makes me feel good when I am here…let’s see if I can describe it to you.

China has seen as much suffering and death as anywhere in this world and poverty and injustice are still common here. That this civilization is over 4,000 years old speaks to the fact that these people have suffered for a loooong time. Also, I have read much about China in the 20th century and I can’t find anywhere else that suffered as great a repression. Hitler killed about 6 million, Stalin probably killed about 43 million, but Mao is likely responsible for the deaths of over 70 million Chinese. He beats Hitler and Stalin put together. You can add in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia and still not match Mao’s bloodlust! The Chinese have suffered all this…still suffer much, yet they are a happy, friendly and altogether wonderful people. They seem to have mastered the idea of each being a small light of warmth and friendship in the storm that is this world. They don’t dwell on the things they can’t change, but they enjoy the moment (and each other) and they “live” their lives. On my last visit to Beijing, I looked down a decrepit side street and found the residents had neither electricity or running water. Most of the Americans I know would consider this situation intolerable, but the people on the block (who were just arriving home from whatever work they did) were busy setting up tables on their doorsteps and inviting their neighbors over for Mahjong and Beer. I could hear the laughter follow me as I walked the streets back to my hotel. I know so many people that have EVERYTHING and yet never laugh that seeing these people so happy with nothing made me very humble.

I grew up hearing and seeing many things about the Chinese. Most of these from my Government and most of them bad. We all tend to hear a lot about other people from our news and from our leaders. I hope that you all realize that these people lie. My government lies and so does yours. We can only overcome the hatred that these lies beget by being open minded to each other by trying to reach out and meet others from the far corners of this crazy world…we are really very much alike and the good that you see in your closest friend can be found in China, or India, or Egypt, or England, or America. Governments and the people they govern are very different things. The media tries to make it easy for us to see others as our enemies. The only enemies that I see anywhere are the governments that repress and kill and make war with each other.

I have no desire to run anything or to tell anyone how I think they should live, unfortunately the leaders of most countries have just that desire. They became what they are exactly because they wanted to control others. I no longer believe in the benevolent leader. If they exist, they are rare indeed! I can think of only George Washington and Cincinnatus in the last two thousand years as examples. We need to find a way to control our leaders…and we need to pay less attention to the news.

Best! Norm.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Go West Young Man...

This post was written in March…

I guess we all have our own bias about the culture we were raised in.

I am working in Portugal and it occurs to me time passes us by very quickly, both as individuals and as a culture. Lisbon is a beautiful city, with great food and wonderful weather. There is much here to appeal to almost anyone and things look very good for Portugal right now, but her glory is 500 years past. The days when Portugal led the world with her voyages of discovery are long gone. I guess that having visited here, I really don’t see that as such a bad thing.

America is generally accepted as the single superpower in the world, but I can hear the footsteps behind us. I do a lot of work in China and India and I just can’t see how we are going to keep our edge when the talented people from these countries really come into their own. My generation was supported (and spoiled) by the work of our parents, who lived through the Great Depression and saved the world in WWII. I look at my children (and their friends) and realize that they are even less likely to work hard (and have even higher expectations) than my generation had. A society can only coast for so long; then those that are hungrier and willing to work harder overtake it. I worry about my children’s future, but I also wonder at the game itself.

The first thing that comes to me is that the “doers” in this world are generally born of pain and suffering. I believe that as a society gets “rich”, its citizens lose the edge that propelled them. For many, this means a lowering of their living standards (and maybe the hard times that will drive another cycle). For others, the change seems less extreme…I have seen people in countries that have lost their edge and they live very good lives (France, Italy, England), but I have also seen where the standard of living has taken a deep hit and there is a lot of suffering. I ask myself if suffering is a necessary aspect of success (and if success is worth it). I haven’t seen a good balance yet…

I have had a very good life and can’t help but be thankful for all that I have been given. I don’t count on these things always being here and don’t really believe that the material things in my life have that great a hold on me (I know this is easy to say when you’re not hungry). My European friends tell me that Americans “…kill yourselves working to buy junk that you don’t need and you lock yourselves away with your junk and don’t have relationships.” Well, that’s a gross generalization, but I guess I see the point.

I’m giving my kids as good a start as I can and wish them the best. I hope they get through their lives without too much pain and suffering, but I have no way of guaranteeing this…any more than I can guarantee that I will always live as comfortably as I do now.

I guess if our time as the world-leader (economically) is coming to an end I really won’t miss it much. My goal is to simplify. “Stuff” doesn’t seem that important to me and I really regret that I did not have more time with the people who are most important to me. I am going to work on that…

I have been especially blessed that I have seen much of this world. It’s the people that make it worthwhile! Well…OK, it’s the people and the food. I thank anyone reading this for giving me a piece of your time and attention. I hope to meet you…to share a cup of coffee and a long talk, and to let you know that you are important to me and that I appreciate your company and friendship.

I could be very happy in Lisbon (and I wouldn’t look back to the glorious past, but would enjoy the beauty of Lisbon TODAY).

Best! Norm.