Category Archives: Meditation

Pity for Man

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A mankind in solidarity, humanity in one collective voice; such are seductive concepts. It brings to my mind an image of brothers and sisters of one human race, arm in arm, with differences put aside for an unending celebration of peace, love and unity on the terrestrial plane in a lifelong jubilee. The good is reciprocated with good and becomes an end to itself.

诸重佑 (제중우), these are the Chinese characters of my Korean name, translated as ‘ giving all a heavy help.’ There was once a time when I took this as a mantra, a supernatural calling, a fate decided from birth and thus accepted the inscriptions of these characters. I remember one particular scene four years ago, when I was inspired by a book titled Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood, a former executive of Microsoft and the later founder of charitable foundation ‘Room to Read.’ I told my mother that I wanted to devote my life to helping people and changing the world. It would be a meaningful life that I would lead, soaring on lofty heights looking downward towards the crass materiality of commerce and the world below (I was a commerce student at that time).

Albert Camus’ The Fall tells in second-person narration the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clement, whose life went through a vertical translation from up to down, from a former life as a virtuous lawyer defending widows and orphans (in short, noble causes) to the seedy central district in subsealevel Amsterdam as a practising “judge-penitent.” His cynical reflections of his former life recount his gradual enlightenment on the superficiality of his existence, leading to his fall. He acted for and on the vulnerable as a way of chasing summits and becoming one above reproach to a level of purity and innocence. He was an actor on a stage; his generosity to beggars and his aid to the disabled was all a play for the surrounding public, just as when he tipped his hat to a blind man after helping him cross the street. From great heights he expressed his will for domination onto the human ants crawling insignificantly below.

One of my predominant impressions of China before my actual sino-voyage was that of pity. I heard and read and saw the conditions of the majority who were not able to enjoy North American middle class privileges. From my North American heights, I looked down onto the poor Chinese people and I felt my heart reaching across the Pacific Ocean out to their poor lives, full of pity for these not-knowing people, wishing dearly to teach them something of my North American knowledge and experiences to make an impact on their poor existences, an impact that would undoubtedly be positive (after all, I was from North America, the opulent).

While living there, I found that I could not connect with my fantasized Chinese people. I could not relate with their squalor and my sympathy turned into indifference, although pity remained. In Nietzschean terms, I was the good and they were the bad. I saw one sight (which I wrote about in a previous blog post) that made even the homegrown Chinese bourgeois turn their heads for a split second in interest. It (or he or she) straddled the boundaries between the categories of human and non-human. I had five mojitos that night, not because I felt a profound disturbance about the sight, but because I enjoy drinking and wanted to get drunk and have a good time. So much for my pre-Chinese ideals. Why did I have the desire to change the world as a younger man?

In approaching man as a totality, a reified abstraction, a personal interrogation is necessary. Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? Is this a self-branding initiative? Do I approach man as a collection of subjects or objects? It is a continual affirmation and reaffirmation of a belief.

I still have strong feelings from time to time about (wo)man, but I realized that I do not always like (wo)men.

 

Note: Second time using that photo, “it” is there

Another Look on Life

In the midst of our day to day routines, it is easy to fall into a myopic perspective on life. One in which every day feels like a mundane reduplication of the ones before it. One in which we see the same faces, go to the same places and do the same things over and over again. As the routine continues without change, we start falling deeper into an unconscious repetition of our actions and lose sight of everything beyond our direct surroundings. Once in a while, if we are able to expand our immediate picture in the attempts to see a larger reality, we may be able to find a refreshing escape from the increasingly deepening hole of our daily routines. Let us do a visualization exercise to see things from a different perspective.

 

To begin, think of the room you are currently in. Try to see and feel the entirety of the room. Pay attention to the people occupying the same space. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

Now expand the picture and see the building you are in front a bird’s eye view. Picture the different activities of the people who are in the same building. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

Now let us expand our picture even more and imagine your neighbourhood from a bird’s eye view. Think of the parks, the stores, the residential buildings, the public buildings and think of the variety of existence that happens in these parts. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you feel the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

Now even higher, and we are overlooking your region in the city. It may have distinct features and a certain subculture. Cars and people will look like toys. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you feel the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

Higher and higher we go and now picture the city or town you live in. It may have tens of thousands of people, or tens of millions. In the day there may be plenty of activity out on the streets, while at night, the lights from individual homes reaffirm the continual existence of unending possibilities and life. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

Now let us go even further and picture the province that you live in. This may be a large area, or it may be a smaller one. Even so, it will not be an area that you could get to know or traverse every corner of. We may feel a familiarity with this area, but in the end, like the people living inside it, even this relatively tiny piece of land is impossible to fully understand. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

Now we go higher and are able to see the country of our residence. This country is one which you may be a citizen of or perhaps just temporarily live in. This country is one with a distinct identity and history. This country is one which is full of inhabitant who you may feel a distant familiarity. This country is one that you might identify with. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we are now seeing the picture of the Earth. At this point, our brains cannot comprehend the enormity of the combined human activity. There will be people who are poor, people who are rich; people who are young, people who are old; people with dreams, people with none; people who are happy, people who are sad; in the end it will be a large number of people who you could not all possibly form individual bonds of understanding with.

It is beautiful planet we live on, with all its vibrant colours. A planet full of life, full of energy, full of possibilities. A planet bigger than anyone of us can hope to imagine. A place full of biodiversity, from the smallest of microbes to the largest and most ancient forms of vegetation. A place with geographical features ranging from dry deserts to wet marshlands, high mountains to vast oceans. A place which still holds innumerable mysteries for the human race.

We have been here for an uncountable number of years and generations. Human history is full of a myriad of tales and stories of prior inhabitants. They are people have gone about their lives, living while holding onto their beliefs and under the conditions in their respective times. Each one of them had a role in shaping history, whether it was big or small, with a shared fate. A constant cycle of life and death, while the Earth continues its mechanical movements around the sun.

And now, let us think back about what our lives may mean in this greater picture. Our individual life stories may be of utmost importance to us. However, how will this once held energy and life be represented? Perhaps a couple of us may be in the history books, some of us may make it on the news, but for most of us, we will only have our beautiful stories told in the form of statistics or wholly forgotten. Perhaps we will be remembered by our friends and families, and have our stories represented through them. Eventually, they too will pass on, and every aspect of our lives will fall out of memory, never to be told again. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

This inevitability is a reality. In the end, our lives are more like lucky accidents and an insignificant part of an objective and immobile reality. What is important to us when we think in terms of individual interests is not important to us when we think in a holistic way. Perhaps what we think is important to us is not really important at all. As we live and fall into the paralysis of our daily routines and work, we may not realize this. We may only be aware of our present surroundings and environment, and never go further into contemplation about the real nature of our existence. But in the end, not thinking does not prevent undeniable reality. We are only a small part of the whole, and the whole is an unimaginably large picture.

Earth