Tag Archives: spirit

Stars in Beijing

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During one of my last nights in Beijing, I saw a familiar sight, one not oft seen when moving through the concrete jungles of Asia. All around me were the walls of the dusty hutongs, and as the group walked through a narrow alleyway, I just happened to look up. It was a rare night when the original lights in the dark sky made their appearance and shone their way into the vision of man past its successors which man built before it. It was a sight familiar but foreign, as I had grown accustomed to a life without them. Far above and beyond the touch of my outstretched hands, Orion and his belt reminded me of his flickering existence and told me not to forget his story, as it would not be visible to me for another many days to come. Three weeks have passed without me seeing this constellation.

I remember seeing the full splendour of a star-filled night during a middle school field trip to a distant camp site hours away from the promising lights of the city of Toronto. A group of classmates and I followed a camp counsellor outside, where there was organic life around and the clear night sky above. It was magical, observing the eternity of stars which blew up the heavens, and the vertical white streak of the Milky Way brushed right in the center.

Can you picture the skies as such? A cool midsummer midnight, in an open clearing, with grand trees surrounding cozily, being the edge of a forest whose depth is estimated with the profundity of darkness suggested between its members. All above, a boundlessness of stellar forms, created with chance and divine process, each patiently gliding through a blank black canvass as they head towards individual destiny. All below, man, small against the multitude, the grandeur, the truth. Time stops and so does thought, with only the infinity of the present. Man’s physical form is surpassed and the consciousness spreads whole.

Like many in the world, I am a city dweller who knows little about the awestriking entities sharing their natural illuminations with the world. Instead, I grew up with the lights of man, which are the lights of progress and promise; the lights that we incessantly follow as they blink close to us tantalizingly, blinding us and teasing us towards wishful manifestations of our desires. These reachable lights hang in the controlled environment of the city; the city whose physical representation is that of efficiency and logical conception. It is an environment safe and suffocating, precise and predictable, unnatural.

There was a 高考 (Chinese high school entrance exams) essay question that I read on the Internet one day. It was the following:

A grandfather and a grandson look out of a window in the evening. Lights twinkle here and there, and look like a rainbow. The little boy says, “How beautiful it is; without electricity, modern technology or high buildings, there would not be such beautiful sights.” The grandfather waved the head, fell into reflection, and said, “It’s a pity the sky with studded stars cannot be seen anymore. The ancient people who had bonfires beside the mountain cave, watched the moon and the stars, and could enjoy a more beautiful sight.”

There cannot be a co-existence between the lights of man and the lights of the stars. Although stellar illumination may dance in the background, quietly and steadily, with the same unchanging form of wisdom that intrigued our ancestors through the millennia, the obtrusive lights of man drown out the truth that they have continued to share, in loud, attractive bursts of excitement, competing with each other to call us in with their unique assortment of poisons. They get louder and louder as time goes by, trying to overcome one another, as the greatest and fanciest of lights seduce the greatest number of heedless fruit flies. The stars in the background continue to fade as the lights that are artificial and temporal outshine the lights that are eternal and true.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture is of the Hong Kong “the Symphony of Lights.” No stars were visible

Stoic Acceptance

IMG943  This past week and a half has been difficult; a fever for two days, a stubborn cold, all with bad sleep throughout. A sudden change in the temperature had me accidentally giving improper care to my body, and I slept under one blanket, not two. The next morning I woke up with hints of fever which later developed into its mature form. Taking two hour long naps in the afternoon, not being able to sleep at night has me in disarray both physically and mentally. Weather quickly changes in Taipei, as humid and cool has quickly turned to humid and hot. Last night had me tossing and turning for hours as heat and incessant coughing kept me up to hear the birds chirping for the start of their day, which was soon followed by sounds of morning from my neighbours’ rooms. I am hoping that tonight won’t be as bad of an experience, but the signs do not look positive so I am writing for good use of time.

This has me dreaming of Toronto, where it is the time for the wonderful springtime weather. By this time, Toronto would be past its long winter cold, and spring would be in full blossom, with sunshine and growing greenery warmly welcoming Torontonians towards the outdoors under a lengthening sun. Instead of the 4 by 3 metre prison I am in, with a miserable foot by foot window in the bathroom for ventilation and cockroaches and spiders for company, I could be at home, going from spacious room to spacious room at my fancy, sleeping on the sofa or in the basement room if my own bed shows signs of hostility, sitting and enjoying a natural sunlight smiling in from wide windows on the black leather sofa, while reading a book or admiring the scenery before me gradually opening up with life.

As I sit in front of the computer with a less than fully functioning mind, a sticky body due to the warmth and humidity and with the formation of a slight plea towards an otherworldly force for a quick recovery, I start thinking of Stoicism. Cultivated by the Greeks, adopted and nurtured by the Romans, its existence has been a source of reassurance and acceptance when the chaos of the world confounds me. Due to limited scholarship on the subject, there is not much that I can expertly write about, but from my understanding it is about ‘living in accordance with nature,’ through acceptance of nature’s will, fate. I particularly find it useful for its practicality in dealing with worldly matters. To give you a direct experience of Stoicism, here is an excerpt that I found particularly moving and profound. This is from Letters from a Stoic, Letter LXV.

“I am too great, was born to too great a destiny to be my body’s slave. So far as I am concerned that body is nothing more or less than a fetter on my freedom. I place it squarely in the path of fortune, letting her expend her onslaught on it, not allowing any blow to get through it to my actual self. For that body is all that is vulnerable about me: within this dwelling so liable to injury there lives a spirit that is free.”

Reading writings of Stoicism remind me that inside of the body which bears the changing currents of nature’s temperaments, there exists an entity that is able to freely decide how to respond. There is always this choice: I can either choose to be beaten down by my current misfortunes or accept nature’s will and be forever content. Although it is paradoxical, it is only with wholehearted acceptance of fate that we are able to control it. With my current situation I have these options as well. I can either curse the series of events that have led to this situation, and feed a growing anxiety and irritation, or just accept circumstances for what they are and nourish contentment.

In life, it is invariable that there will be times of distress and disaster. Life is a personal journey with an undeterminable end. There will be times of infinite happiness but also times with uncertain paths, bad weather and accidents. When the path is nice with sunny weather and the irrepressible desire for a song to be sung, nothing can go wrong. However, the opposite can manifest as suddenly as the coming of a tempest. Through these seemingly terrible times we can choose to preserve our indomitable spirit by unreservedly offering our physical shell to the whims of nature, and continue traversing towards our destination with a great humour.

 

 

Picture: Budapest