Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Death Is Nothing At All

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, 
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight? 

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

... Henry Scott Holland, Canon of St Paul's Cathedral (1847-1918)

'Eid Mubarak

"Dear brothers and sisters,

Praise Allah s.w.t. on this glorious and blessed morning. Say the takbir to Allah s.w.t. with utmost sincerity and piety. Glorify Allah s.w.t. for all that He has blessed us. Thank Allah s.w.t. for His guidance. Let us continue with our journey of taqwa to Him. Let us continue with our path of ihsan and kindness. Let us continue to do good deeds. Let us carry the spirit of Ramadhan, beyond Ramadhan, in the month of Syawal and after it.

Today is a day for us to rejoice. Today is a day of victory. Victory over our desires. Victory in liberating ourselves from all forms of wrongdoings. Victory in transforming us into those who love to do good and worship Allah s.w.t. with full sincerity. InshaAllah, also a day of victory in being freed by Allah s.w.t. from His punishment in the hellfire, Ameen.

All the good deeds that we have done will inculcate in us the values of taqwa, ihsan and rahmah. When our hearts are full of ihsan and rahmah, we will be very happy to meet our brothers and sisters; and we will maintain good relations with others. Thus, this morning, we greet each other, shaking hands in congratulating one another for this victory. We are thankful to Allah and happy to have succeeded in improving ourselves. We are thankful and happy that Ramadhan has energised us; that Ramadhan has made us into a good and hardworking community, and a community that brings blessings to all.

Let us seek Allah’s help to grant us strength to continue on this good path – a path in which we do good and refrain from doing bad. May Allah s.w.t. shower us with His mercy.

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar

Dear brothers and sisters,

Ramadhan may have left us, but its memories are too sweet for us to forget. Its lessons are too valuable for us to ignore. Its value is too great for us to cast aside. Ramadhan was a month of sacrifice. Ramadhan was a season of patience. Ramadhan was a school of ihsan. Ramadhan inculcates in us togetherness and unity... "

... 'Eid sermon (2008) in Singapore. For the full version, click here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Here Comes The Sun

Traveling Through...

Well I can't tell you where I'm going, I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin' till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit

Like a poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home
Where that is no one can tell me, am I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on

Questions I have many, answers but a few
But we're here to learn, the spirit burns, to know the greater truth
We've all been crucified and they nailed Jesus to the tree
And when I'm born again, you're gonna see a change in me

God made me for a reason and nothing is in vain
Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain
Oh sweet Jesus if you're listening, keep me ever close to you
As I'm stumblin', tumblin', wonderin', as I'm travelin' thru

(The video clip ends here)

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

Oh sometimes the road is rugged, and it's hard to travel on
But holdin' to each other, we don't have to walk alone
When everything is broken, we can mend it if we try
We can make a world of difference, if we want to we can fly

Goodbye little children, goodnight you handsome men
Farewell to all you ladies and to all who knew me when
And I hope I'll see you down the road, you meant more than I knew
As I was travelin', travelin', travelin', travelin', travelin' thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin'
Drifting like a floating boat and roaming like the wind
Oh give me some direction lord, let me lean on you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

Like the poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find my own way home
Oh sweet Jesus if you're out there, keep me ever close to you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', as I'm travelin' thru

Improve Yourself

Improve yourself.
Let die what is alive: that is your body.
Revive what is dead: that is your heart. 
Hide what is present: that is the world down here.

Let come what is absent: that is the world of the future life.
Annihilate what exists: that is passion.
Produce what does not exist: that is intention.

... Mevlana Rumi

Proverbs And Songs

The eye you see is not
an eye because you see it;
it is an eye because it sees you.

To talk with someone,
ask a question first,
then -- listen.

is an ugly fault,
and now it's a boring fault too.

But look in your mirror for the other one,
the other one who walks by your side.

Between living and dreaming
there is a third thing.
Guess it.

This Narcissus of ours
can't see his face in the mirror
because he has become the mirror.

New century? Still
firing up the same forge?
Is the water still going along in its bed?

Every instant is Still.

The sun in Aries. My window
is open to the cool air.
Oh the sound of the water far off!
The evening awakens the river.

In the old farmhouse
-- a high tower with storks! --
the gregarious sound falls silent,
and in the field where no on is,
water makes a sound among the rocks.

Just as before, I'm interested
in water held in;
but now water in living
rock of my chest.

When you hear water, does its sound tell you
if it's from a mountain or farm,
city street, formal garden, or orchard?

What I find surprises me:
leaves of the garden balm
smell of lemonwood.

Don't trace out your profile,
forget your side view --
all that is outer stuff.

Look for your other half
who walks always next to you
and tends to be what you aren't.

When spring comes,
go to the flowers --
why keep on sucking wax?

In my solitude
I have seen things very clearly
that were not true.

Water is good, so is thirst;
shadow is good, so is sun;
the honey from the rosemarys
ad the honey of the bare fields.

Only one creed stands:
quod elixum est ne asato.
Don't roast what's already boiled.

Sing on, sing on, sing on,
the cricket in his cage
near his darling tomato.

Form your letters slowly and well:
making things well
is more important than making them.

All the same...
Ah yes! All the same,
moving the legs fast is important,
as the snail said to the greyhound.

There are really men of action now!
The marsh was dreaming
of its mosquitoes.

Wake up, you poets:
let echoes end,
and voices begin.

But don't hunt for dissonance;
because, in the end, there is no dissonance.
When the sound is heard people dance.

What the poet is searching for
is not the fundamental I
but the deep you.

The eyes you're longing for --
listen now --
the eyes you see yourself in
are eyes because they see you.

Beyond living and dreaming
there is something more important:
waking up.

Now someone has come up with this!
Cogito ergo non sum.
What an exaggeration!

I thought my fire was out,
and stirred the ashes...
I burnt my fingers.

Pay attention now:
a heart that's all by itself
is not a heart.

I've caught a glimpse of him in dreams:
expert hunter of himself,
every minute in ambush.

He caught his bad man:
the one who on sunny days
walks with head down.

If a poem becomes common,
passed around, hand to hand, it's OK:
gold is chosen for coins.

If it's good to live,
then it's better to be asleep dreaming,
and best of all,
mother, is to awake.

Sunlight is good for waking,
but I prefer bells --
the best thing about morning.

Among the figs I am soft.
Among the rocks I am hard.
That's bad!

When I am alone
how close my friends are;
when I am with them
how distant they are!

Now, poet, your prophecy?
“Tomorrow what is dumb will speak,
the human heart and the stone.”

But art?
It is pure and intense play,
so it is like pure and intense life,
so it is like pure and intense fire.
You'll see the coal burning.

... Antonio Machado

A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The ride you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

... John O'Donohue

Reflections From Ramadhan To Syawal

With the expiration of Ramadhan and the arrival of the month of Syawal in a few day's time, my memories were brought far back to how I used to spend them when I was back in Singapore.

Those beautiful memories were aplenty: leading the congregational terawih prayers, the zuhur kuliyyah, the gatherings over iftar, the lectures, the meeting of very close friends in my office for congregational zuhur and recitations of the Qur'an, the qiyam, the briyani ... and the list goes on. And in that same breath, memories of people who have touched my life returned but I will refrain from listing them down out of respect for their privacy and/or their preference.

I have also been meaning to write an entry of my reflection since I have been one full month here in the United States. There are many to write - and tonight does not seem like the appropriate time.

In many ways, as in so many things since then, Ramadhan was definitely a very different experience here than it has been for the rest of my entire life. But the fruits of this journey has indeed been priceless - and I realised that this physical distance has been utterly necessary for it to bear some fruition, and for me to be able to 'walk the talk' of all the lessons that I have been giving in my classes. Such reflections went extremely deep within me in a capacity that was not present before I undertook this faraway journey. It ranges from truly enlivening the concept born in the hadith "Seek knowledge even if to China" (we are not discussing the level of its authenticity here) to really practicing and living contemporary fiqh (jurisprudence) rather than being theoretical about them in my lessons. And these were the main reasons why I chose to be here rather than pursuing my studies in the middle east for example (where I can easily find comfort in living my Muslim life) as you have to constantly think critically about your life and your laws - to look beyond and deeply of those jurisprudence where Muslims take for granted and preach from their pulpits. 

True to my suspicion since a long time ago but generally manifested in a limited manner and through abundant lip-service: Islam - from a theological, philosophical and discursive point of view - is really what is within - and this conviction can be achieved only when one is extricated from the comfort of one's environment. From this vantage point, it becomes so much more beautiful and embracing, and its spirit becomes vibrantly alive - and suddenly, everything begins to make so much sense. The small stuffs (in all sense) - are 'no sweat'. This learning curve has been accelerated through my experience in the blessed months of Ramadhan and Syawal. Alhamdulillah.

And as I re-read my past entries on Ramadhan and 'Eid, I was reminded of the important need for me to be grateful for all that has been given, and not been given to me. Through it all, these past month has truly been a priceless, enriching and humbling experience.

I wish to share that particular poignant entry with you. Click here.

Today's Prayer

"Today my prayer consisted in simply going to my heart and remembering all the folks I've stored there. It is not cold storage. It is quite a warm and tender place"

... A Tree Full Of Angels, Macrina Wiederkehr

De Profundis

But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can't know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul? When the son went out to look for his father's asses, he did not know that a man of God was waiting for him with the very chrism of coronation, and that his own soul was already the soul of a king.

...De Profundis, Oscar Wilde

The Inner Life

Give me, oh God...

Deep thoughts
High dreams
Few words
Much silence
The narrow path
The wide outlook
The end in peace.


... The Inner Life, Pir Inayat Khan

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

... The Collected Poems, Stanley Kunitz

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Singapore Lights Way to F1 Future

Formula One's first night race was a huge success and it seems inevitable that more events will follow Singapore's lead in the future.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone - whose idea it was to follow a lead taken by other motorsport categories - has already hinted he would like the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next year to be held under lights.

And in the Singapore paddock there were rumours that the organisers of the Abu Dhabi race, which is to make its debut as the season finale next year, had taken note of the impact made by this event and would also run their race at night.

Ecclestone would doubtless endorse that idea. Running Abu Dhabi at night would ensure the race was televised during the all-important Sunday night prime time in Europe.

For anyone wondering why, if the European audience is so crucial to F1, the races are not simply held in that part of the world in the first place, the answer - as always in F1 - lies with money.

New, exotic locations increase interest in F1 by enhancing its image. That, combined with more races at a time which appeals to the sport's core audience, means bigger audiences, and therefore happier television companies who will keep paying to show the sport.

Bigger audiences mean more advertising revenue, for those TV companies who collect it - which is nearly all of them - as well as for Ecclestone.

And he wins in another way, too. Countries like Singapore are prepared to pay far more to host a Grand Prix than most European races can afford, even if they are funded by government.

For these new venues, an F1 event means an opportunity to showcase themselves to the world in the most flattering light - and that is effectively priceless.

It was an opportunity Singapore grabbed with both hands at the weekend.

The track was interesting, the event ran almost without a hitch, the cars looked even more spectacular than usual under the floodlights, and Singapore's evocative location and history meant it came already loaded up with a glamour that could soon rival that of Monaco.

That glamour works both ways - Singapore's rubs off on F1 just as the sport's rubs off on its host.

"It has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One," team owner Frank Williams said.

"They have great weather, a very good track, and the grandstands packed. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there."

Packed grandstands are not something F1 has been used to seeing in the new venues it has adopted around the world in recent years.

Places like Malaysia and Bahrain might have the money to buy the sport, but they have not been able to buy an interest among their populations.

Singapore, though, was different - partly because the race was held on a track through the middle of the city, but also because its inhabitants have a fair bit more disposable income than the average resident of Kuala Lumpur or Manama.

The race's success is likely to have ramifications that go further than simply increasing the number of Asian night races.

"It is not just a new experience, it is a real big step in the history of Grand Prix racing," said McLaren team boss Ron Dennis.

"When you see the shots of the city and the way they have brought the whole atmosphere of Singapore into the event, it is just a phenomenal spectacle.

"We can take this model and apply it to anywhere in the world - either to bring Europe the race at a time when people watch it, or even within Europe to make it more spectacular./div>

... excerpts from BBC Sport

Friday, September 26, 2008

Rituals Of Spontaneity

The story of spontaneity - and of ritual's decline - I have to argue, is the story of the secularization of goodness, but one that is not so smooth or evenly paced as has been supposed. It is the story of seventeenth and eighteenth-century English men and women coming to understand goodness less in the traditionally religious terms that had been rendered problematic by seventeenth-century enthusiasm and the wars of religion, and more within the logic and language of an increasingly empirical and economic rationality and in the forms of the expanding marketplace, with which it was, to understate matters, by no means immediately compatible.  Spontaneous emotional effusion - both the sort Young claims and the sort that had earlier found expression in enthusiasm - was taken as evidence of the condition of one's heart...

With secularization, other unforeseen consequences followed on succumbing to the siren call of the spontaneous, and each chapter of this study attends carefully to the costs and losses incurred by conflictedly religious, empirical, increasingly possessing and possessed modern subjects under what quickly became in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries an imperative for spontaneity. The ideology of spontaneity that emerges in this period is marked, I argue, not just by the displacement of traditional rituals, but by the inventions of new ones necessary for maintaining a sense of freshness and felt certainty. Not recognized as ritualistic, these "rituals of spontaneity" - free prayer, Dissenting and philosophical forms of self-scrutiny in the quest for natural moral responses, and the behaviors associated with sensibility, including effusions of joy, weeping, or poetic inspiration - are the sacraments of an increasingly consumeristic culture and tend to bear three striking behaviors, namely buying and selling, authorical production, and readerly desire and consumption; they give rise to an array of painful anxieties about individual authenticity and the performance of spontaneity; and they render agency difficult to imagine, making the very moral improvement at which they aim highly problematic and ultimately undermining the quest for an empirically verifiable, universal morality. In fact, the peril of maintaining a sense of agency and responsibility in modernity is the key note resounding in the etymology of the word spontaneous and its shifting  usage in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

... Rituals Of Spontaneity: Sentiment And Secularism From Free Prayer to Wordsworth, Lori Branch

Dante's Prayer

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember Me

Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

La Haine

As part of the syllabus, the class will be watching the French black-and-white 1995 movie, La Haine this evening. It is about three teenage friends and their struggle to live life in the banlieues of Paris. The title derives from a line spoken by Hubert: "La haine attire la haine!", "hatred attracts hatred."

"The film tells the story of three young friends in an impoverished multi-ethnic housing project (a ZUP - zone à urbaniser en priorité) in the aftermath of a great riot. Vinz (Vincent Cassel), who is Jewish, is filled with rage. He sees himself as a gangster ready to win respect by killing a cop, and models himself after Travis Bickle from the film Taxi Driver. Saïd - Sayid in some English subtitles - (Saïd Taghmaoui) is a happy and talkative North African who tries to find middle ground between his two friends' response to life. Hubert (Hubert Koundé) is a black boxer and drug dealer. Most quiet of the three, he sadly contemplates the ghetto and the hate around him. He is probably the only one who has a minimum of consciousness about the state of things. He wants to simply leave this decadent world of violence and hate behind him but doesn't know how since he lacks the means to do it. A friend of theirs, Abdel Ichaha, has been brutalised by the police after the riot and lies in a coma. Vinz finds a policeman's revolver, lost in the riots. He vows that if their friend dies from his injuries, he will use it to kill a cop."

So - it is not going to be "watching for pleasure" this evening. It will be heavy stuff - and since there will be class discussions that follow, I will somehow need to relate it to (and the abuse of) power, authority, force and how they are all embodied physically in these characters and how their sentiments, passions, sympathies are played out. Throughout all these, what are the politics and the affect underlying them ... 

I wanna stay at home, instead...

Hubert: "Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good... so far so good... so far so good. How you fall doesn't matter. It's how you land!"


"Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom" ... at-Tawbah 9:60

"(Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah's cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (For trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shalt know them by their (Unfailing) mark: They beg not importunately from all the sundry. And whatever of good ye give, be assured Allah knoweth it well" ... al-Baqarah 2:273

"Whoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the grieves on the Day of Judgement. Whosoever alleviates (the) lot of a destitute person, Allah will alleviate his lot in this world and the next. Whosoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and the next. Allah will aid a servant (of His) so long as the servant aids his brother" [Sahih Muslim]

“A charity is due for every joint in each person on everyday the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity” [Sahih Bukhari & Muslim]


Sayyidatina`Aishah (ra) reported: 
I asked: "O Messenger of Allaah! If I realize it was Laylat-ul-Qadr, what should I supplicate in it?'' He (saw) replied, "You should supplicate: Allahumma innaka`afuwwun, tuhibbul-`afwa, fa`fu`anni (O Allah, You are Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness; so forgive me).''


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Night Thoughts

Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is push'd out of life.

Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.

If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That 'tis so frequent, this is stranger still.

... Night Thoughts, Edward Young

Tonight I Can Write

Of late, I have been thrilled to find clips of great poems recited and posted on youtube. There is a certain element of charm that goes along with poetic recitations - especially by the poet him/herself. The exactness is as a musical composer conducting the orchestra of his own symphony.

This next poem recommended by a good friend, Tonight I Can Write, was written by the great Chilean Nobel prize winner in Literature (1971), Pablo Neruda. It was featured in the celebrated film, Il Postino, and here, it is passionately recited by Andy Garcia.

Indeed moving...

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Immortal Beloved

The Third Letter

Good morning, on July 7:

Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits - Yes, unhappily it must be so - You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in Vienna is now a wretched life - Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men - At my age I need a steady, quiet life - can that be so in our connection?

My angel, I have just been told that the mailcoach goes every day - therefore I must close at once so that you may receive the letter at once - Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together - Be calm - love me today, yesterday - what tearful longings for you - you - you - my life - my all - farewell. Oh continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.

... Letters to the Immortal Beloved, Ludwig van Beethoven

In And Out Of Time

In And Out Of Time

the sun has come
the mists have gone
we see in the distance
our long way home

i was always yours to have
you were always mine
we have loved each other
in and out of time

when the first stone looked up at the blazing sun
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor
I have always loved you more

you freed your braids
gave your hair to the breeze
it hung like a hive of honey bees

i reached in the mass
for the sweet honeycomb there
ahh... God, how I loved your hair

you saw me bludgeoned by circumstance
lost, injured...
hurt by chance

i screamed to the Heavens
loudly screamed
trying to change our nightmares
into dreams

the sun has come
the mists have gone
we see in the distance
our long way home

i was yours to have
and you were always mine
we have loved each other
in and out,
in and out,
in and out of time...
... Maya Angelou


You can
die for it–
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

... Mary Oliver

Into The Wild

And for those who have read this awesome book, watch it if you have not ... but only after you have read the book ... well ok, maybe this may inspire you to actually read the book :)

And Still I Rise

Rule Of Sympathy

At the most general level, this book is about how people come to think about each other, about each other's suffering, and how people act through this sympathizing subjectivity. How is that people come to identify with another's pain, act in solidarity with others in struggle, to cooperate with others, in communities, in social movements? What is the history of this force of human cohesion? Sympathy, I will argue, was a specific form of sociality that facilitated the elaboration of various forms of power-relations...

Etymologically rooted in the Greek concept of sumpatheia, "to feel with," or "having a fellow feeling," sympathy will always be haunted by the call to suffer for or with another. But a proleptic principle is also part of its impulse: When we sympathize with another's suffering, we anticipate that we may suffer similarly in the future. For instance, in the Rhetoric, Aritotle defined pity as that "feeling of pain caused by the sight of some evil, destructive or painful, which befalls one who does not deserve it, and which we might expect to befall ourselves or some friend of ours, and moreover to befall us soon... And... we feel pity whenever we are in the condition of remembering that similar misfortunes have happened to us or ours, or expecting them to happen in the future...

By feeling sympathetically, that is by "reciprocating" all the "sensibilities" of an order, by embodying the emotions of that other, by answering the call of the suffering other, a man or woman at once moves toward moral perfection (hence toward the divine), toward an aesthetic sensibility (hence toward the Beautiful), toward domestic order (hence toward civilization), and civic integration (hence toward communal, national, or even racial accord). Sympathetic identification, as pedagogical "mold," ties together the aesthetic and the political, the domestic and the national, the public and the private, the divine (soul) and the merely human (body), and of course the self and other: an "involvement so elemental between self and the Other so as not merely to bring about emotional identification with an understanding of the Other, but to move and transform the sympathizing self incalculably, if temporarily ... some sort of 'dissolution of boundaries,' a blurring of self and the Other, is necessary in order not simply to achieve knowledge and understanding of another, but actually, somehow, to experience the Other." The process of sympathy, further, involves both the intellect and the emotions; properly performed it should be legible on the very body of the sympathetic subject: one should be able to read immediately the tracks of another's tears or the beams of joy from laughing eyes, the discomfiting of the body, the sighing, the belabored breathing - all as the sympathetic quivering of the divine soul. In this way, the sensual body became a key instrument linking the humanized mind to a benevolent deity. Following an argument recently made by Talal Asad, I would suggest that, as an "embodied practice," sympathy forms the "precondition for varieties of religious experiences"; in evangelical reformist spirituality, the sympathetic relation, as a bodily practice, became an essential discipline that enabled one to commune with god. Moreover, by filiating sympathy to concerns around the body, eighteenth-century thinkers articulated a crucial discursive overlap: the emergence of aesthetic enquiry and new medical theories of sensation and sensibility... 

Through sympathy, subjects came to imagine themselves as embodying the emotions of a suffering other; doing so they partook of the natural, and so divine, impulse of humanity, and one that was pleasurable even if painful. Such was the fabrication of the new subject of sympathy, a thoroughly paradoxical one, we might add. If, on the other hand, sympathy draws a man and woman toward moral perfection, toward an aesthetic sensibility, toward domestic and civic integration, on the other, as a kind of bridge across social, civilizational, and gender differences (or inequalities), sympathy also could undermine the moral and aesthetic norms and social order of the status quo. Who is to say where one's sympathy should stop?

... Rule Of Sympathy: Sentiment, Race and Power, Amit Rai

Burn After Reading

There is only one sentence to describe this movie: This is a crazy movie!
But, it was fun crazy. Watch it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Maurice Ravel

Since we are at classical music, I might as well include my favourite piano concerto, Piano Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel. Piano was the first instrument which I had formal training in - from as young as 5 years old - even before I started school. That was also the beginning of my theoretical lessons on music and musical compositions. As usual, I used to always avoid the practice of studies with it - but they form a foundational training for playing all sorts of music. And from the training of the piano, I eventually explored many other instruments, including percussion, before mastering the flute and playing it in the orchestra.

Maurice Ravel is a French composer and pianist of impressionist and expressionist music. The reason I love this particular concerto is the richness, poignancy and subtle texture of communication between the other orchestral instruments with the piano solo. There are so many dialogues throughout this piece and it expands the tonal colours and variety in the sounds of this concerto. More importantly, this concerto transports one emotionally with its three movements: Allegramente, Adagio Assai and Presto - but, within each movement itself, you will feel as if you have travelled miles and miles away. Naturally, the second slow movement, Adagio Assai, is my favourite. I can never play the first or the third movements - the technical requirements are beyond me.

I am so tempted to post all three movements of this concerto - but I supposed a comparative performance of Adagio Assai (the slow second movement) will be able to present the diverse potential of this piece and the genius of Ravel.

The first post will be played by my favourite pianist, Martha Argerich whilst the second post of the same piece will be played by the famed Leonard Bernstein - who also happened to be conducting the orchestra whilst being a soloist. For consistency, I have chosen the Orchestre National de France, which brilliantly supports both soloists - though at different periods of their history. You will see the breadth of interpretation and expression by both great pianists. I normally close my eyes and put on my earplugs to hear this beautiful piece. So, enjoy ...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Flute: Of Poulenc, Rampal, Galway etc

Although I never had the chance to play Mahler's Symphony No. 2, I had the chance to play this solo in a recital years back with piano accompaniment. My flute tutor was trained in France so I played the flute in that "school of thought" - the French sound. My favourite flautist is Jean-Pierre Rampal for his techniques but mostly for his round and full sound.

This solo piece which I played was composed by Francis Poulenc, a French composer and this clip will feature Rampal playing it. Enjoy :)

There are also 2 pieces that I always have at my fingertips for that "sudden performances". The first one is Meditation by Massenet (which happens to be one of the pieces which I played for my audition for the Singapore Youth Orchestra) and the other, especially for popular performances, there is always Annie's Song as my last-minute saviour. They are both played by another of my favourite flautist - James Galway. Enjoy.

Meditation by Massenet

Annie's Song

Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

At a function last weekend, I met a violinist master's student here in Boulder who performed a Bach's sonata prior to dinner. I was asked by her of my favourite composer. That has always been a difficult question for me: for I do not really have a favourite book or music or something or someone - it has always been a basket of talents which I liked - and this is evident in my list of favourite things in my Facebook - I have never seen someone with such a long list. Anyway ...

Having a history of being an orchestral player in a symphony orchestra for a couple of years back in Singapore, I told her that my favourite orchestral composer is Gustav Mahler. She further asked me the reasons for my liking him - and my response to her was that I love composers from the Romantic era and that Mahler's symphonic sounds were big, huge - and I dream that one day I will be playing his work. My favourite symphony is his Symphony No. 2 aka "The Resurrection". It is unfortunate that this piece was never conducted by my favourite conductor in the field, the legendary Herbert von Karajan, so you will have to settle with his successor at the Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle (who succeeded Claudio Abbado during the orchestral's tumultuous years) conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It is a long symphony and this clip does not do justice to understand and feel "The Resurrection". You will have to listen to it completely in its original form :)

A Temple, A Shrine, A Mosque, A Church

my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
where I kneel.
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.
Is there not a region of love where the sovereignty is
illumined nothing,
where ecstasy gets poured into itself
and becomes
where the wing is fully alive
but has no mind or
my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,
a church
that dissolve,
that dissolve in

... Rabia al-Adawiyya

When My Beloved Appears

When my Beloved appears,
With what eye do I see Him?

With His eye, not with mine,
For none sees Him except Himself.

... Muhyiddin ibn 'Arabi

Don't Go Back To Sleep

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn’t decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

... Mevlana Rumi

Why Worry?

I Envy...

I envy the sand that met his feet
I’m jealous of honey he tasted sweet
Of birds that hovered above his head
Of spiders who spun their sacred web
To save him from his enemies
I envy clouds formed from the seas
That gave him cover from the heat
Of a sun whose light could not compete
With his, whose face did shine so bright
That all was clear in blinding night
I envy sightless trees that gazed
Upon his form completely dazed
Not knowing if the sun had risen
But felt themselves in unison
With those who prayed, and fasted too
Simply because he told them to
With truth and kindness, charity
From God who gave such clarity
His mercy comes in one He sent
To mold our hearts more heaven bent
I envy all there at his side
Who watched the turning of the tide
As truth prevailed and falsehood fled
And hope restored life to the dead
Men and Women through him found grace
To seek together God’s noble face
I envy the cup that gave him drink
His thoughts that helped us all to think
To be one thought that passed his mind
Inspiring him to act so kind
For me this world is not one jot
If I could simply be a thought
From him to God throughout the ages
As revelation came in stages
I pity all who think it odd
To hear him say there is one God
Or he was sent by God to men
To hone their spirits’ acumen
It’s pride that blinds us from the sight
That helps good men to see his light
He taught us all to be God’s slaves
And he will be the one who saves
Humanity from sinful pride
Muhammad has God on his side
So on this day be blessed and sing
For he was born to grace our Spring
With lilies, flowers, life’s rebirth
In a dome of green like his on earth

... In Honour of the Beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw), Shaykh Hamzah Yusuf Hanson

Brothers In Arms

I Am Here

Each moment contains
a hundred messages from
God: To every cry of
"Oh Lord," He answers
a hundred times,
"I am here"

... Mevlana Rumi


A rose will bloom
It then will fade
So does a youth
So does the fairest maid

"Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend"

... Prologue, Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

Beside Me

“Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. 
Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. 
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

... Albert Camus

Into The West

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Economic Dispositions

The "beauty of writing history," Adam Smith said in his lectures on rhetoric, in January 1763, consisted for Tacitus in a political theory of sentiments. Events, in Smith's description, have both external and internal causes, or causes to do with circumstances and causes to do with sentiments. It is the neglect of these internal causes, Smith says, which makes the writings of modern historians "for the most part so dull and lifeless." ... Such a history, Smith says, "perhaps will not tend so much to instruct us in the knowledge of the causes of events; yet it will be more interesting and lead us into a science no less useful, to wit, the knowledge of the motives by which men act." ...

There is no certainty in such a view of the world; there is only the consonance, or the conflict, of individual lives. Lamennais indeed identified Condorcet's view of society with yet another, and in some respects even more frightening version of the crime of enlightenment. This was the crime of a "dogmatic indifference" to religion. Condorcet understood, Lamennais wrote, that religion could not persist if it were reserved for the people alone. Society would then be abandoned to a morality without foundation, and to a universe without certainty. The human spirit, as in the later Roman Empire, under the influence of Epicurus, would be "deprived of its beliefs and even of its opinions, it would swim, at the mercy of chance, in an immense ocean of uncertainties and of doubts." The universe would be one in which the individual was endowed with "absolute sovereignty over himself"; a "horrible anarchy of contrary wills and opposed interests, of unequal forces and unequal desires," an "orgy of doctrines, [a] confused shock of all the interests and all the passions." ...

The economic writings with which this book is concerned are a description, above all, of opposed interests and unequal desires. They express an extraordinary tolerance for uncertainty, and for doubt. Condorcet's view of enlightenment, like Smith's, was close to the Epicurean prospect, as described by Lucretius, in which men and women no longer tremble like children in the dark, and the "terror of the mind" is dispelled by understanding; or as described by Lucian, in which men are freed "from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings." But they also believed that the process of understanding is slow, uncertain, and subject to error, chance, and the likelihood of being disconcerted. One source of uncertainty is that individuals will not understand their own interests very well; or that they will understand their own "local situation" so well that they will choose to pursue their interests by the "ruses of fear," or by political intrigues. A different source of uncertainty is the one which Lamennais found so fearsome; it is that the new, enlightened society will be without foundation, and without providence. There is an even more disturbing prospect; it is that a life of uncertainty will itself, eventually, be a source of strength, or of virtue. The challenge of laissez-faire - that is to say, of psychological laissez-faire, as well as of laissez-faire in the relations of commerce - is to live without certainty, including certainty about the truth of one's own dogma.

... Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment, Emma Rothschild

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'm Not There

I watched this iconic movie "I'm Not There" yesterday. The following brief taken from wikipedia:

I'm Not There is a 2007 biographical film directed by Todd Haynes and is inspired by the life of iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. It depicts six distinct stages of Dylan's life and public persona portrayed by an ensemble cast of actors: Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett, who play characters based on Dylan but with different names.

In a comment on why six actors were employed to portray different facets of Dylan's personality, Haynes wrote:
The minute you try to grab hold of Dylan, he's no longer where he was. He's like a flame: If you try to hold him in your hand you'll surely get burned. Dylan's life of change and constant disappearances and constant transformations makes you yearn to hold him, and to nail him down. And that's why his fan base is so obsessive, so desirous of finding the truth and the absolutes and the answers to him - things that Dylan will never provide and will only frustrate ... Dylan is difficult and mysterious and evasive and frustrating, and it only makes you identify with him all the more as he skirts identity.

The film tells its story using non-traditional techniques, similar to the poetic narrative style of Dylan's songwriting. It takes its name from the 1967 Dylan outtake "I'm Not There", a song never officially released until its appearance on the film's official soundtrack album. Critically acclaimed, I'm Not There made many top ten film lists for 2007, topping the lists for The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, Salon and The Boston Globe.

And these are my three favourite Dylan's songs: Mr Tambourin Man, followed by Blowing In The Wind and finally, The Times They Are A Changing. Enjoy these classics :)


Those who danced were thought to be quite insane,
- by those who couldn't hear the music.

Intoxicated By The Wine Of Love

Intoxicated by the Wine of Love.
From each a mystic silence Love demands.
What do all seek so earnestly? 'Tis Love.
What do they whisper to each other? Love.
Love is the subject of their inmost thoughts.
In Love no longer 'thou' and 'I' exist,
For Self has passed away in the Beloved.
Now will I draw aside the veil from Love,
And in the temple of mine inmost soul,
Behold the Friend; Incomparable Love.
He who would know the secret of both worlds,
Will find the secret of them both, is Love.

... Farid ud-Din Attar

Impossible Is Nothing

"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in a world they have been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact; It is an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration; It is a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing" ... Richard Bullock

There Is No "I" Or "You"

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz 
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire: 
I love you as certain dark things are loved, 
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries 
hidden within itself the light of those flowers, 
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body 
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where, 
I love you simply, without problems or pride: 
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no "I" or "You", 
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, 
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

... Pablo Neruda