2017 -01-01 Reset

Everyday is a reset – John Logar

And today, the first of 2017, is as good of a day as any to reset.


Here. We. Go.

Discover Niche Ideas For My Internet (Kindle) Empire

Recently I have been studying and taking digital advice from Steve Scott (www.stevescottsite.com). He’s killing with Kindle Publishing in the most authentic and awesome way that I am aware of: he writes the books himself and they are about areas that he is interested in and he makes mid six-figure from his one niche. Nirvana! 

Below is an exercise he recommends to work out a niche that anyone could start a Kindle empire on. From this process I actually narrowed down 3 niches and a potential “idea sex” that I really like (but doesn’t fit into a conventional “niche” like “dating” or “personal development”.) I’ve listed the questions below and my answers. If you are going through the process of picking a niche for your digital empire, I would recommend this exercise. You may look at the questions and think “how is this going to help me find my money niche.” It actually works really well because it combines a potential money niche (Profit) with something you are already interested in or already good at (Passion) into a combination that you can use to be both working on something you care about AND making money at the same time (Purpose). This was the “idea sex” I mentioned earlier :) 

Have fun with this!

  1. How old are you? In my later twenties
  2. What is your gender? Male
  3. Where do you live in the world? Vancouver Canada
  4. What is your racial background? Asian, Vietnamese
  5. What is your relationship status? Single (but taken :)
  6. How do you relate to other people? Huh? Wasn’t sure about this question so I haven’t answer it yet
  7. Do you have children? No
  8. How do you spend your time? I spend a lot of my time on my laptop. I spend a good 3-5 hours a day on a sales job with Less Doing. I spend the rest of my time looking at, working on business ideas: I’m starting an Amazon physical product business, I’m working on 2 web design projects for cashflow (that I would love to stop doing because I don’t care about it at all, but, I feel like I’m being forced to keep doing this for another while until my other businesses take off, either the Less Doing sales will pay for my bills, or Amazon physical product will start paying off. But then I already know the ASM won’t pay off until 6 months from now so that’s more of a long term play. So really I spend 4-6 hours a day on cashflow stuff (Less Doing, web design) and the rest on ASM, or reading, watching training videos or courses
  9. What do you do for fun? Oh man… I have put on a limit of what I do for fun, mainly for financial reasons. Right now I watch movies primarily for fun. Occasionally I’ll go on hikes when the weather is good. But mainly movies and occasional eating out. Rarely, iceskating. What I would LIKE to do for fun if money wasn’t an issue: I would like to go on road trips, ideally weekly, even over short distances (I live in Vancouver so a trip to Squamish or Whistler would only take a few hours.) I would also do more outdoor and social activities like going to the bar with friends, going to museums or social nights, going to game places like escape or paint balling etc.
  10. What are your current hobbies? Hmmm. Again, I have put limit on what I choose for hobbies because of financial reasons. Currently I mostly read books and online materials on self development, consciousness, meditation, so the spirituality arena. Actually other than that I don’t really have a hobby that I regularly go to. Self Development in all forms: reading, listening, watching is pretty much all I do for hobbies. If money wasn’t an object, and I don’t artificially put no time for hobbies and fun stuff on my daily routine (because I feel like I need to maximize my daily hours on working and improving myself to make more money so then I can have time to do fun things and spend time in my hobbies). If money wasn’t an object, I would pick up scuba diving as a monthly or biweekly hobby. I enjoy diving in the water and exploring the underworld. I would also pick up dancing. I would also get back to drawing/sketching, something that I used to do regularly (everyday) when I was in junior high.) I would definitely travel more often, to neighbouring provinces, down to the US (now that I have a US visa), and internationally. I would also pick up another skill, probably computer/technology-related because I am fascinated with technology and how it can be the tool to liberate human labour (so that we can all spend our time doing what matters most to us)
  11. What is your current career? I am a new and trying entrepreneur. I sold $10,000 worth of websites last year. I started a Kindle publishing business last year and it has generated about $2000-3000, but I’ve probably only broke even on that. I’m starting a new part-time sales position with Less Doing, a productivity coaching organization
  12. Is there a career you’ve always wanted to try? Hmmm. I don’t know if there is one that I have always wanted to try since I was little. I remember wanting to be Bruce Lee really bad when I was little. Then when I read a lot of love novels, I wrote poems and even started writing a short novel (which I don’t think I finished. It’s been such a long time now I can’t quite remember.) Then in University I wanted to take up computer programming because I was into gaming and I wanted to learn it. I remember finding it fun to reinstall Windows on my laptop and going through the process. But then I didn’t. And then I actually wanted to start a technology/software startup, because I liked technology and startups and the potential to be big and influence the world. So I don’t know if there is one specific career I’ve always wanted to try. There is a theme throughout this which is my natural interest in technology and figuring things out.
  13. What skills do you possess? Hmmm… this is another hard one. I learn quickly and I am adaptable. I know a little bit of HTML and can wiggle my way around HTML code (probably 3/10). I know copywriting and I can write efficient copy (6/10). I can sell (somewhat. I would give myself a 5 out of 10 with selling). With computers, I’m quite efficient (8-9/10). I also know about efficient web design structure that sells (not designing websites, but making it efficient at selling). I know how to buy domain, configure email addresses on the hosting
  14. What skills would you like to learn? I would like to learn how to make money online and how to run successful businesses that are virtual and can be run from anywhere in the world. If there is 1 skill I would like to learn this year, it would be that. I would also like to learn how to turn Passion (Purpose) into Profit. I would also like to learn the process of how to identify someone’s passion. Actually now that I think about this, there’s at least 3-5 books that I can write about the Passion to Profit “market”, if that’s even a market
  15. What are the things you’d like to achieve? In 2015 or immediately or as soon as possible, I would like to be able to earn $5000 a month from a business that is: location independent (I can work from anywhere), time independent (I can work at anytime) and doesn’t require more than 2 hours a day. If I accomplish this in 2015, I would be satisfied with my progress, career/business-wise
  16. What are your fears? 1. that I don’t know enough about the subject to write about it. 2. that the niche isn’t profitable. 3. that people will think less of me if I write something out of the ordinary (like, consciousness) 4. that this model will not work out and I won’t be earning money
  17. What challenges do you experience on a daily basis? 1. Staying consistently focused on one thing. 2. Knowing exactly what to do that will either progresses me further or make more money
  18. What obstacles have you overcome in your life?
    1. Language and culture barrier. I came to Canada when I was 17 and I had to learn to speak English while going to school.
    2. I’ve immigrated myself to Canada, something that’s not easy, compared to my peers.
    3. Overcome my anxiety and depression tendencies and inactions and get off my ass
    4. Juggle full-time study, 2 jobs and volunteering gigs in college
  19. What are your favorite books, movies and songs?
    1. Favourite books: Man’s Quest for Meaning, Power of Now, Autobiography of a Yogi
    2. Movies: Fight Club, Avatar, Inception, Matrix (they all have to do with the nature of reality – false reality genre
    3. Songs: Ain’t No Mountain High, The Impossible Dream
  20. What do people tell you’re good at?
    1. Computers and tech stuff
    2. Coaching and counselling
    3. Systematization: putting something into a process, breaking things down into steps

How to Get Out of the Rut and Stay Out

I finished James Altucher’s book “Choose Yourself” in two sittings. It’s a powerful and life-changing book. There is no question about that. You should go buy one right now. It’s only $4.99. Better yet, James will refund your money once you prove that you’ve read the book. I think that’s awesome. I’ve already emailed him my receipt and when the money is refunded, I’m going to buy another one and gift it to someone. Do you want one? Tell me in the comment.

If you have ever felt stuck, desperate, not sure what the hell you’re doing (like I had.)

If you have have lost sleep every night, and occasionally when you did manage to fall asleep for a few hours, woke up halfway through, stared into the darkness and mentally freaked out by an anxiety attack (like I did.)

If you have ever had a growing sense of pointlessness, restlessness, and always wondering if there is something else, somewhere else, someone else you would rather be/do/date (like I have.)

This is the book to get. It’s not magic. It’s not the Secret. James shared his personal experiences of falling in and out of the bottomless pit multiple times and how he got himself out of it every time. It’s so true, so real (and sometimes so heartwrenchingly honest) that you can’t help but feel like YOUR situation isn’t at all as bad as you think it is. Then you’d realize that it doesn’t cost you anything, you don’t lose anything when you try out his Daily Practice.

I’m still in the rut. But I don’t feel hopeless and powerless. In fact, I’ve never felt more optimistic about the future and about the unquestionable victory of my journey (and I’m still in the rabbit hole!)

If you don’t even want to buy the book (even though you’ll get a refund once you’ve finished reading it), go read this and this. Really, to change your life, that’s all you need.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are included in my daily practice of gratitude. So if you’re up early tomorrow, know that I’ll be sending you great thoughts!

The Goddess of Serendepity

Yesterday was a crazy serendipity. A couple days earlier, I had made a one-minute video to apply for a job with the TropicalMBA crew, Dan and Ian. Yesterday, I arranged a coffee chat with Christopher Zobrist, who should be completely unrelated to Dan (but they weren’t.)

My conversation with Chris was going well. We talked about entrepreneurship in Vietnam, Steve Jobs (he’s a big fan, I gathered), and his businesses in Vietnam. Then some people kicked us out of the room because it’s already been scheduled for another meeting at the exact time that Dan was visiting the office (where Chris and I were at.) Chris needed to go to the washroom and asked me to wait in the lobby, where Dan was standing. I would have missed him if it wasn’t for the fact that he was standing with his back against me, and he had the TropicalMBA logo on his shirt. I was surprised to find a FAN of the blog, but upon closer look, realized it was Dan, the man himself. Turned out, Dan is staying at Christopher’s place while he’s in the Hoch. He turned around, shook my hand and said “I just watched your video yesterday.” Crazy!

Now, I found Chris on Startup Weekend HCMC’s website and emailed him. I found Dan through Karol’s post on starting over. It just happened that Chris wanted to meet at 3:30 on Friday. It just happened that Dan was dropping by the office to talk to one of his crew members. He would have been there for about 10 minutes. And this crew member told me since he’s been working for Dan for the past 5 months, he’s rarely ever seen Dan. Hadn’t Chris and I gotten kicked out of the meeting room at 4:30 precisely, hadn’t Chris asked me to wait in the lobby, hand’t Dan visited the office (which he rarely ever did!), hadn’t he worn that shirt, hadn’t he stayed at Chris’ place. In a city of almost 10 million people, on a Friday afternoon…

Sometimes things happen randomly. Sometimes it seems like it was fate. I am probably over-emphasizing or looking for clues when they aren’t there. But if things happen for a reasons, I met Chris and Dan for a reason. And I’m excited to see where this unfolds, if it does. This is where, to avoid getting too excited and hopeful about the future, Derek’s favourite fable comes into guidance. I “will see”.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Working right trumps the right work. The “perfect work” is the same as the “perfect one”. Out of thin air one magical day, your dream work (as well as your dream girl) will appear in front of you. And you will live a happy and exhilarating life forever after. Of course, like everything else in REAL life, the “perfect work” and the “perfect one” are more like growing trees than lightning. You need cultivation and patience. You need to love the process of developing the ONEs, not the discovery of the magical ONEs. And this underlies pretty much all other human sufferings. Instead of putting in the work that’s required today so that the plant will grow and bear fruits tomorrow, most want the lightning strike, the lottery break.

Focus on becoming better at WHATEVER you are currently doing. In a job you don’t like right now? Become better at it. Heck, be the best at it. Not employed right now? Become the best at job searching and learning new skills. Become the best volunteer out there.

Track hours (by 15 minute increments) spent on:
– thinking about hard problems
– creating 
– doing meaningful and awesome things
Mike Jackson: at the beginning of each week, figure out how much time to spend on different activities, then track on the spreadsheet. Restrict the hours spent on required tasks that don’t make you better at what you do. Spend time on what’s important, not what’s immediate.

To have a great career/job, your job needs Creativity + Impact + Control

To find great work, you need to have great skills. Valuable skills => valuable opportunities

Get comfortable with discomfort

To become So Good They Can’t Ignore You may need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (not just hours counted. But deliberate practice hours with constant feedback.) So get comfortable with discomfort so when you ask for feedback, you are not destroyed by the constructive feedback to improve on your work.

The way to have deliberate practice: take projects (2 – 3) that’s more than your experience and skills, then hustle to complete it (have little bets with learning, think Lean Startup)

Do what other people are willing to pay for – the law of financial viability

Type of career capital markets: auction or winner take all. Blogging is winner take all. Mike wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do, but he knew it would involve the environment so he set out to gain any capital relevant to this broad topic. What would your work involve in? Technology + environment or social good (humanities).

Open gates: what is already available to you, because of who you are, where you went to school, where you’re living, and who you know.

Define what “good” means in terms of deliberate practice, meaning set goals

Steve Martin: it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along the way to distract you. In other words, don’t try to find the one. Eliminate the distractions and what remains must be it

Get in it for the long term, aka be patient. If you have to do this for 10, 20 years, would you still be willing to do it?

Don’t think in term of productivity (how many different things you have done), think craftmanship (the number of things is irrelevant. Being better at your craft is what matters.) What matter in WHAT and HOW you work is getting better at it, not how many different things you do.

When no one cares what you do with your working life, you probably don’t have enough career capital to do anything interesting.

DON’T EVER be interested in conventional wisdom.

Derek Sivers: money is a neutral indicator of value. By aiming to make money, you’re aiming to be valuable.

A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough- it’s an innovation waiting to be discovered in the adjacent possible of your field and skills. In other words, your mission IS waiting for you to be discovered, not by contemplation, but by being so good at what you do (within the capital market that you wish to be in: technology and humanities – identify a promising niche within these two). Only when you’re really really good (at SOMETHING) can you discover the mission. In other words, you can’t see your mission at your current level of skills (like gaming)

Think “SMALL” when building up career capital (niche) but act BIG once at the edge

Career Capital + Little Bets + Remarkability ===> Mission. CC + LB + PC (purple cow) = M.I. 
Translation: build up career capital in a niche. Make little bets (can be completed within 1 month) to stretch out your skills. Leverage remarkability to gain access, control, authority (idea worth remark about + platform to spread this idea). All these combined give you the ability to see the mission worth your work.

The traits that make your life interesting has very little to do with intensive soul-searching. Occupational happiness DOES NOT require a calling. It’s HOW you do it, not WHAT you do. In other words, it doesn’t matter WHAT you do next, it MATTERS HOW you do it.

Time structure: “I’m going to work on this for one hour”
Information structure: capture the results of your deliberate practice in a useful form – taking notes, summarizing, taking quizzes
Research bible: a document on the computer (summarize the research/key learnings that week – description of the research, how it compares to previous work, main strategies used to obtain it
Hour tally: total number of hours spent that month on deliberate practice (tracked everyday)
Theory-notebook: use when brainstorming
Use deadlines

Career capital requires patience + Brainstorming and exposure to new ideas are components of a lifestyle, not a process to spit out missions
Little bets: less than 1 month to complete, forces you to create new value (master a new skill and produce new results that didn’t exist before, in your life), and gather feedback

Each week: Expose yourself to new ideas about your field (read a paper, attend a talk, schedule a meeting) –> add summary to the research bible
Each day: while walking, free-form thinking about the new ideas turned up by the research that week

Rule 1: Don’t Follow Your Passion 
Rule 2: Be so good they can’t ignore you (skills)
Rule 3: Turn down a promotion (aim for control)
Rule 4: Think Small (niche to gain career capital), Act BIG (once discover mission)

Fight that urge to conform

As your friends tell you about their work life, the natural response is to compare yourself to their level of financial success. They may unintentionally do that as well. And naturally, you will feel a certain level of inferiority. You may even perhaps think: “what if I’m doing this wrong? Look at how far they have come, compared to me”

Fight that. Conformity is like gravity. It pulls everybody who tries to defy its force. You have a special gift of opportunity. You have the freedom and power to build your life from the ground up, however you want it. Your friends, the ones “succeeding” career-wise, don’t have this option or can’t see this as an option. So what that your friends are making 10-15k more than you and that it seems like they are going somewhere with their life? So what if you don’t make as much progress professionally? Even if you fail in the end, you would have lived knowing that you’ve tried. It’s a different realm of thinking that your friends right now don’t even understand, let alone try out.

It’s a special gift. You’re in a special space in your life right now where responsibilities are few (mainly, paying the bills for yourself) and possibilities are vast.Treasure, protect, take advantage of this to explore, to live, to experiment. The money will come later. Even if the money DOESN’T come later, it doesn’t matter. Because remember, you have already determined that money doesn’t bring happiness. And you’ve also determined to live a life of simple pleasures, of minimalism, of impact, not riches.

Embrace the uncertainty, the frugality, freedom and fun. Defy the urge to conform. Once you fight your way to the top of the uphill battle, the vain satisfaction of conformity will gladly take you back any time, despite how fiercely you’ve just previously fought it. But you may like the nonconformity so much that you don’t want to ever be taken back again.

Vipassana 2012 – Insights and Reflections (Part 2: The Lessons)

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. — Tyler Durden

It’s surprisingly (or not) more difficult to chronicle what happened than to tell a story. I learned this first hand, trying to outline the details of my vipassana journey in 10 days. It’s very much incomplete at 1,000 words. I’m only writing about day 2 and I’m already too bored to keep writing about each day. Ben Casnocha wrote an excellent semi-chronicle and intro to vipassana. I’m going to jump right to the lessons and insights part. My chronicle of this event shall forever remain incomplete :) There’s a strange novelty feeling in leaving it that way actually.

Insight number 1: I want things that I cannot have. And if I know I can’t have it, I want it so bad that my mind becomes irrational

This especially applies to my romantic relationships. Back in high-school, I tend to be interested in the girls that my close friends were. This created very awkward situations for me and for everyone else. I did not realize this until recently. It didn’t occur to me that the sequence of the attraction process really started with me realizing that my friend is attracted to a girl, leading me to start being attracted to her too (because the fact that my friend is attracted to this girl must mean she is attractive.)

Not only so, my (mostly) rational mind will begin acting very strange. When my ex told me she was going to move to Singapore for a 4-year scholarship, I practically broke down and begged her to come back to Canada. I told her we would move to Quebec (she speaks French) so she could use her skills more. I told her we would start a life there. Before this, I  hadn’t even thought of visiting Quebec, ever. And before she told me about the Singapore plan, our relationship was in a state of almost being broken. But none of those things mattered. As soon as I realized I could lose her forever (aka, I can no longer have her,) my mind went into panic mode. And when it does, damn this mind can be so convincing.

She chose to come back to Canada. But the relationship ultimately failed anyway. And I think I probably did see it coming, except I was blinded by my own damn mind!

Insight number 2: My eyes are bigger than my stomach

This applies to relationships and also other areas. I realized this thanks to the daily lunches at 11 a.m. We are all likely over-eating more often than we realize. But most of us nowadays eat while our minds are busy, with a screen (laptop, desktop, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, pick your favourite “lunch device”.) On roughly the third day, I realized I couldn’t finish my lunch plate on a consistent basis. Walking into the lunch area, my mind would go “oh my, the smell is so good” and I took big scoops of everything on the table. Even after the realization that I couldn’t finish my food consistently, I couldn’t stop from taking big portions. My mind would convince me I could, just this one time.

This helped me realize that a lot of times, my mind tells me I need … (fill in the blank) to be happy. I THINK I need “this” to be happy, to feel fulfilled. Examples:

– A beautiful girlfriend with great figure. Oh then the relationship will be perfect (it won’t be)

– A great job that fits my interests. Oh then my life will be happy and complete (it may not be – not to say this isn’t desirable. But anything external isn’t required to be happy)

– A perfect family. Oh then I’m allowed to be fun and interesting and awesome (it’s not required.)

Insight number 3: My failed 3-year relationship is 100% my fault

I think it’s on day 5 during the afternoon break that I broke into a uncontrollable sob. My roommates were also in the room and I didn’t want them to hear my sobbing so I took a walk outside and just completely let it out. I dawned on me that I had been a selfish bastard in my relationship with my ex. I did things because it was convenient for me, not because I so much loved and cared for her. I was a complete taker, and non-giver. In order to be with me, she gave up a 4-year scholarship to Singapore and came back to Canada (to pay $60,000 to go to school here.) This stuff is life changing. She took a completely different turn to be with me. Needless to say, her family financial situation became worse and she had difficulties paying the tuition. Christmas 2011, she gave me an iPhone 4S. To get this damn phone, she signed up for a 3-year contract with Fido, and committed to paying hundreds more in the future. Foolish as it was, it’s out of love and caring that she did, because I’d been raving about wanting an iPhone 4S but too cheap to get one myself. All this, and I can’t even name one thing I’ve done for her that’s extraordinary. And the reason why I couldn’t see all of this?

Goenka actually talked about this. He told the story of a king and a queen in India who took the vipassana course. They became very good practitioners. One day, they were both meditating in their palace and the king told the queen:

my queen, I’ve realized something. I only love myself.

To this, the queen replied

my king, you are right. I just realized that too. I only love myself.

If the king wasn’t a vipassana and enlightened meditator, he would have likely prosecuted the queen for saying she only loved herself :D. Goenka went on to say that everyone, EVERYONE, loves only oneself, including parents. I am still undecided about this point. But here’s the lesson that Goenka taught (to which I wholeheartedly agree because I experienced it first hand.)

I don’t love my partner as the partner is, in both physical and spiritual form. I love the image of her in my head, the perfect image of an ideal lover. And when the real person doesn’t meet this ideal, I don’t feel love for this person anymore.

The reason why I couldn’t see my ex’s love and great affections for me was because I was clouded with my perfect ideal. And of course, no one is perfect. How can anyone meet the requirements of being perfect. Of course I am disappointed. But not with the person. I’m disappointed because the person isn’t up to my perfection.

Sounds like a problem only I have, perhaps after hours of watching anime with fantasy hotties and movies with augmented personalities and features (and forming an unrealistic image of a lover?) We all do it more often than we realize.

Thus, our relationship ultimately failed. On the surface level, it seems to fail because I had commitment issues. I couldn’t see myself being with her forever. But this is only the surface level. I had problems committing because I couldn’t see her fitting into the perfect mold I had created in my head. The whole point of vipassana is to see things as they really are, not what we would like them to be. Ohhh my love with this image! It’s gotta go. I’d much prefer the real thing.

Insight 4: my mind (and yours) is a never-ending always-repeating movie theatre

The most powerful movie producer in the world is one’s mind. As I tried to focus on anapana and vipassana, I learned that my mind (which is separate from “me” the spirit. It’s complicated and it can’t be explained in words so sign up for a seating and see it for yourself.) I learned that my mind kept playing the same movie clips over and over and over in an effort to distract me from the present (breathings and body sensations.) Do you think you have control of your own mind? Most people would say yes they do. But if you try to control your mind and force it to focus on the present, you will learn that you DON’T have control over your mind. Not at all. It has its own agenda, which is mostly survival and reproduction. When it exhausts all the movie clips (of things you’ve done in the past and things you would like to do in the future,) your mind will employ other tactics on you. For me (and a lot of other people too, I asked):

– Sexual thoughts. Okay, I have to admit, I spent at least 3 days thinking about sex. Ben, did you struggle with this? I asked a cute girl who shared the return ride with me. She thought about it too, a lot. And it’s not like I wanted to think about it. No. My mind just dropped images trying to distract me (and a lot of the times, succeeded at that!)

– Happy thoughts. I had this perfect vision of how I would get a job at metalabdesign.com once I finished the retreat. I would walk into Andrew‘s office and talk to him about his life, his work, and a little bit about me. Then I’m gonna tell him that I don’t qualify for the jobs he posted on the company’s website but I don’t want anything less than working for the coolest company in BC, IMHO. And I will figure out just what to do, as long as he’s ok with me sticking around the company. That eventually I want to be an independent web and mobile developer and start companies (online, in Canada, and in Vietnam.) For the time being though, I want to work for the best and learn from the best. I’m going to tell him my plan to start the Starter League in Victoria. All this, and magically, he’ll say “fuck yeah. Let’s give you a try.”

– Weird, incomprehensible, grotesque images. Not like a horror movie kinda way. But strange, attention-catching transformations, like a purple flower turning into a chameleon, a leaf turning into a face. Like anything that would divert my attention from the present.

Insight 5: I’m also a taker in family relationships

Similarly to my romantic relationship, I’m a 100% taker in family relationships. This just made me realize that I have much work to do to put my family into proportion of how important it is to me.

Insight 6: We’re all here for one reason

This one is the least “eye-opening” at the time but potentially the most important insight of all. I sort of had this insight a few months back during the IELTS exam. Essentially, everyone is doing whatever they are doing for one reason: to be happy. Being good to family, being healthy, being financially wealthy, giving back to the community are all means of being and feeling happy with oneself. And if we’re all here for one reason of being happy, why not be happy with each other and stop the bullshits, the lies, the manipulations, the judgement.

Goenka especially emphasized this. The enlightened practitioner experiences the truth. The truth that we are all made of tiny particles, tiny vibrations. The physical body that we have, is nothing but a collection of vibrations. Notice I use the word “experience”, not “know” or “understand”. A scientist can understand and accept that on the atomic level, we’re all the same. But he cannot experience this truth/reality. But the enlightened vipassana practitioner does experience this truth, according to Goenka and the Buddha. I can’t speak for this because I did not reach this level of practice. However, to use an analogy, it’s like finding civilization on Mars. If I went there and found a bunch of Martians there, came back and told you about it, you wouldn’t believe me. I suspect them not like this but more like this. Even if you did believe me, you would have only taken my words for me. Unless you went to Mars and saw it for yourself. Me telling you about the truth is like the scientist using the machines to tell him what we’re made of. And you going to Mars to see the truth is like you experiencing the reality that we’re all made of atoms.

This realization helps me in 2 ways.

1. To live more freely, because I am a collection of vibrations. There is no “me” to be embarrassed about, and no expectations for “me” to meet.

2. To accept and welcome people more freely. Hey, we’re all essentially the same, and we’re all here for the same reason. You can’t hate people who are like you. Or you shouldn’t anyway.

There you have it, 2000 words for my insights from Vipassana 2012. I am definitely coming back. It is not the same 10-days every time. Each time is different. And if not for the insights, I felt an enormous gratitude for the volunteers who cooked my meals, cleaned my plates, woke me up at 4 a.m. every day. The whole thing only runs on donations by people who completed the course (you can’t donate unless you’ve done at least 1 seating.)

If you’ve done it, what’s your experience like?

Vipassana 2012: Insights and Reflections (Part 1: The Chronicle)

Never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may. — Tyler Durden

This post is only almost 1000 words long. Choose your favorite beverage (a lot of it) and settle down as I take you through my journey to the world of vipassana. Credits and introduction will be given at the end of the post. Actually, the post title is misleading. This is more of a chronicle than insights and reflections. I guess the lessons will come in the next post.

Day 0: December 19 2012

Tony and I got to Hope and we stopped for lunch. The entire time to Hope and while lunching, we debated about going to Merritt. It was snowing hard outside and I’ve never driven through the Coquihalla in the winter. The conversation mostly revolved around me telling Tony “I don’t want to you put into any kind of danger” and Tony replied back sarcastically “Don’t worry, if I die I’ll visit you at the meditation centre.” As we got up to pay for the meals, I looked outside at the pouring snow piling on the road and our van and concluded firmly “nope, I’m calling this off.” I sensed a tiny bit of reluctant relief from Tony.

We got into a car and Tony answered a phone call on his cell. I sat in silence staring at the space in front of me. I thought about Tony and his safety driving back alone from the centre. If anything were to happened to him, I’d feel horrible for the rest of my life. But I wouldn’t know about it until after I’ve finished the 10-day course. He’d be long gone by then. So it’s right not to go. I can reschedule this in the summer when it’s sunny. It’ll be easy driving to Merritt then I can even do it myself.

Then I felt this regret growing in me. If I don’t go this time, I won’t ever do it. This is possibly the only chance I got. And I need this. I need to figure this out. I need to know what to do next with my life. I’ve just quit my job. Not long before that, I broke up the relationship that lasted for almost 3 years and moved out of the apartment I’ve lived for the past 4 years. I’ve given up everything (or so I thought at that point.) So I am free to do whatever now. Vipassana was going to be the place that I define what “whatever” is. It’ll be perfect timing: meditate through the Christmas season (December 19 – 30), I’ll be fresh and enlightened to embark on the new adventures awaiting in the new life I’ll be leading. With this thought, I told Tony as he hang up the phone: “Tony, let’s go. I gotta do this.” He complied without saying a word.

Day 1: December 20, 2012

The noble silence started since 8 pm last night. The hall, the kitchen, the rooms, and the meditation hall all filled with silence. How can silence be filling hey? Yeah, it’s deafening. It’s definitely there. Silence isn’t simply the complete absence of sound, as the dictionary and the scientists have it. Nowhere on earth (or space) is there a place where we can find the complete absence of sound. Well, maybe except this place. Even there, with complete removal from the outside noise, you will be acutely aware of your own body’s noise. That and not to mention your own mental chatter. Silence is an illusion until your ears and your mind are sharp enough to hear the never-ending sounds reside within you. But this is way to early for this understanding. Let me back up a little.

I woke up at 4:30 on day 1. Waking up early has never been a problem for me, especially if it’s an important day to wake up to. Staying up and alert is usually the troublesome part. But day 1 was easy. Sitting in the meditation hall with 50 other people, nothing but breathing sound and the occasional scratching noises, somehow is enjoyable in a weird way.  I found myself enjoying the apparent silence. It’s easy just to let myself drown in thoughts. Exactly what I needed, even though that’s not what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to focus on my in-breaths and out-breaths around my nose and my philtrum*, and nothing else, especially thinking. I’m supposed to just focus on breathing for an hour straight. Not easy, if you’ve ever tried for even 5 minutes. The first day was relatively easy because I had no trouble killing time by thinking. 10 – 12 hours of meditation a day went by pretty quickly when you only spent 1 or 2 hours meditating and the rest thinking. Yet, thinking is exactly what you need to NOT do if you want to meditate…

Also, imagine the first time you have to listen to a chanting and it’s in ancient Indian (pali). And for some unknown reasons, the chanter ends every sentence of the chanting with a disgust-able sound in his throat like he’s burping very lowly but uncontrollably. My very first thought (and I’m sure of a lot of the other people in the room) was “what the hell is this noise he’s making?”

But other than that, the first day was comparably easy.

Day 2: December 21, 2012

Day 2 was supposed to be a lot harder and a lot of people quit on day 2 (and day 6, apparently.) But it was also surprisingly easy for me to get through.

Day 3: December 22, 2012

Day 4: December 23, 2012

Day 5: December 24, 2012

Day 6: December 25, 2012

Day 7: December 26, 2012

Day 8: December 27, 2012

Day 9: December 28, 2012

Day 10: December 29, 2012

Day 11: December 30, 2012

Introductions and Credits


Vipassana on Ben’s blog

The anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis: I would do anything to have a 10-day retreat here.

(yep, that’s a word referring to the area below your nose and above the upper lip.)

Toward a New Beginning

The final analysis:

People are often unreasonable, self-centred: Forgive them anyway. If you are Honest, People may cheat you, but be Honest anyway. What you spend years to Build, someone could Destroy over night. Build anyway. The Good you do today, People will often Forget tomorrow. Do Good anyway. You see, in the final analysis with God (or with yourself on your death bed); it never was between you and them anyway.

— Unknown, modified by me.

Tomorrow I will be embarking on a new journey to “see things as they really are.” Vipassana is one of the oldest meditation techniques from India. It’s a 10-day course that involves nothing but meditation in silence. Waking up at 4 a.m. and going to bed at 9:30 p.m., I will be meditating for 10 hours per day. No communication is allowed with the outside world and the inside world. The only conversation I’m going to have is the conversation with myself. And when that is also muted (which will take a few days), I will be able to see things as they really are.

When I tell people about this, the two things that they tell me:

1. Why??? (really, it’s “What? You’re joking, right?”)

2. Have fun!

To the first question, I say it’s to clear my mind of distractions, including myself. And to the second question, I say it’s not really a “fun activity.” It’s a mental training exercise. But I do look forward to it, as it has a certain kind of novelty. However, I am prepared for the grueling first few days, where most people quit. Because I’ve never really “meditated” longer than 15 minutes, it’s gonna be hard sitting still for 10 hours a day. Being the “millennial” generation that I belong to, not having my phone and google and facebook and flipboard, anxiety and withdrawal are in order. But to paraphrase my dear friend Iris, I am going to “meet myself this way.” Because it really is about meeting myself for probably the first time. No phone, no paper, no pen, no exercise, no talking with other people. The only thing I have is my mind and my body.

The first few days will be extremely discomforting as the Resistance kicks in. It’s the same kind of Resistance that Steven Pressfield talked about in the War of Arts. It’s the Resistance to do great work. It’s the Resistance to do things that scare you. It’s the Resistance to be vulnerable, to be true, to be really naked for the first time (metaphorically, I will be wearing warm clothes through out.) I will be “one step closer to hitting bottom.”

The discomfort, both physically (from sitting for 10 hours) and mentally (from not having anything to be distracted from) is so overwhelming that a lot of people give up within the first few days. I don’t plan to be quitting. No matter what happens, I am committed to completing the course.

To the present, here I come.


Moving Away from Complacency

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club

1402513_93661585Today’s my last day at work. I’ve been here more than 6 years, being a student for five and working since. My experience as a “Canadian-wannabe” mostly formed around here. Most of the smart people and great friends I have right now, I met them here.

So it’s only slightly hard to say goodbye. But I needed to. I was getting complacent: with my corner, my desk, my peripherals, my work.

It’s a great place to work and not many international students have the lucky opportunity to work here. I feel blessed because UFV has not only educated me, given me the awesome friends and relationships that I currently have, it has also given me the means to pay for all of the expenses these past 5 years while I was in school. All in all, it’s given me pretty much everything.

I still remembered the first day I set foot on campus with my mother and my grandparents to see advisor Simon. We talked about all the career options that my mother wanted me to have: doctor, lawyer, engineer. She specifically wanted me to study chemical/petroleum engineering because it was the hot stuff in Vietnam back then. And somehow, we settled with Business Administration. At this point, I had already fought with my parents about me wanting to study Computer Information Systems. I don’t know where I would have been today if I actually won that battle. It’s interesting where life takes you. And despite what you think you can predict, there is no way to know how life would turn out had you taken a different road.