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See. Think. Write.

Moving mountains

Words of the Day

iniquity (noun) – Extremely unfair or immoral behaviour

Example: My grandmother, who grew up in a small town where people never locked their doors, saw big cities as dens of iniquity because of their crime rates.

onerous (adjective) – (of a task or responsibility) Involving a great deal of effort, trouble, or difficulty

Example: When Jack agreed to help his father cut the grass, he did not realize the chore would be so onerous.

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Did You Know?

Since I turned twenty-two earlier this week, I thought it’d be appropriate to write something about birthday traditions.

During my stay in Canada, back in January, I was invited to a birthday party and witnessed this Indian tradition for the first time – the feeding of cake.

After ‘Happy Birthday’ is sung, and the cake is cut, the person whose birthday it is will then cut a small piece of cake and feed it to each guest with a fork (sometimes even by hand). They usually start with closest family members, then move on to everyone else. Once everyone has had a bite, family and guests then take turns in feeding the birthday girl or boy (who could also be adults) in return.

So, what does this gesture mean, you ask?

Well, it is simply a big sign of love and respect towards that person.

After all, everybody deserves to be treated like a king or queen at least once every year, right?

Reflecting on Rinpoche’s Teachings

I’ll start off by saying that I went to these events with an open mind. And all I can say is that the following points left a very big impression on me. Hence why I decided to write about them. Perhaps, you too will be inspired, dear reader.

Before moving on to the actual points, though, I’d like to start by describing what the atmosphere was like during the sessions.

As I made my way into the dimly lit room, I could hear entrancing, ambient meditation music playing. I sat in my chair, approximately forty-five minutes before the start of the event. The hypnotic notes and sounds oozing out from the speakers immediately put me at ease, and calmed my nerves. I remember sitting there, with just two or three other people present, and feeling completely relaxed, almost as if being induced into some hypnotic state by the sheer calmness around me.

As the room slowly started filling up, I couldn’t help but notice the behaviour of some audience members. People who knew each other embraced for a longer-than-usual amount of time, and some people who walked by simply smiled or nodded at me in greeting. Now, these humans were complete strangers to me, yet I felt a sense of belonging being among them. The complete opposite of how I feel when I’m at social gatherings with friends or family. I guess it’s true when they say it sometimes feels better to be in a place/country where nobody knows you.

Another small observation I made was that I was the youngest person in the room, on both days.

 

Now, on to actual points themselves…

 

The Refuge and Generation of Bodhicitta Prayers – The sessions would begin with the following prayers. This would take approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

SANGGYÉ CHÖEDANG TSHOGKYI CHOGNAM LA/
In the Buddha, Dharma and the Supreme Assembly,

JANGCHUB BARDU DAGNI KYABSU CHI/
I take refuge until enlightenment.

DAGGI JINSOG GYIPEI SÖENAM KYI/
By the merit of my generosity and other perfections,

DROLA PHENCHIR SANGGYÉ DRUBPAR SHOG/
May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.

(repeated three times)

 

SEMCHEN DEDANG DENGYUR CHIG/
May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness.

DUGNGEL GYUDANG DRELGYUR CHIG/
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

DEWA DAMDANG MIDREL SHOG/
May all sentient beings never be apart from the supreme bliss, which is free of all suffering.

CHAGDANG DRELWEI TANGNYOM SHOG/
May all sentient beings live in the great equanimity, free from the attachment and aversion that keep some close and others distant.

 

So, what did you notice in the texts? Did you notice, for example, how characters such as ‘god’ or ‘the holy spirit’ are not even mentioned once in these prayers? This is one thing which really struck me. The fact that prayers aren’t addressed to a particular supreme being of some sort. Instead, they are prayers which simply “wish” the best for all people. Correction. All sentient beings, I should say. Which means any living thing; from the biggest blue whale to the tiniest tick (yes, that includes cockroaches, snakes, and grasshoppers, too, for better or for worse).

One thing, however, still eludes me. If, as many say, Buddhism is not a religion, then why the need to pray?

The Orange and Apple Seeds Analogy: I’m sure you’ve heard this one before: We may seem different, but we are not all as different as we may seem. Rinpoche explained this better by using a simple and interesting example, which I call “The Orange and Apple Seeds Analogy”. What this means, basically, is that, although an orange and apple are two completely different fruits (their shape, colour, texture, taste, etc.) they are really the same thing: fruit! Peel away their skin (literally), and you’ll find that they have the same origin: seeds. Yes, once again, they look different, but when you think of it, even their origin is the same (both are planted in soil, given water

Although the fruit seeds analogy made the concept easier to understand, I still have my doubts. I am still unable to fathom how people are “connected” in some way. It is extremely clear that people are different, and I’m not referring to appearance, of course. If we are “all the same”, why then do we each have different personalities? Why do we have different opinions? Why do we disagree on certain matters?

On karma: Buddhists believe that all beings are made up of two things: the mind and body. Karma starts before we are even born, and that when we die, the “mind” part of us lives on.

The Tibetan Buddhist concept of karma is similar to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is presented as a universal law that has nothing to do with abstract ideas of justice, reward, or punishment. Karma, whether one is aware of it or not, is constantly being created.

As someone who believes that there is absolutely nothing after death, the karma concept doesn’t seem as far-fetched as, say, the theory that when we die we are reborn as an animal. It kind of makes sense, actually. The things we say to people, when we learn something from others, that’s all passing on of knowledge, right? So, technically, we are sharing our “mind” with those we speak to, and that is how it lives on.

*short water break before carrying on*

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The link between Buddhism and science: Chamtrul Rinpoche made a short but bold statement to introduce this topic to us. ‘Look up anything about Buddhism, and you’ll most likely find an explanation about it. Just like science’, he had said. In other words, rather than a reliance on faith, hearsay, or speculation, there is actual evidence.

The case is made that the philosophic and psychological teachings within Buddhism share commonalities with modern scientific and philosophic thought. Buddhism has been described by some as rational and non-dogmatic, and there is evidence that this has been the case from the earliest period of its history. Some popular conceptions of Buddhism connect it to discourse regarding evolution, quantum theory, and cosmology.

On religious extremism: During Q&A time, a woman in the audience asked: What do you make of the recent Rohingya Buddhist attacks? As always, in his calm manner, Chamtrul answered, ‘The Dharma is always good. It is the people who, ultimately, go against the teachings and do wrong in the world. It is the same with other religions, of course. It is not these extremists that define a religion.’

Rinpoche’s concluding words, before the end of his final session, went something like this: I do not expect everyone to leave this room and remember everything I’ve said, or anything I’ve said, for that matter. But the fact that you were present for these sessions, and provided that you’ve listened carefully, then the seed has already been planted in you. Ultimately, it is up to you to acknowledge it, find it within you, and make it flourish. Just like a farmer who sows seeds in his fields, simply planting it in the soil is not enough to make a tree grow. He needs to water the soil, give it nutrients, and maintain it in order for the plant to grow.

Other terms I learned:

khata – A traditional ceremonial scarf, usually made of silk. It symbolises purity and compassion and are worn or presented with incense at many ceremonial occasions, including births, weddings, funerals, graduations, and the arrival or departure of guests. Tibetan khatas are usually white, symbolising the pure heart of the giver.

samsara – A Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change. It also refers to the theory of rebirth and “cyclicality of all life, matter, existence”.

The Dharma – The teachings of the Buddha, commonly known throughout the East as Buddha-Dharma. It includes especially the discourses on the fundamental principles (such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path).

nirvana – A term used to describe the goal of the Buddhist path. It is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. In Hinduism and Buddhism, nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain – a state of enlightenment – meaning a person’s individual desires and suffering go away.

 

Although I am still quite sceptical of certain Buddhist views and beliefs, one thing I was very impressed about was the way everything seemed to link to one another, even if they are non-related subjects! These two days were truly a fascinating and enlightening experience for me and, should another similar opportunity arise, I will certainly not think twice about going again.

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Note: Images shown above are not my property. All photos in the slideshow were taken by Mr. Neville Delmar, during the talks.

– Preston __/\__

 

Back to the Drawing Board

… More like back to the canvas, really.

It’s been another busy week, here, but I still managed to find some time for painting.

For those of you who don’t know, last week I attended Chamtrul Rinpoche’s talks about “Dream Yoga” and “Buddhism & Science”. These two very interesting, well-attended sessions – held on the 26th and 28th of March, at the University of Malta Valletta Campus – gave me further insight into the cultural beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism.

If you’re interested in learning more about Rinpoche’s teachings, check out his videos by clicking on the following YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn1X9j7_nqqnm7J7fJoDi8Q/videos

So, this week, having been inspired from the aforementioned sessions, I decided to paint something to do with Buddhism. And this is what I came up with:

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“Laughing Buddha” using oil paints on canvas

 

This, my friends, is Budai (a.k.a. Hotei, or Pu-Tai) an iconic Chinese folkloric deity. His name literally means “Cloth Sack”, and comes from the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying. He carries his few possessions in the cloth sack; being poor but content. Budai is traditionally depicted as a fat, bald man, dressed in a robe and wearing – or sometimes carrying – prayer beads. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the Laughing Buddha.

– Preston

Book Review / Analysis – “The Outsider” by Albert Camus

Meursault leads an apparently unremarkable bachelor life in Algiers until his involvement in a violent incident calls into question the fundamental values of society.

In his classic existential novel Camus explores the predicament of the individual who is prepared to face the benign indifference of the universe courageously and alone.

In this world, cut off from a sense of God, society has created rules so binding that any person breaking them is condemned as an alien, an outsider. For Meursault it is an insult to his reason and a betrayal of his hopes; for Camus it is the absurdity of life.

To him Meursault was not ‘a reject, but a poor and naked man . . . who, without any heroic pretensions, agrees to die for the truth.’

———-

**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**

 

The opening lines (Joseph Laredo translation)

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home: ‘Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday.”

There are many debates about which translation of The Outsider (a.k.a. The Stranger) is best. There isn’t a specific one, however, each translation is a re-envisioning of the novel; the translator will determine which Meursault we the readers encounter, and in what light we understand him.

 

Meursault and Me – A Character Study

Dealing with death – During funerals, some people like the idea of being comforted by others, being given that friendly tap on the shoulder, or a hug. But guess what? Not everybody is like that. Some people just want to be left alone in times of mourning. They simply don’t want to be surrounded by dozens of people trying their best to comfort you, giving condolences, lots of crying, and embracing. Instead, they prefer being by themselves, alone, given their own space. It is exactly this lack of personal space why I find funerals to be quite awkward and sometimes even uncomfortable.

In the last couple of lines of chapter one, Meursault describes the joy of finally going “to bed and sleep for a whole twelve hours”, at the end of the day. Some people think that this is rude or shameful for him to say – making it seem as if he’s glad that his mother’s funeral is finally over, as if it’s a huge relief. But, I think that’s the wrong interpretation. Again, I completely understand the guy. After spending numerous hours surrounded by a whole bunch of people (most of which were strangers), and walking in the sweltering heat, who wouldn’t be glad to finally get some time to be alone and rest?

The power of observation – This is a common trait that he and I share. In large gatherings (in my case, whenever three or more people are present), I tend to be the quiet one. I usually sit back, and just observe everyone and everything around me. And Meursault does the same thing. He observes the people around him in the mortuary, and in another scene he sits outside on his balcony and clocks a family as they walk by on the pavement. For someone who despises being among groups of fellow humans, I too find people interesting (some more than others).

I’m all ears – This can be linked with the above. Not only does Meursault have good observation skills, but he’s also a very good listener. He may not show that he’s interested in what others are saying, but never turns down the opportunity when somebody needs to open up and share their thoughts. And I’d say I’m a good listener, as well (or I’d like to think that I am, at least).

All you need is love – Meursault may be socially awkward, but he seems like a completely different person when he’s with Marie, the love of his life. This is same with me. Although I haven’t yet found the love of my life, I do feel like I can be myself around certain women more than others. It takes a special woman, however, for that to happen.

Choose your friends wisely! – This is where the protagonist and I are different. In the third chapter, he befriends one of his neighbours – Raymond Sintès – who happens to be a very violent man. Why he decides to get so chummy with the bloke perplexes me. Raymond is a bad influence, and I believe that is the reason behind Meursault’s change in character. Rather sad, to be honest.

Ah decisions, decisions… – One thing I found very frustrating with Meursault was his emotional indifference and detachment toward certain important matters. For instance, how can you answer with an “I don’t mind”, when your partner proposes to you? It’s a basic yes or no question, for crying out loud. It’s not like they’re asking you to choose what to eat, between two of your favourite dishes, and you “don’t mind” which one to pick.

I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – “Then he asked me if he could say that I’d controlled my natural feelings that day. I said, ‘No, because it’s not true.'”. Always blunt, he never alters what he says to be tactful or to conform to societal expectations. I tend to stick to my guns and say things as they are, too. No matter how painful or uncomfortable that truth may be. I certainly will never do or say things to conform to society’s “norms” or to please other people. If it means me being the only one whose opinion is different from all the rest, so be it. Even if it makes me seem like the outsider, the stranger, the weirdo, or the odd one out.

 

The (unfair) trial

In part two of The Outsider, we witness Meursault’s trial. The irrelevant accusations that are made by witnesses about his lack of emotion on the day of his mother’s funeral. What may have seemed like trivial minutae to the reader in the first part of the book, all add up to being key factors in the trial, now. What’s bizarre, however, is that these comments have absolutely nothing to do with what Meursault has actually been accused of. He even admits “… for the first time in years, I stupidly felt like crying because I could tell how much all these people hated me.”

As if that’s not bad enough, although he is there as the accused Meursault is not even able to intervene and say something to defend himself. He says: “… my lawyer would always tell me, ‘Keep quiet, it’s better for you.’ In a way, they seemed to be conducting the case independently of me. Things were happening without me even intervening. My fate was being decided without anyone asking my opinion.”

Without sounding like the devil’s advocate, I couldn’t help but feel for the guy.

All these factors, I believe, are perfect examples of how people can hurt you, and can make your life a living hell. I can certainly link this to my trust issues, and to how I feel about people in general. I’ve been hurt and backstabbed numerous times in my life by people whom I thought were my so-called friends, which is why I now tend to push people away right from the start. Whilst I know that this doesn’t exactly help with building friendships and relationships, I simply find it hard to seriously trust anyone, nowadays.

 

In conclusion

On a personal level, The Outsider has enabled me to really dig deep, reflect, and to open up about personal feelings/opinions which I may never have spoken about before. Although this book is purely a work of fiction, with a philosophical element, I definitely see certain striking similarities in character, between the protagonist and myself. From all the books I’ve read so far, Meursault is undoubtedly my favourite character.

Analysing this novel was no walk in the park, I have to say. It involved some research, but most of all, plenty of self-reflection. And the entire reading-analysing process was very interesting, to say the least. Whilst I had to make certain omissions so as not to make this review too much of a bore for you guys, and to not give too much of the plot away, I tried my best to touch on the main points in order to give you a decent review.

I sincerely hope that you enjoyed it.

 

My rating:

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Book Quote

The examination began. He told me first of all that people described me as being taciturn and withdrawn and he wanted to know what I thought of that. I answered, ‘It’s just that I never have much to say. So I keep quiet.’

– Excerpt from The Outsider by Albert Camus

My Major 2018 Book Haul – Part Two

*€3/book BARGAIN BUY!* The Shape of WaterExcursion to TindariRounding the MarkThe Snack Thief  (from the Commissario Montalbano series) by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli – Tales from the book series featuring the fractious, intelligent, and down-to-earth Inspector Salvo Montalbano. All of the stories are set in Vigàta, a fictional town in the fictional province of Montelusa, Sicily. Since 1999, RAI has been producing a television series based on the popular novels, called in Italian, Il commissario Montalbano. Luca Zingaretti plays the part of the protagonist.

It by Stephen King – A 1986 novel written by the King of Horror himself. The story follows the experiences of seven children as they are terrorized by an entity that exploits the fears and phobias of its victims to disguise itself while hunting its prey. “It” primarily appears in the form of a clown to attract its preferred prey of young children.

*€1 BARGAIN BUY!* To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This novel was an immediate hit when it came out back in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and has since become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family, her neighbors, and an event that occurred near her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1936, when she was 10 years old. The story is told by the six-year-old Jean Louise Finch. One critic explains the novel’s impact by writing, “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.”

*€1 BARGAIN BUY!* The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe – After first having watched the 2014 film – which left a quite an impression on me – of the same name (starring Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace and Donald Sutherland), I just had to pick this book up when I saw it at one of the charity shops. The story, set in Dundas, Canada, follows the investigation of a local woman who is found murdered, with her mouth gruesomely shaped into a silent cry. Soon-to-be-retired Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef and her department are faced with their biggest case yet.

*€3 BARGAIN BUY!* Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Another classic. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age. The story follows the adventures of a noble named Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, to accompany him on the adventures.

P.S. The reason why I haven’t been very active this past week is because I’ve been working on my new and upcoming book review. You all probably know by now how seriously I take my reading and research, and the book I’m currently reading has lots to chew on. Hence my inactivity. What can I say, I just want to give you guys the best possible content 😉

– Preston

Becoming a Superstar

This week started off with a huge surprise.

On Monday afternoon, I got a call from my friend Mariano – last year’s panto director.

He told me that he’s taking part in an Easter pageant, that one of the actors has dropped out, and asked me if I’d be interested in filling in the role. Mariano then mentioned the name of the play, and I simply couldn’t decline the offer.

So, it is safe to say that one of my lifelong dreams will be coming true, this weekend.

I will be taking part in Jesus Christ Superstar 18. And I’ll be playing the part of the apostle John.

Directed by Antoine Galdes and Ismael Bonello, the play is based on the 2000 film Jesus Christ Superstar, which is a modern take on the original 1973 movie of the same name.

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This will be a first for me, as I’ve never taken part in a Passion Play, before. And Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my all-time favourite musicals, featuring fantastic tracks composed by the great Andrew Lloyd Webber.

For those wondering: No, taking part in this play does not mean that I’ve now converted to Christianity. Far from it. I did this purely for the experience of trying out something new.

Given that the two performances will take place tomorrow and Saturday evening, it’s been a very busy, hectic week for me. I met with the other members of the cast on Monday, therefore the bond between the others and myself isn’t that strong; I’m still the new kid on the block. And due to my refereeing duties, I couldn’t attend rehearsals yesterday, and the day before.

All this said, however, it’s not to say that I won’t try. Since I have committed myself, then I will certainly put in my best effort (as I always do).

Here’s a sneak peek of what the stage looks like…

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With large, beautiful projections, great music, stunning light effects, and a talented, hard-working team of actors and dancers, I’m sure that we’ll captivate our audience with a spectacular and unforgettable show!

– Preston

300: Rise of a Referee

I am just one match shy of officiating my 300th game.

Whilst this is an unbelievably great milestone, I have to admit that it comes with a bunch of mixed feelings and emotions.

The first, undoubtedly, is pride. I am proud of myself for having come this far. In these three years that I’ve been refereeing, I’ve had tons of experience. Some moments more unforgettable and amazing than others. And yet, I’m still learning to this day. I still make mistakes. I still mess up, occasionally. Such is life. Refereeing has helped me a lot on a personal level throughout these years. I am not as shy as I used to be, and I’ve grown a thicker and tougher skin. I’ve also learned how to be more responsible, more assertive, and how to handle situations calmly (but firmly) when tension is high. All this, and more, whilst keeping the three most important things in mind in whatever I did; ethics, integrity, and passion. Not only have these skills helped me on the pitch, but they are skills which I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life, outside of football.

And now, on to the negative points…

In contrast to what I said before, I have now reached a point where my enthusiasm has withered drastically. Not for the sport, of course, and not for refereeing either. It’s because of the people involved in the sport (coaches and players alike), and several members/groups in the Malta Football Association, that my enthusiasm has dwindled. In the past three years, I’ve realised that there is no hope of improvement in this sport, in Malta. Not currently, at least. If we seriously want to see change, a major cleanup is needed, starting from the way things are run at the very top, all the way down to the development and coaching of players in football clubs. But more on that some other time (again, keeping ethics in mind).

It is rather disappointing that, whenever I am appointed to a match nowadays, not only am I slightly nervous because of the game itself and of wanting to perform well, but also out of fear of my own life. Yes, you read that well. I am actually scared of being seriously hurt (or worse) whenever I have a football match. I feel completely unsafe in my place of work. I go out onto the field of play to do my job to the best of my ability, and I don’t know if I’ll return back home in one piece, or with a broken jaw or a black eye. Yes, the current situation is that bad. And what’s being done in order to minimise the possibility of something like this from happening? Absolutely f**k all. No matter how much us referees speak up, though, it all seems to fall on deaf ears. The phrase we often use – “expect the unexpected” – can now be changed to: “Nothing is unexpected”. That is the sad reality.

With all this said, nothing will ever change the way I feel about this beautiful sport. It is because I don’t want to see football go to sh*t that I get so worked up whenever a bad incident happens. Certain people, though, still choose to call me a “negative person”. But that’s their opinion, and they have every right to it.

As the 2017/18 season soon draws to a close, I would like to wish my colleagues all the best for the remaining couple of hard-working months ahead. Remember to stay strong, and keep focused!

In my case, the end of my refereeing career seems to be inching closer and closer, as time passes. Until then, however, I still look forward to more appointments and experiences.

– Preston

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