Three favourite reads of 2017
When I was in school, education for me equated to my school’s syllabus.
I was too young to understand that that’s untrue. After entering the workforce, I came to realise how narrow-minded that thinking is.
Our school syllabus forms a mere fraction of what we need to know to excel in life. Hence this year, to further my learning, I picked up the habit of reading.
Here are my favourite reads of the year:
1. Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind
I picked up this book at a time where I had lost all motivation to exercise. I had stopped working out entirely and had spent the previous months searching for a good reason to restart a fitness routine.
The book gave me a good reason start again: to hone compassion.
In the book, Sakyong Mipham wrote “I am often asked why I run… Like many people who run, I run for health as well as for joy.”
He continued, “There is a deeper meaning, which has to do with my intention. I believe that with pure intention, you can bring almost any activity into your spiritual path. My intention in running is to benefit others. Thus running is a continuation of my spiritual journey.”
“With a powerful mind, if we intend our run to be for the welfare of others, then it is. Conversely, if we turn our meditation into a completely selfish pursuit, that is exactly what it will be. In either activity, it is our intention that determines whether the result is ordinary or extraordinary.”
I found from my own experimentation that that is true.
As such, running, swimming and yoga have become mediums for me to actively train myself to benefit others in the world, with them being valuable incubators of intent.
This renewed perspective on workouts is also the reason why I have been training regularly, but have stopped racing competitively.
2. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World
I picked up this book after reading about Singapore’s founding father umpteen times in other books, with the tipping point being Ray Dalio’s Principle. In his book, Dalio, the founder of the world largest hedge fund company, Bridgewater Associates, wrote the following.
“There was and still is no leader who I admire more than Lee Kuan Yew, who transformed Singapore from a mosquito-infested backwater to a model economy. That says a lot, as I have gotten to know and admire several world leaders.”
After reading Lee’s book, it is not hard to see why.
Written in Q&A style, Lee in the book scrutinised America’s democracy, China’s political frameworks through the years, and other countries’ systems of governing.
Singapore’s brand of democracy, which is sometimes critiqued as more of a dictatorship, is consequentially the brainchild of his pros and cons analyses of other systems. It is also a testament to his style of running a country, an undeniably effective one, that is. Interestingly, he does not show deep preference to any particular political system, but rather, whichever works.
“My life is not guided by philosophy or theories. I get things done and leave others to extract the principles from my successful solutions. I do not work on a theory. Instead, I ask: what will make this work? If, after a series of solutions, I find that a certain approach worked, then I try to find out what was the principle behind the solution,” he stated.
Although my takeaways from Lee’s book are mostly his acute analyses of countries by the way they are ruled, I also learnt more about the grandmaster through the final chapter titled ‘How Lee Kuan Yew Thinks.’
In the chapter, Lee shared his wisdom gained through the years. My favourite being, “I have also come to understand the insignificance of personal achievements. For at 60, more than at 50, comes the realisation of the transient nature of all earthly glories and successes, and the ephemeral quality of sensory joys and pleasure, when compared to intellectual, moral, or spiritual pursuits.”
For anyone who wants to learn about the grandeur of thought behind today’s Singapore, I strongly recommend this book.
3. No Fear, No Death: Comforting Wisdom for Life
The last book on this personal list was what I turned to during another one of those moments when I felt lost in life.
Life, as I understand, is a meaningless journey. It seems especially so if I compare a lifetime’s worth of impact one can make against millions of years of history. And even more so when individuals get more replaceable every day, by the evergrowing world population, by artificial intelligence, and by biotechnology.
So, what shall I make of my one non-consequential, burdensome life?
The answer I found in the book is, as the title proclaims, comforting wisdom: we are not born, we do not die.
Thich Nhant Hanh, the zen master widely known as Thay, wrote that we are mere manifestations, not creations. And when we see deeply enough, we can realise that there is no birth, no death, no coming, no going, no same, no different, no being, no non-being.
Instead, we all simply inter-are.
“Where were you before your birthday,” and “You can try making a piece of paper into nothing. Is it possible,” Thay asked.
By tackling my questions with more profound questions, he helped me dissolve my personal existential conundrum. More importantly, these questions give me a reason to continue existing: it is not enough to understand the answers to life on a logical level, one has to practice living to truly understand.
So perhaps it is true that life has no meaning. The lesson here is that, even so, the reason to exist is to live.