Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reading The Book that so many have read.

So I've done it...

At 31 years old I've started to read the book that I've heard so much about.

With my personal library mainly consisting of books on spirituality, new age thought, life after death, psychology and eastern philosophy and religion, the book I've started to read has been quoted countless times throughout.

I found myself asking questions like...

Why has it been quoted so much?

Why have so many people read it?

Why do so many people live their lives by it?

Why do people say it's the only book you will ever have to read?

What makes the stories it contains so profound?

Why do so many people take the stories as truth?

Why have people killed in its name?

Is this book really the key to heaven and the way to escape burning for eternity in the fires of hell?

Funnily enough, despite the overwhelming seriousness of the latter, what was more important for me was why people kept on saying that my work reminds them of the book's core values, even though I've never read it, nor am I religious?

When I moved to Taiwan, I only brought with me a handful of books. One of them was this one.

The bible.

Now, it's a chunky read, so I'm going to be reading other books alongside it.

But anyhow, here I go.

(Just read the bit about circumcision... hmm... if the next time you see me I look in pain, you know why.)

Saturday, 11 October 2014

You Deserve the Best

"... I finally understand my right to choose
My preacher man told me it could always be worse
Even the three-legged dog still got three good legs to lose
So you can stop and refresh the rules
Breathe in, breathe out, let it heal all your exit wounds
Something inside said that's the move
and maybe today, I'll start fresh and new."

These are the lyrics I woke up with this morning running through my mind. They're from the 'The Day' by The Roots.

You can listen to it here:

As always, when I wake up with lyrics in my head it means that my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something. It can be a song I haven't heard for many years, yet the lyrics are present when I open my eyes. They're loud and clear as if the song had been played to me in my sleep. My subconscious mind knows that I love music and it uses it as a tool to communicate with me, knowing farewell that I'll listen.

So what do these lyrics mean for me?

They act as a reminder that my feelings are there to be trusted. They act as a reminder that they're guiding me, free of charge, if only I invest in them my trust. My subconscious mind is telling me that it's using my feelings as a way to help me move forward. They can get me out of any rut that I face - and so far they have never once failed.

This time, they relate to an area in my life that has been nagging me for a couple of weeks. Now that I've been reminded of "my right to choose" I know that I only have to be in that situation for as long as I choose to be.

And that's massively empowering, especially when I've been assuming that there's no way out.

I asked myself a simple question: If I was to die within the next two days, do I want to be feeling like this for the rest of my life?

The obvious answer was a very blunt no.

So I did something about it.

I urge you to trust that which is innate within you.

It deserves your attention and trust.

And you deserve it's guidance and assurance.

Learn to listen and distinguish the difference between your head and your heart.

Your head will tell you, with a voice soaked in fear, that something can't be done, and will even come up with reasons to back it up.

If you listen to this voice and give it time and attention, life will present you with evidence (undesirable circumstances, difficult situations) that this voice was the gospel truth.

And with conviction you will say to yourself and others, 'You see... I told you life was hard. I told you that nothing good ever happens to me.'

You might even be labelled unlucky or unfortunate by some, and there will be a part of you that kind of likes that because it proves that you were right.

And who doesn't like being right about their own life?

As long as you maintain this pattern of mental behaviour, you will see evidence for it in your life.

Yet it's all down to how you managed your attention.

The inner, that which is unseen, is reflected on the outer, which is seen... the outer being a manifested state of the inner.

Plant the seed of a rose and only a fool expects an apple tree to spring forth from the soil.

Your heart, on the other hand, will cradle your head and tell it not to worry, that everything is going to be OK. Your heart, with a soothing voice, will say, 'Trust in me. I am the way.'

If it sounds a bit like God to you, it's because it is.

It's because you are.

It is your I Am.

If that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, then change the three lettered word with a word like Life

They're two fingers pointing at the same star.

Your heart beats to the rhythm of the entire universe. 

It deserves your respect. 

Feelings of fear (not to be confused with nervousness or mild anxiety) - those that come with a certain heaviness to them - spring from your head and are due to a lack of trust and, ultimately, ignorance.

These thoughts should not be given a second one.

Feelings of warmth and hope - those that come with a certain lightness to them - those that 'feel right', come from your heart; a deeper part of yourself that knows you and knows what is best for you.

For these thoughts and feelings, there is no such thing as too much attention.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that make you feel safe and reassuring.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that put a smile on your heart - it can be sensed by others.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that help you perceive others in a loving light.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that fill you with hope and inspiration.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that help you see every moment as a reason to celebrate.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that fill you with love; first for yourself and then for others - this is not being selfish.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to those that give you energy, enthusiasm and a burning passion for living.

You deserve the best.

Change your thoughts and expectations to truly exercise your free will.

You deserve the best.

You really do.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Today I saw a big pig sleeping at the side of the road

Moving on...

Whenever I thought of Chinese students I always pictured them working their arses off.

And usually not by their own doing.

I always imagined their teachers (or masters) to be super strict, standing at the front of the class with a bamboo cane, punishing below average students by making them do the horse-stance over an incense stick for an hour; with cups of hot tea resting on their head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Or maybe it was all the martial arts films I had watched having a bigger influence on me than I thought.

As my Taiwanese girlfriend bluntly said, 'It's not like that... and what's a horse-stance?'

So now I find myself being a student in Taiwan and I can say from experience that my teacher doesn't have a bamboo cane (at least, I don't think she does...) and so far I've been obedient enough not to have an incense stick blowing smoke up where the sun doesn't shine. But having said that, I can honestly say that the expectations the teachers have of their students are far greater than in the west.

For instance, I've just finished my fourth week at Uni. In total, my class have been given over 100 Chinese traditional characters to learn (that includes reading and writing them). We also have to learn the pinyin and the tones to go with the pinyin (whilst knowing which letters the tones go above).

I don't know, maybe it's just me being a weak westerner, but to my mind that's a lot of stuff to remember!

I got talking to a local the other day whilst waiting for the bin collection. As the sound of the bin truck got louder and louder (it sounds like an ice-cream man's rendition of a Beethoven's piece) the old man said something to me in Chinese, to which I replied (in Chinese) 'I'm sorry, I don't understand.'

He smiled and said, 'Oh, sorry, are you enjoying Taiwan?'

Now, this hardly ever happens! I was so shocked that I laughed.

'You speak really good English,' I said.

He smiled and said that he had studied in Edinburgh many years ago.

We got talking about this and that when I added that I was studying at Shida.

'Ah yes, a great university,' said my new friend. 'Chinese is hard to write, don't you think?'

Damn right! The fact that it was a local saying this comforted me somewhat because, let me tell you, Chinese characters are beautiful, yes, but incredibly intricate. And there's an order to the strokes too, something that you have to stick to because Taiwanese people know when you've done it the wrong way (or at least my girlfriend does...).

The other night it took me 2.5 hours to complete a set of questions on a single side of A4. And this wasn't just me... a few of my classmates said the same.

So let's get back to the workload:

- Daily class
- Up to 20 hours a month of additional study
- Homework
- Revision for 3 tests a week.

It's like having a full-time job that you take home with you.

Having grumbled all of that, I want to say that the eastern approach might be tough, but I think it could be having the desired affect.     

Yesterday, my girlfriend introduced me to a new cafe for us to study in. As we approached the cafe she pointed to the sign and asked me to read it. I felt daunted at the simple task until she said, 'You've gone through these words in class'. When I looked closer at the sign, I realised that I had indeed studied the characters, it's just that they were in a funky font. 

I felt a wave of pride come up through my chest as I read out loud 喝個咖啡吧!

And she, like a proud parent, nodded and smiled.

Bearing in mind that I was on the verge of carrying out a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I was indeed useless at languages, I have now been given a bit of faith, not only in myself but in the human race and our ability to learn.

If I can begin to read, write and speak Chinese in several weeks (very little, I might add, but little is still some) then this tells me that our ability to learn is virtually unlimited. All that's needed is an incentive to learn; that then provides the motivation and that then provides the results (mix in there time and patience and you're golden).

It could be boiled down to this: If you want to learn, you will.

If you want your mind to absorb new information, it will.

A tea drinking, bamboo wielding master isn't necessary.

Right, back to my studying... test tomorrow.


Monday, 1 September 2014

A Safety-net Underfoot

A safety-net is a wonderful thing.

It brings comfort and stability to that part of ourselves that fears putting one foot into the unknown. 

But if we look closer we see that a safety-net is actually woven with threads of fear.

Not only that, but because the net is full of huge gaping holes, it's incredibly hard to move forward. 

When we can't move forward, we hinder our growth.

And when we hinder our growth life can become insipid.

For me, that's the ultimate sin.

The reason I'm nattering on about safety nets is because many people have said that my recent move to Taiwan was courageous and I'm always genuinely amazed by the remark.

With not being a traveler, my comfort zone has been stretched more than it ever has been in 31 years, but bravery didn't enter the equation for one specific reason.

And that reason was Love.

Yes, yes, I know I've plunged into the ocean of sentimental cheesy-ness, but hear me out;

The only reason I moved to Taiwan was because I was - and am - in love with a beautiful girl. It was because of her that I didn't feel I was being brave when I decided to move, for the simple fact that I just decided to move.

That's the important bit:

I just decided to move.

I just moved.

I just did it.

I made the decision and stuck to it.

My safety-net was my previous job with it's stable income, but with that now gone I'm left to find a new balance in a new land. And this didn't bother me because I was motivated by Love.

With a sense of Love, everything seems possible.

With a sense of Love, when you step forward on your net of comfort and stability, the gaping holes are filled with an invisible force that holds you upright.

I don't mean for the word Love to be limited between two people. For me, self-love comes first and then only with that Love of yourself are you able to Love another and see how carrying Love within you can change your world. 

If you're driven by some artistic intent and every cell in your body is bursting with the desire to create, and then all of a sudden life presents you with an opportunity that will undoubtedly drag your safety-net from under your feet, you will go for it. (You would be foolish not to!) When you go for it you won't think you're being brave. You'll just do it because you're driven by Love.

A Love to create. 

A Love to follow your desire. 

Your dream. 

Your gut instinct.

Your calling.

Yes, you might feel nervous, but that's just the vibrations of your safety net being stretched.

It's normal.

Nerves tell us that were're having an experience that we sense is a threat to our being, but more often than not it's no threat whatsoever - it's just growth.

Love is the ultimate safety-net.

Step forward and see what happens - in my case, Taiwan happened.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Riddlers

All day long I’m surrounded by people speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese. It’s beautiful, but at the moment I can only pick out certain words – therefore, whole sentences remain non-existent – therefore, I haven’t got a clue what anybody’s saying. But, still, it’s beautiful. I was stood at my bedroom window with a cup of tea and could hear one of my Taiwanese flat mates on the phone to a friend. 
That’s how this poem came about.

Such a foreign tongue
For this alien to understand.
It speaks its riddles,
Then laughs!
At what?
I don’t know – but I will.
Because this foreign tongue,
With its sing-along tones,
Will not be foreign for long
For this foreigner,
Who is keen to unlock the riddles,
Will sound,
- One day -
Like them,
The Riddlers,
And, I too, will become a riddler
Who laughs at something he understands.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Krishna and Sudama (A short story)

'There's a time for everything.'

These were the words of a retired Hindu doctor when he invited me into his house to tell me a story about Krishna and his best friend Sudama.

The story starts here.

Lord Krishna and Sudama were best friends in school. Very close, they were. But, as is very common among school friends, once school was over they went their separate ways. 

Lord Krishna went back to his kingdom, whereas Sudama, being a commoner, became a very popular Brahman. He fed his wife and four children by visiting people at their homes, who were more than happy to give him the little food they had left over.

Considering his poor quality of life, Sudama was still devoted to his best friend, Lord Krishna.

As time past, he became poorer and poorer. The food he was being given just couldn't keep up with the needs of his family's (we all know how the appetites of growing children can feed an army!).

Sudama knew his family were getting desperate. He could see it in their faces, especially when they looked at him as he walked through the door and laid out the scraps of food on the table. His wife was beginning to get scared for their health.

"Sudama, my dear, I know you do a good job at being a Brahman, but please consider going to see your friend, Lord Krishna, and asking him for help."

But he wouldn't. He was content on living on very little. 

Krishna's wife, Rukmani, said to her husband, "Why don't you go and help your friend? Look at what they're going through."

Of course, Krishna already knew what was going on in Sudama's life. He knew everything. He sat and listened to his wife as she pleaded with him over and over again. 

"My dear, I can't help him," said Krishna.

"But you must - you must!" said Rukmani. Her pestering was as persistent as waves against solid cliffs.

"OK," said Krishna, "I will attempt to help him. Watch and see what happens."

Not long after that, Sudama was making his daily errands, when a family, who normally gave him poor quality scraps (that he was content with, remember), gave him a food hamper full of delicious sweet meats, bread and milk! 

Can you believe it! I can assure you that Sudama couldn't.

After he had pinched himself a dozen times (and not a pinch less), he expressed his gratitude and off home he went, his knees weakening under the enormous amount of food on his back.

Oh, how happy he was! 

He couldn't wait to get it all home so he could feed his thinning family.

Now, the reason I mentioned that his knees were weakening was because of what happened next.

As he got to the summit of a large hill, he paused and looked proudly over the distance he had covered. He bent down and washed a tatty facecloth in a murky puddle and went on to wipe his face and his neck. The cold (yet dirty) cloth felt so good against his dry, sun-burnt skin. This is a little reward for climbing the hill, he thought to himself. Even the fittest person alive would've found such a task challenging! He took a deep breath and was just about to put one foot in front of the other, when, BANG!

Somebody, and God knows who, ran into him, knocking him to his knees. 

Poor Sudama!

Whoever it was must've been running with their eyes shut, because anybody who's anybody would've seen the man on the hill with the large amount of food on his back! The rushing runner didn't even have the time to stop and apologise! Such is the attitude of those who think they have no time; they insist on doing things to prove just that.

Sudama picked himself up and what he then saw created a lump in his throat. The delicious food was now sat in the muddy puddle. Wasted. 

Ah! But what's that, just on the outside of the perimeter of the puddle?It was bits of food that hadn't been soiled! Not all was lost! 

"This will do," he said to himself. "This will definitely do. My family are used to eating scraps of food. They don't have to know about the food that has gone to waste."

And it's quite difficult to even guess what happened next to our friend Sudama. As he was picking up the last crumbs of dry food, a huge dog came and ate it all before he had a chance to do anything! 

Now he really did feel low.

Krishna and his wife, Rukmani, watched the whole episode. 

"You see, I told you," said Krishna, "due to his past deeds, his time hasn't come yet."

Rukmani remained quiet, but she knew he was right. After all, she had just witnessed the law of karma in action.

Now, Sudama's wife was really starting to worry. As Sudama was out of the house most of the time, it was she that could see her children losing weight - not to mention her own increasingly emaciated appearance. With more constant pleas (and she had every right to be nagging him!) he agreed to go and see Krishna.

"But we are so poor," he said, "that we don't have anything to give to him. And we have to give him something."

"OK, my love... give him these. They will suffice." She handed him a few grains of rice that she had cooked the previous evening. She folded them into a little cloth and fastened it to his waste.

"It's not much, but it's something."

"Thank you," said Sudama.

They embraced each other and he set off on the long journey to Krishna's kingdom. 

The all-knowing Krishna knew he was coming and met him at the door with a warm welcome. He sat Sudama down on the sofa and washed his feet - this is how close they were as friends!

As Krishna rubbed his feet, he asked Sudama what gift he had brought. 

Sudama shrank in the sofa, becoming quiet and shy.

"Lord Krishna," he said, his voice a painful whisper, "my family are poor. Really poor. Poorer than we have ever been. I have four children and my wife to feed..."

"What are trying to tell me, friend?" said Krishna, even though he knew.

"I'm afraid the only thing I've brought you are a few grains of rice that we could spare." 

Krishna smiled and gladly accepted the gift. He placed them on his tongue and began to think about his friend's living conditions and the love he had for his family. 

To Sudama's surprise, Krishna thought they were  the most sumptuous grains of rice he had ever tasted!

After a few days, Sudama headed home. He thought about how great a friend Krishna had been since they first met in school, all those years ago. "Such a wonderful friend!" he said to himself. "Such a wonderful... friend."

And then, as he turned the last corner, he saw something that forced him to freeze right there on the spot.

His house had disappeared! 

But not only had it vanished, it had been replaced with a palace, with solid gold pillars and balcony's that overlooked the village. 

You should've seen his face!

He opened the huge front door (mainly to inquire what had happened to his starving family) and he was greeted by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. "My Sudama!" she shouted, wrapping her arms around him. "You look at me as if I am a stranger. It is I, your wife."

"You look radiant, love!" he said. "I can't believe it."

"My love, you should see your children!"

She called for them and all four came running down the giant staircase and circled their father.

Sudama had tears of joy. He had been away for quite sometime, he was so happy to see they were safe and well.

"A miracle happened when you were gone, father!" his eldest son said.

"A true miracle!" said his youngest daughter.

And it is here where the story ends.

We sat in silence for a moment. My mind slowly putting together the pieces of the story.

'You understand?' said the retired Hindu doctor.

Before I had the chance to answer, he added with excitement, 'There's a time for everything! Everything happens when it is supposed to happen! Not sooner. Not later. Individually and collectively, it's all happening perfectly.'

And it is here where this blog posts ends.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

On the Brink of Change

I've just opened my desk drawer and found a bookmark that I've had for years.

It's a Winnie the Pooh one and it shows him walking through the woods, hands behind his back. His friend Piglet is by his side, pleasantly gazing at him, and the excited Tigger is bouncing along up ahead.

At the top, there's a quote which reads, "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes."

That quote has never been more relevant to my life than now.

I'm on the brink of change.

A chapter is ending and a new chapter is beginning. How it will all unfold, I have no idea. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, with the faith that the ground will continue to support me. If it doesn't, well, then my time to meet the maker has come. 

As someone told me recently, 'We spend more time dead, than we do alive.' 

The change I'm going through is taking me to Taiwan, where I'll be reunited with my girlfriend and learning Mandarin at a university in Taipei. 

I remember back towards the end of last year, I was trudging through the city of Leeds, when someone gave me a flyer. Normally, I refuse to accept one but this time I gladly took it and looked at it. And I'm so glad I did because the words printed on it had a profound affect on me.

They simply said:


The feeling I had when I read those words will forever be with me. It was like they were speaking directly to me from another place. They were the words that I needed to see/hear at exactly that moment in my life.

Has that ever happened to you? You'll know it if it has. It's like God/Life is speaking to you directly. It's giving you a key to the next stage in your development. Little clear signposts telling you where to go and what to do next.

I'm 31 and I've never had a desire to leave my hometown. I never dreamt of moving to a foreign country; I never had a reason to.

But leaving my girlfriend at the airport in January was too much.

I had to follow her. 

You know the scene in Donnie Darko when he suddenly sees the manifestation of intent coming out of his stomach, then it turns into a hand and motions for him to follow it? Remember? Well that was what it felt like for me. I felt like there was a massive hand above my girlfriend, motioning for me to go to Taiwan.

She said on a number of occasions, "I feel like I've come to take you home."

So here I am, four days until I fly with a one-way ticket. 

I've been going through the process of saying goodbye to as many friends and family members as I can. Some have been teary - some haven't. I've said goodbye to my work colleagues who I've worked with for the past decade. I was surprised that I felt sad to leave them (they're a mental bunch of lads... but I wouldn't swap any of them). 

I don't know how long I'm going to be in Taiwan for. It could be 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years, 30 years. I honestly don't know.

But I'm going to run with it and see where it takes me.

Feelings of anxiety and the occasional flutter of nerves come to the surface when I think of what I'm doing.

I've been told it's normal.

I'm sure it is.

I'm stretching my comfort zone that's very much like an elastic band... the more you stretch it, the stronger it gets... the trick is to do it gradually so it doesn't snap.

We've all heard of those celebrities who get famous way too soon... they go crazy. Their comfort zone was pushed to the limits before they had time to adjust. It's like pulling a muscle... you've got to warm it up first to prevent such a thing from happening.

This morning, I had breakfast with a good mate of mine, the illustrator, Peter O'toole. He said, "Risk versus reward. The higher the risk, the higher the potential reward. Every time I've done something that's out of my comfort zone, something good has come out of it."

People have said I'm courageous for moving to Taiwan, but, really, what have I go to lose compared to what I've got to gain?

This opportunity has presented itself to me on my path.

I must have put it there for a reason.

And what better reason, than to stretch my comfort zone and grow.

I'm going to live at my own risk.