Saturday, March 14, 2015

Religious organizations: critical thinking vs. sense of fulfillment

Recently, Taiwan's media is full of drama about how religious organization take advantages of massive loopholes in the Taiwanese law system to evade tax, are non-transparent about usage of public donation money, encroach on lands not meant to be developed, and perform for-profit actions even though they are registered as NGOs. 

One of the main points from all these drama is the need for the government to quickly fix the laws so they can better regulate all organized religions. However, the focus of the media seems to be that since religious organizations try to teach people to be moral, shouldn't they hold themselves with morality higher than what is required by law and provide more transparent declarations of their financial statements? So the media people acted like hounds detecting the scent of wounds and went ahead to tear apart the organizations' flaws, exposing all their amoral activities, treating major and minor flaws with equal fervour in terms of judgement.

Well, internationally, from the Catholic Church, to ISIS, we know that all large religious organizations are composed of human beings, and are therefore bound to have problems despite the moral, well-meaning teachings of all holy books. Seems to be like the only way to fix the problem *is* to pass stricter regulations, because time and time again, it has been shown that self-regulation does NOT work, whether it's the financial sector, business world, scientific field, sports, education, religious field, or the government itself.

An interesting interaction I observed, was a debate between 2 cousins over the above mentioned issue. One of them, who is a member of the Taiwanese religious organization. She is angry and saddened by all the recent public criticisms over her beloved organization, which consists of a group of volunteers for whom she has high respects and with whom she enjoys working and volunteering together.

While I'm happy for her that she finds true happiness and fulfillment in life through volunteering work at the organization, along with a group of like-minded people, it also raises several questions in my mind:

1. Because this organization performs a lot of charity work worldwide, and because it provides a platform for good-hearted people like my cousin, is it okay for the members organization to ignore the acts of tax evasion, donation embezzlement, and other amoral activities, performed by higher management of the this organization in Taiwan?

2.  The volunteer activities that my cousin perform routinely (provide free dental care periodically for the poor), in a way, demonstrates the incompetence of the local government. In other words, if she lived in a country with better social care, like one of the Scandinavian country, then her act of charity would not be needed (ie. the government would pay for her service for those who can't afford it). Would she still feel fulfilled living in such a country, or would she feel at a loss? Because, realistically, the government can provide more comprehensive service coverage than a charity organization can.

I think about it because I feel the Swedes are a bit cold, since they feel that every social issue should be the government's problem, and the Swedish government does try to tackle most of the issues, but of course not with the same kind of fervour as a charity group. I never used to think this way, but recently I begin to feel like volunteering is actually a selfish act, meant to make the volunteer feel better about themselves. Having done many types of volunteer work in Vancouver, I do feel kind of hollow that I cannot easily find an organization to volunteer for in Sweden, since I don't speak the language. Shouldn't I be happy that the people here are so well taken care of? Not exactly. I think I feel happier if I have more opportunity to help out and feel useful.

3. As an outsider observing the news reports and blog articles, there is extremely like something is really wrong with the transparency of this Taiwanese religious organization, since it does not seem to want to be honest with its members or the public. Several of those who criticize the organization have done a lot of research and provide a lot of evidence to back their claims. Many of them are also highly educated and highly accomplished people in law, politics, social service, journalism, etc. Yet the members of this organization seem to repeat the same argument over and over again to defend their organization: our organization has done so much good in this world. How dare you criticize us? How does bringing down our organization serve the world? Does it bring you peace and happiness, or just a wicked sense of satisfaction? 

I'm pretty sure through constant digging of the public, the corruption and unlawful events will be continually dug up for examination by the Taiwanese society. For me, the scarier part is the apparent blindness of the members, that criticizing the unlawful aspects of an organization does not negative all the good it provides for the society, and that more transparency is good for everyone, including the public, the donors, the government, the members, and those who receive help from the organization. One thing that is really wrong is that this organization has brainwashed its members such that no one from within the group has spoken up in agreement about the need for improved transparency.

Another issue that concerns me is that its members seem to think that peace and harmony are more important than truth and transparency. This is, I guess, a central principle of Asian societies that follow Confucius teachings. The individual is not important. The prosperity of the organization, be it family, school, company, religious group, or the nation, is more important than any of the individuals. The teachings are more dogmatic and do not encourage critical thinking. I recall an earlier interaction I had with this cousin about some family issue. Her response was for me to reflect within about myself. I tried to share with her some of my reflections, but it seemed like her message was to keep reflecting; focus on what's wrong with yourself rather than what's wrong with everyone else. Don't just keep complaining about other people. While I partially agree with this type of thinking, I disagree with turning a complete blind eye on the faults of the others.  

Sorry about the super long post. I guess my question is at what point does a virtuous teaching (self-reflection) make you less aware about what's happening around you and how easily can biased teaching make you see the world through very biased lenses? I am of course, also biased by my way of living, my upbringing, my education, and by those around me. Are we all hopelessly biased or does critical thinking still has a place in this world? Why do I have trouble communicating with pretty much every member of my family with attempted reasoning? Maybe in another 10 years I'll be able to put my thoughts into writing that is a bit more digestible by readers. For now please excuse my mental garbage dumping.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Restless in Savasana

I used to be really good at savasana. At the end of every intensive power yoga class, I would happily collapse into my corpse pose and sometimes even fall asleep. It was not a problem for me to stay still for 5-10minutes and observe the trickles of electric energy moving up and down my body.

Not so with Bikram yoga. I'm still not so sure about the savasanas in between each seated postures. I understand what they are meant for theoretically, but practically I don't know if it works as well as they claim (to release the blood flow in the body after each compression posture). In the beginning I really disliked them, since they felt disruptive to the flow of the sequence. Now I have gotten used to them, and welcome the break after each posture. It's not that the seated postures are particularly difficult, just that the heat of the room really gets to me.

It's the savasana at the end of the class that's been particularly challenging for me.  So far I have been feeling totally restless at the end of class 80% of the time, with the desire to get up and run around, do a headstand, wiggle like a worm, go into urdhva dhanurasana. The most I could do though was to wiggle around until the teacher leaves the room. It seems like the 26 posture-sequence, with kabbalah baati breathing exercise at the end, is not an energy grounding practice. I could feel the heat generated by my body from the practice clashing with the heat of the room.

On the other hand, I always sleep very well after a Bikrams class (I practice in the evenings). That's one of the reasons why I keep going back. We'll see if my wiggle problem goes away after a few more weeks of practice.

This energy/emotion business is so interesting. Yoga and the heat really stir up a lot of emotions and thoughts for me, but not in a bad way. I think I'm the type who needs frequent, strong doses of external stimulations in the body in order to drive away the negative, depressing energy within me. The scientist in me wishes I could study this subject scientifically somehow, but I have no idea how this "energy/mood" can be objectively measured and quantitated. Ah well, someone smarter than me will invent the method/instrument some day.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


According to this article, there are only 5 basic fears, in which all our feels fall under:

1. Fear of Ego Death
2. Fear of Separation
3. Fear of Loss of Autonomy
4. Fear of Mutilation
5. Fear of Extinction

I am very lucky that at the moment, I don't have the bottom two fears. My hearts go out for those living in war-torn zones or high violent crime areas. However, all of my life I have been struggling with fear #3, and at the moment, I am especially struggling with fears #1 and #2.

Everything I do at work, I am trying for the first time, and hence I'm not very good at it. I am a bit upset that I have picked a field that is so unstable and advances so fast, that as soon as I barely master the skill, my contract will end and I will have to find a new job which will require me to learn a brand new set of skills. On the plus side it'll keep my brain very active. On the down side I constantly beat myself up for sucking at what I do every day, and I constantly worry that the boss will want to replace me and I won't be able to get that next job. This is my ego having a very low self esteem.

At the second level, I don't have many good friends right now, and my bf, due to troubles in his own family, cannot provide security. To him, fear for the loss of autonomy is a lot greater than the fear of separation. For me, my fear of separation is so high that I act all crazy and sacrifice some of my own autonomy, and of course the strategy is not working.

Because I find it impossible to connect with people here (also contributes to fear #1 - my ego hurts for sucking at building close friendship), my gut tells me I should leave this country ASAP. But who knows if the next place will be any better? Similarly, because of the vast difference of our backgrounds, my bf and I are not a good fit, but separation anxiety takes over me at the thought of splitting from him. We talked about breaking up, but while he seems calm, the thought of it makes it feel like my whole world is about to fall apart.

I think I need to learn to deal with my fears a lot better or else I will be a mess forever.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Trying to understand my family through observing Taiwanese politics

I have been following Taiwanese politics lately and been watching Taiwanese shows and TV. Basically missing home. However I was there not too long ago and pretty much was dying to come back to Sweden after barely 1 week.

Taiwan is going through another party change. The DPP party recently majorly beat out the ruling KMT party by winning the majority in the municipality election, and will likely win the presidential election next year.

But that's not my main concern. I felt that from observing the election campaign news footage plus the Taiwanese political discussion shows, I have learned a lot about my family and about the Taiwanese culture.

Many of the politicians are in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s, but if their parents were also held office in the past, the reporters would ask them, "Do your parents approve of what you do?" And in some cases, indeed the candidates' policies or decisions to run for office were deeply influenced by their parents. In a culture where you are never truly independent from your parents even if you have reached your 60s, of course I'm considered as a huge sinner in my family.

In Taiwan politics is considered as dark, corrupt, complex, and evil, and good citizens should not meddle with it. Most "good" families strongly discourage their good kids from participating in the political scene... which means, that, the country would forever be run by sons and daughters of existing politicians and gangster members... basically this attitude ensures that the political, social and economical condition of the country would never improve.

Good thing that a few capable people in their 40s and 50s finally found the courage to "rebel against their parents' wishes" and run for office. It sounds a bit pathetic from the western point of view, but it's huge progress for Taiwan. The younger people, who aren't so obedient anyways, have been very supportive by volunteer their time and efforts during the campaigns, and exercising their right to vote. Traditionally, it is very costly to win an election, and voting rate is very low among young people. As internet and mobile technologies mature, it because easier to reach people, to spread information, and communication becomes simpler, even among strangers.

I have been very excited following the progress of Taiwan, since I miss home very much. Sadly, when I returned home in Taiwan last Christmas, I found that my closest family members have not been following this progress at all. This is because the mainstream TV and the internet show different kinds of information. While you can look at many different points of views on the internet, the mainstream media are still much more biased. In addition, all kinds of media contain a lot of misinformation, and it takes a lot of effort to judge the correctness of a piece of information, which my family has no in wasting so much brain power on deciphering the information. The results is that where I see a rainbow in the horizon, they still see doom, and would rather ignore the doom and talk about my weight instead, and pretend there are no strains within the family by continually saying nice things, hoping the cracks and strains between the interpersonal relationships within the family will disappear on their own.

For the longest time I didn't understand this attitude. If there's a strain between person 1 and person 2, they should talk it out. They might not agree with each others' values, but it helps to see where the other person is coming from. But in my family the situation is more like:

"This is the set of (arbitrary) values. Since you are a member of this family you must follow. Because that's how it's always been and always will be. We try everything we can to keep people on track following this set of values. When people derail, we force them back on track. But when most people have derailed, and there's nothing we can do to bring everyone back on track, we just pretend everyone is still on track, because this is the best we can do. We cannot have a conversation about the current situation, because the values cannot be wrong. They must always be maintained".

This is the exact same attitude of the current Taiwanese president, who currently has <10% of public support. Since my family comes from China and came to Taiwan from the same ship (figuratively) as the original KMT members, the behavior of KMT is very similar with my family.

I don't wish to have a revolution in my family. I just wish people would acknowledge all the problems we have, face to face. But instead, I suspect everyone will continue to hide behind polite greetings that sound very strained and fake. Everyone is too busy trying to hide their own wounds to notice other people also have wounds and troubles. The ironic things is that we already know about each other's problems, so I have no idea what people think they are hiding. I guess it's like playing hide and seek. My family still thinks that by covering our own eyes, other people cannot find us.

This makes me really sad.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Back to hot yoga

I finally managed to drag my ass to bikram yoga class... I would prefer to take up an Ashtanga regime, but I have to take into account of studio location, convenience (times of day I can go to class), and price. Based on these criteria, Bikram won out. It is really good to get back into some sort of exercise routine.. my body needed that. The first class I went, my quads were really hurting from stretches. I had no clue that my quads were that tight.... Shows how little I know about my body. My hamstrings also ached from forward bend stretches, but that was an enjoyable ache. However I'm not exactly sure if I should enjoy this kind of stretching aches. A positive thing is that my calves also get stretched in the process, so hopefully I won't be getting calf cramps in the middle of the night any more. My feet do still get cramps during class though (in Eagle pose and pashimottanasana A), so I still do carry some tension in the body. Hopefully they will go away soon.

My cardio has always been terrible, and in the Bikram room often my heart/lung feel the intensity more than my muscles. Even though this is not "true cardio" (not like running, swimming or jogging), I figure it'll still help my heart improve a little bit before I get started on real cardio workouts. It's been tremendously difficult to get started on any kind of exercise routine for me so even a baby step it a move towards the right direction.

My focus really should be on strengthening rather than stretching (except for the calves of course). If possible I should try to haul my ass into the gym as well.

I've been feeling less anxious than before.. probably a combination of yoga and an improvement to my current situation. I don't think I should take a break from yoga for such a long time in the future... was really sinking back into the feeling of anxiety, tension, helplessness, fear, and low self worth. Exercise is as essential as food and sleep in life.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year's Resolution for 2015

Happy New Year! I have actually wrote quite a few pieces but so many of them have been negative and a repeat of the same stuff I've be going on and on forever that I decided to spare my reader the misery of having to read them.

Going back to 2014's New Year resolutions, I am sad to say I only managed to made some progress on 2 things - took taichi lessons and submitted my work for publication  (currently working on revisions of the said work). Everything else: exercise regularly, blog regularly, get to work on time, manage myself at work better -- all failed miserably.

2014 was not exactly a productive year... going to work at 2 locations on the opposite side of town was the most unproductive arrangement ever. I felt like I did not belong to either labs and was isolated by coworkers on both sides. I experienced my first pseudo-break up. I was terribly home sick. I didn't know if I would still have a job at the end of the year or if I would be deported out of the country. The year ended with me going back to Taiwan and experiencing the exact same fiasco that I went through every year when I meet my mother.

Except this time I've finally learnt my lesson: my chaotic life forces me to keep growing/adapting, while my parents very settled life makes them hang on to their old ways of thinking and routines with every last bits of their energies. They will not respect my personal space or privacy ever, because this concept is non-existent in my household and the society condones it. So, if I still have work to do, be it job hunting or manuscript writing, I should not go home and be in the same physical space as my parents, as they will keep disturbing me to no end. I absolutely must finish all of my work before I choose to fly over to meet them.

Here are my resolutions for 2015 again - many overlaps with last year's resolutions.

1. Regular exercise regime. This time I really need to get it into my schedule somehow. Last year I managed to jog a little bit, but stopped after the weather got colder. Now that I work in a single location (thank god), I can access the gym regularly, and perhaps get a little yoga in, since taichi is not achieving what yoga used to do for me (calm me down + some muscle work out).

2. Wake up earlier. I was achieving this towards the end of the year, thanks to a colleague's tip: use a timer to turn on the lamp before my alarm clock. Works like a charm. I need the extra hour to get stuff done at work.

3. Publish!! I managed to get half way there. I need to push all the way ASAP for the rest of my work.

4. Relationship: bf is behaving, but we still cannot discuss future together. I give up. Just let it be. If future job opportunities arise in other countries, I will just pack my bags and go. My own personalities (tendency to be negative, too much fear in connecting with the opposite sex, stubbornness, tendency to criticize and point out the shortcomings of other people, etc.) brought me to where I am today. If he is not the type to commit so be it. Can't force someone to do what he doesn't want to do.

5. Work: figure out my next step before my contract runs out again. Last year was way too stressful. This means better time management, finish what I have started, and schedule time to look for that next job.

6. Reduce anxiety. I cannot accomplish any of the above if I do not achieve this point. Up to yesterday I have been extremely anxious, especially during the period I spent with family. I clench my teeth while sleeping. My muscles tense up so much my calves and feet cramp almost every night. I often want to snap at people. I breath too shallowly. I cannot sit still for long -- attempts to meditate fail after 30 seconds. Scheduling laundry time drives me bananas. I hope this year I will take everything easier.

Nothing is the end of the world, even if I lose my laundry time, my bf, or my job. I live in a cold country where no one really cares about me, my family only cares if I dress warm enough, have enough food and nothing else, my job is like a joke, and my bf cares about video games and sex more than the relationship itself. My life is utterly absurd, but realizing this seems to help me relax. 2015 will be the year where I work on my mental and physical health. Nothing else really matters any more.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Where do I fit in this world?

How does an introvert, somewhat ADD girl who works too slowly, gets distracted easily, has terrible social skills/communication skills, who tends to dislike most people fit in this world?

My contract is ending again. I feel like I'm perpetually worried about where to go next. In trying to understand myself, I have learn that I am disorganized, too idealistic and therefore not very good at putting ideas into concrete results. Hence I'm terrible at writing project proposals as well as making a manuscript. I am terrible at dealing with people. Seems like I don't get along with 90% of whoever I encounter. The 10% I do get along with are probably the most easy going and socially intelligent people in the world, which means they get along with 99.9% of the world's population.

I took up a technical job because I thought I could just hide behind my desk and just churn out good work + make a living out of it. But it turns out I am too inefficient. So far I haven't had a position where I am really good at what I do. Now I don't think I am stupid (low on EQ and Social Intelligence, but not IQ), but I probably aimed too high in terms of the type of job I think I can do.

I still think science is the right type of job for me. Unfortunately the current system does not allow people with my kind personality to stay in the field. Grad schools keep pumping out PhDs, who are eager to work for peanuts for a few years under professors as postdocs. Because of this, there is no reason to keep experienced scientist in your lab, because the salary goes up. Also, because of the funding structure, every job is temporary. I'm at an age where I want to settle down but I have no idea which country will allow me to stay for long term.

In addition, to survive in the research field, every professor is making their lab members work on 5 projects at once. I know the logical thing to do is to focus on one project at a time, but since I spent 6 years working on only one project, right now I have no idea how to juggle 5 at once. I am constantly stressed out, have no time to cook and exercise. This is really a terrible situation.

I really think I could use a retreat, but right now I'm using my vacation to visit family, which is more stressful than relaxing. My mother still doesn't get that I don't like her planning my life. It's her thing to force her offerings (presents, food, money, planning activities) on other people, regardless of whether they want it or not. You might think that, what's wrong with free things? Why would anyone decline free stuff? Well, nothing in life is ever free, even if it's offered by your own mom. Basically she wants you to be her slave if you dare to accept her presents. She would tell everybody how much she has given you. She would expect you to do favors for her at a time that's totally inconvenient for you. Sometimes she offers you something that is more a burden for you than a present. But she still counts it as that you owe her a favour. I'd much rather have my freedom than take her offerings.

Anyways, I need to find myself another job that would not make me want to pull out all my hair and cry about not being able to deliver. And I'm tired of moving around. Question is where should I go next. I'm too busy to do any serious job hunting. Perhaps over Christmas time.