Sunday, September 28, 2008

Living Right

Due to the schedule conflict of our Dharma teacher, the monthly Dharma session organized by Middle Way Buddhist Association for September has to be canceled, leaving a kind of momentary void in my journey on the Buddhist path. Fortunately, I have started reciting the Heart Sutra, a highly condensed version of 260 Chinese characters that captures the essence of Buddhism, every morning. For now, I still need to refer to the text but am in the process of committing the full text to memory. That will enable me to recite the Sutra any time I want: during driving, a break in work, lying on the bed prior to sleep, etc. In fact, at all occasions.

Reciting the Heart Sutra grants one serenity. More importantly, one should incorporate these gems of life into one's daily life, as befitting the role of a practitioner. Refrain from craving, live for the here and now, but in the sense that we appreciate what we already have, and maintain mindfulness and not sway with the changing environment in a wild goose chase.

Just like an old automobile, I'm now approaching the equivalent stage when the effect of wear and tear, the grind of living, is surfacing at an alarming rate. The scourge of old age such as hypertension, diabetics, all manners of cancer, now looms large.

In these trying times, periodic health examination is essential to detecting any such health impairment from rearing its ugly head, with dire consequences both emotionally and financially.

Equally important is the need for controlled nutritional intakes and well-executed exercise regime. I have now realized that hitherto my food has been overly loaded with carbohydrates, sugar and fats, though I also consume enough food high in protein and fiber. So, for sometime now, Wify, my chief and only nutritionist, has adopted the following regimen:

Breakfast: two slices of whole grain bread spread thinly with Omega 3-rich butter and organic peanut butter, half a cup of unsweet coffee.

Lunch: fried brown rice/porridge cooked with celery, mushroom (when on vegetarian diet) and bay scallops, accompanied by a small serving of vegetable, taufo, and sometimes, scrambled egg, a cup of green tea, and later, a combination of seedless grapes, an over-ripe (one that displays black dots on the skin) banana, one organic apple and other fruits of the day.

Dinner: brown rice, more vegetable, a serving of Coho (wild) Salmon fillet or farmed-raised Tilapia or chicken breast (white) meat, and water. All the food is prepared with Olive oil with minimum seasoning.

Supper: one organic apple or other fruits (star fruits, grapes, pears).

We cut down on eating out, or at most going for vegetarian fried rice, for me, from Chinese Food outlets. And for me, no cakes, no ice-cream, no Sodas, no candy (OK, maybe indulge in some teeny weeny morsel of dark chocolate).

Talking about on vegetarian diet, I'm now following Wify's regimen of ten days in a month as recommended in Buddhist practice, with the ultimate aim of going full-time on this positive life habit, not only at the personal level, but also for the greater good of the environment, one day.

Mentally, one needs brain food too, and maintains an even keel. That means no temper flashes, no petty squabbles, to speak kind words, harbor kind thoughts, give to others, be happy for others, be grateful of what one has, and engage in wholesome and mind simulating hobbies (I read and write while Wify draws and paints).

I'm now realizing the long-term benefits inherent in the above life style: losing weight, feeling lighter and more alert, controlled glucose level, less incidence of short breaths, heart pounding, and the like, not to mention a drastic reduction, if not total elimination, of face turning red, heated spousal arguments, and temper flaring. In place, there is general family bliss, amicable working relationship, and courtesy on the road (I used to feel outraged when a car cuts into my lane and would attempt to “even the score” so to speak. But now I just wave the driver to go ahead, rationalizing that the driver obviously has more pressing matters to attend to. Also, I have stopped my habit of tail-gating, preferring to follow at a respectable distance from behind.).

It really can be a life-changing experience, literally. Try it sometimes, if you are not already on it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Atom Smasher

Many people are familiar with the manifestation of physical principles at work, the simplest example being perhaps gravity that enables us to stand firmly on ground. But we may only have a hazy idea when it comes to the theory underlying the principle, let alone being able to explain how it works. In fact, the surest way to kill a conversation is to invoke physics in a social setting, unless one is among like-minded people, like physicists.

Sure, wet get a dose of physics in high schools. Some may even have taken some introductory physics courses in the college. But that's as far as it goes, within the confines of academic environment.

Take that up another level, say, particle physics, even a Ph.D. holder in engineering like me will start rolling the eyes and spotting a glazed look. But that does not prevent me from being awed by the breakthroughs achieved by the science elites of the world, through my reading of Physics Today, a monthly magazine received as part of my membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers. Not that I'm able to grasp the gist of the articles therein, which I normally just gloss over anyway, but I do like reading some of the features like Letters, which is replete with witty remarks in fluent prose. Apparently, physicists, at least those who write to Physics Today, are excellent writers too. Occasionally, there are articles that deal with topics that intersect with my professional field such as fluid dynamics. Invariably, my interest is piqued and I pore through them.

Talking about physicists, one of my favorite bloggers happens to be a physicist, an astro-physicist to be exact, teaching at U. Southern California. Clifford's blog, Asymptotia (read his blog for his take on the blog title, which on first encounter seems like a variant of Asymptotic, a mathematical concept that we learn in high schools meaning increasingly approaching but never touching), deals with all matters science, but primarily from the human interest's angle. His recent blogs have been on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) [Hadrons are a bound state of quarks such as protons and neutrons], and the excitement engendered by the very first test conducted therein on Sep 10, 2009, 10.28am.

The good people at Google has done it again, this time in commemoration of the momentous event described above.

Sequestered at 100m underground near the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, LHC is essentially an elliptic tunnel reaching a length of 27km. It's the culmination of decades of planning of the international community of physicists under the aegies of European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). According to its website, LHC “is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionize our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe”. I'm sure some of us will wonder what aspects of our life can be unraveled by particle collisions approaching the speed of light. But make no mistake, it's huge. As some may incline to marvel, in like fashion to the first lunar landing in 1969, “One short trip for a proton, but one giant leap for mankind!”

But what caught my attention in the euphoria that followed is the negative ramifications, perceived or otherwise, that have appeared in the popular press. First, the safety issue. Speculation was rife that the event would spark off a micro-black hole, swallowing the entire earth in its wake. These doomsday scenarios have been categorically refuted by an international panel of independent scientists appointed by CERN based on the reasoning that the force field generated is so minuscule that the worst it can do is to impart a few holes in the tunnel. The recent spate of of earthquakes hitting Iran, China, Japan, and the Pacific islands is at best coincidental. I'm sure the scientists know what they are doing.

In US, the sentiment among the scientists is perhaps tinged by the diminished role of American scientists in this scientific endeavor. Billed as the rise of Eurocentrism in scientific research, some perceive the event as a signal of impending brain drain, sounding the death knell on the primacy of American scientific enterprise as we know it.

The way I see it, we live on the same planet. It really doesn't matter where the breakthroughs take place as long as they are done by the best minds, wherever they reside.

Now to those who are poetically inclined, read the LHC poem penned by Yvette Cendes (who else but another physicist) here (thanks to Clifford for the heads up).