Magnificent

Look, Tsolmo, Guy Garvey of Elbow wrote a song about you!

Well… of course, he had something personal in mind, and who knows what that is. But that first verse and the chorus (not so much the second verse, though) really touch me!

This is where, this is where the bottle lands
Where all the biggest questions meet
With little feet stood in the sand

This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide
And where a tiny pair of hands
Finds a sea-worn piece of glass
And sets it as a sapphire in her mind

And there she stands
Throwing both her arms around the world
The world that doesn’t even know
How much it needs this little girl

It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says
It’s all gonna be magnificent

You have to know that my grandparents – your greatgrandparents – live near Hamburg at the river Elbe which is so wide there that it has beaches. As a child, I played there for many hours, watching the ships entering and leaving the harbour of Hamburg, so amazed and overwhelmed by the huge carriers and cargo vessels that I threw myself into the sand. I found stones and sometimes little shells, trash and all kinds of items washed onto the shore by the waves. This image and the memories of the great times I had there all come up when listening to this song. This jaunty happiness, dreaming of a cruise on one of those ships, fighting pirates, discovering treasures full of gemstones… and imagining, almost hoping, that those colourful sea-worn pieces of glass actually ARE gemstones! So, now, I see you standing on that beach, carefree, playing with an empty bottle, and all your thoughts circle around is whether it is possible to stop the waves from rolling in by smashing them with this bottle (“where all the biggest questions meet”). No job, no homework (yet), no bills, no complicated relationships, just this small world full of curiosity and an untamable urge to discover. And your mind will be imaginative and creative, with a blue round piece of glass just as precious as a sapphire. And in this natural state of joy, you want to hug the world that is so great and beautiful and good! It’s all gonna be magnificent! Try to keep this light-hearted optimism as long as you can! How much the world needs you, I can tell! This bundle of love and joy that you are! And if not “the world”, then at least “my world”… Only complete WITH you! I love you, Tsolmo!

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Gather Ye AVSIHAC

In the epilogue of his great book “The Love Bug and other Tales of Psychotherapy“, psychiatrist Dr. Dan Briddell explains his simple formula of a “good life”: ROSEBUD. It is the easy to remember acronym of seven “stepping stones” as elements of a guideline for how to live a good life:

R – Reality: Come to terms with, understand, and respect what is. Embrace reality from a position of emotional and intellectual strength.

O – Optimism: Develop and maintain a healthy optimism and humour in all aspects of life. There is an enormous power in the zone of positive thinking.

S – Service: Serve a greater good. Develop activities that extend your time, commitment, and service beyond self-interest.

E – Ethics: Develop an ethical approach to life. Endeavour to make the right choice – each and every time. Be receptive to corrective feedback.

B – Balance: Maintain balance in all things. Diversify your life’s portfolio and seek the appropriate balance with thoughtful attention to work, play, relationships, and emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.

U – Unconscious: Learn to appreciate, befriend, and grow more comfortable with the silent, inner aspects of your self. Dreams, memories, reflections, intuitions, imagination, and meditation are all keys to unlocking the dazzling power of the unconscious mental process.

D – Develop your gifts: Develop and maintain a high degree of self-respect through the assessment and refinement of your unique abilities, skills and gifts – especially the gift of love. Even modest acts of kindness and encouragement, each and every day, will strengthen your own feelings of love and contentment.

This acronym is aptly chosen, not only because it is easy to remember, but also because it evokes the association with Robert Herrick’s famous poem “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May“, which the teacher John Keating in the “Dead Poets Society” uses to explain to the students what it means to “seize the day” (Carpe Diem), to live in each moment to the fullest, making the future rather than hoping for it.

rosebuds

However, as always, I am slightly critical with Briddell’s quite superficial explanations (though in the book in more detail than cited here by me). Maybe he didn’t want to overwhelm his readership with too much psychology and scholarly parlance. He wrote for the US-American market, and the anti-intellectual US-American society has to be addressed with easy-to-grasp, idiot-proof advices that are vague enough to press them into their dogmatic religiosity and shallow esoteric life-help-palaver. With the danger of producing a lot of palaver myself, I’d like to elaborate further what my thoughts are after reading Dr. Briddell’s stepping stones.

As obvious from previous blog entries, I am very careful with claims about reality. First of all, no ontological certainties about reality are possible without proper epistemological reflections. What we hold for real often turns out to be the product of our deluded mind. The problem is the certainty that we suppose when making reality claims. Much more important than a close look at what is, from my point of view, is a position of systematised doubt and unbiased skepticism. Seeing the reality is a good goal, but impossible for most of us. Instead, I’d like to name awareness as the important stepping stone. Awareness as in mindfulness. It also substitutes the “unconscious” part of Briddell’s “rosebud”. Draw as much unconscious insight into your awareness as possible. Buddhist practices like meditation and the constant endeavour to exit the matrix are helpful ways to explore the real reality and get rid of delusions.

Optimism concerning the future can easily drift towards irrational hope and unrealistic dream-chasing. I favour the term vision (as in being visionary) when it comes to future plans. Have visions of possible futures as outcomes of your current decisions. If possible, choose those options that enable more options or that are reversible. Remember that the seed for your future is planted now, in this moment. With healthy visions in your mind, you keep an overview of your options and can apply your wisdom to proceed on your way. But never get attached to your futures. Optimism is contained in this as the firm conviction that – as long as you always have a choice – your way (not necessarily the goal!) will be satisfying and joyful! No need to speak of humour! Think positively, but not for the sake of mind-deluding positivity!

Service as understood here is very close to selflessness, a term that I would prefer since it is broader. Meaning in life is often created or made apparent through selfless acts. It is connected to forming virtues by internalising and cultivating virtuous behaviour towards others (kindness, helpfulness, care, generosity, empathy). Make others happy and they will be the greatest source of happiness for you. But don’t put the burden of the entire world onto your shoulders. From my perspective, it is totally OK to set priorities and care more about those people who are closer to you in the social network of inter-relations (family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, sports club mates, etc.). It requires skills of emotional intelligence, particularly empathy, feeling and thinking from another person’s perspective, temporarily giving up the own stance. That might be hard for someone who is not used to do that.

Ethics is my professional field, but here I would like to replace it by integrity. Ethics, on the one hand, is too intellectual and academic for daily life. And we don’t need to study Kant or Aristotle to act with moral coherence. Morality, on the other hand, is running the risk of being applied by principle, not by rational reason. Think of religious morality following the church’s rule, for example. Be a good person! Eliminate hypocrisy, double standards, inconsistencies and logical fallacies from your values and worldview. Integrity in the sense that an outsider could predict your decision from the fact that you promote and follow clear values and virtues is much more important. Unshakable ethical integrity can be applied to all situations that will ever occur in your life. Knowing what is best to do is a precious benefit for your life and an important skill. The more reasoned your values the better. But nothing is wrong with learning, making experiences and adapting your value set when you have good reasons to do so.

I have no objections about the call for balance, but would name it harmony for a better understanding. It is in accordance with the Middle Way thinking of Eastern philosophies. It is not about slowing down your life or limiting your activities to some necessities. It is about the awareness of the consequences of a high amplitude of the oscillation of Yin and Yang around the Dao. There will be times in your life when the amplitude is high, usually around the early Twenties, as a student, and times where you wish to calm down the pace with which your pendulum is swinging. Harmonising your life means to go with the flow of these oscillations and let them arise and cease naturally. Extremes, however, are indeed better avoided. Better make sure you know when enough is enough, in all possible respects.

The last point, development, appears a bit shallow to me. Not that it is not important for progress in life, but from my perspective, Dr. Briddell didn’t come to the crucial point here. We all “develop” all the time according to the experiences we accumulate, that is unavoidable. The problem is that most people perceive their development as a process that proceeds without their influence. Most people believe either in destiny (“There is nothing I could do about my life, anyway! It is all decided for me!”) or fate (“I will get what I deserve, anyway!”). While the former is utterly dangerous and often connected to a strong faith in a divine entity (God), the latter leaves slightly more space for self-responsible action, at least when understood in the right way (for example as in “I am the Captain of my fate!”). Best would be, however, when we understand that we are entirely self-responsible for the outcome of our lives and approach it with creativity. Furthermore, development has a notion of growth and progress. I am convinced, however, that it must include the attempts to get rid of unhealthy traits, habits and mindsets, a de-development so to say. Then, the term cultivation is more aptly fitting here: Planting seeds for future change towards more healthy states (character traits, personality, life conditions) and less unwholesome elements. I think, this point is also strongly connected to my tree of knowledge picture: Cultivation refers to exploring the roots and opening up more and more efficient channels of meaning construction. The fruits to be harvested then will be love, happiness, harmony and high life quality!

Now the ROSEBUD acronym changed into AVSIHAC (Awareness, Vision, Selflessness, Integrity, Harmony, Awareness (again, for ‘unconscious’), Cultivation). This is less easy to remember and there is also no poem about it, and I am sorry for that. But if you really understood what this is all about, you also don’t need any acronym. You just live it!

Let there be trees!

I am not very convinced of ancient Chinese philosophy. There is certainly an insightful metaphysical depth in the Yijing (易經) and its elaborations on change, harmony, conditionality and emergence. This was aptly substantiated by Laozi’s (老子) philosophy, but I always feel like something is missing in the Daodejing (道德經). His wu-wei (無為) idea is often not feasible in daily life and, therefore, appears a bit too easy and naïve. His follower Zhuangzi (莊子) is closer to my taste with his skepticism and pragmatism. Kongzi (孔子), Mengzi (孟子) and Xunzi (荀子) have been much too idealistic in their vision of “moral cultivation”, and much too optimistic concerning the intellectual and mental capacity of the “ordinary people”. At the same time, Mozi (墨子) and Hanfeizi (韓非子) have been too extreme, each in their way. Mozi was what we would now call a “Hippie”, convinced that human nature is unconditional love for everyone and everything, while Hanfeizi on the contrary depicted the human nature as evil and selfish, only tamed by strict law and punishment. Chinese Buddhist philosophy (Wei-shi, Hua-yan, Tian-tai and Chan) is much more inherently consistent and plausible from my point of view. However, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to learn from ancient Chinese scholars!

There is an allegory told by Mengzi that I find very meaningful: The Ox Mountain (Niu Shan, 牛山, written in Mencius 6A:8). Imagine a mountain slope with a forest of tall firm trees. Lumberjacks come with saws and axes and cut down the trees. New sprouts appear, but the new open space is immediately occupied by oxen that eat the fresh sprouts or trample them down so that no new trees can grow. Therefore, once the lumberjacks did their work, the mountain slope will forever be bold, threatened by erosion and home to rampaging oxen.

oxmountain

Nothing can grow here no more…

He used this image in the context of explaining why despite the inherent goodness of people there is, apparently, so much evil in the world. He regards morality as “firmly grown” in the human mind, but cut and corrupted by “human affairs” and the inevitable negative experiences that every human being makes throughout his or her course of life. Once the perforated morality gave way to “the dark side”, the void is filled with instances that support the evil ways, destroying all chances for the healing of morality. The trees are our morality, the lumberjacks are the negative experiences, the oxen are the powerful agents of evil that keep us on the immoral track.

I think this story can also illustrate approaches of psychotherapy and how we deal with “bad people” in general. To me, it appears reasonable to regard character traits as subject of constant change. This change can be actively influenced. Thoughts and “mindsets” lead to particular actions, and repeated actions form habits and customs, and these habits constitute a person’s personality and, therefore, his or her “fate”. It is of lesser significance whether the “nature” of human is good or bad. I regard it as more significant that human character depends strongly on experience and how meaning is constructed from it. That also means that nobody is like this or that eternally and unshakeably. The criminal is a criminal because his way of life made him that. The idiot is an idiot because his or her experiences formed certain character traits that make him or her appear as an idiot to me. The bad-tempered freak has a good chance to develop a calm and easy mindset if only the conditions for it were set right. There is always a chance for transformation and change. The question is: Do we spend efforts on directing and guiding this development in a desirable way, or do we fatalistically believe in destiny, get desperate over is-states and remain inactive? Let’s try to give everyone a chance. Everyone’s mountain slope (mind) has the potential to be covered by a vivid forest of tall firm trees of emotional, intellectual and moral integrity.

When dealing with a “weird” person, someone with a low integrity or with distorted character traits, the first question we have to ask is: What cut down the trees? What in this person’s life acted like the lumberjacks with saws and axes? Very often it has been incidents or continuous experiences in the person’s past, for example education, family situations, mistreatments, unfavourable outer conditions, stress, existential fears, etc. Of course, the past can’t be changed, but understanding the past and its role for the present state is the first important step to initiate the future course in this moment. Empathic skills and a good will certainly help to see a person in a more understanding light rather than from an accusing and reproaching stand. The second question, then, is: What are the oxen that prevent the new sprouts from growing healthily? Therapeutically, this is the most pressing issue. Most psychoses, neuroses, obsessions, addictions, emotional and other disorders, habits and character manifestations can be understood as compensations of a lack of something existential (for example love, attention, self-fulfilment (freedom), respect and acceptance) or as an outlet for suppressed desires and needs. This must not necessarily be grown into a psychological disorder or disease, but may be expressed through imbalanced emotions and their eruptions, in self-isolation and diminished self-esteem or self-confidence. These “oxen” kill every chance of “recovery” since they occupy the person’s mind, decision-making capacity, actions and statements, and thus dominate both inner balance and social interactions. When encountering people that we label as “weird”, “bad” or “sick”, we often don’t care about their lumberjacks and oxen. We just see them as “this” or “that”. Admittedly, we also don’t have the time and capacity to show everyone our empathic and caring side. However, in case of friends and family members, we should always be aware of the fact that every person has an individual narrative of his or her life, with a history full of lumberjacks and oxen, and at the same time a mountain slope full of sprouts that desperately try to grow into tall trees. Chasing away the oxen and inviting the lumberjacks for a tea so that they are distracted from doing their ruinous work, that would be true help and support from a friend or a family member! I am firmly convinced that not only studious psychotherapists have the competence to do that, but everyone who has the capacity to love a close person, who is willing to lend an ear or a shoulder, and who understands that NOW is the time to let the past be past and pave the way for a desirable change towards a brighter future.

Happy Birthday, Tsolmo!

Dear Tsolmo!

Today it is one year ago that you took your first breath on this planet. Today we look back at a year full of splendidness and joy! Seriously! It is amazing how well you developed! You are bigger than all the 12-month-olds around you, you can walk more stable, you can climb down from the couch safely, climb up (!) the play structure in the park and slide down the slide by yourself, and you dance to AC/DC and the Blues Brothers! Since you are 6 weeks old, you sleep all nights through without waking up, except for 5 (five!) nights (out of 320). Your health records mention 2 light fevers – and that’s it! Not even one diarrhoea! You eat and digest everything we feed you, including salmon, goji, kiwi, seaweed, and all other available vegetables, nuts, grains and fruits. You are able to play with one thing for one hour, and you enjoy exploring every corner of our apartment. Also – and that is the fun part – you unpack every shelf and drawer you can open (which forced us to re-organise almost the entire apartment). I guess it is a cycle: You sleep very well, so when you are awake you have strong mental capacities to explore and be active, so you use up all your energy and can sleep well, which supports your mental and physical development for more activity…

2017-02-02-16-23-04

On the Highway to hell (air guitar solo)

Recently, you developed a stronger will. If you want something you can’t reach, and we don’t give it to you, you can get really loud and demanding! How can we find the fine line between supporting your interest and curiosity and letting you experience that your will has limits? I guess, that is the basic question for many parents: Where on the gradual line between spoiling on the one end and frustrating on the other end do we position ourselves by this or that decision? So far, you are obviously a very happy child, with many reasons to laugh and enjoy your own progress. I guess, it means we don’t treat you too wrong. Sometimes I found myself being impatient and sounding a bit too harsh. Will you remember that? Your behaviour, at least, doesn’t mirror it. All in all, you are rather gentle, calm and peaceful (like your mom). Observing your development confirms my constructivist worldview: there is a strong link between your environment and your development! You are not “born as” anything, but all the patterns that form and all your constitution are the result of the experiences you make and how you in your small world construct meaning from it. It is very fascinating to observe all this, so I can say that it is you who makes us (at least me) learn and not vice versa!

Thank you, Tsolmo, for enriching and colouring our life, for bringing endless joy and astonishment, for letting us experience the most precious human trait: unconditional parental love and the unshakable willingness to care and foster. Looking forward to all the wonderful years to come, filled with your “magic”! Happy Birthday, 小魔女!

birthday

Edit:

We just finished a ceremony that is very widespread in Asia: We dressed you in some kind of “Chinese” dress, put you in front of an arrangement of 10 things and let you pick three.  Your choice is said to tell something about your future. I don’t believe in that kind of fortune-telling, but it is fun, anyway! Instead of following standard procedures or even letting an “expert” do it, we chose to do this ritual all by ourselves. The 10 things I chose and their meaning are:

  • a carrot – always enough to eat
  • a Darth Vader – attracted by the dark side
  • a tool (screw driver) – practical skills
  • a pen (calligraphy brush) – knowledge creation ability
  • a book – knowledgeableness (erudition)
  • a musical instrument (ocarina) – creative artistic skills
  • a bottle of liquor – susceptibility for addiction
  • money – material wealth
  • three owls figure (like the three monkeys) – spiritual wisdom
  • a clock – always well organised

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You picked the carrot first. You seemed very satisfied with that one, and it took quite some time to convince you to choose a second item. You took the book. You touched the three owls, but didn’t take it. Other things didn’t attract your attention at all. I think, that is a good result! At least, you didn’t choose the alcohol, the money or Darth Vader (which would be cool, too, anyhow)! For now, we interpret your choice as an affirmative message: We will provide enough food and enough sources of knowledge (for example books) for you until you are able to provide yourself sufficiently with those things! On a prosperous future!

The Story of Your Parents

framed1

Dear Tsolmo!

Someday, when you are old enough (probably as a teenager), you will want to know how your Mom and I became a couple and then your parents. Today (the day of this letter) is our second wedding anniversary, so it might be a good occasion to present our story with the support of our wedding photos. It starts in early 2012…

Peiru&Jan-04

I was waiting for the ICE (German high speed train) to Cologne at the main station of Brussels in Belgium after a business trip to a scientific project group meeting at the European Commission. It turned out that the train was cancelled on short notice without replacement due to a technical malfunction. Instead, the waiting passengers were informed by platform announcement that they should take a local train to Leuven, then another train to Liège, from there busses to Aachen (at the German-Belgian border) and then proceed on their own business to their German destination.  The official languages in Belgium are French and Flemish while the majority of passengers was German. Therefore, the announcement was made in those three languages, which took quite a while. I spotted a puzzled Asian lady in the crowd and assumed that she couldn’t understand any of these languages so that she needed some help. Moreover, she carried a bag with the logo of Münster University (where I lived and studied before)! Being quite shy usually (yes, really!) I took all my courage and approached her. Identifying her as Chinese by face and fashion I said the only Chinese sentence I knew at that time: “Ni shi zhong guo ren ma?”, which means “Are you Chinese?”. She looked very surprised and replied “Yes!” (which she later had to correct since she is Taiwanese and doesn’t see herself as Chinese, which Chinese people don’t agree to, but that is a different topic…). She was extremely happy about my offer to help her with the coming odyssey to Cologne at least (she was on the way to Münster). It took us 5 hours instead of the scheduled 2, but it was extraordinarily interesting and diverting time – so far the luckiest case of train cancellation in my personal railway history. Soon it was obvious that we wouldn’t easily run out of topics to talk about. She was attending a German course for one semester at my former University, was English teacher in Taiwan and currently made use of the last weeks before returning to Taiwan for trips through Europe. The by far “biggest” topic was our shared interest in Buddhism! Immediately we felt “understood” when philosophising on Buddha’s teaching and its influence on daily life conduct, our mental and physical health, our approach to deal with daily life situations and to solve problems. Ever since, both of us being “applied Buddhists”  connected us more than anything else. Of course we stayed connected after this train ride and met once more in Cologne (including climbing the Cathedral tower and visiting the chocolate museum), but after she went back to Taiwan our communication was limited to Skype and other online ways.

Peiru&Jan-03

In summer 2013 I quit my job and came to Asia again – first to South Korea where I stayed in a Buddhist temple and unsuccessfully looked for a job as Postdoctoral fellow at a University. During that time (in September 2013) I visited Taiwan for a week, just to find out that it is a modern and friendly country with a high standard of life, in which everything necessary for a good life is available, and in which I felt even more welcome than in Korea: a Professor of a renowned University in Taichung expressed his interest in a collaboration, AND: Peiru had her own apartment with a vacant room for me, in case I would choose to move to Taiwan for longer periods. All this sounded very good, so I decided without further ado to pull up stakes in Korea and try my luck in Taiwan.

That’s how another period of “community life” (like in my days as University student) started, with three housemates one of which was Peiru. Immediately I left my mark on the apartment by constructing furniture, dividing living- from storage-space, insisting on my standard of cleanliness and creating a homey and cosy atmosphere. Furthermore, I occupied the kitchen and produced meals daily, which the other housemates did rather seldomly since Taiwanese people are used to eat out. All this obviously impressed Peiru sustainably, as she intimated to me: my qualities as houseman clearly are one reason for her to consider a serious partnership with me, the more so as it seems to be quite difficult to find such properties among Taiwanese men. I was mostly impressed by Peirus imperturbably balanced mind and her extraordinarily harmonic and peaceful attitude towards daily life issues. We live together for more than a year now and didn’t “argue” a single time [I define “argue” as emotional, unfair, irrational, loud quarrel after which one feels bad and regrets]. Instead, we invest a lot of time in good communication that allowed us, in my opinion, to get to know each other deeply. During the shared time it quickly became obvious that there is the potential to be more than just “good friends”. Our approaches of life show many similarities, same as our expectations on the future, our ideas of a “happy life”, our ideals of love. By the way, we communicate in English, because neither my Chinese nor her German are sufficient for a useful conversation. Both of us speaking a foreign language we sometimes need a few more words to make the other understand clearly what we want to express. I see a big advantage in that compared to couples with no language barrier: Before overhastily labeling the statements of the other as “got it” or even interpreting something negative into it, we better ask a second time if we really understood each other correctly. This solves many misunderstandings before they can have any impact.

After all, we became a couple. And since we already had lived together, had shared a lot of time and knew each other well in all kinds of daily life circumstances (and not only had a “sunshine relationship”) it didn’t take long time to come up with thoughts of marriage. Nothing stood against it, but it had a lot to commend it. When it happened that I would visit Germany we went the whole hog and started organizing the documents that are required for an international marriage, so that I could complete them in Germany. And I can tell, this procedure puts the decision to marry to the first test. At first, it is a long way to get a “marriage certificate” (a document that proves that two people are legally able to marry each other) that requires several certificates and verifications. Then, each document requires translation and legalisation for using them in another country. Usually there are so called “apostilles”, a procedure that Germany and most of its diplomatic partner countries (actually, nearly all countries on Earth) agreed upon to simplify official processes. But since Taiwan is not officially accepted as an independent country by Germany (out of respect for (or fear of) mainland China), this procedure doesn’t apply for Taiwan, so that everything needs to be translated, verified, attested and legalised twice and triple. This takes time, not to mention the costs (which actually didn’t play a big role in view of the importance of their purpose). Once started researching on when and where to do what in which order, the process was brought on its way and we found that by this the decision was already made. Peiru was a little disappointed because for years she dreamed of a romantic proposal showing the sincerity and clear will of her husband-to-be. I caught up on that before I left for my visit to Germany in September.

Peiru&Jan-00

A wedding in Taiwan usually goes along with a fairly corny ceremony in a rented hall, with borrowed western style dresses, a buffet with a plethora of different dishes, and posing for vast numbers of photos – and actually not much more than that. I played with my band at Taiwanese weddings and made daunting experiences. Apart from all the show, forced happiness and excessive binge there is no room for a really beautiful and memorable wedding party next to the actual stress that such a festivity is for the couple in fact. The majority of visitors is only interested in the buffet, leaves a red envelope with a lot of money (according to the local customs) and goes back home as soon as the buffet is finished, sometimes even without giving their blessings to the couple in person. Luckily, Peiru and me agreed upon not wanting this kind of wedding. It wouldn’t match with our idea of love and partnership, and so also marriage and matrimony. For us, the marriage is, first of all, a personal promise between two lovers: to be “here” for one another, to cherish and never to forget the values of being together (trust, honesty, respect, sincerity, faithfulness), and to think of “us” rather than “you and me” in all future situations that call for important decisions.

Peiru&Jan-12

Another element of Taiwanese marriage ceremonies is the indispensable wedding photo shooting. Some couples spend thousands of Euros for it. Everywhere in Taiwan there are studios that offer photo shootings in varying extents, with different wardrobes, all kinds of settings and sceneries, and with selectable levels of digital processing (from “just removing the pimples” to “changing teeth colour” and “optimizing body shape”). Even though in the beginning I was against spending so much money on that, Peiru finally persuaded me that we won’t regret having some professional pretty pictures as a memory (and she is right, of course). Some of them you can see here. We chose an offer with three different dresses and “simple” post-editing (we wanted to appear “as natural as possible” and not like totally different people). We chose 20 photos and got them as a photo book and also as digital files, and one photo printed in large and framed to hang on the wall. Next to a “classical” western wedding dress and a more traditional Chinese set we chose a wonderful red dress for Peiru that matches with a white suit for me. Spanish flair, isn’t it?

Peiru&Jan-02

Our “wedding day” was then rather unspectacular: In the local registry office we presented our documents and signed the marriage certificate. Anyhow, we got a wedding gift from the office: a set of five porcelain bowls with Chinese wedding symbols. Peiru’s parents came to the office and took us to our home where we invited them for afternoon cake and dinner. I prepared a cake and a German three course menu for dinner. But first we all shed tears when I gave a short wedding speech in Chinese that I had prepared with my language exchange partners and had practiced. In this speech I explained that we have only a simple celebration because also our love is simple and direct and ground standing, without show, and that I am willing to keep the promise that the wedding means to us (see above). My parents were present virtually via Skype so that we could share this happy incident with them, and at least our parents could see and get to know each other on screen. The mini party was “crashed” by her four siblings suddenly showing up, bringing their partners and children, so that after all our apartment was filled with a lot of life and joy. A few weeks later Peiru’s father invited the whole family for a banquet to a restaurant where we celebrated the marriage of his last daughter (she is the second of five children, but the last that got married). In January we will travel to Germany for a few weeks and will celebrate one more time with my family.

Has anything changed since then? Actually, no! Our love still grows every day. We keep our partnership as dynamic as the vitality of daily life requires since nothing is more harmful for a partnership then the attachment to certain expectations on or conditions and ideas of love. Trying to press something dynamic into a fixed form can never turn out well. Therefore, we want to focus on the essence: Above all is the will to create harmony in daily life by sharing our way of life, and to fill it with love and beauty. As long as we never forget that there will be no strife, no argue, no pain, no disharmony. “I am here for you.” means to give this moment (and there is nothing else that we really have) to the partner with a free mindset and with mindfulness. “I know that you are here for me.” means to always keep in mind that the partner will never intend to hurt me, and if I feel so, anyway, I have to assume a misunderstanding at the first place. “I know you are suffering.” means to understand at all times that the partner can never be completely free from all “mind poisons” (ignorance, attachment, resistance), and to try not to judge him/her according to his/her outer shells (behaviour patterns, emotions, thoughts, habits, etc.) but to see the “Buddha Nature”. “I know that I am suffering and I need your help.” means to admit one’s own fallibility and insufficiency, to be open for all forms of feedback, and to practice the ability to receive and deal with criticism. These four Mantras are laden with Buddha’s philosophy and psychology and can maybe only be understood and accepted in front of that background (for example what “suffering”, “mindfulness” or “free from mind poisons” mean). After a lot of conversation and even more practical application, Peiru and me are convinced that we understand the deep meaning of those Mantras and their consequences for daily life, so that we take the necessary steps to put them into practice and never to forget them. Therefore, we are adamantly confident that a happy future is awaiting us.

A future in which we help each other to overcome obstacles.

Peiru&Jan-17

A future in which we give each other warmth.

Peiru&Jan-11

A future in which we will never get tired of talking to each other and laughing together.

Peiru&Jan-13

A future in which we enrich our daily life with big and small gestures.

Peiru&Jan-01

A future in which we treat each other at eye level with respect and humility, in which sometimes one is the boss…

Peiru&Jan-20

…and sometimes the other.

Peiru&Jan-19 A future full of inspirations and visions that are worth following.

Peiru&Jan-10

This is my vow that I firmly promise to keep: to love this woman, Peiru Chen, for the rest of our days and beyond, to let our partnership flourish and prosper, and to appreciate the happiness of our being together at all moments.

Peiru&Jan-07

Thoughts on Love

Love is one of the most ubiquitous and steadily present aspects of life. Since mankind is able to think, talk and write, people reflect on this topic. Art (poetry, music, painting, etc.), philosophy, psychology and many more “institutions” try to capture and describe what kind of phenomenon love is – an approach that is condemned to fail, from my point of view. Love is a too great “thing” to be fully and sufficiently analysed using words. Probably the attempt that gets the closest to reality is poetry with its sophisticated methods to trigger emotions and create atmospheres, because love is most of all exactly that: an emotion, a “mood”, an atmosphere that cannot be grabbed or held. However, certainly love has a down-to-earth daily life dimension when it comes to human relationships (no matter if coupleships, family love, friendships to a certain extent, etc.). Conducting a partnership succeeds or fails with the viewpoints of the loving person about what love is, no matter if consciously or subconsciously. Therefore, I would like to try to describe my ideas on love from a philosophical point of view with little impacts of psychology and a huge impact of my own real-life-experiences. As sources of inspiration I can name Erich Fromm’s famous books “The Art of loving” and “To have and to be”, Stendhal’s “On love” (“De l’amour”) with its model of crystallisation in a 6-stage process, and the whole Buddhist philosophy with its consequences and ideas on daily life conduct.

Recall: All is one. Everything is connected. Nothing is permanent. And: the basic law of all existence is that of cause and effect: every incident causes a reaction that keeps reality in its equilibrium, which also implies that nothing is eternally constant but everything is undergoing change. As stated elsewhere I believe that this equilibrium itself, the constant heading for harmony on all levels of existence (material, spiritual, etc.) can be called “love”. This meets the Buddhist idea of “love as the basic principle of all being in the world”. This includes love relationships between people, of course. But how does this monistic, holistic, naturalistic worldview reveal any useful idea of what love is (or might be)? It needs a few more “general” elements of life conduct to bridge the abstract philosophy and the daily life behaviour (for example as a partner in a coupleship). First of all, the most obvious (and my favourite) conclusion from this understanding of the world is the “here-and-now” approach. Life always takes place here and now. We only have this moment. Time is just a concept, place is always relative. We (an assembly of sophisticated molecules that are arranged in a way that we have abilities to act and to think, opening the “mental sphere” that constructs meaning from experience) are a tiny element in the world fabric, having our place in it. Too often we take ourselves too important in it, separate ourselves from the rest and fall victim of illusions by the three “poisons of the mind”, ignorance, attachment and resistance. If, idealistically, we succeed in living constantly in the here-and-now, it had a deep impact on our understanding of love and our relationships, as I will explain in detail soon.

It seems to me at this place it requires a very non-romantic but scientific section: Why do we feel love from a biological point of view? The answer is no surprise: it is the outcome of evolutionary pressure. Everything that supports the survival of a species has an advantage compared to those individuals within that species that don’t have that feature. Simply said: when a female and a male individual of a species have a baby (a “next generation”) and they take care of it together in cooperation, the baby has a higher chance to survive, learn, make its living and later have its own baby (a “next next generation”) compared to a baby that is born by a couple that does not take sufficient care. Therefore, any kind of phenomenon that makes the parents stick together after generating a new generation is supported (given to the following generation, spreading, displacing those who do not have this property). For some species such an aspect might be the visual attraction, or a smell, or any other trigger of a cognitive sense (for example the elephant bull sticking to his cow because of her wonderfully curved body…). Since even the early mankind had a wide set of emotions, establishing a mechanism on this level was obviously very powerful: man and woman sticking together because they feel that they want to. Very smart of Nature! (I hope you know that I say this for fun and with my worldview can NEVER say something like this seriously! An entity like Nature can never have a property like “smartness”! However, in human language we might be allowed to call evolutionary processes “smart”…) What do we learn from it? Most people have the “instinct” that it is “good” to be faithful, to make a relationship last long (or even forever), or to have only one partner, and that it is “bad” to leave a mother with her child alone, to cheat or to “play” with a partner. We feel excited when we are “falling in love”, and comfortable and secure in a stable and long-lasting relationship, taking it as an ideal. I don’t know anybody who doubts these ideals. Everybody needs and wants love. Yet, the reality looks different: couples break up often, even married couples get divorced, partners fight and hurt each other, have “love affairs”, betray, or suffer from boredom after a while. Therefore, the main question is not “Is there endless or perfect love?” but “How do we succeed in establishing endless perfect love?”. We can take for granted that there is love since it is something we want. The much more important reflection is on what we have to do (or what kind of idea we should have) to have a “successful” (= long-lasting, harmonic, joyful) relationship.

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Let me make a bold statement: Most people love conditionally. Especially in modern times (since about 50-60 years) we treat love as something we “have” or not, as something that gives me some kind of profit or not (benefits, joy, sex,…), as a “thing”. We weigh benefits and disadvantages, we evaluate potential partners and change the partner when we believe we found a better one. The viewpoint that love is “giving and taking” is put into an economic framework that is drawing up the balance sheet and taking this as the measure for the quality of the relationship and not the act of giving and taking itself. In a society that is more and more used to fill up every day with pleasure and fun, that shows severe hedonistic symptoms, love must serve a purpose: the quick and easy fulfilment of the endless seek for pleasure. In a money-oriented world it even seems to be possible to “buy” love or (even though not necessarily with money) can be induced by certain ways (for example online dating or match-making institutes). I believe that the reason for a dramatically increasing divorce rate, for so many frustrated people who lost the belief in “true love”, for so much sadness about failed relationships, can be found in exactly these approaches of love. To me it is obvious that people “suffer” from their attachments, sticking to pleasure, excitement and a too huge self. And exactly here I see the chance to intervene: When we know about our suffering and accept it, we can apply methods to overcome it. No matter how it is achieved, the ultimate goal should be to sharpen the awareness for those situations and moments in which we fall victim of illusions, to identify and resolve “dualisms” that separate the whole world into single independent entities (like “here is me, there is you, there is love, there is the problem”), and to practice a lifestyle that is “in this moment”, here and now, at all moments. How can it help to reach the goal of a “successful partnership”? It might be helpful to do a very simple little experiment: sit back and reflect on what must be given right in this moment to ensure that you are still alive in the next moment? Besides some basic safety issues (there is no natural catastrophe, no nuclear war, and the house you sit in doesn’t collapse) and given the case you are more or less healthy (and not dependent on machines that keep you alive) I guess you find only one thing: you have to keep breathing. From time to time you might have to eat something, and even fewer times you need to rest (sleep); both are required to balance your energy consumption that keeps your organism running. But first of all, in almost every moment of your life, you need to keep breathing. And that’s it. You don’t need money, you don’t need a TV, you don’t need fancy clothes or cosmetics, you don’t need fame or attention or honour. All these things might comfort your life, or might make it more convenient, but after all they are not necessary. How about thoughts and emotions? They truly dominate our life since we can never stop thinking (at least not without a lot of practice) and we (hopefully) never stop having feelings. However, it is mainly these thoughts and feelings that usually distract us from the here-and-now. Regrets, grief, sadness and frustration draw us into the past whereas fears, sorrows and doubts keep us busy with the future. Education, experiences, behaviour and thought patterns link us strongly to the past while expectations, hopes, desires and visions make us believe in the future. This goes for both negative and positive thoughts and emotions. Even happiness is often a past- or future-related attachment (we miss happy moments from the past, or we get stuck in the belief that we need something particular as the only way to be happy in the future). I believe that living in past and future rather than in this moment leads to most of the problems that occur in a relationship. The mentioned “economic” approach of love has its origin in always thinking of “tomorrow” (“Will I still be happy with this partner tomorrow?”, “Will I always get what I need and want?”). The loss of belief in true love is heavily caused by aspects of the past (bad experiences with former partners, divorced parents, a lack of “love ability” caused by an environment with insufficient love abilities, etc.). Partners betray and have love affairs because they seek for short term pleasure satisfaction and believe to find it somewhere outside their partnership – another idea “in the future”. Also the expectation that the partner is always beautiful, always smart, always lovely and attractive is an unrealistic future-directed idea. This kind of love is condemned to be “conditional” and people who love like this will of course never experience “true and endless love”. The “problem” is the fact of constant change (as mentioned above): as soon as we have a condition for love (like “I love you when you love me in return!”, or “I love you because you look pretty, because you are smart, because you have a PhD degree, because because because…”) the love is threatened to disappear because the condition might change. Every partner WILL change, this is guaranteed! When we try to fix something flexible, or when we try to push something constantly changing into a shape, it will break sooner or later or try to escape. The attachment to past and future denies that love is flexible and can only be caught in its momentary state right in this moment. In the next moment it must be caught again, maybe with a different method, because it will be different again. As soon as we try to grab it and keep it, it looses its value, like a beautiful flower we unplug from the soil will die uprooted.

What does “love in the here-and-now” practically mean? Let’s assume the “normal” way of forming and actively conducting a partnership and its stages. Some people are lucky and find their partner by one or the other way in their daily life, maybe at the workplace, while doing the hobby, or introduced (intentionally or not) by a friend or family member. Others “search” for a partner, usually with a desperation level growing linear (or even exponentially) with increasing age. How do we choose our partner? Sometimes people (probably the majority is men) just use the eye for that and choose a pretty, handsome, sexy, attractive person. From my point of view this is the worst possible criteria, since outer appearance is the most obviously changing property. Is the love gone when the partner turns less good-looking? Can the partner be easily exchanged as soon as a better looking person is spotted in the crowd? The same goes for choosing partners by financial aspects or social status (rich or famous partners). But how about those who claim they choose their partner by “inner values” such as good character, smartness, or same hobbies and life philosophy? Even these things can change! When I love my wife for endless philosophical debates, and then she gets Alzheimer and doesn’t even know me anymore, will I have to stop loving her? It seems like any kind of “reason” for loving someone makes the love conditional and instable. What is left? I believe (I must say, according to my own experience) the only way to find the “right” partner is to (a) make sure a kind of minimal basis of a “good match” (the partners have at least a few things in common so that they can enjoy sharing their lives), then (b) listen to and follow the feelings, which is the most important thing since this gives the will to love this partner forever and the vision to share the life until the end of days, and finally (c) constantly reflect the “inner self” at all time. Simply said: when you feel attracted to someone (but maybe even can’t explain it properly), when you feel totally comfortable and peaceful in a person’s presence, and when at the same time you can make sure your feeling is not an illusion created by superficial criteria (for example big boobs) or blinded by psychological phenomena such as desperation (“last-minute panic”) or loneliness, then it might be that this person is the right one. The question is not what you love that person for. The main question should be if your feelings are the beginning of a flame that will grow into a “fire” of a stable love relationship. When this is established, love can flourish and grow as long as it is not pressed into too strict boundaries. This is the next stage: the early phase of a partnership, often going along with excitement. “Falling in love”. I define this phase as that time between starting a partnership (with both partners agreeing ideally voluntarily upon being a couple) and facing the critical phase after the excitement is gone. According to Stendhal’s love theory it is the time between phase 4 and 6. His six phases are:

  1. Admiration (“I really admire you as a person.”),

  2. Beginning of desire (“I think I’d like to get to know you better.”),

  3. Hope (“I hope you feel the same way about me.”),

  4. Inception of love (“I think I’m falling in love with you.”),

  5. Crystallisation (“I see the beauty and perfection within you.”),

  6. Doubt, fear and/or jealousy, anger and resentment (“You’re going to hurt me or betray me like others have.”).

The fifth phase is the most critical one in this theory. The way it is perceived and managed determines if a couple will “survive” the sixth phase or not. When the “beauty and perfection” seen in the partner is regarded as the “state-of-art” that needs to be preserved until the end of days, it is a case of conditional love. When in this phase the expectations on the partner are too strongly “directed”, the relationship will break. When in this stage we are attached to the relationship and the idea of it, we will lose it. Love can only grow and follow on the “being-in-love” phase when the lovers let go of the “relationship” aspects and focus on the value of their love and the essence of why they are a couple. When the relationship is evaluated by its “output” (How much fun and pleasure is generated? Is my partner still the best/most beautiful/richest? How many hobbies do we have in common and how many times per week do we have sex?) 1000 things will be found that support doubts and fears to grow. Another aspect that should never be underestimated is that we often fail to keep up a relationship because of our own inner restraints and fears caused by childhood traumas, lack of love ability, and other past incidents that pushed us into repressing and denying our deepest feelings. The here-and-now approach might be helpful to shape the consciousness for love which I regard as the most crucial point. Love can only be unconditional when it is conscious, non-possessive and non-dependent. A first step would be to practice the awareness for our suffering (ignorance, attachment, resistance), to understand the difference between “being free from emotions” (terrible!) and “being free IN emotions” (desirable!), to deliberate ourselves from the slavery of thoughts and emotions and take control over them instead, and finally to make peace with ourselves. Only when we love ourselves we will be able to truly love someone else and appreciate receiving that person’s love. But careful! “Loving oneself” must not be mixed up with “I am the greatest!”. Also the love for oneself must be unconditional and conscious, with harmony and (inner) peace as the goal. Remember the worldview that stands behind: all is one, everything is connected (and in that undergoes constant change), there is only this moment. Loving oneself means in the first instance to be in the “here-and-now”, taking the reality as it is, neither fighting or hiding the past or future nor sticking to them, making peace with our inner self and embracing the love that is shining through after resolving all fears and resentments. Loving the partner is the same: No matter how the love “started” (how the partner is chosen), as soon as this flame is there it needs to be nourished with actively establishing peace and balance, appreciating the partner’s existence and the happiness of being together in this moment and all other moments. If two lovers succeed in reaching this point they don’t need to “trigger” their attraction by sexy underwear, a trip together or “new things” to pep up their boring daily life. They won’t argue on who has to bring the garbage outside or clean the toilet. They will never feel bored with each other because their conscious mental and emotional connection is a source for endless inspiration, like on the first day of their relationship. There is no thing such as “time”. There is only this moment. And love is experienced in its most pure form when it is given and taken in that moment. Every moment. It helps me here to regard it from a mathematical point of view. Let’s assume a “moment” is defined as one second. A day has  86400 seconds. So I can say I love my partner in 86400 moments per day, maybe in one moment it is expressed in a smile, in the next it shows itself as a gesture or a gift, another few moments is doing something together. In each second the love is expressed in a different way, so from moment to moment I can adapt my loving to the current form of love. Or with other words: I can fall in love with my partner over and over again 86400 times per day. Now we define a moment as 0.5 seconds, so there are 172800 moments of love (and of life!) per day. When we make a “moment” infinitesimally small, the number of moments per day reaches infinity, therefore the “chain of moments” becomes a “dynamic process of moments” and, therefore, one. Then we don’t even need to define what is a moment on a time scale, but the answer is: now!

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These ideas inspired me to make “Mantras” on love that I want to practice in my life. A Mantra is a kind of catchy phrase, a simple and short Motto that can be recited and by this internalised until it is mirrored in a person’s behaviour and actions in daily life. This ensures that the intellectual thinking is put into practice rather than remaining mere theory. Since I was a teenager I often wondered if there is something “greater” than “I love you” to tell my girlfriend, because everybody says “I love you” and it is kind of “worn out”. From the idea that all we have is this moment, here and now, I take that this is the greatest (if not only) thing I can really give to my partner. Therefore, the biggest statement I can make to my partner is: “I am here for you!” (the first Mantra). When I give “my moment” to someone, my here-and-now, it means that person has my full attention, all my consciousness and awareness. I can’t give more than that, nothing that is “greater”. When I spend time with my partner I shouldn’t watch TV, chat, talk on the phone or think about my job issues besides, but be with her with all senses. Also, I shouldn’t make reproaches to her because of past incidents, or worry about future occurrences. We are here, united in love. Everything else is not important. This leads to the second Mantra: “I know that you are here for me, too! (And that makes me happy!)”. My girlfriend (or wife) is by my side voluntarily since I would never force her to be. I can assume that she loves me, that she would never intend to make me angry, and that she would always be on my side same as I am always on her side! I believe that many couples fight because they forget exactly this! This creates the potential for reproaches, accusations, misunderstandings, etc. But above all should always be the fact that two partners love each other, seeking harmony and peace, and therefore are always “here” for each other. Again: I believe this is often forgotten because we suffer from the mind poisons (ignorance, attachment, resistance). Keeping this in mind when I feel hurt, misunderstood or mistreated by my partner, it is easy for me to know why (this is the third Mantra): “I know that you suffer!“. “I know” in this case means something like “I am aware of the unavoidable fact that…”. With this Mantra it is very easy for me to react on my partner with understanding, benevolence, patience and affection, at any time and at any place. Everything she does and sais, she does and sais because she believes it is right, because her thought and behaviour patterns tell her so, or because one of the layers around her Buddha Nature (oh… another “big” term I can’t explain to the fullest here…) make her do. Directly from this I derive the fourth Mantra, probably the most important of all: “I know that I am suffering (and I need your help)!“. Especially men tend to be totally unable to take criticism. A healthy self-reflection and the insight that oneself is suffering from the mind poisons the most of all can help to be a much more convenient partner. Many conflicts can be solved by admitting and accepting the own flaws and mistakes. Instead of preaching my own flawlessness I should rather ask my partner for forgiving my bad sides and helping me to work on them. Her feedback, constructive criticism and probably a huge amount of patience is what I need the most. Above all stands the idea that a partnership is conducted (without any outer force) in order to be or become happy together. The basic (never forgotten) principle of a partnership should be that both partners always have in mind to live in harmony and peace (both inside and with the partner).

I believe with this approach most things that should be self-understanding in a partnership can be achieved: sharing everything, being trustworthy and truthful (not hiding anything important from the partner), having good (= honest, sincere, open, truthful, peaceful) communication, being faithful, being interested in each other, paying attention to each other, making each other’s life more beautiful. Some people say having a partner requires compromises and therefore limits a persons freedom. I don’t agree. Everything is better with a partner! My partner is a source of energy, motivation and happiness! My partner gives my life a purpose! Therefore, my freedom is even higher with a partner! Many couples I know make a big mistake: They think “loving each other” means “binding to each other”, like a chain or a prison, they are like one person. Later they complain that each of them has no “own space”, no freedom. Most of them broke up. They had the feeling that they are “limited” and told me, their partner makes them feel restricted by the love. In my opinion “love” should never produce limits for the two loving people. It should make them grow and get happier! So love should not be a prison or chains, it should be like earth and moon: circling around each other, with strong attractive forces but both with an own atmosphere to breath. No one could exist without the other, but still both are individuals. There is always a kind of distance between both, but they are close enough to feel the other (like the moon influences the earth). I like the picture of circling around each other, like dancing. It is a kind of admiring and watching the other with deep respect and conscious love! And still both can move on their own and never have the feeling of choking.

All in all I can state that I believe in “perfect” love. It just must not be mixed up with having a partner who is perfect. Nobody is perfect. But the way of conducting a partnership, based on a “healthy” understanding of what love is, will decide on the success of a partnership. The necessary requisites for endless love are:

  • the belief in love

  • the readiness to invest energy into it (knowing that the harvest will be much more than the investion)

  • the willingness to face the own flaws and failures and work on them

Of course it is helpful to have a certain wisdom, the ability to form, understand and follow ethical values and virtues, self-awareness and self-control, and last but not least an open mind to understand and see through the daily-life aspects of love. For sure, not only philosophers or psychologists are able to “know” about love. Everybody can, with the “right” idea and vision…