Category Archives: inspire

Extraordinary circumstances

My son, the artist

Graphic: logo of the Washington Project for the ArtsMy son, Matthew, has been selected to show his photos in the Washington Project for the Arts‘s Options 09 exhibit, the 13th installment of the biennial show. He was one of the 250 artists that the WPA evaluated this year, ending up as one of the final 13 who will show. He’s the only one who does not have formal art training (a Masters in Fine Arts) so it’s his talent that’s getting him in there. For the first time, he will be displaying his photos in the format that he originally envisioned them (larger prints, sparing no expense):

As a tradition, OPTIONS is a survey of the brightest and most talented emerging artists in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia regions and offers visibility for artists who do not have gallery representation. WPA originally developed the biennial series in 1981 with legendary artist Gene Davis and Washington Review Managing Editor Mary Swift as curators of the first WPA OPTIONS showcase.

This year, WPA is fortunate to have Anne Collins Goodyear, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, curate the exhibition.

The exhibit opens today at the Conner Contemporary Art, 1358 Florida Ave, NE,2nd Floor, Washington,DC, and will last through October 31.

Needless to say, this is a big breakthrough for him, and we’re very, very proud of him. See his website.

The exhibit got a review in the Washington Post‘s Weekend supplement: “Other surprises: the sheer amount of painting. Work by Johnson, Mullins, Kim Manfredi and Polly Townsend may give hope to those who have heard rumors of its demise, and the shortage of great photography. True, Ren, Matthew Smith and Matthew Wead all contribute interesting photographic works. But where are the others?”

My family has been in an extended debate about what the last enigmatic line means?

Upgrading for yoga photos

Nikon D40 with standard kit lens AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

I gave in to an impulse and bought a Nikon D40 SLR camera this weekend at Circuit City (liquidation sale, so a full $100 off its retail price). After using my son’s camera, I amazed by the major improvement in quality of the photographs over my Canon P&S (Point and Shoot) camera. Because taking pictures of yoga is like a sports shoot since there’s a lot of movement involved and it almost always takes place inside dimly lit studios, I saw obvious need for an SLR camera if I was going to be serious about capture the moment, and now compromising to get a half-assed shot. I chose the DX because it was the most inexpensive, entry-level model of the Nikon brand, and I can borrow lenses and flash from my son to give me a little more flexibility on a short budget.

I don’t expet to be as good as govindakai’s photostream or even Alan Little, but it is just a major plus for web development and blogging. I was influenced to get the D40 (aside from my son’s own preferences) because Ken Rockwell recommended it even over the more advanced Nikon and Canon models.

Listening with your whole body

In the TED conference of 2007, Scottish percussionist and composer Evelyn Glennie spoke on how to listen to music with your whole body, a striking insight from someone who has been deaf since the age of 12. But I was even more moved by her presentation’s repercussions for yoga. After all, we are all trying to listen with our bodies, both to the subtle energies that flow through our core and to the world around us that reverberates with pulsations.

More info at and her bio page, or check out her own website.

PS: Since putting up this blog entry, I’ve downloaded some of her contemporary classical music and find it really provocative and multi-layered. Lately, I’ve suffered from a rather conventional choices of classical music (Mozart, Bach, Teleman, etc.), but I’ve found a way of doorway into a more modern style. She’s had music composed just for her, which is a high compliment.

Stop what you’re doing and sample a unique vision

I just got through watching this video from the TED conference in Monterrey, California, February 28. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist, recently gave an chat about her life-altering experience of a brain stroke. This emotionally charged story is going to spread like wildfire because it captures a vital life story and marries it to both science and spiritual insight. I’m still reeling from my first viewing so just don’t mind me and set aside 18 minutes to be astounded.

Her website also contains a link to her self-published book, My Stroke of Insight through I got on to this because the New York Times featured it on the Well blog.

TED is heavy-weight conference that deals in thinkers of great ideas and doers of impressive deeds — and good story tellers. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It’s worth exploring.

Through the third eye…

A month ago, I was traveling in Colombia and spending evenings alone in my hotel room in a kind of personal retreat (no television, no alcohol, no distractions). I was doing pranayama, yoga and meditation, as well as reading and journaling. In meditation, I’ve often found it hard to focus so I’ve used techniques like a mantra or my breath as my target of attention. In meditation classes, I tried other technique, like focusing on my third eye (the point between the brows, associated with the anja chakra and enlightenment). I was told to focus on the bridge of my nose (with eyes shut) and then move up to the third eye. It’s still a tough task for me because it’s an imaginary exercise. I’ve never seen my third eye.

That evening in Santa Marta, I found myself befuddled as I tried to focus my attention on a single point. I asked myself whether it might be more feasible to focus my eyes on something more meaningful. What could I focus on that would instill a deep sense of wellbeing and stillness? Well, the object could be looking into the eyes of a loved one, I said to myself. But rather than referring to my wife or kids, I tried to raise the practice to another level: the Beloved. I settled into this mental stance and felt a groundswell of emotion. I then realized that the Beloved was like a mirror and I was looking into a pair of eyes — my own. This sudden stroke of wisdom hit me with a visceral truth in my core.

This event sealed a year in which my intention was self-acceptance as a necessary step in my personal development. It is so hard for me to accept and love myself without conditions or expectations. My work with yoga has been to come to terms with my physical body while with meditation and self-inquiry I’ve tried to tackle other realms.

East-West Convergence

At the workshop this past weekend, Beryl Bender Birch drew a picture that caught my imagination. Back in the days of the Palace of Mysore when the trio of future gurus of classical yoga (T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois) were studying under Krisnamacharya, the father of hatha yoga (it’s his 1938 video to the right), the Maharaja of Mysore was also patron to Western gymnastics that was brought to India by the British colonial regime. The two groups of students stood at opposite sites of the courtyard that served as classroom, copying techniques from each other. She said that a lot of the sequencing of vinyasa come from that cultural cross-pollination. It struck me as ironic that the East-West convergence influenced the formation of classic yoga. And today you’re getting another round of convergence as yoga meshes with American (and other Western) culture.

You can see a historic video of Iyengar from the same period.


Alan Little tagged me and then forgot to tell me, and I did not check out his blog until two days later — so I’ve already blown the eight-hour deadline. The premise is that I have write about eight random facts about me. Here goes:

  1. I did the pre-production coordination in Peru (government liaison, media contacts, customs clearances) for Shirley McClain’s bio-pic “Out on a Limb” and then failed to charge Hollywood rates for the work I did — boy, was I dumb!
  2. I was invited twice to spend extended weekends with my wife, all expenses paid, at Arthur Hailey‘s home in Nassau, Bahamas because he wanted me to read drafts of his novel about a journalist’s adventure in Peru, The Evening News.
  3. I don’t write long hand, but print as if I was still in elementary school. I’ve done this since high school when I was bored with taking notes in history class and decided to add a degree of difficulty to the task.
  4. I was the character Potzo in “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett in my senior year of college. The actor who was going to play Potzo backed out and I was the understudy. I was skinny so I padded out with blankets and towels, wore abundant makeup and a plastic skull cap so that I could be bald. During the play, I perspired so much that water poured out from under my fake nose in the middle of my dialogue. My friends told me that my acting was brilliant — but since no one could recognize me under all the makeup and costume, I did not get any cred on campus.
  5. I sang a capella in the madrigal singers of my high school. Now I can barely carry a tune.
  6. When I was in college, I used to perform mime, picked up from watching a street mime in Lima, Peru.
  7. My favorite novelist when I was an adolescent was Robert Heinlein.
  8. I tried to sell Bibles and reference books door-to-door in South Carolina in the summer after my freshman year. It was sheer torture and I gave up after six weeks — I was stubborn.

Here are the rules for the next generation:

  1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
  4. If you fail to do this within eight hours, you will not reach Third Series or attain your most precious goals for at least two more lifetimes.

I am tagging:

  1. Stephanie
  2. Raj Waghray
  3. I’m even worse than Alan; I can’t come up with anyone else off the top of my head or skimming through my e-mail. I guess my circle of friends and acquaintances don’t have blogs that allow them to respond to being tagged.

Blessings, small and large

While shaving (beard and scalp) this morning, I realized that it had not always been so easy. For the past 10 years, at least, I have cut my own hair, basically buzz-cutting my hair to the smallest setting on the electric hair clipper. This year, I have gone even further and applied an electric razor to give me the billiard ball look. It used to be that I could never get my right hand to reach the left side of my head; I’d have to switch the clipper or razor to my left hand. I noticed this morning that I don’t have to make the switch anymore, unless my right arm becomes fatigued from the awkward position. I attribute this improved range to my yoga practice — what else could it be. All my time spent in downward-facing dog has served a purpose.

I went for the shaved head look as a gesture in support of my brother, Richard, who was undergoing treatment for lung cancer and losing his hair involuntarily. After an operation, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, his doctors have declared the cancer in remission, allowing him to look forward to some semblance of normalcy in his life. I don’t know if I am going to stop shaving my head. I kinda like it — a Buddha look that goes with my increased emphasis on mindfulness.

Pale blue dot

I chanced upon this video montage and it really struck home. I need to remember its message. It’s inspired by Carl Sagan, one of my intellectual mentors from a distance, and the Hubble space telescope.

YouTube link