The name's Ben, currently back living in Bogor, Indonesia. I also run a, photoblog and that's all you need to know.

reorientation of the absurd

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I had my appendix removed about a month ago. Initially it was thought to be a simple appendicitis yet since my appendix turns out had already burst, spilling a plethora of toxic pus into my rather sensitive abdominal cavities, I spent a few extra days in the hospital.

Having submitted my final thesis just a few days prior to my hospital excursion and having almost zero obligations what-so-ever (or perhaps it was just me giving a middle-finger to everything and everyone having completed my thesis), while waiting for my body to heal up a bit I did what I do best and that of course is to think on a few things. 

I started by thinking on how much I disliked hospitals. My initial thought was rather pensive, I played around with the idea that my dislike was due to my realization of the inescapable cycle of life - birth, sickness, ageing, death, all that Buddhist stuff and my inability to cope with the reality of this assured tragedy.

However, after a few days being in the hospital I realized that it was more due to the antibiotics that was given to me which caused excessive amounts of diarrhea, constant nausea and late night vomits. Also here’s one thing I learned by experience, you can actually tear the outer ring of your butthole by having copious amounts of explosive diarrhea. I can assure you pain is inevitable.

The birth and dying part was just me trying to go all spiritual having nothing else to do other than vacantly gaze the celling and contemplate on life..or maybe that was due to the morphine the nurses gave me. Speaking of which, that’s one drug I really like.

Hey, all in the name of health they say.

Putting all this loathing for antibiotics aside, come to think of it I actually enjoyed my short stay at the hospital. I couldn’t really stand up and move around much because you know..I had an operation, although the nurses encouraged me to do exactly just that. So I spent most of the time lying on my bed befriending and talking to the vanilla ceiling. 

Which in fact is just me talking to myself. Meditation was also on my to-do list and that helped ease the pain.

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I was undeniably riddled with anxiety and fear at that time (not that it has fully gone away now), not because of my unexpected ruptured appendix but because I understood that my job in Wellington, New Zealand - land of the long white clouds - is done. I’ve completed my thesis and as my scholarship dictates, once i’m done with the hustle and bustle of my academic life I must return to Indonesia, supposedly to a place I call home.

But home for me is an elusive concept; I’ve been moving around so much throughout my life that this place I call home is just a temporary position to assuage that feeling of insecurity that I get every time I start something new. 

And after living in Wellington for two years, coming back to Indonesia is something entirely new for me. See there’s one thing that people who have been living abroad for some time seldom talk of and that is reintegrating their selves back into a society that is entirely different. The values, the environment, the norms, the food, the people, the everything. 

Now here I am back in Indonesia, trying to slowly have my daily affairs sorted. Setting up a new bank account, applying for my tax number (having my ass hauled to an Indonesian prison for tax evasion is a big no, no), adjusting my self to the chaos of perpetual road rage that one has to endure when driving or taking the public transportation in Indonesia, helping my family on critical matters and of course readjusting myself back to a society that to be honest is at times incredibly exhausting to deal with.

But despite all this, I realize that this is the reality that I have to deal with for now and I see this as nothing more than an opportunity for the betterment of the self, as the self needs constant improvement. What better way than to live in chaos and see how one handles the situation at hand.

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I was walking across the pedestrian bridge the other day doing my usual walks around the city while taking photos and stopped in the middle to view the city below me. If you take time and have yourself just stop and look for a moment, there is a certain madness, an assured absurdity, illogical in many ways, frustration is rife, anger is easily provoked but underneath all that there is so much fragility, insecurity and fear. And if  you look into the eyes of others, you’ll see that everyone is afraid of now, of tomorrow, of life as much as you are. We all have a shared fear for the unknown and that is what makes us all so incredibly fragile and beautiful at the same time.

Time to put all those theories on life, desire and suffering to the test. A much needed dose of contemplative practice and a hint of skepticism should help me ease my confusions.

The synergy between the theories of life, be it spiritual or philosophical or psychological with the practice of living life produces the deconstructing action of experiential wisdom. This I argue is essential in living one’s life. Knowledge that is experienced and that is lived becomes a personal guideline on how to live one’s life, often demolishing our former understandings or convictions of life. A deconstruction followed by a reconstruction of the self.

That is why the theories of life are just as important as the acting of life. If your theories are filled with conformity, irrationality, thoughtlessness, hatred, anger, self-righteousness, self-entitlement, mindless consumption etc, etc then the life that one will carry out will be based on this.

This is why critical literacy is important. It helps us stop for a moment and ask about how life should be carried out or how your life has been carried out all this time. We need to stop and contemplate and ask the necessary questions not about life in general but about our lives. Us, me, the ever elusive, often intangible ‘I’.

But here’s the catch, one can also be too deep in intellectual knowledge that one forgets to actually live life, preventing us to obtain this much-needed, self-acquired wisdom. As John Milton puts it, “deep versed in books and shallow in himself.”

So I guess for me the next logical step is to ask the simple yet daunting question of ‘what is next?’ The question, I assume, is harmless, but the answer and the need of an actualization of the answer is probably the reason why it is so daunting to begin with.

Because of this, the question is usually accompanied by a hint of existential crisis, fear, anxiety and probably a barrage of other destructive emotions that eclipses the ability to view the probability of something positive that might come out of being brave in acting on what I want in life.

To answer ‘what is next?’ is to sorely contemplate on what I want or what I need in life now. My two years in Wellington became more of a spiritual journey rather than a mere academic one. Receiving a master’s degree is incredibly minor and insignificant when compared to the knowledge that I have gained about myself throughout my stay there. Paraphrasing my lovely brother, there is no correlation between the title and the human being. What I have ultimately learned and gained is the intricate and self-obtained knowledge of the self.

With this, I know what I need and want in life now. There is a self-assured certainty that I have a never felt before. The only issue that I see capable of stopping me in doing what I must do is fear. As I know that this path that I will and must take is a personal and lonely one. And loneliness is a fertile field to grow fear and self-doubt.

It’s funny how once one keeps on relentlessly searching for this elusive, intangible thing called happiness, what one finds is even more sadness. I now realize that both are inseparable, like conjoined twins with one beating heart. To embrace one is to embrace both and to neglect one is to neglect both. I wish to look into to this. To seriously, personally and wholeheartedly look at both the ecstasy and tragedy that life brings forth and how I relate to all this.

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But why such an absurd wish, Ben? 

While I was writing this, Rara called me and frantically informed me that her grandmother just passed away.  To hear someone’s lost is to not only immediately and automatically reflect on my own personal exposure to loss and grief but also have a shared understanding on the suffering she has to undergo as grief takes hold of her. There is nothing I can do but give her comfort and warmth through my presence and my words but I do so with the understanding that both my presence and my words can only go so far. As it is her that can only give full comfort and warmth to herself.

Looking at all this, I might seem to have a rather ludicrous wish but after encountering loss, fear, anxiety, extreme self-doubt, grief, sadness and suffering not only from my own experience but also seeing the experiences of others life is indeed not only blindingly harsh but also undeniably absurd.

With this understanding, the reason I want to now seriously look into life is because I see no other way to make sense of the absurdity of life. 

Life is indeed absurd, that I’m afraid is an undeniable and irrefutable fact.

The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

(via purplebuddhaproject)

You can’t find intimacy—you can’t find home—when you’re always hiding behind masks. Intimacy requires a certain level of vulnerability. It requires a certain level of you exposing your fragmented, contradictory self to someone else. You’re running the risk of having your core self rejected and hurt and misunderstood.
Junot Diaz (via creatingaquietmind)

(via teachingliteracy)

Anonymous asked: Based upon your answer before, I agreed that the marriage of religion and ego becomes nothing more than a catalyst for self-destruction. But Ben, what will you do when you feel really pressured and exhausted cause of your problem or something? Oh, by the way my name is Wina. And you have really great blog, Ben.

When does a problem become a problem? When we silently reject it and say “I want happiness not problems!”But if you’re able to see and understand that life is nothing but a series of positivities and negativities,  ups and downs, then problems are nothing but a part of your normal daily life. Then you can find solutions without the constant dependence on religion.

Psychologically speaking, religion is indeed soothing and helps you calm yourself down in order to help you better solve the problem, but it doesn’t really solve the problem does it?

ratihandayani asked: Halo Ben, aku baca posting kamu soal everything in between. Kalokamu berpikir akan kematin terus-menerus, apakah mempengaruhi living your life kamu to the fullest? Misalnya, jadi gak mencintai sesuatu karena takut pada akhirnya nanti akan berakhir (dengan kematian). Menurutku, kehidupan itu sendiri adalah titipan, yang bisa setiap saat diambil oleh pemiliknya :) semoga kamu bisa share sesuatu, Ben. Trims.

Halo Ratih,

Mungkin tidak sebaliknya, kita semakin ‘live to the fullest’ dengan menerima kematian?

Dengan memikirkan kematian dan menerima bahwa kematian itu sebuah hal yang nyata bukan sekedar pemahaman intelektual semata, mungkinkah kita dapat menyadari fananya dan semunya hidup ini? Bahwa hidup yang kita jalani sekarang, dengan segala kesedihan, amarah, sakit hati, ketakutan, musibah yang kita alami, kebahagiaan, cinta dan segala sesuatu yang indah bukan hanya sekedar fana namun juga semu? Bahwa dengan kematian segala sesuatu yang kita inginkan dan rasakan sesungguhnya tak ada artinya? Rasa kesedihan yang kamu rasakan ketika diputusin pacar, atau amarah yang kamu rasakan ketika dibohongin teman, rasa takut ketika menuntut hak kita atau kebahagiaan yang kita nikmati ketika lulus kuliah, semua perasaan adalah fana.

Dengan menyadari bahwa diri kita akan mati dan bahwa hidup adalah suatu yang sangat rapuh dan singkat, kita akan dengan mudah melalui segala sesuatu yang kita rasakan.  Menyadari bahwa hidup terlalu singkat untuk kita pasrah dalam kesedihan, terbayang-bayang oleh ketakutan, atau menggenggam erat sebuah amarah dan dendam atau bahkan terlarut dan terbutakan dalam kebahagiaan. 

Selama ini kita terlalu banyak hidup dalam sebuah perasaan dan terlarut dalam perasaan-perasaan tersebut dan mengakibatkan diri kita untuk lupa akan hidup. Bahwa kebahagiaan yang kita rasakan adalah sementara dan semu, bahwa amarah yang kita genggam tak ada artinya, bahwa tangisan dan kesedihan yang kita rasakan menghambat kita untuk melangkah maju.

Menyadari bahwa diri kita akan mati adalah sebuah berkah karena dengan kesadaran tersebut kita juga akan menyadari bahwa segala sesuatu sekeliling kita juga akan mati dan musnah. Orang tua kita, teman-teman kita, hewan peliharaan kita, bunga yang telah tanam di kebun, gunung yang kita pernah daki, rumah yang pernah kita tinggali. Tidak ada yang abadi di dunia ini. Dengan menyadari bahwa segala sesuatu yang kita cintai akan mati atau musnah, kita pada akhirnya menyadari akan apa yang penting dan apa yang tidak penting. Dan tentunya menggenggam amarah ke orang tua atau teman menjadi sangat tidak penting.

So when you ask what love is, you may be too frightened to see the answer. It may mean complete upheaval; it may break up the family; you may discover that you do not love your wife or husband or children - do you? - you may have to shatter the house you have built, you may never go back to the temple.

But if you still want to find out, you will see that fear is not love, dependence is not love, jealousy is not love, possessiveness and domination are not love, responsibility and duty are not love, self-pity is not love, the agony of not being loved is not love, love is not the opposite of hate any more than humility is the opposite of vanity.

So if you can eliminate all these, not by forcing them but by washing them away as the rain washes the dust of many days from a leaf, then perhaps you will come upon this strange flower which man always hungers after.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

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Luminate Festival 2013.

Seven days of camping filled with loving, beautiful people, workshops on meditation, yoga, tai chi, chakra healing, permaculture, organic gardening, and lots of other fabulous amazing things.

I’ll see you again in 2019.

zenpencils:

EDGAR MITCHELL - A global consciousness

Anonymous asked: Menurut saya sih Ben, kalau kamu paling tidak beragama kamu pasti akan terselesaikan masalah-masalah yang kamu alami. Lagipula menurut saya kamu adalah manusia yang sangat sombong dengan tidak keinginanmu untuk beragama. Inget hidup kamu setelah di bumi ini akan ada surga dan neraka.

Kalau kamu memang membutuhkan sebuah agama dan sebuah konsep ketuhanan dalam hidup kamu untuk menjalani hidup kamu secara menyeluruh ya silahkan. Itu menjadi hak kamu karena kamu memang membutuhkan hal itu.

Seharusnya bukan bagaimana seseorang menjalani sebuah hubungan vertikal (kita dan Tuhan) yang dipermasalahkan namun hubungan horizontal, antar manusia yang harus kita bicarakan. Menghargai dan mengerti sesama dan bukan sekedar hanya mentoleransi sesama. Apa gunanya toleransi jika kita melihat diri kita sebagai manusia yang lebih superior dari orang-orang yang berbeda dengan kita? Apa gunanya manusia yang beragama jika hanya digunakan untuk memberi makan ego kita masing-masing? 

Apakah kita dapat bergerak melampaui toleransi dan menerima bahwa kita pada dasarnya menyembah Tuhan yang sama? Atau apakah dengan agama kita semakin hidup dalam kotak ego kita masing-masing dan berpegang teguh bahwa saya berbeda dan saya “lebih” dari yang lain? Saya dan umat sayalah yang akan diselamatkan dan mereka tidak.

The problem of ego and its relationship with personal religious salvation is crucial in an individual’s personal religious discourse but is often so far and seldomly self thought of that it becomes an invisible cancer that rots you from within. The marriage of religion and ego becomes nothing more than a catalyst for self-destruction.

Progresivitas kita sebagai manusia bukan hanya berlandaskan agama namun kompetensi kita dalam memahami pentingnya hubungan antar manusia dengan cara yang beradab. Cara kita menggunakan agama dilandasi oleh hal ini.

Jika kita memiliki landsan menghormati sesama manusia termasuk yang berbeda maka interpretasi kita akan agama kita akan sejalan dengan hal ini. Juga sebaliknya, jika kita melihat manusia yang berbeda sebagai sebuah ancaman maka kita akan menggunakan agama untuk menjustifikasi hal itu. Moralitas dan keinginan kita untuk hidup damai bukan berasal dari agama tapi telah ada dalam diri kita masing-masing namun begitu juga dengan ego, amarah, kesedihan, dll. Disinilah peran agama sebagai pengingat bahwa kita membutuhkan kehidupan yang damai jika kita ingin kebahagiaan dan jika kita ingin memajukan manusia secara menyeluruh.

Mungkin pertanyaan terakhir dari saya buat kamu adalah dapatkah kita sebagai manusia menyadari dan melampaui ego kita masing-masing dengan agama? Karena menurut saya pribadi peran agama menjadi hampa jika kita dengan mudah mengutuk orang lain yang berbeda dengan kita dan jika tujuan kita beragama hanya mencari keselamatan kita masing-masing.

Lalu apa ya..tadi mau nulis tambahan lagi tapi lupa ey haha

The problem with our life does not lie in the individual circumstances or occurrences of our day-to-day existence. It’s not that they’re inherently meaningless and boring. The problem is that we make them meaningless and boring; because we are so invested in maintaining our own sense of self, we actually don’t relate to anything in a direct way. Unwilling to fully live the life that is arriving in our bodies moment by moment, we find ourselves left with no real life at all.
Reggie Ray

"A tribute to the art and her disarming beauty."

Directed by Rino Stefano Tagliafierro

Duration: 9’49”

Lithographs by Edvard Munch

Anonymous asked: Hi Ben, my name is Jules, I'm curious, what camera/films do you use? And what kinds of techniques? I really like your photography. It's filled with simplicity, and every time I take a deeper look, I will vaguely hear distant noises and yet I feel the loneliness. Does it represent your current state?

Hey Jules (and others who have constantly asked similar questions). I use all sorts of cameras and films, from my analog to digital and even my cellphone every now and then. A camera is just a camera, having a great camera doesn’t necessarily produce great photos. It’s just a tool, that’s it. And loneliness? Yes I do feel that way. No i’m not lacking in any friends. I’m just trying to make sense of the world around me and that gets a bit lonely from time to time.

everything in between

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This post will in some sense be a continuation of my Jakarta Post op-ed article on death and overworking, which you can read here.

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I want to talk about death and a few other things because recently it has been something in the back of my mind constantly plaguing me. Recent personal events has demanded me not merely to think about it but to dig through again a particular memory that I thought has long been dealt with. 

If you read the article that I wrote for the Jakarta Post you’ll get a glimpse of why at the very least, I had to wearily contemplate about death once more. Although I do talk about death from time and time again, it still eludes me as it just merely passes by. Intellectually fascinating to discuss and think on but I never fully let it sink it. I stopped most of my broodings on death when my thesis started asking most of attention and energy, which has been most of 2013. That being said though, I knew that these thoughts and desires to understand more on death and grief still lingers in the back of my mind waiting silently, insidiously, precariously. Waiting to be confronted and would often leave me temporarily debilitated. Forcefully having me question on what is real in life, on what is important in life.

Which is not easy if I may say so.

When a friend, or I should perhaps say an acquaintance of mine, Mita Diran, recently passed away last December the story of her tragic death went viral and instantly became an unpleasant reminder of life-work balance. Her name instantly became synonymous with over-work and the horrors of energy drinks. Although I did write about her, to be honest I can’t say I knew her well, we met up a few times through a mutual friend of ours a couple of years back. We did follow each other through various social networking medias, doing the usual stuff. Retweeted each others tweet, read each others blog, liked and commented each others photos, exchanged laughs and thoughts a few times on music and what-nots, that’s pretty much how far our friendship went. Yet as superficial our friendship maybe, her death made me pause and pause I did for a few days, foolishly while I was writing my thesis while being pressured by deadlines. When Mita died, I had an instant flashback of my dad’s death. It’s never easy for me talking about death to be honest, but it’s something I force myself on doing just to remind me on how fake or real life gets. 

I remember that I stopped writing, closed my laptop for a moment, pushed my thesis away for a bit, a few days to be exact and just sat in front my desk facing the window which fittingly faces a cemetery. Yes, I live in front of a cemetery. I just think of it as the universe’s way of being sardonic towards me.

Prior to Mita’s death, her facebook popped up more frequently on my facebook timeline. I took that as a sign from facebook (nifty clickbait tactic Zuckerberg) that I should take a peek at her facebook profile and see how she was doing and clicked away I did. As I was scrolling through her facebook profile I felt that I actually wanted to get to know her better as she seemed like a fascinating person to hang out with and was actually thinking of doing so once I head back home to Indonesia.

A few hours after that she passed away.

Regret just sank it automatically. I regretted not contacting her earlier and that regret went even deeper when Mita’s best friend, of whom was our mutual friend, sent me a link to Mita’s blog post where she wrote a short blurb about me a couple of years back. 

And as I read her short blog post of me, saying how she admired me, I can’t help thinking that I felt the same way too. I admired her and I wanted to get to know her more but neither of us had the chance to do anything about it and thus our friendship was limited to the hollowness of social media.

I have to admit that this bothers me deeply and I can’t seem to shake off these regrets. I’m beating myself up for this, not only of these regrets but because it mirrors on how I felt about my dad when he died. Those “if onlys” still haunting me every now and then. Those predawn dreams just before you wake up and about to start your new day. 

Let me say this loud and clear, life is indeed suffering. Life is suffering. I’m not trying to be overly, perpetually pessimistic on life, but I come to this conclusion by drawing on my experiences of my life up to this point. 

I still can’t fathom on how to understand and accept death, lost, and grief as a part of life. Yet as I grow older I know those things will slowly come again and again. How am I, how am I as a human being must live life knowing this? That I will lose the people I care for again due to this very natural process of life.

That they all burn the same way, and turn into the same ashes.

Should I just march on relentlessly, blindly and let all this pass without giving it a single thought? Or should I let this pain burn through, leaving a scar that hurts as it heals? Or should I have this thing called death always on the forefront of my thoughts, like having those bright yellow post-its being glued on my forehead?

I don’t exactly know what to do for now, as I don’t have a definite answer of course. I will however, continue on living life and experiencing life as life has to be lived to be understood not merely read in books. Books that I constantly and poignantly find refuge and solace in. This reminds me of a quote from John Carey’s - What Good Are The Arts where he questions the usage of literature, ”deep-versed in books and shallow in himself”Ouch man.

So far the way I see it, the world is becoming more and more abstract, as I dwell further it. It’s either I don’t understand it or wish to not understand it and i’m here writing this to share how I have lived my life and to arrogantly say that our lives is also undeniably full of shit. That many things we do is trite and banal and trivial and makes no sense whatsoever and brings no or sometimes very little improvement to the betterment ourselves. We linger and latch to our egos and the images we have constructed of ourselves, we see ourselves as the center of the universe and constantly justifying our madness and lust and angers without stopping for a moment and realizing that we’ve hurt people. We constantly judge and make others feel worthless through words we say or did not say. We want to change the world and every human being but ourselves, living life in pure utter vain. We buy, buy and buy without a even hint of giving. We search for God or that unknown being with anger and rage in our hearts, instilling misery into the hearts and minds of others while we do so. And we search for love yet end up finding jealousy and the fear of being alone and defining that as love.

Tell me now, how this is not tragically absurd?

I dare say this because I do this, every single day, day-in and day-out. And because those trite, trivial things makes us happy however effortlessly fleeting that happiness is. To make matters worse, at the end of the day, before I close my tired eyes, and lay my head on my overused pillow, I ask myself am I good enough? Will I ever be good enough, not only for those who have come to love, to love me again, again and again but am I even good enough for myself?

I say all this not because I want to live a life of misery but I’m trying to pinpoint and look at what’s causing my misery. I don’t want to run away from my problems however frightening and real and traumatic they are. I want to look at it, I want to understand it and accept is as a part of me. I believe that ignorance breeds suffering. I don’t want to be continuously ignorant of my self.

"With ignorance comes attachment to all that is pleasant to the ego as well as hatred and repulsion for all that is unpleasant", as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche once said.

I am nowhere near on understanding and accepting life as a whole. Life, death, love, all these still eludes me but I won’t stop. However frustrated I get, how many tears I shed, how many angers I withhold, and how many fake smiles and laughters I furnish my ageing face with, I just can’t stop living life. It’s just too captivating for me and I want to know why it is so.

Rara wrote a beautiful blog post summarizing on how she did back in 2013 and what she expects of 2014. It’s fascinating how people live different lives even though they share many things together and it’s utterly fascinating how everyone has a personal story to share.

So 2014 for me? it’s just another year. Just another beautiful year.

All I want to do now is say thank you to everyone that has been part of my life so far. Everyone’s just been amazing.

"we’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are." - Calvin and Hobbes

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