Life is a journey: a reflection
By:Datuk Mohammad Medan Abdullah

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.”

– Drake

Life is a journey and, like a fast-flowing river from the Bario Highlands, where I was born, it is always in constant motion, moving from one station to another. Sometimes, it is tumbling all over, as in the rapids. Other times, you come to calm stretches in mysterious deep pools along the river.

Even on a daily basis, we go through each day, moment by moment, from one station to another. Sometimes we just don’t know it, or don’t care, to be able to see it from that perspective. The elders used to leave us with the advice, in almost all things we do, to “ngeli’o narih” — literally, “you please do take care,” meaning to be always mindful in whatever one is doing. In other words, to always be present in the moment, knowing what you are doing While expressing concerns and care for our wellbeing, they were giving us the keys to achieve that state.

We go through different feelings every day as we experience this earthly sojourn. Are we mindful of what goes on through our minds, or are we otherwise over-analysing things? Or when we tee off a golf swing, are we actually present in the moment or not? That could mean the difference between a shank or a duff from a properly well executed drive. Or a missed putt on a gimme chance. Or just about any activity that we do, we need to ask ourselves those same questions. Well, that is just one example of the emotional roller coaster that we go through in normal life. This is just one thread of a myriad moments that make up this mosaic of a multicoloured carpet called life.

In this case, life refers to the opportunity to fully experience this earthly realm. And possibly more, if we are lucky — luck is not defined by the gambling that you do in the casino. Luck is more about the essence of the matter, like what Deng Xiao Peng meant when he said, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”! He focused on the essence, not the form. He became the first leader to actually start building China into what it is today. So, my Chinese friends tell me.

Talking about journeys, even the sun makes its journey across the sky from the morning to the evening. So it seemed. In fact, reality is the opposite — the earth rotates around the sun. So, the scientists and astronomers tell us. That is one reality that I only knew after I went to school. But the perception is otherwise from our earthly perch. We see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. That is a fact, or rather a shade of fact. Not the entire truth.

But whatever it is or how you describe it, it’s the meaning of it that we often miss — that which really matters. And as said by someone: “There is a strange comfort in knowing that no matter what happens today, the sun will rise again tomorrow.”  per Aaron Lauritsen. The sun setting and rising can mean hope and continuity. Or faith. Or is it a metaphor for peace in knowing? Your particular situation or need helps to give you the right interpretation. Or looked at differently, the guidance that you need.

But sometimes, life also has some ironic twists, and we need to change our perspective in order to see better or to see the reality or the truth, which, by the way, is seldom plain or always obvious.

Each step we take is a marker in the journey of life. That’s just one thread of perception, and not the only one, for sure. But suffice it for the purpose of this posting to use that metaphor of steps in this account of a true tale — truth being just a relative term, that is. Or using the simile and metaphor of a river, just one river in the many rivers that make up one’s journey.

Some nine years ago today, I stepped up for a job opportunity in Singapore as the Regional Asia-Pacific head for a global multinational. It was exactly one day after the effective date of my voluntary retirement notice from my first job, after having faithfully served for 31 years from 1982 to August 31, 2013.  Being a day just after Merdeka Day, the date of the commencement of my new chapter was highly coincidental and symbolic of the idea of being “freed” from a major station, at which I had lingered on for 30 odd years, to the next phase or station.

In deploying the term “freedom” in this narrative, I am alluding to a long and certainly enriching journey down a particular river, one that was a rewarding and exciting career, which first started from its source deep in the heart of Borneo, where I first went to school, but which took me to the various corners of the globe, with a major pit stop in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital by the time the part of my journey ended. Education is indeed a bridge to take you places. It proved true in my case, and many others too.

The idea of freedom is not in a negative sense or context, like being freed from an adverse situation to a better one, or like achieving freedom from oppression or from colonialism in the context of a country. By using the terminology “freedom,” I was alluding to the sense of confidence and excitement of embarking on a new journey — one of moving to the next station or phase of my own career journey.

All this while, my main pit stop was at the world-famous landmark, the tallest twin towers in the world. Yes, the tallest double edifice is still an unbroken record, first achieved in the last millennium and still yet to be broken in the current one. Even then, one can still move on to new experiences and learning opportunities.

In a social posting on that landmark step for me, I observed and remarked: “TIMELINE: It looks like I’ll be setting a record of sorts: retired one day, hired the next.” When I was thinking about my first day at work, the first thing that came to mind was that I needed to learn the language that was my new employer’s lingua franca. So, like most people these days, I made an appointment with Dr. Google—that wise, all-knowing man who lives in his own station in the online, digital universe.

What I was looking for was nothing exotic but the most basic, but admittedly, one of the most important phrases to learn in any language. Something that is a true fundamental in life, namely — how to say, “Thank you!” in a language that is understood and appreciated in the context of the next phase of my own personal journey.

I just wanted to know how to say ‘Thank you’ in the specific language that would be widely spoken in my new job, after English. In my reckoning, I would be needing it a lot at my next station on my journey. As I said earlier, the word “thanks” in any language is one of the key fundamentals in life, and to say it in the native language of my new employer would be more meaningful.

Life is a journey, and being thankful along the way won’t hurt.

I would like to believe that every living thing has a way of saying this phrase, in one form or another. Even the non-living things, and any and all created things for that matter, are always in that mode vis-a-vis their Creator. Except for the ingratiates, that is. It’s such a fundamental thing. It’s just that we are on a different wavelength from the other created things that we can’t hear them or decipher what or how they are being said. Being thankful and gratefulness are pivotal to existence.

I was looking for the Russian way of saying “thank you” and this was what I found: The Russian way of saying ‘Thank you’ is to say “олое сасио, Bal’shoye spaseeba” or “Thank you very much” in English. For us, it’s “Terima Kasih” and has as many or even more derivatives as there are spoken languages in the world. In religious scriptures and doctrine, being thankful and grateful is a cardinal precept.

Just two words, that is so easy to say but yet doesn’t roll off the tongue so readily. Something that costs almost nothing to do or say but can buy us or give someone something of unseen and immense value, whether to the recipient, hearer, or utterer. It is a gift to others. And from others to us. Yes, a blessing from the utterer which reverts back to him or her in amplified energy and gratefulness. Yet, why is it so difficult to say thank you? I wonder. There is a disconnect, a discordant tune. 

Life is a journey, and being thankful along the way won’t hurt. Contrast that with being ungrateful, always begrudging and not being appreciative of the blessings that life’s journey brings our way every day. If only we knew.

‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.’ — African proverb.

An African proverb comes to mind: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” I would paraphrase that in the context of this posting thus: “If you want to go alone, then forget about saying thank you. But if you want to go together and far, then don’t forget to say thank you!” 

So, to all my friends, family, acquaintances, and those so-called strangers that I have yet to meet, thanks for all your support and understanding. I know it is there, in one form or another — for you are the conduit of the blessings that come from the one and only Source. Thanks for being there in my life, on this journey that we are traversing. Whether you are immediate or remote, you are part of my ecosystem, my universe on this journey that we are, in effect, taking and making together.

As we sometimes hear, this life is not a destination but a journey. It is therefore good to be mindful of every step we take. Paradoxically, as Rumi said, in order to do that, you need to “Let go of your mind and then be mindful.” In the journey, in living it purposefully, lies the insight into the destination. Or at least, your chance of getting side-tracked and totally lost will be minimised.

We all came from somewhere and are going to somewhere — that somewhere where we first came from.  But to get to that somewhere, always be thankful and say “Bal’shoye spaseeba!”, “terima kasih” and “thank you” for being there on the path. From station to station we will journey, some of us fast, some slower. That’s the nature of journeys. But know that it is always onwards. Onwards to the destination of destinations. But first, we need to look inside — for that is where the journey actually starts. 

If we look at our own journey as a whole and dissect it by the seconds, hours, days, weeks, months, quarters, years, and decades, we will realise the quality of the journey. All these time intervals are made of moments, each of which just “flows” into the other. They don’t bump or run into each other. So, there is no need to rush from one moment to the next. We just need to go with the flow and try to live it to the fullest possible. From one destination to the next! Flowing like the river. The river of life.

New Sarawak Tribune e-Paper

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