Thursday, February 25, 2010

Canadian Air & Space Museum

This past Saturday I went to the Canadian Air & Space Museum with my dad. The professional engineering association he's with organized a tour for it's members and family or friends. It sounded quite interesting to me so I asked my father if we could go.

The museum is located at Downsview Park which is northwest of Highway 401 and Allen Road. It's at the old De Havilland Aircraft factory. Built in 1929, it's the oldest surviving aircraft factory in Canada and was the birthplace of many famous Canadian-designed planes. Now it's home to many artifacts and aircraft associated with aerospace technology and innovation of the Greater Toronto Area.

Upon arrival we were given some snacks and sat down for a brief introduction to the place. After the talk we broke into smaller groups and were given a very informative tour around the buildings. It was the first time I've ever been in a room with a bunch of relatively small planes, let alone get close enough to touch a few historical ones (though you're not supposed to do that). If you're like me your only experience with planes is at the airport on one of those large Boeings when you fly across overseas on vacation.

Needless to say I was quite fascinated. Among the interesting planes were the De Havilland Tiger Moth. It was a bi-plane used as a basic trainer across Canada during World War II. They were built in the very building that the museum is now in. They're also restoring an old AVRO Lancaster Mark X bomber that used to be displayed down near Ontario Place. Being exposed to the elements for many years and enduring squatters and vandals it was in pretty rough shape. They were used in World War II as well and were able to carry a payload of 18,000 lbs in bombs. This specific plane was built by Victory Aircraft (later AVRO Canada) in Malton back in 1945. Lastly there's a full sized model of the AVRO CF-105 Arrow. Back in 1958-1959, when it was first developed, it was considered the most advanced interceptor in the world. Sadly it never reached production. The project was scrapped back in 1959, some say because of political reasons.

Anyway, it wasn't a bad way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon for me. I learned a few things and was able to get up close to some neat looking planes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Flavor of the Week

A weekly look at the styles of everyday people as seen through the eyes of, me, your intrepid man on the street.

Name: Laurie T.
Occupation: Manager at Mexx
Clothing details: Shirt-the people have spoken, Leggings-American Apparel, Boots-Winners, Sunglasses-Shop at the airport, Bag-U2
What she was doing when I met her: Out on her lunch break.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Art of Happiness

I just finished reading The Art of Happiness - a Handbook for Living, by Howard Cutler M.D. an American psychiatrist. In private meetings in Arizona and India he conducted intensive interviews of Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. This in the quest to, perhaps, ascertain how to find happiness in life. Here's a summary of what I think the book was about.

Part I - The Purpose of Life

Chapter 1 - The Right to Happiness
Nothing to really say here.

Chapter 2 - The Sources of Happiness
Happiness is determined more by one's state of mind than by external events. I believe this is true. They gave an example with people who have Comparing Minds. Those people will never be satisfied with what they have. Say someone makes $30,000 a year then the following year he gets a raise to $40,000. He will be happy for the time being. But, after he sees his friend making $50,000 that feeling will go away and he will want more. This cycle can constantly repeat itself and if you find yourself caught in it you will never find peace.
We need to achieve Inner Contentment part of which is wanting and appreciating what we already have. If our basic needs are met we should find contentment in that. Unchecked desire or greed will only lead down the road of despair.

Chapter 3 - Training the Mind for Happiness
Negative emotions and behaviors are harmful to us. Positive emotions are helpful. Develop positive emotions. Avoid hatred, jealousy and anger. Don't let the negative emotions control you. That's what I've always said. Negative states destroy our mental happiness. Nourish positive emotions such as compassion, loving kindness and a calm mind (like being patient). Having this sort of an emotional make up will lead the way towards attaining happiness.

Chapter 4 - Reclaiming our Innate State of Happiness
We are innately gentle and compassionate. That may seem contradictory to the evidence we see currently see around us. Violence, war and conflict affect many regions around the world. The book says that those tendencies are learned. That we are taught to behave like that. I believe that's true. Just look at the outpouring of compassion that was shown from peoples worldwide over the disaster in Haiti (Jan. 2009). I think that's our true nature and that we should strive towards embracing it as a permanent part of our lives.

Part II - Human Warmth and Compassion

Chapter 5 - A New Model for Intimacy
At first I was going to dismiss this chapter as not being useful. But, after I thought about it for awhile I realized that I was wrong about it. Intimacy - developing a close bond with others - is important. It's not restricted to a spouse or lover (and in fact shouldn't be), but it should be seen as having close ties to both friends and family alike. We need people to support us in good times and bad. People who will listen to our problems and empathize with us. In a few instances the author showed that close relationships (intimacy) promotes good health. Not only physically, but psychologically. And, as far as I'm concerned, that can only help on our path towards happiness.

Chapter 6 - Deepening our Connection to Others
Establishing Empathy - being able to understand another person's suffering. In other words, walk a mile in their shoes.
Develop relationships that aren't based on wealth, power or position. Rather establish friendships based on true human feelings, a feeling of closeness in which there is a sense of sharing and connectedness. They will not be affected by whether or not the person's personal wealth or power or position changes.
Relationships based solely on romantic feelings should be avoided. It's something that is based on fantasy, unattainable, and therefore may be a source of frustration. In another self-help book I'm reading they say that they typical "in love experience" lasts 2-years. After that, if there is nothing else to sustain the relationship, you could be in trouble.

Chapter 7 - The Value and Benefits of Compassion
To me this chapter has parallels to the previous one, where one was supposed to deepen their connection to others by establishing empathy with them. Likewise Compassion provides similar physical health benefits as well as feelings of happiness, a calmer mind and less depression. People who volunteer, for instance, have feelings of warmth, more energy, a kind of euphoria and enhanced self-worth. So, take note, being compassionate towards others has benefits for yourself as well.
That being said, we have to clarify two different types of compassion. One is beneficial while the other isn't. Genuine compassion isn't based on the fact that a certain person is dear to me. Compassion based solely on reciprocating feelings isn't good because if it disappears then you will experience negative emotions. Rather it should be based on the rationale that all humans, yourself included, have the desire to be happy and overcome suffering. It is based on the others' fundamental rights rather than your own mental projection. Upon this basis, then, you will generate love and compassion.

Part III - Transforming Suffering

Chapter 8 - Facing Suffering
It's inevitable, at many points in the journey of life we will face suffering. When we do we have to face it head on. Drugs or alcohol may provide a temporary reprieve. But the problem will still be there when the high goes away. Avoiding the problem or putting on a false front pretending it doesn't exist will fail as well. It will continue to fester and grow and may end up being worse when you eventually deal with it.
They offered a couple of suggestions on how to deal with suffering. First, instead of trying to avoid the topic, like old age or death, try to train your mind to get ready for it. By thinking about old age and death or other unfortunate things your mind will me more stable when these things happen as you have already become acquainted with these problems and kinds of suffering. It won't come as a shock causing an unbearable mental uneasiness.
Now, of course, there are times where you can't prepare for negative events, such as the death of a loved one due to an accident. In those cases you will have to go through a grieving process. But, in time, this will have to pass or else it will lead to depression. You have to learn to let go. It may help to know that other people have gone through similar or worse tragedies. Once you realize that, then you will no longer feel isolated. That can offer you some kind of condolence.
One more thing. If something bad happens to you, don't feel sorry for yourself and think you are a victim of some injustice and try to assess blame. You may say, this or that happened because of the government, or the education system, or because I was raised in a dysfunctional family. Or you may internalize the blame saying you are a victim of disease or bad genes. This can perpetuate your suffering and lead to feelings of anger, frustration and resentment. Suffering is a natural part of our existence. We have to accept the fact and deal with it accordingly when it happens.

Chapter 9 - Self-Created Suffering
Some kinds of suffering are unavoidable in everyday life, others are self-created. Like refusing to accept suffering as a part of normal existence and viewing oneself as a victim and/or blaming others for our problems. As well, we may extend our suffering by replaying hurts or painful memories over and over again in our minds magnifying our injustices in the process. Like being dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend when you were in high school. What happened, happened. Nothing we can do now will change the fact. Thinking about it over and over in your mind just leads to more needless suffering.
We also have to be careful not to be overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. If we do that we may turn insignificant problems into big ones. The author gives an example of the time he was out eating with a colleague. The service was unusually slow and though they had nowhere to go afterwards his friend became agitated saying that the waiter was purposely ignoring them. This feeling of dissatisfaction elevated itself throughout the meal with him constantly complaining about one thing or another. His friend took it as a personal attack on himself and things escalated in his own mind from there. At the end of the evening the waiter came by with some free dessert and apologized for the service saying that one of the cooks took the night off because of a death in the family and another waiter had called in sick so they were short staffed. Never-the-less, the author's friend had pretty much ruined his own evening by overreacting to things and blowing them out of proportion.
Our suffering also depends on how we react to a certain situation. If someone is speaking badly about you behind your back and you react with a feeling of hurt or anger, the you yourself destroy your own peace of mind. Your pain is your own personal creation. But, if you let the slander pass without reacting in a negative way then you protect yourself from that feeling of hurt or agony.
Here's another example that's a personal one. I attended a free speed dating event recently. There was an attractive girl who I'll call "Helen" that I got along quite well with. In fact I got along well with all the women there. On the paper we were given I only marked Helen as someone I'd be interested in contacting though. When the day came and the e-mails were sent out to see who we matched up with and she didn't list me as a match I could have gotten upset. I could have seen it as a personal attack and viewed myself as less than worthy. Instead I reacted in a more rational way. Just like I wasn't interested in the other women I met with, I couldn't expect Helen to necessarily be interested in me either. Everybody has their own personal tastes. Not only in potential mates, but in music, art, fashion, etc ... all facets of life. Just because a particular person isn't interested in you doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you. By taking this point of view I saved myself the grief of dealing with low self-esteem, a problem many guys in the dating world are constantly dealing with.
Excessive guilt as a source of self-created suffering is not good either. It may arise when we feel we've made an irreparable mistake. We've all done things in our life we later regret. But, to let it endlessly consume us serves no benefit. It's just a source of relentless self-punishment and self-induced suffering that has to be avoided.

Chapter 10 - Shifting Perspective
I thought this chapter and the following one were a waste of time. I don't think they contribute anything towards alleviating pain or suffering. One suggestion they gave was to see things from a wider perspective. That others have gone through worse things than you have. It may make your problem appear smaller, less overwhelming. I think that's bunk. When you face pain or suffering just go back to Chapter 8 - Facing Suffering, and try to deal with it.

Chapter 11 - Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering
I don't need to find meaning in pain and suffering. I don't care why it happened. It's not going to help me deal with it any better. Why are we discussing this? See Chapter 8 again.

Part IV - Overcoming Obstacles

Chapter 12 - Bringing About Change
We have to eliminate negative behaviors and mental states such as anger, hatred and greed which are harmful to us. We can do this by increasing our positive states of mind such as love, compassion and forgiveness, and patience, tolerance and kindness.

Chapter 13 - Dealing with Anger and Hatred
The book says, The only factor that can give you refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is your practice of tolerance and patience.
The following are some methods that work for me:
I like to take a logical approach. I see anger as a non-productive emotion. I choose not to let it affect me over the long term. We all get angry from time to time. If someone deliberately cuts me off while I am driving I can get quite upset. I may stay upset for part of the drive home, but soon realize it's useless to stay angry. It's not going to do any good, so I let the feeling go. It's not like pretending the anger isn't there (ignoring it), but dismissing it. Send it packing. For me it can be as easy as that. I also very view not being able to control negative emotions as a sign of weakness. Whether that's true or not, it still motivates me.
You can also control your anger by stepping back and seeing the situation for what it actually is. Another personal example from me was when I was walking down the sidewalk one day and I happened to cross an intersection where the cars from the side street had to stop at a stop sign. As I crossed the street a car came by and almost hit me. It was very, very close. Now I could have gotten angry at the driver. But, I knew she didn't do it on purpose and there was no harm done. She just wasn't paying attention. So I motioned to her that it was okay and that I wasn't upset and continued on. We all make mistakes in life and should extend the same courtesy we'd like to receive if we made one ourselves.

Chapter 14 - Dealing with Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem
Some fear and anxiety can be good. It can mobilize us to respond to danger. Other self-generated types of fear and anxiety can be bad. They can have negative effects on our minds and bodies and become the source of much emotional suffering and even physical illness.
When dealing with fear you have to use your faculty of reasoning and try to discover whether there is a valid basis for it or not. The book mentions if you think there is a remedy to the problem then try to figure a way out of it. Direct your resources to finding a solution rather than worrying about it. Alternatively, if there is no solution to the problem, no way out of it, then you shouldn't worry about it either, because you can't do anything about it anyway. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be on you.
Sincere motivation acting as an antidote to reduce fear and anxiety. Some people, myself included, are afraid of public speaking. We're afraid of embarrassing ourselves by making mistakes, appearing incompetent. If you go forward with sincere motivation in mind it can help ease your anxiety. Know that you really want to help the people you are speaking to. Know that you are doing the best you can. So, even if you fail, you know you tried your best and that's all you can do. There is no cause for regret.
Honesty as an antidote to low self-esteem. Don't make yourself out to be someone you aren't. If you are honest with yourself and to others about your capabilities then you needn't worry about living up to unrealistic expectations. There will be no anxiety towards being exposed or revealed as an imposter. In that way you'll be more self-confident about yourself.
Reflecting on our potential as an antidote for self-hatred. Self-hatred can arise if we fail to live up to our idealized self-image. This may have been formed by our parents and upbringing as we grew and developed or culturally reinforced as in some societies particularly against women and minorities. To combat this we should concentrate more on the positive aspects of our existence. We have to appreciate the tremendous potential that lies within oneself as a human being. Such as the ability of human intelligence and a strong sense of determination towards achieving our goals. By reflecting upon these opportunities and potentials, we will be able to increase our sense of worth and confidence in ourselves.

Part V - Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life

Chapter 15 - Basic Spiritual Values
The Art of Happiness has many components, says the author. It begins with developing an understanding of the truest sources of happiness and setting or priorities in life based on the cultivation of these sources. It involves an inner discipline, a gradual process of rooting out destructive mental states and replacing them with positive, constructive states of mind, such as kindness, tolerance and forgiveness. The final component is - Spirituality.
They speak of two levels of spirituality - the Religious one and a Basic one. If you believe in a specific religion it can be good. People who have religious beliefs do derive health benefits similar to what intimate (Chapter 5) and compassionate (Chapter 7) people have. As well, religious people often are part of a larger community. Involvement in a group can create feelings of belonging, communal ties, a caring connection and acceptance. I might add, that's if you fit in with the group. If not, then things might not be so peachy. As well, some religious groups have come under fire these days for being radical or promoting violence. So use your better judgement.
They talk about religious Faith as being beneficial as well. Saying it's helped many people get through hard times. Like when someone was unjustly imprisoned and/or being tortured. When people were released they say that prayer and faith helped them get through it. As far as I'm concerned it can be far more perilous. In instances where faith fails you (and it does happen) you will inevitably be more distraught that your god chose to ignore your pleas for help. I think it is a dangerous thing to lean on. But, that's just my opinion.
Basic Spirituality is based on the human qualities of goodness, kindness, compassion and caring. Whether you have any religious beliefs of not, the Dalai Lama believes this is the most important kind of spirituality. Without it he thinks human existence would remain hard and very dry. As a result, none of us could be happy, our families would suffer and then, eventually, all of society would be troubled.

To sum up - I believe happiness, or the lack thereof, can be partially attributed to these factors - our health, our material possessions and our relationships with others. But, more importantly, it can be determined by our state of mind, how we perceive what we have. If we appreciate our possessions, no matter how much or how little we have, we will achieve, at the very least, a state of contentedness.
Think positively. We should try to be kind, compassionate and loving. We should empathize with others, be patient, tolerant and forgiving. If we change our whole being to be more like this I believe our lives will change for the better. We will be calmer, more relaxed and both physically and psychologically healthier.
On suffering - face it head on. Deal with it right away and move on. Don't create suffering for yourself by dwelling on problems from the past. Don't overreact to small problems by blowing them out of proportion. Doing this will only create more suffering for yourself.
Deal with anger and hatred by practicing tolerance and patience. Anger is a useless emotion. It only causes pain and grief. Don't let it control you.
In the same way learn to deal with fear and anxiety. If you're anxious about something try to resolve the problem. If you see no solution, forget about it and move on. Worrying about it a moment longer won't help you or the problem.
Build self-esteem by being honest with yourself. See yourself for who you really are. Know your strengths and weakness and don't project anything differently. Then you won't have to endure the stress of constantly presenting a false front to those who expect more of you.
Finally, and this is my suggestion, take the time to do fun things. Things you enjoy. Go see a movie, go for a hike, have dinner with friends. Keep healthy. Eat a proper diet. Exercise. Smile. These things will help sustain a happy temperament.

This world is a community. The citizens, our brothers and sisters. Treat them with kindness, compassion and respect and they will do the same to you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flavor of the Week

A weekly look at the styles of everyday people as seen through the eyes of, me, your intrepid man on the street.

Name: Andrew S.
Occupation: Publicist
Location: Parliament Street/Amelia Street, Cabbagetown
Clothing details: Top-American Apparel, Jeans-Diesel, Sunglasses-H&M, Necklace-was a gift, Bracelet-from India
What he was doing when I met him: Walking with his friend Alfredo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Gold on Home Soil

Congratulations to Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Canadian to win gold at the Olympics on home soil for Canada! He just won the men's freestyle moguls a few minutes ago. After a drought of 34 years, after Canada hosted it's first Summer Olympics in Montreal in 1976, through 1988 when Calgary hosted Canada's first Winter Olympics, we're finally on the top of the podium at home. Embarrassingly, we were the only host country to never have done that before. What a proud moment for Canadians. And what a relief.

Photo by Adrian Dennis

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Reluctant Traveler

I believe my friend who I'll call, Sam, is a reluctant traveler in this journey we call life. Sam will stand at the shore staring out to sea and wonder what's beyond the horizon. There's a boat tied to the dock beside him, but he'll be too scared to get in and unfurl the sails because he's afraid that it might sink. Yes, the possibility, however slim it may be, is very real that a storm may come and capsize your boat and you may and drown. You can't fool yourself into believing it won't happen. As well, you may also get seasick and feel terrible nausea at many points along the way. This is a very real possibility too. But, what's worse? Worrying about the possibility of something bad happening and not taking the chance of finding true happiness? Are you so afraid of your own shadow that you're not willing to step into the sunlight? To experience the warmth and the joy that it brings? There is no question about what you must do. Beyond the horizon lays a world of wonders. You know it's true. Countless friends who've returned from that journey have told you so.

So climb aboard, my friend. Getting left behind while the world sails onward is not an option. Don't rely on secondhand information about what's out there. Go and experience it for yourself. It's a decision you'll never regret, I promise you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Flavor of the Week

A weekly look at the styles of everyday people as seen through the eyes of, me, your intrepid man on the street.

Name: Cheryl and her two dogs Sunny and Chaiya
Occupation: Didn't say
Location: Parliament Street/Amelia Street, Cabbagetown
Clothing details: Top and Shorts-Bebe, Shoes-Replay from Winners, Sunglasses-Donna Karan, Bag-Kathy
What she was doing when I met her: Walking her dogs up Parliament with her two friends.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Manners people!

It's disconcerting to me the general lack of manners people have these days. I was riding the subway home the other night when I boarded the northbound Yonge train at Bloor. I took a seat with a few other people when the train arrived. It was late in the evening so it wasn't that busy. As it sometimes happens the train didn't depart right away perhaps waiting for a few more riders to come.

Across from me sat a woman of around 40. She had pulled out a thin catalogue she was leafing through after she settled into her seat. A few moments later a young man entered the car and asked her in a quiet voice if this train was going north. Engrossed in her catalogue she didn't respond. When he said, "Ma'am" to gain her attention she replied in a cold tone, "yes" to confirm his earlier enquiry (which I guess she did hear, but chose to ignore). She did all this without even giving him the basic courtesy of looking up from what she was reading. How rude is that? She couldn't even take a moment to lift her eyes from her catalogue to show the bare minimum of politeness when responding to his question. It's disappointing to me to see behavior like this going on. When you ask for something you say, please. When you receive it you say, thank-you. When somebody sneezes you say, bless you. It's not that hard.

While we're at it... Another thing I that perturbs me about people on public transit, particularly the subway, is that many people don't let all the passengers off the train before they board. What's wrong with you people? Can you not wait five seconds longer to let everyone off before you barge onto the train? Even worse, some people don't wait at all. They try to board as soon as the doors open without letting anyone off. They need manner police to stand by the doors and whack people over the head with rolled up newspapers when they do things like that. If you don't know your manners by now, perhaps beating it into your thick skulls is the only way you'll learn.

Sorry... I just had to get that off my chest.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Winter City Festival 2010

I dropped by the Winter City Festival at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday. I believe it's an annual event they have here every winter in Toronto. They're probably trying to do something to take our minds off the normally long, harsh winters we have here in the city. Surprisingly, this year it hasn't been too bad overall. Though the past few days have been absolutely frigid, comparatively speaking anyway.

The festivities started at around 6:00 p.m. Originally I had arrived earlier. So to avoid the chill I headed to the Indigo bookstore at the Eaton Centre to kill some time. I found a relationship book my friend Cortina recommended to me - The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It's actually not too bad. There are some useful tidbits of information people should take note of. Really.

When I got back to Nathan Phillips Square, the music and coloured lights had started. There was an installation set up by the Flaming Lotus Girls out of San Francisco called Angel of the Apocalypse. The above photos is from it. Though I don't know if the girl in the hot, pink coat was part of it, or if she was just an enthusiastic audience member. They had built large metal sculptures that pretty much breathed fire. It was pretty popular with the spectators. I'm not sure if it was because of the visual appeal or because they just wanted to keep from turning in to human popsicles.

There were other performers as well. People on trapeze swings, hanging from ropes and long pieces of fabric doing all manner of spins and tricks. Others were juggling fire or twirling it on various implements. The main attraction was a group from France called Compagnie Les Passagers. Over the course of Winter City they will be involved in three different aerial performances which combine theatre, dance and acrobatics set to music on a constantly changing, massive, vertical stage. The one they did this evening was called Cosmogonia. In a succession of twelve scenes they recounted the book of Genesis in the bible. It was quite fun. I don't know how they managed to do it in the bitter cold. Kudos to them. All I know is my skinny, little fingers were frozen to the bone and both of my Canon lithium ion batteries died a slow, miserable death. Luckily for me it was just after the performance was over. So we both got to go home and recharge.

View the entire slideshow on

Monday, February 1, 2010

Flavor of the Week

A weekly look at the styles of everyday people as seen through the eyes of, me, your intrepid man on the street.

Name: Julian C.
Occupation: Student
Location: Parliament Street/Amelia Street, Cabbagetown
Clothing details: Shirt-Gap, Jeans-Levis, Sandals-Aldo, Sunglasses-H&M, Watch-Guess
What he was doing when I met him: Out walking with his friend Monika.