in Serious stuff, my friend

Bromance, the Buddha, and the Black Swan

I hate to say this because it sounds so grand and affected but this book has changed my life.

I hate to say this because it sounds so grand and affected but this book has changed my life.

Edgar (not his real name) knew he was too old to be scolded for bad behavior.

This was because the 70-year-old retired businessman, who also happened to smoke cheap menthol cigarettes, was considerate enough to respond to my attempts at small talk even though the social gesture—the sheer activity itself—was disallowed.

Edgar and I had escaped to a makeshift park right across the Zen center during a break in the first of a four-day marathon meditation session (formally known as a sesshin) that we both attended in November.

During sesshin, no one is allowed to talk to anyone at all, a rule strictly enforced by our teachers to help practitioners like ourselves discover our true Buddha nature. Which is to say that when sesshin is in session, no fun is intended, not even a little bromance.

But since no teachers were around at the park, Edgar, who had a cheerful and humorous disposition, obliged to answer my questions about his life and his Zen practice.

“Life has no rules,” he blurted out immediately after we both discussed why we were attracted to the practice in the first place. He referred to having experienced a business downturn, having gone through a mid-life crisis, and being afflicted by a kind of malaise felt only by supposedly sensitive souls like ours.

“Life has no rules,” Edgar repeated, citing the experience of a friend who tried—broadly speaking—to figure life out.

Based on Edgar’s account, his friend spent considerable time to find out the strategy for success in business and happiness in life.

However, because his findings were contradictory—what worked in one case led to failure in another—his friend got so frustrated that he ended his own life, Edgar said.

His friend’s suicide left Edgar a lesson, he said.

“The point of life is not just to win but to experience everything. You have to taste all the fruit,” he told me. “You have to try to experience everything, given your resources.”

That, among others, was my takeaway from that sesshin, the second that I’ve attended so far ever since I began to practice meditation.

Edgar’s advice hews closely to several passages in the Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a book that I’ve read three times in the past four years; the last while onboard the BRP Benguet en route to Tacloban from Manila. [See: The Philippine Navy, the electric jeepney, and me; Bad fiction and the BRP Benguet]

The Black Swan, as I’ve told friends over drinks more than they ever care to remember, deals about the kind of luck—bad or good—that lies “outside the realm of regular expectations and carries an extreme impact.”

“Count the significant events, the technological changes, and the inventions that have taken place in our environment since you were born and compare them to what was expected before their advent? How many of them came on schedule? Look into your own personal life, to your own choice of profession, say, or meeting your mate, your exile from your country of origin, the betrayals you faced, your sudden enrichment or impoverishment. How often did these things occur according to plan?” Taleb asks in the book’s prologue.

He continues: “The strategy, is then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.”

I may have, unwittingly, followed that piece of advice to the very end.


Because this year, I’ve gone through more jobs than Willie Revillame.

I quit the first, went to Tacloban for the second (which I thoroughly enjoyed), and got the third one—which I am currently enjoying, by the way—all because of luck. [See: The Black Swan in Tacloban, Tales from the Slacktivist]

Despite the transitions from one job to another, I was only unemployed for a total of one week, tops.

And that, I guess, still makes me extremely lucky.

Question is: has my luck run out?

Answer: I don’t know.

And I don’t intend to find out. Or at least not yet.

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for my next positive Black Swan, which will hopefully come sooner than later.

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