A Realization that Leads to Wisdom

Through the eyes of a child, we put our parents on a pedestal. Even an abusive parent will still be loved by the child. The parent is the child’s world, that is all that they know.

As the child gets older, her world gets bigger. She sees the varying ways in which others live. What she imagines as perfect changes. No longer is her narrow scope of reality the only possible way of existence. Now, there are other possibilities. As she grows older and matures, she realizes that it is not an imperfect environment that she lives in, but an imperfection in the people she lives with.

She could live her life in perpetual adolescence, jaded and angry with the world. The hardships she was made to endure by her guardians, she could carry with her until her dying days. It was their fault she turned out the way she did. They denied her the opportunities. They held her back. If only she had parents like those of her friends, it would have all been better, maybe even perfect.

Or she could realize something else. Maybe her parents were not perfect, but they weren’t so bad either. In fact, is there anybody that is perfect? Now as an adult, she realizes they were only human, and humans make mistakes. They do what they believe is right, even when it is wrong. They do what feels good, even when it is harmful. They are not perfect but human, humans deserving of forgiveness. And so, as an adult she gives them what she can: forgiveness.

We can imagine perfection, but we cannot attain it. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” A couple of centuries before that, Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Our heroine in this story has concluded she is no different than the rest of humanity. And like her parents before her, all she can do is forgive herself for her imperfections. Knowing herself and the extent of her ignorance, she is at the beginning of true wisdom.

The day the child realizes all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; and the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.

Alden Nowlan

The Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, beautifully illustrates a way to wisdom. It starts with knowing who you are and then forgiving yourself for being that person. After all, we are all human and far from perfect. And though we can be incredibly strict with how we live our lives, demanding more from ourselves than we do from others, there is still room for forgiveness. We can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and then try our best to overcome them. It is a process that if repeated can get us closer to the person we imagined ourselves to be. This is how we grow. This is how we become wise.


Feature photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Develop Yourself for the Opportunities

Little League Football. It was easy. I was good. I started on both sides of the ball and played every down. The competition wasn’t that great. I didn’t have to try very hard to be successful.

Junior High School Football. I sat on the bench and watched the older kids played. I played a little on the Junior Varsity squad. I was not good and did not know why. Maybe it was an age thing.

High School Football. I saw more playing time as I got older. Well, at least if I could stay healthy. My first three seasons ended with mid-season-ending injuries. But my senior year, I finally stayed healthy and finished with all-conference honors. Despite that, I know I could have done better. I gave it everything I had from August to November. Outside of those four months, I concentrated on other things. I wasn’t dedicated to improving my fitness or my diet. Instead of exponential growth, I had normal growth on par with the average teenage boy.

Football turns out to be an excellent analogy for the first forty years of my life. There were hints of the spectacular sprinkled in with the mostly average. I did what I had to do to scrape by but never took the time and effort to develop beyond that. But after forty or so years on intermittent sleeping, I finally woke up and realized I had to do a better job. I had to slow down on the reading of fiction, had to watch less television, and most importantly had to waste less time. I had to start living like every day could be my last, because we do not know what the future will bring, and every day could really be our last. I had to get busy with life’s purpose and that meant, I had to start working on my own development.

Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development, because success is something you attract by the person you become.

Jim Rohn

I cannot count how many opportunities have passed me by. Why did they go by? I wasn’t ready for them. I didn’t have the qualifications. Things I could have easily taken the time to do but never did. And for all the opportunities that I saw, how many did I never see because they were too far out of my realm of possibility?

But then when I woke up out of this mundane stupor of going through the motions of life, when I got busy with life’s purpose, I noticed a change. Opportunities started presenting themselves that I never even considered. Possibilities began to sprout that were never even a consideration before. All because I raised my level of self-development.

How can you raise your level of self-development? Do a little more each day to improve your body, mind, and soul. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was any of us. It might not be possible to turn the tide of our life in one day. But in one day, you could move the needle towards a little more progress. Start small. Steady, incremental change performed every day will become monumental over the years. The possibilities will be endless. Opportunities will come to you that you never imagined.


Feature photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

In the Very Here and Now

Something is off with me today. I don’t know what it is. I’m more critical than usual. Nothing has happened to make me angry, but I am afraid the smallest thing could set me off.

I am struggling to enjoy the present moment. I am thinking about the past. I am getting frustrated about a future that has not even happened. My mind is a whirlwind struggling to stay grounded in the now. I don’t like who I am right now, this person who cannot discipline his mind.

I am reminded of this Buddhist saying: Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future…look deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now.

It is so easy for me to give advice to others suffering from depression. I can look at their pain and what they have lost objectively, thinking that it does not affect me. But I have been there before, I am partly there now, and I will certainly be there again in the future. It is a part of being human. We suffer because we do not have what we desire.

How often did I pursue the past? Instead of learning the lesson, I went back and revisited it over and over. Can I change it? Can I bring back the dead, undo a wrong, or make a decision that would bring less suffering to the present? I cannot, so why do I stay in this place in time that I have no business dwelling in? Why do I lock myself into this misery that is no more?

Do I know what this future will bring? Do I know how I will die? Will it be on own terms? I am reminded of a friend who thinks she will pass in the same way as other members of her family. They all died at an early age, and it gives her much anxiety. As an outsider unaffected by this family condition, I am not completely empathetic to her worries. Why worry about something outside of our control? Oh, the fool that I am! Maybe I don’t consider how I will die in the same way she does, but I allow myself to get upset about something that may or may not happen later in the day. I grow anxious about the problems of tomorrow and what may come around the corner next year. Am I not the same as she?

I am reading Eckhart Tolle’s Oneness with All Life. I read a chapter of this book at night before bed. It is a beautiful book that is really speaking to me. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7’s Becoming Present:

We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making. Our very Presence then becomes our identity, rather than our thoughts and emotions.

Only Presence can free you of the ego, and you can only be present Now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Only Presence can undo the past in you and thus transform your state of consciousness.

It is not an easy thing to be present. Yet all is not lost, we can learn to be present. That is a beautiful thing because it gives me hope that I can stop pursuing the past or lose myself in the future. It gives me the opportunity to do what needs to be done now. Being locked into the present, I can give my full attention to being a good husband and a father. I can give my full attention to being a good man, a good human.

There are those I care about whose suffering is only in their mind. Yet their suffering is so great that it is affecting their bodies. Maybe it is you or maybe someone you know. We can remember our past. We can remember and love the ones we have lost. We can acknowledge our mistakes with the hopes of not repeating them. But what has happened has happened. We cannot go back. We cannot change it. The only thing we can do is go forward. And yes, we go forward into an unknown future. We do not know what will happen. There will be uncertainty, and there will be hardships. But there will also be joy, and there will be love. Whatever happens will happen, but we cannot lose ourselves in it before it happens. We must live today. We owe it to our friends and family, to our parents, our spouses, and our children. We owe it to ourselves.

Take a breath. Be aware of the breath. It is the only thing that matters in the very here and now. That breath. The breath you took before it is no more. The breath you take next doesn’t matter if you don’t take the breath you have now. One breath through your nose into your belly extending upwards to your chest. Don’t be afraid, breathe it all in. Pause at the top, savor the moment. And then, let it all out. This is freedom, and now you are free to take the next one, to move forward.


Feature photo by RKTKN on Unsplash

One Take from the Week #1

Monday morning. I sat down at my desk. The night before was miserable after a lot of tossing and turning and much broken sleep. Opening my email, I saw a group of messages about equipment failures. Monday. Tired. Problems with the equipment. What a way to start the day!

One of the emails came from someone who seems to be always reporting on the issues. Why are the tools always breaking on his shift? This time, he took the time to create a PowerPoint presentation on one possible way we can prevent future issues. It seemed a little irrelevant, also a little over-the-top. I wondered about his motivation. And then I thought…

Why care about his motives? For all I knew, he was doing what he believed was right. His approach was different than mine. Was that really an issue? Was my aggravation with him or was it something else? The more I thought about it, the more I realized the problems are not from him but from me.

  • A poor night of sleep
  • A disrupted morning routine
  • Not setting my intention at the beginning of the day (one super important component to my morning routine)

The equipment malfunction and the email did not come at a good time. And of course, there never is a good time for them, but I was not prepared to deal with it when it did come. And unfortunately, that is on me.

How can I prevent another morning like this? I need to take a moment and think about the root cause for the bad sleep. What did I do the day before? In this case, I stayed up a little later than usual. This was a conscious decision that resulted in negative consequences. Add one more drink to that evening, and I had a recipe for a sub-optimal next day.

Man is not affected by events, but the view he takes on them.

Epictetus

The easy course of action was to blame the messenger. But the messenger was only doing his job in the best way he saw fit. I allowed it to affect me in a negative way, because I was not in the right place to view it objectively. Reflecting on this one moment made me wonder how much weight I give to events based on a misplaced perception. I need to get better at controlling the things in my control and not give too much of my energy on the things outside of it.


Feature photo by CDC on Unsplash

Prophets Today

What I learned about the prophets from reading the Old Testament:

  • They usually only came around when bad things were being done by the people.
  • They were not always well-received by the bad people.
  • The people in the land were generally wicked. The bad people far-outweighed the good and were in positions of leadership.
  • They had a message telling the people to change their ways.
  • What they said was highly offensive (to the bad people) and the backlash often ended in their execution.

Those times may have been a couple of thousand years behind us, but is the world we live in really that different? There is a controlling force that wants us to live in a certain way. It wants us to have freedom of speech only if it is in line with their views. We are safe only if we stay in the herd, abide by the rules of the shepherds, and don’t make too much noise.

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.

Aristotle

Imagine trying to live your life free of criticism. You are safe if you don’t step out of the boundaries. But as soon as you do, as soon as you break free from the herd, you run the risk of criticism. How much courage does it take to go out on your own, to say and do and be what you believe in your heart to be right? Without such bravery by others, we would still be living on a flat earth.

There are dangers in being an outlier. You could get canceled and de-platformed for having a voice that is different. Go far enough, you could be arrested, tortured, and even quietly removed from existence. It sounds extreme, but there are nations that have zero tolerance for those that do not quietly acquiesce to their rule. Don’t believe me? Go ask a Cambodian immigrant that fled their homeland in the 1960’s about the Khmer Rouge or a former Soviet escaping to America during the Cold War. It is not easy being different in a world that does not tolerate it. But as hard as it is…

The world still needs its prophets. Okay, maybe not prophets. That takes a calling destined only for a few. But there needs to be people willing to step up and cry foul when the world, or at least their part of the world, begins to stray. Without them, who knows, we may still believe the universe revolves around the earth.

Do, say, believe. You might get criticized. You might find that you were wrong and grow from the experience. You might create change, or you might be ostracized. Nelson Mandela said, “Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?” He knew what it was to be an outlier and take a stand. We can learn from people like him and strive to make the world a little better for the next generation


Feature painting: Jonah by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel. Jonah wasn’t exactly excited about being a prophet. After a little prompting from God and a large fish, Jonah eventually followed his calling.

The Permanence of Truth

It has been a long day. You come home, kick off your shoes, and take a seat on the couch. You reach for the remote control and on comes the news. The anchor has an important message. The same message is on the ticker at the bottom of the screen. It reads: From this day forward, all news will be reported with complete honesty. Personal biases and opinions will no longer be accepted as the news. You sit there in disbelief. Changing the channel to another station, you see the same message.

You turn off the television and look at your phone. You go on social media and see a wave of unbelievable content. Everybody is professing to go forward speaking nothing but the truth. Is this possible? Has justice and righteousness finally prevailed?

Life is short, and truth works and lives long: let us then speak the truth. -Arthur Schopenhauer

As nice as it would seem, this is not the case. The news will continue to present information in a way to persuade you to their side. Social media will continue to be less about truth, choosing instead to continue a culture built around likes and shares.

Scientific laws, like the ones we learned in school, do not change. Everything else is either a theory or a hypothesis. They are generally believed to be right, until they are disproven. Laws stay the same; the others might be forgotten in time. A law is true, and like Mr. Schopenhauer said, “Truth works and lives long.” In a constantly changing universe, it is the one constant. What is true is true.

Opinions and sensationalism come and go. Bold-faced lies and little fables will pass in time. We cannot control what the world does. We cannot control how what others will say. But we can be different. We can speak the truth, knowing that in the end our words will not be forgotten. They will stand the test of time. Therefore, let us speak the truth, which in this ever-changing world, would truly be sensational.


Feature photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Can I Master Myself?

The song kept playing over and over in my head. It was one of the song’s my eight-year-old son likes to listen to. It is not a bad song, just not one I want to have my brain playing on repeat mode.

There was a little rough spot on my finger. It bothered me. I picked at it, scraped at it, and kept messing with it until I ended up with a worse problem than when I began.

How many times have I gone on autopilot, completely unconscious of my actions? How many times did I pop the top on a can that I really didn’t want but opened anyway because it was there? The same could be said for the snack in the pantry, the overwhelming desire to go to sleep (I love my naps), or even the automatic slapping of the snooze button without even thinking about it. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t have complete control of my own person.

Epictetus said, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” Consider this when your automatic actions are no longer serving you. Are you the master of your own mind and able to reprogram yourself? It is a question that I must ask myself. Am I a slave to my passions? Am I in control? And if I am not, and I know I am not, then how can I gain my freedom?

I don’t have the answers yet. I know it starts with mindfulness. It starts with observing my actions and behaviors. Once I realize what I am doing, then I can concentrate on taking the necessary steps.


Feature photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

I Am Medicine

I have been thinking about this lately and may make it my new mantra:

I am medicine.

Powers to heal and to destroy

Proceed from my mouth.

Will I practice good medicine?

Or will I practice bad?

When I am in another world and fail to be mindful of another’s presence, I must remember: I am medicine. What I don’t say can hurt as bad as not saying anything. And when I am fully present, I must not use more medicine than necessary. Whether good or bad, too much medicine can become toxic.

When someone is angry, confused, or suffering, how will I use my medicine? Will I prescribe the bad stuff to counter the bad stuff, or will I try to heal with love? Sending out the bad medicine will never make things better. And since we are all fighting a hard battle, I should remember Plato’s words and be kind. Through kindness, I may prevent making someone’s battle harder than it already is.

This medicine that we have is easy to administer, yet its power is immense. Bad medicine will intensify in the mind of the recipient long after you left. In a similar fashion, words of love linger long after they are spoken.

Our words can evoke a powerful magic sending its healing energy to those in need. It is a power we can all tap into, because we are all medicine.


Feature photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Entitled to the Action

It has been said that the journey is more important than the destination. When I consider this journey in life that I am on, I do not know if I will ever make it to where I want to go. I don’t know if it will be successful. But as I travel the path, I realize that I am evolving. I can barely recognize the person that I was when I first started out. I am not even the same person I was yesterday. I am a new iteration every day. A new layer. Added texture. None of it would be possible if I had never taken the first step. The action of going was the catalyst, and I am the by-product of walking this path.

Some would scoff at the ancient writings. They would say it is no longer relevant or invalid because it was based on a different belief system. But there is wisdom here that should not be ignored. The world today believes they are entitled to the fruit without the action. They believe the shortcuts and the hacks are the keys to winning. But in the end, this only creates a superficial gloss void of the texture-rich and carefully curated character that truly makes a person beautiful. To become beautiful while inhabiting a body that is in the process of dying, then you must perform the action every day. You must walk your path even if you never make it to the destination.


Feature photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Luck vs. Labor

Do you remember the first time you did it? It was exciting, it was new, and so far, you were good at it. Once you knew the concept, getting the hang of it was simple.  So simple in fact, that you could picture the possibilities of a future doing it.

What was it? Does the “it” really matter? It could have been golf, playing cards, the stock market, or something like computer programming. We have all had our moments where we learned something new and then let our imaginations run wild with thoughts of grandeur. We thought we were gifted and that making money at this was a possibility. But then the luck fades and the reality sets in. We realize the talent, the beginner’s luck, only took us a little way and to get farther would take work. It would take skill.

“Luck is ever waiting for something to turn up,” says [Richard] Cobden; “labor with keen eyes and strong will, will turn up something. Luck lies in bed, and wishes the postman would bring him news of a legacy; labor turns out at six o’clock, and with busy pen or ringing hammer lays the foundation of competence. Luck whines; labor whistles. Luck relies on chance; labor, on character.”

Stick to the thing and carry it through. Believe you were made for the place you fill, and that no one else can fill it as well. Put forth your whole energies. Be awake, electrify yourself; go forth to the task. Only once learn to carry a thing through in all its completeness and proportion, and you will become a hero. You will think better of yourself; others will think better of you. The world in its very heart admires the stern, determined doer.

Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front

Imagine Alexander Graham Bell relying on luck instead of labor. What would our phones look like today? Would we even have them? To the outside world, Bell’s talent was extraordinary. But they only saw the end results of the endless experiments, trials, errors, and do-overs. It wasn’t what Bell was born with that made his name stand out in history. It was what he did after he was born.

Our natural gifts will only take us part of the way. The rest we must develop.