Last year, floods wiped out the corn fields down the street from where we live. I always love driving by and seeing those crops. But last year, there was nothing to see but devastation. Nature gives and she takes away. Such is life!
There are rumors of people in the Midwest who are being offered money to burn their crops. Imagine the livelihoods at stake. Nothing to sell and nothing to eat. Tragic!
Imagine a person who would burn a crop for no other reason than for destruction. In a single stroke he would destroy the farmer’s hard work and the customer’s food supply.
He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.
What a little difference there is between the destroyer and the one who doesn’t even do the work! We were designed to create and to do meaningful work. Failure to do so would make us kin to the destroyer.
Do I deserve to be so fortunate? Of course not. And if it is not something I deserve, then it must truly be a blessing from God.
He who finds a good wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.
Today marks the 17th year of marriage with my wife, Bethany. Through the ups and downs, the good times and the hard, we have gotten stronger every year. Life would be a lot less interesting without her in my life. Certainly, I have found favor from the Lord.
Call it the Law of Attraction, the manifestation of desire, or simply faith. When it is set firmly in the mind, when the thoughts all but consume one’s soul, then it is only a matter of time before it becomes reality.
Our destiny changes with our thoughts; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thoughts correspond with our desires.
Orison Swett Marden
I have no doubt this is true, but it has not always worked for me. Does it make it less true? Of course not. Then what went wrong? I failed to stay true to the course. Instead of one singular purpose fixed continuously in my mind, I deviated. I floated from one to the other and then to many more. I became a hobbyist dabbling in a multitude rather than an expert in the one. What good is faith in an undisciplined mind?
Now is the time to go back to the plan. I don’t need to rewrite it; I just need to execute it. I was not designed to be a multi-tasker, so I must stop pretending to be one. One focus, one task firmly and habitually set in my mind. That is enough to set the wheels in motion to becoming that which I desire.
So many long for happiness, yet so many have yet to find a true and lasting form of it. Some would blame others for their inability to obtain it. Others would look for cheapened versions of it that only lasts a few moments before the rush dwindles and fades away.
Happiness is found within each of us. We cannot trust others to provide it for us. We must determine what it is and then work to discover it.
The secret to happiness is freedom…
The secret is freedom. But what is freedom? Is it the ability to do whatever one pleases? Would this not make one a slave to his desires? Freedom must go beyond base pleasure. It must speak of a higher nature, something more meaningful.
When I think of freedom, I think of the ability to operate without hindrance towards one’s goal. Freedom to pursue happiness.
and the secret of freedom is courage. -Thucydides
Simply stated, one cannot be afraid to take calculated risks. There is a chance of failure. Even the safest bets can go awry. But this should not deter us from trying. After all, our happiness, and our freedom, is on the line. If we fail, we should pause. We should look to see what went wrong and what can be done better. And after this moment, we get back up and try again. It is an endless cycle until we hit the mark, until we find the happiness we seek.
This week I started the book The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. One of the first segments that caught my attention was the author’s initiation into Tai Chi Chuan. The master of the studio, William C.C. Chen noted as a world renown Grand Master, was teaching brand new students. This is a task normally assigned to junior instructors, yet here was the master performing a task many would assume was beneath him.
Recounting this act was to illustrate the humility of the master, but I interpreted it differently. The master was the closest to the purity and truth of the art form. The beginners were the most ignorant. The master did not disdain these students, but out of love for his art had the desire to illuminate those in ignorance. [I know, I might have read into this passage a little too much.]
Marcus Aurelius said, “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” I try to live up to this as much as possible. Daily, I struggle to become a little better than the day before. It is no easy journey, but it is the one I have chosen. It has become my truth of what I must do to become the person I want to be. I encourage others to take up their own journey, but I do not demand it of them. And for those with no such desire, I can understand their decision and sympathize with them along the way. Tolerant with others, strict with myself.
The closer people are to the truth, the more tolerant they are of the mistakes of others.
Closer to the truth equals greater understanding. It equals greater tolerance for those who may be farther away from it. Like the Tai Chi master, it is done through love for others. It is done out of love for the truth.
Tolstoy’s words also serve as a warning. This is not righteous indignation. When we find ourselves defending our platforms without an open mind or a desire to achieve a peaceful conclusion, we become less tolerant. We find ourselves on the road to psychological and even physical bullying. We become extremists with the desire to force others to our truth. As detestable as this practice is, we see it in almost every aspect of our lives from friends and family to social media and news. And the only thing we can do to prevent us from going down that road is to be not like that.
One of the last things I do before I go to sleep is say a prayer of thanks. I am grateful for friends and family, breath and life, health and love. I have food, shelter, and the means to provide for my wife and son. Sound of mind, body, and soul.
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
Of course, I want more. But in truth, I have more than I really need. If I only pursue the latest and the greatest, I will be a slave to every new generation of “stuff.”
I have so much, and that is enough. For this I am thankful. Truly, I am blessed.
Dachau, Germany. It was a hot July day with the temperature in the middle nineties. I spent the morning touring the concentration camp. From there, I took a train to the town of Dachau to run a 10k race. I was dehydrated and nursing a strained calf muscle. Therefore, it was one the hardest races I have ever run.
After the race, I took the train back to Munich. On the ride, I enjoyed a conversation with another runner. We spoke of the running scene in Germany and soon our conversation turned to winter running. Training in the winter plays an integral role in the runner’s year. As I listened, I thought of the mild winters in Western North Carolina where temperatures rarely go below the twenties. The thought of running in a German winter was less than appealing.
Six months later, I got a first-hand experience of a Bavarian winter. The temperature hovered near zero, snow covered the ground creating hazardous footing, and a brisk wind blew down the River Isar. The act of running suddenly became arduous. I had to wear more clothes, spend more time warming up, and even more time convincing myself to walk out the door and into the sunless afternoon. As I ran, I remembered the conversation on the train. If I wanted to improve my summer running, then the winter is where I would separate myself from the runner I used to be.
We must endure a winter training, and can’t be dashing into situations for which we aren’t yet prepared.
It is in the winter where progress is made. It is the time to prepare for the upcoming season. Everything is more difficult. Progress is exceedingly slow. Yet, here is where courage is developed, discipline is solidified, and weakness is pushed away. To find success in the summer, one must train in the winter.
‘But if we are endowed by nature with the potential for greatness, why do only some of us achieve it?’ Well, do all horses become stallions? Are all dogs greyhounds?
We all have the potential for greatness. But as Epictetus states, not all of us will achieve it. Only a few will be a Roger Bannister running a mile in under four minutes, a Michael Jordan dominating the court, or a Michael Phelps swimming laps around the competition. So many of us dream of greatness, yet so few of us will ever get there. As frustrating as it is, this is reality. Should it be a deterrent, knowing the odds are not in our favor?
In short, we do not abandon any discipline, for despair of ever being the best in it.
We may never become the best, but we can become good. We can find success in any endeavor we undertake if we are willing to do the work. This should be enough reason even if we never reach an elite level.
Right now, at this moment, I am in the winter of my life. It is cold, dark, and often lonely. Frustration is knocking at the door hoping to bring the cold inside. But this is the time when I am also finding out who I really am and who I will become in the future. Someday, the season may change. I may find myself coming into my summer where things become easier. However, I cannot look at someday. Today is where my focus needs to be. It is winter, and I must train.
No. When I say it to my son, he gets upset. He doesn’t like it because his request is something he wants at the time. But what kind of parent would I be if I said yes every time?
People don’t like hearing the word no. They believe their request is reasonable. What they are asking is to their benefit. To tell them no is inconvenient for them.
It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. -Steve Jobs
If I am always saying yes, then I find an inability to get my own work done. It is difficult because I want to be nice. I want to be helpful. But doing so keeps me away from my goals, goals which are designed to benefit me and my family. I must learn to say no.
Maybe not for everything. Certainly not if I have nothing else going on.
Over the last few weeks, I have realized just how far behind I am. I had too many irons in the fire and was not making any progress on any of them. Would this have happened if I said no more often?
“No, I cannot watch your dogs, so you can have a spa day.”
“No, I can’t go to the winery for an afternoon of drinking and socializing.”
No. It is not that hard to say. I just need to get better at saying it.
Can a person talk sense to the one that does not have any?
If one has closed his mind to reason, can another open it for him?
Some debates are pointless. When there is no rhetoric, when one or both parties are refusing to listen to the other’s point of view, then no progress can be made. All you have is what is seen in American politics today. Rather than a healthy discourse leading to positive change, we have each side trying to bully the other.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.
Wisdom would suggest an open mind, a desire to understand. Close it off, and improvement ceases. And arguing with a fool? Foolishness indeed!
It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.
A happy life. Seneca said it is only possible for the person who studies wisdom. Why is that? Wisdom may not make a person perfect, but it is the pinnacle at the top of the mountain. To study wisdom is to climb the mountain. And as it increases over time, the student learns to avoid foolish mistakes in both words and deeds.
Solomon also said the one who finds wisdom is happy, that her profits are greater than monetary wealth (Proverbs 3:13-15). Money comes and goes, but wisdom, once attained, doesn’t flee. It doesn’t fluctuate based on speculation, inflation, or corruption.
The acquisition of wisdom is a journey that improves and makes life endurable.
This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones. You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose.
Daily reflection. One must take the time to measure progress. The most effective way is to do it daily. Is there a better way to do this self-examination than by journaling?
One of my favorite podcasts is Ben Greenfield Fitness, one of the best shows to learn about human optimization, ancestral living, and biohacking. Check out step #3 from Ben’s evening journaling practice.
As you breathe, for anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes, begin to visualize your day. During this time, I recommend you replay your entire day in your mind like a movie, watching yourself in the third person and identifying what you have done well, what you could have done better, and where you felt most self-actualized and connected to your purpose statement. Watching the character of yourself in your mind, in the third person, ask yourself what you aren’t rooting for the character to do, or wishing they’d done differently, or where they failed and learned. Ask yourself what you are proud of that character doing and how you really see them acting their best. Finally, ask yourself where that person seemed most “in the flow” and doing exactly what seems to be the very reason they are in the movie in the first place. As you play the movie in your mind, stop when necessary and write down in the journal what you have done well, what you could have done better, and when or where you lived your life’s purpose.
Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself that you have made progress.
When I first began journaling, I would write down the events of the day. It was a non-value-added list of bullet points. After a while, I became bored with it as I was not reflecting on a deeper level. Now I try to look at the day from multiple angles. How did I perceive myself in those actions? How did others possibly perceive my actions? What actions brought my life closer to my goals in life? What did I do to not only improve my life but the lives of those around me? What were my good deeds and how can I improve on my bad ones?
Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show. It is a matter, not of words, but of facts. It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us. It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver amid uncertainties. Without it, no one can live fearlessly or in peace of mind.
The purpose of philosophy. It is the user’s manual on how we should live. Nobody cares whether I memorized the lawn mower’s user manual. But if it is their grass that I am cutting, they do care whether I can operate the mower. The same with philosophy. To quote others and study for the sake of knowledge only does no good. Henry David Thoreau said, “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” I must do more than just study philosophy, I must practice it. I must be a philosopher.
Countless things that happen every hour call for advice; and such advice is to be sought in philosophy.
Wisdom leads to making good choices. It leads to a happy life. Through daily reflection we can refine our choices in the hopes of preventing the bad ones. Those bad choices are available to us constantly. How do prevent them? We turn to our user’s manual. We turn to philosophy.