Our Path to Walk

Our path consists of choices. We choose the way we think is best and hope it works out in our favor. Sometimes our choices are bad. They may have seemed good at the time, but ultimately, they take us down a route we never intended. When our choices demand payment, we are faced with a dilemma. How do we survive? How do we navigate the current road so that we may continue to our destination?

There are times the universe gives us a nudge, often not gently. It tells us that we are not doing what we were designed to do. It tells us to stop playing it safe and go do what we were meant to do. To ignore this calling is to play a dangerous game with forces more powerful than us.

I have mentioned the prophet Jonah before. God told him to go one way; he went the other. Jonah chose not to listen to his calling. Thinking he could get away with it, he boarded a ship and fled town. God sent a storm. Not worried, Jonah decided to take a nap. But the storm was a bad one and the sailors panicked. They drew lots to find out who was to blame. Of course, it was Jonah. He was the reason for the storm. Next thing you know, Jonah was taking a salt bath. And if things couldn’t get any worse, a really big fish swallowed him up.

Have you ever found yourself in the belly of a whale? We all go through it on our hero’s journey. Our choices lead us down a path that turns to brambles and thorns. The sun goes behind the trees, and the goblins of our imagination come out to haunt us. This is the belly of Jonah’s whale. Imagine being in there. It is dark. It stinks. If you are prone to motion sickness, this is not the place for you. All you can do there is sit. Sit and wait. There is no one to talk to, so you are left alone to your thoughts. You reflect on the past and how you got there. You imagine the things you will do if you ever get out. But the past and the future are no help to you now. So, you sit. And wait. You still your mind in the present because that is all you have.

Jonah got out of the whale. He went to do the things he was supposed to do. Likewise, the sun will rise again on the morrow, and we will find our own way back onto the path.

God could have sent another to take Jonah’s place, but it was Jonah that He wanted. Nobody else could have walked his path. Only Jonah. In the same way, nobody can walk our paths. It is our journey.

In an east meets west post, consider these words:

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

Buddha

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The Virtue of Strength

When you think of strength, the first thing that might come to mind is that of some burly individual able to pick up heavy weights. And though that may be a legitimate mental picture, strength goes beyond the ability to lift heavy objects. But since that may be your mental picture, let us start with the body.

Strength of Body

What are the benefits of a strong body? The stronger you are, the easier it is to complete physical tasks with more efficiency. This could be climbing the stairs with less discomfort. It could be carrying the groceries from the car to your kitchen with less struggle. Being strong gives you the freedom to accomplish the things that needs to get done without undue taxation on the body. The building of strength today benefits what you can do tomorrow.

Strength of Mind

Can you push through the barrier past the pain of exhaustion? As much as you need a strong body, you need to develop a strong mind. You must be able to will yourself to go farther than you think you can. I can’t count how many times I have wanted to give up while running. My mind is looking for ways to get me to stop. It is looking for the smallest reason to use as weapon against me in the game of mental warfare. The body is willing and capable, but the mind needs conquering. As Zeno said, “Man conquers the world by conquering himself.” The way to do this is to train your mind to overcome adversity.

Strength of Soul

I am reminded of the monk who sat still in the middle of the road as he burned to death. Both his body and mind were strong. But to willingly cross the threshold of death with the knowledge that there is no coming back to the body, that takes a heart and a soul of immense strength.  I don’t recommend you try it, but you can learn to challenge your fear. You can incrementally increase your courage.

The belief that becomes truth for me…is that which allows me the best use of my strength, the best use of putting my virtues into action.

André Gide

You cannot use the strength you do not have. If you want to be strong, you must develop it. And like a three-legged stool, each leg must be trained equally. If not, you will topple over.

How does this relate to the virtue of Justice? To do what is right requires strength. Strength then is a virtue, and one that we can all strive towards.


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Habits Deciding Futures

How much time have I spent thinking of the past? How much time dreaming of the future? If only I had the opportunities. If only I didn’t have to work in this job? If, if, if.

All that time wasted in my youth. I was always in the past, always in the future, never in the present. Back then, my habits (what I was doing at that present time) were not helping me. I had a slew of bad habits and only a handful of good ones. My habits should have been a tool to drive success in the future. Instead, they were preventing me from maximizing my potential in the present.

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.

F.M. Alexander

My path was slowly engineered. Of course, there were all sorts of obstacles. There were many setbacks of my own doing. And I say, “there were,” but in truth there still is.  And though I revert to thoughts of past and future, I spend less time there. I am more present in today. And being in the present, I am more aware of my habits. Which ones are helping me? Which ones are detracting? Slowly, I can correct the bad ones. I can design new ones that propel me forward. I can engineer my habits for success.

Once again, it is a work in progress, but I have noticed some interesting things. Opportunities are starting to pop up that I never imagined or tried to obtain. My future is starting to take a positive shift without me trying to plan for it. It as if my habits are starting to decide my future. Maybe they always have, and I just didn’t know it.


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Things Which Matter Most

What happens when I don’t have a plan for the day? I go through the motions. Of course, I get stuff done, but I also check my phone, watch a little television, piddle here, and piddle there. There is no rush, no sense of urgency, and no accountability at the end of the day.

What happens when I create a plan at the start of the day, or even better, the night before? I am focused and intent on checking off the boxes. I waste less time. At the end of the day, with tasks crossed off the list, I rest at ease knowing I made the most of it. Oh, the satisfaction if I get that list done.

But then, there are times I make the list and do not have the end results I hoped for. Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked. I deviated from the plan. I started doing other stuff, stuff that was not on the list. If I had a quality list of items that held great importance, then I should have done those. If this is what mattered most, then I should have attacked it first.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you want to take your productivity to the next level, if you want to get the things that matter the most done, then do the following:

  • Make the list. Not “a” list but “the” list of the most important items you want to complete.
  • Start early and get it done. If other things come up, and they will come up, add them to another list or put them at the bottom.

Wow! There are only two steps. It is not difficult, but often the basics and the simple are the things that get missed the most. There are some great resources to make your planning super-advanced and technical, but they all have the same two things in common: Make a list, and Get it done.


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How to End the Struggle

I wake up. I struggle to get out of bed. Instead of checking in on how I feel, I look to the sleep section on my Fitbit app. Ugh. Another mediocre night of sleep. I think about the long day ahead and force myself to get dressed and go workout.

I am at work and check my email. I check my schedule to make sure I am where I am supposed to be at the appropriate time. I reach for the coffee to help me get through the meetings with those that do not want to meet, to get through the tasks that need to get done, and to get through the reports that need to be completed.

Back at home. Chores, dinner, a wound-up kid with tons of energy that need to be burned, and a spouse whose day wasn’t much different than mine.

Bedtime. Will I be able to get to sleep?  Tomorrow is a new day with a new set of struggles like the ones of today.

The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.

Neale Donald Walsch

What if the day looked different? Of course, it would be the same day with the same set of obstacles. But what if I had a different perspective? Instead of drudgery and have-to, what if it was opportunity and want-to? What if…

The alarm goes off, and I take a moment to check in with myself. I made it through the night to see another day. Not everybody gets that chance, but I do. I get dressed and exercise grateful that I have a mind and body that can still do it.

At work. I have a job that pays the bills and allows me and my family to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle. I have a chance to help others and make new connections. Somebody finds value in what I do. I find value in what I do.

Home. I have a wife and child who love me. There is food on the table and shelter over our heads. Our basic needs are met.

Bedtime. The bed is comfortable. Sleep comes with the knowledge of peace and security. Sleep comes because I did not squander the day in idleness, but instead made the most of the opportunities given to me. And if I am given another tomorrow, then I am given another opportunity. I am given a gift to be grateful for.


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Discovery and Creation

The Discovery Process

The tree doesn’t ask, “Who am I.” Instead, it says, “I am.” It grows. It adds new layers and rings. It digs, deep, stands tall, and gives back to its community. In all its complexity, it simply is.

Humans, full of life like the tree, think they are different, yet they are much the same.  But rather than existing in a state of “I am,” they often prefer to linger at the question of “Who am I.” Thus, continues a process of discovery, searching for an answer they had within themselves the whole time. It was there all along.

The Creation Process…again…and every day

Each morning we wake up with the opportunity to create a new version of ourselves. A new dawn, a new day, and a new iteration of that which we once were. Like the tree, we add a new ring while still retaining the essence of who we are. As a “I am,” we are free to move forward, to create, and to exist for the sake of existence. We are free to live out our purpose in life.

Life isn’t about finding yourself.

Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

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The Bully

I know a manager who has led his department for over twenty years. When it comes to receiving feedback on the performance of his team, he is not willing to take it. As a result, they suffer, and their numbers reflect it. Instead of trying to understand and correct the issues, he wants to take the role of the bully. He will defend and fight, hem and haw, and try to intimidate others.

As I watch his face turn red and his blood pressure skyrocket, I start thinking about other bullies. There is some inherent weakness within them. Rather than exposing their flaws and working to correct them, they would cover them up. And if they feel their weaknesses are in danger of exposure, they use whatever force available to them to mask it.

I remember hearing an old story of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. If he felt he had a flaw or weak point in his physique, he would intentionally expose it. For example, if he thought his abs were a bit flabby, he would wear a cutoff shirt showing them off. Every time, he passed by a mirror he would see them. He would notice others looking his direction and would think they were looking at his midsection. He used this tactic as fuel to work even harder to correct his flaw. He did the opposite of what a classic bully would do.

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.

Eric Hoffer

The next time you encounter a rude person, consider why they are being like that. What are they trying to cover up? Is it something they don’t understand or are ashamed of? Understanding where they come from might be able to give you the opportunity to better navigate future interactions with them.

And the next time, you feel you are being rude, ask yourself if you are trying to cover up a weakness. If you are, then you have an opportunity to identify it and correct it. Turn your weakness into a strength, and you will realize there is no longer a need to be rude.

A Friend to Yourself

Let’s start with friends and five things to keep in mind…

1.  Forgive imperfections. Your friends are not perfect. Does it matter? No, not if their good qualities exceed their bad. It is those good qualities that we really admire, and one of the reasons for the friendship. In this way, good friends make good role models and help us along in our own personal development.

Of course, nobody is perfect, including our friends. But that is okay. You would grow weary of a perfect friend eventually creating a rift in the friendship. Like you, they are imperfect human beings trying to survive in this world to the best of their abilities. For this, we should cut them a break.

If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother.

Epictetus

2.  Encouragement. Good friends want to see their friends succeed. The better off your friend is doing, the more pleasant it will be to spend time in their presence. And when they are not doing good, the relationship becomes strained. So, when we see them struggle, we try to help them. The right encouragement helps them to shift their viewpoint. It gives them a positive affirmation that they can overcome their difficulties.

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.

Henry Ford

3.  Be kind. A smile goes a long way. Kindness goes even farther. We all have the monsters in our lives that need slaying. And when your friend is in a battle with the monster of the day, derision never helps.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Plato

4.  Speak the truth. If you lie to your friends, they won’t be your friends for very long. They don’t need that in their lives and will eventually find a way to separate themselves from you. A basic principle we must all adhere to is to speak the truth because our character is what attracts people to us.

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

Arthur Schopenhauer

5.  Don’t neglect them. I have lost touch with one of the greatest friends I ever had.*  Even with all the technology available to us, I can’t find him. I no longer know his phone number or his address. He has zero social media presence. I miss him. I want to know he is okay.

We do not know what tomorrow will bring. This might be the last day you see that friend you love so much. With that in mind, we cannot let the time slip by neglecting our duties as friends. That day might not ever come around when you get around to making that call. Check in, make sure they are doing okay, and let them know you are there for them.

Let us greedily enjoy our friends, because we do not know how long this privilege will be ours.

Seneca

Now that we covered friends, let’s move on to you…

What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.

Hecato of Rhodes

1.  Forgive your imperfections. Your friends are not perfect, and neither are you. After all, you are human. To not be perfect is okay. It doesn’t mean you can neglect your own self-development, but you don’t have to keep psychologically abusing yourself.

2.  Encouragement. You are more enjoyable to be around when you are doing better in life. Only if we all could be doing better in life! Sometimes we struggle, and sometimes there is no one we feel we can go to for encouragement. You are going to have encourage yourself. You must tell yourself to get up and to forge ahead. With or without a cheering section, this is your path and no one else can walk it for you.

3.  Be kind. Your battle is hard. The fates have dealt you a bad deck of cards. What should you do? Smile. Even at the worst, you are still alive. You still have much to be grateful for. Self-derision is not the answer. Give yourself the dignity you deserve.

4.  Speak the truth. Look into the window of your soul and see it for what it is. Don’t lie to yourself. Putting on the blinders of self-delusion will lead to a pitfall. You can’t improve if you don’t know your issues. If you refuse to believe you are in a battle with the monster, you cannot win.

5.  Neglect. You can’t do it to your friends, and you can’t do it to yourself. Take a moment and check in with yourself. Put down all the distractions and see how you are really doing. If you ignore yourself, you might end up losing yourself.

Become a friend to yourself. Learn to love yourself. Some would say this is the only way you can learn to love others.


Feature photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


* Bernie: I don’t know where you are, but I hope you are doing well. Our circle, our most inner circle from way back when, are concerned about you. You were the best of friends, and we miss you. You may never read this, but hopefully somebody we both know will get in contact with you. Peace my friend.

Walls and Windmills

Even in the best of times, there is still uncertainty. The things we take for granted go away. The health we once enjoyed could take a turn for the worse. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was once a wealthy merchant until one day all that wealth was lost at sea. He was ruined financially. How many people would be able to recover from such a catastrophe? How many have jumped out of a skyscraper window or taken their lives because they lost it all? What did Zeno do? He went on to build one of the most influential philosophies the world has ever known.

The world goes through cycles. We, with the attitudes of gods, think we can stop it. Really? We cannot even stop our fellow humans from setting events into motion whose waves sweep across generations and through the centuries. Good or bad, the bad being the ones we remember the most, these changes illicit a response from us. How do you respond when the winds of change begin to blow?

When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills.

Chinese Proverb

The Walls. Some will hunker down. They will put up the shutters and try their best to ride out the storm. They will prep for the doom to come going into their fallout shelters with their stockpiles of food. These are the ones that will isolate themselves from the rest of the world. The walls keep them protected on the inside but blinds them to what is on the outside.

The Windmills. By building a windmill, you look at the opportunities that the change brings. Humans are resilient. They can adapt. They can learn to operate within the parameters. Whether the change comes from a broken government or an angry Mother called Nature, they bravely face the obstacles ahead. There may no longer be any rainbows and sunshine in their near future, but they will keep forging ahead with the hope of a better tomorrow for them and the ones to come after them.

Everything involves a choice. Zeno could have said that life no longer held any meaning. He could have built a wall separating himself from the rest of humanity. But he chose something else. He chose to rebuild his life and along the way created a legacy spanning across the millennia. And like him, we choose whether to adapt to the changes before us or to isolate behind the walls. One results in a future for the generations to come. And the other, well, it just ends.


Feature photo by Hendrik Kuterman on Unsplash

Beware the Stories

The stories you read. Do they nourish your mind? Are they only entertainment, something to help pass the time?

Back up in my Army days, I picked up the book Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I knew little about the book at the time, except that it was a classic. I decided to read it. About halfway through the book something strange started to happen. The novel started influencing my dreams. I found myself conversing with the characters and trying to cope with the not-so-pleasant times. It might not have been the first time I dreamt about a book I was reading, but it was the most vivid time.

The stories you tell. What about the stories you tell whether it is to yourself or to others? Are they helpful, or are they a hindrance? If you lie to yourself enough times, soon you will believe it. If you encourage a capable person, leading them to believe they can do a task, they too in time will believe they can do it.

Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.

Ben Okri

One of my favorite computer programming terms is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). If you put in bad coding, you are going to get a program that does not work the way you intend it. The amazing thing about GIGO is that it works in so many other aspects of our lives. Eat a bunch of garbage and what happens? Either that garbage will come out or it will influence you in a way you never intended. Garbage work results in low quality products and a business model that will not last exceptionally long. And what you read and the stories you tell, if they are garbage, will imprint themselves into your very being and eventually find ways to come out. Garbage in, garbage out.

Thankfully, the opposite is true. Allow good things to come into your life, and in time, good things will be flowing from you. If you eat good food, your body will respond in a better way. If you produce quality work, others will notice and reward you for it. If you read the quality stuff, consume the right media, and tell the good stories, it will permeate your mind and your soul. Thomas Edison said, “Never go to bed without a request to your subconscious.” You could literally make that request right before you go to bed, but the reality is that you make that you make those requests throughout the day through the things you consume. This is how you engineer your tomorrow. Good stuff in today, good stuff out tomorrow.


Feature photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash