Present and Accounted For

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with some old friends from the Army. It was a great time remembering old stories and hearing how they are doing in life.

During one of our talks, I had a mini revelation. This was one of the few times I was fully present in the moment. When someone was talking, I was completely immersed in the story. I was interested in what the other person was saying without the desire to interrupt the flow. There were no thoughts of what I was going to say next. In fact, there was no thoughts of the past or the future. I was completely in the present.

Being present is one of the great challenges of my life. There is so much going on in my head, all the time. But letting go of this unnecessary “stuff,” I found myself in a state of bliss. I was free of worry and anxiety. As I thought about this experience, I realized that this state of being is where I need to be more often. How much better would I be? How much more will my family, friends, and coworkers appreciate an attentive person to talk to?

How did I do it?

First, I put my phone in airplane mode and set it down in another room. Without this perpetual distraction, I was more engaged with the others.

Next, I became genuinely interested in the others. This was easy. These were old friends I wanted to spend time with. But what if this was someone else? Would I have been able to do it? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing. My friends, just like anybody else, were talking about things that were important to them. Knowing that it was deemed important for them to share, I felt it was important for me to listen. People want to share with others what they believe is important or at least relevant to the conversation. By listening to them, we can listen to a different perspective. Fully present, we can see the world through the lens of their eyes. This is a chance many miss when they only concentrate on what they are going to say next. I have missed that chance too many times in my life. I hope the experience from last weekend is a turning point in my attentiveness to others.


Feature photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A Break from the Socials and What I Learned

I picked up my phone and looked at the screen. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stared at it. There was one folder on my phone that was off-limits. In that folder were all my social media apps. I already checked email. I didn’t feel like opening up the Kindle app or reading an article. There wasn’t anything really productive that I needed to do on it. Why did I even pick it up in the first place?

Photo by Szabo Viktor (Unsplash)

 Before Christmas, I made the choice to take a social media break. Did I have a problem? I don’t know. I’m still debating it. I went a little over two weeks and here’s what I learned about myself:

  • The habit to pick up my phone is strong. Any downtime, I pick it up. Have an iPhone and curious about the amount of times you pick up the phone? Check the stats on Screen Time. A person that sleeps 8 hours a day and picks up their phone 48 times through the day averages one pickup every 20 minutes. The week before I stopped social media, I had a Tuesday with 61 pickups. I wonder how many times to check notifications? I get it for messages, but are likes really that important? How many times was I scrolling mindlessly?
  • Thinking about mindless scrolling…How is that really being sociable? Am I looking for content that I can engage in or am I just wasting time swiping up? And if there is no content in my feed worth engaging with, maybe I need to change my content. If I don’t, what’s the purpose?
  • You only get so much time in this life. Killing time on my phone is a crime against this gift. I did this trial during the holiday season. How many family gatherings have you witnessed where the family members spent more time on their phones that they did in fellowship with the rest of the family? When I got past the habit of constantly picking up my phone, I found that I was more attentive to those around me. This was a worthwhile trade-off.

Social media is not bad. Used properly, the benefits are enormous. Without balance, it could suck the very life force out of you. I’m still struggling the find the balance. If I can stay mindful in my daily practice, I can win this battle. This may mean taking regularly scheduled breaks. So if you follow me, and I go dark for a while, you know why.

Have a best practice? I would love to hear about it.

Old and New Friends

Last weekend, the family took a trip to Charlotte. While there, we took the time to meet up with an old friend I knew back in my Army days. We met him at the restaurant he manages, and this is my take-away.

The place was packed as usual on a Saturday evening. While waiting for a seat, we were standing next to a wall trying to stay out of the way of traffic. I noticed an older couple with their elderly mother waiting to be seated as well. I gave up my place next to the wall to make room for the mother. Doing so, the gentleman introduced himself to me. For the next few minutes we conversed like old friends. Having this type of conversation is rare for me, and this was really a treat. I will most likely never see this man again in my life, but it will be a long time before I forget our short chat.

Once seated, we finally got the moment the catch up with my friend. As mentioned before, the restaurant was really busy. In snatches of free moments, he came by, sat down, and the next portion of our conversation resumed. We spoke about all the usual stuff that friends who haven’t seen each other in almost twenty years would be speak about. After dinner, I walked out of the restaurant truly grateful that we took the time to stop by.

Reflecting back on the evening, these are the things that stood out for me:

  • Smile to strangers and take the time to say hello. You never know what good things might come from such a small gesture.
  • Part of the joy in reconnecting with an old friend is to see how well that friend is doing. The years have a way of deteriorating the mind and the body. To see someone who is still able mentally and physically with a spark in their eyes and warmth in their soul is something none of us should take for granted. Though this night I did not drink to his health, that was my truest wish.

I didn’t get home until late that night and missed a text from another friend. I woke up the next morning to see “I need to hear from you” showing on my phone. When I got the chance to call Monday morning, I received some more good news. This friend, now sober for 9 days, was wanting to catch me up on her progress. She seems to really be on the right track in life, and I can’t wait to see her progress in the future.

Hey Google, Set Timer to 14 Months

A month ago, everything seemed fine. And then three weeks ago, there was a seizure that led to brain surgery. Another incident last week, and the news was delivered to my Father-in-Law, “You have 14-18 months left.” The news is difficult for him. It is difficult for the family. And yes, it is difficult for me. Here is a man who has had an enormous impact on my life. He has taught me so much, and yet, I feel as if there is so much more for him to teach me. Selfish? Maybe. But isn’t this how things have been done within families since the beginning of time? A man teaches his son, who in turn teaches his son. Down through the ages, knowledge is accumulated and passed down, strengthening those who would bear the torch of the family name into an uncertain future. In this case, maybe selfish is really a survival instinct in man’s evolution.

My Father has been given an hourglass. The sands are running. I can’t imagine what he is going through and what he is thinking about. I wonder what he is going to do with his time left. But as I think about his remaining time, I am drawn back to my own selfish thoughts and how this impending doom affects me. He has the timer, but someday I will have it. And yet even that is wrong. I will not receive a timer someday in the future. I already have it.

Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it. -Marcus Aurelius

If I was told I had a year left, what would I do? What would you do? You could make a bucket list. You could go and see all the wonders of this world. Do all the things you have always dreamed of. Making a bucket list would lead to three questions?

Can you afford your list?

I know I can’t. Give me a year, I would probably die in poverty. I wouldn’t want to work, but I would have no choice. I have debt. I like food. I have a family depending on me. Could you imagine clocking in to work every day knowing it could be your last?

Of course, this is a scenario if you are in debt in your last days. If you carry debt and minimal savings, you are out of luck. You will toil unto the last of your days, so that you and family may eat.

Why not do it now?

Remember, all of our days are numbered. We have no guarantee of tomorrow, let alone a year. Why are we not living life to the fullest right now? But you say, “I can’t afford my bucket list, how can I do this?” Start getting yourself in position today. Prepare now that your family may be covered. Prepare now that you are not working to the very end.

What is on the list?

To see the world, you are preparing to leave, is it necessary? Maybe yes, if it is to share those experiences with loved ones. If you have the means and the desire, then go for it. But what if your bucket list was less about travel and experience and contained such things as:

  • Capturing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible,
  • Spending more productive time with family and friends. Hugging a little longer. Loving a little more. These are the ones that will keep your memory alive.
  • Spending more time contemplating the life to come. Some would suggest there is no after life. That may be fine for them, but I would not rather take the gamble. If there is even a one-tenth of one percent of going to heaven, then there is also a possibility of a hell. I would rather aim for a chance at heaven, then risk whatever misery could be waiting in hell.

These three items alone may be the poor man’s bucket list. But are they not of far greater value than a trip to the pyramids or a bender in Vegas?

Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue- if you care for yourself at all- and do it while you can. -Marcus Aurelius

The clock is winding down on all of us, whether we realize it or not. For my Father, he has been given 14-18 months. What does that mean? Death stands at the threshold patient and waiting. The old Marine could go tomorrow or he could go fifteen years from now. He is no different than us, only more aware than us of things to come. He can wallow in grief that the time is near or he can make the most and count each day as a gift. It is his choice. So, it is with us, we get to choose what we do with the time we have left.

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think. -Marcus Aurelius

The Unexpected 12 Days of Christmas

With about 12 days off for Christmas break, I had so many plans. I imagined all the things I could get done, and yet so little of it actually got checked off. In the end I was left with two questions:

  • Will I ever be able to accomplish all the things I want to get done?
  • Where does my personal checklist weigh in compared to the things that really matter?

Quick recap of events:

Days 1-7. The family was in town. Every morning we woke up and drove to my parents (in-laws) house and stayed past our normal bedtimes. We watched kids play. We ate. We did most of the things families do when they gather. Nothing on my list got done. No workouts, very little reading, very little writing. All of the “I want to’s” were replaced by “We did this” and in the end isn’t that all that really matters?

Day 8. I decided to shave my head. There really wasn’t a whole lot to shave off. All I did was hasten the inevitable along. Turns out taking a razor to my head was practice for the future.

Day 9. Dinner at the in-laws. Just a normal afternoon, but Hank, my Father-in-law, never made it back from an errand. Instead, we got a call saying he may have had a stroke and was being air-lifted to Greenville. Good news, it wasn’t a stroke. Bad news, they found a mass on his brain that needs to be removed.

Day 10. They are going to have to operate to remove the mass. After a little research, we find out that the #8 neurosurgeon in the area in going to perform the procedure. Top ten is not bad, unless there is only sixteen. Did you know doctors get reviewed like restaurants or products on Amazon? The #8 doc has a lot of 1 stars in the comments.

Day 11. Happy New Year with a bit of uncertainty. Operation: Mass Removal takes place in 2 days. When you are planning to have someone dig around in your head, you want the best skull driller out there. Just so happens a family friend and fellow Marine to Hank sits on the hospital board. Put away your Junior Mints #8, because the #1 guy is going to be in the room as well.

Day 12. Time to get razor blades out. Nobody is scalping the Colonel without experience, and it turns out my shiny pate decision gives me the most recent experience in this area. After a nice family lunch, I take off the guard on the blades and do my first fly-over. Follow that up with a warm wash cloth, a generous amount of shaving cream, and a fresh blade, and before we know it, there are two good-looking men in the family (no offense to the others with their fancy quaffs).

My Christmas break ended. As I returned to work, Hank was preparing to go under the knife. The surgery went well. There were no complications. And until we learn the origin of the mass, we are, for the most part, out of the woods.

2018 has ended. 2019 is here. Many take this time to reflect and prepare. As I reflect on the last two weeks, I have been reminded of a few lessons and learned some new ones.

  • As so many of the Stoics teach: Control what you can control. There is so much that is not in our control. We can make plans. We can work diligently to execute them, but we have to keep in mind that there is so much more in life than accomplishing our personal goals. We are not guaranteed of having a tomorrow, so we must live to our fullest today. As the chaos of what we cannot control unfolds around us, we must control what we can control. We can control how we deal with the chaos. We can control our response. Maybe the gods are out to get us, but do they get to dictate our attitudes? We can control our attitudes.
  • The Army is huge. Outside of a few close brothers that I served with, I have never felt the brotherhood of the organization as a whole. The Marines are different, and I am always amazed by it. They won’t leave you behind on the battlefield, and I have yet to see one left behind off the battlefield. The Marines I have had the pleasure of knowing have always been faithful.

Who am I to look down on a person that has given his life to the study  and practice of medicine? Outside of his reviews, I don’t know #8 from Adam. He may be an excellent doctor. Who am I to judge? I am quick to scoff and say I would only want #1. I demand the best out of others, but do I demand the best out of myself? How many 1 stars do I have in my contributions to making this world a better place? On that day of judgment, nobody will be standing before God on my behalf. His review will be the only one that matters, and it will be based on the things I have done, not wished to have done.

The Christmas Ten

Yesterday, I read The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine by James Altucher. I read this article last year and somehow forgot all about it. I may have not been an idea machine back then, but now I am ready to give this a try. How do you become an idea machine? Make a list of ten things. Every day. It doesn’t even matter what the list is about. You get to choose. It could be 10 things you want to do or 10 ideas for someone else’s business. Not every idea will be a gem, but that is not the point of the exercise. The point is to come up with the ideas. And maybe along the way, some good ones may pop up.

Today will be my put attempt at it. Being that it is Christmas, here is my list of ten things I could write about on this day.

  1. Today is all about hope. Why some would choose to deny that or prevent others from that hope is beyond me.
  2. I often forget how amazing Joseph is. His story is a lesson in humility and understanding that I could stand to learn and apply to my own life as a father and a husband.
  3. I wonder what Jesus’ childhood was like. Can you imagine Him as a toddler? Did He conduct Himself differently at that age?
  4. Thinking of children. The joy and excitement on their faces truly is precious. I hope they never lose it, and I even hope that I can become more like them in my enthusiasm. As Dostoevsky said, “The soul is healed by being around children.”
  5. If this day is about peace and love, I do not need to be an additional thorn in the side of those who are hurting. I need to be patient, thoughtful, and kind every day but especially on this day.
  6. There is a temptation to sit around and do nothing, maybe get sucked into the drain of social media. Doing this is not being a servant to anyone. I need to put aside this temptation and get engaged.
  7. Making a list of 10 isn’t as easy or quick as I thought. But with practice, this task can become second nature . I’m reminded of something a friend’s recently departed mother used to say, “Go to the pantry and find a can’t.” There is none in there, but there are plenty of cans.
  8. This is also a day of faith. When ours is waning, let us remember those dearly departed who have gone before us. Those whose hope and faith never wavered even on the darkest of days. Their example is one we all can learn from.
  9. If I eat too much of the bad stuff today, I won’t have any room left for the good stuff that my body really needs. A little moderation and self-discipline can go a long ways.
  10. This day is also about LOVE and the greatest show of love comes in the form of sacrifice. Maybe today we are not laying down our lives for others, but we can sacrifice our selfish desires and freely give our energy and our time for the good of those around us.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Spirit Animal

It has ancient roots, but it is also a popular trend. It is one that I have seen on motivational memes as well as on social media. It is the use of animals in relationship to humans. Want to be a proper alpha male leading the pack? Be the wolf. Ruler of a savage kingdom that never retreats and never backs down? Then you are best suited to pattern your life like the lion. People tend to find the animal they most relate to, the one with the best qualities, and say, “That’s my animal, I’m gonna be like that one.”

All perception of truth is the detection of an analogy. –Henry David Thoreau

Some may find it silly, even a little juvenile. For a while, I even thought it was ridiculous. Overdone. But then again, I have always done the same thing. There are beliefs in my Asian heritage that I still cling to. From my earliest years, I remember learning that I was born in the year of the Tiger. As a child, this was great. A tiger. It was my destiny, and I could be like a tiger. It could have been worse. I could have been a rat, a snake, or a chicken. But no, I was a tiger. That was special.

Growing up, I still imagined that I was connected to this tiger. Maybe I was just holding onto this childish illusion, or maybe there is something else to it. Is this a tiger-related destiny or just a coincidence:

  • Born in the year of the Tiger (1974 Wood Tiger)
  • Married to a LSU Tiger
  • Co-worker conducted a survey to discover my spirit animal and the results were tiger.
  • Descended from a family (Ong) that has a connection to tigers. This may be our forgotten totem.

OngTiger

This post is written with a little more lightheartedness than my usual posts, but there can still be some value to it. I relate to several characteristics that I see in a tiger. I can find the good qualities in the nature of a tiger and strive to develop those traits in my own life. It could be a fantasy, but one that has the ability to improve the quality of my life. In some way, I may also be honoring my heritage and family by remembering the tiger.

In the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, many of the mentors state their spirit animals. What animal do you most relate to? Which one represents your ideals? It is a valid question, and one that may say a lot about who you are. As Wordsworth suggested, maybe we should let nature be our teacher.

Is This Hell?

I had a dream of Hell. It wasn’t what I imagined. Go figure, the dream started with me in a bar having a drink. God picked me up and we went for a drive. We were looking for someone, and unfortunately we never found him. The Devil was in the car behind us. He kept wanting me to leave God’s side and join him. Even in my dreams I knew better than that. The Devil seemed a nice enough person, but I sensed there was danger lurking beneath the façade.

This vision of hell was not one of pain and suffering. There was no fire, no gnashing of teeth. It wasn’t Dante’s Inferno. No, it was pretty similar to the world as we see it today. People were going about their everyday business, but something was missing. They didn’t have hope. There was no joy. They were completely void of any emotions, like machines operating on auto-pilot. The more I try to think back on what I saw in my dream, the more fearsome this hell became.

Imagine your hell of working in a job that you are not passionate about. Every day you get up and go through the motions. No joy. No happiness. Nothing. The day ends and you go home to prepare to do it all over the next day. What do you have to look forward to? The weekend? Retirement? Is this a life?

Unfortunately, there are those who already live in this type of hell. They feel like they have no choice, that this drudgery is their lot in life. But does it have to be this way? We can choose a different life. We can make changes. The changes might be gradual at first, but there is nothing wrong with that. It is still a change, and small changes add up. This would be progress. Progress toward escaping our self-created hell on earth and finding instead a small piece of heaven.

Remember the Fallen

If you are reading this, you did not make the ultimate sacrifice for this country. It’s okay, neither did I. Others made that sacrifice, so we could be here now doing whatever it is that we are compelled to do. You may not even appreciate the sacrifices they made. It doesn’t matter. They still made it. You may not even be an American, but you are still effected by their valorous actions.

Take a moment today and send a prayer of thankfulness to all the members of the U.S. military who gave their lives for our freedom. As you go about your day, be kind to those you encounter. You never know if they lost a parent, a child, a brother, sister, or a spouse in service to this country. This day may be just another holiday for you. But for them, everyday is a Memorial Day in which they remember their loss.

Friday morning 3/23/2018

Friday morning 3/23/2018-

• Woke up at 3:40 a.m.

• Met client at gym at 4:30. This is not currently a paid service.

• Drove to work and meditated in parking lot from 6:10 to 6:30.

• Saw a need and helped out. Tweeted about this without realizing that a connection might be made and it could be perceived as arrogant. This created some unnecessary anxiety, as it wasn’t my intention. Now it is something I need to sort out in my mind.

The tweet was: Difference a year makes. Now if I see a need I don’t hesitate to help. Before I was selfish, reluctant, or procrastinated until it was too late. This is the path I was searching for.

What was the “before” I mentioned? There has been times in my life where I just wasn’t able to help. I wasn’t in the right place mentally, spiritually, or physically. I wanted to, but I did nothing. What are our wants if they are not backed up by action? Faith without works is dead (see James 2:14-26). Sometimes I procrastinated on it. I told myself I would just not today. The day never came. For some reason, not helping always plagued my conscience. I told my wife a few months ago that it was one of my greatest regrets in life. I also told her I wanted to live my life in such a way that I no longer have those types of regrets. It is similar to meeting a client at 4:30 in the morning. My drive is to be able to help others. This is a full 180 change from my younger version. That version was motivated by self-interest.

I believe my anxiety stemmed from how others would perceive me. I didn’t want to toot my horn and say, “Look at me and what I have done.” If my intention was to say that I am growing up, getting better, and trying to do the right things, then who cares what others think (if they even thought it, which is the more likely scenario). Here is my insecurity: worrying about what others think of me. This is good. I have identified another weakness that I can work on.

I am reminded again of “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and it is still fresh on my mind. Here’s Steven:

I learned this from Robert McKee. A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.

I have tried this in the past. I have tried to tailor my writing to my audience. I found myself not writing what was in my heart, but rather what I thought they wanted to hear. I was being a hack. I was not being authentic. I could feel it in my writing. I didn’t like it, but I thought it was the way. It was not the path I wanted to be on, and it certainly is not the path I am on now. I see my path before me. I know the direction it goes and where it leads. I will not turn to the right nor to the left. While there is still breath in me, I will stick to the path.