Wake Up Each Morning with a Smile on Your Face

 

About 6 and a half years ago, I was in what I would probably consider the most depressing state of my life. Not in terms of my situation, but in the way I felt. It seems to be common in our first world country to find negativity in the face of all that is a positive. We get depressed even when we live in abundance of opportunity and prosperity. It’s a point in my life that’s been a constant reminder of how helpless, hopeless, and painful life can feel.

It was December 2005. I had just finished my first semester at college and I felt confused about everything in life. Part of it was living independently for the first time, and part of it was not being ready for the shift in social dynamics from high school to college. Throughout high school and most of my life prior, I was very involved competitively with tennis and I had my circle of friends I used to play tennis with and go to tournaments regularly. I felt a sense of belonging in some way, knowing and interacting with all these friends on the court; it blinded me from how disconnected I was to all of my friends at school and the limited activities I participated in because any free time went to practicing tennis. As soon as high school ended, so did my years of playing competitively, and also the end of seeing most of the people I considered friends through that sport. It left me with a very small circle of friends who I’d always known throughout elementary and middle school.

It wasn’t until I started college did it sink in how much I had lost by not being able to regularly play tennis and have that sense of community around me. It also didn’t help that the over-achiever in me signed up for advanced courses to begin the first semester. When winter break on December of 2005 came around, I was a mess. Confused what direction the next steps of my life were taking, I had struggled in my classes and ended up with the lowest grades of my life (GPA of 0.69), I had severe social anxiety to even ask for help, and didn’t even know who my friends were anymore. I was in a state of utter despair, not having anyone to talk with or the courage to tell anyone including my parents. I let it all sink within myself as I typically do with most things. It felt like an anvil pulling the weight of my whole being down constantly from the inside. The thought of going out and doing anything felt like a major task as if I was tied to an iron ball and it would require lots of effort. I got to the point of not wanting to be awake during the day and began sleeping at 10am and waking up as the sun was setting at 7pm. I filled my days (or nights) by staying at home watching one movie after the other. I didn’t want this winter break to end or I’d have to talk to people again, but I also wondered what was so wrong with me. Why I wasn’t able to have fun like those around me or have anything interesting or meaningful to be a part of. I felt truly broken and incomplete.

I don’t remember how I found it, but I came across a book one night that winter called “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. It would be dramatic to say reading that book changed everything but it did illuminate this dark tunnel I found myself in just enough. The bhuddist wisdom within the book gave me a deeper interest in a few things and I started just reading more in general, but after that I was motivated to apply to a job I felt I could be really good at and really wanted at KU. I had been eying it for a few weeks and never had the courage to even try for it because, like everything else, I felt I wasn’t going to be accepted. To my surprise, I got contacted in for an interview and within a couple days I was hired as a member of the ResNet staff which was responsible for troubleshooting computers and helping students connect to the Internet in their dorms. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but this is what changed everything. I was now a part of something and the most important piece– I was able to offer help to others with some talents and knowledge I had. I was able to give back and in doing so received a sense of fulfillment. I met so many great people working there for over 3 years and learned and grew in ways that would have never been possible if I hadn’t had that opportunity. I’m also very fortunate KU had a special policy for first semester grades that they could be replaced if taken again only within the first year. I took all those classes again and finished that first year with a GPA above 3.

Things have not always been easy or rosy since that time, but it was such a low point that it served as a constant barometer to me ever since on how bad things could be. I also learned that it’s only within ourselves we can find the courage and strength to get out of such situations. It always starts with us. We sometimes think the world is out to get us, or we keep getting dealt the bad cards in life, but we fail to ask what it is about ourselves that is holding us back from being where we want to be or doing what we want to do. Sometimes it’s a simple act of courage walking momentarily outside your comfort zone to the sea of possibility that lies there. Life doesn’t happen to you; you are creating your life in every moment by the thoughts you’re thinking, the actions you’re making and every breath you take. Any moment it could all be gone; in a tragic upheaval, the slightest of accidents. Some people wait to accept this until their last breath but it doesn’t have to be that way.

A friend of mine recently said it was his experience that practice leads to discipline which leads to abundance, but it begins to erode if you don’t complete that cycle again by practicing. One thing that you can start practicing is being grateful for the start of every day by cracking a smile when you wake up.

The sun still shines today as it did 6 years ago. Just being alive and taking that first breath into waking consciousness is such a blessing. It’s a new day with new possibilities. We can cherish the very fact we are here in this moment, being allowed to experience it with all our senses and personal well being. Treat that waking moment with the greatest joy in this world! We are here! We are present! If we find it difficult to be grateful for anything in our lives, the simple gift of that first breath we take every morning can be a wonderful reminder of how precious it is to be alive right now. Treat that moment with a wide smile that resonates through your being and feel the gratitude of it!



Loving Life between our Goals and Accomplishments

Image from: http://moneysavingmom.com/2012/05/10-goals-for-this-week-13.html

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about goals and achievements lately. As an entrepreneur, one of the many challenges in running a business is keeping yourself grounded enough to see the immense value in everything you do and how you’re making a difference when the goals are much more rigid and ever-changing than when you’re simply working at a job and climbing a very visible ladder.

Goals and achievements are the pinnacle of societies across the world and rooted in our human condition of wanting to succeed. We want to be successful, recognized, and accomplish something meaningful. It’s what keeps us sane and able to continue what we do. We set up structures of achievements throughout our life: graduating high school, acceptance into colleges, getting hired for a new job, being recognized with a promotion, marrying, having children, and allowing this cycle to continue. While these are all amazing moments, they are simply that: moments. They are moments in time coupled with many other million moments in time we experience throughout our lives. We have more moments in our life that we don’t remember than the ones we do because we choose to only remember the high and low points. We live on a moving curve of ups and downs which map the stories of our life like a performance of acts in a play. We all dance together in this beautiful journey we call life.

Life is fragile though. So very fragile. It can bring us to tears when we remember this. Sometimes it’s in moments of our own pain and suffering and other times during a tragic or untimely death. Death shows us in plain sight the existential problem to human existence. While we are amazingly creative and infinitely capable of anything within our imagination, we are limited by these bodies of flesh that make up who we are. We can dream up rockets and planes that extend our literal human capabilities, but we all suffer the same fate at some moment: death. It changes us, forever. When we know of our mortality or when we remember it, we become better people. We put aside the petty drama of our lives and look at our higher purpose. We understand we are not merely here to exist, but to thrive. Our goals and accomplishments are not just milestones, they’re sign posts that show us a direction to take. Life happens in experiences between these posts so the goals and accomplishments are not the most important moments in our lives. It’s as if the cover of a book is our present moment and the back is the goal; the real story is told through the many pages in-between. We only truly ever exist in the present moment. The moment you’re existing in right now, inhaling each breathe of air, is your life. We should never forget that as we continue the path to our goals. The human condition is surreal– we can create any life for ourselves, a river of possibility from our imagination and desires, and yet at the same time we experience every little moment that leads there. That’s the purpose of goals and accomplishments. Giving us a start and end point on which to steer ourselves through the experiences of life. We can choose a life worth living by setting the start and end points that we want to see for ourselves and then experiencing the magic of life in the middle.

We must start with the now and fill ourselves with everything we love; our best self. When you live life from your best self, you are always giving this to others. That is the most valuable gift you could ever give this world.

**
A friend of mine recently sent me a letter saying they were upset at negativity directed at them from a wall post on Facebook. A blunt insult and a pure form of bullying that caused real pain when it was read. Bullying is actually a sign of insecurity within the bully that is being made up for by bringing someone else down. But this friend is a yoga teacher who recently finished training in India and I felt compelled to reflect back some wisdom that I probably gained from her to begin with. After sending it, I realized how much I needed the reminder as well. Life has a funny way of manifesting exactly what you need at the right moment if you take the time to “stop and smell the roses”:

From the depths of the darkness and fire, we rise more resilient and stronger as a Phoenix from ashes. The negativity, scattered throughout our experiences, is present to highlight the contrast to those aware so we may clearly see the positivity, the bliss. Revealing the north star toward the light, away from our shadow.

Remember in Yoga we return to our mats with a goal, an intention. But it is not the intention that is the purpose of the practice. It’s the direction the present moment takes due to that intention. Therefor, it’s not about ever reaching a goal, but following the path and being present. The paths we never would have considered or taken if we hadn’t returned to the mat, hadn’t given time to contemplation. That journey is the practice.

“What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end” -Nietzsche

**

Like a plant, we grow to a certain point in our lives when we’re able to start creating seeds and putting them out into the world to let new plants grow and thrive. All past generations give us their creations in order for us to create in their shadow when they no longer can. As if we keep passing the torch of life on to the children of every new generation. Our entire lives are rooted in the lives of millions of others who have come and gone and we are all connected like the branches of a single tree.

So what is at the heart of our goals and accomplishments? I believe it is love.

Not a romantic love, although that is a powerful force which can help us learn about true love. True love is limitless, unconditional love for everything in existence. It is the releasing of all negativity, jealousy, pain, suffering and fear within ourselves that all we have left is pure love.

The force that binds all life together by a silver thread. This thread weaves itself between our present moment and all our goals. When we look for the silver lining in any moment, we are finding this. That blissful experience you find in even the most difficult of times that fills you with an immense joy reminding you that you are still alive and grateful for every breathe you take. That is love.

Love is the binding force between all things in this universe. The unexplainable outpouring of love that overwhelms us when we first see our children born. The feelings between two star crossed lovers as if the world melts between their arms. The compassion and kindness we all feel during a heartwarming story and which we call “pulling on our heart strings”. The emotions that are felt so profoundly that they are so deeply personal like how an Adele song vibrates through us and we hear it in our hearts. When we reach far within ourselves, we begin to hear each-other’s soul, softly between the beats of our heart and the rhythm of every breath. The heart has the second most nerve endings in our body after our brain so we can not only metaphorically, but literally “think” from our hearts. From empathy and understanding as opposed to the ego of mind. This is the pure state of love.

The heart only knows how to love. It pumps the blood throughout our bodies rejuvenating every cell with fresh nutrients and oxygen without any questions. Whether our minds choose to be an angry or kind person to the world, the heart never judges and continues to pump away this life giving energy until it no longer can. There’s universal wisdom in the power of our heart and ability to love.

One of my favorite movies of all time which depicts love in the most authentic way is Before Sunrise. The story is of romantic love between two travelers, but the underlining theme is of literal timeless love by the end when Ethan Hawke looks up at the clocks in Vienna. I absolutely loved a video I found by a filmmaker, Jason Silva, who talks about this. He created short bursts of what he calls “philosophical espresso” and uses the topic of love in one of them. What resonated profoundly when I first saw it was his recollection of the brilliance behind Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise:

What Jason comes to by the end is the beauty of life: “Love is the answer to human existence but it does not solve the problem of human existence”.

Spread love into the world any way you can. Many ripples make vast changes in the ocean of life.