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Saturday, December 24, 2011

The gift of peace

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
~Lao Tzu

We often associate peace with non-war. This is why we think that when we live in a country or city where there is no formal war going on, we live in peace. But is that really so? Think of all the people who lead an extremely hectic life and are always running behind something: a better job, greater salary, more power and prestige, a larger house in a wealthier neighborhood, more expensive outfits and cars than the neighbors – all those people are not at peace. Even though they don’t live in a formal war zone, there is war in their mind.

Many people confuse this internal war with ambition, and defend their constant restlessness that way. They will say that everybody does it, and that they cannot allow themselves to be left behind. This is also why many members of modern society live beyond their means and have enormous debts. They feel that they have to match up with others, so they do whatever they consider necessary to demonstrate that. What they don’t realize is that they are involved in an internal war: they fight with themselves. After all, no one else knows their struggle or can see or feel what pressure they allow themselves to be under, right?

When people place themselves under such stress they are quick to point fingers at others: parents, teachers, co-workers, bosses, society – it’s everyone else’s fault that they are in this enduring trap of over-performing and under-achieving – not theirs. The unfortunate truth is, however, that they have allowed themselves to function with a low degree of self-esteem. The more they claim that they hold high self-esteem, the more their body-language and their actions will contradict that.

There are many people with this problem – all around us. They are constantly struggling, and therefore, never at peace, regardless of their surroundings. As the quote from Lao Tzu above states, peace starts in our heart. If our hearts have no peace, we may live in the most peaceful environments, and still be at war. On the other hand, if our hearts are at peace, we may reside in the most brutal surroundings, and still be calm and composed.

This is as good a time as any to think on these things, and then deeply examine ourselves to find whether we really are at peace with ourselves, because only when we are at peace with ourselves will we be at peace with the world.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The gift of holidays

Everybody has a holiday
Doing things they always wanted to
So we’re going on a summer holiday
To make our dreams come true
For me and you...

That’s what Cliff Richard sings in one of his wonderful hits from several decades ago. And he's right: holidays are great things. They are real gifts, which we often don’t recognize as such. We all have holidays, no matter what culture we live or work in. We welcome them for several reasons: family time, traveling to go see people or places, partying, catching up on tasks we never got to, or simply, to rest.

In fact, the last reason, resting, is not too often on our agenda when holidays come along. How often hasn’t it happened that we feel more tired after a holiday than before? Yet, we have it in our hands. We can either allow social requirements to get the best of us, or listen to our deepest need and adhere to that. If other words: if you’re tired, why run around on holidays? Resting may be the blessing the holidays are intended to bring you, and it’s up to you to accept or reject that.

We have come to a point where many of us have become victims of our circumstances: we are afraid that if we don’t attend this party, or if we decide to forego that trip, we may miss out on something important. But what I'm stating next is nothing new: you will get what comes to you, whether you attend that party or go on that trip or not. Everything happens as it should, so it is rather silly of us to regret chances we perceive as “missed.” They were simply not meant to be ours to start with!

If we adopt that mindset, we will probably allow ourselves much more rest on holidays, and though that, get focused on what we really need, so that we can be our best self when it’s really time to perform.

Enjoy your holiday in the way you feel is really best for your wellbeing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The gift of you

A lady once had a precious necklace around her neck. But, forgetful as we can all be sometimes, she forgot that she had it on and thought her necklace was lost. She looked for it everywhere but could not find it. She called friends and family members to ask if they knew the whereabouts of her precious necklace, but none of them had any idea where it could be. At last one of her friends suggested for her to feel around her neck to find out if, perhaps, she was wearing it? She felt around her neck and, indeed, found that the necklace had been there all along. In the days after her frantic search, the lady's friends and family members called her to ask if she found her necklace. She admitted to finding it, because to her it was as if she had lost it, even though it had been with her all the time.

Just as it is with the precious jewelry of the lady above, so is it too with our self. We often forget our most important gift, our self - which is always with us -, and seek everything we need outside. We ask friends and family members, mentors, colleagues, supervisors, gurus, and others to advise us about issues to which we could actually find the best answers by turning to the jewel inside.

Many people are skeptical about this notion of an inner guru. That is because they have been programmed so well and so long to rely on everything and everybody else for counsel, that they no longer believe they harbor the capacity to develop insights. Some of them visit the inner fountain at times, and then forget about it again, as they get caught in the demanding quests of life. Others may initially turn inward and find answers, but then get influenced by an externally focused environment, upon which they promptly lose touch with their core.

Nevertheless: all the awareness you need in life resides inside of you. A good way to reconnect with this inner wealth is through meditation. Meditation is not a religious process, but more a psychological one. And just as well as we have been psychologically conditioned to think that insight and awareness are external treasures to be chased continuously, we can psychologically recondition ourselves to understand that they reside inside.

Sir Ken Robinson, one of the most brilliant critics of our education system, gives a funny but telling example of a little girl who is drawing something. When her teacher asks her what she’s drawing she says, "I'm drawing God." The teacher says, "But no one knows what God looks like!" Little girl: "They will in a minute."

There was a time you were like that little girl, with a similar connection to your inner awareness and imagination. You can restore that connection and rediscover the path to your inner fountain and its abundance. Try it. It may be an enjoyable journey!

The gift of breathing

"Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies".~ Erich Fromm

You may have heard people say that we only value something when we have lost it. That is very true. But there is one thing that's so critical, that we no longer exist once we lost it: our breath.

Day after day, we are so busy undertaking all kinds of "important" actions, that we take the things that really matter for granted. Breathing is one of those things. How often do we simply take a moment to focus on our breathing? And yet, it is the one thing that distinguishes us from death. But because we have been blessed with this gift from birth, we don't think about it too often. We rarely value it, until there is a moment when we get in trouble and cannot breath. That moment can be a minuscule one. Just a few seconds. When the air is cut off, we suddenly realize that all those appointments, living standards, desires, special someone's, positions and possessions don't really matter. When our breath gets cut off, we are ready to sacrifice all those "important" things to get it back.

There is a touching story of a man who suffered from asthma. He just met a pretty young lady, and they were getting along very well. Yet, about a week after they met, while making plans to go to the movies, he got a terrible asthma attack. It was so severe, that his friend realized she had to do something drastic. She stopped a passing car and explained the problem. As they raced to the hospital, the young man’s breath stopped completely. However, his girlfriend was not planning to let him slip away, and she performed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) onto him over and over again until they reached their destination, where he was rushed inside and placed on a ventilator. By giving him her breath, he stayed alive. They are now happily married and have a family. It would not have been possible without sharing her breath in those critical moments.

Breathing is possible through the air around us, and we all know that we would not survive if that was gone. The earth, our common home, harbors the right amount of oxygen and the perfect temperature to provide us with the conditions to stay alive. But that, too, is something we don't consider often enough. Instead, we mainly focus on things that disrupt our peace of mind, such as trying to own a more advanced car than our neighbor, or wear a more expensive dress that our friend, or acquire a higher position than our colleague. We want to impress, and we are filled with the ambition to do so. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it does not become such an obsession that it entirely disrupts our joy in life. It is critical to regularly keep the bigger picture in mind, and the funny thing is, that the bigger picture is captured in the modest things. But without the basic conditions, which we all share and need, there would be none of our daily strife.

So, here's to the gift of breathing.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The gift of our time

When we're young, and even in our middle-aged years, we get so busy that we tend to lose sight of the real important things in our lives, because they seem so simple. We become so absorbed by new people, projects, plans, purposes, and promises, that we forget all the old ones that made us who we are today. And sometimes it takes an unexpected event to regain our focus and realize what should really be our priority.

There is a story about a young, successful man, who had moved to another town to increase his career chances in life. He also had a wife and son, but, like most young fathers and husbands, he did not spend a lot of time with them, because he was always doing something that was either important or urgent. One day his mother called and told him that their old neighbor had passed away. The young man was quiet for a moment, then admitted that he honestly thought the old man had died long ago. Well, this wasn’t the case, and the mother was hoping he would be able to come over for the funeral. But the young man stated that he was too busy. His mother talked on and started reminiscing about all the things the old neighbor did for the young man when he was a little boy. Gradually the past started reliving and the young man realized what a major role the old neighbor had played in his childhood, especially after he lost his father. Images that he had long forgotten returned to his mind: the neighbor teaching him to create and repair little things, to make his own kite, to fix his bicycle tire... And while his mother was still recalling how nice it was of this old neighbor to try and play the role of a semi-father in the young boy's life, the young man felt his heart melting and said to his mother that he would attend the funeral after all.

The funeral was small and insignificant, and as the young man was driving his mother home, she suggested to visit the old neighbor’s house one more time. Everything was the same, except for an old box, which had consistently been the center of his attention as a little boy. He had always asked what was in that box, but the old neighbor had only smiled vaguely. Weeks later, as life had regained its hectic pace, a package was delivered to the young man's office. It turned out to be the box from the neighbor, which he had left to the young man. The antique box, a beauty in its own right, contained a wonderful gold watch, in which five words were engraved: “Thank you for your time.”

These 5 words changed the young man's perspective on life. He suddenly realized how much their time together must have meant to the old neighbor, and what a valuable gift time really is. We allocate our time to projects and things that later seem so futile in the larger scheme of things. Let us consider that, be grateful for the time others give us, and carefully consider which dear person we withheld the gift of our time lately. Then, let's do something about that!

Story source:

Friday, September 30, 2011

The gift of appreciation

It's been a tough couple of weeks, and I wouldn't know where to start complaining if you'd ask me.
But you don't ask, so I won't start.

Besides, I had an epiphany this afternoon while engaging in a chore I came to enjoy: walking my daughter's dog. I don't own any pets, but do take care of the cat and dog of my two daughters.

So, while walking, and struggling with a sense of self-pity that has been trying to overwhelm me for the last two weeks, I decided to open my eyes for real – not just literally, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and take a good look at my life -- a look at my current circumstances.

And that's when it hit me:

I could've been hit by a car, but I wasn’t, so I'm fortunate, I can say.
I could've been smashed by a crashing plane, but they stayed up today.

Some lunatic could have shot me down, but I was spared that plight.
A meteorite could have dropped from the sky, but none was in sight.

I could have been attacked by a coyote, mountain lion or snake...
An earthquake could’ve rattled me to death, but there was no shake.

I could have had a heart attack and landed in a hospital or mortuary,
But instead I finished my stroll and returned safely to my sanctuary.

Since we're on the physical, it could’ve been a stroke or natural cause
That would have forced me to quit my frenzy and take a mindful pause.

Abduction, stabbing - even hand punches –were not part of my day,
So I'll quit puckering about futile setbacks, and happily continue my way.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The gift of meditation

Last week I threw my back out. The only way that could have happened is during my sit up exercises, which I just restarted after years of idleness in that regard. Now, that back problem has never occurred before, so, aside from hemming and hawing about old age and all the physical challenges it brings, I wasn't sure what to do about it.

For two days I struggled with shooting pains in my lower back, almost unable to even do my work behind the computer. And then I remembered my visit to India in 2008 and the Vipassana meditation I came to practice ever since. I usually meditate to keep myself composed, to see things in a different light, to distance myself from the defilements of daily life such as holding grudges, feeling victimized, developing a sense of entitlement, getting agitated, wallowing in self-pity, and other dismal emotions. My meditation helps me understand so many things that would disturb me in the past: people who are difficult, demanding, or downright mean, for instance. Before I would wonder why I had to endure these characters on my path. Now I understand their purpose of being teachers in my life, along with the fact that they have a problem which I can choose to make mine or not. So I simply learn my lessons, feel compassion for them, and move on.

But when my backache was really becoming such a nuisance that I started thinking of undergoing a string of chiropractor visits, I decided to apply another dimension of my meditation: one that I don't quite apply enough: the one of self-healing. I thought, "Well, if it doesn't help, it won't hurt to try it anyway." So I sat down in lotus position and started my meditation: concentrating on my breathing at first to calm the mind. Soon enough I started focusing fully at the sore spot in my lower back. I could feel the area tingling as my attention became more intense, and I just mentally observed it for a while. Then, I started sending healing thoughts to the spot, and regulated my thoughts to my breath:
Health in... illness out... wellness in... soreness out... good in...bad out...
Health in... illness out... wellness in... soreness out... good in...bad out...
Health in... illness out... wellness in... soreness out... good in...bad out...

I landed in the most beautiful place, all white and soft, as if I was in a huge soursop with endless pathways, indulging in gentleness. When I got out of my meditation, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the strain in my lower back was gone. Still slightly skeptical, I paid close attention in the following days, but I only felt very faint pressure, which faded immediately when I started focusing on the spot. This morning, I was able to do what I had doubted all week: my 3-mile Sunday morning walk.

So, what can I say? You don't have to try it if you don't believe in it, of course. No one will force you or get upset if you take all of this with a huge grain of salt. But what I realized once again in the past few days is that we, modern day's human beings, have forgotten much of the wealth and capabilities we were born with. Finding answers and healing ourselves are just some of them. We have become externalizers: we count on everyone and everything else for advice, healing, and general well-being. Our internal locus of control is smaller and weaker than ever. And meditation can help to strengthen and expand it. I hope I won’t forget this again the next time I need pain relief.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The gift of understanding

On September 3 2011, I attended Thich Nhat Hanh's Dharma talk in Pasadena's Civic Auditorium, and listened, along with thousands of others to a number of powerful thoughts, which we may all be aware of, but often choose to ignore. In his calm and simple way, Thich explained the importance of understanding. When we understand, we may safeguard ourselves from a lot of unnecessary suffering. Often, when we are at work, we feel offended by things others say or do. Thich compared this emotion to a first arrow: it is often unexpected, and it hurts. But if we dwell too long on what happened, and choose to give rise to negative emotions such as anger and spite, we actually shoot off a second arrow to ourselves, and this time it will not hurt twice as much, but ten times or more! If we understand that many of the things others do are a result of their own fears or ignorance, we may become aware of their suffering, and understand the reasons behind their actions. This is how we outgrow the issue, and move on without too much disruption.

Thich further explained that suffering is universal, and that it serves a purpose. Everything does! We cannot understand happiness if we don't understand suffering. As an example, Thich mentioned the beautiful lotus flower, which grows in mud. If you think of it, a lotus flower consists only of non-lotus components. Air, sun, water... they all contributed in making the lotus come into being, so they are all in the lotus, even if we don't see them. So the mud, in which the lotus grows, is also in the lotus. Our suffering is like mud, and our happiness like the lotus. In order to fully appreciate and understand our happiness, we need to understand our suffering. When we understand our suffering, we learn about its roots and can do something about it. Many people think they can only achieve happiness when they have achieved certain things in their lives, and that is a great part of their suffering. Many people also think that they can only be happy if their suffering entirely ceases to exist.

To explain this even better, Thich referred to the interconnectedness of everything, or "interbeing". Shortly after his enlightenment the Buddha said, "When this is, that is," meaning that the arising of one thing leads to the arising of another. So, this also means, "When this isn't, that isn't." We should therefore understand that if we don't have left, we cannot have right, because right will cease to exist if left ceases to exist. Since this is the foundational thought of Buddhism, Thich humorously referred to it as the Genesis of Buddhism, and provided this wonderful example:

    "If God says, 'Let there be light,' then light will say, 'I have to wait.' And if God asks, 'what for?', then light will say, 'I have to wait for dark, because without dark, I cannot be. We inter-are'."
If we consider the interbeing of all things, we can make the quality of our lives and those around us much better, live more peacefully, and find happiness here and now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The gift of facing the bigger picture

This is a macro view on our connection with all else on earth.
Every 5 seconds, 1 child dies in this world from hunger. We speak of interconnectedness, but how much and how deeply do we really care? And why should we be held responsible? Well, we are responsible, because our global society functions according to a principle of cause and effect.

Yet, here's how it worked so far:

  • The richest 10 % own 85 % of the global assets and the bottom half of the world adult population owns barely 1% of global wealth.

  • The richest 25 million Americans earn as much as almost 2 billion people.

  • Twenty-nine of the world's 100 largest economic entities are corporations:

  • Exxon Mobil, $63 billion, is richer than Pakistan.
    o General Motors, $56 billion, outpaces Peru and New Zealand.
    o Ford Motor and DaimlerChrysler, each over $42 billion, are wealthier than Nigeria.
    o Kuwait, $38 billion, is poorer than GE.
    o Honda, Nissan and Toshiba are wealther than Syria.

The above demonstrates the power of business in the world. Businesses are known to bring development and progress, so they are generally embraced. However, it also shows greater global inequality than ever before. In 2008 almost half the world's population, 2.1 billion people, lived on less than $2 a day, and at least 80% on less than $10 a day.

The problem is systemic, and requires more change than we are willing to make. The problem is that:

  • we think in distinctions: me versus the rest of the world;

  • we harbor a false sense of entitlement and independence – we think that what we currently have is ours forever more, and we think that we don’t need others;

  • we believe that “happiness” is a substitute for financial wealth and material gains.

  • we have become ignorant toward the fact that prosperity of one group always happens at the expense of another, because we live on a finite planet with finite resources.

  • we have become blinded by one single master, which determines our attitude, our friends, our livelihood, our preferences, and even the way we choose to look at problems: money.

Here are some examples:

  • We prefer to have multiple cars per family for convenience. But the 140 million cars in America use over 200 million gallons of gasoline daily!

  • We use 50 million tons of paper annually -- consuming more than 850 million trees.

  • American households waste about 14 percent of their food purchases, equivalent to 350 million barrels of oil a year.

  • Every year, Americans use about 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.

The Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years. If we scale this time down to 46 years, we have been around for 4 hours and our Industrial Revolution began just 1 minute ago. And see: we have ransacked the planet to get fuels and raw materials, caused extinction of countless plants and animals, and have multiplied uncontrollably.

Yet, there is still time and space to restore habitats and return species to them; shift our paradigm away from “me” toward more “we”; enhance awareness in others to secure a better world for our offspring, and become leaders of a movement of responsibility and equality instead of selfish profit maximization at others' expense.

As a point to ponder, here is a final segment of Krishnamurti's UN Speech, "On Peace in Our time":
“… how can one have external peace in the world, if one is not peaceful in oneself? […] We never seem to realize that unless each one of us fundamentally changes radically there will be no peace on earth. [...] So it behoves us, and each one of us, to find out why we live this way. And whether it is possible to radically change our whole psyche. If there is not a revolution there, mere outward revolutions have very little meaning. We have had communist revolution, French revolution, other forms of revolution throughout the world and we remain what we are, self-centered, cruel and all the rest of it”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The gift of generosity

Dr. Howard Kelly was a famous physician, who is best known for his creation of the Johns Hopkins Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Johns Hopkins University in 1895. But there is a touching story that circles on the internet, about Kelly knocking at a door and asking for a glass of water. A little girl opened the door and brought him a large glass of fresh milk instead of water. Their ways parted, but after some time, Dr. Kelly was confronted with a patient who needed urgent surgery. The patient was no one else but… the little girl who had given him the glass of milk some time ago. When the girl received the bill for her surgery it read: “paid in full with a glass of milk.”

While some versions of the online story are dramatized to make Kelly a poor little boy selling door to door, and only later becoming the famous doctor who could return the favor, the core remained unchanged: Kelly did return the favor in a very generous way. He remembered the little girl who had given him the milk when he was so thirsty, and repaid her in a way she would have never dreamed of. There is, of course, also the side of the girl: she was generous to a stranger, and could never imagine that it would one day save her life.

For both people in this story, there is one important commonality: giving more than is expected from you without expecting anything in return. I am sure that Dr. Kelly’s act of gratitude and generosity to the girl was later also repaid to him in another generous way.

Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity. ~Jose Marti

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The gift of an angel

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone. ~George Elliot

When we think of angels, we think of heavenly beings with human features dressed in snow-white robes, and with huge white wings on their backs. It may be due to this image we have seen in books, movies, and through stories, that we are often overlooking the angels we meet every day. Yet, there are angels all around us. They work in stores and offices, walk on the street, sit beside us in the train, or keep us company in our own home. They look like old people, young people, but also like dogs, cats, or other living beings that we don't exactly represent the stereotypical angel image.

I once read the story of a young man who was concerned about his elderly father. Having recently suffered a stroke, the old man recovered well, but seemed to have lost his zest for life. He had become an old, bitter person, who seemed unwilling to cooperate with anything. Desperately, the younger man called all kinds of institutions to ask for suggestions on any possible way to help his father cope with life more positively. Finally, someone suggested getting his father a dog, because the responsibility over another creature often did wonders. The younger man drove to the dog pound and saw, among all kinds of dogs, this large, skinny dog that had a strange quite look on his old face. When inquiring about the dog, the young man learned that his time was almost over and he would be put to sleep if by tomorrow no one had adopted him. That did it. He took the dog home to his father, who was rather upset at first. Who said he wanted a dog? But then something connected between the old man and the dog, and a wonderful relationship developed. The old man gradually regained his old vigor and made long daily walks with his old friend. When, three years later, the old father passed away peacefully, it didn’t take more than a day or two before the old dog peacefully passed on as well. A deep friendship had made the last three years for both, man and dog, worthwhile*.

It was obvious to this young man that the old dog had been his father's angel. How many of us think of their pets as angels? Still, when we are sad, it's these home buddies who console us with their quiet presence. Angels are not necessarily in our lives to do major things. They may come for a moment and move on, or they may be there regularly, but never show their angel qualities until you need them. Think of the person who yields in traffic when you don’t expect it, the co-worker who offers to fill in for you when you really have to be somewhere else, the hand that pulls you back when you were about to cross the street without paying attention, the person who puts in a good word for you without you even knowing that, or the stranger who tells you that you look fabulous today just when you were down and really needed to hear something good. And we have not even considered the thousands of unknown angels that worked on sowing, reaping, processing, packing, transporting and preparing all the things you eat, wear, drive, live and sleep in.

There are angels all around us every day, and if we really recognized that, we'd rarely feel depressed, because we would realize all the time how fortunate we really are!

*Adopted from More, 2011,

Monday, August 1, 2011

The gift of today

One today is worth two tomorrows
~Benjamin Franklin

The fact that you are reading this note indicates that you received the gift of being alive, the gift of reading, the gift of understanding, the gift of the medium through which you read this, and the gift of time to do so. Along with all these gifts come others, such as the gift of breathing in order to be alive, and the gift of thinking in order to understand.

While you may or may not take all these gifts for granted: there is one you most surely forget to appreciate as a gift now and then: the gift of today. In spite of the fact that we call today the present, we often take it for granted because we get caught in so many other things: hectic schedules, concerns about our health, our financial situation, work related problems, family or other issues, you name it. But today is here: it came, and is slowly progressing. It will last exactly 24 hours, which equals 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. Today resembles our life in that regard: it is limited and dying from the moment it is born. Here are three important thoughts to consider about today:

1) Once today is gone, it never comes back, so everything you do now will be history from tomorrow on. If you behave rash and do something you regret later, you may try to correct it -and even succeed-, but you will never be able to undo it. This also means that today is an important foundation for the rest of your life, because you are making choices and decisions that will affect your future.

2) You have a limited number of days available in your life, and no one knows how many you have left. Anything that is available in a limited supply is considered a scarce good in economic terms. With everything becoming increasingly edgy, and the pace of life picking up continuously, this scarce day cannot be wasted. Of course it depends on you to determine what "wasting" your day looks like, but I'm sure you know.

3) Today is a great beginning, because it's the first day of the rest of your life. No matter what you did in the past: today offers you a chance to start something wonderful. If there is a dream you wanted to realize, today is a good day to seriously start working on it. If you wanted to change a bad habit or correct something wrong, today is a great day to do that. There is nothing that cannot happen today, so why not make it happen?

A Chinese proverb states, Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday. Make sure you don't make today the yesterday you regret tomorrow...

Monday, July 18, 2011

The gift of impermanence

There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.
(adopted from

Impermanence is a gift that we all received when we were born. We see it around us all the time: in our relationships, our jobs, careers, positions, and even in our own being: we are not the person we were a few years ago, or even yesterday. Tomorrow, we will not be the one we are today. Life is a constant process of change, and change entails impermanence. Anicca (Pali for impermanence) is understood by Buddhists as one of the three marks of existence. The marks are anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-selfhood). According to Buddhist philosophy everything consists of these three marks of existence.

While we may not necessarily be enamored by the thought of our own impermanence, we cannot avoid it, and that is a good thing. Imagine the overpopulation and confusion in the world if everyone were immortal! There are also many instances when we are happy about anicca, for instance, when we are involved in a dreadful situation – a lousy job, an abusive relationship, illness, etc. The gift of impermanence becomes more appreciated as our awareness increases – and it can become a major source of inner peace.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The gift of healthy detachment

Healthy detachment is a gift we not only overlook very often, but also grossly underestimate. What I mean with healthy detachment is freedom from (or minimization of) clinging to anything. But that's much easier said than done. Almost everyone clings to one or more things: a job, a position, status, another person, a habit, a place, a mindset, you name it. We popularly refer to the habit of clinging as "addiction," even though we don't like to think of ourselves as addicted to anything.

Not every addiction is obvious. You can see or tell when someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, maybe, but there are so many other addictions that are not immediately visible. Therefore, we overlook them and don't see them as such. Some people are addicted to food, and not necessarily the ones that are overweight! Other people are addicted to sweets or coffee. Some are addicted to public approval. When Marilyn Monroe was married to Joe DiMaggio, the famous football player, he became aware of it. When the crowds call out your name and ask for your autograph everywhere, you may say that it's a nuisance and even believe it. But oftentimes, the real depression kicks in when the crowds stop recognizing you. That's why so many sports (and other) celebrities return to their activity after initial retirement. Mohammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman... the list goes on and on. It's actually rather sad, because many of our attachments are created involuntarily: you work hard on a career, people start praising you, and the clinging starts. Once they stop praising you, you fall into this dark hole that is difficult to get out of. In the vulnerable state you enter, another attachment may arise: drugs, alcohol, eating...

I wonder if the art of living – or at least one of the arts of living – is not to rise above our clinging disposition. In a Vipassana meditation retreat I attended some years ago, this issue was raised repeatedly: human beings are troubled by two major tendencies: attachment and aversion. Either we like something too much, or we hate it. The middle path is the healthiest way, but it is very difficult, because most of us – by character – gravitate toward some things with more passion than others. So passion, for that matter, is also a form of addiction, because when we are passionate about something, we walk, talk, dream, and give a lot of our time and attention to it. It's hard to detach ourselves from our addictions, and it's actually harder to admit them. Some addictions we don't even want to admit to ourselves let alone to others!

So, let's consider a gift that we have, but either don't care to, like to, want to, or can grant ourselves as often as we should: the gift of healthy detachment.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The gift of education

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
-William Butler Yeats

In 2009 there was an article in Businessweek that revealed a stunning discovery made by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. This commission found that there is a direct relationship between people's physical and mental health and their level of education. Their research found that there are much larger groups of high school drop outs, for instance, who suffer from poor health than people with college degrees. Now, you may wonder what education would have to do with someone's health, and I will say: a lot!

Here's the thing: education doesn't only grant you a certificate or degree. That's the formal part, which many people focus on. But what many overlook is the fact that education also helps you to look at life more critically and creatively. You think things through in a more methodical, deeper way, and you learn to see opportunities where others don't. You stop taking things for granted and start questioning them more rigorously. You draw your own conclusions and don’t just go with the opinions of the masses. You verify and look for alternatives. You become more inventive and innovative. Steve jobs, the genial CEO of Apple, talks about it in a speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. While Jobs is a college dropout, he did continue to take classes that he liked, and learned a lot this way about things that turned out to be extremely helpful to him when he started designing and developing his first Mackintosh computer. He gives the example of a caligraphy course he took, which helped him create the nice fonts for the first Mac, and basically determined the option of nice fonts for computer use overall!

A few months ago, President Obama made this point very clear again in a different light. He stressed that America needs highly educated people to increase its global position and competitiveness. Countries such as China and India have long realized the value of education and have been gaining tremendous ground in global performance. Educated people set trends. They think outside the box, no matter how cliché that may sound. When people engage in higher education they learn the things that cannot be taught: they learn to think for themselves. As a result, they understand better than others how important it is to become lifelong learners. Investment in education, says Obama, is critical for a nation's performance.

My endnote is that education is essential for you as an individual, as well as for the community in which you live and work. It is never wasted, and it will be up to you how well you choose to use your education. But you do have all the tools in your hands to make your life work out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The gift of recognizing your gifts

Thomas Alva Edison, often praised as America's greatest inventor, developed deafness early on in his life, due to scarlet fever causing an untreated middle ear infection. He sold candy, newspapers and vegetables in his early years. When a school teacher referred to him as "addled", his mother decided to just educate him at home. Yet, before his death, Edison had 1,093 patents to his name, and earned credit for many inventions, among which the phonograph, the light bulb and motion pictures.

Here's the heart of the matter: Edison had something far more valuable than all his patents and inventions: an extraordinarily positive perception of life. It was this positive mindset that greatly enhanced his abilities. Edison failed thousands of times in his efforts to develop electric light, but he simply chose to view each unsuccessful experiment as the elimination of a way that was not working. When he finally arrived at the solution that forever changed the world, electric light, he managed to forever secure his place in history. Hence, one of his famous quotes is, "If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

History presents us the story of looking beyond challenges to recognize your gifts in many eras, shapes, and forms. Here's an entirely different example: Carl Brashear, who passed on in 2006, became the first African American Navy Master Diver. Those of us who have seen the movie Men of Honor know that there's more to the story. Discriminated against throughout his training, Carl earned his diver's certificate in spite of very mean spirited obstructions all geared to ensure that he would not pass his diver's exam! Later, when he lost the lower portion of his left leg on the job, he was told that he could no long be a diver. It was pure believe in himself, and defiance of all odds, that pushed Brashear toward exceeding all expectations, and re-earning his diver's certificate, thus becoming the first amputee to earn a diver's certificate as well! Upon retirement, Brashear only chose to remember the good things and understand that the challenges had a purpose as well: "I can honestly say that I reached my goal in the Navy. It was an exciting career, but then it wasn't a bed of roses either. I had my ups and downs in the Navy, but I would do it over if I could".

Last example: Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. The prognosis was grim, as doctors found a tumor that had metastasized to his brain and lungs. His cancer treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy. Yet, Lance won the Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005, and even broke the record, which was previously set on five wins. Lance became the only person so far to win seven times. One of his famous quotes also reveals his positive outlook on life: "Anything is possible. You can be told that you have a 90-percent chance or a 50-percent chance or a 1-percent chance, but you have to believe, and you have to fight."

I could write a book, just on this topic and the many examples there are, but the message is hopefully clear by now: gifts don't always present themselves in clear ways. Some gifts take on an appearance of challenges, and it's up to us to realize that these challenges are just the enfolding, placed there to see whether you are brave enough to unwrap your gifts.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The gift of nothing

Nothing might be the most overlooked gift of all. Nothing is generally seen as having no substance: empty, void, hollow, without something. However, nothing can have substance of its own: it can actually be a blessing, especially in these days where our schedules are jam-packed, our closets are filled with wardrobes for various opportunities, and our time is scarce. Life has become so crowded, so full, so… overwhelming, and subconsciously, we keep filling it, because that’s what we have become accustomed to.

Daniel Quinn, in his book Ishmael, refers to Takers and Leavers as the two main cultures of humanity. Takers are those like you and me, who keep gathering and storing tangible and intangible things to no end: as large as houses, cars, careers and status, and as small as groceries, books, clothes, and tokens of appreciation such as awards, degrees, and certificates. Takers are always out for something. They cannot appreciate or understand the value of no-thing. Leavers are exactly the opposite. They take life as it comes, and accept every day as it manifests itself. They appreciate something and nothing, because they are aware that both are equally right. Leavers are a minority in our world today. They usually live in Natural Reservations - placed there by the Takers - or in other secluded areas such as interiors, near rivers, in forests, or mountains. Leavers appreciate good and bad, life and death, night and day: come what may. The major advantage Leavers have over Takers is greater peace of mind, because they understand the concept of yin and yang: their preferences are not as skewed as those of the Takers.

Fortunately, we all have the ability to contemplate, and change our perspectives where we realize their error. We can start applying moderation as a result of understanding our impermanence and the impermanence of everything else. And if we do it massively, it may even help restore some of the lost balance in the world! The awareness of impermanence can help us to realize that something is nice, but nothing is nice too. Nothing is just as much needed as something. Moments of doing nothing, getting nothing, chasing nothing, and desiring nothing are moments of sacred peace, which we will feel deep inside, if we care to go there. It's up to us. So, here's to the gift of nothing!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The gift of love

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, "You owe me." Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.
- Hafiz of Persia

There are so many dimensions to the word "love" that it is almost impossible to withstand with just a brief statement. The most astounding fact about love is that, while we all are aware of its importance - because most of us are the result of the love between two people - there is a dreadfully amazing deficiency of this gift in the world. The lack of love is not only a problem among human beings, but can also be found between human beings and other living creatures. Abuse, war, hate, and discrimination are just a few of the many ways in which we display our inability to love as often and as freely as we should.

I often see advertisements that solicit donations to keep animal shelters open, or to help a small kid in a poor country to have a chance on a decent life. The very fact that there are animal shelters is evidence of our tendency to abuse those who love us unconditionally, our pets. The very fact that there are orphanages and homes for abandoned and abused children, and that there are chanceless children in the world who lack basics such as food and shelter, proves that we have seriously gone astray somewhere. In almost every part of the world we have become so immersed in our careers and self-realization efforts that we often fail to prioritize those who need our affection and attention until it is too late. Older parents, who once did everything to make us succeed, are simply placed in homes for the elderly and then very rarely visited or simply forgotten.

It is oftentimes only through a shocking experience – a loss that deeply touches us - that we realize the greatness of the gift of love. And until we experience that loss, we seem to remain oblivious of the immense love-famine in our world. Love can be expressed in many simple ways to many people: in fairness, through respect, by listening, with a smile, in a kind word, an unexpected gesture, and by paying attention to those we really care for. Love and happiness are each other's complements: love creates happiness, and happy people are more willing to show love. If, therefore, we share our love more freely and unconditionally, we will have happier families, neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, countries, continents, and ultimately, a happier world.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The gift of tolerance

No matter how advanced we become, and regardless of the possibilities we create to connect with, listen to, and learn from brothers and sisters all over the world, there always seem to be groups that oppose others for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky on a clear night. As I was skimming through the news before writing this statement, I read about graffiti hate messages against gays, sprayed at several places in Lancaster, California. "Kills All Gays Now," was sprayed against one wall. "Gays Go 2 Hell" was sprayed on another. This rampage was probably triggered by the news that New York had just become the 6th and most populous state to acknowledge gay marriage. So, some people were obviously feeling that their convictions are losing ground, and they were outraged.

I often wonder what it is that drives people to be so intolerant toward others, even without knowing them. Aversions that are so hefty and so deeply ingrained have often been instilled over time by certain affiliation groups: family, social, religious, political, generational, racial, you name it. Hate is as old an emotion as love. It’s actually the counterpart of love, and it can make us even more aware of the value of love. But hate is not a constructive emotion. It doesn’t only consume the hater and make him or her a problem to his or her environment: it can actually be downright destructive to innocent people!

Intolerance is a destructive mindset, which we all could harbor if we open ourselves to it. But it is also the main reason why so many people suffer in the world. Intolerance makes people withhold things from others, hate others, torture and kill others, steal from others, and – what they often don’t realize: impoverish and cripple their own soul!

Let's all consider a gift we often overlook: the gift of tolerance. We may not always agree with everything, and that should not be a problem, as long as our disagreements don’t lead to pain and destruction of any person or group of people. Celebrating the gift of tolerance and seriously embracing this gift for the rest of our lives, is not only doing others a favor: it’s doing ourselves the greatest favor of all!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The gift of self-respect

It is only when we face enormous challenges that we realize what a gift self-respect is. Some of us may be well aware how hard it can be to maintain it, when we seem to lose everything else! Life can be unpredictable: today we can consider ourselves in full control and on top of the world, and tomorrow we may hit rock-bottom. For others, who witness our plight from a distance, it may seem ridiculous when we feel worthless, but they may not be able to relate to our experience and the depth of our feelings.

However, even when we go through extremely tough times, we should consider the one we always see when we look into the mirror. We owe it to that person to maintain our self-respect. I recently read in a Surinamese newspaper that a woman, who was desperate because her husband had intentions to leave her for a younger woman, visited a traditional healer ("bonumang") to save her marriage. The man did not only charge her quite some money for his "services," but advised her to do the creepiest thing: she had to visit a local cemetery in the middle of the night and sleep for three hours on a grave occupied with a dead body! The healer claimed that other people who did the same thing had been able to save their marriage.

The saddest detail of the story above is not whether the woman ultimately did what the bonumang advised her to do or not, but rather that she lost her self-respect by even trying to keep a partner who obviously wanted to be somewhere else with such a grotesque act. She may not have looked at it as such, but trying to keep someone against their will either indicates tremendous weakness or ruthless selfishness. Money or perceived security may, of course, have been a driving motive as well. But this woman has a long road ahead of regaining her sense of self-worth, and if she ever finds it, she will still have to try to forgive herself for her desperate behavior. And that can be a tough one!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The gift of forgiving

There's an amazing story of this woman named Betty* who had to cope with one of the greatest challenges in life: the cruel killing of her child. Her daughter, Debbie, a promising 16-year old, was found in a creek, raped and strangled, and tied up with copper-coated wire. After the initial devastation and anguish, Betty became consumed by hatred. She felt as if the police were dragging their feet on the case, and hired a private detective. After several months of intense investigation, the trail led to… Debbie's favorite English schoolteacher! In spite of Betty's discovery, however, it took the police another dreadful couple of months before the wire was tested and found to be, indeed, similar to what the teacher had. He was ultimately arrested and accused of murder, even though he claimed not to have raped and killed Debbie. He was sentenced to life in prison, and Betty could finally start coping with her loss.

Six years after mourning Debbie's death, Betty started to work seriously toward healing herself by granting forgiveness to the killer. It became clear to her that her life was going on, and that she might as well try to make the best of it. She made a bold decision, and visited the alleged murderer in prison to tell him about her forgiveness. Not everyone who knew Debbie felt this way, which is, of course, understandable. It takes tremendous greatness and self-transcendence to forgive some of the things that happen in our lives. Betty was able to work up forgiveness toward the person who caused her one of the worst pains a human being can endure. There is no guarantee we would be able to do the same if we were in her shoes.

Nonetheless, Betty's decision is one we can learn from, because we often hold grudges for much smaller things than the challenge she faced. Hate, fear, anger, regret, shame: these are all negative emotions that withhold us from bringing out the best in ourselves. If we manage to forgive – others as well as ourselves – we can move on with our lives: wiser and more serene. Forgiving is a great gift, mainly to ourselves. Oftentimes the object of our negative emotions is not even aware of how we feel. Once we forgive, we free ourselves from an enormous burden, and enable ourselves to breathe again, and we finally rediscover how precious it is to love, laugh, and live.

* Adopted from "Betty's Story: a Mother's forgiveness" -

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gifts We Overlook: The gift of health

Gifts We Overlook: The gift of health: "The gift of health is one that we only think about when we don't feel well. Especially when we are young and vibrant, we tend to take this p..."

The gift of health

The gift of health is one that we only think about when we don't feel well. Especially when we are young and vibrant, we tend to take this precious gift for granted. It is so easy to think that we are invincible when we have never really suffered from any serious condition. But if you ask 17-year old Zheng from China's Anhui province today, he will tell you how precious health is. Zheng learned his lesson the hard way.

He wanted an I-Pad, and he wanted it so badly, that he started thinking of any possible way to obtain the money for it. His parents were not affluent, so that was not an option. But then Zheng saw an ad on the Internet, which stated that he could get the equivalent of $3,400.00 if he sold one of his kidneys. Without telling his parents, Zheng took off to the hospital listed in the ad, and underwent the procedure.

Upon his return home, Zheng's mother quickly realized that something had changed. First it was because her son had an expensive I-Pad, which he could have never been able to purchase under normal circumstances, but soon due to the complications that started, causing Zheng's health to quickly deteriorate! This is when he had to tell his parents what he did, and upon investigation it turned out that the surgery had been executed by team of unqualified individuals, who had rented part of a local hospital for their unethical practices. In hindsight, the perpetrators could not be found, and the case will probably be closed without any legal action against these ruthless people who prey on the immature desires of youngsters.

Meanwhile, Zheng regrets his thoughtless decision. He learned the hard way that health is a gift – and that no asset, not even a long desired one, weighs up against that.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The gift of accepting our mortality

We all know that we will die someday, but very few of us want to think about that. Indeed, thinking about anyone's death is depressing enough. Thinking about our own death could make us extremely uncomfortable, especially because it inevitably leads to so many other questions: How will it happen? When? Where? Who will be around? What happens after our death? Will anything happen at all? It takes courage to contemplate on these existential questions, and many people therefore come up with a wide range of reasons why they would rather avoid doing so. Some might say that it is against their religious beliefs; others claim that they may get depressed and lose their zest for life, and yet others may simply feel that it's a waste of their time.

Yet, there is another side to accepting our mortality, which could lead to greater mindfulness in our day-to-day activities. Regularly realizing that we will die may help us in becoming less attached to all the things we now consider so important. The nature and quality of our decisions, relationships, and our entire way of carrying ourselves, could be greatly influenced by this realization. Those of us who lost close family members or friends can relate to this sense very well. When confronted with death, our awareness rises, and we review our lives from a greater distance. We suddenly realize the triviality of so many of our actions: our excessive focus on job security, our obsession for prestige and power, our eternal hunger for more money and other status symbols, and our overrated and enduring emotions when others say or do things that hurt our feelings.

The main reason why our mortality is not often acknowledged as a gift is because it does not seem like the most pleasant or cheerful one. Only when we think deeper about the positive effects this gift could have on the overall quality of our lives (less stress over things and positions, and more peace of mind), and the positive effects this could have on others, can we fully appreciate this gift – a gift that is ours, whether we want to accept it or not: the gift of our mortality.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The gift of gratitude

Our mind is a powerful thing. It can be a blessing or a curse. We can get up every day and find millions of reasons to be miserable, or just as many to be grateful. We all know exactly how and when we make ourselves miserable. It is when we compare ourselves to others and then think that they seem happier, live in greater affluence, know more prominent people, hold higher positions, have bigger houses, or date the partner we desire. Even if we don't compare ourselves to others, we can choose to focus only on the things that don't go well with us: our painful hip, meager bank account, lousy boss, car that doesn't want to start, lack of assertiveness, height, weight, skin color, age, hair, and all the other things that we feel self-conscious about.

Yet, we can also choose to adopt the attitude of gratitude – a mindset that does much more than just rhyme. Making a simple list of all the things we do have and can do, is the quickest way to realize our many reasons to be grateful. In depressing situations we can consider focusing on the positive things about the problem we are facing. Giving ourselves the gift of gratitude has everything to do with the wolf we feed inside us. Remember the story? A grandfather told his grandson that we all have two wolves struggling with each other inside of us, one being anger, hatred, greed, envy, self-pity, and disdain; the other being kindness, love, generosity, care, cheerfulness, and respect. The little boy asked his grandfather which wolf won, and the old man told him, "the one you feed."

Gratitude results in a more positive view of the world around us. It's a contagious mindset that can spread rapidly, and make our lives much happier. Let's grant ourselves the gift of gratitude!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The gift of being happy

So many people chase happiness and think it can be found in things they need to acquire: a great job, a new house, a perfect partner, marriage, divorce, children, a trip to other countries, financial wealth, fame, power, prestige, you name it. It seems that the label they put on the conditions of their happiness change every year: even when they achieve the goals they initially targeted, they find that they are still unhappy, so they formulate new criteria for happiness.

Finding happiness is no rocket science. It's the simplest thing in the world: it starts with our definition of happiness and the understanding that happiness is not a momentarily state of ecstasy that will subside after a day, week, or year. Many people confuse those peak moments of elation in their lives with happiness. Yet, it is so much simpler: happiness resides inside. You can only be happy when you dare to focus on what it is that you consider your purpose in life. For only then will you be able to work on that and discover the core of your contentment. And when you are content, you are happy -- not elated, just happy: an enduring state of deep contentment that makes you a satisfied, balanced person.

I once read a story of a cat that saw her kitten running in circles trying to catch its tail. She looked at this ridiculous game for a while and asked the kitten what it was doing. "I heard that my happiness is in my tail," said the kitten, "so I'm trying to catch it." The cat smiled and said: "When I was as young as you I used to do that too. But then I found out that when I stop chasing my tail and simply do what I want, it follows me everywhere I go." And so it is with us, human beings: we may find our happiness when we stop obsessing over other things.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The gift of the present

As members of today's hectic society, we are always on the go. Our days consist of looking ahead to how, where, when, and with whom we can swing the best deal to secure the best future. In this materialistic treadmill, we may sometimes look at the past to gather some information and trends, or to remember some precious lessons. But the present is often forgotten...

An interesting word of its own -the present- it should be clear to us that this is the gift of gifts, granted by a providential, synergistic alliance of nature, existence, and countless cosmic collaborations. It's a moment that will never return, and that will be gone in the next instant. This fleeting moment is the only one in which we are sure that we are alive! There is no guarantee that we will see the next day, or even the next moment, let alone a distant future for which we make so many plans. And yesterday – well, that's yesterday: with all its gloom, glamor, and glory. There is no greater beauty than the here and now, in which we reside, communicate, connect, breathe, talk, laugh, love, and live...

If we can get ourselves to take a few minutes every day to really enjoy this fabulous gift that we so often neglect on our way to a fuzzy future, we could make our lives, and the lives of those around us, infinitely more beautiful...

Friday, June 3, 2011

The gift of keeping quiet

We live in a society where assertiveness is praised as a trait of the strong. If you don't speak up, you may not count. Statements like, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" paint a clear picture of what it's all about: the bigger a talker you are, the more people will consider your opinion. That being said, it is rather disheartening to see what this mindset has brought about. Some people cannot seem to keep quiet. We have all encountered these characters in meetings, in classes, at parties, and in clubs: people who always run their mouth, whether it is appropriate or not. It is as if they are afraid of silence, or as if they need to convince themselves of what they say.

Sometimes, when I hear people talk for a long time, I wonder if they don't get tired of the sound of their own voice, and if they really think they entice their audience so much that they can go on and on the way they do. It is known that the attention span of an average listener is about 8 minutes. After that timespan the mind of even the most devoted audience member starts to wander. Speakers with some degree of emotional intelligence should consider this and keep their message as short and sweet as possible.

Unfortunately, some people are so self-indulged, that they love to hear themselves. They may be burdened by an oversized ego, and have not yet figured out how to reduce it. Yet, when we talk all the time, we don't learn others' perspectives, and more importantly, we are not as well-liked as we may think. People get tired of listening all the time and they may start avoiding those who talk too much. They quickly figure out who speaks effectively, and who is just full of empty words. Personally, I feel that there is no need to say anything if it is not meaningful. And if you don't have anything meaningful to say, the best gift to give yourself and those around you is to simply keep quiet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The gift of giving

Giving is an act, which so many of us don't see as a gift but rather as a duty, a strategy of exchanging, or a quick way of getting rid of things we no longer want or need. Yet, there is a form of giving that is really a gift, and Winston, an old friend of mine, recently provided a good example of that.

Winston had heard from his coworker George that he (George) had a neighbor who was experiencing some hardship. The man had lost his house, job, and would soon also have to give up his car. George told Winston that he had temporarily granted this neighbor a room in his own place, even though he was not too happy with the situation. The neighbor had not exactly lived the most righteous life, and was greatly responsible for the troubles he was now experiencing.

Winston did not know George's unfortunate neighbor, but as he was contemplating about the plight of this man, his heart went out to him. He remembered an old saying he had seen somewhere: "Hodi Mihi – Kras Tibi" (Today it's me, tomorrow you). He realized that life is full of unpredictable surprises, and that it’s not up to us to judge others. So, Winston went to the store for a good packet of groceries, and handed it to George the next day, requesting for George to give this to the unfortunate neighbor. When George wanted to thank him, Winston shook his head and said, "I wish we could all understand the importance of giving without expecting anything in return. I consider this an honor, and I know the universe will make a note of it."  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The gift of our talents

We all have talents. We use some, and remain unaware of others for a long time. Some talents only surface when special circumstances occur. We may, for instance, find out in crisis situations, how well we can help others stay calm and do the right thing. We may find out from a friend's response to our email that we have a knack for anecdotal writing.

A friend of mine, who used to think that he had no talents at all, turned out to be a great listener. He was aware that people liked to discuss their troubles with him, but never understood why. The fact of the matter is, that he doesn't judge, interrupt, or get caught in other things while talking to you: he gives you his full attention. When I told him this, he became aware of this talent and felt much better about himself. I know a lady who always dreads working in teams, because she is so meticulous and always ends up doing more than anyone else. She also used to question herself until I pointed out to her that her talent was to be well-organized and detail-oriented: she was an over-achiever.

Not all talents flourish in all circumstances. Sometimes they may even be considered problematic, especially if we overdo them. Too much detail focus can lead to analysis paralysis, which leads to nothing being delivered. Too much perseverance becomes stubbornness and pushiness. We should therefore monitor our talents, but if we use them at the right time to the right degree, we may be surprised how far they can get us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The gift of choice

How often haven't you heard someone say: "I have no choice! I have to do this!" I often think about the radical stance behind this statement, how limited it really sounds, and how much it says about the person saying it. In fact, we almost always have a choice. We may not always consider the options attractive, but a choice is usually available.

Some people live in towns where they can't find a job, feel trapped and complain endlessly about their plight, but still don't consider the option of moving even if they can. Some people stay in bad relationships or unfulfilling jobs, and don't make a serious effort to step out. Most of this happens because of two factors: fear and attachment. They may be afraid of failure, or they dread leaving their comfort zone, no matter how dreadful.

Using the gift of choice takes courage, because it often represents the start of something new. But it's a precious choice, which we often underutilize.

The gift of connection

How beautiful is it to be able to reach out to others if we choose to. We have been granted so many ways to connect: through a smile, through a touch, through the use of our voice, with gestures, with a look in our eyes… and thanks to technology at an increasingly larger scale through telephone, email, and social networks...

We can connect with others when we are down or when they need someone to help them through difficult times. We can connect when we are happy or when we are sad. We connect through the things that happen through us. We connect when we least think of connecting. We connect, most importantly, through the air that we breathe: our common gift – the one that is the most overlooked gift of our connection to life and to all beings…

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Awe of All the Gifts We Have...

We have many gifts we take for granted. There are so many reasons we have to be grateful: so many skills, talents, and qualities we often overlook in the daily rush of life. There is the gift of life: we go through life and rarely think about our existence in the here and now as a gift. Many of us even consider it a challenge, a curse, a bitter pill, or worse. Most of us only contemplate on the gift of life when we are confronted with illness or death.

Yet, there are so many other gifts we take for granted: the gift of our family and friends, the gift of our education, the gift of our culture, the gift to communicate with one another, and the gift to change our perspective on things we encounter. We, human beings, can shift our paradigm and transform setbacks into advantages, if we care to exercise some of our many gifts such as perseverance, creative thinking, and patience.

Reading this blog post, you are enjoying the gift of reading. Responding to it will tap on your gift of reasoning, typing, and communicating.

Which gifts do you overlook? Feel free to share, so we can all remember again how great it is to be here now.