“Be where you are; otherwise, you will miss your life.”
Does it ring true to you?
There’s this story about two monks.
One night, the monks were headed back to the monastery. The journey was long, and they had to do it on foot, armed with only a staff and a lamp.
An hour into their journey, heavy rain poured. But the monks were determined to reach their destination before midnight. So the two kept on and walked as fast as they could.
Up ahead, they saw an old car stuck on the side of the road. It looked like it hit a tree.
Curious, the monks ran towards the car and saw a woman behind the wheel.
“Hey, are you alright?”. Asked one of them.
“I saw something on the road, tried to avoid it, but my car swerved and struck this tree.”
The woman must have hit her head; it was bleeding.
“We can’t leave you here in the dark and with this heavy rain. Let us take you to a clinic”.
The older monk helped the woman out of the car, carried her, and hurried towards the clinic. Soon after relaying the incident to the doctor, the two monks left and continued their journey.
A couple of hours later, the monastery was on sight. As they walked closer towards the door, the younger monk asked the older one,
“Teacher, you carried that woman into the clinic.”
The teacher replied, “I did, and I dropped her off two hours ago. But you are still carrying her in your thoughts.”
Doesn’t this happen to us most of the time?
Being trapped in our head puts us in states of anxiety, fear, overwhelm, anger and despair. The opposite of that is precisely what we want, isn’t it? We call it a resourceful state. A state where we are calm, collected, confident, and creative.
The good news is, getting to this state is very simple. We just need to “Be in the present moment.”
So what does it look like?
We focus our attention on what’s unfolding now. We are aware of our own breathing, we feel the energy (the life) in our body, we are alert, and we can zoom in on a task at hand.
We tune in to a higher power that makes known what it desires from us at this very moment. In prayer, it can sound like, “Lord, I am here, and I am ready. What do you want me to do today?”.
We acknowledge and believe that we have all the resources to produce an outcome. It has already been given to us. We just need to identify what’s necessary at any given moment and tap into it.
We feel joy or enjoyment in the process and recognize that what we are experiencing is not inferior to the desired outcome.
Think about your desire to be happy. It seems elusive because of the stories you have of the past and the future.
Past: “He insulted me yesterday. How dare he? He really hurt me and ruined my day. I’ll never forgive him”.
(1) How much suffering was caused by the actual event; and
(2) How much suffering was caused by your continuous story of how the person has hurt you.
Future: “When I get the promotion next year, I’ll be happy and start spending weekends with my family.”
Realize how you’re postponing happiness and putting off family time (something you value) into a future that may not even come. Time as we know, is valuable and will cease at an unknown point.
Present: I choose to be happy now. End of story.
Our lives are made up of a billion present moments. But where you are alive, and breathing is this moment right here. So choose it and notice how liberating that is.
It’s the season of Lent for Catholics around the world. What an irony because as I’m writing this post, the song that plays in the background is “Constant Craving” by K.D. Lang.
I have taken on fasting from social media and Netflix during these 40 days for the past years. But unfortunately, I have failed to use those freed-up hours in ways that would have strengthened my faith and deepened my relationship with God. So I made sure I re-purpose the hours wisely this time around.
The Phone Call
Days before, a friend of mine called and asked, “What is Lent about?” So, to make sure I mentioned everything, I looked up the internet, and a couple of words struck me: self-denial.
Obviously, these words escaped me before. “Now I have to figure out how to make this happen in my life,” was all I could say.
“Be careful what you ask for,” he teased.
True enough, opportunities came one after another; I only had to say, “Yes.” From giving up minor indulgences to dropping a day’s plan for someone, it’s always a question of, “Is this what You need me from me right now?”
I can testify, though, that we cannot out-give the Universe. Going out there and creating a direct impact on someone’s life made me feel joyful and fulfilled. It’s always been my desire.
As I was exercising self-denial, I wondered, “How did I ever forget about how good this feels?”
You see, I used to do these things, and then at some point, I stopped.
Was it due to fear of rejection?
A feeling of not giving enough?
The experience of being used or taken advantage of?
Or perhaps, exhaustion from it all?
If one or all of the above is true, how do I deal with it?
Then I recalled one conversation I had with my mom. She said you can do and accomplish anything you want. But what makes the difference is the intention behind those acts.
Hitting a Chord
I believe my mom is right.
You might say the rightness or wrongness of an intention in most cases is relative, and that’s true. So a guiding rule can be “what sits right with you.” Because at the very core, I believe we are wired for good, wired to create and impact something good.
The weight of a task is also directly linked to the nature of our intention.
A friend and I talked about this last time and figured when we are motivated by the desire
to be recognized;
or be rewarded;
A task feels heavier on our shoulders. But if we change it a bit and do something just because,
we are capable;
we care; or
it improves other people’s quality of life;
it represents better stewardship of resources;
it makes other’s jobs more manageable;
The so-called task feels light and easy. Suddenly, our core becomes attuned to something greater, higher, and powerful, and we just flow.
Lent or not, I hope you think about your guiding intentions today. It doesn’t just fuel your actions but also determines the quality of impact you leave on other people’s lives.
It’s the cold, windy month of February from where I live, and a few days later, I am celebrating my birthday.
I can’t help but think back on the day I was born. Were my parents happy? Was I? What did it mean to the world? What did it mean to God?
Days and years later, the answers to those questions might have slipped through unnoticed, never to be thought of again.
We immerse ourselves in everyday living.
If we’re lucky, we get to grow up in supportive, loving environments where we feel safe and, most days, happy.
However, we could have had it differently, too, dealing with poverty, terror, abandonment, or abuse.
Then we become teenagers and adults, ready to take on the world. Some of us “mature” fast, while others don’t at all, or maybe just not yet.
We go through different human experiences.
– Being in the world and of it, pursuing all sorts of things: titles, accolades, fortune, power, and pleasure.
– Losing and winning battles, whether physical like cancer, emotional like grief, mental like anxiety, or spiritual like sin.
– Forging and breaking a connection with another living thing, be it human, animal, or plant.
It’s the cycle of life, the circle, the evolution; however, you want to tie the pieces together.
Is something we work hard to get worth what we’re giving up?
Is the pain we choose to endure worth the reward?
Is success worth every failure?
Is living worth dying for?
The map is not the territory.
I can only speak of my own reality.
And while you too have answers based on your own view of the world and life experiences, I’d like us to ponder on these questions more deeply.
Because like a long-distance train, we may keep on “chugging” a little longer, and then, it’ll be time to pull the breaks. When we do, I believe most of us would want to know we ended at the right stop.
Yes, significant shifts happen in life. Like tectonic plates of the earth re-arranging, they’re easily felt, and they wake us up. But there are subtle turns, too, urging us to take notice- like birthdays.
“The two most important days in our life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”
When I picture myself coming out of my mother’s womb, I see myself crying because finally, I’m independent, separated from my mom, and will have to be on my own sooner or later. It was a scary state to be in, but I knew I needed to adapt.
I cry because it feels miraculous to be born, magical to be on this planet called earth, fortunate to know that out of a billion combinations, the universe impressed my ID tag and chose to manifest through me.
I cried because I was handed a purpose, kind of like a mission to fulfill, though that wasn’t very clear when my eyes caught the first ray of light.
Were my parents happy? I like to think they were, though I doubt they knew what they signed up for. Parenting is tough. Nevertheless, they were the right parents for me.
What did my birth mean to the world? Well, I don’t want to fill in the gaps. However, this is where feedback can be helpful. So if you have something, I care to know.
What did it mean to God? A lot. He made me in His image and likeness, and that’s a big deal. So my desire is to let His face shine through wherever I go.
I know I fail often, but every single time, it’s worth another try.
“Life in general. I didn’t even dare to go out during my entire break.”
“Hmm, that’s a big statement- Life in general.”
“Yeah, like what’s in store for me; what I’ve done for the last 40 years; do I have enough time? What do I prioritize? Everything is uncertain. You can’t plan ahead because it’s so unpredictable.”
“Yeah, the future is, but not the present moment.”
“I know I need to brush this feeling aside. Positive thoughts right?”
“Not necessarily. There’s such a thing as toxic positivity too.”
“So what do I do?”
“Just welcome the emotion. Be a space for it.”
We looked at the waves crashing against the shore. They appear enormous but playful and eager to kiss the sand.
A little while, the sound of the waves became louder, overwhelming, terrifying.
“See, fear can sound like that. But just like any emotion they come and go unless we choose to hang on to them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just hold them lightly.”
“I can try, but they seem to linger like they don’t wanna go away.”
“Hmm, well, you can,”
“I never thought about that. Does that mean I don’t need to run away from them?”
“You’re right. Remember your emotions don’t call the shots. You do.”
This was the recent conversation I had with a friend. If I recall the discussions I had during the past year, most of it centered around fear, along with anxiety and grief.
The default response is to brush these “negative” emotions aside. Like we should be allergic to them. But what you resist, persists. Doesn’t it?
“Don’t fight against negative emotions-It’s exhausting. Try to embrace them instead.”
I know it’s easier said than done. But would you choose to be crippled by your emotions?
While fear isn’t something I struggled with, I know a thing or two about “unwanted, unlikable, emotions”.
Eight years ago, I experienced grief over losing a loved one. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. So I denied and buried it only to see it resurface during my “unguarded moments.”
My thought was, I needed to be strong. There are better things to do than grieving. Of course, there are. But like every life lesson, it stays on repeat until you get it, get it, get it.
One day, I said, “Okay, let’s stop running and face this head-on.”
I imagined grief approaching my doorstep looking like a weary traveler.
“Come in,” I said.
“Well, finally. I’ve been wondering when you’d invite me in. You see, I can’t leave without giving you these.”
I opened the parchment and there was a list of things that grief wanted to teach me.
Take every opportunity to let people know how I feel about them.
That it’s okay for me or for anyone to need someone.
That it’s okay to miss people when they’re gone.
But more wonderful, to create memories with them while we can.
That every life comes to an end. That’s just how it is.
That I can choose to honor a loved one’s memory by living out the lessons their life has taught me.
Similar to grief, I believe fear has its own intentions too. If you’re experiencing it perhaps it’s,
Telling you that you value security. So what area of your life do you need to work on? Is it finances? Health? Relationships? Where should you invest your time, energy, and resources?
Warning you of danger, and hence you need to protect and keep yourself safe.
Reminding you to put your faith into action. Do you need to trust more- be it trusting God, yourself, the people around you? What are things that are beyond your control and therefore you need to let go of?
Inviting you to see, that the universe is there to support you, not to hurt you.
Letting you know that you’re dealing with something unfamiliar or out of your comfort zone, and such presents an opportunity for you to learn and grow.
Think about it. Every emotion has a purpose. But that purpose can never be realized if we lock them away.
So next time a “negative” emotion comes, just welcome it as you would a good friend. They are inherent to life. And if we’re to experience life in its fulness, we need to embrace every part of it, the good and the bad, however, we label them.
The subtle mistake is coming from a place of lack.
Getting what you want or achieving your goals is like chasing happiness. It becomes elusive when you run after it.
But when you start with “knowing and believing that you already have it”, it becomes possible to create. Think about a seed finally realizing its capacity to grow into a tree.
Framing our wants positively is important too.
I still hear most people unconsciously focusing on what they don’t want.
“I don’t want to die with a mountain of debt.”
‘I don’t want to lose my job.”
“I don’t want to be alone.”
These may sound harmless but if you don’t want this or that, what do you want?
To be financially independent?
To be so good in your job?
To be supportive and nourishing in your relationships?
When you use statements that clarify what you want, it turns into something you can act on. You are moving towards something instead of running away from something. Remember, where your focus goes, your energy flows.
ACT. This is the most obvious clue to translate your desires into reality.
Things don’t magically appear in front of us.
Goals don’t materialize overnight.
When we focus on our big goals, most of us either get lost in daydreaming or think, “Who am I kidding? This isn’t possible at all!”
Well, self-fulfilling prophecies like that could work, just not in your favor.
Break it into pieces. That’s how we can tackle a goal we perceive to be huge.
Think about one thing that you can do today that supports your goal. Using the above examples you could:
Think of an expense you can cut down or eliminate, then add that available money to pay off debts.
Learn something that relates to your role and practice it.
Put your phone down. Listen and be present when a loved one talks to you.
These may seem like small steps, but if you look closer, as you do them you’re already becoming the person you desired you would. The journey IS the destination.
Lastly, celebrate your wins, even the small ones.
Include each win on your “Wins-List” or write about it in your journal.
Why? Because these are your trophies. They are proof and reminders that if you did it once, you can do it again. You can replicate your wins.
Most people ignore daily achievements, but it’s the daily things that get you to where you want to be. As you go along, your confidence grows. You become more willing and able to take further shots in life.
When celebrating your wins, remember to include your “squad” or “people” too. They could be your loved ones, teammates, or friends.
There’s something so satisfying when you share victories with people who fully support you.
It gives room for positive reinforcements;
It gives an opportunity to acknowledge, and thank the people who’ve been with you the whole way through.
Trust above helps you today. Create a wonderful life.
“I have pursued pleasure and allowed myself to be intoxicated by it. I hit the bottom hard. I’m in no better state than where I started. The happiness was fleeting, unsatisfying. I am wanting something deeper. Something that perhaps can never be satisfied by this world”.
My friend’s words echoed in the room like I was uttering them myself. It hit close to home. What he’s going through may be totally different from yours and mine but we know that pain. We know that place. We’ve been there.
No one is immune to struggles and temptations. We all have our kryptonite, our Achilles’ heel.
Each of us is far from perfect. To some, their weaknesses are obvious, known to everybody around them. But to the rest of us, we’re pretty good at hiding them.
Being vulnerable to someone is a scary thing.
We fear judgment. We avoid repercussions too risky to take. But we all long for that safe place. A place where you and I could just be us, where we can express our thoughts and feelings without needing to filter them, without having to think about how we are seen, perceived, or heard. A place where everything else is absent but unconditional acceptance, respect, and love.
Believe me, I still carry the same struggles that I have had since childhood. There are days when I win and some days when I lose. It becomes frustrating sometimes, like learning how to ride a bike and never getting it right. You just want to hop on it and ride free, but you fall off balance even after peddling a few distances.
“I have been afraid of changing coz I’ve built my life around you”.
Landslide, Smashing Pumpkins
Letting go of something so familiar, something we’ve depended on is difficult. But we all need to move forward and we have agency to do it. We are not helpless.
Agency to me translates to a few things- writing, books, people I look up to, friends, and best of all, prayer. I’d be a hypocrite if I say I’ve held on to prayer relentlessly. I did not. And I think that’s the mistake I constantly make: letting go of the only weapon I have against enemies beyond my powers to subdue. I am learning.
“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
When you think about it, getting through our helplessness seems an overwhelming task. But if we try to deconstruct that undertaking a little bit, I think we can focus on one decision at a time, one choice at a time. We can never leave our hearts unguarded. A poison can touch our lips innocently even from a cup of coffee and we can easily be led astray if we’re not standing on solid ground.
“Don’t play with fire”. Another told my friend.
I said, “God meets you where you are. Don’t be afraid to show Him what you think is the ugliest part of you. He can take it”.
My friend sobbed. A sense of peace slowly filled the room.
I knew right then, healing is bound to take place.
I have heard this term before but it never really hit home until last week.
I guess that’s why we have the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.
With the vast information we are getting every day, our minds have to find ways to filter what’s useful to us in the present moment. That is if we are to remain focused, effective, and sane.
Otherwise, we will find ourselves all over the place, highly depleted and not getting anywhere.
I think my mind picked up the term this time because I needed it.
So, what do psychologists say about exposure therapy?
It’s a behavioral therapy used to treat phobias and anxiety disorders.
How? The person is exposed to the very source of his or her fear as a means to help overcome it.
The exposures are done gradually starting with less scary stimuli, worked up to scarier situations.
These sessions are conducted in a safe setting and environment so the danger is not imminent.
Why did it strike home?
I was in a middle of a call with my colleague the other day and heard myself talking louder, and sounding argumentative. Sure it’s normal to argue about work but I didn’t like the sound of me. That is the problem. A couple of months back, a friend of mine asked if everything was alright, right after I got off the phone. She observed that I was reaching the top of my voice and had a sense that something might be off. Admittedly, I was feeling the heat on my forehead. There’s no denying that I, was losing patience.
What is it that I’m so attached to, that it’s making me defend my ground so hard as if somebody’s trying to take it away?
It all boiled down to fear.
But I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly.
Is it fear of being wrong?
Fear of losing authority?
Fear of losing my value to the team?
Is it all of the above?
Whatever it is, it’s killing me. It’s making me feel like I’m being attacked, it was depleting my energy, and for what?
Realization:I have wrapped much of my identity around work.
I came across an article highlighting that the problem with most people is that we invest too much in only one identity when we should be investing in different identities. Do you know what they say about not putting your eggs in one basket? We’re talking about a similar thing here.
Diversification helps us manage risk and reduce the volatility of our biggest-value asset, ourselves. The argument goes to say that if we do diversify, a sudden loss in one (investment) basket will not lead us downhill.
People who have invested so much in their jobs or family alone, found themselves succumbing to sickness, depression, or despair after a job loss or death of a spouse. When a person’s stronghold is taken away, he will find himself drowning.
Armed with these ideas I’ve decided to put them to the test. Well, the test is still ongoing at the time of this writing. I am slowly exposing myself to opportunities that had to do with facing fears and investing my resources in other important baskets.
My Current Memos
Make mistakes. Learn from them. When you know better, you can do better.
Don’t be so territorial. Everything is temporary. No one is indispensable, so just do your best while you’re at it.
Don’t take things personally. Nothing is supposed to be personal at work.
Check your tone when discussing or “arguing”. You may be unnecessarily offending or provoking other people, and I know you don’t like that.
Make deposits into every important aspect of your life. Think about your relationships, health, passion, spirituality, or maybe your contribution to the world. You shouldn’t be defined by just your work.
And at the end of the day, put everything down.
Rest. Take a deep breath and smile. You deserve it.
Sometimes I wish I’m smart, more driven, and as creative as the people I admire.
“Well, you can’t. You can never be like them but, you can be you”.
And that’s enough?
“Of course, you wouldn’t know any other way. You can’t be somebody you’re not and other people can’t be you”.
Why is that?
“We’re built differently. Our uniqueness makes us special”.
Sometimes I wonder what it’ll be like to have, you know, that kind of life.
“Stop wondering. You can live yours, right here, right now”.
Why does the grass always look greener on the other side?
“You only see the grass. Not the person who waters them, the commitment he has the efforts he does. If you had wanted the grass you’re standing on to be greener, you would have watered them already”.
The older I get, the less risk I take. Why do you think that is?
“Maybe because you believe you have so much to lose? But the fact is, if you’ve invested in yourself, you can regain what you lost. You can rebuild them, recreate them”.
Why do I sometimes fear the future?
“Because you focus too much on what could go wrong, instead of what could go right”.
Do I need to keep on doing the things that I do?
“It depends. If you believe in them, then yes, if you don’t, then what’s the point”?
The years that I made mistakes. Did I waste my time then?
“Nothing is ever wasted. Bad experiences teach us something. Good experiences inspire us to do something”.
How do I navigate my way through life?
“Picture climbing up the stairs. You don’t need to see the peak, but you’d see enough to make it to the next step. So just do that and help people as you go along. At one point, you would be needing some help too”.
Climbing. Doesn’t that sound taxing and boring?
“Everything important is worth our effort and our time. You get to enjoy the sceneries too as you climb up. You can take a breather, a pause”.
Okay, so how can I make the most of the climb?
“Take only what you need. The more it is that you carry, the harder the climb. That burden is unnecessary”.
What if I fall?
“You climb back up again”.
I stop when I reach the top. Right?
“Makes sense but who knows. Maybe there is no top. Maybe the stairs are all there is”.
So when does our journey end?
“When our time is up”.
Okay, I better resume mine then.
“You should. But like I said. You can always pause and appreciate things as you go along. Acknowledge that you might not see them again, and that’s okay. You can still take them with you, in your memory, in your heart. Those things, along with your experiences, will shape you and equip you”.
Any last words?
“Your true north. Just follow that. Don’t be swayed by anyone else. You own your journey”.
I bade the stranger goodbye.
Surely I’d catch him again somewhere down the road. If not, somebody else will show up. They always do. I have stopped wondering where they come from or how the universe gets to know who or what I need at a particular time.
I think that’s just God’s providence.
As I walk, I’ve never experienced so much stillness, so much peace.
Things became simple again, bright and hopeful.
The future felt like a thousand years away and all I can recognize is this moment.
I’ll never trade this feeling for anything else. I wish it stays forever.