Reflecting Back to Journey Forward

A year unlike any, must surely be handled with care. Brought out the instruments, the special scopes, the probing devices because there’s much to discern. For to slumber through this reflection will surely result in fool’s gold being mistakenly added to my treasure store.


It was a year when I judged less, but discerned more. Judging matters in courts of law, but discernment triumphs in the court of life.


Blessings came disguised, sometimes wrapped initially as losses. The closure in cinemas consigned our annual unlimited movie pass into the back of our drawers. But the hours freed up enrich us beyond expectation. We cannot buy Time, so price-less is it.


Being scammed of a minor amount turned out to be another blessing in disguise. Anger at being fooled, a disruption in inner peace, an internal seething – all never made an appearance. What joy to know that this no longer troubled me. What joy to see it as God helping someone else, with what He blessed me with. Or what He consented to have me steward.


Walks, near and far, fair weather or drizzling rain was nature’s therapy to our souls. Conversations could not but work to bond us, as we employed our hearts more. Growing in the companionship, giving and receiving the simple joy of walking together, in the presence of each other. Aren’t these ingredients for love?


Friendships deepen, friendships die. A mere handful blossom into fellowship. Giving up others un-burdens both, as growth requires different.
As the exterior distractions shrinks, the interior opens up. Wisdom is so accessible and available, not requiring one to seek and visit sages in person like of old. My birthday gift of bookshelves are rapidly filling up. Perspectives change. Hearts softened. Hands reach out.


Pain and hurts arose. But not a few are due to internal expectations. And when I examined latter closely, I realized that it was much easier to re-calibrate those expectations than to manage or bury the pain and hurts. It’s like kicking the soccer ball first, and then, putting up the goal posts after the kick. How sweet.
Oh, I have taken a step forward and two steps back. It happens. Crying over split milk doesn’t do any good. What does good is knowing the motivation/trigger for the different steps. And making sure the feet is pointed in the right direction when moving forward.


The year in reflection is not so much the changing scenery outside my cabin window as I traveled from January to December. It’s more about the changes in me. And for that, there’s only One to thank.


“What is grace?” I asked God.

And He said, “All that happens.”


Then He added, when I looked perplexed,

“Could not lovers say that every moment in their Beloved’s arms was grace?”


Existence is my arms, though I well understand how one can turn away from me, until the heart has wisdom.

(St John the Cross / Daniel Ladinsky)

Coping

It has been a tumultuous 2020, with several more weeks to go. The news here in USA from the Covid-19 battle front are grim, with all time highs in various measures, be they daily infections, daily deaths, total hospitalizations and total infections. Within our own households, we have our own unique circumstances and challenges. Much has been communicated about the anticipated dangers in the winter months ahead. We are fatigued. How can we continue to cope?

How did generations before us cope during the multi-year world wars? There was “hope” that people clung to. Hope that appeared time and again. Man is a persistent species. In this pandemic period, the vaccine beckons as hope, that immunization will allow (adapted) life to continue. It matters not if others do not vaccinate, what matters is our own decision.

How should we then wait before mass vaccinations? Perhaps the first step is to examine the label we are now using, namely, “coping.” This label implies we are in a situation where there’s an externality that has disrupted our usual patterns, our lives. And we yearn for said externality to no longer pose a threat, to go away, so that we can resume our usual patterns and lives.

So, is there a better label than “coping?” What about “metamorphosizing”? Can this curtailed period be one in which like the caterpillar, we become convicted of what matters in life, and resolved to carve more time, more energy, more resources for it, post-curtailment? So that life after vaccination is one that no longer mirrors pre-pandemic life?

But what if this externality (i.e. pandemic) has a silver lining that we have overlooked? While the disruptions had real adverse impacts on our lives, many have gained precious time that was wasted in rush hour commutes, in mindless window-shopping excursions, etc. Time was given back to us. But if our mindset, our expectations is to cope, and we are anxious to resume our usual patterns and lives, then, this time given was likely squandered. A quick self-test is whether one can fill more than a few pages to share with grandchildren in the future how such time yielded un-planned blooms in one’s life.

Perhaps this quote from Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist actor can help with that inner metamorphosis:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I recognize some are struggling mightily with the pandemic-related impositions and adversities. That there are severe psychological, emotional and mental struggles. Hopefully, they have loved ones who are supporting them. If nothing else, this pandemic has revealed that without love, one has nothing, one has gained nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3). And with that insight, if all we can do post-pandemic is to sow abundant love, we have lived a rich life indeed.

Self Actualization

I recall my idealistic genes kicked in real hard during my mid-teen years, when I was 17 years old. There was a not-brief interlude when I fell head over heels in love, but these genes kept on plugging away.

That period was colored by a greater awareness of the social and global issues prevalent then, and continues in one form or another to this day. It was augmented by respected teachers who broadened one’s awareness beyond the formal school curriculum. It was sharpened by student leadership courses and late discourses with those of like mind.

In hindsight, it seemed natural, not unexpected, when those idealistic genes turned its focus to the question of one’s own potential. After all, didn’t Michael Jackson sing that change started with the “man in the mirror”?

Thus, there was quite a prolonged period during my career when I devoured self-improvement books like cereal in the morning. It was all about self mastery, uncovering and honing one’s strengths and potential, and cultivating new mindsets and habits. I found this cool label, “self-actualization” that appealed to my evolving consciousness. As I was also attempting to climb the corporate ladder, there was a healthy mix of management, leadership and organizational reading thrown into the blender. I probably accumulated more than 150 books, if not more. I never did an exact count and many were left behind as I made the trans-pacific journey Stateside.

So, how has this worked out for me? There has been no regrets. I feel strongly grounded, confident and self-assured. There’s no doubt that this internal work has positioned me for career opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. There’s also no doubt that this “self-actualization engine” will not take me where I want to go in this next phase of life. What do I mean?

Life is never a straight climb upwards. Life provides us plateaus. As the commercial goes, the “pause that refreshes.” Plateaus allow us to cast our eyes ahead in time. To discern if the anticipated (future) outcome of our current trajectory remains our desire now that we are further in our journey. To ask if success is still the aim, or if significance and legacy is the new aim. Some fortuitously perceive a ‘better’ path ahead. They become self-aware, and paradoxically, adjust that internal engine, from self-actualization to other-actualization. The “other” can be children, grand-children or even a larger community. Those of us familiar with William Shakespeare’s notable quotes will recognize this, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“. And thus, “other-actualization” is the same as Christ’s Second Commandment.

For me, the plateau involved an awakening of my spiritual self. The new self was stirring itself. And I threw off my self-actualization totally with these Scripture from Isaiah 64:8.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;

    we are the clay, and you are our potter;

    we are all the work of your hand.

How wonderful the thought, that all we have to do is yield, be pliant and God will wrought His goodness according to His will. I can rest in Him and cease all my striving.

F a l l

A friend told me that her favorite season was fall. I intuitively understand why winter sports fans would opt for their season. Likewise, the horticulturally inclined will prefer spring. And then, the majority would opt for summer, given the longer days and warmer weather that facilitates outdoor parties/picnics, BBQ get-togethers, sports, outdoor recreation, etc. So, the fall response was un-usual.

But as we started walking daily this summer, typically for an hour, the walks in early fall have been serene and colorful. The air is much brisker, and reinvigorates the body. There’s also a stillness in the air, as the summer noise has dissipated.

The falling leaves that clutter our backyard lawn does send a powerful reminder of the changing over. The need to periodically rake these leaves is off-set by the lengthening frequency required to mow the lawns. Various preparation activities are needed, so that ‘things’ are prepared to weather the winter, be it fertilizing the lawn, prepping fruit trees from diseases, etc.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

As I glance at the above verses, some call to me more than others. Definitely, as we near the end of the calendar year, there is a reflection of what must be put to death (“time to die”). The Covid-19 pandemic wrote quite a list for us given the restrictions and shut downs that have resulted. The vast majority on the list are actually beneficial as they were a short term gratification of senses. Thus, we have no regrets that we were unable to use our unlimited movie pass. For those activities that fall on the other side of the ledger, like the inability to socialize or hug others, there are creative alternatives that force us to be more expressive when we have the opportunity. It doesn’t totally make up, but as they say, the wait intensifies the hunger and greater will be the satisfaction.

But the interesting equation of that phrase is a “time to be born.” What should be born as we enter into a season of preparation, a season when most of nature and the animal kingdom slow down? How should we think about this? The breadth of possibilities is endless, and perhaps a guiding light might be, how would one’s joy or peace (or whatever quality is your priority) be enhanced in the new year through the birth of something new.

In that regard, for us personally, it has to be our closest circle of relationships. For after all, who will visit us when we are in need? Who will share a shoulder when we are in need? And thus, shedding any hurts or grudges (“time to die”) is a necessary step to renewing any strained relationships. And if fortune is such that all relationships are healthy, why not figure out how to draw the circle closer in, through more authentic sharing of persons, dreams and values?

Part of the new birth this year has been sharing our values and spiritual beliefs. It would be truly sad if at the end of our lives, friends who thought they knew us well, expressed that they never witnessed those aspects of our persons.

Do I have a favorite season? I would like to say ‘No’, as I want to relish the uniqueness of each season. Though I’ll admit that I tolerate the heat much better than the cold. But as they say, it’s “all in the mind.” 😊

On the fun side, we bought new waterproof boots and snow shoes, as we are looking forward to traipsing through the winter land trails. Nature beckons, and fall and winter are truly lovely seasons.

What will make this Fall be a better one for you?

The Great Un-covering

When we Americans look back on 2020, a defining moment will be the Covid-19 Pandemic. An equally defining moment will be the Nov 3 elections for the Presidency and Senate. In this piece, I will share some thoughts on the Pandemic.

Let me upfront acknowledge the immensity of lives lost, the inconsolable grief left behind and the shadows of uncertain futures ahead for families who have lost a breadwinner, a pillar of their hopes. These shattered lives will have meaning when we painfully self-examine the failures and establish readiness systems and measures to contain and best such pandemics.

The Pandemic is an event that I will label the Great Un-Covering.

Firstly, it un-covered our inner selves to ourselves. To what extent is my life dependent on externals, be it retail therapy, entertainment, travel, socialization, etc? To what extent can I not just only survive, but thrive, as I patiently wait in isolation? What does it imply if I cannot manage self-isolation? To what extent has this Pandemic revealed what gives me most meaning in life? How can my post-Pandemic life be qualitatively better? Such questions, by growing deep roots, gives us the contemplative nourishment needed for a towering life. But if such questions are batted away, perhaps, it has un-covered that our outer self is all we have to fritter away to the end.

The Pandemic un-covered many around us, in society, in friendship circles, in various leadership roles, etc. Like the poles of a magnet, it either attracts or repels us. And both situations are telling. This public un-covering is akin to the adage, “I cannot un-see what I have seen.” While there’s anguish at what one perceived, the un-covering is a blessing. One’s eyes have been truly opened, and all have been un-masked (pun intended).

The Pandemic un-covered that while we have technologies and conveniences that far surpass olden days, our base human nature has not evolved as much. It’s very much a survival of the fittest, the fastest man to the life rafts. In the early panic days, wealth fled on private yachts, some fled to luxurious enclaves in remote islands, etc. Those who could not afford to stop working, were exposed to high risk situations, ala meat processing workers. It would seem that as a human race civilization, we should move to a maturity (evolution?) classification that’s no longer based on GDP per capita, but on “well being” per capita. It has been said that one can tell a society by how it treats its poor, marginalized, defenseless.

The Pandemic un-covered across America, that we Americans, have ‘significant’ values that are the anti-thesis of each other. It is no longer a difference of ideologies and policies. Right now, it’s a battle of which side comes up on top via the election process. In the golden age of Greek philosophers, this would have been debated and deliberated. If the latter approach had been adopted, one can foresee a sieving of values, until the final core value choices are placed, side by side. Thus, freedom of expression, rights to worship, etc. are all sieved away until two core choices remain. Love of Self vs Love of Neighbor. As Scripture puts it, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” By the way, that same Scripture covers self-love.

And thus, my pondering comes to a conclusion. Every cloud has a silver lining. What’s the silver lining for you in this Great Un-covering?

86,400

Do you recognize this number? It’s the result of multiplying three numbers that everyone, since their childhood days, are familiar with.

60 seconds x 60 minutes x 24 hours = 86,400 seconds. This number represents the day we wake up to, expecting a full day’s worth of wakeful activity plus the sleep time when we close our eyes that night.

Time is short. Let’s do a simple pen and paper exercise. If you like, you can consult your calendar, your journal, your social media postings, etc. Pick any recent past month. Write down your key moments and experiences during that month. After completing this, scan your list and writings. Highlight those moments and experiences that ‘strike/impact’ you. The realization slowly dawns on one, that key moments and experiences don’t occur in bunches. That sometimes, we fall prey to ‘sleep walking’ without full awareness. Now, we generally live our lives as though we had decades in front of us. A decade is only 120 months. And given our pen and paper exercise, doesn’t it now feel like we don’t have unlimited runway to live out our dreams, our passions, our aspirations?

Time is passing. Time is fleeting. That means it passes very quickly, and it doesn’t register. It’s like sand in an hourglass, the seconds drip non-stop, passing through our fingers. We fool ourselves. We use a motorized lawn mower thinking it ‘saves’ us time. We hire gardeners thinking it ‘buys’ us time. We multiplex and juggle several things, thinking we can ‘make up’ time. All these are illusions, time continues to pass. The paradox of aging is that when we were young, time seemed to drag. The days were so long. When we get older, the closer we get to the end, the faster it seems to come.

Remaining time is unknown. There are many who did not wake up this morning. There are many who will not go to sleep tonight. Nothing is certain. When we reminisce too much about the Past, we live there. When we plan and project too much about the Future, we live there. Breathe and live in the Present.

Time cannot be recovered. We lose things, and can regain (repurchase, rebuild, etc.) them. Time passed can never be regained. No one can turn the clock back.

We intellectually understand all the above. But whether this understanding wakens us up to live consciously is the first question. Let me plant the following imagery in our minds to raise our awareness:

Picture an hourglass as vividly as you can. In the morning, as one wakes up, there’s a huge heap of sand at the top, representing your waking hours for the day. Then, at various points in the day, picture the same hourglass but with proportionate sand left depending on time of day. Thus, mid day, perhaps there’s only 60% left. By late afternoon, there’s only 30% left. As you turn in for the night, there’s enough sand left for your usual bedtime cycle (e.g. reading, time to drop off to sleep).

The second question is how do we live the day, so that at the end of it, we can say, ‘Today was worth the living I put in and got out’? What will work for an individual depends on one’s personality, one’s desire and one’s current circumstances. Consider the following as provoking your own ideas and plans.

Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” outlined Habit 3, “Put First Things First”. Determine the big rocks and put them in the beaker first. Then, the small pebbles. Then the sand. Finally, the water. This approach packs the beaker the fullest with the set of materials. Change the sequence, and you get a less optimal packing. Determining the big rocks is best applied over a long time frame (be it for the year, months or weeks). Then, it breaks down to the various days. Say, I want to repair a relationship with someone close in 3-6 months time. I may then figure out a progressive set of out-reaches, and then plan that over the days to come. There will be obvious open slots as this effort is fluid and dynamic.

As retirees, on non-vacation days, it’s a mix of both planned and spontaneous activities. Our passions include hiking, exploring, reading. Spiritually, there’s praying, scripture and contemplation. Nurturing relationships and staying connected. Indulging in some entertainment.

Writing this surfaced something for us. Perhaps at the end of the day, we should have an explicit dialog with each other. Perhaps lead off with the question – What should we be greatful for today? Cultivating such an attitude cannot but lead to a better tomorrow.

Reading is a many splendored thing

I reached my July 2016 goal of reading 100 books in Oct 2019. It took me 40 months, instead of the 60 months I had initially set aside. Before my Ego gets too big for its britches (that’s another story about how I am trying to diminish this self-destructive persona), the following quote is very apt.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” ~ Mortimer J. Adler

Which books have I read where I can honestly testify that certain aspects ‘got through’ to me?

Ted Chiang’s two science fiction books, ‘Stories of your life’ and ‘Exhalation’ had short stories that definitely got to me. Example, in latter, Ted was able to create a story about a device, that one can press to predict one’s response in a certain situation. And the entire story was predicated whether man actually possessed ‘free will’ in the light of this invention.

Even fictional stories, such as the ‘Price of Time’ by Tim Tigner, on the discovery of a formula that stops the aging process, can be a self discovery journey. Where do you weigh in on the argument that Earth’s resources cannot sustain a non-aging population for the masses? Should the formula be then restricted to all those who can pay? If one was part of this select group, what will one do with one’s life? Finally, seeing the likely outcome, is this fountain of youth quest still a noble one?

But it’s the spiritual books and the Bible that have had the most impact on me. Where I dwell on the life enriching messages which encourages and motivates me to make transformative changes.

Perhaps the genres that will work its magic on you could be health, nutrition, relationships or even copying with life and death. Perhaps you aren’t sure. The only way to find out – happy reading!

Let me end with this thought. Reading widely, reading extensively, reading with an open mind results in many splendored things – imagination, passion, hope, zest for life, re-birth and all things good.

Postscript – I have an xls where I record the books read, my rating and a one-two sentence about the book. If I wish to re-read the book at some future point, I give it 6 out of a 5 point rating scale.

Being in someone’s shoes

April 17, 2019.

Following occurred to me during our Camino Frances. I decided the category for this post will be different as I want to touch on this topic in somewhat depth.

Most of us who drive have a destination in mind when we are driving. Getting to said destination is the objective. If we own vehicles, we may opt for a more premium vehicle, so that it is a more comfortable drive with various auto-cruise and safety features, so that we arrive safely and in a relaxed state. If we are driving on country roads, we will likely pay attention to the road conditions a bit more.

As a Camino pilgrim, there were a handful of occasions when we had to walk many km along country roads. If you have experienced this, you know how different the slip stream and noise is from vehicles traveling past at 30 mph to 50 mph. There’s a reason why speed limits in American school zones are 20 mph.

I had seen a vehicle which I estimated was probably traveling at about 40-45 mph along this country road. It did not even brake nor slow down when passing fellow pilgrims walking ahead of us.

That driver was so cocooned in his/her vehicle that he/she was totally de-sensitized to the effects being felt by walking pedestrians by the speed of their vehicle.

Are we sometimes cocooned in our jobs, in our positional status, in our wealth class, in our educational superiority, etc that we don’t really sense how others around us are being affected? Or even care?

If we ourselves have been subject to this ‘slip stream/noise’ by those ‘above’ us in life, does that increase our empathy for others?

Life can be all about me. Or it can mean much more.

More on Reading

Imagine a society that did not have a printing press. Everyone will be dependent on oral communications or very costly and limited hand written/copied books. We are fortunate because of Johannes Gutenberg. But to what extent, are we taking advantage of this inflexion point in mankind’s ability to share and disseminate information and knowledge?

There are several titles that I had the good fortune to read in 2018. One was recommended by a FB friend who I met in the last three months, namely, The Righteous Mind – Why good people are divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. In a nutshell, Jonathan outlines a contemporary framework, the Moral Foundation Theory that articulates how various people perceive, evaluate and decide situations and events, based on interal moral convictions. He further shows through research how liberals and conservatives (on opposite ends of the political spectrum) rely on different sets of moral pillars/standards. A free online self test guides one’s own self discovery.

The next title is White Fragility by Dr. Robin Diangelo, published in 2018. This is a very complex issue in recent times. Why would you want to read this book? It’s fitting to then quote the author herself, why she embarked on her own career, why she wrote this. “Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality; the interruption is by definition not passive or complacent…. It is a messy, lifelong process, but one that is necessary to align my professed values with my real actions. It is also deeply compelling and transformative.”

The other reading category that I have stepped up is spiritual titles. Others may prefer self improvement books. Both inspire, not just inform or educate. Let your books help you live an inspired life!

My reading style has evolved with age. Previously, I will complete a book before I start on another, i.e. a serial reader. But now, I find that I can start three four books concurrently, and complete at different times. Obviously, I will sometimes come across a book that I will read to finish within two three days. Perhaps because I am so used to multiplexing projects during my work career, that this skill has laterally transferred to my reading brain!

So, I have read 30 books since my last update on this topic in Jan 2018. I do have significant travel time this year, so, I may not be able to sustain the pace for 2019. Regardless, I will complete 100 books way before June 2021.

One final thought provoking question to you, my reader. Clearly you enjoy reading. And clearly you have a good circle of friends. How often do you gift books to friends that will just influence their life trajectory? Isn’t that a beautiful idea to contemplate?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin

After wading into the retirement pool ….

Here’s an edited piece I recently wrote in a FB Closed Group about preparing for retirement.

1. Figure out your purpose in this next stage of life. This is important as a number of Types A’s identity are so intimately identified to job, role and work circles, that they may go adrift come retirement.

2. Strengthening bonds with family and loved ones should become a priority in retirement. They are the ones who will shed tears at your funeral. They are the ones who will cherish memories of you. Many of your friends will not feel that deeply. Know the few friends who will, and treat them like family.

3. It’s easy to fill up our calendars with cherished or long wished-for pursuits or activities (e.g. travel, reading, golfing, etc). What is more difficult is determining the circle of friends that you want to strengthen the bonds with. Many in the work circles may not wish to continue the connections (and this could be mutual). So, finding friends that one can retire gracefully with, is an often over-looked task. This gets complicated if one downsizes or relocates to a totally different locale. But the beauty of that different locale is the beginning of a new adventure, finding new circles of friends that align, complement or broaden one’s outlook on life.

4. Consider volunteering, and giving back. Focusing one’s energy on continuing to make money part time, on the side, diminishes one’s heart. A very poor legacy for children and grandchildren.

We have but one life.