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.

Perseverance

The online dictionary indicated that perseverance means “persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”

We all have built up varying capabilities of perseverance through life experiences. Perhaps perseverance capabilities differ depending on the activity, task or objective in mind. My wife reminds me that a man will never understand the pain threshold that needs to be borne during child birth. I will grant and tip my hat to all mothers. Especially my mother!

Rather than starting from a person’s perspective, I wanted to start from an animal’s perspective. What can an animal teach us about perseverance?

This story begins with the bird feeder that we hung on our back fence since last winter. It turned out to be a hit as all species of birds dropped by to feed. Everything went well until September this year. One squirrel appeared, and it was the vanguard, as another two appeared later.

There are legendary videos on Youtube on obstacle courses that have been designed to outwit and outplay squirrels (use search term, ‘squirrel obstacle course’). It’s delightful to see how these squirrels are initially stumped, falling off said obstacles, and then, figuring out how to overcome and get at the tasty treats. Perseverance in action!

Well, my backyard squirrels were showing me their perseverance, and in turn, caused me to ‘up’ my own perseverance (and determination). After all, how can I “lose” to this animal? No matter how cuddly it may look. By golly, I am not going to let my bird seed be hijacked by these squirrels.

Firstly, I observed how they got to my bird feeder. They were dropping onto the roof of the bird feeder, and then, lowering themselves onto the feeder trough. Hmm…why don’t I extend the roof with cut off plastic sheets so that the overhang edges of said plastic sheets will not allow them to lower themselves? Oops…they got through the gaps between the two sheets. Ok, let me tape it up. Oops…they bit through the tape.

Alright, let me check what they have on Amazon.com Ah…a dome-shaped squirrel baffle. That should work. And it did for a couple of days. It was fun while it lasted as we say a squirrel fall about three times as every time it tried to reach below the dome onto the bird feeder, the baffle tilted under its weight and it dropped to the ground.

Until one of these pesky squirrels figured out how to reach the bird feeder roof via the pole/hook that the baffle/bird feeder was hung on. Ok, let me grease the pole/hook. That worked again for a couple of days. The squirrel was persistent, as eventually the grease wore off, and they were able to grip the pole, and got onto the bird feeder roof.

OK. My final attempt this time round, is to hang the squirrel baffle lower down, so that it’s not near the pole/hook and thus, the squirrel cannot swing from latter onto the bird feeder roof. Let’s see how this goes as the squirrel scorecard is something like 5-0. This is probably an understatement too, to salve some ego!

So, what did I learn about perseverance? Being tested (and bested) by an animal does wonders for one’s perseverance. This personal challenge, when taken in the right spirit, does wonders. It inculcates respect for the other opponent. It pushes one to think outside the box, and literally, anticipate the moves of the other. Perseverance brings along other pleasant companions when approached with the right attitude.

Postscript: The picture shows plastic sheets nailed to the fence post and top of fence. This is to deter them from having a foothold near the baffle/bird feeder. The nuclear option is to purchase another baffle and have a double layer baffle to outwit the squirrels!

6 weeks later (Dec 27)

After the original post in mid Nov, there were probably 8-10 adjustments I had to make in terms of the set up. From lengthening (twice) the pole, taping cardboard/plastic sheets, etc. Finally, I decided to acquire a second baffle, to make it a double layer. This seems to have done the trick for the past week!

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?

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.

Kicking Off A New Year, 2019

No, I am not going to talk about New Year resolutions. Not that they aren’t a good thing. Even though most do not check off 100% of their fine intentions come December 31, it’s an exercise that does help at some level. Kudos to those who preserve at this.

Rather, it’s reflecting how the arc of one’s life journey has been so far, and the progress towards one’s North Star(s). I will share two of such Stars.

Before getting to that, here’s my mechanism. I have created an xls that has tabs for each year. And in each tab, I outlined the core goals in my life, most of which are aligned to my North Stars. Some goals do reflect my human reality, e.g. centering on physical health. My goals stay fairly consistent year to year. What changes are the targets or milestones for that year.

If you journal a diary, then, consider scanning your writings/entries, and pulling out the key moments and experiences that you wish to build on for the New Year. You can always synthesize the micro into the macro, as there was an inner compass within you when you pulled out those key moments/experiences.

My first Star is my spiritual faith and discipleship. In 2018, I learnt that 100% Belief does not necessarily translate to 100% Trust, both being different sides of the Faith coin. And Trust is not just accepting that events occurred as God Willed or Allowed.

100% Trust means “I am ready to do whatever God asks of me.” 100% Trust means believing and sensing that God is always with me. 100% Trust means believing and accepting that God works all things together for my good.

Thus, in 2019, I will be working on that 100% Trust. It means looking at every moment, every event, every trigger, as an opportunity to discern what God asks of me, and to do it, with the conviction He is always with me and together, He and I can handle anything. A simple daily ‘get out of bed’ prayer is, “Lord, nothing will happen to me today that You and I together, cannot handle.”

My second Star centers on our adult children. It’s natural to de-emphasize parenting when adult children have left the nest and are living on their own. But we have experience, distance and  wisdom born from scars that actually place us in positions to discern and provide that parental guidance, even to our adult children. As we evaluated each child’s life stage and circumstances, we could easily identify that one aspect that we as parents could assist our child in their journey in 2019. What a privilege to be able to continue this journey with our children.

There’s much to look forward to in 2019. We have a Holy Land and second Camino pilgrimage planned. We are going to re-connect with family far away. We are enjoying the new friendships. A toast to all our readers, that we live and love more deeply in 2019.

the future

Our Nutritional Journey

There are a couple of well known sayings, that have their own adherents. The first camp, ‘Lives to Eat’ while the second camp, ‘Eats to Live’. We may not consciously deliberate whether we belong to one specific camp or perhaps, both feet straddle the two camps. But this orientation/bias does rest beneath our consciousness (in our stomachs?) and can oftentimes be apparent through our dining and eating habits.

We have dined and enjoyed tasty fare over the decades, from the multi-cultural cuisines of Asia, Europe and cosmopolitan fare across Americas. However, as we age, another aphorism comes to mind and even, to the forefront, ‘We are what we eat’. The quality of our life is directly related to our health, and what we fork/spoon into our mouths. Thus, for us, it’s only natural that we begin to shift more weight (pun intended) into the second camp while we continue to balance and straddle both camps. Like many, we want to push back against the saying, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too!’.   😊

Evolving our nutrition was less triggered or motivated by any particular serious health challenge, but more by our increasing knowledge of how our nutritional choices directly impacts our overall health. Our son, Matt, had periodically gone through weeks of food cleanses but when he informed us that he had decided to go fully vegetarian, that got our attention. He pointed us to several documentaries, that were extremely persuasive – ‘Forks over Knives’ and ‘What the Health’ (available on Netflix and YouTube). We also came across ‘Life on us’. Viewing these documentaries was like falling through the rabbit hole in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. We couldn’t continue buying, cooking and eating the same basket of foods pre-documentaries. One cannot un-learn what has become known (unless one has amnesia!).

So, we began this journey. We started reducing/eliminating meats. And this decision was AFTER I had bought a ceramic komodo, planning to barbecue, grill and roast meats over charcoal last summer! Hosting a couple of BBQs last summer helped to de-stock the meat cuts in our freezer!

We went gluten free. And interestingly, I enjoyed the toasted udi’s gluten free bread more than the whole grain wheat breads. The stomach felt ‘fuller’! We stopped eating simple carbohydrates, processed foods. We had never taken sugar with our beverages for many years, but understanding that our body couldn’t naturally process lactose, we eliminated diary (milk, cream, cheeses, etc). Net, our nutrition is basically pescatarian. However, we do make dining meal exceptions, especially when we are out with friends, traveling or celebrating.

Desserts deserves its own mention. This is a very American/Western meal tradition, as most Asian meals at home will not include desserts. We had our dessert favorites, and fortunately, we had usually shared in the past as we found the American portions too large. But with this nutritional change, it was relatively easy to eliminate this too. What helps me to turn down the dessert is the realization that the calories gained from that 3-5 mins of dessert delight will require 30 mins of rowing, or 15 mins on the Stairsmaster to work off! But, this is a confession – when I am back in Malaysia, I treat myself to the local desserts. That’s my other leg in the first camp (‘Live to eat’) yanking at me.  😊

Finally, what are the benefits? We have both lost 10-15 pounds. We feel just as energetic and full of life. We are much more active during the week, and do not tire out. For Joon, some of her nagging health concerns have been greatly addressed.

We are looking forward to our golden years!

Feb 10, 2018

Taken on 10 February, 2018

Let the swinging 60s begin.