The Big Picture

Now imagine the pitter patter of little toddler feet bumbling down the hallway. A baby out on a journey! Everything about that journey is glittered by the newness and amazingness of everything around us. This carpet feels funny. That wall makes a sound when I touch it. But that feeling fades with time, unfailingly, as we begin to conquer the tasks that hadn’t once seemed so easy. To maintain that amazement state we crave to conquer more and more difficult tasks. And with time our mind aligns with the way we spend our time, climbing higher on the staircase than ever before or learning how to roll forward on the floor. A wonderful process blossoms as we make our way through a system designed to both challenge and represent our desire to continue learning. But for some reason this blossom’s loss of color begins when we decide in our minds to get a job. What is a job? Is it a socially decided upon way of converting human energy into economic energy? And economic energy for the sake of what? To provide us with more presents? Presents, we all know sometimes, just don’t cut it. What we’ve always been looking for lies behind the only place one would never consider looking for. The place behind the Irises is indicated by the entrance to the now. Only in the now do presents become presence, an all becomes a one.

 

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What’s Your Favorite Food? – True Love

I don’t know about you but whenever someone asks me about my favorite food, I usually have to think for a second because I feel the need to justify my choice. “It really depends, but I guess I would say chocolate because if someone offered me chocolate, I would probably accept in almost any situation.” Now consider how you would answer that question: What’s your favorite food?

Now, for a moment, think about that food. I will use chocolate for the sake of explanation. Now, when I think about chocolate, I know exactly what it tastes like, what it smells like, how it feels in my mouth, what goes well with it and what doesn’t, and all the varying types of chocolate that exist out there. I also know that studies have shown the chocolate releases chemicals in the brain that bring about better mood and alertness in the body and mind. Sometimes, even, cacao chocolate can be very good for your health. So, I think that is it sufficient to say that I know enough about chocolate to say that I like everything about it. I know that at no point in my life am I going to change my mind and say, “Actually, I don’t like chocolate. Nevermind.” 

In contrast, there have also been foods I once loved, hot dogs for instance, that I changed my mind about when I realized what they were really made of. I used to enjoy them simply because they tasted good. But then when I learned all the junk that goes into them and the process involved, I saw what they were really doing to my body, and moved them down quite a few notches on my list of favorite foods. (No offense to you hot dog lovers out there)

This past weekend I spent three days straight with my girlfriend whom I’ve been waiting over 5 months to see. There was never a single second where we were not happy or out of sync with one another. And now today, after we are apart again, I realized why I know that this is true love and will never change. It’s just like the example above. I know everything about her – her personality, likes and dislikes, life goals, strengths and weaknesses, her facial expressions, her walk, her most commonly used words in speech, how she acts when she’s frustrated, how she deals with excitement/ anxiety/ stress/ sadness, her favorite food, her favorite book, her music style, her talents, and most of all, the person whom she loves more than anything. And when I take all these things into consideration, it is so easy to say, “Yes. That’s the girl I’m going to spend my life with. I’m never going to change my mind someday and say, ‘Nevermind. I don’t like all of that stuff.’ ” 

I think all too often we become so excited at the idea of love that we blind ourselves to things that we don’t want to see. And those things, in the future, become the root of the very problems that destroy that love, and turn it to evil. Sometimes, we choose not to ask certain questions, like what they are made of, and so we don’t really know how that person is affecting our life until its too late. I made these mistakes many times in my life before I met her. But it is only because I made those mistakes, that I was able to notice the real thing when it hit me in the nose (or heart, I guess you could say).

THE TAKEAWAY: Maybe you feel that you have it now, maybe you’re still looking for it, or maybe you’ve already made up your mind that it doesn’t exist.  Whatever the case, for a moment, think about how certain you are about your favorite food. Are you ever going to change your mind? Why not? If you have or are looking for a love that’s true, then consider how much you know about that person. If you don’t know enough to be sure, find out. If there are things that you try not to think about or ignore, address them with that person in an honest and constructive way. It is difficult to find, but only because of the process involved with getting there, not because of its rarity. If you want it bad enough, the Universe will conspire to make it happen.

Artwork by my beautifully talented girlfriend

It is my sincerest hope that writing about my experience with true love will help someone out there who reads this. The majority of songs, movies, television shows, books, and plays that have been created throughout the history of mankind have been about finding it in some way, and it is my hope that whatever I can write about it here will help someone… hopefully, you. 

I Know You So Well… But We’ve Never Spoken

On Sunday morning I had a very strange feeling come over me. I’d like to share it with you.

For the last month and a half I have been playing basketball once a week with a tightly knit group of Korean men ranging in age from 24 to 60. Many of them went to the high school we play at, played college or professionally together, or have some family affiliations to the group. At about 12pm people slowly trickle in with their sports bags, smelling faintly of coffee and cigarettes, and with a sparkle of sleep still in their eye. For 15 minutes or so there is complete silence in the gym, except for shoes being tied and clothes ruffling. As I make eye contact with each of them, I smile, bow my head slightly (customary greeting here) and say “Anyanghaseo.” More people begin to arrive and the sound of basketballs hitting the floor fills my ears. A few of us at a time shoot around together, rebounding for one another and warming up as best we can. On this day, it was zero degrees Celsius.

I greet some of the younger players with single word sentences and playfully play defense on them to help them warm up. Usually by this time the sun is shining a bit brighter, and the eldest players start to organize teams for the day. Since the winning team of the day gets their lunch paid for by the losers, there is usually a few minutes of arguing over who gets who on their team. Then, we begin. At the opening tip off, I make eye contact with my point guard, a 45 year-old ex-KBA player, and quickly shoot a glance in the direction I want him to go. A split second later, the ball goes up in the air, I tip it exactly where my eyes showed him, and he drains the first 3-pointer of the game. “Perfect!” I thought.

Later, when I was resting in between games, a feeling settled onto me like a blanket fresh out of the dryer. I felt a warmth in my chest; a warmth akin to post-present-opening Christmas morning. It felt like family. But then I realized how strange that thought was, “I mean, how could I feel like family here? I have never said a single word to most of these guys.” As the games came to an end, we all made our way outside and shuffled into cars to head to lunch. With a steaming bowl of “Ja Jang Bap” in front of me, I looked around at the faces in the room. They were laughing, smiling, joking around with one another. If they met my gaze they would smile at me from ear to ear. And that’s when it dawned upon me…

THE TAKEAWAY: My entire life I have learned to associate the depth of a relationship with someone with how much I know about them personally. Haven’t we all? But on this day I realized, I knew almost nothing about most of these men, and yet, I felt so close to them. It was the smiles on their faces, their playfulness, and the content of their character that let me feel close to them. Those things are what make a person who they are. And those are what bring people together. Actions speak louder than words…

You ALWAYS Have A Choice: Failures and Strikes

The last few days have been a little tough for me. I have been trying to keep in mind the things I have written about, and hold myself to them. But last night, I failed.

I was at a bar with a friend of mine with whom I have become very close, Song Mook. He lived in America for one year during high school, so his English is exceptionally good, and he and I have found that we have a lot in common as far as what we want out of life and the way we view the world. So we have been spending a lot of time together, talking and playing pool at bars in our area, one of which we were at last night. We were sitting at the table talking about random things when he leaned in and said, “Hey, want to practice your Korean?” Immediately I felt something leap in my stomach like a frog that had just been rudely awakened. “Sure…” I answered, inwardly unsure. “I want you to walk over to those people playing pool and tell them we would like to play next game. Here’s how: eegan… tah oom meh… oo dee…” Before he had even finished the sentence, I could hear that voice in my mind telling me I couldn’t do it. It was telling me that they probably wouldn’t understand me, and would laugh at me right away for even trying.

Logically, I knew they wouldn’t do that. I was quite certain of it and, even if they had, should that really matter to me anyway? After a little practice and Song’s encouragement, I got up and walked over to the table. Waiting on the side, my nervousness reached an all time high. I felt like I was at a middle school dance again waiting for one specific girl to catch my eye so I could say that one sentence I was repeating in my head over and over. And yet, in this situation, even though that sentence was in a different language, I was afraid of the very same thing. “What if they laugh at me? What if they don’t understand me and I’m caught off guard? What if.. what if.. what if…” As their game came to an end, and my nervousness overcame me, the moment passed and they asked Song in Korean if we wanted to play next. I was so disappointed in myself.

For the remainder of last night, I stayed focused on two major failures. One, my inability to overcome my nervousness by living in the moment and two, the fact that I lost a perfectly good chance to prove something to myself. And what seemed to compound the feeling, was the fact that I had just written two blogs recently regarding those two specific topics. When I woke up this morning, I called my girlfriend and told her what had happened. And she, ever so eloquently, made everything make sense to me in one swift sentence. “Your failure wasn’t being too nervous and missing the chance to prove something to yourself, your failure was not recognizing how this experience can make you better.” She went on to explain to me that this situation in itself was practice for the future. The disappointment I experienced would simply go toward motivating me not to be so nervous next time and to study harder.

THE TAKEAWAY: Thirty minutes ago when all the dust from this conversation with her settled in my mind, I looked out my window at the sunny sky and realized what I wanted to write about today. We always have a choice. Every pitch life throws at us, we have the decision to swing or not. There is no umpire. No one to tell us we’re about to strike out. No crowd yelling, “HEEYYY BATTA BATTA BATTA!!! HEEYY!!!” We are simply standing there alone, and the choice is always ours. We can choose to look back at all the strikes that have flown by untouched, or we can choose to look forward to the infinite pitches we still have the chance to swing at. So today, I say to you, and to myself, pick a spot out in the stands, point to it, and swing away baby.

Swing, swing away.

Prove Yourself to Yourself First

I remember in elementary school whenever it came time to do a speech, half of the class usually opened with a line like “Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word ‘courage’ as…” As a 9-year-old boy I decided I never wanted to use that introduction in my speeches because it sounded too boring. Luckily though, this is a blog, and not a speech.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word ‘prove’ as a verb meaning to establish the truth or validity of something by presentation of evidence or argument (I hope I got at least a chuckle out of a couple of you there). I wanted to provide this definition here because the wording is very important to the purpose of this blog. As people, when we work out everyday at the gym, or play basketball our entire lives, or study hard at school, or work our butt off at a job to get promoted, we are proving ourselves in some way or another. We are trying to prove to those around us that we are stronger, greater, better, faster, or more intelligent than most. But there’s a critical error here: THE WHO.

Over two months ago I decided I was going to take a beginner Korean class at a nearby university to help jumpstart my learning of the language. So, in the meantime, I put in about 50% effort into learning new words and phrases, and began telling people that I was going to take a class at a nearby university. Over and over again I caught myself saying the very same thing to new people and each additional time something felt strange inside me. I didn’t quite know what it was until my carefully built plan crumbled before my eyes. I found out one week ago that the class was cancelled because there weren’t enough people signed up. My initial reaction was one of despair… but then, it dawned upon me. As I walked to school the next morning, looking up at the bright sky, I realized that I wasn’t taking the class to help me learn Korean; I was taking it to prove to other people that I was learning Korean.

Then I thought of how often in my life I had done things simply to be able to say that I was doing them. It was almost as if the social validation I got from telling people that I was “going to” do those things was enough for me to feel like I had already done it! Then I remembered all the books on my shelf that had bookmarks only 40, 60, or 80 pages in. Then I remembered the piano that sat in my house for years, virtually untouched, and the single complete song I still know how to play. Then my whole life seemed to unravel. All that remained was one, solid and solitary thought:

All I need to do is prove this to myself… after that, it is true. 

It seemed so amazingly simple that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it for my entire life thus far. But now that it’s there, it’s not going away.

THE TAKEAWAY: I think all too often we get caught up thinking that in order for something to be true, those around us have to believe it. And so we walk around as an advertisement for ourselves, selling our qualities and beliefs to those we meet as if it were Black Friday. But in the end, we are never really satisfied. Maybe this is true for you, maybe its not. Nevertheless, it would certainly be beneficial to ask yourself, “What have I proven to myself lately?” Because when all is said and done, only the things that you have proven to yourself will have any real meaning.

Hiro from the show Heroes

Be your own hero.

What it Means to “Be There” for Someone…

Last week, I taught a lesson to my classes about American Dances… Needless to say, they got a bit rambunctious, but had a lot of fun. In one of the later classes on that day, one of the girls from my Student Mentoring class seemed a little blue. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but a midst the laughter of her classmates, her eyes remained fixated downward on the imaginary manifestation of her problem in front of her. I asked her what was wrong, but she brushed me off and said it was nothing. I persisted and asked her to stay after class for a moment so we could talk about it. Just one week before she had seemed quite happy.

After class, she was no where to be found, and I was a bit disheartened. So I moved on with business as usual and continued with my next class, which was a one-on-one session with one of the Non-English teachers at my school, Grace (her English name). As soon as she sat down, I could tell there was something wrong. So instead of talking about our lesson, I pushed the papers aside and said, “Today, let us just talk.” She went on to tell me that there was a problem with one of her students. “When my student have problem… my problem.” I could see the pain in her eyes. So I asked her to tell me about the student and she said, “Today, I ask her what wrong. She say… ‘Nothing. I’m fine. Today I realize I want to become artist.’ ” She knew that the student was avoiding her. Then it dawned on me, “Wait, is her English very very good. One of the best?” “Yes! That’s her!” It seems our empathies had converged.

As the bell rang I asked Grace if she could ask the girl to come speak with me during the next period. I felt like she may feel comfortable with me since she was in my mentoring class (we play games and talk about their future once a week). She agreed and five minutes later I was sitting with my student, asking her what was wrong. A couple minutes of silence and hmmm’s eventually gave way for the greater story to unfold. Her parents had recently split, and her father had killed himself. As I’m sure any child anywhere in the world would, she felt like this was her fault. I replied to her by assuring her that it wasn’t her fault.

She was afraid to tell her teachers, her friends, and her counselor because she thought they would judge her. In Korean culture it is common to speak your judgements about others very frankly. So why wouldn’t she be scared? But as fate would have it, I did not fit into that category, and the fact that I was an outcast gave her the comfort to open up. We talked about it for the rest of the class period, and came to the conclusion that the split was a result of his decisions in the past and that his final decision was his as well.

THE TAKEAWAY: She came into my office after school that day and said thank you with the slightest sparkle in her eye. Maybe it was a tear, maybe it was the freedom from her pain. But the misty sparkle that matched it in mine was one of joy. Joy that I was lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time, for the right person. Had things gone any differently that day, she may very well have lived with that pain for a long time. Being there for someone does have a lot to do with the kind of person we are, but it has even more to do with timing. If we want to truly be there for someone, let’s not focus on what we are going to say. Rather, let’s focus on recognizing the times when those around us are in need. The rest is up to the Universe.

it's all about timing...

Everything Happens for a Reason: Trust the Universe

For those of you that know me, I’ve never been one very fond of tattoos. It’s not that I was against them, I just never thought there was anything I believed in firmly enough to get it permanently written on my body. Recently however, a curious chain of events led me to make the decision, and rather impulsively at that. Those events, their relevance, and the lessons I’ve learned since are what I’d like to share with you today.

One day I was sitting in the car with my girlfriend and I said, “I think I know what I want to get for a tattoo.” To which she responded, “Really? What?” I then told her that it came to me earlier that day, and that I wanted to get the Universe conspires written on my foot, so that each step I took in life would be a reminder of that paradigm. She burst out, “NO WAY!!! You’ve got to be kidding me… Did I already tell you this?” She had not. “I was just thinking about getting that exact same tattoo but on my wrist yesterday.”

This was about a week before I was leaving to come here, to Korea, and she and I were both in a very reflective state of mind. But the events that had led us to that state never ceased to amaze us. So many small coincidences and compelling events had caused us to decide to fight the odds, stay together, and nurture what we had found, true love. Looking back, and connecting the dots, everything seemed to make sense. We had met at the right time, said the right things, and made the right decisions to allow something like that to grow. And it grew strong enough for us to decide to make things work during my trip to this country. Furthermore, I have also been learning the language here. I will be taking a class next month, in fact. Having made the decision to come here before even meeting my girlfriend, I am now here learning the language she was born speaking. And now, a week before I was leaving, we had both thought about getting a tattoo of a line from our favorite book, The Alchemist, by “accident.”

Now that I’m here, I have gone through a bit of an emotional roller coaster. It was exciting, then lonely, then frustrating, then lonely, then exciting, and now… it feels like home. And yet throughout that short journey, I have seemed to make just the right kinds of friends; whenever I need something, they are there to help. My school is difficult, but it seems like I was made for it. I now realize that I was meant to be at this school. My sports background has given me a chance to get through to some of these boys who have no interest in English. In fact, I showed a dunk video in class of Derek Rose (a favorite player of mine) and now one of my students wants his English name to be Derek.

In addition, my Co-Teacher Nora has just “happened” to be one of the best people I could work with. She chose teaching as a profession because she was following her heart. In college, she actually read The Alchemist and found it guiding her. However, before I arrived, she had lost motivation for the job, and longed to travel and learn more about the world. And now I, someone who has traveled to where she wants to go and has had experience in motivating people, happened to be placed at her school with her. The teacher that was here before me left a note on the floor of this apartment I sit in right now and left without telling her. She indirectly knocked Nora’s spirits down to an all time low. I now realize I was meant to work with her.

The coincidences could go on for days, but I would like to make a point here, instead. It is not that my life is, by any means, more special than the next. Rather, it is the very mindset I have tattooed onto my foot that helps me to see my life this way. It’s far easier to view ones life as a series of random, unrelated events, not contributing to anything greater. It is a bit more difficult, however, to view that very same life as a string of related events that build upon one another to form something greater.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Life is a coin. There are two ways to look at it. On one side, it has little to no meaning, and “shit happens” as they say. On the other side, you can see those things that happen as being interrelated. You can choose to view them as contributing to something greater. Regardless of which side you choose to look at, it is still the same coin. So, which will you choose? Those before us that have made great change in the world, or lived a truly fulfilling life, certainly made up their minds. So I hope today, you decide not to leave yours to chance.

In honor of the now late, Steve Jobs, and to further reiterate, please watch this when you have the time: 

Listen to your heart. Trust the Universe. 

Changing People is Impossible

We spend so much of our lives trying to change people. Couples struggle to change one another to be the person they want them to be. Political leaders try to change the people of their country. Barack Obama even ran for president on a platform of change, most likely in hopes to change people. But the truth is, changing people is impossible.

Technically, to change something means to alter its current state, and cause it to take on some other state, through the direct impact of an outside factor. Changing ice to water would require the direct impact of the outside factor, heat, for instance. But when it comes to people, it really is impossible to change them. This is because of something commonly called self-identity.

Everyone, in their mind, has a mental picture of themselves. This mental picture defines who we are because it is what we use to guide all of our actions. At a restaurant we choose what we like to eat because that is what our mental picture of ourself wants. If you’ve ever said something along these lines, “I am the kind of person that ________,” then that was something that you have added to your mental picture, or self-identity. 

Since each of our self-identities exist in our minds, and our minds alone, it is therefore impossible for ANYTHING to have a direct impact on it. It is a series of connections across that thing inside our skulls. How could we ever reach into someone’s brain and rewire it or remove something? All Inception references aside, there really is no way.

And yet, people do change. In fact, they are constantly changing for all of their lives. Alcholics recover and live life anew. Stressful people find peace. Good people turn bad. It happens everyday. For the person who seeks to make change, what a conundrum this presents? If you want to change people, you can’t. But you see people changing around you everywhere you look? So let’s break this conundrum, together.

THE TAKEAWAY: We can’t change people, but we can change ourselves. If we want to see those around us change for the better, it is up to us, and us alone, to lead the way. Change our self-identity, and if the change is right for them, they will learn from our example. Only they can make the decision to change. If we build it, they will come.

We can change no one but ourselves.

                                                                  Imagery courtesy of my beautiful and talented girlfriend. 

Your Friends are Your Bouncy-House

Bounce or fall, You can do it all

Remember when you were a little kid and you were all excited because your friend invited you to THEIR BIRTHDAY??? And even better, there was going to be a bouncy house there!!! For me, the bouncy-house was almost more important the birthday itself. It could have been my friend’s dog’s birthday and if there was a bouncy-house there – so was I. Well, a couple of days ago I was talking to my Mom about dealing with some of the more stressful situations in life, and we came up with an interesting analogy to bouncy-houses that I wanted to share here.

So my Mom is a real estate agent and sometimes the nature of the job is such that you are presented with impossibly short deadlines that take such a hold on your life that everything else must move around. She had a deadline for a client, an evening event she was required to attend, and a whole lot of work to do in the meantime. I have personally been in many situations like this myself in recent times where the pressing needs of the situation made me SO STRESSED OUT that my brain went on high alert. But what I realized is that my brain doesn’t work at its best when its on high alert. It like driving 120 mph on the freeway to get where you’re going. You get there faster, but your engine might explode before you get there, not to mention all the money you blew on the gas the was practically pouring out of your tailpipe.

Back to my Mom’s story for a second; she ended up going to her event, and really didn’t have the time to do the work she was meaning to do. BUT, while she was there her business partner picked up the slack for her, and communicated with her client. The client, it turns out, wasn’t able to meet the deadline either due to some other complications, and in the end everything was fine. This is what lead to our analogy.

Think back to when you were playing in the bouncy-houses for a moment. If you are like me, you probably tried as hard as you could to bounce yourself all the way to the top (maybe its the basketball player in me). And yet, on occasion, you would hit a bad angle or your legs would give out and you’d fall to the floor. Now, no matter what happened, you always stayed in the bouncy-house. There was literally nowhere you could bounce where you would fall out. If you bounced too high, the ceiling kept you grounded. If you bounced to the side, the walls were there to catch you and put you back on course. And should you fall, all you needed was the will to stand up again, and the floor of the bouncy-house did the rest.

THE TAKEAWAY: When life gets hard, and we struggle with it, its okay to rely on your friends around us to help. When we get our head stuck in the clouds, they keep us grounded. If we fall off course, they are there to catch us and put us back on course. And should we fall, all we need to have is the will to stand up again, and they’ll do the rest.

There’s No Such Thing as Inferior… Or Superior

I watched a very thought provoking movie the other day that mixed well with a book I have been reading lately. The movie: Peaceful Warrior. The book: The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. In the movie, the main character is a college gymnast who is training for the Olympics. He is very talented, but a bit misguided. He “randomly” finds himself in contact with an old gas station attendant who becomes a kind of mentor to him. Now, I won’t spoil much more of the movie for you, but I want to draw a parallel between what this gymnast goes through, and one of the interesting points Maltz makes in his book.

Maltz was a plastic surgeon who spent most of his working life altering the way people looked to fit their “needs.” In the process of doing so, he began to notice changes in his patients. Some of them would have a relatively minor surgery, and experience a drastic change in their personality. On the other hand, he would have some patients who received exactly what they said they wanted, and experience no change at all in their personality. This discrepancy led to his book, originally titled Psycho-Cybernetics, which focuses on the psychological development of a strong self-image, and allowing that image to manifest changes in people’s lives.

Now to the point: Dan, the gymnast in Peaceful Warrior, struggles constantly with the idea of being either superior or inferior to his gymnast peers. He is always either overly confident in himself, to the point that he pushes friends away, or afraid of the possibility of being inferior to them so much that he forgets to develop his own self-image. His mentor in the movie asks him often “Who are you?” Dan rarely has an answer.

In the beginning of Maltz’s book, he explains that the only way a self-image can be effective in making positive change, is if it is made by the self and the self alone. In other words, other people cannot define you. You must define yourself. And in order for that to happen, you cannot see yourself as inferior or superior to anyone else. Because if you do, then you are using their definition to define you.  For example, I wrestled with precisely this issue growing up playing basketball. I always saw myself in terms of others. I was either the best player there, or the worst player there. I was either everybody’s favorite player, or nobody’s. And for this reason, I never truly defined myself. I never knew what kind of player I wanted to be.  This had a debilitating effect on me because I never experienced the successful basketball career I imagined as a child. Had I learned this lesson at a younger age, I can honestly say that things may have been different. But if they had, maybe I wouldn’t be the person I am now, writing this blog.

Peaceful Warrior

You are no one else but you

THE TAKEAWAY: If you ever catch yourself trying to prove that you are better than someone else, or justifying why someone is better than you, take a step back. Looking at yourself from the outside in can help you realize that you are just you. You have the ability to define yourself to be whatever you want: Are you a helpful friend? Are you polite to everyone you meet? Are you an angry person?  Are you smart? Dumb? Happy? Rude? Sad? Motivated? Friendly? – Because to be honest, it doesn’t matter who you are – as long as you define yourself.