Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chipping the Rock

I've recently become a member of myyogaonline, a website that streams yoga videos to practice at home. I earned a free month membership for being part of one of their live tapings during one of my classes. I wasn't actually in the video, but hey, I'm not about to pass up something free.

So they offer these programs: Energy Boost, De-stress Your Life, How to Eliminate Anxiety From Work, etc. They're basically a compilation of articles, videos and user insights on coping with the daily stresses that edge their way into our lives. Initially I thought this was the key. This is it. How to solve the problems of everyday life. But in going through all these "programs", I realized that they more or less said the same thing; in fact they were recycling a lot of the same articles and videos in different programs. "Eat well, exercise, and don't take shit so seriously". I kept thinking to myself, "I already know that!!! How do I actually do it???"

Then it dawned on me. I was just looking for something I hadn't heard before. I'm looking for a formula to excuse all the reasons why the past attempts failed. But the truth is the old formulas work. Make a plan and stick to it. Possibly modify it along the way. That's pretty much it. There's nothing external that can really instill discipline. It just has to come from a sincere dedication for change.

Admittedly I'm a bit of a "self-help" junkie. There's something about the way the stuff is written that appeals to troubled souls, something that instills the courage for people to believe outside of what people have told them who they are for their entire lives; probably what they've told themselves their entire lives. It makes people believe in something better. Growth. Change. Whatever will get us away from that shitty feeling of feeling inadequate.

Each New Year is filled with resolutions. We constantly tell ourselves, or perhaps, declare to our Facebook audience, "2012 is going to be MY year!", "Out with the old, in with the new" or some semblance of letting the past go and looking ahead with hope for the future. But somehow those sentiments putter out like our resolutions. Somewhere comfort and compromise creep in. I think the key is not to view these steps towards change as these grandiose monumental reformations of ourselves that happen over the course of a few days, but as small incremental promises we keep daily, maybe even hourly, like chipping away at a large boulder. So here's to gradual change, here's to staying uncomfortable, and to chipping that rock.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I love the introductions to self-help books. They're always so positive, always so promising of a "new" self that will emerge at the end of its reading. I think what's most attractive is that we all have an image of who we want to be in 5 years, a year, a month, maybe even tomorrow. Smarter, thinner, richer, the list is endless, but the only commonality between them is that they are different from who we were when we first picked up the book.

Most of the time, we never reach that ideal reformation that we visualized. Somewhere along the line we give up. Echoes of "loving yourself as you are" begin to grow louder, and soon enough it turns from an affirmation to a justification. That's pretty much how the self-help business stays in business.

"Eh, I don't need to be (fill in the blank)er, I should just be happy with how I am."

If it's a sincere sentiment, I admire the stance of those more confident than I am. But it's important to distinguish whether it's truth, or an excuse. You can usually tell by how you feel 5 days after you've given up.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Sometimes we underestimate the struggle, and overestimate our ambition. And sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality. At the very least, it's easier.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jumping off a bridge

Jumping off a bridge

Sometimes I daydream
during times that I shouldn’t
about all the people that have wronged me
or took pleasure in wronging others
even in the slightest way.
Times where they probably didn’t notice
but I did.
And made it a whole deal.
I think about them
and create drawn out scenarios
where I ask them,
what they’ve ever contributed to the world.
I ask them,
to think about all the pain they’ve caused
physically or emotionally,
directly or indirectly,
pause, and tell them
the world needs less people like you.
I fixate
on that look on their face
at that moment they accept responsibility
for all that hurt
and realize
that the world would be better off
without them.
It makes me happy
to think about things like that.
Petty, I know
and probably untrue.
But it still makes me happy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Pigeons of Mike Tyson: A Lesson on Loyalty

There is a famed story about Mike Tyson waking up one day to find that his favorite pigeon, Julius, had died. He planned to use the crate as a stickball bat to honor the memory of his lost friend, but when he came back to retrieve it from the corner, the garbage man had already put it into the crusher. Tyson proceeded to knock the poor fellow senseless, describing the image of the man as "convulsing on the floor like an infantile retard." I always thought in another life that Mike Tyson was a poet.

I was telling my friend this story about Mike Tyson and how his favorite animal is the pigeon.

"Because they're scrappy?" she asked.

"No." I replied. "Because they're loyal.

No matter where pigeons go, no matter how far they venture, they always return to their coop. They always return to the one that cares for them. Sure, they come back because they know there is food, but the more important thing is that they return because it is a familiar place and there is always someone there to rely on.

We have a saying in boxing. I saw it once on a small sign when I was visiting the gyms of Costa Rica. It read: "Cuando yo gano, tengo mucho amigos. Cuando yo pierdo, estoy solo. Que lastima. (When I win, I have many friends. When I lose, I am alone. What a shame.) It is quite indicative of life. During the good times, everyone wants to be your friend. It is during those times when you're down that few stand by you. But those few that do, those are your true friends.

Mike Tyson won the WBC Heavyweight championship at 20 years old, making him the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of boxing. At this time, he not only held the infamous reputation of being "the baddest man on the planet", but he had hundreds of millions of dollars to accompany that moniker. Money, power, women, all these came served on a platter for Tyson, and at 20 years old, you don't really know what's going on. You bask in the pleasantries of life as if there are no consequences. Only later do you find what happens when you overindulge.

The story of Mike Tyson is a sad one. His rise to the top was quick, his downfall even quicker. As he slowly began to lose his focus, his timing, his speed, his desire all began to erode with each fight. After a 3yr stint in prison and a dwindled passion to fight, Mike Tyson became a shell of the fighter he once was. Many say he had the shortest prime of any heavyweight champion, but goddamn, what a prime it was.

It is said that in his entire career, he made well over 200 million dollars and now he is reduced to being featured in moderate paying infomercials and cameos in Hollywood flicks. The culprit was clearly a poor management of money, but perhaps the even guiltier party were the many leeches surrounding him during his glory days, those that whispered false words of support and empty promises to his adolescent ears.

The media never left him alone. Even after tragedy struck and he lost his baby girl in a freak treadmill accident, one tabloid reporter would not stop hounding his family while shoving cameras in their faces. Tyson ended up punching the guy because they simply grew tired of the constant media exposure. People just need to be left alone sometimes.

But after all these years, I think Mike Tyson has finally found peace. If there is anyone in the world who understands the multifaceted behavior of humans, it is him. And after all that he's been through, he always returns to his pigeons. He says it is because they are loyal, they always return to the coop, they return to their friend. They cannot choose this behavior. It is in their nature.

Humans, on the other hand, have a choice in how to behave. We are the only organisms on the planet with free will and the option to choose. We are influenced by society, by the things we are told to desire, and somehow these empty objects of superficiality become more valuable than things like friendship, things like loyalty.

Today, Tyson says he has few friends. From what he has learned, the human being is a species hard to trust. He prefers staying in the coop, attending to his pigeons. I can't say that I blame him.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How I Make Decisions

According to popular psychology, our goal as human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid pain, an adequate summation to how my mind makes choices on everyday autopilot, a very pragmatic cost/benefit approach to life. How much time and effort is this going to take and what would I really get out of it? What goal does choice A work towards and do I really care in the end? But sometimes this makes you stagnant in deciding. Sometimes you spend so much time looking both ways that you never cross the street. And sometimes it can make life downright dull.

There is an old Arab proverb that says: “Throw your heart out in front of you and run ahead to catch it,” a dare to journey into the unknown and be lead only by the indefinable force called “passion”. For the last decade of my life, I lived according to the belief that you don’t really live unless you live passionately. After all, Hegel once said, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion,” and aren’t accomplishments how one’s life is measured? But then again Ben Franklin also once said, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reigns.” Wait. Now I’m confused.

I feel like the choices in my life have been driven by an amalgamation of inspirational quotes that I’ve found in sparse places of popular media. You absorb yourself in Hollywood movies, some cheesy, some not, all of them about fate, about how small choices can dictate how diametrically different our lives could have turned out if we had went left instead of right.

Choices. I wonder if the concept of choice is an illusion or if it actually exists. There are many theories out there concerning the existential debate between choice and fate. Do we have a say in the outcomes of our lives or are we all destined to head down a predetermined path? Me? I like to take the middle ground of indecisiveness. I say that fate presents us the doors of opportunity, but ultimately it is our choice on whether or not we walk through them.

But then there’s the whole issue of the varying amount of choice available to different people in different situations. My friend Scott put it best when he said, “You don’t choose which crib you’re born into,” when describing the unpredictable amount of opportunity a youngster may or may not have depending on how life turned out for the generation before them. So how is that fair? How can we possibly believe that the circumstance of the individual is based on personal merit if we aren’t starting from a level playing field? But I digress. I guess the most pressing concern to a person is how one chooses relative to his or her own reality.

If there’s anything I’ve decided in life, it’s that passion is something worth having. Passion is something worth fighting for. Now the hard part is finding out what you’re passionate about. I mean truly passionate. How does one discern when you are pursuing something from a place of passion rather than a place of ego?

For the longest time I’ve wanted to do everything in the world. I wanted to be a lawyer, a writer, a professor, a musician, a small business entrepreneur, but most of those goals stemmed from either a place of insecurity or a need for validation; it came from either an inability to trust others in handling certain matters or a desire to be looked upon as a modern day renaissance man. Soon the more practical list became composed of things that I would be willing to give up rather than things I wanted to accomplish. But then again, understanding your life purpose is just as much of knowing what you don’t want, as it is knowing what you do.

The only things I’ve determined in my life are the ones that have inexplicably appeared throughout it, like the arbitrary Jazz vendor on the beachside of Peru insisting I go to the boxing gyms of Brazil, or the random woman in front of me at the North Seattle Community College bookstore slapping a continuing education brochure into my hands and me stumbling onto the page about writing courses. I figure anything willing to force itself so loud and clear into your life is worth looking into. But even with these signs, there is still a level of uncertainty, a degree of fear in making the wrong choice. I think the worst feeling to have is to feel that you should have lived your life a different way.

But I look it at like this. There are two kinds of fear: “fears that keep you from dying and fears that keep you from living.” My life has been an ongoing lesson on how to discern the two between each other. Anytime I felt I wanted to do something and the only reason I held myself back is because a fear of failure or a fear of embarrassment, I’ve done my best to push through because rarely do we regret those actions in retrospect, so I’d like to think I’m trying to wake from the autopilot like syndrome of just trying to get away with living. My friend tells me that when we’re older we’ll thank ourselves for taking chances when we young regardless of how much initial pain it caused. And isn’t the etymological root of passion, “to suffer”?

I suppose confusion is all part of the process, and stumbling is bound to happen. I try hanging onto the words of those that appear wiser than me; maybe they can offer tidbits of advice of how to avoid the pitfalls of regret. I ask them how I can live a life without mistakes to which they simply laugh and say, “Mistakes are inevitable. They are our best teachers. Mistakes give us the chance to be foolish, and the ability to be foolish is what makes life worthwhile.”