Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

We know he's funny. And often the ability to make someone laugh is rooted in your experiences, your upbringing, the way you live. Trevor Noah had all the trappings to prevent him from being successful. But somehow, he survived and has come to be one of the most popular comedians of our time. 

His stories about being born during and living through apartheid at such an impressionable age are laughable looking back. But I'm certain that in those moments in time, there was nothing funny about his environment. The challenges he overcame, the obstacles his mother (and even father to some extent) had to live through, the hurdles that a bi-racial, multicultural South African had to endure all made Trevor Noah the person we know today. 

I found his stories entertaining and telling of the kind of person he is now. I enjoyed a chuckle at the craziness of his choices and the way he reflects on his past mistakes and life lessons. I now have an understanding of a perspective of a similarly aged person in a completely different environment. The truths, the fears, the simplicity, and the reality of his life was eye opening and thought provoking.

There's plenty to learn from a read of this memoir. I hope to read future books about his life and reflections. I suppose like all biographies and autobiographies, this was one to learn from and enjoy.  

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

This book was fantastic! If I could give one word to describe how this book was written it would be: real. Despite the title, the descriptions in these pages and illustrations are so accurate. Any of these events could have happened to any of us. And reading about them happen to someone else is sometimes so amusing. There is no doubt that you will laugh out loud when you read through some of the scenarios that Allie Brosh describes. It's just hilarious. This is one of those books that you read and think..."this has happened to me" and it might not be funny as it's happening to you, but when you read it back and remember what happened to you way back when, you can't help but laugh. I've often thought that there are so many things that I should have, could have documented throughout my life that would have been just as stupid, frustrating, debilitating, stressful, thought provoking, intelligent, happy, and funny of course. 

There are sections that are deeply emotional and difficult to talk about. But this medium gets it across and acknowledges that they are things that need to be addressed and spoken "outloud." Still real. And very important. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read and the portraits painted that have an uncanny way of connecting with your own experiences. 

Check it out on GoodReads.

Buy it on Amazon.

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty

I've finally had an opportunity to read about the "Zen master's" life! Phil Jackson's life experiences have helped him develop the modus operandi that we've all come to admire. I enjoyed learning about what makes the greatest basketball coach of all time tick. His approach to dealing with difficult situations is truly zen-like. For example, working with a Dennis Rodman or a Ron Artest we all imagine is very challenging, but Phil Jackson makes it seem so easy and put together. He's a master of figuring people out, making them perform to the apex of their abilities, and having them reflect on themselves and dig deep to push their limits. It's amazing what his approach has produced. 

I learned about the Chicago Bulls. I learned about the LA Lakers. I learned about his time and own personal experiences with the New York Knicks. He shared his family life, conversations in basketball's management circles, and his own personal reflections. I learned about backstories of some of the most famous basketball players from reading Phil Jackson's account. The Chicago Bulls background was very much like The Last Dance on ESPN. Everything in this book was just so cool to read about. 

I think I was hoping to gain more than I did out of this book, but I don't think I did. And that's ok! I've read a lot about these paths towards success in other books, but these perspectives were so different and hit so close to home because of my deep interest in the sport of basketball since my youth. It was just good to connect the suggestions to the results that I've watched growing up. 

I wish I learned more about Phil Jackson's thoughts on humanistic psychology and Native American philosophy, as well as Zen meditation. But he only touched on some of these aspects as they related to his coaching. I think I expected more depth, but I can't complain because it was still interesting to read about. 

Overall, it was still a good read. And I've taken away a few leads to other things to read. One of the books Jackson referenced was Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
by Shunryu Suzuki, so I've put it on my reading list. What is this zen about? We will see...

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What inspires you to read, reflect, and journal (or blog)?

Reflection - Mt. Fuji, Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi, Japan - Circa May 2016

The following is an MS Teams conversation with a colleague after learning that we each enjoy reading, reflection and writing: 

T: What inspires you to read, reflect, and journal (or blog)? 

J: I think I was inspired to read by just my curiosity of everything in the world. In my past, I never read that much. I only started reading heavily in the last maybe 3-4 years. Instead of reading, I traveled a lot. I learned a lot that way, from talking to people, observing, feeling, and experiencing. But as I grow older, my responsibilities grow and so travel (although I still do it often) is now not as often as I would want it to be. Reading (specifically non-fiction) has kind of opened up those other avenues to learning and education about things foreign to me while I cannot travel as much.

Reflection is something pretty new to me too. I only really started reflecting on my life when I took a sabbatical from work. That really allowed me to take time to think of my past and my future in great detail. I started to understand better what I was doing, why I was doing things, and what I could do to change or improve my future. The reflection is so important now. I feel like if I didn't have that time (sabbatical) to reflect, then I wouldn't have grown in all the ways I feel like I've grown in the past 5 years. I was out of work for nearly 2 years.

The journaling and blogging has always been a part of my life. My dad used to journal when I was a kid. I grew up on notebook journals and writing events down. I had a calendar that I would just fill in all the boxes with tidbits. So I always did these little things, albeit not as consistently as now. But now I find that my blogging has allowed me to just put my thoughts out there. To not just contain them in my head but to make it "real" by making it public. It helps kind of relieve my brain from just constant thought. And if anyone reads it, then great. If not, then at least I can look back on my thoughts to see how I've grown. And because they're "tangible" I'll never have to wonder what I've possibly forgotten. 

And more recently in my life, writing / blogging is a way for me to pass on my life to whatever children I may have in the future. I looked back on the lives of my parents and thought, I don't really know what their day to day life was like. You get to hear stories and tidbits of whatever they can remember. But those memories are few and far between and obviously not nearly enough for you to understand who your parents are and what they really went through. If they had written it down, you could read it like a book and imagine and fully feel what they experienced and lived. I think that more than anything now is my motivation to write. 

And then kind of as an aside, I feel like the more I put out there for people to read, the better the chance that others get to know me and understand me. And maybe my thoughts will help others in their lives somehow. But that's existential. 

But let me turn it back to you... what is your inspiration to read, reflect, and/or write (if you do all of the above)?

T: That's powerful. You're so right--often times we don't know our parents. We know what they did for us throughout rearing, but we don't know simple things about them like their favorite color or greater things like what they experienced in their lifetimes. I hope your future kids find comfort being able to read about their dad throughout their life. You inspire me to do the same. 

In college (the fist semester of my junior year, to be precise) a profoundly impactful professor told us to never stop reading if we wanted to grow. He said, "You are the sum of two things: the books you read and the people you meet." As someone who craved growth (and still do), it was enough convincing for me to stick my nose in books from that point forward. Similar to your sabbatical, I took a few months off after I graduated and before I started work at [XXXX] and solo backpacked SE Asia. During this time, I required myself to journal each day; so quickly can we forget life-changing experiences--whether we realize it in the moment or in hindsight--if we don't pause from our busy lives to make sense of the what we experienced that day. I reflect on my journals from that trip and can track back to key catalysts and see how they've shaped the man I am today. So, I now live by a slightly amended version of my professors quote: "you are the product of three things: the books you read, the people you meet, and the journal you carry, for your journal is the free-space where you can make sense of your books and experiences." The reason I read, reflect, and write is to make the most of my precious, limited days on this beautiful planet and to wake up with the goal to be a better version of myself from the day before. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I meditated for the first time TODAY

Mrauk-U, Myanmar circa March 2017

I've read about so many successful people who meditate. It cannot be a coincidence that those who fare so well in life (at least to the public's perception) practice this ancient ritual. And for a long time, I've wanted to try it. I didn't know how except for what I've read. And I thought that my mind was not prepared for something so deep. In books, the process is so simple but everyone cautions how difficult it is to tame the mind, even for just a few minutes. But if this is what people who I highly regard are doing, I wanted to know why, how, and what the impact would be to my life. 

To be honest, I don't know why I decided to do it now. Maybe it's because I started to read the "Zen Master" - Phil Jackson's book entitled Eleven Rings or if it's because I just completed reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams. But I decided to do it. 

A few tips that I learned: 

  • don't drink coffee before you meditate
  • blow your nose before you begin
  • find a relaxed position (but if you don't, your body will adjust through the meditation)
Most mornings, I'm alone in the kitchen after I've walked the dogs and taken my medication. I typically use this time to read because of how peaceful and quiet this time can be. I did read for about half an hour but then suddenly had the urge to try out meditation. 

Consciously, I told myself I would try the simplest form - breathing. I closed my eyes. And I concentrated on the inhale and exhale of my breath. Trying to keep my mind from wandering, I said to myself, "in in in in in" as brought oxygen into my body... then "out out out out out" as I relieved myself of carbon dioxide. And I repeated this over and over and over. 

At the beginning, I could see my eyes fluttering. I could feel my eyeballs moving around behind my eyelids. I could "see" the colors changing as if watching the silhouette of objects behind a curtain. It's like REM except you're awake. I could feel my mind try to stray away from "in in in in in" and "out out out out out." My mind would try to "think" about if my breathing was right, if I was comfortable, what was my body doing? At first I was uncomfortable. My nose was a little stuffed. I could imagine my nostrils being slightly clogged. I "felt" that my body was not in the "perfect" position. My shoulders were too tight and high. My neck was stiff. 

But as I continued to breathe "in in in in in" and "out out out out out" I could feel my body settle. What?! How did that happen? Then my "vision" became white. I was realizing (which I shouldn't have been realizing) that my eyeballs had stopped their rapid movement. I was "seeing" just light come through my eyelids. I could feel my body adjust itself to correct the uncomfortable feeling. My shoulders relaxed; my head tilted down to relieve my neck of discomfort. And I was getting into a rhythm. Strangely, I was conscious of this, but I was also conscious of my breathing. Is that possible? I could "hear" myself thinking "in in in in in, out out out out out." 

I did this for some time. Not knowing how much time, I just opened my eyes. I looked at the clock, and I think 10 minutes or so had passed. And at the same time, I felt a weird sensation in my body. It felt something similar to when you have high blood pressure (which I do) and you get up too fast, you become dizzy. Except in this case, I didn't feel dizzy. I think what I felt was all the oxygen being disbursed throughout my body, as if all the "in in in in ins and out out out out outs" were contained only in my lungs and brain while my eyes were closed. And then when I opened them my brain distributed them to the rest of my organs and limbs. In a way, I was momentarily paralyzed by the breakthrough back to reality and my present self. 

After a few seconds I felt comfortable and relaxed. It was a strangeness that I've never felt before. It was surreal. I can only liken it to waking up from a great, restful sleep. But that's only close and not exact. And I liked it. I'm almost certain that I will do this again. 

Am I crazy? Or is this what it's like to meditate? 

Have any of you experienced this? Please share with me. I'm a newb.