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.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

The perspectives two holy men of two different religions from two different regions of the world are humanly the same. The friendship of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the definition of boundless joy. 

This book takes place in the span of one week, where the Archbishop of South Africa pays a visit to Dharamsala, India to visit his long-time friend the Dalai Lama. The long overdue visit is one of the last in which the two would see each other as their age and health create a growing list of adversities to overcome but none like the lives they've already lived. Through exile and apartheid the two friends have suffered harsh realities but have found everlasting joy through their experiences and lifelong deeds. In this book, they share how to be happy and how to find joy. 

The basis is love and compassion. So easily said, yet so difficult to live. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop offer their insights in how to achieve the ultimate goal. 

I enjoyed reading about the perspectives given and how similar their lives were to each other. We are human after all. So why should it be a surprise at how closely their lives resembled each other's? I think the answer is that in our society, we often highlight our differences. But if we just keep in mind that we're all human, that makes us 100% similar. From there, it should be easier to be compassionate about one another and share the difficulties and challenges, as well as the the success and happiness. When you can do that, you will find joy. 

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Halfway Mark: What have we accomplished in 11 years?

Scientific American - November 2009

I'd be really interested to read an update of this article and see where we stand today, as of 2020, which was supposed to be a halfway mark for the 2030 potential. It all seemed to be very doable, but have the obstacles that we encountered in the past 11 years significantly slowed the plan for a sustainable future? For sure we've made significant progress, but are we too late in preventing sea level rise, droughts, and extinction? How much have we accomplished in 11 years? How much still remains? Curious.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Another Reason Why Bhutan's Beauty Remains In Tact


Bhutan is the World's First Carbon-Negative Country

And another reason why Bhutan will always remain in our hearts...

Read about our time well spent in Bhutan, here.

Paro Taktsang (aka Tiger's Nest) - Paro Valley, Paro District, Bhutan - circa April 2017

With our friend's mom - She is a host, local guide, and loving mother. As you can imagine, we were treated like family. 

Our new friends - Tshewang & Tshering and Auntie's dog.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

"Wisdom is like rainwater - both gather in the low places."

On Climate Change: 

"For a couple of hundred years we have been telling ourselves that we can dig the midnight black remains of other life forms out of the bowels of the earth, burn them in massive quantities, and that the airborne particles and gases released into the atmosphere - because we can't see them - will have no effect whatsoever. Or if they do, we humans, brilliant as we are, will just invent our way out of whatever mess we have made.

And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequence stories all the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more "inputs" (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse. 

At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the power we are unleashing - a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us."

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

On Joy:

"The Dalai Lama was describing the Buddhist concept of mudita, which is often translated as "sympathetic joy" and described as the antidote to envy. Mudita is so important in Buddhism that it is considered one of the Four Immeasurables, qualities we can cultivate infinitely. The other three are loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity. "

"Mudita recognizes that life is not a zero-sum game, that there is not just one slice of cake in which someone else's taking more means we get less. Mudita sees joy at limitless."

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams 

On Indebtedness:

"To be indebted is to fixate on the future. I tense up after good fortune has landed on my lap like a bag of tiny excitable lapdogs. But whose are these? Not mine, surely! I treat good mortune not as a gift but a loan that I will have to pay back in weekly installments of bad luck. I bet I'm like this because I was raised wrong - browbeaten to performs compulsory gratitude. Thank you for sacrificing your life for me! In return, I will sacrifice my life for you!

I have rebelled against all that. As a result, I have developed the worst human trains: I am ungrateful. This book too is ungrateful. In my defense, a writer who feeling indebted often writes ingratiating stories. Indebted, that is, to this country - to whom I, on the other hand, will always be ungrateful."

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

On Weakness:

"Now, we should also realize that the recognition of our own limitations and weaknesses can be very positive. This can be wisdom. If you realize that you are inadequate in some way, then you develop effort. If you think, everything is fine and I'm okay just as I am, then you will not try to develop further. There is a Tibetan saying that wisdom is like rainwater - both gather in the low places. There is another saying that when the spring bloom comes, where does it start? Does it start on the hilltops or down in the valleys first? Growth begin first in the low places. So similarly if you remain humble, then there is the possibility to keep learning. So I often tell people that although I'm eighty years old, I still consider myself a student."

- Dalai Lama XIV

On Humility: 

"The word humility actually comes from the Latin word for Earth or soil, humus... Humility literally bring us back down to Earth, sometimes with a thud."

"Humor like humility, comes from the same root word for humanity: humus. The lowly and sustaining earth is the source for all three words. Is it any surprise that we have to have a sense of humility to be able to laugh at ourselves and that to laugh at ourselves reminds us of our shared humanity?"

- Douglas Carlton Abrams 

Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders

"Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings."

"Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard fact. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren't the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too."

"Slavery wasn't a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one. Racial discrimination wasn't a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one. Sex discrimination wasn't a crisis until feminism turned it into one. Apartheid wasn't a crisis until the anti-apartheid movement turned it into one."

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

In my effort to learn more about how others feel as minorities, I picked up this book entitled Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, a Korean American who weaves her own history with the history of racial inequity, art, the ideas of friendship, and the difficulties of living with and through it all as a female. 

While I understand many of the issues that she hits on, I could not relate. But I could see how countless others would be able to, especially any who overlap any of her minority categories. I, however, had a very different upbringing and experience than she had. Some people would call my life "privileged" or "easy." And maybe it was. 

Despite our differences, I still appreciate that the author had the courage to share her stories and life with the public. That's not easy. 

Check it out on GoodReads

Buy it on Amazon