Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Finding A Reason to Get Up in the Morning - Ikigai

I encourage anyone reading this to skip down to the section labelled "The Process" and try the exercise out for yourself (the beginning is introduction and my own story if that's of interest to you). If you don't have time now, schedule it in for later. You might be surprised at how a simple reflection can go a long way. Even if you already have a strong "reason to get up in the morning", this might change your perspective slightly and in interesting ways.

As some may already know, I've been doing things a little differently these past few months. 

I decided to do a bit of exploring instead of proceeding straight into the fall semester of my senior year at Cornell. In place of taking classes on campus, I'm earning my credits by completing online courses at another institution. This has allowed me to travel to various locations and more fully immerse myself in my education and personal development through a variety of experiences and teachers that I've sought out and met along the way. It has been an incredible ride; the learning and growth that has occurred exceeds any expectations I could have hoped for. 

True growth, of course, doesn't come without its fair share of trials and tribulations. It seems like some sort of crisis emerges at each transition from one leg of the journey (or geographic location) to another. For the purpose of the current post, I'll only go into one in particular.

A couple of weeks ago I left Lexington, Kentucky, where I had stayed with Kelsey (my amazing girlfriend, for those who don't know) for three or so weeks, and landed in Orlando, Florida, where my mom now lives. Orlando was a sort of pit stop on the way to my current location (Miami, Florida). 

Whether it was the somewhat discouraging experience on the plane ride there (which I won't go into now), the change in sleep pattern, or whatever else, my energy and motivation seemed to have been drained out of me for the first two or three days of being in Orlando. I still started my mornings as a I usually do, with a combination of some silent mediation, gratitude journaling, movement, etc. I remained peaceful, content, and grateful even through this lull, but something felt off. 

Perhaps, I reflected, I was too content. I wasn't being propelled forwards by my goals and aspirations like before. I felt some level of peace with whatever happened and wherever I was, and did not feel the need to reach out for the next big thing. But this was a kind of unsustainable peace. Without the drive, vitality, and energy behind it, my energy would continue to erode and my peace would collapse without the energy to rediscover it. 

The quote that hung on a poster in my high school's chorus room comes to mind:

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
- Will Rogers

There must be a balance between gratitude (being grateful for and enjoying the present moment) and drive (the energy for continual growth and learning). I think both are essential for enjoying life and serving with heart and passion. 

And so I stumbled upon this diagram from a post on facebook by Pawel Rewucki (thanks to Mariah Lea for sharing, image credit to Marc Winn):

"Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning "a reason to get up in the morning", that is, a reason to enjoy life.

Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one's ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.

The word "ikigai" is usually used to indicate the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It's not necessarily linked to the economic status or today state of things. Even if a person feels that today's dark, but has a goal, he may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make one feel ikigai are not actions which individuals are forced to take - these are natural and spontaneous actions.

The term "ikigai" is composed of two Chinese characters : iki and kai. Iki refers to life and kai is a suffix meaning roughly "the realisation of what one expects and hopes for."

People can feel ikigai only when on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed towards self-realization.

Adapted from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikigai
More at theviewinside.me/what-is-your-ikigai "

This seemed to be what I was looking for. So I followed the link in the post and did my due diligence (thank you google). Though I'm still unsure if the translations I've managed to find adequately reflect the idea of ikigai, I decided to use this as a guide, and put "ikigai reflection" on my list of things to do during my routine the following morning.

The Process


Part one. First, start by grabbing a piece of paper or opening your favorite word processor. You may even wish to draw for this exercise; choose whatever allows you to most easily record and keep track of your answers. 

The exercise itself is very simple (though not necessarily easy). The first step is to answer, as completely as possible, these four questions:

1. What do you love to do?

2. What are you good at?

3. What does the world need?

4. What can you be paid for? 

Part two. Once you have an answer that's as exhaustive as possible for each category (I used lists for my answers), it's time to look at some overlap (refer back to the diagram for a visual).

1. What are the things that you both love to do and are good at? For the purpose of this exercise, we'll call these your passions.

2. What are you good at that you can also be paid for? These are considered professions.

3. What does the world need that you can also be paid for providing? These are vocations.

4. What do you love to do that the world needs? These are your missions.

(Note: I use plural here, but some may find that only one fits into a given category.)

Part three. And finally, at what point do your passions, professions, vocations, and missions overlap? Can you synthesize what's contained in these four categories into one? If you have managed to do that, you may have discovered that compelling reason to get up in the morning regardless of circumstance. You may have found your Ikigai.

Or not. Note that each one of those four initial questions may take years of experience, searching, and self discovery in order to find any answer to. Some people might not know what they're good at yet. Perhaps the hang up is at the second set of questions (the overlap); they may know what they're good at but there seems to be no overlap with the "that which you can be paid for" category. Take this not as a failure to complete the exercise, but as a template for personal discovery as you aim to fill in the gaps.

My Process


Below is a piece of my own process through this reflection.

1. Passion (what I love and am good at)
  • Movement practice
  • Video games
  • Personal development
  • Teaching (a receptive audience)
  • Group facilitating (given the right kind of group)
2. Profession (what I'm good at that I can be paid for)
  • Teaching
  • Counseling
  • Research (as in, finding things out, not the laboratory kind)
  • Writing 
  • Group facilitating
3. Vocation (what the world needs that I can be paid for)
  • Teaching
  • Coaching
  • Counseling
    • (In other words, education and guidance)
4. Mission (what I love to do that the world needs)
  • Anything having to do with personal development
    • includes the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, ethical, etc.
My ikigai:

To enable personal growth and happiness (in myself and others) through mind/body1 practices.

The Takeaway


My ikigai, at least in the context of this interpretation, is to enable personal growth and happiness through mind/body practices. I love the simplicity of that phrase, and more so I love the way it serves as a reminder for what really moves me as I open my eyes every morning. This simple exercise was what I needed to regain the drive for continuing on my journey. 

I didn't discover that I love movement, or that personal development is important to me. What I rediscovered, though, is what movement really means to me, and how that fits in with how I can best authentically serve others. My search for teachers and mentors was given a new filter, and my personal practice new meaning. 

I hope that this simple idea and diagram can be as helpful to you, in whatever circumstance you find yourself in, as it has been for me.

[And as always, feel free to post any comments or questions below, I'd love to have a discussion about whatever may have piqued your interest!]



1 I'm still looking for a better word than mind/body that adequately describes how mental, movement, and personal development practices can, in many ways, be one in the same.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Highlights from London Real's Second Interview with Ido Portal

Yesterday I watched (yet another) inspirational interview with Ido Portal on London Real. I watched the first one several times, and will probably do that again with this one. In a future post I hope to give further background into the recent renaissance of my journey into physical practice, but for now I thought I'd just leave this here.

Below is a list of some key highlights I came away with after watching, with my own interpretations and thoughts sprinkled in. 

  1. Wisdom is a process of discovering what was already there, yet hidden. 
  2. There are no "basics", only basics in the context of what you choose for your practice. One can never be a pure generalist (good at everything), but as a generalist one can choose from a wide spectrum in order to sculpt and craft a personal practice, or "fingerprint".
  3. Collective culture and knowledge are much more powerful forces than just one person's practice or leadership.
  4. There are information brokers, and then there are teachers. Use the former as a resource when needed, learn from the latter regardless.
  5. "Empty the cup." Take time to pause and become more aware (and, I might add, more appreciative). This is a concept I've reflected on and applied through my own study and practice of meditation (Tara Brach talks a lot about "sacred pauses"). Rather than simply doing more in life, add more life to the things you do by being more aware and engaged. 
  6. Technology won't save us, but it can help us change our mindsets (which, on a grand scale, is what I believe can save us). Hearts and minds are the user, and technology is the tool. The former determines the use and utility of the latter. This is why I value the work of, say, Socrates in his search for a unifying theory of virtue, or the Buddhist methods of understanding happiness more than just a pursuit of more and more data, information, and technology, which, although very important, I believe modern intellectual inquiry has over-prioritized.
Overall, I came away from this interview with not only renewed inspiration, but also a sense of validation. Ido is someone who carved his own path and embarked on a journey that was authentic to him, that he believed in strongly and was passionate about. Much of what he says almost feels like he went into my subconscious, stole my ideas, and executed. That is to say, our approaches and philosophies are well aligned, though he of course has many many more years of experience in walking the path. 
I hope to continue learning from him and others, and follow the path of inspirational figures like him wherever it may wind and converge with parts of mine.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A New Journey (Part 1)

I've been putting off writing here for a long time. There's so much I'd like to say and share, I don't quite know where to begin. And the more I put it off, the more it accumulates... daily.

Ironically, although I shifted the focus of this blog away from my experiences during my leave of absence for Cornell, I've ended up taking yet another leave this semester. But this time, the situation is very different.

A Year in Review

The 2014-2015 school year was, in some ways, a return to the excitement and optimism of my first year at Cornell. I returned from my leave with a renewed sense of purpose, self knowledge, and a broadened perspective. Though I mostly left my depression behind, other challenges, some just as emotionally taxing, presented themselves. But I was a different person, and I was more ready for those challenges and far more confident in my ability to overcome and grow from them. After all, I survived years of wanting little more than to be dead, with no hope of a happy future (see past post).

The contrast between then and now is incredible, hard to comprehend even.

I decided to live this semester as a nomad of sorts. Though being a student at Cornell again was a great experience, there was still something that didn't quite feel right.

In the fall of 2014, I fell in love with philosophy again thanks to my ancient philosophy course. I dove into the computer animation club despite my lack of both computer and art skills, and rediscovered my love of animation, drawing, and storytelling. I explored new systems of movement such as wushu and aikido, and partook in my old habit of sleuthing around for interesting talks and lectures. I also appreciated the delicious convenience of having access to Cornell's many dining halls again.

But there were too many other things crying out for my attention. There were four classes other than philosophy on my schedule that, on their own, were interesting and well taught. Together, however, they used up too much of my mental bandwidth and the opportunity to actually internalize what I was learning was compromised. My physical conditioning, a crucial aspect of my well-being, was relegated to a 50 minute weightlifting class twice a week (which to me was more for further education as a trainer and exerciser than for exercise). I ended up having to end my involvement in wushu and aikido rather quickly, as well as drop a class, curb my talk attending schedule, drastically reduce my service as a personal trainer (eventually altogether), and not be as involved in animation club and learning how to draw as I would have liked. It simply makes little sense to me that in order to be considered a student at Cornell (or full time at any institution of higher education) one has to be flooded with information that's absolutely impossible to assimilate usefully all at once.

Too much of a good thing can become... well, useless.

How do Socrates's methods of inquiry in Plato's dialogues affect the way I pursue my own investigations into the good life? How does Aristotle's description of virtue as the mean between two extremes apply to my personal development? How could I use the study of stoic philosophy to become more resilient and focused? How do these ethical systems compare to the dominant ethical and spiritual landscape of today's world, and how does that guide my decisions?

What is the natural history of the human species, and how does it affect the health and well-being of modern humans? How does basic statistics improve my understanding of empirical investigation and reviews? How do hormones affect my behavior and vice versa, and what is there to do about it? What can I learn from and enjoy through exploring various forms of literature? Can my development as a creative writer (perhaps along with animation) evolve into a whole new platform for connecting with and improving the lives of others?

I could go on and on with these questions, but the point is that they all have something in common. They were the subject of the classes I participated in during my fall semester, and I was not able to go into the depth I would have liked into exploring any them. I had the resources: books, expert instructors and professors, assignments designed to improve my mastery of these disciplines, and a community of classmates to learn with, among many others. But there's no way to make good progress on so many different things. Being a full time student, I had a time limit, deadlines, and many disciplines competing for my limited intellectual and practical resources. What sense does it make to tackle all those things at once? Life happens organically, and learning happens best when it occurs concurrently with life, not when it's crammed into one's head to be soon forgotten. Had I been able to focus on one class (maybe two) at a time, the amount more I could have learned and, more importantly, do, would have been astounding.

I knew something had to change.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A New Blog

This is my new blog. 

Or, rather, it's a redesign of my current blog. The old blog was a place for me to document my adventures during my leave of absence from Cornell University. At least that's what it was meant to be. What it ultimately became was a glimpse into my battle through depression and (wow... it feels unreal to write this) my recovery from it.

So I decided to keep the old posts (now designated with LOA for leave of absence) and redesign the look and focus of the entire blog to simply become a place for my thoughts, stories, ideas, etc.

Throughout my life, I've been privileged to meet, get to know, and become friends with a wide variety of amazing people. I'm grateful for the opportunity to really hear what people have to say; whether it's about their hobbies, struggles, hopes, fears, passions, favorite foods, or anything at all. These interactions have continued to bolster my belief that everyone has not only a story, but a story worth sharing. Because it's when we share our stories that we have an opportunity to connect with and meet others who may be going through similar things as us or are passionate about the same things we are. Sharing our stories allow us to find those other people out there who share thoughts and ideas that we may have thought were unique to ourselves or not worth talking about, or they may simply open our minds to new ways of thinking.

Like many things in the past, I've put this off for far too long. So here's a new place for my story. May anyone reading this blog find something of value to them, and may you be inspired (yes, every single one of you) to find a way to share your unique story as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Recovery (LOA)

Some time ago I posted a link to a TED talk on facebook that talked about depression, along with some words about my own experiences with the horrible condition. If you haven't had a chance to watch it, I still very highly recommend it: http://on.ted.com/h08SE. 

Though my last post here was rather optimistic when it came to defining a more concrete purpose for myself, it did not change the fact that I was still suffering greatly, and there have been many, many lows since then. A lot has changed on the outside as well since last summer; I returned to Ithaca (though I'm not yet re-enrolled at Cornell as a student), moved into a cozy one bedroom apartment with continued help of my parents, and got a new job as a personal trainer at the university fitness centers. Through all of these changes (and maybe partly due to them) the depression lingered and eventually intensified.

That said, I want to shift gears from that and talk about another recent turning point in my life, a much more significant one than before. 

About a month ago, my good friend Naomi invited me to a meditation session with a Tibetan Buddhist monk she was going to be meeting with.  Though I was pretty excited about a meeting with someone who dedicated his life to spiritual practice, I couldn't have guessed that the session would have such a profound impact on me.

Instead of a simple mindfulness meditation, we were instructed that day to focus our minds and meditate on compassion. A way in which he suggested we do this was to imagine showing the same compassion we already have for those closest to us, like family and close friends, to the greater human family, particularly those who we are normally neutral towards (strangers) and even those towards which we harbor negative emotions (enemies).

I quickly thought about how I would approach this mediation; I had no such enemies to practice compassion with, and I already considered myself to be a rather caring person to even people I don't really know. 

Then I realized that I did in fact have a powerful "enemy" I could focus on, someone I grew to hate more and more deeply and intensely ever since the downward spiral of depression really took hold... me.

And so we began the meditation, and I created an image of myself as someone distinct from me. I pretended that Jeremy was not me, but another person I knew. I visualized him in my mind, saw through his downtrodden exterior to an even deeper level of suffering. I knew about every tear he shed, all the shame he felt every time his sadness drove him to act less and less like himself, and the hopelessness that seemed to define him almost completely for so long. I also saw his strength, his kindness, his sincere desire to be happy and to make a positive impact in the lives of others. What I basically saw for the first time in myself was a capable, extremely well meaning fellow human, a friend, being beat down over and over again, and it broke my heart. I actually shed a tear.

I wanted to hug this person, to be there for him and to let him know that he has an ally in me. I directed the empathy and understanding toward him that I believe everyone deserves. 

I realized (and truly internalized) that I'd been holding a very peculiar double standard against myself. I treated myself in ways that I wouldn't wish on anyone, constantly beating myself up and criticizing myself instead of actually being compassionate. I began to see myself as a human being just like the rest.

Though the experience itself was rather dramatic, its effects began rather subtly. For example, that day, I reached for an apple instead of a cookie as a snack, turned down dessert at dinner (which Kelsey was very suspicious of), and even went to bed a little earlier on my own accord for the first time in recent memory. I didn't know why I did these things or why they were significant at first. But then I came to see that the excessive sweet tooth and knack for overeating (to name a few things) I acquired over the years didn't only come from (as I thought) a desire to relieve myself of suffering and salvage the list of quickly disappearing enjoyable things (as well as reasons for living). It came from a fundamental lack of consideration and respect for myself and my own health and well being. Basically, if I were a loving and caring parent, knowing what I know, I would not treat my child, or anyone who was counting on me for that matter, the way I was (not) taking care of myself.

These past few years have been hard, but I've been able to piece things together slowly, little by little. It began with finding ounces of hope here and there, however small and transient, that I wouldn't be miserable for the rest of my life, and that life may someday be something more than a cage I was trapped in with no (good) way out. Through my extended break I even came to find for myself once again a compelling purpose for my life. I eventually came to the point where I wasn't simply living because suicide would hurt too many people. Being able to genuinely feel respect and compassion for myself as a human being like the rest, however, has been the most dramatic catalyst for change.

In the past month or so I've been getting up earlier, exercising at least 5 days a week, feeding myself a lot better, and sleeping a lot more regularly. My curiosity has kept growing and my excitement for learning and seeing how I can contribute to the world while improving my own life has been reignited. I completely "renovated" my apartment, which had been largely neglected since I moved in in August (I like to use the word renovated playfully to capture the scope of the internal redesign, no walls were actually torn down or anything). I haven't lived in such a neat, clean, organized, and overall pleasant at-home environment since my impeccably well maintained freshman dorm. Kelsey has been amazed that I've actually been happy to take walks with her as opposed to putting up a fight every time she'd suggest going anywhere (except sushi. I never lost my love for that sushi). I've even started writing in a gratitude journal every night without fail before going to bed. Basically, it's been a dramatic shift in lifestyle from just getting by and figuring out how to avoid hating my life even more.

I don't know if treating myself more kindly has been the latest piece of the puzzle, or if it may have been what I needed from the start. Like most things, it's probably due to a combination of many things. What I do know is that I'm grateful for this amazing new vitality I've gained.

In a session with one of my previous therapists, I mentioned how all I wanted was to find happiness again. She told me that happiness is an emotion like any other, and that it comes and goes. I replied that I did not mean the emotion, I meant something deeper. 

What I meant, though I didn't find any words to describe it at the time, is that I want to be happy in the way that, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering there is in the moment or how many painful things happen in my life, I can look deep down into my core and know that I am still, in a sense, "happy", that I am grateful to be a conscious part of this universe and to have the opportunity to live in and even find some enjoyment in this strange, incomprehensible, imperfect existence we share. I had reached that stage of happiness once, and was afraid that it had escaped me for good.

I know I'm not necessarily "home free" yet, and that there are many challenges waiting for me up the road. But today for the first time in almost 3 years I realized that I can finally and honestly say that I am happy again. Truly so. And though there's no guarantee of how long that will last, for now that's much more than enough.









Sunday, June 30, 2013

Breakthrough (LOA)

"He who has a why in life can tolerate almost any how." - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche 

About a week and a half ago, I had a breakthrough; I finally found the answer I've been searching for.

This answer, as I anticipated in my first post here, is quite simple. I want to be the best I can be and empower others along the way. I want to fully realize the gift of life and help others who want to do the same. That is my purpose.

The question of what exactly that means will probably be the subject of a future post, and it might even change over time, but for now that's enough. It's enough to put my worries about the future to rest, and more importantly it's enough to reintroduce a sense of meaning into my every day existence. It's enough so that I'm no longer stuck on the "how".
_________________________________________________________________________________

This was going to originally be a much, much longer post. I was going to preface the above statement of my newly (re)discovered purpose with how exactly I arrived at it. But why complicate something that is so simple by going into so much detail?

Well... my answer to that is captured in a another quote, one attributed to former associate supreme court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. which I particularly like:

"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."

My so called "breakthrough" would mean nothing if it was just a simple platitude I decided to come up with one day. And it probably means little to anyone reading this post. But it means everything to me now because, despite it's simplicity, it's attainment was the result of much internal struggle, painstaking (probably excessive) thought, and tackling very difficult questions and decisions.

So I left the actual description of my journey out of the current post simply because it was becoming way too long, and I wanted to get my main idea out without burying it in an epic wall of words. However, I think that the journey is not only important but much more interesting than the end result, since it was the process and not the end result itself that gives strength to my new insight. Therefore I decided to keep that part intact and save it for a separate post.

That said, I don't aim to dwell in the past anymore. What ultimately matters most is that I have something to keep me going in the here and now, and I have plenty to do. Though this doesn't mean that everything is suddenly perfect, it's certainly nice to have some real direction again and the drive to continue moving towards it.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Deep Breaths (LOA)

Phew. What a weekend.

I haven't felt a sense of peace like the one I'm currently feeling for a very long time. So much has happened that I'm having trouble digesting it all.

The best thing I can do right now is keep taking deep breaths and letting it all sink in. I thought I'd have more than enough material for a blog post but I realize that I wouldn't even know where to begin. My journal (the physical one) would probably be a better place to start.

For now all I know is that my head is clearer and my optimism is slowly returning. Real optimism, the quiet confident kind. Not the kind that needs to constantly claw and fight to stay alive.

Thank you for rescuing me Kelsey. You're my hero.