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
More at "

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.