“At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” Thich Nhat Hanh
The current climate is turbulent – I’m not talking about the weather. Issues of social, political, economic, and more call to us with urgency to take action, protect our loved ones, get involved, voice your views and argue with antagonists. Anxiety, guilt, and tension become a prison when global, community and family concerns rise like a “wall” around you. Men and women are equally challenged today with balancing responsibilities and self-care.
Who is providing your happiness and wellbeing? Who is fighting the good fight for you? If you are lucky, your partner, parents, child, sibling, another family member or a close friend has your back and makes it their mission to fight for your rights, provide your needs, speaks up publically on your behalf against injustice, etc. In reality, there are very few people in the world living this kind of privilege. You are a priority. Even on a plane during an emergency you are instructed to put your oxygen mask on first before you try to help someone else.
Despite all of the outside matters that matter to you, the one who matters is YOU. Not a narcissistic you, but the naturally entitled you who should live a life of fulfillment and joy. Thinking and behaving as though you always come second or even third deprives you of the ability to actually do something bigger than yourself. This is not a gender-specific characteristic to be self-deprecating and a martyr, suffering for a cause in an effort to elevate your self-respect as a real man or woman. I’m not denying that being a parent requires self-sacrifice; however, would you be a more giving parent if you felt you were living a fulfilled life?
“Living with joy doesn’t hurt anything. It doesn’t diminish your drive or ambition. It doesn’t make you less intelligent. And it sure doesn’t make you any less important.” Leslie Ralph
Not having a balanced life that includes fulfilling activities and constructive accomplishments can easily slide into harmful conditions - habits that become destructive. Under the mistaken guise of being a guiltless pastime, I’ve been addicted to digital games I downloaded on my cell phone and spent hours playing them late into the night (early morning), robbing me of my sleep. I’d tell myself (several hundred times), “Just one more round then I’ll put the phone down.” I am also addicted to junk food as a mood lifter, which led to weight gain and the health issues that accompany being overweight. These habits, disguised as delight, had the opposite effect on my life – I was depressed, frustrated, tired and not the active person I could be. If I focused more on my true joys I could have spent more time developing my writing career, enjoyed listening to music in the evening and be able to fall asleep in a peaceful mood.
Pursue and aspire to the accomplishments and activities that fill you with joy and feed your spirit. Having a unique interest and joy that is yours provides a source of inner and outer peace and resilience in the face of challenges. By “unique” I mean the things that you truly love, a gift or talent that does not need to be validated by another person – playing an instrument, gardening, hiking, and photography - anything you would do without being paid. You might love activities that require another person to share with like playing chess. It can also be truly unique. Perhaps you invent, make or start doing something in a different way that no one has done before. Whatever it is do it, pursue it and make time for it without guilt.
Look at the men and women you admire and you might notice that these people found a way to follow their bliss. Here are two of my “most admired” who inspire me.
Richard Nishimura – my dad. He’s 94 years old and a survivor of the unlawful internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. My father is an American born citizen and yet he and my grandparents, uncles, and aunts were subjected to imprisonment without being charged or convicted of treason or any other crime. He’s is a living history lesson on civil and human rights and shares his story with as many people as he can. My dad had many challenges and setbacks during his long life, but he also has a few pastimes he enjoyed that made life sweeter. One of the things he loves is music and growing up we always had records, a radio or a hi-fi stereo in our home and my dad would take the time to relax and listen to music. A love for music is something I share with my dad. It was music that helped my dad endure the feelings of hopelessness during the long, dreary, days, weeks and years of imprisonment. A friend at Manzanar (the prison camp) taught him a song to sing that had a cheerful melody and hopeful lyrics. There weren’t any records to play, or a radio at Manzanar at first, but nothing could keep him from singing the song. I believe music helped my father retain his sanity during such an unimaginable horror. Read more about Richard Nishimura on Good Men Project.
John Goddard - “the real-life Indiana Jones.” John Goddard is a recent hero of mine since I learned about him through a friend and fellow alumnus of Los Angeles High School. I am producing a series of fundraising events to commemorate the centennial of Los Angeles High School and doing some research into famous and noteworthy alumni to inspire the present student body and make sure their history is not forgotten. John Goddard turned his love for adventure to a life long journey. At the age of 15, John wrote a list of 127 goals on a note pad and titled that list “My Life List.” Among the things he listed and accomplished was climbing the Matterhorn (not the ride at Disneyland) and he did it during a blizzard. He kayaked the entire length of the Nile River (4,160 miles) and explored the Congo River as well. While he was on these river explorations he was attached by crocodiles, hippos and bitten by snakes. He was also shot at by Egyptian pirates on the Nile. John Goddard wrote books about his adventures and he often talked about his list and exploring the world at book signings and other events. He would come back to visit LA High and speak at student assemblies about his amazing adventures and encouraged students to follow their dreams and let that take them on a life adventure of their own.
Whether your joy becomes or is your vocation or offers you the grounding and respite from a world of stress and chaos, it’s your responsibility to make time to live in your bliss. I believe living in your joy makes you a powerful man or woman, able to confidently walk through life able to take on the challenges thrown in your path. When you make the choice to be the best you can be by nurturing your happiness, you are following your true spirit which is the true and great you.
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