Monday, May 2, 2016

I Haven't Forgotten

I haven’t forgotten.  I’m not here much, but I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t forgotten my goals. I haven’t forgotten my plans.  I haven’t forgotten my dreams. I haven’t forgotten my house on the beach. Most of all, I haven’t forgotten my Muse. Currently, I am on the tail end of my second-to-last course in my Master’s program. A decision, made almost on a whim, changed my life.  But it was not a whim.  My writing was stalled. I was lacking direction. It was time to take a step, a new step, maybe a bold step.  So I’ve been studying American history for the last year-and-a-half.  But the truth is I’ve been studying it since1968.

            When I was 8 years old, my mother and my two brothers were in an airport waiting to go to Japan. On that trip my mother gave me two things that changed my life. First, she gave me a quarter and told me to buy two comic books, one for myself and one for my brother.  Both comics were hugely influential in my life for different reasons but that’s another story.  The second thing she gave me, while we were on the plane, was two coloring books, both about U.S. Presidents. I was fascinated.  From that moment on, I looked for every book I could on the subject. My favorite was Theodore Roosevelt, but I read all I could. By the time I was 10 years old, I could list all the presidents in order. I also knew all the major wars the United States had been involved in and I had a fairly broad understanding of American history. When we went to other people’s homes, I would read their encyclopedias in search of more information on presidents. I was a weird kid. (I would also look at comic books if any were available.)  When I was in 4th grade, I saw my first history textbook and read most of it before the class even started studying history. By the time I reached 8th grade and I was studying history again, under Orland Eck and Richard Shuey, I found that I already knew much of the material.

            It is no surprise that I chose history as my major at UCSD. Sadly, it was also no surprise that I did not excel in most of my classes due to a combination of overwork, procrastination, poor study habits, and poor work ethic.  Much of my undergrad time was a series of lost opportunities for growth and knowledge.  I did some good there and I learned a lot, but I missed a lot, too. I loved history, but I did not want to excel. When I returned to school more than a decade later, I excelled and got my first Master’s degree, but I had no interest in the topic.

            Now, I am at a place where I want to excel because of my deep interest in what I’m doing.  I also see the not only the topic, but the quality with which I do my work as the key to my future.  I still want my house on the beach. I still want to study history. I still want to write. I still want to make a difference in the world.  I still want to spend my life with my Muse doing all those things.

            So even though it seems I’ve forgotten my Muse or forgotten my writing, I really haven’t. I’m working harder than I have ever worked before, combining love and self-discipline, however imperfectly. I am pushing myself to Get Started and Keep Going until I get this degree. In this way I can Get Started and Keep Going on whatever God and my Muse have for me next because I haven’t forgotten that this is only the beginning, not the end.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Just Some Random Thoughts...

I went to my alma mater to see a friend play with his band.  The band was great and it was fun being on campus, but the venue was at this place that is, I suppose, meant to be revolutionary and different.  It was dirty and there was only one bathroom and people were allowed to write on the walls.  There was a library in which people could take the books that they wanted without a charge or without even having to return them.  The food was vegan and I had one of the worst donuts I have ever had in my life.  The people who worked there were true to their countercultural ethos, with long hair, tattoos, some with missing teeth, and earlobes with giant holes or grossly misshapen.  Most disturbing of all was the mouse feces on the books and the floor.

I have always had countercultural sensibilities.  Perhaps it is an instinctive response to the excesses of capitalism. It’s why my musical tastes were always a bit different from many of my peers.  It’s why I thought, as an 18-year-old, guys with long hair and mystical leanings were fascinating. It’s why homosexuals didn’t offend or shock me as they did many of my peers. It’s why talk of revolution and racism have always been fascinating. It’s why I don’t want to live in the suburbs. It’s why I want to live in a house on the beach.

But I also have limits.

Cleanliness, order, and structure are important. I think revolutionary ideas are fascinating and have their place…as a part of the whole, as a part of the tapestry of ideas. It’s okay to “fight the power,” to consider the ideals (if not the reality) of socialism, to “think outside the box” socially, personally, intellectually, and spiritually.  But there are two inherent problems:

The first is that thought, any kind of thought, can lead to excess. How do dirty clothes, unisex bathrooms, animal feces, and intentionally self-disfigured people lead to any kind of viable or meaningful social change? How does the unchecked lust for money or possessions or land create a better world? How does excess in anything lead to anything but self-destruction or material for satire, misunderstandings, and divisions? People often go too far.

The second thought is that people often don’t go far enough.  When we go through life with a very strong belief, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or any other kind, and it becomes seriously challenged, as it almost always does, then we have three choices.  We can defend and entrench ourselves further into our beliefs (which may or may not be a bad thing).  We can dismiss these challenges as apostasy, Satan, short-sightedness, or evil (which is usually a bad thing).  Or we can welcome the challenge as an avenue to correct or confirm our way of thinking (which is usually a good thing).  Most people, including myself for many years, choose the second option.

Being challenged is uncomfortable and scary. It makes us angry. We see this anger often in political environments, but it’s not limited to that venue. It is said that we shouldn’t discuss religion or politics. The reason for this is they are deeply-held beliefs and we don’t want to even consider that part or all of them are wrong or misguided or just not appropriate at all times or in all situations.  A friend recently told me, “Question everything you’ve ever believed.”  Even that is scary and that is the journey I am on now. It’s scary and liberating. And it’s a journey that makes life worth living. It’s a journey that in which we can all Get Started and Keep Going.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Pushing Through

Most of the time inspiration comes only after having put in time and effort.  But once in a while, and only once in a while, some kind of motivation or inspiration comes and if I am wise, I seize that moment and get to work. 

I haven’t written a blog in a long time.  I told my Muse that I was afraid for that very reason.  What if I’ve forgotten how to write? What if I have nothing new or interesting to say?  What’s the point then?  The point is that every once in a while I get tired of my inactivity.  The fear of not doing something is greater than the fear of doing something, even if I do it badly.  So here I sit, after a very long time, just seeing what comes up. Again, the point is not to be Shakespeare or Hemingway or Steven Pressfield, but simply to put something down on paper (or on a screen).  Why am I doing this when I haven’t done it for a long time? For the same reason I did it before: love.  Love for my Muse. Love for myself. And love for anyone who reads this and might be facing a big task that looks overwhelming or a lot of small tasks that are annoying.  Love for anyone who is facing similar struggles with his or her art or move or project or homework. 

Sometimes the best answer to inertia or fear is to simply push through. No. Not push through.  Blast through.  Just go without thinking. Think about what needs to be done, but not the results, good or bad.  Just focus on the work. Why does this work?  Because fear is almost always based on the future (usually an imaginary future, at that). But when I focus on what I need to do at this moment, then there is no future. There is only this moment. There is the joy of getting it done. There is relief.  There is a rise in endorphins and self-confidence.  There is joy. Generally, after pushing through I feel more relaxed during the day and I sleep better at night. 

Although I still recommend planning and scheduling and creating daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, sometimes we just have to push through.  It’s not a method I recommend using on a regular basis. To depend on this is unsafe and usually produces mediocre or rushed results. I’ve heard it said that the idea of people doing their best work under pressure is only a myth.  But once in a while it is best to just push through. Especially for those big tasks we hate.

I just pushed through now.  I just finished another blog. It may not be the best blog I’ve ever written (or maybe it is…), but at least I got it done. And not because I hate it, but because I love it. I’m tired now, but I got it done.  I will sleep well. I already feel a little bit better about myself.  I was able to Get Started and Keep Going.  I pushed through.  For my Muse. For myself. For you

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Some Thoughts

Is there a purpose to life?
Is there a finish (besides death)?  If so, how do I know if I’ve reached it?

Is truth subjective or objective?  If it’s subjective, who decides for me?  If it’s objective, then what is right and wrong?

Why am I here?

Am I doing any good?

Does life have any meaning?

Does my life have any meaning?

If so, what is it?

If not, then what do I do?  If not, then do I determine my own meaning or do I just exist?

If everything is open to question, then how can an answer be possible?

Here are some answers I have found.  They work for me, but maybe they won’t work for everyone.

·         Life is a gift, but it is also a loan. I’m living on borrowed time. We all are. I’m okay with that.  I just want to use my time well.

·         I’m also okay with not having all the answers.  I find that life is a journey. I find that life is also a school that never ends. My first job is to learn.  My second job is to apply what I’ve learned usefully, kindly, and productively.

·         I think anything that brings true joy – love, companionship, meaningful work, fun, study, kindness, service – is a good thing.

·         If I am doing something that is not bringing me joy, or at least a sense of purpose, then I’m either doing the wrong thing, or I’m doing the right thing in the wrong way.

·         I don’t think there are any absolutes or, if there are, there aren’t very many.

·         I don’t think there are any perfect answers or solutions that work every single time, only ones that work when they are needed.  Adjustments are often required.

·         I don’t think I can learn it all, but I don’t think I can learn too much.

·         I’m limited by time and space.

·         All I have is what is in front of me – the work I can do, the people I love, the place where I am.

·         At the same time, I have more choices than I was told.  I have more choices than I realized.  But only I can make those choices.  If I don’t make some choices, others will make those choices for me.  I will rarely like anyone else’s choices for me.

·         There may or may not be a finish line, but I can stop and rest when I want.

·         Maybe I shouldn’t be in a race. Maybe I should just walk, at whatever pace I choose and see what I can find.

·         Life is a loan, but it is also a gift.  I’m grateful.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Happy Birthday!!!

“Birthday, celebration of life.

Celebrate who you are.

Celebrate your uniqueness.

Celebrate your achievement.

Celebrate all that you are capable of becoming.”

― Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!

Happy Birthday!  Today celebrates the day you were born.  Or maybe it doesn’t. If today is your birthday then, again, happy birthday.  It’s been said that we only have one birth day; all the rest are anniversaries.  Jesus said, “Unless a man (or woman) be born again and be like a little child, he (or she) cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”  Other translations say “the Kingdom of Heaven.  What is that kingdom?  Is it a physical place?  Its King reigns, but He has placed his citizens throughout the world to be bearers of light and truth, to be bearers of peace and joy. In this way we can, each of us, find Purpose.  We can choose at any moment, at this moment, to be born again.  Today can be a happy birthday.

But birth is just the beginning.  Jesus died that we might be born again but, again, birth is just the beginning.  Now is…life.  Now is the day.  Now…what?

We are born for a reason. I believe this with all my heart.  In fact, we were born for many reasons.  We were born to enjoy life.  We were born to discover and grow and play.  We were born to give God pleasure.  And we were born for a mission.  Maybe several missions throughout our lifetimes.  For various causes many do not find their missions in life.  Some don’t want to know.  Some are afraid.  Some don’t care.  Who knows?  But not finding our reason for living does neither invalidates it or changes it.  Our mission is still waiting. Or… Our missions are still waiting.  The gifts we are given on our birthdays belong to us.  The gifts we are given on the day of our birth belong to the world.

 As I reflect on my own life, I think about my birth day and remember that I don’t know when it is.  I don’t know the actual date because I was left on a street corner as an infant.  That means every day could be my birthday.  Today could be the day. There’s a chance I will never know the actual date.  Fortunately, finding my mission is much easier.  It was born into me.  It was weaved into my soul and it often looks like desire, interest, hopes, and the things I love with the deepest part of my soul. It comes from my Muse. It is the thing that inspires me to Get Started and to Keep Going.  It is that thing that makes every day potentially a Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What is Love? II

What is love and how do we manifest it in our lives?  Why don’t we manifest it more often?  If God is love, as the Bible says, and I believe this to be true, then why is the world so troubled and full of hatred and fear and evil?  Better minds than mine have wrestled with these questions – C.S. Lewis, for example, who says because God is a loving God, He does not force Himself upon us.  He does, however, drop a lot of hints.  I asked what love is and I don’t know if there is one answer.  Again, citing C.S. Lewis, he breaks it down into four categories in his book The Four Loves.  As excellent as his ideas are (and far superior to mine), they are only manifestations of love.  Agape – God’s love, Phileo – brotherly love, Eros – romantic or sexual love, and Storge – empathic love.  (Lewis did not use the term “agape.”  Later commentators did.)[1]   These are all beautiful and necessary, but again, only manifestations.  They do not exactly define the word.
Maybe love, like God, is indefinable.  Maybe all we can do is witness its many manifestations.  But maybe we can also manifest it ourselves.  This too has many possibilities, perhaps an infinite number.  We can manifest, demonstrate, show, exhibit, give, create love by loving ourselves and doing what brings us joy and then sharing that joy with the world.  The reason I write is for love.  The reason I study history is for love.  The reason I teach is for love. I do these things because I love to do them.  They make me happy. 
I like being happy.  I don’t seek happiness directly, because it can’t be found. It’s always attached to something, some type of work, some good deed, some form of self-care or care for others, some form of sacrifice or self-discipline, which means sometimes I do things that I don’t want to do initially, but then as I do them and as I get better at them, I grow to love them. This too makes me happy. This too manifests love.
Again, though, what is love? 
I don’t know. 
All I know is when I feel it, I feel peaceful and joyful and I have no conditions on anyone. I don’t expect others to change.  Well, I do, but not for me, but for them.  When people grow, that too is love.
Love is natural and spontaneous. Once, when I was 17, I was trying to find some answers in life and I was going through a period of spiritual uncertainty and confusion.  I was talking about it to a friend, Eugene, and he said, “I’ll be right over.”  I was standing in the kitchen where the phone was (this was when phones were attached to walls).  A 7-year-old neighbor girl just happened to walk in as I hung up because she was looking for her brother. I was so happy about Eugene coming over that I spontaneously gave her a hug. This was not something I normally did.  But that was love, or a manifestation of it…spontaneous and happy.
Sometimes love is work. It’s commitment and self-discipline and sacrifice.  Sometimes the spontanaiety and the happiness are not there, but the lack of these things doesn’t make love any less valid. I find that commitment, self-discipline and sacrifice often create a different and more powerful type of happiness.  I have a lot to learn about this kind of love, but I find the more self-disciplined I am, the happier and more loving I feel.
To answer my second question, I believe that the world is so troubled and full of hatred and fear and evil is that most people lack something that makes them feel spontaneous and happy and they also lack something worth creating self-discipline for.  Too much of the first leads to laziness. Too much of the second leads to fanaticism. We need to Get Started and Keep Going, but if this doesn’t create love then we need to Get Started and Keep Going in another direction.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advantages and Difficulties

What if I just sat here and wrote, despite the pointlessness of this content, despite being hungry and tired, despite the noise, despite everything else in the world?  What if I just sat here and wrote?  What would happen?  What, if anything, would I discover?

That’s what I wrote the other night when I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t.  I just wrote a page and half of, what I thought was, meaningless material.  Okay, it was garbage.  I got tired and stopped and then I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to write again because I did such a lousy job the other night.  And that fear, that dread that I felt about ever coming back to this, was, while not overwhelming, strong enough to pay attention to.  I had to make a choice.  I could decide that I have nothing more or nothing new to say (possibly), or I could Keep Going.  Maybe what I’m writing now is nothing more and nothing new.  The thought of even trying to write created a sudden fatigue, the kind my kids get when I ask them to do a chore.  Steven Pressfield says that we can use this resistance to show us what we should be doing.  That is, the thing we don’t want to do, the thing that makes us suddenly tired, the thing we’re avoiding, that’s the thing we should be doing.  Why? 
Honestly, I have no idea. But the feeling that’s keeping me from doing it is the most reliable indicator that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  Why?
Will I be a famous writer some day?  Will I make a million dollars?  I don’t know.  Maybe not.  Even…probably not.  (I hate that thought.)  Then…why?
I still have no idea.  But I also have no idea why I was raised in one of the healthiest, most educated, most prosperous nations on Earth. I have no idea why I was born into this time or place with all its advances in technology.  Almost all the information in the world, history, literature, philosophy, science…it’s literally at my fingertips.  Why was I born into this time and this place? Why was I given all these privileges?
I still don’t know.  What I do know are these things:
·      I have been born with certain advantages in health, in intellect, in technology, in circumstance.  I recently wrote that life is not a gift, but a loan.  One day it will be taken back.  What then do I do with it?  Here’s what else I know:
·      I can do whatever I want with what I’m given. I can use my advantages well, I can abuse them, or I can ignore them.  The choice is mine.
·      I’m happier when I use my gifts well.  To do something meaningful, however it pays off or doesn’t, always creates an initial and ongoing resistance.  But in the end, when I use my gifts well, my time, my mind, my talents, I’m happier.

I’ve often wondered what the purpose of life is, especially when I’m aware of the materialistic culture in which I live.  I don’t know if I have the answer, or if there is an answer.  Perhaps there is more than one.  In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis says that we must suffer so that we can truly find God. He says that God even seems to leave us for a time so that we can learn to trust Him even when we don’t feel His presence.  I think writing, or anything worth doing, is also like this.  The inspiration seems to leave for a while.  The energy is gone. I keep working anyway. Sometimes, when there are deadlines or impending assignments we have no choice but to Keep Going. 
For much of the last 24 hours I’ve had an upset stomach. I think some of it is nervousness. I start a new class tomorrow and there seems to be more reading than I’ve ever had. In addition, I’m moving towards my final project and I still don’t know what I want to write about.  Finally, I still need to improve my academic writing and so far this has been a constant struggle for me.  This master’s program has been my cross, my suffering. I hesitate to use those terms. I’m not being crucified.  It’s not suffering comparable to what millions go through every day dealing with starvation, illness, sexual assault, injustice, racism, poverty, or loneliness, but it’s suffering anyway, because it’s a harder road than is necessary. I’m not Jesus, but I’m choosing this cross. Not for money or fame or a better job (though all those things would be nice if they came), but for love of the assignment, the literal and spiritual assignments I’ve been given. I’ve chosen history and I’ve chosen writing because, like my Muse, they were chosen for me from the beginning of time. I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to accept this pressure. But I have. And that means I can’t do other things I’d like to do. My time for myself and for those I love is very limited. 
For me, however, there is no other way than to Get Started and Keep Going, to use the difficulties to make me a better man and use the advantages I have to make the difficulties easier.