Slowing down.

The picture at the bottom of this post is an x-ray of my left small (pinky) finger. In the middle of December I unknowingly fractured it. At the onset, I thought it was merely bruised. I finally decided to have it looked at and x-rayed. It turned out that I fractured it in three different places and required surgery. Last week, I had two pins drilled into the first bone and joint of the finger to better align the bones and joint as they heal.

Life has moved at a slower pace as a result. The surgical dressing after the operation limited the clothing I could wear because of how think the dressing was around my wrist. Picking up things, cooking, working at a computer, driving and even sleeping have proven to be more challenging with one functioning hand. In a Chicago winter, it can be pretty frustrating. Extra layers of clothing are required and I need to constantly clear snow out from my vehicle and walkways. While I am right-hand dominant, I use my left hand more frequently for lifting, throwing, grabbing, eating, even brushing my teeth. The dominance isn’t distributed perfectly. The pain isn’t too bad, not enough to merit painkillers. It’s been a trial and experience.

The splint I now wear does help in practicing awareness and mindfulness, though. Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog has a guest-post from about a year ago on Craig Ballantyne’s 12 rules to live by. His seventh rule features two mantras: 1) “Nothing matters”, and 2) “It will all be over soon”.

While those may well be the mantra of a very depressed person, it can also help the majority of us in learning to see ourselves through both challenging times and rewarding ones. Spilling coffee on the kitchen table because of my splint isn’t the end of the world. I just laugh it off and clean up. My splint will be off in four weeks, I will have better control and dexterity then. I remember that life is finite as well, and to make the most of the time I do have, be it by learning, writing, spending quality time with my inner circle, or taking care of myself.  It’s not worth wasting time complaining or feeling sour about the splint or other restrictions.

My drum corps motto applies here too: 3) “Figure it out”. I tore up some thermal shirts from Goodwill so I’d have a warm layer that could fit over my cast. I’m wearing non-lace up shoes as much as possible to save time and frustration. And I’m not feeling bad about asking others for help. I am appreciating the fact that I have people who are willing to aid me and I look forward to the chance to pay their good forward. Until then, I’ll be drinking lots of milk.

2014-01-03

X-ray showing the pins drilled into my finger.

 

Twenty things to say.

It’s been a while- I have a couple posts in the pipeline but I find it hard to regularly sit down and write. I set a calendar reminder for every two weeks to write something up but constantly find myself with more to do. Putting more content up here needs to be a higher priority.

I hope you were able to enjoy Thanksgiving in some way or form. It’s been a good time to reflect on people in my life who are often taken for granted. There have been chances to reflect on my shortcomings with people and time to remember people who are no longer in my life, but made a significant impact on it.

A family member sent me a link to a video by Soul Pancake that I think is a little more poignant today, but is still worth viewing every day. One of their recurring characters is Kid President, a third grader that dons a suit and offers some encouraging views through his charismatic demeanor. Kid President’s most recent video is below- and I know there are a few things in there I need to remember to say more often to people daily. I’ll let the video speak for itself.

Some of my favorites are #14, #12, #10, #5 (!), and #2. Thinking about the last few posts- it takes a certain amount of awareness and vulnerability to say some of these things and truly mean them. It takes vulnerability to offer someone a corndog!

Building off of Kid President, I’ve learned a lesson lately with the difference between “I’m sorry” and “excuse me”. For a while “I’m sorry” became my default apology- whether I was in the way of someone’s path in the hallway; trying to acknowledge a cough, sneeze, or other bodily function; or trying to form a genuine apology. A friend called me out on my  bad habit and told me that “excuse me” is for things that you’ve done that you will inevitably do again- we’re going to bump into people, sneeze, and interrupt. “I’m sorry” should be reserved for actions you truly regret- hurting someone emotionally or physically, saying something out of character, or making a genuine mistake. Lately I have been working on forming the habit of using “excuse me” for my little miscues, and it’s made “I’m sorry” take on more weight and meaning. It’s a little thing, but I think it makes a difference. That’s something I’ll continue to work on.

The holiday season is upon us- hopefully remembering these 20 things might make it go little smoother, especially in our interactions with strangers.

Tom

Connecting to vulnerability and perfect moments.

The two pieces of media from the last post say a lot about the connections to reality, life, and each other that we need in order to feel happy and fulfilled. In a previous post, I mentioned that a personal ideal of mine is to stay connected to those within my inner circles, so these pieces of media struck a chord with me.

Maybe you didn’t have a chance to view them. A quick synopsis:

Brian Finkelstein’s Moth story describes two events relating to suicide. The first details the abrupt ending to his own personal struggle with the issue. The second event explains an experience in where he tried to help end a complete stranger’s similar struggle and his desire to communicate the value of “perfect life moments” with the stranger.

Brene Brown is a researcher whose TED talk on vulnerability also connects her personal experience with a desire to communicate her revelations to others. Through her research, she has found that at the core of shame is a resistance to being vulerable to others, which impacts our desire for connection to other human beings. She called shame the ‘fear of disconnection’.

In other words, Brown explains, when we experience shame, we fear that whatever is causing us shame is an imperfection no one can know about. She found that her research subjects who had a strong sense of love and belonging believed that they were worthy of that love. Brown compared that to those who did not have the same sense of connection. She found the difference was that the connected and loved had the courage to tell stories with their whole heart. They embraced imperfection and the willingness to put themselves in a vulnerable position, to say “I love you” first, to do something when there are no guarantees.

It’s important to be perceptive to “perfect life moments” as Finkelstein has, instead of caught up in the chaos and entropy that spiraled him into a suicide attempt. He found out his girlfriend was cheating on him, got a bottle of tequila and his dad’s gun, and drove and drank. He pulled over to a beach, put the barrel of the gun in his mouth…and threw up from too much tequila. The calm that followed- a quiet moment alone in the midnight ocean- was enough for him to realize that those moments were all he needed to live. Nothing else mattered-he had enough.

These two talks come together at the intersection of heightened awareness and knowing that we are “enough” and that we have “enough”. Suicide is one of the most extreme attempts to assert control over someone or a situation- it screams a person’s conclusion that they will never have enough, so it’s better that they have nothing at all. Finkelstein’s experiences are amplified compared to ones Brown talks about: people cope with the stress, fear, and anxiety of wondering if they are ‘enough’ by over-doing it: over-spending, over-medicating, over-eating, over-drinking, over-indulging in potentially addictive behaviors.

But instead of spiralling into self-destruction, either slowly or instantaneously, we can wake up. We can be aware of the perfect life moments that occur daily. We can feel fortunate to be connected to extraordinary people and be able to share struggles and imperfections with them. We can look around and realize that what we are and what we have is enough.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a rather extreme event for us to change our perception and begin thinking that way. Maybe it’s a loss of a loved one, or job, a change in health, hurting someone, or being a new environment. The silver lining is that those moments, those times when we feel helpless, are perfect moments to be aware and to embrace the vulnerability surrounding us. Only then can we realize how connected we are to life and those around us.

Once again, the talks, posted below:

Brian Finkelstein: Perfect Moments

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability

Some media for thought.

I have been pretty affected recently by two pieces of media that I’d like to share right now and blog about later.

These are a little dated, so they may have seen some exposure already, but it’s the first time I had come across them.

The first one is a Moth story by Brian Finkelstein about finding perfect life moments.

The second one is a TED talk by Brene Brown that highlights vulnerability, connection, and shame.

They’re intermingled in a few ways. I had a third link that I’ll reserve for later posting, it seems right now there’s a bit too much commotion over it on the web and I don’t want to be a band-wagoner. I have some ideas of how and why they are intermingled, but the ideas are jumbled and need some processing. For now I just wanted to share the links and ideas take shape.

Maintaining course.

The last post was about the endless pursuit- this one could be called maintaining pursuit.

As life progresses I realize how delicate the balance is between living with awareness, meaning, and purpose compared to wasting hours away. It’s amazing how quickly you can be thrown off course.

The past two weeks were a prime example of that. I started a course on Monday on Java programming (more on that in a later post) and I’m feeling slightly desolate because of the progress I made in preparation for the class. Of the past two weeks, the first one felt very scattered and rushed, while the second left me feeling more in control. I was pretty frustrated with my use of time the first week.

Here’s what I’m going to work on to stay more productive and happy:

Planning a schedule and sticking to it.

I find that I function so much better when I have that majority of my activity planned out for the week and attach it to a regular routine. That includes my fitness schedule, budgets, meal plans, study time, and my activity in the workplace. Having a schedule with set activity gives me a checklist for the day to attack. I need to be conscious of fulfilling the goals at hand and not giving into spontaneous decisions.

Rewarding myself.

Motivating yourself to stick to a schedule when it isn’t very fun or enjoyable is a challenge. I need to build in rewards to celebrate accomplishment. It works for a teacher and his students, it should work for others as well. Be it a meal out, an adventure with a friend, taking a “day off” from goal activities, or do something else I love. I feel I will work more effectively when I can enjoy my progress.

Maintaining ties.

I came across a TED talk a few days ago that I’ll soon write about. One thing I took away from the talk was the desire among humans for connection to one another. I’ve found that the lower points of my life were also times that I was more isolated from others. The more interactions I have with family, friends, and coworkers translate into more opportunities to feel accountable for myself, to others, to feel loved, to have fun, and to check in with the world outside my head. By scheduling time with connections, I am fulfilling the first two ideas of this post- to plan and reward.

The first week of preparation for this class was nearly absent of these three ideas. I did not plan effectively. I had few goals. I did not reward accomplishments; if I did something pleasureful, it was merely for the sake of pleasure and not really a reward for anything. I didn’t stay very connected with people outside of my necessary interactions. The second week was the complete opposite. I need to strive for more weeks like that. Finishing this blog is one step towards that. Finding the balance between structure and freedom is tricky, but hopefully sticking to these ideas will maintain that balance.

Leo at Zen Habits has some good, cheap ideas for rewards. Check them out.

Until next time.

The endless pursuit.

I identify myself as a runner. I ran track in high school, I’ve completed two half marathons, a 10K, a few 8Ks and a few 5Ks. I try to run year-round unless injured and while I’m not sure I’ll race again, I will try to run for life.

Last week I was out for a short 3-mile run. As I approached the turn-around point on my route I saw a runner on the opposite side of the street heading in the opposite direction. I touched the streetlight at my turnaround, now following the other runner, and got after it.

My sights locked down on my new challenge. My turnover rate increased and my feet sprung off the ground a little quicker as I continued my mini-race. I had a mile and a half to go on my route but as far as I was concerned, all that mattered was the next quarter mile. I secretly hoped he stayed on my street so I’d have a little more time to catch him. As I closed in, I felt a rush of adrenaline and my speed increased even more. I pulled up even to him and continued my route, refreshed and energized.

The experience reminded me of the endless pursuits we engage in every day. Many people describe the beginnings of courtship as “the thrill of the chase”, even Adele wrote about her failures in love as “chasing pavements”. Catching that runner reminded me of all the things I’m chasing. I remembered not to lose sight of them, to persist, and to both enjoy the chase and be motivated by its outcome, whether that be falling short or succeeding.

I chase self-actualizations and acceptance of myself. I chase knowledge. I chase new skills. I chase relationships- I’ve broken many over the last few years and I need to strengthen them. I chase better outings in the kitchen. I chase financial stability. I chase good health. I chase happiness. I will be happy, but rarely satisfied.

Here’s to that endless pursuit.

 

PS- This probably goes against other philosophies I’ve subscribed to lately, like being content with your own run and understanding other runners you find are at different ability levels and training stages compared to you. I understand that and keep that in mind, but this one particular moment was simply refreshing and the chase felt validated and worthwhile. I understand that the ultimate chases with running and other endeavors are against my personal bests, but for a brief moment, I let myself compete a little. It was fun.