Lessons From a Past, Forgotten

I went to see a good friend of mine for some smalltalk since we hadn’t seen each other for a month or two. We’ve known each other for 15 years and I compare our friendship to a ripe fruit. Sometimes the fruit was exposed to too much sunlight or didn’t get enough water, but it persisted and became something meaningful. We accept our differences and learn to see the best in each other. At least we try.

Both of our birthdays had passed, but he hadn’t given me any birthday present so I received a belated gift from him. He had the tasteful idea of buying me LEGO’s. During our childhood, we both enjoyed building and dismantling LEGO’s for as long as we can remember. I went home, slowly sat down and looked at the box. I shook it, I inspected the package carefully. Upon opening the package I smiled a bit to myself and looked at the pieces. I took the time to lay them all down noticing that my head was thinking about how much time this took and how I could do it faster to move on…

When did it all go wrong? When did I decide that fame, success and recognition were adequate substitutes for enjoyment of the immediate experience? How could it have ever made sense to value an uncertain future through projections of the self.

An object takes shape, from individual pieces that work together.

I went on with a slow, aimless pace. I know that the mind will follow the body. Eventually my brain got the message. I felt each piece on my fingers. I looked at the different shapes. I noticed how vibrant the colors were. From a bright yellow to a bursting red I realized how stimulating these colors were. I hadn’t been this mindful in months. Nothing else perturbed me anymore.

I also noticed how I had made an assumption on how one of the block was placed. The first thing that fired off in my mind was “This is a mistake”. Then I recollected myself and thought of the word “mistake”. It’s a funny word. As far as I am concerned, a “mistake” just means doing a thing which does not meet certain expectations. It isn’t really a mistake if we remove the expectations part. I would rather call it an “interesting detour”.

The product and the creator are indivisible.

Humanization with Laughter

We all have weeks where we feel like Tyler Durden from Fight Club. Alienated, disconnected, careless and reckless. For some people this translates into feeling further away from humanity than ever before. Feeling repulsed by the flesh yet taking part in pornography or prostitution, being unable to share in on our feelings with everyone else, being unable to cry, seeing life in a polarizing fashion… I could put out many more examples, but you get the point.

It shows through the body too. Fear attracts fear, it’s a powerful tool, which coupled with the concept of a self-fulling prophecy can put us into a social environment that causes endless and unnecessary suffering.

I’m experimenting with different strategies to stay out of the slump, or at least change my relationship with it. So far I have found that a very fast way of breaking the mold is by doing the opposite of our usual act. There’s a psychotherapist that once said : “If you keep doing the sames things, you must expect the same results”. Feeling frustrated? Stop acting in similar ways ‘get off the beaten path’.

Another one that I like is from a book called “A guide to the good life” by William B Irvin., he talks about laughter and self-deprecating humor as vital assets to anyones toolkit. I whole heartily agree. We often suffer because we are being very serious and putting people or ideals on a pedestal. Hell, if there’s one quick way to snap out and get down our high horse it is by picking up on how ridiculous we are being. Any good doctor will have no problem prescribing a healthy amount of laughter at the world and at self. Kurt Vonnegut likes to laugh at out ridiculous the world is too and I’d like to think that this is what makes his books so accessible.

Watch interviews of Freddie Mercury or Frank Zappa, the two guys were not acting. They were who they were. Not afraid to voice an opinion and being able to laugh at oneself and at the way things work. That’s part of what made them so interesting.

The next time you feel a bit off, do something radically different or laugh out loud.

Vagabond Series : Part 1

I introduced Vagabond about two weeks ago as being an engaging work of art that has life lessons, historical artifacts and a good deal of entertaining value. Today, I am going to cover Takezo’s psychological profile at the age of 17 which is where the manga starts. These articles contain spoilers. As always, the pictures are the work of Takehiko Inoue and are used for educational purposes.

Takezo, like many other interesting protagonists, attracts people to him inadvertently. During his stay at Oko’s hideaway, he resists temptations of alcohol and Oko’s seductive matters. There seems to be a higher purpose driving him; a worship of the intangible.

In the midst of battle, Takezo still finds the time to call out for his friends.

Takezo gets into many fights with the bandits during this arc. He is almost always outnumbered by incompetent warriors. They might not be great adversaries, but this is a testament to Takezo’s shakeless resolve to become invincible. He is continually regarded as a young boy; but he delivers. His conviction, his skill in combat and his fearlessness are the first pillars of his character at that age. These are all attractive and borderline charismatic traits. As far as his physique goes, he is bigger and meaner than your average Joe. He also demonstrates a sense of duty by trying to help out his comrades. Not the talkative kind, Takezo is seen as a quiet force in most social encounters. Being a sponge is a great trait for any leader who is keen on learning. Not to mention that he demonstrates that trait without wanting to take advantage of any situation in particular. Just great analytical skills.

At a young age, Takezo is already asking important open-ended questions. He starts wondering what this endless fighting leads to and what it means to him. This demonstrates his ability to contemplate and understand his demeanor more objectively.

We also learn that Takezo did most of his growing up in the mountains. This can describe why he is seen as distant and unapproachable at times. Since he grew up alone, it also explains why he might be prone to have contemplative moments. He must have spent a good deal of time without human contact. This must have forced him to be mindful of his own company.

We get to see some interactions of Takezo and his father. We learn that Takezo comes from a renowned Samurai bloodline. We also see that Takezo’s relationship with fear is very peculiar. I would like to think that this is what makes Takezo so interesting. In the face of adversity and pain, he still knows fear, but it does not paralyze him out of action or skew his senses. As far as his childhood goes, his father treats Takezo as an enemy. His mother, well she left Takezo with his mad father. Practically an orphan.

Takuan reading Takezo’s emotional state like an open book.

Takezo eventually meets Takuan Soho. Takuan is a known Zen Monk and this scene illustrates how sharp he is. Without even knowing Takezo, Takuan figures out the deep nature of Takezo’s character. They will cross paths many more times.

Finally, Takezo is psychologically and physically beaten up into sense by Takuan Soho who tells him that his life is not just about killing and slashing people away. There is no doubt that this life-threatening experience marks Takezo permanently and dictates his behavior in the future chapters.

That’s that! Takezo at the age of 17 can be seen as a deep, question-seeking individual with great physical capabilities and a fearlessness that does not seem to be encountered anywhere else.

Prevention : The Underdog

Watch towers in medieval times had a very specific role. They were used to sound the alarm when enemies were in line of sight. These crucial minutes could often mean the difference between fending off the enemy and total annihilation.

That is the mentality I live by everyday. The classic adage “A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true. That is why I am very interested in reading books on medicine, mental and physical health. As Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones put it :

“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”

Staying mentally sharp to see what is ahead of the curve is of vital importance. I will read and indulge in this books with an almost angry thirst for knowledge. I do it for selfish reasons, I want to be educated, knowing that every day brings me closer to a non-existent plateau. I also believe that this action ultimately helps everyone else since we can be great mentors to each other.

Society today provides us with many sources of immediate entertainment and everything we need to lose our sense of self. I learned that less than a year ago Quebec had stop suggesting yearly physicals. The result of this act is that family doctors were now going to get paid way less for doing physicals on a healthy human beings. Human beings act on behalf of prevention. Quebec is following the lead of other provinces who have already abolished the annual checkup. I would say this is a step in the wrong direction by sending the follow message to adults : don’t worry bro, come see us when it hurts.

This wouldn’t be a big deal, but to get a physical done at a private clinic costs about 900$. That is far from accessible. It’s complete BS. Opening a file costs about 85 CAD. I mean were talking about creating a file on a fucking computer with your address, your name and general questions. How can that cost 85 bucks? The health care systems aren’t even linked, so our medical history has to be manually requested and compiled upon a new registration.

In this situation the best thing we can do is stay educated. The INTERNET might be saturated and overloaded with information, it remains a good starting point to find decent books and articles published by certified professionals on a myriad of subjects. If we stay disciplined and remain skeptical we might just make it out of the labyrinth.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

I just finished reading ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living : Time-Tested Methods for Conquering Worry’ from Dale Carnegie. As usual, when I read self-development content I do my best to summarize the content. Doing so provides many tangible benefits and is probably the surest way to actually apply some of the stuff in life. Which, at the end of the day, is what matters most. Below are the points that I personally found interesting and worth remembering. The points are direct quotes from the book and are used for educational purposes. I do give my input on the quotes, but keep in mind that they are most easily understood within the context of their use. Therefore if you think this is worthwhile then please get the book for further reading.

Chapter 1

One grain of sand at a time, one task at a time. So let’s be content to live from now until bedtime.

We can only do so much in a day, let’s stay focused and avoid spreading ourselves thin.

Every day is a new life to a wise man.

We can avoid worrying by living in what Dale calls ‘day-tight compartments’. There’s no point thinking about our past screw ups beyond getting a lesson from them nor is it wise to dread tomorrow’s events if they might never happen.

Chapter 2 and 3

How to deal with problems that worry us :

  1. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can possibly happen if I can’t solve my problem?
  2. Prepare yourself mentally to accept the worst — if necessary.
  3. Then calmly try to improve upon the worst — which you have already mentally agreed to accept.

If we can’t stop thinking about a problem, we might as well prepare ourselves mentally to the worst outcome. This may alleviate our worries by giving us a clear picture of what could happen.

Those who do not know how to fight worry die young.

Understand that equipping yourself with the right mental tools to deal with worrying is priceless. It is worth acquiring these tools for improved quality of life.

Chapter 4

How to deal with a worry :

  1. Writing down precisely what I am worried about.
  2. Writing down what I can do about it.
  3. Deciding what to do.
  4. Starting immediately to carry out that decision.

Writing down our worry is a good exercise that helps us get a clear picture and action is often the best remedy.

Chapter 5

Have people coming up to you with problems all the time? Have them fill up a form with answers to the following four questions. Chances are they will figure it out on their own. Or at least they will have a clear picture of the problem, so will you.

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is the cause of the problem?
  3. What are possible solutions to the problem?
  4. What solution do you suggest?

Chapter 6

The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not.

I couldn’t agree more. This leisure usually translates to boredom. found out why you are bored if you hate boredom and need to think about something.

Keep busy. The worried person must love himself in action, lest he wither in despair.

This is true. I might add that it will be especially effective when our actions our purposeful. We want to avoid climbing the ladder against the wrong wall! Otherwise, keeping busy is a good way of dismissing our train of thoughts.

Chapter 8

Nearly all of our worries and unhappiness come from our imagination and not from reality.

We all know this. Unfortunately we often give in to our thoughts. How often do our thoughts never leave our head? Too many times. Let’s put a stop to it by catching ourselves whenever our minds wander for long periods of time.

Let’s examine the record, what are the chances?

It can be worth looking at statistics to see what are the odds. Taking a flight is difficult for some individuals, but when you look at statistics you have 1 in 11 million chances of dying in a plane crash. The odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 5000!

Chapter 9

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

Classic quote. Read it a few times to instill this priceless advice.

Cooperate with the inevitable.

If shit hits the fan, shit hits the fan. Acceptance is a powerful tool. It can make an uncomfortable experience more bearable.

Chapter 10

You have a worrying thought pestering you frequently? Put a stop/loss order on your worry:

How much does this thing I am worrying about really matter to me?

At what point shall I set a “stop-loss” order on this worry — and forget it?

Exactly how much shall I pay for this whistle?[1] Have I already paid more than it is worth?

To put you into context, the “stop-loss” order is inspired by the stock market action which let’s you automatically sell a stock after it reaches a certain threshold.

[1] How Benjamin Franklin spent too much money on a whistle.

This habit is surprisingly useful. If you find yourself worrying about something trivial 15–20 times over an hour or two, you can put a stop-loss order on this worry and surely enough, it will stop disturbing your peace of mind.

Chapter 11

Don’t cry over spilled milk.

A classic adage. I recently lost my left leather glove and a scarf that was dear to me. Partly due to a state of intoxication. After doing what I could to find them back the next morning I accepted my situation and moved on; No use crying over spilled milk.

Chapter 12

A man is what he thinks all day long, how could he possibly be anything else?

This thought is so obvious, that I was oblivious to it. Now and then as I do my commute, I do an internal check up to see what I am thinking about. If it’s worrying, resentment or anything that invalidates my purpose I do what I can to shake things up and influence myself into a confident state of mind.

Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.

I’m putting this one in bold. It’s a citation that resonated with me and is worth contemplating on. Give yourself a quiet day to see how this may apply to you.

Chapter 13

Let’s never waste a minute thinking about people we don’t like.

To put another way, resentment is wanting to poison someone by drinking the poison yourself. Avoid the feeling at all costs.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

This was Bernard Baruch’s answer when Dale Carnegie asked him if he has ever been disturbed by the attacks of his enemies during the war.

Chapter 14

People who are ill from ingratitude, loneliness and neglect. They long to be loved, but the only way in this world that they can ever hope to be loved is to stop asking for it and to start pouring out love without hope of return.

Words of truth.

Chapter 15

You can express only what is in your own consciousness. I resolved to think only the thoughts I wanted to live by.

It all starts in the mind. Pay attention to what you are thinking about, if it’s counter-productive or painful, face them.

Count your blessings not your troubles.

Similar to being grateful for what we already have. The human brain is almost wired to always seek things to fill an imaginary pit. Reverse this process and start seeing that life can work for you instead of the opposite.

I had the blues because I had no shoes. Until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet.

One of my favorite quotes in the book. It’s quite visual. I personally don’t like comparing myself to people who are worst-off, but there’s nothing wrong with using every tool in the bag to swing our mood back up and create value for ourselves and consequently everyone else.

Chapter 16

Nobody is so miserable as he who longs to be somebody and something other than the person he is in body and mind.

I won’t talk about the feasibility aspect involved here, but if we can at least avoid mass-exposure to media and cultivate a sense of worth for ourselves we might just make our world that much better.

Nobody wants a phony. Nobody ever wants a counterfeit coin.

It’s so much better to act on our own value system, even if it means shaking up people in our immediate surrounding. There is a fine line between being yourself and respecting the social ethics that are in place. You will know if you are fooling yourself or if you are being a jerk. Use those hints. As Thoreau once said : “Above all else, do not lie to yourself”.

Chapter 17

Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw the mud, the other one saw the stars.

The north-wind made the vikings.

The best things are the most difficult, happiness is not mostly pleasure, it is mostly victory. The victory that comes from a sense of achievement, of triumph. Question your definition of happiness. Question your relationship with opposition.

Chapter 19

Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find it; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Powerful words to live by.

Chapter 20

None ever kicks a dead dog.

If it’s done it’s done. Move on.

Chapter 21

Do the very best you can and just laugh at criticism.

As far as I am concerned, laughing can be a real life-saver. I remember seeing a man who had lost everything but kept on living for his family who said that he would have long gone insane if it wasn’t for his ability to laugh things off.

Chapter 22

Benjamin Franklin gave himself a severe going-over every night. He discovered faults which he wanted eliminated… Go over your good and bad moves every night.

Be honest with yourself, this practice can lead to better living standards.

Chapter 23

Rest up before before getting tired: take frequent rests!

People ask me why I look so healthy after a week at work during a late-night party. What they don’t know is that I take an hour-long nap before leaving the house before supper!

Chapter 24

I find that the chief obstacle is the almost universal belief that hard work requires a feeling of effort else it is not well done.

I’d like to think that this is what separates adepts from masters.

Chapter 25

Try to make up a story about the next person you meet.

This one is a classic for increasing personal warmth with people. It is an exercise that can help us boost our charisma, become more approachable and develop a sense of humility with everyone.