Tag Archives: Health

How Fragile We Are: A Temporary Life in a Vulnerable Body

“Nature of life is fragile. Uncontrollable events happen all the time in life.” –Kilshore Bansal

Hello friend,

I had quite a health scare last week that left me physically weak and emotionally rattled. It never fails to amaze me by just how little we are hanging on.

My pain came on quite suddenly Monday afternoon. I had lay down on the sofa with a mug of cocoa to write in my journal. By the end of my entry, my stomach felt so overfull that I was disgusted with what a glutton I was. I figured that I would get up and move around, maybe use the bathroom, and things would settle down and be fine. They were not. The pain increased, but I was managing, and by the time I went to bed, I convinced myself that I would be fine in the morning and that my Tuesday would be as ordinary as ever.

How wrong I was.

I did all I could to get myself going in the morning and off to work. I felt horrible but told myself that I wouldn’t think about the doctor unless I still felt bad on Wednesday. After all, I didn’t have the fever and other symptoms of the nasty flu that has been such demolishing people all Winter, so I did not worry about infecting anyone else. It was just my own pain–constant, knee-buckling pain–in one localized area of my body. However, by late afternoon, I had begun to believe that I was not going to make it anywhere on Wednesday. I needed immediate help.

When the doctor at Urgent Care seemed confounded enough to send me home with some Maalox, I began to worry. I knew it was something serious, not just a bad tummy ache. As a last resort, she ordered a blood test, the results of which had her ordering me to go directly to the Emergency Room.

It was a quiet, solemn ten minutes in the car. “So this is how my story ends, eh?” That was the first thought in my head. I thought of all the people who have unwittingly embarked on their final day or final chapter of existence under the most ordinary circumstances. They got up and went to work that day as usual, and by the end of the day, they had been crushed by a car or had a stroke or received a diagnosis that would signal the their demise and final destiny. I thought I might be in that last category. I envisioned the ER doctors, after a series of scans, informing me that a malignant tumor had taken over the organs of my abdomen and that there was nothing more they could do but try to keep me comfortable until my certain death arrived, all of which I then had to explain to my wife when she arrived at the hospital. I wasn’t scared or panicked on that drive, but I definitely had a good cry. Maybe it was that awful vision, maybe it was the pain, and maybe it was that I was all alone. In any case, I wept for the final few minutes of the drive. Then, when I pulled into the parking lot, I got myself together to face my new reality, whatever that would be.

A couple of lonely and painful hours later–with a few more cries mixed in when the nurses would leave my room–after those envisioned scans were completed, I lay there contemplatively and awaited the results. I marveled at how, at any moment, some news would casually enter the room and either shatter my entire existence (as well as the lives of my wife and kids) or grant me a temporary reprieve. I pondered disbelievingly at how nonchalant that Fate can be, how lives get snuffed out and turned upside down in the most ordinary moments.  

Drunk driver. Aneurysm. School shooting. Diagnosis.

All day long. Every day of the year.  

Was the coming moment–the one that was so ordinary to everyone but me–about to be my moment? I wasn’t fretting, but I wasn’t forcing optimism, either. I think I was mostly in awe of the absolute powerlessness I felt. I was supremely aware of the blunt fact that Fate could do whatever she wanted with the fragile vessel that was my body, that it was completely out of my control and always would be. I served at her pleasure. There was the sense that the IVs and other tubes and machines I was hooked up to were there simply to administer helplessness. It was palpable.

I had never felt so insignificant in all my life.

So, what did I feel when the doctor came in with her sober face and her “I’m sorry to have to tell you this…” tone and told me that I had an appendicitis and would need to have surgery immediately? I felt relief. Relief that I got to go back home in a day or two to resume my normal life of pretending that I know how each day will go and that I have some control over the outcome. Relief that I got to go chase my kids around again and act as though we will certainly have all the time in the world together. Relief that my wife and I could resume our happy assumption that we will grow old together. Relief that I got to write another book and more of these letters to you. And ultimately, relief that I could feel like, “OF COURSE I will do all of that.” Of course.

I suppose it is an amazing privilege to live in a place and time that we can so easily delude ourselves that all will be well for the foreseeable future. I live in American suburbia in the 21st century. In spite of the nonsense in Washington and the regular mass shootings around the country, it is my privilege to drink clean water, have access to quality medical care, and feel physically safe where I live and reasonably certain of what comes next.

But let’s be honest: it’s still an illusion of safety and certainty. Those things aren’t real. We are at the whims of Fate. That aneurysm or drunk driver can hit at any moment.

That was the sobering reality that hit me on the way to the Emergency Room and remained on my shoulder as I waited for the doctor to deliver the news. I knew that she could just as easily speak the words “stomach cancer” as “appendicitis” when she walked through the door, and that Fate’s flip-of-the-coin might bring the other answer to the person waiting in the next room. We were both powerless to change her verdict.

Even after I received the “good news” and felt that big exhalation of relief, that peek behind the curtain of Reality left me rattled emotionally. For the next few days, I was a raw nerve.

When my kids came to see me the next day in the hospital, it was all I could do to keep from bursting out crying. They were the thing I stood to lose on that coin flip, after all, and I had shuddered even more at the thought of them losing me at their age. If they weren’t already wearing Fear on their faces at seeing me hooked up to all those tubes, I know I would have let out an involuntary sob. As it was, I fought it back and just told them I loved them and missed them terribly in the day that had passed. I was the same way when my Mom called. I could hardly breathe–much less speak–in my effort to keep the floodgates closed.

The thing that finally burst the dam was a movie. On the morning I was released from the hospital, I went home to nap in my bed. When I woke, I started a movie that I had long wanted to watch on Netflix, “Fruitvale Station.” It is based on a true story of a young man’s last day on Earth, ending in his murder. On a different day, I might have finished watching and been angry at the injustice of the murder and sad about the loss to the young man’s mother, child, and girlfriend, but I think I would have moved on without much drama. Not this day. No, I lay in bed and sobbed and sobbed at the random and senseless cruelty of the world and how we walk daily along that razor’s edge between a happy normalcy and a completely shattered existence. Shortly after I stopped crying, my wife came home, took one look at me, and asked what had happened. I couldn’t even get the words out; I just sobbed and sputtered some more.

That peek behind the curtain had broken me. It was Life and the unfairness and uncertainty of it. And it was the sheer recklessness of Fate. How it could take that young man with the beautiful daughter and his newfound resolution to be better. How it could casually erase the lives of children in the middle of a normal school day. How it could nonchalantly shake the Earth and crumble the homes in one town but not another, then turn around and scatter terminal diagnoses all over the planet. And it was the absolute clarity that, despite the fact that I got off easy this time, it could just as easily have gone the other way.

All of that reality caught up to me in that moment, and I let it all out through my eyes.

In the days that have followed, my body has grown stronger, and with it I have rebuilt my illusion. I no longer spend the day thinking about how completely fragile each of our existences is. I am getting past that jarring sensation I felt upon realizing how temporary and random are our lives and deaths. I am planning for the future again, even as I am reminding myself to be present and enjoy each moment I have here with these beautiful people that I call mine. I am telling myself that waking up early for the gym each morning will let me live a longer, happier, and healthier life. I am trying to be “normal” again.

I have to admit though, that there is a thin veil over my normal now. I got spooked last week on my way to the hospital. Spooked by Reality. You know that traumatized feeling you get when someone just about rams into you with their car as you are driving–that freaked out, breathless, sobering kind of spook? It was like that, but instead of dissipating after a few minutes, it stayed. So I am wondering: will this gun-shy feeling go away with time, or will every moment of joy and freedom and planning and dreaming be tinged with that peek behind the curtain, that look into Fate’s eyes, the same way that Death has a way of leaving that tinge on every moment thereafter? I will have to wait and see, I suppose.

Still, I can’t help but think that it will become harder and harder to shake the truth that our existence–my existence–is a temporary and uncertain one in a body that is vulnerable to the whims of Fate and random chance. I’m not sure that will ever quite sit well with me.

How about you? How do you make peace with the vulnerability of your body and the random and uncertain nature of Life in general? Open up your journal and go deep as you pull back the curtain on this topic that we typically keep ourselves in denial about. How often, if ever, do you allow yourself to fully absorb how vulnerable your body is to any number of potential destructions? Does it take a personal crisis, such as a car crash or medical emergency? Do you feel it when there is an “act of God” that makes the news, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami that kills lots of people? How about things nearby, such as when someone in your community is stricken with cancer or killed by a drunk driver? Does it hit you at all when you hear of tragedies further away from home, such as a famine in Africa or a genocide in Syria? Do you brush those things quickly past your awareness, or do you allow them in? How does each of these types of peril affect you? What makes one type more staggering than the other? Does it have to happen directly to you to affect you deeply, or is your empathy enough to be shaken by these occurrences in others? When you feel it, how quickly are you able to get back to your illusion of safety and security? Is that a healthy and necessary denial? Is it also healthy to have these periodic reminders (read: scares) to help you to see that life is to be cherished and not wasted? Overall, how free are you of the shadow of this near-death existence that you live every day? How has that changed as you have aged? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you navigate life in your fragile and temporary body?  

Spread sunlight,

William

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Grading Your Year: A Personal Report Card for 2017

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Hello friend,

The year 2017, as told through the screens on my phone, tablet, computer, and television, was just about the most absurd, infuriating, and demoralizing year imaginable. I had the feeling so often this year that, if we were being studied from afar by alien scientists, they would report that we are clearly devolving as a species, degenerating into a lower state of intellectual and moral being. I suppose there are plenty of “Year in Review” types of shows airing this week, but I don’t even dare to watch. I don’t much care to relive anything that people were talking about this year. It was pretty darn awful out there. I fear that if I admit to just how awful or try to delve into it, I will make for a most depressing companion at the New Year’s festivities. No, I think I will pass on assessing the great big world this year.

But how about my personal year in my little corner of the world?

That doesn’t seem nearly as depressing or daunting a task. After all, as I sit here in these final moments of the year, I still have a smile on my face and a mind eager enough to learn and grow from the lessons this year has provided. It helps, I know, that I process it every day in my journal, so I have some sense of how my report card will come out–I guess I can sense it was not all rainbows and butterflies, but I know it was one I would not trade, either–but I am open to being surprised by my assessment of the various aspects of my existence and how they were shaped by the events of 2017.

Hindsight has a way of casting a new light on things, dusting off some of the emotions and baggage of the moment and revealing its true essence and its value in the grand scheme of our lives. I think I am due for some of that clarity after what has been a most unusual year in the History of Me.

So, how did I do?

Well, maybe it is healthy to admit to a failure right from the start. I know I deserve an “F” in the Finances/Career departments. I was horrible at that from start to finish, truly. Starting the year out having just lost my job last Christmas was certainly a harbinger of things to come. I struggled to find my way all year into something that both paid the bills and met my family’s other needs. Though I have tried to maintain my general positivity and my big picture perspective through it all, I admit to falling into moments of shame, frustration, and disillusionment regarding my aspirations and failings on this front as the year passed. I have chastised myself for both my failings as a breadwinner and my weakness in allowing those failings too much control over my emotions. So, definitely an “F” here.

Another thing I did not do very well with is my Friendships. It is true that as an unsocial and introverted cat, this has never been my strong suit. So, it isn’t as though I had a very high standard from which to judge myself. However, I found myself thinking more and more as the year went on that this is an area I want to do better with: both in making new friends and in staying well-connected with my old friends. Truth: I didn’t do very well with either. I am most disappointed in myself for doing a poor job of keeping up with my best friends, letting too long pass between visits and calls. Maybe a “D” here. Not good.

Okay, this report card is not looking so good at this point! I must have done something well….

How about Family? Yes, the family stuff was quite good this year on the whole. Though I again did poorly with calling my siblings and parents, I made a bigger effort to travel to spend time with them. That was immensely rewarding, both for me and for the children. Speaking of the children, the one thing I think I do consistently well is fatherhood. That was the case this year; we have had a great time, and my relationship with each kid is strong and loving. I wish I could say I did as well as a spouse, but I consistently fail to live up to my expectations there. Still, I have had fun with my wife and have tried to be supportive while enjoying watching her grow and blossom in her new endeavors. All in all, a good score here (let’s say “B+”).

As for my Health, I am grateful to say that I would give that a “B”. There are reminders everywhere of how dramatically one’s quality of life diminishes when health problems arise, so I feel quite blessed that my issues this year have been small. I have had little nagging injuries that have kept me from some activities, but no injury has shut me down entirely. As a guy who needs to be active to remain sane, I will take that as a blessing.

Looking back, I realize that I did not do quite as well as usual with my Spirituality, which also dictates my Psychology. I seemed to be less mindful during the day, less aware of the beauty and wonder of the Divine all around me. With that, I was somewhat less grateful than normal, having fewer of those bowled-over-and-humbled-by-the-absolute-magnificence-of-the-Universe moments than I am accustomed to. I have long believed that Gratitude is the mother of Happiness, so maybe I was a bit less happy this year than my usual state of Bliss. I can make lots of excuses for this distraction from my spiritual home base–joblessness, financial strain, self-induced pressure to finish my book, etc.–but the fact is that it is under my control, and I did not live up to my high standards this year. I would say “B-“.

As someone who spent all of his school years as a “Straight-A” kind of guy, these grades for 2017 are not looking very good to me. There is a ton of room for improvement! And though I am definitely disappointed in myself on multiple fronts, there is something that sneaked into the picture late in the year that softens the blow and even puts a smile on my face.

Is there a spot on the report card for “Fulfilled a Lifelong Dream”? If so, I want to give myself an “A” there. While I had worked on it for years, it was only in this year when I truly devoted my focus to not just working on the book but finishing it. It had been my biggest goal when 2017 started, and I felt the weight of that as Autumn came. The clock ticked loudly every day, and fears and doubts screamed at equal volume. But I reminded myself that, coming into the year, the way I said I wanted to feel all year was BRAVE. On I went. Then, finally, it was done.

Of course, there was relief for being finally finished, and there was excitement about seeing my creation out in the world. But the best part was the feeling it gave me way down deep inside, in a place that I would venture to call my soul. I guess I would describe it as feeling “solid” there, like a deep confidence at having done something substantial toward my life purpose. My foundation was cemented. That is quite a feeling. I hope that you will feel it one day if you have not yet. It will change your world.

I know that this effort and its incalculable reward came at the cost of some of those low grades in the other categories. And though I certainly wish they weren’t so low–I like to have my cake and eat it, too–I have to admit that, in the end, doing the work of my soul and cementing a foundation piece of my purpose made all the sacrifices worth it.

2017 was obviously not the year in which I sparkled across the board. It was, however, the year that I built a lighthouse, one that will keep on shining, providing me with a guide during the many storms that the coming years are sure to bring. I am at peace with the sacrifice and grateful for the light. Bring on 2018!

How about you? How would you grade your 2017? Open up your journal and ponder all of the various aspects of your life over the last year. Even before you dissect each one, how do you feel, generally speaking, as you sit here at the end of your year? Satisfied? Relieved? Stressed? Elated? Indifferent? If you had to describe your year in a word, what would it be? Okay, now look at the different areas of your life and build your report card. You can just go category by category, or you can start with all the good or all the bad. How was 2017 for your job and career path? Closely related to that, how was it for your finances? Better or worse than your expectations? Why? Did it have more to do with things under your control or out of your control? Did you remember that you are in charge of your attitude no matter what the circumstances were? How well did you choose that attitude? Okay, how about your friendships? Were you as good a friend as you want to be? Where can you do better? How about family? How happy were you with your relatives this year? Did you strike the right balance of time with them: enough to deepen your bonds, not so much to drive yourself crazy? How was your health and fitness this year? Did your body hold you back from doing things that you wanted to do? What grade would you give your spiritual life this year? How about your psychological state? Were you grateful? Did you feel connected? How much awe did you experience? Okay, big picture: how does your report card look? Do your scores in those main categories make it seem like a good year, or not so much? Now consider this: was there something else–some bigger event or accomplishment–that overshadowed the main categories and colored your view of the year, either for the good or the bad? Perhaps it was a major personal achievement that brightens the rest–like me with my book–or perhaps it is something like the death of a loved one, which darkens the rest. Now that you have considered the categories and graded your year in each, what grade would you give the year as a whole? Was it twelve months that you would gladly relive, or are you eager to move on? Leave me a reply and let me know: How does your report card for 2017 look?

Make each moment count,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s make LIFE together!

P.P.S. You can find my new book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at http://www.amazon.com/author/williamrutten and many of your other favorite booksellers, including barnesandnoble.com and iBooks.

Health Care, Values, & Obligations: What Are Taxes Meant For?

dsc_0588“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Hello friend,

Have you ever been in the middle of one of your most mundane daily activities—exercising, depositing money at the bank, adding two numbers, driving to the grocery store, tying your shoes, stuff like that—doing your thing the way you have always done it, when someone comes along and points out a totally different way to do it? Or maybe they even ask you why you are doing it in the first place? Suddenly you are forced to defend something you have never even thought about before. You have always just done it. It’s how you learned, and you never considered another way. Never even realized there was an option. But then there it is, right in front of you. It seems so obvious that you cannot believe that you didn’t notice it all this time. And here you are, your mind freshly blown, with a workout that suddenly has you losing weight, doing “new math,” banking online, having your groceries delivered, or using the “Circle Technique” on your laces. It seems crazy! Has that ever happened to you?

I think that is happening to me with health care. I suppose it has been happening for many years, but it feels sudden. My mind is spinning with a new possibility that was there all along.

Let me just say up front what I want and why. I want “free” health care for all people, and I want it because ensuring people’s health and well-being is at the core of the kind of common human decency that I believe we owe to the people we share space with.  

I could go on and on for pages about the Why part, but let’s get right to the meat of things. I look at health care like any other thing that our parents and grandparents believed was the job of the government–using our tax dollars–to provide for our care and convenience. Without any of us even thinking about it, of course our tax dollars pay for a police force, the fire department, streets and highways, a sewer system, drinking water, a strong military, elementary and high school education, and environmental protection.

Seriously, have you questioned lately why we all pay taxes on those things? Have you ever questioned it? I haven’t. And when I do question them now, my answer is, “Of course I am willing to pay taxes to fund those services. They exist to provide my most basic needs and things that I value: protection from hostile forces, safe travel, order in my neighborhood, health, safe food and drink, education.” I can’t imagine ever opposing chipping in for those basics for all people. They are what I would deem essential, and no more for me than anyone else. I won’t say it is technically everyone’s “right” to have these basics, but it reflects our basic human decency that we see them as essential for all. Therefore, it is our obligation to provide them.

If you are with me so far, I think now is a good time to sneak in my basic question: How is health care NOT on that list of essentials? Honestly, I am trying to see how it differs and am struggling for answers. The only thing I can come up with is that, “It’s just how it’s always been in America.” (And, I must add, only in America.)

I suppose we all have the same blind spot I had until recently! I don’t think I am the only one who, if pressed for an answer, sees caring for the health of all as at least as important as providing fire protection for all or education for all. I don’t want to get into splitting hairs here since I have already deemed them all essential, but if forced, I don’t think it would be farfetched to suggest that, of those three just mentioned—health, fire protection, and education—health care just might be most important. In any case, I have yet to hear an argument that kicks it off the list.

But perhaps you want to quibble. Maybe you think the health and well-being of your neighbors should not be your concern, and anyway, you aren’t interested in paying more in taxes to help them out. They aren’t that valuable. So let’s look at some of the other stuff you regularly pay taxes for. As we do, try to build a sort of ranking system for how important—indeed, how essential–you believe these are relative to your own health and that of others you know. Here are just a few:

  • City parks
  • Space exploration
  • Street sweeping
  • Recreational programming
  • Subsidies for agriculture and big oil companies
  • The Arts
  • Lifetime salaries for Senators and Congressmen
  • National Parks
  • Science research
  • Zoos
  • Corporate Bailouts (e.g. the auto industry or Wall Street)
  • Libraries
  • Snow removal

We could go on and on, of course, as our taxes go to so many different and important things. How is your ranking system going so far? I won’t bore you with how I rank them. I will only say that I don’t value any of them—value them for me or for others (and believe me, I really love libraries!)—more than I do health care.

I really want to make clear here that, before all of the defenses go up and we have to start battling each other about how we could pay for it, I am just trying to establish an agreement on what we VALUE. It is a separate issue. My point is that if we all agreed with me (this happens in my dreams, and it’s fabulous!) in thinking health care was at least as important (even essential) as things like education, clean water, and the police, then, logically speaking, we would be forced to agree that we ought to be willing to ensure equal access to health care for everyone by taking care of it with our tax dollars. By extension—and this is the painful realization part—if we have agreed on what we value and yet still fail to act to make it right, we are failing a moral obligation.   The blood of the uncared for is—literally and figuratively—on our hands. I am not okay with that.

I know, I know, you probably wanted to skim through that last paragraph really fast and get to the part where you defend your side by saying it is too expensive and our system is broken and it’s not your fault and such. I feel you. I really do. That’s why I think it is important to first separate the argument so that we are not conflating what we value (morally speaking) and what we are eager to pay for (financially speaking).

And believe me, I make no claim that I am any kind of an expert on how much everything costs and how much more or less we would pay if we blew up our system entirely and went to a single-payer system (a.k.a. socialized medicine, universal health care, or government-run health care). As a total amateur on these topics, my sense is that we already pay a ton for insurance premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, and it also seems like pharmaceutical companies charge through the roof and own so many of our representatives in Washington, DC. My guess is that if the insurance industry was dismantled and the pharmaceutical prices were government-controlled, so much of that money that we now spend could go to getting everyone equal access to quality care. I am sure there is a down side of it, too, because at this point, who really trusts the government to run anything, right?

But we are Americans. We take pride in the idea that we are exceptional. It is supposed to be our thing to figure out the best way to do stuff, and then to keep leading the way with our exceptionalism. If we look at the examples of all the hundreds of other countries in the world who provide health care to their people, and if we see problems in their systems, I feel confident that we could figure out the solutions and move forward with a system that affirms in action what we claim to value (Because Love does, right? It doesn’t just say.). I feel like the “changing our system will be too hard” excuse is weak and lazy, especially if the result is immoral. I think we are better than that. I hope we are. I feel like it is time to put our money where our values are.

How about you? Is health care something you value enough to put your tax money down to guarantee it for everyone? Open up your journal and try to keep an open mind as you parse through this sticky issue. I think this is an especially tough one to tackle with an open heart and mind because, for many of us, it is just something we haven’t ever considered. Our system has been this way our whole lives, and a suggestion to change something long-held usually meets with defense as a first reaction (because of course we are right). So, take a breath, and start with logic. First, is your health valuable to you? How valuable? As important as your safety? Your education? Your water? Your public parks? The arts? Which of the things that you pay taxes for do you think are moral obligations of a society to provide for its people? Which are things that are great and you value, but they aren’t obligations or essential? Which things that you are taxed on do you feel are a rip-off? For the sake of argument, let’s say we had always been taxed for universal health coverage: where would it fit with your last three answers: Moral Obligation, Important-But-Not-Essential, or a Waste/Rip-off? Based on your answer, should single-payer/universal health coverage be a part of the American system going forward? Okay, if you were able to answer most of those logically, relax! Now, feel those natural defenses that probably came up when this issue arose. What makes you most squeamish about agreeing to include universal health care to your list of givens? Is it the money itself (that you think it is going to be much more expensive for you)? Is it that you don’t want to put anything else into the government’s hands? Is it that you don’t think some people deserve it or that too many people who aren’t taxed much because they are poor will take advantage of your hard-earned dollars by using the health care system as much as you do? Do you agree with my assertion that if we agree that health is of such importance to us that we deem medical care to be essential—like we agree on education and safety and the like—then we are morally obligated to provide it? If not, where is the flaw in my thinking? If my thinking is sound, then we are either failing morally on this topic or you disagree that health is of such importance. Which is it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which things are worthy of your tax dollars, and how does health care fit into your priorities?  

See yourself in your neighbor,

William

P.S. If this made you really look at health care and taxes for the first time, or if it made you think of them in a new light that helped you clarify your position, I hope that you will share it with others. We owe it to ourselves to examine our values. May you be Peace.

Why Are You Here?

DSC_0963“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

I watched the movie “Selma” yesterday. It was about the Civil Rights Movement and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for the fair and equal treatment of Black Americans, in this case as it pertained to voting rights. It has really stayed with me, this film, creeping into my consciousness as I move through my day. I was captivated by so many different aspects of the film and the history behind it. One angle that really grabbed me in a unique and powerful way, though, was Dr. King’s resolve and willingness to go back into the fray—being beaten and jailed and leading others into situations that ended in their deaths—over and over despite serious doubts and guilt over so much spilled blood. And then there was his family. He carried the dual burdens of being taken from his wife and kids for long periods of time and also, by virtue of his leading role in the movement and the explosive mix of ignorance and violence that defined the opposition to it, the knowledge that he and/or his wife and children could be murdered at any time. I could not help but keep asking myself, “With so many reasons to NOT keep working for the cause—really big, life-or-death reasons—what kept him going back in?” 

The answer I keep coming back to is that, deep down inside, he knew what his life purpose was. He knew that he was alive for a reason, and that to turn his back on that purpose would be to disrespect his Maker. He had a calling. A reason for being. A purpose.

I latched onto this aspect of “Selma” so strongly because I have been lately in the process of defining my own life purpose. I am going through the process as part of my Life Coach Training Program. It is no small task, either, let me tell you. Along the way, I have had to address what my needs are and what I value most in this world. I have tried a number of different exercises designed to help rank my values. I am not talking about chosen values—standards that I have adopted and held myself to—but rather about core values, which are things that I feel I was born with, things that have been with me all my life. The exercises—indeed, the entire process—have been very revealing.

Boiled down into one-word answers, these are some of my core values: spirituality, self-knowledge, teaching, purpose, growth, family, service, connectedness, health, and authenticity. These things get right to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick. They provide wonderful clues to my life purpose, but they are just the beginning when it comes to trying to define it succinctly.

The next phase of my homework was to make a long list of examples of times in my life when I knew was living “on purpose”. That is, times when I felt completely in the flow, energized, and as though things were effortless. I quickly jotted down more than twenty times in my life when I felt that way, ranging from when I was a teenager all the way up to the last year. My list included many times when I was writing, including writing my very first blog to you. I was on fire with passion for what I was doing, and the work and the cause filled my sails. It was effortless. I also noted many times when I was teaching, from private tennis lessons to Philosophy 101 classes. It included times when I have spoken publicly, including when I performed my sister’s wedding. That felt right to me. I also felt right and true in the simplest moments with my family, as well as hiking alone in the mountains or swimming in the ocean, feeling totally connected to the Divine.

I then took time to write a bit about each of these examples: what I was feeling and what about them struck such a deep chord in me. Next, I combed through all of my descriptions for recurring themes and words that resonated with me. It turned out to be not so different from the list of core values I had already made. Words that kept surfacing were: Connected (with the Divine, with others), Inspire, Dreams, Growing (personally and spiritually), Motivate, Teaching, Sharing (my love, traditions, my message), Challenging (myself and others, moving beyond the comfort zone), Family, Creativity, Self-Improvement, and Improve the World.

With clarity regarding both my core values and the recurring themes of the most “on purpose” moments of my life, I was feeling ready to write my purpose statement. After some tinkering with language, this was my first draft:

The purpose of my life is to help people—myself included—to live their best, most authentic lives by teaching and inspiring them to know themselves better; to be grateful for all that they are and have; to challenge themselves to grow spiritually and experientially; and to honor and pursue their dreams.

I was kind of liking it, actually. It named the things I want to do with my life, and that hit me in a good spot. It rang true.

However, I felt the pressure to make it short and sweet, so I started chopping. To a writer, cutting out words is like killing your babies, so it was no picnic for me, I promise you. My condensed draft looked like this:

The purpose of my life is to teach and inspire people—including myself—to know themselves better, to connect to the Divine, and to follow their Bliss.

While I wasn’t so sure I liked it better than the long version, at least it was concise. I figured I would put them to the test with my teacher when I got to class tonight. I was feeling pretty confident.

As it turned out, the joke was on me. I got to class tonight, and he started explaining life purpose statements and the differences between purpose, mission, and vision. You see, mission statements talk about the ways we are going to fulfill our purpose. They are action statements. Purpose statements, on the other hand, identify our calling or reason for being. Curses!!! While I had thought I had two pretty solid versions of my purpose statement, what I really had were a long and a short mission statement. Back to the drawing board!

To get to my purpose rather than my mission, I need to focus on Who I Am more than what I am going to do to express who I am. At my core, who am I? Why was I born? Why am I here? What is in my soul’s code? With only a few minutes of reflection—and what will probably be the first of many drafts—I suppose I would answer this way:

I am a catalyst for self-knowledge and authenticity. 

Yeah, I suppose that about sums me up. I want people to know themselves deeply and to own themselves completely, including the honoring of their dreams and their own unique path in life. In a way, I think my purpose is to help everyone live their purpose. Or, is that my mission? Whatever! In any case, I think I am starting to understand why I am here. And that’s the whole point, right?

How about you? Why are you here? Open up your journal, and get ready for some deep diving. What are your core values? Can you name your top ten? If you had to get it down to three—and really, you don’t—what would they be? Are you living from those values now, or are you off-course? Think about the times in your life when you have felt most “on purpose”. Write them all down, and then elaborate. What were you doing? What are the common themes running through those experiences? Do those themes mesh with some or all of the core values you listed? Now, write out your Life Purpose Statement. Be as concise as possible; really try to boil it down to your essence. And don’t play small! Your purpose is magnificent, so name it and claim it. How difficult is it to crystallize your calling? Have you always known what it was, or is it only now becoming clear to you? I think writing a mission statement is really helpful, too. I accidentally wrote mine first, which gave me some good clues as to how to write my purpose statement, but I think it probably works best to know who you are first before stating the way you are going to fulfill that purpose. In any case, do the work. Dig. Ask yourself some tough questions. And take the “shoulds” out of it. What do you really value? Who are you really? Not who do you wish you were, or who do you think you should be to make others happy or proud. WHO ARE YOU? There is no greater question and no more important answer. Leave me a reply and let me know: Why are you here?

Your truth shall set you free,

William

New Year’s Excuses

DSC_0891“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bulls@#t story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” –Jordan Belfort

Hello friend,

Happy New Year! It is that time again. Time for the symbolic “do-over” we all receive every January. A chance to start fresh. A chance to do better. A chance to finally do what you—and perhaps your nagging partner—have known that you needed to do for a long time. It is RESOLUTION TIME!!! 

I have never been much for New Year’s resolutions. Up until two years ago, I stubbornly ignored the prospect altogether. I think it is because I always associated it with giving something up, like candy or soda. That didn’t sound like any fun to me. There is also my lifelong aversion to limitations. I cannot stand to be restrained in any way, and my narrow idea of resolutions saw them holding me back. For example, if my New Year’s resolution was to lose ten pounds and I did that by June, what did that leave for the rest of the year? So, I never bothered with a resolution.

As 2013 commenced, I changed my perspective on resolutions a bit and decided it would be good for me to challenge myself. So, I made a Daily To-Do List, which included several items that I wanted to not simply do once and be done with for the year, but to do every day of the year (see my post “Your Everyday To-Do List” from May 2014). I kept that priority list posted on my vanity and desk; it reminded me—or perhaps shamed me, I am not sure which—into acting better. I liked that. Did I get to them all every day, or even most days? Not exactly. Some of them became solid habits and mindsets, but a couple of them just never latched onto my daily routine. Still, that, for me, was a positive spin on resolution-making.

Whenever I think about things like goals, aspirations, agendas, or resolutions, I always find it more helpful to couch the question in terms of how I want to feel rather than what I want to do? I ask myself how I want to feel this year. The answer provides the soil for my seeds of resolution. This year, I want to feel impassioned, healthy & energized, challenged, of service, creative, impactful, at peace, nurturing, clear, and like I am growing. With those things clear in my heart and mind, I can then ask the follow-up question: “What can I DO to help me feel the way I want to feel?” The answer to this question is crucial. It is the packet of seeds to plant in the well-prepared soil. When the two are mixed and carefully tended, how can I possibly go wrong? I am sure to flourish this year. Right?

Well, maybe there is more to it. Gardens tend to grow weeds, too, and those weeds can suffocate even the most beautiful flowers. In the garden of resolutions, the weeds are excuses. Born from self-doubt, excuses suffocate us in two treacherous ways. First, they strike down our visions for a better life. Before we even make our list of goals or resolutions, they tell us why we have no business dreaming so big, that we should set our sights on something lower and more “realistic”, and that our past is a perfect indication of the limits of our future. “Think small, dream small, and you won’t be so disappointed,” they say. Second, excuses offer us a crutch for the goals or resolutions we don’t achieve. They make it someone else’s fault. They allow us to accept less because, after all, it is out of our hands. They give us a pass and don’t ask us to look in the mirror to make sure we really challenged ourselves, really did all we could, and really didn’t accept less than our very best. Then that general, Self-doubt, and its infantry of Excuses really muddy the waters by mixing the lowered expectations with a free pass for not meeting them. In the end, we are left with low self-esteem and the visual evidence for why it should be that way. It is a cancerous environment. Weeds!

I have felt the poison of self-doubt and excuses creep into my own process this year. As the New Year has crept closer, I have been pondering the way I want to feel and thus the way I want to live and the things I want to accomplish. It is ambitious stuff, no doubt. I set my sights high in many areas that matter most to me, such as quality time spent with my family, career transitions and aspirations, writing projects, personal enrichment challenges, and finally, health and fitness. And while I have felt the self-doubt and excuses rise up to challenge me on all fronts, I have been especially aware of them in the health and fitness category this year.

Feeling—and, I admit, looking—healthy, lean, and energetic have always been very important to me. I think I came to Earth with this drive, the same way others arrive with an innate drive to cook, race things, or heal people. Most years, I have not even been aware of my drive for fitness and how much I value it, as it has come relatively easily. I have been reasonably fit all my life, and when I am not able to exercise, or if I feel like I am losing the look or feel of an athletic body, I become quite frustrated and disappointed with myself. So, as I have been envisioning a lean, vibrant, and athletic body carrying me through the coming year, I have been extremely aware of an unusually strong barrage of self-doubt-driven excuses hurling themselves at me. I am now questioning what I once took for granted.

Over the past couple of years—my 40s, argh–I have become increasingly aware of belly fat. Maybe it was there before and I was just better at denial, but these days it seems I am painfully aware of its presence. I know that it is winning the war over my mind when I start to think that maybe I won’t ever lose it, that it is part of me, not just something a few weeks of running will take care of.   (Cue the depressing music) 

That running speaks to my second big doubt/excuse. This Fall, for the first time in ages, I did not have a gym membership and thus took up running outdoors for my cardiovascular fitness. I was doing weights at home and figured I could be fitter than ever with a few times per week of running. Heck, I was even preparing my mind to become a Winter runner, braving the frigid cold and wind for the sake of my health. I was committed! Then, just a few weeks into my routine and getting hooked (and fit), I pulled my calf muscle. It was devastating and frustrating simultaneously. Those feelings were multiplied in the weeks and months that followed, as each time I gave it a few weeks to heal and then tried to run again, the muscle popped.   Over and over. Then, on my first full run with it feeling solid, the other leg did the same thing. Pop! “#@$&!!!!” So the process started over. Over and over again. My wife has said numerous times, “It is your body telling you that you can’t run anymore. Ever.” I really don’t want to believe that, but somehow my self-doubt has latched onto that comment and ridden it all the way into my psyche.   (Cue the extra-depressing music) 

With my ever-softening belly and my useless legs as background, I entered this little break for the holidays still doing my best to keep the excuses for an unhealthy, low-energy year at bay. I planned to get a little exercise while on vacation and build some momentum heading into the New Year. Then I proceeded to catch a bug that laid me out for my entire vacation. I was feverish, weak, and in pain. And, oh yeah, very frustrated. It felt like one last joke my body was playing on me for the year, just so I don’t get my hopes up and generate some real aspirations for next year.

It was lots of ammunition against my ambitions for a healthy, fit, and active body. My excuses are right there for me. I am getting old, maybe too old to stop the slide. My muscles can no longer hold up to vigorous exercise. And any little microorganism can knock me out for a week, further diminishing my muscle tone and lung capacity. I am a wreck!   A wreck with excuses.

But stronger than any excuse is the choice to NOT use it. Those all seem like pretty good excuses for me to give myself a pass on getting back to fitness this year. But I choose to reject them. I am going to choose a different attitude, one that will make it easier to choose action steps that work for my values. I am going to choose to get back on the weights, figure out a cardiovascular option that works for me and my injuries, implement yoga, and eat better than I have before. I love The Gift of Choice! Instead of choosing excuses for the New Year, I am choosing ME.

How about you? What are your excuses for the coming year? Open up your journal and write out all of the things you think are holding you back from living your best life this year. What does your best life look like? What do you see yourself doing? What new habits would you like to add to your lifestyle and schedule? What things are dragging you down and need to be reduced or eliminated from your life? Who do you want to spend more time with? Less time with? How do you want to BE? What activities make you feel the way you want to feel? Can you see yourself really living the life you imagine? Okay, so what is keeping you from taking the steps to live that life? What stories are you telling yourself about why you can’t have that life? How long have you been telling yourself these stories? How is that working for you so far? Maybe it is time to tell yourself a new story. One with more dreams and fewer excuses, more passion and less self-doubt. I would love to hear that story. Leave me a reply and let me know: What is your New Year’s story?

The best time is now,

William

An Unfriendly Reminder

DSC_0408“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” –Herophilus

Hello friend,

A little over ten years ago, I came to understand suicide more clearly.

Sure, I had spent time thinking about it over the years, but mostly in theoretical terms. I would hear about people killing themselves and always wonder, “Why?” In the tenderness of my youth, I wanted to believe I was so empathetic that I really could understand the depths of despair. When my first love broke my teenage heart, I was a mess inside. I was pretty far gone, but not so far that I wasn’t aware of my thoughts. Among other things, I thought a lot about suicide. Not actually doing it—I never considered it as an option—but about the concept of suicide. Being depressed for that short time really triggered something in me, a deeper intellectualization of suicide. I thought about it regularly: about how people’s emotions can turn an otherwise-clear mind irrational, and about how belief—whether rational or not—that one’s life has no hope for improvement can make ending that life seem like an appealing option. Traps of the heart and mind. That, in a nutshell, is how suicide appeared to me until about the age of thirty. And then, it all changed.

I herniated a disc in my lower back. I won’t go into the complete nightmare sequence of events led by the HMO-directed thinking of doctors who were way out of their expertise, but suffice it to say that in the end, I was literally stuck in a sideways-bent position for days on end as they continued to multiply the doses of narcotics but failed to get me the right tests and specialists to provide any relief. I distinctly recall sitting—if you could call it that—alone in my basement one afternoon, sobbing and wailing because it hurt so badly. It was in that moment, and in the ensuing days of agony that led up—finally—to my surgery, that I arrived at a new understanding of suicide. It wasn’t only about mental and emotional pain and despair, as I had previously believed. No, the ending of one’s own life could be deemed a desirable outcome if enough physical pain was involved for a long enough time. Again, much like when I was suffering from a broken heart, I didn’t actually consider killing myself during the episode with my back, but I surely thought about the concept often. My mind just gravitated to the topic. I put myself in the position of people who are suffering from some types of terminal cancer or other chronic, severe, and debilitating pain, and believe me, I completely understood their desire to end their lives “prematurely”. In that much pain and with no end in sight, it became easy to understand the “This isn’t living” rationale. If I weren’t being careful with my words, I would describe the kind of pain I was in as “unbearable”. However, at least I knew that a solution would come eventually, and with it relief. I knew I could lay down my burden; others are not so lucky.

Even though I have some lingering nerve damage in my leg from the blundering of those doctors that did not get me the proper care in time—yes, I am a little bitter still if you couldn’t tell–my essential health was restored eventually. There is a scar on my spine that will stay with me, but otherwise my body moved on. After a year, I had pretty well put behind me my medical nightmare and the horrific pain I was in for those dark days. One lesson I kept with me was to always try to maintain strength in my core muscles and overall fitness. The other lesson that I was sure that I would hold onto forever was to be grateful for my health every day that I have it. The incident had made me keenly aware of how precious and fleeting good health is—much like life itself—and thus how aware and grateful I should be each day to be alive and relatively pain-free. I vowed to never forget. How could I?

Well, I did forget. I got complacent. I did the right things physically to try to avoid another disaster, but I got sloppy with the gratitude part. I stopped reminding myself what a magnificent gift it is to wake up and breathe easily in the morning, to be able to wrestle with my kids and give them shoulder rides, to run around and hit tennis balls, to survive a hot yoga class, and to simply walk the earth without the distraction of pain. Sure, I have had pretty regular injuries to remind myself what a hassle they are, but mostly I have been able to press on and continue an active life. And, I am sad to admit, a blindly ungrateful one, too.

It seems that the better my health has been, the less grateful for it I have been. For me at least, it is the biggest one I let slip through the cracks when it comes to prayers of gratitude. I feel like I am pretty self-aware when it comes to how lucky I am to have such wonderful people in my life. My parents and siblings are the best ever, and I wouldn’t trade any of them in. I can hardly imagine my luck in finding someone who actually chose to have me around for life, so, needless to say, I am grateful for my amazing wife. And of course, my kids are the greatest things that have ever happened to me. I feel like I know that every day, too. I am so aware of how they make my heart overflow, so I pretty much ooze gratitude when it comes to them. I know, too, how lucky I am to be allowed a schedule that matches my priorities, offering me tons of quality time with the family, as well as some stolen moments to pursue my passions, such as writing this letter to you. I am well aware of how spoiled I am in this regard, so I am deeply grateful.

I always tell people that one of the biggest benefits of keeping a daily journal is that it makes me intensely self-aware, and that the main benefit of this self-awareness is gratitude for my beautiful existence. As I said, I feel like this is very true in all of the other areas of my life. So, why do I do so poorly in acknowledging the blessings of good health? Being a sports lover, the analogy that comes to my mind is of the referee (or the ballkids in tennis). The goal of the referee—or the ballkid—is to NOT be noticed. If you notice them, it is probably because they are doing a bad job. Health seems to be, for me, like that. If I don’t notice my health, that means the job is being done well. If I do notice it—like this past week, when my spine has again gone awry and left me agonizing—something is wrong. I can see now—pain sometimes has a way of clarifying things—that this is not fair to my health. I am hereby vowing to do a better job of acknowledging—DAILY–the wonderful fortune it is to be in good health. I love Herophilus’s quote at the top of the page; it really is true that without health, our other gifts cannot shine through. I am so driven to maximize my potential, so I would be a fool not to honor the instrument through which all things flow. Like with so many people around us, a simple show of gratitude and respect can do wonders. It is time I started to set things right. I am only sorry that it required this week’s unfriendly reminder from my spine to help me see the light.

How about you? How is your relationship with your health? Open up your journal and start writing. Make a list of the aspects of your health that you appreciate. Can you make it through the day without pain? Do you require any medications or devices to function normally? Do you like a good fitness challenge? Do you sleep comfortably? Are you able to “act like a kid” sometimes, full of energy and freedom? Can you run? Could you still climb a sledding hill? Jump in the pool or lake for a swim? Run through the sprinkler? Ride a bike? Chase a kid around all day? Do you set goals for your health and fitness? Do you go to a gym or have a regular workout routine? How is your diet? If you could change your weight any amount in either direction, what would you choose? Do you know of people who are less healthy than you? Perhaps they have cancer, cardiovascular disease, an autoimmune disorder, arthritis, or obesity. In thinking about them, does it make you more grateful for the health that you have? Does it motivate you to take action to improve your health? How grateful are you about your status? Are you like me and take it for granted when it is going well, only to be reminded of your ingratitude when you are stricken down with something? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you appreciate your health, or does it require an unfriendly reminder? 

Start your day with “Thank you”,

William