Silver Linings

Without them, we suffer for suffering’s sake. 

With them, they give life meaning. Suffering has purpose and it’s ours to define. We become the author rather than the narrator. We search for the meaning hidden in the struggle. 

They help us put gratitude into practice. 

They give us pause to be mindful that we don’t have to accept the default script in our head. They give us agency to define what the moment means.

They have power to define reality.

Watching my father deteriorate to Alzheimer has been one of the most paradoxical experiences of my life. On one hand, it’s heart-wrenching to watch the person that shaped me most become a shell of himself and lose his light. And yet, it’s also provided an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my mom and siblings. It’s been both the hardest experience of my life and an opportunity to cultivate gratitude in abundance. 

Without the silver lining, we focus only on what we lack, all the while being blind to all we have.

What we lack

If you focus on what you have, you gain what you lack. And if you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have.

Effortless by Greg McKeown

I think a lot about time. 

How little of it we all have. 

How we are at the mercy of fate, happenstance, chance or whatever other word you want to use to describe how little we control. Tomorrow holds within it the mystery of unknown or unlimited possibilities. We could face death or we could face another day of the same existence. 

How do we bear the level of anguish that such an uncertain existence burdens us with?

If we calibrate our bearings on what we lack, how can we expect to find solid footing? 

How do we remain grounded? 

The things we lack are infinite. With our mind fixated upon all we lack, we are almost certain to enter into a spinning free fall, unable to distinguish between up and down. We lose ourselves to the pursuit of more – a bucket that will never be filled. And yet, we continue to fill it, remaining ignorant to the hole at the bottom of it. 

This is the very definition of setting ourselves up for failure. 

A focus on what we lack is a coping mechanism for fear – the fear we are not enough, fear we’ve never been enough or fear we’ll never be enough. 

Perfectionism and high-achievement are both born out of a belief that we must pursue what we lack. They narrow our focus and provide us with a myopic view of what we think matters. They are a symptom of a culture that tells us we are not enough and sells us on what we need to fill that gap for just four easy payments of $99.00. 

Irv Blitzer, John Candy’s character in Cool Runnings, sums it up best:

"A Gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

This is the true lesson of life. 

We must find a way to ignore the incessant beat of the drum for more and focus on what we have. 

What if everything is as it should be?

Gratitude is the antidote for living in the present. 

This is no promise we’ll see tomorrow. We might as well appreciate what we have to unlock the true beauty and impermanence of life. 

Maybe then we’ll realize we lack nothing and have everything we need.

Life is Magical

How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.

Sam Harris

Have you ever stopped to think about what it took for you to be where you are today?

Think of all the people who helped you get here. All the people that believed in you and gave you a shot. 

What opportunities were you given or not given that fueled you?

What about the times luck was on your side?

Even beyond yourself, think of what it means to be alive. Think of all the familly that came before you, the choices they made that allowed for their next of kin to make it to present day. What things did they survive and overcome?

Can you imagine living in the 1800’s without modern medicine or science? Imagine hitching up the covered wagon for a voyage into town and facing hostile natives or a lawless gunman or the threat of dysentary.

Think about all the modern day conveniences you are afforded.

Have you ever stopped to think how INSANE it is that we can board a giant steel tube with wings, travel 500+ mph just to cross the world in the span of a day (AND you get a bag of salty peanuts!)? 

Consider all the information you have available to you when several hundred years ago a single (delicious smelling) leather bound book was considered a thing of royalty and wealth. 

There’s plenty of things worth fretting over and feeling anxious about, I won’t argue with you there.

But if that’s where your mind lives by default, know there is another option.

Life is magical in the here and now.

You just need to look for it in your daily existence. 

Take a beat and look for it. 

I promise it’s there

A Warm Comforting Cup of Oolong Tea for the Soul

It’s not often I find something of value on Reddit other than the time-suck black hole that it is. 

But what I stumbled upon on this particular day resulted in one of the most soul-nourishing and impactful things I’ve ever done. 

Someone asked, “People who have lost their parents, what advice do you have for those of us whose parents are still alive?

The responses were a mixed bag of heartbreaking and beautiful advice from people who deeply loved their parents. 

As I read the responses, I saw in me a regret I’d have if left unfulfilled. My father had been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer the previous year. The signs of its onset were still barely perceptible. But I knew that eventually it’d come and his awareness would be nonexistent.

His clock was ticking. 

It’s these thoughts that ran through my head as I read responses from people who had lost their parents. I realized that the thing I’d regret most was never telling my own parents how grateful I was for all the gifts, opportunities and love they had given me. 

I decided to use this as an opportunity to take action to prevent future regret.  

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had remember reading about something called a gratitude visit, an idea by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founding father of Positive Psychology. The idea is to think of someone who changed your life for the better but you’ve never properly thanked. The task is to write a well-thought and intentional letter of gratitude to this person and read it to them in person. 

I knew this is exactly what I was looking for.

I spent the next month crafting a letter for both my parents. It required some deep emotional labor. It was both enriching and emotional having to recognize that this may be my last shot to express deep gratitude to my dad before he lost the mental capacity to comprehend. 

The exercise unlocked a deep well of happiness in the process (something I still experience to this day whenever I reflect on the memory of it). 

 After a month of crafting it, I finally put it in the mail (my parents live in another state). Without realizing it, my parents received it on their wedding anniversary – a serendipitous gift from the universe. They were deeply moved by the gesture, but I feel like I got a lot more from it than they did.

The point is that life is short and fragile and beautiful. It’s up to you to find ways to make it meaningful. 

If you are reading this, I challenge you to try this exercise. It doesn’t need to be with your parents, but find someone who changed your life for the better (a mentor, a teacher, a friend) and express your gratitude. I guarantee it will be something deeply meaningful for both of you.

The things that matter most take work but the rewards are greater than you can imagine. 

Happy gratitude hunting!

Your time is limited

Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.4

Life is fragile. It always has been. And the current state of the world has put a spotlight on that truth. It’s a daily reminder of our own mortality.

But mortality doesn’t have to be scary or something we shy away from acknowledging.

In fact, it can be the greatest driver you have for a meaningful life.

Most of us think of death as something far off in our future and therefore discount its likelihood. But none of us know when death will come for us.

I’ve often wondered if I’d live my life differently if I had to face an event that drastically exposed my own fragility.

Would I live life fuller if I was diagnosed with cancer but overcame it?

Or if I were stranded in the middle of the ocean, near death but ultimately survived?

Would it really take such an extreme event to make me live life to the fullest?

Thankfully, not! But it does require us to face the reality of death. To sit with it and intentionally think about how we could very much greet it sooner than expected.

How much more would you be inclined to slow down and savor the little moments that pass us by each day if you thought the end was near?

Where would you focus your time and energy?

Would you let daily annoyances take hold of your attention?

Negative Visualization

There’s a technique, dating back thousands of years, known as Negative Visualization that can help us face our worst-case scenario from the comfort of our brain. 

The idea is to think about a negative outcome that could occur in your life and think through the implications.

Imagine being in a moment where a doctor tells you that you have a terminal illness or that a close loved one has passed? 

It’s not an easy thing to think about. That’s the point.

But, as you hold yourself in that moment and let yourself feel those emotions and grapple with how it would impact your life thereafter, you can also imagine yourself wishing you could go back to a moment in time before that outcome.

You would yearn for those little moments in life you let slip by or wish you could have a mulligan on certain events.

That’s the beauty of this technique, because it gives you the chance to think deeply on the fragility, and ultimately the beauty of life.

Certainly, the current state of the world is a worst-case scenario for many.

It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the very real truth that our time is limited on this earth.

It’s a chance to reset and focus on things that matter – family, friends, self-care, love, social connection, doing inspiring work, living purposefully, being mindful and serving others.

Your time is limited and the grave awaits us all.

What you do between now and then is entirely in your hands.