Door Number Twenty-Three: Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

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“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” ~Jon Snow

Life is a complex machine. Kind of like the Cylons, but less preachy. We start out with little freedom and even less responsibility. As we grow older, we gain more independence, but our obligations rise as well. We work hard in school to get into a good college, and then work our way through college to get a good job. Replacing the authority of our parents and teachers with the responsibilities of work and social obligations. We continue to strive for the financial freedoms and professional success only to find ourselves at the end of the road wondering where the time has gone. Which is why we must not forget to take time to step back and enjoy the ride.

You would think such an idea runs counter to everything that defines a good, productive life. If we take such a passive stance towards life, we’re likely to end up falling into the mythical 47 percent some political leaders would lead us to believe are the source of America’s problems. However, there is a large gap between refusing to do work in order to survive and being consumed by one’s responsibilities. Even the President of the United States takes time to enjoy the life he has, and he’s arguably one of the busiest people in the world. I’m not suggesting abandoning all the necessary task of life, but rather gaining a better perspective on what’s important.

As I’ve pointed out we tend to spend a great deal of time working towards something. Whether it be high-paying career or world-changing invention, we are all striving towards a goal (if you’re not, that is a discussion for another time). However, its important we recognize the destination is only a part of the equation. Life doesn’t happen in some far off future where we accomplish that which we seek. Rather it occurs every second of every day. We risk missing a significant part of our existence if we don’t find a way to enjoy the quest.

So how do we do manage to find this balance? If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that our plans tend to overshadow all of our actions. It’s why so many people get burned out of the political process. Lofty ideals tend to fizzle out when tested against the slow march towards change. The same rings true for our personal lives. We start with grand dreams, that fall to the way side as we get older and begin to lose focus. So how do we continue our momentum in life, but also savor each moment? I wish there was a simple solution. I wish it was as easy as channeling “the force” to take out our personal “Death Stars.” Alas, the reality is it takes continued evaluation of our values and priorities. Making sure we not only believe in what were working towards, but also enjoy the every day steps it takes to get there.

As with every journey to discover one’s doors to happiness, finding the balance required to enjoy the ride is not without its challenges. We must have a clear idea of what our goals are. We must also recognize the time traveled in reaching any endpoint should be savored if we are to get the most out of our lives. In addition, we must not get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. We should embrace the unexpected. Because, in the end its the lessons we learn along the way that truly define our success.

Reflecting on 2012

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“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” ~Robert Frost

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Partly, because the holidays are meant for laziness. And partly because of the dreaded creature of the black lagoon: writers block. It happens to the best of writers and I can safely say I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. Besides, posting weekly without a break inevitably leads to repetition and before you know it one ends up writing the same story about how extremist Republicans are out to destroy the world and its up to the forces of logic and reason to stop them. Is the point to this reflective rambling? Not sure, but I suppose now is as good as time as any to throw in a quick segue about how taking time off from blogging should lead to plenty of topics to write about (for next couple of weeks anyway). So without a further ado, time to recap some important lessons (political and otherwise) I took away from 2012.

Despite all beliefs to the contrary the world is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. While 2012 brought plenty of calamities, (Hurricane Sandy, a rash of mass shootings, and mass animal suicides to name a few) last time I checked we are all still here. There were plenty of changes of course. The revolutions of the Arab Spring continuing in nations like Syria has led many to question the stability of the region. Climate change is definitely having its effect as 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history. And perhaps most importantly of all, George Lucas sold the legendary Star Wars property to Disney ensuring the force will be with us well into the future. Despite all of this, the fabled end of the world predicted by the misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar did not materialize. Also, there are no zombies shambling around so that apocalypse has probably been staved off for at least another year or so (Though with this year’s flu season, I’m not convinced it’s too far off). Moral of the story? As long as you are still alive the world hasn’t ended. And if you’re not alive, than you probably aren’t really worried about it anyways.

Tell yourself a lie enough times and you start to believe it. Defining truth is tricky business. There are so few definitive truths out there. Even the one’s that do exist can be questioned and argued against convincingly (For example, death and taxes may be certain, but there are still plenty of people who would tell you taxes are criminal and would like them eliminated and death is only certain until we find a technological solution for it). So it probably should have come as no surprise that telling ourselves lies more in line with what we want to see happen can easily become our version of the truth.  This was no more prevalent than during the 2012 presidential election. Despite the facts predicting a solid, albeit narrow reelection for President Obama, many of the talking heads on the other side of the debate refused to believe it. Some going as far as to claim a landslide victory for Mitt Romney. While others continued to deny the results of the election after every major news outlet had called it in favor of Mr. Obama. Sadly, as our ability to pick and choose what information we consume increases we are able to ignore everything but what we want to hear. Which leads to a culture where we can convince ourselves to believe anything, no matter how crazy it may be.

Widely believed narratives are not always true. Narratives, whether they be concocted by the media or created through historical context, tend to shape many aspects of our life. This is equally true in the political realm. While I first noticed this during the early months of the Obama campaign back in 2007, the debate over Voter Identification in Minnesota definitively drove the point home. All the experts, the polls and the media believed this fight was lost once the proposed amendment was added to the ballot. Voter ID was such common sense that it would likely pass with little effort. However, as history ultimately showed all it took was education on the realities behind the bill to break that support down and send the poorly worded amendment to the showers. So while we probably shouldn’t completely ignore the preconceived notions held about a situation, its important we do not allow them to discourage us from taking action. So basically, what I’m saying is don’t count out the new Star Wars movie yet,  it might just surprise us.

While there are plenty of other lessons I’m sure one can take from the anti-climatic year 2012 turned out to be, these we’re a few that stuck out in my mind. They may have been peppered with plenty of biased political observations and random asides, but with any luck there are some nuggets of wisdom hidden within that can help prepare for an equally non-earth shattering 2013.  Will I learn greater lessons in the coming years? Maybe. Will writers block prevent me from recounting them? Probably. Either way, I’ll probably keep polluting the web with this nonsense until a zombie or other world calamity extinguishes my existential ramblings once and for all.

Door Number Fourteen: Taking Time to Travel

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

As we travel through life it is easy to stay content where we live. Between the financial demands of everyday life and the time constraints placed on us by our careers, family, and other responsibilities its sometimes hard to fathom fitting in a journey away from home. In addition,  the sense of security one gains from being somewhere familiar is hard to argue with. However, much like Bilbo Baggins, in order to live a truly fulfilling life it is imperative one makes time to voyage there and back again every once in a while.  Which is why there are a number of reasons taking time to travel is yet another door that must be opened on the quest to find one’s fifty doors.

Travel broadens perspective. The danger of staying in one place for any extended period of time is it becomes increasingly less likely we will be forced to confront ideas and viewpoints we are uncomfortable with. It is not they won’t present themselves, but when we are in a place of familiarity, we have many inherent safeguards that allow us to filter them out. Whether it be visiting another city 300 miles away or a country 3,000 miles away, when we expose ourselves to new outlooks in place we have never been, we are able to lower our defense enough to open our eyes to a larger world. Just like Luke Skywalker, if we ever want to learn the ways of our personal force it is necessary we leave behind our personal Tatooine from time-to-time.

Travel expands a sense of community. The greatest detriment to a productive society is fear of one another. When we huddle into like-minded communities afraid to engage with those different from us, we create a culture of distrust not conducive to an open and free society. By leaving behind our local support networks and social circles for lands unknown we allow ourselves to interact with those much different from us in their backyards. More often than not, this causes us to realize no matter where we come from, fundamentally we share a great deal in common. This alleviates our initial anxiety allowing us to see ourselves as part of the larger society that comprises our world.

Travel disrupts complacency. The older we get the faster time seems to move. In light of this, it becomes easy to fall into a comfortable routine. This state of being can cause us to become rigid and lose the creativity needed to pioneer innovative solutions to life’s problems. By traveling we pull ourselves out of the monotonous machine of our existence and force our minds into a state of refreshed vigor. While in many cases this may only be a temporary respite from the daily grind, it has the potential to refresh our mind enabling us to escape the downward spiral into contentment disguised stagnation. Only then are we truly awake.

The door of travel must be opened regularly throughout our lives to not only broaden our perspective and expand our sense of community, but to disrupt the day-to-day complacency plaguing us as we grow older. There are many factors in our life that may make this difficult. Be it financial or time constraints, we must find a way to overcome these challenges in order to see the corners of our world yet undiscovered. As with any good investment, the short-term costs of making this a priority are far outweighed by the long-term benefits. After all, as the venerable Saint Augustine once said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Why Vote?

“Voting is fundamental in our democracy. It has yielded enormous returns.” ~ Arlen Specter

I have bloviated about the importance of engaging in the political process on this blog before.  Sadly, not everyone has the time to attend local city council meetings, join city commissions or engage in the deeper political activism that those of us who get as excited about election night as most normal people do about the Summer Olympics or Super Bowl Sunday. There is just too much happening for many people to make this a top priority. However, even if you have no interest or time to get deeply involved in the political process, it is imperative that you take the time to cast your vote. There are some who scoff at the importance of voting and believe it’s as about as important as figuring out how many planets make up the Galactic Republic (Believe it or not, I don’t actually know the answer to this one). However, there are many reasons why this is not true and they must take advantage of their right to vote.

It is our responsibility. We live in a country where all of our laws are set by elected representatives. It only makes sense we should ensure those officials are chosen in a process that includes as many of the population as possible. Every time we choose to stay at home we shirk our watchdog role and allow the influence of money to grow increasingly more powerful as the active electorate shrinks. Furthermore, we allow knee jerk reactions and organized efforts by special interests to affect election outcomes in way detrimental to the common good. The ability to vote is a great power and, to paraphrase a certain friendly neighborhood spider’s uncle, comes with great responsibility. A fact it would behoove us to remember.

Many people have, and continue to, die for the right to vote. While this may seem dramatic, it nonetheless rings true. The war responsible for the founding of the United States was fought in large part based upon the idea of “No Taxation Without Representation” which at its core was the idea that a populace should be able to vote on the decisions that affect it. Many civil rights readers like Martin Luther King Jr. gave their lives for causes that amongst other things included ensuring every citizen would have the ability to vote. Even today we are seeing entire populations in the Middle East rise up and risk their lives in order to have a say in who governs them. We owe it to all those who have given their lives to preserve this democratic principle that allow us to make our voice heard.

Its easy, but if we continue to abstain from engaging in this process, it won’t be.  What’s that you say? Just because something is easy, doesn’t mean you should do it. Well, fortunately I just gave you two compelling reasons that, coupled with this fact, should eliminate any reservations you might have had. Besides the more important point here, is right now we have a relatively easy process for gaining input in who represents us in danger of becoming more difficult. For example, many of the officials who were chosen in the last midterms during an election that was characterized by depressed voter turn out are now pushing laws and ballot initiatives that would make it far more difficult for the most at-risk voters to make their voice heard. There are many reasons these efforts will make voting more complicated, most of which are illustrated here. A healthy democracy requires an accessible means to convey one’s opinion of its government, and failing to vote places these avenues in jeopardy.

Voting is not only easy and our responsibility, but we owe it to the many lives lost preserving this right to exercise it. I will be the first one to admit that no form of government is perfect. That often times we elect officials based on promises that never come to fruition. However, I refuse to accept these disappointments as a reason to neglect one of our most sacred duties as a people. Apathy is not the solution to discouragement. Rather, we should strive to become more informed and continually elect those who exhibit moral integrity and a desire to make the world a better place to live in. Anything less is a failure to ourselves and the generations who will inherit this lack of civic responsibility. Something we simply can not allow.

Door Number Thirteen: Finding Physical Fitness

 

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” ~John F. Kennedy

For many of us, finding the time and effort to exercise seems about as likely as a simple walk into Mordor. All Tolkien references aside, staying in shape is hard. Not only do we have to find the motivation to actually make our bodies suffer through a light jog or weight routine, we also have to set aside time out of an already busy day. Coupled with the ease of access to unhealthy foods, it is no wonder the United States leads the world in obesity. But, I digress. Despite these difficulties, it is vitally important we find a way to open the door to exercise in our lives for more reasons than one.

Physically fit people are happier. Numerous studies and scholarly research has shown those who are more active and physically fit tend to live happier lives. Endorphins are released when one exercises, leaving the individual happier and more relaxed. Furthermore, when one regularly works out their self-esteem increases exponentially. Furthermore, there is the sense of accomplishment one receives from completing a workout that is hard to compare to. The factors ( as well as many others) make the case for why striving for a state of constant physical fitness leads to a more satisfying outlook on the world.

Physically fit individuals live longer. Another common sense point, that I’m sure  is backed up by a number of studies. Besides, do you think the Highlander would have lasted as long he did without an intense training schedule? Me neither. While there are sure to be exceptions to this rule, as no amount of exercise can save us from getting hit by a bus or struck by lightning, the fact remains that taking care of one’s health greatly increases life expectancy. Until we find the legendary Fountain of Youth or manage to create the mythical Philosopher’s Stone it is the best method out there for prolonging the limited time we have in this life.

Pursuing physical fitness increases our focus. In a world constantly bombarded by distractions, one of the most difficult challenges we face is a lack of focus. While it might seem counter intuitive to add another obligation to our already busy schedules, doing so actually assists in improving our ability to direct attention to all the elements within our lives. The happiness and relaxed state we feel give us the ability to overcome the stress and distractions that would otherwise impede our focus on the goals set out before us. Furthermore, when our health is in a good state we are able to dedicate resources often times caught up in combating preventable ailments to other more lofty professional and personal aspirations. Like catching up on one’s favorite blog for example.

There are plenty of reasons why maintaining physical fitness in one’s life is important. Happiness, a long life, and finding a greater level of focus all increase the level of our contentment. While perhaps the most obvious of doors we should make an effort to open, it is most often times the one easiest to ignore. The key is starting slow. Finding an activity that promotes one’s health and is also enjoyable. For some, maybe it’s training for a marathon. While for others, it may be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood every night after work. Whatever it may be, the secret to success lies in persistence. Continually striving to engage in an action that better’s one’s health will lead to a world of possibilities once thought impossible. Besides, it is impossible to become a Jedi if one can’t even manage to run a mile.

 

 

Door Number Nine: The Family Connection

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” ~Alex Haley

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve been frustrated with my family. When I was younger, my brothers and I would irritate one another until situations would escalate into all-out war (Fortunately, years of watching professional wrestling, ensured I always came out on top). Then of course there were my parents, who upon reflection were pretty laid back and reasonable individuals. Of course, as most adolescents have tendency to do, I found plenty of opportunity to disagree with their wishes and create unneeded tension (Though, I still contend they overreacted to the whole breaking my brothers tailbone thing). However, despite the headaches we gave one another, I wouldn’t trade my family for the world. This is a sentiment most of us can probably apply to a number of people in our life. The reasons for maintaining this connection throughout our lives emphasize the importance of keeping this door open in the greater hallway of our existence.

Family reminds us of where we came from. As we get older, our views and perspectives change as we learn more about the world around us. However, it is important to remember no matter how far we progress in life, there are still people who remember us from the beginning. They remind us of the deeper values we built when we were young. Sure there are many things from our youth that should stay in the past. For example, I don’t think I’m ever going to take up the high-flying hobby of skateboard posing again. However, when it comes to things like respecting others and stepping on others to get ahead in the life, being reminded about the importance of these values every once in a while is a great boon.

Family care about us in a way most people can’t. That’s not to say the rest of the world are a bunch of uncaring jerks. However, the closeness that comes from the familial bond is unparalleled. The reason for a great deal of the conflict that arises between family is usually result of each individuals care for the other. Sure, it can be annoying when you have a mother that checks up on you constantly regarding seemingly mundane matter. Or a father who gives you flak for waiting so long to get the oil in your car charged. However, in both of these cases it is because of their concern for your mental and physical well-being they persist in adding a bit of stress to your life. And while these expressions can seem counter intuitive at times, its nice to know that someone cares enough to be that interested in the more minute details of your life.

Family connection enriches the life of all its members. When nurtured properly, connecting with family benefits all parties involved. We get the benefit of knowing someone is there no matter what the circumstances. We share in the struggles and rejoice in the victories. We can relive some of the nostalgia of life by simply watching a couple of movies with the family (Star Wars anyone?). And we can be there for one another when no else is. The bond of family ties one another together in ways many of life’s other relationships are not capable of matching.

While remaining connected to family may not seem like a big deal, keeping this element in our lives is necessary. Not only does family remind us where we come from, but they also add a level of care and enrichment into our lives that is unparalleled. Even for those of us, who may not have a great deal of blood relations left, this door can be realized. Family goes beyond mere shared genetic data.  We define it as those we care most about. Those who know us at our deepest level, imperfections and all.  So whether you come from a classic Brady Bunch style family or something more akin to the Skywalker clan make an effort to stay in touch. Your life will be better for it.

Door Number Eight: Capturing Nostalgia

“True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories.” ~Florence King

Living in the past is something usually discouraged. In fact, I have even warned of the dangers in previous posts. There is good reason for this. Often times we fail to appreciate the present, because we are so caught in the magic of the past. The same can be said about always looking to the future for satisfaction. Getting too caught up in either realm should be avoided, if merely because the only real period of time we have is the present.  With that said, at times it is good to inject a moderate amount of nostalgia into our lives. In fact, if balanced properly this desire for a former time can be a door worth opening for a number of reasons.

Feelings of the past can help put things in perspective. The great thing about nostalgia is it brings us back to a time in our lives that was much different from the present. It can help remind us of past hopes, fears, and aspirations. We are able to compare the circumstances then to those now and realize that even when it seems as though little progress has been made, we’ve actually come a long way. Even though we may feel like we aren’t making any headway towards the future, similar feelings long ago proved to be unfounded and that maybe these will too. Which in turn gives us more confidence than a vial of Felix Felicis before a Quidditch .

Nostalgia can remind us who we are. As we get older life seems to get increasingly busy. Often times, it feels like the best we can do is react to circumstances as they arise. This can lead us to a point where we are overly engaged, but unsure of why we are doing the things we do. Slowly our identity becomes lost to us as if we were suddenly assimilated by the Borg. By reflecting on the past we are reminded of the defining things that use to bring us joy. While most of us develop over time, we still maintain certain core beliefs and values that continue to characterize us throughout our lives. Thus, by reliving some of the more enjoyable moments from our past we are able to recapture what embodies our individuality and refocus our priorities based on this realization.

Nostalgia enables us to forget our worries…if only for a while. The positive emotions associated with past experiences can make all of our present concerns seem unimportant. While dangerous if done too often, in small amounts looking backwards allows us to charge our batteries by thinking of the things that use to make us happy and remembering that some can be relived in the present. Take Star Wars for example (almost made it through without a reference and we can’t have that). For most of us, the reason this movie has such a special place in our hearts is because we grew up watching it. We have seen every lightsaber duel and heard every suave Han Soloism a dozen times. Which is why, when someone who didn’t grow up watching the movies finally gets around to seeing them, they don’t always understand the fanaticism individuals like myself express.  At its core, that is what makes nostalgia so wonderful. We can relive experiences from our youth and forget about our present concerns. If only for a moment.

While one should never lose themselves completely to nostalgic feelings, occasionally capturing the emotions and thoughts that derive from such a state mind can leave to a more satisfying life. The lessons and memories of the past have an ability to put things in perspective in a way sometimes difficult when caught up in the present. In addition, it can remind us who we are when we lose our way. Finally, it can serve as a distraction when present concerns and worries threaten to overwhelm us. While it is important to stay focused on the present, every once in a while we all need to jump in our personal DeLorean and relive the finer moments of our past.