That Special Moment

Often, I am too caught up in the humdrum of day-to-day life to realize that my own existence is sweeping by. The older I get the more it feels like the speedometer is increasing. That is, life seems to going by quicker as I age.

Daily obligations and a busy schedule prevent me from any real time to slow down and reflect, just as a whizzing Bugatti Super Sport wouldn’t be able to catch the scenery it speeds past. Consequently, days turn into weeks, and weeks to months. Talk about lost time!

What’s more, when I do find those few moments of solitude, I find myself ruminating over the component parts of the passing day. Often turning trivial moments into long, strung-together thought patterns. One thought leads to another and–before I realize it–a thought that began about a routine exchange at work has suddenly snowballed itself into a two year plan of how I am going to be living my life in the future…!

It never is long until my mind races to the future.

Thoughts and plans for crafting my next step are always there. “I can control my future by setting up goals and plans, and then acting on them. That’s right. So, what’s my best path to success? What did I do today that I can improve upon tomorrow?” The thoughts are viable, yet unrelenting. Never slowing down. “If only I had a moment of no thinking, no contemplating..” I’ll finally think to myself. Alas, as the moonlight glimmers through my bedroom window, my mind makes its way to sleep, never truly settling. A whirlwind of time. That’s what my life feels like at times.

I’m not complaining by any means! I know that I am setting myself up to be busy. I work all day (I literally get home at 10pm), and then make the time to pursue personal hobbies (i.e., jogging, reading, writing, foreign language study, etc.) at night as well as in the morning. It feels engaging. It feels good.

However, one day, I experienced something that changed my life.


Once in a blue moon,  and quite unintentionally, I attain a calm unlike any other. A calm that appropriates itself to pre-frontal lobe conditions. Imagine absolute serenity juxtaposed with hyperawareness to the senses, it’s somewhere in that neighborhood. In these moments, time itself seems to subside. Nothing else in the world exists, and for a brief moment I experience what can only be described as pure bliss.

To exemplify my feeling, envision a sunset that looks almost… mystical. It’s rays of light vividly pierce through the different layers of atmosphere to produce breathtaking hues of purple, violet, red, yellow, and orange. A sunset so beautiful your eyes widen and your pupils dilate due to the intense focus you have. Without conscious instruction, every muscle fiber in your body relaxes. For that brief moment, nothing else in the world exists.

Yes, that is what I am talking about.

When I reach these euphoric states of consciousness (there have been a few), my mind has time to clear itself of all the thoughts jumbled around in short-term memory. I am then able to just exist. No thoughts, no problems, no perception of time. It’s an unparalleled sensation that must only be experienced to fully comprehend.

Oh my, what a feeling it is…

After these rare occurrences, my mind is sufficiently reinvigorated. And once my mind has cleared, I usually consider my life progression. Am I doing the things I’ve always wanted to do? Am I proud of where I going? Do my current actions reflect my inner passions and dreams? A sort of self-realignment, so to speak

I have noticed that at least occasionally checking up on myself has led me to stay on a course. A deliberated trajectory that advances my life toward a future that is at least partially in my control. For what is a conscious existence without self-control? When my occasional, willed interjections are naught, my habitual, path of least resistance (AKA “lazy-mode”)  kicks into autopilot, thus sending my life into directions I don’t really intend for me to go.

I digress.

To anyone out there that has experienced the “no mind” sensation I described, I celebrate your experience. May you find your way back to that special place where you conscious mind takes a back seat to purely existing.

Regards.

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Miracle

In today’s world, people are living like never before. We have futuristic technology that can replace human workers. We have invented machines to catch light from the sun and create usable energy. We have even created tiny computers that fit inside our pockets. It’s truly a great time to be alive. Despite these achievements, we are not as happy as we once were. In today’s advanced world, people are suffering from stress and depression unlike any time in the past. Why is that? Are we too dependent on our technologies, or have we forgotten what it feels like to be human? When we look inside ourselves, we may discover how fascinating we really are, much more so than any Nano-computer or VR-headset could be. I’m talking about the human life. The very fact that you are alive is far more miraculous than anything that has ever been created. Let me explain.

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive. – Thich Nhat Hanh”

In a universe that is unbelievably massive, where trillions of trillions of galaxies exist, there is one galaxy that contains our Sun. Our Sun, which has been burning continuously for billions of years, has had many planets in its lifetime. Currently, our Earth exists. And only in the recent past alone has conscious life begun to draw breath. Only now, while there are fewer asteroids impacting our planet, and with an atmosphere that is breathable to humans, can we experience life. To live on this planet, in this time, is miraculous. We are all lucky to be here.

To look more deeply, our own bodies are just as marvelous. Our bodies contain about 37.2 trillion cells. And each cell is a factory that has the ability to self-reproduce, with specific coding packed tightly inside each one.

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“There are about 100 billion neurons in a human brain, which is about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy.” (Express.com)

Our body knows to heat up when we are sick; it knows to increase oxygen to our brain when danger is near; and it knows to self-repair when it is damaged. Most magnificent of all, it houses a complex thinking machine capable of storing memories and complex thought. We are a miracle, truly. A machine unlike anything that has ever been known to exist. We contain a brain that is more complex than any known form of existence and technology.

And finally, consider the fact of how rare you are as a person. Every person that has ever existed in the history of humans has been different than you. They have grown up with their own life experiences and unique memories, as you have. In that sense, you are the first you that has ever been introduced to this world. To take this a step further, there will never be another person just like you for all of time into the future. Once you are gone, no person can live through this world as you have. In this respect, you, me and every individual here is our own miracle.

Basically, in a world of chaos, stress, and busy schedules, let’s remember how lucky we are to even be alive in the first place. The very fact that we are alive, and are able to realize that we are alive is enough of a reason to feel glorious. Our existence is a miracle, so I think we should treat ourselves as a miracle. Every. Single. Day.

Thank you.

Learning Japanese — My Experiences

When I was little, I never used to think about obtaining objects or acquiring skills. I lived life as it came, as most children probably did.

When I entered university, however, things began to change. The environment was filled with people who worked hard. But I am competitive, so I welcomed the challenge. I wanted to work at least as hard as my collegiate peers, if not more.

After a few years in college, I felt that good grades alone weren’t enough. If was to excel, I needed applicable tools and skills. Having a specific trade would give me an edge in at least one area of the world (yes, I was always thinking about my future).

Unfortunately, at the age of 22, when I asked myself the question “What am I good at?” nothing easily came to mind.

I wanted something that I could say, “Yes, that is my strength.”

skills
The acquisition of knowledge and skills leads to more value, internally and externally (pic: idealistcareers.org)

Essentially, I wanted skills alongside an engaged mind. So, at the age of of 22, I began expanding my mind in every way I could think of.

I decided to expand my horizons. I began reading adventurous books, making international friends, and even decided to live abroad in Japan. All in the hopes of garnering new experiences and broadening my mind.


The Decision to Tackle a Foreign Language

Fairly recently, I have began learning Japanese. *cue the traditional Japanese music*

I say recently, but my learning has been on and off for a number of years. It’s only been in the last 12 months or so that I have taken it seriously.

Why I chose to learn Japanese

Like many people, I got interested in Japanese from anime. Oh yes, the cartoon shows that center on wacky characters.

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“Your Name”, CoMix Wave Films

When I was seventeen years old, I scrolled through my Netflix queue and chose a show at random. I was bored and was prepared to change whatever I landed on.

A strange Japanese anime began playing. I picked up my remote in preparation to change it, but my fingers didn’t quite reach the buttons. Before long, the show captivated me. From that night onward I became interested in Japanese culture (or at least a small section of it). As the years went on, I became interested in Japan for other reasons as well. And my desire to learn the language has always remained.

Now that I am currently living in Japan, my craving to understand the culture is stronger than ever. I want to soak in all the “other-worldly” history of the country. Despite this, I am limited to books and documentaries. Call me nit-picky, but those don’t just don’t cut it. I would rather learn about Japan straight from the source: the people who grew up here. So learning the language is how I can do that.


yugen
(Source: /i.pinimg.com)

From my experiences so far, learning a second language is a tremendous amount of fun. There are moments where I want to pull out my hair (keywords: want to). But there are also moments of breakthrough and of marvel! I can’t quite explain the electrifying feeling when the bizarre, strange sounds begin to become words of meaning. It’s almost euphoric!

Also, learning Japanese is good for the brain. At least that’s what I’ve read. According to a study from the University of Chicago, decision-making abilities become an easier process

the brain
Learning a new language means your brain has to cope with new complexity as it makes sense of and absorbs unfamiliar patterns. (pic: medicine.wustl.edu)

for multilingual people. And… apparently the scientific community has reported that people make around 35,000 decisions every day (Kevin Daum)! Whew.

It has also been said that memory is improved when learning a second language. Second language acquisition sounds like a brain upgrade to me.

Furthermore, and my personal favorite, adding another language opens up a bevy of sources to take in information from. Think about this, a new language allows material created from an ‘alternate society’s perspective’ to enter your mind. The implications are at least two-fold:

  1. The broadening of the mind, culturally, as well as neurologically and,
  2. Hearing about the world in ways that our native language cannot express (unique words and expressions)

As an example, take the Japanese phrase しょうがない (Shoganai)

The literal meaning of “Shoganai” is “it cannot be helped.” However, the phrase is not used discouragingly, or in despairing contexts. It means to accept that something was out of our control. It encourages us to realize that it wasn’t our fault and to move on with no regret. In English, we may also use the phrase “it is what it is”. Still, there is no ‘one word’ to capture this phrase entirely.


Learning a Language Builds Character

A language includes a whole new way of communicating, and uses unique syntaxes, sentence structures, grammar rules, vocabulary, and writing systems.

brain electric
The brain is a collection of neural connections. New languages unlock alternate pathways to experience the world. (pic: http://recreio.uol.com.br)

It can be overwhelming to think about how high the mountain is at first. Japanese, in particular, is especially challenging. According to EffectiveLanguageLearning.com, the language was labeled as a Category 5 Difficulty Language (Category 5 being the hardest) According to their research, Japanese is included among the world languages that are “exceptionally difficult for native English speakers” to learn.

Exceptionally difficult, should I just give up now?

However, such as any difficult task, consistency, patience, and drive all play important roles. Progress follows with every step taken, however small.

And the skills acquired when learning a language are applicable to other facets of life. For example, as already mentioned, learning another language requires consistency and patience, and an adequate long term perspective regarding results. As a personal example, when I first began learning Japanese, I would often feel discouraged. I wouldsmoke head spend hours studying and still feel like I grasped less than 0.0000001% of the language! I wondered if I would EVER be able to learn enough to feel like I was making progress. But somehow, I persevered.

Eventually, I began seeing long term results in my Japanese proficiency. It was the moment I passed my first JLPT N5 Practice Test with flying colors that I realized that the work I was putting in was paying off! Hundreds of vocabulary words and more than a thousand hours were starting to show something. The small, incremental daily steps were visibly adding up. It was a breakthrough moment.

I began applying this long term mindset to other areas of my life. For example, when I read novels that seem overwhelmingly long, I just remind myself to think long term, and only focus on 20 minutes a day. I finish before I realize it. When I started a weight-loss regime, I reminded myself to think in terms of months, which got me through the perils of instant gratification. As a result, I shed off 13 kilo’s (28 lbs) in a matter of months.

The amount of other life skills I have learned from attempting to learn Japanese would fill up this page. For now, I’ll move on.


Personal Experiences with Japanese

Learning Japanese has been a roller coaster. That is, the process requires a lot of mental strength to get through days when there is little motivation.

Although I have seen stark improvement, I am still a long way to speaking naturally with native speakers.

There are so many facets of a language. And being able to quickly and accurately hear, translate, respond, and continue a conversation is a challenge. A challenge, I say! But a challenge worthy of taking.

Personally, I currently know about 1,000 words, have basic grammar, and can read about 150 kanji (Chinese characters). By a generous account, it is enough to “get by” in Japan, and has created very interesting experiences when communicating in public (and a new respect for how powerful hand gestures are).

Although I really do wish my Japanese skill would be higher, I never fail to appreciate how far I have come. Being thankful for what I’ve already achieved is a stark reminder that the work I have put in so far was worth it. It also gives me confidence that what I am putting in right now will also pay dividends.

Japanese, like any skill in life, requires consistent work. 

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” 

– Colin Powell

Consistent work alone may be the key to all of our dreams. It ensures that we are getting closer to our goals.

Think about the classic example of going to the gym. If we go for two days and then take break, we won’t see any improvement. If we go to the gym five days a week for six consecutive months, we are likely to see improvement. The power to change is in our hands. It’s completely up to us to put forth the effort for consistent action!

New Opportunities

As my Japanese has steadily improved, new experiences have become available. Namely, I am now able to consume Japanese media (on a small scale). This has been fascinating! I remember the first time I watched a movie in pure Japanese and actually heard (and understood) a conversation taking place, as opposed to merely hearing random noises in a different language.

Learning Japanese has also made it easier to travel and communicate with Japanese people. At a basic level, I am now able to “get around” in Japan, as I already mentioned. This has taken a lot of the anxiety away when I consider going to unknown places. I can only imagine the day I can have deep conversations with people who were actually brought up in Japan!

Having a steady grasp of the language also opens up potential career avenues. If I aspire to work in Japan long-term, I would need to have a relatively high understanding of the language. Even moving back to my home country in the United States, understanding a foreign language could be an huge asset in today’s increasingly global world.

Putting It All Together

Growing up in America, we were never taught that being multi-lingual was all that important. Indeed, according to Amelia Friedman of The Atlantic, “Nearly 99 percent of American adults today are not proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom.

Learning a second language is no easy endeavor, nor should it be. It is a whole other way of communicating and thinking about the world we all exist in. It is the challenge of doing something difficult that makes it exciting and worthwhile, at least I believe so.

From improving brain function to building personal character, learning a second language has been changing my life, as it will yours!

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.
‒Geoffrey Willans

Life As a Story

On a quiet night, about a year ago, I looked up into a night sky littered with shimmering stars. I had just gone through a rough week in my life, and the stress felt overwhelming. I was struggling to cope with a new life abroad alongside news that my family pet of 15 years had passed away.

My internal emotions were intense. On my balcony, I raised my head once more towards the sky.

A fiery comet made it’s way across the lower southwestern sky. The edges of my mouth rose a fraction of an inch to create a faint smile. Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” was playing from my laptop speakers in the adjoining room, catering to the melancholy mood of the night.

You see, on this particular night I wanted something to negate the stress. Or rather, I wanted a reason that I was going through it. A sense of “this is all worthwhile”.

In other words, I wanted meaning, clarity, and purpose.

I realized that I had none, which was a deflating feeling. I couldn’t pin down exactly what it was I was living for, or what it was that I was “born to do” as put in the words of many a great spiritualist and philosopher.

I glanced up towards the sky again, noticing the dazzling Venus to the west, gleaming bright orange.

If I am to find my purpose, it will not be in the stars, for the stars are merely created in my brain, the part that translates light data into comprehensible information. That is, my own brain is the true source of meaning.

I took a deep breath, and resolved to find my life purpose. I needed the light at the end of the tunnel that would give my life direction. Something that would give me strength to endure the trials of life. I needed life meaning.

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare


I began by looking outward. What was it that other accomplished individuals have found? After all, they seemed to have it all figured out. Perhaps they knew–and possessed–examples of the life purpose I was striving for. I found many intriguing illustrations:

Oprah Winfrey, Founder of The Oprah Winfrey Network

  • “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”

Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group

  • “To have fun in my journey through life and learn from my mistakes.”

John Rampton, Hostt.com

  • “I want to make it so that every person in the world can afford to start their own business.”

I also began reading self help books on happiness to see if I could find clues. There must be some fundamental principals out there that would do the trick.

self help books
Improving the mind, strengthening understanding, and unlocking the “secrets” of life sounds great. But just how much do self-help books actually do in instilling change? Pic: balancedachievement.com

I even looked to social media to see what sorts of meanings my ‘friends’ seemed to have. Social media is a hub for people to show the highlights of their lives. And why wouldn’t people highlight the parts of their lives that give them meaning (i.e. purpose)? I figured I was on to something.

I searched for examples..

I scoured through books for answers…

I used my peers as benchmarks…

All to no avail.

I found that most celebrities and successful business people have a tagline such as “Make the world a better place” or “Lessen the sufferings of society”. These are great from a professional perspective, but I wondered how well this would translate into personal affairs. Nevertheless, I adopted some of these views as a sort of ‘trial’, but have found marginal increases in satisfaction, seeing as I do not possess the funds or authoritative power to make significant impacts.

The books I have read have been amazing. They have been captivating, motivational, and at times even inspirational. For example, I read a book called “The Greatest Miracle In The World” by Og Mandino. It told of a human that lived for others, and found happiness in improving their lives. The book talked about society being stripped of self-esteem due to losing its “center-of-the-universe” perception it once held. It was a great read, and was greatly encouraging. But still, I wondered if centering my life around people who have ‘given up’ is what I needed to do.

My search for meaning continued.

Meanwhile, on social media, many of my ‘friends’ do share amazing photos. These marvelous instances are inspiring, actually. People share photos of traveling, creating families, or having fancy get-together’s. It’s nice, and I truly enjoying seeing people I have met doing great things. However, social media is a place where people post highlights. It’s the tip of the iceberg on most people’s lives, leaving out all (or most) of the stresses and trudges of day-to-day life. Therefore, I’m inclined to conceive it unfair to use social media as an accurate indication of other’s bona fide lives.


After numerous attempts at searching for my life meaning, and with little progress, I nearly came to relinquishing my search for meaning altogether.

“Therefore, I’m inclined to conceive it unfair to use social media as an accurate indication of other’s bona fide lives.”

I became disappointed. Why couldn’t it be easier? What was the missing piece to this puzzle I so desperately wanted to crack?

I took a step back. I was attempting to apply other people’s passions toward my own life. A bulb in my head lit up.

No one person in the entirety of the world shares the same experiences as me. Not a single person alive has identical memories or emotional experiences as I. Not to mention DNA, which according to research, may have vague influences on personalities. (Chi-Hua Chen from the University of California, San Diego)

So why would it make sense to seek out anybody’s else’s sense of meaning as an indicator of what would be meaningful to me?

Hm.

I pressed on even deeper within myself.

Successful business people, books, friends, or even a stranger on the street will never find the same amount of value out of the things I, myself, do. For some, the value may be close, but never exactly the same.

My life is intrinsically unique. As are all of ours. No one person that has ever existed in history, or that ever will exist in history, is quite like me. What an intriguing proposition!

Therefore, it was likely that only I alone could decide what my life meaning entailed. Sounds simple, yes. But somehow it was ever so complex.

So I began a journey of self reflection, value designation, and trial and error testing. And only after looking inwards for the answers I sought was I able to find clarity, after many months I might add.

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”  – Joseph Campbell


So, what exactly did I find as my personal life meaning? 

I have come to realize that my meaning is derived from actively pursuing my goals. To be the best version of me I can be. From short term goals, such as finishing a book,

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We derive our meaning from the things we value more than anything else.

closing a sale, or finishing all my current work projects, or a long term goal, like learning another language, saving an amount of money, or completing a marathon.

Creating short, mid, and long term goals has given me direction in life. And the pursuit of those goals has given my existence some substance. Attaining my goals, big or small, injects me with self-esteem and a feeling of accomplishment.

For others, a life purpose may entail spirituality, family, career, or fame. The trials of life appear to be unavoidable, so having meaning behind it all gives us hope and courage.

  1. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
  2. That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
  3. And then is heard no more: it is a tale
  4. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
  5. Signifying nothing.”

—Macbeth in Macbeth, William Shakespeare

But life, however lived, should be enjoyed, at least that’s what I conceive. A purpose has provided that for me.

And sometimes, I still look up at a night sky and remind myself how astronomically unique I am. To this, I smile and know that I am here to fulfill an order set by me, and me alone.

Living Alone Will Change Your Life!

I grew up in a pretty close-knit family. After school, I would go home and spend the remainder of the day with my siblings. At times, we would make each other laugh and be each other’s best friends. At other times, we would drive each other insane. Still, throughout our childhood, we always supported each other.

When I went to university, eight hours away from home, I had my first real taste of being away from my family. It was daunting. I remember a period when a twenty-year old version of myself would call my mother every single day between classes.

While in college, I chose to reside on campus, in the dorms. Dorm life was enjoyable, albeit a little sheltered. I had roommates that I shared my living quarters with. There were five of us, all sharing a suite with our own bedrooms. Five strangers coming together for a year, it was an experience I will never forget.

During my final year of University, I belatedly moved off campus and got an apartment with some friends. It was drastically different from the dorm life, but still felt comfortable because I was living alongside close people. Also, my tenants were accustomed to housing college students in their complex, and they treated us as such.

After university, I decided to make the biggest leap of my life: I would pursue a job on the opposite side of the world, in a country that was sixteen hours in the future! Yes, it would be the biggest jump I have ever made. This was the change I needed.

After being accepted for the position in Japan, I had six months to prepare. I moved back with my parents for a few months to help save up some cash, and before I knew it, the day of departure was upon me. I remember feeling excitement more than anything. A new world. A dazzling country with a foreign culture. And an adventure awaiting. 

I landed in Japan on January 11th, 2017, and was captivated with the awe a child has when visiting Disney Land for the first time.

I had no idea what was about to happen to my life.

This was going to be my first experience going solo, with no friends or family to live alongside. And not just alone in respect to housing, but ALONE from everything that once felt comfortable. Particularly, culture, family, friends, and habitual tendencies.


In the beginning, I was so blinded by my excitement and adventurous outlook to realize the significance of what had just happened to my life. Who wouldn’t be? Being thrust into a mystical land, beginning a new corporate job (with an incredibly steep learning curve), getting accustomed to a new city, meeting new coworkers, and attempting to make sense of signs and writings… The list goes on. I was completely and utterly lost in the moment. It was the craziest time of my life…

It wasn’t until 4 to 6 months into the experience that I began noticing what had been happening to my life. Things began to take their toll. Living on my own was downright lonely at times. Adding to that, living away from friends and family instilled a sense of longing that was unparalleled. Meanwhile, the culture was drastically different than anything previously experienced. It was hard. There were times I didn’t know what to do.

But I firmly believed (and still do) that internal growth and development occurs at the most trying of times. I stayed strong. And time went on.

Aside from getting accustomed to the cultural differences, there were some areas of my life that I could only have learned from living all by myself. Skills that came about through necessity. Of those, I’ve chosen five of the most prevailing.


The first of them is financial management. I won’t lie, I was very bad at managing my finances for the better part of my working life (just over 2 years so far). I would spend money without taking into consideration how much everything was costing. I would make sure my bills were paid and then spend too much money on leisure, often spending the equivalent of hundreds of U.S. dollars in a day, multiple days in a row. Eating out at restaurants occurred more often than necessary.  And when purchasing household items, I would buy extra without  a second thought (why did I need three different types of dish soap?) As my paycheck increased, so did my spending habits. Worst of all, I wasn’t saving any money. There have been several instances where I would look back and think to myself “How did I spend so much money in just a few days?” I realized that money went very quickly when I wasn’t mindful of how much I was spending.

Like all lessons if life, however, we must go through the trials of ignorance until we learn the lessons. Fairly recently, I have come to realize the power of living off of less than my total income. After all, I used to live happily off of a much smaller income a few years ago, so making more now doesn’t mean I have to spend more. These days, I set up monthly budgets, and partition them into weekly amounts. I put away a set amount of money every month for saving, and am able to still have a little bit of “fun” money too. With this new way of thinking about funds, I am still able to enjoy my life, feel good about saving for my future, and have found new and creative ways to economize my experiences!


Another thing I’ve learned from living alone has been self-reliance. Living alone has taught me that the only reliably available person to go to for help is myself. Other people just have too much going on. And rightfully so, they have their own lives they need to attend to. This idea has many branches, but the biggest is without a doubt in relation to happiness. Relying on anyone but yourself for happiness is a bubble waiting to burst. I used to look to others when I was down, when I was lonely, and when I didn’t quite know what to do in life. I used to go to others when I needed a good “cheering-up”. I would get it from people sometimes, and then I would rely on them for it. Reliance on another individual for anything is a path to disappointment, as I soon learned. When others don’t have time, energy, or interest as  we need, our hearts tremble inside, and feel pain.

I’ve learned that If I could find my own ways to solve my problems, my own mechanisms for ridding myself of loneliness, and my own fruitful ambitions to keep me excited about the world, then I would never need another person to make me happy. This isn’t to say I’ve given up on seeking the outside world for guidance or support. I am just saying I no longer rely on the outside world for my internal happiness. This mentality has completely changed my life, as I can now be happy all by myself, and get additional happiness from others. My relationships have soared since this realization.


Living alone has also forced me to face small, yet significant life challenges, teaching me new skills along the way. As an example, when one of my favorite suit-jackets lost a button, I didn’t know what to do. I realized that I had not an inkling of knowledge about sewing. I didn’t wear the jacket for a week or two as I thought about taking it to a tailer to get the button sewed back on. That same weekend, I bought a small sewing kit and did the repair job myself, albeit a little muffled. Since then, I have sewed back on numerous buttons, patched small holes in clothes, and have significantly improved my sewing, ironing, and cooking skills to boot. All things I never knew I could ever do.

As another example, and probably most traumatic, I found a bug in my apartment. Not just any bug. Well, let me take a step back. I arrived home after work one night, very tired. All the lights in my place were off. I came into my house, opened my kitchen door, and reached for the light switch with my right hand. As soon as I turned on the light my eyes caught the motion of a cockroach in my sink, darting towards the drain! My body trembled as the blood in my face lost its color.

My sink drain had a food net within it, so I knew the bug was waiting, hiding, within the net. I didn’t want to face the insect, but there was no one else that would be able to, seeing as I lived alone.

These two examples, along with fixing small failures in appliances, cleaning parts of my house I shouldn’t ignore (behind, underneath, and inside machines) and a multitude of other small experiences have only come from living all alone. It’s been a great chance for me to learn things I never expected!


Probably the most significant to my life has been using alone time to find out who I am. Of course, living alone comes with its fair share of desolate times, as I have mentioned already. However, once adjusted, using times of solitude is the biggest step we can take into self discovery, at least for me it has been. When we are alone with ourselves, there is no one we have to prove anything to and there are no societal norms we have to uphold. There is just the beating of our heart and our mind.

At first, I used to despise alone time. I would do anything I could to try to forget I was alone. Watching movies, reading books, and parsing through social media played a significant helping hand towards distracting me from reality.

However, as time went on, I slowly grew accustomed to solitude. Even now, sometimes I look up at a starry night sky and embrace the peaceful silence that I reside in. Through these moments, I have learned to not simply be my thoughts, but to observe them. I became the watcher of the thoughts that stream through my consciousness. After a while, I began to notice the kinds of thoughts that ran through my mind, and just exactly what kind of person I was. I detected how I perceived specific situations and which memories would spring forth most often.

Once I realized the specific thought patterns I employed, I was able to more easily understand why I make certain decisions in the world. As you can see, the implications of this are staggering.

Being the watcher of our thoughts is a life-changing endeavor. I highly recommend reading the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, as this book is the door into self-awareness, and it will change your life.

I’ve also made use of alone time by getting lost in my hobbies. There is no better time to improve a craft than when all alone. There is no one to judge and no one to distract you. For example, I play the guitar. Sometimes I just close my eyes and forget about everything else that exists except for the beautiful, melodic vibrations that are passing into my ear canal. Truly a wonderful feeling. And my heightened focus allows for a better transition into muscle-memory.

If alone time is not something you have grown accustomed to, I highly recommend delving into it. For it may change your life.


Finally, and most significantly, living alone has taught me to be accountable for my life. There has never been one thing I have learned in my life that has been more important than this lesson. As I mentioned when talking about self-reliance, there is going to be nobody there to do things for us when we are all by ourselves. The only reliably available person is ourselves.

I’ve learned that every aspect of my life is of my creation: my current health, my financial situation, my relationships, my self development, my achievements, my career, my happiness, my goals, and so on.

Everything.

The present is a manifestation of all the actions I have taken (or failed to have taken) in my past. In essence, I’ve created my current situation, good or bad.

By this logic I concluded that in regards to my future, it is solely up to me to generate it to fruition. That, or subdue to random forces and reside to never complain about my life again. I am the chef of my life, and it is my responsibly to brew the dish I want, adding the necessary ingredients along the way.

I have now instilled into my mind that I am no victim to the occurrences of  life. Being a patsy to life takes away any control I have. When I view life as my own responsibility, I feel a sense of control.

My new mindset is: everything that has ever happened to me, everything that is currently happening to me, and everything that will happen to me is of my doing. I hold myself accountable for my life. Even situations that begin outside of my control still give me a chance to react how I want, thus affecting the situation. I’ve used this mindset to motivate me to pursue goals and work harder than I otherwise would. I like to think of it as a “thinking hack”. Since I have felt responsible for my future, I have been more motivated to put in hours of work towards skills and knowledge I have yet to acquire.


Well, that about sums up my experience of living alone so far. The ups and the downs create a roller coaster of an experience, as I’m sure anyone living alone alone at present can attest to. Living alone in a foreign country exaggerates this magnificently, and creates an environment for rapid self development.

The big take away is: the more pressure we put ourselves through, the more we will have a chance to grow. After all, we are very adaptive creatures.

And for anyone that has yet to live all alone, I can only imagine your life improving afterwards, as I know mine has.

The Underlying Desire to Conform

Japan sees itself as a nation apart. This becomes increasingly apparent as more time is spent in the country.

Indeed, Japan is home to its own unique language, as well as the religion of Shinto, which is centered on worshiping the surrounding nature.
It is said that over 200 years of isolation during the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate is a big contributor to this intense feeling of distinctness.

As such, Japanese people have a deep, inner desire to seek consensus, and to avoid conflict. There even exists a word to describe this, “wa,” which signifies harmony.

Traditionally, when farmers grew rice on their large, wet farms, having the cooperation of others was necessary to have successful harvests, and has been known as the key way to fully understand wa.

Due to such a culture, Japan is very much a “shame” culture and a “face” culture, composed of what seems like thousands of nuances that facilitate life.

Here are few examples:

“I” vs. “We”

Japanese people value the voice of the group over the voice any individual. It is better to “be the nail that looks like all other nails than to be the one that sticks out.”

Japanese Work Ethic

The intense working mindset that exists in Japan is as great as it is detrimental. On the one hand, putting in an overabundance of hours shows dedication and commitment to the company. On the other, workers are emotionally drained to do any non-work related essential task. It is common for employees to work long overtime hours and not leave until the boss’s boss is ready to call it a night. Such conditions have people working themselves to death with a term known as “karoshi.” The country continues to battle this issue by imposing laws on companies to this day.

Appreciation Culture

Japanese social interactions are laced with gratitude. All interactions and events, however minor, include acknowledgement of the other party’s time and effort. It is not uncommon to be thanked more times than an actual conversation taking place.

Public Face and Private Face

Just as a coin has two faces, so do most social identities in Japan. The public face, or “tatemai,” can be described as the facade that people put up to socially present themselves, often keeping a different idea away from public ears. Contrasting to this, one’s private face, or “honne,” is more of the hidden intentions and ways of viewing a particular topic. Understanding the alternating faces is not so easy, and can create a sense of living in a world surrounded by insincerity at times, but plays out well when all of society is on board.

Of course, not every person in Japan is alike, with personality putting a special flavor to each person. However, the society is filled with historical roots and is sure to turn your world upside down.

Reading about a topic is the tip of the ice-burg, first-hand experience will change your life forever. If you ever consider traveling to another place, however far, go for it!

Off in the Distance

Mountains Mountain Sea Of Fog Hochlantsch Sunrise

Pierre slowly opened his eyes. The sound of his iPhone alarm was terrorizing his eardrums. It’s not that the sound was all that loud, it was just that Pierre had heard that same ringtone every single day. He had come to associate his alarm sound with the pain of waking up, especially when he didn’t feel like it.

With one eye open, Pierre pushed the snooze function. ‘Just ten more minutes, he thought, ‘and then I’ll be ready’. Pierre closed his eyes for what felt like two seconds before his alarm began ringing again. For as bad as he wanted to push the snooze function again, Pierre knew that he was losing important time.

Without another moment passing, Pierre reached his right arm over his body, grabbed his bed sheets, and then threw his sheets off of himself. Before he had time to convince himself to lie down any longer, he thrust his body up, almost in a zombie-like way, and shook his head from left to right. “Time to carpe the fuck out of this diem”, he thought out loud.

With only fifteen minutes left until sunrise, Pierre left no time to be wasted. Today would not be the day his missed watching the sunrise. Over the past nine days, Pierre had been climbing to the top of the hill behind his block, and had watched the sun rise over the edge of the misty mountains in the distance.

Two weeks ago, on an ordinary day, much like the day you are having right now. Pierre lost grasp of why he was continuing on in this world. There wasn’t any traumatic event, or major life change that led him to this thought. It just happened. He awoke at 2:42 AM one night, and within the seventeen-minute span of him being awake, Pierre felt like nothing more than a robot, mechanically going about his days. But all was not lost. Pierre became motivated to find truth. He decided to climb the 200 meter high hill behind his house every morning, and seek truth in the distant lands unknown to him.

 


 

Pierre put on his sweats, hoodie, and earmuffs, and then jumped out of his front door in a burst toward the hill. He glanced at his watch: 5:56 AM, only 12 minutes until the sun cracked the surface off in the distance. There was still time. The air outside was misty, wet, and filled with the scent of vegetation. Pierre lived near a large forest located to the east of his neighborhood. The hill Pierre pursued was right before the forest.

Pierre tightened his small headlamp around his head as he began ascending the hill in full stride. “Good morning, good friend,” Pierre whispered to the hill as he began his climb. His strides grew longer as he climbed higher. He took in the fresh atmosphere that surrounded him.

Soon Pierre reached the top of the hill. The view was fantastic. To the west, Pierre had an overview of the city he lived in. To the east, a deep forest that met a mountain range rested in the distance. As usual, the mountains off in the distance were misty and intriguing, almost as if they were waiting for something, or someone. With only a few minutes left until sunrise, Pierre located his usual spot for his routine, a large boulder near the east edge of the hilltop. It was already set up from the previous days.

Pierre sat down on the rock. It was about one meter high, with a circular top, and a surprisingly smooth surface to sit on. Pierre took a deep breathe as he closed his eyes. The air whipped through his windpipe, down to his lungs, and filled him with fresh oxygen from the surrounding morning air. Off in the distance, Pierre could hear the screech of what he assumed to be an eagle. It was a peaceful sound, one that instilled a sense of calmness in Pierre.

In this moment, Pierre experienced that which cannot be explained: life.

Taking up Space

*Outside of a small house, a cricket can be heard stridulating*

house at nighy.jpg

Brian suddenly opened his eyes. He lay in the still of the night, wondering why he had awoken. A quick glance at the alarm clock revealed it was 3:42 AM, still the middle of the night. It was at this moment that Brian thought to himself “Without our calendar system, the Earth is just one big, spinning ball in a never ending orbit around a constantly burning star.”

Brian had a lamp switched on by now. At his desk was a drawing he just finished; a sketch showing the Earth in orbit around the sun. He had a little, red arrow pointing to the side of the Earth facing away from the sun with a quote saying, “Where I am at right now.”

The more thought Brian put into it, the more he realized that a calendar system is simply a means of helping humans keep track of events, such as seasons, religious activities, or commercial happenings. Other than that, time is not what he traditionally thought of, separated by minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Time seemed to be more like one continuous flow of the Earth spinning and orbiting the Sun. “No separation really exists,” Brian thought out loud to himself.

He pondered a bit more. Outside of a calendar system, yesterday and today are connected…

“Maybe,” he mouthed in his silent, moonlit bedroom, “time is merely a mental construct created by us humans…” He trailed off.

That night he dreamed of other parts of reality that were merely invented by humans…

The Lounge

The Lounge


 

I’m currently seated in a pleasant, reclining chair. The glimmering rug shines in the corner of my eye as I admire the lounge I am residing in.

As I turn my body a little to the left, the enchanting aroma of freshly cooked dough seeps into my nostrils. To be honest, I am quite stunned at how relaxed the smell allows my body to become. The mellow sound of a piano resonates into my eardrums in a gentle way that only the cooing of an infant would match. I smile.

Without conscious direction, my head leans itself back and rests against the eloquently soft fabric. My eyelids begin to droop.

I am floating somewhere off the coast of paradise. The sun is beginning to set. Clouds passing me by, one by one, swaying in the wind, almost as if they are waving at me. The smile on my mouth comes back, and then I nod to let the passing clouds know they have been acknowledged.

Whoop… whoop. The calming flap of a grey and white Swan soothes me on my flight. The bird is flying with me, almost as if to guide me. It winks at me, and then its beak begins to open…

It is in this exact moment that I feel a tap on my right shoulder. My eyes suddenly open. I’m in the lounge again, awakened by a man in a suit and tie wearing fancy white gloves. “Excuse me, sir. Would you like some wine?” he questions in an accented voice.

I stare at the curls on his mustache for a second too long. Without another moment passing, I politely decline and thank him.

I lean my head back once again, but this time my eyes remain open, marveling at the  decorative displays on the ceiling.

The piano continues to play as I enjoy my time in The Lounge.

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