Love is a Choice

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My wife and I have known each other since early college years, but didn’t date until much later towards graduation. She has her eyes set on someone else as was also I.

Yet the moment we catches each other’s attentions, we had only dated a couple of weeks before we realized that we were madly in love and started making major life plans together. And since then, it has been a crazy blend and mixture of smooth-sailing and roller coaster ride types of relationship between the two of us unto the day of our marriage. On and off relationship, countless disputes and quarrels, so many memorable traveling experiences, emergency situations, family occasion and social gatherings – all assortments  of good and bad things that could possibly happen in a relationship.

Lately, my wife and I had this “conversation” about how we now “see” and consider each other respectively. And by “see” I mean Love. Do we still love each other as much as we did earlier in our relationship and into our marriage?

The more I think about this type of conversation the more I’ve come to realize that loving someone—or choosing to love someone—is actually (at times) an extremely challenging yet the most beautiful thing about Love.

I’ve heard it said that real love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.

It’s true.

When all the butterflies have fluttered away and your wedding day becomes a distant memory, you will discover that you’ve married someone who is just as imperfect as you. And they, in turn, will come to learn that you have problems, insecurities, struggles, quirks—and body odor—just as real as theirs!

Then you will realize that real love isn’t just a euphoric, spontaneous feeling—it’s a deliberate choice—a plan to love each other for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Of course, you don’t choose who you’re attracted to, but you definitely choose who you fall in love with and (more importantly) who you stay in love with.

Our society places a lot of emphasis on feelings. It teaches us to be spontaneous about love. We are taught that we should always follow our feelings and do whatever makes us happy. But feelings are very fickle and fleeting. Real love, on the other hand, is like the north star in the storms of life; it is constant, sure, and true. Whenever we’re lost and confused we can find strength in the love that we have chosen.

Besides, life already offers us plenty of spontaneity: rejection, job loss, heartache, disappointment, despair, illness, and a host of other problems. We simply can’t abandon ship every time we encounter a storm in our marriage. Real love is about weathering the storms of life together.

When my dad had a stroke four years ago taking away his ability to walk and was confined to a wheelchair, my late mom (whom we lost September last year due to cardiac arrest) took care of my dad. She helped him do everything—from getting around the house and visiting the doctor, to helping him take his medicine and bathe.

In speaking about my dad, my late loving mom once told me, “It hurts me to see him like this. You know, when I got married I thought that everything would be smooth sailing. I never imagined that I take care of him like this every day. But I do it and I don’t mind it—because I love him.”

Love is so much more than some random, euphoric feeling. And real love isn’t always fluffy, cute, and cuddly. More often than not, real love has its sleeves rolled up, dirt and grime smeared on its arms, and sweat dripping down its forehead. Real love asks us to do hard things—to forgive one another, to support each other’s dreams, to comfort in times of grief, or to care for family. Real love isn’t easy—and it’s nothing like the wedding day—but it’s far more meaningful and wonderful.

I recently came across this wonderful quote: “No one falls in love by choice, it is by chance. No one stays in love by chance, it is by work. And no one falls out of love by chance, it is by choice.”

This is what I’ve noticed; whenever my wife and I run into a problem in our marriage we do our best to choose love. While we’re certainly not perfect, the love we share today is more real and more wonderful than anything we had ever anticipated.

So, whatever spontaneous storm may come our way I plan on loving my wife.

My resolution after the conversation I had with my wife is that if you truly love someone (and they truly love you), commit to that love and plan on it being hard work.

But also plan on it being the most rewarding work of your life.

Photo source: http://wallpapercave.com

 

Building Connections that Matter

 

Rear View of Group of Friends Hugging

Everything in life begins with connection. In each moment, we are choosing to join or separate – to connect or disconnect – and the person to whom we’re speaking feels what we have chosen regardless of our words.

What makes relationships challenging often comes down to one factor – we build the relationship from the outside in, believing something we want is not happening because of someone else who is outside of us. We must learn to connect first with ourselves and create a relationship from the inside out. These are what I believed in: building heart-to-heart connections is that even though it takes two people to create a relationship, the responsibility for connecting starts with you; and that everything depends on your level of awareness.

Relationships begin with being at peace with yourself – having a connection with yourself that nothing can break from the outside. Other people become a reflection of the loving, kind, peaceful relationship you have with yourself. You cannot receive what you cannot give. The scenery out there reflects the situation in here. Working from the outside in, more often than not, will fall short of the ideal, and leads to frustration, conflict and lack of fulfilment in the end.

We can choose to connect with another person or not, but we cannot choose to disconnect with ourselves. Many people are uncomfortable with this truth – they spend vast amounts of time trying to escape themselves, with all kinds of activities, work and distractions.

For many, their sense of self is ego-based. Individual egos have self-centered aims, tastes, desires, opinions, likes or dislikes. The very construct of the ego brings with it a built in conflict with other egos. If you think about it, it’s surprising that separate egos, each with their own set of rules and agendas, ever get together in the first place. When they do, their connections always risk unravelling because each ego is primarily tied with what it wants. 

To my opinion, the true self is a state of awareness, not a thing, mood, sensation or feeling. All it takes is a shift in awareness to discover that love, peace and lack of conflict exist inside of us, and have the power to change any situation. Indeed, the values you most cherish are not something to seek out and find. They are something that have always belonged to you. The only thing you need to do is recognise them.

Photo source: business2community.com

Light Enters Through Cracks

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FOREWORD: In light of the Lenten season, I wrote this post about embracing freedom and personal strength through brokenness.

Leonard Cohen, the legendary Canadian poet and singer who died on November 7, 2016 once wrote a set of powerful lyrics in his song “Anthem,” off the 1992 album The Future:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Cohen, who didn’t like explaining his music, reportedly made a rare statement about “Anthem” on The Future Radio Special, a special CD released by Sony in 1992. (Quartz hasn’t been able to independently verify the transcript, which was published on a fan site.)

The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.

This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.

And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.

(Source: Quartz Media LLC)

There Is A Crack In Everything, That’s How The Light Gets In

Now there are people who resist the insights born of brokenness. One of the ways we most oppress ourselves is by assuming that we, alone, are shattered while everyone else is whole. We tell ourselves, “Look at that family, how perfect they are. Look at their home, how gorgeous and clean it always is”, and we assume that we are the only fractured and broken vessels struggling to make meaning of our fragmented lives. Not only do individuals try to mandate a false wholeness, but there are social forces that seek to impose that same impossible perfection on us, telling us that if we are broken, we no longer retain any utility or worth.

There are entire industries in this era — blogs, magazines, and films — dedicated to the self-hating proposition that we should feel fat, old, and ugly, that we should do surgery on ourselves, or straighten something, or bend some part, or snip something, or be lighter, or darker, and then, then we’ll finally have dignity; then we’ll be whole.

Where then does that leave us?

Let us take for example the iconic and symbolic Liberty Bell. It was hung in the Philadelphia State House in 1753, and it sounded to summon the pre-Independence Colonial Legislature into session, and it was used after the Revolution for the Pennsylvania State Legislature as well.

The intriguing idiosyncrasy of this bell is that when it arrived, it cracked right away. Not once, but twice, American craftspeople repaired the bell by filling in the crack with new metal. And yet it cracked again, and then it cracked again. Apparently the bell wanted to be broken; it had something to say. In the 1830s the abolitionist movement was gaining steam; Americans were awakening to the realization that slavery was economically harmful and morally repugnant.

Some bold Americans started to organize against slavery as an ethical and political imperative. The abolitionists were the very first to label this bell the Liberty Bell, and they elevated it as a symbol of American independence and personal freedom.

In 1846 the Liberty Bell cracked for the final time, and at that point people stopped trying to fill the gap or to ring it.

Now, taking such into considerations, to me, the Liberty Bell — now cracked and silent — resonates more loudly around the globe than any bell that is whole. Inscribed on that beautiful, broken Liberty Bell is a verse from the Book of Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.” Not to those who are tall, to those who are thin, to those who are young, to those are gorgeous — proclaim liberty to everyone.

Liberty belongs to us all, broken, shattered, struggling and striving. And beautiful because of our imperfections.

The medieval author, Menachem Azariah of Fano writes, “Just as a seed cannot grow to perfection as long as it maintains its original form — growth coming only through decomposition — so these points could not become perfect configurations as long as they maintained their original form, but only by breaking.” There is a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in.

This life is not for the perfect. It is not for the flawless. It is not for the whole. If you are like me, there are parts of you that are very good, and there are parts of you that are aching. There are parts of you that strive and fall short; there are parts of you that feel broken. Those are the parts that let in the light. Don’t run from your imperfections. Don’t hide from your brokenness. Broken bones re-grow stronger at the very location where they are broken. Those are the spots where the light will shine through.

Friendship Demands Truth

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These past few days, my wife and I had been making plans to meet up with some friends we haven’t seen  for quite sometime now. Trips are already booked. We are (I mean, my wife is) finalizing the plans once we get to the place of one of our friends whom we are visiting and we’ll be staying with during said trip. Purpose of the visit: to catch some time together and rekindle the fires of friendship that had gone cold over the years of limited communications. How time has swiftly passed us all, leaving us missing each other and the memories of the times we’ve shared together. 

There are friendships that serve as wallflowers and there are those that remain true no matter what. This post is dedicated to one of the basic truths about friendship. Forget about the sweet, soft and cheesy ones for a while, let’s take it to the core and talk about the  bones — the hard stuff that holds friendship stand steadfast and strong — Truth.

What does it mean to be a friend — to be kind to another human being? We are taught in this culture that being kind means not making another person feel bad. We are conditioned to believe that it is virtuous to hide our strengths to save another from experiencing their weaknesses, to deny our blessings so that another avoids feeling their sorrows. Is this kindness? Is this friendship — to put away our truth so as to save another from experiencing their own truth — which might be sad? If this is true friendship, it is of an odd sort — true friendship that does not include the truth. Hiding the truth may keep a relationship going smoothly, but going smoothly is a paltry goal for such a precious and profound entity as friendship. When we choose smooth sailing over truth, we underestimate the weight that friendship can hold; we dishonor the very substance from which friendship is made. Are we so afraid of suffering as to be willing to sacrifice even friendship in order to avoid it?

To be a true friend is not to pretend that we don’t have different experiences in life, don’t receive different blessings and challenges. It is not to pretend that life is fair. A friendship that creates a shared experience at the lowest common denominator is not a friendship, but rather some kind of hiding place from life. We don’t need more hiding places. What we need are more foxhole buddies, true friends who can keep us company in the truth, and in the hard parts, where life isn’t okay or fair.

In truth, we do not need more ways to skirt the sorrows that are part of life, more strategies for keeping the waters smooth. What we need are friends who can accompany us through the bumpy and different truths of life. True friendship is about meeting in the place of truth, and loving and supporting each other there. Anything else is just a paler shade of polite.

I guess that’s where our (my wife and I) relationships with our friends was grounded and has grown over the years.

What are your thoughts about friendship?

Photo credits: quoteslife101.net

The Beauty of Screwing Up

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The Philippines, being a country with Christian-majority populace, is entering a religious period worldly-known as Holy Week. It [Holy Week] is the annual commemoration of the Passion of Christ. It’s not just another religious tradition. We aren’t celebrating the fact that the Son of God suffered and died, but Christians (particularly Roman Catholics) are recognizing and honoring His sacrifice, accompanying Him spiritually and physically, as if we had been there with Him, two thousand years ago.

In other words, Holy Week is when Christians observe the anniversary of the last days of Jesus’ life on earth: His passion, death, and resurrection. (Source)

For me, Holy Week usually reminds me of the grace of God shown on the cross as atonement for our sins. But, in a way, it likewise has me thinking about regret and guilt — you know, the usual suspects when it comes to feeling shameful about yourself because of your wrongdoings and shortcomings as a person.

During the duration of the celebration, Catholics take the time to somehow atone for their sins, to clean the slate, to clear their conscience, and to generally make things right, while some fast for hours, others even allowed themselves to be nailed on a cross, as payment and punishment for the year’s past misdeeds or sins committed in their lives.

Sad but true, when it’s all over, most people go back to hiding their flawed selves again, burying their shame and wrongdoings as deeply as possible, never to see the light of day until they bring them out again next year for reflection and renewal.

I say atone it AND own it. Not just for one day, nor within the duration of a certain tradition’s celebration, but for LIFE.

SOMETIMES THE WRONG CHOICES BRING US TO THE RIGHT PLACES

Looking back, maybe you did some things in life that you’re not proud of; maybe you made some poor choices or unwise decisions; maybe you did some major screw-ups that sabotaged you or hurt others; maybe you acted impulsively, or didn’t act at all when you should have.

In other words, you screwed up. Join the club, we’ve all been members at one time or another.

But rather than beat yourself up for it, is it possible to accept your screw-ups with respect instead of regret? Is it possible to take your failures and mistakes and see them not as liabilities, but as assets that gave you more character, depth, and soul?

You may have screwed up big time, but you’re not screwed out of luck: the wrong choices you made yesterday could very well be taking you to the right places today.

EMBRACE YOUR PERFECTLY BEAUTIFUL IMPERFECTIONS

Instead of letting your screw-ups get the best of you, why not make the best of them? I say embrace your perfectly beautiful imperfections, and make peace with your flaws because chances are, they made you who you are today: someone who’s smarter, wiser, stronger, and more resilient.

This is why screwing up can be beautiful. It gives you incredible gifts of insight and clarity, as well as opportunities to put your guilt and remorse to good use: like making positive changes in your life and staying on the path of right action.

YOUR PAST WAS NEVER A MISTAKE IF YOU LEARNED FROM IT

Screwing up will test you, tease you, torment you, and ultimately teach you things about yourself you never knew. The key is learning the lessons. You never want to waste a perfectly good mishap by not learning from it (nor would you want to ruin one by repeating it).

I’ve had some good doses of screw-ups in my day: I squandered time and opportunities; I either wasn’t thinking, wasn’t aware, or wasn’t paying attention; I missed the boat, took my eye off the ball, and made unforced errors. I wish I could go back in time and do it over, but I can’t. I can only be thankful for the lessons I learned and the wisdom it gave me.

In other words, I screwed up, therefore I am.

Everyday we have a chance to make things right, to repent, to make amends, and to do things differently. And of course, every day we have a chance to practice FORGIVENESS: screwing up’s best friend.

Just remember, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” To actually do this is pretty much awesome.

I’m fairly certain that screwing up makes one a better person. We’re all a work in progress, and the learning process never stops. Trial and error, live and learn, you know the drill. The challenge is to remove judgment and condemnation from your path so you can turn self-loathing into self-loving.

The Social Media Paradox

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Late last year while I was at a conference, I had an interesting conversation with someone I met there. It started when he noticed me simultaneously browsing thru Pinterest and Instagram on my phone while checking on WordPress on my laptop, and he confessed that he uses no social media despite the urging from his friends and family. For him, social media is a negative experience and is not conducive to his wants and values. That was his opinion and I respect it. Just as he respects my views when I told him my work and passions lend themselves to using social media. However, that conversation now led me to think about it in a deeper way. To it, I believe that intent and purpose are the driving factors that should be omnipotent in your relationship with social media. Is it a healthy experience for your life or is it distracting from your true values, or defining your decisions?

Social media has been a revelation to many and launched many careers. There are countless incredible accounts which have given us that all important spark of imagination or needed motivation. All of these things are wonderful – but know where the line is and where it is for you. What are your driving factors?

On the the flipside of our ability to now mass-express, we should think about whether our capabilities to interact and communicate with others on more intricate levels are suffering. How we communicate with each other has been said to be 90% body language.

An early girlfriend of Steve Jobs said that while he created something that connected the whole world, he himself couldn’t make a connection with anyone on a personal level.

What happens to our relationships when conversations are replaced with emojis?

Are we losing the subtle intricacies that come from a look or slight movement? Are we losing our attention to detail, our ability to focus or our imaginations that used to be forced to build color, people and stories amongst the pages of brilliant writers.

And in the words of one of my favorite writers, Sixto Rodriguez, I wonder.

Is this all just our way of coping with the world’s crumbling lack of etiquette, manners, moral codes and common decency? – or is it the cause of it?

I love coining quotes as much as I love reading them. I even logged into Pinterest and read hundreds of ‘pinned’ quotes. I’ve noticed some of my friends love posting quotes too, on one of the leading social media platform there is – Facebook.

You may ask, ‘Is there a problem to it?’ Nothing of huge significance, I suppose. But hear me out on this…

I believe our modern, tech-savvy lifestyles are rewarding immediacy over applied perseverance; rewarding quick, superficial gains which in turn, and rather ironically, makes many of the social’ised quotes hypocritical. Hypocritical to their very core because while we’re all well aware of the perseverance things worth achieving actually takes, (at least I hope we’re all aware), more often than not, we’re happy to take the short-cut out.

The epitome of these short-cuts being oxymorons like “Live authentically”, which is captioned under a photo of a hot boy/girl on a beach then posted to thousands of “friends” or “followers” (most of whom they haven’t personally met face to face) and subsequent “likes” on {insert social media channel here}, is just an example.

What has the world come to when people are posting things that they clearly have no connection with, and then putting them out to “friends” in the social medias. This does not amount to business sales, genuine relationships, or your own self-worth and growth. It does not tell the world you’re happy, living truthfully or that you’re a fly by the seat of your pants type happy.

It does the exact opposite. It diffuses your true self and enhances your false self.

Are we so afraid to be sad, bad, wrong, uncool, uncouth – or a combination of all of these that we have to fake a light and happy existence because we’ve skipped past the nuances of the quotes we’re reading and their implied perseverance and jumped right on to the (seemingly) quick fix happy?

Happiness. To me anyway, is a habit. It’s a choice and it’s an applied perseverance. It’s not a blessed or perfect life and it’s not a social post. It’s not immediate and it’s not fleeting. It’s not dependent on outside factors or likes. I am not Buddha and I am not Gandhi, I don’t have the answers – but I feel like paying more attention to the here and now, the people who are actually behind the technology (that’s us by the way) – might help create some lasting happy habits of my own.

My point being: social media status does not define you and your happiness and success. If your post  authentically expresses your state of happiness and success, well and good. Otherwise, look for that something by which you can express them truthfully.

 

Make Fear your friend and ally

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Even the wisest people regularly make decisions that seem rational — but aren’t.

While we often think of ourselves as rational creatures, the bigger a dilemma is or the more important a dream is, the more our choices become clouded by fear.

Have you ever turned down an exciting opportunity and played it safe instead? Have you ever made a decision out of anger and ended up hurting someone you love? Have you ever gotten so stressed that you went into survival mode and started obsessing over tiny things instead of focusing on the bigger picture? Or have you had times where you became addicted to achievement and approval?

I have. And pretty much everyone I know has done so, too. There are many faces of fear and each shows up as a limitation — as a defect that distorts our decisions, sabotages our leadership, and holds us back from the things we most want in life.

However, we usually don’t notice this. Like an iceberg, 90 percent of our fears remain out of sight, stored away in our unconscious mind. But that doesn’t mean they’re gone. Like trying to look through a layer of brown cooking grease that has been spread across a piece of glass, our hidden insecurities distort our vision and color our choices.

Instead of proclaiming themselves as such, our fears most commonly show up as innocent sounding statements that sound so reasonable — yet aren’t.

Looking deep within and in retrospect. I often caught myself on various occasions saying or thinking about the following words:

“I’m upset because…”
“I need…”
“I should…”
“I shouldn’t…”
“You shouldn’t…”
“You must…”
“I’m stressed because…”
“I can’t…”
“Yeah, I’d like to, but…”
“If I could just stop procrastinating, I would…”

Do you ever find yourself saying any of the said lines too?

If so, welcome to the human race. While each of these statements can be rational, I strongly believe that they’re almost always a sign that your choices aren’t clean, and that your decisions are being distorted by your unconscious fears.

For example, I often find myself saying things like, “I’m upset because I don’t have more money.” “I should be working harder.” “Yeah, I’d like to go on a long beach vacation with the family, but I just don’t have the time.”

And of course, “Honey, you don’t understand, I need to buy more gadgets!”

While these statements may sound reasonable, we truly need to recognize when they’re really just symptoms of our hidden fears.

While this may sound disturbing, it’s actually great news because the voice of fear can become one of your greatest allies — once you learn how to listen to it in a more effective way.

Of course, the contention of the matter always boils down to this: how to make fear an ally? 

I believe the answer would be, that is to always open your heart to meet fear fully. Just as good health requires a lifestyle of attention to diet and exercise, being at ease with fear requires an ongoing willingness to meet it directly. If you are receptive to whatever arises, as it is, you will find it does not matter if fear is present or not. Life is so rich. Every experience that arises is a friend, a gift, an invitation to break down your inner boundaries. Allow everything in always, and you will discover the peace beyond peace.

Photo source: quotefancy.com