Sometimes trying to discover your purpose in life comes in weird packages.
Last Wednesday night, Rene’ came in from her long commute from work—all of about 35 feet—(and don’t think this guy who drives 112 miles ONE WAY does not remind her of real commuting woes daily) to inform me she was not feeling well. Knowing she had a long held breakfast arrangement in Burbank the next morning with my elderly Uncle and my eldest sister troubled her as she knew she would not be well enough in the morning to make it.
She then quite reluctantly asked me if I would go in her place.
My Uncle is a good guy. He lives life on his own terms, never been married, and is very active in the local political community. I enjoy his company, as this 82 year-old man still lifts weights 4 days a week at about 1½ hours a pop. If I’m still tearing up the gym at 82 I will die a happy man.
My sister, on the other hand, ah, hmmmm, ehhh, well, let us just say we have had our differences over the years and do not converse much. Yes. I will leave it at that. Family relationships are weird and complex. Let your imaginations take over from here as you all can do the dysfunctional family math. No need to drag family baggage to a blog.
Yet, I knew things might (would) be a bit awkward, I agreed to go to breakfast in Rene’s stead.
Deep into my drive to Burbank I realized I absentmindedly left my cell phone at home causing it to trigger—the dreaded 5 stages of cell phone alienation- denial (it can’t be!), anger (I am so stupid!), withdrawal (today will just be a waste of a day), bargaining (I can use my office phone) and finally acceptance (oh shit)- as I knew I was far too many miles into the trip to go back. As I thought of the upcoming breakfast, the stark reality hit me that now when those odd moments of silent tension hit I would have no technological bailout. You know, to stare at my blank text/facebook/instragram message alert and pretend something was really there.
This breakfast would be old school.
Pleasantly, the rest of the morning went swimmingly, sans my electronic leash, and even in those awkward conversational moments with my sister, I used the conversational starter that every human being over 50 can use when scratching your head for something to say, “So, ah, have you gotten your colonoscopy yet?”
She even laughed.
This prompted a huge discussion on PPO’s, HMOs, Obamacare and colon health.
When in doubt, always play the colon card.
It was a lovely morning. Really it was. Afterwards I went to go say hello to my parents in Burbank when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt so happy and fully content inside as if someone reached inside of me, scraped out any and all anxiety and stress, and replaced it with a smooth elixir of tranquility and joy.
Being the critical thinking type and always searching for the cause and effect of life’s happenings, I began to connect the psychological dots in search of the cause for this wonderful feeling effect in terms of my day without personal, mobile technology. At first, my happiness mathematical equation went something like this:
Life – cell phone = tranquility and being fully invested in the moment.
Yet, as I thought more about the morning and felt the influence of a book I am currently reading entitled, The Undefeated Mind by Dr. Alex Lickerman, MD., I realized that morning/day of peace had less to do with technology and much more to do with kindness. My updated formula went something like this:
Life + Acts of kindness – cell phone = tranquility and being fully invested in the moment.
Rather than waking up and begin serving myself (accomplishing tasks, going to the gym, “getting it on”), I woke up and began serving others with focus and without distraction. True it was not a Mother Theresa level of kindness, yet taking a small step to mend a distressed relationship and picking up my Uncle for breakfast counts for something…even if it was somewhat forced upon me. Ok, maybe just a little something. Baby steps.
Lickerman writes of “provisional bodhisattva” defined in Buddhism as a person who dedicates himself to the happiness of others. When one commits to this, not only does one enjoy greater satisfaction in life, but also, according to recent research, gains something that the joy felt from fleeting pleasures could not provide: Increased strength.
“But, Jimmy, you give to your students all the time. You dedicate your life to others in this way. You have always been about helping others. Nothing has changed.”
True dat and thank you omniscient third person. Yet what you do and how you see yourself can be entirely different. I can be a guy who writes, though am I a writer? I may be a guy who plays baseball, though am I a baseball player? I may be guy who gives to others, though am I a giver? Is that who I am?
I guess I am that. Yet I am also one hell of a receiver as I love to feed myself everything good that life has to offer. I need to feed myself in order to help feed others.
So, thanks to Rene’s brief bout with a flu bug, an 82 year-old Uncle, a strained relationship with my sister, a forgotten cell phone and a stack of harvest nut pancakes at IHop…oh and the colon, I am in the early stages of developing my new life mantra:
“To receive graciously, to give daily with positivity, while helping others discover their voice.” Or something like that. It is a work in progress.
Yet that is me. That is what I do. That is who I am.
What is 112 miles one way when you get to live a blessed life with this purpose?
It’s nothing. Igot this.
Cute pic! Your uncle is adorable! Thanks for the food for thought and the profound math equations. 🙂
Good one Jimmy … thoroughly enjoyable and a worthwhile read. Thanks for a bright spot to my morning.
I love it when life supplies serendipity and little coincidences. This week our assignment in my Rel. 100 class is the “Ethical and Moral Behavior Self-Study, Random Acts of Kindness and Smile Campaign.” The instructor has provided two lists: one of deficits (things like cutting in line, slamming doors in anger, vulgar or crude comments, etc.) and one of assets (things like giving genuine praise, going the speed limit, keeping commitments, being honest about your feelings, etc.). We are to keep track of acts in each category. We are also instructed to consciously smile more and record others reaction. I consider myself a pretty moral person, yet there are actions in the deficit column I’ll need to report. I also smile a lot: at store clerks, random people and friends. It has been my experience that, as we used to say, “What goes around, comes around.” I have a close friend who is just the opposite … she is always complaining to store clerks, never has a pleasant demeanor or smile. I’ve been with her on several occasions and I see the negativity she generates around her. She puts out such bad vibes. Consequently, that’s all she sees and that’s actually what she creates in others.
I think it is interesting that you attribute your kinder self to the fact that you forgot your cell phone. But I wonder, if just the fact that you offered to take Rene’s place and opened yourself up to your Uncle and sister, that it was the ‘baggage’ of previous unpleasantness that was what you left behind. I think that as we mature (I’m not saying you’re getting old), we appreciate our family more. Old wounds seem to heal and we realize that neither we nor them are going to be around forever. If we don’t show kindness now, we won’t get the chance later. There may be set backs, but I hope you continue in this ‘kinder, gentler’ mode. Being nice doesn’t mean we have to forgo our critical ability … we can know the crap, we can analyze the crap, but we don’t have to return the crap. Here’s a big smile for the new you. :))
Thank you so much Sandy. I hoped to have made it clear in my post that it was NOT entirely about leaving the cell phone and it was much moreso about doing something kind. Though I think every major world religion is generally about doing good to your neighbor -certainly Jesus words as we know them instructs this- there is something about the Buddhist understanding that I am really attracted to because it is not about how you SHOULD do something, rather the Buddhist perspective explains the inner workings of the human being; and explains HOW it is in the best interest of the person and the globe to strive toward kindness. It is not a “moral” code per se, rather a philosophical code that understands human behavior and striving toward goodness. I am a biblical red letter guy…and this, couple with an understanding of Buddhist principles, is the perfect recipe for understanding and happiness. Does that make sense?
cool inspirational blog, thanks for sharing.