Most people have a unique gift of being able to feel if someone is emotionally unwell. Sometimes, we’ll have a conversation with a friend or colleague and something will seem off. We’ll ask if everything is okay, but even if they say that they’re fine, their non-verbal cues seem to say otherwise; maybe the very opposite of “fine.” The polite thing to do is respect their words and believe them, since there is not much we can do at this point. But perhaps they have a personal reason for doing this; maybe they’re just trying to hold it together and get through the day. Maybe unpacking emotional troubles would destabilize or paralyze their emotional state. In that moment, we can give them a gift that they can choose to accept — a gift that they can take home to help unpack the emotional luggage they’ve been carrying around for so long: the gift of kindness. I’ve learned that I cannot show someone how to fix their problems, but I can give them space and positivity — they themselves are the ones best equipped to handle their problems; all they need is a clear head, love and time to change the story they’ve been telling themselves.
I was recently going through my archive of articles, and I came across a piece I wrote the day after a bakery was bombed by a government sanctioned attacked in Syria. When I wrote it, I had trouble expressing my sadness. I imagined a small boy with his dad, waiting in line to get their rations — then: BOOM! Disoriented people scrambling from the dust of the aftermath, charred body parts scattered everywhere and people crying to their creator; everything had changed.
I wondered how long it would take for people to forget about this incident, and it seemed like maybe a few days at best. The answer may not surprise you if you watch the news. Terrible things are presented on the news daily, but good things also happen just as frequently. If we impulsively move from tragedy to tragedy at the behest of our reptilian brain, we become similar to branch-swinging monkeys trying avoiding a predator.
Decisions are made every day when it comes to humans lives. This attack was government sanctioned against the “terrorists,” but the civilians became the collateral damage. Some of my friends fear becoming jaded to the horrible news we see each day, and that this brutality will become normalized. I think the greater thing to fear is ignorance; mistakenly considering the world to be a hostile place, just because the small group of extremist assholes get the most exposure.
As Gandhi once said, “If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. If we take a moment and look back on a few tragedies today: Joseph Kony is no longer deemed an important criminal, Walter Palmer is still practicing dentistry after killing Cecil the Lion and the Ebola virus seemed to suddenly reset itself. These tragedies have time and time again emerged, which illustrates that we don’t need awareness anymore. People are aware, but now we need well thought out actions.
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Many years ago, Sifu (Teacher/Instructor) Patrick taught me about the Buddhist concept of moderation. In my teenage years, and up until my mid-twenties, I’d frequently swing between emotional extremes of happiness and sadness; my accompanying actions were just as impulsive. I would often isolate myself from friends when going through these extremes to avoid my consequences from affecting them– but this thinking was naive. I was always doing it for me.
Most of my life, I’ve been around people who are unable to practice self-control and emotional stability. Because of this, I believed that controlling my emotions meant to suppress my identity. However, I didn’t realize that living at the extremes removed me from living in the present moment: thinking about the past and the future would use time from today. The story that Sifu shared with me was about Buddha during the ascetic phase of his life:
One day, Buddha fell over next to a river while trying to mediate in his malnourished and emaciated state. Laying weakly by the river bank, he overheard a conversation between a teacher and student passing by on a boat. The teacher was advising the student on the importance of properly tuning an instrument. “If you tighten the string too much, it will snap. And if you give it too much slack, it won’t play.” It was then, that Buddha realized the path of moderation, or “The Middle Way.” Buddha had lived life as both a slack string (one of a lavish prince Siddhartha), and one of a string almost about to break (ascetic monk). But only a finely tuned instrument can bring out the true music from within it.
I share this story with you, because it offered great value for me in my personal growth. May you find the middle path in your own life, and walk it towards success.
A few years ago, my friend invited me as her date to a friend’s wedding. It’s exciting to be invited to wedding. Especially if there’s an open bar and lots of people you don’t know.
We made our way to our table and met with a very drunk audience. It was barely an hour into the reception and one of the girls was already plastered against the wall, struggling to stay awake. Her long black hair and pale white skin made her look like a vengeful spirit out of a horror movie. Had she not leaned over when I sat down, anyone could’ve mistook her for dead: a thin, bony, pale body wearing a short, metallic blue dress.
“Oh man I’m tooo drunk.” she mumbled.
“Hey, shut the fuck up!” Her friend didn’t seem sympathetic at all. She herself had an empty bottle of Hennessy sitting in front of her and two full shot glasses of liquor. She asked me if I wanted to take a shot.
“Ok, your loss!!” She cheered herself and took both shots. She passed the empty bottle over to a guy sitting next to me. This guy was already suffering from a red glow and hiccups. He busted out an entirely new bottle of Hennessy.
“Why was everyone getting so drunk?” I thought.
I found out later that we sat with the older siblings of the bride: one divorced and two unmarried. I could only begin to imagine what they were feeling. Perhaps a mixture of happiness, loneliness, sadness, and pressure (from the family)? I could only speculate. But if I had to pick between sorting through my emotions while surrounded by family, or taking shots… shots would seem less painful.
“Are you a Christian, Jay teacher?”
“What?” She caught me off guard, “What makes you say that?”
“Well my mom said that Christians are good people who care about others and help people, so you have to be Christian.”
I didn’t know how to respond. This was clearly meant to be a sweet compliment. But right now, I couldn’t have an in-depth conversation about how people of different religious backgrounds can also help and care about others. At least not here.
I got this tutoring job by a friend’s recommendation, so I had to make a good impression; becoming the Camp’s controversial math tutor wouldn’t be the way to do it. That summer, my friend’s Christian Leadership Camp was short on math teachers. I needed the money and I was great at what I did: teaching math to middle-schoolers. I couldn’t imagine many scenarios where Jesus would come up when teaching algebraic foil methods. All things considered, I accepted the job.
But here we were. Did this student see me as a Christian for staying late to help with homework? Did she see me as Christian for empathizing when she told me her friends thought she was “dumb” and stopped being friends? Did encouraging her to continue art classes (after seeing her amazing sketches on the margins of their math homework) make me a Christian?
I’m not sure about many of those things. But I do know that this was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. Being a decent human has no religious boundaries.
I decided to start documenting my journey of becoming a respected author, while things are still new, and I’m figuring out things. I want to be able to remember the beginning of the process, before the “likes” and popularity, so that I can remember the most important part of the journey, and share this with others.
It’s been roughly three months since I began writing every single day, with the purpose of becoming a better writer on my Instagram. I also started to read and write more so that I can have a better understanding of both the topic I wish to speak about (increasing the belief in oneself to do great things by recognizing negative patterns through self-awareness) and writing structure in general. I’m also still trying to figure out my demographic, but I think I’ll be able to narrow it down with more writing. I’ll have to give up podcasting daily so that I’ll have more time to write, and ramp up my audiobook intake.
It was also my first day at my new job today. It felt nice, and I met lots of good people. But at the end of the day, this job is just a tool for my writing and podcast. It’s important to always remember why we do what we do.
Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest athletes of our time, but his opponents extended far beyond the boxing ring. We too can be the champions of the battles we fight each day if we are adaptable and courageous.
Being a black Muslim in the 1970’s produced its own challenges in the forms of racism and Islamophobia. One of the characteristics that made Ali so remarkable was his ability to stand firm in his beliefs, regardless of who was opposing him. If you look up any video today, you’ll see ferocious confidence in his self-expression.
Being unique today requires tremendous courage to challenge the status quo. Heroes are scarce in our generation because most of us have been taught to limit our critical thinking for a paycheck; by fitting into society like a standardized cog in a machine. Ali found courage within himself and became an individual. You can also cultivate this courage for self-expression.
In nature, a butterfly is able to float because it is light, agile and curious. On the other hand, a bumble bee has similar capabilities but different mindset: workers that’ll defend the queen and hive with their sting. Humans however are not restricted to any particular pattern, because self awareness allow us to change our perspective when presented with new information.
When Muhammad Ali’s saying, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” was also a comment on how humans can adapt their nature. We can be light on our feet and observe like a butterfly, but change and strike with purpose like a bee. We are not restricted to nature’s patterns, but to recognize and change them requires self-awareness and that courage deep inside you. Adapt, and you will overcome anything.
If your goal is to build a bridge, then following the advice of a demolitions expert and buying dynamite make no sense. But most of us do this in our lives every day: we take actions opposite of our goals and end up frustrated.
Demolition experts are the negative people in your life. They’ve relentlessly practiced how to locate and identify even the smallest faults and weaknesses to destroy the greatest structures. The reason negative people seldom live positive lives is because they focus on failures their entire life — so they rationalize any risks to avoid taking them. They can easily demolish the foundation of your courage with their years of practice.
On the other hand, an expert bridge builder focuses on strengths, and what materials go well together for a strong structure. His mission is to connect people, and this goal far outweighs any short-term fear of failure. His team and tools are also much different than a demolition expert: one carries dynamite and a wrecking ball machine, and the other employs construction workers and engineers.
Depending on what we are trying to accomplish, we need the right team. Whether you’re trying to build bridges or destroy them, you’ll be able to achieve your goal more efficiently with a team on the same mission as you.
[Today’s podcast was about generosity. You can check it out here]
In college, one of my colleagues was notorious for forgetting his pencil. It was very clear in the way he dressed, his mismatching socks, and disheveled hair that his goal was to do the bare minimum in class to get participation. And usually he would ask me for pencils, since he knew I kept an ungodly amount of pens and pencils in my backpack.
I think it’s interesting to note our respective attitudes in this scenario regarding pencils. If I really just wanted to be prepared, I would keep only a few extra pencils. Not twenty. But in past experiences, I’d personally been in embarrassing situations where no one was willing to give me a pencil. So, out of this fear, I kept many pens and pencils.
So he would ask, and I would give. But I started to notice that when my pencil stash would run low, I was more hesitant to give him a pencil. In fact, sometimes I would lie that I didn’t have an extra, so that my own anxiety could be quelled. Needless to say, neither of us were happy in this situation.
I had developed a relationship with my irrational fear of pencils, and my colleague developed an unspoken trust with me of providing. The more pencils I had, the more comfortable I was with giving him a pencil. But as that stash dwindled, so did our weird relationship. Basically, the less I had, the less willing I was to give him a pencil.
Eventually, he moved to another part of the class where he continued his cycle of “pen-handling.” I thought I was being generous, but in reality I felt bad for him. We aren’t able to freely give if we think we don’t have enough.
You know at least one person in your own life who has shied away from donating because they say they don’t have enough. They usually say things like, “Once I become rich, then I’ll have extra money to donate!” But riches come from an abundant mindset. Let me ask you this: how will you ever become rich, if you operate from a poor and lacking mindset?
Hello my wonderful friend. It has been quite a long hiatus, but I am back in full force now. What does this mean?
Many things, but most importantly that I will be executing many of my longtime goals. I truly appreciate your support, and even during my long hiatus, you’ve encouraged me to write and bring many projects into fruition.
The new stuff:
- Podcast! TheBrainWaves is live and into its 6th episode this week. Tell me what your favorite episode is, and how I can improve the format to make sure it is as enjoyable for you to listen as it is for me to create them.
- Instagram! itsjayram has been the most amazing project since its inception a little over two months ago. Already, it has 550+ followers! I share cool inspiration poems and original works to help you get inspired to overcome self-doubt and fear. My deepest gratitude to you if you’ve connected to them in any way.
- Blog! Yes, this. I want to make sure I post as least once a day. Ambitious? Maybe. Possible? Definitely.
Until next time, friend. Thank you for subscribing (in the upper right corner)!