A Post-it Note

Over a year ago, perhaps even 18+ months ago, on a normal Tuesday morning in my office, a post-it note had appeared on my work computer. It said quite simply “Jonesy, take a second to smile today!” Aside from the fact that the words seamlessly fit into the message of this blog, journal, whatever you want to call it, it just so happened that on that particular day, I REALLY needed it. There was no name, but I knew that it must have come from one of the boys who attended a monthly youth meeting at the office the night before; this group consisted of quite a number of my camp staff from the summer, so I figured it was one of them. I publicly posted my appreciation on Facebook to the young mystery man, and every month they just kept coming.

I kept them. I taped them to the cabinet across from my desk so that they would always be in direct view- a reason to keep going through all the stress, the moments of hopelessness. Though they slowed down and it’s been a few months since my last one, I came in today- a Monday, which is unusual- and found three especially kind ones. Written in red marker on hot pink post-it notes, they stand out from the rest: “YOU ROCK,” “Have an amazing day!” and “Do what’s best for you.”

I like to think that I’m a very mindful being. I occasionally meditate. When bothered, I try to breath, center myself, and get to the bottom of it. I try to take a step back as opposed to falling deeper, but sometimes you just need that external reminder. Sometimes you need someone cheering you on, regardless of how far away they may be, or how well you know them. Sometimes you need just three kind words.

And sometimes you need to be the one to give them.
If there’s one thing I’ve always tried to teach the youth I’ve lead, it’s to always support one another. Sometimes you give, sometimes you get. Life is a cycle of giving and receiving, ups and downs. I’m so proud of them for giving back.

So here’s my post-it note to you:

You’re amazing.
You’re wonderful.
I hope you have a great day.
Everything will be ok.
Life is laughter and tears- keep smiling.

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One Life

One person may own many cars and houses, but even the richest person in the world cannot possess more than one life.
-Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Transform Your Life

I very recently started getting back into meditation, a practice I initially got into while in college. “Life” got in the way, however, and I let up on my practice until a long series of events pulled me back into it. Now more than ever, perhaps because of my time in the “real world” so far, I’m seeing the lessons to be learned far more clearly, especially the one quoted above.

Now, I’m not a Buddhist. I was raised Catholic and still recite the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, though I went to more Jewish services in college than I did Christian, started going to a few Unitarian services here and there after I graduated, read many books on Buddhism, and meditate. My dad calls it being a “pluralist” haha. I find the general message in all religions to mainly be the same: life is all about loving and respecting yourself and others and not wasting your life away on material objects, hate, greed, and all those Sunday school seven-deadly-sin-type teachings in order to achieve some sense of spiritual awakening- whatever that is for you. This is our only life and we must use it wisely.

Even if you believe in reincarnation, you only get one life at a time and when you worry it away on petty things you find yourself unable to enjoy it.

Worrying about and focusing on material objects will always, in one way or another, leave us disappointed. In the book from which I quoted by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, he also brings up the following point: Imagine you have a week to live and someone gives you a gift. Does it make sense to receive the gift of diamonds or a big house or a fancy car, etc? This life is fleeting, we could pass at any moment, and focusing on these things only takes time, energy, and focus away from the things that will truly allow us to get the most out of our time here.

I meditate in order to remind myself of this. I meditate to focus and clear my mind of the worries of everyday life that we fall so easily into. Why do I say that life is laughter and tears? Why did I name this blog that? Because life is a roller coaster ride that we have no choice but to go along on. We can enjoy it, or we can fight it. We can choose to cultivate the mind and prepare it for the bad times (by meditating), like strapping ourselves in for safety, or we can let ourselves be thrown at every curve and upside-down twist. Isn’t it so much better to laugh at the end of the ride? We had our moments of fright, our tears, but ultimately we made it, and still in one piece.

True happiness comes from within and is not dictated by outward circumstances and material objects.

We can cry and cry, or we can cry, refocus, and decide to laugh instead. Happiness is a choice- Wow. I think I’m really just realizing that as I type it… and that’s coming from someone with a mood disorder, so I *understand* how hard that is to come to terms with. Learning to be content with where we are in life, no matter what it may be, is the key to a happiness. Happiness comes from spending time with those you love most. Happiness is a good, deep belly laugh in the face of fear. Happiness is that overwhelming warm sensation you get when you’ve done something good for someone else, expecting nothing in return. Happiness is knowing you’re doing something to leave the world a better place. It’s watching the sun rise or set in perfect quietness, experiencing what it is to be with the moment. It’s feeling true joy for someone when they’ve had a wonderful life event, like the birth of a child, marriage, graduation, or a new job. Happiness is not a new car, house, or clothes. Depending on your job, living circumstances, etc. they are necessities, but they do not dictate your happiness.

How wonderful would it be, how wonderful would your life be, if you did not worry about those things, if you did not worry about being happy, because you already were? How wonderful would it be if you were content and happy from the inside, living in a loving, respectful manner always with a smile on your face and a laugh just waiting to emerge from your lips, regardless of the tears that might fall from the sad events that are inevitable in this human life?

I’m not telling you to convert to Buddhism. I’m not telling you to give up all your worldly possessions or quit your job. I’m just asking you to consider how wonderful life could beĀ  by reconsidering what you think makes you happy and perhaps by simplifying the material aspects of your life.

May all beings have happy minds.
-the Buddha

The Lindor Truffle: A Laugh

Sometimes we remember random little events from our past that were seemingly irrelevant to the course of our lives, but upon further reflection we may find that they had a profound effect on us.

For me, that little event involves my favorite high school teacher, a fight with my best friend, and a Lindor truffle:

I had just opened my locker to find a note from my best friend (because that’s how you communicated with your friends in 2007) that left me feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach on a day that already felt like the worst of my life. I was very good at hiding how I really felt and had been carrying on quite an impressive positive face despite the darkness inside. That’s how most of high school passed for me. But I did my best to keep up that face and headed down to my sophomore English class with my all time favorite teacher. I was early and she was the only other person in the room.

My teacher seemed to know something was up, though no words were exchanged. She simply offered me a Lindor truffle- a rare treat, which I immediately accepted with gratitude, unwrapped with excitement, and opened my mouth to plop it in….. only to have it immediately plop right back into my hand after bouncing off the elastics on my braces that prevented me from opening my mouth even remotely wide enough to insert that delicious chocolaty goodness.

Pausing for the slightest moment, I looked up at my teacher apprehensively, afraid that she saw how idiotic I must have looked, and found her suppressing the slightest smile, causing me to let out a stifled giggle that resulted in a snort, followed by a full bellied laugh in reaction to the snort, so that when the first of my peers came in and asked why I was laughing, I was laughing too hard to explain. Every time I’ve eaten a Lindor truffle since that day, I’ve always thought of that moment and still find the corners of my mouth curving ever so slightly into a smile.

After composing myself, my best friend came in and took her usual seat right behind me with a shy smile of acknowledgement. I smiled back, knowing eventually we would be OK (and we are still close to this day). My teacher shot me one last smile before beginning class, but I never thanked her for the truffle and the lesson it taught me, because I didn’t learn it until now:

We cannot let pain prevent us from smiling. We cannot let hard times keep us from laughing. We must laugh in the face of it all- in spite of it all- because one day the memory of the smile will be worth 1000x more than the tears. The smallest moments can save you.

PS. I did eventually eat that truffle and it was heaven to my taste-buds.

The Greatest Lessons of 2015

This last year was tough on my health (mental and physical), so I was forced to look really hard in the mirror and learn to accept a lot of things. It’s a heavy word, “acceptance.” Is it easy? No. It’s taken me 24 and a half years to finally realize it, so I don’t expect it to be easy for you either, but it’s those idiotically simple truths that are the hardest to really accept. Earlier in the fall I started to realize that I was getting nowhere by constantly trying to remake myself. In fact, I was digging myself deeper… So I took a real, hard, excruciating look at myself in a way I’ve never done before (I “take a look at myself” quite often).

In a way, I guess you could say I gave up. I gave up the constant self-criticism and downgraded to occasional self-criticism. I gave up trying to be someone I’m not. I gave up thinking I’ll never be happy. I gave up a lot of negativity. I looked at myself in the mirror and faced the facts: I’m overweight, I’m on a tight budget that I’m constantly pushing, I don’t have the social life I thought I’d have, my job is extremely stressful… I’m pretty, I’m experiencing my mid-20s exactly the way I should be, I have two awesome roommates and a number of good friends, I’m independent, and I have my entire life ahead of me in an ever-changing world.

This December was a series of seemingly unrelated events that caused me to realize those latter facts- the positive ones. Once again, God/the universe/the Great Spirit has thrown me some hints and I’ve picked up a lot from them. To save you time I’ll jump over the explanations of each event and instead offer, as we face the New Year in just a couple days, what I have learned:

  1. I’m not fat. You’re not fat. Fat is what you cut off your chicken before you cook it. Fat intake is something you monitor when you’re trying to be healthy. Fat is a part of the body just as muscle, bones, and flesh are, and you, therefore, cannot BE fat, because YOU ARE NOTHING ELSE BUT YOU.
  2. Being attractive means being the kind of person that others want to be around. It means being a good person, kind to others, and always thoughtful of your impact on the world. It means making people laugh. It means being able to laugh at yourself.
  3. We have limits. We must recognize when something or someone we love dearly and deeply is no longer right for us.
  4. Boondock Saints is one of the greatest movies ever made.
  5. Miracles do happen.
  6. There is much hate in this world, but there is greater love, and the moment we give up on love is the moment we lose. And the people who love us- our family, our friends- are the ones who will comfort us and cry with us when we feel there is too much bad, when we think hate has won. They will save us in our endeavor to save the world.
  7. We must never give up on saving the world.
  8. While it is important to take note of ways we can improve ourselves, we cannot do so without first taking inventory of the ways in which we should never change. If we are forever focusing on what’s missing or wrong with our lives, how in the world do we expect to one day be happy?
  9. Tight budget, big appetite? Pasta, hot dogs, frozen veggies, alfredo sauce, all mixed together. It’s where childhood and adulthood meet in perfect harmony… in your mouth.
  10. Laughter, as always, is everything. Be a goof.

So this New Year’s, please remember to smile, to laugh, to love, to let the bad roll off and the good sink in, and to look hard in the mirror. Watch good movies. Spend time with friends. Remember that everything changes- the hardest thing we can ever accept. Make your resolutions, but knowing first that you are already a wonderful and beautiful creature to begin with. Be a Calvin (see cartoon below).

Laugh on, my friends.

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Pardon My French

Pardon my French, but…

Let that shit go, bro.

It’s a strange way of trying to be zen, maybe not necessarily Buddhist, but still it’s true.

Do you want to spend the rest of your life worrying? Letting fear, embarrassment, and paranoia take over your life with every trip on the sidewalk, Freudian word slip, or spilled cup of coffee? Which… if you’re a caffeine addict I guess is actually quite disastrous… but still… Would you rather worry? Or would you rather let the negativity roll off you like rain on a gore tex jacket and move on, happily looking for the sunshine through the clouds?

Some things we can’t change. Most things we can’t change, actually, but we can still be happy, if only refuse to let the pessimist inside us win.

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Why Do I [You] Write

This isn’t a widely read blog and many of my followers are friends of mine, so I found myself asking “Why do I write this?” You know, what? Good question. Why do you?

Is it because you have a lifelong dream of being a journalist? Is it because you write poetry? Short stories? Are you an activist? Photographer? Traveler?

I came to realize that I’m writing for me. Sounds a little weird, I know. Why not just keep a diary? Well… when I was younger, I had a mentor who inspired me so much that I decided that I wanted to inspire others and what I’ve found is that what I need to hear, everyone needs to hear. We need reminders everyday to smile, to laugh, to cry when you need to cry. We need reminders of what makes this world worth saving, what we can do for others, what makes us wonderful people. For a while I thought I’d make a pretty dope public speaker and I wanted to be able to reach and inspire large numbers of people, but that might be a stretch goal. This questioning has caused me to really think about what I can do- both for myself and for others. I need a laugh to keep myself going and I know that sometimes you, whoever you are, need to as well.

So I challenge you to question yourself. Not for self-doubt, but for personal insight. Get to know yourself and the reason behind why you do what you do. Maybe, just maybe, it will help you do it better.

And because I started this endeavor of blogging because I wanted to make people smile, here’s a little humor for you.

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I’ve already posted this one a while ago, but it’s so relevant.