humility

The Mountain and the Flowers

For those who know me, I quote my mother often. Her words and advice have shaped my life and my aspirations.

Lanikai dreams 7.14.16One of her most memorable quotes is:

Breathe in the mountain

and breathe out flowers.

It is a powerful phrase to me and my family. It speaks to my mother's zen spirituality, her inner strength, her creative force and her focus on the good and positive. Think about this phrase.

Say it as you breathe in and out. What does it feel like? What does it mean to you?

This was one of the very last phrases my mother said to me. Like a reminder of what was important, a reminder of her teachings. I said it back to her so she knew I understood. 

Below is a an excerpt of my thoughts about what this phrase means to me: 

 

My parents built a bedrock of love and support beneath our family


We stand on a Mountain of gratitude and enjoy the Flowers of their generosity

 

Breathe in the mountain and breathe out flowers

 Breathe in the mountain and breathe out flowers 

 

In many ways my Dad is the mountain

 

Silent and overbearing

Powerful, ominous and strong

Never moving, but almost undetectably shifting and evolving

Clouds gone, the mountain appears. (Zen proverb)

He cast a long shadow, a Japanese Nisei shadow, the shadow of the Samurai

A shadow of unspoken expectations

A shadow of protection

A shadow of love

 

And my mother is the flowers

 

Flowers never fail or disappoint you

Flowers always brighten your way

Flowers flirt and bring you peace

Flowers are always kind, always

They want your attention but never demand it

The flowers we breathe out are the flowers of our best selves

Our most loving, openhearted, compassionate and generous selves

A single flower can redeem the loneliness of a room.  Like a single soul can illuminate the world.

It is always about our humility. Our understanding of our commonness.

That we are but a small part of the world and yet can make a difference everyday. 

It is noticing the world through love and kindness.

Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower. (Shigenori Kameoka)

 

Mountains are our values and our identity from our ancestors who suffered and sacrificed and gave us destiny.

Flowers remind us of the seasons, of time, of our sensuousness, of our inner potential to bloom.

I have the mountain and the flowers in me. We all do.

Everyday I try, I try to breathe in the power of the mountain and everyday I try to breathe out the fragrance of the flowers.

And for a fleeting flicker of a moment, I become my mother and my father, reminded of who I am and who I can be.

We all have mountains and flowers.

 Why does it take death for us to come together, to make us appreciate what we have and who we are?

Because this is part of life. Our time is precious and short. Never too late. To pay attention to things, to know ourselves, and love one another and why we are here.

A time is coming when a flower freshly observed will trigger a revolution. (Cezanne)

That time is today.

So how do we  freshly observe our mountains and flowers--and trigger our own revolutions?!

Let's breathe together.    One big breath together

Breathe in the mountain     And breathe out flowers.

 

Thanks for reading. John

 

A haiku in honor of my father Rod Y. Kobara and my mother Tomi D. Kobara:

 

Breathe in the mountain

Power of love and kindness

Breathe out flowers

 


Cooking up the Supreme Career

How did we end up where we are, right now? What were the thousand of unmemorable decisions, influences, strokes of luck (bad and good), right place right time circumstances that conspired for you to be right here. Some of you are smiling and others are not. We all have stories, do we not?! While our resumes and bios give certainty of credit and trajectory, we all know better. In fact we have forgotten most of the things that really contributed to our successes. Bits of advice, mentoring moments, what friends said or did, a death, a birth, a movie you saw, a speech you heard......hundreds of things that shaped your point of view and pushed and pulled you to where you are.

Are you noticing what is influencing, could be influencing you now? Emerson

In the last 72 hours I was reminded of the subtlety and fragility of those moments and messages. When I was younger I was "too focused" too ambitious" to see so much. I was lucky to have gained anything--and I did. I feel like I see and hear so much more today. Yeah, the clock is ticking but I am paying attention with a heart and mind that knows how much I don't know. That I still have unexplored talents and potential hidden within me. 

One of my favorite books is Instructions to the Cook  describes the Zen Buddhist concept for the supreme meal. The supreme meal is when we live our life fully, wholeheartedly---a fully expressed life.

So the first principle of the Zen cook is that we already have everything we need. If we look closely at our lives, we will find that we have all the ingredients we need to prepare the supreme meal. At every moment, we simply take the ingredients at hand and make the best meal we can. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have. The Zen cook just looks at what is available and starts with that.

  • I lead a workshop for 74 newbies in the field of philanthropy. We all paused to reflect on the unpredictable circumstances that pushed us into philanthropy--a field none of us "majored in" or can explain to our parents! So is this a way-station to something else or is this the most important opportunity of our lifetime so far ?(choose #2). How do we make the most out of what we have and where we are?
  • Visited the incredible Frank Gehry exhibition at LACMAThe genius of Frank's architecture could have easily been lost to his stronger interest in becoming a pilot. His ceramics class unexpectedly led him to architecture. He ignored his professor who told him that architecture was not his field. And later after he designed a typical shopping center in Santa Monica, a mentor asked him if he was happy designing for others. Frank quit his cushy job and took a giant leap--and the rest is history. How do we respond to self-criticism and the judgment and discouragement of others? How do we do what we love?
  • Saw He named me Malala  film where a 14 year old girl literally gets shot in the face with her destiny and becomes the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her unique parents, her name, her incredible personality, the influences of the needs around her and the Taliban forged her destiny. How do we uphold our values and the rights of others? How do we react to tragedy, pain and threats? 
  • And then to top it off I saw Lost Angels, a gritty documentary about the fates of regular people who end up on skid row. Poignant stories of choices, challenges, misfortune, and the ovarian lottery. How do we manage our balance, sanity, finances, addictions, and demons to stay on the straight and narrow?  How do we make the most out of what we have?
  •  

Stuff happens. Switches get flipped. New paths appear. People push, others pull. You get bored, inspired, discouraged and educated. Outside forces influence your little asteroid into a different orbit and trajectory--if you let them. What chances and changes do we prevent from happening? What do we suppress, fail to express, and under-value in our pursuit of the practical and prudent? What is right in front of you right now that you can't see because your lenses are zoomed in on what is more important to others than to you? 

All of the ingredients are in your cupboard to make the supreme meal. What do you have that you have forgotten about? What do you have that you have never tasted or used? How do you focus on where you are and what you are doing to make it supreme?

Every moment is fleeting, fragile and filled with opportunity. The emergence of your passions and purpose grow within you. Meaning and fulfillment are not foreign destinations you hope to visit some day, they surround you. You have what it takes. The possibilities within you are untapped. The opportunities around you are boundless.

I want to incorporate the flavors of the newbie beginner's mind, the outside perspective of Gehry,  Malala's courage, and the humility of the homeless into my cuisine. 

What do you want?

Put on your apron, open your cupboard, sharpen your knives---let's get cooking!!

Thanks for reading. John

 


Who got you here?

Yes, yes, yes--we all need to be more grateful, more thankful for what we have. Feel fortunate and blessed for the opportunities and people in our lives. Yes, and the research shows that if we do this we will be happier and healthier--and live longer. We all agree with this and most of us think we do do these things. 

But how did you get here, to this point in your life? To right now? 

There are still a few people out there that still believe that they have controlled their own destinies. That they pull the levers of their lives with no help from others and they alone are responsible for their successes. I know this is crazy, but we all know people like this. They live in a mythical  "I" world.

Linkedin JEK
My Linkedin Map

From the research of Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude:

People who are ungrateful tend to be characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval. Narcissists reject the ties that bind people into relationships of reciprocity. They expect special favors and feel no need to pay back or pay forward. 

Entitlement is at the core of narcissism. This attitude says, “Life owes me something” or “People owe me something” or “I deserve this.” In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful. Entitlement and self-absorption are massive impediments to gratitude. You will certainly not feel grateful when you do receive what you think you have coming, because after all, you have it coming. Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts.

Were narcissistic entitlement a condition that afflicted only a small percentage of humankind, then there would be little cause for concern. 

In addition, to your mother who brought you into this world, nothing any of us have done has been done alone. We get help, support, mentorship, inspiration, and energy from others. I am not even talking about our ancestors who suffered and toiled to get us here. My focus here are the people that got you to this NOW.

I think about this everyday. Not because I am such a grateful person although I try. But because I wonder who introduced me to this person I am with?, who helped me get on this board?, who advised me?,  who invited me? who hired me? who referred me?....I can't stop thinking about it. It builds this giant ladder, scaffolding, this network  around me. The incredible accumulation of help, support, mentoring and ass-kicking I have been lucky to receive. 

Yes "I" have been ready for some of this help and support. "I" prepared myself for some opportunities. But if I am honest with myself, I realize that my Net enables me to Work. My Network is behind me, beside me, and below me to push. catch and pull me. Yes, I have to have goals and ideas and passion, but without the network I am not empowered to succeed.

We careen through life and our orbits, trajectories, and perspectives are changed by every encounter with people and experiences. But certain people have influenced you and helped you more than others.  

 I am because we are. I am what I am because of who we all are. Ubuntu

I am constantly humbled by these thoughts. (And some would tell you, that makes my healthy self concept more tolerable! :) So I try to let the people who got me here know how I am doing and to thank them for their help. When I do this, it always makes both of us feel good. Like a little life loop was closed. And I try to help anyone who asks for help, not because I expect something in return but because that's what people did for me. Pay it forward. Pay it back. But give thanks to the help we get and the help we give. 

This is what propels us. This is the fuel for our lives. 

But once you start believing your own bio, your own press releases, you can start to hallucinate that you have designed your own life.

Who got you here? The list is long. Take a moment to appreciate your Network. Then drop a few of them a note, a text, an e-mail, a call to thank them for helping you get here. Not just this week, but anytime you think of it. This not a holiday thing, this is a gratitude thing. This is a network thing.

There is no "I" in network. (sorry could not resist)

Yes let's be grateful and filled with gratitude--then let's acknowledge and thank the people that got us here--everyday!

Thank you for helping me get to this point in my life by allowing me to express myself and to connect with you. Thanks for reading. John


Networking with Humility

Some of you that know me are wondering how I could write such a post. Humility has not always been my most evident trait. (That would be an understatement John!) But as they say, those who can't do, teach! :)

But my ego and self obsession have been down-sized over the years. I have been humbled by the world around me. Not sure it is seen by others, not sure I truly care. But I have made a concious effort to keep my hunger for self adulation in check. 

I am humbled every day by the needs of others, by the potential of the human spirit, by the unknown and the unknowable. I am in awe of everyone I meet for their uniquenness. For I used to under-estimate others and over-estimate myself. If I am aware I am filled with humility. Humility

As I started to become more self-aware, more authentic with myself, and more open to the world around me--I could not help but see how insignificant I am. That my relevance is tied to others. And to my pursuit of larger purposes and questions than myself. That the truth about education is the more you learn the more you discover what you don't know.

Always cracks me up, that some people think that getting another degree will clarify things for them--that they will obtain more certainty about their lives (not just their jobs/careers) If done well, education confuses the student more, in a good way. Education enables you to ask better questions. But I digress....

Don't be so humble you are not that great. Golda Meier

True humility is not an act. It is the real sense of your self importance in the bigger scheme of things--however you define it. It is toning down our arrogance and our sense of certainty. It is a realization that you are not the center of the universe.

I remember when I was 19 years old and I was completing a medical intake form for the first time by myself. It asked for my religion. I thought that was irrelevant, so I wrote "Protagonism". To my surprise the doctor inquired about my stated faith. I said. "I believe I am the main character of my story." Another failed attempt at Kobara humor:)

But we can be so deluded by our own individual perspective.

David Foster Wallace mused about this in his famous commencement address:

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

One strange manifestation of this  self-centeredness, is our unwillingness to reveal what we need to work on in our lives. Our inability to embrace what we need to know, learn and understand-- the way we are taught to address our weaknesses.

Popular career guidance sources preach "turn your weaknesses into strengths". When you network or interview you are supposed to provide these types of answers or assert these types of thoughts, when asked, "What areas are you trying to improve upon?" 

"I am a perfectionist. I want work to hard and too long to get things just right."

"I love to work too much. I am a work-aholic."

"I let others take the credit for the work I do. I don't assert myself enough."

For whatever reason, this is now SOP for many folks. They robotically say these things that have been commoditized and therefore regress to the mean instead of differentiating themselves.

I have found that more than 50% of students, networkers, job seekers--in my unscientific networking study--say they are stumped by a direct question about their "weaknesses". They literally say, "I don't know what to say." "I'll have to think about it." "Wow, that is a good question."

To have no weaknesses is not a sign of strength, but a sign of ignorance and even arrogance.

To me, this shows a hollowness, an emptiness, an immaturity and an abject lack of self awareness that repels potential opportunities.

A truthful, insightful answer that reveals the person's desire to improve is an endangered species.

Showing our vulnerability to others is seen as a weakness, but we know the opposite is true.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. Brene Brown 

How do I balance my strengths and show my upside as well? 

How do I express my qualifications and my competencies as well as my desire to learn and improve?

That they need me as much I need them.

How can opportunities be mutually beneficial arrangements where all parties have clear objectives to help each other?

This is the way the best networking and mentoring work. The reciprocity. The trust that exposes the needs and resources of both sides.

Humility is grounded in the understanding that the tip of the iceberg of your knowledge is dwarfed by what lies around and beneath you.  

When people know what you need and want, they can help you. 

It takes courage to know your needs. It takes real courage to ask for help.

More David Foster Wallace: Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Listen more than you talk. Be prepared to give without expectations before you self promote. Put the needs of others before your own.

Then you will see that you are not the center of the universe but at the center of opportunity. 

Thanks for reading. John