Love

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

 


Finding Ourselves in Loss

What do we say when there is a tragedy, a death, something really bad happens to people we care about? 

Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. But Ian MacLaren noted wisely, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”

When I was younger I would try to draw on my capacity for empathy, but I had a fairly dry aquifer of emotional intelligence. Life, death, disease, and unexpected mishaps were frankly just part of the hand you were dealt. Our feline life expectancy dropped a year or two each chapter of our experience until we accept we have one life to live and it is very short.

As we mature and age we are exposed to more suffering, more tragedy, more death. It is a jolting reminder of our mortality and the mortality of the ones around us. We feel more compelled to express our sympathies and condolences. To offer support to the survivors. We struggle with doing the right thing at the right time. We write notes, emails, sign cards, and say things to comfort family and friends. Sometimes we rely on Hallmark for the words, say or write the same thing we always say, or we do nothing. At least for me,  it is an awkward process.

What can I say? What should I say? What can I do? What should I do?

I have learned so much being the recipient of these communications. Nothing like learning about yourself by how you are treated.

The golden rule always applies. Say/do unto others as you would have them say/do unto you. What would comfort me?

A rude awakening for me is how selfish I have been and others can be in trying to comfort each other. It is not about me. It never really is. But we can lead with "Me too", or "I know how you feel". 

The oddity of our clumsy and sometimes hurtful attempts to help is this: we have clear ideas from what has helped us in our suffering, but we do not adopt it when seeking to love others. We do not always speak to others in the way we would like to be spoken to.  Edward T. Welch

I remember a comedy routine, where a distant friend goes up to the grieving mother of a murdered child at the vigil to pay his respects. He gets nervous, then tongued tied, and blurts out, "I apologize."  Not the same as "I am sorry." :)

What I learned and others have taught me--Less is more. Stop before you start into your robotic motor mouth routine. Put your well-intentioned pie hole on silent. Silence is better than words. A hug says more than any profound phrases. Everyone deals with grief and suffering in their own ways. But there is a universal understanding that your very presence is more powerful than anything you say.  Bearhug

"I'm sorry." Is enough. 

Again, stop and look both ways before you stick your foot in your "me too" mouth. 

I really try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I hope people have done the same for me! A dear friend, expressed her condolences and tried to comfort me. Then she took the safety off of her verbal trigger and away she went. "Yeah, not a day goes by where I don't cry about my husband." I knew what she was trying to do, but it was our first conversation and the second thing she said.

"How are you doing, today?" The today part is sensitive to what is happening. "How are you?" is auto-pilot and invokes the silent "How do you think I am?!!"

Do not say: “If you need anything, please call me, anytime.” Another well intended thought but.........

– If ‘comforters’ knew anything about real hardship, they would know that sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need.

– If comforters knew anything about the sufferer, they would know what the sufferer wants or needs. 

– If comforters really knew the sufferer, they would know that he or she would never make the call. Never.  Tara Barthel

In his book, "The Reality Slap," Russ Harris presents two lists — the first, a few responses that genuinely make you feel supported and understood; and the second, a number of responses that, although meant to be helpful, aren't really all that compassionate. Let's start with the less compassionate responses (many of which I myself am guilty of, and if we're being honest, most of us have said at times):

  • Telling you to "think positively"
  • Giving advice: "What you should do is this, "Have you thought about doing such and such?"
  • Discounting your feelings: "No use crying over spilled milk," "It's not that bad," "Cheer up!"
  • Trumping your pain: "Oh yes, I've been through this many times myself. Here's what worked for me."
  • Telling you to get over it: "Move on," "Let it go," "Isn't it time you got over this?"

Here are some compassionate responses highlighted in Harris' book:

  • Asking how you feel
  • Giving you a hug, embrace, placing an arm around you or holding your hand
  • Validating your pain: "This must be so hard for you" or "I can't begin to imagine what you're going through."
  • Sharing their own reactions: "I'm so sorry, "I'm so angry," "I feel so helpless; I wish there was something I could do," or even "I don't know what to say."
  • Creating space for your pain: "Do you want to talk about it?" It's OK to cry," or, "We don't have to talk; I'm happy to just sit here with you."
  • Offering support: "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I took a thanatology class in college---Death and Dying. I learned about the 5 stages of dying that was asserted by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Most of us have heard this. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It made so much sense to me. It clearly applied to romantic break-ups :) But death? And the grieving? 

Pauline Boss' research disputes the application of these 5 stages to grief. That Kubler-Ross never intended to have them applied to grieving. We all want steps and stages. We want a linear routine to replace the organic reality. Boss' basic thought is closure for grief is a myth. While time heals, you will never be finished with your grief--and closure is only good in real estate. You don't want to forget or get over it. I know there are nuances here but really important ones. 

This myth of closure has helped me be more sensitive, more compassionate. Time heals but never erases. I know this to be true.

A colleague who did not know my Dad, said "Sorry to hear about your Dad. Tell me about him." I smiled, because I got to tell a Dad story and share my love and gratitude. For me, that was one of the nicest and most comforting things anyone said to me.

Part of building and maintaining a vibrant, authentic and altruistic network is our ability to connect to support one another. No time is more crucial than in times of loss and suffering. 

Remind yourself what would comfort you. Stop, pause, and be present. Say less. Suppress your needs and surrender to the needs of the other. Good advice for all of us almost all of the time. Be kind: For we are all fighting great battles and carrying great burdens that are not known to one another. (my interpretation of Philo)

Thanks for reading. John


How Do I Know If I Am In Love?

Like when you are in the Maserati dealership, if you have to ask you are in the wrong place!
 
Had the great fortune of hearing this question from numerous younger people. Am I in love? How do you know? Love
 
I recently talked to a young man who asked me these questions. He then blurted out that he spent the last five years with this woman and he was going to marry her because he doesn't think he has another five years in him to meet someone else. Yikes
 
And I hear this same sentiment pertaining to career choices. 
 
Years ago, I was asked to address 500 PhDs at a career conference who no longer want to work in their fields of research.
 
I conducted a workshop called "Running from the Law" for 350 lawyers.
 
I think the analogies between love and life, dating and working are closely related. We seek companionship, trust, belonging, meaning, and mutuality in our lives. In everything. Not just for a soul mate or life partner but in our careers.We want our work to feed our insatiable desire for connection, emotional connection connection that matters and give us a deep sense of pride, security, confidence and meaning. We are lying to ourselves if we deny this.
 
Virtually none of us remember being in the sandbox as a toddler telling our friends and parents that we would be doing what we are doing now. Because life is a crazy journey of twists and turns, some say fate, others know its more about choices and chances. But I digress. 
 
Our jobs and internships, are our forays into our work /love life. We are "courting careers", we are scouring the match.coms of jobs, we are asking friends to set us up, we are constantly comparing our unrealistic list of needs/wants and even demands to our "dates". Is this what I want? Is this where I am supposed to be? Is this all there is? Is this how I am supposed to feel? 
 
We want to be in love and to be loved. 
 
In the hundreds of conversations I have had, it is the lover not the object of love who is the most challenged. We don't know what we want and therefore  our search is always one more of questioning than satisfying. We fall into things. We settle. We rationalize. Most of all we defer and wait.  Not sure for what.
 
Last week I talked to a newish non-profit leader who is questioning his career "date". Are you passionate about your work?, I queried. "No but I am working hard.", she said. Wonderful answer avoidance! Read: Not in a serious relationship yet.
 
Dating is not serious if there is not the possibility of marriage.
 
Met an executive in business and I asked him to tell me about his work. He looks at his shoes and says, "Just run a PR firm." Whoa, pride alert! Then he added, "I am not able to do good things like you." Major guilt exposed! Why not? Why does he think he is stuck in this bad relationship? Why does he accept not being in love?
 

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

We need strength and courage in our professional lives. We get it from our engagement intellectually and emotionally from what we do--paid and unpaid. 

But John, do you know how hard it is to find what you are talking about? Yeah I do. So when did you give up on things that were hard or even impossible? When did you push the auto-pilot button to give the controls of your life to "whatever"?

Some wake up and make changes. They are no longer in love and they get a divorce from their jobs. Some get dumped. because they waited too long. Still others stay in toxic, abusive relationships. 
  
Do we seek practical love? Or convenient love? Or do we pursue head over heels in love? Do we want love we rationalize or love we can brag about?

Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love. - Rumi

Time is not slowing down. Time is ticking. Like the maternal biological clock--When will you give birth to your dreams?
 
I am not saying to quit, divorce or bail, I am saying investing in the opportunity to make it work. A great and enduring relationship takes work. It doesn't just glide on the energy of puppy love. 
 
Are you in love with what you are doing, who you are becoming? Are you in love with the potential, the chance to grow?
 
Yes? Then, you understand. Keep working at it. If No, then you need to take control of the helm and get your little boat pointed in the right direction. Your compass is your heart.
 
Only you have formed the rules and boundaries of the current world. Only you can change it up and make it what you want.
 
Use your network of mentors and advisors to help you evaluate your choices. 
 
Last week I met a woman about her career. She said, " I am so overwhelmed. I am almost drowning. But it has been a long time since I felt this challenged, so connected to my work, forcing me to use my brain and everything I have. I am so grateful to be here!
 
It's a beautiful thing when people are in love.
 
You know if you are love. Only you do.
 
Thanks for reading. John