mom

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

 


Stop. Look Sideways.

What if you looked at your life sideways? Just saw it differently for a moment. How about your relationships? How about your career?

Not abandoning what you have but getting a new perspective so you can appreciate what is there. We all live in great abundance of things and opportunities that we neglect in our haste to the next. We often misinterpret busyness for pursuit of what we want--progress towards happiness or fulfillment. When we pause and reflect, we can realize the error of our ways. It is hard to do this by yourself. 

Here is a poem I wrote for the "waterskeeters" who recklessly glide across the surface but never see themselves. 

Wholely Water Water skeeters
Am I a water bug dancing on the surface tension?
What's in the dark waters below?
An iceberg for your thoughts
Can I summon the courage to dive?
To explore the murky waters of choice and challenge
To test my imagined strength and talent
Why can't I be a lotus plant?
Thriving in and into the water
Turning muck into radiant blooms
Am I just a superficial insect?
That bugs me
How's the water?
Never touch the stuff
I am a water skipper with a free spirit
No time to see my reflection in the glassy mirror
Gliding enviably across the pond so fast
Not even scratching the surface
How can I be so dry and all wet?
The exhilaration seems more than enough
Why learn to swim when I can walk on water?
 

When we slow down and take stock of where we are going and why--it can be transformative. We have to be open to truthful feedback and a sideways perspective (a new point of view), we can learn something. Great mentoring happens when you suspend your defensiveness, your desire to say the "right" thing, and your ever present judgmentalism. Your eyes and mind, dare I say, your heart can be opened to new truths.

Anyone who knows me, knows my mother has the uncanny ability to give me sideways views of myself. Over and over she has helped me see myself as opposed to the facades I was constructing.

But then it happened to mom! She got a sideways lesson. Her perspective was altered.  My mom has been painting for decades and she continues to evolve. A few years ago she lost the cartilage in her right arm and paints on the floor so she doesn't have to lift her arm. This changes the shape and size of her canvases. She also decided to do more "abstract" work. So she started taking classes in her late 80s and got a mentor! Never too late to change and adapt. IMG_2501 (2)

So my mom painted this mythical waterfall near rocks and a tree to the left.

Her teacher/mentor came to the house and wanted to see her newest things. My mom has been experimenting with more vertical forms. Anyway, my mother pulled out three paintings and leaned them against a wall, including this one. Her teacher quickly turned two of the paintings on the side, converting my mom's vertical paintings into horizontals. (see below) My mother was astonished. "That IS the way it was supposed to be!, my mother exclaimed. And that is now the way it will be hung and sold. Of course the owner of the painting can do whatever they want, but what was the original intent of the artist? IMG_2501 (4)

It is obvious to you, right? Everyone who sees this says that. Now before you doubt my story or my mother's intelligence (How dare you :)). Listen to me. My mother has painted more than 1400 originals. When she paints them she turns them around and views them from all sides. She has an eye like no one else. But like all of us she got stuck in her perspective, she needed help and was open to it.

We all try to will the Ouija board of life. We intend things, we plan things, we set firm expectations. And when things end up differently we are disappointed and worse, we can defend the status quo. The way it is supposed to be, the tradition, the habit, and the comfortable way. No!

We have to be open to a sideways view of ourselves. We need help to see ourselves. We have to invest in seeing ourselves accurately. 

The definition of insanity is --doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!

We need help to change and adapt. Mentors, teachers, coaches, therapists, all are capable of showing us things they see that we can't. Caring for others can help us see ourselves and the world around us. Our biases, our distractions, and our egos limit what we see.

Stop for a moment to see your reflection and explore what is below the tension of the surface. Mentor the waterskeeters in our lives to see what they are missing. Look at your world sideways and you might see new horizontals in your verticals.

Thanks for reading. John

 

 


Put this on the Top of Your Wish List

Wishing is one of the most powerful forms of articulating our needs. Seems like the holidays and the New Year bring out our wishes more than any other time.  We hear a wish and want it to happen. Think Make-A-Wish Foundation. The idea that something hard to get might be attainable is hopeful and inspiring. Everybody has wishes. What are yours? And what are the people around you, people you care deeply about , wishing for? Not what we want! Not gifts, stupid. Not the PS4, the iPhone6, or a Prada purse or other meaningless stuff. But a true wish for our lives and well being that comes from our hearts and souls. Wish dandelion_wish_2-t2

When we blow out a birthday candle or throw a penny into a wishing well, we all revert to a childlike state of hoping for a millisecond that something magical can come true. Just before our cynical, impulsive and over-bearing brains take over--we express a real secret thought that has real meaning. But that beautiful moment is trashed by horrific sounds and images of reality!

Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it. Jane Wagner

This is not about you! It rarely is. So dial back the WIIFM (What's In It For Me). Think about people around you, people you love. Do you know their wishes? Really? When is the last time you talked about such wishful thinking?

I have the chance to meet hundreds of people every year through my work, my volunteering, and my presentations. Almost always, I confront people with the Wish Obstacle-something I learned from Barbara Sher. "I always wanted to_______, but__________ ."I ask people to fill in the blanks and articulate their wish to a stranger in the audience--What their wish is and why they don't have it or even pursue it. It always triggers a robust discussion. The stranger can't help but offer assistance and advice and genuinely wants to help this random and accidental new friend. But the other thing that happens is people blurt out wishes that they have never said to anyone and reveal highly personal thoughts to an innocent bystander! I have learned that we all have these pent up wishes.

Ask a child you will see over the holidays (under 10 years old)--what they are wishing for. After they give you a long list of material things, tell them not a gift and then be quiet-let them think. More often than not the child, oh to have the authenticity of a child, he/she will say something that will blow your mind. Here is a sampling of what I have heard: "I wish mommy and daddy would stop fighting." "I am scared to go in the bathroom at school. I wish they would clean it up." "I wish people would stop hurting each other." Be prepared to talk about their wish and not dismiss their moment of truth. Kids say the darndest things and are we listening?!

If we knew what people were truly wishing for to make them whole, to give them more fulfillment, even meaning in their lives, then we could help them pursue it--and that would be the greatest gift.

So what are your friends and family wishing for?

Mom santa fe
My mom and sister in Santa Fe

So a number of years ago I called my Mom and asked her the Wish/Obstacle. She gave me the classic mom answer, "Oh you know I don't need anything." As we all know it is impossible to buy gifts for your mother! But I pushed and told her not a gift, something she wanted. And immediately she said, "I always wanted to go to Santa Fe, but don't think I will ever get there." I had never heard this before and asked why she didn't go to Santa Fe. She said, "Your dad doesn't travel anymore and I probably won't see Santa Fe." That sent me into motion on a mission. I called my brother and sisters and we put together a trip. My sister Tomi went with my mom and they did Santa Fe! A wish fulfilled. Do we know what people are wishing for?!

Now I am going to ratchet it up a notch or three. Now think about the person who you care about but with whom you have a broken relationship. The one that hurts you in your heart. We all have them. We have to repair this relationship for ourselves. We have to avoid the bigger regrets that just will grow over time. As I have said so many times, "Regrets become tumors!" Reach out to this person during the holidays. Why now? Because it is NOW and because the holidays open doors, windows and little cracks of light. So reach out and tell them your wish. "I wish we had a better relationship, but I need your help to make this happen." Don't apologize, don't bring up the past, don't waffle wiggle and wander. Just state your wish. The truth in this wish might re-kindle something, hopefully not more negativity. But you stepped up and out to meet your challenge. This is not a magical gimmick that repairs relationships. It is a starting point for you to take the next step. It is a way for you to say something good to somebody you care about. You need each other.

Wishing does not make anything happen. Helping people get their wishes is a mission. 

I wish for all of you to connect to the people you love. To connect to the people who you have lost touch with. To reduce your regrets by helping others and yourself. 

Making other people's wishes come true will restore your faith, your childlike faith, in the magic of possibility and the glory of the relationships which matter most.

Thanks for reading. John


Sculpting your Career and your Purpose

Great art is mesmerizing. It boggles the mind how the artist converted the idea of the art into the physical manifestation. We can dream great thoughts and ideas, but it is not easy to make them happen. 

While I would never count myself amongst the artistic community, I believe I must create. My mother taught me that "art" is within me and that I must learn to free it from my own self imposed limitations--like a sculpture that needs to be freed from the granite. I have ideas and inner desires that I want to experience, express and execute. Not fantasies but thoughts about my life and how to give meaning to it. We all struggle with this pent up or hidden potential to contribute our uniqueness to our community and our worlds. Some may say we have little to give and others have a sea of molten potential that needs to be delivered to generate new islands of creativity. Some think this is the province of the young and the restless. Others believe they do not have the gene to express. That youth and the "talented" are the only harbors of inspiration and invention. But we know that neither age or stage have anything to do with inner potential. That each us has a unique set of gifts, that we know, secretly covet and or yearn to discover.

I always have to remind myself that my mom decided to "become" an artist at age 49! And the nearly 1400 originals that have flowed since are proof of the talent within.

In my encounters with many, very diverse people--current students to retirees. I see and hear about these dormant, latent, and subordinated ideas and desires. The unexpressed wishes of a person within a person. Sometimes this is a discovery of joy that liberates the person. And other times it is a confession of simmering regret. Not a fully formed regret but an emerging and growing regret. 

I see these shared ideas and desires as sculptures within the person. We all have a gallery of them. Sculptures that represent the person we want to be --the experiences we long for--things we have always wanted to express--creations we want to create. Some of these sculptures are fully formed, honed and smooth. They are completed and beautiful. Others are still locked inside of the stones. And some are half done works that continue to emerge through our work and inspiration.  Michelangelo

We learn that life, like this gallery, is never done. It is a labor of infinity. But our satisfaction, fulfillment, and ultimate sense of purpose is defined by the attention and work we put into each of these sculptures. How we tend to these sculptures and the concepts of these sculptures matters. Our habits and ability to overcome our excuses and internal resistance are the keys to advancing our works of art.

I love what Amy Hoy wrote about blacksmith students and startups:
 People are obsessed with “expressing themselves” instead of following the brief (the job specification). They waste precious time in “creative” noodling instead of actually getting shit done. Others indulge themselves in childish boredom and rebellion when it comes to the repetition of early stages of learning, instead of committing to the basics with all their hearts.
Several more wield perfectionism as a weapon against their own achievement… a weapon, and an excuse. Several show a great deal of self-importance, unwarranted — they talk themselves up, they expect they’ll win, they treat the advice of the master as irrelevant, or they crumble at the slightest criticism. Others engage in bitter self-denigration, unwarranted — fatalistically wailing, “I’ll never be able to do this,” when experiencing the simplest of setbacks. They want to throw in the towel at the first bump. And the second. And the third. Finally, and perhaps most fatally, many of the students seem to have zero patience whatsoever. They expect to jump straight to results, straight to the fun stuff — the creative stuff. They don’t want to put in their dues. They think they’re special. So they stamp their foot petulantly when their shortcuts fail. These people claim to want to master a craft, but they resist the very nature of “craftsmanship.

Sculpting is hard work that requires a chisel and hammer. It takes courage to swing the hammer. And lots of persistence. It is from this hard labor that you discover who you are and what you want. Yes you set a goal but the work defines where you are going. Sparks fly from the hammer and chisel. Sparks of passion where you lose yourself to find yourself. I have learned that when you surrender to the process, letting go of control, you gain a sense of yourself and more control of your life--and of your art.  Hammer-and-chisel

Let's sculpt more and dream less. Let's engage the mind and our heart in the work that interests us and care about. Let's engage the people around us in helping us sculpt and become. We can never do it alone. And it is never too late. Let's stop wasting time neglecting our art within us. Your gallery awaits.

You need the sculptures, we need your sculptures. 
Thanks for reading. John

 


Lessons from My Mom

We honor all the mothers for their love and for their nurturing of the children. Kinda silly to have one single day for Hallmark and FTD to make money, when we should be honoring our moms everyday.

Mothers are what power our society. They bring us into this world and they nurture our talent and our dreams. I have had the great fortune to work for a number of moms who have endured more work-life pressure, challenges, and sheer discrimination than any man has ever encountered.

Last week, I laughed when Norm Mineta, former Secy of Commerce and Secy of  Transportation, began his lifetime award acceptance speech like this:

I was very fortunate to have chosen my mother,  father and family so well.

There are an infinite series of events and factors that brought us into the world that you had nothing to do with. One thing is certain, you have a mother. And she made great sacrifices and taught us great lessons. Bottomline: we are here because of her and the only way to fully repay her is to make her proud of you and of the job she has done.

Like everyone's mom, my mother is very special. :) She has been my primary mentor and teacher about life and how to live. I have learned as much from observing the way she lives as from her words of wisdom. She was born in 1927 on a poor farm in the San Joaquin valley right before the Great Depression. She was the second to the youngest of 11 who grew up to "appreciate every grain of rice." With only one sister she had few female role models and had to develop her own sense of destiny in a world dominated by men. At the age of 15 she and her family where placed in the internment camps for almost 4 years. So she "graduated" from high school in the camps. She went to nursing school, met my Dad, raised a family and decided to become an artist at the age of 49. She has never complained about her hardships. She has always lived life with gusto and made everyone around her feel special and loved. Mom

Just wanted to share five of the many lessons she taught me:

  1. Always Look like You Know What You are Doing: Whatever role you take, job you accept, even sport you play--look the part. Study people who do these things well and try and do what they do. Look like they do. This was a very early version of the advice to dress for success. If you are serious about mastering a role, make the effort to look like it. Met so many young people who are ambitious with no ambition. They want to be given opportunities and even request to be mentored when they neither act or look as if they are mentorable. Youwill never be taken seriously unless you start looking like you know what you are doing.
  2. Always Treat People as They are Going To Be: If you pay attention you can see people's potential. You can see that they are working on who they are and where they are going. My mother was big on treating people you encounter as if they have become their potential. You meet, work with, and are connected to people who have many failings and shortcomings. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don't be quick to judge people by their initial actions, see them for what they are becoming. Clearly, this is great advice as a parent, or a teacher. All children are becoming, and treating them with respect and without prejudice is essential for their development. But my mom extends this to all adults too. Everyone has something to offer and you should never do anything to undermine the best intentions and potential of that relationship.
  3. Give First: Living is not staying current on your debts. Life is about being generous. Reciprocity is not the goal. Keeping score is not worth the effort. Always be generous with your time and resources. We never went to someone else's home without food or a gift. Be the best of who you are all of the time. And being the best is about giving first and giving often without expectation.
  4. Being a Host is an Art form: Learn how to be a host of events. How to take on a Host mindset. Being a host means you rarely think of yourself as a guest who must be served and entertained. You take on a host mentality to help people engage and not allow the other guests to disconnect even if it is not your party. You host many events at your home to become a hub for activities and connections. You want people to feel at home in your home. And when you host events, you make it special even if it is a routine gathering. You don't have to spend a lot of money to present the food and your home with style and elegance. It just takes a little effort and a bit of creativity.
  5. Draw Outside of the Lines: We were encouraged as children to color outside of the coloring book lined figures. My mother's right brain orientation told her that creativity comes from using and understanding the positive and negatives spaces. Outside of the lines is always a bigger and better place to create and learn--she would say. Never be confined by or make assumptions about, the boundaries that have been imposed upon you.

I love my mom for what she has taught me and teaches me. I work hard at trying to use these lessons and many others to realize my potential. Her lessons have shaped my views of mentoring and networking.

Every mom teaches us lessons we should appreciate. How do we take what we have learned and make her proud everyday?

Aren't we lucky we picked our mothers well? ;)

Thanks for reading. John