An Important Message from Journalist Steven Sotloff’s letters: How Do We Live Our Second Life?

Azure Flowers like Butterflies / Surreal sketch

“Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one…. Hug each other every day. Please know I am OK. Live your lives to the fullest and pray to be happy.”

–Steven Sotloff

My friend called me last week to discuss the brutal killing of journalist Steven Sotloff. She told me that the news of his killing, along with the murder of journalist James Foley, had her curled up into a ball in her closet sobbing at the violence of the world we live in. She felt that it was a terrible loss of two brave, good souls who were in the world to make it better.

As we both took a deep breath and long pause I read to her the above quotes from Steven Sotloff’s letters, which were secretly smuggled out of the prison camp where he was held. He left us all with a profound gift to reflect upon and possibly integrate into our lives and I wanted my friend to see that light within all of the darkness that she was feeling.

I think most of us know what Steven meant when he said, “Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one.”  How many times have we lost a friend or a loved one and committed ourselves to not wasting another minute and appreciating every day of our lives?  Or were we sick and got better and said we will never take our lives for granted again?  Maybe a terribly stressful situation worked out and we vowed to have more appreciation for what we have and not worry so much.

There are people in the world, like Steven and James, who face unimaginable situations that are truly horrific. But the problems most of us that are reading this post have are less so. For most of us who have a brush with stress, danger or death and vow to appreciate our second lives, as time goes by we often forget our commitment to the preciousness of each moment. The daily stresses of our lives consume our minds and we go on automatic instead of savoring that great cup of coffee, our walk with our child to an appointment or a quiet evening at home.  We return to the first part of our lives where we think we can put off the joy and passion for another day in the future.  We think if we just put our time in now, there will be time later to enjoy the best of life.

For Steven Sotloff, I suspect his acute awareness of how precious life can be was inescapable and it propelled him to let his family know that every day must be lived to the fullest.  It seems he became very familiar with the knowledge that each day can be your last or it can change in a way that leaves you longing for the carefree days when you took it all for granted.

So how do we remember the preciousness of each day of our lives as we live them? For me it has been a practice of gratitude. It’s not that we shouldn’t get upset about bad things that happen in our lives or the world—sometimes being upset is the most natural and appropriate response. It is just a matter of allowing our gratitude to grant us perspective on what is important and what we do have.  Finding and holding gratitude allows us to position the hurt, stress or upsets we feel in a bigger place – a place that gives us strength to persevere and not let every unpleasant thing that happens ruin our day.

Assuming we are going about our everyday lives with the usual stressors and upsets, gratitude can become a habitual way of thinking in our lives just as easily as the habit of complaining.  It is a choice and daily practice to see life in a different way.  With gratitude we change our hyper-focus on the things that are bothering us and we expand to see the entire vista of our lives. We stop looking just for the faults and also look for what is wonderful and glorious in the moment. This is beyond being an optimist instead of a pessimist.  It is living in our “second life” by seeing life in its entirety and acknowledging everything.  In fact, when we do this regularly, we see there is so much to be thankful for and we become aware that so much is going our way.  Our minds find more ease in our daily activities and a profound appreciation for our experiences emerges.

Towards the end of our conversation I heard my girlfriend sigh. She said that sometimes she gets so overwhelmed by the bad stories that she hears in the news that she forgets all the good in life. She said that she knows a lot of people that want peace in the world and that have good hearts. She felt so grateful to know them and it gave her hope that the world is filled with more people that want peace than not. She also started listing all the beautiful things that she is grateful for in her life. It made her feel less afraid and very present to her current surroundings. She told me that she felt so full inside that all she wanted to do was go out and help someone else. Her last words before we hung up were “I never thought gratitude would give me hope and strength to be in the moment, but it reminds me of everything that is right in the world and makes me feel that MAYBE one day there will be peace.”

My deepest condolences to the Sotloff and Foley families and my gratitude for allowing us all to receive Steven’s brave and thoughtful gift–the profound reminder to find a way to be present in this moment and live life to the fullest.

MAYBE our second life is the one most worth living.

 

How Can We Find Hope When Our Children Are Suffering?

Helping Hands Generic

I wrote this post last year right before the school year started.  My daughter was recovering from a concussion and the idea of Maybe had been a refuge for me dealing with her recovery.  As all of our children are returning to school, we may be managing our children’s learning issues, social anxieties or physical ailments that are short-term or chronic.  This post reminds me how facing our children’s struggles with the idea of Maybe helps us find hope in uncertainty and gives us more resilience to remain present and strong for their life journey.  I hope it is helpful.  

Like most people, the key to my emotional suffering is my attachment to what I desire for my life. In the past, if the outcome to a situation wasn’t clear I became negative and worried that the worst case scenario was on its way. As many of you know, I finally found relief from much of my pain by embracing the Philosophy of Maybe. Like a burst of sunlight, I realized that life could unfold many ways and Maybe whatever I desired would come to fruition, Maybe something else good would happen or Maybe I would be okay no matter what. This turn of thought brought me ease and enabled me to live in the present moment. I was able to let go of my attachment to things happening one way and I found myself open up to the entire playing field of life. However, I still struggled and suffered with uncertainty in one area of life: PARENTING.

I am attached to my children. My desire for my children to be well, happy and peaceful will not waiver. I felt the strength of this commitment especially seven weeks ago, when my oldest daughter sustained a head injury. I couldn’t stand her pain and suffering and would have gladly taken it from her and upon myself, but of course I couldn’t. My desire for her to recover was so deep it predominated over all other thought. As her healing required rest, I felt her disappointment at having to quit her summer job. My heart sank as she worried whether her memory would fully return and as she struggled to read because her eyes would not stay on the page. There was no detachment for my heart and every minute she suffered, I suffered too.

I remember thinking to myself, “Where is Maybe now when I’m so entrenched in pain and worry?” Then a quote that I read a few weeks earlier came to mind. It was, “Uncertainty is the refuge of hope.” (Henri Frederic Amiel). And in that moment some of my pain went away. I felt some space in my breath and remembered the unknown is my friend. I always believed that my daughter would heal but my worry was so dense at times that I couldn’t feel hope. This quote and the connection between Maybe and uncertainty fed my spirit with more space for all of the possibilities. Maybe her healing would take some time and that was okay, Maybe she would need therapy to heal, and Maybe we would spend more time together as a family during her recovery. I found the courage to find the hope in the uncertainty that had proved so hard for me to handle. With Maybe I was able to hold my attachment to the future less tightly and with more ease and grace. I was able to accept where my daughter was in the healing process and saw that over time life would change and there was hope for new beginnings and new opportunities for her.

Now seven weeks after her injury, my daughter started her first day of high school. Some symptoms remain but she is expected to make a full recovery. I feel so grateful and blessed in this moment and hopeful for her future. I realize that my emotional hook to my children’s well-being is a tricky place in my search for joy and peace in life. Yet at least with Maybe, I can hold it in a wider place where there is more room for change, hope and possibility, through the daily challenges of parenting.

We all have tough moments in parenting. Every parent would take all the pain and disappointment from their children in a minute as their own. Unfortunately, as much as we feel their pain with them, we can’t take it from them. But when we realize that most of these painful moments still offer each of us the hope that Maybe everything will be okay, our suffering lessens. With Maybe, more air enters into the room to help us breathe and get through the challenging times. It gives a more grounded perspective for us and our children for moving forward.

My heart opens to every parent trying to do the best today for their child. I hope Maybe can ease your pain and help you remember that life will keep changing and so much is possible for each of our children.

How Can We Let Go And Still Hold On To Our Dreams?

 

womans cupped hands showing euro coins

Diana is an aspiring actress that I’ve been speaking with for a year. The other day she called and was very excited about the news that she got a callback for a role on a major network television series. She said “I have to get this! This is it – my one chance – and if I don’t get this I’ll never be a successful actress.” As happy as I was that she had this great opportunity, I became concerned that if she didn’t get the role she would be devastated and give up her dream. I thought about an experiment detailed in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche, and decided now would be a good time to do it with Diana.

I asked Diana to pick up a coin. I asked her to imagine that it represented a career as a successful actress. I asked her to hold the coin tightly clutched in her fist and extend her arm, with the palm of her hand facing the ground. I then had her let go and relax her grip and the coin fell to the ground. This holding on so tightly and then losing the coin represented the belief that if she didn’t get this role, her dream of becoming an actress was over.

Then I said Maybe there is another possibility here: Maybe you can let go of the coin and yet keep hold of it. With her arm still outstretched, I asked her to turn her hand over so that the palm faced the sky. I then asked her to relax her hand and see if the coin still rested in her open palm. She let go and the coin was still hers resting in her hand, even with all this space around it. I reminded her that holding the coin this way represents her dream of being a successful actress regardless if she gets this role; she needn’t grasp it so tightly. This way of seeing her goal shows that life doesn’t have to unfold one way, but instead there is open space that can lead her in many different ways to joy and success.

Most of us grasp at the coin with our palm facing down when we believe something has to happen one way in our lives for us to find opportunity and achieve our goals. How often, for instance, do we believe that we need to get a particular job or promotion to be going in the right direction? Or that a stock must go up for us to be financially secure or that we need to land a particular client to further our careers? How often have we yearned for a certain person to like us so we can be happy? The problem is that sometimes we lose our grasp on that one thing we believed we needed to happen, and it then becomes very difficult to imagine recapturing our dreams.

Yet how could it be that our lives only work if this one thing we are grasping for happens? How can we continuously live with the pain believing that our lives can manifest only one way? That is why I love the idea of Maybe. Using Maybe, we can learn to hold the very thing we want but also leave space and room for other possibilities.  We instantaneously remember that just because the situation in front of us does not seem to be working out, Maybe things will change and get better, Maybe another opportunity will come our way or Maybe we will find a way to accept the situation we are in and still be okay. If we are willing to look at life another way, opening up to letting go can be less scary or more inviting. It allows us to maintain our dreams and goals while experiencing the twists and turns that our journey in life may take us.

Diana did not get the role she was trying out for that day. However, she has chosen to see it not as her last chance but instead as a flip of her palm that keeps the dream safe. She has another audition next week for a guest spot on a well-known show. Who knows, Maybe!

Is There Anything More Important Than Giving Our Attention To The People We Are With In This Moment?

砂時計とお金

Our family just spent a lovely weekend at my home with my sister-in-law and her children. Because our children are getting older, each one seems to have an iPad, iPhone or some other electronic gadget attached to their hand at all times. I noticed that when we were all together talking, some of the kids would zone out of the conversation and start looking at their phones or computers. Several times I had to say nicely, “Excuse me, but your uncle or cousin was telling you a story.” Often the response was, “Oh, I’m just texting my friend from camp–one minute.”   I also saw all the children sitting together, each one on an electronic device, not speaking to each other. Later, my parents joined us all for dinner and even my dad got out his iPhone to post comments on a sports blog, leaving the conversation for fifteen minutes. All of these electronic distractions created a gap between all of us that was never there before. I honestly felt that we barely spent any time together, even though we were physically together all weekend. It seemed like other people had been with us in the house, people I could not see and did not invite, but who surely had plenty of our attention!

When the extended family left, in an effort to make my children understand the importance of being in the moment and giving attention to the people we are spending time with, I shared a Tolstoy story with them. Here is a synopsis of the story:

The thought came to a certain King that he would never fail if he knew three things. These three things were:

  • When is the best time to do each thing?
  • Who are the most important people to work with?
  • What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Many educated men attempted to answer the King’s questions, but they all came up with different answers. The King decided that he must ask a wise hermit in a nearby village. The hermit, however, would only see common folk, so the King disguised himself as a peasant, left his guards behind, and went to see the hermit. The hermit was digging flower beds when the King arrived. The King asked his three questions, but the hermit only went on digging rather laboriously. The king offered to dig for the hermit for a while. After digging for some time, the King again asked his questions. Before the hermit could answer, another man emerged from the woods. He was bleeding from a terrible stomach wound. The King tended to him, and they all stayed the night in the hermit’s hut. By the next day the wounded man was doing better, but was incredulous at the care he had received. The man confessed that he knew who the King was, and that the King had executed his brother and seized his property. He had come to kill the King, but the King’s guards had wounded him. The man pledged allegiance to the King, and he went on his way. The King asked the hermit again for his answers, and the hermit responded that he had just had his questions answered.

“Do you not see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds. I was the most important man. And to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that wounded man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important –Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are with, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else. And the most important affair is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

All of us can become distracted about the future, or an email or text, and our thoughts leave the present and the ones we are with. I think we believe there is always another time when we can focus on the people that are around us if our minds are elsewhere that day. Yet, who knows what our future holds and the moment that is so precious is often traded for a video game or Facebook feed.

Also, how can we know if the people we are with, especially teenagers who rarely tell us what is going on, need us in a way that only our pure attention can satisfy? Maybe the moment is all we’ll get to be together or to make a difference so the person in front of us knows they are loved.   Even if our teenagers or other loved ones might not always share their most intimate secrets, Maybe the love we share when we are really present together will make a difference when they feel stuck or they are suffering about something in their lives.  A difference that can be quite profound during a difficult time.

If we can make NOW the most important moment, and the person we are with the most important person, and what we are doing the most important thing, we will be led to more meaningful and fulfilling lives with one another. Being in the NOW, we are present to give and receive the true gift of life — LOVE.

I am happy to say my children set down their devices and listened to the story. They heard me, were with me, and Maybe, just Maybe, they will bring these ideas, and not their gadgets, to our next family gathering!