Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Mind

My sons,

Life is an adventure. It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is full of joy, of triumph, of victory, of mountaintop experiences. It is also full of sadness, of loneliness, of gut wrenching sorrow. It is about the journey and not the destination.

The Good Book tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble.” It’s not an if, it’s a when.

Composure, then, is the manner in which we meet that trouble. It is the perspective we take, the peace (or lack of) we have, and the mindset we embody. It is the expression of our true selves, our inner core, our self discipline, our grace.

As you know, we’re currently in an unprecedented time in our world. In an era where global travel is incredibly accessible, individual freedoms are at their prime, and technological advancements have created an expectation of connection and information, an outbreak of this magnitude has been difficult to contain. The death toll is nearing a half million, with hundreds of thousands of new cases still being confirmed. There is currently no known cure or vaccine, and much of the world is living in self-quarantine.

It’s very easy to feel that things are unfair, to feel hopeless and helpless, to feel that there isn’t anything we can do.

In these situations we are presented with a choice. We can choose the path of self-pity, of externalization, and of blame, or we can choose the path that is steadfast, that is bold and courageous, and has the resolve to go through this painful refinement of our character and come out stronger. We can choose the mindset of merely surviving, grasping at any means to do so, or we can choose the path of flourishing and prospering despite our circumstance.

The difference between believing things are unfair vs unfortunate is subtle but important.

When we feel that things are unfair, we believe that things are outside of our control. We absolve ourselves from blame and from responsibility for the situation, and we believe that there is nothing we can do to influence the outcome. We believe that undesirable things are being done to us. We position ourselves as the victim, and fixate our mind on a position of self-pity.

On the other hand, when we feel that things are unfortunate, we remove blame from some unreachable or invisible actor that has it out for us and instead focus on the situation itself. We recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and that inexplicable things happen. We take the perspective of recovery, of advancement, of moving life forward. We see ourselves not as helpless but as capable and able to change our stars. We have self-compassion, taking the necessary care for ourselves so that we can recover and thrive despite our surroundings.

This difference, while subtle, end up causing ripple effects in our mindset and in the actions that we take. Over time, it affects our constitution, our demeanor, and the way that we approach the world. That in turn impacts the interactions and relationships that we have, ultimately deeply impacting our lives. And so I encourage you the next time you find yourselves in unfortunate circumstances to think of them as just that; unfortunate circumstances. I pray that you have the discipline and mental fortitude to direct your reactions so that not only will you survive, but will thrive in those times.

I love you, my boys.


My sons,

We’re currently in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s something that this world hasn’t seen in quite some time, and is something that I sincerely pray you won’t have to experience again in your lifetimes. There are many tragic stories of loss, of separated loved ones, of devastation. There are also many stories of hope, of perseverance, of strength, of unity, and of support. The impacts of this pandemic are both global and local. Globally, our economy has taken a huge hit, our social structures are stressed to the point of breaking, and our government is struggling to act decisively and swiftly. Locally, we are practicing social distancing, staying home with our families and going out only out of necessity.

It has not been an easy adjustment for many.

I recently finished a book called “A gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles. It is a wonderful and beautifully written book that seems poignantly relevant in our current world situation. The book is a novel that follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who after the revolutionary war ended in the 1920s is convicted of such. He is forced to live out his days as a “Former Person” within the confines of the Metropol hotel, not being permitted to ever leave its premises.

The book chronicles the life of the count, who first sets foot inside his new quarters in the prime of his life. He immediately has the realization that in order to survive the constant mental assault and boredom of several more decades in this space, one must have resolve, determination, and fortitude of mind. As we walk through his early days of captivity, he quickly establishes a regular routine that provides him the much needed structure of a productive life. As he settles into that routine, we watch him evolve from a person who is striving simply to survive to one that is longing and looking for ways to thrive.

It is that mental fortitude, that singular belief that in order to flourish, one must overcome one’s current situation that allows the count to positively thrive for decades in such a small space.

“Our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity - a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

I certainly don’t profess to know the secrets of mental fortitude, nor do I know by what magical coincidence or stroke of good luck I have been blessed with some measure of it. I do however know the secret of building fortitude, of building strength. Exercise. Just as our physical bodies require exercise and a healthy diet to build strength, our mind requires exercise and a healthy diet of positive inputs and interactions.

I’ve discovered a few key things that have done wonders for me:

  1. Read. Reading not only develops our creativity, but it challenges our mind to imagine, to ponder, to think deeply about topics and situations that we may not have had the chance to face yet. It allows us to develop the ability to empathize with a character, to reason with an author, to dream wondrously with the protagonist, and to suffer deeply with the fallen hero.

    Reading also gives us the opportunity to build relationships, to dialog, and to discuss with friends new and old the topics and virtues of the latest book that we’ve read. Read for enjoyment, read for self-development and self-improvement, read for knowledge, and read for perspective. Read fiction to dream and paint canvases in your mind. Read non-fiction to be challenged, to think critically, to ruminate, to reason.

  2. Meditate. Meditation builds focus of mind, and trains our discipline. It allows us to process our thoughts, to understand ourselves, and to listen to our innermost mind.

  3. Write. Writing causes you to elaborate on your thoughts, to organize them, and to provide structure to them. Regardless of whether your writings are read by three people or by three hundred, writing builds your ability to expand on a thought and to nurture and bake an idea in your mind. We all have the spark of creation within us; let it be a tool to help refine your mental process.

Jesus tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble”. That is a certainty. Those with an ample supply of mental fortitude are the ones who are able to not only survive, but to thrive in those troubles. And that’s my hope for you today, that you both would be strong men, physically, emotionally, but most importantly mentally. That you would have the strength of mind and discipline of heart to achieve all that you set your sights on.


My sons,

Someone once said that the true measure of a life is how much of it is given away. I’m not sure if that’s the only measure, but it’s certainly a very noble one, and is one worth considering.

While the argument can be made (and certainly has been) that those in fortunate positions ought to be generous with what they’ve got, I want to go further and suggest that we remove the precondition. People ought to be generous with what they’ve got, regardless of their station in life. There are the obvious altruistic reasons for this, but it turns out there are a lot of benefits for the generous individual as well.

Focus on others

Being generous causes us to think of others. It takes our eyes off ourselves and instead allows us to consider someone else, to consider their needs, to consider how to help move their lives forward. By thinking of others and pouring into their lives, we necessarily need to know how and what to pour in; requirements that can only be fulfilled by us shifting our gaze from ourselves onto others.

Growth mindset

Whether we’re giving time, resources, or our energy, generosity naturally fosters a growth mindset. We pour into others to help them grow, to help them be filled, and to move their lives forward towards fulfillment. And with any habit, the more we practice this, the more our brains will be rewired towards that mindset.

Perspective

Have you ever noticed that the happiest people you know are also the most generous? They may not be the richest people, the smartest, or the ones with the most time and uncomplicated life, but they are generally quite generous with whatever resource it is that they’ve got. No matter their station or circumstance, I’m willing to bet that when you enumerate those in your life that you know of that are truly happy, they’re also very generous with anything and everything that they’ve got.

This isn’t an accident. The more generous a person is, the more perspective on life they get. Because generosity requires us to pour into people, requires us to loosen the hold on the things that are ours, and requires us to consider others, we see things from a different vantage point. We view ourselves against the backdrop of humanity on a whole and are able to get a glimpse of the big picture. And that’s a very humbling experience. When we see ourselves on the canvas of the world painted on the timeline of history, we realize that while our individual part is incredibly significant and meaningful, we are but a small part of a much more important whole.

And so I urge the two of you to view yourselves on that canvas, and to see the role that you can play as a part of the bigger picture. In being generous, not only do you sharpen your view of yourself and of the world, but you see the movement and growth of the world that you can play a bigger part in. Our generosity allows the world to move forward, to heal, to rebuild, to refine, and to redefine. And those are all beautiful things worth giving our lives for.


My sons,

We live in a world that is quickly commoditizing skills, assets, experiences, and capabilities. Globalization began with goods; starting with raw minerals and materials and eventually expanding to finished products. Then came services; the ability to have offshore call centers for example. Then came ideas and philosophies; the internet has made mass proliferation of thoughts and ideas instantaneous.

Just about everything you can think of that is outside your body can be exported to you in a matter of days, if not sooner, and if desired, can be replicated fairly effectively and efficiently.

That leaves our minds, our opinions, our beliefs, and our convictions as the last bastion of our unique selves.

There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption where the incarcerated main character Andy Dufresne, played by the marvelous Tim Robbins risks his life boldly stepping up to one of the prison guards to offer his services as an accountant. After dangling Dufresne’s body over the edge of the roof where they were standing, the guard relents and accepts Andy’s help. In exchange, Andy asks simply for two buckets of beers for his fellow prisoners currently working roof detail.

His prison mate Ellis Redding, played by the legendary Morgan Freeman narrates, speculating that the reason Andy pulled off such a stunt was simply so that he could feel human again. That sitting up on the roof in the hot sun with a bucket of beers allowed him and his fellows to remember what it meant to be free men; and that was a beautiful thing.

Our beliefs, our convictions, our values - these are things that can never be taken from us.

And so it behooves us to be critical of them. If men are defined by what they believe in, what they stand up for, what they are passionate about, then you must be critical of those things. Do not allow the world to imprint them on you unwittingly. Be intentional about defining and refining your beliefs. Debate them with trusted peers. Meditate on them. Reflect and expound on them. They are the things that make you unique, and are the things that will ultimately drive the direction of your lives!

My prayer for you is that the two of you will be steadfast in your beliefs; that when the winds of the world blow, they will find you firmly grounded in beliefs that you have thought out, debated, and formulated as a culmination of your experiences, your relationships, and your critical thinking. I pray that the two of you would have a relationship where you can be that sounding board for one another. May you both grow to be men of bold beliefs, strong convictions, and non-extinguishable passions.


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