We need to assert ourselves

Stéphan Carnier’s book “How to Think Like a Cat” is not about cat but us. I appreciate his reflection on being assertive, “Many of us find it hard to assert ourselves in front of other, either out of shyness or lack of confidence…if other people take up more space than you, it’s because you let them do so…Cats take the space that is their due, without crushing their neighbour, but they do not tolerate any encroachment on the space. They assert themselves quietly. They don’t play the tyrant, but neither do they accept a walk-on part”.

I have learned the need to be assertive the hard way in the past years of working as a priest/pastor. Trying the please everyone, keeping my reputation to be a nice guy and avoiding (& being afraid of) conflicts are the main reasons causing me feeling hard to be assertive.

Asserting ourselves actually is being authentic, being honest to ourselves (and others) and the way to take care of ourselves. Then we learn how to respect others’ space and boundary. In the end, we all grow (together).

They need emotional support.

While I was driving, I turned on the radio and I was shocked by the information the host shared – there’s about 6 – 8 people died daily because of illicit-drug overdoses in BC in the past first ten month 2021.

When I was still the rector of St Elizabeth’s Anglican Church in Mississauga three years ago, we welcomed the NA (Narcotics Anonymous) group in our church building. I was allowed to attend their meetings. One time I had conversation with a Canadian born Chinese young man. He told me he’s trying to live clean but it’s difficult with the emotional support of the family. He was kicked out by his parents because they could not accept his son with drug addiction. I could see his tears when he talked about his family. He loved and missed his family very much. I did not know what to say, I just gave him a hug. He cried and said “thank you” to me. Because he moved to another shelter, he had never come to the NA meeting in our church since that evening. I have been keeping him in prayers.

There are many people need others’ emotional support so that they can continue their journey of living clean. In fact, emotion support is one powerful way to prevent people to use drugs to escape from their personal problems and pains. In fact, we all need others’ emotional support.

The Soft Overcomes the Hard

In his book, “The Tao of Daily Life”, Derek Lin points out that “in our conflict-oriented culture, we have a tendency to counter force with force. If someone yells at us, we yell back louder. When we feel disrespected, our first impulse is give that disrespect right back…the conventional approach is all about confrontation and clashing. It is the ‘hard’ path to traverse through life because it focuses on the external manifestations of power. Its method is to pump up the self by diminishing others”. Have you seen and experienced what Lin describes in your life & world? Yes, I have…

Lin offers us the Tao approach that “isn’t about confrontation and clashing. Instead, it is all about redirecting and channeling. It is the ‘soft’ path because it focuses on internal strength. Its goal is to improve oneself so that everyone can win…when you make a gut-level decision to commit yourself to this teaching, to be like water and allow the soft to overcome the hard … that is when your world, your life, and your fate will undergo a startling transformation. When you improve your character and elevate your spiritual understanding by utilizing the Tao approach .. that is when your destiny will never the same again!”

As I am getting older, my internal strength and confidence are getting stronger, I have more power to love, let go and forgive. That is the way of Tao.

Embrace the groundlessness of our situation

In her book, “Living beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”, Pema Chödrön profoundly points out that “As human beings we share a tendency scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground – something predictable and safe to stand on – seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for this is freedom…”

To have freedom, we need to leave the “prison” of our mind. We often feel insecure and we think a solid ground is the solution; then consequently we act to put ground (we think it is solid) under our feet. Unfortunately we need to keep find another ground and we feel suffered …until we are awaked spiritually.

Are you still in your journey of finding the solid ground?

Our Most Valuable Currency

In her book, “Fierce Conversations”, Susan Scott points out that “Our most valuable currency is not money. Nor is it intelligence, attractiveness…Our most valuable currency is relationship. Emotional capital…we behave emotionally first, rationally second. No matter how logical we claim to be, our emotions are the most powerful factor in how we respond and interact with others…Life is about making connections, most importantly, a deep connection with people; otherwise, we do not know what it means to be human.”

As what John Donne said, “no man is an island”, no one is truly self-sufficient; everyone must rely on the company and comfort of others in order to thrive. From now on, cherish and make investments on those people/relationship so that you are not going to be an island your journey of life.

Michael Jacques’ book, “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book”

Michael has autism and an intellectual disability. Even though he can’t write, he uses his iPad’s speech-to-text function to write (that is why reading the book feels like someone talking to me about his stories). Even though he can’t read, he “can remember each story I wrote by looking at the pictures” (that is why the book has many small pictures).

Michael’s book is down-to-earth collection of compelling life stories and discoveries that teach us how to embrace and celebrate our differences. The book covers topics such as learning, inclusion, advocating, independence, and the power of perseverance.

In the followings, I like to share few of his messages inspired me a lot:

“…even though a person may have some difficulties, it doesn’t mean they can’t achieve what they set out to do. Sometimes it might take a long time, but that is OK…When I was finally diagnosed in grade one, my mod told me that she cried, but that was the last time she did, because she knew that I would be amazing. These words were said many times throughout my life…Everyone needs parents who listen and ask lots of questions, who speak up for their children and let them find their voices…there are different ways to learn. I realized that I could focus on my strengths and use my voice to speak up…Now I would like to talk to you about the stages of bullying. The first one is physical…The second one is mental…it was the third kind: exclusion…It was sometimes frustrating that people didn’t understand me…true friend is not about focusing on what people cannot do, but instead focusing on the thing we’re good at and the things we like…All you have to do is believe in yourself and not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and hopefully we all have people who believing in us…Everyone’s different, so everyone has to find their own voice and learn what is right for them, and if something isn’t working, there’s always another to do it…everybody can find a way to be good at something…never discredit yourself and never sell yourself short. Always look for different ways to do things if you can’t do it the exact same way as others…not just see me as a person with a disability…see me as someone who is deserving of the same opportunities in life as those without disabilities…Focus on your strengths and find ways to make it happens”

His book is not only for the disability but for everyone. I have been touched deeply with smiles and tears while reading his book. Thank you, Michael.

Self awareness, questioning yourself

In his book, “the subtle of art of noting give a fuck”, Mark Manson had one chapter to discuss his version of get to know more about ourselves. At first, he helped us to be humble about our knowing, “As the old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn”.

Furthermore, he pointed out that “As a general rule, we’re all the world’s worst observers of ourselves. When we’re angry, or jealous, or upset, we’re oftentimes the last ones to figure it out. And the only way to figure it out is to put cracks in our armor of certainty by consistently questioning how wrong we might be about ourselves”.

Thus, self awareness does not mean that we know yourself in 100%, but we are aware that we are still in the journey of learning about ourselves.

Joe Calloway’s “Keep It Simple: Unclutter Your Mind to Uncomplicate Your Life”

Cluttered processes and over-complications are the enemies of control in our life. In this book, Joe Calloway offers us two powerful tools to streamline our life, reduce stress, and achieve our goals: simplification and focus. Joe wrote, “Focus means clarity. Clarity means knowing what is most important…Getting focused is the path to simplicity, and simplicity is the path to success and fulfillment”. As what Jessica Jackley said, “You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate delay or skip the rest”. But at first we need to determine really does matter most for us. Do you know and are you doing the most important things?

Michael H. Hoppe’s “Active Listening: Improving Your Ability To Listen And Lead”

Although it published by the Center for Creative Leadership is written for leaders is for everyone. We all need to learn to be an effective listening. Although this book is very thin (less than 30 pages), it effectively describes the six components of active listening: paying attention, suspending judgement, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing and sharing. If you need a concise book on active listening, I strongly recommend you this book by Michael H. Hoppe.

Sister Chan Khong’s “Beginning Anew: Four Steps to Restoring Communication”

One of the inspirations and learning is her teaching on “watering each other’s flowers”: “Refresh the relationship with a new look of appreciation. Try to find many qualities, talents, or actions, whether large or small, that others have done and acknowledge them. We call this part ‘watering the flower’ in the person you’re speaking too; but it also trainings you to be more attentive in daily life to the many small kindnesses and beauties of others around you, so it increases your own happiness as well”.

Have you watered the flower today?

Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Anger: Wisdom For Cooling The Flames”

I have read many books about “anger management”, but Thich Nhat Hanh not only help us to deal with our emotion but also rejuvenate those parts of ourselves that have been laid waste by anger.

One of his transforming advice is practicing compassionate listening, “you listen not for the purpose of judging, criticizing, or analyzing. You listen only to help the other person to express himself and find some relief from his suffering”.

When we listen to each other with compassionate listening, our understanding, our inner self and our relationship are transformed. But companionate listening needs to be practice with intention, will and love. It is very effective way to cool the flames of anger.

Nicola Bird’s “A Little Peace Of Mind”

For more than 20 years, Nicola Bird experienced anxiety and panic attacks, sometimes so severely she could not leave the house. In this book Nicola opens up her experience and learning the way to cope with her anxiety.

She wrote, “…I became anxious about becoming anxious and my home felt like only place I could stay safe….We sometimes experience anxious thoughts, as does every other human being. It’s just we’ve decided that, at some point, for us, anxiety has become a ‘thing’ and that it is a problem. And we’ve forgotten that in truth we are the smoke machine and never the smoke…Trying to deal with the waves by managing your external circumstances is a never-ending and futile game…Living in harmony with Mind and having our thoughts flow through us is our natural and default state of being…You are safe. Everywhere you go. Because you’re home, wherever you go…I did not need to be anxiety-free to be absolutely fine…”

This is the way of Zen. This is the way of Tao. This is an invitation to your home, your heart. You can find peace there.

Virginia Satir’s “Your Many Faces”

Each one of us has a medley of “faces” that composes our individual personality: intelligence, anger, love, jealousy, helplessness, courage and many more. In this book, Stair points out that “When I fully acknowledge all of my faces and the fact that I am in charge of myself, then I can allow myself to feel different ways at different times. I can admit that I am capable of errors as well as great success. I can then afford to accept myself as a person, and I can more easily grant you the same possibilities. I can deal with real things rather my fantasy of them…Everyone, no matter what age, has new things to discover about themselves – and the more that we discover, the more interesting we become to ourselves and to others. To the degree that we accept ourselves with all our parts, we become whole, loving beings in relation to ourselves, which helps us to become more real and loving to other people.”

Being and accepting ourselves are not the same as being selfishness. Jesus teaches us to love others as we love ourselves. Do we know how to love and accept ourselves including the part(s) you may like/admit?

Responsibility and Power

In his book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”, Mark Manson points out that “We do not always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond,…The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise over our lives…Often the same event can be good or bad, depending on the metric we choose to use. Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experience.”

Manson’s writing causes me to recall what Randy Pausch said in his work, “The Last Lecture”, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Randy is the great example how we can take the responsibility or/and choose to make response to what happens to us in a meaningful and powerful way (for Randy is cancer).

Yes, we have the choice. Yes, we can be powerful. Our life will be transformed by accepting the responsibility to accept and face what happens to us,

The three layers of the self-awareness onion

In his book “The Subtle Art of Not Give A Fuck”, Mark Manson talks about self-awareness. For him, “self-awareness is like an onion”; the first layer of the self-awareness onion s a simple understanding of one’s emotions; the second layer of the self-awareness onion is an ability to ask why we feel certain emotions (this layer of questioning helps us understand the root cause of the emotion that overwhelm us); the third level is our personal values that determines the nature of our problems and then the quality of our lives (for him, values underlie everything we are and do).

I appreciate and resonate with his thought, especially on the importance & role of “values” in our lives. In fact, honest self-questioning and having a deeper knowledge of our own values are difficult. The journey of discerning and learning our own values leads us to be our true self, understands why we feel, think, say and do in “that” way, and even adjust our values.

Do you aware of your own values?

Kahlil Gibran’s “On Children”

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist wrote a poem called “On Children”:

“And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
     And he said:
     Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
     For they have their own thoughts.
     You may house their bodies but not their souls,
     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Even this poem was written long time ago, as both a son and a father, I think it is out of date. As a son, I always want to be that arrow; as a father, I hope to be that bow. May the archer, the creator of life help me.

Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck”

What? A priest read a book with many F words? My response is “yes, I really enjoy reading this book actually”.

In this book, Mark said, “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience”.

Author Louise Hay wrote, “I find that when really love and accept and approve of ourselves exactly as we are, then everything in life works”.

Our acceptance of ourselves affirm us we are positive despite of the outside of us is negative. The realization of this itself is a positive experience. This experience helps me to deal with my depression and I will share my journey with you in the coming posts.

Lightly, be fluid

In Francine Jay’s book, “Lightly: how to live a simple, serene, and d stress-free life”, she wrote, “When we’re fluid, we let people, possessions, and ideas move into and out of our lives without becoming attached to them. We go through life with open arms, ready to welcome and to release. Instead of being rigid in our views and set in our ways, we greet change with flexibility, curiosity, and a sense of humor”.

Being fluid is the practice helping me to live through the pandemic.

Youth Mental Health

I went to a mall few days ago and I had a conversation with the salesperson. We talked about the pandemic. The salesperson told me her daughter is in her last year of high school. Her daughter told her that her classmates and friends have been very stressful in this school year. They have been trying hard to catch up the school and worried about the learning and how (and whether or not ) they could go to university. Schooling has been quite challenging for them in the midst of the pandemic. Many have been suffering from depression. I gave my business cards to the salesperson with the promise of continued prayer and free pastoral counselling to the family and the youth.

The pandemic is not over, please continue to “be kind, be calm and be safe”. Together, we can win the pandemic fight.

The things you can see only when you slow down

Haemin Sunim in his book, “the things you can see only when you slow down” wrote, “There is a famous Buddhist saying that everyone appears as buddhas in the eyes of the Buddha and everyone appears as pigs in the eyes of a pig. It suggests that the world is experienced according to the state of one’s mind. When your mind is joyful and compassionate, the world is, too. When your mind is filled with negative thoughts, the world appears negative, too. When you feel overwhelmed and busy, remember that you are not powerless. When your mind rests, the worlds also rests…Knowing our mind is just as important as trying to change the world”.

Self-awareness requires us to slow down. Once we slow down, we begin our journey of self discovery.