…Peace Of Mind: Priceless

I had originally planned on posting this blog entry during the Christmas week. My thinking at the time was that peace of mind is essentially thee single most priceless present anyone can ever gift to themselves, especially during the wonderful but stressful holiday season.

However, once it had been fully completed, the original piece still felt void of some of the dramatic inspiration I had hoped to deliver. Thus, it just sort of floated around in digital suspension until I came up with another idea, which eventually became my last post, “11 Things Everyone Should Accomplish in 2o11”.

That like all things turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me an opportunity to do a tremendous amount of more reading & research on the proposed topic, and also experience a few events in my own life that have since contributed to my own personal perspective on the matter and feel that I am therefore more suited to help others improve in the same area.

The first event that happened was on New Year’s Day, when my family found out that my grandfather on my mother’s side had nearly lost all of his Toronto home of 40+ years to an electrical fire, one that would have surely cost him his own life had he been present at his home that afternoon. A very humbling occurrence to say the least.

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He lost essentially every material possession. Virtually everything was tainted by the poisonous smoke spit forth from the flames. Things with vast sentimental value from my late grandmother and other family members, antique furniture, and all the other treasures that he appreciated most from over the course of his long and fruitful life. The house had to be gutted and will be unlivable for several months. It is something that only makes one think – how does one possibly cope with a situation of that magnitude?

About a week later I returned to Chicago from Connecticut where I spent the holiday season with family, and began reading ‘The Things They Carried’, a collection of moving and powerful true stories that are stretched into fiction by author Tim O’Brien – once heralded by the San Francisco Examiner as “The best American writer of his generation,” – from his own deployment serving in the Army during the Vietnam War.

The book is more than just about the weapons, rations, & gear each man carried from day to day entrenched deep in the jungle, and much more about the emotional and psychological baggage that in most cases burdens each man during and after the War.

The memories from back home, the sentimental objects they each hold most dearly to keep faith or superstition alive, the thoughts that fill their heads each night while they’re laying in their foxholes of family & friends, girlfriends & wives, god and the evils that lurk in the infinite darkness of the night.

The combination of reading this incredible book just days after my family had been confronted with such a traumatic experience made me reflect on the thoughts & memories I carry with me each day; what I own and possess that is truly necessary; the relationships that are most important to me; the things in life I hold closest to my own heart.

So many of us hang onto the past, worried about how it still might cast shadow over the near future. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But I’m also much more adept at overcoming these limiting beliefs in my head than most.

I owe much of that mental resilience to what I once thought was a far more tragic youth than most endure: my parents being divorced, the loss of my father at a much younger age (both his and mine) than most experience — and the growth I’ve made since during my short adult life.

All of that coupled with my initial martial arts training and the studies that have followed have allowed my mind to remain still while the world seemingly swirled at times violently around me.

This skill for remaining cool under duress has not developed without habitual practice and continuous, conscious improvement of patience.

In my youth although often calm on the surface my temperament was far from balanced, often getting into trouble at school and into scuffles and fights over trivial matters – someone swiping my St. Louis Cardinals off my head, or an insult directed by someone towards one of my friends.

“If an individual has a calm state of mind, that person’s attitudes and views will be calm and tranquil even in the presence of great agitation.” ~Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

It wasn’t until I had left the junior college I was attending and basketball behind, and after my father’s death, that I really started taking my own self improvement seriously. I most often spent my afternoons alone, thoroughly abusing Barnes & Nobles’ browsing policy, attacking books on philosophy & poker to help strengthen my resolve on and off the felt.

The post you find underneath this one relates to playing in PokerStars recent tournament promotion, the World Bloggers Championship on Online Poker. It was a terrific, well organized series overall that allowed ample opportunities to win many valuable Sunday major & upcoming SCOOP seats as well as other tourny buyin packages. It was a challenge the week before hand that I was truly looking forward to and spent lots of time preparing for by watching training videos and studying hand histories in order to take full advantage of.

Unfortunately, over the course of the week I experienced what would be labeled as rather excruciating variance, and although I managed to still qualify for the main event the results I produced over the course of the series were rather irrelevant. It was frustrating. I do not like losing.

What I do to cope with all the turmoil in my life, relax, and continue moving forward is a blend of daily brief meditation sessions, MMA practice and physical training, a healthy diet, consistent reading & writing, and a general optimistic outlook on life and everything in it that I appreciate with much gratitude.

“The process of clearing the mind through meditation is a priceless practice.” ~Phil Jackson, Sacred Hoops

It is very true this is easier said than done. However I thought I would share a story from a few weeks ago during that time period that helped me stay motivated and focused and also offer insight into how I keep my mind at ease during difficult stretches and moments of turmoil.

The 29th of January was a Saturday and included the last event scheduled before the WBCOOP ME the next day. It had rained gently in the early morning, {pre-winter rapture snowstorm} and although there was some snow still left on the ground, it was a relatively warm afternoon.

With my main event qualification already secure there was no thought on my mind other than winning. After a few hours of play and the bubble approaching, I got my aces cracked allin preflop for my tourny life for what would have been an above average stack.

It was dejecting. I probably threw a pen or something across the room, which is uncharacteristic of me and just sort of slumped down into the corner of the couch for a few minutes. As all players know this sort of occurrence is inevitable and happens more frequently with increased volume, but it usually still feels like you got hit in the mouth.

It’s never busting that actually bothers me, it’s knowing there were little openings and spots I could have played better, more precisely, extracting more value. If you’re not careful things like that will keep you awake at night.

I knew I needed to blow off some steam, and it was the perfect time to go for a run. I hadn’t done much cardio over the holidays in CT and the winter in the City of Wind is far from jogging friendly.

First though, I completed my DragonFire routine that I learned when I began training MMA two years ago. It’s a series of concentrated breaths and focused flexes that resembles a dragon breathing fire. If you can imagine Neo flexing and bending The Matrix after killing Agent Smith at the end of the first movie – that is how it makes you feel.

I knelt down on a couch pillow, putting my weight on my heels and closed my eyes for a few moments, doing my best to clear the clouds in my head and “just be.”

I did a set of REAL pushups and stretched briefly in the same position, then layered up in a pair of grey Champion sweats under black Champion warmup pants. I put on a black Nike Pro Combat long sleeve (ninja) under a Nike Arsenal Dri-Fit, a grey Jordan pullover hoody, a grey Nike beanie and laced up a pair of Nike running shoes.

I learned previously from my time playing college soccer @ Robert Morris to warm up properly that one should literally jog as slow as possible to keep proper form and prevent injury, and that is what I almost always do.

I started across Lincoln park, headphones underneath my hat, bumping T.I. on my Zune, heading east around North Pond and down Fullerton before cutting north along Diversey Harbor’s frozen surface.

The gravel path was wet and the small section of it where everyone had been running was sloppy with poor footing, so I decided I’d blaze my trail.

I remember seeing a dead squirrel on the path and wondering how it could have died in between trees. Not strong enough? Didn’t prepare well enough for the winter? Maybe some biker nailed it going full speed. I remember thinking ‘I won’t let that be me.’

I usually turn west once I reach the driving range and loop around back home, but I had never been any further. Something just told me to keep going.

As I continued down Belmont Trail, I remember a rather attractive young woman running by in the opposite direction who smiled. I remember thinking I should have stopped and turned around even as I kept running. Then I wondered why she didn’t stop and how I wished she would have.

I continued past picnic grove #13 and saw a couple throwing a frisbee for their dogs to chase after. I made my way through the tunnel underneath Lake Shore Drive and turned north towards the marina. I remember looking over my shoulder and thinking a car could literally fly off the road and smear me into a tree at any moment, which is the kind of thing I find funny in some sick, twisted way.

I decided at this point to just walk for a minute, as it had already been about 2 miles and I was unsure of which direction I wanted to continue. Instead of following the trail I decided to walk into the marina parking lot and towards Lake Michigan. ‘All The Above’ by Maino was playing in my ears as I walked through the blotches of grass in between snow banks wondering why I had never done this or been here before.

By this time the sun was setting behind the clouds, and the purple sky was beginning to melt over Sears Tower and the rest of the Chicago skyline. I remember seeing the lights on the ferris wheel on Navy pier.

Planes were flying in westbound over the lake in a straight line towards the airport although I’m not sure which one.

For a while I just walked along the snowy steps leading down closer to the water, listening to the surf crash softly against the barrier.

I headed down near the entrance to the marina harbor where there were two park benches facing opposite directions, both equally dangerously close to the waters’ edge and I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll just stand.’

Eventually I slowly worked my way over the thin layer of ice surrounding them and sat on the one facing the city first. The colors of the clouds were starting to creep along the tall condo buildings, following the dim street lamps and traffic up along the shoreline.

I remember seeing a V of Canadian geese fly over head, and a few Mallard ducks bobbing in the water that was thinly layered with icy sheets that looked like glass.

After about 5 minutes I switched benches, and moved to the one adjacent that looked out over the inland sea. As I went to sit down, I noticed a phrase written in black across one half of the length of the wooden planks that made up the seat.

“Though I sail my ship alone, still there are mutinies.”

I stood puzzled for a moment, wondering just what the Hell this bench was trying to tell me. I sat down on the quote, mildly fascinated.

After a few minutes I remember feeling the darkness and cold of night starting to collapse around me. Satisfied with the experience, I got up and headed back in the direction which I came.

There were rabbits everywhere as I walked across the myriad of grassy patches in between the snow, and I remember thinking that’s where the term “Fuck like rabbits” comes from. As I was leaving I saw a raccoon scurry along the the yacht club dock.

I un-paused my Zune and skipped to the next random song on the play list, Jay-Z’s “Can I Live” off his first album, Reasonable Doubt. I got back onto the trail and began the slow jog back home. I remember seeing a guy heading into the underpass before me in shorts and thinking to myself “That guy is a fucking idiot.”

On I went back past the picnic groves, the driving range, and along the frozen harbor. By now the blackness of the night was true and the tune had changed to Curren$y’s ‘Invincible Jets’ as I passed the zoo and wildlife museum and crossed over into Lincoln Park in the direction of Lakeview.

As I got closer to the edge of the park I slowed to a walk, coincidentally approaching the building to the beginning of Notorious B.I.G.’s Your Nobody{Til Somebody Kills You} where Diddy recites the Lord’s Prayer.

I entered the apartment building and into the elevator, and had totally forgotten about everything that had happened earlier in the day. I felt incredible really. No stress remained from what I had previously considered a missed opportunity.

Whenever you feel suffocated by a bad day, I would encourage you to take some deep breaths. Smile. Look around and be thankful for everything you have, even if it only your life. For as long as your heart still beats you still have the power to change your misfortune into many glorious victories.

“Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.” ~Christian Larson

Think about exactly where you are. Your city, state, country, planet Earth, Milky Way galaxy, one of hundreds of millions of galaxies in a vast universe that may itself be only one of many. There are events in motion now happening across the unknown as you sit reading this that you could not even begin to imagine that are so epic and extraordinary you would be foolish to sulk over a missed traffic light or a bad test grade, a river one-outer or a disenchanting performance.

There is no wasted motion in life. No failure is ever final and you’re never defeated unless you give up and stop fighting. The journey itself is the reward. Your mind is your primary weapon. Make it your best one.

“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” ~Lao Tzu

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~ by therealJWilliam on February 21, 2011.

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