Friday, May 25, 2012

The Essense of Empowerment Lies Within

You are not your circumstances, your circumstances are you. Sounds cliche, huh? I though so too for a long time, but, looking back at where I have been, and how far I have come, I know it in the depths of my soul to be true. But what does this really mean anyway? Well, to me it means that when circumstances seem to be out of your control, all you must do is know that while you cannot control what life throws your way, you can be find solace in the fact that others have overcome challenges even greater than this and not only survived, but have thrived.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that "The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can't find them, make them." This sagely advice makes all the difference. If you do not like the current state, you have an obligation to yourself to change them. The best way to do that is, again the subject of a quote.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

It is by this ethos that I live, and also how I came to accomplish the things in life that I seek. It is what drove me to change my circumstances, not by trying to tackle all problems (which are opportunities in disguise) at the same time, but by being mindful of my thoughts, and by doing the next right thing. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Perhaps you have taken that first step already, or are taking it by reading this, and seeing what is possible.

I was in the Marine Corps several years ago, but this is not really about that. It is about my life after I got out. I slowly began to gain weight after I got out. I attribute this to a couple of major things. My circumstances had changed, but I had not. Also, I had no direction or motivation, or they were at least completely misaligned. I was hopelessly addicted to video games to the point that I became homeless, and had burned all the bridges with my family because of it. I chose to not work out, I chose to eat poorly... in general, I had no discipline and no willpower. I did not just gain weight, I lost my own personal sovereignty. The problem was not a microcosm, it was systemic. I tried, quite foolishly, to try to ignore my problems instead of confronting them. I knew on an intellectual level how to fix them, but I did not know how to emotionally.

I don't know the exact moment that began to change, but I know the general circumstances, which is the most important part. I had been working with my Dad building furniture for a couple years. that is another story, but it was really an exercise in futility. We were broke, to the point where we could only afford stuff off the dollar menu at McDonald's, so I was eating three or four double cheeseburgers a day, was stressed out, and was working 80 hours some weeks. My health began to fail, I was depressed, and was in a very dark place in my life. I would sit for hours, motionless, staring into the fire that heated our shop, and the place I was living. It was in this place that I did my most profound soul searching. I wanted a "normal" life, an end to the senselessness of a life with no fulfillment or hope. It was in this time I heard my inner voice for the first time. What a miracle! My life began to change; I got an apartment through the kindness of other, I enrolled in college, and I has given a bike. These were the only tools I needed to start to make a life for myself. I started to seize opportunities that others though were folly, and through sheer determination, dug myself out of seemingly bottomless hole I was in. I was put on this earth to do something, and I was going to try or die trying. 

  This is the earliest picture after I started school back in 2005, at approximately 315 pounds. This is also the first picture with my mom after being reunited after 15 years.

The bike, in particular, was a huge blessing. I remember the first time I road it. I could only go down the street before my legs turned to jelly and I could barely walk. I loved it; I knew what it was... freedom. I started just by riding to school, about half a mile. Man, did my legs get sore! I started to challenge myself; I would ride just a little further everyday. I started to lose weight, and before I knew it, I was riding for a couple hours at a time. 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles, 50 miles, 60 miles, 70 miles, 80 miles, 90 miles, 100 miles... I was a machine! There was nothing that could stop me! I was not just getting in incredible shape, I was excelling in school, making the President's list 3 semesters in a row, and Dean's list once. I decided to go to Texas Tech to finish my degree.

Here are few pics of me as I got in shape:

May, 2006

My first 50+ mile ride

Road Warrior!

Me in the best shape of my life, 200+ miles a week!

A few days before my life changed, again. 

So, I was running my life right? I was doing well in school, money was not a problem (for once) I was is sick shape, President of Texas Tech Cycling Club, and my family was proud of me! Wrong! I still had lessons to learn, and boy, were they a doozy! On January 6th, 2008 I was hit by a car when riding my bike. I collapsed my left lung and had broken ribs along my spine. I though that I would recover rather quickly, I was in great shape, right? Wrong again! I was severely overtrained, my body was at the breaking point, because I was not mindful of my nutrition. I was eating poorly all the time, drinking beer a few nights a week, and on a spiritual and mental level, was not respecting myself. This lead to the initial injuries spiraling into the depths of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia.

The next 3 years were hell. At my worst, I was sleeping 16 hours a day. My overworked brain shut down. I could barely form a coherent though. My body, so strong before, failed me. I started to gain weight, again. I had to quit school, I was broke again, living with my mom. I was heavily sedated, as if I was not, I was in physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. I was a burden to friends and family alike. I loathed what I had become. But still, I preserved. I would not give up... even if I was going to be disabled for the rest of my life, I was going to make the most of what I thought was the remnants of my life. I started to look at my life holistically. My physical well-being was tied to my emotional well-being, and they were both tied to my philosophical well-being. I worked as hard as I could to master my nutrition; my food became my medicine. However, as intangible as it was, my emotional perspective was critical to my recovery as well! It was in this time that I began to truly understand who I was and what my purpose was.

As ugly as it is, here is the descent into CFS:

I could barely stand at this point

In searching for what I wanted to do with my life. I had depended on other people so much, I wanted to return the favor, to take care of people instead. My philosophy began to change. I was largely confined to the house I was living in, with limited contact with the outside world, so I brought the world to me, through the internet. I started to inform myself, reading stuff on the internet for 10+ hours a day, questioning everything, and what role I played in the world at large. It was at this point that I started to on my journey to find my bliss. 

Guess what? When I started to do this, it was not long after that I started to recover from CFS. I began to look at life differently, and this shift of perspective was all that was needed. Yes, I had previously mastered myself physically, but what about philosophically and emotionally? It was not about the destination, it was about the journey. All I had to do was get up, do what I could do in a day, no more, no less. Do the next right thing. My body needed good nutrition, so I yielded. My mind needed something to do, I yielded. I could not control everything, but I could control some things.
I decided, regardless of the circumstances, I could control my perception of these things. I could still be goal-oriented as I ever was, but by truly focusing myself on making the world a better place.
I realized that you don't always get what you want, but you do get what you need. I had a purpose, and that purpose was to make other people's lives better, and, by doing so, I would make mine better. You may notice that in the earlier pictures, I was alone for the most part, but in the latter pictures, I am surrounded by family. Before, it was about what I could do for me. Now, it is about what I can do for other people. 

The Road to Recovery

A few days before I started my journey last year

Alida, one of my heroes

When you have this many sisters, you go to a lot of weddings.

So what has all this taught me? Exercise moderation in all things. The problems in life never go away, and that is a good thing. Remember, problems are opportunities in disguise. Its not about the things you own, the most important things you have are priceless. Life is your perspective dancing on the waters of possibilities. Wisdom is the fusion of experiences and perspective. Do not live in the past or the future, you only have right now.  Do not judge others on a different path than you, there are 10,000 doors to the Dharma. God works through people, so be good to others. In the end, all we leave in this world is the lives you have touched. Don't just be good, be good for something. In order to take care of other people, you have to take care of yourself. Everything in your life touches every other thing. Everything you need will come to you in time.You do not have all the answers, but you do have some. A fit mind begets a fit body. You are not perfect, perfection is a process in which you do the next right thing. Do not linger on your past failures, learn from them and move on. Focus on the small things and the big things will come. Listen to your heart and your head, they both possess merit. Treat people how you would like to be treated.

So I had a hard life, partially of my own making? So what, it is a small price to pay for the wisdom and empathy I have gained. So I lost 100 pounds, twice no less? So what, it is a small price to pay for health. So I don't have a car? So what, I have friends and family that love me. So I do not have that cookie-cutter white picket fence life? So what, I have priceless experiences, and all the tools I need to make my destiny... myself and those I chose to surround myself with. So I am not content with the ways of the darkness in the world? So I will be a light that shines in the darkness.

I dedicate this to my Grandmother and Grandfather, who's love showed me that through love, anything is possible.