Who has influenced you? Are you even aware?

“We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far. “ Swami Vivekananda


It is easy to say our parents influenced our thought patterns – positively and or negatively. One might also suggest a political theorist we studied shaped who we are today. There are countless inspirational theorists, like the late George Dyer who in particular has guided conscious thought of legions of followers. Perhaps the music of an era’s iconic master, whose lyrics and composition was able to touch deeply into our soul, moulded us into the us we are. For many, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna or God via the hand of Moses, represents a timeless spiritual guidance that strongly influences our being.

My opening question today is, “Do we even recognize who or what has truly impacted who we are today?” The second question is, “Why does it even matter?”

An oft-used expression that can depict this learning cycle is “Life is a Journey.” But a journey is the planned traverse of moving from point A to point B. It theoretically implies that conscious or conscientious thought has been employed to go from “here” to “there”. We may drift through life unconsciously, not engaging in concrete or self determined actions and somehow we end up somewhere we never planned or intended. I am not sure that isn’t more an illustration of being caught up in a tidal wave or flood and being unceremoniously carried away without benefit of utilizing Google Maps or the Waze app. To me, that is not a journey. It wasn’t planned. It was an accident and can prove dangerous. That can also turn out to be a glorious opportunity.

We make mindful decisions based on knowledge, which may be imperfect, but at the time of that fateful decision we went into it with the desire to make a good decision replete with all the accessible information available to us at the time. No one wilfully proceeds on a course one knows in advance to be deleterious, disastrous or senseless. The only manner in which we make decisions is based on current knowledge (or emotion), and whether a bad decision was made and we wish to correct it, or a great decision was made and we hope to repeat it, recognize who or what influenced that decision and how you arrived at it. This is not easy work. Over the many years of our life we have been modeled or cognitively programmed (sort of brainwashed) to act in a certain way. What if that “way” is becoming progressively clearer to us as no longer serving us well?

Not serving us well? Are you angry a lot of the time? Have a short fuse? Are you often demoralized? Are you blaming others for your own shortcomings and failures? Do you often find yourself judging others? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then perhaps elements in your life are not serving you well. In other words, such a person may be leading an inauthentic life – not being true to who we are and finding ourselves in conflict with the person most important in our life – us.

I expect asking my second question is now redundant. If we are truly on a journey through life, we must first learn by adding newfound knowledge acquired through experience. As we prepare to adapt and to incorporate the lessons learned only then can we ultimately actualize the change we desire to see. We are given the gift to use the lessons presented before us and make the most of them. Whether we stumbled and failed, or soared and succeeded, harbouring gratitude to all those who were a part of our experiences is in my opinion – essential. Be grateful to your boss. Be grateful to your partner – past or present. Be grateful to your children. Be grateful to the songwriter. Be grateful to the Instagram message you read that shook your soul. Be grateful to the date turned bad for now you know.

Gratitude is the appreciation for all who touch us. Gratitude for all that we have learned. I am learning gratitude each and every day. To all those I have learned from, I am eternally grateful.

The Alchemist – read it for the first time – over and over again

“Why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?” the boy asked the alchemist. “Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


Find your self. Return home. Or as Coelho famously scribes, “follow [your] dreams.” After the miles I have proverbially travelled I am still bewildered that up until a couple of weeks ago I had never read The Alchemist. I can’t ever recall being more than abstractedly familiar with this classic. I appear to be in the minority – at least in certain circles. Even the young cashier clerk at one of the largest national bookstore chains in Canada upon seeing my purchase proudly proclaimed he reads it several times a year! Wow – I was filled with anticipation of what awaited me.

As the title of this blog suggests, I encourage you to read it for the first time, or if you have not read it for a while, read it again. Why you may ask?

We question our choices and ourselves continually. Some of us also do it for others – that is called judgement – another topic for sure – not unfamiliar in this space. We hesitate in making those big decisions. We ponder the efficacy of a possible directional change in our life. We give pause to our choice of a potential life partner or to our current one. We have ambitions for that dream job but settle for something inferior or below our capabilities because after all, we have to put food on the table etc.

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” – from The Alchemist

This is an illuminating line. At first glance one might presume this to be a selfish statement or goal in life. But I think it is entirely the opposite. I believe that realizing one’s destiny is demonstrating our ultimate strength, self-awareness, aptitude and mission in life, not selfishly, but for all those encircling our sphere in life. Think about it. If we are engaged in the ultimate quest for achieving our destiny, our loved ones, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and co-workers, heck even the person sitting beside us on the subway are all benefiting from our purpose in life. And for believers in a higher source or power, God, whatever that may be, what could be a greater calling than completely fulfilling that journey as it has been written? Coelho uses the Arabic, maktub.

A friend recently told me that if she were to die today, she would be at peace with that fate. At the time, her bold statement troubled and disturbed me feeling that she had so much more to yet realize in her beautiful life – and then I came across the following passage in The Alchemist:

“And, as the camel driver had said, to die tomorrow was no worse than dying on any other day. Every day was there to be lived or to mark one’s departure from this world.”

If anyone has been with a loved one as they ceased to breathe, to live, you know what that is like. It is almost indescribable – all those emotions, sorrow, but it is the same fate that awaits us all. How will we do it? What will it look like? But it will come. It will be that one day to “mark our departure.”

And let’s end here with love and the heart. We have all had heartbreak haven’t we? And not just from romantic relationships: Heartbreak from professional disappointment; Heartbreak from family anguish; And yes, heartbreak from a failed romance. It is all heartbreak. But what of it? What does a fulfilled heart and love mean?

“Because it is not love to be static like the desert, nor it is love to roam the world like the wind. And it’s not love to see everything from a distance … Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World … It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse.” – The Alchemist

Go buy the book and read about the Soul of the World.

When people surprise us

“Sometimes people surprise us. People we believe we know.”

Joyce Carol Oats


Aren’t surprises wonderful? Well, sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not. Receiving an unexpected phone call or text message from an old acquaintance – well, it depends right? Getting a perfectly appropriate and awesome birthday gift from a special friend can be both heartening and exhilarating. What does it mean when WE are surprised by certain actions, words or deeds from within our circle of friends, family or acquaintances?

We lead busy lives, and depending on the phase of our life at any given point in time, it can be excessively consumed by our studies, building a career, looking for a “life” partner (first, second or third time around), raising children and often times our busyness is a simultaneous combination of more than one of these key life stages. Compound all of that with the instantaneousness of our social media frenzy – we have an increasing proclivity of missing beautiful moments and people in our lives because we are just so damn busy.

I had a delightful opportunity recently to enjoy an evening out with several colleagues. We had a few beverages together before heading out for an elegant dining experience. “Letting our hair down” is an oft-used idiom implying foolish behaviour possibly induced by the consumption of alcohol or other substance yet it can also signify the lowering of personal walls that we build up and use as a protective barrier surrounding our interactions with those we encounter. These walls conceal who we truly are or mask our intentions deluding others into believing we are someone we are not. But on this evening, some of us exposed ourselves – not in a lewd or illegal manner of course, and it is entirely conceivable that the beverages induced this relaxed state, but I think it had more to do with slowing things down and providing our complete attentiveness to those surrounding us. And guess what? Many of us learned new attributes of character in the other that we never knew existed before. I for one was surprised.

Think of a normal day, with typical interactions with the usual cast of individuals within our circle of influence. What do we all talk about? Often it is about other people. People we think we know and we freely judge in discussion. Did you hear what so-and-so did? How dare they do that – who do they think they are? And we think we know of whom we are speaking – at least well enough to cast aspersions and judgment. Or it can be more subtle and less negative by having only a surface understanding of one’s character. People we think we know.


“Sometimes the most shocking surprises are also the most beautiful surprises.”

Lori Wilhite


So, is it worthwhile to get to know one another in a deeper manner? Perhaps we are still too busy for that. Sometimes it is blissfully too easy to continue our steady and familiar behaviours. Just moments ago on Facebook, a friend announced she was doing a “social experiment” to be nice to people on Twitter who disagree or have been mean to her. Imagine that – in this politically charged environment where we are often facing fiercely opposing viewpoints, to be nice to your antagonist? One of the first responses she received from one such individual was a lunch invitation.

I believe that we need to figure out how to slow things down or approach people differently, allowing us to better appreciate and respect one another, to judge and criticize less. Maybe by choosing this attitude, we will get to learn something new – not just about other people, but even more importantly, about ourselves – and wouldn’t that be the greatest surprise?