Saturday, December 17, 2011

Love Your Life

How are you, NIP?

            Good, I hope. I don’t know how I’d describe my current state. I feel such a mix of emotions for many different reasons, and I’m still in the process of sorting all of it out. We all must wade through rough patches in our lives from time to time, but it’s how we face those challenges that makes all the difference. The last three months of my life in particular have been some of the most difficult I’ve faced in the last few years, but the progress I’ve made in my personal development has helped me mitigate the potential negative effects of these events. We all have this ability to deal with tough times in a positive way, it just takes the proper perspective, persistence and—of course—patience. And if there were a single secret to my success in becoming a more positive person over these past few years, it would be this—love your life.

            To say that we must love our lives might border on the banal, but to truly love our lives specifically or to love “life” in general takes courage. Courage to face those trying times, accept our limitations, and still see how we can learn and grow from those events. The quote of the week I had up in class the final five days before winter break is one of my favorites from Epictetus’ Encheiridion: Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well. A major part of learning to love life wholeheartedly is accepting both the bad along with the good. We cannot always have “good” things happen to us; it’s both impossible and impractical. How would we even know what “good” events are if we never experience the “bad”? We’ve wrestled with this idea a great deal in philosophy class over this past semester, and even these young adults recognize that some unsavory experiences cannot be avoided—and it is usually these that are the most necessary for our personal growth and development of wisdom. But how can we put these unfortunate events in proper perspective? How can we love life—and our individual life in particular—if these seemingly “bad” moments in our lives try to derail our development as better human beings? It’s easier than it seems, NIP, all it takes is embracing the whole rather than latching onto the pieces.

            This final week in school before the holiday break, we were wrapping up the semester-length survey course in philosophy by concluding our studies with Nietzsche. I love Nietzsche for so many reasons, but I’m not going to enumerate them all. He often gets a bad rap for some of the more famous aphorisms he uttered, but that negative view of him typically lacks a thorough understanding of his full body of work and the historical context in which it arose. To be honest, while I don’t agree with everything he espoused, there is one idea that I cherish above all others when it comes to his genius: amor fati. Amor fati is a Latin phrase that Nietzsche coined for “the love of fate,” or more specifically, “the love of one’s own fate.” At his core, Nietzsche was the ultimate affirmer, encouraging humanity to fully embrace life and all that it entails. He often couched the idea of “amor fati” within the framework of the myth of eternal recurrence, which fundamentally asks of us this question: would you still say “Yes” to life if you had to live it all over again in the exact same manner? Not one single event, choice, or circumstance differs—would you still concur? Granted this is best answered by someone who has lived a full and rich life, but I think the thought experiment can be done at any age. My students had great answers when we discussed it in class, and they range from ages 16-18; some said yes, others said no. Whichever answer the student gave, however, both sides hinged upon the suffering aspect of life, the “bad” that happens to us, specifically the elements over which we have little or no control. When they turned the question on me, I immediately responded with “the sacred Yes” of which Nietzsche spoke. Though I am only 36 and hope to experience all of what life has to offer for many more years, I know in my heart that I could never turn away from the cup. There are many reasons why I feel this way, but the most basic of these is that life is incredible. I mean that in the most literal sense, too. lists the definition as “so extraordinary as to seem impossible.” So when I reflect on the life I’ve led up to this point, the choices I’ve made, the circumstances that have forced certain events, the sum total of all “good” and “bad” things in my life, I can’t help be astounded by the odds of my personal fate that I’ve sculpted in that time. Perhaps others might not see my life or life in general as being incredible, but that precisely is the heart of the issue—we must “see” it for ourselves.

            In addition to amor fati, Nietzsche was an advocate of perspective in that he tried to prove how everyone has his/her individual perspective on any given matter. This may seem a trite observation at first, but it should not be overlooked due to its impact. As you know by now, NIP, we make choices to sculpt our lives. One of the choices that is always available to us in any situation, though, is one we often neglect to overlook—the choice of our disposition. More often than not, we allow external events to greatly influence our sense of well-being. It’s only natural and some events will affect us more than others. It is precisely in these moments that we must recognize that we are the sole arbiters of our perspective and the easiest way to do this is to embrace the totality of life. Events aren’t good or bad and shouldn’t be seen as such. This isn’t to say that we don’t experience joy and sadness because we obviously do. But what they both have in common—just like any good or bad moment—is that they are ephemeral. The only way these events have any sway over us is when we make them permanent by labeling them one way or the other and then trying to revisit them in our minds. It’s never easy to let go. With patience and practice, though, we can cultivate a positive perspective on any given event, even the ones that bring us heartache…

            This is the incomparable Brit. The above picture was taken about 2 months ago, shortly after her biopsy had been done. After some major complications with post-surgery side effects, Erin and I knew that regardless of the biopsy results surgery was never going to be an option again. The results came back positive for bone cancer, with the doctor estimating anywhere from 3-12 months. Brit was nearly 12 at this point (quite old for a Boxer, which typically average 8-10 years) and she had lived a wonderful life. This past weekend, the tumor in her mouth had nearly quadrupled in size and we made the decision to prevent further suffering and spent the entire weekend with her by her side. On Monday we said our goodbyes and finally let her go. To say that it has been emotionally difficult this past week would be the understatement of the year. But even in the midst of this particularly egregious hardship, I can’t help thinking about all of the “good” moments of our life with her. Though it may sound crazy to some readers, I’ve probably learned more from Brit in these last few years than just about any book I read, insight I had, or any yoga teacher I studied under. Why? Because she embodied what it means to be “good,” to be happy even in the most challenging of circumstances (see above picture for evidence), and to always greet others—even total strangers—with warmth, generosity, patience, and love. She was a constant reminder for me to come back to the present moment, that life is fleeting and I should enjoy each and every minute that I am surrounded by family, friends, and my students. She also taught me to have fun at any given moment, to look at the world with endless curiosity and amazement, to always be myself and never be ashamed of the love I have to offer others. And it is for her dharma, her teachings, that I will always remember and cherish her. She may have left us physically, but Brit will forever be part of our hearts and, in essence, live on through us.

            I love my life, NIP. I love all of life. I think it’s amazing to even have been given this opportunity to breathe. But I wasn’t always this way. I can easily recall points only about a decade ago when I flat out hated my life in certain moments. It has taken me a long time to get to this point, but I really do believe the secret is opening ourselves up to all possibilities. We cannot only have good experiences, there will be challenging ones as well. In embracing life in its entirety, it’s allowed me to grow exponentially as a person. Moreover, the moments in which we must contend with hardship are most often the ones that bear the best fruit in the end. They have the ability to alter our perspective, to expand the growing edge of our understanding in this life. And the more that edge emanates outward, the easier it becomes to embrace life and be grateful for the simplest of things. I have an extremely rewarding marriage with a wonderful woman, a family who supports and encourages me in all that I do, friends who genuinely care about me by sharing in my triumphs and trials, and I am a teacher, which I means I get to be my nerdy self and pass on what knowledge and wisdom I’ve accrued to gifted young minds who will go on to do something positive in this world…and of course I have you, NIP, always there with a listening ear (or reader’s eye?). Like I said earlier, life is incredible.

Love your life, NIP, it’s the only one you’ve got.

- Ryan   

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Awaken The Sleeper

Nobody in Particular,

            I was 14 when I bought my first “journal.” It was a small, sky blue hardcover notebook, actually. At first I didn’t write anything in there other than quotes: mostly musings from movies and music that motivated me. And on the opening page I scrawled words that still move me to this day—The Sleeper Must Awaken. It’s from David Lynch’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, which certainly left an indelible impression on my 9 year old mind. I can certainly understand its allure now; it’s the archetypal hero’s journey. It’s probably why other favorite films from my youth would include the original Star Wars trilogy, Krull, and Clash of the Titans. The short line is the closing statement delivered by a father to his son (main character), foreshadowing his future and eventually becoming a major motif in the movie. Here’s the full quote:

A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep within, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.

            The “sleeper,” then, to me, is the hidden potential within each and every single one of us. For the last few years since I’ve begun radically transforming my life, I keep wondering if “the sleeper” is finally stirring from its slumber. Perhaps it is awake and the changes that have transpired have been wrought directly because of it. I can’t tell for certain one way or another, but I can be certain that by trying to wake “the sleeper” that lies within each of us we are all capable of greatness. I suppose I should offer a disclaimer by stating the obvious—greatness, like success, is best realized through one’s own definition of it. I’m sure to most people my sense of greatness doesn’t stack up against the standard dream of American culture; greatness in that realm is synonymous with wealth and fame, unfortunately. The kind of greatness or success that I envision is more akin to a human life well lived, one in which a person’s passion for living is immediate and infectious. My students often compliment me on how positive I am and how much I seem to genuinely enjoy life—but what’s not to enjoy? There is boundless beauty at all turns if we’re willing to see it, just as there is untold wealth in loving relationships with family and friends. And the more we realize these ideas, the more they transform themselves into actions that sustain us.

            Action, however, is the key to waking the sleeper. This is where many people fall short for a variety of reasons, but more often than not this is due to misperceptions. As I mentioned in the previous letter, we cannot simply believe in our ideals, we must live them. This week in philosophy class, we are studying one of my favorite philosophers who has deeply influenced my own thinking and living—William James. I’m sure I may have mentioned him in earlier letters and, much like Aristotle, James believed that the point of philosophy was to inform us how to live life well. Moreover, he asserted that people fundamentally fall into two categories: those who choose safety, security, and compliance, and those who choose to take calculated risks through courageous action. To me, the first group are those who have been beaten down psychologically enough to have given up on their hopes, dreams, and aspirations—the sleeper is still dormant; the latter group, though, are those who foster what James called the “strenuous mood,” a constant commitment to action in the pursuit of our passions that allows us to flourish in this life. James realized that struggle and effort are vital elements of what constitutes “the good life.”

At this point, NIP, I’m sure you’re wondering as to why I even bring up James, but in truth he is the impetus to this letter because of a quote from one of his books I came across in our philosophy textbook this week: “The capacity for the strenuous mood probably lies slumbering in every man, but it has more difficulty in some than in others in waking up.” When I read that, the first words that popped into my head were the ones from Dune, the quote that has resonated with me for nearly 30 years. In truth, I think everyone is capable of waking the sleeper. It is at the very core of who we are as individuals, but we are perhaps afraid to let it out. Whether it be social conditioning, our own individual fears of how others will perceive us, or any other of the myriad reasons (read: excuses) we tell ourselves for why we should not be true to ourselves and our dreams, I’m here to tell you that I was that person too. But I’m not anymore and I’ll never be that person again. I’m too busy moving forward, purposefully progressing. And that’s the real key. Progress comes incrementally through the steady application of “the strenuous mood.” We often get hung up with outcomes because our culture is based on results, but that’s a mistake. Personal growth isn’t about outcomes, it’s about improvement. Moving along unwaveringly as we face obstacles—whether they be of our own mental making or challenges in our outer lives—is how we shake up not only ourselves, but “the sleeper” as well. In parting, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from James, as it sums up what we all need to do in order to maximize our human potential: “Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

Awaken the sleeper, NIP…

- Ryan

P.S. – I know I’m about a week late, but I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.
P.P.S. - Special Bonus: Here's the scene from Dune I was talking about:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Walking the Path

Hello NIP,

            Early this past spring semester, one of my students said something during a side conversation we were having privately just before class began. He told me that his parents thought I was a “youthful idealist” and I didn’t know how to take that for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m in my mid-30s. I still feel “youthful” but I’ve experienced enough of life and gleaned enough wisdom to warrant perhaps a different descriptor; 2) even more surprising was being branded an “idealist,” as I never saw myself as one because I’ve often thought of myself as too pragmatic to be idealistic. But after a great deal of wrestling with this notion, I’ve finally come to see that in many ways I have transformed into an idealist, something I never thought would have been possible. For much of my youth—especially beginning with my parents’ divorce in my “tween” years—I became and was a hardened cynic. I distrusted the motives of others and even myself, but I think this worldview was more of a social defense mechanism than what I genuinely believed deep down. I had certain convictions that I wanted to order my life around, yet was unable to do so because of the barriers I had built. Little did I know that in time those walls would come tumbling down and I would be this person writing letters of encouragement to nobody in particular.

            When I went back to college at age 23, I had no idea what I wanted out of my education, which may have been the best thing for me. This allowed me to explore my interests without any preconceived notions about what those interests would eventually lead to in terms of job prospects, salaries, etc. I just wanted to learn at the time, but I know now that what I really wanted to learn about was life and my place in it. It only seems natural, then, that I became overwhelmingly consumed by the timeless questions for which there are no easy answers and ended up studying primarily religion and philosophy. About a year into these pursuits, the film The Matrix came out and only reinforced my interests in pursuing these eternal issues. And while there is tons of great material from that one movie, the line that has been sticking out in my head for the last few months is one that Morpheus says to Neo: “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” It sounds so simple that it borders on being a platitude. But from this one realization I think much of our personal progress and happiness in/with life stems. I’d imagine that just about every single person has ideals by which they live—or at least claim to live—but don’t follow through with them. I think the breakdown between how we ideally want to live and the way we actually do live is what causes our own dissatisfaction (whether we own up to it or not). As I described it in a speech to our graduating Honor Court two years ago, it’s the difference between espousing our ideals and living them. When I began to change my life for the better a few years ago, it began with not just believing in my ideals with words but by living them out with actions.

            As I mentioned earlier, this letter has been a long time in the making. I’ve churned this idea over and over in my mind, trying to narrow down the ideals I thought were the most crucial to helping me transform into who I am today. Even that sounds misleading because these three are certainly neither the only ideals I have nor have they attained any sort of culmination. Life is a work in progress and we must strive to live out our ideals to the fullest in order to foster any meaningful change, but these three represent the foundation, if you will, for who I am in the process of becoming. Moreover, these three are listed in a specific order, as I personally believe we must begin with ourselves before moving on to our immediate community and ultimately our entire world. So after more than a decade of study and reflection on life’s essential questions, here’s what I’ve whittled it down to…

            Integrity. This one word represents what it means to “walk the path.” Integrity is the first step on said path because in order to become the best of who we are meant to be we must make the right choices in every aspect of life. When I was younger, I clearly knew what the right thing to do was in any given situation but I often let my base desires win out, whether it meant succumbing to eat like a glutton when I was already depressed about my weight or stealing change from my mother’s purse to buy some worthless item. Granted my lack of follow through was more in my youth, but as I grew older—and especially coming into contact with classical philosophy—the ideal of living a virtuous life became incredibly important to me. It wasn’t until I met Erin and began this process of transformation that it really took on new meaning for me. As I entered my third decade I only began to truly appreciate that our integrity is the only thing (albeit an abstract thing) that we will truly ever own. Perhaps even more importantly, when you truly follow through on your convictions and live your ideals rather than just talking about them, life gets much easier. If there are no discrepancies between what you say and how you act, your relationships with others become stronger and more genuine. Plus, the lack of artifice makes our lives more organic in the sense that it frees us to be who we truly are on the inside. Much like I mentioned in an earlier letter concerning Howard Thurman, the more we integrate our “public persona” with our “private self” the more we streamline our lives into a seamless whole.

            Egalitarianism. Once we have taken care of ourselves and ordered our own lives into a meaningful existence, we can then work toward the greater good—the other. While it is important to get one’s own affairs in order to have a fulfilling life, I personally believe that a life of fulfillment is a life of service. The only reason we must order our own lives is so that we have a stable foundation upon which to stand tall and help others achieve their dreams. My egalitarianism stems from my two favorite spiritual teachers, Jesus (by extension Thurman and Merton also) and The Buddha, both of whom taught a doctrine of equality among all human beings. If we want to be happy in this life, it truly rests in making others happy and a precursor for doing just that is recognizing everyone in the world as equal. I’m not saying that we are equal in our capacities, but on a fundamental level we are all equal in that we have been given this same incredible opportunity at life. We all think, we all have emotions, we all have families and the list could go on forever. Even scientifically it’s been genetically proven that all human beings are 99.4% the same. Six-tenths of one percent represents all the outward variation we see in our world, and for centuries have used those minor, insignificant differences to label, denigrate, enslave, maim, or kill each other…all because of wrong convictions. We must learn to treat each other as equals no matter who we are if we are ever to understand the complex web of interconnectivity and interdependence in which we live.

            Something More. I love this phrase. This is my go-to explanation for anything that I would otherwise designate as ineffable or beyond expression with words. This, to me, is the undercurrent behind all of life. If you’ve read any of the older letters, NIP, I’ve alluded to this before—namely, life is completely miraculous. You can take that in any sense you wish, but to me it doesn’t matter if you attribute the miracle to spirit or science because one must fundamentally arrive at the same conclusion that either way you look at it or contemplate the odds of existence life is miraculous. Having grappled with many suppositions concerning the origins and nature of the universe/life over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what you call it. The label will never capture the essence of anything in this life, which is why I’ve always fallen back on my description of “something more.” I don’t rationally “know” that there is something more, but I intuitively feel that there is. Moreover, there is no point in giving “it” a label; labels only limit us and our thinking, whereas living in the moment and truly appreciating what we have been given with this chance to live and breathe as part of this miraculous phenomenon allows us to simply exist without those limitations. Perhaps I am akin to an ancient Israelite who knew labels can do no justice; they dared not “name” the ultimate power because that would limit it to human conception and comprehension. The force that lies behind all life cannot be encapsulated as such—it cannot be “known” only “experienced.” These last few years especially have helped me “pierce the veil,” so to speak, on this illusion. Every last atom in this universe came from somewhere and is directly responsible for the life we have been given, and I believe it is intellectual hubris for us to try and ever capture and understand this experience with words. All I intuitively know is that there is something inexplicable at the ground of being, the substrate of all existence. And whatever this “something more” is, I am eternally grateful for it and the interconnectedness it provides for all in this amazing life.

            I’ve been walking the path for a few years now, NIP, and I would encourage you to do the same. This may mean tempering some priorities in favor of others, but it will ultimately lead to a better life. The ideals that you find most important may not necessarily be the same as mine, but they should be congruous and working together to build a strong foundation for the life you want to lead. Perhaps we all figure this out as we age and the phenomenon I have experienced is something older readers may have already been through. Either way, it has taken me months to come to grips with this student-given epithet but after much reflection I have to agree. I have become an idealist. I may not ever achieve perfection with any of these ideals, but I will ardently strive toward their realization in order to help me become the best person I am capable of becoming. You can do the same, NIP; your ideals may be slightly different than someone else’s, but as long as those ideals foster personal growth within you and a desire to change the world for the better outside of you then they’re noble goals. If you’ve been staring at your path (knowing) wondering how you’re going to change, NIP, all you have to do is take the first step and let the momentum carry your forward. Once you begin walking your path, your ideals will transform from words to actions and it will make all the difference.

Walk the path, NIP…

- Ryan  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Building Momentum

How’s life treating you, NIP?

            Well, I hope. If I were facing my current circumstances about 3 years ago, I probably would have had a meltdown by now. Life has been throwing just about everything possible at me the last few weeks and I sometimes I wonder if I’ll be able to keep up the juggling without dropping something. In the last month my grandmother has passed, we found out that one of our dogs is terminally ill, we lost one of the feral cats we have taken care of for the last 3 years, and school has been out of control with formal observations, evaluations, trying to keep up with my new courses…the list could go on forever. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar in your life at some point, NIP, which is why I feel this letter’s subject is so crucial. Even in the midst of life’s most hectic stretches of time, we must still continue to better ourselves. Though it may be more difficult to fit in that quality time to develop ourselves, we must find a way to keep building our momentum.

            This past summer was quite a high point in my recent life; I got to spend nearly every single moment with my best friend and lovely wife, Erin. Being that we’re both teachers and have the essentially the same schedule, most summers have offered us this opportunity. And when you add in our long daily yoga practices together, I felt as if we grew tremendously as both individuals and a couple. We both approached the new academic year with excitement and energy, but quickly realized after a few weeks of school that this year was going to be challenging. Between the new classes for me and Erin’s new students, we were initially overwhelmed. After a few weeks it seemed to be getting better, but Mémère’s passing marked the beginning of the tumultuous times that Erin and I have been facing. And yet as crazy as some of the days have been, I always manage to find some small victory among the rubble of chaos. That’s the secret, NIP; always be on the lookout for the tiny accomplishments that propel you in the direction of that better person you want to become.

            While the transformations we seek in ourselves will not happen instantly, they are worth the struggle. The important thing is to never quit on your personal growth, to keep striving toward that better person you know you are capable of becoming. Over time you’ll discover that as you chip away at your magnum opus, your life’s work of art, the image that begins to emerge from the stone will drive you even more. As anyone who has ever created anything will tell you—whether created through words, paint, music, wood, plants, whatever—that moment of creation when you begin to see the results of your dedication and diligence is incredibly gratifying. It is the same with our personal development; in those moments when we realize we were more patient or generous or whatever other quality you’ve tried to cultivate, it is a victory over our old ways, our old selves. And it is precisely these moments that allow us to build momentum. Just as the word implies, the more momentum we generate, the easier it is to move forward in with our undertaking of becoming the best of who we are.

            As we continue to build this momentum in our lives, it has a hidden benefit of which I was completely unaware until these past few weeks. When life gets out of control, the momentum we’ve built holds us steady internally. We may be slogging along to some degree through life on the outside, but the momentum we’ve harnessed gives us the energy and perseverance to see us through to another day, to keep striving toward that ceaseless goal of discovering the best of who we are. By being aware of even the most minute of personal victories, this keeps that momentum churning. And so long as that momentum churns, we have enough energy in reserve to press on in our quest. Life may have a way of dampening our spirits when there is so much to do in so little time, but we must be sure to take time and check in with ourselves. Even if it is just by stopping for five minutes to close our eyes and do some deep breathing, it helps. The momentum that is built in better times will inevitably carry you through the difficult ones, NIP. Our inner fire will blaze at times, smolder during others. The important thing is that we are mindful of the fire—and stoke it when necessary to keep it burning.

Keep building your momentum, NIP…

- Ryan

Friday, September 30, 2011

Year of the Mantra

Greetings NIP,

            I just recently finished another inspirational read: Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. I still haven’t gotten around to actually watching the lecture, but I’d imagine it’s excellent. The premise of the book is that Carnegie-Mellon professors whose careers/contributions been have particularly noteworthy are asked to give a “last lecture,” a chance to answer the hypothetical question “if you were to give a last lecture, what would it be about?” Pausch—a computer science guy with terminal pancreatic cancer—certainly pulled no punches with his. The book is a detailed account of what went into making the speech, his family life, the lessons learned through his illness, and the values he holds dear among other topics. And while there were many memorable lines in the book, the one that has stuck out the most in my mind is both simple and profound:

Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.

As I’ve mentioned in previous letters, I believe that the battle for becoming the best of who we are—of maximizing our individual potential—is won in the mind. By taming the undisciplined mind, we become the architects of our dreams. We learn that we might not be able to control all of the external circumstances of our lives, but we do have much control over how we react to them. There are lots of ways to accomplish this acceptance, from meditation to cognitive behavioral therapy. But one way that most people often overlook is repetition.

Whether you’re talking about lifting weights, memorizing definitions, playing a musical instrument it takes practice, practice, practice. And what happens through practice, through repetition? We get better at whatever it is we are trying to improve. So why don’t we try to improve the way that we think? It’s easier than you’d suspect, NIP. All you need to do is create a mantra. In the traditional sense, a mantra is a short prayer that is repeated over and over until it becomes engrained in the fabric of one’s spirit. In a contemporary, slightly more secular sense, a mantra can be a short, affirmative statement that is repeated over and over until it becomes automatic in the mind. If you recall the letter “Gratitude for the Here and Now,” you may remember my gratitude mantra that I created around the time of my 35th birthday: I am grateful for this life, I am grateful for this day, I am grateful for this moment, I am grateful for this breath, I am grateful. Well, after repeating this to myself several times per day for more than a year, I can attest firsthand that it works. This mantra is usually the first thoughts to enter my mind when I wake in the morning. Then, when I get to my mat for yoga in the morning, I repeat it again during the first five dirgha breaths I take while standing in tadasana. And now that I’ve taught my students the dirgha breathing technique, I find myself repeating the mantra as each class starts. And the more I say it, the more I feel it inside and show it outside.

There’s lots of great research being done in the fields of cognitive science, neurology, and contemplative studies currently, and as our knowledge of the mind increases I think humanity will be able to unlock even further untapped potential. The mind is our most powerful ally in how we perceive ourselves and our world, but it can also be our greatest enemy if we let it run amok. By beginning with a mantra, we start small. But through the repetitive practice, we literally change our minds over time. Little by little, the thought makes itself manifest in our actions. These actions only reinforce the thought in a reciprocal process and before you know it becomes a part of you. So what will be your mantra, NIP? It doesn’t have to be 5 lines like mine, it can be just one if you’d like. What’s more important is that you choose something personal, perhaps a quality you want to cultivate or an affirmation of a goal you hope to accomplish. Whatever you choose you must then tell yourself with conviction, several times a day. If you are beginning or currently have a meditation practice, perhaps you could repeat your mantra as a focal point. It may take time before it becomes routine, but once it does it begins to take on a life of its own and before you know it you'll think and feel like a new person.

The benefits await, NIP!

- Ryan

P.S. – I would just like to make a blanket statement of “thank you” to all who read the previous letter and either emailed to express their condolences or wrote letters to family members. Life certainly has been crazy lately and I wish I could write more, but I needed to write this brief letter today to share my gratitude for all of you—my readers—for making this a worthy endeavor. As one of my students recently pointed out in an essay, “to help even one, single, solitary person” would be fulfilling—so I really appreciate the few who continue to find a source of strength in these letters. We are all ultimately in this life together—I’m just trying to do my part to pass on the little wisdom I have gained thus far in this incredible experience. Thanks again everyone…Namasté!