Before stepping on the practice mat we always clean the bottoms of our feet with wet wipes. This act has the practical function of making sure the white canvas stays clean, but for me it also serves as means to gain a deeper awareness of what’s about to take place. The simple act of sitting and wiping helps to shift my consciousness to a place where I understand that where I am about to enter is a sacred space and what I am about to do is a sacred act. It echoes the story of Moses in the desert being asked to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground and in the presence of something divine; a simple everyday act transformed to something venerated.
In traditional hula, dancers, whether it’s at a beach park or on the grand performance stage at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, will do a processional oli or chant called a ka’i as they enter, acknowledging the significance of what is about to take place; transforming something ordinary into a sanctified space.
There is a very thin and blurred line that separates the sacred from the profane. An amazing array of phenomena are constantly going on around us and in us all the time; the breeze blowing through trees, birds singing, the tide flowing in and out, sun shining, human interactions, and the steady beating of our hearts to name just a few. And yet in all the myriad of activities we find ourselves in, we tend to miss the awareness that there is something truly amazing in all of it.
Being more aware is, I believe, about gaining a sense of mindfulness in all the mundane things we do in our daily lives. According to Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh, “Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.”
So what can we do to get to this place of mindfulness? How can we figuratively or literally take off our sandals so that we can have awareness that, right here and right now, we are standing on holy ground?
There’s an interesting hand made sign in front of a house in Volcano Village with a simple yet poignant message, it says, “Wait 5 Seconds.” On one level this sign speaks of the weather patterns here on Hawai’i Island. Just give it some time and the weather will shift, sometimes in as little as five seconds it’ll go from rainy to sunny, then just as quickly shift back to rainy. But five seconds is also the little time needed to gain or regain a sense of mindfulness. It is the time needed, for example, when we are washing our hands before preparing a meal to have the knowingness that what we are about to do is a sacred act for people we care about. Or the time it takes to button down our shirt or blouse as we get dressed in the morning before we head out and do the work that uplifts the lives of others and the community. It is also the time needed to take a deep breath before heading into a meeting, knowing that all human interactions are sacred.
I’m nowhere near being mindful in all of my daily activities. Many times when I sit and wipe my feet at the dojo my mind travels elsewhere to places like, what I have to do after practice or what are we packing for Bodhi’s school lunch; mundane things that hopefully, when I get to them, will get transformed in my consciousness to something sanctified.
Again from Thich Naht Hanh, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
Five seconds, sometimes even shorter, is all it takes for something miraculous to appear before our eyes.
A thousand different pieces of advice promise the path to getting what you want, most of which involve overcoming your fear and persevering through setbacks. And in addition to external resistance, we tend to set up a lot of obstacles for ourselves — imagining what could go wrong or inventing reasons we’re incapable of accomplishing a particular goal — sometimes forgetting that the path to success may be simpler, or less linear, than we realize.
Many successful people in a range of professions advanced their careers and found fulfillment in creative, unorthodox ways. They knew they had what it took, and didn’t give naysayers (including the ones inside their own head) the opportunity to tell them otherwise.
Here are five inspiring success stories from people who made their own luck.
New York Times columnist David Brooks got an unlikely start to his career as a writer, author and political commentator. He began writing a humor column for the school paper in his junior year at the University of Chicago. During his senior year, when he learned that author William F. Buckley was visiting the campus, Brooks sent the author a parody of his memoir, Overdrive, New York magazine reports. Brooks added a note that read: “Some would say I’m envious of Mr. Buckley. But if truth be known, I just want a job and have a peculiar way of asking. So how about it, Billy? Can you spare a dime?”
Buckley announced during his lecture in Chicago the next week, “David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to give you a job.” Unfortunately, Brooks wasn’t there — he had been selected to participate in a debate tournament in California that day — but he quickly launched a successful career in journalism after college nonetheless.
Sally Field may be an Oscar-winning actress, but she still had to fight to land a role she knew was meant for her, playing Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, in the 2012 film, “Lincoln.” The actress fought hard to convince director Steven Spielberg (who originally said he knew she was “not right”) and leading man Daniel Day-Lewis that she was the one for the part. Following an initial screen test — after which Spielberg refused her for the role — Field convinced Day-Lewis to fly to Los Angeles from Ireland for the day to improv with her in full costume for Spielberg. She nailed it — and the rest is history.
“To actually become Mary, I had to demand that they didn’t walk away,” Field told Good Morning America.
Anderson Cooper began his media career as a fact-checker for Channel One, which produces news shows to be broadcast in schools. But the ambitious Cooper — who had just received his degree in political science from Yale — got bored with the position pretty quickly. Rather than resigning himself to the daily grind, Cooper took his video camera to Southeast Asia, where he filmed scenes of strife in Myanmar and then parts of Africa. The stunt quickly earned him the position of chief international correspondent for Channel One, and ultimately caught the attention of ABC News, where he landed his first job as an anchor.
Best-selling author and business journalist Michael Lewis has made a career out of uncovering the dark secrets of Wall Street. But he wasn’t always getting bylines on cover stories for Vanity Fair and The New York Times — Lewis was still in the London banking world when he started writing articles satirizing it. His first piece for The New Republic (“It was basically just making fun of British bankers,” Lewis said) was a PR nightmare for his firm Salomon Brothers. But it didn’t stop him: Lewis continued writing articles using his mother’s name, Diana Bleeker, as a pseudonym. Soon enough, “Diana Bleeker” got a contract with Business Magazine — meaning Lewis could leave his job to pursue his passion.
“It became clear I could make a living — if not as fancy a living — as a writer,” Lewis told Publishers Weekly, “and so I quit.”
Before Amy Tan was a bestselling author, she ran a technical-writing business with a partner, focusing largely on account management. Feeling stifled and unfulfilled in her position, Tan shared with her partner that she wanted to do more writing, Reader’s Digest reported. But he told her to keep doing what she was “most good at” — chasing down contractors and collecting bills, her least favorite part of the job — and that writing was her weakest skill. She fought back repeatedly, and when her partner refused to acknowledge her skill, Tan ultimately quit. She took on a heavy load of freelance assignments, and went on to write a handful of best-selling novels.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
As a recent college graduate, aspiring politician Debbie Wasserman Schultz helped Florida congressman Peter Deutsch successfully run for the U.S. House of Representatives — and then got his blessing to go after his seat in the Florida House of Representatives. Wasserman Schultz went from neighborhood to neighborhood, personally knocking on the doors of more than 25,000 people in her home state of Florida to win the seat. She became the youngest female legislator in the state’s history at just 26 years old, Business Insider reports.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg lives by the maxim “Fortune favors the bold” — and perhaps none of his employees at Facebook personify that idea more than Chris Putnam. In 2005, the young tech whiz hacked the site and wrote a computer virus to make user profiles look like MySpace pages. The hack lasted less than a day, but it caught the attention of COO Dustin Moskovitz, with whom Putnam developed a relationship via Facebook message and AIM. Soon afterwards, Putnam received an offer from Facebook, dropped out of college in Georgia, and moved to Silicon Valley to join the team.
With Facebook’s founding ethos of risk-taking, it’s not surprising that the company decided to hire Putnam. As Zuckerberg once said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz says more than just a pipe failed when 1,400 tons of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor last week, killing thousands of fish.
Schatz says it’s clear lawmakers have to look at how the system run by shipping company Matson Navigation Co. is regulated by federal and state officials.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that that’s one of the things that we’re going to have to take a look at,” Schatz told The Associated Press. “It’s clear that this wasn’t just a mechanical failure of a pipe but also a systems failure.”
A U.S. Coast Guard unit that specializes in responding to hazardous spills is joining the effort to clean up and assess the damage done when some 233,000 gallons of the sugary substance spilled from a section of pipe not normally used by the company.
The spill occurred Sept. 9 in an industrial area where Matson loads molasses and other goods for shipping. The harbor is west of downtown Honolulu, about 5 miles from the popular Waikiki tourist area.
A Matson executive says the company takes responsibility but had no contingency plan for the possibility of the spill, despite moving molasses from the harbor for about 30 years.
State officials have said they don’t believe Matson was required to have any such plans, despite having plans for spills of oil or other hazardous chemicals.
Thousands of fish have died in the spill, most likely from a lack of oxygen. But the full extent of the damage and how long it might last are unclear.
“All of us who care about the south shore of Oahu are sick about this,” Schatz said. “But we don’t really know the status of the ecosystem and we won’t until we have scientists in the water collecting and analyzing data.”
The Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike team includes more than 70 people to help assess the situation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also have responded, along with state agencies.
State and company officials said last week that the exact cause of the spill is still under investigation. Gary Gill, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Health, said the leak happened when molasses seeped into a section of pipe that was supposed to be sealed off.
Schatz said officials are focusing on assessing and containing damages right now, and can focus on how things went wrong afterward.
“That’s going to take research and resources, and this is a current problem in the ocean right now,” Schatz said. “We have to have all hands on deck in mitigating it while we still can.”
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia
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