Lessons from the Mountaintop

Lessons from the Mountaintop

Photo by Takae Goto

Family Peace Association youth leadership programs usually include a segment held in the great outdoors, an adventure hike or the like. This year was no exception and the hikers were given a chance to climb out to what was ominously dubbed “Blood Mountain.” Yet, the experienced hikers of the group came to see this as a misnomer, like calling a mountain of a man “Tiny.”

It wasn’t a hard hike but for the novices of the group, it was like death. Breathing and putting one foot in front of the other became unimaginable. Why would anyone do this? And for fun?

But another participant found himself connecting the lessons of the hike to the abstract lessons they were learning in the other segments of the leadership program. Clearly, the hike was one moment in time but he and all those around him struggling to take another step could see that it was everything that came before that hike that determined how the hike itself would play out. It was the choices in our every day, the choice to walk instead of ride a car, the choice to eat a little better, the choice to occasionally take a run that played out at that moment on the edge of a steep cliff.

Later, he reflected on how clearly that hike was such an amazing metaphor for life. Those who were prepared – not just physically but also mentally – got through the challenge and were better for it. They even seemed to relish the challenges and, amazingly, were helping others around them along the way. Those who had simply jumped in, unprepared but also alarmingly confident got the worst of it: their spirits and bodies were crushed by the overwhelming reality of their current state. They weren’t ready in mind or body.

And so, he vowed to be ready the next time. Not just for the next climb but for the next challenge that life might throw his way. He would be ready to look at it as his lucky day, his time to test his mettle. His time to grow.

In the next year, he started to plan his days and weeks out a little differently. He made small changes and goals to start. First, he simply challenged himself to stop riding his car to school; he could walk when the weather was fine. Then, he started to jog. And jogging became running, not only when he had to get somewhere but because running became something he liked to do.

Soon he began to feel that this wasn’t enough and so he started to research what he should be eating. What he might do to improve his sleep, his run time, his breathing. He started to check his pulse and well as his habit of grabbing buttered popcorn as he headed for the couch at the end of a stressful day.

Gradually, with his mind always on the adventure hike, he started to seek out harder physical challenges. Was there a mountain nearby where he might test himself? Would going with a buddy help him to focus on helping others rather than his own discomfort?

His friends and family were amazed at his transformation, even while it literally happened before their eyes. His sleep improved, his grades went from a smattering of Cs and some “half-moons” to the top of his class. He started to get involved in extracurricular activities that he had never professed to have any interest in.

It all started in the startlingly realization on his first adventure hike. He saw himself and saw that he had something he wanted to achieve. And he saw that it would be achieved not in that moment but in the process or quest to achieve that one, big audacious goal. In fact, it was that the victory was in the transformation of his life that all started from one choice at a time.

Have you ever had such an experience?

Life Stages: Growing from an Individual to a Family

Life Stages: Growing from an Individual to a Family

Taking a family outing compared to trip by yourself might  be comparable to the difference between spiritual growth as an individual and as a family.

A trip where you’re responsible for only yourself is easier to prepare and plan for, just as focusing on your own growth and development is less complicated than having to consider the needs of all the members of the family.

Even just preparing to head out for any activity is immensely complicated with your family in tow. If you have multiple kids, questions that might run through your mind might include:

“How many changes of kids’ clothes will I need?”

“Should the kids bring their own bags or no?”

“Vests or jackets?”

“Is he old enough that he won’t need an extra pair of underwear?”

“Will this snack be enough to keep them quiet on the ride over?”

“Three diapers or four?”

“Should I bring a carrier or a stroller or both?”

“Will the stroller fit in a coin locker if I don’t need it?”

“Will she sit in the stroller?”

“Throw up bags?”

“Stickers? Crayons?”

…along with a million other considerations.

Whereas heading out the door by yourself might be more along the lines of:

“Phone? Wallet? Keys?”

From Dependence to Independence

Despite these and many other complications, there is something to be said about the messiness and discomfort of having to think about more than one’s self. And perhaps this speaks to God’s design.

We all start out as babies, completely dependent on those around us. Our choices are, at first, not our own as our parents make them for us and may or may not give us varying levels of independence as we grow. But no matter how we are raised, we eventually go through a process through which we must become independent, autonomous adults.

Just as our bodies need to go through a period of maturation and growth in order to create human life, our spirits need to do the same. Much of this process of maturation can happen on the individual level but, at a certain point, our spiritual growth and development hinges on our ability to go on to a higher and deeper levels wherein we need to begin to consider ourselves as part of a bigger whole.

Becoming Part of a Bigger Whole

When we become part of a couple, we then come to reflect God’s divine image in the sacred union of a man and woman. As a couple, we need to consider the needs and desires of the other person. As parents, we need to consider the growth, education and development of our children, one another and the family as a whole. Later, as adult children, we begin to need to consider the needs of our elderly parents.

It is in the critical period of youth where we begin to make all the choices and habits that then sets the trajectory for our whole lives. This is the period where we are no longer tied to our mother’s “apron strings” and begin to make the decisions that will determine who we will become in life. Itis at this juncture that, if we’re able to have a clear purpose and direction, we can make the choices that allow us to fulfill our God-given potential, to have fulfilling and meaningful relationships at home and at work.

Preparing for the Next Stage

All this starts from knowing both where we come from and where we want to go!

If — even in the period of our flourishing independence — we clearly know our identity as sons and daughters of God and His purpose for us, it makes it so much easier. Put simply, it cuts away the confusion and fumbling that is often associated with adolescence. Instead of searching for meaning and purpose, we can direct our energies into positive pursuits towards fulfilling our God-given potential. We can then also focus on how and in what ways we would enter back into a web of interdependence, in preparation for building our own families in the future.

Knowing and understanding the importance of these natural life stages as being part of God’s grand plan for our personal, spiritual growth and development is essential to guide us towards good choices and habits in our lives. And how lovely is it that the process of our growth is in one that can also bring us so much satisfaction and delight?

So, whatever stage you might be in – how are you growing? What would you like to work on?

One Step at a Time – Oh, and Focus on Your Breathing

One Step at a Time – Oh, and Focus on Your Breathing

The summit looked so far as it played peek-a-boo through the morning mist.

It always did at the start of the journey.

But Ken was experienced enough to know that if you kept looking up at the summit, it was easy to get discouraged.

The point was to start, one step at a time.

So, he took a deep breath of the crisp morning air. It filled his lungs. He could almost feel the clean oxygen moving into his muscles, invigorating them as he took his first steps of the day. He breathed out, making room to take in whatever lay before him.

He wasn’t starting blind. He knew the day would be hard. That peak was high, and he’d scaled enough mountains to know that it would be no easy ride. But his mind was set, he and his team had decided that they would reach the summit today.

With that resolve he set out towards the goal, step by step.

Some steps were harder than others.

Starting out on level ground, the steps came easy. Placing one foot in front of the other, he had enough extra energy to look around, appreciate the grass, the trees, the occasional small critter that scurried by, even exchange a few words with his teammates.

As the incline grew, he could feel the strain on his muscles.

At times, even placing one foot in front of the other pushed his limits. He enlisted extra support from his arms as they pushed against his walking sticks to pull his weight up against the pull of gravity. Sweat drenched the collar of his jacket and the rim of his cap. No one was talking anymore.

When you are going up, it only gets harder as you get closer to your goal.

As his body cried for relief, and even his mind tried to break free from the commitment of reaching the top, he found focus in a surprising place: his breathing.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Even when everything wanted to give in and give up, he could focus on keeping up this small, consistent act.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Just as his first deep breath in the morning, he could feel his breathing keep the rest of his struggling system oxygenated.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

As he kept control of his breathing, the rest of his body fell into rhythm with his breath, almost like cruise control.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

His mind calmed down and also fell into the rhythm of taking in, and giving out. He began again to see the world around him, the fresh air, the small vegetation, the shale on the side of the mountain. Only now he saw them clearer, he saw the relationships that tied everything together, including his presence.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

He heart began to swell with gratitude and wonderment of God’s design of the world as he witnessed how everything was created to thrive in relationship to each other, giving and receiving, just like his breath. This gratitude energized him, opened new sources of energy as he picked up the pace on the final stretch.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

He put his final steps down as they reached the top of the mountain and the valley opened below.

Ironically, the view revealed all the other peaks that they could challenge if they decided to.

He took another deep breath, taking in the beauty of the scene. As he released his breath, smile broke his face. They had done it, one step at a time, sustained by his breathing.

Back from the mountain, his experience remains as a powerful reminder that he can take on any peak. But when things get tough, or look intimidating from ground level, he knows to start with the first steps forward – and focus on his breathing.

Unplug: Lessons From Nature

Unplug: Lessons From Nature

Nature is one of the greatest classrooms life has to offer. College students from across the United States would learn many lessons in just a short week of their summer in the wilderness of Montana. Although a challenge to literally unplug from their normal daily routine, they would discover new perspectives on leadership, finding happiness and purpose, and nurturing a relationship with God while forging strong relationships with each other.

One 19-year-old woman from Seattle, Washington shared her story on connecting with God through nature and her growth as a person and leader:

I personally feel that being in Creation is one of the best ways that I can more closely connect with God, so I really appreciate this time that I had in Montana.

In the mountains, we were without our phones and other man-made distractions. We were forced to use the natural things around us, to watch over and care for others, and ask for help if we needed. Even just after five days, I experienced that we literally had to live for the sake of others in order to survive. It is only natural that we worried for others and also depended on others.

“When out in nature, I also saw that it does not take much for us to live happily in this physical world.”

Pumping water at a lake with the backpacking team.

When out in nature, I also saw that it does not take much for us to live happily in this physical world. Even in the woods, God had provided us with everything we need to live. Besides the food that we brought with us (or could have gotten from hunting and fishing if necessary), we had streams for water, flat and grassy lands for comfortable shelter, trees to hang food away from bears, wood to build warm fires, and all of nature’s beauty to enjoy. As we hiked during the day and rested during the nights, we also had one another to interact with and learn from.

They say that people learn a lot about one another and bond closely when we live together in the mountains, and I think that is very true! It was very refreshing to talk to my brothers and sisters not just about how they are doing, but also have conversations on a more deeper level. It was very inspiring to see others talk seriously about their faith and have a great interest in conversations about God and His principles and ultimate dream.

“People learn a lot about one another and bond closely when we live together in the mountains.”

In one discussion that we had during a break in hiking, everyone shared their own philosophy or way of leadership. Many said that it is to lead by example, to live for the sake of others, etc., but I was very inspired by one person when he said that ultimately, what he does, no matter what it is, should somehow connect to God’s dream. This makes even the most trivial actions very important. This, of course, is important for personal growth, but to connect this directly to leadership. This is not something I have really thought about. When it comes to leadership, I more naturally think about helping others and moving their hearts rather than improving myself, but it makes perfect sense that bettering myself and lining up my values to my faith in God will make me a better vessel for Him to work through, and ultimately, a better leader.

“A leader has to make difficult decisions to make everyone’s experience the best possible.”

Leading the team for the day

During this adventure workshop, I had the opportunity to be the trail captain for a day, and the team medic on another day. Both roles had me experience some challenges. A leader has to take into account many different factors depending on the situation, and oversee everyone’s personal situation and try to understand them. In the mountains, some of these factors included safety, injuries, hiking pace, water resources, the location of the campsite, etc. It was also difficult to try to satisfy everyone’s needs. Everyone came to Montana for a different reason. Some wanted to have the greatest physical challenge (like climb the highest possible peak), have solitude time, and experiences like that. A leader has to make difficult decisions to make everyone’s experience the best possible.

This area is special because people can fully experience God’s natural world and learn from Him.

The overall experience was amazing. I feel that I was able to gain some strength from this challenge for the coming year. I am going into my second year of college, and I want to make this a much better year than the last.

Education for Life Begins in the Family

Education for Life Begins in the Family

Why is Education Important?

Even while we take it as a given that we want an education for ourselves and for our families, it sometimes becomes lost in the fog of unknowing why education is so important.

Why is this important? Why do we need to know why we want to educate ourselves and our kids and those around us?

It is because answering this question may radically alter how and what we would do to educate.

So, ask yourselves, why – as parents, as children, as grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. — would we want anyone to have an education?

The first temptation might be to answer simply: so we can have a job/work. Yet, statistics show that now not only jobs but careers themselves might change over 5 to 7 times throughout one’s lifetime. But clearly as the economy changes, this is also set to change. A recent interview with a LinkedIn executive commented that individuals may change his or her job over 15 times in a lifetime.

So, ask yourselves, why – as parents, as children, as grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. — would we want anyone to have an education?

So what kind of education would need for ourselves and our families if we focused on training them in skill sets and knowledge for a job that would, most probably, change multiple times in a lifetime?

Beyond Jobs

Moreover, as economies have begun to move towards automation, technology and communications develop at a mind-numbingly rapid pace, will we even be able to anticipate the skills that would be needed for the jobs of the future? Certainly, twenty years ago, almost nobody would have seen the need to train students how to write code or to even imagine a world where one could make money on video “unboxing” the latest consumer products. But one thing is clear: tomorrow’s needs will not be today’s and educating people with today’s skills will not be enough to prepare us for tomorrow.

In fact, with the rise of the Internet and communication technologies, knowledge is no longer hard to obtain. It is literally at our fingertips and so the ways and importance of rote memorization and may have their place, but it becomes more important to know what to emphasize and to teach how to think rather than to memorize facts and figures. Put another way, we need to acquire the critical thinking skills that allow us to digest and interpret information rather than to spout information.

Yet, the lesson here is less about what kind of education we need to get work in the future but more meaningfully, what is the purpose of education itself?

Education for Life

We would propose that education for jobs and even for what we might term a “career” misses the real point of education. This is because human education should be education for life and not a vocational or intellectual pursuit.

In this case, how much of what we teach now – in our homes, our schools, faith and local communities and society-at-large – align with what we think would fit into this framework of an education for life?

in terms of education at the level of a family, how are we educating ourselves and each other?

Thinkers such as Joseph Chilton Pearce and educators such as Maria Montessori and the Waldorf School and others have proponents of this view for a long time and have developed school curriculums to nurture the whole person. Yet, in terms of education at the level of a family, how are we educating ourselves and each other?

We have framed this educational series “Education Starts at Home” as a way to explore different questions related to “education for life” beyond a cognition-based education and perhaps towards an “education of the whole self” through an “education for the whole family.” That is, we wish to explore what it means to educate ourselves and our families to be more than workers but to be ethical, engaged and productive members of our families, communities and societies in ways that go way beyond the confined and confining limits of educating for jobs.

A Life-Long Pursuit

It is along this line of thought where we also introduce the concept for education as not only for the young but perhaps that while the young may have the most to learn, adults probably have the most to gain in realizing that education is a lifelong pursuit, done best perhaps alongside our families. To point, even while morals and life lessons are built into many of the best-loved and oldest children’s tales, it is most likely that the parents that retell or read these stories to their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. are the ones who most fully understand the secret treasures buried inside them.

It is also instructive to know that most people, facing the end of their lives lamented most about what we could interpret to mean 1) not fulfilling their potential or dreams and 2) not having the kinds of families or relationships that they wished to have. We take from these bitter realizations the lesson and the hope to find ways to help families avoid these end-of-life regrets by helping build strong, healthy families that help each family member to fulfill their highest potential.

While there will inevitably be challenges and obstacles in this kind of endeavor along the way, we find it most satisfying to think that, as the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, noted “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way is the way.” [emphasis added]

Core Values for Life: Tackling the Topic of Judgment

Core Values for Life: Tackling the Topic of Judgment

Have you witnessed someone being judged or been judged yourself? Have you caught yourself judging someone else?

Judgment is a topic that is relevant to everyone at every age. This week, Core Values for Life (CVL) invited college and young professional from across the United States and Canada to tackle the topic of judgment on the CVL bi-monthly nation-wide video call.

Granted, there are multiple aspects of judgment, between individuals, by society, institutions, coworkers, friends, and family, and even the judgment we place on ourselves. One young man described the act of judging as thoughts or actions that “place someone in a box.”

We need to ask ourselves, ‘What is the end goal?’ It’s important to uphold a standard and we want people to connect to similar values, but what is an effective state of mind to be in to relate with other people? When we feel the need to place judgment on others, there is a lack of understanding and compassion. We need to understand this dynamic because at the end of the day, it is about growth.

A college student from Washington State agreed on the importance of understanding. “In our families, maybe it isn’t ‘judgment’ but ‘feedback’ to help others and ourselves grow,” he said. “We can have the biggest conflict but because we love each other and have trust, we are also trying to understand each other and take on a different perspective to help each other grow.”

One young women who recently became a new mom shared her thoughts on how to take a proactive attitude in addressing judgment.

Sometimes I find myself in situations where I feel judged but in reflection it’s more self-imposed. Someone could make a comment and it’s not that critical or could even be directed at someone or something else, but I can take it personally and feel judged. So, what can I do to not be affected negatively? I could be insecure about certain things and that allows me to feel judged, even if something is said with good intention. I have to address my own insecurity. On the other hand, sometimes I can unintentionally come off as judgmental but that happens because of ignorance, not understanding others or others not understanding me.

When we get the feeling of being judged, an instinctive reaction for many of us may be to take a defensive stance. One caller contributed, “A defensive attitude is not the best way to understand what the other person is trying to tell you. It takes a lot of effort and training to get to that point. We have a purpose in life to think from a perspective of serving. We are channels for God. When we train ourselves to be more able to understand, we become more positive.”

So, how do we train ourselves?

 

“Take a breath and don’t just react.”

“Before you pass judgment stop and think. Is this the right moment to say something?”

“Be humble and grateful. You can grow and expand to be more than who you are right now.”

“Listen to your conscience. It is your own judge.”

 

Terms like judgment, constructive criticism, and feedback were thrown around in the conversation. As one young father stated on the call, “Feedback is essential to growth.” However, at the end of the day, remember that the difference between simply putting judgment on someone else and presenting feedback is in how you support that person afterwards. Whether you are a parent, mentor, or friend, being supportive of the person over the long term is how you demonstrate responsibility and uphold the values you stand for.