TJ’s Amazing Vision

My good friend Thomas Jones has signed up to do something quite extraordinary – he has accepted a volunteer position with Destiny Rescue.

This entails selling all his possessions, finding a foster home for his beloved dog ‘Winston’ and moving to SE Asia for the next 2 years where he will work on the ground to save children currently being exploited by the global sex trade.

Please take a minute to check out the link to his ‘gofundme’ campaign. I was inspired to make a contribution…I hope that you will be too.

https://www.gofundme.com/547ce6yk

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You can find out more about Destiny Rescue here:

http://www.destinyrescue.org/aus/

” Destiny Rescue is a grassroots, internationally recognised, Christian based, non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We help rescue the sexually exploited and enslaved, restore the abused, protect the vulnerable, empower the poor and are a voice for those that can’t speak up for themselves.

We currently operate our various programs in five nations: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, and India. We also have offices in three donor nations: Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

We’ve rescued hundreds of children enslaved around the world, helped keep hundreds more from entering the sex-trade through our various prevention programs, ensured justice for those that have been wronged and have raised awareness to untold numbers. And, we’ll continue to expand to help reach even more children in the days ahead!

Destiny Rescue realises that human trafficking is a big problem globally with up to 27 million men, women and children enslaved in its deadly grip today.3 With that said, we’re determined to set captives free worldwide. As long as children are being sold into the sex-trade, and poverty that drives at-risk children into prostitution exists, Destiny Rescue will be fully committed to fighting for their freedom, restoration and offering them a chance to dream again.”

 

From the Road…

I recently had cause to make a last minute trip to the US to watch my beloved Kansas City Royals win their first World Series title in 30 years, which as it happens is precisely the length of time that I’ve been following them.

Whilst I was very much looking forward to seeing live baseball and exploring Kansas City (a city I’d never visited before), I had no idea the breadth of people and experiences that I would enjoy on my first trip to the US in more than 20 years.

Over the coming days I will reproduce the travel updates that I sent back home, from my adventures on the road…

Stories from the road

Note: This piece was originally posted elsewhere on 28th October.

From the road…

After an epic transit (even for me) I am settled safely in Kansas City for Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. No, I’m not at Kauffman Stadium watching live – I wasn’t certain that I’d arrive on time so didn’t buy a ticket – that will have to wait for Game 2 tomorrow.

The Transit

50 hours.
Nuts.
That’s what you get when you’re organising on the fly at the last minute. Summary:

14 hour flight…
3 hour layover…
15 hour flight…
3 hours to clear US immigration and make it across town for a…
12 hour bus ride, including a 2.5 hour layover in St Louis before catching my connection to Kansas City, which departed at…2:50 AM.

Fact: You witness some very strange behaviour when hanging out at a Greyhound Bus Terminal at 2 in the morning.

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Over Greenland, during flight from Dubai to Chicago

The People

On the flights, there weren’t any.
Both legs were < 1/3 full leaving lots of room to stretch out.
Appreciated.

Shout Out #1 goes to the Emirates ground staff in Dubai (name unknown) who allowed me to complete my US visa waiver registration at the boarding gate…using her iPhone. Thank you!
(I knew I forgot to do something before I left home.)

Shout Out #2 goes to Stava, a Russian-born taxi driver – living in Chicago for 15 years – who got me to my bus on time. When asked, Stava was proud to say that Vladimir Putin is a good President for Russia. He is from Crimea and has a lot of family that is still there. They all love Vlad. “Crimea should always be a part of Russia”, said Stava. “Kruschev was an idiot to give it away.”

Shout Out #3 goes to Rob, a 50 yo black guy who was my travel companion from Chicago to St Louis. The son of a baptist minister, Rob had just spent 48 hrs on a train from Seattle on his way to St Louis to visit his sisters. It took 5 minutes to work out that we were likeminded souls; we spent the next 5 hours swapping stories.

Shout Out #4 is for Jabar, my taxi driver on a rainy first morning in KC. Jabar is from Afghanistan, but has been living in KC for 32 years. He came here in 1983 with his brother and uncle. His father was killed in the war following the Russian invasion in ’79. He thought it was really cool that someone would travel all the way from Australia to watch the Royals play in the World Series. “You’ve made my day” he said. Actually, he made mine…by dropping me off at the nearest Dennys. I was famished!

Fact: People are people wherever you go. They like to tell their story…and sometimes they’re interested in yours.

All that before I’d even made it to my accommodation.
More to come.

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Above Greenland
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Somewhere over Canada

All My New Friends Are Goats

I was once told that the word goat can be broken down to go-at. This word was traditionally used to describe a common male behavioural characteristic. Men are compelled by circumstance, biology and psychology to be out in the world having a go-at something.

With that in mind, yesterday afternoon this goat decided to brave the wind and rain and have a go-at running some trails in the You Yangs (approx. 60km southwest of Melbourne). During a break in the rain as I climbed towards the ‘Saddle’ on the backside of Flinders Peak, my attention was caught by a noise in the undergrowth a few metres to my right.

It was a first for me….wild goats! A group of five were making their way through the scrub. Three of them paused atop some rocks and looked back my way, resulting in this photo opportunity:

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Added all together we were six happy goats. You never know who you’re going to bump into when exploring some trails.

IR4 = Uplifting!

I just discovered this today. What a totally uplifting vision!

I was contemplating having a lazy morning, but it motivated me to get off my arse and head to the hills for some time on my feet.

For more please check out:

http://www.whoirun4.com

It's A Marathon AND A Sprint

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I run for myself, of course. But I also run 4 Belle – an adorable 8 year old with Down’s Syndrome, who likes all things Disney, The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and cheerleading.

Last year, Colby and I both signed up to be matched through “I Run 4” with someone who is unable to run. Each Runner is matched with a Buddy. We run for them. We dedicate our training runs to them, posting updates to a closed group on Facebook a few times each week, to let them know we are thinking of them and running for them. We run our races for them, marking ourselves with tattoos or marker indicating that we “Run 4” them. Many races will provide us with extra medals to give to them, and we also send other race swag, since it is their race, too.

I Run 4 was started 2 years ago by Timothy…

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Things That I Learnt From My Dog

Our dog, Buster, died late last year. In early December he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of throat cancer. In his case the tumour was located adjacent to his voice box. It was inoperable. Day-by-day he found it both harder to eat and harder to breathe.

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It was difficult to watch…but it was also beautiful to have that time to focus on him and appreciate what he had meant in my life.

Sure, he exemplified all the normal qualities you expect from a dog: loyalty, forgiveness, unconditional love. But, in the last few weeks of his life he also taught me so many more things. The two most important of these:

1. Choose to be happy…NOW

Even when he was suffering he was still so happy. Happy to have a home and people who loved and took care of him. Happy to be able to walk in the park. Happy to enjoy a nap in the sunshine during the day and have a comfortable place to sleep at night. He was excellent at sleeping.

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2. Always be present

Whatever Buster was doing, whenever he was doing it, it was ALL that he was doing. Dogs don’t waste time or energy worrying about the past. They don’t have anxiety about the future. They are always living in the present.

These are lessons that I will never forget.

Also on the subject of what we can learn from our canine friends, the following post originally appeared on ‘Dividend Mantra’:

http://www.dividendmantra.com/2015/01/what-ive-learned-about-happiness-from-diego/

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Diego is my buddy. He’s my muse, my writing partner, and my confidant.

He’s also my dog.

I guess it’s good to have a confidant that can’t talk!

We’ve had him for a few years now and he’s really grown on me in a big way. I guess I used to be a bit indifferent towards dogs, and pets in general. But I love him as much I could possibly love anything, and certainly on the same level at which I’m capable of loving humans.

Our little Chihuahua keeps me company when I’m alone at home writing all day. It’s interesting in that even though he can’t effectively communicate with language as we know it, he’s been able to teach me a lot about life, happiness, and what really matters.

It’s The Simple Things

I can tell you what makes Diego happy:

A roof over his head.

Food in his food bowl.

Water in his water bowl.

Snuggling under the covers.

A ball to fetch.

Getting 14 hours of sleep.

Company.

And a clean place to go to the bathroom.

It just doesn’t take much to make him happy. He just needs a little food, some good company, occasional play time, and a lot of sleep in a warm bed. What’s interesting, however, is that this is pretty much what we all need.

Are Choices Killing Us?

Is Diego some kind of genius? I don’t think so. I just think it comes down to his nature. And, of course, lack of choice. By nature, he’s perfectly happy with a simple life. But it probably doesn’t hurt that he lacks choice in the matter. Meanwhile, us humans have more choices in front of us than we can possibly contemplate in any single moment.

Burger or burrito for lunch? 1,000 square feet of living space or 5,000? Apartment or house? Bicycle or BMW? Money or time?

But it’s not these choices in themselves that are killing us. Each choice is nothing more than an opportunity. However, not all opportunities are created equal. Just like the choice to buy a house far larger than you really need and more expensive than you can afford comes with the “opportunity” to work until you’re 65 years old, the choice to live below your means and invest the difference comes with the opportunity to become financially independent at a relatively young age.

No, it’s not the choices. It’s the decisions that are killing us. People oftentimes unfortunately make poor decisions when it comes to money, believing that money buys happiness. They are apparently oblivious to the fact that the research has come in, and it shows that time buys happiness. They say time is money, but they’re not equal. Money can surely afford you your needs, but beyond that it’s time that actually does the heavy lifting toward happiness.

Diego Lacks A Hedonic Treadmill

Hedonic adaptation is the theory that we all have some kind of baseline happiness level. Buying a brand new Corvette might elicit elation for a bit. But then you’ll realize after a while that it’s just a car. It has a gas and brake pedal, doors to get in and out of the car, a speedometer, and four wheels. You know, like most cars. Hey, wait a minute. My $5,400 Toyota Corolla has all that!

Furthermore, you’ll realize the Corvette actually comes with all kinds of drawbacks like more expensive insurance, the need to use premium fuel only, and an incessant desire to keep it clean and park it far away from everyone else. Before you know it, the car owns you more than you own it. And that initial elation quickly fades. Interestingly enough, these drawbacks could actually drain your happiness, dropping you below your baseline level, causing the exact opposite effect of what you were aiming for.

The hedonic treadmill is one’s need to constantly raise the bar. Once the Corvette doesn’t do it for you anymore, maybe it’s time for a Ferrari. Once the shopping spree this past Saturday is behind you and the closet is sorted, you’ll need another spree next weekend to get that feeling of elation back. You’ll eventually bore of your new 2,000 square-foot house, desiring the bigger pad overlooking the city. Once you adapt to that view, it’s time for a mountainside cabin.

Only then will we really be happy.

Or so we tell ourselves.

But Diego doesn’t have a big house, a fancy car, or a closet full of clothes. Not only does he lack the means to go out and get that stuff, but he also lacks the desire. He knows what makes him happy and he appreciates it every day. What’s even more interesting is that because his happiness is so tied to a low-maintenance lifestyle, that even a modicum of improvement in the basics causes this massive shift in his attitude.

Appreciating The Basics Makes It Easier To Enjoy The Occasional Luxury

Diego’s diet mostly consists of dry dog food. We try to mix it up with different flavors, but that’s what can usually be found in his bowl. However, I can tell you one thing about him: He absolutely loves the occasional table scraps. Give him a piece of chicken from some stir-fry or a bite of a PB&J sandwich and he’s over the moon. Who needs a Corvette or a mansion when you can have freshly cooked chicken?

However, like with anything else, there’s a slippery slope there. If we were to feed him nothing but human food every day, he’d probably lose his taste for dry dog food. I’m sure he’d eat it if he had no choice, which speaks to choices, but he probably wouldn’t be very happy about it.

The same goes for me. I love our little two-bedroom apartment. It’s not big, at under 1,000 square feet. And it’s certainly not luxurious, with old, basic appliances, plain white formica countertops, small bedrooms, a balcony that needs repairs, and worn out carpet throughout. But it’s a roof over our heads and it provides all we need.

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Sure, if someone were to gift us a fancy house it might be nice for a while. Tile floors and granite countertops would be new and different. But we’d eventually adapt to that as well. Sooner or later, we’d realize that the new stainless steel refrigerator cools food no differently than our old white fridge, the tile floors are still just a barrier between us and the ground, and granite countertops do not somehow magically make food taste better or easier to prepare.

More importantly, we’d probably lose our appreciation for what we already have. The small apartment might seem confining. The kitchen just wouldn’t look as nice. The view of a parking lot might not be all that inspiring. So we’d end up with a situation that really doesn’t better our happiness in any meaningful and lasting way, but further from the realization that we didn’t need that situation in the first place. Meanwhile, our bar has now been raised so high to where our appreciation for everything in life changes. One aspect of lifestyle inflation can beget a whole new dynamic.

Conclusion

One other interesting thing about Diego is that he has no desire for money. If I were to give him a $20 bill, he’d look at me like I was crazy. Maybe if I dip it in beef gravy, he might try to take a bite. Otherwise, it does nothing for him.

I admire this attitude and it’s something I try emulate. What is $20 after all, other than the needs it can fulfill and the time it can buy? Once we have our basic needs met, then the continued and increasing exchange of more money for more stuff does very little for happiness. The fact that people lust after more and more money, therefore, is puzzling.

Whenever I see my puppy light up, it’s over something very small. If we leave for a few hours and come back, he goes crazy like we’ve been gone for years. Give him a small bite of what you’re eating and he’ll be your friend forever. Give him an 80″ TV, on the other hand, and he’ll just cock his head at you like you’re an alien.

However, I also guarantee you that if I were to make Diego get up at 6:30 every morning and march off to the local Doggie Jobby Job and do busywork for eight hours every day, he’d quickly lose his zest for life. He’d be totally bummed out. And who could blame him?

It’s important to maintain perspective. If a dog can realize what’s truly important in life – basic needs, love, relationships, autonomy, freedom, safety – then why can’t we?

What do you think? Is there something to be gleaned from our pets? 

Thanks for reading.

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Sad But True…

The text that follows was originally published by Jawad S. Mian at Stray Reflections.

Over the summer, Science magazine published an instructive report that spoke to the challenges of the disengaged mind. We quote from the editor’s summary:

Nowadays, we enjoy any number of inexpensive and readily accessible stimuli, be they books, videos, or social media. We need never be alone, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Wilson et al. explored the state of being alone with one’s thoughts and found that it appears to be an unpleasant experience. In eleven studies, they found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

How strange. Perhaps the French philosopher Blaise Pascal was correct in observing that “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” Life is difficult for many of us, but very often we make it even more difficult for ourselves by the way we think. In our age of connectedness and perpetual motion, there is something to be said for cultivating stillness in order to summon some emotional and mental clarity. We suspect that most of man’s problems arise from his abandoning the religion of solitude. Pico Iyer, in The Art of Stillness, reveals the unexpected pleasures of sitting still, without being distracted, as a way to uncover a form of well-being that is inherent to the nature of our minds.

He reflects with a sense of nostalgia:

Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize…. We’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off—our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.

Iyer believes that this is the reason why many people seem to be turning to yoga or meditation or tai chi. They are all desperate to unplug.

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How many times have we imagined sitting on the banks of a river in perfect tranquility or leaving everything behind and retreating to the top of a mountain to live an unperturbed life?

From time to time, we all feel overwhelmed by the demands of this world and would like nothing more than to withdraw into a more peaceful state. But harmony often eludes the untutored mind.

Much has been written about meditation as the solution for the modern man or woman, given his or her frantic schedule. According to popular blogger Maria Popova:

Over the centuries, the ancient Eastern practice has had a variety of exports and permutations in the West, but at no point has it been more vital to our sanity and psychoemotional survival than amidst our current epidemic of hurrying and cult of productivity. It is remarkable how much we, as a culture, invest in the fitness of the body and how little, by and large, in the fitness of the spirit and the psyche—which is essentially what meditation provides.

Research has shown this can lead to better health and clearer thinking, even emotional intelligence. And if you’re Ray Dalio, it can even lead to bigger profits. As acknowledged by the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, “Meditation, more than any other factor, has been the reason for what success I’ve had.”

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We find all cultures of the world steeped in esoteric practices of one form or another to provide an effective means for acquiring self-knowledge. A kind of introspection and detached observation that helps people discover an even higher aspect of themselves. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is contemplative prayer. In the far Eastern traditions, vehicles of meditation often have to do with mastering aspects of breathing or the heartbeat. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, it is sitting with an awareness of thoughts and feelings without clinging to them. In Islamic tradition, it is emptying your heart and invoking God’s name. The objective of these practices is not to force yourself into a state of peace – which would be counterintuitive – but instead, to refocus your attention away from the ego or intellect toward the calm, pristine depths within. To attain harmony, one has to seek that lilt which is present in the innermost core of our being. Acco rding to Inayat Khan, “It is just like the sea: the surface of the sea is ever moving, yet the depth of the sea is still. And so it is with our life. If our life is thrown into the sea of activity, it is on the surface. We still live in the profound depths that are still, in that peace. But the key is to become conscious of that peace which can be found within ourselves.” As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius shared in one of his Meditations, nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul. You need not sail to St. Barts or travel to the Himalayas.

Meditation, in the words of Inayat Khan, is not some stoic physical position or arduous mental exercise that you do for 20 minutes a day. It is really a letting go, the lifting of a veil, in our view, which leads to a marvelous change of viewpoint. By awakening our self, we develop more attentive and appreciative eyes that are so essential for a true reflection of the world.

We don’t view it as just another to-do item.

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R.I.P. Buster Brown

Buster was born on a Sunday in December 1999.

He died today.

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He is survived by his best friend Lyn, Steven and approximately 4 dozen cricket balls discretely “borrowed” from the West Footscray Cricket Club and buried in his backyard over the past nine summers.

We didn’t meet until 2005 when he was adopted into our home. An x-ray taken in recent years revealed that earlier in life he had been the victim of multiple shootings, with the shot remnants clearly visible on film. Shy at first, he soon proved to be amongst the most loyal, faithful and affectionate of his breed.

He was a hunter of rabbits and a chaser of dreams, forever in pursuit of adventure. In fact, it was his love of both rabbits and adventure that resulted in his near loss two year ago. Whilst holidaying at Somers over the Xmas break he took off into the scrub. After spending three days and two nights in the tea tree and swamp surrounding HMAS Cerberus, he was found on a lonely stretch of beach by a passer-by. Whilst dehydrated and exhausted his spirit of adventure was never diminished.

He once killed a cat, but maintained that this was an accident right until the last:

“The cat was walking erratically, failed to indicate, didn’t check its blind spot and was generally operating in an unsafe manner. That is what led to its unfortunate demise, not the alleged actions of a hypothetical ‘lone dog’.”  (Buster Brown, extract from witness statement)

A classic case of being in the right wrong place at the right wrong time.

In the end it was throat cancer that shortened his life. (Perhaps cricket balls are carcinogenic? Quick, somebody apply for a research grant.)

In recent days, even when struggling himself, he was a comfort to his humans. If they didn’t have so many happy memories it would be easy to miss him…

…he was one of the greats.

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