Mentors of shouldn’t and mentors of should

Sendai, Japan

The mentors of shouldn’t are those voices that tell you to do or pursue the apparently irrational, the controversial, the uncommon. Sometimes you can also call them the mentors of must. They steer you toward the experiences you must try, the goals you must attempt to accomplish, the relationships you must build or break. Even if, most often when, common sense, friends and family tell you you shouldn’t. The mentors of shouldn’t are the ones you must listen to when you are not ready, when you fear the outcome, when you feel trapped. The mentors of shouldn’t are the storm you have to go through. 

The mentors of should, on the other hand, are the ones that help you navigate calm waters, guiding your boat after the storm have passed, bringing you safely ashore. They provide the insights you need on stillness, joy and fulfillment. They teach you how to find sturdiness within you after months of emotional and physical cataclysm. 

But you need the cataclysm.

Do you like the cover photo? Check Mikey Dabro’s amazing art here and here.

Símbolos

Noordwijk, Holanda.

Hoy, caminando como cada mañana hacia el acceso principal del Centro de Investigaciones y Tecnologías del Espacio de la Agencia Espacial Europea, donde estos días me encuentro, me quedé mirando.   

En la entrada y a la vista de cualquiera que ronde cerca ondean las banderas de los 22 estados miembros.

Mientras me aproximaba hacia los tornos de seguridad, me quedé mirando. 

Para la agencia cada una de las banderas ahí expuestas simbolizan el reconocimiento al granito de arena con el que cada país contribuye al desarrollo tecnológico del espacio. Cada país aporta lo que puede o quiere; unos más, como Alemania, otros menos, como Estonia. Pero en la entrada no hay banderas grandes ni pequeñas. 

Mientras rebuscaba en busca de la tarjeta de seguridad en los bolsillos de una parca empapada por la lluvia, me quedé mirando. 

Símbolos, pensé, no son nada sin el significado que cada uno les atribuye. 

Al igual que las interpretaciones que hacemos de las experiencias que vivimos, los significados son personales, únicos, y a veces indescriptibles. Y como las experiencias, cuando el significado es compartido a veces une para bien, o a veces une para mal. Pero esto no es de lo que quiero hablar.

Hoy me interesa el significado individual. Me interesa el significado íntimo de los símbolos que a cada uno acompañan, ese que cada uno llevamos tatuado en las costillas para no compartirlo con nadie—ese que nunca cicatriza.

Hoy, al pasar bajo la bandera del país donde nací, me quedé mirando. 

Entre estudios de posgrado, prácticas, colaboraciones y demás correrías llevo más de cinco años fuera de España. Cinco años de costumbres nuevas y experiencias inolvidables. Pero también cinco años de caras desconocidas, de desconcierto, de incertidumbre, de no ser de aquí, de no comprender, y de no ser comprendido. 

Para mí el rojo y amarillo simboliza hogar. Simboliza familia. Simboliza calma, y comprensión, y calidez, y cariño. Simboliza recuerdos, muchos recuerdos. 

No simboliza patria, ni tierra, ni honor, ni gloria, ni valentía, ni euforia. 

Simboliza mamá.

Simboliza papá.

Estoy seguro que de ser mis circunstancias otras el significado sería distinto o ninguno. Pero en momentos como el de esta mañana comprendo al soldado destinado a pasar el invierno en otro continente, comprendo a la investigadora afincada más allá de la frontera, comprendo al inmigrante que consigo lleva el recuerdo de un casa de caras y olores familiares—recuerdos a los que todos ellos se aferran para no olvidar. 

Y es por esto mismo que evito maldecir a la ligera los símbolos de otros, sean de tela o de paja o de madera.

Vaya por delante que no me interesan los símbolos de los que gritan. Me interesan los símbolos de esos que callan y aprietan los dientes.

Me interesa saber de quién son las sonrisas que llevan tatuadas en las costillas; esas que erizan la piel y evocan recuerdos; esas que anegan la boca del estómago cuando se está a solas. 

Malditos símbolos.

Forgotten demons and invisible angels

Photo by Dawid Zawiła

Munich, Germany (5 min. read).

What’s your story?

How did you come to be who you are?

Can you point out moments in your life that had a major impact in who you’ve become?

I bet you can.

I’m sure you recall, in detail, experiences that completely shifted your values, encounters that defined your current passions and fears, decisions that brought you new opportunities and goals, all of which directly made of you a different, better human being.

I’m also sure this rollercoaster of events that is your life, with the painful and the pleasant, make all perfect sense in hindsight. Together they form the story line of your life.

There is only one problem. As Rolf Dobelli wrote in The Art of Thinking Clearly:

“It is safe to assume that half of what you remember is wrong.”

Looking back at the events that shaped one’s life is always disturbing. As humans we nourish association and cherish meaning-ful experiences: those of love and tears, of fight and thrive. We are prone to storytelling and the most stirring story we can recognize is that of our own journey.

This meaning we endow our main character with is built years after the experience or encounter has taken place; thus making our narrative susceptible to the filter of present emotions and beliefs.

I’m interested in what gets caught in the filter.

Meeting my old demons.

We all have been through episodes now forgotten. Aspects of your life you somehow erased from memory some time ago. Events not distressing enough to make your heart throb or the hair on your neck bristle. Moments of your existence that had an impact in who you’ve become, not because of what you did but because of what you missed.

I’m talking about the lack of excitement you felt for years at the prospect of uneventful days, the sadness of lonesome evenings at home, the neglected desire to play to be someone who doesn’t take life too seriously.

These unsettling memories and hidden feelings often resurface while coming back to the place you grew up, by looking at photos or hearing stories about the old ‘good’ days. For me they all came in the form of a video, a not so old video I must have recorded around 2010, alone at night, talking to camera.

It was during my junior year in college. I weighed over 230 lb (~105 kg), I had gone through two different (low risk) surgeries, and I wasn’t doing great in college. I was struggling to keep up the pace of my friends who were advancing steadily while I was still stuck with first-year courses after having failed all but two of them during my freshman and sophomore years (back in the time mechanical engineering degrees at my university had a dropout rate of around 70%). Looking at this video and pictures of that time I appeared overwhelmed, stressed and weary.  

My soul shudders every time I look back at those pictures.

The point is I don’t remember feeling this way. Of course I remember the hurdle, the fight, the amount of all-nighters I had to pull to get through college. But those feelings, that look that cries for help, all that is gone. I don’t know what I would have answered back then if you’d asked me whether I was happy. Today, I would certainly answer that I was. I had a dreamed life. I was doing what I wanted to do since I was 14 and I knew you have to fight to get what you want — or so I’ve been always told — so I fought. 

It was right before college when I started to hang out with my now wife, Sara. She had demons of her own. Gigantic, bloodthirsty, soul-destructive demons is how I remember them. I’ve always thought I tried my best to help brightness take over her life, fighting the darkness with my goofiness and shyness. The truth is that she was probably helping me more than I will ever realize.

And so they come, the invisible angels.

The angels that shaped who I am.

In giving meaning to our lives we fall to the misconception of making us source of our own fate. My fight, my decisions, my happiness, my life. We often don’t give enough credit — if at all — to all those around us that make us who we are.

The reason my old demons are gone is because I had angels by my side who kept them away. They brought smiles, caresses, kindness, and affection without me noticing, without me asking for it, when I needed it most. You also have them even if you don’t see them. We simply take them for granted as we go through our lives merely focus on ourselves. 

Back in 2010 my demons were banished by someone who has kept by my side ever since. I like to think that it was in the heat of these battles where the foundations of our relationship was forged. Back to back, riding together this roller coaster of the painful and the pleasant we have become a hell of a team to beat.

Don’t dwell on the past but look around. Your life is somewhat the product of those demons now lost in memory. The way you are, with your fears, passions and beliefs, is the result of experiences you thought forgotten. The journey is made of angels you don’t see and demons you will forget. Thank the former while you can and hold to them, so at the end of your journey, you will be able to declare that you have become a different, better human being.  

Seeking the source of my tranquility

Photo by Simon Migaj

Sendai, Japan. (5 min. read)

Let me ask you something, are you free?

Are you?

Really?

If you look up the word freedom in the dictionary you will find that freedom can be defined in more than a dozen different ways. Among these, freedom can be regarded as

  1. the absence of or release from ties or obligations;
  2. ease or facility of movement or action.

Now, based on these two definitions of freedom, tell me, are you really free?

I’ve been having a recurrent conversation with myself lately that I need to get out somehow. So here it goes.

You are constantly measuring life in the wrong units, and you are not alone.

It is almost as if in the process of converting your inner needs and desires into outer actions and behaviors you are falling into the common mistake of mixing up metric and imperial units — you are falling short. And that when thinking in terms of what you really want, the whys and for whats behind the things you do and pursue, only then you realize how misled you were with some of the decisions you made.

What do you want to get out of life?

Let me help you, the answer is freedom.

It is the conditions of those we consider ‘successful’ what most of us seek to replicate. It is their state of existence, not their means. It is their freedom.

Freedom to decide what to do, where to be, and how to spend our time.

It is not the fame, the money, the power, the privileges, the pats on the back, the stars in the chest, the laurel crowns, or the crowds of flatterers what you are after.

You want the freedom of not being held accountable. The freedom to leave everything behind without remorse or negative consequences. The freedom to love. The freedom to play. The freedom to fail. The freedom to save yourself from the calendar. The freedom of laziness. The freedom of apathy. The freedom to work nine hours a day inside a fiery kitchen, drenched in sweat, with pain in your feet and a smile in your face, not because you have to, but because you choose to; because in your endeavour of nurturing freedom you wanted to experience a new life and in so doing you filled yourself with an uncontainable joy.

I know it is hard to understand. It is equally hard for me to explain.

If you were to ask me, are you free? I would most certainly answer, yes, I am. At least in this present moment in time, I feel like I am.

I am writing these lines at 4:46 a.m. on a Wednesday. The things I do and the decisions I made are a direct consequence of my present frame of mind. I sleep when I’m tired. I work when I’m excited — just like about now — and I play when I’m frustrated. Do I have obligations and responsibilities? Of course I do. Are those meant to keep me busy while wadding my ego and providing my days with a false sense of importance and purpose? Most certainly not.

Why? Because I have come to realize that in my freedom resides the source of my tranquility. That wealth and means are just tools and methods that if used appropriately can set me free without all the busyness nonsense.

I have realized that the units we use define the outcome of what we measure. And that my tranquility is best when measured in terms of freedom of choice; and so it is towards creating freedom of choice where the majority of my efforts are directed.

Let’s talk about what you’re most likely thinking at this moment. Let’s talk about money.

Money helps, that’s common knowledge. We all know that.

But there is only under the right circumstances that money helps.

When money is regarded as a tool, we don’t need a lifetime to replicate the conditions of those we consider successful. We can easily replicate the outcome of their circumstances within a few months of work, discipline, and clarity of mind. Because remember, it is freedom we are after; no yachts, or feasts, or weekends in Kuramathi.

When money is regarded as a tool, it becomes an asset; when thought of as an objective, or a kpi for those in business, it becomes a liability.

I’m constantly re-evaluating the aim of my efforts to make sure that my wife and I live under very specific conditions. Conditions that allow us to turn our lives up-side-down if we so desire, to steer our days in the direction that we want, and to stop the clock whenever we feel is needed. The decisions we make is only but ours. It is in the execution however, when, well, some money is required.

But how much money would you pay for your own freedom? How much money are you already paying while craving for that eventual unoccupied, unrestricted future?

For us, freedom is found exactly at the expense of six months without income — that’s our “freedom threshold”. 

We’ve found that we need, in the worst case scenario, a maximum of six months to be able to generate new opportunities for ourselves. In the course of making sure that we created an environment in which the latter was possible, we decided to set aside part of our salaries until we hit that goal — well, mostly her salary, I work in academia remember? —  and then we breathed. How much is that depends on you and your desired way of living. At that point, our assets became tools and our living conditions became the foundation that help us live wherever we want, however we want. Beyond that point, there are no goals, no long-term plans, no ladders, no debts, no dreary jobs,  no end of the road.

I may sound delirious and only time will tell whether I am remarkably and publicly wrong. But I can’t help but notice how most people work their ways towards undefined goals, wasting their lives in worthless routines and harmful behaviors. How most people don’t even know why they do what they do; while the source of their tranquility lies within their reach.

We all want to live a good life, a happy life.

And although most of these terms lack of any meaning without definition, in my opinion a happy life starts the moment you hit the road towards your freedom.

Because in freedom resides the source of your tranquility.