Month: April 2015

Kawhi Leonard Superstar Featured Image

Why Kawhi Leonard Is, And Will Be, the Model Superstar the NBA Needs

I was a sophomore at San Diego State when Kawhi Leonard first set foot on campus. SDSU’s revitalization under Steve Fisher was well underway, but a successful 2008-2009 campaign, guided by senior point guard Richie Williams, had ended with the team narrowly missing the Big Dance before advancing to the to NIT semifinals in New York, where they fell against Baylor, 76-62.

The lanky kid from Riverside, California, who was labeled with “the biggest hands you’ve ever seen,” made an instant impact in his freshman season. The team finished 25-9 overall, 11-5 in the MWC, and won the program’s record-tying 3rd MWC Tournament title before earning a difficult draw against Tennessee in the first round of the NCAAs.

Freaky Frosh

While the team eventually went down in a close contest, 62-59, it was clear to everyone closely following the SDSU basketball program that Kawhi Leonard was a special player, and there was a high degree of excitement surrounding his return for a sophomore campaign under Steve Fisher’s tutelage.

In his quiet, “Kawhi” way, the lanky freshman with the huge hands posted impressive two-way stats across the board in his first collegiate season, 12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, and 47 tallied steals to go along with 24 blocks. He averaged 45% from the field, overall, but only shot 20% from 3-point range.

The following year, the crowd at Viejas Arena would become famous for the raucous environment opponents were faced with every time they stepped on the court. The rowdy student section, which was eventually nicknamed, “The Show,” was a spectacle for a very good reason. But that reason had nothing to do with the thousands of drunken students dancing and screaming themselves hoarse in the stands.

Kawhi Leonard was emerging as a superstar, a player capable of putting his thumbprint all over the game of basketball at his will. Kawhi’s natural physical gifts allowed him to do things on the court that most of us will only dream of, but his humility and commitment to steady, consistent improvement have since driven him to the brink of greatness.

Sophomore Success

Early in Kawhi’s sophomore season, the team showed the potential to put together a very successful year. They opened the season with two consecutive wins by a combined margin of 54 points before traveling to Spokane and beating Gonzaga in a nationally televised nail-biter, 79-76.

From there, the team rattled off 18 straight wins to open the season 21-0. Then they traveled to Provo to meet a feisty BYU team, led by sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette. BYU’s defensive game plan exposed some of the flaws in Kawhi’s developing offensive game, and Jimmer was red-hot all night.

The team suffered their first loss of the season by an uncomfortably final margin of 71-58, but Steve Fisher regrouped and his team responded without a blowout, 96-point, performance against Wyoming three nights later.

After eight more wins, and another lopsided loss to the hot hand of Jimmer and his BYU team, Fisher’s group finished the regular season 29-2, ranked #7 in the country. Their MWC rival, BYU, finished 28-3 and ranked just below SDSU at #8 in the nation. Everyone was excited about the possibility of an epic MWC Tournament rematch, and after both rivals defeated their first two opponents, the stage was set.

As BYU had previously handed the Aztecs their only two losses of the season to that point, SDSU fans were understandably a bit nervous about what stood between them and a second consecutive MWC Tournament Championship.

But Fisher, Kawhi, Billy White, D.J. Gay, and the rest of that outstanding Aztec team stepped up and defeated the Cougars handily, 72-54. White was the high point man in the game, with 21, but Kawhi calmly finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds, going an impressive 2-for-3 from long distance.

Making a Tournament Run

Kawhi’s quiet, almost emotionless, demeanor was already well known on the San Diego State campus, but it was beginning to become apparent that his steady hands were meant for a much larger stage, the NBA.

After the team beat BYU in the MWC Tournament Final, they knocked off Northern Colorado and Temple, respectively, in the first two rounds of the NCAAs before squaring off against the eventual champion UConn Huskies in Anaheim, a game I was fortunate to attend.

The first half was a scrappy, defensive, “Kawhi” kind of game, and it looked like SDSU had a great chance to continue their run. But Kemba Walker’s seldom mentioned halftime flop completely altered the environment of the arena in Anaheim that day, and the team went on to lose 74-67.

Kawhi finished with just 12 points and nine rebounds. On a day when he had the chance to put his blueprint on the second half and write his name into the lore of March Madness, Kawhi quietly faded into the background, and SDSU’s unpredicted tournament run came to an end.

The team finished the 2010-2011 campaign with a 34-3 overall record, two wins in the NCAA Tournament, and a hard-fought loss to the team that eventually cut down the twine in Houston. Kawhi’s final sophomore stat line read as follows: 15.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 21 total blocks, and 51 steals. He once again averaged 45% from the field and improved his 3-point percentage to nearly 30%.

Chasing the NBA Dream

While his stats may not be considered “eye-popping,” anyone that spent any time studying Kawhi’s game knew that the lanky kid passed the NBA eye test. Whenever he was on the court, you just had the feeling he was capable of impacting the game at any moment.

His test, if he was to be successful in the NBA, was to develop the ability to have that type of impact when his team needed it most. When I learned of Kawhi’s intent to forego his remaining eligibility at SDSU and enter the NBA Draft, I’ll admit I would’ve preferred that he return and spend a final year honing his skills in Steve Fisher’s system.

But I had the atmosphere of Viejas Arena for the 2011-2012 season in mind. Kawhi, it became clear, had a much larger objective. When the draft day trade was approved that sent Kawhi to San Antonio in exchange for George Hill, I knew Kawhi would be a perfect fit for the Spur’s organization.

Some around the league might’ve considered the trade a significant gamble, but San Antonio needed to get longer at the wing position, and they took a chance on developing the offensive game of a player they obviously hoped would be a defensive cornerstone of their team for many years.

While Kawhi undoubtedly still had many holes in his game when he entered the NBA, it was clear that the humble kid from California was steadfast in his commitment to improving, and he found an ideal coaching staff in San Antonio to help him do so.

A Perfect Marriage

Fast forward to the days leading up to last season’s NBA Finals. Most of the media buzz centered on LeBron, the Heat, and their quest for a three-peat. San Antonio was humbly back in the Finals where, just a year earlier, they had fallen to LeBron and the Heat in a series most thought they really should’ve won.

With the buzz surrounding “LeBron’s Quest,” someone in the media got the bright idea of looking across the court to see which Spur would be responsible for staring down the league’s greatest player in the league’s biggest series. That man, as we now know, was Kawhi Leonard.

Kawhi had a coming out party in last year’s NBA Finals, locking down LeBron on defense and displaying the full array of his ever-developing offensive game. The Spurs dismantled the Heat in a very convincing five games and, at just 22 years old, Kawhi became the third youngest player to be named Finals MVP.

While many 22-year-olds would inevitably find themselves on the unfortunate side of the tabloids after such a meteoric rise to the national stage, Kawhi slipped back into relative anonymity when all the Finals “hubbub” subsided. This year, though struggling through injuries, Kawhi was voted the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and the Spurs, in their steady, methodical fashion, once again appear to be a serious threat to defend their title.

Many young men that find success in sports today go on to struggle with the burdens of external expectations. But Kawhi Leonard is a model for a superstar that succeeds precisely because he’s able to tune out those expectations and direct his efforts toward the things he can control. He is rapidly becoming a superstar in the very same mold as his teammate, and consummate NBA professional, Tim Duncan.

Grooming a Superstar for Years to Come

Duncan, Popovich, Ginobili, and Parker have seemingly been the backbone of the Spur’s success forever, and their sustained excellence is really quite marvelous. In an era when many owners and managers are prone to blowing up rosters and showing little patience with coaches that don’t find immediate success, the Spurs have succeeded largely due to their consistency.

For a team that has been so successful for so many years, the fact that they continue to set new goals and the humility that they display through a consistent dedication to self-analyzing and searching for areas in which they can improve is very impressive.

This humility and willingness to sacrifice individual accomplishments in favor of a team goal is something we should all appreciate. In a media world intent on constantly digging up even the most worthless information and turning it into a scandal, the Spurs organization, and its’ members simply don’t allow these distractions to affect their quest.

They’re acutely aware of the things they can control. They’re aware that many things may go wrong along the way. But they retain the humility necessary to continuously learn from their experience, and therein lies one of the major keys to their success.

As I watched the Game 3 blowout in the Spurs-Clippers series, Jeff Van Gundy very astutely pointed out that, while we’re quick to give the advantage to the more experienced team, experience itself is worthless if you can’t step back, critically analyze how you can get better, and work your butt off to improve.

The Spur’s experience is invaluable because of their collective ability to self-analyze, and the traits that have made San Antonio organization so successful are the very same traits I saw in Kawhi Leonard, even back in his days at SDSU.

Those traits are humility, honesty, an undying commitment to improve, and a selfless dedication to the success of the whole. San Antonio basketball is fun to watch because it’s about creating, sharing, and co-creating.

Redefining What We Value in the “Model” Athlete

Kawhi Leonard is the superstar the NBA desperately needs because he is humble, he plays with passion and energy on both ends of the floor, and he is perfectly content to go about his “life outside of basketball” without the glare of the media spotlight. He simply loves to play the game, and he wants to do so to the best of his God-given abilities.

In an age where seemingly everyone is in search of his or her 15 seconds of fame, Kawhi is a special talent that already exudes the calm, steady professionalism that has become atypical of the Spur’s organization. At 23, Leonard is already very familiar the hard work, determination, and self-sacrifice it requires for an NBA team to be successful in the playoffs.

The Spurs, with their long history of developing and sustaining excellence, are grooming another highly efficient, “consummate pro”, to add to their impressive lineage of former, and current, players. If he stays true to the virtues that have gotten him here so far, the lanky kid with the steady hands could wind up being the best of the whole bunch when all is said and done.

As the Spurs continue their postseason run, Kawhi’s talents will be on full display. Those watching at home, and in the stands, are sure to take notice. I doubt he cares much for the attention, though. Kawhi and his teammates are locked in on repeating as NBA champions. The Spurs, and the NBA for that matter, should be willing to ride their modest superstar as far as he’s willing to carry them.

How 20 Letters Changed My Life

Concerns about humanity losing the ability to truly connect with each other are nothing new. Technological advancements in television, radio, cell phones, and the Internet have created new mediums for humans to communicate across vast distances. In many ways, communication is easier and more accessible today than ever before. However, ease and accessibility doesn’t always lead to better quality. Indeed, there are many reasons to question the quality of communications facilitated by social media.

Do these mediums compromise our ability to connect with others on a more personal level? Do addictions to social media significantly affect quality of communication with one’s surrounding environment? Are people distracted from what is happening in the real world all around them?

These are just a few of the questions that can be asked about the influence of modern tools of communication. Regardless of the individual answers, one thing will remain true. We will not find true love and sincere happiness if we cannot meaningfully connect with one another.

Recently, I visited Austin, Texas for a family reunion. My extended family is quite evenly split between the East and West coasts. Therefore, we honed in on Austin as the perfect midway point for a family gathering. When I became aware of the reunion plans, I decided I wanted to write a letter to each family member that was attending, as well as to those unfortunate members that weren’t able to make it.

Why did I feel so strongly about doing this? Honestly, I wasn’t sure when I would get another opportunity to see my entire family in person. I knew this was an amazing chance for me to tell each and every one of my family members exactly what they mean to me. What I didn’t know was just how much my family has taught me over the years, and how much they have helped me achieve the goals I set before myself.

As the date of the Austin trip approached, I was struggling to find time to sit down and write. It would’ve been easy to dismiss the idea at that point. It was Spring Break! The weather was beautiful! There were so many other things I could’ve done instead, but two days before I was set to leave the motivation struck and once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.

Memories came flooding back. Each letter brought new realizations to the surface. I found out where I learned many of the lessons and values that are now instilled deeply in my subconscious. I realized how fortunate I am to have a family that loves and cares and supports one another. I realized how many people in the world don’t have that kind of support system. I realized how much our individual personalities are shaped by the traits and values of the people we surround ourselves with.

In all honesty, writing to my family members brought me to tears. When I finally presented the letters in Austin, some people chose to read them immediately. Others chose to wait for a quieter, more private moment. Nevertheless, at some point in the weekend, each of my family members approached me to express how much it meant to them. My response was always the same, “It was my pleasure.” And it really was. I learned so much about who I am, how I’ve come to be the person I am today, and the qualities I will continue to value throughout my lifetime.

Most importantly, this process helped me understand how lucky I am to have an amazing support system of family and friends. It helped me realize how important it is that I never take that support system for granted. No matter where our lives take us, there will always be people out there thinking about you; people who truly care about you and love you. That kind of love spans all distances and circumstances. It survives the test of time and the tides of life. For that kind of love to grow and blossom we must truly experience one another, face-to-face, person-to-person, without technological intermediaries.

Modern technology has undoubtedly improved the ease of global communications. Unfortunately, this improved ease of global communication is linked to the dehumanization of communication, mainly through social media. We must be careful to continue fostering meaningful interpersonal connections.

These connections will help us find deeper significance and purpose in our lives. These connections will help us set aside our fears and prejudices. They will help us become more understanding of one another.

Human connections open endless possibilities for love, hope, satisfaction, happiness, and, hopefully someday, peace. Through these connections we can maintain belief that, one day, we will find our true counterpoint in another.

This is how I learned what my family and friends will always mean to me. This is how 20 letters changed my life.

Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Sudan Featured Image

South Sudan – Recruitment of Child Soldiers Still an Issue

In spite of rising international pressure to halt the controversial practice, rebel forces, as well as the Sudanese government, continue to actively recruit child soldiers in the country. Sudan has been marred in conflict for years, but renewed conflict between members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has recently caused many South Sudanese civilians to take refuge at the United Nations compound in the city of Juba.

Human Rights Watch, the organization committed to defending the basic human rights of people worldwide, has publicly called for both the SPLA and the Sudanese government to halt the practice of recruiting children under the age of 18 for military duty. In spite of both organizations’ promises to do so, it seems that neither side is holding true to their word.

“Despite renewed promises by both government and opposition forces that they will stop using child soldiers,” says Human Rights Watch’s Africa Director, Daniel Bekele, “both sides continue to recruit and use children in combat. In Malakal, government forces are even taking children from right outside the United Nations compound.”

The Extent of Child Recruitment

The instability of the Sudanese nation greatly affects the country’s accessibility to potential visitors. In fact, many tourists should consider actively avoiding financially supporting a government that allows this type of injustice to continue within its’ borders.

A startling report released by the international organization UNICEF in April looked at both sides of the South Sudanese conflict to determine that a staggering 9,000 child soldiers have been forced into service since the fighting’s inception in December of 2013. While rebel forces did release 3,000 child soldiers back in January, the recruitment practice is ongoing.

This practice can be devastating to the early developmental period of children’s lives and that’s something that both Bekele, and the Human Rights Watch organization, understand all too well. “South Sudanese children’s lives are being devastated by conflict, with children once again going to war instead of to school. Both sides should stop recruiting children, and hold those responsible to account,” says Bekele.

Raising Awareness and Taking Action

Moving forward, it’s imperative that international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, continue to raise awareness surrounding the recruitment of child soldiers in Sudan. As an individual, there is also steps you can take to raise awareness and, most importantly, make sure that your travel choices do not continue to support this unjust practice.

Ethical travel means considering how your movements impact the people, the economy, and the environment in the places you visit. While Sudan may be an attractive destination for some, it’s important to consider your safety and security when traveling to a country mired by conflict and human rights injustice. If you’re thinking of traveling to Sudan this year, check out these tips for safe travels in or through Sudan.

As an individual that has the ability to enjoy international travel, it’s your duty to be aware of human rights issues around the world. Our privilege to see the world as we please also gives us a greater responsibility to exercise care and compassion towards all the human beings that inhabit this planet.

If you’d like to learn more about the current situation in South Sudan, please check out Human Rights Watch’s South Sudan page. If you’d like to join a campaign to raise awareness of the need to end recruitment of child soldiers, check out Child Soldiers International to find out how you can support the movement today!

U.S. Circuses Announce Retirement of Elephants from Shows Featured Image

U.S. Circuses Announce Retirement of Elephants from Shows

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey recently announced that they plan to phase out the use of elephants in their shows by the year 2018. The announcement comes in the wake of years of pressure from animal rights groups through the filing of lawsuits concerning the circus’ treatment of animals.

End of an Era

“It is bittersweet because the elephants have been at the circus for 145 years so this is a real shift in what will be but it’s the best thing for our company, for our associates and for our consumers and most of all for the elephants,” said Kenneth Feld, President of Feld Entertainment.

Over the course of the next three years, the circuses will send their 13 traveling Asian elephants to the established Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. According to a press release issued by Feld Entertainment, “the circus will continue to feature other extraordinary animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs, and camels.”

The Feld Entertainment Company believes they’ve made an “unprecedented” commitment to focus their efforts on elephant conservation programs. “No other institution has done or is doing more to save this species from extinction,” said Feld, “and that is something of which I and my family are extremely proud.”

Continued Public Pressure

In spite of these efforts, the company continues to feel pressure from animal rights organizations that believe they should suspend the use of live animals in their shows altogether. According to Born Free USA, “Elephants, tigers, and other circus animals are wild animals…Wild animals used in circuses originate from different parts of the globe and have unique and specific needs for diet, health, vet care, social interaction, stimulation, exercise and movement, living environment, climate, etc. Yet circus animals are all trained similarly, and all live and travel together under the same conditions. It is impossible for the unique needs of every animal to be met. Worse yet, outright neglect and mistreatment of animals in the circus is rampant throughout the industry.”

Despite years of public outcry regarding the use of wild animals in circus acts, the recent decision by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey came as a surprise to many animal welfare organizations. “It’s wonderful news for the animals that have endured so much cruelty for so many years,” says Diane Schabath, a member of the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance, but she believes it’s just the first step in a continuing battle against the animal rights abuses that occur behind the scenes at circuses around the country.

Expediting the Process

While the plan to phase out elephants by 2018 is a step in the positive direction, many animal rights groups would like to see it happen sooner. “Three years is too long for a mother elephant separated from her calf, too long for a baby elephant beaten with the sharp fireplace-poker-like weapons called bullhooks that Ringling handlers use routinely, too long for an animal who roams up to 30 miles a day in the wild to be kept in shackles,” said PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk in a recently released statement.

If you believe that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey have already profited enough from the use of elephants in their shows and you’d like to see them expedite the process of releasing their performance elephants in a protected sanctuary, make your voice heard and Urge Ringling Bros/ to Stop Cruel Elephant Acts TODAY!

Surfing Towards a Brighter Future

IMG_2376We are on the edge of a wave, riding a set toward a more conscious, brighter future. The wheels are spinning and momentum is building. In some places, it seems as if this impending change is more obvious than in others, but our perception of reality is typically influenced by our immediate surroundings. When we are surrounded by love and affection, it’s easy to notice the world’s sublime beauty. Hate and injustice seem so far away that their existence is largely forgotten. But when we’re surrounded by spiteful hate, confronted by rampant injustice, and subject to constant persecution, we realize the world isn’t fair and just, we realize that money rules all, and we get caught thinking the only way to get ahead is to step on the backs of anyone that gets in our way. After all, this is the example we’ve given by the most powerful countries in the world today.

While we’re incredibly lucky to remain largely exempt from such overt injustice and persecution here in the US, it remains imperative for us to understand how our environment affects our lives, both positively and negatively. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by amazing people that have the capability to remain non-judgmental in helping us learn about life, love, healthy, and happiness. But we also need the people that make us uncomfortable, people that challenge us to step out of our comfort zone, people that show us examples of who we DON’T want to be, and people that criticize us when we think we’ve done a good job.

We learn by observing others and it’s important that we exercise our full potential as conscious observers. Technology feeds our insatiable appetites for instant gratification. Millions are walking around with our noses pressed to phone screens all day and TVs or computers all night. By attaching so readily to these technological distractions, we rapidly lose our connection to Nature and to other human beings, and we compromise our ability to manifest authentic experiences in our lives. Ultimately, losing our connection to Nature means losing our ability to connect with other human beings on a deeper level, which will result in less attempts at living passionately from the heart, less openness to the full spectrum of life’s experiences, and a loss of crucial knowledge about how to survive in, and coexist with, the world around us.

Fortunately, we do not have to go down this path. Deep in our subconscious, we know the keys to heart-centered living and physical survival. While we are quick to idolize the mind as the ultimate key to survival, the mind is also capable of restricting our happiness, especially when our thought patterns have been conditioned by false premise after false premise. One example of such premises is as such, “If I can just make enough money, accrue enough power, find my perfect counterpoint in another, or build the perfect version of myself, then life will be grand and wonderful.”

We desperately hold onto premises like these, despite our better judgment. We’ve all heard that money doesn’t buy happiness, but we continue to buy into the premise that we must have money to live and, even if we don’t enjoy what we have to do to make it, we’ve gotta “suck it up” and “work hard” so that we can make enough so that, one day far in the future, we’ll be happy and comfortable and we won’t have to worry about money any longer. We must know that power doesn’t make us happier, but we continue to idolize power, despite clear examples of those that have stepped on friends and enemies alike to accrue power and then turned around to realize that they are completely and utterly alone. Some of the loneliest and most depressed people in the world are also the most “powerful.” All the power in the world cannot settle a lonely heart.

Yet, we still hold onto these premises despite constant examples of their invalidity. We hold onto the idea that, if we just make some important changes in our daily lives, we will eventually, one day in the distant future, be perfect, and, then, and only then, will we be happy. We hold onto the dream of finding that one person that “completes you,” in spite of your gut continually telling you that the only person capable of “completing” you, ­is YOU.

We are the creators of our own reality. If we choose to accept our current situation with an open heart, rather than projecting out to a future where everything is “perfect,” and if we make a conscious effort to find happiness in the simple joys of existing, loving, and giving, we will be liberated from our internal thought process that turns happiness into the proverbial, “Carrot-on-the-Stick,” dangling forever, eternally unreachable, right in front of our faces.

When we take the time to sit back and consider the absolute simplicity of life, we realize we don’t require much to survive, and we don’t require much to be happy. We know that, from a purely physical standpoint, we require food, water, and adequate shelter to survive, but this oversimplification neglects our spiritual and mental fulfillment. That is why it’s important to add the pursuit of individual freedom and conscious love to our essential human needs. These are arguably the most important motivating factors behind our eternal quest for happiness and enlightenment.

Through extensive processes of societal conditioning, our pursuits of love and individual freedom are often undermined by job responsibilities, the incessant organization of the home, and the accrual of unwanted and unhealthy stress through societal relationships. For the most part, these things are done to please others or meet the overarching expectations of society. This desire to please others makes us obsess over job security, how much money we make, who we choose to associate with, and how we are perceived by others. When we allow these things to invade our mental and physical consciousness, our attempts at love become stressful and tiring, and this, I suspect, is why many people find it difficult to manifest unconditional love in their lives.

When we meet someone we’re attracted to, many of us consciously, or subconsciously, make an effort to fashion an image of ourselves that we hope the other person will enjoy and, ultimately, fall in love with. In other words, we want to impress and, as a result, we create an unrealistic façade that doesn’t actually represent who we are. This practice inevitably creates future problems, even if you are able to build a relationship around your façade in the short term. If we consistently tailor our image to meet the needs and preferences of a partner, we compromise our true image, our true nature, and our true desires. While some people of us might keep up the act longer than others, we will all eventually tire of being someone we are not. We will be out of alignment with our true self, even if we struggle to verbalize or understand this internal conflict. We will never be perfect. The sooner we accept this with all of our being, the sooner we will cease our unfounded attempts to achieve perfection. By being honest and committed to our true nature, we will find someone that loves us for who we really are.

So, how can we begin to take steps towards a more positive, more loving, more compassionate future? How can we foster authentic love in our lives without feeling the pressures to conform to a societal image of the “perfect relationship?”

The answer is quite simple: we must return to love. Love is an extremely powerful force. Love makes us do crazy things; things that we would never do in a usual setting, but we launch into it, headlong, without concern for consequence, in the name of love. Love is beautiful and timeless. It transcends any and all of the constructs that we attempt to place on its’ image. Love holds us true to something, anything, often when it seems that we have nothing else to grasp.

What we often neglect, when we think of love, is our need to fully love ourselves, not in a selfish manner, but because we care, because we matter, and because we want to be the best version of ourselves possible. We must work on ourselves, discover our deepest purpose, and learn to love our true nature before we can attempt to grow in love with another. The problem is that real, dedicated self-work is hard to commit to, and many of us lack the motivation to get started. In many ways, we’re also conditioned to take the easy way out.

Modern society has eliminated many of the stressors of daily life. Food is available right around the corner, water flows freely from the taps, and most of us have a sturdy roof over our heads. While the lack of “survival responsibilities” should serve to give us the space and free time to engage in this crucial self-reflection, most of us find it easier to direct our attention towards a TV or a computer. But, by doing so, we sever our connection to both Nature and our own hearts. We allow our desire for instant gratification to overcome our need to critically analyze our situation, our happiness, our emotional stability, and the health of our physical bodies.

Sadly, many of us utilize our free time to pursue activities that provide brief, short-term relief, rather than considering how we might holistically change our vibrational routine to invite health, happiness, and love into our lives. By diving into our Self, we step back and consciously notice our desires and emotions. In turn, we become more conscious of our physical world, and the other human beings inhabiting our planet. Conscious observation of the Self, and our planet, is absolutely necessary if we wish to continue this momentum towards a brighter, more loving, more compassionate future.

Of course, whether or not we commit to doing this is a simple question of motivation. Many of us are content with lives we are leading, but if we truly love ourselves, we will not settle for simply being content. We will passionately want to work on our Self because we know that doing so will help us show up in the world as our full and honest Self, not only for our own selfish needs, but for those around us as well.

Loving your Self is not about selfish indulgence. It requires a comprehensive understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. We must learn to understand the whole package in order to learn how to love and appreciate our entire existence. For each of us, self-love is an entirely independent experiment. While you can read every “How-To” piece on the Internet, the motivation must be internal and the path must be uniquely yours. No one else is capable of walking your path for you.

But, how do we know what our path looks like? How can we be sure of our path in the midst of such uncertainty?

Fortunately, you can rest assured in this simple piece of knowledge at all times, “Whatever your path looks like right now, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like.” You might not like what it looks like and you might want to be elsewhere, but this, right now, is where you’re supposed to be. If you don’t like where you are, start making small, daily changes to move towards wherever it is that you do want to be. We cannot predict the future and, thus, we can never determine what our path will look like tomorrow, next month, or five years from now. In fact, we cannot reasonably predict what our life will look like in any moment other than the present. But we we can learn how to step wholly into the present moment to find what we like about it, what we hate about it, and what we wish to change. In the combination of thousands of decisions made in the present moment, we begin to manifest a path full of happiness, health, and love.

Unfortunately, our preconceived notions of love, what it is, what being in it means, and how our relationships should look from the outside can severely hinder our ability to manifest love how we want it to appear in our lives. The image of the perfect relationship that has been drilled into our unconscious minds holds us back from experiencing the full potential of love’s embrace. Our conditioning makes us to mistake lust, desire, and other feelings for real love. It leads us into mistaken attempts to control love and, if we are lucky enough to find it, we often try to squeeze it as hard as we can. “If I just keep my love as close to me as possible,” we tell ourselves, “it will never go away.”

Of course, this is not true. No matter how hard we squeeze, love finds a way to slip through our fingers. Love cannot be controlled, it cannot be shackled, and it cannot be caged, but that is no reason to be scared of the pursuit of love. Love flows through every aspect of our lives if we can just learn to embrace its omnipresence.

Ultimately, our attempts to cultivate love will be futile if we don’t understand the polarities of the masculine and the feminine. The true essence of the feminine is the maintenance of love in the relationship. The true essence of the masculine is a deep commitment to a higher purpose. Most couples seldom understand these poles and conflict can easily arise from this misunderstanding. Most get caught in trying to move from our masculine and feminine poles towards a central point of understanding. If this happens, most relationships re relegated to a mutually beneficial friendship at best. In order to maintain the flow of love and intimacy in a relationship, both parties must embrace their polarity and they must be willing to step full into the lessons that they will learn from the back and forth evolution of an intimate connection.

In order to do this, we must work to stay truthful with our Self, and our partner, about our deeper purpose in life. While it’s easy to classify or define love and relationships using the terms we’ve been given, we are much better off paying attention to our individual vibration, intuitively feeling through the roller coaster ride of emotions, and learning how to manifest love that ultimately makes us a better person. When we overanalyze we run into trouble. When we truly listen to our hearts and learn to trust its guidance, we cannot mistake our unique purpose and path. We will remain confident that, no matter where we are and what we’re experiencing, this place, right here and now, is exactly where we’re supposed to be.

All of us can work on the process of feeling into life and love, rather than thinking it through to the most-minute detail. We must learn to listen to our emotional responses and act on them unselfishly. We must step out of our mental cages and tune into our hearts. In doing so, our selfish, ego-driven interests will peel away, layer by layer, and our genuine, heart-driven purpose will begin to reveal itself.

We must learn to trust our intuition. Our minds can easily become a prison. We need to first subtract if we hope to remain open to the possibility of addition. We need to be honest and steadfast in our position. We need to stop and listen.

We have not forgotten, but we have been misled. True love is not dead. We must cease to neglect its’ full potential with the conditioned restrictions in our head. Freeing our minds is the first step to fostering our potential for love. We must commit to this practice like so many commit, willingly and wholly, to a God above. We must return to love.