14 years. Where has the time gone. I recently said on a podcast that the reason choosing my path in life has been so easy is because of Jai. Every year on this day I re-read a piece of Year 10 English homework I wrote on 7th May, 2007, six days after his transcendence. Each time I'm blown away by what an incredible human Jai was. Below is the homework description, and the unedited piece of writing from 14 years ago...
Section C: Writing to Inform, Explain, Describe
Describe a person who has impressed you or been a strong influence in your life, bringing out the key characteristics that make him or her special for you.
Heaven’s Missing Angel
1st May 2007, a truly inspiring gentleman’s fight against a brain tumour had ended, and heaven’s missing angel returned to the Promised Land, where he would rest in peace with God.
8th May 1988, Jai Vaghela was born, unaware of the difficult life he was about to face, and the influence he would cast above everyone involved in his life. Two years into his innocent life, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour - it was from here on we saw the bravery and courage which would exceed that of a lion.
During these early years, he was continuously undergoing chemotherapy in an attempt to overcome the cancer. Stunts were placed into his brain at the time, intending to help him live his life for another 10 years, instead extending his life to 18 years. His fighting spirit was outlined with his smile, which would be present throughout his life despite his feelings, with the word ‘complain’ not in his vocabulary. These characteristics made him special to everyone, and this can be shown as there was a 300 plus attendance at his funeral: family, friends, school teachers, nurses and the list goes on, as hundreds came to pay their respects to one of the greatest human beings I have known.
Art, swimming and cartoons were two aspects of his life which he was dearly fond of. He loved to draw, and would do so especially whilst watching cartoons, his favourite being ‘Scooby Doo’. The passion for art he shared caused him to dream of a career in art, which in my opinion would have suited him very well, after the experiences which he had been through during his life. Art Attack was a programme well-watched by Jai, as he was very much inspired by it. In 2006, he visited the Art Attack set, and watched the show in real-life. Not only did he visit this, but was also allowed to explore backstage of ‘Ready Steady Cook’. Regularly, he visited the Aspire swimming pool, where he would go with his two brothers: aged 12 and 22. ‘Cartoon Network’ was by far his favourite television channel as he loved to watch his favourite animation, most notably ‘Scooby Doo’. I remember when he used to ring me, asking to go and watch the latest film, such as ‘Shrek’ or ‘Toy Story’ and the other Disney classics.
Manners were a part of his life which everybody admired. His use of the simple ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ was perfect, and he never forgot to do so. There was even a rolling joke within the elders in the family, that all of our generation should take part in a course, with him teaching us manners and how to talk with respect. Jai was truly respectful, and in return was fully respected by the world. How a gentleman with such values should be taken away will be the biggest rhetorical question we may ever ask ourselves.
Jai was a devout follower of Hinduism, especially in Sai Baba. He used the values and teachings of Sai Baba in his everyday life - such as treating everyone with respect, and non-violence. It could be said that during his life he completed his karma, achieved moksha, when passing away, broke out of the cycle of death and rebirth, and his soul was now resting in peace in heaven.
Sport was also another hobby of his, as he would play and watch it, especially cricket. He loved cricket, and followed the Indian cricket team through their highs and lows. Wicket-keeper and batsman were his favourite positions and he would always want to be first in each category when we would all play at each other’s houses. Even when wheel chaired during his later life he still continued to play with us - he was a real fighter. Most people would say ‘I’m injured’, ‘I’m too tired and hurt’; Jai would say ‘Let’s play!’ His attitude was so positive, and he would never think or say anything negative. These characteristics made him the human being he was, and is the reason why we are all influenced by him.
Family was very important to him and it was due to the family, he kept fighting to live another day. His unconditional love allowed us to support him right to his very end and this helped him to continue living. As his parents flew all around the world in search of treatment for his brain tumour he never complained, but just continued. It was like his motto: ‘Keep going forward, don’t look back’. February 2007 was the time he was hospitalised as the brain tumour began to worsen and grow, and numerous operations took place in an attempt to save his life. Unfortunately, after one of the operations, he went into a deep coma, in which he never woke up from. His last words being said to his father, ‘Thank you for looking after me’. It lasted three months, before a heart attack put an end to his life. Hundreds of people gathered at the funeral, where tears were shed in memory of the great man, and when cremated - Heaven’s missing angel had returned. Jai Vaghela will in no doubt rest in peace, after his truly inspiring and impressive life. Myself as his first cousin, I will never forget him, and will aspire to the values he followed.
The chains, tight and heavy for an age, start to lose their grip.
What once weighed down heavy on the feet, now allows a faster pace.
A walk turns to a gallop.
The man is set free.
In every season, the man is tested by a new shackle. A new chancer tries to add weight.
A person, a product, an idea; a force that stretches beyond, and weighs heavily.
The man must remain strong to fight the distraction.
And fight to keep the shackles off.
For when the man is without the shackle, the man is free, powerful and a force to change his world.
My feet are damp. The muddy water continues to sieve through my Asics. I’m walking back and forth on the same patch of muddy grass.
At the foot of a hill that I can’t dare look up towards. A hill so big, so testing, yet so fruitful.
The start of a journey. The time everything feels overwhelming and exciting. Yet, the muddy water makes my socks heavy.
I know this climb is going to be a test. Hot and cold. Wind and rain. Light and dark. The swirling path circles around the hill, with a clear, yet ambiguous path to the top.
Will I make it?
I have no doubt. The climb begins.
Laying back in my armchair, I’m looking out the window into the sky.
It’s a cloudy day, with the possibility of future blue skies.
On one cloud, I notice a little gift.
A beautiful wrapped gift in red paper, with a golden ribbon on the top.
My lucky day.
I transport out through the window, and onto the cloud; eager to see what’s inside.
I rip the paper off and there lays an onion with a memory photo and a tag: “peel me”.
Curious, I peel each layer, with each layer revealing yet another memory photo and tag: “peel me”.
I peel and peel till I’m exhausted, with nothing to show for it except the exhaustion.
So I transport back into my chair, and seconds later, spot another cloud with a gift.
This time, I think twice, and let it go past. I know that trick.
An hour passes, and clouds with tempting little gifts continue to pass by. Then, all of a sudden, blue skies dominate, and the clouds have all disappeared. Bliss.
A glimmer of light.
A train, with the old school set up of passengers riding on top, had been stuck moving slowly through a tunnel.
Hope relinquished at the moment of the glimmer.
Eyes opened, high fives all around. Small smiles brightening the ambience.
The glimmer is held onto.
Before, and all of a sudden, beautiful swarming rays of sunlight hit the roof.
Small smiles turned ear to ear.
The train, which for so long treaded carefully on the tracks in the dark, now hits full speed, gliding in space, air and time.
I’ve always known I’m someone that needs a lot of sleep. For the past four years though, since I stopped personal training (where you have no choice), I’ve chained myself into believing I need to be up at the crack of dawn, no matter what.
A typical week has always been to wake up 5-5.30am Sunday to Friday, getting about 6.5 to 7 hours sleep, then on Saturday, with no alarms, sleeping for 11-12 hours. Not as bad as it could be, but clearly, something wasn't right if that was the weekly requirement.
That was the cycle for years. This past Christmas, I flirted with the idea of stopping the alarm clock. For two weeks, I slept with no alarm and was sleeping 10-11 hours a night. As January came round, I thought to myself there’s no way I can get anything done sleeping this much.
Of course, I was in a pretty deep recovery hole, and needed to go through the initial long nights of sleep to settle on a 'normal' routine. But I resisted, and instead, went back to the grind.
Then I took a full week off everything about 4-5 weeks ago, and this time, told myself I’d persist through the initial recovery. For the first 7-10 days it was 10-12 hours a night, then ever since, it’s settled on a regular 8.5-9 hour rhythm.
And I’m amazed at the results. I’ve always known the power of sleep - but because I slept on average 7 hours, I thought I was ticking that box. The problem was, I was always fighting my body.
Now, I know I have the luxury of working online with no real schedule (I can start my work day at any time), and I don’t have young kids (which will screw all this up when the times comes!), but the big lesson for me has been to finally, listen to what my body has been telling me for years.
No more guilt, and no more thinking the only way to move forward is to wake up at 5am; I’ll only ever do it now if my body says so, which, as daylight savings kicks in, may just happen. Incidentally, I’m probably more productive than I’ve been, and I thought I already was!
The sleep hustle is well and truly broken.
It’s one thing being the main lead in your movie, it’s another watching it. When you’re the main lead, you have one set of eyes. You only ever see, feel and hear what filters through to you.
When you stop playing the lead and start watching, you start seeing things a little differently. You become the observer. You start noticing new emotions, motives and actions. Across all the characters, scenes and screens.
The lens expands, and the narrow path you may have been walking down transforms into vast fields.
Pulling the plug to extract yourself from the movie feels obscure, yet the level head that often arrives brings with it freedom, poise and intricate balance.
Imagine taking a birds-eye photograph of what you’re doing right now.
Then zoom out 100x. Then 1000x. Then 10000x.
What do you see?
I caught myself thinking about Buzz Lightyear on a walk this morning.
His famous remark, “To Infinity and Beyond!” isn’t something to be taken lightly.
In geometry (I think), it points to the idea of a return to your starting point from the opposite direction.
But I feel mathematics may be attempting to make sense of something which is difficult to comprehend. Like, the idea of Buzz Lightyear taking off into nothingness, and continuing.
Infinity symbolises no limits. Never-ending, yet never beginning too.
A friend of mine asked me last week, “What would happen if we were in a rocket and just kept on going, where would we end up?”
That planted the seed for my wonder into Toy Story. My only answer for now is, “To Infinity and Beyond!”
If you go to the arcades, you’ll probably see a few kids playing Whac-a-mole.
At any moment, you gotta smash the mole down.
If you don’t strike it within a certain time or with enough force, it will eventually sink back into its hole with no score.
At first it starts off slow, then it gets faster.
Less moles inside, and more moles outside their holes.
As time goes by, the harder it gets. The more overwhelming it feels.
The more skilled and sharper you need to be to catch the mole.
Though, I wonder what would happen if we decide to let the moles go up and down. Come in and out.
And just be okay with that.
Would we be losing, or will we have cracked it?
It’s a hard reality to face.
Yet, the ultimate accountability.
When you’re naked in front of the mirror, your accumulated thoughts, actions and behaviours all lay in front of you.
The amalgamation of your past decisions.
Good or bad.
Love him or hate him, MJ had a few good words to say about it:
I'm gonna make a change
For once in my life
It's gonna feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right
It all starts with the (wo)man in the mirror.
Take it all away and listen.
Listen to the soft, sweet silence of nothing.
Maybe a few tweets, maybe some cars driving by.
But otherwise, just you and the silence.
No touching, no listening. Only feeling; with all of your heart.
The soft, sweet silence of nothing.
An opportunity to look within and have a dialogue.
To feel the nakedness of nothing.
To stare into the abyss.
The soft, sweet silence of nothing, may quickly turn to a scary silence.
A scary silence, with so much to give.
For a long time, I’d journal and forget about it. I’d continue with the day with no consideration for what was written.
Introspection with no implementation.
And it cost me. A lot.
When reviewing 2020, I read through all my entries. What I found were gems that told me everything I needed to know in that specific moment of time. Right in front of me.
But I missed it, because I rushed it, and never soaked it up. I skimped over my raw gut instinct that comes alive in the weird, lovely subconscious state that my body is in shortly after waking.
The gut never lies. The question is more, will we listen to it?
It knows no limits.
No boundaries. No concept of time.
It is and flows and blows. And it knows all.
All around the world, it carries tiny reciprocating whispers. Good and bad.
The wind gusts with no bias. Only maintaining equilibrium of the Earth’s spirit.
No whisper ever goes unnoticed, or forgotten. They're always reciprocated.
I grew up in the early 90s eating Weetabix. Every morning I’d put two Weetabix pieces in a bowl with milk and eat the most important meal of the day: breakfast.
I was told that if I had my Weetabix, I’d have unbeatable strength and energy.
There’s a high chance you may have done the same. Or maybe you wanted to have the strength of Tony the Tiger.
Either way, we had an association. I see Weetabix and think of a nutritious, healthy, smiling breakfast. It’s mostly just whole grain wheat, though.
These associations create beliefs and behaviours from a young age.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it actually doesn’t matter.
Everyone should start work at 9am, but quality work is all that matters.
Lifting weights and running should be the staple for everyone, but doing something you love is more important.
When we drive to a temporary goal, we put everything on hold. When we create a way of life, we have to challenge our instilled behaviours. Many of these will have come from a young age with no bad intention or fault of ours.
The work now for us is to identify these, so we can transform to a better way of life effortlessly.
I’ve used the term self-mastery extensively over the years.
Last week I spent a whole walk thinking about it, trying to understand what it truly means.
This is what I landed on (for now):
Self-mastery is not the pursuit of more or better, it is the pursuit of winning the war between the mind and the heart, with the free Soul the worthy winning prize.
I thought I was an addict. So I went cold turkey. Nothing for 9 days.
I let the baby mature, develop and progress; the baby didn’t survive, it thrived.
I realise now I wasn't an addict, I just simply didn’t know another way of living and being.
A friend of mine spoke to me yesterday about the immigrant mentality that some of us grow up with, where our parents come to this country and work hard to earn money to survive, and to gain freedom for the next generation to thrive.
Yet, the smell of the cycle feeds into the atmosphere. A conditioning that dictates this is the only way: to fill every hour with another bit of doing, at the expense of being. To think every missed hour is a missed opportunity.
The freedom that we work so hard to gain, only manifests into yet another prison in our mind.
In the last 9 days, I let the baby grow. But more so, I let myself see.
"Do a circuit at home."
"You can still train in your room."
"No one is stopping you going for a run."
That might be all well and good for some people.
But don't assume that for millions of us it is too.
For millions, it's not the same energy, experience or flow.
For millions, the disconnect we usually get, has disappeared. The ability to just forget all the BS, and zone out in an environment of hard and heavy training, gone.
Instead, cabin fever.
I know this UK govt plans to keep us in lockdown till at least April (who knows if longer), but c'mon, make it law for gyms to open.
Make specific criteria.
Be extra cautious.
Do more screening and tests at entry.
But let us train in the place many of us call our second homes.
Because millions of our mental health depends so much on it.
I signed this petition today, I hope it makes a difference.
There’s a shift that’s required in our society to prioritise all pillars of health: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual.
Awareness is a start. But awareness is becoming a sexy tick box exercise now.
It’s sexy to be aware about diversity and inclusion.
It’s sexy to be aware of the lockdown’s impact on mental health.
It gives society an opportunity to say, “We’re doing our bit”.
Awareness is only sexy if it follows genuine action.
The solution, rather, lies in promoting small cultural change. Beginning with people like us who aren’t simply aware of these changes needed, but are acting on it daily. And not on a grandiose scale, but in small ecosystems pocketed around the world.
Trying to make the world act on culture change in one go is futile. It starts with the few, and changing their beliefs. Then letting the domino effect take place. Slowly.
For extreme culture shifts, making patient action sexy is going to be our most valuable currency.
Messy. Disorganised. Scattered overwhelm.
Until another one to two thousand steps go by.
Then something magical happens.
Compartmentalisation. Organised chaos. Clarity.
Thirty minutes later, the unplugged walk that felt so unattractive before the shoes went on, just gave all that's needed for the day.
The magic happens when the repetitive, ingrained activity of walking allows the conscious chatter to step aside, and the subconscious truth to beam through.
To qualify walking alone and disconnected is strange, yet it’s a forgotten practice that gives us a brief chance to unplug from the Matrix.
Take thirty today.
A mission and vision is a filter against everything.
A set of values are the added armour.
Constraints are either created by the mission, vision and values, or are deemed as necessary to drive them forward. It works both ways.
Filters whittle down your choices and resources. Constraints will set your boundaries.
Filters are singular, constraints are multiple.
A personal mission to be a healthy and active high performer is a filter.
One of your constraints may be that you don’t drink.
Filters drives long-term behaviour, constraints drive the day-to-day.
At your workplace, the shared mission and vision may be to create sustainable financial solutions for working mothers. The filter.
One constraint may be that you only communicate with your clients by email. Or that you don’t advise on the stock market. Or that you don’t meet in person.
Some constraints are created automatically from your filter (i.e. working mothers only), some constraints are necessary to drive the filter forward.
A website can always be more intuitive.
A blog can always have better writing.
A spreadsheet can always have better formulas.
A product can always have less bugs.
But no one will know if the project is still pending, or in drafts.
Knowing a bit more information, having a bit more time, or in other words, waiting for a clearing, is futile.
Nothing needs to be flawless.
In the quest for perfectionism, procrastination rears its ugly head. Because sharpening your pencils for the fifth time isn’t going to make your drawing any better. It's sharp, you're ready. Now go.
It’s not a health and fitness one, don’t worry. That’d be quite ironic given I literally wrote a book condemning them.
Instead, it’s about decluttering. Not Marie Kondo style, but an inspired activity from the new Netflix documentary, Minimalists - Less Is More.
The key message from the documentary was about having too much stuff. And how all the stuff we think is making us happier, is actually creating more sadness.
There were a few bits I loved, such as the push for more purpose, community and healthy focus in our lives, versus materialism and excessive consumption.
Luckily, I don’t have much stuff. But I could always do with less. So I thought I’d take on the challenge they promoted at the end:
These things can be anything, and you can donate, recycle or sell them. My day 1 thing was a pair of trainers I’d worn out beyond repair. Ironically while watching the show, my joggers had a hole on my kneecap, and my T shirt had three on the torso.. Maybe I need new stuff!
What was interesting in the documentary was hearing how much materialistic behaviour is driven by a feeling of not being enough, and that consumption serves to fill a void.
I’ve written about crutches a lot in the realm of transformation, but I’d not ever thought about shopping as one. Probably because it doesn’t (directly) impact body composition.
Though, in the Amazon Prime world we live in, it’s just as instantaneous and fast acting as drink and drugs.
I’ve always liked having less stuff. In 30 days, I’m not sure if I’ll have much stuff left at all. Let’s see how it unravels.