Maria’s Mind … Holiday Spirit All Year Round

Make yourself a better person

There’s nothing quite like Christmas time to make one count their blessings, turn their attention toward charitable endeavors, clean up their act and do what they must to get on Santa’s “Nice List.” Then comes New Year’s, which is yet another chance for change, introspection, reformation and I’m-gonna-do-it-better-this-year-around-type resolutions, whether or not they stick. (Thought that counts, right?!?!)

Although the holidays can be madness, there is also something beautiful about them that (can) bring out the kindness and generosity in mankind: giving to the less fortunate, dropping some change into Santa’s bucket outside the grocery store, delivering a plate of baked goods to the neighbors, stepping into a church and saying a prayer for a loved one, or volunteering at a local food drive. In so many words, we succumb to the holiday spirit around the end of the year. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Maria Ho
I wonder, what would happen if we embraced and exemplified that holiday spirit all year round? What would our world look like if we journeyed through it gracefully and with gratitude, kindness, patience, generosity, and mindfulness? Better yet, how would our own personal life improve if we approached it mindfully and with more positivity?

The holiday spirit (or “Operation Nice List”) started for me back in April. While living in Vancouver and playing excessive amounts of online poker, I began dabbling in yoga and meditation, to help balance out the tilt factor. I quickly noticed the positive effects that it had on my game and on my psyche. This set me on a path to be more mentally balanced and healthy, not just where my poker habits and lifestyle were concerned, but in my overall life. Whatever it was, it was working and I wanted more.

In October, I somehow ended up in a church service for the first time in years, which further added to the benefits I was experiencing on my quest for spiritual harmony … or maybe on my quest for presents from Santa. OK … mostly a quest for spiritual harmony, with presents being a small and secondary factor ;)

Before I continue, allow me to clarify that I was raised Catholic, but am not a “practicing Catholic.” I have a belief in a higher power, but am not dogmatic in my beliefs. I don’t feel the need to define exactly what my (or your) high power is or looks like, and I can respect a variety of religions. I appreciate the variety of ways in which men and women choose to connect to their spiritual source and make efforts toward personal betterment and acts of service.

So, I randomly attended a Christian church service (in Hollywood, California, nonetheless), with Tiffany Michelle in tow, of course. Tiffany and I were raised with two entirely different religious backgrounds, yet we both walked away from the service feeling peaceful, positive, and empowered. We didn’t necessarily have to agree with every word uttered in the pastor’s message, but I’ve always found that if you approach anything with an open mind and a desire to glean positivity — you will, in fact, do just that. If nothing else, taking an hour or two to quiet my head and heart, turn off my cellphone, shut out the distractions of the world, nurture my soul and make myself cognizant to the ways in which I can better myself, as well as this is planet, can’t hurt.

Yoga and meditation, back in April, were the gateway to what I’m now facetiously calling my (current) spiritual revival. After a few weeks of attending a variety of churches in Los Angeles, I became inspired to be more purposeful with my time. I wanted to focus on the betterment of others; doing more good in the world, or at the very least, in my own community.

One element of poker that so often makes me feel unhappy and unfulfilled is that it is a selfish endeavor. I am there to take other people’s money and to win all the money for myself. Of course, I try to use said poker spoils for good, but in and of itself, the act of playing poker isn’t enough to sustain my spirit or give my life the sense of balance and purpose that I desire.

I’ve always been a big advocate of philanthropy, but because of my hectic travel schedule, monetary donations are usually the only type of contributions that I am able to make. However, as I began tuning into my own soul, I knew that helping others was key. I wanted to do more. I wanted to be better. I wanted to make Jesus, the Universe and Santa Claus proud of me!

I discovered a few great websites ( and that make finding volunteer work a breeze. VolunteerMatch finds a charitable endeavor for you based on your social passion(s), i.e. Children & Youth, Arts & Culture, Education & Literacy, Animals etc. It basically pairs you with a volunteer activity that you’re most interested in and suited for, tailored to your schedule. LAWorks is similar and gives you a calendar of a variety of upcoming volunteer opportunities. Just a few days after I had signed up for LA Works, I found myself in the heart of Los Angeles, at an after-school program, which offers tutoring for underprivileged children, grades third through sixth.

Let me tell you, if you’re feeling crappy about your life, your poker career, frustrated about the uncontrollable swings, having money problems, trying to find meaning in your life (or maybe aren’t feeling any of those things and are just bored), take it from a newly revival’d and Jesus-ified Maria: get yo ass off the couch and go find somewhere in your community to volunteer!!! A mere hour helping a couple of 8- to 10-year-old kids do some math problems will put things into perspective for you. It did for me.

I immediately felt grateful — for the blessings in my life, for family, for my education. I felt a sense of purpose. I felt the Ying balancing out my Yang. For all the hours I have spent at the poker table, with the goal of winning and essentially making money for myself, I was dedicating a small ounce of time to help another human find success in their own life.

I have now made volunteering a regular activity. Yes, it’s hard to find the time and there’s always an excuse not to, but I make the time. Even if I’m not in the mood, whatever problem or annoyance I’m facing that day dissipates the moment a tiny human looks up and smiles at me, or thanks me for my time, or gets a sparkle in their eye when they’re able to solve one of their textbook problems on their own.

Volunteer work has given me that team spirit feel that I seem to be missing in poker. It’s like, “Hey, lets all work together, and encourage each other, and make each other better, and use our own individual time and strengths for a bigger purpose.”

I’m not here to gather up a gaggle of converts. I’m not suggesting you put down “The Hunger Games” book series and pick up the Bible, Quran, Book of Mormon, Torah, Kabbalah … or “The Secret.” I could spout a bunch of quotes like, “Pay it forward,” “Be the change you want to see in the world,” or “Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” (All good quotes by the way). Instead, I’m going to commission you to hold onto the holiday spirit and live it the whole year through, whatever that means to you. Let’s reconvene NYE 2015 and let me how it worked out for you.

January 2015