They happen whether we avoid them or not, and they happen to be much more arduous because of that very avoidance.
A wildfire is a lot like a tumultuous life event, metaphorically speaking.
We do everything we can to prevent them, even coming up with catchy bumper sticker affirmations as a reminder. All of that avoidance eventually catches up with us though. Fueled by the false sense of safety and the series of particular conditions or revelations, our overgrown and arid personal landscape becomes increasingly vulnerable to explode into a raging furnace.
But here’s the thing, both wildfires and personal trauma are natural occurrences. They both happen whether we avoid them or not, and they happen to be much more arduous because of that very avoidance.
Fire and difficult situations aren’t all bad. Sure they often cause destruction in their wake, and that can be devastating, but they also clear the way for renewal. In the charred remains of a hillside, or maybe a relationship, space is cleared for growth, ash brings nutrients for renewal, seeds are released spurring rebirth.
California has been ravaged by wildfires recently, sadly. Years of avoidance allowed our mountains to grow wild and over-development pushed communities into mountains that regularly burn. Couple that with drought and increasingly wild weather from climate change, and you end up littering the state with match sticks.
Maybe you’ve gone through a relationship trauma recently, sadly. It could come from numerous causes, but far too often things like avoidance and neglect and over-dependence are the main culprits. Instead of communicating regularly to burn out the bramble, we allow silent issues to fester, until they explode. By then it may be too late, you have to walk through the fire and you will get burned.
Since the fire is going to come either way, both the wildfire and the emotional fire, the trick is to figure out a way to manage instead of prevent it. To get ahead of the spark so it never flames to the point of inferno. To be prepared for both the difficulty and renewal it brings.
We all would love to find calmness in our personal world. The more we learn to accept and work with the fire, the less fire we’ll encounter, the more peace we create, and really that’s the goal of it all, the goal of life itself.
Give your relationships the attention they deserve.
It seems like nearly everything requires care. Our teeth need brushing, our hair a periodic scrubbing, and our body an annual physical. A car needs regular maintenance, clothes laundered, every machine eventually needs repair, and you are really going to have to upgrade that phone at some point. A garden requires regular upkeep or it’ll either become overgrown or simply die off.
Like all these things, like that garden, life and love require care too — always in need of a human touch, someone there to nourish our roots, clear our fallen debris, prune the withered limbs, make room for new life to bloom.
Yet it seems we often overlook the things closest to us, things like our emotional health, things like relationships.
The beginning of any kind of new relationship, friendship and beyond, is fresh, hopeful, and oh-so-exciting. It’s usually pretty easy too — the excitement this newness provides is the fuel that propels you forward into coupledom. It’s a sprout jumping up from the soil, ready to conquer the world. No one knows how fast, how tall, how stately it will become, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful rush.
But as that plant matures, it inevitably begin to change: that first burst of energy spreads thin, growth slows, overburdened branches droop from the weight, periods of drought starve the sapling, periods of flood confound it, and in the face of blustery adversity limbs or entire trunks can snap, leaving nothing in its place but a stump, a memory.
That’s because love isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action, and it’s alive.
If we are to avoid the fate of that stump, if we are to survive and thrive instead, the plants of our proverbial garden need careful attention through deliberate action from the start. It requires constant diligence by every star-crossed lover who ever sowed a seed. Regularly tending to their love, nourishing it, trimming back the old growth, removing any pests that seek to invade, holding the best parts up in esteem with support, searching for the weaknesses that need a little boost.
When we fail to tend to a relationship, it fails, then fades, back to the earth from whence it came.
I tend to lots of things in my life: my house and yard, the earth through tree planting, to my fellow mankind through Sierra Club leadership, my body with regular yoga and hiking (my mind with regular yoga and hiking as well), to my whole being by chasing my journeyman dreams instead of drifting in a comfort zone.
But in the midst of the shuffle I find it far too easy to neglect my relationships. I have forgetfully allowed negative emotions to fester for years without airing those grievances. I’ve passively watched the limbs of friendship wither, taking little action to save or prune them to start anew. At times I’ve made no regular effort to feed and nourish those connections. In the comfort of routine I’ve often gone silent, forgetting to show all the love I hold through the a simple supportive act.
Indifference spurs inaction, which can fell the most passionate of partnerships.
Attention spurs action, building an insurmountable foundation of love and respect.
A 2,500 year old sequoia.In all types of relationships, from budding sprout to weathered evergreen, change is inevitable. The trick is to figure out how to grow with it. By putting focus not just on how you feel, but how we feel together, you grow with it. By making an effort where once there was ease, you grow with it. By giving the gift of your attention instead burying yourself in your phone night after night, you grow with it.
In this cut throat world, not everything in this garden will survive. Sometimes the seed was just not meant to be planted. Sometimes the plant has a unalterable lifespan. That’s normal, and sometimes the best, yet most difficult decision is to let it go.
But in the meantime, we owe it to our partner, to our relationship, to make every effort imaginable to raise our sapling up to be as sturdy as a sequoia. We owe it to each other to care for it, every day, until the day it and we are ready to move on.
We owe it to love to at least try. We owe it, because we care.
Less us, more we.
Less why, more be.
Less posting, more protesting.
Less complaining, more changing.
Less conquest, more progress.
Less complicitness, more kindness.
Less pontificating, more creating.
Less waiting, more cultivating.
Less worry, more wonderment.
Less hurry, more movement.
Less cursing, more caring.
Less doubting, more doing.
Less regret, more reflect.
Less elect, more effect.
Less reaction, more action.
Less apathy, more activism.
Less us, more we.
Less blinders, more see.
I'm 37 and always feel like I'm just getting started in life.
I’ve felt like I was just getting started for pretty much all of those 37 years, and it has its pluses and minuses. On one hand, it can easily lead to malaise--if you’re always just getting started, it’s easy to feel adrift. But on the other, I like the idea of new beginnings--when every day is an opportunity to start again, every day has hope.
That's because it's not over.
It’s not over for me. I’m still figuring it out, trying new things, pushing myself, often failing, but then picking myself up and learning from it.
It’s not over for you either. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just have to try new things, push yourself, and pick yourself up, so you can learn and grow into the future.
Each day is the start of a new path of possibility. Whether we take that path and how far we travel down we travel is entirely up to us. It leads us forward, toward creating our legacy, toward ourselves.
Look, I don’t always feel this way — I get bogged down in the day-to-day struggle of getting my act together too. After 37 laps around the sun, sometimes I run into a wall of exhaustion. I wrote this at one of those very moments. But I also know that when we stop to bemoan our lack of progress, we do so at the expense of progressing.
So I wrote this because in that moment I needed a cheerleader to root me toward the finish line, even if that cheerleader was myself. I wrote this because I know once in a while you might need that cheerleader too.
I know it’s not over, it's never over, because there’s always hope. I know that if I wake up every day and trudge forward that I’ll move forward. You know it too. That’s why you’re reading this.
Build a beautiful relationship? It's not over.
Land that dream job? It's not over.
Cultivate happiness? It's not over.
Lose those pesky 5 pounds? It's not over.
Resolve a nagging conflict? It’s not over.
Debt-free by 40? It’s not over.
Abandon social media distraction? It's not over.
Perfect your recipe for lemon squares? It’s not over.
The battle for equality and progress? It’s not over.
It’s not over because it each day is a new beginning.
It’s not over because that beginning is your choice.
It’s not over because that choice is one you get to make every day.
I know you're frustrated, I'm frustrated too. But guess what? There's hope.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman
I'm angry. I'm disappointed. Once in a while these days a wave inescapable melancholy washes over me. The events that have transpired across the world over the past year have been unmistakably heavy. I have a hunch that a lot of you feel the same.
2016 was a difficult year. Some would call it a terrible, horrific, never ending nightmare of a dumpster fire, but let’s just stick with “difficult” for the sake of sanity.
Russia, Ukraine, Syria, ISIS, China, Russia again, the hottest year on record, the death of a slew of extremely talented artists, the dangerous proliferation of fake news, all the people with an uncritical eye who believe it, the 2016 presidential election season, the day of the 2016 presidential election itself, the day(s) after the 2016 presidential election, the hatred and racism it all exposed, and perhaps worst of all, the demagogue of destructive division that is president-elect Trump... just to name a few.
This year piled it on like dirty laundry. Like rows of chipped plates at a Goodwill. Like net after net of suffocating fish on boat deck. It broke the Guinness World Record for awful years.
But I’m going to tell you something you may not be expecting to hear: 2016 was amazing.
That’s right, I said it.
While it's true, there is a long list of terrible things that happened in 2016, there’s an even longer list of beautiful things: your friends, your family, all the mind-blowing things you learned and the stunning sights you witnessed, every meaningful conversation, every hug and every smooch, all the moments where you created, you cried, you smiled.
Least of all, 2016 was an amazing year because you were here to live it. No matter how much the acidic fermentation of hatred, disapointment, and chaos soured this year, you survived it, you learned from it, and you’re better off for it.
When things go downhill like they did in 2016—when we see cruelty, violence, ignorance, war, and struggle — it’s easy to just give up. Stick our heads in the sand of distraction and procrastination. Chalk this off as a rotten year, plug our noses, and pray that when we ring in 2017 and put up a new wall calendar it’s somehow going to fix everything.
That is the exact opposite thing we should do.
Wallowing in the darkness of the past doesn't make your future any brighter. The only way to do that is to mindfully stand in the light of the present.
I’m still here ready and able to fight, you are too, and that gives me hope. It pulls me out of the funk of this past year and gets me back to work today, in the present. I know deep down that no matter how many terrible things happen, in this or any year, there are still good and decent people in the world. Our very existence proves it.
You are lucky to be alive right now—we are all lucky to be alive right now—because as long as we’re alive, hope lives as well. That is the spark of inspiration that we use to ignite a better world.
Instead of putting out the flame because things didn’t go our way, how about we use all this as fuel to burn even brighter, every day, from here on out?
Instead of worrying about the lack of kindness in the world, how about we turn the tide by showing more kindness ourselves?
Instead of fretting over the myriad ways our president-elect can screw up societal progress, the complex global economy, our increasingly tense international relations, and the environment, how about we volunteer and donate to the organizations that will pick up the fight in his absence?
Instead of pouting while we wait for 2017 to somehow usher in better news, how about we create some good news right now while 2016 still exists?
We are lucky to be alive because it means we still have a chance. Right now is your chance. Stand up, step forward, and take it.
Cross-posted at: medium.com/the-mindful-journeyman/america-is-still-beautiful
My profession has always been political advocacy, but in the last few years my heart has been in mindfulness. So you can imagine how this past week was quite an emotional tug of war.
As a matter of personal philosophy, I believe in kindness and human decency. So I was shocked, extremely shocked, last Tuesday when a man with a complete lack of human decency became president-elect Donald Trump.
My flash reaction was to lose hope in the goodness of man, like I’d been punched in the gut by the bully of a truly harsh reality. A troublingly large amount of people turned out to be selfish and vulgar, or if not, they were OK enough with selfish vulgarity to vote for someone who is, which is almost as bad.
This goes way beyond political ideology. We can debate and respectfully disagree on the issues 'til the cows come, I’m fine with that. But even beyond Trump's particularly extremist positions--on women, minorities, religious freedom, LGBT rights, immigration, the economy, trade, taxes, the environment, and I could go on--there was little to no respect displayed by him during this campaign. The unprecedented reaction of despair and protest you’re seeing around the country right now is a direct result of that.
It was an emotionally chaotic couple of days. I couldn't sleep. I ate way too much. I distracted myself with entertainment and booze. I often felt despondent. Was I wrong all this time to believe in the goodness of humanity?
But the days passed and eventually, here and there, the fog lifted to expose the sun again.
The warm glow shined a light on the truth: America is still beautiful. It is. America is still kind and decent and loving. America is still good.
I saw it in all the diverse and hopeful faces at the peaceful protest last weekend.
I saw it in every passionate advocate at my local Sierra Club political action committee meeting.
I saw it in my mother, who is now a fierce advocate for my rights, the rights of others, and the return of decency.
I saw it in the avalanche of donations to social service charitable organizations that piled up over the last week.
I saw it in the empathy and love that my man and all our friends shared with each other as we struggled to fathom this act of aggression toward our communities and common dignity.
I see kindness and charity and compassion and yes, beauty, all around me.
Sure, I see the fear and division and violence that's going on as well. It started from top with Donald Trump and then trickled down. It's devastating for my soul to bear witness to such an open display of hatred.
But still I believe, no I know, that we are better than that. Love is stronger than hate. It always has been and it always will be.
And in the end, love will win.
So I will not give up. I will fight for justice and equality and decency because we need it now more than ever. And if you stand against those things, or support the guy who does, then I will debate with you respectfully until you understand why those things are so important.
The beauty of America still shines together as one light, radiating into the darkness, a beacon of hope in a troubled nation.
Unless you’ve been living alone in the woods for the last few months, you’re well aware that it’s peak political season in the United States.
An election at it’s basic level is a decision, and this idea about the power of our individual, everyday decisions courses through the entire premise of mindfulness. Every day we have a decision to either live in the present or dwell on the past, to learn and grow or stifle our evolution, to get up every morning and conquer the day or roll over and let it pass us by.
A political election requires a decision too, a far less intimate but just as important decision.
At the root of all these decisions is love and fear. It seems simplistic at the face of it, but in reality it’s a complicated struggle between our two most extreme emotions. Too much love and our decisions rely on sentiment instead of reason. Too much fear and our decisions are rooted in distrust and anger. Too much of either makes us unmindful---when we lean too far in any direction we eventually fall over.
A decision based in love or fear is complicated, but usually, hopefully, the result ends up somewhere in the middle---in compromise.
I like to think of these two sides as the classic angel-and-devil-on-the-shoulders meme.
These two little shoulder emotions battle in our hearts and minds all the time. Love tells us to live in the present and accept the beauty of right now, while fears holds us back to worry if we'll ever live up to our past triumphs or live down our past mistakes. Love opens up our mind to accept new ideas, while fear shuts us down to pine after an imagined ideal. Love pushes us to use each day to its full potential, while fear triggers the warm safety of procrastination.
In politics, love and fear fuel another set of decisions. Love leads us to engage and educate our friends, while fear makes us to lash out and insult. Love encourages us to care for our fellow man no matter what their race, religion, or orientation, while fear demands we entrench ourselves, draw deeper into our ideological bubble, and refuse to give an inch. Love requires us to protect our earth for generations to come, while fear whispers lies of doubt around climate change science and encourages a business-first attitude.
When we sit down to decide which candidate to support, we yet again look to love and fear for assistance. Love tells us to vote for who we’re most enthusiastic about and most aligns with our ideals, while fear tells us to vote against the candidate we find troublesome, or even dangerous.
Now before you say it, I know, that was just a long list of overly simplistic, cut and dry, black and white decisions.
In real life we don’t just listen to either the angel or the devil, we hear both. We make good decisions, we make mistakes, we figure things out, and then ultimately we find the best path lies somewhere else. I often call it balance or compromise. Buddhists call it "the middle way"
These when the two competing emotions come together.
We can live in the present while also using the past to inform it. The middle. We can hold on to our values and ideals while staying open to life’s ongoing lessons. The middle. We can have a productive day and also take some “me time” once in a while. The middle.
In an election, we can make a voting decision based on both love for a candidate that moves us forward with progress, as well as fear over the dangerous regress the alternative will usher. The middle.
On the issues, love can focus us on our commonalities instead of conflicts, while fear reminds us to speak out loudly against dangerous demagogues. The middle. Love can rightly attract us to peace, equality, and fairness, while fear demands we fight directly against racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. The middle. Love can urge us to protect and rebuild our environment, while fear reminds us that political leaders who deny the existence of climate change are steering us toward catastrophe and must be stopped at all costs. The middle.
My love for every interconnected living thing on this earth and my desire to make it a better place, leads me to vote for Hillary Clinton. My fear of the destruction, treacherousness, hatred, and bluster that has and will undoubtedly continue to rise from her chief opponent, leads me to the same conclusion.
Both love and fear, meeting in the middle, for progress in America.
The way I see it, you have two options for your existence: live your life, or live your life in fear.
There’s a valid evolutionary reason we feel fear and anxiety. In our caveman days we developed these emotions as a form of protection. The fear of death, injury, or pain triggered our defenses, thus lowering the chance of death, injury, or pain.
But it’s easy for us to take that healthy reaction of caution to an extreme, especially in this age of digital information over-saturation, especially given the news media’s tendency to focus on calamity as a ratings booster, and most especially when we’re hit with a personal tragedy.
12 years ago today my younger brother, plagued with blood clots, laid down to catch his breath and never got back up again. 5 years before that my father, plagued with high cholesterol, went out for a run one afternoon and never ran home. In my years before all that, I was always a bit of a worry-wort, lying awake in my central California home fretting over the possibility of the "big one" casting us off into the Pacific, or of an inescapable house fire, or of an alien invasion (seriously).
All of this, especially the untimely death of two of my closest family members, could have lead me to a very fearful life, becoming increasingly risk averse so as to avoid all of the many real and imaginary dangers of the world. While I do carry a decent amount of this worry with me to this day---and believe a little fear-induced caution can lead to wiser choices---I make a concerted effort to let go.
Because really, what is the point of living if you spend your whole life holed up in a mental bunker of fear?
There are truly dangerous people and things out there. My community, LGBTQ folks, are often the target of violence. I go hiking a lot by myself and so every time my mother learns of a bear attack she sends me an email of concern. Even with that, my risk of danger is low compared to the many places in the world held hostage by terrorists or the underprivileged communities held hostage to an overreactive police force and straight up bigotry.
But in spite of all that, when the moment comes that I lie down and never get back up, I’d like to at least know I lived life to the fullest while I was standing. I want to know that I wrote down every word, that I helped every friend, that I loved, that I cried, that I followed my dreams, that I lived while I was alive.
On this anniversary of my little brother's death, the lesson is to live with passion, joy, and love, just as he did in his time on earth. On the occasion of a seemingly neverending parade of deaths around the world, the lesson is to live mindfully in the present, because who knows what might happen tomorrow. The lesson is that life is too short to waste it constantly worried about death.
The lesson of death... is life.
It's something I've wanted to write about in this blog for a while now, but never quite knew how to bring it up. It's also something I've always known, for as far back as I can remember, but something that took me a long time to accept. Usually the easiest way to do this is like pulling off a bandaid, so here goes..
I don't imagine anyone who reads this blog is particularly disrupted by that fact. You're either my friend so you already know, or you're people who seek out mindfulness, and those kind of people are loving, open-minded, and caring.
So I wasn’t worried about coming out per se, and I've made casual reference to “my man” and used photos of us together on numerous occasions.
But still, I've never been overt. I suppose I didn't want to be “that gay mindfulness guy.” I wanted my ideas to speak for themselves, to be universal.
The recent and absurdly tragic events in Orlando though, they made my desire to come out on these pages more urgent.
They also got me thinking a lot. I've been trying to wrap my head around what occurred, and then the response from people of all persuasions over the past few days: reactions of anger for good reason, fear of what still might occur, love for the community of support we've created, honoring the past in the form of brave coming out stories, and hope for the future as we trudge forward with marching orders as political advocates in a new arena.
I've also seen some truly terrible reactions, those of vitriol and blame that do nothing to solve the myriad problems we all face as a society or to better the plight of LGBT people around the world.
I wanted to figure out how and where mindfulness fits into this. As usual, as we all do, we go back to our own bubble of experience to try and make sense of it.
Leading a more present life in the world is a long and arduous journey of fear and accomplishment. Coming out of the closet was, and still is for most young people, a long and arduous journey of fear and accomplishment as well. And the more I think about it, the more I realize growing up gay is perhaps one of the biggest drivers of my own attraction to mindfulness.
Simply living as an out gay man is an albatross of a journey; constantly looking over your shoulder wondering if someone is judging you, or worse, out to harm you. A life in that sort of existence is far from mindful. How can I live in the moment, love who I want openly, and just be my honest self when a "wrong" move in a wrong situation can lead to derision or even violence?
Perhaps I actively search for ways to live free and mindful because I’ve been stripped of the ability to do that in my everyday life, for my whole life, simply because of who I am and the way some in society view me.
Certainly not every gay person is an amateur-journeyman-mindfulness-guru like me. But take a place like a gay bar or club; it's a place of safety for my community, a respite from the worry of constant judgement you feel almost everywhere else. It's a place where we can truly, finally, live in the moment. In that sense, perhaps we gays are creatures of the mindfulness, whether we realize it or not.
On the same token, many if not most gay men grow up with a heightened sympathy for the other little guys in life---the maligned and the bullied---because we've been there too.
I knew I was different from early on, and the other kids in school seemed to know too. So I was picked on, especially in PE class. I endured physical, mental, and verbal abuse, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, but always painful. Later in high school I became much more confident in myself, or at least able to play confident, and the abuse waned. Maybe I was just lucky, because I continued to watch other outsider kids in my school get bullied. High school can be brutal that way.
But because of all of that, I grew up with an extra sensitivity to the plight of others, and it led me to a desire to help make things better. By helping others I thought I could help myself. That led me to nonprofit work in my career, to make the world a slightly better place. It led me to this blog, to make my own life, and maybe yours by proxy, a slightly better place too.
I've always thought of mindfulness as a way of helping out the little guy, even if that little guy is me. It's how we escape the pains of the world and learn to be proud of ourselves, in that moment.
The LGBT community isn’t some monolith, not everyone is like me nor would I want them to be. But I think we all carry with us a chip on our shoulder from each of our individually difficult experiences of growing up in a society that thinks we shouldn’t exist. Or if we do exist we should only exist in private. Or that we don’t truly exist at all because we can just pray it away. Or we might exist right now, but we shouldn’t anymore, so they’re going to show up at a nightclub and mow us down with automatic weapons of war (that have no business being in the hands of civilians).
I know for a fact that mindfulness has helped me wade through the sometimes muddy and sometimes beautifully sparkling waters of being a gay man in this day and age. Mindfulness has definitely helped me deal with my own myriad emotions stemming from the massacre in Orlando.
My history and experience, all of it, has led me to here, a place of knowing about my imperfection, but also a place of strength because of it.
I know for a fact that the world and everyone in it needs more mindfulness. The society that told me I shouldn’t exist said the same to the shooter in Orlando, who has now been found to have been on gay social media apps himself. Instead of taking that difficult upbringing of hate and turning into love, as so so many of my gay brothers and sisters have done, he turned to hate and violence.
I know for a fact that my community, my friends, the loving and open-minded LGBT community, could use a little mindfulness right now too. A moment to look back at where we’ve been, look at the horror that has hit us now, and take all those years of both contempt and compassion, suffering and celebration, pain and pride, and mix up that uniquely amazing recipe to create the next step in our movement.
It's a movement that makes the world a better place by telling our stories, with political action around LGBT rights, in working to reverse the tide of homophobia spawned by religious extremists from too many religions, and now using our collective might to combat our nations' longstanding pillars of shame: guns and violence.
With all that we've been through and all that we've already done, I'm more hopeful now than ever about what we'll accomplish in the future. I couldn't be more proud.
It's OK to let others help you. And it's way better than the alternative.
Your own knowledge is limited. By dealing with every issue alone you'll only ever be able see the things that exist within your limited personal prism. By yourself you ride the merry-go-round of your own experience, circling around the same options, the same objectives, the same obsessions.
But no matter where you're at in life, you're never alone. A million people have already gone through the same thing, or at least something somewhat similar. Use their lesson, learn from their experience, accept their help, take their advice. It may not be exactly what you need, but it can be a start. It can help you think differently, enough to send you down a new unexpected path, a path toward a better you.
Good vibes only, the time is now.
Digress from stress, disconnect, and allow.
No accommodating worry or entertaining regret.
No wasting time obsessively upset.
Stop the self-doubt, and no more complaints.
Enough with all the self-righteous debates.
No more consequences, only life lessons.
This is how you learn what the best is.
No listening to people who always say “no.”
Give up the grudges, it's time to let go.
No more no’s.
Period. You know.
Yes to joy, and smiles, and laughter.
Yes to bear hugs and happily ever after.
Yes to presence, mindfulness, and peace.
Yes to love, it's all you actually need.
Say yes even when you're down.
You'll be surprised how quickly it turns you around.
Yes to giving more than you take.
Yes to some selfishness, for your sanity’s sake.
Good vibes only, not because it's forced.
Good vibes only, and then pass the torch.
This article is cross-posted with Elephant Journal:
Finding mindfulness isn't like flipping a switch.
Most of us can’t simply will ourselves into a state of zen like a Tibetan monk—the modern age and our overactive minds simply won’t allow it. So I look to the outside world for help. Be it through nature, exercise, apps, travel, everyday choices, or habits, we can use all sorts of methods to nudge ourselves to a more present state.
One significant piece of my own personal outside world is my dog, Rocco. To put it bluntly, I love him to death. He always makes me smile and helps me forget whatever worry has been overwhelming my mind on a given day.
I was thinking about him, and the larger infatuation many of us have with our pets, and suddenly it dawned on me—my dog is another one of the ways I nudge myself, often subconsciously, to get out of my head and live in the present.
My dog teaches me mindfulness.
The connection we have to our pets is multi-layered. No doubt, they provide us with companionship, unconditional love, snuggles and a great way to connect to other similarly passionate pet people. But there’s a deeper attachment that goes beyond the obvious. I propose a new theory—that we’re fanatically attached to our pets because they constantly teach us an important lesson about ourselves.
Our pets take us out of our complicated adult lives for a moment, and back to a more mindful time—a time of youthful exuberance, a time before we were corrupted by the modern distracted world. They remind us of how we were then, and as such, remind us to try and a be little more like that again—right now.
My dog Rocco is possibly the most zen being I know. He doesn’t worry about the future, except perhaps starting around four o’clock in the afternoon, when he knows dinner is imminent. He doesn’t stress over the decisions he makes, for instance—choosing which sunbeam to sleep in.
He doesn’t regret his mistakes, even after tearing apart one of his favorite toys. He’s always enthusiastic when I take him on his morning walk, even if he had to wait while I procrastinated on Facebook. He jumps for joy at every treat, even if he’d always rather have bacon. He accepts all the snuggles and love I give, not worried about what other thing he might be missing out on.
He’s also a big part of my favorite trick to get more mindful—nature. I hike a few times a week. The trails provide me with a level of exercise that keeps me physically fit and a level of peace and beauty that keeps me mentally fit.
I often take Rocco on these hikes, and rather than take away from the moment of zen the wild gives me, he adds a whole new layer of zen that only enhances the experience. The exuberance he displays when I untether his leash adds to the exuberance I feel when I untether from the stress of city life.
His curiosity to explore a new landscape—the trees, shrubs, vistas, wildlife and of course smells—brings me to a more mindfully aware state that bleeds into the rest of my day, on the trail and off. His consistent desire to stay close to me as we hike brings me an understanding of uncorrupted loyalty that I can carry with me into the human relationships of my everyday life.
As a hiking partner, not only is he good at keeping up with my pace, he’s good at setting the pace for a mindful existence.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Rocco is my little yogi zen master. He doesn’t tell me how to live my life, but instead, he provides an example of a simpler way to live.
Obviously, not all dogs are the same, and maybe I’m just lucky to have such an interested and present pooch. But I do think most dogs, most cats (I grew up with many) and most pets in general, have all these qualities to some degree. And it’s for those reasons we’re so drawn to them.
When I’m feeling down, angry, stressed or worried about the future, I can look at Rocco and see a better way—a more simple, honest, mindful way.
Maybe this is one of the reasons I love him so much.
We’re all complicated humans, so it’s unrealistic to expect to live our lives with the same sincerity as our pets. It’s the cross of self-awareness we have to bear as a species.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our furry companions—that we can’t take a moment to be with them in the moment, or that we can’t take the smile they give us and carry it with us as we go about our convoluted day.
In that way, our pets are giving us the gift of mindfulness all the time. It’s up to us if we choose to accept it.
There’s that moment when you switch off airplane mode on your phone and the only message you see in the upper-corner, coverage indicator area is “Searching…”
It’s the moment when you're about to reconnect from whatever escape you were just on. The moment you return from whatever forced you to disconnect in the first place, be it from going to a movie, hiking or camping in the mountains, or maybe actually being on an airplane.
For me, it’s the moment I switch from the relative calm of searching for myself in the real world, back to the unending search for signals and distractions in digital world.
I write a lot about distraction and disconnection here, not because I’ve got it all figured out, but because it’s an issue I struggle with, especially with finding a balance between the two.
It’s way too easy for me to get on my phone and spend hours on mindless tasks, and when I say hours it's no exaggeration. One Google search easily turns into ten, twenty, thirty. One article turns into a clickhole of largely meaningless and depressing news information gathering. A momentary check of Facebook quickly turns into an hour of “just scroll a little bit more!” Most days, being on my phone is the first thing I do in the morning, the last thing I do at night, and the thing I do many times in between to pass the time.
All of this is just a way I trick my mind into thinking it’s being productive, when in reality most of what I’m doing is entirely inconsequential. Worse, these are all things that take away from the time I could be doing something real, like writing this blog, or hiking, or connecting with friends, or applying for jobs, or calling my mother.
So when I disconnect, it’s for a purpose. When I disconnect, I do it so I can go searching instead.…
Searching for mindfulness.
Searching for my thoughts.
Searching for meaning.
Searching for me.
Not long ago I came back down the mountain from an excellent camping trip with a group of some of my closest friends. When we got close to the valley floor I switched off airplane mode and immediately began staring at that “Searching…” message in the upper corner, intently waiting for all those bars and signals to escort me back to the modern world.
But after a 10 second attempt, it gave me the “No Service” message instead of bars. I was disappointed, of course. I was eager to post to Instagram and Facebook to share with you all the majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir’s Range of Light.
But then I remembered “Searching…”
When my phone was in airplane mode that weekend, instead of searching for a signal the whole time, I was doing the searching instead. It allowed me to read and spend quiet time with my own thoughts. It allowed me to share my love of camping with friends who hadn’t been in ages. It allowed me to watch as those friends’ eyes opened to the lessons of comfort, distraction, and expectation that come from the remote camping experience. It allowed us all to be present with each other in a way we’ve never been before, to bond in ways you can’t predict or replicate.
When I let my device do the searching, that means I’m searching for a way out. An excuse to be somewhere else. To add yet another method of distraction to my over-complicated world.
When I do the searching myself, that means I’m finally living.
I switched my phone back into airplane mode. This was the last moment of disconnection I would have for a while. It was our last moments together without all those distractions. Our last moments in the real world. And besides, I didn’t have a signal anyway.
Phone coverage will come and go, but what are you really searching for?
Are you searching for a constant digital connection using a combination of letters and pictures, or a perhaps more intermittent but deeper and more direct connection with those you actually care about?
Are you searching for a following of 1,000 on Instagram, or a following of 10 real friends who actually mean something to you?
Are you searching for more “likes,” or real love?
"A journey isn't about expectation, it's about discovery." ~mindfulness now
A year ago today I launched Mindfulness Now. Boy does it make me happy to type that.
When I started this blog I had no idea where I’d be in life at this point. That’s always the case though. No matter how much we love to speculate, life just changes.
Did I know that in one year I would write 80 individual posts, collect over 35,000 pageviews, and get published in a pretty major online mindfulness website? I only dreamed of it. When I started this I wasn’t even sure if my close friends would pay attention, let alone 14,000 unique visitors (/humblebrag).
Did I know a year ago that this experience would lead me to quit my job so I could write and explore full-time? It wasn’t even on my radar. A funny thing happens when you get out of your comfort zone and follow your passion, instead of just going through the motions of life.
A year ago there were a number of things I hoped to get out of writing this blog. I wasn't exactly sure what I would find, but I'm trying not to fear the unknown so much these days. Now a year later, I’d like to believe all of these hopes came to fruition, or are at least in the process of growing their fruit.
Hope #1: Learn about myself by sharing a piece of myself
I had written in some form of a journal for years prior to this blog. Some of my first posts on this page were actual retreads of journal entries I'd written privately over the last few years.
It’s one thing though to write to yourself -- to take an idea that the world uncovers, filter it through your own mind, and put it on paper. It’s something entirely different to take those words a step further and put them out there on a website for all to see.
My introspective musings did help me to a degree, but it wasn’t until I started posting them here that I really began to really listen to them. Now that I was stating my ideas publicly, I felt pressure to stick to them. The blog kept me honest, grounded, and in touch with those around me.
Most of the feedback I heard was inspiring, and by inspiring others it inspired me to write more. The ideas I posted here suddenly held more weight in my own mind, and I was finally sticking to them.
HOPE #2 - Explore a new idea and see if it becomes a passion
The change in my mind was potent. I didn’t have to be restricted to one place, one thought, one group, or one desk. Writing made me feel free from the chains that society had put on me, and that I myself continued to wear.
This new found passion around writing spurred other related passions as well. Most notably, a passion for nature and outdoor activity. It spurred a renewal in old passions too, for things like music and dogs.
I have found a new and renewed set of joys, instruments that take me beyond my normal sphere. I found the start of a new path forward. I found my voice. Quite frankly, I found myself.
HOPE #3 - Gain confidence
Finding that voice was a big deal.
I tend to prefer things easy in life -- I search for comfort and routine and avoid conflict if I can. I like to think of myself as a peacemaker, but too often my peacefulness would morph into passivity. I would allow my life to pass by without really making an effort.
Writing this blog became the effort that I needed. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a public eye where confidence was required.
The process hasn't always been easy. Sometimes I feel like I'm overstepping. Some of my ideas have been questioned. Sometimes a friend would worry that a post was about them, even though I can assure you I would never single anyone out.
But finally, despite it all, I pushed forward with confidence. I pushed forward in life. I stopped listening to the negative. The sympathetic voices who got it, externally and internally, became louder than the voices of dissent.
I’m still working on this one and I figure I always will. But I'm so appreciative to have found an outlet that is taking me in the right direction.
HOPE #4 - Improve as a writer
As much as I always enjoyed writing to myself, even way back when, I hesitated in publishing this blog. I spent months fretting over it. Fear held me back.
I’ve found though that posting your words in a public space is a whole new motivation to write better. My private journal entries were free-flowing, riddled with inconsistencies, and lacking in structure. This blog required me to start looking at my writing with an increasingly keen eye.
There’s something about putting your feet to fire that forces you to learn more about fires and feet. I’ve learned as much about my own style and how to set myself up for a good writing session, as I’ve learned what people are drawn to, what they like to hear, and especially what they need hear.
I am certain the English majors of the bunch will find all sorts of errors in my writing, and that's OK. When I look back at blogs I wrote last summer, I definitely see an improvement, and for now that’s enough for me -- to keep improving.
HOPE #5 - Become more mindful
This is clearly the biggest hope I had from creating this blog -- it's in the title afterall. Mindfulness is the blood flowing through the veins of this space. Mindfulness now weaves it’s way into all my thoughts...and thank god, because I needed it.
I had read about mindfulness and attempted to integrate it into my life for years. But like most great ideas in life, it's easier said than done. I would tell myself to live in the present moment, to let go of the drama, worry, and anxiety, but when I inevitably failed I would scream at myself on the inside. I knew better, yet I still made mistakes. I couldn’t follow my own advice.
But here I am one year later, and light-years down my path. I am far from perfect, lord knows. I still struggle with these issues every day. But I believe I have indeed become more mindful in the last year. I’m more in-tune with myself, better able to handle life’s ups and downs, to reduce my distractions (digital or otherwise), to be more patient with my response, to disconnect more often, be smarter about my decisions, and braver when it comes to the difficult ones.
Starting Mindfulness Now was possibly the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and I can’t totally take credit for it because the idea came from Leo Babauta on his bellwether mindfulness blog Zen Habits. Also, gratitude goes to those friends and family who I discussed it with beforehand, for their support and especially the title suggestions.
All of that, all of them, all of you, all of the last year, all of my life, have led me to where I am now...someone who is learning, growing, passionate, confident, and just a little bit more mindful in the process.
This is why I call myself a journeyman (and not just for the solo camping journey hashtag). A journeyman is someone who is educated but not yet a master. I know a good deal about the tool of mindfulness, but I’m still learning how to use it every day.
I might argue that we are all journeymen. I might argue that no one is ever a true master, because we’re all always learning. I might argue that this is one of my favorite things about life.
I now have a few years of mindfulness experience under my belt, one year that you’ve been privy to. Thinking about how far I’ve come in the last year with this blog gives me joy. Thinking of how far I’ll go throughout the journey of my life kind of blows my mind.
And I can't wait to tell you all about it.
The hardest goodbye isn't enforced.
It isn't expected or coerced.
Its not like the end of high school,
Where the path's been chosen for you.
It's nothing like leaving your family home,
When you're longing to be on your own.
No, the hardest goodbye comes by choice.
When you need to go find your voice.
When you're leaving something you enjoy.
When you know goodbye will disappoint.
You leave because staying is dishonest.
You leave even though it's totally the harshest.
The hardest goodbye is what you have to do
When standing still keeps you too...
Hoping it'll all just come to you.
Now it's time to see a different view.
With the pain of goodbye comes redemption.
Starting anew, a mini rebellion.
Leaving is an act of bravery,
Because it's not safe to be,
Never alone with only me.
Even though it feels like hell,
When I say goodbye I'll find myself.
By return I know I'll have harnessed,
All the reasons that home is the fondest.
The hardest goodbye is a choice I've made.
But let's stay strong, 'cause the hello's gonna be great.