Mar 2014

I had a guest in town last week – one of my absolute favorite people in the world came out to Maui to live 'aloha' for a few days – and so for the first time since settling into my little ohana on Lower Hanoapiilani Road here in Napili, I rented a car and headed out across the island in search of beaches and other fine things to explore. My guest left on Sunday, and Monday morning I settled into my normal routine. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I had a normal routine.

Here I had travelled all the way to a tiny island in the Pacific, to live alone and get out of all the routines and habits and patterns I'd formed in Portland, only to find myself right back where I started – knowing what the day would bring and what my tasks were and so forth. I had assumed I'd left all routine behind and was living each day 'off the cuff', but after spending a week doing something completely different, I suddenly realized just how scheduled my new life was. I suppose you can't discover a routine until you first discover a break from that routine, in the same way something can't be 'tall' unless it's beside something 'short' and something is only 'warm' in comparison to something 'cool'. A routine is hard to recognize until you get outside of it and can compare it to something else. 

To be fair, my new routine is actually pretty spectacular, and as the title of this blog is "Modern Workweek", I suppose I might spend a few paragraphs describing what it's like.  First off, I generally work every day of the week - although for those who don't know me, I should clarify that I run my own web development company, and so I work for myself, currently from my living room (although I still do rent office space in Portland). During the football season, I'd rarely work on Sunday, as the games started early in the morning here in Hawaii, and so I'd typically find myself at a tiki-sports-bar a few pints in by the early afternoon.  With Football season over, all the days pretty much blend into one here and so maintaining a standard Monday-Friday routine made little sense. While I will have the occasional phone conference once or twice a month, for the most part all my communication with my clients happens via email. I would guess that 85% of them have no idea I'm even in Maui at the moment.

I generally get up around 6:30am most days, primarily because it gets dark so early on Maui, and so by 10pm I'm typically in bed and asleep not much later than that.  I like to lay in bed and enjoy those few first moments of the day, but usually by 7am at the latest, I'm in front of my computer, checking emails and responding to small client requests. I host/manage over 40 websites, and so a lot of my day is spent providing support and updates for my existing clients.  The first interaction of my day is typically with my business partner Jessica, who runs her own company. Even though we're technically separate businesses, we share a number of clients and many of the same challenges and frustrations that come with owning your own small business. This is also the part of the morning where I make my first of three espressos.  

Once the morning's email and gossip has been taken care of, I cook myself some breakfast. In Portland I usually ignored the first meal of the day, but in Maui I've made sure to cook myself a solid, delicious breakfast each morning.  I'm talking eggs, hashbrowns, fresh fruit, bacon, OJ... totally the breakfast in the background of all those nasty cereal commercials I'd watch as a kid, in which the announcer would remark "part of this complete breakfast", a testimony that if thought about means nothing, similar to stating a doorknob is "part of this complete building".  

After breakfast I begin the focused part of my work day, taking on whatever actual projects I'm working on at the moment. This consists of either building new sites for new clients, or working on improvements or bugs with existing sites for existing clients. I have a pretty intense system of "To-Do" lists which work in conjunction with my equally mind-numbing system of organizing emails (I get a ton as you might imagine) to constantly make sure I have a list of things I could be working on during any day. Certain requests get different priorities, but in general, I'm very much like a line-cook in a restaurant, taking orders, and managing several hot pans at once. 

I try to work non-stop till noon, at which point I break for lunch. One of my favorite things about living on Maui and in a ground-floor ohana, is that I can BBQ regularly.  So most days at lunch I grill up some chicken or steak and have a small salad.  It's a nice change from nearly daily trips to the foodcarts in Portland, and certainly a lot healthier.  If I'm busy that day, I'll work at my desk while responding to emails, but typically I try to sit down at the table and just enjoy the meal.

After lunch I get back into work and often try to dedicate that session to a single project. At 2pm, I call it a day.  I switch into my bathing suit, spray on some SPF110 (yes, they make it that high) and walk five minutes along the coast to Napili Bay, my favorite beach on West Maui. There I spend the next two hours or so swimming in those perfectly clear waters and reading upon the beach, and occasionally watching tourists. While I have quite a reading list here on Maui, I often read philosophy during the afternoon, as I like to ponder some fascinating thought, then reflect upon it while floating in the warm ocean waters.  It's a wonderful way to spend the best part of the day.

Around 4pm I pack-up my things and walk back up to my apartment, feeling wildly refreshed from the invigorating salt water. I don't have a car here on Maui, so typically after a shower and some fresh clothes, I walk to the market just down the street to pick-up supplies for dinner and the next day's lunch. I then return home, prepare what I need for dinner, and then while it cooks either read some blogs, or write one of my own as I'm doing right now.

I carve out time to enjoy my dinner - not by the television light or in front of my computer, but at the table. It sometimes seems odd to set a table for one, but if you're going to spend time preparing a meal, you should spend time enjoying it I figure. In Portland I often cooked for myself but shoveled it down between television shows or before rushing out to meet friends – I was the gracious host with a preoccupied guest, with scarcely the time to savor the meal, let alone show appreciation. 

After dinner, I will sometimes put in some more work hours, but generally I either read, watch a little television (I have a strange addiction to History Channel "reality" shows) or surf the web. By 10pm the electronics are all off, and then I typically read before going to sleep. Before Maui, I'd often work or scour the internet until my eyes gave out, and then surrendered almost immediately to sleep often early into the following day. Carving out time to relax and reflect at the end of the day has provided for a deeper sleep with more focused dreams.

So that's pretty much the current work week. Now that I realize I've created such patterns I might try to alter them some, but obviously I can't complain. Waking up to a beautiful sunny morning, birds chirping in the distance, knowing you'll be swimming at the most pristine beach imaginable and eating freshly prepared meals (and delicious I might add), all while doing work you actually love performing – life is good. I remark to friends that in Portland I felt I had nothing to do, but was constantly running late for it. A subtle anxiety permeated everything I did – always looking to the next thing and only occasionally enjoying the present task. On Maui, it's the moments in which I'm not doing anything that seem to bring the most pleasure, and the time I carve out of each day to enjoy this wonderful, infinite, present moment. January was my highest grossing month in my seven years of running the business, so I can only assume this lifestyle is helping the business – although clearly that's a secondary concern.

A friend's parent once told me, 'the question in life is not what you want to be.  It's how you want to be.'  This is how I want to be, and I couldn't be happier.

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges;

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful;

We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is the empty spaces that make the room livable;

Thus, while the tangible has advantages;
It is the intangible that makes it useful.

- Tao Te Ching

Feb 2014

One of the many wonderful features about living on Maui is the abundance of natural phenomenon you witness on a daily basis.  From the ocean's endless tumult to the constant song of birds and the night sky bedazzled with stars, nature puts on quite a show in paradise. One of its most captivating features are the nearly daily rainbows one can witness as the rain clouds gather over the West Maui Mountains or up further still to the heights of Haleakalā. This week as we've had quite a bout of rain here in Napili, at almost every break in the weather you were guaranteed that most precious prism of light, stretching across the stormy sky.  

Today while sitting on the beach, a rainbow began to appear off in the distance and I couldn't help but notice several folks turning to look at it, standing up, taking photos and such. It's a similar reaction whenever you notice whales breeching out along the coastal horizon. In fact, it's rarely the whales I notice first – its folks stopping in their tracks, holding hands to forehead as they scan the horizon for the next trick. The only difference is that the whale is actually there, and the rainbow... well, I'm not sure.

A rainbow requires three elements, two of which we readily acknowledge – water particles in the sky and sunshine. The third that is often overlooked is the observer. As Wikipedia explains: "A rainbow does not actually exist at a particular location in the sky. Its apparent position depends on the observer's location and the position of the sun. All raindrops refract and reflect the sunlight in the same way, but only the light from some raindrops reaches the observer's eye. This light is what constitutes the rainbow for that observer."

Therefore, all the folks standing there on the beach weren't looking at some object in the sky, but rather sharing in a mass-hallucination of sorts – a shared optical illusion. Each, depending on their location, witnessing a slightly different but equally beautiful phenomenon. The great irony of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is that you can't ever get there, because the rainbow only exists in your mind. Walk towards it, and it only shifts location.  

In many ways, all of reality is like this. Waves of energy pulsating through an infinite space, waiting to be absorbed and "experienced" by something, somewhere.  Humans see the classic ROY G. BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) rainbow because those are the colors of the spectrum our eyes – or light wave receptors – pick up.  There are all sorts of other lightwaves floating around us all the time we aren't capable of seeing, without the help of devices. The same goes for the waves we hear – sound waves. The old question of "if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" points to that distinction.  Certainly it would make sound waves - but sound waves don't become sound until something hears them, in the same way lightwaves don't become a sight until someone or something sees them.  The light from a distant star can take millions of years to reach your eye, but when it does, that is a show for you and you only. Someone else might see the same star, but the experience you have is unique.  Sunlight only warms a surface because the atoms of that surface absorb the photons of light, and the resulting energy speeds up the motion of those atoms creating heat. Your shirt isn't warm because of that sun up there in the sky – it's because of the way the atoms in the fabric interact with the specific photons that came in contact with it.  Your warmth is different than my warmth.

Sometimes I think we see ourselves as this little creature or soul, stuck inside of a body, looking out through two windows at the world outside. It's nice to think that it's out there – but the truth is that's not the case.  Our 'out there', is 'in here'. The world is being created in your mind via its five wave receptors (senses), and turned into a vision of reality, just as the dog – with its better hearing, taste and smell, yet colorblind eyes – creates a vision of reality for itself, or the bat – flying haphazardly with its radar – creates its reality. All three are generated within the mind and none are entirely accurate. They are useful models at best.

Reality requires our observation to exist in the form in which we perceive it, just as the rainbow requires us to be positioned at a particular location, in order that it may appear. No sunlight, no rainbow.  No water particles, no rainbow.  No you to witness it – no rainbow. While we might all be able to look up to the rainbow and agree that it's there, it is not. It's 'in here'  – and the fact that we can share that experience is what makes life so fascinating.

There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle,
or as though everything is a miracle.

- Albert Einstein

Feb 2014

In the British Museum, there is a spoon from the 6th Century engraved with two bits of advice that have stuck with me since I first looked upon it several years ago: Know Yourself, and Urge Yourself Ceaselessly.

It's odd that the greatest source of inspiration I've known would come from flatware once used to dine with – but there you have it. I was in London at the time visiting a friend who was studying at an art school. I had spent the previous three months living along the Mediterranean coast, first in Barcelona and then over to Rome where I walked amongst the ruins, marveled at the curved ceiling of the Pantheon and walked the ancient halls of the Coliseum. I was coming to the end of an amazing period in my life when I looked upon that simple silver spoon – and I felt I truly understood the sentiment of the engraving – specifically the later part: Urge Yourself Ceaselessly. Life, as it were, had appeared to me in the form of a race, or rather, a great obstacle course - and the key to success at the time I felt was to constantly push oneself beyond the perceived limits, in the hopes of living a life less ordinary.  I was on another path, or perhaps no path at all, and I looked upon the things others prized – career, relationships, financial well-being – as consolation prizes at best, and at worse traps that lured you into a fall sense of completion, and thus drained that ceaseless urge to move forward. 

All along I ignored the first part of the message – know thyself.  I knew who I was.  I was Greg Spies and I was awesome. In fact if you asked me which of the two suggestions of the spoon was the most challenging, I would have suggested it was the second part - constantly pushing oneself to go further.  Somewhere along the way that changed...

I relocated to Maui as an experiment in understanding the self. Sure, there were other reasons – the fact that Portland is covered in ice and snow today and I spent the afternoon laying on a beach is certainly one of the many benefits of moving to a tropical paradise.  But the change in scenery was secondary to the larger goal – know thyself.

If asked to describe oneself, we most often refer to the objects in our life - the things we've acquired, learned or experienced. I would say "I'm a web developer who lives in Portland, Oregon. I have a web development company and a studio downtown. I have an apartment, and I have these friends and I like to do these various things..."  However, it became rather apparent to me that those were simply objects I identified with – whether good or bad – and while I may have described them in the present tense, they were actually reflections of the past.  At the core, they were not me, they were simply echoes of me.  Just as an airplane leaves behind a trail of vapor, and thus one can look up to the white streak across the heavens and say "that plane was there" - each action we take leaves behind traces of that "existence".  But the vapor trails are not the airplane any more than the objects I surround myself with are me. The plane is not driven by the trails and they provide no indication of where it might be headed, any more than the circumstance of the past dictate the future.

Having lived away from all those things for more than three months now, its clear that I was correct. I am not the city I live in, the career I've chosen, the apartment I rent, the friends I have or any of the countless objects I've left behind. That is not to discredit those things in any way – many of them, friends and family in particular I happen to have great fondness for and do consider a vital part of my existence. However, by parting with all those items and carving out a uniquely quiet life here on Maui, I've given myself the opportunity to look deeper at the question of who I am and perhaps even "what" I am.  

It is very easy to be distracted by the noise of the present moment – the trends and fashions of the day. The TV shows and movies and Facebook updates and breaking news and deadlines and appointments and all the things we so often consider "life".  But that is life with a lowercase L at best.  Beyond all of that noise is a greater truth – and the more time I spend sitting in silence overlooking the ocean, the closer I feel to understanding myself.  The real me.  The me that is not of this moment and of this decade and of this time – but rather timeless.  The part of me that is not an island unto itself – not some unique soul brought into the infinite universe for a brief glimpse at reality only to be washed away for all eternity.  When I escape the noise of man I am able to hear the harmony of nature.  From high upon the bluffs overlooking the rugged coastline I can see the overwhelming "aliveness" of it all - not just the people and the birds - but the trees and the ocean itself - even the rugged rocky coastline – all is alive and interconnected and part of a greater whole. From this vantage point, the "I" who I must know is far greater than the individual looking out upon the shoreline. I am the shoreline and the light that shines upon it – I am the waves that crest and fall and recede only to fall again – I am the sky that rests above it and the fish that swim beneath it.  

Just as the cells of my body are alive in every sense of the word and yet do not realize that they are part of a "Greg" – I have realized that I too am part of something far greater than I could ever hope to understand. I may never truly "know" myself – but I have dedicated the rest of this experience of life to seeking it through quiet contemplation and reflection.

It's like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it's dense, isn't it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curly-q, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you're a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don't feel that we're still the big bang. But you are. You're not something that's a result of the big bang. You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.

- Alan Watts

Jan 2014

Ever since I was a child, I have loved looking out over the ocean.  There is something sacred in that view - something that calls to each of us. I think it most likely has to do with the purity of the view.  In a world in which man has tried to place his mark on everything, there are few places you can look out upon and see only nature as it was intended.  When looking out upon the ocean on a clear day, you can almost imagine you're the first inhabitant of this planet millions of years in the past - observing the exact same view.  "At one time, it was all like this," you can think to yourself - and for a moment get lost in the pristine beauty that is the natural world.  Inevitably, unless you've found yourself a nice little cove or private beach, you will hear someone yell at their kids or overhear someone talking about how lunch didn't live up to their expectations and you're forced to return to the modern world - but in that instant as you look upon the distant horizon, you can be free of it all.

What we look at and thus think about has a major effect on our lives. Our environment defines our reality - and our feelings about life are entirely based on the things we witness and the thoughts that inevitably spawn from those perceptions.  It is said that we are the average of our five closest friends - that we literally become the people we surround ourselves with.  In our modern world, more and more we surround ourselves not just with people and places, but with virtual experiences we receive via television, films, books, music, videos games and more. In this ever-increasing digital world, many of our experiences are not created via our activities, but rather fed to us through our senses and "experienced" from the comfort of our homes.  

Unfortunately - most of what Americans are receiving aren't really positive experiences.  The top rated television show of 2013 was "NCIS" on CBS.  NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Services, and each week someone is murdered, raped, abused or any number of options that result in a criminal investigation taking place, calling in a fictional team of special agents using a variety of techniques to solve the crime, for an average audience of nearly 20 million viewers.  American's love "NCIS" so much that the 4th most viewed television show was "NCIS: Los Angeles".  In fact, if you remove sports and talent competitions like "The Voice" or "Dancing With The Stars", you're left with a parade of crime dramas and shows about death at the top of the ratings: Person of Interest (#5 - 15.2 million viewers), The Walking Dead (#10 - 14.3 million viewers), Blue Bloods (#14 - 13.3 million viewers), Elementary (#15 - 13 million viewers), Criminal Minds (#18 - 12.6 million viewers). I suppose we can take comfort that more folks watch "The Big Bang Theory" than a show about a post-apocolyptic zombie-infested reality in which people are forced to fight for their very survival (The Walking Dead) - but not much comfort.

At the movies, it's a similar story.  When that horrible shooting took place at the theater in Aurora Colorado during a screening of "Batman", a friend on Facebook made the less than politically correct comment, "Ironic - I thought American's went to the theater specifically to see people get shot..."   And truth be told, they do.  The number one grossing film of 2013 was "The Hunger Games", based on the best-selling novel.  This charming tale describes a fictitious annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding a dystopian future Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death. 2013 brought a good supply of "super-hero" films in which we ignore how many folks are killed before the hero saves the day, and a good assortment of war films to create fiction from the reality that is our on-going ten years war with an undefined enemy that has left more than half a million "real" people dead (a gruesome statistic very few folks seem to concern themselves with). 

The number one grossing song of 2013 - Alan Thicke's son Robin's lovely song "Blurred Lines" which received quite its share of publicity after the media pretended to be shocked that something inappropriate would appear on the MTV Video Music Awards. This was a beautiful piece of poetry which included verses such as:

What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest bitch in this place
I feel so lucky
Hey, hey, hey
You wanna hug me
Hey, hey, hey
What rhymes with hug me?
Hey, hey, hey

That was the most popular song of 2013.  Now granted, I don't listen to Alan Thicke's son, nor do I watch the MTV Video Music Awards (and seeing as Robin is a married 36-year old man, I wouldn't think he'd be watching MTV either) but as it received non-stop airplay over the radio and thus at any venues that play music - I was forced to hear it on a number of occasions. Considering it was the number one selling single of 2013, we can assume that this was the song that most people chose to fill their minds with - and while they might be consciously oblivious to the lyrics they're humming along to - subconsciously its all there.

Video games?  I don't think we even need to explore this, as the number one selling game of 2013 was "Grand Theft Auto" followed closely by the war simulation game "Call Of Duty".  It's rare to see a commercial for a video game that doesn't involve some type of larger-than-life automatic weapon blowing up aliens or soldiers or innocent civilians.  Sure these games are marketed towards kids - but what could be the damage in giving impressionable teenagers a complete education in modern-warfare techniques and weapon systems without a hint of remorse for the consequences such violence produces?

On this Martin Luther King Jr. day - we should pause and think about Dr. King's dedication to non-violence, and ponder what that means for our own lives. After the horrible shootings in Connecticut, I remember sitting with friends over dinner and everyone had ideas of what other people (primarily those with guns) should do to make this a safer country.  Various ideas from restrictions on ammo, to better background checks and psychological reviews, to all-out removal of guns from the homes of gun owners.  While to one degree or another I might support such solutions, I instead challenged my friends and myself to look for the violence in our own lives.  To cleanse ourselves of all the violent ideas and thoughts that we surround ourselves with.  I made an honest effort to stop engaging in any films, television or video games that involve violence.  I pondered why I enjoyed playing "Grand Theft Auto" - and questioned why I would pay $60 to pretend to be a bad guy, to pretend to shoot people, to invite violence into my life. As I became aware of the situations in which I allow my mind to swim in the murky waters of violence, I was able to remove myself from those instances.

It is said that when Alfred Hitchcock debuted his film "Psycho" people were literally screaming with fear during the shower scene.  Others were nauseated and sick to their stomaches at witnessing such a gruesome slaughter.  By todays standards, that black-n-white scene seems tame and almost G-Rated.  It pales in comparison to what can be viewed any night on CBS or any of the cable channels.  It's a far cry from walking up to a pedestrian in "Grand Theft Auto" and shooting them in the face. It hardly possesses the vulgarity of saying to a woman "you the hottest bitch in this place".  It has been a slow and steady decline towards our worst impulses in the last century - and unless we begin to recognize that things we put before our eyes and ears manifest into the environment we call our lives - I fear we'll only continue to see more of this decline and more of this endless violence. We must all reject the culture of violence that envelopes us, and practice non-violence in every aspect of our lives. Turn off the television and the radio, put down that book, leave that theater, and spend some time in silence. If possible, find yourself a beach and look out upon the horizon and feel the overwhelming sense of bliss and peace that comes when you escape the noise of man.

I pledge to seek non-violence in my life.  

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan 2014

About two years ago I came out to Maui with my business partner Jessica and some friends of ours to enjoy a week of relaxation and sunshine.  In addition to the sand and surf, Jessica and I also had tickets to see a lecture by two of our favorite philosophers, Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle.  It was a truly amazing experience to witness two such important figures in modern spiritual thought discuss their various philosophies on life - and after the event was over, I found myself in a haze of bliss, fully grasping how amazing life truly is.  Truth be told, it's pretty easy to grasp how amazing life is when you're in a tropical paradise.  However, on a walk the next day, I came upon a sign for a housing development in Napili, near where we were staying on the trip, and the thought crept into my mind - "I would like to stay here... for awhile."  I took a photo of the sign so I could look it up later and see how much it would cost to rent a home along the coast in this most beautiful of places. That moment was the genesis of my "relocate to Maui" plan.  In that moment, it was just the thought of staying for a month (preferably during the somber Portland winter).  But the thought was there... and so it simmered...  and simmered....

In December of this year I arrived on Maui - the small idea of spending a month on the island had evolved into a plan to escape for six months or more.  I had given up my apartment in Portland, packed what things I owned into a storage unit out by the airport, and with a backpack and carry-on suitcase worth of "stuff" - moved to Hawaii.  I immediately set about trying to make my dream a reality - feverishly searching Craigslist for apartments to rent.  I looked around Napili and West Maui, but the options were limited, and so my search began to center around Kihei on the southwest side of Maui.  After about two weeks of minimal luck - I finally found an apartment that would work.  

Truth be told, the apartment I found wasn't ideal.  It was along a less than stellar strip in the heart of downtown Kihei - what my hosts at the time mockingly referred to as "Ki-hell".  And sure - the furniture was pretty nasty, there was no bed or television, a coin-operated laundry was down the street, and the whole complex was nestled behind a strip-mall with a giant Denny's sign at the entrance...   but it would work - and I wanted it!  I wanted to be done with searching - I was ready to settle.  Not settle in - just settle.  This would do.

My application was accepted - and so I began to prepare to move in to this apartment. I went online to figure out how much a bed would cost - began debating whether I needed to purchase a television - even started to put quarters aside for my inevitable trip to the laundry-mat.  Then the day I was to sign the lease, I received a call that the owner had decided to sell the apartment rather than rent it.  I was devastated.  Suddenly all the positive energy and "I live in Hawaii" goodness that I'd been drenched in since my arrival dried up in an instant - and I found myself rather upset at the universe.


For a few days I found myself in quite a stink - fluctuating between anger at the landlord who had screwed me over - worried I had missed out on some other great opportunity during the three days I'd stopped looking for apartments - scared that I might not find anything - nervous that my current hosts would be asking me to leave shortly - all the sort of annoyances that corrode the mind and make the fact that you're doing this apartment search while sitting at a cafe near a beach on a perfect day seem, well, less perfect.  

A few days later I found another apartment - in a less desirable area of Kihei - with a rather nosy landlord who lived in the same house - but once again I was willing to take it and so another application was submitted.  "The apartment is yours, unless I hear back from this one 85 year old woman who lives in North Carolina, but wants to move back to Maui. Don't worry though - I'm pretty sure she won't take it."  Two days later she took the apartment - from me I felt - and the process of frustration, anger and fear began again.

Finally the next week I had an interview in an ohana that happened to be in Napili.  I had written to the owner a week earlier, but he had not replied.  This time he did and so I decided to drive out to West Maui to check it out, with minimal hope that it would work out.  At this point the listing had been up on Craigslist for nearly a week and a half, so I assume it would either not live up to the photos, or I'd be deep in the line of applicants.  As it turned out, someone had signed a lease, but then a day later had backed out of it, and so suddenly I was first in line - and the apartment was mine if I wanted it.  I submitted the application and two days later I received the key.

The day I moved in I noticed something I hadn't the day I'd first viewed the apartment.  The home was on the driveway to the same housing development I had looked at nearly two years earlier - and there, in the front yard, no more than ten feet from my new front door, was the sign I'd taken the photo of.  

The universe is constantly working to turn your thoughts into reality.  Everything you have ever wanted is being attracted to your life at every moment.  What gets in the way is us.  It was a lack patience and willingness to accept less than I truly desired that had me apply to two apartments I didn't really want, in areas of the island I had no desire to live in.  When those opportunities failed, I saw it as things not going my way, and sadly lowered my standards more.  Yet all along, the universe was working to deliver on the promise my initial dreams had made.  In time, things worked out as they needed to - just as they always do.  

And therein lies the key: things always work out the way you desire, if you give the universe time and patience.  The challenge is to trust in this - to take comfort in the dark moments that the light still lies ahead.  To have a clear vision of what you desire and to hold true to that till it arrives.  Things that are easier said than done - but in moments like today as I walked down the street towards Napili Bay and knew in my heart I was exactly where I had intended to be and that EVERYTHING had worked out as I had hoped - that you hope to have more trust the next time life seems to be working against you.  To recognize in tough times that this too shall pass - that patience is better than compromise - and that reality works on its own timeframe.

The more you see yourself as what you'd like to become, and act as if what you want is already there, the more you'll activate those dormant forces that will collaborate to transform your dream into your reality.

- Wayne Dyer

Jan 2014

It's that time of the year again.  The holidays are over, and slowly people are beginning to take down their Christmas decorations. Whereas a home looks wonderfully festive draped in colorful lights throughout December, by January the same effect begins to look a little trashy. Flattened boxes are lined up beside overflowing trash cans showing this year's holiday haul, and the old coffee-maker sits there sadly at the curb, pondering how it could have been replaced so quickly after years of diligent service. "I knew I made it too hot..."

The saddest sight of all, however, are the dried out carcasses of tiny fir and pine trees, cut down in their youth a mere month ago, and after only a few short weeks of being adorned in all sorts of odd knickknacks and flashing lights, stripped of those medals and tossed to the sidewalk to be hauled away like trash.

I find most traditions to be pretty bizarre - but few more curious than Christmas trees.  Growing up, we had a fake tree, and so I saw the entire experience as a "symbol" of the holidays. Symbols are meant to represent something else - something larger and often more profound.  I never questioned why we felt the need to put a fake tree in the living room and cover it with gaudy detail - but as it was a central location for presents to be stored - I had nothing but love for the Christmas tree.  

Real Christmas trees, however, strike me as a sad thing, and I seem to be very much alone in this opinion.  Almost all my friends in Oregon acquire real trees.  Several of them even drive out to tree farms, where for a small price they can actually select which tree they'd like to chop down, and slowly saw its trunk themselves.  Mind you, this is Oregon - a place that prides itself in its tree-hugging, environmentally friendly ways.  In fact, if in the middle of July I was to suggest to a friend we head out to the Gorge, hike up the mountain some and then cut down a few trees for the hell of it - I would get a look somewhere between complete confusion and outright disgust.  "Why would I want to kill a tree?" they'd ask.  But no sooner has the Thanksgiving table been cleared then they are putting on their boots with a hankering for some tree choppin'.

"But Greg, there are tree farms... these trees were raised to be killed."   Yes - I understand this is an industry and that the trees are raised specifically to be killed for the holidays.  One could point towards a turkey or any number of other animals that might be served on Christmas and say there is no difference, and as I would happily devour my fair share, that I am nothing but a hypocrite for criticizing tree slaughter while eating an animal.  But there is a difference... turkey is delicious.

Each year over 30 million Christmas trees are chopped down and lined up in vacant parking lots for purchase in America, with sales totaling over $1.5 billion.  About 15 million fake Christmas trees are sold annually - although seeing as they can be re-used year after year, it's safe to bet more folks choose fake trees over the real thing.  I imagine there may even be a select few who purchase live trees, keep them as such, and then plant them after the holiday season.  I've never met that person, but I'd like to think he or she exists.

I know this is one tradition that will never go away, and if God forbid this blog post ever got out to the good folks at Fox News, I'm sure I'd be pointed out as just another atheist fighting the "war on christmas".  Truth be told - I love being in a house fully decorated for the season, Christmas tree and all - and I would never outright criticize someone for sharing that tradition with their family.  But seriously... why are you chopping down a tree, dragging it into your home, covering it with ridiculously tacky decorations and then discarding of it four weeks later.  It just seems a little odd.

Tradition is the illusion of permanence.

- Woody Allen

Dec 2013

In college I had a professor who explained there are three types of knowledge. The first and the smallest, contrary to the opinions of many, consists of the things we know. The second realm consists of the things we are aware that we don't know. For example, I know that I can't speak Chinese. I'm aware that there is such a thing as the Chinese language, and probably if forced could maybe remember a few expressions or some random facts about the language I've collected over the years, but overall, I can say I don't know it. The third realm, and by far the largest, encompasses all the things we don't realize we don't know. It's impossible to give an example of this, because the moment you become aware of it, it enters the second realm (and, if you're the curious type like me, you slowly work to bring it into the realm of things you do know).

Today I went snorkeling for the first time. I had never had much interest in snorkeling, as I generally assumed I had a fear of fish and all things hidden in the sea.  Growing up on the east-coast, I loved going to the beach as a kid and spending my entire day in the water, playing amongst the waves.  However, as the waters were always rather murky, I never bothered to wonder what was down there - and on the rare occasion my foot touched something beneath the surface, I would thrash and kick my way in the opposite direction as to avoid touching whatever I'd accidentally discovered any further.  Having moved to Maui, and now living only a five minute walk from the pristine waters of Napili Bay, the desire to explore this underwater realm finally got the best of me, and earlier this week I purchased a snorkel and mask.

I'm not sure what I thought snorkeling would be like - nor what I expected to find once I swam out to the coral reefs that stretch across the length of the bay.  I swam into the realm of things I didn't know I didn't know and what I discovered was absolutely fascinating.  The immense diversity of living creatures astounded me. Never had I seen such wild colors and amazing patterns - colorful fish in a menagerie of shapes and sizes, large brain-shaped coral, spiky sea urchins, shells and rocks of all varieties imaginable, all scattered along the rocky surface just beneath me. No wonder fish make no effort to join us here on land - their world is far more interesting.  

After nearly an hour of exploration, I decided to head back to shore.  Just then a gigantic sea turtle appeared before me.  Truth be told, I was rather terrified at first.  Here I was, very much in its domain, and it was just as large as me, if not larger when you considered its massive shell.  It was clear the magnificent creature had no interest in me however, and so keeping my distance I simply watched it swim along the bottom of the water. Suddenly beside it appeared another sea turtle just as large as the first.  I followed them as they swam along the coral ridge and marveled at how gracefully they maneuvered their large frames through the water.  I hadn't expected this in the least and it very likely was the highlight of my year, in the final moments 2013 would provide.

Eventually they turned out towards the sea and I decided to head back to the shoreline, my mind and imagination freshly filled with new knowledge, all from a realm of things I never knew I didn't know.

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.

- Rumi

Dec 2013

The night before Christmas, the daughter of the owner of my apartment, along with her boyfriend, invited me to have Christmas dinner with them the following night.  I was truly touched by their offer, and agreed to join them.  I have a private apartment inside their home (what the Hawaiians call an ohana - which means 'family') and so on Christmas evening, her father Richard came by to grab me, and I went upstairs to enjoy a tasty prime-rib dinner.  I was handed a plate and soon filled it with a delicious assortment of appetizers - shrimp cocktail, fresh poke, assorted meats and cheeses.  I made my way over to the table and approached a single chair on the righthand side, but then noticed someone had already placed their jacket and purse upon that chair, and so meandered to a seat at the head of the table.  Eventually everyone sat down and we began dinner, but I noticed the chair to the right of me was still empty.  As I sat there eating I gazed upon the various photos around the home and particularly a large collage of photos in the center of the room, the focal point of which was a photograph of a very lovely older woman.  I suddenly realized one guest could not be at the table that night.  Eventually Robert mentioned his deceased wife, but by that point I had already assumed it was her jacket and purse that had been placed at the table, at her spot, to share the meal with us. 

Death is a surreal experience - or perhaps it makes the surreal experience of life itself seem that much more "real".  In the past year, I have had to watch several friends and family members deal with this most painful of life experiences.  My sister's good friend lost a battle to cancer she was far too young to have ever had to fight.  My business partner Jessica's aunt too succumbed to the horrible disease, along with the husband of her friend Tiffany, leaving behind two young children. It seems every year brings with it these tragedies, and in each instance, I'm reminded, as we all are, of just how precious this life truly is.  

I am still haunted by the loss of my dear friend Kendra - someone so full of life that her absence seems to disqualify the entire experience. As if someone should blow the whistle, tell everyone to stop and start over again, as clearly the game isn't working.

Each time we lose someone close to us, we are reminded just how petty the majority of our problems and perceived challenges are.  We are reminded to live our lives to the fullest, if not for us, than for those who no longer can.  But then Monday comes around, and work and bills and what we call "life" - and slowly we return to the mundane normalcy of our existence, only to be awoken again the next time a fellow traveller is removed from the trail.  We settle into the boring aspects of our lives - watching pointless televisions shows and wasting the precious hours that have been gifted to us, as if oblivious to the sands pouring slowly from our own hourglass.  

I have decided to break from that routine - to stop pretending the most important thing I can do is go to work and pay my bills and wait for weekends and holidays to enjoy my time here.  I have moved to a place that fills my heart with warmth and inspires me to enjoy each and every day.  I have left behind old routines that buried time through layers of distraction and rather than thinking of the past or planning for the future - live entirely in the beautiful present moment.  Of course I must still work - but I will do that on my own terms and in my own time. No longer will I deceive my mind into feeling days of the week as if they exist. No longer will I waste my energy to build the false illusion of wealth, to go about acquiring possessions that hold no intrinsic value. I have no desire for such things, nor to work my days away to earn them.  I would rather sit on a beach and watch the sun set, swim in the warm waters, walk amongst the brilliant flowers and listen to the birds in the trees than sit in an office earning my wage. 

The time will come when the bell will toll for me - but I no longer have to fear my own regrets when that day of reckoning arrives - for I will know that I lived each day as if it were my last.

Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

- William Shakespeare

Dec 2013

When I announced my plans to move to Maui, often the comment would arise - 'won't you be lonely?'  I would remind folks that not withstanding the current company I was sharing at the bar at that particular moment (and most certainly that moment would have been at a bar) that I was by myself quite a bit in my current location - and that moving to a tropical island wasn't going to inherently increase that situation. I would then joke, 'and I am allowed to make new friends' - laugh - and then move on to the next topic.  

I understand where folks are coming from and I see it often in the way they live their lives. It seems most people don't like to be alone and will do almost anything and put up with almost anyone to avoid that state.  I have always felt the opposite - I generally prefer to spend my time in the quiet solitude of my own company. It's probably why I have been single the majority of my life, and started a 1-person company.  The thought of co-workers never appealed to me, and while I certainly have met some amazing women over the years, the thought that I would like to spend each and every day with one of them has rarely crossed my mind. Even though I'm quite social and have collected a great group of friends, I'm always thankful when the evening has come to a close and I can return home.

Today being Christmas, it's easy to dip ones toe into the melancholy temperament of the season and wish to be around friends and family - to have a loved one to share gifts with.  It's easy to imagine some Norman Rockwell-esque dinner filled with those you love, and begin to wish you were not alone for the holidays.  The cure however, is a quick stroll down to the beach.  It being Christmas, the hotels are all fully booked here on Maui and the beach was packed to the brim with pasty-white tourists trying to get the most out of their hard-earned vacation days. As I laid there upon the sands I simply watched the parade of couples and families.  Kids ignoring parents; parents ignoring their children; wives complaining to husbands; husbands ignoring their wives; children screaming to other children or to anyone at all; an asian groom forcing his bridge to continuously pose for photos beside colorful flowers with bridal veil still in tact regardless of the sweltering heat; teenage boys trying to impress unimpressed teenage girls; a father getting angry because his son can't figure out how to put on the snorkel mask he clearly has no desire to wear while his daughter demands a turn he has no intention of giving her; a sunburned man more interested in the intricacies of his sand sculptures than his wife's seemingly endless list of questions and requests; kids fighting over the rules of a game they just made up; a heavyset woman berating her husband as they stroll along the beach for some mistake she felt he made - all seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are in paradise, and could simply enjoy the moment rather than manifesting conflict and stress.

I left the beach earlier than normal to leave the crowds behind.  While strolling back to my home, a woman with a thick accent approached me with a worried look, and in her broken English asked me if I knew anything about cars.  I explained that I did not, but followed her anyhow to a steep driveway which her husband had accidentally driven their car down, rather than the resort they were looking for.  Apparently the car would not reverse up the steep driveway incline, and each attempt to go backwards was bringing their rental car precariously closer to the the pick-up truck at the base of the beach-front estate they'd mistaken for their resort.  

"We need large stick or som'ing to stop from hitting truck," she said to me.  I ignored her useless plan and tapped on the passenger-side window of the car.  The man in the front-seat lowered the window.  "Are you in reverse?" I asked.  "Is the second one reverse?"  I leaned into the car and could see that indeed the car was in reverse as the R was lit-up on the dashboard.  "Yes, you're in reverse, that's what the R means," I said, pointing to the electronic dashboard.  "Oh, I didn't see that - it is newer car," the older gentleman said, to which I pondered how he had made it this far across the island without realizing what the dashboard controls meant.  He applied the gas, but the car only growled and slowly crept forward towards the truck.  "Oh, this is bad... this is bad..." the woman started repeating to herself, as if to add more stress to the situation at hand. I kicked off my flipflops and started pushing the front hood with all my strength, and the car slowly began to move backwards.  The older woman joined my efforts on the other side of the car, although I'm not sure she brought much to the situation.  Slowly we pushed the car up the steep driveway and out into the street. The old man put the car in drive, and drove on towards the resort three driveways over with not so much as a thank you.  His wife, looking even more frazzled than when she first approached me, thanked me, and then began walking down the street to where her husband had driven off to.  Something told me their Christmas dinner was going to be rather unpleasant.  I smiled to myself, and continued on my way home, to enjoy my own company.

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

- Henry David Thoreau

Dec 2013

I've always been a dreamer - and I take that with great price.  On the rare occasion I'm asked to describe myself in a bio, I typically end with "part-time outdoorsman, full-time day-dreamer". While some might consider such a description to be less than complimentary, I think day-dreaming is one of the most important things you can do in life. Nothing good will come into your life unless you've first thought about it.  It's impossible to notice the opportunities all around you, or the how you feel about your current state unless you take the time to sit in silence and reflect. There is no shortage of complainers in this world - folks who spend their free time and energy bitching about the things they don't like about their lives.  When you ask them what the alternative would be, they typically don't have an answer beyond "not this."  Not surprisingly, because their focus is on all which they despise, they only get more of this into their unhappy lives.

There is no better way to create the life you desire than to first visualize it in your mind. I'm not telling you to read "The Secret" and create a dream board of the sports car you want - I'm talking about figuring out in real terms what it is you would desire in your life - how you would like to be.  Once you begin to understand what your heart desires, to then take those thoughts and explore them further.  

I began exploring the possibility of moving to Maui over a year ago. I didn't just sit around complaining that Portland winter's suck (even though they do).  I started to think of an alternative.  I looked for places where that alternative might exist, and then once I narrowed in on Maui, began to visualize in my mind where I would live, what things I would do, the places I would spend time in.  The more time I spent day-dreaming about this new life, the more real it became and the more opportunities appeared (typically in the form of coincidences)  until eventually, the time came to move.  And when I did - it wasn't a sudden reaction or a last-minute impulse, but a well thought out plan for relocating to paradise.

So turn off the TV and let the room get silent...  that unique experience where there is no sound - and day dream just a bit.  If not this, than what?  And where?  And with whom?  Even if change isn't possible at this moment, a 20 minute vacation into the realm of all that is possible will more than likely be the highlight of your day.  And eventually, if you keep with it, those visions will come to pass.

Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.

- James Allen

Dec 2013

Friday morning I woke up with a clear vision of what my day would bring. The application for the new apartment I had found exactly where I had planned to live had gone through, and a new rental car (at a better rate) was waiting for me at the airport. The plan for the day was to drive down to the rental agency, trade-in my car, and then drive to Kihei to sign the lease on my new apartment. Everything was working out as I had hoped.

Then I received a phone call that started with, "Greg, I'm really sorry but...". The realtor I'd been working with informed me the owner of the apartment I was about to live in had instead decided to sell the apartment rather than rent it. It was gone. I was in a bit of shock, as I had spent the past two days completely visualizing my life in this new space. Heck, I'd almost ordered a few pieces of furniture to finish it out the night before (thankfully I had not submitted the Amazon order). I hung up the phone, and tried to catch my breath. The ego does not like to be wrong - and I had been very wrong. It was a tough blow, but I had still had to get down to the airport to turn in my car, so I had to move on.

I dropped off my current rental car at Hertz and took the shuttle over to Enterprise to pick-up a new car. At the front-desk at Enterprise, they informed me that because I did not have a return flight, they could not rent a car to me with a debit card. Apparently, locals can't be trusted with just a debit card, and technically speaking, I was now a local. I pleaded my case, but to no avail. I now had no car. I walked back to Hertz and politely explained what had happened and asked for the car I had just returned back, at the same rental fee. "No can do." The original agreement was gone, and now I found myself in the horrible situation of having to rent a car at an airport with no reservation a week before Christmas Holidays. Lets just say the price they gave me nearly made me pass out.

And so there I was... 10:30 am on Friday the 13th, and everything I KNEW was going to happen that day had worked out the exact opposite of my plans. I was very quickly becoming discouraged for the first time since arriving on Maui. I read once that the Roman philosopher Seneca described emotions as the physical result of recognizing the separation between how we want the world to be, and how it truly is. At that moment, my emotions were all rather negative.

However - it's important in planning to plan for those plans not to work. Things aren't always going to go your way, and it's not the reality that is the problem - it's how you react to it. Rather than getting overwhelmed with feelings of defeat and fear, I instead reminded myself how lucky I was to be in Maui - expensive car or not. I was thankful I'd made connections on the island to have a free, indefinite place to stay while I searched for a full-time solution. I also trusted, as I always do, that things will inevitably work out for the best.

So I drove my expensive day-rate rental car off the lot, in search of a new place to live, laughing to myself as I thought of Jerry Seinfeld's response to the car rental agent asking if he wanted the insurance. "Yeah, you better give me the insurance because I'm going to beat the HELL out of this thing."

You know it's funny how things never turn out the way you had them planned. The only things we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry Porter. And you know there was something about you baby that I liked that was always too good for this world. Just like you always said there was something about me you liked that I left behind in the French Quarter.

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content. I don't have any regrets they can talk about me plenty when I'm gone. You always said people don't do what they believe in they just do what's most convenient then they repent. And I always said. "Hang on to me baby and let's hope that the roof stays on".

- Bob Dylan, 'Brownsville Girl'

Dec 2013

While swimming in the warm clear waters along DT Fleming Beach, the strangest thought crept into my mind. The moment was so perfect - floating there in the waves looking at the palm trees swaying in the warm breeze along the golden shoreline - it seemed as if a dream. And I suddenly thought about how our lives are divided into two halves - one we call conscious or awake and the other we call unconscious or asleep.  How odd that our reality would be divided into two such spheres, and how peculiar that one we perceive as "real" and the other as a non-reality or dream. Yet both start without explanation and end with a similar lack of clarity, yet all the while feeling real and seemingly making sense. And at that moment, I saw them as equal halves of the same experience, one consisting of episodic short stories, and the other taking the shape of a long-form novel. Each half as real or unreal as its other half, and consisting of similar rules and experiences, willed into existence through our thoughts and actions. And as another wave lifted me up over its crest, I smiled and hoped I'd never wake.

It is a great adventure to contemplate the universe, beyond man, to contemplate what it would be like without man, as it was in a great part of its long history and as it is in a great majority of places. When this objective view is finally attained, and the mystery and majesty of matter are truly appreciated, to then turn the objective eye back on man viewed as matter, to view life as part of this universal mystery of greatest depth, is to sense an experience which is very rare, and very exciting. It usually ends in laughter and a delight in the futility of trying to understand what this atom in the universe is, this thing — atoms with curiosity — that looks at itself and wonders why it wonders.

- Richard Feynman

Dec 2013

Change is always scary. Leaving a place you love for something new is not a decision one takes lightly. The subconscious mind, always a fan of the safe and known will feed your inner-voice with all the doubts it can muster to stop you from changing. Even once you build up enough confidence to quiet the voice, the memory of its warnings are still strong. Today, on day two, while working from a coffeeshop in the sleepy little surf town of Paia, a great calm came over me and I realized I had made one of the best decisions ever.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

Nov 2013

I decided to spend the majority of November on the east-coast visiting family. I travelled up to Hartford where my sister Jillian lives and spent two days with my niece Edith and nephew Donald. Kids have a much better understanding of how a day should be spent. Never concerned for an instant with what the next game is, or how the last game went - it is only the current game and the current moment that matters. And when the charm of the current task has run its course, a new path is forged with no regret.

To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.

- Sven Goran Eriksson

Nov 2013

My parents took me on a wonderful hike today along Schunemunk Mountain, near the long trestle that crosses the Moodna Creek valley near our home. The trail meandered up along the train tracks and through several stonewall-lined acres of forest, opening occasionally for beautiful views of the Hudson Valley. The leaves having mostly fallen to the ground created a carpet of color and noise, and their absence from the branches allowed for distant views of the rocky mountainside and the occasion doe running off in the opposite direction.

Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream

- Diamond Sutra

© 2007-2012 Gregory Spies / Modern Workweek. Made in PORTLAND, OREGON.
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