The Love Bottle:
Flatbread Pizza / Paia:
DJI Phantom 2 Drone:
"Take Some Time Off" by Andrew Applepie:
In preparation for the Thanksgiving Holiday we provide you with answers to Uncle Bob's inevitable questions about your web development business. I explain how converting from the product model to a recurring revenue model grew the business, provided financial stability and improved services for our customers.
This morning I was having internet issues at home - no connection. When you run your own online marketing company internet is sort of important... no internet, no work. I realized however that it was Tuesday, and as such it wasn't a problem because Tuesday is "Work Remotely Tuesday!" So I packed up my stuff, headed out the front door and soon thereafter found myself working beside a lovely fountain overlooking the ocean from the lobby of a hotel on Kaanapali, drinking a delicious espresso as I borrowed some of the wifi they so generously provide.
It'd be hard to say what I love best about working for myself - but mornings like those are high on the list. I am working... but I am doing so barefoot, with a warm Hawaiian breeze blowing the smell of plumeria flowers and salt air into my virtual office. Yesterday I took off mid-day and continued my work in the evening. Having that sort of control over how my week unfolds is vital as the workweek is really just the waking hours of your real life.
When I first started my career, things were a lot different. My first job out of college was working for IT-MIS (Information Technology Management Information Services). As the name suggests, this wasn't exactly a hip internet marketing company. This was a rather stale office environment: ultraviolet lights, windowless rooms and a dress code. A few weeks after working there I was reprimanded for wearing shorts to work, the irony of the moment being completely missed by my boss Joy who was wearing a short skirt as she explained the importance of pants in a work environment. After a few months, it became genuinely difficult to get up and go to work every morning – I felt every minute of the work day and longed to escape. When I explained I was quitting to move to Oregon, they threw me a going-away party in one of the windowless meetings rooms with a group of people I barely knew. The look of genuine fear on the faces of my colleagues as I explained I had no job lined up in Oregon was palpable... but my fear at the time was staying in a place like that. They feared change, I feared repetition. They feared the unknown, I feared predictability. I headed out west, found little to no work, struggled to make ends meet, lost my girlfriend, got evicted from an apartment for late rent, worked for a handful of failed start-ups, and was never happier in my life.
Change, as they say, is the only constant in life. Most folks fear change – they prefer the known to the unknown. Even an unpleasant known is superior to a potentially positive unknown for many. As such - they define how life "is" and then find themselves frustrated each time they discover it is not or no longer that way. This separation between how we think life will be and how we experience it, is where all our frustrations spring from. Meditation guru Thom Knoles puts it beautifully – "Suffering is proportional to our resistance to change, and happiness is proportional to ability to embrace change."
One reason we have such a resistance to change is that our mind finds it far easier to accept what might go wrong, than accept what might go right. And so we can stack the negative "what ifs" against the potential upside, and often find our confidence lacking to move forward. Yet ironically, when we do take the steps forward to make a change, we almost always find that it was for the best. I call this the "re-arranging the furniture" phenomenon. Have you ever re-arranged the furniture in a room and not thought it was better afterwards? Recently I switched around my living room and the moment it was done I declared - "this is so much better". Was it... perhaps... but honestly, how can a couch's placement in the room be better or worse? It's the change that is better - and to Knoles point - our ability to embrace the change that makes us feel good.
Part of why I like "Work Remotely Tuesday" is that it injects a nice dose of unpredictability into my work routine. I typically find a coffeeshop or hotel lobby here on Maui and hope that they have wifi so I can connect to the internet. By not having a particular spot in mind, you open yourself to limitless potential rather than a 50/50 shot or worse of getting a seat at the location you wanted. I enjoy meandering through the various hotels that line the shores of Kaanapali to find unique little work-stations and often in these walks discover all sorts of new things I hadn't previously seen. By injecting a bit of the unknown into our routine, we invite opportunities and new discoveries to enter into our life.
After a morning work session I decided to walk back home. Along the way I discovered a new food cart with delicious tacos I couldn't help but indulge in. If the change of scenery isn't a good enough reason to mix up your routine, certainly discovering new delicious tacos is!
Folks spend far too much time doing things they don't enjoy in places they'd rather not be. We then call those jobs and act as if it wasn't our choice in the first place to be there. As if having a job – any job – is just a painful necessity of life. Now obviously we need money and that money typically has to be earned – but the notion that the only way to earn it is by giving up the majority of your life to something you'd rather not be doing is a complete falsehood. It's the fear of change that keeps folks married to these jobs. It's scary to try and improve ones life - its hard work to learn new things and get out of your comfort zone. It takes confidence and a little bit of courage to leave a job you dislike for the unpredictability of creating your own future. But in the end, what else are you here for? To work? To earn a paycheck? Do you really believe that reality was formed and you were given this amazing experience of life just so that you could work a job you dislike or maintain a lifestyle that doesn't inspire you? And even if your life is grand – even if your job is fulfilling – is there nothing more to see? Aren't you curious what might happen if you worked remotely next Tuesday?
Break from your routines and try new things. Create situations that you have no pre-conceived thoughts or plans regarding... and enjoy the pleasure of watching life unfold before you. Plans only reinforce the illusion that you have control – random chance allows you to realize you wouldn't want control even if you had it. Re-arrange the furniture of your existence and stand back to marvel at the improvements that reveal themselves. Finding pleasure in these small uncertainties will only help you learn to accept and find the beauty in the larger changes life throws at you.
Life is change... it is the very nature of reality. Now you see it, now you don't. Holding on to memories of the past is as futile as the child defending their sandcastle on the beach. It doesn't matter how hard you try... change will come. Embrace it – celebrate it – and know that it brings with it the unlimited potential that is life.
"There is no chaos in the world, except the chaos which your mind creates. It is self-created in the sense that at it’s very center is the false idea of oneself as a thing separate from other things. In reality you are not a thing, nor are you separate. You are the infinite potentiality, the inexhaustible possibility. Because you are, all can be. The universe is but a partial manifestation of your limitless capacity to become."
- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
The photo above is of my lovely niece Airlie – and in case you can't tell, she's currently in "time out". Yes, she is being punished. My sister posted this photo earlier this week on Facebook and it really cracked me up, because it so captures one of the greatest truths of life: the present moment is yours to interpret. A time-out is only a punishment if you convince yourself that sitting on the steps is a sad thing. Now I'm not trying to suggest that the time-out wasn't still effective, as I'm sure it at least temporarily ceased whatever actions warranted its initiation – but the large grin on Airlie's face suggests her mind hadn't interpreted the present situation as a downer in any way, shape or form.
As we get older and move out into a world without chaperones, we very rarely find ourselves in time-out (well, unless you end up in the court system, but that's a topic for another post). However, we often end up putting ourselves into a whole different type of time-out, one defined by our emotions and interpretations of the day. A time-out of the mind. An event or interaction, or lack of either can set us off, and before we know it one of several emotions begin to fog our experience of life. This can be sadness, anger, jealousy, frustration, self-doubt, apathy, fear or any number of negative moods that take you out of your typical routine and color that experience with negative thoughts that then only manifest themselves into a myriad of situations that seem out to get you. The experience can get so unpleasant that we cancel engagements and activities, break healthy habits and even hide from the world.
Much like a child being punished, who when asked why they're crying points to the parent rather than look within, we too often point to outside forces as the source of whatever affliction we presently find ourselves marinading in. It can be a relationship, a job, the community, the weather, an interaction with a store employee - there's endless causes if one looks hard enough - and typically the low hanging fruit is the first to be picked. However, if you're upset now because of something that happened a few hours ago, or days ago, or worse – years ago – then it's not that event or situation that is making you upset – it's you! You are choosing to feel this way.
Now this might be the point where like the small child you stomp your foot and run off screaming. We really hate to admit that we choose to feel the way we feel. We prefer the "outside forces" viewpoint. We prefer to experience our emotions like weather, waking up each day hoping for the good kind. When the storm-front comes in, most simply bundle up and wait it out, seemingly unable to do anything to prevent or diffuse it. I disagree – not only can you do work to prevent emotional swings within your experience of life, you can also utilize various techniques to eliminate those fluctuations quickly and keep their scale minimal when those inevitably bumps in the road do enter your life.
One of the key steps to prevention is taking time each day to appreciate just how wonderful your experience of life is. We often spend so much time looking to the future that we forget to appreciate how great we have it now. Self-improvement guru Dan Sullivan calls this "The Gap". Most of us spend our time focused on the future gap - the space between our goals and ideals and the present moment. This isn't always a bad thing – because it's important to set goals and have a clear vision of what you want out of life. However, this doesn't produce happiness. As I've mentioned before, achieving a goal doesn't create long-term fulfillment, it only creates new goals. In order to find happiness in our present moment, Dan Sullivan suggests we focus our attention occasionally on the past gap - acknowledging our accomplishment and achievements and how far we've come in the past year or two. If you've been setting goals and working to improve your life, looking back a year or two will allow you to reflect on the progress you've made. Rather than living in the shadow of your imagined future, you stand upon the precipice of your accomplishments. When negative situations arise, you won't be so quick to throw in the towel when you know how great you've been doing.
Another technique I enjoy comes from the 6-Phase Meditation by Vishen Lakhiani, the CEO of MindValley. In one of the six phases, you reflect on 5-10 things that happened in the past day or two that made you feel happy or positive. This might be a compliment you received at work, a delicious dinner you cooked for yourself, how the sun light felt as you sipped your morning coffee - it's just a few minutes you spend each day to recap the best parts of the previous day. So often we get caught up in our routines that our lives are seemingly on auto-pilot. The days have a tendency to blend into each other and this simple practice allows you to slow things down and really appreciate the smaller details that make your day fulfilling. By starting to focus on the simple pleasure and the small victories that occur each day, you bring more attention to them in your daily experience and thus they seemingly appear to multiply and grow in number. By simply taking the time to appreciate your days, you make it harder for your mind to shift into a negative space that ignores all the good.
When negative experiences do come into your life – and they will – it is certainly fine to feel whatever emotions they stir up. That's why emotions exists – to help us make sense of the experiences around us. However, once the alarm has sounded and you've acknowledge and dealt with the situation - TURN OFF THE ALARM! To persist with whatever emotional trigger the event or situation brought forth after that event or situation has passed is a choice and a poor choice at that.
One of the best techniques for clearing out a "funk" is to just throw reality a curve ball. Get out of your routine if it isn't working and try something totally different. Go to a restaurant you've never been to, take a long walk through a new neighborhood, take a road-trip to a place you've never been to and spend the night - whatever you need to do to get your mind to focus on something beyond the incident that has triggered you. Traveling is especially good as the mind has an amazing capacity to simulate environments it knows, and so staying at home or in familiar places allows the mind to used stored memories of the space you're within and focus its attention instead on making you miserable. By going to a place the mind has no prior records of, you force it to capture all the new information and it doesn't have the time to remind you that you're sad.
Another great trick for dealing with a mental time-out is to kick-start your health routine. This is typically the opposite of what most folks do when they get in a funk, but it is honestly the fastest way out. Exercise is an amazing stimulant and energizes you body and mind. A little detox also never hurt – and what better time to engage in a "big change" than when things aren't really working so well. Whereas indulging in food or alcohol might seem warranted by whatever funk is poisoning your mind's experience of life – those types of behaviors inevitably feed into that negative cycle. Exercise and eating healthy on the other hand can only have positive results that you can point to as signs you're moving out of that funk (when you do your daily appreciation for the day before).
You've been given this amazing opportunity to experience life. So much of that experience is based on your mental and emotional health, and yet so many folks see those aspects of their life as some type of game of chance. There has been a wealth of research and science in the past half-century about the mind and how the brain works. There is no reason so many people should suffer from so many ailments related to the mind when there are so many simple and free techniques to strengthen the mind and thus improve your experience of life. In October I'm helping to put on an event in Oregon called Activating Happy. It features various speakers talking about many of the topics I've discussed on this blog. It's the first of what I hope will be many events like this around the country where we introduce new research and personal stories of success from those who have broken free from passive thinking and have taken responsibility for their own happiness and well-being.
"It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about."
- Dale Carnegie
When I was in grade school, I learned about percentages in math class and like any sophomoric young man who discovers a new fact, suddenly became quite frustrated when someone would say they gave 110%. For I knew quite intellectually that there could never be more than 100% – that was simply the most you could provide of anything and any number greater was pure exaggeration. As life would go on, I would begin to define in all areas of my life what that 100% limit was. What's the most money I could imagine making, what's the best shape I can imagine being in, what's the nicest place I could imagine living in, what's the best day I could experience? For each of these and in nearly every aspect of my life, I (as almost everyone does) created subconscious 100% markers – the big dreams – and then went about my life living at around 80% of those expectations. You see, I set a low bar and almost hit it - and was quite satisfied. That is, until I wasn't.
When I moved to Maui I began to start looking at some of these beliefs. Beliefs manifest themselves in the form of behaviors, which when repeated over time form habits in our life. Habits have three parts: a trigger, an action and a reward. At the end of last year, for example, I had a pretty healthy "dessert" habit. After dinner I would typically sit down to watch some television. I would start the show - but when the first commercial break would come, I would get up and scoop me out a bowl of ice cream. I'm sure at first this was just a "oooh, I have ice cream in the fridge" idea. But rather quickly, the three elements of a habit began to take shape. The trigger was the commercial break on the tv show, the action was making a bowl of ice cream, and the reward was... well... ice cream (or rather, the sugar rush to my brain). Before I knew it, I wasn't going "Oh... I have some ice cream in the fridge" - I was looking down at an empty bowl of ice cream on the table, having completely sleep-walked through the experience of the trigger and action, and barely even acknowledged the reward. All along I gained more and more weight. Now this didn't really matter to me, because at the time I weighed 210 pounds, and while I knew that was heavy, in my mind the best I could weigh would be about 200 pounds, so being 5-10 pounds overweight wasn't so bad. I had the wrong 100%.
As of this morning I weigh 187 pounds. Since the start of the year I've lost nearly 30 pounds and feel amazing. Where is the 100% now? I'm thinking 175... although we'll let nature determine my final weight destination. As my thoughts began to evolve and the paradigm of what I "should" weigh began to shift within my subconscious, so did my actions. No more ice cream in the evening. Instead, after my first espresso in the morning, I get a hankering to put on my running shoes. In the same way I would look down at the empty bowl of ice cream and think "I barely remember making that..." I now find myself 5 minutes into a run before I even realize I'm out the door. I've learned you can easily form new habits by understanding the process of trigger, action and reward.
Last fall when I started running again, my average pace was around 12 minutes a mile. I decided I would create a goal to break a 10 minute mile. That was my 100% and it took a few weeks, but slowly my pace began to lower, and finally one day I clocked in 9:57. I was psyched! I had hit my 100%. This week I ran 5 times and not once was I above 10 minutes. In fact, on Tuesday my average was 8:41 on a 5-mile run. What was once my 100% is now my average and the new 100% is undefined. This is as true on the small scale of ones personal life as it is on the grand scale of humanity as a whole. In 1861, Charles Westhall held the world record for the 1-mile at 4:28. Each year racers would continue to improve and re-imagine 100%. Finally in 1954, Roger Banister broke the 4-minute mile by 6-hundreths of a second. The record today is 3:43, a full 45 seconds shorter than it was in 1861 and it will no doubt some day be even shorter.
There is no 100%. This is not just true for physical health. There is no limit to your capacity for learning, loving, laughing or living. Through various exercises and practice you can expand your capacity for compassion just as you can increase your running speed. You can increase your intuition just as you can expand your vocabulary. There is not one characteristic you possess that you can not expand, and none which you lack that you can not acquire through practice and focus.
One of the greatest 100% misconceptions is that of age. It's amazing that a species which knows for a fact it used to live half as long a mere century ago, still assumes it has to age at all. Not only have we convinced ourselves that aging is a part of life, we've managed to take the century of time we perceive as our 100% limit, and break each decade of that experience into pre-conceived notions. Someone in their 40s is suppose to be different somehow than an individual in their 60s. These are all simply mental constructs we've developed in our subconscious that are then acted out by the majority of the population. I have met enough exceptions to the rules however to recognize age is simply a thought. I recently completed work on a website for the famous Maui restaurant Mama's Fish House. This world-famous destination was just named the #2 restaurant in the US by OpenTable, and was started in 1973 by Doris and Floyd Christenson. Floyd and Doris are now in their 80s - but are they tucked away in a retirement home? No - they still go to work each day and actively manage and run the restaurant. And contrary to it's name, this isn't a little "Ma and Pa" shop. With a staff of over 300 and a dining room that is always booked solid, they have their hands full. I worked with a variety of folks on this project, and Floyd was certainly the sharpest of the bunch (and the hardest to impress, which I also respected). Now how am I suppose to reconcile 82 year old Floyd with other seniors I see who seem far too fragile to even order a meal at that restaurant, let alone run it? Does Floyd have unique DNA... perhaps. More than likely its the fact that for the past 40 years he's been driven by a passion to run one the best restaurants in the world. He hasn't had time to worry about aging, he was too busy living.
This past weekend I went snorkeling with two couples. One was in their 40s, the other in their 50s – both super fun and in great shape. In fact, I was probably the weakest link on the snorkeling adventure. It's inspiring to spend time with folks who are just as active and healthy and passionate about life and career as I am, yet 10 to 15 years further along the experience. Having started exercising regularly I can easily say I'm in better shape now than I was two years ago. As this progresses, I will no doubt be in greater shape than I was in my 20s. There is no 100% – and aging is a thought which manifests itself as lazy habits and is rewarded with limitless rest. Stop resting, start living! What are your subconscious limits, your 100%?
In the 16th century there was a Dominican Monk named Giordano Bruno who had a distinctly different view of the universe than was the popular belief at the time. Giordano's vision was that of an infinite universe that had no center – or rather – the center of the universe was wherever the observer happened to be (something we now know to be true, as fantastic as it sounds). This contradicted greatly with the Earth-centered Universe popularized by the church at that time and Giordano was called out as a heretic. To defend his position he proposed the following thought exercise. If indeed the Earth was the center of a finite Universe, then one could certainly make it to the edge of that universe. And once there upon the boundary of the universe, lets say they shot an arrow outward. Would the universe expand, or would the arrow leave the universe? The church's response was to burn Giordano alive at the stake in 1600 – a mere nine years before the invention of the telescope. It's not surprising the church took such action, his thought exercise is a dangerous one, as anyone who puts it to use immediately realizes they exist in an infinite universe.
Giordano's arrow is a perfect metaphor for breaking the 100% in every aspect of your life. Imagine what is the best you could ever hope to do – imagine working hard and achieving that – and then imagine going a little bit further the next day. You are the manifestation of an infinite universe bound by neither time nor space – why would you assume you have limits? Stand on the boundary of your experience and then take another step.
"The sad fact is that more people are confined by their thoughts than are freed by them. We need only to look around us to see people who are rich emotionally and materially because they think and feel rich. Yet, we see even more people who are laden with emotional and material debt because they think and feel poor. Some are inspired with vision, others are encumbered with doubt. Some are moved by ambition, others feel safer in monotony. Some seek opportunity, some wait fruitlessly for it to knock. Negative habits are capable of locking our imagination, gifts and potential in a jail cell as inescapable as Alcatraz. Your marvelous mind has the same ability and power (even moreso when it’s applied in a positive vibration) to turn the key in that rusty lock that sets you free of your own Alcatraz of habits."
- Bob Proctor
A wise man once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Or perhaps it was Ferris Bueller...
Regardless of who said it, the sentiment proves true. Life comes at you pretty quickly and seemingly at an exponentially faster pace the older you get. It's easy to get caught up in the inertia of things, bouncing between work and home, friends and colleagues, errands and appointments, victories and failures. The consequence of all these roles and all these responsibilities is that we rarely have the time to appreciate our successes or properly mourn our losses. Things happen – good or bad – we celebrate or commiserate but then inevitably have to move on. It's the feeling the day after your birthday or trying to make it through a work day when all you can think about is a sick family member. The world doesn't wait – and unless we carve out that time ourselves, we often just keep hurdling through this experience of life from one emotion to another.
Take for example setting goals. I'm a huge proponent of goal lists and constantly trying to set new bars for yourself. However, there is something funny about goals - each achievement only brings forth a greater goal. Achieving a goal only produces inspiration if you stop to reflect on your progress. For example, I'm working to lose some weight this year. At the moment I am 194 pounds. This is the lightest I've weighed in years. At the start of this year I was up to 215 pounds, so that means I've lost 20 pounds so far. Do you think I'm sitting here at 194 pounds super psyched about where I'm at. NO! I'm thinking how great it will be to break 185 (my 20-somethings weight). I'm visualizing how insane it will be to go beyond even that as I continue to run and exercise each day. That's the thing with goals - each ring only brings forth a new ring to reach for. The happiness comes from stopping for a moment and reflecting on what you've accomplished. Only in that light can you stay inspired and working towards those new goals.
When negative things come your way, it's equally easy to get consumed by that momentum. A series of unfortunate circumstances can trigger a negative spiral of epic proportions. Suddenly you've got the anti-Midas touch and everything you interact with turns to shit! We've all been there. Every traffic light is red, every interaction is a confrontation – even the weather seems out to get you. In those moments you can continue to flail through the experiences of life like a bull in a china shop – or you can again take a time out to pause and reflect and let go.
Recently my good friend and business partner found herself in a whirlwind of negativity – her employee quit, her relationship ended... a literal hurricane of negative energy. Most folks would have to attend to these matters within the hours allotted to them between work and the inevitable sleepless nights and then do their best to immediately move on, carrying the mental baggage for months if not years. However, my friend being wiser than most and having the foresight of the freedom that working for herself would someday provide, was able to come out to Maui for a month to stay with yours truly, and reconnect with her true nature, take the time to truly absorb and release the experiences she'd had, regain a focus on how extraordinary this experience and her role in it truly is, and find the inspiration within to reimagine the new life that awaits her.
It was inspiring to watch this transformation – and it reminded me of my first few months here on Maui. I too had needed a break from the pace of life, and originally escaped here for the winter to reflect and appreciate all the experiences I'd had. Of course, three months have turned into many more now – but taking the time each day to appreciate this experience of life is still the core to living an inspired life. Part of the beauty of Maui is that it slows you down.
Of course, we can't always take a month off to reconnect with ourselves and become fully inspired – but luckily we don't have to. Just as small, consistent deposits into a savings account is a far greater strategy for growing wealth than hoping for a windfall of cash – taking a short amount of time each day to stay connected is a far better approach to staying inspired than dreaming of a sabbatical in Bali. There are various ways that you could carve out time to stay inspired, but a method that I personally enjoy is called "The Envisioning Method" which was developed by Vishen Lakhiani, the founder and CEO of MindValley.
I first heard of Vishen during a TED Talk in which he discussed Happiness in the workplace. Being quite interested in the concept of "happiness" myself, I read more about his work, the amazing company he created, his AwesomenessFests and more. Vishen is an inspired individual and a great business leader – when you discover someone who has traits that you desire in yourself, it's best to learn what drives them. For Vishen, each day starts off with this Envisioning Method. As he jokes, he'd rather miss breakfast than this morning meditation. The meditation, which takes between 10-20 minutes consists of six phases: Compassion, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Envisioning Your Perfect Life Three Years From Now, Envisioning Your Perfect Day Now, Blessing.
The process takes you through various emotions, connects you with your higher goals and sets you up for an inspired day. Most importantly it gives you the time needed to process the experiences of your life and grow a genuine appreciation for all that you have, all that you have accomplished as well as enthusiasm for all that's to come.
I think back to how many years I rolled out of bed, got dressed, commuted to work, served my time in the office, headed home (or to a bar then home), ate dinner, fell asleep and then did it again. It's easy to forget that life is a gift. It's easy to forget that you won't get to do this forever. It's easy to forget how many blessings you've been given and how much you've accomplished. Stop forgetting... stop ignoring... and take the time to truly appreciate this experience of life. Acknowledge your progress, envision your future, and know what the day will bring you! It's amazing how great a day unfolds when you're already certain of what's coming.
"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance."
- Eckhart Tolle
When I was younger, I realized I was funny. There was a lot of humor in my life growing up – I had parents who love to laugh, I had my Uncle John who had a filing cabinet filled with old photocopies of dirty or obscene jokes – it seems that almost everyone in my family knows how to tell a good yarn. Something I realized over time as I became a funny kid was that it wasn't all too important what I said... and often, those words and jokes were coming faster than I could process them, so I could hardly take much credit for the jokes I stated even if I wanted to. It wasn't the joke itself, or even the presentation that made something entirely funny – it's an energy that exists between the maker of the joke and all those receiving it. It's an emotional connection between two individuals similar to love or anger – invisible and indescribable yet completely unmistakable. I've found babies and small children are nearly always near this state, and thus you can make them laugh without even saying a word – the humor energy just radiates from them.
Most of our emotions exist in this ethereal energy form. They are not visible entities – microbes that infest us – but rather take the form of feelings and sensations, of actions and unintended consequences. They show up in both the words we say, and the ones we simply think. A co-worker might mention they're "in a bad a mood" in the same way they would mention they have a headcold. Modern medicine in its infinite wisdom has decided to treat both as if they were the same and will happily provide a pill to solve either your runny nose or your sad heart. I'm not so sure about the effectiveness of either, to be honest, but I would say preventative medicine is always your best choice. Welcome to the Pursuit of Happiness!
I happen to believe that "the pursuit of happiness" is one of the most profound statements in all of American history. Thomas Jefferson, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence states it as such:
We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;
It was later edited to the version we now know, but the assertion is the same – that we have a right to life and liberty, as well as the pursuit of happiness. While it may have been seen as fundamental to the revolution (so much so that it appears in the first sentence of the second paragraph), by the time the Bill of Rights is added to the Constitution, all Americans are guaranteed in the 5th Amendment (and later 14th) is protection of "Life, Liberty and Property." In fact, the word 'happiness' doesn't appear at all in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Jefferson's vision was lost.
What I find so profound about Jefferson's words is that they aren't a guarantee to happiness. He is not stating that each of us deserves to be happy – which would be akin to saying everyone deserves to be healthy or athletic. What we have a right to is the pursuit of happiness – the right to find and cultivate that happiness. And not "our own happiness" – but the shared happiness that exists all around us. Your piece of the pie!
Happiness, similar to humor, is a sensation – we may point to a particular cause in any given moment as a "source" of the present happiness we feel, but that's just the mind's constant desire to find dots and connect them. In many cases, happiness is little more than the cessation from the dissatisfaction we so often feel. A temporary respite from suffering as the Buddhists would say. For a primary goal of a Buddhist is to find peace of mind, which is found by detaching oneself from the cycle of craving that produces dukkha - or suffering.
Various philosophies and world religions discuss happiness and offer solutions to finding it. I enjoy reading books that discuss happiness as well as motivation and inspiration, as I find everything works better in life when one is in a consistent state of happiness. It's not enough to only be happy when certain events are happening or certain people are around. The energy that happiness creates can have amazing effects on all aspects of your life if you can cultivate it to exist as an ever present frequency. To do so – I've found there are three primary areas you need to address: Health, Drive and Connection.
While happiness does not come from your body, it interacts immensely with your physical self and specifically your mind. Therefore the most important aspect to cultivating happiness is the health of your physical being and the environment in which you exist. For your body, health would primarily fall into three categories: diet, fitness and sleep. I think we all understand the importance of fitness – countless studies have shown a correlation between exercise and happiness levels. Living here on Maui, there are two types of people I see on the beach every day. There are the fit, healthy individuals, usually with a surf board or like device in hand: they are smiling and radiating a positive energy. Then there are the unfit, overweight individuals, usually having a tough time making it out of the water or climbing up the sandy hillside: A very different type of energy. Two different groups in the same exact place having wildly different experiences of the day.
Diet is something I've only begun to explore but I have no doubt has a drastic effect on your life and thus your happiness. I've just started a diet challenge called The Whole 30 which cuts out a ton of processed foods, dairy, breads and other grains – basically anything that isn't proven to be 100% good for you. The hardest part will be no alcohol, which cuts into my twice weekly trips to Maui Brewing Company. But I'm hoping after 30 days to notice some improvements, and then can begin to experiment with various "bad" foods to see what effect they truly have on me. In addition, combined with exercise, I'm hoping to lose about 30 pounds. While I'm certainly not horribly out of shape by American standards, I should be 20-30 pounds lighter, and last weekend I carried around a 30 pound weight for about ten minutes to give myself a mental concept of how much extra energy I must be using to lug myself around. Through a combination of eating healthy and daily exercise, I hope to lose those extra pounds – all combining to create increased happiness.
It's hard to overstate how important sleep is to us humans. For the longest time I was a night-owl – up past midnight every evening, yet burning the candle at both ends to be at work early the next morning. It was a combination of coffee to keep me energized and late-night beers to shut things down, all with very little sleep. When I moved to Maui, all that changed. First off, with no social scene, there was nothing to do in the evening. Plus, it gets insanely dark very quickly out here, so my evenings very much shut-down by 7pm. As such, I began to start going to sleep earlier and earlier - first by 11... now as early as 10 most nights. I wake-up fully refreshed with my batteries charged. Coffee is more of an enjoyable taste than a drug to make me function. A restful night's sleep is a primary ingredient to a happy day.
Finally - there is one type of health that doesn't involve your body and that would be the health of your environment. This would primarily be where you choose to live, but also other areas you frequent such as your place of work and even the community you chose to live in. Your home should be a sanctuary, not a storage locker – a place you desire to be, not just an escape from the world outside. It should be free from clutter and waste. As the old expression goes, "a place for everything and everything in its place." Piles create anxiety, stuff creates want and dirt creates laziness... how you maintain your home will have a direct effect on how you experience your life. This is the central power station of your happiness recharger... make sure it can accomplish that task. Have multiple places within your home where you can be at peace – little recharging shrines if you will. Places for reading, places for eating, places to rest. If you're looking around your apartment or home and not seeing that – start by grabbing a large garbage bag and getting rid of anything you can't immediately identify as useful. If you can't bare to throw stuff out, then put all those items in a closet for a month or two. Create your space!
The second key elements in the pursuit of happiness is "drive". This is a bit more abstract than health, as drive could mean a lot of things to a lot of different folks. I would describe drive with four primary features: goals, motivation, education and inspiration.
Goals are the guideposts of drive. They steer the ship and point us forward. I recently saw a video of the actor Denzel Washington speaking to a group of young actors. He spoke of this eloquently when he declared, "Dreams without goals remain just dreams. And they ultimately fuel disappointment. Goals on the road to achievement cannot be achieved without discipline and consistency." There is a difference between a "dream" and a "goal" and Denzel clarifies this. Goals have tasks assigned to them – and those tasks can only be achieved through disciplined and consistent action. It's not enough to read one book if you want to graduate from college, nor is it enough to exercise one day if you want to get in shape. Discipline and consistency are key to success in any area of our life. To maintain this high level of performance, we often need motivation. We need motivating friends and family, we need motivating circumstances in our life – we need something, somewhere to motivate us to get out of bed in the dark morning, put on those running shoes and head out the door. One of the primary sources of motivation is education, whose bi-product is often inspiration. We only know what we've learned, and sometimes not even that. It's by constantly expanding our understanding of life that we learn new ideas, new approaches and new concepts that inspire us to create new goals to aspire to.
How does all this play into happiness? The energy one feels when being driven by a purpose larger than themselves, fully motivated to accomplish inspired goals that they themselves have set is unmatched. I have the great pleasure of working for myself. When I get up in the morning I'm not heading out to some job I hate but have to do for a paycheck – UGH – I get the great pleasure of growing my own business, of working to increase my revenue and setting new goals that we then crush each and every day. Last year I had the pleasure of working with the Chicago Stock Exchange to revamp their website. In the process, our designer Sadie created an entirely new logo and brand identify for the exchange. Last week, I was walking along the beach and it hit me that my company – the little business I started out of my apartment a decade ago – had changed the brand for the Chicago Stock Exchange - an over 110 year old institution now has my company's work hanging over its doors and on its business cards. To suggest a wave of happiness rolled over me would be an understatement - more like a tsunami!
The final source and stimulator of happiness is the connection you have with the world around you. This falls into two categories: relationships and experiences. Relationships are vital to happiness – this includes both family and romantic relationships as well as connections with friends and the community as a whole. It's what typically makes parties so much fun – everyone getting together to cultivate more happiness. It's not that we love the decorations or the free bowling... it's being together with friends and family that rejuvenates our soul. One of the hardest parts about moving to Maui was not only giving up all the great friendships and relationships I had in Portland, but also not having any of those out here. It has taken time to meet new people, but as these new friendships began to arise out here, it was as welcome as the morning sun. Beyond the tasty beer, one of the main reasons I like going to a pub is just chatting it up with whomever happens to be sitting next to me. This is also true for travel, where you not only get to explore new places that inspire and educate, but you also meet new people and get to make connections with folks you haven't met previously. One doesn't need to be family or a loved one to engage in a meaningful and happiness generating conversation.
In addition to the connections you make with people there is also the connection you have with source. Some might call this God or the universe – I prefer source or to simply leave it nameless, which is probably most appropriate as this connection most often is discovered in silence. This is the "time out" you take each day to escape the illusion of the present state, and enter into the sacred infinite truth that is the present moment. Whether this be a long walk, a hike through the woods, sitting on a beach or meditating in a special place in your home – taking time to do nothing and simply be is a surefire way to regenerate happiness. Often if you can spend 5 to 10 minutes in silence, either watching the sunset or simply being in a room – you arise from this space with a completely refreshed feeling as if a lot of the imagined pressures of life have been removed. In carving out this ease – in unloading this imagined burden, you create space for more happiness.
For in the end, happiness is not a deviation but rather the natural state of how we should be. We needn't create happiness to experience it, just as we needn't create oxygen to breath it. Respiration is only tripped up when we hold our breath or something outside of us prevents our breathing. In the same way, happiness is only restricted when we clog our minds or find ourselves in uninspired environments. The pursuit of happiness isn't so much a quest for secret treasure – it's remembering the combination to the safe you already possess.
"Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits."
- Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on the State of Virginia"
I wasn't going to make a New Year's resolution this year. Anyone who follows this blog regularly knows I'm pretty obsessed with planning my life, and constantly setting goals – and so rather than declare the New Year as some type of starting line of a new race, I was generally going to ignore the whole thing and just keep pushing myself as I have been.
That was until I got home on New Year's Eve around 7pm here in Maui. It was just before midnight in New York City, a place I consider to be the capital of the world, and the one true timezone to rule them all. As is my habit, I opened up a new tab on my web browser and almost without thinking, typed in "cnn.com". There on the homepage of CNN in it's almost cliche "this is important" 72pt font was the headline "35 Killed In New Year's Celebration". Seeing as the headline was in an unbelievably large font, I was very concerned, and as I had been thinking about New York's celebration I connected those dots. I immediately clicked on the headline, and discovered it was in Shanghai China. Someone had released numerous coupons that apparently looked like dollar bills, and in the mayhem that enveloped the large crowd, 35 individuals were killed and dozens more were injured. It's quite possible that this was indeed the worst thing that happened on New Year's Eve. But did I really need to know about it? Was there anything I could do... any insights I could draw from it... lessons to be learned? No. It was just pain and misery packaged for consumption.
Here an entire planet had celebrated the New Year – from Asia to Europe, from New York to California, from Rio to Moscow the world had rejoiced in celebration and good will. Millions of folks danced, sang, drank, shot-off fireworks, feasted in celebration, but the good folks at CNN had looked long and hard for what was the worst thing out there - and that was the main story and focus of their site for the evening.
It was at that moment that I declared my New Year's Resolution: I would stop reading and watching the news in 2015!
I realize this might seem like a drastic step, but it's something that has been growing on me for some time now. First off, I have a really bad habit of getting easily distracted while working by opening up news webpages like cnn.com, politico.com, huffingtonpost.com... even foxnews.com, bbc.co.uk and beyond. It's usually a subconscious action... a pause in my programming lets my mind break free momentarily, and without so much as a thought I've pressed "CTRL+TAB" on my keyboard, started typing in the first few letters of whatever news site I've suddenly had a craving for, and faster than I can even realize I've changed gears, I'm now scouring over headlines to find distraction. The habit is so pervasive in fact that I've actually found myself opening a new tab and loading up CNN while I'm actually on CNN reading something else. That's right, my brain says "this is boring... you should do... well, what you're doing." Sometimes I will look across the 8 or 9 tabs open in my web browser and there will be 2 or 3 "news" tabs open... tiny breaks throughout the morning in which I got distracted, but then made it back.
If it was just a mindless distraction, such a habit wouldn't be too dangerous. I put in enough work hours that taking a few minutes every hour or so to look at something else would probably be healthy - if what I was looking at was educational, informative or inspiring in some fashion (which, many of the blogs I choose to go to accomplish these goals). Unfortunately, mainstream news is none of those things. It is sensational, shallow and a perversion of the reality that is actually going on. Headlines are written not to provide clarity to the content, but encourage click-throughs - ranging from slightly misleading to down-right false statements that one doesn't discover their falseness until nearly the end of the article when they clarify what truly happened (if they do at all). In October for example, CNN had the headline "Ebola In The Air? A Nightmare That Could Happen." Sounds pretty terrifying, especially with the handful of ebola cases in the US that were occurring at the time. However, when you read the article, the scientific consensus is unanimous that this is unlikely to happen, and that Ebola will continue to be transferred through contact with bodily fluids. It's as if someone is coming up with horrible scenarios in the form of headlines at CNN, and writers are having to work with what they have to disprove them.
What follows the article on almost all the mainstream news websites is a comments section which is one part "Jerry Springer Show", and another part Case Study on the lack of education and common decency in the global populace. I worked hard to stop myself from reading comments earlier this year, but still find my eyes drifting down there, especially when I can tell an article has the potential to be controversial (an almost universal characteristic of modern journalism).
I studied journalism in college - it's technically what my degree is in. I helped start up my high school newspaper and have always been an avid reader of the "news". That relationship began to shift in the early 2000's when I saw how the mainstream media's post-9/11 coverage sensationalized our need for war, placated the glaringly false claims the Bush administration was making at the time, and blatantly ignored the size and scope of the anti-war movement. I remember weekends with protests of tens of thousands of citizens in every major city in America and beyond that wouldn't even get a minute of news coverage. Or worse, shared coverage with "Pro-war" groups marching in "support of the troops". Somehow the media saw 20 folks standing on a corner waving American flags as on par with 10,000 or more folks marching against the war. CNN, Fox News and the other mainstream 24-hour news channels had an endless parade of military spokespeople all spewing "facts" that have since been proven false. How Fox News can invite Oliver North to discuss middle-eastern foreign policy and pretend he is neutral, while all the while ignoring the fact that he's a convicted traitor to the US who himself was directly involved with illegal weapon sales and various other shady dealings in that very part of the world is amazing. They were certainly not alone. Recent revelations about the CIA torture programs has revealed that the CIA actively placed false information (otherwise known as lies) in various media outlets. Between former disgraced military vets, CIA covert ops and a general lack of journalistic integrity, it's really hard to call CNN, Fox News and other outlets "news" at all - they are simply propaganda machines.
When the mainstream media isn't misinforming us about foreign powers and the cost of war, their other favorite topic of choice is personal tragedy. This includes everything from family issues, local shootings, teenagers fighting, runaway brides, online bullies, racist/sexist/homophobic comments from random employers, freak accidents in which children die, celebrities with addiction issues, or any other story that can somehow be connected to their primary "conflict themes" – gun rights, abortion, homosexuality, race or violence. Earlier this week a woman was shot by her two year old in a Walmart. You can almost hear the sirens going off at CNN as they rejoice over such a small-town tragedy. Within minutes I'm sure they had Anderson Cooper flying out to some little town he's never heard of to interview a random neighbor to provide more insight on a personal tragedy that has almost no implications on a national level - but if exploited correctly can fill up their website and air time for a week.
So it's clear that the "news" isn't something I need in my life. If I wish for some reason to learn about what's happening in the world without experiencing it myself, there are superior resources available. My habit has very little to with being informed, and more to do with the anxiety of wanting to know "what is going on" that the media itself seems to instill. The internet by its very nature seems to create a desire to know what is happening "right now" at all times. However - if you want to know what is happening "right now", your best choice is to turn off the computer and walk outside, not visit CNN. Because what is happening is what you're experiencing. You decide what is happening - not the "news". If you choose to read the news, then what is happening is that you're discovering how horrible life can be. How miserable some people are to each other, and how desperate times seem to many. If you stand up and walk outside, you'll discover none of that is true. Or at least, hopefully, it's not true for you. Nobody is robbing me, nobody is pointing a gun at me, nobody is rioting on my street, nobody is dying at this very moment. In fact, it's a beautiful day, my neighbor is out sweeping his porch, the birds are singing... things are perfect.
So how have I started the process of cleansing myself from "news". Well, luckily I got rid of cable several months ago, so I don't have to worry about finding it on my TV. For my web browser, I just downloaded a plugin called "Block Site" that lets me provide redirects to any websites I want. So now when I try to go to cnn.com, I get pointed to google.com. At first I had all my news sites redirect to art blogs – but I found while that cleared out the "news", it still was letting me get distracted, and so in an effort to solve both issues, I've chosen google.com as it has almost zero content - just a search bar.
It has been an interesting experiment thus far. As all the news sites open Google, it's been a wake-up call to me just how often I subconsciously make that effort – as I'm opening up Google numerous times a day. I sorta laugh when I think to myself "why did I go to Google.... oh yah, I was trying to go to Huffington Post." I have no doubt over the next week or two as my mind realizes it can no longer get its anxiety fix, the habit of opening those tabs will fade. If for some reason I feel I need the news, I can obviously open a different browser and find it – I'm not trying to cut myself off from the world – but hopefully this is the first step in making sure I redirect my energies towards the positive this year, and stop wasting so much time thinking about horrible things which are way beyond my reality.
2015 is all about the pursuit of Happiness. Each of my goals and actions are geared towards this defining principle. How can I focus my energy and time on activities that cultivate this happiness and grow my appreciation for life. Clearing out negative energies and practices is the trailhead of this path. Removing a for-profit "news" system focused on all that is wrong in the world is just a first step – but an important one. Until the mainstream media decides to start reporting on all the good and potential that exists, I have no need to watch. I've had enough of what they sell for now.
"Focusing exclusively on sensory data creates a world of appearances, which are ultimately illusions. Since everything comes and goes, the nature of the material world is obviously restricted to transitory status. When our eyes see only the colors before them, they're destined to become blind to what lies beyond the world of appearances. We can not know the creator if we're focused exclusively on what's been created."
- Wayne Dyer, "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life"
The other night on my walk home, the moon was out and shining in its grandest fashion, lighting up the ocean water and headlining a revue of stellar talent – a sky filled to the brim with stars, packed and sparkling along the galaxy's core, then expanding out to far off island clusters unimaginable distances away from where I stood. After nearly a decade of living in a city, I enjoy how dark it gets at night here on Maui, and how bright the stars shine in return. One of the more fascinating aspects about the moon is how it seemingly hangs there is space, motionless beyond its own phases, always showing us a single side. The moon is rotating, only it does so at nearly the same rate at which it rotates around the Earth resulting in its one side always facing us, a process called synchronous rotation.
I can't help but think how peculiar it would be if the Earth was in a synchronous rotation with the sun. Rather than having our 24 hour days, time (at least as we experience it) would instead be frozen. The sun would simply appear at its particular location in the sky based on our location upon the planet, and there it would sit indefinitely. While we would certainly still have to come up with some type of mental convention or grid for organizing our time, some of the most defining features of our current system would be absent. Certainly laying down for eight or more hours at a time to sleep would seem peculiar with no cloak of darkness to guide us. A history professor at Virginia Tech, Roger Ekirch, suggests that prior to the 1800s, our ancestors often broke up their slumber into two sessions, first and second sleep. In between they would fill the time with everything from reading and writing letters, to sex and prayer. It was said the best time to conceive a child was after first sleep. In his research he found more than 500 references to segmented sleep in novels, diaries and letters. If humans can create alternative patterns given the same set of circumstances we share today only with longer and darker nights due to a lack of electricity, its easy to imagine how different life would be on a planet with infinite daylight. How does one organize time without all the guidance that a 24-hour clock provides. When I say lets meet next Tuesday at 2pm, I am describing a relationship from this moment to another, defined entirely by sunrises and sunsets – by an Earth that is spinning its way in a measurable fashion.
It makes sense that our days are defined by the rising and setting motions of the sun – at least it feels right. Combined with the fact that we sleep at night, each morning presents the perception of a new day. Sleeping is one of the few activities in which we have to pretend to do it before it truly happens - but from that moment we lay in bed and close our eyes acting "asleep" - its as if the outside world is somehow put on pause. The day, as far as we are concerned, is done. Of course, that is not the case, and often just as I am going to sleep here in Maui, my sister in North Carolina is waking up to start a new day. The "day" is an illusion. It feels real – it seems real – but it's just a mental concept – a thought.
A day makes logical sense because it's something you experience. The year is also an experience you can feel. Even here in Maui where the weather in generally perfect all the time, I can still feel the seasons. I can still notice the way the sun hangs lower in the sky, and how the days are shorter this time of year. It is winter, albeit a very mild one. And much like we break the day into hours and to minutes, it stands to reason that we convert years into months and to weeks. However, it's at the week stage that we create something entirely made up that truly defines a good deal of the experience of our life - the days of the week.
It wasn't enough to acknowledge that a week can be divided into seven day segments and provide them with just a number, we decided to endow these particular mental constructs with additional attributes not defined by nature, and to provide them with names like "Wednesday" and "Sunday". We gave them an order in which they exist – Sunday through Saturday if looking upon a calendar or Monday through Sunday if a typical working person. By creating defined work hours, we carved out a defined weekend and in the process provided each day with a "feeling" that week after week we experience again and again. We know how a Sunday feels different than a Wednesday, how a Monday is nothing like a Saturday.
Working for myself, I've tried hard to break free from this as much as possible, but obviously most of my clients exist within the traditional framework of 9-5 M-F, so I don't have unlimited flexibility as to when I work – but I certainly have more than most and take advantage of that.
I also recently changed the way I plan my week. As I've mentioned in prior posts, I'm a fanatical proponent of scheduling out your week – creating a clear plan for the things you wish to achieve, need to take care of, exercises/health requirements, even meals and social plans. Obviously things will change, but by having a defined path you're more likely to stay on target and keep up with your various goals. Recently though I changed the layout of my schedule to start with Saturday and end my week with Friday. While I realize this might seem like a completely useless designation, you'd be amazed at how much it reframes the week for you. First off, you begin the week with two full days to use as you see fit. Rather than starting your week on a Monday at work, make it your day. It's on that Saturday morning during coffee that you plan out the rest of your week. I also do a review of my finances during this morning life-planning session. It only takes about an hour to review last week's plan, make modifications as needed, plan some dinners (this is to make sure I'm not eating out at restaurants, but rather having the groceries I need to cook from home most nights) and do a financial review of the past week. Then the next two days are mine to not only tackle some of the goals I defined, but also prep for the work portion of the week with things like groceries, cleaning, etc. Yes, I realize these are common weekend activities, and it might seem silly to suggest I've changed anything by declaring they are happening at the start of the week rather than the end of it, but there is something mentally different about preparing for a week rather than cleaning up after it. While it might sound like it's only a turn of phrase to say Saturday is the start of the week, when you begin to put YOUR time as the top priority and the primary focus of the week, rather than as some far off reward of two days you're too exhausted to fully enjoy, you'll begin to understand.
By the time Monday comes around, you've had two full days to ideally tackle a lot of things from your list. You should be feeling good. It's not your normal "starting the week at 6am to commute to work"... you've had your YOU time, and you're ready. Today is Tuesday, and normally I'd be on day 2 of my week feeling like I have a ways to go. By shifting the week around I'm on day 4 and the week is more than halfway done. Again - perhaps a silly distinction, but it sure seems to work.
At my company I've also been a huge proponent of taking off on Friday whenever possible. I personally think working five days a week to receive two days off is an unfair racket, and I've blogged on this several times so I won't pontificate on the lunacy of how much of our life is dedicated to employment in this modern age. However, it's worth restating that by dropping the days of the week you work from five to four, you only lose 20% of your work hours. At the same time, by adding that day to your weekend to go from two to three, you receive a 50% increase in time off. A 50% increase in personal time for only a 20% loss in work seems wildly reasonable to me. I've also found that by getting more time off, you're far more productive in the remaining 80% of work time you have.
In the 1750s, in an effort to adopt the Gregorian calendar, England had to advance it's calendar and so Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. Legend says there were riots in the streets, with angry mobs demanding the return of the eleven days the King had stolen from them. Whether this is historical fact or just archival British humor is up for some debate, but the sentiment rings true. So much of our experience of time is simply how we think of it – which is ironic because we hardly think about time itself, at all. If you can begin to rethink how a day might take shape, what order a week might fall into, or whether you truly need uniquely feeling "days" at all and instead decide to simply "be here, now" – you'll begin to feel that tingling sensation one gets when they start to explore outside the mental constructs they inherited without ever questioning in the first place, and realize there is no "way".
"We are too often lost in the abyss of unawareness. We regularly miss the energy and blessing around us, and the importance of this very moment. It's at though we prefer to be elsewhere doing something else, as if we are living in distant time zones, hours behind or ahead of the joyous tick and bliss of Now. We have forgotten that the natural foe to life is not a distant death, but a present, in-the-moment detachment from living."
- Brendon Burchard, "The Motivation Manifesto"
Earlier this week, one of the bartenders at my favorite watering hole remarked that I am always in a good mood. "Of course," I replied. Beyond the fact that I'm typically enjoying a cold pint when she sees me, and that I've more than likely just returned from a refreshing swim on one of several gorgeous beaches here in Maui, the fact of the matter is I always choose to be in a good mood, especially whenever I'm in public interacting with other folks. Note that I said I "choose" to be in a good mood. While she might have assumed my mood was a result of my great job, or the fact that I can head down for a pint at 4pm on a Thursday - the fact of the matter is while those details might make the act of happiness easier to obtain, I am a firm believer that happiness is something we create, not receive.
For many folks this doesn't seem to be the case. As a particularly good listener, I've been a shoulder to cry on or a stranger to vent to for numerous folks over the years. Perhaps it's because I generally avoid arguments, so even folks I don't necessarily agree with I'm still able to maintain a conversation with and see things from their perspective. Or perhaps the fact that I love striking up conversations with strangers at the bar puts me in a position to acquire more tales of woe. More than likely, that same positive energy the bartender was remarking on leads people to seek out what I have in the hopes of finding it for themselves. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things I've noticed over the years when it comes to the sadness and frustrations people lament in their lives.
Typically the causes of the majority of problems folks present to me fall into two categories - events and people. Events almost always exist in the past, and typically not even the recent past. It's pretty rare someone says "I'm currently going through this..." Often there is something that happened in the past, and for whatever reason they feel that it shifted their life into its current trajectory. This includes jobs they didn't get, break-ups they didn't see coming, financial problems that resulted in a loss of property or social standing, business deals gone awry or just plain bad luck. Many times in addition to the event itself, there is also a person who caused that event - and so often these two primary issues combine into a single cause for all that is wrong.
A few months back I was sitting at a bar, and an older woman beside me was putting back shots of tequila. On Maui you certainly see folks knocking back shots - but rarely in the "I'm trying to forget about my life" sorta fashion that you could tell she was partaking in. Try as I might to avoid conversation, tequila shots make folks pretty darn social, and so soon enough she was talking about how tough her life was. "Last week I sold my house and horses to my ex-husband. Can you believe that?" she lamented. I got the impression that in her divorce she got the home, but without the capacity to earn the income her former husband brought in, she was unable to keep up with payments. Not wanting her children to lose the spot, she had decided to sell it to him. "My ex-husband is such a dick," she continued. "He's getting married next month, and guess what, he's coming to Maui to do it! Can you believe that? My ex-husband is getting married here, and he knows I'm here. He just wants to hurt me," she slurred, ordering another round between various declarations of all the cruelty he'd unleashed on her. It was the ex-husband who took her home, it was the ex-husband who ruined her life, it was the ex-husband that had her drinking on a perfectly lovely sunny day in Maui.
Finally at one point I said "What's this man's name?"
"Andrew," she replied.
"Do me a favor," I asked. "From now on, just call him Andrew. You can't have an ex-husband. You either have a husband or you don't have a husband. You are either his wife, or you are not his wife. You can't be an ex-wife... you can not be in a state of non-being."
Suddenly there was a light in her eyes. It was as if a giant weight had been lifted from her shoulders. You could feel the ease sink into her soul - and it wasn't just the tequila anymore. "Thank you..." she said. She finished her last shot, and said she was going for a swim. I've seen her several times around the island since that day, and she's always happy to see me. I doubt she's sobered up, and I won't pretend her life was forever changed – but at least for that moment she escaped the torture that she herself was inflicting upon her life.
There are two types of people in this world, the folks you choose to be with and the folks you sorta have to be with. The folks you choose to be with would be friends and partners (boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives). The folks you have less of a choice being around would be family members, co-workers, neighbors, and generally people you didn't choose to engage with, but for any number of reasons still have to interact with on a regular basis. The first group is one of the most important choices you have to make in life. Numerous studies have shown that we are the average of our five closest connections. Thus, the people we surround ourselves with shape our own character and personality. I have always sought out wonderfully passionate individuals and tried to avoid folks with "drama" as much as I can. I try to find folks smarter than myself (I know, tough, but somehow I manage) who are engaged in fields I know little about. I find this expands my appreciation of life, and pushes me to learn more. This isn't always the case for many of the people I meet. How many times have I heard a gal completely trashing her boyfriend. "He's lazy..." "He's unfaithful..." "He's not good around people..." Why on Earth would you spend that much time with someone you can't rave about? Beyond the fact that it must be embarrassing to constantly have to defend or explain the actions of your significant other – those characteristics inevitably start appearing in your own personality. If someone you spend a lot of time with has a short temper, those constant arguments will eventually shape the way you deal with every conversation, and suddenly you'll find that you too have very little patience for conflict in your life. While both positive and negative characteristics can be transferred, negative energy typically outweighs the positive when two personalities are merged. Even the best intentions of "I'll change him (or her) for the better..." rarely work out. If your friends are not inspiring and encouraging you at every turn – then end the friendship. I'd rather have a handful of positive acquaintances I hardly know than a crappy best friend.
The other group, folks you don't have much of a choice about being around, can be tougher to deal with or avoid. While bad co-workers should probably make you look for a new job, and a horrible neighbor or community might be good cause for relocation, those aren't always viable options. With these folks, I generally try to accept things for what they are, and do my best not to let emotions and opinions make the situation worse. If someone is particularly critical, then you needn't take their opinions to heart. Rather than engaging in an argument, make use of one of my favorite expressions - "Is that so?" I find folks don't work so hard to convince you of their opinion if you offer little opposition. The key is to watch your own ego, and realize you don't have to defend your beliefs to everyone. That's not to say you shouldn't speak up from time to time if the situation demands it – nor should you give in to unfair requests or abuse. But realizing not every battle needs to be fought, and that saying sorry doesn't mean you were wrong, can go a long way I've found. And at the end of the day, if I've upset someone without intention, it is true that I am sorry for them. I'm not being disingenuous to apologize, even though I know full well that I really didn't do anything.
One of the best techniques I've found, and this applies to just about every interaction in my life, is to recognize yourself in all living things. As I've spoken about on this blog before - I truly believe we are all one single intelligence – one life experiencing itself in an endless variety of ways. I am I – I am you – I am everything. At our core, we are all the same. However, an endless combination of nature and nurture forces, biological differences, DNA, cultural issues and countless other factors take that one universal life force, and shape it into the menagerie of life forms we witness. When I meet someone who is particularly unpleasant, I have no choice but to imagine what would have occurred to make me become that. I'm not looking to see what aspects of my personality exist within them – I'm looking to see what aspects of their personality exist within me and why I was able to overcome those. This goes beyond sympathy, and points rather to empathy. This doesn't make the personality any less unpleasant, nor suggest that you should engage in more time with this individual – but rather allows you to realize the pain others experience and how that manifests itself in how they see the world and experience others.
Your experience of life could be described as an individual sitting inside of a home, looking out their window. Some days it is going to be rainy and cold outside. Bad weather happens just as bad things occur. Some folks will say "man, it's a really crappy day..." Others, warm inside their beautiful home will simply witness what is occurring outside those windows but take comfort in their private abode and find something else to enjoy until the storm passes. For folks who haven't taken care of their home (their mind, in this thinly veiled metaphor) it doesn't often matter what the weather is like outside, it's still a crappy day. And when that rain falls, their roof leaks, and the heater is broken - and life really is a miserable experience for them. If you can clean that house and cultivate the beauty that is your inner-soul, you'll find that what's happening outside is almost entirely irrelevant.
In the end, you choose how your day is going to be. You choose who to engage with and the experiences to fill your time with. Blaming others or past events might help rationalize your current situation, but it certainly doesn't improve it. Only when we accept that we create everything in our lives and look to start making real improvements (cleaning the house) do we begin to create the happiness that others hope to find. You choose what things mean and you choose where life will take you. If it doesn't feel that way, then you're engaged in unconscious choices – but you're still choosing. As Henry Ford famously stated – "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you are correct." The choice is yours.
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
- Wayne Dyer
I purchased a ticket to Portland this week. Not a one-way, "I'm coming back home" ticket, but rather a round-trip which will return me back to Maui a week later. It's a short visit for Thanksgiving, to see friends and partake in one of my favorite traditions - Red Friday. On that special day during which the mainstream media does its darnedest to remind American's to spend what little money they have on things they don't need – my friends and I opt to skip the mall and instead head out to Oregon wine country to sip pinot noir and explore smaller family-run vineyards which aren't typically open for guests. It's been a great way to discover smaller producers and some delicious wines, and I'm very much looking forward to it.
When I moved to Maui it was only going to be for the winter. Last winter that is. Obviously once spring had come around my attitude had changed and so the weeks turned into months, and here I am fast approaching my one year anniversary. Truth be told, prior to coming out for the winter, I had often remarked that in a "perfect world" I would split my time between Maui and Portland. I would love to own properties in both places, and then rent out my Maui residence when I'm back on the mainland or traveling someplace else. Alas, I'm not presently in the financial position to purchase a single home, let alone two residences. However, I've found that in life if you wait for the right moment to live the way you desire, you'll discover that moment never arrives. Opportunities rarely present themselves in an ideal form and it's nearly impossible to be totally prepared for any situation. The best advice I can give is "act as if".
When I first moved out to Oregon over a decade ago I worked for a couple of start-ups. It's was the early naughts and working for a start-up was the cool thing to do. We worked insane hours, made no money, had no real business plan and assumed we'd make millions. I was part of a group called "Starve-Ups" – a networking group of other start-up businesses and we'd sit around and discuss business strategies, learn sales techniques and plot how our companies would someday be worth millions. One or two companies actually did... most did not. After a few years of this and growing frustrated with the company I'd help build – I decided to quit a start-up I'd put several years into and go out on my own. I had no money saved up, no wealthy relatives (a somewhat common characteristic to many of the "entrepreneurs" I'd met in start-up world), no major clients to rely on, nor even a reputation to build upon. With no financial resources or major business plan, one could say I was the ideal "start-up" candidate. However, I didn't want to create a start-up, I wanted to own a business. A successful business at that. There was really only one choice – act as if.
When I started my company in 2007 I made zero mention of where it had come from or where it was going - it just was. I named it The Interactive Dept. and from day one acted as if we'd always been there. We weren't a start-up, I didn't announce a new company or contact friends and family to let them know I started a business. I simply filed the paperwork with the State and explained to potential clients that I wasn't a freelance developer any longer – I worked for The Interactive Dept. Even though I had never taken a business class in college and was little more than a junior web developer, I took on the roles of CEO, Director of Sales, Director of Marketing, Senior Web Developer, as well as accountant, custodian and anything else that was required.
Was I ready to start a business? NO!
Did I make mistakes? Tons!
Did it work out? Of course!
Today The Interactive Dept is a thriving web development studio, with over 45 clients and counting. Since I didn't take out loans or borrow money from family in the traditional "start-up" fashion, my company was profitable from day one. While I had no experience in many of the roles required to run a business, I learned on the job and fashioned myself into a solid business owner, a senior-level web developer, and most surprisingly to myself, a damn good salesman.
If I had thought rationally seven years ago about whether I was prepared or skilled enough to own my own business, I would have certainly passed on the opportunity. I'd most likely be working some crappy agency gig, or worse, sitting in a cubicle out on the Intel campus instead of at my desk here in Maui, overlooking the plumeria trees in my yard.
'Acting as if' does not mean lying or deceiving. It means taking a leap of faith and knowing that your raw talents and skills will rise to the occasion. It means understanding that opportunities can only present themselves from certain vantage points – most of which only appear when you are engaged in the endeavor you're attempting to find success in. It means putting your attention towards achieving your goals, not simply contemplating them. While thoughts certainly increase the probability of circumstance, thoughts combined with action literally transform your reality. By taking those first steps towards your vision, whether prepared or not, you inevitably attract that reality into your world and can then deal with unforeseen situations as they arise, all the while acquiring the skills, talent and connections required for mastery. Skills, talent and connections you couldn't have acquired sitting on the sideline waiting for opportunity to knock.
One might argue that I'm no closer to dividing my time between Portland and Maui today than I was a year ago. They could point to my bank account and complete lack of property deeds and say "you haven't achieved your goal." However, while they would be correct that I haven't achieved the ultimate goal, have I not spent the past ten months living in paradise? Did I not spend August in NY visiting family and friends? Is this not my second trip to Portland so far in 2014?
I split my time between Portland and Maui. It's my story and I'm sticking to it, as they say. Had I not taken the chance to leave Portland and live for several months in Maui, it would have simply stayed as a nagging thought, rather than the amazing experience it has been. I've landed one of my best clients ever out here, the world famous restaurant Mama's Fish House. I've had business dinners with two other clients who specialize in the vacation rental market and have asked me to get more involved in those businesses. I am slowly but surely finding connections and resources here on Maui that will inevitably lead me to some form of property ownership with the goal of renting out that property part of the year. As I start scheduling more visits to Portland I will figure out the best way to manage those trips as well. My office in Old Town was a great spot to stay last time, and I only see those opportunities growing as I visit more often. By simply living the way I desire as best I can in the current moment, I move step by step closer to the life that I envision.
We all have dreams. We all have a vision for a better life beyond the current cards we're holding. So often this other life seems beyond our capacity to acquire. We can see others who achieve it, but often use them not as inspiration to guide us, but for comparison to identify what we lack. The truth is, you lack nothing. The universe is abundant – there is no limit on potential – there is no finite amount of success. All you lack is the confidence to proceed, the drive to move forward and the courage to act as if. You needn't convince the world that you're ready... you need only convince yourself.
"The danger of venturing into uncharted waters is not nearly as dangerous as staying on shore, waiting for your boat to come in."
- Charles F. Glassman MD, "Brain Drain"
I've been sick the past week. Actually, if I take a step or two back further, I went rowing with a local Canoe Club, got incredibly soar, caught a cold and spent the week in a weird state of disgust with myself - arms soar from rowing, head stuffed from congestion, lungs unable to breath, back tweaked from a combination of rowing and coughing, and my mind wondering if I'll ever know true health again.
Owning your own business has both advantages and disadvantages when you're not feeling well. The obvious benefit is that I don't have to go into an office, nor really even get dressed for the day. I can work from bed, or at the very least from my desk in bed attire. The down-side is the work still has to get done – and in the case of my business – it has to get done by me. While productivity can slip a bit, it's hard to explain to clients the company is sick, and thus the show must go on.
As if to make matters worse, a tropical storm meandered its way to Maui this week, and so the past few days have provided nothing but wind and rain. While to some degree this cuts back on the number of individuals passing by my apartment having the best day of their life while I'm coughing up phlegm – it only feeds into the negative energy that the soreness and sickness have already delivered this week, creating a full fledged tropical funk. Wednesday night, while reaching for my phone to see what time of night I'd coughed my way to consciousness within, the precious metal and glass cameo slipped from my hands, and shattered upon the cold floor. I picked up my iPhone, placed it down upon the nightstand, and went back to sleep. The low point had been reached.
I believe that the majority of your life experience is informed by the energy you bring to any particular situation. This isn't specifically the energy one gets from exercise and eating well, although the two are intimately connected. The energy I'm describing is a force that interacts with everything around you, and when flowing properly creates a rhythm and ease to life – but when off or weakened creates gravity and obstacles. The more I've paid attention to this energy over the years, the more I've learned how to work with it, anticipate it, and in situations like the past week, accept that things will not be going my way. A combination of physical, environmental, professional, personal and financial factors might point to causality, but the common theme of the week was a complete lack of energy. My mojo was off.
However, if there is anything that is certain in this world, it's that all things must pass, and if the pendulum is going to swing in one direction, it will most certainly swing in the other. This energy, like all of reality, travels in waves. It has it's high and low – it's on and off – it's black and white. So as I lifted my shattered iPhone off the floor, I didn't throw a fit or scream to the heavens about the unfairness of life – I knew at that moment the wave was about to start bending up. I knew this was the deepest depth of this trough and that I'd now be heading back up. I didn't focus on the negative, only anticipated the positive. You needn't ever feed negative emotions to the energy – the world can handle that on its own. Your attention must always be to the positive and whenever possible to motive yourself to push that energy curve back towards the rising crest. As you begin to genuinely feel this energy, you'll be able to catch it slipping and make certain whatever downward trends occur, they are short-lived and immediately corrected. For while you can't avoid the negative, you can sustain and thus extend the positive.
Knowing this is how my mind works and how I experience life – the past weekend provided an excellent opportunity to prepare for this coming week. Still recovering from the head-cold and with the rains of Tropical Storm Ana pouring down, there were no places to go or beaches to lay upon. So instead, I took the time to feed this positive trending energy by revisiting my current goals, both short-term and long-term, mapping out my ideal week, and then seeking out and engaging in various sources of inspiration in both books and videos.
For the life-goals, I first balanced all my books and reviewed my various financial accounts. While making money should never be the primary focus of one's life, having a clear vision as to how you make your money and where it is going, and more importantly how you intend to grow your wealth (savings and investments) is vital to any success or happiness you might obtain. As I've mentioned before, I spend 1-2 hours on Saturday reviewing finances, balancing my company's books and looking at various other opportunities that might exist. I extended those efforts this weekend not only getting all my financial records up-to-date, but also putting together some initial marketing strategies for the 4th quarter and early 2015. I'm looking to increase engagement with my company's existing customer base, while also improving site traffic to the website in an effort to increase project requests. I'm also hoping to put more attention towards the vacation rental market and boutique hotels in general.
For my personal life, I engaged in an exercise I like to do once or twice a year, where I map out what the ideal week should look like. For me, this entails what every hour of the day will be spent on between 6am when I wake-up and 10pm when I get into bed. I break things down by hour long intervals and try to map out how I think the week should work. This includes work, beach time, cooking dinner, going for a run, and various other tasks that must be achieved throughout the week. It includes what meals I will cook - what evening I will head to the pub (Thursday if you're curious) and even when I'll perform a review of this week's plan on Friday. There is something wonderfully self-inspiring to list out how your week will go. Since I work for myself, I have a lot more control of how I wish to break up the day – and so I'm allowed to create a unique routine that I'm looking forward to experimenting with this week. If I can stick with it - I'll be rather pleased with myself next weekend. By plotting out how an awesome week might look, identifying what it would entail and then challenging yourself to stick with it, you provide a path for that energy to flow, and measurable milestones to acknowledge your progress along the way, all of which grows that energy.
Finally I looked for inspiration in books and videos online. In addition to getting back into a healthy routine, I'm also going to do a little entertainment detox. After returning from my trip away from Maui, I got into a routine of watching various TV shows and online programs after dinner. The sun is going down earlier these days, and I had fell into quite a sedentary evening lifestyle. When you begin to plan out your life into hours, you find you rarely have the urge to add large multi-hour blocks labeled as "stare at television screen" on every single day of the week. You quickly notice the great treasure trove of opportunity that resides in those post-dinner hours from 6-9p. Those three hours a night, seven nights a week provide an entire twenty-one hours of potential each week in which you can learn new things, expand skills and talents, or find inspiration and additional motivation to fire up that energy. I searched for blog posts on inspirational YouTube channels and found several new series to watch ranging from business leaders to philosophers. I did another search for reading lists from folks I admired. From a reading list apparently compiled by Steve Jobs I found a fascinating book on Zen and another about a Yogi. I also downloaded two books on business and "The Element" by Ken Robinson, a book on self-improvement someone recommended to me a month or two ago.
As I begin to feel better and live within the path I've defined for this week, I will fill my mind with these various positive sources of inspiration and motivation to welcome my energy from the dark realm which is has travelled back to the light. And just as the phone slipped from my hand, now wonderful opportunities will present themselves and positive moments will abound. I'm not simply hoping for a good week, I am anticipating it. I know next weekend as I sit down to write a blog post, I will be healthier and more inspired than I am at this moment, and will build upon that momentum to help define an even greater week to follow.
"A particular train of thought persisted in, be it good or bad, cannot fail to produce its results on the character and circumstances. A man cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances."
- James Allen, "As A Man Thinketh"
The gorgeous clear waters of Napili Bay are extraordinarily salty, so much so that almost no effort is required to stay afloat. With little more than lungs filled with oxygen, one can bob head and shoulders above the sea without the slightest treading of water. The ocean temperature is 83 degrees this time of year, matching identically to the air above it. So perfect are both conditions that often it doesn't feel that I am swimming in the ocean as much as just temporarily suspended in a state of weightlessness, hovering a foot or two above finely groomed sands, gazing out over the channel to the cloud-covered island of Molokai in the distance. It is perfect – in every sense of the word and often large chunks of time dissolve in this state, as I tend to spend my afternoons on one of several beaches in the area.
Doing nothing is by far my favorite activity on Maui. It's how I spend my afternoons and what I fill my weekends with. The unplanned happiness of just being. While I've made a few friends here on the island, for the most part my social life is non-existent, and so I rarely if ever have something to "do". In fact, at the moment I have absolutely nothing in my calendar – no upcoming events, no parties, no dates, no guests, no networking events, luncheons or sales meetings.
The Tao Te Ching states:
The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.
Now far be it from me to suggest I've mastered life or anything else for that matter, but I find large sums of truth in that simple observation (as I do in most observations one discovers in the 'Tao Te Ching'). If we convince ourselves that our efforts are what bring about the results we call our life, then obviously we must fill our day with an assortment of tasks to maintain the order. We create our checklists and chores, our assignments and our responsibilities until our day is so packed that we hardly have any time left to stress about the fact that we don't have enough time to attend to most of this. We then get "behind" and begin to stress out about that. "How will I catch up?" we ask ourselves, never fully qualifying to what or whom we're catching up with. You know full well by now that the finish line is only the starting line of another race – that the sooner you complete one task, the sooner you can start another. There is no respite from the scheduled life.
Part of this calamity is just modern life in America – a culture that long ago reversed the simple truth that people have value and things have uses - creating a culture that is so focused on the shiny baubles that we sacrifice not only our neighbors and family, but most importantly, ourselves. When we are fooled into believing "things" have value, then our efforts and attention inevitably focus on those objects, and our interaction with other humans and all living things takes the form of "what use is this person to me".
This is all well and good for a capitalist society, which requires for its sustained existence a constant growth of markets in which to sell to, but for human beings actually trying to live... it's not so good. Therefore it's not surprising that the most prescribed medications in the US in 2013 were anti-depressants. Or to put it another way, the number one illness American's suffer from is the utter exhaustion of their own minds. Yet anti-depressant drugs as opposed to other forms of medication don't actually solve any problems - they don't pay your bills, give you an extra two hours in the day, open lines of communication between you and your significant other, clean up the yard or make your boss stop being an asshole. All they do is numb you enough to permit you to keep walking in the wrong direction. They in no way effect the root causes of the issue at hand. Considering the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants doubled in the past decade alone, it's pretty clear the problem is worsening, and the numbing of our culture is growing.
The real cure, if I can be so bold as the prescribe a possible solution, would be nothing. A whole lot of nothing. Nothing after work, nothing after school, nothing this weekend or next weekend. Turn off the TV, cancel the gym membership and spend some time in silence. It's a wonderful experience sitting in silence. It can be unsettling at first, but the more time you carve out, the more comfortable you'll feel there. The next time you're in your car, turn off the radio and feel the wave of peace that envelopes you in that silence. Sit in a room and just be there - be in that space without any tasks or chores or noise. Just be. If you can get yourself into nature, then sit in that forest or upon that beach, and just let it be. You will begin to realize that your ultimate purpose is not to achieve, but to observe. Nothing you could ever hope to accomplish will ever amount to anything beyond the scope of your own appreciation for it. They have not heard of you on Jupiter... they know not of your greatness in the Andromeda Galaxy... While it is obviously important to pursue your talents and succeed in your chosen career, it's more important to realize you are so much more than that. You were brought into this reality to experience life – to witness the nature of reality. The only way to accomplish this with clarity is in silence. In that space you will discover answers to seemingly impossible tasks and find a clearer path to destinations yet unimagined. You will see that the world does not come crashing down around you in your absence, but rather the more time you carve to sit in silence, the greater appreciation you have for life and the more beautiful the world becomes. The more clarity you find, the simpler your tasks become, until you realize there are no tasks at all, just other experiences to witness. The drama and the stress and the exhaustion is all manufactured – it is all a by-product of too much noise and too much effort. Only silence can overcome the noise, in the same way that only light can overcome darkness. Focusing your attention on one particular type of noise over another will not solve the problem – it's all just noise. It is only in the silence that clarity forms, stress dissolves and life goes from being an exhausting chore to a beautiful experience.
Now go carve out some space!
"We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature…trees, flowers, grass…grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls."
- Mother Theresa
Along the towering structures that line Central Park South and overlook the majestic park that is the street's namesake, there is a building called The Hampshire House that broke ground in 1931. Near its entryway is a carved stone that caught my attention a few years ago as I was walking past. It reads, "Dedicated to yesterday's charm and tomorrow's convenience."
New York City has been under construction since day one. I remember as a child walking with my parents through the city and being overwhelmed by the noise and spectacle that is the result of constant upgrades and repairs. Streets being torn open, exposed steel beams being welded towards the sky, sidewalks with tunnels of scaffolding to protect you from a cacophony of work being done above, below and beside you. The projects never end in Manhattan and thus the landscape is in constant flux. Change is happening.
This week I went down to the city with my folks to explore The Highline, a newer park that runs along old train lines through Chelsea and other once less desirable areas of the island. It's a beautiful walk through the city, and along with tourists, flowers and assorted cart vendors, the new park has also brought with it change. Nearly everywhere you looked on the mile-and-a-half walk-way, buildings were being torn down and larger, far more modern structures were being raised in their footprints. There is no doubt that when I visit this park five years from now, the experience will be radically different.
Life is change – and yet so often we ignore the quiet evolution only to be shocked by the results. We notice the "change" but often miss the "changing". This week my Facebook page was filled with comments about children going off to school, and specifically many children going to Kindergarten for the first time. My niece and my nephew were among the new recruits, and both sisters lamented at this "change" and seemed to share a desire to slow time down. We like to create "events" in our life - the "before and afters" that we can point towards to mark progress, and often when positioned in a hypothetical future these events bring anxiety, and when located in the imagined past, are wrapped in nostalgia. In reality there are no singular events, just as there is no time. There is only "now" and the plethora of experiences you're having in it. I think that often we are shocked by how quickly children grow because our own childhood seemed so much slower and longer. It seems to contradict our own experience when a child goes from birth to school-age while we seemingly haven't changed at all. We can rest assured, however, that childhood for these new children will be just as long and bizarre a journey as it was for us. Time is not speeding up, things have not truly changed – it's "the same as it ever was" as the Talking Heads once suggested.
If we believe that time is real and that the past and future exist, then it's easy to lament both. You will always be standing on the cusp between the past and future – and much like the sign in front of The Hampshire House, you are likely to wax nostalgic about the "charms" of the past, and either anticipate or fear that which the future promises. You are also likely to point to singular events to mark your passage through this experience, or to use as guideposts for the journey forward. My niece and my nephew are just beginning to be taught to see life in this foolish way and will soon give up the present-moment awareness of childhood for the linear future-focused lifestyle of their older peers. For as I'm sure they know now or soon will, the primary purpose of Kindergarden will be to get to First Grade. The carrot has been dangled. Before they know it, "First Day of School" photos will be swapped out with Elementary School Graduation pics, and new butterflies will form for the first day of Middle School. Then it's off to High School... and that will seem big and daunting, a summer filled with the nervousness of change, only to settle into the same normalcy of classes and social-life as it was before. But now the pressure is really on - you better study for the SATs and watch your GPA or else you'll have a tough time getting into a good college. Then it's off to that college and all the stress and anxiety that comes with that life change. Before they know it - college will be half-way over and now they must decide what they'll do once they get into the "real world" because its coming.... the carrot is almost in reach, the 16+ years of schooling are about to pay off! Of course, once they get into this "real" world they'll have to apply to jobs, get hired and work harder still for there are promotions to be had or better jobs to seek out. Always looking to the next rung, always stressing about the next interview, the new change. And occasionally looking back and saying "it was so much easier back then..." For upon pausing for a moment to reflect, you are likely to notice just how much things have changed while you were busy worrying about a future that likely never arrived.
All for what? For success - that imagined idol that never comes into focus? Certainly not for happiness, although there may be a false hope that it will come as a bi-product of all this effort. More than likely they'll reach a point as I have where you look back and say almost laughingly, "That was an awful lot of anxiety about... well... nothing." And one can't help but get the impression that things were always going to work out regardless. Our anxiety has very little impact on reality, and while our efforts may be rewarded, it becomes clear if we observe life that we are not so much directing the action as witnessing the spectacle. Just like children at the carnival enjoying the airplane ride, we shouldn't confuse our ability to make the vehicle go up and down with the notion that we're actually flying the plane. As long as we steer in the direction of the ride, it may seem as if we're in control, but try deviating from this course and you're likely to meet with unanticipated results. While we can lean into the curve, we can't create the wave – we are the witness to the experience, not the experience itself.
When the artisan who carved those words into The Hampshire House on a cold morning in 1931 completed his task, he likely took a step back to admire his work. For a brief instant his thoughts ceased, and he simply gazed upon his efforts. It was not then, or in the past, but in the timelessness that is the present moment. It was now and it was no different than this "now". It did not matter if it was 1931, 2014 or any year in-between or beyond. There were no charms of the past or conveniences of tomorrow, as those can only exist as thoughts – there was just the infinite beauty of "being" in the now. For this is where all of life truly happens. It did not happen then... it is not going to happen for you some day... it is happening now. If you're worrying about something that might happen, you are missing something that is. While our attention may be drawn to perceived "events", it is important to remember life is the sum total of its parts. It is an experience, not a series of milestones. All of reality is about expansion and change – and thus your own experience of life must expand and change just as all the creatures and objects of reality evolve. So rather than trying to hold onto the past, take comfort in the present moment – sit back and enjoy the ride and marvel at the profound beauty that is change. For truth be told, you wouldn't be here without it.
"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."
- John Lennon, "Beautiful Boy"
If there is one expression I hear most often upon describing what it is I do for a living, it would be "you're so lucky." I generally smile in agreement and suggest that, yes, it is a good life and I'm very happy to be partaking in it. Truth be told however, the term "lucky" always annoys me slightly, as it seems to suggest I've somehow won this role – that I could be working in a factory or in a cubicle or on a farm or any number of more strenuous and less enjoyable tasks had I not won the lottery on career day and picked "independent web developer" from the hat. In reality, on career day in high school I was informed I was best suited for the exciting career of airline steward. Even my guidance counselor struggled to provide suggestions on how best to prepare for my future role serving soda-pop and tiny bags of peanuts. Upon heading off to college, I chose to forgo that particular suggestion and instead opted to study journalism, having always had a great interest in writing. I also dabbled in history, computer science and a wildly brief stint as a filmmaker at an art school in Boston (I never actually showed up to that school - but that's a topic for another post).
By my junior year at the University of Delaware it was becoming increasingly clear that journalism wasn't going to be the correct path for me as writing loses a good deal of its pleasure when one is assigned what topics to write about and forced to be objective and ignore personal opinions on the topic at hand. I found most assignments ranged from boring to downright cruel. When asked to write a "sports" story, my fellow students rushed to various university sporting events to interview pitchers and describe the mundane details of a particular match, whereas I wrote a piece on two kids playing wall-ball off the back of a cinder-block dugout at a local little league game and compared their enthusiasm to the kids standing in the outfield of the actual game, being yelled at to "look alive." When we were assigned to go out and interview an elderly individual from our community, my peers rushed to the local senior home to find themselves an old person with no intention of returning again once they got their story. I instead wrote about a woman buried in a cemetery overgrown with tall grass along the major road in Newark, her tombstone pressed beneath a pathway students took to save time walking to and from campus. While my professors remarked on the creativity of my stories, my fellow students argued that I hadn't followed the assignment to the letter, and in truth they were correct and such antics would never have flown at the Times Herald Record, Kansas City Star, Sussex County Post or whatever other small-town newspaper I might have attempted to work at post-graduation. Then, during my senior year, a student was hit by a 7-Up delivery truck while riding their bicycle on campus and killed. My editor assigned me the story and provided me with some basic notes, which included the student's roommate's information as well as their mother's contact information. I explained that I couldn't possibly call the mother and ask for a quote for the school paper, that it was heartless and pointless and far too sad. It was at that moment that I knew mainstream journalism was not the path for me – the "if it bleeds it leads" mentality of modern journalism was far too cold for my taste, and I realized whatever career I might have had was over – that path, regardless of how far I'd walked upon it, no longer existed.
Thankfully along the way I had also picked up some skills in the newly created field of web design, mostly making hobby-websites for myself and the occasional band or local small business. Upon graduating with a degree in journalism my first job out of school was not for a newspaper, but rather making websites. This was not the "working from home on Maui till 2pm before going to the beach" job I'm so "lucky" to have today – quite the contrary. My first job was more along the lines of the film "Office Space", working in a windowless room at a company called IT-MIS (Information Technology Management Information Services). In fact, early on I was reprimanded for wearing shorts to work because it was against the company dress code – the irony of the moment being completely missed by my boss Joy who was sitting there wearing a skirt as she informed me of the violation. When I explained to my co-workers I was quiting to move out west with no job lined up, they looked upon me with an expression somewhere between confusion and genuine concern.
I never desired a career nor a job. I had no real interest to be an employee of any kind, although when I moved out west I hadn't really intended to be an entrepreneur either. Instead, I desired to be an artisan – someone who makes money from their skills via a variety of trades. Employees, or wage-slaves as they would have been known a century earlier until such a life became the accepted norm, survive on wages provided by an employer who at any moment can terminate their job. I felt that such a life inevitably led to unhappiness in one's career, stealing the freedom to decide how much to charge, what projects to take on and when the work should be done. A subtle fear permeates each moment as the employee has no true control over the success of the business beyond their tiny role, nor share in the profits of its success beyond occasionally building up the courage to ask for a small raise in salary, which could in-turn lead to their termination. I didn't simply choose to be a web developer, I chose to be a self-employed web developer, so that I could define my own wage, determine my own hours and seek-out my own projects. I could take-on pet-projects for causes I believed in at far reduced rates (or often at no rate at all), partner with various other designers and writers and creatives that best suited each particular project, and feel the direct result of my success via increased revenues.
The fact is most web developers do not work for themselves, and surely based on the quality of local business websites I've seen here, very few work from Maui. Nor must one be employed in a career that utilizes laptop computers and wireless internet to enjoy the freedoms I've described. It is not the career that matters – it's how one decides to develop and market their skills that determines the fashion of their employment. It is not "web development" that I sell, so much as the value of working with me.
In "Walden", Henry David Thoreau tells the story of a local Indian who learns an important lesson on making money:
“Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to buy any baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the reply. "What!" exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do you mean to starve us?" Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.”
Thoreau illustrates how simply having a skill or taking on a job does not guarantee success nor financial reward. It is not enough to simply "do" something, you have to convince others of its value. There are many web developers out there who are better programmers than myself, and certainly many who are less expensive if "price" is guiding a purchase decision. I studied how to sell my skills just as much as I studied how to program – I learned how to network as much as I learned how to code – and discovered (sometimes painfully) how to manage the finances of a business as much as how to work with the software of my trade. Because I worked for myself I could take risks otherwise not afforded wage-earners, taking on projects for little profit in the hopes of the attention they would bring or the skills I might learn, or the people I might be introduced to. Because I was not simply "doing the work", I could be out front, shaking the hands and meeting the contacts required to grow my reputation over time. I could also focus more on quality of life and the free-time that I desired over profit potential. As Thoreau puts it:
“Instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.”
As I grew the number of clients who turned to me for web development and increased the cost for which I could charge them, I opted not to grow the business and hire more employees as many of my entrepreneurial colleagues did – but rather focused on efficiencies and techniques to allow me to earn more with less effort and in less time. My goal was not to create a web development empire, but to carve out a lifestyle that reflected my initial intentions – to live more like an artisan than an employee and perform the work when and how I desired. In my evenings I experimented with other business models, studied my earnings to see what improvements could be made, read books on finance and philosophy, read blogs on programming and design, and networked and talked with as many folks as I could to constantly expand my skills and optimize the time I applied to work. The things I disliked I'd outsource and the tasks I was particularly good at or enjoyed I specialized in. As time went on, the lines between work and pleasure, career and hobby, job and lifestyle vanished until all were one. I could spend weeks at a time back east visiting family and friends, seemingly on vacation while still putting in the work required to serve my clients. I could live for months at a time in Europe while still landing new projects. I could find insights in the philosophy of writers like Thoreau and apply those not only to my personal life but also my trade, for they were now one in the same.
I'm not sure how one would explain to their boss they've decided to stop coming into the office and instead will be working from an ohana in Maui – I didn't need to. I suggest to those that ask that they explore the potential of becoming a consultant for their current employer, looking at how to take what they do and create efficiencies that might allow them to do it for multiple employers. I recommend testing the waters, experimenting with business models, researching the finite costs required, playing with the numbers to see how profits might be gained by increasing their customers from five to ten, to twenty or more. When I started offering web hosting at around $25/month, I had three customers. I now have 45+ clients who pay me anywhere from $75-$225/month for that service. I didn't stumble into this, I planned for it and worked to make it a reality.
Life, as I have said so many times on this blog, is a game. It should be fun. The adventure should be filled with laughter and curiosity, not frustration and boredom. You are not working towards something – there is no finish line nor reward for those who succeed beyond the satisfaction of enjoying the experience of success itself. Fear of failure holds so many back from even trying, and that is beyond foolish for the only difference between a successful person and a failure is that successful people fail all the time. "Fail harder" as the expression goes. I'm not suggesting you take a leap of faith, but rather, walk proudly in the direction of your dreams. For if you do something you love and erase the lines of work and play, of career and passion – you will discover success comes not from increased revenue or a life on Maui (although those will come too), but from waking up in the morning excited for a new day that is yours to define. Then you too can be one of the "lucky" ones.
"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing."
- Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, "Education through Recreation"
What if this is all a dream – an illusion of the mind, creating everything you experience as reality not from objects and environments in front of you, but from chemicals and biological processes within you? That your eyes are not seeing the morning sunrise, as much as simply receiving those light waves while your mind draws the picture – your ears not truly hearing the birds off in the distance, but absorbing sound waves as your mind applies the synthesizer to create the notes – your hands not touching solid objects but rather sending signals while your mind creates the sense of solidity, the artificial textures of reality? You know that nothing is solid, that everything is atoms and that atoms are mostly empty space. You know this very well and yet when you walk across the floor you don't perceive yourself as floating on a cloud of atoms, tightly packed and energized to their mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. We ignore that our bodies and our minds are simply atoms too... empty space in the form of matter. It seems real, it feels real, and so we go about our lives excepting it as real.
But what's so real about this? Is it the feeling of knowing that you exist – and thus, you must exist within something, and so this space we call reality must be real too? Are you certain you exist? Computers have been around for less than a century, and while there are many things they can do, one of their most common purposes are simulators. There are simulations of all varieties, from testing airplanes and cars, to economic models and weather patterns, to games like SimCity or Minecraft which create whole artificial worlds for players to explore. It could be argued that simulations are quite easy to make, seeing how many diverse and detailed simulations we've made in the past century alone. At the very least it could be argued that simulations must be easier to create than reality – and so isn't it far more likely you're in a simulation of reality than reality itself? How could you know? Would it really matter?
What exactly is real? I've always said to my religious friends that even if you accept God created the heavens and Earth and all that exists, you've really only scratched the surface of the great mystery of life, for you haven't answered why there is a God at all – where it exists and what came before it? In fact, you've probably only made the question of reality that much more complicated by introducing a larger than life deity that's beyond your capacity to witness or truly experience. If life is real because God created it as such, then God must exist beyond reality for it couldn't possibly exist inside of its own creation – and once again you're left with the curious notion of being inside a simulator - albeit a pretty detailed one.
It never ceases to amaze me how seriously folks take this life, considering how little we truly know about it. Existing in their tiny world and taking everything that happens to them at face value. Working so hard for so little, stressing about this or that, or worse deceiving themselves or others. I suppose as a child they were taught what things are, accepted those curious lessons, and have worked within that framework their entire life. I'm lucky to have not walked that path. For me, every day is a complete and wonderful mystery. I have been obsessed with the nature of reality for as long as I can remember – and from as early as middle school rejected the majority of the conclusions others proposed. I became an atheist in sixth grade before I knew such a term existed. For awhile, I thought I was the only person on Earth who saw past the utter lunacy of the Christian proposition, and kept that discovery a secret – quietly working away to discover as much truth as I could find in those simple days before the information revolution. Observing the patterns as it were, and finding the rhyme and reason that exists beyond the given explanation. I would learn later on that others had too, many in fact, and would also begin to understand that adults don't so much believe in God, as they believe in the belief of God – acting not as someone who truly accepts the teachings, but someone who thinks that they should.
For me, it's been more important to see what's over the horizon than find stability in the present valley. It wasn't enough to read about the world in books, I had to go out into the world and discover it for myself. To talk with people – lots of people – as many as would let me strike up a conversation. Not with the hope of creating a great friendship or finding a soul mate – but just to hear their experiences, to see the experience of life through their eyes for just a moment. To witness the glaring truth that everyone is engaged in a unique reality entirely of their own creation and as separate from my experience of reality as their dreams are from mine. From train rides across the Canadian wilderness and airplanes over America, to flats in Barcelona and ohanas in Maui the quest has been the same – to experience life anew in every waking moment. To swim in those turquoises waters, taste those exotic fruits, hike those forgotten trails, perform and dance to joyful music, bid farewell to the setting sun, lose myself in the infinity of the night sky, discover myself through quiet reflection and introduce myself to a myriad of strangers, sharing my stories and laughter with as many as will join me in the experience. For if nothing else, the experience of life is entirely what you bring to it – or rather, what you collect from it.
Is it real? I'm not quite certain – and I suppose it doesn't really matter, because I simply enjoy the experience, whatever it may be. If the simulator shuts-down, and I'm awoken from this dream, I won't exactly be surprised... but I will certainly ask if I can have another ride.
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Someone asked me the other day why I decided to move to Maui and I gave them the standard answer that I give when asked that. It goes something like:
I was contacted by a carpenter who lives up in Kula and he said he needed a website and was wondering if I would do it in trade to stay in the guest house on his property. I hadn't been to Maui before, so I agreed, and I absolutely fell in love with the place – so much so that I decided I needed to relocate here.
He smiled in understanding as most tourists do – the wheels already turning in their own heads as to how they might never leave this beautiful island. He then asked, "How did he find you, all the way in Portland?" I thought for a second, and replied, "I don't remember... I'm not even sure I asked."
We like to think we know the causes for things in life – it adds stability to an unpredictable world and creates order from the chaos. We believe that every event has a cause, and even for the events that don't transpire, there are reasons and causes for that as well. If just for a moment we give up our complicated adult brains and put on the clarity of a child's mind, we can begin to ask one simple question to each of our causes... "why?"
We will find quite quickly that our causes have causes – and those too have causes – and on and on and on. The startling truth is that everything that happens in your life is caused by everything that has ever happened in all of life – even to the point of asking why there is life at all in the first place. If we recognize that an event is caused by everything, then obviously it has no true cause at all.
Our minds don't see it like that however. Our minds look for patterns and then connect the dots as best they can to create causality in everything as quickly as possible. Is it really important to know at this moment why the fire is hot or how it started or why skin burns? Of course not. Fire causes pain – so just don't touch it. To get through the practical moments of the day, it's not always important to know the causes of things, nor to ask yourself "why" in an effort to expand your understanding. However, there are lot of stories we tell ourselves about our lives and why things are the way they are that should be explored a little deeper – and upon embarking on that discovery, you're likely to realize that the reasons you've selected – the dots you've connected – only scratch the surface and ignore the reality that events are caused by everything.
I've remarked before that the only major difference I see between dreams and life is that dreams seem to start fresh each evening – new location, new characters, sometimes a new me – whereas each morning the fantasy of this life remains primarily the same. Folks will often comment that they hardly remember their dreams, or can only remember a few small details – the really good parts like flying or seeing friends or family who have passed away. The same can be said for life though. What was the first television commercial you saw yesterday? What was the third item you discussed over lunch? What page are you on in the book you read last night?
How about last month? Last year?
Memories of life aren't as detailed as we think – in fact when we try to remember the finite details of even the recent past, we suddenly realize our "real" life isn't as familiar to us as we thought. Much like dreams, we kind of only remember the bigger details and forget the majority of the experience. As time passes this becomes even more true. How many legitimate moments can I remember from High School? Four whole years of my life and I'd probably run out of memories in no more than an hour if forced to list them out. Yet these are the very details we connect to create causality for where we are in life, and why things happen as they do.
The truth is things are the way they are because of everything – it is what it is and nothing more – nor does it truly have to be. The reasons you've collected represent only the smallest fraction of the whole, and while they might provide an excuse for your mind, they needn't dictate your reality. If you look for causes, you will find them, and find either comfort or torture depending on where you search. Far better to recognize that things simply happen of their own accord, and move on – taking neither great pride in the successes, nor self-loathing in the failures that come your way. There are good days and bad – but your efforts should be focused on creating as much happiness in the present moment without connecting your acquired dots from the past. If things aren't as you desire, then just like the fire you needn't ponder why, nor accept your short-sighted hypothesis – simply change.
Everything that has ever happened has led to this very instant - this present moment where you are reading these words upon this screen – what happens next is entirely up to you.
"A thing is as it is, because the world is as it is. You see, you deal in gold ornaments and I — in gold. Between the different ornaments there is no causal relation. When you re-melt an ornament to make another, there is no causal relation between the two. The common factor is the gold. But you cannot say gold is the cause. In the same way reality makes everything possible and yet nothing that makes a thing what it is, its name and form, comes from reality.”
- Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"
Outside the front-door of my ohana here in Maui are two good-sized plumeria trees, who carpet the earth beneath them with the delicate white flowers they release from their grip throughout the day. I've gotten into the habit of picking up one of these beautiful flowers at random each morning, and bringing it into my home and placing it in a small vase that I filled with sand. The contrast of the white flower with its golden center upon the auburn grains of sand is beautiful, and each morning I have a moment of reflection with that particular flower and try to notice something unique to it – something beyond the mind's concept of a plumeria flower. In addition to placing the new flower each morning, I also remove the prior day's flower and return it to the yard, now brown and dried out. This practice is a nice reminder that while beautiful experiences are often short-lived and fleeting, they are infinite. Rather than lament that yesterday's flower no longer retains its beauty, I simply let go of it, and discover the unique beauty of a new flower.
Experiences do not last forever, and nowhere is that fact more glaring and intentionally overlooked than that of our own experience of life and the inevitable death that awaits us all. In our youth we blissfully ignore this reality, but as time passes and we lose friends and family members, it becomes more and more obvious that life implies death, and no amount of healthy eating, exercise or swimming in the Pacific Ocean can alter that reality. It can be a difficult thing to stare death straight into the eye and accept the fact that just as the plumeria flower, I too will eventually fade away and return to the void from which I came – and no doubt many struggle with this fear whether consciously or sub-consciously. So much so that entire religions and philosophies have been created primarily to settle our minds from this anxiety. Christianity and many western philosophies teach that this life is simply a testing ground – an audition for something beyond that is not only greater in scope, but infinite in its duration. What better way to cope with the finite nature of this experience than assuring oneself that an infinite experience is waiting just around the bend.
I've often found it odd that people assume that they will last forever into the future, but never question where they were prior to showing up in the first place? I imagine this has to do with the fact that most folks associate the "I" that is them with their bodies – and thus accept the notion that they weren't "created" until the moment their parents conceived them. Sure, I might not have come into this world until March 2, 1978... but now it's permanent! This is a peculiar belief – for it suggests not only that life is infinite in a single direction through time, but that any circumstance that might have altered the path of your parents (or grandparents or great-grandparents or...) would eliminate your experience of life. If you try to imagine what it would be like to not exist at all, you'll find that it's impossible.
And therein lies the problem with imagining death – because it is impossible to imagine not existing. You can't have an experience of nothing – and therefore to try and feel that nothingness is beyond the mind's capacity. Some might imagine laying in a coffin in utter silence and darkness, but that of course would be an experience, albeit a pretty miserable one. The truth is you will never be dead. Yes, you will die, and the process of dying may or may not be painful depending on the circumstance – but you will never actually be in a state one could call "dead". How could you be? If anything, the experience will be identical to the experience you had before you were born. You'd never lament the millions and millions of years you weren't living prior to this life – why fear or lament the millions and millions of years that will pass once you've left it?
It is my belief that we are all one consciousness – flowers on a single tree unknowable to us. There is a core consciousness that exists within us all that I believe is entirely identical, or rather singular. You might call it instinct or intuition – conscience or God – but it accounts for all the processes going on within and around us at all moments. All the biological routines our body performs without our input. It's what tells a flower to rise to the sun and the baby turtle fresh from its shell to crawl towards the ocean. It is beyond our thoughts and beyond our mind – and it is universal in all living things. It is infinite and timeless. However, we override this one mind with our unique and often convoluted thoughts – which are the product of our brains and thus dependent on the DNA and nature/nurture influences we typically recognize as our uniqueness. All plumeria flowers are identical at their source, but their position on the tree, the light they receive, the weather that impacts them, the nutrients they can acquire and numerous other factors is what makes each one appear unique, even if only at the most subtle and superficial level. As humans we seem to notice the differences and overlook the source. We associate our source with our particular branch, but rarely look upon the entire tree. We imagine ourselves as a unique human having an infinite experience, when in reality we are the infinite having a human experience. Each of us is the "I" – and that "I" is a singular source, and thus, as hard as it is to imagine or grasp with our minds, the truth is that we can never die, because our true self is in everything. "I" am I, and "I" am you, and "I" am that – however I can only experience it one at a time.
What a bore it would be to have to play this character forever. To be born into an infinite reality with a pre-determined set of characteristics that are forever yours to bare. To be forced to play this singular role while an infinite variety of life and experience expands throughout the universe. While it's pleasant at first to imagine heaven as it's described, and the thought of getting to see family and friends who have been lost to you in life – after the reunion is over, I can't help but imagine a subtle melancholy would overcome you as you begin to realize that you're still you, and will always be. How much more beautiful to imagine an infinite variety of experiences and bodies and planets and "I"s. You can't remember the prior experience, because in reality you are every experience – but you can be assured that when the curtain falls on this performance, another curtain will rise and life for you will begin anew. There will be no sadness for the things you've lost, because you will see your former self as the "other" – and your focus will now be consumed with this new character and its life and family and experience. If you can begin to entertain this thought within your mind, you will find it not only liberates you from the fear of death, but all the anxieties and doubts which often pollute our experience in "this" life. To no longer see this adventure as a singular experience, but as just one trip on an infinite journey. Then, like the child who has ridden the wave up upon the shoreline, to jump to your feet smiling and turn towards to the sea, running back into the tumult for yet another wave to ride with neither nostalgia for the past wave, nor the fear that no further rides await you.
"I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"
The new Jack White album "Lazaretto" came out last week, and it's filled with all the wonderful industrial blues that's been expected on his recent solo work. Classic metaphors re-spun for modern times, filled with reverberating guitar licks, ghostly siren songs and playful piano riffs. The final song on the album, titled "Want and Able" caught my attention with its almost nursery-rhyme styled repeating of the phrase:
"Who is the who, telling who what to do?"
It's quite a wonderful expression, perhaps more suited for a new-age guru than a pale-faced rockstar, but I couldn't help but find myself repeating it in my head hours after listening to it. I won't pretend to know what Jack White meant by the line – but I do know for myself it took on the form of a mantra or yoga – letting the mind get lost in the question and "chasing its tail" as it were, playing with the concept of self.
If one attempts to answer the question "who am I" - typically the image that arises is rather similar to the one we see every day in the mirror – or at the very least, what our mind tells us we see in the mirror. "I am this body". The funny thing is, upon closer inspection, you realize you don't particularly have much to do with your body, beyond providing it with the basic fuels it needs and ideally not sinking the ship. The majority of the functions that make up the body – digestion, circulation, respiration, etc. – are done entirely without your effort, and typically without your consent. Certainly I can decide right at this moment that I would like to breath – and the practice of using breathing exercises for meditation is wonderful – but when the practice is complete, the keys to the car are handed back and the automatic act of respiration takes over. Other actions like my heart beating are entirely out of my control, and thankfully so. I can hardly remember where I left my wallet – imagine if I had to constantly remember to beat my heart, or inflate my lungs, or digest my food. Many of these actions I not only have no control over – I have only the most shallow of understanding as to what is taking place or how.
While we accept that organs like the heart and lungs are outside of our control – our mind we seem to think is ours. "I'm thinking this thought as I type it out." Of course, if we begin to look closely at those thoughts – we realize we are not really the one thinking them, as much as we are the one perceiving them. If we managed our thoughts, things like depression, addiction, anxiety and all other forms of mental disorder would never exist. No one would choose to develop low self-esteem in the same way no one would choose to have a stomach ache – the organs do what the organs do – and the "I" that I perceive as me can only deal with the situations which arise.
Eckhart Tolle, in his wonderfully insightful book "The Power of Now" discusses a moment of great awakening that occurred when he was 29 years old and extraordinarily depressed. He writes:
“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”
Eckhart, in his momentarily awakened state was pondering Jack White's question – who is the who telling who what to do? Suicide is certainly the most extreme case of the mind telling the "I" what to do, but this battle between our thoughts and our "self" can manifest in an endless variety of ways. Until you can recognize that the voice in your head is no different than your stomach growling – an involuntary bodily function evolved over multiple millennia – and begin to use it as a tool when needed and to ignore when unwanted, you are likely to be dragged through life like a dog on a leash.
That is not to suggest that "thinking" is bad. If there is thinking to be done, then ponder that topic. The mind is a wonderfully powerful organ when used constructively. In the same way that you can choose to monitor your breath, you can choose to use your mind. When the task at hand is complete, however, you needn't continue to ponder it, and re-think it, and question your initial assumptions – laying in bed arguing both sides of a decision in your mind. What's worse are all the other involuntary thoughts that will continue to demand your attention, distracting you from the beauty of the present moment.
I know personally, I have a tendency to have fake conversations in my mind between myself and others. These can take the form of pleasant conversations I'd like to have, variations on past discussions, or in the case where I'm unhappy with someone or something – full fledged arguments where I get to deliver speech after impassioned speech, always getting my point across. I doubt I'm unique in this. However, as I've begun to practice conscious living, I have tried to call myself out as often as possible when these little plays start unfolding in my mind. I'll simply be walking down the street when I notice that in my thoughts a little fantasy has begun and will try to catch myself mid-speech and bring down the curtain on that performance. The moment I do – I'm suddenly back in the present moment, enjoying a beautiful walk on a beautiful day in a beautiful place. The choice between a fake argument and the present moment isn't hard to make, if you're the one making the choice.
In that silence and in that space of the present moment, is where the "I" truly exists. The past and future are just the mind equivalent of a stomach ache... undigested thoughts that needn't consume your attention. The less time I spend in my mind – the more time I get to spend in reality – and reality is beautiful when the noise of thought has been vanquished – when the "who" is not telling "you" to do anything.
"There was a young man who said "Though
it seems that I know that I know
What I'd like to see
Is the "I" that knows "me"
When I know that I know that I know."
- Alan Watts, "The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are"
On occasion living in Maui, I will post a photo to Instagram or Facebook later on in the evening, and as I am three hours behind the West Coast, no one will "Like" it until the morning. Occasionally however, just as I'm about to fall asleep, I will receive a notification that my sister Katie in North Carolina has liked the photo. My sister is an early riser and so just as I am saying good-bye to one day, she is saying hello to a new one.
A day is only a mental concept – it does not exist in any real terms. If our planet was larger, our days would be longer, just the same as if our planet was closer to the sun, our years would be shorter (note: this doesn't take into account a ton of physics that would probably render us non-existent anyhow). A "day" is a completely arbitrary unit of time.
While a day at least seems to have a defined beginning and end, the hour, and the twenty-four of those that exist within each day are harder to feel, and thus pass by often without notice. There are 168 of these units of time gifted to us each week. Some are spoken for of course. The average American sleeps for about 8 hours a night (or at least attempts to). Any employed individual is likely to put in 40 hours on the clock, and probably another 5 getting there and back each week. While we might not always get three healthy meals a day, we can assume an hour is spent feeding ourselves and keeping ourselves hydrated. That's 108 hours, or 64% of our time spoken for before the week even starts.
According to Nielsen, the average American my age (I'm 36) watches nearly 34 hours of television per week. So of those precious 60 hours remaining, half are handed over to watching someone else engage in activities (real or imagined). Many folks my age have children, so I imagine "free time" is probably a foreign term anyhow, and tv a welcome respite from the day's demands.
It's fun to list out our priorities in life – to suggest the things that mean the most to us. But in reality, our priorities are defined by the time we put towards various tasks. Work, while perhaps philosophically secondary to family and love and personal passions, typically demands the most of your time in life – and thus, whether you care for the work or not, is clearly the major priority of the average American's life. All the more reason to make certain it's something you're passionate about. As my father told me – "Find something you love to do, because you're going to be working the rest of your life." If you're engaging in 30+ hours of television a week, then "watching other people do things" is a priority in your life. You might want to look into that.
I've recently started re-evaluating my own priorities. I've cancelled the cable subscription. While I certainly wasn't a 30+ hours a week watcher, I was probably hovering around 20 or so, and the thought that a full day of each week would be given to sitting in a chair looking at moving images seemed ridiculous. I've started going for a run each day (or at the very least I'm trying). If I can start putting 7-10 hours a week towards healthy goals, then I can say that "health" is a priority. I've started reading books on personal finance, and I spend about three hours every Saturday morning reviewing my accounts, looking at my budgets, reviewing my company's financials and generally being conscious about my financial well-being. I can now say that increasing my income and saving for retirement is a priority in my life.
Something I have worked hard on since relocation to Maui is the concept of conscious living. Of being aware of my actions and knowing exactly what it is I'm doing at all times, and for what purpose. I've begun a practice of conscious spending, that I recently read about in J. D. Roth's "Be Your Own CFO: The Unconventional Guide To Mastering Your Money". This is particularly useful at the grocery store here on Maui, where unconscious spending – the type of grocery shopping I engaged in previously, where I simply shopped with no regard for the price of items – could result in an insanely large bill.
As you begin to look at every expenditure, you inevitably start creating better decisions. A simple audit of my spending cut out cable TV, Netflix, bottled water and a few other items I didn't feel I was getting much from, and immediately cut about $150/month from my expenses. That's $1800 a year just by realizing I don't mind tap water and that I hadn't watched a movie on Netflix in 3 months. It's not about being "hard" on yourself – just being conscious, and realizing every choice has a cost and reward.
I'm now applying those same concepts to my day, where time is the valued currency. Certain uses of time provide greater rewards than others, and when viewed through that lens, certain activities seem a complete waste of this valued resource. Not all hours are the same either – and thus I've shifted my workweek to start enjoying my afternoons more, and using those for recreation and health activities, and then squeezing in additional work hours as needed in my evenings, once the sun has gone down.
With money, I can always work harder to earn more. Time is a constant and therefore demands even stricter budgeting. While it might seem a silly exercise to break up my week into those units and review how each is spent, the insights garnered and the new behaviors developing suggest a little visibility and accountability go a long way with regards to matching your actions with your intentions, and making sure your priories are truly given priority.
Man is always the master, even in his weaker and most abandoned state; but in his weakness and degradation he is the foolish master who misgoverns his "household." When he begins to reflect upon his condition, and to search diligently for the Law upon which his being is established, he then becomes the wise master, directing his energies with intelligence, and fashioning his thoughts to fruitful issues. Such is the "conscious" master, and man can only thus become by discovering – within – the laws of thought; which discovery is totally a matter of application, self analysis, and experience.
- James Allen, "As A Man Thinketh"
It has been three months since I wrote my last blog post. I've been busy with guests and work and noise. For the first three months on Maui I lived alone and spent most of my days reading and swimming in the warm Pacific and detaching myself from the life I had in Portland. My first guest arrived at the start of March and I've had a constant flow of guests ever since, until late last week. It's not surprising I found little time to write, as I found little time to sit in silence and let the thoughts flow.
The last guest is now gone with no visitors planned for the foreseeable future. I've cancelled my cable subscription and I'm looking forward to getting back into the rhythm I developed at the start of this adventure. Silence is one of the greatest pleasures available to us – it's hard to notice when it's missing, but the second you rediscover it, a blissful space opens within.
For the moment, I plan to live here through the year, if not further. Work has been going exceedingly well, with two of my best months ever and the recent acquisition of a major client here on Maui. I'm looking forward to continuing the healthy lifestyle I've lived here thus far, with a greater focus on exercise and personal finance.
It has been six months since I arrived on Maui with just a suitcase and a room to stay in for a few weeks. It has, as all thing do, exceeded every expectation I could have imagined. I have reaffirmed my belief that with a clear vision and a positive attitude, anything and everything is possible. It is not important to know the how of life. All that is required is to envision the life you desire and to take as many steps in that direction as you can muster. The path will define itself. While small changes and improvements may seem insignificant at first, they blossom into grand transformations. Folks say "something is better than nothing" – but actually it's not just "better". Doing "something" is exponentially better than doing nothing about the things you dislike about your life or desire to see unfold in your experience. Doing "something" is a step in the right direction. Doing "something" feels better than realizing you did nothing and inspires you to do more. Doing "something" makes the next "something" even easier to do and opens up opportunities to do "anything". Positive actions and positive thoughts can only bring forth positive experiences and results in the same way an acorn can only bring forth an oak tree. It's not a "maybe"... the tree is already within the acorn, just as your life exists within your experience of it.
I may end up back in Portland. I may end up here on Maui for awhile – there are likely grander adventures still yet unimagined. All I know is that I pulled the brake and got off of a train whose direction I could no longer identify and have blazed a new trail that has brought me to a wonderful experience of life. It has been an amazing six months.
If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
- Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"
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.
- Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching"
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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
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