A few days ago I had an opportunity to test myself. There’s a business we’ve been working on for quite some time. They appear to be an almost perfect fit our business and vice versa. After working on them for well over a year we got an opportunity to help them out. We had an appointment set for Tuesday, but due to an unexpected issue they had to re-schedule. When they reached out to let us know they asked about meeting late in the afternoon today. And that’s where my test started.
One of the reasons I love the book Essentialism is the sharing of a couple of deeply personal stories. In one the author shares the story of leaving his only hours old daughter at the hospital with his wife to attend a business meeting. The meeting doesn’t go well and he is guilt ridden over making the wrong choice.
Later in the book he shares the example of someone else who’s promised his daughter to spend the night together going out to eat and having fun with just the two of them. As luck would have he runs into some colleagues who invite him out to spend time with them that night. He starts his response by saying that sounds wonderful… but he’s already promised his daughter he would be spending the night with her and he wasn’t going to break that promise.
What a contrast, right? Which one would you like to think you would do? Which one would you actually emulate if the opportunity presented itself? As I’ve learned from past experience it’s always more difficult to live into the right answer in reality than it is in a vacuum.
Back to my conversation from Tuesday. When I got the email asking if we could meet at 3pm I paused for a second. In less than a second I had the two previous stories running through my head. I smiled, trusted the universe, and composed an email along these lines:
“Thank you for the opportunity to meet, we appreciate the chance to work with you. Unfortunately I will not be able to meet after noon on Friday as I promised my two boys I’d take them up north for youth deer hunting. Would it be possible to meet prior to noon or would next week be better? Thank you for your flexibility, I hope you can understand my need to consider a different time.”
What happened next had me smiling even bigger… Not only did I get an immediate email saying that would work, he started a conversation that”s now gone several emails long talking about hunting and life up north. We set the new time AND built a stronger relationship AND I was able to keep my commitment to my boys. How awesome is that?
I’m so grateful for learning from those two stories, they helped me choose the right path.
Two great friends each have me a wonderful birthday present. Seeing as I enjoy reading, contemplating, and applying new ideas to life they each found a book that they thought would be meaningful for me to read. I didn’t want to prioritize one over the other so I tried something different. Both books are sitting on my night stand. Each night before I go to sleep I read a bit out of each.
The content of the books is so dramatically different from each other. I’m finding the balance of reading a little from one and then moving on to the other is both enlightening and soothing. The duality helps to stretch my brain in fun and unique ways.
The first book is Zen Flesh Zen Bones. It is a collection of stories, lessons, and philosophy. The stories themselves are incredible nuggets of info that get my thoughts flowing. While some of them were written hundreds of years ago they still resonate so well today… maybe even more so today with all that’s going on. I’m thinking on the lessons I can’t help but see an exquisite compliment to Stoicism and my religious beliefs. Not in place of, but an addition to, an expansion of both. It has already had a profound impact on my thoughts and actions. I’m very grateful for the gift of this book!
The other book? Aim Low – Quit Often, Expect the Worst, and Other Good Advice. This book isn’t full of centuries old stories, lessons, and philosophy. What it contains are other nuggets of advice such as:
No, I can’t, or I would have by now.
Find out if a wrong answer could put you in jail. That will determine the right answer.
Admit your mistakes and you will mature and grow. Don’t admit them and you might get away with it.
As you can imagine, I’m laughing repeatedly, deeply, and often when I read this book. It’s so cynical and off kilter that I’m caught off guard by the comments even when I have an idea they are coming. I’m enjoying it immensely!
What’s great about this combo is that I start off with humor and then roll into slightly serious before shutting off the light. The humor helps me focus on the present as the laughter leaves no room for thinking about other things in life. The deep thinking with a freshly cleared head helps my soul process the thoughts more completely. Sleep comes swiftly as I’m already in a deep state of chill. When I wake up in the morning the deeper thoughts still linger and set the tone for my day.
I’m very grateful for this daily dose of duality, what a wonderfully calming and joyful combo!
Last Friday Becky shared a podcast with me that she said I would find very interesting. It was an episode of This American Life from January of 2015. She thought the topic that would catch my interest the most was discussing internet trolls. The episode starts with a female comedian sharing her story of being trolled online and then she interviews her biggest troll.
I finally listened to it this morning and WOW!!! My mind was blown with the types of insults she had to deal with… and that was before someone trolled her by pretending to be her recently deceased father. After writing about the incident the troll contacted her to apologize as he realized he’d gone too far. The two of them then talked over the phone on a recorded conversation to get into his mindset of why he did what he did.
So here’s why I am thankful for this podcast today. It doesn’t take a long view of social media comments to see how disrespectful people can be to each other online. There’s something about the screen in between us that seems to bring out the worst in us sometimes. Personally, I know there are a few comments that I look back on and wish I wouldn’t have made. Hearing this story reminded me to pause and remember the feelings of others prior to posting. Follow that general rule of thumb of not typing anything I wouldn’t normally say in person. Pretty straightforward lesson and reminder.
Going deeper, it was interesting to get into the mindset of a troll and see why in the world they would say the things that they do. The more he explained the sicker I felt because of our society. Each explanation seemed worse than the previous, including “your happiness reminded me of my unhappiness.” The funny thing is that when I paused and looked in the mirror I know I haven’t always done well either. I wouldn’t rate them up there along with his, but I could feel some of the similarities in emotions causing the mean comments – envy, greed, loneliness, lack of confidence, and so on. When I’ve made unkind comments the source was usually an emotion tied to one of the aforementioned reasons.
The past is the past, and I focus on living in the present and moving forward. While I can’t change what I’ve said in the past I can choose my actions moving forward. The funny thing is that there is a very simple way to eliminate those negative emotions that cause the issue… gratitude. If I am focused on being thankful for what I have there is no room for those negative emotions to begin, let alone rise to the surface. Long story short, this podcast reminded me that gratitude can power our society to new highs by bringing about respectful conversation and eliminating so much unnecessary negativity.
I finally remembered the other thing I was going to blog about yesterday! While it happened yesterday I was still thankful for it today so why not add it to the blog tonight, right?
After dropping Gavin off at soccer last night Dominic and I headed to the high school to pick up his homework and paperwork for the next few weeks of online schooling. We thought it’d be a quick trip until we turned the corner and saw a pretty long line of vehicles waiting to turn into the parking lot. Then we saw the line of cars coming from the other direction forming their own line. That line seemed to have the advantage as they were turning right and our line was turning left. My initial thought was a bit of dread thinking that we’d have to wait a long time for enough people to let cars from our line in. Not gonna lie, I’m a little disappointed in myself for thinking that.
What happened next was awesome. Each car from the other lane let one car from our lane turn in before them. Each car from my lane waited until cued by the car in the other lane to go. Over the course of 20 minutes there was only one car that broke from this every other pattern.
I know, it’s such a simple thing, right? But here’s what I’m thankful for. Isn’t this the way our society is supposed to operate? What a beautiful way to have my faith in humanity restored with all of the unrest in the news. Each person helping each other out, taking turns, being nice to each other because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not often that I’m smiling and joyful while waiting in an unexpected line, but I was truly grateful for my time in that line. Seeing everyone being kind to each other reminded me that we’re all greater than the divisive crap going on in the world.
This afternoon our Express Leadership Academy provided a very useful and timely training on COVID-Brain and how to beat it. The instructor helped us understand the biological reasons many are feeling additional stress and how our bodies are reacting to it. Most importantly, she shared ways for us to take a deep breath and beat it.
Some of the solutions included remembering to play, to explore, and to be curious. Taking time to rest and breathe are also very important and she shared the concept of a two minute vacation. The two minute vacation consists of closing your eyes, asking yourself four questions, and picturing the answers in your mind. We did a short version of this and it was very powerful. Little did I know I kind of accidentally stumbled onto this idea with our mini-New Zealand vacation a couple of weekends ago!
What I’m most grateful for on this training was the awareness of the impact of COVID on others and a reminder of the power of gratitude. When someone asked my thoughts of COVID brain I guess I didn’t quite process the question the way others did. I answered that I’m taking time to be thankful for the opportunity to live through this time. Yes, it’s difficult and stressful, but it’s an incredible opportunity to grow and become stronger. Living through a tough time like this is an incredible chance to be pushed outside of my comfort zone to create positive change in my life. I’ve talked more with my boys about resilience in the past six months than I had previously in their entire lives. There are parts of this that suck, to be sure, but I am grateful for the opportunity to live through this. When I focus on “what I can learn from this” and “how can I be grateful for this” even the most difficult times become times I can be thankful for. The conversation today continued to reinforce the power of gratitude to power us through anything in life.
Earlier tonight I had an interesting experience. When I went to go out to check on the chicken I had on the grill I found a rapidly cooling grill and two chicken breasts that were about 5 minutes away from being done.
“Son of a…” was exactly what came out of my mouth before I started chuckling at myself. In an instant my quick frustration went to joy. I heard the Facebook comment of my friend Grant go through my head and I couldn’t help but change my attitude.
When the sudden anger welled up it was quickly quenched with the reminder that this wasn’t the end of the world. Not only that, but a few months ago I was even grateful for running out of gas! As I chuckled I thought to myself, yes, I am thankful for running out of gas. In a heartbeat I realized I was also thankful for the moments in which my gratitude leads me to moments of calm and peace that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt.
Thanks for the comment a few months ago Grant!
For some reason there was a song stuck in my head after our run this morning. It’s a beautiful song, the tune is catchy, and the lyrics are enlightening. The more and more I spend time in thought, in presence, and in gratitude the more this song hits on so many levels. To be clear, not in judgement of others, specifically a reflection of my own thoughts and desires when I’m not as disciplined as I should be, as focused on my purpose as I should be. This song reminds me to stay the path and keep focused.
Society by Eddie Vedder
It’s a mystery to me, We have a greed with which we have agreed, And you think you have to want more than you need, Until you have it all, you won’t be free
Society, you’re a crazy breed, I hope you’re not lonely without me
When you want more than you have, you think you need, And when you think more than you want, your thoughts begin to bleed, I think I need to find a bigger place, Cause when you have more than you think, you need more space
Society, you’re a crazy breed, I hope you’re not lonely without me
Society, crazy indeed, Hope you’re not lonely without me
There’s those thinking more or less, less is more, But if less is more, how you keepin score? Means for every point you make your level drops, Kinda like you’re startin’ from the top, And you can’t do that
Society, you’re a crazy breed, I hope you’re not lonely without me
Society, crazy indeed, I hope you’re not lonely without me
Society, have mercy on me, I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, you’re crazy indeed, I hope you’re not lonely without me
PS. This blog has sat untyped for more than a several minutes of silence now. There was another gratitude I was going to share but it’s left my mind. Hmm… Here’s to hoping I remember it and can type about it tomorrow. Cheers!
Sometimes the things I’m most thankful for are amongst the most simple. Today we got a wonderful hike in as a family. Is there much better than spending time in the woods in the fall in Wisconsin? The leaves were beautiful, the forest was quiet and serene. We spent time talking as a family and we also spent time in silence.
In the woods there aren’t the distractions of normal life. My phone only functions as a camera and not as a communications device. We aren’t buffeted by news alerts and politics. There isn’t a list of tasks to complete or a rush from one event to the next. There is only time in the present, enjoying the moment, being outside, and being physically active. Hiking is a beautiful way to live life simply.
I know I just wrote about it yesterday, but 2020 has really presented me with incredible gifts if I remember to pause and enjoy them. More time in nature, more time being active, and more time with Becky & the boys doing things like this. Moments like this today remind me to pause, appreciate, and enjoy each and every moment life gives me.
Throughout the past week I’ve caught myself having a similar conversation with several different people. The conversation starts with discussing some of the challenges of 2020 and then drifts.
It’s been a ridiculously challenging and difficult year for all of us – and it feels like an understatement putting it that way. From COVID to societal challenges to politics gone bonkers to a recession it has been a challenging year in so many ways. I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one of the most difficult we’ve lived through. If given the opportunity to have 2020 or any other year back to re-live I would be shocked to see if a large % of the population chose a 2020 Do Over.
What’s interesting is that even with this in mind the conversation drifts from the difficulty of it to the benefits of the year. Yes, it has been challenging, but there have been some significant positives as well if I remember to look for them. Once we start talking about the positives 2020 suddenly seems to be not nearly as horrible as it sounded at the onset of the conversation.
Some of the positives from this year include so many valuable life lessons. I’ve been more focused on gratitude than ever. I’m appreciating more of the little things in life. I’ve learned more through experiencing diversity than ever. I’m finding so many ways to use 2020 as an opportunity to teach the boys about resilience. I’ve spent more time deep in thought than in a long time. My focus on the present moment has increased. I’m exercising more than I have in a long time. There have been more moments spend focused on my faith. I’ve found so many opportunities to practice doing right even when it is difficult to do. This year has helped me focus on what is important to me in life. Long story short, when I really think about it, my soul is more at peace, calm, alive, and aware than it has been in a very long time.
How crazy is that? In the face of all of this craziness and chaos my soul is finding calm within the storm. In a weird sort of way it’s finding levels of peace and joy in direct opposition to the levels of chaos and craziness. How can this be possible?
It boils down to one simple thing, gratitude. When I choose gratitude I have to find a way to be thankful for everything, even the difficult stuff. It may sound crazy, but the more difficult it is the more thankful I am for it. I have to find a way to become better through the difficult stuff and to learn from the difficult stuff in order to be thankful for it. Once I’ve got my mind focused on finding what I am thankful for my soul switches gears from sadness, frustration, and anger to joy.
How fortunate am I to have lived through such an opportunity? How lucky am I that this difficult thing has happened as I can find a way to be better from this? Thank you Big Dude Upstairs for pushing me in a direction I didn’t want to go as it’s helping me grow in ways I never thought possible.
As I started with, the same conversation seems to have come up in one form or another so many times in the past week. It starts with talking about the challenges of 2020 and then drifts into the positives and upsides of the year. By the time it is over I find myself more joyful and optimistic than before the conversation. When I pause to think about why I am more joyful it all boils down to using gratitude to lift my spirits through any storm.
2020, dude, I really hope I don’t have to re-visit you anytime soon. That said, the opportunity you’ve presented to help me grow and strengthen my gratitude practice is greatly appreciated. Just as losing Dad was a source of great growth, 2020 has been so similar in a very different way. While I won’t be reaching out to invite myself back anytime soon I am grateful that we’ve met as you’ve improved my life through the challenges you’ve brought my way.
My blog tonight is inspired by a wonderful story my friend Kelsey shared from a wonderful book she gave me for my birthday. As luck would have it I had just heard this story for the first time a couple of months ago. The story hits home on many levels and has been in the back of my mind for the past few days.
Here’s a version I found online, enjoy!
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.
Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
If it didn’t quite sink in all the way please know it’s okay to re-read it. It’s taken me several readings of it and much thought focused on it to get me to my current level of understanding of it. The funny thing is that while it is so simple I’m continuing to find more and more ways to apply this to my life.
It’s a story of living in the present. A story of forgiveness. A story of letting go. A story of doing right. A story not letting the past weigh us down. A story of action. A story of integrity. A story of the folly of assuming all rules make sense all the time. So many different layers to pull out of this one story, and I’m sure there are many more to go.
With all that is going on in the world I’m amazed at the ability of a simple and short story from so many years ago can help guide me in the right direction in life.
Earlier today I had a reminder of a life lesson that I’ve kept close to my heart for over 20 years. At some level the lesson is never far from the top of mind, never clouding my vision or distracting, but always ready for those important seconds every so often when it is needed.
When in doubt of what to do in an emergency situation, take action. Do not count on others to do what needs to be done. Take action. Until the situation has been taken care of, take action.
Way back in one of my college classes we were discussing the topic of “Diffusion of Responsibility.” This is the social psychological phenomenon in which a person or bystander doesn’t take action when are other bystanders or witnesses around. When something happens almost everyone freezes for a second thinking that someone else will jump in, someone else is better suited to jump in, or almost pretends to not notice and waits for someone else to jump in. Often it is not big deal, but in some cases it can be life or death.
Why do I remember this tidbit so clearly after all these years?
Our TA (Teacher’s Assistant) shared a deeply personal story of why we must train our brains to resist diffusion of responsibility and take action.
Several years before our class she was living in an apartment. She had just left a boyfriend who wasn’t the nicest and it was a hot summer night so all of her windows were open. The ex-boyfriend decided he needed to talk with her again and showed up at her apartment door. When she let him in he burst through the door and proceeded to beat her viciously. She screamed for help as she was attacked. In brief moments of pause she heard her neighbors talking and it was obvious they could hear her screams. Knowing that others could hear her and were not doing anything to help her made it feel even worse as she felt that others thought she wasn’t worth helping or saving. The beating went on for hours and finally stopped when the ex-boyfriend decided it was over. No one called the police to help her.
She said she’d already forgiven the neighbors for not calling the police as she’d since learned, studied and understood Diffusion of Responsibility. Her hope was that by sharing this tragic story we would all remember to recognize when that happens and to be the person who takes action. By the time she’d finished her story and her ask of us there wasn’t a dry eye in class. We pretty much all went up and hugged her before we left the classroom. When I left class I made a personal promise to her to remember the story and to learn from it.
Yes, it’s a very dark story and my heart still breaks for her. I can’t even imagine the pain – physical and emotional – she went through in that night. What I can say is that her lesson has stayed with me all these years and will for the rest of my life. Today I was able to take action and live into the promise I made her and I’m grateful for the lesson and story she shared.
So I’m not going to get into this in too much detail as my blood pressure will probably spike again, not what I want it to do right before bed. Long story short, I made the mistake of watching the Presidential Debate last night. When I got out of bed this morning I was still bent out of shape and completely torqued about it. I was so angry that I let it cloud my thought process longer than I should have today.
Throughout the day there were several moments that reminded me to pause and breathe. Each of those moments were opportunities to step back, focus on the present, and remember to choose my values and attitude. The anger still burns in me, but I need to find productive ways to turn that into positive change instead of negative emotion. In pausing to look back on the day and see the turning points I hope to learn (and re-learn) ways to take a deep breath in the future.
The first moment was early this morning. On our run the sky was a wild color in the west. The moon was getting closer to the horizon and was 90% hidden by the cloud cover. The luminosity was so bright that the 10% of the light lit up much of the clouds and sky around it. While we ran we watch it pop out of the clouds and then slowly descend into more clouds and the bluffs. It was nothing short of spectacular.
In that moment I was 100% present and focused on the natural beauty of the outdoors. I was in the midst of physical activity so my endorphins and adrenaline were pumping. As my mind replayed the slow moving moonset I couldn’t help but remember that it displayed the true nature of all things. Brightness, darkness, clouds of uncertainty, peace, tension, and cycles. All things start, exist, change, and end. Whatever the future holds these natural rhythms will continue. I was looking at the big picture in the lens of the present and my heart was calmed.
Later in the morning I’d shared my nervousness (borderline panic) over the direction of our society with friends. Out of nowhere one of my friends sent back an incredibly well written response that set my heart at ease. His text reminded me to stay upbeat and hopeful. By reaching out and sharing my feelings with friends I opened myself up. I’m not usually the one who sees only darkness and not the light, but today I needed someone to help me find the light again. Incredible to think how much impact one short text could have on helping me take a deep breath and flip the switch back to positive mode. It reminded me to take the extra step when I see someone else struggling in the darkness.
Another exchange with a friend reminded me of the fragility of life. The reminder of him losing his father immediately turned my thoughts to losing Dad a few years ago. In that most painful of losses I’ve found strength, love, growth, and wisdom. By practicing gratitude I’ve found ways to take a horrible situation and turn it into a source of great strength. I would trade almost anything I could for even just one more day with Dad, but I can’t. It is done and I can’t change that he’s gone. What I can choose is to find a way to grow from the experience, to live better as a result of the experience, and become stronger through fully living through the experience.
In thinking about the loss of Dad this way I remembered how difficult life is in the tough times. In the midst of the challenge and pain we would give up almost anything to make it stop. If we keep our wits about us in the most difficult of times we can remember to find purpose in our suffering, we can remind ourselves that we grow the most through the deepest of pain. We have the ability to transform the pain and heart break into something beautiful, so much more beautiful than the pain… which is always temporary.
After work Becky and I hit the park for outdoor yoga. Throughout the practice I could feel my shoulders relax and the world outside of a couple of feet around me drift away. I was immersed only in the present, focused on my breathing, relaxed while sweating, straining, and stretching. During final rest I kept my eyes open and watched the could drift over head. They were beautiful as they slowly worked across the sky while continuing to slowly and effortlessly change shape. Again I was reminded of the temporary nature of life and pain. There was no way I could change the clouds or shift their path. I could only sit back, appreciate them, find beauty in them, and then watch them disappear.
When I put all of those experiences together I’m left with the following lessons to remember from today:
Enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and its ability to focus my attention back to the only place it should be, the present moment
Physical activity always boosts my spirit, even if I initially don’t think it will
The cycles of birth, life, change, and death are natural and will continue for eternity, embrace that fact and use it to live joyfully
When I’m hurting reach out to friends, they’ll be there to help
We all lose sight of the light sometimes, ask for help when I can’t see it, lead others to it and be the light when someone else has lost it
When things seem difficult remember that life is temporary and I will die, would I rather live in fear of death or truly live my life without fear? Why fear something that is natural?
The most difficult of times are the times in which I’ve grown the most. The pain hurts, but I must remember to use it for a purpose and find ways to become better because of it.
Yoga… one of the best ways in life to become all namaste and shit 😉
Breathe, focus on breath, and remember that everything will pass. Enjoy the moment as it will be gone before I know it. Good, bad, beautiful, painful – the moments won’t last. My memories will and I have the ability to make them a light and a lesson or an anchor.
I guess there’s one more moment I should mention. Writing tonight’s blog. In this moment I am focused only on gratitude. When I pause and look at the world through that perspective my heart becomes full, I choose the right mindset, and I become closer to the person I am called to be. I am thankful for my gratitude practice, especially on days like this.