Tag Archives: Glacier National Park

The Inspiration List: What Motivates You To Be Better

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

This week, I was fascinated to read about James Shaw Jr., the man who, during the “Waffle House Shooting” in Tennessee two weeks ago, wrestled the killer’s AR-15 assault rifle away and forced the shooter to flee, saving numerous lives in the process.

I admit that I purposefully avoided the entire Waffle House story when the tragedy first occurred. I felt like my system was just not ready to take on the emotional toll of another mass shooting. I saw the typical headlines on the television at the gym and in my Newsfeed–the young white male, the assault rifle, the victims–and figured that I knew the story all too well and could save on my mental health by avoiding this one and taking on next week’s shooting instead. It was all too depressing and too numbingly “normal.” I kept my distance. I wanted that sinking darkness to pass me by this once.

What finally drew me to learn the full story, however, was a piece on James Shaw Jr. and his humble generosity. I had seen Mr. Shaw’s picture after the shooting–a photo of his arm that had been grazed by a bullet in the attack–and knew that he had stopped the shooter, but what I learned this week is what truly captured me. You see, he not only saved all these lives, but he also then started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for the families of the victims who died in the shooting. His original goal was to raise $15,000. Well, word got out, and as of the last time I checked, he had raised an amazing $225,966.

When I read that story and researched the number on the GoFundMe page, all I could think was, “Now THAT is how to do it! THAT is a light that brightens us all! Bless you, sir!”

James Shaw Jr. is an inspiration to me. He has filled my heart with hope and made me want to be a better human.  

The whole situation of the awful-yet-familiar tragedy at the Waffle House and my accidental discovery of a new source of inspiration this week has caused me to pause and ponder about Inspiration itself and where I can find more of it in this world where conflict, corruption, and calamity that grab the headlines.

I am tired of being weighed down, tired of examples of our failings and our helplessness at the hands of the dark, cold world. I want to feel lifted. I want to feel awe and hope. I want to be reminded that I am magnificent and that I am part of something even more magnificent. I want to believe in a bigger, better me.

In short, I want to be inspired.

So today, I am making an Inspiration List. On my list will be anything and everything that makes me feel all those ways I just described. You know, inspired.

With that, here goes one beautiful brainstorm:

  • The sun, moon, and stars. Everything that goes on out there in space–and just thinking of the unfathomably large magnitude of the Universe–electrifies my spirit, but I am extra moved by those celestial bodies that are part of my daily consciousness. I love driving to the gym in the pre-dawn darkness and having my breath taken away at my first sight of the full moon, then watching the magical light show of sunrise on my way home. And nothing beats a night under the stars to remind me that I am part of something truly awesome. It is in these moments of looking past our Earth that I am most convinced that there is a God.
  • Jimmy Carter. This guy is building houses for the homeless in his 90s. Enough said.
  • My kids. Everything about parenthood is being my best and giving my best. When you realize that every moment of your life is an example for both how they ought to behave immediately and how they will remember you eventually, you better step up. My kids have raised the bar for me in every way imaginable.
  • Water.  In all its forms, water is a true wonder for me. The ocean all by itself is enough to leave me in amazement every time I lay eyes on it, or better yet, swim in it. The amount of life there, the power of it, the enormity. It boggles my mind in the best of ways and leaves me in a state of Peace I can find nowhere else. It is that Peace that I love best about water. Streams, lakes, even puddles. I am drawn there and revitalized upon my arrival. I have always been mesmerized the fact that the percentage of the Earth covered by water is almost the exact percentage of water that makes up the human heart and brain. That connection inspires me.
  • Libraries and bookstores. It is the artists who wrote the words and the sacrifices they made to get the books published. It is the knowledge and wisdom contained in those books. It is the words themselves. Being surrounded by books gives me the good goosebumps.
  • Protest marches and marchers. I have been deeply moved by the marches of this era–the Women’s March, the #RedForEd teachers marching for funding, the Science March, Black Lives Matter, etc.–in their attempts to create awareness and change. It lifts me up to see regular citizens rising to the challenges that their “leaders” have failed them in meeting.
  • Quotes.  People from all walks of life across human history have said and written the most beautiful words. I read them and rise.
  • Quantum Physics. I love how something seemingly way over our heads can deliver us the most simple and powerful Truth: We are ALL connected to ALL THAT IS.
  • The teachers where I work. I am in an elementary school five days a week, and every day I am impressed and humbled by the way the teachers (and aids) navigate the minefield of our children and guide them toward a better future. It is so hard to be good at that.
  • My Facebook friend Josie. I have never even met this woman, but even electronically she oozes optimism, kindness, and authenticity. She posts several uplifting memes every day–I steal most of them for my Journal of You page–and shares all kinds of personal stories and photos from her view of the world. She is my example of how to change the world with your being and your little actions. The image of her in my mind literally glows.
  • Glacier National Park. I can hardly think about this place without getting misty. It is my symbol for the natural beauty of this Earth and the gifts we earthlings have been granted in being born here. It is why we need to do better with what we have.
  • Leonardo da Vinci. This guy was absolutely amazing! Of course, genius is always amazing in its way, but I so admire the tremendous breadth of this man’s explorations of his talents. When you are known as “The Father of…” multiple scientific disciplines and one of the best painters of all time, you are awe-worthy in my book. When people wonder why I write about so many different things instead of finding a niche, I think of Leonardo.
  • The Parkland kids. I take so much encouragement from these young people whose friends were murdered while at school and then had the gumption to use their moment to push for a positive change, proving to us all that you are never too young to use your voice.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama. This is not political. This is about character in the face of antagonism, cruelty, and outright bigotry. When I think of the Obamas, the two words that come to my mind are Class and Grace. And I also think of Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high.” I aspire to that.
  • The idea of a Divine Creator. I won’t try to tell you that I am certain that there is a God and that this God has a plan and created all of this beauty and magnificence for us to play in. However, I am attracted enough to those ideas to let it sway my soul into being inspired by it. As I have alluded to earlier, I am deeply moved by both the magnitude of the Universe itself and by the natural beauty and power of the “Nature” found on this planet, including the oceans, the mountains, the plants, and the animals (including us!). The idea that there was an intelligent Designer gives it all that much more Life and meaning.
  • Michelangelo’s The Pietá and David. When I first happened upon The Pietá in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I was struck motionless by it. My eyes welled up. I was absolutely spellbound. By the time I saw the David in Florence, I had seen so many replicas and pictures of it that I wasn’t anticipating much. Still, I could not take my eyes off of it. Michelangelo is an artist perhaps without parallel in history, and these sculptures are just two reasons why. I am inspired by his genius.
  • The nonviolence and strength of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These two great men top the list for me when it comes to heroes. Both fought unceasingly against injustice–both ultimately being murdered as a result–and yet both did so without the violence that their oppressors used and that so many around them called for.
  • Teaching. At various points in my life, I have stood in front of college kids to teach them Philosophy, elementary and middle school kids to teach them World Religions, and everyone from ages 3 to 93 to teach them Tennis. And every time, my heart has been filled by the teaching, the love of the subject matter, and my immense joy at helping to expand the world of my fellow beings. Teaching gives me life!
  • My cousin Heide. She died of cancer several years ago, a beloved teacher, wife, and mother of two little girls. Her death at such a young age–and how she left behind a life quite similar to mine–has served as a constant reminder to make the most of the time that I have, as more is not guaranteed.
  • The books of Steven Pressfield. He writes in more than one genre, but the two books of his that I tell myself that I should read every year are The War of Art and Turning Pro. As a writer, these books remind me to dig in and work at my craft, to sit down every day and put words onto paper, no matter how difficult the process or how awful the result, because the world needs my gifts. I need to hear that.
  • Music.  Whether live in concert, through the speakers filling up the house, or coming to me personally through my big headphones, there is nothing like music to fill up a soul. When the first notes come through to me–whether it is the dramatic organ and monologue of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the tinkling keys of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the unmistakable beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or the dramatic violins of Beethoven’s 5th symphony–my spirit soars.
  • Dan Rather. Growing up, we were more of an NBC household, so my news came from Tom Brokaw. But this late chapter of Rather’s life, where I have come to know him as a passionate social commentator on Facebook and a brilliant writer and patriot in his new book What Unites Us, has brought me to a man who has done and seen just about everything in his lifetime and has come away more empathetic and grateful for the process. His thoughts give me necessary, humble reminders and also great hope. So does his life.
  • Publishing my work. I will never forget the feelings of exhilaration that came when I put my very first blog post out into the world on this site. It was my reach-out to you, and hitting that “Publish” button felt like exactly what I was meant to do. I still get a charge every time I hit that “Publish” button in the early hours of Sunday morning, releasing my heart out into the world in hopes it makes someone else’s life better. Publishing my book was that way, too, only with a lot more relief after the many painstaking hours that project required. The feeling of sharing my Truth in the service of making others’ journeys more rich and full is enough to propel me to do it again and better. After all of the ways we beat ourselves up in life, it is a priceless treasure to occasionally be our own inspiration.
  • Science.  I absolutely LOVE to learn new things and get a little closer to the truth of how this Universe operates, so Science is my friend. One of my favorite things is the Ted-Ed Facebook page–I highly recommend following it–where they regularly produce these amazing little 5-minute videos, usually with animation, teaching us all about our world. Recent topics: “What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?,” “How do touchscreens work?,” “The evolution of teeth,” “What happens during a stroke?,” “Why can’t you divide by zero?” Learning this stuff excites me, but what excites me even more is that every day scientists are discovering new things about how our world works, how we can better operate in it, and how we might eventually have to save it. That lifts me up.

That’s my Inspiration List! My spirits are lifted just by writing it all down and thinking about these wonderful gifts. The list has become the final item on the list! It reminds me of Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List when he says, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life.” It certainly feels that way for me.

How about you? What’s on your Inspiration List? Open up your journal and think about what lifts you up, excites you about life, and moves you to be a better person. Write down that list. What comes immediately to your mind? Who are the people on your list? Are they more people that you know–family and friends–or famous people? Are the famous ones from the present day or are they historical figures? Are your categories more general–like movies or music or books–or is your list full of specific songs, movies, and book titles? Which places are on your list? Are they places you have been or places you dream about going? Is there a spot on your list for spiritual practices? Are YOU on your list? How does it make you feel to make the list? Does your list inspire you? I hope so! What have I missed in my list–what do you recommend? Leave me a reply and let me know: What fills up your Inspiration List?

Do great things,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I would appreciate if you would share it on your social media. And if you are comfortable sharing your list, even better!

P.S.S. Dive deeper into your whole life–past, present, and future–with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. Available at your favorite online retailer.

The Dream Summer Road Trip

Hello friend,

“To travel is to live.” –Hans Christian Andersen

My sister sent me a photo this week, and my mind was instantly transported back in time.

It was the Summer of 1993. I was 21 years old, and my best buddy Johnny and I were embarking on a grand adventure. He had a blue Chevy Blazer—“The B”—and we packed that thing to the gills! We pictured ourselves as these rugged outdoorsmen, ready to sleep with the animals, catch our meals, and tear up all the trails of the great Rocky Mountains. The truth is that we were complete amateurs at everything and thus basically packed every item we owned into that car–you know, just in case—so that there wasn’t an inch of space left anywhere, including on my feet and lap. Camping gear, fishing gear, groceries, cooler, big garbage bags full of clothes, and a sweet, old-school camera that belonged to John’s old man (we thought we would become a couple of modern-day Ansel Adamses). Oh yeah, and our bikes on the back. You might have thought we were leaving for a year. We figured a few weeks.

As any two fools would, we set off on our eleven-hour first leg of the trip around ten o’clock at night. It was a narrow, two-lane highway across the pitch-black night of the empty prairie, lined with occasional white crosses where people had gone off the road and died, which served as not-so-subtle reminders to stay awake. There was no one out there but us, but our souls were on fire with visions of the mountains as we made our way through the night powered by Mountain Dew and Chicago’s “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album. A couple of flatlanders headed for the high country.

In life, there are a small handful of exquisite moments when you are on the cusp of something truly game-changing. Something deep inside you is doing cartwheels because it knows that what you are about to experience is so special that you will never look at the world the same way again. Driving West across the black emptiness that night, I knew I was in the midst of one of those moments.

Those next few weeks were pure Bliss for me. I felt so much like a kid in a candy store every second of the day. Glacier National Park was our first and most-dreamed-about destination. Though I had skied every year in Montana when I was a kid, Glacier was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sheer majesty of the place was absolutely heart-stopping. I felt drunk as I climbed the steep trails, jumped across boulders in the middle of the rushing streams, and dipped my feet into the icy-cold, crystalline waters of the mountain lakes. I had found my Paradise.

It pained my heart to leave Glacier after those dream-like days of exploring, but I was buoyed by thoughts of all the unexplored miles ahead of us. We were just getting started! In the days that followed, we made our way through Western Montana and down to the shores of the Madison River, where my brother happened to be living in a tent for the Summer. He schooled us in the beauty of fly-fishing for a few days and led us up a crazy trail on our mountain bikes. After that, we headed South through the jagged Tetons and on down to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where my other brother lived (not in a tent). Then it was time to turn back North and start for home.

On our last night on the road, again in the dark of night, we pulled into a remote Forest Service campground on one end of the Beartooth Highway outside of Yellowstone. The rain was pouring too hard to even attempt to get out and set up the tent, so we laughed at our luck and stayed right there in our seats for the rest of the night, because, as I mentioned, there was not even a hint of open space in the car, not even to recline our seats. It was a short, uncomfortable night, and we pulled out of our spot at first light to climb the Beartooth Pass, one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the wide world. At the other end of the pass, all that was left was the last nine or ten hours to home.

It was truly one of those epic, journey-of-a-lifetime kind of deals: adventure, bonding with friends and family, and episodes both touching and silly, all set against a backdrop of Mother Nature’s most spectacular beauty. It was the best of times.

So, when my sister sent me a photo a couple days ago of her passing through Glacier National Park with her family, the memories came flooding back. It reminded me of all of the great Summer roadtrips I used to take out there. After that first trip 24 years ago, so enchanted was I that I made a point of getting to Glacier every Summer for several years in a row. It always left me completely spellbound.

Then my life changed. I moved further away and took on more commitments. I hate to admit how many years it been since I have been to my Glacier, or even to any of the mountains of the glorious Western range. So many years.

What my sister’s photo produced, in addition to the glow from thoughts of those halcyon days, was a fantasy of another epic trip to the mountains and open spaces of the American West. And the road.  

As much as I would love to do it again with my old buddy Johnny—and he would be up for it—and as much as I bask in a solo adventure, my life these days is about building wonderful memories for my kids and expanding their view of the world. So, this time anyway, this fantasy is a family road trip.

Here’s how I see it. We load up the car—though, maybe since it’s a fantasy, we say it’s a small RV–with camping gear and cool beverages and venture the two longest, least scenic days of the trip across our Minnesota, North Dakota (spending the night at my old house so it is just like leaving on my trip with Johnny), and Eastern Montana. We spend a day in Lewistown, Montana with my brother’s family. From there, we go straight for Glacier, where we spend a few days hiking in my Paradise and driving the Going To The Sun Road, stopping at all the scenic lookouts and taking in the bears, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. We may even give my wife a break from the tent and stay at the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Fully refreshed and invigorated from Glacier, we will head South through the Flathead Valley, through Missoula, and down through the Bitterroot National Forest into Idaho along the Salmon River. We will cut West across the Boise National Forest and into the middle of Oregon, turning South at Bend and through the forest to Crater Lake and beyond.

Leaving Oregon, we will come into all new territory for me (I have done the California coast, but never the Sierra Nevadas). We will travel inland through the many National Forests of Northern California before hitting the big National Parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, finally cutting across Death Valley and zipping past Las Vegas on our way to the Grand Canyon.

From the Grand Canyon, we will turn back North to check out the National Parks of Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

By that point, I will be in serious need of seeing big trees again, so we will drive a little faster North through Utah and back into Idaho, veering slightly Northeast toward Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is connected to Yellowstone, the oldest National Park in the world. We will spend a couple of days in that geological playground before getting on that same Beartooth Highway that Johnny and I took all those years ago. But instead of heading for North Dakota this time, we will turn back Southeast out of Montana, through Northeast Wyoming, and into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where we will check out Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse carved into the hillsides. And from there, it is a mere 600 miles straight back home.

Boom!

Now, I realize that would get to be a pretty long trip (I am guessing a solid four weeks). I only know a few people who vacation for that long, and I am not one of them anymore. I have a shorter, smaller/“realistic” fantasy, though. In this case, I would start the same way through Glacier, but instead of leaving for Idaho and the West Coast from the Bitterroot Valley, I would work back toward Yellowstone, then hit Mount Rushmore on the way home. That could easily be done in less than two weeks. We would see a ton of beautiful country and make memories that would last a lifetime. I am grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it!

How about you? What does your dream Summer road trip look like? Open up your journal, your road atlas, and your Google Maps and start plotting the route. What part of the country comes immediately to your mind? What gives that area such a spark for you? Is it a famous landmark? A happy personal memory? Somewhere you have always wondered about? Somewhere a friend recommended? Is your fantasy trip to one main spot or a multi-spot journey like mine? How long will your trip take? Could you imagine moving to a spot on your trip? Have you been on this trip before? If so, how long ago was it? Who would you take along, if anyone? Who has been your favorite road trip partner in the past? What makes a good road companion? Does the vision of a long road trip stir the same type of romantic notions in you that it does in me, or are you more like, “Just fly me to my destination as quickly as possible.”? What would an adventure like this mean to you? Describe your most epic road adventure to date. How does your fantasy trip compare? How likely are you to take this dream drive? How soon can you make it happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the itinerary for your dream Summer road trip?

Grow your world,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, pass it on. Happy trails!

10 Places I Want to Visit

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –Augustine of Hippo

Hello friend,

Nineteen years ago, I was flying back from my second great European adventure. I had just spent some quality weeks wandering through the most beautiful and memorable places. I had ridden the train through the Black Forest of Germany and into the mountains of Austria. I had eaten authentic Weiner schnitzel and pure grape juice with the sweetest family at a small vineyard outside of Vienna. I had soaked in the healing waters of a Budapest bathhouse with a bunch of very old Hungarians. I had lost my soul while visiting the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. I had been charmed by the whimsical beauty of Prague and the Czech Republic, and meandered back through the simple beauty of Germany to catch my plane for home.

All of those life-changing places and adventures were swirling through my mind as the pilot’s voice came over the speakers: “Sorry to interrupt the movie, folks, but we are just reaching Greenland. It is out the right side of the plane. And believe me, it is better than any movie!”

Luckily for me, I was on the right side of the plane. When the woman next to me opened the shade, time stopped completely. I was spellbound. My breath was taken from me. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

When the enchanting, snow-covered mass was finally out of sight, I pulled out my journal and tried to find the words to describe a kind of magnificence that was truly indescribable. After doing my best to jot down some intelligible thoughts, I mostly gave up, fully aware of my limitations as a writer in the face of the Universe’s grandeur.

In reading back the final sentences of my journal entry from that day on the plane, it is plain just how awestruck and at a loss I was: “I don’t know. The picture, I suppose, is worth a thousand words, but I really can’t describe the wonder of it. It was a land of fantasy, a dream-like majesty. Or, taken from another side, an endless sea of desolation…..It just went on and on in infinite beauty. That is what I will remember about it.”  

Later, I wondered what it would be like to visit such a unique place. After pondering the prospects—visions of me trying desperately to stalk some wild creature below the ice while freezing to death in a land too cold for vegetation–I decided that Greenland is probably one of the few places on Earth best suited to appreciating from a distance.

But there aren’t many places like that. Mostly we need to be somewhere to truly appreciate it. I have always loved to learn, and one of the most important discoveries of my life is that traveling is the best form of education (I love Mark Twain’s quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”). Meeting new people, learning about different cultures, soaking up the wonders of nature, and finding Peace in the process. “All good things, all good things,” as my friend Olaf would say.

Thinking this week about that European adventure and the magnificence of Greenland, my old traveling soul got stirred up. I decided to come up with a list of places I would love to visit for the first time, whether to explore or simply melt into the beach and bask in the beauty. I am thinking of myself here, not taking into account that my kids never leave my side. And I admit from the outset that I am heavily biased at the moment, as the wind chill has been below freezing in Minnesota in this final week of April. So, don’t be surprised if we end up with a lot of tropical selections!

At any rate, here we go, in no particular order, with my Top Ten Places I’d Like To Visit:

  1. India. I admit that this one is cheating, since it is a huge country, but there are just so many different areas I would like to see, from sacred religious sites to crowded cities to secluded villages in the Himalayas. I named my firstborn child after this place—that’s how long it has been living in me!
  2. Bali, Indonesia. From everything I have read and seen about this place—the extreme warmth of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the pristine beaches—I feel a spiritual connection. I am enchanted!
  3. Yosemite National Park, California. This is a weird one for me. Don’t get me wrong, I imagine it is full of scenic vistas and wonderful hikes. But I can’t help but think that I am only intrigued by it because I want to see what all the hype is about (because I secretly think that my favorite, Glacier National Park in Montana, will put its more famous cousin to shame). Either way, I want to go.
  4. Belize.  This is definitely all about the quiet, peaceful beach vacation, with just enough adventure–via world-class snorkeling spots–to keep it interesting. Actually, Belize, even though it is on the mainland of North America, is kind of the placeholder spot for almost any beautiful Caribbean island beach paradise (insert Jamaica, St. Martin, Dominican Republic, etc.). I have some exploring to do in that neck of the woods!
  5. London, England. This giant is one of the few European biggies that I haven’t visited. And even though I am curious to check it out, its spot on my list is mostly about one particular neighborhood at one particular time of year: Wimbledon, early July. The shrine of Tennis. I would like to attend all four Grand Slam events, actually—amazing trips to London, Paris, New York City, and Melbourne, Australia (yes, please!)—but I would settle for Wimbledon.
  6. Alaska.  This one is a bit of a cheat, too, as Alaska is huge. But if I was in the neighborhood, hey! I would take a trip to Denali (maybe even try to find the bus from Into the Wild), “flightsee” over a mountain range, wander down the Kenai, and hopefully spot some whales and other creatures around the fjords. The Last Frontier!
  7. Kenya/Tanzania, Africa. These two countries get the slash because I would not quibble over an opportunity to take a photo safari through either one (and they are neighbors!). I have always dreamed of this. One day…..
  8. New Zealand. This just seems like good territory for taking a walk. A long walk. Remember The Lord of the Rings? It was all filmed here. The next time the hobbits go out for a wander, I am tagging along!
  9. Amazon Rain Forest, Brazil. I might be freaked out the entire time about being eaten by an anaconda or piranhas or some other invention of my mind, but it would also be so amazing to be amongst all of that Life.
  10. Bora Bora, French Polynesia. I couldn’t resist one more tropical beach! I love the idea of being way out in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles from a continent. Of course, visions of those over-the-water bungalows on stilts are appealing, too! I get giddy when I see that clear, turquoise water.

That’s it! Well, of course that isn’t it. There are so many more new places I want to visit, even in my own state. But those ten are the ones topping my Wish List today. I love the feeling these fantasies give me. My adventurous spirit is absolutely tickled right now! I can feel the little perma-grin on my face, too; it hasn’t left since I started thinking about this. The world is such a magnificent playground. Fly me away!

How about you? What new place do you feel like traveling to today? Open up your journal and spin the globe. Where do you want your finger to land? Is there one place that comes immediately to mind? Is it somewhere you have always dreamed about? What has kept you from getting there? How disappointed will you be if you never make it there? How about the rest of your list? Are most of them places that have been on your radar for a long time? Which ones are the most recent additions to your list? What draws you to them? Are your places more about physical adventures (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal), learning about something new (e.g. Incan ruins in Peru), or a good spot to relax (e.g. the beaches of the Seychelles)? Are any about connecting with your heritage (e.g. a visit to meet distant relatives in Ireland)? What about a service destination (e.g. a friend of mine just volunteered at an orphanage in Sierra Leone)? A spiritual pilgrimage (e.g. Jerusalem)? How many of them are you seriously determined to get to? How many of them are out of your comfort zone? Will those be the most rewarding? Which one are you most likely to get to first? How soon? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your aspiration destinations?

Make your life an adventure,

William

P.S. If this got your daydreams into high gear or put a smile on your face, pass it on. We could all use a happy fantasy once in a while!

Sensation Preservation: My Favorite Sights, Sounds, Smells, Tastes, & Touches

IMG_4025“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out.–Margaret Atwood

Hello friend,

Matt Nathanson is one of my favorite musicians. Last year, he put out a song called “Headphones” that managed to get a bit of radio play. I liked the song at first, until I saw the video. Then, I LOVED it! The video is basically a documentary montage of a trip Matt took to an impoverished town in Peru to give hearing aids to people who had either never had hearing or who had lost it. As the song rises to its climax, the video’s story reaches the point where the long-deaf people, who had lined up for hours for this moment—and certainly dreamed about it for years—begin to hear. The reactions are absolutely priceless! As they are overwhelmed with tears, amazement, gratitude, and wide wonder, I cannot turn my own teary eyes away. Each time I watch the video, I wonder about how special that moment is for those people, how the voices of Matt and the others must sound like audio magic to them, and how the image must sear itself into their hearts and minds forever. I also look at it from Matt’s perspective, but in the visual sense rather than the audio. I have to think that the look on those beautiful faces (see the photo) as they heard their first sounds—the absolutely palpable ignition of their souls—must have touched his heart in such a profound way that the image of them etched itself there forever as well.

At the start of the video’s story, in a voiceover that fascinates me, as Matt is explaining how much he loves music, he says, “I’d gladly go blind or mute, anything rather than go deaf. I’d be completely lost. I think that for most people, keeping their sight would be their first choice. But what a thought! I shudder at the very idea of losing any of my senses. I am reading a book right now called All the Light We Cannot See—I highly recommend it—in which the main character is a teenage girl who became blind as a young child. I am completely captivated by every scene she is in and try to imagine what it must be like to be in her shoes, to have seen the world once but now living totally in the dark. What images are etched in her memory? What would be the first thing she would want to see if her vision was restored? And what about Matt Nathanson and his hearing? What sounds would he miss the most? Music? Voices? The wind in the trees? What is so etched into his soul that he could never forget? What would it mean to reconnect with them?

Of course, I use Matt Nathanson, the deaf people of Peru, and Marie-Laure LeBlanc from my book as my examples, but who I am really thinking about is myself? What are the images—the sights, the sounds, even the tastes, smells, and touches–that I would miss the most? Which ones could I never forget? Would I pine for images I have never known outside of my imagination, or would it be the sensations that are the foundation of my everyday world? What makes this earthly life so great, anyway? The sights and sounds matter. So do the tastes and the smells and the touches. It turns out that our senses are the pathway to our entire experience of the world.

Like with most everything in my world since my kids were my born, the sensations I associate with my joy for life are so much tied to those two little munchkins. I think of my son’s cat-who-ate-the-canary smile and the look in his eyes when he has a joke up his sleeve. I cannot imagine a life without those magical, playful eyes that light me up every time I see them.

It is in my moments of being literally in the dark that I appreciate my sense of touch. The ones that seem to glue me together come after my daughter and I have said goodnight to my son and return to her bed. She lays her head on my arm and snuggles in close as she tells me stories and asks me questions. Gradually the talking comes to an end as she begins to give way to sleep. It absolutely is the food my soul lives upon, and I cannot imagine not being able to feel her against me, the curls of her hair tickling the side of my face.

There are also images from my past that seem to be seared into my heart and mind, and while I would love to experience them again, even if I went the rest of my lifetime without feeling them, I would still hold them as fresh visions in my mind, ones I wish never to forget. Two come quickly to mind. The first is a place called Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park (which itself is a tremendous feast for the senses that I give the highest recommendation). One day I hiked up to this crystal clear, glassy mountain lake and trudged through the brush to the far shore where no one would come near. I plopped myself down with my journal and seemed to have all I would ever need. I was surrounded almost entirely by steep rock faces with small waterfalls cascading down, except of course the absolutely crystalline water in front of me. Alone I sat with my heart completely open, and both the place and the visual completely soaked into me. I pray that Alzheimer’s does not take that image away from me any time soon.

Another fine day in another fine place came about 10 years ago in my beloved Italy. The town of Siena holds my heart anyway, but that particular late afternoon in Il Campo, the giant town square, my wife and I—relative newlyweds at the time—were just sitting on the ground on the beautiful, burnt orange bricks after a full day, enjoying some gelato and people-watching. In a playful mood, we pulled out our clunky camera—this was pre-smartphone days—and started taking selfies, giggling as we snuggled our faces up close to squeeze into the shot, then laughing at the results. We were so much at ease and so much in love. It was nothing but an ordinary afternoon in a magnificent place, but my memory of the sights, the tastes, the smells, and the feelings seems utterly extraordinary. If I could not see anymore, I would still have that day in my mind’s eye.

It is easy to take these senses for granted, but they are absolutely amazing gifts. I think of my son’s eyes, my daughter’s snuggles, the taste of gelato, the smell of the pine forest in Montana, and the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the beach. How could these be replaced if my senses were lost? Would my memory of them be enough? I honestly cannot say. What I do know is that doing this exercise has made me smile at the thought of so many beautiful sensations and the memories they have carved into my mind. It has made me more grateful for these priceless gifts. It has swept me away to my happiest places, and I have truly loved every step of the journey.

How about you? What are the sensations that live in you for the long-term? Open up your journal and take a trip through your most treasured memories of touches, tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. What are your favorite examples of each sense? What emotions are tied to them? Do the different senses seem to conjure a different set of emotions? What senses seem to create the strongest emotions in you? Are those senses also the most valuable to you? Which sense would you most willingly give up? Least willingly? If you lost one or more, do you think your memory would be strong enough to keep the feeling alive? If today you lost your hearing for a long period of time—say, five years—and then gained it back, what would you want to hear first? Same for sight: what would you want to see first? Touch? Smell? Taste? Armed with the answers to all of these questions, what are you going to take the time to appreciate in your day today? What sensations will you seek out? Which will you try to commit to memory? Leave me a reply and let me know: What images do you savor?

 Take it all in,

William

P.S. If this post resonates with you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with your family and friends via social media or old-fashioned word-of-mouth. My hope is to positively impact as many people as possible every week, and I need your help to do that. Thanks in advance for your support.

Reconnecting With Mother Earth

IMG_1128Hello friend,

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” –John Muir

I have been a bit pent-up lately. Stressed. Conflicted. Disconnected. Feeling the pinch of learning a lot of new things all at once while also running out of time to do all of the things that I feel are essential to my progress toward my dreams. I have spent too much time in my head and too much time in judgment of myself for not doing more and better every day. I have allowed my mind to leave the precious present and drift too long and too often into the future, plotting a million different scenarios for the months and years to come. The need to have it all figured out and be moving efficiently in the “right” direction toward my dreams has overtaken me a bit. Frankly, I have been in need of a break. A chance to pull back a bit, get my bearings again, and ground myself in the principles that mean the most to me. I have needed to refocus, to dial back into who I really am and what drives me. I have just needed to be reminded of all of the magnificent blessings in my life and the greater purpose behind it. I have needed clarity.

So today, I finally had a quiet couple of hours in my schedule. As busy as I have felt recently, it kind of shocked me that these hours existed. I could think of a zillion things that seemed like they “needed” to be done or “should” be done to catch up, keep up, or get ahead. Guilt and Conscience were tearing me in all different directions. But when noon rolled around and I finished my last appointment of the morning, that window in my schedule seemed to reach out to my soul and call to my restless mind. I knew what I had to. I needed to get outside. I needed to find water. 

I love to be outside. The feeling of fresh air on my skin and in my lungs is simultaneously so soothing and yet so invigorating. It simply brings life back into me. The more man-made stuff you can remove from the scene, the better I feel in my heart. I love being with the grass and the trees and the wildlife. Living in a metropolitan area, I rarely get to that cherished feeling of connectedness to Mother Earth that I used to find so easily and so often in my wandering days. Cross-country drives were the norm, with stops at national parks and forests always foremost on the itinerary. In those days and on those trips, bliss and contentment came easily to me. I was always keen to find the next spot that made me feel most certainly that I had united with The Divine.

And there was water. Yes, wherever I felt that Divine Unity most intensely, you could be quite certain that the prominent feature of the scene was water. Forests might be there. Mountains might be there. Spectacular sunsets, too. Perhaps beautiful birds or deer. Maybe even butterflies or fireflies. But always, always water.

A few times in my life I have considered where I might have my ashes scattered if I ever wanted a say in the matter. My mind instantly flies to my favorite locations, spots that have found me in a state of the deepest Peace and Gratitude and Connectedness to my Source. The shores of Avalanche Lake in Glacier Park. A rock in the middle of the roaring McDonald Creek in Glacier, whitewater pouring down the mountain on all sides of me. The shores of the Greek Islands on the Mediterranean Sea at sunset. The shores of the Pacific Ocean, any time of day. The end of the dock at Pelican Lake, sunset. The emotions just pour out of my system as these images flash across my mind in my slideshow of Peace.

Nature has that effect on me. It is so stark and simple in its manner, and yet so utterly powerful and majestic in its beauty and grace. It is dynamic but still so wonderfully, reassuringly constant. Unlike us humans, it has no pretense and no ego to maneuver around. It is transparent. And it is, quite simply, awesome.

That is why, when that little window appeared in my schedule, my pent-up, disconnected mind was achingly, automatically drawn away from my computer screen and out the door of my house, just down the road about a mile or so. I brought along my journal. This is what I had to say:

Alright, this is a good place to write from. I suppose I mean that physically and emotionally. I am floating in my kayak on the edge of Alimagnet Lake, tucked back in a quiet bay. Whenever the easy breeze rises up a bit, my evidence is the sound of a handful of leaves bouncing off the other branches as they float their way to the ground. Future generations of grasses and trees will use these decaying leaves as fertilizer in this beautiful, endless circle of Life. I feel that now. It is nice to be here. Even though the sky shows only the spectrum of grays, being here makes it feel as though it is still a lovely day. The water has a way of doing that. It brings a certain Peace to everything around it. If I had a pillow, I could fall asleep here. When I first got out on the water, I had to kind of convince myself that it was okay to not be doing homework or TJP or starting the next blog post, that I could have this time to just reconnect with the water and that Peace and Mother Earth. I had to give myself permission to float. It is tough for me to make quietude, inner Peace, and connection to Nature agenda items. Tangibles and measurables are easier to justify. This is so, so good for me, though. It has the soothing quality of a hot bath, but it resonates much deeper. It is the kind of place I could sit for hours in serenity and gratitude. Even as I sit here and try to simply be in this moment, it is a challenge to not egg myself into, “I need to do this more often!” Of course I should, but I don’t necessarily want that to be my focus now. That can be one of my takeaways at the end. Right now I just want to take in the ripple on the distant water and the easy floating leaves on the glassy water surrounding my kayak. I want to absorb the magic palette in the trees across the lake and the fluttering of the leaves in the trees behind me. I want to be the water. The magical, wise, constant water. So completely embodying Peace and Power simultaneously. Its effect envelopes me as I gaze and breathe, gaze and breathe. My heart floats like the falling leaf, blissful in the knowledge that it will be gently received by the water’s surface. There is fellowship here. Community. Unity. God. Plainly God. So I peek over at my muskrat friend on the floating tree, give him a “Namaste,” and silently thank him for sharing the world with me. I feel as though I am oozing Peace and Gratitude. I am liquid Bliss. It really is All God. Life is truly beautiful.

And with that, I am back! I feel like I know myself again. I have checked in with home base, gotten my lens prescription fixed, and am ready to re-enter the world. In reconnecting with Mother Earth, I have reconnected with me.

How about you? What grounds you? Open up your journal and explore the places—or people or activities—that center you when you have lost your way. Is it one place specifically, or does it work in any place that resembles your favorite (e.g., any waterfront will do)? Do you need to be alone to find that Unity and Peace, or can other people be present (or must they be)? Do you have to be still (e.g., sitting in meditation or floating in my kayak), or is activity required (e.g., swimming laps or playing basketball or taking a drive)? Is it more about engaging in something fully for you, or about disengaging? How do you define “Nature”? How often do you feel like you get there? How would it benefit you to find it more often? Is there one aspect of it—like the water for me—that centers you most? On a scale of one to ten, how grounded, peaceful, and clear-minded are you today? Would some time on the water make that number go up like it did for me? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you get reconnected? 

Be boldly the one and only YOU,

William