Tag Archives: Peace

The Accidental Haven: Stumbling Upon Your Peaceful Garden

“Having a place of sanctuary is very important for the mental well-being. No matter what happens in the outside world there needs to always be a place for you to balance out and recharge.” –Avina Celeste

Hello friend,

Last weekend I took my kids on a little getaway to their cousins’ lake cabin so they could have some fun and make the kinds of memories that I so cherish from my youth. My old man used to get together with his siblings at cabins often when I was a kid, and my cousins seemed almost like siblings to me. There was a range of ages–I was on the younger side–and personalities, and it made for some wild and lasting memories. Whenever I think of those halcyon days of childhood, I feel compelled to provide my own kids with those opportunities to bond and be wild with their cousins.

We usually meet up with my extended family at a lake house that has been in the family since I was a kid. My grandpa bought the land on the waterfront, and he let us kids help him build what would become the house. The process made for great memories, and all the wonderful times that we have shared there in the years since have made the place all the more special. It is familiar and relaxing, much like my childhood home is to me when I return for Christmas. I am grateful to have a couple of places like that in my life: where nostalgia meets good people and a pleasant environment.

I tend to think of those places as the ones that are my sanctuaries, places that I can return to at different points in the year to find my center, to be in emotional and spiritual harmony. At Peace. That’s how a home should feel. Just right.

That is what has my mind tied up this week. Not my fascination and gratitude at these feelings of deep Peace, but the unlikely spot that I happened upon that Peace.

I had been to my sister’s cabin once about 14 years ago when they first bought it, but honestly, I don’t recall anything from that trip other than playing with my nieces, who were very young then. In the last few years, my kids and I had casually talked about going for a weekend to see their cousins, but it didn’t materialize until late last Summer. Despite some cool weather, it was a wonderful, just-what-the-doctor-ordered kind of weekend for my soul. Saturday, in particular, hit all the right notes, and I shared about it in my letter to you entitled “The Best Day of Summer,” which it really was. On the drive home, I was determined that we would return to see if the magic was part of the essence of the place–some cosmic connection with my soul that cannot be adequately explained–or if it was a one-shot, perfect storm kind of deal.

So, when I packed the kids into the car last Friday, there was plenty of curiosity mixed with the usual excitement that accompanies a weekend adventure. I genuinely wanted to know how it would feel. It did not take long to find out.

I felt at ease from the moment we pulled into the driveway. Unrushed, accepted, inspired, calmed, cared for. Throughout the weekend, my inclinations were generally split between “I want to do that fun thing (swimming, kayaking, tubing, paddle-boarding, playing with the kids) right now and as much as possible,” and “I just want to sit here and enjoy this view (of the lake, the trees, the stars, the fire) and this energy.”

I understand that to be an ideal tension for me, because it is the same one I feel when I am at a quiet ocean beach or a mountain forest. It is an energized serenity, an engaged calm, a dynamic Peace. Like yoga.

And as the weekend progressed, I practiced a nice balance of that engagement and relaxation. I definitely had an agenda of all the things I wanted to do while we were there. Some were purely for fun (e.g. tubing with the kids), others to learn something new (stand-up paddle-boarding), and others that gave me a mix of exercise and spiritual communion (an early morning kayak trip around the glassy lake). I also had clearly chosen spots that I wanted to just be. These included the beach chair in the sand by the water, the hanging chair just off the beach, and the lounge chair up on the veranda looking out over the entire lake and encompassing trees. I wanted to be with the water, be with the trees, be with my sister, and be with the energy of the children. I had my spots for that being. They all seemed just right in the moments I sat there.

Everything about the place felt just right.

At first I was tempted to chalk up my unusual sense of Peace to the place itself: the cozy cabin and the little calm lake and the big old trees and the sandy beach. These are my kinds of conditions, after all. Put them in any travel promotion and I am in. But to attribute my profound serenity simply to those physical characteristics would be to miss a key ingredient in the magic potion: the people.

My sister has a way of setting the scene at the cabin with just the right blend of everything. It is engaged conversation but also sitting with you in silence to take in the beauty of the sunset or the songs of the birds. It is meals that are delicious but also low-maintenance and easily eaten anywhere. It is being up for fun and excitement but also up for quiet reading time afterward. It is filling the day but also making sure the kids get to bed at a decent hour. I guess I would describe the tone she sets at the cabin as a perfect balance.

It helps, too, that her husband makes no drama about anything, and her younger kids play easily with mine. The older kids are fun for me to talk with but also want their own space enough to also keep their presence low-key. They all come together to make it feel like a come-as-you-are, do-as-you-like kind of place. There is a goodness and sincerity about them that complements the simple beauty of the surroundings.

That sense of welcome and acceptance, I am seeing, are a key part in what makes their cabin a unique and surprising place of Peace for me.

You see, prior to last weekend, I would have told you that the four places that have always made me feel calm and centered are 1) my childhood home, 2) my family’s lake cabin, which I mentioned above, 3) my current home, where I have built my own family in the last eight years, and 4) in the grand beauty of Nature (e.g. an ocean beach or a mountain forest). As I see it, the thing those first three have in common (outside of a connection with family) is a sense that they are what I think of as mine. I feel some ownership there, like when I go there, I am not a guest and don’t have to play by someone else’s rules. I am welcome as I am. They are my homes. And while I don’t feel like I own Nature when I am out amidst its soaring grandeur and staggering beauty, I feel a part of it. I feel like it is where I am from and where I am welcome. And it is okay that I don’t own it, because there is a feeling that no one else does, either. I am not intruding there, and I have no need to temper who I am. Authenticity is welcome. That is a crucial connector to my other three long-time homes.

This is why my sister’s cabin–literally someone else’s home–seems an unlikely place for me to come upon this overwhelming Peace. The kind of Peace that makes me feel like home. After all, I am a visitor there, a guest playing by someone else’s rules. There is no sense that it is “mine” or “at least not someone else’s” like with my other soul homes. That is not typically a recipe for relaxation for me.

And yet, there it is. An astounding Peace. Two visits in a row.

And thoughts of that Peace stuck in my mind, demanding answers as to why.

Because it would be nice to be able to locate other places where I could feel this way. But I suppose that you feel just how you feel in a place and probably don’t have control of those forces behind that, or at least some of them. So, perhaps I will stumble upon another spot like my sister’s cabin and be melted by its Peace. Or perhaps not. But her brand of welcoming and acceptance is something that I can learn from. I can keep my sensors attuned to it in others, but perhaps more importantly, I can do better to try to foster that energy and those feelings in my own home, and even in my mere presence. I can work to help the people I encounter feel seen, heard, and accepted just as they are. I can make them feel welcome.

In a day and age when divisiveness permeates, I think that might be a welcome surprise.

How about you? Are there places in your world that aren’t home that somehow feel like an emotional or spiritual sanctuary anyway? Open up your journal and take a tour in your mind to all the stops on your journey through Life. Which places have felt the most peaceful to you? What is it about those places that brings you to that feeling of serenity? Is it the familiarity of the place, somewhere you know so well by the time spent there (e.g. your home, Grandma’s house, a favorite vacation spot)? Is it the physical beauty of the surroundings (e.g. a beach house, a mountain chalet, an opulent mansion)? Is it the personal safety you feel there? Is it the memories you have of the place? Is it the people with whom you share the space (e.g. friends, family, spiritual community, co-workers, social club)? Is it the proximity to Nature? Does it have something to do with your sense of the Divine? Is it your sense of ownership of the space? How many places do you have on your list? If you have more than one place where you feel that deep Peace, do they all have something in common? What is the theme running through them? Is there any place, like my new discovery of my sister’s lake cabin, that stands out for you as somewhere unlike the others on your list, a place that surprised you to feel that ease and contentment there? What about that space doesn’t fit the bill? How does it make it onto your list despite its differences? What is the magic ingredient or combination of ingredients? Do you believe it can be duplicated and that you might find it elsewhere? Is your home or your physical presence a place of unique Peace for someone you know? How can you become more of a sanctuary to others? Are you willing to try? Are acceptance of people just as they are and welcoming them into your heart the keys to a more peaceful world? How cool would it be to find Peace around every corner instead of only in your own home? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where have you stumbled upon Peace?

Be a haven right where you are,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your people. When we share our stories, we build bridges of empathy.

P.P.S. If the journey of self-discovery intrigues you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

When 50 Years Is Forever But No Time At All

“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” –Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

Hello friend,

All week long I have been ruminating on the life of Martin Luther King. Well, I suppose it is more like 30 years that I have been ruminating on him. Ever since that day I walked into the library of my high school bent on satisfying the intense curiosity I felt about this man, a fascination that none of my teachers and textbooks had quenched. I read and read, and as I did, the feeling grew that I had found my soulmate across the ages. We were connected somehow, like cosmic brothers. Timelessly so.

My hero was murdered 50 years ago.

FIFTY YEARS!!! That feels like an eternity to me! But even for someone as resonant and consistently present in my life as Dr. King has been, “his time” still feels so long ago and so much before mine. In so many ways, I cannot believe it was only 50 years ago that he died!

I think of all those images in still photographs and grainy video. The fire hoses and dogs, the lunch counters and sidewalk beatings, the policemen’s billy-clubs, the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, the many sermons in churches across the South, and the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall for the “I Have A Dream” speech. I always see the Civil Rights Movement in black-and-white. Some time long before me, just like the Great Depression and World War II and Charlie Chaplin. Ancient history.

But the truth is that Dr. King was right before me, and his time bumped right up to my time. He was murdered in April of 1968. My sister was born the very next month. My goodness, I have never realized that! It shocks me now that I do. Even though I can see the dates in my head and I understand it to be true, somehow my mind just won’t absorb the concept.

I nearly shared an era with Martin Luther King.

I am so stricken by that realization just now. In my mind, it was such a stretch to connect us, at least from a practical standpoint; I felt him in my heart, of course, but he was always a character from such a completely different time, as much as my other major influences: Gandhi, Buddha, Henry Thoreau, and Jesus of Nazareth. Fifty years could have just as well have been 500! It always seemed so far before me.

Everything about the 1960s has felt that way for me: Woodstock, JFK, the moon landing, even Vietnam, which went into the 70s. I see now that everything before me feels like ancient history.

And just the concept of FIFTY YEARS seems like forever. It’s so big!

I guess that I fail to realize that I am 45 years old. That is nearly half a century itself. Maybe the fact that I cannot imagine myself as being 50 sheds some light on why I see Martin Luther King as nowhere near my time.

I think this type of view changes with age. At least it has for me. I know that I have made an effort in my adult years to expand my range on this, to make more real the idea that 100 years and 200 years and things like slavery, the extermination of the Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, and the right of women to vote, that none of that was actually very long ago. I have done it intentionally so that I can keep my empathy and be on the alert for narrow-mindedness and entitlement. It is a process that I have mixed results with, occasionally grasping the close proximity of these events to me, but usually not. I take a lot for granted.

The fluctuating nature of my grasp on this concept of Time seems directly proportional to the level of wisdom that I operate with from day to day. When I am clear how near all of this stuff is to today–a blink of an eye, historically–then I am more aware of how important it is for me to use my voice and my life for good and to speak up immediately and passionately against ignorance and injustice, as those things can quickly gain a foothold and wreak havoc on a generation of unsuspecting souls.

I feel like I owe it to my children and future grandchildren to take the long view and realize just how brief a half-century is, how near we are to the previous one, and how quickly the next one will pass. It pushes me to take ownership of my era, to try to leave a better legacy than my generation seems to be allowing to transpire right under our noses.

I don’t want my future grandchildren to look back at this time–my time–and think, “What fools and cowards those people were in that age! How badly they behaved toward one another and toward the planet! They nearly destroyed everything, and barely anyone spoke up on the side of right. How short-sighted they were. Thanks goodness we know better!” I hope that we can see and confront the error of our ways in the present and leave a better legacy than we are on track to.

Fifty years goes by in a blink. That’s what my mother tells me. We can do a lot of good or a lot of bad in that amount of time. When I think about those black-and-white images from the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s death–and when I remind myself that that was only one blink ago–I understand the kind of seismic shift we can make in the next blink, one way or the other. Dr. King and every other brave person who spoke, marched, and bled for civil rights in the 1960s made all our lives immeasurably better. But our potential for greater things is limitless. There will not come an era when it will be acceptable to say, “Okay, we have done enough to improve the world for ourselves, for humankind, and for our planet.” The time will always, as Dr. King says, “be ripe to do right.”

If you are reading these words, you are in the midst of one of those 50-year blinks. Someone is going to look back in wonder 50 short years from now–it might be you, it might be your grandkids, it might be the History books–at the time in which we are living. They will see the images we daily create: school shootings, climate events, cowardly displays of greed and short-sightedness from our elected leaders, showdowns over nuclear weapons, killings of unarmed Black men by the police, and lots of people taking selfies as the rest of the list goes on in the background? Will they be impressed or aghast at us?   Will they find any heroes in their review of our time, anyone like Martin Luther King?

These questions haunt me now in this rare moment of clarity about how quickly time flies by. At least for this moment, before something distracts me and clouds my vision, I want to make a bigger commitment to make this historical blink–our blink–a more positive one. A time for growth and for progress. I want this blink to be characterized by an increase in EMPATHY and a corresponding natural boost in Social Justice and Peace. I want it to be characterized by an awakening in our hearts and minds about the disastrous effects of our actions (and those of our ancestors) on each other and on our planet, and with that awakening a newfound conviction to live bigger and better than we ever have before.

I sincerely hope that with that awakening and conviction come heroes. It would be a shame to be a party to an era that leaves behind no heroes for the next era. It reminds me of the John Mayer lyric from his song “Speak For Me”: You can tell that something isn’t right when all your heroes are in black-and-white. I hope that for the sake of the coming generations, we can leave behind a legacy of moral progress and broadminded vision, and some genuine heroes, too.

Dr. King died 50 years ago this week. Perhaps the more staggering fact is that he was alive for only 39 years. If History blinked, it would have missed him. That’s how fast it goes. But if you do it well, as Dr. King showed us, your blink can shine forever. I want my blink–our blink–to be better. The thought of my hero inspires me to rise up and do my part to make it so.

How about you? Do you realize how quickly your era is passing and the impressions it is leaving in the greater evolutionary journey of our species? Open up your journal and contemplate this infinite topic. What is your sense of the magnitude of 50 years? Does it seem like forever to you–taking you to some foreign territory like a black-and-white film that you can’t make real in your colorful mind–or does it feel like just a little while ago? Do you think this is entirely dependent upon your age–i.e. 50 years seems like nothing for people older than 50 but feels like forever to people younger than 50–or are some people just better at comprehending our tiny spot on the vastness of History’s timeline? As a 45-year old, I grew up with color TV shows but also some after-school re-runs in black-and-white (e.g “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Three Stooges”) that I always had trouble connecting with. Do you think the switch from black-and-white to color images in photos, TV, and movies will change what seems “contemporary” to this and future generations, or will our color images seem old and unrelatable to them, too? Are your heroes from your lifetime? Has the past 50 years–the time since Dr. King–produced a proportionate number of heroes to the other historical eras? If not, what is it about our era that is lacking such that we have not produced the kind of people who are worthy of our idolatry over the long haul? It seems reasonable that with social media and the Internet, this era’s potential paragons of virtue would be easily visible and widely accessible to a broad audience, making it seem likely that we would produce an exponentially greater number of heroic figures than previous eras. Are we? What will be the legacy of our era–this blink–when people look back at it 50 years from now? Will it be all of the negative stuff we see on the news everyday–the corruption and cowardice in Washington, the shootings, the climate change–or is there something greater at play that we are missing amidst all of this narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness? Or is that very pettiness and folly going to be our legacy, the thing that sticks out to the writers of the History books? Perhaps. Now switch gears: what would you like the legacy of this era to be? How different is that than where it appears to be heading now? What could we start doing differently to get it going in the direction you want it to go? Is it a reasonable ask, or are your hope and our reality a bridge too far to cross? What can you personally do to make our era more like the one you would like it to be remembered as? Is that something you can begin today? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What lasting impression will this historical blink of an eye leave upon History?

Be your biggest,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I hope you will share it on your social media. We need to grow the conversations that make us better. Thank you!

P.S.S. If you haven’t read the Journal of YOU book yet, you can find it on Amazon or any of your other favorite online booksellers. Please leave a review if you have. Thanks!

The Best Day Of Summer

“This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” –Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

This week’s Back-To-School photos on Facebook marked the first sign of the end of my favorite season. Though I am always tickled to see all of those smiling faces looking so much older than the same photos last year, mostly I hate the accompanying thought that my precious days of Summer Bliss are almost gone.

But, since my kids don’t start until after Labor Day, I try to remain in denial. There are still a handful of “Summer things” I hope to do with them, and in my mind, there is still time to make it happen. Honestly, though, I can feel the tick-ticking of the Summer clock winding down and, with it, a rise in my panic level.

It is tough to keep the anxious thoughts at bay: Were we at the lake enough? Did we do enough new stuff? Did we see enough family? Have we had enough adventures? Did we get enough exercise? Have we done enough quintessentially Summer things, like swaying in the hammock or roasting marshmallows? Have we connected enough with Mother Nature? Have we connected enough with each other?  

But the question that intrudes most into my consciousness as my season closes is this: Did I often enough feel that combination of true Bliss and Gratitude that comes in those magical moments that cause me to note, with a smile plastered across my face, “THIS is what it’s all about!”?  

Luckily, just as the panic of that question was about to set in, I happened to stumble upon a WHOLE DAY like that last weekend, just in time to improve my grades on Summer’s report card. It is amazing how one day can transform a world!

We had driven to my sister’s family cabin late Thursday, arriving amidst a cold, howling wind in the black of a backwoods night. Hoping for a hot Summer weekend at the lake, prospects were not looking good when Friday remained dark and windy. I used the day to get my bearings, catch up with my sister, and find the most comfortable spots to read and write. It was good company and a treat to be by the water, but I longed to engage with it they way I can only do in warmth and sunshine. I was wanting.

Ah, but then Saturday came around, and I wanted no more.

I opened the bedroom door in the morning and was greeted by the most wonderful light. My sister’s cabin has wall-to-wall windows on the lake side, and that light was an almost overwhelming beauty each morning. Like stepping into a healing bath of Divine Grace. I was instantly happy and full of a Peace that would linger all the day through.

After an amazing breakfast of homemade waffles with vanilla pudding and raspberries on top—trust me, this little family recipe of my brother-in-law’s is a delight—I convinced my wife to go out on the double kayak with me. Not much of an outdoor adventurer or risk-taker by nature, my wife’s acceptance of such an invitation was a treat all by itself. And when we got out on the calm lake with nothing but blue sky above us and the pine trees towering over the little cabins on all horizons, I was blissfully in my element. They only allow motorized wakes on their lake between eleven and three, so the quiet of the morning only amplified the beauty and serenity of the scene. As we paddled around the perimeter of the little lake, I noticed my grin and the sense of abundance and contentment welling up inside me. I was already oozing gratitude.

By the time we returned from our kayak ride, the sun was just warm enough to call for a swim, and my son was waiting for me on the shore so we could go together. He did flips and tricks off my shoulders, alternating turns with his cousins jumping off me into the refreshing water. Soon it was eleven o’clock, and the kids were ready to tube. I watched and took pictures from the boat as they giggled their way around the lake at top speed. I remembered the bonds I made at their age playing with my own cousins at a different lake, and how fondly I still remember those days and those special people. I was so pleased to be passing on that priceless gift to my kids.

After lunch on the balcony overlooking the lake, I got to get back in the water to help my daughter learn how to waterski, which again brought back so many memories of my youth. Some technical difficulties caused us to abandon the job, but since I was already wet, I joined the kids on their next tube ride around the lake. Though I am probably “too old” for that sort of thing, the exhilaration of the speed—and the crash–was an unadulterated joy for my still-young heart.

Following tubing and the noise of all of the ski boats, I was relieved at the quiet of mid-afternoon. I grabbed a floaty from the boathouse and floated lazily as I watched the kids play Whiffle-ball on the beach. Then I hopped on a single kayak and paddled out to watch a little sailboat race in the middle of the lake. On such a small lake, with all of the boats parked in the middle watching the sails gliding smoothly across the water, it felt like a regular small-town gathering. So intimate and quaint. I felt completely at ease. No threats, no worries. Just peace.

Riding the serenity of my solo kayak voyage, I came ashore to find the kids eager to get back in the water. With quiet hours in full swing on the lake, they opted for “slow tubing,” a delightful little cruise around the lake, with the pontoon dragging the tube and a knee board on separate ropes. The kids dove off the tube and board at their whim and hung onto the rope as we chugged along at a snail’s pace. They were having an absolute blast as we chatted on the boat, and soon I was feeling like they were getting the better of the deal. Off came my shirt and sunglasses, and I dove in to join in the kid fun as the boat trolled on. It was fantastic—exhilarating and soothing all at once.

As we pulled into the dock, my kids asked me if I would take them out on the double kayak. Nothing would please me more, I was thinking. Off we went, and soon their cousins joined us in the middle on two kid kayaks. It was that time of day when the sun is sinking and everything is colored in the most beautiful light. There was water, the beauty of Mother Nature, and the magic of children. That is my kind of paradise!

We returned to the cabin for a sunset dinner on the veranda before strolling down to the fire pit by the beach to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Those marshmallows had been waiting too long on my Summer To-Do List, and they were heavenly!

That was all warm-up, though, for the grand finale: star-gazing! This may seem like nothing to you, but I can’t tell you how long it has been since I sat out under a clear sky at night away from the lights of a city. Years! I was absolutely mesmerized by the clarity and endlessness of it. Even better was seeing my kids get a big thrill at seeing the Big Dipper and North Star. We were thoroughly amazed by the magnificence of it all.

Though it was definitely bedtime for my body, my mind was on fire with wonder and gratitude. I hated to look away from the night sky. But as I said goodnight to the kids and lay my head down on my pillow, the visions left over in my mind from all I had basked in that day were enough to carry me smiling into dreamland.

From the moment I rose in the morning to the moment I drifted off to sleep, that day was one for the ages. There was no one thing that made it so. It definitely wasn’t some blockbuster event or moment. No, it was a million little things. It was all these perfect, can’t-stop-grinning moments in succession set in my kind of place with my kind of people. It was the small size of the lake, its restricted speed boat hours, and the resulting intimacy that made everything feel so quaint and low-key. It was the middle-of-nowhere sense of where we were, and the feeling of endless beautiful forest around us. Reinforcing that feeling was the fact that we had no cellular or Wifi service, so we were totally disconnected from the chaos and foolishness that defines America lately. It was certainly the water, which always woos me. It was the company: my wife and kids and my sister’s family, all who are very dear to me and don’t do much to push my many buttons. It was also clearly the atmosphere that my sister sets at her place, too: no set schedule or expectations for joining activities, easy meals, no obsession with neatness, just be kind and enjoy yourself. It was seeing the world of my wife and kids expand: new place, new activities, a new adventure. I always love being a part of that. It was nostalgia. And finally, it was that priceless and indescribable sense of enchantment I experience amidst certain settings or activities: the glassy water, the night sky, campfire, eating a roasted marshmallow right off the stick. These are things that fill me with the kind of tingles that I can only translate as a big thumbs-up from my soul, letting me know it is being taken care of.

Saturday felt like an entire day of those tingles. I think of it now, and this grin that cannot be wiped from my face tells me that it was surely my best day of the Summer.

How about you? What was your best day of the Summer? Open up your journal and your mind and walk yourself through those special moments. Which day was it? Does the exact date come immediately to mind? What was it about that day that makes it stand out from all the rest? Was it anchored by a big event (e.g. a concert, family reunion, vacation, or party) that defined the day, or was it quite unspectacular on the surface? Which people were involved in your best day? Are those people regulars in your list of favorite days from other seasons and years? Was it the people that made it the best day? Had you looked forward to that specific day for a long time, or did it sneak up on you like mine did? How early in the day did you know that you were a part of something special? How big of a role did the setting play? Was it a regular spot for you (e.g. your home) or somewhere new? Did food play a role? How about activity? Was it more about what you were doing or how you were feeling or being? How do you think the day rated for the other people who were involved in it? Was it fantastic for everyone, or maybe just an ordinary day for some? Did you talk about how contented or joyous you were at the time, or did you keep it to yourself? Could you create that same type of experience again, or was this a one-shot deal for which everything just fell into place perfectly? What is it about that day that you could put more of into your normal days? Does your best day make you smile just thinking about it? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What was your best day of the Summer?

Savor your moments,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s celebrate our lives!

Bury Your Head or Go Insane? Dealing with the Flood of News & Social Media

“I wonder if being sane means disregarding the chaos that is life, pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.” –Rabih Alameddine, Koolaids: The Art of War 

Hello friend,

I lost my temper on social media this week. I feel ashamed of it now as I think of the moment. Not ashamed of what I said—in fact, I wish I had said more to make my point more clear—but rather, ashamed that I let what is happening on the news and in social media cause me to boil over in rage.

I am a mellow, happy guy and have a habit of very deliberate processing with my journal that allows me to deliver measured, thoughtful responses to most issues that arise in my day. I don’t fly off the handle. My opinions may ruffle feathers, but not usually my delivery. Because I don’t lose my temper. I don’t write angry. Until Tuesday….

Probably like you, I followed the big story of last weekend—the ban on refugees and travel restrictions from certain Muslim-majority countries and its subsequent protests—on the news and through social media. The nature of the ban, as well as the criteria for selection of the nations involved in it, was deeply disturbing to me and only the latest in a long line of red flags being raised in my conscience regarding the new administration. I admit to being highly sensitive to the reputation of America internationally being dragged into the mud, and also when I feel the government does things that increase the gap between the ideals that America supposedly represents and the reality we are representing in practice. So, I was already edgy going into the new week.

After the election, I had mostly removed myself from social media until around Christmas. And though I kept tabs on the news, it was a much-needed break from the idea circus that is Facebook and the like. After the holidays, I slowly inched back onto my apps and, not surprisingly, became progressively re-addicted. I use social media as much for news as to see what my people are thinking about and doing. If I watch CNN on television or listen to NPR on the radio, then I subscribe to them on social media. So, I get a mix of real news and then my friends’ interpretation and reaction to the news (mixed in with some fun photos of their kids and their food, and an occasional cat video).

If you have been alive with your head above ground these last couple of weeks, you probably know that all is not running so smoothly in America. If you only watched reputable news channels and didn’t even know what “social media” meant, you would know that. Likewise, if you were a social media nut but didn’t care a thing about “serious” news outlets, you would also be aware of the tension that currently defines us at this point. And if, like me, you have both regular news and social media, well, you are swimming in it!

By Tuesday night, I definitely needed some goggles and a snorkel.

I had watched in horror as the Executive Orders came down. I heard the stories of people unable to return to their jobs and families here in America after visiting relatives in banned countries. I thought of the many Somali families in my own community—classmates of my children—and how they would be affected. I thought of the refugee family that my church is sponsoring—we had their apartment all set up with furniture and supplies—who was supposed to arrive this week from Somalia that is now stuck in Kenya (the mother has been in the refugee camp there for twenty years, her children never knowing any other place). That part was particularly heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, of course, I wondered about the fate of our schools as the Senate seemed about to confirm someone who seemed wholly incompetent to be in charge of them; and about the future of free speech in America as even the most neutral, even-handed news outlets are being warned and belittled by the administration; and about the environment and climate change scientists as they come under attack; and about whether our next Attorney General would actually stand on the side of the law and the Constitution; and on and on and on. There was no shortage of stories, no shortage of crises.

In the midst of all of the news and reactions Tuesday evening, as my blood pressure seemed to rise with every post, I read one from a childhood acquaintance, a long rant (her word) about how President Obama had just done this same ban on Cubans two weeks ago, and where was the liberal media then, and angrily on and on. This is when I should have checked myself, turned off all electronics for the day, and taken some deep breaths. But no. I let it make my blood boil, the effects of too much time in front of the screen taking hold. Even though her whole premise was based on a falsehood, making the argument completely unsound, I couldn’t just laugh it off. I was on the very edge of writing a reply to her and setting her straight, but I gathered my wits just enough to recognize that with some people, there is just no talking sense into them (another lesson from my short time on Facebook).

And just as I began to think I had done well in resisting a fight, I scrolled down and hit the one that sent me over the edge. It was from someone I wasn’t even sure I knew, but I think she was in my brother’s class in school. Anyway, it was a meme—of course it was a meme, it is always a meme—with a picture of the plane hitting the World Trade Center on September 11, saying something like “For all of you whining about the ban on Muslims, a little reminder for you.” I almost screamed. I was absolutely livid! I could not let it go. So, against the better judgment I had just applauded myself for a moment earlier, I clicked on the “Write a comment…” space. I typed the first thing that came out of my head (after the swearing, I mean): “Are you serious, Sheila? Perhaps we should post a picture of the KKK performing a lynching and call for a ban of all Christians.” Return. That was it.

As I sat there fuming, I thought of other things I wanted to say to her, such as “Interestingly, none of the nineteen hijackers on September 11 were from the seven countries banned by the President. They were from four other countries, all of which the President has business ties to.” And I almost hit the Comment box again, but thankfully, I found my senses again. But I didn’t let go of my outrage. I was still stewing about it late that night, tossing in my bed as I tried to sleep.

I knew it wasn’t just this one stupid meme that was tormenting me. It was all of it: the Executive Orders, the incompetence, the acrimony on both sides of the political aisle, the nonsensical responses on Facebook and Twitter, the fear that my friends feel and that I feel for them, the embarrassment on behalf of my country, the shame that I am not doing more to speak up and resist, and so much more.

I confessed my anger and my torment to my wife the next morning. I told her I was torn. On the one hand, I liked my several weeks away from social media and just a small but sufficient amount of regular news on a neutral news app. I was less stressed, riding the “Ignorance is bliss” theory. It made me think of a conservative friend of mine, whom I had spoken to just after the election and who knew I was bummed about it. She said, “I don’t even watch the news about this stuff. But at least I’m happy!”

It is hard to argue with happy. On the other hand, I don’t just want to bury my head in the sand and pretend this isn’t happening around me. As uncomfortable as it is, I think it is necessary to wrestle with that discomfort and figure out my place in its midst.

I feel like the biggest danger to us is indifference. Not caring. Not speaking up to support what our cause or idea is (or worse, not caring enough to even have an opinion). Just quietly letting it happen to us. I think of my hero Martin Luther King as he was considering his greatest obstacles to progress, well aware that it was not the Ku Klux Klan or other extremists but rather the masses of polite but silent white people allowing the violence and oppression to continue. “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

I think that appalling silence comes more frequently when we bury our heads in the sand, allowing denial to rule. It is a pleasant denial, but I am seeing now that in our most divisive moments, that pleasant denial is mostly cowardice. That conclusion doesn’t sit well with me. I think again of Dr. King, who reminded us, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of controversy and challenge.” There is a slippery kind of comfort and convenience to tuning out the world in times like now. Just turning off the news and social media. It is so, so alluring. Tragically so.

But how much is enough? That is the question that is torturing me now. I am determined to maintain my composure, to not let myself get as livid as I was on Tuesday night after too many hours of accumulating news stories and social media opinions. But I want to know the truth about the world, too. I want all the facts. I know I will be outraged by some, and I think it is probably time that more of us were outraged and moved to action by events in our world. But under control! I am not going to lose my temper. I am going to channel it the right way. But not in denial!

ARGH!!! This is hard! What is the right balance of intake versus processing, of reality versus sanity? That was my question to my wife.

Her suggestion: “Just pick one time per day—I think morning is best—to do a quick look at social media. Then, if you still want a regular news show, listen to something neutral, like NPR. But nothing more. Quick and done! Otherwise, you are sucked in!” That seems wise.

I have been attempting to follow her advice the last few days, mostly successfully. I sometimes, out of sheer habit, unconsciously turn on my phone, open Facebook, and start thumbing through. But then I catch myself and turn it off. I am just trying to be more conscious about it, to give myself permission to look only at a certain time of day for only a certain number of minutes. It is hard to resist, but I can tell my spirit is getting stronger for it. Not in denial, either. Facing reality, but not swimming in the rot. It is a delicate balance that I will no doubt be wrestling with for all of my days to come.

How about you? How do you balance denial with peace and sanity in these tumultuous times? Open up your journal and examine your level of engagement. This goes for everyone on every side of the political spectrum, and even those completely off the political spectrum who are simply trying to decide how much news of any sort they want to take in. Let’s start with your current habits. What are your news sources? Do you watch your local news? Cable news? Do you use news apps or subscribe to news pages on social media? If so, do you tend to choose more neutral sources or ones that skew toward your particular side of the spectrum? Do you read a lot of the “news” things that your friends on social media share? How about the radio, like NPR? How much time do you spend with each on a daily basis? How much time do you spend on social media in general? For both news and social media stuff, do you try to regulate the amount of time you spend per day? Are you addicted? How healthy is your relationship with all of this stuff? Does it ever feel like it is going to drive you crazy? Do you get angry? Is your anger and frustration more from the news in general, like the political strife or violence that always seem to lead the headlines, or from particular things that your friends share, like memes or rants? Do you comment and engage people you disagree with, even if you know it won’t change their mind? Does that make you feel better or worse? Have you found the right balance for yourself with the amount of time and energy you can devote to this stuff and still feel authentic and at peace? Are you more on the “Burying My Head & Smiling” side or the “I’m So Engaged I’m Going Crazy” side? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the right balance of news and sanity for you?

May Peace be always with you,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you take a fresh look at this and find some clarity, please share. Perhaps together we can find a way to be both sane and engaged. Cheers!

AAAAAAAAARRRGGHH!!!!!! What Stresses You Out?

DSC_0036“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” –Reinhold Niebuhr, The Serenity Prayer

Hello friend,

I had a major personal victory this week. I had an important morning work meeting in a distant part of town, and I had to drop my daughter off at camp on the way. She is in a very close race with her brother for the title of “World’s Biggest Slowpoke,” so I was fairly relieved to turn on the car and see that we were only a few minutes behind the time I planned to leave. I figured that if traffic were at all reasonable, I would make my meeting on-time. On-time is very important to me, as I cannot stand to waste other people’s time or disrupt the flow of an event that started without me. I find tardiness not only unprofessional but also rude, and I do NOT want to be that guy.

Anyway, there we were, making pretty good time as we pulled into the parking lot at camp and started getting out of the car. “Where’s your backpack?” I asked. “Er….,” she mumbled as her eyes scanned the car. “Oops,” she said apologetically as my heart sank. Immediately after the sinking, the same heart exploded with adrenaline upon my realization that I was going to be late for my meeting.

Here was my moment of truth. Was I going to go my usual route and have a near-heart attack for the next 30-45 minutes as I allowed my lateness to consume me, panicking right up to the moment I arrived at my meeting and affected by it long after? Or, was this time going to be different?

I won’t bore you with the details, but I am so pleased—and surprised, frankly—to report that I did not let the stress win this time. For whatever reason, I accepted the circumstances and simply did my best. I was magnificently calm, and wow, what a difference! It was amazing. And totally new.

Lateness is one of the few things that consistently stresses me out. What else does? Money does—or rather the spending of money—which is why I try to not think about it (or spend it) very often. Uncertainty about my future employment and how I will make that all work around caring for my kids is another thing that brings me stress when I think about it. That’s another one that, most of the time anyway, I just have to choose to not think about.

I can thankfully say that I am not a big worrier and am quite optimistic about the future. It is only if you shove a situation in my face—like being late or an unforeseen major expense, such as a car or appliance breakdown (or last year’s garage door adventure)—that I stress about the present circumstances. If you make me think about my next job, you can stress me. But I generally have control over that.

Basically, if I stay present, I am mostly cool. It is only since I have taken on a family that I have taken on the financial stress, though admittedly I have never liked to spend money. Same with the stress about the future: I never had it until I had others that I was responsible for.

Lateness stress? Well, I think maybe I am just hardwired for that. I remember one day in seventh grade when my Dad was driving me and my brother to school across town. When we were most of the way there, my brother remembered that he had forgotten something at home. The moment my old man turned the car around, my heart began pounding out of my chest. We were guaranteed to be late. I was completely stressed out, trying to calculate in my racing brain how many miles per hour we were averaging to figure out what time we would make it. My blood pressure was off the charts!

When I think about it now, though, I don’t know if that was my aversion to disrespecting someone’s time—as it is today—as much as it was a fear of getting into trouble, which is another way to stress me out, it now occurs to me. I was always so tense around authority figures—school principals, police officers, etc.—when I was a kid, sure that they were about to bust me (even though I was very much a rule-follower). I think I am past that now, though I suppose that was the origin of my stress around tardiness.

Whether that remains or not, or if it is just about courtesy and respect, it still tenses me into a ball to be running late. Of course, having children—particularly my two slowpokes and their many scheduled activities—is a wonderful test of that quality! That is plenty for me. Working with someone who is tense all the time has shown me how miserable it would be to carry around that much stress.

I am going to do my best to keep my mind right and deal peacefully with what arises. I am so grateful to have my journal to help me to work through my stressors and find my way to clarity and serenity. It has helped me this week as I have processed my own thoughts about stress for this letter, as well as the actual stress of the deadline to get it to the screen in front of you now.

One of the issues that has arisen for me in thinking about stress is whether I am simply in denial about some important issues, burying my head in the sand in order to maintain a peace that would be better off being shaken up by addressing these issues. As I mentioned, I stress about money and the future if you make me think about it. If you don’t, I don’t. Is that a healthy or unhealthy denial? Of course, I want to say it is healthy. In this light, stress management is simply a matter of what you focus on.

The more I stew on it, though (as I write these words), the more I am coming to believe that managing my stress and eliminating stressors from my mind is about embracing what I can control and not giving my energy to the things I cannot.

At the moment, the amount of money that comes into my house and what will happen in my future career are not really in my hands—out of my control. So, although I can take steps to work toward a bigger bank account or better career opportunities, to actually spend energy on worrying about them beyond that is pure folly, not to mention the recipe for stress. (A-HA Moment: Maybe what I thought was denial is really a natural wisdom I didn’t know I possessed.)  

The same applies for my “Lateness Stress.” When I am already late, what can I really do about it? Nothing! So, to panic about it all the way there is a giant waste of my energy. I learned that this week when I talked myself into a peaceful drive to a meeting I would arrive late to. Instead of being miserable for 40 minutes from the moment the writing was on the wall, I chose to focus on the moment and what I could control. It became a truly enjoyable and relaxing drive, windows open with the Summer wind caressing my skin and me enjoying a rare drive in solitude. All because I let go of what I could no longer control. Imagine that!

Can I do it again? Can I make it a habit? Well, that remains to be seen. But I have a model now. There is proof that it is possible! And it felt so good, so it seems like a worthwhile endeavor. I sure could use less stress in my world.

How about you? What are you stressing about? Open up your journal and explore the things that weigh you down. What are your biggest burdens? Are you one of the lucky ones who don’t fret about money, whether you have it or not? How much stress do you feel at work? Is it just the nature of your profession, or is there something about your particular workplace (or yourself) that makes it that way? Do you carry work stress home with you? Do you need to? Do you stress about your future, whether it is related to career, health, relationships, or something else? Are these things you have some control over right now? Are you doing something about them? How much does your standard level of Optimism/Pessimism dictate your stress level? Would you like to be more optimistic? Which things that you stress about would you be better off simply ignoring? Do you seem to like having something to worry about? Do you know anyone who is consumed by stress? Do you enjoy their company? When interacting with them, do you find yourself becoming more stressed (or more negative), too? Which of your stressors have you always had and seem to come by naturally? Which have you developed more recently? How much of your stress is controllable? Is stress just a matter of what you give your energy to? Is it more about the Serenity Prayer idea: focusing only on what you can control? How complicated is this riddle? Leave me a reply and let me know: What stresses you out?

I wish you peace,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you to look at your life and your point-of-view in a new way, pass it on. Let’s help others to lighten their loads. Peace is a gift to be shared.

The One-Day Challenge: A Trial Run at Being Your Best

DSC_0556“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you’d like to act.” –Bob Dylan

Hello friend,

A lifetime ago—or so it feels—I was an actor. I took some classes in which I would perform scenes from plays or movies for my teacher and classmates: one day I was a troubled teenager, the next day Hamlet, then a nitwit soldier, a stuffy artist, an insecure thespian, and on and on. It was fantastic! I got a wonderful charge out of stepping outside of myself for a moment and trying on someone else’s personality. It was enormously liberating. It was also very educational. I learned a lot about how it felt to have characteristics that I don’t really have, or at least that aren’t dominant in my personality. And even though some of those traits may have rubbed off on me a bit and leaked into my daily life temporarily after the play or class was finished, without repetition over the long haul, it became clear that this this tiger doesn’t change his stripes too easily.

Over the last week or so, I have been reading two books that have me quite captivated and, I dare say, feeling an urge to make a change. The first book is my fourth journal, written in late 1997 and early 1998. The dates that I have been reading lately cover a sort of spiritual zenith for me, a time of extreme bliss and near-communion with the Divine. I was in a zone of amazing peace, and reading about it now is a real education for me. The other book, which I am about halfway through, is Roland Merullo’s Dinner With Buddha. The story takes us on a roadtrip across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains with a Buddhist master and his brother-in-law, a middle-aged New Yorker who narrates the journey and shares the insights he gains as he tiptoes between the two worlds of his own jaded, worrying nature and the peaceful, present-centered nature of his companion. I am fascinated by the way the narrator envies the mind of the master and how he battles with his own natural cynicism about the world, pondering whether he could actually achieve such mindfulness himself. I have had my own longings in this direction over the years, so it resonates deeply with me.

So, what does my acting experience have to do with my blissful, 25-year-old self and roadtripping with a Buddhist master? Answer: they remind me that there is always a chance to try to be something different today than I was yesterday. Something better. Little habits of the mind—thought patterns—could shift and, in the process, change my entire life.

After all, as happy as I am now, I am well aware that I could be much more so. I don’t have to look beyond my own history for a good example. I look back to those days of my fourth journal, and I see a guy whose mind was beautiful. I was in such a state of Peace and Gratitude. I can see from the daily entries that it was about the lenses that I viewed the world through—my thought habits—and the little things that I did. I certainly wasn’t doing anything cool and exciting that an outsider might take notice of and copy. Quite the opposite: it was an extremely simple, uneventful existence.

There are, no doubt a few more complications in my life these days—a wife, kids, bills, etc.—compared to those fourth journal days. I cannot just set those aside. There are also no acting classes or plays that give me a free pass to escape myself and pretend I am the guy who has it all together and knows that same deep Peace I once knew.

There are, however, the lessons from both of those eras, if only I am open to them. And there are books, like Dinner With Buddha, that serve to remind me that there is always an opportunity to learn, to kick old habits, to think a little differently, to transform myself into a better me.

These books and memories have stirred me up. They have me thinking I need to make some changes. I want to feel more of those better parts of me. I want to know that deeper connection to the Divine again, to feel that sublime Peace more frequently.

But, since my life is hectic, and since I have come to better recognize the pitfalls of committing 100% to huge lifestyle changes all at once, I have come up with something more modest. I figure if I can just dip my toe into the deep current of self-improvement rather than diving in headfirst, maybe I would be more likely to feel some success and thus stick with it longer. Success breeds conviction, right? So, instead of signing up for a 30-day yoga course or committing to reading all of my books on spirituality again, I am going the other way.

I am calling it “The One-Day Challenge.” Catchy, eh? The idea is to act like your best self—and think like it—for an entire day. It doesn’t mean you have to apply for medical school or announce you are quitting your job—or even go skydiving or knocking off some major bucket list items—but just take on the mindset and the manners of the version of you that you long to be.

For me, I suppose that would mean being more quick to offer a smile to the people I pass (e.g. at the gym) and more willing to strike up a conversation with an intriguing stranger. I am usually so short and eyes down that I squash any interaction before it has a chance to develop. I know that I miss out because of that. I might also send a few personal notes of greeting or encouragement to loved ones. I am terrible at keeping in touch—this year more than ever, it seems—and it would make me feel better to shore up the most important ties that bind. I would also be a little more openly kind and attentive to my wife, who often gets the short end of my focus in favor of the kids.

But mostly–and this comes straight from the two books I have been reading—I would just try to stay completely in the moment. I would give up worrying about the future, especially tying my emotions to it. If I have to do some planning (e.g. at work), I will do it without getting stressed out about what might come. Staying present, taking my time, enjoying my company, breathing—those are the key elements to my success at The One-Day Challenge. If I could combine them with being more open and affectionate, sprinkling on a touch of bravery, my recipe would be complete.

Of course, I would like to say I am committing to being all of that every day at full capacity forever, but that would doom me to failure. But how about for a day? I could start with that. It is realistic. And who knows where it might lead? I am game! Improvement is not such a bad thing to aim for. I have certainly had less productive challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to try, and grateful for the benefits that will undoubtedly stem from the attempt. It’s all good to me!

How about you? Are you up for The One-Day Challenge? Open up your journal and knock around some ideas that you might aim at for one focused day. How does the “Better You” think compared to how you normally think now? Is the Better You more kind? More patient? More focused? More generous with praise? More (or less) ambitious? More playful? More present? More honest? More open? More loving? More forgiving? More optimistic? What else? All of these characteristics might sound appealing in theory, but how many of them could you reasonably shoot for in your One-Day Challenge? One or two, maybe? Even though I tend to get greedy and want to improve in all of these areas at once, if I am being honest with myself, I think just trying to be completely present for a whole day would be more than enough of a challenge for me. And really, that one task might just take care of most of the others without even thinking about them. That is how valuable mindfulness is to me. What is your big one? Are you like me and had a pretty good grasp of it once but then let it slip away, or have you never had the thing you are aiming for? Are there so many things on your list that you could easily pick one per day and do, say, ten One-Day Challenges? That might be kind of fun! You could really try to see which ones stick and which continue to be elusive. Do you believe a person can change her life by changing her mind? Do you believe YOU can do it? Do you want to? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you up for The One-Day Challenge?

Claim your power,

William

P.S. If you think there might be something to this challenge, share it with a friend. Challenges are usually better with a support system, whether that is a cheerleader or someone who is willing to do it alongside you. Good luck and blessed be.

How Will You Judge Your Life When You Turn 80?

DSC_0175“It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you know you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.” –Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

 Hello friend,

This weekend we are celebrating my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. Her big day was a few weeks ago, but you know, you gather when you can. I am a chronicler, of course, so I am inclined to get something in the books. And hey, 80 is big, so let’s mark it! To get her to talk about her past, however, much less to assess her life and open up about how she feels about it all, is like pulling teeth. When we record the kids singing her “Happy Birthday” (or celebrating other occasions), I often then aim the camera at her and ask her how she feels about turning 80 or if she has any thoughts about her life to this point, anything she would like to say to commemorate the occasion. “NO!”  Every darn time!

As a guy who assesses his life on a daily basis and enjoys sharing his thoughts about most anything–but particularly about the life I have been given—I have such a hard time understanding her guarded mentality. I will be that old guy who annoys every grandkid and nursing home assistant whose turn it is to humor me, talking their ear off about my memories and any nuggets of wisdom I may have gained along the way.

Still, thinking about my mother-in-law turning 80 has me in a pondering mood. And since she won’t let me in about how this late milestone is playing on her heart and mind, I have done a mental transfer instead. I started imagining about how I will feel turning 80, how I will assess my life up to that signature year.

I am more than halfway there already and have a lot of habits and tendencies that have made well-worn paths in my mind. How much can I expect to change about my essence between now and 80? Are the final chapters of my story already easy to read? Or, perhaps, have I just wiped the slate clean? Maybe I can surprise even myself. I hope to keep it interesting, of course, but I can probably make a few educated guesses based on the current course. After all, I have been studying this subject pretty closely for a few years now!

The part of my vision of myself at 80 that gives me the most comfort is that I believe I will still be extremely happy. I am on a run right now of a solid 19 years of deep happiness. Many circumstances have changed during that time—and I fully admit to being blessed with a healthy family and a life of good luck—but the one thing that has not been threatened is my happiness and gratitude for my life. I am planning for that to stick with me until the end of the ride.

I am also quite sure I will still be writing—a big part of what keeps me happy—still trying to understand myself and my relationship to the Universe a little better. I will still be in love with books and the life of the mind, striving to learn and grow every day. I want to think I will still be up for adventures and new experiences. I will be doing my best to leave a positive impression on the world. I know I will cherish whatever family moments I have, perhaps even with grandkids if I am so blessed. These are the things I am most sure about my 80-year-old self.

The one thing I wish I were more certain of at that age is my degree of contentment and satisfaction with myself and my journey. I would like some measure of peace about my run, some feeling of acceptance of the life I have been given and what I did with it. I know that at 43, I am extremely dissatisfied with my achievements and contributions to the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like who I am. I can acknowledge some good qualities in myself and appreciate the man I have become. But to pass the test—graded by myself, of course—I will need to DO more good and maximize the potential of my gifts, not just be a good guy on the inside. There is a big difference there.

I imagine myself being dragged kicking and screaming to my death, begging for more time to accomplish more, give more, learn more. I want to think that by age 80, I will have done most of the things I plan to do—like publish books and share the wonders of this great world with my kids—and will not be so desperate to finish the job, pleading for a bigger share of the pie, a few more hugs or walks on the beach or hours to create.

If I am to arrive at 80 with peace and acceptance, there is a lot of work to do! I will die doing my best. That much I know. Maybe that is all there is. I will try to make peace with the process, too, not just the end result. What a challenge!

I am grateful to be alive in this moment, grateful for my chance to live my purpose and know the wonderful joys of existence. I look into my daughter’s eyes as I write this to you and think, “Oh, how I would miss this! Thank God for this great chance called ‘my life’.” I will savor it now and for however many more tomorrows may come.

How about you? How do you think you will judge your life when you reach 80? Open up your journal and your imagination. How is 80-year-old you feeling about yourself? What do you believe are the biggest factors that will determine that feeling? Companionship? Close family relationships? Career success? Financial security? Health? Evidence of a lasting legacy? Faith/connection with the Divine? Belief that you have lived authentically and with integrity? Completing your bucket list items? When you get to age 80, how willing and eager will you be to share your story and the lessons that life has taught you? Compared to how you are now, how much do you think your personality and outlook will change by the time you hit 80? Will you be more or less content? More or less happy? More or less satisfied with the impact you have made? More or less optimistic for the future of the world? If you could jump ahead and ask your 80-year-old self anything, what would you ask? What advice do you think 80-year-old you would give you about your life right now? Are you taking that advice? When you picture yourself that many years down the road, how much ground do you have to make up between now and then to become as satisfied and at peace with your life as you would like to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How contented will you be with your existence at age 80?

 Eat the dessert,

William

P.S. If this letter was helpful to you, please pass it on. It is not too late for any of us to change for the better.

Sleeping With The Enemy?

DSC_0541“Because the difference between a friend and a real friend is that you and the real friend come from the same territory, of the same place deep inside you, and that means you see the world in the same kind of way. You know each other even before you do.” –Laura Pritchett, Sky Bridge

Hello friend,

Do you know who Mary Matalin and James Carville are? Even if the names don’t ring a bell, if you have watched a political show in the last 30 years or so, you have probably seen one of the two as a guest commentator defending their political party and/or bashing the other party. Mary has been a top Republican operative and advisor to President Reagan and both Presidents Bush. James, meanwhile, has been a leading Democratic strategist and frequent ridiculer of all things Republican. They have been against each other in elections going back to the first Bush vs. Clinton in 1992. Their views, seemingly, could not be more opposite. They are like oil and water. So, what binds them? They are married! Yes, married. What? How does that even happen? More importantly, can it survive?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about relationships and how people with very different outlooks can co-exist. Well, it is more than co-exist; we all should be able to do that. I’m thinking more about people who are married, people who are the best of friends, who talk about everything. How could they be true to their beliefs—and openly speak about them with their spouses—without stirring up an absolute firestorm in their own home?

We all figure out a way to get through our days more or less peacefully with our neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances. That way is called denial, a.k.a. compartmentalization. Simply put, we choose to not address the topics that might make us dislike each other. Everybody knows the old adage that the two topics that are off-limits at dinner parties (or most anywhere else) are religion and politics. It’s really just an energy-saving strategy. After all, life would be a constant challenge—even more than it already is—if we had a beef with just about everybody we crossed paths with in our day.

You don’t want to know that Sally from across the street would condemn you to rot with Satan for eternity because you are pro-choice, and you don’t want to know that Jim in the next cubicle thinks that all Muslims are terrorists. They, meanwhile, would rather not know that you voted for marriage equality and stricter gun laws. They don’t want to know because they actually like you in your current, bland package. They think you are a swell neighbor and co-worker because you regularly return Sally’s dog when it runs away, and you cover for Jim when he is late. If they knew what you believed and you knew what they believed—and worse, if you continued to talk about it the way we talk about sports or the weather—the everyday, friendly banter would soon disappear. Tension and arguments would become the norm. The neighborhood and the workplace would lose their welcoming feel. So, we avoid those topics. We deny in order to keep the peace. It is simple self-preservation.

But what about at home? What about when we are hanging with our very best friends? How about just with our spouse, the one who has sworn to love us for better or for worse? Can we finally be honest about our beliefs then, or are we still forced into silence to keep the peace? Surely we are free to speak our Truth at home to a welcoming, supportive audience. Right?

What do couples do who hold polar opposite viewpoints on key political or religious matters? How do Mary Matalin and James Carville thrive and fully support each other in their marriage when their politics are so different? Aren’t politics basically an outward expression of one’s values and beliefs? And if so, how can people with such different politics be each other’s best friend and biggest fan? I am having a hard time seeing how it works. I honestly don’t think I could do it.

This issue exposes one of my biggest flaws as a human being. I am oversensitive to the point of being unable to stomach being around people whose views differ too widely from mine. I don’t tolerate disagreement well at all. I just don’t get over it. I don’t move on. When someone’s character traits or values reveal themselves to me in a negative way—whether through treating me poorly or a conversation that goes political—I shut down in a hurry. It is as though my hypersensitive system does not allow that kind of energy in its space; it’s like an allergic reaction. It happens both with people and situations. As soon as something doesn’t sit well with me, I must remove myself immediately.

It’s a strange dichotomy, too: as open-minded and accepting as I am philosophically, my heart and my sensibilities have very strict boundaries. They do not like to be violated. Not at all, I mean. It is as though my feelings are hurt by the shallowness, foolishness, and coldness of others, even when those things are not directed at me. Because of this, political and religious discussions are dangerous for me. I have very liberal positions politically. I am passionate about them, too, and have, with the help of my journal, thought through them very deeply. So, I feel like my positions are well-grounded (I have written to you before about how bad I am at compromise and how I always believe I am right, which does not exactly help my cause here). But, as everyone knows, most of the people in this country—not to mention in my family, my neighborhood, and my place of business—are not very liberal. If I chose to engage all of the people in my little world in religious and political conversations, I would soon be a raw nerve of isolation, disappointment, and hurt feelings. I would be a mess!

So, what do I do? I keep my opinions to myself in most public situations: with co-workers, most friends, and even family. I politely insert my views where I can without stirring up the hornet’s nest too much. I write to you. And I talk to my wife. Yes, my outlet for thoughts of the political and religious nature, the ones that reveal what moves me and what I am all about.

It is both sad and scary that I have but one true outlet—one human outlet, anyway—for the real me (probably a topic to unravel in a later post). But at least I have my wife. I can’t imagine not having her to share that with, to have someone. Well, no, check that. As I write that, I realize that that is not the point. It is not about having someone—I went many years with only my journal knowing my true values, and I was perfectly happy—but rather about the fact that when I did agree to make a life with someone, that I could let the guard down and know that we could have peace without all of the denial and compartmentalization. A peace without the cowardice and pretense that cheapens the rest of my peaceful relationships. A peace whose foundation is Truth from both parties.

James Carville and Mary Matalin swear that they don’t talk politics at home. I still don’t know how they pull off a marriage without that. As I said, I know it shows weakness on my part that I don’t co-exist well with people who don’t see eye-to-eye with me on things that matter most. I am not proud of my intolerance or my hypersensitivity. But I know myself. I know that–especially since I never wanted to marry and wouldn’t wish me and my issues upon anyone—if I am going to be a husband, it has to be to a partner who shares my values and understands where I am coming from politically, and gives space and respect to where I am coming from spiritually. Thank Goodness I picked a good one!

How about you? How honest can you be with the person closest to you? Open up your journal and take a look at that relationship. Who is that person? Spouse? Best friend? Sibling? Parent? When it comes to the tough topics of politics and religion, how much of who you are can you share with them? Are there topics—e.g. abortion, marriage equality, President Obama, the afterlife—that you know you must steer clear of in order to keep the peace between you? What makes these topics so toxic? Are you, unlike me, good at having disagreements about these types of issues but still keeping a very positive opinion about the other person? How much of a filter do you need in order to keep your romantic relationship peaceful and happy? How does that compare to previous relationships? How does it compare to the relationship with your non-romantic best friend? Which relationship is more honest? If you were very liberal and somehow fell madly in love with someone, only to later learn that they were extremely conservative (or the other way around, whichever is easiest on your imagination), do you think your relationship could survive, or is that just a time bomb waiting to explode? Think about all of the denial and compartmentalization you do with the people in your life—neighbors, co-workers, and family—and all of the things you completely avoid talking about. It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it? What do you think would happen if we all spent a week without our filters on—still polite, but open and honest about all sorts of topics that now go unmentioned? Would it be refreshing or too damaging for the long-term peace in your little world? What would you like to talk more about with your loved ones? What would it take to get you to bring it up? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: Could you live happily ever after with someone whose values and beliefs were quite different than yours?

 Trust in your value,

William

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

A Moment of Beautiful Clarity

DSC_0055“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” –Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Hello friend,

Have you ever had that one little moment when it hits you how absolutely wonderful your life is? It comes like a tidal wave of gratitude in one visual image. Time stops, your heart swells, and in that magic moment you are completely intertwined with the Universe—and you know it.

It happened to me the other day. I was out for a walk around the block with my wife and kids on a placid early evening. Well, to be precise, the adults were walking, and the kids were roaring around on their Big Wheels (perhaps the greatest instrument of fun ever invented!). We turned the corner into the home stretch, and the kids charged ahead, pedaling feverishly in all their youthful glory. My wife was several steps ahead of me, striding briskly in a futile attempt to catch up to them as they made it toward home.

There it was: my life, right in front of my eyes. It was my street, my comfortable neighborhood, and my kind of evening in my favorite season. Here were these three people who I love more than anything, full of health and vitality, going happily before me.

“And for a moment, everything was perfect,” says the narrator (a la “Tangled”).

That wave of gratitude and wonder swept over me. I knew I was living the dream. “This is what it’s all about,” I said aloud. The tingle I felt in my soul as the words came out told me that I had just spoken the Truth, which felt amazing in its own right. So, with the most serene, ear-to-ear grin on my face, I nodded my approval and said softly, “Yeah, this is what it’s all about………….Thanks, God.” 

It was a transcendent moment, yet also small and plainly intimate. For that moment, the curtain was pulled back, and I got an up-close-and-personal look at the sheer, unadulterated Beauty that is my world. Stripped away were the worries and stresses about finances or schedules or someone misbehaving or my next career move. It was simply a moment in its purest form.

I used to think theoretically about being in the moment, especially as it pertained to people having problems and stresses. I pictured them sitting down on a park bench, and I said, “In this moment, unless you have hemorrhoids hurting your rear end, you don’t have a problem in the world. All of that stuff that you are holding onto about yesterday and all of those worries you have been feeling about your future—they are irrelevant in this moment. In this moment, with the sun on your face and fresh air in your lungs, everything is just fine. Do you choose to be present, to see it that way?”

In that moment, when I seemed to feel so intimate with the Mystery, it was as though that was not me but God herself nodding affirmatively and whispering, “Yeah, this is what it’s all about.” I wish I could bottle that moment, that feeling. It was nothing short of magical. Encapsulated Bliss. Even remembering it now leaves me in a state of deep Peace and Gratitude. This is how I can say with such complete conviction: Life is beautiful.

How about you? Have you had that magical moment? Open your journal and write about it. Describe the scene. What kind of a day was it? Who was with you, if anyone? Did you feel, like me, that moment of calm, almost as though time was standing still and the outside noises were muted while the Divine whispered in your ear? Were you able to pause in that moment and recognize it for what it was? For me, the best way to describe the feeling would be an overwhelming sense of Gratitude. Is that the word that best matches your moment? Have you had this special feeling more than once? If so, is there a common thread running through your moments? Mine is family. I can tell you that you are very lucky if you are overwhelmed like this frequently. You must be doing something right. Leave me a reply and let me know what your secret is. I want to know: Has the beauty of your life ever crystallized in a single moment?

Be present to the miracle that is Now,

William