Tag Archives: God

Adventure, Relaxation, or Option C: What Do You Want From Vacation?

“Resurrection, rebirth, reincarnation, resprout, revive! All these words can be summarized only in one word: Vacation!” –Mehmet Murat Ildan

Hello friend,

This has been such a fun week to live in my imagination! I am oozing fantasies and positive vibes. My happiness hormones are in overdrive from so many visions of Mother Nature in all her glory, and me basking in it.

This flood of daydreams and smiles comes courtesy of the perfect storm of circumstances. First, I am just a few days away from my long-awaited, much-anticipated Spring Break trip to the white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Florida, so my mind can’t help but go there any chance it gets. And second, this week I also found my way to the Montana Tourism website to begin the storyboarding for what will be my best Summer adventure in nearly two decades: a family roadtrip to my favorite state and the mountains that sing to my soul. I feel like I have been given some wonderful hallucinogenic drugs that fill my mind with an endless stream of delightful images of me and my family frolicking in these dual Paradises. Flashes of majestic peaks and mountain goats feeding along clear streams alternate with vivid jolts of the shimmering ocean at sunset and silhouetted dolphins at play in the eternal surf. It is simultaneously the most soul-stirring and most serene interplay of imagery, and I am absolutely tickled to have a ticket to the show. I am flying high.

As I watch my mind with that third eye that sees from above the scene, I cannot help but be fascinated by the way these two very different vacations are both exciting me and soothing me. After all, one is a very passive, chill-on-the-beach-and-watch-the-water trip, while the other is a more active, hike-in-the-mountains-and-be-explorers adventure. Somehow, as the alternating images flood my mind and light up my soul, I get the same sense that each vacation will have me communing with my brand of God, served in very different ways but feeling the same in the end.

Maybe it is the places themselves and the sense of me being exactly in my element in the ocean and in the mountain forests. I realize that if you asked me, should I die today, where would I like you to toss my ashes, I would probably give you answers that described my two vacations for the year: Avalanche Lake in the mountains of Glacier National Park (Montana) or somewhere in the shimmering blue waters of the ocean. Those places make my soul feel at home.

But does that make them ideal vacation destinations? It certainly makes them nice places for me to visit when I get a chance, but if you forced me to answer which of those two types of vacations I would choose, which would I go for? Or would I, perhaps, go a different route altogether, choosing a trip that fulfills some other need that my regular lifestyle doesn’t provide?

Why do we go on vacation, anyway?

At first blush, I am tempted to lump people into two main categories: Relaxers and Doers. I have had many occasions to talk vacations through the years with people in relationships, and it seems to often be the case that one spouse doesn’t consider it a vacation unless their butt has been in the sand and several books have been read, while their mate goes crazy after a morning sitting around on the beach and would much rather be on a ski trip. Perhaps they compromise by alternating years between the beach and the mountain, or one spouse sits on the beach while the other goes on excursions from the resort every day: snorkeling or deep see fishing or parasailing or jet skiing. The Relaxers and the Doers are different breeds, indeed.

But are they the only breeds? Have I covered it all right there when it comes to vacationers? I think of the different trips I have taken over the years, alone or with others, and I realize that there are all sorts of different things, at least superficially, to get out of a vacation.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I spent a few months wandering around Europe. I wanted to learn about everything: the people, the history, the architecture, the vibe. It was definitely more of a Doer thing, as I was lugging a big backpack and walked hundreds of miles. But it wasn’t like a ski trip–not that kind of doing. Because, while it was physically taxing, it was certainly more of a mental and spiritual journey for me. I was a Learner, or perhaps an Explorer. Trips to the many museums and monuments in Washington, DC, I suppose, fall into that category. It is about growing your mind, expanding your view of the world. I would like more of these vacations at some point, especially to the other continents that I have yet to visit.

Some folks are Event people. They use their vacation days for trips to concerts or sporting events, maybe Broadway shows. Although I can’t see this as a regular thing for me, I have always wanted to go to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York and Wimbledon in London. A variation on the Event crowd is the Theme Park set. Many parents I talk to try to make it sound it like it is my parental obligation to my children to take them to Disney World at least once in their young lives. I call Nonsense on that one. Not that I think it wouldn’t be fun–it would–but I also cannot imagine a more draining vacation than this. I would need a few days alone on an empty beach to recover.

One vacation that would be exhausting but rewarding is a Service trip. There are people in need in all parts of the world, and what a way to combine doing some good with expanding your empathy and worldview. That would suit me well.

What else do the Relaxers do besides the beach? Maybe a health spa (perhaps one at the ski resort where their spouse is being a Doer). Some people who camp go to their campground just to chill out and enjoy being outside. In Minnesota, where I live, tons of people “go to the lake,” some to do active things but others just to sit and relax. There is something undeniably soothing about the water. I don’t blame them, and I jump on my opportunities to be a lake Relaxer each Summer.

But as much water, sand, and lounge chair space as there is available in the world, it definitely feels like the Doers get the better deal when it comes to vacation options. The entire planet is here for them to explore and play in! I have a friend who exemplifies this. He meets up with buddies at beautiful destinations for golf vacations, tennis vacations, hunting trips, fishing trips, and photo safaris. Then, with his family, go goes on ski and snowboard vacations, roadtrips across the land to hiking/exploring spots, and active beach vacations. What is left: spelunking and scaling Mt. Everest?

Whatever can be dreamt of, can be done (or, in the case of Relaxers, not done) on a vacation. The variety is amazing!

On the surface, it appears that we must be going on these very different vacations for very different reasons, each of us with some unique itch to scratch. The adrenaline junkie zip-lining through the rain forest cannot possibly be after the same thing as the religious pilgrim. The needs of the museum goer are obviously different than those of the theme park goer. Surely the skier’s itch is altogether different from the beach lounger’s.

Or is it?

When I think about my two very distinct vacations this year–both of which have me giddy with anticipation–the feeling that comes over me is one of absolute connection with my soul, a state of deep peace that comes with restoring my sense of balance and harmony in my life, filling in the places that are too much neglected in my normal routine. In different ways, each vacation will lead me back to my truest self. Each will make me feel whole.

I am beginning to believe, just now as I write these words, that this restoration, this reharmonization (I am making that word up) of the soul, is what all well-chosen vacations are truly about. We go to tickle or massage all of those needs that go unmet in our regular routines. Our particular untended fields look different in the landscape of our souls–the itches are indeed unique and require quite specialized scratching–but in the end, we vacation to give those fields the love and care that they have been missing. Even when we return exhausted and in need of a few “vacation” days to recover from vacation and before resuming our personal versions of ordinary, everyone who has had a great vacation has some deeper peace about them, that feeling of relief and contentment that comes immediately upon scratching an itch. All is well in the world, even if only temporarily. It is why I think vacations are a good eye-opener about the error in our ways, reminders of the elements of our souls that we need to take better care of in our everyday lives.

So I will go to the ocean next week and to the mountains this Summer. I will go to “have fun” and “relax” and “sightsee” and all that other good stuff. But what I will really go to do is take care of my soul, to fill in the voids that I have gradually created by neglecting essential pieces of me. There are messages in the vast magnificence of the blue water, the high mountains, and the big sky–divine messages–that speak to me in a language that my soul knows as its native tongue. These messages aren’t in my day-to-day, and I feel that in ways that are subtle some days and not-so-subtle other days. And so I vacation. And in that vacation, I find my way back home.

How about you? What do you hope to get from your vacation? Open up your journal and write about the way you spend your time away from your “real life.” What type of vacations have you taken most recently? Can you place them into neat categories like Relaxation or City Touristing or Physical Adventure? Were these trips your preference or did you go along on someone else’s desires? What did you get out of them? Was that what you were looking for? Did you get the sense that it was “just what the doctor ordered,” or were you unfulfilled, perhaps anxious, afterward? If it was somehow soothing to your soul, can you name what exactly it was about it that made it that way? The place? The activity (or inactivity)? The company? What in your normal day-to-day are you missing that was filled by the vacation? Is there something that you can add to your usual routine to fill that need more habitually rather than only on vacation? If it was just you choosing your next vacation, where would you go and what would you do? Who would join you, if anyone? What needs and desires would this vacation fulfill? Is it a one-time-only kind of thing you want to do, or is it something you could imagine yourself making into an annual thing? How different is this fantasy than your usual vacations? What category do most of your vacations fall into? Which categories would you like to add to your menu? Which categories are of no interest to you at all? Which vacation that you have already been on has left you feeling most complete, connected, and at peace? How can you find that feeling again? Even though we all do different things on our vacations, am I right in believing that we are all actually searching for the same thing? Is there some feeling that is common to everyone who has had a great vacation? Is it just as simple as “satisfaction,” or is there something deeper to it, something that is difficult to define but worthy of our effort to do so? Do you know what I mean when I describe that soul fulfillment? When have you been there? Is it asking too much of a vacation to take you there? What else do you want? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you want from your vacation?

Be Peace and Bliss,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s find our happy places together!

P.P.S. If this way of reflecting on your heart, mind, and soul is appealing to you, I encourage you to pick up a copy of my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Jesus & Me: Our Complicated Relationship

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.” –Lenny Bruce

Hello friend,

Merry Christmas!  I don’t usually say that, but I mean it today. Merry Christmas to you.  I hope that in this holiday season, both you and I can pay particular heed to the teachings of this great man, Jesus of Nazareth, whether or not we give a darn about the religion that carries his name. Because I don’t.

Let me be clear: Jesus is one of my great heroes and role models, but I don’t believe he is any more divine than you or me, and I think many of the things done “in Jesus’s name” by his professed followers are abhorrent (and I believe Jesus would agree with me).  Basically, I am a Jesus-lover but not a Christian.

How did I get here???  That, I suppose, is the story of my life.

I grew up in a somewhat-faithful Catholic family in a very homogenous Christian area.  I knew of one Jewish family in my town.  I was not aware of any other non-Christian families. In fact, even though I remember a Baptist church by the baseball fields, everybody in my town, as far as I knew, was either Catholic or Lutheran.  VERY CHRISTIAN.

So, you could definitely say I “believed in” Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.  After all, that was the only option (literally the only game in town) I was aware of.  It was like believing that you have to graduate from high school; I never knew anyone who didn’t, so I never considered dropping out a possibility.  You are a Christian.  You graduate.  It’s how things are.  End of story. 

Still, I can clearly recall some cognitive dissonance in my teen years as I tried to swallow the Church’s doctrine in my Confirmation classes.  I remember the teacher’s exasperation as I gave her more questions and challenges than she wanted: Why should someone have to believe in Jesus to get to Heaven?  What about all the people who don’t?  You know there are BILLIONS of people in the world, right? Most of them are getting left out? Does that seem right to you?

Interestingly, my church remembrances from childhood–and even my early adulthood–don’t contain much about Jesus himself and the specifics of his teachings (except that he died for our sins so that we could get to Heaven).  I mostly remember the rituals–the sitting/kneeling/standing, the prayers, Communion–and being vaguely conscious that it was about Jesus, but I don’t recall that feeling of relationship or that sense of really getting him on a personal level.  And I don’t recall any major awe, like, “Whoa, that guy’s the Son of God!  I totally worship him!”  I guess that part never quite resonated with me. 

When I kept going to church even after I moved away from home, I really only seemed to connect to one part: the sermon.  I liked hearing an inspiring message about how we could do better.  What I hadn’t become fully conscious of–I hadn’t started journaling every day at that point–was that the sermons that I liked and connected with were not particularly Jesusy, if you know what I mean.  They were more social messages interwoven with personal stories from the priest. 

I kept attending Mass, but I grew increasingly disconnected from the foundation of the place.  I wasn’t into the “God’s only begotten son”/”He died for our sins” type of stuff. While I wasn’t consciously searching for an alternative, from the distance of all these years later, it seems obvious that it would not have required much to unleash me from the Christian flock of my upbringing. 

It turned out that–as with so many other awakenings and transitions that I have experienced in the decades that have followed–the key that fit the lock was found in the pages of books.  Not just one book or one author, but many.  I found so many that enlightened me in different ways.  They weren’t books that bashed Jesus or religions, but instead they served to open my mind and my heart to other people’s experiences of the Divine.  I learned wonderful things about Nature, Science, non-Christian religions, spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, and people.  I read people’s stories and learned about their versions of Truth and how God lived in them (or didn’t). 

Throughout the process of this new learning–and not surprisingly, this coincided with the beginning of my regular journaling practice–I was becoming much more in tune with myself and much more trusting of my intuition.  I took the stories and the information in to a deeper level than I ever had before and I allowed them to play upon my soul.  And then I listened.  I listened for resonance.  I became much more aware of things like tingles in my heart or belly, goosebumps on my skin, the unintentional nodding of my head, or a grin I couldn’t wipe from my face.  I understood them for the first time as messages from my soul, of cues that the thing I was reading or experiencing was right for me or true for me.  They resonatedwith me. 

I had never fully understood that word–resonate–until then.  Some things just produce a deeper, more meaningful vibration inside us.  I learned to honor that.  And as I did, I slowly–without fully realizing it at first but finally being struck by its obviousness–let go of Jesus.  With no angst or acrimony.  It was with joy and gratitude, really.  An amicable break-up.  I still liked him; he just wasn’t the answer for me.  I couldn’t think of him in the same way. 

I tried to go to church with my family on a holiday not long after my realization.  It felt completely wrong for me to be there.  I was almost physically sick, as my body knew that I wasn’t acting in alignment with my Truth.  I had become accustomed to being authentic, and just being in that place seemed fraudulent to me.  I knew then that I would not be back. 

I admit that, for many years, despite theoretically having no problem with Jesus, I definitely kept him at arm’s length.  I didn’t care to hear much about him or participate in anything where Christian prayers might be said.  I cringed when, at some large holiday meal, someone would say, “Shall we say Grace?”  0r at a funeral, when the Jesus moments would inevitably come, I’d have the same reaction.  My mind would naturally escape.  It was one thing to not want to think much about that guy anymore, and quite another to have to pretend I was praying to him along with the Christians surrounding me. That’s too much awkwardness for me.

I’m a little disappointed when I think about how long that arm’s-length phase lasted.  Not that I regret feeling uncomfortable when Jesus is forced on me–I am sure that won’t ever go away–but I think I went too long in denying him entry into my thoughts.  In my fervor to remain authentic and faithful to my Truth–which included my non-Christianity–I worked a little too hard at excluding him as an influence worth considering. 

That denial has changed in recent years.  The older I have gotten, the more passionate I have become about social justice and the more focused I have become on practicing empathy.  I have also become increasingly aware of the degree to which I am being authentic and following my Truth.  With that evolution–along with the recognition that I had worked a little too hard to avoid anything Jesus-related–I have taken some time to look at Jesus with a new set ofeyes. 

With this distance, I am able to see him more clearly as a man of great principle, with a tremendous depth of compassion and kindness toward the most oppressed and least favored members of society.  He called on the people around him to rise above their pettiness and greed and become better.  His actions spoke even louder than his words.  He took care of the poor, the sick, and those cast aside or shamed by society.  He called out corruption.  In word and deed, he was faithful to his Truth (a.k.a. AUTHENTIC).  And he was an absolute warrior for social justice.

When I look at Jesus with these new eyes, I recognize him to be quite like a couple of other guys who have been my heroes for much longer: Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

I revere these men. They serve as an endless source of inspiration to me.  They remind me of my innate greatness and all the good that I can do to help the world. I am so grateful to them for that, and I sing their praises every chance I get……..  But I don’t worship them.  They are not gods to me.  I don’t go through them to get salvation.  I won’t be separated from God if I deny their greatness.  And that’s where I am with Jesus, too.

It is in this newfound reverence and deep respect for his principles, though, that I find one of the most interesting (and kind of amusing) aspects of my journey with Jesus. I find that I have become a great defender of Jesus against his followers. 

It is really odd.  You see, we are in this time when there is so much pain and injustice in the world and in this heavily Christian America.  There are examples everywhere you look.  White supremacists hold large public rallies. Gun violence is rampant.  Migrant families are separated at the border, with children held in cages and tents without their parents.  Members of the LGBTQ community fear for their loss of rights and the increase in hate crimes.  Refugees seeking asylum from war-ravaged countries are tear-gassed.  The environment and natural resources are ravaged. And our President and his party stamp their approval of all of it. 

Meanwhile, I hear of evangelical Christian leaders who speak of that President as Heaven-sent and the true representative of their congregation.  I see the voting numbers to know who supports the man and his party. I see countless other Christians amidst all manner of humanitarian crises whistling and looking the other way, like, “Nothing to see here.”  And I am disgusted.  Beyond disgusted, really.  I am absolutely repulsed.

I only get this way because of who these people profess to follow, who they claim to owe their salvation to.  I look at every one of these issues, and then I look at Jesus, the social justice warrior, and I know that he would stand in direct opposition to these people that claim to be acting in his name.  He would call them out every chance he could get.  And that is what takes me beyond just disappointment or even disgust with these people to the point of being repulsed by them.  It is the hypocrisy!  They are staining my hero’s name!  Misrepresenting him in the worst way.  I can’t tell you how many times, in yet another moment of humanitarian failure, my wife has had to listen to me rail against these hypocrites.  “How dare they call themselves Christian!!!  Do they really not know what Jesus stood for???  It’s completely inauthentic!  It’s fraudulent!!!”  It’s me, the staunch non-Christian, sticking up for Jesus against those who say they worship him, not wanting his name sullied. Go figure!

And that is my journey with this amazing guy: from believer, to questioner, to drifter, to denier, to admirer, to defender.  My guess is I will stick with those last two–admirer and defender–from here on out, but who knows?  I appreciate the journey we have been on, and I like where we are.  Jesus and I are good. 

How about you?  How is your relationship with Jesus?  Open up your journal and tell your story.  How did it begin?  Did you grow up in a house where prayer and talk of Jesus was common?  Were you under the impression that everyone believed in his divinity?  How much was church a part of your upbringing?  Did you assume that they were preaching the absolute truth?  Were you in awe of Jesus?  Did you have a “relationship” with him growing up?  If so, describe it.  In adolescence and young adulthood, as you developed your independence, did you go through periods where your sense of who Jesus was or your connection to him changed?  Did you drift closer or further away?  Have you ever changed your faith in him dramatically, either fully embraced him or severed ties?  What did that feel like?  How much of your stance on Jesus is a reflection of your family’s beliefs?  Is your connection to him stronger or weaker than your parents’ connection to him?  Stronger or weaker than your closest friends’?  Are you okay with going your own way on such a sensitive topic? If you are a “true believer,” have you ever deeply questioned the foundation of your belief?  What do you think of people like me who don’t take Jesus to be the one Son of God and the source of salvation?  Do you feel sorry for us?  Are you open to a friendly dialogue with us?  Do you feel the need to convert non-believers?  Are you fond of the question, “What would Jesus do?” when it comes to providing direction on moral issues?  Do you believe Christians ought to stand up for the issues and the people that Jesus stood up for?  Do you believe that the “evangelical Christians” that seem to be a staple voting block for the Republican Party are acting in a way Jesus would support? What about other atrocities committed by (or supported by) people claiming to be Christian?  If Jesus were alive today, what sorts of issues and practices do you believe he would support?  What would he march for?  If he were not the Son of God but just an activist who stood up for what he stood up for, do you think you would support him?  If not, do you have some soul-searching to do?  Has your relationship with Jesus been, like mine, a winding one?  Leave me a reply and let me know, What is your relationship with Jesus?

Shine a light inside,

William

P.S. If this topic resonated with you today, please share it on social media.  Let’s rise to the standards of our heroes!

P.P.S. If this type of introspection stirs you up, add my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, to your holiday Wish List.  It is available at your favorite online retailer.

On Whose Time? Take Life As It Comes vs. Force Your Own Agenda

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” –Chinese proverb

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I’ve been doing a little experiment over these last several months since I published my book. You see, up until that point, I religiously published my post once a week, only ever taking a week off when I was traveling. Although I don’t recall ever making a cross-my-heart promise to myself that I would get a new letter to you every week, that was essentially the deal. No excuses. And I kept it. For years.

I can’t adequately express to you how distressing it was to–hundreds of letters later–finally come to the decision last Autumn to put the blog on hold for several weeks in order to get through the very tedious and time-consuming final stages of publishing the book. Despite my certainty that it was the wisest course and that I would get right back to these letters when I finished all I had to do for the book, the decision to pause took me weeks to finally accept and execute. I hated to break the flow and the commitment.

An interesting thing happened when it finally came time to resume my weekly letters. I wrote the first few weeks: no problem. But the next week, when it was time to nail down a topic for the new post, I drew a blank. Nothing came to me. I started to panic. It’s not as though I had never had trouble coming up with a topic before; I definitely had. But through manic brainstorms or scouring of old notebooks or searches of the news, I had always come up with something that inspired/confounded me enough to deem worthy of my consideration and yours. But not that week. Try as I might for several anxious days, it just didn’t’ come.

In a rare moment of self-mercy, I let myself off the hook. I rationalized that after all of the work on the book, my mind must simply be not fully restored to its engaged self. I figured I just wasn’t tapped into the Universe the way I had been, and I decided that it would be very “enlightened” of me to accept that reality and flow with it. I gave myself a break. And let me tell you, that felt incredibly strange! I was almost itchy with dissonance. Something was definitely missing from my week.

But you know what? Even without my writing, my world did not come crashing down. I survived the anxiety and guilt of “not doing my job” of writing to you. Inspiration returned the following week, I wrote a long post, and I figured I was back on track. Trusting the flow of inspiration from the Universe was fine for a week, and I gave myself a little pat on the back for giving it a shot. “But I’m a writer,” I assured myself. “From now on, I write. No excuses!”

But then it happened again. Nothing stirred in my chest and my brain, aching to get out of me. I scanned and scoured, but nothing stuck. I had my panic moment, but eventually I rationalized, “Maybe this is the Universe telling me that I have a new pace. I will trust this one more time.” And I let that week go.

I wrote again the next week, then waited on pins and needles to see what would happen. Again I drew a blank and it slipped by. I scratched my head, eventually forgave myself, and moved on. And so it went for these last few months, alternating between a writing week and a head-scratching week. It is not like I didn’t write anything; I still journaled every day. I just couldn’t muster a post idea, and I accepted that–albeit with some suspicion–as me “staying in the moment” and “trusting the Universe to provide inspiration in its time.”

That, I suppose, became the essence of my struggle: deciding how much to view my lack of inspiration and diminished ambition to create something no matter what as A) me surrendering to the whims of the Universe, rather than as B) me failing at something under my control. I battled myself over and over to grant myself permission to let those uninspired weeks slide by without a product to publish.

My natural instinct was to label this inclination ‘Lazy’ and ‘Weak’ and then prod my myself until I found something to make it work. That has been my way for years: no excuses, act like a professional, get it done.

Produce! Push the envelope! Never settle! Go hard to get to your dreams!

That’s the way the world works, right? Or not?

But what about that seemingly enlightened idea of not “pushing the river” from the Chinese proverb? That sounds pretty darn good to me most mornings when my alarm sounds extra-early so I can squeeze more ambition into my day. It felt like a siren song on those weeks when I didn’t (couldn’t?) publish anything, telling me that it was all okay and even healthy to take a break from the rigors of striving for my dreams. It was downright alluring to believe that inspiration would come in its own time, when the Universe was ready for me to receive it, and that I could relax and enjoy the beautiful moments until The Muse decided to tap me on the shoulder and invite herself back into my soul, allowing me to return to my passion fully-armed.

So alluring that if tried really hard, I could almost believe it.

I tried that on myself last week. The week before had been one of my “off” weeks that I have begun to get accustomed to after a post, so last week I was on the clock. A letter was due. But then I got busy at work for a couple of days, and then my kids got out of school and took over my world, and yada yada yada…..the next thing I knew, I was pretending I had a legitimate excuse for not writing to you that week. I truly put in the effort to snow myself into believing I was just too busy and that “sometimes Life intervenes, the Universe decides it’s not time for that,” despite my best intentions. It made for a stress-free weekend.

But not really. Because, despite my best efforts at pretending that I had given my best efforts toward my writing, deep down the truth was lurking. “Trusting the Universe’s pacing” and “not pushing the river” were fast becoming justifications for my laziness and lack of focus on my passion, and I knew it underneath all of my “enlightened” rationalizations.

Although I am a big believer in intuition and following your gut, by nature I am a driver. My inclination is to look for a way I can make my situation better and then to set out to make that happen. I am stubborn about getting things to go my way. I have been known to “push the river.”

Despite all of that, I like the theory of being at peace with what is and trusting that the Universe has my back no matter how things appear to be going. I like the idea of translating my lack of inspiration as, “It’s just not meant to be today. I’ll check in again tomorrow.” I sometimes admire the people who just chill and don’t mind at all what happens with their situation one way or the other.

But despite the allure of “Whatever,” that just isn’t me.

This reminds me of the other age-old dilemma that I have taken my turn struggling to come to grips with: choosing to be happy with who you are and accepting yourself (your body, your flaws, etc.) completely vs. constantly striving to be better than you are today. Maybe it’s exactly the same issue.

In either case, I always seem to fall back to being bothered by the “Just accept things/Let it be” answer because it feels lazy and complacent. It takes my agency, my responsibility away from me. It coaxes me into helplessness. I despise that condition.

I choose to believe that I have the power to change my situation, whether that relates to an injustice in my country or a lack of inspiration in my mind. I choose to believe that, no matter what forces are working against me that seem to be representing “the Universe wants it this way,” I can take action to steer the situation another way. That action might be a march on Washington, DC, or a volunteer shift at a shelter, but it might also be just showing up at my computer next time I don’t feel “inspired” by any particular topic and start typing anyway, one grinding word at a time. After all, The Muse may or may not be real, but if she is (and I believe she is), I am certain that she only helps the ones who are there doing the work that their soul calls out for them to do. When she stops by my house, I plan to be plugging away at my keyboard.

Maybe this boils down to me saying that I have to act as though the Universe does not have a pace, does not have an agenda. That it’s up to me to create the life I long for, despite the circumstances that sometimes seem to conspire against me. I can’t sit on the sidelines of my own life and take the “It’s in God’s hands” attitude. I think God’s hands are my hands. Yours, too. I must use my hands to the best of my ability to create a life and a world that meets my standards. So that is what I will do.

I am not guaranteeing that you will start seeing a new letter again every week. I am only promising that I won’t blame it on someone or something else when I don’t produce or live up to my expectations. I will not write it off to the whims of the Universe or The Fates not feeling me. I will own what I do and what I fail to do, call myself out when I am being lazy or procrastinating, and take regular stock of myself (usually in my journal).

This morning as I was trying to pull this letter together, I took a break to look at social media. One of the first things to pop up in my newsfeed was a photo of one of those old signs that used to be in front of every convenience store, with the rows for interchangeable block letters that listed the hot deals on cigarettes or jumbo sodas or Slim Jims. This one read: EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. SOMETIMES THE REASON IS YOU’RE STUPID AND MAKE BAD DECISIONS. “Yes! This is what I am trying to say!” I shouted to myself. The Universe may have its own agenda, but we have to take ownership of our little neck of the woods.

My new working theory after processing all of this: Maybe each of us doing our absolute best to ambitiously pursue the life and the world that we dream of is what creates the Universe’s agenda. That is, maybe each of us pushing our little portion of the river is what actually makes it “flow by itself.” Yeah, I like that. It doesn’t make me feel guilty for being ambitious and not settling for the way things are. In fact, it demands that I trust that instinct to push the river and live my dreams. That works for me!

How about you? How do you balance trusting the Universe’s pacing with pushing for things to happen as quickly as your ambition demands? Open up your journal and your engine and try to understand how driven you are and what causes the ebbs and flows in that drive. How ambitious are you in getting what you want, whatever that may be (not necessarily career goals or saving the world–could be anything)? Do you impose your will upon the situation and force things to go your way no matter what the circumstances are? Or, if things do not seem to line up in your favor, do you accept that as a sign that it was not meant to be and let it pass? On a scale of 1 to 100–with 1 being “Whatever” and 100 being stubbornly ambitious–how do rate yourself? Would the people in your life agree with that number? What would they rate you? Speaking of them, how does your number compare to the people in your inner circle? How does it compare to the people you admire most? Are the people we generally see as heroic and worthy of our admiration–the people in our History books–more likely to have high ratings? Does that make stubborn ambition better, or does it just make it unusual? How much do you admire the “Whatever” folks who are just fine with any situation? Do you think those folks are happier than the people like me who are always striving and looking for ways to improve our situation? Does the world need more people on one side of the spectrum than the other? What do you think is the proper dispersal of people along the spectrum? What would happen if we all became stubbornly ambitious in our pursuit of a better life and better world, given that we might not all have the same ideas of what “better” looks like? Could that work? Might it be amazing? Okay, so does the Universe–or God, or Spirit, or The Fates, or whatever–have its own timing? Does It aid or hinder us in our pursuits based on Its own agenda or Its own pacing? If you believe so, how often are you aware of that sensation of things being out of your hands and under control of the Universe? What feelings does that awareness bring up in you? Awe? Calm? Frustration? Helplessness? Gratitude? Does it make you more complacent or lazy to think that something is out of your hands or “just not meant to be?” Do you feel less responsible for your actions in those cases? How do you strike that balance in your life between, on the one side, ambition and personal responsibility, and on the other side, going with the flow and leaving it to Fate? Do you often sway dramatically from one end of the spectrum to the other? Have you found your sweet spot yet, where you feel like you are pushing just enough to bend the Universe to your will but still accepting whatever comes as a result of your pushing? Leave me a reply and let me know: Whose agenda is your life following?

Make Peace with it All,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your social media channels. Together we can create a more self-aware world.

P.P.S. If you are looking for a Summer read (and write), check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

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 Center of the Universe or a Tiny Speck of Dust?

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” –Mohandas Gandhi

Hello friend,

How often does the drama in your life make you feel like the whole world hangs in the balance, ready to rise or come crashing down depending on how you come through the situation? Pretty much every day, right?

A few months ago, I had a ton of theatrics storming around my head and weighing on my heart. I was feeling the pressure of a self-imposed deadline on finishing my book, way behind but not wanting to give up writing these letters to you every week in order to get it done. It was a sacrifice I just didn’t want to make. Meanwhile, I was entangled in a web of uncertainty surrounding my job status and my future in any sort of career field. This was tied to the weight of my family’s then-recent financial instability, as my wife had quit her job to start her own business from scratch. We were in a pickle, definitely in the short-term and quite possibly the long-term, too. It did not feel good for this guy who prefers to remain oblivious to such things as personal finance and health insurance. And of course, coloring all of this and everything else was the now-typical political ignorance and outrageousness that is just America in this day and age.

In any case, it felt like this crucial life moment, like my fate and the fate of those around me hung in the balance, our lives to be forever altered by the outcome of these intermingling dramas.

In the midst of that existential three-ring circus in my head, I received an email that seemed innocuous on the surface but actually gave me quite a shake. It was my birthday, and amidst a few other calls and messages from my parents and siblings, there in my inbox was a message from my favorite aunt and uncle. “We hope this little tune helps keep things in perspective.” It was a link to a Youtube video called “Galaxy Song.”  It had the feel of something that might be on “Sesame Street” or “The Electric Company,” a playful song to educate while it entertains. Here are a few choice lines:

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see are moving at a million miles a day in an outer spiral orb at 40,000 miles an hour of the galaxy we call the Milky Way. Our galaxy itself contains 100 billion stars; it’s 100,000 light years side to side….And our galaxy is only one of millions and billions in this amazing and expanding Universe…..So remember when you are feeling very small and insecure how amazingly unlikely is your birth.

These lyrics completely arrested me. I know I had heard the stats before about the astounding size of the Universe, but I guess I had let their ramifications escape my awareness, because this was like learning them anew. It was a real smack in the face.

I guess that in the past, I probably used the facts about the enormity of the Universe as an argument against the half of my brain that doubts the existence of some type of Creator/God. After all, my argument went, in all of this vast “emptiness” in which we cannot find evidence of other “intelligent life” (though I definitely think we flatter ourselves with that label), surely we must have been specially created by a Divine hand, right? (I use the same type of logic when I try to convince myself that the astonishing degree of intricacy of the human body and every other organism and system on Earth is surely a sign of an intelligent Designer.)

But in this case, when I try to wrap my mind around the vastness of it all and just how infinitesimally small our planet is in the grand scheme (not to mention each of us people individually), it makes me think that not only might I not be specially made, but also that, either way, I am completely insignificant. My issues and dramas, my dreams and gifts–they don’t matter at all. They have no bearing on anything. How depressing!

But then I think, “No! I am here on this magnificent planet for a reason, and I have this overwhelming sense of significance that echoes from deep inside me. I matter! I know I do!”

But then there are the facts again, and it seems obvious that I am not even the tiniest blip on the screen of the Universe, not just historically but even on the picture of today. After all, there are billions more stars just like our sun and therefore billions more solar systems. Not “billions” as in a figure of speech or writer’s embellishment, but actual billions. My life–heck, even my planet’s life–is nothing.

And back and forth I go.

Maybe this debate–or at least the admission that there should be a debate–pains me so much because I have always felt it was my destiny to be a world-changer, an agent of progress and hope for the masses of people that I plan to reach with my words and deeds. I would like to say that I have always known that I was significant, that I was born to make a difference, to leave a mark. I have spent my life believing that.

That makes the glaring facts of the Universe’s unfathomable size so daunting and humbling. Going just by the numbers, it is impossible to claim any shred of importance. It’s almost enough to make me give up. Because let’s face it: on paper, I don’t even have a chance in this debate. I have nothing! Logically speaking, if my galaxy is insignificant, then my solar system is even more insignificant, in which case my planet is even more insignificant, and that means my own life–and especially each of my daily dramas about my job and my mortgage and my president–is surely of no consequence.

That is why I think that DENIAL must be an exceptionally strong evolutionary adaptation of ours. Think about it: given that we can know empirically that we are the equivalent of a tiny speck of dust in this vast Universe, how else can you explain how each of us feels so central to the whole show?

Honestly, doesn’t it feel like your life matters? Doesn’t it seem like the outcome of at least some of your major life decisions has an impact on the world, and that that impact is actually important in the grand scheme of things? I know it feels that way to me.

I can’t help but think that this feeling of significance and the element of denial have a lot to do with FAITH and our religious practices. Consider all of the many different religions and expressions of faith that we have come up with throughout history. At their core, they are a way to not only help us make sense of our world, but also to instill in us the idea that each of us matters, that what we do matters. Perhaps we cling so hard to these religions–despite their generally flimsy logic–because by focusing intently on them, we are able to avoid thoughts of the magnitude of the Universe and our statistical insignificance. Maybe FAITH and DENIAL are equal partners in an elaborate hoax we are playing on ourselves.

Or maybe our propensity toward both faith and denial of the facts should be viewed as more evidence that we are so significant that we have been gifted with these traits to ensure that we press on to fulfill our special destiny. Maybe we are evolutionarily wired for significance. Maybe those dreams, ambitions, and feelings of purpose and calling are the Universe’s reminder that there is more to us than any statistics can prove or disprove. Perhaps our mere existence is to be seen as enough of a defiance of logic that we ought to know better than to look at numbers to tell us our worth. Maybe we just need to trust ourselves on that, to listen to that still, small voice inside to remind us Who We Really Are.

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. Maybe I am no more important than any other speck of celestial dust and all of us are just interesting-but-meaningless carbon anomalies being carried along on this third floating rock from the sun. If that is the case, then I wouldn’t stress so much about the job and the house and the conmen in Washington. But the truth is that as much as my brain loves logic, the Truth of who I am rests in my intuition. Somehow, that still, small voice is the one I trust the most. And I don’t care if it is unknowingly saturated with denial. My gut tells me I have a purpose and that I am here to make a difference, a difference that matters in the grand scheme of things. If it is right about that, fantastic. If it is wrong and I am really just that speck of dust, well, then at least I will have lived out my days in the service of making life better for all those other specks around me. I am going to have to live with that. Because I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know a better way.

How about you? Do you actually matter, or is your significance as infinitesimally small as your actual size relative to the Universe? Open up your journal and allow your mind to swim in a different depth, even if just for a while. What is your initial, gut-level reaction to this question? Is there actually something significant about each of us riding here on this little planet that is floating around one star amongst the billions and billions of stars in our galaxy, which is only one of billions more galaxies? Why do you think so many people think we are special despite the evidence to the contrary? Is it arrogant of us who think this way? Do you think we would feel more or less significant if we learned that there was intelligent life on planets spread all across the Universe? How often do you find yourself conscious of how small you are in relation to the Universe, not just how you are only one of 7 billion inhabitants of Earth? Is it mostly out of your consciousness? Do you consider that a form of denial? Is that denial healthy? How much of humanity’s significance–and your personal significance–do you attach to your faith? When you look at your faith and then at the statistics about the size of the galaxy and Universe, does it make you question the basic stories behind religions more than you might normally be willing to do? How much do you trust your intuition on this matter? Does your gut tell you that you matter? How much say do your brain and logic have in the matter? Even if you knew that it is very likely that you are fooling yourself, would you still continue to believe that your life and your choices matter? What would life be like believing that none of this makes any difference at all? Are there people in your life who believe that? What do you think makes them keep going? Can we be both insignificant and the center of the Universe simultaneously? Have your thoughts on this topic changed throughout your life? Have they changed as you have processed this today? Which way are you trending? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you everything or nothing at all?

Shine bright,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you in any way today, please share it. We are all sharing this third rock from the sun, so let’s make it the best ride we can!

A Godless Future: What does the next generation believe in?

DSC_1156“Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.” –Emmett F. Fields

Hello friend,

Last Sunday, I sat in the audience at a small church with a mix of pride, joy, and utter fascination. It was “Religious Education Sunday,” the day when all of the kids from all the different age groups in the congregation get to “perform” for the adult members, a way to highlight something they had learned in their classes during the year. I beamed and giggled as my son and the other kindergarteners sang “This Little Light of Mine.” I had taught the second and third grade unit, so I watched, with equal measures of anxiety and pride, their re-enactment of a story from Buddha’s life. Next came the third and fourth graders, then the middle schoolers, and on up, each group taking their turn at the front of the chapel, with all eyes on them.

Finally, it was the seniors’ turn. They were to go up, one at a time—there were only three of them—and read their personal “Faith Statement,” or credo, which they had clearly spent much of the year working on (and obviously their whole lives developing). Of course, I love to get inside someone’s head and heart and see what they are all about, so I was truly eager to hear what each had come to believe about this supremely important topic.

After all, I was raised Catholic. The essence of my religious education was being told, “THIS IS WHAT YOU BELIEVE! DON’T QUESTION IT. EVER!!!” I never fathomed the possibility of delivering my own, personally crafted statement of my spiritual beliefs to my entire church as I finished high school.

Thus, I was absolutely riveted when the first young man–quite an impressive 18-year-old, the kind you would like to hire for that Summer job and trust that he would be on-time and not playing on his phone all day–got up, thanked the congregation for their years of support, and began, “I believe in Science.” He proceeded to give a thoughtfully composed, confidently delivered speech that detailed his beliefs and the reasons behind them. And the crux of his belief system: There is no God. I was totally fascinated. Not just at his belief (or disbelief, rather), but also at the setting he was proclaiming it confidently in.

{A quick aside here for some context. After staying away from any sort of official house of worship for about 18 years, I somewhat begrudgingly allowed my wife to talk me into trying out a Unitarian Universalist (UU)fellowship several months ago. If I had to sum up my take on the UU principles, it would go something like this: As long as you are welcoming and respectful to everyone, open to all perspectives and backgrounds, and want to work for social justice and peace in our world, you are welcome here. I think of it more as a moral group rather than an actual religion. My sense is that, at least in my particular fellowship, there are probably a lot of people who left more the larger, organized religions earlier in life, turned off by their rigidity, dogma, or narrow scope. I would guess that the vast majority of members believe in a Higher Power of some sort, but certainly not all of them. But all are welcome to share their authentic selves. I have stuck it out this far for two main reasons: 1) I wanted my kids to hear another voice besides mine and my wife’s regarding moral and spiritual issues; and 2) I wanted us to do more of the service work that we often say we would like to do but rarely find the time for, figuring that connecting to a group that can facilitate opportunities to help would make it more likely (a.k.a. laziness on my part). Okay, back to the story….}

As I joined the applause for the charming young man’s speech, I thought to myself, “Wow! An atheist! And confident enough at 18 to proclaim his well-considered beliefs to a group of adults (mostly the gray-haired variety). What a rarity!” Then the second young man climbed to the podium and proceeded to inform us that he is also an atheist. His statement was different and equally well measured, but the conclusion was the same: “I believe that God does not exist.” My head started spinning. “WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!?” I was shocked! When the final young lady stepped up, full of personality and charisma—she later closed the service with a fantastically soulful version of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” with her acoustic guitar—I was sure she would tell us that her spiritual journey had led her to believe in a God like the one I grew up with. Wrong! She, too, had decided that she was an atheist. I was floored! Again, I just kept thinking, “What are the odds?” Three intelligent, friendly, socially-competent 18-year-olds who had put serious time and effort into this process had all decided that God did not exist.

As I applauded all three of them for their graduation and the self-awareness gained during this process of creating a personal Faith Statement—indeed, I think it is a good exercise for all of us–my mind kept returning to the same questions. It had been snagged and couldn’t free itself. Over and over: “Is atheism the new thing? Just how high is the percentage of true atheists—or even agnostics—among young adults today? How did I miss this?” I was flabbergasted. Not by the atheism itself—while I believe in a Higher Power, I can see the difficulty in proving it—but by the thought that this would be an enormously important shift, if indeed it was a shift, in our culture. But is it? How could I know?

I remembered that a few weeks ago, one of my co-workers, who raises her kids in the Catholic Church, had mentioned to me that her oldest son, a college freshman, is an atheist. So, after stewing on this puzzle for a couple of days, I asked her about it. She told me that her son’s roommate at school—randomly assigned—also turned out to be an atheist. She said he has friends with all sorts of different spiritual beliefs, but she was clear that he was definitely not the only atheist among them. It began to sink in that the three kids at my fellowship might be more than a statistical aberration. Atheism could be on its way to becoming the norm for the younger generations. How did this happen?

When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota, I didn’t know of any atheists. In fact, so entrenched was I in doing what I was told that even the thought of an atheist scared me. It was a taboo. You might read of an atheist in a book in the same hushed tone that you would a Satanist, as though there were a shroud of Evil around it. It was dangerous. I laugh now when I think of the reactions I have received when telling people that I am not a Christian. The first thing that usually gets verbalized is, “So, you don’t believe in God??” That is quite a leap, of course, and not necessarily a logical one. But I have certainly had the sense that, at least in some company, I have been the one viewed as “dangerous.” However, I am not an atheist.

I’ve met some confirmed atheists in the long years since then and didn’t think much about it. The few times I had, I wondered why I thought it so spooky when I was a kid. Philosophically, I have come to understand that one does not need a God in order to live a happy and morally-upstanding existence. Basically, the stigma in my mind has faded and morphed into more of a fascination (I want to know everything about everyone with different beliefs than me). But still, I didn’t know I was missing the beginnings of a potential religious revolution. My mind is blown!

How about you? What thoughts and feelings come up in you when you consider the possibility of an increasingly atheistic population? Open up your journal and try to make sense of your reactions to this possible trend. I say “possible,” because although the prospects for almost every fringe belief system, hobby, and interest seem to have increased in our Information Age, I had rarely considered that atheism might be on a real surge before this week. Also, with religion not being one of those topics to safely bring up in social situations, this rise might not be recent (or even real). Do you think it is? Have you had experiences of meeting or learning about young atheists in recent years? Let’s assume, at least for the moment, that this increase is really occurring. Do you see it as a passing fad or something with staying power? If it is for real, how does that sit with you? Are you alarmed? Unfazed? Pleased? My co-worker whose son is an atheist thinks the cause of the rise is these kids seeing all of the problems that the major religions have either directly caused or made worse, leaving the kids thinking, “This is not the way to go.” Is there some merit to that argument? The kids I listened to last Sunday talked a lot about Science and preferring things that could be tested and proven. Is that a good argument? With “1” being Totally Uncertain and “100” being Totally Certain, what is your degree of certainty regarding the existence of a Higher Power? If your number is pretty high, how tolerant and accepting are you of people who still believe but are much more uncertain about it? What is your reaction in learning that people you know are atheists? How would you like your children (real or imaginary) to come to their beliefs? Do you see the parents’ role more in terms of instilling their own beliefs in their children, or more as exposing their children to the range of beliefs and allowing the children to gravitate toward their own beliefs? Is it enough to try to teach children good morals and behavior, or should a religion be attached, too? How do you think you would feel if your child gave you his Faith Statement, and it concluded that he was an atheist? Would you try to change his mind? At what point do we just let them decide these things on their own? If atheism became the norm for the upcoming generations, how do you think that would change our everyday world? Would it be, on the whole, a benefit or a detriment? I think that, whether or not this surge in atheism is real or not, these are important questions for us to consider. In either case, leave me a reply and let me know: What does the younger generation believe in? 

Believe in YOU,

William

P.S. If this letter made you look into yourself a little deeper or from a different angle, I hope you will share it with your circle. We should be mirrors for each other. Bless you.

This Life & The Afterlife: Torn Between The Two

IMG_2404To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, For in this sleep of death what dreams may come….” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hello friend,

Here’s the deal: I am so desperately eager to get to the next life, but I also simply cannot let go of this one any time soon. Huh? How can I reconcile that? Allow me to explain.

I believe that the state of being that comes after this life is going to be absolutely amazing. Not just amazing, though; because we throw around the term “amazing” all the time about pretty much anything we like: a gym class, our new yogurt, shoes, etc. What comes after our physical death, I believe, will be beyond amazing. Indescribably peaceful, blissful, and aware of our complete oneness with the Divine Source.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t claim to know what exactly comes next (and I am suspicious of anyone who does). I believe that we are all completely divine, that we existed prior to our appearance in this human form, and that we will continue to exist in another form(s?) when we are done with these bodies. I am attracted to many of the ideas of Buddhism, and reincarnation is one that I have played with. I am open to that possibility but not necessarily sold on it. I also don’t really buy the traditional vision of a Heaven with pearly gates and all of our friends and relatives who look exactly like they do now, a view that I think is common. I definitely don’t believe in any sort of Hell in the afterlife. But I definitely do believe in continuous existence, that we are not just going to cease entirely when our hearts stop beating.

I guess if you pinned me down and made me pick a description using our limited human ideas, I would say that I believe that when we die, we become fully aware of our pure divinity again. We lift the veil that we wear throughout our human journey, the one that allows us to believe that we are somehow separate from God and separate from each other. Unbound by our physical form, we join the stream of pure consciousness of All That Is. We are pure Love, and, more importantly, we know it. To me, that is who we are now, but we simply don’t recognize it, aren’t aware of it, and so we continue to act out of ignorance throughout our time on Earth.

You could probably say that is the foundation of my spiritual beliefs: that we are all One—all God, if you like—and thus, the end is not in doubt.

So, needless to say, I am pretty darn excited to get to the end of this ignorance and onto that plane of Bliss and Conscious Union with The All. {I don’t mind if you translate that to “Heaven” and “God” as long as you feel what I mean.} Indeed, I would love to be there now. I can’t wait!!!

BUT…..

You cannot take me now! No way, I need to be here forever! Well, not exactly forever. Just until I reach a wise, old age when my kids have successfully navigated their way into middle adulthood (and hey, grandkids would be cool, too!). I need to be here for them. I guess it is two reasons, really. First, I want them to have their Dad to help shepherd and support them through the trials of this world. I wish that for any kid, and certainly for my own. And secondly/selfishly, I simply don’t want to miss a thing! Seriously. These kids have completely rocked my world, and I am addicted to my life with them. I sometimes have daydreams about being diagnosed with a terminal illness with only a short time to go, and I get to the point of actually sobbing when I think about saying goodbye to them and how many things I would miss out on. It crushes me. I have gotten to the point where I am absolutely clinging to this earthly existence.

I was never this way before I started this family way of life. In fact, before my wife and kids came along, when I lived a solitary (by choice) life, focused intensely on my spirituality and connectedness to the Divine, I felt both blissful and completely ready for death. Eager, even. Often, in my happiest, most fulfilled moments—on the top of a mountain or in the middle of a clear stream—I would hear myself saying aloud, “You can have me any time, God!” I absolutely meant it.

But a funny thing happens when you get invested in particular Earthlings. Suddenly, you don’t want to leave this place anymore. Like the Hollywood stories of people who had given up on life until they meet someone to love, my wife and kids somehow made me want to stay here (a lot!). They didn’t’ make me happier or more at peace. No, they just made me feel responsible and desirous (desperate?) of squeezing out every possible moment with them. They took me out of the next world that I was reaching for and grounded me fully in this one. They made me think Heaven can wait.

So, what gives? Was I crazy then to want so much to move on to the afterlife, or is my mind warped now in thinking that something from this life—even my darling little angels—could be worthy of making me prefer this life to the next one? I don’t know if there is a right answer to this.

I guess the way I am approaching it, I see myself as an infinite being, so the next life is always out there and won’t be any shorter for my stay on this floating rock called Earth. So, despite its uncertainties and cruelties, I am going to take this portion of the ride for as long as it will have me. I know I am wearing the veil of ignorance and disconnect while here, and while that is frustrating at times, I just need to return to my foundational belief occasionally to remind myself: We are all One, and thus, the end is not in doubt. So, I will make the best of this veiled part of the journey, soaking up the magical moments with my family on this beautiful planet. And then, when my day comes—though they may have to drag me kicking and screaming—I will remove the veil and float blissfully away, fully aware of my divine and infinite nature. One moment at a time….

How about you? Are you more clinging to this life or longing for the next one, or, like me, a little bit of both? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your beliefs about God and the nature of reality. I must admit, I found it quite challenging but wonderfully invigorating to try to put into words how I envision the afterlife. So please, make the effort on this one. I suppose the underlying question with this topic is: do you believe in a Higher Power? What do you call it? Is that Higher Power judging how you are doing in this lifetime in order to give you a sentence for the afterlife? Do you believe there is some sort of afterlife? How would you describe what you think happens to us after we die? Is it different for everyone? What do you think of concepts like Hell or Purgatory or Limbo? How about reincarnation? Pearly gates? Choirs of angels? Do you think you get to “meet” a personal God? A life review? Judgment? Is what comes next dependent upon what happens here in this existence? Do you think that what you get then depends upon what you believe now (i.e. different results for Atheists, Hindus, Christians, etc.)? How much of your view of the afterlife is dictated by a religion? Were you born into that religion, or did you adopt it when you were old enough to decide for yourself, or somewhere in between? How sure are you that your belief in the afterlife is correct? Does your belief make you want to get to the next world as soon as possible, or would you prefer to stick around here for as long as you are able? What are the things in this world that make you want to stay? Do we owe it to ourselves/our loved ones/our Higher Power to stay here as long as we can? Is that just part of the deal of being born? To what degree are you clinging to this world? Is that more due to what you have here—loved ones, etc.—or more due to your uncertainty about what awaits you when you die? Is it normal to not want to die but also to very much want what comes after death? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which life do you want more: this one or the next one?

Embrace it All,

William

P.S. If this one made you dig into your core beliefs and your psyche the way it did for me—I found this topic highly engaging—pass it on. Self-awareness is a gift!

Plan A, Plan B, and the Truth: What Are You Really Doing With Your Life?

DSC_0548“Don’t have a Plan B, get rid of it, throw it away, toss it aside…Plan B is a dream killer, Go all in on Plan A and don’t look back.” –Mastin Kipp

Hello friend,

I am officially a student again! After nearly a year of uncertainty, busy-ness, and self-doubt about what lies ahead for me in the mysterious waters of Life, I finally plunged back in.

A few years ago, when I started my re-awakening to my dreams and my deeper purpose, I got into The Journal Project and was reconnected to my passion for connecting with people through words—theirs and mine—in order to help them know themselves better and live their happiest, best lives. Journal of You was spawned from that period, as was the realization—the remembrance, really, because I once knew this important truth about myself—that I am a writer.

You see, in my mid-twenties, I had come to admit to myself that my deepest, most closely protected dreams involved me being an agent of positive change. I believed I was meant to be a transformative teacher, using the tools of writing, speaking, and counseling to spread my messages of self-knowledge, gratitude, and Love to the world.

But then I forgot. I got busy with school, then transitioned headlong into a career that, while it involved teaching and being a positive influence, did not make full use of the qualities that meant the most to me. It didn’t tap all the way into the depths of my soul, didn’t mine my finest gifts, the ones my soul secretly longed to give. I lived this way—“sleepwalking” is how I think of it now—for many, many years. I was happy, but not fulfilled.

So, when I began to awaken a few years ago, my greatest dreams began to seem clear to me again. They were the same as they had been all those years before, so I knew they had a timeless, authentic quality. They were absolutely me. When you have a realization like that—as though God has personally delivered a message to you—how can you turn your back on it? Not twice!

With that awakening, I began a slow but certain return to my Plan A, at least in my mind. It was such a slow turn, of course, because my “real life” was going on all around me. All that time that I had been sleepwalking, I was also taking on responsibilities—you know, little things like a spouse, children, a mortgage—that dictated how much of my time and energy was to be spent. It wasn’t like the old days when I first became clear about my purpose, my Plan A. In those days, I was allowed to become a penniless hermit or wander around the globe with a backpack full of journals or hole up in my parents’ basement to study and write. It was easy to devote myself to my Plan A. It’s no wonder my soul was on fire then, and that I have never before or since felt so tapped into what I am supposed to be doing.

As I mentioned, when I awoke again a few years ago, my first baby steps back toward myself were The Journal Project and then Journal of You. Recognizing that neither of these was going to make me any money in the near future, I started thinking about how I could keep my purpose front and center, but make a living at the same time. I knew that no matter how many nights I could sneak downstairs for a little writing after the kids finally went to bed, I was never going to get very far if that was all the time and energy I could give it. It struck me that the only way I would eventually be satisfied—fulfilled—is if I was spending all day on my greatest passions.

That moment of clarity triggered a lot of pain in me, actually, because I was fully aware for the first time of just how much of my life I was wasting by not acting directly on what I knew to be my purpose. Truth be told, it still hurts me greatly and daily, as I have become extremely sensitive to anything and everything that wastes my time. I have become very protective of my moments, knowing how fleeting they are and how many I have already wasted doing things that don’t speak directly to who I am and what makes my heart sing.

With that motivation, I started my education to become a Life Coach. While it wasn’t writing, it was helping people to find their own clarity of purpose and use their time more wisely on things that speak to their soul (the irony is not lost on me that I am here to teach what I most need to learn). It was going to be my new, fulfilling day job while I worked hard on my writing, which would eventually supplement my Life Coaching income and then finally become my primary income source. I knew it would all take a while to happen—years, really—but I was into it. However, when my first round of classes ended after several months, I told myself I was too busy to register for more at the moment. I would come back to it in a few months, I told myself. With that, I totally put the Coaching on the back burner. There it stared at me with quiet disappointment every single day.

Well, a few months turned into several. I was writing more, which was great, but I still felt guilty about my Coaching education and business start-up, which I had left in the lurch. As Autumn deepened and Winter loomed, I knew I had to make some sort of move toward not just my Plan A, but toward a Plan A with an income source. When I forced myself to name the one thing I most wanted to do if all the money was equal, the answer was easy: writing. Life Coaching was fun for me and very, very meaningful, but writing was still better.

My problem was that once I started talking about the concept from the quote at the top—basically, think only of Plan A, throw out Plan B entirely—I translated that simplistically and figured I must throw all my efforts into finding writing jobs (that will pay me, of course!). As I started spending hours researching the market for writing, the thoughts of Life Coaching continued to enter my mind, though. In my greed, I want to do everything I am passionate about, not just one thing. Still, I was clinging to this single-minded approach, seeing the Coaching as the forbidden Plan B. Eventually, though, and with the great help of my journal, I remembered that old vision I had for myself, the one that still rings true: Writer-Speaker-Coach. The people who are role models to me—such as the quoted Mastin Kipp—are occupying all of those roles simultaneously. They aren’t compartmentalizing them, because that would exclude essential parts of themselves unnecessarily.

That “a-ha! moment” was such a relief, and it is exactly why I am back in Life Coaching classes again. I am not selling out to my Plan B; I am just opening my eyes to the broad beauty of my Plan A and giving the whole picture my attention, not just the brushstrokes in the center of the frame.

Of course, I still have the job and the family to squeeze it in around, and I know that doing the classes will mean I have less time to write. I hate that! But I also feel that much more committed to keeping my biggest dreams—my Plan A—front and center in the midst of this life of bills and obligations. It will be a struggle, but I cannot return to sleepwalking again. I am only my true self when I am wide awake to my dreams.

How about you? What is your Plan A? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your heart. What are your biggest dreams? Does one jump out at you immediately? Do you have more than one really big passion? If so, do they complement each other and work together–like my writing and coaching–or are they completely distinct from each other? How hard is it for you to admit to yourself what you really want most from this life? I am guessing that for most people—myself included—the real circumstances of their lives probably don’t closely resemble the life they have been dreaming about. That has to be hard to admit, right? Or doesn’t it? My thinking is that if we are not living what we believe to be our purpose—especially if we aren’t even making an effort to pursue it—we are in some way admitting that we are giving up on ourselves, settling. That seems like a bitter pill to swallow. What do you think? Are you living your Plan A now? If not, are you in hot pursuit? I think you can count yourself as lucky if you can answer “Yes” to either of those questions. How clear is your Plan A to you right now? As I said, when I went from my mid-twenties and being clear about my biggest dream, to my long sleepwalking phase, I was simply not aware of how plainly I had dropped the ball on that dream. Has that ever happened to you? Might it be happening now? It is my theory that I blinded myself to the harsh realization that I had given up on my Plan A, my big dream, during that sleepwalking phase in order to protect my ego. It was self-preservation by denial. After all, as I said, once you feel you have received this clear message from your soul or your God about who you really are and what you are meant to do here, how can you turn your back on it and maintain a clear conscience? Denial might be all you have left. Where are you in that process? Do you think you know what you are here to do? Do you know what makes your heart sing? Have you ever known? Have you always known? How loyal to it have you been? Are you all-in, or have you allowed Plans B and C and D to distract you from your purpose? Leave me a reply and let me know: How committed are you to your Plan A? 

Do what you LOVE,

William

P.S. If you know someone who should hear this message, pass it along. Let’s support each other!

The Letter I Wrote To Never Send

DSC_0543“A letter is always better than a phone call. People write things in letters they would never say in person. They permit themselves to write down feelings and observations using emotional syntax far more intimate and powerful than speech will allow. –Alice Steinbach

Hello friend,

I love letters! You remember letters, right? They were written on paper and you got them in your mailbox. They came from people who thought enough of you to take the time to not just write to you but also to buy a stamp and put them in the mail. You could save them in a special shoebox under your bed and bring them out when you were in the mood to feel that person again. In that way, letters achieved something we all long for: timelessness.

I have only one problem: I never send them anymore. Email came along and brought a convenience and immediacy that letters couldn’t compete with. Then social media took that convenience and immediacy to a whole new level. Like Main Street small businesses when Wal-Mart comes to town, letters have withered and died on the vine in our digital age. One thing that instant messages will never have, however, is the thing that letters had in spades: timelessness.

On a picture perfect afternoon in Rome, eighteen Autumns ago, I emptied myself wholly onto several pages in blue ink. It was a letter to my brother, Jacques. He and I, quite frankly, hadn’t been very close for most of my life, but he was nonetheless a hero figure to me. He had a magnetic personality. He was always doing such cool things in the outdoors. And, he was a writer, which I highly romanticized. We had only just begun in recent months to connect in conversations, and I truly revered him. Quite simply, he was a mythic figure to me, and I fancied the idea that he might be interested in my journey, both on the map and in the landscape of my soul.

I was in the midst of my epic journey across Europe–my first and greatest–and my mind and spirit were absolutely on fire with growth and discovery. Although I had been journaling for a few years by then, it had been very sporadic. The start of that epic adventure with my backpack, however, marked the start of my daily practice that has continued all these years. And I was filling up the pages like a madman. It was almost as though I had opened up the top of my head and was simply pouring it all out in the white pages of my new best friend. I was the embodiment of “high on life,” in the midst of a full-blown spiritual revolution that had me nearly unable to catch my breath several times per day. It was a truly extraordinary time, as I was seemingly communing with God.

God, and no one else. I traveled alone through strange lands and languages, and I spoke to my parents only occasionally for a few brief moments as the phone card ran itself out like water down a drain. My outlet was my journal. But on that beautiful Italian afternoon eighteen Autumns ago, I wanted to write a letter. I wanted to share what I had been experiencing. I wanted to tell my story. But I also didn’t want to share my story. I wanted to keep it close to my heart, where the journey really was taking place.

So, I compromised. I wrote the letter to my brother, but I wrote it into my journal, where it would remain forever. I realized that I just wanted to write the letter to clear my mind, like the way a storyteller wants to unload the latest baby of his imagination, just to get it out there and let it go. And so, on a Tuesday in Rome, with my brother squarely in my thoughts, I opened my second journal to its last handful of pages, and I began:

3:54PM Tuesday October 21, 1997 Roma, Italia

Dearest Brother

I am sitting here on the Spanish Steps, and Bob Dylan is playing in my head: “Oh the streets of Rome are filled with rubble…From the Spanish Steps to the….” I have not and probably will not write a letter or postcard on this trip, but it seems like the one I am always talking to when I pretend to write one is you. For whatever that means, here is my letter. It cannot be put into words what an amazing adventure I am having. The feeling I have each day is really quite indescribable. I believe it is what is commonly referred to as “unreasonable happiness.” Honestly I do not know where to begin. I suppose a chronological trail might be best. After my excellent stay in New York, Amsterdam was where the plane dropped me first. It is said that the best trip to Amsterdam is the one you don’t remember, but it was still pretty cool in a sober state, though the smell from the coffee shops was enough for a bit of a buzz. I didn’t go so far as watching a “real live sex act,” but I did go to the Sex Museum and through the red light district , where all the whores lean out of the doors and their two-high glass apartments wearing only high heels, bra, and panties. I laughed my ass off. After less than a day in Minneapolis-like Hanover, I headed down to Munich and those crazy German stein-hoisters decked out in the full Clark Griswald get-up, as it was Oktoberfest. It was damn wild as both men and women slugged down massive amounts of beer in mugs that looked like they weighed 50 pounds, empty. Germany is a lot like Wisconsin in the north and central parts, while in the south it reminds me a bit more of the eastern states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Itching to get down to the sea, but not wanting to miss anything, I took the rails down to Vienna. It is a majestic old city, with all evidence from its days as the capital of a great empire still intact. I walked the amazing lawns of a castle and took in an opera for two bucks. Salzburg was next. Set in a Bozeman-type landscape, check out “quaint” in Webster’s and you might find a picture of this beautiful city. Westward through the Tirol region and on to Switzerland I rode, through clearly the most beautiful landscape I have found here. It’s like the most beautiful part of Montana everywhere. Perhaps “Paradise Valley with steeper, more beautiful mountains” is a better description. Switzerland was beautiful and expensive, and the Great Sea was calling, so I ascended and descended the Alps into this amazing land called Italy. I was in love immediately and vowed to learn the language when I returned to the States. And the air was so thick, with the sea, the passion, the garlic, and the love. I was intoxicated. The boat landed me in Greece, and I was wondering if the correct spelling wasn’t actually Grease. It is essentially a desert, with only its history and the Great Sea as attributes. I was glad to see the ruins of Athens, but more happy to hop on that boat bound for the islands. If you have ever seen a postcard of Greece, with the brilliant blue sea as a backdrop for little whitewashed dwellings with blue shutters and doors, it was not the mainland. The islands are essentially deserts as well, but the villages are charming and that amazing water is all around. It is clear like the waters at Glacier, and the sun portrays your shadow on the bottom, even in deep water. The first night I got there, the surface was ripe for waterskiing and I just had to take a dive through the cool night air. I was whooping and howling at the moon, my version of whistling zippity-doo-da out of my asshole. It was a welcome relief from hauling my pack around and sleeping in a different bed every night. And I was a savage within a few days. Oh, was I peaceful. I laid on the black sand and listened to those light waves gently lapping at the shore. After my ten-day “vacation” on three islands, I spent three dreary nights on boats and trains to get me here to Roma. But what a reward for my troubles. It is a wonderful city. Though I believe Venice is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, I hear that my next two stops, Florence and Siena, give it a run for its money. That was a pretty superficial brush-over of it all, but it is not the places that are most important but rather the experiences and growth the journey offers. And I have had much of both. What I am most happy to report is that I have written an incredible amount. When I left I didn’t even conceive of finishing this book before the trip was done, but here I am with two pages to go and a month left of travels. I have written a minimum of two pages every single day since I left home, and it seems to increase with each day’s passing. I have put down my first three short stories, thanks to the inspiration of one Mr. Ernest Hemingway. They are so damn fun to write! One night in Vienna I was writing an essay on withdrawing from the world to draw closer to God, and some remarkable ideas came into my mind. It was an unbelievable experience. I was sweating. My heart was racing. I couldn’t get the pen to move fast enough. It was a true revelation. In the end I had the idea for my first book and a depleted supply of adrenaline. I have felt for some months now that I am growing closer and closer to God. I have really ceased using my mind for the intellectual, in the controlling manner I once did. I use it now as a channel to the higher world. I shut up and listen for the way. I find myself increasingly in tune with the Lord. There is no tension, no obstruction in the channel. Everything feels so very right at every moment in my life. All of the energy that flows is of the positive nature. The secrets are showing themselves to me more clearly with each passing day. The result of it all is that “unreasonable happiness” I spoke of earlier. But that’s the whole thing. I have realized this “unreasonable” thing is the one to which we are intended to feel always. This is the will of God. In our world we have made it seem so unreachable, but it is right there for us. All we need to do is change our minds! It’s not easy, but it is truly simple. Enough of the sermon, but I just want everyone to be feeling the way I do. My time is coming and is here now. The world will be a better place for my time here. This much I know. The guy I stayed with in New York said I could choose three paperbacks for the trip. On The Road, Hemingway’s Short Stories, and The Portable Emerson were the winners, and I because of them. In barely over two weeks I had finished the Kerouac and the Hemingway. I couldn’t put them down. I was so in love with Sal and Dean in the Kerouac. This is raw life. It was so romantic. And the Hemingway was simply brilliant. As soon as time permits I will be into his novels. Now my guidebook of Europe, the Emerson, and my 900-page History of Western Philosophy keep me fully occupied. Mostly I’m writing now though. I love it more than I can say. It feels like my avenue toward helping the world. Who can say? I am just so happy to be who I am and doing what I am. And I am so very happy for your presence in my life. I love you so much, Jacques. You may never physically see this land called Europe, but you will have been here, because you travel always with me. God bless. Always, Willy

That letter was therapy for me somehow. It was therapy on the day that I wrote it, and it was therapy again this week, when I came across it while working on The Journal Project. I think all letters are therapy in a way. Like the quote at the top says, we allow ourselves to express things in letters that we would not—or could not—otherwise express. And so, whether I actually decide to send them or not, maybe it is time I sat down and wrote my words for someone specific. Maybe it will even be worthy of a shoebox under a bed far, far away, there basking in its most treasured state: timelessness.

How about you? Is there a letter inside of you, dying to get out? Open up your journal and think about the people you are compelled to share yourself with. Who is on your short list? Are they mostly people whom you have lost contact with? Or, rather, are they people currently in your life—perhaps family members—whom you would like to have a deeper relationship with? Is there someone you should write to strictly for therapeutic reasons, even if you never intend to send it? Perhaps it is someone who has hurt you deeply and who you need to forgive in order to find peace. Perhaps it is someone you have long needed to thank. Perhaps it is God. Why do you think we express ourselves so much more clearly—and daringly—in letters rather than conversation? Is it the time to prepare the words precisely? Maybe it is the distance away from the audience, knowing we are safe from the initial reaction? Is it the intimacy of immediate feedback that we fear? I know that I am much braver with the pen and keyboard than I am with my mouth. Do you save old letters? Whom would you most like to receive a letter from now? Imagine going to the mailbox tomorrow and finding a letter from that person: the warmth and gratitude you would feel knowing that you were deep in their thoughts and in their heart. Who might be the person whose day you could make by writing to them? Are you ready? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who will get your letter? 

Give your gift today,

William

P.S. If you were touched by this, I encourage you to share it. We need each other’s best!

Death and the Unfairness of Life

LukeKathyLynch“If you gave someone your heart and they died, did they take it with them? Did you spend the rest of forever with a hole inside you that couldn’t be filled? –Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

Hello friend,

I opened up Facebook on Monday morning, and I have been filled with sadness ever since. In any quiet moment, when I cannot use the distractions of my work or my kids to chase away my thoughts, my heart just feels so heavy. I feel hurt. It’s more than my heart, though. My mind, too has been shaken. I have not been able to make good sense of the whole thing, and that greatly disturbs me. All told, my entire system has been down, cloaked in sorrow. It is the kind of sorrow that can be summoned only by Death.

The note on Facebook was a simple one. It read, “Thank you for all your love. We are missing this great man.” Under it was a picture of my brother’s former fiancé—a woman I haven’t seen or heard from in twenty years—and her husband, looking happy and healthy on a snowy mountaintop. My heart immediately sunk. It couldn’t be what I thought! I combed through the comments, only to get confirmation of the worst, most empty feeling that had settled in my gut. He was dead. My heart just seemed to shatter, and everything inside me emptied out. I felt hollow, like an empty shell. I later learned that he was ski mountaineering with friends when a small avalanche swept him off his feet and down the mountain, killing him instantly.

His name was Luke, and he was, by all accounts, an amazing man of outstanding character and charisma, a wonderful father and friend. I read an article that he had recently written about balancing family and adventuring, and I read all of the comments and condolences. With all of that—and, just remembering how much I thought of his wife, Kathy, so many years ago, when I knew her and believed that the man to win her love would be a worthy one—I couldn’t help but wish I knew him. I sat at my desk that night and sobbed.

So, why was I so devastated by the death of a man I had never met, whose only connection to me was a woman I had only known briefly and so very long ago? Why have I grieved this loss so deeply, when I seem to have no stake in it? I have been doing my best all week to both get through my pain and to better understand its source.

My most immediate connection is the parallel life situation, in terms of being a parent to young children. I look at Kathy, who is now left without her best friend and with three little boys to raise without their Dad. I simply cannot fathom it from her perspective. How do you shoulder the burden so suddenly of being mother and father-figure, and being without your life partner? The sudden and unexpected nature of it just puts it into a totally different stratosphere than, say, regular couples who divorce or people who have been single parents the entire time. It is just different with this shroud of LOSS hanging over. There will always be the “Your father would have loved to see you do this,” or “Your Dad would be so proud” with the kids. And there will always be the “This would have been our Xth anniversary,” or “I always thought we would do this together,” in a way that just isn’t there with other kinds of break-ups.

It is all just different. Sad. There is a sadness, an emptiness attached to even the happy moments. Even the best, most celebrated moments—the graduations, the weddings, the births—become necessarily tinged with the shroud of LOSS. It makes complicated what should be pure and simple. I hate that about LOSS. And I suppose that is my biggest beef with it. Of course, I know Kathy and her little boys will go on, tough though it may be. They will probably become happy, successful people. But they will always be tinged, will always wear some form of the shroud. I despise the unfairness of that. I hate it.

Life is not fair. That is a concept that I understand intellectually but still have a very difficult time accepting psychologically. It grates against the very fabric of my being. It is miserable to me, to the point that I had to sit at my desk on Monday night and sob about the damned unfairness of Death. It is my personal struggle.

This issue of unfairness is the one—other than my haunting fear that my wife could die suddenly and I would be faced with shepherding my kids through life alone and wearing the shroud of LOSS—that has resonated with me most in my week of grief. I have never been able to stomach unfairness done to me, and I have the worst time letting it go. I think of my repulsion to a neighbor kid cheating me on the tennis court when I was little. The thought of that kid still riles me up. More recently, I was dealt a gross injustice in a work situation, and I cannot let it go. It comes in my dreams to haunt me, waking me in outrage. Even worse, I catch myself daydreaming about it—every day—imagining conversations that would expose my betrayal and set things right. I chide myself every time for it, too, because I know it is unhealthy and unproductive.

I just don’t handle unfairness well. This situation with Luke’s untimely death–and leaving Kathy and her three young boys behind–is just an extension of that. Even though I can see the difference between an act of a petty human being against me and an “act of God” like the avalanche that killed Luke, I still find myself railing against both. I envision all of the wonderful family times Kathy and her boys were due to have with him, and I can’t help but feel they were robbed in the worst way. Interestingly, I don’t think about Luke being robbed of all of that. That is perhaps due to my views on the afterlife (a topic for another day). No, my focus seems to be entirely on the ones left behind, the ones who have to somehow carry on despite this gaping hole in their world. It just feels so darn unfair to me, and that really hurts. I ache for them with all of my being.

I also feel bad that unfairness of this sort is rampant in our world. I think I block it out most of the time because I am so sensitive about it. It is for self-protection (I can’t just sit at my desk and sob every night, right?). But when I let one slip past my defenses, my heart really breaks. I feel that way this week about this tragedy. Grief has been my constant companion. Grief for the loss felt by Kathy and those little boys. My heart is in pieces for them. They have been dealt an indescribable unfairness, and with no recourse. “March on,” says the world. “Draw that painful breath in, and exhale. Now repeat.” That is all there is to do. That is cold comfort to me. I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

How about you? How do you handle the many injustices of this thing called LIFE? Open up your journal and write about what shakes your core. Are there things you simply cannot stomach? Are they things that happen to you personally—being cheated somehow—or are they big events you see on the news, like earthquakes or terrorist attacks? Are you better able to accept the unfair things that humans do to each other (e.g. abuse or rape), or “acts of God,” such as accidents or weather events? Do you look to God for answers why, or do you just accept that we live in an unfair world? Are there injustices that have been done to you that you still cannot get over? How do you handle Death? Do you feel that the person who died was dealt an unfairness? Or, are you like me and focus only on the blow felt by the ones left behind and the hole in their lives? Does it make a difference if it was an “untimely” death, such as a child or the young father in this case? How sensitive are you to all of the examples of cruelty and unfairness in the world? For me, I cannot watch the news and must put on blinders to even the small stuff around me, because it hurts my heart so much to let it in. What is your strategy? Do you think that because examples of Death and Life’s unfairness are in our faces and all around us every day, we mostly become numb to them? Is that a bad thing, or perhaps necessary for self-preservation? All week long, I have been wondering if there are any wise and comforting words that I could say to Kathy right now, something to help her to make sense of her loss and move on in Peace. I cannot find those words. Can you?

Cherish every moment,

William