A Different Sort of Summer Camp Experience

If I had to capture my dominant emotion from my experience at Camp GLP in one word it would be loneliness. And if I could add a second word, it would be sadness.

It’s always interesting what happens when you shake up your normal patterns of life… When you go to a space and environment that is totally unlike where you normally spend your days.

Such times open you to seeing things from a different perspective. They force your mind to notice in a different way.

And so it was for me when I arrived, via a yellow school bus, for four days of summer camp (a gathering of remarkable people from across the globe for a weekend of fun, workshops, connection, and an exploration of what it means to live a good life).

So much energy! So many extremely happy people. Why wasn’t I as enthusiastic?

So many new faces… Why was I resisting going up and just talking to everyone? What kept holding me back?

Old friends that I’ve lost contact with… Why I haven’t I kept up with all of them? They’re so amazing.

Such great people everywhere. Deep conversations sparked at a moments notice… Why is that so rare to my life?

Jonathan Fields speaking on the significance of connection — connection to others… Damn, that bucket is rather empty right now.

Story Circles (using art as a tool for self-inquiry) with Cassia Cogger… Haunting how that sense of being alone kept popping up — unveiled in the patterns of my pen.

Stepping into the group meditation on Saturday morning… So much peace, so much calm, so much connection… The first tears started to fall.

Walking through the cold and rain… everything in me wanting to hide, to follow my normal pattern, to deny it, to pretend that everything was OK even when it wasn’t. But I stayed with it. I allowed what came to come.

A workshop with Robin Hallett… one that I wasn’t even scheduled to be at but felt called to somehow… one that I still nearly skipped at the last minute… one where it all broke open…

Tears fall (even now a few drops bead in my eyes at the memory). That loneliness. That sadness.

The searing cost of hiding for so many years… of pushing people away… of trying to be perfect… of refusing others to see me… of refusing to let others help me… of denying it all…

It all came crashing down.

And something shifted. Something deep shifted.

Walking to the lake. Watching the mist ghost across the surface of the water. Watching the rain drops ripple. Hearing the pattering sound of droplets upon the leaves.

I find my edge…

Compassion. Full and complete openness. To speak into the pain of another and offer healing… not because I’m here to sell… but because I’m a human being and we see each other.

To be seen. To need others. To no longer walk alone.

To embody the words of the Swahili proverb, “Mtu ni watu (a person is people).”

Perhaps it’s all best captured in a blend of tea I created with Brandon Ford. It’s a green tea… inspired by the forest floor.

Grounded and rooted…

A community… not a single, solitary tree…

And beneath the open, ever-changing sky…

Thank you all for being a part of my life. You are a gift to me.

If You Want to Be Great, Get Great Sleep

For some reason this is way harder for me than it should be.

It’s not like I haven’t seen the endless research that shows how getting enough sleep improves your memory, your ability to learn, your willpower, your level of happiness, and a whole host of other things.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced what it’s like to wake up in the morning fully rested… that perfect feeling of being alive and ready to take on whatever the day may bring. When you’re completely alert. Everything just feels right in the world.

And it certainly isn’t like I have never seen what happens when I don’t get enough sleep. That heavy weight of bricks that seems to be hanging from your eyelids. The headaches. The dense fog that seems to cloud your mind, blocking your ability to perceive nearly anything positive in your life.

Getting good sleep is important.

If you want to do amazing work in the world, giving yourself permission to get enough sleep is critical.

You can’t serve people as effectively if you’re tired and grumpy. (At least I can’t.)

Yet so often I find myself struggling to go to bed on time. And I’m rarely doing anything critical either. I don’t have any real reason to stay up. But I stay up anyways…

There are some nights I choose to stay up late
I’ve yet to understand why that is so
It’s not because I craft a work so great
Or am learning of what I do not know
What makes me stare out with my sleepy face
And on that rigid chair decide to sit
What makes me to remain within that space
And read of things that matter not a bit
For right nearby my mattress rests on beams
Begging I enter to its calm delight
I could soon travel to the land of dreams
Instead of giving sleep a weary fight
And though I have not understood it yet
This morning it is something I regret?

Why exactly, I’m not entirely sure. But I have figured out three helpful rules. Maybe they’ll be useful for you too.

1) No computer after 8pm. Some research suggests that not looking at a computer screen right before bed helps your body get better and deeper sleep. That’s not why I have this rule.

What I’ve discovered is that by turning of my computer at 8pm, I remove my primary means of distraction. And by 9pm or so, I generally think to myself… Well, nothing else to do right now, I might as well go to bed. And so I do.

2) No reading fiction in bed unless my wife is awake. Fiction is like a drug to me. Get me caught up in a good story, and I’ll read until morning. Just one more chapter… I tell myself. Yeah right.

So now I make it a practice to close my book whenever my wife is ready to turn the light off. It’s a way to force myself to put the book down.

3) Remember to have my nightly cup of tea. Right before bed, I brew myself a cup of chamomile tea. I’ll sit with it for five or ten minutes, just staring out into space. Or maybe I’ll spend a moment jotting down something I’m grateful for.

The individual actions aren’t that critical. The key though is having a routine each night that informs my body that it’s time for sleep. It helps me unwind.

You should remain awake a little more
There’s much around for you to do and see
Do not elect this time to go and snore
From all the sheeted bonds of bed stay free
Go browse a while on the internet
And then to your email again go look
Read news that in the morning you’ll forget
Stay up for long with an audio book
Heed nothing that the mad voice may suggest
Saying its lies to you inside your brain
Go restore all your energy and rest
To stay up any longer is insane
I do not want to hear a single peep
Lay quiet in your bed and go to sleep

This is something I’m still working on. And I’d love to hear your thoughts too. What do you do to ensure you get a good night of sleep?

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What Jars You to Attention?

I sit silently on my meditation cushion. A pleasant breeze drifts through the window. The sun casts a soft, orange light upon the eastern sky. All is still.

Then the smoke alarm goes off. It jars me to attention.

For a moment, I’m annoyed.

I mean, what is this stupid alarm doing interrupting the silence of the morning. I can’t smell any smoke — and my wife isn’t calling me to leave because of a fire. So why does this alarm have to interrupt me. Doesn’t it know this is my time to meditate?

It doesn’t take long to realize how ridiculous I’m being.

After all, that smoke detector is really useful. Sure, this time there isn’t a fire (thankfully). But what if there had been? What if I’d left a pan on the stove and forgotten it (heaven knows how many times I’ve done that)? What if another unit in our building had gone up in flames?

You can be sure I’d want to know. I’d want that alarm to jar me to attention… to alert me of what’s important.

I wonder though…

What Other Alarms in Life Remind Me What’s Important?

It’s so easy to grow complacent. I forget that the time I have now is precious. And I lose sight of what is really important to me – gifts like friends, family, and meaningful work.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an alarm to regularly wake me up. Something to jar me to attention. Something to remind me what’s important.

So I’ve been trying to create more of those “alarms” in my life.

Sometimes it’s people… people who care enough to check in with me and ask how I’m really doing.

Sometimes it’s a book I read… a piece of wisdom that calls me to greatness.

And sometimes… it’s simply the sight of the beautiful sunrise on a still and peaceful morning.

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What about you? What reminds you of what’s important? Let us know in the comments.

Choose Your Life

You’re playing with your daughter, and she’s chasing you around the apartment. Her shrieks of laughter and delight fill the room.

“What a wonderful way to spend an evening,” you pause and think to yourself. “What could be better?”

Ooops, she almost catches you. You spin to “escape”.

Except your foot catches the leg of a table. Hard. With force.

Pain shoots up your leg, and you stumble backwards.

Choose.

You’ve been out running errands all day, and you just want to get home. You can’t wait to see your family. And you’re definitely ready for a hot supper.

A train pulls into the train station, and you get on. Just a short ride away now.

But the train doesn’t move. It stays standing. Minutes pass.

Eventually, the conductor announces there’s a broken train on the rail ahead. Your trip home just became a lot longer.

Choose.

You’ve been rushing to meet a last minute deadline on a project, and today’s the final day. It’s a major project, and you’re responsible for getting it done on time.

Everything is ready to go except for one final piece – a bit of work that you’ve been waiting for your coworker to complete. When you checked with him the other day, he’d assured you the work would be done on time.

A bit anxious, you give him a call.

“Oh sorry,” he says, “I’m not going to be able to get it to you for another week.”

Choose.

Life constantly offers you choices.

Sometimes you get two options, and you have to pick one. But more often than not, life simply presents one option.

Here it is. Deal with it.

So how will you respond? Will you complain, hide, or react with anger? Or will you accept the situation for what it is? Will you embrace it as part of your life? Will you choose a powerful, heroic response?

The response is always up to you. The choice is always yours.

It can be tempting to only choose the more “positive” situations. But being whole means embracing your whole life. Being fully alive means being alive in all moments. It means choosing everything – not because it’s what you prefer, but because it’s what’s offered.

In the end, everything you face is your life. The only question is, will you choose it?

You’re out for a walk in quiet of the morning. All is calm. All is peaceful.

“Can the day start any better than this?” you wonder.

Then you look up.

In the east, the sun begins to rise, igniting the distant clouds into beautiful streaks of reds and yellows.

It’s simply magnificent.

Choose.

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Creating Distance (Reflections From My 4-Month Experiment)

Up until last February, I posted here every single week. No questions. No excuses.

Blizzard? Write anyway.

Challenging circumstance with work? Write anyway.

Not sure what to write about? Write anyway.

And for a long time, that schedule worked for me. There were times where the tight deadline forced me to come up with an idea – and many of those ideas turned out great. The schedule gave me a rhythm to my writing.

Except, at the beginning of this year I found myself with a problem.

My schedule had become a burden. I found myself dreading Mondays and even Sundays simply because that’s when I had to come up with something to write about. Each post became a labor and an obligation.

So I had to change something. I had to try something new.

I gave up my schedule altogether. For a four month experiment, I was free to write however and whenever I wanted.

My logic was that freeing myself from a rigid structure would free me to write more often. Or maybe I’d write slightly less frequently, but post longer and more in-depth stories.

What happened is that I didn’t write anything.

At first, that was fine. In fact, the first couple Tuesdays, I found myself fighting the urge to put a post up. But I knew for the experiment to work, I had to truly give myself permission to write nothing. So I let the weeks go by.

A few weeks turned into a month. Still nothing.

A month turned into two months. Still nothing.

My experiment began to appear more and more of a failure.

Then around the two and a half month mark, something interesting happened. I started thinking about writing again. Just a thought here or there. Just a post idea that I’d jot down on an index card for later. Just a memory every now and then about why I created the site in the first place.

And in that space, in the distance from my work, I rediscovered WHY it mattered to me.

For example, I noticed writing here every week forced me to look at life differently. I had to pay attention to my experience so I could write about it. And that forced me to be more present in life.

I noticed writing helped me solidify lessons I was learning in my own life. Teaching is often the best way to learn.

I noticed writing here gave me a place to test ideas.

Most of all, I found the writing was a small way to give to others. Maybe I could help someone avoid the pitfalls I’d fallen into. Maybe I could bring someone a little more joy, a little more love, and a little more humanity in their life. And I found satisfaction in that.

Sure, I didn’t start posting again right away. I still waited until the end of the four months.

But I have been reflecting. I’ve been consolidating my ideas. I’ve been jotting down notes of things I want to share. And I’ve refocused my overall vision for the site – a vision that I’d forgotten amid the weekly rush of posting.

And now, I’m ready to return with new energy.

But that’s not all…

I learned the power of distance.

Maybe there’s a decision you’re wrestling with, a relationship you can’t seem to improve, or maybe a goal you’re not making progress on. Perhaps there’s something you’re stuck with, and you find yourself running into the same old barriers over and over again.

When you’re in the midst of something, it’s hard to see clearly. It’s hard to see the wider picture. You’re too close. There’s too much emotion.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to create distance – even if it’s just a little bit. Give yourself space to see the situation from another view.

When you do, there are three simple guidelines that I found helpful.

One, set a time limit. This ensures you’re not just running from the problem and putting it off indefinitely. And it also reduces the pressure by not making it a permanent change. It’s only for a little while. You can always go back to how things were.

Two, give yourself permission to truly step away. Otherwise, you’re only pretending.

Three, accept whatever outcome happens. You can never be sure of what you’ll see. It’s possible the distance won’t give you anything.

Though maybe, the space you create will be exactly what you need to move forward.

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PS: I’m returning to a more regular schedule here again: about 2-3 posts a month. We’ll see how that works.

Are Your Structures Helpful? (Plus, A Four Month Experiment)

I’m a believer in structure. Many of the core habits I rely on would fall to pieces were it not for the regular ritual. I would never have become a black belt had I not trained every week. I never would have become a writer had I not written everyday. The list goes on and on.

Structure does two major things.

One, it reduces the thinking or decision making process. Instead of having to decide every week whether or not you are going to train, it’s already part of your routine. There’s no thinking, you just go do it. And if you “don’t feel like it” on a particular day, then the structure offers the support to continue going with the practice. It carries its own momentum and pushes you forward.

Two, it creates space. By limiting options you free yourself to dive deep. For example, one of my favorite forms of poetry to write is the sonnet. Why? Because instead of worrying about how many syllables to make each line, or whether or not I ought to rhyme, I can focus on what I’m trying to say. The constraints sharpen my focus, and, in a way, make it easier to create a quality poem.

Yet there’s a line.

Sometimes structure can become too limiting. Sometimes it can start taking away from what you really want to create in and with your life. Sometimes, you have to recreate the structure to serve as a better container for you and the body of work you’re trying to build.

I’m realizing my weekly posting schedule has crossed that line for me. It’s no longer a helpful structure.

When I set out on this project a few years ago, I knew that if I didn’t set a regular schedule, I’d never write. My previous website died for that reason. I knew that I had to create a practice of shipping my work out regularly.

So I decided to write every week. Every Tuesday, I’d create a post. No excuses.

And for a long time, it worked. There are many weeks where the simple requirement to show up has forced me to create posts I’m quite proud of. It also got me into the discipline of creating regularly. I learned how to bring projects – even if they were a single post – to completion. It got me to write regularly.

Yet there was another piece to the vision of this project. I wanted to create posts that moved people – that moved you. I wanted to create stories and essays with depth. I wanted to share ideas I felt were important to share.

I still do that to an extent. But as I’ve directed more and more of my attention to building my copywriting business, which is another important project in my life, I haven’t had the same amount time to think and ponder over each post. Nor have I been out and interacting with people as often. Nothing bad about that, by the way, it’s just the season of life I’m in right now.

I often find myself getting to Monday or Tuesday with no idea what to write about or what I want to share. That’s fine for every now and then, but I’ve learned that when a problem keeps coming up over again, I need to pay attention and make some changes.

Maybe I’m still serving you, but I’m not serving you in the way I want. I’m not hitting the depth I want to go for. I’m not honoring the time and attention you give me in the way I feel you deserve.

It’s hard to change. There’s a lot of fear around changing a structure that has worked for years…

Will I still write? Or without the weekly deadline, will I just keep putting it off?

Will I actually create better posts?

Will I lose readers? Will they be disappointed in not getting a post every week?

Will this project that I care so much about just fade away? Will I abandon it?

So I’m going to launch an experiment. I’m going to put my fears to the test. For the next four months, I’m freeing myself from the schedule of posting every week. Completely.

Instead, I’ll only post when I have something I want to say. I’ll post when there’s an idea or story I just can’t help but share. I’ll post when I’m overflowing with energy and excitement.

What will that look like? Who knows? Maybe I’ll only post about once a month. Maybe I’ll post more often than I do now. Maybe I won’t post at all. Any outcome is acceptable. This is an experiment.

At the end of four months, which will be marked on my calendar, I’ll re-evaluate. I’ll look at the experiment and decide what I want to do going forward. And I’ll share with you what I learned.

Thank you so much for being a part of this journey. You are a blessing to me.

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PS: What structures do you have in your life that may not be helpful? Is there an experiment you could run to test an alternative way of living?

Worth Remembering

I don’t know all that much about her really. We never talked long.

Where did she come from? Or had she always lived here? Did she have any family? Did she have a job? Why did she hang out on that particular street corner? What was life like for her? These are questions I don’t know answers to.

About the only thing I know was her name was Jennifer.

I passed her often – usually on the way to and from the grocery store. She liked to hang out near the entrance to the ‘L’.

Our conversations were brief most of the time – not touching on anything particularly remarkable. But they were a bright moment in the day nonetheless.

She liked to ask about my family – especially my daughter who she thought was “so special”. Every time I or my wife passed with our daughter, she’d stop us and smile. She had a great smile – a big grin full of missing teeth. You could always tell it was genuine.

From time to time she’d ask for change – a small bite to eat. And from time to time we’d help her. I’d gave her some change. My wife gave her a pair of jeans. Perhaps what we offered were but small kindnesses, but I hope it was more than that. I hope it made a small difference. I hope it showed she was a somebody to us.

Then one day we realized we hadn’t seen her in a while.

That wasn’t all that surprising of an event. I’m used to people disappearing. Sometimes they get a job and are able to leave the streets. Sometimes they move to a different neighborhood. And other times, well, you hope the best for them.

Yet recently, my wife found out that Jennifer had passed away.

I think about her often. I think of her smile. I think of the way she loved our daughter. I think of the many brief conversations we had by the ‘L’ station.

I’ll miss her.

Maybe I never knew her all that well. I’ll probably never know too much about her. But I do know she was a human being. I know she’s worth remembering.

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