There is a magic to the early morning.
I awake and the world is quiet. As part of my morning routine (which rarely changes), I stretch and mediate before dressing, making coffee, and writing. Each piece is vital and irreplaceable to my life.
The stretching helps my body to feel alive, fluid, pliable, and although I have no scientific basis for this, I believe that it does prevent quite a few potential injuries. The meditation helps me clear my head and to get myself into the clear, grateful, and positive mindset that I choose to have while going through the day.
But in this writing, I want to address the "dressing" part of the morning.
Up until not too long ago, I always dressed with some purpose, a bit of flair yes, but functionally. I would wear a pair of jeans, a sweater, T-Shirt, etc. Sure, I supposed that I often dressed better than many of the men I knew, but never gave too much thought to it.
Now, something has changed.
A friend of mine who works in clothing design approached me in October about the long term prospect of my helping design some clothing and shoes. It was an odd prospect for me, seeing that I know nothing about the clothes business and have no business designing anything. "What in the world could I add to the world that it doesn't already have?"
"Michael, you are one of the most unique people that I know. We don't want the clothes that you are wearing now, we want your eye, your aesthetic."
But what WAS my aesthetic? I had no idea. So, I spent some time thinking about it and something occurred to me.
I had none. There was a general idea of "style", but really, I always just bought what was available, made sure that the belt and shoes roughly were the same color, and that was that. My lack of real choice was my choice. Yet I, and most of the people I know, have made it unconsciously.
What did dressing mean to me? As a man, we're supposed to care a little, but not a lot. The classic study in contradictions visited on men and women all of their lives. I really didn't care and honestly still am not sure that I do. But, in the face of this thinking, I came to an understanding.
Much of culture and the long tail of traditional lifestyle, like Christmas, weddings, parties, clothing, etc, are about cultivating a beautiful life out of the rough patches in life. You hold conventions like you hold principles, not to confine you, but to have something to hold to.
I've found that dressing well falls into this category for me. The key is elegance.
elegance (noun) el·e·gance \ˈe-li-gən(t)s\: a) refined grace or dignified propriety b) dignified gracefulness or restrained beauty of style
When I make the effort to dress with elegance, it is a repose, a pause, from the rest of the world telling me to "Hurry up!" I take a moment. I decide how I will meet the world. It's a "f*ck you" to the powers that would have you scrambling to follow their agendas for your life.
With that realization, everything changed for me. I began focusing more and more about how I presented myself in public. I would encourage readers (especially the men) to consider this for themselves and notice if there is purpose behind their appearance, of if it's just thrown together by what was for sale at a local department store.
Elegance says that it's alright to slow down and savor the moment in a fast moving society. It is about the cultivation of civility in the wilderness.
This might forever change how you see me. You see, I have failed and hurt somebody.
Recently, I had a "breakup"with close friend and teacher. (I'll cover that in another blog post this week.)
He had taught me for over a decade, mostly for free. I wasn't a great student at all. I made progress, but it was slow. I never could make myself train much outside of the actual sessions.
We had our differences, but we were close. I knew I frustrated him. He also deeply frustrated me for his own lack of action in his life and what I (and his other ex-students) perceive as a raging ego streak that makes him very difficult to be around.
I've edited some of the conversation, to make a point beneath. There are all his words, unedited for content. It's starts right after I said that I had nothing to prove to anybody.
"And you're right. There's no need to prove yourself when the only company you keep is people with a superficial knowledge of you, or at the very least, people who have never seen your failures or watched you run from them. People who won't, or more specifically can't, call you out on any falsehoods. I bet to those people, you walk on fucking water.
You know what I think? There are many hats that we all wear. You have many Mikes. Marketing Mike. Author Mike. Musician Mike. Seven or Eight other hashtags. But I'm the only person, even including your parents, who saw the depths of Quitter Mike, Failed Mike, Shamed Mike, Hype Mike. I think you are trying to build a new life for yourself and have a carefully crafted image, and there were only two problems: your training, and me. We don't fit the hype, so you got rid of those elements."
You could call yourself the greatest rockstar ever, the next Shakespeare, and crown yourself the King of the fucking Danes. I would laugh, and cheer you on. But sometimes.. Sometimes you cross a line in what you say, claim some quality, make a statement, that is either hypocritical, or I know for a fact you don't have because I stood there for 10 years and watched you not achieve it. Those moments are unbearable, and so I'm reduced to looking like a complete asshole for reminding you (however bluntly) that you didn't achieve those things. And you just ignore it (and me) and move on.
But really.. Facing up to your failures and owning them? You posted about that? REALLY? And you see, this inspires very toxic behavior from me, because it's all you've left for me to work with, and I refuse to be that false person anymore due to your gross shame and negligence.
I don't want to remind you of the bad things about yourself, or your past. I want you to kick the shit out of them. But you haven't. All you've done is exclude me from your life because I remind you of them. And I (don't want) that role anymore.
The credit that you don't give me is that if what you say is true, then I admit it. That's balls you never had. How many businesses, how many projects did you give up on? Because I'm betting they were many times greater than mine. Are you even aware that you have 17 facebook followers? Facebook doesn't let you view your own numbers, for obvious reasons. That's who your dog and pony show is for.
World Poetry Open Mic... My friend's corgi page has three time the likes as that page.
How many promises of commitment did you break, exactly, over the years? You can't even return a fucking phone call when you say you're going to.
One of the primary differences between us is that if/when/where I'm full of shit, I keep it to myself. You don't do that. You have this dog and pony show about how great and productive you are, except I watched you be lazy for 10 damn years. All hail the mighty narrative and fuck whoever doesn't fit into it, right Mike?
And another difference - if I gave up on many things, whatever the reasons, or have bad qualities about myself, I don't call myself too good for anyone who can offer any real insight on helping me change that. But you do. "Not too good for your training or me," I suppose that would make you a liar as well.
You never have, or never could tank our relationship by telling me the truth. You tanked it by being an asshole who's full of himself over small numbers.
So who has the bigger ego, Mike? Me helping you however I could for 10 years, mostly for free, and however little that obviously was. Or you, for being willful, arrogant, lazy, and talking the biggest game with the smallest delivery that I've ever heard of? And I've studied car salesmen.
The simple fact is, at the end of the day, you being the biggest hypocrite I've ever met didn't prevent me from loving you like a brother. I have no doubt you've harbored your unvented feelings for years, as I have mine.
You know what really matters? The only thing that's relevant? I never proposed teaching you anything outside of training. I never overstepped my bounds, not even once. Not even when you turned yourself into a writing hack for money. We had one objective, one primary goal, and you were just too goddamn proud to humble yourself and do what you were told to achieve it. No finances, I directed you elsewhere to study virtue, no careers, no adolescent pissing contests. I stayed on track, and you failed every promise you made in that department. And THAT is all on you, and no amount of attacking my character, true or simply reflections of yourself, will change that you failed that objective spectacularly for all the reasons I mentioned. It's been years since I had any faith that you would succeed in it, but I didn't let it color my teaching, and because of the rapport you threw away - and for what? Image."
So, there you have it.
EXT. PARK - DAY
MICHAEL ENTERS AND APPROACHES YOU. HE OFFERS HIS HAND.
MICHAEL (TO CAMERA)
Hello, I'm Michael. I'm a failure, a hypocrite, a hack, an asshole, I'm lazy, I'm too goddamn proud to humble myself, willful, arrogant, lazy, and talking the biggest game with the smallest delivery that you've ever heard of. I'm also Quitter Mike, Failed Mike, Shamed Mike, and Hype Mike.
Pleasure to meet you. I've been trying to figure out how to put all of that on a business card, but I've failed thus far to do so. (Oh! The irony!)
You know what? He's right. I have quit. I have failed. I have felt deep shame. I have engaged in hype. I've been a hypocrite, been willful, arrogant, lazy, talked a big game and delivered small.
But is that all that there is to me? Of course not.
Have I bounced back from failure or difficult positions?
Yes. From a failed (there's that word again) marriage, deep heartbreak, near bankruptcy, failed businesses, rejections, etc.
How do I know?
Because I'm still here. Because I'm still fighting. I'm still working on the things I've always wanted to do, even if I've failed in the past.
The point here is this: I have done all of those things. But he is hardly the only one who has seen it. I've failed in front of many, many people. I've also succeeded in front of many people. In fact, without the failures, there would never have been any success.
And I plan on failing again. And again. And again. Until I succeed.
You are more than your failures. You are more than what your detractors say. They are more than you say, as well. We are people, infinitely complex and with many facets.
I am a failure, because I am human.
As for if I'm successful or not, I'll let my results speak for themselves.
Castle Rock, Colorado
As I stood in the wine stocking room, I tried to convince myself that psychic flashes of intuition weren't real. These were just random pictures being generated by my subconscious and being served my mind's eye. There was no association with reality here. I didn't believe them. I didn't have any reason to. Yet, something about them felt so real.
The image was of a man's silhouette against one of the large windows in my apartment. I couldn't see his face, but he wore a cowboy hat. That was it. Nothing truly remarkable. Yet, somehow, it was deeply disturbing in a way that I couldn't explain.
It was already dark outside when I went on my lunch break. I had already planned to make the short drive home to get food and say check in on my wife, who had been in bed sick that morning when I'd left. Having succeeded in blocking my intuition, I had almost forgotten the earlier images that had flashed across my mind earlier that day. But as I pulled out of the parking lot on to the street, something odd happened: the images and feelings came back.
Once again, I pushed them back down into the recesses of my mind. "My mind was being ridiculous," I told myself. "Relax. Everything is fine."
The first thing I noticed was the large beat up truck parked in the parking lot of my apartment building. I didn't think much of it, other than to think that I didn't recognize it. I passed it and slipped up the three flights of stairs to our top floor apartment.
The next thing I noticed was that the front door was unlocked. This was strange. I stepped into the darkened room, taking an immediate right to the bedroom. As I stepped into the doorway, I froze.
My wife was laying in bed in the dark. Kneeling on the floor next to her, inches away, was a man in a cowboy hat. Startled by my sudden appearance, his stood, his silhouette against the large window. The images came to life.
At a moment like that, every biological imperative to violence rises inside of you. You understand the nature of killing. You feel the precipice of "temporary insanity" appearing beneath your feet. As Oliver Stone wrote in Wall Street "Man looks into the abyss and there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment he finds his character. That's what keeps him out of the abyss."
I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath..
It's Christmas time in Colorado. We've had several significant snowfalls and, while the news and politicians are churning the hamster wheel of the fear business, there seems to be a genuinely loving spirit in the people I encounter. Perhaps because of a recent career shift into teaching music and drama and a Catholic elementary and Jr. High School has connected me more with the childlike spirit and excitement around the holidays. It's definitely the first time that I've had Christmas Break since I was in school.
All around me, whether in person or in social media interactions, people are going crazy for "Star Wars". It is absolutely destroying the box office and adults and children alike are falling back into the wonderful universe that George Lucas created (and later cheapened, according to many). It makes me smile.
It reminds me of when I was something noble. Something innocent and beautiful. You see, as a young boy, I was like Luke Skywalker.
Wait, let me explain that first.
One of my most treasured memories was being read stories by my father before bed. He read Mallory's "King Arthur", "Robin Hood" and every kind of great literature for boys imaginable. As I look back, these stories were deeply formative and instructive to me. I learned about values from tales of heroism, good deeds, honor, chivalry, and compassionate action in the face of great adversity.
Movies were an extension of that. When a character resonated with me, my father had a way of connecting it to the innate internal values of that person, not the external rewards. For me, being a Jedi was about being in touch with the Force and doing what was right. I could care less about the award ceremony at the end. My dad would, if I was in what I perceived to be a challenging situation, would ask me what a Jedi would do. Then, he would allow me to find the answer and take action.
There were many times that, at school or alone while playing in my backyard, I would stop and close my eyes and take a long breath. Then, I would listen. I would hear the breeze in the trees, the voices of the neighbors several backyards over, and perhaps the sound of a bee as it buzzed nearby. Somehow then I knew that I was deeply connected to this world and that I was special. I was born to bring light and goodness to this world.
The world moved alone as it does and I moved along with it. I started growing up and my childhood innocence began to transform. At the time, I was attending a Catholic school where fights were the norm. I fought many, most of them in defense of my friends or for those who couldn't stand up for themselves.
That day on the playground, when I got into a fight with a large bully named Jimmy Arnold, it was in defense of someone less powerful. Jimmy was picking on another smaller boy in my class. I joined the other kid to ward him off. He kept at it and he and I fought. Hard. When the fight was finished, there was blood (all his), but my arm was broken. That day, my life began to change.
Through the miracle of that broken arm, I found that I was in a battle for my life. Bone cancer had made the bone weak enough to break. We went straight into fighting it, because that's what heroes do. Through the blessings of the indescribable passion and work of my doctors and the love and powerful love of my parents, I made it through. With my arm, albeit one strengthened by titanium and stainless steel, without a deltoid and very little in the way of bicep or tricep, but I made it. Years later, I found out the odds: 4% or less chance of survival with amputation of my left arm and intense chemotherapy as a must. I can never thank my parents enough for never telling me the odds.
As I grow older now, I can see the wide and deep scar that experience has left on my life. There were many times that I've run from my past with cancer, with survival, with loss. But it's always there in my scars, both physical and otherwise.
A few years later, as a teenager, I would turn to music and creativity as my method of expression. While I inherently knew that this work was important, I was like a puppy, running every direction, excited by the world in general. I had girlfriends and I had friends. I had good moments and bad ones, as well.
I can say now, if I'm honest, that the stories had been leaving me for awhile at this point. I was being caught in the illusions of the world. I was now trying to be something rather than feeling it the way that I did as a child. I no longer took time to hear the wind in the trees.
My inner voice made another rally in my early twenties. I felt the desire to be a part of something significant and of higher purpose. Naturally, being raised a Catholic, I decided to pursue a vocation as a priest.
Looking online at the various religious orders, I came across a group called The Paulists. This order focused on spreading the message of Catholicism through the creation of media (film, tv, etc). Perfect! I found out that there were several Paulist priests at a church in Boulder, Colorado and made an appointment to meet them.
That night, after a mass, three priests and myself were walking down Boulder's Pearl Street Mall on the way to dinner. Suddenly, just up ahead, we heard the high pitched shrieks and screams of several girls viciously fighting each other. One of the girls had another's hair in her hand, forcing her to kneel while pummeling her in the face.
I was shocked. This was terrible. Right then, one of the priests scoffed, shook his head and started walking faster. I stopped dead in my tracks, watching. When I turned to look back at the priests, only one had stayed behind. His eyes met mine and I could see the message in his eyes. "It's wrong to keep walking, but it's how the world is."
He turned and continued walking up the path. Then, not wanting to ditch my hosts, I followed. For that, I will forever be ashamed. Somewhere deep inside of me, a dark little voice cooed "The Jedi in you was a myth, Michael. You aren't special. You aren't here to make the world better. You are here to survive it. You aren't enough to be a hero."
Over the course of the next few years, I'd begin to believe it.
After a long period of investigation into other religious orders, I'd discovered something: These men didn't have any more answers than the rest of us. In fact, they were quite blocked. When you believe that you already know everything, there isn't any room for the humility required to see the truth. It's easy to act holy when you are alone on a mountain top.
So, I abandoned the idea. I decided to find another way.
Several years later, I was a singer in a western band called "The Flying W Wranglers" in Colorado Springs, where I met my soon to be wife. Performing music every night in a beautiful place, making good money, and being "in love' is a seductive and potent mix. You can even trick yourself into thinking that it will last forever. She and I got engaged quickly.
And the world moved along, and I moved along with it.
A year and a half later, I was still living in Colorado Springs with my wife. We had been married in the summer of that year tragically, only a few months later, her mother had relinquished her body in a long battle with cancer. My wife was grief stricken. Tears were shed, but this was deeper. It was in her eyes. The once calm, peaceful, and slightly mischievous look had been replaced by eyes wide with anxiety and wild internal emotion. I tried to help her, but could never find a way to open her up to allow it.
At work, I had left the Wranglers and was heading up promotions at a country radio station. I was good at the job and trying to keep up with a massive learning curve. It turns out that getting to know everyone in even a small city like Colorado Springs is much harder than you would imagine. When I took the job, I was stepping into a challenging situation. The Program Director of the station had recently been let go, leaving the seasoned on air team without an official leader. When I was brought in, I was in fresh territory and was able to chart the course until someone was hired to head the station officially.
As one of my passion projects, I started meeting and working with the head of fundraising at a local hospital to put on a radio centric fundraiser for their pediatric oncology clinic. We agreed that, when the Denver Children's Hospital had their fundraiser, we would travel up together and watch what they did. I was finally in a position to help further the treatment of a lot of children by making this work.
Around the same time, the station's higher management hired a gentleman named Jim West to be the new Program Director. Jim was a good guy. Soft spoken, funny, and very experienced in all aspects of radio. He and I spent a lot of time together.
On the evening before I was to go to Denver and watch the execution of the fundraiser for Children's Hospital, I reminded Jim that I would be out of the office for the first part of the day, but would be back that afternoon and to handle an event that evening that would last until midnight. Jim said "Nope. I need you here." I pressed and told him why it mattered. He was unwavering. Well, shit.
Since this discussion happened after 6 p.m., I could not reach the man from the hospital. Only his voicemail. I left him a diplomatic message (which means that I lied to make my boss and I look like less of a pair of douchebags), but reiterated that we were still moving forward, just that I couldn't join him that day. The next morning, I left the house early, having a feeling that he might not have gotten the message and might be waiting for me.
Sure enough, he was there. He smiled and waved his hand, his small, beat up car behind him. I got out of the station truck, said good morning, and asked if he'd received my message. He hadn't. When I told him that I couldn't go, his face fell. The look is still locked in my mind as if it was this morning. To me, this wasn't the look of just this man in this situation, but the face of my own heart staring back at me.
As I went on with my day, which held no actual reason that I needed to be there, it dug in more and more deeply. I had just sold out on of my deepest values. That dark little voice was no longer cooing. It was derisively cackling at me. I had never felt so ashamed in my life.
Where had my true north gone? Where was the Jedi? Where was the wind in the trees?
Castle Rock, Colorado
There, in that darkened apartment bedroom, I felt the abyss open up beneath me. The dark side was there for the taking. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My wife and the cowboy starting yelling at me in high pitched voices, spiked with fear upon being caught. In that breath, I remembered the wind in the trees. I remember the stories, and I remembered the young Jedi. I had betrayed him for many years. His voice was so small that I had to strain to hear it. But I knew, that for the next few minutes, I could, as my father used to say, "do what a Jedi would do".
My eyes opened and I saw them there, frightened. I blocked the only exit from the room and could have easily handled him in a fight. I looked into the eyes of wife, wild and frightened. Then, I gazed into the eyes of the man who was in my home, in my bedroom, and sleeping with my wife.
"It is time for you to leave," I said in a calm voice.
The cowboy froze. He was afraid to move. My eyes stayed glued on his. I saw, in him, the manifestation of my frightened lower self.
He ran for the door, brushing past me as he left. I heard the door slam, his feet on the steps, and the tires screech as he peeled out of the parking lot. I turned back to my wife and she burst into tears.
I wish that I could say that it's all been different since then. That, once I found that internal strength again, it stayed. But that would be a lie.
There is a strong part of me that places value on those who are close to me, many times to my own detriment. In the case of my now failed marriage, it was because of multiple things on both sides. Not long after that event, she told me that she was pregnant and, out of care for the child, I decided to take on the role of father, although I knew that there was a very slight chance that he was mine.
She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Then, soon after he returned home from the hospital, she and her father trashed our apartment and moved them out while I was at work. It turns out that, from the tragically depressed emotional place she occupied at the time, she was feeding her family and friends some serious accusations against me. Of course, almost all who knew she and I distrusted the rumors and asked me. They were easily refuted and proven wrong because they weren't remotely true. But some of the damage remained - there are still some people who never asked.
The deep voice growled "You see? What great hero loses his family? Isn't enough man to keep his wife? Let's another man take his wife and then still supports her? You were never good enough."
She remarried the day after the divorce was finalized and is happy to this day, I've heard. The boy, for reasons I won't go into here, was adopted by her new husband at an early age. He has another brother, as well. They have a normal and happy life. (His adoption was one of the hardest "Yeses" I've ever had to give. But it was the right thing to do.)
It would take years of rebuilding. Of meditating and spending time alone to recenter myself. I needed to heal. Not just from my marriage where the two of us somehow combined created a toxic mix, but from my violations of my own innocence and internal voice.
I've lost brothers, both biological and fraternal, in this process. I've given up letting anyone define or give judgement over my behavior. If you focus on judging and condemning others rather than building consensus and moving things forward, then I don't have the energy or time to be with you.
Instead, I spend time closing my eyes, breathing, and listening. That little dark voice has grown so quiet that it's almost inaudible. And I've gone back to the old books and stories. I've gone back to Robin Hood, King Arthur, chivalry, and honor. The Jedi's voice has been growing louder and louder in my heart.
In my search for that path, I've studied many things: Religion, martial arts, business, mind control, and beyond. They never resonated with me, in truth. Religion - was because I wanted answers. Martial Arts - I wanted to be able to protect others and myself, but also, in retrospect, I wanted the gratification of knowing how to bring violence against others. Fear was (and is) a deeply fundamental component of this desire. When my fear left, so did my appetite for violence or it's study. Mind control is the same thing.
But, in this day and age, how does a Jedi wield his weapon?
It must be different for everyone. But for me, the answer is as clear as it can be. My weapon is...me. My heart, my mind, my creativity, my skill set, my honor, my deeds, and my intentions. It's in my focus.
This is why I took a job as a teacher over an already sewn up finance job that payed 200% more. This is why myself and the rest of the crew at World Poetry Open Mic have produced our show nearly every Friday night for over three years: to give poets a voice amidst the noise. It's why I am working to create inspiring and fascinating new works of art and promoting the message that we can make this world better.
My focus is and will continue to be on the mission of love, truth, humanity, innovation, and hope. My enemies are fear, hate, scarcity, and illusion.
Those who know me know that I speak the truth. I own my role in what has transpired in the past and I own the consequences. They have all made me stronger.
But now, I'm back at the sweet beginning. Where I can close my eyes, breathe, and know that I have always been a Jedi, even though I might have forgotten along the way.
It's never too late.
As of late, I have developed a rather peculiar habit. I will make coffee or a container full of ice water and sit at my computer for hours, literally for hours, and watch footage of cataclysmic events. If there is a video of tsunami thundering from the coastline and devastating a village, I've seen it. That horrific footage from 9/11 of people jumping to their death to escape the inferno in the twin towers? I've watched those, too. Over and over again.
I take no pleasure from this. There is no morbid satisfaction that derives from hearing the cries of families as their homes, town, and entire countryside is reduced to rubble in wild waters. Instead, it helps me understand the face of what we, as living things, are up against.
It helps me taste the void.
Somehow, deep down in my heart, I crave the nothingness. Even though it terrifies me.
The fact is that no one has the answers. No one. Many people pretend to, drawing elaborate constructs and architectures of the spirit and how "all of this" works. Most will tell you how you inherently aren't enough unless you follow their program for your development. The clever ones will tell you to feel it's truth for yourself, of course, they don't do that before leveraging your mindset with societal pressure, the law of reciprocation, and so on. Call me a skeptic, but I've never found a dogma I couldn't distrust.
There is one medication I've found, one drug, that helps me forget the malevolent immensity of space or the crushing weight of the passage time: my own bullshit. My personal delusions. The idea that if I'm loved enough, if I'm revered enough, if I matter enough, that I will somehow be able to save myself when the dark waters come for me, as they inevitably will.
So, I go to work, creating a "reality" that makes me feel significant, special, and in charge of things. i exercise, try to eat well, create things, connect with people, and try show love to those around me. It's all sincere and from my heart. But underneath it all, the void is waiting.
It's the same for all of us, isn't it? We seek love and significance in some funny ways as humans. The masculine dominant people out there do it through achievements of some sort: money or the understanding of some arcane concept. Some see physical fitness or their ability to attract members of the opposite sex as a path to significance. Many feminine sourced people I know seek recognition for their free spirit, physical expression (dance, style and appearance) and their lust for life. We all seek the security of knowing that we are valued by those around us for who we are inherently (feminine energy) and who we can become (masculine energy).
In that, I think, is where we find our real essence. We are very human beings, fraught will frailty and fear, hoping that we matter enough to be loved, and that we love enough to matter. None of us know the answer and we hope someone else does.
We are all significant and completely, utterly insignificant at the same time. This universe will not pause for a moment before crushing your life and potential if the situation is right. In that, we only have a choice as to what we do in the mean time.
For me, I choose creativity, passion, love, and connection. But you might choose something different, that's fine. Whatever helps you feel alive and loved. Because you are both and time is of the essence.
No one should have to face the meeting with the void alone, yet the cruel truth is that we all must. But, until that moment, I want to live wholeheartedly in what we have, dropping the cynicism, and learning to conquer this fear by singing, writing, talking, hugging, meditating, and kissing.
All I can hope to do is to smile as I look back, just before meeting the void with a full heart.
I suppose that there is time for action and a time for reflection. Sometimes, it is to easy to confuse one with another. But, there is hardly mistaking a long and lonely evening (such as when I'm writing this) for an opportunity to reflect on things one might brush aside in the interest of everyday experience.
I'm sure that time travel is, at least as far as we can tell, not possible. It would be quite a mess if it were, but imagine what fun it would be.
Here's what I would redo if I knew the outcome, my "Time Traveler's To-Do List", as it were.
(This is assuming that one could only travel back within the scope of one's own life and experience. Otherwise, imagine me drinking with the Vikings, studying philosophy and math with the Greeks and Arabs, studying military strategy with Hannibal, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon, and taking music lessons from Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Puccini. Also, I would also spend some time trying to seduce Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, Rita Heyworth, and Marilyn Monroe. I mean, given the opportunity, you might as well...)
I would spend more time with my brothers as they grew up.
One of them, who used to be my best friend for many years, I no longer speak with. The relationship has hardened and we are no longer a part of each other's lives. However, I still love him as much as I always have and it breaks my heart every time I hear his name and in every strained silence at family gatherings. He is now happily married and is a father, which brings him so much joy that I believe he has found his life's purpose. I wish him nothing but the best, but also miss the bond that we once had.
My other brother, a passionate and fiery intellectual, is hell bent on escaping the state as soon as possible. I wonder if I will ever really talk to him or see him after he leaves. He's never exactly been good at communicating when not face to face. It's not on purpose, his mind is occupied elsewhere. I can understand. However, in my mind, there is no more valiant, loyal, and passionate soul then him in all the world. I am proud to be his brother and will always cheer him on or be there to hear him out if he needs to talk.
I miss what we all once had and will inevitably miss them more in the future. I wish I had spent more time with them up until now. We would have played more baseball, sword fought with more sticks, played with more G.I. Joe's, and spent more time together. In laughter or in silence, it would be worth it to live it all again.
I would spend more time with my parents.
Some of you reading this blog would know my parents. If you do, you know the warmth, the love, the music, the food, the humor, and the compassion that they fill the world with. To me, they are so much more than that.
What do you say about those who have loved you and been there your entire life? As a young child learning to speak? To read and write? To play sports? To play music? To sing? How does one classify that? The word "parent" definitely does not seem to cut it. I'll say this instead: Literally every major event in my life has involved them in some way and I can't imagine a life without them.
In 2013, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a double mastectomy and rounds of chemo therapy. I saw the change in her body, in her energy, and have seen tiredness set in, like the leaves turning in fall. While she bravely made it through the forest and is in the latter stages of her treatment, the effects remain. I take every opportunity to tell her that I love her and to express my gratitude for who is she to the world and who is she is to mine and my family's lives. I want her to know as many times as possible and as much as possible what she has meant to us.
My father is the best man I know. His honesty, his compassion, his love for those around him is my model for how a man should love and I still choose it consciously. I remember so many things with him, from fishing as a young boy, to camping, singing, emergency room trips in the middle of the night, playing catch, being read to, and learning to play guitar. He has always...and I mean always been there when someone he loves needs something.
One of the most profoundly moving things I ever experienced was him taking care of my mother during her cancer treatment. I have never seen someone give so much love through the little acts of service and support as he did. It provided such a strong example of what a real man does for those he loves that it's intimidating. I hope to, if ever faced with such a challenge, to be able to face it with as much compassion. love, and patience as he did and still does.
I would be easier on those I loved
Relationships are tricky. Especially as you are learning not only to love, but to receive it in return. (I'm still just starting to learn these things even now.) I have had tender hearts entrusted to me in the past and I have failed them all at one time or another.
If I could go back and do it all again, while knowing what I know now, I would keep the good parts and gently slip past the bad. Heartbreak happens to us all, but sometimes, it's much more harsh than it needs be. I'd say "sorry" more. I'd say "you are beautiful" more. I'd compliment more, especially in the presence of others. I would endeavor to allow each of my past loves feel adored and valuable as much as possible. Because they all were. (Still are.)
I would listen better and be present, instead of always on the way to somewhere else, whether physically or mentally. I would take the time to notice the small things that make it all so beautiful and forget the things that muddy the memories. Things would end, as they have to, but I would try to never let things sink into negativity or anger.
I would end the bad relationships faster
Staying in bad relationships has cost me. It cost me my trust, my joy, my health, my money, my spirit, my friends, my heart, and my will to live at various times in my life. If I could go back, I would end them quickly, before it picked up momentum and became harder and harder to stop. There were always warning signs, I always just chose not to heed them.
I would end them gracefully and find the joy in the short experience.
I would say "Fuck It, Let's Do It" more often
What would I give to be able to go back at take all the opportunities that I didn't take in the past? Not for any grand scheme for world domination, but rather for a chance to experience all the excitement and eccentricities of life. Some of my big regrets have been the chances I haven't taken. If I could, I would say "Yes" as much as possible.
I would never break my personal integrity under any circumstances
I am ashamed to admit that I have in the past. Given a second shot, this is one of the biggest things that would be on my mind. Complete integrity and congruence.
I would never accept anyone's attempts to control me
You know it is. When you are young and inexperienced, you fall for all kinds of traps. The traps work, because they are designed to. Bosses, girlfriends, teachers, mentors, colleagues, all seem to want control and power over you. So, they try to pull you into their game.
If I could return to those moments, I have politely shown myself the door and left.
I belong to no one.
I would stop ever trying to control anybody else
Some of the things I regret most in my life is the times I suddenly found myself manipulating someone else. It was never a conscious decision, but it's so easy to slip into. As I see it now, this has always been from a mentality of scarcity. I have no need to control others against their will. (Now, controlling others with their consent is a totally different conversation!)
I would start eating well sooner
The side effects of a bad diet are horrendous. I've lived them and seen what they turn into as one gets older. Once I changed how I approached eating, I finally started understanding what a difference it can make. I think I would like to have started that sooner.
I would start exercising and practicing yoga sooner
It took me years to settled into a fair regular health regimen. Now, it is vital to my life. But I only started after I noticed injuries starting to occur. If I could go back, I would add these elements to my life early on and make them life long habits.
I would meditate sooner (and more often)
Almost all of the internal progress I have made in my mental and emotional life has been through the practice of meditation. Understanding how to let my thoughts pass by, how to watch them, how disassociate and quiet your mind and has been of profound value for me and I can only imagine what this practice would bring me if I were able to introduce it to the "younger and stupider" Michael in the past.
I would stop comparing myself or trying to impress others
What a waste of time and energy that was!
I would notice things more (and be grateful for them)
I would make an effort to notice the quality of the sunlight during different parts of the day. The different expressions and moods of the people around me. The music I hear playing throughout the day. I would make a point of watching every single detail as an integral part of the unfolding tapestry of existence. Then, with those details in my mind, I would give thanks.
To me gratitude exists in a world separate from fear. The two can't really seem to exist in the same place, can they? When I feel deeply and truly grateful, I feel stronger and more powerful. Yet, at the same time, I feel more vulnerable. Perhaps that vulnerability is strength.
I would try to be more vulnerable
I have this "thing" that I do. I somehow make myself "better" than situations in my head, so as to not recognize that I might have something to lose. This is entirely based on a deep seated fear that I am not, at my core, worthy of anyone's real love. That it's always sunshine and rainbows until people meet the real "me".
To be honest, being one of the weird, creative ones on the planet hasn't helped this case much. I'm intense, very hard on myself, ambitious, creative, passionate, loving, confrontational, calm, and entirely emotional. I can't be someone else if I tried. (Trust me. It's been attempted.)
If it was possible, I should think I would like to try and be a bit more vulnerable. I think it would have led to a bit more heartbreak, but also many more magical experiences of connection and love.
I would give more of myself to every day
At the end of our lives, I like to think that we can look back and see the wildly intricate and varied journey we have lived. That we can see the people that we've touched and the ways we have made a difference.
If I could travel back and do it all again, I would like to think that I would try to everything more. With more passion. With more tenderness. With more creativity. With more charity.
If I could go back, I would do the things I've only really learned are important because of losing something. I've always tried to do by best in life and have failed so many times. But, I've also succeeded, as well. There is something undefinable and comic about trying to define a life. It's like a wide truth..you only see the angle you are seeing at the moment. Give it ten minutes, it will change. Does that mean the life is different? Or just different than you might have thought?
Time travel isn't possible. But living today is. Living the way I wish I had always lived is possible at this moment. So, I will endeavor to spend more time with those I love, exercise, eat better, keep my integrity, not own or be owned, throw my caution to wind and never worry about what someone else thinks, while I try to learn that I might just be worthy and valuable enough to accept real love into my life.
But, most of all, I think I just want to love more. A life spent doing that might not need time travel.
Tonight, I stood alone in the empty street. Snow and ice were all around me and, above my head, sat a sky full of stars. I drew my breath in deeply, letting the cold air fill up my lungs.
Then, I listened..
There, the silence was. The silence that was there before I opened my eyes on this world and the silence that will be there when I leave. And into my mind, like an old enemy, slipped the question.
The question that has reverberated in my head and heart of late is the cliched, but natural question:
Who am I?
Who is this whose earliest memories were of fishing with his father and being bathed in a kitchen sink? Who is this who remembers playing and imagining from the time before he had words enough to express it? Who is this who fought bullies in school, fist for fist, in defense of his friends?
Who is this that they said wouldn't survive? That they pulled apart and stitched back together, that they poisoned until the fast growing cells died first? Who is this that laid awake alone in hospital rooms as a child and felt the icy dark sense of surrender touching the soles of his feet?
Who is this that tried to play "normal", but who never could? Who met the scorn of many teachers and authority figures? Who is this who still lives that same reality?
Who is this who learned to sing from deep inside his heart, so that the hollow cry permanently lodged in his chest might escape on his breath from time to time?
Who is this who tried to love? Who lost it? Who still hides from it? Who is this who has broken hearts? Who regrets every moment of it?
Who is this who has lost brothers and regained new ones? Who still feels the pain daily of missing each one? Who has felt the depths of betrayal and sense of true loyalty? Who would, as always, fight to his last droplet of blood for those he loves?
Who is this who create all he could to help? Even if it was never received?
Who is this that believes that he will never know himself, only where he's going?
Who is this that will, no matter his work, pass into the unknown, a brief flicker on a spec of dust in the infinite?
Does it even matter "Who" this is?
Definitely not. And yet, absolutely yes. We are all in this story, not just myself, whatever "self" is. We are infinitely unimportant while completely and utterly important.
My story is still being written before it passes away forever. Until then, I just "am".
Crisis is inevitable. This point is echoed from across history as the central event in nearly every story. No matter how intensely we try and control our world, something can be counted on to happen. The gods become angered, the tsunami comes in, the long dormant volcano erupts. All hell breaks loose and there's not a damned thing we can do about it.
Another version is when the hero or heroine of a story sets foot upon a path to achieve something out of the ordinary. Extending themselves out into the big bad world, they soon meet with forces that resist them. The crisis comes when they can no longer go back or go forward; they MUST face down the dragon. In fact, it could be said the every story ever told was the story of a dragon and the hero who defeated him.
What happens in daily life when we have to face the angry gods, the tsunamis, or the dragons? What happens when we have to face the abyss of the uncertain future? For many of us, the answer is to crumble. To succumb. To submit to the crisis because it's all too confusing.
I've done this before. I absolutely admit it. Through one cause or another, I've seen some aspect of my life slip into a "death ground" and panicked. One thing I can say, unequivocally, is that since I'm still writing this, I must have survived. With at least one finger intact, I made it through.
While I'm not perfect at the art of staring into the abyss by a long stretch, I seem to be asked quite often about my ability to not lose my mind when it comes down to the wire. I'm no guru and I'm no master, but my thoughts might be of some use to you if you are willing to try them out.
The Zen Of The Abyss
Ivy: "How is it you are brave, when all the rest of us shake in our boots?"
Lucius: "I do not worry about what will happen, only what needs to be done."
- The Village (2004)
Have you ever heard the phrase "Be present"? Well, it applies to crises, as well. Actually, it matters MUCH more when the lava is rolling in than it does when it's easy. It gives you clarity. Perspective. It allows you to see the situation as it really is and to take the steps that can minimize that damage or, sometimes, reverse or slip it into a victory.
Here's how I've learned to go about it. Oddly, it's sort of pirate themed. So, let's call it
"The Randomly Titled Pirate Method For Cutting Ye Problems Down To Size".
(R) is for "Remember" - Believe it or not, one of the hardest things about staying on top of a crisis is remembering to step out of the spiral of emotions and see it for what it is. Emotions, while very useful in life, can cloud your mind. They do nothing for you in these situations.
I have seen people get upset over something minor that is completely out of control and react by anger. They stomp around, slam doors and talk loudly. The interesting thing about this process is that it accomplishes nothing. They just stomp around for awhile, piss everyone around them off, and then leave the room. Eventually, the situation gets handled. Know anybody like that? Right. They need to REMEMBER to stop and take a breath. It would save them a lot of energy and would get them moving to actually process the problem sooner.
(R) is also for "Realize" Realize that when you experience certain emotions (rising anxiety, panic, victimhood, helplessness,) that it is not part of who you are. It is literally a program that your brain is running to help process the situation. This response is your choice. It has not been "given" to you. It is no one else's fault. This is your mind (whether conscious or subconscious) running a "software program" that puts you into a certain state.
Do you notice how the way you use your body actually changes when you are upset? I, for instance, generally slump over and stare at the ground. My brow becomes furrowed. I crumple myself up to appear almost smaller. And, of course, I never smile. These physical acts have exactly the effect I want them to.
I feel like a powerless, depressed, loser.
However, if I force my posture back, if I correct my shoulders and pull my head up and back a bit, if I smile, and if I purposefully repeat high self esteem self talk in my head, my whole world starts to change. I become more in power. I become more focused. I become more dominant in the situation and am able to take the right action from there.
If there is any idea I can stress to you it's this: Watch your physical patterns and take control of them! This is a HUGE step in getting a handle on any crisis that might have wormed it's way into your world.
(R) is, surprisingly, also for "Research"
Search you mind, your heart. Search your spirit. If you need other information, then look it up or ask someone who knows what they are talking about. But only after checking "internally" first. It becomes far too easy to get caught in the loop of research and planning. This is a trap.
Stay light, stay lean, and develop a plan.
In fact, if you feel particularly worried about a certain problem, create two or three plans. Why not? After developing your first solution, take it away. Ask yourself "If I couldn't do it this way, how would I do it then?"
(R) is for "React"
Here, we take action. We've slowed down, taken control of our emotions, figured out what we are going to do.
What else is left? The Reaction. Do it. Do it without hesitation. I would write more, but screw it. ACT. That's all there is to it.
You know what to do.
(R) is for "Reflect"
This is the time to ask the valuable questions. "How did I end up here?", "How did this happen?", "What could I have done differently?" are all incredibly useful to your personal growth. Take stock and really spend the time to consciously reflect on the situation. If there is anything you can do right at this moment to keep the problem from coming back, do it now, while you have the emotional intensity.
(R) is, lastly, for "Rinse and Repeat"
I don't know about you, but I'm a genius and creating more problems in my life. Somehow, I manage to make a near Hail Mary pass of insanity out of actually is a very small issue ignored until it becomes gigantic. One of the only thing that sustains me, that makes me able to remotely function as a human being, is the process that I have mentioned above.
I find myself doing it over and over and over again in my life. While I obviously wish you a life without strife and trouble, I more realistically hope that you find some of these ideas helpful and as something to fall back on when you need to process.
I surround myself with creators. With people who imagine things and work to make them a reality. Ideas are the currency in which I usually deal and I absolutely love them. Stories (and myths) to me are incredibly important and I feel that there is a deep reservoir of knowledge that comes with our embracing the native elements present in them and applying them to our own lives.
In other words, I believe that art matters.
But, with growing frequency, I find myself seeing the state of the world and wondering if this is truly the best use of my time. Doesn't the world need food more than more popular music? Don't people need medical care, equality, human rights, water, and beyond?
How does the latest Radiohead album help them? What purpose does it serve to write a poem, or a song, a novel, or create a film? Playing a concert to a fawning and excited audience might be fun and feed the ego, but it does nothing for those who in the world who can't help themselves.
Many will argue with me and I understand what they're saying. Others tell me to build the platform through art and then use that to increase what I can do for others. All good ideas.
I suppose that, deep down, I suspect that I am only good at the art and that the art isn't worth a lot to a world that requires so much. This is difficult for me to process, but I need to be deeply honest with myself about it.
More than once, I have been ready to give my life to something I thought mattered, only to find that they were fairy dust; that the paths were nothing but stubbornly persistent theater performances presented in everyday life. Is it possible that art, that music, that words, that my entire professional focus, is the same way?
Or, is it all an illusion? This strikes me as the most possible of all of these ideas.
I have yet to work this out in my head and in my heart, but it IS being worked out. The answer is being sought. It will inform the next part of the story that I'm living.
The house is quiet.
The ticking of the clock fills the void of silence and somehow becomes more vivid; the moments of my life ticking away like the money speeding out of your pocket at a gas pump. For some reason however, this time, I feel no call to action, no mission to pull me from my bed.
I feel the space in between the ticks and the tocks, my breathe in's and the breathe nots. I feel the moment and eternity at the same time and I wonder if simply laying here and experiencing moment after moment would be enough. If I just spent my time dreaming and never making those dreams a reality, would that be a waste? If thoughts are energy and take life when you think them, does not the dreamer create reality through the dream?
All these thoughts occur to me at once, like a waking, quiet euphoria. Then, I sit up, stretch and go do my work, knowing that it doesn't matter and, at the same time, means everything.
My name is Michael and I have a problem.
It pains me to say it, but I am a Time Elitist (TE). I screen my calls, rarely answer, and sometimes take more than a few days to listen to the voicemails that are left on my phone. Occasionally, I will hold off even looking at texts, chat messages, and emails for hours, even days. Requests for coffee are often denied. Meal meetings are, in most cases, not even a possibility.
I'm a pain in the ass to get a hold of. It's on purpose. You wouldn't be blamed for thinking that I am a just an asshole (which, depending on who you ask, might not be far off), but I'm here to defend myself. I think what I'm doing is, however hard for others to understand, the right thing to do.
I am keenly aware of what I'm "put on this planet to do" and I work each day to make it a reality. If I took phone calls every time they came in, who would that be serving? The caller, perhaps. But not myself and definitely not the work. Text messages are just as bad. They can pull you off your game for hours in the course of a simple conversation. Email and Facebook are marauding time thieves as well.
I need my space. My mental time. I need silence to think. And then, most importantly, I need quiet to WORK. Staying in constant contact with the world works against that equation, not for it. My work is my focus and my reason for being here. The people who love me most know this and see my true expression in the work. They know it's where I live. It's so important to me, that I have a hard time expressing it.
On the other hand, I love my friends and associates. I truly do. They are one of the big joys in my life and I don't want to neglect them. Unfortunately, I occasionally get very bad at staying in touch. Something needs to change.
So here is my plan:
a) Stealing a page (or two) of thoughts from Tim Ferris (www.fourhourblog.com), I am going to record my outgoing message to encourage callers to email me instead and, if not possible, tell them two specific times and days of the week that I check my voicemail. Stick to those times and days religiously.
b) Use an app like YouMail that allows me to select which voicemails I listen to when, so I can listen to the high priority ones from family and close business partners ASAP and prioritize the order of listening to make sure I'm spending my time wisely.
a) Batch checking these to twice a day, taking care to put it specific blocks with a defined start and finish time. It's easy to fall down the rabbit hole here, so it's best to build the constraints into the process.
3) Day Planning
a) Schedule in defined work times and stick to them, allowing my off time to BE my off time.
b) Spend that off time connecting with those I care about and haven't seen in awhile.
c) Plan in time for networking and expanding my connections base.
d) Always plan time for proper nutrition and exercise.
e) Set aside for meditation twice a day, every day.
f) Work to limit distractions of all kinds throughout my work time.
So, there you have it. This is how I will be going about trying to cultivate my time and not be an irresponsible partner or friend. I'll let you know how it works out.
What about you? Do you have any routines, rules, or tips that might help myself or others in this area?