Why I miss old-school blogging

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I remember way back in 2010 (I know, so long ago) when I found the world of blogging. I was working as a golf professional at the time in Reno, NV absolutely hating my career. After some time on the clock searching for other career paths, I found a blog written by a bespectacled bald gentleman named Seth Godin whose written voice immediately captured my attention.

His posts were short and his headlines were — well, short. They were more like asides or post-it-sized notes than they were editorials.

Each one spoke to me...

Drip by drip, one day at a time, Seth convinced me that I could open up this thing called the internet and write directly to whoever might be paying attention at the time — someone who was into the same weird things as I was.

I fell in love with the art form (yes, I said it) of blogging…

Here are some headlines from the blogs I was following back in the day…

From Julien Smith’s blog, InOverYourHead.net — and this was a really popular blog at the time:

  • The Myth / The Reality
  • Tent
  • Guts

From Seth’s Blog — yes, one of the most popular blogs in history:

  • Form and function
  • Skinnier
  • First, make rice

Fast-forward eight or nine years and the blogging world has changed. A lot. Most popular blogs boast headlines (names not shared to protect the innocent) such as:

  • 7 Ways To Be Happy Right Now
  • 32 Things That’ll Make You Say, “Well, There Goes All My Money”
  • I Was Labeled The High School ‘Slut.’ It Affected My Whole Life

Even personal blogs carry headlines like…

  • 10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book
  • What to Do When You Feel Like a Fake (and Why a Shadow Career is Necessary)
  • HOW TO MAKE 1 MILLION DOLLARS ONLINE (EVEN IF YOU’RE BROKE).

Sure, the old-school blogs I harken back to have hosted clickbait-ish headlines, OCCASIONALLY. But nothing like what the tabloid-laden blog world looks like today.

So what gives? Why the drastic change in tone?

I say it’s because we’re human. We humans want more. We want bigger. More mass appeal. More eyeballs on our stuff.

So we write for new eyes instead of for the eyes that are already paying attention. We write for Google bots instead of human hearts.

I’ve been guilty of this, to some degree. I’ve always tried REALLY hard not to use clickbait headlines. I’ve always tried to keep my voice towards those in my small circle at the time I hit publish.

But there’s no denying that I’ve hosted my writing on a platform that’s meant for broadcasting to new people. And it’s been great. I really owe a lot of the fact that I’m still writing to you today to Medium.

I’m at a place where I want some more of that old-school blogging magic back.

I just want to open up the internet and write a small, personal, heartfelt note to you, dear reader, without worrying about the page views or trending topics.

This is the art of blogging. Not the modern tabloidish kind of blogging, but the kind that the magic of the internet has afforded us. The kind of blogging that’s intended to be small and personal, not epic and bombastic. The kind that whispers to the insiders, not the kind that shouts from the rooftops.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for broadcasting. New eyes are important. Absolutely.

But as messengers, we can’t abandon the eyes we have before us at the moment (yes, I’m talking about the folks on your email list). And we — the ones who are currently enrolled — we already like you. We don’t need you to yell at us, shock us, or try to impress us anymore.

Just talk to us.

I want blogging to be weird again. I want to keep things brief and casual. I want to use insider baseball.

Just some things I’m considering these days.

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It’s a lot like collecting sticks

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My daughter is a born collector. We can’t walk the dog around the block without her filling her pockets (and mine) up with twigs, sticks, and rocks. By the time we get back home, you’d think we were foraging kindling for an endless winter (I mean, we do live in Chicago).

We stack the sticks and twigs on our front porch where the ‘stick family’ lives. That pile is bonfire-ready at this point. Rocks end up in the pot below the porch (yes, the ‘rock family’).

These things she collects don’t mean much to others. Rocks — who cares? Sticks — kick ‘em outta the way. But to her, these things are wonderful.

Not all of them, mind you. She carefully examines each one before that decisive moment where she either keeps it or discards it. Rory is a curator (and very wabi-sabi at that — I like her style).

As a writer, you must be a collector and curator of words.

If you’re truly a writer, you can’t read a word that jumps out at you without repeating it several times (some of you may even have a notebook — digital or paper — that you keep a storehouse of words and phrases in).

You have no idea where — or if — you’ll use them. Some of them, you don’t even know what they mean. All you know is that you love them. They made you feel something and you have to hang on to them — just in case.

Then, it happens… The wondrous moment when you’re writing and one falls out of your mind and onto the page.

Plop… Just like that. 
Perfect.

Maybe it’s a peculiar word. You might even have to look it up. When you do, you’re shocked by how well it fits. How much color and depth and shading it provides to the piece.

And then you’ll go. Living your life while keeping that word family robustly stocked with wonderful, whimsical new additions.

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Drop it on down to anahata

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It’s going to be hard for me not to make this woo-woo #af, so I’ll just say it…

It’s amazing how differently your words come out when you envision them coming out of the center of your chest — your heart area — as opposed to your mouth.

I don’t know a hell of a lot about chakras, but Anahata is a powerful one (not gonna lie, I had to Google ‘name of heart chakra’ to get that).

This is extremely useful in a multitude of ways…

When you have to tell your 4-year old daughter to stop interrupting daddy in the middle of client calls, you sound like less of a jerk when you drop the words on down to anahata (totally going with the chakra lingo here).

When you have to draw a firm boundary with a relative who you really like but is just a liiiittle passive aggressive and enjoys those head games a bit too much, you draw the boundary with compassion when you drop it on down to anahata.

And yep, it works with writing too…

When you have copy to write and you’re up against a deadline (or four), the words come out with more warmth and resonance when you — you guessed it — drop it on down to anahata.

When you have a piece to write about a controversial subject and you’re terrified of offending people, but you really want to make your point in a strong way — drop it on down.

I mean, might as well, right? You’re going to use the words anyways. Might as well drop ’em on down to the heartspace so they come out in a more powerful way.

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What if it were your last words?

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Many of us have a love/hate thing with social media. 
Is it connecting us? Or ripping the fabric of society apart? 
Both at the same time, maybe?

I’m no social psychologist, so I don’t have the answer.

All I know is that — especially on Facebook — people can tend to easily dip down and express their lowest selves. They turn from nice, warm, reasonable people into complete buffoons.

There’s this guy who’s a Facebook friend of my wife… He’s constantly posting the most obnoxious comments and posts — the ones that make you think we’re living in the 2006 dystopian comedy, Idiocracy. Anyhow, I found out he was going to be at an event we were going to and was terrified. But at the event, I met him and thought, Hmmm… THIS is the guy? Seems nice enough. Reasonable. He’s putting together good sentences, is super friendly, and seems to have a level head. What the…?

Here’s the effect that social media (keeping our focus today on Facebook since it’s the funnest to pick on) has on people. It makes them think they have a sort of digital bullhorn to shout through, but they’re physically removed from the crowd, so no one can tackle them mid-sentence and wrestle the device from their hands before showing them the door.

You get it. 
I’m preaching to the choir here.

But here’s my word of advice — because most of us are guilty of this in one degree or another.

When you share on social media, tell yourself that it might be the last thing you ever say.

No kidding. You’re not lying to yourself because it could be true. The next minute in this body is not guaranteed. (Although, chances are, you’re going to be fine.)

Not to get too dark here, but it brings things into perspective (as is common for most life principles, this is widely applied outside of Facebook, of course).

Before you post, ponder…

Am I okay with these being my last words?

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’ve said fart jokes that I’m totally fine with being my last words (they were really funny, if I do say so myself). So I’m not saying everything you write has to be super deep, thoughtful, profound, etc.

But does it hurt just to hurt? Does it hate just to hate? Does it get laughs from the expense of someone’s character? Does it separate and divide out of pettiness? Is it passive-aggressive or overtly manipulative?

Some things need to be said. Some jokes need to be cracked. Some people need to be called out. Sometimes, even the mundane is beautiful.

Please don’t see this as a behavior manual. I’m not the moral God of the internet (although that would make for a great byline).

See this more as a helpful tip for self inquiry and living in integrity with yourself.

If it helps, great. 
If not, go forward on Facebook and spew away.

P.S. This is why I pretty much only share deeper stuff on Medium. It’s designed for thoughtful messaging and to keep trolls silent (a least 95% of them). If you really have something meaningful to say, the venue matters.

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Who would we be without our reflection?

Just the other day, I received a note (in the form of a Medium response) from an old friend that was perfect. It was just what I’d been waiting for and I didn’t even know it. But when it came, something… rested. I was affirmed. And it was amazing.

No matter how dialed-in our personal thinking is, it’s so nice getting affirmation from an outside voice that reflects exactly what that internal dialogue is nudging us toward.

As I write this, I see so clearly… 
We are not separate. 
We are each other’s reflection. 
We aren’t designed to live in isolation.

Because without the mirror, 
we are merely a fuzzy notion.

A guess. 
A hunch.

Something left with frayed ends.

Until that reflection comes along and reveals to us what’s impossible to see ourselves.

That feels better. 
Way better.

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When it’s finally okay

If we can fully face what we feel is so flawed about ourselves and sit in that murky (but strangely satisfying) soup, we give ourselves the chance to — after time — be… okay with it.

But sometimes, it’s just not that easy (okay, it actually hardly ever is).

If you know what I mean, never fear. Because the good news is, if we can’t get to the place where we’re okay with it, it’s just as good if we can hang out with someone else who can get okay with it.

This is all part of the holy relationship. And it’s a testament to our tribal nature. As soon as the other acknowledges, yyyeah, that was pretty messed up, but I’m good with it, then something can click within us that allows us to feel the same.

Maybe this is what’s behind the whole Catholic confession thing.

It’s just a little creepy when they sit in those little booths looking sideways. And also ineffective. Because it’s in another human’s eyes where we get true confirmation of this sacred okayness.

We good?
I’m good. 
You good?
Okay, good.

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Don’t speak until spoken through

*First of all, I have to give full credit to my friend/spiritual counselor, Joseph Francis Argazzi for this one. He shared this with me during our session yesterday and I’m pretty sure people could see my mind exploding from Navy Pier…


Don’t speak until spoken through.

Don’t you love that? Usually it’s when we try to write our own script that we stick our foots in our mouths.

When I imagine the day that I give my first sermon, I become terrified. I see myself standing there in front of everyone, frozen in fear.

Stuttering. 
Blushing. 
Zipper down.
Toilet paper stuck to my heel. 
Everyone murmuring to each other while pointing at me.

All the stuff pops onto the screen of my mind when I try to predict how that goes down. It’s my imagined Carrie moment.

So Joe told me how he was talking through this same fear (which is the most common fear out there, I’m pretty sure) with his coach. Joe is officiating a wedding for some dear friends this fall and has been preparing vigorously for it.

His coach inquired, “What if you did it without notes?”

Joe was terrified, of course. 
Because that’s insane.

“Joe, check this out…” his coach said. “Don’t speak until you’re spoken through. If you have to stand there for 15 minutes without talking, then that’s what you’ll do.”

This is the key to presence: stepping into the unknown and trusting that indwelling God to be there with you, and as you, when you surrender your ego ideal.

This can be seen as lazy by the ego…

Ahhh, you’re just trying to get off easy.
You need to prepare — do a ton of research and memorize your lines.

That’s the typical dualistic way of seeing it. But what if it wasn’t between (1) being lazy or (2) being prepared?…

What if the preparation was based on getting your own nervous thinking out of the way and trusting the moment-to-moment intelligence of God to shine through?

This is what we do when we’re hanging out in a coffee shop together, chatting, isn’t it? Why do we not rehearse our lines for that?

Because we always (well, mostly) know what to say in the moment. And the next. And the next.

Terrifying? Yes.
But it’s the key to true authenticity.

Be not the speaker.
Don’t speak unless spoken through.

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How to make people smarter

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It’s true. This is possible. I’ve seen it happen. You can actually make people smarter by doing one simple thing during any given conversation.

It has to do with listening…

When we’re listening to the other person talk, there’s a couple ways we typically do it.

For one, we listen to affirm. We force the ‘good listener’ role. We lean forward, gaze deep into their eyes, constantly nod, and throw in verbal affirmations that we hear them, we understand them, we love them, and we agree. But like I said, it’s a forced way of listening. And, as positive as it seems, we typically have an agenda behind it. We want them to see how good of a listener we are. And we want them to approve of us. (Or maybe even do something for us.)

Then there’s the second way we typically listen to people. This is the ‘listening to negate’ method of listening where we can’t wait until they’re done talking so we can come back at them with some brilliant argument. As they’re speaking, we fold our arms, squint our eyes, and smirk. We can’t wait until they’re done talking so we can unleash our reckoning on them. Or at least a passive-aggressive retort.

And then, there’s the third way of listening (as I say, there’s always a third way).

This is where we… just listen. Michael Neill calls it listening like a rock with ears. Or listening like a video camera. It’s where we listen from a place of neutral presence. We haven’t taken a hard side. We’re open to new information coming from them and insight coming through that quiet space within us. We’re just fully there in the moment with them.

Listening from a place of neutral presence (without trying to negate or affirm) makes the person who’s talking smarter.

Try it on for size. Then next time you’re chatting with a friend, be neutral. Be present. Just listen. Not with an agenda to either negate (I can’t wait until they’re done talking so I can come back at them with…) or affirm (I need to show them I’m listening so they’re nice to me and maybe even do something awesome for me…).

Either way makes people feel weird and insecure. And we humans are stupid when we feel weird and insecure.

But when we’re in that still place, we give them room to relax into their innate well-being. And when they can do that, they can’t help but be smarter in your presence.

Benediction

May the words of others land on fully present but neutral ears. May you sit in front of them with no forced intention to negate them or affirm them, but instead, just… listen. May you be centered and open to the words coming from each other’s mouths and also the source of all life that lies beneath them knowing that good conversation emerges from that space. And as they speak to this space, may they see in your eyes the infinite intelligence that lies in them.

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What if the world ‘prayed in’ like this?

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I have to get used to “praying in” with my mentor. We’ll jump on a phone call and I’ll just start talking away, diving straight into the meat of the conversation.

Every time, he stops me…

Jonas… Hang on, let’s take a second to pray in…

Oh… Right, Rev…

It only takes about 1–2 minutes. Mind you, this is no traditional religious prayer like the Lord’s Prayer or a Satanic ritual or anything. We’re not genuflecting to an anthropomorphic being in the clouds (or under the ground).

It’s more of a spoken affirmation. We’re communing with the indwelling God. The God that moves us to shrug off any form of insecurity or aggression. Call it what you will, we’re opening our minds to the thing that animates us, that looks through our eyes, smells through our nose, and beats our heart.

This kind of prayer is an affirmative declaration that makes us both abandon our small thinking for the duration of the call and step into the heightened presence of spirit. It brings us out of the imagined context of our separateness and unifies us. And it creates a safe, candid space for each of us to share our truth without any of the emotional baggage that comes from ego/fear nonsense.

Which begs me to wonder…

Why don’t more of us ‘pray in’ before we do important things?

(I know the answer — because most of us were taught a shitty version of prayer — but I’m going to keep going here…)

What if boardrooms around the world went into this kind of prayer/spoken affirmation before making huge decisions that effected a lot of people, both inside and outside the company?

What if couples prayed together before they entered a conversation that might lead to an argument (yes, we usually know where these are headed before hand) — or any intimate, deeper conversation, really?

What if parents entered this type of prayerful space before taking their kids to school to set the intention for the day and start from a place of wholeness and aliveness rather than stress and obligation?

What if Trump prayed like this before he Tweeted? (I know, Twitter wouldn’t be nearly as fun.)

Prayer of this sort can change the world, I’m convinced.

So whattdya think?…

Should we pray in?


Hey there, my name is Jonas (yes, like the Weezer song). I’m a spiritual counselor who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily.

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Here’s what I’m making up right now…

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Do you ever have those moments where your ego — in a split second — writes, produces, directs and releases a grand tragedy in your mind?

It happened to me just the other day. I was meeting with some people about a very important project we’re working on right now and a couple things happened. I had to leave the meeting early. Some things were planned after I left that I couldn’t make. Some roles were confused. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Typical stuff that happens when a group of people start creating together.

Essentially, I took this limited information I had and created a Shakesperian tragedy out of it. Insecurity rushed me like Dick Butkis in his prime. Before I knew it, EVERYONE was against me.

My terror turned to self-pity. It’s okay, I thought. I deserve it. I’m not worthy. This is what happens. Nothing personal. Just what happens. I’m just not putting my best foot forward. If I were them, I’d do the same. Just what happens (did I say that yet?)…

In case you didn’t know this, I register as a 9 on the enneagram. So I’m a people-pleaser. Typically, in my past, what I’d do in a situation like this is… Nothing.

Yep, nothing. I’d suck it up, hold it in, and keep on keepin’ on without making a ruckus. Over time, my resentment would grow and fester and I’d end up exploding or quitting.

However, this time, I took something I learned from the amazing Brené Brown and applied it to the situation. Here’s what she said

“If I could give men and women in relationship and leaders and parents one hack, I would give them, ‘the story I’m making up.’ Basically, you’re telling the other person your reading of the situation — and simultaneously admitting that you know it can’t be 100% accurate.”

She suggests, when you’re doing what I did, to talk to the person/people you’re creating the tragedy about and bring that tragedy to light by saying, “Hey [Name(s)], here’s what I’m making up about this right now…” And then you go on and tell them about the grand tragedy in your head.

This is CRAZY powerful. For one, it allows you to bring whatever’s weighing on you to light without showing any kind of personal attachment. It shows you’re aware that you’re likely not correct, but it also shows that you’re bothered by it and need clarity.

When you realize your distress is coming from a story you made up with inadequate information, you can treat it as such instead of being attached to it.

If the tragedy turns out to be true, at least you can be sure of it and make the right decision on how to respond. Otherwise, if it’s totally false (which, since I’ve been playing with this, has been the case 100% of the time), you can bring light and clarity to the situation and move on without carrying the weight of the tragedy on your shoulders.

This is exactly what happened. I explained what I was making up. I was listened to. I was able to express that grand tragedy fully in a lighthearted, but serious, way. And we talked it out. By the time we were done talking, I realized how awesome of a group I was dealing with and how they only had the best intentions for me in mind when they made those decisions. And an intention was set, going forward, to communicate more fully and clearly.

Amazing. I was able to shrug off the tragedy on my shoulders and move forward in my life. And it will make this project more successful in the long run.

Please try this. Remember. “Here’s what I’m making up right now about this…” Then go on to spell it out, bring it to light, and heal it.


Hey there, my name is Jonas (yes, like the Weezer song). I’m a spiritual counselor who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily.

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An introvert’s tip to discarding the need for social lubricant

Image: Blake Lisk

Currently, I test slightly to the introvert side of the extrovert/introvert continuum. Although it depends on the situation, if I had a choice between sitting home with coffee while digging into a book and going out to a social event, I’d almost always pick the former.

So, I guess you can say I’m an introvert (and was one before it was cool).

The other day, I was perusing the interwebs for some anti-boredom material and decided to watch an interview with one of my favorite musicians and people in general — James Taylor.

The one I happened on was from 1977. It was with him and his wife at the time, Carly Simon. They were on some groovy 70’s talk show talking about drug use (seems like he was in the early days of his recovery at that time).

So there James was, reflecting on his regrets when Carly Simon chimed in. What she said was profound, even to us non drug-users — especially us introverts.

She said something to the effect that drugs are often used at social gatherings as a form of ‘social lubricant’ (no, she didn’t use that term ‘cus she’s far too classy) that helps one feel more comfortable with their friends. She went on to say…

“In fact, there’s a certain thing to be gained from feeling tense with your friends. Because if you break it down from that point, then you’re really getting to know each other. If you break it down with the help of drugs, you’re not seeing who you are or who the other person is.”

It seems Simon is an extrovert, so I’m not sure if she was speaking on behalf of her INFP husband, Taylor, but as an INFP myself, I can TOTALLY relate to this feeling.

Her statement brought me to a revelation. I envisioned a huge plastic sheet between me and the stranger I’m faced with at a social gathering. This sheet is made of emotion, anxiety, insecurity, and fear.

THIS is what I’m scared of — dealing with the sheet — not necessarily the individual.

In looking at this clear plastic film, although it seems like it comes built-in to the territory, I realize I’ve created it. It stems from the fear of the awkwardness of the situation. Not the situation itself.

The thing we need social lubricant for is self-constructed and therefore able to be self-deconstructed.

To reduce the need for social lubricant, get comfortable with the discomfort between you and the other.

What’s really helped me is, in taking Simon’s advice, falling in love with that friction between myself and another. Falling in love with that awkwardness.

I have a friend who purposefully goes to parties, bars and gatherings with the sole intention to make it just awkward enough to throw people off center just enough to where they loosen up and laugh. I watch in wonder as he sparks unforgettable connection by saying the craziest stuff that makes people stop… silently look at him with jaw-dropping (slightly disturbing) bewilderment… and then bust up laughing, hugging him, etc. Before I know it, they’re best friends. Amazing.

For one, it’s such a beautifully human thing. Awkwardness keeps life interesting. I absolutely love the absurd (especially in that it serves as rocket fuel for something to write about). There’s nothing like awkward, vulnerable settings which allow that creative friction to blossom into something wonderfully, tragically hilarious.

So this is the question, my dear introverted friends…

Can you fall in love with that social friction between yourself and another? Can you fall in love with the awkwardness of it?

If so, I hope you look forward to your next social gathering. May your mission be to tear that plastic sheet of fear down and embrace the awkwardness that’s just steps away from making your evening an amusing one. May you stare the discomfort in the eye and thank it for adding complexity to your life.

And may you see that you’re not the only one not wanting to go:)


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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The encoded nature of parable

Image: Markus Spiske

I’m reading a lot of parables, poems, and fables these days. I absolutely love this kind of language. It’s such a refreshing contrast from the typical prescriptive, SEO-based, how-to type content we’re bombarded with today.

The thing that’s really interesting about this type of discourse is that it’s much like an encoded message.

One person can read a parable and see nothing but words scattered across a page. Zoom… Over their head.

But another person can see the same parable and see the depth and breadth of their life strewn out before them. Jaw… On the floor.

A good parable can be heard only by those with ears to hear.

Now hand over that decoder ring.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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Be mean in a nice way

Another spiritual lesson from my 3-year old kid

Image: Igor Ovsyannykov

My daughter is growing a conscience. It’s fascinating watching her inner-intricacies bloom towards the surface.

Her emotions used to overwhelm her. They still do, but as she grows able to express them in words, the pressure is lessening.

She’ll do something completely out of line — like pull the dog’s tail, push over her high chair, or take permanent marker to… whatever — and when we call her on it, she digs her heels in and fights it.

But then, at some point after the steam blows off — it could be minutes, hours, or days later — she brings it up like it’s her idea…

“You don’t poke the doggie’s eyes, Daddy.”

Or…

“You don’t throw the toys over the fence, Mom.”

“That’s right, Rory. That’s a good idea,” is what I always say to give her credit for her brilliant insight.

The other day, she flipped the tables and got me with one that struck me as profound…

I yelled at Dagny, our Shih-Tzu (or, Rory’s Shih-Tzu, I should say) for chewing on our rug. I didn’t just yell, I Y-E-L-L-E-D at her.

“You don’t have to be mean to Dagny, Dad,” she said, in her best teacher voice. “You can be mean in a nice way.”

Wow… Mean in a nice way, huh? 
Yeah, I suppose so…

I guess I could have followed Cesar Millan’s advice and been ‘calm and assertive’ instead of taking the ‘loud and obnoxious’ approach.

It got me... 
You CAN be mean in a nice way.

Hold the line but don’t lose your head. 
Stand up for yourself, but don’t lose your center. 
Speak your defiant truth, but don’t attack frivolously. 
When someone wants to escalate things, don’t flee, but refuse to follow suit.

That kid… Tell ya what… Sometimes I wonder who’s teaching who.


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

Co-existence and the transformative nature of conflict

Image: Yanni Panesa

My wife voted one way and her folks voted another. Sound familiar? Yeah…

They live right down the road. Not only are we close on the map, we’re close as family. As in-laws go, I’ve been fortunate. As much as I love them, our political disagreements lead to quite an… erm… shall we say, ‘interesting’, family dynamic.

My wife posted something on Facebook the other day (like many of us have been doing more so than we’re used to) that spoke against the one she didn’t vote for.

Now… Before I continue, let me say, she doesn’t do this often. It takes a lot to get her to express via the Facebooks. But she did. It wasn’t too vociferous. It was quite subtle, actually.

But her folks were obviously rattled. They brought it up in indirect ways when we got together for dinner throughout the following couple weeks. “I just can’t stand it when people voice their opinions on Facebook. It’s like, geez, get a life.”

It was a slow-building anger-fest. Both sides know they don’t agree on this topic. The choice had been to avoid discussing politics face to face.

But this wound was festering and festering.

Eventually, at a family dinner at their place (as usual) it burst like a… well… a wound that bursts (I won’t get too graphic on ya here).

I forget who brought it up first, my wife or her dad, but it escalated quickly.

My wife is a great debater. She was on the debate team (nerd) and knows how to keep her cool.

But when it comes to family, you know how it goes.

It was awkward… FOX News blared on the TV like a resounding war drum that only added to the chaos in the air. A discussion quickly turned into an argument. Talking points were used like projectiles to destroy the other. Like a football game or a UFC match where a clear winner and a loser emerge from the rubble.

I noticed something interesting that night…

The more emotional the argument grew, the more it became about changing each other’s mind.

At one point, my father-in-law said, “I’m not gonna change your mind and you’re not gonna change mine, so it’s not even worth talking about.”

Stuff it down. Stuff it down again. Ugh…

Here’s a profound concept I learned a long time ago from someone far smarter than I (though I can’t remember who):

War is not conflict. War is the inability to have conflict.

War is what happens when two (or more) conflicting opinions cannot live in the same space. War says, I can’t stand what you represent and rather than entering conscious conflict with you, I’m going to obliterate you so I don’t have to.

Ready for some what-ifs? Okay, good…

  • What if my wife and father-in-law could each share their opposing views in front of each other without the goal being to change the other’s mind?
  • What if they could instead go into this kind of discussion with the intention of growth through empathy and having their views cracked open rather than staying stuck in the limitations of certainty?
  • What if they had a pact that they could each share their opinions openly and passionately without the fear of personal attack or persuasion from the other side?
  • What if the goal wasn’t to change the other, but to transform themselves through the views of the other?

Many years ago, my wife and I started a little club with our friends. It was called Impolite Dinner Conversations. We’d invite people over and choose a theme that was typically taboo at the dinner table like ‘abortion’ or whatever have you. The rules were that everyone could say whatever they wanted, but you couldn’t call anyone out personally. You could speak your opinion, but you could not enter into an argument with another person. And you couldn’t interrupt. Oh, and there was a time limit for when you had the floor.

It was profound, some of the conversations we had. Eventually, we dropped it when we had Rory and started being lame, but we miss those dinners. Some of our friends still ask if we’re going to start it back up again. I think we might have to now.

I digress…

This is the power of co-existence. Two views living in peaceful conflict without the notion of changing or obliterating the other.

How many dining rooms are these kinds of arguments happening in tonight. A lot, indeed.

When we open ourselves to each other’s light, we exorcise our shadows.

We need to embrace conflict, not run from it. We must not worship the false idols of our beliefs. Instead, we must remain open to the other and live life with a question mark, not an exclamation mark.


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On spiritual language

Image: Amanda Jordan

It’s only recently that I’ve been able to use more spiritually-amplified (borderline religious, in fact) words. For the longest time, words like ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ looked like threatening opponents on the page. I’d delete them as soon as I’d type them (and saying them was out of the question).

I don’t know why... It’s not like religion and I had any kind of falling out. I just know that people who’ve used certain religiously loaded words have immediately triggered my BS detector and I never wanted to be one of them.

This resistance showed me that I had work to do. It took some time to let go of the limiting thought-forms that had glommed onto those words, but I finally did. And lately I’ve been using them — and words like them — quite liberally without wanting to go take a shower afterwards.

It’s been nice opening myself to spiritual vocabulary. It’s like learning a new language and has allowed me to talk to a whole new section of people.

I now see that I can use that vernacular without being obnoxious. But I also realize that this terminology isn’t necessary to make an impact on a spiritual level.

Communicators must meet people where they are. My mission has always been to bring the transformative concepts of spirituality into the lives of even the most secular people.

Speaking of Jesus, he used such lofty, religious terminology because most people in his day (especially the religious elite whom he railed against) spoke that language. He was meeting them where they were. At that time, the world largely worshipped anthropomorphic Pagan gods (not hating on Pagans, btw — just saying). But he also had no problem toning it down and talking in more colloquial terms to those who were on the fringes of the religious elite.

Spiritual principles aren’t just for those who claim to be spiritual. They’re for anyone who has a human heart.

And so, reflecting on this notion, it’s nice to know I can crank it up when speaking with those who speak that language. And I can tone it down when talking to my accountant.

I’d love to hear your opinions… Do you see certain religious words (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc.) refreshing in today’s largely secular world? Or do you roll your eyes at them?

Just curious…


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On the limitations of language

Image: Jessica Ruscello

We paint our worlds in words.

Not only writers or speakers, but anyone who communicates with anyone else (or themselves), ever — which, I’m guessing is you.

We’re immersed in a world of words and we don’t often realize how much we really are in the hands of the dictionary. Especially in our western culture, if you can’t ‘look it up’ (my dad used to tell me that ALL the time and it drove me crazy) and specifically define the word, it’s to be discarded.

But there are just some things — the most important things, in fact — that can’t be easily defined by a word. Or two. Or three. Or volumes of them, in fact.

Like the love I feel for my wife. Or my daughter…

Is it worthy to just say I ‘love’ them?…

No... Not hardly.

If I stop short at the limitations of definable language, I limit myself to not being able to feel the heft of what’s available in the moment.

Our boundaries in life are drawn by the words we use.

This is where it helps to learn the tongue of poets. No, you don’t have to start writing poetry. This is more of a new set of glasses to try on and see the world through.

This is why Jesus spoke in metaphor and parables and why he hardly ever gave a true definition of anything. Pretty much everything he’s recorded as saying is open-ended. He threw layers of questions upon the questions addressed to him.

Material language is made to fit material needs, and it simply will not satisfactorily express true spiritual ideas.
 — Emmet Fox; Power Through Constructive Thinking

Language only does our true experience justice. But a lot of us go through life with a very language-oriented experience. Everything must be definable. If it seeps outside the boundaries of the dictionary, we close it off and limit it to what we can define.

Fox goes on to say…

We think certain thoughts; we have certain experiences; and then language, with its hard and fast boundaries, says, “You shall not say that wonderful thing — you shall say only this” — and we find on paper the pale lifeless shadow of the thing that came to life in our soul.

Try loosening the boundaries of the language you use. Play with using language outside the parameters of what you’re used to in the conversations you have both in your head and out loud.

If you’re talking about love and a word comes to mind like pungent or brawling for whatever reason, let yourself use it. It may not make sense to the mind that lives in the material, but it makes sense to the heart and soul.

An expanded use of language is an immediate way to deepen our human experience.

Test your edges often. And if it doesn’t fit within the grasp of material language, allow yourself to experience it with the language of the soul which is perfect without words.


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

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A story of two people

Image: Vincent Guth

I’m going to tell you a story about two different people (yes, these are real people from my life — their names, of course, I’m changing to protect the innocent)…

Person #1 — ‘Earl’

Earl is a man of about 75 years of age (give or take). He’s an obvious war veteran, judging by the medals on his hat and the various flair on his jacket.

As I’m standing in line at the local bakery/coffee shop with my daughter, Earl struts in and cuts in line. My position has just gone from fourth in line to fifth. No one says a thing — either because they can’t believe the audacity of what just happened or because they’re biting their tongue due to not wanting to run the risk of getting knocked out in front of their daughter by a man twice their age.

Earl gets to the cashier to order and immediately, he’s going with the shock-and-awe angle. His voice is gruff and he commands the nice young lady behind the counter to get him a goddamn breakfast sandwich (he’s appalled she just didn’t know what to give him, automatically). The whole time she places his order, he proceeds to correct the way she’s writing it down.

She’s nervous. But smiling and laughing through it. Oh, he’s that guy. 
Ugh…

Earl makes it to the point where he’s paying her. Instead of just waiting for his change, he tells her he’d, “Better get back,” x dollars and y cents (I couldn’t really hear). His tone matches that of someone robbing a bank, not someone who’s buying a breakfast sandwich.

The young lady is staggering now, fumbling for words, dropping change everywhere (yes, Earl paid in mostly coins) and trying to enter her own personal time warp to fast-forward to the next customer in line, but it isn’t working. Earl is on the offensive and he’s not backing down. He’s here to insert himself, and he’s not changing his mind.

She gives him the wrong change back. Ugh… I know where this is going. He growls at her and his posture is in full-on beast-mode. He’s offended. Now she’s the problem. His projections are justified. She’s fumbling more, but tries to defend herself by saying she actually gave him the right change. Nope, she didn’t. It’s like watching a train wreck. Earl is not letting this young whippersnapper short him out of seven cents. She finally realizes he’s right and gives him the loot. He struts away feeling annoyed and grumbling the entire time he’s munching on his ham and egg bagel.

When he gets done, I see him walk out to his brand new SUV, parked on the fire lane (handicap parking was just too far).

Person #2— ‘Dan’

Dan is about the same age as Earl and is a member of a very exclusive country club I once worked at. Dan was once a high-powered attorney for several of the companies you and your parents are very familiar with and still practices law (you know, just for the fun of it).

The club I’m taking you back to is in the northern suburbs of Chicago where they use caddies, not golf carts. It’s actually where Bill Murray grew up caddying and is the inspiration behind the best movie of all time, Caddyshack (no joke, many of the characters in the movie are still members/employees there). I happened to be the Caddymaster, dealing with the responsibility of pairing up members with their caddies.

Every single caddy wants to loop for Dan. See, the club is a no-tipping club. Members pay their caddy a fee but are not supposed to tip extra.

Dan doesn’t care about the rules and tips anyways. A lot.

But not only that — Dan is a nice guy. He knows every caddy by name and shows genuine interest in their lives. Instead of spending the round on his cell phone doing deals, he talks to them. Many of these caddies are from Mexico. They come up every spring and work for the season, then they head back home for the winter. He asks about their wives and kids. He’s even been said to have put a couple through college here in the states.

One day, I walk up to Dan when he’s alone, practicing his putting. I chuckle and tell him how the hardest part of my job is keeping caddies from fighting over him. I thank him for his generosity and he tells me a story. He tells me how, when he was a kid, he caddied at a neighboring club. Since his family was poor, he’d take the train up from the south side of Chicago. One time, his shoes got so worn out from caddying so much that his right toe poked through and was exposed. The member he was caddying for one day noticed this and bought him a new pair of shoes. He told him that, if he ever needed anything — anything — to just let him know. Eventually, this member put him through law school.

“I’m just buying shoes, Jonas,” Dan told me.

Around the club — whether from caddies on the course, waiters in the restaurant, lifeguards at the pool, or attendants in the locker room — Dan got the very best service. Many other members tipped just as much (if not far more) than Dan, but Dan genuinely cared about and took time to connect with these people who made his time away from the office so special.

Now, let’s compare…

Earl wants to be treated right. He’s sick of incompetent people. When he wants a breakfast sandwich, he wants a damn breakfast sandwich. And he wants it now.

I don’t know Earl, but I’m guessing he carries a sense of entitlement everywhere he goes. He believes the world owes him expedience and competence. And I can also guess that, in most of his dealings with the world, he gets screwed. His reservations probably always get messed up. He probably constantly gets overcharged. This is due to the vibration he emits to the world. It’s one of abrasion and force. He thinks he’s doing himself a service by being this way, but all he’s doing is pissing in everyone’s Cheerios and expecting prime rib in return.

I don’t know Dan very well either, but I can tell you, he’s not focused much on getting. His consciousness lies in giving. He is the steward of his world. He takes care of people. Even people who barely speak his language — those who most in his class look down on. That’s where Dan lives. Dan is abundantly-minded. Not just because he’s a wealthy high-powered attorney (I knew many others who were much wealthier than Dan, but who came across as the poorest hucksters around), but because his focus was on generosity. Everything he got in return was nice, but I could tell the great service he got in return was not what lit him up.

What lit him up was buying shoes.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ll take Dan as a model any day, even though, to the ego, it makes more sense to be Earl.


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Depth of being

Image: Hoàng Duy Lê

There’s people who live ‘on the surface’ of life.

You talk to them, and it’s very surface-based.

The weather. 
Politics. 
Football. 
Yeah, the kids are good.

And then they’re off.

But then there are those people — the rare ones — who, when they sit with you, they’re… there.

Like, really there.

Time seems to slow down when in their presence.
They let you talk. 
They take in your words and process them. 
When they listen, they listen with the ear behind the ear.
They place weight on the pauses between your side of the conversation and theirs. 
When they speak, their words are fresh… New. Not pre-recorded snippets you’ve heard before. 
Sometimes it’s a genuine compliment. Other times, it’s a well-intended critique. 
Whatever it is arises from somewhere… Deeper.

These are people who live two inches deeper than the rest of us.

They carry a depth of being around with them that’s infectious. 
They’re rooted in Spirit, not in the day-to-day meaningless world the rest of us are caught up in. 
They may even seem a little behind the times on current affairs, but it’s… refreshing.

When you find those who live with that certain depth of being, don’t let them go.

These people are invaluable. 
As soon as you sit in the presence with them, things shift before either one of you says a word.

This depth of being is available to all. But finding and spending as much time as possible with those who’ve found it is contagious.

Catch the bug as soon as possible and pass it on.


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Hell in a hand basket

Image: Bryan Burgos

This country’s going to hell in a hand basket,” I heard him say.

His voice was only slightly muffled by my headphones, which I wear — often without even turning the music on — when I’m writing at coffee shops so people don’t try to talk to me (yes, I’m that guy).

He was in his mid-sixties. Had a blue Nevada sweater on. His chrome gray hair was slicked back as if to resemble a hawk or some other type of warring bird.

He was on the phone with an old buddy. On his laptop, the Yahoo home page was up, revealing the leading stock clickbait headline of the moment — something that had to do with immigration and how we’re being infiltrated, etc.

I listened in (yes, I’m that guy too). What I found peculiar was that, although he opened the conversation with a tone of outrage, his anger morphed into exhilaration.

He had his buddy going. There they were, a couple warriors from the old guard, standing in solidarity over a common enemy, as foggy and ephemeral as it may be.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before it all goes down. Ha! Goddamn it, yes! Get ’em all outta here, I say. Ha! Yep. Okay, buddy. Talk soon. Yep…”

I turned on Spotify and went about my work. Occasionally, I’d glance over and see him stew over some new headline or YouTube video that was designed to do exactly what it was doing with his cooperation — generate ad dollars from each clickety-click of his finger.

As I wrapped up my work and packed up my belongings, I made eye contact with him. I nodded. He nodded.

Right there, he knew he had me. So did I.

Damn it…

I could tell right away what he was thinking — all of it flashing through his mind a split-second before he spoke:

Hmmm, he’s kinda young. But maybe not too young. He could be a Hilary/Bernie guy. But he’s clean-cut and respectful enough, so maybe he’s a conservative like me. F*ck it, I’ll give it a shot.

He went into it…

“Say, you know what I just read on the internet? 900 illegals. They let 900 illegal immigrants into the US who are from countries that are against us. Terrorists.”

He paused to gauge my reaction. I nodded as dispassionately as I could. It was a delicate dance — show him the respect of listening to him without engaging an argument (or rolling over and agreeing with him).

I pulled it off. He continued…

“I swear, these people are against us. They’re trying to bring this country down. It’s like a plane that the wings have fallen off of. I’ve never seen it so bad. And I’ve been around for a long time.”

I listened. Then, respectively bid him farewell after saying something generic like, “Whelp, keep on keepin’ on…”

Coffee shops tell us so much about human nature.

Now I know why some of the best writers of all time frequent them.

It’s funny… Old guys around the world (young guys too, but I think this is mainly an older guy thing, stereotypically speaking) have been gathering in coffeeshops, barber shops, and watering holes complaining about the news for centuries.

I remember my dad and my grandpa doing just this, throughout my entire life.

Economic booms and busts came and went. Presidents got elected, re-elected, and impeached. Things got bad and good again, in a general sense.

But it was always on the verge of collapse, as far as the news — and their conversations — were concerned. They lived with this undertone of being on the defense against the attackers of the moment their entire lives.

Meanwhile, life went on. As it always has.

Sure, I know people who’ve claimed to have been negatively affected by these monumental twists and turns in world affairs.

But the ones I like to keep my eye on are those who’ve managed to largely ignore the news, live healthy lives, and thrive. Year in and year out.

They’ve called the news’ bluff and have figured out that every day, that sun will come up no matter what the headlines say. Things will always happen. Someone will get sick or go broke or say/do something hurtful. When this happens, they handle it with grace and poise. But during the moments in-between, they go on living with a positive affect, giving and providing what they can to build a life that works for them and everyone in them.

Because no matter what the news says, they know this is something that they have full control over.

To me, it sure beats buying into the misery and finding enjoyment in the company it brings.


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Rarely can a response make it better

Image: Omar Prestwich

Just sitting with someone without an ‘answer’ or ‘solution’ is a powerful place to be. But we always want to jump to ‘fix it’. To put a band-aid on it.

Feeling like we’re being ‘helped’ is hardly comfortable. Like the three year-old who loves ‘helping’, and feels great about it themselves, when in reality, they’re not actually helping at all. They’ve kind of just added a lot of time to the task and may have messed it up worse than it was — but we let them do it because it makes THEM feel better.

Rarely can a response make it better. What CAN make it better is connection.

When sitting with someone else who’s gone through some hurt, struggles, or foibles, it’s better to really just be there with them. When we try to fix, we take ourselves out of the room and retreat to our thoughts.

People are thirsty for a true connection, not a contrived response.

They need you there. Like, there. When you’re there in the moment, completely open, you allow for insight to show up. You’re present. And pure Presence is one of the rarest, most valuable things in today’s world. Because only through Presence can true connection be established.


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