The other day, I wrote about a thing that was important to me that I walked away from. And yes, many of you solved the riddle, the thing I ‘quit’ was the church I was affiliated with. No, I don’t hate them (check them out here — you can stream their services online if you don’t live in Chicago). It was a conscious choice from yours truly.
That being said, I’m still working towards my Interfaith Divinity degree. It’s a whole separate thing from the church. I’m still very much enjoying the journey as I study ancient religions, philosophies, and mystical traditions. It’s fascinating stuff. It adds to my work on this blog. And it satisfies my urge to make good on the promise I made to my late father of getting a degree of some sort (yes, even long after they croak, we still try to please our parents).
I also wanted to clarify the point that it never was my main j-o-b. I won’t be starving anytime soon. It was my side-thing with the possibility of it being my main thing somewhere down the road. And it still might be in some other form (I just don’t see myself at the helm of a traditional-looking c-h-u-r-c-h). We’ll see…
The good thing that’s emerged these last few weeks is that I’ve been working more and more with the creative branding agency I used to work with. It’s given me the space to step out of the deep, spiritual, heady, mindful, emotional things I tend to obsess about while keeping my creative muscle sharp. And it helps feed my family (I feel so manly when I say that) so I can feed this publication. Which is nice.
Okay, enough about life updates and whatnot…
I want to thank everyone who sent me a kind note of encouragement. So, thank you. Your words mean more than you know. And really, I’m great. Please don’t worry about me.
Which brings me to the point of this post which is: Positivity.
I got a couple well-meaning emails that explained how my posts of late haven’t been as ‘positive’ or ‘inspirational’ as the senders would have liked. That I wasn’t being myself and maybe I was slipping into angsty negativity.
Thanks for being concerned. But I want to go deeper on this whole ‘positivity’ thing…
We need to get off of this positivity kick because I think it’s killing us.
Seriously. Since I was a kid, the goal of the self-help space (and the mainstream spirituality space) has been positivity.
Positive thinking. Attracting happiness. Smile more. And more. Pray for stuff that will make you happy (because you clearly can’t be happy without it). Etc.
Now, I LOVE being happy. Being sad and down and depressed is — by nature — really uncomfortable.
But, as with most things of this nature, the more we suppress and resist, the more the energy builds until something… breaks. And hurts people.
Through my super brief stint into ACT, I’m learning how to make room for all of it. To detach from my thoughts of negativity and angst and dread so that I can see them for what they are… Just thoughts. Just mental yappings from my survival-based brain that has evolved to “serve me” by effectively scaring the shit out of me on a regular basis.
There is no stopping it. No shutting it up. And the more we try, the louder it gets. (Which means, the more ‘positive’ we try to be, the more backlash we experience down the road.)
It’s how things work. Have you ever tried to get someone to stop crying by telling them to ‘stop crying’? By telling them to ‘just think happier things’?
It’s not the nature of reality. Nothing works like that. We must provide these things space to be. No, not to unconsciously buy into them. But to be.
We must be able to name them and honor them and poke fun at them so that they can fade away (which they can only do on their own schedule).
Yes, I can get all wrapped up in my thoughts about quitting yet another life path and being almost 40 and how irresponsible and flighty I am. But would any of this be helpful? (Maybe a little?) But if I were to hang on to them, they’d drag me down further and further into the abyss of self-doubt. Which would not help things.
It feels so amazing to be able to occupy the same space as those thoughts and still be… Okay. In fact, I feel incredibly well. Because I know that my life is bigger than any one of these thoughts — good and bad. There’s plenty of room for them to pull up a chair and have a chat. I know they’ll move on and come back and then move on again. But all the while, I can also write about how absurd they are.
Life is about being able to live peacefully with the entire spectrum of emotions.
Yes, I could try to push those thoughts away. I could do affirmations and pray until I’m blue in the face. But by doing that, I’d just be shoving them down into the shadows of myself.
I see this so much in spirituality. There are so many fake happy faces in that world (okay, maybe I’m a little bitter, but this is my blog, so I can do what I want). They smile, smile, smile until one day — snap. Holy shit. Things just got real. Where did that come from? Oh, they’ve been doing that all along? I didn’t even smell the dead bodies rotting in the trunk. Huh… Weird…
But isn’t their whole MO to have us live these lives of happy happiness and perfect perfection? That God is only love and light and butterflies and rainbows? I dunno. I’m questioning a lot of it right now.
I say it’s too much for any of us to bear.
Now, I’m not a fan of hard-core vulnerability porn either (soft-core is okay). I think that getting attached to pain and suffering is just as harmful as getting attached to positivity.
We’re human. We think things. We feel things. We have these brains that are still based on the survival rules of the jungle and at the same time, we live in a world where Alexa can oder us on-demand hush puppies on a Tuesday night as we shamelessly stream old episodes of The Office.
It’s fucking complex. But you know what, it’s amazing. We live in amazing times. We’re breathing. We have beating hearts. Yes, we can be happy. And yes, we can be sad. And yes, we can feel defeated. And yes, we can feel like we’re absolutely #winning. And yes, we’ll probably revisit these emotions and thousands of variations of them in random order as long as we live.
May they provide us with great stories, great friends, steady health, legendary failures, supreme successes, and a lot of lukewarm mediocrity in between.
P.S. And yes, I’ll get out of my angsty little cave eventually. Thanks again for your words of encouragement:)
You know, where people jump on Facebook (yes, it’s always Facebook) and say things like, “Sorry guys, I’m at this place right now where it all might be ending.”
And everyone’s like — wait, whuh?! What’s going on?! Is she dying or moving or eating somewhere new for lunch? Because she NEVER eats anywhere new for lunch! 😱😱😱😱
Those posts have always frustrated me. But now, I kinda get it (but just kinda). Because love it or hate it, a lot of our lives exist in the social sphere (did I just say that?) these days.
Vaguebooking is narcissistically cathartic. So, although it puts our friends and loved ones into a frenzied tailspin of worry and anxiety, it feels good to air things out a little. And it makes sense that we might not be able to name names or explain details right away. Because that might be too much and it might hurt some people close to us.
See, I just quit something. Something important. Something I moved halfway across the country to be a part of (largely). And I feel like a bit of a failure right now. Do I think it’s my fault? Their fault? I dunno, it’s complex.
Some of you know what this thing is — especially if you’ve been following my work this last year or so.
I’ll just say it rhymes with birch. And perch. And lurch. And search.
A lot of my identity is tied up in this thing. My ego’s fingers are sore due to how tightly it’s been hanging on to this persona.
But another part of me feels freed up. Vulnerable, yes. Exposed, indeed.
But as terrifying as it is in that wide open space, it’s just as liberating.
Sometimes, the best-laid plans don’t work out as planned. So, this is like my vaguebooking post (albeit on Medium, which is interesting). Because this is as many details as I’m willing to let out of my digital hat right now. Maybe more to come. Maybe not.
It just feels good to write it down for you. Because maybe you’ve been there. Or maybe you’re there now. And knowing we’re not alone is nice.
No lesson to be learned. No happy ending (yet). No life lesson attached at the end of the post. I’m not even spiritualizing this thing (weird, right?).
Just a heartfelt note from a guy on the other end of the internet here.
Life is complex. Communities are complex. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s amazing we get along with each other as well as we do.
We’re doing good. All of us. Yeah, it’s messy. But interesting, nonetheless.
You’re the dad. That one. The one at the park with your kid and wife. You leap from platform to platform. You climb with great speed up the ladder. And slide with deft down the twisty slide. All the while Shouting with glee.
I’m the lava monster, yaaaaahhh!!!
Us other dads have clearly been outmatched. We have never been Nor will we ever be As fun or as lively As you.
We look at each other Hands in our pockets. Some of us try to step it up. We run a little. Some of us clap.
But we all watch…
Watch as you fly across the zipline. Feet kicked up high. Will it hold? Or will it snap? Sending you to the earth Knocking the wind out of you And bringing the lava monster To its demise.
Your dockers and wingtips are like a professional dad uniform. Amazing, the support they provide As you jump off the top level by the steering wheels and drums Landing far below.
That one was a little much. Pretty sure that was against park rules. Other kids are copying you now. Mothers are angry. And I see it might have hurt your right knee a little. But victorious you rise Arms outstretched and hairy belly shamelessly revealed To all the dads who bow at your feet As you shout Braveheart-style…
I am the lava monster! Yaaargh!!
Now you’re on the see saw Having so. Much. Fun. Bouncing higher than ever. Face red. Smile beaming. I’ve never seen a see saw move so violently. Your little girl flew off. I think she might be hurt. Nope, she’s good. You leap off and run to the rope ladder web thing Where you scale to the top So fast So fast.
You run up the twisty slide. Pretty sure that’s another infraction. Other kids follow your lead. More angry moms. More angry moms.
You are that dad. You are the lava monster.
Now my little girl is asking me Daddy, can you be the lava monster?
No, honey, I can’t. There is only room enough for one at this park.
She’s disappointed, I know. She turns away and stares at you As you spin around on the spinny thing Maxing out the weight limit.
Bold move, friend. Bold move.
You shout and you growl and you spit your fire Just like a real life Lava monster.
Other dads are starting to leave now Clearly defeated Clearly outmatched Clearly out-funned.
Sweat oozes out of every pore of your brow. Your work clothes aren’t the breathable type. They might be great for selling insurance But not for owning the role of The lava monster.
You’re spent now. Good show, old sport. I want to walk up and shake your hand. Good match. But that might just be weird.
You gather your clan. Jump in your van. And off, you speed. Another day won.
It’s just me and my daughter there now…
I am the lava monster!!!!! Yaaaargh!!!!
And she says it…
Dad… Stop acting weird.
Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs about his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com
This is where he used to sit in front of an open window on the first floor of his downtown London apartment… Naked.
Here’s what an article from the Smithsonian said about it…
And early most mornings, before he set to work, Franklin would sit, he wrote to a friend in France in 1768, “without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season,” at his open, first-floor window, letting the air circulate over his, by then, considerable bulk. What the neighbors thought is apparently not recorded.
Got the visual of seeing ole’ Benny Franks sitting there sprawled out naked in his living room soaking in the breeze? Doesn’t seem very founding-fatherly in the puritanical sense, but ya know what — that man had it figured out.
Connecting with the physical world around us is something most of us don’t do very often today. We’re so caught up in our heads and in our electronic devices that we live a large percentage of our lives not… here.
I mean, forget about meditation in the technical sense. No need to pay a guru a couple grand for a mantra. Also, no need to take an air bath (although, if you’re bold enough and have the wherewithal to do so — take advantage).
Just set your timer for noon and 3pm (or pick whatever other times work best for you). When it goes off, stop what you’re doing (if you’re not driving or operating heavy machinery), look around, take a big abdominal breath, let it all out, feel the ground beneath your feet and soak in to the sensory smorgasbord your five senses provide you in every moment.
What are you smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling against your skin?
We’re constantly walking on holy ground.
We’re so caught up in our thinking. So much chatter. So much distraction. So much judging of self and others. Our defense mechanisms are constantly triggered. It’s trade wars this and nuclear that.
Stop. Let the chatter do its thing. Pull back from it. And sink in to the world around you.
It’s still a little chilly here in Chicago for an air bath, but I’ll see what tomorrow holds. Me in my birthday suit with a cold beer, an open window, and the Masters on TV seems like a fantastic Sunday afternoon.
Not sure if my wife and daughter would agree, but that’s their problem, I suppose.
I played Ninja’s at the park with my friends today, Daddy.
Oh, really? That’s great. Did you know that Daddy used to be a Ninja?
(Trying to strike up a conversation about my martial arts background so as to impress my 4-year-old daughter as I braid her hair before bed.)
A real ninja?
Yyyyyeah, a real ninja.
(Some hesitancy in my voice knowing that I trained in Aikido, which is about the least bad-ass martial art out there. We didn’t wear ninja uniforms. We wore baggy black pants that resembled skirts. Although, on second thought, that’s kinda bad-ass in and of itself, it’s too complex of an angle to take with a preschooler…)
What kind of ninja, Daddy?
Well, I was more of a samurai than a ninja.
(Trying to back-pedal and justify the skirts — the hakama — because they’re part of Samurai culture, but it’s not really working.)
Oh, well, I’m a ninja. And I hit real.
Weeelll, Rory, we don’t hiiiit. *Dad voice*
(I wanted to say how, instead, we blend and redirect, but — never mind. I’m so not-cool right now. I start to realize the stark reality that my dadness has killed every last shred of whatever coolness I had before.)
We hit, kick, and run away. Like, yyyyah!
Wow, Rory, that’s pretty powerful. A lot of fury there. That’s good. You’re just playing, though, right? You don’t actually hurt people?
(My coolness is done. Gone. Ugh…)
Yeah, it’s a game. But it’s a game that I win.
I’m a hard ninja.
A hard ninja?
Yeah, like a rock. Hiiiiiyyyah!
(Wow. A hard ninja. So boss. I’ve never been this cool.)
Right on. Which color pony tail do you want? Pink or blue?
You got it.
Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs through his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com
I’m certainly not the biggest kid on the playground, but I’ve built a sizable following strictly on a platform that isn’t so easy to do so.
(After all, cat videos just won’t cut it on Medium.)
Several times a month, I get the inquiry: How’d you do it? How’d you build such a robust following on this platform that seems to be so difficult to do so?
I have one simple answer that is hard to stomach for most. But I look around to my peers who’ve done what I have here and see one common denominator…
In today’s world, keeping your talent close to your vest just doesn’t cut it. If you’re not already an icon, you have to be willing to give it away. All of it. Without getting anything in return. Possibly for a long time. A very long time.
You have to share freely and serve the world deeply — sometimes for quite awhile (for free) — in order to gain the trust and goodwill of your fellow humans.
This is a tried and true spiritual principle…
Everything that you consider valuable, you want to keep. This makes perfect sense to you because the foundation of your world is fear. Were the foundation of your world love, everything that you consider valuable you could not wait to share. Perhaps you think the desire to keep things for yourself stems from something other than fear. You might call this desire pride or security, or even accept that it is vanity, before you would call it fear. But fear is what it is. -A Course of Love
Fear hates this. Fear wants to find an agent and turn into Stephen King before the first word is released.
Fear wants to be a guaranteed YouTube sensation before the camera is even turned on.
Fear wants to be a movie star without ever sleeping in the back of one’s car and eating top ramen for months on end while grinding and auditioning and getting turned down for everything in site.
Fear wants a successful blog without ever writing a post, answering an email, bleeding on the page, or solving an interesting problem.
Today we have the opportunity to choose generosity in the face of fear when dealing with creative things…
This is no easy thing to grapple with, internally.
Might they take your work and share it with their friends without crediting you or paying you a dime?… Yep.
Might they read it/watch it/listen to it multiple times — hell, multiple years — without paying you a dime or sharing with anyone else? Yep.
And the worst…
Might they not read/watch/listen to it at all, no matter how hard you work at it?… Yep.
But you have to be okay with this. Because Love is okay with it. Love is already fulfilled. Love is an end all to itself. Love gives freely and generously because it knows there’s more where that came from.
And if Love happens to ‘pay off’ in the ‘real world’ (which it almost always does — albeit sometimes in ways we could never imagine) it accepts the fruits of its labor with grace because it knows it’s worth it.
[Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people transform their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way. To subscribe to his updates and exclusive content, click here.]
This came from my dad. When I was a kid, it was a known fact that he HATED mice. He’d tell me the story, with grimaced face, how when he was 16, hauling hay for the family farm (my dad had ginormous forearms and I never once saw him lift a weight — all from hauling so much hay when he was a wee lad), a field mouse scurried up his pant leg and bit him on the inner thigh (I always thought to myself as he told me this story time and again — good thing it was his inner-thigh 😜). It made him really sick and ever since then, he’s had a personal vendetta against mice.
If he saw a mouse in the house, he’d go in an all-out blitzkrieg. Nothing was too extreme to kill the little furry terrorists. Let’s just say he didn’t use animal-friendly non-lethal devices. Shotguns, blowtorches, napalm, hand grenades, Pop Rocks, Mountain Dew... All of it was fair game.
I remember when he started working at the mine in Nevada. I was finishing up high school in California, living with my aunt. He’d come home and visit every couple weeks. In the summer, I’d go visit him. His living situation was such that he and his co-workers each had their own trailer on-site in the middle of the northern Nevada desert. This particular summer, they had a mouse problem. A big one.
My dad’s trailer was secure. He had every single hole plugged with that industrial-strength spray foam. Towels were tucked under each door jamb. His trailer was like the pentagon. No mouse was getting within 100 yards of the front door without getting picked off by a sharp-shooter.
During my visit, I stayed in a separate trailer that belonged to his boss who was out of the country for a month. Apparently, his boss gave zero shits about mice because his trailer had none of the security measures my dad’s had. I remember waking up in the morning on a couple of occasions only to be welcomed by nasty little furry-bodied, flesh-eared mice in the hallway, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, respectively.
I’d freak out. To me, mice=attacking and biting followed by a horrid illness. I’d jump back in my bed and pull the sheets up (because the mice could easily advance up a bed sheet).
We took care of the problem that summer. Well, my dad did. I won’t go into details. Let’s just say the mice lost.
Thereafter, he always advised me to plug every single hole with industrial foam when I moved into a new place. And for awhile I did. Until I got comfortable. This house we live in now, I failed to do this. We’ve lived here for almost two years with zero intrusions. Until a couple weeks ago. When I woke up and saw a little guy scurry across my floor.
Damn, I thought. My father is probably rolling over in his grave right now. He taught me better. I’ve obviously failed him.
But I noticed something… The mouse hit me differently this time. I wasn’t nearly as distraught. Since that summer when I was 16, I’ve done a lot of, shall we say, inner-work. I’ve come to understand the nature of thought as being particularly fleeting and that things we deem to be scary are usually ghost stories penned by none other than ourselves.
This time, when I saw the mouse, although I wasn’t exactly totally comfortable with it (because it’s weird and odd and disgusting having a disease-carrying rodent inhabiting your home), I was far less charged.
Yesterday, I saw another mouse in the house we’re moving into. It scurried away and ran down into a hole in the hole where the wall heater is going. Years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to go back in the house unless I was armed to the teeth. And when I did, the first thing I’d do is, like the old man said, plug every hole.
As I write this, nothing has been plugged. After seeing the mouse, I went about my day, painting and prepping the house for our move-in date. Letting the mouse be until I get around to plugging the holes (don’t think I won’t eventually plug the holes).
What I realized is — nothing about the nature of mice have changed. They’ve not become any more or less threatening or nasty or germ-carrying. But something has definitely changed.
Oh, right... I have.
Now… Where’s the closest place to buy peanut butter and a 12-gauge?
I’m 36. And this is the first time I’ve ever been a proud owner of a sectional couch.
I know, you probably think I’m wealthy beyond all imagination. But it’s just not true. We bought this thing from a friend for $50. But it’s like new.
In all honesty, I didn’t even know that owning a sectional couch was such a cliche’ of adulthood and domestication. But you know how, when you buy a certain car, you start seeing it everywhere? This is what’s happening to me with my sectional couch. Since I’ve owned it, I’ve been hearing it in random off-handed asides. You have the wife. The car. The mortgage. The white picket fence. And the sectional couch. I didn’t even know that’s what it’s officially called before a friend saw it and said, “Oh, dude, you have a sectional couch.”.
That’s okay. The label doesn’t bug me much. I feel like a damn king sitting on this thing right now. I can sleep on 3 different segments of it. I love plopping down with the laptop and kicking my feet up on the chaise lounge. Rory jumps on it like a trampoline (which we’re trying to put the kibosh on right now — she’s fallen off and banged her head twice doing that). This thing is awesome.
I just think it’s funny what we consider luxurious. Maybe for you, it’s your Ferrari. Or your fine cigar collection. For me, right now, this sectional couch is feeling fine.
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In late October, I started growing a beard. I don’t really know why. I’ve had a couple attempts before. But I’m an extremely itchy guy. This is probably some kind of neurotic — if not psychotic — tick. At about the two-week mark, my face turns into a minefield of itches and pokes. When I lay down on my pillow at night, it feels like a million little pins are piercing my face. That’s when I usually give up and shave it off.
When I shave it, I feel like I’ve failed. Like all of that time spent itching away at it, letting it grow, nurturing it, keeping it moisturized, etc., was wasted. Another disappointment in beard growth.
My dad had a beard from the day I was born until the day he died. I never saw his cheeks or his chin. For the longest time, I wondered why. And then I remembered a story he once told me.
He was a young man — I think in his early twenties — and he was working at a service station. Late one evening, after most everyone had gone home, he was changing the tire of a big truck. He had the tire iron pulled back and was trying to pry the tire off when he slipped. His hand let go of the iron and the bar smashed into his jaw, shattering it. He lay unconscious until a his co-worker found him laying there, teeth strewn across the concrete floor.
That was it. He was hiding the gigantic scar from that accident.
Late last month, I decided to try it again. Partly in homage to my dad. Partly just because I wanted to prove to myself I could follow through with it. I was pumped. I was going to make it through the itchy phase and coast from there. Hell, I might even grow a yeard.
Week two to week four were the worst. I put conditioner on it to soften it. My friend even bought me oil to moisten it with. These things helped, and I was mostly fine during the day. It was the night time itching that killed me.
And then I realized… Shit. It’s Movember/No-Shave November. And here I am. Going along with it, unintentionally.
I’ve never been a big fan of these movements. I get it, and it’s great for some people, but not for me. I’ve never been the type to slap one of those ribbons on my car. I don’t donate to any famous charities. And I don’t fit well in crowds. I’m a curmudgeon. That’s just how it is. When I see the masses wearing their pink… everythings… I run the other direction.
But here I was. In the middle of the no-shaving hysteria not shaving. Ugh…
Add to that the fact that I hate having food on my face. With a beard, food finds your face. It seems to act as a magnet, pulling food off of other people’s plates in the room and caking your beard with it. I found myself always wiping. And never getting it all off.
Then there’s the wife thing. She loved the way it looked, but hated getting pricked by it (get your mind out of the gutter RIGHT THERE, buddy). I like kissing my wife. And while I had my beard, all I got was the turned cheek.
I always caught myself playing with it. There I’d be, in public, usually by myself, tonguing my beard hairs that hung over the edge of my mouth. People must have thought I was mad. It probably looked like I was performing cunnilingus to the air. Total creeper.
Also, I live in Reno. Every guy in Reno has a beard. Again — herd mentality, makes me itchy.
So I did it. I murdered the beard. I can feel my face again. And I feel free.
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