Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh

A couple weeks ago, my lovely wife and I got a sitter and went out on the town to see a couple of my favorite humans — Rob Bell and Peter Rollins — at The Vic theater here in Chicago.

I’ve been processing that event since I walked out of the theater that rainy, blustery Chicago night.

Now, I don’t know if you give two sh*ts about Rob Bell. Maybe you can’t stand him. And that’s fine. I still think you might enjoy this post.

Without further ado, here’s what I took away from it...


First off, Peter Rollins

The Irish accent. Solid. It fully anchored in the storytelling that was about to ensue that evening.

(As charming as it was, I found myself squinting to better understand him. Which is odd, because how was that supposed to help?)

I love how he immediately brought it down to earth. I want to have so many drinks with this guy (and I don’t even drink much). His whole thing is ‘creating freedom from the tyranny of certainty’. So he was like, yes, you have your stuff. Yes, you lie to yourself and others. Yes, you doubt your abilities and the good in the world. But it’s okay. (I paraphrase, of course.)

It was the perfect precursor to the evening. His bit was fairly short before Rob Bell took the stage.

Now: A little background about Rob Bell (as he applies to my life)…

Back in 2009 (ish), my dad gave me a DVD he burned for me (remember those?) with a talk called Everything is Spiritual on it. My wife and I watched it and really loved it. And then we forgot about it and went on with our lives.

Fast-forward to 2016 when we were moving into our place in Minden, NV. We were a few days out from moving in and I was painting the interior (’twas a bit of a fixer upper). I’d just gotten our WiFi installed, so naturally, I opened up the laptop and went to YouTube (as you do). I wanted a podcasty-type interview to throw on in the background as I slathered my walls. Right there at the very top of my suggested videos was one with a familiar face (albeit slightly older): The dude who did that Everything is Spiritual talk almost a decade earlier.

Being a spirituality junkie, I opened it up, watched/listened, and absolutely loved what I was hearing. I learned he had a podcast, which I promptly started listening to after that interview. I then went on to listen to almost every episode of the Robcast that summer. (I also learned he did a new 2016 version of his Everything is Spiritual talk, which you can see here.)

This guy was giving me a perspective about spirituality that was so… simple (in a good way). It was such a refreshing contrast to the self-helpey stuff I’d been geeking out on for so many years. It had nothing to do with manifesting or frequency or vibrations or anything of the sort.

Bell spoke of a faith that was about the way we grow our food, the way we host a dinner, the way our political structure runs, our environment, our health, our relationships, and the very ground we walk on. He spoke of a Bible that was to be read literately, not literally (go ahead and read that again). It was a human-centric spirituality, not an other-worldly one.

And, being basically kicked out of evangelical Christianity a few years ago after going against the notion of hell in his book Love Wins, he now did his thing (‘his thing’ being the art of the sermon) via his podcast and while touring comedy clubs and small-but-classy music venues (like The Vic in Chicago).

To stop myself from gushing, I’ll just say, I dug his style from the get-go. And that night at The Vic was — no joke — a transitional moment in my life and work as a writer in this life/spirituality/tomfoolery space.

He probably told twenty random stories about his life that had nothing to do with him experiencing a breakthrough, emerging victorious, being holy, etc. (as the typical ‘spiritual’ thought leader would do). His stories were about loss and love and failure and normalcy and absurdity. They were stories that were mundane, but deep, funny, and oh-so wonderfully random.

There were some Bible stories along the way, but nothing preachy. They were more ‘hmmmmm…’ than ‘amen!’.

And then he tied these 20-ish disparate stories all together at the end through a profound Hebrew phrase: kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, which basically means (and forgive me — I’m no Bible scholar, I did not take notes, and my memory is horrible) holy, holy, holy.

Rabbis of old would hear someone speak about something in their life — whether it was a confession or a question or an anger-fueled rant — and afterwards, they’d make a circle motion with their finger while saying “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh,” so as to say: It’s all holy.

(There were a lot of points driven home that evening, but this stands out as the biggest.)

So often, we seek out spirituality to get us out of this mess called life. We think it’s going to propel us into a life of perfect ease and bliss and wealth (we former Law-Of-Attractioners have fallen into this one big time) where ‘God’ or ‘The Universe’ takes favor to us and — hocus-pocus — we suddenly have a life free from sorrow and trouble and lack and sickness and doubt and betrayal and confusion.

No, no, no. This wasn’t the point. According to ancient wisdom, all of it is holy.

You get pissed off at the wife and kick the dog and feel like a shitty human… Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.

You get fired from your job and end up sleeping on an ex-boyfriend’s couch for a month as he and his new girlfriend make noise in the next room… Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.

Your little girl tells you that the kid in her preschool class called her stupid… Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.

You win the lotto and have no idea what to do with all that money… Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.

Yes, life is awesome. Yes, it’s boring. Yes, it’s confusing. Yes, it’s horrible. Yes, it involves winning and losing and doubting and wondering and knowing and a lot of stuff in between.

And all of it is holy.

I can live with this brand of spirituality. It’s useful. It grounds me into my life instead of compelling me to escape it.

And as for you…

Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.

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It’s a lot like collecting sticks

Photo by Débora Rousse on Unsplash

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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Independently Wealthy

“A man in a suit jacket tying his tie” by Andrew Worley on Unsplash

I was reading an interview with Irish poet/philosopher/overall badass, David Whyte. The interviewer asked him what people’s reactions are when they ask him what he does. Here’s what he said…

I either say matter of factly, “I’m a poet.” I know that will always lead on, so sometimes I just say, “Oh, I’m independently wealthy.” Which is actually how I feel. That has another kind of accuracy.

I just love that.

“I’m independently wealthy.”

Hell. 
Yes.

This is why Whyte is so insanely creative. Because he carries this consciousness throughout his work and his life.

We’re not talking about dolla-dolla bills here. I’ve known monetarily rich people who live like prisoners. What we’re talking about here is creative freedom.

Creative freedom doesn’t happen when you’re trying to win someone over or gain their approval.

What if you could carry this knowingness with you? How would your life be different? How would your work be different?

Maybe you’d write what you really want to write.

Maybe you’d laugh off those nascent worries.

Maybe you wouldn’t base your entire body of work on that one angry email you got from an anonymous reader.

Maybe you wouldn’t feel the need to pander to them.

Maybe you’d be freer in your word choice without feeling the need to over-explain.

Maybe you’d be more clear and direct.

Maybe you’d just say the damn thing.

Maybe you’d loosen up a bit.

Maybe your inner wealth would reflect the innate inner wealth of others.

Maybe others would really dig that. (Even though, they very well may not — but it doesn’t matter because you’re independently wealthy, remember?)

I know I would.

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All of it is perfect

Photo by Jonathon Young on Unsplash

Poets and mystics have long pointed to the notion that every single thing is an integral part of the perfection that is… life.

By ‘perfection’, we’re not just talking about things that makes use warm, fluffy, fuzzy, and happy inside. That would only be half — at best — of the grand puzzle.

I’m talking famines, lice, tics, rashes, boils, poverty, constipation, cancer, end-of-days-style weather, senseless crime, fraud, deceit, bad coffee, unexpected phone calls from your kid’s teacher, warm beer, the Hallmark channel, botched haircuts, reruns of Maury Povich at the dentist, bad hair, stubbed toes, bitten tongues, and chicken pox.

I’m also talking about that unexpected windfall from your industrialist grandfather, all green lights in one day, that perfect parking spot at Trader Joe’s, straight-A’s, expressed love from your child, winning at Scrabble, cleansing bowel movements, groundbreaking conversations, raises at work, and dying in your sleep the evening after running a 5k at the age of 85.

And sandwiched in between those things is… you. The divine bubble of your consciousness. In that sacred space lives your innate desire to improve conditions.

Your desire to improve conditions is part of the grand perfection of life.

We’re constantly being called to step up.

This won’t ever stop. Life won’t ever stop asking for more through us.

So we may as well just relax into our roles, right? Stop stressing about it so much.

Maybe then we could just put one foot in front of the other and engage with life knowing this isn’t some urgent race towards a finish line, but rather a surrendering to a divine tug that pulls us towards the next step of our unfoldment in this ever-expanding universe.

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How much how-to?

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

I know that the go-to strategy for content these days — especially for creative freelancers — is to teach. To create endless how-to’s on your thing. To see your content as a huge Q&A library.

I want to challenge that right now. (Should be fun, anyways.)

Although I’ve put exactly zero research into this (I’m no marketing scientist by any means), I think that the online closet of how-to is about full. There’s not a lot of room left in that area of the internet. I can go to Skillshare, Udemy, CreativeLive, or a number of others to get a highly produced, cheap (sometimes free) comprehensive lesson plan on how to do virtually anything I want.

A fresh idea for content: Stop teaching how you do the thing and show us what you do with the thing.

Sure, give us some pointers every now and then. But I’d rather see you demonstrate your skill rather than teach it.

Take Casey Neistat for example. He totally could have started his career by posting how-to’s on filmmaking. And he probably would have done well. But, what did he do?

He made awesome videos. Scrappy, DIY (but super well done) stories that chronicled his mundane life (which has gotten less mundane in recent years) told in a way that no one else was telling them.

Now, he’s one of the world’s most sought-after filmmakers in his genre — yes, YouTube vlogging is now a genre, if you haven’t noticed. (And if he were to host a YouTubing class, it would be sold out in seconds.)

Why?

Because he lives his craft. He demonstrates it. Yes, he throws out useful camera reviews and tricks of the trade on occasion. But it’s a small subset of his work.

Tre L. Loadholt is a poet. She’s THE poet of Medium. No one else even comes close. I don’t see her spending time writing endless poetry hacks and how-to’s (thankfully). She’s doing the thing, not just writing about the thing. She’s both artist and expert (well done, Tre).

Demonstrate your skill. Show us your work. And then tell us how to do it. If you want.

Just know that teaching isn’t the only option. What we really want is to see your magic.

That’s what’s going to inspire us.


You can find more of Jonas’ work over at at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com

A case for magical thinking

Photo by Jeff Brown on Unsplash

I believe we live in an interactive universe. I see this world and my experience as a responsive system that talks and listens to me in every moment.

I believe that everything is inherently significant and that the only thing that can rob my life of its significance is my incessant personal thinking.

Is this magical thinking? Oh, hell yeah. I’m at a place now where I can readily admit that I’m unabashedly a magical thinker.

This hasn’t come easy. I was raised in a rational, western, male-dominated household. My dad was a computer programmer from way back in the day (one of the first wave of old school coders #cobol #c++). EVERYTHING had to have a proven, logical outcome.

And so I lived much of my life thinking that way. It served me in a lot of ways, but it also limited me.

Your life is a testament to the premise you’re trying to prove.

Want to prove that the world is a logical, rational place based on self-interest with no magic, no wonder, and no hope?

I think that requires just as much faith as my magical thinking does.

See, I want to prove something else. I want to prove that there is magic. That this responsive universe conspires for me and is hurtling me (and all of us) towards something wider and bigger than anything I can ever imagine.

I want to trust this thing. I want to struggle less. I want to know that dread is not the best emotion to get me where I want to go.

I want to parachute out of that premise into something way more expansive.

This is what makes me excited. It’s the route my internal GPS is signaling that I take.

I think I might see that turn signal of yours on too…

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When appreciation and eagerness get together and make out in the forest

“On a forest trail, a woman in flip-flops rises on tip-toes to kiss her man” by Kate on Unsplash

It’s one of humanity’s greatest conundrums…

Should I be grateful for what I have or demand more out of life?

Should I be all-accepting or follow my bliss?

Should I count my blessings or rage against the dying of the light?

Get this…
How about all of it?

See, the ego works in either/or. It makes us think we have to choose. It splits our minds and divides our experience. It throws up walls wherever it can on a whim.

The spirit — our inherent creative nature — kicks open doors and functions from a place of both/and. It unites our hearts and minds.

So let’s open this thing up, shall we?…

A rich life is lived by holding a deep appreciation for what is without losing an ounce of eagerness for what’s coming.

When you remove the barriers between appreciation and eagerness, they can meet at the edge of a trickling stream in the forest and make out.

So…

Yes, and yes. 
Thank you, and please. 
I’m open to so much more, but I’m totally good right here.

There’s plenty of room for all of it.

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It’s all around you

by Eduard Militaru on Unsplash

I’m not making this stuff up... Many have said it before... Being open and connected to the moment-to-moment spontaneous unfoldment of life is essential to creative growth.

We get stuck when we just sit and stagnate in our heads. And more of us today are doing ‘thought work’ where we spend large swaths of time doing just this.

I live on a slow street in Chicago. At a glance, it might look like a normal, workaday scene at any one moment — parents and nannies walking kids to school. People parallel parking (badly). Those annoying advertisement newspapers in pink plastic wrap being thrown onto porches like mass drive-by litterings.

Most of it, I don’t even notice. I might peek out every once in a while. Check on the weather (from inside — which is peculiar). And then it’s back to work.

But when I mentally step out of my self-obsession — if I can just press pause on my incessant and endless inner Netflix drama of, “How am I and how is my brilliant career going?” — long enough, I can see that there’s more going on right here than meets the eye.

There always is.

Kids are growing up. Parents are proud but terrified at the same time. The newspaper delivery folks are doing what they can so they can go home and hug their kids over a warm meal knowing their bills are paid for another month.

When we’re in adulting-mode, yeah, we see this stuff. We notice it. But we don’t allow ourselves to be swept away by the rich depth and density of life. We neuter our enthusiastic connection with it and keep focus stayed on our ambitions. We put the fearful, insecure ego in charge of telling us how our lives SHOULD unfold. And all the while, we miss the way they ARE unfolding (or are trying to if we’d just let them).

In our digital world, it’s more important than ever to get out of our self-absorbed patterns and admire the physical life happening around us.

When I think that this apartment is over 200 years old, I’m blown away of how many baby diapers have been changed, deaths have been grieved, job raises have been celebrated, and Christmas trees have been erected. Suddenly, I’m taken out of the littleness of my life and tossed into the largeness of ALL of life.

“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music — the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself…”

— Henry Miller

This is where the good stuff comes from. Not from scanning through Instagram. Again. (Much love, Insta, you’re still my favorite.)

I mean, think of how many shortcuts you take. You take the highway when you could cruise through that really interesting, diverse, and quirky neighborhood you’ve been wanting to explore. Yeah, it saved you seven minutes, but what did it rob from your experience?

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

— Charles Dickens; A Tale of Two Cities

(And here we have an administration turning higher education into vocational career training — ugh…)

Forget yourself.
Forget yourself.
Forget yourself.

It’s when you forget yourself that you discover yourself.

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Ode to deadlines

Photo by Kevin on Unsplash

Lately, my life has been the embodiment of what happens when four deadlines converge in the woods (on the same week). Yes, a total cluster f&*k of stress, overwhelm, insecurity, and dread.

The deadline is the scourge of writers around the world, second only to that of the blank page/blinking cursor.

So, yeah… Deadlines have had me down as of late. What makes it worse is that I love my clients. Writing copy for them is a treat. Their businesses, their visions, and the work they do in the world is palpable (and they’re fantastic people to just hang out with — which I get to do). Which means disappointing them is unacceptable.

Playing a role in helping craft their visions is an honor — one I take seriously.

Too seriously, in fact, sometimes.

I caught myself several times this last week in a place of desperation. When writing, I noticed my shoulders tensing up, the scowl on my face intensifying as my fingers hammered the keys, and my breathing becoming shallow and abrupt.

Survival mode... 
Ain’t it hell?

Now, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve been here a time or four. I’ve grown to be able to catch myself doing it. And to tell myself…

It’s not worth it.

No matter the looming deadlines — stress and angst only kill the creative process.

Now, this is our normal, unconscious reaction. If you’re someone with a strong work ethic, you want (and need, if you’re a paid writer) to get it done. In time.

But beyond the function of propelling you into your seat to work, this kind of stress must be left at the door.

See, when you’re writing (or, creating in general, whatever you do) from a place of unconscious tension and fear, you work from a low, stuck, uncreative vibration.

And nothing good comes out of that. You get mentally, spiritually, (and yes, even physically, sometimes) constipated. The words eeeeek out onto the page. Your survival mind is also a fierce critic, so everything is dulled.

Now you’re getting more and more behind deadline and your work is crap because you’ve been writing in a low creative vibration.

Alright — what to do…

First, catch yourself. Notice what’s happening.

Then, stop. Put the pen down (or close your laptop).

Breeeeathe. In through the nose to a count of four and then out through the mouth to the count of four, relaxing your shoulders as you do so. Throw on a pleasant playlist on Spotify. No, not the death metal workout one. This isn’t the time. Grab the Norah Jones one (you know you have one). Hang out here for 10 minutes.

Know that nothing good comes out of this barrel of stress you’re rolling down the mountain in. Step out of the barrel (your ego is dreaming your stress up, so you can defy the laws of reality and step out of the barrel that’s careening off that cliff).

When 10 minutes is up, relax back into your work (don’t jump back into it). Know that this is a privilege. You get to do creative work for a living. You don’t have to test the city’s sewer lines for functionality. Things could be worse.

Your job is to create. You can only do this from a place of openness and enthusiasm. Seeing how detrimental stress is to the creative process can get you to jump to this higher place in a moment (that’s the great thing about the mind — all it takes is a shift in thinking to get there).

Enjoy. Create. Submit. Sleep. And get on with the great work you do in the world.

P.S. My good friend, Tom Kuegler, is throwing an online summit to help you become a full-time writer and blogger. It’s free and I had the fortune of being one of the presenters interviewed in it (along with other incredible bloggers such as Chris Brogan, Tiffany Sun, Tim Denning, and more. Being that it’s online, there’s no need to fly anywhere to attend. You can watch it for free on your couch when it airs (on March 20th). Click here to sign up.

☠️Warning☠️ Full disclosure☠️: That link above is an evil affiliate link. This means that, although the summit is free, should you then go on to buy something from Tom and he gets filthy rich, I might get kicked down a few bucks (at no extra cost to you).

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The devilish notion of reason

Photo by H E N G S T R E A M on Unsplash

William Blake often wrote about how we mix up God and Satan. He mentioned how many of us think that God is all about restriction, inhibition, caution, censorship, etc. Blake said that it’s those qualities that disintegrate the imagination and murder the innate freedom and passionate enthusiasm that wells up within us.

Blake called this inhibitive force Satan. “For nothing is pleasing to God except the invention of beautiful and exalted things.”

“Enthusiasm is the all-in-all.”
 — William Blake

Is Blake speculating? Is it irrational to put a ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ label on these qualities? Well, maybe.

But I’ll go ahead and take Blake’s word for it.

Something to ponder throughout your week.

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Be a partner with fate (rather than its victim)

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

We really are just making it all up...

Yes, sure, you can walk through life with the belief that everything that happens is random circumstance. That you’re just a helpless victim in this random, non-caring, shifty universe. You can defend and uphold that worldview to the death…

But is it worth it?

I mean, may as well switch it up, right? I don’t know if this serves anyone. And is it really provable? Are you sure you’re right?…

Try this, instead. Just for a week.

Tell yourself that everything in life — no matter how horrible it seems (but don’t forget the good stuff as well) — is conspiring in your favor.

Adopt the worldview that all of it — even seemingly unconnected events — have meaning. Create situations as you need them and know that you are a partner with fate rather than its victim.

Become a conspirator with fate. Collaborate with it.

Think it’s just coincidence that you’re reading this?

I’ll let you answer that.

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The futile escape from normalcy

“A kid running through a field with a sunrise as the backdrop” by Linh Nguyen on Unsplash

I’ve often heard one version or another of the following line from spiritual seekers…

If only I could get to [enter name of any exotic, far away land here], I’d be able to have a true awakening.

I’ve heard the same kind of thing from seculars in the creative world.

If only I could get those dream clients, I could start putting myself out there in a way that expresses the ‘real me’.

I’ll just come out and say it…

Your most profound spiritual awakening/creative expression can only be realized right here in this very mundane moment just as you are rather than in some idealized situation away from it.

Removal from life is simply not possible.

Wherever you go, there you are.

As within, so without.

Humans have been writing this stuff in ancient texts for thousands of years — it’s nothing new.

Escapism is a great relief, temporarily. But eventually, we come home to ourselves.

I don’t want to be taken somewhere else. I want to wake up to my life, my love, my work, my health, my creativity, my abundance — in this moment, right here in this messy apartment living room with kid toys strewn about the floor.

Since we can’t remove ourselves from life, our only option is to join with it. To love it. To love and accept ourselves in it.

Love will transform normal, ordinary, life into extraordinary life. It will end our desire to remove ourselves from life.
 — A Course of Love

This isn’t about accepting what we don’t like. It’s not about spiritually bypassing our dislikes. I’m not suggesting ‘making due’ with the outer conditions of life (the job, the non-job, Janet from accounting, those unpaid bills, the sickness, etc.).

It’s not about accepting externals. It’s about accepting internals and freeing yourself up for... More.

It’s about accepting that you don’t like whatever it is you don’t like. Then, and only then — when you’ve accepted how you feel — can you respond to your life truly. Only when you’ve accepted how you feel do you quit placing the permanent labels on the externals of your life ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Only then can you deal with anything from a place of peace and relaxed movement.

We’re talking about radical acceptance of Self in relationship to your life.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the stuff/places we think will take us where we want to go — IF they show up in their proper place as effects of inner-change, not attempted causes of it.

It’s just a matter of getting the equation right.

I swear, if I trip over that toy unicorn again, I’m gonna freak…

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Creativity isn’t a luxury

“Mini crayons lay against each other on white surface” by Foto Garage AG on Unsplash

It’s really not. Never has been. It’s our nature. And as much as we can deny our nature, that doesn’t make our denial true.

The argument that says creativity is a luxury is just a great excuse not to create.

The technical stuff, the stuff you can learn in a 6-week course or a trade school… That stuff is being automated faster than we can learn it.

Our creative nature is the only thing that separates us from the machines. And the machines are getting faster and faster every nanosecond.

But shall we never forget… 
We created the machines.

Never forget your proper place. Your spiritual inheritance as a creative being is a big deal.

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On creating more space between your life and your social media feed

Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash

Earlier this year, I took a short break from social media — mainly Instagram (Facebook, I’d already been broken up with for months).

I wanted to enjoy my moments more. I wanted less brain space taken up with concerns about social approval. I wanted to stop posting photos of my daughter so much (it’s getting to the point where she’s a little person and I felt I was taking advantage — plus, internet weirdos are a thing, or so I heard).

It was so difficult at first. So difficult.

And then, it was awesome. I had all this new space in my psyche to read books or write more or just… Be bored (this was huge — more on this soon).

But then, I was ready to get back. I didn’t miss Facebook at all, but I missed Instagram. When I scroll through Instagram, I’m good. It’s not nearly as toxic as Facebook. However, I wanted to do Insta in a more mindful fashion this time around. Yes, I wanted to play in the sandbox again. But I didn’t want the sandbox consuming my mind.

So, here’s the rule I instituted for myself…

Take the photo now. But don’t post until tomorrow.

It’s the age-old wisdom of writing the angry letter now but not sending it until our heads cool off. (Usually, what happens is that the letter ends up in the trash.)

Even though what you’re about to post might not be an angry letter, I’m guessing it’s coming from an unconscious place. Maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it’s a subconscious one-upping of someone you saw earlier. Maybe it’s a blatant promotion that’s rushed to get clients in the door. Or maybe it’s just a way to kill some time.

See, for me, the scenario was often this:

I’d be out somewhere with my family and the perfect Instagrammable moment would arise. Suddenly, my mind would shift into how I could frame said moment in the best way for my friends on social media. I’d take the photo. Then, I’d ponder what caption and clever hashtags I could use for several minutes. All the while, I’d be missing the moment. I’d consciously be absent from my life until I hit that ‘publish’ button.

Not now. Now, I just snap the photo (takes 5 seconds) and put the phone back in my pocket. Then I go back to enjoying my day.

The next day, if the thing is still novel, it’s post-worthy. If not (and typically, it’s not), I either delete it or leave it for my family/personal scrapbook.

Create more space between your life and your social media feed.

You deserve — and your friends and loved ones deserve — your full presence in your life. Be there.

Live first. Post second (if at all).

P.S. After I wrote this, I did some searching and noticed that the NY Times has a fantastic article on this point titled, The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter. Check it out here, if you’re interested.

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A good way to get good at stuff

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

First, a disclaimer… We, as a culture, need to chill a bit when it comes to ‘getting better’ (yes, that’s why I baited you with that headline, because maybe you’re someone who’s a biiiit — shall I say — driven to succeed).

A lot of us in our culture today are severely unhappy due to the constant thriving and striving to improve.

We need to knock that shit off. Seriously. We’re here. We’re alive. We’re breathing. We have life and light flowing through our veins. It’s all a gift.

I believe more focus should be placed on celebration and connection with life rather than improvement born from an ego ideal that won’t make us much happier anyways.

Okay, there’s my disclaimer.

Now, we’re human. I get it. We like to get good at stuff. Yes, there are a lot of ways to get good at things (practice comes to mind), but as I write this, I can’t think of many in my experience that’s been more powerful (yet subtle) than this:

To get good at something, stay in the conversation around it.

Now, what I’m talking about here are things that are more creative/intellectual in nature rather than physical/athletic. Although you future Olympians may find some nuggets of truth here as well.

I’ll take writing as an example. Yes, I’ve done (and still do) the work… Years ago, I’d trade in hours of sleep every night for hand-copying old long-form sales letters. I bought every book I could about the craft. I’d read blogs I loved for hours (this was back in the days of Google Reader when you could just keep scrolling through the archives of blogs like a long book).

But all the while, I stayed in the conversation. I stayed curious. I talked to people both inside and outside of the writing world about it. I’d talk to myself about it all day long. I’d contact my favorite writers and try to pick their brains (there are a lot of unanswered emails out in Gmail land somewhere). I had serious doubts about the way things were being done. But I knew that if I stayed present in that world and did my work, I’d grow and learn and evolve. And I did.

It’s happening right now with my spiritual studies. I’m going to school to become an interfaith minister and we’re currently studying New Thought pretty heavily (I won’t go into what that is here — you’re a Google search away from the answer). For some time now, I’ve been running into some doubts and inner challenges around it.

But I’ve stayed in the conversation. I’ve hung out at my spiritual center, taken classes, accepted mentoring, talked to people, challenged people, and asked questions knowing that this is a long-term game. It’s why it’s supposed to take us years of study and apprenticeship to be able to do this work.

All the knowledge and insight in this realm — or any realm, in fact — doesn’t come from watching a few videos, reading a few books, and taking a few courses. Yes, they’re stops along the way. I don’t mean to discount them. But none of them are the finish line.

It takes staying in the conversation for the duration. It takes patience with yourself. It takes staying in through the dip to see what’s on the other side.

We need to let go of the notion that ultimate knowing and uncertainty will ever come. Getting ‘good’ at something takes patience and tenacity. It takes being humble while having an insatiable curiosity. It takes knowing when you’re ‘doing it wrong’ so you can change it up. And it takes knowing that the possibilities of improvement are endless.

So what’s the rush?

Stay in the conversation and you won’t be able to help but grow.

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Losing the argument against life isn’t really losing

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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So many of us have a certain kind of inner debate going on in our heads. If you’re like me, maybe you grew up poor, bullied, or worse.

In this inner-debate, we plot ourselves against our life/God/the universe/etc. (I’m just going to call it ‘Life’ with a capital-L for now).

So in our mind, there we are on one side determined to be the one who’s right (because it’s all about ‘winning’ in the ego’s world, isn’t it?) and there Life is in the opposite corner of the ring.

What we hope to win in this insane argument is an acknowledgment from Life that we don’t have what we need. We shake our fist and claim that we’re lacking, we’re permanently broken, and thanks to this, we have no choice but to continue on this path of struggling and striving to just carry on in the world as we always have.

As disempowering as this debate obviously is (when seen with a calm mind), to the ego, it’s empowering. This is because, by ‘winning’, it’s off the hook. A true victim is helpless. Why even try? We can remain in our illusory separated state from Life itself. Might as well just be pissed and bitter and… right.

Right?

But let me ask you something…

What if we lost this argument against Life? What if we were wrong? Would we actually have lost?

I like to imagine, when ‘losing’ this argument, Life speaking back to me and saying something like…

I’m sorry you ‘lost’, good friend. In fact, the only losing that happened is in your head. Because in reality, you just claimed your spiritual inheritance.

You and I are inseparable. You may have found yourself in the midst of physical and/or mental lack. But the story that surrounds it is entirely made up and perpetuated by you who clings to ‘being right’.

Be wrong, friend. Surrender this story. Lay down your shield from me — your Life — and let me in.

You have all you need. Lay down the argument and find yourself at home in your true inheritance as a natural-born empowered being this very instant.

There’s life coursing through our veins. We have beating hearts. We have breath. The future is unwritten.

I know I totally made that little monologue up, but… Wait…

Did I really?

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Do you really have to?

There’s a short three-word phrase I invite you to examine in your inner dialogue. That phrase is…

“I have to…”

I have to wait for them to give me the go-ahead.
I have to get better at writing to share my work.
I have to get up at 5 am.
I have to let the client have her way.
I have to be strong.
I have to be happy.
I have to get back at him.
I have to be really nice to my wife.*

(*This one is probably true.)

You get the point.

But really…

Do you have to?
Or is your ‘have to’ serving as a really useful scapegoat?

Tough questions are often the best ones.

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Creativity: An easy kill

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Dad, look at me.
Dad, look at this.
Dad, watch this.
Hey, Dad.
Hey, Dad.
Hey, Dad. 
Look at this, Dad.

This is my life right now. My daughter, as you may know, is four.

She’s all about showing off. She wants approval. She wants attention.

All.
The.
Time.

Everything she creates is a display. Every heart she draws. Every little doo-dad she cuts out and pastes to another doo-dad (yes, we have a lot of doo-dads in the apartment right now). Every new dance move. Every cool stunt she learns. She must showcase it to us, right away.

Nothing is more important than immediate approval of her self-expression.

Yes, it’s adorable. But damn, it gets really overwhelming and outright annoying at times — especially when I’m tired or stressed or wishing I was doing something else (these are the real feelz, as a parent).

It’s during those times that I see how easy it would be to unconsciously murder her creativity. Absolutely slaughter it.

Telling her to knock it off and sit down so Daddy can do this really important thing has bumped right up against the inside of my lips a number of times. I don’t think I’ve blurted it yet, but I’ve come really damn close.

Shut up. Sit down. Stop showing off. You’re not that big of a deal.

At four, coming from your parents, this is the world.

Listen… We’re going to mess our kids up. At least a little.

And they’re resilient. 
We have to be kind to ourselves as parents.

I’m not saying you should drop your entire life and never draw boundaries with your kids. But when you do, may they be boundaries drawn with care and expressed with love. It’s a fine line, but there is a subtle difference. You know in your heart how to draw that line.

Killing a kid’s creativity is so easy to do.

So easy.

I just hope to keep that little creative flame alive inside that little girl as long as possible.

Or, at least until she can tend to it herself.

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You’ll never make it (and why this is perfectly okay)

“A man running with a briefcase at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport” by Andy Beales on Unsplash

Since I was a kid, I’ve had this idea of ‘making it’ someday.

Like, one day, I’d wake up and realize…

Wow… I have a gigantic house that’s modern and awesome and nothing is ever out of place. I have the perfect relationship. Financially, I’m set for life. My kid(s) are perfectly behaved and my wife adores me, endlessly. I have a few cars in the garage. My dog likes me. I make millions while I sleep. Life is good…

(I could go on here, but I’m sure you can see where the rest of my delusion is going.)

There was this finish line. If I could just cross it, I’d be done. That would be it. I could golf and ski and read and have a lot of sex and donate to charity and vacation and relax. (I’m pretty sure this was the dream of 98% of my fellow poor white American teenage males my age.)

And for a long time, I felt like an utter failure for not having reached it (still do, when I’m not paying attention).

But having lived a little, I’ve come to know a lot of different people from many walks of life — rich, poor, and in-between. What I observed is that happiness and fulfillment are alive and well in each camp (as are misery and strife).

Here’s something I have to remind myself of, constantly:

There is no such thing as ‘making it’. (Thank goodness.)

You might get breaks. Some will be bigger than others.

But ‘making it’ is an illusion (one that’s been amplified through marketing and advertising).

You could say Jerry Seinfeld ‘made it’. But, as is documented in his 2002 documentary, Comedian, he got really bored. And so, he drummed up entirely new acts and went out to these little hole-in-the-wall comedy joints to start all over again.

The movie shows him bombing. It shows footage of him stuttering and freezing up on stage while trying out these new acts.

But a part of him loves it. It needs to keep… Going. And growing. And expressing.

People who don’t do this, die to life.

By realizing that he hadn’t ‘made it’ (and embracing that fact), Jerry Seinfeld found new life. And he seems really damn happy these days (I mean, have you seen his new Netflix show, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’? That dude is a happy comedian — and that’s hard to find.)

You’ll never make it.

If those four words strike terror in your psyche, you’re looking at it wrong. Because in them is everlasting peace.

Life doesn’t stop. It’s always unfolding — always happening through us. Whether we want it to, or not.

You’ll never make it.
But you’ll always be making it.

Make it well.

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The beast that lurks inside

Photo by Vladimir Proskurovskiy on Unsplash

The most primal energy inside of us is the survival instinct.

Turns out, we humans like to stay alive. We’re wired as such. The daily struggle for self-preservation is real.

But in the last couple thousand years, we’ve gone through an evolutionary change. Far fewer of us these days lack food, water, clothing, shelter, indoor plumbing, Netflix, etc. The threat of being attacked by a leopard on our way home from work isn’t a concern anymore (maybe I should speak for myself, I know).

In the modern age, our internal protective energies have shifted towards defending us psychologically rather than physically. So, now, we’re faced with the moment-to-moment battle of defending our concepts of self rather than our bodies. Our struggle has shifted from protecting our bodies against the mountain lion who might be stalking us at any moment to our own inner fears, insecurities, and destructive patterns.

Today, when we see scroll through an Instagram feed of friends who seem to have perfect lives, we’re triggered by the same impulses we used to experience when the invaders with spears raided our campfire.

These impulses are triggered…

  • When we’re cut off in traffic
  • When the client can’t stand our work
  • When the discussion turns political at Thanksgiving dinner
  • When someone leaves us a passive-aggressive comment on Facebook (do you still read those — because we should probably talk about that too at some point)

Our inner defense mechanisms are getting triggered non-stop these days.

I know we have it good in this increasingly ‘safe’ world, but I find that battling a wooly mammoth is far more interesting than battling my inner concept of self as I scan through social media.

This is why it’s so hard for so many of us to…

  • Go out and pursue work we love
  • Wear our hearts on our sleeve to establish greater connection with the people in our lives
  • Allow our kids to be imperfect in the eyes of their teachers (or our parents)
  • Boldly shift the creative direction of our project in the face of a committee shackled by mediocrity

Because the thought of doing any of these makes us internally shape-shift into a frightened rabbit scampering away from the sight of a coyote in the brush.

However, you and I both know that these scenarios above (and the ones, I’m sure, you’ve thought about in the context of your own life) have extremely safe consequences, even if we fail horribly while attempting them.

This is why spirituality is so important these days (especially if you make your living creatively where you’re routinely having to challenge industry and societal norms).

I’ve tried to shift away from the topic of spirituality, but I just can’t. It’s too vital. More so than ever, in fact.

Spirituality can help us dance this newly-evolved energetic dance with our inner defense mechanisms.

Because today, the beasts aren’t attacking us from out there. We’re dealing with a new kind of mental/emotional beast that eats us alive from the inside.

Increased awareness through spirituality helps us take notice of what’s going on and remember that in our defenselessness lies our power. That by throwing up protective block after inner protective block, we’re merely shielding ourselves from our biggest life and our best work.

Know that you’re safe. Know that who you are is love expressed in human form. Know that your work is an expression of your soul.

And go forth in the face of your inner attackers knowing they’re mere mental shadows that are nothing in reality.

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