Conservative and/or progressive

Photo by Marl Clevenger

It can seem like we’re either one or the other. But I’m starting to see that it may not be so… clean.

This post isn’t necessarily about the micro-levels of our political climate right now. I’m not talking particularly about Trump, the wall, the dems, or how a lot of people didn’t get paid today (sorry, I’ll stop)…

I’m talking more in general here.

Values-wise, the truth is, we all conserve some things and progress toward other things. Yes, we might tend to live on one end of the spectrum more so than the other. If you’re a hard-line progressive or conservative, you might think there’s NO WAY you’re any part of THAT side over there. But I’d ask you to look more closely.

I like to think that we’re all conservative and progressive at the same time. Maybe the question isn’t what side we’re on, but in what ways we’re doing each…

I always joke (albeit a serious joke) that I’m too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives. It’s interesting living in that bigger, wider, less rigid ‘third space’. It gives me the freedom to move around the spectrum rather than stay confined to one end.

If we own the fact that we’re a little conservative and a little progressive, more opens up to us. We can empathize with people more.

It’s impossible to NOT conserve things from our past. And it’s impossible NOT to progress, grow, and evolve into — whatever it is God is pulling us.

Just a different way to look at it.


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Spiritual self-helplessness

Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

I used to be a purveyor of spiritual self-help. The biggest portion of my bookshelf at home has long consisted of this genre. These books point to different ways to bring peace, love, health, cash, and prizes into your experience. Some of them are bent towards the non-secular and others the secular.

They all offer a ‘right’ way to do ‘it’. In order to get what they promise, you do things this way.

And so, for a very long time, I’d do what the book in front of me told me to do. I’d have a nice spiritual buzz for a few hours or days. Sometimes, I’d see a nice uptick in whatever area of my life I was working on — maybe it was finances — and I’d think, Great! This stuff is working!

And then that sense of emptiness would arise again which would prompt me to go get another spiritual self-help book in order to fill that longing for...

Yeah… I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what it was that I was seeking. I thought it was money, but I’d personally known a number of monetarily wealthy people and they didn’t seem much happier than me.

Whatever my search brought me was never enough. I was never far enough up the spiritual ladder, it seemed.

Higher, Jonas. 
Higher.

I know I’m not the only one who’s grown tired of climbing up the delusional spiritual ladder to nowhere.

Well, since my deconstruction of the modern religion of non-religious spiritual self-help (which came years after my deconstruction of the brand of Christianity I was raised with), I’ve returned to the Christian faith with a post-conventional point of view. I’ve recovered the baby from the bathwater (I think) and since my return, the biggest game-changer for me can be stated with one word…

Grace.

Grace is the biggie. Grace is what makes ancient contemplative Christianity unique and it’s so often overlooked (especially in our modern culture out West when we’ve turned it into just another brand of self-help).

This is because grace has nothing to do with our self-will. It has nothing to do with our spiritual morning routine. We can’t manifest grace. Grace just is. Grace is all we need. And all we can do is be aware of it, open to it, and accepting of it.

Grace comes into our tiny human view when we reach the end of ourselves. When we’ve self-helped and self-helped some more only to realize none of it has really done the trick (for very long).

It’s when we realize how little help we can offer ourselves that we open ourselves up to help from all of life itself.

This is spiritual self-helplessness — the emptying of the self and the acceptance and extension of grace.

Because when we realize how our efforts of helping ourselves are topically nice (I mean, I like money, health, and sex), but mostly in vain, we can open our hands to the divine and be free from our struggling, striving, self-obsession, and external manipulation. We can know that we are children of God, that we’ve never left the garden, and that all of our stumblings are forgiven.

This is what we yearn for at the soul-level. But we replace it with superficial material ‘things’ that are mere false idols for what really matters — our innate wholeness that never waivers, but that we so easily forget.

And so, here I am. A purveyor of spiritual self-helplessness. (Probably not going to be on Oprah’s list anytime soon, but at least you’re here and I’m here, which is great.)

My prayer for you and your helplessness is this…

May your self-help bring you all the help you can give yourself. May you manifest just enough of the things you desire so that you can see that it’s never enough.

May you come to your knees before the end of this incarnation and realize that your wholeness and completeness aren’t up to you and never have been. As a child of God, they’re etched on the underside of your soul, out of physical view, but securely seated as ever.

I pray that you feel the relief of that. May you feel — truly feel — your helplessness. In other words, may you realize God’s grace. May this grace release you from the fruitless pursuit of personal perfection and power. And may you extend this grace to the brother and sister who stumbles alongside you in this clumsy, vulnerable human experience.

May this grace allow you to see that you’re not in the driver’s seat and never have been. I pray that you find the back seat comfortable as you enjoy the ride through this life knowing that it’s way better with others to share the view and laugh along with.

Yes, I pray that you laugh at the helplessness of the human condition. May more and more tension ease with each guffaw.

You and I — we’re personally helpless. But in this realization, we’re free.

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Death comes first, but never speaks last

“forest pathway” by Osman Rana on Unsplash

Maybe I’m mistaken, but I don’t buy the version of the Jesus story that portrays the resurrection as if it were a tragic opera of some sort...

Like it was all a part of this big angelic show designed for us heathens where Jesus got up, walked around for a few days, and then floated off to heaven in his final grand passive-aggressive move before taking a seat at the right hand of the Father as the curtains closed.

That just doesn’t pass the sniff test for me. 
(Kinda smells iffy.)

Ready for my layman’s interpretation? Alright, here we go…

I don’t see resurrection as being about an afterlife. I see — and have experienced — resurrection as a thing that happens in this life: A metaphorical, more-than-literal resurrection that happens over and over again in human form.

Yes, this is just one way to see it, but for me, it’s the most useful way.

That being said, death always comes first. And death feels like death. It’s not glamorous at all — it’s horrible. When going through a metaphoric death ourselves, it’s easy to wonder why we aren’t emerging as gloriously as Jesus did in that operatic story we heard. Why are we still feeling the pangs of this death days, weeks, months, even years later?

This is the way it goes.

We can’t escape the fact that before any kind of metaphoric resurrection, there has to be a metaphoric death.

What matters is how we face death. Do we give it the biggest focus? The last word? Do we place our faith in death and end the story there? Or do we know that this is the theme of the human experience — death followed by resurrection?

In the Bible, this seems to be a repeating theme: Death and carnage everywhere followed by new life and a small step forward in human consciousness.

How many times have you been brought to your knees — figuratively or literally — in your short lifetime?

I can think of several times when I swore I was done for. There was no way out. I was ruined. There was no way I was going to recover...

Yet, here I am writing to you today. Most of those deaths have faded from memory and been washed clean. Some of them still carry scars. All of them have been essential events that have shaped me. As I look back, I see that none of those deaths have ever had the final word.

Now, when I think of those who’ve literally died in my life (and on the news), it’s easy to think that they didn’t get off quite so easily. As someone who’s been sucker punched with deep loss at a young age, I can honestly say that those I’ve lost aren’t dead to me (in many cases, we actually get along much better these days than we ever did because they actually listen to me now).

Who am I to speak for them? I can’t even pretend to know what they’re currently experiencing — if anything — all I can say is that they live on in my memory and in my heart and are, in a different way, still alive.

And so the trajectory of human life goes on. We live, die, and are risen anew many times throughout our days as are those we know and love.

The challenge is in keeping a soft heart until the throes of death fade into resurrection. This is one of the many things that faith means to me.

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It’s good to stay (physically) hungry

By Markus Spiske on Unsplash

No, this isn’t some kind of philosophical metaphor about staying motivated. I’m talking about the real deal here — about physical hunger.

My wife and I have been eating a lot of vegetarian stuff lately.

We haven’t necessarily gone totally vegetarian. But it’s been summertime. And when it’s hot, lighter food — and veggies in particular — just feel better.

I’ve been a lifelong carnivore, so this is a new thing for me. What I’m finding is that I’m always a little hungry lately. Like a little hole in my belly goes left unfilled all day.

There’s just something primally fulfilling about staying a little bit hungry.

There’s virtue in inserting some monastic qualities into our cushy western lives.

Many ancient scriptures say that we should keep our bodies a little uncomfortable; you know — sins of the flesh and all.

For an American like myself, it’s refreshing to not go around with a belly that’s crammed full of dead meat all day. When my wife and I do eat fish (about as meaty as we get these days), it’s a huge treat. And come fall, I’ll be ready for a bratwurst or three.

A little physical hunger keeps the inner spirit awake. On its toes.

However, a meat lover's pizza sounds really damn good right now.

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When your calling resembles a drunk tattoo more than it does a ‘call’

by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

My uncle is a pastor — a Protestant of sorts, on my dad’s side. I was enamored with him when I was a kid. He’d sometimes stay with us when he was in town. He played a mean guitar and sang with so much soul that I felt those fuzzies down my spine when he hit his choruses.

He wasn’t an in-your-face Christian. He was what he was and he didn’t get off on going around converting everyone in sight. Which I liked, even before I understood why.

I remember asking him how he came around to doing what he did, vocationally. He told me that he had a calling and answered it.

Hmm... Simple enough, I thought…

I didn’t get it, but throughout my young life, I kept hearing it, especially in the clerical context.

As a Catholic (my mom won that argument, it seems), I once to ask my mom why anyone would want to become a priest.

God called them to it, she told me, which elicited visions of a dude hanging out at home minding his own business and God (who I understood at the time to be a grumpy old cigar-munching man in the sky) calling him up and letting him know that he’d been drafted for service. I saw God notifying him that he wouldn’t be making very much money or having any more intercourse for the rest of his life.

Awesome?…

As I grew older, I still saw a lot of rhetoric about ‘calling’ even outside of the clerical vocations. In my professional creative field, I’d read books and blog posts of those who’d merely ‘answered their calling’ to do what they do as a writer, designer, developer, etc. It was a sort of secular call, but a call nonetheless.

I never got a call like this. Not about my j-o-b as a copywriter or about my path to ministry (this latter part of my life is the one I’ll be referring to in this post).

Although I’ve never received a ‘call’, it does seem that something outside of my own individual agency is making an indelible mark on my life.

For me, my ‘calling’ has been more like waking up with an unexpected gigantic tattoo on my back than an informative phone call from above.

No warning. No remembrance or understanding of where it came from. All I know is that it’s there, and I can’t undo it or get away from it. And then I start to think… How long has it been there?

Which takes me back to when I was probably six or seven. My mom took my black turtleneck and stitched a little white square to the front-middle of it to resemble a clerical collar. I’d don a huge crucifix around my neck and would walk around with a medallion that she gave me that was used (at least, she told me) for exorcisms.

Yes, my first-ever career interest was as an exorcist.

I’d exorcise everyone and everything I could. I’d perform exorcisms on the dog, the goat, the chickens, and of course, my family and anyone else who happened over when I was in character.

I loved religion even if I didn’t understand it. I loved my rosary and my cards. I always slept with this necklace that my mom fashioned out of a cloth symbol and yarn that would supposedly protect me against demons. I wasn’t scared or frightened about evil spirits, necessarily. It’s not like my parents threatened me with a narrative of dark forces lurking in the shadows. On a scale of 1 to 10, when it came to their focus on religion in my upbringing, they were at a 3 — maybe 4, at most.

No, it wasn’t them. I got a kick out of this stuff.

My first memory of questioning my Catholic faith was when my American Evangelical uncle came over and was like, why are you wearing that sh*t to bed? You really think it’s going to protect you? No, kid! You gotta get saved!

I was embarrassed. I felt naive. Slowly, the medallions and beads and cards started making their way into my bedroom drawers and my night time prayers were eventually replaced by… silence.

Fast-forward a couple decades — long before I started writing spiritual things on the internets or even considered ministerial school — I was approached by my cousin and her fiancée to officiate their wedding, which I gladly did. As much as my knees were shaking the whole time, I felt strangely in the right place.

And now, as I’m recognizing this vocational (or is it avocational?) tattoo of sorts, I now see that it’s been there for a very long time. I just haven’t seen it until recently.

I mean, not to knock on the tattoo. It’s a nice tattoo. But I often ask — is it really… me?

I’d never consciously get one like it. All it’s doing is costing me money at this point. I have no paid career aspirations in the ministerial field, currently. I’m even getting ready to drop a healthy amount of well-earned funds towards studying mystical Franciscan Catholicism (?!) and I sure as hell am not planning to become a priest. I much like intercourse with my wife and all the trappings of a life that a priest can’t partake in (yet — c’mon Pope Francis!).

People who take their proverbial shirt off and openly flaunt tattoos like mine seem so different than me. I have a hard time believing they doubt as much as I do. They’re not as sarcastic or cynical as I am. They’re not contradictory. They’re much more pleasant to be around. They don’t say the wrong things when people need to hear the ‘right things’…

Right?…

Besides, I swear, I don’t really want to write about religion or spiritual things. At least, the part of me that wants to be liked and accepted by everyone doesn’t want to. Even writing this now is downright terrifying.

There are so many more glamorous and lucrative things that I can be giving my gift of the written word to. I see so many artists who do such amazing things in the secular world that would be waaaaay cooler, less egoicly threatening, and far more socially acceptable (and profitable) than writing about God and Jesus and spirit and grace and whatnot. Why can’t I just stick with what makes commercial sense and be happy with it?

But no matter how much I try to fully secularize my art, I just… can’t. I’m constantly pulled back to this stuff.

No matter how far away from it I try to walk from it — no matter how bad of a fit I think I am for it — that tattoo follows me.

When people ask what I’m up to in life, I’ve tried so hard — after telling them about my day job as a copywriter (which I love, btw) — not to say that I write about spirituality and am going to divinity school. But when I leave it out, I feel… incomplete.

The tattoo is there. My calling, right there on my back. God — or whatever you call my wisecracking roommate — sure did a good number on me, it seems.

And I wasn’t even drunk…
Or was I?

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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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Your superpowers are often found in the middle of your insecurities

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

I’m easily confused. I’ve always been a bit ‘slow’. When I was a kid, I was often labeled in my progress reports as ‘absent minded’ (and I quote).

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in my thoughts, this can translate to thinking I’m dumb.

But when I diffuse from that thought, I can see how being an easily confused person has made me a decent writer (if I do say so myself). Because here’s the thing…

I don’t — can’t — put anything down on the page until it’s either super clear to me, strikes a strong emotional chord, or makes me laugh. Because if I don’t get it (and there’s a lot I don’t get), it isn’t making it out there for your eyes. And I think that’s been of benefit to me in this crazy writing life.

The key point for today:

If you could step outside of your personal thinking around your insecurities, you might just find your superpower in the middle of your self-doubt.

One of my greatest creative assets has come from one of my most deepest insecurities. My self-dialogue (without me even knowing it) was, “Damn, why am I so slow?” Or, “Why can’t I stay awake during this class?” Now it’s, “This sh*t doesn’t make any sense — how can it be more clear?” Or, “This sh*t is boring, let’s make it more bold.”

It’s worth at least a look under the hood to see what you’re making up about yourself (or have accepted as reality from others).

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That fire in your belly

Photo by AJ Garcia on Unsplash

In my ministerial training, my mentors tell me about this ‘fire in the belly’ that a good minister must have in order to deliver a good sermon.

(I say that writers have to have this too.)

Can it be taught? I don’t know if it’s a ‘teachable’ thing. I think it’s something that’s ‘conjured’ more than taught.

You have that fire in your belly just like I do. It just might come out at different times than mine.

If the fire in your belly is ignited, you are unstoppable.

You might believe you’ve lost that fire altogether, but I don’t believe it’s possible for your flame to become totally extinguished.

It’s there. 
You might just need a light. 
Realizing this will give you the willingness to receive one.

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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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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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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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Multipotentialite Showcase: Jacob Witzling

I wrote the other day about my new realization that I am, in fact, a multipotentialite (someone with a lot of different interests and the inability to specialize no matter how hard I try). And I got a lot of emails from folks who resonated.

So I’m kinda geeked out over this discovery right now. This means that, whenever I see someone in my boat, I get a little giddy (because solidarity, right?).

Well, I want to take a sec to honor another multipotentialite because he did something particularly bold as far as online-persona-type-stuff goes.

Let me say now that most of my Insta feed consists of #cabinporn. I love cabin porn so much. I’m a fiend.

That’s when I ran across one of Jacob’s photos. I clicked through to see the rest of his work and noticed that he had quite a following (107k followers, currently). Although his page is chock full of some of the best cabin porn I’ve ever seen, that’s not what really stood out.

What stood out was how he worded his profile…

Yep:

‘Cabin builder and 2nd-grade teacher.’

The first part of it — the cabin builder part — is obvious. But he totally flaunts the fact that he has a day job doing something totally unrelated to cabin building.

This flies in the face of traditional internet marketing/brand-building wisdom and I love it. I don’t know about you, but I was taught that, in order to grow a following, you had to dig into a certain niche in order to be an ‘authority’ in that particular area. This also means, no going outside that boundary.

But he’s like — yeah, I love building awesome cabins plus my day job is pretty great too. He could have left the teacher part out and gone all-in on the cabin builder side. No one would have blamed him (most wouldn’t have known the wiser). They would have seen his Instagram page and asked themselves, wow, how do I do what he does and make a full-time living as a cabin pornographer?

And they would have been fooled. Because Jacob has a job that (maybe?) supports his passion. He fully owned and flaunted his multipotentiality.

And that, I think, is commendable.

Rock on, Jacob. Rock on, multipotentialites. Own your random lives, flaunt that day job, and thrive as only you can.

P.S. If any great photographers/sponsors are reading this, I’d love for you to partner with/hire me to help with your cabin pornography efforts. Not to take the photos (although I do take pretty mean iPhone shots), but I could write really sexy stories and descriptions of cabins that other cabin porn addicts might get all aroused by. Just putting that out there.

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The human yearning for surrender

“A person stretching out their arm and hand in the forest in Julington Durbin Creek Preserve” by Natalie Collins on Unsplash

Have you ever had the chance to just… float?

Maybe it’s been in a literal sense out in the middle of a lake lying down on a paddleboard with absolutely nothing on your mind besides the fleeting moment.

Or maybe it’s been more of a figurative thing where you’ve experienced a floating sensation during meditation, prayer, sex, art, etc.

Isn’t it… Amazing?

There’s something enlivening about surrendering our human control and letting the forces of nature hold us up. No straining. No struggling. Just floating.

As Brian Eno said here

In our culture, most of the encouragement is to take control. What we like doing — that’s the reason we enjoy sex, drugs, art, and religion — what we like doing is surrendering. They’re ways of losing yourself.

I see it all the time in several of my chosen fields of interest…

In entrepreneurship, it’s all about taking control and making sh*t happen. Hustling. #JFDI.

In modern spirituality, it’s all about hitting perfect Yoga poses, meditating like David Lynch, or summoning the Law of Attraction and proclaiming to the universe what you want so it brings it to you.

In creativity/writing, it’s all about how Stephen King or Anne Lamott or Steven Pressfield ‘does it’.

It’s all about doing, perfecting, and getting it right/better.

Our human egoic control-freakishness has gotten out of hand. Especially since we now have the cultural notion that we can fully manipulate our individual worlds via our smartphones.

In the modern world, we have this inner conflict going on where the ego is sprinting towards more control, but the soul is yearning for more surrender.

This is why people are sprinting en masse to South America so they can trip out on ayahuasca. Not judging here, and this is nothing new, but is this not a thing?

Can you feel it in humanity right now?

Reversing the course of this cultural river is going to take time, patience, and care. But I ask you, right now, just to notice it.

Where are you white-knuckling your life, work, and art? What are the areas of your experience that you find yourself banging your head against a wall?

Know that you have every ability to surrender into the bliss of this very moment, right where you are.

No ayahuasca required.

(Special thanks to Alice Karolina Smith for the Brian Eno video 🙏 )

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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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Personal development is never enough

“A person leafing through a book” by João Silas on Unsplash

You may be a personal development junkie like me. If you are, please know something:

Developing the personal self is never enough.

If I were to read every one of Tim Ferriss’ books and do all of his hacks and processes perfectly, I promise you, at the end of it all, I’d still be unsatisfied. Not to blame him or any other personal development author (I guess I could even be accused of being one), but that’s why personal development sells so well. Because we can never get enough of it.

Personal development can easily become fodder for the ego to spin its wheels on.

If personal development remains the focus, you’re playing the ego’s game. A game focused on the separate, personal self. This game always ends in shattered expectations, burnout, not-enoughness, and lack. Yes, it may lead to some cosmetic and material improvements in life, but we still… won’t… quite… be there.

At some point, if we really want to experience fulfillment, joy, and connection with our life and our work, we have to trust-fall back into something wider than the personal self. If we don’t gain the awareness of a deeper Self (yep, I’m talking about the Divine here, folks), we’ll just stay in that hamster wheel chasing the next shiny improvement.

Without a sense of surrender, life gets tiring really easy. But when we see that the personal self is a representation of something bigger and unseeable that’s tied into all of life, we start to see that we’re mere bit players in a grander dance than our rational minds can understand. When our death grip on life becomes too much to bear, we can surrender to that loving, creative, intelligent, uniting force present within each of us.

This is the role of spirituality. It takes us deeper and helps us transcend our small personal selves. And when we live from an awareness of that deeper place, we can put personal development in its proper role. We can have fun with it…

We can go for that 6-pack because it seems fun, not because we’re disillusioned into thinking our self-worth rests on it (I prefer the dadbod myself, but…).

We can start that YouTube channel, not because our idol does it and we have to be like her, but because it’s a great creative outlet to express a deeper mission.

We can improve our relationships, not as a way to cajole or manipulate a separate being into accepting us, but in order to express grace, forgiveness, intimacy, and our deeper truth as united beings.

There’s great virtue in personal development on this human journey. But we can’t stop there. The personal self will always be in a state of development. But the soul could care less about development.

All it wants is to know and express itself as it is.

Know that you can do both.

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