Your Field Guide To Near Death Experiences, Part 1

 

Rain had been falling for hours through the night and into the morning. The sky was barely a few shades brighter than when I left it the night before. Morning came with coffee and silence.

My morning meditation went like it sometimes does. I closed my eyes and didn’t find myself for the better part of an hour. When I opened my eyes I rubbed them with my palms. I gave thanks for the day and my family. Slowly I stood up, my mind turning to smoke and time.

My kids were upstairs asleep, for now. I lounged about the house fretting over my latest obsession: Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Manifesto. I spend days circling ideas. Sometimes those days stretch into years. It had been this way with Brisket since going to Austin, Texas for my first trip. This book has blown my mind. The brisket recipe is 14 pages long. There are several hundred pages and only 13-15 recipes. Most of the book is dedicated to the why of barbecue.

This morning’s obsession: short ribs, Texas style. You know those cute little short ribs they charge too much at fancy restaurants for? Well this is their big, bad brother. The monsters are almost a foot long and weigh several pounds. All they need is salt, pepper, smoke and time. I rubbed each rib and put them out on the smoker, breaking tradition I opt for apple wood, instead of post oak.

Kids were still asleep. I drank some more coffee.

My kids woke up. We shared a nice breakfast. My daughter’s latest love: gluten free dutch babies. My other can’t get enough of them stackers. Little pancakes layered in yogurt and berries. The stack is done when it falls over.

Another cup of coffee. My friend showed up and we packed up the canoe. It’s a beautiful thing. Full kevlar racing boat. We were training for the Ski To Sea Race. It’s the longest running multi-sport race in the United States. It starts with a cross country ski, then an uphill run/downhill ski, then a bicycle ride, then a canoe, then a mountain bike, then a kayak race. Bill is our runner, but like the snow (we are at less than 10% snow pack this year) had to sit this year out.

We put our canoe in the water. The rain had, for once, stopped. The sun was peeking out. Several boats were on the water. The Lummi tribe was racing their long boat. It’s a ten-person dugout. A gorgeous handmade wooden beauty. It’s fast and powerful on the water.

As we set off into the lake I started fixating on my stroke. I had been reading about the perfect stroke and after observing mine, admitted I had a long way to go. Oh well, in a race canoe, there are ample opportunities to get that perfect stroke down. One of the things I love about canoeing is the ability to make each stroke perfect. Just like Jiro and all of his dreams of Sushi.

A couple of things looking back. For some reason we didn’t head to our normal course. We always hug the far shore and stay close enough to shore that we can use markers on the shoreline for interval training (this is a terrible idea, maximum intensity paddling followed by a short rest and then maximum effort again).

We ended up in the middle of the lake. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything but my paddle. I was trying to time it so my power stroke would kick in only after the blade was well within the water.

My buddy and I chatter a lot when we paddle. We talk about everything. Most of the reason I am on the boat is to spend time together. We were talking when we noticed the water kick up.

Lake Whatcom is a ten mile long, one mile wide beautiful body of water nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. My wife and I spent our first two weeks in Bellingham lakeside, in a mother-in-law apartment that our friends were kind enough to let us stay in while we got situated. We love this lake, and canoeing puts me on it more often.

As the wind kicked up the sky darkened. Within minutes the wind started grabbing my paddle as I brought it forward in my stroke. I started grinning. This was turning into something more fun than torture training for the big race. Up ahead I saw a shelf of white caps coming.

Party time!

Splash. Water all over my lap.

Hmm. That’s not how our other canoe acts in rough water. Another wave, this time I focused on what was happening. I am in the bow. From this vantage point I can see the bow rise up in a swell and then submerge as the whitecaps break over us. We are taking in water from both the front and sides. I know why they call it green water now, because it looks green coming over the bow.

No worries. We have a self bailer.

Guess what? The self bailer doesn’t bail unless you are going faster than the water. So here we were fighting against wind and waves. Definitely not going faster than the water. Most likely we are taking in water from the bailer as well.

Ahhh. So now we are struggling to even go straight into the waves. No worries. By default, we angle towards the far shore. It’s a very long way off. We are taking in water. There is no way we will get there.

The next best decision. Try to turn around and then head straight for the nearest shore. We knew it would be risky, but it was really the only chance we had.

OK buddy you ready. Yeah. Let’s do it. Let’s do it all night long (who doesn’t give the movie Waterboy a nod when you are up a creek without a paddle?).

We initiate the turn. It’s going well for about 30 degrees. I see them coming. There should have been Jaws music out there. More white caps. The first one took us just behind me, on the side. We shifted to the right.

I looked back, my buddy was off balance (he took the wave) and we looked at each other for a brief moment before the next set of waves took us in one great seismic shift, up over and under.

I am not a big fan of swimming.

I am even less a big fan of swimming in 51 degree water.

I like even less than swimming and 51 degrees, not being able to catch my breath.

There we were, boat upturned, far from shore. I can’t catch my breath. My buddy checks in. I laugh, say, I’m good I just need to catch my breath.

Waves are crashing over our head. The wind is whipping. The sky is dark.

End of Part 1. Part 2 will cover not only how we get out of the water, but how the body deals with thermal shock. Part 3 will talk about how the psyche reacts to coming close to the big, deep six holiday.

 

Photo Credit: getwhatcomplanning.blogspot.com

Spring Is a Comin’

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I love the transition from winter to spring. Not so much saying goodbye to winter (one of my favorite seasons) but simply the changing of the world freshens my view of it as I go about my life.

Just as the seasons change, so do our own habits as people. In years past we would often go to books to learn things. Increasingly, we are turning away from hard copy and searching online for answers.

I do most of my learning outside these days. There are still lessons to be learned from the natural word. One of my favorite lessons is the turning of the seasons.

Here’s what I learned from spring so far.

  • When it’s time to bloom, it’s time to bloom.

We have such preconceived ideas around timing. Really these ideas are just attempts to control the chaos in our lives. A futile attempt to organize the world in a way that makes sense to our poor minds.

How many times have you heard yourself say, I want to make a change in my life. I’m only waiting for X to happen. Then everything will be set. Then I will know what to do.

It’s not true. We are simply saying the part of me that doesn’t want to change just hijacked my evolutionary drive and threw it under the buss. I am not ready to change because I don’t want to. There is no golden sequence. When the first shoot of green breaks through the ice, it’s spring.

It’s time to change when your heart tells you. It’s a good indicator that you are not following your path when you substitute excuses for action.

  • Weather is unpredictable.

We went to the Cascade mountains for Spring break. We packed gear for sun, rain, snow and cold. Sometimes on hikes we had a full buffet featuring little bites of each. A little bit of sun, some snow visible in the mountains and why not, let’s throw in some rain.  So often in life we prepare for one outcome. When it doesn’t come through we shudder, fall to the floor and ask ourselves what happened? You know what happened? We failed to grasp the opportunity that presented itself. All outcomes have potential. It’s when we don’t prepare ourselves for what comes next that we get into trouble.

  • The world spins on its axis regardless of what we want it to do: rejoice!

Our plans were nearly foiled by my daughter. She came down with tonsillitis right before the trip. Rather than cancelling or pushing her on the trip we simply stayed close to home. My wife and I alternating time with our other daughter. I spent a great deal of the trip meditating and resting. It was wonderful to come back to work so full of peace. I had absolutely no re-adjustment period. Beautiful.

  • Just as flowers bloom and birds come back to the trees, so too is it time to get outside more.

With the start of warmer weather I am always encouraged to see how many people change their winter habits. With the spring sunshine, they put on their garden gloves and get up close with the earth. For me, I am no hand at gardening, but I do radically increase my time outside practicing canoe racing for the Ski to Sea race. Last weekend we were on the water. There wasn’t much flow in the river but there were some bald eagles flying overhead. It’s really an honor to live among such beauty. It’s also great to be able to spend time with friends doing what I love.

So, in short, get out there. Tell us what you are learning. Class is open.

Spring Break, Give Me A Break

 

 

 

Spring Break. We were ready to rock. We were ready to roll. Day before the trip, my daughter’s tonsils swelled. They were a marvel of human potential. The image that came to mind were two liberty bells confined in a pink cave.

We could hear her breathing in the other room. Do you remember the Sleestaks? You know those creepy green things from Land of the Lost. It was that loud. And yes, I won Dad of the Year, 2015.

We took her in to see our pediatrician. He checked her over and said, it could take a few weeks. They didn’t prescribe antibiotics (I know we all like to bag on the MD’s and say they over-prescribe, but hey, insider’s tip, pediatricians have told me complaints have been filed against them because they wouldn’t give out antibiotics).

Hmm. Let me think about that one.

No. Being sick for a couple of weeks is out of the question. My wife called me at our Chinese Medicine clinic to give me the news. I said, great, the Chinese have been treating tonsillitis for thousands of years.

I brought home some herbs and started giving them to her. The next day we left for our 3 hour trip. My daughter read her books and slept along the way. My youngest talked nonstop. She was still talking as she drifted off to sleep. Nothing but the sound of the road under my tires and that Sleestak thing. 

Our typical Spring Break consists of snow boarding and skiing every day Mission Ridge is open. It’s a very kinetic blast of energy fueled by the local brewery, Icicle Creek, and our favorite restaurant, South.

The mountain was closed. No snow. Our daughter was far too ill to ski or hike anyway, so no worries there.

What to do, what to do?

We committed.

We were on vacation and we were there to have fun. Our mind/expectation had one version of the trip, our life had another.

So we dug in and took turns staying home. I meditated while my wife and daughter scrummed around town. While I took my other daughter out my wife did her thing as well.

It was a great trip because we decided to commit. We were all in. And it worked.

Last Saturday of our trip was the Taste of Leavenworth. We really didn’t know what to expect. Participating restaurants would give a taste of what they did to those of us with a taster passport.

We showed up to the first place. It was a cider tasting. Tasty, but guess what? Less than a quarter ounce pour. Hard to taste anything in that manner.

Oh good grief I thought. A day full of this. The kids didn’t say a word. My wife and I just exchanged glances.

The next place we stopped by was the Gingerbread Factory. They gave each kid a pack of two tiny, adorable ginger bread girls. The adults got a giant pear decorated cookie. They rocked it.

Our favorite deli gave out meat cones – a great selection of cheese and charcuterie. Next door they had a sausage garden. Their passport was a full, handmade, organic sausage on a bun. It was a meal.

At the end of the day we had visited so many shops and had been turned on by so many different places that we were stoked.

My kids asked me why I thought it was so good.

I said, the same reason we had such a great vacation. We committed to an ideal and stuck to it. Just like the businesses. They gave it their best and it showed.

Then they asked, why was the first place so bad? Well, I said, that lady obviously didn’t want to be there. She wasn’t shy she just didn’t really like people all that much. And they were stingy. They had a great product but didn’t give people enough of a taste to really make up their minds.

If she didn’t make up here mind to be there, they asked, why was she there?

That kids, is the nature of the life. You can’t just be a passive observer. You have to get out there and turn the world on fire with your enthusiasm. You have to summon to your will all the tools, strategies and techniques you have gained when you are doing something. Nobody is holding us hostage. Nobody is forcing us to do anything. What there is, is a choice.

And we choose to make our claim to something better than just showing up.

Dad!

Dad! You are being weird again.

Oh, that, um, again. Seriously though kids, would you rather show up to your life and not want to be there or have a great time no matter what happens?

Great, great they started chanting and jumping. Looks like we will be back next year and no it didn’t take two weeks for my daughter to recover. It took less than five.

Many thanks to the Masters who taught me medicine and the inspired cuisine of our favorite little mountain town.

You Don’t Have To Be A Picasso

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I can’t draw a lick. Nor am I aesthetically gifted. I have two vivid recollections of my utter incompetence when it came to art class.

The first was the 4th grade when we were being introduced to pottery and the fiery kiln. I can still remember being scared shitless before that class.

The fateful day had arrived.

We would be molding our masterpieces and burning there henceforth immutable forms into place.

Ms. Blincoe our infinitely patient teacher, seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with me, but to no avail. I managed to create an amorphous circular type object that I sheepishly referred to as a coin dish.

My hope was the kiln had magical powers. The kiln could transform this object into a majestic piece.

Now, if you’re familiar with the process you know it’s drawn out over several days. There are additional handling and cleaning before the final glazing process.

Dante’s Inferno, errr the kiln was like the stove in the basement of all those Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Taunting me with its heated jaws. What followed was an insufferable few days. Soon those jaws would unveil my great opus. Soon the art world would never be the same. 

Slowly each project was removed. One after the other. Where was mine? Ah, I see the ultimate taunt. Saving the best for last, out it came.

Gravity scoffed.

It drooped and lacked anything resembling symmetry. This was an abject failure. I was embarrassed.

However, I managed to summon the courage to take it home and show it off to Ma and Pa. They were respectful and told little Billy that he had done a good job.

Later, they admitted that they had happily crossed art school off the list. The ‘bowl’ resides on my dresser in my parent’s house to this day. I can report no permanent emotion scarring.

In tenth grade(this was compulsory) it was on to linear perspective and vanishing points. It’s difficult to even type this withoutClaughing ing out loud. 

How in the hell was this gonna happen, I can’t even trace my hand?

Well, technically it didn’t. I went through the machinations. This lasted for a period of a few weeks under the tutelage of Mr. Schirmer.

Mr. Schirmer had massive forearms, but a really delicate and deft touch. I had puny forearms and the touch of a wild savage.

If you can picture an obtuse triangle stretched to the very limits of trigonometric absurdity then you may have an idea of my incompetence. However, this was my take on vanishing points. Feeling pity for his artless student, Mr. Schirmer generously assisted in my efforts and I ended up getting out of the course by skin of my teeth.

What prompted this waltz down amnesia lane? I have no talent for art, but it’s impact can still be tremendous. I’m blessed to live in NYC and have the opportunity to enjoy many exhibitions of art.

I’m sure you know the biggies, but recently I visited a gallery on the Lower East Side. They are highlighting Pieter Schoolwerth’s ” Your Vacuum Blows, Which Sucks” exhibition.

You had me at blows…Time Out magazine refers to his work, “as if Stephen Hawking meets Francis Bacon or vice versa.”

For me, a newly converted appreciator of art, it serves as inspiration. It serves as motivation to go and create. An opportunity to excel and endeavor to make a difference. To make use of those talents which are innate in me. A chance bring the pleasure and happiness that these beautiful artists do.

Of course, you don’t have to live in NYC to find beauty and inspiration. Go find those things that blow your hair back and get your juices flowing. Then add your own brush strokes to this great canopy.

May the Th3rdforce be with you.

Tired of Feeling Tired, Yet?

 

When I opened my Chinese Medicine clinic in 2000 my teacher asked me what I treated most often? Was it back pain? Neck pain? I remember blurting out, back pain. In my head I said, I think I read that somewhere.

He replied, I don’t want to know what you think. I want to know what you know. What do you know? He was staring at me through his heavily lidded eyes, which were somehow managing to glare at me behind that mass of bristling flesh.

So I crunched the numbers and guess what I found?

Neck pain? Migraines? Back pain? Asthma?

No, for sure these were all front runners, but the clear victor was

fatigue.

It appeared, if not in the main complaints, then in the health questionnaire we have patients fill out – it’s a torturous round of several hundred questions. We have people complain about it at times. I tell them, we are asking for your health story. Would you like us to use the cliff notes?

So, reader, what would you rate your own energy on a scale of 1-10?

Kind of hard to figure it out isn’t it.

Let’s break it down. In the following way.

How would you rate your:

  • Morning energy (rising)                                 ________
  • Afternoon energy (hour after lunch)            ________
  • Evening energy (driving home from work) ________

We are assuming that you have been checked by your doctor and have no issues with chronic fatigue, vitamin D, thyroid, etc.

Are the numbers stable? Let’s say they are around the 3 to 5 mark (that’s our average, after 15 years of asking). Well that’s an issue of metabolism. You need to rev up the engine. In most cases when we see those types of numbers we have patients take 3 to 4 seven minute walks throughout the day. We break these into smaller walks more frequently because exercise will increase metabolic rates. A consistent low level of energy is something that may be addressed simply as moving the body regularly.

Everything in the world is in a state of motion. Why shouldn’t we be?

Another scenario is that people score Ok in the morning and evening but poor in the afternoon. What’s the culprit?

Food. It’s that You are eating something that is taking the energy from your body instead of filling it with rocket fuel. Keep track of what you are eating and replace different foods and monitor how they react to your system.

Pro-tip. There is no health food. Stay away from the stuff. Drives me batty when people come in with their Amazonian nectar of eternal youth. Let someone else buy that stuff.

Also, learn which foods act as rocket fuel for your system. If I have a bowl of Pho, I can work like a madman for hours and hours. Put me on a vegetarian diet and it is like death warmed over, slowly and took its time. Blah.

Again, there is no diet plan that works for all people. You are a unique miracle of metabolic wonder. Find out how you work.

A third scenario is low energy in the morning and evening. This is most often the case in insomnia. The ancient Chinese doctors defined insomnia as any state of rest which does not recharge the body and mind.

Insomnia these days is from many factors. Here are some quick tips to improve sleep.

  • Turn off that computer by 7 p.m. Yes, I said the evil words. You do not need that thing and it will keep you awake.
  • Try not to eat after 8 p.m. The body does not need to work this hard this late at night. If it is very late, make a shake and call it a night.
  • If thoughts of sleeping in your head look like this: Oh God. I can’t sleep. I’m going to be so tired. I’m . . . . Read, getting really angry. Then it’s time to adopt a different approach. When you are restless, say to yourself, it’s true I may not sleep tonight but I would like to. That sentence does a couple of things. By admitting you may not sleep the mind knows you are not lying to it. It likes that. By offering a gentle hope, the mind has a destination. Telling yourself not to think about not sleeping is a guarantee of ending up sleepless.
  • Take a warm bath and transition directly into bed.
  • Pray or meditate 15 minutes before bed and 15 minutes after rising.
  • Prayer and meditation decrease the metabolic rate by up to 28%, sleep only 8%. Only 8%? Yes, how often have you been aware of thinking while sleeping? Happens all the time.

Photo courtesy of www.theleadershipnotebook.com

To Learn Or Not To Learn

From almost the first day of school a line was drawn: book or people. Some of us are life-long learners. We take courses online and in universities. Give us a book and a test and life is good.

Some of us learn to read the crowd. We have Ph.D.’s in the masses. We can read a group or an individual and know what they are going to do, sometimes before they do.

We are taught that we have to make a choice. Ever wonder why we let the herd position us into having only two choices? Books or people? Why do we have to choose between the two?

Personally, the system doesn’t work for me.

Love studying and love people. Can’t get enough of either subject. Hey are they really subjects? I know I’ve been called many things in my life. Not sure if subject really feels right, from the people part of my mind.

Yesterday I took my team to a team building/leadership class. It was important enough that I closed the entire clinic for the day.

Were we having problems?

No. Don’t ever go for help to a place that can’t help themselves. They are confused and they lack if not integrity, then the ability to do what they preach. Clinics are a place where patients are mentored back to a state of health in which they are charged to maintain it. If the clinic you go to can’t lead themselves (long wait times, rude staff) then there is very little chance you, the detail to them, is not going to get lost in the shuffle.

No, my clinic was not having problems. We went to refine our skill set. We went to learn and re-learn some materials so that we as a group can reach out and deal more effectively with ourselves and our patients.

The speaker got up. I split my mind into two. The first part went over the course: good materials, good sources. I was happy.

The second part of my mind studied the presenter. Right off the bat he made a joke, how many of you are here because you were forced to be or told to be? More than half of the audience raised their hands. I looked at my staff. They looked at me. We started laughing.

Problem here: Why did he choose that example? I wondered what part of him didn’t want to be here?

As he went on, he made a joke about the poor quality of his hotel, the long hours and bad pay. He said it didn’t matter because he loved what he did. I get it, trying to bridge a gap. I gave him that one. He was trying to find common ground with the audience.

Or was there another thing happening?

Within 20 minutes another reference to bad hotels and pay. Hmm, strike two. Now I know why he made that opening joke. He is very unhappy with his pay, his travel schedule, his hotels, etc.

As part of the audience I was wondering why he worked for such a crummy organization if he had valuable information to teach?

Crossroads. How many of us have been in this situation? We’ve paid for a class and the presenter’s issues are interfering with the information we are seeking?

How about an internal conversation? Decision tree time: throw the baby out with the bath water or find what I can and make it useful?

The people part of my mind identified him as a soul sucker. What could he possibly offer?

The mind steps in and says, quite a bit, actually.

In between jokes about his pay and long hours on the road we covered some great works by Maslow, the boss as coach, boosting morale through relationships not trust-falls (whoever came up with that idea is a genius marketer, because they seemed to be everywhere and I have yet to meet the person who said, until my group caught me I just couldn’t trust them. . . gasp), using creativity to solve problems instead of platitudes, self-analysis, etc.

While everyone was on breaks I was still on the job, watching the people. The range of complaints ranged from the job that brought them there, to audience members (me? I guess when I said the worse outcome of an HR meeting is assault, I stepped on some toes), to the presenter. One lady said, as the break was ending, two hours to go.

In my mind I wondered what was so pressing at home. Television? Kids? What?

I got back to my group and checked in. They were busy going over the section on self-empowered teams. How they saw themselves in that role and how it applied to tomorrow’s day.

We went through the class and I focused on my outcome. I came there to learn how to work better as a group member of a clinic. I didn’t care if the audience or the presenter were driving me crazy.

You know what would have driven me crazy? Going home the same way I came.

I finished the class with a question to the instructor: Why do you continue to work for a company you resent? I haven’t gotten a reply, yet.

In other words, when we make a choice and we know the benefits wouldn’t it make more sense to use both sides of your brain to extract every last bit of knowledge available? Why wouldn’t we separate the good from the bad and get what we need to learn?

The next time you go somewhere to learn break out that big melon of yours. Use all sides of it. There are academic and social parts of the brain hungry for knowledge. Put them together. Let them party.

Each day is an opportunity to break new ground.

Learn new things.

Image: coronadousd.net

Only Through The Eyes Of A Child

It’s funny how wisdom chases us through the ages. Some lessons keep coming back to us. Some themes keep getting louder the longer we live.

Here’s one that keeps coming back to me: attachment.

I first read about these concepts attachment/detachment as a teenager in upstate New York. I was a strange kid. Couldn’t get enough Eastern philosophy into my head. By the time I was in high school I was reading and learning from the greats: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Han Shan, etc.

Here’s the scene. Bill (TH3RD FORCE cofounder) and I were up at the beach in Cooperstown, sitting on a towel. We were high school seniors making our move with the local ladies.

Our move consisted of not talking to anyone. We paired that with not really making eye contact with anyone either. We did play the Deadmilk Men loudly on an old boom box.

“This sucks,” said Bill, “We haven’t talked to anyone yet.”

“Yeah,” said I, “they don’t know what they are missing.”

We sat there for a while waiting for something, anything to happen. As the temperature dropped we went to town for a couple of slices of pizza. We saw some of the same girls at the pizza restaurant.

We didn’t talk to them. They didn’t talk to us.

Like a lightning bolt it hit me.

“Hey Bill, we don’t have to worry. We should not be attached to this whole thing.”

“We don’t?”

“No. Nah. We’re just not attached to it. I’ve been reading the Dao De Ching and I think this is what he was talking about.”

“Us?”

“Um. Well, sure.”

Silence. We didn’t really believe, at that moment, that the Dao De Ching was written with us in mind. The book is several thousand years old and shaped Chinese philosophy to be what it is today.

We went home, unattached as it were.

_______

I am crazy loyal when it comes to my friends. If anyone or anything is doing them a disservice I get irrational quickly. I can’t stand the thought of anyone I love being hurt.

Here’s the next scene. A buddy of mine is being taken advantage of. He’s doing all the work in a project that is supposed to be shared. When he’s working, his partner is off screwing around.

One day another friend brought up the project. I couldn’t take it any longer. I texted him, “You are a sucker. You are working and they are off playing.”

I was hot.

I was wrong.

We went home and that text haunted me. I don’t really have a filter. Things come into my mind and I speak them. It makes for some interesting social situations.

When I got home, I said to nobody in particular, I shouldn’t have sent that text. My buddy is already feeling bad and I made it worse. That’s not what friends do to each other.

My youngest asked me, “Dad why did you send it?”

I don’t know. I couldn’t see someone taking advantage of him. It bothered me a lot.

She was quiet for a moment.

“Dad do you remember when I was running and fell down?

Yes, I said, rubbing my head. Not my finest parenting moment. We went on a family walk. She was crab hopping down the road. I told her don’t do that you are going to fall.

Cherry blossoms carpeted the sidewalk. Fresh flowers perfumed the air. Thick and gorgeous white clouds flew overhead in the cerulean sky.

Bam. A loud sound like a head banging off of the sidewalk.

I turned around and saw my youngest had fallen on the sidewalk. I ran to her yelling, what are you doing? What are you thinking? She was crying and I made it worse. The sound was her hand, not her head. She had used her hand to absorb the blow, which had taken the skin completely off of her palm. But that was weeks ago.

Back at my house, my daughter staring up at me smiling, eyes slightly hooded. “Daaaaad, do you remember why you yelled?”

“Yes. Can’t stand the thought of anyone hurting you. Even yourself.”

“And all I did was cry more when you yelled at me.”

So there we were sitting at the breakfast nook. She’s staring at me. Her eyes impossibly large. She’s shaking her head up and down rapidly: one inch up, one down. Both eyes focused on me. Her mouth split wide in a maniacal grin.

I am not getting it.

“Dad. Don’t you think you did the same thing with the text? You yelled at him because he was hurting himself by doing all the work.”

“Ohhhhhh.”

“Dad you shouldn’t be so attached.”

With that she marched her 7-year-old body up the stairs and to bed. Now that is what Lao Tzu had in mind.

 

In the sudden silence of the room I started laughing.

 

So what has the world been telling you lately or for the last 20 years or so?

Long Walk To Freedom

 

Walking up to the entrance I noticed on a sign that the group was a capella. Good grief I thought. I need some Paul Simon in there. Some drums. Maybe a few bright notes of guitar to carry the show. Why can’t they just spring for some musicians? Sure they made the trip from Africa, but I came here straight from work, no break.

My daughters were excited. I was thinking oh, well, if it’s just for them it’s worth it. I settled down listening to the coughing behind me. I put the collar of my jacket up and sang my song to ward of airborne infectious agents.

Curtains down. The singers walked out to the stage: Greetings from South Africa we are Ladysmith Black Mombazo.

Lights dimmed and they started singing. Not the type of singing I expected. This was a deep resonance. Each baritone note an invitation to shadow dance in the footsteps of God.

I closed my eyes and the world dropped. I floated. There were hands clapping. My daughter smiled at me.

This is important, I said leaning over.

Yes Poppa it’s beautiful.

She held my hand as they continued to sing. I sunk deep into myself, usually I only get here in meditation. But there I was, in a crowded hall, touching the divine.

Joy.

That’s what they conveyed. Please remember this band hails from South Africa. The band members were raised in Apartheid. The child born of that harsh mother: these songs, each one a beautiful tone poem of welcome, joy and peace.

At one point they did a tribute song to Nelson Mandela, called Long Walk To Freedom. I thought, well this could go either way with my kids. I was afraid of what they would sing about.

Note to readers: If you need proof that the world is getting better I have some, right here. I tried and failed to explain apartheid to my kids. They just didn’t get it. I think that if anything says more about our potential as a species than any Nobel Prize.

You know what the chorus was for Long Walk To Freedom?

Good boy, good boy, carry on.

So simple. So sincere. So understated. Where was the anger? Where was the retribution? Where was the part I could identify with?

Good job, good job, you did a good job.

How’s that for a soundtrack for a life that changed history? How’s that for a mantra?

With all the pain and suffering the band faced, they only conveyed a serene and playful joy.

You know what I listened to at intermission? People complaining about the seats, the temperature, the lack of great glass of wine (mind you there was wine, just not great), and um, well, I guess I didn’t vocalize my irritation that the band didn’t spring for musical back up.

Most of our pain is imaginary.

Most of us in the western world no longer have a very real, physical threat. Someone who will kick down our doors at night and take our children against our will.

So what do we do? Give thanks? No, for the most part we create our own demons. We walk around looking for unhappiness: wine, musical accompaniment, the person coughing in the audience.

Oooops. The lights are flashing. We should grab a seat.

Another song came up. The speaker said: today we are celebrating 20 years of the THRIIIIIIIIIIIIIILL of democracy. When Uncle Walt wrote about a barbaric yawp heard over the rooftops of the world, he had this guy in mind.

My daughter asked me, what was so thrilling about democracy? I told her, these singers had no choice on where they lived, what kind of job they could get, what kind of education they had. I told her, 20 years ago they started making their own decisions. Twenty years ago they took control of their destiny. They forged a new way.

She said, Poppa do Americans have a thrilling democracy? I told her, no. Less than 50% of Americans vote. She looked disappointed.

But that’s not important, I said.

What is important is that you vote. What is important is that you feel the shiver of goose bumps when you hear an 80 year old man raise his voice in honor of personal freedom and choice.

What matters is not that people complain about the choice of wine at an event. What matters is that on the way out we stopped the exit line so an elderly lady could finally make her way from her seat to the aisle.

What matters is that when my internal chatter started up in my head I screamed stop! You see someone behind me had started complaining about the hold up. Someone had bumped into me. I bumped back.

You know what I played instead? I took out the old program and put on something new.

Well done, well done, you did a good job.

The next evening before eating dinner we said a prayer for those singers and our good fortune for sharing a family, a home and a meal together. The band was playing on the stereo. I looked up and saw my daughters in the gentle light of a February evening in the Pacific Northwest. All of us singing along:

Long way, long walk, long way, long walk to freedom.

Photo Credit: www.totalexposure.co.za

Small Signals

Just spent the week in San Diego, California with TH3RDFORCE co-founder, William Donnelly. Let me tell you, there are few cities, culturally speaking, further apart than San Diego and Bellingham, Washington.

Bellingham is the city of subdued excitement. When people move here they ask about a restaurant scene and I tell them to learn how to cook at home. They say, what about the night life? Learn to mix drinks, again, at home. Concerts? Make sure you have a good sound system.

On the flip side, newcomers comment on the lack of people, traffic, noise, crime and proximity to both the mountains and the ocean. Solitude is so close at hand, it’s hard not to find some during the day. Another thing I like is we don’t have a scene. People just are.

For me San Diego is an opposite character study in the fine art of public display. It was hard to take a few steps without being assaulted by someone’s sign.

No we’re not talking about Zodiac, though we did see a trust funder offering free yoga lessons on the beach.

Signs are the signals we broadcast about ourselves. Signs are social armor. We wear what conveys the message we want people to know about us. Some dressed in designer clothes, others went hipster. All of it, a swirling kaleidoscope of labels and messages acting as lighthouses in the acetylene landscape that is suburban sprawl.

Clubs? Yes, we even went to a club. You have to realize that I don’t club. I am as anti-club as they get. My idea of small talks goes something like: at what point in time did you realize that your image of yourself was simply the behaviors that caused you the least amount of effort? Not really a great line, if you know what I mean. But, I was interested in the social structure, so I gladly went. Ok, not so glad, but still, went.

What message did I convey with my jeans, plaid shirt and wing-tip boots? Yeah, you guessed it, leave me alone. And they did.

Other members of our group enjoyed dancing and had a blast. I would say the high point of the evening was when a lady was talking to Bill. He started laughing. She came up to me and said, how much money do you make? Me? I have a stock answer for these circumstances, I’m unemployed. She recoiled as if struck. Then she went down the line of us, asking each in turn.

One of our group, she didn’t ask, she just made fun of his shorts and baseball hat and sneakers. She mocked him and then went on to the next.

The music was pumping, and I was reminded of that old Dead Milkmen song, Instant Club Hit: You’ll Dance to Anything.

Oh, baby, look at you
Don’t you look like Siouxsie Sioux
How long’d it take to get that way?
What a terrible waste of energy

You wear black clothes say you’re poetic
The sad truth is you’re just pathetic
Get into the groove just get out of my way
I came here to drink not to get laid

So, “Why don’t you just go on home?”
‘Cause if you want to moan you’ll have to moan alone
You’ll dance to anything
You’ll dance to anything

So let’s get back to signals for a moment. By all forms of measurement our young lady was looking for a cash cow, but she didn’t know how to look for the signs.

You know that guy she skipped? Well he’s a millionaire. Yep, that’s right. She saw the shorts, sneakers and hat and went into mock mode.

When I look at my buddy, who pretty much dresses like that all the time, you know what I see?

Someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks about them. You don’t get that way without a lot of confidence. And with confidence, comes cash. We think it’s the other way around don’t we? That money will give us that boost? It doesn’t. Money only allows the illusion of confidence. Take it away and you are where you started.

Best-selling author Dr. Jonah Berger, in his class How Ideas Spread, went over the strength of signals. In the course he talks about how companies market. The cheaper and poorer quality, the smaller the label. In fact, below $100 it’s hard to find a label on most products (he was talking about sunglasses and designer bags). When the price jumps up to $100-$400 the labels become large. Guess what happens when we jump above $400? The labels shrink again.

Excuse me sir, but what?

Market research has shown that companies on the top tier have an insider/exclusive track. No known labels, but they may have a cross stitch on the handle, or a ivory inlay, for example.

Why would anyone want to hide that they have spent several thousand dollars on a product they could have had for under a $100?

Companies do this so that middle-class and low-class people don’t dilute the product. The top tier is reserved for those with enough money, and experience to understand what the goods are.

And that quiet guy sitting in the corner, grinning like mad, sporting shorts and baseball hat, is the goods. The riffraff go off in search of gaudy labels.

Take a look at yourself and see what message you are projecting. Study your clothes, your behaviors and your friends. People are loud. I am loud. You are loud.

Isn’t it about time we figured out what we are trying to say?

Photo credit: collwrites.com

Why Limit Yourself?

Pearl Jam sang it true, so many years ago, in their epic song, Daughter: She holds the hand that hold her down.

It’s really a great line. I can feel my head bobbing to the music, just writing it down. It’s a great line until I realized we live and die alone on this earth. So who’s hand am “I” holding, if not my own?

The culture around us tells us it’s society. It’s our family. It’s our upbringing. It’s our economic background. All of these things create a riptide surging against our best efforts and potential.

It’s not to say that these things aren’t important. They are. But they are external limitations. It’s about time we learned how to blow the roof off of our self-imposed ceilings. Pack you bags, reader, for we are going to Austin for a demonstration of what it looks like to no longer hold the hand that holds you down.

__________________

My buddies and I picked South By Southwest in Austin, Texas for our annual moronathon.

We had been meeting with each other (some of us) since the 10th grade.  Now that we were in our 40’s it was time to upgrade. We were interested in food, music and just being with each other. Serious down time in a seriously fun city.

We landed in SXSW ready to have some fun. We saw some shows, ate at Franklin Barbecue. Drinks at Peche. Coffee at Houndstooth.

Donnelly (co-founder TH3RDFORCE) came in the last Saturday morning of the festival. We were eating breakfast.  He walked up behind me and gave me a nice big hug.

I see you boys aren’t drinking yet?

We looked blankly at him after days and days in bars giving out free drinks.

A round of Bloody Mary’s arrived as if on cue. Drinking start time. 10 a.m. Check. This is never a good sign.

We had a few shows we hoped to catch, Cloud Nothings, were at the top of the line. So we cued up and it didn’t look good. Finally someone came and said, you’ll never make it in.

In a state dejection we wondered down the street.

Free beer. Free beer.

As one, all of our heads turned to the right.  Hearing that siren song we went into to bar. A brewery from Colorado was offering whatever they had on tap for free from 12-2.

At this point we commenced Olympic style drinking.

A few hours later we were wondering down to see Drowning Men. Let me tell you this is a great band. More people need to hear them. They have opened up for one of my favorite bands Flogging Molly several times over the years. In fact, they were the first band to sign to FM’s label.

Basically had a few more bloody Mary’s. Austin is famous for them, sometimes serving a bloody Mary decked out with brisket, sausage and ribs on top (not joking)


Anyway as the show times was drawing near there was a line for beer and Tullamore Dew whisky (sponsoring at least this show). I was behind a guy who was giving everyone a hard time, not in a mean way, just taking the piss out of them. I started laughing and we started talking.

We shared a drink and then he was all, I’m off. He hopped on the stage and picked up a guitar and the band started warming up. That was so cool. Had no idea I would be sharing drinks with a band member.

The concert was literally 5-8 people (and this is no disrespect to the band) and us. Nobody knew who they were and it was way too early for a show. So they played their hearts out. Afterward I bought the band some shots and we hung out. Great guys.

After the show we were walking down the street and we saw all of these vip tents. I kept saying to my buddies, we gotta get into one of those, we gotta get into one of those. That looks fun.

Finally my friend Roger said, lets’ go here, to the Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill. I said, OK. They headed for the VIP tent, I ducked out to the bathroom. I got a text saying we are in. Just come in, tell them you are with us.

Us? Now we are an us.

I walked up to security pointed at my friends, they waved me in and I sat down.

How the hell did you pull that off?

Well, said Roger, we walked up to the lady working the front entry. I went right up to her and said, do you have room for us?

She said, who are you?

I told her, he is, pointing at Bill, Billy, and we are the kids.

Billy and the kids? Now if I spend time looking on this list will I find you?

No. But that’s not your fault. We are the next big thing. So big, nobody even knows we are here yet.

Remarkably, she laughed and said, I’ll give you 30 minutes Billy and The Kids.

Since we all grew up together or had known each other for 20 years plus it only took about ten minutes until we reverted to jackass mode. We ordered drinks, oddly enough, only amaretto and gin. Only those two drinks, each mixed three different ways. Food came. Plates full of deliciousness.

We had entered a VIP tent. The inside was full of music insiders. Music insiders and us, a group of degenerates. Anyway, we started getting rowdy and having a lot of fun. As a group, we are not known for our subtlety.

Both Brian and I are former newspaper reporters and photographers. We crowd watch for fun. About the same time we noticed that people were looking over at our table. Pictures were being taken. We were becoming a thing.

The lady who had let us in seated us directly behind her in the front. She looked back once in a while, laughing. We waved.

The drinks kept coming. Finally, I got that feeling. The one saying someone is having issues with you. Turning around, I saw a bunch of very fine looking fellows. They looked, to be honest, a bit too fine. A bit too orchestrated. These were not our people.

As I sat there nursing my drink, disgusting by all accounts (amaretto and ginger ale) I saw them looking at us, not too kindly, and then the satellite was dispatched to our table.

Hey, he said, who the hell are you guys anyway?

Roger, way past drunk, said, We are Billy and the Kids and I don’t like the way you are talking to us. He was laughing. Billy and I got very quiet, putting our drinks down and me, taking off my glasses. Focusing on this person now, in front of us. Who are we? We are having fun. You guys look like you are posing for a gap commercial.

He got the message, and went back to his group. By this time people were stopping by. Saying hello. It had been long past an hour and to be honest I just couldn’t take the sweet drinks anymore.

We signaled we were leaving and asked for the bill. The waitress literally beamed at us. Gentlemen you are in the VIP tent. Everything here is comped.

It’s free? Yes, Billy and the Kids. We looked up and their was our angel. Smiling in the Austin sunlight.

On the way out we stopped to say thanks and give her a couple bills. She took the money, laughing.

You guys stole the show. You know who that is? They are Young the Giant. You totally stole their show. This was a top spot and all everyone was talking about was who you all were. That made my SXSW.

It made ours too.

 

__________

I really had a tough time with this post. I wanted to edit out certain parts of it. Ever notice how people always appear better on paper or film than they really are? I wanted you all to see how the TH3RDFORCE works. The TH3RDFORCE is the synergy between the body and mind working together. When you give in to the flow and pull of time interesting things happen. Not any part of my was interested in getting rejected at the VIP tent. But part of our group was certainly prepared to do what it took to make that entry reality. And that is why, it’s important to choose your friends well. They can shore up weaknesses and bring you together in such a way that very little is impossible.