100 Reasons To Say Thank You

OK gang, raise your glasses. Today we all turn 100. That’s 100 posts delivered directly to mailboxes around the world. Thank you for your support.

Writing the blog has meant a lot to me and my life. Bill and I thought we would share some of what we like best about bringing TH3RD Force to you.

Some favorite moments of mine:

  • Starting off we had a limited readership (read nobody) and then, after months, came our first email contact from someone who liked what we wrote. Care to guess who our first fans were? A squad of Norwegian Paratroopers (Hærens Jegerkommando) really responded to our work. It was, our first contact with people online. They spurred us on in the early days. Donnelly and I used to joke, hey, we are big in Norway, riffing off of the Tom Waits song, Big In Japan.
  • I love the discipline of writing each week. Holding myself accountable to our readers has lead me to do more writing on my own. As they say, if you need something done, find a busy person. Since taking up our blog I have completed my first novel and started my second. The prior 8 years saw no progress at all on finishing my first novel.
  • Finding our path. When we first started blogging we really didn’t know which direction we would go. Some posts would reflect upon early western thinkers. Others dipped into eastern shores. Over time we realized the division between the two no longer made sense in our time. So we let them have at each other and we write like we think – an amalgam of eastern and western thoughts.
  • Freedom in words. Most of what I write is in three forms: TH3RD FORCE, Quora and my fiction. These three facets of my writing have given me the freedom to express what I am feeling and thinking. More importantly the writing helped me process the illness of my daughter, my more than shaky at times financial well-being and my ongoing struggles to find out the reason we have all taken human form.
  • I love it when you, our readers, respond to our blog. It means a lot to us when you take the time to comment or ask questions. The interactive nature of blogging is really fun. I love it when people weigh in. It means even more when a post clarifies something for a reader. To be honest, the writing adds to my clarity as well.
  • I’ve always searched for meaningful moments. Writing this blog has made me actively search out and document those moments of grace that when shared, illuminate our world a little brighter.
  • Bamboo. Donnelly and I have a code word, its bamboo. Why bamboo? Well when you plant bamboo nothing happens for an unknown amount of time. Long as you keep watering and caring for it, one day you will be rewarded by growth – sometimes a foot a day. For us, blogging is about that bamboo. The writing clarifies our focus and keeps us grounded. We show up to work each week on this project because we know in our bones our work will take flight. In Chinese myths, the heroes are not blessed with a fortune. They reach up and through their integrity and action, seize it. Each post we write is another day spent caring for our vision.

A few word from Bill Donnelly:

Attrition: It’s a word that I see most commonly thrown out when it comes to the success or failure of a blog. Nearly all blogs fail to consistently produce content after one year in existence. By two years over 90% are dormant or forgotten. These are the statistics as best that I can gather them, but they are not what makes this 100th post so remarkable to me.

Giving a voice to a blog: To say that Scott and I were neophytes when it came to social media is to grossly understate the reality. We had no presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Quora. Hell, I didn’t even know how to send a tweet. The only blogs I had ever read revolved around fantasy football and were purely meant for entertainment purposes. So, when we had the idea for TH3RD FORCE and a weekly blog to support and express our thoughts and experiences, I really didn’t know what to expect.
Blogging and bleeding: I laugh every time I recall my first tweet with the Th3rdforce blog attached to my call sign. I was pretty damn nervous. Now, I probably only had about 50 followers at the time, but sending something real and open out into the twitterverse scared the crap out of me. I think that tweet received one favorite and one retweet. Both courtesy of a life-long friend of the authors…Today that same tweet with our weekly blog reaches out to over 35,000 followers. I still have that same sense of trepidation, but the response has been tremendous and that really helps to buoy us in our pursuit.
Becoming more social: Yes I love technology, but not as much as you, you see…Kip’s wedding song from Napoleon Dynamite rings true. There is no question that the blog has driven our presence on social media. It has given us a foothold into the world of Quora, LinkedIn and Twitter. This has allowed us to reach and interact with a wide range of individuals.  It is this interaction-this give and take, that really fuels our enthusiasm for the blog and helps to shape our voice.
The weekly call: How do you stay close to a brother when they live on the opposite coast? Start a blog together. Our talks like our blog happen every week. It is how we keep the pulse of our endeavor alive and well. Now, you don’t need a blog to reach out to your brother or sister at least once a week, but it helps.
Three is the magic number(TH3RD FORCE): The most commonly associated number with long running, prosperous blogs is 3. As in, make it to 3 years and your blog will have achieved a truly amazing feat. As our third year kicks off, please accept our gratitude for your readership. It is truly an honor to share our lives with you. That is what makes this experience so remarkable. We hope to continue to provide material, insights and anecdotes that will cause you to think and feel right along with us. We look forward to hearing from you and continuing this journey with us.
May the TH3RD FORCE be with you.

Your Wide Angle Lens

A frequent question I am asked at the clinic is, how do I know what I am supposed to do with my life?

There are many ways to ask this question. Some are direct:

  • I hate my job.
  • How are you today? OK, so far. Clock reads 9 a.m.
  • I hate Sunday nights. Can’t stop thinking about Monday.
  • I’m frustrated that my life turned out this way.

Others take time to pick up on. This quest for purpose or lack thereof comes across in conversations. Here are some indirect clues that someone is off of their track:

  • I’m tired.
  • I’m really a (insert singer, writer, actor) but work as a (?).
  • I’m just not happy. Nothing is wrong, but nothing is great either.
  • I need a change, pulls out map and closes eyes and picks a spot.
  • I need a vacation. Gets back from vacation more tired than they were when they left. And yes, there’s always those post-vacation blues.

These all seem pretty obvious but you would be surprised how many people don’t get that they are the reason for their unhappiness. They still think it’s the job or the town.

It’s none of that. And yet, it’s not that they are unhappy about their whole life is it?

I see this each week. This endless circling around what is wrong. Do you want to know the antidote?

I don’t think of myself as one thing. I think of all the parts of me that make up who I am and I pursue them with intensity.

I think of the composite of myself as made up of many parts that have to be refined and developed. Working on multiple parts, progress can be made. If I were to focus on a single part, then life becomes very, very hard.

Following one path leads to extreme ups and downs.

When I first started studying with my mentor I was broken. I was focusing on my daughter’s illness. All I could think of was how I failed her as a father.

My mentor saw an opening in the gloom. He told me, “The way I see it is Western medicine will keep her alive. Your mastery of Chinese Medicine is what will keep her healthy.”

It made sense to me. In that year I moved from a two bed clinic to a seven. My staff went from me to a team of 5 of us. My overhead increased by more than six times what it was before the move.

My mistake here is I simply turned my loss into a maniacal focus on the clinic. It devoured me whole. When the clinic was good, I was good. When it was bad, I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning and couldn’t sleep at night.

The terrors of my early days found me in full daylight.

A year later I was even worse. I was chained to the ups and downs of a new business. I was run ragged. We regularly put in 6 days a week. My blood pressure rocketed up to 160/110.

All of this mess turned itself into a storm that broke over me in November 2008. Friday afternoon came and I didn’t have enough money for payroll. I didn’t have enough money for our mortgage. The clinic was in shambles. I was finally wreaked.

I went down to the Volkswagen dealership and tried to get them to buy my Passat wagon. I figured if nothing else, I could sell that, make a final payroll and then have a couple months mortgage for my family.

Luckily for me, the guy on the lot that day told me not to do it. “You will make so much more if you just sell it on the market. Please don’t do this.”

I went home and fell apart. I called Bill, TH3RD FORCE cofounder, and he told me he would send everything he could. I didn’t accept the offer, but told him I would if it came to my family not eating or having a place to live.

A day later I called my mentor and told him where I was.

His reply was simple. “I could bail you out. We both know that. But I won’t. You can fail or you can succeed. Either one is who you are. If you make it, then you make it on your own and that will fill you with such confidence. I could never take that from you. This is how we define ourselves. Get back to work Monday and choose.”

I was horrified. I was at a complete loss. I looked around myself and finally said, I don’t care anymore. I didn’t care in that I accepted where I was and what came next. I quit fighting myself. I relaxed into the weekend happy to be moving on to what I thought was the next stage in my life.

I went back to work on Monday and we had our best week. In fact that week was better than the entire last month.

What changed? I simply turned the focus larger. I started to give thanks for what I had, not what I wanted. I also started to look at all the areas of my life. Without the cruel focus of a single issue I was free to actually enjoy life in more than one area.

These days I have all kinds of goals: family, business, cooking, spiritual, financial, etc.

I focus daily on all of them. Oddly enough, when I am paying equal attention to these goals they all improve. When I freak out and focus on a single one, it always gets worse.

Strange, huh?

I have thought a lot about this process. Why does it get worse? Because I am forcing it. I am not allowing the creative process to unfold. I am pushing and smothering the natural direction.

When I get stressed I get very focused, short tempered, irritated and obsessive.

Think about that list of descriptors? How could something good come of that?

In the end, for me, it can’t.

Take a moment to write down all the facets in your life. See what goals you have in specific areas of life. Start doing the work on the big picture and check back in with us on TH3RD FORCE. Some on you will do better with focusing on one issue. Some will not. We are interested in your process.

Image credit, www.jackslentz.com

What’s the Hardest Thing In the World To Do?

I asked a teacher once, what is the hardest thing in the world to do?

He looked at me and said, “Give it some thought and let me know what you come up with.”

So I went old school. Packed up my car and backpack and headed into the wilderness around Mt. Hood.

One of my favorite hikes, Gnarl Ridge, should do the trick I thought. It’s about an 8 mile hike with 2400 foot elevation gain. I thought, if I am going to work out anything it will be along that pass.

I packed up my gear and drove out Saturday morning. I thought about all the things I still couldn’t make peace with: death, dying, living, God, Hell, Rain – seriously it rained 100 days in a row down there (what kind of place is Portland?), the future (what will I do when I graduate), place (where will I live?, who will I live with?), etc.

I started the climb and made good time. I was bursting through the switchbacks. The wind was ripping. It was a good day to be above the dust of the world.

Settling into the night I made my camp in a rocky outcrop. I had dinner, feet dangling high over a ledge. Several thousand feet below me, in the shadows, a glacier reflected the moonlight back to me.

In all this time, I still had no answer. The climb was difficult but not the hardest. What if I had to do it on my knees? What if I was blind?

Evening set hard and darkness brought with it a ferociously cold wind. Time to retreat.

I made my way into the tent long before bedtime. I had time to think over my question. I meditated on it until I fell asleep. I woke up to the annoying screech of ptarmigans. Ever hear those things?


Good grief I thought. The sun hadn’t made its way to my tent. I am not getting out of here until its warmer.

Fell back asleep. Never even gave my question a thought.

Hiking back down to the car I hit the road, stopping only at the Delta in Portland for a dinner of chicken-fried steak and a Mickey’s wide mouth.

Life was good until I saw that teacher.

“How did it go?”

“I went to the mountain.”

“And what did it tell you?”

I made it up on the spot. “The hardest thing is losing people in your life. It’s hard to see them get chewed up by death, poor choices, alcohol, drugs, etc.”

“And you went into the mountains to get help with this question?”



“So I could concentrate.”

“You can’t concentrate at home? I thought you said you had your own bedroom. Nobody in there but you, right?”


“So did you use the time driving to think about it?”

“No, pretty much I just listened to the Dead Milkmen and old Fugazi recordings.”

“Try again.”

I went home and thought, maybe the mountains didn’t do the trick. No problem. I will go to the coast.

Essentially the trip was just like the last one except there was no camping on the coast. But there was a very long and uncomfortable drive home after waiting on the beach for the moon to rise.

Monday morning again. I dodged him this time. Had no new answers. Only miles on the car to show for all my work.

By the end of the day I was safe. He was gone for the day. I had some more time.

It was a school night. I couldn’t spend the night anywhere. Where could I go? What could I do?

I decided to go for a night walk at Mt. Tabor Park. Again, I found a great vantage point and watched what I hoped was the moon trying to break free through the evening cloud cover.

Other than that waiting, not much happened. Even the moon didn’t join me that night.

By the next day in school I was ready. I met up with him as usual after class. He kind of looked at me in a funny way.

I didn’t say anything. We worked together after class as usual and I went home. Over the weekend I showed up at his home clinic. We did our shift and then before I left, I stopped.

“So I’ve no idea what it is?”

“Then why did you ask the question?”

“I don’t know?”

“Two kinds of people. You know this. You saw it in the temples. One kind sits. The other thinks and talks, talks, talks. In the West I have seen great confusion. You think the one talking knows something.”

“Sure I can see that.”

“So test it. You have spent weeks listening to yourself talk about this question. You call it self-talk, right? What did it tell you? False answers. Wrong directions. Static.”

He looked at me for a while.

“So then who does know the answer to questions like these?”

“Nobody. Look at what all your thinking and talking has in common. What do you see?”

I stumbled across a few answers that were utterly meaningless.

“First you need time to think. Then you need space to think. Then you avoid which brings more space and time to you and still, you think. You produce nothing listening to the mind chatter.”

He let that sink in for a while and then he sat down right in front of me, knee to knee.

“All they have in common is you. Hardest thing to do is, let go. Let go of your need for time. Let go of your need for a nice view. Let go of your need to fill your head with nonsense.”

He looked at me smiling. “And yes, let go of that question coming right now into your mind. Sit for a while. No need to think about these things.”

With that he walked out of the room and I began my quest to let go. I have found after 16 years of this practice that the more I let go of, the more I experience, and the less I am in my head.


Walking to work today a cold wind whipped up from the bay. I smiled as it stung my face. I felt a surge of joy as I entered the clinic. 

Another day to be at here, sharing the load.

All of my patients are here to let go of something: chronic pain, anxiety, depression, asthma, etc.

We work off of each other, hhelping one another to leave behind the pain and the confusion of holding onto that which no longer serves us.


Photo Credit: www.danleeth.com

Always Improving, Thanks to You


Hello TH3RD FORCE readers,

This week, instead of a post, we thought we would get some input from our readers and say thank you. Here’s some interesting statistics about our site.

  • When we send out a post, on average, about 47% of you open what we have written. The national average, in our category, is 17%
  • Our readers vary from across the world: United States, Canada, China (our second largest readership), Japan, Norway, New Zealand, and a few other countries as well.
  • We have written weekly content for almost two years.
  • Our readership and community is growing steadily over the last two years.

So with all of this good news, we would like to make your reading experience even better. Please take a moment to answer these questions so we can improve our site for you.

  • How did you hear about TH3RD FORCE?
  • What do you like about the posts you get every week?
  • Do you have a favorite post? If so, why?
  • What do you not like to read about?
  • Is there a post you particularly disliked? If so, why?
  • Specifically, what would you like us to write about?
  • Are you having any difficulties with posts? Hard to read? Duplicate emails? Etc.
  • Would you recommend our site to a friend? If so, why? If not, why?

Thank you for taking the time to make our community stronger. You may email or leave the answers in the comments section.



Scott Paglia & Bill Donnelly



Image courtesy of: https://www.bluehillsnow.com



Wisdom From The Static


Trying to decide what voice to listen to in this life is very hard. It’s not easy to pick through the static floating through social media, the news, the papers, the radio, the ether? There is an endless stream of dysfunctional information.

Turning inside it gets even more complicated. We are told to listen to our gut? Listen to the facts/the mind? Listen to what our heart is telling us?

With so many voices it doesn’t sound like a chorus. At times it sounds like a train wreck and we have a first-class ticket on that ride. You can feel it right? We’re leaning to the left.


However, there is good news. It is possible to weave through the clutter of information. It is possible to discern from that wreckage what is helpful. To figure out what would actually benefit us, it’s essential to cultivate an awareness of the self.

By awareness of the self I mean it’s possible to observe what we are doing. Once we can see what we are doing, then it’s possible to make changes.

The best way to start this process is through meditation or prayer. If you are into meditation simply find a quiet place and repeat a word, any word for 15 minutes. Your mind will wander. This is normal. Just go back to the word. A helpful hint is to set a timer. Let the mind off the hook trying to figure out what time it is. If you like prayer, recite your favorite on for 15 minutes. Whatever you do, do not try to stop your thoughts. This is not only impossible, but it’s madness to try.

Once you can do 15 minutes a day, simply add another session. I recommend a morning and evening session. I think of my own practice as two bookends for the day.

What this process will do is give you some perspective. A pause of reflection before needlessly reacting. Below are some events I have lived through and what it felt like. The practice takes time and it will not improve you.

There. I said it.

Meditation will not improve you. That one drives people mad.

What is that you say? Daily meditation doesn’t make me a better person? No, daily meditation has the ability over time to teach you how to get your of your own way. If you want to be a better person donate your time and money to worthy causes. Helping the helpless will make you a better person. I guarantee it. Sitting around meditating or praying will not.


Walking into my first day of Chinese medical school I remember looking up at the doorway and then this cold jolt of fear struck me in my steps. I knew, passing through that door that I would never pass the national exam.

I knew it in my bones.

Clear as I knew it was Monday morning, I would not be passing that test. Might as well leave now. What was I doing here? Why did I leave my friends and the canyons of Arizona?


The night my daughter was hospitalized for type one diabetes I sunk into a dark place. I knew looking at her that the best thing I could do was unplug her from the machines and then walk out of the hospital. It was snowing. I would take her into the woods and draw a circle around us. I would die before anyone or thing (I’m talking to you death) crossed that line. Death could wait. The swelling in her head would wait. My rage and pain would not.


It was a warm day. I showed up for the national acupuncture exam with plenty of time to spare. On the way to the test I was blaring a Dead Milkmen song. The chorus was, “I’m so bored I’m drinking bleach.” An African American guy and his friend pulled up next to me on the street. They had their window down. The guy nearest me leaned over and said, “Damn that’s some crappy music.”I simply mouthed the chorus along with the words to him, “I’m so bored I’m drinking bleach.”  He started laughing, “White people singing about drinking bleach, man alive!” We both drove away with a story to tell. Life was good.

I came into the testing room. It smelled like a testing room. A hundred bodies sharing the same air, which was stale and laced with one hundred different kinds of anxiety. I looked around at my class mates. Some of them were happy. Some petrified. All of us were riding an electric current. Four years and $60,000 on the line. Blow the test and I could not get licensed to practice Chinese Medicine in the United States.

The tests were handed out. For the briefest of moments I looked up at the proctor and thought about that feeling walking through the front doors of Chinese medical school: You will fail the national exam.


I didn’t unplug my daughter from the machines. What I did was take my wife’s advice. I went home after that first night with my youngest daughter. I remember driving under the halogen lights. There were chunks of snow laying on the road like so many discarded bodies. I knew then I would never love again. I knew then I would never have a reason to live. I knew then that I no longer wanted to be here anymore. A voice came loud in my mind telling me it was time to go home. The real home. The one waiting for all of us. Besides, I had been dodging that bullet for years.


There’s something you all should know about me. I like playing the odds. I like being told I can’t do things – even when it’s myself doing the talking.

You know what I like even more? Blowing the hell out of that ceiling.

It’s always been this way with me. So when my own mind said, you will fail, I said, shut the hell up.

I aced that test and graduated early.

No failure. No cataclysmic reordering of the universe. None of that internal voice or wisdom made a difference. What mattered was that I was not willing to live with the verdict. The information I was given was wrong. I didn’t care where it came from. All I knew was that it wasn’t mine to own.

When my mind told me it was time to die because my daughter would never have a normal life I simply shut down.  It’s not an easy thing to say, but some roads take years to travel. I spent about two years in that dark night of the soul after my daughter got sick. I swear to you, most of me was still driving under that dark sky, soaking up the halogen glare of those dead lights. But a funny thing happened to me in Winthrop, Washington. The ice that had encased my heart and mind fractured in the early morning sunshine. I came back to my world and I did learn to love and live again.

That internal voice, again, was wrong.

For me, meditation is about learning not to take this life so serious. It’s about learning to let go. It’s about dumping the programs that leave me with nothing but automatic responses.

In a word, the practice gives me a pause in life. In that stillness I finally hear the truth. And you can too.

A Tale Of Three Minds

He came in the office vibrating with excitement. The uncharacteristic slash of August sunlight struck his face as he sat across from me. It was a record-setting summer in Bellingham, Washington.  Our thermometer regularly danced above 90.

“Hey Doc I got a question. How do you make up your mind?”

I responded, “It’s not important. What is important is how you make up your mind.”

“Hmm,” he said. “Basically I think it through and if it feels good I go for it.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

He looked up at me in shock. “Sounds good? My life is a mess. A complete catastrophe. Sounds good?”

“I don’t want to seem rude to you,” I said. “But here is what has happened five, no, six times this week. People have told me they are not happy with their weight and would like to lose some.”

“Ok, that sounds good. This is a clinic. What’s the matter?”

“In all cases but one, before I even stopped talking, they made excuses why my advice would not work. And they are paying for that advice.”

“Oh, that’s depressing.”

“No. Not for me. I’m always looking to see how to reach people. Gives me something to work on.”

“OK. I got it. Listen. Don’t say no before I have even heard what you have to say. I can do that. So how do you make up your mind?”

“What’s on your mind?”

“I can’t figure out if I should take a job in another city.”

“Oh that’s a tough one. The way I see it is we have our intellectual mind. The one that calculates the salary, cost of living, quality of living, etc. That one’s pretty easy to figure out. What’s that one telling you?”

“Definitely take the job.”

“The harder one is the emotional mind. That’s the one that tells us to do things when we know they are not the right thing. Or they tell us to help out even when it doesn’t make sense. The tricky thing about navigating the emotional mind is we don’t give it much time unless our back is against the wall. When things happen most people don’t process what’s going on. It builds up as stress in the body and mind. The body suffers and breaks down.”

“Yeah, that does sound familiar. Emotionally I don’t know how I’m feeling. It would be great to stay here where my family and girlfriend are. But checking out new places is cool too.”

“Are you thinking or feeling that answer?”

“There’s a difference?”

“For sure. The problem is it’s not common to have a high degree of emotional intelligence. We don’t exercise that part of our self. To make things worse, we then expect emotions to carry their weight during the heavy lifting. Ever hear the phrase, my emotions betrayed me? How can they betray you? You feel something and the mind doesn’t like it. It’s just as right to say the mind betrayed how we felt.”

“Okay. Okay, this is getting complicated.”

“Well, let’s have some fun. A third mind exists. It’s the intuitive mind. This one is really, really misunderstood and poorly used.”

“So you mean a gut feeling?”

“No. Not exactly. Intuition means you have mastered a certain skill set and then you make a leap, based upon the knowledge. Where you end up after that leap is someplace your old way of thinking could not have conceived, let alone make happen.”

“So it’s not listening to my gut?”

“It’s listening to your gut after a prolonged course of study. Basically you exhaust the intellect and then the creative side of you breaks through the ice you find new knowledge. You make things fit that didn’t work before. It’s growth. It’s exactly what I love about being alive.”

“Hmm. So what does all of this mean for me?”

“It means you have a lot of work to do for yourself. Nobody can figure out these tough decisions. It’s funny really, when you think about it. As a culture we think of ourselves as so independent. But when our heroes are in a corner they seek out the guidance of an oracle. Someone to give them the answers they are seeking.”

“That’s what I’m looking for!”

“You can try Siri. No? Okay. Well in Asia, which is supposed to be a society of followers, when the hero is backed into the corner, they go into the mountains and find a hermit. He’s usually a Daoist – they follow the path of nature instead of culture. The job of the hermit is not to give answers, but provide more questions.”

“More questions. How does that help?”

“The right questions expand your field of inquiry. They give us new intellectual terrain to ponder. These are the questions that matter the most. For example this new job. Is it the same field?”


“The same field you have been looking to get out of? The same field which has proven to be very unstable and as you said, causes a lot of stress?”

“Yes it would be that same field.”

“Oh I get it now.”

“You do?”

“Yes, taking that job would only put off the greater question that’s been gnawing at you. The one that keeps you up at night.”

“Oh,” he said visibly deflating. “The one I asked you last month: I hate my job, what should I do with my life.”

“That’s a good place to start.”

Photo courtesy of Pinterest: 13 Ways of Looking At Black Birds

Bad Advice and Great Birthdays


Snow cut through the mountains with high winds. I was woefully prepared for the climb. I had my trusty red fleece on and a pair of shorts. My ears hurt. I stuck my head out of the protection of the rock I was burrowed under. Wind stung my eyes.

I let out a big, ah whatever, and made my way up to the top of the mountain. A few minutes in my knees began to ache seemingly from the inside out.

I didn’t care much.

I had already woke up with a headache. Apparently mixing high altitude and a few beers wasn’t a good idea. I was 20 years old, what did I know?

Up top nobody lingered. There really was no view. Only a small group of people catching their breath before heading back down. Between the snow, wind and clouds there wasn’t much to do up top but freeze.

I did a 360 turn noting that all of them did in fact have pants and proper gear. What can I say? I was a lowlander exploring the mountains of Colorado for the first time. I had no idea that in summer it could be too hot on the start of a climb and end up snowing.

I was hooked.

I can’t stand being too warm. Here was a place I could be happy, except my head, ears and knees were barking louder than the dog in front of me.

“He won’t bite. He’s friendly.”

I waved the dog off and sat down. The man made his way to where I was, warming up in the sun.

“Saw you up top. Never a good idea to be up here without gear. Where are you from?”

“I’m from upstate New York,” I explained, “but am going to school in Virginia.”

“Ah, nice. I’m a high school teacher. What are you studying?”

“Post-modern poetry with minor in Chinese philosophy,” I said.

We both looked at each other and laughed.

“That’s a new one to me. I teach history.”

We talked a while about the benefits of teaching: lots of time off, working with the kids, etc.

And the negatives: parents think they can do the job better than the teachers, being broke all the time.

We spent about 15 minutes together before the clouds started coming back in.

“I can tell you love it up here. Let me give you some advice. Do as much of this as you possibly can now. There’s no way the body can do this over a lifetime. My back hurts and my knees are shot. This trip is a kind of goodbye for me. After this I’m done with backpacking.”

With that he packed up his gear.

“So how old are you?”

“Oh,” he said stiffly walking away, “I’m 37.”

Hmm, I thought to myself. That sounds like a health plan I don’t want to follow. Over the years I have heard countless patients tell me why they can’t do what they used to do.

Here’s some wisdom I learned from a 3,800 year old scroll: the body ages from the legs up.

Keep active. Work each major joint in the body each day. Most important, don’t forget that the mind needs to be worked.

You can’t let information into your head that doesn’t belong there. You can’t let people impose limitations upon you. Even more to the point, you should not impose those limitations on yourself.

I turned 44 last week. You know how I celebrated? I hiked up Yellow Aster Butte. It starts out brutal, 2.5 miles and 2 thousand feet of elevation gain then flattens out and makes its way near several alpine lakes, glaciers and incredible views.

I made the climb and had some pizza I had cooked the night before. I saw plenty of people younger and older than me on that trial. Every person I met I told them to keep going. The view was worth it. The pain was simply a reminder to be out in nature more often. To take the time to keep the body healthy and the spirit free.

As I looked out over the Cascade Mountains I got a message from TH3RDFORCE cofounder, Bill Donnelly.

What, I thought to myself, just happened? How can I get a text out here this high up, over an hour away from cell service? Apparently, my computer lady told me, if you get high enough you can wing signals out of the towers.

In any case I answered that message and thought about that sage advice I was given over 20 years ago in Colorado: get outside now because your body will break down and you won’t have the energy to go anyway.

No thanks. I think I’ll follow my buddy Robert Frost up another path.

New But Not Improved

Patients come into the clinic sure that the reason they are unhappy has something to do with where they are in their life.

The names and faces change but the laundry list looks much the same. Some don’t like their job, their town, not having a relationship, having a relationship, etc.

The “solution” they dangle in front of themselves, is largely the same. They want to go somewhere new. Or do something new. It’s always something new.

I would wager that something new has a far greater chance of failure than simply doing what used to work. But somehow, along the way, we forget what works and slump into poor habits and choices. People who are unhappy or unsatisfied have learned the habit of not being who or what they want to be.

How does this happen?

We all start off doing what makes us feel good. We have a natural predisposition to seeking ease and comfort. I’m not talking about sloth, but the opposite. The feeling of the body after a very hard workout is a miracle in chemical homeostasis. The body is flooded with endorphins and we feel good for hours, even days, afterward.

In contrast, observe the body and mind after playing the junk-food game. We initially get a sugar rush and then the plane drops out of the sky, oxygen bags deployed. Boom we crash out either in mid spoonful with a wave of nausea of just wait for it, in about an hour it will arrive. Post-prandial sugar coma.

Our present day life is simply the sum of all of our personal habits. Everything we experience as a daily norm is something that we are working on maintaining.

Crazy isn’t it?

I had my own version of this cycle upon reaching college. I quit drinking my first semester (great idea) stopped dating to focus on writing (perhaps my worst idea to date), and started meditating and exercising regularly (really good ideas).

I did all of this and felt better. Not great but it was working. After college I spent months on the road, hardly eating and hiking each day.

This was a good beginning. It’s easy to confuse it with an end.

Soon enough I found a job at a newspaper. I started drinking coffee by the gallon, beer by the twelve pack. Stopped exercising and you can guess what happened to the meditation practice.

I hit bottom repeatedly. Finally one day I got so sick of myself I forced myself to start exercising and meditating again. It was a slow and painful process, but I got going again.

It’s a tough road, but there are signs on the way. About the time I was hitting bottom, again, I was talking to a good friend of mine. He was intense. Opinionated. Drank too much and had anger issues. Strange how much we liked each other’s company, huh?

I talked to him about meditation. He told me he had stopped. I asked, why? He said, from my cushion on the couch I saw that the entire world was a series of connections. I stopped meditating because I no longer needed it.

In my mind I did the math: doesn’t play well with others, can’t hold a job, angry all the time, confrontational and unhappy with himself. Not sure the lesson was learned.

 Later on in life I took up Qigong, or breathing exercises. I studied with a great teacher from Beijing. He was internationally known for his talents as both a practitioner and teacher. When we got to know each other I asked him how much he practiced. He confided in me that he didn’t need to practice anymore because he had metabolized the practice on a genetic level.

Really, I stammered, thinking about him being on his fourth marriage. His inability to handle changes in his teaching schedule. And the mean spirit he displayed when he thought someone was beneath him. My BS alarm rang at full alert. That was the last time we talked.

So what did I learn from them?

To stop doing what we all do. We lie to ourselves. We forget what used to work and start seeking the “new thing” that will somehow liberate us.

I decided not to do that anymore. And so can you.


Notice: No post next week as it’s family vacation time!

A Dance of Fire and Water


Woke up 545 a.m. had a phone meeting with 3F cofounder, Bill Donnelly. I was on the road by 6:30 a.m. No traffic. Open road and I was feeling good. Love talking to Bill. Love doing the work we do.

Arrived in Early Winters camp at 9:30 a.m. Only one site open and, hey, it’s one fronting the Early Winters Creek.

Life is good.

I unpacked my gear and set up my tent. Next I went down to the river’s edge and set up my sun umbrella – Winthrop, WA average summer day is 90-100  degrees plus.

Sitting by the river that sweet feeling of euphoria was slowly replaced by dread. Yes, I confirmed looking through my tent and truck, Captain Cool has forgotten his sleeping bag. Even after nearly 40 years camping I still manage to forget things. No worries, I thought, it won’t get that cold. Flash forward to three a.m same night. Our weary traveler is shivering and cursing in the dark. Waiting for it to get light enough to break camp. Let’s not do that, I think.

I drive into Mazama and check out sleeping bags. I’m shown a $600 sleeping bag. I stammer a no thanks and then am shown a $300 bag. The store owner has seen this look before. “I could always rent you one,” he says, “$30 for the weekend.” I choose option three and its back to the camp with me and my new friend.

By now it’s lunch time. I have a great selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives and crackers. I open a Freemont Summer ale and watch the storm clouds roll in.

After lunch I go for a hike. It’s an incredible trail following the river and mountains of the Methow Vally. A few scattered drops hit me as I make my way back to camp.

I look out at my neighbors. They are hiding under a rainfly. They look like college kids or 20-something olds. As I’m aging I can’t tell the difference any more.

The first real rain drops bounce off of my rain fly. I head into the tent and meditate until the sound of falling rain takes me to the other side of consciousness.

I wake up and it’s darker outside than it should be. I don’t mind it much. I come out of the tent and take a look around. The college kids are still under the rain tarp.  I hear thunder in the distance. It’s slowly getting louder. The rain is constant by now.

I grab some meat for a sandwich and instantly feel a slow, warm sense of peace wash all over me. I’m getting drowsy again.

Back into the tent, this time meditating for hours. I drift in and out of sleep the entire night. The thunder gradually becomes louder and then again, as the storm passes, it softens until it’s gone.


I wake early enough to see the sky bloom with sunlight. I turn on my stove and make some coffee. I sit by the river and read and think and sometimes I do nothing at all.

By early afternoon I rise up out of my riparian post and head out for another hike. I repeat what I did yesterday. This time I’m walking slower, taking in each crag of rock. I listen to the wind sawing through tall grass. Eagles scream in the distance. I must be close to water. There it is now. A sliver of the afternoon sky snaking out across the land. I see them now, a couple of bald eagles playing in the updrafts. I sit by the side of the river and hear faintly the sound of rocks clunking into each other as they pass me by.

Heading back to the camp, again, the sky darkens.

The college crowd is back under their tarp. They look miserable. They are arguing now a little. It’s hard to hear them against the backdrop of the river but I’ve been here before. Specifically I’ve been them before.

I climb back in my tent and meditate. A few hours later I come back out. In the back of my mind I had a plan to ride my mountain bike the 8 miles to Kelly’s pub and get some dinner. The rain clouds blacken as if to say, yeah, buddy why don’t you try it?

I hop in my truck, avoiding the dark looks my bike is giving me.

Passing the college crowd I stop, unroll my window, and say, “It’s going to pour tonight. Why don’t you guys head into town?” One of them replies, “we’re camping. We will stay here.” A few somber and damp heads nod in agreement. They are to a person darker than any cloud I can see in the sky.

I arrive at Kelly’s Pub. The owner Steven, never remembers me. I’ve been coming to this restaurant since he was the co-owner of its former incarnation, a Spanish Tapas restaurant. We talk a bit. It’s obvious I know him. He’s used to not remembering people. He can however, read the social cues. He invites me to sit up in the front section of the restaurant and watch the rugby match. He’s not happy that only one of the world’s top ten players is from his home country, Ireland. He asks me about it several times. I smile and say, you know as well as I do Ireland never gets its due. He smiles, possibly remembering that I lived in Cork for a beautiful spell. Then that flash of recognition is gone.

I have never watched a rugby game in my life. I now do so and am yelling with him at the television. He brings me a margarita. The sky turns from dark grey to black.

I’m happy to see the rain. Last year fire’s ravaged much of the Methow Valley. This year we are at less than 10% annual snow pack. It’s been a warm summer. The entire valley is suffering a group Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Everyone is waiting for the first fires to take their homes. Last year, people lost land by the thousands of acres and homes by the dozens.

Steven is obviously agitated. I ask him what’s the matter? He told me with all the fires last year business was slow. Last night’s rain also brought lightning which set to blaze three different fires. “So now I got two worries,” he says, “rain keeping everyone away.” He leaves me with an Icicle Creek Indian Pale Ale beer. He also doesn’t even say the name of his other worry, fire.

As the sky cracks open it starts to rain, hard. Two people make their way from their car to the restaurant. They are seated a few tables down from me, in the main dining room. Their conversation is tense, muted. Nobody is laughing. The television went silent a few minutes ago. I order, improbably enough, posole, which is a traditional authentic Mexican dish made with dried corn, chilis and meat.

“Steven,” I say, “How in the hell does an Irishman end up with posole on his menu.”

“That, my brother,” he says, “Is soul food. It has no nationality.”

“Count me in, I reply.”

The rain is really coming down now. It’s raining harder than I have ever seen rain fall. As the rain strikes the ground it’s bouncing back several feet skyward.

All around me the rain pounds the old metal roof. Another car pulls up. A man and a woman get out of the car and head for the front part of the restaurant, the one with outside seating.

They hug each other in the rain. The rain keeps coming. Now they are dancing. It’s a soft and slow dance. They take their time. Everyone in the restaurant is looking outside at them. There isn’t a sound in the place except for that chorus of rain drops falling. They hold onto each other like it matters. They hold onto each other in a way that reminds me why we risk everything for love.

Their dance finishes and they walk into the side door of the restaurant. They are soaking wet. The couple that had come earlier are already standing, waiting for them.

The woman who was dancing grabs the other lady in a fierce hug. Her face buried deep into the neck of her friend. There is a slow sound. It builds up in layers through the restaurant. She’s crying now. The sound mirroring the rain. Layer upon layer of sound cascading through the restaurant and out into the world. Her knees give out. The men circle the two of them, supporting each other, suspended between this world and another.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she says not looking at us at all. “But that fire that started last night was making a run for our house. This rain today put it out. I don’t have to worry about where we will sleep this year. I don’t have to. . .”

The rain impossibly so, increases in volume, drowning out the rest of what she is saying. I turn away from the dining room and look back out into the world. It’s gone liquid at this point. The line between us breaks apart like broken glass.

I come back to myself a few minutes later. Steven is looking at me. His eyes are wet too.

“Now it’s about time we got to that dinner service. Proper like.”

I nod my head and head back to my campsite. I pass the kids under the tarp. They look more miserable than I can deal with at the moment.

I go directly into my tent. As the rain beats against the fly I am reminded of a dance I saw. A dance of fire and water.


Photo courtesy of favim.com

How To Reset (Part 1)

We all have our backs to the wall. Stress builds up in the system compressing our decisions into knee-jerk reactions.

Who was the person talking trash about the neighbor and their screaming kids? Could it be? No. Certainly not me. Or, after a crappy work day, what could be worse than reliving it at home? I have an answer: reliving that same complaint in different forms for weeks and years at a time.

When you reach this point it’s time to reset. It’s also time to make a promise to yourself. At 60% fed up level you will get off the track and reset.

By waiting until there are pressure cracks in the nervous system it’s harder to come back to a still point. Hard but not impossible. Burnout is simply the failure to recognize when stress is too high for too long. The paralysis that follows is the outcome, not the problem.

What’s the way out?

Each and every one of us has a personal way to reset. I want you to think very hard about a flash reset protocol for yourself.

In fact, I want to give you a TH3RD FORCE Challenge. In 15 years clinical practice I have never met the person who has told me they are too rested, too peaceful and too at ease. So that makes us all eligible for the challenge.

If the daily grind has clear-cut your feeling of grace in this world, what do you have to lose?

The rules for this challenge are simple:

  • You are leaving home for 48 hours. Any of us can do this in a weekend.
  • You are traveling solo.
  • No flights (they only add to stress).
  • Cut the cord (leave that cell phone on the table, plugged in of course).
  • Go outside, not a requirement, but this will pay off. Bonus points for camping – sure this is my personal bias but being outside has done wonders from Thoreau to Peter Matthiessen.
  • Bring books, journals and pens.
  • Feed yourself well. You can easily stock a cooler for 48 hours of great food.
  • Drink well – whether your taste is beer, wine, bourbon, green tea, or coffee. Bring what you like.
  • Proper gear: make sure you have it all. I recommend renting, if you don’t own, top-quality gear. You don’t want to be uncomfortable out there.
  • Fire wood. Matches.
  • A chair to sit on.

Pick a favorite place or a new place, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it this weekend or next. A sense of urgency completes tasks. Putting this on the bucket list is a clear invitation to never complete it.

While you are out there, a few questions to ponder. These are the same questions I ask myself.

Years ago my head was always spinning. I was fed up with Zen, couldn’t stand the thought of parasitic infections in India and still couldn’t come to terms with the whole thing of being born into a human body. How did it all fit together?

What to do? When I can’t help myself, why not make things worse by blundering into other people’s problems?

I went to a workshop on healing trauma. The teacher was Daoist. He was unflinching in his approach. About halfway through the class on the first day he said, “It’s obvious folks that you are not listening. You are not listening because what attracted you to this course is your own trauma in life. Half of you think you can save the world. The other half can’t even begin to think about anything else but themselves. How many of you have asked yourselves the basic questions any person needs to ponder? How do you save yourself? If you don’t have this one figured out you are worthless to the rest of the world. Everything you touch will be marked by your seed. Your seed of self-destruction.”

We looked at each other mutely. A few of us even put down our phones and stopped texting: Hey lets meet for dinner – it must be beer 30 somewhere. Or face booking: At another boring seminar – at least the kids aren’t here.

The three questions, he went on, that we need to ask ourselves are as follows:

Who am I?

Why am I here?

What am I doing about it?

With that, dear readers, I bid you fare well on your quest. Please write in with what you experienced.

Next week I will write about my own reset and would love to add some of your own adventures to the mix.