Lessons from the stars: Comfort and the Necessary

Last night was a good night for stargazing.

Piercing through the ebony background, the stars seemed to appear before my eyes. I just stood there for a while soaking in the grandness of it all, wondering how many people I was sharing that piece of sky with? How many people were at that moment looking up at those stars, and what was going through our minds?

The beauty of stargazing, is that it opens up your world. Stars broaden our perspective, expand our worldview, and open our hearts. I have looked up at the stars in sorrow, I have looked up at the stars in joy; and they will always speak to me. It’s not an audible voice, but a subtle whispering in my soul; something stirs inside me, and I receive insight.

Last night, the stars reminded me that there is a big world out there. I was reminded to stay connected to the world around me. I naturally move towards what is comfortable in life, which is natural for all of us, but I also want to be aware of the necessary.

The necessary is the part of life that requires something from us.

This will intersect with the comfortable parts of life, meaning that what is required is that which we already enjoy. This varies from person to person, but I would describe this as when the need falls in line with our passion and strengths. This may also be comfortable if the person in need is someone you already love dearly, and this love may be the key to unlocking a world of purpose.

The necessary will at times require sacrifice. Not an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom kind of sacrifice, but that which requires us to dig deep inside and summon courage, forgiveness, and the love. It takes courage to confront someone who has wronged you, and forgiveness must follow. It may require you to give money to a cause at the expense of not buying something for yourself. We may need to ask forgiveness from someone we have hurt, and in turn learn to forgive ourselves.

The necessary may also be something that you need to do for yourself. You may find inspiration to create something, from a painting to a charity. You may find direction in life, or change in the direction of your life. You may be reminded that you are loved.

The necessary requires love, because if can learn to love on a broader scale; we will become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. In love, we are eager to serve, help, and rescue. In love, we can be freed from regret and as stated above, find the key for unlocking our purpose.

The stars speak, if we are willing to listen.

 

How Minimizing has Maximized

I have been on a slow, yet constant move towards de-cluttering my life. It has taken a lot of work, time, introspection, and letting go. I have read books and blogs that have common themes of “less is more”, and it  goes beyond the material and into the spiritual. Clarity, confusion, focus, regret, joy, and heartache have all been a part of this minimalist roller coaster; but it has been worth it, and continues to be worth it.

A lot of these ideas were inspired/confirmed in the book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo. Check it out if you are into the idea of less is more.

When it comes to minimalism…

You must embrace the process. There is no true end point, because it is a lifestyle in which you continually remove from your life that which is not you. Refinement, this is a term I would apply to the purpose of why anyone should look into minimalism, de-cluttering, spiritual awakening, or whatever you decide to call it. The more you remove what does not belong in your life, the “un-you” stuff, the more the “true you” will rise to the surface.

The process can be painful. As far as removing the material items from our life, we have to remove the value that we have paid for those items. This is tough, because we work hard for our money; and it is hard to feel like we have wasted it. You will end up selling items for mere fractions of what you paid for them, or straight up donating them to the Goodwill or local charities. The way to make it through is to focus on the benefit of letting go and the promise of life transformation, more than the loss of monetary value.

Realize that what you own feeds who you are. Don’t let your life trajectory be dictated by what you own. Find your identity at the deeper levels of life and the lives around you, not only the surface. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” This same idea applies to the items we surround ourselves with as well. We live in a marketing culture where brands want to claim us. In other words, enjoy what you enjoy; but realize the impulse to accompany each interest with purchases to affirm your interests.

Recognize the benefits. 

Generosity will spring forth. The more you let go of your stuff, the easier it is to give it away. Your heart and mind will become more attuned to the needs of those around you more than your own needs/wants.

You will have more time. The less consumer minded we become, the less time we spend buying and shopping. An hour on the porch reading a book can replace an hour spent shopping on Amazon (this is something that I had struggled with). That hour of reading will exercise your mind. You will increase your critical thinking skills, improved memory, increase your knowledge; these are just a few of the benefits of reading.  An hour spent walking on the trails or around the neighborhood can replace an hour spent walking around the mall. Being under the open sky and breathing fresh air (or maybe not so fresh depending on where you live), is healthy and allows your mind to wander and think about what you truly value in life; as compared to walking through a marketing gauntlet that is aimed at telling you what you need in your life. (Note: I still shop on Amazon sometimes and walk around the mall sometimes, these are just examples to ignite a thought process, not intended to cast judgement.)

You will be able to appreciate what you have. When we remove the unimportant or unnecessary from our life, we are left with the important and necessary. When we remove what does not inspire, we are left with what inspires.

I share all of this as someone on the journey, as a student, not as an expert. I highly recommend reading the book I mentioned at the beginning of this blog if any of this has struck a chord inside of you. It is a book that talks about how what we surround ourselves with, impacts all other aspects of our life. There is union between the material world and the spiritual world through our belongings, and it is worth examining.

The cover photo of this blog contains my favorite coffee mug. Through the act of de-cluttering, this mug has stood the test. It brings me such joy for so many reasons; it’s Star Wars (which I love), it goes into light speed when it heats up (which is super-cool), and it was a gift from my wife and daughters (who are also super-cool). Minimizing doesn’t have to mean owing the least amount of stuff, but it does mean maximizing that which you truly love.

 

Solitude

Loneliness.

This is a powerful word, because out sparks such strong emotional reaction; and I believe that it is something that all of us can relate to at some point in our lives. If being alone becomes translated as loneliness, then sadness and desperation will begin to take root. Desperation mode is survival mode, and we will find ourselves  reacting to our circumstances instead of creating our circumstances.

Time.

Time gives and takes, it builds and breaks down, and it can be a gift if we choose to see it as so.

I start with these words, loneliness and time, because they are in relation to each other. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, though not the same amount of hours in a life; and we all want to make the most of our life. The feeling of loneliness can cause us to enter a place of circular thinking, which in my case, leads to feeling of self-doubt and regret. This is a downward spiral that I have found can rip the hours and the days, which are a gift, away from us.

Now even the darkest of nights lead to a new dawn, and time is reflected best in the form of a new day; though one day may feel lost, a new day is given.

The best book I’ve read this year is Reaching Out  by Henri Nouwen.

The theme of this book is rooted in a transformation from loneliness to solitude, and that is what we will focus on. Just as time is a gift, our being alone is truly a gift, because it is in those moments that we can dig deep to discover who we truly are and what passions lie inside of us. A simple word swap can change everything, so we translate loneliness  to solitude.

The best thing I can recommend is to go out and get this book, but for the purpose of our time right now; I will share some highlights to inspire you to join me on the path of finding solitude in what has been described as loneliness, starting with probably my favorite excerpt from the book:

“When loneliness is haunting me  with it’s possibility of being a threshold instead of a dead end, a new creation instead of a grave, a meeting place instead of an abyss, then time loses it’s desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid for the missed opportunity.”

“The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostilities, and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality, and prayer as part of the vision of our life.”

“Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self expression?”

“Friendship and love cannot develop in the form of  an anxious clinging to each other. They ask for gentle fearless space in which we can move to and from each other.”

“Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.”

“Then our life would indeed be a different life because then fate becomes opportunity, wounds a warning and paralysis an invitation to search for deeper sources of vitality. Then we can look for hope in the middle of crying cities, burning hospitals, and desperate parents and children. Then we can cast off the temptation of despair and speak about the fertile tree while witnessing the dying of the seed. Then indeed we can break out of the prison of an anonymous series of events and listen to the God of history who speaks to us in the center our solitude and respond to his ever new call for conversion.”

I hope these words have brought hope and healing, if not for you, then for someone close to you. Let us make the most of the time we have been given, this beautiful gift that lies in each day; and may the moments that we find ourselves feeling alone be transformed into moments of solitude.

 

Transitions, Courage, and Insight

Life is an array of transitions.

Starting from the moment we are brought into this world; we find ourselves in the momentum of life. We grow, learn, and develop. Whether we choose it or not, we are moving. Yet, we do choose what we do with the time that is given to us.

gandalf.gif (nerd alert)

When facing decision points in life, do you have a tendency towards fearful thinking or courageous thinking?

I was watching the Disney musical Newsies with my daughters the other day, and there was a line that struck me while they were deciding whether or not to go on strike against the newspaper company. David says to the other newsies:

“Courage cannot erase our fear, courage is when we face our fear.” – Newsies Broadway musical

Courage. It is found in adversity and challenge, it is uncovered only when fear enters the situation. It is in these moments that we need to state our fears clearly, and in doing so, we will find where the fear is rooted. Once we understand the root of our fear, the path to overcoming it becomes clear.

I was having a conversation the other day about my fear of change, and I was challenged to look back at my past for times that I had to rise up in the face of my fear. I began to think:  My family move from Lakewood California to Flagstaff Arizona, my first piano recital, the first time I played guitar on stage, The first time I sang on stage, Every job that I applied for, every talk I’ve given to a group, proposing to my wife, having a daughter, having another daughter! The list went on and on, and I began to feel confident in my ability to adapt and maintain a forward momentum in life.

What insights can be taken from our past?

Ask yourself this question; and find confidence, wisdom, and empowerment. We may not have always responded the right way to change, or even made the right changes; but we always…ALWAYS… have a choice. Our tomorrow is happening today, so enter each day with confidence and courage.

There is a fragility to all of us, but there is also great resilience. Where there is fear, courage lies also. May you find insight from your past, and today may you find courage to face the future.

 

It takes time

So here is what I want to explore in this post: Developing character takes time, perseverance, and dedication.

If you have readthe Dark Roast Dawns blog before, then you already know that I am someone who is hungry for purpose and meaning in life. I expect more from myself than anyone else, and I believe that every day we are deciding who we are. My mind, heart, and soul have been caught up in a whirlwind for quite some time now.

As someone who enjoys a good movie, The Greatest Showman is a movie that has struck a chord inside of me. Discontentment and dissatisfaction had driven PT Barnum to rock bottom. The people that mattered most in his life became more distant as he pursued self ambition. He had wanted so badly to prove himself to himself, that he ended up alone. The song From Now On towards the end highlights the timeless tale of finding that everything you ever wanted was right in front of you.

The decision to come back home takes but a second; the journey to get there on the other hand will require endurance and perseverance.

That’s where I find myself today.

The declaration of contentment is nothing more than words until action follows.

Two words are helping me move forward from the past and regrets: Kindness and forgiveness. Both of these virtues need to be put in place towards myself to effectively put them into practice with others

Tales from the Trails: Why We Run

I like to run. Actually, I may even go so far as to say I love to run. That wasn’t always the case, and I didn’t actually start running consistently until about six years ago.

When you start to talk about running, you are met either with passion or disdain. It’s a love/hate relationship for some, a hate/hate relationship for others, and then there is the love/growth relationship for the rest of us.

We run for clarity.

We run for peace.

We run for community.

We run for pizza and beer.

While I was on a run a few weeks ago, I found myself able to be fully in the moment. 2400 feet of elevation gain in 3.8 miles, and I found myself loving every minute of it; which was new for me. Bombing down those 3.8 miles was even more fun! Typically, I would see the climb as an obstacle; but this time, it was an opportunity. I enjoyed the pain, the grit needed to keep moving, the smell of the forest, and the chill in the air. I discovered something that day.

Visualize the good and true

I usually prepare for a run the day before. I will start taking in a little more calories than usual and hydrate all day; but I also will usually start worrying about waking up early, will I get enough sleep, will I be able to keep pace with the pack, and how much water or nutrition to bring, if any. That is a lot of mind space dedicated to negative thinking. This time around I chose to visualize everything that I will love about the run:

I love being in the forest, I love being on mountains, I love a good view, I love the rain, I love the way my body feels after a run, I love eating after a run.

I also spoke basic truths into my mind:

My legs are strong, the outdoors rejuvenates me, I can run 8 miles, I have sure feet, the view from the top will be worth it!

I was not only ready to hit the trails, but excited to get out there.

Define your fears, remember the good and true

I defined what was making me anxious: elevation gain and waking up early.

Elevation gain: The fears were the pain and the ability to finish. The good and true; Pain is my friend, pain leads to growth, and I will finish, because that’s what I do. You don’t get mountain top views unless you climb mountains. Fear of elevation gain dissected and removed.

Waking up early: The fears, dragging myself out of bed to the alarm again, starting the weekend sleep deprived, being zonked the rest of the day with my family. The good and true: I get up early everyday for work, I have always been a “morning person”, I love the forest in the early morning. Also, I need some sleep.

I responded to this fear different from the elevation gain. I was particularly exhausted last week, and felt like I needed a day to wake up naturally without an alarm. It was a 5:45am meet up time, and that made me anxious. This time around, I contacted the crew that I would not be able to join. Now I love running with friends, but I felt a huge weight lifted. Apparently, the only thing that was making me anxious was not getting the sleep I needed.

I slept like a baby, and actually ended up waking up at 5:30am without an alarm and full of energy. The anxiety of waking to an alarm was removed, therefore, what remained was clarity. I ran alone, but what I found was solitude.

Clarity, peace, strength, community; the list goes on, and this is why we run.

Obligation to Opportunity

I had to take a moment to step outside and take a few breaths tonight. Something about the dark sky and bright stars brings me calm, and I needed to be calmed ; though I could not quite figure out why. There has been a lot going on the past few days, but it was good; and if I desire good in my life, then I need to figure how to transition from overwhelmed to energized.

Contentment and resentment can both spring from the same circumstance depending on our mindset, and the words we use describe our current state.

I have used the “stressed” to describe how I feel lately, yet the choice to define my situation as stressful may be the very reason that I feel stressed. The words we use to describe our life hold a level of power in how we respond to and view our situation. By choosing to name my current state as “stressed”, I have now limited my possibilities because I will not want to put any thing else on my plate.

A stressed state is a survival state, a survival state is a reactionary state, and living in a  reactionary state reduces our ability to be intentional about our actions and circumstances.

I am trying to replace the word “stressed” when describing busy times to “full”, after all, who doesn’t want a full life? The subtle change from Stressed to Full changes how I view a busy life. “Stress” adds a negative connotation to our circumstances, can even turn fun times into obligations. “Full”, on the other hand, relates to a life abounding with opportunity.

In summary, transitioning from a “stressed” life to a “full” life; creates opportunities out of obligations. Likewise, embracing a full life will open our eyes to the unending opportunities we have to connect with humanity; as well as encounter our own selves on a deep level.

I was hit with this realization the other day. I had been able to spend a lot of time with one of my daughters (who is a little ball of conversation) over a few day stretch, waking up together to watch the World Cup, hiking together, playing together, hammocking together, etc. I found myself talking with my wife about how The non stop energy from this little girl was starting to get to me. After I spoke those words, I was hit hard on a very deep level, and I had a realization. That complaint was spoke out of selfishness, and a “stressed” mindset. It was at that moment that I realized how lucky I am to have a little human in this life that actually wants to spend all day with me!

This was an amazing opportunity.

Therefore, I will embrace opportunity over obligation. I will seek a full life.

In the Bible, Jesus says ” I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” These words have always inspired me, as they remind me that we each have a purpose in this world. We all are surrounded with opportunity that we need to reach out and grab.

Join me in shifting our mindsets from obligation to opportunity; or, if you are already embracing this mindset, continue to pursue your life of impact.

 

 

Wake

Death it comes and it leaves a hole, and it takes it’s toll on us. 

There are few experiences in life that hit like the death of a friend or loved one. It is finite, and that is hard to come to grips with. It is hard to see someone’s face in your mind, yet be unable to see them in person.

 

The aftermath of a death cuts deeper than the news of the loss itself. You slowly begin to realize the ripples created by the loss, and your heart breaks for those caught in the wake. It is interesting that “wake” is a funeral term used when you view the body before it is buried.

When you are rowing in a lake and a motor boat goes by, you get caught in it’s wake; it gets hard to paddle and you have to stop and catch your balance so that you don’t tip over. Death has that same effect it seems. It is expected to some extent, as we know that we are finite creatures; yet we find ourselves tossed in the waves when it happens, trying to stay afloat.

In an instance, a life is gone.

In an instance we find ourselves in deep reflection, and possibly receive epiphany or clarity. The course of our life, and our priorities are brought to the forefront of our minds. How do I respond? How will you respond?

My daughter asked me how the death of a friend compared to the death of my dad. I told her that each person is unique, and each death is different. Each life affects another. We are intertwined, woven into the same story of this world; and those connected to us are impacted by our actions…even our death.

To those who are hurting: If you find yourself feeling helpless, please cling to hopefulness. If you feel defeated, fight to endure. If you feel alone, embrace your relationships. Do not listen to the voice inside that tells you who you are not and what you can not handle; seek instead the voice that reminds you with every breath that you are valuable, and you are meant to be here.

To those who have lost: May peace find you; and may your tears be a pathway to beauty.

 

The Fortunate Ones

I love my wife.

There is no one is this world who knows me as well as she does. That is because there is no one in this world I trust more than her, for we have bared our hearts to one another.

That sounds pretty romantic right?

What that means a lot of the time though, is that she gets to hear me complain more than anyone else in my life. She gets to see me lose my temper more than anyone else in my life. She gets the tears, the fears, the rants, the stresses, the heartaches, the insecurities, and insight to the darkest parts of who I am…oh joy.

“Wow, what a lucky lady!”, you say.

The truth is, true love takes you much deeper than walks on the beach and candle light dinners. When two hearts become entangled with each other, our emotions can be experienced on an exponential level. The hurts cut much deeper, the losses rip you in two, and our words and actions are not given as much thought as when in the presence of others.

I have learned two things in life that are key to contentment and purpose: Mindfulness and selflessness. Mindfulness is the ability to be right here, right now; and experience life as it is happening without constantly setting expectations for each moment. Selflessness, is the ability to see how our decisions affect those around us, and consider the needs of others when considering our own needs. Knowing  this and putting this into action are two different things.

I know that a red light means stop, but what really matters is that I stop. Likewise, understanding mindfulness and selflessness are not as important as putting them into action.

I write this blog today because my wife got to see me lose my temper during a project yesterday, and I pretty much threw a full on fit… 36 year old man style. The impact it had on her floored me, and stopped me in my tracks. I had lost sight of the bigger picture of the present. My wife and I had a day to ourselves to work on a cool house project together. It was a gift to work hard and problem solve together, it was an opportunity to grow closer through accomplishing something together.

If I had put my mindfulness exercises into practice, I would have taken a few seconds each time a tile broke to breathe and realize that this is just part of the project. I could have decided to maximize our experience together by rolling with the imperfections, but I chose to minimize the experience because I became selfish instead of selfless. I chose to gratify my own selfish desire to get angry, clench my fists, and say some choice words. In doing this, I changed the dynamic of our day together. I introduced a darkness and a new stress into our project; and this really hurt my wife.

Love exposes the best and worst of us. Though it is a gift to be transparent with someone, we need to remain mindful and selfless of the time we have together.

I titled this blog “The Fortunate Ones” not because I like CCR (which I do), but because I considered how our friends and acquaintances in our lives usually get to see the best of us…how fortunate. We strive to motivate, inspire, and energize those we interact with to leave our mark on this world; the one’s we love most deserve the same intentionality.

Let us make the choice today to bring not only our whole selves, but the best of us, into the spaces where we love the deepest.

Healing in progress

Two weeks ago, I was about 6 miles into a 20 mile trail run; and I came across this sign: Healing in progress, stay on designated trails. Wow, did that statement ever hit home.

I had been stressed out lately trying to balance life, while pushing towards goal completion. Work demanded a lot from me, our house project demanded a lot from me, my youngest daughter was now entering dress week for her play that she had been working on for the last four months, and my other daughter is entering her pre-teen years (which is a wild ride all of it’s own as a parent). I was trying to stay mindful of my role as father and husband, and oh yeah…I signed up for a 20 mile trail race a couple of months ago.

These are all good things, but spreading yourself thin can set you up for failure if you are not intentional about your commitment to the goal.

If work is demanding a lot from me, then I must be doing something right. The house project is a gift and a privilege in and of itself, but it takes some serious mental grit to keep grinding on it after work and on the weekends.

My daughter has found a true passion for the theater which brings joy to my heart. My other daughter is still searching for something to commit to,  and I would run myself ragged for my kids if it enables them to pursue their dreams.

Being a husband and a father takes commitment and time too. I want my wife to know that she is valued, that she is important enough to me that I am willing to put in the work to develop a strong mind. She is an encourager, a hard worker, and she has mental grit.

I came across this statement from Bear Grylls in the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris (pg. 231)

“Hold tight, focus the effort, dig deeper, and never give up. It isn’t rocket science but it’s hard, as most people, when it gets tough start to look around for an excuse or a different tactic. often, though, when it starts to get tough, all it requires is for you to get tougher and hold on. The magic bit is that when it gets like this, it often means you are near the end goal! One big heave of focus, dedication, and grit, and you often pop out the other end. Look around you, though, and you see that most people are gone – they gave up in that final bit of hurting.”

I write this morning as I near the end goal of this Spring stretch. My daughter’s final performance was last night. We completed a major milestone at work. We are laying floors and installing cabinets in our addition; which means that the end goal is near. I finished my 20 mile race a couple of weeks ago, and left it all on the course. I have been trying to give 100% in all areas of life, and it has not been easy; but it is a challenge that is worth the effort.

Back to the beginning of this blog. Healing in progress, stay on desgnated trails.

The sign I saw on the side of the trail during that race impacted me deeply. It helped propel me to a new level of awareness during that race. I realized that the pain I was feeling, the hours ahead, the sweat on my brow; were all part of something I needed…healing. I embraced that I was doing something I truly loved. I went into that race overwhelmed,  with no real time to train for it (other than eating a lot and drinking beer); but I found myself being renewed.

As the pain in my body increased over the 3.5 hours, and my feet began to throb with each step; I knew I was being refined. I would leave this race stronger, both physically and mentally.  I would be able to go back home and work hard, and I knew that a resilience was being built in me.