First Words

The first words we choose to speak in a day, give insight into the state of our hearts and minds.

I was watching the sun rise through the window of our living room this weekend, and it was as if something had lit the sky ablaze. The sky changed from soft gray to a blazing orange surrounded by purple, and I felt blessed and encouraged once again as I do with each sunrise. A sunrise greets the day with hope, the promise to rise again holds true each day. As I sat in the orange glow, it occurred to me that how we choose to greet each day can have an immense impact on those around us as well how we choose to view the day ahead.

Most of my days starts with silence, as I am usually the first one awake. In this silence I get a chance to choose my state of mind. Will I greet the day with a grateful heart, or will I choose a less positive path? In these times of silence, we are formulating the trajectory for our day, and choosing the lens through which we will see the day ahead. Entitlement or humility? Compassion or hate? The line that separates these dichotomies can be very thin at times depending on our filter for the day.

I want to be as committed and steadfast as the sun. It does not matter if the skies are clear or cloudy; the sun will arrive and shed light to the best of it’s ability.

When my oldest daughter wakes, she is usually greeted with kindness and calmness. We have a mellow morning before she is off to school and I am off to work; and the days with each other start pleasant. As we part ways I feel peace, because I see and feel the reciprocation of that positive attitude that I put forth. But there have been times when I had chosen to see the day through a lens of self centeredness or grumpiness, and in those times I could see and feel the reciprocation of what I put forth; and as we had parted ways, I felt restlessness rather than peace.

As the day goes on, I will continue to have first encounters with people; I have a choice as to what my first words to each person will be. Will I choose to encourage and inquire on their well-being, or will I choose to say something unimportant and somewhat negative like? There is not a need for the first words to be deep wells of wisdom or philosophy, they can be as simple as good day or how are you doing today? There is weight to those first words, because they can set the stage for the direction of our attitude; and they can set a trajectory for someone else’s day. If we put forth negativity, we will likely receive negativity; and we negate our responsibility to this life to be a source of light and hope.

As with most areas of life in which we want to succeed, there needs to be a goal or mission that you are working towards that guides our decisions. Whether we simply choose a few words (compassion, hope, inspiration, etc.), or have a declaration that states our intentions; there needs to be something in place if we wish to be intentional about our impact. I would like to end this article with some words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regarding this idea of a blueprint for life.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life’s blueprint. Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you fell that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Set out to do it well.

“And finally, and finally, in your life’s blueprint, must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice….However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle of freedom and justice.”

This is an example of intentional living. Value yourself, work hard, and be committed to beauty, love, and justice. What will our blueprint be? What words will guide our days? What story are we choosing to write? Be as committed and steadfast as the sun, and rise to greet each day, as well as the people in it, with an intentionality to make the day a little brighter.

Intentional Moments

It’s Saturday, and I all of a sudden found myself with two hours of uninterrupted free time as the entire family was out. Alone time is exactly what I have been needing, as well as lacking; but I found myself overwhelmed with the options of what to do with this time; as well as some resistance to being alone. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop and take a breath. Stop and take a breath… I need to do this more.

My mind started racing through the following options of what I could do:

  • Nothing (just sit in a chair and stare)
  • Purposeful nothingness, which sounds like something (meditation and/or prayer)
  • Tasks that need to be done
  • Tasks that could be done
  • Hobbies I enjoy (Reading, playing guitar, running, writing)
  • Friends I could call (which would no longer be alone time)
  • Zone out on tv (I managed to dodge this one)

As I felt my brain on the verge of shorting out, I decided to stop, take a breath, and knock out one task that needed to be done soon because I tend to be task driven; and I have a hard time slowing down some times. I took on the easiest smallest task on my mind, and that bought me just enough time to begin entering into this space of aloneness, or rather, potential solitude.

I finished the task, then took a breath, then stared out the window for a minute. Next I decided to do something I always enjoy, which was write. It is nice, it is calming, and I feel satisfied that I am still doing something productive; at least in my mind. That is literally happening…right now. I am writing this as it’s happening.

I’m reminded of that scene from the Mel Brook’s movie Spaceballs, when they are watching Spaceballs the movie during the movie and they stop the tape at the exact moment of the movie that they are in. Check out the link on You Tube here: Spaceballs Clip

I hope you are laughing at that clip as much as I am, and if not, I must be getting old.

These moments of aloneness can be quickly turned into moments of solitude if we are intentional. I have written about this idea of solitude before, inspired from the book Reaching Out, by Henri Nouwen. There is so much benefit to our development, creativity, minds, hearts, and lives around us if we learn to stop, breathe, and be in the moments of solitude.

The above list that my mind raced through are all beneficial depending on where you are and what you need. We are all wired different, and perhaps zoning out to The Office or staring out the window is exactly what we need sometimes. These moments of alone time are few and far between for some of us, so we must be ready for them, tuned in to what our souls need to stay on track to be our best self.

I fully intend to maintain intentionality with my next 30 minutes, and that may include some guitar and some prayer, but whatever it is; I am thankful to have it today.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Good Things

I have heard it said that “you can never have too much of a good thing”, and I believed that for a time. What I have found during the last year though is quite a different train of thought.

I discovered that too much good food can make me feel sick, and potentially pack on unnecessary and unwanted fat. Too much good coffee can keep me awake all night. Many clothes means more laundry, and it also means more closet or dresser space. Ultimately, I realized that I had been brought up in a culture of more. Seeking a good deal not to save money, but to have money left over for more stuff; and the more I bought, the more I wanted….truly a vicious cycle.

I remember being frustrated with life a couple of years ago. Some bad stuff happened, but I believe that just drew out and maximized the discontent that was already growing inside of me; and I was trying to hide it.

Life was good. Life was so good, yet I allowed comparisons, expectations, and regret to convince me that I had a right to be unhappy. I had become accustomed to instant gratification instead of long term gain. I resisted investing money, but jumped on a chance to buy another shirt, get a hotel, or go out to dinner. I needed to feel wanted and included by everyone in my life, so I laid unfair expectations on my friends and family. I wanted more…more of everything, and it was destroying who I was.

One of the events a couple years ago that brought me closer to rock bottom (figuratively) was the death of my dad. Diagnosed with lung cancer at the end of November 2015, he died January 4, 2016. He was a rock in my life, and I missed him (and still miss him) more than I thought I ever would. Later that year, I slipped off of a boulder while rock climbing, and landed face first. I lost two teeth, broke four more, and split open my chin and lip…literal rock bottom.

I had a month off of work after that accident. I couldn’t do much, talk much, or eat much; but I had plenty of time alone with my thoughts. That was not a place I wanted to be. I usually kept busy to handle sadness, anger, or disappointment; but now, I had to deal with it. I could no longer hide in a crowd, or behind a smile… literally.

Now let’s jump forward. 2016 ended much better than it started. I had sought out some counseling (at the request of my ever so patient, loving, and tolerant wife), and began to truly deal with who I was. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty; but it was good. I didn’t want to run away from my emotions any more, I wanted to understand why I was feeling the way I was, and get to the root of the issues. I began to declutter my life, which inevitably led me to find minimalism.

I found that less truly was more, and I removed a lot of stuff (both physical and emotional) from my life. I began to find it easier to focus on what mattered and accept who I was. I had to learn from mistakes instead of dwelling and covering them up. I had to look at each day as a gift, as a chance to live better than the day before.

My family and I have removed A LOT of stuff from our house, and we have developed a renewed appreciation for what we already have. We have tried to consume less, and have a level of mindfulness for what we do consume. We have a long way to go, but this is a journey not a destination. Since joining the “minimalist” movement, I have found a greater sense of purpose; and a greater sense of responsibility to share our story.

Perhaps “you can’t have too much of a good thing” is intended to transcend possessions or consumables altogether. Perhaps the intangible aspects of life such as friendship, mindfulness, focus, compassion, and the like are the intent of the phrase.

Let us bring much good to this world, and may we find enjoyment along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Somewhere

“Well, you gotta start somewhere,” I said to myself the other morning.

I woke up with a mind full of ideas, and about an hour until I had to leave for work. There was so much that I wanted to do, and it was a little overwhelming. I was thinking about projects at work, an upcoming Christmas party, playing guitar, writing a blog, New Year’s Eve plans, writing a story, reading Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (part of the Stormlight Archive, fun read), hitting the trails, doing some push ups, and the list went on… and on. All this at 5:15am, and I had only been awake for a few minutes.

“Just breathe,” I said to myself. “Start there, and lay a foundation for success.”

So I decided to close me eyes and breathe. It was an exercise in meditation, and it was hard to get started. It takes a lot of effort to calm a mind, to de-clutter thoughts; but once you get started, it begins to make more sense. After about 5-7 minutes, the feeling of anxiety had left; and instead, a sense of peace came over me. The need to do everything was replaced with do something, which is right where we need to be.

The rest of my time that morning was spent reading, and it was good.

I felt focused and ready to take on the day at my workplace, and I was very effective.

It was a good day, all the way into the night; and throughout the day I reflected on the idea of starting somewhere. All the good we bring to this world comes from intention, and success does not come without doing the work.

So what started as a breath, is actually a foundation for success.

Take a moment

Breathe.

That’s what I tell myself as I wake up in a restless state this morning.

Just breathe.

It’s a lot harder than it sounds, because my mind is already indexing projects that should be completed; and planning out the day ahead. The only problem is that it’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, I got no work today, and the plan was to enjoy a day off with the family.

Chill.

Do I have the power of mind to just chill for a while this morning? Sit back, drink some coffee, and go with the flow as the family wakes up. Perhaps see what they  would like to do today, and until they do wake up; dig until I find peace.

Just Chill.

I’m a morning person in the sense that I don’t sleep in much past 7:00 on the weekends, and I’m up at the butt crack o’ dawn during the work week. I’ve been working hard this year on utilizing my morning mind, which is the time during our fist waking hour when our mind is most free and creative. I’ve read a lot of articles this past year about the significance of our morning routines, and the power of our minds.

Create.

Well, it’s blog time again. This has helped me in so many ways this past year. Even now, as I type away; I find my heart slowing, and my mind calming. As the sun continues to rise, I have managed to stay on the couch with a cup of coffee and my computer; finding a simple joy in this moment.

Learn.

I will take away a lesson from this morning. Perhaps an initial restlessness does not signify unbalance, but rather, a signal to dig deep until a purpose is uncovered. It does not matter whether this purpose, or it’s impact, is small or large; because if it’s there, it must be brought to light.

Breathe. Chill. Create. Learn.

One Thing

What is one thing I can give up today?

Furthermore, what is one thing that I can focus on today?

What would life look like if I asked myself these two questions each day?

This could be a revolutionary idea for growth, and realization of purpose.

If a life of impact and fulfillment is what I long for, then I must ask of myself that which desires intentionality.

“Two roads diverged in the wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by; and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

 

What am I to you?

I have been thinking a lot about less lately.

Maybe this is natural as I get older, maybe it’s an overall shift in our culture (which would be a good thing); but I have been moving towards less stuff in my life, longing for more focus.

I have realized that there is direct connection (for me at least) between clutter and unrest. I am a simple man, yet I have slowly moved toward complex living in a sense. At the center,  I know that which is truly treasure: My wife, my children, my family, my friends, and my faith; these are of the utmost value to me, my top-tier treasure if you will.  Other things that bring me fulfillment are a job well done, playing guitar, writing songs, writing blogs (presently partaking in this one),  and hiking/running among other things; these would be my next tier of treasure in my life.  interesting thing is the lack of things in these lists.

If that which I value most is free of charge, and available constantly; why have I spent so much time shopping for, and accumulating stuff? I believe that this has very deep roots for me, which go back to my childhood. I have grown up telling myself that I am a “collector”. I have saved and taken care of comic books, sports cards, toys, Lord of the Rings memorabilia (nerd alert), amongst many other items. I have spent money on these, and I have wrapped a part of my identity in these. Some of the reasons for this may lie deeply rooted in my psyche, and may need professional help to diagnose; but I won’t drag you all down that rabbit hole in this blog.

I truly believe that starting as young as a child, I began to be drawn by the thrill of “the purchase.” I have accustomed myself to shopping, holding high value on that which I purchase; and worked hard to earn money to spend and these things that I would keep undamaged in their packages, holding on to some sort of hope some day that I would pass along a fortune to my kids. Well, that is not reality anymore folks! Through eBay, I realized that thousands of other people have held on to those same items I have, and are all trying to sell them. That means a flooded market, and that drives down the value of those items.

I would like to believe though, that it is more than just a market flooded by collectibles that has driven down the market. I believe that all of us are experiencing a shift in our world. Our eyes are being opened to the impact of consumerism, and the rippling effects that it has on our environment. The more we consume, the more waste there is. The more we continue to spend, the more we will be marketed to. We are hopefully realizing that it is the quality of what we have and do more than the quantity.

There is a great scene near the end of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (Spoiler alert!) takes place between Captan Barbosa and Carina Smyth. As the story unfolds to the audience, we find that Carina is actually Barbosa’s long lost daughter. The moment at which she realizes that this Pirate is willing to sacrifice himself for her she asks:

“Tell me, what am I to you?”

Barbosa replies, “Treasure.”

Barbosa was a pirate, a life full of taking more and more, gathering and spending his “plunder”. At the end of all things, he sees what is truly valuable, and makes the greatest decision in his life based on that which he found to be true “treasure”.

Well now I’m all teary eyed, but I hope you get the point.

Let us seek that which is truly valuable in our life; and may our actions, time, and purchases reflect our true passion.