The Road Less Traveled

It was a cool and cloudy morning as I strolled though downtown Flagstaff. It was about 40 degrees, the air smelled of rain, and the clouds were settling low in such a way that you could not see the Mountain. The traffic was minimal, and it was fairly silent; aside from the occasional train passing and the strange guy standing by the trash cans yelling.  I didn’t plan on taking this morning walk, but it formed out of mere happenstance; and it was good.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I had landed in a serendipitous moment. I had recently read an article by my friend Eric Hanson* about serendipity. Serendipity is kind of like stepping into the unknown and finding unplanned experiences or joy in that space. He shared stories of his own experiences, and challenged the readers to seek serendipitous experiences once in a while to experience the joy that it brings. What I discovered during my walk this morning is that it does not always take grand events to ignite joy.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.  – Robert Frost

The idea of adding some spontaneity to our lives is key to our personal growth. Before I go on, I would to like to give you some context of how I approach life. I am a planner. I wake up on Monday morning thinking about what I can accomplish on Saturday, I keep a detailed ever growing to-do list at work so I don’t drop the ball, I think of Spring Break plans in January, and I can tell you exactly where to find items in my closet. I tell you this to convey that I have a very strong belief in a structured foundation, and that there is great value to setting goals and staying organized.

I love this quote because it is inspires me. I also love this quote because trail running and hiking are an important part of my life, and there have been many times that something as simple as taking the rabbit trail instead of the main trail has brought me to unexpected and unplanned beauty. Not only have there been breathtaking views, but there has also been somewhat eerie places very deep in the woods where I can only assume that each sound I hear belongs to the other creatures who inhabit that area. The feeling of heading out that trail does something special inside.

Stepping into the unknown, no matter how small that step, ignites energy inside of us.

As I walked through downtown in the midst of the calmness and overcast weather, I became energized and inspired. Though my plans had fallen through, that time became sacred to me. I cannot think of a more simple and minimal step into the unknown than taking a walk, and in that simplicity, I have found a vastness of joy.

*Eric Hanson is an author, adventurer, film maker, and all around good guy. Check him out at Erichanson.tv

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Morning Sky

Have you ever watched the sun rise in a mountain town?

It’s a pretty amazing sight, and somehow… it gets better each time.

The sky begins to turn from black to midnight blue. Light appears like a torch over the eastern hills. The stars fade and make their final plea to be gazed upon, though there are a few that fight through the light.

A slow rise begins, as deep orange flows into purple and blue. The silhouette of the pine trees against the morning hue is quite beautiful, as they appear black rather than green.

Oh, the beauty of a sunrise in a mountain town.

In times like these, it’s easy to be thankful…if you let yourself be in the here and now. In the crisp morning chill my fingers stiffen as I type, but the hot coffee keeps me warm on the inside. The birds sing their song, and there are few other sounds to be heard.

It’s easy to be thankful in times like these, but it is also possible to let them pass by our whole life. Ferris Bueller offers possibly some of the best advice on life you will ever receive:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller (From the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”)

I’ve come to realize that gratefulness leads to contentment, and contentment frees our minds from unnecessary clutter. In contentment we can pursue dreams, in contentment we can see purpose. In contentment we can see beyond ourselves into the world around us; the lives around us. In contentment, we find the ability to be present.

Mornings like this inspire me, and I hold them in my mind. May you find your mountain town sunrise, whatever that may be for you; and may it inspire you, and bring you hope.

Oh, the beauty of a morning sky.