Archive: Dec 2016

Here or nowhere


Here’s the thing.

We all have darkness. We all have secret shames and we’re all putting on a constant act so that friends and strangers won’t start to politely avoid us. There’s this unspoken agreement that we’ll all pretend to be fairly normal and have our shit together so nobody feels too uncomfortable. I’ve got to say- It’s not a great deal.

I knew a guy who used to say “This mess is the place.” If you wake up one day and decide that you’ve put off spring cleaning long enough, you go to the messiest, most clutter-filled room in your house and get to work. There’s no way around it.

This mess is the place. You try your hardest not to think about the problems that keep cropping up in your life. Over and over these patterns present themselves, begging you to take notice and learn the lesson they are so desperately trying to teach you. Only here can you gain wisdom and freedom.

This mess is the place. This ugly behavior that you just. can’t. fix. That makes you look at yourself in disgust and disbelief. All those years of struggle and broken resolve and shame and hiding. The answer isn’t distraction and it isn’t outside of us. It’s right here in the broken places.

It’s the mess. It’s the corners of ourselves that we’d rather not discuss. The stuff you’d never post on social media- that’s the real conversation we’ve been waiting to have. And it’s time now. We’ve believed the story that there are parts of ourselves that are ugly and bad but that’s nonsense. This is us.

Look inside. You don’t have any demons in there to fight. There aren’t good parts and bad parts. There is only you. Beautiful, messy, glorious you. Look inside- don’t look away. This mess is where the magic happens- the only place it could happen. This is where we start to love ourselves for who we are. This is where we find the gift of our authentic selves and nowhere else. This mess is the place.

Enjoy the show


There is a darkness inside of me. A deep, relentless sadness. It has been there for countless years- I don’t even know for how long. Old friends who pay attention would tell you that it’s just who I am.

I can hide it well enough most days behind a wall of jokes and deflections. If you make people laugh they assume you are happy. Tell them that you meditate regularly and they start to ask for your secrets to peace and joy. Here’s my secret: I’m a complete mess. My head is full of despair and my heart screams in pain when it isn’t numb. But I keep it pretty numb. There are plenty of distractions in life if you’re looking for them.

It’s a sadness that can’t be shaken, no matter how many reasons for joy present themselves. Where did it come from? I either don’t know or don’t want to admit. But there it is in the mirror, staring back at me with those eyes that say “Liar”. Fraud. Thief. Unworthy.

Anti-depressants didn’t help. They just pushed it down a little further and took other pieces of me that I’d prefer to keep. They say that exercise and eating right make you feel better, but they are idiots. If I could get out of the bed in the morning and make good choices then I’d be normal, not this disaster. Some days are better than others, but it gets pretty bad.

I disappear when no one else is around. I sit on the couch and halfheartedly think of all the things I could or should do with my time but all I really do is wait. I turn off and conserve my energy for the next time I am required to spin back up and interact with someone else. I imagine that other people have hobbies and fulfilling personal lives. All I have is The Show. And the show must go on.

If I’m being really honest, it’s not sadness that I struggle with. It’s fear.

What if I fail? What if I let you down? What if everything falls apart and it’s all my fault? I can’t let you know what’s really going on. I can’t be honest or authentic– I’m a monster inside. Keep them away, keep them outside. Quick, tell a joke. Change the subject. Get sick and stay home. Find someone to blame. What if they find out? What if I fail?

I don’t say this to alarm or for attention. It’s just who I am.

Step one


Meditation, step one.

Relax. Everything is going to be okay. Everything already is okay. You are right where you should be. There is nothing that could happen- nothing at all- that could disrupt the truth that your life is exactly on track. You might not be able to see this immediately, but trust me. You’re good. Just relax.

Sit in a chair and relax. Drive to work and relax. Whatever it is you’re doing, day after day, don’t let yourself become removed from your calm. The center of your being is peace and repose, everything else is a lie. Unclench your jaw, release the tension in your back and shoulders. Everyone you know may be filled with stress: You are calm and relaxed. Try to remember.

Start in a safe place; a quiet room in your house or a familiar prayer chapel or halfway through a Star Wars marathon. Wherever you can find true, deep relaxation and put down your worries for a few moments. When your breathing slows down and you find a half smile on your lips, you’re there. Enjoy that feeling of being alive and present and serene. This is who you are.

Carry that feeling with you. Remember it. Go back to it as often as possible. We’ll deal with all of the things that set you off, that shatter your calm and leave you feeling angry and alone and frustrated. But for now, for this one moment, set all of those disturbances aside and come back to yourself. Wherever you are, whomever you are with, whatever is happening around you. Just relax and be.

Repeat step one.

Welcome to the resolution


I love New Years. Love it. A time set aside for reflection of progress and renewal of determination. This year I am going to start taking yoga classes and hope that I last longer than the rest of the New Years’ resolution crowd. I give it about three weeks.

It’s difficult to make changes in your life. The daily routine gets so comfortable, like an old friend. There are things that you wish you did differently, certain aspects of yourself that you always expected would match more closely with the picture you have of yourself in your head. You should be better- you should be taking life more seriously, trying harder. But it never seems to happen. Inertia is a powerful force and you are who you are. Better just accept it.

When I first met my wife and we hit it off so wonderfully, I realized I had a choice to make. Here was (probably) my last great chance at love- certainly the last chance to be with someone so beautiful and caring and vibrant. Decision time. I could run away immediately and fall back into the old familiar pattern of dating casually until someone got too interested and it was time to fly the coop again. Or I could keep on trying to do right by her and hope that I didn’t screw up too badly and see where it went, fingers crossed.

But then I realized that there was another way. In a moment of clarity I saw a vision of all the possible timelines from this point forward. Each its own universe where I had made decisions a certain way and reaped the harvest of those actions. The truth was that I could do anything. No matter which future I chose for myself as my “real” future, the many others would still be out there in the multiverse with a version of me living out that timeline and wondering what the others might have been like. Suddenly there were no right decisions and wrong decisions, only choices. I could be anyone and do anything.

I chose to be with her. I made the decision right then that I would not inhabit the universe where I got scared and ran away. I wasn’t living in any of the various worlds where I gave a half-assed effort or didn’t fully commit. No, the universe this version of me inhabited was one of the ones where she and I were together and I immediately felt the rest of those universes fall away, to be experienced by some other parallel version of me but not this one. I wasn’t sure exactly what the future held but I knew one thing it didn’t hold. Reality made a crashing sound as my future collapsed from infinite timelines to fewer. All that remained had one single thing in common. A decision had been made.

That decision has simplified everything so much. It was not so much “a” resolution, but just plain resolution. I know what story I am telling. When presented with a choice, I go towards the one that keeps me in the story. No need to consider any of those other universes. They’ve already been discarded.

It’s a good reminder as New Years rolls back around. It’s not about who I should be. It’s about who I am.

Word jumble


In the shiny new world of the internet age, we have information always at our fingertips. For the longest time I started every day by skimming the news headlines. Any spare moment at work would be spent similarly- checking in for breaking developments on today’s top stories. It seemed important to know what was going on in the world. I was especially interested in politics and devoured any story that shed light on an important figure’s shifting positions or past record or possible intentions. You name it, I knew about it.

I still get the newspaper delivered to my house, but I can’t bring myself to read it anymore. If it gets opened at all it’s for the Sunday crossword and word jumble. Got to keep this mind sharp. News on the television has lost its appeal as well, like a spell that was suddenly broken. I blink my eyes and look around me in a daze, wondering how I got lost in such a maze of meaningless words. I don’t find anything in there that leads to joy or that recalls my purpose. It’s all just conflicting narratives, artificially cobbled together and fighting for control of my attention, vote, and wallet.

There’s something missing, can you feel it?

Missing from the news, missing from our daily interactions, missing from our neighborhoods. Missing from ourselves. Is there still a place for genuine curiosity and authenticity? Growth? Understanding? Love? So much content and so little meaning.

No one wants to talk about the hole in things. Just remember this: Those of us who have realized that something’s missing are having an easier time than those who haven’t yet.

Laundry day


Speaking of football.

Jerry Seinfeld once observed that rooting for a particular sports team is a lot like rooting for laundry. Players get traded between teams, but it doesn’t really matter who was on the team last week. Whoever is wearing the correct jersey today is the guy you want to win. Players have gone from devil to hero (and vice versa) with nothing but the change of a shirt. Like my father always said: the clothes make the man.

Loving a sports team requires a certain amount of mental contortionism, but this could be said of many belief systems.

Growing up religious, I’ve always felt I had a firm understanding of the workings of the universe. They gave me a book that answered all of the questions and explained all the behind the scenes stuff in a way that made plausible sense. I could fit all of my daily experiences fairly neatly into the framework of angels and sacraments and communion. My logical mind took to it strongly and studied it enthusiastically. Obviously I read the Bible cover to cover. Then I started reading through the writings of the various saints and church leaders, as well as any official or otherwise useful teachings (C.S. Lewis had a lot to say on the topic, for instance). Most weekends were spent attending seminars and retreats, well into my twenties. Anything to help me understand the world around me.

Eventually folks started to ask me to teach. I began to give educational talks at prayer group meetings and retreats, then eventually went on to host discussions with larger audiences at seminars and special events. I once played the opening act for Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley at a religious banquet in his honor. Nothing fulfills a life like finding that intersection of talent and interest. People were reacting well to the message I was spreading and things were really coming together.

Of course there were always those pesky corners of the story that didn’t make perfect sense (“Hey, weren’t we booing that guy last week?”). Being an inquisitive sort, I started asking some tougher questions and I didn’t particularly like the answers that came back. I found that religion is terribly specific about some topics and oddly evasive on others. These dead ends are usually labeled as “mysteries of the Church” and spoken of no further. But didn’t you hear? I love to solve mysteries. That was the whole point of this journey to begin with.

Where is heaven and what does it mean to attain it? How does prayer work? What exactly is salvation supposed to be saving us from?

It’s time to talk about the mysteries. It’s time to expand and shape our explanations so that they can include all of our observations and experiences instead of politely declining to comment on those that don’t quite fit. And don’t think for a second that religion holds a monopoly on dodgy explanations: I’m looking at you too, science.

Rather than throw it out, I’d prefer to make it work. Angels are as good an explanation for attraction as a magical force called magnetism. I’m rooting for religion to reclaim its rightful place in our lives: explaining the world in a way that is poetic, meaningful, and cohesive. Stranger things have happened. Was that Brett Favre in a Vikings jersey?

A perfect season


Professional basketball teams play 82 games a year, and for baseball it’s nearly double that. If the Cubs lose 14 games in the month of July (they did) it’s not a big deal and they could always make up for it with a lot of wins in August (they did) and go on to finish with the best record in baseball (they totally did). It’s a game of averages, exposing the true value of a team over time. If you think about it, the difference between the best team in baseball and the worst is that the worst wins one out of every three games, and the best wins two. A single day at the park is almost meaningless: just another statistic to throw on the pile for later analysis.

But in football, every game is a big deal. There are only 16 in the entire season and you need to win about 10 of them if you think you’re going to the playoffs. It makes each game feel like a performance art of sorts. Dropping a few in a row can set off the panic alarm among fans and pundits. If you’re a normal team you handle your losses in stride- maybe tell your fans to R-E-L-A-X and then go on to lead the league in scoring.

But not my Browns.

With three games left, we sit at an impressive (though not the good kind) 0-13 record. That’s zero wins and and an ocean of failures. Yikes. If we look back at last season as well, Cleveland has lost 23 of their last 24 games. Obviously that wasn’t counting this year’s four preseason exhibition matches, where the Browns lost…let me look it up…oh that’s right: all of them. If you’re not a football fan you likely don’t appreciate just how historically bad this team is. Someone will write a documentary about this one. Ken Burns is probably licking his chops right now.

The thing is, I just love the goofballs. I can’t be mad. The Cleveland Browns remind me of family and childhood and road trips. I grew up watching them bumble their way through Sunday afternoons and I’ll likely die the same way (soon if they keep losing like this). They serve as a reminder that things don’t always go the way you’d like and you don’t have to win to be loved, but you’ve got to keep pounding away at that wall and at least you’re not a Steelers fan. Hallelujah.

As the weather gets colder I realize that I gave away all of my winter clothes with the lone exception of my hooded Browns sweatshirt. The condolences I receive wherever I wear it are precious to me. They give me an opportunity to remind folks of our team motto: We’ll get ’em next year.

Hope springs eternal. Go Browns.

Depends who wants to know


Ever since I started meditating my life has been amazing. In all fairness, my life has been amazing ever since I met my wife. But meditation has helped me to enjoy and appreciate it. It has taught me things about myself that I didn’t know. It has given me a deeper respect for my religion and increased my creative powers. I was even able to get rid of the blood pressure medication. Seriously, someone call the Heart Association and tell them.

So naturally, when someone asks for my advice on, well…anything, I answer “You should meditate.”

Responses I get:

  • “Yeah, I mean, like other than meditation what do you think I should do?” A perfectly valid answer. My friends are so sick of hearing about the glorious rainbow freedom that is meditation which will solve all our woes. Sometimes they just want to talk through a problem.
  • “Sure, absolutely, I’ll look into that.” Good.
  • “That’s great but- how do you do it?” This one is rare. But it happens.

For anyone interested in meditation, I’ll do my best to explain what’s worked for me. None of it is hard, but it’s not always easy if that makes sense. The only warning I’ll provide is that meditation sometimes dips a toe into spirituality, which can put some weird books on your shelf. Being a person of completely open mind, I found that progress in meditation led to a natural curiosity about other things that people who meditate swear by. Before you know it I’m reading up on chakras, energy healing, shamanism, you name it. I’m still trying to decide which drawer I’m going to hide it all in when my parents visit.

But you asked about meditation, didn’t you? Right. You don’t need any books to meditate. You just have to decide to fight the darkness. That’s it. The rest is tactics.

The perfect day


I just realized- today was the best day of my life.

It wasn’t the most eventful or exciting; some hiking, a short road trip, leftover Chinese food. I did visit a state I’d never set foot in (Utah) and see a mule deer up close. Google it if you need cuteness in your life. But it was pretty much a normal weekend day. It started pretty crappy with some work stuff and then I got into nature and remembered that I didn’t really care what was going on at work. My wife fell asleep in the car and the dog didn’t make a mess while we were out. All in all a solid performance.

I’ve been thinking this week that I’ve never been happier than right now. Now that we have taken care of the legal stuff, the wedding, the move, and setting up what passes for a normal life here, I suddenly find myself where I wanted to be. And it’s awesome. I’m surrounded by love and the next big project in my life finally gets to be one I choose for myself.

So why not today? Let’s go ahead and declare that this is it, the best day of my life. And that every other day of my life, radiating out to the past and future, exists only to ensure that this day happens. The midpoint of the sculpture- its perfect balancing point, with as much good on one side of today as the other.