Who Are You?

Who gets to tell you who you are? Or, rather, whose definition of you are you listening to? Anyone who alternates between lavish praise and harsh criticism is manipulating you. They are using their words to control your emotions, and, by extension, you. This is a highly toxic situation, which should be terminated as soon as possible. In fact, it is worthwhile to be wary of anyone who is overly generous with either praise or criticism, as either one can be an instrument of emotional control.

One way to counter this kind of abuse is to develop an honest, but also fair and loving vision of who you are and who you want to be. You are a work in progress, so it’s important to keep your eyes on the road ahead, rather than constantly looking back at past mistakes. That’s what your critics would have you do. Every day is an opportunity to live better. Don’t let your critics hold you in an emotional prison. In fact, don’t be a slave to anyone else’s opinion of you. You are as free as you choose to be.

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Lost? Maybe not.

“He was lost.” When you read that sentence without any further context, the word lost could mean several things – he didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know which way to go, or he was confused. (Another possibility – he wasn’t following the correct religious dogma, will have to wait for another time.) One thing all these possibilities have in common is not knowing something. No knowing is an uncomfortable feeling for most of us, isn’t it? We like to KNOW, or at least think we do, everything we believe we should, and in this age of technology there are few excuses for not knowing whatever it is you want to know. Mystery is more often feared, or at least avoided, whenever possible. Mystery represents a void, an emptiness or vacuum in our knowledge.The Unknown. 

I have spent much of my adult life moving from Point A to Point B, always knowing, or at least thinking I did, what my next destination was. I found security and comfort in that. Along the way, though, I missed a lot because I was so forward focused that I didn’t appreciate the space between the points. A lot of the mystery was in there, in the unexpected events along the road. And then one day one of those unexpected events changed the entire course of my life. The Point B I had been moving toward vanished. Gone. No longer an option. I felt lost. Directionless. And in that moment (day, month, year…) it would have been most comfortable to just re-work my plan and resume the journey toward a Modified Point B that was similar to the original one in as many ways as possible. There was a great deal of temptation to do just that. 

I didn’t though. Instead, I chose to do something I had never done before. I threw out Point B altogether and decided to embrace the mystery of the journey I’m on. At my age, I have no more lofty goals to pursue. I’ve had all the new cars, big houses, and stuff that money can buy, and found it sorely lacking in the most fundamental ways. Empty. Lifeless. Devoid of meaning. At my age, the most precious thing I have, aside from my kids, is Time. And time is short, fleeting, of the essence, etc. It’s true. Act now, while supplies last.

So. Instead of a new Destination, I’m choosing to take one day at a time, and let the One who decides all things lead me on a course of mystery and no knowing. It feels good. I’m more relaxed and peaceful than I ever expected. Not knowing does require one thing I had always lacked. Trust. Everything will work out without my constant striving to control the outcome. That’s real inner peace. And I will go where I will go. 

“Not all those who wander are lost…”

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Dream Follower, or Wage Slave?

I have been absent from the blogging world for quite some time, and frankly, I have no excuse except for maybe feeling like I had nothing to say.  Today I have something to say, and it may offend some of you. I apologize in advance, but not for my words.

Today I want to talk about following your dream. Do you have a dream? Most of us start out with a dream. In childhood we all want to be something when we grow up. Boys typically want to be firemen or cowboys or maybe a race car driver. Girls’ dreams aren’t that much different, but I’m less familiar with them. I believe we all want to live a life of significance and meaning as much as anything else, with a little adventure thrown in. From a fairly early age, I wanted to be a musician. In fact, I came from a musically talented family so that wasn’t so much of a reach. In any case, we all pretty much grow up having some idea of who or what we want to be. 

But an odd thing happens to many of us along the way, especially to the more artistic folks. Many of us encountered resistance to our dreams. Mine came from my parents at first. They worried that I would never “make a living” playing music, or be able to “support a family”. Initially, my youthful exuberance just blew right through that stuff, and I had no problems at all going against the grain of my parents’ wishes. After a while, some of my peers started in on me too. One close friend, another musician actually, told me once that I had a brilliant mind and that I would waste it if I spent my life playing music. A girl I dated asserted similar pressure. I began to doubt my dream, and over time gave up and settled into a more, MUCH more, conventional lifestyle, which made my parents very happy. The girl broke up with me anyway, which was no great loss. I went back to school and eventually got into a cutting edge high tech career.

Twenty years later, I found myself with a wonderful, loving wife, four beautiful children, a large expensive home, new cars, and all the trappings of success. However, I also found that, although I had all these great things, I couldn’t stay happy. There was something eating at my soul that I couldn’t shake. I was desperately tired of my career but didn’t know what to do about it. I still played music, alone in a small room on Saturday afternoons where I kept it bottled up and mostly denied. I have spent the better part of the past ten years trying to recapture something I voluntarily gave up long ago to make someone else happy.

Without making the story any longer,  I had a dream, but I let myself get talked out of it by more “sensible” people, and that cost me something I may never be able to regain. Once the ruts of money, debt and obligations are decades deep, it’s pretty difficult to steer the wagon in a different direction. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying, but my point is this – keep your dream and don’t let anyone tell you to be more sensible, or realistic, or responsible. Go for it, and let the chips fall where they may. And for goodness sake, don’t give up, and don’t trade your dreams for a paycheck.

I’ll close with the lyrics from one of my favorite songs by Pink Floyd:

“Did they get you to trade

Your heroes for ghosts?

Hot ashes for trees?

Hot air for a cool breeze?

Cold comfort for change?

And did you exchange

A walk on part in a war

For a lead role in a cage?

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For What It’s Worth

Over the past several months, I have gotten some comments from friends about the sparsity of my blogging. For much of that time, I was working long hours on my job, which was what I needed to do to take care of my family. Once I had more time, I found my inspiration for writing had left me in favor of working more on music, which was fine with me. Today I’m writing out a few connected thoughts that have been circling around in my head for the past few days.

I will start with a minor rant and then a disclaimer. I often get fatigued at reading people’s writings about “life”. You know, “life is this” or “life is that”. I get that they are often working out their own thoughts in a public forum, but I can’t help feeling a bit like I’m getting preached at. To those people, thank you for sharing your thoughts, but please don’t be offended if I don’t always agree with them. Some are far too personal and too specific to be universal. That’s ok. Today I’m going to share a couple of my thoughts on the subject, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with them. Whether you find my thoughts encouraging or discouraging is up to you.

Don’t laugh, but I have discovered over the years that my philosophy is best summed up in the amalgamation of two great philosophical powerhouses, Forest Gump, and The Rolling Stones.

Everyone of a certain age probably remembers the famous line from Forest Gump. “My momma says life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” In somewhat different language, John Lennon wrote the same thing. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” To my way of thinking, both of these thoughts express the same sentiment. It’s good to dream and make plans, but I believe it’s important to know that not all dreams are meant to come true. That doesn’t mean they have no purpose. Our dreams are meant to draw us forward and encourage us to seek the things our hearts desire. That is a good thing. Every kid who dreamed of being a famous athlete or musician knows that those dreams are rare and elusive, but they can spur us to be the best we can be in this moment, and that’s what really counts. Doing your best, day by day, is ultimately more important than whether the dream that inspires you comes true or not. Many unexpected events are going to come to pass. Some good, some bad. Disappointment, and how you deal with it, is also a very important part of the process. Is there anyone alive who hasn’t suffered disappointment, heartache and loss? It’s all part of the big picture, and it’s how you respond that matters.

On to The Stones. Who doesn’t know the line, “You can’t always get what you want…but you get what you need.”? (I’m parapharasing a bit) In conjuction with the previous thought, I don’t believe we were created to get everything we want. If we did, we would be a species of spoiled brats. I definietely do not believe that our ultimate happiness and comfort is God’s highest purpose for us on earth. Sorry. I guess this proves, once and for all, that I’m not secretly Joel Osteen. In global terms, we Americans are a very spoiled bunch, and many of us expect to get what we want. How different that makes us from much of the rest of the world, where people are content to be fed, sheltered, and have clean water, and many don’t even have that. I’m learning to be content with getting what I need. God has always provided that, even when many of the things I wanted stayed just out of reach. That doesn’t change wanting them at all, by the way, but the truth is a lot of things you want don’t turn out to be all they were cracked up to be once you actually have them. Sometimes the blessing is in not getting what you think you really want.

Merry Christmas, and peace be with you. May God give you all that you need in the coming year.

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Your Truth, Or Mine?

I may step on a few toes today. If I step on yours, I’m sorry, but I have to get this out. This is a subject that has been bothering me for quite some time.

There’s a lot of talk these days about people finding “their” truth. Frankly, the idea sounds like nonsense to me. When did truth become a personal commodity to be owned? I understand that everyone has a point of view. That’s natural. However, that should never be confused with truth. I have always liked the saying “There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.” I understand that, and I agree. This whole “your truth”/”my truth” thing seems like some kind of feel good invention to keep people from ever having to admit they’re wrong, or feel the weight of being wrong. Well, guess what? We are all human and we are all wrong from time to time. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, having the wisdom and humility to admit when you are wrong is a very GOOD thing, and we would all benefit from learning how to do that better.

I can see where the whole self esteem movement that started in the 90’s could be behind this. It doesn’t feel good to be wrong and have it pointed out to you. I get that. However, not admitting you’re wrong and not being wrong are two totally different animals. Sure it feels good to be right, but what about believing you’re right all the time and never having to face the reality of the situation, which is…. you’re not. Calling it something else doesn’t change what it is.

What could be even more damaging, is the idea that objective truth doesn’t need to be sought out in a given situation. You have your truth, I have mine. We both miss the point completely in leaving it at that. I understand that disagreements are often unpleasant, but who said life doesn’t have unpleasant experiences? Discomfort often leads to growth and learning when the experience is applied properly. Being wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you realize that you are and seek to remedy the situation.

Objective truth is real. Subjective truth is a myth, a construct designed to keep everyone feeling good about themselves. I can’t support that. It’s not the wild and free way to live.

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Simplify, Part 1

Yes, I know. Three weeks ago I wrote a blog that I said was possibly my last. During that time, I have been swamped with ideas for new blogs. Go figure. So instead of tossing it all out I decided to remake this blog a little and focus in a slightly different direction. Over the past couple of years, my friend, coach, and personal backpacking Yoda, Mike Ege, has taught me a lot about the ways backpacking relates to daily living in the real world. I thought I might share some of that wisdom here along with some of my own observations over the next few blogs.

For the uninitiated, backpacking is essentially a combination of hiking and camping. For the most part, a backpacker must carry everything he/she needs for the entire trip because they will be, hopefully, far from modern conveniences such as restaurants and convenience stores. That’s the idea and the attraction of it. What that means is that the backpacker(s) carry everything in their packs. Obviously weight is an issue, since a person can only carry so much weight on their back while hiking. In fact, to some backpackers weight is pretty much the only consideration. For others, there must be a balance between weight and comfort. In any case, it’s undesireable to carry anything unnecessary.  There’s no point in packing something you will never use or possibly need. When packing for a trip, one must analyze everything that goes in the pack and make a conscious decision about whether it is needed or not. It is an eye opening experience in many ways. You can take only what’s absolutely necessary, or you can decide to carry more weight in order to have something that is more of a luxury. Whatever you decide there is a definite thought process involved.

I have found it helpful to apply the same thought process to the “weight” I’m carrying every day. Today nearly everyone has more options than they know what to do with.  Twenty-first century American life seems to be all about options.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with options unless you try to take too many at once. It’s easy to take on too much and end up burned out and disillusioned. I didn’t always know that. It’s important to analyze every option and ask, is it necessary, or is it a luxury?

The necessities are a no brainer. You carry those. Sometimes even the necessities are a HEAVY load to carry. There will be times when all you can carry are the necessities, and even those will be difficult. All you can do is pray for strength and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Everyone goes through times like those, but, thankfully, they are usually only for a season. During those times, though, you need to be especially careful that you aren’t “carrying” more than you need.  A mental/emotional checklist might come in handy to determine whether you are weighing yourself down with something you don’t really need. If you are, it’s imperitive that you drop it as soon as possible. That may involve something much more complicated than a simple decision. Letting go, even when it’s something that’s killing you, is often harder than it seems like it should be. Emotional baggage is often like that. It’s killing you, but you can’t just let it go. You might even like it in some strange subconscious way. It’s good to get someone else’s input at that point. A friend or counselor can often see the unnecessary weight you are carrying even when you can’t, and can point out where you would benefit from dropping something you don’t really need. In a real sense, they can also help you carry the load until you are ready to drop it, as well. That’s the benefit of not traveling alone, on the trail or in daily life. Having companions to help carry the load when you can’t do it alone is essential.

I can see that I have much more to say on this topic than can fit in one post, so I’ll stop here. I’ll end today with a note of personal thanks to my friend Mike, whose wisdom and experience opened my eyes to the concepts contained here. Dude, my life is much better because you are a part of it. Thank you.

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(Possibly) Final Thoughts

Over the past couple of years, I have intermittently posted my thoughts here on this blog. I enjoyed writing and I particularly enjoyed having people tell me they enjoyed my writing. I have come to realize over the past few months that I have been writing for the validation of the praise it often brought me. The last several months have brought quite a few changes in the way I look at life and also they way I see myself. For the first time in my life, I’m pretty comfortable with who I am. The upshot of that is that I don’t really need the validation I get from the praise of other people. I might like it, but I don’t NEED it. With that realization has come a rather severe drop in my motivation to write. I still enjoy writing to a certain extent, but in the future I will do it for different reasons.  I have long aspired to write a book and maybe I will still do that. I don’t know. Time is an issue. I’m not young anymore. Although I’m not old, per se, I am more and more conscious of the passage of time. There are still things I want to do that require the time I would spend writing.

One thing I am definitely doing is taking leave of this blog, possibly forever. It has served its purpose for me and now I need to get away from it because it ties me to a time in my life I can no longer relate to. The freedom I was seeking is now at hand and a new season of life stands before me. Maybe I’ll start a new blog some day. Maybe not.

I leave you with a few random parting thoughts…

I have not gotten a lot out of the current “social networking” trend. It seems to me that myspace and facebook have devalued the word friend almost to the point of meaninglessness. I currently have approximately 274 “friends” on facebook. Of those, I probably have met between 50 and 75 face to face or over the phone. While the others are very nice people, I’m sure, they are truly not my friends. Their lives will be no different without me nor will mine change without them. I’m not shutting down my facebook account, just leaving it to fend for itself. Maybe I’ll visit every now and then. The upshot is that I’m trying to get off the grid as much as it’s possible to do these days. No one really cares what I’m having for dinner or doing this afternoon anyway.

I recently downgraded my iPhone for a less fancy “smart” phone like the one I used to have. All the apps and gizmos really weren’t doing that much for me, and I totally enjoy having a cell phone that makes calls reliably. Sorry Apple. Lower tech just works better for me.

If you aren’t happy with yourself, no one else can make you happy. The converse is also true. In fact you can spend years trying to make someone happy and they will not even realize you were trying. Happiness, contentment and peace all come from inside you. They are a gift from God. You can’t get them from someone else.

Safety is highly overrated. All of us will die some day. The only question is whether we will really live in the mean time. I find that as I get older I regret not taking more chances. There’s still time, though, and I think I’m going to take a few.

A few things I want to do in the time I have left:

Visit Fiji. My Dad was there during WWII. I have always wanted to see it in person.

See Alaska.  There’s just something about it that calls to me. I don’t think I could live there, but I really want to experience it for a brief time anyway.

Become competent enough to live in the wilds on my own without fear. That just means knowing enough to not be totally dependent on someone else in a situation where no one else will be there. I am drawn to the wilderness in this season of my life. It would be foolish to neglect basic survival skills.

Hike some of the more scenic national parks. I’m compiling a list…

Climb Mt. Whitney. Possibly as soon as Summer 2011. This is an intermediate step to something I really want to do. Which is…

Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This is do-able. Celebrities do it for charity. I can do this. I don’t want my life to end without some major adventures to look back on. This one would be a humdinger for me.

Sail the Caribbean in a small sailboat. I love the ocean and I love sailing. See above, re: adventure.

See Europe. The old world is the root of our civilization. I could go anywhere there and be happy.

This isn’t a classic “bucket list” as far as I’m concerned, just some things I want to do. As I said I have become much more aware of the passage of time and I don’t know how much I have left. It’s time to get busy.

Best wishes and love to all of you.  I’m not the most reliable blogger anyway, so you won’t even know I’m gone.

See ya in another life…

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