On this site, I talk about how to handle relationships, overcome challenges, fears and the like. I tell stories about how I deal and have dealt with these various situations. I paint the picture that I have prevailed and am prevailing in the face of it all. And if I can do it, you can too! I even give instructions how.
There are many peddlers of personal empowerment like me. We are not sages, just guys and girls who’ve discovered a modicum of personal freedom and want to share our experiences with the world. Our central tenants are overcoming fear, explosive self-expression and abundant living.
But there’s a trap with producing and consuming personal empowerment: it’s that freedom isn’t an end in and of itself, it’s a means. We overcome fear, explosively express ourselves and start living abundantly so we can get lots of dates, be famous and make lots of money.
This is a sort of spiritual Chinese handcuffs: the more we focus on becoming free so we can achieve the goals that elude us, the more we substantiate our lack of freedom. We perpetuate the notion that free people don’t get nervous, they aren’t obsequious and they certainly aren’t broke. Until we are those things, freedom will be out of our grasp. Freedom and happiness forever remain something out there, in the future, when; not something here, now.
What if freedom became our ends, not our means? What if freedom looked a lot different than what we thought it did? What if it happened in a cubicle or looking at your flabby body? What if all our indicators of freedom were false? What if we could be free now with our never-going-to-be-famous, inhibited, broke-ass selves? How might that change our day? What excuses would that take away?
I apologize from the outset to readers who are not–or were not–Phish fans. This post might be hard to comprehend. It’s mostly directed at people who, at some point in time in their lives, let Phish into their hearts; who know what it feels like to have nothing outside of Phish matter.
For me, this era lasted from 1993-1997, with its climax occurring during the Red Rocks shows in the summer of 1994.
For the show’s first night, I convinced my buddy Aaron to make the drive down to Morrison. We got a little buzzed on tequila and a couple bowls, and entered the largely empty amphitheater. The concert was mostly songs from their just-released album “Hoist”–an album that marked a steady transition into more conventional music-making. The night was great, but it wasn’t life-altering. That would be the duty of the second night.
The second show was an all day affair. I hooked up with a bunch of heads to tailgate. We had a keg of beer in the parking lot, then ate a bunch of liberty cap mushrooms shortly before the show.
It’s impossible to convey what happened that night. The band was in their experimental-tripped-out glory. The expanse of sky overhanging the prairies visible from the Red Rocks’ bleachers was punctuated by isolated thunderstorms; bolts of lightening seemed to crack on queue with Trey’s guitar. When “Tela” was played, huge gusts blew from beyond the mountains.
A bathroom stop turned into an epic journey in serendipity. In my incapacity, I lost my party and wandered into the upper seats, which were nearly vacant. A shirtless, dreadlocked dude was dancing his ass off with his old woman. Sensing my aimlessness, he said, “Welcome to our lair. Have some of our nectar.” He handed me a jug of fresh pulped strawberry nectar. I have never tasted anything as delicious before or since.
It was a time when anything seemed possible. When oneness with creation was a realistic goal. When 18 minute jams seemed too short. When I knew what they meant when they instructed “Run Like an Antelope, Out of Control.”
Subsequent “adult” experiences have dampened some of my wonder. I bottomed out on drugs and alcohol, oneness was not achieved in relationships, nothing seemed nearly fast enough for me, etc. But I don’t want to dismiss this era as meaningless. While I don’t eat mushrooms or dose anymore (or listen to Phish for that matter), I may have been closer to the truth then than I am now.
For Phishheads and non-Phishheads alike, consider:
What beliefs have you discarded, believing them the products of youthful naivete?
What ‘adult’ experiences led you to dismiss these beliefs?
Ask yourself: are the adult beliefs any more valid than the youthful ones? Remember, your experience is not an indication of the truth.
Choose one of those beliefs to incorporate into your day.
Statistically speaking, you will probably waste your day today. You will not work on that book or painting or business. You will not go to the gym. You will be rude and impatient with strangers. You will get furious at someone on the sidewalk or highway. You will stress about money. You will spend a lot of time in front of a glowing screen. You won’t take that walk in the park. You’ll get takeout for dinner. You won’t call that friend back. You won’t take chances.
It’s okay. You’ll do it tomorrow. You’re working on it.
I’m flying out Saturday to be with my father who has lung cancer. My stepmother, wife, brother and his family will be there. It’s one of those trips.
I spend the majority of my days in front of a glowing computer screen. Though my job involves building, I am a facilitator of building rather than a builder myself. My fingertips are more calloused than my palms.
My situation is far from unique. Most professionals nowadays, regardless of profession, are stationed in front of glowing boxes. I also work from home, so the majority of my face-to-face interactions are Skyped or with clerks at the grocery store.
I often romanticize about what it’d be like to get back to the earth, living off of foraged lingonberries and caribou meat; maybe start a farm growing tubers and chard. Streaming would be limited to water (FYI, I’m from the suburbs and grew up in with a remote in my hand).
It’s possible that a wholesale withdrawal from society is the answer–that there’s some sort of fundamental flaw with the trajectory of humanity and a modification of the status quo is insufficient to restore balance to the planet’s ecosystems, much less my inconsistent levels of sanity.
Then again, my fantasies might have different causes. I have a tendency to make reality wrong and fantasy right. For example, if only I were tilling the earth instead of typing on a computer, I’d be happy; if only I had a new carbon fiber road bike instead of my heavy, steel one, I’d be happy. And so on.
There are a couple delusions inside these fantasies:
That the current thing/person/state/activity is the problem.
That the ‘instead-of” thing/person/state/activity will solve the problem.
I know this because I’ve been quite happy typing on a computer and riding a heavy, steel road bike, and I’ve been miserable in the country and riding a sweat new carbon fiber road bike.
The real function of these fantasies is that they allow me to shirk responsibility for being happy right now. Because there is something in the way of my happiness (be it a job, possession or person), I don’t have to do anything. It’s their fault.
What if we all let go of the certainty that reality–the here and now and all that entails (including who we are)–is wrong? This is not to say the world isn’t falling into an intractable psychological and environmental tailspin [couldn’t resist the opportunity to editorialize], but rather that our happiness need not depend on things being any way other than the way they are. Happiness never comes later, when. It happens now, with.
With these thoughts in mind, consider:
What fantasies are you holding onto that prevent you from being happy now?
Ask yourself, “If I had that thing/was that way/etc.” would I really be happier? Prove it without resorting to memory or assuming based on ideas promulgated by US Weekly.
Ask yourself, “How would I be and what would I do if nothing were wrong with things as they are?”
Stop waiting for things to change or get better and start living.
In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. It was an epic journey. I hated almost every minute of it.
The problem was that I wanted to say I rode across the US more than I wanted to ride it. This dubious motivation made me want the trip over before it began. I wanted the medallion of cross-country tourer. Most of the countless hours in the saddle were spent listening to the nagging mantra, “Am I there yet?”
The only times I enjoyed myself were during the hardest moments. There were a few mountain passes in the Washington—Rainy, North Cascades and Sherman—where I scaled 20-plus mile passes in rain and 40-degree temperatures. The conditions were so consuming that I couldn’t focus on the fact that the ride wasn’t over. As cliche as it sounds, when I became absorbed by the journey, not the destination, I actually had a good time. Continue reading “You Will Never Get a Break”
Shorty was a 6’5”, buzz-cut, Wisconsin native, who always wore army fatigues and shooting glasses. He lived in a ranch-style house across the street from the soon-to-be-defunct Stapleton Airport in Denver. He chose this gang-infested, jet-fuel-smelling neighborhood because it was a discreet locale for his weed-growing operation.
Shorty had a massive hydroponic setup with 5 x 1K watt high-pressure-sodium lights in his flowering room and an even bigger vegging room with rows of florescent lights. He had 3 x 5’ clone mothers. Because of the massive amounts of juice the lights used, the rest of the house’s electricity expenditures were limited to a couple bare lightbulbs and a discman with portable speakers. No fridge, no TV. Shorty spent his days tending his crop, listening to Little Feet on the discman and pulling hits from his resin-caked bong.
I was one of 2 people who knew where he lived. I made weekly pilgrimages to pick up his fresh and uncured buds. While impressive to look at fresh pot, curing it, particularly when I was living with my folks, was not a simple task. If there was not enough air, it will mold. If there’s too much air, it would become dry, harsh and brittle. It also smelled like a dead skunk.
As Shorty’s main distributer, I was one of Boulder’s most reliable sources of hydroponic weed, and though our relationship could be fraught, I felt quite blessed.
I wasn’t a kingpin. I sold weed to feed my habit. I needed the shit. My pre-weed life had been spent as a nervous turd, my waking hours spend wondering what people thought of me—was I dressed okay, do people like me, will I be successful, was I cool enough, smart enough, etc.? It’s not clear whether weed allowed me to let those things go or merely mute them. Either way, from the ages of 16-20, years largely spent high, I was able to cope. I was able to sleep. I was able to relax.
Dealing pot taught me some things too. I learned that the way to make sure things went smoothly was not to worry about them; it was to relax and lay low. One time I got pulled over by the police on my way to Shorty’s. I had $3K in small bills in the glove compartment where my registration was kept. I was able to calmly move the money, give the cop my registration and get a speeding ticket rather than a felony drug charge.
Another time Shorty unloaded 4 trash bags of freshly cut weed on me. I didn’t panic here either (much). We just unloaded the bags from his pickup into my apartment as if it were the most natural thing.
I haven’t smoked weed in almost 12 years. After a while, it started to amplify my insecurities rather than mute them. Yet my years of weed-smoking taught me many things. I learned that it’s possible to be relaxed in any situation. I stayed cool through some tense moments with Shorty, who’s chill, iry-vibe was replaced by an angry, violent one after he got into drinking, strippers and collecting guns. I stayed cool moving pounds of stinky weed throughout Boulder County. I stayed cool at high school, which had previously been a den of anxiety. I learned I could be relaxed anywhere.
I was thinking about this today because I have been consumed with future-related anxiety. How will I make money? Will I achieve the goals I set out for myself? What does the future hold? Will I ever pay that stupid health insurance bill?
Then I thought, “I did so many things that were real threats while high and didn’t worry. Today, I deal with perceived threats and am filled with anxiety. What gives?”
I have no desire to smoke weed, but I might ask myself how I might act high? Would I really give a shit? Would I really be so hot and bothered about growing up, being a responsible boyfriend, friend, citizen. Un-fucking-likely. This is not to promote apathy, which is often the flip-side of relaxation. I still want to unlock my potential. I still want to be the good guy. I just have to realize that tension and anxiety are not the ways to get there.
No home, a big duffel in hand, a bigger backpack on back, I headed to the uptown 1 train to crash on my buddy’s couch. My body felt like a plucked tuning fork. I heard every car honk, every splash when wheel hit puddle, felt every distant train rumble, smelled the dankness of cold-moisture and curbed garbage, saw every glimmer off the pavement, every swirl in the florescent lights in the train-stop.
The train arrived. I sat and pulled out my notebook. I had just broken up and everything was still and clear. What had brought me to this place was clear—all the lies, all the needs I suppressed. I was done. I had needs. I wrote down what I needed. Someone who listens. Someone who likes reading in bed (or at least appreciates that I do). Someone who is openminded. Someone who cares about the environment. When I rattled off a couple pages of these things, I wrote out a declaration that for everything I listed, I would be willing to deliver the same thing.
I arrived at the 116th street stop. A light glaze covered the bricks of Columbia’s campus walk. I gulped in air. I hadn’t breathed in a while.
I called my mom and told her what happened. I apologized for lying to her (something I would do a lot of in the coming days). Dishonesty cannot be not contained. Lying in my relationship made it easier to lie to friends and family. Since talking about my relationship was dooming it, I quit talking or showing up.
I got to my friend Chikodi’s place. It was 1AM. We talked for a couple hours—about what happened, what went wrong, what was possible now. 2 years of dammed energy were released. There was no way I was going to sleep, so I pulled out computer and started to write.
It’s almost 5 in the morning, I can’t sleep. I just broke up with _____. I’m laying on a friend’s couch. I’ve very little idea what’s next—just a clearer idea of what will no longer be [doing my best imitation of Neo at the end of the Matrix]….I was just thinking about you. How I’d love a lover who I would be excited to have you meet. _____ was never that, and I’m sure it drove a fissure in our relationship….I’m sure there was an invisible but palpable toll on our connection, that everything had to be filtered through the lies that maintained my appearance of emotional and spiritual health. It just wasn’t there…the health that is.
So to long health in a short life.
When I got home last night, I split an acorn squash in half and pealed a head of garlic that I put it into a crock filled with olive oil. I put both the squash and garlic in the oven. I made some honey-mustard dipping sauce with mayonnaise, maple syrup (didn’t have honey) and mustard. I turned on “The Godfather,” which I started watching the night before. I watched the movie while I ate raw broccoli dipped in syrup-mustard sauce waiting for the squash and garlic to cook.
When the squash and garlic were done, I put them on a plate and smashed the garlic, olive oil and a heap of salt into the squash’s flesh. I also put some Trader Joe’s tater-tots into the oven so I could continue eating after the squash. By the time the tater-tots were cooked, I ate most of the squash and was uncomfortably bloated. I ate the tater-tots anyway. The glut of food directed all of my body’s energy toward my digestive tract, making my theretofore racing mind docile.
I watched the end of “The Godfather” (which I’ve seen at least a dozen times before), and because it was early and I’d watched all of my Netflix DVD’s and I had no internet signal and didn’t want to read, I put in “The Godfather II.” I watched that for less than a half-hour before my food coma fully took hold. I managed to meditate for 15 minutes, my posture kept upright by an overstuffed intestine. I read a few pages of the book “Ishmael” and went to sleep around 11:00.
This is a rare glimpse into what I call my “anesthetic ecosystem.” It’s a solitary world that flourishes on weekday nights when I have no plans. It’s where I go when I don’t want to deal with shit. When I don’t want to maintain relationships. When I don’t want to overcome fear. When I don’t want to clean messes. When I don’t want to help anyone but myself. Continue reading “Anesthetic Ecology 101”
Yiddish: Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht.
English: Man plans, God laughs.
On Christmas day, I left for Florida to hang out with my family for a week. It’s something I’ve done for the past 20 years. My dad and stepmom’s side of the family congregates at a place called Longboat Key on the mid-western gulf coast. Days are typically spent hanging by the pool, eating, going to the beach, eating, playing with my cousins’ kids and eating some more.
The hub of activity is a couple vacation condominiums my aunt and uncle own. My dad usually books me a condo in the same complex. This year was no different except that my girlfriend was joining me.
The condos in the complex are all bright and sunny duplexes, filled with tacky overstuffed floral print couches. There are vases filled with plastic flowers for ambience. It’s upper-middle-class vacation property chic—not decor you’d live with all year, but clean and comfortable for a week.
We picked up the keys for our unit, 580CW, the night we arrived. My aunt and uncle offered to drop us off at the unit. We wended through the parking lots, but 580CW was nowhere to be found. Finally, I got out a map that the management included with the keys. Written in a Sharpie pen was the outline of 580CW. It was not in the main complex, but on the road directly outside of it, Companion Way (CW). Strange, but not immediately alarming.
We drove out of the complex onto Companion Way and after a couple passes found the unit. It was a converted trailer. Strange, but no biggie. I’ve lived in trailer parks before. They can be nice. Really.
We entered the linoleum-floored trailer and were immediately assaulted by the smell of cleaning solvent and damp, cigarette-permeated upholstery. This was disconcerting at first, but our alarm was mitigated by fatigue. We had been traveling all day and the preceding days were spent making sure everything was cool before we left. We were too tired to complain and after all we were there because of my father’s generosity. I felt it a bit ungracious to refuse free accommodations.
We got into the bedroom and plopped down on the bed. To call the bed a pillow-top mattress is like calling Mt. Everest a speed-bump. It had a foot or so of cushion, presumably covering springs deep below the surface. Sleeping on our sides put our bodies into a V-shape where our hips sunk into the mattress and legs and torso projected upward. The same thing happened lying on our backs or stomachs—our pelvises sank while our heads and feet were sent vertical. The bed’s comfort made moving to the cold linoleum floor seemed like a viable option.
“Between stimulus and response is our greatest power—the freedom to choose.”
Quotes like Covey’s are like spiritual Sweet-Tarts, sugary rushes of wisdom lacking real nourishment. Who hasn’t gotten inspired by Goethe’s “whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” My root chakra tingles just writing it. I want to do all the things I’ve been too much of a puss to do.
But what happens after the axiomatic rush? Doesn’t it always get subsumed by habit? No matter how clever or true, few quotes can match the power of habit. Habits are our neurological earthmovers. We can hear and believe that love is the answer and that our bodies are temples, but if we are in the habit of being hostile to our parents and eating McDonald’s, those axioms mean nothing—they are spiritual marshmallow fluff.
I subscribe to Covey’s quote about choice in principle, but often find myself veering from it in practice.