It’s what you don’t see…

My wife and I had the opportunity recently to be on a guided tour through a rain forest in Central America. Our guide was very personable and seemed relatively well informed…     (I wasn’t exactly going to fact check him as he spouted his fountain of information). He did caution us at the outset to not wander off the main trail and told us a brief story to make his point.

Another rain forest guide, a friend of his, was taking a group of ten on a tour. It had been a disappointing experience in that very few of the animals or insects he was mentioning were showing themselves. So he asked the group to wait on the trail while he went off in search of something that he could show them. About 15 feet into the brush, he did see and delicately coax into his hand a colorful poisonous frog. As he turned and stepped to return, he was bitten on his ankle by a Fer-de-Lance, an aggressive, venomous snake. When all was said and done, he nearly lost his foot. He told his friend, our guide, that he knew what he was looking for, but it was what he didn’t see that changed everything.

Of course thereafter, my wife and I stayed glued to the trail. Here’s what happened. We came across a caravan of leaf cutter ants traversing the trail. Thousands of them, with most of them carrying sections of vegetation many times the size of their bodies. They looked like  miniature Mardi Gras participants complete with headgear and uneven steps. As we stood there staring, sensations from my left foot finally broke into my awareness. When I looked down, I saw that it was covered with fire ants. I was wearing a modified version of a sandal with no socks and so I was being bitten. Both of my wife’s feet were also being swarmed, but she was wearing sneakers with socks. Still, she shrieked loud enough for both of us. She put her small backpack down as she brushed herself and myself off with both hands. Within a minute, we seemed to have finished with the worst of them. We laughed a little and remarked again about how it was that what we didn’t see was more impactful than what we had been looking at. That’s when we started up the trail again and I noticed that my wife’s entire back was covered with fire ants. Her backpack had also been on the nest of fire ants. More swatting and laughter, as even our guide joined in to brush her off.

We laughed and continued the tour rather than cursing and returning to the ‘safety’ of the jeep. It was a choice made without words. Everyone checked into everyone else’s eyes and  we simply proceeded. Asked and answered.

Hours later, as we all (guide, driver, wife and I) sat at a nice restaurant’s table to share a late lunch, the guide complimented us as to how we had reacted on the trail. My wife reminded him that she had shrieked initially, to which he replied, “Yes, but you did not run”.

The four of us proceeded to talk about the unexpectedness and unpredictability of life as we ate our way through some local dishes that even they were impressed with. We shared specific stories from our lives to illustrate our points…about our children, our jobs, our relationships, our selves. You would have thought we were old friends who hadn’t seen one another for a while.

Not everything you don’t see coming is bad or dangerous.

Very often, they can be blessings.


Enough to Share

The historical and personal perspectives that I’ve offered up in some of my recent blogs were based in a simple, living truth: That the purpose of awareness is not to rise above nor to retreat from our humanity and the events of the world, but to embrace them more honestly and to engage them more compassionately and effectively.

We are in this together, this experience of being human…as members of a family…as part of a community…as citizens of a nation…as members of a living global entity.

To wish this weren’t so…to bemoan and lament our social natures, our fundamental connectedness…is emotionally immature and intellectually delusional.

As children, we were all introduced to the experience and the necessity of sharing…whether it was at the dinner table, the playground, the sandbox or the schoolyard. We were asked, guided and, in some cases, simply told to be fair and to share whatever it was we were attempting to horde or keep for ourselves.

Here’s the truth: For most of us, the act of sharing didn’t hurt us. We didn’t starve, it didn’t make us feel weak or soft and it didn’t ruin whatever fun we were having. In fact, most of us felt better when we shared. Our enjoyment was increased by the interaction with others. We were no longer alone and, hence, we felt less lonely. Sharing with others added value to the experience of the moment. We actually felt more capable and confident in ourselves and better about ourselves when we were sharing.

Most of us.

There were some young souls, when asked to share, who reacted by pouting, protesting and perhaps running off to their room (or elsewhere). Their response was more than a reluctance. It was a refusal.

No one has ever been admired or respected for that refusal.

Not as a child and not as an adult.

When we witness the refusal to share, as one parent to another, we offer our condolences for such behavior. We sympathize with the other parent(s). Life is going to be more difficult and less enjoyable for all of them until and unless sharing becomes possible.

As one adult to another, when we witness someone’s refusal to share, we offer our baffled looks and our pity. The person who is refusing to share is never the happy person in the group.


They may have all their ‘stuff’ (whatever it is…things, money, time, talent) but they live in fear protecting it and, even surrounded by a posse of peeps, they live lonely. We have seen this play out time and time again. We know its true. This is not our being envious of their ‘things’. We’re sad for what they are missing…the best part…the joy of sharing, of connecting, of cooperating as equals.

Our interdependencies are not the evidence of our weaknesses. We have always been stronger, fuller, better together than we ever could be by ourselves. Self-sufficiency is a neurosis because it is impossible. No person is an island nor would any healthy person try to be.

Relying upon one another is one of our strengths.

When we pull together, when we act cooperatively and pool our abilities, we are capable of much more goodness than when it is we sit apart and pout.

I believe in the goodness of us.

I would ask you to consider sharing in that belief.

Passing the Torch

That’s the metaphor we often hear to describe the transmission of a vision or an inspiration or a philosophy (or something) from one generation to the next. We pass the torch. We try to impart what we have gleaned along our way. Some of this may be ego based and self-centered, rooted in the desire to have a legacy or some impact lasting beyond our years. We have all seen how vanity struggles to extend beyond the grave.  We know, though, that enterprises, empires, pyramids and plans all crumble eventually.

So I’m not referring to that type of torch passing….the banner waving, standard bearer corporate mouthpiece or those who make a living by capitalizing on someone else’s glamorized and photo shopped public image (Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, etc.)

I’m referring to the torch of the sea faring captain, the house painter, the traveling salesperson, the grocery clerk, the Wal Mart greeter…the everyday sort of us…

What torch have they?

What torch any of us?

Here are the overview numbers: over 151,000 people die each day (world wide), that’s        55 million plus each year.

Did they each have a torch and did they get to pass it?

Closer to home and even more poignant, over 500,000 Americans die of some form of cancer every year. I say more poignant because with a terminal diagnosis comes the real time opportunity, however short or lengthy, to attempt to pass your torch intentionally.

So what is it that we are actually trying to pass along?

I understand that whatever it is will be deeply personal. I gather that it’s a summation of  sorts…the distillation into essences of what we’ve experienced…the truth(s) we may have uncovered…the wisdom we may have earned…

But to what end?

What is the purpose, what is the impulse that stirs in us as the numbers of our days dwindle?

I have come to understand that what we so desperately would like to do is to help someone else avoid the mistakes we ourselves have made and the pain we have experienced as a result.

That’s the torch…we’d like to do our small part towards the easing of human suffering…for family, friends and strangers alike. “Learn from my missteps”, we want to say…don’t eat that type of mushroom…don’t stay too long at the office…don’t smoke…don’t take tomorrow for granted…and on and on…the things we wish we could just pass on so that no one else need suffer from them again…

It’s an act of love really.

It’s a torch that’s worth passing.

Which brings us, the living, to the question: Do we have to wait until the end before we try to pass this along?

Podcast Postponed

I was just informed that the podcast scheduled for noon today will not take place. Steve has a family situation which required him to leave town in order to take care of it.

He apologizes and I understand. I trust you will too.

We will reschedule as soon as he’s ready and we can coordinate the process.

Life is unpredictable. That’s neither good nor bad.

Uncertainty is not a problem.

How we respond to it might be.

For myself, I’m choosing to smile. It’s going to be another interesting day.

I trust the same for you.



The Attraction of Certainty

I don’t know about you but for me there’s hardly a day that goes by wherein some well intended will think to send me a link to a website or YouTube video. I do my best to at least visit or briefly watch as many of these as my time and tolerance permit. There’s a wide range of topics directed my way and I’m grateful for the spectrum of humanity that I’m exposed to. I have to admit that I never would have found half of any of this on my own. Not only that, but I couldn’t have imagined, no matter how hard I tried, some of the stuff that people get in to.

I’m sure it’s the same for you.

A goodly percentage of the links sent to me attempt to present information in a promotional way. Whether its a nutritional system, a new exercise routine or piece of equipment, a yoga seminar, a meditation practice, or a documentary on a war or a religion, there’s one thing they all have in common: There’s an undeniable certainty, not just a confidence, but a real conviction, conveyed about the product or point of view being offered.

There’s something inherently attractive about that type of certainty. In our current world of endless possibilities, seeing or hearing someone who has an unshakeable conviction about something is remarkably appealing.

It is the art and essence of the sell.

We know this…and still we want to believe that something can and will deliver exactly what is being promised…or that the person truly does believe in what they are saying as certainly and as deeply as they appear to.

Unfortunately, for most of us today, being ‘sold’ on something has become synonymous with being ‘fooled’.

And it’s funny, whenever I’m in a conversation with someone who seems dead certain about whatever it is their talking about, even if I’m not in agreement with them, I can get to wondering if perhaps I haven’t overlooked something. Creating this moment of curiosity, of hesitation, is another necessary element of the sell.

They teach this stuff in sales classes. They taught it at Trump U.

Whether we’re listening to a backyard opinion of a neighbor or listening to a candidate for public office, the attraction of certainty is as powerful as it is misleading. It can get decent people to wondering.

This is not a bad thing or a weakness.

I’ve come to understand that an open minded person will have those types of wondering thoughts. It is in the very nature of the open minded to entertain new and differing points of view. That’s the process through which any person can develop, deepen and wizen.

Sadly, the closed minded person is always locked down, unreachable and adamant about staying where they are. It doesn’t make them a bad person but rarely does it make them a happy person.

An open minded person isn’t necessarily confused, muddled or unclear. Nor do they lack for conviction, passion or backbone. They simply accept that life itself is a work in progress, that learning never ends and that more, indeed, will always be revealed.



Foreign Language Break Throughs

I read a book which had as its premise that the game of golf was much more than a game, that it was a metaphor for life…that when played with the proper mindset, all of life’s lessons and challenges could be found, practiced and mastered on the links. I read the entire book, which was neither long nor difficult, because a friend had enthusiastically recommended it. He said that its perspectives had a huge impact on his life in a Jonathan Livingston Seagull kind of way. His reference to this ancient text published in 1970 caught my attention. I was curious as to what he had found so personally helpful and profound.

Just so you know, Richard Bach’s book in 1970 was as popular in its day as was the book published in 2007 entitled The Shack written by William P. Young. Both books ignited lively conversations in unexpected places. The conversations have since died down. The spark was there but the wood was too wet to catch the fire.

Anyway, the book on golfing did not move me. While its life lesson concepts were familiar, their applications to golf, for me, were a real stretch. I’ve yet to meet a golfer who had more of an interest in improving themselves as a person than they had in improving their  score. I don’t make this statement hypothetically.

I actually went out and played golf with friends, acquaintances and strangers with the golf book in my back pocket. I played twice a week for three months at public and private courses. I would pull out the book and ask people if they had read or heard about it. No one had. Not discouraged and because they were golfers, I would give my listener(s) a brief synopsis with the belief that it would start a conversation and invite some interest. It did not. In my attempts to engage and generate more substantive dialogue, I went so far as to talk about and connect specific shot situations with the learning opportunities the book stated would apply.

The glances between the other golfers and the looks I received directly were crystal clear. I was speaking a foreign language, one that they had no interest in learning and that I was far from being inviting. I was annoying.

That was my own breakthrough realization. The lessons about life, the truths about ourselves, can be found anywhere and applied everywhere. We do, however, have to want them. We do have to be willing to seek them, to be open to them and to ACT on them once we have recognized them. Our lessons do not jump out and force us to learn. They wait for us to notice them, to bend towards them and to pick them up for us to use again along our way.

Oh, and about my friend who first mentioned the book that got this all started.

What I discovered/realized was that my friend played golf frequently and had grabbed onto a book that provided him with some deeper underpinnings for wearing silly clothes and taking six hour chunks of a day, four to five times a week, away from everything else.

He’d learned that about himself after years of failing to improve his game.


Naturally, Right from the Start

Take a moment and answer this question:

How often do we want to ‘know'(or be reassured) that we’re going to be ‘good’ at doing something BEFORE we’ll ever try that something for the first time?

….to be told that we could bowl a strike before we ever released our first ball?…or be assured that we would be a good dancer before we even placed a foot onto the floor?…or that we would be a fine cook before we dared to put on an apron?…or that we would be a proper lover before we ever stepped into our first kiss?

It’s not at all unusual.

Whether it’s because of some childhood experience during which we suffered a degree of embarrassment, ridicule and other forms of criticism while we attempted something new or we merely witnessed someone else’s being made fun of, we have all learned to hesitate. This is not about our physical safety but about playing it safe emotionally, being guarded about our ‘self image’, even before we had such a thing.

In truth, many of us when we were younger wished we would discover some hidden talent that would enable us to be a ‘natural’ at something…anything really…anything that we could be remarkably good at from the very first time…because then there would be no risk, no fear of failure, no being ordinary.

More than a few were strongly encouraged to build careers and a life around something that they were ‘good at’ without anyone (even themselves) actually asking if they enjoyed doing what they were ‘good at’. But that’s a whole other blog to come.

This blog would like to remind all of us that no one has ever done their best at anything the first time they tried it. Even if we were ‘good at’ it naturally right from the start, we still all learned and improved as we continued. We developed. Everything we ever try only gets better if we continue to practice…provided we are open to feedback and guidance. On our own and by ourselves, we will be hampered and limited by the singularity of our perspective.

Now, I realize that this may seem like a blinding flash of illumination for the obvious, but it is something we so frequently and easily forget. We often stand paralyzed at the doorstep of trying something new in our lives only because we have forgotten that everything always and only gets better after our first try.



Personally, I blame Thomas Jefferson

It will take me a moment to get to TJ, otherwise known as The Pen of the Revolution, while I set the stage.

Setting the stage is what many of us do with our time. We do what we are doing in our present circumstances with the idea or intention that at some point, down the road of life, we’re going to be able to have all the pieces in place that will allow us to be able to relax and enjoy ourselves. We tell ourselves routinely what needs to be taken care of first before we’ll stop worrying or before we can relax. I call them the ifs and whens of our peace of heart. We put conditions on our circumstances that must be fulfilled prior to our feeling ok… whether it’s a certain type of house, a certain amount of money in the bank, a certain type of relationship, or car or job…we tell ourselves that we’ll feel much better if… or be much happier when

The reality of our lives, however, tells us that these goal posts are extremely moveable. No sooner do we cross (or even begin to get close) to meeting whatever condition it was that we had placed upon our joy, then we’re pushing that goal and ourselves out even further. For many, the goal has now been pushed into retirement. We’ll be able to stop worrying and enjoy when we’ve retired. It’s a dream we still cling on to. But it’s a mirage.

That’s the truth.

This time period of relaxed enjoyment doesn’t really happen when we get the good job (because we could lose it),  or the good relationship partner (because shit happens), or have children (if we want them),  or the nice house or any or all of this. We fooled ourselves into believing that our life would be different if and when, but it wasn’t. We all tend to simply raise the bar or move the goal, keeping our happiness out of reach.

This is where Thomas Jefferson enters the picture. He wrote (with the input of others) the Declaration of Independence. Here’s the beginning of the second paragraph (for those of you who may be unfamiliar):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (underlining mine and NOT in the original text.)

I think that the choice of the word ‘pursuit’ was unfortunate. He could have used any number of other words…the exploration of Happiness, or the fulfillment of Happiness, or the enhancement of Happiness, or the expansion of Happiness.

But no.

He opted for the word ‘pursuit’ and we have been set up for the ‘chase’ ever since…It’s as if our happiness were a wood nymph teasing us in the distance, taunting and daring us to run after it hither and yonder. The idea that he planted and that we’ve accepted is that our happiness is ‘out there’ somewhere and it’s our inalienable right to get on after it. We’ve been chasing it ever since.

But what if that’s incorrect?

What if our happiness is an inside job?

What if there never was a need to postpone our peace of heart and our enjoyment of life until some pre-conditions were satisfied?

What if our happiness isn’t out there somewhere in the future but has always been right here, available to us right now?

Wouldn’t that be worth exploring?



Take a Moment


We have a saying here in the States, “The cream always rises to the top”. It’s an old saying. It’s not much in use these days but it still gets trotted out every now and then as a truism. I don’t know if it originated with our dairy farmers or was imported (like most everything else) but I’ve always had trouble with it. I’ve watched as milk or cheese is being processed. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff that rises to the top along with the cream that needs to be thrown away.

The underlying thrust of the saying, that the best can and will eventually be found at the top, is the mantra of many CEOs and of every ambitious subordinate.

No matter the institution, organization or industry, the presumption of the people outside those institutions, organizations or industries is: Whomever is at the top, must know what they’re doing.

I would really like to believe that.

It would make for a more orderly world view.

Here’s what is far more true than not: The people at the top are the people who were willing to do whatever was necessary to get them there. The people at the top know how to climb and how to cling once they get there.

That’s not an indictment. That’s the reality.

This means that the notion that there’s a natural order of ascension for the most qualified is false. For the people of genuine competency, integrity and overall wellness, our systems are stacked against them. These individuals were either stunted or sidetracked along their way or they were never interested in advancement to begin with, only in doing their job well.

They’re not angry or bitter. Those aren’t the characteristics of the well grounded, quality person to begin with. They’re simply the people who actually get things done and hold things together.

I want to draw your attention to these people, (we all know who they are and you may be one of them) because they never draw attention to themselves.

We would do well to take a moment and acknowledge them in some, small genuine way. A few words…an anonymous card or note on their desk or windshield…a moment of sincere noticing…

Yes, they’ll likely react by being embarrassed or confused. But it will make a difference.

To both of you.



The Set Up

I went to small social mingling. It was a low key, artsy sort of thing. Casual chilling in a large backyard on a beautiful Spring afternoon. The invitation was rather last minute and off the cuff as well. It was one of those, ‘Oh by the way’ mentions that expanded to include me.

Personal bucket lists being personal, I decided to attend and to put a check mark next to this one.

Besides, being surrounded by strangers doesn’t bother me. I’m stranger than most, but still safe to play with, so I just tell myself that I’m among friends I haven’t met yet.

After greeting the hosts and receiving the brief, polite introductions to the few people nearby, I sauntered off to graze and gaze.

Friendly canines wag their tails when they meet a stranger. Friendly people make eye contact, smile ever so slightly and nod.

It wasn’t long before curiosity or sympathy overcame a couple nearby and they walked towards me with all the signs of being nice. Which they were, of course…curious, sympathetic and nice.

The weather, the garden, the food and the generosity of the hosts to pull this all together were all discussed in turn and without incident.

It is at this juncture that someone usually makes the decision to either end the exchange  or to venture further. There are two stock questions when the decision is to talk a little further: 1) So, what brings you here? or 2) So, what do you do?

I love that they both begin with ‘So’. It’s such a clear indication of a transition past the initial phase of civility. It’s like we’re getting down to business.

I do not love, however, either of those two questions, not so much for the questions themselves but for what my honest answers have always been. Answer 1: “I don’t know really. For all I know, it could be to meet you.”  Answer 2: “I try to experience life in all its fullness.”

I never feel awkward in the silence that follows but I can’t say the same for the people who asked the question.

I set them up. I’m still wagging my tell (eye contact, slight smile) but I’m waiting.

My plain honesty set them up with an unexpected opportunity to be spontaneous and genuine. They were given an invitation to get real and a choice. This is not a right or wrong, good or bad choice. This is a ‘what would you like to do?’…step in or step away?

I don’t keep the hard data on these instances but my overall recollection is that this isn’t a coin toss moment. It’s not a 50/50 split in how it goes. It’s about a 75/25 split with the 75% being the people who step in and the 25% being those who step away.

I cannot tell you how heartening that is.

Most people really do want to connect, want to move beyond the sanitized and boring, and into something genuine…this moment, right here.

It’s not a challenge that they’re responding to because this isn’t a fight and there is no winning. It’s an invitation they’re accepting into an exchange that we’re all hungry for…an opportunity to be and to share ourselves.