Ratna Ling Update: Acceptance!

ratna_ling_retreat_center_californiaIt’s on. My sweetie and I have (finally!) been accepted as volunteers at Ratna Ling center. I am so excited! I can’t wait get out of Texas, and back to the Bay Area. It’s been about eight or nine years since I’ve seen my friends there, so I am pretty eager. Leaving Austin will be the easiest move (emotionally) I have ever done. I’m more than ready for a change of scenery, weather, food, people… all of it. I’m just ready. I’ve met some nice people here and I had a great job, but that isn’t enough for me to want to stay. I need a little more in my life than a job. I need adventure.

Here is the plan. We leave Austin on the 30th and head back towards Houston. We’ll crash there through the holidays and then drive out to California in early January. I hope to celebrate my birthday with some of my favorite people, eat some good mexican food, and do a little karaoke before I become a vegetarian for six months. Once we get there we will have one month “probation period” where we see if we like it, and they see if we are a good fit. I foresee zero issues. I am a hard worker, I like a good challenge, and I am excited for an experience that will force me to learn something new.

The center is about three hours north of San Francisco, nestled in the Sonoma mountains. We’ve been told to be on the look out for deer, cows, rabbits and other various animals. There are trails to hike, and a beach within a four mile walk. The last time I had a four mile walk was when I unknowingly hopped on the wrong bus (Austin Texas, in its infinite wisdom, put two busses with the same number on the same route… and it picks up on the same side of the street at the same stop.) and had to walk 3.5 miles home. I saw condos, cars, people waiting for the next bus, and lots of fast food. Not a beach in sight.

bedroom_cabin2As beautiful as our new surroundings will be, this isn’t going to be a six month holiday. We will have work assignments – six days a week. “We have 3 projects on site at Ratna Ling. The book bindery, the retreat center and the publishing company. We encourage all participants to be open and willing to volunteer wherever the need is greatest.” Last I heard I was going to be put to work at the publishing company. Seems fitting. Here is what a daily schedule looks like:

6:00 – 7:00 am Kum Nye Tibetan yoga (optional) in the conference center

6:10 – 6:55 sitting meditation (optional) in the Meditation Hall

8:00 am Start of the work day – morning circle, announcements and chanting

8:15 – 10:00 am work practice holsteemanifesto

10:00– 10:30am break

10:30am – 12:30pm work practice

12:30- 1:30pm lunch

1:30 -3:30pm work practice

3:30 -4:00pm Break

4:00 – 5:45pm work practice

6:00 -7:00 pm Class 

So as you can see, this won’t be a spa holiday where I am doing yoga and taking pictures of deer in my spare time. This will be work and study. Two things I excel at. And I am ready to excel. This last year in Austin was a reminder of why I left America in the first place. It didn’t take long for me to get in a work routine and realize that I was in the same position I was when I left for Prague. I was doing ordinary work in an ordinary city. Again. The only way out of a cycle is to break out. And that’s what I’m doing. Because, I’m not an ordinary person. I am an extraordinary person who is on this planet to do extraordinary things. You get one chance at living and I for one don’t want to waste that chance on something as ordinary as a job. I want to live, travel, taste, adventure, learn, color, paint, write and enjoy my life – and make it as extraordinary as possible.


My Favorite Life Hacks

10404334_9fd6238b8bA “Life Hack” is something that simplifies your life, or makes it easier in some way. It could be a tip to save you time or money, or even peace of mind. I’ve written a few life hack posts, but I keep getting requests for more. So here you go – my favorite tips to simplify life.

Money Saving Tips

  1. Get rid of cable – In this day and age you can watch all of your favorite shows without paying tons of cash each month for cable. Hook your computer up to your TV and stream shows. Use Hulu or Netflix. One of my favorite websites for TV shows has this handy guide to “cutting the cord” and getting rid of cable for good. Why pay for internet AND cable? http://www.sidereel.com/topic/cord-cutting
  2. Cook your own meals -Nothing new here. It is way cheaper to eat at home. This includes morning coffee.
  3. Use cash – When you pay with cash it forces you to handle actual money. You can’t over spend, or buy stuff you don’t need when you have cash. You’ll pay more attention to how and why you spend, and where you spend it.
  4. Stay home – Going out to the movies can end up costing upwards of $50, and that’s just for two people! Find ways to entertain yourself for free at home. You could bond with your family, play games, read, have a movie night, BBQ or indulge in that new hobby.
  5. Exercise – Hate spending money on the doctor? Hate getting sick? Exercise can reduce your chances of getting sick and keep you from costly medical bills later. And don’t go to a gym unless you have to. Exercising at home or in your neighborhood is FREE.
  6. Pay monthly – If you MUST use a credit card for a purchase, make sure you pay the entire amount at the end of the month. If you can’t afford to pay the whole amount at once, you shouldn’t buy it. Don’t live beyond your means. Period.
  7. Find happiness in life, not shopping – I know many people think of shopping as a sport, or a hobby. It isn’t either. Many people buy things because they think it will make them happy. And maybe it does … for an hour or two. But after the rush of having a new thing wears off, they are left feeling even emptier than before. Then they go out and buy something else. It’s a never ending cycle. Instead, teach yourself to love life. Go for a walk and take pictures of interesting things in your neighborhood. Find joy in your friends and family or in nature. Meditate! Exercise! Paint! Spending money does not equal happiness.

Time Saving Tips

  1. Learn to say no – The easiest way to give yourself more time is to stop giving it to others. You don’t have to say yes to every client, friend or project that comes your way. People will understand and it will leave you more time for yourself.
  2. Consolidate errands – At my house we go shopping about once a week. We decide on what we need and where would be the best place to get it. Driving to one store every day is ridiculous. Plan all of your trips for one day.
  3. Don’t multitask – That’s right, I said DON’T. If you concentrate on one thing at a time and finish it you won’t be left with a house full of half completed projects. If you start washing the dishes, finish washing the dishes. This also helps for staying in the present moment and lets you concentrate completely on the task at hand.
  4. Use your kids – If your kids don’t have chores … Shame on you! Children learn (or should learn) responsibility at home. They should be responsible for cleaning up after themselves and keeping their rooms tidy. At a minimum have them pick up their room before bed, and lay out their clothes for the next day. This helps save time in the morning also.
  5. Make your own mixes – I guess this could have gone in the Money Tips as well, but here it is. Make your own pancake, muffin, cake and biscuit mixes. Make your own spice mixes. You can find recipes for just about any mix you need online. Prepare large batches of the mix, and add wet ingredients when you’re ready to prepare the food. Store dry mixes in seal tight containers or jars until you’re ready to use them.
  6. Do major chores once a week – Schedule your major chores as part of a routine and they will get easier to do. Cleaning that tub once a week is way easier than once a month. Trust me. And don’t make more work for yourself either. There is no need to mop the kitchen floor EVERY DAY. Once a week is fine. Relax. Smile. It’s just a floor.

Sanity Saving Tips

  1. Don’t procrastinate – Let’s be honest, when we procrastinate, it is usually because we don’t like doing whatever it is we are putting off. Procrastination is a pretty bad habit. It keeps you focused of the things you hate thinking about. Just get it out of the way, then you don’t have to think about it anymore. How often do you put off going to the dentist? How about washing your car? Get it done. You’ll feel relieved.
  2. Put public pressure on yourself – Do you have a deadline? Do you often start projects and don’t finish? Then post about it on FaceBook. Tell your friends and family to keep you in line. If your boss, or husband, wife or partner expects something finished by a certain date, you’ll be more likely to finish.
  3. No TV in the bedroom – You shouldn’t have more than one TV. Think about it. Are you so lazy you can’t walk into the other room to watch your shows? If you only get rid of one TV, then make it the one in the bedroom. The bedroom should be your sanctuary. Have a book by your bed, but no computer or TV. This should be a place that is calm and relaxing and well suited for sleep.
  4. Go paperless – If you haven’t already, stop getting catalogs, bills, and crap in the mail. It wastes your time to deal with it. Instead set aside one time a month to deal with online bills. Easy!
  5. 3 Task Rule – If your “To-Do” list is never ending, then you might be a control freak. Instead of just making that list longer, and making yourself crazy, try doing just three tasks and do them to completion. Choose the tasks that are most urgent. The rest can wait til tomorrow. Nothing feels better than getting stuff done!
  6. Eat healthy! – Stop the soda (even diet. Guilty.) Eat fruits and veggies. Eating healthy does more for you than give you a rockin’ body. It keeps you healthy which keeps you from costly medical bills in the future. There are zero reasons that you should be overweight or unhealthy.

Zen Habits: Don’t Respond to Drama

drama_queen1“When you are not honoring the present moment by allowing it to be, you are creating drama.” – Eckhart Tolle

July was not the best month for me. I went on holiday which was fun, but also fraught with tension from my family. I also had to end a long-time friendship. Then, just last week my blog exploded because of my post about living in Austin. This was great in terms of exposure, but not so great in terms of drama. How do you defend yourself against 500 strangers?

That’s easy. You don’t.

My Austin piece mad some folks angry. Big shock. People called me “rich bitch”. They called me entitled. They called me a privileged asshole, and told me to get the fuck out of their town. A few readers asked me what it was like to “get to live in Europe”. It all pissed me off. I mean, I might be an asshole, but I am definitely not any of those other things.

I read the comments and all I wanted to do was defend myself. I wanted the truth to be known! But, isn’t that just feeding the ego? What would it change if these 500 strangers had the truth? Would they suddenly find my opinions about Austin palatable if they knew the truth about me? Um, no. I just wanted to make myself feel better. I felt like I was being picked on. But instead of defending myself, I didn’t respond to the drama. And it was really, really hard.

Whether it is family drama, or work drama, or even FaceBook drama, you can choose not to participate. You always have a choice. When you choose not to respond to drama the drama will just die out. When you react it just adds fuel to the fire. Negativity breeds negativity. Drama breeds drama.

But how is it possible not to respond? How do I choose to be silent when all I want to do is scream? What if what they say isn’t true? The first step is to recognize the drama for what it is – DRAMA. It isn’t about you, or being right. Drama is an external force that can easily sweep you away to a dark place. Don’t let it.

  1. Get it out – So, there is drama. You had a fight with your BFF, or husband, or co-worker and now you are all fired up. Instead of calling everyone you know and telling them about what happened, try something else. Anything else! The worst thing you can do is spread the drama to more people. More people makes it worse. Now there are even more people (who have noting to do with the actual incident) involved. And you invited them! This shouldn’t happen. Instead, write a letter to that person that says everything you want to say and then rip it up. Get it out. Rip it up. Leave it in the past. Go to the gym and push yourself harder than usual. Get your anger out. Do whatever you have to in order to regain perspective and control. Don’t let the ego be in charge.
  2. Observe discrepancy – If someone says they don’t mean to be rude and then they call you a jerk – that’s a discrepancy. When a person says one thing and does another – that is discrepancy. Don’t be fooled. All of this is just more drama. Don’t participate. When a persons words and actions are not congruous, that is a sure sign of drama. You don’t need to point it out to the person or tell them they are being two faced. All you have to do is observe. When you notice that a person is a drama creator you can use that information to make better choices for yourself. If they ask you out to lunch, keep it in mind when you decide if you want to go.
  3. Remember it isn’t urgent –  Very few things in life are actually urgent. An urgent situation is a building burning down, or a flood, or leaving the stove on and then going on holiday. We tend to make everyday situations into urgent situations thus giving them more importance and causing more stress than necessary. Many times drama presents itself in the form of pressure that feels urgent. (I need to send this email now! or I have to go to the store right now!) A false sense of urgency can be caught as easily as the common cold. All it takes is another person’s frenzy of charged emotions. Whatever the situation is, I bet it isn’t urgent. If something is not actually life threatening, then rest with it. Don’t make any decisions in the heat of the drama.
  4. Be Mindful – Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment. It means knowing we are not our thoughts, or our body, but rather an impartial third party who serves as a witness of our life. If we look at situations this way – through a lens of mindfulness – we can begin to make better choices. The more we are able to witness our life rather than identify with the experiences, the more we will be able to walk away from drama. When you identify with the experience, you make it personal. When you make something personal, you invite the ego to take over.
  5. Practice – Walking away from drama takes practice. Sitting quiet when you want to scream takes practice. Silence is one of the most difficult and useful things to master. Neutrality takes practice. It feels uncomfortable and foreign. It feels almost wrong not to take a side, or state a position. But, the most powerful thing you can do for yourself, and to get rid of drama in your life is to practice being quiet, uncomfortable and neutral. Sounds fun, right? Well, compare it to feeling angry, slighted, unheard, resentful, or frustrated. When drama is faced with neutrality it fades. By not giving your energy to the drama, you are free to give it to something else. Giving attention to negativity or drama is like watering a dead plant – all it accomplishes is wasting your time and making you frustrated.

July might have tried to kick my ass, but it failed. There was a lot of drama swirling around me but in the end I prevailed. I didn’t let the bastards get me down, and I didn’t participate in the drama. It was tough, but I feel alright. I feel good even! If you want peace in your life, then you should BE peace. If you want joy, be joy.

You get the picture. Here is a song that I use to remind me that I always, always have a choice in how I respond to drama. 

Zen Habits: When to Walk Away

photo: Alicia Brooks

photo: Alicia Brooks

I think Kenny Rogers said it best – You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. We all have relationships with people, places and sometimes even things that we should end. Maybe you aren’t happy at your job. Maybe you have a friend who you have nothing in common with anymore. You might live in a place that isn’t the right fit for you, but you stay because of your job, or family or some other reason. Or maybe you are in a romantic relationship that is dead but comfortable. Sometimes it’s hard to admit to ourselves that – “it’s over”. But the sooner we do it, the sooner we can make the necessary changes to make it better.

But… how do you know when it’s time to move on? How do you know when it’s time to walk away? Should I stay and try to work it out, or is it not worth saving? These are not easy questions to answer. In order to answer this question you have to be able to look at yourself objectively and honestly – something that isn’t always fun. We have to look at what we have put into (or failed to put into) the relationship. When I was thinking about leaving Austin, I asked myself the same series of questions I did when I ended a romantic relationship in the past. It’s a good set of questions to help you navigate your way through emotions, ego, and truth. Being honest with yourself is the most important thing. Once you do that, these questions are pretty easy to answer.

  1. How long have I had this relationship vs. how long has it been a struggle? – This question makes it easier to see if you are looking at the relationship objectively. For example: I am ready to leave Austin, Texas. I took a few months looking at my feelings for the city to make sure. Was my unhappiness here caused by the fact that I just “miss Prague”? Maybe at first, but as time wore on I missed Prague less and less. I began to see opportunity in America and I began to get excited about moving. In my last year here I have been more unhappy than happy so, for me, it’s time to move on. I always say you need to give a place at least a year before deciding it isn’t for you. Maybe longer if you are in a foreign country. You need time for culture shock and orientation.
    But maybe you are in a long-term relationship with a person. Think how many of the last years were a struggle? How often did you feel happy, loved, appreciated, cared for? If those numbers are looking bad, then you need to ask yourself why you are still there. And that answer will always be the same: Fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of the unknown. Fear of independence. Whatever it is you need to find it, name it, and get over it so that you can be happy. No one deserves to be unhappy, and ultimately it is up to ONLY YOU to make yourself happy. You can’t change other people, but you can walk away from them and change yourself.
  2. Have you REALLY tried to make it work? – I’ve been here for just over a year. I have been employed the entire time. I have been out at night, and I have enjoyed going to parks in the daytime. I feel like I have tried and tried here, but I’m tired of trying. I just don’t like it. And that’s ok. There is a big wide world out there, and I have a lot more of it to explore. I know now for SURE that Texas will not be a home base for me. But at least I tried. I know positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that walking away is the right choice for me.
    How about with people? Careers? “Facebook friends”? All of these relationships can be draining on you. They can turn toxic and leave you feeling sour and negative. When endless work, blood, sweat, tears, phone calls, emails, and text messages leave a relationship (or situation, or personal ambition) no better than it was before – you know it’s time to walk away. Trying to change someone’s opinion is a waste of time. So is trying to change someone. When you notice that you are exhausted from trying pleading, compromising and reasoning, take a moment to look at where it has really gotten you. No where. It is time to leave.
  3. Realize that quitting isn’t really a bad thing. It’s sometimes the smart thing – How many TV movies are there about a woman in an abusive relationship who stayed with her abuser? Like a million? Most of us watch movies like this and think “Man, just leave. Walk away.” But of course, she doesn’t. And it ends badly for at least one person. We do the same thing in our own relationships. We create reasons to stay. “I can’t quit. It’s my JOB.” “I can’t leave, I have the kids to think about.” “We’ve known each other for 17 years. That’s a lot of years to just walk away from”.

    All of theses are great excuses. But they are just excuses. The real reason you don’t quit that shitty job is that you are AFRAID. You are afraid you won’t be able to find another shitty job. But I promise, you will. You might even find a job that isn’t shitty! Imagine that! Using your kids as an excuse must be in the secret handbook that adults get when they have kids. It’s a pretty weak excuse. The kids are fully aware of your happiness or unhappiness. They can smell it on you like a dog smells fear. Leaving a toxic relationship is the BEST thing to do for your children. And who cares how long you’ve known them. People change. I am not the same person I was five years ago, much less twenty. Some relationships cannot handle the test of time and maybe they were not meant to. Knowing when something is over is a sign of maturity. Being able to walk away gracefully is too. That means not gossiping about it. That means keeping “your story” to yourself. That means not down talking the other person to your kids (or teachers!) or anyone. It might boost your ego to get all that sympathy, but it also makes you look sad, guilty and desperate.

  4. Realize that you need space for new relationships – Each relationship in our life takes up space. It might be actual space (like your car, your family) and it might be emotional space (your job, your friends). Anything that takes up space requires attention. If your relationship isn’t being nurtured with attention it will die. No amount of money or new things will take the place of spending time together. No amount of soap and water will make that shitty car you love actually run any better. Maybe it’s time to make room for things that work. Only by showing up every day and showing your love through rigorous and consistent action can you demonstrate your love and commitment. Trying to fix a broken relationship through a trip to Paris or a fancy dinner is like trying to band-aide a gunshot wound. When you get rid of broken things it leaves room for new, unbroken things. New friendships will have room to flower. A studio for painting is now possible because you got rid of all that junk in the garage. The possibilities are endless when you just …make room.

I’ll leave you with a little Kenny for motivation, inspiration and because it has The Muppet’s and The Muppet’s are badass. Especially dancing ghost muppets. Just remember, “…every gambler knows the secret to survivin’, Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.”

Zen Habits: Creating Routine

Henry-Millers-11-commandmentsIf you look at any great artist, writer, thinker, dancer, or even athlete – you will see that they have one thing in common: A routine. Most (if not all) highly creative people have a routine, or “a process” in which they traverse in order to create. Just look in the “self help” section of your local bookstore and you will see shelves dedicated to the idea of creating habits – “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” – just to name a few.

Humans love the idea of a short cut. We love thinking that if we take a pill we won’t have to watch what we eat, or exercise. If we eat this kind of food but not the other, we will be thin. We think that if we adapt the same habits as ‘great minds’ we might ourselves become great. The trick is to find a routine that works for you.

Mark Twain would wake up and eat a huge breakfast, after-which he would retire to his study until five o’clock in the evening. He would work uninterrupted for hours on end, and after dinner he would share his work with his family. While that might have worked for Mr. Clemens, it would be hell for me. I like to work alone, but I don’t know about locking myself in one room until supper. It would drive me crazy! And reading my work out-loud to family? No freaking way. Find a routine that works for YOU, not a famous person you admire. Having role models is great, but admiring someone doesn’t get you any closer to “being” that person. Know who YOU are and what YOU need.

Oh, and speaking of things you need… let me quickly rundown some things you DON’T need. Sometimes habits need to be broken. Here are 3 habits to BREAK:

  1. SMOKING – really? Stop it. You know it’s bad for you. You know it makes you look like shit. It costs a LOT of money over the year. Really, just stop it.
  2. DRINKING – As someone who used to drink “like a man”, I know how fun it is. But, I am a lot happier now that I am sober. I’m alert. I’m hangover free. I’m healthy, thinner, happier… Yeah, I have a glass of wine here or there, but I couldn’t place in a drinking competition any longer. And I’m damn proud of it.
  3. COMPLAINING – Ugh. The worst. Guess what? Everybody has something to complain about. Everybody is as wrapped up in their lives as you are in yours. What makes you think folks want to hear how annoyed you are at the asshole who cut you off, or the clerk who had the audacity to take a phone call in front of YOU? Trust me – if you stop complaining the world will be nicer to you.

imagesMy personal habits are pretty basic. I try to keep a flexible attitude, and a flexible day so that I can take advantage of what the day may bring. Here is what I try to keep in mind, what I try to accomplish each day. Some days I do better than others.

  1. Clean something – I don’t have a regimented cleaning schedule. I do work as needed and since I don’t have a lot of “stuff” I don’t need to work as much. Again, the more shit you own, the more time you have to spend on it. In order to keep a loose schedule AND a clean flat I have a “One a day” rule. I need to do (at least) one chore a day. Whether it’s doing the dishes, the laundry, the tub… whatever. I do one chore a day.
  2. Read & Write – I read every day. I write every day. No exceptions. I think it was Stephen King who said, if you want to be a great writer you need to read every day. So I do. I write too. Practice your art. Daily.
  3. Play! – I do something fun every day. It might be crossword puzzles, and it might be going to Disneyland. It doesn’t matter as long as it was fun. The standard of “fun” is in my head, so I know if it counts. Even if I had fun at work, I try to do something fun for myself. It’s important to keep happy.
  4. Take stock – Sometime before I hit the hay, I take stock of myself. How am I feeling? Did I have a good day, or a bad day? Why? Doing this let’s me reflect on my day in a positive way, and also helps me leave it behind before I go to bed. When I wake up in the morning, yesterday doesn’t matter – it’s in the past. All that matters is today and making today a great day.
  5. Embrace mistakes – Everybody makes mistakes. Half of my day as a teacher is convincing kids that there isn’t anything wrong with making mistakes. Some of my best work has come from what I thought were mistakes. It’s funny, I notice “mistakes” in my paintings right away but nobody else seems to. Mistakes are something we learn from and move on. You might know some stubborn folks who keep making the same mistakes over and over and over, yet never seem to learn from their own missteps. Don’t be that guy. Own your mistakes and grow from them. A mistake doesn’t have to ruin your whole day. Deal with it and let it go. Remember, each time you tell “your story” your ego is getting just what it wants – attention.

The best advice I have is: Do what is right for you. You know what makes you happy, and what you need to succeed. You can design a set of “Commandments” for yourself that will allow you to flourish and be happy while keeping you on the right track. YOUR TRACK. It doesn’t matter what your best friend does, or what the celebrity on the cover of “People” does. All that really matters is what YOU do. And what you don’t do.

Zen Habits: Letting Go of Negativity

87511717We’ve all had a friend, at one time or another who, try as they might, only see’s the negative. People take “their” parking spots, or cut them off. At parties he probably hates the food, or thinks the music is lame. Their Facebook posts are always about someone who done them wrong. You might have had the distinct displeasure of traveling with one of these people. Nothing is to their liking, they complain the whole time, and they just want to go home. These people are a real bummer. They might be awesome people most of the time, but once that negativity comes out it’s a downward spiral.

We all fall prey to the temptations of lingering on the negative. I know I have. It’s easy to wallow in self-pity, or make even the smallest thing into a huge drama. It gives us attention and sympathy. You know what they say, misery loves company. But, hanging out with the woman who is so insecure she constantly makes fun of other women gets old. You begin to feel uptight when you see her, or you downright dread it. It is exhausting being around a negative person because it makes YOU into a negative person.

Negativity breeds negativity. We all know that. I was in the break-room at work the other day and it only took one person to complain about the coffee before it turned into a six person symposium on everything wrong with our jobs. Even playful, silly negativity can be harmful to your psyche. I was in a good mood going into work, but I ended up having a rough day. Did that small conversation in the break room shift my inner gear shift into “Negative”? Maybe. Probably.

It starts with being present in thought and word. In order to push negative ideas out and replace them with positive thoughts takes being present in the now. Think about how often during the day you worry about something that cannot be attended to until “later”, or how often you dwell on something that happened yesterday, or last week, or last year. You cannot change the past and dwelling on it won’t help, so why waste your energy? It is just weighing you down. And the future is one big question mark no matter how well you plan. Constantly worrying about “later” will rob you of the joys of right now. Most problems exist only in your own mind, in imaginary situations you make up that you continuously think about. It has nothing to do with “right now” or what is actually happening in your life at that moment.

twomonks_02Eckhart Tolle says, Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” He also says that negativity is totally unnatural. Nature (flowers, trees, animals) don’t have “self-esteem” issues and they are not stressed or depressed. Why? Because they live in the present moment.

Here are a couple of tips I use for staying positive, and letting go of that inner bitch who lives inside me.

  1. Realize that everything “bad” might not be – We all struggle with change and loss, some of more than others. It took me a very long time to realize that sometimes change or loss can feel bad and look bad, but it is actually making space in my life for something new, something positive. I view change like pruning a rose-bush: you have to cut off the flower for more to grow.
  2. Concentrate on the good – I know it might seem silly, but throughout my day I take moments to myself and think about the good things that have happened so far. I try to do this on days when I begin to feel hostile or angry over seemingly small things. I think of things that made me smile or things I laughed at. When doing this I realize that I am holding on to a resentment or an unresolved issue, and that I need to stop and refocus on “now”. It helps, and it works. My mood improves every time.
  3. Remember that negativity comes out of the ego – Tolle says, “…if there is any negativity involved, anger, resentment, irritation, then Ego is present there.” When you make a decision that is reactionary, it was probably made out of anger. The ego likes to be angry. It likes to prove how “right” it is. Your anger or resentment only reenforce the negative thoughts you are having. It feeds on itself. Once you recognize your own negativity for what it really is (ego), you can begin to change the way you react to anger. Instead of letting it control you, you can feel the emotion, observe it, and let it go.
  4. Don’t accumulate negativity – Whether it is a bad day, or a bad break-up, let it go. The longer you hold on to a negative thought, the more power you give it. Don’t tell your best friend, the grocery store clerk, and anyone else who will listen about “your story”. The more you tell “your story” the longer that emotion will linger. That anger will feel fresh and justified every time you talk about it. Your body believes it is happening again because your mind is sending it those signals. Your body doesn’t know the difference – it just tenses up. Instead of focusing on how right you are, or how slighted you feel, do something active. It will force you to focus on the present task (not falling over in yoga? Finishing that last mile?) and allow you to let go of the negativity.

I’ll leave you with this Buddhist story. I think of this story every time I start to dwell on something negative. It helps me to remember to stay in the present, and let go of my anger.

“Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. 
Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. 
One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.  
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Four hours later, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.”Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”  
“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side four hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

My Life as the Hero’s Journey

myth_quest_model_heroes_journeyMost narratives, stories, books and films are based around the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. A young, naive, nobody from an ordinary, boring world (think… Luke Skywalker) is called to an unknown world on a quest. He must slay a “dragon”, resist temptation, and eventually triumph over evil. He will then return home to bestow his wisdom on his buddies. It’s like Frodo or Harry Potter or Buffy or Batman. They are all the same myth. Every religion has its own version of it from Jesus to Buddha to Osiris to Moses, this myth is the basis for every story ever told. Even mine. Even yours.

I was watching the last Joel Fleischman episode of the best show ever, Northern Exposure. It’s called “The Quest”. As his final fling in the Alaskan Wilderness Joel (with Maggie) sets off to find the Jeweled City, somewhere beyond the Aleutian Islands. The episode is one part “Good-bye Dr. Fleishman” and one part “Hero Quest”. There are riddles to be solved, gatekeepers to be appeased and dragons (albeit metaphorically) to be battled on the journey. Joel’s life as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and Joel is self-aware, and smart enough to know it. He comments throughout the journey about the stages, calling Adam “gate-keeper”, for example. It got me thinking about my own life as the Hero’s Journey, and where I am in it.

epicThere are 17 stages in the monomyth. I am pretty sure that stage one was when I left America and moved to Prague. “The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.” Yep. That pretty much describes my life just before I made the decision to move. I had to move out of my home in Oakland. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. I didn’t want to move back to L.A. because… it’s L.A. I didn’t want to stay in the Bay Area because I hated my job and I wanted to be far away from pretty much everyone I knew. I saw an ad for a TEFL program, and the rest is history. In fact, looking back it is VERY clear that this was “The call”.

In one of my very early blog posts I wrote about what led me to move to Prague. I had read my horoscope and it was eerily accurate. It told me the choices I make will shape my future. It said it I was beginning a new phase in my life that would have consequences for years to come. At the time, I thought it was weird, or at least that’s what I wrote. But I know me, and inside I was sure this was a sign. I was supposed to do this. I had that feeling in my belly telling me “This is it. Either you go now or you will stay here forever. Don’t be one of those assholes who looks back at their life in regret. You are better than that“. I knew it then. My friend Heather knew it, she told me I was on a Yoda mission. I was to do great things. I had a quest. I was the hero and this was The Departure. (Which BTW was the last movie I saw in America before I moved overseas. Just sayin’)

My mission was clear – to unlearn what I had learned. I wrote that in July of 2006. And sitting here in my living-room in Texas, in 2013, I can see each stage of my journey very clearly. My quest is almost over.

My “departure” was my flight to Europe, alone. I landed in London and met my “Supernatural aid”, or in my case, a friend named Zach who gave me tools to help me on my journey. He gave me shelter, a map, and confidence. He let me know it would be ok. From there I crossed “the first threshold guardian” (Czech Customs Officers/Passport control) at midnight in October, 2006. I was thrust into “the belly of the whale”, or in my case a tiny, cramped room with a single window. I sat there alone, staring at the drain on the floor wondering how I had gotten there in the first place. I broke down and cried. I wept. But I didn’t let it break me. I got my head straight and took control of my situation. Who else was going to do it? I’m the hero.

That was the beginning. Looking back it is easy to see the temptress and the dragon. It is easy to solve the riddles with the power of hindsight. My “Road of Trials” was long and arduous. I mean, if you think Frodo had a difficult journey, then you have never ridden a bus into Mexico in the middle of the night. In a thunderstorm. But I can’t go into that right now. Those are stories for a different day.

In my heart I feel that this journey, my quest to unlearn what I had learned, is coming to a close. I will have come full circle when we roll into the Bay Area and I begin my six month stay as a volunteer at Ratna Ling. (Hopefully! Fingers still crossed!) Maybe it’s the final step in this journey. Or maybe not.

I can’t figure it all out today.

What I’ve learned: Life Hacks

002564a5d684112547f34aI could easily write a list of awesome badass “Life Hacks”. A “Life Hack” is a time-saving, money-saving, productivity inducing, or just sanity giving “tip” to help you live your life better. These are usually tips that you already know but have no actual interest in implementing. For example, you already know that spending oodles of time on FaceBook is lame, useless, and bad for your soul – but you do it anyway. You already know that drinking pop (even diet) is bad for you, but you drink it anyway. You are well aware that you could save money (and time and your soul) buy not stopping at Starbucks for your morning latte-chino, but you do it anyway. And, you already know that television is shit, that cable companies gouge your pockets and rob you blind, but you still insist on keeping 1-4 T.V.’s in your home equipped with all the HD bells and whistles.

Nature1The fact of the matter is: You only make a change when you have too. Or, at least I hope you do. Some people can’t even do that. They live their lives day-to-day thinking that they can’t change. Or, it’s too hard. They think that change isn’t possible for them because of … whatever excuse is handy at the moment. When I made the decision to move to Prague people often said to me, “That sounds awesome. I wish I could do that!” My response was always the same. YOU CAN. To this I would inevitably hear a stream of excuses as long as the Rio Grande. (I have kids. I have a job. I don’t have enough money. I don’t speak Czech…) I usually tuned out after the first one. If you want something bad enough, you will figure out how to do it.

So, I’m not going to give you time and money-saving tips. You probably won’t use them anyway. Instead, I am going to give you the most important life lessons I have learned in my 39 years on this planet. My very own Life Hacks. Take what you will from it. Or don’t. It’s YOUR life.

  1. You teach people how to treat you. I know, Dr. Phil said it, but I totally agree with it. You either teach people to treat you with compassion, dignity and respect, or you don’t. It’s up to you. If the people in your life are treating you like crap it is probably because you allowed them to do it.
  2. Take responsibility for your own actions. You ALWAYS have a choice. Sure, sometimes the choices suck, but you still have them. Everything you do in your daily life – from picking out food at the store, to choosing a mate, to deciding whether or not to get angry at that asshole who cut you off – is totally up to you. If you made bad decisions or good ones – own them.
  3. Go with your gut – it knows whats up. Your heart? Well, like Roxette said, listen to it. But still go with your gut.
  4. Stop trying to please people. It’s a waste of time and energy. Please yourself and the rest will fall into place.
  5. Learn forgiveness. It’s a lifesaver.
  6. Everything you own should be something you love with all of your heart, or use at least once a year.
  7. You will never regret working less and traveling more. You will likely regret working more and traveling less.
  8. Be honest. Even when it hurts.
  9. If it doesn’t feel right – don’t do it.
  10. Read books. Read more books! Reading books is great for getting that waining attention span back in order. Reading internet articles doesn’t count since it usually leads down a rabbit hole ending on a Wiki page. READ. MORE. BOOKS. And “I wish I had the time” is a pretty lame excuse. Just sayin’.
  11. When you tell yourself “I’m not sure what to do” you probably are. You just don’t like the answer.
  12. Eat right and exercise most of the time.
  13. Don’t call, email, post status updates, or text when you are angry. Wait 2 or 3 days and then see if you still think it’s a good idea. Remember, there are people in the world who will see (or hear) your words. What they see will affect the way they see you.
  14. Stop blaming other people. You sound like a jackass.
  15. Pursue multiple interests. Become that person you would want to talk to at a party. Because, who wants to talk to the person who can ONLY talk about sports? Or their kids? Or their job? Read biographies. Learn a new skill. Take a class. Cultivate yourself.
  16. Write “Thank You” notes. By hand.
  17. Children do not “owe” their parents anything, except love. In most cases. You own your own life. Your parents don’t. And parents shouldn’t expect “to be taken care of” by their kids. It’s selfish. You wanted to have kids, they didn’t ask to have you.
  18. When you love someone, treat them with kindness everyday.
  19. When you talk behind someones back, they’ll eventually turn around.
  20. Practice being alone. You’ll need that skill someday.
  21. Say “NO”. It’s ok. Doing things you don’t want to only make you bitter and unhappy.
  22. Comparing yourself to other people is silly.
  23. Karma is a real bitch.
  24. Don’t take anything personally. Nothing other people do or say is about you. Not really. It’s just a reflection of how they feel inside. Let it go.
  25. Everything is perception. Everything.
  26. Live in the present. The past is over and unchangeable. The future is only full of “what if’ and “I wonder” So, live in the NOW. Now is something you can manage. Now is here!
  27. Always do your best.
  28. Dancing will make you feel better.
  29. Freedom is simplicity.
  30. If you don’t like something in your life, it’s up to you to change it.

Play Again

3516206607_c0597d1ff2I have a question for you: when was the last time you played? I don’t mean watching your kids play, or even playing a game with them. Kids are easy. I mean, when was the last time YOU played? When was the last time you skipped? When was the last time you threw a ball or ran after a hula hoop? I bet for most of you the answer is: I can’t remember. For me, play is an integral part of my life. If I didn’t play a little every day I think I’d lose my marbles.

When you were little, your life was about playing. The world around you was yours, and you could turn it into whatever you wanted. We had a lackluster treehouse in the canyon behind our back yard. I say lackluster because the “tree house” was just some planks that my dad nailed into the tree. It didn’t have a roof, or walls, or even a way up, but it was awesome. For me, it was the Millenium Falcon. I would sit up there and pretend that I was outrunning Vader, or dodging laser blasts. We even tied a rope to a branch and used it to swing out over the canyon like Luke and Leia. It was a oodles of fun.

But as we grow into adulthood the idea of play is put on the back burner. We are encouraged to stop pretending and start learning facts. We are told to memorize historical dates and learn about important historical figures. We begin to learn that being a grown up is more about doing as you are told and following rules and less about playing and being creative. Creativity isn’t rewarded as much as conformity. I recall getting special prizes in school or church when I recited something correctly. I also remember more than one teacher getting mad at me for not doing projects or homework the way the rest of my classmates did. But, I was never one for conformity.

As a full fledged grown-up it is even harder to play. It isn’t socially acceptable to be playful in your 30’s. Believe me. I speak from experience. I used to get really mean looks from folks who happened upon me in the park. So what if I am swinging on the swings as high as I can while singing? Who cares if I want to play on the jungle gym or merry-go-round? You’d be surprised. One woman told me I couldn’t be in the playground if I didn’t have kids. How absurd. I asked why she thought that, because it wasn’t on the list of park rules. She couldn’t tell me so I went back to the swings and happily resumed swinging and singing. Playing is not just for kids.

Man-themed-jungle-gymI think a lot of adults are too embarrassed to play. They don’t want people looking at them or thinking that they are “weird”. But why care what strangers think of you? You’ll never see them again, and judgement from strangers shouldn’t bother anyone. I say, BRING IT ON. Think I am weird. Think I am crazy. I don’t care. I am having more fun than you are, I can promise you that. If you can get over your silly fear of what strangers think about you, then you are half way there. The rest is easy. Just play!

For those of you having trouble with this idea, let me elucidate for you. Think of something fun, and do it. Playing is an important part of staying young, happy and healthy. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Have a board game night with friends. No computer games allowed!
  • Have an “Underwear Dance Party” by yourself in your living room. I do this every time my sweetheart leaves the house. Grab a hair brush, put on a badass song and let loose. It’s fun and nobody can see you so you can really let down your guard.
  • Mad Libs! My sweetheart and I did this the other night and we laughed til we cried.
  • Go to a park and play on the playground.  Find a big park with lot’s of fun stuff to play on. Swing on the swings. Slide down the slide. Climb a tree.
  • Go on youtube and find a silly dance to learn. I am in the process of learning the “Single Ladies” dance. I am horrible, but it sure is fun!
  • Invest in a hobby that doesn’t require a screen of any kind. Puzzles. Painting. Teach yourself how to play an instrument. Make a puppet. Create a new planet out of Legos.

Why I quit Facebook

super-hero-facebook-likes1I quit Facebook yesterday. I came home from work and deleted my account. Someone posted something stupid and it made me mad. It made me mad all day. It made me mad all day until I realized I had a choice. I’d let someone who I hardly know infuriate me. I gave someone who isn’t a part of my life, power in my life. No more. I’ve been threatening to do it for a while now, but I just couldn’t commit. I had justification – My blog is connected to Facebook. Being a writer was a great excuse for “needing” a Facebook account. It is easy, free and convenient. But that is just an excuse. This blog has a few hundred followers outside of Facebook. If someone misses me, they know where to find me.

My FB lifestyle was not jiving with my personal beliefs, and who I am in “real life”. I am tired of holding my tongue and I am tired of getting upset. I shouldn’t have to delete “friends” because they use sexist language, are idiots, or I haven’t seen/spoken to them in years. What a pain in the ass. I realized that it is far easier to just remove myself from the equation all together. I am tired of being attached to Facebook and I am tired of looking at pictures of your dog, your kids, your lunch and your neighbors pet chicken. I don’t care what you are listening to. I have no need or desire to play Farmville with you, nor do I give any shits at all about where you have checked in. Your score on Bedazzled doesn’t interest anyone and thank you so much for posting the score of Jimmy’s soccer game. I was totally losing sleep over it.

Two days in and I must say, I feel lighter. I have so many better things to do with my time. I thought I would feel uneasy or nervous, but I don’t. I feel relief. And I don’t suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) so I should be alright. FOMO is the #1 reason people keep their FB accounts while posting about how much they hate Facebook. How often do you check your FB? I bet it is at least in the double digits. Every single glance at all the badass things your friends (and enemies, let’s be honest) are doing just fuels the fire. You start wondering why you aren’t doing badass stuff like climbing mountains, getting married, or getting wasted with a group of Russian tourists.

Start playing the comparison game and you’ll lose every time. That’s how the game works. It starts innocently enough… maybe just a little filter on that picture of your hamburger to make it look brighter. Then, maybe  a second filter to show each and every seed on the bun. By the time you are finished, your photo looks nothing like that thing you ate which gave you indigestion. The only way to win is not to play at all. It’s a losing game. Everybody will always be thinner than you on Facebook. They will be smarter than you. Their Angry Bird score will be better than yours. Their friends will always be hipper than your friends. Their Instagram account will have cooler shots than yours. They will get married before you. Their kids will have cooler names than yours. Their dog will be cuter than your dog. Their cat will be more popular on Youtube than your cat.

You will always lose at Facebook.


Crawdads (Austin, TX) Alicia Brooks photo

But it doesn’t matter because it’s all a lie. All of it. Take my profile for example. Just recently I posted this picture. Looks incredible, right? Well, here is what I didn’t tell you. That picture was taken at the world’s most boring party. The food you see was not seasoned – at all – until it was thrown in the bowl. Then about six different people took turns salting it. The conversation  was about as exciting as the food. The highlight of the party seemed to be when the host dared a guest to let a crawdad latch onto his nipple… for $5. I kid you not. But, I knew that I could take a very cool picture of the food and nobody needed to know the rest. Facebook is a facilitator of lies.

Everyday we are presented with an endless montage of small excitements disguised as every day activities. We judge ourselves against the carefully cultivated and created profiles that people present as truth. That is absurd behavior. Facebook is the ghost in the machine. It works on your behalf when you are not there. It actively distorts us to our friends, and worse yet to users whom we have never met. Facebook is exploitive and unnecessary. It makes us yearn for approval in the form of “likes”, the more the better. As a writer I began to see my worth in the amount of likes or views a piece got. How backwards is that?

So, I guess I quit in pursuit of happiness. Facebook was affecting my moods and my life so I am taking a sabbatical. How can I attempt to live a minimalist life with the clutter of Facebook in my… face? It might be a week, it might be a month, it might be longer. I don’t know. All I know is that when and if I decide to go back, it will be with a new outlook on the tool. And it is a tool. Just more for the folks at Facebook than for you. I’m not here preaching for you to quit social media sites. Do what you will. I’m here saying take a look at what you post, how often, and how often you are posting. Be aware and maybe take a day off and see how you feel. I feel like I just sprouted wings.