What Makes You Come Alive?

There was no way I could avoid this thought on Easter Sunday morning:

What makes me come alive?

Well by now I know those things exactly. I’ve known some for a long time, or I have known a few others but struggled mightily in accepting them or making room for them.

This is a central question in my life now because I heard it expressed numerous times as what is life-giving to you? What made your heart leap for joy today? Sometimes we are so entirely unfocused that we don’t even notice the life-giving things that happened in a 24-hour period.

But the issue I know I am attempting to drill at more so is how do I maintain what makes me come alive?

There are many a cynic who will be quick to say life isn’t about doing what you love (it’s because they stopped doing what they love years ago).

There are many who say life is a grind (they let their loves flicker out).

And there are others yet that equate being fully alive with childish ambitions that don’t recognize the toughness of the real world (they stopped playing a long time ago).

What I am pointing out on Easter today is how I really got caught in the wonderment of prioritizing the things that make me come alive more than any other things. I acknowledge, it truly is a fight to guard your time for those things.

I think this is the case though because of the point of view I carry more than often, a view that says what nourishes my soul should be rare and only done after responsibility.

But I think that our responsibilities, our duties, our entire lives are enhanced when we safeguard an abundance of our time doing and learning what makes us come alive.

The next time you get excited over something, and someone notices your excitement, don’t just take note of it. Ask yourself, how can I pursue more of this which excites me? The thing you nerd out over more than others. The challenge you want to pursue that others don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

The things that make you fully alive.

Temporarily

After my walk around the neighborhood this morning listening to a podcast, with the warm weather breathing spring and delight back into me, looking at the different houses in the neighborhood in a sort of soft light, the following fell on me stronger than ever before:

I am tired of temporary. Actually, I think I am exhausted with temporary.

I am ready to be grounded where I am today. In the present.

It’s where we all are. The right now.

Like the neighborhood I am walking in. I thought I would temporarily be here.

Do you know how you treat something if you think it is temporary, not yours, not where you want to be?

You know how you treat it.

So this walk was refreshing me because even though I have plans to move elsewhere, I felt so grounded and attached to place more than I was allowing myself to be.

Having your mind convinced you are in a temporary state, which turns out to be a decade or more, is exhausting. It’s exhausting if it’s a year. Four years. Or four weeks.

I live in a neighborhood I don’t claim because I think I am temporarily here.

But what is so wrong about the temporary nature is we miss what we have. It creeps into many other areas in our lives. It has done so for me. Like:

I keep saying in my mind I will become a musician when I am already one.

I keep saying in my mind I will become a helper when I have helped many I don’t even realize.

I keep saying in my mind I will become a writer when I write and others tell me my writing is brilliant.

Temporary is no place to live. It leads to abuse of what we have. Even if we live in a temporary state, whatever that may be, there is something inside that state that we can cherish, hold dearly, help, create, embrace, and give thanks for.

Leveling Up When It Wasn’t Planned

This seems familiar to me.

 

Because this wasn’t the way it was suppose to go.

I was freshly laid off. Having moved into my grandmother’s house only a month prior to help care for her as she was living alone. The long term plan was to also save up for a down payment for my own home in a year’s time and then move out.

But I was laid off. A month after the move.

What followed I can’t explain as some sort of seven step guide. It’s merely my story. But in the immediate months that followed, almost the week right after, I started down a path I am forever referring to as my next education.

My initial jumping off point was I knew I didn’t want to do what I was just doing as a career. I knew I had to pivot. I knew things weren’t going to be the same.

This lead me to reading books by Jon Acuff, James Altucher, Jeff Goins and many more. Books I never dared to read before because I thought they were too self-helpy/salesperson/’I can help you but first pay me money!’ I was only interested in scholarly books or theological books. But the career driven, make your own path, exit the Matrix and do things different books? They were never on my radar.

Until they got on my radar because of the strong desire to pivot.

Well, one thing led to another and within a couple months time I was reading a library copy of Tim FerrissThe 4-Hour Workweek. And I have wrote about this story in particular before, but what I want to detail this time around was having exposed myself to a line of thinking and problem solving and paradigm shifting I had never considered before, I found myself doing mini experiments and exercises in finding what matters most to me and how I can daily change for the better regardless of being suddenly ‘stuck.’

The self education just snowballed into reading more and more similar books, listening to podcasts of the same nature and more. What happened immediately was a thirst for knowledge.

Next came following through with all this knowledge into action. The advice of several of these authors were implemented into daily practices, routines, or otherwise one-off challenges I had again never considered. Birthed out of this time frame was the formation of practices I have maintained in some fashion to this day which have greatly leveled me up.

Journaling,

not only to get the toxic stuff out of my head onto paper, but also, not surprisingly, to greatly improve my writing skills.

A more structured eating and gym regimine,

as I had already been on a journey where I lost 30lbs prior to the lay off. I have since been told by several people given the situation I was in, I had all the excuses in the world of letting a few things go in those regards. Sit around and play video games and eat unhealthy. But I did the exact opposite because having tested out new ways of doing things and seeing the positive results, I trusted learning and implementing whatever someone who has been there and done it has to offer in regards to diet and exercise. This lead to the next 50lbs being lost. And a completely new way of treating food as fuel and exercise as stimulation for the mind.

Reading on top of reading on top of reading.

I remember after graduate school being burned out with books and assigned class reading. But with a new sense of freedom I was looking forward to recreational reading on my own terms. Well, five years would pass by before I got serious about recreational reading. The lay off gave me time to sit down and read masterminds, folks who are so much more in the know than I am, who offered wisdom through their years of being there and done that. It become intoxicating and was leveling me up more.


There are countless other improvements which were made during this knocked off course time period.

What is standing out to me in the period of time the globe is finding itself in at present are the two streams I see daily on the social media feeds.

One stream is fueled to take this time to improve themselves.

The other stream is fueled by panic and fear.

I am once again realizing, having gone lax on some of my own daily regimens, that pregnant in this moment is the opportunity to regain some disciplines all over again. To better myself. To complete a couple trajectories I was on just prior to the events in the world going on right now.

And more importantly, I realize it’s not just time for me to better myself. It is time to help others more than ever.

Because now in the midst of our situation at hand we didn’t plan for, we can pivot, we can improve, we can change, and it can be for the better.

Slow Down

I was already slowing down my pace. Embracing how slow and methodical and meaningful my pace is. 

Sitting in another Grand Rapids coffee shop, a year after doing the same thing reading a book on a very similar topic, a few things were finally clicking about me and my ability to do important work when I am really…

…Slowed down.
…Void of distraction.
…Away from instant messaging pings.
…Distant from hurried busy work that only gets in the way of doing my actual job.

This trip to Grand Rapids, with these realizations hitting me like a ton of soothing bricks, inside a pristine, minimalist designed coffee shop with clean lines and soothing accents all around, was just two months ago.

The book that was doing this to me this time was The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. In the book, a focus emerges about how what we value the most should rise above anything else that is fighting for our time, our energy, or attention.

But it must be a deliberate action of holding those values high. A deliberate fight. 

I was there in that coffee shop once again embracing the slow life. The slow pace, where the greatest work is done.

The things clicking I started embracing more were:

  • I write all my scholarly and creative work from a place of slowness and tuning out of the world except for the topic I am writing about.
  • I make music after listening to tons of music. And the best music ideas come to me in hour 2 of playing, not right from the top.
  • Poetry I share comes to me swiftly when I am deliberately slowing down, suspending everything we all get trapped into flooding our minds over.

So only two months ago, 

TWO MONTHS AGO,

I began the process once again (as I had started it a year prior), in taking a massive self inventory about what matters more than anything else in my life, removing the rest, and amplifying my highest held values at a pace I work best at. 

Removing things that are ‘good’ in order to keep only the great.

Removing even some of the great for the top three greats (if you have more than three greats). 

Basically, over the past two months, I was removing things that don’t matter to me as much as the things that are on my ‘great’ list. I was attempting to forcefully remove distractions, negative people, downer perspectives, filler recreations, things I don’t want to spend as much time on as other things, etc.

I was doing this two months ago. 

So here we all are. Slowed down.

And that’s not bad.

I invite us all in this moment of time to embrace the slower pace, and not to confuse it with being less productive.

This involves a radical shift in your relationship with time and your capacity to tell really good opportunities no. To tell really good friends no. To tell really good volunteer work no.

This involves focus. Allowing yourself the chance to become obsessive over the only few things you value than all others.

The fact I was engaged in a deep embrace of a slower pace of life prior to our social distancing is something I can’t hoard selfishly. I want to encourage and pass along more as I continue on in this state of self examination, to offer up what I’ve learned.

Which is what writing is all about. It is what it’s always been about for me. Finding solutions to the problems I face, and then sharing it. Giving it as gifts. 

We are slowing down and readjusting to what will be several new normals. But this doesn’t mean we are going to abandon every single thing we were carrying around in the back of our heads as the things that we value more than anything but never had the time for. We have it now. 

It was a choice previously. Now, it is something you still can choose, but the time is more ready than ever before to do so.

And we can continue to have this opportunity as we reshape a culture that was built on grind and hustle. We can rebuild with a pace the soul was built on, a slow pace focused on our values.

“Slow down
We are too fast now.” – So Long Forgotten, Light is a Metaphor

A Character That Wants Something, And Doesn’t Know What They Want

A character that wants something…

But what if they don’t know what they want?

I have struggled to answer this question honestly to people in my life. To myself. Which leaves all parties involved frustrated.

Despite going through life planning curriculum, including Storyline and StoryBrand clarifying activities, and long retreats filled with contemplative prayer asking God what makes my heart leap, what has He stirred in me more than in others, what are my desires?

So why don’t I know what I want?

First, a lesson from story itself.


“Hindsight is a priceless jewel, but I’ve never been one for clarity.” – Listener, My Five Year Plan

Donald Miller’s Storyline process was something I latched onto as soon as it came out. I had the book pre-ordered and it landed on my porch in 2012. The anticipation swelled because I was going to finally put to personal usage the most convincing process I’ve ever heard of structuring one’s life: filter our lives through the process of a good story.

In the intro of Storyline, Miller writes “Great stories have one thing in common: they are clear. As such, Storyline is all about gaining mental clarity. If a character doesn’t know what they want, the story gets muddled. The same is true in life. And if the conflict isn’t clearly identified, the story drags, as it does in life.” (p 7)

A story is good, at least from the start, because it lets us know what the protagonist wants. If it is not clear what the protagonist wants, why would anyone stick around for the rest of the story to unfold?

By not being clear about what we want, there is nothing anyone else can really do to help us when a challenge comes. The potential customer, the potential employer, the potential date, they have no idea how to really say yes or commit or dive in to help clarify what it is we want if we actually don’t know what we want.

How does someone not know what they want? How am I still not clearly saying what I want with all the tools and weeks on end invested towards untangling all of this and organize it all in a clear fashion through the power of a good story?

Enter the Enneagram. The missing piece to my puzzle.

Discovering I have an Enneagram Type Nine personality, I have a quality about me that seeks to bring people together, but at the cost of merging with people I desire to bridge divides and make peace with. Able to reconcile conflicts between people or ideas, a type Nine person is usually setting aside what we deeply want in order to be at peace with others.

Ian Morgan Cron in his book The Road Back To You elaborates on the “unevolved” Nine’s issue by stating how they “neglect their soul’s summons to identify, name and assert what they want in life and to go hard after it. In fact, they can merge so deeply with the life program and identity of another that they eventually mistake the other’s feelings, opinions, successes and aspirations for their own.” (p 69).

Cron also states, “But Nines are slothful when it comes to fully paying attention to their own lives, figuring out what they want in life, chasing their dreams, addressing their own needs, developing their own gifts and pursuing their calling.” (p 67) This happens because in order to keep the peace, a Nine pushes what they want down to save embarrassment or to avoid attention being drawn to them.

If this sounds bad enough, not knowing what I want because I have the personality tendency to suppress my wants in order to gain acceptance from others around me, Cron punches me and other Nines in the gut about something a Nine can produce to the detriment of their unsuspecting victim: the “Epic Saga.”

As Cron writes:

“Because they sometimes lack drive and focus, average Nines often become jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. They are generalists who, because they know a little bit about everything, can find something to talk about with everybody. Conversations with Nines are delightful as long as they don’t switch over to cruise control. You’ll know a Nine has done this when, after asking them how their day went, they launch into a long, drawn-out story containing more details and detours than you ever thought possible.” (p 71, emphasis added).

Yikes.

Now imagine instead of asking a Nine like me how my day went, you ask me what do I want? This could be applied to a number of areas, like career, relationships, hobbies, etc. The unhealthy Nine is going to enter into an epic ramble because they have not clearly defined what they want. Or, in all honesty, are afraid of desiring what they want.

I’ve turned several epic saga’s loose on some people in my life recently. What’s happening on the inside is actually pretty clear to me. I have a ton of connective ideas, truths, bullet point facts, for what was asked of me: what do I want?

Well ok, here are a bunch of facts that are truly connected in some way, and now it is my task to give you a fantastic sounding story weaving all of these things together. Ten minutes later as the dust is settling, what I want is not only not clear to the victim listener, but not clear to me if it ever was to begin with.

Which is why what Donald Miller says about what a customer (or date/employer/mentor, this is very flexible in application) is having to do when they first come across our product/request is the most important and condemning truth for an unhealthy type Nine personality. Our customer is trying to figure out within mere seconds ‘what does this person want?’ Me, as an unhealthy Nine, launches into an epic saga. This isn’t good, this is actually disastrous. As Miller says in his book Building a StoryBrand, “so what do customers do when we blast a bunch of noise at them? They ignore us.” (p 7).

An unevolved Nine doesn’t know what they want on a good day. Hence the epic saga ramble pours out.

What a breakthrough. This is it. The linchpin for me.


Healthy Nines or anyone else who knows what they want need to clarify how they ask for what they want. No one does a good job of how to ask, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for StoryBrand, seminars, or entire avenues of communicative sciences to study and aid people in figuring out how to clearly state what we want to someone.

Ok. I get it now. Finally.

If people don’t know what I want, they can’t help. If I am not saying it clear enough, like we all struggle with to some degree, they can’t help directly. But at its worst I actually don’t know what I want because of my merging, appeasing Nine personality. So I launch into the ramble with a ton of truths baked into it, yet with no clear up front ask. No clear ‘this is it, this is what I want! Now for all the details.’

Can it be God just wants me to help others with what they struggle with too? That would be so Nine of me! But I think so, and I think it’s finally time to live out the story I worked out, to face the challenges worth overcoming, because of the permission I’m finally granting myself.

The Storyline process gets you to come up with a life theme based off what you see God having done in and through your life up till then. Having come up with this theme back in 2012, I am kinda floored at how accurate it is, and how it does tell me what I want. If only I follow through more with it and subvert the slothful type Nine personality in me, I can enter into a healthy version of myself knowing what I want, because it involves more than just me:

God is encouraging talents and passions in me to be used for relationship with Him and people.

The Rise Of Anxiety Due To Instant Messaging And Digital Connection

In case I am wondering why I am, at one level, personally shook in response to the book Digital Minimalism by computer science professor Cal Newport, and at a second level, shook for society en masse, look no further than this statement from Newport’s investigation into the present crisis on college campuses:

She [the head of a mental health service at a well-known university] told me that everyone seemed to suddenly be suffering from anxiety or anxiety-related disorders. When I asked her what she thought caused the change [from previous cohorts of students born prior to 1995], she answered without hesitation that it probably had something to do with smartphones. The sudden rise in anxiety-related problems coincided with the first incoming classes of students that were raised on smartphones and social media. She noticed that these new students were constantly and frantically processing and sending messages. It seemed clear that the persistent communication was somehow messing with the students’ brain chemistry. (pg 105 of Digital Minimalism) [emphasis added]

This bares repeating: messing with the student’s brain chemistry. Newport highlights studies by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology and expert on the study of generational differences, demonstrating in her work that the ‘iGen’ generation (born after 1995) and Millennials (born between 1981-1995) are displaying the sharpest spike in generational behavioral differences ever recorded. In other words, the way the iGen cohort behaves compared to Millennials is the largest difference in behavior between succeeding generations since psychological observations have been occuring.

I am going to agree with this statement and its revelations until proven otherwise for now, and work from this baseline in writing what follows. Let’s say Newport, Twenge, anonymous school therapist are right in their hypothesis.

What are the smartphones doing to us? To me? 

If I look personally at the first level, I can say given whatever preexisting cognitive conditions I unknowingly have, over usage of texting and instant messaging serve as detrimental tools instead of beneficial. The key being over usage.

Let’s say my ‘shyness’ I’ve always had in life is some form of communicative hindrance. Now, add the medium of constantly typing to people in a manner which allows for backspacing, editing, getting my random thought out there minus my speech impediment (yes, I was in speech therapy most of my young elementary school life), and all of a sudden the hypothesis of an altering brain chemistry in order to process and keep up with frantic, constant inputs from other people, let alone my own participation, is an urgent call to modify my behavior sooner than later.

Of which I have already.

Initially after reading the book, I entered into a state of digital minimalism as prescribed by Newport. This meant not checking instant messaging, not texting unless it was an emergency or to coordinate meeting with someone, and certainly the removal of social media apps or any distracting apps at all from my phone.

I was two weeks into drastically cutting down my messaging to friends. Not a full cut off like Newport recommends, but drastically diminished. 

And I have to say I was clearer thinking. I wasn’t as anxious. In fact there was an anxiousness of some other variety I didn’t even know was present to me until I cut off the constant engagement of messaging and connection.

I have unlocked some portion of my mind where, and this is the kicker, I recall being in undergraduate libraries circa 2005, reading class material and only focusing on the material. Not switching tabs every 10 minutes in my open browsers. Focusing intently on what I need to do. Not checking my analog cell phone for notifications. 

To stress the point being made by Newport and others, my brain chemistry already begun changing for the better in this detox period. There is no question. I was recovering a state of focus I’ve experienced, oddly enough, as a teenager and young college student.

As for the iGen cohort, they’ve only known instant messaging. What’s at stake?

There is an anxiety rising like we have not witnessed en masse. The generation born after 1995 have been bombarded with constant connection and are increasingly anxious over things that people wouldn’t normally have the time for.

The band Fit For A King emphasized this on a recent track. As an interview from Altpress reveals about the song When Everything Means Nothing:

Fit For A King’s Ryan Kirby told AP that he knows people who are depressed because their lives don’t seem to be going as well as some people who share a lot on social media.

“I just wanted people to know that no one is living a perfect life,” Kirby says. “If you are struggling with things like depression and anxiety, it’s normal. It doesn’t make you less than a bunch of other people. A lot of other people go through the same thing.”

As the opening line of the song says:

“One’s and zero’s fill my eyes
Am I supposed to be like everybody else?”

Before And After Digital Minimalism

I just don’t see things the same way anymore.

I gave it over six months now to sink in further, see if I just was going through something, a phase or a strong initial reaction.

But no, I am living firmly in the biggest before and after of my life.

It was a book that did it. Many people have had a similar experience after reading something. It gives the reader no option to continue on in life the same way they were prior to reading it.

Digital Minimalism, by computer science professor Cal Newport, provides this kind of clear demarcation in my life.

I had already caught on prior to reading the book. On the side prior to reading this book, I was already collecting information about the effect the digital world is having on the human psyche. The pastor at the church I attend was also giving a sermon series on the effects social media are having on people when this book was released.

Though Digital Minimalism released in early 2019, my first hard pause regarding this subject happened back in 2016. It was an article published by Andrew Sullivan titled “I Used to Be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.” I recall reading this and sitting back in my first state of shock going ‘wow, how did Sullivan get into my mind?’

As I sat down to read Newport’s book, stoked about the topic and ready to read, he opens the book by……referring to Sullivan’s article.

I’ll forever remember the airport bar I was sitting at when I read those first lines. My heart skipped a beat in excitement.

I was convicted. And I will get to that. I’ll get to it way in depth. In fact, this entire site will see an extended series all about it. I plan on releasing important observations about this book over time.

But first I must expound on how this book shocked me into B.D.M. (before Digital Minimalism) and A.D.M (after Digital Minimalism).


What Newport does in Digital Minimalism is take the hardest holistic jab at the new digital frontier. He holds no punches back, and it is all backed by research.

Remember. He’s a computer scientist. He’s enthusiastically pro-technology.

After reading this book I am convinced I fell deep into the cognitive, psychological trappings of over stimulation and abuse via instant access to the Internet, and very particularly, access to instant messaging (IM) capabilities. The former, social media and the Internet in general, were predictable; the latter, instant messaging, was the most surprising and most deeply convicting in terms of rebuke of either medium.

Stated explicitly, my approach towards addictive technologies and the social trending topics of our time (in combination with my intellectual curiosity) would lead to daily behaviors where I’d have 35 open Internet browser tabs, skimming social media for opinion after opinion, messaging five to six instant messaging chat groups simultaneously, while all of these inputs from multiple sources created an anxiety of unmet answers to strawman questions via trivial Internet feuds no one would even have in-person in the first place.

There were moments I paused while reading Digital Minimalism and for the very first time saw, felt, went back mentally, to pre-Facebook, pre-instant messaging David. Those were the most surreal moments.

Actually, they were scary.

There was the realization that I substituted in-person conversation (which was already hard for me in life) with instant messaging and texting. Mainly instant messaging. And I mean wholesale swapping out.

Consequently, I know I have operated below my God-given potential for a long time. My intellect, a brilliance reinforced several times over in meaningful deep conversations with mentors in my life, has had its oxygen supply significantly cut off. I realize my ability to hyper-focus is actually a gift and the object of that focus is the critical difference.

This book made me see I can’t focus anymore because I was never progressing in meaningful focus, term paper focus, only work-on-what’s-in-front-of-me focus.

More important than the loss of focus is how I’ve lost what little in-person communicative skills I once had. The tie into instant messaging though, I’m telling you, it floored me. Because it made so much sense.


This is merely a new beginning for me as I’ll return to this theme a lot on this blog. I’ll flush out more of what I just eluded to, what Newport laid out, references he cited, and more.

For now, I realize there is no escaping this theme, even in music.

I knew of the songs which were tackling the issue of the digital mess we’ve entered, but these songs started to churn inside me in a new way after reading Digital Minimalism.

Thrice’s Salt and Shadow provides such a glimpse. From their comeback album of 2016 titled To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, this song highlights how we are connected via our phones but are becoming deteriorated grey shells of ourselves.

We are connected, but not actually communicating the way our brains are wired to.

In an interview with guitarist Teppei Teranishi, on the topic of the album title’s ancient philosophical reference brought into a modern focus:

…with things like the internet and social media – everybody kind of staring at their phones and not being present…at all. So that was kind of the idea that resonated with us – you think about being on Twitter and constantly on your phone…you’re everywhere, but you’re kind of nowhere, you know what I mean?

I do know Teppei. I do.

As Salt and Shadow says:

“On the edge of a knife, it’s like you’re living your life on the stage,
You’re talking through glass, we’re just square photographs on a page,
Oh, we’re never alone but we’re each in our own little cage.”

Reclaiming Your Environment

I tripped a wire the other day when I combined an old bad habit with a new good habit inside the same environment.

I was inside my car listening to a podcast about incrementally creating better habits daily when I simultaneously hit the drive-thru line. Twice. In the same car ride home.

When I’m in my car driving aimlessly (or purposely like a commute) I find a strong association with hitting fast food lines, with the image of Taco Bell bags strewn across the back passenger floor. This is because I had actually gone through so many drive-thru lines in the exact car I am still driving today, despite going through the massive physical change in my life.

It really hit me after I tossed the empty bag of the second order of Taco Bell down: the physical environment inside my car is associated with reckless eating.

Psychologists point out how environment certainly can become associated with past behaviors, good or bad. A strong mental connection is forged in “learned environments.” Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., writes, “when behaviors are repeated, they can be conditioned to a particular place or situation and these learned habits can be hard to break.” 

If I felt like the driver’s seat of the same car I had done all my caloric drive-thru damage in was triggering, it’s because it actually is.

Place really matters.


Enter the podcasts and lawn cutting season.

I was cutting lawns with a friend and listening to podcasts all day long. A new environment and habit began to forge.

Learning from others via the podcasts while I was smelling freshly cut grass helped re-wire my brain more than it already had, having already lost all my weight.

What made me connect the idea of environmental conditioning with podcasts and my driver’s seat was one more final element…..the smell of….pear? Not sure what the tree was in one customer’s backyard. But I loved running over the fruits because the blade of the mower would slice multiple chunks of the fruit strewn across the backyard. An aroma would fill the air around my riding lawn mower and all of a sudden I was in a Bath & Body Works store. But on a riding lawn mower, sweating.

Scent is closely tied to memory. Add to that the incredible impact environmental conditions have on a student’s ability to learn.

I was hard-wiring my brain with the smell of freshly cut grass, moving scenery, beautiful landscapes, while simultaneously becoming a podcast consuming student listening to personal stories from others who overcome challenges in their lives, and share to help others.

I was consuming advice from some of the world’s leading over-achievers. They were talking about their failures, their insecurities, their bold life-hacks, their methods and routines at approaching life daily. Even their under-achievements and shortcomings.

Hardwired into me now is an association between podcast learning (of the more informative variety [Ferriss, Altucher, StoryBrand, etc.]) and lawn cutting.

And the smell of the freshly sliced fruit in the one backyard.

Now to reclaim the car driver seat forever.

Why not commit to only listening to podcasts out loud in the car on a commute? Taking the good habit, shifting it to an environment once the literal vehicle for a bad habit, is the way to repair the damaged environment.

When I am listening to an informative podcast in my car, I have to listen. I am not listening to my inner-dialogue, no matter how crappy I may feel at the time. Or how good. Sometimes it was moments of euphoric reward that led me to a drive-thru line.

By listening to interviews of people who overcame challenges, I can reclaim an environment which conditioned repeated destructive behavior.  Even a podcast about woodworking will work. Anything to draw my attention towards learning while driving a gas powered vehicle of some sort.

I’m gonna have to get a pear car scent now as the final touch. It will reinforce the process of reclamation.

My car is not a tool to get me into a drive-thru. My car is a tool to teach me one more lesson from one more person who overcame a lot in order to help others.

Small Spark

A small spark vs a great forest. A dark, dense forest. A forest providing beauty, and shade from the sun.

But perhaps too much shade.

The forest as a dark, scary, haunting place is a metaphor carried through the centuries inside the human psyche, found in our collective storytelling.

The forest is a tool shading us from the sun. Dimming the power of light. As beautiful as the forest is, crossing from forest edge into a clearing can surprise our eyes as we adjust to the intense light of the approaching meadow, as if someone flipped a switch on.

As much as we are able to see while walking inside the forest, it is the tree canopy screening the full amount of light possible to us. The forest is ‘dark’ to us during peak daytime.

Forests are screening out the most light available to us. The light is there. But we are lost inside the forest which is always providing a diminished version of the light.

Perhaps, the forest needs to be removed if we can’t find our way out.


There is also the metaphor of a seemingly insignificant small spark, be it fire or a passing thought, having an enormous, disproportional affect on it’s surroundings.

One small careless incident, and the whole forest burns down.

One small careless word, and a kingdom crumbles.

One small thoughtful daily act, and darkness itself begins to fade.

When I consider the warning how a small spark can burn a forest down, I find it as a warning of thoughtful discernment. The message isn’t “don’t be careless and screw everything up.” What if the message is “a small spark can take on a great forest.”

We should decide with care which forests to burn down. There are forests preventing us from full access to the Light.

There are forests of oppression, shielding the Light of all we can be if not for unjust systems.

There are forests of depression, shielding the Light that is telling us we are tremendously valued as we are.

There are forests of bitterness, shielding the Light trying to tell us to let go, move on, and walk forward humbly motivated.

There are forests of lies, shielding the Light of Truth by using Light itself in a very diminished, altered state.

A small spark, the smallest amount of hope you could possibly imagine, is enough. It’s always just enough. It will light a new light as it burns the forest down. What is left is more Light. The Light which was diminished. A Light we only saw a burst here and there of through the forest’s thick tree canopy.

We had no idea how bright it was outside the forest.

But liberated from the dark forest we lived in, are we not tasked to carefully burn down forests of lies, oppression, worthlessness, shame, anger, or bitterness we see others are wandering in? Setting a small spark in our forest takes resolve, but it only has to be a small spark.

Burn down the forest of shame, bitterness, hopelessness, all which shields Light.

Too Much Found His Mind

Most of my waking hours I am speechless, and I know some friends of mine won’t understand what I just wrote there. But most of the time I’m not saying much.

Or just saying surface level canned statements. You know:

The weather is bad,

Wow was the traffic a mess today,

How ’bout them Cowboys?

However, much closer to the forefront of my mind are deep analytical, historical, emotional and socio-political ramifications of you asking me “so how’s it going?”

How’s it going?! Well, considering both of us just heard a little about maintaining good personal finances, here are my thoughts on the history of the Christian Monastic Community and the distribution of possessions, successful and failed attempts at communal living, and the complete horror of the pervasiveness of the American Dream within our culture.

That’s what I want to respond to “how’s it going.”

Because I mean let’s just get frank and cut the small talk.


In mewithoutYou’s song Bethlehem, WV there is a line right in the beginning which caught my attention and gave me pause of everything I was probably thinking about at the time:

A stranger’s face appeared—
They say he lost his mind
(Or too much found his mind?)
I hear it all the time

Too much found his mind? 

I immediately resonated and searched the lyrics to see if others caught it. Sure enough, too much found his mind proved too good a line to go unnoticed. It reminds one person of Nietszche’s madman metaphor.  To someone else, a possible reference of John The Baptist.

The metaphor of Nietzche’s Madman is about someone who is deeply perceiving a lot, too much, or perhaps all which needs to be perceived, in contrast to the masses asleep at their own wheels. I sense it is more about the person making connections with all which is finding their mind.

It speaks to a kind of ‘awareness’ of things. Awareness provides the opportunity to make pathways between seemingly unrelated items, a connection process of information more than a lack of perception of said items in isolation.

For example, John The Baptist was witness to the same information as anyone else of his time: socio-political movements, imperial occupations, and sacred scriptural promises of a coming liberating savior who will tidy everything up when the time is right. It’s just while others are giving their attention to individual portions, only a few pieces, or woefully unaware of anything not involving only themselves, John was preaching the way he was preaching because he was putting a few pieces together.

When I am looking to add to a conversation I often find myself wanting to take someone straight to the implications of what we are really talking about. How does this connect to events of the past? In what ways is our discussion more about selfish ambition versus growing yourself and challenging your own thoughts? How did you feel when that happened or this news came to you?


I began sharing a little more here and there to others in the above manner. Instead of maintaining surface level, I’d go where I am residing presently. Speaking directly of the things which I was constantly connecting and what I found worthy of actually sharing.

As if I had forgot or discredited what my grade school teachers would always say of me, a few individuals paused me in recent years because they saw the 10,000 foot view of what I was doing. In the middle of conversation they would say “wait, you’re reading all these books right now and connecting what’s in them?” Or “not everyone is still enough in a moment to capture the thought you’re expressing.”

These were long lost encouragements I had stuffed away or discarded entirely a long time ago. I was hearing them afresh from encouraging people.


Perhaps I was sharing more readily again because two things finally started kicking in.

One was leaning completely into what happens to me within certain environments. So much finds my mind just sitting at a coffee shop, looking out at the sunny day outside, wondering about the old man in the corner of the shop and his long contemplative look. I guess at his hopes and dreams, the life he has lived, and the regrets he has faced head on or is still running from. The next thing I know I have jotted down some lines of poetry without anticipation. Poetry helps condense volumes of things finding my mind into digestible portions. And it comes when I am surprisingly at rest.

The other helpful practice for me is discerning what continually rests on my mind. Daily journal practices of writing anything and everything that comes to mind is an excellent sifting exercise. Once on paper or on computer screen, we see what is taking up unneeded space.

We don’t ask for some of the things which find their way to our minds, but we can do a fantastic job of filtering down what matters most.

Too much on our minds can be made into a blessing.