Posts in GROW
Is There Even Such a Thing as Men's Intuition?

Post by Markus

Hi, my name’s Markus and I’m a human – specifically, a middle-class white American straight male thirty-something raised in a large city in the Bible Belt.  By reading those words you probably have some idea of the perspective that’s colored much of my experience into adult life - socioeconomic privilege, American male perspective, conservative/fear-based upbringing and all.

Up to about age 36, I held certain beliefs about what it means to me a man.  No one handed me a manual at any point along the way – it was a construct I’d built throughout life based on what I’d absorbed from the world around me.  The messages were loud and clear. 

I knew that to be a man, meant certain specific things.  These were so obviously true in my mind that I had zero doubts about them.  I took them as completely true and accurate – though reading these now it’s immediately apparent that they’re very flawed.  Chief among these beliefs were:

  • To be a man means to be immune to the “weakness” of living emotionally

  • To be a man means to be “tough”, “right”, “in control” and “not feminine”

  • To be a man means to live logically and rationally – the opposite of whatever “women’s intuition” is

I’d heard about women’s intuition enough times to know that it was a great mystery that I should probably leave unexamined, since I clearly didn’t meet the prerequisite to even begin to understand what it might be. I couldn’t have given you thirty seconds worth about it:

“Women’s intuition?  Let’s see – so it’s for women, obviously.  OK – so, probably it’s how they say they have feelings about something, like they just know something and really trust it based on – something.  Based on feelings, I guess.  It seems pretty complex, likely has to do with being emotionally-based – not like us rational men.”

So basically – emotion plus a certain enigmatic “je ne sais quoi.”  I decided it must be irrelevant to me and I let it be, without much thought. 

ABER MACH IT DAS FASHION!

Armed with this ignorance about women’s intuition (and about the concept of intuition in general), my indoctrination as an American male raised in the 80s and 90s was in many ways pretty average for that time.

There are shades of gray, to be sure.  I was born in Germany and I lived there until I was five years old.  I went back to visit fairly regularly throughout elementary and middle school – plus we were frequently hosting family and friends who flew over to Texas to visit.  That did give me a different perspective on things – men’s fashion for example. 

In the U.S., skinny jeans didn’t come into trend until about the mid/late 2000s (at least where I was living).  Before that time, especially in the mid/late 1990s, it was clear to me that wearing skinny jeans as a man had certain implications about whether or not I was a “real” man.  That was based on what I heard from other guys at school and from what I absorbed from TV and movies.  To make sure there was no ambiguity about my identity and to prove that I was definitely a man’s man, I made sure my jeans were as baggy as possible.

Even though that “truth” about men’s pants existed in the U.S. (or at least in the public schools I attended), it didn’t seem to exist in Germany.  Skinny jeans for guys were rampant there as far back into my childhood memories as I remember.  It seemed like for some reason, German guys didn’t get the memo. 

German men were wearing skinny jeans without a second thought about the implication of what that meant about their identity as a man.  Even when family friends came to visit us in Texas, the guys brought their skinny jeans along and wore them as if it was the most normal thing in the world.  It was beyond strange to me and to my friends, especially in middle school. 

The only way I could reconcile it was to decide that for some reason, German guys like their jeans to fit snug and slim.  I concluded that they were just misguided or a little behind the times and didn’t know any better.  I chalked it up as a strange, unexplainable cultural difference – like the German obsession with hard-boiled eggs for breakfast or their passion for taking things way too seriously.

THAT COLOR

There were other ways that I was different from the guys at school, besides that I spent the first five years of my life in Europe.  I was definitely on the more thoughtful/sensitive end of the spectrum. 

“Thoughtful” - meaning that I was often lost in thought, followed a wild imagination, and had tons of creativity. 

“Sensitive” - meaning that I was a softie, likely to get my feelings hurt, and couldn’t handle movies with any kind of blood or guts. At the same time that my friends were watching the R-Rated Terminator movies with wild-eyed excitement, I was covering my eyes and hiding from the PG-13 classics like Dances With Wolves.

I never played any organized sports although disorganized sports were definitely my thing – I couldn’t get enough of riding bikes, skateboarding, and playing street hockey.  I did try really hard several times to get into baseball, basketball, and football so that I could relate to my friends and join their conversations about games they watched and how their team was doing.  When I tried, it was forced though – there was nothing that was pulling me toward sports, they just didn’t move the needle for me (and still don’t today). 

The closest I got to dabbling in following sports was getting really into the Charlotte Hornets in the early/mid 90s. 

Actually – make that “getting really into the Charlotte Hornets logo and color scheme in the early/mid 90s.” 

The first time I saw the logo, this cartoon character struck me as edgy and unconventional – but mostly as fun.  To me, all the other NBA logos seemed boring and like whoever created them had just phoned something in that somehow got used as the actual logo. 

After that, cue the Charlotte Hornets gear.  Hats, jerseys, shorts, Starter Jackets, special edition Larry Johnson shoes – nevermind that I couldn’t have told you anything about Larry Johnson or that I didn’t watch the games.

I got really into the team colors – the teal definitely, but way more into that purple.  From that point on, if it came in purple – that’s the color I got it in.  I had purple shoes that I wore with purple jean shorts (still thinking about bringing those back in 2020).  Purple and I had a great run for years.

That changed when I found out in no uncertain terms that purple was not a color that was cool (or even OK) for boys to like.  I learned that pretty easily by osmosis in the suburban public school system around the transition from elementary to middle school.  It was clear: “If I wear the color purple (or even just like the color purple) – then I don’t fit in with the guys.”

This was around the time that I also learned that the more I modified my preferences and self-expression to fit the expectations of others, the easier social interaction seemed to be.  With those two new beliefs quickly ingrained, I put the color purple on the back burner and started looking toward the status quo for guidance on what colors were OK for guys to like.

 

BE A MAN

Learning the lesson that certain colors were OK to like and others weren’t was one thing.  The larger lessons that came along the same time cut deeper and were more harmful.  There was no ambiguity – these were unbendable rules if I was to consider myself a man.

  1. Don’t appear weak (or even remotely vulnerable or caught off-guard), ever.

  2. Don’t cry (or express any emotion unless it’s one that’ll make you look tough).

  3. Constantly overcompensate to prove that you never do both of the above items.

The seeds for these beliefs were planted years earlier and by early middle school, they were irrefutable in my mind.  I started building a wall against these in my heart to make sure it wouldn’t betray me by letting emotion/”weakness” out accidentally.  I didn’t realize that I was actually betraying my heart by shutting it down. 

Emotion was out and the replacement was action – the domain of men.  It was time to do things, impress people, achieve something.  I was no longer a little kid and it was time for the rubber to meet the road.  No more playing around - this was middle school, people.

I internalized new beliefs easily since I was a very suggestible kid - eager to understand messages about what I should do and who I should be, so that I would get approval from others.  These included:

  • Let your accomplishments speak for you. 

  • If you do something great, then you’ll be great. 

  • See all those stats on the back of baseball cards?  That’s something these mighty men DID and because of what they did, they’re mighty men.  They’re stronger, faster, and can go harder than anyone else out there – that’s why they’re winners and that’s why all the rest are losers.

My default mode was “more / faster / harder”.  Is something not working? 

More! Faster! Harder!  Push, push, push! 

If I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted, then obviously the answer must be “more / faster / harder.”  It worked in the movies for all the badass guys who represented power and all that is man.

Like Gary Gulman emphasizes in his recent HBO special The Great Depresh, the dominant message was “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.”

I tried the more / faster / harder method for decades.  I never got anywhere with it.  Sure, I got a little extra quick-burn horsepower when I needed it in short bursts to burn the midnight oil for projects – school, work, home, etc.  But it wasn’t the real power that I needed to actually be effective - and in the long run, it only led me to frustration and burnout.  The dangling carrot of self-approval never got any closer, although each new project and to-do list promised to deliver if I only pushed even harder and got even more done.

NOTHING TO DO

About this time last year, I found myself in Miami with an empty day and nothing on the agenda.  My default response at that time to any unexpected block of free time was “great – now I can catch up on this mountain of things to do.” I considered hitting the gym, reading, doing work on my laptop, and organizing my many to-do lists that I had brought on the trip.  But I didn’t do any of those. 

Something pulled me toward the water and for some reason I went with it.  The best I can explain it is that I just slowed down for a minute and “felt” what seemed the most natural.  It turns out, that was walking to the beach alone and standing in front of the wind and crashing waves.

It gets a bit metaphysical here which I’m definitely into.  The magic was that I heard something – except I didn’t hear any words.  It’s like I just felt the presence of something deeply true and the words came together somewhere in my being.  And they weren’t words – they were more like gentle commands.  There was no force – it’s like they were strong recommendations from a deep, ancient source of wisdom.  To keep it simple, I’ll call them “words.”

The power and depth behind those words made it seem like the source knew that I would hear them and that I would listen.  I had no judgment or consideration of whether I should or shouldn’t listen.  Honestly, that was the whole reason I was there - I had followed the pull of the ocean.  I wanted to connect with a source infinitely bigger and far more ancient than my own being.

Through the wind, I looked out at the ocean.  It was just “there.”  It didn’t seem to be “doing” anything, it definitely wasn’t “trying” to do anything, and as the number one largest thing on this planet – it had nothing to prove.

I stood still for a few minutes with the wind in my face. 

Then, I heard “Sit.”  So I took off my shoes and sat down in the sand.

After a while, I heard “Listen.”  So I listened. 

Actually I kind of figured that I had already BEEN listening but OK – I’d come this far, and I was willing to listen more intently.

A while later I heard “Breathe.”  So I did. 

I had been dabbling in box-breathing (à la the Navy Seals) for a while - though I’d only been doing it one-minute sessions, which already seemed really long.  I had nowhere to go and nowhere to be, so I did five-minutes of box-breathing as I sat on the beach - using the second hand of my watch to guide my breath.  After those five minutes, it felt like I was connected even deeper with this presence before me and like the dividing line between myself and the ocean dissolved away.

Sometime after that, I quietly heard the last word: “Be.”

That was it.

So I did. 

Or rather, I didn’t – I mean, I didn’t “do” anything.  Just like the ocean when I first got to the beach, I was just “there.”  I wasn’t doing anything, and I wasn’t trying to do anything – I just was.  I kept sitting and breathing until it felt that the experience was complete.  I looked at my watch and I’d been there on the beach about an hour.

I’m convinced that the entire time that I was there in the sand was just so that I would hear and absorb that simple, final message – “Be.”  The three prior words – Sit, Listen, and Breathe – were just as important, so that I would be open and receptive to the ultimate message.  With a stormy, chaotic mind – it’s easy to miss a calm, simple message like “Be.”  In the state I was in when I first got to the beach, that message wouldn’t have even been a blip on my radar.

WAVES IN THE OCEAN

It felt very much like I had been exactly where I was supposed to be, in that place on the beach at that exact moment in time.  When I think about that experience these days, it feels like the lighting of a small fire of what I can only describe as “intuition” – to me, that means “being in-tune with something greater and wiser than myself.”  

I believe the purpose of that attunement is so that I will grow and thrive, to ultimately be more useful for the people and world around me.  A major part of that growth is to stop pushing and resisting life – and instead, to surrender and let life live thru me. 

I’m just the vessel, here for whatever greater purpose life has in store for my time on this planet.  One of my all-time favorite song lyrics are these words from the band 311 – “Kingdom comin’ thru ya!”  To me, that means life living its purpose thru a human being, for the good of others and for the world.

Just like waves and the ocean – inextricably connected.  One moves thru the other and there is no resistance – only flow. 

In the time since that experience last year, I’ve switched my default mode from “more / faster / harder” to “less / slower / easier.”  Rationally and logically, that made zero sense to me at first.  If I’m “not getting everything done that I need to” and “I don’t have enough time for everything on my plate” – then obviously the answer must be “more / faster / harder.”  I mean anyone can clearly see that more is more, amiright?

Instead of redlining and brute-forcing my way through when something isn’t working, now I take a deep breath and ease off the gas.  Somehow that makes me more calm and better able to approach whatever I’m struggling through – strange, I know.

So is there even such a thing as men’s intuition?  Well, here’s how Merriam-Webster defines intuition (condensed for simplicity):

  • quick and ready insight

  • immediate cognition

  • the power of attaining direct knowledge without evident rational thought and inference

So does it exist for men?  I have a couple responses and I’m only scratching the surface here. My answer has several parts:

  1. There is such a thing as intuition and men can tune-in. 

  2. In a calm, non-resistant state of mind – messages via intuition appear obvious.

  3. In a chaotic, resistant state of mind – the mind and heart are insulated from intuition.  I would compare it to take a cell phone into a cave deep below ground.  Both the source and the receiver are still functional, but something is blocking the line of communication.  There’s an impenetrable barrier and no reception.

I believe this rabbit hole of intuition for men goes much deeper and that intuition is intricately connected to a calm mind and open heart – which when combined, are ultimately our real source of power.  One of my favorite quotes is this one by Marcus Aurelius:

The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.

Intuition, calmness and power/strength – to what end?  That depends on purpose and meaning – two topics for another day, and the central question of why we’re even here on this planet in the first place.  For now I’ll leave it with this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh – comparing waves (each human being as an individual) to the ocean (humanity and existence as a whole):

Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realizes it is water. When we realize we are not separate, but a part of the huge ocean of everything, we become enlightened.

ByMarkus, GROWMarkusComment
The Practice I Need to Be Creative (And Four Ways I Nurture It)
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How many times did the worst-case scenario happen to you before you decided to believe that’s what happens?

Looking back on the data objectively, for me it wasn’t many. 

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, my grandfather was in the hospital with infection complications from a routine back surgery. Him and I had spent the past five years seeing each other almost every day, so I spent my summer at the hospital. 

One day, he was wheeled back for another procedure. The concern was all over the faces of my grandmother and parents. I walked through the double automatic doors of the OR, my head high and no pangs of worry. 

“Everything will be perfectly fine,” I said to my Mom. “That’s the practice of hope and faith.” 

Three weeks later, school had been in session five days when my parents had to pick me up. My grandfather had suddenly died. 

I have maybe five of these war stories, where my wide eyed hopefulness was dashed. 

I moved to Dallas for the fourth grade to start a new school. I was ecstatic. I took me about two weeks to realize I was in my personal hell. The teaching model, from my perspective then and now, was based on perfection and shame - nothing like the International Baccalaureate program I had thrived in the year before. The kids in my class and myself were in such turmoil without loving leadership, it’s my belief we turned on each other. I spent the next four years in survival mode, making myself miserable in my smallness or by hurting others in self-protection and then hating myself for it. The excitement I used to have about school and new beginnings turned to dread and anxiety. 

My parents are bright, incredible vessels of love. No one expected that in my high school years they would both be incredibly sick, right after the death of my grandfather who had been another parent to me. All of my senior year and especially around my high school graduation, when our community has a full social calendar of family-focused events, I’ve never felt so alone in my life.


These experiences were gnarly, but they’re life. They’re mixed in with thousands of positive experiences I’ve enjoyed that have, overall, created my life of privilege. The hard times were just enough, though, to take me out of the most powerful practice I have as a creative being: hope. 

Hope, for me, is my practice of believing, even in risk, that everything will be fine. And who knows? Things might even be good. 

These painful life experiences killed my hope. In my mind, I had practiced hope, even in risk, and things had not ended the “good” way, with the outcomes I expected. What the f*ck. 

The antithesis of hope, for me, is despair. That’s where I went, deeper each time I got hit in the face with life. And what was the meaning of life if I could not trust that good things happened? I lost my voice, my creativity and my interest in taking care of myself. 

That led me down a dark place of rebellion and self-harm. It wasn’t until I met Markus and was so pleasantly surprised by him that light began to get back in, just enough sliver of hope to make me want to live again. 

With that reboot, I thought I could hack this - to do life but not feel that hopelessness again. Without knowing it, I built a life for myself, and then my family, that was seemingly happy but risk averse. I had a career I could do in my sleep. I said yes to everyone not to ruffle feathers. I did the “right” thing, not for myself but in the eyes of the society I lived in. I did not do new things - going new places, meeting new people, trying new things - where I didn’t have an idea of what the outcomes could be. 

I was a “positive” person, with a smile on my face and an unruffled front as I made myself smaller to protect myself from the fall out I had previously felt from pain and disappointment. The only issue was my secret misery. It was hard to spot on myself at first, but easy to see when I saw how I was bringing it into my family life and passing it on to the people I loved most. How could I be making everyone so unhappy when I was doing everything right? 

I needed a wake up call. Oddly enough, it came during jury duty. I brought along a book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and came across this line. 

“People like you must create. If you don’t create, you will become a menace to society.”

I somehow knew right then that the suffering I was inflicting on myself and others through my need for control was misdirected energy, using my inherent creativity (that we all have y’all!) to create outcomes instead of take risks and make something new out of nothing, maybe even something completely different than the outcomes I expected going in. (Whether it’s my life or a painting, to me, that’s art). 

To change, I had to lean back in to hope. Real hope (not the version I practiced before) is the feeling that things will be good in the end, without conditions of timelines or outcomes. When I loosen my grip of what “good” looks like, good things happen. All the dang time. 

Looking back now, I see the good things I could have experienced if I had practiced this version of hope during the trials of my life. 

Yes. My grandfather’s passing has been one of the largest voids of my life. But now, I enjoy a spiritual relationship with my grandfather that’s divine instead of human. I get so much from the wisdom and guidance he shares with me every day. As painful as his physical absence can feel, he’s absolutely here and in the right place. (He’s sitting here now and says hi.) 

Yes. School sucked! But from that experience, I’m armed now with a passion for leading our schools, companies and everyday life with open heartedness and empathy. New opportunities for this find me every day. My daughter is in an International Baccalaureate school now and loves it, which has been deeply healing for me. Without the short term pain of my educational experience, I would not stand fully in my passion and be able to practice empathy as well today. 

Yes. When I needed adults in my adolescence there was a void. I love and honor my parents. I am inspired by how hard they tried to raise me when they were up against so much. I appreciate the self-sufficiency their illnesses brought me. I work hard on my marriage and family, remembering, even on days when it feels impossible, the nights I felt alone growing up and wanted a connected family again. It’s easy to remember the things I can complain about now are the things I once prayed for. 

And now, armed with hope, I create. I wear outfits I see as creations that take risks and make me smile. I go outside and garden or paint with my daughter. I make silly bracelets for my friends. I make up girlish dances. It transfers over to my personal and family life, knowing more deeply there’s a solution to every problem if I approach the situation creatively. Without the resistance of expectations, daily life itself becomes art. 

Maybe I will spend family money on art supplies and it will go nowhere, but I hope it’s the start of something big. Maybe I’ll write my heart here and no one will understand, but I hope it will bring light to just one person’s darkness. 

Hope starts my creative process, and hope carries it home. When things look messy beyond any sense of final beauty, hope helps me push up that last metaphorical hill, where all I see is road with no end in sight. When it crests, the final product typically is not the outcome I expected. It’s often more. 


And just like all practices, it’s one day at a time. In the big picture, I see hopefulness. Day to day as a busy Mom, wife, modern woman (whatever), it can be more difficult to tap. 

When I need a dose of hope, I typically turn to 

  1. Nature - Ain’t she wild how with each end there’s a new beginning? How there’s special job even for our most pesky co-creatures? Nature doesn’t give up on herself, creating beauty every day of the process. 

  2. My higher power - The plan as I see it may be completely derailed. So it’s a good thing I don’t make the plans. Hope lets me take my mind off the process and gets a greater spirit involved. 

  3. Sharing and listening - That’s H.O.P.E. for me: Hearing Other People’s Experiences. These challenges that seem so personal to me are actually just big, bad life for everyone. Attending a support group, I see first hand how life in its fullness molds us into our most beautiful, like clay, if we’re willing to participate. 

  4. Movement - Intuitive opening and use of my body reminds me that I literally have more life in me. If I’m breathing, it ain’t over yet. My body in motion is like an idea factory. 

I don’t like “you” statements, but I’m passionate enough about this one to take a moment to remind you how creative you are, how worthy and in need you are of creating. Risk suits you, and if it’s hurt before, I’m here for you if you want to try again. Good things happen. To the unworthy like me, every day. 

As our fearless leader Brene Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, 

“Ununsed creativity is not benign. It metasizes. It turns into grief, rage, sorrow and shame…

There’s no such thing as creative and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death or suffocated by resentment and fear.”

So, in the words of my beloved Parks & Rec, treat yo self. Express yo self. 

The joy I’ve found in just a 5% belief that good things happen has reset my life and given me outcomes I could have never imagined. 

And if you like to make bracelets, call me! <3

GROW, BY LILLYLillyComment
Go Make Mistakes - They're the Patina of Life!
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Post by Markus

To quote one of the literary greats, author Michael Bond: “Things are always happening to me. I’m that sort of bear” – from A Bear Called PaddingtonPaddington knew what kind of bear he was – the kind who has interesting things happen to him on the reg.  When you’re the kind of person (excuse me – bear) who expects interesting things to happen – they usually do.  Just like how when you start thinking about getting a Jeep (speaking for a friend), all of a sudden you see Jeeps everywhere.

I knew what kind of bear I was too – the kind that screws things up.  Not surprisingly – when I expected to make mistakes, I usually did.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t set out to make mistakes.  No, no, no – I set out specifically to not make mistakes.  Totally different.  But there’s this thing that happened along the way – by specifically trying not to make mistakes, I actually made more mistakes.

 

WHERE THE SHIP IS POINTED IS WHERE THE SHIP WILL GO

My theory is that it’s about where I’m putting my attention – where am I focusing my thoughts and mental energy?  A great piece of mountain biking advice that never steered me wrong is to look where you do want your bike to go and not to look where you don’t want your bike to go. 

Once I heard that, I noticed that it was true every time – when I stared at a big rock or drop-off trying not to go there, I automatically went there.  It took a long time to retrain myself to look at the boring, flat parts of the trail instead but once I did – my bike seemed to avoid sketchy spots as if my magic.

Unfortunately, I never made the connection that what worked on the bike might work in my life.  My focus in almost all areas of my life was seriously: just don’t screw this up, Neubauer!  My “plan” that I wasn’t even aware of was this:

  1. Think about everything I might screw up in a situation - everything.

  2. Start obsessing about it way in advance – but don’t think of it as obsessing, think of it as “being really, really prepared” – so obviously it’s a good thing.

  3. Spend zero time thinking about what might go right or how I could shine.

  4. Stay small – don’t speak up, don’t try something where I might fail, and especially don’t try something where I might look stupid.

  5. Hope, hope, hope that I don’t screw up.

  6. Screw up (because that’s the only place I’ve been focusing my thoughts and energy).

  7. Guilt, shame, and otherwise demean myself for any and every mistake I made along the way.  Maybe if I shame myself enough and really believe that I’m awful, I won’t make those mistakes next time. 

  8. Rinse and repeat.

Turns out this plan wasn’t useful for anything except to find ways to punish myself for making bad decisions.  Of course I would have told you that the point was to apply the maximum amount of pressure to myself to “make myself better.”  I assumed it was just like applying tons of pressure to coal – obviously I would turn myself into a flawless diamond.

I have pretty strong beliefs about where this came from and I’m confident it’s not something that I had in me when I was born.  If we’re talking nature vs. nurture – I’m squarely in the nurture camp here.  That said, I’m much less interested in the cause of it and way more interested in what’s on my plate - here, now, in each present moment of my life.  To paraphrase Mark Manson (author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving AF) - it may not be my fault but it’s still my responsibility.  I didn’t cause it but it’s on my plate to heal it – no one else can do it for me.

  

PAYING FOR IT BY GIVING UP MY ENERGY AND MY VOICE

It’s tough to convey the amount of time and space in my brain that this approach consumed.  I mean it was the number one thing I focused on without even realizing it.  It had physical components too – holding my breath and breathing super shallow all the time, moving less so that I wouldn’t draw attention to myself, slouching, trying to fit in and look like everyone else – the list goes on.  If someone could have tapped into my brain and my body, they would have seen high-grade ambient fear and self-loathing coursing through my veins as my main sustenance.  I was so used to it that I embraced it.  It felt as normal as breathing (OK, as normal as barely shallow-breathing in my case).

Don Miguel Ruiz (author of The Four Agreements) puts it simply:

How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves. If justice exists, then that was enough; we don’t need to do it again. But every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.

How did I avoid making mistakes?  There were plenty of individual ways depending on the specific mistakes I was trying to avoid, but really they all came down to this – stay tense (and super serious), don’t shoot from the hip ever, and if you happen to squeak by without screwing something up – be pleasantly surprised.

Where it was particularly damaging was when it came to my voice, in every context that implies – literally and figuratively.  I would second-guess every word that I was about to say and once I finally was ready to speak, I would talk with a weak voice and trip over my words.  I would spend minutes (minutes!) reading almost every text message before I sent it, proofing and re-wording until it was mistake-free.  The same went for email – except that took even longer.  Anything that represented my voice was weak and tentative at best.

 

STARTING TO HEAL TRAUMA

That was then, this is now.  So what changed?  Plenty – and it’s all around “unprocessed trauma.”  To me, that still sounds more like an Emergency Room patient description than it does something related to personal growth. 

It turns out that “trauma” doesn’t have to be physical trauma.  As a lay-person, I would say trauma in this case is basically anything that’s overwhelming, stressful/distressing, painful, and too intense for the body/mind to appropriately process and heal around the time that it occurs. That can be physical, emotional, psychological, etc. 

When it’s too great to be processed, it’s stored somewhere in the body/mind until it’s processed out. Except in the majority of cases, that healing doesn’t happen.  Through shock, denial, or just being unaware - we usually don’t even know that it exists.  Slowly, the trauma starts driving the bus from the back seat and we never even know it’s there. 

That leads to things like fear, anxiety, depression, anger, dissociation, addictions, and withdrawal.  For me, one of the main symptoms was a repeating pattern of the bottom falling-out of my life about once a month.  Energy, motivation, mood, focus – they were all non-existent, from one day to the next.

To separate out any individual thing that’s helped along the way would be simplifying the magic of how this growth has happened.  That said, the three things that have brought about the greatest healing in this area are brainspotting and therapy, listening to how I speak with my five-year-old daughter, and Network Spinal Care (NSC). 

NSC is another topic for another day so stay tuned.  That said, I can’t overstate how incredibly transformative NSC has been for me – if you just can’t wait, hit me up and I’ll give you the cliff notes version.

Brainspotting – say what now?  What’s probably obvious is that it sounds like the movie Trainspotting and to me, that was the only obvious thing.  An official definition is here – the main thing is that together with therapy, it brings about healing of unprocessed trauma.  I describe it to people as:

  • Re-visiting a painful experience in my memory (that’s still painful in present-day)

  • Re-framing and re-experiencing what that pain and memory means through a new context

  • Healing it in real-time during that experience

  • From that point forward – still knowing the original story and remembering the original pain, but feeling deeply healed around it and no longer feeling the sting of the pain. It also includes bringing back a new definition of what that experience means about me and about my life.

It’s voluntary and conscious and is very calming and nurturing.  It’s not hypnosis or being surprised by uncovering repressed memories. The brainspotting sessions that I’ve done have been very healing and that effect has been really tangible from the moment I’m done with the session.  The overarching emotion that I leave with is compassion for my self – for my younger self and the pain I carried for so long, and also for my current self and how I’m still healing from whatever the experience was.

WHO’S TEACHING WHO?

The other thing that’s been deeply healing I stumbled onto by accident - listening to how I speak to my daughter.  I firmly believe that the way parents speak to a child when they’re young ultimately becomes the child’s inner voice when they’re an adult.  Is that a kind voice of compassion, curiosity, and understanding – or is it a judgmental voice of strict rules, anger, and punishment?

Almost every time I speak to her, I’m conscious of essentially writing the lines of code into her heart and mind that will become her inner dialogue when she’s an adult. That’s given me a huge sense of compassion for her and for myself too. The way I encourage her is the same way that I want to live myself – with appropriate discretion (not necessarily caution), but generally living with enthusiasm and a huge grin on my face. 

Speaking to her with kindness and compassion has made it glaringly obvious when I don’t do the same thing for myself.  It’s tough to have understanding for her and at the same time think of myself as worthless and shameful for having made some mistake. 

When this really hit home was one late night in our kitchen.  I was alone and I was filling a glass with water to drink.  As soon as it was completely full, I somehow dropped the entire glass on the floor and it spilled under all the cabinets where I couldn’t even clean most of the water up.  Without even thinking, I heard myself say to myself out-loud in a calm, kind voice “It’s OK, kiddo.”  WHOA.

I’ve never had anything close to that level of compassion or understanding for myself before that night and it seriously blew my mind and heart wide open.  My inner dialogue has only gotten kinder and more compassionate since then and I still think about that night frequently.  “It’s OK, kiddo” has become one of my new phrases that I say to myself when I make a mistake or feel myself starting to get upset at myself about something I did.

GO MAKE MISTAKES!

These days the pendulum is swinging to the other side.  I look forward to making mistakes, especially making them big, loud, and fast.  If my heart and enthusiasm are in it and if I’m doing my best – then I say there’s no such thing as a mistake.

Sure, there are still echos of the old survival-mode approach that show up from time-to-time – but those are getting less and less frequent.  When I notice them, that’s all I do – just notice, like noticing a cloud.  “Oh hey, look – a cloud.”  Then I move on.

Today I would tell you that a “mistake” doesn’t even actually exist.  It’s not a mistake, it’s just “something that happened.”  I believe mistakes are just patina – the unique, beautiful, weathered, story of our Life. 

Without patina, it’s just a plain blank slate.  Just someone who played it safe, never got hurt, and never did anything fun, cool, or worth mentioning – like a ship that never left the harbor.  That’s a boring life – and I’m convinced that if I was to live a life like that, my five-year-old self would (and definitely should) somehow find a time machine to come to the future and kick my ass for it.

What is patina?  The best description I’ve seen is this:

A patina is essentially the weathered look a piece of leather will take on as it ages. A good patina is a sight to behold. It’s a richness and beauty that only comes with time and experience.

Generally speaking, the higher quality leather, the better the patina.

Does a patina mean that the leather is worn out? No, no, no. Just like a 30-year-old bottle of fine wine, it gets better with age. The development of a patina is the goal.

I say – let’s make an awesome freaking patina while we’re here on this earth!  GO - MAKE MISTAKES.  MAKE THEM BIG, MAKE THEM LOUD, AND MAKE THEM FUN (AND IDEALLY, FUNNY TOO). FALL DOWN, FALL DOWN HARD AND GET EXCITED ABOUT THE SCARS AND THE STORIES WE’LL TELL TO THE NEXT GENERATION.  The patina of life is one of the very best parts and it’s all thanks to making “mistakes.”

GROW, ByMarkusMarkusComment
This Didn't Happen TO Me, It Happened FOR Me
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Post Written by Markus

When I was in middle school, my family of origin broke apart. I don’t know the specific reasons although I can speculate - but really that doesn’t matter much to me now. It was a long process that from what I can tell began a few years earlier when I was still in elementary school. And really, our family wasn’t technically broken apart until I was a sophomore in high school. But it was definitely broken years before that and there were more than a few painful years while everything played out.  

I’ll be honest - at the time, I didn’t think much of it. Plenty of my friends at school were in broken homes and that concept seemed pretty normal to me by age 16.  But my heart (and my life) would tell you otherwise. Both were screaming in anguish and it would be about two decades before I started to regain a sense of security, belonging, and vulnerability.

For me, the aftermath of my family dissolving was in a word - devastating.  There were plenty of other things at play that made life from age 11 to age 16 excruciating but the breaking apart of my family dumped jet fuel onto an already blazing dumpster fire.  What little footing I had crumbled beneath my feet and I went into a tailspin in many ways, especially emotionally.  

There’s plenty of detail and plenty of stories for another day.  It’s hard to say which of those two decades was “harder” or “worse” - both of them included moments darker, more lonely, and more painful than I ever believed possible. It’s not until one year ago when I took the plunge and went on The ManKind Project’s NWTA weekend mens’ retreat that things tangibly began to change.  That weekend was a catalyst in the best way for the most profound healing and growth I’ve ever experienced.

What Did It Mean?

If you had asked me at any point during those two decades to talk about how my family’s breakup affected me, I would have given you one of these responses:

  • I’m good/fine/OK.

  • It’s not a big deal.

  • Tons of people come from broken homes and they’re fine, so I’ll be fine too.

  • I’m actually glad because before the breakup everything was even worse and at least now there’s peace.

Although I was in massive denial, my heart knew that none of those were true.  I distinctly remember the day I closed my heart up tight “so that I wouldn’t keep feeling so much hurt.”  Spoiler alert - it didn’t work. Not just that, it actually guaranteed that I would experience the exact emotions I was trying to avoid - pain, sadness, and loneliness. 

Now that I have a little perspective and am looking at much of this era of my life in hindsight, there’s an important question: how do I see this event in terms of what it means? The real question is the same no matter how it’s phrased, and it’s about Life itself:

  • Is Love even real or is Love just a fake lie?

  • Is the world a safe place or is a dangerous place?  

  • Can I trust that I’m going to be OK even when painful things outside my control happen or do I need to protect my heart by armoring up and not letting anyone in?

For me, the question boils down to this: did this event happen TO me or did it happen FOR me?  


Considering That I Might Be Wrong

The first time I even considered the idea that this event might have happened FOR me, I immediately dismissed it because it was obviously a stupid nonsense question.  How could my family dissolving possibly be FOR me? Anyone that might even suggest that’s the case must be insane - that event triggered the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced.  FOR me? Come on. Don’t waste my time.  

What I didn’t see at the time was that I was already bringing my own pre-determined meaning to this question. I had already made up my mind and it was not open for discussion. It was an open-and-shut case as far as I was concerned: Markus’ family dissolves and as a result, Markus experiences pain and sadness. This happened TO him.  Done and done.

If something happens FOR someone, that means they somehow benefited from it.  I would never have described my experience as something remotely beneficial or positive.  So therefore, it happened TO me. Negative effects = TO me, positive effects = FOR me. Easy. 

And yet - today I believe deeply that this (and plenty of other painful things in my life) happened FOR me, not TO me.  I’m honestly grateful for each moment of pain that I experienced along the way. Each of those moments has somehow led to my growth.  

Although it took a long time, my family’s breakup ultimately led to me at age 35 being desperate enough to sign-up blind for that mens’ retreat which ended up being an experience that blew the doors of my heart and my life wide open.  The positive effect of everything that’s happened since then has been blindingly obvious - which means that my family’s breakup actually did happen FOR me, not TO me. It was something that was brought into my life for my own growth.

Another big one was a severe ankle injury I sustained in 2003. It was a badly broken bone from a freak “sports” injury (paintball is a real sport, OK?) that led to multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, including a nasty staph infection in my ankle joint that wiped out all the cartilage.

I still have the scars on my arm from where I had a PICC line installed so I could self-administer my antibiotic IVs each day. I was two-years into my career as a student at SMU at the time and I quickly found myself in massive depression and realized I hadn’t been to class in a month. That turned into a downward spiral and I withdrew from SMU indefinitely - which turned into four years.

At my last orthopedic appointment earlier this year, my doctor told me (not jokingly) “Well, your ankle is still in terrible shape but it hasn’t gotten any worse. Honestly it’s amazing that you’re not in constant debilitating pain.”

But for me, today - it’s the same with this injury as it is with my family’s breakup. This injury happened FOR me, not TO me. The very painful journey that happened as a result of this injury taught me things I would not have learned otherwise and which I needed badly so that I could be of service to other people. Things like empathy - especially for people living with depression or disability. Also for people dealing with issues around body composition and fitness - I’d previously always thought it was a moral failing. I mean it was easy for me to stay in shape so why not everyone else? That perspective quickly changed when I realized I had gained about 75 pounds over two years and I learned firsthand how real that struggle actually is. 

That injury also led to me moving out to Lubbock in 2006 where my brother was going to school. I remember the conversation as him saying something like “Hey man, you’re not going to school and there’s nothing keeping you in Dallas - we’re looking for a roommate, wanna move out here for a while?” I knew I would meet a lot of dust and a lot of wind in Lubbock. What I didn’t know is that I would meet a girl who would knock me off my feet, rock my world, and that I would ultimately ask to marry me. 

It’s beyond obvious today that this injury happened FOR me, not TO me. This was a cosmic two-by-four that smacked me clear across the forehead and that forced painful experiences into my life for my own growth, so that I would be of better use (alright, any use) to the world around me. And so that I would meet Lilly, after which my life would never be the same - in the best ways. 

A New Default Mode

These days, I notice myself genuinely saying a phrase out-loud to myself plenty of times throughout the day, and it still catches me off guard. It’s after something has happened that seems annoying, frustrating, inconvenient, unpleasant, painful, or unfair. That phrase is “Thank you.”  

When I’m running late and I seem to catch every single red light?  “Thank you.”   

When my daughter accidentally knocks a full glass of water onto a clean wooden floor as I’m closing the door after saying goodnight?  “Thank you.”  

When I have one item at the grocery store, the express lines are closed, and it’s a 10-minute wait to the cashier? “Thank you.”

Because what I’ve come to realize is this:  I am the one who decides what the things in my life mean, whether they’re positive or negative.  Are they happening FOR me or TO me?  

And what I’ve decided is - no matter what it is, it’s happening FOR me.  

How do I know?  Because I’m playing the long game and because I’m no longer arrogant enough to assume that I know how everything (or anything for that matter) is going to play out over time. Everything that looks like it’s happening TO me in the moment, might be the exact opposite and I just might not know it for twenty years - because that’s exactly what happened in my life.

These days, if I can’t prove immediately which of the two it is (i.e., always), I now assume that it’s happening FOR me.  There are two options that it could be - TO me or FOR me. I’ve been down the “everything that’s unpleasant is happening TO me” road. I spent decades being cynical, jaded, paranoid, pessimistic and with my heart locked-down tight. I’ve lived as if the world was a bad, scary place and that everyone and everything was out to get me. I even had so much “proof.”

But no thanks, that’s not for me anymore. Whatever each day has in store, I’m there for it. Amor Fati - a love of fate. Not merely to bear what is necessary, but love it. The obstacle really is the way.

In the words of Marcus Aurelius - “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” What looks like it might be a total derailing of my life or at least an annoying, inconvenient mess - I now view as a scenic detour and I keep my eyes peeled for rainbows along the way. Believing (and knowing) that life is happening FOR me - to me, that’s the essence of what it means to live with an open heart. 

GROW, ByMarkusMarkusComment
My 10 Steps for Keeping Resentment in Check
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About a year ago was the first time I really felt myself figuring out “adulting.” (Don’t draw attention to the facts that I had been working, paying a mortgage and raising a child for years). I knew my schedule. I knew where my stuff went and I put it there. I surprised myself and everyone around me with my meal plans, folded laundry and, most days of the week, clean floors. 

I was crushing on myself. 

Now that I felt pride in my competency, my issue was becoming other people. I flopped down exhausted on the sofa at night, every item on my to-do list completed at best-in-class standards. It was then I looked up and started noticing the other adults around me. My excellence hadn’t influenced them at all. 

As I overachieved on things I thought were important, a little inner dialogue started to form in my head, 

Everyone can count on me, but I have no one I can count on. 

I’m the only person who cares. 

I work my butt off because I love my family, so people failing me is proof I’m not loved back. 

I wasn’t trying to keep score, but I was doing a great job at it. The art of noticing made it easier and easier to see how I was doing more, giving more and working on more than anyone else. Any contentment and self-pride in my efforts was left in the shadows of feeling jaded and lonely when I compared my service to my family and the world to others and perceived an imbalance of effort. 

Markus would be out for the night and arrive home to a clean house, with the counters clean, lunches for tomorrow packed and a lit candle for dramatic affect. I came home from a night out to frozen pizza left out on the counter and a happy child still wrestling on her pajamas post-bedtime. 

While my perception of disparities was easiest to spot at home, it was an energy I was channeling into all of my relationships - family, friendships and work. I could feel like I reached out to my friends more than they did with me. I was always the one to organize social nights. I was single handedly saving the world through Instagram while the rest of you sat idly by. 

It took me a while to understand that I was in the throws of resentment, defined as “bitter indignation of having been treated unfairly.” Sounds like a great time. 

Being treated unfairly is the part I wanted to put on other people through blame. And I did. I was a Mom martyr - my love for my family and diligence to their needs through ways only I could provide came ahead of my joy and sense of self. The cherubs fluttered their wings around me as a violin played in the background and a bluebird came to wipe away my tears. 

My despair and angst were around a flawed concept that my state was permanent and something other people controlled. Until it hit me in the face that, like all feelings, resentment was an emotion that passes through to show me there’s more to learn about myself and my relationship with the world and others. 

The teaching ability that’s possible when I approach my feelings without shame still gets me all shook up. For me, when I’m feeling resentment and getting an itch to hit the blame button, I have a list of what might really be going on. 

My Resentment Tells Me:

  • I’m giving too much of my power away to other people. 

  • I’m forgetting there are other ways of doing things besides how I see it. 

  • I’m also giving myself too much power because, even though I’d be a fine candidate for the job, I don’t actually control the universe. 

  • It’s time to remember I’m not the only person carrying a heavy load. 

Noticing an experience as a short term feeling instead of permanent and truth is always a big step in the right direction with me. Since feeling resentment usually stems from my relationships with others, this one comes with homework. 

I hate homework, so I typically try to avoid getting into the throws of feeling resentful altogether. But as life happens and I feel a sanctimonious pity party coming on (I even have to throw all of my pity parties for myself - ugh) I consult my Resentment Homework Assignments List and go down the row until I’m feeling like my real self again. 

You’ll probably never need these, but to give you an idea…

Lilly’s Resentment Homework Assignments 

  1. Ask for help. Even in a home with a good equalization of domestic labor, I was getting bogged down in decision fatigue from being what felt like the sole brains of the operation, making every decision. It was time to stop making them all myself. Relatedly, some of your other friends can probably pick where you all have dinner sometimes. They might also be able to call the restaurant for a reservation. 

  2. Take something off my plate. This may have to include an admission of overscheduling and an apology. They are uncomfortable words that are capable of leaving my mouth or text fingers without resulting in my death. And if it results in the death of a relationship, it never was one anyways.

  3. Take my hands off someone else’s life. Sometimes a loved one wanted all of my advice and sometimes they didn’t, but I was giving away more energy than I could regenerate for myself. I’ve decided I have no option but to decide that everyone’s on their own path and has their own internal wisdom source. It’s not my job or duty to lend mine out to others so much.

  4. Set boundaries. If I’m participating in life and being a safe person for people to talk to, I’m going to hear some heavy things. I might also be around people who are hurting and not sure how to deal with it, which may affect their behaviors towards me. I can see, feel and understand them without making their hardships mine to carry. 

  5. Do something nice for myself. If I have to practice one of the previous assignments first to create the time or mindset to make my care a priority, even better. 

  6. Drop my expectations. When I haven’t already decided myself how everything should be, life is more of an experience, unfolding in surprising new ways all of the time. (Was I upset walking into an untidy house after a night out because I expected something else and didn’t communicate it? Jake Ryan would have a clean house ready for me, sure, but did it cross my real life spouse’s mind? And did it really matter?) 

  7. Do something nice for a stranger or someone I haven’t been able to connect with lately, without anyone else finding out about it. Like number five, this might mean diverting myself away from some of the usual grassfires that typically take my attention. Reconnection with others helps me remember there’s life outside my bubble of perceived influence. And those grassfires? They typically go out, or at least decide to stay self-contained until my dutiful return. 

  8. This one is a pest, but I try to practice...empathy. That Mom who never brings a snack to school functions might be going through some gnarly personal stuff. My parents are human beings who have to wake up and figure out a mess of life just like me. My spouse also had a long day and may have just been able to start cleaning up when I walked in the door. A staggering 99% of the time, everyone is doing their best given the circumstances. I’m allowed to believe that and adjust my expectations accordingly. 

  9. I forgive myself. Because just like them, I’m allowed to struggle, too. To make mistakes and blow some things off here and there. I’m a damn good one, but just a regular ol’ human being. I could accept imperfections and maybe even...chill out a little?

  10. I personally feel a higher power that sees my efforts, knows my heart and loves it when I place my trust there. When this relationship comes first, followed by the one I have with myself and then ones with other people, the load is lighter. 

I love a success story, so I was thrilled when I got one so soon after starting my resentment detox process. This spring, I was busy - I was running our house, I was in the busiest season of my job, and getting elementary school registration underway. I was doing it all - besides taking my daughter to swim class. In Texas, swim class is not optional. So on top of fears of a summer where my daughter couldn’t fully enjoy the pool with friends, my letting swim classes continue to fall by the wayside was becoming complicit in the harm or death to my child (in my head). 

I could feel the resentment coming on. You wouldn’t have your daughter’s swim lessons locked up either if you were in charge of everything. The thought was so pervasive I did something I’ve never done before. I asked for help. I mean, I didn’t do anything so full-out-vulnerable as go to my partner and ask him to partner with me on something. But I did “update” him with a text, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by swim lessons. I know she needed to start back a while ago but the weeks go by without me having time to find the right class, enroll her and get it into our schedule.”

Markus responded in seconds. Just that morning, there had been a flyer up at his gym for kid’s swim lessons. With a few minutes more of his time, our daughter was enrolled and could swim on Saturdays while her Dad had personal time at the gym and Mom had a break for herself too. 

After a shame-free owning up to being behind on signing up for classes (because, we can say it together, I’m allowed to make mistakes), remembering that I’m not the only person who can do things, and asking for help, we were better than before. We found swim classes our girl loves, I think especially since they’re a special activity with her Dad. They’re not at the quaint, family-owned school I went to last year with fish murals and achievement ribbons, but, I remember, am not the only person who knows what is best for our family. For me, finding peace often comes through deference. 

The changes have been astounding, with a few side effects. I don’t feel like Wonder Woman as often in my life, but my invisible plane hadn’t ever shown up anyways. I’m more vulnerable to others. I have to trust things will happen and understand and forgive when they don’t. 

In the space left from my fading resentment and the gaps in my schedule when I don’t do everything myself, gratitude gets in. It’s easy to see how many people love me and want me to have the things I need when I share my heart and let people love me in the ways they know how.


I’ve broken from the resentment rut, but it’s a state for me is something I have to work to keep in remission. Thankfully, the only thing I’m consistently resentful about these days is how much water I need to drink in a day to feel normal (why?). As it bubbles up, I know what resentment tells me and what needs to be done. First up, having mercy for myself and the fact that while I can’t change other people, my attitude is always available for my handy work. It’s something to scan for and think about when I have time to myself. Usually, when my husband is competently taking my daughter to her swim lesson and I’m in my quiet home alone with plenty of time to do nothing but be grateful.

BY LILLY, GROWLillyComment
Not Afraid to Catch Feels
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Post written by Lilly

“You’re so adventurous!’ “A free spirit!” “I admire your bravery!”

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to hear compliments like this from people I love and respect. On my better days, I believe it about myself too. So long as I’m near my people. 

For decades, only a few people knew about my separation anxiety. I’m totally ride-or-die, as long as I’m riding next to a person I feel safe with - my origin family when I was little, my family unit now and a few choice friends. Without them, I’ve been in the most engrossing, beautiful places and distracted by an obsessive nagging that, since I’m not with the people that are important to me, everything is likely to fall apart. 

I know the backstory here - the highlight reel includes a return from a two-week trip abroad immediately followed by my grandfather’s sudden passing.  Right on the heels of that was the instability of family life with a sick parent and over or under on about 5,000 articles I’ve read on my responsibility to stay safe in a world that does little for the epidemic of violence towards women. 

I’ve called home from high school sleepovers for a pickup, I’ve sabotaged fun weekend getaways and declined more exciting invitations than I can count. I’m not a huge FOMOist - I’m a JOMO (joy of missing out). But the SOMO - shame of missing out - is unbearable.

“Everyone else travels with friends, travels alone and is completely capable and fun.”

“Think of all of your friends raising kids as single Moms who would think of how pathetic you are.”

“This. is. ridiculous.”

I tried to ignore my anxiety. My shaming thoughts would enter and I’d say, “You’re right. I’m going to ignore my dumbassery and stop this Bologna Joe. I’m going to act like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m just as capable as everyone else.”

And then, after stuffing down my anxious thoughts, I would find them taking over and cornering me in a bathroom as I called my husband sobbing in a panic attack. 

About a year ago, we had a situation. I had asked the Universe for a plan on how to figure out more open-hearted communication and understanding in my marriage. I turned my palms up to receive and found exactly what I needed and the opposite of what I was looking for: the ManKind Project New Warrior Training Weekend

Three straight days with Markus somewhere in the woods in a situation neither of us knew much of anything about, with no ability for us to communicate with each other. 

For Pete’s sake guys. I was the one who asked for this. I was the one who said we (he) would try anything recommended to us by good counsel. So why did going the longest period without being able to talk to Markus in twelve years sound less like hope and more like a prison sentence?

The imaginary wise, talking owl that perches nearby in these moments laughed at me. “Watch out for scheming little plans to help the people you love grow up,” he said, “because you may find it’s time to do a little growing up yourself.” 

Thankfully, my realization that I was in a pickle brought on one of those down-from-the-gut thoughts. This was too much to try to keep in a corner of my head and pretend to ignore before combusting. I needed a plan, the type that can be assembled when I just look at something for what it is without shame, by calmly determining my needs and getting it done. 

We were going to need a really good hotel. 

“Remember! This is hard...for you! And that’s ok! Set yourself up for success!” I said as I booked a room for my four year old and I at one of the most coveted rooms in town. 

The weekend still crawled by, and I still felt silly scared of everything and nothing at times. But we did it - on high thread count sheets, with a beautiful pool to splash and laugh in with my daughter, with good food and with a few complimentary glasses of champagne. 

Before long, it was over. Markus brought home an incredible experience from his retreat, and I had one too. I hadn’t stared at my phone, paced the floors of our house or lost my nerves. We had a great time. I was also a New Warrior - and our little girl still talks about our girls’ weekend in the city as one of her favorite memories. 

And all it took was once, go figure. We’ve done longer times apart since that weekend with no issue. Now I see it coming, I own that this is a growing spot for me, I get a new face mask or make dinner plans with a friend. We all come back together again. 

I’ve come to notice that shaming voice in my head around other worries or emotions we tend to label societally as silly or unpleasant. Thoughts come around such as, 

“I should be grateful instead of upset.”

“No one likes a mope.”

“Angry women are unattractive.”

Without shame’s temptation to dismiss and ignore, I’m better equipped to get curious about the feeling and why it might be there. Is it time to take a closer look at a past event that’s still affecting me, take my lessons and make my peace with it? Do I need to make some changes or set some boundaries in my life? (I can’t tell you how much actually letting myself feel angry now and then has helped me know what does and does not serve me and change my life for the better. And, as far as I can tell, I have not turned into an old hag.)

I don’t have to attach to every feeling I have, but I don’t have to deny them either. They’re passing through to help me make informed choices. 

This past week, I did one of the most emotional things in my life. I sent my daughter to Kindergarten. 

To me, Kindergarten occupying this much of my mind and heart seems stupid. I’ll save the details for later, but I’ve seen and walked through some shit in my life that should make this a cake walk. She’s five, the school is perfect, the timing is here. From my basic understanding, almost everyone goes and lives to tell about it. If I’m being honest though, for some reason, to me, it is a big deal. 

Thankfully, Kindergarten requires many logistics. Things to buy, things to wash, things to label, things to pack, things to gift wrap, things to be orientated on. I was able to keep myself quite busy in a state of distraction and keep those blubbery feelings that one might identify with a less capable Mom than I tucked away. Until, I realized these busy days were the last of our summer. I had a choice. 

I could run myself ragged in distraction acting like my feelings weren’t happening. I wouldn’t feel the sadness, yes, or the happiness either. Or I could ride it out. Live in the present moment as much as I could. I cried reading bedtime books here or there, but I probably took even more mental photos in my mind of tiny, precious moments - the two freckles on her face, her cheeks rising up to her eyes when she laughs, the way she says “squirrel” - than I plan to take on the first day of school tomorrow. It was a ride, but I knew if I didn’t surrender and participate, my SOMO would be about missing these little moments by trying to avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings that came with them. 

Instead of being something to be ashamed of, those feelings are now the cue I could use a little more care, and I’m just the person for the job. Running away to a hotel again felt like a good idea, but most often I’m amazed at how things as simple as putting down my phone for an hour or making myself a glass of water make the things I need to be present with come to the surface and lets the rest float away. 


The last thing I’ve learned about feeling those nasty feelings: without having to say anything, by just recognizing the state I’m in, however sorry it seems, I always find the comfort I need. 

With Kindergarten, I felt excited. I felt relieved. I felt sad for the end of an era. I felt overwhelmed of the blank slate of life ahead of me after a slower two years of making myself available to our girl. I felt afraid - that as my baby’s dependency on me lessened, our connection would go too. 

That last one was tough to admit. And then as I brushed my daughter’s hair, she so casually said, “I’m lucky that you’re my Mom and my friend too.”

I know it’s only been one day, but I feel like I already know I’ll remember that forever. It’s that flashback that will play in my head at college drop offs or maybe a wedding (and to be honest, that one time she dares to call me a bitch in front her friends). 

She probably was going to say that anyways, right? But after looking at that fear, I heard it in a way I’ll never forget. Connection without dependency is friendship. We all have a great shot at being more than fine. 

I really wish I was Super Mom, but I’m more human than I like to admit. Every one of those pesky human emotions tried to call shotgun as I drive through life - happiness, contentment and confidence are regular riders, so is sadness on occasion, anger when I could probably stand up for myself a little more, and even for a fist up, “fearless” female like myself, a little fear. 

Sometimes to be as perfectly fine as I say I am, I have to tend to the thoughts that want to tell me I’m not. They don’t need to take the wheel, just get a pat on the head or, every twelve years or so, a night out at a five star hotel. My fears rest more easily on a really good mattress. And if Socrates was there, he’d stir the almond milk into my room service coffee, tuck me in and commend me on a great job of knowing thyself.

GROW, BY LILLYLillyComment
My Secret to Good Hospitality: Having Less
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Post Written by Lilly

Growing up, one of the biggest dreams for my future adult life was entertaining: hosting parties and holidays in my family home, but more so creating a space where people walked in and out in comfort, with simple hospitality like cold drinks and tasty snacks at the ready. I know, I was an interesting kid.

It’s no surprise with this goal that I purchased my first home at 24. Ready to prove myself, I was anxious to fill it top to bottom with all of the novelties and “essentials” I had dog-eared on magazine pages since before I could drive. Someone probably could have intervened when I was registering for tea cake molds on my wedding registry.

I dumped all of my available funds, time and effort into feathering my nest, working extra hours as often as I could for that surplus in our budget for new chairs, new drapery rods or whatever was next on the list for our space to finally feel “complete.”

Years went by, and while our home was beginning to look so unique that it was being featured in publications (such as The Dallas Morning News, Apartment Therapy, and Young House Love), the hospitality part of my dream was still stalled. I always wanted to host and entertain more, right after we got a new sofa or finished that one final project

New Home, New Intentions

When we said goodbye to our first home of nine years last summer, I honored and appreciated all of the memories made in that home with our family. However, it was hard to believe that I could probably count on two hands the number of times I had used our space for bringing people together in those nine years.

That’s a lot of mortgage payments for very minimal lifestyles and dreams, y’all.

At our new place, I wanted things to be different. 

Hope + Direction + Community = Freedom

The most life-altering thing I’ve done to change my mindset around entertaining was signing up for the Uncluttered course with Joshua from Becoming Minimalist on a whim one year after our move. 

Working in Joshua’s modules, I heard about the freedom of those who have let go of an attachment to material belongings. Being in an accountability group with (literally) thousands of other people putting in the time and effort to clear their homes and change their relationship with stuff made it all click together for me at a level I finally feel has permanence. 

There’s no way you could have told me starting the Uncluttered course I would completely and easily fill the spacious cargo area of my car with donation items four times over nine weeks. It was as if the direction and mindset shift that the course provided made the release happen automatically.  

Since I know you are filled with grace in your heart for a busy family that can easily get into the habit of cramming things in cabinets and drawers, I’ll provide one before/after from my experience. :)

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A Home of Less, Filled with Abundance

Today, I still wouldn’t fully consider myself a minimalist. We live in a 2,000 sq ft home in the middle of an urban city. My small clothing closet isn’t overflowing like before, but has more options than a basic capsule wardrobe. I still pop into favorite estate sales and consignment shops, although these days I typically come home just as inspired as when I used to visit before, but blissfully empty-handed.

When I walk through stores today, I have a deeper conversation with myself when I pick up an object. I’m no longer weighing the purchase solely by the joy it will give me immediately, but also in consideration of how it may contribute to or cost me my peace down the road.

The humbling part of this process wasn’t finding the time, but looking at an object and knowing I spent hard earned money on it thinking I needed it and have barely thought about it. Honestly, most of the time the time spent with the item was to clean it, move it or put it in “I didn’t really need this” purgatory until this course. Looking at all of those purchases get together and fill boxes is imprinted in my mind and has kept my trigger finger off the “one click purchase” button. It’s been the wake up call I needed for my relationship with finding, acquiring and dealing with…stuff that I feel had permanence.

My style has always been eclectic and colorful, not exactly hallmarks of the minimalist lifestyle.  I’m amazed how much more joy my “treasures” bring me when my home is truly a curation of my favorite things with plenty of space to shine. My home feels complete these days, not for looking a certain way, but because it holds my family and a few things we love, which is more than we need. 

I’ve been the most amazed since working through the course in how spontaneous I’ve become with offering my home for entertaining. I’ve had more people over in the past few months than I have in any given year before. When my husband’s father passed away unexpectedly and when our city lost power in 300,000 homes in a recent storm, I felt at ease offering my home as a gathering place on the spot - knowing that I could easily open our doors and provide a serene and welcoming space thanks to having less. 

Cleaning before guests is still a chore, but it runs at a totally different speed and efficiency when I’m not picking up and working around a bunch of c-r-a-p I don’t even love.

I hear it so often, but with most things in our home it’s really true that quality means so much more than quantity. I used to believe that I needed to have one of absolutely every possible home and kitchen item - so that meant that my cabinets were overflowing with unnecessary accoutrements. Now, our entertaining wares are really just two beautiful serving plates that are special to me and my daughter. I pull these out and arrange simple snacks on when preparing for company, whether the occasion is a grown up dinner party or a children’s play date. 

Speaking of, I love hosting children since we’ve simplified the toys in my daughter’s room. Little children’s voices flood the house while I relax with the parents, as I know the little ones can pull out every toy from the shelf freely while they enjoy themselves and it will still only take a few minutes to clean up once everyone’s headed home. 

An Open Door Welcomes Gratitude

I’ve learned now too, that when my mind starts thinking about all the things I think I need to buy or add to our home, the antidote is opening our place to community. Our guests never look for what I think is missing, but rather show appreciation and thankfulness for our simple efforts to be hospitable. My focus has been able to turn from worrying about my home and what it says about me to excitedly anticipating time and new memories with our guests. 

Entertaining gives my home a purpose beyond appearance. This home may never be in a magazine, but it will be remembered by good people for being a space that values community and love - thanks to me changing my focus from “what else do I need to acquire to be worthy?” to “what do I already have that’s worth sharing?” That lesson was worth every bit of my investment in building a more simplified home (but, man, finding those tupperware lids in an instant is HEAVEN).

The Magic of Prayer
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Post Written by Markus

Prayer has meant different things to me across my life.  From a comforting evening ritual with parents, to a “boring” experience at plenty of conservative churches, to an inspiring and raw experience at some tiny churches, to a very unpleasant and disingenuous experience at some big flashy churches, to a desperate cry for help and reassurance in many of my own dark, quiet, lonely moments.  For most of my life I understood prayer to be at best a hopeful, but not guaranteed, petition for some desired outcome - and at worst, a resignation of admittance that I couldn’t handle life on my own and was “one of those weak, pitiful people who needs God for real and can’t handle life on their own.” 

That understanding has since shifted, seemingly out of nowhere.  One early morning a few weeks ago, an idea in my mind gripped me to write it down because it felt significant in my heart. I expected it to be a relatively brief complete thought, so I just grabbed the closest thing which was my phone. Fast forward to an hour later when I looked up and realized that it was much longer than I had expected and would have been way better suited to typing on my laptop.  But there it was, as it had shown up.  

Note that I use the word “God” throughout.  This is actually not the term that resonates with my heart the most for my higher power - those terms are “Source”, “Love”, “Life”, “Universe”, and “Infinite”. To me these convey the essence of something that is at once very personal - yet profoundly powerful; tangible - yet without boundary, beginning, or end.  For me, the word “God” brings with it many associations and connotations that were taught by well-intentioned people but that served mostly to make God smaller and more manageable to fit neatly into a conservative Christian box. That said, using the word “God” in this writing actually brought about a sense of healing for me as those layers of projection began to fade away, leaving a sense of loving compassion instead.  These are those words:

When I pray - does God listen? Why is it important to pray and to talk with God? If I’m honest and open with God, what does that do for me? It really doesn’t matter where God physically exists or if God hears those specific words in English that I say out loud or in my mind to God - as one person out of billions of people on the planet today and of trillions of people across all time. It does matter though that I say these things to myself, out loud or in my mind. That I’m honest and open with myself. And what happens then? Who hears these things?

Anything I express - worries, fears, desires, emotions, pain, hard truths about the world, hard truths about myself - I can bring them to God. Even doubt and even anger. Out loud and in my mind I can bring these to God. At that point there’s no denial and no repression. If I’ve named and expressed an emotion, it’s not hiding under the surface anymore. If I’ve taken an honest look about a shortcoming about myself, it’s not hiding anymore. So that’s an important step. That’s not nothing - that’s a massive first step. To be aware. To not resist what is. To let life live thru me.

So who’s listening? Does God hear? Does it matter that I pray beyond just keeping myself out of denial and repression? Something happens thru these moments. There’s something that’s troubling me, usually. Either about “the world” (something outside my self) or about my self. Really they’re both about my self. The world is what it is. It’s my resistance to “what is” that’s the problem. 

When I bring these things to God, I’m saying “These are things that exist. Things about the world or about myself. They’re troubling me and right here, right now, I don’t have the answers or the immediate power to change them to be as I wish them to be in this moment.” This may sound obvious. Why even mention this? There’s nothing I can “do” about them - right? So why waste time talking about what I can’t change?

This is the heart of the serenity prayer. To understand what things are outside my control to change. So if I can’t change them, what’s the point of spending any mental time on them, not to mention prayer time? The point is that in these moments, someone is listening. I know and can prove 100% that someone hears these. I’ve always been able to since I was a young child, but that’s not unique to me. When I pray, I am listening. ME. My self. When I pray, I hear these things. Concerns, problems, griefs. And I understand that the ones about the world are not in my control. Though I may wish for a certain outcome, I can’t create it myself and I can’t expect it from God. Maybe there will be a change and maybe not. I can’t control the world or circumstances.

When I talk with God about things in the world that I can’t change, I’m honest about them. I’m not saying that they’re OK but I’m taking a look at them as they are today. There they are and they’re out of my hands. That’s honest acceptance. Seeing things as they are and not as I wish them to be. And taking my hand off the wheel and not trying to force them to be different. 

When I bring these to God as things outside my control, it frees up a tremendous amount of energy in me to not carry these concerns with me each moment of each day. Carrying them as concerns is one thing, and putting them down frees up so much energy on its own. Yet even more energy is freed when I don’t carry the burden of responsibility each day too. And that burden is one thing - though even greater is the burden I place on myself for what it means about me to carry that responsibility. If I have the responsibility for these things, then I’m accountable. I MUST be able to change them. But obviously I can’t. So what has that meant in my life to date?

It’s meant that the responsible person was incompetent; and because of that, this person was bad; and because of that, this person was unacceptable. That person was me. That meant that I was incompetent and unacceptable and bad. I was supposed to do these things and I didn’t or couldn’t. I tried and tried and tried and failed. If I was to look at the situation honestly, I would have agreed with the individual pieces. That I can’t actually change these things and so really I’m not in control. But something there doesn’t add up. Because even seeing these things and agreeing to the individual pieces, I still didn’t let go. 

There’s something I’ve clung to here. Desperately. I’d have told you it was about the world, but actually it was about my self. I clung to the deep belief that I was incompetent and therefore bad and therefore unacceptable. So deeply that I look back and see these moments all throughout my life. Being surprised when I’ve succeeded at something because I expected failure - over and over. Declining compliments from others about my self because I believed they weren’t true and that I was unworthy, unattractive, and unlovable. Denying my own needs over and over, needs as basic as food, rest, fun, friendship, and pursuing my dreams - because I believed I didn’t deserve these things.  And because I believed very deeply that I specifically deserved the opposite of these.

So I have these two things - things about the world that I can’t change and a deep need to not accept myself because I can’t change these things. That is a need to punish myself and withhold the things that my body and mind need in order to thrive and grow and live the life that my self naturally wants to live. When I bring these to God, someone sees them. I see them. There they are. About the world and about me. They’re both there, in the palm of my hand, and I can turn them over. I can see them as being outside my self, even the ones that are about me. They describe actions I’ve taken or not taken and they describe how I’ve felt. But neither of these is me. 

I used to believe that they were both me. My actions and my emotions. What else could be me? I believed that my actions defined me and that if I made a mistake, it meant that I was bad. OK, not necessarily just bad - also stupid, not OK, unlovable, unacceptable, and not deserving of anything good in life.

I missed an important distinction - the problem wasn’t making mistakes, the problem was not recovering from mistakes.  I can’t avoid making mistakes. If I do, I’m not living - I’m just cowering in fear - and that’s the biggest mistake of all.  I could write volumes about that - I would say that I have more direct experience with that than anything else in life.  The years I spent with my number one goal as “just don’t make mistakes” drained my energy and made my existence miserable, endlessly anxious, and very, very small. Everyone falls down trying something hard for the first time - and still makes mistakes many times after that. And accidents happen too beyond our control, even big accidents - ones that can stop us dead in our tracks in an instant. Yet everything is in the recovery. Not the cards I’m dealt but how I play them. 

It was true all along but I didn’t understand it. I was focused on not making mistakes so much that I never learned how to recover from making mistakes. A mistake was a verdict about my self and meant that I was bad and unacceptable. At that point, the proof about my self was already there and there was no use fighting it. I was unacceptable. My only hope was to hide those mistakes from others and from my self and use all my time and energy to try as hard as I can to not make any more of them as long as I was alive. 

And that’s where prayer comes in. Me looking at these things about the world and about my self and understanding that I can’t change them. I look at what is - as it is today, here, now. Then I lay all of it down. I don’t carry these things. They stay here and I’m not responsible to carry them. They’re not mine and that was never my role, even if caretakers told me that was the case when I was too young to understand they were wrong because they didn’t know.  I’m not responsible for the outcomes and because of that, the outcomes don’t mean anything about my self. I do my best and the chips fall where they may.  

The point of prayer isn’t to “do” anything - it’s not to affect a certain outcome in the world outside my self. I may consciously believe in the moment that the main “problem” that I want to pray about is the world. Prayer often starts with me talking about the world - something outside my self. That I want to accept the world and circumstances as they are today. But really I want to accept me.

I need to accept me. As I am - today, here, now. A person on this earth who’s here for a very short time and who needs deeply to live freely and to grow toward the light and to express openly and fully the love in my heart. If I don’t accept my self, I can never do any of these things. Ever. It’s 100% guaranteed. I can’t give anyone else something that I don’t already have. What I want and need to give to others is love and an honest open expression of my natural self in each moment. 

I realize that projection is heavily at play here.  Donny Epstein argues that at least 80% of what we “see” in the world around us (people, places, things) is our projection - not what’s actually there, but what we believe is there.  We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.  That said - when I accept myself and accept the world as it is (as best I honestly can), I’m able to see easily where I can change things and where I can’t. And those are hugely important distinctions. They’re part of the work I’m here to do. But my work is not my self. My work is not my heart and it’s not my soul. It’s just my work.

Prayer is a moment to look at my self as I am and also to separate things “about me” from my heart and my soul. To accept whatever is there “about me”. To accept it as “OK”, but so much more than just that. To accept my heart and my soul, my true self - to accept it as beautiful, good, worthy, attractive, and beyond all - deeply and truly lovable. This is the real Magic of prayer.

The Refrain of Love
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Post Written by Markus

[I originally wrote this in Winter of 2018. It was a moment where emotion pulled me to pick up a pen and write what was there. I’ve made a few minor edits for clarity but other than that, the words are unchanged. Something pulled at me again to find these specific words and share them. I hope they speak to your heart as they spoke to mine - and still do.]


At what time does pain become too great to bear?
Is there a breaking point of the heart, and if so – how would I know?
Are there signs to look for or are these just a false weakness of wanting to escape pain?
If life is an allegory as per many of the great teachers, then no pain is ever too great.
No cost too high to not double-down and pay it every time.
Then there is no fool who gave too much or who did not hold his own.
There is only Love – and the cost is irrelevant because it must be paid and because there is no other choice.
Ultimately, what if there truly is no other choice?
Maybe it’s just a matter of time.
We all must choose Love at some time, it just depends on when and if we do so willingly.


Then who is the fool, in Love?
How is an identity maintained?
That further brings the question of what identity even is – which is likely nothing, like so many things in life.
An illusion, a construct, a narrative of the mind – that exists only in the viewer’s imagination.
Just like the ego.
The I.
Me.
I am not me any more than an individual wave in the ocean is its own anything.
All the waves are minute instances of the energy of the sea – intricately played as instruments by the moon and the weather and the forces deep within the earth’s core.
The whole earth then is but one.
So many distinct individuals – but that is a lie.
That is the great lie.
That we are anything but one, anything but connected.
Our fates are the same, our song is the same.
The specific details of our problems vary, but we all have them.
We all have burdens to bear, though they take different forms and names.
Even privilege cannot escape this – though from its perspective, the other and the individual are much more pronounced.
It’s not that we’re in this together, it’s that we are this together.


What then is life, if not empathy?
What besides reverberating at the pulse of the Source could be worthwhile?
We are all unique instances of the Great Love, though we often forget, and often for far too long.
Like a clogged artery or arterial, we become taken with some minor facet not worth our attention.
Mere constructs, mere illusion.
More reasons to confirm our pain, and the other, and ourselves - as individuals.
We do not deserve what we have, to a person.
Whether good or bad, everything we have was given to us.
We are products of our genetics, of our environments, and of our upbringing.
We bring elements from within our heart and soul to the table, certainly – but where did these originate?
Did we conjure these up from nothing?
Did we create what was not there on our own merit or even our own choice?
Through tragedy and through joy – we are but resounding instruments.
We observe and we feel and Energy lives out its Purpose through us.
We are a light, we are a sound.
A brief refrain in a symphony millennia upon millennia long, with glorious accompaniment from the sky, the fire outside our planet, and the great vastness beyond.


For one fractional blip on the radar of the infinite universe, we matter.
That is, we are matter.
One day we do not exist – then Energy lives its Purpose through us – and then we are off to another plane.
The aftershocks, good and un-good, echo through the world around us until they are dampened by time and distance.
Neither is bad.
Both simply are.
But the Light, the Fire, the Source, the Infinite Ocean, the Eternal Summer, the Pulse, the Song, the Masterpiece of the Universe – this is our calling.
To turn ever to Love, as a flower turns to the sun.
As in meditation the mind turns back to the Breath, and merely notes “thinking.”
We must turn to each other, not because we are all we have, but because we are all One.
The fool is not the one who loses all in the pursuit of Love.
What would he even own to be able to lose in the first place?
No, the fool is the one who believes the lie of the other, of hurt, of pain, of ownership, of preservation, of self-protection.


We breathe in, we breathe out – and another beat in the song of the Infinite passes and yields to the next.
Forever playing on, forever passing, forever now.
Forever changing, growing, and dying – though beneath it, the Source remains.
We are the Source.
We see glimpses of the Source, though we cannot understand.
We are too small, through no fault of our own.
The Source is too bright, too great, too vast, too deep.
The pieces we see are enough for our time in this plane.
We all see glances, we all know.
We get hurt, we scar, and we defend – but we know.
We cannot escape the Source because we are the Source.
For our size and our reach, where would we go?
In a galaxy within galaxies, as a pure burst of Energy, where is our home?
Our home is with growth, with Sunlight, and Water.
The descriptions and synonyms are true.
What we need shows us an attribute of what we are.
Generations upon generations of beings.
Trying.
Failing.
Embodying joy.
Writhing in pain.
We cannot do else.
For what we are, this is our path.
We improve and innovate, but these will remain.


The cycle of the breath, the day, the year, the lifetime – they are relentless.
They are our marching orders.
Turn to each other.
Love each other.
No – turn to your self, love your self.
There is no other.
When one grows, we all grow.
When one hurts, we all hurt.
Forever as one – not individuals connected, but one and the same before the construct of time began.
We must love.
We must give all.
We have naught else.
If there is anything we can offer, it is everything we are.
Each smile, each tear, each burst of laughter, each embrace.


We must love, no matter the cost – because there is no cost and there is nothing else.
Love is not the top choice, it is the only choice – the only response.
Each day as the Sun rises, so do we – and so must our Love.
We tune ourselves as an instrument and we are ready to play our Song again.
The Song of Us.
The Refrain of Love.
The Infinite Rhythm of Everything, and Beyond.
If we have not Love, what have we?
If we are not Love, what are we?
Love knows no limits, Love has no end.
Love always perseveres, always hopes, always believes.
We are Love.
We.
Are Love.

GROW, ByMarkusMarkusComment
The Best Audiobooks and Podcasts for Curious Kids and Parents

Post written by Lilly

We returned this week from an epic summer road trip. Seeing five states in eight days meant a LOT of scenic driving - over 40 hours!

Markus and I love to use this time to listen to audio books and podcasts that help ignite more emotional and creative conversations with each other. Listen, hit pause, share, cultivate deeper understandings - repeat!

This year we were excited that our daughter’s interest in audio books from riding in the car with me during the day transferred to our trip. We had the adults’ book running through the car Bluetooth on my phone and kid’s programming running to Markus’ Bose noise cancelling headphones on his phone. With something to listen to and some sticker books and coloring supplies for idle hands, she barely wanted to talk to us and, much to my surprise, we went the entire trip without watching movies!

If you’re hitting the open road this summer and want to dig a little deeper, here are our top picks!

Adult Audio Books

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Markus: Wow. I realize that’s a cliche way to begin any book review but if there’s one that’s worthy of it, this is it. Whatever you’ve heard about this book is true, starting with it being a favorite of Oprah and Barack Obama’s and Bill Gate’s Winter 2018 Books List not to mention that it’s spent months on the New York Times Bestseller list and has 4.5 stars on Amazon based on over 8,000 reviews. Without going into spoilers, the basic story is that Tara is raised in a reclusive and isolated fundamentalist family in rural Idaho without getting any formal schooling at any point. The story begins with her parents’ paranoia about The Federal government and Illuminati - because of which she doesn’t have a birth certificate until age 9 when she finally gets a “delayed” birth certificate (and to date, she still doesn’t know what date her actual birthday is). If you think that premise doesn’t lend itself to keeping you on the edge of your seat, you’d be wrong. We only took breaks on this audiobook when we absolutely had to - it pulled us in and gripped us that hard from start to end.

It’s an insane ride through interwoven topics like family dynamics, personal identity, generational trauma and abuse, mental health, education (obviously) and learning to ask for help. There are plenty of excruciating moments that were almost impossible to listen to and in the end made me so much more grateful for all the opportunity and privilege I’ve enjoyed in my own life. In the end, all that each of us knows is what we’ve been told by our parents and teachers until we explore the world for ourselves. We do this by becoming educated in one way or another - and that’s when we can break free from what hasn’t been working for prior generations and leave our own mark of love and beauty on the world through our own life and decisions. Get ready and hang on tight.

Lilly: I first loved Kelly because she is one of my people, a modern feminist mother and writer raised in an Irish American Catholic family. “We” (Irish American Catholic families) are so incredibly loud but surprisingly insightful, effusive to the point that we often scare strangers or newcomers to the family (my Mom still praises sweet, German Markus for being able to “ride out” getting to know us) but stoic at the same time. It’s always so good to hear a voice of reason from the group.

Tell Me More is Corrigan’s collection of personal essays centered around the phrases that have changed her ability to relate and communicate as a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Her honesty with herself and us shows how the smallest things like changing an “I’m Sorry” to “I Messed Up” can grow and heal us and our relationships. Corrigan wrote the book while raising two teenage girls and losing her force of a father and a special best friend, all seasons of life that challenge us to go inside and relearn how to do things, especially when they happen all at once.

I loved her reading of her own writing in the audio format. I both laughed and cried so hard in parts I had to make sure I could drive. It’s now my favorite book to gift to a friend.

Markus: In the late 1960s, Richard Alpert traveled to India after he and Timothy Leary were kicked out of Harvard. After a few years on his spiritual journey, Alpert returned to the States as Ram Dass, which means “Servant of God.” In 1971 he published the best-selling book Be Here Now where he shared a wealth of what he learned – spoiler alert, just live in the present moment and you’ll be fine (so I’m told). Since it was so heavy on illustrations, Be Here Now was more of an experiential book than something text-based with chapters, paragraphs, and sentences. Polishing the Mirror touches many of the same threads as Be Here Now, though in book format and with nearly 50 more years of experience from Ram Dass. The reason this is number one on my list is the book’s tagline “How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart.” Even today, he still boils down his lessons from India to these simple words: Love Everyone, Serve Everyone, Remember God.

Lilly: Markus and I are dreamers and hard workers. So, how do we still end up pulling into Taco Joint in dinner desperation once a week (besides it being delicious)? What’s up with the seemingly constant struggle to start good habits and break negative ones? I’m a little over the self-improvement books telling me to have a life I’ve dreamed of - tell me how! I got so much out of this book that I asked (begged) Markus to have a listen too. As Clear states, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your habits.” His systems and tips are formulaic, so if you’re willing to try them success seems (and, in my experience, has been) imminent. And I’ve truly seen personal changes! I also appreciated the author reading his own text and the very easy to access online portal for any diagrams referenced in the audio format.

Markus: This was a very good book, I really liked reading this book. Fifth grade book report joking aside – this is the most important book I’ve read in the last few years. The premise is that brain fog, fatigue, and the “afternoon slump” are not normal – and that instead they’re warning signs from the brain that it isn’t getting what it needs. Dave argues that there are many ways we’re shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot when it comes to energy, focus, and overall wellness and ease in our bodies – most of which have pretty easy fixes with exponential results. Forget fad diets and “weird tricks”, everything in the book is based on documented, repeatable research. Dave doesn’t present any rules or preach – he just offers what he’s learned so you can try and see what works for you. But don’t take MY word for it!

Adult Podcasts

We’re discussing trust a lot right now. It takes the pressure off my relationships so much if I know I can completely trust a person - the rest is details. I loved this quick talk for very tangible ways I can scan relationships as trustworthy and be a more trustworthy person myself.

After so much time together last week, Markus and I were both completely interconnected and frayed at the edges. We both listened to this podcast yesterday - a lighthearted group conversation on intimacy with folks ranging from currently single to married with kids for up to 14 years. It’s already one of our all-time favorites.

Another all-time favorite in our relationship that kick started a new chapter of intimacy in the house. (We don’t have to talk about it Mom.)

I got to understand more of why Markus loves Dave Asprey and he got to know more about why I love Jen Gotch. It also reminds us of a great few days in L.A. last year where we would walk to the Venice Beach Bulletproof Cafe and I, by surprise, enjoyed a fun workout class and off-the-cuff mental health conversation with none other than Jen Gotch. Markus and I are excellent at L.A.

Do you have plenty of ideas that are just as good as Superbad? (Even as a major Seth Rogen fan I’m going to go with yes.) Markus and I loved this conversation on getting in creative flow, how to make and keep creative relationships and just some more back story about some of our favorite movie guys. I love when Rogen talks about how much his parents enjoyed watching comedy together when he was growing up. You never know what you’re giving your children by simply doing what makes you happy.

Kids Audio Books

I have an affinity for the Quimbys since my Dad read me every book growing up, and Stockard Channing’s narration hits the mark. Listening to these together was fun for the whole family and a very needed and nice reminder that a real family is the best family - we love each other, parents have conflicts, kids are naughty, money comes in and out in ways we don’t get to plan and, when we’re lucky, we enjoy a nice dinner together at the Whopper Burger. I love that every book featuring Ramona is in this one download for easy enjoyment.

Stuart as a person/mouse is just o.k. in my book, but I am here for the beautiful language and other redeeming characters. We enjoyed listening to this over the course of a week running errands. The chapters are short, it is easy to start and stop and the narration is very soothing and beautiful - bringing a nice calm to the car after a boisterous day at camp or the pool. Our daughter requested it every time we started the car when listening for the first time and has asked us to repeat it since.

I don’t understand these stories and prefer they didn’t exist. They are odd, a little dark (Markus says they are not dark, but I raised an eyebrow when a mean teacher turned kids into apples. Our daughter laughed at it.) and explore topics such as boogers. In reality, they are not anything more sassy than the TV shows I was watching at our daughter’s age. She is engrossed in them, and her imagination has seemed to explore fantasy a lot more since getting hooked. There are two collections of short stories about this school so weird it was built sideways, and over our trip she listened to each book four times. They are an exercise in Markus’ right to also decide what we read and listen to in the house, even when it is outside my more classical taste. When our girl recites the rhymes or silly phrases he lights up, remembering singing them as a young boy with the same delight she does now. That alone is worth it to me.

Thanks to some random and kind relatives, there may be readers of this blog that live or were raised outside of Texas. This description is really only for their benefit. These were a family road trip staple growing up, and I think I laugh more at them now. I love the narration, the recurring cast of characters and the music in the background, making all of the escapades more thrilling. The adventurous life of a Texan is only more exciting when seen through a dog’s eyes.

Another childhood classic that I laughed harder at this go round. We also had a time explaining the concept of a tollbooth to a modern five year old. Rainn Wilson of The Office narrates! The least popular with our daughter but overall enjoyed, and it did prove successful in putting her to sleep. :)

Kids Podcasts

This is really the only chlidren’s podcast we listen to, so I could use your recs here! Any topic involving animals is a favorite, and I particularly liked listening to this one on the affects of screens and their addictive nature together.

Help us out and share your favorite audiobooks and podcasts in a comment below!

And if you burn out on information overload, load up our Family Friendly Spotify Playlists, The road trip playlist is over three hours long!

Happy trails!

TRAVEL, GROW, BY LILLYLilly
Calmer Than You Are, Dude: A Calm Meditation App Review
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Post Written by Markus

[Note: This is not a sponsored post - I wrote this because of the impact that the Calm app has had for me and I hope you’ll have a similar experience too!]

I toed-into meditation kicking (not literally) and screaming (literally).  I don’t remember the specific circumstances or what my exact frustration was, but I remember exactly where I was and how I felt.  It was a few years ago and I was getting into my car in front of our house and I couldn’t contain how upset was.  I felt beyond frustrated, beyond overwhelmed, beyond distraught. 

Somehow, I managed to take out my phone, search for a meditation app, download it, open it, and do a 5-minute “Emergency Calm” session.  That session was very weird to me, having never done this before.  All I could think was “am I doing it right?” and “Is this even going to work?” and “What is the point of this even?” (well, throw in as many expletives as you can, and you’ve got it).

Amazingly – it did work.  That first session was excruciating, even just to sit still and quiet that long - but it did keep me from throwing my phone against a brick wall.  Whatever happened in those 5 minutes was enough to take me from redlined to just slightly-below-redlined.  I would describe the experience as when a parent helps a child calm down by lovingly guiding them through deep breaths and honoring their emotion, whatever it is.  “There might be something here,” I thought.

I had previously read the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris and it made a lot of sense to me and I bought-in to the idea of meditation in principle – but I had no idea what it was (“Is that some kinda Eastern thing?”).  I figured I’d keep the principle on-deck in case I ever got desperate enough to need it - which luckily I was on that day.

WHAT IS IT?

So what is the Daily Calm?  In short, it’s an exercise in calming the mind that channels resilience and acceptance when done regularly over time.  Really, there’s not much to it – the only things you need are:

  • Yourself

  • Your phone with the Daily Calm app loaded (there are others, like Headspace that are great too)

  • A quiet place where you won’t be disturbed

  • Optional – headphones if that’s your preferred method of audio (it’s definitely mine, specifically these – the noise-cancelling function is incredible and makes me 3% calmer)

That’s it in terms of tangible ingredients.  My favorite places to do a Calm session are:

  • On a yoga mat at the gym after a workout

  • On the sofa at home

  • In our wellness room at the office

  • In my car, especially since this is easy in terms of access, I know I won’t be disturbed, and audio is easy over Bluetooth.  I keep a pair of sunglasses in my car to wear during sessions so it looks slightly less strange if someone walks by.

    (I’ve been told that meditating in the car is not actually an ideal location from a Pavlovian standpoint. If possible, the goal from that perspective is to have one regular place where most meditation sessions are done. Ideally that would be a place that’s not used for anything else so the automatic mental association of that place is one of calm and “this is where I calm down and meditate” rather than “this is where I channel stress during rush hour traffic”.)

In terms of the best time to do a session:

  • The absolute best time without a doubt is the time that works best for you.  Just like a diet or exercise plan, the “best” one is the one that you’ll actually stick to.

  • Within that context, the overwhelming consensus is that morning is best (or the beginning of your “day”, if you’re on a non-standard work schedule).  Meditating in the morning sets the tone for the day as a tone of calm.  By doing it in the morning, it’s a guarantee that the session actually happens before the changing schedule-landscape of the day begins.

So what actually happens during a Calm app session?  As little as possible.  From what’s observable – a person sits still with eyes closed for about ten minutes while listening to guidance (well, mostly quiet with some guidance) from the app. After the session, the person opens their eyes and is ostensibly – calmer.  My app shows that I’ve logged 359 sessions so far and I can attest that without exception, this is the result every time.  That said, across all those sessions, there have definitely been some sessions where I wasn’t “as calm as I should be or wanted to be” after the session, but definitely was still calmer than before doing the session.

Which brings up a great point – there is no “should” with meditation and there is no physical “goal.”  The point is to listen, observe, accept, and be – and if it’s “there” today, the idea is to calm the river of thoughts in the mind.  Usually that’s brought about through a focus on the natural breath (just breathing normally, not forcing deep breaths) and observing thoughts without attaching to them or following them.  Whatever’s there in the mind today is what’s there – in terms of emotion, and especially in terms of thoughts.  From a metaphysical perspective, the theory is that “we are not our thoughts” and that instead we are the person witnessing the thoughts. 

The metaphor of standing behind a waterfall is a great way to illustrate this.  The river is the flow of thoughts – endless, rushing, turbulent, deep.  When the river goes over the waterfall, the observer watches the waterfall from an alcove behind the actual waterfall.  Even though the stream of thoughts is so fast and powerful, the observe can see that “I am not my thoughts, I am the person hearing my thoughts.”  Big deal, especially when you’re dealing with a tyrannical mind (my case) – which is a topic for another day.

Another of the most common metaphors used to describe meditation is that of watching clouds pass in the sky.  The observer doesn’t identify with the clouds as “I am the clouds that I see” but only watches them as they pass, noting “Hey, there’s a cloud.”  In the same way, the idea with meditation is to watch thoughts pass in the mind and not attaching to them as “these are my thoughts” or “these thoughts are me”, but instead noting “Hey, there’s a thought” – and honestly leaving it at that. 

After that, it’s a return to following the breath – in… and out.  In… and… out… and… in… and.. out… Really the entire process boils down to that – maintaining a loose focus (in the Daily Calm, usually a focus on the breath – or in other practices, a focus on a mantra) by breathing naturally and redirecting.  Redirecting is just that simple moment of noticing when the focus has shifted from the breath over to a thought, letting the thought sit where it is, and going back to the breath. In and out.

Thoughts are often “shiny objects” with a particular pull for the mind and focus - for me, normally it’s along the lines of “HEY THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT THING THAT YOU’RE GOING TO NEED TO REMEMBER SO YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THIS THOUGHT RIGHT NOW INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON THE CALM APP OR BREATHING OR ELSE YOU’RE NOT GOING TO REMEMBER THIS THOUGHT AFTER YOU’RE DONE AND THEN HOW WILL YOU EVER KNOW AND IS THIS CALM APP THING REALLY THAT IMPORTANT COME ON MAN YOU CAN JUST THINK ABOUT THIS OTHER THING FOR A LITTLE WHILE”.

That moment is where the rubber hits the road for me.  Saying “whatever this thought is, I trust myself enough that if it’s really super important, I’ll remember again later.”  In this moment, while I’m doing my Calm session – there’s nothing more important that I could possibly be doing, not even remembering a thought or idea that I have during the session. And I know that my marching orders are to just notice “hey, there’s a thought.”  As a person who writes down almost everything “or else I won’t remember”, this has not come naturally to me - but has made all the difference.

 

AM I DOING IT RIGHT?

This has been tough for me to quantify because there is no directly measurable external metric (well, technically there is and you could even have meditation “contests” to see who’s “better” at meditating – but that flies directly in the face of the concept of non-attachment). 

The ultimate test in my view is “am I leaning more toward Acceptance, Breathing, Presence, and Non-Attachment over time?”  If the answer is yes, then it’s a clear indicator that you’re moving in the right direction.  If the answer is no, but you’re enjoying the daily 10-minute session and feel like you’re getting something out of it – then I’d argue that yes, you’re still doing it right.

And you’re not limited to once per day (especially if you draw inspiration from comedy great Jerry Seinfeld who’s famously been a huge proponent of Transcendental Meditation – crediting much of his success in dealing with the stress of “Seinfeld” to using his lunch break each day for a 20-minute meditation session). Once a day is a great frequency to get rolling with meditation and makes it an “easy win” that doesn’t seem too daunting each new day. Where the Daily Calm shines is the daily meditation session that’s new each day and specific to that day. Serendipitous, kismet, The Universe Has Your Back, whatever you want to call it - it’s eerie how timely the daily topics can be. Beyond these there are also plenty of pre-loaded sessions that are available to listen to any time.  These cover topics such as “Managing Stress”, “Calming Anxiety,” “Emergency Calm,” and “Emotions.”

 

DAILY USE

Most days, I start my day with a Calm session.  Not. Every. Day. #Blasphemy, I know!  On a fair amount of the off days, I’ll work in a session later in the day.  Plenty of days I don’t do a session at all – not intentionally but I’ll notice that’s how it shook out.  I don’t see that as a problem – I just notice.  The next day, I look to make it happen more intentionally since I missed a day already. 

I’ve found that the times that I’m most consistent overall in life are when I’m doing the Calm app regularly. I’ve also found that that I’m most consistent with sitting still for a Calm moment when I do it first thing in the morning. It’s called “Daily Calm” and doing it daily is obviously the goal. That said, in the almost three years that I’ve been pausing for Daily Calm sessions, my longest streak is 12 days in a row – still shy of two consecutive weeks.  As a dude who has a PhD in All-or-Nothing approaches, that’s humbling.  And it’s OK. I notice it, and I let it sit. And then I breathe in. And I breathe out.

I also use the Calm app in other ways – the sleep stories and the Breathe bubble.  Our daughter actually loves both.  The sleep stories are usually about 30-minute stories read by soothing narrators (think Matthew McConaughey and Anna Acton).  Stories include The Nutcracker, The Wind in the Willows, and even some by Bob Ross, the master of Happy Little Accidents.  When our daughter goes to sleep, I’ll set a timer on the phone for 5 minutes and we’ll listen to a portion of whichever sleep story she chooses.  Pro tip – if you’re using you phone as the timer, use the “Stop Playing” option instead of an actual alarm sound. The story just stopping keeps the “time to sleep” vibe going much more than a loud ringtone alert does.

The Breathe bubble is so simple but so profound in what it does. It has a few different options to set duration and type of breathing – my favorite is box breathing (made famous in part by the Navy Seals). At times when our daughter (or me, let’s be real) is overwhelmed, this is a great option to take a few minutes and seriously reset.  Box breathing is no joke, and can take either of us from wound-up-real-tight to ahhhhhhh-relaxed in just that short duration of a few minutes.

If this sounds like something that might be useful to you, check out the Daily Calm app and give it a spin!  The app allows each person to give out five 30-day guest passes - here’s my link for the first lucky five people! Calm also published a book that features many of the same principles as the app - and is great if you’re a very visual person (me, me, me).  I hope this gets you one step closer to being “Calmer than you are, Dude.” Namaste, homies.

GROW, ByMarkusMarkusComment
Jake Ryan is Dead to Me
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post written by Lilly

Sixteen was not the easiest year for me. My grandfather was an extra parent to me. I lived in his house at times, I ate dinner with him upwards of five times a week, he was perfectly over- attentive to me and my goals and accomplishments. The summer before I turned sixteen, he had suddenly died on my third day of my sophomore year of high school.

High school - that was another problem. I was a second generation legacy at my Mom’s private, all-girls Catholic high school and a square peg to say the least. Especially with the added loss of my grandfather, it was all I could do to keep off the sensation that I was drowning and not just walking down the halls between classes. People that I thought were my friends from middle school were moving on to more elevated social circles, and it felt to me like a key step in this process for them was treating me like I was dead. As a July birthday, I was a full year younger/behind most of my classmates at a time when it seemed that every second on the life experience clock counted - the more mature you were, the better. Add my cluelessness to the lack of control I had over my grief, and I was completely socially inept and useless. The worst part was, no one else had these problems. Everyone else was perfect and I was lost. Until I found John Hughes.

John Hughes movies, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink, were finally spaces where I could find other people like myself (and even some empathy for those pesky popular kids who, given some of these plot lines, may not have their lives all figured out either).

As a self-proclaimed invisible sophomore feeling a little lost with all of the changes happening in my family, Molly Ringwald as Samantha in Sixteen Candles was the storyline of choice.

Just like Samantha, I had a family that I loved, although the more independent I felt and the more that was going on, the more I began to wonder how much I truly identified with them (which seems about right for sixteen). Maybe home was in a fresh start, possibly with someone incredibly handsome and adored by everyone in my social circles so my self-doubt would be infinitely tamed and I would know everyone could clearly see how much I mattered. Maybe, based on the iconic popularity of this movie, you felt this way too. I’m just grasping at straws here.

Life was hard right now, but my Jake Ryan was just around the corner. Love would come for me. And it would know my birthday without having to ask and, when everyone else around me was caught up in their own humanity, this love would know everything I wanted and deliver it eagerly. My birthday cakes would be gorgeous and thoughtful forever, with my favorite icing flavor I never had to share and candles that matched my bridesmaid’s dress.

And then, miraculously, I got him. My Jake Ryan, complete with the hair, chiseled jawline and perfect amount of stubble. He didn’t have the Trans Am but it sure felt close when he drove anywhere and I was in the front seat of his car. Twelve years later, it still does.

There was one pesky problem. The romance. There was no doubt he loved me. I could see it every day with his respect, attentiveness and care. It was just, like...where were the grand gestures? When I felt a little lost or unsure of myself, where was my unanticipated act of reassurance from him? Where was my surprise perfect birthday cake?!

How was this wonderful man “the one” if he wasn’t anticipating and meeting all of my unspoken needs? Did he even know me?

No, he didn’t. Because I hadn’t fully shown him who I was.

Sharing what I need can be so vulnerable, more so the older I’ve gotten. For me, it only took a few times of saying what I needed and not getting it - in friendships, family or even at work - to teach myself that the lesson here was no one cared and there’s no point in saying anything, making the fantasy that one person did even bigger.

The story became “If he loves me, he’ll know what I need,” instead of “He loves me and wants to know what I need.”

Sometime this past year, we met with our marriage counselor, going over a sticky morning from earlier that week. The day before we had a wonderful morning, where Markus walked in from exercising to greet me still in bed, lovingly talk to me and then going to turn on the coffee. It started my entire day perfectly. But just the next day, it was the opposite - he walked to the other end of the house to the coffee pot first followed by popping his head into our room to say hello.

I explained calmly to our therapist how difficult it was to try to be in a relationship with someone who prioritized me one morning and then not the next.

Our therapist: “Mm, yes. And at what point did you tell Markus how important the previous day’s interaction was to you and that you would like to continue doing that?”

My internal dialogue: Why would I have to do that? They don’t do that in the movie. Also, I’m in a fight with myself over deciding it was time to find a therapist that challenged me.

And this was the first time in twelve years of dating the same guy (and many other previous experiences I can see more clearly now), that it dawned on me. This idea of love was from a movie.

Jake Ryan, you guys, is a movie character.

People may not even be able to act like that - to read our minds and just give us what we want without asking. The whole concept and plot could be a work of fiction, which may also explain how he was able to clean his house so quickly after that rager.

We have a new phrase in our house, thanks to our therapist a la Brene Brown, “clear is kind.” If you love someone, help them make you feel loved by being clear with what you need, what you expect, how you feel. I could try to trade my husband in for a mind reader, but I don’t think he would be as good looking, funny or perfect for me in every other way.

Last week, I got hit with a stomach virus. Barely able to stand or talk, I could see Markus standing in my periphery either trying to think of a way to help or waiting for my head to start spinning.

“Hey,” he said, “I”m so sorry. Can I do anything to help?”

My internal dialogue: Think of what I need so I don’t have to and do it for me. Take this excruciating pain away from me. Then find a small but strong family of doves to wrap me in a chenille blanket and carry me the ten feet to our bed where you will stroke my hair with the exact cadence and pressure I’d like without me having to tell you.

Then I got still enough to think and got the strength to mutter, “May I please have a glass of still, room temperature water?”

As much as I didn’t want to have to use this new and still uncomfortable-to-me method in such bleak circumstances, I knew I had to in order to get the help I really needed. With all the physical suffering I was in, we had a razor thin margin for error without me coming completely unhinged.

In that moment, it finally clicked that by not communicating, I’m really only creating scenarios where I feel hurt and lonely from my own actions, not my partners’ lack of.

From the kitchen he yelled to me, “I’M GETTING YOUR WATER. STILL AND ROOM TEMPERATURE. IT WILL BE OK. THANKS FOR BEING CLEAR WITH ME BABE I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.”

I rolled my eyes and gagged with the micro comfort of knowing what I needed was on the way. From a guy who still looks a lot like Jake Ryan, which is an added benefit.

The process of being forthcoming with what I want still doesn’t seem as easy as Samantha literally making eye contact with Jake at the dance, walking off and getting her perfect birthday cake 20 hours later. But the happy endings are abundant on this new model and my husband is pretty dope for a non-movie character human being like myself, so I’m willing to participate.

And here’s the thing about those acts of reassurance. I can create them for myself.


Maybe Jake Ryan is toxic, or maybe there’s a deleted scene where he calls Samantha and asks if he can have anything at his place for them to enjoy and she mentions, why yes, it’s her birthday and she’d like a two-tier buttercream icing cake with 16 evenly lit candles. Maybe Jake got this one right on a fluke, but for the sake of all of the birthdays, anniversaries and all the everyday moments in their future, I hope Jake and Samantha get to figure out clear is kind. Maybe we’ll all get to see for ourselves in the sequel, A Simple Breakfast at Home for Mother’s Day Because We Talked About It and That’s What My Wife Really Wants.

The ManKind Project’s NWTA Weekend
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Post Written by Markus

On a Monday afternoon last September, Lilly sent me a text: “Hey, I found this weekend men’s retreat that sounds interesting, would you consider going?”  I was on a huge deadline push at work that day and I read the text quickly before replying “Sure, thank you.” Lilly had heard of a similar retreat a year or two back that I also attended and based on that experience, it was an easy decision for me. That prior retreat was on the shores of a lake nearby and it was a silent retreat. No talking, no phones – just being. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and it was incredibly grounding, calming, and centering for me. Apparently, I was now the kind of guy who regularly goes on retreats like this – bring on the silence and a break, I thought.

What I didn’t know was that this weekend was a bit different than the first one. This one was called NWTA (“New Warrior Training Adventure” – I’ll be honest, I rolled my eyes at the name) a three-day “retreat” that seemed to be the main event put on by an organization called The ManKind Project (MKP). I was still trying to figure out what any of this actually was and I figured that if MKP or this warrior weekend was really such a big deal, then I would have already heard of it before now.

Full disclosure – Lilly hadn’t found this new retreat as something unique and interesting just because she cares about me (although she does and she would) – but because it was a long shot at trying to get things moving that were stuck, specifically in/with me. Things like emotion (me not expressing emotion, me not understanding Lilly when she expresses emotion, me having low empathy), listening skills (or lack thereof), reliability in general, and my lack of a well-defined purpose beyond “work hard and be good for my family.”

GETTING READY

That same Monday afternoon, I got a (slightly) better picture of what I was getting into as I was texting Lilly:  “OK, so what is this retreat exactly?”, “Where is this place?”, “What do people who’ve attended say about it?” On the MKP site they describe the weekend as “not a retreat” (thanks guys - wait, OK what is it then?) and they refer to it as “a real-time hero’s journey” (way to be dramatic about it, I thought).

The official MKP description of the weekend is: “You'll get more than you're willing to hope for: purpose, passion, vibrancy, joy, healing, connection to self, new energy, clarity, power, freedom, understanding, brotherhood, trust. Over 64,000 men have now taken this journey, and every man's experience has been unique.” That description also didn’t help me much – that’s just a list that sounds like it was pulled from a BuzzFeed clickbait post titled “13 Things The Modern Man Needs To Be a Hero (Number 8 May Surprise You!)”.

Boy, it seemed like these guys really weren’t doing much to pitch this to the average guy as something that might seem even remotely appealing – unless he was a guy who needed a Hail Mary attempt at keeping a marriage together, which was the case for me. With that context, it honestly didn’t matter what they called this non-retreat adult man sleepover weekend. Like so many other decisions in my life, this came about because it was finally too painful to not change.

As I was looking for any third-partyreviews of this experience/weekend, the trail pretty much ran cold. I could find almost nothing online about this organization or the weekend – which meant my imagination began to run wild.  What little I did find seemed questionable at best and what I didn’t know at the time was that there were two things at play:

  1. MKP is by definition a men’s group (explicitly welcoming to GBTQ) by each man’s own definition.  Saying that to say – as a group, men are generally less effusive, and are already less likely to write reviews of their weekend non-retreat experiences.  My opinion is that this is one reason why there are few reviews out there.

  2. The weekend has been running for over three decades, is held in many countries, and generally still takes the same shape today as the early years. A fair amount of the efficacy of the weekend is based on the construct of following a hero’s journey where a large part of it is the unknown of the path before you. To this end, MKP asks attendees to talk in generalities about the weekend and leave the specifics for each man to experience on his own during the weekend. In my opinion it’s this request, coupled with #1 above, that leads to the shortage of actually useful third-party information about MKP online.

Where this really doesn’t work in MKP’s favor is that online, the vocal minority has the floor. The guys who are attending and having awesome, life-changing experiences are not writing about it – at least not where other interested guys can find the reviews. For me, that was crucial and I was basically taking a leap of faith with little time to decide whether to spend $750 (wait - seriously, $750? Seriously.) for the weekend. MKP does offer case-by-case options and they want to make sure that cost is never a barrier to attendance.

Lilly sent me that text on a Monday and the way the timing of this retreat fell, it was that upcoming weekend in a rural area outside Houston. If I would have paused at any point between that moment and the weekend (I didn’t) to make a list of the things I thought were not working in my life and that I might like to examine during the weekend, it would have included:

  1. Lack of emotional attunement

  2. Lack of traction/consistency in progress

  3. Lack of connection with my inner child

  4. Unawareness of shame (and the major role it was playing in directing my life)

  5. Lack of a clearly-defined purpose – sure, I wanted to be a good husband, good dad, and have a good career – but I had never defined the actual goal and hadn’t considered what greater overarching purpose there might be

  6. Fears that I had never faced that were redirecting my life by me avoiding them

  7. Though I couldn’t put my finger on it, what I now recognize as a constant need for approval

Even though I didn’t put it into those words before the weekend, I had a strong sense that something was going on. I also believed that I was the only one feeling like this and that these problems were unique to me. That led me to avoid talking about them, which only made them worse.

LESSONS FROM THE WEEKEND

The best way to describe the weekend actually is MKP’s standard description from earlier in this post. Each man’s experience is different. It’s an opportunity to take a look at things in life that are working (and things that aren’t working) in a different context. Think Joseph Campbell and his paradigm of the myth of the hero’s journey – especially the quote “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

The other best way to describe the weekend is describe what I got from the experience, including lessons about these topics below. By “lesson”, I mean something that I absorbed to a level deeper than just a theoretical surface-level understanding.

  1. What a man is, and what he is not (most of the images and archetypes celebrated by our culture are at best incomplete, and at worst, destructive to self and others)

  2. Emotional attunement (even just the “base” emotions of happy, sad, angry, afraid, ashamed)

  3. An understanding of agreements – the moments where I agree to do something and how I do (or do not) honor that agreement

  4. Integrity (aligning my words and my actions) + accountability (doing what I say I’ll do)

  5. Shame

  6. My inner child’s deepest need (and out of that, my mission)

  7. Understanding that I’m not on earth just to be a work-horse productivity machine

  8. Actually hearing my real Voice for the first time (both figuratively and literally)

  9. Connection with other men, besides just surface-level

  10. Connection with the Earth, with Nature, and with Life

  11. A deep sense of connection to the men who came before me in prior generations and those who will follow

The weekend was surreal in terms of cultivating a sense of reconnection to myself – and coming back home (literally and figuratively) was even more surreal. Everything at home felt very familiar yet also very different.  Our house looked the same when I walked up to the door, but my connection to it felt much stronger. I can’t explain how overcome with love, gratitude, and adoration I was when my eyes saw Lilly, My Love, for the first time after I came home.  

It was a deep sense of appreciation for an ocean of incredible qualities about her. For believing in me, for finding the weekend and encouraging me to attend, for her support in general – and a deep appreciation for her as a woman, especially for her intuition, for her emotion and her attunement, her love, her physical beauty – and her smile, her kind eyes, and her presence.

We talked some, but mostly we were quiet. I couldn’t stop looking into her gorgeous green eyes – holding her gaze, staring at her pretty face and taking in her beauty.  Lilly had picked up dinner for me and I was ravenous from the drive home – but I could barely be bothered to eat it, I was so taken by her. I’ve always been smitten but this was different. Just being next to her was enough and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The intensity and intimacy of our connection that first day back and across the next few days felt like something from a classic love story.

The first week was back to “normal” life was so surreal. I wore out Porangui’s album Ayahuasca Remixed which has the most awesome primal, tribal energy and beats. One of my favorite quotes from the movie Fight Club kept resonating in my mind “After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down.”  It felt like everything in my life, especially the mundane work-life items, had become very muted in my daily life. The hard landscape was technically still the same but it seemed like everything had changed.

Before, it was a world where there were “so many” “important” things that I needed to stay aware of, pay attention to, and do something about. I had a death-grip attachment to viewing myself as Work & Productivity Man - and that attachment had long been trying to fill the voids in my life that I now call Identity and Purpose/Mission.

The thing I needed the most from the weekend (though I couldn’t have put it into words) was to have some kind of experience where I at least glimpsed a sense of trusting myself again. The experience of the weekend gave me a peek at that sense of trust and I could feel deeply that a very old need and wound was beginning to be met and healed. At the time I didn’t know quite how old and deep that wound was. I also didn’t know that the first week back was NOT actually the new normal, not yet at least – and not without a lot of hard work still ahead of me, and in so many unexpected areas of my life.

That first week passed and after that, the weekend was still semi-fresh on my mind – but definitely a little less fresh and a little less intense.  It seemed like “reality” was setting back in and I began to wonder if my weekend experience had produced real, lasting change – or if it was just an isolated experience to itself with no ultimate tangible translation to me actually living my life.

TODAY

One of the things that has not been lost on me is what purpose the weekend experience has served for me, besides the obvious shifts in emotion, Voice, and Connection. Those three weekend days together with the first days back at home were nothing short of an experience like looking directly into the Sun. It was white-hot, bright AF, and nurturing, and it let me directly experience first-hand the heights of what is tangibly possible for me in my life – and here’s the kicker – with what I already had inside myself that’s been there all along.

The toughest thing for me since the weekend was that realization that the initial “new normal” was not actually a new normal – at least not yet. I would compare it to the experience of coming back to “real life” from a proper vacation. On so many prior vacations, I’ve tapped into what I would describe as the core essence of my being – and that’s been via Connection to both myself and the world around me. I’ve gotten there essentially the same way every time – slowing down, breathing deeply, being present with myself, getting out in the Sun, and moving through nature. The Markus that came back from those trips was instinctively more focused on Energy, “Vibes”, and Fun than before the trips.

The main word I would use to describe MKP as an organization is Connection – with oneself, with other men (and with women), with emotion, with love, with nature, and spiritual connection (not religion - think along the lines of native American spirituality) with the ultimate goal of being a better man for those we love and the world around us. The other word I would use is Awakening – to the world, to others, and most importantly to oneself. I would describe this Awakening as the first step toward Recovery. By this I mean Recovery in the sense that Russell Brand defines the word: “recover[ing] the person you were born to be.”

Something I’ve noticed on many occasions since the weekend is increased attunement and intuition. One way this manifests is during times when I notice the opposite - a strong sense of mis-alignment in my life. That can be anything – the way I’m breathing (or not breathing), how strong (or weak) my Voice is on any given day, where my energy is focused, and especially my purpose/mission.

There are plenty of days that I wonder how I ever got to 36 years old before learning some of these (seemingly) very basic things that I learned about myself and about life at the weekend. I usually counter that with this quote from Steven Tyler, “I’ve got a lot of great excuses. Don’t we all? So what if I was 60 years late - I was busy getting ready.” Busy getting ready – that was me, and that was OK.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I discovered something deep and important that weekend. I got glimpses at deep, powerful Truths that I’ve felt all along but hadn’t touched and couldn’t put my finger on. I heard my Voice for the first time.

What I got from the weekend actually was the “more than you’re willing to hope for,” just as advertised. There was the immediate impact and the lessons listed above – but it didn’t stop there. The weekend served as an initial catalyst and the amount and depth of things that have been healed since still blows my mind. I can 100% say that I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t attended that specific weekend last September. Either directly or indirectly, my weekend has somehow influenced all my growth since then.

Two Joseph Campbell quotes have also resonated very strongly with me since September. One is, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” which I have taken to heart. For a long time in my life I wanted to (and did) conceal who I was, so this hits very deep for me.

The other is Campbell’s description of The Hero Path. This has been my understanding of life since the weekend:

We have not even to risk the adventure alone

for the heroes of all time have gone before us.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known

we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.

And where we had thought to find an abomination

we shall find a God.

And where we had thought to slay another

we shall slay ourselves.

Where we had thought to travel outward

we shall come to the center of our own existence.

And where we had thought to be alone

we shall be with all the world.

Before the weekend, I would have called this poem overly dramatic or trying too hard. After the weekend, each line resonates deeply. “Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.” I had thought that my problems in life were due to something outside myself - but when I took an honest look, the issue was actually me. When I started to change, magically so did my problems. “Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” What initially felt life-threatening was actually life-giving through the Connection that can only come from vulnerability and openness.

Check out the MKP FAQ page for more details about the weekend - I’d also love to answer any questions.  Hit me up in the comments below or send us an email for more!

The Glorification of Slow: Documenting Life with B Family Films

Post Written by Lilly

My job as a Mom often feels like it boils down to the title of CMM: Chief Memory Maker. I’ve taken on the responsibility of orchestrating and manifesting the collection of memories and joy in our family. I’m the birthday party planner and family vacation concierge. I buy the toys. I tend to set our weekend agenda. I pack the lunches with the little notes tucked inside.

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I spent a lot of “the early years” running myself exhausted and spending money on making memories, probably to the point of short-circuiting all three of us. Nothing says “this is a happy family” like three faces with forced smiles and traces of an organized event or city scene in the background, all squeezed neatly into the frame of an Instagram shot. Life forced us to slow down and after a while, I took the hint. It’s the slow time, not rushing from one activity to the next, that allows the little details of life to come into focus and become our memories - things like heart-shaped banana slices on freshly-baked bread or seeing the same little Mason jar cups and plates sitting on our dinner table every night.

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I’m a living, breathing Mom which obviously means that I therefore love family photos. I previously thought that we had already taken our family photos as far out as one can reasonably go in terms of fresh creative direction, locations, and themes. That said, I was recently smitten with B Family Films and their idea to document the parts of life that are often not photographed or even seen by other people outside the family. When B Family Film’s Cara asked if we would be willing to participate as a pilot family for their film process, I was quite excited and intrigued by their concept. Would our boring daily life and imperfect-as-hell home be worthy? And would it really look and feel like real life?

When we got the photos and videos back from Cara, I was overcome with emotion. I’ll let you see for yourself - here’s the video they created:

The threads that hold our beautiful, ever-evolving family tapestry together are connection and contentment. In our fast-paced world that pushes us to focus on the external, it’s often a minute-by-minute practice just to stay on track with either of those two values at the forefront. By entering our messy, simple life and translating it into such a thing of beauty, Cara created a work of art out of an ordinary evening in our home. I believe this is the type of honest, unpolished expression that can change our world by honoring the intent and highest purpose of our home - to serve as a vehicle of pure love.

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It’s almost a mini-rebellion to think of all of the gorgeous and stately spaces and landscapes around Dallas and know that, truly, I want our photos to be taken right here in our home. This is the home that currently still has the same color of paint on every single wall as when we moved in, still driving me a little crazy when I see it. The home with the dollhouse made from shipping boxes and duct tape, where I always lean in for one more goodnight kiss from my girl as she scampers off to bed. Few things in this world are truly mine, but this loving space and the connection to Markus and our daughter that I feel are what I know to be real.

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When we think of home design now, it’s often associated with designer curtain rods, impressive art collections or envy-inducing spaces. I’m the biggest fan of all of these. While they’re great, having a family was always the dream and priority for me. And what we dream for and prioritize requires sacrifice. When I was working in overdrive to pay for weekend activities, updates to our last home and other things I thought made life good, all I was actually doing was prioritizing my family last.

So we wear the same few clothes a lot now. We have fewer new things. Our vacations that bring us so much respite, discovery and delight may be few and far between and may be missing that social media WOW factor. Most of all, I keep a daily contentment practice that just because I’m not working on “impressive” projects with outward validation doesn’t mean I’m not doing big things. Every day here with these people is my gift. Walking into the door of our house (on our better days) brings that same exhalation I used to have to wait to feel on our best vacations. I continue to say no to things and to be mindful of our schedule and life because the little moments feel so good, too good to miss.

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These aren’t just mundane photos to me. They’re aspirational. They are the environment and people that inspire me to keep becoming a better version of myself. These are images for which I know the passage of time will only increase their value. We’ll look back and think of who we were in this chapter - a time when we all ate off of those plates at that table every night and when the corner of the living room always held that little pile of paints and musical instruments. One day our daugher won’t be here to run to us into a whirl of excitement as we come in the door. I work purposefully on a slow, simple life to allow that to happen as often as possible and help us look back on these days with fondness and no regrets. Thank you so much to B Family Films for honoring my work.

GROW, LIVE, BY LILLYLillyComment
Home Actually Is Where the Heart Is
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Post Written by Markus

Home. It’s a short little word – but the story behind it is usually anything but short. We each have a home with our family of origin that’s out of our control as children. That first home sets the tone for much of our lives through adulthood in huge ways, even when (especially when) we don’t recognize how it’s even happening.

Home is often a charged word – case in point, realtors refer to selling “homes” and not “houses.” The association of the word is for family, love, happy memories, and warmth - and at the beginning and end of each day, it’s where we belong. These days, the shelf-life of the average childhood home isn’t great and the divorce rate is high. My original home officially dissolved when I was almost 16 which means that I made it a lot further with my original home still technically “intact” than many of my friends did.

Where we are today as a culture, I believe (not a shocker here) that we’re in an epidemic crisis of lack of human connection. As we get more and more “connected” digitally, we slowly phase out in-person human-to-human experience and conversation. We have home-buttons on our browsers, home-screens on our phones, and home-pages on our websites. At the same time that we’re using the word “home” so much in our digital experience, we’re also decreasing actual human interaction. Why meet someone IRL just to talk when a text message can get the same information across – and don’t even talk to me about calling someone without texting them first.

I believe that today we’re in the greatest possible time to be alive so far in history as humans on this planet. So many critical problems that once threatened our very existence have been solved. Advances in medicine, science, and mental health keep expanding what’s possible for us. As the digital arc of our culture keeps increasing and does not yet seem to have a peak in sight, I believe the need for connection and home is greater than ever. For a long time I ran away from connection and from home because the associations for me were too painful. They were the opposite of family, love, happy memories, and warmth. Beginning when my parents’ relationship got rocky, home for me was a place of loneliness, fear, painful memories, and unbearable emptiness. Looking back now, I’m able to connect the dots in reverse and see that it was all part of beautiful healing story although I would have punched you if you’d have told me that during the hard times.

CHILDHOOD + SHAME

My childhood was pretty normal in many ways – from K to about 6th grade, my parents seemed to generally be happy, functional adults and family/home life held a positive association for me.  Though it was a modest upbringing, my parents had friends over for dinner all the time and home life was pretty peaceful. If you’d have asked me at the time, I’d have said that my parents were doing most things “right” and I would honestly have given them an A+ grade. It wasn’t until very recently that I was able to consider for the first time the idea that maybe my parents didn’t do as many things right as I’ve always believed.

At first blush, the idea seemed absurd to me because I’d believed the opposite for so long. As I kept turning it over in my mind and my heart, I started to see there was something to it. I began to accept the idea that maybe my parents weren’t 100% A+ parents.  I saw that actually, the way they raised me and their own patterns of unresolved trauma had planted deep, painful, untrue core beliefs about myself.  These also sent a loud and clear message about lack of belonging and a fear of the world around me that shaped my major life choices in huge, damaging ways – enter Shame.

Shame. I define this as “the deep belief that something about myself is utterly unacceptable and so I must hide it from everyone or face humiliation because of it.” A constant state of self-loathing and disconnection from the parts of myself that are unacceptable – which for a long time was pretty much everything. I could have easily told you anytime what my perceived flaws were. Body issues. My family’s modest means. Feeling different for being from another country. Believing that I was weak, stupid and lazy.

Where did the shame come from? Both of my parents seemed to lean toward shame as a preferred method of raising me. From that standpoint, there was much that was functional about shame – namely that it squashes behavior that the parent is looking to stamp out, like house training a dog the old school way. The problem is that it also stamped out my heart, my sense of belonging, and my identity – and left me with an ambient fear and mistrust of the world around me. The kicker though was how shame decimated my sense of self-confidence and took it another step further, leaving me with the opposite – a constant sense of specifically NOT trusting myself.

Not. Trusting. Myself. On paper it doesn’t make much sense. I’m an average guy who’s been through a fair amount of challenges and though I’ve made my share of mistakes, I have plenty going for me. Enough book-smarts to make school mostly a breeze and to find success in the engineering field after college. Being told on many occasions that I have innate leadership qualities that come across automatically when I first meet someone. Learning most new things quickly enough to feel like I’m a natural at almost anything that I try, to the envy of others.

But yet – even with those qualities and more, I was still actively not trusting myself. I believed deeply, strongly, critically that in each moment, I was the LEAST qualified person to face that moment for myself. It made zero sense to me until I started looking back and recognizing the shame and humiliation that drew the lines so early in my life. I was an active, engaged, bright child and I absorbed eagerly the things that were told to me by my parents.

When I wet my pants on the preschool bus when I was four years old, my mother completely let me have it with her words through shaming.  When my parents found out I had a crush on a girl in second grade, they made fun of me in front of family friends until I hid under a table crying from humiliation. It was deeply confusing for me - having to trust these two people as a dependent and at the same time being hurt so deeply by their shaming me for things I couldn’t help. I had to trust them 100% - whatever they told me, I believed was true.  The only way I could reconcile this in my mind and my heart was to believe that they were right about me. They were right when they told me that I wasn’t really a four-year-old because four-year-olds don’t wet their pants, they know better. They were right about me looking stupid and weak for having a crush on a girl and so I buried future crushes deep in my heart so no one else would see.

SELF-DESTRUCTION AS AN ADULT

For decades, the shame from my upbringing was a huge part of the lens through which I viewed the world, and more importantly, myself. I never even saw it - although looking back, it was clearly driving the bus. Much of my energy was going toward concealing myself and the parts that I believed were unacceptable and weak. My body did not measure up to what it should be – so I held my breath all the time. My productivity did not measure up to what I should be able to get done in a day – so walked faster than anyone else and I never took breaks, ever. My knowledge of any given topic was not as extensive as it should be, especially at work – so I kept my mouth shut and didn’t ask questions. Most importantly – I withdrew and isolated so that others wouldn’t see these Horrible Truths about myself.

I was constantly trying to prove what I was NOT, although I could never pile up enough evidence to convince myself that I was NOT these things. Not stupid, not lazy, not fat, not worthless, not embarrassing, not bad – but the toughest one was about belonging. I could not pile up enough evidence that I belonged, no matter where I was. The kicker was getting into an intimate relationship and then slowly sabotaging things because of how deeply I believed that I didn’t belong and that I was unlovable. I assumed that I must have lucked into hiding something that she didn’t see and I knew that I had better make damn sure that she never sees it, whatever it is.

I was completely oblivious to these self-defeating patterns for most of my life until a Cosmic Two-by-Four hit me over the head and made it too painful for me NOT to change. I think of Cosmic Two-by-Fours as messages of Love from the Universe that keep getting louder and louder until they’re impossible to ignore. These are messages of Love, yes - but Love presented through hard Truth, meaning that Pain is usually right there with Love and Truth. There’s growth that needs to happen and a lesson that needs to be learned - and for someone who’s been very stubborn and oblivious like me, it seems there is no other effective way than getting hit over the head with it.

My loudest, heaviest, most painful Cosmic Two-by-Four landed squarely on my forehead a few years ago when, after 18 months of hiding it, I told Lilly that we had substantial consumer debt spread across several credit cards. All of it had accumulated over the prior 18 months from living expenses in excess of our monthly cash budget. It started “innocently” one month when we didn’t have enough cash to cover what was on the cards, which at that point was a relatively minor amount. However, the instant that I realized this situation, I saw it as a weakness and a loud and clear message about my self-worth – and so I hid it. I did the same thing the next month and the month after that. This only made things worse for the climbing debt - and even more so for my mental health, my physical health, and my relationship with Lilly.

The progression inside my mind was always the same – from the initial sting of “uh-oh” during that first month, all the way to the house of cards crashing down. This was the same progression that I learned through shame and humiliation as a child, except as an adult I was now an Olympic-level pro at it.  Before, someone outside me had to convince me that I was bad and it took a little time and forceful words for me to absorb this message. Now, it was an inside job and the pathways in my brain and my heart were well-worn from years of practice. What used to take at least several minutes now took less than a split second - it went like this:

  1. External evidence of a perceived weakness: in this case, not having control over finances.

  2. Immediately assigning meaning about myself: “I am stupid, incompetent, and don’t have what it takes.”

  3. Immediately assigning meaning about my fate: “I don’t belong, I am shameful, I am bad, I am worthless – and things are not going to be okay because of me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

  4. Hiding and isolating: “OK, so I know these awful things about myself, but if I can just hide them from everyone else, maybe I can fool them enough to squeak by unnoticed until everything eventually still falls apart because of me.”

Every single day during those 18 months it went like that – although it kept getting louder and more painful. The trouble with this four-step progression is how good I had gotten at it. It was such an ingrained pathway in my brain that all the steps happened together, instantly. Just thinking about the credit card debt at any point during that 18 months immediately took me to “I am bad” and “Things are not going to be okay because of me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.” But I could never even put it into those words - instead it was a deep-seated feeling in my body that gave physical life to these crushing beliefs. I was constantly in a mode of fear and reaction – not ever making choices on purpose put only living in pain and running like hell from it and what it meant about me. It felt like I was barely holding up a massive dam that was about to break and that if I relaxed for one moment, it would all be destroyed because of me.

I kept up a front that everything was OK although Lilly could sense that it wasn’t. The amount of turmoil and tension inside my mind and body kept growing like a pressure cooker ready to explode. That stress culminated in me coming down with a bad case of shingles (yes, shingles) toward the end of that 18 months which was another Cosmic Two-by-Four asking quietly for my attention – although it still wasn’t quite painful enough to get through to someone as stubborn as I was.

The next few years from the day I told Lilly the news played out in excruciating fashion. I’m not proud of the things I said and I’m not proud of how little I did to make the situation better. This was a time of crushing depression that included the darkest days I’ve ever known. I was a shell of a person at best and I was a terrible example of what it means to be a man. The pain was unbelievable and seemed endless – I still don’t know how I made it through that time although I’m incredibly grateful that I did.

 

HEALING + A NEU HOME

Healing for me has played out through many different paths – though they’ve all had the same thing at the core: opening my heart. Mine was closed extremely tight, so let me tell you – this was not an easy or fast process, and that’s a huge understatement. The major elements, in terms of the momentum they gave me, are below. They’re so interconnected that it’s tough to even put them in chronological order, and even tougher to list them in order of “importance” or impact – so, they’re in alphabetical order. There’s not one in the list that I could remove, each one is that important on its own. I could write plenty about every single one (stay tuned).

  • Brainspotting

  • Breathing deeply (instead of only shallow breaths)

  • Carrying an Amor Fati coin in my pocket each day - and spending plenty of time with it in my open palm, just breathing and accepting

  • Connecting with my inner child through following my creative instincts

  • EMDR

  • Exercise, specifically old-school heavy weightlifting plus HiiT cardio

  • Getting involved with an international men’s organization called The Mankind Project

  • Journaling

  • Letting go

  • Love and Support from Lilly, to whom I’m eternally grateful

  • Meditation

  • Nutrition – especially acknowledging foods that are inflammatory for me and generally don’t work for my body or brain

  • Pursuing stillness, listening, and “being” instead of “doing”

  • Seeing a psychiatrist for the first time (this was a tough one to swallow)

  • Solo time in nature

  • Talk-therapy

  • Tough conversations (so many)

Without any of these, I would not be here today, not a chance. For so many years, I lived in a very oppressive place with a very cruel jailer and tormentor – my own mind. There was nothing I did that it didn’t see and it criticized me for every single thing I did and destroyed me anew for each one, whether good or bad. The cumulative effect of the Medicines in the list above has been nothing short of life-changing through deep healing for my heart.

For the first time in my life, I’m able to live each day in a place that is not oppressive and where I’m not driven by a constant seeking of belonging, validation, acceptance, and approval. It’s not that I don’t need these things anymore – I do, and deeply. But now I don’t need to seek them outside myself because I know intrinsically that I already have them within me - and that they were there all along.

THAT was the Big Secret that I didn’t know all along. Shame told me that I was embarrassing, bad, stupid, and worthless. Shame told me that I needed someone outside myself to tell me that I was OK and that I was enough. Shame told me that I was “less than” – literally less than every other person. Shame told me that I was a threat to my own being and that the only way to survive was to hide.

As I stand here today, I’ve heard my own Voice. I’ve literally faced every fear I’ve had. I’ve held that little boy’s heart gently in my hands and I’ve cared for it well. I can feel deeply that I’m the best person for the job of caring for that heart - not the worst, like I believed for most of my life. I’ve felt Truth -  and mostly it’s been quiet, shapeless, and without words. This was an inside job all along and I was so well-equipped to handle my own life - I just had unhealed trauma that kept me in self-defeating patterns and that hid the Ultimate Truth from me.

That Truth is that I am Love; that you are Love; that we are all Love and all connected. We all belong with each other – in the words of Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I did the best I could with what I had and what I knew at the time. Though it’s easy to look back to find evidence to the contrary so that I can beat myself up like I did for so long, I know deeply that this is true.

Today I can honestly say that I’m comforted by knowing that I will never experience the same level of darkness again as the darkest days I’ve known. That’s because of the healing I’ve experienced so far and the connection I have with myself and my heart. No matter what circumstances happen, I know more than anything that I don’t have it in me to hate myself anymore or to abandon myself anymore.

The pathways of self-loathing are still there just like expressways that get built and that have millions of cars running down that pavement over decades. If you put up a “road closed” sign, some cars may stop driving on the road - but the pavement is still there. It takes time and hard work to build new paths and to get familiar enough to go down that new road - instead of the old familiar ways that I drove down so easily on autopilot. I can still recognize the patterns and the old conditioning - but usually when I recognize them, it’s because I’m noticing how things are playing out differently and how I’m NOT going down those roads anymore.

The darkness and pain I experienced were excruciating. That said, they were well worth it to gain the healing and growth that my heart and inner child had so desperately needed for such a long time. There is no way to overstate this deep, critical need. Every moment of my life was driven by a need for external approval to accumulate any evidence of acceptance and belonging – anything to counter the pervasive ambient self-rejection and self-hate.

For many years, “home” was a four-letter word to me. After my family of origin fell apart when I was in middle school, “home” was the last place I wanted to be. I barely used the word “home” in conversation, I would say “house” instead. Though I still have a sense of loss for my family of origin and the home we once had, that grief now feels healed. Today I’m fortunate enough to be creating a new home with Lilly – our home that belongs to us both, and that’s our daughter’s home and her family of origin. It sounds cliche – but now, our home really is where my heart is. This is an Open Hearted Home where the expectations are to be, to share, to listen and to love. I’m here to be. I’m here to share and to listen. I’m here to Love.

A Sabbatical
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Post Written by Lilly

Well hello.

It’s been a minute since I’ve had a reason or moment to sit down and write like this. It feels like I’m finally getting to catch up with some old friends! And yeah, I’m putting it out there that this time around the ol’ blogging block I hope to meet some new faces as well.

Where to begin?

The highlights: January 2016 I found out my life as I knew it and had meticulously designed it wasn’t working anymore. June 2018 I realized the career track I had exhausted myself and my family to get a seat on didn’t appear to love me back. And there’s nothing I hate like unrequited love.

That left me waking up in my sister’s guest room, two weeks after abruptly leaving my job, on a quick visit to her place. The adrenaline of instinctual, rapid fire change was wearing off. I was very fresh into a life of the great unknown and for the first time wondered, “What the f*ck am I going to do?”

Doing life in the way I had previously been attempting it was not an option. But neither was doing nothing.

I had spent the first decade of career and child-bearing years scatter shooting, going into every open door with full force and emotional attachment. I had a wonderful database of memories that could clearly point to what I didn’t want to do again. So that certainly helped.

My pivots in young adult life had been sharp and fast and historically not landed me in places where I felt both feet on the ground and at home. The new plan was to move more slowly and intentionally, explore more for the sake of exploring and less for the need to feel a part of anything bigger than me. Me finding and being me right now was enough.

So back to the guest room, staring at the ceiling. An answer came like two deep gong chimes.

CREATIVITY. AUTHENTICITY.

Like a bad Christmas Carol remake, the message left just as quickly as it came my way. I wanted to chase it out the window to make sure it didn’t forget to leave the rest of my instructions (an ironic thought for me because, when do I ever bother to read the instructions anyways?).

I had no instructions, but I had two north stars. The voice was right. My creativity and authenticity were my favorite things about myself. I thrive when they are recognized and encouraged. More than that, I realized in environments where they felt unwelcome I felt the same. I light up when someone feels more empowered to be their most fearless, weirdest, badass self when they were around me. I may be new to gong chime messages and striking out on my own, but this clicked.

That morning now feels like five minutes and a lifetime ago. I’ve flowed through some interesting projects and transitions - developing and chairing a non-profit fundraiser, starting a part-time job in an incredibly creative field and moving to a new home! Adventures have come my way by asking the world to bring me into a life that is more creative and authentic. I’ve known what is and isn’t for me by asking myself if it’s an opportunity where I will learn how to be more creative and authentic and/or be able to encourage those around me on the same path. All along the way, I’ve tried not to respond to moments or opportunities put in front of me like this was “it.” I was on sabbatical: exploring, retreating, playing. I had a feeling one day all of these experiences would click to what I was meant to do, but for now I was meant to do them in a way that was recreational.

Over this time, the primary place I’ve tried to practice my creativity and authenticity is with my family in our home. Routines, conversations, systems and even decor have all been overturned to test the status quo and ask ourselves if we’re living the way we are meant to, not how we think we should based on those around us or stories we’ve been told about finding success in its traditional definition.

As tempting as it was to have a perfect elevator speech of who I was and what I did, I stayed open and trusted myself that one day all of these seemingly casual and sometimes unproductive experiences would come together into a larger, neater plan of what I should *actually* do with my life. But the main thing I’ve come to know is, this exploration is what I’m good at. I love exploring with an open mind and sharing with an open heart. And the journey, the exploration and the sharing might be the actual plan.

With a new home to turn into our oasis and incubator for the creative and authentic family we aspire to be, new tools we’ve found for our paths and an eagerness to continue to find new ideas, it feels like the right time to open up about our story and invite you to come by here now and then to see what we’re up to!

Welcome to our home sweet home here on the Internet. An online studio where we work through our adventures, findings and feelings. The door is always open and we aim to keep our hearts and minds open here too - sharing our lives without shame in hopes we can make the world a better place with an eagerness to listen and learn from you all as well. We aim to always be ourselves here. Come by and be your fullest, realest most amazing self here too!

GROW, BY LILLYLillyComment