On Bringing the Darkness into the Light

“Todd: Sit down for this. (Her 12-year old son) tried to kill himself on Wed. night by taking a bunch of pills. I found out about it because he posted a suicide letter on Instagram and thankfully someone told their parents.”

That’s the start of the email I received from my friend over the weekend. After three months of planning, late on Wednesday night, her son posted a photo on Instagram to say goodbye to his friends and took a mix of pills from the medicine cabinet.

On Thursday morning, with great surprise, her son woke up. He made his bagel, got ready for school and just as he was about to walk out the door, two of his friends’ parents called. Their daughters has seen the Instagram post and alerted them. My friend, unaware that any of this had transpired, stopped her son at the door and rushed him to the emergency room, after which he was transferred to a hospital for observation and therapeutic evaluation. He’s home now after a five-day stay in an adolescent psychiatric hospital.

Shock. There’s really no other way to react to news like this. Shock. Sadness. Questions. Lots of stupid questions. How did this happen? Were there signs? Was there some kind of event leading up to this? Are you okay? Is he okay? What do you do next? What can I do to help? None of the answers matter.

Hundreds of messages of support were left on his Instagram account. They professed their love for him. They begged him not to do it. They suggested that things will get better. And yet … only two girls told their parents. My friend later discovered that some others were afraid to tell their parents because they feared that her son would get in trouble. Covering for their buddy. Almost to the end.

The school called and asked my friend to take the post down, apparently afraid that some kind of copycat epidemic might break out. Or perhaps administrators feared the spectre of depression clouding the bucolic idealism of the hamlet in which we live. I know I’m being overly harsh here and unnecessarily snarky. I know that there are probably protocols to follow and that the administrators have to protect all of the kids. There may very well be perfectly good reasons for the request to take down the post, but it feels like a missed opportunity. It feels like an open invitation to talk. To bring the darkness into the light.

My friend’s son was released on Monday and his psychiatrist suggested that he get back to school right away. The sooner the better. My friend called the school to let them know, and to tell them that her son wanted to come back to school on Tuesday. They told her to wait until Wednesday and requested a conversation with her and her son about how to “portray” the situation. According to my friend, administrators were uncomfortable with her son’s willingness to talk about his experience and feelings. Another miss. Don’t the administrators understand that they make him feel like more of an outsider by effectively forbidding him to come to school? Don’t they understand that by asking him to “portray” the story at all simply makes him feel less whole? Makes his feelings less important. It seems impossible to treat any situation like this “by the book.” What book? Every kid who goes through something like this is unique. And that’s when I asked her if it was okay for me to write about this.

Depression is real. Suicide is real. Why do we consistently seem to run from talking about these things? It’s an illness. Like cancer. If my friend’s son had cancer, he would be encouraged to openly talk about his treatment. Why should he be denied the chance to do so with his depression? If he had actually succeeded, grief counselors would have been brought in to discuss the situation. Kids would have been encouraged to talk. Gratefully, he’s still here. Why not bring in the professional grief counselors anyway? Unfortunately, the opportunity seems to go unnoticed.

I really like my friend’s kid. He’s different in the best possible way. He sees things that most other kids his age miss. He feels things that others don’t. He’s an artist. (Which I think it just about the greatest compliment someone can give.) So, I wrote him a letter. Among other things, I wrote, “Seeing things differently and possibly even understanding things more clearly can be frustrating. It can be hard. The pressure to fit in is bad enough, but when you think differently, with more imagination and creativity, it’s difficult to be understood. Fitting in isn’t your problem, though. You can do that without much effort, probably. But sometimes, belonging is.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to “fit in.” Doing so means that I end up sacrificing some sense of my self. Part of me gets lost as I try to appease the people and “the system” around me. It’s hard. It’s painful. And when I was 13, I sat in my room with a bottle of pills. Nobody could possibly understand why I would ever do that, but I did. Nobody could possibly understand the pain, but it was there.”

I didn’t take the pills like he did. And until now I doubt that many people even knew. It wasn’t the first time I thought about suicide and it also wasn’t the last. I don’t understand what’s so dangerous about talking about it? Why not create the forum to have constructive, informative and educational conversations about feeling sad? What’s wrong with feeling sad? I told him, <em>“Don’t be afraid of your feelings, of the pain, but don’t run from the joy and the gratitude either. It’s all part of what makes us who we are. The light AND the dark.”</em> But, here I am telling him this and the adults around him appear to be exactly that … afraid of the pain.

It seems to me that the battle against bullying has become an open topic for discussion. And thank goodness! It should be. It wasn’t always that way. We ignored it. We were afraid to address it until kids started dying. Why don’t we shine a big, bright light on the darkness of depression, also? Why don’t we bring it to the forefront? I have no doubt that they might even be tied together (I write, readily admitting to not know this to be true).

Sometimes we over think an issue. And, in doing so, we lose sight of the forest through the trees. I know it’s not easy for school administrators to deal with issues like suicide. I fully respect the conflict that they must face. They have a whole community of kids to protect and God-knows how many parents whispering in their ears. But, instead of giving it to the fear and worrying about the perception or “portrayal,” could they choose to see the forest and bring this darkness into the light? It’s the harder choice, but I wonder … how many other kids are afraid to speak up? How many others are feeling such pain? How many others might benefit?

I wish I could write that everything’s going to be fine. That my son’s friend is going to be fine. I don’t know that to be true. He still has his life and that’s a wonderful, beautiful miraculous thing. But he needs to know that he doesn’t have to hide in the shadows. He needs to feel that we welcome his attempts to bring his darkness into the light. Until then, he’s going to have to feel the pain privately and nobody should have to do that.

We have this tendency and need to just sugarcoat everything. I’m guilty of it. “Just living the dream” was my stock answer for a long time … to everything. Regardless of how I was really feeling. But sometimes, regardless of what the shirts tell us, life isn’t good. Sometimes it downright sucks. That’s part of the reason this page, site and community got started. A Day Well Lived isn’t about the sugarcoating. It’s not about glossing over the problems. It’s about facing the problems, the challenges and the fears head on. It’s about being ourselves. And being allowed to show off who we are, as authentically as possible. In every situation. When the situations call for it, we don’t run from the shadows. We make the hard choice and we shine light on them.

When I asked my friend if I could blog about this, she wrote, “Of course you can. You know I have no fear of rocking the boat. The more I think about the school’s fear the more energized I get to be the poster child…Depression needs to be talked about.” Yes it does. And doing so is A Day Well Lived.

On Gratitude, Friends and Faith in Humanity

A leading inspirational Facebook page, one that I regularly check out, recently posted a link with a headline of something like “26 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.” And even though the picture associated with the link looked uplifting, I didn’t click on it.

Why? Because I don’t need my faith in humanity restored.

I think people are inherently good. I think people mostly mean well. And I think people want to do the right thing. I have lots of faith in humanity. Silly as it might seem, not clicking made me feel like I wasn’t giving influence to an idea that I needed my faith in humanity restored. Instead, I wanted to let the Universe know that I feel good about humanity on the whole.

Do we make mistakes? Yep. Can we be mean? Absolutely. Is there hate in the world? Undeniably. Does that mean my faith in humanity is shaken? Hardly. In fact, the haters, bullies and mean boys & girls of the world only serve to strengthen my human faith. They make me want to be better. They make me want to inspire even more. And they make me want to show my son that good can triumph over evil. The older I get, the less I understand hate, but the more I respect the healing power of gratitude.

I suppose it’s appropriate that I saw this link on the (nearly) eve of Thanksgiving. It’s natural to get reflective during the holidays and I’ve been thinking about how unspeakably grateful I am for my friends. I know. Duh. Who isn’t grateful for their friends? We all are. But, the truth is, my friends are the reason why I have such faith in humanity.

I rely heavily on my friends. I’m far from perfect. Flawed. The last several years have been somewhat transformative for me, as I’ve moved closer and closer to finding a way to get “whole.” It’s a journey that is nowhere near complete, and one that has included plenty of one step forward, several steps back experiences. But my friends never seem to waver. In the words of Freddie Mercury, “and bad mistakes/I’ve made a few/I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I’ve come through.”

And I’ve come through because of my friends. I get by with a little help from my friends. They help keep me positive. Focused on the good. Believing that I can do and be anything. When you have that kind of support in your life, your faith in humanity is never in doubt. So, now is the natural time for me to simply say, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I’m so grateful for all that you do for me.

I think it’s unfortunate that the loudest cries often come from the most disparaging voices. I think it’s too bad that senseless crimes and stories of gore seem to generate the ratings. Schadenfreude confuses me. But none of this means that my faith in humanity is shaken. None of this means that I believe dark triumphs over the light. All of this means that we need to work harder to celebrate the random acts of kindness. That we need to be optimistic and grateful. And, more importantly, let’s not use negative headlines to draw attention to the positive.

I know that the link and authors of the post meant well. I know they weren’t trying to be negative. Not in the slightest. I know I’m overdoing it and overreacting. I suppose I should have clicked on the link. Maybe I’ll go back and do that. But what I’d really like to do is rename the link. I want to save it and share it as “26 Pictures That Show You How Great People Are,” or “26 Awesome Images of Awesome People.” Or maybe, “26 Pictures That Show How We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends.”

Thank you, friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t do any of this life thing without you.

On 2014: The Year of Trusting Myself

I started writing annual mission statements for myself a couple of years ago. 2011 was “The Year of Letting Go,” 2012: “The Year of the Experience” and last year was dedicated to “The Year of One Thing.” I’ve been pretty good about my 2013 and 2012 intentions and because we all know that “letting go” can be a serious work in progress, sometimes I’ve been better at that one than others. I know it may seem a little early to start writing about personal themes and intentions for 2014 (like holiday decorations right after Halloween), but because I’m declaring 2014 as The Year of Trusting Myself, I trust that now is the right time.

Years ago I interviewed a well-known college basketball coach who had a reputation for turning around sinking programs. Because his teams were always expected to win immediately simply because he was hired, the headline of the article was “Success Breeds Expectations.” The better you do, the more people expect.

Fast forward 20(ish) years and I’ve discovered that “Doubt Breeds Excuses” may be the opposite. I can’t run far enough or fast enough results in no run at all. I’m not losing weight fast enough results in giving in to the vice (whatever it is!). Believing the people who tell you that you can’t or it won’t work, or that’s already been attempted and failed, results in abandoned dreams. Anything or anyone that creates doubt in your mind gives you reason to avoid trying and eliminates any chance for succeeding. And personally, what’s worse is when the doubt and excuses get mean. You can’t do it doesn’t just become an excuse not to, but it starts to sound a lot like you suck.

What I’ve learned is that doubt gains the most traction when I stop trusting myself. When I stop believing in myself. When I let the haters get inside my head. Maybe this isn’t a good idea stops progress cold. You suck stops me cold. I know what I think of when I channel my inner Thoreau and visualize the life I want. I know how I feel when I believe that anything is possible. It makes me feel alive. It’s inspiring. But it’s hard to stay on the proverbial wagon. I can stay on for periods of time, but I get knocked off. Doubt creeps back in. Excuses gain strength.

As I wrote about, however, somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Cortez, it dawned on me that I need to trust myself more consistently. No. That isn’t even right; I need to trust myself. Period. I think in order to avoid falling off that wagon, I have to understand that trusting myself and following my instincts doesn’t mean that I’ll always be right. I’ll still make mistakes, but trusting myself allows for those mistakes. If I truly trust myself, I’ll be more likely to learn from them and let go of any residual effects. And, maybe more importantly, do so faster than I otherwise might.

Trusting myself also doesn’t mean that I won’t need help and counsel. Trusting myself doesn’t mean that I know everything. Quite the opposite. It means that I can acknowledge when I don’t know enough without judging myself for that lack of expertise or knowledge. Trusting myself lets me accept areas where I am deficient. Giving into doubt turns those deficiencies into excuses and slows progress and projects. But trusting myself allows them to be opportunities for learning.

Not to be overly cliché-laden and cavalier, but what’s the worst thing that can happen, right? I read a quote (used on ADWL this morning) that “the worst thing that happens … rarely is.” In other words, when we want to try something, change something, or risk something, we often make up far worse potential scenarios in our heads than the resulting worst-case realities. More often than not, the resulting realities are far from the worst. And, even if they approach the “worst case,” it rarely lasts.

What makes us think of those things? Doubt. Excuses. So … we do nothing. (I feel like I need a disclaimer here, because someone usually points out such things, but I understand that incredibly awful things do happen. I’m aware of this. Really bad, tragic things. I’m not belittling those or brushing over those. I’m talking about “more times than not.”)

I often write about being in shape (or out of shape as the case may be) because it’s one of my greater struggles. The biggest reason I fall out of shape is that I start to make excuses. I start to make excuses because I don’t trust myself with what I know is right and what works for me. I know how to eat right and exercise. But then … I’ll slip into some phase where I don’t trust what I know works for me. I let the doubt of others get in my head. And, the health roller coaster continues. But if I listen to myself, to my body’s needs, and if I trust that … I’ll be fine.

As I look to next year, I visualize an array of amazing things. There are big plans for new companies, a new non-profit, trips, friends, family and, yes, physical, financial and spiritual fitness. I trust that with the help of good people (2013) and by embracing experiences (2012), I’ll have the power to let go of the doubt (so much of which is rooted in the past – 2011). I trust that I will be able to move forward, take risks and thrive.

I think trusting myself may be the most powerful intention that I’ve ever set. It has the power to heal. The power to inspire growth. And the power to foster communities. So, no … the New Year isn’t really here yet. But, no, it’s not too early to write this post. I trust that to be true.

On the Sea of Cortez

A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
William G.T. Shedd

I’ve failed to write about my experiences with Swim Cortez for several days. I’ve watched the cursor blink. I’ve even counted the number of blinks per second—a residual effect of counting swim strokes hour after hour. It should be easy to recount the experience or simply rattle off a list about the “Top-10 Takeaways,” but for some reason those words don’t want to end up on the screen. I guess I won’t let them. Instead, I watch the cursor blink.

I actually had plans to write three different posts about the experience: Before, During, After. I even wrote the “before” post in the early morning hours before my flight, but now that I’ve had a few days to think about the experience, I realize that it’s not so easy to separate the three. They are all so interwoven that I simply can’t do it that way.

I think the reason that it’s been so difficult for me to write something is because of my inability to properly process the experience. I went so far as to deny myself the opportunity to process it, telling people it wasn’t really necessary. However, several days after we returned from The Sea, I received an email from one of my fellow crew members (one, I might point out, who is a highly recognized San Francisco firefighter), “Might not seem like much a few days later because we survived, but we were just one small mistake away from not making it. Right up against the edge.” And I damn near started crying. I was in my office and didn’t want to start because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop. (Thanks for that, Dennis.)

Let the processing begin.

Prior to leaving on the trip, I was feeling uneasy about my lack of experience with water adventures on the open sea. This was not dissimilar to the feelings I had prior to my first big, backcountry backpacking trip. I nearly died on that trip, but suppressed that feeling as much as I could. I mean, did I really almost die, or was I simply a total novice unaccustomed to such conditions and experiences? My friend on the backpacking trip assured me that we were in some delicate situations and that it was okay to feel all that I was feeling. I think Dennis did the same for me with his email.

We weren’t more than 10 minutes into a six-hour boat ride across The Sea to the swim start when I first wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. Here I was surrounded by a crew of endurance athletes, expert swimmers and, well, total bad asses, and the anxiety I felt about the trip was crashing over me like a 10-foot wave. This boat is pretty small. I don’t really know these people. I hope I don’t get sick. Did I bring the right gear? I know I brought the wrong gear. Where will I go to the bathroom? Can I kayak in these conditions? I was taking deep breaths, playing it cool, making jokes and generally trying to make light of the fact that I was freaking out. How was I going to survive up to 60 hours if I was a mental mess this early into the thing?

The first sunset before we reached mainland Mexico for the start was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The orange glow was … I don’t know if I have the word. Majestic. It was as bright and perfect as anything I had ever seen, a color unknown to me until then. The sky lit up with this glow and soon turned the most incredible array of reds. I started singing “Red Skies at Night” by the Fixx and for a short while, at least, any anxiety I felt was gone.

My job for most of the adventure was to help feed Paul and keep the official logs. I didn’t really want to get into a kayak and I certainly wasn’t going to swim. My job wasn’t strenuous, but it was certainly exhausting. Feedings took place every 30 minutes and the official logs were constantly updated with the events of the swim (swells, wind, swimmers, kayakers, food, anything interesting, etc.).

In between feedings, I watched Paul swim. Sixty-ish strokes per minute. Around a mile-and-a-half per hour. Hour after after. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I had thought of the swim as performance art and that’s exactly what it felt like. He was artistic in his motion. In his consistency. I just watched in some kind of awe. What drives a person not only to want to do this, but believe he can? How can we find a way to believe in ourselves the way Paul believes in himself? I came here to leave doubt, fears and judgment deep in the Sea. And, it felt like Paul was helping me do that with every completed stroke.

Paul swam through that first night and through the first day. We were around 20 hours into the swim when the sun had completely set as we were entering our second night on The Sea. After logging and feeding for 10 straight hours, and knowing that the night was going to require all hands on deck, I decided to try to take a quick nap. Within minutes of falling asleep, one of my fellow crew members tapped me on the shoulder, “It’s over. Paul’s out.” Just typing those words now gives me a shiver. “It’s over. Paul’s out.”

Because the water was far colder than expected, the swim lasted about 20.5 hours before Paul started coming down with symptoms of hypothermia. Paul shivered on the deck of the boat as our team worked to get his body temperature up. He was covered in a big swim jacket, a sleeping bag and bodies. Paul’s wife told him how proud she was. I choked back tears and thought about how amazing I felt to be part of such an incredible feat of strength and determination – especially considering the currents, jellyfish and the fact that Paul got stung by a stingray before he ever took his first stroke. I felt good about myself for being there and at ease over the financial commitment I made to sponsor the effort. We all laughed (probably with a sense of relief that he would be okay) as Paul cracked a couple of jokes. And even as I felt disappointment for him, I did allow myself a moment of gratitude that we would be spending the night in the comfortable confines of our hotel.

After Paul, his wife and others loaded onto “the big boat” (a misnomer), there were four people (including me) on one panga and five on the other. Because the pangas could travel much faster than the big boat, we took off for Loreto (and, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person thinking about the hot shower, nachos and tequila awaiting our arrival). We’d see our cohorts several hours later.

I was wrong. It turns out that the first 27 hours of the swim (including the boat ride to the swim start) would be a walk-in-the-park compared to what we would endure for the next 10 hours, as our little panga boats were pummeled by a storm.

I was surprised by the first “bounce” of the boat. The wind was kicking up and the surf was getting choppy, but the explosive sound of the boat crashing back to the surf was shocking. Our captain, Jerry, let out a playful holler, which made me think we were okay. I sat in the chair next to him and convinced myself that it was fun. After the first wave broke on the bow of the boat, however, Jerry’s fun calls quickly turned to curses. And when he called the panga in front of us on the radio to say, “We can’t take another wave like that,” I had flashbacks to my first hike and Jeff telling me, “we’re fucked.”

I explained to Jerry that the expert isn’t supposed to feel that way, or at least let on to the inexperienced crew that we might be in some kind of trouble. He calmly explained to me that the boat wasn’t designed to take waves like that. It was pitch dark outside and the sky was brown. Again, Jerry made no attempt to soothe my aching soul, as he said, “I’ve never seen the sky this color.” Awesome. (Jerry and my friend Jeff would get along famously.)

Wave after wave crashed over the boat. We were soaked to the bone. The crew on the boat in front of us was soaked to the bone. We bounced through the surf and I was convinced the boat would come apart each time we flew up and over a wave. The sound upon landing was deafening. Jerry’s wife pointed out that there was water coming into the boat. I casually ignored what this might mean. I think Jerry did too, frankly. Even as this went on, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, hoping I would just wake up and we’d be … somewhere. Anywhere that wasn’t where we were. There was no sleeping, however, as my body kept getting thrown into one railing or another.

Jerry needed to rest and Edna took the wheel. As much as Paul’s effort was a kind of performance art, the way they took control of the boat in these conditions was artistic in itself. I know nothing about driving boats, but I know that there’s not a whole lot of traction. You slide. We had to dial back the speeds, which made things even more complicated, as the slower you go, the less control you have. Then Edna needed a rest.

I’m pretty sure that I would have volunteered to do anything in that moment if it would have gotten me out of driving the boat. In the moment, I would have rather been cleaning port-a-potties at a weeklong Mexican food cook-off with my bare hands. I didn’t want to take the wheel. There wasn’t much choice, though. “Just aim for that star,” she said. “Aim?” And then in my head thought, “I don’t want to be the guy who was at the wheel when we all died.” I aimed for the star. Turns out, I have really shitty aim when driving a boat. After only a few minutes, Edna came back to take the wheel.

The waves continued to break on the boat and us. Thankfully, Jerry’s thought that we’d be doomed after one more wave turned out to be wrong. We were no longer heading for Loreto, and instead, made our way to a safe bay. We were running low on fuel, we were out of warmth and we were in the midst of the longest, worst night of my life. We pulled into a tranquil bay at 4:30AM. The swim had ended about 10 hours earlier and hot showers, tequila and nachos were nowhere to be found.

At this point, the plan was simple: We were going to wait for the light to break and we’d motor back the last 30 miles in daylight. Soaking wet, emotionally and physically exhausted and freezing cold, we all fell asleep for an hour. When we saw daylight, we untied our boats and sped off to Loreto (not before a quick scare when one of the boats wouldn’t start, of course).

As we made our way down the Baja coast towards Loreto, the sunrise was spectacular. We all turned toward the sun to welcome the warmth and gazed in awe at the surrounding scenery. Hours earlier, in the darkness of night, this same terrain was its mean, evil twin. This morning, pure beauty. We hadn’t heard from the Big Boat for nearly 12 hours by the time we got to the hotel. We had no idea that their adventure was on par with ours and maybe even worse, as they were on their way back to mainland Mexico, unable to make the trip across The Sea.

When we got on shore, I asked another crew member where that night ranked on his list of most miserable nights. The former firefighter and lifeguard responded without a breath, “Easily top three.” I felt vindicated that, for me, it held the top spot without a close second. For the remainder of the day (and especially after the rest of the crew, including Paul, finally arrived via private jet), we enjoyed our tequila, nachos and hot showers. But mostly, we enjoyed sharing stories.

From the very start of the adventure, it was apparent that there were always multiple events happening. Multiple experiences. There was Paul’s attempt at the open water swim world record, but there was also whatever individual experience each of the crew members was having. My challenge was well documented and I’m confident that I left those demons in The Sea during the night.

I could list ten things I learned, but the fact is that there’s only one that matters. In the hours leading up to the swim, I called my friend Jeff to tell him that I was freaking out and needed a bit of a pep talk. He texted me back, “Remember you can do ANYTHING in the moment.” I never could have imagined that we would have run into that storm or that we’d have to endure 10-12 foot surf for 10 hours. But I kept holding on to this thought. A series of moments. That’s all 10 hours is. One moment after another. If could breathe through one, I could focus on the next. I made it. We survived. And that’s no overstatement of the situation.

I’ve fought the feelings because I know so many people that have survived so much more. I brushed it all off with a kind of “it’s no big deal,” in the same way I brush off any personal achievements. I held on. That’s all I did. Jerry deserves the credit. Paul deserves the credit. Edna deserves the credit. The rest of the guys who got in the kayaks or swam with Paul. They did more than I did. Me? I just held on.

This is why I haven’t been able to write. I’ve been feeling like it wasn’t a big deal. I wouldn’t allow myself the big deal. But Dennis’ email confirmed that it was a big deal. And I finally let myself go there.

Yes, the survival is a big deal, but maybe even something far more important than the survival is the death that occurred. The death of doubt and judgment. Of course, I thought a lot about my family and friends during those long hours, but I also kept telling myself that when we got through it, I was going to stop all the second-guessing. After all, that’s why I went on this adventure in the first place. I might not have successfully killed that giant if we hadn’t hit the storm. Maybe I needed the storm to do that.

Lots of people have asked me if I’d go back if Paul tries again. They’re surprised when I hesitate. Because I think I would. I think sometimes we need to be near death in order to get closer to life.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

On Art, Fear, the Sea of Cortez and A Day Well Lived

I have a friend who is involved in the independent art world. Over the years he has supported many self-described “starving artists” whose dedication to their dreams has inspired him to write checks, host fundraisers and promote their craft. When I told him that I was going to sponsor “some guy’s attempt to swim across the Sea of Cortez,” my friend responded somewhat incredulously, “Why?” I told him, “For exactly the same reasons you support your artists.”

When Paul Lundgren first explained his quest to me, it felt like art. We often think of art as coming from a brush stroke, a keystroke or the stroke of a hammer against the chisel, but it can also come from a swim stroke. Paul’s swim is a kind of performance art and his work is called “Swim Cortez.” The emotional, spiritual and strong visceral reactions that we have to art and artists are moving and inspiring. The feelings are often deeply personal. And instant. Provoking a kind of deeper thought or philosophical discussion both internally and with others. Imagining Swim Cortez did that for me.

I met Paul at a brunch hosted by a mutual friend. As I was talking to still another friend, I overheard, “I’m scheduled to do the swim at the end of the month.” She then asked him if the shadows in the water scared him and he replied, “I think the shadows represent whatever fears I have in my day-to-day life. So, if I can live free of fear and do things to remain free of fear, then I don’t have any reason to fear the shadows.” I hadn’t even yet introduced myself, but at that point I was all in.

I’m not so good at living free of fear. I try, and at times I’ve been more successful than not, but ultimately I’ll make whatever excuses have to be made in order to avoid dealing with the fear or the shadows. It’s the fundamental reason that I fall in and out of shape over and over. It’s the real reason why I haven’t written my next book. It’s the reason why I’ve consistently gotten to a certain point of success, but not beyond it. It’s strange to fear success more than failure, but I do. Why? Because success breeds expectations, and expectations breed judgment. And judgment is my greatest enemy. It’s my Kryptonite. It has a power over me that I fail to understand, but am determined to defeat.

Art requires benefactors. The day after I met Paul, I wrote a check and told him that I’d help him in any way possible, which early on meant trying to find a presenting sponsor for his effort. I called friends; I called colleagues; I Tweeted the obvious companies that would be involved in an effort like this. Unfortunately, the world of sports marketing, which has provided the foundation for my career, wasn’t as eager to sponsor Paul’s effort. They couldn’t see the art through the ROI. Yet, each time I told the story of the swim across the Sea, I started to realize that I wanted to be even more involved. My heart was telling me that I needed to do more.

At some point in those calls to the other potential sponsors, I realized that being involved with Paul and his attempt to swim across the Sea of Cortez had absolutely nothing to do with swimming. Frankly, it had nothing to do with Paul. Instead, I realized that it had everything to do with me, and my pressing need to overcome personal demons. I needed to conquer fear. I needed to slay judgment. I wondered if I could leave it deep in the Sea. I emailed Paul and told him that I had a sponsor for his effort. I told him that A Day Well Lived would take care of his financial needs.

A little less than two years ago, I started A Day Well Lived in response to a personally difficult time. As I pondered the opportunity to sponsor Paul’s effort combined with ADWL’s growth, I knew that it was time to take its meaning (for me) to the next level. I keep saying that the definition of A Day Well Lived is following your heart and spirit. It’s about being inspired by gratitude. It’s about reacting authentically to the good, the bad and yes, even the ugly. In the roots of my fear of judgment live the seeds of being inauthentic and disingenuous. Even if I’m not purposely doing it, what if it turns out that I’m nothing more than a big fraud? I felt like if I were being true to the very spirit of the A Day Well Lived philosophy, I had no choice but to sponsor the swim. Even if my friends couldn’t understand. Especially if they couldn’t. Judgment, be damned.

When Paul then asked me to be on the crew, it was another test. I told him that I needed to think about it. Why would I need to think about such a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? How could I even hesitate? Simply because I didn’t want to be the weak link on the boat. I didn’t want to be judged for not being a good enough kayaker or because I didn’t hold up my end of the deal. The swim across the Sea of Cortez is a team effort and I didn’t want to be the guy who dropped the ball with the game on the line. I didn’t want that … judgment.

It didn’t take long, however, for me to recognize that this opportunity is exactly what I needed. I needed to face the fears and overcome the judgment. If Paul succeeds (when), he’ll break records. If I watch him do that on the Internet instead of from the deck of the boat, I’d have a hard time justifying that. Judgment would mock me. And, how could I explain to my son that giving in to fears is okay? How could I authentically explain how to avoid judgment if I can’t really do it myself? My son, who doesn’t want me to go because he’s afraid of the sharks, squid and jellyfish, needs to see me stare down fear and grab life by the opportunity. He’s too young to understand it all now. But, someday, he won’t be.

One of the key themes found on A Day Well Lived is that of “letting go.” Let go of the past. Let go of the pain. Let go of your mistakes. Learn from them, but don’t hang on to them. The opposite is also true. We must recognize and hang on to the amazing experiences that present themselves. Letting go allows for that recognition, but what good is it if we don’t propel ourselves into these experiences?

I’m grateful to be part of this celebration of human achievement—an achievement that is comprised not only of Paul’s participation and abilities, but also those of the crew (both on the Sea and land) and all the people around the world who will be watching. We’re all part of it. We’re all part of this piece of art. I may suck in the kayak, or I may even get seasick, but I’m going to be there. Whether I’m making up Paul’s meals, preparing food for the crew, providing inspiration or detailing the progress of the adventure, I’m going to do my part and do what’s asked of me. And I’ll do it to the very best of my ability. I know I can do that.

Better than that? I’ll come back with a much lighter suitcase because the fears that I take with me to Mexico will be left in the Sea. Forever. That’s A Day Well Lived.


On Obituaries, Finding Purpose and Letting Go

Quite a few of the books I’ve read about “finding purpose” suggest writing your obituary. The thinking is that obits capture the very best of what we’d want said about ourselves. They showcase the highlights of a life well lived and the elements that make up that life: family, career, travel, charity work, whatever. So, if you write your own obituary, you’ll likely write about all the things you’d want your life to include and, in that, you find your purpose. When you’re dead … how do you want to be remembered? That’s your purpose! Simple as that! No need to read on! If only…

I’ve been thinking about this more than usual lately because, and I’m not afraid to admit it, I’ve been thinking about the time I have left. I’ve been thinking about time wasted and time that remains. I’ve been thinking about the challenge of letting go. Really. Letting. Go. Because, frankly, I don’t want to die feeling like I “left something on the table.” Feeling like I didn’t live every drop of my life. In doing so, and I know that despite the good intentions this is probably seriously morbid, I’ve been thinking about writing my obituary. What would I say about myself? How would I want others to remember me?

But I get stuck.

I get stuck because I recognize that there’s a divide between who I am and what I want to be. I get stuck because I don’t take as many risks as I think I should or I advise other people to. I get stuck because I don’t pat myself on the back and celebrate my accomplishments … but I constantly tell others to get over themselves and feel good about their own achievements. I get stuck because I don’t feel as whole as I’d like to feel. I get stuck because I gain back weight when I lose it. I get stuck because I’m not perfect and I think I’m supposed to be.

So as I sit down to write my own obituary? The cursor blinks. And blinks … and blinks. Why? Because letting go feels f*%^$! impossible.

I recently watched a movie where Russell Simmons said that he thought yoga was going to mess him up because it relieved him of his fears and anxiety, and he was convinced that his fears and anxiety were what drove his success. I think letting go creates similar challenges.

Hanging on gives us a crutch. Hanging on gives us excuses. Hanging on let’s us convince ourselves that getting stuck is okay. Why? Well, because A, B and C or 1, 2 and 3 happened to us in the past. We can’t let go of the pain we felt. We can’t let go of the pain we caused. We can’t forgive a friend or family member. We can’t forgive ourselves. And, as much as we bitch about this, <em>as much as I bitch about this</em>, hanging on is safe. Being stuck and hanging on provides us with a pretty tight cocoon. It’s probably not as satisfying as being whole would be, but at least I/we don’t have to take the risks required to find out.

But the thing is … I don’t want to be stuck anymore. I want to feel whole. I want to let go. And, not like in the past, where I let go for a while only to grab back on, but for real. Like eating healthy and having it stick. I want to be able to feel good about my accomplishments without feeling like I should be embarrassed by them. I want to forgive myself. I want to live the way I know I can live. I want to experience … well, you get the idea.

I’ve never struggled with my purpose … at least professionally. I wanted to be in sports. I wanted to produce content. I wanted to write. I’ve always been pretty good at that. It has evolved through the years, to where it is today. My life has collected where it is here and now to provide the purpose that I feels better than any previous purpose. I want to inspire people.

That’s what I want more than anything. To inspire creatively. To make people laugh. To make people think. To make people thank. I want to put more into the world than I take out of it. If I had a personal tagline, it would be the very same one I use for A Day Well Lived: Gratefully Inspired. I feel grateful every time I’m inspired and I want to deliver that same kind of inspiration to others.

In order to do that, I don’t need an obituary; I need to live up to my own potential. I need to feel whole. That’s the only way that I’ll ever get unstuck. And stay unstuck. The only way that the future will be so bright and inviting that I won’t ever want to look back. And, if I do, it will be with gratitude … a knowing, silent, grateful nod to the things that got me where I am and where I’m going. Nothing more. The past will not be a place I need to visit because I’m too busy and too happy with right now. And I won’t even worry too much about the future either. If I take care of the moments as they come … the future takes care of itself. One day well lived at a time.

There are lots of blogs that try to pinpoint the “Five Ways to Let Go.” I’ve never bought into posts like that, as we’re all different. The five things, 10 things, or one thing that works for me may not work for someone else. All I can do is speak to my experiences. I’m more of an “all or nothing/all in” kind of guy. So once and for all, I’m really letting go. Cold turkey. Please be kind and call me on it, dear friends, if you see me slipping. I may react defensively, but I’ll be forever grateful.

As for the obituary? Like I said, I don’t really need to write that now. That’s thinking too much about the future. That’s creating expectations. It promotes “future-tripping” (as in tripping, falling down, thinking too much about what’s ahead). And besides … I have too much life left to live. Right here. Right now.

On the Danger of Technology and Future-Tripping Conversations

On Monday afternoon, while sitting in a hotel room on the second leg of a nearly weeklong business trip, I received a phone call. I won’t go into details about whom it was from or what it was about, but suffice to say the news wasn’t good. In fact, it was the kind of call that a year ago (a month ago?) would have sent me spinning with rage. Like throw the iPhone across the room and blow it up against a wall rage. That didn’t happen this time.

What did happen, however, was that first call led to a series of 21st century communication. I called my creative partner. I called my attorney. Emails were sent about. I called back the person who told me the news in the first place. Texts flew everywhere. I called my wife. There may have been Tweets. And every one of these conversations was nothing more than a major future-trip (which I define as “tripping on the future in the present”).

This is something I desperately need to work on.

I am the king of getting some news and then having a huge number of conversations about some issue without actually speaking to the person I should talk to. I have all kinds of conversation with myself where I talk myself out of having the real conversation because I’m convinced I know what the other person is going to say.

Nine times out of 10 (really it’s probably more like 10 out of 10), I’m just making a bad situation worse. Worse than that? I’m probably making an okay situation or even a good situation bad. I get myself so worked up, so convinced I know that I’m right, and I get myself so convinced that the other person is wrong … that I forget to even talk about it. I’m so very convinced that the conversation is going to heated, accusatory and difficult that I’m certain that not having the conversation is better. It never is.

I wonder how many similar situations could have been nipped in the bud – immediately – if I had simply picked up the phone to talk it through. Not send an email. Not send a text. Not post some convoluted Tweet or status update, but Pick. Up. The. Phone. Probably all of them. I’m not suggesting that every situation would have been resolved peacefully, but I can’t even fathom how much pain, anguish and anxiety could have been avoided. All of it?

Technology is a wonderful tool, as it allows us to stay in touch so much more easily. But it has also provided crutch for us to get out of touch. Way out of touch. How many times have I returned a phone call with an email? How many times has that email gotten misconstrued? And what could have been simple is now difficult. I can’t count the number of times this has happened.

Worse yet is what happened on Monday. The spinning out of control with “what ifs” and expectations always takes me down the wrong path. What’s easier is simply talking. Simply having the conversation. Maybe I’m wrong to write “simply talking,” as it’s not always simple. At all. But it’s better than having the same conversation with the extra baggage and drama created by the future-tripping. Expectations can be a particularly heavy burden.

As for the call on Monday? It’s still not resolved. But the good news is that creative and constructive solutions have been developed to get through what really amounts to a hiccup. Without the future-tripping and expectations, we’re able to maintain perspective. And from there … only good things can result.







On Reflection and the Seemingly Unbearable Being of Happiness

Best-selling author, AJ Jacobs, once wrote that he was Jewish the same way Olive Garden is Italian. In other words, there might be hints of the traditions, but the ingredients for the old world depth and history were missing. Olive Garden is “spiritually” Italian. And, like AJ, I consider myself a spiritual Jew. And while I don’t go to services on the High Holidays, here I am at 3:00 in the morning on Yom Kippur, thinking about a year past … and a year ahead.

Yom Kippur is about atonement. It’s about making good with the people you’ve hurt. It’s about forgiveness. Reflection. I’m not one for “sins.” I think people make mistakes. We all make mistakes. Some are bigger than others. But if we take responsibility for these mistakes, we learn. We become better because of them. Mistakes become part of our strength instead of building blocks for judgment and weakness.

As I reflect on this past year, I keep thinking about the fact that I suck at being happy. When asked if I’m happy or the usual, “how you doing?” I’m usually quick to respond with something sarcastic. I’m good at sarcastic. Just living the dream one day at a time, man. More times than not I get a laugh and the conversation continues on its way. But at least I don’t have to talk about whether or not I’m happy.

I think I feel guilty when I feel happy. Like maybe I don’t really deserve it. If I tell anyone that things are going really well (as they are), I feel like I’m bragging. Showing off. I feel like a Facebook wall post. Like the Polyanna that I’ve been accused of being.

The problem is that downplaying happiness is a vicious cycle. If you downplay your happiness, you create less happiness for yourself. Less room for happiness. How are things? We’re asked. If we respond with energy and excitement (and authentic truth) about our worlds, we uplift. We uplift, not only ourselves, but also maybe the person who asked. When I answer, however, with sarcasm…I’m not uplifting anyone. Worse, I’m tearing myself down. I’d rather be around inspiring, positive, happy energy. Wouldn’t we all?

Maybe the real problem with this is that it all feels disingenuous. And I think that’s the biggest sin of all. As the cliché goes, life is short. It feels like there shouldn’t be time to waste on being anything other than genuine. If I’m not happy–fine. There’s no harm in that. But if I am? Feel that too. And celebrate it. We should all celebrate it. I love it when my friends tell me how well they’re doing. I love it when my friends succeed. I have to assume they’d all love to hear how well things are going for me … if, in fact, that’s the case. Yes?

So the truth is that I had a pretty good year. I need to learn to be more open in my relationships, more communicative. I need to learn take more risks with the time I have. But mostly, if Yom Kippur is about forgiveness and making good with the people we’ve hurt, I need to make good with myself. I need to honor myself. I need to do a better job of trusting my instincts and celebrating any success. We all appreciate a pat on the back. I need to learn how to give myself one … even at the risk of admitting that I’m happy.

I think society has a way of mocking what we think is unusual or strange. We laugh at the outliers and scoff at those who color too far outside the lines. It’s okay to go a little outside the lines, probably, but if someone gets too far away from the boundaries that we’ve artificially created, well, we can make life difficult for those people. We’ve developed technology that seems specifically designed to tear down. Social media reacts, hoots and hollers.

The funny thing is I respond magnetically to those who seem to write their own rules and draw their own lines. Those people seem happiest. The “non conformers.” I’ve always been drawn to them because they (mostly) appear authentic. True to themselves in a way that I admire.

And that’s what this night of Yom Kippur comes down to for me. I want that feeling of self truth. I want to feel like I’m living a life that feels whole and free. I want to feel like I’m honoring myself by honoring this gift of life. Because life is truly a gift. I want to feel present and engaged. I want to feel like I’m having a positive, inspiring impact, not only on my immediate circles, but also on others beyond. I want to be able to let the world know that I’m happy. And to have it be okay.

So, as the Yom Kippur night turns into morning, I wish nothing but the best to my friends and family. I offer my heartfelt apologies to those who I may have hurt this year. And I wish you all nothing, but happiness … and a place where you can genuinely share it.

On Zirkel’s Redemption, Give or Take

As I waited for Jeff to pick me up outside baggage claim at the Denver airport, I imagined my reaction to seeing his lifted, cardinal Toyota 4Runner was similar to what my dog feels when I grab the leash: Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy we’re going on an adventure! With one big difference: Jeff’s arrival signaled the removal of my “leash,” as for the next several days – there would be no contact with anyone in my outside world and all responsibilities – beyond getting home safely – were gone.

I have this huge, ugly black suitcase that hid the gear necessary for this trip. As I heaved the nearly 50-pound bag into the back of Jeff’s truck, I was greeted by our travel companion, Roxy. At the time, I thought Roxy was just a beautiful white shepherd/husky mix. I would quickly learn that she’s much more than that. I would also quickly learn that Roxy sheds with the best of ‘em. (And, as I now sit back in the Denver Airport waiting to fly home, I can only hope the person sitting next to me isn’t allergic to dogs.)

It’s a good thing that I had learned to minimize my expectations for this trip…because the plans changed almost before I could buckle my seat belt and exhale. Without so much as a hello, Jeff started in with, So we have some options. Of course we do. Our original plan to hike 4.5 miles on the first day was quickly scrapped. Instead, we opted for a nine-plus mile hike to a lake so pristine that it’s called just that, Pristine Lake. And, we reasoned that we’d figure out the rest from there. We’d also learn that nothing was as it seemed and from the very start of this adventure, everything had the caveat of give or take. It could take that long, less or more. Give or take.

But first, a four-hour drive (give or take) beyond Steamboat and a night of car camping awaited. We stopped for burgers, fries and a shake, filled up our water supply and made our way to the trailhead. Car camping brings a slew of luxuries not otherwise available on these trips. Key things. Important things. Beer things. We made a fire, feasted on sausage with peppers and onions, drank our beers, enjoyed a little bourbon and went to sleep – fully expecting to get on trail by 9:00AM the following morning. Which is exactly what we did. Except it was 10:00AM (give or take).

The nine-mile hike (give or take) to Pristine Lake took just under seven hours. We weren’t exactly marching up the trail. It was a long, slow slog with 3500 feet (give or take) of elevation gain (1000 of which we’d give up getting down to the lake after cresting the pass at Lost Ranger Peak). Roxy started out carrying her own food and water, but Jeff took off her pack when she had some trouble navigating a relatively difficult descent over loose rocks and big boulders. It wasn’t an easy day, but it was a great day. A perfect “welcome back to the backcountry.” And just to add the exclamation point to the day – we saw a black bear running through the trees above us as we climbed up the pass. Suffice to say – pretty cool. But this trip wasn’t about the first day’s climb to Pristine Lake. We didn’t know it at the time, but this trip would be all about day two (give or take).

The feasts continued that night, as we camped on the side of a smaller lake next to the bigger Pristine Lake. Jeff served up green-chile chicken served over taco-seasoned ramen with avocado. For dessert, we had a buffet of chocolate choices. Despite the fact that we were trying to pack ultra-light for this trip, we weren’t going to be ultra-starving. Dinners would always be filling.

After a restless night that included a magical hour (give or take) where I was wide awake, gazing at the millions of little points of light in the sky and counting shooting stars, I woke up for good around 6:30AM. Roxy also watched me get up and use the facilities (nearby tree) a couple of times, but she mostly sat watch the entire night. I don’t think she got much sleep either. She seemed thrilled when Jeff and I were both up. Someone to play with!

Roxy loves to chase sticks. Doesn’t matter how big they are or where you throw them. She’ll go get them. Despite the grueling hike the day before that left Jeff and me sore early in the morning, Roxy seemed ready for more. Throw the stick, throw the stick, throw the stick, throw the stick. Roxy doesn’t bring the sticks back. So, we quickly ran out of sticks.

Jeff and I reviewed our itinerary for the day over a hard-boiled egg, strip of bacon and green tea. Sunrise side up. Our plan was to hike back to the car, off-trail, through the forest using Jeff’s GPS mapping app. According to the app, the car was only two miles away (as the crow flies); we figured it was about six or six-and-a-half miles via the forest (give or take). We figured wrong. We also figured that because we basically hiked straight up to get to Pristine Lake, that we’d basically be heading downhill the whole way back. We figured wrong. And finally, our thought was that after getting back to the car, we’d drive to another trailhead and hike four more miles to a lake where we’d camp. Strike three. We thought wrong.

I think this day may have been the most physically challenging day of my life – and that includes the near-death day(s) on our first trek two years ago. I never feared for my life, but I did, at times, fear for Jeff’s. Because on more than one occasion during our almost eight-hour fight with the mountain, I wanted to kill him. Bushwhacking will be fun, he said. It’ll be cool, he said. Look how fun it is to walk on all these falling trees, he said. For the second day in a row, Roxy’s pack came off. I wondered when and how it would end. Give or take.

As we made our way through the forest, we were faced with conditions like I’d never seen. It was one thing not to have a trail to follow, but our feet were either off the ground, as we had to climb over miles and miles of deadfall (a word that I had never heard before this day – and would be happy never to discuss again). In short, deadfall is just that – fallen, dead trees, branches, trees and more trees. We were in the Zirkel Wilderness. It was more like the Zirkel Tree Morgue.

Even in her amazing athleticism, Roxy struggled. She would jump onto a tree and whimper, as she felt stuck. Jeff led the way. I followed Roxy. I tried to help her find less treacherous ways between point A and point B, but I usually failed. Roxy could do things I couldn’t do. She would jump over two logs, as I struggled to get over the first one. Jeff trudged on. Give or take.

When we weren’t in the deadfall, we found ourselves waist or even head deep in meadows. Still without trails. And, even if we’d find something that looked like one, it would disappear. Just end. Every now and again, we’d find ourselves following some kind of animal trail and then be standing in a spot where this apparently huge animal took a break and enjoyed a nap. Since we couldn’t see ahead of us through the weeds, I wondered silently if we were going to stumble on the bear from the day before. I thought about how much that might really, really suck.

As horrible as the meadows were – especially for Jeff because the ground was like swampland and he was wearing the lightest, smallest shoes imaginable – it was a welcome reprieve from the deadfall. It didn’t last. And back into the deadfall we went.

And then, about four hours in (give or take), I twisted my knee trying to get over a fallen tree. It wasn’t like we could stop, but I didn’t know how far I could go. According to the app, the car was still two miles away. We had been hiking for four hours, going in the right direction (we knew that much), but were weren’t any closer to the f*cking car? How was that even possible? I asked. Jeff didn’t answer.

Two hours later, I ran out of water. Roxy sat down every chance she got (give or take). I was frustrated. Jeff was frustrated. The app wasn’t telling us anything we wanted to know and we weren’t anywhere near the car. But there wasn’t any fear. We had food. We could find water. We had shelter. More than anything, this day was just a giant pain in the ass (and knee). More than anything, this day just wasn’t any fun. It was simply grueling. It was simply never-ending. We saw a moose. Not sure we cared.

My knee hurting and after zig-zagging up and down the side of the mountain in search of a trail – I had finally had enough. I needed water. We sat on the bank of what should have been a beautiful creek and pumped water. The beauty was lost. It had been six or more hours since we left Pristine Lake. Normally, we’d pose for a picture, but this creek was needed to serve a purpose far more important than a picture. No doubt we’d both remember it vividly without the click of the camera.

After another hour-and-a-half of silence (give or take), we made it to the car. We dropped our packs. We drank lots of water. And our plan changed yet again. There’s no way I can take another step today, but I’m not sure I can even take one tomorrow. We agreed to see how we felt in the morning. I was certain that the hiking portion of the trip was over. Disappointed. Bummed. My knee throbbed. My head ached. We ate well, drank more bourbon, had one last beer and at 8:00, I told Jeff goodnight. I never sleep in the wilderness. I slept nearly 12 hours. Uninterrupted.

I opened my eyes and Jeff asked how I felt about a four-mile hike to a “nice, little lake.” I told him that my knee had felt worse. Sure, let’s do it. We packed up, drove to the Mica Lake Basin trailhead and again started up. We were aching. It was incredibly hot. After nearly three hours and 2,000 feet, we made it to the lake.

Breathtaking. Stunning. Silent. Perfect.

We found a spot right next to the lake, threw sticks to Roxy and then the rain came. The thunder roared. Jeff retreated to his bivy to take a nap while Roxy and I parked under a tree and watched the rain. Our spot gave us a perfect view of perhaps the most epic cairn I’d ever seen. It was statuesque. Glorious.

As big drops fell and with Roxy at my feet, I thought a lot about the previous day. It wasn’t fun. In fact, it genuinely sucked. But, it was such an accomplishment (give or take). And although I was deeply in the moment when it was happening, I was in a moment of discomfort. Nearly eight hours of those moments. I asked the cairn (yes, I’m not above talking to cairns) how I could move beyond the discomfort in those times? I was, after all, still backpacking in Colorado. What a gift that was. I’d rather hurt my knee in the Zirkel deadfall than slipping down the stairs in my house. Maybe I was oversimplifying it. Maybe I was just trying too hard to find some big positive (as I’ve been accused of doing!) message. Maybe being in the moment sometimes means being uncomfortable (give or take).

When Jeff woke up from his nap, I asked him what he thought. He said it was too soon for him to process it. He did know, however, that he didn’t want to do it again. More than anything, I think the lesson from that day is about redrawing the lines of our capabilities. We put up most of the blocks we face ourselves and if we’d only just keep going, we find that we can do more than we think. I realize the cliché, but it still turns out to be true. Fear stops us from experiencing our best. From experiencing what it perhaps really feels like to be free. I wasn’t scared in the deadfall, but I didn’t trust my abilities. I couldn’t cop to the fact that I was in good enough shape to do it. Why? Why couldn’t I let myself enjoy the pain? What does that take? What do I have to give?

It felt a little like a scene from the movie SAY ANYTHING, I can’t figure it all out right now, sir. Right now, I just want to hang with your daughter. In short, it is what it is for now, shut up and put more wood on the fire. As the fire roared, the sun started to set on the high peaks across the lake. The clouds were gone, the dog slept, our stomachs were (again) full. We just stared at the moving light for hours. In total silence. And then Jeff said it. This is Zirkel’s Redemption.

Everything we had gone through in the last few days was to get us to this moment. We had to climb over obstacles, get hurt, cut up, bruised and crushed. We had to stomp through mud and fall repeatedly on slippery rocks and fallen trees. All of which was redeemed in this moment. And isn’t that just like life? We get pretty chewed up, but usually find our way out to some other side. Some kind of redemption. We make our mistakes. We fall down. And we get back up.

The following day, our packs lighter, as we didn’t need much water and had eaten all of our food, we enjoyed an easy walk out of the woods. We had completed another trek. This one so different from the other two. New lessons learned. New ideas discovered. And a whole new set of limits pushed to the side. And that’s what Zirkel’s Redemption is all about. Give or take.









On the Prelude to a Backcountry Trek

(NOTE: My thoughts on my trek through the Zirkel Wilderness are coming, but I wrote this post on the plane to Colorado.)


I’ve never started the review of my now annual backcountry trek before the actual trek, but here I am on the plane to Colorado, severely hopped up on coffee following my usual sleepless-night-before-the-adventure.

As my dog, upset by the packed bag at the front door, nervously paced the hardwood floors all night (click, click, click, click), I hopefully (hopelessly?) gazed at the ceiling trying desperately to sleep. Despite my best efforts, it never happened. Despite channeling every guided meditation I could remember, it never happened. Despite repeating mantra after mantra, it never happened. Despite using the breathing techniques I’ve been learning in my newfound yoga practice, it never happened. The thought of sleeping through my alarm trumped shavasana and prevented any hope of sustained sleep. And that’s just fine, for I know the adrenaline shot of the Zirkel Wilderness will soon propel me through four nights and five days. Sleep? I don’t need no stinkin’ sleep!

The days leading up to this trip have been difficult. I’ve felt myself somewhat cave emotionally. A week ago, I battled a major case of self-doubt. I wondered if the visions I had for the wide variety of projects on which I am working were wrong. Personally, I found myself short on patience, biting with sarcasm and annoyed at the slightest slips of those around me. And I was especially annoyed with my own self-perceived slips. Self-doubt coupled with self-judgment. Not necessarily the ingredients one wants creeping into A Day Well Lived. Everything felt like drama. I was cratering.

It’s not the first time this has happened before setting out on these adventures. So, I sent Jeff a text that read something to the effect of, “I wonder if I subconsciously crater in the weeks and days before the trip or if the end of the summer is a natural letdown for me?” I like that I can send him this kind of text out of the blue and he doesn’t blink. No questions asked, he wrote that I should journal on it. I told him I was thinking it would be the subject of the post-trek blog. He said he looked forward to reading it.

Turns out I jumped the gun. Here we are.

I don’t yet know the answer to the question I posed in the text, but I suspect it’s somewhere in the middle. A mix of both. I think there’s some truth to the fact that I appreciate how raw I feel when I’m out in the wilderness. So perhaps the more emotionally raw I feel…the better I think the experience will be. And I think the end of the summer is hard. I love all the extra time with my son. Witnessing the freedom he feels. The freedom that I feel. Letting go of that is difficult.

Funny thing is, however, now that I’m actually on the plane and even with no sleep, that cratering feeling is gone. The wilderness heals – even when I’m not yet in it. So, perhaps the cratering isn’t only about the rawness and end of summer, but it’s about the anticipation of being in what is a truly authentic and vastly open space. Open topographically and open spiritually. It’s perhaps based on impatience more than anything else. Impatience for the adventure and impatience for myself. Why can’t I feel that kind of authenticity and openness everyday? Hadn’t thought of that until just now. Jeff was right.

After loading my gear last night, I read the posts from the last two hikes and felt a sense of accomplishment about how far I’ve come. Although I’m by no means an expert outdoorsman, my experiences, confidence and expectations for this trip are vastly different from the first and even the second. Gone is the crushing anxiety and fear. Gone is the insecurity of needing to bring more. And, frankly, gone are any pre-determined expectations. I learned to let the moments happen and to appreciate them on the last trip. I’m bringing that lesson with me on this one.

It’s a different kind of start to the trip this time – no hiking today. We’ll drive from the airport to the trailhead and car-camp the first night. I’m okay with that. And we’ll have a dog with us for the first time. I’m more than okay with that. The “ding” sounds and all electronic devices must be turned off and stowed for landing. I’m okay with that, too.

Now the adventure really begins. And if, following the trip, I continue this post with my thoughts in the very next paragraph, those thoughts will only be a hard return away. But the time and experiences filling that space will be,

will be

will be

will be

well, I don’t know how or what they will be. And to say anything different would be to offer some kind of expectation. So I guess, that’s exactly what the time and experiences filling that space will be. They will just be.

“See” you in a few days.