Tuesday, January 7, 2014
It's these dark nights where I find myself contemplating the most consistent of human experiences: death.
Having learned of the passing of a handful of friends and their family members the past few weeks, I find myself struggling to wipe the away the idea of what death brings. Now, I'm not talking specifically about the afterlife, but instead the process of expiring. The brain waves, the thoughts, the emotions, the confusion and the finality of it all. I'm by no means looking forward to learning the truth of these things any time soon, but it weighs on me heavily.
Whether I am speaking to friends with faith in God or friends whose only faith is in their non-belief, the constant chatter keeps me up at night, staring into the spinning blades of our ceiling fan as my mind whirls in thought. Whatever comes next, after we expire on this world, whatever adventure that awaits us beyond this realm, this reality, has me struggling with the speed at which time seems to move as we grow older. I see faces, once youthful, eyes once bright, and -- in their place -- aged caricatures of someone I once knew.
For the first time in my life, I feel old. I see time shedding its skin more frequently now. For someone with a massive Peter Pan complex, these are tough pills to swallow for so many reasons. The youthful vibrance that fills my heart is sometimes muffled by the limitations of age, both physical and societal. What was once so commonplace is now a fleeting twinkle, a brief moment, followed by constant shifting time as I age all the while. No more hide-and-seek, no more recklessness, no more youth...
But I refuse to buy into this. This life is such a gift, why spend it coiled in fear or worrying about the perception of the collective? To truly live is to throw the chains of limitations from one's shoulders in an attempt to capture every single moment this life has to offer. We get one shot at this, and we shouldn't spend these fleeting hours living in a confined space or with an anchor tied to our feet. We must strike out, do the impossible, live the dream, step outside the rat race we have been conditioned for so long to maneuver through. Forget the cheese, it's merely a distraction.
Jump out of an airplane. Hike the Pacific Crest Trail for three months. Play "Airline Roulette" and let fate take you somewhere out of the ordinary. Steer away from the conformity of society. Live deeply, madly, and love just as carelessly. Challenge the system, stare down a roaring lion, dance aimlessly with a beautiful stranger, live a life far from average. Get off the treadmill of expectation, and -- instead -- push the limits of what life has to offer. Never settled for anything less. Take chances and leave no regret behind.
They say you experience three deaths when you expire: when the body ceases to function, the second death is when you're put in the grave and the third death is when your name is spoken for the final time. What kind of legacy do we leave behind if we fail to strike out and taste everything this world has to offer?
Life needs no cheese. It simply needs oxygen and a youthful heart...seek it. With every breath.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Monday, August 15, 2011
In my studying the philosophy of Zen, I came upon an old story about four types of horses and the misconception of perfection. It was quite telling and had a firm application within my own life.
It is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver's will, before it actually sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one does, just before the whip actually reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body (the initial crack of the ship); and the fourth will only run after the pain penetrates to the deepest marrow of its bones.
With that in mind, you can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run properly and with great success.
Almost all of us instinctively want to be the best horse but if it is impossible to be the best one, we want to be the second best, and so on. Many people believe that, in life, we must train to be the best horse, which becomes problematic.
If you live your life in the right manner, with an open mind and a persevering spirit, it doesn’t matter if you are the best or the worst horse. In fact, it is believed that the worst horse is the most effective when all is said and done. The story teaches that in your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind.
Those who run best naturally usually have trouble accepting the true evolution of one’s self. They have become “experts” and thus limit themselves because of their rigidity of spirit and stubborn pride. In essence, they believe they are fine where they are and have no further progress to make, giving in to one of life’s greatest falsehoods.
It’s the horse that runs last — the horse that feels the pain of life — that shows its value when all is said and done. This horse must experience all that is life to learn — the total pain from the whip — thus allowing it to find more meaning in all that they do, maintaining the beginner’s mind and an open approach to everything life attempts to teach them.
When compared to the overall body of work, the last horse actually becomes the first horse and the first horse the last. It is the last horse that runs freely, inspired and with an unrivaled vigor because of the path it took to become the great runner it eventually evolved into. It’s appreciation is boundless.
How many times do we limit ourselves with the expert’s state of mind? We need not improve because we are perfect where we stand.
Athletes peak and plateau when they take this train of thought, only to be passed by the “hungrier” athletes who used their beginner’s mind to learn more than one way to achieve success. Teachers become relics, failing to evolve with the changing methods of a modern age. Pastors fall into spiritual complacency when they buy into the myth of their own self-importance.
Life does not ever finish with its lessons, yet we find ourselves content with this harmful complacency. Growth is imperative in achieving our fullest potential, something that may take a lifetime of education to finally see to fruition. From pastors to coaches, teachers to musicians, if we settle for the status quo, we limit ourselves.
In studying some of these philosophies, I’ve come across the fundamental ideal for achieving one’s potential: a beginner’s mind knows no limits because of its belief that it is always in need of learning, while the so-called expert peaks and washes back into the ocean of mediocrity.
One must ask themselves if they are too good to learn, too strong to grow, and too developed to evolve. If they answer is “yes,” then they are limited to the bounds of that perceived perfection. Of course we all know this is a fallacy because no man is perfect. Being aware of our imperfections, and open to new ideas is what continues our evolution.
At one point the world was flat, yet now we see it as a miniscule grain of sand in an expansive universe. All grand ideas are the evolution of a beginner’s mind, throwing off the chains of complacency and allowing free thought to permeate the inventive minds they rattle within.
Potential is nothing without being fulfilled. Skills are irrelevant if they never continue to develop. Knowledge is merely average without a continued seeking of education. As our lives continue to pass by with the ever-increasing winds of change, we must carry on with the seeking of life’s lessons, no matter how far-fetched or hard to understand, as they may seem.
If we don’t, we throw ourselves into a prison of mediocrity made from our own blistered and calloused hands…
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Ah, the beautiful power of the tide...
After traveling into the Pacific Northwest, hiking 30 miles into the heart of the Northern Cascades in search of the spirit of Jack Kerouac, who spent 63 days of complete solitude up at the Desolation Fire Lookout in the summer of 1956 a few months shy of him becoming a household name, we were able to see the many factors that led to Kerouac's ascent towards the high water mark for the Lowell, Mass., product.
At this point in his life, Kerouac had spent the better part of a decade as a homeless rucksack, traveling the breadth of this nation, hitchhiking his way across the vast landscape of this country and down through Mexico City. The tide was slowly rising in his life, but it had yet to reach the crest of success he envisioned as he jumped from couch to couch, shady hotel room to train car, and bar to bar every night. Proud of his words, yet somewhat embarrassed of his chronic homelessness, Kerouac drew from this as part of his muse.
His productivity during this time was phenomenal. Pretty much all of his critical success came from the written word he produced during the late 1940s and early-to-mid 50s ("On the Road," his most popular work, was published in 1957, nearly seven years after it was written). By the time, and after writing more than 10 novels that would one day be published, Kerouac's fame finally hit and the rising tide of his existence hit its crest, he could no longer live in anonymity, or be the "observer" he so specifically became known for (along with his rebelliously vast disregard for the rules of prose). As he adapted to the cresting of the tide in his life, he lost all that was vital to his work.
With the fame he so greatly coveted, came the payout: a loss of what made his work so pure in the first place. In the end, what he craved stifled and eventually killed the color so greatly engrained within his work. The overall burden of being the caricature he created of himself weighed him down like a boulder, and cost him the intimacy of many friendships in his life. His production slipped and he failed to produce with the same vigor and individuality that had been so preeminent in his work during the pre-fame portions of his life, but what he lost as the cresting wave covered his lifetime's shining moment can only be measured by what was gained during these vitally productive years of his life.
Kerouac's voice captured a generation.
He was the father of a movement, but also a casualty of its popularity. The tide crashed over his life and his generation in such a way that he could no longer reinvent himself, and — in his early death — it cost him the chance to witness the ever-growing change, the draining of freedom, here in the free America that he so proudly railed for and eagerly described as a place, "too vast with people too vast to ever be degraded to the low level of a slave nation," one that he could "go hitch hiking down that road and on into the remaining years of my life knowing that outside of a couple fights in bars started by drunks I’ll not have a hair of my head (and I need a haircut) harmed by Totalitarian cruelty—"
Did the cresting tide cover over Kerouac before he could see the falling star that has become this once-great nation? Was he spared this realization of this as the Nixon administration slowly sapped individual rights in its battle with the counter-culture during the pre-Watergate era? He missed the rigged fight, and slow yet dangerous catharsis within our borders. Slowly but surely, we have watched individual liberty fall to the wayside under countless disguises from national security to educational reform. Nobody is immune from culpability on the right or the left. Our nation, indivisible, brought this upon itself.
The very same country that Kerouac so grandly described is no longer the same place. The rising tide of the counterculture movement of the 60s and early 70s has crashed into an even more polarizing fight as the divide between classes and cultures becomes more prevalent. We are once again becoming tribal in nature, but it is no longer of the racial variety. Ideology has replaced genes as the catalyst for this ever-evolving battle within the cultures and peoples of this great nation. Our current leaders — the same "freedom fighters" from the freedom and peace movements of the 1960s — have failed us, giving way to the status quo of power and greed.
Perhaps, just perhaps, things weren't as beautiful as Kerouac had though they were in the first place.
Maybe, just maybe, his detachment from the mainstream is what blinded him to the reality that those with power will fight like rabid dogs to keep it, no matter the cost, and no matter the political affiliation. When his friend, Allen Ginsberg, fought for freedom of speech for his controversial poem, "Howl," Kerouac may have seen this coming political storm, or perhaps — in his mind's eye — he saw this as real progress, not a slippery slope towards something worse.
Worse off is the thought that perhaps the great heroes we once honored in our own youth were mere puppets in a propaganda campaign during the early life of what is now known as our modern media. The shine, moxie and glistening beauty surrounding the perception of our great heroes of old has been removed from the facade like a vintage Star Wars figure being taken out of the shipping box and thrown into the bath tub for play time. My generation is finally feeling its way out of this modern age of communication and information, and what we are finding has disillusioned us to the past we could not touch or see with our own senses.
What was an homage to the beauty of this once-great nation has now, today, become something out of an George Orwell novel or a Philip K. Dick short story.
My generation can no longer trust the history books, or view the old publications and movie reels our government so easily spoon-fed to the earlier generation's naivete with anything less than distrust. We are the first generation to clearly see and experience the coming combination of this powerful beast that controls our attention today in the mainstream media and government officials. No generation has been at ground zero for this fight more than Generation-Y as well as the latter portions of Gen-X, and the fallout has become a general distrust of anything we've ever been told was right and true, even what our own parents told us about our past through their own unknowing indoctrination into this "beast" during their youth.
Just because it's honest doesn't make it true.
Similar to how the steroid abuse scandal in Major League Baseball has forced many to always question the success of any player thanks to the trust that was broken prior to the steroid crackdown of the early 2000s, my generation can't look back on our "heroes" without wondering how honorable they really were. I can't help but look at great leaders like George Washington (was he a slave owner?), FDR (did he have foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor?), Abraham Lincoln (was it corporate greed in search of control over the cotton industry or slavery that truly sparked the Civil War?), and countless others portrayed as epic heroes in my youth but have since stumbled into controversy posthumously thanks to continued research and a look between the lines of the history that is almost always written by those considered to be the winners.
The worry that sits within my core is one that wonders how much of what I was taught as a student was a form of propaganda itself. This is the beauty in Kerouac's description of the American life he knew, an America less convoluted by large government or the flourishing business of "pay-for-play politics." I can't help but marvel at how little focus is placed on literature as our historical basis, compared to "history books" and Wikipedia. To understand what our nation was like during a specified time period, one need only to look at the passionate words from the writers of their time period. A failure to do this neuters the strength buried within the written word, and the rising tide of each generation as described by first-hand accounts, not a politically-motivated bastardization of the truth that comes with revisionist history.
The rising tide facing my generation is more about trust and faith than anything, and the battle lines are intertwining. When a large portion of an entire generation loses faith in its government, its political process, its truthfulness outside of political gain, and the general fabric that brought us into our role as a world power and protective big brother, which has been deformed — in our eyes — into the Orwellian version of a "protective big brother," we have a rising tide that could turn into a tsunami of destruction further down the line.
With every passing generation, each imparts its own strengths and weaknesses to the next. Ours will most definitely pass on its serious distrust in the system, our lack of faith in our leaders, and a general malaise that anything we try to do in a attempt to better this country only falls on deaf ears and is slated to be swallowed up into the corrupt system that has mutated into its current corporate form.
This is the modern rising tide heading towards the shores of our discontent.
How much it will cover over, how strong its first landfall will be and how long it will roll over us is anyone's guess, but the only thing I can guarantee is that once it rolls back, it will only come back stronger the next time, and — if we haven't built our belief systems and accountability on dry land instead of the sandy shored — its damage may exceed anything our imagination could conceive.
But, as in all things, there must be hope that tomorrow can be the first day of a brave new world the likes of Aldous Huxley couldn't possibly imagine...
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
This is what I wrote for our guys as they prepare for what is the first varsity season for most of them...
As we enter the 2011 season, it must be understood that there will be a roller coaster of emotions from the start to the finish line, wherever that may be. Mental preparation should never be underestimated as you prepare for whatever unknowns lay ahead. Here are a few things to consider as we start the season together.
1. EXPECTATIONS: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a footstep. Expect one thing: extreme highs and lows. Expect mistakes and successes alike, and embrace them as a lesson to learn from, and then forge ahead. The season will be a roller coaster, so prepare yourself for anything that might happen. Expect the unexpected.
2. GOALS: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Create personal and team goals before the season begins. Use a 3x5-inch index card and place it somewhere you can see it on a daily basis (bathroom mirror, ceiling above your bed). As the season progresses, continue to alter these goals as they are accomplished.
3. BELIEF: The 4-minute mile was thought to be unattainable until it was first broken. Within the next 18 months, 45 runners also broke the barrier. Stay away from fixed mindsets as they only obscure the unlimited boundaries of potential within each of you. “I can’t” sabotages your own efforts. Dream big.
4. RELAX: “Relax in order to max.” No good thing has come from being stiff and tense. Relax and let go, trusting in everything you’ve worked on. Be like water, which is fluid, yielding and soft, yet strong enough to form huge canyons. Don’t allow yourself to feed the butterflies within.
5. FOCUS: Focus on the here-and-now, and nothing else. Whatever has happened or will happen is out of your control. Worry about the next pitch and only the next pitch. Flush the mistakes and move on. If you spend too much time worrying about what’s behind you, you’ll trip over what’s in front of you. Pay full attention to the present. Focus only on the things within your control. You can’t control the wind, bad hops, great breaking balls, or poor umpiring. When a plane flies from San Francisco to Hawaii, it is off-course 90% of the time. It eventually reaches Hawaii safely because the pilot corrects for the interference and errors caused by the uncontrollable winds. Adapt.
6. DON’T THINK – DO: Analysis is paralysis. Trust your instincts and the training. Learn from the mistakes but don’t dwell on them.
7. REFLECT: Performance is the result of priorities. Reflect on your natural performance patterns. Recall the success and what factors contributed to them (become a creature of habit). Eliminate the factors that led to failure. Always take time out every night to reflect on the day’s lessons.
8. FEAR: This is a natural emotion that indicates the need to be alert. It is a survival instinct, and it allows you to understand the importance of the situation and then prepare for it. The other side of every fear is freedom. To keep from being overwhelmed, break down the expanse of the season into smaller parts: game-by-game, inning-by-inning, out-by-out, pitch-by-pitch.
9. FAILURE: Success comes to those who can weather the storm. If you expect it, you can then prepare to learn from it. Just don’t get comfortable with it. Life’s greatest lessons come from failure, not success. Work to ensure you aren’t making the same mistakes twice. Accept slumps as part of the game and don’t resist it. The tighter you grip at a fistful of sand, the more slip through your fingers. Same with slumps.
10. DON’T DWELL: Don’t dwell on the losses OR the victories. Enjoy the moment, and move on to the next task at hand. You’re only as good as your last performance, so don’t let success become a burden. Use the memory of success to give you inspiration during the inevitable decline that comes from great success. Always work to continually return to the top of the mountain.
Friday, February 4, 2011
In perusing the Internet for random facts of nonsense, I recently read a study by Nicholas A. Christakis and James Fowler from Harvard Medical School regarding obesity and its relation to an individual’s social network.
The study forms the conclusion that an individual’s chances of becoming obese are increased by 57 percent if they are tied together by no more than two degrees of separation and the percentage increases even more when the subjects lived within a close geographic radius from each other.
In other words, when mom used to tell you that you actually were “who you hung out with,” she was dead on (as moms usually are, despite our kicking and screaming).
The fact that this study proves that individuals are more likely to be overweight if the people they hang out with are overweight brings things into perspective. It doesn’t have to only be applied to obesity. Much of this can also relate to drinking habits, study habits, spiritual development and any host of socially encouraged behaviors.
Surrounding yourself with people with like interests is what draws friends together, but it can also affect the person you become thereafter. While initial like interests lure you in, their other personality traits also become a part of the package.
Their own personal habits will mesh with yours, as will theirs to you. Therein lay the danger, as the stronger personality usually provides a majority of the influence and it leaves each and every one of us susceptible to altering our own personal belief systems.
As a coach, this couldn’t possibly be any more important as not all of our players’ friends are athletes or model citizens. If they happen to spend a great deal of time with morons, dropouts, druggies, hooligans and any other adjectives with a negative connotation, you will most definitely see a drop in performance and leave your whole team open to this potential virus creeping in.
The study exposes our occasional failure to think long and hard about who we make a priority in our lives. Alcoholics usually hang out with alcoholics, drug addicts generally maintain a tight circle of fellow drug addicts, free thinkers usually hang out with free thinkers and character-driven people usually surround themselves with those who also maintain that set of personal morals.
In a dangerous game of “Six Degrees of Separation,” one must take serious inventory when choosing those they surround themselves with. If you run with wolves, you yourself will become a wolf, finding your own life on a path that could very easily lead to destruction or worse…
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
It seems like such a long time ago that Jamie Levi walked — well, more like stormed — into my life.
A smile that could light up a thousand skyscrapers and a laugh that you’d recognize from around a dark corner, Jamie was one of those special souls who had the ability to brighten the lives of those around her. She had her own demons from time to time, mind you, but she still always found ways to lift the spirits of the people she blessed with her friendship.
Jamie and I had a special relationship in that we thought about dating, held hands and snuggled for a week, decided not to date, became great friends and then she eventually set me up with her sister, Jessica, who I dated on and off throughout my sophomore year of college. We kind of formed a three-person bond as both Jessica and I were — and probably still are — very complicated individuals and Jamie knew us both so well and she kind of became the glue in the fixture.
Regardless, no matter what happened, we all stayed good friends thereafter and would always be there for each other, even after she transferred out. My memory races to a night sleeping on the floor of her house in Ohio, laughing, talking stupid and literally being the young souls we were at the time, or to a night of Jamie sneaking me in and out of the girls’ dormitory, just for the hell of it. Our bond was strong, and our souls very much kindred in many ways.
Whether it was Jamie’s inability to say the word “old,” which she pronounced “owed,” or the pride she took in Jessica’s amazingly gorgeous singing voice, Jamie was always chipper when all eyes were on her, and she kept her own personal demons within a small circle of friends. We all leaned on one another when the weight of the world became too much to bear and we helped carry each other through those darkest of hours.
In college, all you have are your friends. Other than that, your first dose of independent reality is like a cold bucket of ice on a sub-zero winter’s morn. We became our own foundation, along with plenty of other friends, in what became our little tribe of goof. In what seems to be a pattern in my life, I always tend to travel in a large and loyal pack, and this pack was no different.
I was playing baseball for our college, so springs became a little more of a narcissistic time for me but Jamie would still be there, when she could, and our friendship was always alive and well, even if we hadn’t found time to spend together for a few weeks at a time — the truest test of a real friendship. We had our moments where we wanted to punch each other in the belly, but they were few and far between and normal for any friendship of merit.
The phone call came in the middle of the morning.
I remember it well because I was sitting in a soundproof recording studio working my first month at a TV production studio here in Las Vegas. It was Jessica, whom I hadn’t spoken with in a while. In fact, I hadn’t heard from Jamie since I had graduated college and moved out west.
Mind you, this is before Facebook or MySpace kept the world connected with a mere mouse click, but somehow Jessica had managed to find me at work, and hearing her voice not only startled me, but also sent a jolt of butterflies throughout my stomach as I tried to figure out why Jess was calling me at work, out of the blue.
Her words echoed in my ears as she uttered the last thing I thought I’d hear that morning, “Jamie’s gone.” Everything thereafter turned into a blur as my eyes watered, and a burning sensation flamed up my spine through my soul. Her remaining words sounded like a mumble as I struggled with the reality of it all. All I could make out was "car," "accident," and "gone" before my mind began spinning like a top.
Doing my best to comfort Jessica, who at this point was — in essence — emotionally in shock and trying to be as strong as she possibly could despite losing her big sister, my words rang hollow even in my own head. We spoke for a great deal of time before I hung up the phone and slid down into our studio couch reserved for clients, frozen, not knowing what my next physical move nonetheless emotional move might be.
My boss, sensing the life being sucked out of me, asked if I’d like the afternoon off to get myself back together. I numbingly nodded before walking out to my car and driving off towards the foothills of the southern Nevada desert, where I finally let out the pent up emotions inside, wetting the dry ground with my tears and wallowing in the immense sense of loss under the blazing orange January sky.
Even now, 10 years later, I can still take my heart back to that moment, where life got a little darker and someone I cared deeply for was stripped from our lives. The feeling is strong, loosely tied with whatever comfort I can latch onto.
When someone special passes on too soon, there are profound moments in one’s life where that person still finds their way back into your heart, comforting you, giving you hope when life seems to have been sapped of all joy.
On a lonesome night not too long ago, when my life hit an internal crossroads cloaked in failure, fear and doubt, I felt her — or perhaps the memory of her — comforting me.
It was there, on that hopeless night, SHE found me. I heard the first sound through my hapless tears and the echo of Kings of Leon’s “Cold Desert” on the stereo…it was Jamie, as young and as beautiful as I remembered the first day I met her, standing there with that old familiar disapproving yet playfully smirking scowl on her face — my last vision of her beauty, etched in my mind’s eye, before she was gone forever.
In that moment, and many times thereafter, I wondered what she might think of the man I'd become, with my failures and my inability to consistently keep on the straight and narrow mixed with my great moments of success and elation, and on this one night during one of the most testing years of my life, I felt her presence amidst the lonesome desert wind and solemn night sky.
At first, I’d felt as if I had let her down again, but this time from beyond the great divide.
My heart needed one more moment, one more brief instant where I could hear from her own familiar voice how far off from the right path I’ve been or — maybe, just maybe — how close I really am. Ten minutes is all I asked for, just to hear her remind me that this is all worth it. That this whole rat race we found together as young adults but now rang hollow with every step I took wasn’t without meaning or purpose.
And in my circling mind, her words weren’t of disappointment, but of pride. On this lonely night, she was proud of me, and I couldn’t figure out, for the life of me, why. Despite my own self-doubt, I was comforted and refined with the idea that perhaps I was doing right, that I was a man she’d be proud of so long after she’d left us.
Without a doubt, this profound moment reminded me that I was running the good race, fighting the good fight, and living the right dream. From within, I felt ready for the coming dawn.
The truth is, people who come through our lives become our DNA, they become who we are and we them. Our actions and our decisions honor their place in our lives, and their affirmation — or perceived affirmation — becomes as valuable as any currency. We share the most intimate of experiences together, and then eventually continue on our own treks through this life with or without them. Sometimes, we take those moments for granted as they happen because we always believe deep down inside that there will be more of them, and more opportunity to show our gratitude.
Sometimes, that chance never comes again.
What we’re left with in our lifetime is a memory, a still-framed picture, and a special moment that only we shared and that is etched in our soul for our entire lives — a singular moment, where the world melted away and life became about two people, sitting on a truck bed and laughing at the coming storm of adulthood.
It's these intimate yet defining moments that binds us together, as individuals and as a collective, throughout time...and like a lightning bolt flashing quickly across the electric black sky, they are gone in the blink of an eye — never to return, no matter how hard we try to emulate them. A wrinkle in time, forever lost to the unforgiving destiny that awaits us.