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What My Puppy Taught Me About Mindfulness

Lady (1)Dear Friend,

This little gal is named “Lady”.

She’s my new puppy. My first puppy, actually.

I rarely call her by her name because, in my book, she’ll have to earn her name and, so far, she has a long way to go for that to occur. So most of the time she’s just “puppy”.

Puppies Are Impulsive

Tonight, like most nights these days, I was carrying “puppy” as she spazzed at anything that we went by: a cat, a dog, a piece of paper, a kitty litter box (her favorite snack bar!).

I watched her as she noticed each new thing.

I realized that there was essentially no separation between her taking notice of each new thing and her expression of an emotional and physical reaction to each thing. She saw, she squealed, she wiggled violently.

It was obvious that she felt a powerful longing for, an overwhelming and immediate need to have and interact with, what she noticed.

I listened to her mournful moaning as, after each reaction, she was cruelly held back from the objects of her desire by her evil master (me). I noticed myself trying to sooth her with soft distracting noises, and my attempts to replace her misery with pleasure from a new source – me scratching behind her ears.

I felt real empathy for my little Lady. I knew what she longed for. I knew the pain that she felt. I was sorry for her misery. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone.

What Puppy & I Share

And I couldn’t help but identify with this puppy’s experience. Why did all of this feel so familiar?

At that moment I began to realize how much of my own everyday existence I live much like this dog.

I recalled my own analogous experiences. For example, a typical ubiquitous memory of me noticing a random beautiful woman – and my instant and immediate longing to have her now, and then the cruel head-jerking control of my master (my own discipline), holding me back. “No” I’d say to myself, almost unconsciously. And that was that.

I also recalled those times when I let myself have what I impulsively wanted. Often to smooth over my earlier feeling of loss. These incidents usually involved food. I have a belly to prove it.

I realized that I constantly engage in activities that are not tied to my true life goals. These are repetitive habits that at the time seem justified by some practical value. Like checking my email for the ten-thousandth time. And then enjoying a yummy snack (you gotta eat!).

I realized how much of my day I spend engaged in this purposeless dance.

My Impulsive Habits

I will notice a stimuli (the “woman”), feel the emotion, the pull, the urge, the longing neeeeed for whatever it is I think I want, all followed by the harsh denial and then, typically, my quick focus on a distraction (the “email checking”) to help me to avoid feeling this pain. Often these moments are followed by an allowed substitute (the “food”) as I try to experience some of the pleasure I think I missed through my earlier self denial.

If life is defined by the way we spend it, then this behavior constitutes a great portion of my life.

So I ask myself, “Is this all that my life is about? Stimulus-response? Denial/distraction/substitution? The passing of time – my life, really – while engaged in these mindless activities? Shouldn’t there be more?”

Why do I spend so much time doing this shit? And what can I do about it now that I’m aware of it?

Mindfulness

What I am describing is the process of becoming self aware, also called mindfulness.

When we hear the words self aware and mindfulness most of us think of a Buddha, sitting there like a statue.

In fact, it is a statue. Sitting on a shelf in your living room somewhere. Your hippie cousin Angie gave it to you three Christmases ago and you thought it would look cool sitting in your formal living space. It would show your friends that you had a “deep” side. Besides, it looked too expensive to throw away.

It looks peaceful. It looks deep. It also has no practical relationship to your real life. Who has time to sit and meditate all day like the little fat smiling guy? Get real!

Well, that impression of mindfulness comes from popular culture. And you’re right, it doesn’t feel relevant to most of us most of the time.

But being mindful is actually much simpler than that.

Why Mindfulness Matters

Think about the word. Mindful. It just means being aware of you. Of what you are doing, and thinking, and saying. Right now. Not later or yesterday. As John Lennon said, life’s what happens while you are planning other things. Or while you are munching on a donut trying to forget about that hot new babe in accounting.

If you are not mindful then what are you?

Well, if you’re not in your mind then you must be out of it. You are a zombie, really. Lost in thought about tomorrow or what’s coming up next. Or worrying about yesterday. And while we walk around lost in our thoughts our bodies live out a program of stimulus-response designed to govern the life of my puppy.

Are You Mindful?

How do you live your life? Are you mindful? Or do you, like me and most people, spend an incredibly large portion of the precious moments of your life in a fuzzy haze of habits and stimulus-response behaviors that do nothing towards taking you to a better life – the kind of life that you’ve always wanted to live?

My puppy taught me that I am not much better than she is. She may not be able to rise above her situation. But I think I can. At least I’d like to try.

I believe that doing so is the first big step to living a better life.

All the best,

Hugh 😄

P.S.: Tell me about your mindfulness experiences (or lack thereof). I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below and let me know what you are thinking.

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How To Be Happy

Be HappyDear Friend,

Everybody wants to be happy.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who can honestly tell you he or she doesn’t (and if you do, don’t stand too close).

 

Looking For Happiness

We all look for happiness. Jefferson said that the essence of liberty was the freedom to pursue happiness.

If you could watch humanity from afar, you might imagine that we look like a bunch of ants, running around, building and destroying, and constantly looking or waiting for something to appear to make it all worth our effort. That’s how most of us “pursue” happiness.

We try to make money, because it sucks to be poor, especially when you get sick or someone you love is struggling. But is freedom from misery really happiness?

 

How To Find It

What is it we all really want? And where do we find it?

Well, I think I have the answer.

But, like most things profound, it’s way too simple to be true. I mean, if so many people, some of them brilliant, have been looking for this secret and haven’t found it, then this must be some kind of really complex issue. Like decoding DNA. We’d all look pretty stupid if the answer was staring us in the face all along, but somehow we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see it.

 

The “Secret”

(No, not that Secret.)

A friend recently told me about a famous actor, now deceased, who visited his shrink every week for his entire adult life. He apparently had a lot of stuff to work out. But mostly, he just wanted to be happy, and this goal had managed to elude him. One day, late in his life, this guy stood up in his shrink’s office and announced, “Ya know, if I want to be happy, I guess I just have to decide to be happy.”

And that’s it, folks.

Sorry if you are disappointed. But everything I know, everything I’ve learned in life, tells me that this guy has it right.

Happiness doesn’t come from finally getting things to go your way. It doesn’t come from ease or comfort (although they make it easier for most of us). No. Happiness is the product of deciding to be happy – no matter what happens. Life happens. Sometimes it’s shit. Sometimes it’s great. Most of the time it just is. But what is happening to you on the outside does not determine what’s going on on the inside. You choose that. And if you want to be happy, choose to be happy. If you choose drama and suffering instead, consider that maybe you are getting some kind of secondary benefit from that drama. Maybe some part of you doesn’t want to let that go. Whatever.

So, there you go. That’ll be $300. You can pay my secretary on the way out.

Have a nice day!

Hugh

p.s.: How about you? Have you found happiness? What has worked? How have you broken out of life’s crazy spiral to discover what really matters? Post your experiences and thoughts below! And Thank You!

 

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How To Change Your Life In 2014

Chapel

Dear Friend,

So, you want to know how to change your life in 2014 into something more in tune with the authentic you?

It sounds like an overwhelming task. So overwhelming, in fact, that most people don’t even try. But there is a simple trick that I will teach you now that makes the effort to transform your life easy and practically automatic.

Why Some People Never Try

The most common reasons that people tend to resist any significant form of personal lifestyle transformation are threefold: 1) we don’t know where to start, 2) it looks too hard, and 3) we think that we are too busy with our current life to start anything new.

The technique I am going to teach you gives you that starting point, is incredibly easy, and takes advantage of the free time that you forgot you have.

Step One – Remember

Step one is to think about something very simple that you have always thought about doing but have never gotten around to.

This might be something as simple as a tiny side trip down a charming country lane that you’ve always wanted to take, or a peek inside that roadside curio shop that you always found so charming but never had time to check out. Or it might be something else entirely. Whatever it is, it will probably be some little aside that you notice when you see it and almost as quickly forget about as you fly along on the steel rails of your daily life’s routine.

Can you recall anything that might fit the bill? To help you remember try this simple technique.

Take a few moments to be silent, and follow yourself in your mind on a typical day from the moment you awake through your daily routines. As you do this do you notice anything that catches your eye? Follow this process until you come up with something you’d like to explore. The simpler and quicker this little detour is from your daily routine, the better.

Remember, our lives tend to be heavily planned. And we follow those plans because we fear that reacting to momentary impulses will result in our becoming lazy and losing our self-discipline and direction in life. But oftentimes we follow plans so closely that we forget to notice the world around us as it flies by. And, I hate to say it, but, that world you barely notice flying by everyday is actually your life, and you’d better start noticing it before it’s gone.

Step Two – Make a Plan

Because we are so attuned to living life by schedules and plans, why not now plan to take a detour from your daily schedule. Don’t set a date and time. Just make the decision that, the next time you go by that fascinating little curio shop or whatever and you have a few minutes to spare, you will go in. This loosey-goosey approach to planning will begin the process of training your mind to act more on impulse, but in this case, on an impulse that you know ahead of time that you want to act on rather of an unhealthy one.

Step Three – Act on Your Plan

The next time you notice that thing you want to do, be prepared to stop what you are doing and to turn around. Why turn around? Because, by the time you notice your special side trip you will be most likely be flying past it. And it is so easy to just keep going on, isn’t it? But not this time. Unless you absolutely have no time to spare, take the next u-turn and go check out that special something that’s been quietly catching your eye.

The point of this process is to get your mind used to taking notice of your feelings and interests as they arise. And also to get used to the process of getting off your daily routine when doing so is in your interest.

Don’t be afraid that doing this will teach you bad habits and ruin your disciplined approach to life. In fact, you are actually learning another form of discipline – the discipline of greater self-awareness. Self-discipline doesn’t require going through life like a robot. It’s fear that makes you a robot. And your disciplined habits aren’t that easy to break, anyway. It’s time to have the courage to listen to your desires and, occasionally, to act on them.

How It Works

So, how will taking little side trips change my life? Well, alone, it won’t. But what it will do is begin the process of waking you up to your needs. And it will also gently and subtly break the stiction that makes it so hard to change the way we go through life each day. Once you start allowing yourself these small changes in routine – changes based on sincere desires – you will find it ever easier to start pursuing even bigger changes as opportunities present themselves. And you will be amazed at how fast and how easily the act of stopping to check out that humble little curiosity one day will soon after turn into buying that round-the-world plane ticket. The process is just as simple. It just requires the act of you giving yourself permission. But you can’t even do that unless you are aware of the desire to act when it arises. This exercise makes you aware of that desire, and gives you permission to act on it.

How I Discovered This Technique

I discovered the power of this exercise on my own, and by accident.

Admittedly, I was helped out by a good dose of my own adult ADD. But even I was a victim of the ride-on-the-rails-with-blinders-on approach to our everyday lives that most of us seem to follow.

Then one day I gave myself permission to take a short detour down a country road, a detour I had thought about taking for years as I passed that road, but that I had always just as quickly forgotten about as my real life intruded and my robot mind took over.

That little detour, and my conscious willingness to say “Yes” to a fleeting desire that day, ultimately led me to multiple circumnavigations of North America with my four young kids and their mom. It’s that big of a deal.

The leap from one action to the other was not nearly as hard as you’d think. In fact, there was no leap.

We bought an inexpensive trailer that our car could tow, even though I’d never towed anything in my life. Then we towed it to a campground one weekend (never been to one of those before, either). Then we used it again (why not – who wants an expensive new lawn ornament shaped like a trailer?). And then one summer, after making arrangements with our small business, we went camping and didn’t come home. When we left our first campground, instead of driving back to our house, we headed to another campground in the opposite direction. And we never stopped.

Yes, I know, maybe your 9-to-5 job won’t allow you to just disappear indefinitely. It was a risk to take our business on the road, too. We had cell phones, an Internet fax number, a portable copier, and cell Internet, all of which made our trailer a virtual office as well as our home. And we had an administrative assistant back at our home office to take care of paperwork. She also opened and faxed over to us all of our personal bills, which I paid online from my bank’s website. The truth is, none of our business customers ever knew that we weren’t in our office. And I dare to say that they didn’t care, either. People don’t pay us to sit behind a desk, but to service them as we promise. And that’s what we did. If you can do that from anywhere, then why not do that from everywhere? We did. And it worked.

I just kept thinking about the fact that I had a short window of opportunity while all of my kids were old enough to enjoy the experience yet were still young enough to not mind hanging out with mom and dad. It was now or never, and I chose now.

Now It’s Your Turn

How about you? When is your now? Life isn’t going to sit around and wait until the stars all align for you. Hell, it’s your life, do what you want to with it. But don’t let me hear you complaining later when you miss out on opportunities that you didn’t have the guts to pursue. Life is finite – use it or lose it. I hope that you will try this little technique, and that it leads you to much bigger things.

Please – PLEASE – won’t you post here about your own attempts to use this technique in your own life? Success or failure, I don’t care. Just share with all of us your actions, fears, frustrations, hang-ups, and (hopefully) victories! 🙂

We are here to support one another in this journey called life. So let’s do just that!

I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

All the best,

Hugh

PS: Please check out my recent radio show appearance on The Socialable Homeschooler Radio Show! http://bit.ly/19ADDU9, and the piece I recently wrote for my friend Elan Divon over at The Initiation website! http://theinitiation.org/your-story/featured-story/.

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Dear Friend,

As a reader of The Way of the Passionate Warrior blog, you are well aware of the creative approach to living a family life without limits that I espouse.

If you feel that you, too, would like to live such a life, but you have no idea how to get there from the place you find yourself right now, then I have something special for you.

For years my readers have asked me to put together something to help them learn how to break out of the dreaming stage and really jump into transforming their daily way of living right now.

I understand the frustration. People talk about doing all kinds of cool stuff with their families, but isn’t that just teasing unless they are willing to share how they got there?

Well, after much delay and more effort, I have decided to release the road map my family has used to go from existing to truly living our lives to the fullest.

I call it, “The Beginner’s Family Bonding Course”. And it’s available for free online to the readers and fans of The Passionate Warrior blog right now.

Just go to FamilyLifeU.com and sign up.

Remember, it’s FREE. So give it a shot.

If you like what you find and want to continue, just keep going. As you can see, by keeping the course free I am doing everything I can to make this material accessible to everyone.

I want you to do this, and I want to make it easy for you to take tangible action today.

Why today? Why not tomorrow? Because you and I both know that tomorrow never comes. And this post is actually your first lesson in transforming your life – you have to do something to get something.

If you know inside that this is what you want for your life, then you owe it to yourself to stop hesitating and do this NOW – before your boring voice talks you out of it! 😉 You know the one – that voice that says, “You don’t have time for some course,” or “Don’t you have some task to take care of right about now?” That voice is what got you where you are today – wishing you had done life differently, that you had made bolder decisions with your life. Well, if you aren’t dead yet, then it’s still not too late.

So click HERE and check out the Beginner’s Family Bonding Course before that annoying voice gets the best of you.

Let me know what you think about the course by posting comments here or on the course. I really want to meet your needs but I need your help to do it. So don’t forget to post!

Thanks and all the best,

Hugh 🙂

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The Way of The Passionate Warrior

LogoDear Friend,

The Way of the Passionate Warrior is a journey of exploration. It is a life of discovery, courage and excitement for men.

But learning isn’t always wonderful. Sometimes, ignorance really can be bliss.

The more we discover about ourselves as men, the more we are forced to face things that, up until now, we have tactfully avoided.

The more awake we become to what is, as opposed to what we wish was, the more we are forced to consider what to do about all of it.

The Man’s Journey

The man’s journey is a path that starts with dreams and imagination. The boy imagines a magical world. As he grows the rest of the world forces him to comply with its rules, and his dreams are forced into a box, hidden from view but still kept alive by hope.

He enters the age of manhood still clinging to those dreams, but doing as he is told, or specifically rebelling against that, either way often making little progress toward the life he had imagined.

Things happen, of course. Relationships, pregnancies, jobs become careers, all whether we wanted them or not. It is as if our life was on rails, headed to some unseen but promised destination.

Our “Matrix” Moment

Eventually, we begin to seriously doubt that destination. It is at this moment we realize that, perhaps, we really don’t know where we are , exactly how we got here, where we are going, or why.

This is the quintessential “Matrix” moment, when we finally decide whether to face the choice of awareness – the red pill or the blue pill.

Many of us make this choice by refusing to make the choice. We hold onto our “hope”, and in doing so, we swallow the blue pill by default. We stay on the path we are living while steadfastly deciding that we will find a way to the promised land – somehow – even though we have no idea what or where that promised land is. We keep doing the same things we have always done, imagining that our efforts will somehow bring about different results – Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Others of us surrender hope, exchanging it for bitterness. We blame others for forcing us to give up our dreams. The world tricked us, and we have lived a lie. And now, years later, we coast into a miserable and lonely death.

A few of us – too few I think – decide to take that red pill, and “see where the rabbit hole goes”. There is no guarantee that the results will be good. By giving up on the fantasy that all will turn out as we thought, we have lost our sense of comfort in life, exchanging it for an edgy energy that can be perceived as either anxiety, which transforms into panic, or as excitement, which transforms into passion.

Shall It Be A Life of Panic or Passion?

The Way of the Passionate Warrior is the choice to swallow that red pill, to go down that rabbit hole which holds who knows what, to embrace that energy as passion, and to boldly take on whatever awaits us with the strength and determination that only the warrior brings to any challenge.

It sounds fun, and it can be. But it can also be very scary. By choosing this path we must embrace courage, and adopt a new hope, not for what was promised or was supposed to be in our lives, but for that which might be, which could be – the wonderful unknown. This is truly the life of the explorer. For the man who embraces it, this life promises mystery, excitement, and wonder.

As I see it, what do we have to lose? If we’re going to live our lives, why not live them with purpose and passion? Or would you prefer “The Way of the Panicking Zombie”? 🙂

Where Are You?

Where are you in this journey? Or, perhaps, you are one of those rare ones who has been awake for some time. If so, know that your awareness brings with it the opportunity to help so many others, the “walking dead” I like to call them, who are sledging through life all around you.

They need your guidance during this difficult awakening, and you have insights that can sooth their panic and sorrow. I hope you will choose to help.

For those of you who, like me, have chosen to follow the Way of the Passionate Warrior, I hope you will stay with me, here at this blog, and share your experiences with all of us. Together, we can illuminate the way for each other, and for men everywhere.

Yours in manhood,

Hugh DeBurgh, “The Passionate Warrior”

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I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

Dear Friend,

To me, one of the best parts of being a kid was being able to play all day while other people worked, cooked my dinner and cleaned up after me, all while I was in blissful ignorance. One of my first shocks growing up was discovering I had to do all that for myself.

But did I really? Absent winning the Lotto, could my early adult life have been more about fun and less about drudgery? Or is growing up simply the process of giving up the best part of our lives, while doing our best to make sure that our kids get a chance at childhood heaven for a few years before they, too, must surrender to the evil but inevitable monster we call adulthood?

The subject of kids and teens slowly assuming adult responsibilities came up while I was explaining money management to my kids.  And the way I presented the subject grew out of the philosophy that I learned this past Spring in California, at a one-week training and certification course for running financial education camps for kids. The camp was Camp Millionaire, and the tool they used was The Money Game.

The Camp Millionaire program certifies adults to run multi-day or week-long fun camps for kids where they can use The Money Game to learn all the stuff about money management that none of us adults ever did (unless we were lucky).

The goal of The Money Game is to teach kids to manage their money so that they can reach their personal life goals. The kids can win when they can pay all of their game “bills” solely out of their passive game income.

We received instructor training, and then we were thrown right into a real camp with real kids.

Our camp was held over a long weekend. Each day we introduced the kids to new ideas, concepts and attitudes about money. They were invited to uncover their own preconceived attitudes about money, and were then encouraged to consider other points of view. All of this interspersed with games and activities that made sure the kids were having too much fun to notice they were learning.

While playing The Money Game, in order for the kids to live off their passive game income, they learned about savings and investment. And in this way they also learned about the consequences that come from the decisions they make everyday about when and whether they choose to spend or save their own money.

At the start of the weekend a lot of our camp kids just wanted real money handouts from us adults so they could buy fun stuff to play with. As the camp progressed, they realized that money was much more than a way to get stuff – it was a form of power that could change the way they lived forever, if only they understood how to manage it.

Each “round” of the game the kids received a “paycheck” of pretend money. Then they had to spend percentages of that money on things like rent or mortgage, car payments, utilities, food, etc. At the end of each round they had money left over that they could spend on “fun”, savings, and finally “piddly stuff”, which was everything else. At the start of the game, most kids wanted to spend all of their money on piddly stuff, but that wasn’t an option here. Still, it was their choice what they did with their excess. Some kids chose to buy piddly stuff. Others saved it.

The kids were encouraged to spend some money on “fun”, because a lot of people start savings programs by going off the deep end, saving like crazy, then finally breaking and blowing it all on a new TV or something. It’s the same way a lot of us (me included) tend to do dieting – starve ourselves, then binge and finally, give up. You know, “All work and no play …” An unrealistic plan is designed to fail. And this kind of insight built into The Money Game impressed me.

After a couple of rounds of the game, we introduced the kids to investments. We used three types of investments to keep things simple: real estate, stocks, and small businesses.

The game comes with a deck of cards that the camp leaders pull from. Each round they are allowed to spend savings on investments and stuff, but also warned that they should probably keep some cash for “emergencies.” The game may throw them curves, such as “car dies, $500 repair bill this month.” Nevertheless, the investments earn them more money than they lose from surprises. Those who started the game buying piddly stuff quickly learned to stop that and buy investments. Partly to keep up with their friends, but also because even these ten to fourteen-year-old’s now understood the power of investing to improve their lives.

Eventually, they owned so much real estate, stocks and businesses that their monthly salary wasn’t that important. And, once their investments covered their lifestyle costs, they were set. And they had won the game.

The cool thing about The Money Game is that there wasn’t one winner. We were all rooting for everyone to win. It was more fun that way. Nobody wanted anyone else left behind. And that was an inspiring attitude to watch.

Yes, the game was rigged. Investment return varied randomly, but nobody got wiped out in a “housing bubble” or anything like that. Obviously, we wanted the kids to get a taste of victory. I think that’s what we parents are supposed to do. If kids don’t experience a taste of a great future, why would they work hard to get there?

When I returned from this training program I explained The Money Game to my kids. Not having gone through the experience yet, they only half listened. It was only later, when we happened to talk about chores and all the stuff that adults have to do that little kids don’t have to do, that I explained the value of The Money Game principles in terms that everyone understood.

I explained that, as adults, once they “won” The Money Game for real, they could then stop working for money and go back to playing while other people worked for them, cooked their dinner and cleaned up after them.

All at once, everyone understood.

In that moment they suddenly saw that mastering money could be just the tool they needed to stay kids forever.

I thought that was a very interesting way of looking at it. I mean, who really wants to grow up anyway? 🙂

All the best,

Hugh 🙂

(Yes, the links above are affiliate links. FYI).

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Stop Wasting Your Life and Start Being You

Friends

You Are Meant to Be You

Dear Friend,

Is your life based on the authentic you?

Or is your life built on a lie? Are you sure?

Well, have you ever broken up with a special someone, and come to believe that something is wrong with you?

Have you ever failed at work, in business or in life in general, and wondered whether you had what it takes to be a success?

When we think we are broken, we look for a solution. We look to improve ourselves. We do minor repairs on our lives.

Unfortunately, it is quite possible that what is wrong with your life is that it is built on a lie. That the life you have been living is not really yours. And no amount of repairs on a life that isn’t your own, or that never gets started, are going to get you where you want to go.

Our failures in life are the direct result of our resistance to being our authentic self and to doing that which we are meant to do in life.

On Being YOU

I always assumed that there were two states that a human psyche could have: you could either focus on doing something, or you could focus on being someone.

Doing involves taking action  It is the verb in our lives that defines how we consciously act in pursuit of what we want. While doing we can be alone, though most humans, as social creatures, prefer to do things together.

The art of being is the capacity for solitude, which is the ability to be alone without anxiety. Solitude is where you find yourself; where you focus fully on you. Only by first being can you later do what you are meant to. And only by knowing yourself can you effectively reach out to other people and form real attachments.

A healthy life has a balance of both being and doing.

Recently, I realized that there is a third state – the art of fiddling. I’m not talking about playing music, here. For me, fiddling is the art of not doing much of anything while simultaneously feeling so guilty of that fact that I cannot focus on being myself or anyone else, leaving myself in an effective state of suspended agitation. I have wasted most of my life in this third state.

Then there is a fourth state – I call this faking it. A lot of folks seem to focus their life on trying hard to be someone they are not. We believe that our true self is fatally flawed, or we fear assuming power over our lives through fully embracing our authentic selves. We want to be someone cooler than ourselves – or prettier, or whatever. I suspect that many of us think that this is how self-improvement is done.  Unfortunately, self-improvement is impossible without first fully embracing who you really are, warts and all. So efforts to improve your inauthentic life will not stick.

In my research I have discovered that most people seem to work very hard at either fiddling or faking it, but very few actually know how to be or do.

Few people know themselves well. This corresponds with the fact that even fewer people are comfortable with self-reflection.

So we practice copying other people’s looks and mannerisms and interests and whatever, all in trying to build a better me. Our acts of doing involve the pursuit of what we suppose we want, or think we ought to want, all in the role of being this new, “improved” but utterly false, self.

Whether we are fiddling or faking it, we are not our authentic self.  And when we aren’t our authentic self, we are incapable of improving ourselves, or of forming meaningful attachments to others. As a result our relationships fail. When you don’t have a deep and fulfilling relationship with yourself, you cannot have such a thing with anyone else, either.

I propose here that the pursuit of an inauthentic life (faking it), or the failure to pursue any real life whatsoever (fiddling), each amount to a total waste of your life. This path also involves the greatest surrender of power we can commit against ourselves.

Accept Your Power

We were created powerful, but most of us are either afraid of that power, or don’t believe it exists.

Our power comes from being as truly authentic as we can be. I find the process of judging ourselves and finding want is ridiculous. We are exactly as we are meant to be. Each of us has unique power that we must discover and develop if we are going to live fulfilled lives and experience exciting relationships. Any other path leads to disaster and disappointment.

The sad fact is that the failures we fear experiencing as a result of being ourselves are actually guaranteed by our efforts to avoid being ourselves.

So what should we do?

First, we must understand that self-improvement can only be achieved once we embrace our true selves. And that means being, which means we must acquaint ourselves with the process of self-reflection.

We must learn to be comfortable with solitude.

Our fear of solitude is our fear of seeing ourselves as we really are. It is a form of denial through false busy-ness. We don’t have time for it, we tell ourselves. Yet once we accept that living inauthentically leaves us spinning our wheels in life, we understand why all of our hard work and incredibly busy lives aren’t getting us anywhere.

Authenticity is the foundation on which a successful and satisfying life is constructed. Fail to allow it, and everything else you do is a waste of your life.

So start today and take a moment to get comfortable being alone with you. Not a prettier you or stronger you – just you. Acceptance of the current you is the first step to being the ultimate you.

All the best,

Hugh

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How To Be A Real Man

A Real man

What Is A Real Man?

Dear Friend,

What is a real man?

And how are we men supposed to live up to that standard?

As a parent of two sons and two daughters, I am particularly driven to model the best male human being I can be. But what is a real man?

Is a real man one of the guys in those TV shows with perfect abs and no hair on their bodies? Is a real man that guy who all the women love? Like the dude from the Dos Equis beer commercial?

Can just any man be a real man?

Or does a real man need to be someone incredible like John Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or maybe Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?  Does a real man need to be famous? Or have lots of money?

What does a real man look like? Does he have flowing locks of thick hair on his head? A chiseled body and a square jaw?

Is a real man someone who controls and dominates? Is a real man a warrior? What if the world gets its wish and there is peace on Earth? Will there be no place any more for such men? Are real men the cause of all those wars and all that death?

Is today’s man a dinosaur? A left-over remnant of another age when brute power ruled the land. Now that wisdom is king, can’t women achieve equally to men, or perhaps, have an advantage? Who needs a brute, except maybe to move the furniture when you are vacuuming?

And what about guys who are not brutes? The 97 pound weaklings? Can they possibly hope to be real men?

When my boys ask me (directly or implicitly) what it means to be a man, how will my answer differ from what I tell my daughters about being a woman? Is there a difference anymore between being a man and being a woman? Or are we all just on the road to being neuters?

In other words, Can you be ordinary and still be a real man? Or is a real man, by definition, extraordinary? And if that is true, what are the rest of us?

Kind of reminds me of one of those wild animal TV shows I saw once, where the dominant elephant male chases all the other males away and then hoards all the females to himself. Every so often a new male upstart will dethrone him, just to start the process all over again. And what do the rest of the adolescent males do? They run in packs, mostly. Get into trouble. Get killed a lot, doing stupid things. Sound familiar?

Is that our nature? Are human beings really pack animals, to be dominated by a few males while the rest of the male population just take up space and mark time until our next life (and chance at pack leader) comes up?

But today we humans are monogamous, aren’t we? Maybe we don’t have to dethrone anybody? So is that the problem? Are we constantly looking for the guy we are supposed to dethrone and don’t know where to look? And are we seeing him as the guy above us on the corporate ladder, or our competitor at work, or that guy who always gets the chicks? Are we operating under some kind of outdated DNA drive to compete in a struggle that is no longer relevant?

Perhaps the problem for us guys is that we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing? What our role in this new world is or will be? Or how we’ll fit in? And perhaps we are afraid that, if we look too closely, we might find that our new, apparently diminished role among the human race really isn’t worth pursuing?

What is so great about being a man, anymore? As opposed to just being a neutral human? And what will I teach my kids about what it means to be a real man after considering all of this?

Why You Want To Be A Real Man

I have thought about these questions for years. For a long time I had few answers. But in recent years I have found what I think are the answers.

The questions aren’t rhetorical. They are very real. And if you are a man, at least a few of them have passed through your mind more than once.

Many men today find ourselves living lives that do not fulfill, and in relationships that often feel, somehow, emasculating. We wander through life without meaningful direction, looking for something but we do not know what. Relationships fail when that special someone doesn’t deliver the answers we seek. So we start new ones only to end them or settle into a dull state of generalized dissatisfaction.

There is a reason for this. Most of us have never fully come to terms with what it means to be a man.  In a sense, we are stuck in a form of perpetual adolescence.

Let me explain.

The Coming of Age Process

Somewhere along the line the modern human male forgot the process of coming of age. This coming of age process is given lip service by some older religious rituals like the Bar Mitzvah. But today’s versions of these ceremonies have become little more than glorified birthday parties.

A coming of age ritual in ancient cultures was something much more frightening, much more exciting, and much more transcendent than anything we experience in the modern world.

Imagine finding yourself completely alone. You are surrounded by the most terrifying danger you can imagine. Your heart is pumping. Your adrenalin is flowing. You are visibly shaking. You want to run, but you are surrounded. There is absolutely no way out. The danger (death itself) approaches you head on. What do you do?

This is the typical challenge that a young thirteen year old boy would face as he withstood the power of the gauntlet – the trial that he had to pass through in order to be reborn into the world of adulthood.

The men of the tribe had no use for a fellow warrior who could not be trusted to have their back in battle. If he couldn’t handle this challenge, he was not yet ready to be called a man.

Women would cry during these trials, both in fear for their son’s well-being, but also in mourning the loss of their little one to the ranks of the village men.

If a boy succeeded in overcoming his challenge – if he turned to face the terror and took it on despite impossible odds – he was forever after called a man. He would be greeted as a man by other men, and by women. He would have his own house or hut to live in, and would usually take a wife soon afterwards. He would take his place as a man among men – a child nevermore.

He was what we today would call a real man.

He looked different. He walked different. He was different.

There was now a lift in his step. No, not the fake hot air of a bull crap artist. But real, magnetic male presence. The men could see it. And the women could feel it. To women this sort of presence is erotically magnetic. It is the force that causes women to be attracted to men who otherwise seem rather ordinary. It is the real man’s secret.

What I have just described includes a mish-mash of tribal customs. It is not meant to represent any one culture. Rather, it is meant to encapsulate the spirit of all humanity as the boy ascends to adulthood.

This is the magical process called coming of age. There is nothing like it in western culture today. It was washed away long ago.

Some men today experience the effect of this process in wartime bonding and tragedy, or in other traumatic circumstances. Middle aged men bang drums and run naked through the mountains in an effort to rekindle the spirit of this process at an age far advanced from when it should be experienced.

And it works.

This process works. The man who exits a trans-formative coming of age experience is a real man in every sense of that word. Far more of a man than he would be had he attempted to copy any of the hollow “real” man examples I gave earlier.

Of course, one experience isn’t everything. Throughout this new man’s life he will continue to test himself, to build his skills and accomplishments. Eventually he will pass the wisdom he gathers onto the youth of his village, just as his elders did for him.

Today this process has been interrupted. We no longer celebrate the stages of life as humans once did. And that is a shame – and a problem.

Whatever Happened to the Coming of Age Ritual?

I have my suspicions as to how and why this coming of age process was abandoned by history. Here’s what I think happened:

When hunter-gatherer societies settled into small farming communities thousands of years ago, the power of mass organization was discovered, and with this, the ability to produce huge food surpluses and growing human populations. Unfortunately, this level of farm organization required a fairly strict hierarchy of power to run efficiently. This meant that there needed to be a few organizers and an army of meek workers who obediently followed directions, much as our modern army of household and industrial machinery mindlessly follow our orders today.

Strong, independent men do not make compliant, meek agricultural workers. So whatever process turned obedient little boys into warriors had to be nipped in the bud. What this new, agricultural powerhouse society needed was men who acted and behaved like adolescent boys. Boys that an angry, father-like figure could keep under control with a combination of fear and awe. In the end, that angry, father-like figure would turn out to be whichever despot or king had taken control of their world.

In other words, men needed to be domesticated.

And men already knew how to domesticate things. You see, this process of domestication doesn’t just work on people. We were doing it with wild animals, turning them into docile creatures for our benefit. And much earlier, we had done it with our best friend – Dogs.

Dogs are obedient, loyal, and fantastic friends, right? How about a pack of hungry, wild wolves? Want to meet up with them on a cold, dark night? What’s the difference between the two, really? I mean, biologically speaking? Today, scientists believe that modern dogs are just wolves who have been bred over the years into a state of perpetual adolescence.

Wolves never bark. But wolf pups do bark. Wolf pups are sweet. Wolves can be serious, dark and unpredictable. Wolf pups are dependent on adult leadership to guide and discipline them. Wolves rely on the pack as co-equals. Yes, there is leadership, but all members of the pack are respected as adults.

Today’s men may just be the equivalent of loyal dogs. Dogs are great. But, who are you being loyal to? Your wife? The man? Perhaps your frustration with life is that you need to grow up and be a wolf.

Real Men in Today’s World

Where does this all leave us today? Why is an ancient coming of age ritual relevant in a 21st Century world?

We guys are lost because we are stunted. We are boys playing with toys and looking for instant gratification, instead of driven men who know what we want and go get it. Mommas boys. Today’s women sense this and they are sick of it. If you listen to them you’ll hear it. “Where are all the real men?” women are wondering.

It’s not momma’s fault, either. It’s not even dad’s. Neither of them could have known better. And the world we lived in conspired to keep us in our place.

But times have changed.

The world needs creative self starters, not obedient followers. And I believe that today’s man is more than ready to leave the boy behind, especially when he comprehends the benefits that come from real manhood.

The first of these benefits is the power of adult masculine presence. This presence is what defines the original alpha male. It is what creates the magnetic attractive force that draws people, particularly women, to follow and enjoy the company of certain men. You might call it the real man aura. It is an easy sense of confidence that communicates a basic lack of fear.

You see, it is fear that others sense in you that keeps them away from you. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of … whatever. And what the coming of age process does for a man is to teach him to face that generalized fear and to overcome it. Once you no longer are afraid, life is more enjoyable.

Today, our world needs real men.

Making a change in how we live our lives is critical, now more than ever. Our old society based on power and coercion is dying, while a new society based on mutual independence and interpersonal respect is being born. I know that it is hard to recognize this new world through the noise of today’s chaos, but it is there, growing steadily. And you can be a part of creating it.

But first, you must be reborn. Face your darkest fears. Face ultimate failure and survive to tell the tale. Find a way to recreate the coming of age challenge in your own life. And reproduce this experience for your sons as well.

Today is a time of new independence for humanity. Of breaking free from old bonds and chains. A world of opportunity where old institutions break down while new ones are born, built around sustainable relationships between equals.

We men are desperately needed now to help build a world where human equality is sustained through personal responsibility and mutual respect. A new world much like the world our warriors ancestors lived in.  We live in bodies basically designed for those ancient warriors. Perhaps it’s time we got back to a lifestyle more in sync with who and what we really are.

I once suspected that men were no longer needed for our society to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. That we were dinosaurs of an outdated world.

Now I know that the opposite is true. Our world needs real men today more than ever before. And we – you, I, and our sons – need to be those men. For ourselves, for our sons and daughters, and for the future of humanity.

Thanks, and all the best,

Hugh

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An End and a Beginning

The Journey

The Journey

Dear Friend,

Our journey across North America left me with distinct impressions that I feel compelled to share.

There were impacts that I had hoped for, those that I expected, and others that I was surprised by. I saw many different places but I also saw great homogeneity.

I had hoped that this journeying experience would impact the way my kids saw the world. And it did.

They now realize the size of our Continent (at least the Anglo part). And also its accessibility. When I say, “Hey, let’s drive out to Vegas (from Virginia) they aren’t totally shocked as most people would be. They know it is very do-able.

But one disappointment I do have is that the world they experienced was so similar to the world they have always known. I am disappointed that their way of viewing the world (and mine) was not impacted in the way or to the degree I had hoped it might be.

The unique variations in the culture of Anglo North America are hard to see today.  No doubt these variations are still there. But for the casual traveler, relying on guide books and reasonably passable roads, they are hard to find.

When I use the term “culture” here what I am really talking about is the unique temperment and attitude of the people. And the way they live their lives. How they, in Jefferson’s words, pursue happiness.  This is what gets me excited. I want to learn from others what makes them tick. What makes them happy? What matters to them? What does integrity mean to them?

Everywhere we traveled there are big-box stores. The same ones you see at home. Convenience? Absolutely. I’m not anti-Wal-Mart. Heck, we benefited greatly from the hospitality that Wal-Mart provides to RVers, allowing us to stay overnight in their parking lots when we drive cross country.

No, it’s not the stores. It’s the monochromatic culture that people seem to have adopted that is reflected in these stores. Home cooked meals are hard to come by. Unique creativity is getting harder to find.  So many people struggle to get by doing the same boring jobs. Working in a 7-11, or in one of those big box stores. Merely surviving.

Obesity is unbelievably rampant across North America. I have struggled with this problem my entire life, so I can identify. My impression from our journey is that “fast food nation” seems to have turned this land into a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m talking about people carrying massive weight, while standing in line at a store next to magazine stands featuring the latest Hollywood bulimia candidates. We seem to idealize a look that our lifestyle makes impossible. And the pleasure and ease of eating this way may just be the best pleasure many of us realize on a daily basis.

North America has physical beauty that is unbelievable.  Wildlife seem abundant and are increasing in most areas we explored. People are basically honest and kind. And many tourists from other continents are exploring North America as well.

The method that we used to travel was awesome. The RV allowed us to explore without being uprooted from our “home”. This was huge when traveling with four kids. It reduced the level of stress related to moving to a new locale. I have nothing but good things to say about RV travel. Except maybe that living with five other people in a pretty small space can get tiresome.

Did my family go mad living in such a small space for so long? No. Did we get mad? Not as often as you might expect. But what we did do is intensify our relationships. And this means that, if there were ever issues between any of us, those issues came to the surface sometime on this journey. Our relationships did change.  Better or worse, they are more real.  More authentic.

My family has a bond today that I don’t think we had before we left. We are better friends. There is definitely more trust. It was hard to hide anything under these conditions.

I spoke today with a guy from Norway who took his family of five on a one-year world journey. They spent their first six months in the Cook Islands, and the next six months backpacking across Southeast Asia. When I asked him how this experience effected his children, he told me it changed them forever. In his words, the “sand has never fully left their shoes.” The time they spent in the Cook Islands helped them to adapt to a new, slower speed of living, and to not take their lives or themselves too seriously. Since that time, his wife has taken some of the children with her on business trips to India, where they experience a completely different approach to life. We spoke about the impact that seeing someone who lives in poverty has on a child. But even more importantly, seeing such a person who does not know he is poor, and is quite happy with his circumstances. This type of experience challenges a child’s (and an adult’s) ideas about what it is that makes a person happy. Such a realization can change the course of entire lives in profound ways.

Perhaps I was naive, but I had hoped that our journeys might impact our kids in similar ways. They did not. At least not like I had hoped they might.

My kids were never particularly materialistic. And leaving behind so much stuff that nobody missed was a great lesson for us all in how little we need to be comfortable. These were valuable lessons. But I wanted more. And I still do.

So now I consider the next leg in our journeys. Where shall we go? What shall we do? And how can I achieve the impacts that I want these trips to have on my children that I still feel we have not experienced?

Traveling to distant lands can be expensive. I don’t have tons of disposable dollars, and if we continue our travels beyond our Continent, it’s gonna cost. I am not the roughing it type. I don’t have to live in high luxury, but I like A/C and heat. I like clean sheets. I like privacy and quiet. I need to feel safe. So far, overseas travel looks like a big expense for a family of six.

Another problem is that I’m not getting the enthusiasm I want from my crew for such a journey. After two years on the road they have a been there, done that attitude. Some of them no longer want to travel. My youngest doesn’t get travel. She likes to stay home, and she has made that quite clear. My oldest has a strong interest in gaming and game design, and the Internet on the road is spotty. My oldest daughter wants to hide from the world while she transforms into a butterfly in that precious process called puberty. And my younger son has trouble with change and crowds as he deals with mild Aspergers/Autism.

There, is, of course, Mexico.

I have talked about this before. It’s on the same continent. We could go there in the RV. Fuel is cheaper there. There are many beautiful sights and a different culture. My kids would finally get to see how the other half lives. Yet every day we hear about crime in Mexico. How bad is it?  Are the police corrupt? We are ignorant, and that makes us patsies. I don’t like being a patsy.  Do I take my children through that kind of gauntlet? If anything happened to them, I would be destroyed. Yet most of that crime problem stuff is supposed to be on the border.

Maybe I have lost my shot? Maybe my opportunity window for world travel and discovery with my family is closed? Some parents would just pile the kids in and say “too bad, we’re leaving.”

We’ve talked about getting a boat. I have a love-hate relationship with this idea. A boat is limited in where it can go in relation to populations. But it isn’t restricted by continent like the RV. And a boat that comfortably houses my army will be expensive. Boating is restricted by the weather much more than RVing is. My wife has stated that she will only go on a boat if it stays within sight of land. The idea of doing the great circle circumnavigation of the eastern US (Atlantic, Mississippi River, Great Lakes route) doesn’t excite me, because it tours some of the same places we have already visited. Touring the Mediterranean might be cool. The Caribbean? Maybe. Or traveling the canals of Europe. Or the South Pacific, but that may require a pretty high level of seamanship.

So, I’m not sure what to do. Plus, since we got home this last time my wife discovered that our kid’s local Montessori school was going broke. So now she is the volunteer Executive Director! Hmmm.

Well … we have decided to head south in a few weeks for a little jaunt. One place we’ve never taken the RV is Florida (though most of us have been there several times). We have talked about heading to Key West, but I’m not so sure we’ll find a place for our RV there. I guess we’ll just have to give it a shot and see what happens. At least, that’s what my wife says (WOW – what a change!)!

Until later, I wish you wonderful lives and interesting travels. 🙂

Your friend,

Hugh

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Notice the Little Moments

Little Moments Are What Matter Most

Dear Friend,

Life is full of difficult challenges, painful adjustments and thrilling surprises. But most of life is those moments in between.

It is so easy to lose ourselves in focus on the emotionally powerful parts of our lives – those issues that make the greatest impression on us. But life is really all the little moments that happen everyday. While we obsess over our job prospects or worry about that child or relationship or prepare for that big event, life is passing us by.

The greatest philosophers have always known that life is what happens while we are planning other things. But most of us forget that truism in the ding of everyday existence.

Knowing that the most important part of your life is the very part that you are living at this moment, not some event past or yet to come, is a powerful realization that can relieve your mind of so much angst. Our emotions are primitive things that evolved long before our modern, rational mind. While our mind lives in time – the past and the future – our emotions can comprehend only this moment. When we sulk about the past, our emotions think something bad is happening now, and so we feel bad. When we expect some future event, again our emotions can only comprehend that it is occurring now, and begin to react as if it’s all here, now.

This is why worry is so damaging, and a positive attitude so powerfully energizing.

If you feel sad, stop and look around you. No matter what else is happening in your life, if the world around you is safe and comfortable, and the people around you are pleasant, then focus on those truths, and the sadness will dissipate. In fact, most of our lives are pretty good – not ecstatic nor tragic – just simply peaceful. When we focus on the moments, we find that our lives are generally pretty good, and our emotional state is much more livable.

Take charge of your emotions. When times are bad, live in the moment. When things are looking up, by all means live in the glory of what is to come. Just remember, a lot of the time you spend moping around is time you are wasting – time you could be enjoying all that every moment has to offer.

So here’s to feeling great every day!

All the best,

Hugh

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