Friday, September 26, 2014

Things I'm Unlearning

Our first years of life are filled with learning. We know nothing and therefore everything is new and our brains are sponges that soak it all in. Personality and sense of self develop on top of it.

Of course we’re constantly learning all through life (good Lord willing), but the first 18 years where we’re legally classified a minor are the most foundational. Our first 18 years is where we rely most on our culture to guide us. 

The below items are things that I was taught that for one reason or another are no longer beneficial ingredients in my world. They were taught to me by our culture & society -- school, parents, friends, neighbors, television, radio, newspaper, magazines, advertising, government, etc. Some of them I probably even taught myself.

What you were taught was certainly different, but in my adult phase of life I’ve learned that each of these is, at best, out-dated or inaccurate and, at worst, toxic filth perpetrated to strengthen the ruling elite.

Things I'm Unlearning
    • Change your oil every 3,000 miles
    • Cooking is done in the microwave
    • Skinny is beautiful 
    • Do what you’re told
    • Conform to society
    • If you don't go to school and get good grades then you won't get into a good college and won't get a good job
    • Get a job (working for someone else)
    • USA is best country in the world
    • Government is here to help
    • The rules are for your benefit
    • Without rules there’d be chaos
    • Fear those who don’t look like you
    • Other cultures are (scary/wrong/weird)
    • People are supposed to get married and have children
    • A house looks like this
    • Driving a car is how we get around town
    • Renting an apartment is like throwing your money away
    • People on TV or radio are experts in whatever they’re talking about
    • People like me (Norwegians) are stubborn and don’t express their feelings
    • Food Pyramid is for your benefit, not the benefit of the current food production establishment who has pull in D.C.
    • Memorization of data is how we learn
    • Every vote counts
    • Politicians are public servants
    • etc.

 ...we also learn many more personal untruths that can affect our sense of self for decades.

This list was sparked after reading Practicing Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton.  The book surprised me because it went much deeper than simply touting the benefits of being honest with everyone all the time. In fact it barely touched on that and instead went looking for the root cause of why we lie so often and how it shapes us.

Practicing Radical Honesty helped me to understand why Americans in their 40s start to re-examine their lives -- where they’ve been and where they’re heading. It’s not so much a “mid-life crisis” as it is an evaluation. It seems it often takes us 20 years post-upbringing to be able to build up the life experiences to see that so many of the things we learned in our first 20 years are folly.

Fun Exercise

Here's a fun exercise:
  Take mental note each time you lie to yourself or other people, even the tiniest lie. 

For example, yesterday I was recounting to friends some work I had done the previous week. I'd done this work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday but decided it was easier to just tell them that the work was done every weekday last week. I did this because conversationally it was simpler, but then that got turned into the story in my head. I began believing that my business benefited from me working 5 days last week when I only actually worked 4 days. Will my business thrive if I only do 80% of the work while convincing myself I did 100%?

I constantly lie to myself and others, usually in ways that are meant to make me look better, but often the lies are negative and restrictive like "That attractive woman is way out of my league. She'd never want to go out with me."

Who Cares

Why do we do this? Does it even matter?

It does matter. Over time we create our own personal story that's not a true reflection of who we really are. We become convinced that we're smarter than everyone else, a better driver of our automobile than everyone else, or shy or unattractive or anxious or whatever. 

Our personal narrative then defines us and restricts our world.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my world restricted.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blogging vs. Facebook

I've noticed that I get about 2x the hits on any blog entry if I post a link on Facebook, but I don't care because this blog is for me.

Fuck Facebook. I've been done with it for months.

RSS still rules for ingesting information.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Communicating Without Judgement

About a year ago when I began to simplify my life I also started trying to learn how to meditate. Meditation was not something I’d done before, but increasingly as I read about people I admire they said how daily meditation was key to improving their lifestyle and to achieving what they did. Like this guy...

As we do, I googled it looking for mp3s of guided meditations that I could play to help me out. And I found one in particular that I liked -- a 20 minute meditation called Breath Meditation. It taught me to focus on my breathing and nothing else. Seems easy, but it’s incredibly hard because our mind is constantly racing. I was lucky to get in a breath or two before I got distracted.

Just recently I started using an app called Headspace that has nice guided meditations that are set up for beginners to grow with. The Headspace app works better for me because it is thoughtfully set up as a learning experience and not just a bunch of random meditations. I’m seeing progress.

But it wasn’t until I started using that app and was asked by it to clarify why I’m actually meditating that I really thought about why I’m doing it. To better live in the moment? To free my mind of clutter? To achieve some sort of inner peace or mindfulness?

Why I Meditate
Books like Mindfulness in Plain English and Non-Violent Communication (horrible name, I know) helped me realize that the reason I meditate is because I want to listen and communicate without judgement. Because if I ever want to be in a kickass relationship there's got to be good communication, right?

I’ve learned that I often carry too much personal baggage into a conversation and, as a result, don’t fully hear what the other person is saying. I have my own filters that block my brain that make it difficult to empathize. Much of that is because there’s always chatter from predispositions and stereotypes and worries and whatever that clog my mind. 


We all do it. We see someone and instantly form an opinion on them based on virtually no information. We all have strings of thoughts going through our heads all the time -- some of it is beneficial and some is not (that’s why we don’t speak everything that comes into our brains). But even when not spoken it’s still there clouding our empathy.

Something I learned while spending 6 weeks backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year was that almost always the stuff going through my head is completely worthless. With that much solitude all I had was my own mind to keep me company, and my mind wasn’t as cordial and riveting a dinner guest as I had hoped. Over and over and over the same crap kept popping up, like...
    • how I might describe this particular place to others in the future when I recap my hike to them
    • what I want my future life to look like
    • women I’d been on a date or two with
    • women I’d never been on a date with but wanted to go on a date with (what can I say... I’m a guy)
    • how much longer until I’d take a break
    • etc.
And the most maddening thing of all was that the same ones would keep coming back and coming back. Ten minutes after I’d had a little two-sided mental discussion about something, it would come back again, demanding more attention. And I’d just repeat the same two-sided discussion in my head from ten minutes prior. Again and again.

I started saying to myself: “Stop thinking about that! It’s worthless and you already addressed it ten minutes ago and now you’re just repeating yourself. Just stop.”

Eventually this inner dialogue evolved to: “It’s interesting how these identical pointless thoughts keep popping up. I’m going to ignore you and simply use this experience to add to my understanding that this is how my brain wants to work.”

Upon further reading on mindfulness I learned that virtually everyone’s brain has been programmed to act like this. It’s only after we learn to calm the mind that we can truly be present and communicate without judgement.

So that’s why I’m learning to meditate -- because I want to quiet my mind's filters and communicate with more empathy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Random Shots

I picked up these mugs at Goodwill ($0.49 each) the other day and it feels like they have a story to tell.

Replacements T-shirt
This should go down in the annals as one of the all-time great rock band t-shirts.

Soul of Skiing
Steve Casimiro tells the story of bucking convention and using this amazing photo on the cover of Powder magazine’s Soul of Skiing issue back in the day. Apparently the cover photo wasn’t full of enough beautiful bodies and didn’t sell well at grocery stores. But if this isn't the soul of skiing then I don't know what is.

My backpacking trip to The Bob a couple weeks ago was with two friends who love foraging and wild mushrooms. We didn’t see any of these, but you can bet I was keeping my eyes peeled.

Hybrid Tree
Also in The Bob I saw this tree and should have taken a video to fully capture it. The bottom 4 feet of bark is dramatically different from the rest of it. On top, it’s a birch tree, but the bottom looks like a cottonwood or maple or something. Anybody know how/why this happens?

Personal Values Exercise

This values worksheet is something that helped me identify my goals and path in life when I was introduced to it several years ago. I’ve shared it with dozens of college students and they found it beneficial as well. I posted my top three values in my cubicle at work where I would constantly be reminded of them. It helped me to make decisions that were in line with my values when oftentimes competing options tried to take control of my life.

What do you value?
When push comes to shove, what is most important to you?

Click on it to download.

When you look at this list, many (most?) of the words will jump out to you as something you value. But the important thing to figure out for yourself is which few are the most important. 

It’s easy for us to say that we value the environment and education and freedom and happiness and loyalty and relationships and faith. But do we really? When faced with a decision between convenience and the environment, which do we choose?

How to Measure
The way we can best measure where we place our values is by looking at how we spend our time and our money. When we say we value happiness most of all, are we actually acting out our life in a way that supports that value? Is our time being spent doing things that make us happy? Or have we gotten caught up in going along with societal norms (what supposedly makes other people happy) at the expense of our own true happiness?

If you’ve never thought about your values before, I encourage you to complete the exercise. It’ll only take a few minutes.

In our society, it is super easy to get caught up in the crowd and to just go along with the flow because everyone else is doing it. That’s why it’s important to step back and examine the path we are on to make sure it’s the path we want to be on. After all, we are each captain of our own ship and it’s up to us to make the life for ourselves that we will cherish.

Simplifying My Life

This past weekend I moved into a 450 sq. ft. studio apartment in Denver historic neighborhood and it feels like I’ve been released from prison. Previously I’d been crashing with a buddy in the southern exurbs of Denver that was rural scrub brush 20 years ago and wholly designed for automobiles not people. Now I’m centrally located and can walk or bike to anywhere I want to go. I’m in a nice old neighborhood with many bars, restaurants, coffee shops, thrift stores and tattoo parlors. I’m also a block off of the Cherry Creek Trail which is a main bicycling thoroughfare in Denver and deserves more national recognition like the Greenway in Minneapolis. 

artist's rendering - not my actual neighborhood

artist's rendering - not my actual neighborhood

This is the first time as an adult that I’ve lived in a studio apartment and I’m diggin’ it. 450 sq. ft. feels just right because all I need space for is:
      • a place to sleep
      • a place to prepare food
      • a place to cleanse and relieve myself
      • a place to sit comfortably
      • minimal storage for seasonal and outdoorsy things
Anything more feels like wasted space to me since a whole city’s worth of parks and trails and entertainment is easily accessible via foot or bicycle.

Simple living is something I began taking baby steps toward about a year ago. This understanding of space needs came to me in my prior 1100 sq. ft., 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment when I realized that I always sat in the same chair and walked far more than was necessary to get to the kitchen or toilet or my bed. With thoughtful design and architecture, we can get a terrific feel of comfort and space out of a smaller place. Unfortunately, many Americans have not spent quality time in a thoughtfully designed space because we are all used to living in houses that were built in a manner that maximized profit for the developer.

I also realized I owned all sorts of stuff that I rarely or never used. At first it was hard to get rid of stuff. I started by moving unused things from, say, the kitchen into a closet. Then I gave myself a month to see if I actually needed them from the closet. If not (which was 99% of the time) I took them to Goodwill. There was even stuff packed in boxes that I moved to Bozeman from St. Paul 2 years prior that I had never taken out of the boxes! The guys at the drive-thru Goodwill dropoff became like brothers to me.

Books were more difficult to get rid of. To me, my bookshelf was a symbol that showed people who I was as a person. It didn’t matter that most of them were read 10 years ago (or never) because I thought it would help people to understand me and what was important to me. 

So I started by just grabbing 5 books that I thought I could do without and took them to Goodwill. That wasn’t so hard.

A couple months later I noticed that I hadn’t missed those books so I unloaded 5 more. This repeated itself a couple more times when I realized that I could by a Kindle and purchase digitally any books that I deemed I simply must own. 

Then I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after thinking through the fact that the Kindle would only be to replace my library and I didn’t need full color or quality web-browsing or anything else out of it.

Sayonara to the rest of my library! And I only ended up buying about 5 books on Kindle that I thought were essential for me to own. Now I read a lot more because it’s super easy to carry my entire library with me wherever I go -- it’s about 1/3 the size of a dime-store paperback.

Now I’ve been living for close to a year without those things and I can’t think of one that I wish I still had. I’m able to save money by living in a smaller place, never have to do Spring cleaning, and appreciate more that which I do have.

Simple living fever: Catch it!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bob Marshall's Chinese Wall

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and I had the absolute pleasure of spending it in the amazing Bob Marshall Wilderness ("The Bob") in western Montana.

The Bob encompasses over 1.5 million acres of pristine mountains, rivers, forests and meadows and all the critters, from pika to grizzly, that call it home. The entire Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex includes the Great Bear Wilderness and Scapegoat Wilderness and sits just south of Glacier National Park in western Montana.

The Bob welcomes Dixie & me...

Who was Bob Marshall? Bob was a legendary outdoorsman and wilderness activist in the 1920s and '30s who died young at age 38 in 1939. An average day of hiking in this wilderness for him was about 35 miles and he was said to have hiked 70 miles in one day. In a word, Bob was a badass.

The goal of this trip was to visit the famed Chinese Wall, a 12-mile long natural stone wall that rises an average of 1000' above the valley floor.

First glimpse of the Chinese Wall...

Sunrise with tent beneath the wall...

My partners for this trip were Andrew and Dixie and they were terrific to hike with. We backpacked an average of about 12 miles per day in our lollipop loop that took us up to the wall, along the wall, up to Larch Pass, and back through the amazing meadows along the Sun River.

This pic is from a picturesque lunch spot at a dramatic inflection point where the wall makes a left turn...

The wall, it just keeps on going and going for 12 miles. We saw many cougar, wolf & bear tracks and scat on the trail through some really dense forest just east of here...

Contemplating the meaning of life, untrammeled wilderness, suburbs, jobs and cubicles...

Here's another view of the wall from it's shoulder on Larch Pass...

But it wasn't all about The Wall. There were gorgeous meadows and prairies, too, full of grouse & deer...

But the highlight of the trip for me was when I scattered my Mom's ashes in a meadow at the base of the wall. I knew this would be an amazing place and decided that 13 years after her death it was time to send this little portion of her back to the earth.

Saturday morning I left camp early and agreed to meet up with Andrew and Dixie later down the trail. I hiked a few miles to the wall and saw it for the first time in all its monolithic glory. A side trail lead to a meadow beneath the wall where I pulled the ashes out of my backpack. As I reached into the pack a nearby raven called out and sent a shiver down my spine. Then I opened the jar and the raven called again as tears welled up in my eyes. I spread the ashes and the raven rang out 5 more times over the next minute before launching itself from the tree eastward towards the rising sun. Now the tears were flowing like the nearby Sun River and I was immensely thankful for this amazingly special moment.