Rain

It started last night and gathered strength through the early morning. A little howling wind joined in and the two of them flew through the tall corridors of my apartment building. The scent of the town, the wooded mountains, and the ocean beyond lingered as the wind and rain swept past.

Oh boy, I thought as I looked out through the blinds. It was still dark at 5:30 am but the light in the parking lot showed very clearly the drops falling past to the ground. Just yesterday I made a very detailed schedule for the mornings, afternoons, and evenings, to train myself to get things done.Well, the morning part involves about five alarms on my phone, one signaling the start of my outdoor kettlebell training session. I swallowed hard, knowing I didn’t have a great light waterproof jacket on hand. What I did have was the carport roof, but my car was taking up most of the space. No matter where I trained, it looked like I was going to get wet.

No need to worry about it. It is what it is, I told myself. I went about the other morning routine tasks and when the time came, I took up my iron and walked out the door. Shit it was wet. I had to be careful going down the concrete stairs, which were much smoother than I remembered. Even barefoot, it was pretty slippery. I got to the bottom okay and looked around. I realized that the corridor was open and dry, but it was right against my neighbors’ walls on both sides. Their patios were also right there, and I worried that they might hear my breathing. Kettlebell swing breathing can get obnoxiously loud. But it was kind of nice there, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay dry. So I found a good flat area and set the weight down.

I snuck back upstairs and grabbed my welcome mat, so that I would’t be clanging the bell against the concrete floor at the end of every set. A fifty pound ball creates a bigger thud than you’d think, even when set down as gently as possible. I can only imagine how annoying and terrifying it could be to wake up to the strange sound of sharp, punctuating puffs of air interrupted by the dull clang of iron on concrete. Sex? Strange beast? Military occupation??

Yes, these thoughts bounce between my ears, and can discourage getting out into the cold and wetness to exercise in the dark. But I found that grabbing the weight and feeling its pull and stepping out takes care of the doubts. I had my set up ready. Did the warmups, some squats, hip openers, and halos, took one very short moment to consider the consequences of a dropped kettlebell at six in the morning, and proceeded with the first set of swings.

It was great. I felt strong. Yesterday I didn’t make enough time to do all of the exercise I wanted, and it was great to fire it up today. I was able to recover pretty quickly between sets doing the usual shaking out of limbs and deep out breaths. The pebble-studded concrete provided good grip for my feet. And best of all, the mat stayed in place and completely absorbed all sound at impact with the bell.

The hardest part was trying not to breathe too loudly. Man. I do think this is good training in some sense. I wonder if special ops or any military groups need to train to be absolutely silent under intense physical stress. It makes sense, if they’re on stealth missions. Anyway, this was hard. I got a bit light headed when I wasn’t breathing out enough, so I had to adjust every few reps by pushing out more air at the top of the swing. I finished the ten sets in good time, about ten minutes. Hauled it back up and did ten getups inside. The details and instruction for this regimen can be found in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline.

So it wasn’t the heroic session I thought it would have been at first. I have trained in the pouring rain, and while it is a great lesson it is also quite exhausting. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it today. Perhaps a day will come when the neighbors fill the corridor with discarded cabinets or laundry machines, or a horde of raccoons prowl menacingly there, forcing me out into the weather. That is accepted. Today I got lucky.

Most important to me is that I set a goal and achieved it. I’m trying to develop stronger discipline to reduce my susceptibility to random things that prevent me from exercising in the morning. A few days off are fine, but too many gets annoying. I found today that setting silent alarms for key stages of the morning helped me to stay on track. It’s too tempting for me to sit a little longer with my coffee, read a little more, stay on the toilet a little longer. 

You might think this is spartan and too harsh, and if so this is not for you. I envy the person who gently maintains their high level of discipline. But if you believe that being a little strict on yourself can lead to happiness, you might actually find that going to the extreme is even better.

Movement and the mind, walking in San Francisco

I recently heard a podcast between Daniel Vitalis and Ido Portal. Vitalis is a “rewilding” leader who teaches ways to live in tune to original human ways. Portal is a natural movement practitioner.

Portal said that the human brain developed to the size we possess today in order to power greater complexity of physical movement. We have so much ability in our bodies to move in such intricate ways because of the size of our brains. I haven’t had a chance to verify the research behind this statement, but I have had an interesting experience last week that correlated with it.

Recently I was offered employment, which required an initial two-day training in San Francisco. I didn’t want to make the two-hour drive back and forth for two days, so I stayed with a friend near the training site. I took the train up to the closest station, walked the hilly streets the rest of the way, and then used buses and ferries to get to and from my various destinations through the week.

Because the City was mostly clouded and chilly, I had no qualms about hard fast walking. On my last day I walked over 12,000 steps and scaled 33 floors, according to my phone. I’m pretty sure that a few of the hills I climbed were at least four stories high. Add the stairs at building entrances, transportation terminals, and walking bridges, and 33 doesn’t seem like that much.

I noticed that I was much more upbeat than usual. From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, I had a very positive mindset about things. I felt like I could do anything.

My mood was lighter and I was also more willing to take on challenges. Part of my motivation was probably from the necessity of catching transportation before it was too late. I was on a schedule, and I had to make it on time to places. The other thing is that I was always very early for everything. I wanted to decrease the risk of being late as much as possible. I was up at five for a ten o’clock training. It’s such a great feeling that comes with being ahead of schedule.

Above all else, though, was the constant moving. I was walking, walking, walking. I loved it. My ankles became uber mobile. Up to three days after I got back, I was able to sit in a squat with feet much closer than usual. My normal tightness from sitting was absent, although I certainly sat a lot during training. At times I was sweating, at others I was huffing and puffing, and mostly I was warm and mobile.

My conversations with people were positive, productive, and often powerful. I spoke with some people I might not normally have spoken to. I was quicker to respond, more creative, and more alert. And I slept better.

Yes, there are many factors involved. Different environment, new job, temporary situation. However, I deeply felt the connection between lots of moving and mind stimulation. I don’t know if I would have been the same way had I driven my car everywhere, sitting for hours in traffic. I don’t think so.

Those four days in San Francisco will never leave my memory. Aside from the amazing training experience, my awesome friends who showed such kindness, and the humming life of the City, I will always remember the vigor I felt from significant movement every day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

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Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

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Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Practice

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I’ve been to less than ten yoga classes ever. I realize that might be more than most men, but even so, ten classes isn’t much for something I value so highly. Yoga is meditation through the moving and posed body, to me. As much as I love it, I have gleaned just one pose from those sessions: and I don’t even know what it’s called.

I love this pose. It connects me to the ground and the sky. I find my balance through it, and it’s gentle enough that I can do it first thing in the morning. I get a great stretch in my hips, groin, and shoulders. Also, I get some development in my foot arch by doing it.

The other reason I love this pose so much is that I get the chance, on sunny mornings, to have some sun time for my  eyes. I’m recently using the Bates method, created to improve vision. I’ve worn lenses for most of my life, and only recently have been discovering that I don’t always need them. So it’s been great time out in the sun as well.

It strikes me how little of what I learn from classes, books, and the internet actually sticks in my mind and gets put into practice. I am an avid learner. I believe that well thought programs or stories or instructions are to be carefully absorbed, digested, and correctly put into practice. There’s a big difference between your quick news article, telling you that omega 3’s are good so you should eat flax seed, and a book, which provides carefully gathered information and deep thought to tie it all together. So when I come upon good instruction, I take care to look at the details.

The latest example of this is in Kettlebell – Simple and Sinister, a book about beginner kettlebell training by Pavel Tsastouline. I love this book. It’s simple, concise, and comprehensive. The thing is, every word in this short guide matters. As I began kettlebell training, however, I couldn’t possibly incorporate everything from the book into my actual behavior. It’s always a matter of time and effort when learning something new. There’s just so much already programmed into my mind and body. It is taking lots of trying to add new movement and muscle recruitment, change old ways that don’t work, and get rid of the harmful patterns.

So as I learn to swing and get up with my precious modified cannonball, I keep going back to the text. There is literally always something that I haven’t incorporated, or something I missed, or a completely forgotten technique from the first few times I read it. And every time, it’s like an exciting new task to get it better in my next training session.

Practice makes perfect, they say. But what makes practice?

Will.

I look for information so that I can improve my self, my life, or the world. To take something from outside, however small, absorb it, and then make it a part of my daily life to my benefit, is the ultimate purpose of information. Yes, there is “entertainment value” in things. But even entertainment is a form of improving life.

The internet keeps growing. The rate of information growth increases by the second: every second, the amount of info added to the net is more than the second before it. This makes me sort of panic. How am I going to access it all for my advantage? I can speed read all the articles in the universe and end up with tired eyes and ears, if I use the audio versions too.

But none of it matters except that I can make practice of the stuff that matters.

When you took what you learned, tried it, liked it, and began doing it regularly, you made it a practice. And practice can make perfect. But through practice you also cultivate that golden fruit, experience. Pavel refers to Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan:

“We are built to be dupes for theories. But theories come and go; experience stays.”

Make it a practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Happy For Now

Right now, I’m happy.

It’s not that I’m well-rested. Nor that I’m well-fed. Nor that I’m sitting in a comfortable home on my earthing mat. Nor that the sun is bright outside, promising a beautiful day for training later. It’s not that I have family near me. Nor that I feel vibrant, strong, mobile, and well.

I’m happy because I am appreciative of all of this. I’m happy because this is what I let myself expect, want, and feel good about. I desire more, ultimately. I have dreams. And I will see them through. But I am at the moment, just now, here, satisfied with who I am, what I am, what I have, what is here.

I am not ecstatic, overjoyed, or excited. I am calm, serene, and still. I won’t be in this state for long. I won’t be happy all day, every day. It will fade, and I’ll enter one or another mood, state of mind, point of focus. And that’s okay. Happiness to me is about moments. It’s about ebbing and flowing, entering and exiting a state of awareness, an appreciation of the environment. And as transitory as it is, I still enjoy it and have it when I will.

Happiness for me is something to pull in and hold when it comes, then let go when it’s gone. What choice do I have? I can’t hang on to something that’s no longer there. Happiness is something I can be sure will come again, even though I let it go this time. Happiness is not nature’s permanent gift to me. It is a temporary reward for a state of mind I build. It is a result of mental, emotional, and physical work I give. And yes, it will fade. The rich aroma will run out. The warmth will dissipate. And I’ll accept that, in order to fully embrace and enjoy it when I have it.

To be sad, to grieve, to feel glum when happiness fades, can give way to greed. Greed is the opposite of happiness. To continuously want more, to not enjoy while something is in my hands, is to be greedy.  Greed is an absence of appreciation. It is constantly grabbing for something else, just out of reach, letting the good I have in my hands slip out in my grope for something else. It seems simple and innocent enough to feel this way, but you can see how greed feeds dissatisfaction, unhappiness, sadness, and anger. These feelings can lead to cruelty. Why should someone want to act gentle, considerate, and positive, when they are never satisfied? When they feel discomfort, unquenchable thirst, and grating want? Something as innocent as reaching, when you have something already, can lead to shameful consequences.

Happiness is not settling, though. Being happy does not mean you sit for the rest of your life once you’ve gotten something you appreciate. Settling is a determination not to grow. Happiness, rather, is the momentary appreciation of what I have, and it doesn’t dictate that I will not work for something else. It is a continuous state of taking, basking, and letting go. In this way, I can be happy all my life, although I won’t be happy every moment of life.

This is the difference that confuses many people, myself included. Happiness is not an ultimate state. It’s not a heaven at the end of life, a permanent place to dwell and forever feel “good”.  Quite the contrary. Nothing is good in infinite quantities. Golden retrievers, the Prius, coconut water – how undesirable they’ve become through ubiquity! Scarcity makes a thing valuable, cherishable, desired, delicious. Happiness is scarce. It is a rare fruit, something I can come upon, pick, and enjoy at points along the road. How much better a single, ripe pomegranate by chance, hanging from a happenstance tree branch, than a boxful at the store? If you have something all the time or everywhere, it’s just not as good. And that’s why happiness is so sought – because it’s so rarely had.

How to be happy more often then? It has a lot to do with your placement of needs and means of living. What you expect from yourself, others, and the universe will determine the threshold at which you find yourself satisfied. But you can see that this isn’t all. Even if your “current” needs or wants are eventually met, your standards might have changed by then. The other component to being happy, then, is to hold steady the expectations you’ve set for yourself – at least until you’ve achieved them and allowed yourself to reap the benefits of that achievement. Even if for only a moment, you will be in possession of happiness for the appropriate amount of time, and at the appropriate time.

You don’t have to do this consciously, like keeping a record of the things you want and then checking them off one by one. This sort of blatant, systematic approach might kill the whole thing. But if you are the type to need or take extreme satisfaction from doing such methodical things, then it might benefit you. You might actually find clearer, more recognizable moments of happiness. For others, the process can be a bit more touch and go. It can be something you think of every once in a while, setting goals and making note of your desires and only coming to it again when it is in front of you to achieve.

Either way, it’s important to see that happiness isn’t a permanent state of being. At least it’s true for me. And that being happy, when you are, can be a deliberate action, especially if you are not in the practice of allowing yourself to be happy. Study yourself. Are you the type of person who puts off reward, and feelings of satisfaction or achievement, even if you have truly done something well or achieved or gotten in possession of something you desired? Do you delay these feelings of gratification because you would rather wait for a greater moment of accomplishment, the ultimate desire met?

There’s much benefit from this sort of discipline. However, you might want to break down the accomplishment into smaller segments. Because as great as the reward may be for that ultimate accomplishment, you may never find yourself enjoying it or being happy. For, when you do reach it, how do you know that you won’t simply feel that there’s something better? And there’s always better, given the type of person you are. As much as discipline can give you great results, it takes discipline to acknowledge when it’s time to rest and celebrate. To never feel happy or satisfied can damage your well-being. It is good to let yourself enjoy what you have accomplished, although it might not be the ultimate goal.

That is, if happiness if what you really value.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Me, enjoying a coconut on a Bali beach. Happy. photo and editing by Audrey

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Pound-For-Pound Most Powerful Tools

I like to share some tangible things that help me in my “quest” for wellness. This time it’s a book. Actually two.

There is nothing that pound for pound has the changing power of a book. After all, how much does one printed word weigh? Is that even measurable in ounces?

Multiply that by hundreds of thousands and it barely amounts to one or two pounds. But the power that those words have in instructing, revealing, and illustrating truths for the mind can hardly be contained to a measurement.

Fire in the right hands can produce the advancement of civilization, and in the wrong hands can destroy it.

Then again, sometimes all you need is a candle flame to get your job done. Think melting butter versus searing steak.

There isn’t one book that’s right for everyone. And no one will find every book useful. This is all the more important when you consider the time, energy, and attention it takes to read a book. It’s a significant investment.

However, a few swimming strokes down the cresting wave are more effective and less tiresome than a hundred against it. The right book can catapult you forward. So pick your book wisely.

With any book you consider, read a bit first if you can, like the first few pages, the summary, or listen to the first minute of audio sample. Determine if it’s going in the direction of your endeavors. Will it be a powerful advancement toward your goal, or futile effort against it?

One human struggle close to my heart is the work-life balance. I believe people struggle to achieve this because it doesn’t exist. Just like the act of swimming and the act of riding a wave, I believe work and home life can either go along with each other, supporting and building up the counterpart, or clash against each other, drowning one and weakening the other.

It appears very simple to me: either build, with focused work, your own livelihood; or pay, with work, toward the livelihood of someone else’s dream in which you truly and strongly find inspiration.

Here are two books that have helped me on both faces of the coin.

The Four Hour Workweek if you intend to create your own business. It isn’t perfect for everyone and every type of endeavor. But you’ve got to take a glimpse to see if it resonates. Tim Ferriss makes plain the paradigm shift of separating yourself from the 9-5 working ranks, and to take initiative to start your own business.

The 48 Laws of Power if you want to learn the intricacies of dealing with politics in the workplace, and increase your influence on your own destiny. Many choose to let others lead, allowing them to take the brunt of the hardships of initiative and fear. These people would rather enjoy success in managing, making decisions, and helping to propel the endeavors of the leader they admire. It takes great skill to acquire and build power. This book by Robert Greene is a sure stepping stone to increasing your longevity in that art.

I hope you find one of these to be a powerful stroke toward the exciting wave that is your life. If you’ve read either or both, please comment on the effect the book has had for you. Even if it’s a year later. You never know who might find your words meaningful.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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End It Strong

I can’t stop rediscovering the importance of finishing with vigor.

This applies to almost anything.

The last words of a deep talk with someone.

The last rep of a training session.

The last, climactic part of a book.

The finish line of a race.

Hiking the last leg of a mountain trail.

The end is so important. There’s some kind of primal ecstasy from roaring through, full speed, full passion, to the end of it.

Never plod at the end. Don’t drag something out. If you’re gonna do it, commit and hit it hard, do it right, until you’re done, and especially right when you’re finishing. Otherwise quit early.

End with the beginning in mind.

The way you perform your last rep is the primer for the first rep of your next session. If you let your form go, you tell your body, your mind, your soul that it’s okay to fail. That it’s not that important to do things right every time.

I’d rather end it early while it’s good than slop through to mediocrity.

This applies to nearly everything in life. Where have you found it to be true? I’d like to know where you’ve applied this to!

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Choose Better

You have more options available if you meditate.
This happens because meditation can help you make high-level decisions. What does high-level mean? It means that the decision comes from a calm, focused state of mind. You will be more and more able to judge a problem and create a solution for it that works in a positive way. You will be able to rely on your logic, experience, and instinct. The instinct you rely on will be of a deep nature, rather than a reactionary instinct.
On the contrary, a low-level decision is reactive. Something scares you, and you jump. Someone makes you angry, and you attack. There’s little focus on the underlying problems. Attention turns from what matters, to what is in front of your face. There’s lots of hurrying, hustling, and bustling to put out fires.
Think of Bruce Lee dodging a punch. He could spin around and crouch into a corner with his hands covering his face. Low level decision. No other options will present themselves. Or, he could side-step, let that incoming fist graze his cheek, and punch straight back into his opponent’s face. Deep instinct. He’s still on his feet, still has his eyes open, still has his composure. Lots of options.
Real world example? Okay, here. Has your boss ever come up to you with a quick request for something irrelevant and totally not on your priority list? What was your response? Did you end up just doing it? Why?
Enter high-level mindset. Your default response is no longer, “Okay I’ll do it right now”. Instead, your natural, deep-instinct feeling tells you this is not as important as it may seem. It’s something your boss may not realize is irrelevant. She’s in a rush for it because her boss wanted it from her. You’ve got more important things to do. Really. But you know you shouldn’t tell her that.
So you say, “Okay, I can see that’s pretty urgent. I’m working on xyz right now, that you wanted me to get done by tomorrow. It’s taking my whole week and I’m making sure it’s finished by when you need it. Do you want me to put this aside, though, and help with this new issue first?” And watch the world take a different turn.
High-level decision. The more of these you have, the less busy work you end up doing. That’s because you’re coming from a place that is focused on getting the right things done. It’s the beauty of “managing up”. You are able to recognize, from your unique standpoint, what’s important. And when you recognize what’s important, you give less urgency to things that aren’t important. No one, not even your boss, wants to be seen as ineffective. If done with respect, you will get respect for prioritizing.
Your emotions will no longer stop you from finding the most effective ways to get it done. If your heart was beating fast from reading the above scenario, you’re not alone. Mine was too. I’ve been in that situation countless times. Only when I developed a hold of my mind, control of my actions, did I start responding better to such emotional circumstances. And I grasped it through meditation.
Let me share something from the other side of it. I was also the boss of employees. And I also put my staff through these situations. I need something, quick. Please do it. Put aside your other tasks, this is more urgent. I saw that with this management style, people were doing what I asked. But often, they had more important things that were getting swept aside.
As I discovered that meditation was helping me become effective, I wanted to help my staff develop the same sort of prioritization. Not everything I say or ask for is of the utmost importance. Let me know if I’m out of line. I cultivated an atmosphere of dialogue.
This was healthier for my team. People needed to be able to do the good work they did. So I started to encourage push back. I would tell people to actually let me know if what I’m asking was getting in the way of something more important. And guess what?
When one of my employees took a deep breath, turned and looked me in the eye, and sincerely said, “I have abc that needs to be done first. Can I help you after?” More often than not – as a matter of fact almost always – I would rethink my priorities.
Do I really need this thing? What’s most important for the organization –  for our mission? And if my request paled in comparison, I would delay it, do it myself, or tell my boss we had more important things to do.
So there you have it.
If you come from the right place, you can take ownership of the situation. You can stop the freight train, take a breath, and set priorities before making a move. It doesn’t matter if you are an executive or a front-line employee. Make high-level decisions. Have more options.
Meditation brought me to that place. Have you tried this?
Live powerfully,
Steve

Ever A Traveler

I’m on a bus back to the Bay Area. We’re somewhere on Interstate 5 between the 46 and 41 junctions. To the west the blue mountains separating us from San Luis Obispo sleepily lay. Between us and the mountains stretch acres of dry, golden flats. Methodically straight rows of corn and fruit trees come and go at intervals.

The bus is a double decker, laid out spaciously and set with large, vista-friendly windows. Still, the seats are a bit short, and it gets to feel crowded after a few hours. I must be spoiled after a month back in the states. In Thailand we would have been rejoicing that there was A.C. and a bathroom, no less.

I was worried that after coming back from our travels my wife and I would return to the same old life. That being back with family, friends, and the people of our environment would quickly bring us back to the same lifestyle.

But I’m surprised to find today, on this bus, how happy we were to be going somewhere again. I didn’t except it. We were straight up gleeful as we put our bags away, found seats, and buckled up.

Once a traveler, always a traveler.

There’s something about having removed ourselves from familiar society at length. We suspected that life was different elsewhere. When we found it to be true, we saw that we could live differently. Not just in the fact that we weren’t working, though that was a big part of it, but also that we could get along with different infrastructures, languages, cultures, and geographical locations.

We weren’t tied to any one place in the way we thought we were. Or at least me. My wife had grown up on the other side of the world, then moved to the states later as an adult. She’s also traveled far more than I have. In a sense, this stage of her life might simply be a return to the familiar.

It’s almost like having a crutch removed. Actually it’s more like having a third leg torn off, and discovering that it’s possible and quite more advantageous to move around with just two. There’s a sensation of a great skin having been peeled away, like a shedding snake. Yes, it’s a bit traumatic. To be honest, there is pain in leaving a home and a lifestyle.

We sold, donated, stored, or dumped everything we owned in the blink of a month. It had taken years of hard work to buy most of it, and a lot of thought and heart went into the style and feel of our cozy apartment. It was our love nest, not for a baby, but for the time we grew into steady, working professionals together.

Our home was our safe haven. It was where we cooked and enjoyed our dinner, where we slept, where we brought friends for hilarious games and vulnerable conversations. It was as much a part of us as our organs, like an extension of our hearts. We expanded like vines on a tree into our apartment, becoming yet again better versions of ourselves in a new stage of life.

To let go of our home was to have an organ removed. It bled, it hurt. We cried, we yelled. We desperately struggled to rid ourselves of everything even as our hearts told us to keep it. We were tired beyond tired.

And we were scared. But fear was the one thing we were prepared to handle. It was the battle we had committed ourselves to fight in order to move to this next stage of life. Fear, I knew.

It was the one thing keeping us from what we wanted to explore. What if? What next? How? The unknown haunts anyone daring to step outside of her life as she knows it.

Committing to travel meant accepting fear and deciding to look on the other side. It’s always a decision, at the end of each day.

So we accept consequences, act with decency and accept grace as it comes. But we never lose what we learned. And that is that we are ready and willing to face fear to see the other side.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

What I’m Learning From Regular Meditation

Of course I’m going to say it’s awesome. But I’ll get specific for you. I want you to know what exactly is happening for me. Meditation has already been a quiet, but gargantuan, force in my life. Regular meditation, though, is a whole other beast.

I haven’t been perfect this past month. Sometimes it was only once a day. But for the most part I meditated upon waking, and before going to sleep. With the exception of a few days, I meditated at least once every day.

The thing I really noticed was an increasing awareness of myself. I heard the words I was saying. I felt the emotions I was feeling. I saw the thoughts I was thinking.

You might think this is obvious stuff. Who doesn’t feel what they are feeling? Let me go deeper. When you get up in the morning, what’s the first thing you think? What is the very first word you say each day? What do you feel? Are you happy? Sad? Excited? Or maybe angry?

Believe it or not, there is a first emotion. A first thought. And more tangibly, a first word. If you believe that the beginning of something sets the tone for the rest of it, then your first everything of the day might be worthy of observation.

I heard a Buddhist monk say that there are actions of the mind, of the mouth, and the body. These are thoughts, words, and physical acts. We have responsibility for all of them. I’ve been noticing my actions throughout the day.

One thing I don’t like is how I curse. I feel like it hurts people and it adds little positive value to anything I’m trying to say. But I do it because I like how it feels fresh in the moment. It’s a thrill thing. After meditating regularly, I’m actually aware of myself doing it in the moment.

I’m just more able to pay attention to how it feels, what it sounds like to other people, and what I think about it. Right in the moment. Here’s the crazy thing. The next time I’m talking, I actually feel a curse word coming. It’s like a good time, a nice spot, for a curse word to emphasize my point. And I choose to not say it.

There’s a lot of other words to use to express myself. And when I don’t curse, I still say what I want to say. I just don’t feel like it’s me to curse, even though I’ve been doing it since junior high. It’s one of those things that I don’t do for a while, and then I pick it up from somewhere and mindlessly start cursing again.

Mindlessness. That’s what I’m shedding through regular meditation. Why make actions left and right with no attention to the quality of my impact? Am I that lazy?

Meditation is building up an awareness, stronger every day, of myself. It makes sense, because in meditating we are paying attention to ourselves. We breathe, we pay attention to the smallest thing in the world, our breath, and in that we are able to see clearly what out minds hold.

We also see that our minds keep a lot inside, but we don’t have to be the things that run through our minds.

I see thoughts about myself, about other people, how I feel about situations, and I realize day to day that these are simply thoughts. My actions will come from a place of wellness and happiness. At least I want them to, and I’m finding it more doable recently.

Let me know if you’ve noticed something similar from meditation, or if you just naturally have this sort of awareness.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily