Expressing Emotions with Awareness

Feeling emotions and expressing emotions are two different things. Some of us get angry but don’t say anything about it. We just feel the anger. Others of us say something about it. Some of us do something about it.

My usual response to emotional situations is to hold back from expressing myself directly. This is a survival tactic I developed from being in a highly emotionally charged family and work environment.

There were so many people around me with emotional turmoil, it seemed harmful for me to blab about my own emotions.

This backfired, to say the least. I grew up with a lot of repressed feelings. I got through work situations with a “professional attitude” but had to let the feelings burn inside of me. In my mid-twenties I was a field of blackened tree stumps, a wasteland of a forest fire.

I learned from my mistakes, but it was too late for me to recover in the same environments in which I had died. The roots were charred, seeds were turned to dust. There was no springing of life where I was. So I left.

I traveled for four months to get out of the ashes of my life. I had cultivated enough positive mentality and nutritional practice to get myself healthy and moving again before I left. Travel freed me from the stagnant waters of anxiety and allowed me time and space to meditate, rediscover myself, and stretch out in a spiritual and physical sense.

I met new people, took part in new cultures, and grew in love. My wife and I, through the constant adventure of finding our way, expanded our hearts and built courage. We lived our dream of seeing, learning, sleeping, and waking in new worlds. And now even home is a new world.

Meditation was key to my awakening to my misery and grasping an optimistic view of myself. It helped me in several areas of life. Strength training, sleep, and fear were a few areas of growth through meditation. Recently, through meditation I reached a breakthrough in how I express emotions.

I noticed a difference in my awareness of emotions and expression after several days of meditation. My sessions were two times per day, 5-15 min each time. Nothing big.

However, when a recent emotional argument broke out between me and someone close, I noticed a difference inside. I expressed myself through my emotions, but I was fully aware of myself. I could hear myself talk, see what I was feeling, and feel what the other person was feeling. This was very unlike other times, where I would have gone blank in the head.

The awareness allowed me to process what was going on, during and after the argument. It also allowed me to start the forgiveness process. Since I was “there” while it was happening, I remembered how I felt, and why, and what triggered it all.

The reason this happened was that during meditation leading up to this day, I had been focusing on how I felt. As I breathed and came into a centered disposition, I let my feelings float up into my awareness. Whatever I felt, I let my mind rest on it. I breathed, identified the emotion, felt it plainly and deeply for what it was, and sometimes even visualized the root. Then I breathed again and let it go.

This built awareness of my emotions. It made me feel okay with what I was feeling. I used to get uncomfortable with the fact that I was emotional. It felt like a weakness. But this awareness practice was facing reality. I accepted myself as an emotional being.

I still felt upset after the argument, I still dealt with the residual emotions, and all of that. But I was in a place where I could build on the experience. Rather than wallowing in confusion, I learned about myself. I thought forward to the next time I would be in that sort of situation. And instead of feeling apprehensive, I felt excited. I wanted to grow!

I’m not saying I’m a saint and we should have a day for me because of this one incident. But I hit a definite pivot point in my emotional life. This is an area of discomfort for me. I’m not used to getting deep into my emotions, and evaluating them, let alone talking about them.

But I’ve been trying within that past few months to dig into this and grow. And I’m learning the importance of expressing versus simply feeling emotions. The key is awareness.

Live powerfully,


Studies on Meditation and Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness


Our Ayutthaya Tuk Tuk Driver

I’m sad to hear about the fighting in Thailand. It looks like insurgents who’ve been involved in a decades long movement have hurt many people. We were traveling through that magical country just over a month ago.

Since we did a lot of walking and kept a minimal lifestyle, we encountered many people who live there. And we were met with such kindness. Hosts of guesthouses, restaurants, tuk tuk drivers, and the people in between went out of their way to help us. Almost always, this aid was given with a smile and grace.

We had a lot of difficult situations. There was nothing harrowing, but any time we sought help we found it there. One time we took a songtheaw, the converted pickup bus, too far. At the opposite end of Ayutthaya from our destination, with heavy packs, we jumped off the truck and walked up the road through humid ninety degree weather. It wasn’t long before a tuk tuk came up and stopped at my wave.

The middle aged driver, who wore a light green checkered shirt, sported a clean cut hair and an easy going demeanor, had never heard of the guesthouse we booked. He tried to figure it out as I showed  Google map to him on my phone, something he had no experience using. Although he didn’t know exactly where it was, we determined the approximate location to be near a familiar market and hopped on to head there.

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As the driver made his way, he called to find out more specifics. When we reached the final turn toward the market, he turned the opposite direction. I called out from the back, afraid that he had missed the turn. But having the sense, from my experience traveling through Thailand thus far, that the driver probably had figured something out, I looked down at my phone.

Sure enough, we were heading toward the actual destination. We ended up right in front of the guesthouse, so happy that we didn’t have to walk anymore with our loads. The driver had a quiet smile, content that he was able to help us.

I asked him how much. Normally I would have negotiated a price up front, before the ride. But in our circumstances, and feeling the generous nature of this man, I held back at the start. When I did ask, our driver didn’t hesitate.

“No, how much will you give me?” he gently answered, chuckling. I laughed. How could I beat that? He pulled us through a hard moment. I gave him more than the going rate. He smiled big and thanked me, in the Thai manner, hands together as he bowed his head. My wife and I both returned thanks, unable to express in words but sending what we could from our minds.

This sort of interaction was common in Thailand. People love being able to help you out, love seeing that what they have to offer makes your life better. I felt so comfortable making our way through this land, despite never having been here. I felt confident that whatever trouble we may find, there would be someone to help. And time after time, help was generously given.

From what I’m reading, the bombings and fire fighting occurred in tourist destinations and areas of the royal residence. It makes me concerned for everyone there, but I think especially of the people we met and with whom we shared deep connections. I hope they aren’t hurt, although I’m sure they are affected. But I can’t assume that they haven’t been injured.

I want to share more stories of Thailand through the next few weeks. Part of this is to share the excitement and wonder we felt. And as always, I want to impart the impact of travel on our wellness. Finally, I want to give the world a closer perspective of this magical place that is now in turmoil. I hope it leads to good.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Better Coffee

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What does it take to have a great cup of coffee on a regular basis?

For one, it’s about the beans. You need good, fresh beans for good, fresh coffee. They say that beans should be ground and brewed within several days of roasting. And that roasting should take place within a specific amount of time from harvest and processing. You don’t want coffee that’s made of old beans, and you don’t want beans that have been roasted far away from home. Unless you can afford the shipping costs for minimal delivery times.

It’s logical to think that anything we eat should be as fresh as possible to have the best quality. Wellness is maximized through food that is eaten close to the ground from which it sprung. And coffee grown, harvested, processed, roasted, ground, and brewed within a tiny area should be the best coffee.

Of course, not everyone would be able to have such coffee. We don’t all live in environments optimal for coffee plants. But we could be drinking coffee from places that are closer and sooner to us than they are now. So why don’t we? Because it’s not very available yet.

But that’s all changing very fast. The internet has eliminated barriers to the spread of information. It has brought information to almost everyone, everywhere. I traveled to Indonesia and Thailand recently and saw that even those who are still not connected to the web are only one or two conversations away from it. Generous people who have access to the web share critical information with those who don’t.

Seed to cup coffee shops are springing up around the world. In Chiang Mai, Graph Cafe exists to brew coffee from beans grown Doi Chang mountain, a famous coffee growing site that is divided up among several coffee shops and suppliers. Shop owners spread good cultivation practices to the farmers they work with to produce better coffee.

You can find better cold brew in Chiang Mai than in Los Angeles. Coffee shops in Bali could easily best the best in Los Angeles. After all, their beans grow within a few hours drive. Find the best roaster, the most skilled barista, and you still can’t beat locally grown beans. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t tried coffee in these places. What matters is that you know of it. The demand and the desire for better drives the rest.

So the seeds are sown. People everywhere will learn how to grow coffee. And if they live in coffee friendly climates, they can grow better coffee that can be shared with those who aren’t in such places. There may still be shipping and storing time, but it will be less than it is today. And even if we don’t live in ideal coffee growing environments, it can be done. Coffee is being grown in California.

The seed is getting ever closer to the cup. We will all be drinking coffee, and eating all kinds of food, that grew from ground within a mile and a week. If you have ever eaten a chunk of freshly grilled samgyupsal in a perilla leaf plucked a moment before from a garden ten feet away from you, you know what fresh means. And why it’s important that we are close to our food.

The value of coffee should be placed on the proximity and immediacy of the bean. Not on the shipping costs. It will make less and less sense to spend money on coffee from Sumatra when you’re drinking it in Los Angeles. Although we may not want to pay $60 a pound for Goleta coffee, we’ve seen time and again that demand can bring prices down. More and more we’ll assign quality to things that are fresh. Truly fresh, straight from the source, and meant for each and every person on earth.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Backpacking with grass fed butter in Southeast Asia

Coffee and grass fed butter have been my staple morning diet for the past four years. It continues to be my go to while I’m traveling through Southeast Asia. I plan to have it every day as much as I can. There’s no better way to stay lean, dense, and energetic than with healthy fat to start the day.

It’s much easier and nicer to have butter coffee at home: beans pulverized by a hefty burr grinder, stove top boiled water in my Hario kettle, and brewed over a ceramic pour over cup on a nice wide countertop. Butter coffee that’s blended at home in a high tech appliance like VitaMix can’t be beat. The drink is foamy, creamy, and just heavenly. The ingredients, like chocolate powder and vanilla bean, mesh better with the coffee and butter. It comes out like a dessert. But on the road, I don’t have such luxury.What I do have is a 24-oz. Thermos, a handheld coffee bean grinder, and a small pack of all my ingredients in ziplocked bags. I did allow myself the weighty luxury of my Hario dripper kettle, to store my powders and to have a vessel for hot water. And I just couldn’t let it go.

The trickiest things about butter coffee on the road are getting and keeping grass fed butter. In Southeast Asia a lot of quality butter comes from Australia and New Zealand. Anchor and Allowrie were two I’ve used so far. Small towns rarely have these available, so I’ve had to shop in the busier areas for it. It hasn’t been a great problem, except in Railay Beach where I missed my chance to get some in Ao Nang during an excursion. I was fortunate enough to have met a French chef at a nice hotel restaurant, who gave me a stick of precious unsalted French butter. I’m still living off of that, three days later. So grateful to that man.

That’s another thing; on top of finding grass fed butter, I need the unsalted product to make my coffee. Surprisingly, in Southeast Asia it’s pretty easy to find unsalted butter in most medium-sized grocery stores. Hero and Coco markets in Indonesia, and Makro in Thailand have been stocked when I went.

Keeping butter fresh and solid as a backpacker is the other fun problem. It’s regularly between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, even at night. So when I move from one locale to the next, it’s best not to have leftover butter. I time my butter shopping for the beginnings of my stay in one place, so that I can have access to a fridge while I have it. And if I have a bit left over on the day I leave, I dump it all into my Thermos with other ingredients, sans coffee. I can then pack, keeping the Thermos accessible, and find good coffee shop later to add to the Thermos. Shake and serve.

The more difficult scenario is having a lot of butter left on the day I need to get on a bus, plane, or boat for a long trip. It does happen, for various reasons. I have been bringing a small, rectangular tupperware lent to me by my mother-in-law to store butter while on the move. The day before, I freeze the remaining butter if possible. I wrap plastic over the original wrapping, put it in a ziplock, and then in the tupperware. It’s not good to have the fat in direct contact with plastic, so I keep the original wrap on it. Plastic will degrade when in contact with fat.

I keep the butter in my day pack, or a separate bag from my pack. It goes on board with me on flights. This hasn’t been an issue at all. Packing butter into a check in bag risks the bag being left out in the sun during cargo loading. Think popcorn butter. Big mistake if you don’t have a nice glass container without wrappings. While backpacking, it hasn’t been an option for me.

The first thing we always do upon check in at our next stay is unpack and throw the butter into the fridge. Most places I’ve stayed have had freezers, fortunately. One time in Bali we had the butter kept in the inn’s kitchen freezer. It worked without any issues for the four nights we were there. A good way to interact with the staff, too. A regular fridge will suffice as well. However, plan to finish the butter before leaving, as it’s risky to bring butter that’s not frozen on long rides in the tropical heat.

One last thing about butter coffee: remember the water. You can’t make coffee without water, and it’s not fun getting drinking water from the store first thing in the morning. In this region, tap is not the best option. Even when boiled, it’s a risk for health.

When all else fails, and you can’t find butter, and you can’t make coffee? Go without. Better to intermittent fast and eat a late lunch than to eat a heavy touristy breakfast. With that being said, I have trouble passing up eggs, bacon, and pastries every once in a while. I know the consequences and have to deal with them, though. To each their own.

Live powerfully,



I’m on a plane to Chiang Mai. I’m tired. We got to bed later than planned. There was still the  details of our stay and transport to arrange. As soon as I got up I packed. No coffee, no butter this morning.

I felt anger and frustration welling up against the security check hold ups. The baggage scan sticker fell off our bag – we had to return and have it scanned again. A large, brand new bottle of water we bought last night had to be trashed. I was going to make coffee with it but had no time.
These were little things, but in my tired state I was getting irritated. Just within an inch of letting it go, voicing my opinion, lashing out. An inch within ruining a streak of clean, uneventful airport passes. Roaming about foreign countries, it’s crucial to steer clear of immigration trouble.

Then I take my seat next to an old Thai man. He looked at me curiously from a dark, wrinkled face, nervous, probably not a frequent flyer. He’s got a plaid button down shirt, baggy slacks, a Converse Parisian style cap. His leather bag is slung over the seat head in front of him.

The moment I sat down, he gave my shoulder a firm tap and urged me to put my bag up in the storage cabinet. Twice. I can understand he was trying to be friendly and helpful in his brusque, masculine way, but it came across as quite pushy in the moment. I gestured that I would place it down in front, thank you.

Thirty seconds later, I’m waiting for my wife to settle in so I can hand off some food we took to go. My seat buddy nudged me and pulled my seat belt buckle toward me. He was determined to have me flight ready.

“OKAY, thank you sir,” I said in a borderline aggressive tone. Read, back off. Not good. I was losing it. This guy was pissing me off. I opened up my fried rice, started eating in spite of being uncomfortable with him staring next to me, and then he nudges me again. A lady needs to get into the window seat. Great.

I start packing up my food so I can undo my belt and get up. Guess what? Another nudge to hurry up. This guy. I was about to blow it. I clamped my mouth shut tight and methodically undid my seatbelt, got out of the way for the lady to sit.

I sat down and finished my food, using every body language technique to tell my neighbor I did not want to be bothered. The egg yolk on the rice made me happier. Relax, relax. He’s just trying to be helpful. I’m just tired. I closed my eyes as the plane got ready to depart. Breathe. Breathe.

I calmed down. Boy, was I spent. Lots of moving around in the last few days. Not enough rest. Breathe.

I started to think about the old man next to me. Another day and I would have seen an energetic, cheerful old man. An old school guy, tough, direct, but good natured. Elderly, but strong. The kind that instills and maintains values in society. The kind I respect. He’s probably a good man. I can feel it, even through the husk of exhaustion covering my mind. Shame that I can’t appreciate that right now.

More breathing and I’m feeling my mind soothe. And then I realize that meditation is all about rest. Rest for the mind. The best way for me to engage myself in meditation is to have a mindset of rest. It’s something I’ve known intuitively, but never put a finger on it. As I focused on that concept, I was able to actively gear down.

I continued breathing. I could see myself removed. My reactions, emotions were swirling to protect me. I rose above them like a plane clearing the clouds. I didn’t think I was this tired, but adrenaline has that numbing effect. I think it’s time to rest.

Who knows, I might even get to know this wide-eyed traveler next to me.

Live powerfully,


Rest, boredom, and joy in Krabi

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I sat in a Krabi hostel lounge, wrapped in a light breeze. I was treated to an orchestra of tropical birds and insects. Chirps, buzzes, tunes, drums, and tinny vibrations. I wondered at the ferocity of the periodic rains that would crash down and then vanish. Eventually, I got the itch to do something. I overheard a couple of Californians nearby discussing their plans to see this beach and that town, and for a moment I felt I should be going somewhere too.

But I stayed put. We had had terrific three days of walking, trains, and buses to do and see and eat in Singapore. Then there was a half day of trains, planes, and taxi to get to Thailand. Now it was time to just not do. No transport, no adventures, no sights, no nothing.

Rest gets boring after a bit. Even after days of fun and roaming, a couple hours of sitting still makes me restless. But that’s the magic of it. Boredom gives me room to notice the little things, to enjoy and take part in the hello’s and thank you’s with the locals. Boredom inspires creativity and spring loads the search for adventure. It amplifies the colors, the smells, the sounds of a place. So I let boredom expand.

Krabi is at the bend in Thailand’s knee, bordered on the south by a bay that joins the Andaman Sea with the Malacca Strait. It has unique mountains, orange rock streaked from top to bottom with black stains of sediment leeched from within, topped off with fluffy green forest. At night the jagged lighter sections loom like giant phantoms in the dark sky. Water drips continuously from the tops of the cliffs onto the beaches below, forming blunt, black stalactites. Some of them have reached the ground in thick columns from stunning heights, creating the effect of a walking mountain.

On sections of the Railay beach sand, I thought I was under open sky only to discover water falling in little plips and plops near me. Looking up, I found myself underneath huge portions of rock hanging out past the base of the cliff. They must have been a good thirty yards out from the base.

After a few days of quiet in Krabi, we took a long boat to the famed Railay Beach. The water is crystal clear on the beaches when they are undisturbed by long boats. Individual grains of the powdery sand are visible through the waves. In the morning, schools of small silver fish drift just beyond the break.

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The tide rises and falls dramatically in the morning and afternoon. Every six hours, dry sandy paths along restaurants and resorts are replaced by several feet of ocean. It’s a bit unnerving to walk with heavy packs, knee deep, through the tugging waves. We’ve learned to time our moves accordingly.

People in Krabi remind me of the Balinese. The culture is quiet and easy going, with an underlying adherence to politeness and respect that becomes fierce upon violation. In a place where people don’t have much in the material sense, dignity is a person’s most prized possession. Much effort goes into greeting, holding hands together and bowing the head, with a warm smile. It’s surprising to see even the dark, tough-looking, tattooed men breaking into smiles when sincerely greeted. Attention to custom, especially with hello’s and thank you’s, are very much appreciated. This is characteristic of places that are overrun with tourists.

People here are punctual. Two other tourists we met had missed a long boat ride because they arrived on the minute of departure. Krabians (made that up) are also thorough and careful about taking care of business. I’ve had very good experiences booking rides and tours, and finding my way around town.

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Unfortunately in Railay beach, where we’ve been for a few days, there aren’t many locals outside of the businesses. This place is a tourist trap in a sense, designed for the foreign consumer. It’s hard to even find a market here. My interactions with locals have mostly been with restaurant and hotel staff. Still, we’ve met quite a few wonderful people.

The lady in charge at Railay Family restaurant was plainly very happy to see us there for the second time for dinner. The chef at Rayavadee’s restaurant, The Grotto, came out to generously address my questions about the butter he used. Our canoe tour guide affectionately said I looked like a local with my dark skin and sarong. Even the long boat drivers have been friendly and welcoming. The receptionists and hosts and staff at the places we stayed were all wonderful. There was hardly a corner turned where a smile and greeting weren’t received. We’re really going to miss it here.

It’s rare to really feel at home, even in one’s hometown. To feel at home on the other side of the planet, now that’s an irreplaceable gem of travel. Time to head north into the mainland.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

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