This Curse is a Blessing

This pandemic has been a curse. Yet, it has also been a blessing. At this moment in my life, I’ve really been reading, listening, and talking about human behavior. Self-improvement. So, when school was shut down in march (I’m a teacher) I tried to view this plight in as much of a positive light as possible. To this pandemic as an opportunity for a little change. Just a few years ago I would’ve thrown my hands in the air with disgust. Resentment. Anger. Each day would’ve been a festival of complaints, a circus of actions. But I had to look at it as something that I could learn from. Something I could grow from. And besides, if I’m going to complain, be angry, be resentful, what kind of climate would that produce for those around me. For those still around me, my family. It would be completely counterproductive. To get into this mindset, a few things had to be recognized.

People speak about being grateful, or having gratitude as buzz words, a new fad or life hack. “Every morning I wake up, drink a liter of water, do some breathing exercises, meditate, then show gratitude for everything in my life.” I cannot tell you how many times I read this on Twitter alone. BUT… I must tell you; repetition is therapy. They’re right. If you don’t slow down to recognize how good you have it, how can you ever be grateful for this life you were given? And the beauty of all of this, it’s completely relative to how you view the importance of your life. Each day I try to come to an understanding with humility. That I am nothing. That I know nothing. That each day is a time for self-improvement. To always try and be better than I was the day before. Sounds simple. It’s not. The proof? Look at your life. How often are you grateful for what you have? How often do you play victim as opposed to saying to yourself “It could always be worse, I’m fortunate for what I have”? Some of you are reading this right now and saying that you DO say this. Maybe. But I’m willing to bet that for the majority of the time, you, like me, are a tragedy of your screenplay.

So, I took stock. I took stock of what I have and resisted the urge to think about what I don’t have. Or what I wanted. Once the dust settled around school affairs, I focused on what could be done about the situation at hand. The first thing I noticed is that I had time. What to do about time? Fill it. In the mornings I wasn’t under the gun to get myself and my kids ready for school and to school. So now I had an opportunity for a routine of my breathing exercises. Love meditation. I also got into the habit of subscribing to newsletters and reading as much as I could through the lens of someone else’s eyes. I also subscribed to a couple of news outlets so that I could keep up to date with what’s going on in the world. I also found time to get back into cardiovascular shape. I felt that this year I did an okay job of showing up for jiu-jitsu but I wasn’t doing an okay job of showing up every day to just get my heart rate up for an hour at a time on a daily basis. I rekindled my love affair with my rollers, power meter, Sufferfest videos, and my time trial bike. For 4 days a week I would spend mid-morning sweating and suffering in the basement staring at a television screen. On my off days I was out walking while my kids rode their bikes through the park for PE minutes. This exercise made me realize how much I missed the feeling of being healthier cardiovascularly. That constant flow of air coming in and out of my chest. Sweat dripping into my eyes. The minutes long burn in my legs.

With these feelings you want to try and be healthy with food choices as well. I’ll be honest here; in our house we’ve been a little bit over-the-top of being freakishly scared of the covid-19 endemic. At first, I felt like I was rationing my food to make sure my kids were getting as much food as they could during meals. I was very concerned that there would be a food shortage in the spring! Thank God the supply chains never failed in that food kept coming in, but it was a blessing on my weight until about the end of July. Then came the weight. No matter how much I pedaled, or hit the gym, the weight kept on coming. I just couldn’t seem to put the fork down. Now it was high time to get my weight under control before it became out of control. I found an app that could track macro nutrients along with calories. It’s been a real eye opener for me. I’m not on any fad diet. I truly believe that for 99% of us, there is no specific diet we need to be on. We just need to eat less. This app has allowed me to look at food a little differently. It restricts calories by allowing a certain amount of macro nutrients throughout the day. I picked a balanced diet option from the app, so I have my share of carbs, fat, and protein. What I am beginning to understand now is what I crave, what those foods are composed of, and how to time them throughout the day so that I do not overindulge on any one metric. It’s hard as hell and shows how poor my eating habits have become over a lifetime. It also has shown me that even though the overall goal of the app is to restrict calories, that I can still eat all day if I choose wisely. And all this eating satisfies my cravings from morning until night. I just must be careful of my fat intake. I’m always juggling that one!

I’m not a fan of the word “blessing” or any terms in relation to it. But in this case, I have to cave… because it deals with time spent with me. This pandemic, this predicament, situation, whatever, has been an absolute blessing for me as the time I’ve been able to dedicate them has been unprecedented. I’m also in a fortunate position where all of my kids have hit the golden years of being able to bathe themselves, feed themselves, toilet themselves, and put themselves to sleep! When your children reach these milestones it’s amazing how much time you can actually spend just being with them.  Being in the same room but not saying a word. Being with them on a bike ride. Being with them on a walk. Being with them in a car ride. Being. There are no worries about changing a diaper, putting them down for naps, wondering whether they will eat, bathing them, wiping them. All these efforts of the past have become gapes in time. Now these holes can be filled with conversation. Watching a movie. Family game night. Just plain and simple interaction. Not that the time prior to this stage was any better or worse, now it’s more meaningful to the kids. They understand the connections. They appreciate the presence. They now have more of a grasp of the effects of what family really means. Our investment in each other, in all capacities, is now beginning to be understood. The roots are taking hold of fertile ground. Our bonds being nourished with presence. And we have hit our peak window of opportunity to strengthen and reinforce these family ties. The pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time. The more I think about this time the happier I become. I cannot believe how lucky I am that I have children who don’t care about a cell phone, who don’t care about being in front of a screen all day, who understand what’s going on with the times, showing maturity in tolerance. They have navigated this challenge for months. The challenge of not being able to see friends and family as much as they’re used to. Of being disciplined enough to get their schoolwork done. They are kind and loving enough that for the most part, they treat each other with respect and can handle being in the same space for months on end. They’re tolerant of their parents who force them out on family walks and bike rides when they really didn’t want to go. Understanding, maybe reluctantly, that these moments are fun. They realize and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors. Not once have they complained about having been stuck inside or not being able to go back to school or not being able to play a sport or not being able to see their friends. I’m humbled by their attitude and their fortitude.

I don’t deserve them. I’m not worthy of them as they simply tolerate me. They tolerate the situation at their end. I’ve come to love and respect that about my kids. That at any moment Free Will could poke up its head, defying everything we ask or want them to do that they don’t want to do. I take this for granted. I need to understand how lucky I am that their love for life and their attitude towards struggle is something that I can learn from. This extra time I’ve had to spend with them has allowed me to sit and think about what I can learn from them. I remind myself how happy I am to have them. I think, what can I do to make their time with me as important as I feel about their time, they’ve spent with me?

I have truly been surrounded by my best friends since day one of this pandemic. To be honest, I don’t know how much better life would be at this moment without the pandemic. Without this opportunity to sit and reflect. To know that the only thing I can control is my own attitude toward things. And I know that if I do have control of the right attitude it will positively affect those around me. That if I focus on gratitude and love and kindness towards life, that it is recognizable by anyone in your circles not through sight but through feel. I want to have gratitude and feel gratitude so that they thrive off of it.

I’ve also had the opportunity to read more. Not so much in books but I’ve gotten into blogs a little bit lately. I have found at least three or four sites that I get emails from with newsletters once a week with different ideas from different people. If you like in a different light and allow me to try and understand things from other points of view. I’m taking this time to try and broaden my horizons and how I view my own surroundings to the views of others. This also led me down another path of writing myself. I’m not looking to start a website or turn this into a full-time blogging job. I’ve been compelled to write. To simply put emotions, ideas, thoughts, and visualizations into analog form. I found the importance of recognizing what is beautiful and worthwhile in this life and how putting it into words solidifies it. Makes it real. Makes it unforgettable. Makes it findable. Makes me slow down to form coherent sentences and phrases that allows me to appreciate it and understand it more. We have thoughts every day that come in and out of our brains. Sometimes you remember them and sometimes we don’t. But I found through writing things down and talking things out, that they become solidified in the roadmap of my mind. It’s time for building another path in my brain towards understanding the short time we have here in physical life. Also allowed me to perceive struggle differently. Most of the time I would see struggle it’s a painful obstacle. As a negative. Through these times I’m trying to see struggle as a challenge. A challenge that will positively change me. A challenge that I look forward to currently in a competition. Because most challenges in life make you stronger, they make you smarter, they make you a more well-rounded person. If I can take away something from all this nonsense life is throwing at us, that challenges can be overcome. And that standing and facing that title wave as it comes closer to you, is still something the human mind can wrap around and work through. In this situation, in our challenged thirsty minds, we are in a situation where you can bend universal laws. Where you can control the outcome because you are in control of how you react. You are in control of how you act. Maybe things seem to be overwhelming to you at the moment, but by taking one step toward the challenge you can then tackle one thing at a time. And one tackled thing always leads to another.

This extra time to pause has also let me think more deeply about training. The mindset that comes with it. Of how getting back in that saddle on my bike raises my game. Settling into the cockpit and snapping my cleats into the pedals is exhilarating. The anxiousness of traffic heightens your senses. The worry leading up to a long climb or a headwind pairs you for an effort that is something you don’t want to do but you know you must do to feel the benefits on the other side. The air cascading over your arms and legs and around your ears with the sound of a conch shell as if you’re out to sea. A bump here, a crack there, a pop of a stone from your rear tire hitting the guardrail. Your senses are heightened, and your awareness piqued. The same feelings are learned and felt on my hike/jogs on the trails that are basically in my backyard. I feel those pebbles between the treads of my shoes. The catching of a toe on a root. And the quiet and soothing comfort pressing into a pile of needles. The rhythmic breathing and the thumping pulse through your neck remind you that you’re still alive. That you will be full of life and energy to tackle the challenge of living a good life. A bead of sweat dripping down your temple on your cheek reminding you that your body is giving back its energy to the surrounding environment from which you came. The sunlight warming your back as you pass through shaded and unshaded areas. The flapping of a grouse’s feathers scaring the life out of you while also reminding you to be present in this very moment. Different formations below your feet are a constant reminder of the split-second changes you encounter throughout your day and throughout your life. How you must negotiate them by tackling them head on knowing in that last moment that you will figure out how to overcome and learn. And the quietness. Oh, the quietness! Even when you’re on your bike, although cars may be passing by, diesel trucks blowing black smoke and your face, the wind howling in your ears, it’s still a quiet space because you’re outside, overwhelmed by the Earth’s grandeur. Hiking and jogging in the woods are even more intimate. You become more in tune with yourself by being intimate with your surroundings. The overwhelmingness of the environment around you and how much power it has shrinks you. Yet, at the same time, it is very gentle. Undulations in the terrain, whether on the trail or the road remind us of the difficulties we face through life. Knowing that there might be a struggle going up the hills we can take pleasure in knowing that there’s always an ease up on the downhills. Knowing that before and after the storms, there will always be a calm. Of course, there are times it will be dark, but knowing that the light is soon to follow makes the slightest difference in our attitude and fortitude. These are the laws and lessons that nature has been able to afford me. And having this time to take advantage of it is such a blessing. I can’t think of any other word to describe it.

This pandemic is forcing the pressure in my veins to awaken my heart, my mind, and my eyes to see through all the physical things around me. To feel all the emotions they provide me. We need to refocus our time to make it last. When we are given time, we can compound it by focusing on the split moment of that time. We must be thankful for these moments that we’re given. These split seconds of life that add up to life. The sum of some lives is greater than others. Not because of genetics, money, or a job, but on how we utilize the split seconds of the time we’re given and how we utilize the split seconds of the bonus times like now. Appreciate all that you have. Because this is all you know. Don’t concern yourself with others. Whether it’s what you see on your phone, computer, or through your own eyes. Those things don’t matter. What matters is your life right now in this moment. Are you happy? Because everything is relative. We are all rich if we choose to be. And richness has nothing to do with money. It has to do with the amount of emotional and physical wealth that you have built up in the split-seconds of your life that have meaning to you in a spiritual sense. A meaning that you feel. Not that you can see and hold on to and give away to someone else for something that you think you need. But these are feelings that carry you through your day to make you feel like your position on this planet is worth the space it takes up. Stop. Listen. Do you hear it? You are surrounded by life. You’re surrounded by life that doesn’t worry about the bullshit that you worry about. You’re surrounded by life that has single purposes and multi-purposes. But it all has a purpose because it doesn’t worry about having a purpose. Water forms the shape of its container. It doesn’t choose. It doesn’t know. But water is the source of life. It has purpose yet it doesn’t know it. Vegetation sustains life, yet it doesn’t know it and it has another great purpose. Air in which you can’t see but you can feel and hear is another piece of the puzzle in which life can live. And again, it doesn’t know it. We get caught up in worrying about our purpose and how we will fulfill it. You must do and do simply. Do simply every day. Move. Eat well often but not much. Drink the blood of this life that is clear and clean. Serve those around you. Love yourself and that in which is around you. These are simple things! And things that will give you meaning and this meaning is extremely important to the positive contribution to this short life that you have. Embrace the challenges that are in front of you right now. Embrace the time that these challenges have given you to rethink a different path in your life. Move out of your comfort zone whether it’s forward sideways or even backwards, it’s still outside of your comfort zone! And that’s where the growth is. It’s so simple. Just slow down. Think about one movement at a time. If you’re sitting, think about the points of contact to the chair and the floor. If you’re standing think about the points of contact with your bare feet or through your socks or slippers or sneakers. If you’re walking think about the points of contact and how different each step is. As you breathe, think about the life that flows in and out of you that you can’t even see but just feel. Each breath is different. Right there, you have slowed time down and you have given yourself a simple meaning that lasts a lifetime. That brings goodness and

happiness. Enjoy these times knowing that if you’re productive in every moment of just thinking about these sensations that your life has no choice but to be productive in a great way. Be productive one moment and one step at a time in this life. Find the good in all the bad that’s around you right now. There is always good. There must be or else there wouldn’t be balance. And if there wasn’t balance, this life as you know it wouldn’t exist. Although it may feel that the weight has shifted against you and not in your favor, there’s still balance or else you would have been thrown off that seesaw long ago! Even the seesaw is stopped by Earth at the last moment to save you. The Earth is still here. You are still here. Love is still here to bounce you back into this life. Don’t give up, don’t ever give up. Keep your head on a swivel and look all around you. Try to look forward as much as possible but don’t ever forget to occasionally look behind to see where you’ve come from, to see how much you’ve grown, from all that you’ve learned from the obstacles and challenges and the negativity in your way and how you conquered it. Take that feeling, that emotion, the power of that success and use it as a force to keep pushing you forward to do what has been good. To do what has brought you to this point. To do the things that you’ve learned from lessons that you lost. So, stop what you’re doing. Feel the invincibility of the invisibility of air filling your lungs. Giving life to the tissue at the cellular level. Close your eyes and listen to what’s around you and embrace it no matter how much you love it or don’t. It won’t last forever. Feel your points of contact right where you are whether you’re laying down sitting standing or moving. Feel everything from what’s under your feet to how it passes across your arms. Understand and know that it’s all good. Know that you are only in control of your thoughts and reactions to it and nothing else. Just be. Just be and understand that’s all you can do. Through that focus, that focus on the positiveness and happiness with yourself, you show others. You show them this aura, this vibrance. When they stop to look, listen, and feel, they will begin to sense and notice all their positive being. Let us take a note from mother nature. She manicures herself constantly. There is always slow change in her being. Because of this unimaginable power, everything here thrives because of it. She doesn’t take care of herself for us, she takes care of herself for herself. And that radiance is so powerful that it changes everything on top of her. We need to take note of the simplicity and the power of it. That if we manicure ourselves and take care of ourselves and do what we’re supposed to do, one simple thing at a time, that will radiate the same, that will be unflappable, that will be indestructible, that that spirit will always win in the end. We must believe that if we focus on this simplicity that we, like her, will always come out on top. Nothing can stop the simple, inevitable change towards good. The difference between her and us, she will always win. She will always win because of the goodness of her intentions. The intentions that she doesn’t know she has because she simply just does the right thing at each moment. Learn from the time she has given you. Embrace this blessing we have been given. Live this way.

 

We Lost A Rat Snake Teammate

“Dan, it’s with a heavy heart I’m reaching out. 

One of my best friends

and fellow Rat Snaker/beer lover 

Mathew Fredricks was killed in a car crash earlier this week. 

He had run the race multiple times with us.”

We all know that life is precious. Think about it, the universe as we know it is about 14 BILLION years old. On this continuum, we physically live for about 78 years. When I asked my phone for a calculation for a percentage of our life span compared to the total life span of the Universe, its response was: “The answer is zero.” ZERO. We are truly a spec of stardust in the timeline of known life. We don’t even have a moment, not even a moment to live. I can’t even say a split second. It doesn’t encompass how short our time is in this vessel of flesh and bone. Our lives are precious. To the point that they’re inexplicable. It’s a concept that I cannot wrap my head around. We have no time. And when we learn of someone having even less than zero time, we MUST rethink the way we live our moment in time.

It’s our responsibility, our moral imperative… obligation, to live for those we love who cannot live out their purpose. Every day. Every moment. They are the ones who remind us that our time isn’t for nothing. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to THEM. There’s no time for being selfish on this one. We have one life. Live it. The darkness that gets brought to us from time to time is a harsh reminder of WHY we are obligated to give it our best shot. Maybe some days aren’t as good as others. But did you put your hat in the ring for something that day? Did you sit up in bed, turn to place your feet on the floor and say “I’m going to live with purpose today. I’m going to drink as much from life that I can. That I will wring out the dampness of whatever wet blanket is thrown at me and use its adversarial power to propel me through the next obstacle. Today, I will do the best that I can for me and for those who cannot?” 

“Live for them,

for those who don’t have the opportunity. 

For those who were stolen away

by death’s cruel hand. 

For them, I will live.

I will revere the memory and I will live.” 

~Jocko Willink

Yesterday, a Rat Snake friend messaged me saying that we had lost a teammate to a car accident. Mathew Fredricks was patron to the Rat Snake at least 4 times. As all Rat Snakers know, to participate in at least one race makes you an enthusiast of challenges. To do this race multiple times makes you an enthusiast of life. This is the whole purpose of the race. To celebrate the life lived by a man who sought out his limitations through challenge. 

Mike Day said, “Loss connects us.” I may not have known Mathew, but I do know this… I know his company. And you can tell much from the company you keep. If he’s toed the line multiple times with the rest of Ken’s Rat Snake community, I know a few things about the character of a Rat Snaker. I know Mathew had commitment. No one who has trained and completed this race could complete it without commitment. I know Mathew sought out a challenge. To be in a race where you have no time to let up, seeking out challenges in life is the only way to push through. Mathew is humble. To participate multiple times in the Rat Snake means you are constantly looking for improvement. You understand that there’s always room to do better. That you are never satisfied with your results. You just want to be a better person. Love, Mathew has much love in his soul. Being a multiple offender of this race alludes to the fact that you love your tribe. No one does something multiple times because they are a maverick. They do them because they love who they’ve surrounded themselves with. People like Mathew surround themselves with the very best human nature can offer and stuck with them. Knowing that love is the true binding element that makes life secret. These virtues surely don’t begin and end on race day. They are daily efforts. They are entangled with every facet of life. Virtues cannot be turned on and off like a light. They are ingrained in your being. They direct your course through life. And true life is never ending. And Mathew’s life continues to live on, through him, through us. This imperceptible force flows through all he’s come in contact with. That’s the true gift of a great person. That his efforts to be as virtuous as he can be is what makes each of us who have been in his presence, better. 

“I slept and dreamt

that life was joy.

I awoke and saw

that life was duty.

I worked – and behold,

duty was joy.”

~Rabindranath Tagore

When tragedy comes unexpectedly, when loved ones pass naturally, we need to remember what has been left to us. The fingerprints, the footprints, the life lessons. The examples that have been set from their happiness, from their sadness, from their anger, and what we have learned from all they have done for the time they were with us. We must honor that. We must live that and learn from it and apply it to how we live today. What else are we to do? There’s no way anyone that has touched our lives that has left this physical life and thought “I hope people will feel sorry for me for the rest of their lives.” Anyone who’s lived a life well lived would refuse that. They would want you to move in the direction of improvement. They would want you to remember what they have shown you in their lifetime. That you respected them enough to live a certain way that they wanted to live for themselves, for you and for those around you. They have taught us that. We can’t stand still. We can’t move backwards or sideways. There’s no sidestepping this. There’s no avoiding it. There will be grief, sadness and anger. These are primal emotions. These emotions are the ways we deal with loss. So, let’s use the grief and the anger and the sadness to do right by them. To do right by us. To do right by those we love. There’s no correct formula for how to move on except for we must move on. We must move on in a positive direction. There’s no good time to let go. Maybe there’s never a good time to ever let go. We hear this now and then, “You’re going to have to let them go.” Why? Why can’t we grab on to the spirit, the energy that we were left. Why can’t we grab onto it and run as fast as we can lifting that spirit to great heights as a child would with a kite. Let our energy and the wind created by its velocity carry their legacy to great heights. Giving us a beacon to focus on that keeps our heads held high. A goal for us to work towards. No one ever looks down for greatness or enlightenment. We always look up. Let’s keep looking up. Let’s keep forging forward and doing what’s best for us by remembering how they behaved to do things that were best for them. And they did what was best for them, so that WE could learn from them. 

“The crowning experience of all, 

for the homecoming man, 

is a wonderful feeling that, 

after all he has suffered, 

there is nothing he need fear anymore…”

~Viktor E. Frankl

Death gives us more meaning to life. To their life. To our life. To life yet to come. Death gives us the opportunity to still make the world a better place. To love more. To learn more. To be more. To live more. Each moment is a gift. There will be times when we won’t be strong enough to be positive. There will be times we won’t be strong enough to dig ourselves out of a hole one day. There will be times you won’t be strong enough to see the good in this situation. Those times will not last. Those times can’t last. Those times will teach us to push through. They will teach us to be stronger. They will teach us to love harder. They will teach us even in sorrow, we can still march forward even… if it’s millimeters at a time. And this is what they have taught us through their life. This is what they would have wanted us to learn. This is the Legacy they want us to keep alive. Because one day, we will be on that doorstep as well. In what would we want for those that we will leave behind? What Legacy do we want our loved ones to keep? What lessons do we want our loved ones to learn? In this strangely circular event, we can improve life generation by generation. We can leave a positive mark on this planet. A loving impression in the hearts of those we touched. We need to continue on and do what was taught to us by those who can no longer teach. When you think of loved ones lost, how does it make you feel? Sorrow of course. But what else? What other emotions did it fill you with? What direction did it make you want to go? What legacy did it make you want to continue? What actions did you want to start? What obligation did you feel you needed to fulfill? These seeds of intuition were planted by the loved ones we’ve lost. Their virtues, habits, wisdom, courage, trust, fairness, goals, everything, have been instilled in us. Their energy poring through us was kickstarted by their departure. As if their loss was a catalyst setting off a reaction inside us to do the good they left behind. To fulfill an unspoken promise that we need to keep. An energy that they sacrificed for us. To propel us towards greatness that they began. They spared all of their life force so that it could spread within us to light an everlasting fire to burn the fuel of desire to complete the deeds that need to be done. Their loss is a jumpstart to our obligation to live a good life. A life of service. A life of gratitude. A life doing what we can in a positive manner to make our good mark. This energy can neither be created nor destroyed but can be utilized. And when someone passes, this energy spreads through all of us who have loved, adding another drop of fuel in our hearts. Our hearts that can not only physically force us to move better but can also spiritually guide us to greatness with the invisible power of love. No known force or energy in this Universe, after 14 BILLION years, can generate the goodness, the righteousness, the drive, or the caring, that the love we’ve learned from those who have passed, can. We MUST know the DARKNESS so that we appreciate the LIGHT. So that we LIVE in the light. So that we can push through in the darkness. 

Maria Popova says, “Most of us, if at all aware of the glorious accident we experience as our own existence, are only dimly aware of it and only as an abstraction.” Ken was someone who was brightly aware. When Ken passed, his energy left me a vibrant mental collage. It was a portrait of love of family, a love for his vocation. He left me a drive. A mentality with no excuses. A willingness for doing things the difficult yet right way. Of being self-reliant by attacking the unknown without hesitation while using fear as an emotion for improvement. He showed me how patience in perfecting any endeavor, with silent fortitude is time well spent. How seeing things differently without judgement is the only way others deserved to be treated. These images were branded on the grey matter of my brain, on the pink flesh of my heart. Its burn powering me to rethink the way I think. To redo the way I do. To re-love, the way I loved, towards all things. That was his gift to me. More powerful and moving than any physical object could ever provide. It is an eternal gift that flows through me triggered by the opening of my eyes in the morning. His life introduced me to these fruits while his death provided me an eternal sustenance. A sustenance that doesn’t allow you to be spoiled or take it for granted as this sustenance is a jolt of soulful energy. An explosion of the flavors of a life that never dulls. That never dissipates. That always tastes as good as the first bite. 

The Rat Snake team has lost a teammate. This tragedy is another stark reminder of how secret life is. We must honor their lives. In what way do we go about doing that? By using what we already have. The love, the spirit, the virtues that were unknowingly given to us from those we’ve been surrounded by. Their touch has always been there, and will always remain. Their passing is an event that makes us see what we’ve always carried with us. When life is cut short, it shows us that we need to live. Not just get by, but really live. We have only but a moment to do so. 

“Nothing once created ever fully leaves us. 

Seeds are planted and come abloom generations, centuries, civilizations later, migrating across coteries and countries and continents. 

Meanwhile, people live and people die — in peace as war rages on, 

in poverty and disrepute as latent fame awaits,

 with much that never meets its more, in shipwrecked love.

I will die.

You will die.

The atoms that huddled for a cosmic blink around the shadow of a self will return to the seas that made us.

What will survive of us are shoreless seeds and stardust.

~Maria Popova

 

The Process

THE PRESS

Sit down. At the end of the bench. Back facing the bar.
Lay back slowly, careful, don’t hit head on bar.
Look up. Is the bar directly above my eyes?
Square up body.
Look down the left side of the bar. Find the smooth marker. Index finger.
Look down right. Index finger.
Wrap the rest of fingers; don’t choke the bar. Meat of palm feels square.
Readjust the body.
Squeeze glutes.
Get feet under the knees, flat on the ground. Get them ready to drive.
Think: form, tempo.
2 calming breaths. Drive the feet, squeeze glutes, Palm pressure on bar.
Lift.
Lower bar… 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3. Touch. Drive! Squeeze! Push fast. Elbows in!
ONE.

“Success and failure are generally slow processes… That’s why you have to watch every single second. Because those seconds, they turn into minutes, and minutes turn into hours, and hours turn into days, and days turn into years.” ~Jocko Willink

Repeat. Only 7 more…
Check distance over left J hook, then right. Drop bar.
How did it feel?
How was pace?
How was form?
Hit stopwatch. Ok, at least 2 minutes, Dan.
Write down in the notebook. How did I feel? How was weight? How was tempo?
Change weight.
Check reps.
7 more sets.
Walk.
What to focus on?
What was good?
It’s time…

THE BIKE

Check wheels. Skewers tight?
Check brakes. Anything rubbing?
Rotate tire so presta valve is on the top of wheel arc.
Unscrew presta valve on rear tire. Left palm pushes on the top of the tire, right hand places the pump valve on the presta valve.
Pull lever down with middle finger.
Gauge facing the wheel.
Is the red arrow facing 115 psi?
Pump up tire. Full strokes to get it done efficiently.
Needle at the red.
Flip the lever. Pump valve blows off.
Repeat on front.
Attach phone to aerobars.
With makeshift rubber bands, lift the lower bands, push bottom of phone in.
Lift upper bands, slide in the top of phone.
Center the phone.
Hit app icon.
Click “Start Workout”
Click green “Start” button.
Grab left handlebar with left hand.
Step right leg over top tube.
Grab right handlebar with right hand.
Roll pedals back until left one is at 6 o’clock
Push front of the left cleat into the pedal. Press the back down forcefully, quickly.
Push of the pavement with right foot. Coast.
Roll right pedal down until front of right cleat catches.
Push back of the cleat down forcefully, quickly.
Check app metrics for connection.
Coast down my street towards Center Street.
Check traffic to my left as I slow, traffic to my right.
Push down with my right foot. Pull up with my left.
Cross the street and head out.
Once I am able to get moving consistently…
Gently place the origin of right ulnar bone in aero pad.
Grip the end of aerobar.
Index finger in the indentation? Thumb touching bolt end?
Now the left. Gently. Balanced.
Shift weight onto my arms, adjust my seat in the saddle.
Seat bones on the split noses comfortably?
Slow lift on my left shifter with the side of top knuckle facing the sky of my left index finger.
Lighten my pedal stroke for a split second. Not too much load on the chain as I shift to the large chainring.
Slow rhythmic shifts with the right hand. Lever between the flesh of the thumb and the side of my index finger’s top knuckle.
Cadence feel right?
Does my acceleration of pace seem smooth? Strong?
Pull the bottom foot up over the top of the barrel.
Push the top foot down, scrap the mud off the sole of my shoe.
Again.
Again.
Coordinated. Good.
Heels level? Maybe even slightly up?
Pressure on the down stroke towards my large toe?
Check watts.
Check breathing.
Coincide?
Don’t choke the bar ends.
Knees in.
Where’s the white shoulder line on the pavement?
Car back? Car up?
Debris? Cracks? Pothole?
Rhythm. Smooth. Quiet.

 

The process. All too often we need to be distracted. Music. Podcasts. Partners. Have you ever broken down what you do when you do? No matter what it is? Right now, as I type, I ask if I am sitting up until I’m comfortable. Are the tips of my index fingers pulling against the horizontal knobs on the J and F so I’m typing the correct letters? Am I punching the keys? Pushing the keys? Wrists? My wrists are leaning too much on the end of the laptop keyboard and the edges are digging into the base of my wrists. My palms sometimes interrupt the mouse pad, where did the cursor go? Lift my thumbs more. Anyway… You get the point. This is something that can be never ending. Sometimes to the point of detriment. But most of the time, we don’t pay enough attention to it.

When I coach my runners, I teach them form drills to practice every day before workouts. I want them to understand what their body is doing as it moves. The form drills allow them to focus on one movement at a time. Sometimes in slow motion so that they can put it all together in the form of accelerations. All of this, about 10 minutes worth, before they get to work. This process forces every neurological pulse going down their spinal cords to direct each muscle fiber to fire in the correct sequence. The drills allow them to process the movements, individually, to give their brain time and repetition to practice the drill correctly. This creates balance, power, efficiency, and speed through coordination. But it does more than just improve their performance. It improves the way they think. It organizes their thoughts to become more streamlined.

In this sense, your speed of thought coordination is now balanced, powerful, efficient, and faster. With everything. Not just the physical. You begin to look at things differently. You dissect things. You analyze. You work through the best possible practices for the best possible outcome.

Slow down. Get a routine. Build new roads on the road map of your mind. There’s no terrain you can’t negotiate. There are no speed limits. There are no laws governing your trek. You are boundless in your learning and your productivity. But you must embrace the process. The more automatic it becomes, the more you can redirect your thoughts to be channeled towards new roads. New endeavors. In all things. Focus on the task at hand in real time. Make it a habit. Unplug for a while and find out how you can simply be distracted with the process you’re engaged in right now. Try it with your next task. No matter how trivial, ask yourself how it was different. How did it feel? Remember, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Pretty soon it becomes automatic, therefore freeing your mind.

Don’t forget, you can save yourself from the black hole of social media! Just sign up for these essays to be delivered to your email. Have a look to your right… thanks so much for your time here. 

Your Center of Gravity

Your center of gravity. It gets higher as you get older. Not necessarily because you grow taller, but because you grow stagnant. That made absolutely no sense, but I’ll try to explain. I have been experiencing this for over a decade.

At least one child a day in my PE class gets hurt. Nothing too badly. A trip here and they land on a knee. Someone may get tagged too hard. Others may just have a cramp. What I love is that most of these injuries are because students give 110%. Not because I am a good teacher, but simply because of the nature of the class. We play. And kids play hard at the elementary level. It’s as though they are doing the work for me. I’m grateful to have the best job on the planet. 20+ self-starters, six times a day, for 45 minutes, five times a week. It’s a success story every day. Imagine if I had a business with employees like that!

Not too many years ago, I reluctantly started asking myself why kids are so resilient? What is preventing them from serious injury? Each year, my first unit is gymnastics. The potential for injury can be high depending on the skill or activity, the dynamics of the class, or having a truly fearless child. No matter how much you try to protect kids, or try explaining how dangerous activities can be, sometimes it seems like these heeds are almost a challenge for certain students. Some kids are simply natural dissenters. I have no problem with that, I love the independent thinking and the attitude of “question everything.” Sometimes I think that’s stifled all too often in a child’s life because of our laziness, finding it easier to try and contain this creative energy rather than groom it once set free. I’ve been teaching long enough that I know that these are just natural accidents. Kids aren’t trying to be defiant; they’re trying to break free. Explore. It’s an assumption of risk in life. One they are willing to take every single day without hesitation. And it seems we are hell bent on denying them this instinctive tendency. But when you play hard you sometimes fall hard. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was that most kids simply bounce. Hence my tendency to stifle their excited exploration and curiosity of what their bodies are capable of. Some of these audacious practitioners do end up at the nurse’s office and may come back with an instant goose egg with an ice pack,  or a bruise, or an abrasion with a blanket of band aids (because they do possess magical healing powers), but almost all will not be held down by the weight of the ice or the glue of the band aids. Within minutes of crossing through the threshold of the gym doors, they continue playing as if nothing happened. Did it hurt? I’m sure that it did! Kids are so focused on playing hard, they don’t care. The pain doesn’t hurt. Kids are also elastic. Not everything is truly formed yet in their bodies including their bones. This elasticity must be evolutionary by nature or kids would be pieces of a broken jigsaw puzzle throughout their childhood. Is that an excuse to be hazardous in my teachings? No way. But I do know that kids are quite pliable and don’t mind testing those limits. I must find the balance of curiosity and safety.

But… what I also realized is that their center of gravity is low. For all my years of teaching in the classroom and coaching outside the classroom, I have stressed that your center of gravity is very important for balance. And if you are balanced, you are strong. If you are balanced, you are fast. If you are balanced, you are resilient. When your center of gravity is at the perfect height from the ground below you, yes, you still fall, but not as far. You still fall, but not as hard. Kids’ center of gravity is naturally low because of their height, but the thing is, it’s not about height anymore. We lose sense of that center of gravity as we get older. We lose that drive to play, to test our limits. We begin to form a bubble of perceived danger.

I’ve always considered myself a very immature adult. Everyone from my wife, to my kids, my parents, and of course, my friend(s) can vouch for this. In my defense, I think it has served me… almost well (50.1% of the time), and other times, it knocks me off my feet. Either way, I would say up until my late twenties, my center of gravity stayed low. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Starting in my 30’s, I had lost it.

I stopped being playful (but stayed immature nonetheless). I stopped adolescent physical behavior. I was trying to “grow up.” The angles within my joints along with the distances between my synapses started opening. There was no more need to be explosive off the ground. To squat or jump high. Lateral shuffling was for basketball defense, not golf. Basic playful movements were now beneath me. Basic ranges of motion had retired with my mentality. Since the mind and body are built around efficiency for survival, my mind had become rigid and my body stiff. My mind lost its range of motion.

Don’t think for one second that range of motion is all physical. Where do you think your range of motion originates? From your brain. The body follows the mind. Reservation. Hesitation. Doubt. Fear. These split-second moments add up over time. They widen the gap between the ground of our perception and our center of gravity. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits talks about the 1 Percent Rule and its application to time:

“The 1 Percent Rule states that over time the majority of the rewards in a given field will accumulate to the people, teams, and organizations that maintain a 1 percent advantage over the alternatives. You don’t need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to be slightly better.

It’s a process of accumulative advantage.”

So, you see, I wasn’t maintaining my advantage over my own mind. I was slowly giving it away to comfort. No, laziness. And that 1% giveaway for over a decade knocked me down. But now, there’s no nurse to visit. No band aid to instantly heal my wounds. No pliability in my bones. Terra firma comes at me quick and hard now.

Karl Rhonke, well known for being the father of Adventure Education (Formerly known as Project Adventure), tells us, “People are at risk when they learn. This risk may be physical, social, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual in nature.” Risk is danger. Whether perceived or real, this danger sharpens the focus. Mine focus got blurry. My center of gravity was becoming so high that I was afraid to do anything. The lack of risk taking was becoming so habitual that it started to make me rigid. I was alive but becoming filled with rigor mortis mentally, physically, and spiritually. It was a paralyzing stiffness that kept me on the straight and narrow, a path that had no destination. A path with no scenery. A path with walls. I was avoiding adversity.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was an awakening of sorts for me. First, I couldn’t even kneel. Getting up off the floor quickly felt like what a knight in armor must’ve struggled with if they hit the ground. The lack of range of motion in my head held me back from learning. Fear of my partners held me back from trying. Even with mats under my feet, the height of my center of gravity was convincing my mind that what I was doing wasn’t in my best interests. This fragility holds me back all the time. I’m scared to go hard. I’m scared to move quickly. I’m scared that I won’t find strength. It was the first time in my athletic life that I didn’t attack a sport with aggression. I don’t mean with malice; I mean with no reservation. My center of gravity was too high. I had lost my nerve. Now that I think of it, I lost it a long time ago. When I think back, I remember a time I was at a friend’s bachelor party. It was a weekend in north central Pennsylvania. Part of the fun was going mountain biking. I had been out on the trails a few times before, but nothing technical. This experience wasn’t technical, and it happened to be on a trail that I had been on before. I was with a handful of guys who were all in my age bracket. Once we set out, it was obvious that I was the outlier. My uniqueness was my lack of… well you get the picture. It was an eye-opening experience for me when I was five minutes behind everyone after maybe a mile of trails. My relic of a bike felt as though it was 10 feet off the ground. Everyone else in front of me attacked the terrain without hesitation. My whole ride was hesitation. That was my downfall. Hesitation. Thinking too much. Worrying. What if? I’m not saying I should’ve thrown caution to the wind; self-preservation is important. My problem was every time I saw an obstacle, I hesitated in my mind on how to negotiate it. Imagine a soccer player waiting for the ball to hit them in the head instead of attacking the ball with their head? They’d be jarred for a bit. Or a football player standing flat-footed thinking they are going to be able to block or run through the line. The inertia is stagnant. You will lose. I stopped attacking life.

Recently, I started lifting. It’s been almost 20 years since the last time I moved some weight. It was a shock how high my center of gravity really was. This of course was in the physical sense because of the missing neuromuscular sense. My muscles had no idea how to fire in the proper order to move a minimum amount of weight. Use it or lose it. Again, the body follows the mind. I was benching as much as I was squatting. Think about that. I could push with untrained arms, as much as my TRAINED legs could. I walk every day. Stand out of a chair. Ride my bike. Stand still even. All things that carry my 185-pound (give or take a couple…) frame all over the place. And I can only lift as much as my arms that couldn’t even bang out 20 push ups right now. My functional strength is dissipating. All because my functional mentality is getting soft. This lack of pressure on my center of gravity is allowing it to rise. My balance is becoming offset.

Use it or lose it. It is true. I never thought that I wouldn’t be able to perform certain tasks anymore. My center of gravity, a fragile helium balloon, rising, only to be eventually pulled down. Not because of strength, but because it popped, forced out of the air to plummet to the ground. That’s too low. That’s not balanced. As a physical education teacher, I have always considered myself active. I need to move every day in class. I need to be able to demonstrate certain skills. But these skills were individually done. There wasn’t much of a dynamic nature to them. Nothing chained together. Nothing complex. Pass a ball here. One handstand against the wall there. Nothing in combination anymore. Nothing moving in one direction and changing to another. Everything at the same level. Stagnant. And so that became my being. I couldn’t dribble a basketball from one spot to another, or cross the ball over quickly, or pull up short to shoot. I could only dribble while walking. Barely able to show kids a layup. There is no more three step approach to jump and spike a volleyball. Or even just jumping in place to block one. At the elementary level! The roads on the map of my mind for these movements are slowly becoming pothole filled and crumbling. My neuromuscular coordination is a path laden with weeds. It’s a depressing transition from paths blazed and paved from years ago that had become as big as interstate highways, to now a failing infrastructure. The budget for repair is up to my will.

I was just talking to a friend this morning on a bike ride about how jealous I was of his impromptu trip to bag a high peak in the Adirondacks. I shamefully (ego, that’ll be another discussion) told him that I can’t hike anymore because of my knees. Walking downhill is excruciating. Perception is reality. And the reality is, I don’t hike anymore! It wasn’t because of my knees, it’s because I lost the drive to hike. Sure, I walk downhill from time to time and it hurts, but it’s something that I don’t ever practice. Something that I stopped training. That certain angle in my knees and the muscles used at that angle had atrophied with my will. I gave up as soon as the arthritis challenged me. My mind lost its nerve. Its edge. It is turning into a dull blade. As anyone who cooks can tell you, a dull blade is actually more dangerous than a sharp blade. The dulling of my mind is becoming a danger to my being. I need to sharpen that edge.

It takes effort. A plan. Discipline. A desired outcome. It takes paying attention to the little things you avoid on a consistent basis. I need to keep focusing on the flexion of my knee. The rotation of my shoulders. The rotation of my head. The folding of my torso. The sharpness of my mind. I need to go through and remove the weeds in my paths. Mow them down. Plow the unfertile earth beneath the useless growth. Repave the roads. No. Cement the roads on the map of my mind. If nothing else I have learned in this life, I have at least learned that the mind will find a way. If I want it to. Sharpen the blade that is my will. And cut down my center. They are one in the same. If our age can grow in number, why can’t our mind grow in creation? The body follows the mind.

Balance means you’re getting everything done in life that you should be. Strength can be a metaphor for persevering through all these things. You’re not lowering your standards by lowering your sense of gravity, you’re becoming more balanced and stronger as a human being traveling through your life. Maria Popova recently wrote that “…remembering that humility comes from humilis – Latin for low, of the Earth.” Other defining words from this root are low, lowly, small, slight, shallow… adjectives that describe something that is lower to the ground. Being lower. Having a lower center of gravity means to be humble. Knowing this, we must constantly be in the pursuit of improvement. That we need to understand we know nothing. That we cannot be satisfied with our stagnation. That we must always be looking to improve. To seek balance in life. Balance is strength and speed of mind and body by the lowering of our center of gravity through the constant pounding from our search for improvement. Freud said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” Let’s go struggle. Because we should’ve never stopped.

To read more, or to get Rat Snake updates, please sign up for our newsletter! It’s the text box on the lower right of every page on the site. The essays and updates will be delivered to your inbox as I’m trying to get myself, and hopefully you, off of the black hole of social media! Thank you so much!

Am I Allowed to Feel Sorry for Myself?

***Yes, I have kissed my mother with this mouth. You’ve been warned. 

I’m a baby. A whiner. I am weakness. Maybe at this point, a poser. Woke up this morning feeling utterly and pathetically sorry for myself. It’s the lowest of the low for me. That feeling of knowing you’re pathetic and can’t find the balls to break from it. It angers me. Weakness. My complaining is tiresome. The fishing for sympathy. Empathy. The echo of my own verbiage bouncing off a chamber with walls of self-pity and impaling my self-worth. The spoken and physical comforts from loved ones are like the stubbing of a toe. Sympathy. Pacifying. That look of “poor thing.” Maybe the sentiment lasts 1 minute from them, then they move on. Good for them. I shouldn’t have said anything to begin with. What can they do? Why complain? I guess the same reason for this essay, social media, whatever… to gain attention. To stroke my ego. To justify my sorrows. To feel normal. Normal? Holy shit. This sorrow is normal? This self-pity is normal? Am I allowed to feel sorry for myself? I ask this all the time because deep down I know feeling sorry for myself is useless. What does it solve? Maybe it’s ok for a few moments but not long term. I can’t be a fucking victim in my own life. I have to tell myself, NO! I have to CONVINCE myself to move on. Today, I’m losing the battle. 

You have never tasted freedom, friend, or you would know it is purchased not with gold, but steel. ~Dienekes 

Now the panic starts to settle in. Is my body failing me again? So the damn checklist begins. Deep breath. Well that felt like it was about 6 seconds. That seems ok. No sharp or constricting pain in the chest area. Breathe in, 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand, 4 one thousand 5 one thou….., hold… one and two and three and four and five and six and seven… exhale through clenched lips… one and two and three and four and five and six and seven and eight… release. Repeat three more times. Check pulse, around 60, high but I can accept it. When I’m not thinking about it later it will be lower. Now for a quiet space and breathing again. I sit, cross my legs, feel the pain of my beef jerky-like muscles crack. I sit up tall and inhale deeply, hold for a quick moment, exhale slowly through clenched lips until I can no longer push. Repeat for three minutes. Cramps or pain in the shoulder? No. How about the lower right back? Some, but it feels muscular and has been nagging me ever since I’ve been riding my time trial bike. Energy is fine. Complexion fine. Respiration seems normal. So what the fuck? This, THIS is what I have to go through now? This is the routine when things don’t seem right? A check list of fucking vitals? A habit to reinforce fear? A checklist to tell myself “it’s ok Danny.” Maybe even a mental pat on the shoulder of reassurance when really, it should be a 2×4 across the back of the head. But how can I when it’s up my ass? 

Maybe, just maybe asshole, this is the way it is. No. Fuck that. I don’t accept it. I can’t. I won’t. But do I have a choice? Is there a choice? Free will, right? Well what the hell is that? I have no will. And it certainly isn’t free. 

Death will change you, if you can’t change yourself ~Mark Twight

Essays ago I was talking about the health scare I had a few years back. It was about how I now needed to get out of my comfort zone by backing off and going with the flow. I’m losing this fight with the boundaries that encase my comfort. Maybe part of me or even most of me can push through the self-perceived fence that guards my safe spot, but my fear pulls me back through just when things get tough. I’m great out of the gates but not much for stamina anymore. How could I be? I’ve had 40+ years of being fine. Of ups and downs and recovering just fine. Now, I find myself in a never ending cycle of feeling like shit. 

Ever since we’ve been in the pandemic, I’ve been trying to stay in shape. At first, I was biking indoors for not only myself, but for my track athletes. I would post my workouts and to talk about them and what the focus was so that my track athletes could see someone keeping the effort up and that they would maybe be pushed to get out and do something themselves. I did this for over 8 weeks. Spring was past its prime and a couple days led to nice weather. Time to get outside. It was glorious. I felt great. Rode with a friend the next time and it was effortless. Now I couldn’t go back to being on rollers. Rolling roads was my only option.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and it was just below 50 out. I had the proper clothing, no big deal. I’ve exercised in cool weather before. But something was different. At wattages that I’m usually fine with, I was breathing harder. Not out of breath, just working harder. When I got home, I was so fatigued all I did was lay in bed for an hour or so looking to take a nap. I couldn’t. My chest barrel was achy. I could still breath deep, my heart rate was still normal, there was no fever… god, what is going on? For about the next two weeks it was this way, but better each ride. It lasted for just over 3 weeks. I’ve been in this cycle for about 2 months now. Yesterday, I think was the start of the next cycle. I rode with a friend and we did the same exact loop I did a week ago. The intensity factor last week, based on my power meter, was .93. It was a day where I thought I was going for an easy spin and I decided to do some big chain ring work. It felt fine so why let up? This lasted until my ride was over. Fuck yeah. I even felt good after it. Tired, but the good tired. Yesterday, it was the same loop. .92. I wanted to go to the ER for about 2 hours after the ride. I eventually got moving and did some housework and felt ok for the rest of the day. Chest was sore. 

The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love. ~Tennessee Williams

Woke up this morning, achy in my barrel. Heart rate is fine. No fever. I can take deep breaths without pain. I have fucking had it with this shit. So now what? Make another doctor’s appointment? What for? To be told, for at least the tenth time, that everything sounds and looks good? Fuck that. Seriously. I’m even rage typing right now. Maybe the keyboard can share my pain. That’s a bit irrational, isn’t it Dan? It’s beyond bullshit and I don’t know what to do anymore. I exercise, I do breathing exercises to round out my rides when done. I meditate. I write. I walk. I even stop in the day to practice breathing. I’m taking my prescribed meds for my episode years ago. I try to relax. I’m constantly in pursuit of reading up on mentality and how to be more at peace. I work on awareness all day and my reactions to it. Maybe it’s allergies. I’ll take meds for that too and I don’t feel much of a difference. Analysis paralysis? I feel like I’m going through a midlife crisis. For God sake, I thought I went through that a five years ago! My awareness has the acuity of a nerve being severed when it comes to this kind of mentality. Every little thing triggers it, aggravates it, gives me knots in my stomach and paralyzes my attention towards other things. I dwell. A dwelling that turns into a black hole. Each time this bullshit happens, I get closer to that event horizon. It is looking to suck me down into an inescapable realm of loathing. Separating my will, atom by atom at an accelerating pace. I can’t allow that to happen. I CAN’T allow it to happen. My body is becoming a failure. Maybe it’s my mind. It is happening to me over and over and over, a sadistic mind fuck on a continuous cycle. It doesn’t matter what I say to myself, or how much water I drink, or the whole foods I eat, or how much exercise I do, or how much writing I do, or how much I talk to my friends about this. It just never seems to get any better. It is beating me down. It has not only taken the wind out of my sails, but ripped the sails and the mast from my boat while having fried its navigation system. I feel like I can’t exercise to the intensity that shapes me. I feel like I can’t do what I absolutely love, and that is to suffer without hesitation. Whether it’s biking or running or jiu-jitsu, anything that involves a high heart rate and deep breathing. I feel like it’s been stolen from me and I am continuously chasing after it. I am not gaining any ground. I am beat back by it just when I think that I have a grasp on it. 

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. ~ David Goggins

This is something that will be hard for me to get used to if this is the way life is going to be. This is something that is already challenging me and it’s only been a few years. I’m tired of hearing that I need to back off. I’m tired of telling myself that I’m getting old. I’m tired of thinking that I need to let off the gas. I understand that I am not 20 anymore. I understand that my body will not recover the way it used to. I understand all of this evolution throughout a lifespan. But I’m experiencing a drop off. No. A plummet. This is not a gentle decline. It is a crevasse. I’m hanging on with one hand, dangling. I want to lead a good life. A productive life. A hard life. A life with some suffering. Maybe it’s cliche, but somewhat of a warrior’s life. I don’t want to be stuck on my ass doing yoga in the basement or taking a brisk walk and talking about how that’s my workout everyday. I don’t want to be stuck in the house and sidelined when my kids want to go for a bike ride or even a run where I can ride next to them on my bike. I feel like this is the downward spiral of a toilet bowl. I’m in the whirlpool and headed for the sewer. I hate the feeling. It’s as though I have lost my shield and my spear is broken while my sword is too heavy to wield. My body is evolving in an accelerated but natural rate, but my mind is not. It doesn’t comprehend the speed. 

You’re your own biggest critic. Am I being too critical? NO FUCKING WAY. As my father would always tell me, “The truth hurts.” Yes, it does. And who else is going to be as truthful to me besides me? Sure, others will give it to me straight, but they’re not as intimate with myself as I am. Nor do they understand my true feelings about myself and what I expect. It’s easy to tell someone else that it’s fine to let off the gas. It makes us feel better about ourselves with our own dealings of weakness. But we never do tell ourselves the same because we want to make ourselves feel like shit. Why? Because on the other side of suffering is greatness. We all know this. We just don’t practice it, but the suffering I’m enduring is blocking the true suffering I require. What to do? Drag on trying to convince myself that this is living, that this life now is not a participation sport? Do I live out the rest of my time scared? Should I be idle just to make sure I live as long as I can? Would that even work? I am past midlife. As Mark Twight says, “This isn’t midlife. This is closer to the end than the beginning…” Will the remaining time that sums up the fall and winter of my life be a life worth living? Would I want to be a person who would rather leave this existence now, after doing many of the things that make ME feel alive and worthy of the space I take up? Or, do I want to spend the next 30 years wasting oxygen that would be better served for someone who is not wasting their moments? Or, would I prefer from what I heard in a recent podcast, “having a tattoo on my chest that simply says ‘DO NOT RESUSCITATE'” as I’d rather depart with a smile than a blank stare? I wonder how people who live their lives on the edge, that leave this world early, really feel in those final moments? Knowing their whole lives that any moment can be their last. And when that moment comes, is there a split second of regret or gratitude? I want to, no, I HAVE to believe that it’s gratitude. Why else would they live that way? I’m not saying I want a life on the edge when it comes to my pursuits, I just feel like my health is always on the edge and my pursuits sharpen the edge. 

Punish your body to perfect the soul. ~Mark Twight

Maybe it was a bad day. I can deal with that. What I am struggling with is that those days keep adding up at a faster rate than they used to. But maybe, just maybe I can keep the positive days in the black. That if I just live one suffering moment at a time I will be present enough to find a little grace. To keep depositing growth in my “life well lived” bank account. That these moments of will still outweigh the pitiful ones. I have to keep digging. I have to keep examining. I have to find the good in the bad. This suffering, good or bad, can teach me a lesson. That I gave something of myself and that has to mean something good. That I left a weaker part of me as another pebble on the pavement of this new journey. That even though I may be crumbling in some areas, I can keep other areas intact. It might be with duct tape, but goddamnit, it will keep me in the fight. Many before me and many after me have and will still prove, that there is always a way to work through our self-pity. I am not special or unique. There have been many lives lived that were much harder than mine. And when I think about, really, is my life that hard? NO. Give me a fucking break Dan. Get perspective on relativity. Because relative to others who have lived a hard life, I’ve yet to even leave an imprint in this life. The struggle is not real. If I want to have the hardcore life, I must expect no fucking slack. Get it together. That’s all I want to do. 

How human beings deal with the limitation of their possibilities regarding how it affects their actions and their ability to love, how they behave under these restrictions — the way in which they accept their suffering under such restrictions — in all of this they still remain capable of fulfilling human values.

So, how we deal with difficulties truly shows who we are.

~Viktor Frankl

The USA is an Outlier!

It seems that the US has become an outlier. The problem is we are on the wrong side of the graph when it comes to the COVID pandemic. How can we look at the PLANET and honestly say to ourselves that all the other countries that are opening up with minimal cases are wrong while we’re right… breaking records with positive cases daily? It’s as though we’re that person who argues with EVERYONE always pointing the finger at everyone else for our problems but ourselves. We have become a society of quick fixes. Life hacks. And we haven’t learned a thing. There are no special diets, secret exercises, effective supplements. None. How many of us have dieted for it only to last a few weeks, exercised before we created an excuse, or taken that pill to convince ourselves it’s working when really you see no difference? Or let’s use another example of a quick fix. Social media. We’ve become slaves to that ding, chime, the character in our lock screen, the thumbs up or the heart. We can’t wait to feel the vibration of approval. Is it really? Does it matter? “But it connects the world!” In thought, maybe. And how deep are those thoughts? How representative are these thoughts of reality? How about in feeling? Transcendence? Progression? Aren’t these the things that we wake up for everyday? But In this case, we thought 3 months of mixed messages and half-assed efforts worked.

They didn’t. They never have. There is no hack. You must be diligent and consistent in the long run. I’ve read and listened to all the freedom bullshit. You have never given yourself freedom up to this point anyway with your hacks, why do you think this one will work differently? So why can’t we smoke in bars or public establishments? Why does your surgeon wear a mask and perform the procedure in a sterilized environment instead of the shitter? Why wear a seatbelt? Why don’t we cough in each other’s faces? Why beg for medicine when sick? Why should someone who’s lived healthy and happy for 75 years accept death now because of an age? Survival of the fittest? Sure. So, nature decides you’re fit to survive COVID. Are you fit to lead? Are you fit to love? Are you fit to serve? Are you fit to empathize? Are you fit to legislate? Are you fit to provide? Because if you’re fit to survive COVID and nothing else, where does that leave the world? With people who are fit. Or have access to good health care. Or are rich who can avoid the world and have access to the best healthcare. Or a world of narcissists and sociopaths. Are these the ones that will rise in this survival of the fittest world of the pandemic? Is this really evolving? Imagine this world. With simply the fit. Or the narcissists. Or a combination. Because that’s all I hear. I hear people who don’t care unless it affects them. Now is the time to realize this. The pattern we’re falling into. Self-gratification. We’re connected alright, with virtues as thin as the fiber optic cable they travel through.

We need balance, not COVID survivors. You want freedom? Do what the rest of the world is showing us, that there’s no shortcut to freedom. That life hacks are fake news. That we “shoulda, coulda, and woulda” already been free at this point if we weren’t bored. Satisfied with the state of things when we should never be satisfied. But we’ve evolved into quick fix addicts. The remedy? The cure? The vaccine? RESOLVE. Show some. Our country was built on it. We must continue it. With action. Not clicks. Not fads. Not by running our mouths. By doing what we know, at this point, works… and always will work, toprovide for the COMMON defense, promote the GENERAL Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to OURSELVES.

 

Ain’t easy havin’ pals

 

“Your friends should motivate and inspire you. Your circle should be well rounded and supportive. Keep it tight, quality over quantity.” Anonymous

Thought:

Hey man, I feel we got cut off today and needed more time to talk. I can’t even imagine what is going on in your mind right now. To be “betrayed” week by week by the state once you had a plan in place for the date they originally gave you. I am sorry that I cannot empathize with you. I have never been in the situation that you have… owning a gym, having to close, figuring out a game plan to reopen, being told you can, then getting the rug pulled out from underneath you. I have no words. These are simply strange times. 

At what point do we say “Enough is enough!?” At what point do we give up our resolve to be as safe as “we’re told” to be? Are the pandemic numbers real? If someone from the gym gets infected will they get sick? Would they have gotten sick from the gym? Who’s infected but has no symptoms but would be considered a carrier and an “infector?” What if you become infected? Do you believe that you’d be immune? Your wife? Kids? Dad? What if you’re being too cautious and missing out on time that you and your members will NEVER get back? Will BJJ always be there for you? Will you lose friendships? Can you rebuild if you hold out? Will your business partner be able to support his family if closed? Can you sleep at night with your decision? Is the pandemic running you down? Is there a pandemic? Is your vision of BJJ and the gym strong enough to weather this storm even if it were 10 years long? Can you live without it? All shit that I’m thinking of and I don’t have the mental or physical investment that you do. I do NOT want to make the situation worse nor do I want to cause you anymore anxiety. That’s being a shitty friend and it isn’t my intent. I guess, selfishly, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be in your shoes and how I’d mentally deal and organize all that is going on. But it’s not my choice. It’s not my struggle. So how to move forward?

I have no clue man. None. I can give the same BS reasons that you and I want to believe, and try to practice, but sometimes end up being empty gestures… “It’s going to be fine, we have our health, a home, food, family, love, friends, and even a paycheck from my job. It’s really not a big deal, I, and everyone I cherish are healthy and that’s all that matters. My friends tell me that whatever decision I make is the right one and that they support me.” 

But this is a deciding moment. Do you really believe these things or are they talking points for times when we are comfortable in life? Are these statements even accurate if you are seriously committed to the mindset we’ve spent so much time talking about recently? Am I off the mark and you have a completely different view? Is it easy for me to talk from my ivory tower because he and his wife still have jobs, are comfortable, and do not know what it’s like to own something that is slipping between their fingers? What do YOU feel deep down is the thing to do? From all of your meditations, to yoga, to the clarity you feel from rolling, what you teach, what you discuss with your wife, what you’re teaching your kids, what do you feel is the righteous path? These are tough questions man. I don’t know how I can help other than to shut the fuck up and listen to what you have to say? Answer questions only when asked? All I know man, is that at this moment, right now, focus on what is the right thing to do. Maybe it’s deleting this email. Maybe it’s playing a game with the kids. Reading them a book. Talking about life with your wife. Taking a deep breath. Writing in your journal. Going for a walk. Going fishing. Breaking shit. Going outside and screaming as loud as you can. Step. Go in a direction, it doesn’t fucking matter which direction it is in. You can ALWAYS readjust your bearings. But right now, live in the moment. Do what feels instinctive. Do it with conviction. Belief. Trust your wisdom. Trust your virtues. You have absolutely ZERO reason not to trust your intuition… where has it TRULY failed you in life? Where you couldn’t recover? Or say you’re sorry? Or not be able to correct your direction? You have a true and calibrated moral compass. Use it. But make sure you believe in yourself. All the time. During this shitstorm. It is during THIS time in history that tests a person. What the fuck are you going to do about it? Bitch? Of course, you’re human, and any one of us would do the same. But you can’t bitch forever. You have to man up. Deal with one obstacle at a time. And get through it. Because Life really doesn’t care about our feelings. And we can’t change life. It is a universal law. So work your way through it. Through the obstacle. ONE AT A TIME. And that’s all you can do. 

“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”

~ Epicurus

I love you man. I’m here for you. I want you to be happy. 

Response:

Thanks for this one, man. Wish I had checked my email a week ago! Anyways, the answer is, and always will be, to remain in the present moment and only leave it on MY terms when I need to plan or draw upon my past experiences. I have made plans that are aligned with my authentic moral compass, and can honestly say I have done my honest best each day since this all started. All I can do now is stay present and follow the plan that I set out. I cannot control the past or the future, and realize that trying to do so will only create suffering.

To me, these past 2 years of competition have been the perfect training for the situation we now face. It is a chance to practice the Mushin mind in a new, real life scenario. I am extremely grateful for the mental work we’ve put in together throughout these last 2 years. I’d imagine I would be struggling much more if it wasn’t for developing all those coping strategies. So, THANK YOU!

Result:

Act. Do. Step. Going forward is the only way to purposefully go through life. Will we fail? I hope so. Will we recover? You better. Does recovery have to be instant? NO. But move. Move towards a result. Move in any direction. Make sure you step with both feet, one after the other. Not one step at a time with the same foot leading you to an infinite circle while being truly lost at the same time. It’s all we can do, right? Gather as much information as possible to make that informed decision that we think is the right one. Commit to it. Adjust. Re-adjust. And again. But keep forging forward. We are wired to move with purpose each day or we’d all end up in bed for 24 hours. We have to keep evolving. Very few of us have the luxury where we stand at a point so when where we step, it is  in one direction. No one really lives at the poles. Where a single step is always in one direction. We have choices. And sitting around and worrying about the choice we made leaves us with anxiety.

 “The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.”

~ L. A. Seneca

Take the step. Believe in your experiences to guide you. No one said you had to race. Or run. Or even jog. Just take a step. You can always correct your course. In fact, you WILL correct your course. This is how we grow. No one said we can’t use the  guard rails to bounce us back on the road. These rails come from experience. Where do you get it? From stepping. Go do what YOU intuitively know what is right. Maybe what you believe to be right for you might not be right for others. It’s not up to you, that’s up to them. No one said they have to follow your path.  BUT, you must follow yours. And if you do, without reservation, without hesitation, with all your being, your love, soul, and purpose, and as Rich Roll would say, the Universe has no choice but to conspire to help you. 

“There is no genius without a touch of madness.”

~ L. A. Seneca

The Moment

I love to cook. I’m not a chef by any means but I can typically make things taste good enough to eat. I also love TV and there are some really great cooking shows out there. Recently, I have been obsessed with The Chef Show starring chef Roy Choi and director/filmmaker Jon Favreau. They bounce from restaurants to private homes of either famous chefs or actors. What I love about it is that they do not really talk about recipes filled with ounces of this or temperatures of that, but just what life is like in the kitchen. People’s love and relationship with food.

In one episode, Jon asks Roy (and I’m paraphrasing for these quotes), “Hey Roy, how do I know when to flip these?” Roy came over to the grill Jon was working to look at the situation. While eying the fare, he says, “Not yet. You’ll know when to flip them. There’s this time in cooking where you just know the MOMENT. The Moment when you know what to do…. The instant when popcorn becomes burnt popcorn.” Roy alludes to an intuition. An instinct. Jon is not a chef. He just loves the atmosphere. In this scene, Roy was going beyond technicalities in what makes a chef. He was beginning to mentor his friend in the ART of cooking. The LIFE of cooking. The WAY of cooking. The PATH of how to cook. Maybe even showing Jon how to live through the WAY of cooking. Every expert has a path from their craft that leads them through their VIRTUOUS life. If they didn’t have this cross-road, they wouldn’t be experts. An expert’s craft becomes metaphysical.

What I love about shows like this, is that they make you think. It won’t  necessarily make you think about the specific actions that are happening on the screen, they make you think about the specific actions that are happening on the screen and how they relate to life. How they can apply to life. When Roy said that quote to Jon, I just simply thought to myself that “life is full of these intuitive Moments. The more we experience life, the more adapted our intuition becomes in making that Moment direct us towards a more virtuous path.” Simply look at the gallery on your phone, the sides of your refrigerator, the walls in your house, ALL full of Moments. Your brain instinctively looks for them, it just needs a moral compass to point it in the direction of taking advantage of the right Moment.

I simply love the idea of writing this essay, but right now, at this Moment, I don’t want to write it. I don’t know If I like how I started it or the direction it is going in. It’s actually to the point where it’s causing me anxiety and trying to get my ego to feel sorry for itself. But, what I do recognize is that  this is a Moment. A Moment of decision. A Moment that can change the path of this minute and what the next minute might be like for the rest of the day. Or maybe the week. Or month. You get the idea. These Moments are what comprise our life and the path that we walk down. Sometimes these Moments define us, sometimes they blaze a new direction. But Moment after Moment after Moment soon adds up. Man, have some of mine added up to a pile of bricks. Bricks in my path that are not even laid properly. I created an obstacle. Some Moments can lift like a hot air balloon. Gently rising while quietly trusting the direction of Nature’s breath. Leading to higher places, physically and morally.

The decisions we make in the Moments are important. Extremely important. A decision in the Moment can be a make or break decision for your life. Some instantly, some that add up to chain reactions over time.  These Moments happen everyday. As soon as your eyes open. How many times have we awoken and have to make a decision? Cripes, the first one is, “Do I roll over and close my eyes?” How much does that ONE Moment affect the rest of your day? The only reason you have to make that decision is because you already do not want to face life yet. You have already started procrastinating and you haven’t moved a muscle. “Do I exercise this morning? Should I make the kids a special breakfast? Do I need to shave this morning? What am I planning on doing at work today? Am I going to train tonight?” That’s all of 3 seconds. You start bargaining all the time with yourself on what is important and what needs to get done. You cannot convince me that that Moment doesn’t set the stage for your opening act. James Clear speaks of these tiny Moments in his book Atomic Habits.  Maybe some are significant, maybe some are truly atomic in size, but his premise is that these Moments all eventually add up. You have no choice as time is part of this formula, and time is perpetual. Not immune to the law of compounding. Are you compounding in a productive way or destructive way? That’s the key. Are you aware enough, in these Moments, to recognize the affect your decision will have? Maybe these moments aren’t that important at the time but these moments over time are important. It’s not just one Moment a day or one Moment a week, it’s multiple Moments in a second. Maybe tens of Moments in a minute. Maybe hundreds of Moments throughout an hour. They all add up eventually.

Where are they going? Where are they leading you? Where, or who, or what do you want to be from them? All of these Moments you need to think about and be aware of at the time. You need to step in the proper direction with these Moments. Because maybe one Moment of “I’m not going to work out this morning because I’ve been doing a consistent job of working out” will turn into a Moment of: “I’m not going to work out tomorrow either because I don’t feel like it. I’ll be okay because I know I’m in good enough shape, it won’t affect me.” That damn Moment just changed the formula and now the answer is 4 more weeks of the same inaction. How many of us have had this Moment? Every. Single. One. Of. Us. You all know this equation. Recognize. Recognize these Moments. We need to recognize their importance at that Moment. That maybe a Moment is a split second, that we can still step back, slow down, and take a look at the impact that Moment may have. Are all Moments equal in size? Maybe. Are they life or death? No. They are LIFE. Because life isn’t the opposite of death. Birth is. But, the next Moment on top of that might take you closer to a worse life. Along with the Moment after that. It all adds up. It adds up at the speed of thought. Our physical life goes by in an instant compared to the lifespan of time. We need to make sure that these Moments we’re acting on aren’t in vain. Becoming a dimming life spirit. Fading to the point that there is no more point to our lives. This Luminous Flux MUST increase. It is the measurement of our LIVES. The brighter our Moments illuminate, the easier it is to follow. A newly blazed path of insight leading you to your best. The radiance brushing those we pass by, illuminating their Moment so those around us can begin to see their Moment more clearly.

Learn to seek out these Moments. To be aware. They are only dormant because your eyes are not trained to see them. No one is immune to them, just the denial of them. Be aware. Recognize. Step back. And when we do, we need to slow down and make sure we’re pointing ourselves in the proper direction. To make that Moment worth it. The Moments that follow are depending on it.

Another Comfort Zone Talk

3 years ago my body failed me. Ironically, it was during a period of time where I had felt healthier than in previous years. In the summer, I tried my best to quit doing unhealthy things. Within reason. I decided to focus on a better diet. No more alcohol. I was waking up early in the morning to exercise and get going with everyday life. This practice started in early August 2017 and went through until about December. I had been the lowest weight I had been since my last Ironman in 2013. I was biking every other day and jogging every other day. In November, a former student and great friend of mine convinced me to start jiu-jitsu in November. At this point now, some days were double sessions of exercise. It was high times. A time when you look back at and ask yourself “ why the hell haven’t I always done this?”

In that fall, I got blood work done for life insurance. All vitals were the best they had been in many years without the aid of any kind of chemical. Lab results from the bloodwork was benign enough to allow me to purchase the lowest rate on the term life insurance I was shopping for. The absurdity, best shape of my middle age and I’m shopping for LIFE insurance. 

No more than a couple of months later, maybe even by the end of December, I wasn’t feeling so well. I would get an ache in my lower back. I swear there was a frozen Snickers bar shaped knot protruding vertically out of my shoulder muscle (trapezius). Pretty much equidistant between my neck and the point of my shoulder. These pains wouldn’t go away. By mid-January I wasn’t rolling too well on the mats. I would have to tap out here and there because I struggled to breathe. My shoulder’s candy bar was becoming frozen and bitter sweet. Maybe I’m trying too hard on the mats? Maybe I was panicking? Out of shape in the jiu-jitsu realm? These questions are all too common for the novice practitioner. Discouragingly, pain’s arms reached further than the gym. I got to the point where it was hard to lower myself to lay down. Every micro adjustment to stabilize shot tearing pains through the nerves, taking breath away without the excuse of getting smashed by a partner on the mats. The acute discomfort at the bottom of my rib cage in my lower back hurt to the touch. A massage was no relief. Every finger that pressed my banana bruised back just added to the tension. When I would feel a burp coming I braced for the pain in the barrel of my chest. Hiccups were turning into the feel of Medieval torture devices. And the THOUGHT of sneezing made me want to curl up to concentrate on creating a self-induced coma. Laying on my side provided some comfort. Or maybe just relief from having to hold myself upright. Eventually, I would feel a touch short of breath. Reading to my kids was part of my exercise minutes for the day as I couldn’t finish a sentence without an extra breath, a gurgle from the bottom lobe of my right lung. I’m just under the weather. I have a chest cold. Certainly getting older. All the excuses of denial were beginning to get in line. At the tip of my brain. My ego would tell me that I am stronger than this pain. You’ve pushed through before. It will go away. 

I had been prescribed a powerful NSAID and muscle relaxers (not narcotics, unfortunately, but a saving grace to my gastrointestinal system and addictive personality…. FORTUNATELY). All in the hopes I could at least sleep or just sit down comfortably. To try to slow down my constant internal negotiating with someone or something that I haven’t put faith into since childhood. Hoping, pleading, that my lower back issues were just muscle spasms as I’ve had before. That the Snickers bar would somehow get consumed by my body. Maybe it’s chemical reactions post consumption providing physical relief that we think it provides our neurological distress. Nothing. 

In late January, some friends and I take a long weekend in the Adirondacks for a “man” weekend. My symptoms had worsened. I was falling into the category of the addict who begins to add one more pill at night to “see what happens.” I slept a little better. Not because of relief, but because the medicine convinced me not to care. It was time to make a phone call to a much loved and trusted family member who works in the medical field. “Maybe you should go to the ER” was her always sound and prudent advice. Yes, she may have mentioned this before and put up with my machismo. But machismo was still there. I can’t possibly ruin everyone’s mini vacation. I’ll push through. 

Running was getting slow. I didn’t care, I have an excuse. Bad knees. Must be that the weather is changing. Biking was becoming a hassle. Too much prep time, fan is really cold first thing in the morning, the music is too loud. I guess I’ll start to wean off that. On the mats, tap out after tap out, I think I’m just rolling too hard, panicking like a no stripe whitebelt. Oxygen just doesn’t seem to be transferring from my lungs to my blood. There has to be some sort of mucus barrier from a cold. Just push through. But I was still exercising on a consistent basis with 3 disciplines to rotate through. These times were actually the only times I WASN’T in pain. When the pain of exercise is introduced, the pains of life dissipates. Nothing is wrong. This went on until President’s Week. After coming back from a family tour of south-central and south-eastern Pennsylvania that week, I had an “episode” when I decided to lay down after dinner. My diaphragm cramped up and breathing became difficult. I nonchalantly told my wife that I’m going to the ER to get checked out. We’ve endured my muscle spasms before. I went to the ER. Bloodwork was ok. X-rays ok. The ER doctor was starting to wonder what the hell I was doing there. Finally a D-dimer test was done to check for inflammation markers in my blood. Results, I guess, were off the charts. Enough that I was in a CT scan within 10 minutes. Huge pulmonary embolisms had taken nest in each lung with smaller ones in their wake. These are organic grenades just waiting to move and explode in your brain. It put the term “drop dead” into perspective. A panic attack quickly followed. Oxygen mask to the face. Thoughts of Pulp Fiction now run through my overreacting brain as I thought I heard a nurse ask for the norepinephrine and then saw the 7-8 inch long medically sealed syringe and needle being placed bedside. My wife removed from the room pleading: “he has 3 kids at home!” I began to fade a bit. A soothing calmness came over my body. It had no choice but to give in. No pushing through this time. 

To this day, no one can explain to me why there were clots or how they came to be. My body betrayed me. There’s nothing worse than this feeling for me. This slap behind the knees had made my mind buckle. The myth of invincibility confirmed. A nightmare had now become a 24 hour narrative in my mind. I consider myself quite self-aware. Whether it’s mentally or physically. I know what’s going on with my body. My mind also thinks it knows what’s going on with itself too. I know what’s going on around my body. I know it’s going on when I open my mouth whether good or bad. I’m very in tune. Ever since these blood clots came about, I have been on high alert, some kind of bad DEFCON number. My server had crashed. So much sensory traffic that it’s become detrimental. Even on medicine, my blood pressure still rises when I go to the doctor’s office and I’m sure throughout the day. Nothing like the feeling of when you feel that “pump” tightness in your muscles without touching a single weight. 

Today, I’m in fairly decent shape from riding my bike since March (no jiu-jitsu right now). 4 to 5 times a week for no less than 45 minutes and no more than an hour and a half at this point. My cardiovascular system is happy again. But sometimes sitting, my heart rate rises without provocation. That damn pounding in my temples. Sometimes I catch myself focusing on my breathing. Am I out of breath? All of my life I have been taught to fight. From what I’ve observed about my parents, it has also been genetically encoded. To embrace struggle. To know that suffering will lead to greatness. That most of the time, the hard path is often the right path. And I’m trying to bring that fight not only to my family life, or work, or coaching, but now to the struggles that I have with my body. I am losing. In fact I’m getting my ass kicked. So with this will to fight, to put up a defense, to struggle with all of my being, intuitively I want to push MORE. Everyone knows that growth is outside of your “comfort zone.” God, who else is sick of that term? Intuitively my genes, my rearing, my being, is telling my mind that I need to work harder. That the struggle needs to be more. That the suffering has to get worse. It’s the only way to improve that I know. But I feel I’ve been down that path. I feel I’ve done that. I feel I’ve given myself an opportunity for improvement. Lately it’s been my digestive system that is failing me. I’ve changed my diet since the end of last year. I’ve eaten less. I’ve lost weight. As I said before, I’m in pretty good cardiovascular shape right now. Yet nothing is touching it. I not only have these pains in my guts, my chest, my back, my knees, my neck, but in my HEAD. This is what happens when I Google “DIY remedies to fix my mind’s crashed server.” My mind is feeling sore. My mind is clawing at the dirt to make up some ground. It’s as if my mind is locked in a steel clad chamber and is trying to find every possible crack in that steel to break out. It is screaming with all of its synapses, neurons, electricity, to only get an echo back and make the pain worse. 

Step out of that comfort zone. That’s all my instinct says. But it’s not working. Maybe I am stepping out of the wrong hole in my comfort zone. Maybe, it’s not the struggle that’s going to fix all of this. What is it that is the opposite of this struggle? ACCEPTANCE. Accept that I have done and am doing the best that I can. Accept that maybe this is my body now. Accept that by backing off, IS outside of my comfort zone. How do we imagine our comfort zone? When I think about it, it’s a simple circular diagram. And inside of that circle is my comfort and outside of it is my discomfort. A list of randomly spaced comforts inside the circle and discomforts outside. But let’s imagine we’re staring at the circle and there’s a line drawn across the equator. Above it is pushing further. Going beyond your perceived limits. Pain. Struggle. Below it is not pushing at all. Chanting in a cave. Usually when we think about stepping outside of our comfort zone, it’s by pushing harder. Having DIScomfort. Asking for, even embracing, more pain. Because we feel that outside of our comfort zone has to be uncomfortable physically. Backing off isn’t physically harder. But it is mentally harder. So in this sense, I’ve been ignoring half of this discomfort zone. I’ve only been paying attention to the struggle placed on my physical. And not the struggle placed on my mental. In that, maybe, just maybe, the discomfort zone for my mentality is backing off. Not fighting. Not being so self-aware of my physical discomforts. Because being so aware of those discomforts, puts anguish and discomfort on my mentality. Maybe acceptance, letting my guard down, understanding that this is now a part of me, letting all of this soak into my psyche, is my path to the discomfort zone. And THAT’S where the growth is: in acceptance. Maybe Chuck Plahniuk, the author of Fight Club, is right. That I just need to LET. GO. That digging in and pushing an immovable object is counterproductive. But, maybe I’ll feel like a martyr in my failure with my instinct to push through. And what will that martyrdom get me? More strife. More pain. It is the mental anguish that starts to affect you in a negative way for the long term. This isn’t a muscle that get’s micro tears that are eventually filled in and replaced with stronger muscle. These are tears in your mental health. These tears are filled in by FEAR. By negative thoughts. They will shrink the scope of your positive outlook. Your positive drive forward. That’s what’s happening right now. 

So, maybe, don’t look for the physical pain. Don’t look for that hard physical struggle. Sometimes you need to get outside of your comfort zone and counterintuitively go light. Accept. THAT’S your discomfort zone. Letting go of that control that you never had control of to begin with. Letting it all go for your mental sake, so that the spiritual can fill in the tears with positive energy. Positive vibration. To give you that different outlook on life. On yourself. A perspective you’ve never wanted to see. Of having to make do with what you’ve got. Accepting who you are. And who you are constantly evolves. Constantly evolves. We need to drop our guard to accept ourselves, so that we can grow. Evolve. 

It Just Has to Get Done

This thought came to me a couple of weeks ago before a bike ride. I was having a discussion with a friend of mine who owns a jiu-jitsu gym. Sadly, the gym has been shut down for at least 3 months now. He was talking to me about what he was going to do membership wise, steps to take to reopen when allowed to, and the timeline for these efforts. I don’t know much about the business aspect of it so I could not offer much input. He and I usually discuss things that aren’t business related but more life philosophy related. Due to this ignorance, I did my best to simply listen, offering some encouragement and support. At one point, he mentioned that he may just shut it down; that this bold move would be okay with him. I wasn’t too sure about that. I didn’t say anything to him, but personally I thought that that would actually really destroy him on a mental level. Even spiritual (something all BJJ disciples experience after about 3 months). 

After riding for about an hour I happened to come across an old farmer’s museum that was closed. I put the bike down and stared across a glass smooth pond. I thought about his sentiments. His effort to let ego go. Audacious. But then again, with my own ego, I thought a little more. He can’t close. He can’t close something that is truly part of his being. An extension of himself. I messaged him in regard to reopening, “It just has to get done.” He can’t live without that gym and I know that. He’s put in too much love. Too much effort. Too much pain. All to build up an incredible membership. It’s a special place. There really is a presence when you walk in. Honestly, I can’t explain it. There’s an aire. An aura. You can feel a film, a film of commitment on your skin when you leave. A residue of passion. A lure of transformation. I messaged him again and said, “Bro, you can’t close the gym. Too much of YOU is in it. You’ll lose much of your being if you decide to close. All that effort for X number of years to get to  this point of success. You will do it again. It doesn’t matter what obstacles are in your way. You will figure out the solution. And the reason why? Because you have to. You have no choice. There’s no other way for YOU. Too much of your SELF has been implanted into the walls and foundation of your establishment. It just has to get done.” A pound of flesh is not too much to give in this circumstance. 

Of course, failure is always an option. He’s fine with failure. He understands that failure is the fuel that drives you towards success. Cutting off that fuel supply, because of fear of failure, isn’t an option. It’s not an option when a part of you becomes melded to something you’ve grown. On the other side of this struggle is success. He gets it. 

This line of thinking came to me a few years ago. My school was hosting a track and field invitational with at least 20 schools attending. The preparation prior to an event like this can be a bit overwhelming. I am fortunate to have the pleasure of coaching with my father who has about 40 years of experience. Following his lead, I have discovered things that people already know but sometimes simply need to experience for themselves to really understand why certain processes just work. He’s now into his 70’s and someone I guess you’d call a “Boomer.” But from what I know about the Baby Boomers is that no other generation after them can match their work ethic. I see it all the time in myself or with friends, that we all too often think there is a better way. An easier way. But as Ryan Holiday has written, “the obstacle IS the way.” You can’t simply close your eyes and hope to skirt the work in front of you. You take a step, turn potential into kinetic, and get the work done one thing at a time. Showing up early, bearing down, and ticking off each step of the process, relentlessly, gets you to a proper result. You don’t stop because you need some sort of mental break. Or because you don’t feel like it. You work until it’s completed. Have you tried it? It is possible to work through mental and physical anguish and still come out fine. Leave the phone home. You don’t need a glass of water. That beer can be a reward LATER. This process can’t wait until tomorrow. These “breaks” are luxuries we haven’t earned. That we don’t deserve. He knows this. 

But what that generation had in simplicity of just getting to work, didn’t didn’t have in detachment from emotion. Losing a temper, yelling to get control, sarcastic digs, and the “because I told you to” attitude seems to be prevalent. And yes, I learned this habit too. Is it my father’s fault? Absolutely not. I recognize it and therefore should control it. I’m working on it. 

So back to the track invitational… Our timer shows up and starts setting up his area and warming up the computers to make sure athletes are seeded and placed in the correct races, heats, and lanes. While this is going on, schools start to roll in. A local one came with about 40 athletes. None of them were in the database. The coach did not enter them properly in the days before the meet. Upon hearing this, my father exited the stadium to update me on the situation as I was directing bus traffic. He was fucking hot. Spitting fire about the incompetence, the lack of preparation, how it will hold things up. I looked at him and became the emotional polar opposite (as most of us do in this instance, the spite gene?). I looked at him and said, “We can’t get pissed off, they’re here, they’re ready, and we won’t send them home. Being mad about the entries isn’t getting us anywhere, it just has to get done. We have no other choice.” For the first time, that I can remember, he had a moment of clarity,  dropped his guard, and said, “You know, that’s right.” Holy. Shit. I actually had to give myself a moment so I could revel in it a bit. Not that my dad is a prick. He’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. One of my best friends. Always supportive and encouraging. But this was different. He wasn’t praising an achievement, he was praising me on my perception of a situation. He acknowledged that some sort of wisdom had been laid out and opened his eyes just a little bit more. He let go of his ego and accepted it. He clearly understood that maybe this is a better course of action than yelling about a situation. We pitched in, helped the timer, got it done. Later, there was none of that reminiscing bullshit of “Can you believe that coach?” It simply turned out to be no factor. We had grown. 

My father is a hell of a planner and worker. Put these together and you find some of the smoothest run cross-country and track events in the section over the past 40 years. I’ve learned a lot from him in this regard with organizing events. From this example, I stepped into organizing my own events. From the Rat Snake, to a three school elementary Turkey Trot, to organizing my own cross-country invitational each fall. What I had learned the hard way was that emotion simply isn’t a factor needed in the formula. These events have to get done. Because, like my friend and jiu-jitsu instructor, I am physically and spiritually attached to them too much NOT to organize them. The events don’t care about your emotions. Coaches don’t care about your emotions. The athletes don’t care about your emotions. When all is said and done, your emotions will have changed nothing. If they have, it’s a shallow change. A change without roots. A change with no change. 

Shit just has to get done. If it’s shit you don’t like, that’s your fault. It still has to get done. What better way to think clearly? What better way to stay positive? There will be plenty of emotions from everyone else around you. YOU need to be the dependable one. Do it and do it right. It baffles me when I see colleagues or see friends simply blowing things off. How is this possible? Having to get it done is an action that simply becomes a moral imperative. It needs to get done whether you like it or not. Get it done. What other choice do you have?