F#@$ing Tell Them Already (& Happy Thanksgiving!!!)

Tis’ the season to express thanks, but I’ve got two major pet peeves with how we show gratitude…and a super crazy radical alternative for Thanksgiving!

Pet Peeve #1 – Gratitude Journals

Gratitude journals are all the rage among the new agey jet set – writing down all of the things for which we are (or should be) grateful in order to boost our happiness.  The intention behind gratitude journals is well meaning. When you are feeling out of sorts, depressed, frustrated, whatever, gratitude journals are put forth as a nifty solution to cure your ungrateful soul. Really, the problem is simply that you don’t count your blessings, or is it?

Sure, that might be the case that we often don’t look around and take stock of how lucky we are. However, when we list the things we are grateful for – having a roof over our heads, having a boyfriend/girlfriend, a job that pays the bills (maybe even a job we love), our reputations, the community we live in, etc etc – those things are typically extrinsic. And they are out of our control. And they are impermanent.

Jobs can be lost. Houses destroyed. People leave or die. Sounds depressing, si? Yet, this is life and holding on with gratitude to these things does not necessarily make us any happier. Making lists simply does not change the way we feel on a daily basis (but if it does actually for you, then keep on doing it!).

Keep reading…I promise it will get better.

Pet Peeve #2 – Posthumous Outpouring of Gratitude

I have seen a number of high profile athletes in extreme sports die doing what they loved (like BASE jumper Dean Potter or professional ski mountaineer Liz Daley) or die too young from something else (like the well loved Bela Vadasz, owner of Alpine Skills International, who died far to young of a heart attack).  They are well known and well loved and leave a gap in lives that extend beyond their inner circles.

Social media blows up with well meaning RIPs and well wishes to those left behind. Tribute articles, memorial videos, blog posts, and Facebook posts pop up about how wonderful the person was who has passed, how much that person impacted their lives, and how they wished they could have told them in person.

Seeing the posthumous explosion actually makes me boil over with anger. Writing tributes and making memorial videos does not make them or us any happier.  The person who is gone will never know all of these wonderful things that were said about them.

Honoring the dead IS important – it helps us process our grief and shows respect to the survivors.

However, it’s far more important to honor the living – THAT spreads happiness. One of the only posthumous blog posts I’ve ever really appreciated is one in Adventure Journal – a friend left behind talks about how his behavior has changed to honor the living as a result of his loss.

One Alternative – A New Thanksgiving (or Daily!) Ritual

Try this at your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow. Focus on one person at the table as the receiver of gratitude. Go around and one by one each person tells the gratitude received what they appreciate about them. Each person will have a chance to tell everyone what they appreciate, as well as be appreciated.

Sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? So wild that telling others what we appreciate is such a personal act of vulnerability. But consider the impact it can have on that loved one…to know what you like about them and how they have impacted you.

Now ponder the opposite…the regret you feel when someone dies, when kind and loving things are left unsaid or you remember the last interaction you had with them was a fight or an unkind word – it is actually far more difficult and painful than being vulnerable with them.

I would pick vulnerability over regret any day, as difficult as it might seem in the moment.  Regret is a real bitch and it can haunt you.

So radical yet so basic. Tell your loved ones and friends why you love them. Don’t wait. Do it on Thanksgiving. Do it now. Do it the next day. Keep doing it.

So put those lists away and start honoring the living. Loving and being loved is the true key to happiness.

Fear, Risk, and Commitment

I pontificate frequently and deeply on risk and fear, but rarely in connection with what should happen on other side of risk and fear – commitment.  I’m a big fan of Mark Nepo, and the reading for today from The Book of Awakening hit me in a particularly profound way when he highlighted the connection between risk and commitment.

“We’d all like a guarantee before making a decision or taking a risk, but the irony is that taking the risk is what opens us to our fate. It’s like wanting to know what things will taste like before putting them in your mouth. It just can’t be figured out that way.

I always seem to be relearning that real commitment comes before I know where anything is going. That’s what listening to your heart is all about. Without jumping off its perch, the bird would never fly. Without jumping out of your heart’s silence, love is never possible. Without asking to be whole, the divine essence waits inside everything the way bread hardens if never bitten into.

For me, as I look back, being a poet came after committing to speak though I had no idea what I needed to say, and the grace of being loved has come into my life after admitting freely that I wanted to love though I wasn’t sure how.

If we devote ourselves to the effort to be real, the Universe in all its forms will find us, the way that wind finds leaves and waves find shore.”

-Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, November 20, pg 382

I’m a big fan of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Fear has now become a trusted partner in my life – when I feel it, I pay attention. I sit with it and listen to it. If I determine that its cause is perceived risk, rather than real risk, then I take a deep breath and move through the fear. This helps me take risks that sometimes other people label “crazy,” but in the same breath they’ll state they wish they had the courage to do it to.

However, my approach has been to take the risk and open myself to my fate, as Nepo says. Commitment is an entire new level.

I’ve been writing a book…for several years now. I knew I wanted to write a book summarizing and expanding upon the points and stories in my keynote speech about lessons for life and business from the mountains. Last year, I took the time to hire a writing coach to draft a book outline and get some early stage tips (Linden Gross is awesome by the way).

The outline flowed easily. More than three-quarters of the content has been already written in blog form or articles or I have told the stories time and time again. I find writing pretty enjoyable so I thought it would be EASY to sit down and write/re-write on all my long-haul flights.

Here I am a year later with just a few half-assed chapters written. Yes, time is a problem. I don’t have much time to spare to get in a real book-writing frame of mind, but I made the time to write this blog, didn’t I? Yes, I have fear about writing – the more you put yourself out there in the public, the more you open yourself to judgment. I get tons of positive feedback, but of course, as a human being I tend to obsess on negative personal criticism. However, that hasn’t stopped me from writing or speaking or dancing on the summit of high mountains – all things that can draw attention to oneself.

The answer lies in commitment. I have not committed to being an author. I have not, as Nepo says, “committed to speak though I had no idea what I needed to say.” And to boot, I DO know what I want to say.

If we feel the fear, take the risk, and are simply open to what lies on the other side, we may still find ourselves in the same position. We must not only be comfortable with failure, but equally committed to being successful.

If you feel the fear of telling someone you love them, take the risk and tell them, but then run away from the commitment of exploring that with the other person, then taking the risk was utterly worthless. Commit to standing firm and embrace what rewards the risk can bring you.

At the end of each of Nepo’s daily readings, he has a meditation exercise. The one for today is, after a short sitting meditation to center yourself, “Walk slowly about the room, and with each step, feel commitment in the landing and risk in each lifting.”

I actually did this exercise this morning and worked hard at visualizing the risk with each lifting. I could feel the wavering and wobbling as my foot was in the air, floating in empty space, unsure of exactly how it would land on the ground. And I became acutely aware of the landing of my feet, feeling the contact with the ground…softly at first and then more firmly and grounded as each foot took the weight of my body. I could feel the commitment of moving forward without being completely certain of my direction.

I had my eyes closed and felt like I was moving in slow motion…until I literally hit a wall! If only someone had been there to witness that! I couldn’t believe the distance I had moved when I was focused so intently. I lost sense of space and time and did not feel like I had gone very far.

Hmmmm, perhaps there’s a lesson in that. How far can we go if we are intently aware of every step and every move? This is our lives…every day. We take risks and have faith that we will land, committed to be ready for what’s on the other side.

Stay tuned for updates on the book progress.  🙂

Walk Through That Door

I was blessed to see Alison Wright speak at the Tower Theater here in Bend, OR. Alison is a National Geographic photographer and winner of the Traveler of the Year award.  She is lauded for her cultural and conflict photography around the world and has a most fascinating life story.

As she recounted the decisions she made along the way that culminated into what is by most standards an extraordinary life, I was most struck by her comment, “I walked through every door of opportunity that presented itself.”


Alison Wright at the Tower Theater, Bend, OR

Wow! Who can say with true authenticity that they have done that?!?!? And it’s not that she just said “yes” to just any old thing that came her way, it’s that she said “yes” to opportunities that were scary, that were challenging, that may have been downright dangerous, and that she herself may have believed she was not ready for.

But she said “yes,” and walked through each door of amazing opportunity.

And upon reflecting about my own life, I realized I have done the same. Any time an opportunity presented itself – most recently including moving to Bend, buying Call of the Wild, leading trips in far flung places for my own and for other companies – I have also walked through that door.

Fear is a big part of the process. When an opportunity presents itself, I do a gut check with the emotions that the opportunity elicits. Is it a bad feeling – that intuition juju that we all have – despite appearing to be fantastic on the surface? Then the answer is “no.” Is it a gut wrenching soul shattering fear but the objective is aligned with my purpose in life? Then I take a deep breath (maybe more than one!) and say “yes.”

Take a moment to check in with how you have reacted to key opportunities in life. Did you feel the fear and shrink back?

Saying “no” is not the problem – it’s the reasons you may have said “no” and fear is usually the culprit. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear that you don’t deserve the success…all are common and all are powerful.

So yeah! I get to pat myself on the back for being good about feeling the fear and setting into opportunities that feel rewarding…but upon further reflection, I know my own weakness and how I’ve held myself back.

The next step beyond simply reacting to things that come our way is to CREATE those opportunities. Man, you must really believe in yourself to have a vision of the success you want and then persevere in pursuing it.

I still sit back sometimes and say, “Why don’t I have more demand for Call of the Wild trips that I know are amazing and well priced? Why don’t I have more people knocking down my door for speaking gigs given the feedback I’ve received?“

The problem is working through all of those fears and commit to pursuing and creating the doors of opportunity that I WANT to walk through.  I fear failure, rejection, and even success, just like many others do.

So wherever you are on your personal journey – reacting to opportunities or creating them – take the time and take your pulse about why you might not be charging forward with more confidence and gusto.

The answer you will often find is the fear that lives deep within you…and if you address those fears and say “yes“, I guarantee you won’t regret it.