Facing Your Fears

  Always do what you are afraid to do. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson   Fear a tricky human emotion. It can paralyze. It can prevent you from attaining your dreams. It can keep you small. But fear can be your friend in just the right doses.  My friend explained to me how he recently harnessed his fear to confront a difficult situation. After relapsing, he had to return to his workplace and inform his colleagues what he had done, and confront the wreckage he had caused. He pondered running, hiding. Instead, he gathered up his fear, and took it with him to work. His knees grew weak and his stomach turned, but his resolve remained unshaken.  Fear tells us we are in danger. But oftentimes it is an imagined danger, not a real one. After meeting with his colleagues, my friend’s fear dissolved and he realized it was a lot easier to have that conversation than we thought. He feared ridicule and rejection, but was met with acceptance and appreciation for having come clean. He was on his way to an amends.  We often  think  things are going to turn out disastrous, and then we’re pleasantly surprised when they don’t.  The stress we experience in these fearful moments is entirely subjective. Stress is induced by our thoughts about what is happening, not the event itself. It is our  thinking  behind it that does. Stress is fear-based. We worry that things won’t work out and are confronted with that primitive dilemma of facing our fear or running away from it: fight or flight.  I prefer to fight. It may sound counterintuitive, but love your fear—that’s all it needs. Running from it allows it to grow. Fear really wants our best, however irrational it sometimes seems. Fear, at the right doses, can certainly be good. In walking through it, we most often discover that the degree of our fear is out of sync with reality.

Always do what you are afraid to do. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fear a tricky human emotion. It can paralyze. It can prevent you from attaining your dreams. It can keep you small. But fear can be your friend in just the right doses.

My friend explained to me how he recently harnessed his fear to confront a difficult situation. After relapsing, he had to return to his workplace and inform his colleagues what he had done, and confront the wreckage he had caused. He pondered running, hiding. Instead, he gathered up his fear, and took it with him to work. His knees grew weak and his stomach turned, but his resolve remained unshaken.

Fear tells us we are in danger. But oftentimes it is an imagined danger, not a real one. After meeting with his colleagues, my friend’s fear dissolved and he realized it was a lot easier to have that conversation than we thought. He feared ridicule and rejection, but was met with acceptance and appreciation for having come clean. He was on his way to an amends.

We often think things are going to turn out disastrous, and then we’re pleasantly surprised when they don’t.

The stress we experience in these fearful moments is entirely subjective. Stress is induced by our thoughts about what is happening, not the event itself. It is our thinking behind it that does. Stress is fear-based. We worry that things won’t work out and are confronted with that primitive dilemma of facing our fear or running away from it: fight or flight.

I prefer to fight. It may sound counterintuitive, but love your fear—that’s all it needs. Running from it allows it to grow. Fear really wants our best, however irrational it sometimes seems. Fear, at the right doses, can certainly be good. In walking through it, we most often discover that the degree of our fear is out of sync with reality.

Worth The Wait

 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a psychology professor at Stanford University named Walter Mischel was frustrated with his inability to quit his three-pack-a-day smoking habit and wanted to study the concept of delayed gratification. Mischel gathered children aged four-to-six in a room, free of any distractions, and placed a single marshmallow on the table in front of each child. The children could eat the treat, but if they waited fifteen minutes while Mischel left the room, they would be rewarded a second.  As soon as the door closed, two out of three children ate their marshmallows. Those who lasted a little bit longer tended to cover their eyes, fidget about, or attempt to distract themselves in other ways like kicking the table. Only a few of the children were able to resist temptation and delay gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.  Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with the same children and found that those who’d grabbed the single marshmallow tended to be more troubled as adults and more likely to use drugs and alcohol. The longer a child delayed gratification, the better he or she fared later in life.  What can we learn from Mischel’s marshmallows? Self-control and discipline are critical to success. The best things in life, especially in recovery, require sacrifice in order to cash in on rewards later on. The good news is that it is possible to learn how to delay gratification. Patience is like a muscle that you can choose to flex or not.  So, when confronted with your own marshmallow dilemma, what are you going to do—take one now, or hold out for the bigger prize?

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a psychology professor at Stanford University named Walter Mischel was frustrated with his inability to quit his three-pack-a-day smoking habit and wanted to study the concept of delayed gratification. Mischel gathered children aged four-to-six in a room, free of any distractions, and placed a single marshmallow on the table in front of each child. The children could eat the treat, but if they waited fifteen minutes while Mischel left the room, they would be rewarded a second.

As soon as the door closed, two out of three children ate their marshmallows. Those who lasted a little bit longer tended to cover their eyes, fidget about, or attempt to distract themselves in other ways like kicking the table. Only a few of the children were able to resist temptation and delay gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

Years later, Mischel and his team followed up with the same children and found that those who’d grabbed the single marshmallow tended to be more troubled as adults and more likely to use drugs and alcohol. The longer a child delayed gratification, the better he or she fared later in life.

What can we learn from Mischel’s marshmallows? Self-control and discipline are critical to success. The best things in life, especially in recovery, require sacrifice in order to cash in on rewards later on. The good news is that it is possible to learn how to delay gratification. Patience is like a muscle that you can choose to flex or not.

So, when confronted with your own marshmallow dilemma, what are you going to do—take one now, or hold out for the bigger prize?

Social Acceptability vs. Recovery

 Everyone has ups and downs. For alcoholics and addicts, these ups and downs are taken to the extreme, in the worst cases leading to manias or deep, deep depressions. It’s not uncommon for newly sober people to look, well, a little rough. In our addictions we pick our faces, lose large amounts of weight, and ignore basic hygienic practices like showering and brushing teeth. But we do recover. Usually in short time, we’re looking and feeling good again, thanks to a few square meals, a clean razor, and a new pair of pants that we haven’t burned holes into. We are, within just a few months of being sober, socially acceptable.  While this is the normal course, it can also be a pitfall as “you trudge the road of happy destiny.” Social acceptability does not equal recovery. Or in English, looking good on the outside does not mean you are doing well on the inside. Recovery means many things to many people, but my favorite definition comes from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Commission: “A process of change through which individuals improve health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential.” The key word here is “strive.” We never reach our full potential, which means if we’re truly in recovery, we are always working toward being better, not just looking better.  What are you working toward today?

Everyone has ups and downs. For alcoholics and addicts, these ups and downs are taken to the extreme, in the worst cases leading to manias or deep, deep depressions. It’s not uncommon for newly sober people to look, well, a little rough. In our addictions we pick our faces, lose large amounts of weight, and ignore basic hygienic practices like showering and brushing teeth. But we do recover. Usually in short time, we’re looking and feeling good again, thanks to a few square meals, a clean razor, and a new pair of pants that we haven’t burned holes into. We are, within just a few months of being sober, socially acceptable.

While this is the normal course, it can also be a pitfall as “you trudge the road of happy destiny.” Social acceptability does not equal recovery. Or in English, looking good on the outside does not mean you are doing well on the inside. Recovery means many things to many people, but my favorite definition comes from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Commission: “A process of change through which individuals improve health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential.” The key word here is “strive.” We never reach our full potential, which means if we’re truly in recovery, we are always working toward being better, not just looking better.

What are you working toward today?

Grappling With Depression

 When the first UFC event was held in 1993, many viewed it as a centuries-in-the-making experiment, an attempt to answer to the perennial question:  what is the best method of fighting?  A few hours into the event, the answer was clear—and it wasn’t kung fu, muy thai, or karate. Royce Gracie, a relatively unknown practitioner of a grappling style called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), was able to defeat opponents of far greater size and strength. BJJ was the great equalizer. A craze was born.  More than two decades later, a growing number of practitioners are now using BJJ to fight against a different kind of opponent, one that’s invisible—depression. Josh Lazie, CEO and Program Director at Sea Change, is one of those people.  When Josh started Sea Change, he felt as though something was missing from traditional treatment. At a strange point in life himself, he felt like he needed something new, something beyond the daily grind. “I was working a lot, I was single, and I didn’t really have much else going on,” Josh tells me. After stumbling upon the legendary Jean Machado’s gym one afternoon, Josh started training immediately. As he spent more time on the mats, he began to feel more whole, more present. And he wasn’t alone.  To Josh, and to many other devotees of the form, BJJ is more than just a martial art; it is a microcosm of life. “When things get really heavy, and it feels as though you’re being crushed by life’s pressures, it’s just like being overpowered by a stronger opponent on the mat. You feel like you’re never going to be able to take a breath again. The only thing you can do is relax, control your breathing, and search for a way out. Because in Jiu Jitsu, as in life, there’s always a way out,” Josh passionately explains.  When someone struggling with depression takes to the mats, it’s not just the other opponent they’re fighting. It’s every negative thought, every overwhelming feeling, and every physical ache. Today, Josh knows that whoever or whatever the opponent he faces, there is always a solution.

When the first UFC event was held in 1993, many viewed it as a centuries-in-the-making experiment, an attempt to answer to the perennial question: what is the best method of fighting? A few hours into the event, the answer was clear—and it wasn’t kung fu, muy thai, or karate. Royce Gracie, a relatively unknown practitioner of a grappling style called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), was able to defeat opponents of far greater size and strength. BJJ was the great equalizer. A craze was born.

More than two decades later, a growing number of practitioners are now using BJJ to fight against a different kind of opponent, one that’s invisible—depression. Josh Lazie, CEO and Program Director at Sea Change, is one of those people.

When Josh started Sea Change, he felt as though something was missing from traditional treatment. At a strange point in life himself, he felt like he needed something new, something beyond the daily grind. “I was working a lot, I was single, and I didn’t really have much else going on,” Josh tells me. After stumbling upon the legendary Jean Machado’s gym one afternoon, Josh started training immediately. As he spent more time on the mats, he began to feel more whole, more present. And he wasn’t alone.

To Josh, and to many other devotees of the form, BJJ is more than just a martial art; it is a microcosm of life. “When things get really heavy, and it feels as though you’re being crushed by life’s pressures, it’s just like being overpowered by a stronger opponent on the mat. You feel like you’re never going to be able to take a breath again. The only thing you can do is relax, control your breathing, and search for a way out. Because in Jiu Jitsu, as in life, there’s always a way out,” Josh passionately explains.

When someone struggling with depression takes to the mats, it’s not just the other opponent they’re fighting. It’s every negative thought, every overwhelming feeling, and every physical ache. Today, Josh knows that whoever or whatever the opponent he faces, there is always a solution.

Midnight Mission: A Place for Purpose

 Midnight Mission opened in 1914 and its purpose is, “To offer a bridge to self-sufficiency for people experiencing homelessness through recovery services, counseling, education, training, workforce development and continued care services.”  It’s worth our admiration, volunteering, and donations. We should always understand there are many others who need our help.  And Midnight Mission’s slogan makes profound sense… “Step Into The Light.”  Sea Change realizes its residents need to step into the light because recovery goes both ways––the best way to get the help you need is to give the help someone else needs.  Colin Reiner at Sea Change is a man who’s been on both ends of Midnight Mission, so there’s no one better to guide resident volunteers through their life-changing experiences there.  “We meet with a volunteer coordinator, they take us on a tour of the facility. The tour guide is a participant of the program. They’re on work therapy. Suit up, show up, be on time, do a job, and receive a small paycheck… I’m a product of Midnight Mission.”  Colin explained that Sea Change resident volunteers at Midnight Mission spend the afternoon feeding anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 people.  “We’ve had our guys in tears before. In a good way. You get guys overwhelmed with gratitude. We work in recovery, right? So we provide experiences that only strengthen that recovery.”  All in all, Colin made the point that recovery—be it his personal recovery, a Sea Change resident’s recovery, or anyone’s recovery—is about helping someone else. Plain and simple.  Again… “Step Into The Light.”  “It’s altruistic acts, service, and staying in gratitude. A heavy lesson, a heavy dose in all three. It gives our guys a chance to give back, see what things could be like, and become grateful for where they are now.”  Colin ended with a simple description of his own personal growth and gratitude. “Just be useful. It’s something I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Something as small as smiling at a person you’re feeding… Can go a long way.” Only too true… It can save a life.

Midnight Mission opened in 1914 and its purpose is, “To offer a bridge to self-sufficiency for people experiencing homelessness through recovery services, counseling, education, training, workforce development and continued care services.”

It’s worth our admiration, volunteering, and donations. We should always understand there are many others who need our help.

And Midnight Mission’s slogan makes profound sense… “Step Into The Light.”

Sea Change realizes its residents need to step into the light because recovery goes both ways––the best way to get the help you need is to give the help someone else needs.

Colin Reiner at Sea Change is a man who’s been on both ends of Midnight Mission, so there’s no one better to guide resident volunteers through their life-changing experiences there.

“We meet with a volunteer coordinator, they take us on a tour of the facility. The tour guide is a participant of the program. They’re on work therapy. Suit up, show up, be on time, do a job, and receive a small paycheck… I’m a product of Midnight Mission.”

Colin explained that Sea Change resident volunteers at Midnight Mission spend the afternoon feeding anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 people.

“We’ve had our guys in tears before. In a good way. You get guys overwhelmed with gratitude. We work in recovery, right? So we provide experiences that only strengthen that recovery.”

All in all, Colin made the point that recovery—be it his personal recovery, a Sea Change resident’s recovery, or anyone’s recovery—is about helping someone else. Plain and simple.

Again… “Step Into The Light.”

“It’s altruistic acts, service, and staying in gratitude. A heavy lesson, a heavy dose in all three. It gives our guys a chance to give back, see what things could be like, and become grateful for where they are now.”

Colin ended with a simple description of his own personal growth and gratitude. “Just be useful. It’s something I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Something as small as smiling at a person you’re feeding… Can go a long way.” Only too true… It can save a life.

Go With The Flow

 Imagine that you are racing down a ski slope, snow-draped trees whooshing by as you maneuver between obstacles, frosted air whisking your cheeks, your focus intensely locked on the position of your body and skis. In this moment, you are not aware of the conflicts and contradictions that often preoccupy your thoughts, you are not concerned with the rigors and anxieties that daily life can bring. There simply isn’t room for these sorts of thoughts as your hurdle toward the bottom of the hill—you know that a distracting thought might lead to a trip to the hospital. The run is so perfect that you want it to last forever.  If skiing isn’t your thing, this complete immersion in an experience might occur while you are playing an instrument, rock-climbing, or reading a good book. If you enjoy your job, it might happen during a presentation or particularly engaging task. You might also reach this state during a social interaction, like talking with a close friend or while playing games with your child. These are the types of moments that are like flashes of intensity against the often-dull background of everyday life.  Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has termed these moments “flow” experiences. Mihaly was fascinated by artists who were motivated not by money or praise, but by the reward of creation. He studied them and found that they had a tendency to “lose themselves” in their art and often reported higher levels of happiness than those who focused more on money or other material pursuits. He argued that the artists’ wellbeing was linked to the state of heightened experience they achieved while engaged in their work. He expanded his study to look at surgeons, computer programmers, and athletes, and found that they each exhibited the following characteristics of flow, to name just a few:  A task requiring skill and concentration  The flowing person ceases to be self-conscious. It feels like he or she has disappeared and only the activity is left.  Time seems to stand still  What I noticed when researching the idea of flow is how closely this state of being resembles the altered states we seek in drugs and alcohol. Perhaps this is why achieving flow in our new, sober lives can be so powerful – it’s a healthy replacement. So, whether you’re picking up surfboard or paintbrush, just go with the flow.

Imagine that you are racing down a ski slope, snow-draped trees whooshing by as you maneuver between obstacles, frosted air whisking your cheeks, your focus intensely locked on the position of your body and skis. In this moment, you are not aware of the conflicts and contradictions that often preoccupy your thoughts, you are not concerned with the rigors and anxieties that daily life can bring. There simply isn’t room for these sorts of thoughts as your hurdle toward the bottom of the hill—you know that a distracting thought might lead to a trip to the hospital. The run is so perfect that you want it to last forever.

If skiing isn’t your thing, this complete immersion in an experience might occur while you are playing an instrument, rock-climbing, or reading a good book. If you enjoy your job, it might happen during a presentation or particularly engaging task. You might also reach this state during a social interaction, like talking with a close friend or while playing games with your child. These are the types of moments that are like flashes of intensity against the often-dull background of everyday life.

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has termed these moments “flow” experiences. Mihaly was fascinated by artists who were motivated not by money or praise, but by the reward of creation. He studied them and found that they had a tendency to “lose themselves” in their art and often reported higher levels of happiness than those who focused more on money or other material pursuits. He argued that the artists’ wellbeing was linked to the state of heightened experience they achieved while engaged in their work. He expanded his study to look at surgeons, computer programmers, and athletes, and found that they each exhibited the following characteristics of flow, to name just a few:

A task requiring skill and concentration

The flowing person ceases to be self-conscious. It feels like he or she has disappeared and only the activity is left.

Time seems to stand still

What I noticed when researching the idea of flow is how closely this state of being resembles the altered states we seek in drugs and alcohol. Perhaps this is why achieving flow in our new, sober lives can be so powerful – it’s a healthy replacement. So, whether you’re picking up surfboard or paintbrush, just go with the flow.

Creatures of Habit

 Do you remember your first time parallel parking? At first, it was challenging and stressful. But the more you grew comfortable reversing and pulling your car in, it became easier — almost habitual, you could say.  There’s an evolutionary logic behind our habits: they conserve time and mental energy. That’s a good thing! Yet, this very time and resource-saving function our brains perform is also what makes us vulnerable to bad habits. Like, eating cookies.  For the longest time, Charles Duhigg, a business reporter at the New York Times, would leave his desk at around 3:15 in the afternoon and visit the office’s cafeteria for a chocolate chip cookie. Frustrated with his inability to break the cookie habit, and curious about the habits of others, Charles talked to a handful of psychologists and neuroscientists. How long does it take a habit – good or bad – to form? How are bad habits broken? Why are old habits hard to break and new ones hard to form? What he found has major implications for life in recovery.  Charles writes that at the core of every habit is a “habit loop,” which is a three-part process: first there’s a cue (or trigger), then the behavior itself, and finally a reward, a good feeling that reinforces the loop. Many of our daily behaviors, from that after-lunch cookie to the order we put on our shoes, are not really decisions – they’re habits. But changing your habits isn’t a matter of simply powering through them. Willpower alone is not enough.  So how do we develop new habits and break old ones? Advances in behavioral science suggest that change isn’t about focusing on the behavior itself. Rather, we need to tinker with the cues and rewards that keep the habit going. To break a habit, try finding a new behavior that’s triggered by the old cue. The behavior should also be rewarding. For Charles Duhigg, he found that the real reward he was seeking at 3:15 each afternoon wasn’t the cookie itself, but rather the friendly banter with colleagues in the cafeteria. Now, at his 3:15 cue, Charles takes a walk around the office and gossips with coworkers. He has replaced his old behavior with a healthier one, losing weight in the process!  The 12-Steps aren’t so different from Charles’ approach. Say you have a bad day and come home from work. This is the cue for you to go to the bar (old routine). The relief from the stress you get from drinking and socializing is your reward.  AA uses a similar cue and reward system. But, instead of hitting the bar or picking up from your dealer after a stressful day, you’re encouraged go to a meeting where you can socialize with others and have a cathartic experience. You’re also encouraged to share about your problems instead of bottling them up. It’s a reward that’s similar to drinking.  Developing new habits in this way will help you maintain sobriety – or maybe even just a healthier diet!

Do you remember your first time parallel parking? At first, it was challenging and stressful. But the more you grew comfortable reversing and pulling your car in, it became easier — almost habitual, you could say.

There’s an evolutionary logic behind our habits: they conserve time and mental energy. That’s a good thing! Yet, this very time and resource-saving function our brains perform is also what makes us vulnerable to bad habits. Like, eating cookies.

For the longest time, Charles Duhigg, a business reporter at the New York Times, would leave his desk at around 3:15 in the afternoon and visit the office’s cafeteria for a chocolate chip cookie. Frustrated with his inability to break the cookie habit, and curious about the habits of others, Charles talked to a handful of psychologists and neuroscientists. How long does it take a habit – good or bad – to form? How are bad habits broken? Why are old habits hard to break and new ones hard to form? What he found has major implications for life in recovery.

Charles writes that at the core of every habit is a “habit loop,” which is a three-part process: first there’s a cue (or trigger), then the behavior itself, and finally a reward, a good feeling that reinforces the loop. Many of our daily behaviors, from that after-lunch cookie to the order we put on our shoes, are not really decisions – they’re habits. But changing your habits isn’t a matter of simply powering through them. Willpower alone is not enough.

So how do we develop new habits and break old ones? Advances in behavioral science suggest that change isn’t about focusing on the behavior itself. Rather, we need to tinker with the cues and rewards that keep the habit going. To break a habit, try finding a new behavior that’s triggered by the old cue. The behavior should also be rewarding. For Charles Duhigg, he found that the real reward he was seeking at 3:15 each afternoon wasn’t the cookie itself, but rather the friendly banter with colleagues in the cafeteria. Now, at his 3:15 cue, Charles takes a walk around the office and gossips with coworkers. He has replaced his old behavior with a healthier one, losing weight in the process!

The 12-Steps aren’t so different from Charles’ approach. Say you have a bad day and come home from work. This is the cue for you to go to the bar (old routine). The relief from the stress you get from drinking and socializing is your reward.

AA uses a similar cue and reward system. But, instead of hitting the bar or picking up from your dealer after a stressful day, you’re encouraged go to a meeting where you can socialize with others and have a cathartic experience. You’re also encouraged to share about your problems instead of bottling them up. It’s a reward that’s similar to drinking.

Developing new habits in this way will help you maintain sobriety – or maybe even just a healthier diet!

Selfless? More Like Think About Your Self… Less

  “Hi, how are you?”   It’s something we’ve all said countless times.  But what about in recovery? When things are beyond tough or challenging or just utterly unknown? When any random moment can be that thin line between life and death?  Well, that’s when those four words can literally save lives.  We learn to greet each other at such young ages that it’s almost like breathing. It is what it is. We don’t think about it. We just do it. Everyone does.  And we grow up saying it all the time. Every day. Our entire lives. It becomes a routine, passive pattern.  But in recovery—when we attempt to redefine our lives by finding new ways to live life itself—greeting a person can become one of those simple miracles.  We hear it in meetings all the time—to focus less on ourselves, to be of service, to stay active and listen. Why is that?  It’s because if we think too much about ourselves, that’s where it gets tough… And risky. And that’s perfectly acceptable. After all, we’ve been through a lot… And pain is patient as hell.  So in those moments forget that abstract idea of selflessness. It’s way too much. Way too soon.  Instead, just think about your self… Way, way  less .  But how do you do that, right? Here’s how. Every single chance you get, ask a person, “ Hi, how are you? ”  And then just listen. But  really  listen. Not only will you learn about what they’re going through, instantly putting your trials and tribulations in perspective, but you’ll be helping another human being, you’ll be of service, and most of all, you’ll be focused on your  self … Way, way less.  For my first year, I was a greeter at a big meeting. I had to be there an hour early and leave almost last. And I literally greeted every single person as they walked in… “ Hi, how are you? ”  And that was that. But when I think about it today, there’s a direct line between those four simple words and why I’m still alive.

“Hi, how are you?”

It’s something we’ve all said countless times.

But what about in recovery? When things are beyond tough or challenging or just utterly unknown? When any random moment can be that thin line between life and death?

Well, that’s when those four words can literally save lives.

We learn to greet each other at such young ages that it’s almost like breathing. It is what it is. We don’t think about it. We just do it. Everyone does.

And we grow up saying it all the time. Every day. Our entire lives. It becomes a routine, passive pattern.

But in recovery—when we attempt to redefine our lives by finding new ways to live life itself—greeting a person can become one of those simple miracles.

We hear it in meetings all the time—to focus less on ourselves, to be of service, to stay active and listen. Why is that?

It’s because if we think too much about ourselves, that’s where it gets tough… And risky. And that’s perfectly acceptable. After all, we’ve been through a lot… And pain is patient as hell.

So in those moments forget that abstract idea of selflessness. It’s way too much. Way too soon.

Instead, just think about your self… Way, way less.

But how do you do that, right? Here’s how. Every single chance you get, ask a person, “Hi, how are you?

And then just listen. But really listen. Not only will you learn about what they’re going through, instantly putting your trials and tribulations in perspective, but you’ll be helping another human being, you’ll be of service, and most of all, you’ll be focused on your self… Way, way less.

For my first year, I was a greeter at a big meeting. I had to be there an hour early and leave almost last. And I literally greeted every single person as they walked in… “Hi, how are you?

And that was that. But when I think about it today, there’s a direct line between those four simple words and why I’m still alive.

Whats Your Rat Pack

 Much of what we know about addiction comes from tests performed on lab rats in the mid 20th century. The experiment is simple: put a rat in a tiny cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water, the other is water laced with cocaine. The results are almost always the same: an unsurprising 9 out of 10 rats will binge on the cocaine water until they die. The problem, of course, is that drugs are addictive, and that mere exposure to them will cause addiction. But this model didn’t sit well with a young professor of psychology named Bruce Alexander, who in the 1970s devised an experiment of his own. He wondered what would happen if he gave the rats a new environment.  So he built a new, bigger cage, which wasn’t very cage-like at all. He called it Rat Park, and it was basically Disneyland for rats – a lush enclosure with toys, tunnels, and plenty of friends to mingle and mate with. Like the rats from the first experiments, the rats in Rat Park would have two water sources, one drugged and one normal. The results this time around were surprising. In Rat Park, rats rarely used the drugged water. Instead, they engaged and played with each other. They formed a rat community.  Bruce Alexander warned about over-generalizing his findings, but he agreed that humans have a deep need to bond and connect. When we are unable to do so because we’re hurt or isolated – caged off from a community – we will bond with just about anything that offers relief or escape, be it video games, gambling, or cocaine. We’ll bond with something, because that’s our nature.  Forming healthy bonds instead of unhealthy ones is crucial to recovery – but how? The key is finding your community, a group of people organized around a common goal or set of beliefs that can lift you up. For many, it’s a 12-step fellowship or a treatment center. But communities and micro-communities can take many forms: a surf crew, a meditation group, or even a gardening co-op. Connect to people you want to be present with. What’s your Rat Park?

Much of what we know about addiction comes from tests performed on lab rats in the mid 20th century. The experiment is simple: put a rat in a tiny cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water, the other is water laced with cocaine. The results are almost always the same: an unsurprising 9 out of 10 rats will binge on the cocaine water until they die. The problem, of course, is that drugs are addictive, and that mere exposure to them will cause addiction. But this model didn’t sit well with a young professor of psychology named Bruce Alexander, who in the 1970s devised an experiment of his own. He wondered what would happen if he gave the rats a new environment.

So he built a new, bigger cage, which wasn’t very cage-like at all. He called it Rat Park, and it was basically Disneyland for rats – a lush enclosure with toys, tunnels, and plenty of friends to mingle and mate with. Like the rats from the first experiments, the rats in Rat Park would have two water sources, one drugged and one normal. The results this time around were surprising. In Rat Park, rats rarely used the drugged water. Instead, they engaged and played with each other. They formed a rat community.

Bruce Alexander warned about over-generalizing his findings, but he agreed that humans have a deep need to bond and connect. When we are unable to do so because we’re hurt or isolated – caged off from a community – we will bond with just about anything that offers relief or escape, be it video games, gambling, or cocaine. We’ll bond with something, because that’s our nature.

Forming healthy bonds instead of unhealthy ones is crucial to recovery – but how? The key is finding your community, a group of people organized around a common goal or set of beliefs that can lift you up. For many, it’s a 12-step fellowship or a treatment center. But communities and micro-communities can take many forms: a surf crew, a meditation group, or even a gardening co-op. Connect to people you want to be present with. What’s your Rat Park?

Mastery

 The story of Microsoft is legend: two guys drop out of college, start writing software (presumably in a garage), and become billionaires. Simple, right?  But if we look beyond the legend, we find that it took Bill Gates and Paul Allen tons of work and hours upon hours of pursuing their passion. The pair met at Lakeside, an elite Seattle private school. In 1968, the school bought a terminal for their lab, at a time when such machines were extremely rare. Gates and Allen had access to a sophisticated computer as early as eighth grade. And they were hooked. By Microsoft’s launch in 1975, Gates and Allen had each logged tens of thousands of hours behind a terminal.  In 1960, when they were still unknowns on the scene, the Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany to play the local club circuit. It was rocky at first: the dingy venues had terrible acoustics, the audiences were unenthused, and the band was severely underpaid. But they kept playing. As the lads from Liverpool got better, audiences demanded more performances – more hours of practice. By 1964, when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” finally cracked the charts, the band had already played over 1,200 concerts together.  In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. He looked at the Microsofts and the Beatles of the world and found that there was a quantifiable point when experts became experts – just around the 10,000 hour-mark of practice. It might sound daunting, but the findings are actually quite inspiring: it means that elites aren’t just naturally better at their given passion – they fall in love with what they’re doing and practice a lot in order to get there. At some point, what they’re doing no longer feels like work.  Macklemore, who struggled with addiction for much of his early adulthood, only found success once he got clean and dedicated himself to rapping. He even wrote a song titled “10,000 Hours”, in which he raps about how practice and dedication gave him purpose and a reason to live. Those hours paid off: Macklemore is now a multi-platinum artist who hasn’t stopped honing his craft and who hasn’t lost sight of his sobriety.  Practice with a purpose can offer a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives. Choosing something to get good at, and sticking with it, can be a source of powerful change – it doesn’t matter if it’s surfing, woodworking, or golfing. And while impatience can cause us to doubt our abilities and give up, Gladwell’s concept is a good reminder that expertise doesn’t happen overnight. So next time you want to throw in the towel, instead throw on Macklemore’s “10,000 Hours”, turn it up loud, and remind yourself that practice and dedication will get you where you want to be.

The story of Microsoft is legend: two guys drop out of college, start writing software (presumably in a garage), and become billionaires. Simple, right?

But if we look beyond the legend, we find that it took Bill Gates and Paul Allen tons of work and hours upon hours of pursuing their passion. The pair met at Lakeside, an elite Seattle private school. In 1968, the school bought a terminal for their lab, at a time when such machines were extremely rare. Gates and Allen had access to a sophisticated computer as early as eighth grade. And they were hooked. By Microsoft’s launch in 1975, Gates and Allen had each logged tens of thousands of hours behind a terminal.

In 1960, when they were still unknowns on the scene, the Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany to play the local club circuit. It was rocky at first: the dingy venues had terrible acoustics, the audiences were unenthused, and the band was severely underpaid. But they kept playing. As the lads from Liverpool got better, audiences demanded more performances – more hours of practice. By 1964, when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” finally cracked the charts, the band had already played over 1,200 concerts together.

In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. He looked at the Microsofts and the Beatles of the world and found that there was a quantifiable point when experts became experts – just around the 10,000 hour-mark of practice. It might sound daunting, but the findings are actually quite inspiring: it means that elites aren’t just naturally better at their given passion – they fall in love with what they’re doing and practice a lot in order to get there. At some point, what they’re doing no longer feels like work.

Macklemore, who struggled with addiction for much of his early adulthood, only found success once he got clean and dedicated himself to rapping. He even wrote a song titled “10,000 Hours”, in which he raps about how practice and dedication gave him purpose and a reason to live. Those hours paid off: Macklemore is now a multi-platinum artist who hasn’t stopped honing his craft and who hasn’t lost sight of his sobriety.

Practice with a purpose can offer a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives. Choosing something to get good at, and sticking with it, can be a source of powerful change – it doesn’t matter if it’s surfing, woodworking, or golfing. And while impatience can cause us to doubt our abilities and give up, Gladwell’s concept is a good reminder that expertise doesn’t happen overnight. So next time you want to throw in the towel, instead throw on Macklemore’s “10,000 Hours”, turn it up loud, and remind yourself that practice and dedication will get you where you want to be.

Practicing Meditation

 Phone calls. Texts. Appointments. Calendars. Emails. Stop!!!  The technological age we live in is a bit of a double-edged sword. What we gain in convenience we lose in peace of mind. Our brains try to process information at the speed of our handhelds and along the way something gets lost. So what can we do about it?  Meditation has been proven to promote relaxation. And reduce stress. And lower blood pressure. And develop compassion, love, patience, and forgiveness. And alleviate depression and much, much, much more! So if it does all that, why aren’t we meditating all the time?  Most of us don’t know how. We usually picture meditation as a monk, all in yellow, sitting cross-legged in a monastery, floating a foot off the ground. But really, it can be as simple as closing our eyes for five minutes, and we can do it in whatever we’re wearing right now. There are actually no rules when it comes to meditation, it can be whatever we want it to be and we’ll still get all of the benefits.  For example, Sea Change for one is a strong believer that physical activity can be extremely meditative. Surfing, martial arts, working out, or whatever can put us in “the zone” and reap as many benefits as sitting Indian style on a pillow, if not more. Maybe, listening to music or taking photos is your meditation. It can literally be anything you want, as long as you go after it with the intention that this is your time, your space, your meditation.  So instead of checking our email, let’s check out a meditation app or go to the beach or play basketball for a few minutes each day. Literally, just 5 minutes a day of meditation can change our entire life and outlook, so why not? What do we have to lose?

Phone calls. Texts. Appointments. Calendars. Emails. Stop!!!

The technological age we live in is a bit of a double-edged sword. What we gain in convenience we lose in peace of mind. Our brains try to process information at the speed of our handhelds and along the way something gets lost. So what can we do about it?

Meditation has been proven to promote relaxation. And reduce stress. And lower blood pressure. And develop compassion, love, patience, and forgiveness. And alleviate depression and much, much, much more! So if it does all that, why aren’t we meditating all the time?

Most of us don’t know how. We usually picture meditation as a monk, all in yellow, sitting cross-legged in a monastery, floating a foot off the ground. But really, it can be as simple as closing our eyes for five minutes, and we can do it in whatever we’re wearing right now. There are actually no rules when it comes to meditation, it can be whatever we want it to be and we’ll still get all of the benefits.

For example, Sea Change for one is a strong believer that physical activity can be extremely meditative. Surfing, martial arts, working out, or whatever can put us in “the zone” and reap as many benefits as sitting Indian style on a pillow, if not more. Maybe, listening to music or taking photos is your meditation. It can literally be anything you want, as long as you go after it with the intention that this is your time, your space, your meditation.

So instead of checking our email, let’s check out a meditation app or go to the beach or play basketball for a few minutes each day. Literally, just 5 minutes a day of meditation can change our entire life and outlook, so why not? What do we have to lose?

Jiu-Jitsu: The Action of Distraction in Action

 Anyone with a little time under their belt will tell you that living sober is moment to moment—a reality focused on the present, on living life in the here and now, but most importantly, it’s a reality focused on… The action.  I’ve mentioned the term The Action of Distraction a number of times, and not only is it a term originally coined by Alan Watts—a street-level genius who spoke truth to power and power to truth—but I’ve also heard it in sober recovery, in terminal illness trauma processing, in the highest highs and lowest lows.  And The Action of Distraction is in no way a cynical way of looking at things. It’s a way of describing the merits, the worth, the inspiration of what a sober life is actually like. In fact, of what just life is actually like.  For so many in recovery, staying in action is survival itself. It’s the way to face a challenge, to fight a competition, to win or even just survive another day. It’s reality, it’s response, it’s reaction. It’s the truest expression of the free will we have in this thing called life.  So in a particularly personal way to Sea Change Recovery, to Josh Lazie, but especially to his son, Rocco Haze—who recently made Josh the fucking coolest grandfather on Earth with a boy named Sonny—jiu-jitsu serves the purpose of direct, challenging, and cathartic action.  Action for its own sake. Action for each and every one of our sakes.  Rocco was actually the first one to walk into Street Sports: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and long-story-short, he never left. Owned by a wry, respected sensei and head instructor, Professor Renato, Street Sports welcomes Sea Change Recovery’s men to help them find their way forward by focusing on the present moment—a formidable, challenging present moment.  I spoke with Coach Adam Gordinier at Street Sports, who sees himself in every newly sober alcoholic who walks into his gym.  “Teaching jiu-jitsu’s been one of the most amazing, rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s been a game-changer, a life-changer. I suffered from the same things as all these guys—mental illness, drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder. But jiu-jitsu gave me a healthy obsession, a healthy addiction, a way to channel my addictive personality into a positive way of living.”  Adam went on to describe that each class, each private lesson, each sparring session is above all active. And how could it not be? Brazilian jiu-jitsu is known particularly for its ground level nature, for its real-life physical expression combining two of the most meditative martial arts, judo and original Japanese jiu-jitsu.  “Brazilian jiu-jitsu’s much more practical and efficient, especially in terms of ground techniques. Each class we get into the ground technique of the day. And then we spar a free-spar from the knees. We shake hands and get right into it.”  Again, active. Real. Practical. Motivational. The present moment. The present moment with nothing defining it but actual, physical reaction and response. You know, being alive.  Coach Adam ended with these memorable words, “Life takes over. Hey, that’s just life. But the thing is… Once the bug bites you, my hope is they stick with it.”  And those words lead into Rocco’s experience in particular, with his respect, admiration, and motivational connection to jiu-jitsu for two years this July. Because Rocco’s exactly one of those jiu-jitsu martial artists Coach Adam hopes for, one of those young men living his life the best he can—the son to Josh, the father to Sonny, an inspiration to all of us.  “I was in a weird place in my sobriety, I felt like I didn’t have a passion. And after my first time, I fell in love with jiu-jitsu. It’s taught me more about life—about being meditative—than anything ever. It’s changed my life.”  It’s changed Rocco’s life because it’s the epitome of the life we wish we had, the life we hope for, the life we all deserve—a life focused on nothing else but what to do in the present moment.  “Every time Adam teaches me something, he chokes me out with it at the end. [Laughter.] And it’s kinda like AA. It’s not just words. Sure, he tells me his experience going through it, but then shows me his experience, that he’s been exactly where I’m at… And made it through to the other side.”  What else is there to say? That’s recovery, sobriety, activity, action. That’s meaning, that’s motivation, that’s living… That’s life.   Watch Rocco’s full story on Vimeo .

Anyone with a little time under their belt will tell you that living sober is moment to moment—a reality focused on the present, on living life in the here and now, but most importantly, it’s a reality focused on… The action.

I’ve mentioned the term The Action of Distraction a number of times, and not only is it a term originally coined by Alan Watts—a street-level genius who spoke truth to power and power to truth—but I’ve also heard it in sober recovery, in terminal illness trauma processing, in the highest highs and lowest lows.

And The Action of Distraction is in no way a cynical way of looking at things. It’s a way of describing the merits, the worth, the inspiration of what a sober life is actually like. In fact, of what just life is actually like.

For so many in recovery, staying in action is survival itself. It’s the way to face a challenge, to fight a competition, to win or even just survive another day. It’s reality, it’s response, it’s reaction. It’s the truest expression of the free will we have in this thing called life.

So in a particularly personal way to Sea Change Recovery, to Josh Lazie, but especially to his son, Rocco Haze—who recently made Josh the fucking coolest grandfather on Earth with a boy named Sonny—jiu-jitsu serves the purpose of direct, challenging, and cathartic action.

Action for its own sake. Action for each and every one of our sakes.

Rocco was actually the first one to walk into Street Sports: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and long-story-short, he never left. Owned by a wry, respected sensei and head instructor, Professor Renato, Street Sports welcomes Sea Change Recovery’s men to help them find their way forward by focusing on the present moment—a formidable, challenging present moment.

I spoke with Coach Adam Gordinier at Street Sports, who sees himself in every newly sober alcoholic who walks into his gym.

“Teaching jiu-jitsu’s been one of the most amazing, rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s been a game-changer, a life-changer. I suffered from the same things as all these guys—mental illness, drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder. But jiu-jitsu gave me a healthy obsession, a healthy addiction, a way to channel my addictive personality into a positive way of living.”

Adam went on to describe that each class, each private lesson, each sparring session is above all active. And how could it not be? Brazilian jiu-jitsu is known particularly for its ground level nature, for its real-life physical expression combining two of the most meditative martial arts, judo and original Japanese jiu-jitsu.

“Brazilian jiu-jitsu’s much more practical and efficient, especially in terms of ground techniques. Each class we get into the ground technique of the day. And then we spar a free-spar from the knees. We shake hands and get right into it.”

Again, active. Real. Practical. Motivational. The present moment. The present moment with nothing defining it but actual, physical reaction and response. You know, being alive.

Coach Adam ended with these memorable words, “Life takes over. Hey, that’s just life. But the thing is… Once the bug bites you, my hope is they stick with it.”

And those words lead into Rocco’s experience in particular, with his respect, admiration, and motivational connection to jiu-jitsu for two years this July. Because Rocco’s exactly one of those jiu-jitsu martial artists Coach Adam hopes for, one of those young men living his life the best he can—the son to Josh, the father to Sonny, an inspiration to all of us.

“I was in a weird place in my sobriety, I felt like I didn’t have a passion. And after my first time, I fell in love with jiu-jitsu. It’s taught me more about life—about being meditative—than anything ever. It’s changed my life.”

It’s changed Rocco’s life because it’s the epitome of the life we wish we had, the life we hope for, the life we all deserve—a life focused on nothing else but what to do in the present moment.

“Every time Adam teaches me something, he chokes me out with it at the end. [Laughter.] And it’s kinda like AA. It’s not just words. Sure, he tells me his experience going through it, but then shows me his experience, that he’s been exactly where I’m at… And made it through to the other side.”

What else is there to say? That’s recovery, sobriety, activity, action. That’s meaning, that’s motivation, that’s living… That’s life.

Watch Rocco’s full story on Vimeo.

Me, You, and Music: Sanctuary, Recovery, and Infinity

 Why is music the oldest form of human communication? What does it really do to us? And why do every single one of us listen to it?  I needed to ask Sonny Mayo all these questions. He’s a lifelong musician, a man who’s been clean and sober, “Fifteen years, five months, and one day,” and a three-year program administrator at Rock to Recovery, a recovery foundation that does exactly what its perfect song lyric of a title implies—it helps people in active recovery by teaching them how to channel stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, emotionality, and the fear and pain of sobriety into music.  In a practical way, they provide a real-life creative version of staying in the moment, being active, present, alive, and expressive, devoted entirely to the surreal, the artistic, the meditative, mesmerizing, and metaphysical elements of music.  It doesn’t just help gain confidence, teach trust, promote taking chances, express collaborative cooperation, but in verifiable ways, it helps regain self-respect, reign in repression, and reach reality-based catharsis.  But Sonny explained it way more simply and poignantly. “There’s the connection, that active moment of connecting with others through music. And it’s an ancient tribal technique—the same heartbeat, the same voice, the same emotion, all at the same time. I’m watching people work together in the purest form, they’re sharing their soul, their heart.”  And beyond the abstract descriptions of what music is, what it means to humanity, what it does to us and why, there’s also just the practical realities of a form of meditation that’s actively, physiologically healthy and healing on a basic functional level.  When he ends a recording session, Sonny always asks, “Hey, guys, who was thinking about their problems when we recorded that?” Each and every time, no one raises their hands.  Now, as a person diagnosed with brain cancer, I’ve learned a thing or two about neurology, neural pathways, brain evocation and elevation, and what it really means when someone says, “It all starts in the brain.” And one of the first things I learned in recovery was about the healing power of music.  It’s called oxytocin, or as Sonny described it, “It’s the feel good, the love molecule, the cuddle chemical,” a hormone released by the brain as a result of pleasurable, rewarding, redemptive experiences. Or how Sonny says it to the guys he’s recording with, “We’re gonna get high today, and we don’t have to go to the trap house or the liquor store, it’s already in us.”  The fucking cathartic power of creating, producing, listening to, and melting into music relieves stress, helps resist drug cravings, promotes enthusiasm, empathy, positive emotionality, even helps my brain literally heal itself after surgery.  You hear that? Music. Any music. Because it’s designed to help us recover, to help us find ourselves, to help us communicate, listen, live, and love. “That is recovery. It’s mindfulness, being in the moment, focused. It’s channeling emotion through sound.”  I finally asked Sonny what music really means to him. After a pause, he read a single sentence from the The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous—a sentence he passes along to others, a sentence that defines The Higher Power for him… “Despite contrary indications, I had no doubt that a mighty purpose and rhythm underlay all.”  Then Sonny added three words, “We are music.”  If we consider that one step further, it’s truly who we are and what we have in our lives to reach points, places, purposes, and promises beyond the world we see. You know, that world we feel. That spiritual, meditative world where truly anything is possible… If we just be, if we just believe, but really, if we just listen.  Check out this musical goodbye letter to heroin by Dope Feelings:  https://soundcloud.com/rocktorecovery/the-addictsbefore-and-aftervoa

Why is music the oldest form of human communication? What does it really do to us? And why do every single one of us listen to it?

I needed to ask Sonny Mayo all these questions. He’s a lifelong musician, a man who’s been clean and sober, “Fifteen years, five months, and one day,” and a three-year program administrator at Rock to Recovery, a recovery foundation that does exactly what its perfect song lyric of a title implies—it helps people in active recovery by teaching them how to channel stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, emotionality, and the fear and pain of sobriety into music.

In a practical way, they provide a real-life creative version of staying in the moment, being active, present, alive, and expressive, devoted entirely to the surreal, the artistic, the meditative, mesmerizing, and metaphysical elements of music.

It doesn’t just help gain confidence, teach trust, promote taking chances, express collaborative cooperation, but in verifiable ways, it helps regain self-respect, reign in repression, and reach reality-based catharsis.

But Sonny explained it way more simply and poignantly. “There’s the connection, that active moment of connecting with others through music. And it’s an ancient tribal technique—the same heartbeat, the same voice, the same emotion, all at the same time. I’m watching people work together in the purest form, they’re sharing their soul, their heart.”

And beyond the abstract descriptions of what music is, what it means to humanity, what it does to us and why, there’s also just the practical realities of a form of meditation that’s actively, physiologically healthy and healing on a basic functional level.

When he ends a recording session, Sonny always asks, “Hey, guys, who was thinking about their problems when we recorded that?” Each and every time, no one raises their hands.

Now, as a person diagnosed with brain cancer, I’ve learned a thing or two about neurology, neural pathways, brain evocation and elevation, and what it really means when someone says, “It all starts in the brain.” And one of the first things I learned in recovery was about the healing power of music.

It’s called oxytocin, or as Sonny described it, “It’s the feel good, the love molecule, the cuddle chemical,” a hormone released by the brain as a result of pleasurable, rewarding, redemptive experiences. Or how Sonny says it to the guys he’s recording with, “We’re gonna get high today, and we don’t have to go to the trap house or the liquor store, it’s already in us.”

The fucking cathartic power of creating, producing, listening to, and melting into music relieves stress, helps resist drug cravings, promotes enthusiasm, empathy, positive emotionality, even helps my brain literally heal itself after surgery.

You hear that? Music. Any music. Because it’s designed to help us recover, to help us find ourselves, to help us communicate, listen, live, and love. “That is recovery. It’s mindfulness, being in the moment, focused. It’s channeling emotion through sound.”

I finally asked Sonny what music really means to him. After a pause, he read a single sentence from the The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous—a sentence he passes along to others, a sentence that defines The Higher Power for him… “Despite contrary indications, I had no doubt that a mighty purpose and rhythm underlay all.”

Then Sonny added three words, “We are music.”

If we consider that one step further, it’s truly who we are and what we have in our lives to reach points, places, purposes, and promises beyond the world we see. You know, that world we feel. That spiritual, meditative world where truly anything is possible… If we just be, if we just believe, but really, if we just listen.

Check out this musical goodbye letter to heroin by Dope Feelings:

https://soundcloud.com/rocktorecovery/the-addictsbefore-and-aftervoa

Present Meditation: Meditation Is The Present

 What does it mean to meditate, to be conscious, to be present, to be, well, alive?  I ask as an introduction—a foundation, really—because I spoke with a man named Jack Newkirk who’s dedicated to actual recovery by teaching a profound fucking way of just making it happen, of taking direction, of being told what to do and then fucking doing it, of staying active, staying present. staying in the here and now, conscious and even conscientious of Life on Life’s Terms.  Jack’s got a story like so many of us. He learned something that changed his life when he was a kid—in his case, surfing—but then between some bad luck, tough choices, and difficult experiences, he didn’t surf again until he was thirty, until he got sober, until he put together some time—one day at a time. And that’s when he started a fellowship meditation group called Salt Water Therapy.  “It’s the ocean. It’s a power greater than all of us, some would say The Higher Power.”  Those were Jack’s first words when we spoke, so needless to say, I was ready to get into some life wisdom on its own terms, straight from the surfer’s mouth, straight from the heart and soul of a man who’s devoted his heart and soul to others—to their recovery, their meditation, their gratitude, humility, fortitude, bravery, conscientiousness, mindfulness, and collective strength.  “It’s all just really pure energy, the long-term effects of finding their passions in life, that moment where you can connect yourself to your surroundings, stay present, and just feel good… Actually being happy while being sober.”  The premise and the promise are simple. Jack takes sober dudes—three days, three years, thirty years—out into the ocean to teach them to surf, to help them connect with The Power of The Ocean.  And he does it to teach every one of them—in the most practical yet metaphysical ways—what it means to be present, to stay in the moment, to live life on life’s terms.  “The ocean has an inspiring way of keeping us in the present. Think about it. You’re battling elements—currents, winds, waves—and you’re controlling your body and mind to stay present for hours at a time.”  But how Jack finished our conversation struck me as a new way of looking at what the present moment really means, of what staying in the present can really prove, of what life lessons really mean when they’re actually taught by learning from living.  “They can. That’s it. They show up and they do it… They can.”  What a life lesson, right? What a way of making Life on Life’s Terms an unforgettable experience, a way to grow, learn, love, and live… What a way to stay in the present not just today, but tomorrow, and even for the rest of our days among the living.

What does it mean to meditate, to be conscious, to be present, to be, well, alive?

I ask as an introduction—a foundation, really—because I spoke with a man named Jack Newkirk who’s dedicated to actual recovery by teaching a profound fucking way of just making it happen, of taking direction, of being told what to do and then fucking doing it, of staying active, staying present. staying in the here and now, conscious and even conscientious of Life on Life’s Terms.

Jack’s got a story like so many of us. He learned something that changed his life when he was a kid—in his case, surfing—but then between some bad luck, tough choices, and difficult experiences, he didn’t surf again until he was thirty, until he got sober, until he put together some time—one day at a time. And that’s when he started a fellowship meditation group called Salt Water Therapy.

“It’s the ocean. It’s a power greater than all of us, some would say The Higher Power.”

Those were Jack’s first words when we spoke, so needless to say, I was ready to get into some life wisdom on its own terms, straight from the surfer’s mouth, straight from the heart and soul of a man who’s devoted his heart and soul to others—to their recovery, their meditation, their gratitude, humility, fortitude, bravery, conscientiousness, mindfulness, and collective strength.

“It’s all just really pure energy, the long-term effects of finding their passions in life, that moment where you can connect yourself to your surroundings, stay present, and just feel good… Actually being happy while being sober.”

The premise and the promise are simple. Jack takes sober dudes—three days, three years, thirty years—out into the ocean to teach them to surf, to help them connect with The Power of The Ocean.

And he does it to teach every one of them—in the most practical yet metaphysical ways—what it means to be present, to stay in the moment, to live life on life’s terms.

“The ocean has an inspiring way of keeping us in the present. Think about it. You’re battling elements—currents, winds, waves—and you’re controlling your body and mind to stay present for hours at a time.”

But how Jack finished our conversation struck me as a new way of looking at what the present moment really means, of what staying in the present can really prove, of what life lessons really mean when they’re actually taught by learning from living.

“They can. That’s it. They show up and they do it… They can.”

What a life lesson, right? What a way of making Life on Life’s Terms an unforgettable experience, a way to grow, learn, love, and live… What a way to stay in the present not just today, but tomorrow, and even for the rest of our days among the living.

Living The Moment and Knowing The Moment

 No matter where we are at any given moment, no matter what we’re feeling, how we’re feeling, or why we’re feeling, there’s a natural existential setting all us humans have to endure one way or another—being in the moment and knowing about being in the moment.  I know, I get it. And trust me, I can’t help but agree when it comes down to it. What I just wrote sounds like some obvious basic bullshit that we all fucking get, so why am I here sounding off again like it’s some original idea? Let alone like it’s motivating, inspirational, expressive, or even meaningful.  The honest answer is that, well, I don’t know why I bring it up, I can’t really explain. I don’t think I could really explain or even fucking understand it if I spent the rest of my days among the living trying to.  And get this, when I really think about it, I don’t know why it’s been one of the more challenging aspects of my very existence itself since I was young enough to realize that there was a difference between living and thinking, doing and dreaming, being and knowing.  I mean, in all honesty, I remember having those thoughts between naps or in sandboxes in preschool, and yet here I am, a grown man having essentially the same exact fucking thoughts decades later, and when I take even one step further, the real paralyzing follow-up questions come to mind…  What the fuck have I learned? What the fuck have I changed? What the fuck happened to make me who I am today?  And to be really, really honest, all I can think is that here I am yet again thinking the exact same thing I was thinking finishing a chocolate milk in a sandbox, or learning to skate in Van Nuys, or being unable to stand still in karate classes and getting hit with a bamboo stick for it (they could still do that back in the day to their fucking credit, by the way), or trying to get to third base to Return Of The Mack sophomore year while wearing a choker, or getting into my first drunk car accident the day after my seventeenth birthday, or a million other examples—a million times worse—of a life that went one way and the thoughts about that life that went another way…  And when it comes down to it… That’s all I know about myself.  So I’m no different than anyone else. Sure, the details might be this or that, and someone else’s might be that or this, but the real essence of all of this is that we exist and we know we do.  Just like every single one of us knows about our lives and ourselves no matter who we are, when we are, how we are, why we are, or most importantly, what we’re thinking when we enjoy, engage, endure, or envision any given moment of existence itself.  So what’s to be done? What’s to be changed, appreciated, decided, or believed?  But now… Get this.  I stopped writing this piece earlier because I wanted to think it through, I wanted to find my way to a natural ending, a common sense, practical point.  In short, I wanted to find a way of looking at my thoughts and words that made it less about me and more about you. Or how about this? Let’s meet halfway—more about us.  So what happened? What thoughts did I have? What greater, deeper conclusions did I reach?  Well, the truth is pretty much nothing happened, and the thoughts I had were empty, disjointed, distracted—basically off on tangents made of fucking tangents.  And then… This.  A dear friend of mine—a profoundly spirited, soulful insider who’s inspired me, taught me, forgiven me, even loved me for years—reached out to let me now how pissed she was that I didn’t get something done for her I said I would. Without going into detail—because it’s pointless and boring—I thought I was supposed to get this to her by the end of the week, but she wrote me today out of the blue and said it was actually first thing tomorrow morning. I told her I was busy, that I’d be home real late, but that I’d get her what she needed by the end of the night one way or another.  Unfortunately, her disappointment, frustration, maybe even just plain anger and resentment was so real, intense, consuming, and defining, that she texted me earlier and said she’d get what she needed herself, but she made a point to let me know how fucking angry she was.  I clarified, I discussed, I detailed, I explained, I thought out loud, and above all, I fucking apologized. Over and over. From the bottom of my heart. And meant it.  I meant every single word.  And after all that, here I am finishing my piece. You know why?  Because when it came down to it, the lesson I learned is that, yes, we all exist and we all think about our existence. But somewhere in between those two—in ways large or small, memorable or forgettable, meaningful or vacuous, real or metaphysical—there’s simply what we do.  What. We. Actually. Do.  And that’s the one that bridges the gap and focuses the clarity. That’s the one that gives us purpose and makes us consider things on purpose. That’s the one that proves the past is over and the future is overblown.  It’s the one that pacifies me and makes peace with you. And yes, all in all, at least it’s a step in the right direction.  Because I can never get past me, but I can sure as hell give to you. Or in other words, for me to even have a chance getting, well, anything, it’s really—pretty much only—about me giving to you.

No matter where we are at any given moment, no matter what we’re feeling, how we’re feeling, or why we’re feeling, there’s a natural existential setting all us humans have to endure one way or another—being in the moment and knowing about being in the moment.

I know, I get it. And trust me, I can’t help but agree when it comes down to it. What I just wrote sounds like some obvious basic bullshit that we all fucking get, so why am I here sounding off again like it’s some original idea? Let alone like it’s motivating, inspirational, expressive, or even meaningful.

The honest answer is that, well, I don’t know why I bring it up, I can’t really explain. I don’t think I could really explain or even fucking understand it if I spent the rest of my days among the living trying to.

And get this, when I really think about it, I don’t know why it’s been one of the more challenging aspects of my very existence itself since I was young enough to realize that there was a difference between living and thinking, doing and dreaming, being and knowing.

I mean, in all honesty, I remember having those thoughts between naps or in sandboxes in preschool, and yet here I am, a grown man having essentially the same exact fucking thoughts decades later, and when I take even one step further, the real paralyzing follow-up questions come to mind…

What the fuck have I learned? What the fuck have I changed? What the fuck happened to make me who I am today?

And to be really, really honest, all I can think is that here I am yet again thinking the exact same thing I was thinking finishing a chocolate milk in a sandbox, or learning to skate in Van Nuys, or being unable to stand still in karate classes and getting hit with a bamboo stick for it (they could still do that back in the day to their fucking credit, by the way), or trying to get to third base to Return Of The Mack sophomore year while wearing a choker, or getting into my first drunk car accident the day after my seventeenth birthday, or a million other examples—a million times worse—of a life that went one way and the thoughts about that life that went another way…

And when it comes down to it… That’s all I know about myself.

So I’m no different than anyone else. Sure, the details might be this or that, and someone else’s might be that or this, but the real essence of all of this is that we exist and we know we do.

Just like every single one of us knows about our lives and ourselves no matter who we are, when we are, how we are, why we are, or most importantly, what we’re thinking when we enjoy, engage, endure, or envision any given moment of existence itself.

So what’s to be done? What’s to be changed, appreciated, decided, or believed?

But now… Get this.

I stopped writing this piece earlier because I wanted to think it through, I wanted to find my way to a natural ending, a common sense, practical point.

In short, I wanted to find a way of looking at my thoughts and words that made it less about me and more about you. Or how about this? Let’s meet halfway—more about us.

So what happened? What thoughts did I have? What greater, deeper conclusions did I reach?

Well, the truth is pretty much nothing happened, and the thoughts I had were empty, disjointed, distracted—basically off on tangents made of fucking tangents.

And then… This.

A dear friend of mine—a profoundly spirited, soulful insider who’s inspired me, taught me, forgiven me, even loved me for years—reached out to let me now how pissed she was that I didn’t get something done for her I said I would. Without going into detail—because it’s pointless and boring—I thought I was supposed to get this to her by the end of the week, but she wrote me today out of the blue and said it was actually first thing tomorrow morning. I told her I was busy, that I’d be home real late, but that I’d get her what she needed by the end of the night one way or another.

Unfortunately, her disappointment, frustration, maybe even just plain anger and resentment was so real, intense, consuming, and defining, that she texted me earlier and said she’d get what she needed herself, but she made a point to let me know how fucking angry she was.

I clarified, I discussed, I detailed, I explained, I thought out loud, and above all, I fucking apologized. Over and over. From the bottom of my heart. And meant it.

I meant every single word.

And after all that, here I am finishing my piece. You know why?

Because when it came down to it, the lesson I learned is that, yes, we all exist and we all think about our existence. But somewhere in between those two—in ways large or small, memorable or forgettable, meaningful or vacuous, real or metaphysical—there’s simply what we do.

What. We. Actually. Do.

And that’s the one that bridges the gap and focuses the clarity. That’s the one that gives us purpose and makes us consider things on purpose. That’s the one that proves the past is over and the future is overblown.

It’s the one that pacifies me and makes peace with you. And yes, all in all, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Because I can never get past me, but I can sure as hell give to you. Or in other words, for me to even have a chance getting, well, anything, it’s really—pretty much only—about me giving to you.

The Action of Distraction

 Without getting into too much detail—because, truthfully, I’m no longer willing to miss the forest for the trees, or in other words, I’ll get real lost in the details real fucking quick—I’m going on ten years in one way, ten months in another, and even just ten minutes in the here and now.  I’m as present as I can be. Right now. Writing. Not even “writing” yet in the literary, a-comma-or- a-dash kinda way—just typing on a computer, sitting on my couch, coffee on the coffee table.  To say I’d be lying if I was here right now claiming I’d reached some next level, that I’d had some profound catharsis about my life and its purpose, that I’d lived the best way I could, helping the most people I could, believing the ideals I could (and should)…  That couldn’t even be called a lie—it’d be called a fiction, a fantasy, Don Quixote aiming his lance at one of those windmills, or Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.  It didn’t happen, it hasn’t happened, and to think that it will is the first step in going down a road that only leads back to me. So, no way. No thanks.  No, like I was saying, my ten years, my ten months, and even my ten minutes has almost nothing to do with any of the idealistic stories and fantasies we tell ourselves to make life livable.  It has to do with the very essence of what’s in the now, of what connects moment to moment, idea to idea, hope to hope, truth to truth, person to person, human power to Higher Power.  It has to do with Action.  And in all truth, and in the most positive way—as I hope I’ll explain—it has to do with The Action of Distraction.  Long story short:  In 2007, when my dad convinced me he’d help me pull a Trainspotting by locking me in my childhood bedroom for three days to get through withdrawals, I remember I asked him what the hell I could even try to do after.  He looked me in the eyes and said he had no idea, that it was up to me, but he knew one thing… It wouldn’t be about me thinking or saying or hoping or believing.  It should be about me doing. In fact, it should be about me doing something—any-fucking-thing—that’d distract me from thinking, saying, hoping, or believing.  And that was the first time I thought to myself… The Action of Distraction.  So what did I do? Two days later I walked up to a man named Josh at the second meeting I ever went to without a court card (at the first one the night before I walked up to a man named Frank and asked him to be my sponsor) and told him I’d like to get involved. I may have even said, “I’ll do anything.” And my sponsor definitely said, “He’ll fucking do anything.”  “Butt cans.”  So for the next six months—and for my first six months—I cleaned up every cigarette butt before and after every meeting. Period. That’s all I did. It was up to me, and my purpose was to keep the meeting grounds clean. Again, period.  And there were always tons of cigarette butts because there were tons of cigarette smokers.  So really long story really fucking short:  I’m alive today because a man named Josh—who’d become a friend, a brother, and my family of choice—said to me, “Butt cans.”  I’m definitely not saying The Action of Distraction is necessarily noble or poetic or lit with warm light on some movie set or happens at the magic hour on an island in the Pacific or makes your dreams come true or ends with the words, “Happily ever after…”  Far from it.  But you know what The Action of Distraction does do? It keeps you here, it keeps you awake, it keeps you clear, it keeps you active, it keeps you living, or like my dad said, it keeps you doing.  Above all… It keeps you alive.  I’ll get into how The Action of Distraction has made all the difference these last ten months next time, I promise. Given my life-changing diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation, it takes my breath away just thinking about it as I type. But like I said… Next time.  The last ten minutes? Yeah, that one’s quick and easy. A while back I read a story about a Navy SEAL, Admiral William H. McCraven, who told his soldiers, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”  Well, I’m not even gonna fucking pretend I think I can change the world, not even close. Let the ones who think that, think that. That’s their business, and mine is mine.  But that making the bed part? That? That I get. And it’s not because I want to change the world.  It’s just because I want to make it through the day.  And no matter how I feel when I wake up—happy, sad, hopeful, cynical, forgotten, lost, calm, or cool—the first thing I do is make my bed. Every. Single. Fucking. Day. It’s The Action of Distraction I learned when I was five.  It’s The Action of Distraction I completed just ten minutes ago. And at least today, it’s one tiny, momentary, seemingly insignificant, yet profoundly meaningful example of The Action of Distraction that keeps me alive.

Without getting into too much detail—because, truthfully, I’m no longer willing to miss the forest for the trees, or in other words, I’ll get real lost in the details real fucking quick—I’m going on ten years in one way, ten months in another, and even just ten minutes in the here and now.

I’m as present as I can be. Right now. Writing. Not even “writing” yet in the literary, a-comma-or- a-dash kinda way—just typing on a computer, sitting on my couch, coffee on the coffee table.

To say I’d be lying if I was here right now claiming I’d reached some next level, that I’d had some profound catharsis about my life and its purpose, that I’d lived the best way I could, helping the most people I could, believing the ideals I could (and should)…

That couldn’t even be called a lie—it’d be called a fiction, a fantasy, Don Quixote aiming his lance at one of those windmills, or Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

It didn’t happen, it hasn’t happened, and to think that it will is the first step in going down a road that only leads back to me. So, no way. No thanks.

No, like I was saying, my ten years, my ten months, and even my ten minutes has almost nothing to do with any of the idealistic stories and fantasies we tell ourselves to make life livable.

It has to do with the very essence of what’s in the now, of what connects moment to moment, idea to idea, hope to hope, truth to truth, person to person, human power to Higher Power.

It has to do with Action.

And in all truth, and in the most positive way—as I hope I’ll explain—it has to do with The Action of Distraction.

Long story short:

In 2007, when my dad convinced me he’d help me pull a Trainspotting by locking me in my childhood bedroom for three days to get through withdrawals, I remember I asked him what the hell I could even try to do after.

He looked me in the eyes and said he had no idea, that it was up to me, but he knew one thing… It wouldn’t be about me thinking or saying or hoping or believing.

It should be about me doing. In fact, it should be about me doing something—any-fucking-thing—that’d distract me from thinking, saying, hoping, or believing.

And that was the first time I thought to myself… The Action of Distraction.

So what did I do? Two days later I walked up to a man named Josh at the second meeting I ever went to without a court card (at the first one the night before I walked up to a man named Frank and asked him to be my sponsor) and told him I’d like to get involved. I may have even said, “I’ll do anything.” And my sponsor definitely said, “He’ll fucking do anything.”

“Butt cans.”

So for the next six months—and for my first six months—I cleaned up every cigarette butt before and after every meeting. Period. That’s all I did. It was up to me, and my purpose was to keep the meeting grounds clean. Again, period.

And there were always tons of cigarette butts because there were tons of cigarette smokers.

So really long story really fucking short:

I’m alive today because a man named Josh—who’d become a friend, a brother, and my family of choice—said to me, “Butt cans.”

I’m definitely not saying The Action of Distraction is necessarily noble or poetic or lit with warm light on some movie set or happens at the magic hour on an island in the Pacific or makes your dreams come true or ends with the words, “Happily ever after…”

Far from it.

But you know what The Action of Distraction does do? It keeps you here, it keeps you awake, it keeps you clear, it keeps you active, it keeps you living, or like my dad said, it keeps you doing.

Above all… It keeps you alive.

I’ll get into how The Action of Distraction has made all the difference these last ten months next time, I promise. Given my life-changing diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation, it takes my breath away just thinking about it as I type. But like I said… Next time.

The last ten minutes? Yeah, that one’s quick and easy. A while back I read a story about a Navy SEAL, Admiral William H. McCraven, who told his soldiers, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Well, I’m not even gonna fucking pretend I think I can change the world, not even close. Let the ones who think that, think that. That’s their business, and mine is mine.

But that making the bed part? That? That I get. And it’s not because I want to change the world.

It’s just because I want to make it through the day.

And no matter how I feel when I wake up—happy, sad, hopeful, cynical, forgotten, lost, calm, or cool—the first thing I do is make my bed. Every. Single. Fucking. Day. It’s The Action of Distraction I learned when I was five.

It’s The Action of Distraction I completed just ten minutes ago. And at least today, it’s one tiny, momentary, seemingly insignificant, yet profoundly meaningful example of The Action of Distraction that keeps me alive.