Every cloud has a silver lining

Had some thoughts while trekking Everest Base Camp that I thought might fit in on here.,

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As we reach the peak of the ridge just before Phortse drops out of sight, we hear the mournful wail of a conch being played, shortly joined by the droning of prayer being offered.  We look back and see a plume of smoke arising from a small hut in the village, jasmine incense burned by a monk and offered to the gods. The funeral for the Sherpa who died at Everest Base Camp is under way.

The tenuous hold each of us has on the safety line of life is brought fresh to my mind, as I turn away from the funeral and glance beyond my path winding around the mountain and view the monumental drop awaiting a single misstep. The fragility of life in all forms – hiking Everest, driving a car, eating unhealthy foods – weighs on me, although I do not so much fear for my own safety as for the pain and suffering my loss would bring those I love. This fragility, the very brevity of our time on this planet, of our limited time with each other, is cause for celebration – a sharing in time of each and every moment spent together. From daily routine, which tends to dull our adventurous sense and resign ourselves to rote and uninspiring duties, up to the moments we save ourselves for – vacation, retirement, completing our life goals – each day we have in this life is cause for celebration.

Life has an amazing way of replicating itself.  But, as you can see in the budding of a new young forest in the clearing caused by the felling of the ancient oak, the loss of a single life – indeed, nothing in this world – can be measured independently of the effect it has on everything around it.

Were it not for ugly breakups, which, measured on their own, cause much grief and heartache, I would not have struck out of my routine, getting into the habits and extensive travel that now define me more than anything from my former life/self. I would still be gazing out in fear and awe at the world, like when my brother first went white water rafting and I thought him insane(ly brave). Now I realize that few things are more difficult than they seem (this trek for example), and, taken one day at a time, you can accomplish more than your wildest dreams when your heart is in the right place.

Every cloud has its silver lining, a truer statement has never been spoken. It is what you do with the love, the emotion, and the inspiration from any such loss that truly determines the course of life and the end result of tragedy. Like the sun offers nourishment to the seeds lying dormant for so long beneath the oak, focus your energy on positives in your life and nurture them to grow and take new shape. Take your pain and loss and turn it into something great.  Help those less fortunate. Travel and learn something about those whom you don’t understand. Build a school. Donate to those who are already doing so. Start a project in a foreign country (or right at home!) to improve life for those who cannot improve life for themselves.

Foster positivity with all the negative things you are feeling. Foster life when you feel there has been a loss. Work sustainably to improve life on this planet in whatever way gives you release. Take your pain and invest it into a positive project, for yourself or others. Learn the ukelele. Help build an earthship. Volunteer at an orphanage or in the palliative care ward at a hospital. Spend time at the ocean. Exercise regularly. Eat well. Challenge yourself. Live somewhere new. Use your raw emotion as fuel to improve the state of the world, no matter how small in magnitude.

Your raw emotions give you power, but what you choose to do with that power could mean the difference between a tragedy and a miracle.

What is your goal in life?

Well that’s so simple I will tell you.  Your goal is to be HAPPY.

All other goals spring from that. ..relationships, career achievements, charity work, life accomplishments…all these stem from a desire to be happy. Some may say that the goal of happiness is implicit and obvious, and that we need more specific goals to achieve. I disagree…I think many of us get so caught up in our goals – that next promotion, winning that sport tournament, saving money for retirement (if you were crazy enough to work your whole life, you deserve a vacation at this point), etc. that we often lose sight of how the only reason we strive to achieve these goals is to increase our personal happiness. If we could only step back and acknowledge that, we could more accurately align our goals with what makes us truly happy.

Our desires change over time, and therefore so should our goals.  If you aren’t happy with what you are doing, don’t do it.  If you feel as if you are working towards a goal you no longer enjoy, stop. This will ensure you avoid that hollow feeling of accomplishment that follows so many mis-established goals.  You will always seek happiness, but having the courage to make the changes required to pursue is where the difficulty lies.

Everyone wants to be happy.  But happiness comes from different places for different people.  I consider these second level goals – the ideals you value that act as your roadmap to happiness.  Things like success, love, prestige, challenging yourself – these are all paths to happiness.  These in turn are attainable through third level goals – the physical action by which you will attain your second level goals.  For me personally, these goals include (among others): writing, travel, entrepreneurship, and being able to support my future family with an acceptable lifestyle.  Some of these goals may involve money, but never directly and thus emphasis should never fall on money itself.

Many people select their goals based on what they have been told will make them happy – earning lots of money, having a prestigious job, owning a house with a two car garage in the suburbs. Even charity work can be undertaken the wrong way, when you expect rewards and feelings that have nothing to do with your satisfaction, the realization of your gratitude for all that you were fortunate enough to have been given in your life.  But all of these things are a means to an end, the end being happiness and a life well lived. But if that was your aim from the get-go, you might realize that you don’t need a million dollars or a fancy car to attain it.

Social consciousness is even hotter.

My last blog spoke about self awareness.  Self awareness is the first step.  An important first step, but only the first step.  This is when you pull your head out of the sand, realize what is inside you and the greatness that can be achieved with your skills, attention, and focus.  Looking outwards and applying them is what comes next.  And it’s a doozy.

The world is your oyster once you know yourself.  What does that even mean, the world is your oyster.  Have you ever really wanted an oyster?  Is there anything you can do with an oyster but take it’s pearl, eat it and make some jewellery out of the shell?  I guess that’s not a bad start for a shellfish.  On to the point.

Become a dark hand – one who is comfortable with what they bring to the table enough that they don’t need to prove it to anyone.  When you can do this, you will be able to recognize the potential of a dark hand in others around you.  If you are somewhere along the journey of self awareness, you will find it easy to spot others of this mindset.  They are the people with smiles on their faces, sparks in their eyes, the people who don’t take life or themselves too seriously.  They are the people who listen instead of speaking all the time, they are the people who truly experience and thoroughly enjoy life from moment to moment, the ones that seem to have a secret that you just want to pick their brain to find out.  They are the people who are above personal vindictiveness and judgement of those around them, the people who see good in all that is before them.  The people who realize that, were they of the same mind and in the same situation as anyone they were observing, they would probably be acting in just the same way.  Find these people and collect them as your friends.  They will be part of the next step, because they more than anyone will realize the importance of what you are aiming for.

There is more to life than personal achievements, and as much as winning that medal or being the top of your class may be admirable goals, I would encourage you to take a step back and look at the whole forest once again.  I would never imply that improving yourself physically or mentally is not a worthwhile pursuit, but if your sole aim is a piece of gold or a letter at the beginning of the alphabet, you may find that once you achieve your dream, it doesn’t pan out like you thought.  I think more valiant and noble long term goals persist in evolving our social consciousness as a whole, and all the efforts and benefits that come along with that.  Our generation faces challenges like none before on our planet.  We have socially evolved from individuals in families to tribes, to religions, to empires and nations.  Our ability to work together has evolved along with us (imagine a point in our past where every stranger was an enemy who threatened your food supply and must be dealt with!), although the hardware we are running on is painfully outdated.  We use each other to further our own gain, for better or for worse, and there are 2 million years of hard wired psychology that is difficult to resist but it is imperative that we must if we are to survive in our rapidly changing world.  We are now at a stage where we need to work together as a species.  In an age where our habitation spreads from the harshest environments on the planet to their bitter extremes and everywhere in between, our age old strategy of “use up everything useful and move on when it’s done” will no longer work for us.  It is time we reached our anthropological maturity and learned to be responsible stewards of our planet, our societies, and ourselves.

I look at ants, each working hard in different roles, all with the central aim of improving their society.  They are more like us in many ways than other animals on this planet.  They display unprecedented (except in humans) foresight in their techniques of farming, maintaining livestock, teaching each other various jobs, building roads, and constructing impressive cities.  Each ant works for the good of society, and yet there is no central directive as to how each should contribute.  They merely understand their role of contributing to the betterment of where they live, and each ant selflessly and tirelessly gives their all to see that the society succeeds and thrives.  It is this communal directive that we need to become more in touch with if we hope to tackle the problems that face our species as a whole.

For how much longer can we claim to be caring human beings while billions in the world are without adequate food, water, medicine, or other essentials that we take for granted?  How much longer can we deny foreign aid of 7 cents for every $100 of GDP that would so dramatically change the state of human affairs on our planet?  How much longer can we go on drilling resources out of our planet and discarding them when we are through with their uses, without adequate thought of our effect on our environment and our health?
This problem spans communities, cities, nations, our entire planet.  What is good for my country may not be what is good for your country.  Trade agreements, climate controls, immigration laws, all of these things put countries at odds with each other.  At this point, who will win is determined by  the relative wealth of the countries in question.  We face these same problems on a national level – the bigger the country, the more varied its population, the more difficult it is to bridge that divide.  Take Canada for example – the central prairies benefit exorbitantly from the presence of oil, yet it is the rest that have to deal with the environmental impacts without the benefit of the influx of money – pipelines are the most recent controversy.  What is good for Alberta may not be what is good for BC, where the pipelines have to be run through rare and sensitive temperate rainforest to reach the Pacific.  Does Alberta care about BC’s ecological concerns?  Does BC care about Albertan profits?  Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these two sides…but it is only by coming together over the problem, realizing the problems and the solutions on a larger scale, how it will affect each of us and the other, that we can come to a reasonable solution.  I believe the problem lies in the empathy we feel towards others.   The empathy problem is easier to deal with at a smaller scale – families are good at sacrificing for each other to ensure success.  But our empathic range is  limited to those in our near social vicinity – our family, friends, clergy, neighbours, and most recently (as in the past few thousand years, although to a very limited extent) our countrymen.
Is our ability to cooperate merely a trend of humanity banding together in larger and larger groups only to contend against another group of large humans?  Is our capability of belonging to a group dependent on our reliance on that group to keep us safe from outsiders?  Were the first kingdoms and countries formed merely to rally against invading kingdoms with value systems not in tune with local inhabitants?  In that case, will we be able to increase our empathic range to include all of humanity before some external force contends us?  Will we ever be linked in a world government, or have we become too complex and divided?  We need to expand our empathy to a global level to survive some of the greatest challenges ever faced – and hell, we’d be a lot nicer to each other at the same time.  The question is whether we can manage that without being challenged by aliens a la Bill Pullman in Independence Day.
Nature is another facet of the equation that must be commonly considered in this empathic relationship as well.  We are intricately tied up with our environment and if we are not proper stewards of our planet, we will rob it of it’s ability to sustain us.   We acknowledge that unsustainability in business and relationships is silly – why do we persist in unsustainable practice pertaining to the environment?  Perhaps we need to treat it as a separate business relationship entirely.  The external costs of pollution, climate change, health risks, and fresh water depletion need to be internalized into any new business venture.  Yes, this will cause prices to rise.  But this is merely a more accurate picture of what you are truly paying for while being accountable for your whole production system.   We live in a closed system, and we may as well pay for it as such.
Perhaps our societies have grown to large and stratified to come up with a solution at all – perhaps it is not possible to achieve a win-win-win-win scenario.  But it can’t hurt for us to open up our social consciousness a bit and try to see it from the other point of view.  As a good friend of mine once said,  “I believe the need and conviction to fight for humanity in our world has never been greater. I Believe there is good all around us, sometimes we just stop looking for it.”  This is a grand calling, and it is about time for us to awaken to it.
Edit:  Some of these thoughts still need some work, so comments are more than welcome.  I just didn’t want to procrastinate on publishing this one anymore!

Self Awareness is Hot.

To put it in the words of my good buddy Davey Jol – self awareness is hot.

When someone has come to know themselves and be comfortable in their own skin, with all their strengths and shortcomings taken into account or at least the willingness to search them out well established, they are 50 points up in my books.  The road is long and the end indistinct – if determinable at all – but all who set out on this personal journey are better off the further along they get.  They are the people more likely to overcome their insecurities and mental chatter to be able to look beyond their little bubble of the world and truly see who and what surrounds them.  They know themselves not just in the sense of their personalities, for that will change as they desire, but also as silent witnesses of their own thoughts.  Their capability to communicate, interact, reason, and truly live life to the fullest is greatly expanded.  It is like going from living your whole existence in a crowd of people who are a few inches taller than you to convincing someone to get you up on their shoulders and viewing the stage of life full on. Don’t be one of those people who can’t see the forest for the trees.  Broaden your perspective, take a step back and truly appreciate the bigger picture beyond yourself and your own personal scenario.

Say you have a bad day.  Normally that would get people down…but not you.  You can see the bigger picture:  that you are consistently working towards your life goals, you are following your passion, that your mix of work and play is satisfactory to keep you challenged yet relaxed and refreshed, and that your friends and family (not to mention you yourself) are there to love and guide and support you.  Suddenly what seemed insurmountable before is no more than a mere insignificant setback .  Remember, eyes on the forest.

It is exciting to think that this is a lifelong path to follow, that there will always be something new to learn about yourself in the world and how you choose to interact with it.   There is no end zone to cross into and no authority other than yourself who can determine how far along you have come.  Enjoy being recursive.  But an open mind free to inquire, an honest desire to improve yourself and expand your outlook on the world and the motivation to make those changes is all you need to be well on your way.

We are all a part of every person we have ever met.

We all have good habits and habits we wish we could be rid of, but we don’t often take the time to actively sort out these quirks and choose which ones we want to keep and which we don’t.  I find it difficult to pinpoint some of these traits in myself since being the actor and the audience at the same time can be confusing, but other people are a steady stream of information if you learn to look beyond your own actions, truly observe another, and reflect.

I have learned silence from the talkative; tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind. I should not be ungrateful to those teachers.
– Kahlil Gibran
People are fascinating.  They are a constant source of outside opinion and perspective that you may have never considered before.  They may say or do things that turn your world upside down.  If you like these traits of theirs, make a conscious effort to incorporate them into yourself as well.  I’m not suggesting you go around mimicking everyone you think is cool, but make the effort to internalize what you like about them.

We can’t help it really, we do it all the time sub-consciously.  Why do you think two best friends often have the same style, sense of humour, and can even sometimes finish each others’ sentences?


My greatest comfort from this quote is knowing that lost friends will always have a place among us.  When we get together with old friends and re-live our memories, the characters in our stories are alive more than just in words, but also in our own selves in the parts of them we have chosen to preserve.  To this end, no one truly ever dies, so long as they remain in the hearts of those they touched in life.

We are all a part of every person we have ever met.  But more than that, we are all a part of our cumulative experiences, of lessons we have learned from other people, other places, and other cultures.  We absorb a lot of these influences one way or another, but I believe that the act of consciously choosing what to incorporate into yourself and what to leave out makes us stronger of character and allows us to forge ourselves into who we want to be.

To quote my good friend Dr. Jenna Bobenna on the topic:

“We may love the wrong person and cry about the wrong things, but no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the things that are right for us. We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here now with the power to shape your day and your future. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.”

Choice, Paradox, and Regret.

Many people in western society don’t know what they want. We say we want a car, or the newest iWhatever, or a life on a beach. But how many of those things are truly our desires, as opposed to what we are told to desire by our society and the marketing machines lying therein?

A very wise friend of mine had an interesting revelation. We in North America have too many choices – our very lifestyles face us with the paradox of choice.  What he meant was that we are so stimulated with choices in our day to day lives that we go into a mental lockdown and end up choosing none of them!  Or at least regretting the choice that we have made…isn’t that unfortunate!  (Here is Barry Schwartz to clarify what exactly the paradox of choice is if you need it: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html)

You probably know dozens of people who are unsatisfied with their current lifestyle, and will never be satisfied because there COULD be something better out there. We don’t know what it is…but we have a plethora of outside influences telling us what it might be.

Here is an interesting 20 minute video of synthetic happiness and some theories on regret by Dan Gilbert:  http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

So how do we avoid this regret of all the choices we DIDN’T choose?  Perhaps we have to limit our choices to a now-or-never option without looking back.  Here is the real question in my mind:  Does this merely turn us into a blundering “come what may” buffoon with no desire to rise up and make changes in our lives or the world?  I suppose the difference between these two cases would lie in the happiness we derive from what we are currently doing.  If we are inherently unhappy with what we are doing then a change needs to be made.  If, on the other hand, we are unhappy due to the choices we are faced with…then perhaps we should remove those choices ourselves.

This paradox of choice can be observed throughout many aspects of our society.  Look at Apple products, for example.  For a brand that aims to be simple, neat and tidy, is there any wonder that they achieve significant market penetration through such straight forward products?  They have the iPhone 1, 2, 3, and 4.  (I’m of the opinion that the 4S was a sorry attempt at an iPhone 5 that they realized they couldn’t pass off as a new model late in the game).  Their products may have a few varying harddrive sizes, but in terms of other technical jargon, all products are the same.  Is this in the technical interest of the customer?  Of course not, a wider range of product variability and pricing would suit a larger range of customers – but Apple is not targeting the tech-savvy, detail reading customer.  They are appealing to the simplicity of the marketing behind pure numbers.  And it works.  How many thousands of people out there will clamor to upgrade their iPhone 16 to the latest and greatest iPhone 17 in a few years?