Three days away from the winter solstice, what I consider the origin of all winter holidays, religious or not, and the end of the old and the beginning of something new, I feel like looking back at a year that few saw coming or even expected. I’ve found that there are certain events that despite having occurred in the past our minds still do not believe they could happen again in the near future. And this despite that everything is pointing towards it through stronger and stronger signals. Thus, we are not as rational human beings as we believe we are which is also probably for the better.
“When one door closes, another opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
When the global pandemic was declared on March 11 earlier his year, I was sitting in a motel room here in Encinitas, eating chicken curry with avocados and black beans cooked in my camping kitchen after a long bike ride along the coast. I had arrived a month earlier to revisit this little town after having decided to leave LA and start anew. I had no other plans than getting to know this beautiful place and getting back into shape after a few accidents and a little too much misdirected Southbay fun.
The winter sun was playing hooky on my bed when I receive the news that had been floating around in the ether for a few days and was now finally ready to ascend to become the new reality. I still remember the cilantro and the hot chilies sprinkled across the top of the bowl as I dug into feast on this deliciousness of protein and rich flavors after my late morning workout. It became, what the legendary street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson defined as the decisive moment when the shot is there and you have to act before the next moment steals it away.
“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
What already had been in the works in the back of my mind for a few days I now wrote down in my journal to create clarity and take control in a world that just seemed to act like mindless participants at the great tomato festival La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain. Having had my news addiction cured a decade earlier, I now just tried to look at the facts, you now those pesky little truths that are staring you right in the face while you are trying to look away, too numb by a change you don’t like so you pretend is not there. Go away, let me sleep just a little bit longer you whisper to the shadows and close your eyes firmly.
My fingers danced across the keyboard with eyes wide opened and I wrote down three insights after having reflected a bit on what life would be like in an arrested world: everything digital, focus on personal well-being, and a life lived locally. Now, I’m by no means a rocket scientist but I have through my work and adventurous life developed a certain mindset around change and transformation; you could say it has become part of my software. What’s inevitable should be immediate, I thought, something I most recently practiced on a larger scale when I was caught in the devastating earthquake in Mexico City in September 2017.
When buildings fall down around you, you just move, cause you are under attack. I also remember that early Monday winter morning in the late 90s, after a long nights debauchery with a few very well-known Swedish musicians, when I strolled home carefree and quite a few sheets to the wind and was beaten and robbed, kicked, and plundered of money, phone, and the sense of personal space by a few guys with nothing better to do. I guess those stories and a handful more from my travels has created a certain sense of urgency through the light brushes with potential death.
"I thought, how many new lives can we have? Then I thought, as many as we like." – Judi Dench
What followed, after how I imagined life now would be, was the indite of a carefully crafted action plan to take full control of my life within the new parameters that rolled in like a thick fog across the shore. I had surrendered a few of my passions and powers when living in the city of angels and decided to fill these empty spaces with new light and lots of chutzpah. I came up with a few categories to focus my will and energy upon – physical, mental, intellectual, social, financial, and spiritual wellbeing – over what I decided would be an 18-months journey. When emergence hits home, bitchslap him/her with some intention and he/she will roll over and wiggle his/her tail and become your humble servant.
What I’m telling you is that I decided to create a new little magical world within a world that now had stopped functioning as it only knew and became lost in fear and uncertainty. If you ever read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in college you know what I’m talking about. The quicker you understand the rules of the new game, the better player you will become. Since digital has been my life for the past quarter of a century, my focus turned to personal well-being and establishing myself in this new community.
I began with a hellbent focus on physical well-being by quitting drinking alcohol during a time when the consumption went up by 43% overnight across the land and I got up on my bike every morning to ride along the coast to fill my lungs with fresh air, my body with well-needed exercise, and my mind with expanded consciousness. I can honestly say, I got happily lost in the biking and forgot pretty much everything else. I let the biking and slow physical recovery bleed into the other areas of my life and started to shape new habits that could optimize my control of the new world regime.
Slowly but surely the biking started to take effect and I reached a point where I could not live without the feeling of seeing the asphalt under my body disappear at twenty miles an hour and the cold spring wind beating my face with new fresh crates and crevasses. Every day I could feel how my lungs were growing in capacity and expanding in power like I was getting younger by the minute; like flipping through a book starting from the end instead of the beginning. I was rebooting and upgrading to the sound of nature that I let thunder through my thighs and calves.
"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." – Albert Camus
It’s been nine months now, what I believe is halfway into what some people consider a prison term and others heaven, and I’d like to gift a few insights from looking death in the eye and not giving a hoot. Rather realize, despite most people’s perception of whatever you do for your self is selfish at best and egoistic at the very worst, that life is short and you have to live by your own rules and bend others to keep that magic human spirit alive that laughs and cries as the whip of life tears deep into the flesh.
The first insight is that to create something that really means something – a job, a relationship, a hobby, a certain experience, a specific time – is powerful. I knew that this new beginning also would have an end and I wanted everything in-between to matter, really fucking matter to me. I wanted to look back at these, again my take, 18 months and say that I just didn’t catch the waves but I rode them until I had nothing left to give and that I learned a little bit about myself that I didn’t know existed. And, most importantly, I took action and led my dreams home.
Secondly, scaling back all the possibilities in life to a few better things creates focus and habits that will lift you even during the darkest days. Of course, my triad of chosen pleasures – writing, surfing, and photography – could be replaced by anything. But they do represent something fundamental by being the conduit to physical, intellectual, spiritual, creative, social, emotional, financial, cosmic, and sexual freedoms. By focusing on my passions, turning them into my everyday powers, I’m also attracting what I seek in ways that my mind sometimes cannot comprehend but my heart knows too well is the only truth I need.
"I'm attracted to the extreme light and the extreme dark. I'm interested in the human condition and what makes people tick. I'm interested in the things people try to hide." – Johnny Depp
Despite last week’s rather open-hearted sharing of my experience in the depth of Mordor, which by the way triggered a few friends to reach out and ask “Are you okay?” (and thank you for that lovely beings) my life has been a walk in the park this year compared to the stories that have been shared with me by old and new friends. But despite that, not without suffering, doubts, and lots of tears. Unfortunately, we seem to have such a hard time sharing the tough times in favor of keeping ‘em building up inside until the bubble bursts and we find ourselves scattered across the whole house like a bomb just went off. And it bloody will, I can tell you that if you keep hoarding your emotions like an arrested child.
The third insight, which relates to both the digital and the living local constraint, is when life and all its happenings are being shared it accelerates both meaning and matter and creates a joy deeper than the ocean. These social interactions can of course happen both offline and online as connection and chemistry have ways of transcending both time and place. This year has given me new friendships and social experiences that definitely could hold their own to my past wild nomadic lifestyle. Slowing down and taking time to create new digital and local communities, sometimes even in unison, has been an unforgettable experience.
From hibernating in the belief that I needed to settle down to relate on a deeper level I’ve now realized I need a little bit of both roots and fluidity and have decided to restart my nomadic adventures as it’s that magic mix that is making me feel most at home in the self and in the world. Traveling is not just a passion of mine but also my purpose, forged into my soul like a metal sword in a hand of steel. My current plan is to head off to France come next September to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a merry band of fellow pranksters followed by a train ride to Biarritz to catch them early fall waves. But, of course, I’ll keep the shack to have a physical place to return to organize all the sweet memories and share them with the locals.
"Not everyone wants this conventional little life you're rowing your boat toward. I like my river of fire...I'm not afraid." – Zadie Smith
But before then, here is my list of goals and targets for the next nine months. If 2020 was about adaptability and deep reflection, 2021 will be about expanding mind, heart, and self to reach potentials I’ve only thus far dreamed about:
Writing – publishing the book I’m writing which is currently at the end of its toil and begin with book number two.
Photography – go deeper into the beach life by submerging in water and zooming in on the waves. I’m talking about getting a water housing and a telephoto lens.
Physical shape – adding another 10-15 lbs of muscles to the 10 lbs I’ve already acquired this year plus continuing forging a sustainable diet both here and on the road. And, of course, less alcohol and more plant-based explorations.
Surfing – learning the art of the shortboard.
Spanish – write and speak this beautiful language with fluidity and grace.
Friends – keep building a great local and global community of rebels, thought-leaders, and sexy human beings. Everything begins with friendship and not being a dick.
And the financial aspect, which I get plenty of questions about, is to keep doing paying cloud projects that matter and living a lifestyle of existential riches and low financial burn rate. Since everything I acquire needs to also work on the road, with a few obvious exceptions, I’m keeping the greedy devil inside at bay, and when that urge still finds its way through the cracks just go for a walk on the beach and realize I need nothing more.
On Monday, December 21 at 2:02 am Pacific Standard Time, our sun is celebrating the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. It only differs ten days from the man-made year but these few days can make a whole difference, shifting both perception and perspective. Letting the emergence of nature meet the intention of the self has been one of the biggest gifts this year. Whatever happened doesn’t matter except for how I decided to walk through all the storms. Surrendering to what cannot be controlled and letting your self-discipline lead you like the north star is a power that speaks louder than words. Happy winter solstice, ya’ll!
PS. And as always, if you dig this then please like and comment, and maybe even give the gift of membership for the journey to continue for many moons to come.
FEWER BETTER THINGS:
Growing Video: Luma is a new clever service to grow your Zoom audience.
Banking for Freelancers: Another new bank, this time for freelancers called Lili, is entering the fray of financial innovation and wellbeing.
Heartfulness: We know about mindfulness but are our minds aware of heartfulness? The HeartMath Institute is one place to learn more.
Amphibious Gloves: For anyone that enjoys paddling through the water, Darkfins makes biodegradable gloves cooler than Batman’s cape.
Lyrical Meaning: An excellent excerpt from the book Mama Mia Let Me Go, explaining the meaning behind Pink Floyd’s epic song Comfortably Numb.