You Are Welcome Here

During a recent talk I heard someone say:

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Simple. Warm. Inviting. Inclusive. Open-minded. Accepting.

Sounds like the way I wish others could always treat me.

Sounds like the way I wish I could always treat others.

How would our lives change if we accepted this and made an effort to welcome all those we meet with the same warmth in our time with them – be it a split second, a lifetime, or some amount of time in between?

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Voices

Many voices compete for our attention.

How do we choose which voices to listen to?

How hard and/or how carefully do we listen to these chosen voices?

Is there a difference between hearing voices and listening to what’s being said?

Is there a difference between listening to what’s being said and listening to what someone actually means?

WHO do we choose to listen to? WHAT is being said? WHAT do we hear? WHAT do they mean? WHAT does that mean for us?

Now what?

“Sustainability”

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to talk to quite a number of people around New Haven – and beyond – about the topic of “sustainability.”

People sure love to buzz about it.

Sustainability this. Sustainability that.

Both through reading and conversation, it seems like there’s a lot of people out there who seem to feel that “sustainability” is somewhere between a load of BS and something that just can’t really be defined.

But is this any different from anything else that’s hard to define?

As this concept continues to penetrate our mainstream mind and thoughts, it’s only more important that we think – on our own and in groups – about how we define it today with an eye towards something, somewhere further into the future.

That’s why these recent conversations have been so excellent. Conversations with thoughtful people who are also struggling around what “sustainability” is has been great.

Because when one tackles something so large, something that you can come at from so many different angles, a range of perspectives shared between strangers who share a mutual interest in understanding and doing something with this enhanced understanding is invaluable.

It can be through the struggles and through the hard times, where the future is hard to see or know, that can result in the greatest momentum, of growth, and outcomes.

It would be hard for me to put together everything I’ve learned in these past few months right here, right now, and combine that with the amount of thinking I did about this while living in China’s biggest northern city and one of its smaller Southwestern villages over the past decade.

But my answer today, is a lot like answers look on Jeopardy: in question form.

Given the magnitude of the conversation around sustainability, it’s hard to find that an answer that’s one size fits all.

And perhaps that’s the point when we’re thinking about what it means or what it can mean.

So yes, of course, everyone has a different definition.

Which means the real question is: what can and does it mean for us?

And what can we do about it today as we think a bit about tomorrow?

Moustaches and Mental Illness

movember_sexy_and_we_mo_it

I felt pretty down and out. For awhile.

I didn’t know exactly what it was. I thought I had identified the problem(s) as well as a number of solutions.

But I didn’t realize that the problem(s) and solution(s) ultimately resided in myself.

I knew I needed a change. I first started to “see someone” in June.

Yes, I was in a relationship at the time.

But this new relationship was not to run from my relationship with my love, but to find my way back to her. I was having trouble finding my way on my own.

So after battling with myself for much longer than I realized (something I came to understand only over time), June was when I first started to see a therapist.

Though I knew this before, I never fully appreciated how many of the challenges in our relationships with others are often rooted in the challenges we have with – and within – ourselves.

See, it’s easy to tell stories. Stories that we believe ourselves and tell to others. But sometimes those stories we tell others are the path by which we run away. Our energy is driven by fear, not love. And even those closest to us have a tough time seeing that. They only want the best for us – they listen to us, comfort us, console us, and hope that we will feel better.

But how many of them realize when there is something deeper lurking underneath?

And even when they do, can they be impartial to help us sort things out?

We all have our own stuff we’re sorting out. We have our own histories and experiences, even if we have grown up in the same home(s), gone to the same school(s), worked at the same job(s), or have spent social time together. Each of us are unique, our own selves. We don’t always come in pretty packages. We carry around various amounts of baggage in various forms.

It’s not until we’re able to spend a focused amount of time, over an extended period of time, with someone who is trained to be impartial, that we have a chance of finding someone to talk to that will not project their own feelings and biases on us and our situation.

What I didn’t realize about therapy is that it isn’t about anything or anyone else as much as it is about ourselves.

Did you know there are therapists who won’t keep photos of any kind in their office?

Even things like photos can serve as distractions to those who come to the office already distracted by far too much input.

Because when we’re dealing with me, myself, and I, it can already be confusing enough.

We think or feel this way and that way.

Then we add in all the feedback from others.

This person’s opinion, that person’s opinion, and other peoples opinions.

And the thing is, they all have good intentions. But since there is so much noise. It can be confusing.

But what do we think – deep down inside? And how do we navigate through the noise and find these thoughts in places that can be so lovely, yet so dark, and deep?

Writing was my compass on my journey to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But, it was a process.

I didn’t fully realize I had been depressed until this past November. And I’d like to give some credit to the month of Movember. The moustache truly is an incredible catalyst to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to learn and talk about their health and take action when needed.

We can trace early efforts to improve myself as far back as Fall 2013. That said, my intellectual promiscuity was also close to its peak. That was a phase. And in its wake, change was slow-going. I did make some progress in the winter and spring that followed. And this past summer changes were more significant. Though the real turning points didn’t start to emerge until I chose to “see someone.” Regularly.

Because you can recover from most things if you choose to focus on it, to face it, to work through it. I spent so much time talking and thinking about it, but was never truly focused. I created space, filled it up with other people and things and “projects” and neglected to focus on what was most important.

The way I went about it was just my form of running away. I had convinced myself I was working on it, but I was just waiting. And in the meantime, I couldn’t express myself, I couldn’t focus on anything else, get much of anything done, make decisions, see much of any future beyond what was in front of me, and I alternated between waking up way early or not being able to pull myself out of bed.

That had never happened to me before. I rationalized it all as me being able to see the problem(s). But the biggest problem was that I couldn’t see or prioritize the right problems.

These days, I realize that during that time I was blind. I’m so happy that I can see again. And this time, what I see is a present and a future that is brighter and full of more texture than ever before.

You see, depression is all about love, actually. It’s about forgetting – or neglecting – to love ourselves.

Many of us know from experience that love can be painful.

Not loving yourself can result in the greatest pain of all.

And loving yourself? Can result in the greatest love of all.

Some people who know me may just see great energy.

Some who know me better see elements of the old plus some new or improved elements in a better me today.

People have told me about things over these past few years that I did and said that I don’t remember or recognize. And there are quite a number of other things that I absolutely do remember and am not proud to admit.

Again, let’s come back to the idea that in depression we can’t love ourselves – or others – fully.

On my road back to love, I have needed to own my feelings of inadequacy, to recognize all the running I was doing, and to reconcile and be willing to understand, consider, and face doubt. Doubt in both myself and the doubt that would come from others.

These are things that I needed to own, have taken steps to own, and own today in order to move beyond where I was to who I am.

Once you start to move beyond the depression, you start to embrace parts of yourself that you haven’t embraced before, or perhaps just a long time.

And things are different. Sometimes even the people that love you most can have the hardest time realizing and accepting that you’ve changed, even when that’s what they were always hoping for.

We find solutions to our problems when we seek to understand, choose to accept, and find the confidence to accommodate.

Embracing a solutions-oriented approach takes great courage. It is one of the highest form of love.

I write this post not so whomever reads it will feel sorry for me or what happened. This isn’t a sob story, but a story of hope.

It’s me being honest with myself as much as I’m being honest with you.

And the internet.

Mental illness has such a terrible stigma.

And you hear stuff like that all the time. There are a lot of things out there that are stigmatized.

But I can speak about this one from personal experience.

Though I can only speak about it like this now, with this kind of confidence, because I have been honest with myself and others about my depression. And I have chosen to embrace love over fear.

I used to be afraid of being judged. But now I realize those who judge me for the problems of my past may still be grappling with their own problems, which may not be past.

I hope we can continue to find kindness in our hearts and to be kind to each other.

But either way, for those who will judge me, I will forgive them.

And if that’s you, I forgive you too.

Please make no mistake. Depression can happen to any of us. Though not every problem is because of depression. And I’m not suggesting that we’re all depressed, we’re not.

But whatever is keeping us down, we can’t hide from it. We sometimes must open ourselves to the things that hurt us most, in order to move beyond.

And we must be honest with ourselves and with others.

There are things we may be dealing with that we and the others who care about us most are unable to see or are not equipped to be impartial. To listen to you, about you, only. Some people are trained for this. That’s why they have initials like MD or PhD at the end of their name.

The rest of us just think we’re experts. We have feelings, don’t we? Well we must be in a good position to give others advice on their complex thoughts and feelings given we’ve had plenty of complex thoughts and feelings ourselves.

It does take time and it does take work to move beyond where we are, wherever and whatever that may be. It takes time talking to others, but specifically talking with people who can be impartial. I didn’t have that in my life before. I felt I could only confide my most important challenges to a small circle of people.

And it’s important to note that the problems I had did not stop when I started seeing someone. The problems stopped when I started to stand up for myself and put in the necessary work on myself. Some parts of this journey have been a solo mission.

But, however you choose to deal with what might be holding you back, your challenges need not constrict you. Life is full of paradox. As humans we’re able to feel both love and fear simultaneously. But that doesn’t mean we can’t choose one over the other.

Which would you rather win out?

And who will play the role of impartial judge to keep you honest with yourself?

—–

Today’s photo comes from the good folks at Movember. And as far as Movember goes, I would encourage you to explore this quick rundown of 5 reasons for the poor state of men’s health. There’s a lot to do with prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and cancer in general. But the oft-forgotten, stigmatized, and misunderstood dynamics of mental health are real.

It’s a possibility that we may be dealing with it, just not able, or willing, to see it. Not everybody has a clinical condition.

And it could happen – or be happening – to someone you love. Or someday even you.

Be careful. And be kind to others – and yourself.

I Never Thought a Dog Would…

My Dog Bro Oliver Hangin

I didn’t grow up with a dog. Pets were not a big part of the ecosystem in which I was raised.

When the idea was suggested that a dog would be coming to live with us last summer, and that we would be taking care of it for 3 months, I wasn’t exactly, um, well, thrilled… is the word, I think.

It was presented to me as something to discuss. But it was never to be a discussion. It was a unilateral decision. Minds were made, and plans soon followed. It didn’t exactly feel so good.

I arrived home a couple days later after a month on the road to meet my new housemate. His name, Oliver.

He was white, fluffy, and though he had just arrived hours earlier, Oliver seemed to have already made himself right at home.

[If you’re up with dog lingo, we’re pretty sure he’s a mini poodle meets bichon frise mix.]

My Dog Bro Oliver First Meeting

[And by the way, this shot is from the first day Oliver and I met and is the very first picture I took of him. Sometimes there’s value in going back and starting again from the beginning. It’s there where you can find things you might not expect, which you won’t find anywhere else.]

In the days between the gauntlet being laid down and my arrival back home, the narrative in my head went a little bit like this, “I’m not a dog person. I’ve never been a dog person. I’m not in favor of this arrangement. Why does my opinion not matter?”

And then, I decided to change my tune.

I love a special lady. She loves dogs. I’ve never had a dog before. Maybe I can love dogs too. What would happen if I turned my frown upside down, threw myself into the world of being a dog daddy, and chose to love him from the start?

And you know what? I made the change and did just that.

It’s amazing what you can do when you choose to change your attitude.

And you know what? The experience was incredible.

I grew to love the little guy. Oliver and I became bros. In fact, we had a surprising number of similarities, so much so that I feel like we have the same spirit, just different bodies.

We love people. We love to hang out. We both like to work from home. We find ways to easily amuse ourselves. We enjoy going running in the morning. We eat when we need to. We like to try new things. Explore new places. Bark infrequently – usually when we don’t get the chance or enough time to meet new people. And we both have a soft spot for the lady of the house.

My Dog Bro Oliver and Salimander

[Here’s a nice shot of Oliver amusing himself, playing catch with himself with his little friend the once-upon-a-time-was-stuffed salamander.]

Now, a common question I would get after sharing my story about Oliver:

“Wow, so are you a dog person now?”

My standard answer: I’m an Oliver person, though I’m not sure if I’m a dog person.

But here’s the thing. I might be a dog person. What if I am and never gave myself the chance when it mattered?

These days I’m much closer to knowing the answer because I said yes to a relationship with Oliver.

Yes to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

Yes to doing something I would not have done on my own, but am now so grateful to have had someone give me that initial push.

How do we know if something won’t work out if we’re not even willing to give it a go?

Oliver’s stay with us was 3 months, 90 days. Not short, but also not that long. And a lot can change in that amount of time. A lot did change.

With all the goodness he brought, it’s equally important to note that Oliver’s presence in our lives was not without its challenges.

Which got me to thinking, and what I realized about Oliver, about dogs, and about myself is that it’s not that I’m not a dog person, it’s that I’m an extreme people person.

Actually, some of my biggest fears came to light while living with Oliver.

There were a healthy amount of extra logistics involved, especially when headed anywhere away from New Haven, or the house, for more than a certain number of hours. He took up a fair amount of time that could have been focused elsewhere. At times we made choices that favored Oliver over people. And that, especially, was very hard for me.

However, there were some incredible benefits to having Oliver around.

First and foremost, we should start with the fact that I love him. I can’t help myself. And he loves me.

There is something about the love that a guy like Oliver can give that is so innocent and much less complicated than the love we sometimes exchange as humans.

What’s not to love about someone who is always happy to see you when you come home?

And that’s the biggest lesson Oliver taught me about being in a relationship.

There will always be tough times. There will always be logistics to work out. And life will not be perfect.

But with all the things we fight against on the outside, if we can come home at the end of the day and show unbridled love to the person that matters the most to us in the world, then we are going to completely change how they feel in that moment.

All of a sudden that day might just get a little better. For them. For you. Or me. For us.

Oliver changed my life.

Never could I have imagined that I would say this about a dog.

Never would I have thought I would be bros with a poodle.

Or even know that a bichon frise is a dog and not a type of cheese.

Or talk to a grandmother in the bus station on the day before Christmas about her third and fourth “grandchildren.” i.e. two dogs. Bentley is a Morkie (a maltese + yorkie aka yorkshire terrier) and Bailey is a Cavachon (half king charles terrier spaniel, half bichon frise).

But now when I see dogs, I see unconditional love. I see a relationship between two beings that matters and makes them both so happy. And what could be wrong with two beings choosing love, care, compassion, mutual interest and affection, … over the alternatives?

A dog is not what I wanted. It was not my ideal outcome.

But I had a choice to proactively participate. And I’m so glad that I did. And it became an ideal outcome.

Because, ultimately, Oliver pushed me out of my comfort zone, he got me thinking about someone other than myself, and he helped me on the road to be a better man.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my relationship with Oliver. A lot can change in 90 days. Sometimes, even more than you think.

Beyond just thinking about Oliver and his needs, it got me thinking about why someone special in my life would have such a love for dogs and animals in general.

Seeing how she would light up around Oliver. Seeing how much pleasure she took in taking care of him. It reminded me how wonderful she is at taking care of those she loves. How she’s such a great daughter and sister and aunt. Friend and colleague and boss. And teacher and mentor to her students. It also made me feel how wonderful she would be as a mother.

If you talk to a lot of pet owners or lovers, most of them have had a pet growing up. I’d be very curious to know how many who do not grow up with pets have pets as adults. My non-conclusive research to-date indicates few. It’s easy to be disinterested, and to say no, in these situations.

Besides, most of the time we say no to lots of things we don’t have experience with much more than we say yes, particularly when there is work involved.

But through this experience I was opened me up to this other side of myself. A side that loves animals too. All that work? It sure was worth it.

Though, along with that work, introspection and reflection helped me to realize how important it is to find the right balance with my human relationship needs too. But I believe that middle road is easily found, especially since now we know the why behind those feelings.

When it comes to the stuff that’s hard – the stuff that we’re afraid of, or perhaps just a bit concerned about – fear or concerns don’t mean, “No”, even though that’s often the first thing that comes out of our mouths.

Instead of an obstacle, we can look to these feelings and actions as more information. And given more information we have a better idea on how to work out any issues. Again, because we know the why. And that why helps us to make it happen.

When is your next chance to stay open-minded to something you think you’re so uncertain about?

Oliver was a catalyst for quite a bit of new thinking for me. He helped me to see a different side of others, as well as myself.

Who or what might be your Oliver?

And when it comes, will you not only open up your mind and say yes, but will you also open up your heart and share your love?

My Dog Bro Oliver and Me

—–

The photo immediately above is my favorite picture of Oliver and me. Ollie was never all that patient when it came to looking at the camera. Photo credit to a very talented photographer (AH).

The photo at the very top is a popular break time position for the little guy. As usual, he’s giving and sharing the love from a cozy and comfortable curled up position on the couch.

And when I was looking to find the spellings for all these dog breeds I have heard of, but never seen in writing, I came across this interesting article on the next generation “perfect” dog.

So, about those crates. Also, Socrates

notebook_2014_writing

2014 has been the most uncertain, hardest, intense, and illuminating year of my life. And with a few hours to go, we’re not even done with it yet 😉

I have grown in ways I could not otherwise have imagined or anticipated.

And it’s been the best year of my life.

Some people live their entire lives, never having the opportunity to know themselves.

I felt like I’ve had a pretty good understanding of myself, for awhile.

But the past 19 months, and particularly these last 12 have enabled me to see much more of myself.

I was looking at a lot of surface stuff for far too long. Taking stock in what I thought I saw, rather than what was behind all of that. And asking and answering questions that didn’t matter.

It wasn’t until I started to give myself time and space to think, that I started making progress. And it wasn’t until I started to focus my writing, daily, that the speed at which I progressed increased multi-fold.

When I was in high school, this thing called the internet was all the rage. Thanks to email and AOL IM, my sister and I inadvertently produced more than our fair share of busy signals for people calling our house.

At the time I also started to write on a BBS/message board (hosted by the Section 2 Harrier site, created and moderated by a nice guy named Jon Broderick) that kept (and continues to keep – go Jon!) all cross country / track and field fans in our corner of New York State apprised of important news. It was also a very cool forum where some decided to talk trash. I took it as an opportunity to share ideas and reflect on things I was seeing, and I was exposed to a new way of developing meaningful relationships.

I have given credit for awhile now to email, instant messaging, and the section 2 harrier message board for helping me to develop my writing voice at that time.

The hours I poured into emails and online conversations enabled me to develop my identity and to engage in meaningful conversation with others.

Writing was my outlet to the world.

I finished out high school with a healthy understanding of myself, ready to move forward.

And I continued writing in the early days of college.

Until I slowly turned my priorities elsewhere.

Though a move back to America last year (May 2013) was a natural segue* into a return to regular writing dates. From the beginning, I came down with a serious case of “writer’s block” or was giving into my perfectionist tendencies in those early days back in America.

Maybe I should have accounted for that after a decade away of sharing writing like this with others?

It was then I realized I needed a new space to find my voice. Here, a new blog, seemed a worthy spot to do so.

Not long after my irregular blogging began, during my time at the East-West Center‘s Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) in Honolulu to close out 2013, we all had to put together a portfolio, a collection of mostly written reflections – thoughts about the past, present, and future. It was time to make something with a real timeline, deadline, and commitment. 4 months and 100 pages later, I was working off a bit of momentum.

But 2013 ended and 2014 began in the midst of uncertainty. Uncertainty doesn’t need to be a negative thing, and hindsight is 20/20, but much of my problem was my choosing fear over love.

Sure, it was masked by “uncertainty.” But I was still a bit uneasy about my identity. I was trying to please someone I loved, but how could I please her without communicating, without pleasing myself, and by not even being me – that guy she loved. I was going about it in all the wrong ways.

I knew there was a problem. Actually, I was drowning, but it looked like I was a pretty good swimmer.

I was doing my best to figure “it” out. And I was failing, miserably.

Ultimately it just looked like I was a problem that needed fixing, not there was a problem that we needed to fix.

It takes two to tango, but I’m not sure either of us really knew how, we didn’t really practice, and we had no teacher. I felt very alone. Maybe she did too?

I tried to reach out. But my message must not have gotten through to her. And her messages? Well, I wasn’t getting them either.

Missed messages like ships passing in the night?

I knew I couldn’t solve old problems in the same ways  and I thought I was doing everything that I could. But it wasn’t working so I had to keep trying.

I was lost, but I found trust in my notebook and bic pen. It went far beyond my regular note-taking, by taking notes of deeper thoughts and feelings and fleshing them out until I could better understand whatever was on my mind.

Writing was no longer an outlet to the world, but an inroad into my soul.

Have you visited lately? It’s a pretty deep place.

Terrible one-lines aside, these deep conversations that extended into the depths of my soul, mediated through writing, have been a significant reason why I’ve had an incredible year.

I’m sure it’s not for everyone. And it won’t necessarily help you in the same way it helped me. But at a time when I needed greater clarity, it was the writing that was there for me.

No person, no matter how close they were to me – my parents, my sister, my closest friends – could help me. This one I had to start on my own before I could get back to a place of confidence, a place of greater understanding, a place where I had regained my identity.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to hold yourself back. It harder to realize that you are usually the one doing the holding.

Whether it’s beliefs, behaviors, or certain actions that are self-limiting, we can do a number on ourselves often thinking that if external circumstances would change, things would be better.

How might you make a difference in the lives of those that matter to you by starting with yourself?

When will you set aside some time for a constructive and thoughtful conversation with yourself? Find that time and space to work out your thoughts? To rediscover – perhaps even discover – things about yourself you haven’t seen in awhile (or have never seen)?

What questions are important to think through? What questions should you be asking of yourself? What suggestions might be made?

Be the sounding board that you need the most. But remember, it will only work if you choose to be honest, to lay it all out there, and to lead with love, not fear.

When it comes to the things (or thing) that matters most right now to me, I’m certainly not out of the woods.

But these days I know myself more than ever before.

And, as a result, I’m much better prepared to deal with the uncertainty.

So, goodbye 2014. Thank you for being so good to me.

And 2015, I’m eager to see where we go together.

—–

*So, when segway came up as a misspelled word, I did a little investigating on how to write the word that I know to indicate something related to a transition. Apparently this word is an Italian derivative and thought pronounced “segway” is written “segue.” You can take a look here to see what some have to say about this.

Today’s photo comes from my personal collection – the notebook and the pen that started it all this year.

This notebook actually dates back to my first year at college. I gave up notebooks in favor of recycling wasted computer paper from the libraries to make homemade “notebooks.”

I thought it was about time to make sure this one went to good use. It served me well in the early writing days this year – from ideas to The Oliver Chronicles and beyond.