On Death…and Life

I first met Death when I was maybe ten years old.

He showed up when I was delivering newspapers one early sunny morning and found a customer of mine laying face up in a flower bed with a knife jutting out of his chest. It was close to halloween and for a moment, I thought it was someone’s idea of a prop or a prank. But it wasn’t. It was Death.

Cold, unforgiving, brutal, and stark.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen Death an awful lot. There are several distinct occasions in my life when I should have died. And when you come that close to the edge as I have, you tend to develop an odd sort of respect and curiosity for it. I don’t dwell on it, but I certainly am aware of it. In many ways, my own mortal clock hovers about due to the fact that my father passed when he was 48 years old and his father before him at 47. I turn 46 in October and I’d be a lying sack of shit if I claimed that their deaths don’t affect me at all, because they certainly do. Granted, their lifestyles including heavy smoking, which I never took up aside from trying it every now and again with cigars and clove cigarettes (hey, it was the 90s – everything was fucked up then…).

I’ve lost a lot of friends. Brothers. Comrades. People you bleed with, sweat with, cry with, laugh with, and ride with. The kind of close friends that you think you’re gonna rule the world with – or at least kick ass with – and then Death shows up and they’re gone in the blink of an eye.

No doubt my own chronological timeline has factored into why I post as often as I do on Facebook about motivation and living and daring to fully embrace your existence. When you see Death as much as I have, it makes you appreciate everything that much more. Every detail. Every little bit of happiness wrung from a day doing nothing but spending time with your family being goofballs and eating ice cream.

It also makes you keenly aware of how very many people fail to appreciate what they have in front of them. How much people take for granted. How thoughtless they are with their behavior. How little time they take to appreciate a kind turn or a smile or a genuine display of affection. They can’t be bothered. Or they can’t be responsible. Or some other excuse. You’ll hear the phrases like, “I’ll get to it later.” Or “Well, he knows I’m grateful so I don’t have to say thanks,” or any one of a million other terms people use to deflect personal responsibility and keep themselves insulated or protected from showing some sign of emotional vulnerability.

Yeah, you’re out there. Some of you may even be reading this. Who knows? All locked up behind those walls you’ve built thinking you’re being smart when all you’re really doing is depriving yourself of a rich life of experience and wonder. Doesn’t that get old? Don’t you get tired of pretending you’re invincible or immune from pain and hurt? Don’t you wonder what it’s like to really let your spirit soar as high as it can? Or are you truly happy living within the confines of the prison you’ve created for yourself?

You’ll laugh. You’ll blow this off. You’ll insist that you never did anything wrong or ever played a part in some risky gambit. It’s easier, after all, to simply hide in your shell and wait for the storm to pass only to poke your head out afterward and see if the coast is clear.

It’s a cowardly way to live life, though.

So I post things that ask people to examine who they are and then dare to try something different. Maybe I’m hoping that folks will learn from my mistakes.

I spent a lot of my life locked away behind those same walls that I see so many others living behind. I spent a lot of my life convinced that showing vulnerability was akin to being a weakling or a fool or someone that could be taken advantage of. I spent a lot of my life living in fear that I wasn’t man enough according to someone else’s standards of what a man was. I covered that insecurity up by training in martial arts; I covered that insecurity up by entering the military and doing other work that forced me to confront fear on a very primal level. I spent a lot of my youth mostly trying to talk myself into believing that I was a badass. And in many ways, I may have been. I could fight. I could shoot. I could harm people in a whole lot of horrible ways. I knew things that most people don’t even dream about. And that gave me a lot of shell to surround myself with.

But I wasn’t a true badass.

Because it’s only when you have the courage to open yourself up to the world – to show your weaknesses and your vices and your insecurities and the things that make you tick – that you understand what true strength and true character actually is.

Believe me, doing this type of stuff is about as opposite extreme as you can get based on my earlier life. You kept your secrets, you kept everything hidden lest someone be able to use those against you. It’s how I was taught. It’s how I was trained.

But Death…well, Death changes things. Death doesn’t give a shit about your secrets or how macho you look or how many women you’ve slept with or how much money you have. Death is the greatest equal opportunity of all.

Everyone dies.

Not everyone truly lives, however.

This morning, I was eating breakfast and was approached by someone I haven’t seen in a long time. A really nice guy. When I knew him, he weighed about 350 pounds. Today, he stood before me at about half that weight. I wish I could say that he’d taken up working out or dieting or some other good reason for weight loss. The truth is he has cancer. And when he stood before me, I was literally gobsmacked. I barely even recognized him. Only his eyes told me his identity. The rest of him is a shell of the man he once was – loud, boisterous, full of energy, and maybe a bit on the talkative side. But a good man at that.

He’s younger than I am. I won’t elaborate on his prognosis because I don’t believe in broadcasting that type of negative energy out there. I am deeply hopeful he recovers, however, since he has a young daughter of 13 and because he is a good man who deserves a longer life with his loved ones.

The realization that this man has cancer has saddened me more than I expected it too, quite frankly. Perhaps because he’s close to my age. Perhaps because his spirit is one that always brought a smile to my face, even if it came with an annoying amount of talking from time-to-time.

Or maybe it’s because I saw the regret in his eyes this morning. Regrets of what he hasn’t yet done or people he hasn’t yet loved. Regret that he knows his time may be short and there may not be enough left to do everything he suddenly wants to do.

It’s only when you face Death that you realize how little so many bullshit things in life matter. And it’s only then that you see how much strength you have – strength you had all along – but hidden beneath a crushing weight of conforming to societal pressures or rampant insecurities. You realize – often far too late – that your supposed life has been one of near suffocation as you’ve grappled with over-scheduled madness, keeping up with the Joneses, or annoyances that are only just that and not the world-ending drama you’ve made them out to be.

And you regret it.

Death makes you a time traveler. In an instant or over the span of weeks or months, you look back and see where you went wrong. You see the foolish moves you’ve made and you wonder why you chose one path over another. You see the hearts you’ve broken – often without even realizing it – and you see the sadness you’ve wrought as is inevitable in the course of living.

You see the good, too. You see the victories. You see the love realized in the smiles and tears and laughter of those you hold most precious.

You find a measure of yourself. Sometimes, it holds up. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

And when it doesn’t, you regret it.

So I post a lot about life because regret is one of those things that can easily be avoided. And yet so many people run right toward it and it saddens me. I’m not off on some mission to rid the planet of regret (although that would be pretty sweet if we could all make it go away) but more to maybe make people think about how regret is largely self-imposed and how they can avoid it if they choose to.

Seeing my friend today (and probably calling him a friend isn’t appropriate per se, but I’ll do so anyway because it’s my post dammit) made me sad for his family and for him. It made me sad for the people I know who imprison themselves in the rush of everyday life and forget to live. It made me sad that those people will also know the pain of regret if they continue on the path they’re on.

But the future is never set.

And while Death is great at sending you back in time, Life is great at propelling you forward…to all possibilities and potentials.

Stop saying things like, “I shouldn’t.” Or, “I can’t do that.” Or, “What will everyone think?” Stop putting limits on yourself and your life. Embrace risk. Relish in the silliness of getting drunk with friends. Treasure a text or a phone call from a friend. Surprise someone with a hug from behind. Jump on an elevator and say hi to a complete stranger. Compliment someone just because you can. Go into your child’s bedroom and snuggle with them – even if they’re a teenager. Kiss your lover. Never forget to say thank you. And never stop smiling.

Our greatest strength is from not overcoming insurmountable odds. Our greatest strength comes from realizing that we are all – everyone one of us – free to live our lives to the greatest extent we possibly can…once we stop caring what others think. Our paths are our own to walk as individual souls.

We come into this world alone, naked, and afraid. We didn’t have any say in the matter.

How we leave is entirely up to us.

***

This is a long, meandering post. Frankly, I don’t know if it makes all that much sense. But I wrote it and it’s helped me work through some shit, so there’s that at the very least. If you get nothing else from it, remember to be thankful for what you have, the people who are in your life, and the adventures before you. Take a deep breath, say a silent “thank you,” and keep on livin’…

Who Do You Care About?

snoopyQuick question: when is the last time you put others before yourself?

If you’re like most people, it may have been a while. You’re busy, your schedule is packed, you’re stressed out, you’re wearing your “resting bitch” face, people wonder what sort of mood you’re in…that sort of stuff. I get it. We’ve all been there. In our frantic rush to get things done, our interpersonal relationships suffer. You leave people in your wake wondering what they may have done to piss you off. Your energy dips ever closer to the “negative” because it’s actually easier to be that way than to stay positive. As you tackle more things that need doing, you sink lower until it seems that everything and everyone is a pain-in-the-ass.

There’s also another reason why we spend less time doing for others: a lack of appreciation and gratitude on the part of the people we do things for. I read something that said if you truly desire to help, then you shouldn’t expect any thanks at all. That’s a nice pie-in-the-sky concept, but I hardly think it’s realistic. Or natural. If I hold the door for someone, there had better be a “thank you” coming out of their mouth or I keep my body exactly where it is (usually barring their path) stare at them and say, “YOU’RE WELCOME!”

We also, as a society, tend to take people for granted. Especially if we’re at ease around those people. If I know that Marge always has a smile on her face and a kind word to say, then I’m less likely to put much thought into how I treat Marge. “She’s always so happy so there’s no need to see how she’s doing.”

This, of course, is terribly wrong. Marge and people like her – especially people who have gone out of their way to help you or to be a good friend or to be someone you can rely on – are actually the people you should be caring for the most. But we seem to be hardwired to spend more time investing ourselves in people who seem down or bitchy or otherwise stricken in some fashion, even though the promise of reward may not even exist. And even if it does, why are we chasing that instead of people who would genuinely appreciate it?

It seems counter-intuitive to want to be involved with people who do nothing for others, who spend their entire lives self-absorbed and without giving a shit about anyone else. And yet, we routinely do it. Meanwhile, people who actually care about us get taken for granted. We grow complacent with them and as a result, our relationships suffer.

Perhaps we feel like there’s no challenge to keeping a good friend and we grow bored. Or lazy. Or both. Perhaps we want to be rewarded with that ever-elusive thin smile we sometimes see break across the face of the person who never seems to care. Maybe it’s even because we feel like we can be the one to “change” that negative person into a happy one.

Whatever the reasons may be, taking some time to look at yourself and your relationships is never a bad idea. How have you acted this week? What’s weighing on your mind and how is that affecting your mood and the people around you? Are you so caught up in your own world that you fail to see that people are losing the desire to be around you? Are you taking people for granted who have always been there for you? Do people who used to hang on your every word now drift away when you’re around? Are you even paying attention to whether things have changed or not?

Because society rewards mediocrity instead of awesome, we’re used to having that level of behavior be deemed “acceptable.” In other words, our thinking sometimes goes like this: “I only have to exert this much effort in this relationship and it will be fine.”

Well, to quote George Carlin, “Hair is fine.” “Fine” is another one of those dull, boring words that fails to excite. And no relationship should ever be “fine.”

There’s also blowback on you when you try to give more and elevate your relationships. A lot of people resent “awesome” because it spotlights their own failings and insecurities and inabilities. Rather than realize that they too can be awesome, they’d rather remain “fine” and live a life of mediocrity. In their head, you being awesome forces them to realize they aren’t and shame on you for reminding them of that fact. Backwards for sure, but that’s what happens.

The point is this: we can continue to be fine and mediocre and live in a society where everyone gets rewarded for showing up instead of putting out 100% OR you can take some time each day or week and reflect on how you treat others, what you can do for others, and where you put your caring. Remind yourself that your mood and your behavior have a direct and often profound effect on your environment, your friends, and even your health. Examine your actions and see who you’ve mistreated or treated less than they deserve. Resolve to reach out and say hello. Send a text. Send a message and say hi.

We can’t simply roll through this world without giving a damn about others. Like it or not, we do actually rely on other people for more than we sometimes realize. Even the most hardened loner still needs people. Remind yourself to treat others better than you have been. Remember that we’re all on this planet together and we all have the ability to affect those around us.

If you do nothing else today, reach out to someone who has been kind to you in the past and say a simple, “thank you.” You might be surprised how good you feel for doing it and how that goodness becomes contagious.

And couldn’t the world use a lot more of that?

THE CRUCIBLE is here!

The Crucible Book Cover Hi-ResIt’s been a long time coming…

But the newest Lawson Vampire novel, THE CRUCIBLE, is finally here and EXCLUSIVELY at my new secure website. This is the ONLY place to get the book and you can pay using either a credit card or PayPal.

PLEASE NOTE: The lines where you enter your credit card information (number, expiration date, CC code, etc.) are too small to see what you’re typing, but they DO WORK (I’ve tested them). I’m trying to get that issue sorted right now. Also, once you pay, the CONFIRMATION PAGE will show three file types IN RED that you can download: .mobi for the Kindle, .epub for the Nook and other e-readers, and .pdf for printing or desktop reading.

I hope you all enjoy the latest Lawson adventure! Click on this link to go buy it! https://jonfmerz.net/product/the-crucible-a-lawson-vampire-novel/

Talya’s gone.

Kidnapped by the infamous Xuan Xiang, a former Fixer who has sold out to the Communist Chinese, in a bid to lure Lawson to a final climactic battle where only one Fixer walks away.

But Lawson doesn’t play by the rules. And rather than walk into an ambush, Lawson sets his own plan into motion to rescue the woman he loves. Aided by Jack, the recently-graduated Invoker, they launch their rescue operation, unsanctioned by the Council and thousands of miles from any sort of ally or help.

Deep in western China, Lawson and Jack uncover far more than they expected. And it’s going to take all of their skills combined to ensure their own survival and that of Talya.

Click on this link to go buy it! https://jonfmerz.net/product/the-crucible-a-lawson-vampire-novel/

How to Love Yourself (Part 1)

lucille-ball-quotes-1I’ve talked a lot about uncovering faults, vices, and problems within ourselves. Self-critique is indeed a vital skill if you hope to elevate yourself and evolve as a human being.

But what if you don’t have any problems with finding faults in yourself? What if you’re coming at this from the opposite extreme – where it’s nearly impossible for you to find anything good about yourself to celebrate? What if you have a real problem seeing yourself as a wonderful human being worthy of being more than you are right now?

First, you have to understand something about energy. Specifically, the difference between positive energy and negative energy. Negative energy is infinitely easier to generate within ourselves. It takes very little effort to demean, criticize, insult, or bring ourselves down. This happens externally as well. Had a bad experience at a restaurant? I guarantee you that more people will spread that news than will the news that you just had a great experience at another shop. This is also why most newscasts lead with bad stories first: negative energy is powerful and plays on all of our primal receptors of fear and insecurity.

Positive energy conversely, is much tougher to generate unless you work very hard at doing so. It’s also much tougher to maintain positive momentum than negative. In some respects, positive energy could be seen as trying to push a heavy boulder up a huge mountain, whereas negative energy is like rolling a stone down that same mountain.

If you are someone who has no trouble finding faults within yourself, then this post is about how you uncover the good and how to love yourself and your virtues. Because what good is elevating yourself if you don’t even love who you are at the start?

Bear in mind, this isn’t easy work. Self-improvement never is. And some of the suggestions that follow will make you snort derisively, shudder, and shake your head at the discomfort they will no doubt generate.

Do them anyway.

If you’ve lived your life without self-esteem or ever giving yourself a pat on the back, then you owe it to yourself to do these things to better your life. No one should have to go through this life beating themselves up constantly. You are worth more than that; you are someone worth giving a damn about.

So let’s go…

1. Take a shower.

What? Easy day, right? Good, I’m glad you think so. Take the shower. Turn off the water. Dry off using your favorite Downy-soft towel, put some moisturizer on real quick. Then hang your towel up or throw it in the hamper.

Are you naked? Good.

2. Look at yourself in the mirror

Stand in front of a mirror, preferably a full-length one. Just stand there. Now pay attention to what you do next. Where does your mind go? What sort of internal dialogue starts up?

If you have problems with self-esteem, I’m almost going to guarantee that you started critiquing your body in some way. Thoughts like this, “My hips are too wide. My bald spot is growing. God, look at the crows feet around my eyes.”

So now you’re ready to start, because steps 1 & 2 aren’t really steps at all. They were just to prime you for what happens next.

3. Shut off your internal voice.

Your goal is to be able to look at yourself in the mirror without immediately launching into a mental beat-down of your body. This will be hard – for some it will seem nearly impossible – but it is critical that you accomplish this. Start out small; the greatest victories come from small, steady advances rather than giant unsupported leaps forward.

Your first goal is ten seconds.

Every single time you step out of the shower, stand in front of that mirror and do not berate yourself. If your internal voice cranks up, simply count your breaths as you stand there. Inhale, exhale, and say “One.” Continue up to ten and then start back at one. This is a form of simple meditation, but by focusing on your breathing instead of the thoughts that scamper about your head, you are achieving both the goal of being able to look at yourself without self-loathing and you are starting to reign in your inner voice – another important skill.

Once you can do this for ten seconds, your next goal is 30 seconds. Use the same procedure as above if you reach ten seconds and then your voice starts barking at you. Remember to take it slow and steady. If 30 seconds seems unattainable, scale it back to twenty seconds for a week or so.

The importance here is on continuity and achievability. Excellence isn’t simply discovered; it’s a repeatable process that you use again and again to elevate yourself. The same thing applies here. Do this every single day without fail. Do it in the morning or do it before bed. But do it. Reach ten seconds. Then twenty. Or thirty.

Then shoot for a single minute.

At some point, this will become hard. Like, really hard. In fact, it may be the toughest thing you’ve ever really done. You may think it’s impossible to look at your own body without hating every inch of it; that it’s silly to love something that you despise so much; or even that it’s stupid to even try this because you already know you’re going to fail at it.

I’m not asking you to suddenly overnight fall in love with your body. I’m simply asking you to stop critiquing it for a certain amount of time. Remember: slow and steady, gradual increments is what we are after. Change isn’t something that you simply flick a switch and do (although some people can actually do that. My late father quit cigarettes cold turkey after his first heart attack, so it *is* possible…). Think of it instead as small steps that will eventually produce lasting change.

And lasting change is what we want.

The self-help industry is full of books and seminars and courses and gurus who will sell you all sorts of expensive gimmicks and complex steps to hopefully uncover self-love. And maybe some of that works. But I’ve always believed that the simplest stuff works best. No bullshit.

I suffered from massive insecurity when I was younger. I had no clue what self-esteem was. I’ve had body issues for a great part of my life. But when I started studying martial arts – Ninjutsu in particular – and moving on to the higher lessons that that study entails, it became absolutely vital that I learn how to love myself. You can’t hope to touch higher levels of self if you are still mired in insecurity and a lack of self-esteem. So I started doing exactly what I’ve written above.

Stand naked in front of mirror without finding fault with my body.

That’s it.

Don’t do anything else yet. Don’t mask your critiques by trying to pump yourself up with praise. Don’t do anything other than simply stand naked in front of a mirror without critiquing your body for one single minute.

One thing.

And it works.

Not overnight. Not in a week or two. But gradually, the more you force yourself to do this, the easier it will get.

Start here and the rest will follow. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the next steps you can take to truly love who you are.

Best of luck. Never Quit.

Who Dares Lives.

How I Deal With Fear

scaredA lot has been said about living without fear or having no fear at all. But these ideas miss a key point: how do you actually deal with fear when it arises in your life?

I spent the majority of my youth living in fear of one sort or another. Not that I was an abused child or anything – far from it – but my life was full of fear regardless. Much of it might seem trivial now, and certainly looking back on it with the eyes of a 45 year old man, I might even shake my head at some of it. But at the time, the things that caused me fear seemed to occupy my life fully and without regard for anything else.

Early on, my very first nightmare that I can remember was of the Count from Sesame Street. From there on, vampires scared the living shit out of me. Seriously. When PBS broadcast the 1976(?) BBC production of Dracula, I saw part of it one night with my dad and was so freaking scared that I slept on the floor surrounded by crosses that my dad made out of two drinking straws. I was convinced that the bloodsuckers would come for me.

When I wasn’t busy living in fear of the undead, I was terrified that I would throw up from some stomach sickness. I hated puking and one of the things I dreaded most was the thought of getting a stomach bug. Regular flu? Awesome. As long as I didn’t vomit, I was cool with it.

And then there were the bullies in my life. From the lumbering ox who lived up the street from me to the jackass at school, I spent my first fifteen years living in perpetual fear that I would get punched out. And never having been actually punched, I always imagined it would be similar to nuclear armageddon.

So yeah, me and fear? We were close.

Too close.

Around about my 15th year alive on this planet, I decided that enough was enough. I was tired of living scared. It was keeping me from enjoying my life and I had plans and goals to accomplish. I had to come up with a way to handle fear.

With the school bully still an ubiquitous threat, I started studying martial arts. Nothing formal at first, just messing around with some friends who had the same interest. But we sparred and learned some shit and thought we were badasses and put on a show at school one snowy night when I had a fever of about 103 degrees and still went on to do a sword demonstration anyway (which taught me a lot about getting shit done regardless of suffering) and basically enjoyed a bit of a power trip. From there, my study of martial arts became much more extensive, eventually bringing me to Japan in February 2003 to earn my 5th degree black belt in Bujinkan Ninjutsu direct from the 34th grandmaster himself.

But back on my first night at my teacher’s Ninjutsu dojo, I saw people being thrown and rolling around in ways that terrified me. How in the world was I ever going to learn how to do that? I’d never even really somersaulted before in my life. And here they were doing front rolls, back rolls, side rolls, dive rolls, and more.

Fear gripped me and gripped me hard.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I faced the fear head on. From that day on, I went out into the woods by myself and practiced throwing myself around, hitting the soft pine-needled ground in the Arnold Arboretum time after time after time after time – again and again and again – until the grip of fear around me loosened and I began to relax. My ukemi (as it’s known in Japanese) became second nature. I moved out of the soft forest floor and on to concrete, repeating the same process. Over and over, on different surfaces, on hills, over rocks and branches, over cars, over obstacles, over bodies. If it made me nervous, I did it.

And eventually, my ukemi got pretty damned good.

And I stopped fearing the idea of rolling or vaulting or otherwise hitting the ground. I’d been thrown in so many different and dangerous fashions over the years, and my body was so well attuned to knowing how to relax and absorb the impact, that I simply stopped being afraid of it.

Which, naturally, is when the universe stepped in and decided I needed some humbling…

At my CrossFit box, one of my coaches started a gymnastics class. And one of the things he’s covering is handstands. As part of the training, you need to know how to forward roll out of a handstand in case you need to bail.

Easy day, right? After all, ol’ Jon here has rolling down pat. No sweat. Got this.

Not quite.

You see, there’s a big difference between what I learned in terms of real world rolling and what a gymnastics front roll is. Specifically, my martial arts rolling involves more of a diagonal front roll, taking place from the shoulder obliquely across to the opposite hip. This is how you roll on the ground, concrete, etcetera in order to avoid damaging your spine.

In gymnastics, however, that forward roll starts at the base of your skull, and then travels down along the spinal cord. Provided you tuck your chin into your chest, everything should be well and good. And in theory, this should be a piece of cake for me.

But it’s not.

Not only am I used to rolling differently, I’m also used to having throws and such be fast. I’m inverted for maybe a second before I recover and get back up on my feet. In gymnastics, however, I’m working on getting inverted and staying inverted for a longer period of time. My arms are also extended and locked out to support my body. In order to forward roll, I have to first bend them, descend, and then enter the roll itself.

And I’m scared again.

So, like every other time I’ve been afraid of something in my life, I run toward the fear and meet it head-on. I’ll be forcing myself to go in and work on bailing from a handstand until it becomes second-nature to me and the fear loses its grip. It won’t be easy – this sort of work never is – but the rewards are worth it.

Fear is obviously necessary in our lives. It protects us to a certain extent, but it can also hinder us. And allowing yourself to be hindered by fear could be deadly.

I was the junior man one time a long while back and as we were traveling single file at night in an urban environment. I’d wound up at the back with our point man being very experienced and the seniormost guy in the middle. If threats had presented themselves to the front of our formation, the point man could have easily handled them. I felt pretty safe at the back. But we soon realized that the area we were in wasn’t where we thought and we had to retrace our steps. Instead of letting the point man move back and re-assume his position, we simply turned around. Now I was on point. And instead of feeling relatively safe, I was the one who would have to handle the threats as they presented themselves. Fear was there, but I had no choice but to move ahead presumably toward the danger.

And that’s how I’ve always operated: when fear comes at you, meet it head-on. Whether it’s fear of a roller coaster or something far worse, never let fear immobilize you. Keep moving. Always.

I was scared of bullies punching me until I faced my fear and learned that getting punched isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. Anytime something looks uncomfortable or painful or terrifying, my instinct is to always move toward it, meet it head-on, and conquer it or otherwise remove whatever power it holds over me.

Fear is a constant in our day-to-day living. Physical, mental, and spiritual roadblocks spring up because we’re afraid of doing this or that. How much fear is there in your life? What scares you? What immobilizes you? What stops you from meeting it head-on? And imagine if you did meet it head-on.

Eleanor Roosevelt said to “do one thing every day that scares you.” I happen to agree. Only by meeting fear head-on do we learn how to mitigate it and lessen its impact in our lives. Only by meeting my fears head-on have I overcome them in my life. Whether it was forcing myself to stay overnight in a cemetery to overcome the fear of vampires (okay, I know a trip to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania would have probably been better, but I had budgetary problems, lol), subjecting myself to getting sprayed with pepper spray, throwing myself all over the woods to get better at rolling, moving through an ambush on the streets of Chinatown, or going in today to practice bailing out of a handstand, the process is the same: meet your fears head-on. Get up close and personal with them. Subject yourself to the discomfort and terror of that which seeks to control you and then do it until you aren’t uncomfortable any longer.

This isn’t living with “no fear” or any of the other silly catchphrases self-help gurus use. It’s simply living in such a way that fear doesn’t control you.

In spite of fear, you still accomplish everything you want.

Who Dares Lives.

How to Be a BadAss

badassThis isn’t a “feel good” post where I tell you how wonderful you are for just being you. It’s a kick in the ass to get your shit straight and do something more than you ever have before. It’s your wake-up call to become a badass. But it’s going to take work and dedication. Here’s how you start:

1. Get Over Yourself: Realize your problems are only as big as you make them. This is not to belittle anyone’s issues, because certainly some problems, are in fact, bigger than others. But there’s one thing you can always control about problems: how you react to them. Some people think their world is going to explode over the littlest things and some other people can have a debilitating accident and come back stronger than ever. The one constant? They chose how to react.

2. Learn Some Shit: Seriously. Pick up a book and read. Put down the TV remote. Play Quiz Up on your phone and play in categories you know nothing about. Ask someone about their job and what they do even if you have no desire to do it. Learn about how other people live. The world is much, much bigger than the little box most of us live in. In order to have a greater perspective you need to know more about a whole lot of stuff.

3. Challenge Yourself Everyday: Don’t shy away from a chance to be better or to take a chance. You only grow by challenging yourself and what you did yesterday. Get out of your comfort zone and get comfortable being uncomfortable. And I’m not just talking about challenging yourself in, say, the gym. That’s great. But you’ve got to challenge yourself every single day in all aspects of your life. Why did you react that way to that idiotic driver? Why did you get mad? Sure, sometimes it’s justifiable, but for the most part, it’s probably not. (This is something I happen to struggle with, so I figured I’d use it as an illustration of how I try to deal with it…) Also, note that I am not talking about having an inner monologue where you constantly destroy yourself with thoughts like, “I’m stupid, I suck, I’m an idiot.” But I *am* talking about constantly checking yourself. Challenge your thought process and you’ll start to understand a whole lot more about who you are as a person. And knowing yourself is pretty damned important.

4. Exercise: You’ve got one body, don’t let it fall apart on you. I’ve lost count of how many Facebook updates I see where people who should know better just let themselves go to shit. Writers especially. I can count on one hand the number of writers I know who are active about their fitness. The rest sit around all day and eventually find their bodies are a mess. Clean your diet up as well. You don’t have to become a vega-nazi, but if you’re eating fast food every day then you’re pretty much poisoning yourself. Try to eat better five days each week and give yourself two days to cheat and eat bad stuff and drink if you wish. It’ll keep you somewhat sane and at the same time, clean up your system.

5. Give Back: Other people aren’t as fortunate as you – no matter where you are in life – so make a point to help someone. Even if it’s just a smile or a few minutes listening to them. You’d be amazed how few people actually know how to listen. Give someone a hand and help them reach the next rung on the ladder. Generate some good karma. Don’t be a selfish jerk. And fer cryin’ out loud, don’t be a cheap prick. There are few things worse than a cheap tightwad who has convinced himself he’s somehow wise about money because he scored a coupon and saved a few bucks. Cheap people aren’t just cheap financially, they’re cheap emotionally. Don’t be like that. I’m pretty sure no one on their death bed ever said, “thank god I got the two-for-one special instead of splurging that night.” Life is about experiences; not about waiting until the day after Halloween to buy all your candy for next year at 90% off.

6. Dream Big. Aspire to something. Get crazy and realize a dream that you’ve been chasing for years or have backburnered because you’re a certain age and think you shouldn’t want that anymore. What? Fuck that. Get after it.

7. Create a Legacy: Make something that will endure after you’re gone. Write a book. Paint a picture. Sing a song and record it. None of these have to be published or hang in a gallery on play on a radio station, but make them anyway so that future generations will have the chance to know you and what you were passionate about. You are not defined by your children; you are defined by who you are and how you live.

8. Stop Complaining: seriously. Just stop. Too hard? Then try going 24 hours without bitching about anything. Build up from there. You’d be utterly and completely amazed how much your perspective changes when you stop wasting energy on complaining. After all, complaining does absolutely nothing except make you feel momentarily better by giving it voice. Imagine how much better you’d feel if you actually changed something instead of simply complaining about it.

9. Dare: Dare to live. Dare to go against the flow. Dare to be an individual and not a sheep. Dare to laugh in the face of adversity. Dare to ignore what others will say about you. Dare to go off on some wild adventure. Dare to flirt. Dare to feel passion within your chest again. Dare to imagine a different life than the one you have and see if you want to make some changes for real. Dare to be outrageous. Dare to laugh more. Dare to open yourself up and let others into your world. Dare to be vulnerable. Dare to change your hairstyle. Dare to dance in the rain. Dare to be the full embodiment of a true human being. Dare to be YOU.

***

Look, your life comes down to this: you can either stay where you are, complain endlessly about useless shit, spew negative energy out into the universe every time you complain about something in your life you don’t like OR you can change your life into what you used to dream it would be. You can’t sit there and read this and think, “yeah but…” and give yourself an out by creating an excuse. Fuck that shit. Fuck your excuses. Fuck settling for what you don’t truly want.

Change is hard, but so is anything worthwhile. So what? You’d rather live a life full of misery and negative energy? Guess what? That shit catches up with you and manifests itself in your physical, mental, and spiritual health. You can literally create your own death by being awash in negativity.

What you have to stop doing is the same old shit, over and over again and expecting things to somehow change miraculously. If you’re some place in your life where you find yourself complaining on a daily basis, being jealous of others who don’t struggle like you do, or are resentful of something, then you need to change and you need to do it now. The old way ain’t working. Change it up. Change your perspective. Change how you react to stuff.

“Yeah, but…”

No.

“Easier said than done.”

No shit. I never said it would be easy anyway. In some ways, this will be the absolute toughest stuff you’ve ever attempted before.

“It’s just that…”

No, it fucking isn’t.

Those are excuses you’re generating to save yourself from doing the hard work of change. And if you keep making excuses, you will never, ever change. You’ll just continue to wallow in the cesspool of your unhappy existence, complaining to anyone who has the patience to listen to your whining. Being a badass isn’t something you “sorta” do; you either do it all the way, or you don’t. You either make the changes needed or you stay the same. And if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it. Or you’ll just find another excuse to remain the same.

Climb out of the cesspool and start taking charge of your life. People are pissing you off? Deep-six them. You hate your job? Put some money away and then quit it and find a new one. Your relationship sucks? Bin it and find someone new. There are six billion people on this planet – chances are good there’s someone better out there for you. Is your progress stalled at the gym? Change up your training and start making gains again.

You can be a badass – an honest-to-god badass – but you’ve got to be honest with yourself, do the hard work, and not settle for anything less than your dreams. The vast majority of people on this planet do not possess the perseverance to do this. The vast majority of people on this planet are either miserable or have conned themselves into thinking that mediocrity is acceptable and safe and as close to happiness as they will ever come.

Not you.

If you’ve read this far, then there is a part of you (and it doesn’t matter how tiny) that wants to do something more, to aspire to greater heights, to not settle for mediocrity, to live with passion and hope and happiness, and to see your dreams come true.

You can do it. I know you can. Others have already done it. Others with far less than you have.

Believe in yourself. Don’t make excuses. Get your head down and do the work.

You want it? Go get it.

Never Quit.

The Only Time The Answer is a Definite “No”

ask.jpgIt amazes me how many people want something and yet never do the easiest thing in the world before deciding that they’ll never get the thing they desire.

What is it that they fail to do?

Ask for it.

Asking is, at its core, a risk. You’re putting something out there – a desire – in the hopes that the person who has the power to make your wish come true, agrees to grant it. You are exposing yourself and the want that you have in front of others.

The problem is our society does not reward risk. It rewards safe, acceptable behavior. So for a lot of people, the idea of asking for something they want is alien to them. They’ve been programmed by our culture, by parents, by authority figures in our lives to save themselves the effort of asking, because, you know, “the answer’s probably going to be no.”

In fact, the ONLY time the answer is a DEFINITE “no,” is when you fail to ask for it. Then it is absolutely 100% of the time a “no.”

Asking for something guarantees you the possibility – even if it is slight – that you may actually get what you’re asking for. Yet again, most people would rather have a concrete NO than the slimmest chance of a YES. Why? Because the slimmest chance means there’s hope. And hope sometimes leads to disappointment if the answer does turn out to be no. Usually, what follows is an internal beatdown. “I knew it was going to be no. I don’t know why I even bothered asking. I should have just stayed quiet and not wasted my time.”

But think about how many times in your life you’ve already taken a risk and asked for something that DID end well.

Have you ever had a relationship? At some point, you had to ask for something. A phone number. A date. A kiss. A sweaty roll in the hay.

What about in your job? Did you ever ask for a raise? A promotion?

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is ask for things. Ask for help. Ask for solutions. Ask for something you want.

When you were a kid, inevitably you probably asked for a cookie at some point. Many times, the answer was no. “You’ll ruin your appetite for dinner. You just had one. You don’t need another one.” But every once in awhile, you got that cookie. And the number of times you got told no didn’t necessarily impact you enough to stop asking for the cookie. Because you knew that if you asked, there was a chance mom or dad would say yes.

As you grow, that hope diminishes in many people. We start to see how the world works. We see people in power as the incredible figures who would never deign to bequeath some request upon those far below them. Our perspective of ourselves either grows or shrinks depending on how we process risk and reward, and whether we have a higher tolerance for risk and taking chances. Those who seek security and stability – whether inherent within their nature or programmed by parents – are less likely to ask for the things they want. Conversely, those who are more comfortable with risk are far more likely to ask for what they want.

And here’s the thing: the more you ask for things, the better the odds are that you will get what you want. Behavior, after all, begets itself. Ask for one thing every single day and eventually, asking for anything becomes easier. But the opposite is also true: shy away from asking and it gets harder to do that until you simply cease and become accepting of whatever crumbs you can scavenge.

No thanks.

Don’t be a scavenger. Be an active risk-taker.

Ask for what you want. You may not always get it.

But you just might.

And a maybe is always better than a definite no. At least in my book!

Turn Off Your Automatic Excuse Generator

Making-Excuses-Does-Not-Produce-ResultsA couple of weeks ago I was riding shotgun in my friend’s car. As we took a turn, he nearly sideswiped a mailbox. When I mentioned it to him, he shrugged it off.

“Yeah, this car is a little wide.”

Uh…no, it’s not that the car was wide, he had incorrectly estimated how much space he had.

The exchange got me thinking about how much of our thinking is wired to provide rapid and ready-made excuses (defenses) against criticism we may receive. Rather than admit that he’d made a mistake, my friend came up with a defense that while in this case was reasonable to some extent, also gave him the opportunity to avoid confronting the idea that he’d screwed up and nearly taken out a mailbox.

How many times in our daily lives do we do this? How many times does our Automatic Excuse Generator enable us to avoid a failure of some sort? Our AEG is incredibly adept at distorting logic and reality so we don’t have to “suffer” through the realization of our own shortcomings, but is such a thing always good? Or does it actually deprive us of the ability to improve and perhaps even see opportunities in our own failures?

Imagine how much clearer your thinking would be if instead of coming up with excuses that nullify or dampen the impact of criticism, we instead simply nodded, accepted the critique, and then made adjustments to improve?

One day at CrossFit, after a particularly grueling workout, one of my coaches came over as I was panting and desperate for oxygen and showed me a quick video clip he’d shot of me doing rapid-fire air squats. He then proceeded to spend about five minutes going over ways I could improve, adjust my knee position, and more.

It would have been easy to have my AEG kick in and explain away my bad form by saying something like, “Yeah, I was really tired at this point.” Or, “My legs were so sore.”

Instead, I listened to everything he said, really focusing on absorbing his points because they were all extremely valid and worthwhile – and now I have something to work on for the future, which will improve my performance and probably lessen any lingering muscle pain the next time air squats come up in a workout.

Excuses are a sort of self-defense mechanism. No one likes to be wrong. No one likes to admit that they did something less well than they could have. So on the surface, excuses protect us from embarrassment and insecurity and the like. But on a deeper level, excuses actually hurt us and damage our ability to see things objectively.

And being able to view things objectively is a critical life skill that many people lack.

Think about it in terms of something like intelligence gathering. Pretend you’re a spy and you’ve been assigned to watch a storage facility where there *might* be something fishy happening. You have no real information at the outset aside from an order to conduct surveillance from the relative comfort of your car. (Relative being the operative word, but at least you’re not on foot out in the cold) As you sit in your car overlooking the facility, you notice two individuals carrying garbage bags entering. An hour later, one of them leaves. He returns forty minutes later with a large duffel bag, approximately four feet in length that seems to be bulging at odd angles. Two hours later, both men leave.

As you read the above paragraph, did your mind start to create possibilities about what could be inside the garbage bags? Or what might have caused the duffel bag to bulge? Did you think about what they could have been up to inside the facility? Were they building a bomb? Did the duffel bag have weapons in it?

A well-trained operative would only include objective observations in his report, noting the times and description of the men who entered the facility. He would note that they carried garbage bags in and that later one of them brought in a duffel bag that appeared full of non-soft items that caused it to bulge.

But someone who allows their reality to be obscured would have filled their report with musings and suspicions about what might be in the bags and what the men might be up to. The result of that subjective report might be a decision to raid the facility, wasting hundreds of man hours, millions of dollars, and a potentially burned operation when it turns out that those men might simply have been innocent dudes storing some old family memorabilia in the building.

This is obviously a very simplistic example of objectivity versus subjectivity, but the point is valid nonetheless. When you let excuses dominate your perspective, you lose sight of what reality is. If you forever give yourself a pass when you should be working on correcting something, then all you do is add another layer of fog to your vision.

It’s not easy, nor is it necessarily fun. But stripping away excuses and being able to call yourself on your own liabilities is crucial to personal development and evolution or even simply getting better at something.

It can be startling when you start paying attention to how your own mind works to “protect” you – when you see how many times each day you generate some sort of excuse rather than face up to the fact that you screwed up in some capacity. This isn’t to say that this is entirely BAD, but it should be kept in balance. It’s not healthy to be forever critiquing yourself, either, but most of us deliver far more excuses than critiques.

So every once in a while, turn off your Automatic Excuse Generator and check yourself. You might be amazed at how much clearer your focus and drive get when you aren’t constantly giving yourself a pass. It can take some getting used to, but self-improvement is never easy.

And imagine what you can accomplish when you’re actually improving instead of making excuses.

Who Wants A Hug?

11609754-hug-couponI do.

I spent last night catching up with a buddy of mine who is just back from distant lands. We got to talking about perceptions of strength and weakness and how those perceptions get portrayed in media, how society treats them, and how both of us have been affected by those perceptions.

My friend is stereotypically the strong, silent type. Lots of compact muscle layered on a shorter frame with a strong jawline and piercing eyes. He has little tolerance for bullshit, tends not to sugar coat things, and is loyal to his dying breath. He’s the man you want beside you going into a fight. Superficially, if you saw him, you wouldn’t think anything fazes the guy. He projects strength and confidence and presence; plus he’s a good-looking dude. He doesn’t let his guard down, and his inner circle is fiercely protected; you don’t get in there unless he knows you have his back.

According to how strength is portrayed in the media, this guy shouldn’t want for anything. He’s got it all. Women are drawn to him even if they don’t really know how to handle him because he’s so utterly unlike the typical guy. He forges his own path, and tends not to give a shit what others think of him.

But once you get past the exterior, once you get to know him, you realize that while he is strong, he also needs love and support and a friendly smile. Yeah, he’s strong, but his strength was earned by waging constant battle against the insecurities that shackle the cowardly. Yes, he’s brave, but that courage was earned facing fears that hamstring others too timid to stand up for anything. He has scars and deep wounds from the constant betrayal of lesser souls who see in him someone they could never be because they are too weak to do what he has done.

He tries not to let these things bother him. He has grand ambitions, goals, quests, and the like. He sees the bigger picture and knows that the pitiful examples of humanity that have betrayed him or hate him or wish him ill will have their own private hell to endure here on earth – a hell of wasted days, lazy uninspiring Facebook status updates, and a failure to leave any sort of legacy for future generations – and that that is punishment enough for their actions. (We disagree a bit here since I think that sometimes these people need a good ass-kicking, but whatever…)

But the truth is, it does hurt. This strong man does feel pain. He feels the cut of betrayal like a keen knife that sears deep into his soul – especially when it comes from someone he might have once loved and trusted.

Society rejects that notion that he could be hurt. Strength in society is viewed very much as an absolute quality. If you’re strong, you don’t need anything. You don’t need love or support or a wink or a hug or a text or an invite to grab a drink. Or even just the knowledge that someone has your back.

You’re all set.

Except you’re not.

Underneath his hard exterior, my friend is riotously funny. His sarcasm is brilliant. He’s a ferocious romantic who loves the idea of sweeping a woman off her feet and making her feel like she is his entire world. He writes poetry, knows the meanings behind every color of rose, and can talk philosophy for hours on end.

In some ways, his strength enables him to understand weakness even more than most would ever realize. In some ways, he hurts more because it takes a far more grievous wound to affect him due to his strength.

But, y’know…he’s strong, so he’s totally fine.

Right?

Wrong.

Strength gets taken for granted; weakness gets its own parade.

Look at how society rallies around supposed “underdogs.” And I say supposed because the fact is, a true underdog is someone with grand ambition and goals, who, for one reason or another, has yet to accomplish those goals. True underdogs are brimming with the desire to get out there and get shit done.

Most of the so-called underdogs that get celebrated today are actually just lazy people who do a good job of talking up their suffering to the point that they achieve a pity play from those who buy into their bullshit. These so-called underdogs continue to remain underdogs, because they actually *aren’t* underdogs at all. They’re just whiny do-nothings. Can you imagine the story of David and Goliath if David had just sorta laid around, played video games all day, and talked about what he’d do one day, y’know, if his back kinda didn’t ache right now and hey, what are you guys doing, wanna hang out?

Don’t get me wrong, the second David is pretty freakin’ sad. But he doesn’t need a pity party; he needs a swift kick in the ass – he needs someone to tell him to wake the hell up, go grab life by the horns, and make some friends. The real David had bold dreams to take on a huge force of evil. He literally walked out there knowing the odds were stacked against him. THAT is something to celebrate and get behind.

Then there are the malicious folks who are beset by tragedy. And all of a sudden all those past transgressions get forgotten. People rally around them and proclaim the next coming of Jesus Christ.

I don’t wish ill on anyone; and tragedy anytime it strikes is indeed tragic and I only wish those affected by it the best. But let me be blunt: tragedy does not negate past transgressions. Ownership and apologies negate past transgressions.

Unless that tragedy makes those malicious people wake up and realize that they have been utter douchebags and then compels them to set about rectifying everything they did, there’s no need to rally behind them. Some would argue that the tragedy that befell them is simply Karma making its long overdue appearance. Put out enough bad energy into the universe and sooner or later the universe is gonna stamp “return to sender” on the envelopes and send them right back to you – sometimes all at once. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I sure don’t feel like testing the theory out. I try to put out good in the hopes that good comes back to me.

I suppose it’s understandable. Society tends to celebrate the weak because most people are, in fact, weak. So we see a lot of ourselves in those who put their misery on display. We have more in common with someone who has been trampled on and has no more desire to stand up and fight than we do with the true warrior who gets knocked down and gets back up every single time with a look that says, “is that all you got?”

Strength is intimidating. But strong people aren’t one dimensional stereotypes. I told my buddy last night about a time I was out with friends. One of them was leaving and gave the buddy next to me a big hug. I got a wave. When I jokingly asked, “What – I don’t get a hug?” this friend looked at me strangely. “You want a hug?”

Well, yeah…I do want a hug. I like giving hugs. I like getting hugs (good hugs, mind you, not those crappy ones most people pass off) I’m a hugger. I’m also strong. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate sincere forms of affection from a friend.

I have another close pal who is near the pinnacle of his profession. He’s driven, focused, and strong. He’s also a big softie, a romantic, and has a brilliant mind. I count myself lucky and extremely fortunate to be his friend. But other people I talk to say that he’s distant.

He’s distant for the same reason many strong people are distant: we’re wondering if you can actually hang with us. We’re wondering if you can understand our focus and drive – if you hold yourself to the same standards that we hold ourselves to. We’re wondering if you’re someone strong, who knows what it’s like to have a dream and chase that fuckin’ dream to the end of the universe and back until we accomplish it. We’re wondering if you know how much we’ve sacrificed to get to where we are and to where we will go. We’re wondering if you see the scars we have from doing what most deem impossible. We’re wondering if you’re going to stab us in the back when we let you into our world. We’re wondering if you’re going to give back the same level of intensity and affection that we will give to you. We’re wondering all of these things because we’ve seen it all. The path we walk is a lonely one, but the experiences we have are shared by very few and the views we see are seen by even fewer.

We’re strong, yes.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain or that we don’t get hurt or feel alone. If anything, the strong are, in fact, the true underdogs because we are the ones that face down immense odds and give everything we have in pursuit of dreams, goals, and higher ideals.

So celebrate strength and not weakness & douchebaggery. Don’t be intimidated by the strong. Admire and respect it and never, ever betray it.

And by the way, we’d still really like that hug.

Adopting Archetypes: How Ancient Wisdom Helps Us Process Bad Shit

The Taizokai Mandala

The Taizokai Mandala

Bad things happen every single day. Bad people are a fact of life. As much as we might try to be optimistic, there are times when it seems like the scourge of society is at peak force – a tidal surge of scumbaggery looking to wreak havoc on our calm, peaceful lives.

Earlier this week, a brilliant cardiac surgeon was gunned down at a hospital in Boston where he worked tirelessly to save the lives of patients who needed his skills. Such a good person thoughtlessly murdered can make anyone question the sanctity of life, the role of faith & religion, and whether there’s any point to any of this at all. Some people descend into deep depression when these things happen. Others put up hard shells that they think will protect them. Still others resort to anger and call for new laws and legislation.

At the end of the day, however, we still have to find the means to process these bad things. It’s not realistic to shut ourselves away on some mountaintop retreat where we can ensure we are never subjected to such heinous crimes. We have to deal with it. All of it.

But how? How do you reconcile these actions within your own consciousness and somehow find a way to carry on that doesn’t leave you cynical, jaded, grumpy, and depressed? Is there even a way to do it? Or are we simply screwed and beholden to the bad and evil things that happen to us?

There’s no easy answer, of course. And any solution takes time and patience to implement within ourselves. Given that we live in a society that craves immediate gratification, this process can be more painful for some than others. But there are ways to deal with bad shit. And hopefully, this post will provide some ideas for you to explore.

Compartmentalization is one of the ways people who are constantly faced with bad shit deal with it – combat veterans, police officers, first responders, nurses, firefighters, and others like them. They isolate the bad within a small section of their mind and tuck it away, hopefully where they don’t have to deal with it except in the middle of the night. This process has its merits, but if you never confront the bad, then it simply grows even larger within your mind until it becomes far worse than what it was originally.

What if there was another way to potentially deal with bad shit? What if you didn’t have to tuck it away or descend into abject grief every time something bad happens? What if you could pick a new way to respond – not just to bad stuff, per se – but to pretty much any situation?

In esoteric Buddhism, there is a process of modeling that aspiring seekers of enlightenment go through. Without getting all crazy New Agey, there are representative heroic icons within a mandala tapestry. Each icon represents some type of heroic ideal, they come with their own backstory and predominant quality. Blindfolded initiates are asked to throw a flower or some other object onto the mandala and which deity it lands upon is then deemed the one that the student should model themselves on for a period of time. It’s not uncommon for students to model several deities as they seek to comprehend the full extent of ideals and embodiments that are expressed within the mandala.

We can use this process to help us process bad shit. But it does involve some thought. We are, in effect, hacking esoteric Buddhism to suit our own 21st century needs.

The first step is to identify your own personal heroic ideals. Who do you look up to? Who do you aspire to be like in some way, shape, or form? Who inspires you? Draw up a list and try to make it as varied as possible. In other words, don’t just list a whole bunch of strong, silent types. Pick one that best represents that ideal. Then pick someone else who best represents another ideal, like compassion. Or comedic skill. Or someone adept at being diplomatic. Who is always humble but inspiring? Who would you run to for help? Who would know how to make you feel better when you feel lonely and vulnerable?

Your ideals can be real people or fictional characters. The important thing is that their “heroic” qualities are prominent within your own mind. Don’t worry if anyone else agrees with you. My own ideal of a strong warrior protector will no doubt be different from yours, and that is how it should be. This is a personal journey, not a public one.

Once you have your list of heroes, it’s time for some role playing. Like the Buddhist initiate, you’ll now choose an identity to model yourself on. In other words, those qualities that a particular hero embodies, you will now try to make your own.

“Wait – what???”

I know, but bear with me. Look at your list of heroes for a moment. Let’s pick the person or character you chose to be the perfect embodiment of a strong protector – someone you would feel safe with if something awful happened. What is it about that person that makes them your choice? What qualities do they have that make them the ideal in this category? Are they strong? Do they possess skill in combat? Have they been in situations where they prevailed and as a result you feel confident in their skills?

Take your time and really figure out why you chose them to be your hero. Ordinarily, the qualities they possess might be lacking or completely absent within ourselves. Conversely, as we explore the qualities we admire in our heroes, we may discover that we possess some of those same qualities, but they’ve been dormant within us. That’s what makes this process so enriching. We learn about our own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, strengths, and virtues and are then able to take steps to enhance or acquire these same qualities.

How you acquire the abilities embodied within these heroes is really up to you. For some people, modeling themselves can take a very immersive quality. They will literally go out and do the very things that their heroic ideal does or has trained to do. Dustin Hoffman preferred to immerse himself utterly in the role he was playing earlier on in his career. He would become the very character he was playing. This is very similar to that.

Perhaps you would prefer to be a bit more thoughtful in your approach. That’s fine, too. If you are good at imagining yourself as the heroic ideal in your response to certain situations where those qualities would be needed, then that might be the best way to model yourself and acquire those qualities.

Within your list of heroes, pick the one that you chose for their ability to handle awful or devastating grief. What qualities do they possess that make them ideally suited for this? Are they compassionate and empathic? Do they use subtle humor to bring smiles where only tears have flowed? Are they able to see beyond the immediate flood of grief and remember the good that survives in all things, regardless of momentary evil? Do they trust that those left behind in the wake of tragedy will find the strength to carry on and somehow be able to find joy in the memories of those departed souls?

And can you model your own response to grief so that you are more like your hero and less like how you have been in the past?

The point of this journey is to not simply rely upon your own preconceptions and responses to deal with things in life. As we’ve grown, we’ve all developed our own personality and character. We know what we like, what we don’t like, what drives us, what annoys us, and so on. But often, who we are is not enough to process everything that happens in life. So we need to find heroes who can help us develop the qualities we do need to better handle situations. By highlighting those traits we admire in our heroes, we can find those same qualities within ourselves. This then leads to us becoming a more well-rounded individual, capable of dealing with whatever life brings our way.

When I’m faced with grief – for example, when I hear stories of tragedy in the news or find out a close friend has passed on – I can look to my own personal “hero list” for guidance.

How would this hero handle finding out that a loved one had died? How would they process the inevitable grief? How would they resolve to honor the memory of that person and somehow find the strength to carry on living without allowing the bad to overwhelm them?

And how can I mirror those qualities within myself so I am better able to process this bad shit? Do I already possess those qualities and simply need to beef ‘em up or do I need to adopt them as my own because I simply do not have them within myself?

Like I said, it’s not necessarily easy work. But there are ways of processing the bad so we don’t end up forgetting about the joys of life that exist in spite of the evil. Eventually, if you choose to undertake this process, you will develop new perspectives that grant you the ability to objectively view reality and decide which heroic ideal you will choose to deal with events and the flow of daily life. These heroic ideals aren’t just for handling the bad stuff; they can be used for pretty much anything. If you’re terrified of speaking in public, who do you know that owns the room when they get up and present? What do they do? What skills do they possess that you do not? And how do you acquire them? How would Stan the Man crush this presentation? Imagine yourself as Stan and embody what he embodies.

Conversely, how would, say, Mother Theresa handle the senseless murder of a good person? How would she grieve? How would she honor the dead and then find the strength to carry on?

Think of this exercise as borrowing from others as a means of enhancing yourself. It’s a journey of self-discovery whereby you honestly assess yourself and your vulnerabilities and strengths. Through modeling, you lessen weaknesses and enhance strengths, becoming ever stronger in the process. The process is an ongoing one, moving from heroic ideal to heroic ideal highlighting those traits they embody and looking for your own through self-exploration. It requires honesty on your part to get the most out of it. But the lessons are priceless. Especially in a world where the ability to view things from another perspective is all too often sorely lacking.