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.

There’s No Shame In Coming In Last: NEVER QUIT

Keep going.  Never quit.

Keep going. Never quit.

I read a blog yesterday written by a wanna-be fitness coach who is entering her first CrossFit competition soon. One of her stated goals for this competition is to “not come in last.”


Here’s what that “goal” says to me about the person who wrote it: she’s insecure about her fitness level and doesn’t want to look like a loser when everyone else finishes before her.

Talk about missing the point – especially since she apparently wants to coach others.

There is absolutely no shame in coming in last. And if you think anyone is going to stand there and chuckle at you for doing so, then clearly you haven’t been doing CrossFit long enough to understand how amazing the community is. The loudest cheers are always for the people who finish last. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been the last to complete a WOD. We’ve all had that moment of absolute suck with heaving lungs, pounding hearts, and sweat pouring from our bodies. All you want to do is crash to the ground and die.

But you don’t.

You keep going. One rep at a time. Until it’s done.

People who only do things they’re good at aren’t growing or evolving as human beings. Staying in your comfort zone is not how you improve, it’s how you stagnate. And thinking that coming in last is somehow embarrassing or less than acceptable is silly.

Here’s how progress works in CrossFit (at least from my perspective. I don’t have my L1 yet or anything, lol):

  • 1. Learn how to do the WOD (in other words, how to properly and safely do each movement in the workout) scaled to your appropriate level (less weight or reps or rounds than as prescribed).
  • 2. As you get better, you scale the WODs less. Maybe you increase the number of reps or the amount of weight or the number of rounds.
  • 3. RX the WOD. Now you complete the WOD by doing it with the prescribed amount of weight and reps and rounds.
  • 4. RX the WOD and work on the time. Now you start whittling away at your time and try to complete the WODs faster.
  • 5. RX+ Maybe that weight isn’t challenging anymore. Maybe the rep scheme doesn’t fatigue you as much any more. Perhaps you want more rounds. So now you adjust things to increase the challenge.

At each and every stage, there is a high probability that you are, in fact, going to be last. It’s only logical. As you challenge your body, it has to grow to adapt to the new stress you’re placing on it. You can’t simply go from scaled workout to RX and think that you’ll finish first. It doesn’t happen that way. Any new stress or skill is going to challenge your body and result in a slower time to finish. Once your body grows and adapts, you’ll be able to do it faster. Right up until you challenge yourself again.

Yes, I’ve seen plenty of people come into the box who do *exactly* the same thing over and over again. They’re still using light dumbbells, they’re still substituting exercises for other exercises, and they’ve completely plateaued in their progress. They’re not getting stronger; they’re not getting faster; and they’re certainly not getting any fitter. These are the same people who then get disgruntled and whine about their lack of progress. Or worse, they leave the box and say “CrossFit doesn’t work.”

It’s because their thought process is wrong. And it stems from the same mentality as what that blogger wrote.

If you can’t get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – of moving outside of your tidy little box of convenience – then you will never ever grow to achieve what you’re truly capable of achieving. Forget about what others might (or probably won’t) think of you coming in last. Who gives a shit? You’re challenging yourself. The real competition is inside your head. As long as you know you pushed yourself harder today than you did yesterday – that you struggled to do better – then the opinions of anyone else don’t really matter one little bit.

I’ve said this before to countless other people. I would rather go into a hostile situation with someone who has a “never quit” attitude than someone who has never been challenged. Send me in with the guy who failed, picked himself up, failed again, picked himself back up, and dragged his sore as shit body over the finish line long after everyone else has finished. You can keep the gazelles who cruised through easily and without breaking a sweat. Because frankly, those people aren’t an asset. They’re a liability when the shit hits the fan. I want the guys who know how to keep going when all you want to do is quit. I want the guys who know how to keep fighting through pain and tears and crying and all the other discomforts that come from being outside their comfort zone.

Those are the winners.

Challenge does not equal easy. Growth never is simple. And anything meant to improve you is going to be hard.

Martial arts, fitness, CrossFit…hell, LIFE (or at least a life worth living) are all like this. But the joy and satisfaction you enjoy after the hard struggles have been faced and overcome are worth SO much more than whatever pleasure a lazy attitude brings.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid of “not getting it right.” Don’t be afraid of looking like a beginner. Everyone worth knowing has been there before. If you want to truly grow and get better and improve and then be able to inspire others to the same achievements or higher, then you need to fail. You need to be uncomfortable. You need to get crushed and humbled and have your ass kicked. It’s there that you find the true strength that will enable growth and push you to the next level. I’ve been there so many times in my life; I’ve failed at every single endeavor I’ve ever attempted – sometimes many times at the same thing – and I know what it’s like to get crushed.

But it’s worth it.

So I’ll say the opposite of what this blogger said: come in last.

And be proud that you did.

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7 Ways To Not Suck At 2015

Gettin' after it in 2015

Gettin’ after it in 2015

The new year is upon us, and with it, a non-stop avalanche of blog posts about how to make the best of your new year. And here’s one more.

As I did last year, when I offered up some tips to improve your 2014, I’m back with another list of things I’m working on and you might want to as well. Your quality of life may well improve and you could end up crushing 2015 instead of being a passive participant waiting for the year to crush you instead.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

1. Own Your Shit

This is a big one. In fact, I could pretty much write a series of blog posts about how badly society in general needs to do this. Own your shit means taking responsibility for everything you do. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s not enough to trumpet your achievements and then act like you’re perfect – because no one is – especially if you’ve screwed up recently. You have to own the bad things, too. Did you treat someone like shit? Own it – apologize and resolve to not do that again. Did you pull a douchebag move in the office? Admit it was a douchebag move. If you only accept the good side of yourself without embracing the bad then you’re completely out of balance. Eventually, you’ll start believing your own hype to the point that you’re living in fantasy world instead of real life. I’ve seen people close to me completely shut themselves off from wanting to hear anything bad, thinking (mistakenly) that it somehow protects them from heart ache or stress. It doesn’t. You’ve got to be able to own what you do, when you do it.

2. Don’t Deflect

This is closely related to point 1 up above. In fact, it’s kind of a subset of #1. People like pretending they’re owning up to something but then they pull this maneuver, “It’s just that…” or “Yeah, but he was the one…” or “I didn’t do anything…” And then they proceed to deflect responsibility onto someone else, when they know full well they were involved and/or partially (or totally) responsible. It’s almost like when someone says to you, “Listen, I don’t mean to insult you…” And then they proceed to insult you. Or the ever classic, “Hey no offense, but…” I’m about to offend you. Stop deflecting and own your share of the shit.

3. Steer Clear of Complainers

Yes, yes, and more yes. Steer clear of these people. Look, I get it: you’ve got a tricky hangnail and your world has turned to shit because of it. Hang-nail-apocalypse is upon you. Right. Tragic.

Gimme a frickin’ break. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has challenges in their lives. But not all of us feel the need to rent a billboard and let the world know about it. For some people, you can’t even ask them how they’re doing without unleashing a torrent of “oh my gawwwwd, my eyebrow is killing me…” Chronic complainers are a fountain of negativity. They spew bad energy into the universe that will overwhelm any attempt on your part to cheer them up. Try complimenting a chronic complainer on something and not only will they NOT thank you for the compliment, they’ll then spend another ten minutes emasculating the precious positive words you just sent their way. After a while, it’s not worth your time or energy trying to help people who won’t be happy unless they have something to bitch about. So the next time you start complaining, think about everything you have to be grateful for that others may not have. This isn’t to say go all unicorns and rainbows because that’s not healthy either, but honestly, your life is probably not all that bad. After all, you’ve got a roof over your head and no one is shooting at you (hopefully). It could always be worse. Remember that.

4. Don’t Be A Black Hole

We all know people like this: all they seem to do is suck off the universe and never, ever give anything back. They’re so focused on themselves, that they fail to see the bigger picture of how we’re all connected. They take good people in their lives for granted, expecting them to always be there…until they’re not. Don’t be one of those clueless, unappreciative types. Remember who your friends are and thank them every once in a while for just being who they are. If you never initiate anything – conversation, text, dialogue of some sort – then is that particular friendship really a 50-50 balanced thing? Probably not. Give to get. Respect and appreciate the wonderful people in your life.

5. Be With Evolved People

It’s pretty simple: you can’t do epic shit with basic people. And I don’t know about you, but I’m here to do epic shit. So I surround myself with people who have soaring spirits, brilliant minds, physically impressive bodies, and great attitudes. I don’t want to talk about my mortgage or the two weeks of vacation I’m taking next year if the firm pays out that bonus. Yawn. Seriously. If that’s you and it makes you happy, then great. But my god, I want to be challenged by everything. I want to explore and seek out adventures. I don’t give a rat’s ass what society thinks of me and what I have planned. That nice neat box that most sheep are content with? Give me a break. I’m on a quest to evolve and elevate myself as much as possible. I’m 45 years old and enjoying life like never before. The last thing I want to do is tie my spirit down by hanging out with middle aged people who think the best years of their lives are behind them and all that lies ahead are a boring retirement, no surprises, and an eventual coffin. Ugh.

6. Don’t Forget to Laugh

Find something stupid or silly to crack up about every single day. Don’t give a damn if something ridiculous makes you laugh. Don’t care what others think. Enjoy a spontaneous explosion of joy and mirth every day and your world will naturally be better because of it.

7. Progression Not Perfection

Aspire to the concept of perfection with the understanding that it will never happen. But demand progression, always. Perfection is the idea of an end goal that you hope to achieve some day in the distant future. Progression is the journey onward and upward that will always bring you closer to achieving that goal. Take steps every day that move you forward. Don’t settle for “good enough,” because it never is. You weren’t put on this planet to be “good enough;” you were born to be amazing and vibrant and to wring every last bit of life out of this place before your journey continues elsewhere. So get after it.

Have a great 2015!

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The Sydney Siege & Self-Protection

Police Hostage Situation Developing In SydneyNOTE: I originally wrote this up over on Facebook, but a good friend of mine, Jim Cobb, requested that I turn it into a blog post. So here it is.

My newsfeed is filled with a staggering amount of ignorance today in the wake of the Sydney siege. We live in a dangerous world; there are no places that are immune to violence and bad things can happen *anywhere.* Your life is first and foremost YOUR responsibility. To that end, you should – at the very least – have a basic understanding of the following items.

1. Environment: when you enter a new location, take note of entrances and exits. How many avenues of escape do you see if it became suddenly necessary to flee? If you’re in a restaurant, the kitchen likely has a door in the back. Does your office have a freight elevator? Stairs? Are you sitting with your back to a wall so you can observe a wider field of view in your area? Run down a mental checklist in your head; it’s not hard and it doesn’t take that long.

2. Firearms: a lot of people don’t like guns. That’s fine, but you should still have a working knowledge of various types. In the Sydney incident, for example, the gunman reportedly had a shotgun. If you were in that situation, you could ask yourself several questions: what type of load does it potentially have? Slugs or shot? (the difference between a “spray” effect or not) Does he have to pump every time to shoot? If so, there’s a better chance of escape before he can chamber a fresh round and fire again. (compare that to a situation involving a full-auto AK47 where he could spray off a full clip of devastation before needing to swap magazines).

3. Hostage Rescue Tactics: if you find yourself in a situation, you should understand the basics of hostage rescue. This way, you’ll have an idea of what is going on on the outside and that knowledge could well keep your morale up. Ordinarily, this will break down as follows: the assault team arrives and immediately sets up an immediate action plan (this is the plan for what happens if everything goes to shit immediately and the gunman starts killing people; they have to storm the location and do the best with what little info they have). Sniper teams will set up to relay intelligence to the assaulters. Negotiators will be trying to establish first contact and then develop rapport with the offender. All intelligence gathered will be relayed to the assault teams and they will develop and refine the plan for going in. One assault team is usually ready to deploy immediately while another rests. Negotiators will attempt to get the offender to release a few people as a token of good faith, usually in exchange for a small demand from the bad guy. This isn’t always the case, nor will the negotiators promise things they can’t deliver since that jeopardizes any rapport built up. As the hours drag on, both sides will grow weary. In a confined space like an airplane, it will smell like hell. This is a dangerous time, especially at night, so you need to be extremely vigilant. In the event the situation deteriorates and the decision is made to send the assault team in, they will lead with flash/bangs that will shock and disorient you. Lay down as the team comes in – get your head down. Once they have neutralized the threat, you will be roughly manhandled out of the immediate area. This is not the time to be offended at how you are being handled. The team’s concern is twofold: get you out of the danger, and also make sure you are not another threat. Don’t give them a hard time and pretend you’re important – you ain’t. This is a brutally short thumbnail of tactics, research for more comprehensive stuff.

4. Your Priorities: If you’re alone and can escape safely, you need to know what you are willing to risk. Some people simply can’t bring themselves to try to escape. Others jump at the chance. Be honest about what you are prepared to do. If you have children with you, how will you get them out of harm’s way? What will your exit route be? Can you put obstacles between you and the gunman? Can you hide? Are you prepared to fight and potentially kill someone? All of these are hard questions that you need to ask yourself. Are you armed? Have you trained under extreme duress conditions? In low light? Amid screams and confusion? If you haven’t, then don’t make the matter worse by pulling a gun. The team coming through that door has no clue if you’re a good guy or a bad guy. They will see a gun and label you immediately as a threat. And those guys HAVE trained to shoot under the worst possible conditions. In other words, don’t think you’ll go Hollywood if the shit hits the fan. Be smart. Otherwise your ego could make a bad situation catastrophically worse.

5. Practice Being Gray: in the event you become a hostage, don’t try to stand out. Don’t make eye contact – even if you’re the biggest baddest SOB on the planet. In fact, if you stare at the bad guy or if you make him feel intimidated, he may simply use you as an example of his intention even more readily. You want to blend into the background as much as possible and reduce the likelihood that you’ll be noticed. Don’t try to friend the attacker. Instead, keep your wits about you. Practice simple breathing exercises to keep calm. Don’t ask for anything. If the bad guy lets you go to the bathroom, or eat, or drink – take advantage of it, but don’t press the issue. Don’t ask the bad guy questions about why he’s doing this or if he has family. Make a note of anything you can potentially relay to the authorities in the event you’re able to escape. They will interrogate you about what you saw: how many bad guys? weapons? explosives? what is his mental state? what languages are they speaking? etc. etc. All of this will be fed to the intel teams that are developing a picture of the bad guys, which then is fed to the assaulters. The longer the duration of time you are held hostage, the more likely it is that some of your fellow hostages will begin exhibiting signs of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a tendency to start sympathizing with the bad guy. Be aware of this. And make a note of who among the hostages may be aligning themselves with the hostage taker.

At the end of the day, this isn’t paranoia; it’s self-protection. The world is a dangerous place and you have choices: you can be active and embrace life, knowledgable about a wide variety of topics that could help lengthen your lifespan. Or you can live lazily among the sheep, given to hysteria and panic when things go bad.

Eyes up, head on a swivel. Stay alive.

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Burpees for Breakfast: 50 Burpees Every Single Day in 2014

If you read my post on 10 Ways to Make Your 2014 Better, you know that helping others is always a big part of any new year plans. It’s something I firmly believe in; you generate all sorts of good karma and the positivity of helping really goes far beyond the act itself.

This year, I resolved to do something a bit crazy: 50 burpees every single day for the entire year – all to raise money for NO KID HUNGRY, a great charity that provides meals and education to children in need. The fact is, 1-in-5 kids in the United States is considered hungry. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that fact; no child should ever want for food, especially in this country! But they do, and so, I’m hoping to do something about it.


My goal is to raise $50,000 over the course of 2014. If I reach that goal, the money will provide 500,000 meals. Half a million meals for kids who are hungry! That’s substantial.

Here’s a short information video I shot talking about my plans:

I started this on January 1st and I’m thirteen days into it. We’ve already raised $1,290 dollars – enough to provide 12,900 meals – but I’m going to keep going until we blast through that $50,000 goal.

Obviously, I need your help. Donations are the best way to help – even a small amount helps. One $10 donation provides 100 meals. Please give what you can.

But I’m also trying to spread the word about this campaign. Let your newspapers, news stations, magazines, websites – everyone – know what I’m doing. It is possible to change the world in only five minutes each day – that’s about the amount of time it takes me to do the burpees – but I need your help to make this goal a reality.

You can donate by going to this page. The donations go directly to the charity itself.

The official website for Burpees for Breakfast is here and I videotape myself doing the 50 burpees every single day and post it there. Scan back for some interesting episodes! There is also a Facebook page here.

Thank you for your donations & help!