Yup, The Gods, They’re Crazy

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky.

— Deep Purple

The explosion shattered the stillness and nearly knocked me off my feet.

Here’s what I had been worrying about as I ran along the road in the pre-dawn light:

  • the exhaust system on my son’s car
  • my hip flexors
  • the cat
  • whether I had returned all my calls
  • my office building
  • whether the restaurant would be crowded

Then the fire ball shot from the sky; the sound like the blast of a nuclear bomb. A mere 30 feet closer and the outcome… not good.

I had to stop. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of me. I couldn’t breath.

Who would have expected an electrical transformer to blow up at that moment? Right there, right then.

But isn’t that what “they” always say?

“Who would have expected it? What a shock! Wrong place, wrong time. They were such a nice couple.”

My mind drifted back to the beautiful traverse beneath the summit of Illinza Norte. A brilliant crystal clear day; a gentle acclimatization in the Ecuadorian Andes. And then the sudden rockfall, the size of a semi-trailer, a mere 50 yards from where we stood.

Didn’t see that coming.

And then my mind carried me further to the back seat of a crushed Honda Civic on a warm sparking Sunday afternoon in February, the acrid smells of battery acid, anti-freeze and air bag powder permeating the air. I held the limp body of my friend Chris as his life ebbed away. Who would have expected the oncoming car to cross into his lane?

Who would have expected it?

That’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s the things we least expect that get us.

We like to live with the illusion of control. With the fantasy that as long as we obsess about things, worry about people and problems, believe we can manipulate situations and outcomes, we think we will be ok, that those we care about will be safe, that everything will work out just fine.

We do this with our kids, our partners, our businesses, our entire lives.

And it’s not true.

It’s the stuff we can’t imagine that comes to bite us; the stuff we don’t expect, the stuff we can’t even begin to conceive of. (Because to conceive of it would make life untenable?)

The challenge for us: Stop the hand wringing.  Stop the kvetching. Know this truth: Worry is a waste.

Let it go. Be here now.

Yes, the gods, they may well be crazy.  But they seem to know an incontrovertible fact: We humans seem to need an explosion now and then to jolt us out of our pettiness, our small mindedness, our narcissistic self-absorption; to wake us up and remind us:

  • time is short
  • treasure what we have
  • cherish those we love
  • celebrate what is
  • find the joy

Suffering and loss are never far away. Indeed, they will come come and find us however much in control we imagine ourselves to be.

The lesson, just this: Live deeply, fully, in this moment. Here. Now.

Get Out Of Jail Free

If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page.

— Mark Houlahan

Liz sat across the table from Ann.  “I could never do that,” Liz said.

Ann had been describing our marathon training. Granted there may be a legitimate argument that our program is somewhat extreme. But the “I could never do that” response is such a bugger for me.

Yet all of us do it. All of us have been guilty at one time or another of saying, “I could never do that.”

We enjoyed the summer flick Rise of the Planet of the Apes recently. In it, Caesar, the ape who becomes the leader of his tribe, learns how to fashion a key, open his cage and free himself from captivity.

It reminded me of the true story of one of the ways that monkeys are captured in the wild: hunters cut a small hole in a coconut, and fix the coconut to the ground with a length of chain. The hole is just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand into. But when it grabs hold of the tender meat inside the coconut and closes its fist, it can’t pull its hand out of the hole. It’s stuck on the horns of a dilemma: hold on tight to the juicy meat; or open its hand and escape to freedom.

You know what happens. Despite holding the key to freedom, the monkey stays stuck. Caught.

Just like us.

Brian Tracy, author of Create Your Own Future, writes, “Your greatest limits are not external. They are internal, within your thinking. They are contained in your personal self-limiting beliefs. These are beliefs that act as brakes on your potential. These are beliefs that cause you to sell yourself short, and to settle for far less than you are truly capable of.”

What we are capable of is: Anything.

Our brains don’t distinguish between internal visions and external reality. “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it,” said William Arthur Ward.   “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them,” Disney echoed.

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves,” Thomas Edison said.

Think, for just a moment, of only a few of the things that have been “imagined” into being: the automobile, the light bulb, the television, the personal computer, space travel, the Internet, the iPod, and Facebook.

Yet our limiting beliefs continue to dog us, haunt us, infect us. They hold us captive. In cages of our own. (And as guests in others’ cages too.)

We are the jailer and the jail.

And we hold the key.

All we need to do is open to possibility. And the expansiveness of the Universe is ours.

With open hands and and an open heart, anything is possible.

Each day, we are given the gift of a new page. Each day, we get the chance to let loose our grasp again of all that holds us captive. Each day, we have an opportunity to create anew the masterpieces of our lives.

Or we can choose to hold on tight to the coconut.

It’s up to us.

Put all excuses aside and remember this: you are capable.

— Zig Zigler

Follow The Fun

But something touched me deep inside. The day the music died.

Don McLean, American Pie

My Favorite Question

It has become my favorite question to ask at professional functions: “So what have you been doing for fun?”

I get quizzical looks, looks of bewilderment, confusion.

Fun? What is this thing “fun”? Why would anyone think about fun at a meeting of the bar association? Who talks about fun in courthouses?

I may not be the only one. But I’m certainly one of the few!

Fun Has Died

For so many, there is no fun. Life is serious. Work is serious. Time away from work is serious. Fun is fanciful. Fun has disappeared.

My friend Susan Biali, an accomplished flamenco dancer… wellness expert, speaker, writer, coach… and physician (!), wrote the magnificent book Live The Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You. Recently on her Facebook page she mentioned that she had seen a tee shirt that read: “Baylor Law School – Where Fun goes to die.”

Her sighting hit close to home. My Cornell law school classmates were a somber group. The rumors were true: students did razor blade pages from books on reserve. Competition was fierce. There wasn’t much in terms of lighthearted frivolity.

Time has not been kind. It seems as if most of my professional colleagues have lost their mojo: few have fun. Fewer still remember what fun once was.

One lawyer friend confessed to me that he used to love to wash his car on Saturday mornings because, for him, it was fun. But because the time wasn’t “billable,” and there was so much pressure from his firm to produce, he couldn’t enjoy what was once a simple pleasure. How sad is that!

There are exceptions: my lawyer-friend Mark likes to heli-ski; Jamie is a triathlete; my friend Harry finds joy in his home on the coast of Maine.

But by-in-large, it seems like adulthood is where fun has gone to die.

It doesn’t need to.

We are meant to have fun!

Find The Fun – And Follow It!

Fun feeds us. Fun nourishes our soul. Fun makes us whole. And it’s only when we’re whole and complete that we can best serve those we love; it’s only when we’re whole and complete that we can bring our gifts to the world.

Aristotle believed that happiness is life’s central purpose. It’s tough to be happy if you’re not having fun.

Our most important work according to the writer Alexandra Stoddard, recognized as a pioneer of the “Happiness Movement,” is “the active joy of living fully every moment.”

Active joy is fun.

Biali asks, “Is Fun alive and well in your life or has it died a few deaths over the years? What do you to do make sure Fun lives in your life? And if necessary, how might you resurrect it?”

Here are some ideas:

  • Lighten up. Take yourself less seriously.
  • Take some unscheduled time off.
  • Go to the beach; go to the movies; go to a museum.
  • Draw; photograph; paint.
  • Raft a river; climb a mountain; go on safari.
  • Play; dance; go to a costume party; sit by the fire and tell stories.

In his Stanford University commencement address, Apple founder Steve Jobs said:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something….

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose…. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

There is no reason not to follow the fun.

Map Quest

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

Jim Rohn

It All Starts With A Map

We looked at the map. We studied the topo.  We were pretty psyched.

Our plan was to run twelve miles along the ridge line. It would be our first trail-run in the training program for our ultra marathon.

We started in the pre-dawn light. For awhile, the route followed a level, well-traveled path.  Then the trail cut uphill steeply and disappeared into the brush. Several times we needed to turn around to get back on route. Several times we needed to stop to figure out which way to go. The trail was marked with blue blazes – but not very well.

Along the way, we got lost. It was hot and buggy. We fell. We got up again.

And when we were finished, we were well pleased with our success.

We started with a map.

Most of us do when we’re planning a hike in the woods. Or a road trip.

But it’s astounding how few of us use a map for the rest of our lives.

Of course, we start out with good intentions, and a general idea of the direction: stay in school, get good grades, find a job, get married, settle down, work hard, make money. Then you’ll be happy. You’ll get “there,” wherever “there” is supposed to be.

The problem is: the path peters out. It gets hot and buggy. There aren’t enough blazes. We lose our way. We can’t even begin to remember where “there” might be.

And without a map, we’re screwed.

We Actually Get To Make The Map

But here’s the good news: We are the cartographers! We get to draw the map! We get to plot the course!

We are the architects of our lives.

Sure shit happens. Bad things do happen to good people. We do get off course. We do lose our way. There is sickness and suffering and death.  But as Victor Frankl wrote in his magnificent masterpiece, Man’s Search For Meaning,  even in the worst of circumstances, we get to choose.

And it is our responsibility to choose.

It is our responsibility to be active participants in the gift of our lives, to be drivers and not passengers. What a privilege it is to be able to step up and chart out our own course; to choose our own way.

We can drift along, let things happen, see how things turn out. Many folks do. But usually those are the folks we hear complaining about how horrible the economy is, how unfair the pay is, how mean the boss is, how they’re getting screwed at every turn.

The alternative is to draw the map.

So Chart The Course

  • What are your dreams?
  • What is the life you want?
  • Who would be your ideal partner?
  • How do you envision your health?
  • Where do you want to live?
  • What do you want your net worth to be?
  • What kind of work would rock your world?

Write it down. Map it out. And start out.

Make it happen.

Sometimes, we’ll go back to the drawing board.

And yes, we’ll still get lost and fall down and get hurt.

But we’ll have a map.