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Musings

Setting intentions

Today feels like a momentous culmination of a journey that started when I simply followed a thread of something that inspired me.

Back in 2004, I attended a talk at UC Berkeley by Paul Graham, who was promoting his innovative new investment firm with a funny name, Y Combinator. His idea was to give hackers like me some hands-on guidance and a small sum ($6K at the time) to build a startup. Though I’d already started several companies on my own, I recall being excited about starting a “real” startup with investors backing it. I just knew I needed to be a part of this movement.

Two rounds of applications later, I vividly remember Paul calling to tell me they had accepted my application into YC. I was over the moon; I had been welcomed into this obscure “startup founder” club/thing! I didn’t know where that journey would take me, but I was just excited to be along for the ride.

Over time, while building my own startups, I started setting my sights on becoming an angel investor. There was something so compelling about multiplying my creative potential by giving money to startups I believed in. And by “giving”, I actually mean that most of the time it felt like a donation! I had so much belief in this space though, I just loved the idea of living vicariously through other startups that I otherwise couldn’t contribute to.

My experience is that when you set an intention like “I want to become an angel investor”, or “I want to become an artist”, there is rarely a moment along the journey where you feel like you’re actually that thing. I was making relatively small investments in obscure companies that no one had ever heard of, so I never felt like a “real” angel investor.

And then, one day you wake up and you are that thing that you intended to be. Today is that day for me, because one of my early investments, Coinbase, has gone public (my first IPO)! It’s one of the first investments I ever made, and I distinctly recall thinking that it was one of my riskier investments given all the uncertainty around cryptocurrency exchanges at the time. And while I have long since sold my early crypto investments (doh!), I’m so glad I took a bet on this team.

I often feel conflicted about sharing personal achievements like this, but I wanted to share my story today in hopes it will inspire you to follow your own dreams, whatever they may be.

My own dreams are shifting yet again and welcoming in new intentions that don’t yet feel “real”. But I feel braver knowing that the path starts with setting intentions and following what inspires you.

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Musings

Dance

I’m not sure if I’ve ever really felt comfortable in my adult body. I’ve consistently muted my physical expression out of fear of judgment. The few times I’ve been in situations where I couldn’t avoid dancing, I’ve felt tremendous awkwardness and shame.

Lately through meditation and by consulting with my guides, I’ve felt called to start exploring moving my body as a way of celebrating my aliveness. Last week I had an incredibly powerful dream of dancing with a partner that felt so liberating that I woke with tremendous energy and excitement! It was a fun change to be awoken with aliveness rather than fear/anxiety!

I think one of the biggest barriers to my exploring physical movement has been thinking that I didn’t “know how”. Part of me would prefer to remain closed than have to open through the unknowingness. In my dream, I’m fairly sure I was doing the tango, but I certainly have never tangoed before, so I didn’t know where to begin!

When I talked to my sister about it, she reminded me of an experience I shared with her from my experience at Rythmia. As part of the program, the week ends with the “Dance of Liberation”. I kid you not that when I first saw that on the program, I planned to skip the class! But I’m so glad I went because the experience was as profound as any of the other ceremonies of the week.

Everyone is blindfolded, and then you are prompted to just let the music move your body. No steps to learn, just flowing with the music. Beautiful healing music that we’d been listening to throughout the week was pumped throughout the huge space, and we were allowed to just move how we wanted. At first, I felt awkward and constricted (based on the nervous laughter around me I don’t think I was the only one!), but as I relaxed and felt the energy of the music, I was able to let go and just really move for the first time in my life. It started to feel very tribal as everyone released their fear and started really moving.

It felt so incredibly powerful and soul fulfilling to me to dance in this free spirited way. About midway through the ceremony, I was really getting into the beat and jumping to the beat. To my surprise, the floor itself gave way as I landed – I had broken a hole in the thick plywood floor! It felt like something out of karate kid!

That night as I was returning from dinner, I passed by the maloca and saw there was a team of a half dozen guys repairing the floor I unintentionally damaged. While I felt bad about unintentionally causing so much trouble, as someone who has lived my life not taking up space, it felt powerful to see the impact of my movement.

When Jamie reminded me of this experience that filled me up with so much aliveness and power, suggesting that I should seek out a similar format in my exploration around dance, it clicked. So I joined an online subscription at Open Floor Dance and signed up for a class.

Today was my first experience post-Rythmia with free movement dance. I felt very nervous about it, but I’m so proud of myself for showing up with my bravery and making it happen.

The class was over zoom, led by an instructor playing great music, and it was such a wonderful experience to be in my own backyard in the sun enjoying my own aliveness in the present moment.

I look forward to expanding more in this form of creative expression. If my story inspires you to challenge yourself in this way, check them out at openfloordance.org. If you have experience with this type of practice, I’d love to be inspired by your journey!

I look forward to dancing with you!

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Musings

Loneliness

Two years ago I was sitting in my truck, sobbing with intense feelings of betrayal. I felt so confused and lonely. Compounding my isolation, I didn’t know how to express my feelings safely with my person. I felt unloved and unlovable. These feelings led me to say and do things that I now regret but were a portal of insight that ended a relationship that wasn’t healthy for either of us.

A year later, with my marriage all but over, I went to Rythmia in Costa Rica with hopes of connecting with people going through similar portals. All of my fellow attendees were becoming fast friends with their roommates, while the bed opposite mine remained empty. As it turns out, my roommate-to-be had canceled his trip last minute, and I had the distinction of being the only solo occupant of a double room on the whole property. This surprise solitude was a portal that cracked me open and allowed in greater self-love and social bravery.

Though I have found love since, today I am faced yet again with a portal of loneliness, which feels so deep and challenging. I miss my most recent partner so much, and so desperately want to fill this hole in my heart instead of facing my fear. I also have been setting firmer boundaries with my other relationships, which is triggering because I fear losing them as well. Yet I recognize this moment as another portal to embrace, full of wisdom ready to come ashore.

Upon reflection, I’ve never really allowed myself to experience loneliness. As an adult, I’ve moved quickly from one partner to the next without taking a significant break in between. The whole time I was running from my fear of being alone.

This fear has caused me to commit to and stay in romantic and business relationships that were not healthy for me. It caused me to unconsciously sacrifice my own needs, be dishonest, and refrain from authentic self-expression, all for fear of rejection and abandonment. On some level, I have gone through life subservient to the world out of my fear of being alone.

I experience this feeling of loneliness as a grasping towards the external. In my attempts to escape my fear, I find myself reaching for things that will either fill the hole in my heart or distract me, like working too hard, taking on endless projects, or getting into relationships too quickly.

As I’ve slowly let go of the attachments in my life, I realize that I’ve presciently created myself a perfect storm of loneliness in the present moment.

As I’ve meditated on loneliness, and experienced the ensuing waves of sadness, I have uncovered parts of myself that I feel judgemental of. Yesterday I sat with a barely intelligible piece that fears my success depends on my connection with others. A part of me that puts everyone in my life on a pedestal. I want nothing more than to cast it away as weak, but I realize that this part of me simply needs my love and understanding. So I have been focusing on this, journaling and listening.

One insight that has come from this place is that connecting with my needs and listening to the wisdom of my heart will dissolve this fear of loneliness. Because in the times that I listen to my guides and I connect with my heart, I don’t feel alone.

As is true about all fear, as I’ve spent time sitting with it, without trying to escape it or distract myself, the fear isn’t as scary as I imagined. In fact, just as I experienced at Rythmia, my self-care has leveled up and I’ve gotten back in touch with what I need in my life to feel fully embodied. As someone who unconsciously sacrifices himself in relationships, this is an important experience that I needed to witness.

I know most of us fear being alone, and as social animals, it is ok to desire connections with others. My painful experiences of the past have not turned me away from the desire to experience ever deeper love and evolution through my relationships.

And above all, I love myself for feeling this way, and for being brave enough to do it differently this time. For temporarily sacrificing monetary wealth and gifting myself this undistracted time to really explore my feelings and to heal.

I also expect that more emotional tides will come carrying ships of insights ashore. This is ok, I will let them come. I consider this moment a blessing of insight and surrender.

I have gifted myself the opportunity to deepen my relationship with myself.

About the painting: I channeled how I experience loneliness, as grasping from within to without. Loneliness to me feels dark, cold, and empty, separated from me yet crushing me at the same time. It is my first ever painting.

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Musings

The pursuit of unhappiness

I’ve come to realize that I don’t have a great track record of knowing what will actually make me happy. Not that I’m generally unhappy, or particularly hard to please, but that the achievements I thought would result in my happiness seem to have about the same chance as any random event of yielding happiness in my life.

The fact is, life is inherently complex, and achievements made in the pursuit of happiness can have unexpected side effects. All the big milestones in modern life: career, marriage, family, your first house – we pursue them because we think they will make us happy, but they are at best unreliable engines. Lottery winners, by and large, live this irony because they generally end up less happy than before (to the continued bafflement of the rest of us). This leads me to believe that the achievement-based happiness promoted (and exploited) by our culture is fundamentally ephemeral.

In our “pursuit of happiness”, all we’ve been doing is making ourselves unhappy. I think there is a more sustainable path to happiness available to us.

For a moment, imagine your life as a chapter book of experiences. When you reminisce about old times, you’re reviewing previous chapters (or even wondering how to rewrite them). When you set goals and think about the future, you’re skimming ahead to future chapters.

In this magical chapter book of your life, the remaining chapters are being written as you experience them. So when you skip ahead in your book, you’re actually not reading your book anymore – you’re reading your *expectations of how it should go*.

Now think of a time you watched a movie adaptation of a book you love. People who didn’t read the book loved the movie, but you walked away disappointed because the movie didn’t match your expectations. The book and the movie were great on their own, but your expectations about how the story should go made the experience of the movie less enjoyable.

When you read ahead in your book of life, by holding onto expectations of how it will go, you’re similarly going to be disappointed. If instead, you release your expectations and just let life flow through you – you’ll enjoy the experience a lot more.

This isn’t an easy mental shift, but a good first step is challenging yourself to be relentless in your commitment to presence. When I catch my monkey mind drifting to the expectation “I’ll be happy when…”, I stop myself and find the gratitude of the moment. This is not always easy! But the more I practice, the more I’ve been able to find the gift in every experience that comes my way.

The next time you find yourself wrapped up in thoughts about the future chapters in your life, return yourself to the current page. You might just find the story easier to follow and the reading more delightful.

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Musings

Shame as a transmissible disease

There is no role of greater importance or service to humanity than that of being a parent. It is not only the fastest track to your own healing, but is also the fastest track to the healing of the whole world.

Richard Rudd, The Gene Keys #48

It’s unavoidable to be human and not be living with some form of internalized shame (times when you feel unworthy or bad) and those unhealed parts of ourselves can lead to unconscious behaviors. Shame can be so painful to experience that most of us carry our shame unconsciously, and others cope with addictions, become abusive to others, or develop mental disorders (one even became President).

If you pause to consider how much repression there is around (for instance) nudity or poop in our society, it’s pretty clear that a lot of this collective shame is unconsciously fed to us as children. Why are we adults so grossed out by poop? Or public nudity/breastfeeding? Our children sure aren’t, because it hasn’t yet been transmitted to them.

And then it hit me. Shame is like an infectious disease. Any shame that our parents unconsciously held was passed onto us, and in turn (if we don’t heal ourselves first), we pass it along to our children. Children are most susceptible to catching shame because their emotional immune systems haven’t matured yet.

Unlike COVID, there is no vaccine to inject that prevents us from passing shame onto others. And while sick people usually wear masks or stay home, most of us aren’t even aware of our shame, let alone actively avoid projecting it onto others.

What if we started treating shame as a pandemic that required immediate worldwide attention? With a swooping emergency public mental health declaration by the WMHO, we could dramatically increase funding for mental health, set up field hospitals for emotional trauma-healing, and educate people on how to prevent the spread of shame in their families and communities.

Teachers and caregivers, armed with the knowledge of how to detect the early signs of shame infection, could protect the weakest among us. Tech companies, motivated by government grants and tax incentives, could innovate mental health tests and early detection programs. Annual mental health check ups could be normalized and covered by insurance companies. Medicines that treat trauma like MDMA could be given emergency use authorization.

If our culture took mental health as a serious crisis worth prioritizing, what could we accomplish? With sustained effort, what universal mental health and societal issues could we wipe out?

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Musings

Grief portals

Last night I found myself choking up while reading a Thomas the Train book with the kids. The story itself wasn’t sad, but I had the hardest time getting through bedtime because something was welling up in me. Why was I feeling so sad?

It certainly had been a frustrating day, with news of an annoying setback clouding my thoughts. But this sadness felt far bigger than just the events of the day. After the dishes were clean, I instinctively grabbed my phone and started scrolling.

The past couple of years have been incredibly challenging for me. More painful than any other time in my life. Going through a difficult divorce, transitioning to being a single dad of two young kids, and moving out of the family home to a new town. The pandemic and political concerns certainly didn’t make it easier!

When I catch myself “doom scrolling” as I did last night, I’ve come to recognize that this was me just avoiding going inward. So right as I was reading about yet another COVID variant, I caught myself and put down my phone.

Before the phone even hit the table, I burst into intense, retching sobs of grief. I wasn’t even aware of what was coursing through me or why. Whispers of thoughts of worthlessness, loneliness, and jealousy floated by my mind. Powerful waves of emotion were crashing over me and it felt like they would never abate.

Being open to experiencing emotion like this is entirely new to me. It was never really modeled for me growing up, and through the years of reflections of various teachers, friends, and romantic partners, I came to think of my sensitivity as a weakness. That it was better to move through the world being numb to my feelings.

I am forever grateful for learning through therapy and better examples that strength comes from being brave enough to sit with my emotions.

So here I am grieving, thinking I may be stuck in this place forever, but then the sadness abated as abruptly as it came. Once I passed through this emotional portal, I felt lighter. Something had gone through me and transmuted.

If we avoid feeling our emotions all the way through, all this unprocessed pain seeps out in other ways – usually through illness, anger, or by projecting it onto others. Through practice, I’ve found it far more transformative to just let the grief wash over me.

This wasn’t the first emotional portal I’ve traveled through, and it won’t be the last. I am so incredibly thankful for the great support in my life and for healthier relationships where moving this powerful, transformative energy is not just welcomed but celebrated.

Are you aware of how you avoid experiencing your own strong emotions? I know I have a number of other tricky techniques myself, like staying busy – I welcome the dialog and learning!

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Musings

Toddler food

My children have three basic food groups: fruit, mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. I don’t know what is so magical about mac and cheese, but it seems like the collective preschooler consciousness just can’t get enough of it. My kids would eat mac and cheese for breakfast if I let them.

While I do my best to buy only organic and have even found mac and cheese that blends in veggies to the recipe, I’d feel better if my kids would start eating more veggies. I had a minor breakthrough yesterday evening that I wanted to share.

Both of my kiddos love telling stories and have great imaginations. We love joking about silly made up things. And sometimes they like soup, but not if it has any green things in it. So I decided to try feeding them veggie soup with a dose of creativity.

I told the kids that whenever you eat veggies you grow a little bit. Being preschoolers, growing is fun and fascinating, so this concept got their attention. I asked the kids if they would try an experiment of eating a carrot and seeing if anything on their bodies grew.

So Tetris sampled a carrot, and I excitedly told her that I saw her hair grow a little. Coda of course followed his sister and they literally ate every bit of soup, even the veggies. After each bite they asked me which part grew, so it was a fun way to talk about body parts and get them to eat their veggies.

It felt like a fun little win that I thought I would share in case it inspires other parents in the same predicament. How do you get your little ones to eat veggies?

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Musings

On judgment

If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance.

Brene Brown

There are times in my life where I have been judgemental of others. I’ve also caught myself filtering my actions and words to avoid others’ judgement.

It’s not just me and not just you, I think judgement deeply affects all our lives. If you view your own judgements as a thread of self discovery, my experience is that it can lead to tremendous personal and interpersonal healing.

Maybe the reason why judgement of others feels so good to us is that it takes the limelight off our own internal shame. To me, I’ve found that any such boost from being judgemental is short lived however, and I am left feeling worse off than I did before.

Looking back at the friendships and relationships I’ve had in my life, the unhealthiest where those that were polluted with judgements of friends and especially other relationships. Hidden below the surface were the issues that we weren’t ourselves able or willing to examine. Judging others was a way to avoid focusing inward.

When we judge others, we are usually just externalizing a deeper (and more hidden) judgement of ourselves. When I’ve explored my own judgements of others, I’ve often discovered some root of inner shame waiting patiently to be healed.

Most importantly for my own journey, this realization has shown me that being judged is not something to be feared or avoided. Because hidden inside that judgement is a hurt person looking in the wrong place for healing.

How do you avoid being judged by others in your life? Where do you judge others on a regular basis? Is there a nugget of truth inside that might allow you to release that tension? Or maybe you think I’m being too judgemental about being judgemental?

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Musings

Anonymous brands

I like to dream up simple changes that can have far reaching effects on the world. I think this simple rule could have a huge impact:

One of the powers that we consumers have in a capitalist society is deciding which products to buy. In a sea of choices, we can choose to patronize the businesses that align with our values and produce products that meet our quality standards.

This is inconvenient for large corporations who consistently choose profits over high product quality. Consumers are generally willing to pay more for products from independent companies that produce better products in a better way.

Examples of smaller brands that consumers love include: Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice, Mrs Meyers Clean Day, Bear Naked Granola, Larabar, Cascadian Farms, Stonyfield, Blue Moon, Odwalla, RxBar, Justin’s Nut Butter, Smart Water, Kevita, Zico Coconut, and Annie’s Homegrown.

Except if you trust these brands because they are independent, you’d be wrong. That entire list of brands above is owned by various mega corporations with questionable businesses practices like Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, Hormel, Kellogg, and Nestle. In fact, most of the “independent” brands you find in Whole Foods are actually just corporations masquerading as small companies to earn your business.

It is shocking to me that this type of subterfuge is acceptable to us. After all, healthy capitalism requires rational, informed actors.

Because of this successful consumer deception, mega-corporations can continue their bad practices in secret without concern about consumer backlash. And rising independent brands aren’t allowed to grow enough to challenge the power of the entrenched players.

If Clorox were required to put their logo on all Burt’s Bee’s products, an acquisition might not even make financial sense after the decline in brand value. Clorox would be forced to make corporate changes or let a rival continue to grow.

As consumers we are essentially being asked to play a game of brand whack-a-mole. The moment we start choosing a better brand en mass, it is gobbled up behind the scenes by a corporation with maligned goals.

If we instead required corporations to label every brand with their corporate identity, the consumer would be more informed and the market would have the opportunity to choose products rationally again.

I believe this one change could lead to a paradigm shift in how our largest corporations behave, positively impacting product quality, social justice, and the environment.

Do you have other ideas for simple changes to improve the world? I’d love to hear them!

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Musings

Conscious media consumption for children

As a parent of two young kids, I watch what my children eat without a second thought (mostly just looking for opportunities to expand their diet beyond variations of mac and cheese). I also limit their digital media consumption, while at times guiltily relying on such to get personal time for myself.

I recently witnessed something that underlines the importance of paying more attention to the media they consume.

While roughhousing, my daughter Tetris (4.5) told her brother Coda (2.5) “you are so awkward”. I was surprised because I’ve never heard her use that word before, let alone a judgement of that magnitude. It sounded like something she heard from someone or somewhere else. I don’t think judgement is healthy for young minds, so I paused the game and asked her with curiosity what she meant.

She was clearly surprised by my question, so I asked where she heard the word “awkward”. She then asked me what it means, but I struggled with the definition! As I contemplated, she innocently asked “does I mean like when you are not pretty?”

This was another shock, because as a parent I try to shield my kids from our disordered societal norms about beauty so that they may develop a better sense of it for themselves as they grow.

Awhile back the kids and I were talking about witches, and I was amazed at how well versed they were with their “evil” deeds and “ugly” appearance. When I told them that witches can be good and beautiful too, they were baffled. Disney has methodically perpetuated this corrosive patriarchal propaganda onto generations of young children, and I had been going along because it’s what I was raised with.

Kids are sponges that effortlessly absorb everything they hear and see. None of us are born with the ability to think critically. In a world of ever more pervasive and persuasive media, it’s becoming even more challenging for today’s parents to consciously choose what our children are exposed to.

As a dad who takes an active interest in my kid’s emotional development, I want to do better.

I’ve recently been on the hunt for better audio stories for the car and bedtime books to read that go beyond the stories of my youth. I’ve found a few conscious children’s book series that are wonderful (check out books by Adir Levy and Becky Cummings for a few), and some video programs that likewise have good messages for children (Daniel Tiger comes to mind).

If you have children, how have your children been affected by the media they consume? If you were once a child, what messages from the media you consumed as a child have you had to unwind as an adult?

This next generation of children will face many unique challenges in a changing world. I would love your suggestions on which contemporary media builds upon their innate creativity, resiliency and universal love to build a more just, peaceful, and verdant world.

And what messages are still waiting to be told that we could help bring into the world?