The “Bird Box” Path to Sanity in 2019.

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We all have a Bird Box.

We just don’t pay enough attention to our internal Bird Box: It’s called “the gut.”

A flutter which arises when things aren’t quite right – although on the surface it appears to be biz as usual, a tingle, a quiet thought that seems to come out of nowhere attempts to cut through the noise and gain our attention. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore our gut when it advises us to flee – whether it’s a cancerous relationship, a job we hate, a family member that causes grief – we talk down to or discount our “Gut Box.”

In a popular Netflix movie, Sandra Bullock and two children are focused to escape an ominous force that motivates observers to commit suicide. Victims stare into nothing, hear voices of deceased loved ones, perhaps experience their greatest fears, their pupils get weird and then BOOM. Suddenly, poor bastards are jumping in front of cars, stabbing themselves in the neck with scissors. Blindfolds are a necessity.

Birds can detect when this invisible death mist is rolling in. They go into a frenzy. The heart of the film is a blindfolded crew of Bullock and two children who must travel a treacherous river to safe haven. Ironically, a home for the blind located downstream.

Our three protagonists have the ragged clothes on their backs and death-grip on a box with a strap. The box has holes. Inside the box? You got it. A couple of birds. Nature’s ADT against “the thing that causes you to horrible things to yourself.” Personally, I thought it animal abuse. I mean, aren’t there enough birds to pay attention to in the sky without having to keep captive two parakeets in a tiny box?

But I digress.

Anyway, you don’t need play to hunter or hit up Petco to stock up on birds. Inside your body is the best primal warning system on the planet. I thought about calling it a “Turd Box” but that’s gross.

So, How do we trust our guts more often? Why do we tend to ignore when the birds start flutterin’?

Random Thoughts:

Remain vigilant with each human encounter no matter how minor it appears.

I was involved with a person who exhibited signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Over the last 3 years, I’ve spent hours reading all I can about narcissism only because the word gets thrown around flippantly – I truly wanted to understand it. Most important, I wanted to figure out who I was and why I fell so hard for someone with this alleged condition.

The gut nudged me on numerous occasions to get the hell away. However, my thoughts, mostly my heart, promptly suffocated the birds; I carelessly discounted my Gut Box. I was in denial. I thought it would get better. It didn’t. It got worse.

Only rivaled by a negative experience with a former employer, this was the worst association of my lifetime (so far). I have nobody to blame but the person who stares at me in the mirror. I’m fortunate it’s happened once. I know people immersed in repeated instances, entrenched patterns with those who are unhealthy for them.

Now when my Gut Box flutters, I listen. I am conditioned to conclude, depart, and never look back. It took pain to awaken my respect for the Gut Box.

Never be afraid to walk away or at the least, fully explore what your inner voice is telling you.

Don’t discount the feeling because…

Your gut is a survival tool. The best early-warning system you got. Ignore it at your own risk.

Ignore the “Bird Box” and the next step may be a pine box (or whatever they use for caskets these days). In reality, ignoring the Gut Box may cause death, too. It’ll just take longer and possibly be more painful than anything Sandra Bullock would need to deal with if she dared to remove her blindfold.

Your inner warning system deserves attention. Stop the attempts to rationalize or squelch the voice. As children, we observed people through clear lens. As adults, our lens are smeared and warped by life experiences and biased perceptions. The more proficient you become at verbal and physical cues, the stronger a gut sense will become, too. The gut is the ultimate people “decoder.”

Be an observer. Work out your core Gut Box. Stand outside life and look in a bit. 

Sit in a coffee shop or any populated public place with pen and paper and notice how those around you behave. Can you pick up on verbal and physical cues? Anything you can do to sharpen observation skills will help to work out your core Gut Box.

It’s acceptable to disengage with those who set off your internal sense of danger. No questions asked. Sure, you will mess up a couple of times. The collateral danger is worth long-term health and sanity.

Ironically, a well-toned Gut Box can make you seem psychic. You’ll deftly anticipate whether an association needs to conclude or a relationship is worth the effort.  A Gut Box will allow you to engage with the world and not cut yourself off based on negative episodes of the past, thus making you increasingly socially adaptable!

So, watch Bird Box. Personally, I thought it was meh. No big deal. Too many holes in the script, but enjoyable.

Focus on the Gut Box in 2019.

It’s the best early-warning system you got.

Discard the blindfolds that life has placed over your eyes.

It’s a matter of life or death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Your Flame – 2019 Edition.

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Marcus Aurelius referenced ‘Amor Fati’ often in his work.

Amor Fati –  Love of fate. Every moment, every encounter- happiness, suffering, loss – treated as a welcomed visitor. 

Embrace the stranger or friend forever at the door. Amor Fati – the zealous acceptance for all that crosses our path.

Author and friend Kamal Ravikant would deem Amor Fati as the light of truth and only in that blinding bright can one discover who they are, who they’re meant to be.

Nothing dark survives in in Amor Fati. We are bigger than any obstacle, even death.

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Perhaps a radical acquiescence of suffering and all that is “meant to be,” is truly the Holy Grail of happiness. To fight Amor Fati is to burn inside. Wedged within the hot space between where we wish things were in place of gratitude for how things are, festers a debilitating friction. Ironically, to fight, to wish things were different, is to fall victim to despondency and self-pity.

I admit Amor Fati is a great challenge. Daily, I must focus on what I’m grateful for (even if it’s an unfortunate event), and train my brain to feel happy about all that enters my space. It’s interesting how after months of focusing on gratefulness, I am increasingly sensitive to friction and adept at correcting my course. Like when a car starts to veer into another lane. A spark goes off in the brain, you take corrective action.

My continued challenge in 2019 will be Amor Fati (that loveable scamp). What will you do to accept it into your life?

How can you make Amor Fati a reality?

Some ideas.

amor fati

Random Thoughts:

CONSIDER THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN.

Your brain turns what you believe even if it’s false, into reality. It doesn’t know any better. In other words, if you focus on the pain, you’ll feel the pain. If you consider the worst that can happen in your life then realize it hasn’t occurred, a wave of gratefulness (relief) will take over. I call it ‘endorphin pinging.‘ Turning on the HAPPY TAP.

What you’re doing is training your mind to ponder negative consequences (why bother with positive, we like when good stuff enters our lives), and rewire how you deal with adversity.

I’ve made it sort of a game. On the way to work I imagine I have a blowout and wonder how I’d react; at work I’ll consider losing my best clients then reach out to talk to them grateful they are happy over some life event, or share concerns with me. Get it? Do it.

DOCUMENT GRATEFULNESS DAILY.

Yea, I know. Pain in the ass. At least I thought. Then at night before sleep I started to document 3 things I was thankful for. Some of it was stupid shit like not spilling coffee on my shirt which tends to happen often.

On rough days when nothing seems to go right or I feel like I’m deep in the badlands of dickhead city, even then I find a moment to find something positive. Surprisingly, I find myself grateful for the assholes; I’m able to deal with a situation with grace, not envision the satisfaction of hitting somebody in the head with a bat (obviously, I’m a work in progress).

EMBRACE ADVERSITY WITH VIGOR. Well try at least :/.

Just because you embrace adversity doesn’t mean you sit there and get rolled over. Just the opposite. I had a health scare a couple of years ago based on an aberrant blood chemistry. For an hour I was frightened. Frozen. I became detective Columbo to understand what I may be ahead for me and the latest medical diagnostics available to determine whether I really had something to worry about.

Long story short, I found a prominent specialist who believed in the advanced medical testing I suggested and although expensive I was able to avoid an unnecessary (and highly inaccurate), biopsy procedure. The more research you undertake to understand your obstacle the less you’ll fear it. Trust me.

EXPECTATIONS = 0 = AMOR FATI SQUARED.

Best. Math. Ever. I have 0 expectations of anybody I know, anyone I encounter, every engagement. Truly zero. And with that process comes zero disappointment. It was like my mind subconsciously established a test, set some bar that others needed to pass or jump for me to feel happy. Now? NADA.

This revelation has sparked encouragement to seek the good or at least pleasant, in each encounter and engage the present moment. I’m delightfully surprised on many occasions (hell, it’s not tough to exceed 0). It’s sort of gotten weird because if the experience feels too good, too easy, or events turn out perfectly as planned, I question the outcome.  Sound strange? Yes, a bit. However, it keeps me grounded as I realize nothing is permanent.

AMOR FAT(I) SAVINGS ACCOUNT.

The healthier my savings account, the warmer my embrace of Amor Fati. Perhaps having cash to deal with adversities makes it easier to buffer financial fragility and remain calm enough to think a situation through. I don’t know how much cash equals Amor Fati to you. However, an emergency buffer of a year’s worth of living expenses sounds right. Two years sounds even better.

VISUALIZE YOUR FLAME AND UNDERSTAND HOW THERE ARE ALWAYS ASHES IN THE END.

I visualize tossing wood into a fire. I see a stone hearth, raging flames. The core of a log connects with a color I feel at the peak emotion of an event: Blue for heavenly, amber for warm, red for anger, yellow for apathy. All that meets us, crosses us = leaves us. Good or bad, what fate provides and (including us), inevitably turn to ash and forgotten. Each flame is beautiful. Each flame is different. Each flame dies. Within glowing ambers, it is all the same. In this unity and calm of an ending smolders Amor Fati.

So, how will you incorporate Amor Fati into your life in 2019.

May nothing black survive your cleansing process.

 

 

 

A Christmas Tree Story: What is Yours?

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Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

And maybe that’s one of our problems.

Well, some do. Unfortunately, trees are so rare, I usually do a double take when I see one. Halt in my tracks just to gawk. Nostalgia neurons burn cobwebs, fire hot in my brain. I haven’t ruled out how nostalgia is a real thing for me. Christmas trees stir childhood curiosity and just a touch of joy. Since Christmas ornaments only witness daylight once a year, the memories they keep, the stories they tell remain fresh and raw for what feels like an eternity.

A Christmas tree is a universal beacon of warmth and hospitality. To me, anyway.

Home life in my youth was turbulent. There were consistent, life-shattering surprises. Security was not on the reality list. However, there were a few things in my life back then I could always depend and one was the variety of trees proudly showcased in business plate-glass and urban apartment windows that made up a tiny happy segment of my world.

I became an observer. A Christmas tree aficionado. vintage four

Trees tall and short, ragged and rich. All proud in display.

Ornaments that adorned real pine, plastic, and even aluminum where the tips stealth-sliced your fingers. Shiny baubles seemingly proud to reflect and bend colored twinkles . Lights that that stick around, never to be extinguished In my mind. The beauty refuses to burn away.

Stories behind these trees and their artifacts were all too real. You see, those trees, along with the stuff straining branches, represented a shiny bright in time, now passed (past).

Some memories joyous many sad.

A forever marriage that didn’t survive the trip, a grandparent long dead yet fondly represented, a son never to return from some shit war, an ended relationship marked by a forever ornament that testified to a love date-stamped on a Hallmark artifact.

You see, Christmas trees are a yuletide 23 & Me.

Wandering excited through the west side of Avenue U, a lower-middle class strip, hodge-podge of small business and family-run establishments in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, NY on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a fond memory of childhood.

When I think about the 4 city- block walk to the avenue, my eyes would dart frantically from one house and apartment window to the next, searching for a featured tree. In my mind, every window framed a story. Testaments to love, tradition and household stability. I mean what could go wrong when you had a Christmas tree in the house? In my imagination, these sentinels guarded against bad things. String lights scared away the darkness; ornaments full of plastic and glass preserved love so strong, evil spirits wouldn’t dare to trespass.

vintage three

So, as I walked in focused lockstep, moved forward fast to Taverna’s Department Store, in anticipation of a cordoned Christmas fantasy land at the back of the store.

Along the way the trees. So. Many. Trees.

On the corner of West 2nd Street and the avenue, stood Sal Manna’s Shoes. During the year I hated that place. My mother would drag me in to purchase Easter shoes every year. The entire ritual of sitting in a row of seats, having my foot placed in a metal vice to determine size, trying on stiff patented leather shoes and Sal pressing down diligently on a big  toe to figure out the answer to the mystical question nobody ever could answer – “how long before he outgrows these Buster Brown torture devices?” was never a happy time.

However, Sal had one of the finest trees in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times I could walk into his establishment withhold a feeling of foreboding and fear for my sole.

“Mr. Manna, what a great tree.”

“Thank you!” Big smile.

I’d walk up to it and gently handle the ornaments. I expected to him to scream at me “DON’T TOUCH!” but he never did.

He walked to me and started to tell me the story behind the tree. I can’t remember it all but from what I recall it was the first tree he bought for his store years back as finally things were going well (thanks to all the Italian moms who believed Jesus wouldn’t resurrect unless their kids had new shoes).

He was proud of what the tree represented for him and his family – prosperity, security.

Random Thoughts:

Never forget the stories behind your tree. Those stories represent who you are; they stir a feeling you felt long ago. Old ornaments breathe new life into the good things from your past that are forgotten the rest of the year. Even if the stories are sad, they now go down like a fine bourbon – in 5 seconds you’re overwhelmed by warmth.

Your tree is alive all year. Even when stored away, even when you skip years of extracting it from a cardboard tomb, the memories never die. Nor should they. They are you. Who you were, who you are, who you always will be.

Maybe what’s wrong with society is we don’t erect enough trees. Not enough trees, not enough memories, All selfie, no story. No tree in the heart, no element of humanity.

Our trees are dying every day.

Vintage two

So what’s your Christmas tree story? Can you remember it today? Can you keep it tucked away and put it up when you need to feel love, warmth and security?

vintage one

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

Perhaps there’s a good reason.

Or maybe we’ve all just lost yet another ritual that brought us together.

Can you feel the joy again?

In this moment like a last moment?

Can even the sad be cathartic?

Try it and see.

It’s fine to be surprised by feelings that are unpacked and adorned for all to witness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things You’ll Remember: 10 Seconds Before You Die.

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“Two boys gone. The land is mine, Roy.

They’ll never build on it.”

Johnny Cash was awkward at consoling his friend.

Johnny and Roy

I marveled how he lived. Perpetual discomfort in his own skin, especially when the topic turned to human hardships, death or separation from people he had embraced once or a thousand times. He was touched easier than most people.

His heart was meant to be touched.

There was an eternal itch he couldn’t scratch, a wound that never healed and occasionally those souls festered and formed into poetry, often set to music. But mostly, scribbles on wrinkled college-ruled. I possess a few of those scribbles.

He took in those he cared for. All the way in. No one who touched him was ever gone. They continued to tap him on the shoulder, sometimes a bit too much.

Death or disappearance didn’t matter.

Souls gone but never gone, faded to an image of a re-lived last goodbye or emerged as hard reverence.

A graceful testament to those he loved. Especially the tortured ones.

Mostly. The tortured or hurt ones. The frail who couldn’t go on and took matters into their own hands.

Like he was singing to God to let them in.

Pleading for their mercy.

Let. Them. In..

Faron-memorial-300x220

The Faron Young Memorial. The country legend. A suicide.

They slunk like shadows out of nowhere to follow him.

Around the edges dark of light.

At times, he was ahead of the demons. Then black days existed. He was captured.

Unfortunately,  like ill-timed the public always seemed to be around for those moments.

Johnny mugshot

He was heartbroken and haunted over deaths of youth. They were his losses. In a way, J.C. anxiously sought to absorb the pain because that’s what you did for people you love.

He never was able to release from the death of his brother Jack.

He shuffled the heels of his favorite house shoes.

Back and forth in the dirt like an anxious child with an agitated hitch in his step, or nervous tic. Forming nervous heel arcs in the dirt.

Solemn words delivered deep and straight and without compromise.

Cash was like that with promises.

Those he made to others were kept. Promises made to himself – not so much.

As we admired a big, slung-low orange sun disappear in slow motion beneath the glass-like water of Old Hickory Lake, the conversation shifted to Roy Orbison who lost two of his three children to a house fire.

The Cash and Orbison families were next door neighbors in 1967.

Perhaps it was the Tennessee high-octane that gave me the courage to pull the past into this moment, dig into the scars of heartbreaking tragedy.

The fire fascinated me. Fire always fascinates me.

JC’s overwhelming act of love fascinated me more. As I watched him ponder, perhaps relive that moment, I asked a question that popped into my head.

What do you think goes through your head 10 seconds before you die?

Dark shadow

I don’t know why 10 seconds. It was a question that popped into my head because it was supposed to, I guess.

10 just rolled off my tongue. Little did I know at the time how important the thought of 10 seconds was going to be. And asking the question. Over the following decade I was to lose everybody I cherished.

He spoke in deepest baritone. Vibrations circle and settle in my ears.

In the middle of the night I can hear that voice resonating under my head. Shaking my pillow.

I listen.

I always listened…

plane death

John Gilpin was testing out his camera when he accidentally caught a 14-year-old stowaway’s fall.

The last seconds of a life are staccato sparkles which ignite eyes to free your eyes.

To see.

A thousand firecrackers. Energy agitated, ready to flee, anxious for release.

It’s you pushing out to the next you, whatever, whomever that is.

It’s the wave before the crest.

The smell of a season.

The crisp of air that kisses sharp on the cheeks. Tiny blades of pain and comfort that are rarely never forgotten because it coupled with a first kiss.

The eternally burned anguish of the unrequited.

The glimpse from afar before the lids seal tight.

The sound of a distant cry.

A final goodbye never delivered.

Oh, I’m no expert on death.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in the wrong places at the wrong times. Or have I?

“What are you thinking?” has been my question.

I’ve asked my grandfather, my father, mother, a good friend and a music legend.

The last glimpse of a life from the inside out or inside the inside.

There are snap shots I’ll never forget. Nor do I want to.

But when I asked JC, when I asked him what he believed his last 10 seconds would be like, what would he say?

Quiet. Then.

5 responses:

“I’d see my demons move on. Defeated.”

“I’ll remember how proud I am of my kids and I’d tell them once a second. Ten times.”

“June and I would travel around the planets in a camper.”

“I’d hug Jack for as long as Jesus would allow me. And then some.”

“I want to compose great music to keep the heavens shining.”

Loved ones. I’ve lost many but I’ll stick with my top 3. Their “close to last” words stick with me. They surround me but never wall me in. They encourage embrace.

So, what would your  last 10 seconds on this planet be like?

What will you remember?

Write them. Feel them. One second. Slow it down. Turn it into 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days. Then know you have more time than 10 seconds.

Slow it down.

You’ve been given 10 seconds, 10 lifetimes, of second ten chances.

Are you holding something back?

Are you not telling people in your world how much you love them?

10 seconds goes a long way to shattering a lifetime of regret.

So, 10 seconds is a title. A thought. Headline candy. Nobody is talking anything coherent 10 blood-beats before life energy is released to the universe.

Dad: “Why didn’t we spend more time together?”

Mom: “Will I ever see you again?”

Me. So far: “I never stopped loving you. I never will.”

To live fully is to die a thousand times in one life.

The resurrections make you who you are.

And then there’s the shit that sucks.

Like things you meant to say to those you love before they go.

But you didn’t.

And now you must think those words and hope they carry to a place they may hear them and hold you.

This post is dedicated to radio personality, incredible husband and father, and special person who will be missed  by thousands for an eternity.

A good man. A really good man. A noble man.

Matt

Take courage when the road is long.

Don’t ever forget you are never alone.

I  want you to live forever. 

Underneath the sky so blue….

Year-End Financial Planning Tips. And a Life Lesson.

Another year.

Gone.  

2013 is history.

Well, almost.

I’m glad.

For me, it is a year to forget. Too much physical, financial and mental anguish.

But their were (are) lessons.

Always. Lessons.

A friend I lost this year asked me – “Must everything be a lesson?”

Well, duh.

lesson

Now I understand why she’s a former.

Let’s wrap up 2013 (good riddance) on a solid financial note.

Here’s how.

Random Thoughts:

1). No need to rush – Among your employer benefits choices, there’s an account you direct money into each pay check. It’s called a “Flexible Spending Account” or FSA for short.  It’s a good thing because it allows you to pay for qualified medical expenses using pre-taxed dollars.  At the end of the year, many of us are in a mad scramble to spend the remaining proceeds in an FSA because it’s been a “use it or lose it” situation. In other words, if you didn’t spend the money before the end of the year, you lost it. Not anymore.  In October the U.S. Treasury Department relaxed the rules. Employers now are able to allow participants to carry over up to $500 in unused funds into the following year.

2). Are you charitable? – The qualified charitable distribution expires at the end of 2013. If you’re at the age where you’re taking required minimum distributions from your retirement accounts, you can still receive a deduction for donations you make directly to qualified charities. Consult a qualified tax adviser to take care of this one. Depending on your household income, you may benefit greatly from implementing this strategy.

3). Clean up. Now is the time to get financially organized.  Consider shredding all financial and tax documents greater than ten years old. The rest of your documents should be organized and placed in binders with tabs.  Make sure to communicate the location of important documents to those who help you make financial decisions or those who would be there if you become temporarily disabled.

4). Rebalance your portfolio. Have you ignored your 401(k) investments? Are you cash heavy? Many investors are.  Meet with an independent financial advisor for a written plan customized for you. Speak to a representative of your employer-provided plan about something called “auto-rebalancing” where investments are bought (low) and sold (high) at least on an annual basis. Work to increase retirement savings by 1% from the first pay you earn in 2014.

5). Review your holiday spending.  At the end of each year, I do a brutal self-assessment to determine how and why I perhaps went over budget and compare my spending to the previous year. For some, this is a wake-up call as you become accountable to yourself for overspending.

It appears American consumers have become smarter about taking on debt during the holidays based on a recent survey by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

New Survey Reveals American Holiday Traditions: Financially Smart Gifting and Receiving.

6). Write your two-year plan.  AJ Leon, an inspirational character who classifies himself as a “misfit” has figured out how to get the most out of life. His essays in a body of work titled The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit, are inspirational and more. If you seek to change your perspective, the free download is a must read.

AJ asks you to become accountable to yourself, your dreams. Write at least 500 words about where you want to be in two years. Once complete, send that gut-wrenching piece of work in an e-mail to someone who will hold you accountable. Now your aspirations are out there. Exposed.

You’re committed.

There’s no going back.

And 2014.

Will be it.

Yours.

The year you waited for your entire life.

brass ring

Go for it.