I know it’s not the popular thing to do. Still, I’m tired of living with this marriage between my occupation/accomplishment (what I do) and how I see myself. (who I am). What is the difference between these two? And what effect does separating them have on my choices and my feelings each day?
In my past years, I can see where my legitimate and healthy desire to grow, challenge myself and improve started becoming something that only controlled me but also began defining me. During this failed marriage, each time my “less developed and unaccomplished self” ran into a harsh word from a girlfriend, disinterest, disapproval or rejection from a friend or parent the “performance” based value system became more established. I believed that in order to be worthy of love or acceptance, the things I did needed to be changed.
If my performance did not meet expectations in my relationships or work life my acceptance and value as a human being would diminish. Previously during childhood, I saw a good day as one where I ate a big bowl of cereal for breakfast, went out into the warm summer sun with my friends and enjoyed time together. Content in my existence. Healthy and fed with friends and a roof over my head.
By the time I reached adulthood I realized so many of my days were seen and felt as “bad days” because of someone’s disappointment or dissatisfaction with my business. Other times it was a former girlfriends’ accusation of my failure to live up to her expectations of a boyfriend. Or sometimes my own self-judgment of not reaching my own goals fast enough, or not maintaining goals and ideals set by the society around me. (who I am vs. what I do) For example the expectation that a “real job” is one that involved staying in one place and manufacturing something. A job where you play music for a living or write and travel. These are not considered legitimate occupations to many people in my hometown. Any of this sound familiar? Tell me I’m not the only one who has thought this way and made these judgments? The consequence of all these years of failing to meet expectation left me feeling small, unworthy as an outsider and incapable of fitting in. A slow yet steady progression towards being a slave of others expectations of myself which became my expectations of myself.
In an effort to “file for divorce” I started stepping away from my businesses in a more direct way 6-8 months ago. I became isolated from my prior success. The confidence in my skills as a businessman could no longer be relied upon to prop up my insecure and uncertain self. When all was stripped back, I was left vulnerable to each and every word and judgment around me. No longer safe inside the cocoon of my accomplishments. I was still forced to confront questions of “what do you do for a job and what are your plans”. Previously I could confidently reply, “I’m running a few businesses, a real estate investment company, an I.T. business, a recording studio” I could also feel comfortable and justified in my own mind by thinking of future projects and goals I intended to take on and be a shining success in. Now I was left with a shadow of the past and an unclear path for the future. Was this enough to still be “ok”? Was this enough to have “good days”?
future life of freedom
I was left with only myself. And who I am. These questions of how I define and value myself hit hard. Almost all people have the ability to “survive” life. But are these people living it well? Living abundantly? Living lovingly with a forgiving and helpful heart? Walking fearless in spite of all the horrors that life may throw at us? Cancer, death, abuse, infidelity and injustice.
I realized that the ground I previously worshiped as my stability was ground that many other feet had walked on, spit on and disrespected. Why should I keep using this filthy ground as a mirror to reflect and judge my own value?
I would prefer to base my identity and value in who I am, not this shifty ground of actions and accomplishment. In the past months of travel, I have met many others on a similar path.These individuals are quitting jobs, leaving relationships and seeking an understanding of themselves not rooted in their accomplishment or meeting expectations.
I cannot answer every question as to how to direct your identity and value to a healthy source. Although my realization of this marriage and the separation that has followed has been very difficult. Living with the (what I do defines me) mindset for the rest of my life would be far more difficult. I have a clearer mind about the importance of this separation and also a faith that gives added clarity in regards to my value and my identity. I hope that you will take time consider what you spend most of your time focused on? What you do, or who you are becoming.
Recently I decided to test my limits in a new way by spending time at Dipabhavan for a silent meditation retreat. I figured this would be a great way to clear and calm my mind after some hectic years in the states managing multiple business ventures. Also, I figured sitting in quiet for awhile would force me to address some less pleasant thoughts I had been putting off. Here are some of the basics you should know about these retreats and what impact it had on my life.
What’s it all about?
If you have not heard of these “retreats”, they typically involve spending a week or so at a “center” or “monastery”. This particular retreat was hosted by Dipabhavan on Ko Samui island in Thailand. 6 days long. No cost (donations only). And was hosted by Buddhist monks. Although they welcome people of every religion to participate. During this week you will spend most of your time involved in “meditation” exercises. You will spend some part of the day listening to a monk or other leaders teaching you how to meditate. They also share with you some of the practice and purposes of their religion. You will have the chance to detox from your normal diet with only 2 vegetarians meals served per day. You can also detox from the digital world as they take away all cell phones and laptops when you arrive.
We had an orientation the night before which explained what the schedule would be, what the rules were and allowed each of us to meet & greet. There was quite a mix of people from all countries and walks of life. The old “hippie” from the States to young Russians as well as practicing Buddhists from Australia.
We started our morning at 4:30 am and ended our days at 9:00 pm. You may be wondering how do you get appx 70 people up at 4:30 in the morning when everyone’s alarm clocks and phones were taken away? A large and loud brass bell. There was no chance of sleeping through this morning wake up bell. They encouraged us to forget about time and clocks, and just listen for the bell throughout the day. The bell would announce each change of task, meditation, breakfast and dinner. I became acquainted with what my body feels like after sleeping on a wooden bed with a wooden pillow, how to manage only 2 meals per day, how to use a toilet with no toilet paper for 4 days and how to cope with a bored and distracted (monkey mind).
By day 2 my body felt the effect of sleeping on a wooden bed. My hips and my shoulders hurt the worst. Surprisingly the wooden pillow was fairly comfortable. It seemed that the real reason they require “silence” during the retreat was to prevent people from complaining. 🙂 As you seek to deny yourself and your ego it’s important to not put your own needs and discomfort below that of the teachings of the Buddha. You are to be mindful/aware of each experience and feeling, but you are not to become “involved” in feelings and thoughts which are not calm, peaceful and content. We were taught how to observe these thoughts and feelings while focusing on long breathing meditation. If we practiced these techniques we would not be distracted by pain or discomfort.”These feelings too, shall pass.”
Each day we practiced different meditation techniques while sitting on the floor, standing or walking. Personally, I found the standing meditation to be the most useful for relaxing and clearing my mind. I was able to bypass the discomfort of sitting cross-legged for so long, and also not have the threat of falling asleep.
Sitting meditation (long breathing)
While sitting cross-legged on the floor with my back comfortably straight I learned about long breathing exercises. This was to help my mind and body be calm. It also increased my attention span, and focus. I took long deep breaths while focusing on the feeling of the air entering my nostrils. Then I was instructed to follow the breath down towards my lungs while noticing how my abdomen would naturally expand at the completion of each inhalation. Likewise, I would trace the breath back out of my abdomen area up to my lungs and out my nose. These meditations lasted 1/2 hour each. Being fully aware of each breath was the ONLY focus of this meditation. Click HERE for more info about long breathing.
Standing meditation (long breathing)
Standing meditation also focused on long breathing. (you can read about that above)
Walking meditation (Attention, awareness, and alertness)
I also practiced walking meditation sometimes in a group setting other times alone. I figured at first it would only be taking a little walk alone down a path to clear my head. It wasn’t like this at all. Again the exercise focused on awareness and mindfulness of each step I took. A 5 stage walking meditation was taught. Again, the point was to focus individually on each process of the step. From the raising of the heel at the beginning of each step. To the placement of your foot at the end.
You can read more about different walking meditation methods HERE.
The eight teachings of the buddha are as follows.
I undertake the training to intend not to take away any breath
I undertake the training not to take away what is not given
I undertake the training to keep my mind and body free from any sexual activity
I undertake the training not to harm others by speech
I undertake the training not to harm my consciousness with substances that intoxicate and lead to carelessness
I undertake the training not to eat in between afternoon and before dawn
I undertake the training not to dance, sing, play or listen to music, watch shows, wear garlands, ornaments and beautify myself with perfumes and cosmetics
I undertake the training not to sleep or sit on luxurious beds and seats
For four days I listened how “we should place our trust in the dhamma” (the teachings of the Buddha), how the goal of the long breathing exercises was not only to calm our mind but to eventually reach a point of “awakening”. My mind would be turned “inside-out” in a way. At this moment I would experience some kind of reward, a “positive feeling” and also the opportunity to be enlightened. All my effort, dedication and hard work would “pay-off”.
I am very glad to have had this amazing experience. Separate from my phone. Separate from the outside world. Consequently, It provided so much quiet time that allowed me to have a proper detox and cleanse from so many distractions I had in my mind and my body. For example, it helped me clear away negative thoughts of past relationships and handle the hostile situations I find myself having to deal with in business without getting stressed about them. There are many wise and helpful teachings of the Buddha. When practiced, these teachings can enhance your life and also the lives of those around you.
I decided to end the meditation on the 5th day in the morning. I can only speak for myself. I found meditation practiced according to Buddhism was limited. All of my effort and time spent was inward focused in hope of enlightenment. As wonderful as a clear view of things around me is useful. It is not the same as being an active and helpful participant in the society around me.
Finally, I wondered what my experience would’ve been and what new insights I would’ve gained about myself and the world around me if I had dedicated 5 days to working in a Thai orphanage instead of sitting doing breathing meditation. Maybe my desire to grow and understand would’ve been aided more by reading the beatitudes and meditating on those words and their meaning. Click HERE to read them. Maybe by focusing on the words I speak, the songs I write and helping others, I can achieve “enlightenment”. And create a positive impact at the same time.
“It’s time you settle down, isn’t it?”
“Maybe you should settle for this right now.”
“He/She’ll never settle down.”
These are some common phrases heard around the world. Words possibly spoke in love (or fear/anger) to a son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandchild.
But what does it mean to hear those words, when inside something feels more “unsettled” than permanent?
The unsettled settler.
Some call it escaping, while others call it growing; Running away or stepping forward?… Laziness or fully living?… Maybe it’s quitting? Or just beginning?
The goal isn’t to turn against society, to be obstinate or ornery. Instead, it’s to live a life enriched with experience beyond the ordinary.
To “settle” used to involve taking risks, traveling across an unknown land beyond the edge of “comfort and common”. This was not a negative trait during those early years of civilization. Rather, It was a necessary part of human nature. We still carry this nature with us today.
There are many ways to traverse across the unknown. While travel can inspire, travel itself seldom grows a person. Most importantly, it’s the choice to take interest in things unknown, to open your mind beyond the familiar to have the strength and independence to live not only according to the rule of society and expectation of those around you.
In this blog, I will share some stories of growing up as an “unsettled settler” in a rural post-industrial midwest and my journey since then. My journey started with a strong desire to travel, explore and meet new and interesting people. But after starting a business and allowing it to take over my life and well being, I responsibly quit and spent time abroad. This was my attempt at getting a balanced view on life, my purpose and passions and what I consider “of value” in my life.
I hope to have other “settlers” share some of their own passions and life experiences that will inspire others to push the boundaries they currently have around themselves and give courage that it is NEVER too late to make choices you believe in no matter how “unknown” the path, how challenging the work, or absurd the thought.
The northern lights are one of the most mesmerizing and unusual natural wonders in the world. People from all over the world flock to far north on 3 different continents. This, just to witness a light show that puts the trans-Siberian orchestra laser show to shame. How unfortunate that the coldest and darkest months are also some of the best months to see the northern lights! Recently I had the opportunity to see the “aurora borealis” northern lights with my father in Alaska.
One of the keys to getting the most vivid view of the northern lights is to isolate yourself from the “light pollution” of the world around you. With a little effort and the help of the Nothern Alaska Tour Company we made it 6hr by bus to Coldfoot Camp. This village is certainly named more appropriately than Philadelphia. Its’ winter temperatures are often between -30F and -40F (-34C and -40C). This village has a population of 10 according to the 2010 census. Better hope you get along with your neighbors. 🙂
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has a website dedicated to forecasting when the aurora will be most visible. This site (with hourly updates) provides a scale of auroral activity. You can see which cities in Alaska and Canada offer the best visibility for this amazing display of lights.
Our nights hunting for northern lights
Shortly after 11:00 pm I was woken up by my alarm. Peak viewing happens between 11:30 pm and 1:30 am in January at Coldfoot Camp in Alaska and unfortunately whoever is in charge of the lights is unwilling to schedule for earlier hours.
My first night out we took a short trip to the village of Wiseman. Wiseman got its name from the gold mining era. When “wise men” realized there was no gold to be found in Coldfoot and went 6 miles upstream to mine there instead of the barren Coldfoot.
We stayed warm in a cabin built by a miner in the 1930s, while our guide kept watching the sky outside.
He came in and announced optimistically that there was a narrow band of the lights starting to show on the horizon. We bundled up with our fur hats and leather gloves, eager to see the lights for the first time.
As we went out into the silent -27F air I was reminded of how many nights previous humans spent in this town, not for the fun of seeing the northern lights. Rather these men were focused on survival. Their main concerns were finding enough gold to buy food and supplies as well as preventing hypothermia. In spite of our different focus, myself and these former pioneers were standing on the same piece of ground able to witness this same natural wonder nearly 100 years apart.
The lights had begun making a small showing of light green on the horizon. Unfortunately, they did not develop beyond this on our first night out. We stayed out in Wiseman until nearly 2:00 am. Fortunately, they had a very nice homemade steel barrel outdoor furnace seen in the picture below so our time outside was not as painful.
Night 2 didn’t provide much additional viewing. This time we decided to stay in Coldfoot to view. Again I set my alarm for 11:30 pm and looked out my window for some indication of activity. Sure enough, across half of the midnight horizon, there was a light green glow. Although this night the aurora was more active, the sky was clouded and snowing. Disfigured, the lights only managed to eek out a dim and blurry green glow.
Night 3 (last night in Fairbanks)
Night 3 we had returned to Fairbanks (as our arctic circle tour had ended). We decided to ask some locals where a good place to see the Northern lights may be just outside the city. We were recommended to park at“Hot Springs Gas” which is found a few miles up the Chena Hot Springs road. This gas station is surrounded by hay fields and provides a decent (plowed) place to park away from most city lights. The University website showed high aurora activity expected this night. So again we set our alarms for just before midnight. Alarms rang, we got up, put on our layers and drove about 20 minutes outside of town. Once again we were able to see some pulsing light, but the clouds kept us from the full glory of the northern lights.
I kept hearing about “the raven” from almost every (tribal) native Alaskan. The raven can help you in the wilderness and other times hurt you. One particular quote came from an older native named “Grandpa Joe.” He said, sometimes success isn’t about the raven or his spirit, “It’s just luck. And some people have more luck than others.” I guess this time, I was part of the “others.”
Click here to watch a 30 min video from the 80s about changing times for Alaskan Natives including “Grandpa Joe.”
*The photo of the northern lights on the top of my blog post was not taken by me but was taken at Wiseman camp by another photographer who did manage a clear night with aurora activity.
Alyeska Alaska. trail thoughts from the Chugach mountains.
You could choose to not climb these hills.
Instead, stay inside during winter. Avoid fighting the cutting cold on your ears and nose.
Likewise, you could stay put inside the comfortable and familiar place of “home”. Never seeing the frost covered trees, the shining crystal forest.
There are avalanches and rock slides. I saw the effects.
Some have died.
Even tall trees that stood hard and wouldn’t bend, let alone crack were cleared away in one terrifying moment. But even these avalanches that demolish everything in their way, make room for new growth.
It’s not until we get out into the mountains and hills, wherever they are, whatever they may be, that we have the chance for new life. Step up and step out.
Click HERE for a link to the Alyeska resort. You don’t need to stay there to enjoy the trails and amazing views from the sky tram.
Anyone have a great story about how avalanche wiped away something in your life or someone close to you? What ways has this allowed change and growth in the days that followed?
Busking. The modern day activity of the traveling minstrel, singing for his supper, charming the fair maids and locals in each town he passes through. I’ll give you a few tips from my 8 years of playing streets, squares and corners in almost every European country and the U.S.A.
3 helpful tips
Be engaging! If you are interested in making more than pocket change in your case, you gotta learn to engage.
I have found making eye contact, smiling, standing up while playing (If at all possible) moving/dancing while playing, speaking to people between songs, playing familiar/popular music and limiting the number of sad/slow songs I play to less than 1/4 of my set has helped my engagement.
Know the difference between real police and street police. There are usually two types of police in Europe. Street police and real police. Real police, although they appear much more intimidating, are usually less likely to shut you down for playing music in the street. The local city council often requires a permit to busk. Acquiring one of these permissions slips can be quite a process. It is much easier to ask forgiveness than permission. I have not been fined yet for playing in the street even when I was told it was not permitted. DO NOT use the local language with police even if you know and understand it. ENGLISH=IGNORANCE. 🙂 use it.
Watch out for “territorial” performers Seriously. It’s not always a dream to tour Europe street performing. You will often find gypsy or Roma people to be very pushy and accuse you of taking their “spot”. I assure you in these situations EVERY spot in the city is their spot. If you are alone, you may want to back down or at least give a look at surrounding street corners. You can make sure there is not an accomplish of your competition waiting to follow you home.
Just be a friendly and respectful person to all who you encounter and most issues resolve fairly quickly. Listen to, and reach out to friendly and approachable street artists for some tips on good places to play around the city. Click here for a more detailed guide about busking from tuneupandtravel.com. Do you have any tips or experiences to share of your time on the busking circuit? Share in the comments below.
Oct 20, 2014…
a random facebook message comes into my inbox from a stranger. “Hi, I am looking for a native speaker to invite on a paid vacation to communicate with the kids at the Camp in Carpathian mountains. The problem is that it starts in only a week October 27-31, would you possibly be interested?”
This began my relationship with a wonderful Ukrainian friend of mine Olesya. She and her husband Viktor started an English language school in L’viv Ukraine called “Linguistic Center Boyar.” They also arrange weeklong intensive learning camps for young Ukrainians eager to expand their knowledge and practice of English.
Paid vacation teaching English
I responded to Olesya’s facebook message and told her I was interested in hearing more about what this week in camp would look like. Although I wasn’t completely sure if I had just started a conversation with my future kidnapper, so I decided to proceed with caution. I requested a skype interview with Olesya to make sure this friendly and innocent looking blonde woman’s profile pic was in fact, a REAL friendly and innocent blonde woman and not a shaved head former KGB agent running an international kidnapping ring.
After my Skype interview, Oleysa no longer felt threatening. I took an overnight bus to Ukraine a week later. My hosts gave me a tour of a beautiful school they had built in L’viv and shortly after we were boarding some small busses with a few young teachers and lots and lots of kids aged 7-15. We arrived at a beautiful lodge/resort tucked away in the Carpathian mountains. I spent the next 5 days there teaching and participating in some basic English classes and activities.
There were a few overwhelming moments I needed to remind myself of what Olesya had said to me early on “this is a vacation, not a job.” When I saw my time spent in this light it helped me focus on the value of my time. After a week with these lovely teachers, I saw the amazing future they are providing their young students by giving them access to the world of English. This experience easily convinced me of the value of this time spent and it encouraged me to keep a more healthy perspective. Check out the fb page of Boyar Camp for pictures and videos that give a better idea of the excellent work they are doing there.
The title doesn’t sound like much fun other than the clever phrasing. But, saving a couple thousand dollars and getting to enjoy a trip abroad opened my mind and mouth to the idea of medical tourism in Poland.
My story of using dentistry in Poland started with making friends with a dentist’s’ daughter while street performing in Krakow. I was in my early 20’s and never had my wisdom teeth removed. My dentist back in the states took an x-ray and recommended I have them removed. Because I did not have insurance that covered dental services in the USA surgery to remove 4 teeth cost $2500. I mentioned this to my friend Ewa who told me her mother knew a surgeon who would likely be happy to take a look at my x-ray’s and give me an estimated cost.
$60 per tooth!
Off to Poland!
I booked a 2.5-week flight from Chicago to Krakow for around $500 dollars arrived in the morning took a bus to the clinic the same day and had my teeth pulled. I had two days where I didn’t feel like doing much, but after half a week I was already taking self-prescribed medicinal shots of pure polish vodka which served as a pain reliever and bacteria killer. 🙂
Just an interesting angle to look at when considering your next operation dental or medical. For example, Poland has E.U. standards without E.U. prices. An English publisher “The Guardian” wrote an interesting article online a few years back about UK citizens traveling to Poland for medical tourism with some helpful info on how to arrange a trip like this for yourself. Click HERE for a link to the article.
I had a total cost of around $740 dollars for flights and tooth work. I was able to spend another $750 on enjoying Poland. Having surgery in the USA would’ve cost $1000 dollars more! This left me with a clean financial conscience, extra dollars in my pocket and a few less teeth. Getting teeth pulled is never fun. But it can be if you get to travel to another country and save money while doing it!
Would you like to live high class at a low price? Look no further than L’viv, Ukraine.
I had the honor of visiting there a few times in the past couple years. I will write more about other amazing and interesting things I saw there in other posts but this particular experience really stood out to me! Near the center of L’viv, you will find The National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. This building is beautiful inside and out. Click HERE for a 360-degree virtual tour. My story is written below.
I was enjoying some time with friends in L’viv when they suggested we go to the National theater that evening. I know how costly these “high brow” events can be in other parts of Europe, but what a surprise I had when we got to the ticket counter.
There were tickets available from 50 UAH (less than $2) or the BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE for 300 UAH ($12). These professional productions included the Nutcracker among others and certainly offer a treat for the eyes and ears. Not only was the performance excellent, but the architecture as well. In keeping with high society I indulged myself in the finer offerings of L’viv. Champagne and hot dogs. Yes, it’s real, click HERE. Only 5-minutes walk from the National Theater.
L’vivs’ National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet is a MUST for anyone with even the most basic interest in the arts. You can also experience a part of local culture for a fraction of the cost in most other European countries.
There are a variety of clever, amusing and beautiful sights as well as activities waiting for you visit in L’viv. I have yet to visit the other major Ukrainian cities of Odessa and Kiev, but the word on the street is they are equally as enchanting.
Want to hear how I got to Europe and back for the cost of a pack of gum? Here are some tricks for traveling cheap!
CREDIT CARD SIGN UP BONUS’S
This is a great way to rack up a pile of miles without spending much more money than you would typically. From time to time credit cards would grant you 40-50k bonus miles after your first purchase made on the credit card. I remember a few years ago literally buying a pack of gum as my first purchase on one of these cards and getting 40k bonus miles. This was enough to fly to USA to Europe and back during off season. I believe I paid 50 cents for the pack of gum and around $5.00 in taxes and fees when I booked my ticket from my local (very expensive) airport here in Michigan to Krakow, Poland.
Although these small-spend huge bonus cards are harder and harder to find some of the best promotions can be found at http://thepointsguy.com/ The “hot deals” section at the top of the page gives a pretty good overview of what is out there. There are many creative ways to get to the “3k spent within the first 3 months” threshold including paying income taxes on the card for a small fee, or property tax or car and house insurance. Get creative!
BE FLEXIBLE AND FIND ALMOST FREE AIRFARE
There are many, many low-cost carriers these days, especially in Europe. If you are willing to be flexible with your days of travel you can find flights as low as 1 cent tax and fees may be 5 bucks. But you get the idea. If you have an open mind and let the lowest cost flights guide your next travel move you will be more likely to explore new places and be surprisingly satisfied as you may have NO expectations about the place your low cost flight is taking you. Also this often leads to a focus more on the locals and their culture, and less emphasis on tourist attractions. A spontaneous and engaging conversation in Lviv can be more memorable than a 1000 paintings in the Louvre. For some guidance about low cost airlines see below