Three Indisputable Truths about Occupy Wall Street

Originally Posted October 28, 2011

I wrote a post several weeks ago that (I thought) was on the subject of making conscious choices in our daily lives, and about taking responsibility for those choices. I chose the Occupy Wall Street protests as a backdrop for the discussion, which, as it happens, became the focal point of the piece for the majority of the people who read it. That was unintentional, but I was pleasantly surprised at the volume of reactions that it generated. Indeed, some of the more intelligent and spirited discussions I’ve had on the subject came about almost directly as a result of that post – it was referred to on the one hand as “briliant and eloquent”, and it was characterized elsewhere as “capitalist propaganda”. I was equally surprised by both characterizations, but in any event, the resulting discussions prompted me to think about Occupy Wall Street in a different, broader way, and after conducting extensive research on the subject (in the form of online articles, blog posts, Facebook comment thread disucssions, and barroom arguments), I have drawn the following irrefutable conclusions:

1. This anger is justified. There is no doubt that the game is rigged, and that the vast majority of us are balanced precariously on the ever-shortening end of that stick. Insofar as “they” have enriched themselves at the expense of “us”, we are absolutely righteous in our indignation. As I see it, the argument is that “nobody on Wall Street has gotten in trouble for this big mess we’re in”, to which the counter-argument is “well, we didn’t do anything illegal”.

Well there’s your problem.

If Occupy Wall Street has any political impact – and I genuinely hope that it does – it should be focused on leveling the playing field. When someone (or some company) takes unfair advantage of our financial system, and does so at the expense of everyone else that is party to that system, it should be a crime. We should take all of their money away and put them in prison for a significant period of time. Way longer than someone who gets caught growing pot, for example.

2. We helped make the mess. If we aren’t willing to make a change, then they have all the power, and if they have all the power, then nothing is ever going to change.

This was the central idea underlying my previous post, and I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say, that if you keep using your credit card to shop at Wal-Mart, things will keep getting worse. We must take responsibility above, beyond and in addition to our righteous indignation. We helped make the mess, and just like when we were kids, we have to help clean it up.

Nobody’s going to do it for us.

3. There is hope. As your attorney I advise you, there is no law that says we have to play by their rules. This idea was also embedded in my previous post, but I’d like to elaborate.

I make choices that lessen the impact of “their” choices on me. You have all the freedom in the world to do that, too: Close your bank account. Skip grad school. Grow some of your own food. Take it out in trade. Ride a bike. Read a book. Quit borrowing money.

You get the idea.

In addition, I choose to be an optimist to the extent possible, and I try and share that optimism. I try to cultivate compassion and gratitude and patience in every moment of my life, and this allows me to be happy no matter what Wally Wall Street does with my student loan payments. He can choke on them, for all I care, because I still have a beautiful wife, an amazing little girl, and another little one on the way. I still have my friends, my books, my MP3 collection and my guitars. “They” can still be as greedy and selfish as they darn well please, and “we” can still take a long walk while the sun comes up, drink cold beer on the front porch, and sing songs to our children – and there is nothing they can do to take those things away from us. Not ever. I promise.

They can only make it as bad for us as we let them. Please don’t loose sight of that.

Kill Them With Kindness

Originally Posted October 25, 2011

Have you ever heard Aesop’s Fable of The North Wind and the Sun?

The North Wind and the Sun saw a man walking and began to argue over which one of them would first be able to make the man remove his cloak.

Arrogantly, the wind blew as hard as it could at the walking man in an attempt to blow his cloak right off of his back, but the harder the wind blew, the tighter the man pulled his cloak around his shoulders. The wind blew and blew but could not remove the walking man’s cloak.

Smiling, the sun simply parted the clouds and shone down in all its warmth and kindness at the walking man. The man smiled back, and happily removed his own cloak.

Where force fails, kindness often prevails.

Our first reaction to anger is anger. Our first reaction to violence is violence. Our first reaction to hate is more hate. Instead, we must cultivate the patience to understand that anger generally begins as sadness, that violence is borne of fear, and that hate is the intersection of all of these emotions. Recognizing the source of these emotions is crucial to overcoming them, and we each have a responsibility to make certain that they end with us.

Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.”

The Dalai Lama said, “Through violence, you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.”

My mother said, “Kill ‘em with kindness.”

This lesson may not be the absolute single most important thing that we can teach our children, but if it isn’t, it’s awful darn close.

Thank you reading. Please share this with your friends.

Compliments of the Blessed Bohemian

Originally Posted October 18, 2011

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

- Mark Twain

It’s been two weeks since I have posted here at the Blessed Bohemian.

This is harder than I thought.

I went out of town and missed a post and then I was tired when I got home and I missed another post and then my routine was completely out the window and I hadn’t been waking up every morning and writing and then that habit was broken and … Well, suffice it to say that this thing doesn’t write itself.

When I reflect upon my many failed attempts to make positive change in my life, this is the point where it always falls apart. I’ve addressed this before, but I really felt like I had made a habit of waking up early every morning and making the time to write – I felt like I’d made it over that last bit of the mountain. Perhaps it’s not that simple – or perhaps I had just hit a plateau on the long, steep climb to real, lasting change – but part of me was ready to let this thing go. At least for now.

Then someone paid me a compliment, and it completely changed my perspective.

I was tired, overwhelmed, depressed, and hungover. The last thing I wanted to think about or talk about was my (potentially failed) blog. I had all but given up on the idea of the Blessed Bohemian being read by anyone – much less making an impact – but a few kind words turned everything around:

“I wanted to tell you that I’ve really been enjoying your blog.”

“Oh. Uh, thank you.”

“Seriously. I read it whenever I get a chance and I like it a lot. I think people get discouraged sometimes, because they don’t think anybody else cares, but then they read what you’re saying, …”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. I thanked her and the subject of the conversation changed, but I held on to her compliment. It shook something loose. It woke me up. It changed the way I was thinking and feeling about continuing with this blog. There was no good reason for me to stop doing this, I just got a little behind when I was “tired, overwhelmed, depressed and hungover”. That was all I needed to start thinking about quitting … and a few kind and simple words were all I needed to hit the reset button and get back to doing the work.

That’s the power of a compliment.

We are constantly presented with opportunities to give compliments, and we should give more of them. They take almost no effort. They don’t cost a thing. They are perhaps the simplest kindness that we can offer to anyone – even a complete stranger – and they really can make all the difference in the world.

My mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

I love you Mom, but I reject the idea that I am incapable of saying something nice. I think you raised me better than that.

Go compliment somebody. Then go compliment somebody else. Give compliments until you feel a little awkward about it, and then give a couple more.

Tell people how wonderful they are, how nice they look, and how great a job they’re doing. Make a habit of it. Do it all the time, no matter how crappy you think you feel.

You’ll feel better, and you might just make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Thanks for reading.

And thanks for the compliment. You know who you are.

Control Yourself!

Originally Posted October 4, 2011

A great many of my contemporaries don’t seem to like the way things are. They complain about this. They complain about that. They are in a constant state of wanting things to change. There is a pervading sense of hopelessness that seems to hinge on some other, greater power that has its finger on the button, and that but for this “power’s” selfishness and greed, everything would be better. They gather, the bearded masses, at major intersections across the land in order to make heard their complaints. They shout until they are carried off to jail (or until it’s obvious they’re being ignored). Bystanders on street corners and laptops across our nation complain in support of the complainers, saying “Yes! We believe in you! We complain of these things, too! It’s all so unfair!”

And what happens? Nothing.

We have gotten extrememly proficient at identifying what precisely is the matter with everyone else in this world. We blame the Democrats. We blame the Republicans. We blame the rich. We blame the poor. We blame the corporations. We blame the consumer. We blame the Devil. We blame God.

And every last one of us – myself included – fails to blame ourselves. We are all just one person. Each and every one of us. And the only person we can change is ourselves. Our complaints do and will continue to go unheard because those in power have no incentive to listen. We give them no compelling reason to change, because they know we are complacent. They have heard our compalints time and again, and watched as we waited for our moaning to bring about some change in them – and they laughed, knowing full well that, eventually, we would wander back to the gas station or McDonalds or Wal Mart. They smiled and nodded and heard us out and then patted us on the head and told us to get back in line. And we did.

The complaints that I hear fail to recognize one simple truth: The people that are in power are in power because we put them in power.

Now, I understand that prevailing thought dictates that big business is in control of who is in power, so that those in power can make rules that favor big business, and so on. I get that. And you’re right. It’s true. Enormous companies and the people who run them have darn near all the money that there is to be had, and they use that money to put sympathetic people in office, so that they can then exploit the rules to swallow up even more of the money.

But has anyone bothered to ask where the great big mean old corporations get all that money? They aren’t printing it. They aren’t stealing it. Where does it come from?

From you and from me. That’s where. Each and every one of us is responsible for this mess, because the entire time we are waving our picket signs with one hand, we are giving our money to huge companies with the other. And all the while, we are foolishly expecting those in power to say “Hey. You’re right. This isn’t cool. We’re manipulating and exploiting everyone, and they’re just letting us, so we should stop.”

I consider myself an optimist, but to put it as kindly as possible, I don’t see this approach making an impact, like, ever.

Every day of our lives represents a series of choices. Take the car or take a walk. Corporate grocery store or farmer’s market. Big box retailer or buy local. You get the idea, and I’m willing to acknowledge that some choices are more practical than others – I don’t expect all of you to quit your jobs and start communes. I’m not advocating anything that radical. All I’m asking you to do is to be aware. Make conscious choices about these things. Recognize that we are and will remain in control of this problem, but that we are really only in control of ourselves.

So control yourself, already.

For more resources on this subject, Google the phrase “Be the change you seek“, which is, you’ll find, a quote from Gandhi (or a paraphrase, I don’t know, I didn’t hear him say it).

And as I like to do when I’ve written a little on the heavy side, I’ll leave you with another highly entertaining John Prine song, this time covered by the Avett Brothers.

As, ahem, “entertaining” as the verses are, wait for the chorus …

Thanks for reading.

My Position on Perspective

Originally Posted September 23, 2011

I recently posted the following as my Facebook status:

“I don’t get involved in political discussions, and I try not to address things that are in the media, but my heart is heavy with the news that someone was executed twenty minutes ago, and I can’t say that I like living in a world with government-mandated killing. Say what you want, but killing doesn’t justify killing. Nothing does. Not ever.”

That was probably sufficient, but as an afterthought, I added this:

“It doesn’t feel right to me. Your argument is invalid.”

Suffice it to say that ten “likes” and twenty comments later, it is clear that many of the people I know have vastly differing opinions on the subject of the death penalty. Some of those opinions were well reasoned, some were not. Some were an attempt to use my “parental insticts” to overcome my disdain for the death penalty, others were merely misuse of scripture. [Note: A quick way to irritate me is to justify your argument with scripture … A quick way to send me off the handle is to justify homicide with scripture.] Natrually, I was not surpirsed to see that my friends had differing opinions on the death penalty – what I found surprising, though, was that they felt the need to respond to me.

Let me explain.

I happen to have lots of reasons for being aginst the death penalty. I didn’t give any of them. They are mine. I recognize that people’s opinions about the death penalty are almost invariably informed by their own unique experiences. For example, my study of and experience with the legal system leads me to fear a system made and administered by man and designed to select which among us are to die. But again, I didn’t get into that on Facebook. I simply said that it didn’t feel right to me, and I even pointed out that their arugments were invalid. I gave no overt explantion about the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty … I just said that I didn’t like it. That I thought it was wrong.

But nonetheless, the arguments came pouring down.

I find it remarkable that a factual statement about my completely subjective perspective illicited arguments. Think about this for a moment. I didn’t say “The death penalty is wrong!” and follow that with a list of reasons in support of my position. I merely stated my opinion, and this was treated as an invitation to debate. My friends weren’t challenging my position, they were challenging my perspective. This is subtle disinction, but an important one.

Looking back on my days as a lawyer, it’s easy for me to distinguish between position and perspective – my perspective may be that the maniac standing next to me before the judge is a huge drunk and should never be allowed behind the wheel of another car as long as he lives, but the position I take will be that he should go free, driving privileges intact. The reason for this difference is clear – I was being paid to take a position that aligned with my client’s perspective, not my own. That was my job. This, of course, has a lot to do with why I am no longer an attorney … but that’s a whole other story.

All of this leads me to a couple of points on the subject of perspective. As I said above, peoples’ perspectives are generally based on thier own unique experiences. Everybody experiences the world in thier own, unique and personal way, and consequently thier perspectives will tend to be unique and personal. We should be mindful that the people running around out there in the world may see things a little differently than us, and that it doesn’t make them wrong, it just makes them different. We should likewise be mindful that they are just as different from us as we are from them, and that sometimes, right and wrong in any given context are merely (wait for it …) a matter of perspective.

Additionally, I would like you to think about is how harmful it can be to attack someone’s perspective. To be certain, debate is healthy and important and we should all be prepared and willing to make informed arguments in support of our positions, but we must be careful not to trample on the perspectives of others. Perspectives are developed over time and tend to be very deeply rooted. Indeed, they are a component of the values that we have previosuly discussed as being so important to our happiness.

When we attack one another’s perspectives, it tends to get personal very quickly because we are attacking one another’s very foundations. Such discussions very rarely end with someone changing their perspective. Instead, they end in hurt feelings. In the worst of cases, these discussions end with someone taking a position that is inconsistent with their perspective, and this is something that we should never let happen. When our outward positions are aligned with our inward perspectives, we tend to be more content and at peace. We tend to be happier.

It is therefore in our collective best interest for each of us to live outwardly in such a way that complies with our own subjective view of the world. Toward that end, we should be mindful that perspectives will differ, and make our best attempt at giving others the space to have their own perspectives, free from unnecesary pressure to change.

When we are willing to recognize that we – each of us – is doing the best we can with what we’ve been given, then we will all be able to live in harmony with one another, and in turn, with ourselves.

Every Chance You Get

Originally Posted September 20, 2011

Our relationships with one another are the most important thing that we have. To Love is the single most significant act that a human being can perform, and our relationships represent the opportunity to give and to receive Love. As human beings we have the unique ability to express our thoughts and feelings to one another through speech.  If I want to express to someone that I love them, I can just say so:

“I love you.”

My wife and I have inherited a practice from my family wherein we say “I love you” at every opportunity.  Even if we’re just leaving the room for a moment, we say “I love you”.  I recall my late mother justifying this practice with the phrase “because you never know …”, the implication being that one might any moment fall down a flight of stairs to their demise, her thus having missed her final opportunity to say “I love you”. It sounds funny, I know. It was always kind of a joke in my house when I was growing up.

The last time I spoke to my mother it was on my way home from having just taken the bar exam. I called her on the drive home from Topeka to Wichita, because let’s face it: the only things one wants to do when they’ve just taken the bar exam is talk to their Momma.  I was (perhaps understandably) a little self-absorbed during the conversation, and I can’t say that I remember it very well.  Of course, I had no idea that it was to be last time that I ever spoke to he – she died unexpectedly several days later. But I am certain of one thing about that conversation:

I am positive that the last words my mother ever heard me speak were “I love you.”

I cherish knowing that, and I owe knowing that to her.  I think sometimes we dilute the power of our words by using them frivolously. This is not a new idea, but it’s one that I agree with and think about often. However, I think “I love you” is the exception to that rule.

You can never say “I love you” too much.

So say it. Every chance you get. Don’t be embarrassed. Say it to everyone that you cherish. Tell them every day. Don’t miss an opportunity. Every time you think of them take a moment to recognize how much they add to your life and then find them or call them or email them or text them and tell them – right then – that you love them.

Look them in the eye. Smile. Take a deep breath in, and tell them “I love you”.

They are the most important words you will ever speak.

Lessons from the Peace Pilgrim

Originally Posted September 16, 2011

I’d like to share with you something I discovered this week and that I think you will all enjoy.

The Story of the Peace Pilgrim

The Peace Pilgrim was born in 1908 as Mildred Lisette Norman. For the most part she led a very normal life of work and consumption until 1938, when a spiritual experience awakened her to what she believed was her true purpose – to live in service to others.  She spent many years serving others in any way that presented itself to her, until 1952 when she became the first woman to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail in a single season. This journey, and the peace and balance she experienced, led her to undertake a life-long pilgrimage in the name of peace. She belonged to no organization and made no plans for pursuing her pilgrimage. She owned only the clothing she wore and the few possessions she could keep on her person. She only ate when someone offered to feed her, and only stopped walking when someone offered her shelter. She accepted no money or any other form of assistance or support. She simply walked for peace until her death in 1981.

I am fascinated by this story, as I hope that you are. Having read a small portion of the material on the web site dedicated to her, I am as amazed at the depth of her message as I am at the simplicity with which she delivered it. An idea of hers that I found particularly compelling was her belief that her ultimate objective of world peace could only be achieved if individuals first learned to find peace within themselves.

I find myself overwhelmed with the enormous volume of bad news which comes to us through the mainstream media.  I try to limit my exposure to “the news” by listening only to NPR and only during my fifteen or twenty minute commute (unless they begin talking about presidential politics, then I just turn it off). Any more than that, and I’m overcome with a sense of hopelessness and often wonder “What in the world can I possibly do about it?” The Peace Pilgrim offers an answer to that very question.

In order to be responsible to the world, we must take responsibility for ourselves.

We will never achieve world-wide harmony so long as we are incapable of finding harmony and balance within ourselves. We become trapped by our feelings and fears and we regularly let ourselves be led down a path that serves only to agitate those feelings and aggravate our fears. This must stop. Each of us must learn to take responsibility for our own feelings and the way in which those feelings manifest themselves through our actions. That is our responsibility – to ourselves and to the rest of humanity.

This is heavy stuff, so I’ll try and lighten it a little by sharing with you some song lyrics that I’m reminded of:

You can gaze out the window, get mad and get madder

Throw your hands in the air, say “What does it matter?”

But it don’t do no good

To get angry, so help me I know

For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter

You become your own prisoner, as you watch yourself sit there

Wrapped up in a trap

Of your very own chain of sorrow

From John Prine’s “Bruised Orange”, recently covered to great effect by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

I encourage you to take a look at the site dedicated to the Peace Pilgrim. It is an outstanding read (thus far), and I intend to reference her teachings regularly here at The Blessed Bohemian.

It can be found here:  http://www.peacepilgrim.com

The Peace Pilgrim walked between twenty-five and thirty miles a day for nearly three decades.  Reading about her, I wonder if I could walk thirty miles in a single day.  I wonder what that would be like.  I wonder how it would feel and where it might take me.

Have you figured out where this is going?

I’ll keep you posted, but if you guessed that I’m planning to walk thirty miles in a single day, you were right. Not tomorrow or anything, I’ll have to work up to it. I figure it will take an entire day – about ten hours or so – and I figure that it will be fairly difficult for me. I’m in pretty bad shape, but I think I can work my way up to it.  After all, I’ve been walking every day after work all week.

I’ll plan on apprising you of my progress the next time we discuss the Peace Pilgrim – probably within the next couple of weeks.

One Thing at a Time

Originally Posted September 13, 2011

Creating lasting change is about making small changes in your life, one at a time.That is the critical thing that I have taken away from reading lots (and lots) of blogs on subjects like creativity, productivity, and minimalism. You don’t just wake up one day and find yourself fit, productive, debt-free and content. It simply doesn’t work that way.

The first small change I made on my journey was to start waking up early every day in order to write. I’ve been setting my alarm for 5 o’clock each morning, and I have established something of a routine: I wake up, turn on my computer, brew some coffee, and I just write about whatever subject is on my mind.  I stop when I feel like stopping, or when it’s time to get showered up for work. Some mornings I write 500 words, other mornings I write 1500, but it doesn’t really matter.  The objective is to establish a space and time for writing, and see what happens. No judgment. No editing. Just writing whatever I’m going to write. I think it’s been a success, so far, but I have run into a problem:

I’m tired!

I’ve been getting home from work every evening and falling asleep on the couch while my wife makes dinner.  It seems as though the solution here would be to simply go to bed earlier, but thanks to my after-work nap I don’t get tired again until 11 o’clock (or later), and then I have the same problem the next morning. Exhausted.

This is a critical time for me in the process of “making small changes”. This is where I win or lose.

I allowed myself to sleep in until 8 o’clock both days this weekend, but that didn’t help.  I still felt tired all weekend and had to drag myself out of bed this morning. Surprise! My body thought it would be a good idea to sleep until eight again. I made myself get up and write this morning, but it was unproductive.  I was tired, and I was angry at myself for not having written this weekend.  I wrote about 500 words of what might have been today’s blog post, but realized when I stopped to refill my coffee that I’d just been rambling.  I stopped writing for the morning, and I turned my attention instead to finding a solution to the problem. I realized that I’d just been trying to ignore it. Worse, I’d even resorted to the shortcut of “cheating” for a couple of days.  That’s why this time is so critical to my development of a new habit – It’s starting to get difficult.

Whether you need to start waking early or you want to quit smoking or you want to give up Mountain Dew – this is the crucial point that will determine success or failure. Why? Because if you can get over this last bit of the mountain, it is, as they say, all down hill from here. The most powerful thing I can do for myself at this point is recognize this fact, and reflect upon it:

Is this difficult? Yes. That’s evidence that it is worthwhile. You can do it, and if you stick with it, it will only get easier.

(In case you’re wondering: Yes. That was me talking to myself. I’m not ashamed, I just don’t like getting caught talking to myself. It happened this weekend at the grocery store. Stop laughing.)

For added inspiration (and to prepare for this essay) I read a couple of posts on one of my favorite blogs. I encourage you to check them out for yourself:

zenhabits.net/early-riser-three-quick-ways-to-help-cure-insomnia/

zenhabits.net/10-benefits-of-rising-early-and-how-to-do-it/

Rather than “give up” on my resolution to wake early each day and write, I’m going to push ahead. It’s important to me, and the difficulty I’m experiencing is a normal part of the process of positive change. Additionally, I’m going to a piece of  advice from Zen Habits, and make another small change: Exercise.

Instead of a nap today, I’m going to take a walk before dinner.

Exercise was on my “to-do” list, anyway.

What’s on your to-do list? What’s the one small change that you will commit to making, right now?

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Originally Posted September 9, 2011

A promise is an unconditional statement of intention. I promise I will do this. I promise I won’t do that. I think that most people keep their promises to one another. It’s something we’ve all learned to do. If we don’t keep our promises people won’t trust us, and trust is fundamental to our relationships. So if we want to have meaningful interactions with the other people in our lives, they must believe that we are trustworthy.

Breaking a promise to someone often has more to do with the prudence of having made the promise in the first place. We make promises that we can’t (or won’t) keep in order to meet the expectations of someone else, and we disappoint them. Making promises like that is more foolish than it is dishonest. Promises shouldn’t be made under pressure.

Consider the distinction between promises we make to others, and the promises we make to ourselves. I have made a great many promises to myself, and while I’ve kept enough promises to others to be thought of as an honest person, I break many of the promises I make to myself. I think this calls into question my motivation for making and keeping promises. Why are we honest with one another? Is it because honesty is “right”? Or is it because there are significant consequences to being perceived as dishonest? Reflect on this for a moment.

I believe that we have been conditioned to focus on the wrong part of the question. Again, we make and keep promises to meet expectations and to avoid the consequences of failing to meet those expectations. I contend that our choices have very little to do with “rightness” or “wrongness”, and far more to do with our innate desire to be perceived as trustworthy. We are focused on the consequences.

I have tried to cultivate a better life through focusing on consequences, and I’ve come to think that there are flaws to that way of thinking. We shouldn’t do the “right thing” to avoid getting in trouble, we should do the “right thing” because it is the right thing to do. I don’t refrain from shoplifting because of the security camera, I pay for what I want because stealing is wrong.

In much the same way, we should keep our promises – to others AND to ourselves – because it is intrinsically good to keep our promises. There is no need to weigh potential consequences. They aren’t relevant. It is good to keep my promises, so I will.

This is best illustrated through the distinction between the promises we make to one another, and the promises we make to ourselves. Being perceived as a liar, as we’ve established, is a terribly lonely existence. That is, often times, our motivation for being honest with one another, and it serves to make the world function. It’s fundamental that we trust one another, or at least, understand the extent to which we can trust one another.

But what consequences do we suffer when we lie to ourselves? Superficially speaking, none. We can’t divorce ourselves. We aren’t going to stop hanging out with ourselves. You will still have everything in common with yourself, and you will still have your taste in music. Lie to yourself all you want, but when you wake up tomorrow, you’ll still be you.

That is why it’s so easy to break the promises we make to ourselves. The irony, of course, is that we are the only people that we absolutely must live with for the rest of our lives. If we strive to be honest people, we must start with ourselves. If being honest with one another serves to make the world function, being honest with ourselves serves to make the world a better place.

Some of us will likely find it difficult to focus on anything but the consequences of being dishonest with ourselves. I know I am. Where’s the payoff? Isn’t it just easier to acknowledge that I’m full of it?

Maybe in the short term.

But I have come to recognize the value in learning to trust myself. We must trust ourselves in order to see our “selves” as worthy of the time and effort it takes to improve and lead better lives. In other words, don’t focus on the consequences. Focus on the benefits. To be happy and content we must be at peace. To be at peace we must be honest with and trust ourselves. Have you ever known someone that lived with a liar? I suspect that tranquility is not something that they often experienced.

But that’s getting back to the consequences …

In order to explore this idea, I propose an exercise in honesty. I want to set some expectations for my “self”, and I’m going to promise myself to meet those expectations. Recognizing, however, that is something with which I have difficulty, I’m going to ask you to hold me accountable.

And what promises am I soliciting from my self?

A healthy body

A clear mind

To stop living to excess

To write, make music, work with my hands, and mentor others – ideally for a living

To cultivate – my self; my habits; my family; my food; and others

To make money without being consumed by making money

To be generous when I have more than I need

To be an exceptional husband and father

To be an exceptional brother and son

To pass these ideals on to my children, if no one else

To find peace and tranquility and happiness

To always always always have long hair and a beard

To let go of judgment

To practice empathy and compassion

To slow down and be grateful for simple things

To live my life simply; intentionally; honestly; mindfully

To become bohemian – to live a contented life on my own terms

Thank you for reading, and thank you in advance for holding me accountable. It is important to me that you do, and some day I’d like to return the favor. Please keep in touch.

I’d like to make one more promise. To you.

I promise that I am listening.

I would like to know what promises have you made to your “self”?

Were you able to keep them?

What did you learn?

The Way of the Blessed Bohemian

Originally Posted September 5, 2011

There is an epidemic of unhappiness. I find myself surrounded by cynical, desperate souls that are fighting their way through life and waiting for what happens next. We have developed a pathological self-centeredness, and we believe that chasing money and status and things will make us happy. We have convinced ourselves that these things are the path to salvation because everyone around us seems convinced, too. We have gotten very good at lying to one another, and to ourselves. We have gotten very good at pretending that we are happy, even though the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Indeed, the pattern is unmistakable. We are all angry. And sad. And scared. Mostly scared.

I’m terrified.

Just take a moment to observe the people moving about in the world around you. In traffic. In line at the grocery store. At work. People are so ugly to each other. So selfish. So mean. It’s everywhere. They have no respect for one another, and they think it’s necessary. People have come to believe that they must put themselves first – above and ahead of everyone else. We are convinced that this is the way of the world, and we justify this ugliness by telling ourselves that everyone else is ugly, too. Reflect on this for a moment.

Kill or be killed. Look out for number one. If I don’t, someone else will.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Life shouldn’t be this intolerable. And it can all be different if we are willing to acknowledge exactly two things:

The world isn’t full of bad people, it’s full of sad people.

Happiness is a choice.

That’s why I’m here. To teach myself and others to choose happiness. To demonstrate an alternative. To show that it can be done.

My path to the present has taken a long and varied arc, and I have been (or tried to be) many things. A lawyer. A bartender. A salesmen. A teacher. I have made copies and airplanes and cocktails with varying degrees of ability and success. I have run movie projectors and argued before my state’s supreme court. But I couldn’t find anything that made me feel content.

I didn’t feel content because I was in pursuit of the wrong things.

I used to say that “what I do has very little to do with who I am”. That was true. I think it’s true of most people. And I think this truth is one of the great tragedies of our time. I think it contributes directly to the feeling of discontent that prevails upon so many.

Who you are should absolutely dictate what you do. That is the path to contentment. Consider for a moment the following questions:

What are my values?

What are my talents?

What am I passionate about?

If we can carefully and honestly assess questions such as these, and have the courage to make choices based on our responses, the results are life-changing. This is of course far easier said than done, but that’s why I’m here – to make the case that we can all do it.

I have pushed as hard as I could in the opposite direction. It didn’t work out. We will never experience the kind of joy and contentment that we are capable of experiencing if we try to fit into roles that don’t match who we are, and the harder we try, the more painful it becomes.

Take my law practice, for instance. Easily the most miserable experience of my life, and a cautionary tale that I will share at some point in the near future. Suffice it to say I wanted to be an attorney for all the wrong reasons, and I tried like hell to be a good one. It very nearly killed me.

It turns out that I very much like being alive. For the past year I have been reading and thinking about these ideas, and the things I have read have fundamentally changed my perspective. I have concluded that it is time to make a change. A number of changes, actually. It is time for me to begin living in harmony with my values, talents and passions, and thereby begin living in harmony with the universe.  This is what I am calling the Way of the Blessed Bohemian.

My wish is that The Blessed Bohemian will serve some very specific purposes.  I want to share my journey toward contentment so that other people will see that there is a way to get there, and as a way of holding myself accountable for the changes I’ve committed to making. I want to provide a means for like-minded individuals to connect with me and one another, because I think that changing the world will be easier for all of us if we have a little help.  Finally, I want to inspire and encourage others to live in harmony with their values, talents and passions.

I think we can all find our purpose. I think our lives can have more meaning. I believe we can cultivate freedom, and in the process, redefine prosperity. I believe that we can be happy.

Blessed: An adjective meaning blissfully happy, contented, or fortunate.

Bohemian: An adjective describing a person who lives free of regard for conventional rules or practices.

These terms will define the scope of our discussions here. I have come to believe that “living free of regard for conventional rules or practices” is fundamental to being “blissfully happy, contented and fortunate”. The old way simply doesn’t work. This is the Way of the Blessed Bohemian.  I am committing to defining the scope of my life by these same terms, and I hope you’ll join in the discussion.