Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fall in Love with Yourself

You know, it's funny. The more research I do into love, the more I discover that all the evidence for love being a completely intentional thing is well known. It shows up in several different scientific disciplines. Every religion has it in some way, shape, or form. Every culture has believed it to some extent until very recently. So why do we, in an age of extreme enlightenment, feel so intensely that we have no control over our emotions and no ability to choose who to love or how to love or when to love?

Is it the media? Maybe the poets are to blame? Perhaps we should never have abandoned the institution of arranged marriage? These are all ideas I've toyed with for some time, but I think the truth is much more painful than that.

If it is true that we can love, truly deeply intimately love, anyone anywhere anytime...

Then why can't I love myself?

If love is this magical pixie dust that falls from particularly lovely clouds on bright April mornings, then it completely makes sense why it's so hard to find the perfect partner. If love requires a particular alignment of the stars or a particular dining environment or the right words while passing the right person in the right lighting, then it's totally understandable why love is so hard to find.

And it would explain why I just can't seem to love myself.

But what if we are wrong? Because we are wrong. The evidence is overwhelming. You can love anyone you choose to love. You can love them regardless of your past. You can love them regardless of their past. It doesn't matter who you are or they are, you can love anyone anywhere anytime.

You can even love yourself.

I think, for most of us, we really do have 4 central facets to our identity: Emotional, Rational, Physical, and Spiritual. Jane McGonigal talks about 4 resiliencies that can make you grow your whole life. She calls them physical, mental, emotional, and social. But the purpose of the social resilience is about community and connection which is functionally identical to what I'm calling your spiritual identity. I bring this up only to point out that even though I'm making up all of this nonsense, other people have made up very similar things.

I think you also have a present identity that is fairly well defined, but past and future identities that are largely abstract. Which means that really your past and future identities are just additional facets of your present identity.

Falling in love with someone means two things - you weave some of your facets with some of their facets to make a lovely little facets quilt or maybe just a facets scarf, and you rewrite bits of some of your facets in response to some of their facets.

Ok, I know, this is all heady stuff. The need for a tl;dr was about 5 posts ago. Here's the gist. You, the exact "you" you are today, have a particular way of looking at your physical self, your emotional self, your rational self, your spiritual self, your past self and your future self.  Maybe you can't express in words how you actually look at any of these selves. Maybe you don't even think it's worth separating them into separate bits. But try to associate a general feeling with each one. If you're like most people...

You don't like any of them.

I'm sad to share this with you, but you can't blame the poets or the media or the institution of marriage for your self-unlove. Well, I suppose you could, but that's silly. You can, however, learn to love yourself.

Falling in love means that you find connections between your mutual selves with the understanding that your selves are going to change in the process. Falling in love with yourself means the exact same thing. Rationally understanding your feelings. Emotionally understanding your spirituality. And welcoming change to your identity in the process.

Marie Kondo wrote a book on tidying that is quite entertaining. I recommend it highly. Not because I value tidying much in and of itself. But because tidying, particularly the way Ms. Kondo has presented it, is an intensely intimate discussion with all 6 of your facets. In other words, tidying is a simple way for every person to fall in love with themselves.

Her method is surprisingly simple. She lists several categories of material possessions. For each category in order, collect everything you own of that category and put it in one big pile. Pick out the things that spark joy; throw out or donate the rest. After you've gone through all your stuff, find a new permanent home for each of those joy sparkers.

It's obviously a physical activity - lots of touching and seeing. It's a very rational process; there's always a clear next task and each task is structured with clear outcomes. "Spark joy" is about as emotional a constraint as you can get. And the end result is to achieve an ideal home environment, free from clutter, care, and unnecessary decisions. You are crafting the perfect environment for the spiritual you.

When you go through all your stuff, you'll find that you have a three-way battle for the emotional connection to an object. Is this something you can't let go of because it was important part of your past? Is this something you're holding on to in the hopes it will one day be useful? Or does it really resonate in a positive, passionate way with your present identity?

Past objects can resonate with your present self. I have my grandfather's saber on my wall. It makes me smile every time I see it. I also had old letters from ex-girlfriends. They made me feel like an ass every time I read them. The saber is still on the wall; the letters are gone.

You'll find a dozen of these little conversations with yourself. Things that you swore were important, like two large shoe boxes of correspondence, suddenly seem like historical archives of someone else's life. Things that have spent years stuffed into a cardboard box may find themselves the center of attention.

It's curious when everything around you feels like it matters - the stuff that doesn't matter sticks out like a sore thumb. I suspect this is the underlying reason behind Marie's claim that if you follow her process you won't relapse. In most decluttering schemes, your only incentive for not messing your place up is because you worked so hard to get it clean. If you only have what you love and it already has a permanent home that makes you smile every time you see it there, then putting things where they belong is an act of joy.

Yes, cleaning up after yourself can be joyful. Haha, there are a few people from my past who, if they read that last bit, might need medical attention. I recommend always reading my blogs with a buddy, for safety's sake.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I own my home. It belongs to me. Everything is where I want it and to the best of my present ability, kept in a way that makes me smile every time I see it. My home is now my vacation resort.

In all fairness, I loved my home before I went through the decluttering exercise. And I have always loved my life, there's simply not another one like it. But that isn't the same as loving me...

I can honestly say I've never spent much time learning to love myself. I haven't really ever even taken the time to get to know myself. I know my ideas. I know my schedule. I know all my stories. But I have no idea what I want, very little idea what I prefer. I can't count the number of times that I've been asked, in what was clearly a vulnerable moment of trust and intimacy for the asker, what I wanted; and I can't count the number of times that I've been completely unaware and incapable of deciding what I want. Those numbers would be very nearly equal.

Did tidying up give me some newfound ability to know what I want in every situation? No, of course not. But it did offer me a long overdue conversation with myself about who I am and who I enjoy being. I really like being me.

Ms. Kondo, should you ever run across this post in your virtual travels, please accept my deepest and most sincere gratitude for your book. It is a delight to find someone who makes one feel as though they've discovered a kindred spirit. I could never have imagined someone could encourage me to discover a kindred spirit in myself. For this most of all, but also for a home free from the chains that bound me to my past shame and my future fears, thank you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Selves Have Left the Building

For the past 20 years, I've been living with dozens of women.

To be fair, there were quite a few guys in the mix too. But yeah, tons of women. Tonight I moved all of them out.

Odds are, if you have ever given me something handwritten with more than your signature on it, I've kept it. In some cases for 20 years. In other cases, much much longer.

I have letters from women asking that we just be friends, letters explaining why we can't be more than friends, letters wondering whether we are still friends.

From work camps and mission trips there are letters thanking me for my hugs, my generosity, my energy, my voice, my work ethic. Some of those letters were deeply flattering, intensely supportive and genuinely funny. Given that each of those trips were less than a week, it's truly heartwarming.

I have letters from high school friends asking to meet up next time we're in town. Letters from college friends asking to meet up next time we're in town. Letters from campers asking to meet up next time we're in town. We almost never met up next time we're in town.

I have letters from women who were excited about our blossoming relationship. Letters about how our relationship seemed stagnant. Letters about how our relationship seemed hostile. Letters about how I hurt them, how they hurt me, how we both hurt each other.

I have letters from the heart, letters written out of a sense of duty, and a large number of letters that seem to be written primary out of boredom.

But a tremendous amount of these notes and letters resonate with a clear message to me. "You are special. You are special to me. I'm glad you're in my life. Let's keep in touch. Please, let's keep in touch."

I haven't kept in touch. I have written painfully few letters in my life, and I still have most of them. I might call once or twice, but honestly I tend to wait just long enough to call to forget to ever call again. It's not that I don't care, it just really seems that way.

A great number of the authors of those letters are still in my life. I don't want to keep letters from 20 years ago; I want to keep you. But so many people are no longer in my life... what am I to do with your letters?

For the crushes, girl friends, campers and acquaintances - those letters are from a lifetime ago. Perhaps even several lifetimes ago. The "you" you were back then has been gone for years. The few women I've been able to keep in touch with from those days bear only a passing resemblance to the girls they were. Even if that were not so, do I need to keep a reminder of the things that were-but-no-longer-are?

Do I need the letter Kristal wrote me when she gave me back my sweatshirt? I don't even have the sweatshirt any more. Should I be interested in Keeley's reasons why nothing could ever happen between us? Quite frankly, it's a delightful letter - very thoughtful, tactful, and insightful. It's everything you could hope for in a letter from a good friend who must unfortunately let you down softly. But is that really the baggage you need to carry around for a lifetime?

Honestly, yes. Yes it is. I am the person I am because Kristal gave me my sweatshirt back, because Keeley let me down graciously. I am who I am because Ngoc, Ritu, Manali, Christy, Kristi, Amy, Lisa, Liz, Sonya and the rest of my high school compatriots were such wonderful friends. I am who I am because Jen, Chi, Jennie, Soña, Bubba, Kim and so many other folks from Lechner and Bonfire showed me how to treat women with respect. I am who I am because I randomly met Erica and Katarina and Kalee on the internet. I am who I am because I have more moms and little sisters than any one man should legally be allowed to have. I am who I am because the Boergers and the Webbers and the Engebretsons and the Blakes welcomed me into their families. I am who I am because mentors like Greg and the Havises and Shirley and Wade took the time to help a kid who had way too much time to think. I am who I am because the St. Paul kids and the Trinity kids and the St. Andrews UMC kids and the Concordia high kids and the Canadians, Wisconsinites, and Ohioans from the work camps thought I was someone special just because I happen to be someone special. I am who I am because the Neeley girls made me their mascot. I am who I am because my mom is the woman she was and my grandfather was the man he is.

I am who I am because of you. And I really love being me. So thank you for that.

Part of me knows that I should be sad that for so many of you, we haven't kept in touch. But I can't be sad. You are each beautiful, wonderful, special people. I'm throwing part of the proof of that away tonight. I'm keeping less than a dozen letters. But I'm still here. I'm the proof that you are each beautiful, wonderful, special people. I will tell your stories whether I have your letters or not. I will tell your stories because, for a time, sometimes less than a week, we were in love. I don't need the letters to love you. I can see you in me any time I want.

I cried a lot tonight as I read all of those letters again. The letters from ex-girlfriends I hurt. The letters from ex-friends I hurt. The letters from women excited about me but who never heard from me again. The letters from people disappointed in me. The massive wave of letters encouraging me to be who I am, because I matter to them. I've read them several times in the time they've lived here with me, but I've never cried. I was overwhelmed by the thought this would be the last time I would ever see any of them.

It took a while to go through them. There were so many people to pray for. So many people to be thankful for. So many people I've hurt who I want to hold and beg forgiveness and cry with, but who have almost certainly forgotten all about me. That's what happens when you write the letter, you let it all go. And that's what happens when you keep the letter for 20 years, it eats at you. It owns you. It reminds you that, at least for a snapshot in time, you were an awful person. That becomes your identity.

But all of those women moved out tonight. All that disappointment and anger and guilt and regret has left the building. It is the strangest sense of loss to read a letter written by a hand decades ago and pray for the person that hand has become, and then throw away the letter. It's like I've just erased hundreds of people who only still existed because I refused to let go of them.

So thank you to all of you, my friends, my guides, my lovers, my acquaintances. Thank you for all of you that took the time to say something that was worth keeping. Thank you for giving me so many years to meditate on your encouragement and support. And most of all thank you for your ernest desire to stay connected to me. It has truly meant more to me than I know to express.

I love you

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Falling in Love for Dummies

You might be confused, since we just covered this topic in a recent post. But let's face it, if that's the easy way of falling in love, it's easier to just wait for it to happen randomly.


So, I'm going to make this as easy as I can, mostly so that I can remember it. If I can remember it, we all can remember it. Let's start with the basics...

What do you mean by falling in love?

These days we have lots of ways of connecting with people - networking events, online dating, volunteering, Cross-Fit, just to start the list. Connecting with people is easy, you find out a little about where they work and where they live with the goal of figuring out how you can most easily leverage the relationship for your agenda. 

It makes me a little sick to write that last sentence, but be honest, when was the last time you got to know someone just for the sake of knowing them?

Falling in love means two things - being excited about the long term potential of a budding relationship, and being open to the slow, subtle, inevitable shift in identity that comes from the realization of that potential. Put another way, falling in love means looking forward to becoming someone else.

Just to be clear, I do not mean some sort of exclusive, soul-mate, squishy, lust-till-the-poetry-ends Hollywood version of falling in love. This isn't about the movie ending. This is about life long relationships with people you can, and more importantly, want to grow old with.

Who can I fall in love with?

This particular exercise is intended for two people who may perhaps know each other, but not particularly well. That's not to say that people who know each other can't use this exercise to fall in love, or that people who are already in love can't use this exercise to connect even more deeply. But the research I've been doing lately is geared around turning acquaintances into relationships, so your millage may vary.

In particular, there are a few things that happen in the first "real" conversation you have with someone. Generally in such a conversation, your expectations are set very low, but your critical thinking is at its peak. 

Think about it, if you're talking with an old friend with whom you're very comfortable, they can get away with saying anything and you'll laugh. You're likely to glaze over if the conversation lags or steers too far from what you normally talk about. However with a potential new relationship about to bloom, there are all kinds of physiological responses kicking into high gear. Is this person safe? Was that joke really funny? Why do they keep looking at my left shoulder? Are they going to stab me with a salad fork?

A serious talk with a casual acquaintance is an exercise in threat assessment, it's a natural response to the unexpectedness of the situation. But can we really use that to fall in love?

Turns out, the answer is a resounding "yes." The discomfort places us right on the edge of "excited" and it takes substantially less to push us over. It's the reason the "friend zone" myth isn't so mythical. 

So I can fall in love with pretty much anyone?

Probably, at the very least you can certainly grow closer to anyone with this exercise. This isn't a magic ritual, or a verbal equivalent to Love Potion #9. This won't make people fall in love with you - let's face it, you're a complete mess. But it will give you and your conversation partner every opportunity to search for the connection you both long for.

Just remember, the ideal result is for you to become someone else, and to be excited about it. Volunteering for a lobotomy is not for the faint of heart. 

Let's talk about identity for just a moment, since that's ultimately what we are trying to change here. I don't think you'll find anyone else that's suggesting this, but I'm of the opinion that our identity is like a cube. And it's not just because I love the Cube, because I do, but that's not part of this discussion.

Your identity has four sides - Physical, Rational, Emotional, and Spiritual. Because I say so; yes, I totally just made that up. It also has three dimensions - Past, Present, and Future. To make things easy, we are only going to talk about the four sides in the Present dimension. So we have six aspects to our identity - Past, Physical, Rational, Emotional, Spiritual, and Future.

While the words may seem obvious, it may be worth taking a closer look at each of them. Because, again, I totally just made all this up.

Physical is the easiest to understand, even if our physical identity rarely matches up with reality. Your physical identity is how you experience the world, how you sense it and interact with it. It tends to communicate through sensation and time language. Watch the hands during physical responses, it's hard to keep them still when discussing your physical identity.

Emotional is pretty easy too - How do you feel? How do you feel about the world? How do you feel about yourself? It's typically what we associate with the right hemisphere of our brains. It tends to communicate with relative and emotive language. Facial expression around the eyes is the primary means of body language here as is holding things close or pushing them away.

Rational is surprisingly difficult in this context, simply because we have to use language to communicate during most of this exercise, which is a decidedly rational activity. But you're looking for how your conversation partner thinks about the world and themselves. Logical and process language usually expresses the perspective of the rational identity as well as equivalencies. Strong physical contact, such as grabbing your arm or the table or clasping your hands is often a good nonverbal indicator of rational expression.

Spiritual may not be what you first expect. It's not about whether you have faith; for some folks faith is entirely rational or emotional. Spiritual identity is about legacy, perfection, eternity, humanity. It is the overarching connectedness that ties the self to the selfless. This almost always talks in absolutes, hyperboles, abstracts and of relationships. Lip-centric expressions (smiling / frowning) and broad sweeping motion are the visible signs that people are focused on their spiritual identity.

Your future identity isn't just your five year plan. That's often a very rational concept. Your future identity is your hopes, fears, and dreams. It's the anticipated destination absent the plan. As a child you may have had a future identity of becoming an astronaut, but not have the first clue how to become one. Future identities have many of the same sides as present identities, but there's always an assumption of change, of different, of better or sometimes of worse. It is this delta that most defines our future identities. 

Everyone has an image of their past selves that bears only passing resemblance to the person they truly once were. Our past identity almost always becomes romanticized or marginalized. They are often the center of achievement or regret. Our past identities are what we most often compare to others present selves, and most drives our sense of entitlement and discrimination. If we carry with us the baggage of our past decisions, our past selves are the cargo jet.

So can you fall in love with anyone? Sure, but that doesn't mean it's painless. You have to connect your identity bits to their identity bits, and in the course of doing so, open yourself up to changing and rearranging all the bits you once held dear. Falling in love is not without its cost, but therein also lies its reward.

Let's get this party started - Step 0: Know thyself.

In the next few exercises you're going to get to know someone. Really get to know them? No, don't be silly. People are wildly complicated and deep and the most magical thing you've ever encountered. You aren't ever even going to really get to know yourself. But in the next few exercises you're going to try to uncover bits of identity in someone else. That means you're going to have to share bits of yourself in the process. Do you even know yourself?

So, let's start with you. Ask yourself, what is something that I identify as physically. Be nice to yourself. I know you find all the things wrong with yourself and your house and your job and your car and your big toe. But what is something you enjoy about your physical interaction with the world? Can you blow the perfect bubble gum bubble? Can you read a moderately sized work of fiction in under an hour. Can you tie your shoes with your tongue? Do you like the way your bald head feels when pressed against a freshly textured wall? Hold out your hand. Shut your eyes. Look towards your hand and open your eyes. What is the first thing you imagined sitting on your palm?

What about your emotional self... When was the last time you laughed so hard that you did something awkward? How do you feel when you sing in public? If you were standing in a phone booth as people slowly entered the booth one by one, how would your feelings change as more people packed in? How would you describe your emotional state the last time you were at a sporting event and your team lost?

Don't forget your rational side... If you knew today was going to be perfect, how would you get ready in the morning? What makes your best friend your best friend? If you could never again cook your favorite meal, what would you cook in its place? What is your ideal road trip? If you were stranded on a desert island for years, what would you take with you when you were rescued?

Explore your spiritual side. If the world does remember you, what will they remember you for? What is the perfect desert? Who is the person you most see in yourself? Who do you see yourself most in? If you and one other person could live forever, how would you pick the other person? Whose laugh still rings in your ears? If there was one person you could meet, who would it be and what would be the perfect place to meet them? If you could see inside any one building, who would you tell?

Your past self is a web of complicated half-truths, partial stories, and twisty paradoxes. Who was the first person who made you feel like you were special, and what happened when you realized you weren't? If you could live any day over again, but before you did you got to tell one person to change their behavior for that day, what would you say to them? What is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen, and how did it change you? If there was one sensory experience you could relieve, how would you try to capture it? What is the most influential thing a teacher ever did for you? 

Finally future you is on the block. If you could conquer one fear, what would you do afterwards? If you knew the exact day you were going to leave your current job, what would you do the day before? On your 87th birthday, who's singing while you blow out the candles? When is the next time you are almost completely certain you will do nothing while watching the sun come up? If you and three other people were standing somewhere no other person had ever stood before, what would be the occasion?

Perhaps you're thinking I'm not being fair. I'm putting a question under rational, but your answer is decidedly emotional. Maybe I'm asking a question that I think is physical, but for you it's spiritual. Maybe it's a future question that you did last week. People are complicated. You are complicated. You are beautiful. Don't be surprised that you're surprising. Don't be surprised that I can't package you up in a little box. You don't belong in a little box. Neither do the people you're going to meet tomorrow.

I've put these questions under categories because in a sense the question belongs there. But you don't belong there. You are rich and wonderful and your identity blurs lines and swirls and flows and defies logic, reason and most physical laws. Isn't that just lovely?

The point isn't to force you into a particular way of looking at yourself in the world. Or to force you into a particular way of looking at other people or forcing them to look at themselves. The point is to start to listen to how you share your identity so that you can hear how you share it with others, and how other folks share theirs with you.

Step 1 - Anything is better than nothing

You're ready to fall in love. I hope you're excited. I'm excited. I really want you to fall in love. I fell in love with 3.5 people yesterday. It was a good day. Not a great day, but a really good day. I love good days. I hope you fall in love today way more than 3.5 times. At least 4. Everyone thinks that half is hard. It's not. It's the other 3 that take effort. I can half fall in love with a rock just as it's hitting its third bounce on a 14 skip toss across a lake, because you can just tell around the third bounce that it's going to go the distance. Half love is dumb. Don't do that. I'm not proud of the half part of the 3.5. I'm not proud of the 3 either. It was just a really good day.

So, here we go. Find out anything, literally anything about as many of the 6 aspects about someone else as you can. Gabriel is the parking garage attendant at an office building I visited yesterday. He's a very spiritual man. Faith is important to him, and it makes him truly happy to find it in other people, regardless of the specifics. He wants to have a wonderful day just because he woke up that morning. He wants to have a wonderful day with you. He touches parking tickets and money all day, but a handshake can make him almost leap out of his booth. Gabriel was, for lack of a better word, tickled that we both have angel names. Faith is really important to him, and he was truly happy to find it in me.

I love Gabriel. You'd love him too if you met him. Maybe you have met him. Maybe you just didn't know his name was Gabriel. He really wants you to have a wonderful day. Sincerely. Not just a have-a-great-day-smiley kind of day. We're talking a leap-out-of-his-booth-left-handed-handshake kind of day.

Yesterday was a really good day.

So, here's the exercise. You get to ask 6 questions, your partner gets to ask 6 questions. You can ask follow ons and whys and wherefores until you get a respectable answer, but don't be an ass about it. Don't ever forget that the whole point here is to fall in love with someone you really really should connect with. Right this second you're talking to the kind of person that can have a meaningful impact on your life. I'm so envious I can barely contain myself. I would do anything to meet the person you're about to fall in love with and you get to do it for free. You are so lucky.

The point of these 6 questions is to learn one thing about each of the 6 identity aspects of the other person. You want to learn these things in their words. You might not learn something about all 6. Most folks are pretty private. Don't try to find the "most" or the "best" or the "worst", you're literally looking for anything.

Isn't that shooting a little low? Absolutely. You're not trying to dissect them. This isn't a demolition exercise. You don't even want to scratch the surface. It's more like a high school lunch line. You're going to pass in front of each station and take what's given. It might be Salisbury steak. It might be lobster bisque. It might be that light green sludge that passed for veggie casserole. Or maybe it didn't pass. But it doesn't matter. You take what you're given graciously and move on.

Falling in love is about connecting. It is a human necessity to connect on the light things first before entrusting the heavy things. I fell in love with Addison once. A truly amazing woman, we hit it off spectacularly the first night she was my waitress. We talked about ridiculously deep things, things that even close friends might not share with me or I with them. But we had shared no shallow things and we couldn't talk well after that. We had nowhere to start but all in, and you just don't always have the time or energy to go all in when you're trying to cover two sections.

That makes me sad; Addison is a truly amazing woman I won't ever see again. If you ever meet her, fall in love with her as quickly as you can, just don't forget the small stuff. And tell her I love her. Also, hi.

Before we move on, I should point out - be creative. Don't say, "what is your physical identity?" because no one talks like that. Say something more like, "If a Greek sculptor had met you before finishing their masterpiece, what part of you would they be most likely to include in the final form?"
because that's fun. Be fun. Ask questions that subtly betray the kind of things you're into. I guess you can be not-so-subtle too. It disappoints me, but I know that someone will ask "So, I'm a leg guy. Do you think your legs are more Christina Applegate in the early years of Married with Children, or Jane Fonda in Newsroom?" I suppose I have to respect that at least you're trying to fall in love. 

Step 2: Rinse and Repeat, with change

This step is my favorite. It's the most positive part of the whole exercise. There are two parts. The first is to find out what your conversation partner wants to change about each of their 6 aspects. Most people only have one or two things they want to change, so you don't have to use that "most" language here either. Just find something that they want to change about themselves or their world - preferably the sooner the better.

The second is tricky and just a tiny bit scary. You don't get 6 questions this time, you only get 5. Instead of one of the questions you have to propose a topic that you both will have to answer, and the topic needs to be about the other person. The traditional example is "What are three things we both have in common?" It goes back and forth between the two of you, so 6 things in total in this example. And you have to start.

The traditional example uses "we", but "we" is something I would suggest avoiding until there's really going to be a "we". Or until step 3. I'm afraid I'm going to make you say "we" in step 3. But in step 2, I'd recommend sticking to things like, "Let's come up with 2 things that might be the first things someone notices about you or me when they walk in the room." 

I'm going to be honest, I'm really bad with this one. I'm struggling to come up with decent examples. I find it exceedingly difficult to ask someone else what they think of me. I find it relatively difficult to tell someone else what I think of them. These are things I generally don't feel qualified to comment on. Might explain a lot right there.

But, this is the exercise. Did you think I was writing all this for your benefit? How silly of you. If I write it, then I have to do it. That's how writing works. It's very similar to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Wait, no, it's nothing like that at all. It's much closer to jumping out of a parachute without a plane. Yep, nailed it. I'm a metaphorian genius. And humble. If I write it, I have to do it.

Step 3: Brace yourself for the immutable

We all have things that we can't, or aren't about to change. When it comes to spirituality, I will simply not back down when it comes to love. It's what I do. It's why I do the other things I do. Even when I'm not doing it, I'm still doing it. If only I were actually good at it. Which is why there is a step 3.

We tend to not have many things that are unchangeable about ourselves. At least, that's what we think. You'd be shocked how much of yourself is hallowed ground as far as you're concerned. And when you've reached this point of the exercise, there's a good chance you both have an idea of what that might be in the other.

Find some of those things, as much as you're both willing to share. Ask the scary questions. Who is the one person you can't let go of? Have they let go of you? What's the deepest you've ever been hurt? Did you forgive the person who hurt you? If everyone you loved was trapped in a burning building, who would you save? How could you live with yourself afterwards? If you lost one of your senses tomorrow, who would you ask for help? What is the fear you will live your whole life with? 

Step 3 isn't very positive, but it can be if you try very hard. Either way, it needs to be the kind of questions that evoke a response not just from answering but from hearing. At this point, there is enough trust in the budding relationship that literally every interaction is forming and strengthening connections. Hold hands if you're comfortable; hold eye contact even if you're not. Be free and open with your body language and expressions. 

At this point, you're literally remapping part of your brain. Seriously, I'm not kidding. It's Vulcan level mind melding. Don't hold back. Give part of yourself and take part of them in return. Take the beautiful bits from each other and leave them sitting on the table. Take the ugly bits and discard them. Mash all the beautiful bits around into a paste, until you can't see where you end and they begin. Finger paint with your beautiful bit paste all over the ceilings and the walls. Cry. Laugh. Hug. Finger paint some more. Find more bits. Keep mashing and painting until everything looks like "we".

Oops, left that part out. This time, instead of 6 questions you only get 4. And instead of proposing a topic that you both have to answer about the other, this time you have to trade in 2 questions for two topics that you have to answer about yourselves together. I told you the "we" was in step 3. It's not just on the floors and ceilings, you have to talk about it too.

If we were stranded in a city neither of us have ever been to, what are 3 things we could do that we would both enjoy? If we went out right now and spent $20 in 3 different places, where would we go or what would we buy? If we could have 2 people walk into this room right now and join our conversation, who would we both enjoy? If in 5 years we had dinner, what would we be excited to talk to each other about? 

"We" is a beautiful place. Don't rush to get there, but when you do, make it count. "We" is one of those few times in life where you don't even have to fight against the urge to make it all about "I". Fight for "we" and fight to keep it once you find it.

Step 4: Shut the door, open the window

I used this in the last post about falling in love to describe step 4. It's just so great even though I hate it - the phrase, not step 4. I love step 4. Shut the door - stop talking. Open the window - make eye contact. Look in their eyes and don't look anywhere else. Look for 4 minutes. 4 full minutes. Set an alarm if you have to. Better yet, cheat and set it for 4 hours "accidentally." Don't talk.

The last time I did this, I walked away with nicknames for her eyes. Dot and Dagger. Do you know what it can do to you when you have nicknames for someone's eyes? Do you know what it does to them? Do you want to find out?

Eyes, people. Eyes. In 4 minutes I watched time stretch from the birth of the universe straight through to the collapse of everything. I was in there somewhere, for just the tiniest moment. I was a brief flicker, but I was definitely there. I really liked seeing me in someone else's eternity eyes even if I couldn't find myself again. You aren't even human if you can look in Dot and Dagger, see yourself flash by in an infinite instant, and not fall completely in love. 

Honestly I question if you're human if you drive past Gabriel without wishing him a wonderful day. Not because you're not worthy of being a human, but because you're missing out on one of the best parts about being one. He's got an angel's name, for crying out loud.

Please fall in love. Lots. Find the divine in someone as soon as you possibly can. Find the divine in someone as often as you possibly can. Show off the divine in you. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would love to fall in love with you. Maybe that's not fair, since I've clearly fallen in love with falling in love with love, but let's not mince words. The next person you meet wants to connect with you just as much as I do, they just might not know it yet. Believe me, you're in for a treat. Especially if it's Gabriel or Addison, they're wonderful.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

More Beautiful

"Where were you in the hospital? Didn't you have a nurse named Blair?"

I still get a lot of people who talk to me about being in the hospital. That or I'll log into some social networking site or email account I forgot I even had and find a message or two waiting for me about how someone was thinking about me that day and they wanted to know I was alright and they're still praying for me.

Which, I gotta tell you, feels pretty incredible. You want to seriously make someone's day, leave them a random message somewhere they'll maybe-possibly-but-maybe-not one day see about how you were just randomly thinking about them. Nice. Very nice. Also very random.

Point is, it's not particularly rare that I get a message from someone about the hospital. It is however incredibly rare to get a text about one of the nurses at the same time.

I don't quite know how to explain it. Imagine you're falling. You have no idea how long you've been falling; you have no idea when you're going to stop. You can't quite focus on anything or anyone. There's more air rushing through your head than actual thoughts. The only thing you're remotely certain about is that when you stop falling it's definitely going to not be good, except you're not really sure about that either.

You don't reach for a hand, but a hand still grabs you. At least you think. You can definitely remember a hand. It was definitely in yours. But it might be one of those fake rubber hands from a novelty store. Or a cleverly crafted pasta. Or play-doh. Pretty sure it's a hand though.

When you stop falling, it's bad, but not the kind of bad you thought it would be. The hand is gone, but if you close your eyes just right, you can feel it. Or you can hear a voice. Or picture a disembodied head. That hand, that voice, that head, those are connected to the most beautiful people you know.

And if there's one thing I know, it's beautiful people. Honestly, if you rounded up the top 1000 most beautiful people on the planet, I'd know way more than half. I seriously doubt I've ever even met someone who's not on that list. So when I say "the most beautiful people you know," I know what I'm talking about.

You mention one of the most beautiful people I know, and you've got my attention.

"I was at Baylor, but she left before I got out. She's awesome, at least, what I remember about her."

"Did she go to St Paul or Clements?"

"I thought it was Southwest something or other"

"Yeah, this is a UT Southwestern hospital. She apparently took care of my friend. They were talking about how great this Blair in ICU was. Gotta be the same one."

"You should go to the ICU and find out when she works so I can go thank her in person."

"Man. She's here now. But I don't have the balls or the people skills to do that"

"I don't have the people skills, but if there's 2 things I have, it's balls.* Which hospital?"

"Clements. Wait, so you went up to Baylor to thank her, and she was gone so you never got to?"

"Right, she left right after I got out."

"Oh man, this could be a Disney moment!!" **

"Shut up and tell me what floor to go to."

"You're coming? Now?"

"Of course I am, don't be ridiculous."

"Oh my gosh, haha. Hope it's the same Blair."

"Seriously, you have no idea what floor?"

Now, I know what you're thinking. You, as someone who has heard more than one of my stories, are thinking 3 things. First, "you totally didn't say *," and you're correct. But it's too funny to not put in the official transcript. Second, "your friend didn't say **," and you're wrong. He most certainly did. I would also like to point out he used to work in the oil fields. A roughneck saying "gosh" and "Disney" in the same conversation. Yep, completely true.

Third, "it wasn't the same Blair and you've told us this whole drawn out story only to completely crush our hopes and dreams because you're a jerk-face who likes to play with the emotions of people who sincerely care for you."

She walked up and said "I know you, right?"

"Not from here. I was your patient at Baylor, well, sort of."

You want to seriously make someone's day, leave them a random message somewhere they'll maybe-possibly-but-maybe-not one day see about how you were just randomly thinking about them.

Or walk up to them a year and a half later at their new job and thank them publicly in front of their coworkers and your friends for saving your life. That works too.

Disney wishes he had my life. I'll take it over an amusement park any day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Fall in Love in Four Easy Steps

Wow, you clicked on that link. It's hard to believe you're that gullible. It's hard to believe anyone is that gullible. But hey, you clicked on it, and for better or worse, now you're here. Let's see if we can't at least make it worth your while.

Truth is, I want you to fall in love. Thankfully I know how to teach you to fall in love. Even more thankfully, I'm going to share. Not some ridiculous Hollywood version of falling in love. Not the love-that's-only-love-till-the-lust-runs-out. I'm talking real, honest-to-goodness, lost your footing at the precipice of "us" and fell into a lifelong, identity-altering, love.

It's not romantic unless you want it to be. I'm not talking about the love that winds up with two people happily married, at least, not necessarily. You want that to still be a choice, right? This is about intentionally falling into love, the kind of love that makes both parties better for having taken the plunge. What you do after that is your business.

I want you to find the love you already have, hopefully abundantly. It's the kind of love you have for your family, your spouse, your close friends. But why stop there? Why just love the people you're supposed to? What if you could love everyone? What if you at least tried?

The cardinal rule of falling in love is a double sided coin - you are going to devote yourself to the task of leaving the other person better than you found them, and you are going to give them every opportunity to do the same for you. In other words, the central tenet of falling in love is to realize that more often than not it's going to be a very short drop - a very short, potentially life-altering drop.

Step 1: The Importance of Being Ernest

Each step has six fundamental questions. You should be able to answer all the questions for a step in a conversation of about 20 minutes. So, if things go well, in roughly one hour and four minutes, you'll find yourself mid free-fall. Feel free to take the time if you have it, but be intentional. Falling in love is largely about ensuring that you and the Other feel good, and feeling good has the unfortunate property of being disappointingly transient. The best way for anyone to feel good is to feel clever, witty, creative, and surprising; terribly few of us are capable of feeling that way for long.

The main goal to step 1 is to establish something, anything to answer the following six questions:

  • What is something that makes people important to the Other?
  • What is something that the Other believes is an ideal outcome or chain of events?
  • What is something the Other sees about themselves in the future?
  • What is something that makes the Other feel?
  • What is something the Other appreciates or regrets about their past?
  • What is something the Other would change about themselves or their life?
Do not, I repeat, do not ask these questions directly. If the Other mentions they don't really like their boss, ask if they've ever had a good boss and what made them a good boss. If the Other mentions the traffic was bad and made them late, ask what their favorite route home is, or the city they most like to drive around in. If they mention it was a long day, ask them how long they think their long days are going to last, and what they look forward to doing when the long days are behind them.

The key here is to just find something about how they view themselves past, present and future, a way they measure people, a way they measure ideals, and the kinds of feelings they're quick to share.

If you get good at being this kind of intentional, you'll find it's nearly second nature. I can get through the bulk of these questions while I check out at the grocery store or while I'm ordering from a waitress. Yes, I completely, 100%, wholeheartedly recommend falling in love with your grocery store clerk and waitress. And the receptionist at the hotel you're checking into in the city you will never again visit, and the nurse taking your blood for your yearly physical, and your car salesperson, and the guy who's tearing out your sheetrock after your laundry room floods, and the random person responding your latest tweet.

It's a common misconception that you have to be charming or clever or attractive to fall in love. Ridiculous. Everyone wants to feel important. Everyone wants to connect.

Make step 1 your standard way of interacting with human beings. Listen for their somethings. Share your own somethings. Make sure to repeat their somethings so they know you were listening to their somethings. Be gracious when they let you know they were listening to yours.

Are you falling yet? I know I am.

Step 2: The Real Thing

Each step has six fundamental questions designed to peal away the layers of self we build up around our real selves. The somethings in step 1 aren't the real somethings, they're just some somethings. Step 2 is about uncovering the real somethings. Yes, you can get to real somethings in 20 minutes. Just understand, you're about to reveal your own in that same span of time. It's almost scary to consider, and you haven't even seen the questions yet.
  • What does the Other most value about something?
  • What does the Other most want to do / know / be / change?
  • What is the one thing the Other could never forget?
  • Who does the Other love?
  • What does the Other think about love?
  • What does the Other think about you?
Do not, I repeat, do not answer any question from any step about yourself until you're asked. You are almost certainly the best gift they've gotten in the past 5 minutes. Let them unwrap you. A snake nut can is a prank, not a gift. 

It's okay to push the question a bit. They may not necessarily be asking about love directly, but you can hint that you have a good relationship with your brother. Let them discover you; show them how to discover you by discovering them.

Step 2 isn't about getting to know everything about the Other. It's about getting to know a few very select, very important facts as deeply as they can be known in a relatively short time. And if you think about it, we all want to share these things. Any time we get to share any one of these things we almost instantly feel connected to the Other. Isn't that funny, we all assume it works the other way, but it turns out we're wrong.

Most of us wait months or years before sharing any one of these questions with someone else. What if you only waited about a half hour? Wouldn't you feel surprisingly good about that half hour? Wouldn't you feel surprisingly good if you let someone else feel that surprisingly good over the same half hour?

Isn't it a little ridiculous how easy it is to fall? Isn't it a little ridiculous how little we do it given how easy it is? Let's fall more.

Step 3: A Crazy Little Thing Called "Us"

Yeah, I know, not a famous play by a famous playwright - what of it? Maybe it's not a famous play yet; maybe you're about to become a famous playwright.

Each step has six fundamental questions that are specifically about identity and perception. The ultimate goal is to be a functional catalyst for transformative change in the life of the Other, and to simultaneously empower them to be the same for you. Falling in love changes you, changes them, by creating, for at least a little while an "us" that is more important, more valuable, more just-plain-stinkin'-awesome than either of you could ever hope to be. And it's that "us" that sticks with you and them, it's the "us" that ultimately can transform you into something better than "you". If that doesn't scare the pants off you, I don't know what could.
  • What does the Other think about us?
  • What does the Other most want to share with the people close to them?
  • What does the Other need me to know about them? What do they need to know about me?
  • How is the Other broken?
  • What can't the Other let go of? Who can't the Other let go of?
  • How does the Other feel about you? How does the Other think you feel?
Do not, I repeat, do not balk at these questions. Thoughts and desires and needs and feelings are the fundamental building blocks of identity. If you want to fall in love, and I really desperately hope that you do, then you have to be intentional about digging these blocks out of the shell of the human across the table from you. And you have to let them dig around in the wretched mass of flesh you've become as well. You have to take all those squishy flesh blocks and dump them on the table and mash them around. Mash them together until you can't remember which bits belonged to whom.

And when you've mashed them around until they've blended together, paint the fucking walls with it. Spread your mashed up feelings and thoughts and wants all over the walls and ceiling and floor. Smear it on each other. Make everything you can see for as far as you can see all about "us".

Terrifying, I know. But that wasn't the scary part. That was just the warm up for the scary part. The sloppy, squishy dry run for the really scary part. It's so scary I'm even stalling about writing it...

Step 4: Shut the Door, Open the Window

Fine, yes, I've totally given up on famous plays. I hate the whole "When God closes a door, he opens a window" thing. It's a trite thing, it's a horrible thing, but it's not the scary thing. I'm saying all this to keep stalling. You might think I'm just being silly, but I can't begin to explain to you my fear of writing. I've been writing on this blog for around 10 years, and if you'd seen the things I've seen, you'd be terrified of writing terrifying things too.

I lied. There are no questions in step 4. There aren't six of them, not even one. You just have to do one thing. But you have to do that one thing for 4 minutes. Set a timer on your phone if you have to. Four long, terrifying, excruciating minutes. Don't stop and start over. No excuses. If you're going to fall, if you really intend to fall in love, do this one thing for 4 uninterrupted minutes.
  • Look into the Other's eyes.
Do not, I repeat, do not look away. Don't even think about it. Don't talk, don't say a word. Don't hum, don't whistle. If you've done the other steps in the last hour, I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you that you'll be doing good if you remember to breathe. You're here to fall in love right?

Yeah, you're not going to be able to do this at the counter while you're ordering a double burger with bacon and provolone. Let's be honest, you're going to get to do this a tiny, tiny handful of times in your life, and that's if you live a really long and really lucky life.

Do not, I repeat, do not ever pass up the opportunity to look into someone else's eyes for 4 straight minutes. Entire lifetimes can pass in those 4 minutes. Seasons will pass. Things passing will pass. Those things you knew you could never let go of... you'll have a hard time remembering what they were. All that brokenness - those are just new windows to look out of after you've climbed into the first two. 

And you won't believe what you're going to find when you stare long enough to get past all the awkwardness and discomfort and goofy smilies and eyebrow adjustments. When your palms have gone past clammy, past some sort of strange water production, to suddenly not even existing. When time stops and reverses a tiny bit, just long enough that you start to wonder if you're collapsing or gravity just turned off or turned up or flipped over, but somehow just the gravity around your stomach, or is that your appendix, you really should have payed attention in Biology, I bet she payed attention in Biology. I bet she pays attention to everything. I bet she... oh God, she's paying attention to me.

It will click, you'll almost hear the sound. It will break somewhere in the back of your head. The tape. The tape with all the voices. Maybe it snaps. Maybe they finally have mercy and just press the stop button. But it will stop. Everything will stop. You won't be falling any more. You'll have fallen; you'll have stopped. You'll have landed squarely in what can only be described as "in love." And you'll do what everyone does when they've finished falling and finally find they've stopped. You'll turn around...

And find yourself.

Friday, September 26, 2014

if

if there were no God, if i had not met Him and talked with Him and walked with Him, if He had never bothered to reveal Himself to me and through me, if on the day i met You i had no idea that there was even a place for such a thing, i would have invented one. if there were no God, i would have created one the moment You entered my life. i would have needed something to thank, something to worship, simply for bringing You about.


You are no accident. me? sure, i can buy that a few amoebas got together a few billion years ago and 1, 2, skip a few, here i am. but You? You have fingerprints all over You. You are designed. and not just the sort of designed that implies You were thrown together last minute for the fashion show. that God i would have but didn't have to invent clearly took time in designing You. You are so simple and at the same time so complex, so fundamentally elegant. not just mechanically, not just physically and emotionally and mentally, but in everything that makes You "You". in Your very core, from the depths of You to every facet, You are beautiful. 

even if He were not so, i would have to call this God "Perfect". given thousands of millions of billions of years, i could not, with every resource and force and particle and interaction, come anywhere close to designing You. me? sure, i can buy a decent set of lincoln logs and a bottle of wood glue and get pretty damn close to me. but You are deeply mysterious, thoroughly fantastic, bordering on the miraculous. 

that's what i would have to call You - "Miraculous". You are simply unexpected. and not just once, not just the first time i encountered You. every time You're near You are surprising. i would have to call it "Love", Him "Love", that a God capable of creating You would deign to let me cross paths with this, with You, with His fantastic creation.  i would call it "Love" that He would drop You into my life. i would call "Heaven" wherever He dropped You from. i would desperately want to go there. i would desperately want to go there with You, with Him, with Us.

if there were no God, there would have been one the day i met You. i would fashion Him with my own hands; i would demand the existence of something, anything that could explain You. 

yet, this is the truth You so clearly outline. i could never have made You. i could never have made the God that designed You, that created You. i could never have made this. i could never have made this Us.

if i did not believe there was a God, You would have convinced me i was wrong. there is no world, no plane of existence, no parallel universe where i could be in Your presence and deny that i was in God's as well.

i wish that You could meet You. i wish that You could see in Yourself what is so clear to me. i wish that You could see how loudly You scream, how clearly You cry out, the glory of the Creator.

i wish that You would meet Him. i wish that You would see in Him what is so clear to me. i wish that You would see how loudly He screamed, how clearly He cried out...

I Love You

Monday, September 22, 2014

Real Good Thing

A year can be a silly thing. I'm not sure why I feel the need to celebrate its passing. I don't often. I'm not particularly crazy about my birthday. New Year's Eve is my least favorite holiday. I almost never notice the odometer flipping over in my car. I'm not sure why it makes such a big difference to mark a particular spot on the earth's orbit as any better than any other.

But sometimes logic needs to take a back seat to sentimentality, and when it does, we make something special of the way the sun looks and the wind blows and the temperature shifts. Some days are special because of the thing that happened once and didn't happen again. Some days are worth celebrating because they aren't the day they were a year ago.

Last year about this time I was fighting for my life. Actually, not true - last year about this time several other people were fighting for my life, some with medicine, some with prayer. I was breathing shallowly on a respirator while a Christmas tree of antibiotics and other sundry drugs were pumped into the nearly lifeless shell that a few days later I was able to reclaim as my body.

And this past Saturday, to commemorate the fight that others so selflessly took up as their own when I could not, I strolled into the hospital to see if anyone I recognized was around.

I didn't take flowers. No chocolates or cupcakes or thoughtfully composed notes. I didn't wear a celebratory hat. No kazoos or trumpets or noise makers of any kind. Believe me, I would have gladly taken any of those things (except the trumpets); I wished for all of that and more. But that wasn't the purpose of the visit; those would have been things to hide behind.

As great fortune would have it, Bethany, Danielle, and Kaitlin were in the ICU and Venus was in the wing where I recovered after I could stand. Just to refresh, so there's no need to read the documentary of last year's event in all its ten thousand word glory, Bethany spent two days caring for me on the ventilator, Danielle assembled the team of teams of doctors that ultimately saved my life, and Kaitlin held my hand through the worst pain I've ever endured. Venus, was my nurse a few times during my recovery. We talked then about puzzles her son might enjoy, and he has apparently become quite proficient with the Rubik's cube since then.

It was not fun, I'm embarrassed to admit. I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. In fact, I didn't enjoy it at all. I smiled and hugged and joked, but that was definitely not a place I wanted to be.

So why go back at all? I've already said my thank-yous. There's only so thankful anyone cares for you to be. Thank you the first time is sweet, the second time is a bit annoying. So why go back?

I've been asking myself that question for a while. I didn't want to go back. Why did it seem so important to celebrate an anniversary when I don't care for celebrating or anniversaries? Why in the world would I throw a part of my life back into focus when I would rather move on?

I don't remember Danielle from when I first got to the ICU, but she's one of my first memories waking up. "Do you remember me?" That's an interesting question, isn't it? It implies something - she remembered me. Now, clearly she didn't have to struggle much to remember the last patient she had had just a few days before. But still, that's an interesting question. It carries with it the soft sweet smell of hope, of connection.

I remembered Blaire in wisps of memories from before, but she came by after I woke up as well. She didn't have to, but she did, just to check up on me. I remember she tied her shoe while she talked to me. She didn't stay long; I didn't even have her whole focus. Staying long isn't the point. She came by.

You see, what made these people special, what made me feel special, wasn't how well they did their jobs. I know what should be most important is that they played their part in saving my life, but it's just not. What still to this day makes me smile every time I remember that week is that people I barely know and will never know, people who aren't friends or coworkers or people who need or want anything from me, those people held on to me.

Not tightly, and not for very long. But for that tiny insignificant moment, those gentle tugs were anchors pulling me back to life and love and light and the joy of living and loving and lighting. Ok, so lighting doesn't work that well here, but still, you get the picture. They held on.

So now, I hold on to them. Not tightly, and not for very long. It's been almost a year since I've seen any of them. I didn't take them candy or coffee or chocolate or flowers-that-start-with-c. Chrysanthemums? Seriously, is that how you spell it? Are those even gift flowers? Whatever, look, the point is, it's not about being thankful or polite or trying to turn it into something it's not. It's about holding on, just a little bit, just enough.

Kaitlin held my hand when I needed it most. I've never forgotten that; I hope that I never will. She's an incredible woman. She has a passion for what she does and the people she does it for. She lights up a room. When she smiles, it's somehow even brighter. But the thing about her that I pray I will never forget is her hand holding mine.

When someone holds on to you, even lightly, even for a moment, it's impossible to deny, at least for that second, that you're a Real Good Thing. So yeah, I'll go back to that hospital. I'll go even if I don't want to, even if I don't see anyone I recognize. I'll go because I might see someone I know, and they deserve to be held on to, just a tiny bit, for just a little while.

It's why I bothered to write this down. I want to hold on to you, just a tiny bit, for just a little while.

Because you, my friend-in-passing, my momentary acquaintance, are a Real Good Thing.