The Need for Retreat

A spiritual retreat was a literal retreat from society where you left everything behind and connected with the divine. The physical displacement from the every day was an early version of a mindhack to remind someone they are away from all distractions.

I spent a few summers at a monastery, where I was treated to some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted… and the beauty of a monastic lifestyle. There was something different about being there and it was evident the moment you stepped foot on the property. All my stress an anxieties instantly vanished. Although it was tempting to stay, I knew it wasn’t my calling.

While there, time moved differently. Nothing dragged, nor did it ever feel like one was in a hurry. It was the perfect amount of work, rest, sleep and prayer in a day, which allowed you to regain focus on what really matters in your own life.

The youngest a monk has died at this place was 95.

As we venture forth into the cusp of a new world, something beyond the paradigm shift of the Gutenberg printing press, the idea of retreat takes on a whole new meaning.

We no longer need to physically leave our daily lives to enter into a retreat where we can focus on what matters.

Right now, contact with people is ubiquitous and constant. Try going for a day without electronically contacting another person – it seems like an impossible task.

We’re busier than ever and communicating more than humanity could have ever imagined. In this new age, we still need to learn how to take a step back and retreat to regroup.

All it takes is a willingness to physically part from our digital selves and spend a day in quiet reflection. It will feel alien to many the first time, almost threatening, but eventually it will be met with anticipation.

Just as you cannot spend your entire life in retreat (at some point you’ll have to take action), it would be difficult to spend every day cutoff from the stream of chatter. However, you can find purposeful ways to use it… one that coincides with your own life in what matters.

The need for retreat will teach us how to create a monastery in our own hearts.

It’s Their First Time

I was part of a retreat team for a year, having the opportunity to travel across the country and meet young people.

Part of the responsibility of our day was to do talks, run skits and perform dramas. After doing the same ones for six months straight, the sheer boredom of doing them reached an all time high.

It became tempting to add some flair to what we did in order to keep ourselves entertained.

However, no matter how many times we put these on, each audience was seeing it for the first time. Our team had to keep this in mind regardless of our itch to derail each other in the name of fun.

I think about performers who put on the same show, night after night, for many years straight. The reason they are professionals is because they stick to their script and understand audiences are seeing it for the first time.

It may be a million times to them, but it’s the first time for someone else.

That’s also a consideration when meeting people for the first time. Regardless of how your day is going… how you’re normally like… what happened that morning… a person meeting you for the first time will not take that into consideration.

Whatever you’re doing for the millionth time, always remember it may be the first time for someone else.

Simple Advice is the Hardest to Follow

“You can’t just book magic shows sitting in your basement and posting on Facebook. You need to get out there.”

This was the advice given to me by a good friend and while my ego refused to admit he had a point… he had a really good point. He was out there, talking with people, doing magic everywhere he went and making connections.

As a result, his weekends were jam packed with shows. He also had another full-time job.

I needed to get out there and take on this nerve wracking experience of showing my vulnerability. It’s the equivalent of asking someone one a date without certainty they were even interested in you.

Fear preyed on the emotion of rejection and my goodness, I didn’t want to be rejected (both in magic and in relationships).

His advice is in line with any other magician I know who was doing the same thing. Their word-of-mouth referrals were above and beyond because of the hustle they put into getting the word out.

The advice is simple, not easy… and it works.

Even though I don’t do magic shows anymore, I still get the occasional call from people who had my name dropped from others requesting for me to do a show. I don’t have any ads or web presence with my magic, but I’m still getting calls.

There’s a glut of people right now giving advice to writers on how to sell more books or get noticed. Most of that advice is related to gaming social media, keywords on Amazon, email lists, or some other system put in place.

However ,the advice of any wildly successful author from the past hundred years on the subject hasn’t changed:

Keep writing, finish what you write and put it out there.

Simple advice, but hard to do.

Simple financial advice: spend less than you earn.

How many struggle with that one?

The simplest of all advice is this:

Work on your craft and keep connecting with others.

Hard work doesn’t always get appropriately rewarded, but when luck strikes the hard-worker, it accelerates their efforts into the stratosphere.

 

I have friends who are doing incredibly well as writers, photographers, performers, speakers, musicians and wedding officiants just following that bit of advice.

Take the simple advice and do the hard work of actually following it.

 

99 Minute Millionaire Book Review

Author: Scott Alan Turner
Book Link

Simple, long-term, boring… and refreshing.

Turner delivers in his promise of the simplest and easiest book on investing, which can be a turnoff to people who want the fast cash-grab and overnight millions.

In a world of “invest in cryptocurrency!” (the latest fad), it was great to read through advice I’ve heard many times, but told in a way that’s enjoyable. His strategy is thinking for the long-term (really long-term) and slowly dripping money into index funds while spending very little time (99 minutes a year) watching their progress.

As someone who (mildly) employs this strategy and have already seen its benefits, it has given me enough rigor to continue on. When the last page was turned, I immediately sketched out a strategy for the upcoming years and went to work on employing it.

It’s important to note good financial habits are a prerequisite to making this strategy work. In other words, if you’re spending more than you earn without a clue where your money is going, it’s best to get that worked out first.

If you’re unsure about how investing works and want to plan for the long-term, start here.

It’s the simplest way to financial security.

The Need for Religion Class

This past weekend, I read an opinion piece in a major newspaper from someone who I rarely agree with… to put it mildly… and couldn’t help my amazement.

I was in full agreement with what was written.

Wente espoused the important strides we took in 2017 and how they were grossly overlooked. Mainly, poverty word wide dropped significantly and big steps were made in artificial intelligence.

The advancements in A.I. is an area we are anticipating, but grossly underestimating.

While the industrial era ushered in a time of outsourcing heavy tasks to machines, and then streamlining it, A.I. is a complete overhaul with our own minds. In other words, we will be taken out of our own decision making.

Kasparov has already written about why we shouldn’t fear this new age with the argument it frees us up for more creative thinking. I like to err on the positive side as well even if it means my own profession will be lost along with many others.

What happens, though, when we live in a world where there’s very little for us to do?

We’re already facing this problem with the endless deluge of concern about young people and the addiction to their devices (although I argue this isn’t just limited to a younger generation). It’s the constant checking and endless scrolling for something to assure of us something.

What is that something?

There isn’t a solid answer to that question.

It could be affirmation, belonging, connection, contemplation, thought-provoking, uplifting, motivation, or some kind of meaning to our own existence.

Hmmm… it seems those are all things religion teaches us as well and no, I don’t shy away from the issues religion brings either. However, a good class on Religion can bring a proper awareness that will help an individual navigate their own existential crisis.

It’s a mixture of other disciplines and can’t be met with simple answers.

A student cannot simply go online and read the SparkNotes for the text and regurgitate the answers on a quiz. Nor can they write formulas in clever hiding places to cheat on their Math or Science exam.

While I will always stress the importance of Math and Science to my students, and the need for literacy, they will always hear about the importance of a good Religion class because Religion starts with a lived experience.

That’s something no machine, computer or artificial intelligence can replicate.

Ugly Book Review

Author: Robert Hoge
Book Link

Ever wonder what it’s like to grow up knowing you’re just plain ugly?

This is a charming autobiography of Robert Hoge and the trials he endured from birth with this problem. It starts with a great metaphor to explain his condition and then gets right into the details of his life that feels as though he’s telling you in person.

I have to give credit for Hoge for managing to encapsulate such a difficult topic into a light read. He provided just enough details at each stage in his life for the reader to get the point, while still fully fleshing out the important parts that add to his life narrative.

It doesn’t take long to read, but you certainly feel as if you’ve gone on a personal journey with the man. The only qualm I had was no afterward, or at least mention, of life after his childhood until now.

However, if you’re reading this with a young person (the intended audience), they will undoubtedly connect with the story and be inspired by it. I know for certain it’s going directly into my classroom library.

Missing the Point

Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad.
John Scalzi, Don’t Live for Your Obituary

When you set expectations for others that do not align with their intended purpose, you miss the point completely.

I’m currently building a classroom library for my students to get them interested in reading. I have no qualms about putting anything popular on the shelves if I know students will read it.

My goal is to get them reading, not analyzing texts they will only pretend to read (or not read at all if we’re being honest).

I subscribe to the New York Times, not because of any expectation they will cover Canadian content or that I always agree with them, but their level of journalism is a breath of fresh air to the fast media of online news. It’s also the reason I pick up a paper copy of the Globe and Mail (the Canadian version) every weekend.

Getting upset at a young person for not having impulse control… or an understanding of consequences… is missing an opportunity to be a teacher to them.

Likewise, getting angry at a fast-food restaurant for not having healthy choices is missing the point of why they exist in the first place.

Before we start to judge, it’s best to understand the point.

The Path is Your Own

When I think of what I want from writing, it’s easy for my opinions to be swayed by the thoughts (mainly marketers) of others.

Yes, the idea of publishing books and having one become a massive bestseller with movie deal (or TV series) is alluring. So is the idea of writing to market and cashing in on what’s hot.

Even more is the idea that something I write will be culturally relevant (“The Great American Novel”) a hundred years from now.

All of that is predicated on others… which is something you can’t control (at best, you can mildly manipulate).

I’m already making a great living, so for me, the path of writing is my own.

I get to post my thoughts every day on a space I can claim to be my own for the whole world to see and write books that I’d want to read. My cost to do so is minimal and I love doing it.

I want my writing to be fun because most of life is work. This is my outlet.

I used to be a professional magician and had fun while doing it. People ask why I quit and the answer is simple: that path was over for me.

Magic hit a point that in order for me to keep it at the level I was at, I would need to sacrifice my writing, speaking and potential (at the time) family. That’s when I bowed out and shifted priorities.

Too often when we set a path for ourselves, we look at outliers and try to emulate them. We attribute our contentment (or our goal) with what they have accomplished.

In the writing world, this can be something as ostentatious as wanting to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. In magic, wanting to be David Copperfield.

It never occurs to people they can derive contentment on their own terms. They can still have the skill, practice and polish of a veteran without their notoriety or following their path.

Nor does it seem to occur to people things don’t need to happen overnight. Sometimes it happens… but again… those are outliers.

Even more important, who cares what others think?

Put yourself out there, follow your own path and you will see where it leads. At times, it will fork and you’ll need to make a decision. Other times, it will change.

At the end of your life, one thing will always be certain – your path was your own.

It’s a New Year and Time to Celebrate

It’s time to say goodbye to 2017 and welcome another year.

Looking back, I must say this has been a wonderful year on my end as I compile all the great things that have happened:

  • Welcomed the birth of a daughter into our family
  • Wrote two books and published one
  • Read 91 books after challenging myself to read 52
  • Wrote 346 posts on this site, totaling 61,098 words
  • Secured a permanent teaching position after being on contract for almost 9 years
  • Sold my Dodge Charger to the tow truck driver after it died, preventing the headache of trying to sell it privately or through a dealer (I’m pretty sure it was used in a crime later that week, but I can only speculate)
  • Helped found a dad’s group, meeting every month and building a fellowship while bettering ourselves as partners and parents
  • Witnessed my little sister get married
  • Celebrated my oldest sister’s 40th birthday
  • Celebrated my parents’ 65th and 70th birthday
  • Took my family to the east coast and walked my son to the ocean
  • Pared down my belongings (especially my wardrobe) to get rid of much excess
  • Fixed something in my house (I could take off my own head with a screwdriver, so this is a big one)
  • Fixed the incoming email for this site
  • Had the pleasure of spending time with friends from the west coast (family to my mentor)

I’m sure there are others in there as well, of which I noted elsewhere, but overall many events to celebrate.

What do I have to look forward to in 2018?

More writing, more reading and more family and friends time.

Seems simple, but it took me 35 years to come up with a simple philosophy to live by:

Time is more valuable than money and if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.

(with thanks to Derek Sivers for that last bit)

To live by this axiom and my “resolutions,” there are a few things I’m constantly working on (and will continue to do so for 2018):

  • Make sure money isn’t an issue so I can enjoy the time (watch cash flow, spend less than I earn and continue to invest in boring index funds)
  • Focus on what’s important and disregard the rest (most things are a distraction, including fear of missing out)
  • Be 100% present to the moment
  • Leverage technology in a way that makes sense… not just using technology for the sake of using technology
  • Say no more than I say yes
  • Stay the course and keep learning, pushing limits and exploring

Looking forward to another year filled with blessings, memories and joys.

May yours be abundant in all things that really matter.

Let That Ego Die

As the year is winding down and the endless news feeds are filled with recaps of 2017 and what to look forward to 2018, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of one universal constant – our ego.

Ego is what gets in the way of seeing what needs to be seen.

It gets in the way of

doing what needs doing…

helping where needed…

receiving help when necessary…

seeing the big picture…

admitting when we’re wrong…

changing ourselves for the better…

our own contentment with life.

If you’re going to make one resolution for the new year, make it that your ego finally goes to rest.