Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. - Abraham Lincoln
Of all of the things I have learned in my last decade of life, one of the most important by far is the idea of how to metaphorically "sharpen the axe" of my own mind, body, and spirit. It's allowed me, over time, come from a place of physical, emotional, and mental instability to one of being able to show up relatively consistently, ready to give my best. It's not always perfect, of course, but vast improvement upon improvement has been reached by consciously focusing on my routines of self development.
Here are the top three main points that I focus on each and every day:
1) Wake up time
I wake each morning at 4:30 am like clock work. People usually instantly cringe when I bring this up. But the reason I do so is actually quite simple. I love waking up in the early morning, when all is dark and quiet. I like a slow start to the day, where by the time it's time to beginning truly working, I've already been up for nearly three hours. This gives an obvious psychological edge.
I also use this time to meditate, stretch, and then write whatever I'm working on for that day. If I can't bring myself to write for some reason, I will focus on reading something that ignites my imagination. I want to start each day with inspiration of some kind.
I don't know about everybody else, but when I wake up, my mind is an uncultivated mess of random runaway thoughts, dangling subconscious strands, and general noise. Meditation each morning helps me to slow down and assert a bit on control. It helps me check in with myself and to, both metaphorically and actually "remember who I am". I do this both in the morning and right before bed. It helps block off sleep as a "sacred time" and cuts down on runaway thoughts while in bed.
I have started religiously using the Calm meditation app, which I never thought I would pay for, but happily do each month because of the value it provides to my life. But, Calm is not the only app out there, nor do you need an app. Meditation is a great personal practice. Experiment and see what's right for you.
3) Stretching/Myofacial Release
This is one of my favorite nerd out areas which mystifies other people. Each morning and evening, I spend some basic time doing light stretching, then segwaying into using a foam roller and lacrosse ball on my muscles and on my tendons (lightly on the tendons, obviously). I use it primarily on my legs, upper back and arms, including my biceps, triceps and forearms. This helps my muscles stay loose and pliable throughout the day, which is key for both feeling amazing, but also staving off regular injury.
If you are interested in pursuing this area, I would recommend checking out two books. One is called "Desk Bound" and the other is called "Become A Supple Leopard", both by world renowned physio Kelly Starrett, who apart from being an absolute bad ass in the area is completely hilarious.
And that's it. My top three habits for each and every day, as it relates to showing up at my best.
I have other habits around productivity and health which I'll cover in a later podcast, but these are the three must haves in every single wake to sleep day of my life. They are mainstays that I stick with no matter what. Try them out if you are interested, and remember to let me know how they work for you.
Today, I went somewhere that I haven't gone in nearly a decade.
It began as a sort of glass framed hole in a wall that opens up into a cavern of musicality turned corporate sales initiative, usually filled with the strands of "Smoke On The Water" or horrible blue riffs.
To put it another way:
There's a hole in the world
That's a deep dark pit
Where the banshees scream
And the cobra's spit
And the room that you find
At the ends of it
Is called the 'Guitar Center'.
But all in all, today it wasn't that bad.
Looking through the vast case of guitar pedals, I found myself smiling about the level of 13 year old humor that is employed by musicians in every day life. For those not in the world of music, it's a juvenile world, filled with crass jokes and ego. But, then ultimately, we all work directly from our hearts.
It made me think of gallows humor; the humor exhibited by those in dire life or death situations...sometimes just death situations. It happened in the cancer ward in which I spent time. Suddenly, jokes become hilarious..so much more funny than you would imagine. It's easy to just laugh, and lose yourself in the laughter. It's catharsis in it's purest form.
Anyway, looking at the titles of some of these pedals, many of which employ innuendo laden names, it occurred that the joke was to cover the reality. Using these pedals, a play can call down an atmosphere from the heavens or send a shock wave of electricity through the most dense crowd. It would be easy to engage in poetic names, in hyperbole. But it would feel to vulnerable, to honest. The joke makes it ok to talk about. It makes the conversation bearable.
As musicians, we make our living with our hearts. We need access to it. But for many of us, sustained contact with our hearts is too much. Thus the humor. The brashness. The silliness.
It goes hand in hand. The humor is the clothing, but the music is the beating heart, the blood, the bones beneath. And that's what resonates with people.
Many of us in our day to day lives find life to be a bit drab, if we're honest. It's so easy to get caught up in the pressure of paying the bills, getting to work on time, taking care of our loved ones, and so on. It takes a lot to simply get through the day.
It's been my experience that, in difficult times of fear or stress, a person's priorities quickly reveal themselves. Beyond the basics of food, shelter, and safety - statistically, humans tend to splurge next on art of some kind: music, a film, television, etc.
This point was illustrated when it someone whose name I can't remember stated that "Culver City (which was home to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Pictures, or MGM) was the only city to never feel the Great Depression". Why? Because people needed the escape, they needed the inspiration.
Today we find the need for inspiration as great as ever. And also greater than ever is the amount of inspiration wanting to be given to others. It should work, and to an extent definitely does. However, it also starts to have the effect of bogging us down, numbing us to inspiration in the truest and most passionate form.
I have had to combat this in my personal life. For me, it's important to cut but on taking "inspirational pornography" in lieu of surrounding myself with great work: the best poetry, symphonies, films, music, theater, food and so on. I find inspiration in watching a powerful sports performance, in an elegant design of clothing, in architecture. Anywhere I can find it with the exception of the dross that comes from those blandly offering "inspiration". Such offerings, to me, feel a bit like a proposition from a one legged prostitute. Not that there is anything wrong with one legged prostitutes...I'm sure that they are quite lovely...
The point of this rambling is this: Look for inspiration in the tapestries of culture, created by the greatest works and ignore the rest. You'll find your cup suddenly running full...
Despite my dark and more than a little self absorbed ramblings here, behind the walls that I so carefully have constructed around my inner most self; the truth is that I am a romantic. More than anyone may ever know, save those who listen to my music or read my writing. That is where I come alive and my inner most expressions spill forth. Those are truly who I am, unabashedly and openly. If I've learned how to do anything at all, it's to bleed into the music or onto the page. Sometimes, I think that it's really ALL that I know how to do.
I made many of the classic decision in my life that many have, trying to in someway hide elements of my deeply eccentric and emotional self in order to "fit in", to gain the approval of mentors, clients, bosses, etc. But I've never been any good at it.
It was only after I completely began giving up that tactic and playing my authentic self that things began to change. My oddness became the thing that kicked open doors for me. My voice began to be the thing that got me jobs. That kept me in jobs. My deconstructionist ways of thinking became methods of making things better in situations where things were stale. In other words, I eventually learned to embrace my weirdness.
Now, whenever I can impart that experience to others (especially younger people), I always do. Maybe I'm a slow learner, a bit behind the curve. Having to learn thins the hard way is definitely not a new theme in my life. However, this message has really cut a large path in my life and I'm all the better for it. There is a definitive point where I stopped caring and starting being. It's always evolving, but it's the most authentic I've ever been.
And that's made me the happiest I've ever been.
I was raised with values. As I've talked about before, many of them were brought on by the stories and the myths that my father read to me as a boy. It's hard to overemphasize how formative and important these things were. I learned about courage, about loyalty, about bravery. The stories of these heroes weren't just about myths, they were about me. Luke Skywalker wasn't just a young Jedi, he was somebody like me.
Then, something changed. I began learning how to be socially adept. I learned about how to tread lightly in a relationship. How to be a mensch, as they say. Then again, I also learned how to unleash the fury with what must have been shocking and stunning intensity to those who knew the more refined version of me. It depended on what was needed. I can be good at the politics. But, as you can imagine, being good at the politics has very little to do with living a life unleashed and based on the swashbuckling values of my youth.
Now as I look back, I can see how my desire to "play the situation" has undercut me at every turn. The delicate touch absolutely has it's place, but I can't help but feel that a good bulldozer of a tantrum from time to time might have sent the cockroaches scurrying before they eventually drained me of my emotional and physical energy and my well being. This has cost me literally years upon years, when I could have just blown it up early on and saved myself the trouble.
Am I talking about become mercurial and intolerant? Of course not. I'm all for giving other's chances, being understanding, and keeping perspective. However, there comes a time when the true colors show through and you realize who you are likely dealing with. It makes sense then to cut the cord right then and move along.
When I look at the list of rediscovered skills that I lost along the way, the ability to see people clearly is one of the most missed. It's been a process, peeling the scales from my eyes, learning to trust my instincts again, but it's become worth it. Now, it's a whole other ball game.
I only want the best people around me and will settle for nothing less. Life, in the end, is far too short. The battle is on and never ends.
I'm going to confess something here. Something very private that I never about to anybody. The truth is that I feel, most of the time, that I'm a complete and utter failure.
Nothing I have done has meant anything. Nothing has ever truly met my expectations. There have been times that this feeling has led to being deeply despondent, feeling alone, and, honestly, suicidal.
I feel...no, I know in the deepest parts of me, what I'm capable of. What my talents are. Yet, I've failed. I've allowed my own sense of needing to hone my creative craft keep me forever in that stage, never stepping out, toe to toe with others and fighting in the marketplace.
I've had friends, enemies, acquaintances, hell - even my own brother surpass me in artistic and professional accomplishments. For years now, I've watched them, truly happy for what they've done. I've experienced things, sure. But I've led a relatively unassuming life, spending my days among many who never engage into doing the work that I have done. Going to the dark places that I have traveled to be able to do it.
But through it all, I've been silently working. Developing. Allowing this fragile heart of mine to being rock solid against the resistance. My spirit gets stronger and stronger...more resilient, more focus, more primal. Now, instead of deep depression, I feel like a beast in a cage.
Now, many of those doubt me. They don't speak it, but they do. I can see in their eyes. I can taste it in the air. That's fine. Let 'em doubt me.
All of my work has been leading up to what is coming next over the next few years. I've kept almost all of it hidden, tucked away. But the work itself has given me this confidence, not delusion, not false pride. WORK. Building on talent. The talent was not my responsibility or my doing...but the work is. Let em' doubt me.
I'm ready. Let's do this.
You are going to die.
As am I.
There is no way around this. There is no medical breakthrough coming through to stop the inevitable. Your body will once again return to dust, being recycled into the fabric of the earth. The iron in our blood, remnants of an ancient supernova, will seep back into the soil.
Humankind has wrestled with this ever since we began. To do so is part of being a human. Some of us tune out, plying ourselves with substances, entertainment, relationships...anything to take us away from the creeping dread that we will one day, not too long from now, cease to be.
The more aggressive personalities attempt to live forever through creating something that might outlast them. (The operative word here is "might".) Even then, we will vanish from the minds of others quickly. It's the fate of all living beings.
An ex-girlfriend of mine once stated what she (and many others) thought was the life goal - to have the largest amount of people at your funeral. I'm not sure that I buy that. Sure, it measures the supposed impact that your life has. There are worse things to focus on. But is that really it? I'm not so sure.
What is the meaning, really? I really think about this a lot. If you are a frequent listener to this podcast, it's pretty obvious. Usually, I arrive at the conclusion that being of service to others, connecting with others in a meaningful way is the answer to the question. Ultimately, I suppose that is my best guess, even though I frequently deal with the thoughts of nihilism, of nothingness, of nothing meaning anything at all.
The other answer that I've flirted with is that of simply living as the answer. In the face of oncoming and certain death, why not live passionately, lovingly, drinking in the full experience? And this answer makes sense to me on a lot of levels, save this one. I've tried the route of hedonism and, to be honest wasn't very good at it. Call it lack of constitution, but I realized pretty early on that the biological and mental price I had to pay for such.
Life started becoming a series of collapsing. "I need a drink" then "I need food" then, the next morning "I need a bloody mary to fix this hangover". When I handle my life through a series of practices done each day, each week - I find myself ready to produce at a high level. I literally work all of the time and then sleep. It's true. But where is living and enjoying this amazing world that we live in?
Perhaps the trick is combining the two. Moderation of both. Life and contribution. Meaning cycled and recycled, through the consumption of experience then alchemizing them into very real contribution to others. I know that with contribution, I feel most alive. But, what's the point of feeling alive if not to live?
This is a question we must ultimately truly answer for ourselves. While I go around and around, I think it ends up being the balance. I need to move a little more into the "living" direction, without sacrificing the contribution. I'll check back and write about it as the summer develops. It should be interesting, if nothing else...
Acquainted with the NightBY ROBERT FROST
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain--and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
In 2012, a strange set of circumstances found me following an internal calling and taking a position at the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, Colorado. It was a solitary job in the evening, which left me alone in a vast $200m mansion, worthy of a Bond villain.
I spent hours wandering the exhibits in the dark, the low lights above the waters illuminating my path in an eerie, otherworldly glow. The ominous shapes of sharks would glide over head, a constant reminder of the primality that exists just inches away from us at all times. It could have been peace. But instead, in the darkness, night eventually came, slowly and subtly to my heart.
Decisions became more selfish. The walls of my heart grew higher than before. I began to become tougher, more callus. I began to see the darkness in the world, in the hearts of others. I never fell into substance abuse, apart from drinking vast amounts of coffee, but it wasn't far away, if I'm really honest. I continually needed more and more stimulation to stay conscious both metaphorically and literally.
My attention span waned painfully until a mere two minute conversation would find my mind drifting off into nothingness. I began to joke that I would occasionally find myself walking through the world with "dead shark eyes", simply executing the patterns of being alive. But it wasn't a joke, it was real.
The funny thing is, the world responded positively. Doors fell down in front of me, walls caved in at the first resistance. I couldn't believe it was real, that I was getting away with this sort of life.
My seemed to turn off. I suddenly became like the sharks over head. Unconsciously running the program of life.
I am purposefully being vague here, but it got dark. In Frost's poem, it's all there. I became 'Acquainted WIth The Night'.
It was only when I left and over the next few months began waking up in the darkness and watching the sunrise each day, that the light began to permeate my mind again. It's been a comeback, for sure. I've rediscovered a lot about myself. My mind came back.
Now, I spend my time with the sun. As much as possible. I attempt to make life purposeful, loving, and peaceful. The sharks now only swim in my dark dreams, just as the primality still exists, just on the edges.
But for now, the wild beasts are far away from me and I am enjoying this season of sun. When the night comes again, I'll do my best to be ready.
"Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble." - W.H. Auden
You, me, everyone we know and don't know, all live with the same affliction. We all have a limited amount of time on this planet and, while I can't speak for everyone else; for me, it will always be too short. I always have new ideas, new visions, new things that I'd like to do. I also want to enjoy this charmed life of mine, watch the sunset, drink great wine, and not leave any potential awesomeness on the table. There is never really enough time.
For most of my life, I somehow thought that I should dislike routine. It was supposedly boring to have to follow the plan. Why couldn't we all just make things up as we go along?
It was only years later when I finally realized how powerful something like routine could be. As many of us do as we gain more life experience, we hopefully start noticing that certain things make us feel better and that certain things make us weaker. Getting a full night's sleep makes me feel better, staying up until four am drinking makes me feel terrible the next day.
Maybe it's that our bodies become more sensitive or that we simply become more aware. I'm not sure what changes. However, I'm likely to believe that we simply are in a never ending process of becoming better at being human. Spending time with very young children, it's amazing how few things they don't inherently grasp. Who is to say that sort of process stops? Maybe it just gets more subtle and refined over time, as we gain deeper and deeper insights into our own condition?
Anyway, my point here is that eventually I realized that for me, routine was the secret to almost anything that I want to accomplish. It was a simple equation. I do much better work when I feel like "x", therefore I do "y" to make sure I show up each day feeling that way.
This has led to me sleeping regular hours, stretching and meditating twice a day, and paying attention to diet on a whole new level. To some it might appear self absorbed, but it occurs to me that if I don't handle these details of my own life, nobody will. Focusing on such routine allows me to show up better for every person that I want to help.
Airlines, during the safety training and the beginning of the flight, always tell you to, in the event of the oxygen masks dropping, to make sure that you attach your own mask before helping your child. Thus it is in life. You need to put on the metaphorical oxygen mask on yourself first before extending yourself to help others.
Of course helping others is important. But you need to be able to serve them by being at your best. Routine is how you get there. It's an equation you and experiment with and tweak as you go on.
When it comes to work, like this podcast, my daily routine allows me to create things with a serious consistency which pays off in droves. I won't go into numbers, but this year is going to see the release of a ridiculous amount of work from me. All of it is powered by routine. By the daily practice of showing up and doing the work.
I was wrong when I was younger. Routine isn't boring. It's the magic spell that makes all things possible. The best part is that you can begin using it immediately. For instance, why not now?
As of the time of this writing in 2018, we live in culture that is immersed in the philosophy of immediate gratification. We want what we want, we want high quality options, and we want it delivered for free as quickly as possible.
I myself am definitely not immune to this. I absolutely buy things on Amazon because of the convenience and the wealth of purchasing options. It's easy; I can make my selections, buy it with one click, and move on with my life. Who wouldn't want that?
But, as there is with almost any good thing, there is a downside. We have become so inundated with this "immediate" culture that many of us have forgotten the long game. Many of our goals and ideas fall apart because we somehow expect them to be delivered second day shipping, easy, without much effort.
We seem to think that we simply need a big vision, a social media stream to post about it on, and a few life hacks to make amazing things happen. But it's not true, is it?
The streets of broken dreams are littered with those who started down the path without the proper expectations of effort. We want the top rated podcast on Itunes, we want the bestseller book, we want to be the highest earning YouTuber on the planet...but we don't really want to do the work to be there.
Hard work, or sustained effort over time, is unsexy. It's mucky and it gets your hands dirty. But the truth remains that it's the only way to truly achieve our visions in the world.
Instead of aiming for the top podcast on Itunes as a goal, why not focus on creating a stunningly amazing podcast and then repeating that for one year, committing to both the process and to learning how to get better? That might not immediately yield such a result, but it will give you a much better chance of catching the attention of those who can pass your work around to their friends, audience, or whatever. Instead of phoning in a book, write the damned book. Make it the best you can possibly make it.
We must get rid of the illusion of instant gratification when it comes to our creative work. When we give in to it, we are being egocentric, thinking about us, not our audience, not our work...us and our egos. Instead, let us move ourselves out of the equation and put the the work, the process of the work in center stage.
It might not make you the biggest movie star in the world, but it will make your work better...and that has the power to really make a difference in the world. Call me crazy, but I'll take quality over celebrity any day.