"What might possess someone to be so anti-social?" one might ask.
"I have my reasons," I answer.
"Aren't you just finding culturally enforced virtue behind working yourself too hard?" another might chime in.
"I very well might be. But I would bet that it's more about my purpose in life." (As you can imagine, I often get strange looks from people.)
"A greater purpose than love? Than children? Explain yourself!" a surprisingly incredulous and convenient imaginary character calls out.
"Well...yes," I say, clearing my throat and turning to face the wall, in order to begin my oratory. "I don't claim to have all of the answers. I don't even claim to have five percent of one percent of the answers. But there are a few things that I know to be true. The truest of all of them is that this pain, this ache in my chest, this song that sings to me each waking hour and during each vivid dream, this thing that compels me ever forward into my imagination? It matters. I know that it makes me sound crazy and likely more than a little full of myself. I can't even tell you why it matters, because I don't know why. I just know that it does. And just as I know that it matters, I know that I have to, without regard for the consequences, push past my fears, my ignorance, my procrastination, illness, sorrow, distraction, and all other obstacles to make it real within our world.
To others, my life's work might just culminate in a story or a piece of music that they hear once. If my heart has been true and I have courageously borne the work, it might even make them pay attention. But, it might not. It might vanish into the background while they play on their phone or text their sweetheart to set up a lobster bisque bath or something...but the work will exist! It will be in the world and will be there for when the right person comes along, if they ever do.
Each day, I fight the Mundane tooth and nail to create. The battle leaves me exhilarated and exhausted. In victory (more often than not), I crawl off of the battle field and fall into a deep sleep. When I wake, the battle begins anew and will do so until I die. It is my purpose and it is my deep honor to do this work.
So, you can see, that while I do adore romance and I do find women charming, intelligent, caring, and very much attractive - they do take a somewhat distant, yet absolutely amazing second place to the revelations of the spirit and the heart that are revealed to me when I create? Do you see?"
Turning back around to face my imaginary accusers, I find the room empty.
Oh well. (Looks you dead in the eye and raises a glass of whatever you're having.)
"Here's to love, which makes us and makes fools of us."
Happy Valentine's Day.
In his very popular book "12 Rules For Life; An Anecdote For Chaos", professor and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson lists and extrapolates what he perceives is need to life a rich and fulfilling life.
In this article, I want to briefly visit the first rule; "Stand up straight with your shoulders back." Dr. Peterson explains it so well in his book and in such depth, that it truly is worth reading. His combination of academic rigor and the ability to think for himself is to be commended and, in my opinion, a model for how other "thinkers" should conduct themselves. For the truth, and nothing else.
But back to our rule: Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Peterson begins by talking about lobsters and their never ending quest for dominance in their social hierarchy. Now, this might sound like a odd place for him to bring this subject up, however, as someone who worked overnight at an Aquarium for years, I am conscious of just how violent and unrelenting lobsters are with one another. It never stops. They are always battling, always fighting. And it
When a lobster is defeated in a battle, it lowers it's posture, both appearing and acting more meek and agreeable than before. Likewise, the victor expands more and projects itself upright. The loser of the battle is now more likely to be attacked by other lobsters or pushed into terrible situations due to not having the best choices of living spaces, food, mates, and so on.
It turns out the the reason for the changes in physiology between the victorious lobster and the defeated one has to do with a chemical called "serotonin".
The winner's body receives a large release of chemical into the body while the loser receives vastly lowered levels. This may seem like a little thing, but it makes a significant difference in the lives of these two lobsters. The one with more serotonin, thus the more upright posture, is more likely to live longer, live in better conditions, have better food, and more choice mates. The loser of course, will have the opposite - thus more likely to live in misery and die.
The twist here is this: the serotonin release in each lobster is dictated by it's on physiology. In other words, when the lobster puffs it's self up in victory, it's body takes the signal and unleashes serotonin. And when the loser crumples up, the serotonin depletes. The animal's perception of it's place in the dominance hierarchy is what triggers it's actions, thus cementing itself actually within that place.
This particular dominance hierarchy has in place, unchanged for 350 million years. That means it's cemented. It works. It has been tested and is the result. It's how the lobster's world works.
So, why am I risking boring you with this story of lobsters fighting? Well, because it turns out that our neurology as humans is shockingly similar to that of lobsters, according to Peterson. In other words, we operate by exactly the same neural mechanism in this scenario.
When defeated (mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, and so on), we tend to drop our posture and assume the role of "the defeated". Then, our serotonin levels decrease. We feel more and more stress in our lives, eventually seeking comfort in the form of substances to help us feel better. Others who, either through breeding or by social group, see themselves as "winning" more scenarios, they will stand up tall, with their shoulders back, thus signalling to their brain to release copious amounts of serotonin into their bodies.
And just like the victorious lobsters; they are far more likely to have an excellent choice of where to live, what to eat, who to mate with. The ones who adopt the stance of "loser", find themselves ever down the human dominance hierarchy - growing sicker, fatter, more in debt, limited choice in mate where to live.
While there is obviously much more to this concept, I found these ideas to be very transformational. I'll get more into in a future episode - but, if you are interested in finding out more, check out Jordan Peterson's book "Twelve Rules For Live; An Anecdote To Chaos", which is available now.
But, no matter what you do: Stand up tall, with your shoulders back.
James Arthur Ray, at one point one of the most famous self development gurus on the planet (co-star of the world wide phenomenon "The Secret", NYT Bestselling Author, and more) was convicted and served a sentence for negligent homicide, for the deaths of several people in a sweat lodge during one of his intense courses.
When he was released, he said this "You know, when I first went in, it spun me out really hard. And I went through everything from shock, to anger, to victim. To hating God, to blaming God. Like, look why? I tried to help people and this is my reward? And now I look back at that and I think, "how arrogant"! Who am I to think that I shouldn't have any challenges because I'm trying to do something good?"
To me, this is a great tipping off point. Whatever your thoughts are on James Ray, this quote is worth thinking about. How many times in our lives have we followed that same pattern of thought? How many times have we allowed ourselves to become a victim to the world?
Very recently, I've been listening to interviews and audiobooks surround Jocko Willink and David Goggins, both retired Navy SEALS who speak about, among other things, mental toughness.
What occurs to me while listening to them is 1) struggle is innate, it happens to anyone attempting to do anything. And 2) struggle is the good part. You only crush the goals by "getting after it everyday" and, as the SEALS say "embracing the suck".
It occurs to me how cushy my existence is compared to what some others decide to do every day. It makes me realize how much harder I can be going after my objectives. And now, feeling a bit like I'm at the bottom of a dark pit (which is brought on by the sickness, whose ass my immune system is currently kicking) - these words have a deep resonance for me.
Have I ever truly, I mean TRULY embraced the struggle? Have I chosen to stay deep within it? Honestly, I can't say yes with 100% certainty anywhere in my life.
All I can do now is to continually take these lessons and apply them seriously, wholeheartedly. I'm excited to do so.
For more recommended viewing, look up "Jocko Podcast" on YouTube. It's a great jumping off point into this tough as nails psychology. Before long, you'll be like Jocko and myself - members of the 4:30 am club.
I remember it all very clearly. In 2005, I had traveled with my parents and brothers to the small town of Walsh, Colorado for a family reunion from my paternal grandmother's side. We were the "big city" family arriving as dog and pony show, guitars in tow. We performed songs for our surprisingly large group of relatives, ate too much fried food, and had a wonderful time. But then, there was the incident...
One of my cousins was riding outside in one of those Power Wheels trucks - the little electric motor cars that could still pack a bit of a punch when your niece drove it into your knees at 10 mph. Anyway, the rest of us were standing around inside talking when we suddenly heard it; a loud bang followed by a cry of pain.
Instantly, my brother David turned and ran for the door in the direction of the sound. By the time everyone else had made it outside, David had found my cousin, unhurt but underneath a capsized toy car, had corrected it and pulled her up to safety. My cousin was fine, just shocked.
My brother's reaction was powerful to me. Whereas I had to think before acting, he was instantaneous, taking full responsibility the moment he had to handle something. It made me reconsider how I acted in such situations. I wasn't jealous, but in a way I was amazed.
Why couldn't I take action with such clarity, with such surety. It has taken me many years to unravel some of what is behind it, for me, anyway. For my brother, I think a lot of it is innate. However, he isn't like that in every area, including areas where I move with confidence.
In the end, whatever the arena being played in, that surety comes from mindset. From ownership and from believing that you really are the only one who can fix whatever it is. I work on this mindset every day still, never mastering it, but always (hopefully) getting better. I suppose that's the best I can do...For now.
Of all of the sins that I see otherwise brilliant people commit in the world of art and commerce, it is the sin of hubris. Of arrogance, of pride, of self importance. We know it all, we've seen it all and there is nothing at all new that can be shown to us.
Conversely, I have had the opportunity to have at boss who, as a veteran of nearly twenty years in her position, found a way to always be optimistic and open to ideas. She would actively listen, develop them, ask other's opinions, and then attempt to execute. She never complained, she never said anything disparaging. She just worked.
However, I once asked her "I'm sure that you've seen most of these initiatives proposed and attempted before, right?" She answered by saying something like "Of course. However, I'm always learning to execute things on a higher level, and within reason, maybe now will be the time that it works."
I know that this doesn't work for everyone or in every position. It also isn't a call for foolishly repeating things over and over that don't work. That's not the point.
The point here is that her attitude, her willingness to keep the beginner's mind, to have an empty cup, made her infinitely better at her job and as a leader. She took her ego out of it and made it all about pure service. She was committed to constantly growing and developing, even after twenty years. Call it what you will, but to me, that's what excellence looks like...
If anything becomes clear as you look at the unfolding story of our world is that we live in a never ending feedback loop. Each piece of anything is then responded to, which is then amplified and given a reaction and...as they say the great river runs on.
This is found to be true in many areas of the planet, in all areas of culture. But tonight, I want to focus on something that is likely uninteresting to everyone but myself...and maybe one other person who gave me the idea for the topic.
As some of you who might follow me know, I am active as a songwriter and composer. It's something I've done since early childhood and I've spent many years developing and honing my craft. I study relentlessly, learning the newest techniques and methodologies being used by the best in the world. I only mention this to give context into what I am going to call: Recursion: Music For Film.
Music is, at it's core, about using technology to touch the spirit. Back in the beginning, film music was likely a Wurlitzer organ either playing a prepared score or improvising over the scene's progression. The reason for the organ? It was a relatively cheap way to cover up the sound of the projector.
Eventually, some of the larger film houses would occasionally feature orchestras, which gave lucky audiences cause for remarking just how much more vivid a film with a live orchestra was than one played by a strange smelly man behind and organ.
Once sound finally came to pictures, music suddenly became a roaring necessity. Wonderful composers created the first true "film music", crafting the industry as we know it today. Eventually, synthesizers and other electronic instruments began to not only replace the orchestra in many film's scores, but eventually began to help overtake orchestral soundtracks in general.
All looked lost. In all honesty, the strange, smelly man just got a cooler organ with flashing lights.
But then enter a strange, German man named Hans Zimmer. Hans is, as of this podcast, arguably the most sought after composer for large films. (Yes, yes...I know about John Williams. Thank you, very much.)
What Hans brought the picture is a melding of the two warring factions. With an abiding love of the orchestra but a deep background in electronic music, he did what any sensible German engineer might: he mixed them together. He seamlessly blends both into a very new, exciting, and evocative mix.
Zimmer's other great cocktail mixture is that of the four chord progression style of popular rock music mixed with the orchestra. This has a very hypnotic effect, churning over and over again, each conveying more and more emotion.
The point is that, just as in all things, music creates a sound, which causes an echo, which causes another echo, which...you get the idea. One form of technology begets another, and another, and another. What once was a composer furiously scribbling on staff paper for the orchestra is now a composer sitting at a midi keyboard, which is connected to a five thousand dollar computer, if you include the amount of samples of instruments on it.
The point is, in the end, that music or no, the tech is always changing, But the goal has never changed. It's like that with love, with sex, with food, with music. The methods vary, but goal is ultimately the same.
"The original is unfaithful to the translation." - Jorge Luis Borges
"Be original; don't be scared of being bold!" - Ed Sheeran
"It isn't the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble - it's the attempted cover-up." - Tom Petri
We live in a world that says one thing and does another. We say we want everyone to get along, but we reward the disagreeable. We say we want originals, but we cultivate the rank and file. In other words, we are a culture at war with it's own ideas.
This is wide ranging and is, many times, one of the biggest overarching topics of this podcast. However, tonight I want to talk about the thing that I think is at the root of it all. This is how to be original.
Step 1: Don't listen to what I say. Perhaps you can still hear that inner voice that resides inside of you with real clarity. For others, especially those who have been forced to ignore it, it might takes some coaxing. You might have to listen. But it's there. It's always there, leading you to the next destination.
Step 2: Don't attempt to mold yourself into something you aren't for other's benefit. Many of us do this almost involuntarily with bosses, romantic partners, friends and so on. But the reality is that your value to all of those with whom you have a relationship is greatly increased when you are absolutely yourself, warts and all.
Sure, some people might not love who you are. But, if you haven't already, you'll learn that this is fine. You learn to only want people around who want you around, as well.
Step 3: Own You Weirdness - We've talked about this several times on the show. Your weirdness is the single most potent and awesome thing about you. So much of what we're taught while growing up is targeted at us pulling, in a way apologizing for who we are. While there is a good way to work and behave with others, it is the true originals that we truly revere in our world, isn't it?
That's because they make our world colorful and help us witness the varied shades of our existence. As artists, as poets, as musicians, we are tasked with that goal ourselves. Yet so many of us hide within the crowd, somehow afraid to truly step forward.
This leads me to the final step in how to be original:
Step 4: Forget all of the rules. Do what you will...
It's the age old question set up, usually used at dodgy cocktail parties. The context always revolves around the the idea of getting stuck on a deserted island. The questions go like "If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what three items would you bring with you?" or "What book would you bring with you if you were going to be stranded on a deserted island?"
I don't have a problem with these questions. They help us understand who we are talking to more and to learn more about the world that they occupy. However, the line of questioning also leads to me to think about something in our culture that I feel very strongly about.
You see, human beings are known to generally act more out of self interest than from anything else. This isn't a put down, it's fact. We know this to be true. As you can imagine that it would, this permeates our day to day lives on every level, filling everything from our careers to our relationships with family.
Now, I admit that this can seem a bit dark, like I'm saying that people only do things because it benefits them in some way...Well, that is what I'm saying. But it's not that simple. We might have a myriad of ways that we derive benefit from our actions, from financial gain down to a dopamine shot to our systems when we see our child falling asleep at the end of a long day. Sure, our actions are generally self interested, but it's not always cutthroat. Our moment so of empathy really save our collective asses here.
All of that aside, there are many in this world of ours that operate mostly from the place of blatant and unapologetic self interest. They push, cajole, and drive for what they want, despite what it does to other people. It even works many times. It's true. Think of the jerk boss who drives a Porsche and you'll get the picture.
So what do we do? Push and pull our way into getting what we want? Well, in my humble opinion, that's child's play. That's some short term thinking crap. What about this?
Why not try to be focused entirely on what you can give to people? Why not try to give them what they are in need of? Sure, you are doing it out of self interest, but you are placing that so far in the back of you mind, the genuine heart of service begins to take hold and to shine through.
Find out what others need then solve it. Focus on them. Make it about them. As Draven Grey says "In the land where everybody is asking "What's in it for me?", the man who asks "What can I do for you?" is king. Be the king..or queen.. you get the idea.
In fact, I'm going to start asking a different deserted island question at parties. Instead, I'll ask "If you were going to be stranded on a desert island, what would the people you leave behind remember you for?"
Now, THAT'S a good question to get know somebody by. (Although, it's a pretty awful party question. I never said I was good at parties.)
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.