Several years ago I started exploring this paradoxical idea of human strength and fragility.
This ancient idea that as humans and children of a divine creator, we hold within us both an incredible strength & a feeble fragility.
Nothing exemplifies this like the force of water cutting through solid rock and earth. (case and point - a desert canyon.) That we possess the strength of solid Earth, but even Earth and solid rock are split by the fluid movement of water
It’s a paradox of existence of which I’ve been more cognizant as I learn and grow.
Most of us are canyons…rock that has been cut deeper than we’d like to admit. Split by the vulnerability and fragility of ourselves in the hands of past lovers, family & community.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that at the end of the day, canyons are pretty. You are pretty.
Recently, via a long overdue recommendation, I read J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, a fascinating and poetic tale of magically wild lands, pirates, and the young at heart who seemingly live on forever.
When I say I read it...I mean I really read it - 2 & 1/2 times in the past 2 months.
I'm not ashamed. It's a literary masterpiece and invites the reader into a dreamworld. That said, as I sit here now, I'm reminded of the dream in which we currently get to live and breathe.
In his heyday, author, Philosopher and Poet, GK Chesterton, wrote to a desensitized and subdued civilization that was London circa 1900 regarding their affinity for fairy tales; attempting to convince them that the fairy tale is not held captive, bound in pages, but rather alive, here and now.
He suggests that as we grow, we lose our sense of wonder and awe at life, and so we revert to fairy tales to provide us a sense of awe.
“we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This was proved by the fact that when we are very young children, we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened the door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales - because they find them romantic...They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”
We aren’t all that different around here. We seek logic and reason, in an attempt to make sense of this fairy-tale land in which we live.
Wild animals soaring through the air, unencumbered by gravity.
Food growing from the dirt on which we walk.
The sky shifting and changing in color everyday, without fail.
There is something special out there, friends.
Chesterton suggests that a microcosm of this could be found in a simple tree, growing a simple fruit. This act of magic can be viewed in one of two distinct ways. We could confidently assume a tree grows fruit based off its repetition and pattern of growing fruit year after year. A simple law, nothing more. But, what if a tree grew fruit because it was magic? What if the patterns of the natural world meant abundant, miraculous life?
We’ve successfully catalogued and labeled the magic of our world as natural, life-less law. We set this aside and look elsewhere for our awe and wonder. We gasp at surreal scenes on the movie screen and pay no mind to the peach tree in our backyard that grows life sustaining magic each year.
I spent the majority of last week staring at the ocean as I maneuvered up and down the Pacific Coast Highway.
There’s something about the ocean that is magical. Actually, everything about the ocean is magical.
If left alone, I could stare at the coastline for hours. The tide pulling and pushing a seemingly infinite amount of water.
It’s captivating, and with every surge or break of a wave, the young child inside me yells “do it again!!” at the top of his lungs, propelled by an seemingly infinite sense of awe and wonder.
Last weekend I slept out under the stars with 100 new friends in the Texas hill-country. We stared in awe at the new moon night-sky. An infinite network of twinkling lights. With every shooting star, the young child inside screamed “do it again!”.
This feeling; this sustained awe and wonder for life - it's my most prized possession.
I see fire in the sky at sunset, and magic in the ocean.
My heart breaks for those whom the natural wonder and beauty of creation are not enough. For those who look towards fairy tales to feel that, for a brief moment, there is something special out there.
I say this with confidence, friends; there is something special out there.
When you look at the horizon, what do you see?
Common sense would tell me that we all see the same flat lines of contrast, but experience reveals otherwise.
For many of us, it’s actually not often at all that we even get a clear view of the horizon. Think about it, when was the last time you witnessed the revolutions of Earth, Sun or Moon unobstructed? With cluttered lives, simplicity can offer stark & even uncomfortable contrast. But, as many of us know, contrast is the mother of clarity.
The beauty & complexity of life is revealed to us in so many ways.
More recently for myself, this was found via paddling with new and old friends through the Florida Everglades.
We put in long days, slept in hammocks above a maze of lush mangrove forests, & filled our tummys with hot pizza & luke-warm La Croix.
It was a life-changing adventure, no doubt.
Those that know me, know that I live for these kinds of weekends & have heard me preach “life changing adventure” a lot. Sounds fairly unrealistic, but let me explain. No, this trip didn’t have dramatic events that forever changed the core of who I am, nor did I walk away with less arms/legs than which I arrived. (Travis: 1 - Alligators: 0).
For most of us, true life-change comes slow, through consistency of rich experiences that reveal deeper & greater truths about the life we live & the communities we call home, work, & play. Through a lifetime spent within awareness & searching of greater truths, an appreciation of self & community changes the core of who you are.
So when you look at the horizon, what do you see?
When paddling through the everglades, you’re surrounded by horizon. Deep in the mangroves, life can be condensed to 3 distinct panes or fields of view.
For thousands of acres of marine / estuarine lowland & mangrove forests, this is what you get, 2 simple lines of contrast.
Moreover, break through the forest & you’re met with only ocean & sky as you paddle into the expansive Gulf of Mexico.
At first glance, the simple flat water & blank sky can seem dull and lifeless. No white water? No mountains? I need action - I need movement. At first glance, it seemed too simple. This is where the fascination began. As the miles added up, I slowly started seeing deeper into these horizon lines & was met with not emptiness, but instead, intense life.
Underneath me, the saltwater teamed with life of all shapes & sizes surging East to West with the tide. In front of me the mangrove forests thrived. Their complex & unique web of roots, providing safe haven for hundreds of species of bird, snake, insect & even shellfish. Above me, the sky buzzed with birds of the air. The pelican flocking & moving in unison, at times crossing these lines as they dove into the ocean for a fresh catch.
It doesn’t take much time to develop an affinity for simplicity, but it does take experiencing it.
Therein lies the life-change. A deeper view into oneself & the world. How can one simplify life, but let it thrive? How can the simple horizon line carry within it intense life?
This time served as a solid reminder that sometimes, I don’t need more action. I don’t need more movement. I need simplicity like the Everglades - flat horizon lines, teaming with life.
The Wasatch Mountains of Utah
...A place so wild it will give you moosebumbs...just wasatch for the bears.
“That very night in Max’s room a forest grew and grew- and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.”
Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak
By nature I’m a day-dreamer. I always have been, and hopefully always will be. It’s permeated my life in a lot of different ways, and I hold much my life’s journey accountable to this idea of seeking the wild. It’s also likely the reason that, as a child, I considered parts of Max’s storyline to be less of a fictional narrative and more of a life trajectory. Everything from weekend camping/climbing trips, to international mountain expeditions, to post-work trail runs - going to wild places continues to drive me.
Recently, this took me deep into the Wasatch Mountains. I was alone on the trail, separated from my climbing partner, and caught up in a legitimate staring contest with a male black bear.
I spooked him while foraging near the trail in an aspen grove and to be honest, I think we were both equally caught off guard.
I looked him in eye and saw that he was wild.
Needless to say, he won that staring contest. Later that evening at dusk I came within several yards of a female moose. We spotted her while watching the sunset on a ridge. She was going for an evening swim in the alpine lake below, and I quickly scampered down the ridge to get a closer look. Eventually she noticed my presence and yet another staring contest ensued.
I looked her in the eye and saw that she was wild.
There’s something about encountering truly wild things that can change us. If only for a brief moment, we feel something move deep inside us. It’s more than just a feeling of fight or flight - it’s an admiration for the real and genuine.
To witness true, wild authenticity in life is rare. Sadley, in our society, it’s almost non-existent. Think about it...when was the last time you came face to face with an actual wild animal? (I’m not talking stray dogs and those birds that take over HEB parking lots - I’m talking about the real deal.) For most of us living in the city, it’s probably been a while. The point I’m getting at is that our level of disconnection to the wild is a modern day phenomenon. We live half-hearted lives of isolation, detached from much of the authenticity of life. So, is it any wonder why we exploit it? Why we don’t protect it or even admire it? Or is it any wonder why we’ve taken to ridiculous measures to feel alive?
Max's story has a lot of layers to it, and Maurice Sendak may have never meant for it to inspire a cautious little boy like myself to dive deep into the wilderness, but regardless..
In my room, a forest is growing...
Fear & Hope.
Somehow, I recently found myself here, at the 3rd highest point in North America; La cima del Pico de Orizaba (18,491ft)
Before this moment, I found myself here:
And before that, here:
And before that here:
And before all of this, I found myself at 400 ft above sea level in Austin TX, exhausted after a 6 mile run in the 90 degree temps of early October. With a heavy breath, I stretched my legs, imagining the same breath at 18,000 ft. My heart pounding, I felt fear, and I felt hope.
These two consumed me the weeks prior to this summit attempt on Pico De Orizaba, a massive 18,000 foot stratovolcano with a glaciated peak in Southern Mexico. I had spent months researching and preparing my body, but with no high alpine glacial climbing experience, the reality of big mountain conditions and unpredictability started to grow a fear within me. The reality that I had just invited 4 others along, 3 of which had absolutely no experience grew as well. Who was I to lead them into this?
I had originally latched onto this big mountain objective months prior, after a tiringly long season of heartbreak. With a predictable and almost comical history of finding bliss through mountain adventure and coping with heartbreak by fleeing to the mountains/jungles of Mexico, Orizaba showed her face at just the right time. Dreams of mountain views from the top of Mexico, street tacos, and salsa dancing became a beacon of hope, and a seemingly healthy option for distracting myself...I dunno, you tell me.
As we touched down in Mexico City and began buying supplies, route planning, and acclimating on smaller nearby volcanoes, these feelings fear and hope seemed grow in parallel. As we reached base camp at 14k feet, I was a tangled mess of the two.
The day we summited began at 2AM. We climbed up around 2 thousand feet in a dark maze of volcanic rubble, rocky spines, and boulder fields. By the time we hit the base of the glacier my body was chilled to the bone and my stomach was in knots. I told my crew and myself that it was the street tacos, but deep down I knew. Fear had taken its hold.
We strapped on our crampons, roped up, tied in and began the slow push up the Northern face of the mountain via the Jamapa glacier. As we began cutting switchbacks into the hard ice, I found myself a steady rhythm of breath and focus.
Inhale - Exhale - repeat.
As my heart pounded and oxygen fought to fuel my body, the sun began to rise from the gulf, cutting the fog and shining like literal rays of hope on my wind chapped face.
My fear had fled with the night, and hope was rising. We were going to summit safely, and revel in the wonder of it all.
That old saying about how the night is the darkest before the dawn is so cliche...but to note, on big mountains, the night is also the coldest and windiest before the dawn.
After summiting, downclimbing, hiking in and somehow getting back to Mexico City in one piece, I found myself in an airport, caught in an existential moment while awaiting our flight to Houston. What a rich experience it had been. But, what was the point? What value could my soul gain by climbing this mountain?
As I skimmed through a week's worth of missed emails I ran across a quote my loving Nana had sent me from Scottish climber William Blake:
“What is it that drives the desire to reach the summit of a mountain? To stand a thousand metres high and look down on the world around: a sense of achievement, the rush of adrenaline, a mixture of fear and hope rolled into one?"
At the ground level, we are creatures of paradox.
Our souls are tightly woven tapestries of fear and hope. The two forces move freely upwards and downwards, entangling themselves, passing above and below, weaving in and out - this is the fabric of our lives.
Fear and Hope.
They drive us, often times in contrasting directions. Regardless, they drive us.
Although we are seemingly sporadic creatures of fear and hope, through focus and prana, we find a steady, real hope. A warm sun arising over the ice and clouds, warming the cold wind and pushing us upwards.
Look towards the sun, wrap yourself in hope.
Death on the Beach.
Several years ago I found myself in Puerto Rico on a whim, diving off a rusted-out pier into the cool blue waters of the Caribbean.
I was visiting some good friends, and volunteering with a YoungLife Camp. We had spent all morning working on service projects and decided to treat the kids to an afternoon at a nearby public beach.
It was my first time in such an ocean, and my heart raced as I dove into the water.
It was pure joy.
The current was strong that day and quickly jutted me out to sea. It took several minutes of strong swimming against the cold current to make it back to the tidal break.
Coming out of the water, several yards down the beach from the pier, I noticed a body laying motionless at the edge of the tide. A towel covered him from his head to his shins, and a small crowd stood nearby. My breath grew quite as I stepped closer and realized this was indeed the cold body of a man, his life taken by the current, and his body pushed back to shore. It was recent, and for whatever reason, the authorities hadn't made the call to take his body off the beach. Meanwhile the kids continued to jump from the pier - no idea of the death around them, enjoying the sunshine, warm breeze, and teal-blue Caribbean waters.
We quickly took a head count of our group, and the other leaders loaded up the cars and left. I stood behind and watched the scene unfold as the sun set.
The complexity of emotion I felt that day was intense and new. Not in concept nor in theory, but in experience.
The warm joy of life & the sobering chill of death. - the ocean held it all.
This week as I've look at my local, national and global community - I feel the joy of the ocean & I feel the chill of death. I struggle to know how to navigate this in daily life. How do I make sense of the warm joy of trail running by the river after work against the chill felt when listening to news reports on my morning commute? Another shooting, another protest gone wrong.
In existential doubt, this dichotomy of life can be the shovel that buries us in apathy. Or worse, the soft whisper that prompts us to pull the trigger of reckless anger.
How can the ocean be so warm and so cold all at the same time? For seasons to run in parallel can seem by nature, un-natural.
I would deeply engage the notion that it actually is un-natural - that life was never intended to be this way.
To find meaning and purpose within these waters, within this contrast of life is indeed impossible alone. Only in real genuine community and through the Spirit can we find rest and calm.
If we are to survive at sea, we cannot do it alone.
The resilient love of a father is not something to be understood, but experienced.
Recently, I traveled deep into the Texas panhandle (i.e. an infinite void) and eventually dropped down into Palo Duro Canyon, “the nations 2nd largest canyon”. You could call this trip somewhat of a pilgrimage & I had primed my soul and body for revelation.
My time in the canyon could be summed up by: - 0 Rattlesnakes (thank you, Jesus) - 1 Busted hip flexor - 3 Sunrise/Sunset runs - 5 Gallons of water consumed - 16oz of whiskey & more couscous than I'd like to admit - 30+ miles of trail
All this, multiple hours of silence, and meditation brought me to this 1 truth:
The resilient love of a father is not something to be understood, but experienced.
I’ve visited PDC once before with my family. I was a young boy at the time but remember it in vivid clarity. It’s one of the first, if not the earliest, memory I have of hiking through the wild Earth.
(Seen here, my father and I putting out some strong shirt-less Saturday vibes.)
It was brutally hot in the desert canyon that day, and my sister and I quickly fell into the early stages of heat exhaustion. I can still hear the sounds of my sister getting sick, her cries echoing across the canyon floor.
I remember the sheer exhaustion and worry on my parents’ faces. They had, undoubtedly, underestimated the conditions and were forced to literally carry us back to the car.
(Here, my sister and I (pre-heat exhaustion) soak in the view on the lighthouse trail.)
The crux of this story really takes place when we arrive back at the car.
I had been carrying with me a plastic toy lizard that had been my road trip companion and second in command. During one of our many breaks, I had sat him down on a rock to soak up desert sun (as lizards do from time to time) and ultimately forgot him there on the rock.
When we got back in the car, tears quickly followed the realization that I had left it miles back on the trail. This wrecked my 7 year-old world.
I vividly remember a brief moment of quiet, my quiet sobbing followed by my father breaking the silence, and getting out of the car.
His words were simple, “I’ll go back”, as he walked back into the desert.
The resilient love of a father is not something to be understood, but experienced.
This past weekend I went back to the canyon as a tribute to that memory. I couldn’t remember what trail we had been on that day, so I ran/hiked them all.
Trail running is incredibly unique in the way it utilizes your mind. Paradoxically, it forces you to keep focus, and at the same time, allows your thoughts to drift. Given enough time and space, your thoughts will settle into a single idea or concept. And, if you’re heart is willing, you’ll find yourself in a space of divine inspiration.
While running those trails, I began to unpack this idea of resilient love, and this heavy truth revealed itself
The value of resiliency has seemed to fade in today’s culture and it’s faded in me. We’re conditioned for instant gratification, the ultimate goal of happiness. We’ve developed these, almost nomadic spirits; constantly packing up and moving camp in the search for comfort and happiness. When we are met with these crux moments, when love isn’t easy, we give up and move on, leaving a wake of disappointment and disenchantment in each other.
The beautiful truth is, we’ve all got someone continually walking back into the desert for us, weather we realize it or not. Ancient Hebrew scriptures speak about God’s unfailing love in almost every page. Christian scriptures speak about the sacrificial, resilient love of God in flesh and it's not until you've allowed yourself to experience this love, that you could possibly fully understand it. The beauty is, that resilient love and strength is made available to us.
So, this is my prayer – to carry that same strength inside me.
To walk back into the desert.
Recently, my city endured the better part of a decade's worth of pent up precipitation.
Our little shelf of limestone tried its best to soak it all up, but ultimately failed, leading to several days of intermittent flash flooding. Creeks & rivers breached bank, lake levels rose, & flood-plains proved their namesake. Weeks of grey skies eventually broke and the first day of sun fell on a Monday. After a long day in the office, I made my way to the river. I knew of a secret beach on the banks of the Colorado River & I had set plans to soak up the remaining hours of sun for the day.
But, when I arrived at the beach I quickly realized that the sun was setting behind me. Meaning, I was stuck in the shade with golden rays of warmth kissing the banks across the Colorado.
The decision came quickly, & I stepped into the Colorado's murky waters.
On any other day, this river crossing would be nothing to consider, as this section of the CO is typically no more than knee-high & crystal clear. But, after a month of heavy rains & flooding, the CO had taken on life & her current was stronger than ever. It wasn't until I had gone the first 10-20 yards in that I realized I had made a mistake. I continued on, making it to the mid-section where the current strengthened drastically & waters deepened.
It was there that I found myself alone in the Colorado, leaning against its surging current, water well above my waste, & the sound of my exhausted, anxious breath overpowering its subtle roar.
Ask any yogi about breath, & they'll tell you it's the cornerstone of focus, the mantra for mindfulness - the pathway into the present moment.
Most of us live our daily lives caught in a whirlwind of priorities and tasks. It’s entirely too easy to forget to breathe. It’s almost expected to be everywhere, but not anywhere. Maybe it was the adventure adrenaline or the Monday caffeine, but I walked into the river that day and felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time (outside of slight terror) – single-minded focus.
I can’t tell you how long it lasted, but for a brief, fleeting instant my mind body & soul were focused-in on this one moment.
I found myself immersed in the present moment, accepting & feeling the entirety of it.
A paradoxical but beautiful calm.
At times in my life I’ve considered myself a practical Thoreau– not tied down by the trappings of modern civilization. Standing free, no slave to possession & comfort.
Theses days I carry with me a small device in my pocket that, at all times, reminds me I’m no man of civil disobedience.
A real life of simplicity is a virtue becoming harder and harder to unearth.
Today I counted the number of channels or avenues of communication I carry with me in my pocket. Including social media, there are a total of 11 different platforms of communication at my disposal. Made available within these platforms are, quite literally, thousands of people to connect with at any instant and vice versa...It’s a real phenomenon of our generation & incredibly overwhelming when you think about it.
Those that know me well understand my sporadic lack of attention to most of these platforms.
Those that know me really well understand that in relation to the total, there is a relatively small number of folks of which I’d want to stay so consistently connected.
Those that know me best know that there are an even smaller handful of individuals that could both send me sky high, and wreck me by their words alone.
I’d be willing to bet that many of us can narrow that number down to one.
We live in a surreal world of quantity over quality.
In our words, thoughts, and actions, we wade in shallow waters.
If deeper water is to be found (and I truly do believe it is), we will most likely have to leave a few things on the shore.
"Magic happens when two people give a shit"
Recently I ran across this quote, and haven't been able to shake its grip since.
Coincidently, I also recently began reading a book titled The Locust Effect – a long past due recommended read.
The Locust Effect gives an account of both the terrorizing impact & the strangling grasp that violence has on the world's poor, and the work that's being done by a few folks who simply give a shit.
And finally today, I ran across this photo of my friend Alex - a man who truly cares and is doing everything he can to be an agent of change.
This has all reminded me of how God is both slow and quick to act on my heart. He patiently lays in wait for my spirit to emerge from the darkness and enter into the clearing – then without hesitation – the slightest crack in my apathetic heart, opens into a vast crevasse; the force of a moved Spirit shifting hardened rock and fractured ice.
Our creator gives a shit - he really does.
Beautiful things have been made out of the dust, but what good is a garden if the gardeners simply don't care?
It's confounding how quickly we (I) lose sight of the reality of our world - billions living on less than a few dollars a day, ensnared in violence & hunger, unable to reach full humanity
So raise your $4 cup of pour-over coffee - here's to giving a shit again.
The world can be cold.
Scratch that. The world is cold. So, by nature, we insulate.
We protect ourselves by whatever means necessary in order to preserve our emotions.
We become silent, resisting to say what needs to be said.
We become violent, saying what doesn't need to be said.
We become paralyzed, standing still in the darkness and growing ever colder. Even more, we may say what does need to be said, or do what does need to be done, but direct this towards the wrong person, only leading to more confusion, doubt and distrust.
I propose that we take down our front. That we disrobe the insulation we wrap our hearts in. I propose that instead, we come close to each other and allow the radiant glow of love to keep our spirits warm.
We convince ourselves that the space, the insulation, will keep us warm..
When, in fact,
We were created to keep each other warm.
To Wake Is To Decide.
Recently I spent a few glorious days exploring & climbing the foothills of the upper front-range.
The first substantial time away from work and the city in roughly a year. Safe to say I was burnt out, struggling to find much life in my spirit at all.
Good friends. Top notch coffee & beer. Incredible climbing. Northern Colorado can soften even the hardest of jaded hearts and wake a sleeping spirit into inspiration yet again.
During my time here, my days were long and started, at the latest, at 6am. I literally couldn't wait to wake up.
I was 6 years old again, and it was Christmas morning.
Experiences like these reveal again how my spirit shakes and sways as it clutches to context.
These emotions do not come about in my normal day to day life. In fact, for those that know me well, know the double life I lead.
But I don't think it's just me. I think we are all creatures of context. (although not all to the same extent of my giddy childlike excitement for the outdoors contrasting my apathetic disposition towards what folks like to call the rat race.)
And so, are we weak? Are we unable to withstand the shifting sands of context?
Have we simply forgotten the essence of life?
Or is it possible that, in-fact, this coexistence with the dissonant balance of apathetic daily life and my ambitious inner spirit is what provides clarity in the disconnect and connection of the life and death inside of me.
The Gospel is ineffable. It is good news not to be summed up in words, but shared in love. Often confused and distorted, it’s the salvation of humanity. It’s the perfect creator reaching out its hand in hope of being with its imperfect creation. Not imperfect by design, but by their own choice. The Gospel is hope.
It’s been over a year since I sat here...high as can be, at peace with it all.
Could I have possibly known that an intense season of apathy was waiting for me on the way down?
To say seasons change w/time doesn’t suffice. They can be as fleeting as the wind, or linger for years.
Hobby to hobby, relationship to relationship, job to job. searching for something to break through apathy’s sweet, indifferent grasp on your spirit…
Something to make you feel again.
Last week I was reminded of the constant in the midst of this. The one thing that apathy doesn’t rule.
When you grow up in something, you often don’t notice its significance or its gravity. Sometimes, you’ve got to really look out & back in to see the weight of it all on your life.
And yet when you do come to that realization, it's near impossible to describe it in a way that does justice to that weight.
The Gospel. My slow-heart clings to this hope.
To Choose How.
We cannot choose whether or not to engage the world around us, only how to.
Every detail of our existences tugs at the fabric of life.
Our being pushes and pulls at the seams as our existence folds and unfolds together.
Person to person, day to day, year to year, decade to decade, empire to empire.
The mere fact that we cannot choose to not engage should alone unite us.
And yet, we treat it as this, just mere fact.
Left to this trivial assumption, we fabricate for ourselves the option of pushing the idea aside, in an attempt to create space for our own self-center.
But by even creating this option we are, in effect, really just choosing how to engage, rather than not to.
If we can stop treating this fabricated choice as real, we cannot help but be compelled to engage the world in a very different way.
From the stranger, the grocery worker, to the home and office.
If we believe that our choice not to engage the world we live in is actually not a choice of whether to engage but rather how we’ve taken a back door approach to choosing how to engage, we can then actually shift our day to day existence.
Person to person; Across neighborhoods, religions, societies and culture.
In 1397 a Tibetan philosopher by the name of Tsong-khapa wrote that “emptiness is the track on which a centered person moves.”
The word he uses to describe “track” is the word “shul” and can be defined more accurately as “an impression”.
As in, a worn down path. A footprint or a clearing in the woods where once stood a house and barn. Or, a channel through rock where flood waters once ran.
I’ve spent time in West Texas, and when you spend time in West Texas, you learn a thing or two about emptiness.
Beautifully captivating emptiness.
It seems odd to be so attracted to this, but there is something about the nothingness and emptiness that compels me to drive hundreds of miles from the city out into the desert.
It would seem as though Tsong-khapa valued emptiness to highest of degrees. He saw that to understand emptiness isn’t just to know a concept, but rather to journey into the desert, or to stumble upon a clearing in the woods.
Suddenly, you can see clearly, move easily, and feel the shocking absence of what normally fills your vision and often times determines who you are.
We witness our vulnerability and live without the distractions and obstructions that keep our spirit from moving forward.
I can’t imagine what distractions Tsong-khapa could have possibly dealt with in 1397, but I would bet that at their core, they aren’t too different from what we deal with today.
Either way, a release from these distractions gives us the emptiness we need for our heart and spirit to move freely. To see clearly
Tsong-khapa’s analogy takes us even further in that not only is this place we’ve found ourselves in an empty space, but rather an impression…a “shul”. A place where others have walked and moved freely. A place maintained and kept clear of distraction.
It implies that maybe we are not alone in that space. That others had been before and will come after. That it has in fact been kept clear for us to move about freely.
This is the value of emptiness. Not to feel empty or to be empty, but to see clearly.
To discover that your soul was made to move.
From time to time in my life, I’ve found myself utterly smitten by the "wilderness".
It's not easy describing why I love the natural world so much.
There are beautiful things out there, yes. But, there's more to it. It's a world of contradictions & extremes.
This world is so perfectly bi-polar.
It's simply complex.
If left to itself, it lives and breathes power and strength. It can bring life; create beauty out of nothing.
And yet. If left in the hands of another. Seemingly fragile
We can accept this reality. It's how things work. I mean, that’s just nature I guess..right?.
But wait, that's us too...
If left to our own design, we’re powerful, strong, able to create incredible beauty.
But, if left in the hands of another..
It seems as though we're less inclined to accept that. But God was right in his design.
Tucked away in our cities and suburban sub culture, we lose sight of the fact that we are connected to this. We forget not only our strength, but even worse, our fragility. We are woven into the framework of creation and into the essence of existence. And yet often times it takes being left defenseless in the hands of another for us to realize our fragility. Our complexity as people is simply natural. In the same way that rushing water can bring and destroy beautiful life, so too can we.
I think this may be why I sometimes find myself so enthralled by the natural world.
The delicate balance between strong and fragile.
The human nature.
I’m horrible at small talk. Absolutely horrible.
I moved to Austin a little over two years ago. I knew of a couple folks here, but really only had one close friend in the city.
Lucky for me, I received an incredible opportunity to live with 5 of the most welcoming social butterflies I've encountered.
Needless to say, I met a lot of new faces my first few weeks here.
I mean a lot.
I would put the number at well over 100 new friends within the initial month. My head was spinning. So many names. So many faces. So many first impressions.
And sooo much damn small talk.
How could I possibly remember who’s who? Somewhere along the way, I decided to change my approach. I decided that names and mutual friends were irrelevant.
I wanted to know more. I wanted something to remember; something about that person that would bypass the small talk.
So, for the next several months, when I met someone new, I asked this question:
What are you all about?
Before the names. Before the shared connections. I’d look you dead in the eye, and ask you what you are all about.
The responses I received were surprising. Every answer unique.
But, I found that, this question, is a hard question. Especially asked from some guy with no shame for his chest hair that you've just met. Even excluding the initial awkwardness, this simple question proves to be difficult to anyone.
Maybe it was because they were expecting small talk and unmemorable pleasantries. Or, maybe it was the chest hair. Either way, the vast majority were struck silent. So many scrambled to find an answer or replied with facts about what they do, where they are from, or what they are studying.
But that only led to more awkward small talk.
So, I began denying these answers. "No" I would say, "what are you all about? You're life has got to be more than working at a snow cone stand right?" "Right?"
Of course, this was all done in jest…kind of.
Regardless, it revealed a truth that mankind has been running from since the beginning.
We are afraid to look inside. We are terrified to dive into the weeds of self-evaluation. We present to each other our Facebook profile; an embellished and inflamed ego.
Why? Because we know at an intimate level the truth of our imperfection?
We are afraid to be found naked in front of our creator.
And so, we stick to what's easy. We relentlessly focus on what we do. Where we are from. What we study. The music and movies we like. Our politics. Our personal “style”.
One can pour so much energy and presentation into these things, that they eventually seem to become who they are.
We create clothing to cover what we see as imperfect.
We hide in the garden.
Surely these things we hide behind are trivial when compared to our essence and our inner self, right? Our dreams, desires, fears, insecurities, and the course of our spirit’s connection with creation and the creator. These have got to define who we are.
Don’t get me wrong. What we do and who we are so so very connected.
But, I can’t help believing they are still worlds apart.
This is Kelsey,
and I am crazy about her
When the shutter closed on this photo almost a year ago, it was just the beginning of realizing this.
But, when I see this photo, I’m not just reminded that there’s this girl in my life that I’m crazy about who likes and appreciates nature, and art, and music, and travel and all those beautiful things that, I too, like and appreciate.
That is nice and all, but when I look at this photo, I see a bit more.
I see a person. A human being. Alive and in awe.
Not some tumblr account, or some blog, or pintrest photo, or feel good rhetoric about being alive…
…but a real life, breathing human being, created by the same beautifully artistic hands that shaped the sun moon and stars.
Alive and in awe.
Recently, a friend, and more or less co-worker, proposed the idea that the purpose and meaing of life is simply this:
To enjoy and stand in awe of creation and the creator.
I'm challenged to consider how often I actually do this in my life. When the horizon is in clear view, it becomes pretty easy and natural to pull this off. But we often times live our lives with no clear sight of the horizon, right?
It get's pretty damn hard.
But thats the trick isn't it? To feel alive and be in awe with no horizon in sight. In your cubicle. In your day to day. In your broken relationship. In your pain. In your guilt.
I think my friend is on to something.
To be alive and in awe.
Time sits on a different spectrum of understanding for me.
It moves both fast and slow. It holds memories and helps you forget. It builds relationships, and causes lovers to drift apart. It steals days, months, and years from you, and yet, at the end of it all it has managed to give you a lifetime.
The second day I arrived in Cusco, I took this photo. This arch is hundreds of years old. It has seen time and culture pass underneath and for some reason, it reminds me of the longevity and depth of a real experience.
My trip is ending in the Southern continent and once again the spirit of God has taught me more than I would’ve guessed. And what I’m learning now is the true meaning of the desire to be in two places at once.
The great Woody Guthrie once wrote that one by one, the sweetest days of life go by you.
I’ve had 158 days here. They’ve all tasted sweet, and one by one, they’ve passed by me.
My prayer is that I didn’t only watch them.
These days, minutes, and moments are creating a lifetime. What will you create with that experience?
There’s a patch of Andean countryside about a ten minute drive and hour hike outside of the city.
It’s the perfect place for meditation with the Spirit and prayer on a quite Sunday afternoon.
The area is dubbed by the locals as El Balcón del Diablo.
There’s a small river that cuts a gorge out the land, leading up to a small string of Inca ruins along the river, completely off the tourism map.
But the beautiful thing about this area isn’t the ruins, but rather just downstream from them. Over time, the river has managed to cut through a massive rock outcropping, creating a small cave where the water still runs through. You get a real feeling of awe as you wade through the water and rock.
Water has become a reoccurring theme for my time in Cusco.
It has established it's self as power and life through 3 months of daily rain, Through the cyclical and constant corn and rice production in the Sacred Valley, Through the high jungle of the Andes, teaming with life at over 12,000ft above sea level, Through the glacial systems of the high peaks, Through the Incan aqueducts, meticulously weaving themselves from mountain tops, to the distant valleys below, And through geological gems like El Balcón del Diablo.
The truth is, water is the most powerful natural force in the world, and it brings life and death on a daily basis.
But if this is truth, why do I only notice it as truth in remote places like this? In places relatively untouched?
Maybe it is because in places like the states, we have found a way to harness that power? To trap that truth? To dam great and powerful rivers. To direct the flow of power from the natural world, to our world. To fill our desire and to quench our relentless thirst. Maybe that's why this truth is less visible to the western world. We have created dams.
It begs the question, that if we can do such a great job of concealing and distorting the power of something natural like water, are we doing the same with bigger truths and with larger powers?
We say that God doesn't show himself anymore. That he has abandoned us in these times of war, terrorism, and suffering.
And we ask, where is God?
We are thirsty, no doubt about it.
But are we damming up a power that can save us? Are we concealing a power and truth that can cut through rock? That can replenish our spirits? That can create life in the most desolate places?
That can bring us to awe?
Knowledge of Knowing.
This is Vilma.
From the second week I arrived in Cusco, I’ve been getting fresh vegetable juice from Vilma almost every day.
Vilma is a juice lady. She works 7 days a week. She has a grandson named Gabriel. And she has me.
I know these four things about Vilma.
Vilma knows that I teach English and study Spanish. She know’s I like to go trekking on the weekends. She knows I like my juice with carrot, celery, cucumber, alfalfa, & a touch of apple. She knows I will come everyday that I can.
Vilma knows these four things about me.
I’ve spent a lot of collective time at Mercado de San Pedro with Vilma the juice lady. And I still only know these four things about Vilma.
Most days are spent in silence, with occasional small talk here and there.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has people like this in life. People that we see and interact with everyday but only know on a surface level.
The third week I was in Cusco, I bought Vilma a English-Spanish dictionary with the hope of teaching her English, showing her compassion and her helping me along with my Spanish, sharing wisdom with me.
This would be my plan; this would be how I would minister to Vilma.
But, based on how miserably my plan failed, I guess that’s not what Vilma wanted, or maybe even needed.
I’ve spent time contemplating whether my relationship with Vilma is strangely defective or strangely beautiful.
I think that human interaction is both complex and simple. And I think sitting in silence with someone and experiencing a seemingly meaningless moment together can be powerful
Even though I don’t know much about Vilma, I still feel like I know Vilma. And even though Vilma doesn’t know much about me, I still feel like she knows me.
I would say it is pretty cool that we can do that. And, I think it is a testament to our creation; that our spirits are able to interact in that way.
The scriptures say that the spirit of God knows us in a way that we cannot know ourselves; that he has created us, and that we are his.
Although there’s much mystery in our relationship with the Spirit, and many times it just feels like small talk, the possibility of truly knowing God captivates me and propels my spirit forward.
Our current version of religion has done a great job at trying to simplify the immense complexities and mystery of knowing the Spirit. The knowing about often casts a shadow on the simply knowing.
I think we are missing out on true knowledge because of that.
When do we sit in silence with the Spirit? When do we give up the investigation?
We are scholars, but where is our knowledge?
This past weekend I summited a large volcano dubbed El Misti in the southern region of Peru. Her smoldering crater sits at 19,101 ft above sea level.
There are 2/3 day guided tours offered up to the summit, however at this point in the traveling game, you can’t really afford to spend money on things like that. So we summited in one day, hitting the trail at 2:30 AM and reaching the crater at mid-day.
All in all, we were on the trail for a total of 15 hours.
After finishing El Misti, and after a 4 week stint of intense weekend backpacking, I promised my self and others that I was going to take a break and let my body rest.
The next morning I received an email from a friend, inviting me on a summit attempt of Mt. Picol, right outside of Cusco.
I couldn’t resist, and less than 48 hours after El Misti, I was on the trail again.
The night following the Picol summit, my body endured a raging fever like I’ve never experience before.
Even though I was having the time of my life, I had broken myself down, and my body literally couldn't take it anymore.
I think when God created the Sabbath, he had a lot of things in mind, and I think that Sabbath rest might be one of the most intricate and important aspects of our spirits. Yet, in many of our lives, it is the most rejected and ignored.
I’ve got a few friends that are accountants, and I can’t think of a better definition of working than being an accountant during tax season. In situations like this, it's easy to become aware of the importance of rest.
But in times of bliss and enjoyment we become much less aware, and these times seem to convince us that we don’t need rest. However, I think playing hard and working hard contrast rest in many of the same ways.
For example, I think that creating the earth in six days would be pretty fun. I don’t think God viewed it as a burden. In fact, if you’ve ever created something beautiful from scratch, you know how euphoric the process can be. And yet still, he took a day to rest.
Likewise, I think Jesus liked his work as well (apart from the whole crucifixion thing). I imagine that healing folks and giving them eternal life is pretty fun stuff. And yet still, he made time to rest.
I guess what I’m saying is whether you view your day-to-day as work or as play, rest should make its way into your life.
I could have spent my time after El Misti in rest, but I ended up spending it in intense fever. A very strong reminder of how my body and spirit are designed.
I recently heard from a wise man that meaningful work leads to meaningful rest, and meaningful rest leads to meaningful work.
I think our spirits are meant for meaning, and there's no doubt rest plays a role in that truth.
Recently I had the opportunity to backpack through the Salkantay route over the course of three days. The route covers about 50 kilometers of high jungle and eventually curves around the 20,574 ft Salkantay peak and glacial system. While on the trail, I also hit one of the higher altitudes I've been at of 4,600 meters. That’s just over 15,000ft above sea level.
I also hit a brick wall of mental and physical agony
Because we decided to cover the route in reverse, the second two days of the trek we climbed about 8,500 ft, all the while with about 40 pounds strapped on our backs.
The third and last day we climbed from 13,500 to 15,000ft.
Now, It should be noted that the night before our last and most difficult day, all of our food(aka energy) was stolen by a pack of dogs. It should also be noted that on the bus to the trailhead my iPhone(aka my life) was also stolen.
Needless to say, during our finally climb, I was a hungry, IPhone-less, unhappy camper.
Usually in difficult times like these on the trail, I would simply grab the iPhone, roll out the noise cancelling ear buds, scroll down to my James Taylor greatest hits record and before I knew it, I’d be gone to Carolina in my mind.
But not today. No food. No iPhone. No James Taylor. Just the sound of a steady alpine wind, high altitude breathing, and my negative thoughts.
The afternoon was a beautiful challenge.
See, the real phenomenon of the iPhone is that, before you have one, you’re fine. You really are okay, but once you’ve entered into that grandiose world of convenience, you literally can’t imagine that life is possible without it.
But, somehow I made it without it and was even able to make ridiculous Zoolander poses at the top of the pass.
I’m beginning to realize more and more how much the trail parallels with life.
I think there are a lot of things in our life that carry a message of “you don’t know you how much you need it, until you have it.” And even moreso, the message of “if you don’t have it, then you must need it”. (that job, car, house, raise, engagement ring, whatever)
So how do you survive when these things disappear? How do you survive when you don’t have the things you’re absolutely convinced you need?
I think you’ll spend a little time in a deep breath, listening to the wind and probably some negative thoughts.
And then, I think you top out, reach a higher goal, and find some bliss in that moment.
On a recent stint of traveling, I was reminded of an unfortunate stereotype I travel with as a US citizen.
Now don't get me wrong, I was offered incredible hospitality by great friends, and I had no stones thrown at me by any means.
However, the smidge of resentment and hostility I felt from the general population was just enough to remind me of the international burden I carry as an American. And it was just enough to get me ranting on this issue.
Let me begin by saying this. I get it. The USA is, by far, the biggest perpetrator in the raping of our planet. We suck. I'm not denying that.
Let's look at some statistics: - American's consume 26% of the world's energy - Our demand for energy grows by about 3% per year. - The US population relative to the global population is about 5% - This 5% contributes about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. - US video game consoles consume as much energy annually as the entire city of San Diego...
So yes, in a land so delicately effected by our energy consumption and gross mistreatment of the environment, I suppose this hostility and resentment should be expected.
I totally understand it.
But somehow, I still won't tolerate it.
I think the biggest lesson that I've learned from this outsider's perspective is not that we are to blame.
Rather, what I am realizing is that the international community is nothing more than a giant elementary school playground, playing the blame game to it's fullest extent and on a global level.
If critisicm and blame is all you are able to bring to the table, then I think we can agree nothing is going to be solved anytime soon.
As soon as the international community (including the states) stops playing this game and turns their focus to searching for practical and logical solutions, progress will be made for this planet.
I'm afraid that, from what I've witnessed, the majority of what is coming out of this situation as of now is blame, resentment, and ultimately hate.
And I'm struggling to remember the last time hate has saved the planet.
Will you join me in holding the world to a higher standard?
When you hike the 4 day Inca trail to Machu Picchu, porters are hired to carry the cooking gear, food, tents, and even your own personal gear if you so choose.
Porters, including the cook and assistant cook, carry up to 25 kilograms each. Thats just about 55 pounds.
Many of these men refuse modern comfort, hiking in sandals and carrying their weight in make-shift packs.
We ate our meals in the comfort of our own private dinner tent, including chairs, a table and even a table cloth. We were awoken in the morning with hot tea in our tents, ate pizza and fresh trout for our meals and even had a birthday cake on the trail.
A day after we finished our trek, the porters and cooks that accompanied our crew were on the trail again for another four days hiking.
Even with abundant tipping, it's hard not to feel like a slave master.
I tried my best to keep up with these guys but by the end of the third day, I realized it was no use. To say I've got respect for these men is an understatement.
They have a strength that comes only from experience.
I can't remember the last time I carried a burden like this for someone else. I especially can't remember the last time I carried one past the threshold of my own personal pain or discomfort.
But if I'm going to claim to have the love of Christ in me, I wonder if I should start putting myself in situations in which I can truly help with the burdens of others, even to the point of my own discomfort. I know that we are called to give our burdens up to God, but I wonder what we would learn by taking part in carrying the weight of life for our brothers and sisters.
I think what I took from these porters is that to help with someone's weight or burden not only puts that person's back at ease, but builds within you strength that can only come from experience.
I want that strength. I want to be strong for the folks on this trail with me.
I want the strength that comes from taking a part of other's burden, pain, and stress and carrying it on my back.
The Privilege Of A Lifetime.
When you think about art, what comes to mind? Picasso? Van Gogh? Avatar the movie?..
This past weekend I ventured deep into the vast beauty that is the Peruvian Andes.
About mid-day, we stopped in a highland meadow to fill up on water.
From there, we could see the wild earth for miles and miles and miles.
As we waited for the water to purify, a distant herd of sheep and llama curiously made their way over.
Their shepherds? Four Quechuan children, maybe 10 years of age and several kilometers away from the nearest pueblo.
This is their childhood, roaming these hills and valleys, tending to their work. This will be their life for as long as they live. Most folks would feel for these children. "They deserve a better life." "Who is providing for these children?"
But, I think I envy them.
When I think of art, I think of lives like these Quechuan children. I think of ancient cultures intact in the days of iPhones, political leverage, and gluttony.
I've read that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. These children own that privilege. They live it. They are who they are, and they will be who they are for the rest of their lives. They have no other choice.
They don't carry that burden.
I think that is pure art, being who you are.
I can have my doubts, and I can be unsure about so much, but one thing I know and feel for certain. We are children of a great creator, and that's a privilege of an eternity.
It has rained every single day that I have lived in Cusco.
Every. Single. Day.
I mean that in the most literal sense.
It does this every year, I’m told, from December to April.
This city has been around for centuries, and the people even longer than that.
And yet, so many of my friends here don't own rain jackets. The awnings don’t cover the side-walks. Mud-slides run rampant in the outskirts, and drainage systems fail.
And they live their lives.
The fixer in me is on fire. I enjoy solving problems, and I love fulfilling needs. But, the problem solver may meet his demise in third world Latin America.
Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of a discussion group covering the pros, cons, and effects of both foreign and domestic humanitarian aid. I've decided this; helping people with their physical needs is much, much more complicated than how Jesus made it look. I've got no five loaves here, and I'm a terrible fisherman.
So, here's to a new journey of understanding of perception and contentment.
I’m on a journey of understanding in so many aspects of my life, and I think the idea of a sacred place is one to wrestle with.
Is the kingdom of God within us, or does God act from “out there”?
Today I went to mass in the most intricate and breathtaking cathedral I’ve been in. Granted it was my first time, it was a sight to see.
When the Spanish conquered Cusco, they tore down the Inca temples, using the Incan stones as the foundations for their cathedrals.
Literally, a sacred place built upon a sacred place.
But, the Inca had spaces outside of the temples, left untouched for the most part.
These places, or sometimes objects, are called Huacas. Peru is riddled with Huacas. They take many different forms, from statues to massive stone monuments.
However, the Inca considered the natural world to be alive and sacred, and many Huacas were simply natural locations, like large overhanging rock formations. These were sacred places, where one could go and communicate with the spirits and with the gods.
I like the idea of having my own little tabernacle in which I can exclude the world and be with God; a rescue place, safe from the wasteland.
But, I think I also like the idea of that place being found within. Within things like joy, peace, community and childlike timelessness.
Either way, I love being with my creator.
This weekend I visited an ancient Incan region named El Valle Sagrado de los Incas.
The valley has become a popular tourist destination; know for its dramatic scenery and massive ruin sites of ancient Incan architecture.
Imperfect stones, carefully cut, matched and placed into perfection.
It's a sight to see; perfection being born from crude, hardened, and jagged rock. Rumor has it, that when the Spanish asked the Incans about the stonework, the Incan said that the stones had come from the Gods.
There is one stone in particular that lies at the heart of Cusco. The 12-sided stone fits perfectly within an Incan foundation wall Northeast of the main Plaza. The stone is framed and matched so perfectly, that not even a coin can fit in-between it and the surrounding rock.
It’s a true testament to Inca architecture. But, I wonder why the Inca decided not to cut all of their stones square.
Maybe the Inca knew something about imperfection. Maybe they saw value and beauty in taking something seemingly imperfect, and giving it a real home. Matching it perfectly within the wall and giving it purpose.
I think the beauty of these walls and ancient ruins isn’t just that they still stand. But that they accomplished the purpose for which they were created and that they were formed out of imperfect and unique pieces.
My hope in life is that God will find a way to frame and match our restless, 12-sided souls; creating perfection out of our beautiful imperfection. My hope is that we can embrace our purpose.
First blog post and I haven't even left the country! I don't leave for another couple weeks, but I assume I should write the whole 'why I'm leaving the country'' post beforehand.
Truth is, as excited as I am for going, I'm probably close or equally bummed about leaving. In fact I feel slightly stupid for leaving my super cool friends in Austin, TX behind for a few months.
Should I stay or go? That question consumed me for a long time.
Sometimes I think we only value questions for their ability to precede an answer. A question that we think has no answer is really no question at all right? Some would call these things mysteries. They are in the gray and they are blurred.
However, what I've learned is that often times the truest answers only come from living out and living in these questions.
Over the past few years I've developed a habit for searching for answers but never actually diving into the questions. I've been sitting on the banks, constantly wondering how deep the river really is. I don't think God wants that for me. I think God wants me to enjoy the water.
This summer I had the privilege to listen to a man, wise beyond his years, speak on this subject. What he brought to my attention is what ultimately led me to here.
There is always a difference between living in the question and searching for the answer.
So here I am, another guy with a beard traveling and doing mission work, living in the questions and mysteries of life. It seems cliché, right? Well I guess to me it seems like a bit more than that.
I'm looking forward so much to sharing my experiences with you all. If you so choose to read these posts, I promise they won't come everyday and I'll do my best to only write when i have something real to say. But, my biggest prayer is that they will inspire you to live in your own questions.
As always, your prayers are welcomed as I prepare for my time in Peru. I pray that God will present me with opportunities to open my heart to others and I pray that he will keep me strong and ready. Thanks for reading.