Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cole's Notes, for now ...

It is Tuesday night. I arrived home from The Death Race in Vermont last night at 2am. I had great intentions of writing a spectacular race report today ... but am still absolutely fried. So, I am going to give a bare bones version tonight and get back to it soon. So, buckle up for some stream-of-consciousness bullet-point style info (with lots of details missing and some simplified) ...

Race started Friday at 6pm. Almost entire event was run under severe thunderstorms. Everyone seemed to believe their race would be between 30 and 40 hours. From the outset, and throughout the whole event, we were actively encouraged to quit, with many checkpoints placed such that this was a very seductive option. Also, at each checkpoint, we were informed that the leaders were still not finished! 36+ hours in that gets discouraging. Ultimately, there really was no finish line - the hidden objective was to push everyone as far as they could, with absurdly difficult challenges, seeing who would hang in for a full 45 hours.

No matter where you were on the course Sunday afternoon, you were to get back to the farm to check-in before a mandatory 3pm meeting, leaving your gear to resume racing after. At this point, Andy (race director) told us each, in graphic detail, what was still to come (amounting to a couple more DAYS of racing) and asked each if we were in or out. Several people opted out. I had already figured out by now that I was probably on course until Tuesday, so had made arrangements for Jack to ride home with James and was prepared to finish the course with no support crew. So, I told Andy, "F***ing right I am in!"

I had come off the trail at 2:41pm ... looking like this.

... James was waiting with a lawn chair and a hose to clean me off. He also had his slacks, shirt, shoes and tie from his Montreal business trip, so only ten minutes later I looked like this!

The 3pm meeting took place in a church, where they asked for a show of hands for who was still in the race. 230 people had signed up. 75 then hadn't even shown up. Another 120 had dropped out along the course. So there were 35 of us left. It was at this point that the race was declared over, with those 35 having finished the full 45 hours, and then ranked by distance covered.I believe the distance was about 45 miles but that is somewhat irrelevant, as it there was much less time spent running than crawling, climbing, falling, wading, swimming, scrambling, chopping, carrying, dragging, pushing, pulling and standing there swearing.

Describing the actual race to you could not possibly capture the difficulty or the mayhem, so I will just list the challenges, in order, here with minimal commentary for now ...

  • individually squat-cleaning a 50lb boulder 1,360 times, all while wearing all of our gear - 40lb pack, axe, etc. Yes, you read that right - 90 sets of 14 (the guy beside me dropped one of his, crushing his foot and ending his race). We were told we'd be doing 150 sets, to make it seem even more impossible, before stopping us at 90 - after about 5 hours - and saying the rest would be at the end of the race
  • 1 mile hike through forest
  • trudge upstream, in the dark,  for a few MILES in thigh to chest deep rapids on slippery rocks
  • stand still, up to your waist in very cold water, for 5 full minutes 
  • swim across a deep 50 yard pond, spring fed so only 48F, with all your gear, pack, axe/maul, then scramble up a muddy 50 degree bank, walk slowly around a 400 yard loop in a field with a candle in hand that had to remain lit ... and REPEAT WHOLE THING SEVEN times (lots of dropouts here from hypothermia, with people unable/unwilling to go back in the water again and again)
  • hike another mile through forest (now early morning Saturday)
  • chop a bunch of wood
  • carry a very heavy, huge log up a 1mile hill, some under electric fencing, memorize a bible verse, go to the bottom of the hill and repeat it perfectly - or repeat the whole loop until you can.
  • chop more wood
  • hike miles downstream in the river
  • march up a hill, saw off a 3 foot section of log, weighing about 50 lbs
  • carry the log down and drill bib number into it. This 50 lb log would now be carried the rest of the race.
  • do a brutal 5 hour hike through ridiculously steep forest, with pack and log. Trails marked only by orange tape, and getting quickly washed out by torrential downpours and hundred of boots. The last 2 hours was basically a mudslide down
  • Now, at Rogers Cabin, it was about and hour to throw log in lake, stack wood, do 90 pushups, retrieve log (now even heavier), reload and head out. It was at this checkpoint, most people about 24 hours in, that about 50% of the field dropped out. The hike back up seemed nearly impossible, and this was one of the few spots on the course accessible by car. One radio call and you were ten minutes back to camp.
  • Hike back up the same awful, seemingly impassable route - often on hands and knees, pulling self up by roots and small trees. Full blown thunderstorm most of the way.
  • Finally back at Colton Cabin - do 100 burpees in the rain, then head back down to the barn
  • At the barn, thrown your log into the pond, run across the road, climb into a culvert and crawl, pushing/pulling your pack and log under the highway back to the pond. Dive in and retrieve your log.
  • (Now very early Sunday morning for me) with the log now even heavier and on your back again, set out on a 10 mile hike to the top of Joe's Mt and back. But this hike is like no other. Much of it is straight up a waterfall - yes, in the river, climbing into the flow, up slippery rocks, still with a full, waterlogged pack and log. The reward for completing this is to then crawl 1/4 mile, uphill, in a creek, under barbed wire that is strung back and forth on or just above the ground. Every body length of progress required lifting the barbed wire, sliding under, pulling pack, pulling log and starting all over a again.
  • The last stretch to the top was nearly vertical, heavily wooded, and muddy as hell. And my legs were a wee bit tired by now. This was all scrambling, pulling, climbing for another 1/4 mile or so.
  • Then a 90 minute full-speed hike back down the mountain to the barn (I had returned from this JUST in time for the 3pm meeting)
  • The most elite competitors had also gone on to chop a ridiculous amount of wood before hiking up to Colton Cabin again, dropping their log and grabbing a 5 gallon bucket. Back down to the farm. Fill the bucket to the very lip and head back up to Colton. If they did not lose more than 2" of water they could pick their log back up and carry on to Rogers AGAIN. This time, they got to leave the log there and then hike back with just their pack. Next was a written test, based on the religious symbols we had memorized, and a hike to present it at the top of Joe's Mountain again. There were seven people who actually got through all of that just under the 45 hour mark, including "world's fittest man" Joe Decker (repeat champion) and Grace Duffee Cuomo (women's champ).
I am leaving out the most important stuff ... the extraordinary help I got from an incredible crew. James, Mike, Amanda, Jackie, Bill, Jack, Daisy and Zoe will be properly credited in the long version. Many people commented to me that I had the best crew of the whole race!

Also, the many people who donated to POGO ... the video thank-you is coming! We could not get any on course footage as it never stopped raining!! So, they are being done post-race. But your support kept me moving forward many times when I wasn't sure I could. And, together, we raised $5,000 to help kids living with cancer!!

And a grateful nod to the race organizers, volunteers and fellow racers. Truly an unbelievable event!!

Here are some links to stories about it...

Thanks to Cousin David for capturing this timely screen-shot!

BTW ... No cash prizes for anyone. Just a fun, plastic skull for the finishers that is better than any other trophy I have ever won.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Successfully Completed 2011 Spartan Death Race! My total race time was 44 hours and 41 minutes. Full race report coming tomorrow (just woke up and today is a travel day).


And equally big thanks to my incredible support crew; Mike Kitchen, Amanda Woodman, Jackie Mussell, Bill McGill, Jack, Daisy and Zoe. The best crew at the race - a sentiment repeated by unbiased observers, I might add!!

I feel great today. Understandably stiff but great. Having a coffee in the Pittsfield General Store and heading out shortly.

Life is Good :)

Death Race Post - Late Sunday Night

Last post from the "guest blogger", and this one straight from his Facebook status, which pretty much says it all.

"Successfully finished The Spartan Death Race this weekend. On course for 44 hours 41 minutes. Finished 22nd out of 230. Details to follow :)"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Death Race Post - Sunday, June 26 @ 9:15am

At the moment, Johnny is still out on the course, this time with Mike Kitchen and Amanda Woodman as his on-course support.

The rest of the crew is having breakfast and starting to break down their areas of the camps, since most need to head home at some point today.

Going into the event, Johnny was told that a sleep strategy might come into play, so he had planned to take 20 minute cap naps as needed.  However, on entering camp at last evening from a muddy and slippery descent from the mountain and being told of what was to follow, he decided that some "real" sleep might be appropriate.

As it stands now, he is entering hour 39 of the challenge, having slept just under 5 hours in the past 52.  A couple hours ago he embarked a 4.5 hour "hike" through trails, streams and ravines, one full mile of which is covered with barbed wire 12-24 inches off the ground, which he must pass under...with his pack...and his log.  By all accounts he will be given various clues along the way, which will come into play at the checkpoint where there is a mental test.  If he misses, there is a penalty (who knows what).  Either way, after the check point he must return to camp the same way he came, including the barbed wire!

Awaiting him at camp will be several dozen logs, which must be split into quarters and stacked.  Then it's more "hiking", back up the other mountain to Colten Camp and beyond - pack, log, and now a 5 gallon bucket of water which must stay close to full (penalty for spilling).

The "Death Race", which started out with 154 people who began the first night working in groups, has essentially become the "Death Challenge" - an individual test of endurance, pain tolerance and determination.  As far as racing, the distance between the 30-or-so remaining participants is wide, with a few of them 12-15 hours ahead of the last (the leader, Joe Decker, is referred to as the World's Fittest Man).  Given Johnny's sleep strategy, he's back in the pack, but is certainly not concerned about position or ranking.  Instead he's focused on meeting each challenge as it's encountered, and Mike radioed a while ago to say that Johnny is "feeling good and going strong" with the expectation of hitting the barbed wire section soon.

For the first day "damp" is way to describe the weather, rather than raining or pouring.  But, just to make sure that "wet" was the operative word for the partipants' conditions throughout the race, shortly after dawn, Johnny was required to lay for 5 minutes in a stream before heading onto the next task.  Good morning!

More to post later as Johnny comes off the trail to attend the mandatory 3pm Church Congregation.  Literally, all racers, regardless of what check points they have or have not cleared, must gather at the local church, after which they'll be sent back out to their positions to resume racing.  Should be an interesting sermon!

We are getting some good pictures, but with sketchy internet access, multiple file formats (phone, computer, SD cards, etc.) we've been having trouble getting them off devices and onto a computer that can connect and post (different computers can connect at different times, oddly).  I expect a "photo gallery" of sorts will be posted soon.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Death Race Post - Saturday, June 25 @ 7:05pm

My apologies for the lack of posts.  Going into this event, Johnny and I (and many of you, I'm sure) had grand plans to update this blog on an almost hourly basis.

However, the harsh realities of the Death Race kicked in pretty much from the get-go.  The logistics blogging about an event that takes place on/in farms, mountains, surging rivers and frigid ponds has proven incredibly difficult, especially considering that the only WiFi signal is in the General Store that really hasn't factored into the event other than the initial meeting, and that Pittsfield has been under almost constant rain and, as of a few minutes ago, thunderstorms.

So...where do things stand now?  From the field of 154, there are about 60 people remaining after 25+ hours.  Not surprisingly, Johnny Waite is among them!  He is presently atop a mountain at a challenge stage involving, push ups, sit ups, hand-sawing logs and moving split logs around using wheelbarrow.  He has been working at this for almost 5 hours.

Afterwards, he must hike out by forging a trail through brush, until he finds an old utility road and series of switchback walking trails.  Having walked these trails earlier in the day, I can tell you that his "out" trek will be about 2.5 miles, down very steep grades that are muddy at the best of times.  The last hour has brought torrential downpours and thunderstorms, which will make the descent pretty treacherous.  Added to the fact that he will have his 40 lb backpack (which has been with/on him since the race began) and a 40-45 lb log that he was forced to cut to length using a handsaw some and has been carrying since 9am this morning.

How did all this begin?  Following a one hour meeting, and some time to get up to the farm and organize into groups of 12, each person was faced with the task of 960 consecutive clean lifts of a 40-50lb rock, punctuated with hoisting a wet hay bale and a large pipe 3/4 filled with water once for every 12 times the rocks were lifted.  This task was begun at about 8pm and lasted until 1:20am.

While originally slated to last much longer, this event was suddenly cut short and all racers told to hike a one mile trail to a river, which they would then wade into and hike 2.5 miles against a very strong current, in depths ranging from ankle deep to chest high.

Greeting the racers as they exited the river was a huge bonfire, that they were told they would be disqualified if they hovered around.  That was for the support crew, who had been waiting in the dark for more than 2.5 hours alongside the frigid river for the racers to appear.  Instead, they were ordered to head up to a pond and submerge to waist deep.  Shortly afterwards they began a task that would take the next 1.5 hours.  Pull themselves hand over hand across the over-their-head pond using ropes suspend 1 foot above the water level. Following that, scrabble up a 50 degree mud bank to the top and be handed a lit candle which they must carry in violently shaking hands around the field without it blowing out.  If it goes out, walk around the field a second time.  Then hike down a slippery grade to the pond's edge again.  To repeat the task.  Seven times!

The night and day and now into this evening has unfolded as variations on this theme.  Incredible strength, incredible fatigue, incredible effort on the part of Johnny to get this far.

At last check (an hour or so ago) he had shortly before been wakened by Mike Kitchen, his on-course support, after his first (and thus far only) 20 minute nap.  He's in great spirits - no surprise - but is incredibly fatigued.  He's also disappointed to have so been unable to record any video messages "live from the race".  The non-stop deluge or rain has prevented him and Mike from carrying any kind of electronic other than the water proof walkie talkies to communicate needs and progress to the support team.

Much like a Tour de France or marathon, "watching" a Death Race is an interesting concept.  The areas of the region they are required to trek are generally inaccessible by car and traverse huge or difficult distances.  As such, we have sometimes caught glimpses of him as he comes/goes by the Amee Farm, but predicting his arrival is extremely difficult, especially given the secretive nature of the race staff and volunteers.

All told, though, this has been an awesome experience so far - for us the support crew, and for Johnny!  He's loving the challenge, of course, and he pushes forward with an energy and intensity that has us all in awe.

The General Store closes in 15 minutes, and they shut off their WiFi when the close the doors, so this will be today's only post.  There will be another post mid-morning tomorrow, complete with some great pictures (albeit few) of Johnny Waite in action.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Death Race Post - Friday, June 24 @ 2:30pm

The official start of the Death Race is just an hour away, with the little town of Pittsfield starting to fill with cars, jeeps, SUVs and a couple of RVs.

The two main areas of activity so far on Race Day are Amee Farm and the Pittsfield General Store, separated by a distance of about 3/4 km.  The Farm is the start and end point of the race, while the General Store seems to be where various pre-race meetings will be held.  Well, if they're held at all.

After the "meeting" ago Johnny came back to our tent, which is pitched alongside the road between the two venues, to say that the optional parachute packing tutorial was cancelled.  A disappointment for him, since he'd been hoping his recently acquired skydiving experience was going to come in handy during the race.

Many racers had gathered at the store for the session, and instead spent the time introducing themselves and chatting about about other races/adventures that they've had or are planning.  Not out of bravado or showmanship, simply out of a common interest, much like car nuts would list off their past rides or music lovers talk about what amazing concerts they've been to.

A lot of other racers skipped the parachute packing lesson in favour or finalizing preparations before the race this evening, and are opting to not attend the 2pm meeting of Freemasons, believing these to be a ruse and waste of time.  Johnny plans to attend all the optional/recommended meetings, regardless of their purpose and benefits.  He is very much into the spirit of the race and all the adventures it is going to bring.  Even the ruses, if indeed they are, are all part of the mind game that this event is substantially comprised of.

It's quite likely these are just ways to prevent people from getting a good sleep before the race, but having spent enough time around Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg, Johnny knows it's just as likely that a legit parachute session was cancelled because the rain is so heavy and the clould/fog bank too low for safe jumping.

As for the rain, it IS heavy.  There has been a non-stop drizzle since Johnny and Wave 1 of his support crew arrived last night at 6:30pm.  If there hasn't been a drizzle, then it's been a downpour.  Much of the night and most of today it has been full on raining.  Several adjustments needed to be made to the tent this morning when everyone woke up in varying depths of puddles inside the tent, and a morning run to Home Depot in nearby Rutland was required for additional tarps.

Fortunately, the times when the tents were setup were the least rainy, so everyone has managed to stay fairly dry thus far.  In addition to the sleeping tent centrally located along the race route, we have setup a support tent/canopy at Amee Farm.  This is where meals and hydration/food packs will be prepared, and serve as a "home base" for the members of Johnny's support crew when they're not sleeping.

Registration begins in an hour, after which the plan is for Johnny to grab a short nap but be ready to go at a moment's notice.  The race could start anywhere between 3 and 7pm.

So...lots of exciting anticipation.

The next post will be "live from the race" and include some pictures from the first part of the adventure!

Monday, June 20, 2011

How long is a week?

"The kind of person who signs up for the Race is someone who has no limits. They are just basically a lunatic. The kind of person who finishes is truly an extraordinary person." Joe DeSena

I just realized that in one week I WILL HAVE FINISHED THE DEATH RACE. Granted, I am making some big assumptions there - it is predicted that only 1 in 7 racers will finish, with the other 180+ competitors quitting at various points in the event. 

While organizers do not actually tell us when the race will start, it looks like it will be be 6pm Friday, at the mandatory meeting. I am told to expect anything, however, with race veterans cautioning me that it could start early with no warning. I am arriving Thursday afternoon to be safe. As for how long the race will be, we don't know that either, but here is what Andy Weinberg said in the most recent email ...
 We don't anticipate anyone finishing before Sunday afternoon or even early evening.  We haven't set any cut offs yet but we're prepared to do so if we have a safety concern.  We anticipate people being on the course until Tuesday or Wednesday as some of you are very stubborn.  The majority of you will quit well before then for various reasons: mental failure, physical failure, emotional failure, or you'll be injured, you'll be upset with race staff, you'll be upset with yourself, you'll have medical reasons, etc.  This is fine and we understand.  We still think you are great people.  You'll have to deal with telling your friends and family why you quit, we won't. 
It is becoming very clear that this challenge is every bit as much mental as it is physical. Over the past month, we have been given one item at a time for our required gear list, requiring us all to scramble finding obscure items ... #2 Dixon Ticonderago pencil, hand drill, live fish. There was much back and forth online between racers, advising, helping, even some bemoaning. Then, Saturday, we received a new message telling us that everything had changed. Forget the fish, "hold" on the rest, an entirely new list would be issued Wednesday. Two days before the start of the race. With many of the competitors in transit at that point.

There has already been some griping. I am finding huge entertainment value in one rookie's posts; complaining about the dearth of information, not completing the first mandatory task of having a news article published, and demanding that organizers make sure all equipment is readily available for purchase nearby. I believe that he is flying across the country for the race, but it does not sound like he is going to enjoy it much!

On the other hand, I love the attitude of race veterans! Ray Morvan is eating it up ... "Tick Tock" is his answer to almost everything, as he just can't wait to get started. When someone was worrying about the dicey weather forecast (cold and rainy), Jack Cary answered "I hope it rains AND snows!!". And Paul Roarke posted this during his trip north from Florida ... "I'm now less than 100 miles from the farm. Spent all day running hills, splitting wood and digging out a monster stump. Capped it off with a dip in a seriously cold ass pool. Life is good :)"

One thing I know going into the weekend is that I have THE BEST SUPPORT CREW!! 

  • Starting with my son Jack, who at 12 years old is taking some time off school to come down and cheer his old man on. Sounds like lots of others have their kids coming as well, so hopefully Jack spends most of his timing running around and having adventures of his own!
  • Mike Kitchen, my high school wrestling teammate. Police officer. MMA fighter. One of the nicest, toughest people I know. Unbreakable. Driving down Thursday with Jack and me.
  • Brother James - my logistics genius. He is running the base camp and coordinating everything, as well as posting updates on this blog. My biggest booster from the minute I registered. Detouring from a business trip in Montreal to be there.
  • Bill McGill - my lifelong best friend. Also heading down from meetings in Montreal to spend the weekend supporting me on the trail. It was Bill who encouraged me to fundraise for POGO - which has resulted in over $4,200 being donated so far to that awesome organization helping kids deal with cancer.
  • Amanda Woodman - my awesome training partner. The very hardest workouts I have done in the past several months, Amanda is the only one who signed on for them all. Carrying bags of salt around a golf course in knee-deep snow, doing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of burpees at a time, intervals to the point of puking. She is driving down Friday night to help out on the trail.
  • Jackie Mussel - enthusiastic adventure racer, coming down for the weekend to "do whatever I can to help". Jackie ran yesterday's Spartan Race in Milton, and is in great shape!
  • Carrie Adams - not just on my support team, but there to support all of the Mud Mafia, as well as her many friends around the Spartan Race crew.

I have no illusions about this race. I fully expect it to be the worst experience of my life so far. I also expect it to be the best. I am starting with significant foot injuries and an elbow requiring surgery this fall. While it was never going to be easy, this ups the pain quotient significantly. But it is just pain. The Buddha said "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Or as the equally wise Jason Jaksetic (my Mud Mafia teammate) says in this extraordinary video of him immersing himself in freezing water before going on a run, "It hurts and it's cold. But that doesn't mean anything other than the fact that it hurts and it's cold."

I am told that the hardest moments in the race come late at night, especially the second or third night, with no sleep, the body pushed well past its pre-imagined limits, when presented with mental challenges that at first seem impossible. So, what will get me through those moments of crisis? I have told my crew to expect that anytime things get very bad, whether due to physical pain or mental anguish, I am going to sit down wherever I am and close my eyes for 15 minutes. In silence. Their job is to make sure no one interrupts me and to let me know when the 15 minutes is up. During that time I will be thinking about these things ...

  • the hundreds of people who have encouraged me over the past several months
  • Heidi Hayes and her family who bravely faced her cancer for three long years, and won!
  • my kids telling their friends that their dad finished the Death Race, not that he signed up for it but quit when it got hard
  • the people who took time from their own busy lives to come down and support me
  • the 50+ people who donated to POGO on my behalf - each of whom is getting their own video thank you LIVE from the Death Race!
  • the countless people I can inspire by getting up and pressing on
  • my parents and the extraordinary gifts they have given me by way of genetics, upbringing, opportunities, attitude and unconditional love and support
  • the amazing Death Race friends I have made already and the feeling of being amongst the extraordinary few who have finished
  • and all of the time I HAVE quit things in the past ... businesses, campaigns, my marriage ... and my commitment that this Death Race is a line in the sand. I just turned 43. My life is realistically halfway over. I have been incredibly blessed so far, and have every opportunity to make the next 43 years even better for me and for the people around me. And the first thing I am going to do with this second half of my life is FINISH THE DEATH RACE.

Then I will stand up (or crawl if need be) and keep moving toward the finish line, wherever it may be.


This will be my last blog post before the race. (Okay, I might knock out one quick one when I get to Pittsfield). The next few days will be ridiculously busy; touching base with all of my clients and having everything well organized for my absence (Mark Rousseau, a great Realtor and friend, is covering for me while I am gone), a couple of wrestling practices, last minute chiropractic care, and prepping everything for the trip to Vermont.

As mentioned, James will be updating this blog during the race - hopefully with photos and video from the trail, the base camps, and all things Death Race! It is set-up to also automatically update my Facebook page at the same time, so you can follow there if you'd rather (though you will have to click through from there to the blog for the multimedia elements).

One last thing ... if you have not yet read about why I am fundraising for POGO (Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario), please do at these two links ...
... and then click on this link to donate


Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Kids: People, Not Projects ...

I am writing this post as the sun comes up. I am often out of bed this early, but this morning it's because I haven't BEEN to bed yet. I was headed that way - very much looking forward to some deep slumber - at about 10:30pm, when my phone rang with an urgent situation requiring me to drive to Toronto and back. I won't get into the nature of that trip, except to say that I had 4-plus hours of solo-driving during which I thought a lot about my kids.

Here is what I thought ...

They are incredible people. Not just incredible kids who will one day become incredible people, but already -- coming into their early teens - truly incredible people in their own right.

And I realized how often I treat them like a project. Like balls of clay. Bundles of potential. As though everything now is "in order to someday". I'm not blaming myself, as this is a deeply conditioned attitude. Though we don't often consider it, that is our society's standard approach to dealing with our children.

"They don't know any better yet." 
"This is just a phase." 
"I can't wait until they look back on this and realize how foolish it was."

But what "this" is, whatever form "this" may take, IT IS THEIR LIFE. Right now. And it is as valid and real and important to them as anything is to me or to anyone else. I do them an enormous disservice trying to make them see things from my "wiser, more experienced perspective". To truly live, they need to be allowed to fully embrace THEIR perspective. At each and every stage of their lives.

Why is it so hard for me to back off and let them be themselves? I will put forth, of course, that I am only trying to save them pain and frustration (though a less flattering interpretation is that I am just as often trying to spare myself embarrassment and make myself look better through them). And helping them avoid serious harm is a valid and important role for a parent to play. But so many situations, far shy of life-threatening, are likely exactly the challenges they need in their own journies. We may hate their decisions, worry about the consequences, wish so much they had behaved differently. But they are not us. They can't live our lives and we can't live theirs.

So, that is what  thought a lot about tonight. And I am going to do my best to put that into play today and from now on. Knowing full well that I will fail miserably much of the time - it sometimes just seems soooooo much easier to fix things for them, save them some steps, and show them "the right way". But, as we eat breakfast together in about an hour, I am going to tell them how great they are, and how much I really do respect them, and ask them to remind me of these thoughts when I start being too "parenty".

Here are some thoughts from others, to remind me of this :) ... BTW, I stumbled on these while looking for a specific quotation that I really loved. Having not found it, you will have to take my word that someone (wiser than me) said something along the lines of ... "This younger generation is destroying our way of life as we know it. And we must help them, not stop them, as that is their job!"

Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously. (Alfie Kohn)
That's maybe the most important thing each generation does, is to break a lot of rules and make up their own way of doing things. (Jackson Browne)

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible - and achieve it, generation after generation. (Pearl S. Buck)
Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers. (Lewis Mumford) 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On gratitude ...

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.  
... Melody Beatty

I am a very grateful guy. Mostly because I have a lot to be grateful for. But I also think there is some chicken/egg/chicken stuff going on there - I believe it is my grateful attitude that brings much of that goodness into my life in the first place.

Anyway, here are FOUR fantastic pieces on gratitude. I am grateful for THEM! Please enjoy, but more imortantly reflect upon, these great presentations!

1. Comedian Louis CK on Conan O'Brien ... (4 minutes)
* Caveat - Thanks to Jimmie Dykes for commenting that the "youth" generation is seemingly unfairly singled out in this. I believe that Louis means ALL of us in this rant :)

2. Jason Mraz singing "Who I Am Today" at Life Is Good Music Festival 2010 ... (5 minutes)
Note: LOADS more gratitude available at Jason's blog ...http://freshnessfactorfivethousand.blogspot.com/

3. Neil Pasricha, Author of "The Book of Awesome", speaking at TEDx in Toronto... (18 minutes)

4. My favourite essay of all time ... by Rob Brezsny, Author of "Pronoia"
Glory in the Highest
by Rob Brezsny©

   Thousands of things go right for you every day, beginning the moment you wake up. Through some magic you don't fully understand, you're still breathing and your heart is beating, even though you've been unconscious for many hours. The air is a mix of gases that's just right for your body's needs, as it was before you fell asleep.

You can see! Light of many colors floods into your eyes, registered by nerves that took God or evolution or some process millions of years to perfect. The interesting gift of these vivid hues comes to you courtesy of an unimaginably immense globe of fire, the sun, which continually detonates nuclear reactions in order to convert its body into light and heat and energy for your personal use.

Did you know that the sun is located at the precise distance from you to be of perfect service? If it were any closer, you'd fry, and if it were any further away, you'd freeze. Here's another one of the sun?s benedictions: It appears to rise over the eastern horizon right on schedule every day, as it has since long before you were born.

Do you remember when you were born, by the way? It was a difficult miracle that involved many people who worked hard on your behalf. No less miraculous is the fact that you have continued to grow since then, with millions of new cells being born inside you to replace the old ones that die. All of this happens whether or not you ever think about it.

On this day, like almost every other, you have awoken inside a temperature-controlled shelter. You have a home! Your bed and pillow are soft and you're covered by comfortable blankets. The electricity is turned on, as usual. Somehow, in ways you're barely aware of, a massive power plant at an unknown distance from your home is transforming fuel into currents of electricity that reach you through mostly hidden conduits in the exact amounts you need, and all you have to do to control the flow is flick small switches with your fingers.

You can walk! Your legs work wonderfully well. Your heart circulates your blood all the way down to replenish the energy of the muscles in your feet and calves and thighs, and when the blood is depleted it finds its way back to your heart to be refreshed. This blessing recurs over and over again without stopping every hour of your life.

Your home is perhaps not a million-dollar palace, but it's sturdy and gigantic compared to the typical domicile in every culture that has preceded you. The floors aren't crumbling, and the walls and ceilings are holding up well, too. Doors open and close without trouble, and so do the windows. What skillful geniuses built this sanctuary for you? How and where did they learn their craft?

In your bathroom, the toilet is functioning perfectly, as are several other convenient devices. You have at your disposal soaps, creams, razors, clippers, tooth-cleaning accessories: a host of products that enhance your hygiene and appearance. You trust that unidentified scientists somewhere tested them to be sure they're safe for you to use.

Amazingly, the water you need so much of comes out of your faucets in an even flow, with the volume you want, and either cold or hot as you desire. It's pure and clean; you're confident no parasites are lurking in it. There is someone somewhere making sure these boons will continue to arrive for you without interruption for as long as you require them.

Look at your hands. They're astounding creations that allow you to carry out hundreds of tasks with great force and intricate grace. They relish the pleasure and privilege of touching thousands of different textures, and they're beautiful.

In your closet are many clothes you like to wear. Who gathered the materials to make the fabrics they're made of? Who imbued them with colors, and how did they do it? Who sewed them for you?

In your kitchen, appetizing food in secure packaging is waiting for you. Many people you've never met worked hard to grow it, process it, and get it to the store where you bought it. The bounty of tasty nourishment you get to choose from is unprecedented in the history of the world.

Your many appliances are working flawlessly. Despite the fact that they feed on electricity, which could kill you instantly if you touched it directly, you feel no fear that you're in danger. Why? Your faith in the people who invented, designed, and produced these machines is impressive.

It's as if there's a benevolent conspiracy of unknown people that is tirelessly creating hundreds of useful things you like and need.

There's more. Gravity is working exactly the way it always has, neither pulling on you with too much or too little force. How did that marvel ever come to be? By some prodigious, long-running accident? It doesn't really matter, since it will continue to function with astounding efficiency whether or not you understand it.

Meanwhile, a trillion other elements of nature's miraculous design are expressing themselves perfectly. Plants are growing, rivers are flowing, clouds are drifting, winds are blowing, animals are reproducing. The weather is an interesting blend of elements you've never before experienced in quite this combination. Though you may take it for granted, you relish the ever-shifting sensations of light and temperature as they interact with your body.

There's more. You can smell odors and hear sounds and taste tastes, many of which are quite pleasing. You can think! You're in possession of the extraordinary gift of self-awareness. You can feel feelings! Do you realize how improbably stupendous it is for you to have been blessed with that mysterious capacity? And get this: You can visualize an inexhaustible array of images, some of which represent things that don't actually exist. How did you acquire this magical talent?

By some improbable series of coincidences or long-term divine plan, language has come into existence. Millions of people have collaborated for many centuries to cultivate a system for communication that you understand well. Speaking and reading give you great pleasure and a tremendous sense of power.

Do you want to go someplace that's at a distance? You have a number of choices about what machines to use in order to get there. Whatever you decide — car, plane, bus, train, subway, ship, helicopter, or bike — you have confidence that it will work efficiently. Multitudes of people who are now dead devoted themselves to perfecting these modes of travel. Multitudes who are still alive devote themselves to ensuring that these benefits keep serving you.

Maybe you're one of the hundreds of millions of people in the world who has the extraordinary privilege of owning a car. It's a brilliant invention made by highly competent workers. Other skilled laborers put in long hours to extract oil from the ground or sea and turn it into fuel so you can use your car conveniently. The roads are drivable. Who paved them for you? The bridges you cross are potent feats of engineering. Do you realize how hard it was to fabricate them from scratch?

You're aware that in the future shrinking oil reserves and global warming may impose limitations on your ability to use cars and planes and other machines to travel. But you also know that many smart and idealistic people are diligently striving to develop alternative fuels and protect the environment. And compared to how slow societies have been to understand their macrocosmic problems in the past, your culture is moving with unprecedented speed to recognize and respond to the crises spawned by its technologies.

As you travel, you might listen to music. Maybe you've got an MP3 player, a fantastic invention that has dramatically enhanced your ability to hear a stunning variety of engaging sounds at a low cost. Or maybe you have a radio. Through a process you can't fathom, music and voices that originate at a distance from you have been converted into invisible waves that bounce off the ionosphere and down into your little machine, where they are transformed back into music and voices for you to enjoy.

Let's say it's 9:30 a.m. You've been awake for two hours, and a hundred things have already gone right for you. If three of those hundred things had not gone right — your toaster was broken, the hot water wasn't hot enough, there was a stain on the pants you wanted to wear — you might feel that today the universe is against you, that your luck is bad, that nothing's going right. And yet the fact is that the vast majority of everything is working with breathtaking efficiency and consistency. You would clearly be deluded to imagine that life is primarily an ordeal.

About the Author
Rob Brezsny is an aspiring master of curiosity, perpetrator of sacred uproar, and founder of the Beauty and Truth Lab. He writes "Free Will Astrology," a syndicated weekly column that appears in over a hundred other publications and on the Web.
'Glory in the Highest' is taken from his recent book PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings

... AND A BONUS!! Rob Brezsny performing "Glory In The Highest" LIVE :):):)... (8 minutes)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do you really want more adventure? Be honest ...

"Adventure" is big in our society these days. Adventure sports. Adventure travel. Adventure races. Ask most people if they would like more adventure in their life and you will get a resounding "yes".

Ok. Sounds reasonable. But what IS adventure?

Well, the dictionary defines it as,
"an exciting or very unusual experience ... a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome."
Again, most people would agree with that definition at first blush. But, considering this very frankly, I would suggest that not many people are truly up for the "uncertain outcome".

When you sit down on a roller coaster you may have an adrenaline rush in store, but you can be pretty much certain of the outcome - a safe arrival back at the platform. Even something as seemingly risky as skydiving is only taken on after assuring ourselves as to the impeccability of the school's safety record ... a 99.9% success rate just doesn't cut it.

We are taught from a very young age to "look before you leap". And a valid lesson it is ... most of the time. 

Still, we pay billions of dollars every year to watch movies about people taking tremendous risks. Indiana Jones. James Bond. Captain Jack SparrowAnd many of us even seek out first-person "adventure" - going whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, even running with the bulls.

In truth, though, one needn't go far to find true adventure ... "It's a dangerous business... going out your door. You step onto the road, and there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  Bilbo Baggins, LOTR

Life IS adventure. And most people, despite their claims to the contrary put an extraordinary amount of effort into minimizing exactly that! They seek to eliminate risk, and to maximize certainty. Back to Bilbo, "Adventures make one late for dinner." And when life DOES serve up a good dose of "hazard", as it almost always eventually will, they bemoan their fate - "why me??"

Personally, I tend to agree with William Feather,  an author who said “One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.”

This philosophy has allowed me to open my own successful real estate brokerage. To run for federal office (unsuccessfully). To compete in The Death Race in three weeks (watch for race updates soon). These are adventures, "good and bad", that I have chosen. But we don't always get to choose how our life will unfold.

Here are some equally valid examples of adventure... Receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Being wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years. Declaring bankruptcy. Losing a leg in a car accident. Are any of these things we would choose? Of course not. But they are things that can happen. They are things that do happen. And then what? Do you choose to be a victim and live out your life defeated and bitter? Or do you choose that this is your adventure and approach it with passion and joy? It has already happened, remember. And it is only up to you what you do next.
“Adventure isn't hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life -- Facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, Testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, Discovering our own unique potential.” John Amatt, Everest Expedition Leader, author.
But, for God's sake, don't wait for disaster to strike to start living adventurously! There is infinite adventure available to all of us every day. Anytime you try something new, there is adventure. Starting a business. Asking someone on a date. Trying a different restaurant. Learning a new sport. 

Yet, so many people won't even embark on these littlest of adventures. Paulo Coelho describes this is his beautiful book, The Zahir
"Slaves to a life they had not chosen, but which they had decided to live because someone had managed to convince them that it was all for the best. And so their identical days and nights passed, days and nights in which adventure was just a word in a book or an image on the television that was always on, and whenever a door opened, they would say: 'I am not interested. I'm not in the mood.' How could they possibly know if they were in the mood or not if they had never tried? But there was no point in asking; the truth was they were afraid of any change that would upset the world they had grown used to." 
I know that at this point I will have offended some people. I am definitely guilty of presenting just one view here. Not everyone needs an adrenaline-filled existence. In fact, many people are very happy and content and fulfilled living a life almost the opposite of what I am describing. And that is awesome. That is their adventure. And I will assume if you continue reading that you are not one of them.

In fact, you may even agree with Helen Keller, the blind and deaf author/activist who proclaimed, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

A word that keeps coming up in these quotations is "change". Even 500 years BC, Heraclitus observed that "the only constant is change". The one thing you can be sure of in life is that it will keep changing and changing and changing. So what to do? Here are some great answers to that question ...
"Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else."  Tom Peters
"Remember the high board at the swimming pool? After days of looking up at it you finally climbed the wet steps to the platform. From there, it was higher than ever. There were only two ways down: the steps to defeat of the dive to victory. You stood on the edge, shivering in the hot sun, deathly afraid. At last you leaned too far forward, it was too late for retreat, and you dived. The high board was conquered, and you spent the rest of the day diving. Climbing a thousand high boards, we demolish fear, and turn into human beings." Richard Bach 
"Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where am I going with all of this? I don't really know. I know that I am not going to live forever. I know that there is a lot I still want to do before I go. And I am probably writing this as a reminder to myself as much as anything else. A reminder that I get to actively, consciously choose every day anew how I am going to live my life.
"All men and women are born, live suffer and die; what distinguishes us one from another is our dreams, whether they be dreams about worldly or unworldly things, and what we do to make them come about... We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time and conditions of our death. But within this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we live."  Joseph Epstein
Still, life is not the only adventure... Aristotle pointed out that "To die will be an awfully big adventure." And, in the meantime, I will follow Webb Chiles' advice .. "Live passionately, even if it kills you, because something is going to kill you anyway."

(Speaking of living like you were dying, here is a beautiful list, compiled by a hospice nurse, of dying people's five most common regrets...)

As usual, it took me a while to get started typing and now there is no end to what I want to share on this subject. What got me off my ass today was this Note From The Universe that I received ...
"How adventurous would life be, John, if you were "challenge free"? If you had the perfect body, perfect self-esteem, everyone adored you, and you won the lottery every Sunday?
Now what if, painful as they may temporarily be, you could choose a life during which challenges might arise whenever your thinking needed expansion, on the sole condition that every one of them could be overcome no matter how daunting they may at first seem?
Everything makes you more,
Well, I have to wrap up somewhere, so, as Forrest Gump would say ...

Hopefully, reading this will help you be a bit less likely to reach the end of your life to realize, "Oh, if I had only known, if I had only been ready, our lives can really be the great adventure we so passionately want them to be. " Hortense Odlum