Category: Inspiration

Starting Over with a Clean Sheet: A Meditation on Wholeness

clean sheet of paper

A clean sheet of paper contains the set of all possibilities. The blank page can become a picture, a story, a poem. Anything that can be imagined can be represented on this blank sheet of paper.

Because there are no limits to the possibilities that can be contained on a single sheet of paper, this page is a good metaphor for the Whole. You can think of the Whole as that which contains all other things in the Universe.

Without getting too philosophical about it I find it interesting and helpful from time to time to imagine an empty sheet of paper and empty the contents of my thoughts onto this imaginary paper. Let’s say that I want to make a sandwich but I’ve run out of bread and I don’t want to go to the store.

I consider this situation – imagining it written or drawn or otherwise represented on my blank sheet of paper. For instance I might imagine the empty space in the fridge where the bread should be or I might picture the store where more bread can be found. Then I ask myself *what else is there?* I might picture a can of soup. If I’m thinking about the store I might picture a park near the store. If I ask again *what else is there?* I might think of last night’s leftover lasagna or fountain near the park that I’ve been wanting to sketch.

Suddenly, by expanding my understanding of what was previously on my mind – the lack of bread with which to make a sandwich – I suddenly have a new range of possibilities. While I really didn’t want to make a trip to the store I do kind of want to go the park and sketch that fountain, so why not pick up some bread on the way home?

In this way a clean sheet of paper can help me take a broader view of life by helping me to think about Wholeness.

How Donald Trump Became More Popular than God

This week journalist Farhad Manjoo attempted a noble experiment – taking a week away from news about Donald Trump. In his weekly New York Times column Manjoo describes an eye-opening discovery he made during the weekCoverage of Mr. Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever.

That’s a pretty bold statement. Manjoo is frank that he has no scientific way to back up his claim that Donald Trump may be the most talked-about man in all of history. But he does have analysis from an organization called MediaQuant to support his theory. According to MediaQuant Trump received $817 million worth of media coverage in a single month, almost double his closest competitor, Barak Obama. previous

I did my own semi-scientific investigation into Manjoo’s theory. Logging into Google Trends I compared searches for “Trump” to searches for “Jesus.” On the whole, over the past five years, people searched for “Jesus” 25% more often than they searched for “Trump.” But starting in 2015 that changed dramatically. In the week of the November 2016 election searches for Trump hit an all time high with “Trump” getting almost eight times more search traffic than “Jesus.” Plug in “God” instead of “Jesus” and you see the same trend, suggesting that Donald Trump is literally more popular than God.

Why, though, is Donald Trump on everybody’s lips and everybody’s mind? Does he command respect, admiration, awe or fear? Not for me. I think he’s a boob. A schmuck. A grifter. An unalloyed asshole.

Columbia University law professor Tim Wu might have an answer for us. In an episode of the Kai Rysdall, Molly Wood podcast Make Me Smart Wu explains how our attention has been commoditized over time. The Church, political parties, private entrepreneurs have all clamored for a share of the public’s interest and attention. Wu elaborates the inexorable conquest of public attention in his book The Attention Merchants.

“If my book is successful it foretells…if I would have been a genius I would have written this in the book…that there will arise,” Wu says in the podcast, “a lord of the attention merchants who uses the techniques of commercial media, of celebrity, of reality television and social media which jump over the media and reach the people directly, using this to accumulate political power transforming politics as we know it into part of the entertainment industry.”

Donald Trump, if Wu is correct, is this man who for whatever reason is able to demand our attention, sucking it like a vampire from our hearts, feeding off of it and growing bigger by the day. In some ways it was inevitable that such a man should arise. Many prophets from George Orwell to Saint John the Apostle have predicted this time would come. Trump simply had the means to be the right man at the right time coupled with a disposition to stop at nothing until he gets the attention he feels he deserves.

Back in November I wrote a blog post suggesting that Trump doesn’t seek political power, he seeks our worship. Judging by the enormous amount of attention he continues to get I’d say that he’s getting exactly what he wants.

With Trump Holding All the Cards It’s Time to Fold (Our Hands)


I’m taking a break from the regular topics of this blog (camping, hiking, adventure, urban design, etc.) Instead I’m going to start praying.

It was hard to have a prayer time this morning. My mind was jumping like a monkey. I’m stunned that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. I’m not going go into all the reasons I think this is a terrible thing, at least not now. I want to consider what can be done.

I really believe that a Trump presidency will be ruinous to the country, that terrible things will happen soon and they will last for a very long time. If the American public wants to offset a tragedy we will have to take action right away. We will have to be smart, organized and effective.

And for that reason I plan on doing nothing. At least I’m going to make an heroic effort to calm down and focus on prayer.

People of prayer have faced worse threats than Donald Trump. Think Nero, Caligula, Herod the Great. (Muslims would likely add the likes of Pope Urban II.)

The Kingdom of Heaven is bigger, more important and longer lasting than the institutions of man. “All flesh is grass” says the Bible. Donald Trump will come and go. The U.S. government will come and go (possibly sooner rather than later, *gasp*). But the Kingdom of Heaven will remain.

There is work to be done folks. And I think the work starts on our knees. It’s not going to be easy – not for me. I am a fantastically lousy pray-er. But if I’m going to go “all in” on something, what better than something that’s a sure bet to last?

True Grit is What Leads to Success…and Happiness

grit leads to success and happiness

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit

If you need any more evidence about what it takes to find happiness, here it is – grit. Simply sticking to your master plan is a better indicator of success…and ultimately happiness…than brains or luck. This not-so-surprising news comes from a Time article about MacArthur genius Angela Duckworth and her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Grit, when coupled with passion, purpose and a heaping spoonful of hope can help us go the extra mile and come out on top – even if you’re not well on your way to a “job you can love.”

David Yeager recommends reflecting on how the work you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society… reflecting on purpose led students to double the amount of time they spent studying for an upcoming exam, work harder on tedious math problems when given the option to watch entertaining videos instead, and, in math and science classes, bring home better report card grades. Amy Wrzesniewski recommends thinking about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values.

But before you go all in with the stiff upper lip and all that, just be warned that even Duckworth questions the hype that her notion of grit is getting.

I think the misunderstanding — or, at least, one of them — is that it’s only the perseverance part that matters. But I think that the passion piece is at least as important. I mean, if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you — then that’s just drudgery. It’s not just determination — it’s having a direction that you care about.
–Angela Duckworth to The Science of Us

Allman Brothers – Deeper Cuts

If your knowledge of the Allman Brothers (like mine) is limited to southern rock toppers like Midnight Rider, Ramblin’ Man or even the straight-up blues of One Way Out then you really haven’t experienced the Allman Brothers. And that’s a little like saying you haven’t experienced the color blue or the fragrance of wisteria on a summer evening or lightning across the desert.

As expressive and transcendent as these hit songs are the band takes things to an entirely different level when they open up and start jamming. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, a song that takes its name from a headstone in a cemetery the band used to visit, lets band members open up their full box of colors. Wikipedia has a stirring review of the Fillmore East live sessions that have been mixed (or unmixed) to create a masterful jazz fusion tour de force that owes more to Miles Davis than to Southern Comfort.

This may be music for sitting and sipping but I’ve added it to my “go for a run” playlist because the Allman Brother’s relentless go-forward rhythms are perfect for the last mile when I’m dogging it.

Boethius: Getting Your Mind Right

Medieval View of Fortune's Wheel

Medieval View of Fortune’s Wheel

We’ve all been there. We’ve been passed up for a promotion because the nephew of the CEO came on board. Or we came down with the flu the day before we leave on our dream vacation. Something goes wrong in the universe and we are dealt a really bad hand. Life feels like it’s all gone to crap.

Anicius Boethius had one of these days. He was a highly respected Roman patrician and philosopher – considered by some as the last classical Roman. Some of his rivals, however, convinced the king that Boethius was plotting a coup. And also that he practiced astrology.

Sentenced to death, Boethius found himself really hating life. Fortunately (for us) he had enough time on his hands to write a compelling philosophical treatise – The Consolation of Philosophy

In his book Boethius imagines himself visited by a woman who personifies Philosophy. She diagnoses Boethius as suffering from a disordered mind. But there’s hope…she will show him a series of steps he can take to get his mind right.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Philosophy gives Boethius this framework to improve his thinking:

  1. God is good
  2. God’s plan is for man to find happiness
  3. Happiness can’t be found in Fate or Fortune, because these are fickle
  4. Happiness can only be found by pursuing Virtue
  5. Virtue can be discovered even when life really, really sucks
  6. There is no reason, even in the middle of a lousy situation, to think you are separated from God’s goodness and by extension that true happiness eludes you.

Following this logic is equally comforting on a bad day or good. Boethius’ prescription for getting your mind straight has a lot in common with modern psychotherapy. The Consolation of Philosophy enjoyed a lot of popularity during the middle ages but kind of disappeared from shelves in recent times. C. S. Lewis put Boethius at the top of his list of authors who deserve a comeback.

Stabat Mater – Soundtrack for Good Friday

The Stabat Mater is an 18th century hymn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The text was put to music by a number of composers but Pergolesi’s treatment has the right mixture of sorrow and lyricality to be absolutely transcendent. The duets for soprano and alto just give you the chills – they scratch an itch somewhere between your grief-bone and your ohgodyesyesyes-bone.

For more about Pergolesi read Micheline Walker’s wonderful post. Visit Wikipedia for text and translation of the Stabat Mater.

Jason Isbell – Songs Like Dawn’s First Light after a Really Rough Night

Sometimes it’s nice to have a little road music on the way to the trailhead. For my money you can’t find much better than Jason Isbell. Reviewers like to talk about how dark his songs can be, but what floors me is how much gratitude they express. Listening to a few of these songs – and I mean really listening – does a lot to clear out the old heart valves.

Hail to the working man like Pop
Never saw him drink a drop
He knew what i was up to, but he never called the cops

Hail to the Working Man on high
Give us plenty fish to fry
He might judge you but He’ll never make you stop

From God is a Working Man, by Jason Isbell

Finding the Ultimate Road Trip Mix


Road trips need music. Some songs are better for the long open road than others and if you can string together a playlist that harmonizes with the emotional tenor of your adventure then you’ve got a winner. To this day I can’t think of Mendocino without hearing Van Morrison’s No Guru, No Master.

Amanda Arnold at the How Stuff Works blog posts reader’s picks for the 25 Travel Tunes for Your Next Trip. Some of he picks are obvious – John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Other’s not so much, like Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” All in all a great list for starting a new mix.

Two songs I’d add to the mix, Jerry Garcia Band’s “Lonsome and a Long Way From Home” or Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting Here in Limbo” – both great tunes for the long drive to Tonopah Nevada.