Had a dream last night that a polar bear was chasing me through the wild. He was batting and kicking me. I was terrified, but at some point I decided to just let go of the fear and face him straight on. Suddenly, he stopped attacking! And when I asked him why, he said it was because his instincts are trained to attack fear. Now, I’m not so sure this would have happened with a real polar bear, but it does seem to be a principle that humans and animals have an unconscious instinct to shun or even attack those who are afraid. Predators prey on the afraid because there is less of a chance they’ll be injured. When searching for mates or friends or employees — even if we have compassion for the afraid — we sense apprehension and fear and ultimately don’t trust it because we know fear is wild and unpredictable. We’re all afraid and nervous from time to time, and those who have read The Fear Project know I spend a lot of time talking about how to use good fear to your advantage. But this dream reminded me that when you’re doing something difficult, you don’t have to trust the fear as intuition. The fear will be there if you’re venturing into something new, but feeding it only makes the polar bear more ferocious. Facing it down will almost certainly yield unexpected results.
Sometimes when when we’re caught in the darkest storm waves and feel the most helpless, we’re actually being brought to the deepest insight. Here, Kai the sea turtle is not only caught in some terrifying waves. He’s sleeping!
But he’s about to wake up and see his life in a new light. And his new way of seeing will change the lives of turtles everywhere.
Turtles Don’t Surf will be printed in October folks. Get your pre-order on
Now we can start understanding how our minds interact with the big blue! I am so fired up for this book by my friend, scientist, and waterman Wallace J Nichols. Check out the description.
A landmark book by marine biologist Wallace “J.” Nichols on the remarkable effects of water on our health and well-being.
Why are we drawn to the ocean each summer? Why does being near water set our minds and bodies at ease? In BlueMind, Wallace J. Nichols revolutionizes how we think about these questions, revealing the remarkable truth about the benefits of being in, on, under, or simply near water. Combining cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists, he shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success.
BlueMind not only illustrates the crucial importance of our connection to water-it provides a paradigm shifting “blueprint” for a better life on this Blue Marble we call home.
(Btw, Wallace J. Nichols and I will both be on a panel tonight for Courage By the Sea, recently written up in the Mercury News. Hope to see some Bay Area folks there.)
Since finishing reporting The Fear Project, I’m amazed how many times fear still rears its head on any given day in my life. But the thing that sticks with me day-to-day (both from science and from experience) is that the most successful way to “beat” or transcend fear is to embrace it rather than run — sometimes even to praise its unique talents: the ability, for example, to grant us instant energy even when we’re most fatigued; the ability to intuit danger from a slight glance or scent. Fear has its many negatives (we know those all too well) but aversion to fear so easily becomes fear of fear, and then we lose perspective altogether.
Embracing fear doesn’t mean listening to it or reacting from a place of fear. It’s simply accepting that it’s there — a part of life, and deciding not to fight so much as observe and breathe. It’s that acceptance, I think, that creates space in the heart and mind to make smart decisions. When acting out of fear, we avoid the risks necessary for success. But when fighting fear on some vigilante crusade, we can miss the gifts of intuition that grip the gut and heart.
Anyhow, all this sounds good in theory, but the actual act of embracing/observing/accepting in the midst of fear and stress is a different story. In my experience, it often requires art — a song, a poem.
The other day I stumbled on these lines in the beginning of Robert Hass’s book of poetry, “Praise.” Not a bad one to commit to memory.
We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrible, and
unpredictable. He hesitated to
answer, and then said judiciously:
“I think I shall praise it.”
During college — around 19, basically invincible — I volunteered briefly with Hospice. I only ended up caring for a few dying people and can’t say I did much for them. But the month-long training we volunteers had to go through stuck with me. For that month, we were laser focused on what we were used to avoiding utterly — our own inevitable death and the death of loved ones. As we did things like visualize what we would do and say to loved ones in our final weeks, days, hours, the feeling was the opposite of morbid. I honestly remember that month as one of the most vibrant months of my life. I even fell briefly in love after chatting up a girl I might have passed had I not been reflecting on the impermanence of it all! Anyhow, I recently wrote this little poem, remembering my hospice teacher, an incredible woman named Radha Mallery, who, as far as I know, is still the volunteer coordinator at Hospice Santa Cruz and a fantastic yoga teacher at Mount Madonna.
The other day I was struggling over a decision and wishing I wasn’t. Then I thought: wait a second. Would I change any of the struggles I’ve gone through thus far? After all, they’ve made me who I am, made me stronger, offered insights I never would’ve had, and certainly given some material for writing. The obvious answer — after making exceptions for some really lame stuff I did as a teenager (sorry to all of you who endured those years) — was no. I wouldn’t change my parents divorce, or that nasty break up, or (for the most part) even those less-than-sage choices I’ve made. In the end, they’ve been the most important catalysts for good, for love, for wisdom.
For most of us, I think it’s sort of easy to appreciate past difficulties as blessings. So why is it so darn hard to see present ones that way? There’s probably some good neuropsychology answer for this question that I don’t have at my fingertips, but I also don’t think we necessarily need one. Just reminding myself that my past struggles have been good makes me feel better about the current ones — and that’s worth remembering.
Struggles keep up sharp. Make us better. Give life spice. So why not embrace the BS we have now like we embrace the old BS we’re now giving thanks for.
I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve identified with over the years: skater, surfer, artist, science geek, vegetarian, bacon-lover, child, adult, spiritual, agnostic, religious, drinker, straight edge, writer, musician, snowboarder, math lover, math phobic, free-bird, homebody, party animal, hermit. The list goes on forever. The funny thing is that I’ve often called renouncing a former identity an epiphany, a sort of “I’ve moved on” and now, finally…I’m X! Thank goodness I’m no longer that ridiculous other guy.” But I’m starting to see that trying to land somewhere firm, some hard identity, has been the main source of frustration and limitation. ALL of these things are “the real me.” We’re complex beings with complex yearnings and complex thoughts. We don’t fit in boxes and trying to fit ourselves in boxes for presentation to the world only limits the originality of our creations, not to mention our happiness. Maybe the key is seeing the “self” as big enough to contain all past identities and all identities yet to come. Celebrate them all now! Anyhow, here’s a little journal riff that got this whole line of thinking started.
On the eve of our second son’s due date, it seems appropriate to give away a song that I wrote for my incredible wife, Amy. It’s called “Wedding Day” and I actually wrote it on the due date of our first son, Kaifas. As we were nervously awaiting his arrival, I remember one of our friends saying that having kids cracks your heart open and your heart stays open. I sort of rolled my eyes at the time — thinking, yea, while it also cracks my free-time into pieces — but she was right. Here’s to love and family (in all its different forms)! And if you want the song for, say, a friend’s wedding, I’ve made it available for download here.
Yesterday I talked about how I’ve been talking a big game of facing fear. Then I admitted that I haven’t been facing my biggest fear — sharing the art that is most dear to me. I put out a very short poem and I appreciated the outpouring of support. It helps so much in sharing this next item, which feels way more raw and vulnerable. This is a song I wrote based on that old spiritual This Train, which was brought back into my life via the Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe, Old Crow Medicine Show tour. All three of those bands, I feel, are tapping into what’s real and rocking from the depths.
I’m no expert musician and I have rarely shared my music with family members, let alone the world, but in the spirit of fearlessness, here it is. This was just recorded on my Mac, as in just with the built-in microphone, so it sounds a little scratchy. But it is from the heart and it feels good to just put it out there, raw and undoctored.
I guess the theme of this share art week is: You never know how long you’ll be alive. Give love and share what’s coming through.
Alright folks: For the last six months I’ve been on my high horse preaching all this fearlessness to sell books. I’ve been talking a big game about how we should all be approaching our fears in baby steps. Public speaking, being alone, being together, big waves, whatever your shadows may be. In the meantime — if I’m honest — I haven’t really been approaching my biggest fear, which is sharing my art. The books and articles that I’ve published — even though they’re full of love and sweat and tears — have been packaged by big publishers to sell copies. This isn’t bad. I’ve valued my editors immensely. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve had to write to fit those packages and packaged thoughts lose power with every layer of tape and casing.
Poetry and music are a whole different ball game because I don’t do them professionally. But for the last 15 years or so I’ve been writing poems and songs that are more important to me than all of my books and articles combined, and I’ve never shared them with anyone. But now that I’m a dad I feel how fleeting life is. And, whether any of this art is perfect or not, I want to share this stuff before I die. That could be today. That could be tomorrow or in 100 years. But when I’m dust and saltwater, I want my children and wife and friends and family to know what was in the deepest part of my heart, and I want to share these ideas with the world because I want the world to open its heart to me.
I don’t care if anyone likes it. I don’t care if none of it ever makes me a dime. I just want to share it because I want to share love.
I’ve already been doing this a little bit with my daily journals, but these have felt pretty safe too. Now,today, without further ado, I am going to begin exposing, in baby steps, these songs and poems that have fed me through my life, in hopes that this effort will also inspire myself and others to create more from the heart. Because, in truth, I don’t think words matter much unless they come from the heart. And I believe passionately that it’s in sharing from the heart that the heart cracks open and clarifies.
Anyhow, enough said, and that feels like far too big of an intro for this first exposure, but here’s a poem I wrote a few weeks ago, still nameless. I’m working my way up to the bigger stuff Baby steps…
windswept + dusty
she was a pool
she took me in her arms
held me to her breast
across the street
people were getting
some fried chicken
+ shopping for shoes
but we were invisible
The best thing about screwing up or going down paths that aren’t authentically you is that you get so twisted up you have to self-correct. You feel something tugging at you under your ribs and in your spine and in your heart –some inkling of a beauty and freedom you knew in childhood or when you first fell in love. It always feels like a huge risk to meander back to this, but when you take that risk, you get the raw pleasure and joy of remembering what it feels like to get back on course — to be yourself. From my experience, it’s in this Remembering that faith lies. The remembering IS the faith. And whether you’re religious or not, spiritual or not, the good life is about faith.