Squirrel Cheeks

My grandad was a bird watcher, as am I.  My feeder attracts a ton of critters.  It’s like an oasis in the desert.  Our most common “beakless” visitor is the squirrel.

I noticed these little screwballs will stuff their cheeks for over an hour and then bury their treasure just a few feet away from the collection point.  I’m sure they have a good reason, but for today’s application – let’s call that behavior “shortsighted” or “senseless.”

squirrel

Don’t get me wrong, I love squirrels and we are a lot like them.  We fill up on knowledge and then data dump the first chance we get.  We scarcely get a few feet away from the fountain of knowledge and it is forgotten or esteemed as trash.  This is not even taking into account the amount of physical waste we produce (or the number of selfies that are taken to update profile pictures like a revolving door).  All this waste is like food in the squirrel’s mouth, there one minute and buried the next.  Our so-called “needs” are assuredly short lived!

But I digress, I’m not writing to save the planet.  I’m writing to save me and you from mediocrity.  I’m writing to increase self-awareness and turn stagnancy into motion, and procrastination into progression.  So…go ahead…be a squirrel!  Stuff your cheeks with life’s goodness, but do something with it!  Use it to fight for the starting job, but unlike the four legged fur balls, don’t drop your nuts!

Rather than take 10 photos today, go through 10 old ones, the ones you’ve already buried.  Are you ever going to “eat” those pictures?  If they are not in a frame or scrap book by now, will they ever be?  What real purpose are they serving?

Instead of buying a new book, read an old book.  A squirrel’s buried acorn may produce an oak tree, but the book on your shelf will only grow a layer of dust if you do not digest it.  Remember, everything you own – owns you!

“Facts are to the mind
what food is to the body.
On the due digestion
of the former
depend the strength
and wisdom of the one,
just as vigor and health
depend on the other.”

THE CHALLENGE: Pictured above is a small Moleskine notebook that I carry with me. It’s a collection of the best ideas and quotes that I’ve harvested as a result of diligent effort throughout the year.  It would be very easy to never read my notes.  It would be no sweat to set it on the shelf and crack it open only when boredom strikes.  Instead, I refer to it every day.  I keep it handy in digital format for a quick search when needed.  I used an audio recorder and put it into MP3 format.  Occasionally I display quotes inside my house or on dry erase boards.  Basically, I’m trying very hard to not “bury” this “cheek full” of wisdom.

You can do this too.  It can be school work, a family journal, professional knowledge, anything you need to place more focus on.  If you know there is some knowledge you undervalue, give this idea hack a try.  I speak from experience when I tell you that this action will increase your personal gratification.

Mad Science and the Riddle of Religion

Try this riddle:

Whoever makes it, tells it not.
Whoever takes it, knows it not.
And whoever knows it, wants it not.

What is it? (Continue reading for the answer)

Religion or personal convictions regarding the subject are not the focus of this blog.  But, today’s thought is born of yesterday’s experience, one that I have slept upon and still feel equally inclined to write about.

I listened to an audiobook by Bill Nye titled “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation”  Americans growing up in the 90s will undoubtedly recognize him as the host of the PBS children’s science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998).

I can’t recall ever watching the show myself, but I certainly knew the name and therefore figured it would be an interesting book to ruminate on.  At large, this was true for the many scientific ideas and questions presented. What I did not expect was his vigorous attack on religion.  I walked straight into a mental ambush.  I say “ambush” because I expected a man of his prominence to communicate with graciousness.  Rather, it was peppered with shrewd and cunning language designed to fuel the debate between religious and scientific fundamentalism, and only then, I suppose, because he knows it is not possible to completely eradicate the horn of the opposing view.

I personally believe that true science and true religion go hand in hand.  I will never argue with people of opposing views.  In fact, I can’t relate to this behavior.  I am not so ignorant as to believe that my religion (as with any other) can’t be scrutinized, probed and dissected to reveal the inconsistencies and weaknesses of man.  I am also not so ignorant as to believe that science has all the answers.  There are mysteries that will remain mysteries as long as I am alive…and long after I die.

There is much that can be learned from Mr. Nye and many like him.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for his passion and the effort he puts into his craft.  He fights for the starting job, and that’s something we can all emulate!

So here’s the answer to the riddle…

Counterfeit money

THE CHALLENGE:  How often have you been asked a riddle and after one or two guesses said, “I give up.”  Or, how often have you been the one asking the riddle and prematurely asked your participants if they give up?  It’s as if deep thought were a taboo to be shunned.  I believe you have the right to worship or believe in what you want, how you want.  My challenge, however, is that you give this subject a lifetime of thought and meditation as it very well deserves.

If we don’t have enough attention, patience, and brain power to solve an elementary riddle, then how can we confidently declare the cause of creation?  The riddle is infinitesimally small in comparison and consequence, yet there is no shortage of humanity willing to make a brisk, impulsive,  chop-chop decision and declaration on the universe and their role therein.

 

Photo by me
Camera Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens 135L
Exposure 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture f/3.5
ISO Speed 250

The Most Inconspicuous Time Hack

My kids were just playing with a collection of random coins. An enthusiastic statement was belted out, “Wow, I have one from the 1900s!”

Funny how time works. It is a peculiar thing. My children are so far removed from my era that it feels prehistoric. I, on the other hand, speak about the 90s as if it were only ten years ago.

“We are strangers in time because we belong to eternity.”
-Neal A. Maxwell

When you think of “time hacks” what comes to mind? For me, it’s the idea of selfishness. I visualize a rat race society trying to keep up with the Joneses. I see a people that have unknowingly complicated their lives and need any shortcut available to keep from drowning.

My friend Ben gets credit for sharing with me the most important time hack I have ever learned. It looks like this…

What if
everyone
in the world
had a timer
above their head
revealing the amount of life
they had remaining on earth?
What if
they couldn’t see it
or perceive it,
that it could only be identified
and known by others
around them?
-Ben Kellogg

How would this change the world? More importantly, how would this change YOUR world? The ultimate time hack is not about helping you “save or shave” a few minutes, it’s about living peaceably with others because they might be down to their last few minutes.

THE CHALLENGE: Next time you are in line at the store and feel like flipping over the shopping cart in front of you because of another person’s stupidity, pause and consider how your actions or feelings might change if you knew that person had less than one week left to breathe! Remember, the sand in the hourglass does not discriminate or play favorites. You could be next.

 

Photo by me
Metadata
Camera: Canon EOS 6D
Lens: Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE
f1/4, 1/60, ISO 100, handheld, no flash

Knee Jerk Reactions

It was a good day for the bees. After covering the hive with three buckets of beach sand, and with our training evolution complete, the time arrived for me to undo the damage and remove the barricade. Accompanied by a trusted friend (or partially insane, depending on how you view this scenario), we slowly removed the sand. I used a small shovel to explore the contents of the sand mound.

I expected to see signs of life.  Just yesterday we checked back to see how the sand was functioning and the bees managed to dig their way out! I marveled at their strength and ingenuity. I grossly underestimated mother nature.

Today was quite the opposite, at first. One dead bee, then another, then another. No sign of life. I was disappointed. Finally, we removed the traffic cone and I heard a buzz of fury. They were alive no doubt, hundreds of them! Without hesitation, my feet made a hasty “about face” and we ran away without looking back for a significant distance (thus proving our remaining sanity).  Not to mention, I may or may not have let out a high pitched shriek.

Have you ever zoned out at a traffic light? What happens? The car behind you lays on their horn and you snap back to reality. Maybe you feel angry at the driver(s) behind you. Perhaps you feel guilty for making them wait, or disappointed in yourself for not paying attention. Emotion inevitably fuels your reaction which makes your foot respond as if it were 10 pounds too heavy. You slam on the gas to compensate for lost time. Of course, nobody else follows suit, but in your mind, it feels right.

In life, because we are flawed human beings, we experience knee jerk reactions. We are very much like “stop-and-go” traffic. Our knee jerk reactions only occur when we fail to move with the flow of transit. This might be moving too fast, such as the case with the bees, or too slow, like taking a mental vacation to Jupiter at a red light.

THE CHALLENGE: Try to go with the flow. Stay in the mainstream. If you ever find yourself easily offended, check your pace. During rush hour traffic it doesn’t matter how fast your engine can “technically” run.  Your horsepower is limited to the cars around you (perhaps a Volkswagen to your left, and a Uhaul to your right).

In life, it often pays to lay off the gas and ease into traffic, instead of becoming a slingshot of emotion. Travel at a safe distance and watch out for speed traps. Stay steady, stay cool…it’s a long drive!

Photo by Anant Nath Sharma

Beating a dead horse, or mule, or whatever…

Mom…dad…aunt…dead, all this year.

What was it like on their deathbed? They all knew it was their time to go. Were they thinking about selfies? TV? How to discipline others? A mediocre lesson? Enemies? The business card they meant to give away?

ANSWER: Nope

They were thinking about the sum total of their lives. They were thinking about bricks! They were thinking about their pain (and thirst). Something happens on our death bed. We let go of all the stuff we thought was important.

A good friend once told me, “You only have to make it until you die.” This helps me stay cool, calm and collected. I try not to carry the “stuff” with me along the way. I can only control what I can control and eventually the clock hit’s zero.

“After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.”
Proverb

Knowing what I will eventually become makes it easy to keep yellow flags in my pocket. It is also worth questioning if my perspective is even correct. I love children’s art! There is something so pure and authentic in EVERY single doodle they create. Often I would ask my young children, “What is that?” after they come running up to me to show me a masterpiece.

In the child’s mind, the picture doesn’t need any explanation. “It’s right there dad, duh…can’t you see it?” But sometimes I can only see what looks like scribbles. The child is not concerned with line, form, shape, value, color, and texture. They can only limit themselves to the expression of their idea, their way.

I wonder how often we view the world equivalent to a child’s artwork. How often do we impose our will upon others when trying to lead “the right way.” We might be making a ruckus in an attempt to lead others “our way” when in reality what we are waving around is childlike “artwork.” We might be saying, “Duh…it’s right there, can’t you see it?” But, did we present our vision with enough artistic elements? Did we use complimentary colors, formal balance, and proportion?

THE CHALLENGE: As a leader, know the rules. Know what is stated in black and white. This will give you the power to direct. It will provide a common framework for all to understand. Avoid being abstract when assigning tasks or giving orders. Be direct, be clear, be firm. The more you do this, the better you lead. The better you lead, the more bricks you make. The more bricks you make, the more satisfied you will feel when it’s your time to pass.

Photo by Kerry

Topsy Turvy

I bet you have observed the “Law of Disorder.” In simple terms, this scientific concept states that anything, when left to itself, will tend towards chaos.

Without proper maintenance and preservation every car lot, stocked with a surplus of sparkly new automobiles, will eventually look like a junkyard. Rust, chipped paint, broken glass, dirt, decay, mold and dilapidation are always manifested in abandoned vehicles. Anything subjected to mother nature over time will eventually return to dust.

Humans are no different. Me, you, your mom (no offense – don’t beat me up), dad, brother, sister, uncle, etc. We are all the same. We gravitate towards chaos. We take the shortcuts. We get lazy. We embrace mediocrity. We quit. Don’t believe me? How’s your New Year’s resolution coming along?

Bats are weird right? I mean…after all, they sleep upside down! But did you read my last paragraph? Take a minute to read it again, let it marinate. If bats could talk, they’d probably say we are weird. Furthermore, we are a bit more “batlike” than we might suppose. There is a portion of us that stays head first towards the gravitational pull. There is a fraction of our being that loves it there. It’s normal, comfortable even.

Leaders of all sorts (including parents) know that it takes LOTS of repetition to get someone to execute a certain behavior or abide by a particular principle. When it doesn’t happen the first time (or twenty), you may begin to question yourself. But remember, popcorn doesn’t all pop at the same time. Bats won’t ever come occupy your bird house and sleep right side up.

THE CHALLENGE: Keep in mind that those you are entrusted to lead and teach have a bit of bat in them. There is a morsel of their nature that won’t change. Accept it! Instead of trying to flip the bat, flip the bird house. And don’t forget, even the house will tend towards chaos, so be sure to schedule time for maintenance.

 

The Freaks Come Out at Night

I heard the following remark while conducting security rounds at work, “That door must not have been opened in weeks, just look at all the cobwebs.”  At first, I thought the observation was brilliant and perhaps for this particular application it was.

I began to ponder this concept and realized it may not be brilliant thinking when applied to our own lives. When is the last time you walked into a spider web and thought, “Darn it! That web must have taken months to construct. I’m so sorry for that poor spider!”

Answer: Never.

Most webs are temporary, assembled overnight – here today, gone tomorrow. We assume the webs on the door have been there for ages. Maybe so, but in most cases the homeowner has long since vacated the sticky premises. Granted, this analogy will be limited since some spiders don’t spin webs or may even come in superhero format.

For our purposes though, let’s consider common varieties. Think of the spider that seems to spin a web at precisely the point you need to walk through. Before you go to bed at night there isn’t a spider in sight, the yard is free and clear. Inevitably, when you walk outside in the morning you get ambushed by silky strands dispersed across your path.

These spiders are smart. They don’t work in the sunlight when it’s dry and hot. They weave at night. This protects them from predators, increases the longevity and functionality of their web and increases the odds of trapping nocturnal insects such as moths. Spiders are also diligent. If you knock their web down one day, it will be back the next.

THE APPLICATION: We all have cobwebs in our lives. Everyone has a “spider” that they can’t seem to get rid of. Your spider might be a negative thought that encourages you to stay home from the gym and sit on the couch. “I don’t want to have to deal with that cobweb today,” you think to yourself.

Maybe your spider is a lack of faith in doors that you would otherwise have the potential to open. So, you lecture yourself with the same old narrative, “I can’t become president, I can’t get a raise, I can’t ask that person out, I can’t find a better job, I can’t write that book etc… just look at all the cobwebs on that door. It has never opened up for me, why should I try now?”

Your spider might be you as a whole. Yes, that’s right…you might be the spider. You might appear “creepy” and put others off, perhaps you make them scream (if but silently). Maybe you spread fear, irrational or even legitimate. People want to avoid you or squish you.

THE CHALLENGE: Realize that cobwebs are strong and deadly…to insects. But you are not an insect. Running into a web will be frustrating. It might feel nasty and require your attention. But then it is gone. You are still free. A web has no power over you. Identify your spider.  Get into the corners of your life and knock the webs down. Find your cobwebs, get beyond them and open the door. Just remember, the web will be back tomorrow. Accept this fact and life will become a whole lot easier.

If you ARE the spider. Seek help you freak! Open yourself up to frank feedback from others.  Develop a little self awareness. Make a change!

 

Photo by Sebastian Galiano

Two Lessons I Learned From Moving

My good mother often joked about the number of pages I filled up in her address book. You might say I’m a bit of a vagabond or as she would put it, “Son, you have a restless spirit.”  This week would mark another address crossed out with a new one to fill in. I suppose she’s rolling over in her grave.

Truth be told, I long to put down roots, but I’m on a toll road – therefore, a forever home won’t come to fruition any time soon. So here I am, new environment, new internet provider, new backache from a makeshift desk. I learned many lessons from this latest move. I provide two for your consideration.

(1) TRUE FRIENDS: Moving is tedious. It takes sweat equity. It takes a little thought. It’s draining. Nobody wants to come touch your junk. They don’t want to figure out where all your little odds and ends (that inevitably aren’t boxed up) should go. They don’t want to break the fragile or priceless items. Then again, they don’t even know what is fragile. They don’t know what you want to unpack first. They don’t know your priorities.

You will know a true friend by their prolonged presence at such an event. You won’t have to beg or bribe an authentic friend to be there. They just will be.

The presence and assistance of a true friend isn’t limited to a physical move. They will be there with you for any move you make in life weather that journey is professional, physical, intellectual or spiritual. They will grab your “crap” so you don’t have as much to lift.

(2) SPACE: The physical dimensions of your abode is only “small” in relationship to the amount of possessions you own! In other words, you don’t need more square footage, you need less “wants”. For this reason, I am grateful that I keep only a handful of close friends, this requires me to do the majority of my own work. While moving, strive to lay hands on every possession you own.  In a prosperous country, it will open your eyes. How can you really evaluate your level of gluttony when there are 10-20 hands playing Tetris with your belongings?

THE CHALLENGE: Be a true friend. Next time there is an opportunity to help someone in a big way, volunteer your time and effort. (Not everyone thinks like me.) They want your help. They need it. The payoff is substantial.

Go through your belongings. Take serious inventory. Identify something you don’t really use anymore. Donate it. Dispose of it. Re-purpose it. Breath new life into it. Gift it. Every item you own that is not of real value eventually becomes a burden to those true friends. Decide now not to kick the can down the road.

Everything you own, owns you!

Photo by Pelle Sten

 

People Will Say “Amen” to Whatever

We tend to accept the idea that the cup is “half full or half empty.” Our actions however, often suggest otherwise.

We live in a “thumbs up, thumbs down” – “like, unlike” – “repeat, skip” – “share, block” society. The cup seems to be either completely dry or running over. Go look at online reviews. Yes, there are plenty of negative Nancys, but the number of five star appraisals are overwhelming! I understand being optimistic and grateful, but can we make a little more room for middle gray? Not everything is a brick! Not every performance deserves an applause. Not every sermon merits an “amen”. Not everyone deserves a trophy. “Created equal” does not mean “performance equal.”

THE CHALLENGE: Consider all the times you hit “like, share, repeat, subscribe” etc. What drives this action? Is it habit? Are you seeking a pat on the back in return? Are you bored or lonely? Is it laziness, why not leave a comment instead? Are you truly trying to add value in the world or are you stuck in a thoughtless stupor saying “amen” to every mosquito that buzzes by? Don’t thoughtlessly contribute to the “everyone’s a winner” mentality. Rather, challenge yourself to actively support those who fight for the starting job!

A Little Saliva Will do the Trick

Growing up in New England I had the “privilege” of becoming intimate with mosquitoes. I loved the outdoors, especially trout fishing. I traversed many miles of wilderness streams. In these woodlands the mosquitoes had no mercy!  My hands and neck became a pin cushion for these desperate Dracula’s. At times I felt I had it worse than the worm on my hook (at least it had the luxury of death).

My aunt once gave me a sneaky home remedy after she noticed me scratching my hands raw.  “Just lick your finger and dab the bite with a little saliva.” She continued, “But you can’t touch it until it’s dry…and if it’s still itchy – do it again.” She knew that by the time it dried I would often forget about the bite and move on to something more entertaining.

The trick with mosquito bites (or anything itchy) is to not give it attention. If you do, it reacts like a fussy child and will spiral out of control.

APPLICATION: The saliva remedy works well with the negative opinions of others, or even bad habits. If you give them attention, they will demand more. If you dab a little “saliva” and ignore them they will go away.

Your “saliva” can be anything used to offset the initial itch. Don’t forget Newton’s 3rd law. Ensure you have an EQUAL and OPPOSITE reaction. Some of the things you can utilize as saliva might include a favorite song, a book, a photo of a loved one, a journal or blog, counseling with a friend, reciting a positive affirmation, meditation, prayer, exercising, or service to the offender. Maybe you can try sending a paper text.

Again, I stress that your reaction should be opposite. Don’t get into a sword fight. This is not a “pissing contest.” Yes, when a mosquito bites, you kill it without a second thought, but it does not stop the subsequent itch. Our focus here is not about killing the mosquito, but rather stopping the itch.

THE CHALLENGE: Next time you give heed to someone’s negative opinion, stop! Take immediate action. Apply your saliva and allow it to dry. The itch will dissipate. I promise this works. I have been doing it my whole life.