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Category: Reflection

Swimming (in my mind)

In my journal writing this month I continue to explore themes around accepting what is now and simply being present. I find that I spend too much time trying to recreate an image or a memory or to fulfill a story that promises to give me peace (while missing out on peace in the moment). How can I navigate the complex relationship between personal history and narratives, memory, and the now? I don’t have the answers yet (probably will never) but “Swimming,” in a sense, is a mindful acknowledgement of this conundrum.

This recording captures my intention well. I recorded the guitar part in the front porch in the evening with the stereo condenser mic that’s built into my recorder, so you can hear all of the wonderful ambient bug and street noises. For the vocals, I mixed a close mic and a room mic to further the “I’m right there” vibe. I may add to the arrangement and tweak some lyrics in the coming weeks, but I am happy to have dislodged the writing block and to be re-inspired for songwriting.


Swimming (in my mind)

If you convince me,
convince me to leave,
I’m not sure I’ll ever know what to believe.
Was it there in those gold times before we quit?
I don’t think I was dreaming,
I’m still swimming in it.

I’m still swimming in my mind.

And if I convince you,
convince you to stay,
I’m not sure you’ll ever be here anyway.
It was real in those gold times, before the wars.
I’m still up to my earlobes
and you are standing on shore.

I’m still swimming in my mind.

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Drawing from nature

I’ve have been enjoying gardening and the specific wonders of nature this year. In the context of the confines of this pandemic, I am more aware of the small beauties in nature. There is more time, it seems, to look and notice and contemplate my surroundings. For even as the space I am living in doesn’t change, the growing things inhabiting that space are constantly changing. I am drawn into this process.

Here are several drawings from the last week that i’ve made of flowers. Two from our garden, and a few from gardens i encountered downtown on Sunday.

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Everything Is Waiting For You (David Whyte)

David Whyte’s writing speaks to me.

A few months back, I wrote about anger, and my journey with it over the years. My friend Brian replied in the comments, suggesting I pick up a book called “Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words” by a poet named David Whyte.

I have long respected and admired Brian’s thinking process and philosophy of life (even when we’ve disagreed) so I did the most obvious and easy thing to do: I bought the book, read the short essay on “Anger,” remarked to myself how poignant it was, and put it on the coffee table book pile never to open it again. But the name David Whyte gained a place of esteem in my head, and I’m glad that it did, because when I saw that Sam Harris had a conversation with David Whyte in the Waking Up app (which I use for daily guided meditations and recommend), I took notice. Last week I finally listened to it and it absolutely blew me away. Within the hour long conversation, David read two of his poems (“The Bell and the Blackbird” and “Everything Is Waiting for You”) and an essay on the word Vulnerability from “Consolations.”

Have you ever had the experience of hearing someone plainly, succinctly describe a concept that has been tumbling around in your head, amorphous but forming, slowly slowly solidifying? For me, as I listened to David and Sam talk, it was like bombs kept going off in my brain. David’s words turned a plethora of personal inklings into fully formed, fully realized (and actionable) concepts. These types of moments are unique, but not entirely rare for me, and I realized at once that something significant was happening.

Like a fighter pilot who has been hunting down it’s target, circling and chasing, David’s words through the hour were the missile lock, the final poem he read flipped the safety cover off of the firing pin. Locked and loaded, ready to fire. Insight, ready for action.

Here is the poem, which I share as a window into my experience, an incredible moment that was years in the making. Read it, but also take a moment to hear David read it in the video just under the poem.


Everything Is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

By David Whyte, from River Flow: New & Selected Poems.


I’ve begun reading David’s book, “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship” and I am certain I will write more about how David Whyte speaks to me in the coming months.

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Father’s Days

Fatherhood has changed me, and continues to change me. It is the greatest privilege and deepest joy. It has also been heartbreaking and humbling. It is always changing, and I am so thankful for the love that remains constant between these beautiful people and me, and also the love between siblings that takes its own form.

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the Work is never done

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a problem with anger.

Once, as a grade-schooler, I was walking home from school and got roughed up by a couple of neighborhood bullies. During this episode, I landed zero meaningful physical punches but delivered a few insults that ultimately saved me and sent the other kids packing. I walked home marveling in my new found super-power: hurting people with words. I made the kind of mental note that was significant enough that i remember it today. “I can protect myself this way, with words that hurt.”

I made the kind of mental note that was significant enough that i remember it today. “I can protect myself this way, with words that hurt.”

Skimming through the innumerable explosions of my teens and twenties, you’d encounter young Benjamin dressing down a variety of characters with foul mouthed rage. Family, friends, lovers, passersby, authority figures, coworkers, bosses. Nobody was safe from me, including me. I was no longer ignorant about my childhood coping mechanism turned against me, but I felt helpless about finding lasting change.

Fortunately, in my late twenties a few good things happened. (1) My boss at the time told me in no uncertain terms, “You’ve got what it takes to lead this team, but I can’t promote you to leadership if you don’t get a handle on your anger.” Providing for my family and advancing professionally were really important to me, so this was a huge motivation. (2) My (now ex) wife found a book about “rageaholics” that helped me. Essentially, it framed my challenge as “addiction to rage,” and expained how, for folks like me, a lot of the conventional advice about dealing with anger was counterproductive. I started learning about my “point of no return” (once a rage-prone person passes this, self-control is often practically unavailable) and finding ways to avoid getting there. (3) With the help of therapists and a men’s group, i started coming to terms with what was driving my generalized anger (and depression) and managing myself better. I was making progress. I managed to do the difficult personal work that took me from having 2 or more outbursts a week to having 1 or maybe 2 a month. I felt like I had arrived. Turns out I hadn’t. I felt like a new person. Turns out I wasn’t.

Now, fast forward with me past the shit-storm that was marital separation, dislocation from my children, loss of friendships, and divorce. Fast forward past new love and new marriage. Fast forward to that new love and marriage hitting the rocks amidst the backdrop of new children, job stress and my own depression. I was slipping fast back into anger as a coping mechanism, driving myself further into shame and depression and away from love, kindness, acceptance and patience.

I was sad, angry, depressed, and having suicidal thoughts pretty regularly. In that space, I was doing more than my part to ruin the marriage and limit my other relationships. After years of looking outside myself for answers, I decided to look back in and I didn’t like a lot of what I was seeing. Turns out 1 or 2 angry outbursts a month was more than enough to make me miserable and the people around me afraid. So I got to work again.

With a focus on dealing with my depression (and the role that disappointment and anger play in it), I started back into therapy, and headed down the track of what I can now identify as mindfulness training. Observing and noting what I’m thinking and feeling. Observing and noting patterns, and doing little things to change them for the better. Not “owning” my thoughts, etc.

Over the last few years I have managed to claw my way out of that depression, rebuild my self-confidence, and further reduce my reactivity across the board (including anger). Thanks to the hard work of therapy and especially through mindfulness meditation practice, I am now able to process my thoughts and emotions in a non-reactive fashion, and I can do this in extremely difficult or stressful environments. Anger no longer has a death grip on me. I am able to receive the emotion and let it go. I am able to see what’s beneath the anger and pain and bring healing to those parts of me that I wasn’t able to sit with before. I am in so many ways, a new person.

But I’m not.

This morning I popped off in reactive anger when something went wrong at work. I was harsh and unkind to one of my absolute favorite employees (ugh!). I have apologized sincerely, but there is not much else I can do other than commit myself again to the life I wish to lead. Commit myself again to love above all things.

I will never arrive, and the Work will never be finished until I am.

So it strikes me that, as much as I have changed, and continue to change, I will always make mistakes. I will never arrive, and the Work will never be finished until I am. For now, I will forgive myself and do my best not to pull the hoodie of unworthiness over my head. I will grieve the moment and continue on the path of peace, loving myself and others the best that I can, and always better.

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Recalibration

I want more from myself. I want fewer compulsive behaviors and more mindful ones. I want wilder nights and more peaceful days. I want to be able to gain and keep momentum at will. I want my words to be received and understood just as I had intended. I want to experience deep friendships and exquisite solitude. I want power in my steps and humility in my words. I want all of this and a good night’s sleep.

What i need is to be present. Here, now. What i need it to let go of all the planning and striving and just put one foot in front of the other and delight in it.

Recalibrating…

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