November 2017 - Midlife and Thriving
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November 2017

In Midlife, Sometimes the Hardest Words Are “No Thank You.”

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How we can use our multiple brains to make difficult decisions

I’ve been wracked with needing to make a decision about something for over a week. I’ve been struggling to reconcile multiple parts of my decision-making network in order to come to a conclusion. The process was so taxing on my system that my inability to make a decision literally made me sick.

But getting sick was actually what I needed in order to get out of my head, separate my ego from the decision, strip away the emotional aspects, and get to my core.

Literally, my gut.

Our gut is the place of our enteric brain, the neural network that decides what we take from our environment, or allow to pass through our bodies, which literally makes us what we are. The enteric brain and the guttural ecosystem select what we keep to sustain our bodies, and what we let go and return to the environment. It’s one of the first neural systems created during embryonic development and when fully formed has the neural mass approximately equal to that of a cat’s brain.

From a mechanistic perspective of the body (which is an old and frankly dangerous perspective) one might mistakenly believe the gut’s function is simply to perform the act of digestion. But what we know from a growing body of research and many esoteric wisdom lineages, is that the gut, with its enteric brain, is a powerful place of protection, a source of wisdom, and information.

For example, over 80 percent of the cells in our bodies that help to regulate immune function are located in the gut … protection lies therein.

The gut’s prime functions are around self-protection, core identity, and motivation. I learned a lot this cool stuff from an excellent book by Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka, called “mBraining – Using Your Multiple Brains to do Cool Stuff” Check it out.

Back to my story.

I got sick with a head cold and I could no longer “think clearly.”

And actually, getting sick was exactly what needed to happen because part of my challenge was that I was trying to logically figure out something that was not inherently a logic-based problem. I couldn’t “think” my way to a solution and thinking about it was just causing me to get stressed out because there were no real answers using the brain in my head. Sure I could do cost/benefit scenarios using logic-based decision-making processes, but that would only arrive at part of the answer.

Part of that was the challenge of quieting the ego, which was calling me a complete idiot for even thinking of saying “No thank you.” And we all know how well things turn out when we allow our egos to make important decisions.

And lastly, there was the potential complication of a relationship, a good friend who I wanted to work with and deepen relationship. Saying “No thank you” might have a negative impact, which I didn’t want. My heart brain (yes, there’s a neural network and center of intelligence there too!) was feeling conflicted. But I was clear that making this decision purely based on relationship was not an intelligent thing to do.

You see, there was still a disquieting in my gut.

So that’s where I found myself last night. Focused on my gut. And what getting sick was forcing me to do was slow down and listen.

When I am having a challenge I often go and take a steaming hot bath in what I call my Water Temple. I put on some quiet contemplative music, light a candle, and quiet the mind(s). And that’s exactly what I did, shut everything else out and focused on just my gut, that center of core identity and motivation.

And here’s what I got in touch with. What was proposed wasn’t in alignment with who I am at my core. It wasn’t in alignment with how I want to be as a transformational leader in my work with men. It wasn’t setting up the conditions under which I believe that I’d be successful in the long-term.

It would be an excellent opportunity for some men, but not for me.

I had to say “No thank you.” And so I did.

That was the core identity piece.

Another piece that I connected with in my guttural conversation was about motivation. I still felt compelled to DO something. I am a man after all, and we are typically action oriented.

If I said “No thank you” to one opportunity, then what would I say “Yes” to?

Stay tuned.

Waking Up at Midlife – It Could Happen to You Too

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I spent much of my adult life living under the spell of a deceit. I thought that I was being myself, living my truth, living life on my terms …

The adventure begins

When I was in my mid-twenties I packed all of my worldly possessions into the back of a Toyota pickup truck and headed to Alaska in search of my fortune. I didn’t have a job and I only knew two people who lived there, but I had $800 to my name and all the time in the world. I was a free agent making my own decisions and carving out a life for myself through adventure and a trust that things would work out because the Universe always provides. It was intended to be a journey of discovery of self as much as exploration of wild new lands. And initially it was …

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m married with two kids, an Associate Vice-President rising up the ladder at a high-ranking national engineering firm, making a six-figure salary, and sharing time between a lovely home and two modest remote vacation properties. For the most part I was content with life. And why shouldn’t I be? I was creating the American Dream, my way.

But as I was rounding the bend of 40, something inside wasn’t quite right. I had a lot of freedom in my work. I was managing multi-million-dollar projects for multi-national clients and was considered an expert in my chosen field. I was continually given the keys to the kingdom and could have kept right on climbing as high as I wanted, but something wasn’t sitting well.

The midlife dip really sets in

On the cusp of midlife it was like there was an internal burr or a disquieting feeling that just wouldn’t go away. Sometimes it was an irritant and sometimes just a sense of emptiness or a hole.

When I’d ask myself the question, “Who AM I?” I couldn’t really answer. And worse, when I looked up the ladder at who I would need to be at the top, the single question that crossed my lips was, “Who IS that?”

I had noticed that my life was taking on a life of its own. I began not recognizing myself and noticed that much of my life was spent just going through the motions of what a life could be, not what it should be for me. It was as though I had become a character in someone else’s story.

It was someone else’s story: my wife’s, my boss’, my clients’, my banks, and the list went on.

Where once there had been desire for adventure and exploration, a settling for safety and consistency had slowly crept in.

Where once there had been desire to know myself and to live at my growth edge, a settling for stagnation and living up to others’ expectations had slowly crept in.

It wasn’t as though my work sucked or my marriage was in shambles or that my health was in the toilet. But clearly something wasn’t right and I sensed that if I didn’t attend to it I would have major regrets later in life. If I didn’t course correct, then one or all of those aspects of my life would unravel in the coming years.

Enough is enough

One day while on my commute I realized I’d had enough.

Enough of the settling
Enough of living someone else’s blue print for a life
Enough of being inauthentic with myself and with others
Enough of not living at MY growth edge and living MY purpose in the world.

Even though I didn’t have a clear idea of WHAT my purpose was, I knew that I wasn’t living it and so set out once again to carve out a life for myself through adventure and a trust that things would work out because the Universe always provides.

It would likely not be easy, most things of real value rarely are. It would not be as simple as packing up all my belongings into the back of a pickup truck and hitting the road.

Reality was that living someone else’s life wasn’t easy either. In fact, it was really freaking hard and it took a lot of energy to maintain the façade.

Seven years later after much internal and external exploration, and hard work, I am clear on my values, clear on my life’s purpose, and I am doing work that I absolutely love.

My relationship with my wife is stronger than it’s ever been in our 17 years of marriage.
I’m as fit and healthy in my late 40s as I was in my late 20s.
I have also created an incredible network of relationships that feed my soul, keep me connected, and continually push me to my growth edge.

How did I do all this?

Slowly and thoughtfully,
With care for myself and for others,
By changing paths without burning bridges,
By keeping the long-term vision without holding the outcome of that vision too tightly.

Can I get some answers please?

There were four things I learned in the process that were critical to my success.

Be curious about YOU – Know thyself. You need to be an expert on YOU. If you want freedom you have to understand your intrinsic motivators, what makes you tick and gets your juices flowing. It’s critical to identify what has real value and what is a must-have and cannot be compromised. Also, get crystal clear on what is ego and what is soul and don’t confuse the two.

Be bold – Leap and the net will appear. You have to get to know your shadows and what scares the crap out of you and head in that direction. Be ready for changes within you to be uncomfortable and get really comfortable with that change. It’s a learning edge for a reason; growth occurs where the known and unknown intersect. Learn to trust your inner voice of “Know thyself.”

Get good at relationships – Treat others as you would have them treat you. Acquire tools to help you communicate clear boundaries and what you need, without making what others want wrong for them. Getting good at relationships requires that you get good at being compassionate and to practice the rarely used art of forgiveness – on yourself and with others.

Be relentless – Show up every day. If it’s hard, show up. If it’s uncomfortable, show up. If it’s joyous, show up. If it’s boring as hell, show up. It’s only a battle if you want it to be; your mindset determines your experience. It’s your life, show up every day willing to take the next step, and then the next, into the life that’s waiting for you to simply show up.

A Midlife Awakening to a Grandfather’s Gift

By | Family, Masculinity, Mortality, Relationships | No Comments

How Tales From the Past Spark Adventures of the Future

Last night was probably the last night I will get to spend with my grandfather. We sat at the dinner table as we often did in the evenings during my visits. He in his seat to my right, in front of the bookshelf that stores many of his treasures, the props used to spark memories and kindle stories of his life’s adventures.

I would sit for hours listening to his tales of travels as a salesman throughout the U.S.; hunting trips in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico; river trips down the Rio Grand or the Pecos or the Colorado. He had done so many things and had so many adventures.

He was a great weaver of long stories with dramatic pause and em-PHA-sis (as he would say), which would keep me spell bound for hours. It’s part of the reason I’m such a good listener. Listening was my part in the magic of our relationship.

But during this visit his well has run dry. Those memories are no longer in him. His nearly photographic recall of those stories is gone. Many pages of his grand and adventurous life are blurred or just blank.

No more fountain of stories.

No more images of the American West when it was still wide open enough for the imagination to run wild and there was still wildness in it.
The first couple of nights during this visit it was quiet, something had shifted.

Clearly something was missing.

And then I realized what it was.
And then I realized our roles had changed.
And then I realized …

It was now my turn to tell stories, and that I had some that needed to be shared, for me and for him.

So I spun tales of my trips above the Arctic Circle during my time as a wilderness guide, of bounding across the vast, open tundra and running its wild rivers.
So I spun tales of my adventures exploring the great glaciers in the icy realms of the Wrangell Mountains.
So I spun tales of adventures flying white-knuckled through Alaska storms in single-engine planes and swimming naked in the Pacific Ocean while a lone wolf loped along the beach.

It turns out that I too have many stories to tell. I too have adventures to share. I too have lived a life adventuring in the last great reaches of our country’s wilderness.
He sat there quietly enjoying each telling, swelling with pride at my adventures, as listening now became his role in the magic of our relationship.

I realize clearly, with this shift in our relationship, that my grandfather’s stories were part of what got me to the wilderness. His stories had lived in me as the seeds of my own adventures. His courage and yearning to live a life of exploration was an example by which I would live mine.

To my grandfather, I will always be grateful for the life of exploration that your stories sparked in me. Grateful also that I got to thank you for your gift in my life and the important part you played in instilling adventure. And so too my sons should be grateful for a great grandfather’s contribution to their lives of adventure in the wild places of this beautiful world.