“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 King James Version (KJV)
The above scripture has always been one of my favorite pieces of literature, and sets well the tone for today’s post. Recently, I was asked by a dear friend, “Damn, man. How do you deal with so much stress?”
As usual, I think the only way to answer the question properly is to “cut the bullshit”. I’m not going to describe everything I’ve been through in my life in this post – I’m writing a full-length book which describes my life and the lessons I’ve learned from it. Instead, let’s use the following as a baseline: You’ve been through something beyond the ordinary, which has invoked the darkest of emotions. You’re so desperate for a break from all the world’s noise that, inwardly, you begin to contemplate whether it’s worth it to carry on. You want to leave the world, but obviously there’s a lot of conflict associated with that decision. You’ve made it past the fear of death and the moral conflict because you’re just too tired to care about that, but there’s still something holding you back from ending your life. Guilt? Honor? A thread of hope that there might be something more to life? Your spouse? Your children? Regardless of what it is – there’s something giving you pause.
How do you manage that level of stress?
Well, first of all, I will state plainly that I lived a very large portion of my life in that state, and ultimately people who are “on the edge” are the truest version of my intended audience as a writer. You can read more about my purpose concerning mental health, here. I spent well over a decade in the conflicted place described above, and if nothing else I did learn to manage it very well. Nobody knew that I was struggling. They all thought I was one of the nicest people they’d ever met, and lighthearted. My burdens were my own (mistake number one, by the way). Anyway, I thought it was high time to compile a list of strategies that might help people who are on the edge in the short-term until I can complete my larger work, which I hope will provide more long-term solutions. So – I hope the below tips will help.
Compartmentalize in a healthy way. We can’t just tuck everything away and not think about it until we explode. That is not healthy compartmentalization. But what you CAN do is to process trauma or pain in doses. You simply hold whatever is hurting you on the edge of your consciousness. You acknowledge that it is there and you acknowledge how you’re feeling, but you don’t let it overwhelm you. This is about focus, mental discipline, and self-control. When you’re in a place that dark you can actually practice this through meditation. Close your eyes, and let whatever feeling makes you panic ALMOST overwhelm you. And then push it back. Continue this process until you know how much you can allow yourself to process before it becomes white noise that you’re desperate to escape. Focus on processing the pain slowly without getting to that point. Don’t suppress, just digest slowly. (In my own mind, I have called this process “funneling.” You can’t just continue to absorb emotion indefinitely. You have to breath it in and breath it out. Let it go and accept it in a balanced way.)
Focus onsolutions. Most people who get to the point of contemplating death are doing so because they are dissatisfied with life. Meaning there’s an actual reason – it’s not just some chemical imbalance. So…Why are you dissatisfied with life? That might not always be an easy question to answer, and SOLVING the problem might be even tougher. But most consequences we perceive that come from solving our dissatisfaction are far less grave than death. If you need to get out of an unhealthy relationship, forgive yourself, or escape a life controlled by debt, there are ways to do all of those things. Come up with a strategy. Ask a friend. Focus on the solution.
READ. I’m dead-ass serious. For nearly a decade I struggled with overwhelming emotions without ever doing this, and one of the greatest breakthroughs I made was that studying can absolutely help process trauma. The fact that people from different cultures even within American use synonyms to describe similar ailments or ideas is a theme in my writing, and whether you refer to them as “demons,” or “mental illnesses,” or “struggles,” or any variation, I think most of us can agree that wanting to die is some sort of illness associated with the mind or spirit. Studying meditation, spirituality, or even reading fiction works (FANTASY!!!) can DEFINITELY help us to elevate and heal our minds and souls.
Live authentically and use your inner voice. For the longest time I was addicted to thinking I was alone in the world. “Nobody understood me.” Well, no shit, Sherlock! When you don’t tell anyone how you’re feeling, you can’t really expect them to know telepathically. Have at least one person in your life that you can tell ANYTHING to. Whether in person or in writing. Be honest with yourself and others and you’ll find the people who you were meant to live life with.
Sleep!!!! Seriously, if you feel like you should die but haven’t slept 8 hours straight for as long as you can remember, start here. Go to bed.
Be careful of projecting and of BAD habits. Real peace comes from within. It’s tempting to hope someone or something will solve all of your problems, and it’s good to find help, but this “on the edge” moment is not a good time for drinking, fighting, smoking, etc. Be careful of how much you “need” other people, but don’t be scared to lean on support networks. Contrarily to detrimental habits, it could be the PERFECT time to start a GOOD habit: working out, mechanics (get a project, like my 96′ Jeep XJ!), or (my personal favorite) writing.
I hope that a couple of those are helpful for anyone who needs them in the short-term. I’ll write more as time allows and I’m trying my best to finish my book for everyone.
I recently shared some of my progress in playing Native American flute, and people really seemed to enjoy it. I thought you guys might also enjoy some of my lyrical writing. I have a lot of original songs on my Youtube Channel – music can be a great healer. Work is keeping me really busy this week, so I thought I’d share some of my historic work. (As a blogging note, using historic work of many kinds seems to be a great way to maintain consistency and reach new followers. It’s hard not to seem rushed sometimes, but most of us are busy and I’ve found my readers to be very understanding and still appreciate the opportunity to be inspired and contemplate new ideas.)
I’m not really a great guitarist by any means, but I do enjoy the instrument very much.
My blog is all about overcoming adversity, and music is a great way to do that.
Guys, I’ve been hesitant to post about this but apparently you’ve got to use videos if you wanna be a blogger. I picked up a Native American flute and it’s so relaxing! Still learning, obviously. This is like day 4 lol. Not bad with work considered. Should I post the progress on occasion?
I really love the instrument. Said to have healing powers if you get good enough.
Ah, success. Over the course of a month, I’ve gone from writing regardless of whether anyone was going to read it to writing with a fairly consistent expectation that they would. It’s been a fairly natural progression built on one thing: caring about people and my craft. I do believe though, that I could’ve been wildly more successful if I was willing to do so in an ethically questionable way:
I’m fairly confident that if I clicked like on a thousand posts every day without actually reading them, at least a few dozen would follow my blog. Some of them would later find real value and connectedness within the community I’ve built, and I could eventually find time to really delve into their work.
Is it ethically questionable to trash and re-post early blogs? When I first migrated my initial group of articles from LinkedIn, I didn’t know anything about blogging. I didn’t know about scheduling posts or posting during blogging “rush-hours.” The ones that didn’t get much attention because of HOW I posted…I’m inclined to delete and re-post in a more strategic way. Both to build a following and so people can benefit from the concepts I write about.
I totally paid to have something re-blogged. It worked really well – Cristian Mihai (who is a must-follow for all new bloggers) sells the opportunity to have your blog shared with his 220k+ followers. It helps him to keep writing full-time, and you get to share your message with a larger group. Something like 90 people “liked” my post on his page, and a few even followed me! Serveal of them really benefited from or related to the the mental health concepts I wrote about (Here).
Anyway, do you guys think it’s okay to build your network in an ethically questionable way in order to achieve your larger long-term goals? Or do you think the slow, honest, organic path is the way to go? Which method do you think the hyper-successful folks have used? I never want to get to the point that I reply to heartfelt comments with a pre-formatted and impersonal blurb – but I do want to reach the maximum amount of people whose lives I can contribute to and learn from.
Despite the fact that I’ve been writing for over a decade and a half, I’m still relatively new to leveraging social media in the endeavor. Doing so involves understanding how to communicate with the human collective, rather than with a single person or small group like most of us are accustomed to. The good news is that, once I get people to the point of reading my articles, they have generally found them impactful or at least moderately entertaining. The bad news?
The bad news is what it takes to get them there.
My most successful article thus far (mind you that I’m still working on a relatively small scale) was entitled, “Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD.” Doesn’t that seem a bit…provocative? Well, that’s the crux of my position.
In our world of extremes, people expect to be offended (or to defend an idea that others would find offensive) before they are willing to engage in discourse.
It can be seen all around us, in every facet of life. An author can’t write about religion without either attacking it or accepting it wholeheartedly. You’re either defending atheism or attempting to prove that God absolutely exists. You can’t write about politics without incorporating images of dead fetuses (on the conservative side), or of young immigrants in tears (on the liberal side). In addressing generational gaps, it’s always either a “lazy millennial” or a “close-minded baby-boomer.”
What happened to the 80 percent of people in the middle – the ones capable of having a reasonable conversation without resorting to violent rhetoric and posturing? How have we let the outliers become our socially acceptable norm, and how to we return to a world of reason?
The challenge is this: authors make money when people read their work. They make more when people engage, comment, and share. Culturally, we now HAVE to use provocative language in order to coax complacent people to simply click the hyperlink.
So, how do we fix it?
As journalists, writers, and others who sort of “steer” human culture, we have to learn to use extreme language to coax people back toward reasonable thought. We have to provoke them toward acceptance, and anger them toward open-mindedness. It’s the ultimate challenge in persuasive writing.
“Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD” was really just an article about learning to accept the situation, culture, and beliefs of people who are different than we are, but the title stung enough to make a few people who didn’t give a shit about me feel the urge to click. And once they clicked, they were in my world. I could use powerful imagery and wordsmithing to coax them toward a thought they, perhaps, hadn’t considered before. I could weave a story that would lead them into considering the root of one of our world’s major problems.
Any thoughts from other “Guides of the Human Terrain” would be most appreciated.
People are still reasonable. We just have to remind them how to communicate reasonably, and that’s a multi-generational endeavor.
Hey guys and gals – I know there are a lot of super talented folks in my network at this point, and many who aren’t in my network yet.
For those in my network – post a piece that you’d like some extra visibility on, and I’ll share a few that align with my “mission” as time allows. For folks both in my network or outside of it, write a brief description of what your blog offers readers. I’ll be sure to take a look at it and I hope many of my friends will as well. I’m hoping to give back a little and share some of the inspiration ya’ll give me. Simple as that! I think I’ll do this monthly.
When I was 16 years old, I was selling cigarettes and t-shirts in my hometown bar, working at night and going to school during the day. I was even smaller then than I am now – maybe 130 pounds if I had a 10 pound barbell in each hand. It was an educational few years for me: I saw adults who were well respected in the community fight, vomit, and initiate affairs under the influence of alcohol. I learned how to deal with drunks, and how not to be, in a general sense.
It was during those years that I experienced my first ever “fight or flight” moment. A group on group bar fight broke out right in front of my little cubby hole of a store. It was too early in the night – the bouncers were scattered about, not expecting trouble. Still getting settled. My reaction was worse than either of the “fight or flight” options. I froze. I mean, I was a kid, right? What was I supposed to do? The guys fighting were all wearing “Tap-out” shirts and seemed like they were trying to make a name for their MMA school – MMA was just on the up and up in those years. By the time I snapped myself out of the frozen state, the bouncers had arrived. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to call for them. I just stood there, frozen in fear. Once the fight was over, I’d beaten myself up for it for half the night. I decided right then that I would never be frozen like that again because of another man’s actions.
The next time a bar fight broke out, I was ready for it. Two guys – again, way too beefy for me to take on – were pummeling each other furiously. In a lot of ways, the second fight was worse than the first. The group had mostly been throwing each other around, making a mess but not really doing any damage. These guys were throwing real blows. Blood had already been spilled by the time I heard the noise. Don’t freeze. DON’T FREEZE.
“HEY!” I yelled in the most boisterous voice I could muster. It gave them pause, but they went back to pummeling each other. I ran in. Grabbed one of the beefy guy’s arms. Put him in an arm bar (I’d taken a bit of martial arts myself, but the passive philosophical type). I held his arm with all my might, and managed to stop his punches. Then, I realized by mistake. The other man was still free. He carried on punching the one I was controlling, and I inadvertently turned the tide of the fight. Then the bouncers showed up and rescued my 16 year old self again.
I was proud, in some ways. I knew I’d messed up, but I’d learned that the fight or flight “instinct” can be controlled. I learned that action is better than inaction, and I learned the first rule of emergency management: Don’t get excited.
Years later, those skills became increasingly relevant in a military setting, but I had one more freeze-up incident.
It was in the Horn of Africa, where I was part of a “Force Protection Liaison Team.” I’d spent months building relationships with everyone from human traffickers to tribal elders in an effort to keep Americans in the region safe. You can’t fight a threat you don’t know about. Anyway, a hotel fire broke out in one of two hotels in the Northern half of the Djibouti. By the time my partner – a Marine Staff Sergeant – and I arrived, the place was in terror. There were electric explosions along with things like alcohol and fireworks in the building, so that added to the chaos. We were in the desert and had no water to fight the fire with. All around me there were children screaming and women crying, and worst of all – they said there was still a man inside.
I froze for what seemed like eternity – it was really just a few seconds before my earlier lessons kicked back in. Already this post is longer than my average, so I’ll summarize to a great extent, but after a night of fighting for our lives and the lives of others – seeing men pass out from smoke, and attempt to fight a raging fire with dirt and sand – we managed to at least make sure everyone was safe. Even one guy who thought the best way to fight the fire was to stand on the roof and beat it with a large stick. He thought that if the roof collapsed, it would be more effective to dump dirt on the fire from above it. I wondered why anyone would want to force the collapse of a roof they were standing on. I questioned whether I would give my life to save his – he, who had made a stupid choice that could’ve resulted in hellacious pain. The conclusion I came to is my own to bear, but what I learned that night is this:
The fight or flight response is largely dependent on experience and priorities. These days, I often find myself running toward chaos where I think I can lend assistance (it typically turns out to be nothing more than a scare of some kind). I don’t know that there’s much that would make me freeze these days – though I’m aware it’s still possible, for anyone. But if you think about the worst case scenario and know what you’re willing to die for, there’s no reason you can’t prevent yourself from ever being frozen in fear.
If folks like reading about these concepts, maybe I’ll explore them further?
People love to talk about themselves. It’s an early lesson for many, particularly in intelligence, but also in politics, journalism, and a plethora of other careers. It’s a healthy attribute – it helps us to connect to one another, build our inner circle, and relate to other cultures – but when the ego becomes programmed to draw a constant comparison between our own experiences and the experiences of those around us, a culture of inadequacy and exaggeration is formed. Instead of an environment of growth and empowerment, we create one of stagnation which sucks the motivation out of a large percentage of the work force. We feel the need to “fluff” our resumes and stories, as if our actual life experience isn’t really enough, and we create a sort of “laundry list” of events that make us who we are. There’s no laundry list. The entirety of our journey makes us who we are, not just the catch-phrases that sound good to other people.
“Cool guy clubs” are particularly prominent in a military environment, and are a primary contributor to many psychological effects that follow military service. Particularly during their first decade, whatever experience a service member gains is never really enough. I remember reporting to my second command following a pretty intense tour which featured some of the toughest mental training a sailor can go through, followed by a deployment to the Horn of Africa and another to Central America. I’d been broken down and rebuilt a number of times, but the first question my new supervisor asked was, “So what ship were you on?” When I responded that I hadn’t served on a ship (other than to travel to various third-world countries), he responded, “Don’t worry – we’ll make a real sailor out of you.” I was a non-commissioned officer with multiple medals and warfare specialties, but evidently, I wasn’t a “real” sailor.
Even before then, during my first tour, you weren’t one of the “Cool guys” unless you were an expert marksman. Or an interrogator. Or unless you’d been through SERE, or been OC sprayed. There was an endless list of experiences that evidently mattered, but it was only comprised of things you hadn’t already done. I always thought that it was a phenomenon exclusive to the military, but as it turns out, it isn’t.
“Oh, you run a blog? Did you break a thousand followers yet?”
“Oh, you’re an author? How many books have you published?”
“Oh, you’re getting married? First time?”
“Welcome to the Company! Have your degree yet?”
Instead of contributing to the journey of others, we compare ourselves to
Instead of flaunting all the reasons that leaders are in a leadership position, (This is why I have authority over you. This is why I am cooler than you.) leaders should be validating not only the experience of their employees, but also the personality traits and organic strengths that they each contribute to the team.
Upon taking my current position, my boss handed me a drawing of a blank check. He said, “You know what that is? It’s empowerment. I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t trust your judgement. As long as you know you can deliver what you promise people, you don’t need to ask my permission first.”
So break down that “Cool guy” culture. It’s not about who is the most tactical, who has been shot at the most, or how cool your Oakley’s and five-eleven pants are. It’s about humble confidence, a proactive attitude, and enabling your people to achieve their truest potential (rather than trying to hold them under your thumb and keep them at a place that makes you comfortable).
Leadership isn’t comfortable. Train your replacement – hell, train your CEO’s replacement. Help your people to achieve their dreams, and in doing so, you’ll make endless progress toward achieving your own. And if you get good at that, make everyone you meet one of “your people.” Humanity is a group experience. If you find a passionate person out there who has managed to escape complacency, encourage their passion. Don’t rid them of it.
Do you ever get envious of some of the adventure pictures and stories you see on the web? I know I do. “What a life!” I always think. “Must be nice to do that for a living instead of being a slave to the establishment.” I can admittedly be a bit melo-transcendental at times (and yes, I did just make that word up). Oh, to travel – to experience and inspire!
“What if that was me?”
If you aren’t careful, seeing folks that have somehow managed to live that lifestyle can force you into a rut.
Don’t you let it.
Amanda and I have been hiking Tennessee trails since before we ever met. We’ve also been lucky enough to hike in some incredible places across the Southwest, and even across the world (though we haven’t been out of the country together, yet). We may not live in a van or a modified school bus featuring a composting commode or solar shower, but we do escape on occasion to sleep in a tent for a few months, as long as there’s a nearby bathhouse so we can still look presentable at work.
And even with all the time we’ve spent in the woods locally, we still come across treasures we couldn’t have imagined in this part of the country. We came across one such treasure yesterday, which this blog’s title eludes to.
Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon. Within an hour and a half of Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Harriman, and yet we (as avid outdoors enthusiasts) had never even heard of it. In one place, you get the largest canyon I’ve ever seen in this state, natural arches and bridges, caves, and even waterfalls. The difficulty of the trails ranges from super flat and relaxing to walk on, to challenging even for the most experienced. It was a place with so many options to explore that we’d have had to camp there for a week to even put a dent in them. We fully intend to.
Our first trail (below) led us to Hazard Cave.
The trail was pretty mild most of the way, with a few steps and stones to traverse during the final descent.
Of course we had to play with silhouettes and lighting once we’d arrived.
And I never miss an opportunity to kiss my perfect wife.
The cave is to the left of this photograph. I tried to run and climb to join Amanda for the picture, but couldn’t do it in the ten seconds my phone would allow before snapping the shot. …It would have taken me at least 14 seconds.
After the cave, we decided to head over to the park’s Natural Bridge. On the way, we saw the amazing root system below growing over a stone ledge.
And then we saw actual arches! In Tennessee! There are several throughout the park which we are intent on returning to find. Some of our favorite memories are at Arches National Park in Utah, where we cowboy camped and listened to a Native American man play a flute during a melancholic sunset. Arches are much more rare in our neck of the woods, and especially ones of this magnitude!
There was a staircase to the top of the bridge, which seemed to condone crossing it. In the Southwest, this is often a no-no.
Amanda wanted to blend in with all the trees, so she pulled this one out of her yoga-repertoire.
If you want to see us in our element, you’ll never get closer than the picture below. We walk our own individual trail in a lot of ways (I’m the idealist, she’s the rationalist; I’m emotional and empathetic and she’s a walking calculator who only shows her truest soul to yours truly).
Hiking together is a great metaphor. Sometimes the trail is easy, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s literally impossible to do alone. But you still hike the damned thing, no matter what. And more often than not, you’ll find us with honest smiles like the ones beneath this text.
As we continued our hike, I was so happy to see (but mostly to smell) so much pine, which is very nostalgic for me as a South GA native in my childhood years. If you want, Amanda has managed to capture the fragrance astoundingly with her Pine or Cedar scented candles, which you can learn more about at The Gypsy’s Store.
Pickett State Park featured super nice bathhouses and campsites, some of which were right on the water.
There was a bouncy bridge that, while well constructed, made me feel a bit odd.
Both Pickett and Pogue are participants in the International Dark-Sky Association, which you can read more about in the photographs below.
To help support the many efforts of the State Park, we purchased a couple of t-shirts from the clearance rack in the visitor’s center. I’m especially fond of mine, which features John Muir. If you haven’t heard of him, you should definitely do some research on the guy. He’s right up there with John Wesley Powell as an inspiration and a hero, but to be honest I need to do a lot more research myself as well. Essentially, all I know is that he had an amazing journey, advocated for the outdoors, and had one hell of a beard.
It was funny how it happened; While we were at Hazard Cave with no cell signal, our mutual best friend and hiking pal messaged us about an amazing place he’d found that he needed to show us. He sent a picture of one of the rock faces he was looking at, and Amanda and I had only seen one place like it in TN. The one we were at! No prior discussion, no planning at all, and we both selected the same park to hike on the same day, coming from different directions that were over an hour from Pickett. Once we returned to cell service, we managed to link up (it took all of five minutes – we actually found his car before any of the texts went through).
He then took us to Pogue, where I got the shot below.
She’s so stunning.
Background isn’t bad either.
Our buddy (Steven) said that the view paled in comparison to the final overlook, but we were sadly losing light and had a long drive home.
The point, though, is this. If you can find places like that on short day trips (which you always can), it makes returning to work the next week a lot easier. I still get disillusioned, no doubt. All we want is a few acres to ourselves. A log home, some chickens, and a garden. Rain water and solar power and a German Shepherd. Space. Peace and quiet, to truly focus on the things I need to write and the messages I need to leave the world. To just focus on each other.
Those things will all happen in time though, and being inspired by places like Pickett and Pogue will ensure that it does.
You know what’s funny? Sometimes, when I point people toward the blog they didn’t know we had, they ask me if hiking is my job. When I tell them it isn’t, they ask “How do you do it, with work and all?”