How the Greeks Hacked Time: Kairos Versus Chronos

Time is the most common word in the English language. This might actually be a bad thing - we may be over-extending the use of a single word that actually contains a broad variety of interpretations and meanings. The Inuit have more than 50 words for snow - how can english-speakers possibly have only one word for time? The vagaries of time can be a funny thing: even as we pretend that clocks rule our lives, and that seconds add directly to minutes that add to hours, the reality is that the way we often experience time is anything but linear. Time speeds up, it slows down, sometimes "time stops.” 

The Greeks, in their wisdom, had two words for time, “chronos” (χρόνος) defined as linear, sequential and quantitative time and “kairos” (καιρός) defined as qualitative, in-the-moment time signifying the opportune moment for action. I like to think of chronos as clock time and kairos as human time. Throughout Greek writings in history, kairos was the word more often used to describe how events unfolded. As we consider our businesses, practices and interactions with leaders and employees, which kind of time is more important today? 

The etymology of kairos brings even more clarity to the meaning ascribed to the word. Kairos’ roots are to the moment when an archer releases an arrow at a target, where everything happens at once and the trajectory is set. From Wikipedia, kairos is “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved."

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Consider the interactions we have daily in our businesses and relationships: even as hours and months of chronos time elapse, big shifts often take place in moments not minutes, hours or months. The passing praise of a coworker, feedback shared in the hallway after the meeting, the hug of a tear-stained toddler, the breakthrough of “a-ha” ideas – all these meaningful exchanges rest on the mantle of chronos but are ultimately kairos moments of human time and connection. 

So, how can we all wrangle kairos time to benefit our lives, relationships and companies? One of the most powerful ways is simply to recognize that small moments can really matter, more specifically that the value of an increment of time is not related to its duration. If we raise our awareness to the untapped potential found in the small moments we can expand our influence and leadership in ways that matter in the broader context. 

A smile, a nod, a kind word, a quick course-correct, listening attentively, applauding loudly – all these simple aspects of everyday life are, as it turns out, incredibly important. Cast back for a moment to remember “one of those days” where everything was going off the rails and you wanted to crawl under your desk. Then, just when you wanted to call it a day and go home early, someone dropped by your office, and with just a few kind words re-energized the rest of your week. That is kairos at work – a special form of time magic where trajectories can be re-set in seconds, and months of momentum can be released in moments. It is time: It is time to bring your kairos watch to work.

The Key to Memorable “Really Living” Vacations? Fear and Suffering - Part 2: Vultures in Baja

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Want to go on unforgettable, time-stopping vacations that create an indelible stamp on your memory? One guaranteed way: design in, or stumble onto some form of fear and suffering. Almost always the best and most primary memories have incidents of suffering involved that in the moment were a crisis or a struggle, but with the patina of time and under the golden gloss of memory have subsequently become the highlights of those stories you tell. The human brain is wired to identify with the hero’s journey or monomyth and each hero’s journey contains elements of stress and crisis as the center of the plot. Odds are good, your best vacation stories include some sort of challenge or crisis. Part 2: Vultures in Baja.

As a part of any vacation I always do a search online as well as ask people who have been to the destination about “secret” destinations at the locale, specifically either swimming holes, hidden beaches or dramatic overlooks that are not full of people. Back when we lived in Arizona, Baja beckoned as its vast emptiness was only a 3 hour drive from Phoenix (call to adventure) and in my research I had stumbled upon a secret swimming hole and camping spot oddly positioned dozens of miles out into the desert. It was a bartender in San Felipe, Mexico that originally told us about it in secretive tones (assistance).

A month later we drove across the Arizona - Mexico border at Yuma (departure) and immediately our senses were overwhelmed with new sights, sounds and smells. In the border town of Los Algodones the most noticeable details were the innumerable scraps of garbage flapping in the breeze and the cute barefoot children shouting for our attention as they hawked gum and tissues anytime we stopped for a streetlight.  Open air taco stands emanated blue smoke and the aromas of cilantro, onion and grilled carne asada. We exited the town to a new pattern of emanations: patches of arid desert and the dry smell of sage and dust, contrasting with blooms of humidity near stream fed cotton fields redolent of damp earth and clay. For the next 20 miles we traversed the dying entrails of the Colorado river feeding the farms serving the maquiladoras lining the border. Eventually we passed out of the farmland into the moonscape of the Baja peninsula, traversing switchbacks up into stunted outcrops of twisted rock, aprons filled with smooth white sand.

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After climbing the cordon of foothills guarding the peninsula we descended to a 100 mile stretch of dead straight tarmac across the salt flats - remnants of the tidal swings of the Sea of Cortez. Visibility was probably 50 miles in the desert air. With no other vehicles in sight, we set the convertible's cruise control at 105mph and, watching the sun start to sink to our right over the rising ramparts of San Pedro mountains, we flew south on eagle's wings.

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30 miles from San Felipe was the crossroads I had read about in advance - a paved road heading inland and climbing across the cordillera of the Sierra San Pedro before descending to the Pacific ocean.

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We turned right and headed inland for twenty miles before the key decision point from my research: "as the road bends north there will be a number of sand roads heading towards El Diablo - the tallest peak - choose one and just keep heading west."

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We were in a low slung BMW, and we were worried about bogging down, but my source had assured me, "this is a salt flat - most of the way will be like a highway until the final wadis and streams near El Diablo". We headed west on a parallel set of sand tracks. El Diablo, a 10,000 foot peak rising straight out of the sea level salt flats, grew with each passing mile. Soon we entered a 10 mile section of salt flats. To the left and right it stretched for dozens of miles but straight ahead, the "devil peak" grew ever larger and darker as the sun began to sink behind it.

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On the salt flat I let the straight six of the BMW roar and decided to see how fast we could go, hitting 110, 115, 120, 125mph before letting out the clutch and coasting towards the encroaching greenery as we entered the shadow of El Diablo.

My directions, scoured online from several sources, suggested we would skirt a horse farm before hitting the boulder strewn foothills at the base of El Diablo. There were dozens of forks in the road and we ended up circling for a while (trials) and getting nervous as the sun continued to set but after trial and error I found another fairly light set of tracks heading west and we followed them. True to the guidance, we passed a crumbling horse ranch and stable, and then finally started gaining a bit of elevation as we neared the foot of the peak (approach).

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Soon the sand lanes converged, and we entered a copse of trees in a circular space with no exit without 4 wheel drive. We had arrived. We were speechless with excitement. Above us reared a mountain that went from scorched desert to snow capped tips nearly straight up. Out of its maw was a "river" which, at this time of year, was a small trickle of a stream. As we were to discover later, in a desert with no sources of water, this trickle was a main artery for life of all sizes and kinds.

We layered ourselves with sleeping bags and pads, food and wine, and hiked 1/4 mile into the ravine where the mountain formed a cleft protecting its water source. Soon we could see it, hear it and smell it - sudden humidity in the dry desert air. Then, there it was: pools of crystal clear water flowing down from on high and heading out to dissipate in the salt and sand. We climbed onto a giant -  and I do mean giant - boulder perhaps 15 feet high, 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. It was smooth granite with a flat top and provided a space to sleep and light a fire. There was only one fairly difficult route onto its surface so we felt safe from predators.

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We did not bring a tent - this was part of the magic of desert camping - no rain and no dew. The air was cooling quickly but our boulder radiated the heat of the day to warm us even as the sun disappeared behind El Diablo. We sat and watched the desert and salt flats light up yellow then orange from the shade of our perch. We were safe and warm, dozens of miles from the next human being, but not, as it turns out, from other living things.

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After dark we lit a fire and made dinner. Then we stretched out on our sleeping bags on the smooth granite as our fire died. There was no moon yet. The Milky Way emerged so brightly that we noticed we were casting shadows from the stars. We watched satellite after satellite traverse the skies and then a meteor shower so bright we could see the smoke trails behind the burning meteorites in the deep black sky. We then fell asleep.

An hour or two later we met our first wet sticky thing. It was a frog. A tree frog. On my face. My fiancé screamed, "what is it….?? (trials) Oh Its a cute frog… oh, there are lots of them…" Over the next 15 minutes several hundred sticky wet green and yellow-eyed tree frogs hopped across our campsite, traversing our boulder lair in the sky to ponds or trees unknown. One of them, sadly, landed in a mostly empty wine glass and we discovered his drunken cadaver the next morning. We were later reminded of him by his red police chalk outline at home as we loaded the dishwasher.

An hour passed and then a new intrusion waking us up (trials): cattle. A whole herd. With bells on. They came to drink at the clear font at the base of our boulder and then continued their starlight trek south. They stayed, noisily, for an hour.

More sleep and then another interruption: another set of strange sounds but this time familiar: the sound of horsemen straight out of the movies. Lots of them. Now we were scared. Bandits? (trials) In the dark, 3 dozen horses suddenly appeared surrounding us at about 3 am. But there were no saddles and no riders. Just a band of wild horses there to drink. Another hour, and they clopped their way over the rocks and past us, straight up the mountain to places unknown.

We slept uneasily for a bit until my fiancé screamed again (trials). She was sitting up, eyes wide, and pointing.  With the flashlight I found the 8 inch long "stick bug" that had alighted on her arm in the dark. I was transfixed.

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She transferred him to me and I was fascinated - I had always wanted to see one of these strange creatures and here he was, just lounging on my arm looking exactly like a twig, but moving with robotic movements across my wrist. I let him go and we laid back down wondering what was next.

No more intruders woke us, and we slept well into the burning rays of the dawn until the desert sun heat started becoming uncomfortable. We rose, stretched, packed and climbed down to the car, loading everything swiftly and then driving the narrow track back past the horse farm and onto the salt flats. I was feeling cocky and let the engine roar again. We approached 100, 110 mph before an intuition caused me to slow… too late - a Wadi (creek) stretched before us and even after locking up the brakes, the BMW bounced down and then back up the cut in the salt flats at 50mph. We were thrown against our seat belts as we bottomed out, and as we emerged onto the salt flat the sound of the engine changed and the temperature gauge immediately began to rise as smoke started from the engine. I knew something was terribly wrong and stopped and jumped out of the car to witness all of the remaining motor oil in the engine block gushing out onto the dry salt. Peering underneath there was a baseball sized hole in the aluminum oil tank punched through like tin foil from a rock in the Wadi.

We grabbed our remaining water (slightly less than 1 gallon), and began walking, knowing full well that San Felipe was about 60 miles away and that the nearest paved road was about 11 miles further, and that it was 11am and already 100+ degrees. (Crisis) We walked. We talked… for a little and then got quiet. About an hour later we noticed the wake of vultures that had started circling us (real name for a group of vultures). I thought it was circumstantial, but after another hour the initial 2 or 3 became more like 15 and stayed directly overhead – it stopped being funny. I cursed them.

Our hope lay in the possibility of hitchhiking for the highway, but there was no rest from the burning sun. The heat was unbearable with absolutely no shade. We finished our water within two hours. Thoughts turned to returning to the car to wait until night or me running ahead to try to find help. We were beyond terrified that we could die out there and I was feeling guilt and terror that I might have killed us both.

Then suddenly… in the distance we saw it. Two dust devils, contrails of sand wisping vertically out on the salt flat and then, the faint sound of motors. Like a mirage, two motorbikes appeared in the distance across the salt flat out of nowhere. They sped directly toward us.

They were naturally curious as to our situation. "If you don’t mind me asking, why are you walking through the desert in over 100 degree temperatures?" They asked. We shared our story empty water jug in hand. They conferred, and then shared some water, then they saddled us on their bikes, turned around and rode the 6 miles back to our car. They conferred again, and then pulled out some tubes of  "liquid steel" goo, mashed two packs of it together, and slid under the car. They patched the hole with the clay-like silver material and then gave us the 2 quarts of oil they were carrying. (treasure) Our relief was palpable.

"Let it cure for an hour. It should get you to San Felipe - you can get it fixed there. Here’s some more water." Our good fortune and gratefulness was lost in their smiles and the willful adventure calling them forward - they sped off in the desert in a trail of dust. An hour later we started the car, peering under the chassis to determine that the patch was holding. It held. We drove, slowly, with only two quarts in an engine that holds six.

We drove slowly and made it to San Felipe without overheating (results) . We bought more oil and inquired about repairs. 7 days for the part they said, another day to do the repair. That wasn't going to work, so we spent a day at the beach and an evening on the town, reveling in our good fortune.

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The following day we drove all the way home at 45mph… 7.5 hours to Phoenix on a drive that normally took 5, with a band-aid of liquid steel holding our oil pan together but made it without event (return).

Home at last we began to unpack and re-discovered the outline of the upside down drunken frog in one of our wine glasses. We marveled about that trip for years and wanted to recreate it, (new life) but our next visit found us barred by the Mexican military as the area had started to become a drug trafficking center (result). I suppose it was for the best - any return would only have diminished the magic of that starry starry night, casting shadows from the stars.

A Really Living Moment: Guest Post By Ira Friedman

Sometimes those moments of really living are grand expansive scenes and sometimes they are private moments when a series of mental tumblers fall in place. Regardless, the common thread of all "Really Living" moments is that they create a dent in your chronometer - a notch in the thread of time running through your brain and hence expand the sense of time spent here on earth. Here's a short but elegant summary from friend Ira Friedman of a "Really Moment" from his memories:

------------ In the 1980’s I was in charge of the paper pickers in a state park in NY. It was my job to scan the beach on a Monday morning to see where trash had to be picked up. It was a hot summer day where the temperature was supposed to reach 100º.  At 7AM I was walking the beach.  It was 78º with a wonderful breeze blowing in my face. I was wearing one of the original Walkmans and listening to Bob Seger singing "Against The Wind." I soaked in that moment and that sensation and vowed to remember that moment so that on any given day when the weather was crappy I would call to mind that experience.  In a small way that is what i believe you are saying about "Really Living" - where memorable moments emerge in a spontaneous way that your mind latches onto.

-Ira Friedman

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A Story of Really Living: Guest Post by Gary Goebel

Today: guest blog from Gary Goebel, master (mostly unaware) of the Art of Really Living. Gary is a great friend and unassumingly inspiring. Here’s a guy who tends to talk about his risk aversion, his periods spent as a lawyer and teacher, and “domesticated life” as a stay at home dad. What comes out around the edges, is that this is the same guy who left the rock star house-on-the-hill (literally in this case - formerly owned by the lead guitarist for the Scorpions) and along with his star-powered attorney wife Monica, abandoned the money-chasing rat race and moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to enjoy the fruits of their labors while still young enough to experience them fully. A 2-year sabbatical followed by a job here and there, and then most recently two other massive adventures - first an 8 month sojourn into the jungles, beaches and teeming cities of Central and South America - with 8 and 10 year old boys in tow going to “the school of life.” And now, unhappy with the local school system dynamics with his elder son, Gary has taken on home-schooling an 11 year old boy with traditional curriculum, unique experiences, and lots of TED talks.

Seriously, when other people only dream of taking the big chances and changing their lives forever, Gary and Monica have proven willing to take the risks to do so repeatedly. Every day as I consider what the Art of Really Living is really about, I think of Gary and Monica, and the strengths, resiliency, and time-expanding adventures they have been on over the last decade. With that, I turn it over to Gary and his adventures in time down in Latin America with the only edit being the addition of Really Living elements:

ELEMENTS AND CONTRASTS OF REALLY LIVING MOMENTS:

  1. Unique/Mundane
  2. Beautiful/Ugly
  3. Physically invigorating/exhausting
  4. Emotionally deep (Love/Courage, Hate/Fear)
  5. Flow State

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I have known John Coyle for years, not as long as some, but have seen him in a number of personal and professional settings.  I have always admired his gusto, his pursuit of adventure, and, basically, his commitment to “really live.” I assumed he was just the type of person who "lived large." It was who he was, and of course, this was natural for him. But what about the rest of us?  If we didn’t share his DNA, were these adventures just something to dream about?

It was only recently that I learned that his actions are part of a conscientious philosophy, and that others can follow suit. In fact, he pointed out that my wife Monica and I have a history of the kind of risk-taking and creating incredible experiential moments for ourselves and our two young sons, that represents the heart of The Art of Really Living.

One recent time-expanding experience came in the Summer of 2013.  I had just gotten out of a life-draining business (mundane), and Monica was working from home as a one-on-one business development coach for lawyers. Our two sons were ages 8 and 10.  Monica was hit with an epiphany! We had no jobs that forced us to be anywhere in the foreseeable future. It was time for World Travel!  (unique)

It is too trite to say we packed our bags and hit the open road. That sounds so romantic and whimsical. To plan and tackle a trip like this requires a decent amount of suffering: there was a lot of discussion, disagreement, research, preparation, arrangements, etc. to be made before our new dream could become a reality.

Eventually we settled on a Central America as a starting point. Why? We wanted to learn Spanish and enjoy beaches. Panama fit the bill because unlike the Central American countries a bit further north, there is no hurricane season. Also, flights were cheap, health care good, and they accept the US dollar.

Our adventure started almost a month before going abroad. We rented out our house, much earlier than anticipated, because we found an ideal tenant who was interested in a four month lease of our fully furnished house. Suddenly, we became “homeless.”  That was an experience, but a story for another time. Let me just say that in times like that you know who your friends truly are.  It was like a month long going away party!

Leaving all our worldly possessions behind (except backpacks), and giving our two boys the benefit of “the school of life,” we hit the road for a minimum of four months. We purchased one-way tickets to Ciudad Panama as our launch pad, enrolled in a Spanish Language Immersion School, and arranged to live with host families (unique). We started by spending two weeks in the mountain town of Boquete and two weeks more on the Caribbean island Bocas del Toro, with some exploration time between the two destinations.  (beauty)

Beyond that, we did not formulate a plan. Who knew what we would do or where we would go?  We decided to see what felt right after we arrived. I jokingly told people we would be back when A) We ran out of money; B) We got tired of dysentery; or C) We were kicked out of a country with no where else to turn. Honestly, most family and friends could not get their heads wrapped around a non-itinerary such as that. But that was the plan, or non-plan, if you will. “So really, when ARE you coming back?” Part of “really living” as we have learned is not trying to force amazing moments to happen, but instead trying to create the right kind of environments where possibility for serendipity is ripe.

So how long did we stay? As it turns out, 8 months. We traversed the cities, beaches, jungles and cloud forests of Panama for 7 weeks (physically challenging). Then, we traveled by bus over the border to Costa Rica and lived in a cabana in the jungle near the Pacific Ocean for a month. (beauty, uniqueness)

Next, we took a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City to meet John Coyle and his family for Thanksgiving in the San Blas Islands.  There, we sailed for days on a catamaran with Captain Jean Charles and a Guna Yala guide named Ronnie.

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Sadly we all managed to get sick during this period (physically challenging) but bonded in close quarters along the way (emotionally deep). Next, we were dropped off on a tiny palm fringed island smaller than a city block, with gorgeous white sand beaches and a laid back vibe.  We lived in straw huts and ate meals provided by Franklins -- family who owned the island. (beauty, uniqueness)

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After the Caribbean Island time, we flew to Quito Ecuador, and  rented a condo for six weeks. While in Ecuador, we explored the Andes mountain towns, the villages in Amazonia, and the Galapagos Islands.  We traveled by planes, trains, canoes, boats, horses, taxis, vans, flat-bed trucks with benches bolted to the bed, buses, bicycles and foot. (physically arduous, emotionally scary)

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When our three month tourist visa expired, we again traveled over an international border into Peru, but this time on foot, not by luxurious plane. There, we discovered yet another form of travel- we called them loco-motos, but they were really just jerry-rigged motorcycles modified to transport more people and things.  The Peruano ingenuity with these transports was nothing short of miraculous! They could move mountains! But if you have visited Machu Picchu, you know that Peruanos have historically moved mountains.

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Each time  we left a “safe and secure” spot (OK, at least one where we had developed some level of comfort or that felt somewhat familiar), was incredibly stressful.  At least for me.  Were we going to the proper bus terminal?  Did we buy the right ticket?  Would we be crossing a border at the best or safest time?  How would we change our currency?  Was our gear secure? What forms of transportation, if any, awaited us?  Could this taxi driver be trusted?  Would we be over-charged?  Robbed?  (emotional depth - fear, anxiety) Travel here is not the same as there.  I often railed when people asked about our “vacation.”  There may be many words to describe what we did, but I do not see vacation as one of them.  I tend to reserve that word for going to Disneyland or sitting at a resort by the pool with a Mai Tai.

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During our travels, time passed fast and slow, we had periods of quiet contentment, boredom, painfully long journeys, beauty and of course those certain memories that just implant themselves, seemingly of their own accord, and serve to become the “stories of the road” - the experiences that “made a dent” that we will always remember, like:

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  • The dramatic passing of an ancient grandfather in the bedroom next door to the boys on our first night with our first host family; (unique, emotionally deep, beauty too)
  • Taking 36 hours to go from door to door from our tiny cabana in Costa Rica to Park Ridge, Illinois, without cell phone, GPS, my more fluent wife, or any other niceties; (emotionally, physically stressful)
  • Having our cabana burgled while we lounged comfortably on the beach; (fear, anxiety)
  • The intimate connection with the ocean, land and animals in the Galapagos; (beauty, emotional depth)
  • Befriending other traveling American families in one country and meeting up again in another;  (emotional depth, love)
  • Traversing the Sacred Valley of Peru and all that it offered; (beauty, uniqueness)
  • Floating down an Amazonia River on inner tubes; (beauty)
  • White river rafting on the border of Costa Rica and Panama;
  • Working to create a new girls’ home for young mothers in Cuzco, Peru
  • Dancing in the streets at Carnival in Chachapoya, Peru (beauty)
  • The camaraderie of fellow backpackers singing around a fire, kicking back beers in hostels, riding bikes on volcanos, and soaking in natural hot springs in the mountains.  (uniqueness, emotional depth)
  • 24 hour bus trips; (physical challenge)
  • Eating exotic “street meats” and quail eggs from vendors, buying artisan cheeses  from colorfully attired indigenous women… almost any of our culinary experiences; (beauty, uniqueness)
  • Chicken Buses (fear, love, beauty, ugliness, uniqueness)
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We could write a small book on the trip (my musings can be found on our blog at http://ottoowenmonicagary.blogspot.com/ ).  Not a day goes by that I do not think back to one thing another about our 8 month odyssey. Did we really live? Unequivocally! We were not just tourists. We absorbed and experienced an entirely different world than the one we had left.  Did we expand time? Absolutely - those 8 months fill our mental data banks with the equivalent of years of memories had we stayed home, and we continue to relive special moments, reach out to new friends found abroad, and explore future roads we might have otherwise closed if not for the experience. Whatever money, convenience, peace-of-mind, etc we sacrificed, has been recouped ten-fold.

“Wait,” you say, “that all sounds fun, but I  couldn’t do that…” Let me challenge you here. . You couldn’t do that because… of your house, your car, your belongings? What are those things “worth?” vs. experiences?     935611_10202178672043468_1905013855_n

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Let me share the story of a certain famous rock star, as related in the book, “What Happy People Know” by Dr. Dan Baker.  In the book, the author relates the story of a famous rock star who had turned to drugs and alcohol because he felt so “trapped” by the establishment - recording deals he HAD to complete, concert tours he HAD to fulfill. Here he was worth a hundred million or more and he was miserable feeling like he had no choices. Easy for us to look in from a afar and say, “wait - you can just walk away, travel the world, live on an island, do whatever you want with all that money… and you still have your talent.”

But how different is that from you and I? Many of us have savings, or could scrape some together if we lived more frugally. We’ve invested in education and careers that make us easily hireable.  Yet .. we can’t take 3 or 6 or 12 months off because... ? Why?  Our THINGS? our JOBS? MONEY?

I challenge you - what are we working for anyway? to die on a stack of money or to “really live?”

Everyone dies, not everyone really lives…  I want to really live!

Design for Resiliency: Why Almost Dying is Also “Really Living”

Why almost dying is also often “Really Living” As mentioned in the last post, time expanding “really living” moments tend to have a set of consistent characteristics – either they are truly unique, or feature a sense of extreme beauty. They may be physically intense, or emotionally deep, or feature moments of “flow” where you utilize natural strengths to their limits. Occasionally all five of these aspects converge into the same place at the same time and in the magic of that moment create they create an “event horizon moment” where the gravity of the event is so powerful that time stands still and you remember it forever (often “as if it was yesterday.” Often moments such as these feature contrasting emotions of courage out of fear, joy out of pain, beauty out of ugliness, happiness from sadness.

ELEMENTS AND CONTRASTS OF REALLY LIVING MOMENTS:

  1. Unique/Mundane
  2. Beautiful/Ugly
  3. Physically invigorating/exhausting
  4. Emotionally deep (Love/Courage, Hate/Fear)
  5. Flow State

Below is the story of event horizon moment from my life where I suffered and nearly died, but instead thrived and survived, laughed and loved, all wearing only a silver and pink spandex suit….

An “Event Horizon” moment of “Really Living.”

I arrived in Amsterdam in the early gray of morning after the usual overnight flight, exiting the white modern white terminal filled with the acrid smoke of European cigarettes to a typically gray, moist and damp Dutch day. Gray streets, gray skies, gray buses, gray people. Mundane. After some navigation between the train station and the closest tram, I managed to find public transport to the Viking skate factory on the outskirts of town.

After a quick tour of the massive warehouse, I spent about 2 hours in the factory trying on skates barefoot in order to find a pair that fit perfectly. Sure they all “look the same” but the reality is that minute differences in the shape, stretch, and contours of the leather and blade made for significant differences. I’m a size 43 but I bought two pairs of size 41 skates for a tight fit, and added to that a custom distinction – switching the standard set of 16 ½ inch 1mm wide blades blades for 17 ½ blades and carrying a spare pair in a cardboard poster tube. I was set for the season.

I left the huge factory (the interior of which looked much like the end of the first Indiana Jones movie) where there were aisles and aisles of speed skates – primarily for the domestic public (there are over 1.2 million registered Dutch speed skaters – vs. about 2000 in the United States ) and walked back to where the main highway cut through town and followed an entrance ramp down to the viaduct.

First stop, Munich , and then onto Inzell, about 800km away. I had no money so... ready, set, …. THUMB. I had never hitchhiked, but the concept was easy to understand. Unique.

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Standing by the roadside next to the roaring traffic I was carrying a number of objects that, as it turns out, would become important later. I had my large black backpack with an internal frame full of about 50 lbs of clothing, shoes, and gear. I also had 2 boxes of skates, and one small poster tube with a spare set of blades. And then I had my 40lb duffel bag with all my skating stuff: sharpening jig and stones, oil, tools, skinsuits and warmups. All told I had about 100lbs of stuff – both hands were full and I had a back full of a backpack.

Other than the recent massive failures with regards to my training I generally considered myself as serendipitous – having a ‘green thumb for life’ – and on that day I got four aces. Not 20 minutes after I first stuck out my thumb, a rusty old jalopy pulled up and 4 doors popped open full of friendly, smiling young faces with Australian accents who asked pleasantly, “Where you headed mate?”

I told them.

“ Munich ? No shit! That’s where we are going! We just bought this old beater and are heading to Munich for Octoberfest! Climb on in!” Joy.

I had to tie my backpack to the roof and then held my skatebag and boxes on my lap in the middle seat of the rear of the old jalopy, but the warm dutch beers they passed around quickly had me laughing and jabbering away with the rest of them and we headed on our way all the way to the German border (OK, that’s like 30 miles – Holland is tiny). Love, comaraderie.

Serendipity then lost her grip and a god-awful shaking took over the car and then shiny metal disks began to shoot from underneath the car in all directions to an incredible cacophony. At first I though the engine had exploded – except it was still running – but our forward progress began to slow as we coasted: we had dropped the transmission. Fear, despair.

My newfound pals immediately began the mourning process but I had no vested interest in the bum auto deal they had made that morning and instead untied my backpack and resumed what would come to be a very typical posture over the coming months – standing with a slight lean at the edge of the road, arm curved with thumb out, trying to look ‘safe.’

A tow truck came and I said goodbye to the Aussies but an hour went without anyone stopping for me. Then two hours. I began to despair… and then it began to rain… hard.

I began to panic and ran for the next overpass and stopped in the shadow underneath. Now dueling needs began their wrestling: stay in the dark and not get picked up? Or be wet and miserable but visible? Exhaustion.

I opted for a compromise and would choose cars that looked “kindhearted” and would dodge out into the light and rain with my thumb out.

This went on for quite some time and finally after another 2 hours (which is an incredibly long time by the way) suddenly my luck turned again. Behind a “kind looking” Euro station wagon was a large Euro truck/trailer combo that put on its air brakes and roared to a stop about 100m beyond the overpass.

I was overjoyed and sprinted up to the bright red cab. Joy.

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I’ll never forget the face of the man who swung open the door – not because he was so memorable or unique by his-self – instead because his visage was so much like another – that of “Timmons” – the unfortunate wagon train driver in the movie “Dances with Wolves”. The same greasy hair, pudgy face, and the same cigar clenched firmly in his brown molars.

The difference in this case was that when he spoke, instead of a patois of redneck English, my driver spoke only in French and I had not the slightest idea of what he was saying. He didn’t seem to care, and jabbered away for quite a while until I was able to squeeze in, what seemed to me, an important verbal salvo: “ Munich – Munchen” – my destination. Unique.

“Deutschland!” I added, and he nodded and smiled and then began talking again and then began working the gears judiciously.

I was wet and tired (I was up all night on the overnight flight) and it was warm and dry and despite the smoke and the ambiguity of where I was going I just decided to trust in fate, and close my eyes.

Still talking my driver put the pedal to the metal and off we roared, crossing the German border shortly thereafter.

Sometime after a laborious dispute with the border guards and the repeated exit and return of my cigar smoking driver to review the contents of his load I fell asleep. It was just twilight, but the 36 hours I’d been awake, combined with the Dutch beers and contrast of the damp cold and the sudden warmth found me susceptible and I slept for hours without a care for where my wagon-train driver was taking me.

I was dreaming. Somone was fighting with me – buffeting me around my head and shoulders, intent on delivering a message. Finally I opened my eyes to find that I was being shaken.

4 inches from my face was the stub end of a dead cigar and my driver was shouting in French, roughly shaking me, stopping only when I finally moved an arm to indicate I was alive. I lifted up groggily looking through the windshield – seeing nothing but black.

The impassioned dialog and gesticulating continued but my head swam in a fog and it wasn’t until Timmons reached across me and unlatched the door and waved his finger that I finally understood.

Translation. “Get out.”

That’s what all that meant…

So I got out.

What else could I do? Fear.

I grabbed my backpack, my two boxes and tube and the heavy duffel bag and climbed down the steps of the big red cab, black in the darkness.

I first noticed the cold when the winds of the departing trailer swirled around me – it must have been only 35 degrees – and damp…

Then, location: where was I?  Ahead there was a lit sign over the highway and seemingly the only illumination for miles. Like a moth I staggered with my load to the flame.

I drew close enough to read the sign even as in the brightening gloom I could see the sudden division of the highway. The sign read, “Franzosich Rechts, Deutschland Links” – “ France left, Germany right.” My driver and his big red truck has gone right, the streaks of his disappearing taillights still remaining imprinted on my retinas – to France.

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Thank you Timmons.

Now what?

As if on cue, it began to rain. At first it was a smattering of drops, but it then quickly settled into one of those steady downpours that last for hours.

The drops were initially stopped by hair and clothing, but within minutes they began to find channels through the already damp materials of my clothes and course down my back and into my shoes.

I began to shiver – violently. I immediately began walking as a defense mechanism – my 100lbs of ‘stuff’ burning more calories than a brisk walk would. But.. I hadn’t actually eaten.. and only a feeble warmth was generated from the effort. My teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. I still remember it. I kept thinking of George Washington for some reason. Wooden teeth. Mine sounded wooden – and it was so clichéd to have them bouncing up and down like as if they were in the hand of a spastic mannequin.

Worse still – with my forward progress, all light disappeared and I found myself sloshing through inky blackness, just the twinkling of the drops and the occasional glint of road markers flashing wetly against the black giving any indication of time or space.

As my clothes became more thoroughly sodden it suddenly occurred to me – not one vehicle had passed in the last half hour… So I checked the time: 2am.

As I walked, I began to dissect what I knew about hypothermia – how your energy fails and instead of fighting you start to give in and then a calm begins to permeate your limbs. With a start I realized I had stopped walking. Terror. My jaw was still chattering though.

I began again – but back towards the light.

I crossed beyond it and then turned around, and then headed back again. One foot in front of the other, arms aching with the load.

So I began what became an incredibly long military drill of marching and discipline. Suffering.

Enduring.

My hands turned to ice, and my feet too. My legs and arms grew numb and I stopped wiping the water from my eyes and stopped hunching my shoulders to protect my neck. I just walked and when I grew tired of walking I began an ugly sloppy jog, lead footed and sloppy, but I jogged.

Sometimes I carried my stuff, other times I set it by the side of the road. I kept moving. I have never, ever been more tired… leaden, deadened, numb, cold.

At some point I began to realize that I could die.

Right there on a lonely stretch of highway I could just stop walking and die – and that in fact it could probably happen in less than an hour. I was so cold that it didn’t really phase me… and the lack of emotional response did scare my rational mind… Despair.

It was then that a sudden light grew behind me. Headlights.

Unbelievable! Hope! Joy.

Life resumed and hope grew and I marched back toward those lights waving my arms. The headlights remained dim pricks in the inky blackness for a while an then suddenly became bright with that weird sound familiar from TV – “wreee-oooowwwww” and the car erupted from the distance to directly in front of me to long gone in a matter of seconds.

My despair reached new levels.

3 am and I’m wearing dark clothes and I’m sopping wet in freezing temperatures while in the middle of f!#ing nowhere and I’m trying hitchhike on the goddamn autobahn! People are driving 120 mph! Who in their right mind is going to stop for the wet madman hitching on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere?

No one.

I might die. Maybe I’m ready to die. So tired, so cold, so hungry, so weak. No fire stoked below as I walked, no warmth stole through my limbs, but I knew if I stopped walking I would die and I didn’t want to die – I was too young to die, I had too much to do to die.

So I walked – away from the light, toward the light, away from the light, toward the light..

After about an hour and a half more of marching I decided to do some more exploring. There was an embankment to the right and I re-climbed it and saw… nothing. Not a light, not a house, not even a telephone pole – just the grass underneath my feet, and blackness…

Still, I resolved to pick a direction and assume that this, this hay, or grass or whatever that had been neatly mowed into rows, that someone – somewhere had done this work.

I resolved to follow a row.

I followed that row.

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It didn’t take long before two things occurred: one, it began to get extremely dark – and hard to find my footing, and two, I began to think about all this grass, this neatly manicured row of grass… maybe…. maybe  I could…

I stopped. I turned around.

I saved my own life. Hope.

I walked back as close to the light as I could while still up the embankment and then I implemented the plan that had been slowly gestating in my head for the last 10 minutes.

First, I set down my bags and boxes, and then I began to gather the grass. Shoving, combing, lifting, gathering, I quickly developed a coffee table sized mound, and then it grew to the size of a doghouse, then two doghouses. For once the exertion warmed me and in about 15 minutes I had gathered a mound of grass about 5 feet high, ten feet in length (including taper) and 6 feet wide. Think about it – that’s a HUGE mound of grass – and fifteen minutes in the dark can feel like forever…

What came next took the most courage of all: after shoving my bags and boxes under protective cover of the grass, I then stripped down, exposing my body to the 35 degree downpour, and I removed every single bit of sodden clothing I had on including my soaking wet shoes until I stood naked in the field under the pouring 35 degree rain, shivering violently, hardly able to control my hands which were becoming more numb by the second.

Next, I pulled my one dry warmup jacket out of my backpack, and 3 dry racing skinsuits out of my duffel bag. Draping the jacket over my head like a floppy umbrella, I proceeded to put on all 3 spandex suits – one over the other, while staying mostly dry under the jacket.

Finally, I grabbed the heavy cardboard tube with the spare set of blades and shook the spare blades out onto the grass and then pushed them underneath the pile. I then pulled the tube under the protective cover of the jacket and then shoved it through one of its arms.

Finally, I got on my hands and knees and, with my head draped in a shoulder of the jacket, used it as protective cover against the wet outer layers of grass and burrowed carefully into the interior of the grass mound.

I had been careful to layer the dry bottom layers of grass from the mown rows into the bottom of my mound and quickly my problem became breathing amongst the dust and tendrils of dry grass versus the expected battle against drowning in the wet drops.

I wriggled carefully into what I conceived of as the middle of the mound and felt a million pricks of grass around me itching and catching the fabric of my skinsuit. But what I also felt was unique again that night – the sudden return of warmth reflected to my limbs from these same pricks. Invigorating.

Finally I reached out an arm and pushed it through the grass until I could feel the damp of the rain and then jammed the cardboard tube, along with the arm of the jacket through that tunnel in the hay and then adjusted the drape of the jacket – which still remained over my head – such that the arm and the corresponding tunnel of outside air created by the tube was right in front of my mouth and nose.

I blew out hard through the tube like a snorkel to clear the passage and then took a deep breath.  I was pleased to receive not the dusty air of the interior of my new straw home, but the cool damp oxygen of the outside world.

It may sound odd, but in about 90 seconds I was 100% out-cold asleep: warm, dry, a little itchy, but safe.

I was dreamless in my little cocoon – the long flight, the endless walking and worrying, the rain and shivering all passed into the warm depths of sleeps’ embrace.

Finally, the noise and rumble of passing traffic woke me up. It was still dark – yet I woke feeling refreshed as though I’d slept a decent long time. I figured I better wait until it was light before I began hitching, but I went through the exercise of pulling my arm up into my cocoon under the jacket and pushed the button to glow the light to see what time it was…. 2pm!  I had managed to sleep nearly 10 hours under a pile of grass – but wait – it was still dark – how could that be?

When I finally lifted an arm and parted the grass, a few faint streaks of light began to penetrate and I realized that it was, indeed, midday. I was in the middle of a gorgeous golden field glistening w/ the crystalline residue of the rain. Beauty.

mound

I stretched a little and then decided to burrow out through the top of my lair. Sure enough when I finally began to extricate myself, the brilliant afternoon sun of a clear day began to shine through. Joy.

It was then that my senses tingled… with the sudden quiet – the traffic noise and rumble of the autobahn and suddenly, inexplicably been, well, ‘turned off.’

The traffic noise and vibrations I had felt from the nearby autobahn had entered a deathly erie silence that seemed, oddly, to correspond with my recent exit from my cocoon. Fear.

Shaking off the straw, I opened my eyes fully and looked ahead and saw nothing at first but the brilliance of the midday sun and the shining piles of straw and grass littering the field in front of me. Beyond that I could see a corner of the autobahn with no cars navigating its long stretch.

Another run of cold blood… with that sensation I began to turn.

Behind me – not 15 feet away was one of the world’s largest pieces of machinery – a 20 foot high behemoth of modern industrial capacity – a combine collecting the fruits of the summer harvest – stopped dead in its tracks due to the odd formation of grass – the nest of which I had suddenly hatched…

combine

I’ll never, for as long as I live, forget the next few seconds – both what actually happened, as well as the processes in my brain that finally switched on at this opportune time.

The door of the bright red cab swung open and out popped the head of a German farmer – at exactly the same time that I registered his expression – a face I’ll never forget in its open-mouthed astonishment – I realized exactly what it was that I was wearing.

I had changed in the pitch black of a downpour without a thought to style or color. I had only 3 skinsuits in my possession at that time – two blue USA skinsuits, and one rather odd trade – a pink and silver suit from the Belgian national team. Most notable was that this was the last one I put on, and furthermore I was wearing the silver hood – overtop the other 2 suits.

So… to conclude this interesting convergence of events, let me play it out from the farmer’s perspective: A long, stormy night… a huge field finally drying up in order to gather up the grass for market – let’s fire up the big machine – but Achtung! What’s this weird mound of grass… better slow down…

And then it happens – the mound moves and an appendage appears – it looks like a hand… but it is shiny and silver…

Out of it next comes the rest of this.. thing. Pink and silver and shiny, no hair to be seen, this alien creature stretches as though it owns the place and then turns – and…

And it LOOKED RIGHT AT ME!

I began to laugh.  Joy. The ludicrousness of the situation suddenly permeated my core and I began to laugh and laugh and laugh. I bent over, rustling in the pile and pulled out my pack, bag and boxes and then carried those, along with my scarecrow stubbled jacket with the tube still in the arm down the embankment to the autobahn still laughing.

I didn’t bother to dress – just stood by the road in the pink and silver spandex and in less than two minutes a couple in a Ford Probe pulled over and picked me up and drove me not only to Munich, but the 30 miles beyond to Inzell, where they dropped me off at the rink in time for the Dutch national team training session. I told them the story in my broken German and we laughed the whole trip. I couldn’t have been happier…

Beauty, Fear, Despair, Joy, Exhaustion, Invigoration, Flow.

An Event Horizon of Really Living.

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Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives. What is a Really Living Moment?

At the heart of The Art of Really Living is the notion of a “really living moment” and its extreme, the “event horizon moment.” This blog post is an attempt to explain, “what does that mean and why does it matter?”

A “really living moment,” is simply this: any event, activity, moment in time, or memory that leaves a lasting impression – creates a “dent” in your perceptive memory that expands your sense of time in the temporal past. Perhaps it is easier to describe the opposite: the inverse of really living moments are the mundane hours, days and weeks of the routine – of life on “autopilot,” where these same days and weeks disappear in memory and leave swaths of time unaccounted for. In these cases it is as though you never really lived at all. From my experience, and from the research on cognitive perceptions on time, here are a few descriptions of time expanding “really living” moments.

    1. Uniqueness: Eye opening unique experiences that take you well beyond your current experiences: Examples: entering a convent in Greece during vespers, walking the markets in Beijing the first time, trying Pace (sheeps brain stew) in Albania, viewing the birth of your first child.
    2. Beauty: experiences (be they aural, visual, tactile, gustatory or olifactory). Examples: standing atop a karst in Thailand as the sun sets, the smell of jasmine in the evening, the last bite of a plate of Vietnamise lemon grass chicken, the first glimpse of the emerald waters and white sand of perfect Caribbean beach, hearing a line of poetry that resonates with you.
    3. Physical Intensity (adrenaline) intense physical activities – often with some risk associated. Examples: the last lap of a criterium bike race fraught with possibility (and crashes), skiing the steepest chutes in Colorado or Utah, completing a 500 lb. one-legged squat from lower than 90 degrees while leaning over at 72 degrees balanced on a 1mm wide 18 inch blade, traveling 31mph directly at a wall on ice (short track speedskating), eating a trinidad moruga scorpion pepper, splashing into the 34 degree Black Sea with friends.
    4. Emotional Intensity (love, desire, fear) intense emotional connections – often with some fear or risk associated. Examples: watching your daughter put her heart into a close basketball game, the first kiss, falling in love, the first “I love you,” exposing your true feelings about something important to someone close to you, the perfect father's day of "really living" adventures with your daughter.
    5. Flow State: strengths-centered activity relying on the myelinated circuits in your brain. These activities are recorded with a high speed camera – time disappears in the present but our brains record more data, more memories. More memories = more time. Examples: any activity (sport, hobby, relationship, music, etc.) that transports you into the hyperfocused state of flow. For me it is bicycle racing, skiing, exploring, writing, music, traveling, deep conversations with people smarter than me, creative dialog and wordplay.

These elements are all “stackable” meaning that they can all take place simultaneously. Occasionally when this happens, time itself can feel like it stands still and “event horizon moments” are born. Rather than a dent in your memory, it is an expansive experience that actually creates a sense of time from nothing. Often these moments have aspects of both positive and negative emotions associated with them. Eugene O’Kelley described it best in his great book Chasing Daylight where he described these wonderful / terrible moments when he had to say goodbye to loved ones – forever – due to brain cancer, but in so doing, created “perfect moments where time stopped.” Event Horizon moments are rare, they are intense, but they are made of life itself: of love, fear and the act of creation.

What are your “really living” moments made out of?Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.39.26 AM

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Arrival in Vlore - the emerald sea

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the one picture I waited the whole trip for: the Black Sea Plunge

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A day of "really living"

One Resolution for 2015: "Race Your Strengths"

"Race Your Strengths" was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period. walden

For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution - the kind of resolution that "floats all boats." For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden's advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of "flow" where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are "racing our strengths" we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of "really living," experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths. 

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Your Clock Has Been Lying to You...

FullSizeRender This things here: they're a lie.

We’ve been lied to, side-tracked, distracted, manipulated

This ticking, this tocking – this terrible terminal tracking of the ticking of time teaching us trivial untruths:

It taught us that each second is exactly the same,

That each minute, each day, progresses in a linear way

That each is the same distance from the last

That these clicks are an equal measure of the past

How Long Did Summers Last as a Kid?

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.24.04 PM How long did summers last as a kid?

Splashing into the lake, riding bikes across busy streets.

Crushes, broken hearts, bruises and dirty knees.

We all know summer lasted “forever” as a kid..

Everything was new - we really lived everything we did.

And now? How long do they last, in this world of the mundane?

I don’t know about you but I ache to live endless summers again.

When Quitting is Good

Is quitting ever good? If so, how can you know when it is the right thing to do? Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 4.26.40 PM

IDEA IN BRIEF: There may be a natural window of time in which it is appropriate to quit which is longer than most people are willing to invest, but shorter than most highly motivated people take. Specifically if you put your best efforts toward something, such as a sport, activity, talent, job, career or relationship, and fail to see growth and returns from your investment of time within about 2 years, then it is probably time to quit – or at least re-frame your approach.

Ample empirical evidence demonstrates the importance of the “don’t quit” advice.  Anecdotal evidence is provided simply by watching typical children grow up around you.  Many of them are excellent quitters. My own daughter wanted to quit basketball, soccer, speedskating, the cello, choir, art and drama camp, all after the first day. Half of these she ultimately quit for the right reason – she did not have a natural talent for the activity. Per my last post, she did not have enough “myelinated circuits” to build from to demonstrate speed or skill in those areas. Conversely, with basketball, art and drama – after some diligent practice, she has exploded with talent in these areas, capabilities she would never have known had she followed her early instincts to quit.

For scientific support and quantitative evidence, the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, conducted since 1972, is perhaps the most famous behavioral research corroborating the idea that to be successful, one must be able to delay gratification and persevere through challenging circumstances: in other words, “not quit.”  In this longitudinal study (still going on) children who were able to delay eating a marshmallow in order to earn two marshmallows a few minutes later were shown repeatedly to have greater success in life – higher SAT’s, greater incomes, great levels of educational achievement and happiness.

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It works. I suspect most of the readers of this blog have mastered the capacity to delay gratification and struggle through a tough present for the promise of a more rewarding future. Yet, for some of us, perhaps many of us, I think this childhood guidance has had unintentional consequences and has subsequently become a collective adult neurosis unintentionally designed to rob us of success and happiness.

Yes, I said it, “a collective adult neurosis. “Wait,” you might say, “That’s crazy!” Exactly. To paraphrase Scott Adams, the author of Dilbert who has wrestled with some of these same questions, “Perseverance is great… until it is stupid.”

The problem emerges slowly. As we master the ability to “tough it out”, we tackle ever larger obstacles and delay gratification ever farther.  At some point a mindset and momentum takes over such that overcoming obstacles becomes the defining drive, and gratification is delayed indefinitely. This is the “graying” of man, a transition away from a life of color and sound and passion into a life like that of Sysiphus – a routinized passionless pursuit pushing a rock up a hill with no promise of joy or completion.

Hearkening back to our marshmallow experiment, it appears that some of us have traded not one marshmallow for two but an infinite number of future marshmallows for an undefined future date.

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When discipline completely replaces inspiration, a kind of desperation sets in – a “quiet” sort as famously described by Thoreau. It is not exactly failure, but what is it then?

“Most men live lives of quiet desperation” - Thoreau

Interestingly, two bits of conventional advice put this quandary directly into perspective.  The first is some commonly used childhood guidance, and the second is some cliched adult wisdom.

1) “If at first you don’t succeed… try, try, try again.”

Now, contrast this with

2) “The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and over again, and… expecting different results.”

The inherent conflict between these statements is striking. I suspect much of the population needs more focus on the first rule. But there’s another huge cohort of people stuck in the second, banging against the wall.

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Maybe it is you? It certainly was me. I spent years trying to develop endurance as an athlete to no avail.   [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MfZ6Rkk-oI[/embed]  I spent years in consulting as a program manager, not realizing that I’m not wired to be high on follow through. We see these people all around us, middle managers that never quite make it, mid level competitors that can’t seem to reach the podium, artists with no sales, musicians that never gather a following, and would-be lovers pursuing relationships that never blossom.

Introducing the “Two Year Rule.” Through my own experience and observations of others, it seems to me that when you pursue something fully and completely for up to two years and do not reach a “break-through” level where you feel momentum and have experienced significant improvement and real success, then it is time to quit. Quit that job, quit that sport, change instruments or start composing, write magazine articles rather than novels, and break up with that not-so-romantic partner. Sometimes you even have to break it off with a platonic friend.

One exception – only parents can’t really quit.  If you don’t have a talent for parenting, make sure you surround yourselves with family and friends that can help provide guidance and model the way.

I once read a “success story” of a woman who tried writing a book for 35 years. She struggled, did odd jobs and eventually published a manuscript that received some critical acclaim and sold reasonably well. I don’t look at this as a success.  This seems like an abject failure – someone who missed her true calling and whiled away a life trying to perfect and overcome her weaknesses.

Here’s the final thought.  We all know people who have quit for the right reasons – and they always say the same thing, “That was the best decision I ever made.” This is almost always true because they latch onto something better, something closer to their strengths, something that resonates within their spirit. Maybe it is time for you to quit, to escape the gray chrysalis of weakness and find that place of passion, strength, light and color. Time to fly!

Next post – when quitting is bad… and why the most talented often quit early and often.

6. The Inversion of Experiential Time: Example 1

time-travelImagine a job where your sole activity is to enter a series of randomly generated strings of letters, numbers and symbols into a monochrome computer screen. Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute you task is to sit there reading a string of numbers off an endless stack of papers, typing them slowly, complete with mistakes and backspaces and corrections onto the screen, losing your place almost every time, and then you review and double review for accuracy, before finally pushing “enter,” whereupon the flashing code disappears, and then you type the next 30 – 50 digit letter and number combination. As you can imagine, while performing such a mind numbing repetitive task alone, each hour begins to stretch on for an eternity, each minute expanding, bloating with the boredom, the tedium, the lack of purpose. After a while, the ticking of the second hand on the clock starts to slow, and as your eyes twitch watching it tick, you realize that time has nearly stopped… (This, by the way was my college job – entering the long strings of periodical codes for the thousands of obscure journals into the school computer at Stanford’s Green Library.)

indexContrast this with another scenario. It is a Friday morning and you have just arrived to work full of manic energy. You have a huge list of to-dos for the day, because on that afternoon, after a half day of work you are flying south to the beach, or driving up north, or heading west for vacation. You work for about 5 minutes of experiential time and are horrified to look up and see 2 hours gone. You focus more intently and as you race through your tasks, the hands of time race around the clock. Seemingly 20 minutes after you arrive (but actually 5 hours later) it is time to go and you run for the elevator… Then, perhaps you forget your tickets,  go to the wrong terminal, or your daughter throws up in the security line – (it seems it is always something) but a few hours later, you manage to arrive at the resort or cottage or campsite, explore your room, go for a hike, walk down to the beach, have a cocktail, watch the sunset, have an amazing dinner, take an evening swim, have a great conversation, read a few chapters of a great book – whatever and…yet…somehow the day seems to be over as quickly as the ephemeral and fabled “green flash” of sunset over the water…

Both of these examples include about 12 hours of linear time… But in the perception of the conscious mind (the part that lives in the present), the first scenario initially felt like an eternity and the second initially felt like a fleeting moment in time…

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Now here’s where it gets interesting. Contrast the real-time experience of the ‘eternity’ and ‘fleeting moment’ scenarios with the subsequent memories of those two periods a month or a year later when they have become part of your “temporal past.”

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Odds are good that the 12 hours of the first example (typing numbers & letters) disappears altogether leaving no trace in the software of our brains and hence takes up no actual memory time (in contrast to the “eternity” it was in the present). Is it fair to say that except for its role in enabling the second scenario that that time was lost? There is more to this scenario too - when you include anticipation and planning, experiential time goes through another inversion. More on that soon.

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.30.56 PM This scenario is simplistic example of The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion. In the next post I will describe the law in detail.

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4. The New Physics of Time Part 1: The First Law

“I can’t stand to think my life is going by so fast and I’m not really living it.”“Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.”

(Robert Cohn and Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway)

The First Law of Temporal Dynamics - Contraction

I'm dying.

I might look healthy, but according to my calculations, I don't have much time left - a couple of years at most and it is going fast.

Don’t worry, this is not some “Last Lecture.” Or maybe it is, for all of us. We are all in the same boat: we are all dying and we all have less time than the calendar of chronological years suggests. If you are a reader of this blog, you probably already feel this. Chronologically I'm only half done, but experientially the story is different.

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Question: Do you feel that time is accelerating? That hours are growing shorter and that each year flies more quickly than the last? Time is the most valuable commodity we have as humans, and it is passing through our hands like so many grains of sand. I want do something about that: how can we manage the actual experience of time?

Eating right and exercising helps a little but solves the wrong problem. In a exponentially accelerating scale, tacking on a few integers does not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, particularly when adding a few years seems to involve a life of asceticism.

Consider another paradigm of time based on our actual experiences – “experiential time.” I have now asked nearly 100 people the following question, "Think back: when you were 8 years old, how long did summer last?" The answer, nearly ubiquitous, is, "forever." Let's scale back "forever" and instead assume that from an experiential standpoint a summer in youth, say, as an 8 year old, feels about the same as a whole year as a 20-something. And that same year as a 20-something starts to feel awfully similar to a decade in middle age.

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If you plot experiential time vs. chronological time, a frightening graph appears. The area under the curve represents a simple measure of “life” and the math is not promising. Here's a simple graph showing this decay in experiential time with markers at age 8, 20, and 50. We've been trying to measure the "area under the curve" with a yardstick of chronology - it doesn't' work and leads to huge errors in our math.

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It gets worse if you plot experiential time linearly keeping the area under the curve (life) constant. Since "experiential time" is merely the area under the curve, we must now take the integral of the equation or simply readjust the x axis according to the logarithmic scale we just shared to figure our "true age" or "life left." When you plot time as we experience it cognitively, a 44 year old with a life expectancy of 86 is not “half done” – rather from an experiential standpoint life is more than 92% over!

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 11.41.51 PM

The First Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Contraction

All other factors being held constant, the conduit for the flow of time, as processed through the constraints of cognition, will contract, resulting in the subsequent perception of the acceleration of time.

I'll admit it - this terrifies me. Is anyone else terrified? You should be. Life isn't just half over. We don't have 50 or 40 years in front of us to do all of those bucket list things - NO, life is in its final chords, the fat lady is singing, and we are, practically speaking, nearly dead.

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The good news, even great news, is that it doesn't have to be this way - if we accept that time is not linear, that the brain processes time according to a different set of rules, then we can accept the possibility that we can alter the perception of time as processed by the brain, and hence really live "longer."

It is perhaps a cliched notion that "if you cannot add more years to your life, add more life to your years" but the reality of our experiences and the findings of modern neuroscience provide tools and ideas to make this happen.

THE METAPHOR:

Let me introduce the first metaphor for the new physics of time - We've all heard time described as a "river" flowing infinitely forward, and infinitely backward - this is a good place to start. To improve the metaphor, consider our experiences with time as if the brain is a "garden hose" through which time flows. What happens when you constrict a fixed flow of water through a garden hose? According the physics principle of (V) = (Q)/(A) the velocity (V) of a flow is indirectly proportional to the cross sectional area of the conduit (A) assuming a fixed flow (Q). This, I believe, perfectly describes what is happening to most of us - we are creating lives that accidentally constrict the passageway for the flow of time and in so doing cause it to accelerate.

Let me demonstrate through the life and times of an 8 year old and his or her garden hose or conduit for time. The two axes that determine the speed of water through a hose are width and height or, breadth and depth.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.08.15 PM

Specifically in this case, cross section of the hose is driven by the breadth and depth. The breadth we are talking about is breadth of experience. For an 8 year old, the whole world is NEW. There is so much to find joy in, skipping rocks, running pel-mel into a lake or ocean, fireworks, sledding, it is all new. 8 year olds also have a "depth" of experience emotionally, not only do they experience the joy of love, of summer nights, and discovering new things, they also skin their knees, get hit by baseballs, find themselves alone or lost or both, get into fights and they cry. A lot.

Now lets consider the experience of a 20 year old. Now they've declared a major and are honing in on their future career. They've experienced a lot, so new experiences, while still common are not an everyday thing like an 8 year old. They've also acquired a taste for comfort. They've learned to avoid those horrible experiences where they are picked last for the team, mocked for being odd, or rejected for their interests by aligning with a more homogeneous group of friends. Their hose, their conduit for time has narrowed. As their brain matures, their "set point" for the processing of time becomes fixed which is why I consider the set point for the notion of "1 year" fixed here at age 20, not at age 8.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.08.55 PMFast forward and now consider the average middle aged office worker. Routine rules the day - same wake up time, same commute, same co-workers, same type of problems in the same department. Even when they go on vacation, they go to the same place. The middle aged professional also has the money to eliminate the pains and aches of life. The modern conveniences of air conditioning, heat, Advil, and TV, have created a platinum sweater around him or her. This muffling gauze of modernity necessarily constrains the highs as well as the lows, like wearing earplugs for the sometimes jarring music of life. This narrow existence and comfortable life further constricts the breadth and depth of the temporal conduit, and by middle age, time races by, flowing in an artificially pressurized valve, much like arteriosclerosis.

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The middle aged man or woman feels safe, they are comfortable.. And they are, as the saying goes, "killing time" as it flies by.

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The antidote here is quite simple - in order to expand the conduit of time and hence slow it down you have to increase the breadth and depth of your experiences - live more like an 8 year old, or as Hemingway writes, live life like a bullfighter. Now to some extent many adults sense this - they sense life is passing them by and so they intuitively seek out new opportunities to expand the breadth of their experience. They decide to take classes, learn a new language, pick up an instrument, resume singing lessons, take up a sport - and to some extent it works - these expand the breadth of experience.

BUT, these experiences only expand their lives in one dimensionsand hence their hose of time is flat, there's no depth to those new experiences. Why? For the simple reason that there is no risk in those activities, no fear of failure. An unfortunate truth of life is that without risk of failure, without the possibility or actuality of suffering, then you cannot have depth. So, to conclude this first metaphor, in order to unconstrict the garden hose, you have to take on risk in those new experiences. If you take up piano, sign up for a recital, if you take up singing, perform on stage, if you take up running, enter a race. Also, when you go on vacation, never go to the same place twice.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.10.43 PM

So, how to know if you are 'doing it right?" If something you are pursuing doesn't carry the risk of real tears upon failure, if it doesn't carry that kind of emotional commitment, then you aren't "living all the way up" and you will not be able to slow time to that of an 8 year old, or a bullfighter.

But, if you expand your set of experiences, and allow the pendulum of emotions to re-enter your life, take chances, get emotionally vested, then you can widen your hose of life and slow time. That is really living.

I want my graph to expand and accordion out like the graph below. I'm willing to take on the risks and failures and suffering required. Time to enter the bullring...

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Next up:

The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion

The experience of time in the present is often inversely proportional to the experience of time as remembered in the past (experiential time). Remembered time governs the overall experience of time.

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3. A Simple Measure of Life: Time

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.Benjamin Franklin

If time is the stuff life is made of, what is time itself made of? 

As children we were trained to believe that time is composed of a linear set of markers, ticking forward into the future, tocking back into the past. This, however, is a lie, and it matters. Time, as we actually experience it, is anything but linear. Through the distortions of cognition, time speeds by or freezes, is made or filled, wasted or killed.

If we accept that “experiential time” – i.e. time as processed through our brains - is not chronological and linear, then we can begin to imagine that it might be possible to influence or manipulate the experience of time in ways that are beneficial and accretive. If you accept this, then you can accept that it might be possible to experience more life through the lens of time and hence really live longer without adding a single chronological day.

“Are you killing time or making time?”

There exists, in fact, an alternate paradigm of time with a set of rules that we all experience but for some reason continue to ignore in favor of the linear view of chronological time. After more than 10 years of studying and thinking about time, I have uncovered some elegantly simple insights about the nature of what time is actually composed of.  In the coming weeks I will share what I have discovered about the New Physics of Time and its application to how we experience life.  You may end up wondering, as I did, why we ever accepted an alternate notion of time in the first place.

Three Laws of Temporal Dynamics govern experiential time.

First Law: Temporal Contraction Second Law: Temporal Inversion Third Law: Temporal Expansion

These laws can each be documented with: a)  a relatable story that demonstrates how the law plays out in reality, b) a metaphor describing the system dynamics, and c) suggested mechanisms to manipulate time in beneficial, accretive or expansive ways.

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The First Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Contraction

All other factors being held constant, the conduit for the flow of time, as processed through the constraints of cognition, will contract, resulting in the subsequent perception of the acceleration of time.

Coming Soon: In post 4. I will explain the first law in detail.

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2. What Happened to "Endless Summers?"

“Sweet childish days, that were as long, as twenty days are now.”
William Wordsworth

You are eight years old. Your eyes flicker open in the late morning to the brilliance of the summer sun streaming through the wide open window. The light warms the side of your face and your skin glistens with moisture from the humid air - no air conditioning to dry it out. But it isn't the sun or the humidity that rouses you, it is the rumble of lawnmowers and the deep green scent of freshly mown grass - the sound and smell of summer.

You fall out bed and head to the kitchen to pour yourself a bowl of cereal, then head out to the couch to voicelessly join your siblings watching cartoons. After breakfast the magic moment occurs: with the front door wide open, the brilliant shafts of the morning sun angle towards you through the screen door lighting up the entryway, beckoning. In the chiaroscuro of those golden rays you see them, those mysterious motes of dust like stars dancing against the black. Beyond the screen door your eyes travel to the driveway, the freshly mown grass, and the possibilities of sidewalks and sprinklers, bikes and forts and friends and candy bars at the corner store.

Summer calls. So you do the only natural thing, you run outside to play, screen door banging behind you. “Make sure you are home for dinner!” your mom shouts and you reply “OK!” without breaking stride. Another endless summer day of long days and short shadows awaits…

I have a vague recollection of the first time I realized that time wasn’t linear. I was 16 and enjoying summer like always before, swimming, hanging out with friends, boating on the lake, riding and racing my bike all with the August summer sun still high in the sky. Then a piece of mail arrived announcing the first day of school a few weeks hence and I remember this intense disturbance. I felt like summer and time itself had been stolen from me. Shadows lengthened school began and sense of nostalgic loss permeated my thoughts. "Where did it go?" I wondered, "what happened to the summers that used to last forever?”

Question: do you remember the first time you realized that time didn’t flow evenly? That, indeed time was accelerating?

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1. The Art of Really Living: For People Who Are Good At "Life"

"Every man dies, not every man really lives"William Wallace in Braveheart

If that quote really resonates with you, then this site is for you. After many many years in the making I am very glad to finally launch this site. In the coming weeks and months I will begin regular posts on the definition and nature of this idea of "really living" and its unique relationship with the way we experience time (experiential time).

My hope is that this site will attract fellow adventurers, risk takers, time travelers, and people from all walks of life who are "good at life" or simply, "really living." My hope is to create an interactive forum to share stories, ideas, and gather feedback. Topics covered will be as broad as suffering and joy, the nature of strengths, and experiential time vs. chronological time and topics as specific as quick snapshots of a day in the life of one of the readers or "how to plan a really living vacation".

SUBCRIBE! Will you join me? Please subscribe, and if after a few posts you like what you read, please forward to your friends. Life is short. In my case you'll note each post has a "T-(00,0000)" countdown at the bottom. This represents the number of days in my life left according to actuarial tables. I don't know about you but I don't want to waste a single one.

Teaser: Have you noticed that time appears to be accelerating? That each year seems to go by faster than the past? What if I there was a way to stop and even reverse that trend and actually slow down time?

Coming Soon: The New Physics of Time - How to really live for 300+ years

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How to Live (almost) Forever

How to live (almost) forever… “I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it."

"Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters."

Robert Cohn and Jake Barnes in chapter 2 of "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway

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We have been trained since children to view time as linear – that it plods along like a metronome – ticking predictably forward into the future, tocking consistently backward into the past. This is a myth, a lie, and it matters…

I am dying. Like you, I have a terminal disease called “life,” that, assuming it runs its normal course, will result in my death in roughly 41 more years according to actuarial tables of an American male my height and weight.

          "Every man dies, not every man really lives." - William Wallace in Braveheart

Coincidentally, I am 41 years old, so this means that my life is nearly exactly half over as the math goes. But for most people, time begins to assume an ever accelerating pace – a summer from our childhood casts the same shadow on our memories as young adult’s year, which starts to feel remarkably similar to a whole decade by middle age. Assuming this logarithmic scale continues, my life as measured by a sense of the passage of time and the depth of my memories may already be 80-90% over. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

I have concluded that despite logic, intuition, and what we have been taught, time is flexible – and that the sense of time, as tracked and measured by our brains, can be created and expanded or condensed and squandered.

Are you “killing time” or are you “making time?”

“Wait,” you say, “What are you talking about? Measurement of time is linear – isn’t it based on some oscillating electrons somewhere in Colorado? Are you talking physics? Don’t tell me you are talking metaphysics?”

I’m discussing neither. I’m talking about practical, everyday life and the real sense of time and how it passes. To prove time is flexible, let me walk you through two examples.

First, imagine, that you are trapped in a small room where your job, day after day, is to enter a series of randomly generated strings of letters, numbers and symbols into a monochrome computer screen. You sit there, hour after hour, reading the string of numbers off an endless stack of papers, typing them slowly, complete with mistakes and backspaces and corrections onto the screen, losing your place almost every time, and then you review and double review for accuracy, before finally pushing “enter”, whereupon the flashing code disappears, and then you type the next 30 - 50 digit letter and number combination.

The string of letters and numbers begin to tumble and blur as the flashing pixels start to whisper their sibilant confusion to your brain, a foreign language which your mind tries and fails to translate into the keystrokes your fingers peck. The “check digits” algorithm causes the computer to reject your entries as often as they are accepted, which also proves your inability to accurately remember more than about 10-15 letters and numbers in combination.

As you can imagine, while performing such a mind numbing repetitive task alone, each hour begins to stretch on for an eternity, each minute expanding, bloating with the boredom, the tedium, the lack of purpose. After a while, the ticking of the second hand on the clock starts to slow, and as your eyes twitch watching it tick, you realize that time has nearly stopped… A half a day and an eternity later, you emerge and return to your dorm room to begin studying for a physics exam, trying to make sense of yet another grouping of seemingly random symbols. (This, by the way was my college job – entering the long strings of periodical codes for the thousands of obscure journals into the ‘green screen’ of the school computer at Stanford’s Green Library “Stacks”.)

I worked at Green Library for an entire year, and no, I don’t have a single picture of the ½ year of my waking life that I spent there…

Contrast this with another scenario. It is a Friday morning and you have just arrived to work full of manic energy. You have a huge list of “to-do’s” for the day, because on that afternoon, after a half day of work you are flying south to the beach, or driving up north, or heading west for vacation. You slate ½ hour for your first task and are horrified when you look up and find 25 minutes gone – in what seemed to be the equivalent of 3 seconds. The hands race around the clock and you race with them, checking off items from your list as the time to departure evaporates. Seemingly 5 minutes after you arrive (but actually 5 hours later) it is time to go and you run for the elevator… Then, perhaps you forget your tickets, or you run out of gas, or you go to the wrong terminal, or your daughter throws up in the security line – (it seems it is always something) but a few hours later, you manage to arrive at the resort or cottage or campsite, explore your room, go for a hike, walk down to the beach, have a cocktail, watch the sunset, have an amazing dinner, take an evening swim, have a great conversation, read a few chapters of a great book – whatever and…yet…somehow the day seems to be over as quickly as the ephemeral and fabled “green flash” of sunset over the water…

If you are like me, by now you’ve taken a dozen or a hundred pictures – here’s one from a recent canoe camping trip with my daughter – I caught her tossing golden sand in the golden sunset for a “golden moment.”

A day of "really living"

Both of these examples include about 12 hours of linear time… But in the perception of the conscious mind (the part that lives in the present), the first scenario initially felt like an eternity and the second initially felt like a fleeting moment in time…

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Contrast the real-time experience of the ‘eternity’ and ‘fleeting moment’ scenarios with the subsequent memories of those two periods a month or a year later when they have become part of your “temporal past.” Odds are good that the 12 hours of the first example (typing numbers & letters) disappears altogether leaving no trace in the software of our brains and hence takes up no actual memory time (in contrast to the “eternity” it was in the present). Is it fair to say that except for its role in enabling the second scenario that that time was lost?

Example 1

The second example, however, leaves more than just a trace in our mental hard drive. Despite its fleeting presence in-the-moment, this day and evening, as is often the case the first day of a vacation, likely contained some unique and memorable events, and its share of memory has expanded significantly from the mental blip it started from.

Example 2

Lets add one more wrinkle – if perceptive time has three main elements - present, past, and future, then these vignettes continue their odd juxtaposition when viewed from the “future temporal state.” The vacation most likely consumed a great deal of future anticipation or of a mindset in the ‘future temporal state’, whereas the mundane day of work at the library followed by study was again a complete cipher – a zero in the future temporal state.

Example 3

So what does it all mean?

 

Example 4

It means that time is flexible – that the perception of time and hence of life can be expanded or contracted, and, to take it one step further, that it might be quite possible to design a life, to design a set of experiences to expand time, and hence to really live longer.

 

Example 5

If we are mental and spiritual beings, if time is truly relative, if the measure of a lifetime is the sum of its perceived time here on earth which is a function of our plans, experiences, and memories, then we owe it to ourselves to maximize the perception of time. In particular, we owe it to ourselves to plan for experiences that create the most memories.

 Let me say it again – we should plan experiences that create the most memories.

 I call these moments that expand time, “really living.”

 Here’s a question – is it possible to “live” more in one day (say, on vacation, or doing something you love) than in a week doing something meaningless or unimportant?  Are there certain days you have experienced that you would trade for a week of doing something else?

 Let’s take it further – is it possible to live and create more memories in an afternoon, than in a whole month of a boring repetitive, mundane task or situation?

 If so, then is it at least remotely possible, at the extreme, to experience enough in one shining supernova of a minute to equal the memories an entire year? Is there a certain moment in your life that you would trade a year of mundane living for?

 I have lived the value of a year in one minute.  Sadly, I have also lived the value of a minute in one year, probably more than once in my 41 years here on earth.  

 One last twist to this tale….What is it that makes a week - a day - an hour - a minute, full of life giving memories? It is not, as one would assume, necessarily always a positive, uplifting experience. It is not always, “golden moments.” One of my most significant memories is the several hours I spent at risk of hypothermia on a cold rainy and empty stretch of the autobahn in southern Germany while hitchhiking across Europe. I was miserable. I was terrified. I ended up stripping naked in an empty field, putting on dry spandex racing suits and burying myself in a pile of hay to survive.

 http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/walden-principle-2-racing-is-the-best-training-sleeping-in-a-haystack/

 I survived (this part is important). And the memory of those hours is almost as real today as the present reality those moments were 19 years ago.

 Consider this possibility: if it were possible to live a year in a minute, what if you could create a string of “year-long minutes” in your life? How many “years” could you then live? If I could create 10 year-long-minutes each year for the rest of my life, that would be 410 years of “really living.” If this concept of the flexible nature of time is true, if time can be “created” then it seems possible that the fountain of youth, the sorcerers stone, ancient alchemy are not only approachable, but practical given how our brains process time.

 So, how is it possible to expand life, to stretch time, to “live (almost) forever”? My intention is to document strategies for doing exactly this in future posts. In the meantime, some thoughts about the role of “stories” in creating time:

 That perfect trip? That first kiss? Getting lost in a Moroccan Souk? Making the team? Losing a close one? Teaching your daughter to snorkel? Missing the train and racing to the next train station in time to catch it there? Think of your stories – what are your best stories, the ones you tell again and again with friends, the ones you will tell your kids?

As a general strategy, the best answer I have heard for creating “really living” moments came from a book I read by Dr. John Izzo, “The Five Secrets You Must Discover BeforeYou Die”. In the book, Izzo interviews a large group of ‘elders’ selected for having discovered happiness and meaning in their lives. In one of the anecdotes of the book, one elderly lady stated her perspective on living a full and fruitful life like this,

 “When life gives you choices, choose the one that makes for the best story.”

Great stories tend to have a conflict, or suffering in them – so the avoidance of pain, the pursuit of pure happiness does not, in the end bring us more time. Comprised of pain and agony or bliss and adventure (or often both) moments of “really living” can be sought – can be pursued – indeed a life can be designed to help create them… However, they cannot be orchestrated – they must, ultimately, “happen” – hence the magic of life and of unique experiences.

To “really living,”

-John

PS: If suffering expands the present, then perhaps the single best way to continue to expand time is to plan an experience of “beautiful suffering” full of anticipation and memorable both in the present as well as the future. Say…. That sounds a lot like climbing a mountain, completing a marathon, doing a triathalon, competing in a bike race, or fighting a bull...

 I’m looking for ideas on how to expand time in the present – in a memorable way. Please write and tell me your thoughts.

2009 Race Reports #22 & 23: Tour di Via Italia (Erie Street)

2009 Race Report #22 & 23: Tour di Via Italia Another drive to Michigan in the perfection of late August skies: the sun warmed my skin even as the wind cooled it and a ribbon of gray and black highway snaked out ahead of me, shadows of trees left and right. It was 78 degrees, the perfect temperature to drive cross country in a convertible. Mine is a black 22 year old BMW 325i, a finely made, battered German car with a finely made, battered Italian Colnago in back. Buffeted by the winds, my bicycle was headed for the last race of the season, upside down, chain dangling on the worn leather of the back seat.

I had been looking forward to this race all year. Tour di Via Italia, or “Erie Street” is in its 51st year on the same flat rectangular course and is always the Sunday before Labor day. Erie Street is in the Little Italy of Windsor, Ontario and consists of a string of coffee bars, restaurants and night clubs backing to clean, carefully manicured working class neighborhoods. Stroll into any one of the dozen or more bars and cafes and odds are you’ll find a gregarious older male behind the bar or greeting patrons while keeping an eye on inevitably young and attractive female wait-staff, the only thing they appear to have in common is being Italian and frequent trips outside to smoke a cigarette.

I was looking forward to my first trip to Casa-de-Dybowski and hanging with my Wolverine bretheren. I was also looking forward to some tiny coffees on Erie street before the races, and to tipping a few glasses of Chianti (or better yet, Brunello) afterward to accompany some excellent freshly made pasta. In between, of course would be hours of beautiful suffering on the bike.

I knew the drive to Michigan would drag on forever, yet would disappear the instant I arrived, just as I knew the weekend would be over in a flash, yet would leave its imprint on my memories forever. This inversion of time experienced vs. time remembered is something that I have pondered for quite some time. I have concluded that despite intuition and what we have been taught, time is flexible – and that time, as tracked and measured by our brains, can be created and expanded or condensed and squandered. More on this in the nest post.

Hanging with Ray, Melissa and family along with Ben Renkema and Randy Rodd eating some fantastic freshly made pasta in heaping quantities and a few glasses of wine, we then felt the need to educate Ben on an important American cultural icon, “Caddyshack” and whiled away the hours chatting in the living room – a scene that would repeat itself the next night as well.

Neither of my races at the Tour di Via Italia worked out as planned, yet the possibility of victory filled my thoughts filled my mind with the anticipation of raising my hands in victory. No, I didn’t win – I was fourth in the Master’s race after a long headwind shot to the line that fell short (VIDEO below)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNjnmK-_iXI]

Meanwhile, after a freshly made cheese pizza, a couple shots of espresso, and a gallon of water later, I found myself on the line for the 100 kilometer Pro Race. The race rotated in fits and starts, fading into the evening as a breakaway of 8 got away, only to be brilliantly in the final laps by the lit by the sideways sun and the surging hope for a field sprint win. I hydrated carefully and conserved to the end. Finally it was my time – 2 to go. Never mind the 8 man breakaway that the lazy peleton had failed to chase – my eyes were on Renkema, Cavendar, Eugeni, Candless and a surprise bid for the sprint from Mr. Finkelstein.

Power was available for my command and as we entered the final two laps, I was full of life and energy noticing everything, every movement, even the color of the tires of the competitors before coming around the final corner about 10th. I knew it would require a miraculous hole in the lead group to find a path to the finish for the field sprint win, but I was prepared to exploit whatever came my way and loved that I was feeling capable of delivering all out power after 2 races and 90+ miles of racing in the heat.

The video misses much, but if you watch closely, just after the corner, in just a few frames, I leap forward, and then you a flash of Luke Cavendar’s hip, and then I stall and fade.

What takes place in those two seconds is a lot of activity: coming off the wheel in front of me, I put power and energy into the carbon fiber of the bike and it leaps forward and I start to have visions of a field sprint victory. Then a movement to the left – Luke avoids an erratic move and sweeps right and I hit his rear wheel hard with my momentum.

I slide forward in my seat while hitting both brakes hard – I saw it coming and was ready. Still, afterward, ¾’s of my front tire had a black mark from Luke’s rear wheel. I rocked forward and almost endoed over my front wheel, but Luke regained his trajectory and so did I.

Just as I let my hands off the brake hoods, my chain fell off – thank God I was in the saddle – and I almost fell off my seat as my legs rotated fiercely forward. I tried in vain to shift it back onto the big ring, but it would only re-connect with the little ring even as I pedaled softer and softer, but to no avail.

All this took place in a few frames of the camera… (See VIDEO below)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6ZHYEOcjCI]

Left index fingers still throttling the shifter, I windmilled my legs to the line on the small ring, settling for 8th in the sprint, losing ground.

Afterward, I meandered to a street side cafe' where Randy was busy entertaining three older women. "I may have gotten dropped, but I got voted the 'best looking' cyclist by these ladies here," Randy said. The 20 year old Randy promptly received the phone number of a pretty, but 46 year old woman (using Cory Dubrish's phone,)then we took a team photo in the street (below) and then headed across the street for a real dinner, swapping true stories and tall tales as a team.  It was all worth doing and all worth remembering, so we took pictures.

Erie Street at night and the WSC

WSC elite team

I crashed that night late at Randy Rodd’s lake house, completely exhausted, but fully alive. What a full day it had been… As I drifted off to sleep with the windows open, I could smell the fragrance of fall creeping into the room, and the chirping of the  optimistic frogs was no foil to the sense of the coming winter.

Now what?

To “really living…”

-John

2007 Race Report #5: Changing in a Port-o-Pottie

Race Report #5, Saturday, July7th, Wisconsin State Pro 1/2 Criterium Championships, Elkhorn, WI  On Thursday, July 5th, we picked up our Toyota Landcruiser from the dealership where we had new bearings put in the front right wheel – a result of overtightening of a tech’s wrench when we had the brakes done a couple weeks earlier. We then dropped off our other car (the BMW 740iL of splashing oil fame) at Patrick BMW to have brakes and wipers done as well.

On the way home, my wife Shannon received a bad telephone call – her grandmother in Detroit had gone into the hospital for immediate double bypass surgery, and given her relative age and state of health, the outcome was uncertain. Shannon’s parents picked her up at the house on their way down from Madison a couple hours later and headed on their way to Detroit. The surgery was to take place the next morning (Friday.)

So, it was now Katelina and papa time, and after saying goodbye to mama, a tearful Katelina climbed into the recently fixed Landcruiser and we headed to a park in Elgin on the banks of the Fox River where we could ride the Fox River Trail.

Enroute to the park, and suddenly every dummy light is glowing red on the black plastic Toyota dashboard. Engine Oil, Battery, Transmission oil, AT Temperature, Brakes, Fuel – you name it. I quietly cursed the Toyota dealership and called Shannon to vent – “every damn light is on – its like Christmas on the dashboard – they must have ‘done something’ to it at the dealership.” Otherwise it was running fine…

Upon arrival, I pulled Katelina, my 6 year old daughter, in the Burley trailer for about 90 minutes and then rollerbladed while she rode her little pink bike. We ended up doing about 5 miles down the Fox River Trail. Her lean long little legs turning the white plastic pedals on her little pink bike, her tires weaving and her long blond tresses tossing left and right with each pedal stroke.  Suddenly she skids to a stop – noticing a strange little flower growing by the path. She picks it and hands it to me “for mama” she says, and we continue on our way.

By the time we return to the car, the sky has darkened with only the blazing clouds near the horizon providing a memory of the brilliant hues of sunset. I put Katelina’s bike in the car and remove my rollerblades and we both buckle in to our respective seats. I turn the key and receive the audible cues of the motor turning over - but without a spark. I try again pushing on the pedals. And again. Eventually the starter slows. Another try – and another. Within the space of a few minutes, I’m resolved to the dreaded “click-click-click” when I turn of the key and I sit in stunned silence in the darkening shadows of the car, Katelina sitting oblivious in the back.

I try to sort out what to do. Shannon is hours away, so I try friends on the cell – Mike, Matt – leaving messages. Kevin is out of town. Do I know anyone else? No…

“Katelina – how about a special magical bike ride to town through all these fireflies?” I ask. Elgin is only a mile away… through the dark on an unlit path…

“But Papa… Its dark… I’m scared…”

“Lets try it – just a short trip into the fireflies – I’ll hold your seat if you want.”

And we headed off into the tunnel of blackness under the dark arches of the trees. It had become so dark that the path became a strip of "light black" but… the hundreds and thousands of fireflies created a magical backdrop – it was like swimming into the universe, wading through the stars in the black currents and eddies of the evening.

I kept up conversation with Katelina to reduce her fears and we floated down the path into the evening, kept buoyant with our lighthearted conversation. It was so dark underneath the trees that I had to stop and wade forward, arms in front, feet stepping higher in case of an obstacle, but 5 minutes later the lights of Elgin began to appear. We wended our way through town and shortly thereafter Mike Dienhart returned my call and came to pick us up. Still – I will always remember that journey “through the stars.”

I took Friday off and played with Katelina most of the day – but what to do on Saturday – as Shannon was not back and I really wanted to hit my second race of the season: Wisconsin state championships in Elkhorn, WI.

My friend Matt came to the rescue and I dropped Katelina off in St. Charles at his house where she proceeded to play with his kids -  swimming in their portable pool and bouncing on their trampoline, playing hide-and-seek, and generally doing everything a child should do on a 92 degree July afternoon.

Meanwhile, my own journey to Elkhorn proved daunting. Even as I was trying to hydrate for the 90 minute, 40 mile Pro 1 & 2 State Championships Criterium, I was baking in the sun in our one remaining automobile: the black 20 year old convertible with no air conditioning. A breeze would have helped, but my mapquest route up highway 12 led to an average speed of 33 mph and interminable periods of sitting in traffic baking in the heat and humidity and sun of a hot Midwestern July afternoon.

The drive to the race was only 70 miles, but it took me two hours and due to the traffic delays I only had a little time to warmup and register. I had probably the largest cheering section of the race, with friends Gary Goebel, Monica, his two tow-head boys, and several of their siblings, spouses, and children in attendance.

When I arrived, I registered quickly and then returned to the car shimmering in the heat of the sun. I then began the dreaded ritual cyclists without RV’s the world over face: the snakeskin dance into your skinsuit.

The seats were already hot enough to sting as I sank back into the leather and then looked around. Oblivious to the crowds around, I removed my shorts, pulling my shirt down into my lap and then pulled the legs of my skinsuit over my feet, wriggling against the sticky hot leather in a frustrated fashion trying to help the tight folds of spandex and lycra to allow my sweaty skin to slide through. Further awkward contortions brought my arms into their holes and then, under the merciless sun and heat, I bent and put on my shoes, helmet, and gloves. I then had to do the top part all over again because I realized I had not put on my heart rate monitor.

On days like these, there is no need to warmup.

It was windy.

It was hot.

There were lots of corners.

I hate this – why do I do it?

The starter’s gun sent us off, and within 100m my pulse hit 170bpm. By the middle of the second straightaway it hit 180bpm. And there it stayed. From a brief low of 176, to a high of 195bpm in the final sprint, my overall heart rate averaged 180bpm for the whole 90 minutes: right at or slightly above my aerobic threshold in high heat (it is several beats lower when it is cooler)

Translation:  I was running at or near my maximum. Nonetheless, I never really feared getting dropped and focused only on finding a good rhythm and a good spot in the peleton. Actually, when my heartrate is high without too much suffering, it means I’m properly rested. Superweek would show the effects of multiple races on my average pulse…

I surfed the pack in the six corner, ¾ mile course for the requisite time and then began my preparations for the sprint finish. 7 riders had made it away in a breakaway, so we were sprinting for 8th place but that really was not my concern. I was a little too far back on the last lap and managed only a 4th place sprint finish, coming in 11th overall. Generally I was pleased that my first race of the season at Elm Grove the week prior wasn’t a fluke, and that I could actually finish a pro1/2 race.

And then I began an even more dreaded ritual in the cycling world. When the car is parked in public view, and has been baking for hours in the sun, there is one alternative (other than risking arrest for public indecency) to changing in the car. The pluses are that you can stand up, you have complete privacy, and you do not have to wriggle against hot leather in an exposed area. The downside is that the “Port-o-Let” or "Port-a-Pottie’s" are inevitably placed directly in the sun, and the temperature inside of the blue plastic igloos seems to be exactly the right thermal index to encourage odor causing bacteria to spawn: in the never ending battle of blue vs. brown, brown wins when it is hot… Even as I rotate the large plastic latch into place behind me, the heat, and the raging humidity, active with arguing forces of offal and septic cleansers locked onto my nostrils and the first breath nearly made me swoon and as I swayed in the narrow confines I tried not to touch anything.

In the 130 degree heat and stench, I wriggled out of my skinsuit, and the flush of sweat in the interior helped it to drop limply to the floor and I quickly climbed into my shorts and t-shirt, exploding out of the blue plastic door before requiring my second breath. God I miss the RV…

I returned to the car, neatly dis-assembled my bike into the parts of the small vehicle that would take those parts, and then slid my over-heated, dehydrated body onto the 150 degree leather seats for the 2 hour journey home in the 92 degree heat with no air conditioning, shade or respite. I was reliving my youth all over again…

Time to get the RV out of storage…

2007 Race Report #4: Racing Sick

Saturday June 30th, 2007:  Race report #4: Elm Grove Criterium – 35 miles, 82 degrees

In typical “too many things going on” fashion I arrived to the course with very little time to warmup for this 60 minute + two lap race in a suburb of Milwaukee.

The course was rectangular, but bowl shaped topographically, with the finish line and backstretch falling into the bottom of the bowl, and the two turns at either end of the rectangle rising up from the valley of the straightaways.

I hurriedly put in 15 minutes of warm-up and then arrived at the start line. I was surprised to find a couple of pro teams represented including team Hyundi. Also represented were about 50 or so Category 1 and 2 racers – all of whom looked much leaner and fitter than me.

The race referee sent us off with verbal commands and up the first small climb we sprinted. In 30 seconds my pulse was up over 170 beats/minute and for the next 4 or 5 laps I was hanging on for dear life…

I was reminded during the drive over this day that sometimes the hardest part about racing is showing up. Some days I can’t wait to race – particularly when the sun is shining, when there is low wind, and when it is not too incredibly hot or cold. This day – despite the sunny skies and relatively mild weather, I just… really didn’t want to go.

As a competitive athlete most of my life, one of the big surprises when I retired from full time competition back in 1998 was how much energy I felt – quite the opposite of what I expected. I can remember for years of my life dreading staircases of any sort, and how I would often have a headrush at the top of a short set of stairs. Little did I know then, that I was generally overtrained most of my career.

On this particular morning I remember using the stairs on the back deck after watering my little garden, and stopping at the top with that same feeling of exhausted vertigo. I just felt a bit tired and lugubrious.

I had some of that same feeling in the race – just a feeling of not being entirely present – like I was watching the race from a distance – and of being just a bit tired and slightly unmotivated. Also my stomach was turbulent and felt full even though it wasn’t. I just didn’t feel great…

Nonetheless discipline won out and I followed wheels, maintained my position, used the downhills and short climbs to my advantage and generally conserved as best I could.

When a breakaway of 4 got away mid-race, I found myself unable to care. I soldiered on, but did not spend as much time assessing the race motions as I probably would have normally.

With 5 to go I was dead last. 4 to go and 7 more guys went off the front – one group of 3 and another of 4 - but I was still dead last. 3 to go and I moved up just a little – maybe 35th. Two laps to go and I was cradled in the middle of the pack – shielded from the wind and watching, but I found myself finally waking up a bit. With one to go I was still in 25th, but now all senses were on full alert and as we accelerated up the small hill into turn one, I followed a surge up the left and entered the second straightaway in about 15th.

Making the turn into the backstretch and traveling back down into the small valley, another surge moved up the left and I followed in 3rd position and we peeled clear of the pack and moved within striking distance of the two breakaways.

Even though I was still not overly motivated, I did know what to do and even as we reached the back of the first of the two small breakaways, I made my move and accelerated left of their draft and shot forward to the second small breakaway, reaching their draft just shy of turn 3 and swinging wide, still accelerating…

We entered the fairly wide, downhill corner at probably 40mph, and they didn’t know I was coming. I remember clearly the sudden startled looks and shuddering of brakes and bikes as they realized I was taking them on the outside and that they wouldn’t be able to swing wide coming out of the corner without intersecting my launch path.

My acceleration took my clear of them by the end of the corner and I entered the 4th corner – still slightly downhill at a full sprint and screamed through it at probably 45mph.

The 200 meters left to the finish line had a small rise and then another downhill and I used the last of my reserves to maintain my speed over the rise and I slingshotted down the hill and to the finish line without even a vague sense of the pack behind me.

As it turns out, I did win the field sprint by several bike lengths and came in 6th overall – as there were 5 riders up on the breakaway.

I should have been pleased – really pleased with the result, and while I was happy intellectually… emotionally I just felt flat.

My friend Matt and his son Willie were there and seemed genuinely impressed with my sudden emergence from the bowels of the pack to the strong field sprint finish, and the photos Matt took – by failing to show the breakaway off-camera – almost look like a victory.

I thanked them for being there and then piled back into the car to drive back to Madison and then on again to Streamwood (Chicago). I felt tired and lightheaded and what I didn’t know then was that my physical challenges for the day were just beginning.

When I arrived in Madison, I picked up some Chinese food ready to go from a local carryout and I mistook my stomach’s rumblings for hunger and scarfed down several piles of noodles and rice.

It was only then that the inevitable began. My daughter had had it, and now it was my turn. Spasms and cramps gripped my stomach, and waves of nausea begin flowing through my body on the drive back to in Streamwood.

My hands were sweating on the wheel when we left Stoughton, but by the time I hit Rockford, I was shivering and freezing so badly that the car was vibrating with my shudders. I thought about pulling over, but I figured that driving was the only thing keeping me from decorating the car with the contents of my stomach and when I made it home I was beyond exhaustion.

The flu or more accurately the gastrointestinal illness I had contracted had another lovely feature – my back and shoulders felt exactly as though someone had driven a screw through them all the way to my hips, and then tighten a nut on my shoulders, creating an incredible amount of ache and thudding pain in my neck and shoulders and back. After a 20 minute scaldingly hot shower, I shivered my way to bed, hunched my shoulders, and proceeded to spend most of the night in the bathroom before finally falling asleep around 5am.

At some point in the night as my thoughts tumbled and repeated and some mundane sequence repeated itself over and over in my head, I remember thinking, “My God – can’t I just go to a bike race without event LIKE A NORMAL PERSON!?”

Next: Report #5: Wisconsin State Criterium Championships in Elkhorn, Wisconsin,

Til then,

John