Into South America: Week 2

Spectacular views from Isla de Plata

Spectacular views from Isla de Plata

 

Although my updates generally paint a rosy picture, and for the most part it is, there are challenging times on the road. I struggle with anxiety, loneliness, and fear. The unknown can be a very difficult place to be. And although I talk a lot about tolerance and acceptance, that doesn’t mean that I always am. Probably the most difficult for me is being around people who are inconsiderate to others. I fucking hate that. Like the four girls staying at Balsa who got up early and stayed up late. Nothing inherently wrong with that but they talk and yell and laugh loudly together all the time, like they are the only ones here, completely oblivious that there may be other people around who are sleeping, or just want peace and quiet. Or the dog owners who let their animals crap on the beach. I realize these are not big problems in the overall scheme of things, but I do feel strongly here, and everywhere, that being considerate of others would solve many problems. The bigger goal, I know, is learning to suspend judgement. But it’s hard. Having said that, I did make an effort to understand why they were this way, sitting in the dining area on several occasions…watching, listening. I think by nature most Latin Americans are loud and expressive. And there is a certain life and joy in that. By the end it still bugged me, but not as much I suppose. I didn’t really make much of an effort to connect with them, but I tried to understand a little more.

And perhaps that is something about travel that I appreciate most. Outside of my usual element, and surrounded by strange and new things and people, forces me to become more patient, tolerant, and accepting. Maybe not always by much, but incrementally more. And that is a good thing.

With Julie who runs Balsa Surf Camp with her husband Rasti.

With Julie who runs Balsa Surf Camp with her husband Rasti.

When I updated last week, I had just arrived at Balsa Surf Camp in Montanita, located a few minutes from the party town at the North end of the beach. I cannot recommend it enough…this is magical place…and I have rarely felt this. It’s worth a little background here. Balsa is owned by Julie, a teacher from France, and Rasti, an Ecuadorian. They are both probably early thirties. Julie came to teach French in Ecuador in 2004 and met Rasti. They got married and decided to open a hostel. They bought the land and spent the next year and half in 2008/2009 building it with about 15 locals. The hostel (although it is much more than that) is beautiful in every sense of the word. Care and attention to detail is evident everywhere. Beautiful, intricate wood and stone work. Quiet music. Hammocks to relax. Good food. Environmentally and socially conscious. Rasti makes his own balsa wood surf boards, and creates wonders with all types of wood. Together, they have created a peaceful, relaxed, client-focused sanctuary. For $25 a night I had my own little cabin. It is a very special place, and a I will never forget it. I had planned to stay a couple of nights and ended up staying a week.

imageI really did not do much of anything for most of the week: swimming, surfing, body surfing, boogie boarding, walking, thinking, and sleeping. It was a restorative week. Fighting a cold (at the equator, go figure), ongoing intestinal issues and adjustments (I mistakenly took a stool softener instead of Imodium…THAT was fun!), and nursing a few minor surf injuries. I used this quiet time to try to mend. But I found it really tough at times to allow myself to just be. One minute I think I am in a perfect beach groove, the next I think I should bugger off and be doing something. But I have no timetable, no agenda, no place I have to be. Quiet time forces you to be alone with your thoughts, and that can be unsettling. And also rewarding.

At night, I would often lie in a hammock and read or write…no TV, no distractions. I slept really well. But there were mosquitoes…not the malaria kind, but still hungry. And they are much more sophisticated here. You can’t hear them buzzing around you, and you can’t feel them biting you. Smart little bastards.

And not one minute of sun for the entire week, with the exception of a day trip I took on Monday. Gray and kind of rainy, heavy, and humid the whole time. The upside? I saved a fortune in sun screen! It was actually a very good time to be there because it is low season, and not too many people. That changes significantly come December where prices go up, it’s hard to get a room, or even a meal without waiting.

With Oscar, my surf instructor.

With Oscar, my surf instructor.

The atmosphere is tolerant and laid back, and Montanita is one of the top surfing destinations in the world. The first few days I did some surf “research” and found a cool dude, Oscar, from Costa Rica. He did not push me, suggesting I wait until conditions are optimal to surf. Which I really need. By Thursday things were looking good, so out I went with very little success. Surfing is the toughest sport I have ever tried, using all kinds of muscles I don’t normally use. Out again on Friday, and this time I got up. Not gracefully or for long, but up nonetheless. I had planned to do about an hour a day, but after hurting my back on the second day, that would be it for me for surfing. I was content to body surf and boogie board for my remaining days, and caught some really great waves.

Toward the end of each day I would wander down the beach to a really cool beachside patio called Dharma Beach Hotel, watching the waves and surfers. Man, the good ones are so graceful, and make it look so easy. I think Dharma is owned by a famous DJ. Everytime I walked in off the beach, they had this chill house music thumping softly in the background…nice funky, low key groove. The servers are friendly. They burn incense, serve nice food. And they make a great 2 for 1 Mojito!

With my Argentinian friends Santiago, Lucas, and Gonzalo.

With my Argentinian friends Santiago, Lucas, and Gonzalo.

It was here on Thursday I think that I met three very cool surfer dudes from Argentina…Lucas, Santiago, and Gonzalo. Very bright, funny, engaging, and real. I really connected right away with two in particular…Santiago and Lucas. We talked politics, education, the environment, sports hooligans, problems in our respective countries, love, and life. We would meet towards the end of each day on the hotel beach patio. They are 30 something guys who go on surf trip every year together. I have a strong feeling we will remain in touch.

Santiago said something interesting about the ocean: “I am not afraid of the waves, but I respect them.” That is absolutely how you have to approach surfing, and the ocean in general. And for me the message was even more relevant. After hurting my back on the second surf day, and my elbow boogie boarding, and sitting on top of a few very big waves and looking down, I am sure that was the ocean’s way of warning me to be careful. Although the waves in Montanita are great for all levels of surfers, it is still the ocean, and Mother Nature is always in charge. I hear you, ocean, and I am listening.

I also learned something about riptides as well. When waves crash and the water travels up the shore, that water eventually travels back to the sea. When there is a break in a sandbar for example, that water can get funnelled together, creating a strong, narrow current back to the sea. The beach patrol told me that rip current can be particularly strong when the tide is receding, which makes sense.

Monday was my final full day, so I decided to do some sightseeing. I took a tour to Isla de Plata (silver island), so named because of the colour of the bird poo when it rains looks silver. After a 45-minute drive North to Puerto Lopez, we took an hour or so boat to the island which is about 37 km. away. There was about 16 of us in the boat, mostly Dutch. Maybe it was me or them, or the situation, but I hardly connected with anyone until the end of the day. The boat stopped about midway, and a few humpback wales pulled up alongside the boat to say hi! Beautiful, majestic creatures, and we were so lucky to see them.

imageAs we anchored near the island, several massive sea turtles surrounded the boat…so curious they were! The island, a protected national park of about eight square km, is desolate. There is absolutely nothing there. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Oh…and finally the sun came out for awhile. After a week of gray, it felt so nice on my skin. But even with partial sun and lots of protection, I almost burned.

Some people call Isla de Plata a mini version of the Galapagos. It is home to many species of lizards, birds, sea lions, and other animals. But the island is probably best known for a very particular type of bird…wait for it…the booby! This next segment will reveal my sometimes infantile sense of humour, so I apologize in advance.

imageWithout question, the funniest and most memorable part of the day was the search for the boobys. I appeared to be the only one on the tour to find this funny. Maybe it was my sense of humour, or maybe because I was the only English speaking person there (yes of course it must have been that). Anyway, the guide, in all seriousness, kept saying (in English, with a very distinctive Spanish accent) things like: “now we will find some boobys.” OMG…it was freakin’ PRICELESS! We saw more boobys than I have ever seen before, certainly in one day. We saw big boobys, small boobys, single boobys, and even a really nice pair of boobys! No wonder so many men visit this island! I never really got over the hilarity of it all, but the birds themselves are pretty cool–inquisitive and unafraid. And they are real posers as well. Hope you enjoy some of these very up close and personal photos of boobys.

A pair of boobys.

A pair of boobys.

It has been a wonderful stay here, and it was very hard to leave magic of Balsa, but now I feel ready to move on. So Tuesday I was on an early morning bus to Guayaquil where I met up again with Mark the Irishman. Guayaquil is big, dirty, and not particularly safe from what I have heard, so the least amount of time I can spend here, the better. He and I walked around the central area for awhile, and then headed North-East, through the Andes mountains (avenue of the volcanoes) about four hours to Riobamba. It is at about 9,000 feet altitude and is, or at least I thought it was, home to the famous Devil’s Nose train which through an impressive engineering feat, is able to drop/climb 500 metres in a relatively short distance. Anyway, the train actually leaves about 100 km. south of Riobamba, back where we had just come from, so no train ride for me…this time. Nice town, but not a particularly memorable night at the hostel.

Running out of gas in the Andes mountain? Not when Mark has a spare tank!

Running out of gas in the Andes mountain? Not when Mark has a spare tank!

My final thoughts of the week concern the whole issue of connecting, which I suppose I am more aware of in these unfamiliar surroundings: sometimes you connect with a person, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes right away. Other times it may take awhile. But when I travel, I somehow feel that I must try to connect with everybody, which is particularly hard for an introvert like me. But I realize that I can’t always connect with everybody, and I need to learn to be OK with that, while not forgetting the importance of trying. All the people I have met and enjoyed so far happened because I pushed myself to make an effort, even though it was not always comfortable. Connecting and finding the flow in a new place or situation often takes time. And I must remember to be patient with myself.

The journey continues…til next week.

Jonathanimage

Into South America: Week 1

In the Ecuadorean mountains, near Otavallo

In the Ecuadorean mountains, near Otavallo

Well, I have come to the end of week 1 in Ecuador, and what a ride it’s been. I realize that for some of you, all the nitty gritty, day to day stuff may be boring. So I will try a new format, starting with a bullet list of random thoughts and observations for those who want it short and sweet, and a full day by day insight for those who are interested in reading more.

Random thoughts and observations
Dogs: there is a dog society, parallel to humans, in most of the small towns I have visited. Dogs are walking around the streets–alone or in groups–going about their own business, running their own show–seemingly unaware or oblivious to what people are doing. I have never seen anything quite like it.
Popcorn: served with virtually every meal. No movie required.
The equator: I assumed it would be stupid hot here because Ecuador is on the equator. Not so, at least so far. 8-23 Celsius in the mountains, and 18-27 Celsius on the West coast. One day last week, pea-sized hail was actually falling from the sky in Quito! Wild.
Gas: 36 cents a litre!
Exports: Ecuador is the number one exporter of bananas and tuna worldwide.
Hats off: the Panama hat is actually made in Ecuador.
Young at heart: I was by far the eldest in the hostels I have stayed in so far. But somehow I don’t feel out of place. Like-minded travelling souls perhaps.
People and pride: people care here. They may not have much, but they take pride in what they do have. They are understated and not aggressive.

The week in review
Flying into the capital city of Quito, Ecuador was pretty cool…dropping into a mountainous valley 9,300 above sea level, twice the altitude of Denver Colorado. And what a pleasure it was to finally arrive after a long (and thankfully uneventful) day of travel, greeted by a very friendly and hassle-free immigration officer at the Quito airport. I then got into an airport cab. The driver was a very nice, pleasant older fellow…but he had no idea where he was going. I think was suffering from early stages of dementia. Poor guy. He must have stopped 10 times for directions, and then promptly forgot them every time! Mumbling to himself, then laughing. So a one hour trip took two.

Finally arrived at a very basic, but nice and clean and friendly hostel in a busy central neighbourhood…good vibe. Hotel staff Alejandro and Andres made me feel totally welcome. No doubt the whole hostel thing was a good idea, as there were people staying there from all over the world. Lots to learn from fellow travellers, but I really was too tired too talk to anyone the first night. But I did much better the second day, meeting lots of new people, including Mark, a young Irishman living in Ecuador. I would end up spending lots of time with him in my first week.

That usual initial fear of the unknown was, and is always right there, but I pushed through it, and ventured out on my own to walk around the neighbourhood on day 2. I had it in my head that I was arriving in a picturesque little Ecuadorian town. Wrong. Quito is a huge city of about 2.5 million people! The most unusual thing I saw was a female police inspector wearing 3-inch heels! I really do not like big city life, but I made the most of my surroundings over the next several days. A few food highlights of the day: a fresh juice I had never tried before (tree tomato), a delicious seafood ceviche, and an interesting combo of figs and cheese (queso) for dessert. Yummy!

The highlight of day 2? While I was walking around the city, a car was backing up and there were a bunch of small kids behind him. I jumped between the kids and the car and stopped him. We all kept walking and when I looked back, a young girl smiled shyly at me and said “gracias.” A very touching moment.

Overlooking Quito, on a volcano

Overlooking Quito, on a volcano

I started day 3 by climbing a volcano that overlooks the city…well not actually climbing. I took the cable car to about 13,000 feet. The air was even thinner up there, and I felt a little light headed and out of breath, but the view was spectacular. Then met a group at another hostel for a 3-hour walking tour of the old town. The guide was really good–engaging and informative–and I learned some Ecuadorian history and culture. Then the rain and cold came in a big way. Not only rain, but pea-sized hail!! But by the end of day 3, I was certainly becoming much more comfortable and confident.

Saturday I took a day tour several hours north of Quito through the Andes mountains. We made several stops, the highlight being Otavalo, home to south America’s biggest Saturday market. I am not a shopper, but I did enjoy this place. Huge market, but surprisingly calm and “tranquillo.” Unlike many other peoples, Ecuadorians are not aggressive when it comes to selling. I am very careful about what and where I eat when I’m travelling–nothing worse than getting sick thousands of miles away from home–but after carefully scoping out the food stands, I enjoyed a delicious freshly pulled pork snack for $1.50, eating with locals. Although the day was a little touristy, this was a really good way to make this kind of trip. I also really enjoyed chatting with some of the others in the bus…visitors from Germany, Thailand, Switzerland, US, and Canada. Even a US pilot. I learned about them, and picked up all kinds of useful travel tips and info. Made a few stops along the way, including a mountain lagoon and the equator line. Pretty cool to have one foot in the north hemisphere, and one in the south.

One foot in the North, and one in the South. pointing North.

One foot in the North, and one in the South. pointing North.

One very interesting thing I learned about that was a new way to look at the Earth. Kind of hard to explain, and I’m not sure I completely understand it, but the gist of it involves looking at the earth not as upper and lower hemispheres, but as left and right. North, South, East, and West stay the same, but the Earth is, in effect, turned on its side. If you hold a globe below you, looking at the equator with North on your left and South on your right, and spin it away from you! You get the idea. A whole new way to look at Mother Earth.

Day 5 (Sunday), I drove with Mark from Quito, heading South and West through the mountains and down to the coast. It was a very long drive…about 10 hours…but the 1-hour descent from about 9,000 to about 2,000 feet was wild. Twisty, turny roads, driving through the clouds, crossing different climate zones…it was an incredibly spectacular part of the journey. We finally made it to the modern port city of Manta (one of the biggest drug ports in the world apparently), then south along the coast to Salango, a small fishing village just outside of Puerto Lopez. We stayed at a very basic, but clean hostel for $8 a night. The best part was falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.

Fishermen arriving with their early morning catch...and the birds trying to get a free meal!

Fishermen arriving with their early morning catch…and the birds trying to get a free meal!

On Monday we visited a large Canadian real estate project (Hola Ecuador) which is about 45 minutes North of Salango. From there, we travelled South, stopping at most of the beach towns and main beaches along the way. Quite a nice stretch of about 60 km. between Puerto Lopez and Montanita, which is a very cool surf town. Lots of life and activity there compared to the others. Beach bums, hippies, and great waves. Then back to Salango for a second night.

imageOn Tuesday (day 7), we and headed south, back to Monanita where Mark dropped me, and where I will hang out for a few days. Earlier in the week, a fellow traveller recommended Balsa Surf Camp, a hostel, off the beaten path but on the beach for $25 a night. What a beautiful place this turned out to be. A lot of care and attention and thought has been put into this comfortable and relaxed oasis. Feels very welcoming and peaceful here. I have not been feeling 100% healthy over the last few days–adjusting to the food, fighting a cold–so this will be a restorative time I think. Spent the rest of the day walking the beach and doing some body surfing, getting to know the water. Not quite up to the physical demands of surfing yet, so will hope to do that tomorrow as I begin week 2!

With Mark in Puerto Lopez.

With Mark in Puerto Lopez.

It is very interesting how things have unfolded this week, the people I have met, and how one person or place leads to the next. I could never have predicted how any of this would unfold. I did not have a firm plan, yet things have turned out just perfectly. It reminds me of the gift that is the present moment, and allowing myself to go with the flow.

A few final thoughts…every time I arrive in a new place, I wonder what the hell am I doing here. My reflex is guarded and nervous and suspicious in various proportions and amount. I tend to want to keep to myself. And when I do that, invariably, that’s exactly what I get back. But I push through it, and make an effort to connect. And that changes the whole experience to something very rich and meaningful.

Even though I don’t know much Spanish, I make an effort in their language. I make an effort to know them. And that goes a long way to breaking barriers. Smiling, asking their name, showing an interest, trying to engage…it changes everything. I have been warned about all kinds of dangerous situations and scams and I am mindful. But I am reminded time and time again that when a I treat people with kindness and openness…the way I want to be treated….I invariably get the same treatment in return. I am perhaps naive in some ways, but I do know that people are fundamentally quite similar, and respond to the same things, whatever country they’re from.

Now why do I work extra hard at this only when I am in unfamiliar territory….need to think about this one.

Any thoughts or questions? Don’t be shy. ‘Til next week.

Jonathanimage

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Into South America

“The pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything.” ~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

Hello friends,

Yes it has been a long while. I just haven’t really felt like writing much. Until now.

I am just beginning a two-month journey to South and Central America: likely Ecuador, Panama, and Costa Rica. Alone, into the unknown.

Why? There are a few reasons.

Firstly, because I can. And I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity.

Secondly, because I have read about these places and how it is possible to live quite well on relatively little money. But it is one thing to read about it, and quite another to live it.

And finally, and most importantly, because there is something about venturing into the unknown that brings out some of my very best human qualities. I learned this, or perhaps was reminded of this, during my volunteer journey to Africa two years ago, and Nicaragua the year before that. When I am out of my comfort zone, in unfamiliar territory, it forces me to dig deep and open my mind and soul to new ways of being and experiencing the world. It somehow gets my “MoJo” working at a heightened level.

So off I go. I appreciate your interest, and will update you weekly on my journey.

First stop, Ecuador.

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The Passing of Robin Williams

imageThere is something about Robin’s passing that has really affected me, and I am struggling to understand what and why. I never knew him personally, yet somehow I felt that I did.

Perhaps it is the paradox that was Robin Williams: that behind his unique and exceptional comedy, there was such sadness and darkness. How could someone so funny and full of life be so tortured and in such pain?

As my blog friend Lorrie Beauchamp says below: “creative genius and mental anguish are two sides of the same coin.” This was especially, and tragically true of Robin.

The word “sadness” keeps coming up in much of what is being said and written about him. And for those he left behind, it is very sad. We will never enjoy him again. But it is not sad for him. He is no longer anguished or troubled or tortured. He is at peace now. And it is certainly not sad for his new audience of lucky souls who will now have the privilege of enjoying him.

Robin’s death is a reminder for me that no one ever really can know what demons lie beneath the mask. And that I need to keep working on not necessarily letting the past define who I am now…keeping the good, and letting go of the bad.

But Robin used his incredible gift to brighten the lives of so many. Wherever you are now, I have no doubt you are doing exactly the same thing, Robin. This little story from Badass Digest says it all for me. 

In 1995, Christopher Reeve told Barbara Walters that “he wanted to die” after a horse-riding accident left him paralyzed.  Reeve’s wife even told him that if he wished to pull the plug, they would find a way to that.  “But you’re still you, and we love you,” she added. When Reeve was lying in the hospital with these dark thoughts, awaiting back surgery that had a 50/50 chance of killing him, a man burst into his room. He was wearing surgical scrubs, talking in a Russian accent, and said he was there to give a rectal exam. It was Robin Williams; the two men had been roommates together at Juilliard. Later Reeve said of his life-long friend: “For the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay.”  He told Walters: “I knew then that if I could laugh, I could live.”

I can just picture Robin doing this and it makes me smile every time I think of it. Thank you Robin for shining your bright light on so many people during your short stay with us on Earth.

I hope to see you again on Ork.

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Excuse Me While I Make Myself a Little More Uncomfortable.

servingothersblog:

So much truth here, so much of her journey that feels very familiar.

Originally posted on eleventhbeatnik:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover.
–Mark Twain

As I’ve written about here before, there have been a lot of big changes going on in my life over the last year.  So many in fact that my head spins when I stop to consider it all.

My circumstances could certainly be classified as one of those situations where some pretty miserable experiences turned out to be in my best interest.  Not that there is any way in hell I could have been able to recognize the larger picture while it was all happening .  Fighting to stay afloat in a slew of emotional pain doesn’t exactly allow for broader philosophical-based thinking.

In the…

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21st Century Man…Redefined

Much of what follows has been percolating in me, in some form, for ages. Thomas Fiffer articulates very eloquently what I have never been able to say in this piece, offering up 10 ways women often misunderstand the 21st century man. Not everything resonates completely with me, but there are some great nuggets of insight here.

Here’s what this article is not. It’s not a list of what men want or sure-fire ways to snag one. You can go read Cosmo if you want to be misinformed about that. It’s not a dating guide. Men don’t want partners to play by a rulebook. Just have the courage to be yourself. It’s not a laundry list of men’s complaints about women. We love women, even those of us who love men. And it’s not definitive. It’s simply one hetero man’s window on what makes the 21st-century guy tick. It’s also not meant to endorse what’s known as heteronormative love over any other type. I’m just an average guy who wants people to be happy in relationships. God knows I spent enough time being unhappy in mine for reasons it took me a long time to, uh, understand. And since understanding—and the respect, patience, devotion, and commitment that go with it—forms the core of lasting partnerships, I thought I’d offer this up to help women “check your stereotypes” so you can better understand the objects of your affection. And if it also helps men who love men, well, that’s terrific. All in the name of more better understanding.

1. The 21st-century man doesn’t care about your appearance nearly as much as you think. Guess what? We know the models in the magazines aren’t real. Oddly enough, a woman who centers her life on surface beauty and lacks depth isn’t attractive. She’s just a shell, and we want what’s inside the package. We do want you to make an effort, but one that accentuates your own best features. There’s no need to starve yourself down to Kate Moss weight or style yourself to match the model in a Photoshopped spread. So relax and enjoy your dessert. Here are some things we do find attractive in women: a warm smile, laughter, lack of self-consciousness about your looks, a healthy appetite, clothes you’re comfortable in (especially shoes), loving your body as it is, taking good care of yourself, not comparing yourself to others, and confidence in your own opinion about what makes you look good.

2. The 21st-century man has feelings and those feelings can be hurt. We may have hard edges compared to your soft curves, but our egos are no less fragile and our hearts no less sensitive when they get hammered. We’re steady and reliable, but we’re not the emotional equivalent of granite. Before you say, “You’re a man, you can take it,” think again. Poke a stick at us, and we feel pain. We may not express upset in the same way you do, because we’ve been conditioned to suck it up and suffer silently, to cry on the inside. But our silence doesn’t mean your words didn’t sting us, and we may be feeling wounded and suppressing rage. We need you to be respectful of our feelings and tuned to our moods just as much as you need this from us, and we also don’t want a relationship that’s only about your emotions. Give us the space and security to express our full range of feelings, and you’ll be rewarded with a lot more—you guessed it—intimacy.

3. The 21st-century man is not fantasizing about or even interested in every attractive woman (or man) he sees. Honestly, let’s put the whole wandering eyes thing to rest. Turning our heads and glancing or even staring at an attractive woman is not virtual cheating or demeaning you by comparing you to someone born with different features. Men appreciate beauty, in nature, in art, in machines, and in human form, whether it’s next to us or across the room. But just because she’s pretty doesn’t mean we want her—or want her more than we want you. And if we look twice at another man, it doesn’t mean we’re gay or bi. Check your worries. If we’re committed to you and happy in the relationship, no other woman, bombshell or not, constitutes a threat. We actually find insecurity about this unappealing and get frustrated if you self-righteously deny ever sneaking a glance at a hot hunk with a six-pack. A secure man isn’t threatened by your celebrity crushes. If you can’t be secure enough to acknowledge, yes, she is pretty, ask yourself who’s doing the comparing? And if our eyes are truly wandering, it’s not because of the candy but because the relationship isn’t meeting our needs.

4. The average man is not thinking about sex every seven seconds, or even 19 times a day, regardless of what the studies say. Most of us are busy, productive, and engaged in thoughtful, meaningful mind work or useful physical labor that (unless we’re in the porn industry or writing romance novels) keeps our minds off sex. We might think about sex when we’re bored, and we do certainly look forward to it when we know it’s coming, but we’re not some sort of primal, lustful animal constantly thinking about whipping it out, sticking it in, and getting our rocks off. We want sex to be loving, caring, emotional, mutual, and special. We want it to be about companionship. If we initiate, we don’t want to be swatted away and told, “That’s all you ever want.” Believe it or not, sometimes, we actually don’t want it, or we’re too exhausted to perform. And if we fall asleep afterwards and start snoring, it’s not because we’re inconsiderate or dislike pillow talk or don’t appreciate post-coital closeness; it’s just because we’re tired.

5. The 21st-century man respects your independence but needs a woman to let him be a gentleman. Men are wired with the need to feel useful. If you refuse every offer we make to help you with anything, get snarky when we go to open a door or pick up your suitcase, or never let us pay for anything, you’re thwarting our instincts and denying us acts that make us feel good. We’re not patronizing you. We’re expressing our love. We know you can open the door for yourself or shoulder five grocery bags while checking your email and unlocking your car. But we’re creatures of habit, and we’re programmed to be caring and protective. Letting us do something for you is not a sign of your weakness but an acknowledgment of our strength and our desire to use it to your benefit.

6. The 21st-century man enjoys conversation. We may not like to talk about all the same things, but we do like to talk, and we have a lot to say on topics we feel passionate about. Let’s replace the myth of the strong, silent type with the strong, expressive type. We’re interested in your interests and issues, and we want you to take an interest in ours, too. Not to be harsh, but if we’re not interested, you might stop to consider whether what you’re saying is … boring. It’s a valid question. We may not always initiate conversation, and we appreciate your ability to draw us out. We’d also rather say nothing sometimes than run the risk of boring you. If we have the courage to bring up something sensitive, please have the courtesy not to mock us or shut us down. If you do, you can be sure it won’t happen again. And if a man is uncommunicative, it’s not because he’s a man; it’s because he’s an uncommunicative person. Sometimes, silence is just silence and not emotional withholding.

7. The average man likes to cuddle. Sure, we love sex and especially hot sex. But we thrive on affection. There’s a huge difference between the joy of release—the feeling of being sexually satisfied—and the satisfying feeling of being loved. Embrace us. Cradle our heads in your arms. Run your fingers through our hair (assuming we still have some). And don’t worry that we’ll always interpret your affection as a green light for intercourse then feel like you led us on if you beg off. Consistent affection—not making yourself seem desirable, playing hard to get, or using sex as a reward when we do something nice for you (a distasteful cheapening of making love)—is the most effective way to engage our interest, win our hearts, maintain our trust, and keep us happy.

8. The 21st-century man loves kids and knows how to parent. Changing a diaper is not rocket science, and neither is raising children. Parenting is hard work that requires patience, good judgment, and an abundance of love—three things on which neither gender has the market cornered. And all parents make mistakes. Stop for a minute and think about your own insecurities. Do you ever worry if you’re “a good enough mother?” Now think about how a man feels when you joke, even gently, about how ineffectual he is, especially in front of your kids. Many kids are being raised by two dads, and there’s no evidence that these children are lacking for nurturing or not getting their lunches packed. Expect the 21st-century man to be a full and fully-respected partner in childcare. We might even be that thing some women seem to simultaneously desire and make fun of—a stay-at-home dad.

9. The average man is not stupid when it comes to women. We get relationships. We get women. We get love and commitment and responsibility. We’re capable of understanding your feelings, and we’re capable of an empathic response. Few words make us feel worse than, “Forget it. You wouldn’t understand,” especially when spoken with dismissiveness or contempt. The fastest way to make a man retreat into his shell? Make him feel like a failure. Then complain that he’s stopped trying. We need your support, not your criticism. As with being talkative, if we don’t get it, it’s not because we were born on Mars or made of snips and snails instead of sugar and spice. It just means we both have to work harder to achieve complete understanding.

10. The 21st-century man is, above all, his own man. We don’t fit a model or a mold. And we’re proud of our uniqueness. We’ve worked hard to reject the stereotypes, to escape from the man box, to define ourselves by our own meaningful standards. This means we don’t want to be typecast or boxed in or compared to other men. Forget about the bad boy, the mama’s boy, the boy toy, the nerd. Drop the tool, the douchebag, the strong-sensitive type, the wimp. We’re neither hero nor clown—just men. Open your minds and broaden your perspective and accept that 21st-century men are more complex and more complete than a simple sobriquet can suggest. Feminism broke women out of stereotyped roles years ago, and as 21st-century men, we want the freedom to be ourselves. Just call a man … a man, or even better, use his name.

Bonus 11. The 21st-century man doesn’t have all the answers. We’re just as full of doubts and insecurities and uncertainty as you are. We’re just as vulnerable and need just as much to feel warm and loved and safe. We’re still figuring it out, so please, be patient. And do try not to misunderstand us.
– See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/men-not-as-complicated-fiff/?utm_source=Thursday+May+6%2C+2014&utm_campaign=Constant+Contact+May+8+2014&utm_medium=email#sthash.FgXaY78c.dpuf

Fifty Shades of Grey

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.”Henry David Thoreau

Well, I made it. I celebrated my 50th birthday last week, singing my little heart out, surrounded by family and friends. On the day, exactly how I wanted to do it. Stepping to the music.

Many have asked if it feels different, hitting this milestone. I can report that there have been no great earth-shattering epiphanies between March 27 and March 28. But there have been many gradual realizations, especially over the past two or three years. Things slowly coming into focus.

Someone asked me recently if I thought I was an adult. I do not feel grown up, and I am not sure I know what that even means. I still find it hard to believe I have 50 years under my belt. Physically, I have to say that I am not wild about what happens to me as I age, and would happily trade myself in for a younger model at times. Benjamin Button has the right idea. Mentally, I don’t feel like I imagine a 50-year-old should feel. I still think I think young.

But spiritually and emotionally, I would not trade now for any time in the past. Up and down, good and bad, happy and sad, I have tried (and not always succeeded) to do the right thing, and treat others the way I want to be treated. There are things about my life that I wish had turned out differently, despite my efforts, but I have no regrets. Everything that has happened has made me who I am, and overall I am happy with the result. My friend Tommy reminded me of this recently, in a few more words.

I would do it all over again. It has been a good run.

Here are a few more insights, brought on by friends, family, and other great thinkers. As always, these always seem to come exactly when I am ready to receive them.

“It is a mistake to try and look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”Winston Churchill

I used to think I had it all mapped out, and everything would happen as I planned it. Not so. There is a much bigger plan unfolding, most of which I cannot control nor understand. So I just keep moving forward, less concerned about figuring it all out, and more concerned about what I wish to create. Trying not to let my past dictate my future.

My friend Rel wrote: “maybe you can move on now and find that big THING in life that will leave you feeling content, my friend.” I have no idea what that big thing is yet, but I am open, and I am ready.

“If you continue to pursue the goal of salvation through a relationship, you will be disillusioned again and again, but if you accept that the relationship is here to make you conscious instead of happy, then the relationship will offer you salvation.”—Ekhart Tolle

Slowly learning this the hard way. Relationships exist as mirrors, reflecting who we are. I understand the concept, but it’s very tough in practice.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”—Rumi

And there are many. Trying to knock them down, one painful brick at a time. The dance of intimacy is and will continue to be my greatest life challenge.

My father said to me recently that he will always support me. Even though he may have reservations about my chosen paths, I am still his son, and he will always be proud of me. He also expressed that he was only sorry that he hadn’t told me this before. I can’t tell you how meaningful it was to finally hear these words.

It reminds me (loosely quoted, unknown source) that “I have and will incur the misunderstanding and perhaps even the wrath of those around me for having the temerity to march to my own drumbeat, which I am finally starting to hear. I will try not to take it personally. We are all on different paths and timetables, but we all seek and need unconditional love and support, especially from those closest to us.” That helps me feel worthy, confident, and better able to accept the good that comes my way.

And from my son Ben: “As always, the flow of life is unstoppable. But my paddle is wide, and my stroke is just. So I go where I need to.” When I asked Ben if this is an original quote, he replied “why of course…I live this shit, yo.” Wow…19 going on 50! Profound words from an old soul. You just never know where the wisdom will come from.

For me, getting older means learning to see things as they are, accepting them, and letting go. Externally, I control virtually nothing. All I can really control is what happens on the inside, and how I choose to experience life. Understanding how, why, and what I feel…a heightened awareness of everything. Learning to live with contradiction and ambiguity, and understanding that this is the way things are. Learning that fear is not something to be overcome, but rather something to face and move through.

Life is becoming much less black and white. I am learning to see the many, many shades of grey in between.

If this is what adulthood means, then I guess I am certainly well on my way.

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A Letter From A Friend

imageI met a very interesting guy in Toronto a few weeks ago, Austin Repath, author of the Pilgrim Cards and other spiritual books. It was the unlikeliest of meetings…I wrote to him many months before to compliment and thank him for the inspiration I get from reading these cards. After that, every once in awhile, I would get a quick email from him.

I didn’t even make it to the first meeting, in fact I stood him up because I was caught in traffic! But we managed to reschedule. We sat for about two hours together and talked about very personal things–life issues that usually take months or years to get to with most people. There is something very different about Austin….wizened, knowing, and profound. I came away from that feeling changed somehow, like I had connected with someone or something much more powerful than the norm.

I have heard from him once or twice since then, and yesterday he sent me a long note with his thoughts on our time together, and the challenges I was and am facing. Challenges that I suspect we all face at various stages of our lives. I was very moved by this. His words have captured the essence of my difficult journey. And opened the door to healing. And somehow make me feel that it will be OK.They will roll around in my head for many weeks to come as I try to incorporate the depths and wisdom of what he has given me. I share it with you now in the hopes that his words may also resonate with you.

Dear Jonathan,

We sat over breakfast and your told me where you were in your life–unhappy split with your wife of ten years, your decision to leave your job, and the fact that you were about to turn fifty.

Looking at you, warming your hands around a cup of coffee, I saw a good man, in the prime of his mature life, hurting and at a loss of what to do next. You had the style and image of a man well able to get ahead in the world. However, I could see from the way you presented yourself that you were armoured with style and personality.

You did indeed create an image in my mind of a knight in shiny armour. One who had just received the healing wound that could make all the difference in the rest of your life.

I could offer understanding, advice, help you on your way. As I am much older–in my seventies–I knew of breakup and heartbreak. I knew what you were going through, knew also, that in truth the best I could be was a witness to a changing time in your life, one that could drag you down into cynicism, misogyny, and unhappiness for years to come. Or be with you as you endured a rite of passage that would give you fellowship with all who suffer and live from the open heart–the deeply and truly human among us all: a man on the street begging for some change, an older woman looking directly at you, a child sitting by her mother across from you. You sense a caring and a connection with each of them that was not there before. You begin to grasp that you are being accepted into a gathering of others who hurt, vulnerable to the vagaries of life, and yet are open to you and to life in a way your never allowed yourself to be. You see their innate dignity. You feel touched that you are one with them. This is your reward, and of course there is more.

Being much further down this road, some call life, I knew the lay of the land that lay ahead for you. I sat there trying to frame the words that would guide you forward, make your way easier. And yet I knew that although what I would tell you was the way it was, anything I said would not help you move forward. It might ease the pain and that might be sufficient, but it would be doing you a disservice.

Now a few days later sitting at my computer, I want to try to give you what I can.

Jonathan, it was good to be with you the other afternoon. I saw and could grasp the cusp in your life where you stood, anguishing not in grief or sadness, but in that place that seems given over especially for those who have lost love, been given the wound of a broken heart that no one can cure.

I know and you know in some desperate, hopeful way that one day this exquisite pain will wear itself out. I could tell you that one day you will look back on this time and realize that much of the anguish and pain that you are going through was unnecessary. This is helpful? I think not.

I could tell you that you are within a learning process, but learning in such matters is not what it is about. I believe that you are within the realm of possibility that even articulated will have little meaning for you. Right now is not the time for doing. Right now is a time to to trust and endure.

However, you do have some choice and some responsibility in the matter. For if you are patient enough and can endure, you might one day see this as a time of transformation. Think of yourself as in a crucible. If the term crucify comes to mind, you might not be too far off. If you are happy with the alchemical term think alchemical.

In very simple terms, something is happening to you. You are breaking down. Falling apart. Your task is to stay within the process.

I doubt if you could, but don’t jump out of the crucible. Stay within and let the lead of your being transform into, dare I say it, gold. You will come out of the process different. A bit like a creature of the sea who has its hard outer shell cracked open, you will feel soft and vulnerable. You will be the same you, but not the same old you. Some shell of protection, some outer layer of sophistication or stance will have been burnt away. This is the alchemy of such a moment.

You find that people are more open to you. You sense a way of being with others that is less manipulating, less controlling and more fun, more satisfying. You find delight in your own weaknesses that somehow seem playful and harmless.

People want to be around you. You are not sure why. You are safe to be with. You are not demanding, pushy. One day you connect with another and feeling the energy between you, you both you now realize what love is like.

And you would never had known this if you had not endured the cauldron.

Of course there is so much more. One’s life is an endless infinite series of such moments, but they become less painful, less traumatic. More important, you begin to realize that you have been initiated into the adult world of humanity. And you begin to see that life has given you….what some call grace.

If we are fortunate, life blesses us with this, the greatest of human gifts.

Blessings my friend,
Austin

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Learning from the Change, Challenges, and Pain of 2013

imageIt has been a year of unprecedented change, challenge, and pain for me. The toughest ever.

From January to March, I traveled to Mozambique, Africa to do volunteer work. I did not speak the language. I did not understand the culture. I was immersed in a completely strange world for two months.

In April, we put our house up for sale. The prospect of uprooting and moving is destabilizing, and one of life’s biggest stressors.

Then in May my marriage failed, and I separated from my wife. We had been together for almost nine years. I became well acquainted with pain beyond anything I had ever known.

In June I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of singing in a rock band—mid-life crisis or perhaps an awakening of sorts. Either way, it has been a whole lot of fun doing something I love to do.

In August my son left home for university. It was a very exciting and emotional time for all of us, the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Both sad and exciting, and I am incredibly proud of who he is and who he is becoming.

And in September my last remaining grandparent, my grandmother, died at the age of 97. She was an incredible woman who saw so much change, and packed a whole lot of life into her years.

In the past year, amidst all the turbulence, a few insights have gradually revealed themselves to me. Maybe they will resonate with you.

1. Nothing is permanent.

Yet we are programmed for the opposite. We want life to feel safe and secure. We want life to be predictable. Permanence gives us the illusion that it is.

But the reality is that nothing is permanent, and the only thing we know we can count on is change. The more we push for permanence in life, against the current, the more disappointed we become when we find it is not achievable to the extent we think it should be. But if we can accept the fluidity of life, our entire approach to it changes.

2. Give it time.

Why is it that life can look hopeful one day, and so very dark the next? Very little of my actual situation has changed from one day to the next. But my perception of it can change minute by minute based on how I am feeling in that moment—tired or rested, peaceful or angry, whole or damaged.

I am learning not to overreact in the moment, or make important decisions when I am feeling down. I am learning that painful and difficult things will pass. I am learning to allow time to heal.

3. Practice gratitude.

In the midst of difficult times, I have a strong tendency to dwell on the negative. And then everything looks dark, and it tends to snowball.

But there are always things to be grateful for in life—my friends, my health, my relationships, or even my next meal. I often think back to my time in Mozambique and remember the crippling poverty that most people live with every day. And yet they are, by and large, happy and grateful for what they do have.

We can make a huge difference in our state of mind by focusing more on what we do have, how lucky we are, and counting our blessings.

4. Be gentle with yourself.

I am my own worst critic, often focusing on my perceived failings and inadequacies. All this does is reinforce the bad. And by reinforcing it, that is the reality I create for myself. So I am slowly learning to cut myself some slack, and perhaps even start liking who I am. What a concept!

And I am starting to see is a direct correlation between how I treat myself, and how I am with others out in the world. By treating ourselves gently and with kindness, we treat others the same way. And maybe this is how we learn to love.

5. Be here, now.

I have a lifelong tendency to look back or forward—anything but being present. Guilt and shame looks back, worry and anxiety look ahead. In either case, it is wasted energy.

If I feel that I need to do something to set things right, I should simply do it, then let it go and not allow these feelings to linger. For me, engaging in activities that force me to stay present helps: skiing, surfing, and singing. It’s not easy, but I am trying to be present in all that I do, and recognize when I’m not.

6. Give up control.

The need for control is very deeply rooted, and comes from a place of fear and insecurity.

We can plan all we want, but there are much bigger forces at work out there. And the bigger plan for us may not coincide with what we think should happen or the planned timetable we have in our head.

I will have faith that the universe wants to help me. My job is to step out of the way and let it work its magic.

7. Be yourself.

I have been a people pleaser for most of my life. There all kinds of expectations out there about what I should do, how I should do it, who I should be, and how I should fit in. And it is impossible for me to keep up; to satisfy everyone else’s preferred version of me. I push my needs aside, and eventually that turns to anger, depression, and resentment. It’s far less stressful for me to just to be me, and to be comfortable with who that is.

We can give ourselves a powerful sense of peace by learning who we are and allowing ourselves to be that. And let the chips fall where they may.

8. Eat. Sleep. Exercise.

This may seem basic, but when my life is in turmoil, I find that basic self-care can be the first to go out the window. I skip meals, or eat badly. My sleep suffers, and when I am not rested, my whole perspective on life changes for the worse. That’s usually when I make bad decisions and think dark thoughts. I feel lethargic and tend to want to skip exercise.

But these three are all connected, and they are some of the few things we actually can control to some degree. And when we force ourselves to practice good self-care, we feel better, stronger, and life seems brighter.

9. Don’t fight the pain.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this one. And I have a history of doing or using anything I can to not feel the pain. I know this doesn’t work because when I mask the pain, it never leaves. It just gets stronger, and comes out in other ways.

Pain demands to be acknowledged. And by letting ourselves feel it, it loses its grip, and passes through us much more quickly.

I have certainly not mastered any of these insights, in fact I continue to struggle with all of them. But underpinning it all is a sense of heightened awareness about the feelings I have, and where these feelings come from.

This is the first step in learning, accepting, and rolling with the perpetual changes, challenges, and pain that life offers up. And perhaps this is how the healing begins.

I wish us all the very best for 2014.