Everything is on the line when you wake up. Looking at the cell phone is a plunge into the energy of others, the comparison traps of social media, and the anxiety of world news. It will start you off unbalanced and unfocused.
Dedicating the first moment of the day for yourself is the truest way to "look out for #1". A brief routine to consciously center oneself will make a remarkable impact on the rest of the waking hours.
Here is my current routine:
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. - Walt Whitman**
If you've ever climbed to a mountain summit you know the jubilation of the accomplishment. We lift up our arms, high- five our companions, and take pictures. Then the elation quickly fades as thoughts of descent and food replace it. But what if we could savor that moment a little longer? Enter the barbaric yawp.
The mountaintop is a special place for release. Not something refined for your friends' ears. Not some cliched sound effect. Not something muted for fear of disturbing the neighbors. Rather give a vocalization to your "I am that I am." The sound of your life-force. The announcement that at this moment in time you are truly alive.
Take off your clothes if you dare. Sense the warmth of the sun and cool of the wind on your skin. Feel the grit of earth under the feet. Recognize that you are a product of this natural world. You are a ripple in the fabric of the cosmos.
Observe everything around you with the gift of awareness. What a mysterious thing it is to be conscious. Notice the beauty of existence exactly how it is. Then spread your arms high and sound your barbaric yawp so it can see you right back.
If you'd like to see my barbaric yawp in action be warned that you'll see me naked from behind (i.e. bare-assed): Naked B.Y.
** The first time I heard this poetic stanza was as it was referenced by Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society.
Coffee is one of the world's favorite drinks. It has many health benefits. It's the centerpiece of pleasant morning rituals, business meetings, and casual dates. So why stop? A temporary break from caffeine could make a profound impact on your perspective. Principally in these five areas:
1. Sympathy for your fellow addict: Go cold turkey on your coffee habit and you will quickly realize you are an addict. Moreover, there is a good chance you will relapse before breaking free (while reciting the classic excuses used by all drug addicts).
The rough attempt to quit caffeine will create sympathy for the staggering amount of people in prison for drug possession. Perhaps you could become an ally in changing the world's draconian policies to something more like Portugal's successful model of decriminalization.
2. Boost your self control: One of the great virtues in life is self control. Are we a slave to our passions or do we have choice? Whether it's porn, coffee, or refined sugar; the only way to prove control is to confirm the ability to stop. You've got a whole lifetime to indulge. Can you abstain for just one month?
3. Reframe views of happiness: There are many folks who would benefit from anti-depressants but don't utilize this resource. Why? There is a societal disapproval of chemical cures... a belief that a person should be able to make themselves happy through pure willpower.
Quitting a caffeine habit will smash this perception in the teeth. A day or two into the cleanse a chemical reaction will plunge one into a deep state of grumpiness. A grey raincloud will hang above. Watch how fast it evaporates just minutes after drinking a coffee. Everything is right in the world again.
While contemplating a new appreciation of chemical cures, the caffeine abstainer can also seek other methods of finding well being, such as meditation and mindfulness.
4. Get a grip on anxiety: There is a heap of worry in our modern world. We are inherently anxious creatures. But what is our baseline and how much is the caffeine? Temporarily removing this stimulant provides a more accurate assessment of the stress we process.
5. Unleash caffeine's power: To the addict a dose is like scratching an itch. Its appeal is the sensation of relief. To the casual user a dose provides the full potential of a drug. After breaking a coffee habit, one will discover that caffeine becomes a useful tool for moments when a boost of energy and alertness is most useful. The addict doesn't get the same reward.
The research say coffee consumption is positive, but committing to a cleanse has many benefits. I'm a fan of the beverage, but also dedicate myself to the occasional break**. It gives me a sense of self control, makes me more understanding of the delicate nature of brain chemistry, and has given me more sympathy for people who struggle with other addictions. Hope it does the same for you.
** The first break from coffee, done while filming in Romania, was a bitch. The withdrawal lasted 10 days. Sleepy, lethargic, and grumpy most of the duration; although I'd occasionally wake up at 4AM wide awake. Now I no longer cold turkey my breaks from caffeine, but will slowly decrease consumption over the course of a week until I'm off the sauce. However, that cold-turkey experience was extremely valuable for self growth and understanding the addictive power of drugs. I recommend everyone try it once.
People often ask me how to get a job as a travel show host. Although there is a lot more work involved than most realize, I'm very grateful to have my position and voice. Becoming the host of a travel show was a pinnacle moment. I felt like my whole life had funneled towards that destiny.
When opportunity came knocking I didn't think, "I hope I get it." Instead, I realized, "I am this guy." I had accrued a life full of decisions that shaped me into the ideal candidate. Although there are many ways to cook an omelet, these are some of those decisions I made and the path I took:
If yo want to become a travel show host I wish you the best on that journey. Keep in mind that most people I've met in LA who came to "become famous" are long gone. If you want to host a travel show simply because you "want to travel and get paid for it", you only have a piece of the puzzle. You've got to have a "why" and you'll only find it by living the life, discovering yourself, and cultivating a higher purpose before you begin to broadcast.
Don't give naked answers. This was the advice of my friend Max Sperber. To be fair he garnered the wisdom from a book, but he put his own nuance on the explanation, as I will now do.
In a previous post I recommend asking better questions to dive deeper into knowledge and connection. But what if you're being asked something mundane? You can still adjust the depth of the conversation with this trick. If you want to engage with the querier, don't give a naked answer.
A naked, or stripped down, answer is straight to the point and superficial.
Now try this:
Now let me ask you this:. Where are you from? What do you do?
Earlier this month, on the beaches of Sri Lanka, an Indian man asked me this: "If you were to summarize all the collective wisdom and experience you've gathered in life into one thought, what would it be?"
Wow. I decided not to overthink and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Most people in the world (including myself) want to do good. They want to connect. But we are all terribly blinded in the snowstorms of fear."
Now I'm passed this question on to others.
The lady at my Yogyakarta homestay quoted the Roman Virgil "Fortune favors the bold."
Another said, "Live your life. Enjoy the experience of existence."
One of the many things I learned at Burning Man is that by eschewing perfunctory questions (which are frowned upon) we have to search for more unique ones. "What's your job?" will get a well polished answer. To ask "Who are the kinds of people you most respect?" would immediately plunge the listener into contemplation, create appreciation for a well crafted inquiry, and produce a genuine bit of knowledge. The conversations I had in Black Rock dove immediately into the profound and vulnerable. They brought out real insight gained from a wealth of life experience different than mine. They created a stronger bond between the discoursers.
How would you answer the above question? And what is a question you employ to get a better answer?
"You!" I heard. I looked up to see a man in a top hat and vest approaching with his left hand up. His eyes glimmered and a small smile cracked inside a dark beard.
"Come get some," the guy said as we locked gazes.
I arrived at Lightning in a Bottle a bit frazzled. The decision to go was made a week prior, my friend dropped out a few days before, and I scrambled to find a photographer until the final minute. Arriving in the wee hours of the first night, I pitched my tent on a bare hillside. The person I'd come to film, Hannah Fraser, was on the other end of the grounds and we failed to connect. My photographer wasn't coming until the next night. I was alone as I set out to walk around.
Have you ever entered a raucous bar at 1am stone sober? Have you slipped into a solemn church feeling rambunctious? In both cases the disparity of the energy inside and outside of you is striking. This was me walking around LIB. The crowd was full of people who were amped. They'd spent weeks or months in anticipation. They knew the lineups and artists. They had been jamming it out in a caravan full of buddies the whole drive over. And there was lonely Jonathan ambling around like he was on a filming delay, very conscious of being friendless and on the older spectrum of the age scale. Maybe I'd just get the shots the next day and retreat to familiar ground.
Lightning in a Bottle is held in the sun scorched San Antonio Recreation Area of central California. Outdoor enthusiasts once came here for it's 16 mile lake which has since completely evaporated due to the drought. To get from one end of the festival to the other one must cross several footbridges which span dusty ravine beds that once fed the lake. It was on these junctions that I found my redemption.
There is an LIB tradition of high-fiving people who are walking the opposite way on a bridge. At least 50% of attendees are in on this game, and a good 10% are adamant about it. As I crossed my first bridge one of the true believers saw Mr. Humdrum coming and he singled me out.
"You!" said top hat, grabbing my attention.
"Come get some."
I pulled my hand out of my pocket and lifted it up. It was like a joust of good will, two men in motion narrowly crossing, one guy with his lance up, the other raising his just in time as the distance closed.
"Smack!" we made contact. And then "Smack, smack, smack!" The three folks behind him immediately responded to my upraised hand and emerging grin. I was suddenly on high-five automatic.
There is something quite miraculous that happens when you receive a high-five. It's almost impossible to not smile. A surge of energy streams through you. It's as if the giver is passing you a portion of their positivity or a jolt of their current. In fact, scientific studies have shown that this kind of touch reduces feelings of threat and promotes trust and cooperation. It releases the feel-good brain juice oxytocin and reduces the stress chemical cortisol.
Psychologist James Coan told the New York Times this contact communicates a sharing of your concerns and issues, “We think that humans build relationships precisely for this reason, to distribute problem solving across brains. We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.”
I immediately committed to being one of the 10% high-five enthusiasts. On every bridge at every occasion I had my hand raised. Take it or leave it, it was staying up. I could now spot people stuck in the rut of my old low-energy position, walking with their gaze averted, hands in pockets, shoulders slumped. I empathized with their state. To them I sent a warm welcome: "Come get some."
Let me encourage you to look for ways to acknowledge people today. If you see a lonely kid bust a trick on his skateboard, if you hear a person speaking of good news, or if you see someone go out of their way to act compassionately then tell them you see them. Maybe with a smile and a nod. Perhaps with a shout of "nice one." Or, if the moment feels right, raise that hand in the air and give some. I promise you'll get some back.
I blogged recently about spreading positivity into the world by acknowledging the people around us. This is something we can do even while grumpy; however, if we really want to light up a room we've got to have our lanterns burning bright.
I believe one day science will confirm that on some level everything is waves and vibration. Even we ourselves are a little tiny wiggles in the fabric of the universe. On a micro-level we pulsate differently day to day and moment to moment.
Have you even been in a bar when a fight breaks out? You probably felt something going down moments before you saw a fist thrown. Have you ever been in an emergency where someone succumbed to panic and then it spread like wildfire? Have you ever known someone so charismatic that they immediately warm an environment like a fireplace? These are all dominant vibrations that can change the tune of everything around them.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I can keep mine as buoyant as possible. Here is what I've come up with. I am by no means a master of any, but I'm trying. If you have other suggestions, I'd love to see them in the comments.
Exercise & Play
I like to do something physical everyday. Merging elements of play into my workouts keeps my childlike nature alive, which I hope to maintain till the grave.
There is more than one way to bake a cake but I sort my workouts into three categories:
1. Weights: Lifting iron keeps your muscles strong and bones dense. It cajoles your body into producing testosterone. A strong body is less likely to be injured. I recommend lifts that engage several muscles like squats (ass to grass), clean&jerks, and bench press. Pull-ups, rope-climbs, or something of this variety is also important for an adventurous lifestyle. Ease into it and make sure your technique is proper.
2. Stamina: A stiff hike, run, bike ride, or swim.
3. Dynamic: Activities that blend reaction time, coordination, technique, and balance. Most sports do the trick.
Don't Expect Purchases to Make you Happy
You see this leaping 2001 Subaru Forester? I bought it 7 years ago for 4,000$ cash. It's seen more adventure than 95% of the SUVs in Los Angeles at a fraction of the cost. I didn't buy it to make myself happy. I bought it as a tool to create experiences that would make me happy (like backcountry camping with friends). Although the passenger side mirror is now taped on and it's scraped up good, it still serves its purpose. Every now and then I catch myself ogling at the newest vehicles on the market, but then I'll remind myself to only buy one when I need it. The mindless craving to buy stuff we really don't need is the persuasive pull of marketing.
Arthur Jeon correctly points out, "We are swimming in commercialism.... it saps our freedom and increases our sense of an isolated identity. Our sense of self becomes, without our permission, defined by our possessions; we judge and parse each other in this paradigm, and in doing so we travel farther from the recognition of our connection to each other."
Manage all Expectations
Denmark regularly tops the list of happiest citizens. One key reason: Low expectations. How many times have I sabotaged a travel destination by imagining the ideal version of the place before I arrive. I picture myself walking with a lover in Hawaii... sunny and warm with the soft sound of ukulele floating on a tropical breeze, but then get crushed by blasting wind and pelting rain.
Recently I've adopted some stoic philosophy into my mindset. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius mastered the comprehension of "It is what it is." That's not to say we don't try to right wrongs and challenge injustice, but rather we understand when something is completely out of our control (e.g., rain in Hawaii). Instead of brooding or bitching you work within the undeniable reality.
We can apply this principle to people as well. Again, I try to be courageous and assertive in the face of bad behavior, but consider if it's malleable. Some people will always be late, always worry, always be messy, etc. You can avoid them, but you can't change them. Getting angry about it is as logical as cursing at the rain in Hawaii.
Consider all the rage on the highways in Los Angeles. Is this not partially because we expect to cruise straight to our destination? There will always be that slow guy in the left lane, that dude who cuts in front of you, the hesitant driver, and the person who blasts their horn in anger. It's much more bankable that the rain in Hawaii. It's a force of nature. Let it rage around you like a typhoon, but don't let it snatch your inner peace. We must respect the inherent danger of a storm, but pointing your finger at the clouds and screaming obscenities is the behavior of a lunatic.
Meditation & Meditative Practices
Meditation is a "spiritual" practice that now has the full blessing of legit science behind it. I remember the first time I managed to be totally present. The sensation was like a mind altering drug. Suddenly I was just consciousness in a room, fully aware of everything which was presently around me. It was akin to the refrigerator stopping to reveal an unperceived layer of silence. That humming is our thoughts which ceaselessly carry our awareness from one moment to the next. Set your timer and try thinking of nothing for five minutes. You will quickly realize how the kingdom of your mind is in complete mutiny.
The principles of meditation are easy to describe, but if you'd like and intro book I suggest Waking Up and Wherever You Go There You Are.
A practice such as Yoga is not only great for flexibility and strength but often entwined with mindfulness, so you benefit both in the body and brain.
Nothing resets me like a night in the forest, mountains, or desert. All my big city concerns diminish and the lens opens wide on my perspective of life. I'm now committed to camping once a month and doing weekly hikes.
Cultivate Strong Friendships
Social media does not meet our ancestral need to have a tribe. Cultivate yours wisely. I like invest in people who are honest, fun-loving, compassionate, and introspective. The best way to find the right friends is to be genuine. When you broadcast on your true channel your people will tune in. When you've found your tribe you must invest time and energy into bringing that group together and sharing experiences that will bond you. Consider selecting a place where you will live not for the salary, views, or prestige; but rather as a spot where friends will gravitate. Give your friends your loyalty and trust. Listen to them when they speak. Help them when they are in need. Counsel them when they are in error or uncertainty.
One of the most influential people in my life was a guy I knew for less than 2 minutes. Compared to other stories I have this will seem super mundane, but stick with me... that's kind of the point.
I was working as a grocery bagger for Thompson's Food Basket in Peoria, IL. One day I manned the register and soon got into the flow of quickly handling customers.
"Hey how's it going," I'd say perfunctorily.
Bleep Bleep Bleep. I'd scan their items.
"That'll be 45.60$"
"Thanks. Have a nice day."
Over and over I'd run them through like a blur. I was a young man being assimilated into the machine of the modern, busy world where we plow through our day mainly lost in our heads. Strangers around us interpreted as either obstacles or gatekeepers.
The next customer came up.
"Hey how's it going?" I said not looking up as I reached for his items.
"Good man. How are you," this shapeless customer replied.
"Good," I said as I begin to scan. Bleep bleep bleep.
"No man," He said with authority, "how's it going?"
I lifted my gaze up as if broken from a daydream to see a man in the prime of his life. He was handsome, fit, and had all his attention focused upon me. He was radiating a positive energy. He seemed to genuinely be inquiring about my state without any kind of agenda.
"Oh... I guess I'm good," I stammered.
"Right on," replied the guy with a warm smile, still looking at me.
We finished the transaction and he went his way. Never saw the guy again. That's my story.
This happened over 20 years ago and I still remember it clear as day. Why? Cause a super cool Brad Pitt type of dude gave me all his attention for a minute. He acknowledged me: a shy, skinny, socially awkward 16 year old who still hadn't kissed a girl. For a moment I wasn't just a bumbling kid that handled groceries for minimum wage. I was a bro.
Think about this: Who was the Elvis of the Mayan Empire? Who was the Michael Jordan athlete of the Mycenaeans? Who was the legendary hunter of the Apache or the beauty queen of the Han dynasty? Surely these personalities burned legendary at one point, but they are all forgotten now, just as this anonymous cool guy is nameless. He could very well be dead. His ego, just like that of all the Incan emperors you can't remember, has crumbled to dust; but the waves of energy he pushed out into the world live on. Because of him I try (though often fail) to take a beat and acknowledge the people around me. Because of him I'm writing this post.
I used to imagine one day I'd maybe change the world in a monumentally positive way, like Hellen Keller or Abraham Lincoln, and perhaps I still might. But I strongly believe our real contribution occurs this day, when you walk out your door to grab a coffee, take the subway, or buy your groceries. What kind of waves of energy are you pushing out into the world? Let me encourage you to jump on the vibration of that nameless cool cat of Peoria, IL. Take a moment to acknowledge people. Pour a few seconds of all your attention into little genuine gesture of "I see you" or "I get you." It could be the brightest spot in that person's day, and just maybe they'll remember it, and emulate it, decades later.
I came over to a buddy’s apartment one day and noticed a huge paper grocery bag full of designer socks. It was literally stacked to the rim with thin pairs still in their labeled plastic wraps.
“What’s this?” I asked. “You steal these from set?” My buddy was an actor and occasionally actors can get grabby at the end of a shoot, though this would have been a very audacious acquisition.
“Take as many as you want,” he offered, with a generous sweep of the hand, and then went on to tell me the story of the socks. A story in which I found an interesting life lesson. Perhaps you will too.
My friend was dating a widow. She had been married to a very traditional, strict, and dour Japanese businessman. In old-school style she would greet him at the doorway with a deep bow as he came home. She fussed about making sure he was comfortable and served his whims without receiving a modicum of warmth in return. In this regard you and I don’t share much in common with this man, but in one regard we might.
This man had a habit of saving things for “special occasions.” He had a liquor cabinet full of fine whiskeys and wines, but he almost always crushed a few cans of cheap beer because the good stuff was on hold for a future moment. He bought pricey accessories, including a Louis Vuitton man-purse, but never took them out of the home for fear of soiling them in mundane day to day activities. And he had an affinity for buying designer socks with quality thread and stylish patterns, but every morning as he left for the office he’d be clad with the same old ratty pairs.
One day, as he left for work in his run down socks, nursing a cheap beer hangover, he complained to his servile wife about a headache. Hours later he dropped dead at the office from an aneurysm.
A year later this man’s wife was having the most connected sex of her life with my friend, and guess who was drinking his fine whiskey, wearing his designer socks, and (yes) toting around his fancy man-purse? With his hippy dress, bawdy sense of humor, and bohemian lifestyle; my friend would have been the last man on earth to whom the ex-husband would bequeath all this precious possessions. In fact, if it were possible to roll in your grave, this guy was surely spinning like a Pollo Loco rotisserie chicken.
Months later, In Los Angeles, I was coming out of the shower when some buddies rolled through to scoop me for a night out. I hurried into my room to get dressed. Opening the closet I reached out for a shirt I’d bought at a premium price a few months back, but had not yet worn. I pulled the shirt off the rack, took it off the hanger, and paused. This was a 100$ shirt. I was just hanging out with my friends. I’d probably have a few drinks and end up eating a 2AM burrito. I might soil this shirt. I began to switch it out with an older one in the closet when it hit me…. I was waiting for a “special occasion!” Tonight I could very well get run over by that taco truck and then someone else would be rocking my fancy shirt while I pushed up daisies.
The truth is there are no special occasions. Yes, we have collectively allotted an extra amount of value to certain days: Christmas, New Year’s Eve, our birthday, etc. But rarely do these end up being the best moments of our lives. The expectations are built up too high. The same series of events that you might experience on a random Tuesday in February would carry less value on your once a year vacation.
On vacation you have invested in having the time of your life. On that random Tuesday you were just stepping out to have a cup of coffee, but then a group of musicians sat down at your table, you struck up a conversation, and hours later you’re at a concert discovering new music and making new friends. One person in the crowd begins to click with you on that unique vibration. Phone numbers and exchanged and a date is planned. What a night! Lightning can strike at any time, but, like an aneurysm, it usually doesn’t happen when planned.
So I set out that night wearing my 100$ shirt. Everyday above ground and in the company of good friends is a day to embrace. Every moment full of unanticipated possibilities both good and bad. When they come I will be wearing my best shit, including designer Japanese socks.
I'm Jonathan Legg
I went to college, but I still graduated a closed minded young man. The road, however, has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and facilitating understanding and appreciation for people different from me. I hope the content on this blog and my shows can bring a sliver of that juju to you.