Over the last few years my friend Sashi De and I have been filming a Road Less Traveled, cuisine oriented spin off called Food Unknown. Four full episodes are now available on Youtube. Check them out and let me know what you think. I'm happy to answer any questions regarding the series in the comments.
What's the best way to measure your life and keep an eye on your direction?
Some of us take an look at the big picture on our birthdays, but often that chance for introspection is lost amidst celebratory energy. It's hard to really get deep with yourself in the middle of friends, cake, and booze.
Most of us take a somber look at the bigger picture as we hit the decade milestones begin at 30. These moments for reflection are too infrequent. You may have made 30, but there is no guarantee you'll make 40, nor that you'll arrive in the best position.
Adding to this conundrum, nobody knows exactly how much time they have left on the clock. If I knew I had a day to live, I'd certainly play my cards differently than if I knew I had a month, or a year, or 10 years. I'm sure you would too.
Recently a friend suggested another way to divide up your life... and ancient way... a way that predates the clock and the calendar: Moon cycles.
I've just begun this technique but it's brilliant. On the new moon you reflect on your past cycle and you contemplate the next. As you watch the moon wax, it's a constant reminder to check in on how well you are living up to your intentions.
On my first attempt I set a one word intention for the next cycle: Community. As the moon has been waxing I ask myself, "Am I checking in on my family, my friends, and my neighbors?"
On the next new moon I will ask a new set of questions which were pulled from the excellent book Atomic Habits:
1. What went right this cycle?
2. What didn't go well?
3. What did I learn?
4. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
5. How am I living and working in integrity?
6. How can I set higher standards?
On the next new moon, give this technique a shot. I believe it to be an excellent tool to live our lives with more intentionality.
During the first season on Road Less Traveled I climbed up a hill with no idea what I'd find on top. I ascended over 500 steps following sounds of mythological music and voices reading scripture. On top, I discovered myself in the monkey kingdom. Inside the temple, sitting like a crown on the summit, the resident priest dropped some wisdom on me. Over the years I've chewed on his words, and this is what I've learned.
Most of my adult life i've been lurching from one moment to the next, always leaning and looking forward. As a child I was immersed in every moment as it arose. Something changed, and not necessarily for the better.
Have you ever caught yourself in that "waiting" energy? It feels like you want to just jump into the future.. to that point where you are at the cashier instead of three customers deep in line, or you have secured that deal instead of sitting with that lingering anxiety of it pending. The problem with this state is that we are essentially sacrificing any pleasure or insight we could reap from the present moment as we reach our arms out for the next. And life is short.. these chunks of time add up.
What if we could catch ourselves waiting, and instead of grasping forward, lean back into the now? The future will come without our assistance or worry, the present is in our company ready to be engaged. This unique pandemic time is an opportunity to cultivate a practice of stopping the plodding, grasping mind.. just hitting pause on that and asking, "What is true right now?"
The uncertainty of the future will never fade no matter how hard we plot and plan, however, there is instant certainty in the now. Are you safe right now? Are you healthy? Is there food in the fridge? Can you smile? Is the sun shining or the moon glowing? Do you have someone who cares for you? Do you care for yourself? All these answers are attainable right now.
So how do you come back to the now? Meditation is by far the best tool. You don't have to believe anything whacky or unsubstantiated to meditate. You just have to train your mind like you would train your body for physical capability. The training ultimately comes down to this: Can you come back to awareness, surfacing out of the sea of thoughts? A "yes" is your first rep of the weight, or your first tiny run. Eventually you'll progress to coming back over and over again... multiple reps and sets.. running 5 miles without stopping.
To get through this thing mentally healthy we need to put some tools to work, and this is one of the best tools you can have in the shed. So... right now.. take a big inhale... look up from the screen.. and as you slowly breath out feel the environment around you. Feel what's happening inside you. Ask, "What is true now?"
I recently read an excellent article which elaborates a theory that the world is currently experiencing a massive, collective grieving. The first step of grief is denial. Are we in denial now? Denial of what??
We are all witnessing a shift. Deep in our guts there is an awareness that there is no going back to "normal" (a.k.a, the way it was.. a.k.a, the past). The Coronavirus just closed the chapter on an old era. That era is not coming back. We will miss it. We will suffer uncertainty and fear as we fumble towards what is next. Letting go of the familiar is never easy.
What era did we just leave. I believe historians will look back on pre-corona times as something like The Golden Era of Decadence. Think about the myriad of conveniences, comforts, and excesses. Think of the money spent on silly gadgets. Consider popular music videos full of luxury cars and money being sprayed around like there was a never-ending flow of wealth. You could throw stacks of money around. There was always more.
Do you feel like throwing stacks of money at trivial things now? No. That era has gone.
So we grieve, and that's natural. We sit locked into our apartments in denial binge watching netflix like this is a storm cloud that will pass over. Waiting until someone will tell us we can go back to our old lives. Then there will be anger, bargaining, depression, and finally.... acceptance.
I want to get to this acceptance as fast as possible. I want you too as well. The sooner we are there, the sooner we can be present with the way things are right now. This isn't a break. This, right now, is our life. When we accept that we can engage it fully. When we accept that we can begin to make the changes that will create our new future. We can begin to tell ourselves a better story than the one we shared in the old era. We can tell ourselves a story that favors the well being of humans over profits; that prioritizes more time for leisure, play, and sharing with our friends and families; that is more conscious of the rest of the natural world, understanding our interconnectedness with it.
It all begins with letting go of that old era. Are you ready to let go and embrace this moment?
As a flight attendant we had strict protocol for what to do in every kind of emergency. Even if the plane was headed for a crash landing, there were so many procedures to execute, before and after the crash, that there was little room for worrying about personal survival.
Once you plan out your protocols for all possible scenarios in this pandemic, you can relax a bit. If something happens, you've already got the plan dialed in, so you can set it down until (and if) it's time to enact those plans.
Once you've had those discussions with the family (if Y -> We do X) and agreed on the procedures, it's time to settle in and reflect on this monumental historical moment. What does it mean for us individually and as a society? Is there a message in this hardship for us to hear?
The Byzantine Empire was at it's absolute zenith when BLAM! a plague collapsed the entire enterprise. The roaring 20's gave way to the depression. The trust in government, institutions, and companies to be honest (and care for our best interests) collapsed into the disillusionment of the 1960s.
The Roman's might say these pivotal moments were caused by Fortuna turning her rudder. This mythical figure is a good object of contemplation. She represents a fundamental truth about the nature of life.
Fear not. We'll get through these Coronavirus times. We will evolve as a species for the challenge and the reminder that we are not outside of history or nature.
Putting a yes around life's situations, even the most difficult ones, makes them all easier to handle.
Credit to Marcus Aurelius and Tara Brach for inspiring this perspective.
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.