Mindful Awareness: Seed of Creation – Seed of Wealth

I moved, last night, to the treehouse. There is energy, peace and quiet on The Beech Treehouse that I lovingly built. It is my best place to cultivate self-awareness, nature-awareness, other-awareness, creative problem solving and focusing my energy to do and create.

Steven Covey said that all things are created spiritually before they are created physically. His metaphor was God’s creation of the universe. In the beginning was the word. The word is spoken thought and truth that preceded creation. The universe was created in the mind of the creator before it existed. Similarly, Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich. Hill’s thinking preceded the book. The book inspired seeds of thought that preceded wealth creation for millions.

Wealth comes in many forms. Money is essential. It is the easiest form of wealth to quantify. But it is only a means to greater forms of wealth. (See “Money, Entrepreneurship, Meditation and Joy“).

All forms of wealth are created beginning with self-awareness.

Roger Hamilton said, “I believe entrepreneurship and this whole idea of raising consciousness come from faith and three things: self-awareness, then self-mastery, then self expression. You can only get to self-expression, which is where all the money gets made, if you’ve actually got clear in self-awareness first.

Self-awareness is where you begin. It is where you learn your strengths, talents, weaknesses, interests, values – the things that will direct and guide you through life, give you purpose, drive and energy. It is the place where you begin to understand the needs of others as you explore needs in yourself.

I was asked to teach marketing strategy as an adjunct at the University of the South (AKA Sewanee). I taught for five years. Most basic among marketing principles is that the marketer must satisfy an unfulfilled need of a defined group of people of significant size. The quickest, most sure way to find that need and that market (people with that need) is to look within. The self-aware person understands at depth, his own needs and is able to intuit those needs to others faster, more accurately and with nuanced understanding better than big data with artificial intelligence.

Great men and women changed the world, overcame intractable problems and became fabulously wealthy because they saw needs more clearly and complex solutions more simply and elegantly than all the MBA-enabled smart people around them. Self-Awareness is always the beginning point. Our modern examples include Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and my favorite, Mahatma Gandhi. Extraordinary self-aware minds, extraordinary impact.

You should know yourself better than anyone else can. I say “should” because most people don’t. Hence they fail in business and in life because the seed of all creativity fails. No seed, no roots, no stalk, stem, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers – no fruit. Self-awareness is not the be-all, end-all. It is just the beginning. But it is the solid beginning without which there is no happy ending.

And so, I go to my place of meditation to explore myself. The process is not born of narcissistic navel-gazing. No, it’s a process that begins with self, but quickly transitions to connecting dots outside the self. Then, to energizing, hope and faith-filled dreams and strategies. Dots that, in our distracted, frenetic world seem unrelated, irrelevant or unimportant. Yet, these are the very seeds of creation, elegant strategy, wealth through and beyond money – JOY.

Throughout my business career, I discovered that my greatest strength was in strategy. At times, I was able to create a vision that inspired action in others, solve problems or develop a franchise that flowered into more than ten thousand stores, producing wealth and convenience for millions of people. That story is for another time.

It wasn’t enough. I tired of the constraints of large corporations. I “retired” to become an entrepreneur. I made every imaginable mistake, yet I succeeded on the back of the ability to change strategy nimbly and effectively when situations changed radically. I bet the farm on 750 acres of land, three miles of breathtaking bluff line to develop a high-end, gated residential community, anchored by a Medical Spa that would holistically care for retiring baby-boomers. That strategy was based on market research and what I thought was a bullet-proof business plan. Three months after committing my entire life’s savings, with debt secured by everything I owned, the sub-prime mortgage Real Estate crash occurred. It was followed in 2008 by the whole economy. My target market disappeared. Every developer with similar plans and aspirations on the South Cumberland Plateau in middle Tennessee closed up shop. My bank was awash in foreclosed land from failed developments like mine. But, they stuck with me because I was making a few sales when no one else was making any. My banker could see that my new strategy, market positioning and personal passion were aligned and working. I was still making lots of mistakes that slowed me down. But that alignment saved me. It came from knowing myself and knowing that others in similar conditions and similar mind-set would want what I wanted.

Today, the Village on Sewanee Creek is alive and well, an intentional community quietly fulfilling its purpose in the lives of those who live here. They reassure me that what I created was good. It blessed their lives. That is meaning, purpose, joy and a kind of wealth. I reflect on the seventh day of creation, where God stood back, Took a deep breath, rested and proclaimed his work “good”. That is a kind of wealth called Joy.

Today, after teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and despair, I am not financially wealthy. I lost most of it. But I am debt free and wealthy in other ways. I am confident that money will return as I satisfy the needs of more and more people. The Village has been an exciting (sometimes depressing) ride. I have learned much about myself and the world I live in. That is my seed for creating great wealth of many kinds.

It’s been thirteen years in the wilderness. Like Henry David Thoreau, I came here to live my life deliberately. Over that time, I systematically, deliberately, thoughtfully developed a natural strength into a proven process that is changing my life for the better. I hope to use what I have learned to change many lives for the better.

I thank God and all his creations (including people like you) for making all this possible.

Ikigai – A Hero’s Journey

My quest for existential JOY began early. First memory: probably one or two, lying on my back on the lawn, in summer, gazing into the clear San Diego sky and feeling amazed that I exist. The beginnings of a profound sense of gratitude, which I later learned is foundational to a sense of existential Joy – the joy of being.

Existential joy, as I define it is independent of outside stimuli. It therefore can exist even in times of stress or pain. It simply exists. It is the ultimate form of self-reliance.

A bit later in life (1971) at the age of nineteen, I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my church. I was sent to Japan, a place I knew absolutely nothing about. My mission to the Japanese revolved around a central message, “Man’s Search for Happiness” which was the theme of the church’s pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair of 1970. During my two years in Japan I experienced existential Joy at a level most never experience in a lifetime. I learned infinitely more than I taught, as teachers always do. Others experienced it too.

That 2-year period was anything but easy. I struggled to learn the Japanese language like nothing I had ever done, often crying myself to sleep, discouraged and mentally exhausted. Yet in the depths of despair, I found purpose and meaning, something the Japanese language has a unique and wonderful word for. It is “ikigai” and before I learned that word, I experienced it.

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.[1] The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”[2] Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel ikigai are never forced on an individual; they are often spontaneous, and always undertaken willingly, giving the individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. Wikipedia

The loving, passionate energy I put into those two years paid back incredible dividends throughout my life. Because I had achieved a level of mastery of Japanese, I was given more opportunities to serve in senior level business positions, developing big American retail brands all over the world, starting with Japan. Today, there are tens of thousands of stores (ihop, 7-eleven, Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s to name a few) that I was instrumental in establishing. Those stores provided jobs and income and customer convenience to millions of people. My heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to serve and impact the lives of so many. IKIGAI.

But, along my journey, I became disillusioned with some of the selfishness, greed and politics that go along with functioning in large corporate environments.

Hero’s JourneySo, about thirteen years ago, I left to develop an intentional community with lofty goals that involved my ikigai based on self-reliance, integrity and mutual love, service and an abundant lifestyle within a closely bonded community. In October 2006, I purchased about 750 beautiful, remote acres on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, the Grand Canyon of the Southeast. It was just three months before the sub-prime mortgage Real Estate bust. It was my personal version of the “hero’s journey”. It was filled with all the elements of such a quest – challenge, failure, loss, disappointment, betrayal, fear, forgiveness, redemption and more. My life came into question as did my quest for existential joy. I fell into a state of depression as we teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, living in a state of lack. We now live simple, debt-free, peaceful, abundant and happy lives, but it was a rough road getting here.

There is a place in the iconic hero’s journey where the would-be hero falls to a low state. Then, through another mighty struggle with his own demons, overcomes. In the next stage of the quest, he returns home to teach what he has learned. This stage solidifies his learning and sets the stage for his next adventure. This is every brave man or woman’s journey.

And so was my struggle to recover existential joy. I have always been a deep-thinking introvert. My mentor boss at Dunkin/Baskin, upon his departure to head up Red Lobster, which he turned around and then took private, gave me a memento that still reminds me of my strongest talent. It is a brass giraffe because he said I always had my head in the clouds. It’s true. I am a big-picture visionary. I see trends and opportunities coming long before my peers and I develop detailed plans in my head to take advantage of those opportunities. One of the guys on my team once told me that I was exceptionally self-aware. I wasn’t sure how to take that at the time, but I have come to appreciate what a wonderful gift that is as well.

Over the past two years, I began an earnest quest to understand and recover existential joy – to define all of the principles that contribute to it and to develop self-mastery in applying those principles. Because of earlier life successes, I wasn’t in unexplored foreign territory, but I was beginning from the bottom of a pit that, in my hero’s journey, I had fallen into. Thankfully, my gifts of self-awareness, introspection and vision enabled that quest. I am now prepared to share the results of a lifetime of seeking existential joy.

My previous post speaks of some of those principles – productive creativity, meditation and gratitude. As described in the above Wikipedia link that defines Ikigai, the path to finding it is unique for each person and cannot be dictated or forced. It requires a great deal of self-awareness to discover one’s unique talents, gifts, passions and so forth. But, I believe there are solid principles beneath all that messy uniqueness. These are universal. They apply to everyone. My daily discipline involves testing these principles against the rigors of life to see if they hold up – always – and figuring out where and how the unique pieces fit into the universal principles. To date, I have identified and tested over a dozen discrete yet inter-related principles.

In coming posts I intend to share my discoveries. I hope to find a larger audience who will seek, test, find, validate and share joy that leads to wholeness of their life and then share it with others. If you are interested in the discipline that brings ikigai, or what I call existential joy, please subscribe and share my posts. Then share your experiences by commenting.

For those serious about accelerating your path to joy, come to my place in the Village. I will teach you my personally proven methods of practical, applied meditation. In peaceful, private natural places for deep meditation, like our waterfall,

the Beech Treehouse,

huckleberry point lookout

Overlook #17

or several ancient Indian rock houses on the property.

Discover who you are, your talents, passions, demons and opportunities to thrive. I will personally coach you how to practice the discipline necessary to change your life against your will, habits and addictions, to become your best, most joyful and prosperous self.

Call or text for an appointment or a stay-over. (931) 450-2426.

Stay in our Amazing CONEX Tiny Home

Back in 2011, I finished my tiny guest house, built out of two forty-foot CONEX shipping containers.  It’s a comfortable, fully functional house with one-bedroom + sleeping loft, a large kitchen, living area, full bath, laundry and extra storage.  I was pleased with the results.  You can read my original post, including my floor plan design and original photos at Build a Great House for under $10,000.

We used it mostly for convenience and for family and friends that would visit from time to time.  Over the years, I couldn’t resist making lots of improvements.  That, of course added cost, but it has been so worth it.

 

My latest improvements included:

  • A generous covered deck with deck chairs and a large gas barbecue that overlooks our little pond, filled with catfish, bass and croaking bullfrogs.
  • Covered parking for one vehicle in addition to the carport that handles four of ours.
  • French doors opening onto the covered deck
  • Newly Steel Framed Massive windows looking out into the woods and creek behind the house.  The house is so much more bright and cheery.
  • Fresh, natural re-sawn pine wood paneling in the living / dining area.  Wood is so much more cozy than corrugated steel.
  • New Kitchen Cabinet faces
  • A kitchen bar, re-purposed from a big oak conference room table salvaged from my days at Baskin-Robbins corporate.
  • A new heat pump that cools and removes humidity in the summer and makes the place toasty warm in winter.  The original low cost insulation, added to the exterior under the wood siding, has been great.
  • A gas fireplace for some extra cozy when “the weather outside is frightful”.

A few months ago, we began offering the space for short-term rental on Airbnb.   The response has been amazing.  You can see the listing at Mountain Waterfall Cabin in Eco-Village

We also listed another one bedroom log cabin at Log Cabin on Miller’s Falls

The experience hosting and getting to know lots of great people has been fabulous.  Many of the improvements were prompted by suggestions from guests.  It’s still a work in progress.  Between guest visits, I can usually be found either making improvements to one of these two houses or making plans for the Village 2.0.  that I’m calling the “Enchanted” Village on Sewanee Creek, or Enchanted Village for short.  I’ll write more about that later.

So, if you are interested in seeing what it might be like to live in a tiny home or a container house built from Conex shipping containers, come stay with us in one of our comfortably small houses.  While here, I’ll be happy to give you a tour of the Village on Sewanee Creek.  You can meet some of our self-reliant Villagers and learn about rainwater catchment systems, off-grid solar, bee-keeping, gardening, the benefits of chickens (even harvest some fresh eggs for breakfast), Ham radio communications, raising mushrooms or foraging for edible woodland foods, the slower, more satisfying life-style we enjoy here and much more.

Wander over to the amphitheater and enjoy a cookout in the fire pit under the satellite dish gazebo.   If you are a singer/song-writer or musician, this is the perfect place for a songwriter’s retreat.  How about an awesome place in nature to perform for a few appreciative music-lovers.  Our amphitheater offers a great outdoor stage with a covered backstage.  You can book it for free (as long as Villagers are invited to enjoy your music).  I’ll take you on a tour of the surrounding area where you will meet the rangers at the Visitor’s center and arrange for a guided hike through one of our eight nearby state parks.

Take a short walk along the creek to the top of fifty-foot Miller’s falls.  Then follow the gentle trail to the bottom of the falls.  Go behind the falls and enjoy contemplating God’s wonders on the natural stone bench in the grotto.

If you enjoy the unique satisfaction of being creative and building things, I can always use an extra pair of hands in the wood and welding shop.  By the way, I’m looking forward to many more years building tree houses in the enchanted village and love to share creative ideas with others who are similarly motivated by the urge to create magical things.

The Value of Community – Mennonite Perspective

From a distance, I have admired Amish and Mennonite communities. Our Friday project tradition is loosely borrowed from the iconic Amish barn raising. I have admired them when they occasionally hit the news with a story where the community has pulled together to publicly forgive the perpetrator of some horrific crime against them.

In Paul Born’s article, Deepening Community: The Joy of Togetherness, I was interested to read the perspective of one Mennonite leader on the importance of community, what it is, how it benefits us, and how it is built. I was drawn into the article by his description of how difficult community can be and why a part of us finds community inconvenient, invasive and unwelcome. Life is often about finding a balance and that balance point is dynamic and different for everyone. That’s why, in building the Village, I have tried to attract people who have a desire for close community. We cultivate that desire through our traditions of regular social and shared work events, but avoid any and all coercion to participate. This establishes a baseline culture of voluntary community and cooperation, but allows each person the freedom to seek their own balance without social pressure. We govern ourselves by broad principles, but few rules. While consensus is desireable, there is room for differences because of the importance we place on private ownership and control of private property.

Recently the topic of “like-mindedness” was raised again in our community bulletin board. Some of us acknowledged our discomfort with the term. But an underlying set of shared values is fundamental to a cohesive community. In many “intentional communities” those values are provided by religious faith in a codified set of doctrines provided by a charismatic leader. My observation is that when broad principles are distilled into ever finer sets of rules by which members are expected to live, the overwhelming social tendency is to judge one another harshly. Rules meant to perfect us, chafe and bind. Soon, the burden is more than we are willing to bear. The ties that bind, bind us down into socially unbearable servitude. One of the central messages of the New Testament is about Jesus’ struggle against the Pharisees and Saducees who had reduced the law of Moses to a state of hypocrisy and judgementalism based on rules for virtually every action, every choice. We see the same impulses in today’s freedom movement, rejecting “nanny state” government’s exponentially growing body of law that attempts to regulate everything.

Over time, a culture of the Village on Sewanee Creek has emerged with identifiable characteristics. I will attempt to describe what I see. People who “fit” in the Village, have a strong sense of self but are unselfish. They desire to give unselfishly, but expect others to reciprocate in kind. Because they want to be generous, they are long-suffering and forgiving. But over the long term, if generosity is not reciprocated, they do not feel an obligation to give disproportionately. Takers are not encouraged. They gradually find themselves isolated by their choices. All must give in proportion to what they receive. This is a principle of human nature, perhaps a part of natural law.

Villagers have an independent streak and enjoy their private space. They enjoy the company of others, but they are not offended or feel excluded if not invited to participate in a private dinner or a project initiated by other members of the community.

Villagers are interested in being creative. They like to make and build things. Often, we start out lacking the skills or esthetic sense necessary to build masterpieces, but we want to become better.

A sense of humility seems to be a necessary characteristic. Working in community affords each of us an opportunity to learn from others and improve our practical skills. In our Friday projects, I have observed a great deal of patience for those who have little in the way of practical skills, but humbly seek to learn and improve. Patience stretches thin for people who are self-centered, arrogant, pushy or argumentative. It is most obvious when one who lacks skills arrogantly refuses to accept advice from those who have mastered those skills. It is a path that can lead to isolation even within communities with the best intentions. But, our approach provides flexibility and openness to natural resolution. If the owner/leader of a project finds it difficult to work with a particular volunteer, (s)he is ok to invite that individual to spend their time more productively on other, more satisfying work. If that happens with a lot of people, that leader may realize that they need to work on their leadership skills. It is the same freedom that is exercised by individuals to not participate in any given project.

But all benefit from mutual service. All desire to be part of our community traditions. It’s the reason we are here. Because each choice brings it’s natural consequences, people are motivated to follow scriptural counsel to repent, change, improve. To the extent that the majority of people in the community focus on humbly recognizing and improving their own weaknesses based on the true principles taught by Jesus, unwelcome behaviors are self-correcting. Individuals improve personal competence and self-reliance. The community grows in strength and cohesiveness.

I began writing this post as a short introduction to Born’s article for our Village Bulletin Board, but it grew into something more. An online discussion, internal to “Friends of Sewanee Creek” followed. Please feel free to share your own perspectives on this blog.

If you are interested in access to our more private community discussions or think you might fit in our community, send me a request Request FOSC Membership. Our process of inclusion starts with a friendly phone chat, so be sure to include your phone number.

Why is Freedom Important?

It is to safeguard our ability to choose and do that which is good.

To defend freedom in the name of freedom only – the right to do whatever we want because we want to – is to be morally bankrupt, destructive to the world God created for us and at odds with “natural law”.

If we commit unspeakable acts of violence and evil in the name of freedom, we have no moral basis for the defense of “freedom”. We fight not for freedom, but for personal greed and dominance.

The dirty little secret that The American people have bought into, the elephant in the room that we choose to ignore, is that the empire we support through endless wars of conquest disproportionately benefits us vs the rest of the world. As the empire crumbles and the benefits that trickle down from the elite to the masses wane, the masses will wake up, not out of righteous indignation, but out of a displaced sense of loss. The gravy train has been good. We have collectively turned a blind eye to our wars of aggression waged in the name of freedom, or as G.W. Bush euphemistically said it, “our way of life”. Is our way of life just an excuse for conquest and plunder?
These are my thoughts as I considered the following interview from The Real News.

I believe that the mission and message of our little community, the Village on Sewanee Creek, should be about freedom in its fullest and best sense – the freedom to do positive good. Not as “do-gooders”out to reform everyone else, but people quietly reforming our own lives in harmony with that which is good.
The American paradigm we live within has focused our thinking to be against or at war with almost everything. There are wars against poverty, drugs, inequality, injustice, terrorism, illegal immigration, and on and on. A war mentality breeds anger, dissension and more war.

What is the antidote for a world that is continuously at war at every level? Christ taught us to repent. Repent of your acceptance of all forms of war. Champion freedom for the sole purpose of thinking and doing positive good. Repent of your natural inclination to justify evil in the name of false, self-serving good. When we learn to focus all of our thoughts and actions on doing that which is good and productive and always rejecting that which is harmful or destructive, our lives will be full of light, joy and peace.

I write this with no personal sense of moral satisfaction, for I am as guilty as anyone of self-serving thoughts and behaviors that justify evil in the name of false good. When we stop focusing on the greed of others (Wall Street, corporations, politicians, etc.) we may begin to recognize our own complicity in a system, built from the ground up on self-interest, a nicer word for greed. Christ identified the problem in His mote/beam parable.

I desire to live among people who don’t see themselves as righteous or good, but humbly seek to become so through striving for that which is good – people who are continuously in an active process of repentance – or reaching upward for the light. I hope that being with such people, I will be inspired and strengthened to repent myself.

The world will become a better place not through conquest of others but by conquest of oneself.

Regardless of our circumstances or the political system we live within,  we are all, ALWAYS, free to do that.

Walden Pond Updated – The modern “Good Life”

As a college student bout 40 years ago, I read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau. Like most people of my generation, I spent many years out of the woods, behind a desk, on planes, in endless meetings.  But, Thoreau’s message stuck.  From it, I learned ideas like

  • the importance of living deliberately
  • your stuff will own you, not the other way around
  • the true economics of Life
  • self-sufficiency is both possible and desirable.
  • the importance of living in and learning from nature.

After a career that paid well and exposed me to wealth and society, I have tried to live more simply and deliberately. In this excellent TED talk, Adam Baker does the best job that I’ve seen of recapturing Thoreau’s ideas for modern times. In the fragile, frenetic and uber-materialist world we live in, these ideas are more relevant than ever.

Inspiring experiences and memories are the rewards of a life well-lived. The stuff we accumulate gets in the way of real life.

If you are seeking to live “the Good Life” in the company of like-minded, well-informed, good and intelligent people, you might want to join us.  Inquire here

Making BioChar for our small farm

BioChar Ovens

BioChar Ovens

We have a weekly tradition of trading projects in the Village, where one family chooses a project and others chip in.  This week, we built biochar ovens (sometimes called kilns or retorts) out of 55-gallon steel barrels.  Using a plasma cutter, it was a breeze cutting and assembling these ovens.   Weather cooperating, we plan our first biochar making session this Saturday.  We invite Villagers and visitors from the local community to join us.

Biochar, also known as Tera Preta, was discovered in the Amazon Jungle a few years back.  Apparently biochar production and use as a soil amendment was practiced by a lost pre-Colombian civilization.  The discoverers noticed that in a patch of cleared jungle land, the rich, black soil was incredibly productive where the surrounding soil was dead.  Upon excavating, they discovered that this black soil was also amazingly deep, having been artificially manufactured over generations.

“The burning and natural decomposition of biomass and in particular agricultural waste adds large amounts of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. Biochar can store large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old-growth forests.” – Wikipedia

Our soil tends to be acidic, so the addition of a ph raising amendment, like biochar is a big plus.  In addition to sequestration of carbon and other minerals beneficial to food crops, biochar is also noted for its tiny nooks and crannies that provide habitat for beneficial bacteria that enhance soil quality and structure.

The process of producing biochar from wood also releases clean syngas, that can be used as fuel in internal combustion engines.  We make electricity using a generator fueled by wood gas.  So many benefits from one process!

There is still much to be learned about how and why biochar works as a soil amendment.  But, as a community, we decided it’s well worth testing, contributing to the body of knowledge, reaping the benefits in our small farms and creating another source of green revenue by producing it in reasonably large quantities.

Here is a video that explains the system we built.  Have fun with this.  We are.

BTW, if you’re someone who enjoys being self-sufficient, building things, and the company of other creative, industrious folks, you might want to join us permanently.  We’re a community of interesting, accomplished people who care about each other.  Contact us here.