Say Thanks with a Smile

Say Thanks with a Smile

Gratitude is the surest foundation of a happy life. That’s true for cultivating your own feelings of gratitude for things, events and especially toward people.  It goes the other way too. There’s nothing that makes me feel happier than knowing something I’ve said, done or helped someone experience made them feel great – AKA grateful. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they say “thank you”. While that’s nice, there are just too many ways to discount a polite thank you from someone who doesn’t look all that happy.

I think deeply feeling someone’s gratitude is one of the reasons why giving is so much better than receiving.  For me, the best thank-you’s are non-verbal. You feel it to your bones because you know it’s real, and you know you made it so.  It affirms who you are.  You are good.

We rent out a couple of cabins near our gorgeous waterfall. I make it a point to take each new guest on a personal tour of the waterfall and trails, pointing out ways to enjoy it.

It takes some extra time. But I do it mainly so I can experience that flush of endorphins that comes from seeing the look of amazement and pure pleasure as they come to the top of the falls, peer over the edge, and find that it is so much more than they expected. You see, the expression of pure pleasure on someone’s face is a form of gratitude that beats the oral kind hands down.

Every time I get to vicariously experience pure joy just by seeing someone else’s face, knowing that I helped put the smile there, I want to do it again and again. It’s a good thing to notice the pleasure you feel from other’s genuine gratitude and how that programs you to keep doing nice things.  It goes the other direction too.  Simply by wearing a genuine, expressive smile, other people will do whatever they can to help me keep wearing it.  

So, smile. It’s your best way of saying thank you and it pays high dividends for others and yourself.

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.

Finding Joy with Practical Meditation

Finding Joy with Practical Meditation

Most everyone wants to be happy.

My journey has been all about seeking a higher level of JOY.   Retiring early from a lucrative business career, founding an intentional community, participating actively in my religious faith and, most recently, building the Village 2.0 around serving and enjoying guests in our vacation cabins.

I make a distinction between happiness and joy.  For me, joy connotes a higher level that transcends external stimuli.  It is a quality  of being that exists despite the frustrations, disappointments or even malicious attacks from the outside world.  I work every day to attain that elusive place of sustainable joy.

Morning Meditation
 Morning Meditation

I have found it useful / NO, essential in the pursuit of joy, to maintain a daily routine, even a ritual of deep personal meditation.  There are many forms of meditation.  Mine has evolved, sampling many of them over the years long before founding the Village in 2006.  I respect eastern meditation traditions born out of Buddhism and Hinduism, having received instruction in Transcendental Meditation and the Japanese arts of Zen.  Cultivating stillness of mind and body to synchronize and bring both into harmony is the essence, or at least the starting point for these powerful methods.

Over years of trial and practice, I found other elements in my meditation that brought additional richness to my daily routine. Going on two years now, I have made a practice of meditating each morning on a single verse from scripture.  Perhaps too long to be called a mantra, it still quiets my mind and connects me with truth as experienced in the realities of the prior day.  It is simply this:

“Adam fell that men might BE; 

and men are, that they might have JOY.”

Distilled into this short verse is a purpose of life statement from God’s perspective.  The why of creation is made explicit.  Adam, like all his family, is no villain upon whom we can blame our sins.  He is no scapegoat.  He is our good father.  He is part of God’s great plan to bring us all into BEing that we might find JOY. Like Adam, all of his children are fallen that we might BE. This is the existential statement that transcends Niche, Sartre, Thoreau and all the rest.  If that isn’t deep enough to occupy one’s mind alone, the scripture relates the PURPOSE of BEING.  It is to become Joyful, not in fleeting moments, but in permanent, existential, eternal being.  It is a long journey of BECOMING . . . . joyful.

Much of contemporary Christianity focuses on overcoming, or at least being forgiven of the darker side of our human existence.  I believe my scriptural “mantra” expresses Jesus’ purpose and intent better. Subsequent verses lay that out. The core of my daily meditation practice for some time now has rested on those two entrained thoughts of the how and why of man’s being.

It isn’t enough only to still the mind, although that is an excellent, even essential beginning. Having done so, I reflect deeply on my purpose, to achieve joy, while reflecting deeply on my prior day’s experiences. I observe what experiences enhanced or detracted from sustainable joy.  I ask basic questions like why and how, under what circumstances and through what relationships.  Then, through God’s promptings, I attempt to distill observations into universal principles that I can practice every day.

For example, I have found that many of the activities that consistently bring me deep feelings of joy relate to building things and then sharing my delight with others.  The specific activities are far from universal.  They are personal, even unique to me. I think most people would not derive joy from building the things I do, even finding that work frustrating or anger-provoking.

 “The Beech”. Treehouse

The treehouse I have been building for the past year and a half, the unique bar stools that go in it, the rocket stove, finding creative ways to repurpose discarded items like the live dome roof from a satellite dish or the deck made from plastic pallets.

Unicycle Barstool

One could call it art or simply the creative impulse that many experience as soul satisfying.  The substance of my meditation is in parsing out what is universally joyful about these activities, distilling that into principles and practicing every day.

Reflecting on these feelings from real experiences every day as I contemplate joy grounds me in truth that I can test and prove from my own experience.  Hence, I can conclude that it is true.  I believe that one of many eternal principles of joy is the experience of creation.  That truth is further validated as I read iconic stories from scripture like the biblical story of creation that ends with God standing back on the seventh day to admire His work and pronouncing it good.  In doing so, He recognizes and celebrates His own goodness and His Godness.  This is existential joy.    The great religions all have their creation stories.  That consistency across cultures and prophets further testifies to me that God derives Joy from creation. Like God, Adam and all of his children, we must fulfill that and other core needs in order to become a being of light and joy.

As I meditate daily on my purpose of being, I have discovered many other principles of joy. The objective is to become more like God, who is the consummate being of Joy.  It’s a long, even eternal journey and I am getting better.  Becoming better because I try every day to take my thought-s about joy out of the garden of Eden (meditation) into the challenges of real life. Then, the following morning, back to the garden where I try to synchronize my thoughts of joy with the experiences of the flesh from the prior day.

When I was a child, my parents sacrificed to give me private music lessons.  I hated to practice my scales and arpeggios.  But my mother disciplined me to do so daily.  It was hard work.  But, as with all good things, the hard work of practice is what enables positive change.  Practice paid joyful dividends.  I find joy in improvisational creativity on my saxophone regardless of the level of skill or perfection I have yet to attain.

In Christianity, the word for practice is called repentance, or in other words, positive change or growth.  Repentance is the culminating step of practical meditation that completes the circle of finding joy.

Christmas Eve – 2012 – Joseph and Mary Dinner

It’s very early, Christmas morning as I begin this.  Everyone is still asleep.  Outside it’s dark and foggy.  It’s been raining steadily for a couple of weeks.

Reflecting on 2012, it was a year of many challenges, like most years.  But, in this moment, I am filled with joy and gratitude.  My eyes fill as I think of the wondrous Christmas Eve we spent as a family last night. An old family tradition was revisited, but it came alive as never before.

We have called it the Joseph and Mary Dinner.  Our tradition has been to celebrate Christmas Eve simply, as they might have, eating the things they might have eaten, as poor travelers, quietly pondering unfolding events that they could not have understood.

Sometimes, with the best intentions, traditions wander into unintended territory and lose the essence of what they are meant to commemorate.  So it is with modern Christmas traditions that ring, not with joy and hope, but with hollowness.
There have been years when our Joseph and Mary dinner crept outside its roots, looking more like a celebration of Middle Eastern cuisine.
But last night we celebrated well.  No shepherds clothed in bathrobes, no dolls wrapped in dish towels.  It was a simple meal of dates, goat cheese, flat bread and grape juice.  Probably much more than they enjoyed that night.  But this time, the meal wasn’t the point nor the focus.  Rather than the traditional reading of the Christmas story, each family member had been challenged to bring their favorite scripture about Christ.  I think we had all struggled a bit to choose one as we stepped outside the traditional story.  But the ensuing discussion was rich and full.  We celebrated much more than a vague image of a few people from long ago in a strange and unfamiliar land, huddled around a tiny baby in a barn.

Following the sharing of scriptures and their very personal significance, we gathered around the piano to sing the sacred Christmas carols.  My voice is nearly gone, I hope only temporarily.  I could barely croak out the tunes.  But it was magical.  Instead of focusing on making lovely music with four-part harmony, we traded turns, each reading one stanza of the lyrics of all the carols in our hymn book.  The reading revealed new meaning as the poetic phrases came to life unencumbered by the rhythms of the music.

“And, at last our eyes shall see Him, through His own redeeming Love”
Once in Royal David’s City

“Shepherds, why this Jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong?  What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?”
– Angels We Have Heard on High

“No more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He’ll come and make the blessings flow far as the curse was found.”
Joy to the World

I was humbled as I contrasted our family birthday celebrations with birthday cakes against God’s majesty and power in the way He celebrated the event with the brightest star ever seen in the heavens.
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Then, we sang from the heart with full meaning expressed in joyful celebration.
“Joy to the World”
“Jesus, Lord at thy birth” –  Silent Night
“Hosanna” – With Wondering Awe
“Noël” (look it up, we did) – The First Noël
“Hallelujah!” – Silent Night
“Sing in exultation”Oh, Come All Ye Faithful
Gloria in excelsis Deo – Angels we have heard on high
… and more

I will not profane the sacred experience by attempting to recount the things we spoke of.  Only this.  This has already been the best Christmas of my life.  I am overwhelmed with a sense of hope, peace, joy and gratitude to my God and Savior.  And, I look forward to 2013 and beyond with more confidence that, come what may, it will be wonderful, good and right.  Now, to hold on to that feeling throughout the year.

Merry Christmas to All
May your lives be filled with the unspeakable joy of Christmas.

One week later, Still in Thanksgiving mode

This year the thanksgiving holiday (and feelings that go with it) have been extended more than usual as I have focused on the blessing of being married for 25 years to an angel.

But I think it is difficult to stay in a thanksgiving mindset these days, not because times are hard, but because we still have so much (although perhaps less than we had a few years ago).   As blogged elsewhere, the abundant life is more a state of mind than a state of having lots of material stuff.  Now comes more rigorous thought from economists on why that is the case. Do you remember those boring lectures in Econ 101 about the theory of utility?  Basically, the theory says with each additional (or marginal) thing we get, its marginal utility decreases. And with decreasing utility, so goes our thankfulness for it.

Here is the article that discusses “Thanksgiving and Marginal Utility.”

So Thoreau was right. The formula for optimizing thankfulness and therefore, Joy, is to minimize excess stuff and live in a state of mild deprivation.

Hmmm, deprivation. that sounds kind of bad doesn’t it?  I have found that deprivation, in itself, doesn’t necessarily produce gratitude or joy any more than our greenhouse always produces the best vegetables.  There are plenty of miserable poor people to attest to that and it takes more than just solar heat in the daytime to grow good produce.   But, like the greenhouse, maintaining the right environment is important where, with some additional care and tending, the fruits of thankfulness and joy can be most rewarding.

I know this advice is falling on a lot of deaf ears.  “Mild deprivation” doesn’t sound very appealing even with some quasi-scientific/Economic justification.  OK, so try a dare based on the more traditional Biblical justification found in Proverbs 30:7-9.

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

Economic theory confirmed in Scripture or the other way around?  All I know is that this week, as I have focused my attention on being thankful for the simple, non-material things of value in my life, I have felt a deeper, lasting sense of peace.  That feels pretty valuable right now.