What Even Is?

As I sit here in the coffee shop, I loathe the man across the room. There he is on his phone talking about “landing a deal”, being all self-absorbed and New York, unaware that his deal doesn’t even matter to the grander scheme of things. He doesn’t even know that the deal is probably what is tearing him away from what life really is! I despise his ignorance… I envy it.

I remember those moments of being lost in my own distractions. I have no doubt they’ll return, though I’m unsure I want them to. Instead, I want the loss of Kofi to have impact and significance, but I know I’m a human being addicted to shielding myself from the suffering that surrounds my existence. I know too the allure of distracting myself with schedules and tasks is one I have yet to conquer.

In the wake of this loss, and after spending over an hour trying to get these words on paper, the sentiments come back to me. What is this battle I fight with myself? How pointless it is to be lost in my head instead of being present in what actually is?

Then again, what even IS?

I thought I knew, or at least I thought I was on the path. But, when faced with such stark reality, we’re also faced with the knowledge we’ve been distracting ourselves from for so long.

That knowledge being the answer to the question which we refuse to acknowledge; for doing so means everything we’ve done in life to “get there” really is just a mechanism for protecting us from anticipated pain, discomfort, and fear.

That answer?

What really is is nothing, everything, and our complete lack of control of either.

What the hell am I talking about?

I’m saying the linear life that we plan and perfect isn’t REAL. It only exists in our heads. What IS is not the plan nor the perfection of living that plan. What IS is what’s happening to you right now. And now. And now.

What happened to you two seconds ago is gone, and what will happen two seconds from now is out of your control. Oh, you think it’s in your control. You think you can plan the next two seconds, then the next, and the next. You think that by doing so you can avoid the pain of the unplanned and the unwanted… but I assure you, you cannot.

You see, just because one of our plans works out, doesn’t mean we are in control of that outcome. Just because many of our schedules and jobs and relationships and plans work out; we are not in control.

Because, at any moment it could all change.

We see examples of this all the time. Some of those examples are tragic, but some of them are quite amazing. Yes, a death can come at anytime, but so too can a new life!

Further, not knowing and not being in control is all OK. In fact, it’s more than OK… it’s actually the only thing that IS.

Not being in control is the reality of living.

Ok so in plain talk, what do I think IS?

I think:

What is is the feeling you get from looking at a beautiful plant.

Plant in a winery tasting room
One of the plants at Core Winery in Lyle, WA

What is is admiring a cute pet.

Taiwanese Mountain Dog sleeping
Fay takes a snooze.

What is is the joy of seeing family come together.

baby shower
My ill attempt at capturing my sister-in-laws baby shower.
family
Rey, Clewi, and Zwayne get together.

What is is the awe of seeing the wonder of human hands.

Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge from a far.

What is is the grief of standing in front of your friend at rest and saying goodbye.

What is is the pain of holding a grieving friend.

What is is the heartache of having to take the next step forward from your grief into the unknown.

All of these things are, and then they aren’t; and none of them are within our control.

I have spent my entire life believing myself in control. I have been trying to run from the suffering of life through distracting myself with accomplishments and schedules, but, in that running, I have missed the joy that comes along with the suffering.

Seeing a life well lived end too soon, I recognize my time is running out for taking in the joy. That is what really scares me.

I also recognize that to let that joy in, to feel the depths of life, I have to let in the pain too.

To let that pain in, I need give up the idea that I’m in control and let life happen; the good and the bad.

Only then will I be free. Only then, will I be living.

Cultivate Good Character

During my recent stay in Charlotte, I had the treat of watching the Lord of the Rings movies with two newbies to the series. For any LOTR fan, this is quite the delight! Answering questions, waiting for reactions, noticing things you didn’t the first 20 times you watched… it’s a time that can’t be beat. You can also bet I was WAY more excited by this than they were… what can I say, the story never gets old!

It is this, Tolkien’s masterpiece, which inspires post number 4! Well, actually it inspired The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and it is this latter text which bolsters our discussion on the Six Keys of Happiness as defined by Tolkien.

What is key to happiness number 4? Cultivate Good Character

The authors explain how this aspect is pretty much cut and dry for Tolkien. In LOTR, morally good characters meet with good ends and morally bad characters do not. There is only a very slight deviation from this in his books, but for the most part it’s a solid bet that if you are good in Tolkien’s middle earth, life will work out for you, and if not… sorry. Thus, it is clear that being a good person is something Tolkien thinks everyone should aim for.

I can’t deny that cultivating my own good character has been something of a focus for me along this path. As I reflect on when and why this started, I’m left blank. Was I always this way? I think not. Sure I have always been an OK person, but as of late I’ve found myself focused much more on putting energy out into the world that I would want to receive back. Further, I don’t want to receive bad, angry, resentful vibes, so I work not to give them out.

In addition, good character to me is about, as the Buddhists would say, cultivating Right Action, Right Speech, Right View, and the like. Meaning, I work to only take actions which I think are good for all involved. I try to keep my word when I say I’m going to do something. When I speak I try not to say bad things about others. I even look to see the whole picture in a situation and not blindly accuse.

Of course, I’m not always successful at these tasks. In fact I’m maybe successful half the time if I’m lucky. But, I do think the practice here is as important as the result. After-all, the key is to Cultivate Good Character, NOT Somehow Have Good Character Without Having Worked On It.

In this way, I plan on going about my journey towards a happy Hobbit style life. Doing so thus far has led to great conversations, increased knowledge, comfortable stays, and fun times.

In the end, what else is there, really?

Get Personal

In this my third post on Tolkien’s Keys to Happiness as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, I’d like to take a few moments to add some commentary to the author’s third key to happiness:

Get Personal

Throughout the chapter, the author continuously refers back to the hobbits as exemplars for living this happy life. He starts section number 3 with

“Hobbits are a clannish and highly sociable people.”

He then goes on to further describe the extents of their loyalty to and interactions between friends. He points out how deeply friendship is valued in the hobbit community, how this contributes to their happy go lucky hobbit life, then compares Tolkien’s description of these values to those of real life philosophers. He states,

“The importance of belonging to other people–of forming close, supportive attachments–is something many philosophers have noted as well.“

Friendship is important, we all know this. Further, many of us define our quality of life based off the friendships we have. Being on the road has been a journey not just through time and space, but through reflections on my own relationships.

I have had countless friends, both old and new, extend their encouragement and support. Several have reached out to schedule regular catch up chats with me, and many continuously reach out via email or even, *gasp*, real mail to stay in touch.

I’m lucky.

I’ve also met many wonderful people on the road. I was saying just the other day that I’ve yet to meet someone who has been genuinely unkind to me. Kinda crazy given how the world is portrayed to us nowadays, but I assure you it’s true.

Getting personal to me means exploring and deepening both types of interactions; friend and stranger. I’ve allowed myself to do so by being more vulnerable, open, and honest with both sets of individuals. In return I have not only gained new knowledge and perspectives, but have also increased my ability to get to know myself.

As this process unfolds, I find I have more confidence and increased feelings of self worth. I’m also able to extend more love and compassion to both myself and others.

I believe all of these characteristics are what contribute to happier and more fulfilling moments. And, as we all know, more happy and fulfilling moments make for a more happy and fulfilling life.

Score another for Tolkien and his happy hobbits!

Delighting in the Simple Things

Not to long ago I shared some reflections I had been having (and continue to have) in regards to what it is I’m actually doing on my current journey. It should come as no surprise that my realizations and musings related back to a book devoted to The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy. I’m a devotee, what can I say?

In the previous post, I briefly touched on “Tolkien’s Six Keys to Happiness” and I thought it would be fun to dive into each one a bit further and describe how I’m seeing (or not seeing) each play out along the path I currently walk/drive. Since this is my first piece in this series, I’ll start with numero uno:

Delight in the Simple Things

I don’t think the concept itself needs much explanation. For you LOTR fans out there, the way the authors of the aforementioned book tell it is Tolkien exemplifies both Hobbits and Elves (who are very different, but also very content beings) as happy creatures. He lends this as such due to the fact that both live uncomplicated lives close to nature, and thereby to each other, and both, in their own way, delight in life’s simplicities.

I do believe doing these things has been a major part of my journey thus far, and has also contributed to my increased feelings of fulfillment and contentment even after only a few months. In fact, by letting go of more and more stuff which I thought defined me (material goods, career perceptions, characteristics of ambition and power, etc) I find myself not only having more space and time to delight in the simple things, but I also see myself just DOING the delighting without prompt or feeling I need to.

For example, I know I’ve already shared with you pictures of the surrounding area here in Templeton and of the pets I’m lucky enough to be spending September with, but here are some more for good measure:

Vineyard on a hill, cows in the foreground.
I mean… who doesn’t want to look at this sight each day?
Sycamore tree
I think this tree is so interesting looking, I can’t help but stare at it each time we walk by.
Black Tail Deer grazing.
I love when wildlife allows me to watch it just… live.
Terrier on the floor looking up
I could stare at this face for hours!
English Spaniel looking back at me.
Another face I could spend some quality time appreciating.

I share these pictures for more than just good measure actually. These moments I’ve captured here are so incredibly simple. Yet, each fills me with a tremendous amount of gratitude and joy. I could look at them for extended periods of time and not NEED anything else. These simple things bring me delight.

Further, I can tell you this. I missed these moments for years as I instead used all of my brain space to figure out how to be “A Better”.

You know what I’m talking about. Thoughts like, “How will I be a better consultant?”, “I need to be a better friend.”, “I need to be a better woman.”, “How can I be a better adult?”, and on and on were constantly circulating through my brain. I would then determine I needed to actually DO these things and come up with plans and schedules and schemes which would get me to the Better!

Here’s the thing. All of this thinking and doing took a lot of my energy, a lot of my time, and never actually made me feel better. Go figure. Maybe I should have started living like a Hobbit a long time ago.

Now rest assured I still have these thoughts daily. In fact, I’m having them right now as I write to you. I’m telling myself I should be working on figuring out how I’m going to be making money when I start traveling abroad and being a more consistent and professional consultant instead of exploring the ideas I’m sharing with you.

My soul knows better.

Instead of giving into the better, I use the trust in myself and this process we call life to work to accept the thoughts I am having, but also to continue to write and explore what I’m sharing. For each battle my soul wins, I find myself naturally delighting more in the simple things.

I look over at my morning cup of coffee in awe. I look over at this face and want to cry and laugh and just feel:

English Spaniel on twin bed.
My writing companion encourages me.

In these soul first moments I see myself laughing at my anxieties and my human awkwardness. I then look forward to my afternoon entertainment of going outside to see if there is a bird in the bird bath, and if there is, watching it just being a bird.

In short, instead of striving to be something, I can finally revel in being me. And, instead of seeing myself as some separate entity moving about the Earth, I see my communion with the world and lives around me and I appreciate the profound simplicity of this communion. It was there all along, but I blinded myself from it.

Finally, I notice in these few minutes before the Better thoughts start up again that doing this reveling just feels really good. In fact, you’re right, Tolkien, it does make me happy.

An Attempt at Some Answers

Two years ago, I found myself in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; one of the stops on a road trip a dear friend and I were taking from New York to Seattle. On the morning we had in Sioux Falls I was taking advantage of an opportunity to have breakfast with another friend in real life. Before we met up I hadn’t told this friend why I was in his native city, just that I was in town and hoped to see him.

After we arrived at the cafe, hugged our hellos, and made further introductions, my friend asked me two questions that have stayed with me.

“What are you doing here? Why are you doing this?”

To this day I’m not quite sure I know the answers especially in regards to my current adventures. However, due to some wisdom imparted by this book, I’m feeling a bit more grounded in my efforts.

Come on, you know you’re not surprised by another Lord of the Rings lesson learned.


In truth, I always looked at what I was doing as some sort of hero’s journey, so I suppose likening it to a quest makes sense. BUT, since I’m not trying to actually save the world, the connections weren’t as obvious for me. They became more so as I read the chapter entitled ‘“My Precious”: Tolkien’s Fetishized Ring’.

The chapter focuses on how Tolkien uses the fetishization of material objects (the grandest example is that of the One Ring), and the resistance of this fetishization, as a way to exert his philosophical viewpoint on humanity. That viewpoint being: Externalizing our passions and worth onto external objects will not lead to a happy life.

As someone who has actively been giving up many of my own material possessions, this topic intrigued me. The paragraph which hits home starts off “In order to benefits from these gifts, the protagonists of The Lord of the Rings have first to give up their possessions, their homes and families. The Quest of the Fellowship charts an attempt to deal with the fetishism of the object, and to restore relations with people and with things.”

Oh snap. Is THAT why I’m here? Is it why I’m “doing this”? Am I trying to restore relations with people, things, myself? I believe in a way I am. Part of what I’m loving so much about my life right now is meeting others and connecting in the moment. I’m seeing my appreciation for people, animals, and environments renewed, and I’m really, really loving this outcome.

Touché, Tolkien.

Another chapter which has heightened my self reflections is the one entitled “Tolkien’s Six Keys to Happiness”. The idea is we move towards a more full life by taking the stance of the hobbit folk and following the 6 steps laid out in the book. Here let me share them with you:

  1. Delight in the Simple Things
  2. Make Light of Your Troubles
  3. Get Personal
  4. Cultivate Good Character
  5. Cherish and Create Beauty
  6. Rediscover Wonder

What stood out to me here in relation to my current journey is that I’m moving towards each of these points without intentionally meaning to. Indeed, once I gave up a home, many material things, and the “certainties” of life which I thought I held dear, a whole new world opened up for me. I care so much more about so much less. I feel fuller by emptying out the “junk”. It’s a truly beautiful experience.

As I think back on those questions, and reflect on the start of some answers, I realize I’m nowhere close to being 100% “right” with any of it. Who knows, maybe as I read more of the book I’ll have more answers to share. Or maybe the less I concern myself with the answer, the more it will appear.

I think by know we know what Tolkien would have to say about it at least.