The Problem With Burning Man–And a Solution

Mind-blowing art installations. An inspiring culture of creativity and love and colorful self-expression. A sharing economy free of bureaucracy and discrimination. Endless partying and opportunities for psychedelic experiences and sexual exploration. A body-positive environment where clothes are optional but you’re not sexualized unless you want to be. Intimacy with strangers and all the hugging, cuddling, and oxytocin you could imagine. Breathtaking desert sunrises and dust storms that awaken your primal survival instincts. Hundreds of workshops on topics ranging from sexual kinks to transcendental meditation. A tribal experience burning a symbol of evil and corruption and everything that is wrong with the world.

All of this—the culture of Burning Man— resonates with my own personal values. The experience has become wildly popular because it addresses serious problems we all face in modern life—isolation, monotony, conformity, consumerism, disconnection from nature. Most of my closest friends in San Francisco have spent months preparing for the week-long event that starts next week. They tell me it’s a life-changing experience that nothing else will ever come close to.

But I’m not going this year, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon.
Why not? The obvious reason is that I can’t afford it. After ticket costs, camp fees, transportation, and preparation expenses, it would cost me at least $2,000, which is way out of my vacation budget.

But even if I could afford to throw $2,000 at a one week vacation, I don’t think I would go. Here are some major problems I see with the whole festival:

1. It’s terrible for the Earth.
The Black Rock Desert is an inhospitable environment that is not fit for human habitation. I don’t know of any way to pack in all your own water, prepared food, and power supply (you HAVE to have air conditioning in the orgy tent!) without excessive amounts of plastic packaging and fossil fuels. On top of that, you have to buy all sorts of camping supplies that you’ll never be able to use again once they’ve been destroyed by playa dust.

I’m not sure how the eco-conscious hippies justify all the unnecessary waste and pollution, or how they sustain their serotonin-depleted bodies for an entire WEEK on cliff bars and freeze-dried dinners.

2. Talk about PRIVILEGE!
The culture of Burning Man preaches an all-inclusive philosophy that shares the love with people from every race, religion, and sexual orientation. Nobody talks about the minor exception made for everyone without $2,000+ and a week of vacation time to throw away, oh and you have to know the right people to get those elusive tickets and you need to find friends you can camp with who you’ll also have to trust to save you from a bad acid trip, and good luck finding a ride out to the middle of nowhere for you + 14 gallons of water.
If that’s not a way to discriminate against the under-privileged then I don’t know what is. I’d rather spend my time spreading messages of love and enlightenment to communities who don’t already have it all, contributing art and giving back to people who really need it. I’d rather cultivate intimacy with strangers who don’t have everything in common with me and put my energy into strengthening the relationships that surround me in my everyday life.

3. It doesn’t last.
Burners go through months of arduous preparation all for one week in a utopian city where they can escape the suffocating torture of the corporate grind and feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. At some point during the week, they reach an epiphany about the oneness in everyone, recognizing isolation and greed and bureaucracy as the source of all the hurt in the world. They undergo a spiritual transformation as they burn the effigy of evil, and then promptly go back to their fluorescent-lit cubicles where they ignore their feelings and sell consumerism so they can climb the corporate ladder and buy themselves the newest luxuries to stave off the existential dread. Maybe the burning man inspires you to quit your job or start having kinkier sex, but you still revert back to avoiding eye contact with strangers, paying your taxes, and bickering with your significant other.
If so many people share these values, why can’t we use them to build a community that lasts? Why does it have to be a temporary experience that disappears after a week and forces you to return to a life filled with everything you hate? Why not devote our energy to creating a real solution to the isolation and monotony of modern life?

It would make a lot more sense to find a place in nature that’s more hospitable to humans and build a permanent enlightened community. That way we don’t have to destroy the environment in the process and we can make it accessible to people of all socioeconomic classes who share our values.

I know of numerous living spaces in the Bay Area that are attempting to create more permanent intentional communities based on these values. Some of them are very successful, but they’re missing out on the crucial factors of being close to nature and requiring primal survival skills (aside from being extremely overpriced). I’ve done some research online and even traveled to visit several communities around the country with no luck finding what I’m looking for.

This is what I imagine: A modern village surrounded by nature that is largely self-sustaining. There are minimalist private living spaces and large central areas for recreation and communal activities. As soon as you walk out your front door, you’ll see children playing in green spaces and spontaneously bump into your neighbors, who will also be your friends. Everyone must embrace shared values of radical honesty, nonviolent communication, and authentic self-expression. There is a culture of contagious creativity that welcomes nudity, polyamory, and psychedelic experiences. The community is full of music and sports and dancing and all sorts of activities so you don’t need to drive anywhere to find entertainment. There are people of all ages who participate in raising the children and sharing any skills they can contribute so that no one is left isolated or in need. I want it to be a safe, private place away from the pollution and stress of city life, but still within a short drive of an urban center and well-connected to the outside world through technology. Residents could work remotely or survive on a small budget since expenses would be low and most needs would be met internally.

My gut tells me that my vision is too idealistic to ever become a reality. There are too many complicated details, and if such a thing were possible then it would already exist. But the growing popularity of Burning Man and other festivals gives me hope. Clearly, people are starting to see the problems with modern American life. That’s why thousands of burners spend months in preparation just for the chance to escape it all for a week and experience the way humans are meant to live. If we could redirect even a fraction of that energy towards building a lasting solution to our problems, then we could make SO much progress. We could demonstrate that it’s possible to live in peaceful communities that fulfill each others’ needs and treat the environment with respect.

My goal is to settle down in a village like the one I described within the next 5 years. Instead of going to Burning Man, I’m going to devote my time and energy towards finding or building a community that will last.

The problem is, I have no clue where to start. Do you know of any places I can find what I’m looking for? Any ideas for how to make it happen? Would you be interested in joining me?

Why I Play Music

Sometimes I wonder why I put so much time and energy into music. Is it really worth it? I know I’ll never make a career out of it, or any decent money to speak of. I’ll never be one of the best, or anything remotely close. I don’t have the desire or dedication to practice for hours a day. Even if I did, I’m such a latecomer to Bluegrass that I don’t have a chance against all my peers who’ve been playing fiddle tunes since before they could walk. I’m surrounded by so many amazing musicians in the San Francisco Bluegrass scene who can play circles around me, and most of them only do it as a hobby on top of some prestigious tech job. Every time I see children less than half my age shredding solos I could never dream of playing at half the speed, I get the urge to give up on music altogether and confine myself to a life of pious meditation. What’s the point of even trying?

The thing is, when I listen to music, I don’t care about how skilled the artists are, how fast they can fiddle or how long the singer can hold out a note before turning blue in the face. What I care about is how the music makes me feel. I want the music to change me, to uplift me, to mean something. I crave the authentic emotion, the beautiful sounds that speak to me like nothing else can. I don’t care about fancy licks and impressive solos unless they contribute to the meaning of the song.

Most of my favorite music is incredibly simple. This song by Molly Tuttle and John Mailander is one of my recent obsessions that I’ve listened to more times than I can count. Even though Molly is one of the most skilled Bluegrass guitar players I know of, she doesn’t play anything flashy to show off. I can tell she’s bursting with feelings that she wants to share with the audience, and she does it in a way that moves me every time I hear it.

This is the kind of music that helps me make it through life. It calms my storms of emotion, comforts me when I’m lonely, nourishes my soul with beauty. It gives me hope on dark days and inspires me to overcome challenges. It heals heartbreak and fills the aching emptiness. It touches parts of my soul that are out of reach to anything else and unlocks feelings that have been trapped inside. It amplifies my joy and nurtures connections with people I love. Music has been more powerful than any therapy.

This is my goal—to create music that helps other people in the same way. If I can in any way help someone make sense of the chaos of life through my music, I am satisfied. One of the best feelings ever is to make eye contact with someone in the audience while performing and see that they’ve been moved by a song, maybe even with a tear in their eye. Those moments of connection make everything worth it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in seeking recognition and prestige, playing to impress people and craving the quick high of external validation. When I get stuck in that mindset, I catch myself wishing terrible things onto other fiddle players and gravitating towards jams where I can feel like I’m the best. Then I inevitably get my ego shattered when anyone plays better than me, and I plummet into a self-defeating spiral of thoughts that I’ll never be any good and I might as well give up now.

The only way out is to forget about competing with other musicians and focus on playing music to connect with people. I’m still going to pursue technical mastery so that I can more freely communicate everything I’m feeling, but I don’t have to feel threatened by all the musicians who are always going to be better than me. I can admire them and learn from them and know that I still have something unique to offer. When I let go of my ego, I end up playing better and having more fun.

Music has a unique ability to bypass people’s defenses and go straight to the heart. It’s a universal language that can forge deep connections between people who have nothing else in common. Even if you’re just a beginner, it’s always worthwhile endeavor when you’re creating something meaningful.

The Power of Authenticity

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss

That quote nearly lost its meaning for me after hearing it so many times, but I’ve recently rediscovered how liberating and empowering the message is.

I believe and practice a lot of things that would offend people I care about. I’m not a Christian. I practice polyamory. Sometimes I’m attracted to women. I’ve tried illegal substances. I would prefer a world without government. I believe that circumcision, spanking, and most forms of discipline are child abuse. I think formal schooling is unnecessary and usually harmful to children. Sometimes I wonder whether humans would be better off if we lived in tribes as hunter-gatherers and never created civilization.

Did any of those trigger you? I hope so. They’re all things I’ve been afraid to admit to certain people. And each one is a huge topic that I would like to explore on this blog.

But there’s been so much fear holding me back. What if I destroy friendships? Lose job opportunities? Get abandoned by everyone I love and am forced to live the rest of my life in solitary confinement?

Some of these fears are well-founded. I’ve felt deeply betrayed by attempts to “be myself” in the past. One time I even lost a job that I adored because I opened up to my boss about my feelings. I’ve destroyed friendships by revealing my political beliefs. I’ve been rebuked by one of my biggest heroes for expressing my feelings inappropriately on Facebook.

As someone who tends to hold controversial opinions, I’ve continually swung from one extreme—proudly offending everyone within earshot—to the opposite, where I lock my feelings inside and attempt to pass as “normal.”

In my struggle to find a balance, I’m learning that I need to have a bias towards authenticity. People who get offended by my opinions are not usually people I want to spend time with. I don’t want to be friends with them, I don’t want to work for them, and I don’t need them to read my blog.

Looking back on the traumatic losses I experienced by being open in the past, I can see now that most of them were for the best. It really would not have been good for me to stay in a job where I bottled up my concerns about the environmental impact of cotton farming practices. A friendship that required me to believe in Christianity was not worth my energy. By cutting off these attachments, I’ve freed myself to develop more fulfilling relationships.

My biggest struggle recently has been opening up about polyamory. It’s a big part of my life, and keeping it secret feels like betraying myself. I want my friends to accept me for who I really am. But I’ve been worried that people would lose respect for me, assuming I sleep around with everyone I meet with no concern for safety or stability (although even that should be no cause for disrespect). I’ve already shattered my parents’ hopes for me to be a holy daughter, but this might be the last straw that causes them to disown me entirely. I’m in the market for a new job right now, and potential employers might look down on such an alternative lifestyle.

A few days ago I conquered these fears and shared a post about why I practice polyamory. I’ve never seen such a dramatic response. My blog got almost 1,000 page views over the weekend, compared to my normal 2-3 visits per day. I received dozens of messages from people I’ve never even met and friends I haven’t talked to in years. They said they’re inspired by my courage, and now they want to start sharing more about what they believe. Some of them confided that they’ve been exploring polyamory in secret, afraid of the consequences of coming out in public, expressing how grateful they are for my effort to break the stigma.

Of course, there were plenty of responses that weren’t so positive. I offended people I care about deeply. Some people made me out to be a frivolous little girl who wants to run around and sleep with everyone I meet with no regard for my offspring and the people around me. Some of them made valid criticisms of my arguments. I’m not looking forward to the reaction I’ll get from my parents—last they heard, I thought boys had cooties.

What’s amazing is that I’m learning to appreciate the negative feedback. Criticism means that I’m saying something worthwhile and threatening real beliefs. If everyone already agreed with me, then I wouldn’t need to say it.

T.K. Coleman explains it well:

“If you’re writing, saying, doing, or creating something that’s not capable of being misunderstood, I can assure you of one thing: it’s completely useless. If it’s worth it to you to put it out there, it will be worth it to someone else to put it down. Liberate yourself from the illusion that it’s possible to find a mode of expression that will go over well with every single person. Doing things that are useful isn’t the same as doing things that are universally understood.”

Thankfully, the positive connections I made from that post far outnumbered the criticism. That might not always be the case. But as long as I’m speaking my truth in a helpful way, it’s worth it to take a stand for what I believe in. I’d rather form strong connections with a smaller number of people who value that truth than stay in the middle of the road with everyone’s approval.

For everyone reading this, I want to encourage you to be authentic. Prepare yourself for the consequences of people judging you, but know that the connections you do make will be so much more meaningful. Vulnerable self-expression shines like a beacon of courage through the dull clouds of content smothering the internet, shedding light on the fear and isolation so that we don’t have to feel so alone. You’ll discover an empowering freedom and inspire others to do the same.

Why I Practice Polyamory

Yesterday I posted an article on Facebook that generated a heated debate about polyamory. Instead of responding to the comments individually, I decided it would be more worthwhile to express my thoughts in a blog post.

I was raised to believe that I would save myself for marriage and spend the rest of my life sharing intimacy with one person. After several years of philosophical exploration, deep introspection, and monogamous relationships, I’ve radically changed my perspective.

Even though I’ve been attracted to the concept of polyamory for almost 2 years, only recently have I begun to practice it actively. I’ve been afraid to discuss it in public because it’s so widely misunderstood, but I’m ready to change that.

I’ll start with a disclaimer that I’m only speaking for myself here. People practice polyamory in many different ways; I’m going to talk about the way I see it personally. The lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not trying to convince you to adopt it. I have huge respect for monogamous couples who stick together through hard times with a healthy relationship. I just want you to understand and respect my behavior, and to be aware that monogamy is not the only option for fulfilling relationships. I want to break the taboo and encourage acceptance for non-monogamous lifestyles.

Polyamory comes from the roots poly ‘many’ + amor ‘love.’ It’s about loving more than one person. For me, it means I’m open to maintaining romantic relationships with multiple people at any given time. It’s not about casual sex or threesomes or cheating or lack of commitment. I seek emotionally and physically intimate relationships with some level of commitment, where everyone involved consents to non-exclusivity. Sometimes my partners know each other, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there’s sex, sometimes there isn’t. There is always an emotional connection, clear communication, and mutual respect.

Many poly people have a “primary” partner who takes priority over other relationships. They might get married or have kids, staying committed as partners and parents while simultaneously having other romantic relationships with full knowledge of everyone involved. I don’t have a primary partner at the moment, but I foresee this model of polyamory working best for me. I would eventually like to settle down with someone and have children, giving them as much attention as they need while maintaining my freedom to pursue other relationships.

For me, independence is the greatest benefit of this lifestyle. I don’t want anyone to own me or control my actions. I don’t need someone to complete me or be my “better half.” I’m a fully autonomous individual who can make my own decisions about whom I spend my time with. I can have friendships with all types of people without anyone worrying about what goes on.

Polyamory puts less pressure on my relationships because I don’t expect any one person to meet all my needs. When I was monogamous, I tried to find “the one” who would perfectly connect with all my passions—music, hiking, philosophy, languages, traveling, writing, entrepreneurship, nutrition, psychology—all while having unique interests of his own that he could teach me about. Not only is it unrealistic to expect one person to fulfill all my social, intellectual, emotional, and sexual needs, but it burdens the relationship with impossible expectations. I can appreciate the ways we do connect and accept our differences where we don’t. I can enjoy a strong intellectual connection with one partner and obsess about music with another. I have high standards for emotional awareness and intellectual compatibility in all my partners, but I never expect them to be perfect.

There are certainly plenty of downsides to polyamory. It takes incredible emotional maturity and communication to make it work. It’s not easy to manage my time, devoting enough attention to the people I care about while setting aside time for myself. Sometimes I feel jealousy. Just like other painful emotions, I embrace it, explore it, and use it to grow. There is still heartbreak, betrayal, and unrequited love—polyamory doesn’t solve all the problems. Neither does monogamy. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve decided it’s the best path for me.

Pop culture leads us to believe that love is a zero-sum game. You have a fixed amount of love, and whatever you give to one person means that much less for anyone else. But when I actually gave it a chance, I realized that my heart doesn’t work like that. The more love I give, the more I have to give. I’ve expanded my capacity for empathy and connection, and I have a greater depth of feeling for myself and everyone I care about.

I hope this gives you insight into why I’ve chosen polyamory, and why monogamy doesn’t work for everyone. Please comment or reach out to me if you have questions.

You can check out these resources if you’re interested in learning more:

  • Sex at Dawn: A scientific perspective on the evolutionary psychology of monogamy and polyamory.
  • Polyamory Diaries: Personal stories about a polyamorous lifestyle.
  • Kimchee Cuddles: Thought-provoking comics about polyamory.
  • More than Two: A broad resource for all the questions you have.

6 Secrets to Cultivating Fulfilling Relationships

In an age where most people have hundreds, if not thousands, of “friends” on social media, it’s a wonder that we have so few meaningful relationships that truly fulfill our social needs. In recent years, social isolation has become such a big problem that health experts now recognize loneliness as the number one risk factor for disease.

It takes work to turn casual friendships into fulfilling relationships. Here are some tips that can help you get there.

1. Spend quality time alone.

While this might sound counterintuitive, you need to have a good relationship with yourself before you can connect with other people. Make time daily to introspect and get in touch with your feelings. Meditation and journaling can help with this. A simple practice like writing a note at the end of every day putting words to your feelings and exploring what happened to cause them can do wonders for your self-awareness. When you do this regularly, you won’t feel so desperate to rant to someone about your stressful day. Instead, you’ll feel more grounded and open to hearing out a friend or connecting over things that really matter.

2. Live in the moment.

You already know that it’s rude to use your phone while spending time with friends, but you probably do it anyway when you run out of things to talk about. Challenge yourself to resist that urge and enjoy the moment of silence. It won’t be awkward until you make it. Use the pause to reflect on the other person’s experience and ask them about their current life situation or their feelings about the future.

Even when we are engaged in conversation, it’s easy to let our minds run away and start comparing this person to that other friend who’s so much more interesting and doesn’t smack their lips together when they talk. When you notice this happening, gently bring your mind back to the present moment and pay attention to the details, listen for the inflection in their voice, look for the gaps they’re leaving in the story because they don’t think you care.

3. Figure out how they work.

It’s fascinating to discover how much we all have in common, but it’s just as important to understand what makes people different. I’m constantly surprised by the ways other people describe the worlds inside their head. Make an effort to ask good questions so you can figure out what motivates them, what they’re struggling with, and what influences that shaped them. The Enneagram of Personality is an amazing tool for understanding the fears and motivations of close friends and revealing how they differ from your own.

4. Don’t try to change them.

Can you remember a time when a friend or family member tried to pressure you into doing something they knew would be good for you? Maybe they sent you articles about why you need to start meditating, or bought you a book about how to quit smoking. Chances are, it didn’t work. You probably felt some resentment towards them. That’s because when someone pressures us so strongly, we get the feeling that they need us to change. That they can’t accept us the way we are. Even if it’s something as obviously beneficial as eating healthy or quitting smoking, it feels like they don’t really care about our best interest.

You never want to be that person. Maybe you’re embarrassed that your partner is overweight, so you subtly suggest going on a diet. The problem here is that your own happiness depends on the actions of another person. It’s absurd to expect your partner to change themselves just to make you happy, all the while pretending that they need it for their own good.

The only way to sustain a fulfilling relationship is to accept them as they are. If that’s not good enough for you, then you don’t have to be friends. If they’re engaging in a behavior that seems unhealthy, the first step is to recognize that they have their reasons for doing it. Once you’ve established respect for their decision, you should ask them with genuine curiosity why they are doing it. Maybe they’ll tell you they’ve evaluated the costs and benefits and decided that they prefer the pleasure they gain from smoking. Or maybe they’ll admit that this is something they struggle with, and they would love if you could provide accountability while they’re quitting. Whenever they do give up bad habits and improve their lives, you can share their joy without attaching it to your identity.

5. Don’t rely on one relationship to fulfill your needs.

So many monogamous relationships fail when the partners isolate themselves from all their friends and expect each other to fulfill their entire range of social needs–from intimacy to adventure to emotional support and intellectual stimulation. There’s no one human being who can connect with you on every single level like that. Those unrealistic expectations will put a strain on any friendship or romantic relationship. That’s why we need multiple close friends who we can connect with in different ways. If there’s someone who loves to go rock climbing with you but can’t hold a conversation about your favorite books, that’s okay—go make friends with another book nerd. Focus on the ways you do connect and make the most of those.

6. Be vulnerable.

Vulnerability can be terrifying. You’ve been wounded in the past, so you’ve built up defenses to protect yourself. But those same walls that keep you safe will shield you from the love and intimacy you crave. You can be cautious about it, but you have to let them down if you want to truly connect.

When you reveal your fears, struggles, and weaknesses to someone you trust, you will feel a sense of belonging, knowing that they accept you for who you are. It encourages them to reciprocate and unveil their own secrets that they’ve kept inside.

It takes incredible courage to be this authentic. There are no guarantees that you won’t get hurt. But you will open yourself up to the most fulfilling source of love and closeness.


I’m going to revive this blog. I let her fall into a coma, and the breathing is pained and shallow, but she’s not too far gone.

I’ll attach an IV and pump into her some life-saving nutrients from Anne Lamott, and when she’s strong enough I’ll spoonfeed her with The War of Art from Steven Pressfield. Every day upon waking, I’m going to give her several hours of tender loving care, gentle but persistent nurture. And it won’t be easy. She’ll have to learn to walk again on legs that have atrophied in bed for 14 months. The sentences will be jerky and awkward, like the first steps for the bedridden. The nerves waking up will inflict excruciating pain.

But with faith and persistence, the muscle fibers will grow strong again. If I push aside the self-doubt and hyper-criticism and fear of rejection, my creative muscles will rejuvenate, and I’ll once again be able to express myself through words. To communicate the truth of what I’ve experienced, and eventually connect with others and make them feel things they had forgotten how to feel.

To keep with tradition, I’ll end with a quote from my favorite author:

“Your mind is filled with voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.

You may experience a jittery form of existential dread, considering the absolute meaninglessness of life and the fact that no one has ever really loved you; you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch. But you will not be able to do so.”

– Anne Lamott

Speed Reading

When everyone around me is checking book after book off their reading list, I start to wonder if I really should take Tim Ferris’s advice about learning speed reading skills. I could get through so many books, and it would be so impressive. Imagine how smart I would get if I could finish 2-3 books a week!

Sometimes I find myself inadvertently employing some of those methods—skimming paragraphs, taking note only of the main ideas. Some books aren’t worth any more attention than this. But what I’ve realized is that the books I love deserve so much more. The best writers hide their treasures within unexpected imagery and clever wording. If you don’t take the time to unpack each sentence, then you’re missing the best part.

As I read Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, I can’t help but marvel at the depth to which her writing draws me in. If I start to read too quickly, a phrase or image will jump out and make me pause, then reread the last paragraph to find what I’ve missed.

Her words are so thick I can almost chew them. They’re so rich that I have to run my tongue over them, tasting all the subtle flavors. And they nourish me, filling up my hollow insides, giving me strength through their beauty.

To give you an example, her narrative on dealing with grief is especially poignant:

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away. After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes. It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.

I’m pretty sure that it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.

While I disagree with some of the conclusions she draws in the book, her writing awakens something inside me that leaves me craving more and inspires me to try to reach others in at least a glimmer of the way she has touched me. If you want to open yourself up to this transforming art, then you have to slow down and pay attention to more than the plot line. For books like this, speed reading will ruin your experience in the same way that rushing through life will sap the joy you can gain by living in the moment.

Don’t succumb to the pressure to read faster. It’s not about the number of books you can put on your list. Instead, read deeper. Make sure you’re getting the most out of everything. If it’s a flavorless, slimy book on marketing that you just HAVE to read if you ever want to succeed in your career, then plug your nose and gulp it down like the medicine that it is. Otherwise, throw that book out the window and go find yourself some true nourishment.

The Miracle of Mindfulness

While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes. When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you’re drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. When you’re using the toilet, let that be the most important thing in your life.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

Washing the dishes?? Almost too radical for me. But not quite. Because I’m learning the hard way right now that if I don’t slow down and live life, then my body will force me to slow down at the most inconvenient time.

Sometimes I feel like I constantly need an adrenaline rush in order to feel alive. But taking the perspective that living means being conscious will lead to a much more fulfilling life.

Tony Robbins

A friend once told me that when he was growing up, his father installed speakers in all of the bathrooms of the house and blasted Tony Robbins through them starting promptly at 6 o’clock every morning. Although my friend complained about this, I’m quite sure he had internalized the messages. He’s one of the most driven, creative people I know.

Another friend of mine, a fellow Praxis participant, told me how he stays motivated when life gets overwhelming. He downloads the audio from motivational Youtube videos and listens to them everywhere he goes. He puts them on repeat until he has them nearly memorized—he says that way, it becomes the voice inside his head.

I certainly know that the voices I hear most follow me wherever I go. When I binge watch Silicon Valley, I get Erlich Bachman’s voice rumbling around inside my head. When I spend too much time with my parents, I get their sighs of disappointment echoing between my eardrums. And when I immerse myself in motivational speakers, my own voices start telling me to believe in myself, that I am capable of achieving my dreams if only I take action today.

I know that if I don’t surround myself with people, books, and voices that empower me, then by default I will slide into the bleary-eyed complacency that’s constantly lapping at me from my news feed, trying to suck me in.

That’s why I’m going to start listening to motivational speakers every day as I get ready in the morning. Let’s see how this changes my life.

I’ll end with some Tony Robbins quotes that I like. You can make fun of him all you want, but you can’t deny that he’s got some great stuff to say:

“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” – Tony Robbins

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” – Tony Robbins

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.” – Tony Robbins

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.” – Tony Robbins

“I challenge you to make your life a masterpiece. I challenge you to join the ranks of those people who live what they teach, who walk their talk.” – Tony Robbins

Taking Responsibility

It’s so easy to fall into blame. If only it were warmer outside, I would get more exercise. If only I had more time, I would read that book. If only I wasn’t broke, life would be so much easier. If only people weren’t so stupid, I would have better friends.

When you make claims like this (something I’m guilty of far too often) you’re saying that you have no control over how you’re feeling. You’re placing your happiness into the hands of people and events outside of yourself. The result is that you might feel good sometimes when things are going your way, but as soon as the clouds inevitably roll in, you’ll go back down into the dumps.

These beliefs of victimhood are the reason people spend so much time advocating for other people to solve their problems. That’s why they want the “government” to give them free healthcare and they want everyone else to use the correct terminology so they don’t get offended. That’s why they’re so obsessed with “privilege.” It’s no wonder they’re never happy.

In “The Six Pillars of Self Esteem,” Nathaniel Branden explains how taking responsibility for your own happiness can transform your life.

One of the characteristics of immaturity is the belief that it is someone else’s job to make me happy—much as it was once my parents’ job to keep me alive. If only someone would love me, then I would love myself. If only someone would take care of me, then I would be contented. If only someone would spare me the necessity of making decisions, then I would be carefree. If only someone would make me happy. Here’s a simple but powerful stem to wake one up to reality: If I take full responsibility for my personal happiness—. Taking responsibility for my happiness is empowering. It places my life back in my own hands. Ahead of taking this responsibility, I may imagine it will be a burden. What I discover is that it sets me free.

If you believe your happiness is primarily in your own hands, you give yourself enormous power. You don’t wait for events or other people to make you happy. If something is wrong, your response is not, “Someone’s got to do something!” but “What can I do?”

Take action on this today. When something irks you and you start to blame the world outside of yourself, take a minute and think about what you can do about it. Then take those steps.