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“Losing My Religion” 5.7

I’ve relocated. Not just to a new apartment complex, or to a new neighborhood. It’s not even that I moved from one city to another. I’ve switched states altogether. I was craving something a bit different.

I wanted somewhere with a good outdoor recreation scene—I love the outdoors. Now, it’s not like there isn’t a lot of fantastic recreation in Eastern Washington … but there’s not a lot of job opportunities for a someone with zero experience already three years out of college. I know … I looked.

After my winter spent working 65 hours in my 4 day work week—and still barely scraping by—I wanted a higher wage. It was time to put that degree to use.

That is how I ended up in Utah. Salt Lake City offered me the job I was hoping for in the setting I dreamed of. And I’m actively trying to be a part of that setting.

That action is what took me to a rock climber’s social and impromptu instruction session this past week. It was when talking about anchors that our instructor let slip his AMGA status (American Mountain Guides Association) … and the fact that he had written the climbing guide books to two of the valleys most prominent recreational canyons.

We battered him with questions.

“What’s the most scared you’ve ever been?”

“Do you have any first ascents?”

“Which route name that you’ve given is your favorite?”

When a rock climber is the first to ascend a route he gets to name it. It turns out, our instructors favorite name he had given was “losing my religion.” He then told us the story of the first ascent, how on the second pitch his partner was climbing up a crack when he ran into a bush. There was no way around it—no good rock features outside of the crack. So his partner had to fight through, clawing and cussing and snapping off dead branches trying to drag him down. Of course, with the path clear, it was easier for our guide who breezed right through that section.

“So, do you guys know what that means?”

I had always assumed I did. However, when he asked, I knew I couldn’t explain it.

He offered a simple explanation, saying when someone was irritated, or about to be pushed over the edge, they might say of themselves they are losing their religion … as in, their next immediate action might contradict their moral understanding of themselves.

“But really, there’s a second meaning.”

By this time I had figured out how to explain my interpretation of this concept: I just thought of it as someone losing trust in their own belief, and perhaps even feeling they should let it go.

He went on: “To say you’ve lost your religion, well that’s like saying you’ve experienced something so profound, you don’t need it anymore. The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line, right? Well imagine your religion is over here,” motioning to his right, “and imagine God is right in front of you.” He looked out in front of us, eyes focusing on nothing in particular. “Once you figure out how to draw that straight line, you don’t need this,” he said, gesturing back to his notion of religion hanging in the air to his right. “You don’t need that structure. So you lose it, because it no longer helps your experience with God.”

I was a bit dumbfounded … and suddenly aware of my adolescence. I’m not that young—but to hear the stark contrast in our interpretations was a bit disturbing to my ego.

Of course! Losing your religion isn’t about losing faith, but understanding it on a deeper level. It’s not about letting go of a belief, but letting go of the structures that contain it … the structures that imprison it.

I’ve been thinking about the most religious experiences of my own life, and I understood our guide’s definition to be true. Reflecting back, I see no structure there. Some instances were very chaotic actually—completely lacking structure. But in those moments I found a new depth of reality, a new depth of life.

“So which definition is the name based on?”

He smirked and looked to the sun as it fell to the western horizon. We were in a back yard perched above the city, at the foot of the mountain (as is most the city) looking out toward downtown Salt Lake City. The moment was serene.

Or SRENE (Strong, Redundant, Equalized, Not Extending), a rock climber’s acronym if ever I’ve seen one—one that is meant to guide the construction of anchors. But that’s just like a philosophizing rock climber isn’t it, to cram so much meaning into so little?

Imagined Action

Lately, I’ve been revisiting an idea I wrote about some time ago: that there is only one moment. Visiting this is how I’m overcoming my … writer’s block?

No—it’s not as much writer’s block as it is writer’s atrophy.

I’ve been very busy these past few months. I left myself very little time for writing, and even less motivation.

Now that I’ve finally made the time and sat back down, I find it incredibly difficult. Once upon a time, I could sit down for a few hours and a hammer out a few thousand words. Now … a few hours of writing means only a few words on the page; it means a lot of staring at a computer monitor; it means more frustration than progress.

There’s a common distinction made in the writing world: there are those who enjoy writing, and those who enjoy having written.

I fear that my atrophied hands have swindled my brain into making me the latter. I can look back at all the content on this blog, or at my book and think “Yes, I am a writer, for I have written.”

Now though, staring at my laptop makes me feel like less and less of a writer.

This is where The Only Moment comes into play.

My atrophied hands are causing me to imagine action. I can imagine myself writing. I’m there, at the keyboard, hammering out word after word, limited only by the speed of my hands. Blog post after blog post; short story after short story; chapter after chapter my hands hammer on.

I can feel the satisfaction that comes with another finished project. I can feel the deep and profound thoughts that I’ve infused into my writing. I can feel the imagery and themes leaping off the page with such creative beauty.

Meanwhile, my atrophied hands say, “See how wonderful it is?! We’ve created a masterpiece!”

That’s when I have to crack my knuckles. That’s when I have to take my hands through the painful bending motions that break the rust from their surface, to free their joints from the deposits of laziness and non-creativity.

I … my hands … we! only have this one moment. All of the writing I can see in the future, all of those completed works, all of that satisfaction—it’s all in the future.

The future doesn’t exist though. By default, neither does anything that I find there.

The future is my imagined action. It’s my projection. Therefore, I may not attribute to myself anything which I have not already done.

And with this realization, I can feel fluids moving in my joints—I can feel my fingers free up. My thoughts begin to show something reminiscent of fluidity. My words begin to look like writing.

This has become a daily struggle. I am a creature of habit, as we all are. So every night, I press the reset, falling back to the habits of atrophied hands. And every morning, I must see a bright and promising future dissolve beneath the harshness of reality and the illusion of time.

I will continue this daily meditation though until my hands have formed a new habit. I will continue every day until my action is no longer imagined, but realized.

Cosmic Beings

It was there for just an instant—a bright speck of light on the horizon.

I had been sitting, crossed-leg, my notebook on my knee, pen in hand. I looked up from my page–just for a momentto take in the view. I was perched atop a great granite outcrop, high on a ridge.

My eyes swept over the landscape, from the mountains growing on the eastern horizon, and westward across the patchwork of farmland broken by green pine covering the ridges and ravines. And there it was. To the southwest, a flash of light.

There’s a highway there—a four lane artery that stretches to the south. The light came from where the road bends, just before dropping into a valley and disappearing into the shade.

I watched the area for a few minutes and the flash of light did not repeat itself.

It was likely just the sun being reflected off a windshield.

Just …

I wondered at the odds of that happening: for me to see light reflected off a windshield more than 10 miles away.

First, what are the odds that 70 million years ago a plume of intrusive magma—destined to be granite—would force its way into a thick layer of basalt? And what are the odds that between 12 and 15 thousand years ago glacial floods would eat away that basalt, exposing the several granite monoliths? And what are the odds that I would be sitting on top of one of those monolithic outcrops at that exact moment? Astronomical. That’s not to mention the fact that the sun was in the perfect position in the sky, given the angle of the car windshield. And let’s not forget I looked up just in time to see it.

This bright flash was something miraculous.

But even more miraculous … you. What are the odds of you existing? It took billions of years for stars to create the elements that you are made of. The earth only existed for a billion years before recognizable cells came into existence. Another 3.5 billion years and this planet saw mammals. Modern anatomical humans have only been around for a quarter million years, and in that history you can find the genetic material that you are harboring inside all of your cells.

Imagine a single change to this sequence of events, a sequence that spans billions of years—an inconceivable amount of time. A single change could have changed everything.

If the chances of me seeing that light were astronomical, that makes the probability of your existence … cosmic.

Excerpt — Sex at Dawn

We mustn’t forget that the familiar fingers of culture reach deep into our minds. We can’t feel them adjusting our dials and flicking our switches, but every culture leads its members to believe some things are naturally right and others naturally wrong. These beliefs may feel right, but it’s a feeling we trust at our own peril. — Christopher Ryan, PhD & Cacilda Jethá, MD, Sex at Dawn

Learning to Walk (that’s a metaphor)

I recently listened to a man talk about a specific self-help type book—which? It’s irrelevant. He was not a fan of the book. He claimed that it provided no new and original ideas… it was all the same stuff he had been reading for years, from several different writers.

What this man did not expect though was the author to acknowledge this fact.

The author wrote that the ideas he was presenting were nothing new. But the reason he was recycling them was because he knows they don’t stick the first, or even the second time people are exposed to them.

You have to be constantly assaulted by an idea before it actually takes hold of you and you integrate it into your perception. A single exposure is not enough. A second is not enough. The idea must be consistent if you are going to accept it.

What a brilliant thought.

For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about chasing your dreams and what it takes to start down that path.

Similar to what that self-help author said about constant exposure, I think a required element is to continually try to move toward your goals.

It’s like learning to walk. You eventually find the courage and motivation to attempt to reach that goal, so you stand up. But then you meet your first obstacle—gravity—and you fall back down. It was a serious blow, one that a lot of people don’t want to get back up from.

But you aren’t dissuaded. After a recovery period, you stand back up.

Eventually, you take that first step… and it’s awkward. You fall down yet again. But you keep with it, and after several tries you begin to walk… you begin to move towards your goal.

I’ve self-published one book (The Divide). It was the sixth book I started writing. I still have the beginnings of the other 5. One is non-fiction, with a whole lot of research behind it. Two more fiction books have full scene outlines. One even has a first chapter written. But I kept falling. I kept running into obstacles with these books. It wasn’t until my sixth attempt that I finally found my rhythm and managed to walk across the room and meet my end goal. A completed book.

Now that I’m a bit better at walking, I’ve started working on another book. But I don’t refer to it as my seventh book… it’s my second book. Why? Because I know how to walk. I know I can finish this book. So what I’m really saying is that I’m writing my second book that will be published (even if that means self-publishing).

Keep standing up. Keep taking that first step. Be consistent in your efforts… and you will learn how to walk.

Acquired Fear… And Getting Rid Of It

They don’t think about falling… they don’t care about their edges… they have no interest in making turns… and they have no taste for making pizza out of their french fries.

I’m talking about the young kids I see every day at the Rocky Mountain ski resort where I work.

These kids tuck and go, ski tips pointed straight down the hill… falling doesn’t concern them. The only aspect of gravity that they care about is their acceleration down the hill. “How fast can gravity pull me down this slick slope?”

It’s incredible to watch these kids fly, to glide past other mountain guests, with no effort and no concern.

Even more incredible is seeing how kids just a few years older perform.

They too heavily on their edges and fall. They make slow, awkward turns. And their skis seems to constantly be in the pizza conformation, the v-shape used to slow and stop a skier.

Why is there such a difference?

My theory is this: the older kids have taken more falls.

They know how falling feels (generally not good). And they know that they have taken more falls when moving faster.

This is an acquired fear.

Never mind that as these kids get older, they have developed physically. This means more strength and more control. And as they have accumulated more hours of practice, they have further developed their skills. It makes sense that they could expect fewer falls, doesn’t it?

But they can’t get past that acquired fear. They have learned to associate a conditioned stimulus—going fast—with a fearsome, unconditioned stimulus—the pain (physical and mental) of falling.

It’s understandable to be fearsome of pain. But does it make sense to associate pain with speed when you are capable of avoiding falls at speed?

For the past few weeks I’ve been standing outside my lift shack and thinking, “It’s a shame these kids can’t dissociate speed from pain… that they can’t inhibit their acquired fear.”

But one day I accidentally turned the lens on myself…

It turns out I have some acquired fears of my own. In fact, it’s probably a safe assumption that we all have acquired fears… fears that aren’t logical.

So what is the best course of action when we recognize these fears? Well, there has actually been some research done on this… and the conclusion isn’t the easiest to hear.

The best way to overcome these acquired fears is to experience the conditioned stimulus (going fast in the case of the young skiers) without experiencing the fearsome, unconditioned stimulus (the pain of falling).

We must present ourselves with the conditioned stimulus without experiencing the unconditioned stimulus until we dissociate the two.

For the older kids, this means skiing fast—without falling—until they realize that going fast doesn’t necessarily mean they will fall.

Simple enough, right?

Sure… apart from that one hitch: facing the fear for the first time.

This is definitely the hardest part… I know… I’ve been working on it. But just remember that every time you encounter the conditioned stimulus, it becomes easier to confront… and science says, eventually, there won’t be a confrontation, just a new, fearless, association.

Forget the New Year’s Resolution … Create a New You Resolution

I don’t like the idea of the New Year’s Resolution.

Frankly, I think the whole notion is counterproductive. And a study headed by Richard Wiseman of the UK justifies this claim. In 2007, a group of over 3000 people were tracked, as well as the progress toward their goal. Fifty-two percent of the cohort were confident they would achieve their New Year’s Resolution; at the end of the year, 88% had failed.

An 88% chance of failure? Wouldn’t it be fair to assume that this number should be lower? Why wouldn’t there be more success among people who have 365 days to achieve a set goal?

I find the New Year’s Resolution is a fad more than anything. Social norms state we should all celebrate the new year by having a goal we can talk about on New Year’s Eve. But should the change of the calendar really be our motivation? Can a change in the calendar be motivation enough? Apparently not … for 88% of us, at least.

That’s where my problem with this tradition lies. Why do we need a specific day on which we can decide, “I want to change myself”? Why is January 1st any better than March 10th … or July 17th … or August 7th … or December 26th?

Why can’t we motivate ourselves on any random day instead of letting the changing of the year motivate us? This is why the failure rate is so high—outsourcing our motivation makes failure inevitable. If you have a real goal in mind, you’ll go for it, hell or high water … regardless of the date on your Pug-A-Day calendar.

So if you must have a New Year’s Resolution, let it be this: over the next year make several New You Resolutions. If you want to change, if you want to improve yourself, start now. Whenever the fancy strikes you, go for it … and certainly don’t wait until next year to start striving toward your goal.

Now, with that rant out of my system … ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! (I’ve been working on my Spanish … and it’s not even January 1st yet!)

What we can learn from the tallest tree in the world …

This is Hyperion … the tallest known tree in the world.

Photo Credit: James Balog (notice the person in blue)

Composite Photo Credit: James Balog (notice the person in blue)

Hyperion is a coastal redwood that stands just shy of 380 feet … taller than both the Statue of Liberty and the Big Ben clock tower of London.


Being between 700 and 800 years old, Hyperion knows a thing or two about growth—including a common misconception about trees.

Most of this tree is actually dead.

That’s not to say this tree is dying, or at risk of dying—in fact, apart from some damage caused by woodpeckers, Hyperion seems to be quite healthy.

So what is the reason behind all this dead tissue?

Well, that’s just how trees grow. For many trees—even trees of an average stature—it is common for only about 1% of its mass to be living tissues. This is because the growth pattern exhibited by trees.

The cambium represents the majority of the living tissue within a tree and is the thin layer of dividing cells just under the bark of a tree. It’s this layer that gives rise to the vascular tissues which connect roots to leaves … and it’s because of this constant cell generation that tree trunks grow.

As the cambium generates cells, it pushes itself outward from the center of the trunk while the inner layers die. It’s the accumulation of these dead cells that make a trunk’s girth increase. It’s also the seasonal variations in the growth of these cells that produce tree rings.


Seasonal environmental variations cause the different sized vascular cells which create tree rings.

Give this process several hundred years, and you get one very large tree.

I think we would be wise to take a leaf from Hyperion’s book … so to speak. We can think of trees as constantly renewing themselves, letting die what is no longer necessary so that new growth may take the place of the old.

Everyone has a part of themselves that could be seen as negative … that is holding them back. Be it over-sensitivity, self-criticism, insecurity, pessimism, or my favorite to scrutinize: fear.

But what would it take to let this part of us die … not only let it die, but to replace it with new growth? Let thick skin take the place of oversensitivity … self-praise the place of self-criticism … confidence the place of insecurity … optimism the place of pessimism …

What would it take to let courage take the place of fear?

A decision. A conscious commitment to let that part of us die … and more importantly, to grow something new to take its place.

Trees experience a continual death … but in the interest of a continual life.

If Hyperion had not been constantly dying, it wouldn’t have grown … and it likely would have died itself, hundreds of years ago, outcompeted by neighboring trees.

So let go of that which is holding you back … step forward into growth … and reach new heights.

Hyperion from above the canopy.

Hyperion from above the canopy.

Predestine Wisely.

I used to reject the notion of predestination … the concept was just a bit too religious for me.

But what if we view predestination not from the perspective of God, but from our own perspective?

Really, predestination means to determine your destination in advance. In the sense of an omniscient God, I had interpreted as him deciding for me. But what if it’s us? What if it’s our decisions that determine where we end up?

That’s empowering … but at the same time, frightening. What if we aren’t cognizant of these decisions … what if we fail to recognize how they will affect our lives further down the road? Then we fail to see with foresight … we will fail to meet our goals … we will fail to guide our lives in the direction we desire …

But if we are cognizant, we have a great influence over the course of our lives. We realize how every decision may affect our final destination, and can use that foresight to help inform our decisions.

Fate isn’t some concept that acts on the scale of infinity. It’s something that is formed day to day, month to month, year to year—we write our own fate. So when you think about predestination, remember that it is you who determines your final destination … so predestine wisely.

Don’t “search” for yourself … do this instead.

Almost a week ago, I posted this picture to my social networking profile.

From the top of the run where I strapped into my snowboard.

It’s caption read: “Post-work commute anyone?”

Barely more than a week before I took this photo, I relocated to Colorado to work at a mountain resort for the winter – not something I would’ve guessed was in the cards just a few months ago. But why not?

After riding the GDMBR and then taking part in the Mototaxi Junket, this move seems tame by comparison. But I still consider it to be an adventure. This was the first time I had moved to a different state, and to a place where I knew no one. Why not? That’s the spirit of adventure.

One of the people who commented on the photo said they loved that I was out there “looking for adventure while looking for [my]self … “

Yes, I am looking for adventure … that has become something of my modus operandi. However, this adventuring has nothing to do with “finding myself.” That was something I got out of my system some time ago.

See, finding yourself implies that you’re searching for something within yourself. Searching feels like an eliminatory process … a limiting process. And the word itself — “search” — has such a passivity to it, a desperation — like a failed attempt.

If the search was successful, people would speak in the past tense and say “found” or “discovered.” To search is just to continue the failure. This is why I’m not searching, but creating …

For me, adventuring has become the means by which I create myself. Intentionally doing something I’m not comfortable with is how I ensure I’m taking an an active role in my own personal development – thereby creating myself (and — I’d like to think — a pretty interesting life at the same time).

So … my recommendation: forget looking, searching, discovering (etc.) yourself. Just envision what you want to be and start creating yourself. You are an artist and your life has the potential to be your greatest work of art.

So yes, this winter is my current adventure … but instead of it being a way to find myself, it is instead the way in which I am creating myself.

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