Category Archives: Colorado Springs Real Estate

The Restorative Power of Grief

W. stared at me from under his ferociously, kind brow. “Ben, you will stay right here until you allow that boy … to grieve.”

I had no idea what this grizzly of goodness meant.

Fifteen months later, now acclimated to living inside a verb, J. asked me what grief was to me. I started babbling, going one way, and then another, and then the common poetics the two of us both knew caught up with me.

“It is like that word denouement. It is the knot of familiarity that I have always felt in the pit of my guts, loosening. It’s the sensation of something I have clung to as truth, perhaps self-contempt, being seen in a new light and beginning to fall away.”

J. asked if pain felt good or bad. I paused for a while. It’s both, really, I replied. Grief is the pain that arrests and captures breath and brings to focus the crystalline properties of the past, and anchors them in the now. It’s the process of  metabolizing the plaque that clogs our spirit’s will.

David Whyte is a poet after my own heart. I will let him speak to it what the sensation of denouement, the loosening of being-bound,denouement which is the outcome of grief, actually feels like to the sojourn soul.


.. after the pilgrim lanes,
and the ruined chapel,
the gull cries and the sea-hush
at the back of the island,
it was the way, standing still
or looking out
or walking, or even talking
with others in the evening bar,
holding your drink
or laughing with the rest,
that you realized part of you
had already dropped to its knees,
to pray, to sing, to look,
to fall in love with everything
and everyone again,
that someone from far inside you
had walked out into the sea light
and the great embracing quiet
to raise its hands
and forgive
everyone in your short life
you thought you hadn’t,
and that all along
you had been singing
your quiet way
through the rosary of silence
that held their names….

Excerpted from LEAVING THE ISLAND :
Twenty Poems of Requited and Unrequited Love’
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press
Now Available at
Preorder on


My life was bound.

I can’t live a generative life, bound. No one can. Damn, I was trying. Like a kicking duck, damn I was trying to make my own generosity.

I told those knots to go away for years. I dissociated. I shunned. I prayed for them. I asked others to pray for them. I got angry at them. Really angry. I looked for surgical repair, binary solutions, this is here, can’t it be cut out of me? They remained taught, sometimes growing in their resilience.

Only recently did I grieve them. But the process started two years ago. Unconsciously, two years ago I created a playlist called “Inspiration”. I metabolize via music and sweat. It’s a work-out mix of what I consider “power music”, the kind where maybe a certain song hits just so and the volume needs to go to 11. That was the plan at least. It’s a really weird mix. Half Light II by Arcade Fire. Instant Karma by Lennon. Little Black Submarines and The Weight of Love by Black Keys. I Can Change by LCD Soundsystem.Johnny Cash sings The Wanderer with U2. When it’s on shuffle, it seems that my friends at The Blackthorn Project’s Too Proud tends to come on before Midnight City by M83, and I have no idea why that happens.  But when I first started listening to it while working out, I didn’t know for instance, which locked drawers of my history songs like “Shake it Out” would come from or why that song regularly brought me to tears in a pre-dawn run. And why did I put Cat Power’s “The Greatest” right after that? For a while, I was embarrassed to do pull-ups and listen to David Bowie’s “Heroes”, thinking that I was living straight out of my all-too-familiar grandiosity. How illogical to want to be a dolphin.

But one day, while sobbing on the bar, I forgave my youthful feelings of grandiosity and I let poetry happen. I just let it happen.

To me.

Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stall me
And then came the rush of the flood
The stars at night turned deep to dust

Getting stuck there in the pain of the unresolved was much like Florence’s devil looking to hitch a ride and add some real weight to my regime. From somewhere, it started to become actual pain that I could feel. While not comfortable at all, the very pain of breath, pain of soul, pain of body and pain of past was a presence I could weep for, a pain I could also receive blessing for, a pain that was my own, a singularity, a youth and a 40 year-old, a summation of story and context, of bondage and freedom, a moment that lingered on into the night with the residue of sweat and heart and somewhere down the road… gratitude.

God, I love how Florence sings the song of doing it herself. I know that so, so well. That is my story. That isn’t as familiar as much as it’s mantra. It’s a solidarity to trust in no one.

And yet grief isn’t doing it yourself.

Grief is the pained, tired soul unlocking the door.

Only when I grieved how the history had come forward into the present moment, when tears were shed in pain and sadness – and not in mis-directed, self-contempt and self-malice that spilled anger into the world- was I able to see the world in a generative lens again.

that you realized part of you
had already dropped to its knees,
to pray, to sing, to look,
to fall in love with everything
and everyone again,
that someone from far inside you
had walked out into the sea light
and the great embracing quiet
to raise its hands
and forgive
everyone in your short life

Grief isn’t frequently on the menu at holiday gatherings. But this year, this year it is for me. Because only in the grief can restoration, regeneration, and ultimately the very renewal that is the gratitude at the heart of the season, be born anew.

Excellence in Excellence: Data and the Truth are Not the Same

One year ago today, I boarded a plane for Seattle. My wife and I were headed to The Allender Institute for The Story Workshop. Look at that language in deep burgundy at the top.

Will you?Will you?

Will you Learn to Tell Your Story in Bold, Beautiful, Life-Changing Ways?

Will I?

I have great difficulty re-reading what I wrote one-year ago for that conference. My story had a moral. I wanted to make something clear to my audience. I was grooming my audience to hate me. I was leveraging facts, accumulating evidence, and presenting a case, a litigator with a 1% chance of conviction busting their ass to sway a skeptical jury.  I took a piece of my past, a story of childhood trauma that stayed with me for 3 decades and I crafted a tale of how the data said I should indeed, be hated.

I will take liberties with a concept Dr. Dan introduced at this event: the dossier. The dossier I think looks like a giant daytimer. Something I once, actually, owned. Do you remember the kind that they used to sell at Staples before iPhones took over the world? Remember how Palm Pilots didn’t really do the job? Sure, I still carry a Moleskine, but I only use that to jot down nuggest of cherished gold. Back in 2008, I bought this $100 monster truck that was like a naugahyde wheelbarrow. I created my own filing system for my life, and had these quadrants that I could check in on to see how I was doing with my “Big Four” in life. The point was that as a daily exercise, I could “easily” drop in and see if I was living the life I wanted to live.

One of those four was “athlete.”

Another was “prospecting.”

Yup. “Athlete + Prospecting” equalled 50% of my life, circa October 2008.

Without even touching “athlete,” I will allow that my family’s provision (aka, “work”) is allowed 25% of my life. In reality, provisional motivations probably occupies 95%.

But prospecting? The intentional action of proactively pursuing new leads and prospects that are encountering daily, life-changing stimulus that will result in a conscious decision to buy or sell real estate? Prospecting ALONE ought to occupy 25% of my LIFE? At precisely the moment that all the wheels were leaving the track in the real estate market and the train was plummeting into the ravine, a singular, evangelizing action my statistically-engaged, data-obsessed brain had frighteningly predicted with staggering accuracy 12 months prior ought to own front and center prominence? Prospecting is the very idea of infecting people with the virus that engagement with such macroeconomic madness… is a good idea. That… should be 25% of my conscious activity.

In some ways, this cruelty makes all the sense in the world: in the midst of total scarcity, farm harder.

But what’s probably the thing I suck at more than any other real estate broker that produces like I do? Asking for business. Another way of saying: prospecting.

What was I doing with my wheelbarrow of shame? Inflicting more shame. Fixating on the 0.82% of what I wasn’t doing “perfectly” and proclaiming that it needed 25% of my conscious understanding.

Several of my friends are somewhat appalled that I am normally such a nice guy, but am such a raging calculating asshole to the cold-calling telemarketers that call me almost daily and tell me “you can always use more business right?” I play with these callers when I don’t block them.

BlockedI am convinced that no one buys a house from the 585… they are only equipped to sell.

Why do I treat them so badly? Because they speak the language of my own self-perpetuated tyranny of data.

I could always have done more.

I can always do more.

100% is never enough.

In 2008, I was actually carrying around my business-expensed wheelbarrow of a dossier. I was able to maintain this pathway to success for about 27 days. I hear 30 days makes a habit. In most ways, the $100 daytimer was an outward expression of a habit already formed, an agreement long-since made. These were the people that expected me to “float the ocean” (thank you HP for that phrase). These were the appointments I would arrive to five minutes early. This was my scheduled action of intentional excellence for the sake of building more excellence, or as Hugh MacLeod once put it:

Excellence in Excellence

The expectations of the dossier can never be fulfilled. The dossier says, “here’s the data. Here are the people you didn’t call. Here are the people you don’t call, because you’ll carry them around, too. Here is where 100% of your energy needs to be committed. These are your life’s instructions. The data doesn’t lie.”

But what it really says is: “Ignore the time/space continuum. Live out of your familiar, amygdalin space. Embrace fear. Go.”

As I flew home from the Story Workshop, I was wrecked that my cohorts experienced me in two violently different ways: a kind shepherd who lead them to kinder waters when it was their story; and a borderline sociopath that was pleading with them to condemn my very innocence when it was my own story. I was holding this bind while I flew through the night on a badly delayed, turbulent flight home and read “The Things That They Carried” which outright played with the very concept of truth. In the story, an American soldier steps on a land mine in the Vietnamese bush. Yes, that man was a doped-out stoner that put the entire platoon at risk in the backcountry with his narcotic addiction. Yes, it was like confetti raining in a parade when he stepped on a land mine and his body was physically scattered from limb to limb, and the light refracted red, pink, black, orange, and the concussion of the bomb was like a drunken heat-filled evening on the Fourth of July. Yes, he was the only man that really listened to a friend’s confessions of pure jungle terror. The dark humor of one man’s joking was funny to only a handful of the other shattered men in the platoon. The same story, told so many different ways. All of the stories told with verifiable data, with facts, all of them contradictory. Data disagreeing with data, and Truth told three different ways.

A year ago, I had created a dossier with a binary judgement. My submission to the dossier was far from voluntary. I could not engage my story with beauty. I could not engage it with boldness. I was beyond resistant to change.

I no longer have a moral to my story. I have no longer arrived as a condemned offender waiting to serve out their life sentence. I still live frequently from my amygdala. But now I can name that. I can share that indeed, I have not arrived anywhere. I am journeying. I can breathe through the pangs of a Kafka-esque landscape where my night time terror imagines my pending conviction, and instead, glance at my phone, where my own 12 year-old visage posing for 7th grade pictures smiles back. I’m still working on making friends with that boy.

And while I can’t say that I play very often, it feels like bold, beautiful defiance to know that I have permission to play.  The data doesn’t reveal that evidence. But it’s the truth.

Trust is Worth It

In the last two years, I’ve learned so much from the simple statement:

“We do what we are good at, not what we should be doing.” Thank you Brian for that life-changing utterance.

Think about that statement for a second. Metabolize it, swallow it, take it in.

We do, what is familiar. This could be anything from a devotional at 6:30 to the gym at 5:45 to coffee prepared this way to negotiating a contract in this manner to where we place our hands when we slip on ice.

Manning FaceWe are creatures of unavoidable habits.

We do, what we’ve always done.

I could do the predictable thing here and speak of Peyton Manning’s mid-life predictability, but taking it instead to my heart, I follow a pathway of hard-wired behavior that with each successive day becomes harder and harder to break. One the rare times that I do yoga with my wife, Warrior II leaves me staggeringly off-balance. I have to trust in my core strength to root down dynamically through my legs to have my feet hold me. It’s quite different than sitting in a chair. It’s electric.

Successive routine becomes harder…and harder… to break. Because I’m good at. It’s what I have practiced. It’s my “routine“. I would rather do again and again what I know for the sake of doing what I know, than experience the actual goodness of something new.

Risking the third-person, sometimes what we “trust” were good outcomes in history. Sometimes what we “trust” was that we survived trauma a certain way, and therefore, to survive any trauma in the future, we have to continue the dance in this survival-mode way. In other words, we live out of our amygdala. We live in constant fight or flight.

The hardest thing in the world to gain, is trust. The easiest thing in the world to lose, is trust. But doing something new, requires trust.  And trust is worth it. Take it Ze….

The Currency of Hope: Kindness

I was at the doctor’s office earlier this week. This doctor is different. He asked approximately 200 questions of me. In a couple different ways, he asked about different stages of my life. When talking about the last ten years, one of his questions was “any trauma? House broken into, burned to the ground, car accidents, deaths in the family?”

In a slightly smart-ass way, I answered “we had twins in 2006.”

“How early were they?”

“Five weeks.”

“Didn’t sleep much that year did you?” Pause. “Or the year after that?”


He enjoyed another quiet moment. Then he inquired of my desire to actually heal: “Can you start getting to bed 20 minutes earlier? This is another in a pattern of events in your life where you didn’t give yourself permission to fully recover. I’d guess you missed out on two year’s of sleep.”

Repentance is not a sexy word in today’s culture. Unrepentant is a status symbol. Unpacking this a bit further, the unrepentant-anything is bound to some cause, yoked to some appearance, internally-driven to a predetermined end-result. Maybe you can smell the language in this, but a lot of what is spoken about here is “Drive.” Another word for “Drive” is “motivation”. What motivates us to live our life with a certain loyalty to a mysterious cause?

What motivates me to deny myself the ability to heal? It sounds so innocent, but it’s absolutely mind-blowing to be told “grant yourself an extra 20 minutes of sleep”. How committed to efficiency am I when I have to ask a follow-up question to that simple instruction… “for how long?”

“Four to six years.”

The way I have allowed myself to be wired, 20 minutes earlier to bed for the next half decade is a nearly intolerable burden. Thank goodness I have a prescription for it, because I might not do it otherwise. It might be the kindest prescription ever written for me by a medical professional. Flonase and prednisone by their very names sound like active participants in the medical world. But neither sound especially kind. A script for “get an extra 20 minutes of sleep for the next… half decade. Please…” that’s kindness.

Kindness is diruptive. Repentance – by association, by history, by liturgy – does not sound like kindness. Yet the two are intricately woven together. For her 40th birthday, my sweet wife Amy wanted to a.) get away with me and b.) engage our stories. If she could somehow do this in an environment that was supportive to healing and restoration, bonus. I noticed a subtle shift in her motivation, emanating from a place of kindness deep in her soul. Something kind was speaking to her young places asking for them to be free. So we began the journey together with a few allies in arms and enrolled in the Allender Center’s Story Workshop. At one of the sessions, Dan Allender said one of the oddest things I’d ever heard said (and this man says a lot of odd things)

“We’d love for you to repent.”

If I was to throw that statement out there and let it hang suspended in the air in it’s own black and whiteness, I imagine a lot of readers would envision sad sermons of brimstone, sackcloth, interrogation rooms, forced confessionals and the cohorts of more suffering and other imposed attempts at behavior modification.

I want you to think of this instead: Pistol the Cat.IMG_4040

Of course Pistol enjoys airsoft

There’s a fair chance you hate cats. That’s fair. Dogs are loyal. Dogs are kind. Cats are fickle. Cats are narcissists. Pistol is different. Pistol thinks he’s a dog. He doesn’t know he’s cat, except for the fact that he gives himself baths and enjoys leaping like a puma. Pistol kennels. Pistol plays fetch. Pistol comes when called. He does tricks. He has to be around people. If we are in the house, he’s beside us. He was potty-trained for a while, but he stopped pooping in the toilet when he discovered that he liked to drink out of the toilet, so he instead would leave a deposit alongside the main level toilet and then gives us a forlorn look like “gosh, I tried. But drinking out of the toilet is so pleasurable. I do hope that was good enough.”

Pistol is the kindest animal I have ever met. I am the first to rise in our house. Every morning, I open my door, and without fail, Pistol awaits. He softly meows once, and then flops over on his side, motioning twice with his chin and exposing his belly. Pistol is a pure-bred, hypo-allergenic, mackereled Siberian who has a double coat of fur that makes cashmere feel like nylon. What Pistol wants in the morning is to be carried like a baby around the house for 5 to 10 minutes. He now weighs 14 pounds. If I had a blanket to swaddle him in, he’d probably dig that, but for now, being held inverted, where his paws can delicately touch my cheek and he can just stare at me, that’s enough.

PistolIt’s possibly the least productive way I can start my day, carrying a 14 pound fur ball upside down around the house. He won’t let me operate the coffee grinder as that plainly messes everything up. He’s a demanding love addict, he won’t share me with my iPhone, and if I sit down, well, that’s it, it’s not the same as being transported around the house like a furry baby. Pistol wants me to share in the limbic connection of carrying something soft and warm and fuzzy and cuddly and purring and thankful. Pistol hasn’t evolved neocortically to a verbalizing mammal, but his message to me couldn’t be more obvious: “yes, please. Let me receive kindness today.”

That’s what repentance looks like when delivered by kindness. I’m a different person since we bought this dog disguised as a cat. Kindness isn’t kindness until we repent enough to do something terrifying and awful: receive. Yes, Pistol wants love. But he also wants me to receive the love right back of something that is soft and warm and fuzzy and cuddly and purring and thankful. My world that is 2 years sleep-deprived, the world who’s plates I keep spinning, is not very soft and warm and fuzzy and cuddly and purring and thankful. What am I repenting of? My own self-destruction. My own contempt. So incomprehensible that kindness is the currency of this repentance. In his whimsical, speaks-to-Baptists-wearing-a-Frank-Zappa-t-shirt way, Dr. Allender said in that same session in August, “the Gospel is so hard to believe, because it is so good.” Like him or not, Obama was dead on right in his book’s title: hope is audacious. I fear nothing more than hope.

I have hated the word “repentance” because my association with it has always been more contempt. Surely, repentance looks like more and more bouts with my old colleague contempt, something I pre-program my day with, something Pistol won’t let me mess around with at 6:10 in the morning because he needs upside-down-two-handed-stroking. But actual repentance has nothing to do with contempt. Actual repentance is the complete opposite. The only way to overcome contempt is through kindness. Repentance is not something for my fully-evolved, neocortex; it’s something for my deeper, more mammalian, limbic brain. The only thing that actually motivates my repentance is receiving kindness. I have historically associated repentance with my action. There’s no action from me. It’s all about the heart. Again, the dude with the hair and the Zappa shirt.

“Do you want to see repentance? What would it cost you to join the party? You don’t repent to resolve. You join the party, instead.”

My hard-wired system wants power, control and pleasure in the giving. Receiving is pure terror because it removes me from the equation of being in control of the giving.

Kindness is aloha. A friend of a friend took me out to lunch at a hole in the wall I would have never gone to. The reason was no reason at all. It’s just the way this guy rolls. Somehow, his mission was to be a sherpa in my story of provision and self-sustainment. I’m a wonderful financial provider. I wear provision as my badge of honor. I asked him about provision in his life and in the lives of others:

“Provision. Yeah. Now there’s an addiction.” was his reply.

He had spent the better part of two decades hanging with some of the largest power brokers on the planet, and he illustrated a simple nugget of truth: the financially wealthy find it impossible to receive. They’re always used to being in control of their situation. The P&L. The hiring and firing. The expansion. The takeover. Try and give them something. Just try. They want for nothing. I’m no billionaire, but I live my life with the same degree of self-regulated inaccessibility. A billionaire is a hard person to shop for at Christmas. This sage of a man therefore, operates like a snake. He comes through a door these billionaires didn’t even know they had. He might arrange a canoe ride at dawn that somehow has an escort of a mother humpback and her calf. It may conclude with a perfect 11′ wave that is ridden a quarter mile to the shore. Maybe he plants a seed and has a certain towel guy spritz their sunglasses just so. Or a bartender who has an unusual capacity to actually listen, and somehow, for some reason, doesn’t have any other customers and yet nothing seems to be awry. But how these people ultimately were touched was through that Hawaiian word of aloha, which seems to have more and more meanings unfold the longer I know it. Most people know that aloha is both “hello” and “good bye”. That’s the trite stuff of haoles and Hallmark cards. What would it cost to dive into the mystery of that contradiction and paradox? Hello… and good-bye? In “hello” there is love and expectation. In “good bye” there is grief and loss. The same word is love and expectation and grief and loss. Same word. Hawaiian hospitality is the ultimate in kindness. The reason so, is because it doesn’t avoid the pain while embracing the love.

This same man who took me to lunch lives aloha. He was very comfortable with all the meanings of this word. I asked him what I thought was a deep question, “do you compartmentalize? I mean, how do you take this home with you? It sounds awesome, canoe rides and surfing, but it’s got to be so taxing and strenuous and sometimes the stakes are so high.”

He paused. He was also exceedingly comfortable with no words. “Yeah. I like hot tubs” he said.

Hot tubs.

We’re talking about a 20 second pause. My smile muscles tried to do some productive action out of their own provision-wiring while my soul was deeply troubled by both the simplicity of the answer and the extended silence that followed. What zen koan was I missing here? Hot tubs? I glanced over at his son sitting across from us. “If ever there was a time I need to ask Dad for something, that would be the time.” He leaned back and grinned the grin of a son. Tan. Hurley shirt. Giant plate of loco moco annihilated and mopped clean. He just nodded at me, 20 years old and already so far down the path of life and goodness. And kindness.

Think about this for a family liturgy: Every evening, the sun has set, the stars are out overhead. The children are present. Everyone is vulnerably in their swimsuits. They steal out onto the starlit deck, and without words, they slip into warm water that reaches to their necks. Every one. Every night. You slip down beneath the surface to get warm water on your face. A long breath, through the nostrils, finding the diaphragm that’s gone unused the entire day. A second one. Maybe a third. A family that nightly receives that kind of goodness. How does this man practice compartmentalization? Radical self-kindness.

Kindness has the courage to engage what is going on. “Niceness” is equivalent to Cheetos. Niceness lacks courage. Kindness has courage. Nice is tolerable and anemic and zero impact. Kindness is not a catalyst. Kindness suffers and changes in the metabolic reaction that is human transformation. We are meant to have lives of impact.

“Worry is regret for the future”

The same thing could be said about the self-sabotage that is shame. The currency I’ve spent for years has been one that cancels out goodness in the name of control, the one that places me in the driver’s seat and make it impossible to receive.

At the end of our Story Workshop in August, I participated in an event that re-programmed the way I barter and trade on my life. It was a communion in name, but unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was aloha. And by aloha, hopefully by now, you know I mean kindness. I had done some incredible story work with my cohorts and we fed each other the bread. I mean, we fed each other, the bread. I had to receive that bread from another man who placed it in my mouth. Another man that I had spent 12 hours in group time with, wrestling like Jacob with an angel, for four days. I had to receive, vulnerably. In this context, Dr. Allender said thank you to all the people who helped make the event happen. To say thank you took almost an hour. Every individual was called by name. Personally he addressed each individual and regardless of gender, presented a splendid bouquet, and spoke deep connecting words of how they had sacrificed their own well-being to impact his life in the previous six months. These were not employees. These were not even sojourners. These were blood-participants. These were self-selected brothers and sisters that chose lives of impact and atunement, rather than passivity and perpetual sameness.

This Christmas, I’d like to undo the modern cliche of “it’s in the giving, not the receiving.” It has cost me a ton to learn to receive. It’s almost unbearable, this kindness.

The Currency of Shame

Chinese Crisis

“Chinese word for crisis” by Tomchen1989 – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

There is something terrifyingly good about yielding a shame-filled life. The goodness resides in the release from a yoke. My yoke looks a lot like a self-promoted perfectionism, a paper-thin shell that was all I was willing to share with the world. When I use the word “yoke” I don’t mean that in the Hebraic sense of a rabbi’s teaching, or in the yogic sense of union. Instead I mean it in the manner of a beast of burden, of a Vietnamese water buffalo pulling a sledge through manure and muck. But the terror comes from the familiarity. I would rather stay in the manure and muck. The terror comes from the fact that it’s my operating system. Historically, I have genuinely trusted no one. I chose shame instead.

Interestingly, the Chinese symbol for crisis is the merging of two signs, one meaning ‘danger’ and the other meaning ‘opportunity’. A crisis has the potential to transform or destroy. And what is the tipping point toward transformation in the face of crisis? The choice is either to cower in fear or to step forward with courage. The tipping point is brokenness rather than control.” -Dan Allender, Leading with a Limp

A genuine crisis is a fissure in the soul. Mental health and emotional health are equally important to physical health, but most would not consider a broken bone an opportunity. It would be merely danger. Along the same lines, a broken heart is likely equated with danger rather than opportunity.

But what about the far more likely scenario? The far more likely scenario for most of us modern people is no heart at all. Think about that for just 30 seconds. Give it time. Give it pause. React to the following:

my heart is broken.

Now compare that to:

I don’t have to pay attention to my heart.

Question 1: what are the emotions you feel connected to these two phrases? Are they the same emotions? Can you name the sensation each phrase creates?

Pause longer before answering Question 2. Which one feels more like your every day, every second reality? In your 24/7 world, which one do you trust, a heart that is broken or a heart that is closed off?

When I go back and do this, “my heart is broken” now (this is only recently) forces me to stop and linger. I feel something sinking in my chest. I feel my bottom lip begin to go slack. My ridiculously shrubby eyebrows droop. I would love to be video’ed to see what else my can’t-lie face tells me. When I read “I don’t have to pay attention to my heart” I still hear words instead of feelings. Okay, one word: “yep.” Because that’s my trained default. That’s the locked door. There is a moat. There’s a brute squad outside. “Good boy. Don’t go there. Move along.”

Hope terrifies me. Shame is SO much easier. It is so accessible. It is so familiar. Shame asked me to build an impostor self I will never be.

Without his permission, I want to show you PJ’s Hammock: PJ Hammock

PJ is a spiritual freedom fighter of the highest order. He basically played this heart language trick on me one September evening last year. Enjoying beers on the patio of Bristol, eating pretzels from a dog bowl, PJ leaned back and said, “Ben, you’re really efficient.” There’s naming something and then there’s naming something. The elegance of Mr. McEnroe’s naming was that he didn’t even come in the side door, but like a serpent, he had silently pried open a window and left a time-release bomb in my bedroom. I have metabolized that bomb for the last year. My efficiency is caught up in proof. Not proof of significance. Just proof for the sake of value. It’s a wounded, plaintive cry of “I’m valuable, right?” Now here is where that’s corrupt: Worth is more important than value. You can’t prove worth. Value however is an economic transaction based on the collective currency of the masses. My efficiency is my master. My efficiency has perpetuated an understanding of myself that is a fragile object held up for conventional wisdom to judge. What I can get done in a single day trusting in no one else but myself to do, boggles my colleagues. My ability to execute a project again and again and again borders on ruthlessness. I didn’t invent multi-tasking; but I consider it my burden to perfect it. When PJ said “you’re really efficient” it was the kindest non-compliment, ever. That’s why I’m showing this man’s hammock. Because for me, it’s a place of terrifying burden to consider even laying down in it for a second. What will that rest get me? How much closer to the end of my task list will I be if I close my eyes and gently rock? I mean, it’s just a pain in the ass to even get into a hammock… Do you hear my language? Is that language familiar to you?

For me, the beauty of my 18 month long crisis of identity has been getting to the place where I can actually say, my heart is broken. The pervasiveness and depth of my agreement with shame 18 months ago put me in a place where when asked about my heart, finding my heart was like trying to find a mate to one of my socks after the wash. “Well, that always happens. Can’t find it. Better go get some more at Costco. Might as well throw this one out, or just put it in the rag bin.” Pretty easy for shame to operate in that laundry room.

Back to the terror of the crisis: the bloody awful thing about the discovery of a broken heart is that it is a lifelong condition. It’s an understanding of, “if I go there, there’s no going back. Something is going to change.” Yeah.


That’s a dangerous opportunity, indeed.


A little over 18 months ago, I started the process of what Don Miller calls “editing my life.” In my case, my editing ended up focusing on self-contempt.
BreneBrene Brown says “vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.”  Dr. Brown was my cohort one year ago on an act of insanity: I was the only person from Colorado headed to Hawaii Life’s Worthshop event in Wailea, Maui, and I read cover to cover her magnum opusDaring Greatly“, a monumental work on shame. Part of the reason for the trip was to “reward” myself with something educational  I could both write off and enjoy. But a bigger reason was that I was falling apart, and subconsciously, I knew that a dozen counseling sessions and some kind words from friends over beers weren’t the sort of encouragement I needed.

Deep in my recesses, I knew I needed encouragement to limp.

Debris was all over the place in my marriage. Twenty years with my soul mate and what I later learned was called “styles of relating” were basically patterns of coping with thirty years worth of self-perpetuated toxicity I had agreed to run my life.

My Real Estate “Career” was skyrocketing. But my over-taxed body was filled with cortisol that led to a mysterious auto-immune issue that was causing massive arthritis attacks every four days, and I was hopped up on 50 mg of prednisone to hold it at bay.

One of my best friends, my business partner, was leaving the profession. My best friend, and his wife who acted as my professional consiglieri, had just moved 1500 miles away.

My efforts at being the best, damn, helicopter parent in the west… were a never-ending series of wretched failures leading to tween-distance.

I made the mistake of buying new clothes for the event, and my stylish island slacks had cuffs an inch too-long , so when I wore them with genuine Hawaiian slippah’s the hems blackened.

Shame isn’t hard to find. Permission and space to limp, that’s hard. In one of life’s grand incongruities, I found my permission to limp at 5 in the morning in a lower level lobby of the Four Seasons, Wailea. I started writing…

IMG_0992“I am brilliant… at claiming my isolation. I am surrounded by strange metaphors. I am warring with the poser-Ben, an all-out combat of intense hostility fighting over the truth of a volcanic dot in the middle of the largest ocean on earth. Hawaii is the most isolated chain of islands on the planet. Maui is the most expensive. Everything is accessible here: with cash. Or credit. Doesn’t matter. Cocktails are $16. Muesli is $14. I bought sunscreen thinking that would be a billion dollars, but it’s free at the pool. Nice.

“So I take that wound, too. A test. A battle. Someone else’s struggle, that I just lost $12 and everyone else from the Four Seasons to Safeway to Wolfgang Puck has won, and I am the (deserved) loser.

“I won’t take my seat at the table.”

At about the moment as the sun rose over the island, I wrote “my paradox today is that I am someone else’s septic system, and I’m supposed to look good while I clean it?”

Limping is bizarre. No one’s work promotes it. No leader in their right mind would promote it. Culture doesn’t promote it. Sports don’t promote it (any Denverites of the 80’s remember that Dan Reeve’s ad?). But if “the unexamined life is not worth living”, then participating in the limp is as human as it gets.

Dan Allender wrote in his (brilliant) “Leading with a Limp” “I’m an illicit drug dealer. What am I doing leading a seminary?” Exactly. Dan also quotes Ann Lamott when he repeats “Courage is fear that has said it’s prayers.”

Work harder.

Forgive and forget.

Move on.

Buckle down.

Never let them see you sweat.


Allender likes to use a word in his classroom sessions: “Metabolize.” Somewhere, limping and metabolic processes go hand in hand. Limping stands out, on a personal level. It communicates the start of pain. It references to the rest of the body that it cannot function at optimal speed, that sprinting wouldn’t be profitable. Somewhere down this chain of conscious identification comes some kind of limbic understanding… I can’t run like that. Why can’t I run like that? How long have I had this pebble in my shoe? How did that pebble get in my shoe? Why won’t the pebble come out? Why is the pebble that color? That pebble… hurts…

A couple hours before leaving my limping vacation, I drove the northeast shore of Maui, around the one-lane Honoapilani Highway, on a Saturday afternoon of nice surf around Honolua Bay. Amidst all this staggering, windswept landscape, the last image of the trip is probably my favorite: a local truck with boards hanging out the back stuck in a one-to-one faceoff with a rental car on the one-lane road, while a wild rooster and ferrel cats scuttle along the road’s shoulder.

There’s a metaphor out there, dying to live out loud.

Upper Rooms and Ambivalence

I’ve really only begun my walk out on the gangplank of my life. It’s hard to share with friends hungry for their own solutions because in the last year, I’ve sat in the chairs of six different counselors and therapists, count four licensed therapists as good friends and I hang out with a tribe of mental-health Ninja’s in Seattle every six weeks. There are some pretty tough-ass guards locking up my stuff deep inside, so my response has been to enlist my own army to attack my well-laid defenses.

Slowly, deliberately, they’ve set forth with redemptive kindness. The soul harbors trauma and doesn’t let go very readily. Pain is the symptom of something larger. A broken arm hurts. The bone must be set. That hurts incredibly. Advil or Vicodin only address the pain; they don’t address the cause.

As I step back and ponder this, the men and women who are truly helping me with my limp aren’t using gangplank language. Yes, there are warlike guards at my door. Those guards are being savaged with kindness.

Some examples…

I’ve had presented back to me key elements of my story in a rearranged fashion. One side illuminates another, a detail alongside another highlights a much larger meaning. What’s beautiful is these bound paradoxes can sometimes be all of 8 to 10 words long. There it sits, formed out of my own language: my anger and loss slow-cooked together in a toxic soup, contained in a potter’s bowl of my own creation, with my hands firmly fixed on the sides as I raise it to my lips to gulp with great thirst as I refuse to not take another drink from the very elixir I just called poison.

Another fella’ whose chair I’ve sat in operates with a little less subtlety. This linebacker of a man,grabbed me by the shoulders and  put it bluntly: “DAMMIT BEN, please stop kicking ya’ own ASS!”

Another man needs to only use his eyes for me to see my own revelation, and with it, things begin to melt.

PianoKeysOur world applauds binary solutions. If everything could just be as black and white as piano keys. Can’t life just be one or the other? But it’s not. We call it chaos because life, history and especially memory, is terribly complex. For me, in the midst of complexity, it’s easy to get ambivalent. Ambivalence is defined as “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone”.  Because I’m getting all mixed up, because my neocortical brain can’t handle it, because I can’t distill it to actionable, binary data, I retreat to indifference, or “lack of interest, concern, or sympathy”. Ultimately, indifference reprioritizes, and the critical can be relegated to “unimportance”. Something can be so obviously wrong in my story, and I choose to sweep it under the rug. But put such story details alongside another detail, or have me sit, and pause, and hold that statement out in a naked echo… and I can begin to digest. And transform.

Indifference is horrible. It’s dissociative. It’s inaccessible. It’s a commitment to isolation.  I’m spending a lot of time in Belltown just north of downtown Seattle, so it seems to right to quote Eddie Vedder,

i will hold the candle till it burns up my arm
i’ll keep takin’ punches until their will grows tired
i will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind
hey i won’t change direction, and i won’t change my mind
how much difference does it make
how much difference does it make..
how much difference…
i’ll swallow poison, until i grow immune
i will scream my lungs out till it fills this room
how much difference
how much difference
how much difference does it make
how much difference does it make…

Indifference utilizes ambivalence. Stuck in ambivalence, indifference encourages the host (me) to return to the needle. It tells me “yeah, this is awful and you treat yourself with such shame. But you trust this cup of poison. You trust this disaster so you keep drinking it. Hell, you enjoy drinking it. So go on. Keep at it.”

It’s easy to curse ambivalence. It’s hard to bless it. It’s harder to be kind to a self-stated bind. But oh, it’s so good when it happens. Because ambivalence is where the life is.

Ambivalence is the dignity and THE depravity HELD TOGETHER in one hand.

When ambivalence is named, the perpetuation of contradiction all of a sudden faces a threat. The door is identified. It doesn’t just come blowing down. Those commanders of indifference are highly trained. But now, with it named, seen and held, something can begin to happen.

I need to share this image. Because it’s a lovely artistic contradiction, and it has sprung from the heart of a very good man. And it’s a reflection of my family’s good and holy season.

There is just a little bit going on here…

This is an 8′ wide canvas that my friend Tim Thornton painted and presented at his first art show. An image of the painting was in the email inviting me to the event. When I walked up before the canvas, I gasped out loud. My knees actually shook beneath me. I hung out with another friend in front of it for 20 minutes. I couldn’t leave. We ruminated about what was going on in the painting, trading ideas. I’m going to stick with my interpretation:

What I see, is a looming assault of great kindness. The trees in the foreground appear charred, like the remains of Douglas Fir, my visage every day as I drive home and look at the remains of the Mountain Shadows Burn Scar.

Ashes, a silhouette of former times.

I see a mighty, fantastic, glorious thunderhead swelling up over the ridge, the kind I’m used to seeing when I’m in a place of the heart, like the mountains or with my flyrod in hand on the Arkansas or San Miguel.

Mighty power coming to the thirsty land.

And around this sunset-hued thunderhead, is the complexity of my family’s shared life, the part Tim called “Upper Rooms”. There they are. Some are perfect. Some are colorful. Some are plain. Some are misshapen. Some are bleeding. Some are radiant.

All that complexity. Caught up among ashen death, and beautiful new life.

Below that is our new mantle. Tim did that, too, installed last weekend. This is what the piece of $50 wood looked like before Tim’s craftsmanship:

IMG_1860I’m still kinda surprised that I could see the dignity within the wood. Tim even expressed his doubts after he first looked at it. That in it’s own right is a funny story. I sold Tim his house, but when I delivered the piece of wood, I delivered it to his neighbor’s house two doors down and left it in their sideyard. About ten days later, I got this series of voicemails on my phone from Tim. “Hey Ben, just wondering where you put that piece of wood… Hey Ben, it’s Tim, wondering by any chance, did you put that wood in someone else’s yard?” When I finally got a hold of him, Tim had already gone door to door to find the lost wood and, Celt that he is, was walking home with the caber on his shoulder back down the street when he took my call. Dignity and Depravity, indeed. It’s a prodigal log that now anchors the hopes of our family’s most frequented room. It’s where we make fire.

“Upper Rooms” levitates above this newly turned piece of wood, and upon that, hang the three stockings of my children, which Amy has attached with the hangers spelling out J-O-Y.

JoyIndifference be damned.