Head in the Clouds



 Its a number that has haunted me, a number that dominates my thoughts 9 months of the year. 294 is the average number of cloudy days in Seattle annually.

I moved to Seattle 5 years ago from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, a state that can boast of 300 days of sunshine a year. I completely under-appreciated those 300 days until I got to the Pacific Northwest and realized that a clear blue sky is not a luxury  enjoyed by all. During my first year in Seattle, I found myself amused by the morning weather forecasts. A meteorologist in Seattle is about the most unnecessary role because 80% of the year the weather is comically predictable. But to keep themselves employed, forecasters have found 101 different ways to say the same thing. Daily weather reports are decorated with descriptions like, “Partly Cloudy,” “Cloudy,” “Drizzle,” “Rain,” “Heavy Rain,” “Showers,” “Sprinkles,” “Marine Layer,” and “Wet Weather.” You know you are in a rainy climate when weather announcers predict the time of day you can expect “Sun Breaks.” If you need a term for when the sun comes out, its not coming out much.

As entertaining as this myriad of rain terms may be, on many occasions I have looked up at the hovering gray clouds and have felt my own happiness being enveloped by their darkness. Their heaviness has just seemed so immensely inescapable at times; until one day I saw those same inescapable clouds as the welcomed escapes of my childhood. It was laying in the grass looking up in those clouds that I imagined what heaven looked like. It was staring at those clouds on long car rides that I laughed with my  brother and pointed out the shapes of squirrels and pigs and castles.

Clouds have long been symbolic of fantasy. Cartoon thought bubbles and movie dreams sequences are usually captured with fluffy clouds. And it makes sense. In reality, clouds do hold the dreams of tomorrow. They give life to every colored flower. The have nurtured every living creature since the beginning of time.  They perch the brilliant colors of a sunset and illuminate the hue of a blue sky.

Now every time I look at a sky, I am struck by the beauty the clouds add to an otherwise monotonous sky. What has changed to transform the grey clouds from the source of my annoyance to the marvel of my daily drives? Nothing…but my perspective of them.

Its amazing how a slight change in perspective can make all the difference. Are you walking around with a gray rain cloud over your head or a thought bubble? What in your life could use a slight change in perspective so the possibilities can shine through?

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein


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Are you the Bee’s Knees?

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Have you ever heard the saying “the bee’s knees”?  Its a term that found its way into our (well some people’s) vernacular back in the 1920s and it is commonly understood to mean “the height of excellence.”  Why are the bee’s knees the picture of excellence? Well, tucked away on the mid-segments  of their legs are tiny pollen baskets called corbiculae. In this teeny, tiny, space, only fractions of a centimeter large,  bees hold the bloom of our world.

Look outside your window. Of all the plants you see, 75% depend on the pollen baskets of pollinators to bloom. Look in your kitchen– one-third of your food is pollinated by these small baskets nearly invisible to the naked eye. The beauty of orchids, the juiciness of apples, the antioxidants of apples, and the vitamins  of avocados each depend on bees to exist. In essence, the beauty and function of our world is dependent on these very small concentrations of goodness, that often go unnoticed but make all the difference.

Where are there small concentrations of goodness in your life going unnoticed? Who, like the bee, is making your world come into bloom through their unnoticed tireless work and commitment?  Are you being a concentration of goodness? What are you bringing into bloom with your excellence? What could you encourage to bloom if you brought your excellence to a new height?

Excellence can be obtained if you:
…care more than others think is wise;
…risk more than others think is safe;
…dream more than others think is practical;
…expect more than others think is possible.


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Are You Sleeping with the Fishes?

I have thought he was dead on many occasions–“he” being Kitch, my teal Beta fish.  I have come home, countless times, to see him lifelessly  floating on the bottom of the tank.  Without fail, I hurry to the glass bowl and tap frantically for signs of life. On cue, Kitch begins fluttering his tail and scoots from beneath his seaweed to relieve my nerves.

With a few clicks in google, I found out  my daily desperate shakes were actually keeping him from his beauty rest as  Kitch’s lifeless floating was likely his sleeping routine. But as I excavated the wide world of google, I also came across some other fascinating underwater sleeping patterns that made me reflect on my own life.

Did you know that dolphins rest one half of their brains at a time? As oxygen breathing mammals, dolphins find themselves in an interesting predicament when they try to catch some zzz’s . To make  both breathing AND sleeping possible at the same time, dolphins swim  for around 8 hours a day half asleep, literally. One side of their brain rests, while the other side watches for predators, obstacles, other animals and swims slowly.

Its sounds like a unique position to be in—living half asleep. But there have been many times when my life has resembled the life of the half awake dolphin, living defensively rather than being an active participant in  my environment. My college experience, for example, looked much like the sleeping patterns of a half awake dolphin. It was marked by defensive swimming, reacting to opportunities rather than seeking them out, opting not to take on risks that could lead to huge failure but offered the possibilities of big rewards.  Like the dozing dolphin, I coasted the waves but didn’t enjoy riding them, swam passed the beauty of my environment but did not take the time to marvel at it and truly feed off of it.

Its one thing to move through life but its quite another to live with eyes wide open through the entire experience. Where are you swimming half awake? Are you actively engaging in all areas of your life? Where are you living just enough to avoid danger but not actively enough to engage the gifted risks your environment offers? In the words of Bob Marley, “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you are living?”

Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.”- Bill Cosby

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The Finer Things

Take a look. This slimy, mucus-looking substance is one of the most desired foods in the entire universe.  Sure–it looks diseased. But this less than visually appetizing grouping of food is actually chocolate in its rawest form.

They say that good things come to those who wait and with chocolate, waiting is a key factor in its eventual decadence.  In this case, “waiting” is a euphemism for fermentation. Fermentation is the process of allowing mold, bacteria, and microorganisms to invade ordinary foods and liquids and transform them into some of the best things life has to offer. Cheese, wine, chocolate,  cider, soy sauce, and Tabasco are but a few things whose goodness is birthed from fermentation.

Chocolate begins as a already delicious fruit, growing from a cocoa plant. Wine begins as a flavorful grape. Milk already does a body food before it becomes cheese. Each of these fermented fancies are perfectly acceptable as good. But with exposure to the right environment, and given the opportunity to be broken down just enough, “perfectly acceptable” is replaced with simply perfect. In essence, fermentation is the process of taking something that is good and putting it into the right setting to be “molded” (pun intended) into perfection.

I think I could use some more fermentation in my life. We all could. It is only by allowing ourselves to get molded in challenging environments that our true flavors begin to shine. Are you comfortable being good or are you pushing yourself to discovery your true decadence?  To which elements do you need exposure to transform into “finer things?”

“The answer is chocolate and the question is pretty much irrelevant”- Somebody brilliant

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Money, Power, and Respect (The Hunter-Gatherer Remix)

In high school, I can remember shutting the door to my room,  hiking up the volume on my clock radio, and dancing around my room with all inhibitions dropped as HOT 97 played my favorite Bad Boy tunes. It was 1998, and my then idol Lil’ Kim (Yes, I am now ashamed) had just come out with a song with a new group called The Lox that had a tight beat. The song was called “Money, Power, Respect,” and the cliche lyrics went like this:

It’s the key to life.
Money, power, and respect.
Whatchu’ need in life.
Money, power, and respect.
When you eatin’ right.
Money, power, and respect.
Help you sleep at night.
You’ll see the light.
It’s the key to life.
Money, power, and respect.
Whatchu’ need in life.
Money, power, and respect.
When you eatin’ right.
Money, power, and respect.
Money, power, and respect.
Money, power, and respect.

I rocked out to this song HARD. Sure, the lyrics were predictable (money, power, and respect are the themes of 99.9% of mainstream rap songs). But cliches are born in truth and the song lyrically presented the equation to the generally agreed upon “keys to life.” As the song’s intro goes , “First you get the money, then you get the power, and then [people] will respect you.” That equation is pretty much the basis of our free market capitalist society, afterall. Its so ingrained in our culture that this striving almost seems innate to being human. But if we sang this song in a hunting and gathering based society, they would offer a refreshing alternative (REMIX).

Lets imagine ourselves as hunters and gatherers for a minute, living in a world without commercial exchange. No Whole Foods, no Safeway Valued Customers, no Shoprite PricePlus cards. Home Depot is out. Charles Schwab, Target, and Walmart are all out the picture. Our hands, the land, and each other are all we’ve got. Dinner is determined by our ability to find, kill, and cook it up. Ours lives are interdependent by definition (I sure am not hunting down that bear by myself!) Rather than living very segmented lives where individualism reigns supreme, we live in clans and have a responsibility to one another on which our lives depend.

Unlike the world we know where power is measured by how much you can accumulate for yourself, in hunter-gatherer societies power and respect are determined by how many people your efforts can support. There are practical reasons for this giving economy. First off, if you kill off a buffalo for dinner, for instance, its not like you can wrap up the leftovers and stuff them in the frig (thank God for Sears and doggie bags). But beyond this, giving away your gains to serve others often serves as informal insurance. In the event that there is a time when you are unable to catch/pick the food you need, your clan’s sharing practice ensures you are fed and strong enough to support the collective good in the future.  There is nothing lost in giving away your wealth. In fact, giving it away ensures that it will come back to you in times of need.  It is in sacrificing your wealth that you gain a position of honor and respect. In essence, your power is determined by how much you can give away.

Even in a world with Walmart, Target, and Sears, true power in many ways still lies in the ways you feed others by giving away your love and resources. ” In light of this, how powerful are you? Who is your generosity feeding or starving?

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”- Jackie Robinson

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Free Yo’ Miiiiiiiind (in my best En Vogue Voice)

Egypt and Libya are conversation buzz words. Since the citizen uprisings in Egypt began in January, not a day has gone where headlines haven’t  invited us to consider the fight for freedom around the world. At this very moment, there are millions of people across the globe that are vehemently fighting for, barely grasping onto, or hopelessly losing their freedom. By no means do Egypt’s and Libya’s quests mark the start of some new endeavor. The pursuit of freedom is perhaps the most fundamental and timeless desire of humanity. Generations of people and some of history’s most celebrated heroes/martyrs have been defined by the presence or absence of freedom.

With such a large portion of our time and history spent chasing freedom, it begs the question: How do you know when you are actually free?

Is it by your ability to vote? To hold the job of your choice? To live where you would like to live? Access to education? Freedom to worship? Political representation? To share your opinion? To have control over your own body? To earn a living? To build a family? To walk and move? What or who is it  that grants you your agency?

The line between free and restricted is hazy at best.  An investment banker living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has a far different concept of living out his freedom than a kindergartner living in public housing in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Is that same investment banker who sits chained to his desk 14 hours a day more free than a farmer in Honduras who lives off the land and spends his time with his family? And doesn’t that same kindergartner in New Orleans have a different concept of freedom than an kid orphaned by AIDS in the Congo? And that same Congolese orphan has a different concept of freedom than a man sitting on death row even still.

Perhaps true freedom is not an objective standard of living but rather a state of mind,  granted to you by your own perspective.  It is a liberty given to you by your own  thinking that allows you to live a life not through its limits but through a commitment to discovering its limitlessness.

Are you truly free? How do you know?  Does your life reflect your freedom or does it reflect a perception of  restrictions? Are you free in your thinking? Are you free from fear? In what areas of your life are you not free?  How are you enslaved by your own thinking?

And if you are free, what are you doing with your freedom?

I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!- The Message II Cor. 6:12

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I want to live like a fearless mama octopus

Let me tell you the story of an extraordinary mother. Yes she is an octopus. But her life is both profound and inspiring. O’ Mama’s life is short but produces life long after her death. She is known for her intelligence. Her heart defines her. In fact, she has three. But perhaps her greatest gift is her sacrificial pursuit of her purpose even in the face of failure.

O’ Mama has a unique reproduction process. After her brief encounter with her lover boy, she finds a lair and lays her eggs. Hundreds of thousands of eggs will carry on her legacy. For a month, her soul is poured into nurturing and protecting her eggs, blowing water over them to give them oxygen and guarding them against predators. She hunts nothing, starving herself so that she  never has to leave her young’s sides. Finally, their birthday arrives. Too weak to move, she uses her last ounces of energy to push them from their cases so they can swim off into the world. And then…she dies.You can watch this beautiful sacrificial birthday here from a dive right in Seattle: A mothers ultimate sacrifice from Koos du Preez on Vimeo.

It would be wonderful if these hundreds of thousands of baby octopuses went off and lived happy lives. But the truth is, of 200,000 eggs, just 3 or 5 will actually live long enough to repeat the process. The rest will be eaten up by predators. Well that was a BIG FAILURE. So much for happy endings, huh?

While the ending might not be the happiest for the yummy little babies, the reality is they are feeding generations of critical species. They are the lifelines for eels, turtles, sharks, dolphins, cods and well…me (marinaded please :)). What may seem like a failed mission by O’ Mama actually changes and strengthens her environment long after she is gone.

There have been so many times where I have done everything in my power NOT to be Mama O’, trying not to invest my soul into seemingly failing missions. Why try out for that singing group when I know I am not going to get in? Why apply for that job when I am not qualified? Why look to lead when there is someone much more equipped? But O’ Mama teaches a much more fruitful perspective—that even our failed attempts produce fruit in our lives and the lives of others. Our fleeting ideas, our dead ends, our dreams deferred are not wasted but live lives well beyond what we might be able to fathom. History gives us many human examples of O’ Mama’s faith:

  • Vincent Van Gogh sold ONE PAINTING in his lifetime just a few weeks before his death. This did not stop him from finishing more than 800 paintings.
  • 27 publishers turned down Dr. Seus’ first book.
  • R.H. Macy failed seven times before business started picking up in a little store in New York.

Are you like O’ Mama, pouring your soul  into your ideas, protecting and nurturing them until their birth, irregardless of the  outcome? Or are you killing them off yourself before their birth? What are you doing now simply because it is safe? How could you be feeding your environment with your simple but profound relentless pursuit of your God given fruit?

Now.. Lets go make some babies!

“The birthday of your possibilities is today.” -The one and only Sean D. Goode

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