Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Tutus and Shiggy Socks: Finding the Spiritual in an Unexpected Place

It’s going to be another one of those brightly sun-drenched days, I think, as my steady plodding trot turns to a hike and heads skyward once again on this wide open, sandy trail in desert-like northeastern San Diego County. My legs feel like boulders beneath my hips as they labor up another steep incline, more slowly than I wish they would. My hydration vest has come in handy so far but I’m still feeling a little dizzy from the heat and the effort. The trail continues on an upward trend for three more miles before leveling off, and I have to stop twice to catch my breath. I curse the recent bout of bronchitis for setting back my cardio endurance so much, but despite my struggle I am alright. In fact I’m genuinely glad to be here. I would smile to prove it, if I wasn’t so sure that my squinting into the sun would make it look more like a grimace than a grin.

uphillA small part of the pack making their way uphill last week.

The best part of this hot, late morning run is that I’m not alone. If I was, I am sure I’d have turned around and headed home by now. I am travelling with a group of forty or so people, stretched for miles across the two trails which have been laid for us that day: the 4 mile “Turkey” trail and the 6 mile “Eagle.” A handful of people I have grown quite fond of toil beside me, as we hike the hills and run the straight-aways together. There is something special about running with these people. There is something spiritual about following these trails, laid in all-purpose baking flour by a different volunteer each week. There is something extraordinary about the entire event called a Hash, something I know each one of us there senses, but never really talks about.

Every hash group follows the common theme a little differently: some will focus a lot on the run itself, and others are more about gathering socially. Some attract single, twenty-somethings and others are populated by a more middle-aged crowd. But despite their divergent outward appearances, each hash has the same history, and the same backbone. It is the gathering of a pack of like-minded individuals, each participating in a symbolic “hunt” through roads, trails and quite often complete wilderness, which concludes in a “feast” for all involved (beer and food provided by the volunteers who laid the trail). It didn’t take me long to realize that a hash is a perfect modern-day symbol of our most primitive of social activities.

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The Hash House Harriers glossary of terms found in chalk on trail.

Even though we all run together, the hash is way more primal than your average jaunt through the city with a training group or a trail race with your friends. During a hash run you must chase a trail through varying terrains which are completely unpredictable in nature. You may need to run on roads or trails, up steep hills, down slippery embankments, over ankle-twisting gravel, along drainage pipes, and through hip-high brush or bamboo forests. You might be forced to climb fences, jump off walls or walk across roofs. During the run you may be fooled by a cleverly laid back-track, or lose the trail altogether. But no matter where the flour takes you, you will always have to be thinking while you are running. You must keep your eye to the ground – both for your safety and for the latest trail marking. We may all be chatting jovially as we form groups and seek out trail together, but don’t let this levity fool you – the hash transforms us all into the savage hunter, and our prey is the “hare” that was loosed a mere fifteen minutes ahead of the pack.

Even though we all eat good food and drink craft beer once we reach the end of the trails, the hash is nothing like your ordinary summer barbecue. Strangely similar to that of our ancestors, we are a modern-day tribe of revelers, oftentimes bedecked in costume, knee-socks, kilt and handmade ornamental jewelry that displays the names to which each of us is given by the tribe itself. We have appointed chiefs who lead us in verses that we all know and sing (and sometimes dance) during the ritual called a “circle,” which takes place after the trail at every hash event. This ritual is often humorous, unorganized and slightly debaucherous, but a ritual it remains. At some hashes the circle is so unique and esoteric that it actually resembles something spiritual. Something religious, even.

And if I dare to call this experience religious, it’s because I’ve learned so much more about my inner self as a Hasher than I ever did during my years as a Churchgoer.

Being a Hasher has taught me what my strengths are as a runner and it has taught me to accept my weaknesses. It has taught me that running works best as a social sport, the way it was back when our ancestors hunted for dinner on foot. Hashing has taught me the power of positive motivation and of generosity. It has taught me how to train better for races, mentally as well as physically. It taught me that my body can handle most of the things I’m afraid it can’t, and that my odd sense of humor is not lost on everyone. The hash has gifted me with amazing new friendships that have potential of existing for the long haul. And perhaps best of all, the hash has taught me the value of unconformity: grouping people of different age groups, education levels, socio-economic status, birthplaces, religious and political views, morals and vices, sexual orientation and athletic ability into one running, beer-drinking, laughing, roasting, singing, tutu-wearing, joyful assemblage makes for an impossibly high level of awesome that can rarely, if ever, be achieved anywhere else on the planet.

In the words of my dear, dear friend Caity, the hash is “too awesome to actually be real.” Heh. Amen to that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go wash the poison oak out of my favorite shiggy socks. On On!

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Review and Giveaway: Earth Runners Circadian Sandal

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A few weeks back I was approached by Earth Runners to review the newest in their line of minimalist sandals. Until that point I had only peripherally heard of the company, and didn’t really know much about their brand of sandals. But I said yes because the more I looked into them, I realized the Earth Runner sandal is different from a lot of the other Tahuramara-inspired minimalist sandals out there, in two big ways:

The Lacing

It looks a lot like the kind of lacing that you’ve seen in other huarache-style sandals, but the system is a little different. The sturdy toe strap slides between your first and second toe and goes on to create the heel strap much like all the others, but then it comes across your ankle just once and is then strapped in by a nifty push buckle on the outside. It makes for a very clean look that is easily adjustable and very secure. No sliding, no pinching, no tying. And best of all, the closure system assures that the heel strap never slides off my heel: bonus!

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The Copper

Earth Runners subscribes to the concept of earthing, which is the idea that utilizing the ground’s electrical energy can help maintain our health and well-being.  To keep us connected to the earth below us, Earth Runners has installed special conductive copper plugs into the rubber soles and laces of their sandals, and has even “impregnated” the straps themselves with conductive material.

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I’m not really sure where I stand on the whole earthing concept, but I would have to say that it can’t be bad for me, so why not? If nothing else, a little placebo never hurt anybody. That aside, I like my Earth Runners a lot more than I expected to, and I really do find myself wearing them everywhere. I definitely wear them least as often as my favorite Lunas, and that’s saying something. The Circadian model, which is the one I received, has a distinctively feminine vibe to my eyes (although, yes, they are unisex). Most other huarache-style sandals can tend to feel masculine or utilitarian to me. When I walk around in my Circadians, I feel like I’m wearing a regular sandal that goes quite well, fashion-wise, with the casual summer skirts and dresses I like to wear. And the best part is I’m still getting the benefits of a great minimalist, zero-drop huarache. And the benefits of grounding, as well.

I haven’t run in these sandals (they’re just too pretty!), although I know that many people do, and they’re built well enough for running. They have a 6mm thick, really grippy Vibram rubber sole that comes out of the box already partly molded to the natural shape of your foot. I really liked that, because flat rubber sandals can sometimes feel floppy and wobbly (which is why I usually prefer sandals with suede or leather over the rubber), but the gentle curvature in the sole of the Circadian gives my foot a nice seat.

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I’ve taken my dog for several road and trail walks in these and I like the ground feel and the sticky slip protection they provide. The guys over at Earth Runners was also more than happy to cut the sole to a drawing I had of my feet, so they fit just perfectly, which is such a bonus for me and my monkey feet!

The Earth Runners Circadian model (and the Birkenstock-soled Alpha, too) is available currently on Kickstarter.com. Support the startup, y’all! It’s only there until June 2! A few weeks after the kickstarter campaign is over, the two new models will be available for sale on the Earth Runners website.

earthrunnersClick on the image above to head over to the Kickstarter site!

And just to get you all excited about these fantastic sandals, I’m going to give away a pair of Circadians OR Alphas to one lucky reader. Yay! We all love giveaways, don’t we?

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This contest will run until Friday, May 31st. There are five ways to enter:

  • 1 ENTRY for posting a comment: tell me why you want a pair of Earth Runners, and where you’ll take them! Or ask a question if you’ve got one.
  • 1 ENTRY PER DAY for sharing this giveaway on Facebook (please leave a separate comment with the URL to the FB page). You may share it more than once and earn a separate entry.
  • 1 ENTRY PER DAY for tweeting about this giveaway (please leave a separate comment with the URL to your tweet). You may tweet more than once and earn a separate entry.
  • 1 ENTRY for liking the Earth Runners page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EarthRunners (leave a separate comment to tell me you’ve done this)
  • 1 ENTRY for following my blog (please leave a separate comment to tell me you’ve done this so I can verify)

On Friday I will tally up the comments by number and let random.org choose the winner for me. The lucky winner can choose one pair of either the Circadian or Alpha sandal (pictured above). Winner should email me at trishalreeves@gmail.com and I’ll get you all set up!

Thanks for reading, and good luck!


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Why Bragging is a Good Thing (and You Should Do it More)

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Growing up in the Catholic school system, I was consistently taught that pride was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I was told by teachers, priests and parents that bragging about yourself in any way was a bad thing to do. Out in the school yard, my friends spoke poorly about and frowned on girls who showed any evidence of being prideful. “She thinks she’s so great,” they would say about a girl who raised her hand the most during class or got a little too excited about her quickly improving double-dutch skills. Bullying habits of school-age girls aside, I always used to wonder to myself why pride was such a bad thing. Even then it seemed to me like there wasn’t anything wrong with being proud of your own accomplishments, even sharing them with others. But I was alone in my opinion, because “the Lord taught us” that humility and pride are opposing emotions, and that humility was the good one.

The rally against pride continues still, and it’s all around me. Just today, my friend Alex mentioned in a Facebook update that he’s lost 12 pounds in 11 days, and that he was damn well going to brag about it. I expressed my surprise, because contrary to his usual divulge-it-all-on-Facebook attitude, he hadn’t yet mentioned his weight loss undertaking.

His response to me was, “Just because I don’t have all my damn apps update Facebook every time I break a sweat…”

His comment refers in part to my rather dependable use of DailyMile to track and declare my weekly running progress on Facebook. He is right, I use Dailymile to update Facebook every time I break a sweat. Guilty!

Hey, I enjoy posting my workouts. I like to know how far I go each week, compare this week to other weeks, evaluate my progress, and most importantly, to be proud of myself. I post on Facebook too. People who care are proud of me.

But the message is even sometimes passed along by fellow runners. I’ve read many blogs and posts by runner friends and acquaintances, encouraging others to just keep their runs to themselves instead of making it a public thing. They insist that true pride is the result of one’s inner strength and resolve, that you shouldn’t need accolades from others for your accomplishments.

I say fuck that. In these times when I’m exposed to an average of 38 complaints by 9 a.m., on every topic from workplace woes to baby’s bad sleeping habits, what the hell is wrong with posting a little positivity once in awhile? Why is it so much more acceptable for you to bitch about your shitty day than it is for me to brag about my great long run?

I’ll tell you why: because negativity breeds more negativity. It’s the whole “misery loves company” rule. Basically, negative people like you more if your life sucks. I enjoy posting to DailyMile, but I don’t post it for the benefit of the curmudgeons, I do it for myself, and I do it for those who will appreciate it. This is similar to when I share articles that reflect my opinions on controversial topics like motherhood or the role of government: I put it out there for the people who actually care, who agree and who are of like mind. The rest of the people are inconsequential. That’s how social networks…well, work.

If you get pissed off when other people post about their diet progress or running progress, that’s kind of a reflection on you. First of all, I’m posting text to a newsfeed on a social network, not cornering you at a party. You can always choose to hide or skip over posts you find annoying. And secondly, even if I was cornering you at a party, what is so bad about having to hear that people you know are doing good, happy things?

I think that people who get so worked up about things like this is because they feel bombarded by the personal guilt that it brings out in them. Every time they hear so-and-so ran ten miles or lost 25 pounds on their new diet plan, they’re reminded of their own lack of motivation. And I know it’s about guilt and self-loathing because, for example, I only get crap about posting my DailyMile app from people who don’t run. Usually followed by a lengthy, excuse-ridden explanation (that I never asked for) about why they can’t/don’t/won’t run themselves. It’s as transparent as saran wrap: they hate themselves for not being more physically active, so they take it out on people who are physically active.

And in the interest of transparency, I’ll admit it: I’m definitely guilty of feeling this way sometimes, too. But I’ve learned to recognize it. Whenever I find myself feeling a little green over someone else’s accomplishments, for example Trasie Phan’s video evidence of her 5:11 plank PR, I know that I have the choice to respond in one of two ways: I can feel resentment toward that very motivated person, or be inspired by her motivation. It’s my decision, and either way it doesn’t mean a thing to Trasie. Furthermore, she only posted that video for me if I’m going to be one of the people who watch and are proud or inspired by it, anyway.

So I say, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys publicizing your accomplishments on social networks for all to see, then you should keep on doing it. It’s a good thing, and there are many reasons why:

Being proud of yourself contributes to your happiness

According to recent studies, just the resolve to stop complaining, and  cultivating more positive thoughts and feelings in their place will make you a happier person overall. Having something like DailyMile or a weight loss journal to document your progress toward your goals is a great way to keep up the good juju. There’s nothing like a daily reminder of how awesome you’re doing!

It gives others the chance to root you on

Whether I have a triumph or setback, my friends will invariably read it and offer so much to keep me motivated in the right direction. Some of these folks have been responsible for encouraging my biggest and most ambitious goals! Without their motivation I probably never would have signed up for my first 50K race.

It links you up to like-minded people

Many of the friends we make as children and adults are those in close proximity: they’re in the same grade as you in school or you work for the same company. These people might be great but often you don’t share the same interests and passions. Joining a social network such as DailyMile and posting about your runs connects you with other people who are interested in running too. That way,  you’ll have more people to post for and you’ll feel a bigger sense of community.

You might inspire others to do it too

Like I mentioned earlier, people have a choice to feel inspired by your motivation, or be bitter about it. Those who are inspired by you might actually become your greatest source of pride. If they look at what you’ve accomplished and decide to join you in the pursuit, they’ll tell you. And they’ll probably thank you, too. And in turn you’ll have the satisfaction of watching their journey as it unfolds. This is truly a wonderful gift, every time it happens to me.

It holds you accountable

Accountability is a great motivator. Posting publicly that I’ve lost ten pounds and have twenty to go, or that I’m training for a marathon, renders me responsible to those whose interest I’m now holding. There’s probably nothing more frightening than being asked “so how’s that race training going?” by a friend who is rooting for me to succeed, and having to tell them I’ve given up the ghost. All my Facebook running buddies know I can do a 30+ mile week, and they might notice if I churn out seven lowly <10 mile weeks in a row. It’s always in the back of my mind to keep up the good work, because others are counting on me.

So if you’re doing something great for yourself, keep up the good work! And then go ahead and brag about it, everywhere you can. Record it on FitDay or DailyMile, post about it at length on your Facebook page or in your blog. You deserve the recognition. It’s also a great way to learn which of your friends are the Debbie Downers, Negative Nellys, and other great additions to your “blocked” list. Happy bragging!


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How to Make Friends with Women

dirty shoes

Throughout my life, I have never really been what one would consider a “girly-girl.” I was raised by my dad. I don’t own a lot of pink clothing. I have a raunchy sense of humor. I step in puddles, on purpose. I don’t wear shoes very often, and when I do they aren’t stilettos. I dislike thong underwear. When I come back from a run I am usually covered in sweat and dirt, and sometimes a little blood too. I’m totally comfortable in a room full of dudes being dudes, and it’s not because I need reassurance that I’m attractive…it’s because I like to drink pints of beer, eat spicy food, swear and tell dirty jokes. I typically forego the whole mani-pedi business and prefer to keep my nails super-short and unpainted. I go out in the rain with no umbrella. I’ll hold my own door and kill spiders myself. I don’t get grossed out by Porta-Johns (in fact I’m usually grateful to see them). Nothing in my house has flowers on it. I don’t spend an hour on my hair and makeup when I go out. I prefer beer over fruity cocktails. I go to hashes on the weekends. I don’t want to be a mother. I don’t believe that a man should have to ask a woman on a date, or pay for her dinner. I make more money than my husband, and I shun most gender roles.

I’ve often been told by guy friends that I’m the perfect wife-material (I guess you’re a lucky man, Shawn!). But when it comes to girl friends, I have historically had a difficult time figuring out where I fit in.

When I was in fourth grade I switched schools and tested out of 4th grade English, so I was put into a classroom in another building with all the 5th graders. I’ll never forget lining up at the end of class each day with all the older girls, who were starting to grow boobs and shave their legs. I loved listening to them while we waited for the class bell to sound. They were always so glamorous to me, as they talked about makeup and boys. I was too intimidated to participate in the conversation, so I mostly just listened, while pretending to be occupied with a doodle in my notebook.

One time, while they were comparing notes on hair washing, drying and curling techniques, I pointed at my straight, mousy brown, all-one-length locks and interjected: “I don’t do anything with my hair. I just wake up, comb it, and it looks like this!” I smiled, waiting to be included in the conversation. After a moment the prettiest girl looked back at me, rolled her eyes, and replied, “We know, it’s obvious.”

What every 5th grade girl looked like to me when I was in the 4th grade - except add plaid skirts.

What every 5th grade girl looked like to me when I was in the 4th grade – except add plaid skirts.

It’s not really that I don’t act or dress feminine at all, or even that I’m exactly a tomboy. Being a creative type, I enjoy fashion trends, cool home décor and acquiring things that look nice. Heck, I have a job as an art director for a company that makes wedding invitations and gifts for women. But with that said, I still have always felt like I don’t quite understand the typical woman. It started out early on, with me being intimidated by them – I always felt less pretty, somehow less feminine, with my messy, mousy brown hair and my penchant for catching toads in the back yard. I would always rather play King of the Hill with the boys than have a Barbie tea party with the other girls.  I eventually went on to participate in girlish hobbies like ballet and gymnastics, which I liked, but I never lost that less-than-girly edge, even into my adult years.

A lot of women like to say things like “I can be one of the guys!” Very often, that’s not true at all…at least not as true as they want it to be. A lot of women like to hang out with men because they want a boyfriend, or because they want attention and reassurance. And sure, at times in my life I’ve been as guilty of that as the next girl. But even now after most of that insecurity is gone, I still feel more comfortable around men in general, than I do women. In a lot of ways, I really do feel like “one of the guys.”

See, when it comes to making friends, men are mostly non-superficial and non-judgmental. They don’t have hidden agendas and they don’t play the drama game. Unlike that of many women, I love the way the typical guy friendship works. They’re light, easy-going and frank with each other. They don’t get mad at you for not wanting to talk on the phone or for cancelling on them that one time. They don’t make friends with which to compete, instead they make friends to play backgammon. If two guys don’t talk for six months, their next get-together feels as if the time never passed. If one guy friend doesn’t want to talk about his relationship, the other one changes the subject to what flavor of hot wings they should order. It’s simple.

I’m lucky enough to have made a few girlfriends who are just as care-free as this. I respect and appreciate them.  Even if I go through periods of frustration with those friends (as you do with anyone), I tend to give them much more forgiveness and leeway, because I owe it to them in exchange for their easy friendship. They are the ones reading this right now and nodding their heads, rather than being offended that I am talking about them. They are fantastic people and I wish there were more of them.

Since moving to California and having to make new friends, I have had the opportunity to observe myself becoming extremely particular about the types of people I am willing to spend my time with. I have had moments where I’ve revisited that bad hair day in 4th grade, feeling ugly and intimidated. And I have had moments where I’ve felt as if I was exactly where I belonged. While discovering this, I have become fascinated by the fact that I can meet someone and know almost right away what kind of relationship I would be capable of having with them. Just the way they wear their clothes or how they stand while speaking to me. Many of us seem to be rather good at gravitating toward and leeching out the people who are the most like ourselves, and we are better at it the more we know and understand ourselves.

So maybe this post could be thought of as a self-indulgent study on being judgmental about people. But perhaps, I am just at a point where I know myself a little better, and perhaps that means I’ll make better friendships, and be a better friend, for it. Maybe it means I’m finally okay with the fact that I don’t like lipstick and stiletto heeled shoes, and that the girlfriends I’ll make will be okay with it too. I like believing that.


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Review: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run? by John McClung

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Because I don’t have kids of my own, I spend all my time sharing my perspective on healthy running and minimalism with other adults. Not that I mind, of course. Kids mostly scare the crap out of me. But one thing I’ve always known is that my road to proper form and barefoot/minimalist running was made much longer because I didn’t learn it as a child. No, instead I was always told to wear shoes when I go outside, and was reprimanded when I tried to sneak out of the house with bare feet in the winter (which I did often). I did spend a lot of my childhood sans shoes, though, but like most kids I was taught early on to rely on the protection, cushiness and comfort of today’s typical athletic shoe.

We adults of today had to learn late and re-train our bodies, but our kids don’t have to.

Now that many of us have discovered the importance of strong feet and legs, and remembered the joy of feeling the ground with our naked toes, we would do well to pass that knowledge on to our future generations.

Thanks to my friend John McClung, children’s literature has now begun the dive into that concept. What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run? is a sweet little children’s story about a baby bear whose momma teaches him that he needs nothing but his two four little feet to enjoy the outdoors.

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Illustrated brilliantly by Laura Hollingsworth (and I’m an art director so I’d know), What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run? is a rather ingenious learning tool for kids and their parents. It asks us to shed the idea that we need to protect our kids from every germ, every puddle, every boo-boo. Momma Bear teaches Baby Bear to be a kid, to run around carefree, to feel the earth below his feet and to love being outside. And lucky for kids, these things don’t require shoes. It’s a message I wish I was taught, but I’m glad I re-learned as an adult.

If you have young children in your family or have some friends with kids, pick this little book up. Not only will you be giving a thoughtful gift, but you’ll be supporting some as yet undiscovered talent. It’s for sale at Amazon for about $13 paperback or $9 on a Kindle.


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Happiness vs. Contentment, Nice vs. Kind: An Observation of People

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Hello, readers. You’ll have to forgive me for my recent disappearance from the blogosphere. Life in SoCal has been pretty amazing for me, and a side effect of that is I’ve been much too busy with it to spend my free time in front of a computer. It’s a rather curious thing, that sometimes the more interesting my life gets the less I feel like writing about it.

So as I’ve been living my life in high color, I’ve also been taking in a lot of what’s going on around me. Like most people who like to write, I am a constant observer of people, things and ideas. Sometimes it’s an amazing ocean view, sometimes it’s 50 miles of mountains and valleys viewed from a windy summit, and sometimes it’s the thoughts and behaviors of people around me. All of which I find equally interesting.

I’ve been reading and hearing a slew of thoughts from people, specifically on two somewhat related topics. The first one being happiness. Just what is happiness and how do we know it? Some talk about happiness as a feeling of freedom – freedom from society’s pressures to “have it all”, i.e. the American Dream. Money, more money, things and more things. Expensive vacations to exotic places for seven days, and then back to the grind of making more money so you can get more things.

Other ways that people define happiness is in accomplishing all your life’s goals, marrying the perfect partner, finding God, moving to a better part of the world or filling your home with lots of family, friends and children.

Well, I’m here to say that happiness is none of those things. Happiness is only about your own made-up ceiling of contentment. And I say ceiling because it’s up to you to decide how high it is, and how much you need to fill it. Set the ceiling too high, and you’ll never be content with what you’ve got and miss out on too much while you’re trying to fill that cavernous hole. Set it too low and you’re settling; chances are you’ll live an exceptionally boring life with no adventure and have too many regrets later on. You’ve got to know where the happy medium is. And how?

The answer is suffering. Without suffering, you can’t fully know happiness. Hear me out on this. Without bad, it’s impossible to separate great from ordinary. It’s why we’ve created Hell  – it’s there to heighten the allure of Heaven. Good and evil are opposites, and the ability to compare them is crucial for their own existence.

A long time ago I decided that those who have had the most suffering in life are capable of the most happiness. I say capable, because it’s only possible if one recognizes their ability to become happy and actually does the work of getting there. And you’ll have to work much harder to find happiness if you’ve been given some non-distinct version of mediocre happiness all your life.

Some would define all of America that way. But I digress.

Happiness, by my definition, is choosing your own contentment, and deciding it’s enough. In fact, I would argue that contentment is even more important than happiness, as happiness is only one ingredient in the unique recipe of your life’s contentment. And how will you ever know if the contentment you’ve got is enough, if you don’t know what it’s like not to have it?

Here’s a good analogy. I lived in New England my whole life. Since as early as I can remember, I hated every single cold winter day. I watched others enjoy skiing and snowfall, while I suffered through 150 days per year of clouds and precipitation, lack of vitamin D and summer humidity that made the world feel like a bowl of tomato soup. When I moved out to Southern California, everything that I hated about the climate was gone. It’s sunny almost every day, winter doesn’t exist and neither does humidity. I can go to the beach more often and soak up the sunshine with a tank top on all year round.

I feel absolute happiness here in San Diego, probably even more than most native San Diegans. Why? Well, because of my suffering. Native San Diegans are happy here, for sure. They recognize in a superficial sort of way that they are lucky they get to live in a nice climate with little related suffering. But without the actual experience of shoveling snow out of their driveway every other day for seven months, spending thousands a year to heat their small home and only seeing the sunshine a couple times a week all year round, they have no idea how happy they really are. But I do. I am two times as lucky, and two times as happy to live in San Diego, because of my suffering.

Same goes with my adulthood. Today I enjoy the freedom from my bad parents and disappointing family members. I appreciate the joy of making my own life, my way, all by myself, because of the suffering I endured as a child. Being deserted by my mother, having to raise my little brother when I was only three years his elder, being left alone in a house for weekends and neglected emotionally by my father are all things that sucked in my early life. So as an adult I revel in the contentment I’ve created, knowing that I don’t have any dependents to raise, the freedom to do as I wish without needing to care what others think of me, and the relief of no longer having to keep anyone around who treats me like shit.

Which brings me to my second, almost related topic: the way you treat others.

light_vs_dark___original_by_dw817-d2xtnig

Being that I am a very outgoing and social person, I’ve made a lot of acquaintances and friends in my journey through life. I fancy myself as relatable to many different types of personalities, because of my open-minded, non-judgmental and curious nature. People usually like me. I can often respond just as well to the warm, kind-hearted people as well as the sarcastic, ball-busting ones. Every once in awhile I come across someone who is tough to get along with, no matter how I treat them. When this happens I often go through a period of insecurity, and it can sometimes even affect the way I view myself. Am I intolerable? Annoying? Am I a weakling, just primed for the picking? I might question my place within a section of my friend circle, and at times I’ll even go back to my elementary school fat-kid days, and start to wonder whether my physical appearance has anything to do with it.

Recently I’ve heard out some opinions on this subject. One opinion in particular that stuck was that people are not made of nice, so deal with it. Everyone possesses within them a generous side that likes to make people happy, and a selfish side that likes to make people hurt. At first I was ruffled by this, and then I realized how flawed it was.

Of course everyone has the ability to be mean, to hurt others.  Natural selection has more or less favored the ruthless. In my life I have wanted to hurt people, and I have succeeded. But as I’ve looked into the reasons why I hurt them, I realized it wasn’t because I was feeling normal things that are just part of life. It was because I was indulging in a huge personality flaw of my own. Jealousy. Selfishness. Superficiality. Just because I’ve been built with the ability to feel these things, doesn’t mean that indulging in them is going to be good for me. Remember, natural selection also favors those who can cooperate with others.

That aside, good and bad traits have to exist in everyone, they have to fight each other. If you go back to my first point, you need negativity around in order to recognize positivity, even in yourself. But in my experience, if I am treating someone else like shit, the problem isn’t their personality or their wimpishness, the problem is mine. I’m jealous of something about their life. I’m angry that they’re prettier, richer, smarter than me. I’m trying to hurt them, because I’m not happy about something in my own life. I’m trying to fill my canyon of happiness with the suffering of others. And I don’t care how you cut it, that’s just not the right way to be. Rather, it’s an invitation to be a little more insightful about myself and start looking for happiness in another way.

And that’s where I get the idea of nice vs. kind. Normally, I am an extremely independent person who is flexible, forgiving and easy-going. I also have a cynical streak a mile wide, and I can be quite opinionated and big-mouthed. I like to participate in sarcastic banter with friends, and I love to tell others how wrong they are in their political opinions (just ask my friend Angela). In life I generally know what I like, am mostly happy with myself, and if you don’t like me you can go fuck yourself. I don’t make any effort to be around people who don’t interest me, and I have dumped friends who aren’t benefitting my contentment. No, I’m not always nice. In fact, sometimes I can be really very bitchy.

But nice is different from kind. Nice is a superficial notion – you can’t possibly always be nice and still have any depth, self-insight or true emotion. I know a few people who are only nice – and they are caverns of dispassionate vapidity.

But kindness is something else entirely. It is selflessness. Acceptance, tolerance and respect. I spend a lot of thought and caring on people who matter to me. I am warm, open and vulnerable toward them. I accept and forgive. I am kind to those whom I choose to love. I’m not always nice, and I’ve certainly made mistakes and doled out my share of misery on others, but I still consistently strive to be kind.

I believe that’s some of how you make your own happiness. It’s how you form deep and strong emotional ties to certain friends and family with whom you choose. Kindness, and thus vulnerability, is key, as strength is shown so well by the presence of that vulnerability (which is the same as happiness shown by the presence of suffering). If you can’t be kind and vulnerable to those who care about you, then you’ll spend your whole life alone, even if surrounded by hundreds of people.

These last several weeks have been a learning experience for me in many ways. Through the observation of others I have learned some things about myself as a friend, and I’ve learned a lot more about what I need to be content.

And since I can’t think of a great closing sentence for this rambling post, I’ll just congratulate you if you’ve managed to get to the bottom of it, and also encourage you to offer your own thoughts on this topic in the comments section. Thanks for reading!


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Paleo vs. Vegan: The Politics of Diet

As we are all coming off the high of this insanely partisan Presidential election, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the equally partisan views that many folks have between the two big fringe dietary models of our current time: Paleo and Vegan.

For those of my readers who may not be familiar, I’ll take a moment here to explain my understanding of the differences between these two diets. Veganism is almost exclusively a plant-based diet, utilizing the carbohydrates that vegetables, fruits and grains provide for energy, with the added proteins and fats from nuts, legumes and fatty plants such as avocados. Vegans stay away from any animal product, protein or meat, including by-products such as milk, eggs, cheese and animal-derived oils. They also generally avoid heavily processed items, anything that has so many ingredients that it stops becoming real food.

The Paleo, or Caveman diet is often construed to be the opposite of Vegan. By definition, it is not at all. The Paleo diet contains any food that is naturally derived and completely unprocessed – that is, anything that would have been consumed throughout most of human history as we evolved to what we are today. This diet contains all forms of unprocessed meat (preferably grass-fed and not drugged-up), fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts, and strays away from processed animal by-products like milk and cheese. Paleo also excludes any form of grain – wheat, oats, rice – because it must be processed for consumption. Legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes are also out because they were not a part of the diet early on in human evolution.

The reason I titled this post as such is that the people who follow one of these diets tend to feel strongly for their choice, at the total expense of the other. For example, earlier this year I decided to try a 30-day Paleo challenge, and was subsequently chewed out by a Vegan friend on Facebook. Fact and fiction alike was littered about the conversation, and there was even some namecalling. It felt like a political campaign, or hell…even a little like a religious argument.

Personally, I find that I generally tend to stay away from the side of any argument that feels dogmatic to me, and lean toward the side that feels more based in historical or empirical evidence. This is probably why I tend to lean left in my political beliefs, and non-denominational in my thoughts about life after death.

While both Veganism and Paleo tote around plenty of evidence for bringing on good health, and even though, like most religions, they aren’t all that different from each other if you look at the fine print, there’s just something more dogmatic to me about Veganism.

In my experience, many people who promote Vegan eating do it for moral or ethical reasons (i.e. meat is murder). Now, certainly this is not the case for all Vegans, but there is a good portion of that argument in there, anytime you touch on the subject. Conversely, Paleo devotees almost exclusively follow the diet for health and well-being, discarding the subject of morality entirely. I’ve always leaned toward the Paleo way of thinking because in my opinion, the nourishment of my body has nothing to do with ethics or kindness to animals (or plants either, for that matter). Coyotes eat rabbits because their bodies are evolved to need them. Cows eat grass for the same reason. I like to take my cues from science and evolution. But hey that’s just me, and this is my blog.

That said, I have seen some excellent empirical arguments made recently by friends of mine for the Vegan diet, laced with interesting anecdotal evidence (my favorite kind, heh). It’s times like these where I appreciate the sort of people I surround myself with because they are generally open-minded and intelligent, which is an excellent combination of qualities, especially because I love to learn from people and be inspired to think differently. Many of my smart, science-y friends have been testing (and loving) the Vegan diet for its ability to cleanse the body of toxins and promote overall good health. Most of them are runners as well, and they have boasted huge improvements in their performance since switching to the plant-based diet. And probably the best news of all, each of them has reported significant weight loss where needed.

Being that Paleo has always been the better fit for my political compass, I resisted these findings for quite some time. Sure you can go on a Vegan diet for awhile, but how long until you just need to go chew on an animal? How long can you really resist the general diet of the average human in 2012? Other than for out-of-the-ordinary people like Scott Jurek or Pat Sweeney, Vegan always seemed more temporary to me than even the likes of other diet systems like Weight Watchers, Atkins or South Beach. There’s just so much you have to take out of your diet, it just didn’t seem worth bothering.

But I’ve come to a crossroads. I’m struggling emotionally and physically with the weight that I’ve gained in the last four years. I don’t like the way I look in my clothes (or out of them). I run anywhere from 10-30 miles per week, I fill my house with all sorts of high quality foods, yet I still struggle with losing this extra weight. And I believe that the extra weight is the only thing keeping me from my running goals. Genetically pre-dispositioned, I’ve been somewhat overweight for most of my life and even though I’ve been moderately successful on some low-calorie diets before, I’m tired and bored of them. I need a different challenge, I think. It might be possible that going Vegan for awhile could offset that boredom enough to help me discard that unnecessary weight.

So I’m putting some thought into switching to Vegan temporarily, at least until the Across the Years 24-hour race that I just signed up for. I’m thoroughly ecstatic for this race, but I’ve been worried that my body isn’t up for the same challenge that my mind is itching for. It’s possible that changing my eating habits now, just shy of two months beforehand, could bring my body closer to meeting that challenge.

I’m not promising anything, I think, but I’m putting some serious consideration into the idea. I expect I’ll have my decision made by the end of this week. I welcome any thoughts or advice that my readers may have on the subject. Especially the free-of-politics kind. 🙂