Lesson From Horseflies

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The first wave was modest, but unexpected as a blizzard in the Atacama Desert.  Enormous, jet black and staggeringly persistent.  Their ominous shadows were the first sign of approach, quickly followed by a loud whhhhrrrrrr.  After the first few encounters, the only means of evasion, we found, was to hit the ground and take shelter against a boulder.  

Day after day, we were under attack.  Our enemy:  the Patagonian horsefly.  These ravenous, bloodthirsty beasts came in bunches and their mission was clear.  Their excruciating bite was noted even by Charles Darwin on his voyages of The Beagle.  Why did evolution ever bring these beasts into existence?  As it turns out, they only turn up for about three weeks every summer.  Of course, it was right in the dark heart of our adventures in Southern Chile.  

Despite their nearly omnipresent schedule (much unlike Chilean businesses, they’re reliably open for business 9am-9pm every day) and extreme irritation, there were a few things to be learned from these meddling menaces.  

Stillness is Essential – While engaging in a glorious early morning yoga session overlooking Caleta Condor (see below, one of the most stunning beaches in South America), I was nearly ignored by the horseflies.  While it wasn’t complete invulnerability to their attacks – more on that later – it was progress.  While one passing bug was brushed aside, the slow and deliberate movements attracted no other uninvited guests.  This marked a stark contrast to previous displays of Jackie Chan-ing the pests with jabs, kicks, and flings of any nearby blunt object.  With one particularly memorable karate-chop, I knocked over two water bottles while completely whiffing on the enemy.  The lesson here was that calm always outweighs spastic.  Slowing down and acting with deliberation gets tasks accomplished while generally avoiding collateral damage.  RIP, water bottles.

Mindset Controls Experience – At one point, during the first day at Caleta Condor, I said “if these f*ckers weren’t around, this place would be paradise”.  Later on, I took an issue with my approach.  Caleta Condor IS paradise.  A spectacular crescent moon beach with hot, but not stifling, weather, surrounded by lush Valdivian rainforest, and only accessible by boat (horsefly air travel notwithstanding).  If that isn’t paradise, it doesn’t exist.  Fair enough, the horseflies were bad – the size of a plump raspberry and shockingly tenacious.  Due to the remoteness, there were few other beachgoers there; however, each of them could be observed swatting away continuously.  But seriously, letting some insects ruin this majestic, secluded piece of heaven would be tragic.  The difference-maker, of course, is mindset.  Things happen, obstacles always find their way into our lives and stand between us and fulfillment.  How we relate and respond, that’s 100% our choice.  Letting pests affect our mental state is completely within our control.  Do we want to let the dogged little buggers win?  No, and they won’t, especially when we seize control of our mindset, observe before we react, and stay positive in spite of unrelenting obstacles.   

Embrace Oneness – This analogy may seem a bit rich, but hear me out:  when lying horizontally, or leaning against a rock, the pests vanished.  Even when being traveled by a pack of them, we hit the deck and they were gone.  Sure, it’s probably to do with their sensory preceptors, but there’s never a bad time to get more closely connected with the planet.  Laying down in the sand, embracing nature, literally being one with the Earth – it brings relief from whatever is dogging us.  

The next time a relentless, overwhelming obstacle is interrupting my paradise, I’ll check back on these lessons:  slow down, take control of my mindset, and reconnect with nature.  A lesson from an unlikely source.  Still though, in the name of Darwin, curses be upon the origin of these damn species.  

Andrew Langford

The Dark Night

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We started this podcast because we believe in the darkness.

This darkness can last an hour, a month, a year. It is universal. And universally disdained. Why do we curse the darkness?

It feels random and without form. It’s unfair. Terrifying! And hurts like hell.

What if we get the darkness we’re ready for?

That’s a loaded question.

Tell that to the parents who lost their kid to cancer. To the woman who lost her innocence. To the professional who lost his career. To the family who lost their house. To the untold people who have lost their lives.

Joseph Campbell was once asked, “What is the purpose of all of the world’s great myths and stories?” And you thought Andrew’s questions were hard. Campbell’s response was, “The transformation of our consciousness.” When asked, “How is this consciousness transformed?” His response was… “By the trials.”

Trials.

Obstacles.

Darkness.

What if our trials are meant to wake us up? So we can see the light.

What if the darkness we disdain is the journey we must take to have our eyes opened and our consciousness transformed?

Instead of cursing it, we could depend on it.

How might this change everything?

-John

A Shocking Study

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In his excellent and thought-provoking book, ‘Stumbling on Happiness,’ Daniel Gilbert challenges our traditionally held beliefs on happiness. There are several key takeaways, not the least of which is, “anxiety is unhelpful because our brains are notoriously unreliable when it comes to predicting the future.” The experiences that we believe will bring us happiness, seldom do. But even more surprising, the experiences we dread and often try to avoid, fail to deliver the level of doom and gloom expected.

To illustrate his point, Gilbert references dozens of scientific studies -most of which go against conventional wisdom. One experiment, in particular, invited volunteers to receive three electric shocks. The fact that anyone signed up for this study is perhaps confirmation of the book’s central thesis. One group received moderate level shocks and the others received severe (painful) shocks. Upon completion, the participants were interviewed by psychologists. The participants who received the painful shocks were more grateful and appreciative of the experience than those who received less intense shocks. How is this possible? Gilbert explains, “if you managed to forgive your spouse (or anyone) for some egregious transgression but still find yourself miffed about the dent in the garage door or the trail of dirty socks on the staircase, then you have experienced this paradox.” It turns out, the answer lies in something called the Psychological Immune System.

We all have an immune system and its job is to fight off viruses so our body can run smoothly and stay safe from disease. It turns out, there is a psychological component to this. When we suffer a large scale attack on our psyche (Job loss, divorce, business failure, cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy etc.) our brain begins its job of protecting us by offering a more positive view of the experience. “That job wasn’t aligned with your values anyways. “He never really loved you for you who are etc.” This mental shift allows us to learn from the experience and most importantly, try again. While some might call this denial, others point to this as a key to resilience.

This particular immune system isn’t activated for every-day sadness, anger or anxiety but is reserved for those full-scale shocks to our psyche. Its primary concern is we don’t stay face down, in permanent rock bottom or experiencing night after night dark in our soul. We must eventually get up, dust ourselves off and continue to push through those obstacles.

It’s easy to feel anxious or angry, pre-suffering future shocks to our system. What this and many other studies have proven is although these shocks are inevitable, when they come, we have a built-in resilience to handle them. Upon realizing this, we can move forward with renewed confidence knowing we are stronger than we think. And perhaps, most importantly, we can enjoy the moment we are in.