The Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage is finished and it was a fantastic trip. Culturally, it was great. It was a completely different kind of travel than the usual backpacking or vacationing we all do. Strolling through tiny villages… up and down mountain paths.. in rural Japan– Wow!
Of course, there was also a spiritual component. Even though I don’t know a lot about the specific type of Buddhism practiced by the temples (Shingon Buddhism… founded by the great Japanese Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi)… it was impossible not to feel a sense of peace, calm and mindfulness while walking and visiting the temples.
Lastly, this was a significant fitness challenge. We averaged 5-6 hours a day of walking,.. plus 20-30 minutes at each temple. We took some buses and trains too… in order to finish the whole walk in 30 days. Needless to say, my aerobic fitness level was fantastic by the end of the trip (something I’m maintaining and building on).
On the other hand, this was a very difficult trip nutritionally. Being a vegetarian in rural Shikoku is not easy! We ate a TON of Udon noodles. Nearly every day, that was our lunch and dinner. Which means we got a lot of processed carbs (think: eating spaghetti for lunch and dinner every day).
Now that I’m back in Osaka, I’m eating much healthier. I’m also running every day (about 7 miles a day.. every single day).
One of the big realizations of this trip was that I have been living with a mediocre standard of health for about 7 years. I let my standards slip… every so slowly and gradually. During that time, I added nearly 20 pounds of fat to my body.
As I strolled along every day, I thought about this… and I projected forward. I imagined what kind of health and energy and vitality I wanted for the rest of my life. Did I want to go down the path of most people in the modern world…. or did I want the kind of life-long super-vitality of people like Jack Lalanne (who works out 3 hours a day at age 95).
Of course we all want life-long super-vitality.. but then the next question came: am I willing and eager to do what it takes to have that vitality? Am I ready to raise my standards much much higher in this area of my life? In the past, I have wanted to… but didn’t.
But I really got associated to the consequences of both paths (the normal and the super-health path) on this trip. I could see and feel what kind of life I’d have,… depending on choices I make now.
And so I decided to commit totally to Super Health and Fitness…. with the same no-compromise attitude I have towards being a vegetarian.
My decision is to be a model of health, fitness and vitality now… and for the next 4-6 decades of my life… and to eventually help others live this way as well.
I’m starting a new blog called EffortlessFitness.com to chart my progress on this path. I’m adopting a natural raw food (vegan) eating habit and have committed to doing 12 marathons in 12 months (starting sometime next summer).
The starting point (last month, before Shikoku):
Weight: 170 pounds (77kg)
Sugar/Carb-addict (ice cream, candy bars, pasta, rice)
Where I’m at now:
Weight: 164 pounds (74.5 kg)
No ice cream or sugar in 3 weeks
Drastic drop in carb intake
No pizza in 5 weeks
Taking 2-3 “Superfood Shakes” a day
Running 7 miles a day, every day
Feeling 1000x better.
As additional leverage for myself… I have been thinking about 2 old friends who each died, suddenly, of heart attacks. Both deaths came as big shocks to me.
I also think of many family members whose health has deteriorated. I’ve watched their vitality and energy drain away. I’ve seen their passion for life fade. People who used to be full of life and humor now constantly complain about being “tired” all the time.
Then I think of Jack Lalanne and his wife… both full of passion, energy, enthusiasm, strength and happiness. Jack is 95 this year… his wife is in her 80s (I believe).
I hope, in the long-term, not just to transform my own health… but to learn strategies to help others make the same changes. I know that many many people want to do this… but feel betrayed by their own minds and bodies… by deeply entrenched habits and cravings that feel impossible to break.
(Of course, the massive multi-billion dollar food & pharmacy industries are working against them… bombarding people with advertising and conditioning and supporting these unhealthy cravings).
So that’s the new mission I have adopted– first make the change in myself…. then help others do the same!
One thing is clear to me– great communities don’t happen by accident. They are formed by strong leaders with vision and purpose.
The greatest community I ever belonged to was the community of Bryn Madoc in Athens, GA. I look on my ~7 years with them as a golden age in terms of being part of a connected, purposeful, creative community.
I’ve been thinking about them a lot recently. What made this community so special? What makes any community strong?
I don’t have all the answers, but Madoc gives me some clues:
1. Several Committed Leaders
Bryn Madoc had not just one, but several strong and committed leaders. They all shared a vision of inclusiveness and teamwork. The leaders acted as strong mentors to younger members (like myself). They articulated a clear vision– and more importantly, they embodied it.
2. Shared Purpose
The community of Madoc cultivated a sense of shared purpose. While each individual’s talents were nurtured, there was always a sense of creating together. The group’s leaders held frequent workshops– mostly informal. They also hosted frequent parties and social events. Most importantly, the group hosted 2 or more large events every year– during which we played host to attendees from other groups. Hosting events gave the smaller workshops and practices a larger purpose.
3. Loose-Tight Structure
As I mentioned, these kinds of communities don’t just happen. They are created and cultivated. Bryn Madoc had structure– there were officers, meetings, planned events, awards, and rituals. These rituals created a sense of meaning and focused the efforts of the members. At the same time, the structure was very flexible. Eccentricity and individuality were not only tolerated, they were strongly encouraged. The group was a sanctuary for any and all creative talents.
So there we have a few key community principles: Structure, Purpose, and Leadership. Each of these, I believe, must be cultivated consciously and with great energy. They cannot be taken for granted.
The simple truth is that modern Western life conspires to isolate us. If we just “go with the flow”, our existing communities will naturally break apart. The forces of entropy are strong in our culture– community goes against this.
This is why so many of us find it difficult to find, create, maintain, and grow a vibrant community. I have complained about this difficulty for years. I’ve cursed it as I watched wonderful communities slowly fall apart. I’ve bemoaned their fate, and mine.
But what good does this do?
I recently saw the Dalai Lama speak at UC Berkeley. He was as playful and humourous as ever.. and as wise. In all his talk, one statement really stuck out to me. Someone asked him for general life advice and he said (to paraphrase), “The best advice for life is not to expect it to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. Just accept that and value growth, not ease”.
That’s an excellent stand to take in regards to our lonely isolated Western life. Communities are extremely difficult to build, maintain, and grow in our society. Yes, it’s very tough. Yes, the forces of work and economics conspire against it. Yes, the chronic busy-ness and consumer distractions work to erode the strength of our connections.
All true, but so what. If human love and connection really are most important to us, we’ve got to fight for them. We’ve got to make tough choices. We’ve got to devote our energy and passion to the cause. We have to accept that it will be a tough fight, and will always be a tough fight, and do it anyway.
Because when dear friends die, and we feel our own mortality creeping in– it is the people in our community we instinctively value most. That’s when we gain clarity.
Our simple task is to seize the opportunity offered by the clarity, and take massive action!
That, at least, is the challenge I’m giving myself.
One of the secrets to the success of my business– one of the ways in which it is remarkable– is that I have consciously, from the beginning, made Community a vital part of it.
My goal has always been to connect people, to foster understanding and growth, to promote enthusiastic lifelong learning, and to forge a strong supportive international community.
That goal is coming to fruition. We now have a core membership of extremely enthusiastic learners. Our members are connecting, supporting each other, encouraging each other, and making friends with each other.
We aren’t just a business, we’re an international tribe dedicated to learning and growth.
When considering your own micro-business, be sure to consider this vital part of it: How will you create meaning and connection as part of your business? How will you add greater significance and inspiration to people’s lives? How will you make people happier, stronger, and more connected?
Nobody gives a damn about “good” products or services. Those are a dime a dozen… and you’ll never survive if that’s all you provide (unless you have very deep pockets).
As a micro-business owner, your number one “competitive advantage” is your humanity. You can be what the big corporate monsters cannot– human, sincere, caring, meaningful, emotional, authentic.
As a micro-business entrepreneur, you should constantly be asking yourself, “how can I add more humanity to my business?” I can think of no more important question.
That question will force you to go against normal, soulless business practices.
Your answers to that question will guarantee your success. Because the big monster companies simply cannot compete with your humanity– its the one trait none of them have and none of them will ever have.
You want a guaranteed formula for micro-business success? Here it is:
Love + Passion + Humanity (with a dash of Prudent Cast Flow Management) = Success
Don’t “create a business”. Instead, build tribes, build communities, and foster humanity…. that’s the Hobopoet way of doing business.
I have been very fortunate in my life.
I am especially grateful for the wonderful friends I am blessed with– friends who are nomadic and loyal and who share my Hobopoet lifestyle.
We now have, in fact, quite a little nomadic tribe– which grows every year.
My first travel-buddy was my best friend Kristin. We have shared a lot of adventures… and have wandered all over the world together. We met in Georgia (USA), moved to South Carolina (USA) together, lived in Korea & taught English together, travelled in Thailand & India…..
Later, Todd/Sky joined us in our wanderings. As longtime readers know, the three of us (the “3 Amigos” pictured above) moved to Thailand together and lived there for 2 years.
In Thailand, our good friend Wat joined us. The four of us moved to San Francisco a few years ago. We joined another friend (from South Carolina)– Todd’s best friend Lewis. All five of us live in SF now.
Recently, Todd, Wat, Lewis,… and two other friends (Zach and Rinny) bought land on an island in Thailand (Koh Payam… near Ranong). They are building a little Hobopoet Sanctuary there– a tropical island retreat for the Winter.
Why am I writing about this? To show that a Hobopoet life does not have to be a solo or lonely affair. Mainstream people used to criticize this free life by claiming it was lonely. But my life is full of incredible friends… who have not only traveled with me… they have joined me living abroad in Korea, Thailand, Japan, and San Francisco (SF is a little like “living abroad” 😉
To paraphrase Thoreau,: When you advance confidently towards your dreams… the world/universe/tao/god opens up to you. You are blessed with incredible abundance. You meet like-minded people who are on a similar path to their dreams.
That has been, for me, the most rewarding part of this journey– the incredible friends I’ve made along the way.
At heart, loving-kindness means contribution. It is the deep desire in all of us to help ALL sentient beings be happy and free. Loving-kindness is the recognition of interdependence– understanding the truth that we are all connected, and ultimately, all one.
Loving-kindness is generosity… not giving money but rather a generosity of spirit– freely giving our compassion, kindness, understanding, and empathy. It is the Boddhisattva Way– Hoping and working for the happiness of all sentient beings.
To feel loving-kindness, however, you must give it to ourselves. You must be kind enough to let yourself be free. You must be kind enough to be your true self– to live according to your true beliefs, values, and talents. Usually, this means you must endure criticism from others.
If you are strange, be strange. If you are gay, be gay. If you are an artist, be an artist and stop trying to please your parents or family or boss. Love yourself. Build up your own happiness. Then you kindness will overflow and you’ll be happy to give it to others.
The cruelest and meanest people in the world are slaves and their masters. They are locked in a cycle of bitterness. In secret, they both hate their lives and what they have become.
Free your mind, be yourself, live simply… follow your bliss– these are the essential steps to developing loving-kindness in your heart.
Once you have it– give it freely, share it, and expand it!