Where The Wild Seans Are

While the breweries, dispensaries, and museums made for amazing time-consumers, the real reason I was in Boulder was to check out Naropa University, as their Master’s Program in Counseling Psychology with a focus on Wilderness Therapy is the coolest fucking program I’ve ever heard about. To give you a brief rundown, you spend two and a half years checking the boxes to become a licensed counselor, much of which is spent outdoors doing backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, kayaking, and horseback riding all over the US. I mean… come the fuck on. How cool is that shit?

Anyway, the day of my visit started with sitting in on a Human Growth and Development class required for all first year students in the program. The teacher had been at it for 32 years. She was frank as all getout, full of fiery calmness, wonder, and humility, and she reminded me a lot of my aunt. She felt compelled to tell you things right as they cropped up in her head, and they were always relevant, informative, and entertaining, while still being kind of an interruption. I loved her.

The class started with a few minutes of silence and meditation, then a “bow in.” I read about the bowing before I got there, and it sounded a little on the hippie side for my tastes, but after actually being a part of it I think they converted me. After letting me introduce myself, the badass teacher picked up where the class left off last time – on the fourth of five developmental stages as defined by Robert Keegan. After about an hour and a half of lecture, we broke off into small groups of 4 or 5 and created arts-and-crafts renditions of the five stages. Glitter and paint and Elmer’s Glue were thrown onto large pieces of construction paper, then we went around describing our chosen visualizations. Then we went on break.

The second half of the class was taught by the graduate assistant. She started off with a one-word check-in on our emotional states, then we got up out of our seats to stomp our feet, grounding us in our bodies. The lesson was on post-traumatic growth, which can be an exhausting topic for everyone involved. Feelings get brought up, emotions run high as we silently launch into remembrances of our own traumas, and then we’re supposed to learn how to counsel someone on them on top of that. It was invigorating and a real reality check as to what this career involved. We ended the class with five pushups, ten jumping jacks, a final check-in, and a bow-out. Fuckin’ loved it.

I had some time in between the class and my meeting with the admissions counselor so I got some (of course the ingredients were organic and locally sourced) empanadas and a beer. I made it to the main campus (there are three, soon to be two) early, and read out on the lawn in between the buildings. The sun was shining, there were attractive people doing yoga and acroyoga in the grass, birds were chirping in the trees, and you could see the mountains in the distance.

I was wearing my Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) shirt, which just had the logo on the front. A gorgeous young lady in pigtails walked by while I was standing in the office waiting for the counselor, pointed at my shirt and said, “I love your shirt! MAPS, right?” I’m sure I blushed and said something meaningless like, “That’s right.” Honestly I was too drunk on awesome to solidify any of it into memory. 

The counselor was kind and knowing and wrote down the book I was reading so she could look into it later. While we talked I found myself thinking, “Oh that’s some hippie nonsense” with a fair amount of regularity, but when asked, I had to admit that I did indeed practice multiple forms of meditation (including mindfulness and loving-kindness) and yoga, I had a daily alarm on my phone to remind me to practice gratitude, and I journalled regularly about my thoughts and emotions. Fuck, I’m totally a hippie, sort of. Fit right in here, though!

Next I met with the career counselor, who just graduated from the program last May. She described her reaction to first reading about the program like, “Holy shit! This exists?!”

“Fuckin’ right?! That was VERBATIM my reaction!” I shot back at her. She, like pretty much everyone else I met, was beautiful and fit and authentic and captivating. 

I hit up a couple restaurants before making my way back to the hostel for an early bedtime, then I got up before the sun again, hit my weed vape pen, and made my way to the lobby for coffee and waffles. There was a second floor that was entirely unoccupied, so I read until the sun came up, and did some breathing and stretching exercises (the hostel beds were not the kindest to my back). Quick shout out to the Wim Hof Breathing Method – I definitely think it helped me adapt quickly to the lower oxygen up there even in the face of my extreme lack of cardio lately. 

Serendipitously, the trails were closed to bikes on Wednesdays, and the road leading to the trail was closed in the middle of the day, so I was completely alone for the duration of my four mile hike. It was serene and it allowed me a lot of time to integrate my experience in Boulder. The main takeaway being, “I’m gonna fucking love it here.”

Boulder, You Beautiful Bastard

I was surprised by the long TSA line at 3:30 in the morning on a Monday at Midway. I was also (much more pleasantly) surprised that the very-airporty Irish pub was open that early and serving alcohol, meaning my airplane nap would be substance-assisted. 

The three of us sitting at the bar were all in our early 30’s, clearly single, and with varying degrees of facial hair (none were cleanly shaven). I caught the guy sitting next to me staring at me through the mirror behind the liquor bottles as he open-mouth chewed the greasy breakfast served to him on a paper plate. I grimaced at the $27 tab for a Guinness and a shot, and thought, “This scene would be an awesome painting to have on my wall.”

Not thirty minutes after landing in Colorado, I was in love with the place. My bus driver to Boulder was a spitting image of Zach Galifianakis from the movie Masterminds, complete with well-groomed facial hair and mullet. I went straight from the airport to a weed dispensary open at 9am. The lady behind the counter was bubbly, well-informed, extremely helpful, and cute to boot. “Where would you go for breakfast?” I asked her.

Her spot was only two blocks away. There was a wait when I got there, but by the time I got out of the bathroom, a seat opened up at the bar. I saddled up next to a lovely old woman who chatted with me for the better part of 15 minutes. She gave me recommendations on places to check out before I left, then I scooted her chair out when she was done because she was too tiny to get out on her own.

The bartender brought me a cinnamon role pancake appetizer for my chivalry, then I followed that up with the Benny Duo – one half steak-and-eggs and one half latka-lox. There was hip, contemporary alt rock playing over the speakers, a vibrant-but-not-overwhelming buzz to place, and it was filled with beautiful young women in combinations of hippie and hiking attire. I thought maybe the flight crashed and this was my heaven. Or maybe I was still asleep on the plane, and would eventually wake up to a sore back and the more standard gruffness I’ve become accustomed to living in larger cities. But it just kept being awesome.

One odd thing: people seemed to keep almost running into me on the sidewalk. They either walked on the left side of the walkway or haphazardly veered in my direction while making eye contact that would normally indicate their recognition of a human presence. Maybe they were all just magnetically drawn to my love of the town. Or maybe there was a glitch in the coding for these NPC’s, and we’re all in the Matrix. But whatever, I guess. Small price to pay for an otherwise-perfect experience.

I felt inspired to write there. It’d been such a long lull of forcing myself to sit down and type. I don’t know if it was Boulder, in particular, or just the experience of newness, but I grabbed emphatically at my little notepad with a fair amount of regularity. (Author’s note: I’m presently back in Chicago and forcing myself to sit and type this). 

The hostel I ended up in straddled a creek and was nestled between tree-lined, snow-covered mountains. I had my first real hit of mountain air while I was standing outside smoking a cigarette of all things. I caught the edges of it on an inhale, then purposefully sucked as much air through my nostrils as I could muster. I let the smell of dirt and snow and pine fill my awareness and my eyes rolled back into my head like I was hitting heroin. 

The combination of sleep deprivation, weed and alcohol consumption, and early sunset meant I was in bed and asleep by 6pm. True to hostel form, I was woken up intermittently by the comings and goings (and snorings and fartings) of the roommates I hadn’t met. No matter – still a solid first day.

Keto Good News Bad News

I’ve continued my keto journey in spite of not telling all of you about it, and it’s going really well. I feel great, I was able to pump out my weight-lifting routine yesterday just fine (fuck you rib pain), and I’m looking pretty good. I’ve also continued my nonstop research into the hows and whys of this diet, and there’s both good news and bad news to be shared. I’m going to keep it short and sweet, and start with the good news:

Keto can counter certain types of persistent epilepsy.

Keto can counter Type 2 Diabetes.

Keto can stave off Alzheimer’s.

Keto can stave off some cancers.

Keto can prevent seizures in high-risk, under-water special operations missions.

Crazy right? That’s a lot of shit, and that’s not even all of it. I started linking to articles on that list, but just do some Google Scholar searching like I did, and don’t take any of that as hyperbole – there’s science to back up all those claims, but it comes with all the caveats scientific studies tend to come with. For more information, check out Dom D’Agostino – a tenured professor at the University of South Florida, and a leading expert in the whole keto thing. He’s been doing this research for quite a while, and so have a bunch of other doctors, apparently. We’re all just behind the fuckin’ curve on this one.

Here’s the bad news: I’m not doing anywhere near enough. That’s true in a few capacities. First, I expected to be doing this for about 30 days to test it out, but according to Dr. D’Agostino, it’s reasonable to expect a performance decline for the first two to three months while your body adjusts to using fat as it’s primary fuel source (I haven’t seen declines, but it’s good to have that expectation set). After that you can start to see performance gains, but a lot of the more significant benefits aren’t seen until 6 months to a year after starting the diet.

I am, of course, still tracking my calories and macronutrients, and I’m still killing it with the diet. But I’m also still having like 2 beers after my shift at the bar and usually one shot of some hard alcohol on top of that. There’s no drinking going on on my off days, but I’m sure the amount of sugars and carbohydrates associated with that are fucking with my ketogenic state potential. So how do I fix that?

Well, I’m going to have to start testing my fucking blood. Not for alcohol, but for blood glucose and ketone concentration. I’ll probably end up going with the KetoMojo device recommended by Dr. D’Agostino, though honorable mention goes to Precision XTRA, which is what Tim Ferriss uses and recommends.

Here’s the real takeaway from this revelation: the highest performers in all fields are using biofeedback to maximize their output. If I want to be a peer to these motherfuckers, I see no alternative but to join the bandwagon and start tracking the minutiae of my body chemistry, which is both exciting and daunting. I’ll certainly keep you abreast of all new and pressing information.

What the hell? Why not?: Keto Day 3

Uh… I love fats. I cooked all the chicken thighs for my lunches in one go, and before I tore off the meats to put in my salad, I ate the skin and congealed fat with my fingers, and it was heavenly. Also, I threw some coconut and MCT oils into my protein shake, and that kicked ass, as well.

I was able to make it through 20 minutes of stretching, 45 minutes of weight lifting, and an hour of jiu jitsu practice yesterday with no dips in energy whatsoever. I might have bruised or fractured a rib during practice, but that’s neither here nor there. When I’m not getting seriously injured, I seem to have a real knack for the sport, and I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in the culture. Today I’ll do my stretches again and struggle through my ab exercises before going to work babysitting 400 drunk Irish exchange students. I’ll tell you more about them tomorrow.

It looks like I’ve got a better handle on the ratios today, and I think that’s largely due to the addition of butter and olive oil, which are exclusively fats. I tried compensating with cheese yesterday, but there’s protein in cheese, so it didn’t really affect my macronutrient percentages at all. Same is true of avocado – too much protein to skew my daily values considerably.

I forgot to include my calories yesterday, but I’ve remedied that today. I’m sort of banking on my frying pan getting here in time for me to make dinner before going to work, but assuming that happens I’ll be getting about 2,000 calories for the day. Could I be consuming more given my level of physical activity? Yes, absolutely, by I’m from Los Angeles and I hold low BMI is high esteem.

The more I think about it, the more appealing it sounds to make a YouTube channel and start vlogging in addition to this. I’ve got a lot that I’m doing in terms of physical exercise and reading that it would be insanely easier to tell you about via video. Then I’d have to edit it and make myself presentable, though, which are the two daunting aspects of vlogging that have kept me away thus far. *sigh*

Rebranding

I’ve spent the vast majority of my formative years meandering through what seemed like a meaningless string of careers and experiences that had nothing to do with one another. I wanted to join the Navy, then I wanted to become a psychologist, then I wanted to work in politics, communications, sales, physical fitness, animal wellbeing, firefighting, comedy, the service industry… The list probably isn’t over.

I know I want to write going forward – that’s going to be a given from now on. In all the research I did on becoming a comedian or an author, so many of those who had already made it asked their audience, “What is it that you want to tell the world? Who are you? What is your brand?” I’ve been struggling with that ever since. Like… Why should anyone listen to me talk about my meditative practice? Why should anyone be willing to lend their precious time to me for the sake of reading what I’m writing? Entertainment? Yes, obviously I’d like to be entertaining, but shouldn’t what I’m saying have some substance?

I think it should. That’s why I’m choosing to pursue this degree in counseling psychology in Vienna. I mean, sure I just really want to move to Europe, and Vienna is calling to me, but that’s why I want to reignite my passion for the field of psychology – because I think I can actually fucking help people. I think all of my failings and falling down and getting back up can actually mean something if I put some time and energy into figuring out their links.

When I was in college, I tried acid for the first time. I was just doing it for the sake of trying it, and it was a small blip in what became years of recreational drug use, but even then I knew it was something special. I read Electric Koolaid Acid Test and I became enthralled with the history and emerging science of psychedelics. I realized that there was something sitting on the edges of our consciousness that these drugs allowed us access to, but I got caught up in the powerful current of doing drugs for fun, and it took me WAY farther downstream than I thought it even could. But now, MDMA is being proven to treat PTSD and more and more research is showing there to be some therapeutic value in these substances I was captivated by (not cocaine, though).

Since high school I’ve been a strong advocate for physical fitness and eating well (mostly). I set up training sessions for my friends and me, organized trips to the park to climb on jungle gyms or throw around medicine balls, researched ad nauseum how different muscle groups worked together, and how to maximize each of their potentials. I’ve continued reading articles through to this day about the advances we’re making in kinesthesiology and nutritional science – how we can fine-tune what we’re putting into our bodies to reach new potentials.

I’ve always been an avid hiker. It’s been one of the most frustrating things about living in Chicago – I haven’t hiked once in the last six months, and I’m pretty sure it’s driving me mad. I’m a proponent of hiking because of the physical aspect, yes, but also because I believe strongly that immersion in nature can have such an unspeakably positive effect on our emotional and mental stability. There is no substitute for being five miles into the wilderness, and basking in the sunlight while you look out on rolling hills and vast mountain ranges, and absorb the energy of the life around you.

Still, there is no substitute for being surrounded by people you love, or people you don’t even know for that matter, and laughing together – unencumbered by social mores and time and space. Going to church and singing with 300 other people, voices harmonizing (or just being kind of shitty, but at least together) is an experience we should all have regularly. Having a drink with friends or making new ones at a bar in a new city can be just what I – what anybody – needs after long hours grinding away at work. We are social creatures, and socializing nourishes us in ways that nothing else can.

I want to study what it means to be a whole human being. I want to become one, sure, but I want to help others find whatever wholeness they can. I think that all of these things are a part of it, each as important as the last. We must all look inward and outward for pieces of the pie (mmmm, pie…), and each of those pieces will help us to paint a more full, rich picture of the people we ought to and can be.

That is the future I’m signing up for. That is the future I’ve been signing up for all along. And dammit, I’m really looking forward to that pie.

Purposefully Lost

I try to make a habit of getting lost whenever I’ve got some free time. Years ago, I’d drive around the back roads and farmlands of California, turning whichever way the wind took me, and enjoying the scenery before making an effort to find my way back. Now, I spend time walking my dog along different paths as often as time will allow. The best part about being lost comes when you allow yourself a bit of presence.

There you are, not entirely sure where, subject to a completely new environment filled with sounds and sights and smells that in all likelihood, are familiar to you, but with a subtle tinge of newness.

Just the other day I stopped at a house that I was captivated by. I had never seen that color of door, that type of wreath, that arrangement of stones, those hearts painted on its staircase, and that sign telling me that they were glad they were my neighbor (not in the photo, sorry). It was striking, and had I not had my head on a swivel, I would’ve missed it completely.

On a similar route recently, a middle-aged woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair and high-end winter gear nodded at me with a smile as my dog barked frantically at three dogs in a window above us. I took precautions and went around her, but something in her eyes told me she had something to say, so I pulled out my headphones, too.

As it happens, she also had a rescue dog that was quite reactive and around one year old when she got him. He’s a bully breed, so she was able to sympathize with the kinds of looks I get when my dog gets loud. She also saw past that, and remarked about the “special connection” he and I clearly shared. She also complimented him on his vigilance. We talked dog books for a few minutes, then she thanked me for stopping and we said goodbye.

The wondrous thing about being lost is that it affords you so many opportunities for discovery. It allows you the chance to dwell on how beautiful or interesting something is just for the sake of doing it.

Many of you are aware that I’ve felt lost lately. I’d go so far as to say it’s concerned you. Given the discomfort most people feel when they’re lost, that’s a pretty fair emotional conclusion. But this is me we’re talking about, and I thrive when I feel lost.

I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with my sense of wonder and mysticism. I’ve had the chance to solemnly reflect on my immediate surroundings, and take in the positive parts of them, and glean information from them that I wouldn’t have if I had been ceaselessly moving forward, head down, headphones blaring.

I am a passionate person. I am, therefore, passionate about a lot of shit. So, instead of fighting that, I intend on using it to propel me forward. I intend on taking all of the parts of my past that inform the person I’ve become, and turning it into a whole that I’m excited to tell you about. Comedy is a part of it. Design is a part of it. Writing is a part of it. Psychology is a part of it. Sales, politics, service… You get the idea. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve found myself, more that I’m learning to appreciate being lost with a purpose.

I’m an advocate for consciously losing yourself. Take turns you don’t normally take. Have a heart to heart with a total stranger. Take a deep breath and enjoy the vibrancy of the world around you by staring at a door instead of your cell phone. You might find some peace in the minutia, like I did.

Dammit! I forgot to be funny again.

Spinning Wheels

I’ve cycled through so many career plans in the past year that it’s hard not to feel a little lost. I was going to be a SeaBee in the Navy, then an architect, then a firefighter, then a search-and-rescue paramedic, then a veterinarian, then a writer/actor/comedian, then a clinical psychologist, then… well… Who knows? I’d like to think I’ve settled, but history would indicate that there’s another shift just beyond the horizon.

What (if anything) do I know for certain? I know I want to write, I know I want to live abroad, I know I want a family, I know… no, that’s it.

I think that a PhD will provide me with a base of knowledge to fuel my writing, and I think that it’ll provide me the type of stability I’m looking for in the upcoming stages of my life. I think that I will enjoy studying psychology, in that I remember enjoying that field when I was younger, and I miss feeling like a subject matter expert.

While I’m on the subject of missing things from when I was younger, I miss being viewed as a leader. I was young for my accomplishments once. I was hungry for my future, and I was pursuing it voraciously. Then I got fired from the lobbying firm (I seem to have blocked the specific reason, but I imagine it was related to my partying-influenced attendance record). Then, after some scrambling, I landed a job as a campaign manager. I lost that campaign hard, and in response, I partied harder.

I’ve dragged you all down this rabbit hole before, I know, but it’s hard not to dwell on the feeling that I’ve lived a decade of squandered potential. So, now what?

Presently, I’m working at two different bars (soon to be three), and I do this well. It’s physical, it’s never the same night over night, I get to socialize and drink while I’m at work, and it gives me the time and mental cache to write during the day. To put it shortly (I know, it’s a little late for that), I enjoy this line of work, but I’m not proud of myself.

I’m not proud of what I’ve done because it’s hard not to focus on all that I haven’t done, or all that I could have done by now. When looking myself in the mirror, I can’t help but echo the words of my stepdad when he said, “I just wish you would pick something.”

Realistically, I don’t know that I’ll ever just pick one thing. I’ve always viewed myself as a Renaissance Man, but I think that’s gotten in the way more than it’s helped. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Farrell, stop spinning your wheels! Let yourself gain some traction by slowing down long enough for the tread to catch and move you forward!

The fear of becoming nothing has me exhausting myself sprinting in each direction that offers even the slightest bit of potential for longevity, and it’s preventing me from gaining any clarity on which way I should go.

I’m tired. I’m tired of wasting my potential. I’m tired of looking down on myself for not being what I could have been. I’m tired of being disappointed in me. Also, I’m just actually tired from the insomniac-like existence you get when you combine working in a bar and my dog’s ceaseless need to go outside in the morning (I’m not faulting him for it, but it’s definitely part of my issue). Also I have a cold.

Sleep will help. Sobriety will help. Exercise will help. Meditation will help. Exposure to nature will help. I should probably find a counselor of some sort… Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Sometime.

Whew… That’s some depressing shit. I’ll make the next one funny again. That’ll probably help, too.