Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

“To realize a person’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation… And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Melchizedek, the King of Salem, from the novel, The Alchemist

 

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Matthew 6:21

 

I recently finished rereading a book that has become a much loved favorite since introduced to it several years ago.

Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist is described as “a magical fable about following your dream.” A journey story—it involves adventure, danger, and romance. Traveling to exotic new lands, and finding treasure. And it’s also about knowing and living one’s destiny… Big stuff.

So with a new year upon us, I’m guessing some of you, like me, have thought about what you might like to do this year. Maybe it’s to break a bad habit. Or maybe it’s to take up a good one. But whether it’s simple changes or radical overhaul, you’ve likely given some thought to who you want to be.

I was introduced to the magic of this story in a season of my life when I was looking to find my own destiny. In November of ’02 a guy at REI in Colorado Springs learned I was about to take a year’s sabbatical backpacking around the world. He enthusiastically asked me if I’d ever read The Alchemist, then scrawled the title on a piece of paper for me to remember before we parted ways. “Huh,” I thought, as I tucked it away.

A few months later, I was enjoying a meal at my accommodation on Fraser Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. A Dutch woman and I were sharing something of our stories with each other: she, of how at great cost had broken out of the traditions and expectations of the world she was born into in order to find who she was, and me, with some degree of resonance, undertaking my present journey. Somewhere in the conversation, she asked me if I’d ever read The Alchemist.

“Huh. There goes that name again,” recalling the conversation in November.

Not long afterwards in June 2003, finding myself about to take off on a journey within a journey—a 12 hour long ride into Cambodia—I stepped into the Shaman Bookstore in Bangkok to pick up some decent reading for the trip, and found a copy of Coehlo’s classic tale.

It was a case of “Follow the omens”—a phrase used often in the book as its main character, Santiago, is presented with a series of circumstances that aren’t easy to write off as mere happenstance. And with each unfolding moment, as Santiago’s curiosity is piqued—sometimes with great satisfaction, and other times with fear or much annoyance—he is continually invited into a series of events and choices that offer to change his life forever.

Traditionally, alchemy was an art devoted to finding ways to transform common substances into things of great value, such as turning lead into gold. All of us can relate to wanting a treasure of some sort, whether something we work diligently for, or that which we hope to stumble upon one day. Some may seem modest, and others larger than life, even quite noble. But invariably, many if not most of these experiences seem to come down to our getting caught up in finding treasure in some object, fantasy, or experience external to ourselves.

There may not be anything necessarily wrong with some of these pursuits. But what we often don’t realize is the gold that lies within us, as the dross in our lives has a way of making the common seem nothing special. It’s worth noting that alchemists were not given to some fly-by-night scheme for quick riches; they were moreover committed to a process—for life.

Likewise, everyone has a destiny—one which doesn’t always come by way of the spectacular episode—but is more often lived into via a moment-by-moment process, as soulmaking is the work of a lifetime.

So what are your dreams for 2011? And what do they really say about who you are and who you’re called to be? Maybe some of these desires are not worthy of who you really are and need to be laid aside for now, whereas some which you or others may have written off as silly may speak most truthfully to who you are.

So as you give thought to what you may like to see in 2011, a good place to start may be to ask yourself what your true desires are, and then paying attention to the omens in your life.

Like my dad says, “No one ever said it was going to be easy.” But the next step in your path is always there when you are ready to heed your omens.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”

– Ecclesiastes

This week, a new chapter has begun for me as I started a new job.

Now in this economy, this is certainly good news for anyone. But it’s much more than this for me.

Eight years ago this month, I walked away from the stability of a job and way of life that while good in many ways, in other ways had also become tired and stale, and badly in need of some renovation. Now for some, such talk may sound the onset of a midlife crisis. But in this case, rather than running from something, I felt I was running to something—a chance to get my life back. And the previous year had made clear to me I was to do so by leaving behind all that I knew for a season of rest and soul recovery off the grid.

So selling all my furniture, I moved out of the nice home I owned then in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and embarked on what would be a one-year traveling sabbatical around the world.

The day I left November snows were blowing, the kind that were readying the high country for the beginning of ski season in just over a week. Two days later, I awoke in my hotel room to the sounds and smells of paradise, on an island deep in the heart of the South Pacific. And so a new journey had begun.

Just like the experience of my sabbatical was for me, we all have a need for rest. But I’m talking about more than mere vacation, or taking time to relax on the weekend. No; what I’m thinking of has more to do with the idea of a season or space in our lives that is spacious and abundant. Where everything seems to fit together in such a way that deep inside you know things are as they were meant to be. Everything is as it needs to be. And you hope that it never ends.

It finds its expression in the old Hebrew word shalom. Yet, as much as we were made for something like this, and need it, it seems to be the case that it is not something that we can easily arrange for, but rather something that we are brought into now and again—as life also has a way of doling out times and seasons that seem to care not whether a sense of shalom is part of the equation.

My year brought forth shalom in ways that have changed me forever. Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe sometimes. Not just the things that I was doing and what I was experiencing during this year. But the way in which it came together, as there is story upon story of one door after another opening to make this thing happen, and much of it without trying very hard.

And then there have been the seven years since, which have largely been anything but this. Very difficult in many ways, where conversely to the time leading up to and during my sabbatical, there is a lot that did not come together as I would have hoped, even when making what I thought were the next right steps. By and large, it has been a season spent outside of shalom.

In saying this, I don’t want to say that these last few years have been without meaning or significance. Far from it. For one thing, during the sabbatical, I realized that I am an artist, and I have remained committed to living out of that ethos, even if not always so well, in the time since, putting my values into action.

And just as light and hope came to restore me during a golden season, periods of darkness in the time since have helped to refine what began in that journey. I bring two snapshots from this interim period which capture this.

From a blog entry, November 2006:

I tell myself often as I’m about to arise from my bed, when finally disrupting those few moments of waking pensiveness leading up to that choice, “Get back on your horse and ride, B.” I say this to myself in a spirit of compassion, because many days I feel that the cost to living in a way that seeks to connect my inner life to my outer life seems too much to bear. Lives lived as journeys are often cases of love in a dangerous time, or life on the run, much in the way that the fugitive David fled from the murderous Saul in the years that would eventually open to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem as king. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58, NIV).

The only thing that keeps me going some days is a defiant choice to be creative—even if in small ways—to honor my inner architecture… And when I do this, I get a temporary resuscitation of heart. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12, NIV). This is no mission for pew-sitters or preaching-to-the-choir types. It is the call to be a “living sacrifice,” not according “to the pattern of this world,” but in a true “spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12: 1-2, NIV). The dangerous life of a pilgrim radical.

From a July 2009 journal entry:

I am different. Feel different. Changed. Defiant—but not some punk-ass sniveling cause. More like “furious indifference”—released unto my true strength—even if I soon slip back into some sort of amnesia. A strength that curiously enough—it seems I had to go to hell and back before I found it, knocking on death’s door, alone in a big cold city where I knew few people… But more curiously still, it is the place that God found me—and I found myself—through “the darkness that introduces a man to himself.” Alone but not lonely… And grateful.

* * *

I intentionally stepped away for a season. I followed this by a return to grad school, exiting right as this recession we’ve been weathering began. So much of what I’ve wanted to do has not been possible for more than short doses, if at all, due to the fact that like many, I have found my wings clipped. And my recession began well before this, because face it, almost everyone’s living tight when they’re in school.

So fast forward to the present. After a long, long period of undulating unemployment or underemployment, and then precious few promising opportunities coming my way, just over three weeks ago, I simultaneously had four promising job opportunities come my way, and all of them connected to core passions and long-term vision. And as I begin one of those positions this week, I’m a bit floored to see how things are beginning to come together again, not just for the needed provision of the job itself, but how I see it setting me up for success in other areas.

When God rains, He pours.

There’s just something sweet about a taste of redemption and freedom that is made all the more so in proportion to the struggle and suffering we experience on the road to get there.

Shalom, Y’all.

The Best Scene from One of the Greatest Films Ever

Read Full Post »

Last night I happened upon a Travel Channel special, “Donut Paradise,” that took me on a welcomed trip down Nostalgia Lane as the spotlight was shone on one of my old haunts—Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle, Washington.

Variously described as the “Donut Lounge”—and with its hip Modernist architecture, likened to a cross between a library and wine bar—patrons of Top Pot get more than great doughnuts. They get an experience.

I know full well. I first stumbled onto Top Pot in late 2004 when Seattle area Starbucks started offering some of their items. I was impressed, but did not yet know of the true wonder of a fresh doughnut from the source. (NOTE: Some Starbucks outside of Washington have started offering Top Pot, but in my experience so far, these both look and taste pretty poor.)

Then I took a job a couple blocks away from Top Pot’s downtown store on 5th Avenue. Walking by it daily to and from the bus stop, eventually I dropped in one morning.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Sometimes, there are little pleasures in life that deliver ridiculously far more than we should expect. But for only $1.63, a Top Pot Old Fashioned Glazed Doughnut sent me to a very happy place.

Less than a year after my initial Donut Lounge experience, I moved into an apartment nearby in Lower Queen Anne. Once in awhile, I would plan an afternoon walk some eight blocks away for no other reason than the pleasure of just sitting for awhile at Top Pot and enjoying an Old Fashioned Glazed off a plate.

I may as well have been dining with royalty; doing Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room; or fed pureed truffles intravenously. In those moments, it was my little slice of heaven.

Inside and outside, the Donut Lounge was a fully integrated experience. The good vibes of store and staff, the clean architecture, the lighting, the music, and “hand-forged doughnuts” never more than a couple of hours old guaranteed a blissful experience repeatable every time. And while I sometimes met friends there, Top Pot was one of those places I did not mind going to alone; it only allowed me more space to distill the experience to its true essence.

When weather was good, sitting at a table outside added another dimension to my delight. What could possibly be better following several days of Seattle rain than soaking up the sun and fresh air while sitting under Top Pot’s signature neon sign? This, along with an Old Fashioned Glaze Doughnut on a plate, of course, parceled out to as many bites as I could extend it. The whir of the monorail overhead every few minutes. The honking of cars and buses that seemed to recede into the distance once doughnut victuals began…

I really miss you, Top Pot.

Read Full Post »

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been on vacation lately. A blog vacation, that is.

I know. I know. These are not welcome words, particularly coming from the fingertips of a writer—where among other things—consistency is key in branding ourselves.

How many times, for instance, have you come across a website where you find someone already claimed a domain name you felt to have great potential—only to see that most unspeakable of horrors… Only one or two entries, and then nada!

A dead blog. And nothing posted in months or years since the initial enthusiasm that gave birth to the only evidence that someone somewhere even bothered to create it in the first place. Which is right up there with “This web page is parked free, courtesy of …” or “Under Construction” or “Coming Soon!” and other dead ends in cyberspace. The internet equivalent of commercial building projects gone belly up in the real world.

Now on the positive side of things, it’s not as though I’ve stopped writing. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that publicly I’ve been largely incognito, save for an occasional article, and now—Tweeting. Most of my writing has been behind the scenes: journaling, business or ghost-writing assignments, and thus, off the grid.

I like being off the grid, actually. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, because when I am, chances are very good that I’m playing in fine style: exploring a new city, a new country, a new wilderness escape, or a new art museum.

But in this case, not so much. I just got behind. Busy. Distracted. Pulled in many directions, which ironically, has included looking for writing opportunities. And even lacking in inspiration some days to write here while attending to all these other matters.

Ahhh… WWJD? What would Julia (Cameron) do? My Morning Pages Muse.

Okay, so maybe not all the best reasons in the world. But hey—this is my confession.

Anyway, good to be back. And I hope to be checking in with you a little more often.

See you soon,

Brian

Gone on Walkabout

Read Full Post »

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

The other night I was reading a short piece by travel author, Paul Theroux. Theroux has distinguished himself over the last few decades as something of a man of letters, whose fiction and non-fiction explores the many faces of humanity, like good Greek drama. He’ll talk about the common in a way that is extraordinary, causing us to look at things as though for the first time.

Part of his gift is that Theroux is a master in setting up a scene, or a character in a scene, with great yet subtle details, with a satisfying payoff in the end. Whether that’s to be shocked, amused, or challenged.

I was reading a story called “Sadik,” from The Great Railway Bazaar, about a traveling companion on one leg of his journey. A picture is painted of a seedy, unattractive, but highly shrewd and entertaining man.

The picture was painted so well, that by story’s end, I didn’t see what was coming. Like a sucker punch to the gut, I found myself howling in laughter. The best laugh I’ve had in a long time. I laughed so hard that I could not finish the short paragraph, as I could not get a focus as my book was shaking, and tears began to form. I had to pause before reading the next sentence; pause and laugh hard again before finishing.

To prove the story’s power, I recalled it a couple times the following day—and began to laugh once more.

There’s plenty to occupy our thoughts and days that have a quite opposite effect: a painful memory that brings shame and regret. A missed opportunity. A strain in a relationship. Worrying about all there is to do in the coming week. Things that have power, too, but in a way that shrivels, and even kills.

That’s why I’m grateful for the interruption of this story. For a moment, it rescued me from the routine and invited me to enjoy myself freely without thinking about all these other things. And that is a wonderful payoff.


Read Full Post »

Happy New Year, y’all. I’m scribing this from my cold northern outpost of South Carolina—relative to FL anyway. But cold nonetheless, where it’s been dipping down into the 20s and 10s here. Brrrrhhh! Give me some balmy Floridian 40s!

The singles event at the Museum of Art was very nice. My expectations were modest. I knew of only one friend ahead of time for sure, my college roomie, Michael. Funny how the little things feel like a lot when you’ve been out of the loop for so long—having long given up those expectations of seeing everyone you ever knew from your old life. I really didn’t know who would be there. It would be a mix of people across a span of years beyond my time here, where I might quickly get lost in an unknown crowd. Only when showing up at the door did this occur to me, and my old insecurities around strange social gatherings begin to flicker.

A guy named “Event Coordinator” greeted me on my way inside. I presented my ticket, then zoomed by tables full of people enjoying dinner, by-and-large avoiding eye contact, choosing to direct my attention toward the buffet serving line. I needn’t have worried for anonymity’s sake, however. I soon heard a familiar voice from one of the tables: “Brian Bragdon.” It was Rachel… Whew.

And so I began to connect with friends old and new, sitting with Rachel, and mingling with some of her friends there. To my left was a distinguished-looking African gentleman. I recognized his photo from a Christmas card off Michael’s refrigerator. Recalling what I thought was apparently his nickname, I blurted out, “Hey—You’re Fatty, aren’t you?”—so wanting to be in-the-socially-poised-know than the Gomer Pyle-ish rube I was quickly making myself out to be. Fatty (actually pronounced “Fah-tee,” and whom I learned was from Gambia) never corrected me. He just good-naturedly smiled as he welcomed the friend of friends—me only later catching my faux pas. I needn’t have worried. He was a gentleman, as I say.

Everyone was dressed to kill. Excellent food, too—special nods to the prime rib and carrot cake. I slipped into a short spell of catch-up with Rachel, and was introduced to quite a few cute lady friends. Then got a Debbie alert from Michael. Going over to say hello to her and her mystery girlfriend, I got quite a shock when this friend called me by name and (re)introduced herself. Leslie Evans from TCA days. I had not seen her seen her since graduating, and would not have recognized her had she not said anything (after all, she was in junior high then). Saying small, small world somehow seems inadequate. But dang.

Then there was Brian Helms—one of the friendliest faces on campus back then and once probably half my size he was so thin. Still friendly as ever—and bigger than me now, all filled out. He’s become something of a entrepreneur in Charlotte, managing several properties. I’d never have guessed this of Brian then. He’d come across Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad in an English bookstore in Romania during his adventures abroad and started educating himself. He talked, too, of his former exp’s in Amway. Never got far with it but how he loved the positive attitude, personal growth, and camaraderie. I spoke of my own business venture this past year, and despite a similar story, we both agreed there was payoff beyond the outward experience of success or failure with any program.

Out on the floor, a lot of dancing was getting underway. The DJ had a great selection of hits old and new—the more familiar the tune, the more I found my rhythm. I’d get inspired for a few seconds and my friends would be screaming, “Brian!” Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for my lower back to start joining in, too—“Brian!” Firing off dead lifts at 275 a couple days earlier was coming back to haunt me. But try explaining that to a mostly younger crowd. Better not let them see you wince! Not an easy thing when you’re supposed to be having fun.

I did get that visit into the Ansel Adams gallery. Amazing. Many of his best known works on display. Getting the story behind the shots, as well as his thoughts on looking for the elusive perfect moment. There was a shot with this plain of boulders in the foreground with the giant Sierras rising behind. Actually taken from Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp in WWII. Adams was sensitive to themes of dislocation and loss rising out of the clashing issues of politics and race—feeling that while the harsh environment surrounding the camps echoed the residents’ suffering, it simultaneously offered an almost other-worldly comfort with beautiful views in the distance to help sustain their spirits. He tried capturing this juxtaposition of emotion on film with what he felt the experience of its residents might be. Find out more at http://www.hctc.commnet.edu/artmuseum/anseladams/details/mtwilliamson.html.

I overheard this one gal in the gallery playing docent to a group of people. After her friends wandered off, we struck up conversation. Denise is living my dream life—she’s traveled all over the world as a photojournalist, and currently teaches some photography courses at USC. Where other people might see just pictures, Denise sees stories that need to be told. As if in echo to Adams, she told me about one assignment she did following a group of Somali refugees as they transitioned from their lives in an equatorial refugee camp to a suburban Chicago winter. Only a 48 hour trip, but worlds apart. The far longer journey was from one exile to another in search of hope, where terms like “culture shock” didn’t even begin to capture their experience. You can check out her work at http://denisemcgill.com/ .

Back on the dance floor, Michael Bush was the star of the show. Maybe because he’s my good friend who’s never stopped cracking me up in over 20 years. And genuinely one of the coolest guys I know. But he did own it—all heads nodding their respect and clapping hands as he struck some pretty groovin’ moves while sporting some wacky strobe light shades.

The DJ brought in midnight at the end of “1999.” He fudged a couple minutes to let the song play out, I think, but no one seemed to really notice. When he did the countdown, it suddenly occurred to me that hugs and kisses would soon be following amid the cheers. Standing next to me was a really attractive blonde, a friend of Rachel and Mandy I’d not met. In the spirit of the new year, I smooched her like we were well acquainted, introducing myself later to “Dena”… Hey—one of the few occasions I could get away with this. I wasn’t going to waste it.

There was an after hours party over at a guy, Steve’s, apartment. There was breakfast, then more dancing, as me and the other Brian groaned and succumbed to defeat, sitting on the couches, good-naturedly accepting our lots as “old guys.”… The best part to me was when Steve had everyone take a moment to share what they were thankful for in the previous year, as well as what they were hoping for in the year to come. I was struck overall by the level of friendship in this group, a tight-knit bond showing much love for one another. There were many stories of loss—divorce and job loss were common themes—but underscored by renewed hope, made possible in large measure by the support they had found from each other. I felt both a gladness and an ache. A gladness that is unique to standing in the center of a community like this. And an ache that I have long missed experiencing anything like this…

It has been a rather slow time overall on my vacation. The subtle seduction of inertia here compromises my ability to do daily disciplines well—like this writing, e.g. And prayer. All the more reason for short visits, though it’s been good visiting with my folks and grandmother… The other focus of my time—working on James’ chapter—which is still in progress. Hell and high water apparently were not enough to rush it through.

Back on the road tomorrow. Will post next from O-Town.

Read Full Post »

Made the journey from Orlando to Columbia today. First official day of vacation. “Yee-ha.” As much as I don’t like to take work with me, I can never seem to wrest myself completely from things left undone. In this case, a long overdue chapter edit for my friend, James, which I thought would be done last Sunday. I aim to get this done tomorrow, come hell or high water.

The way up was relatively uneventful. I figured I may get tired on account of under 5 hours sleep, and eventually did betwixt Hardeeville and the intersection of 95 and 26… Snafu #1 happened before sunrise when gassing up and checking air and fluids in Altamonte. One renegade tire required air. Yet I spent the better part of 10 minutes trying to fill it up at the Hess Station—a battle ensued trying to get more air in than was leaking back out (Not sure if due to a bad nozzle on the air hose or a bad valve stem. But it would go from 15 psi to 10, then up to 17, then back to 15.) I started getting very angry. Feelings bordering on powerlessness. Then the thought came to me about checking my anger: “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” which as I look it up now, is James 1:20. I think I’d just read that in one of Eldredge’s books. And I gathered myself. What would ordinarily take seconds to fill the whole thing, in this case would add maybe 1-2 more psi. Ugh. Probably a nail. Better get it checked out this weekend.

Aside from the incredibly dusty fossil tapes to listen to on the way up (Forget slightly less dusty CD’s, or their Darwinian successor, I-Pods. And the tuner has been unreliable for 5 years now. Even in the city it’s not always reliable). Old Living Color, Bryan Adams, and U2–again… Somewhere between Brunswick and Savannah a car with a South Carolina plate passed me. One of the specialty plates that reads “In God We Trust.” Then immediately above it on the back window was a big Pantera decal. I chuckled. Nothing like God and Pantera together—that’s a powerful combo.

I did stretch out the journey, not feeling so rushed, as I really needed time to gather my thoughts, before slipping back into the spell that so often comes over me when returning home… Even as I consider my visit here in light of the real possibility of making a new start, it doesn’t take long for me to realize—that in spite of having little room to be choosy—I really don’t like this place. Not to live anyways. It really would take a change of heart.

Not unlike what I spent some time outside praying about—regarding the nature of the crucifixion and its place in our lives, in this continual cycle of death and rebirth. As William Bridges says in his classic work, Transitions, while most people think of transitions as times of new beginnings, they are actually times of ending—necessary to bring something to actual close before opening up space and possibility for that which may come in a new life. We fight this tooth in nail in our culture, though the ancient wisdom of others around the world have long known this before the Madison Ave Designer Culture that we created (fancy way of saying denial).

Tonight will connect with Michael Bush and some others for the Shandon Singles New Year’s Eve Party, apparently a nice semi-formal type event. Found out last year they’d been doing this for a couple years over at the Columbia Museum of Art, and he encouraged me to come, but I was gone by then. These are my Baptist kin. I’ll have to settle for iced tea or coffee over champagne when raising a glass. But I still look forward to it. A great way to inaugurate a new year—on a social note—as I look forward to better things. (I also heard there was an Ansel Adams exhibit on display. The photography lover in me may have to sneak out for a few to check it out, amid all the schmoozing.)

So what do I look forward to in this year? As usual, it is not something I give a whole lot of thought to, but as in my recent conversation with Greg Williams, who encouraged me to spend a few days both reflecting on the past year as I look ahead, there are a few things that come to mind: One is less wasting of time and more focus on those things that give me life. Now, so often an activity or day will begin with good intentions, but a necessary detail will snap up precious hours and rob from the better part of what I intended. I want to look at this more. I also want to be a heck of a lot more realistic as I dream. Still dreaming yes, and maybe even daring to do so on days that I don’t feel like it. But still relative to where I am (say as an underemployed single in Orlando vs. some Hollywood director searching for his or her next gig)… Moreover, I’ve spent so much time and energy in figuring out the “What.” I just want to take more small but significant steps to honor it, as in the past few months in working with Jamie. This will include being committed to a group of people. This is already happening at Summit. But the piece of employment has to fit in, too. Has to. Would love to do something like the Job Partnership class that René mentioned. Or even look into that organization in Thailand that Patty mentioned. Now that would be ballsy. And good dangerous work, too. Stepping into the lion’s den. Both would be in support of the downtrodden, bringing dignity and restoration and a voice to those who have been robbed and beaten down. This has not always been my natural bent, but it slowly has grown in me as I’ve gotten more in touch with my own sorrow and losses. And that is the gospel.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: