broken things

I am here for the broken things.

The daily struggle to just make ends meet. The harsh unfairness of dumb chance. Cracked dreams. Unbearable cruelty.

I am here for the broken things because in them I see the hope of a world repaired.

An unshakable foundation of well-being for all. Triumph over the privilege of circumstance. The unimaginable fruits of dreamwalking. The joy of a true neighborhood.

Things are broken. That hurts. It should. But even brokenness can, in a way, break.

the current

Derek Sivers wrote a great little blog post called "Relax for the same result" about riding his bike. He compares the time to complete a fifteen-mile loop while hustling ("full-on, 100 percent, head-down, red-faced sprinting") and relaxed ("[t]ake it easy, nice and slow"). The difference? Two minutes. He notices:

And what a difference in experience! To go the same distance, in about the same time, but one way leaves me exhausted, and the other way, rejuvenated.

I've seen something similar with my bike commute. The difference between pushing it through the four mile ride and just drifting through the journey can be about five minutes.

It's nice to move in a way that I arrive rejuvenated. Sometimes I'm so in tune with the current that my ride feels like an expression of the Taoist concept of wu wei, a kind of effortless flow. I think to myself, "Yes, this is what it feels like to be alive."

But I think there's value to remembering what it feels like to ride the edge, to see what's on the other side of that five minute difference. I don't mean a frustrated effort, but rather slipping into the current intentionally. Summiting a hill with vigor, expertly leaning into a turn, or racing through a straight stretch leaves me pulsing with energy. Here, too, I think to myself, "Yes, this is what it feels like to be alive."

Ebb and energy: two sides of the same coin; two journeys on the same river.

forest for the trees

I've been sitting underneath the idea of trees for quite some time.

It started nearly two years ago. On a trail run with my mom, we reached the top of a particularly steep hill. I looked over the Californian headlands and told her, "I don't know if I'm ready to get married, but I know where I want to propose." Hiking with Asha some months later, we set off onto separate trails as I wanted to get a short run in. Racing through a shaded trail, surrounded by trees, I knew. I met Asha back at the car and I breathlessly uttered "I think we should get married." Months later, I proposed under two redwoods in Muir Woods. This July, we're getting married in a redwood grove. The thread of trees runs through this major development in my life.

I've read The Hidden Life of Trees, a delightful exploration of the depth of story in the forest among the trees. With careful observation, the book reveals drama, community, strength, love, and friendship.

I've remembered how trees are embedded in our great stories. The Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree of knowledge of good and evil. The pervasive expression of the world tree.

I've dwelled on the ubiquity of trees in our idioms. One in particular stands out: you can't see the forest for the trees. This idiom -- that you can be so overwhelmed by individual details that you miss out on the bigger picture -- is particularly rich having read The Hidden Life of Trees. The book is the positive version of the idiom's common negative expression. What that book does is open your mind to the forest through the trees.

It's important work to make story through connecting the details. At the end of day, that's what I hope my writing does: help you see the forest for the trees. Good writing can shine a light on the unknown stories. Alone, no one can expect to illuminate more than a fraction of the forest. Even together, our collective directed curiosity can only serve as an incomplete sketch of the forest we live in. That's because the forest keeps changing and us with it, but that just means that we are never done making the story. We are never done seeing the forest for the trees.


When I first started this experiment, I said that I would post every day, but give myself three points along the way to quit. One month in, I'm at the second point, and I've decided I'm done.

It's not that I haven't enjoyed the daily writing. Taking something from thought to post is an incredibly satisfying experience. Some of the posts in the last month were churned out in a short morning session; others went through many drafts as I tried to find my way to something worth posting.

Nor is it that I couldn't really keep up with the commitment. I missed one day (it was intentional). I found it relatively easy to keep to the schedule of regular posting once I became less afraid of posting something.

I'm stopping daily posting because I think I've earned the title again. That was the goal of the experiment in the first place: flex my writing muscles and remember what it feels like to make something. It wasn't about getting readers or getting traffic, although the last month was good on those ends. So, I'm not so much as quitting as declaring a successful experiment. The archive proves it.

I will still write and post, though the site will be quiet for at least a few months. I have a lot of writing and important projects on the docket at work, and I want to channel my energy there. Once I get some space, though, I want to dive back into writing here. I may even repeat another cycle of daily posting at some point.

I'll conclude this experiment with gratitude: thanks to those who read along and shared in the past month. Your support and comments meant a great deal and kept me coming back to the blank page. You helped me fill them.

the second arrow

In her book True Refuge, Tara Brach relays this timeless parable of the second arrow:

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied , “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”

I often return to this teaching. For myself, when I can pause and see the second arrow coming, I can prevent a lot of pain. In others, when I see them getting hit by the second arrow (and the third, and the fourth, and so on), I see an opportunity for them to escape suffering.

When mulling over this concept of the second arrow, my recent kick on the idea of the attention war also made me connect this Buddhist parable to the OODA loop (a decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act developed by the military strategist John Boyd). When someone dodges the second arrow, we might say that they go through the OODA loop for their emotions. The OODA loop dovetails with another Buddhist teaching, the RAIN technique, that I've found helpful in difficult times.

The parable of the second arrow, the OODA loop, and the RAIN technique all point to the same fundamental truth: we gain incredible insight and power in the pause. There are different ways of getting to this space. I just know that it is important.

we keep moving and making

I listen to a lot of different types of music. I go through seasons as a listener and find myself pulled in one direction more than another. Hip hop and acoustic song-writing tend to be my mainstays, but the latter feels like more of my center than the former.

The two artists that I'm most drawn to in this genre are Alexi Murdoch and The Tallest Man on the Earth. Alexi Murdoch's music holds a special place in my heart: his song "Orange Sky" gave the name to my first blog. His quiet music has been a soundtrack for many moments in my life. The Tallest Man's music ignites me with its poetry and I turn to it often.

This past summer, The Tallest Man started recording demos of songs on YouTube. It's one of my favorite YouTube projects. (Check out its playlist.) The artist often reflects a little bit before showing the song. Even though the videos are communication meant for the public, it feels sincere and personal.

This morning, I read a Facebook post from Alexi Murdoch that he's trying to finish up a new album. He writes, "And also from all those enquiring patiently, and even impatiently, about new music...yes indeed. I am ok. I have been at sea. I haven't fallen in."

A lot is going on in the news these days. We should keep paying attention carefully to the way power moves around and exercises itself. And, we should work to protect and take care of each other. Still, we shouldn't forget that people are still moving, still making. We should, too.

now, here, this

In his last newsletter, Patrick Rhone showed us where his cracks are. Patrick is someone I've followed and for some time now and you get to know someone through their words. Reading these particular words demonstrated the weight of his current challenges but also his grace and humanity. Thankfully, this particular struggle concluded as well as it could have.

As his writing often does, the closing of the newsletter caught my attention:

“Well, they are the gateways, Dad. You know when I sleep I sometimes travel to other galaxies, right? Well, I lay these out on the bedside table before bed so I have a map to find my way back.”

[His daughter, Zani] proceeded to lay them out and tell me about the various places and planets they represented. She then removed one from her thumb and handed it to me.

“This one doesn’t have a place attached to it. It represented nowhere. But I want you to have it because you’re now here.”

It was not until the middle of the long drive home that I realized that a space is the only difference between nowhere and now here. It’s a koan — a Buddhist riddle meant to transmit a lesson. Nowhere is where all things begin and where all shall return. Now/Here is the space in between — the present moment.

When I read Zani's koan, I immediately thought of this snippet of conversation between Krista Tippet and Father Greg Boyle. In particular, his translation of the Desert Father's mantra "today" to "Now, here, this."

Here's the full context:

FR. BOYLE: And that was sort of my experience when I went through leukemia and greatly liberating. But because I’ve had to bury so many kids, 183 kids — and kids I loved and kids I knew and killed by kids I loved. I mean, boy, if death is the worst thing that can happen to you, brace yourself because you will be toppled. And the trick is not to be toppled. The trick is to compile a list of all of the fates that are worse than death, but also compile the list of all the things so numerous to list, all the things that are more powerful than death. You know, that’s what Jesus did. Jesus sort of put death in its place.

MS. TIPPETT: Was it after your diagnosis that you discovered the story about the desert fathers and mothers, the one word they meditated on was…

FR. BOYLE: Oh, God.

MS. TIPPETT: I read that a couple of days ago as I was getting ready for this and it’s been so helpful for me.

FR. BOYLE: Yeah. Whenever the desert fathers and mothers would get absolutely despondent and didn’t know how they were going to put one foot in front of the next, they had this mantra. And the mantra wasn’t “God” and the word wasn’t “Jesus.” But the word was “today.” That’s sort of the key. There’s a play off-Broadway right now called “Now. Here. This.” It’s “Now,” period, Here,” H-E-R-E, period, “This.” And that’s kind of my — that’s become my mantra. Lately, I’m big on mantras. So when I’m walking or before a kid comes into my office, I always say, “Now. Here. This, Now. Here. This.” So that I’ll be present and right here to the person in front of me.

I've never really been big on mantras, but this one has stuck with me. I kept it in deep focus during a silent retreat last year and was rewarded deeply by it. I hope that there might be something there for you, too.

a little relief, a little humanity

I'm relieved that Alabama elected Doug Jones to the Senate. Though he didn't run a particularly inspiring campaign, his politics weren't bad, and significantly to the left of many milquetoast Democrats (in Alabama, no less!). Perhaps we should discount this electoral win given the truly abysmal candidate he ran against, but I also think we should take victories where we can get them.

The commentariat will dissect what this means for national politics in the coming days and weeks. It's tough to extrapolate too much here, so instead I wanted to share a little bit of humanity that I stumbled upon last night.

Nathan Mathis is a local peanut farmer in Alabama. He went to a Roy Moore rally to stand up against the candidates homophobic and hurtful rhetoric (and his hypocrisy).

Watch him make a heartfelt case against Moore in this video. His daughter, who was gay, took her own life in 1995. As a letter to a local paper details, the loss seems to have profoundly changed the man. You can read a little bit more about him here. People can change; sometimes it just takes a lot to move them.

Today, we can celebrate a little bit of relief and a little bit of humanity. Let's keep working from that place and keep building, pang'ono, pang'ono.

if you can bike, bike

One of the things that I'm most grateful for is that I can bike to work. This might seem a little bit of an exaggeration. Let me explain.

During the second and third years of law school, I commuted down to Stanford from San Francisco. Though I had some control over my schedule and could keep odd hours that would avoid traffic, I still often found myself stuck in a long haul to and from home. Still, I wouldn't change a thing about where I lived those two years: I was within walking distance from my family's Full House situation (for years now, my sister, brother-in-law, their boy, my mom, my dad, and my brother have lived in a home together), surrounded by good food, and within a block of Golden Gate Park.

Now, my work's office is on the Berkeley Marina and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to bike there. It's getting a little cold in the mornings and a little dark on the way home, but I love my commute. I pass by quiet neighborhoods, office buildings, a post office, train tracks, through a park by the water, over a bridge, and along the bay. For those precious minutes, I'm in my body, in the world.

I also appreciate that the trip can take either about 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how hard I hustle. Derek Sivers wrote a great post about biking how you can relax for the same result. I think he's on to something here. Five minutes won't make a difference and can make the ride a whole lot more enjoyable.

But, I think he's also missing a piece: sometimes we should push ourselves closer to 15, our heart racing, the wind rushing around us, and pay attention to how our body responds and remind ourselves of our capacity.

All this is to say, if you can bike, bike.

something to root for

I saw Aladdin the musical yesterday. It was tons of fun. This morning I asked myself, "What did I like about it?"

Aladdin is an old story, but it's an old story that works. I suspect that one of the reasons the story has survived through the ages, adapting for different mediums like books, movies, and musicals, is because it gives you someone (Aladdin) and something (love) to root for.

This is dead simple, I know. But the dead simple can be deadly effective. A few weeks ago I talked about the value of asking yourself, "Does it haunt?" Obviously, not everything you do should have the consequence of haunting. Maybe another question to ask, when appropriate, is "Does it give you something to root for?"

In ways small and large, stories are vehicles for change. We tell stories in our work: what our company means, what future we see, how our mission matters, and so on. Are we giving the world something to root for in these stories?