As the fire of this year fizzles out, I am called to reflect on it. Once again, I am reminded about the unpredictable and indeterminate nature of life. We can have an intricate vision, we can plan and organize but ultimately life unfolds in a way that is beyond our understanding. Last year, I planned to write more articles but ended up creating more music. This year, I planned to create more music but ended up writing more articles. And while plans may be overrated planning is often underestimated. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “No battle was ever won according to plan, but no battle was ever won without one…Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”There is a sweet spot between intention and surrender where we find perfection. It is from here that I am ending this year and moving into the new one.
This year, my wife and I welcomed our second son, Dean “Pax” Shenker. The experience of having a second baby is radically different than the first. With our first son, I didn’t know what to expect; I felt lost and uncertain. But with our second baby, I felt more confident. I knew I could take care of him because I’ve already done it before.
This time, there was less fear but just as much, if not more, challenge. Our first son, Luca, almost never cried, Dean, is a lot more expressive. He is also very wiggly and squirmy which makes it hard to hold him. It’s as if his sense of curiosity is saying, “screw this baby life, Mom and Dad I’m ready to run the city”. Despite all of this, this child’s smile lights up my darkest day.
Very soon after Dean was born, our first son Luca entered the terrific two’s stage. Our roles as caregivers went from simply nurturing to now having to parent. This means managing tantrums and emotions and deciding where to set boundaries. Taking care of a baby and toddler is exponentially harder than taking care of either one alone.
Being a parent is both the most challenging and rewarding role I have ever played in life. It elicits in me intense and paradoxical emotions. At times, I look at my children and my heart melts. Everything turns still and nothing else matters. I find myself engulfed in a stream of boundless love. Other times – specifically 4:30 in the morning when I want to sleep but am called to take care of a crying baby – I feel immense anger. I’ve found myself having to sacrifice some of my ambitions which at times brings up resentment. There is a sense of pressure and responsibility that never existed in my life before. The combination of less sleep and more stress creates additional friction in my relationship with my wife. Finding the time and patience for one another has become increasingly difficult. With that said, I want to acknowledge my wife for being the bomb-ass momtrepreneur that she is. The balancing act of taking care of children and running a business is no easy feat. Somehow, she’s crushing it in both arenas.
Something we have done that has really helped our relationship is created complaint jars. Both my wife and I can be emotionally expressive people; inevitably these stressful times have triggered a lot of complaining from us both. Every time we complain we have to add $20 to our jar. Eventually, we will take this money and donate it to a cause we don’t believe in (got to make it hurt). The complaint jars work as incredibly effective mindfulness and accountability tools. Since implementing this policy, our complaining and bickering have reduced significantly.
Finally, I want to acknowledge our parents, my aunt, my cousin, my brother, and Little Bees daycare for being the village that helps us raise and care for our children. I don’t know how we could ever do it without you and we’re super grateful for all the help you provide.
- Being a parent won’t make you happier in the conventional sense (getting/doing what you want), but it will make your life more meaningful and fulfilling.
- The people closest to us will often evoke the strongest emotions in us – both pleasant and unpleasant. The price of love is a willingness to feel everything.
- When it comes to raising kids, it truly takes a village.
For as long as I can remember, I always loved words. Initially, this passion manifested for me in the art form of writing lyrics. But now as music has taken a backseat, I find myself using words to both understand and communicate profound psychospiritual ideas. Did I mention that writing is an indispensable tool for cultivating crystal clear critical thinking?
While I’ve been effective at creating new habits in the past, I struggled to make writing a daily practice. I find that creating habits such as exercising or meditating is easier for me because they tend to be personal. We can judge a workout or a meditation session as being good or bad, but there usually isn’t anyone else there to judge it with us. Because I’m not writing in isolation, and instead speaking to an audience, the judge in my mind tends to be more critical. This year I finally learned how to break through the resistance and push the judge aside, at least temporarily. Since then, writing has become a nearly everyday practice for me.
This post will be included in 33rd Top Insight newsletter and I sent 13 newsletter emails prior to that. That means that I have written and sent out a newsletter for 43 consecutive weeks. Creating the “Top Insights” newsletter not only allows me to share life-changing ideas but also keeps me accountable to writing. Even when I don’t have an article to write, I know I have a weekly newsletter to craft. Speaking of articles , I wrote and published 20, many of which were heavily researched. This year I also wrote and released an e-book called “The Definitive Guide to Defeating Depression”. I look forward to writing consistently and continuing to improve as a writer.
- Writing is an indispensable tool for thinking, communicating, and expressing ourselves.
- Creating powerful habits takes consistency, commitment, and character.
- Having standards that are too high can paralyze our ability to make progress.
Those who know me know that at one point music was my life. After I went through my identity crisis, I stepped away from music for a year and a half. Eventually, I got back to it but not with the same level of ambition and commitment. Last year, something reignited my passion and I was sure that I would be creating a lot more music going into 2021. However, when it came time to make trade-offs, music just didn’t make the cut. Family, business, writing, and inner work felt like more important priorities. Still, I managed to release a track on the low called “Who are You” which details the turbulent and paradoxical journey of self-discovery.
- What is salient and alive for us can change in any moment.
- There will always be tradeoffs in life. You can do anything but not everything.
Starting a podcast has been on my mind for several years, but there was a barrier holding me back. I kept telling myself the story that “there are already too many podcasts” and a bunch of other limiting beliefs. This year, I finally broke through this barrier and launched “Elevating Consciousness”, a podcast that helps listeners discover deeper levels of truth, meaning, and wholeness.
As of this writing, I have recorded 5 episodes that compose season one of the Elevating Consciousness podcast:
1.Integrating Spirituality – In the first episode, I host Daniel Ingram an expert meditator and author of “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.” We discuss awakening, psychedelics, and how spiritual experiences can be integrated into the medical field. This episode will always hold a special place in my heart because it helped me to break through the initial resistance that I felt towards starting a podcast.
2. Why The Ego is an Illusion – In the second episode, I host Chris Niebauer a professor specializing in right and left brain differences as well as the author of “No Self No Problem” a book that details how neuropsychology is catching up to Buddhism. In this episode, we speak about how the left brain creates the ego, left and right brain differences, no self, free will, and how to rebalance the brain.
3. Stages of Human Development – In the third episode, I host Susanne Cook-Greuter an internationally known expert in adult development and self-actualization. In this episode, we speak about why growth is overrated, the critical shift in human development, and the importance of honoring all stages.
4. Awakening Made Simple – In the fourth episode, I host Angelo Dilullo an Anesthesiologist and author of “Awake: It’s Your Turn” – a book that serves as a comprehensive yet simple guide in facilitating awakening. In this episode, we speak about awakening, suffering, spiritual materialism, and the paradoxical nature of reality.
5. How to Process Emotions – In the fifth and final episode of season 1, I host Douglas Tataryn a clinical psychologist, long-time meditator, and creator of the bio-emotive framework. In this episode, we speak about cultural alexithymia, the difference between emotions and feelings, emotional repression, and the role crying plays in emotional healing.
The podcast turned out to be one of the missing pieces in my life. As much as I love writing in some way it feels too safe. There’s something about having a conversation with someone on camera that feels more risky and vulnerable. The life of a writer is often one of solitude which doesn’t facilitate connection with others. Hosting a podcast not only allows me to learn and create but also to connect with those whose ideas I’m deeply interested in.
There are two problems I find with many personal growth podcasts which I hope to overcome with my own.
1. Overly diluted and lacking depth – Many personal growth podcasts are great for beginners, but they lack the depth that many of us desire as we go deeper on our journeys. Podcasts that host anyone and everyone end up becoming diluted. They speak on many topics but rarely go deep in one specific area.
2. Too many episodes – The paradox of choice is that when we have too many options, we choose none. This is exactly how I feel with many podcasts. When there is a large number of episodes to choose from, I become overwhelmed and end up watching none.
With that said, Elevating Consciousness is about psychospiritual development. This may not be as niche as a podcast that speaks only about emotions. Yet, it is more niche than many other personal growth podcasts that host influencers, marketers, entrepreneurs, along with spiritual teachers, psychologists, and professors. My intention is to be very selective about who I host and the ideas I talk about. Hopefully, this will give the podcast more depth and coherence.
My current goal is to record and release two episodes a month. This is fairly challenging but doable. I also believe this is a good amount of content without becoming excessive and overwhelming. I am looking forward to having enlightening conversations with top leaders in the psychospiritual space and creating immense value for others in the process.
In February of this year, I enrolled in the Sensemaking 101 course from Rebel Wisdom. In this 8 week process, we learned about presence, wisdom, shadow, relating, sovereignty, media, and culture and how these aspects are all a part of sensemaking. Each week of the course had two sessions. One session included a lesson taught by an instructor followed by Q&A. Another was a pod meeting where we discussed what we learned and completed group exercises together. Overall, this course was worth more than what it cost, and I commend Rebel wisdom for overdelivering. Developing the skillsets of sensemaking is crucial, especially as our world continues to grow increasingly complex.
In July, I had the privilege to live and train at a modern-day monastery. During my stay there, I also participated in an emotional processing and circling retreat. Circling turned out to be another essential element that was missing from my life. For years, I have been wanting to have more meaningful and vulnerable conversations, yet I often didn’t know-how. Circling is an authentic relating practice that taught me how to cut through the sugarcoated superficial small talk and get to the heart of what matters most. Since this retreat, circling has become one of the cornerstone practices of my life, one I engage with weekly over the Circle Anywhere platform.
This year I was committed to going on at least one meditation retreat. The emotional processing and circling retreat wasn’t exactly it, although I did meditate a lot at the monastery. In September, I participated in a Pointing Out The Great Way online meditation retreat with Dan Brown. I was surprised by how impactful an online retreat could be and highly recommend Dan’s teaching to meditators of all levels. Meditation continues to be the foundation of my life and a practice I look forward to going deeper with.
Psychedelics have profoundly impacted my psychospiritual growth over the years. As transformational as psychedelics can be, it is my belief that their impact is reduced with repeated use. For this reason, I have been using psychedelics less frequently. This year, I had only one journey, but it was with a heroic dose of mushrooms, the largest amount I ever took. Psychedelics tend to deconstruct our ideas of ourselves and reality. This deconstruction is a necessary part of our psychospiritual growth, but it can also be destabilizing and hard to integrate. Another reason why I’m using psychedelics less these days is because I’m in a phase in life where I need to lay a stable foundation. With that said, I am still deconstructing myself although I am doing it in subtler ways with practices that are easier to integrate into daily life.
Both meditation and psychedelics have brought me immense healing over the years. Still, I have been feeling that there are other tools that I can add to my psychospiritual toolbox. Therapy is something I have been meaning to start for several years but kept having limiting beliefs around it. This year I finally broke through these barriers and started psychotherapy. Through these sessions, I have been unearthing unresolved threads in my psyche and finding a more wholesome way of relating to myself and others. No matter how self-aware we may be there will always be aspects of ourselves that we can’t work on alone. Having a skilled therapist in your corner is a powerful way to gain deeper self-understanding.
- Psychospiritual development is never done in isolation.
- Transcendent/peak experiences and growth-oriented environments are necessary for psychospiritual growth.
- Most things adhere to the law of diminishing returns. Many resources can provide infinitely but at some point, the amount of value they provide declines.
This year, like every year, I grew closer with some friends and grew apart with others. One thing I am getting more comfortable with is the ever-changing flux that is present in relationships and all of life. It’s beautiful to see these fluctuations ripple throughout the whole universe. It’s funny how in the past, I would take someone drifting away personally as if this newfound distance indicated that there was something wrong with me. I now see that we all have our own paths to walk, and it can’t be any other way. These paths may intersect at times, but inevitably they will come apart. No relationship lasts forever; eventually one of us will die. And that’s ok. Knowing the finitude and impermanence of life makes every moment more meaningful. How can we be angry at someone knowing their individuality will soon cease to be?
A paradox I am continuing to play with is the concept of loving and caring about others deeply without having expectations. I find that the closer someone is to us, the more expectations we tend to have. We tend to expect more from family and close friends than from acquaintances and strangers. Consequently, this creates disappointment, frustration, and an inauthentic conditional love that always asks, “What am I getting in return?” I do believe it is possible to love others without expectations, but it requires a self-transcendence that most of us have yet to realize. I recognize that we are all interdependent beings that need one another. However, we can have needs without expecting them to be met. We can realize that the world doesn’t owe us anything and appreciate everything we receive – especially the things that seem guaranteed, like the next breath of air.
Another aspect I’m continuing to explore is narcissism and how it plays into our relationships. When I speak of narcissism in this context, I’m not talking about pathological narcissism which only a small percentage of people actually have. I am talking about everyday narcissism; the ego activity we all have to navigate. We all have narcissistic patterns and it’s often these patterns that pull us towards and away from certain personalities. We want to be around people that prop our egos up and avoid those who starve our egoic structures. Anyone that is committed to their psychospiritual development has to be willing to work with their narcissistic patterns. This often entails going into the world and interacting with a wide range of personalities many of which we may find unpleasant. I am not saying we should surround ourselves with people who treat us like shit. But neither should we sit in our cozy castles with only those who tell us what we want to hear. Remember, Siddhartha didn’t become the Buddha until he left his palace.
There was a particular conversation I had with a close friend this year that greatly impacted me. I’m not sure this conversation would have even occurred were it not for the relating skills I learned from circling. Through this exchange, I was made aware of an unhealthy pattern I have in many of my relationships. It’s something along the lines of always pushing others to challenge themselves. I don’t think this is a bad thing and, in some way, it’s inevitable considering I’m a type 8 on the enneagram (The Challenger). Still, this conversation made me realize that I often challenge others excessively and in unskillful ways. I am grateful to be able to have authentic, vulnerable, and uncomfortable conversations such as this one because it is through them that we discover deeper levels of truth, meaning, and wholeness.
Being a good friend is something that is important to me If only for the fact that the quality of our relationships may be the most paramount factor of our mental health. Learning how to relate to others in more skillful, accepting, and loving ways continues to be a priority and a continuous work in progress for me.
Even if it’s only in retrospect, I am grateful for every single person that I come into contact with. If we look closer, we find that everyone can teach us something. And it is often our most difficult interactions that teach us the most. Earlier I said that the everchanging flux is present in relationships and all of life. Yet, what is life but a set of relationships? Everything is what it is because of everything else. Everything is connected; nothing is separate.
- All relationships are impermanent and it’s this impermanence that makes them precious.
- Unconditional love has no expectations.
- We tend to surround ourselves with those that prop up our egos. Psychospiritual growth entails being around people that don’t always mirror our ideas of ourselves.
- We can learn from everyone and everything.
- Relationships are the most important aspect of mental health.
I have been running an e-commerce business for the last four and a half years. While it has been a remarkable opportunity, this year my journey with it comes to a close. The truth is this work never felt meaningful to me. The lack of passion and increasing challenges have made it unsustainable. An infringement issue shut down our best-selling product and really hurt our cash flow. We then launched a new brand with 4 products which, unfortunately, never caught traction. Between the increasing taxes, duties, Amazon fees, and ruthless competition from China, the Amazon game is not what it once was. With that said, there is still immense opportunity in Amazon and e-commerce, but only if your heart is in it.
The end of this chapter is bittersweet. On the one hand, there is the sting of failure and giving up. On the other, there is gratitude for everything I learned and relief that I can put down a burden I no longer want to carry. There will always be problems to deal with when running a business. But when you find the work meaningful solving these problems is exciting. When you don’t it’s just another headache.
As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes another opens”. As I step away from e-commerce, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with my wife on her business. I will be taking on the roles of marketing and leadership development at Resilient Mind Psychotherapy. Hey, maybe I’ll even get the chance to facilitate some circling groups in the near future.
- Work that isn’t meaningful is not sustainable.
- Everything is a stepping stone for the next thing.
- Success is built on the back of failure.
In August my whole family contracted the coronavirus. Luckily, they all made a full recovery. Unfortunately, I didn’t. For the last four months, I have been dealing with a loss of strength in my legs and core, numbness in my feet, and difficulty with walking and balancing. Being someone who always made health and fitness a priority, I was surprised that corona had such a drastic effect on me. As of this writing, I have seen two neurologists, have done various blood tests, a nerve conduction study, and underwent four MRI’s all of which have shown no indication that something is wrong with me. I think it is safe to say that whatever I am dealing with is related to covid as these symptoms started while I was sick with it. Still, this doesn’t provide any answers for how to treat these symptoms or if they will ever subside.
I have since joined various Facebook groups for people who are dealing with long-term covid. In them, I found people with similar symptoms who were able to recover after many months. In these cases, it is unclear if there was something that aided their recovery or if the symptoms simply subsided on their own. I have also come across cases of people experiencing long-term covid symptoms for over a year and still not seeing any improvements.
Dealing with this condition has been my greatest challenge this year and perhaps of my whole life. Before covid, I was consistently at the gym three days a week on top of daily yoga and stretching. Since covid, I have not been able to lift weights and have lost much of my mobility and strength. I am grateful that I can still do yoga poses that don’t require a lot of balance as well as some bodyweight exercises such as squats, pullups, and dips. Still, my core and leg strength has been greatly diminished. My leg muscles get fatigued and cramp up quickly. Walking a couple of blocks is an ordeal. Walking down the stairs is risky.
At one point I was convinced that I had MS since the symptoms seemed to resemble it. Luckily, that has since been ruled out. Sometimes I fear that these symptoms may never go away. And while fear and sadness occasionally come up, I am surprised with how well I have dealt with this thus far. If this happened to me five years ago I would have probably been depressed.
Historically, I have seen myself as someone who is disciplined, fit, and strong. This strong identification inevitably arose from my aversion to weakness and laziness. Because I never wanted to feel weak or be lazy I always pushed myself – especially when it came to physical fitness. In the past, I rarely missed the gym even on days when I didn’t feel well. At the peak of my obsession with physical fitness and strength, I was working out for 10 plus hours a week. Eventually, I realized that my training regimen was excessive. My training habits were driven by an obsession with looking a specific way, as well as the emotional and energetic release that I experienced when pushing myself to the brink. As I explored these patterns and attachments, I began to let go of them. I became less concerned with how I looked and more focused on how I felt. I also found new ways of dealing with my emotions. I decreased the volume of my weightlifting and start to practice yoga daily. I truly believe that this newfound balance is what allowed me to take this situation with at least some level of grace.
Even so, I still have an attachment to feeling strong and an aversion to feeling weak. In some strange way, I believe this experience is teaching me to accept weakness. For some time, I have been questioning my obsession with discipline and recognizing that it isn’t healthy. Maybe this condition is what is needed for me to finally give myself a break. Maybe this is the only way I will let myself off the hook. I still think discipline, accountability, and challenge are important aspects for us to embrace. But, at a certain dose, even medicine becomes poison. As much as I don’t like feeling weak, I have recognized that it is in our weakness that we find our greatest strength. I have never felt as weak as during my journeys with 5-me0-DMT. And it is in those experiences of complete ego dissolution and temporary relinquishment of the body, that I found that which is eternal and unbreakable.
Our culture places a great emphasis on hope’s power in healing. However, I believe we fail to realize when there is hope there is also fear. If there is hope that I will get better there is also fear that I won’t. How do we go beyond hope and fear? We fall into faith. Many people understand faith as belief, but belief always has to do with believing in something specific. Faith, on the other hand, means trusting in the unknown. It is a surrendering to the indeterminate flow of the universe and a knowing that whatever happens is perfectly fine. I can’t say I know exactly how to live in that kind of faith, grace, and acceptance but I will continue to try. I intend to get better and I surrender to whatever that means.
- It is through weakness we find our greatest strength.
- Whenever there is hope, there is fear.
- Faith is trust in the unknown.
With all that said, I want to say one final thing: none of what I wrote was the TRUTH. It was simply one way of interpreting and making sense of my experience. There were some things I could have left out and other things I could have included. Yet, this is how it came out. The narrative I crafted was my best attempt to extract meaning from this year. I feel called to say this because as much as I love language, I am becoming increasingly aware of its limits. It will always be an approximation, a filtration, and a fabrication. Reality is beyond words.