Thoughts inspired by a hut trip: 10 ideas to steer us in the right direction

Let me start by saying I have a tendancy to be a martyr and this selfish post is a series of thoughts that I need to remind myself of regularly. 

Last week I went on a hut trip, something I love and used to do fairly often, yet I easily find excuses not to now that I am a husband and father. Do you know what I am talking about all you parents out there? Well Kimberly helped me overcome all those fanciful obstacles I erect in my mind and made me go. Thanks Kim! So here is what I was reminded while nestled in a cabin in the mountains.

Firstly, what is a hut trip? Well most places you find mountains, snow and affluence you will come across purpose built cabins that serve as shelters for those so inclined to tour between on skis, foot or bike. In my part of the world, there is a host of them inspired by the exploits of the infamous 10th Mountain Division. Following the Second World War a number of those soldiers who returned from impactful active service in Italy set about amongst other things developing the ski industry in the US. Naturally, they were drawn back to the mountains surrounding their training base of Camp Hale near Vail. Now these gentlemen approached peace in the same way they did war; with liberal amounts of energy and determination along with a sprinkling of fun, cameraderie and an appreciation of a natural world that soothes the pains of hard work and trauma. One result is a chain of well appointed cabins, all placed in incredible situations; most are eyrie like with views to die for. They are simple and yet extremely elegant with everything you need to live comfortably and nothing extraneous. These places are magical because by removing the superfluous they are a reminder of what is actually important in life. As an indicator of how passionately we feel about that last statement, Kimberly and I were married at one.

What was I reminded about?

Good views are gained when you are on top. The best are the result of hard work:

The approach to the Jackal rises straight out of Camp Hale, in the winter there is little trace of the camp that once housed 15,000 men, a host of mules and the various vehicles required to service mountain soldiers both in summer and winter. The only tell tale sign is a large artifically flat valley floor that inspires sightings of imaginary ghosts and their hustle and bustle as you ski over it. After this flat you climb and climb (from 9,000 to 11,600 ft in about five miles). When you finally bust out of the trees there is the most gorgeous shelter, the quintessential log cabin whose windows oversee peaks throughout the Holy Cross Wilderness and the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges.


When we know what we are doing life falls easily into place:

Hut life is simple. You need to cut and stack wood to keep the cabin warm and collect snow to melt for water. You get up with the sun to capture the amazing light and make breakfast. You go out to ski. You come back to make dinner and spin stories with the other people sharing the space. You take more pictures making  the most of the evening light. You sit around the fire enjoying the company. Basically, it is blissful.


People who share our values amd work hard to make them happen are the most fun to be around:

Effort seems to be a filter when it comes to convivial company. I am yet to find someone that I have nothing in common with and whose company I did not enjoy in a remote setting such as this. I attribute this to the fact that you have to work to reach a place like this, it is a real decision. I believe being pleasant is also a choice. 


Removing the extraneous “stuff” lightens the load and makes us happy:

I hate carrying an unecessarily heavy pack and while I am prepared to invest in a few luxuries; wine and decent food seems to be worthwhile, the more I consider each item I bring, the lighter my load, the happier I am. The same is true of hut life. Ridding myself of the “stuff” from urban and work life, the lighter my load, the happier I am.


Leaving tracks regardless of whether we ski or snowboard is always fun. They are just more meaningful when they have to be earned:

Are you noticing a pattern here? When I have to climb for my turns they are more exciting, maybe its the exertion, maybe it is the variety in the snowpack that keeps me on my toes. This is the same reason why I prefer telemark over other forms of riding – it is so much more complex and takes much longer to master. When I look behind me and see an aesthetic representation of my journey I feel warm inside.


Spending time learning how to navigate accurately is time well spent:

Navigation is the act of matching a plan with reality and making adjustments as necessary. To “stay found” we need to know where we are, where we are going and what we are likely to meet along the way. While it is more engaging to walk where there is no map, we have to be ready to deal with the consequences. Most of the time using a map is far more efficient and means we can travel more safely and with confidence even in a place we have never visited before. Being open to changing our route as whim and the experience suggests provides more fun potential. Good navigation steers a good life.


Safety skills are worth acquiring:

Safety is a simple formula; managing risks is about recognizing the consequence and liklihood of any action. When travelling in avalanche terrain, knowing what the snow pack consists of will give us a pretty good understanding of the consequence. We manage the liklihood by choosing the pitch we are going to ride. 38° is the angle of repose of snow, so skiing a slope of 38° means there is a high liklihood of a slide if there is something to slide and a weak layer that can fail. The thing is we have to balance the risk of loss with the risk of gain. When safe, skiing a 38° slope puts the biggest smile on my face.


Helping others makes us feel good. Allowing others to help us is a gift:

The time spent doing chores from which everyone benefits makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. When I can be there for someone else I feel proud. How good is that? When I allow someone else to do the same for me then I am providing an opportunity for them to feel proud.


Nature truly is snake oil:

Being in wilderness is the one thing that can be gauranteed to lift my spirits and put me back in touch with myself. St Augustine said it best “solvitur ambulando” – “it is solved by walking” and this is a phrase that resonates with me. When I walk / ski surrounded by trees, birds and mountains the recovery seems to be that much more complete.


Good company, good views, good simple food and sweat; the residue of a good day out, really is what life is all about.

Well that is my belief anyway. Time in huts always brings it back to basics, remove computers, phones and tv and replace with conversation and a guitar, yet maintain the warmth of your home while swopping out the vista and it quickly becomes evident what we most enjoy. The family vacation by the beach, the shared Sunday meal, catching the sunrise on an early commute, the evening run through the park. These are the moments that lift us, bringing more of them into our daily life lifts our potential for happiness. What a warm fuzzy thought.

Where do you find your inspiration? 


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Bodhisattva and the Wailers – thoughts on finding your happiness

In my work I am lucky to meet some amazing people, most of my colleagues are incredibly talented and in my daily routine I sometimes take care of celebrities. However, two weeks ago I had a moment that spoke to me more than most as I spent some time with the venerable Dupsing Rinpoche. Not only did this encounter evoke memories from my time in Nepal it also spiralled my thinking out of control. In particular I found myself looking at his face which radiated a sublime happiness; my trippy wife calls it an aura and in this moment I truly understood what she means. Dupsing displayed a confident contentment and this is from a man whose people have been forced to leave their home. If I look at other disposessed native people this is hardly the look I usually see; that though is another story.

So I have been left wondering what gives a man such an appearance. Over coffee yesterday a friend was joshing me (giving me a hard time for non Brits), that I was obsessed and that he too looked happy. Now, no offence, the thing is I rarely see people look this happy and know that they live it constantly. Yes I see euphoric rushes, moments when people are blissful. This though I feel was a constant. I have seen this beatific smile in one other place recently and that is on a video of the Wailers shot by some friends. http://vimeo.com/35125194 check out the guy in the middle; the thing is I have not been in his presence so I do not know if he radiates happiness.

So back to the question, what allows someone to emanate such a glow, well in the case of Dupsing I think I know. The venerable Rinpoche has always known who he is and was told as much when he was young by people who had sought him out. (Check out his story http://www.dupsing.org/Biography.htm) He has been living his destiny as a result of this. When things are tough he knows that it is for a reason and he knows that his life takes discipline and he is more than willing to embrace it. As a living reincarnation he basically knows who he is.

Just as a farmer in Greece plants an olive tree knowing that it will wait for his grandson to reap the fruit, there is something rassuring in living this concept of impermanent permanence. Knowing who you are allows you to relax and be just that, it removes immeasurable choices that do not really help us and lets us focus on what we can affect. Dupsing is happy because he has worked at the things that he knows will make a difference, he knows he is working towards being the best he can be and he knows he is helping others in this process.

What can you or I do in this moment to know who we are and who we can help? Armed with this thought I look forward to seeing more smiles.

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Counting Blessings – 1… 2… 3…

Do you want to know a technique that has been proven to make you happier and more productive? Then read on as this post is about a tool that is free, only takes a few minutes a day and studies suggest has a significant impact in creating a “can do” feeling. This “learned optimism” allows you to try harder even in the face of major adversity.

First, a little introduction. When elected president of The American Psychology Association in 1996 Martin Seligman brought with him an audacious theme. He chose to turn psychology on its head and to move on from the traditional pathology approach devoted to suffering, mental illness and trauma and instead focus on flourishing, optimism and happiness. In so doing he took a phrase that had been coined some years earlier by Abraham Maslow and created a field of study – Positive Psychology. One of the fastest growing academic fields Seligman made sure that positive psychology had two guiding principles; it must be practical and it must be based on substantial research.

The tool works by increasing gratitude which is one of the character strengths most strongly correlated with well being. Gratitude is the feeling we have when we perceive that we have received an intentional gift from someone else and it leads to a motivation to reciprocate. Happy people feel more grateful when they receive kindness and are therefore more likely to be kind, recognize kindness in others and engage in kind acts. The flip side of this is that if we cultivate gratitude we can increase happiness and its many spin offs.

In the words of Martin Seligman, “There are exercises that reliably show people how they can have more positive emotion, more engagement and more meaning. And there’s good evidence within the corporate literature that people who have more engagement and more meaning on the job do better.”

So what is the exercise?

At the end of each day write down three things from the day that you are happiest about and why they happened. The act of writing is important for a couple of reasons, one it makes you truly consider what you are grateful for and replace your usual thoughts with ones of gratitude. Most people are more likely to contemplate things that have gone wrong than ones that have gone right and while there may be a perfectly good reason for this it does not breed optimism. Secondly, you have a record that you can look at over time. This brings me to another important point, it requires several weeks for this practice to become a habit and it needs to be maintained to retain the benefits.

The following link takes you to a video of Martin Seligman explaining the “three blessings”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT2vKMyIQwc

The three blessings also helps if you have a tendency to feeling blue. Again, in the words of Martin Seligman, “ We looked at the effect on severe depression of doing the three blessings. In this uncontrolled study, 94% of severely depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier, with an average symptom relief of a whopping 50% over only 15 days. This compares very favorably with anti-depressant medication and with psychotherapy.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky shares some of her positive psychology research in “the How of Happiness”. What is most interesting is that while 50% of your happiness is set by genetics and 10% from your life circumstances, 40% of your happiness is generated by the little things that you can do each day.

I hope you give counting your blessings a try and that the benefits are as significant as the research indicates.

Here’s to making your own luck – Wil

Originally posted in http://denver.jobing.com/Community_Blog.asp

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Thoughts on Physical Education

“We’re on a mission to make self-reflection hip for just a moment, just long enough to save us.” Jamie Catto

I have a thought that if the word diversity refers to looking for difference then university can be about seeking unity. For me education works best when it moves to bring people together through learning. Two men who have taken this concept of seeking similarities a great deal further are Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Cato of 1 Giant Leap http://www.myspace.com/1giantleap; a concept band and media project that travels the globe collecting music and video images on a laptop. What makes this wonderful project so distinctive is that they layer music from around the world onto a track having provided an initial beat. Through this we hear both the similarities and the unique nature of each artist performing within a whole while knowing that they are separated by continents and cultures. This surely is a wonderful metaphor for education.

When thinking about what Physical Education can be I am also drawn to 1 Giant Leap, watching their videos something becomes apparent. Humans were made to move. Naturally we are movement literate, we are made to walk, run, jump and dance. Somehow through a sedentary and mechanized western lifestyle we educate ourselves out of this natural state.

When I look at it from this perspective physical education becomes a different paradigm. I no longer wish to focus on teaching “how to” sports classes or even an interest in lifetime activity. Suddenly I find myself passionate about encouraging reconnection with movement and experimenting with its subtlety; I want students to play with timing and balance, and to examine their range of motion. It fills me with excitement when I can suggest a holistic outlook and examine philosophy through movement. Take an activity like Le Parkour; a contemporary, viral and frequently urban discipline, which is based on the idea that obstacles are ramps into a new world of opportunity. As part of the activity a traceur (practitioner of Parkour) replaces the concept of obstacle as barrier and substitutes it instead with the obstacle being something to be played with, explored and ultimately as providing a chance to develop a new skill. A traceur will experience this reality many times in their average “jam” and suddenly it becomes their truth when transferred into life in general.

As a physical educator I want my students to feel rhythm through their core and be so moved by it they spontaneously erupt in movement that fills them with joy and a sense of satisfaction. I want them to remove rules from this movement and just let themselves go and be happy in their expression. I want them to create community through their sharing of this expression.

It is important to me that students see movement for what it is an integral part of life, one that has ramifications on their whole. Fitness is about far more than looking good. Thinking of it purely in terms of cardiovascular disease is limiting. Movement allows all parts of your body to function better; it promotes happiness, learning and a healthy mental state. It is the lubricant for a life that is balanced and fulfilling.

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