…If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Articles of Faith 1:13

I’d like to share a few quotes that I have found to combine to describe the path that I am on, as I strive to become a love warrior (As on June 18, 2015, Judy’s site is down) or “to connect with the power of our lineage, the lineage of gentle warriorship.” (Chödrön, Start Where You Are, 49)

I have written and talked much about the difficult times I have gone through in the last few years. As I walk the path of recovery and healing, I’ve started to have moments where the pain, the sorrow, the joy, or the love have been almost palpable. When others have talked or written about their difficulties, I found myself more and more identifying with those feelings, almost everywhere I turn.

Sensitive to the Undercurrent of What Was Going on in Every Moment

Tina Francis writes a weekly feature in the online SheLoves Magazine. This week she wrote about become honest with yourself and the big leap and risk that often is. As she describes the process of coming to admit that she really is a photographer instead of just “likes to take pictures”, Tina recounts coming to a place in her life of great sensitivity after a difficult break-up:

..I remember the year well because it marked one year since “The-epic-breakup-of-2007″ that crushed my soul. The first and only boy I ever loved, broke my heart.

I was committed to “the pain,” a.k.a. the grieving process. I think I confused it with a part-time job. I could have paid off a killer house in the Hamptons, if there were an hourly wage for sobbing uncontrollably into bath towels.

George Bernard Shaw says, “When your heart is broken, your boats are burned: nothing matters any more. It is the end of happiness and the beginning of peace.” In that place where nothing matters, the end of my happiness if you will, something fascinating happened. I let go. In that place where I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I saw a glimmer of God’s peace.

What does my breakup have to do with taking pictures you ask? Everything.

When the thick fog of heartache finally lifted, I had a new set of eyes. I went into the world like Bambi, unsteady and awestruck by the beauty that surrounded me.

I didn’t see the obvious, I saw the subtext.\ I didn’t see milestones, I saw epic stories of sacrifice.\ I didn’t see people, I saw energy, joy and love.

I suddenly had a superpower, “Emotional X-ray Vision” which allowed me to be sensitive to the undercurrent of what was going on in every moment.

TGIF: I’m Coming Out and I Want the World to Know

(As of June 18, 2015, the above article doesn’t exist, unforunately.)

This beautiful passage (I hope you don’t mind me quoting this much Teen), connected with me at a very deep level. I think I’m still traveling through that place she describes as the end of happiness, but I feel that I have seen glimpses of those moments of being sensitive to the undercurrent. I feel, and I must express.

A Stepping Stone for Working With The World

Then, yesterday I was reading something that jumped out as describing what Tina went through (perhaps subconsciously) through her grieving process. Pema Chödrön, a wonderful, humble Buddhist teacher, wrote:

This approach is very different from practicing affirmations, which has been a popular thing in some circles. Affirmations are like screaming that you’re okay in order to overcome this whisper that you’re not. That’s a big contrast to actually uncovering the whisper, realizing that it’s passing memory, and moving closer to all those fears and all those edgy feelings that maybe you’re not okay. Well, no big deal. None of us is okay and all of us are fine. It’s not just one way. We are walking, talking paradoxes.

(Chödrön, 19)

I think Tina went through this as she let go as she described, as she was committed to the grieving process. In the end, it leads to something that Ani Pema later writes:

The main thing is to really get in touch with fixation and the power of klesha [pain] activity in yourself. This makes other people’s situations completely accessible and real to you. Then, when it becomes real and vivid, always remember to extend it out. Let your own experience be a stepping stone for working with the world.

(Chödrön, 43)

Let your own experience be a stepping stone for working with the world. The experience that Tina went through all the sudden made her sensitive to all around her and all that she was in. As I said before, I have a glimpse of this, and I think this idea and practice is the heart of the path that I am on.

Be Heart Well

Sometimes it takes a broken heart (and not necessarily the “he/she broke my heart” type, but any of the pain and sorrows and grief that comes through life) to prepare you for these things. It is only in the cracks, fissures, and deep crevasses of a heart that has been broken that there becomes room and openness enough to contain the love that the world needs. As I walk my path, as I learn to become honest with myself, I wish to have the pain and sorrow and loss I’ve been through be my guide in being a heart-warrior. Say my full name — (Travis B. Hartwell which sounds like Travis, Be Heart Well — and this is what I am meant to do and be.

I’ve been inspired by Ashley, Jenny, and Sarah’s blog posts about themselves that I feel the need to write more about myself, especially as an introduction to many of the new people I am meeting during this point of my life. I’m not quite ready to talk about some of life’s lessons and the emotions that I have gone through the way they did, but these are fun stories and things that help define me. Chosing 32 items like Sarah did was an attractive idea (it is 2^5, after all, and as a programmer that is significant to me), but I kept going and decided to stop at 34, my current age:

  1. I was born with 7 fingers on each hand and 6 toes on each foot. The extra digits were removed in 3 surgeries between the ages of 18 months and 2 years old, so I don’t remember them. My parents say they were fully functional and formed as the others. If I have read some news reports right, I probably could have been in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most fingers and toes.

  2. My first steps were not until I was 22 months old, and they were not walking, but running. I have valgus of the ankles which makes it hard for me to put weight on my feet and this wasn’t discovered until that time. I was fitted with orthotics at that time and when my mother set me down after putting them on, I took off running.

  3. I have had at least 16 major surgeries (I don’t think I’m forgetting any) in my life, with my first at six weeks old and the most recent being this last December. The most significant to me is my kidney transplant that I had 2 years ago.

  4. The donor of my transplant kidney is my (now former) mother-in-law. She’s an amazing woman and to this day still tells me she never regrets it for a moment.

  5. Because of my kidney transplant and issues relating to that, I currently am taking 27 pills a day. It changes from week to week, depending on what my needs are. I’ve heard plenty of jokes about my pharmacy when people see all of my pill bottles. The last time I had to spend some time in the hospital, I was the one on my wing that had the most medication — even more than the 90 year olds.

  6. I discovered four years ago that I have retinitis pigmentosa and that I was slowly losing my vision. It has progressed enough that I have trouble seeing at night and can no longer drive at night. The specialist that I’ve been to says I could likely be completely blind in about a decade.

  7. I am only 4’6″ and probably have been that height since I was 15 or so. I am the only one in my family (immediate and extended) like this. My older brother is 6’4″ and my younger sister is 5’10″. It was very weird for me in college when one of my good friends was shorter than me.

  8. I have always joked about having a “token tall person” to take with me shopping to reach the things that I cannot. In college, one of my good friends was 4’11″ and she was my token tall person for a while. My ex-wife was 4’10″ and was the tall one in our relationship as well. I doubt they ever thought they would be useful for their great height.

  9. I was so oblivious to and had given up on dating that when my ex-wife asked me on our first date, I didn’t even realize she was asking me out. I’m pretty sure I even said, “Wait, did you just ask me on a date?” Whoops.

  10. I had football jersey #90 in high school. I did. I really didn’t play, I just spent all of my time with the members of the team and they made me an honorary member at the end of the season my Senior year.

  11. Very much like my father (and, from my memories of him, my grandfather), when I find something that works for me, I stick with it. My Dad (and my grandfather) dressed in the same style (and often brand) of clothing as long as I remember. He only drives one brand of truck. He has mostly only driven one brand of car. Me? I have worn the same type of shoe (Dr. Marten’s) almost every single day since I was 19. Of the four cars I have owned and been the primary driver of, the first two were Chevy Cavaliers and the next two are both Honda Civics.

  12. Even though many in my extended family (including my grandfather) were and are gifted horsemen, the last time I was on a horse, I lasted barely longer than 8 seconds. My feet didn’t reach the stirrups (see point #7) and as the horse was trotting, it was hard not to let them hit the horse’s side. It thought I was telling it to go faster. It went faster, I was bouncing up and down. I eventually was holding onto the saddle horn with all my might and hanging off the side of the horse. Then I was on the ground. Papa would have been proud, though.

  13. Falling and hitting my head seems to be a common theme in my life. In second grade, I was bumped by a classmate and fell and hit my head on the corner of the platform they made for my desk. In third grade, I fell off the top of the tallest slide in the playground at school. I remember climbing up the ladder to the slide and then being at home, in bed, and my parents looking down at me.

  14. I have been in five car wrecks as a driver (and one as a passenger as an infant). Two were my fault, and the other three were not my fault or unavoidable given the situation.

  15. I am an epic napper. I’ve been known to sleep in the craziest places and in the craziest conditions. My freshman year of college, I fell asleep at the super bowl party my campus residence hall put on. Often through the last couple years of college, I would fall asleep with loud music blaring out from my computer. There was something comforting about that. I did that a bit in the last year during my time off of work to deal with health issues.

  16. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere Idaho. I was used to knowing about everyone and I think that translated into me being more open in college and making many more friends.

  17. Some of the people I consider to be my best friends I have never met in person. I have been interacting with people online since 1994 and there are some people I’ve been talking with now for at least a dozen years, and one friend I first met online in 1995. Some I have later met, but most I only know them but my interactions with them on IRC, Twitter, etc.

  18. I am a very touchy-feely kind of person and love hugs. In college, I was well known around campus and nearly every girl I knew would give me a hug when I saw her. My roommates were always confused at how I did that.

  19. Until recently, I’m as apolitical as they come and not really one to be in the spotlight. But, in college, I ran for the office of Academic Vice President of the university student government. My slogan was “Life is short, so is Travis.” I didn’t make it past the primaries, but I got a significant number of write-in votes (which is interesting because the final race was won by 2 votes).

  20. During the last couple of years of college, a very significant part of my life was country swing dancing. I think I often surprised people because I could easily dance with girls anywhere from around my height to even six feet tall (that is, if the girl trusted me to lead).

  21. I took piano lessons for around 9 years. I hated practicing, but found I was good at sight reading. The last few years of lessons, I literally would sight read a piece and pass it off with the teacher. I still play in church, but I’m certainly not as talented as I should be for playing this long.

  22. I absolutely love loud music. I love to feel the bass. I love to feel the music in my bones, in my heart. I’ve always got the music cranked in my car, and when I’m home alone, I have the music turned up loud. It doesn’t matter what it is — from hard rock, to pop, to classical symphonies, I have it cranked.

  23. I absolutely love music in general. It really does speak to my soul. I think some of my music choices would surprise those who don’t know me outside of certain aspects of my life. Eminem, Green Day, and some other alternative and hard rock bands are typical on my playlists. At times, certain music has just spoke to me, and I have grasped onto it and will forever listen to it. A lot of times, my love of music becomes even greater as I learn the stories behind the songs or about the artists.

  24. My all-time favorite band is Creed. I think the thing that actually got me interested in them as a band was watching the VH1 “Behind the Music” special on them. (I love that show. There’s something about the cliched “Rise, then fall, then re-ascension of such-and-such pop artist” in that narrator’s voice that fascinates me.) There was something about Scott Stapp’s story that I identified with and I actually listened to the lyrics. It just touched me and for a period of a few years, I know I listened to every song they had released thus far every day at least once. I’ve been to two of their concerts, and got to meet them 2 years ago. I was able to tell them how much their music helped me through much of the rough times of my life.

  25. Even though I know very little Spanish, I love listening to two Latin Pop artists — Mana and Shakira. I had many friends in college that spoke Spanish and it was from them that I learned to enjoy that music.

  26. In contrast to some of my music choices, I actually absolutely love shows for children and teens. When I’ve spent time in the hospital and have had not much else other than watching TV to do, I’ve spent most of my time watching Nickelodean and the Disney Channel. My cousin’s 2 year old was amazed when I knew who Perry the Platypus was that was on his shirt.

  27. My all-time favorite TV show is probably Charmed. Like many other things in my life, I think I must have randomly saw an episode that struck some cord with me emotionally (and, of course, it definitely helped that the sisters are extremely attractive) that I became obsessed with the show. I didn’t start watching until probably the 6th season, and now have all of the episodes. Now, I follow Alyssa, Holly, and Rose on Twitter and now I’m even a bigger fan as I see their personalities and genuineness.

  28. As much as there are certain TV show I love, and as much as I love having access to the Internet, the 2 years I lived alone in my own apartment after first moving to Austin, I did not have TV or Internet at home. Since moving in with my current roommate, I haven’t had cable, and once again I find that I haven’t missed it.

  29. For the longest time, I absolutely swore up and down I would never have a cell phone. I thought my sister and my father were just tied to work 24/7 because of their phones and I absolutely did not (and still don’t) want that. I ate my words though when I couldn’t resist the siren song of an awesome gadget and have been hooked ever since.

  30. Within probably a three-month span towards the end of 1999, I started using three technologies that have significantly affected my career and the way I use a computer. It was the Debian Linux distribution, the Python programming language, and the Emacs text editor.

  31. As a child, I was obsessed with astronomy, ancient history (particularly of ancient Egypt), and the paranormal (I read books on UFOs, Bigfoot, mythical creatures, etc). It has only been recently that I’ve regained that interest and admitted it.

  32. As an adult, that obsession has spread to things like yoga, vegetarianism and veganism, alternative medicine, mindfulness and meditation, etc. It is definitely far from the path of what I was exposed to growing up.

  33. A recent new obsession has been psychology and neuroscience. I’m fascinated by the human brain and how it works and how plastic it is and things can change. It has helped me understand the circumstances of my life and helps give me hope for the future.

  34. One of my greatest weaknesses is how much I like programmer fuel aka Mt. Dew. Especially when I work somewhere that offers soda for the employees, it is hard to not drink it all the time. Something ironic was that I was given a t-shirt with the Mt. Dew logo on it that I wore home from the hospital when I was released after having my kidney transplant. Whoops.

I hope that helps you get to know me a little better and you don’t think I’m too weird. :)

In two previous posts, I wrote about ideas that resonate with me and also this state of being that I got into while driving my new car. Tonight I watched a TEDx video from Leone Ross, an author. She really spoke to me, as someone who is striving to find himself in creativity and creation. But, in particular, is her last point, which I have linked to it here (just a couple minutes for the part I’m referring to):

Flow is something that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written about extensively. I think his definition matches very closely with her description in the above video. One of the things I like most about the way she describes the experience of flow is that it comes from simple repitition, something that you have done over and over again. I think this matches up very well with what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers when he talks about those that are most successful it is because they’ve done something for 10,000 hours. I think it also fits with what Galwey writes about in The Inner Game of Tennis. He talks about getting to the point in your tennis game where you aren’t thinking about things, but your swing just comes from knowing how a good swing feels, and just doing it.

I could come up with a ton more examples from sports or creative endeavors. Regardless, this video is just another beautiful reminder of a concept that keeps getting hammered home to me. Repitition. Practice. Consistent practice. It’s something I’m trying to apply to all important areas of my life. This resonates with me, and I take it a little bit more as part of me.

On the first Sunday of every month, in the main meeting of our church, members of the congregation get to take the opportunity to come forward and share their own belief and faith. It is something that I have not done in a long time, so I felt today to get up and do this.

I’ve been thinking about some of the things I said and some things a little beyond what I said there. It really is something that I’m slowly coming to terms with, accepting, and embracing as something that is just part of my story.

In truth — and this isn’t whining, just the facts — I have had a rough few years. In the last three years, I been through the following:

  • been laid off or otherwise had to part ways with 3 jobs
  • thus been unemployed for almost a year and a half in aggregate
  • was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease
  • had to do dialysis for 3 months
  • had a kidney transplant
  • had another minor surgery
  • spent over 3 months in aggregate in the hospital
  • discovered the eye problems I was having are worse than I thought
  • had to stop driving at night because of my eye sight
  • found out I could be blind in a decade
  • had my marriage end
  • wrecked and totaled my car
  • took on a lot of extra debt because of unemployment and necessary medical expenses

I share this because lessons are learned often in the hard and difficult times. During these times I have had to rely on the sacrifice and service of others and that has been something very hard for me to do. I have often questioned why these great things are done in my behalf. I often question why I am still alive, why my life has been spared; I’ve certainly stared death in the face in the last few years.

I share all of this as an introspection of where I am today and where I’ve been. I admit, I would be amazed at anyone else who has had all of these things happen to them. But I don’t think I’m that special. Sometimes, when faced with life threatening things, some people rise up and show what amazing people they are. Lance Armstrong went on to win several Tour de France after having cancer. Though succumbing to the disease, Randy Pausch was able to inspire and help many people (and still does) after being diagnosed with cancer. Michael J. Fox has gone on to be a tireless advocate for research and treatment of Parkison’s since his diagnosis. And Ludwig van Beethoven was able to compose what I consider one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever after going completely deaf. And the list goes on.

Well, I’m not one of those people. In fact, I have really struggled. I was (and am) hurt and scared by my kidney disease. I became bitter and angry, fighting with people that in a very real way I felt were saying that they didn’t care about whether I lived or died and that if I needed help, I was lazy, taking advantage of people, and not worth anything. I lashed out and got scared. Life scared me — even the things I wanted and treasured the most I was so afraid of.

I write this to say that I’m starting to accept it more. I will never be that totally amazing person that conquers it all. Yes, I have been through a lot. But I didn’t sail through it. There is much that I feel great sorrow and regret for. I did the best I could given where I had come from and what I was going through. If I could, there are some things I would definitely change and I wish with my whole being that I could. But that’s not possible.

This is my reality. I have to do and be my best. I am sorry if I get scared. I’m sorry if I get angry. I am sorry if I am emotional all the time. I can only do my best. I can only do what I can at the capability and habits I currently have, no matter how much I want to be better. Some days, getting out of bed and going to work is a major accomplishment. Some days, just taking my medications that I need to keep alive is a major accomplishment. Other days, I feel like I could conquer the world.

But I have to be okay with where I am. I know I want to be better. I certainly wish I could be like Randy Pausch, Lance Armstrong, Micheal J. Fox, or Beethoven. But I’m not them. I’m me. And right now, just the fact that I am alive and still have my friends and family that love me is what I have and what I can do. If someone has problems with where I am, or the pace at which I am healing and changing, ultimately it has to be their problem. It can’t be mine. I can’t take the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’ve tried, and even with 3 kidneys I just can’t do it.

It was probably over a decade ago that this conversation happened, but the questions and lessons from it keep coming back again and again. I was discussing religion and philosophy with a friend. As he would ask certain things, I would respond by quoting (or paraphrasing) something I had read. I don’t even remember the specifics of the conversation, but what I do remember is his response.

My friend kept insisting that he preferred to think for himself and, by implication, the words and ideas he should use should be his own. He did not want to trust anyone else or rely on their words.

I reflected on this time and again. Now, this isn’t an exploration of faith or what I believe. Suffice it to say, what I do believe is a result of my choice to believe. But why do the expression of these ideas come from words that originated from outside of me?

To properly answer that, I need to draw an analogy to some concepts from basic high school or college physics. (Don’t worry, I don’t remember enough about differential equations to get into the math, so I won’t go there.) The analogy? When someone learns a concept that just fits them, they often say, “This resonates with me.” With a little understanding of what resonance (and the related concept of harmonic oscillation) is, I think we’ll see that this makes more sense as an analogy than we sometimes realize.

Resonance is the process that causes oscillation (either moving back and forth or up and down) in an object. This oscillation happens at a specific frequency, and there is no energy loss or dampening effect from this.

I remember a lab in my college physics class where by some basic calculations we were able to apply the right frequency to a string that would then cause a certain sinusoidal pattern. If our calculations were off, the patterns would not form. These patterns would then only happen at certain frequencies. It was one of the more effective labs for transforming the math behind the physics into application that we could observe.

So how does this relate to the discussion of ideas? Just as certain frequencies applied to this system created harmonic oscillation, certain ideas, words, and phrases introduced into my life just fit. Just as a harmonic oscillator doesn’t lose energy or dampen, these ideas, words, and phrases stick.

A great example from my life is the tools, programming languages, and libraries that I have used over the years. I found with some, it took a lot of effort to keep and understanding and remembrance of them in my head. Yet, others just fit and took little effort to maintain a level of competency in, even if I was away from their use for a while. These concepts, ideas, and languages resonated with me, and I kept them as part of my toolbox.

Further, I find this even more interesting as you look at the nature of sound and then apply how many connect with music on a deep level. There are just some songs that seem to speak to me, as if the artist was inside my head and heart when they wrote it. The acoustic harmony along with the words resonate with me.

As these ideas, words, phrases, and music are introduced to me, they resonate. They fit. In analogy, their natural frequencies match my own. Essentially, then, they have become part of me. Even though they may have originated elsewhere, it’s as if they have come from my own mind, heart, and soul.

So there are certain songs that resonate with me. There are certain stories that resonate. There are certain talks and speeches I’ve heard that resonate. There are ideas that resonate. And they have become part of the library of material that makes up who I am today. These words, phrases, musical notes, ideas are part of what makes me who I am. Sometimes I can’t tell you what attracts me to certain things. Other times, I know exactly.

Just as different harmonic oscillations happen at different frequencies, different people connect with different ideas. Different things make up each one of us. One idea is not necessarily better than another — it’s just that different ideas resonate with different people.

We each have to be true to what resonates inside of us. We each are here to be creators of life and love, to spread that to others. I am often envious of those blessed with great musical talent, to be able to share that with the world. But I know creation is inside of me. But part of that creation is taking from the world around me what resonates within my soul, taking what never loses energy and let it flow unto me forever and ever.

It is my hope to share some of those things from my world that resonate with me in later blog entries.