Cold Coffee, Moving Forward…

I am sitting at my desk too fatigued to type, too tired to try. Neither my spirit nor my flesh are even willing, much less able. I know that if I do not write now, I will not write today. This is my only window to create.


In an essay called “On Living Behind Bars” Nancy Mairs writes:


My brain is frayed with the need to produce, but I am paralyzed…I feel pent up, desperate. My ability rides me. My lack of it tortures me. I am torn apart.


I can only second these sentiments.I desperately desire to make something. I look over the to-do list of projects and ideas I could work on but I cannot muster the motion. I cannot manage the movement.


The microwave beeps continuously, reminding me that the coffee gone cold and already reheated twice is ready once again, hoping that this third time will be the charm. I sit unmoved by its provocations. I cannot muster the motion. I cannot manage the movement. 


I wonder if I am the coffee cooled to room temperature through melancholy’s wanton disinterest.


I take a sip.


It is not as warm as I’d like but it will do.


I find a few words. They too are not as warm as I’d like but they will do.


Some days are like this. 


The coffee gets cold. We drink it anyway because we’ll take what we can get, and we let that be enough.


The “heat” wanes more than it waxes. The “spark” is only strong enough to flicker, and it fades before it ever becomes a flame.


It’s strenuous to scribble words into sentences. We write them anyway because we’ll take what we can get, and we let that be enough.


We worry so much about “moving forward”, about “making progress”, about “moving the needle”. Maybe any move, moves us forward. Maybe every movement makes progress.


Perhaps, if we are moving at all, then we are moving forward…

A Search to “See” the Words…

Liu Wei says that “a piece of art is never an answer to something”. The purpose of a piece of art is, rather “to pose a question” but, “the question is only the beginning”. To me, that says that art is the iterative attempt to ask better questions. It’s continuously attuning the questions expressed through the work directed at the audience, but it’s also the constant refinement of the way in which the artist poses questions to themselves.

I think that means asking ourselves questions not only about “what we have to say” or “what we want to say” in the work, but also asking ourselves questions about “how we say it”. In other words, I think it means examining and analyzing the creative processes we use that enable us to express our questions; questioning our methods of artistically asking the questions.


This kind of critical and creative soul-searching has been teaching me about myself and my own creative process. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, artistically speaking, I’m a writer before anything else. Such a realization is more an act of acknowledgement and acceptance than it is a statement of shock or surprise. The fact that I have a long held love of language is not a revelation. What is slightly more revelatory is how I’ve often neglected or ignored my predilection for literary expression purely out of vanity. In a culture that preferences the consumption of audio/visual arts, it simply isn’t as sexy to be a writer, a blogger, a poet, etc. And, rather than allow my writing to take the wheel, I have relegated it to the backseat. Sometimes even barbarously stuffing it in the trunk, bound and gagged.


But, no matter how much I try to place video, or design, or drawing, at the forefront of what I do, writing has been the tell-tale heart pounding beneath the floor boards, refusing to relent or subside.


Truth be told, when I’m being creative my thoughts turn to the language of the written word before anything else. That’s where everything begins for me.


Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws”. Something about that feels right even for me. Maybe you could say I’m a writer attempting to make art, or maybe, a writer who makes podcasts, videos, and art. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it? I’ll have to work on it.


The point is that writing is the catalyst for all of my creative endeavors. Almost every podcast or video I’ve made has begun with a piece of writing. Even many of my art projects arise from something I’ve written. It’s like I can’t envision “imagery” or the “images” until I see the words. But, somewhere in the process of searching for the words, in sculpting the language, and guiding them from my head to the page, the pictures arrive.


For example, the picture at the top of this post came to me after I had written an essay called “Gratitude is Mutinous“. Interestingly enough, even the image I created for “Gratitude is Mutinous” came from another piece of writing as well.
That’s how it happens for me. Sometimes the simple turn of a phrase is the key that turns the lock to the door of a secret I’ve never seen.


In a way that’s gratifying. When it comes to writing I’ve always wanted my words to paint a picture, and it seems like it does, if for no one else than for me.


Suffice to say, whenever pen gets put to paper, I’m home…

…As a $2 Bill…

This morning was a momentous occasion, well that’s probably an exaggeration.

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing every morning after I meditate and before I bring my daughter to school. Yesterday, I filled the last remaining pages of a notebook, which means that today was time to open a new notebook.


I took out a fresh journal. I always keep a few around, who doesn’t? Right? I pulled the cover back, cracked the spine, eager to enter the freshness of the notebook’s beckoning blank pages, I noticed two crisply folded $2 bills. What else could I think but “that’s weird”? I don’t remember when or why I put them there but, I’m glad I did.


I’ve often quipped that I’m religious but not spiritual. I don’t have an affinity for the “other-worldly”, the supernatural, or what some might call the transcendent. I think “this-world” has more than enough amazement and wonder to offer. I think the “natural” is plenty “super” on its own, and often my most profound experiences of “transcendence” comes from deep experiences of the immanent.


And yet, I have a relishing fondness for ritual. I think most creatives do. We are often meticulous and almost superstitious in the observance of our creative routines. We take great care to create at the same time and place everyday. We drink out of the same mug. Some of us are compulsively particular about the notebooks and pens we use, as well as the ceremonial ways in which we use and prepare them. It’s interesting that the near monastic ordering of our creative ritualizations becomes the opportunity for the expression of our weirdness.


In a lot ways I think that’s exactly what creative practices are, the routinized rites we methodically perform in honored observance of our weirdness; the ceremonious celebration of our peculiar strangeness.


In fact, James Victore goes so far as to say that “the things that make you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow”.


On a daily basis we are bombarded by a legion of outside influences and forces all vying for a chance to smooth out the unevenness of our peculiarities, so that we can better fit into the current cookie cutter shape of normalcy.


We need to find, formulate, and routinely carry out rituals that remind us of our strangeness. 


Today one found me…


I think from now on, whenever I open a new notebook, before I ever dot an “i”  or cross a “t”, these $2 bills will be ritualistically paper clipped onto the pages of the journal to instruct me that no matter what happens here, no matter what you do…Keep it weird…

“Grace” through the Cracks…

The funny thing about making it a point to practice gratitude is that when you go looking for things to be grateful for, you find them – go figure.

What’s even more interesting is that we find things to be grateful for in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms.


I was walking my son to the bus stop, as I do every morning. We traversed the same crumbling asphalt road as we had every school day for almost two years. Nothing had changed. Everything was the same, and yet I saw something different. Maybe only because I was different. Maybe because “I saw” differently.


Stabbing upwards through the fractures and fissures of the road were these subversive blades of grass. In piercing their way through the pavement they had lacerated their way into a portion of my own experience. They were unapologetic in penetrating their way through the gravel and pitch of my mind. 


On my walk back home, I stopped and took this picture:

I’ve spent what some might say is far too much time staring at this photo, staring at these blades of grass. There is something so bold, so defiant, so rebellious, about the way the foliage finds a way through the ordered obstruction of the asphalt. And yet, there is also something so graceful about its poise, balanced perfectly upon the edge of strength and vulnerability. 


Maybe that’s what gratitude does. Maybe gratitude cuts through the breach of our concrete defenses. Maybe when our callousness begins to crumble just enough, the recalcitrance of grace and gratitude finds a way to reach through.


Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Maybe gratitude is obstinate. Maybe grace is insubordinate. Maybe gratitude is a kind of mutiny. Maybe, as Jay Baker says, “Grace is Anarchy“.
Gratitude refuses to be submissive or obedient. Grace resists “staying in line” and objects to “staying in its place”.


The grace of gratitude says “fuck you” to the authority of the “No Trespassing” sign and finds a way to slip through the fence anyway. Sometimes we are cut deeply by the barbed-wire that stands between us and where we are told we are not allowed to go. With radical noncompliance we wear our scars with pride, knowing that the scars of grace are our gift to the world.


Francis Su explains that “our shared struggles” are opportunities for “extending and sharing grace”.


Sometimes its the seemingly crushing conditions that create the perfume of our existence, fragrance of our aliveness, a sweet savor unto our collective human condition.


I am grateful for the grace that grows through the cracks and crevices of our fractured Being.


I am thankful for gratitude found in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms…

Putting the “Grit” in “InteGRITy”…

My favorite part about having guests on my podcast is that there is little to no “structure” to the conversation. I have a propensity for over thinking, over analyzing, and over planning but, not when it comes to the dialogue that takes place in the context of a podcast interview. I have no notes, no talking points, no topics, no previously determined questions. The conversation is a blank canvas that the guest and I begin to fill together, as we go. I try to let the structure of the conversation, the structure of the interview reveal itself to me because I think that begins to reveal the authentic structure of who each of us are.


I never know what’s going to come up in the course of the conversation. We simply dig until we find something extraordinary.


When I interviewed my friend Daniel Midson-Short, who is a writer, speaker, and digital marketer, the conversation could have went anywhere. It could have revealed any number of things but, one of the most interesting things that came up was “integrity”. (You can listen to the episode here and you can find the full video here).


I’ve talked a lot about transparency and authenticity with past guests but, this is the first time “integrity” has come up. Already, this reveals something incisive about Daniel.


He mentions the word “integrity” several times through different topics as we talk. When I asked him zero in on the subject of integrity specifically he said that “Integrity is the structure of who you are” .


It’s interesting that “integrity” is also something that is ultimately revealed rather than created. Our integrity, or lack there of, is something that becomes apparent through the deliberateness of our intentions, the consistency of our behavior, and the congruence of our actions.


Maybe you could say that the structural integrity of who you are is built upon your underlying agenda, you ability to be consistent and congruent.


If what we build is in-congruent with our intentions, if our intentions are in-congruent with what we are building, if we are inconsistent, what we build will not stand, it will not be structurally sound.


If that’s the case then the integrity of the structure we build is determined long before we ever begin building anything.


And what we build will begin to reveal our underlying intentions, without us ever saying a word…


If you’d like to check out the portion of the conservation in which we talk about “Integrity” you can find it below:

New Video! “Is it True? W/ Rajan Shankara”

Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing Rajan Shankara for an episode of the podcast. you can listen to the full episode below.

Today I released the video of our conversation:\

Rajan is a former Hindu monk who lived the monastic life for 12 years. Almost a year ago he left the monastery and returned to the world. He’s now a personal trainer, a meditation teacher, and a life consultant.

He and I began chatting near the end of year after we had both been guests on the Project Mindfulness podcast. You can find Rajan’s episode here: https://projectmindfulness.com/podcast/audiobiography-of-a-yogi/

And mine here: https://projectmindfulness.com/podcast/episode-7-facing-the-reflection-in-the-mirror-with-duane-toops/

We wanted to collaborate together in some way but, we just weren’t sure how. Since our initial contact I started my podcast and the time was finally right for us have a recorded conversation.

Rajan was an absolute pleasure to speak with. We talk about what pushed him into the process of taking up a spiritual path. We discuss his time spent as a monk, and what inspired him to leave monastic life. We compare notes between Zen and Hinduism, and we even touch on some big topics like ‘Enlightenment’. We had a great time and I really hope you enjoy it!

Be sure to connect with Rajan on Social Media:

Facebook Business – https://www.facebook.com/Rajanshankaraofficial/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/rajan.shankara.5

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rajanshankaraofficial/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/rajan_shankara

Shout out to my Patrons and Supporters:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Jerome Shaw – https://anchor.fm/jshaw

Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/

Rajan Shankara – https://rajanshankara.com/

If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, if you want to get early access to videos, and if you’d like exclusive access to Patron only content, then check out my Patreon Page. For $3/month you get it all!

Be sure to check out my Website to stay up to date with what I’m up to, and feel free to hit me up on Social media – links below.

YouTube – www.youtube.com/duanetoops
Twitter – https://twitter.com/duanetoops
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops/

Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

Hurricane Daze: What’s Coming Next…?

It’s Thursday. The week is coming to a close and yet, I feel like my week is just getting started.


Let me explain.


I live in Central Florida and if you’ve been following the news at all you may have seen that we’ve been living with the threat of Hurricane Dorian for the majority of the week. 


I’ve lived here in Central Florida since I was eighteen. This was not my first hurricane experience but, the unpredictability of it is something you never quite get used to. When you’re waiting to see what happens or what’s going to happen, it’s like your whole life gets paused and everything is thrown into a perpetual and all-consuming “waiting”. You make preparations, you check the updates, you double check your preparations, you check for new updates, you make sure there are no gaps in your preparations, but ultimately you’re just waiting…


After a few days of “waiting” it’s difficult to distinguish what day it is, they all start to blur together.


Today is our return to normalcy.


We got lucky. Hurricane Dorian didn’t make land fall in Florida. Unfortunately, the Bahamas were not as lucky. My heart goes out to them. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what they’re going through and what they’re experiencing. My words fail. I know it doesn’t help but I’m sending them as much compassion and concern as I can.


Before the tumult of hurricane preparation took over our daily routine, I had the good fortune of interviewing Rajan Shankara. Rajan is a former Hindu monk who lived the monastic life for 12 years. Almost a year ago he left the monastery and returned to the world. He’s now a personal trainer, a meditation teacher, and a life consultant.


He and I began chatting near the end of year after we had both been guests on the Project Mindfulness podcast. (You can find Rajan’s episode here and mine here) We wanted to collaborate together in some way but, we just weren’t sure how. Since our initial contact I started my podcast and the time was finally right for us have a recorded conversation. 


Rajan was an absolute pleasure to speak with. I had a great time talking with him. The impending storm pushed me behind schedule in editing the interview but, I’ll be starting that process today, and I’m hoping to have ready to release sometime before the end of next week.


I’m sorry to keep you “waiting” lol. If you want to listen to the latest episode of the podcast you can find it here and if you want to watch the video of the latest episode you can find it here.


Wish me luck.

Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

New Video – “Lessons of Liberation W/ Rev. Jerry Maynard”

I sat down with Rev. Jerry Maynard. Rev. Jerry is a Priest, activist, and Interfaith Minister. He works within the Int’l Church of Mary Magdalene, which is a ministry of the Independent & Progressive Catholic Religious Order, Order of Mary Magdalene. He is also the founding pastor of The People’s Church.

In this conversation we talk about theology, atheism, activism, “liberation”, and so much more. I think you’re going to love it!

If you want to connect with Rev. Jerry you can find his social links below:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/revjerryhtx

The People’s Church on Twitter – https://twitter.com/ThePplsChurch

Shout out to my Patrons and supporters Jim Martin from The Unusual Buddha ( https://theunusualbuddha.com/ ), Ben Bridges, and Jerome Shaw from The Open Palm Podcast ( https://anchor.fm/jshaw )

If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, early access to YouTube videos, and access to Behind-the-scenes Patron only videos, blogs, and photos, then check out my Patreon page. For $3/month you get it all! – www.patreon.com/duanetoops

And be sure to connect with my at the social links below:

YouTube – https://youtube.com/duanetoops
Twitter – https://twitter.com/duanetoops
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops/

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

The Itch of Acceptance…

About a month ago I wrote an article about acceptance, and I still can’t get it out of my head.

Usually when I make a piece of content about a particular subject it’s because its been buzzing around inside my brain for a while. In that regard, creating content around that idea is like scratching an itch in my mind. Most of the time that creative scratching provides relief from the intellectual agitation. But, sometimes…the mental tingling surrounding a certain subject doesn’t subside. Sometimes it lingers, and sometimes it spreads. Even after I’ve explored an idea in a video, a podcast, or blog, sometimes it still sticks with me. “Acceptance” is that kind of enduring itch…

I just came across a tweet from a blogger named Ben Simons that returned “acceptance” to the center of my focus. He wrote the following:

Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. We can accept things as they are, without being resigned to them staying that way. In fact, that acceptance helps us to see the most skillful way to respond to our circumstances.

Needless to say, I find myself thinking more and more about “acceptance”, what it looks like on a day to day basis, what it means, and more specifically what it means to me.⠀But, I’m not sure why…

There’s a lot about myself I have trouble ‘accepting’. There are parts of myself that I just wish weren’t there. I’m moody, and socially awkward. I get easily disheartened and disillusioned. I’m prone to periodic bouts of depression and melancholy. I see the glass as perpetually half-empty. And, as you can probably tell, I’m pretty critical of myself as well.

I’m coming to understand that practicing acceptance doesn’t mean we have to like those things, and it doesn’t mean that we have to resign ourselves to the idea that we can’t change or that this is how we’re always going to be. Acceptance shouldn’t be confused with apathy or indifference, acceptance is something much more radical and subversive.

Acceptance is the realization that who we are cannot be concretized by our characteristics. We are more fluid than that. The wide openness of acceptance sees our story take place across a sweeping landscape, a broad horizon , instead of through the narrow tyranny of a judgmental gaze.

Acceptance is a kind of clear-sightedness. In the book From Mindfulness to Insight , authors Nairn, Choden , and Regan-Addis explain that “Our perception is obscured as soon as there is resistance and the impulse to struggle with what we don’t like”. They go on to say that “what we refuse to accept hangs around longer because our mind gets locked into resistance and, ironically, we hold on to the things we don’t like”. Acceptance is the recognition that before we can begin to see things differently we must first clearly see and understand the way things are.

Acceptance means that we refuse to be broken by our flaws. Instead we see simply see our shortcomings as bends along the path that we continually press forward upon. It’s easier said then done, believe me I know. Maybe that’s why it still itches…

Gonna be a busy week…Content-Creation

Welcome to Monday! It’s a brand new week, and that means I’ve got a lot of brand new content-creation that I’m planning to work on and post this week.

In fact, I think I’m writing this post primarily as a way to help organize myself this week, lol.

With that being said, welcome to my publicly shared to-do list for the week.

For starters, I dropped a New Podcast Interview with the amazing Jack Stolz last Friday. Jack is a triple threat. He’s a bad-ass musician, an amazing YouTuber, and an incredible videographer. I’ve written a couple blogs about the experience, which you can find here and here. Also, the full episode is below:

With that being said, my main priority for the week is to finish editing the video of the interview. And, then, get it posted to my YouTube Channel.

Next on my To-Do list is to finish editing a vlog I made over the weekend. I’d like to start experimenting with the kinds of video and vlogs I make. I normally do a lot of informational/educational stuff. I talk a lot about books, ideas, philosophy, creativity, mindfulness, meditation, etc. But, I’d like to start doing some stuff that’s a bit more fun and lighthearted. I think I need that in my content-creation process. In other words, sometimes I think I take this stuff a little too seriously and I just need to make it a point to create some things that are just about the sheer enjoyment of creating. I’m hoping that I can get that vlog done and posted this week too.

Also, a while back ago The Tattooed Buddha sent me a book to review called From Mindfulness to Insight: Meditations to Release Your Habitual Thinking and Activate Your Inherent Wisdom. I decided to make it a series rather than just a one off review. For part one of the series, I wrote an article and I made a podcast episode. (Full episode below)

With that in mind, I’d like to finish writing part 2 and I’d like to finish up the video for part one.

Wow! Now that I’ve written all that out I’m realizing how much that is. And, that’s not even everything I was going to put on my to-do list for this week. But, after looking at this, I think that’s enough for now.

Wish me luck!

Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.