The Key to Memorable “Really Living” Vacations? Fear and Suffering

The Key to Memorable “Really Living” Vacations? Fear and Suffering

Sound counterintuitive? Perhaps. If the goal of a vacation is to eliminate all stress, then cocooning safely by the pool for hours on end with a cocktail and a book might be just the thing. But from an Art of Really Living standpoint, such vacations are like setting a torch to your most valuable commodity: time.

Do you want to go on unforgettable, time-stopping vacations that create an indelible stamp on your memory? There is one guaranteed way: design in some form of fear and suffering.

Sounds crazy? Counterintuitive? Consider this: think back to some of your most memorable vacations as a kid or even as an adult. Almost always the best and most primary memories have incidents of suffering involved that in the moment were a crisis or a struggle, but with the patina of time and under the golden gloss of memory have subsequently become the highlights of those stories you tell. The endless drives across the country with motion sickness. The time you left your sister at a gas station. Getting lost in a foreign city. The time your car overheated driving up the mountain pass. Getting arrested for skiing out of bounds.

This, then, is the key phrase, “the stories you tell.” Narratives without trial and suffering essentially have no plot – and without a plot you don’t have a story, and without a story, you won’t create meaningful memories.

Need more evidence? Consider the “Monomyth” or “Heroes’ Journey” first popularized by Joseph Cambell, which many would argue is the basis of any successful narrative. Think Star Wars, the Matrix, Avatar… virtually any blockbuster movie or novel follows this basic 11 step journey, and core to these narratives are trials, fear and crisis.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.06.59 AM

Here’s a short video analyzing “The Matrix”

If we accept that the human brain is wired for stories, and that the heroes’ journey is the archetype of the most basic narrative pre-wired in our brains, then it follows that any adventure – particularly on vacation – that follows this narrative is bound to be remembered. A lazy-on-a-beachchair-with-a-cocktail vacation might sound like the perfect idyll, but from the perspective that “life is short and actively getting shorter,” such a vacation has no narrative. As such, it is time lost. Time wasted. A vacation you will forget.

So… how to design a truly memorable vacation? There is no direct prescription, but in a series of coming posts we will demonstrate through stories examples of “really living” vacations that slowed, expanded, or even created time.

Narrative One: An Adventure in Playa Del Carmen. 

Last year my daughter and I flew into Cancun and were whisked to a resort on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen for a conference where I was giving a keynote speech. We had a couple of days to relax prior to the event. Considering it was March, we were eager to get out to the beach the moment we arrived to the hotel. It was then that I spawned the notion, “Hey Kat – how about we walk the beach to Playa Del Carmen, get dinner in the town, and then take a cab back.” (1 – call to adventure)

Her response, “sure – how far is it?”

We asked the man at the front desk. He didn’t know, seemed confused by the question, so we just set out with a hand drawn brightly colored not-to-scale map of the coast as our guide. (2 – assistance) It was about 3:30 and the sun was still bright and warmed our skin as we began our journey. (3 – departure)

1888787_10203019580665658_41965409094689357_o

We navigated bays and shallows, marched in each other’s footprints, investigated tidal pools and peered into ritzy resorts full of pale-skinned sun worshipers.

905250_10203019591025917_4290012885863640020_o

As we progressed south, the beach became more rugged and the hotels disappeared. We had been walking for about an hour and a half when Kat started asking, “are we almost there?” I looked at the map. “I think so – maybe a couple more bays.” This pattern was to repeat itself several times over the coming hours.

10007022_10203019582865713_7327458757316675915_n

1979691_10203019583825737_7289911485114471294_n

10155272_10203019585745785_4464278380794640147_n

We were now away from any development but oddly the bays and estuaries were full of people – Mayan families with naked babies splashing in the shallows laughing, dozens of grills and campfires with blue smoke of delicious smelling grilled meats. The sun was dropping, and in the chiaroscuro light it felt like we had entered another world – one hidden from the lights of the resorts – of real people experiencing the simple joys of the sun and the sand and the waves, droplets in the air like diamonds from the splashing of the kids. At several turns we were offered food and greeted warmly, we these tall other-worldly strangers traversing their alter-world.

737130_10203019591385926_7426178240045711002_o

Kat’s feet began to hurt about 3 hours in. (4 – trials) “Almost there” I told her as we traversed yet another bay and then rocky shoulder, lights finally appearing in the distance beckoning, but not growing any closer. (5 – approach)

It became dark, but still there were lots of people and fires and we had a flashlight we used to traverse the tricky estuaries and rock outcroppings. We were now both tired and had stopped talking, just endless tramping on the sand. We were both starving and also dehydrated having run out of water hours before. Kat was on the verge of tears I was getting very anxious -I began thinking about trying to move inland to find a cab but the dirt lanes leading to these unidentified beaches didn’t seem to lend themselves to public transport, and groups of rowdy and aggressive younger males drinking beer in pickup trucks were starting to become more prevalent. (6 – crisis)

One more bay and rocky outcrop and then, there it was, the long stretch and brilliant lights of the Playa Del Carmen main beach. We were ecstatic. We took the first side street up and entered the pedestrian zone of cobbled streets, upscale restaurants with outdoor seating, and a diverse mix of incredible people watching.

1536578_10203019586265798_2941306791064602799_n

We lost our tiredness and began fantasizing about shrimp ceviche, lobster pasta, seafood pizza, and steak tacos. (7 – treasure) Finally we settled into comfortable chairs of a gorgeous restaurant overlooking a plaza surrounded by palms and proceeded to eat and eat and eat. We were giddy.  It was 9pm – we had walked 5 hours straight, but now the reward was here, food had never tasted better. (8 – result)

When we returned to the hotel, (9 – return) we ran into our main sponsor. “How was your evening” he asked. “Great,” we said simultaneously – “we walked to Playa for dinner.”

“Walked??” He exclaimed, “Playa is 12 miles away – that must have taken…”

“5 hours – yes yes it was quite the adventure.” The concierge, overhearing said, “Wait wait, you walked to Playa – in the dark?! It is very rocky near the north side….”

Kat said, “oh it was fine – we had a flashlight.” It became a story repeated all over the complex not only by our conference group, but by the hotel employees. I could tell Kat was secretly proud, and in subsequent trips, her resilience and willingness to try new things significantly increased. (10 – new life)

Now, a year later, we remember that trip not for the fancy resort, not for the amazing meals, not for the gorgeous pools. What we remember most was the suffering / joy of the long excursion to Playa and the otherworld we entered in the gloaming of the evening where few other tourists had traversed before. Not even para-sailing (a first) was more memorable. (11 – resolution)

1911226_10203019598586106_5009062329581817950_o

A Really Living Moment: Guest Post By Ira Friedman

Sometimes moments of “really living” are grand expansive scenes and sometimes they are private moments where a series of mental tumblers fall in place. Regardless, the common thread of all “really living” moments is that they create a dent in your chronometer – a notch in the thread of time running through your brain and hence expand the sense of time spent here on earth.

Here’s a short but elegant summary from friend Ira Friedman of a “Really Moment” from his memories:

————
In the 1980’s I was in charge of the paper pickers in a state park in NY. It was my job to scan the beach on a Monday morning to see where trash had to be picked up. It was a hot summer day where the temperature was supposed to reach 100º.  At 7AM I was walking the beach.  It was 78º with a wonderful breeze blowing in my face. I was wearing one of the original Walkmans and listening to Bob Seger singing “Against The Wind.” I soaked in that moment and that sensation and vowed to remember that moment so that on any given day when the weather was crappy I would call to mind that experience.  In a small way that is what i believe you are saying about “Really Living” – where memorable moments emerge in a spontaneous way that your mind latches onto.

-Ira Friedman

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 8.51.58 PM

A Really Living / Event Horizon Moment: Four Movements in Time

Core to the philosophy of the Art of Really Living is creating those intense, memorable moments that slow time. Designing the “Four Movements in Time” performance did exactly that and became a fractal of itself. By performing a show about about really living and creating event horizon moments we simultaneously created a really living event horizon moment in the form of the show.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 6.57.46 PM

Time slowed dramatically in preparation for the show. The intensity was probably the highest for me as I had two roles and the lion’s share of the content. I also felt immense pressure to not let two accomplished artists down as their professionalism was evident from the beginning. The event featured all 5 components associated with an event horizon moment:

  1. EMOTIONAL INTENSITY: Talk about terrifying. I’ve never written poetry before, much less performed it as a rant in front of an audience. 81 lines to memorize while flipping slides, changing the lighting with a remote, holding up props, and then changing roles and personas to the TED talk 5 separate times during the show. That said, hearing Ani play and watching Tess interpret the message flooded me with joy to be associated with such talent and see it come to life.
  2. PHYSICAL INTENSITY: not for me, but certainly Tess (and Ani) were putting it out there physically as you can see in the photos below. The volume of Ani’s playing and dramatic dynamics literally gave me goosebumps. Tess’s movements are startlingly athletic and flexible and beautiful.
  3. UNIQUENESS: This was not like anything I or we had done before and really stretched all of us I think. The mix of piano concerto designed in flow with a TED talk about time, syncopated with a poetry rant interpreted through modern dance was unforgettable. Each piano piece would inspire me for the next movement.
  4. FLOW: I had moments of flow in preparation – especially when I memorized the rant / manifesto and then once on stage I experienced it most of the time I was up there – I assume the same was true for Ani and Tess. It was 80 minutes long but was over in a second. Making eye contact w/ Ani as the final chords struck or my final monologue ended, watching Tess get into a pose as I began the rant – all flowed smoothly  as though we had worked and practiced more than the 2 practices we had.
  5. BEAUTY: The endless sustain of the final chords of the prologue, Ani’s elegant black dress and high cheekbones and pounding chords, the lights and colors of the slides and lights with the gorgeous face, shapely figure and flexible movements of Tess and a message I believe is beautiful as well: all this fractalized into a micro of the macro message.

Below are some photos from the event. We also captured it in video – not sure when or how we might share it. Regardless we will do it again.

TheArtofReallyLiving_050-XL

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 2.10.29 PM

TheArtofReallyLiving_058-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_015-X2

TheArtofReallyLiving_013-X2

TheArtofReallyLiving_040-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_016-X2

TheArtofReallyLiving_045-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_030-M

TheArtofReallyLiving_035-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_053-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_054-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_059-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_063-XL

TheArtofReallyLiving_026-M

TheArtofReallyLiving_025-M

TheArtofReallyLiving_023-M

TheArtofReallyLiving_020-X2

TheArtofReallyLiving_0232-1

TheArtofReallyLiving_064-XL

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 9.32.44 AM\

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 2.01.51 PM

Really Living on a River: Guest Post by Al Izykowski

Great story of joy and suffering, beauty and physical and emotional intensity from my great friend Al Izykowski: enjoy.

It was a Thursday night, March 5th, 5 degrees at 10pm. The full moon hung huge in the crystal clear skies amidst the silence of the windless air as I gazed out the patio door contemplating my life. Choice…plop on the lazy boy and listen to more low grade TV entertainment and commercialized propaganda perpetuating conformity, or get off my ass and listen to the voice in my head and the wonderful sounds outside the door that cannot be imitated, duplicated or replicated.

I could hear the TV in the other room as I began pulling on my bike shorts, tights, layers of clothing and organizing the bike and gear. My wife looks a what I am doing and looks at me with a glance that says, “you are crazy”. I am not deterred. I finish the prep for the conditions and saddle my horse into the van and head off to my launch point. Before I roll I send a text to you my friend, as there is no one else who would better appreciate and would get it. Your text back was: “fuck yeah!” Inspiration! As I rolled out, the air bit crisply and reminded me that I was not a spectator on the lazy boy, but a participant in the real show. Whatever doubts or concerns I may have had about what somebody may think or whether this was a prudent thing to do quickly vanished as I rolled down the bank of the river in the same place I have several times before in the light of day amidst the sights and sounds of whizzing snowmobiles. This was different, way different. No people, no machines, no sounds, no distractions. For a brief moment my brain went on pause, I wondered maybe I am crazy, nobody else is here. As I charged down the river bank onto the frozen ice tracks my ears were greeted with the overwhelming sound of the snow and ice crunching under my tires, reminding me of special memories as a child, and as a father, playing in the snow.

Untitled

So here the little journey begins…on the river….and in my mind. Once I settled into the moment the magic began. The huge full moon hung low casting long shadows as the familiar surroundings took on a new look. Within minutes moving down the river the ambient light of the city and the troubles of the day dimmed and I was moved to a unique place. Everything looked different, felt different, and all the while the only sound was that crunching beneath my wheels. I was in auditory overload flooded by that magical sound as my mind raced to sort out the troubles of my day and life.  Thoughts quickly changed to “now” and I entered the zone of really living. As I rolled down the river passing familiar sights and under familiar bridges, the sound beneath my wheels took me to a place of less familiar sights and sounds, in particular the sounds of the ocean. So, I began to experiment with moving in and out of hard pack, into fluff, into ice, and back and forth and until I found a rhythm. I let my mind wander and remember the sounds of lying on a beach in Grand Cayman and what the ocean sounded like. I sashayed in and out of the different surfaces and created the sounds of waves crashing on the shore, and that subtle sound of the backwash as the wave retreating back to sea, and another crashing on the shore, and retreating, crashing and retreating. I wiggled my toes and I could feel the warmth of the sandy beach between them. For a few seconds at a time I would close my eyes, and despite the icicles hanging from my chin, I was on that beach that I re-created in my mind enjoying the sounds of the ocean that I commanded, as the waves crashed and retreated…I basked in its magnificence listening to the sea on frozen river.

And so it went, as I pedaled my ship totally lost in what felt like a moment.

Well all ships must return to port, and even the longest days at the beach lead back home. As I wiggled my toes again I came to the realization that the grit I was feeling was not sand, but the beginning of loss of feeling, I wanted to keep going nonetheless. The further I got from the city and the safety of my car the more I got into the moment. As I write this I still do not remember making a conscience choice to turn and go back, I just did.

And the journey begins anew. I stopped to take a drink and send a photo to you. The insulated water bottle was a solid frozen chunk of ice, the phone displayed a message I never saw before….do not use device, temperature too low. I packed a bottle of Gatorade in my jacket thinking my body heat would keep it viable as a back-up…also frozen solid. Uh oh, no hydration, no communication, and frozen toes in a pair of leather work boots and cotton socks, a long way out and the temp dropped to zero!

Time to switch gears. Though I experienced all the same sights and sounds as I had on the way out, it was a whole different mind set. The ride back brought a whole different perspective, I couldn’t believe I had gone so far in what seemed like just a moment (right?) Now I realized I may be in some trouble. Ironically, the survival ride back was as rewarding as the pleasurable ride out. Fortunately, I turned back just in time. I was gassed, soaked with sweat, dehydrated and toes on the verge of frostbite. I peered around every bend haunted by those comforting waves hoping the next corner would land me be back to start…seriously wondering if I would make it.

The journey back is always a personal one and the self talk within one’s mind is often the difference that defines the experience.  I thought of your journey back. Needless to say I made it and was never in any real danger. The mystery is, that the initial motivation to get as far away was surpassed only by the motivation to get back.

So, what could have, should have, would have been just another mundane Thursday night in the teeth of an angry winter, had I not seized the moment, was instead a short adventure I will always remember and be indebted to the notion of “really living” for.

As I peeled off the sweat soaked layers while the car warmed up, I looked at the clock and was amazed at what I saw. All of this happened in just 2 hours!

Through my shivers I smiled and thought of the Art of Really Living, the messenger, the message. I realized that I had briefly expanded time, compacted time, and if only for a little while, I really lived! Thank you, thank you!

The best things in life often really are free…..if we are willing to pay for them.

Four Movements in Time: An Experience in Synaesthesia, 7pm – March 28th, Chicago

A week from Saturday we are aiming to confuse the senses and hijack your perception of time through an experimental fusion of art, music, poetry, talk and dance. I hope you will consider joining us. Tickets are available here:

Four Movements in Time

Here is the the Program, Music, and Performers:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 9.55.07 AM

Four Movements in Time: Syncopated sharing of Poetry, Dance, Music, and Talk centered around the non-linear nature of experiential time

Why is time accelerating? Why did summers as children seem so much longer than they do as adults? Is there any way to design our lives to reverse these trends and instead slow and expand time?

Through a syncopated intersection of art, music, poetry, dance, and a TED talk on the cognitive biases that result in the non-linear processing of time, Ani Gogova (concert pianist), Tess Collins (modern dancer), and John K. Coyle (TED speaker, lyricist) will touch the audience’s senses to demonstrate the three rules that govern “experiential time” and share ways to slow the ticking of the clock to bring back summers as expansive as those when we were children so we can “really live” longer. Art in the room by Karolina Kowalczyk reflects this nostalgia and loss of childhood.

The PerformersJohn_Coyle - no logo

John K. Coyle (talk/poetry) is an horologist, Stanford d.school grad, SVP and Professor of Innovation, Olympic Silver Medalist, NBC commentator/analyst, writer and speaker. As a TEDx presenter and founder of The Art of Really Living movement, John has received rave reviews for his presentations.  His passions lie in the areas of innovation, strengths development, and an obsession with the cognitive bias on how we as humans experience time.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.40.50 PMAni Gogova (piano) is an award-winning Bulgarian-American pianist who appears in over 40 performances each season throughout Europe and North America, including broadcasts on NPR, WBEZ, TEDx Talks, and WFMT Chicago. Her work has gathered critical acclaim around the globe and been selected as a top recommendation by Time Out Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Gogova holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and she served as a Professor at the world-renowned Music Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University.

Tess ColliScreen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.32.04 PMns (dance) graduated from Columbia with a degree in dance, then traveled overseas to further study and receive her yoga teacher training. She’s continually creating and performing movement-based work in collaboration with other artists, and as an instructor of various styles. Her curiosity and playfulness on the mind/body/spirit continuum form the base of her movement exploration in choreographic choices and teaching.

karolina2.jptKarolina Kowalczyk (art) was born in Raba Wyzna, Poland and has lived in Chicago for the past 20 years. She received a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art and currently works at The Art Institute of Chicago. Her meticulous way of working with paper cut-outs is inspired by her childhood love of stickers and wycinanki (Polish paper art).  The pieces are created from many independently drawn elements on paper that are carefully arranged and built up in layers.

Her work is inspired by nostalgia, trauma, loss and childhood and has been featured in shows in Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota. Sample art:

Shame Revisited Close Up 3

Growing Down

Nostalgia One

Shame Revisited

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,827 other followers