Letting Go of Needing to Be Extraordinary

I remember in high school being quite taken with the not-quite-so-authentic-or-inspired lyrics of Avril Lavigne:

“I want to know that I

Have been to the extreme

So knock me off my feet

Come on now give it to me

Anything to make me feel alive

Is it enough to love?

Is it enough to breath?

Somebody rip my heart out

And leave me here to bleed

Is it enough to die?

Somebody save my life

I’d rather be anything but ordinary please”

Like I said, not entirely the most inspired bit of song writing ever penned to paper… but it encapsulated a desire that was beginning to pressurize in my chest; a desire to do great and extraordinary things in my life.

An excerpt taken from my daily journal around this same teenage-time reveals my own, modest ambitions towards achieving greatness:

Sept 16, 2002

Life Goals:

  • President of the United States
  • Prime Minister of Britain
  • Be knighted
  • Win at least two Academy Awards for Best Director an Actor
  • Win a Tony Award for Best Actor
  • Win a Nobel Peace Prize

…the list went on from there with at least fifteen more items of a similar nature.  Although I am relatively confident that my fourteen-year-old self was cognizant enough to realize that  A) Several of the items in that list would be tactically impossible due to different laws and regulations, such as nationality; B) Would take multiple life times to fulfill, if at all; and C) Would require substantially different skill-sets and life orientations – and yet, I am not so certain I was fully aware of the unfeasibility of such.

The craving within me to achieve something “Great” was profound beyond measure.  I recollect lying on a heap of crumpled comforter, on the floor of my parent’s master bedroom at sixteen, having my first-ever legitimate panic attack due to the fact that should have already attained something publicly noteworthy and profound in my already advancing years of age.

Long story short: I was a nut-job, hellbent for glory, and totally disconnected with any deep sense of self-worth.

I wanted the profoundly extra-ordinary to manifest in my life and convince me that I was merely good enough.

Sound like a current President we all have the misfortune to be currently acquainted with?

At that time in my life, I really did not have a lot going on to teach me my inherent worth.  I had few (if any) real friendships, I was scared of most everyone I encountered, I was bullied horrendously, I was totally disconnected from my sexuality, and so repressed that I considered myself “broken” because I could not feel what other normal teenagers felt.  I felt really worthless.

And I wanted something glorious beyond measure to tell me I had worth – because I could not find it in myself.

And so, going to college shortly thereafter, I decided to become a professional actor – because assuredly Hollywood and the thundering applause of a raucous crowed would give me that fulfillment.  And, if it wouldn’t be tangibly possible to attain all of those checkpoints on my high school to-do list, at least onscreen I could play a President, King, Physicist and Astronaut and achieve some feeling of that attainment.

Well, life, as she has a way of doing, has kicked me in the gut and pulled the rug out from underneath me, knocking me down, enough times since that point that I began to question that longing.  Why did I want to be a movie star?  What was I afraid of in starting to date other people (something I did not attempt until I was twenty-five years of age)?

Long story cut very short: I eventually started to develop sincere self worth.  I started to learn my “size.”  Learn to know what I had to genuinely offer and what was mere aggrandizement.  I started to genuinely connect to who I truly was, what I wanted, and what I had to give.

A large step in that process for me was discovering meditation.  I truly credit it for giving me my life back.  It taught me to start removing the layers of facade I had unintentionally fabricated, to uncover my truest self beneath.

And – it simultaneously connected me with the mystical – the ethereal – and the divine.

I moved into a meditation ashram right after college – where I learned that I was “special.”   I had unique karma to encounter this practice.  I was blessed.  And that I had a chance to go beyond what normal humans experienced – and live a life that was truly “extraordinary.”

Wait… Sound familiar?  … somehow I traded one dream of self-aggrandizement for another.

In hind sight, I do see there was a dangerous mentality to the tradition I entered.  A promise of specialness. A guarantee of life being more than normal humans (outside the practice) could understand.  And that gave me purpose and a feeling of divine grace.

And then, as all false-idols must, my sacred imaginings shattered to the ground.  The leaders that promised this mystical and otherworldly ideal were revealed to be more human than they presented themselves to be.

And I ended up parting ways from that tradition – heartbroken and distraught.  But still much more alive and authentically myself than I encountered it, thanks to the still-excellent teachings I received.

But in wake of that leaving, I once again have found that craving inside me to be “extraordinary” resurfacing.

Now, I no longer want to be a movie star, or famous, or a figure of social importance.  I actually now desire the simple things: a loving home, a gracious partner, good food, sturdy friendships.


But there’s part of me that wants something so much more – something that I am now beginning to call a connection to the divine.  My experiences in the ashram started to illuminate some glimpses of that for me.

And if I am totally honest with myself – that longing for something more than what we associate “normal” to be – is indeed a spiritual longing.

A desire to return to a state of pure-bliss, pure-awareness, pure-truth that the ancient rishis and “seers” have articulated existing within each and every one of us.

That the longing for the “Extraordinary” is nothing more than a longing to return home – to my Soul.

Spiritual traditions across the globe have articulated that the Earth is just one place conscious beings reside – and that there are other places that we might be more akin to.  That we are “spirits having a physical experience.”

My question is now for myself: how can I truly appreciate and relish the ordinary – while striving for the extraordinary within me – and not through outer glorification?

How can I cultivate the magic, love, light, and prosperity I feel in glimpses in my meditation in the rest of my waking life?

How can I live a life fully empowered, aware, enheartened, and steadfast?

How can I live in truth?

These are my current questions.  Questions to which I am unsure there are solid answers.

What do you think?  Please share your insights and inspirations below!

Namaste,  Kaelan 🙂

Sharing a Piece of Love

Recently, it was Valentine’s Day.

This year – I decided to go all out.

I wrote and performed a song for my beautiful partner, and made a music video to go along with it.  Our nicknames for each other are “Panda” and “Monkey” …and this is our story… even down to how we met on OKCupid.

I hope you enjoy this little piece of love that I’m sharing with the world.  Peace to all!

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/204227024″>You and Me (the Monkey and the Panda Song)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user31740900″>Kaelan Strouse</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Getting Naked

I’m ready to get naked.  How about you?

Shed my fears, my inhibitions, my shame.

I’m beginning to realize how much shame each of us carries.  Shame of our bodies.  Shame of our desires.  Shame of our needs.

Shame is like a pack of rank, moldy critters scurrying around in the dark crevasses of our subconscious.

Shame causes us pain; shame causes suffering; shame causes us misfortune.

More over, shame keeps us from our truest and most authentic selves.   If we are ashamed of parts of who we are, how can we ever love ourselves in our totality?  Can we learn to accept the beautiful and the terrifying parts of ourselves as one holistic unit?  Can we love our love-handles, our proclivities, our relationships to food?

For if we cannot accept all part of ourselves, including the scary bits, how can we ever love another human being in their entirety?

These are the questions that have been running through my mind as of late.

Like many Americans, I grew up in a very sex and body negative environment.  I grew up in a society where bodies should be covered at all times.  Affection generally isn’t publicly displayed between couples – even in the home space.  I notice that I have never really watched my parents kiss romantically or even spontaneously hold hands.

In gyms, we dress as quickly as possible, dancing behind towels to keep our bodies hidden from our peers.  On social media apps, we only share the most carefully curated, filtered, and photoshopped versions of ourselves to present the most flattering images of our white-washed lives.

And this is so gross and unfortunate.

Our messy parts are beautiful.  Our unrefined and unglamorous angels make us human and relatable.  If our minds and bodies are born to act and look a certain way – these qualities should be celebrated.

This shame in regards to sexuality is as logical to me as a shame of walking.  Imagine a society where it’s shameful to walk.  Feet are to be subjugated.  We must only roll on wheels from destination to destination.  Do not use your feet for their designed purpose.  How dare you highlight the fact that you even possess feet.

Why are we like this with other parts of our bodies and psyches?  Perhaps its partially due to our Puritanical heritage as Americans.

The Ancient Greeks used clothing to highlight the natural lines of the body.  They didn’t cover areas for modesty – but utilized accoutrement-ization to highlight their best assets.

Why is there so much shame in our culture for exposing a breast – even when feeding an infant?  Or a bulge in a man’s pants?  Why have we become so sterile?  Europe certainly isn’t this way.


I have recently begun to realize how much shame I carry regarding my own sexuality.  Although I came out as a gay man several years ago, much of me has still felt dirty for admitting that I actually like sex. Now, I’m discovering how “vanilla” my relationship to sex has been.  I realize that in my mind I’ve been holding biases: like believing that someone can want or like sex too much.  Or that one should only have it in certain ways.  Or that it is acceptable only in certain contexts and relationships.  That we shouldn’t be horny.  Or be raunchy.  Or express …all those desires you buried inside that you might actually, really want.

And this means that I’ve not been been expressing my truest version of me.   If we deny our deepest impulses, if we deny our bodies’ innate truths, we are living inauthentic lives.

In Jungian psychology, they have a concept called “The Shadow Self.”  We have the normal, socially appropriate self that walks around everyday.  But hidden behind that is The Shadow Self.  It’s comprised of all the things that titillate you, inspire you, excite you – but your conscious mind feels is forbidden.  Maybe that drag queen caught your eye – and maybe you feel angry that you want to look.  Maybe that extra dessert lures you fantastically – but you can only think about your already too significant waistline.  Maybe that person in the blue jeans, of a different gender than you are usually attracted, entices you – and you suddenly feel unexplainable frustration towards them.

These forbidden desires exist within all of us.  And they have to be resolved.  As long as they seem interesting and yet impossible – they will pull on our subconscious, and we will build shame around our unacceptable impulses.

Instead, if they can be healthfully acknowledged and expressed, they can be integrated into one’s regular self.

And it’s not that, suddenly, you will find yourself every Thursday night at the local drag bar, kicking up your spangled heals (although, that might be possible – and that’s totally okay – if it is); but it by opening up to your fear and shame, you might heal a very deep trauma in your psyche, perhaps keeping your from deeply integrating your masculine and feminine qualities.  That forbidden curiosity might be a symptom of some deeper issue that needs addressing and bringing back into wholeness.

Shame causes disease – it’s been proven by healers and health psychologists again and again.  And there’s so much that American society says to feel shamed about.  Our weight, our food, our bodies, our desires, our partners.

So this season, I’m blowing the lid off my basement of creepy, shameful creatures.  I’m letting my full shadow self dissolve into the light.  I am healing – and allowing myself to accept all aspects of this beautiful and contradictory human experience.  And this takes guts and bravery – and a willingness to accept that not everyone will understand it.  Others may question or judge me for my choices.

But if there is any source of inspiration to counter that judgement, it is this:

“This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou cans’t not then be false to any man.”

As Shakespeare said it like no one else ever could – when we are truer to our actual, authentic selves, we become truer citizens, lovers, brothers, sisters, parents, children, friends, and human beings overall.

If I can fully love and accept every aspect of who I am – I can thereby accept all other walks of life.  If I can hold no judgement or blame of myself – I can accept all others openly and with compassion.

So long as I resent my deepest self – I will resent others too.  This is the truth – and the crux of the issue with shame.

I’m moving further towards the light – shedding my inhibitions (and my clothes) – and asking you to join me.

Please share in the comments section below how you are working to share your “Naked Truth” – your most vital, uninhibited, and joyous celebration of your truest feelings and desires.

Learning to love ourselves for who and what we are – free of shame.

Love and peace to you all!

Namaste, Kaelan  #nakedtruth

5 Lessons My Puppy Is Teaching Me

’Twas the week before Christmas, and in through the door, 

I set down my bags, and heard paws scratch the floor.  

My partner had planned his surprise with much care, 

So I’d arrive smelling pet dander and barks in the air.

Five days before Christmas and I arrived home to my first holiday present from my fiancé: a three-month old puppy.  We had talked about a puppy for several weeks leading up to this date.  But ’til that point he had been adamant that we should wait until spring and the conclusion of the harsh Chicago snow and ice festivities.

So, I was shocked.  And it’s taken the past few weeks for my dog parenting self to catch up with the requirements of this fluffy and lovely new addition to our household.

I had a dog growing up, so the responsibilities of pet ownership weren’t entirely new to me.  And I had done some refresher work, reading some acclaimed dog-rearing books to prepare.  The thing that has caught me most off guard has been this:  the intelligence and insight of my three and a half month old pup.

I’m amazed at his keenness.  I’m surprised by his adaptability and eagerness to learn.  I’m shocked by his ability to clearly demand what he wants – and his willingness to retaliate if he doesn’t receive it (“Oh, really?  You won’t give me that food? …how do you like it if I just pee over here?”).

There have been a few takeaway points that he has taught me about my own behavior, even as I try to school his.

1.  Stop, Watch, and Listen

My puppy, Galileo, is a rescue.  His mother, who was about to give birth to her litter, was in a high-kill shelter in Kentucky.  A rescue group in Illinois got her out on the final possible shuttle before she was scheduled to be euthanatized.  So, Galileo and his sisters were born and raised in foster-care in Des Planes.  I am so glad he had a happy home to live in for his first few months of life – but Des Planes is a very different sort of place from downtown Chicago.

The first several days we took him outside to the busy, city streets, Galileo would shake heartily.  He was scared by all the people, cars, and buses.  Since then, he’s gotten much better; but the city sights are sometimes still a bit overwhelming for him.

In those instances when things are a little much, he always does the same thing.  He sits down wherever he is, gets very quiet, and looks around steadily.  He takes in his surroundings.  Once he’s evaluated the scenario, he will get up and start walking again, regardless of how long it takes him to comprehend and feel safe.

I love this response.  Taking a moment, getting very still, and simply observing.

How often, when things get scary and chaotic do we rush to react?  I know for myself that I tend to immediately dive into “problem solving mode.”  And time and again, I observe that I would have served the situation better by taking some time before responding.

My furry son naturally does this.  He’s wary and patient.  And this ability to stop, watch, and then decide is a skill I myself would like to acquire.

2. Deep Sleep and Good Food Are Critical

Our first two days of puppy ownership were marked by a constantly awake critter.  He never slept at all.  I looked up online that puppies are supposed to sleep fifteen to twenty hours a day, and our little guy was only getting seven.  This wasn’t nearly enough.

We started to find ways to get out little guy to relax and snooze.  Super long walks and play times with other puppies became a must.  We had to tire him out so he could reset in sleep.

Without sufficient rest, he becomes a holy terror.  With regular naps, he’s a loving little guy.

And I’m the same way.  It’s reminding me how much rest and down time I personally need – especially during this time of year where the season is naturally encouraging time for reflection and hibernation.

Similarly, the food our foster mom had been feeding him was dry and he was really disinterested in eating.  When we brought him to the pet store, they noticed his skin was dried out and he already had dandruff.  They recommended a new pet food with fish oil – and Galileo just devours it.  He is eating so well, the dandruff is mostly gone, and his behavior is more stable.

I know for myself that I feel more balanced and at ease when I’m eating nourishing food.  Today, for example, I ate four-day old leftovers for breakfast; and I don’t feel as exuberant as I normally would.  I need to pay clear attention to what I’m putting into my body and how that affects my mood.

 3.  We All Go Through Rough Stages 

My dog is teething.  A lot.  When I peek into his mouth, I see these tiny teeth erupting from his gums.  I’m sure it must hurt him quite a bit.  And to assuage that pain, he wants to chew on everything.  Hands, couches, ribbons, toys.  You name it.  We try our best with chew toys and frozen carrots to numb the pain – but it just sucks right now.  It’ll suck for another two months, and we just need to put up with his incessant need to chew until then.

How hard is it to have that same compassion for one’s self?  When I’m having a rough or painful time, how often do I say, “Kaelan, get over it!  Move on!” instead of giving myself the time or grace that I need.  I feel like I constantly expect resilience and health and grace from myself, and have little enough compassion when I falter.  Can I learn to say to myself, as I say to my dog, “things suck a little right now – and I’m sorry – so do what you need to do and I know it’ll get better in a little while.”  Cultivating compassion for the here and now – and allowing myself to do what I need until things get better.

4.  When Things Don’t Go Your Way, It’s Natural to Retaliate

Our new son is a foodie, like his dads.  He LOVES food of all kinds.  And he gets super pissed if we don’t share what we are eating with him.

Separately, he’s doing really well with potty training: he’s learned to go to the door or scratch on the window when he needs to be walked outside.  But often, after a petulant thirty minutes of begging for our food, he’ll walk over to one of those spots and relieve himself without asking to be let out.  It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I know you can’t be mad because I’m in the area I’m supposed to be at to be let out – but I’m not giving you any warning.”  He plays us – and gets “some of his own back,” as they say.

It’s a normal reaction.  But how willing am I to accept that reaction in myself?  When I feel betrayed or disappointed, I often get upset at myself for getting upset or pissed.  I expect myself to take it in stride and not react.  But I do.

I need to have more compassion for myself for the normal, animalistic responses that happen when things don’t work out.  I don’t need to scold myself for not being perfect – just as I wouldn’t scold the little guy.  I need to let myself feel whatever I am feeling without judgement.

5. Intelligence Can Come in Any Age or Form

My little guy has been in the world for merely a couple of weeks.  Yet, already, he is so intelligent.  He learned his name in a day, to sit in a day, and to lie down in two days.  He figures out patterns and ways of commuting through the world at a lightening pace.  He already understands numerous commands and has developed a non-verbal language all his own.  And all within a hair’s breadth of time!

I am a huge believer in learning taking a tremendous amount of time.  Want to learn something well?  Study it for a decade and then get back to me.  I tend to assume that if someone hasn’t taken many eons to explore something in depth, they are a poor steward of that knowledge.  But here I am, babysitting this little, smart dog, who truly understands and can manipulate events within a brief span.  How can I reconcile these beliefs?

I have to start accepting that people may have tremendous insights and knowledge into subjects, even if they’ve only had brief opportunities to interact with them.  Sometimes profound learning happens all at once.  Sometimes learning takes a lifetime.  I need to accept the possibility that I can learn a great deal from those for whom a topic may be quite new.  I need to allow myself to learn from the proverbial children.


I’m sure that there’ll be numerous other lessons that start piling up over the next several months of dog-parenting.  I’m grateful for what I’m already beginning to learn, and for the lessons yet to come.  Here’s to many more happy and fur-filled months in the home!

5 Steps to Survive the End of Your World

It happened last month: Something that seemed indelible, everlasting, and endlessly-nourishing came abruptly to an end.

We’ve all had it happen: a death of a partner, the sudden cessation of a relationship, the irrational loss of a job, etc.

For me, it came from my spiritual community forsaking me.

For people who have been reading my blog for a while, you know how devoted I have been to my meditation practice.  I had lived in an ashram for years, attended weekly classes, mediated twice daily.

I felt content; I felt sure in my worldview; I felt powerful.

Then, surprisingly and suddenly, my tradition said they didn’t want me to be a part of them anymore.  I will refrain from blabbing about the details of who said what, why this happened, and whatnot.  Suffice it to say that I felt heartbroken, entirely abandoned, and grieving a very dear part of my life that I never expected to see go away.

How do we survive those heart-wrenching, gut-punching, and thoroughly world-shattering events?

When nearly everything you thought you knew and trusted about the world gets pulled away – like a child’s play things kept too close to the shore that get dragged out to sea – how do you continue on?

How do you take that next step?  How do you even breathe?

I’ve had friends get broken up with via text message (from multi-year relationships, none-the-less), I’ve seen friends shunned from synagogues, I’ve known friends to unexpectedly loose stable employment while simultaneously caregiving for someone else.

How can we heal?  How can we continue to grow with grace?

I’ve watched over the past several weeks as certain mainstays in my perception of life have melted away, notions that I felt certain were rock-steady and steadfast.  My worldview disintegrated, and now I’m shuffling through the debris to find the gems with which I can rebuild.

As I’ve continued to struggle through this process, here are some returning thoughts to which I keep cycling back:

1.   Realize that Nothing in Life is Ever Really About You

Roads collapse, bridges burn, tornadoes rip apart communities.  Forces of nature have no will or intent; they just move, and blast whatever happens to be in their way.

We expect that people have a little more intention than a storm, but they seldom do.  They are being pushed and pulled by their karma, their demons, and their own tensions.  We ultimately have little say over how others treat us – all we can choose is how we respond.

So, even if the attack that shattered your world seemed highly intentional – realize that it wasn’t.  It was just someone or something going through their shit, and we were the innocent bystander;  and our lives were the collateral damage.

It really wasn’t about you; it was all about them.

2.  You Have The Power to Let Go and Move On

Once you feel the truth in the fact that you had only a small part to play in the whirlwind, it becomes easier to truly forgive, move on, and rebuild.  We have to let go – and accept the new reality – in order to go on.  Clinging to the shards of our previous life will do no good; all we will build is a Frankenstein-esque mockery of the whole life we once led.

Find the jewels; find the pieces of the previous worldview that still feel true, take them, and go forward.  Let go of the debris.  Much of the broken remnants are perceptions you don’t need anymore.  Let them go with love, find your new truth, and keep going.  Forgive the people that injured you.

3.   Have Patience With Yourself

Allow yourself to have stages of grief and grieving.  Get mad, be surprised, become indignant.  Be sad, lonely, afraid.  Find joy, laughter, and surprise.  Realize that the assembly of your new life will take time to coalesce.  Try to be patient with yourself and others around you – and acknowledge that you won’t feel quite right for a while.

You’re going to have to go through a process of reexamining everything you previously believed, so try not to rush to any assumptions.  Let the process of healing take it’s time and be natural.  Seeds can only sprout out of the soil at a given rate.  There’s no hurrying the process.  After a field burns, it’ll be a bit before new sprouts resurrect out of the ashes.

4.   Use This Time to Discover and Explore

You are at a crossroads in your life journey.  There are a multitude of directions you could go from here.  Take some time to explore them.

Maybe there was a hobby you always wanted to begin.  Maybe there’s a group or class that has always intrigued you.   While your worldview is reforming, you have the capacity to change some fundamental beliefs about your life and the world around you.  So, set out on an adventure to uncover what some of those unrealized dreams might be.  Rediscover your child-like curiosity with the world.

I sometimes like to reframe world-destroying moments with the image of a chrysalis.  At some point, that transforming butterfly inside will become too confined by its self-constructed enclosure; and it’ll have to break out.  The world that it has known for many days, suddenly has to be ripped away in order to allow the butterfly to enter the expansiveness of the wider world.

Moreover, if a butterfly somehow get to be spared the struggle and agony of trying to claw its way out of its chrysalis – if someone cuts it open for him, for example – he will be unable to unfold his wings.  It’s through the struggle of escape that a butterfly produces enough chemicals to allow his wings to fully spread.

Maybe you are like the butterfly and needed your world to break open to make space for something so much better and happier.  Go out and find what those better options might be.

5.  Treat Yourself Kindly – and Surround Yourself With Love

Find those people and experiences that truly nourish you and draw them into your sphere.  Spend lots of time with loved ones and people who bring out your best sides.  Laugh a lot.  Eat chocolate and take bubble baths.  Take hikes and to spend time convening with nature – I personally find time in the forest or by the sea to be so healing and spiritual.

What are other activities you could undergo to make yourself feel good?  The more you focus on the experiences and people that enrich your existence, the greater likelihood that your new outlook will prioritize them.  If you put effort into sustaining good friendships, it’s likely those friendships will play a greater role in your new life.

Find what inspires you, enriches you, and brings you pleasure.  Let those be some signposts to direct the road ahead.

It’s an incredible journey to grow through the total annihilation and resurrection of your worldview.  It’s a harrowing but character-building experience.   For it’s during these times of transition that we truly see who we are, what we are made of, and what is truly important.

I can assure you that this will not be the solitary time your life dissolves; it will happen again.  And, again, you will have the opportunity to choose – how do I want to live?

We get to choose.  We can grow and live with love and compassion; or we can shut down from the heartache.

The choice is yours.  I’m choosing love.  How about you?

Art & Words: Kaelan Strouse; Background Photos by: Dan Machold & Kit

Changes On the Road To Bliss

First and foremost, I want to thank the readers of my blog for their insightful comments, messages, and support.  I have really having a blast sharing my ideas and inspirations with such lovely people.

As this blog is still in its infancy, I am refining the goals and structure of its content.

And I’ve made a few decisions:

1 – I will now start adding fictional writing.  I think stories can shape our perceptions of the world beautifully – and I’d like to explore the motif of The Hero’s Journey – and the metaphors of good vs. evil as applicable to our daily lives.

2 – I will begin reblogging articles that I have had published elsewhere on the inter-webs.

3 – As I will now be doing quite a bit of traveling every month, I would like to start including some photography and anecdotes about observations I make on my trails.  Growth can happen anywhere – and especially while exploring new vistas and surroundings.

I am really excited about where we are headed – thanks for staying with me, on the road to Bliss!

Peace and light, Kaelan 🙂

Photo: Richardson Farm Corn Maze

Finally Revealing the Movie I Love and Made

It is with sincerest joy that I am finally able to publicly share the film I created, Legend of Amba.  This movie is a modern day fairytale about learning what’s inside your heart, seeing clearly what’s happening around you, and owning your personal truth.

This story was inspired by dear friendships I had cultivated through my teenage years and into my young adult life.  It is about that transition point in adulthood where we move from seeking external validation (seeking the mirages of life that we think will bring us meaning) and instead begin pursuing truth, love, and substance.

I am tremendously grateful to have gotten to work with the dedicated artists who made this film possible.  It was a year of intense cultivation to bring this to the screen – and I am so thrilled to share it with you.

I think anytime one puts forth the effort to create artwork of personal significance and insight – it has a reason to be viewed.  I hope that this movie will find a place in your heart – inspire you – and encourage you to pursue your own dreams and goals.  Magic is possible when we believe in ourselves.  There is magic in friendship; there is enchantment in love; there is wonder in every moment.

This is Legend of Amba.  And I am so privileged to share it with you.

Namaste, Kaelan

Why I am Grateful For Everything… and Yes, I Mean EVERYTHING!

Let’s discuss what it really means to be grateful.

Sure, the birthday present, the unexpected surprise planned by a loved one, the raise given by our employer, these are all easy moments for which to be grateful.

But what about the rest of the moments in our days?

What about the boring spells, the trying times?  How about the fights with friends, misunderstandings with partners, the escalation of fears in harrowing events?  Are we grateful for these instances?  Are there any reasons to find gratitude for life’s most trying moments?

I enthusiastically say, “Yes!”

And here’s why…

Inside each and every one of us are little pockets of energy.  They are accumulated from life events, and a great number of them arrived with us when we were born.  These little pockets attract certain life events to occur.  They attract people we need to meet, challenges we must face, and blessings that will grace us.

And there’s a big reason why they do this: every single event that occurs in our lives must happen in order for that energy within us to break apart and become free-flowing.  We attract life situations that make us free through their happening.

That award you got in school could be there to teach you about self-reliance and maintaining humility under great acclaim.   Maybe that broken bone was the result of some previous life action where you hurt someone else, and now you’re learning to deal gracefully with pain and living gently.

Everything that comes into our lives are lessons that we need to learn in order to evolve.

So that means that nothing is either good or bad.  It’s just a tool to help us grow.  And when we can see each event with equanimity – neither rejecting or desiring its occurrence – we become healed.

If we can stay open and grateful for every experience, then those little pockets of energy dissolve and we might never have to experience those events again.  If we form an emotional attachment – wanting more or less of it – the event will keep reoccurring until we finally let is happen without interference.  In this way, as these pockets dissolve, we become gradually more open, free, and happy.

Seldom in life is any experience solely good or bad.  Something that starts out as a great deal of fun might eventually turn into a nightmare.  Maybe that Academy Award that you so long strived for causes a family member to be robbed.  Maybe that partner you begged to come back into your life becomes abusive.

Similarly, highly unpleasant experiences can become great sources of joy later on.  That hardship you went through might have proved how lasting and wonderful your friendships with your siblings could be.  Maybe that broken bone prevented you from going on a trip where you would have become deathly ill.  No one can predict the outcome of events.  In the words of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

So this provides us with the tremendous opportunity to just be grateful for every life event.  The fun and the not so fun.  The painful and the blissful.  Everything in the universe has been conspiring to bring you your highest growth and sincerest happiness… if you can just hang on to the state of equanimity.

Every morning I start off my day by feeling gratitude in my heart.  I send text messages to people I love, letting them know how happy I am that they are in my life.  When harrowing events occur, I simply say, “Thank you for my healing.”

I’m trying to reach a state where every moment in my day, every breath I inhale, reminds me to be grateful.  I still have a ways yet to go, but I’m inching continuously closer.

And, oddly enough, it isn’t so much the happy times that are helping me most on this journey.  It’s the really hard stuff, where I prove my mettle, prove that I can remain grateful, that shows me how far I’ve come.

Each day, breath by breath, I get a little closer to the goal.  One day, I will live in a state of complete thankfulness for everything in my life.  I hope to meet you there.

Words and Photo by: Kaelan Strouse

12 Daily Rituals That Make Me a Better Human

Let’s talk about the tasks we do every single day.  Brushing our teeth?  Done.  Flossing?  Well, I do… but I know there are some of you who still struggle with doing this one.  Eating food?  That’s a good one to do daily.  More than these simple and basic tasks, there are a myriad of other activities that we can choose to pursue every day that will vastly increase our quality of life.  For example, as soon as I wake up each morning, I take a breath and think of something for which I am grateful.  Just by starting my day with gratitude, I get to commence my morning in a happy and positive way, even before I check my cellphone or set foot on the floor.

In this article, I will explore twelve daily rituals that continue to bring me better wellness and joy – as well as few extra rituals that I hope to incorporate in the near future.

So, here we go.  Here’s some amazing daily routines to improve one’s quality of life:

  1. Meditation

For those of you who have been following my blog or know me personally, there is absolutely no surprise with this item.  Since I was twenty years old, I have been meditating every day for thirty minutes in the morning and evening.  It clears my thoughts, allows me to be more productive, and – in the worlds of Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris – makes me “10% happier.”  Actually, I think that quotation is a vast understatement.  The frequency of spontaneously occurring happiness has skyrocketed for me.  Before I began meditating, I was an incredibly worried, self-involved, painfully shy, insecure person.  Many a day were spent in blind terror of the world around me.  Over time these issues have melted away; and I have become an infinitely more secure, joyful, confident, and happy individual.  Meditation has led me into a state of fairly constant contentment.  If there’s one item on this list that is worth adopting immediately, it is this.

2. Chanting

Whether it be through attending an concert with friends or dancing alone in the shower to the radio, we have all felt music shift our state of being.  When we encounter music, our cells begin to reverberate at the same frequency of the sound we are absorbing.  If you haven’t yet seen the video of the plants singing to each other, here’s a link to do so now.  It shows how even the simplest of life forms really do vibrate with sound and harmonize with one another.  How much better is it then, if we chant the name of the divine, and let that very refined frequency reverberate through our bodies?  Paul Reps, a renowned Zen master famously said: “Mantra shakes our bones.”  When we chant divine words, our bodies become heavenly.  It shakes out our heaviness, our restrictions, and attunes us to a much higher state of being.  I personally chant the Guru Gita, but have friends that chant the Hanuman Chailisa, the Medicine Buddha Mantra, or an assortment of other sacred words and melodies.  It really doesn’t matter what form it takes, singing and chanting elevated words and phrases of any language (though Sanskrit is very special because its creation stemmed from ancient rishis “hearing” it in deep states of meditation) harmonize our bodies to very refined states of being.

3. Oil Pulling

Oil pulling is a task that’s a little more physical than the previous two items.  Here’s what to do: take a teaspoon of oil (sesame, coconut, or clarified butter [aka ghee] are preferred), put it in your mouth, swish it around for fifteen minutes, spit it out, and then brush your teeth.  Why?  This method of cleaning one’s mouth has been practiced for thousands of years by numerous societies.  Not only does it remove plaque and tarter buildup, improve the health of one’s gums, reduce bad breath, and whiten enamel, but it actually “pulls” toxins out of one’s body through the membrane barriers in the mouth.  That’s why it’s important to spit out the oil at the end, rather than swallow it.  It might sound like new-agey nonsense, but I can vouch from personal experience (and from several close acquaintances) what a difference it has made in my life. It has helped countless individuals cure chronic health issues.  You can find hundreds of fabulous articles about it online.  And hey – if it kept ancient, indigenous cultures on good dental health for their whole lives, then it should be good enough for us as well.

4. Cultivating Gratitude

Yes, I start my day with gratitude – and then I also keep incorporating it throughout my day.  Before I eat, when I finish meditating, when I talk with a friend: I take a few deep breaths and feel gratefulness well-up within the center of my chest – and then lift out of the top of my head.  I send it off to the higher realms to convey that I am so lucky for my experiences.  If we can remember to be grateful for our lives, our worlds truly become magical.  We start to recognize the abundance of blessings already around us, and it sends a strong message to the Universe to keep bringing us more wonderful events.  It’s a self perpetuating cycle: the more gratitude we feel in our lives, the more that arrives to inspire a grateful state.  It’s a simple and profound practice to remember.  Some people keep a journal of items they are thankful for, while I just set earmarks throughout my day that remind me to give thanks.

5. Yoga

If we continue to progress chronologically though my morning, the next item on my “to do” list would be physical yoga.  So, physical yoga is what most Westerners think of when they hear the word “yoga.”  It’s actually just a small fraction of the spiritual discipline of Yoga, with a capital “Y.”  Meditation is Yoga.  Self study is Yoga.  Merging with the divine is Yoga.   I do physical yoga every day because it makes my body strong and healthy, it clears out ailments and restrictions, and it makes me happy.  But even these postures are more of a spiritual practice than a form of exercise.  Yoga purifies the body so it and the mind can rest quietly in meditation.  It soothes the nervous system and invites it to decompress so our focus can be redirected towards the internal, subtler realms.  If you’ve taken a few yoga classes, you know that “high” and “glow” that comes from a physical practice.  It is a very kinetic way to begin experiencing our spiritual nature and achieving a more optimal state of health and wellbeing.

6. Cooking

I also view cooking as a sacred act.  When I go to the market, I drink-in the beauty and ripeness of all the produce.  I feel some gratitude for the animals that offered their lives so that I may be nourished – and try to select the most humane and planet-friendly items I can afford.  When I bring the food home, I lovingly select which items will go into my dish.  I start frying the spices in ghee and feeling love in my heart for having the great fortune to feed myself well.  I choose dishes that will make my belly feel yummy, strengthen my muscles, and help everything in my body reach its ideal state.  I cook the food that will bring me the best health.  And when we pay attention to what our bodies really desire, it’s healthy choices like beets and fruit, nuts and dates, maybe bison and farm-fresh eggs.  Overtime, it’s possible to begin sensing how processed and refined foods lack real nourishment.  We sense what will truly bring us our best health.  And when we eat slowly and with gratitude, the food undergoes an alchemical process and becomes pure life-force for us.  We become part of the cycle of nature: sensing our connection to the earth, the natural world around us, and how everything is perfectly in sync.  Food is part of god; god is in food.  I am the earth; the earth is in me.  I am what I eat; all is one.

7. Dancing

I love to dance.  I view it as a divine celebration of life, love, and happiness.  Usually sometime after breakfast has been digested, I will head to my iTunes app and choose my playlist of “Music That Makes Me Feel Awesome.”  The list includes the likes of “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield, “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, and “Be Okay” by Ingrid Michelson.  It is comprised of songs that make me want to take my shirt off, shake my booty, and bounce all around the apartment.  When I dance, its another way I can thank the Universe for all the blessings I receive.  I offer thanks for a strong and healthy body; I let my joy bubble forth through ecstatic movements.  I act silly, strange, electric, and turbulent.  I dance like no one is watching because, well, no one is.  This is not a dance to entice or impress.  It’s a conversation with the divine, and it is a sacred act.  Sometimes my roommate or a friend will come join me, and it is still a dance of celebration rather than about interacting with another.  For me, it’s the fullest expression of being alive: moving my body in rhythm and time to music that makes my heart alight.

8. Exercise

Some days yoga and dancing is enough for me to feel like I’ve used my body well.  Other days I desire to go to the gym and push my physical limits more throughly.  Now I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but I find great joy in feeling that I’ve exerted a tremendous amount of physical force: that I’ve strained my muscles, that I’ve taught my body to do something that it could not previously execute .  Recently, I’ve been exploring jump-roping and hand-standing.  At first, I couldn’t do either at all.  But gradually, through regular and focused practice, I have attained a modicum of proficiency with both.  I love going to the gym and realizing that I can do one hundred double-jumps, when the week previous I could barely do thirty.  I love landing that handstand, finding my balance, and gracefully lowering, when I previously couldn’t stabilize for even a second.  Learning new skills, pushing physical boundaries, and even simply getting a good sweat every day makes me a happier man.  I don’t think everyone needs this, but it’s important for me.  I don’t like feeling like I’m “trapped” in my body – that comes from being physically stagnant.  I like feeling and looking strong, feeling capable, and knowing that I can do more than I once thought was possible.

9. Time With Loved Ones

This is one of the hardest routines for me to sustain while living in California.  If you read my first article on “Why We Need to Choose Our Surroundings Consciously,” you remember that I discussed how our most frequent and intimate interactions reflect back on our self-worth.  Every day I Skype with my partner, family, and friends.  I text message people out of the blue to let them know I’m thinking of them with love.  I call old acquaintances to ask how they’re doing nowadays.   And with each interaction I endeavor to feel the love, support, admiration, and care that exists between us.

And this is all very good and important to do.  But an even better action is to spend time in physical interaction with loved ones.  Feeling their touch, kisses, embraces, and arms around the shoulders.  There’s tremendous value in touch.   There have been studies that have linked frequent affectionate and caring touch with decreased rates of depression and anxiety.  We are fundamentally social creatures, and we need to feel loved.  Talking and texting is great and so important; but quality face to face time, and hug time, is even more so.  Choosing to regularly spend time with those people who nourish us is a great goal to achieve.

Well, that’s my list of activities I am already undertaking every day to improve my quality of life.  Let’s tack on a few more that I have yet to achieve:

10. Regular Bedtime 

This one is so hard for me.  Some nights I have rehearsals, performances, art events, etc. where I have to be out late.  Other nights, I can stay in and go to sleep whenever I choose.  No matter how much effort I put into having a regular (and early) bedtime, it fails to manifest.  I feel my body and mind are at their best when I’m asleep by ten and wake up around six am. During my seven year residence at the Chicago Ashram, I would have to be at meditation class at six am.  One would hope this meant that I was able to organize my bedtime more effectively, but I wasn’t.  It just meant that most nights I had fewer hours of sleep than my body required.  Since moving to L.A., I may now be allowed to sleep a full eight hours, but it’s hardly ever in the same time of the night; and the later my bedtime, the worse quality of sleep I attain.  I hope sleep schedule will settle down as I age, but thus far it has been frustratingly inconsistent.

11. Regular Meal Times

In very much the same vein as the standard bedtime, I know my body feels at its best when I achieve the following: “every day we are going to have lunch at twelve, dinner at six, and breakfast at eight am.”  But this goal has been even less frequent in occurring than my bedtime.  Some days there’ll be three meals, while other days, two.  Some days breakfast will be at eight, while other days its at one pm.  I truly believe that this is just part of my karma in this life, that I will never eat at the same time every day.  And I recognize that it’s part of having a creative-worker’s schedule.  However, I can sense that my body better absorbs and integrates the food I intake when it’s gotten into a rhythm and knows when and how to prepare.  I’ll chalk this one up to another long-range goal.

12. Baths & Bathing

This one’s kind of embarrassing.  I’m not the best about making sure that I shower every single day.  Yuck – I know.  According to Ayurveda, our bodies are happiest when we bathe in the early morning, before dawn, and again after any physical exertion.  And while I will generally take a shower at the gym after an intense workout, it shamefully does not always happen.  And while there have been swaths of time where I’d get up super early and shower in the dark, that’s not been habitual either.  I’m generally a shower once every-other-day sort of guy… and I’d like to be much better about this.

And not only in regards to showers, but also in taking the time for actual baths.  With salts and bubbles and the whole works.  I know how much better I feel when I let my body soak, allowing  tensions to dissipate through the sudsy water. Or take the time to bathe at a Korean Spa, where I can do it in the comfort and company of my fellow mammals.

Furthermore, the Indian tradition of Ayurveda recommends rubbing one’s entire body with oil before ablutions to increase health and wellbeing.  This practice, called “abhayanga,” is so highly praised in traditional literature, and has such profound healing effects, that I really should make it item number thirteen on this list.  So…

13.  Abhayanga

Everyday, I am going to take the time to rub warm sesame or coconut oil into my skin before taking my bath/shower.  This practice is said to increase strength, radiance, resiliency to disease and infection, and slow the effects of aging.  I’ve done it off and on for years, and when I’ve done it consistently, I have felt positively transformed.  My health has been better.  My skin has been more luminous.  This is something I need to do every single day.  I need to work on keeping my physical body as clean and gleaming as I do my internal spirit.

So, that’s my list!  I hope there were some inspiring highlights for you.  I would be curious to know about other routines that you have found to be tremendously beneficial for your life.  If you have something to suggest, please add it to the comments section below.  And anything you write will be guaranteed to get a reply from me.  So let’s start a conversation about this, please.

Thank you so much for taking the time read my musings.

Namaste!  (The divine inside of me bows to the divine inside of you; inside we are all one!)

Words and photo by: Kaelan Strouse

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