Attain: “to achieve through effort”
Attune: “to adjust as to be harmonious”
Atone: “to make reparations for a sin, crime, or error”
At one: “in a state of harmony or accord”
Year-end is a time for reflection, an annual emotional balance sheet for the state of affairs brewing in our body, mind, and spirit. Now that I live more than half the time in El Pescadero, Baja California Sur (45 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico), I have the spacious pleasure of sizing-up my life on a regular basis. A desert will do that to you. So, will the vastness of the ocean in front of my home or the mountain backdrop, the organic farmland, and the tropical trees and flowers. One can contemplate one’s life on a back alley of Mumbai or on a subway in Manhattan, but it’s uncrowded paradises like Baja that offer us the wide margins in which to make our notes about how we’re spending this “one wild and precious life.”
While 2017 often felt like a year living just this side of the abyss, Baja offered me a blessed respite. A place where Father Time, Mother Earth, and Eternal Youth birthed a Modern Elder. As Ageist suggests in this recent profile, 2017 was the year when I gestated the premise of what it means to be both a middle-age mentor and an intern simultaneously in a world that reveres youth so desperately. If digital intelligence (DQ) has surpassed IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) as the most valued form of modern day smarts, it’s no surprise that digital natives (typically younger than age 40) are taking over the world. You’ll read more about my new book and the Modern Elder Academy in future posts, but suffice it to say that this habitat of happiness has marinated a lot of big ideas over the past year.
And, wide open spaces often reveal what’s lurking behind the mask. Baja can be a magnifying mirror in unexpected ways. This can accelerate a relationship break-up or a new romance, it can reveal an old emotional pain that you thought had healed, and it can illuminate ways of being that don’t often come to the surface when we’re in more contained, manicured and predictable metro livelihoods. Baja is a raw, revelatory, untamed ‘hood.
One of the fascinating observations that has surfaced for me this year is how this place reveals one’s default operating system. Do you attain or do you attune? One litmus test is how your body acclimates to Baja. This adventure sports capital of the world attracts “attainers” who sport fish, jet boat, mountain bike, or ATV or off-road 4×4 on deserted beaches. It also attracts “attuners” who do yoga, surf, kiteboard, scuba, kayak, or bird and whale watch. Attainers tend to “achieve through effort” or tame nature. Attuners “adjust to be harmonious” or attune with nature.
Let’s be honest. Someone can practice yoga using an “attainer” way of being or they can mountain bike in a fully “attuner” flow. When I go to my restorative yoga classes, which are very “yin,” I fall into a beautifully harmonious love puddle. But, yesterday, I went to a vigorous yoga class and strived and compared myself to no end. Chip, the Achiever was on full display complete with his epically-tight hamstrings and impenetrable rhomboids. Suffice it to say, I didn’t enjoy myself and long for 45-minute yoga classes as 90-minutes is just too damn many minutes of self-abuse.
I’m learning to love surfing but taking a different approach than how I’ve struggled through yoga for two decades. First off, I believe surfing has a lot in common with entrepreneurship. Storms (or difficult times) can provide the best conditions as there are more disruptive waves. Unlike tennis, skiing, or basketball, it’s free form and not regimented…you don’t reserve court time, buy a ticket, or book a referee, which describes the freeform nature of starting your own business. Surfing and entrepreneurship are both sort of a fellowship with unwritten rules. Lastly, you need to understand what’s going on underneath the surface creating the waves. An expert surfer can see a wave on the horizon and know it’s gonna be an awesome swell vs. petering-out, just like an entrepreneur can distinguish between a long-term trend and a short-term fad. Reading and riding waves feels congruent with how I’ve lived my life as an entrepreneur.
Surfing can offer almost a pseudo-philosophy. Author Aaron James recently wrote Surfing with Sartre in which he suggests, “What the surfer knows, in knowing how to ride a wave, bears on questions for the ages — about freedom, control, happiness, society, our relation to nature, the value of work and the very meaning of life.” He suggests surfing is all about “adaptive attunement.” The New York Times, in reviewing the book, suggests, “For someone to be surfing, three conditions must be met: He must be attuned to a shifting phenomenon outside of himself (like a wave); he must be adjusting himself in response to it (adapting), ‘so as to be carried along by its propulsive forces’; and he must be doing so intentionally and ‘for its own sake’ — that is, because negotiating the world in this manner strikes him as intrinsically valuable. You are surfing if and only if you are adaptively attuned.
While I’m still a neophyte, I’ve taken that perspective to heart. Rather than imagining I’m being watched by all those people on shore, I surf as if no one is noticing. This is quite a departure from my yoga class frame of mind where I secretly believe all my fellow yogi participants have eyeballs in the backs of their heads and they’re studying my awkward moves. I’m learning how to imagine life as an experiment (experiments welcome failures) rather than a college-entry S.A.T. test.
And, the more I attune, the more at one I feel. Strangely, when I am in my attain mode, I often feel I have to atone afterwards. So, my #1 New Year’s Resolution isn’t to become an expert surfer, it’s learning to attune myself to the constant waves of life and enjoy my wipe-outs as much as my epic rides to the shore.
I leave you with a New York Times article on the best way to keep your Resolutions.
Wishing you all an adaptively attuned 2018,