Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solititude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.―Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum LP
I sit here on this Sunday night, choosing to write rather than ride my bike. I'm thankful I have that option. I'm especially thankful as I sit out here on my deck in Park City, enjoying the cool mountain air at dusk and the mountain view. Boy, do we have it made. The moment I think things are rough in my life, I'm knocked on my ass and reminded how much of a fool I am for even letting that thought creep into my mind. Life is plentiful. Life is good. And I'm even thankful for the hard stuff.
These non-travel weekends in Park City are full of nature, relaxation, reflection, and some good people time too. On Sunday evenings I sit here thinking how I'm full of gratitude. For it all. Now don't get me wrong, if you know my story at all, you're fully aware that there have been more than a few rough moments in my life...but the thing is, I can see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is beautiful. You know what it shows me? It always shows me that I am a more whole version of myself when I look at these moments as a learning experience and approach each one with an attitude of gratitude. Initially it's not always easy, and I am far from perfect, but I've learned that every time I attempt to show love in a situation rather than frustration, anger and negativity, it always works out. In fact, it always works out either way...just the way it's supposed to work out. I think that's pretty rad.
Here's an example for you...this is an untold India story I've been anxious to tell, so I'm stoked I'm able to share it with you, and that you're here to listen. A few years ago I stumbled upon an incredible company with a beautiful concept: handmade textiles incorporated into high-quality, laptop compatible bags, with a social mission to keep culture alive, one bag at a time. It was called Ethnotek, and they were a super-small two person shop out of Minneapolis and Vietnam. You can read more of my story with Ethnotek here, but basically it was a passionate love affair that eventually led me into co-ownership and out of the confines of a cubicle in spring of 2014. It was a dream-turned-reality. My goal was to build the community, or "Tribe" as we called it, and this mission took me a few times to Salt Lake to Outdoor Retailer, building relationships with influential and inspirational people around the world who were ambassadors. It was all about authentic connection making and storytelling, and I adored it.
In the beginning of my relationship with Ethnotek, I had the pleasure of meeting Arushi from India: a whip-smart and insanely creative product designer from Mumbai who had met Ethnotek Founder Jake through a master class of hers and had volunteered to visit Ethnotek's Indian Master Weaver, Vankar Shamji. I still remember that initial Skype call with Aru, who is now a great friend of mine. The passion emanated from Arushi's pours. She was inspired by this initial journey to Bhuj in Gujarat, India and claims learning from Shamji's wisdom as one of her life-defining moments. On that call, Arushi told me that she learned more than she could ever imagine and left with a shifted perspective. Going to the village, she told me, she felt a bit of pity for the villagers...almost feeling as if they were "stuck" there. But she left enlightened. What she learned was a different way of life with a beautiful sense of worth and a passion for sustaining traditional handcraft, and thus sustaining their culture. She learned that children left the village to seek education, and then returned to weave. She learned that men and women have very distinct roles in the village, and there are no power struggles like those that exist in our shared western culture. What stuck with me most during the conversation was that the weaving process started and ended with the women. Beautiful concept.
My work with Ethnotek continued and my network of influential, inspirational people continued to grow. I worked with—and learned from—members of the U.S. Ski Team (Steven Nyman and Travis Ganong), crazy back country cliff-huckers (Julian Carr), healers through music (Nahko and Dustin Thomas), awesome people doing awesome shit in this world (Brian Friedman and Matt Hundhammer with Soul Poles, James and the dudes at Goal Zero, Ty and Greg from Kammok, Kyle from Indosole, and so so so many more awesome, socially-minded business owners) and more. Through it all, I fell in love with Utah and its outdoor culture. And then last summer, just as I was going through another massive life transition, the Universe dealt me a bit more and I was pushed out of Ethnotek. I felt empty. But that Universe...she has a way of giving you no more or less than you can handle. I knew that. But it was still hard. In fact, it fucking sucked. Everything inside me wanted to spew hate. But I couldn't. You see, I don't wear hate well. It's awkward on me. I'm a lover. So I tried to love. Of course, I fell short at times. But it was because of Ethnotek that I packed my life up and moved to Utah. I am thankful for that. And move I did. With nothing to my name, except for a big smile, my blanky from Grandma and some meaningless material possessions. And a hell of a lot of backpacks. Time, and time with nature as my playground in the big and beautiful Wasatch mountains healed my soul. Friends whom I had met through Ethnotek healed my soul. And, in the end I ended up getting a gig with the U.S. Ski Team...through connections I had made when I worked with Ethnotek. Today, I hang out with a lot of the incredible people I met while I worked with Ethnotek. And when I took my maiden voyage to India in June, everything came full circle and I met both Arushi—a virtual friend for three years now—and Master Weaver Vankar Shamji, whose story united us in the first place. This Universe. Seriously. Nearly speechless in regards to its bounty. And seriously thankful.
This image captures a moment that I will never forget. Traveling to Bhuj together, Arushi and I traveled to Shamji's home and witnessed his craft in action. I learned that 22 of his 60 looms are kept busy by Ethnotek. Wow. Nothing but good vibes there. Proof of concept galore. And when we were about to leave, we asked if we could get a picture with Shamji and his father and uncle. I sat down next to Shamji's father, and he started to pray. He and uncle said a prayer throughout the process of picture-taking and I sat there with tears of gratitude welling up in my eyes and a warmth in my heart that was unlike anything I've ever experienced. It took everything in my soul to not turn to my left and give his father—and Shamji as well—the most massive bear hug I could ever give, but in their culture this action would have been seriously frowned upon, so instead I turned with tears in my eyes and said, "Namaste" as I bowed my head. And we left, imprinted by his prayer forever. Blessed by his blessing.
This moment wouldn't have been possible without Ethnotek, and with Ethnotek came both pain and joy. This week I received the most lovely note from Jake, friend and Ethnotek Founder, and now 12 months after I've left the company, I am full of gratitude for everything I've experienced related to Ethnotek and as a result of Ethnotek.
Hey Jake—and Ethnotek—NAMASTE.
Choose an attitude of gratitude. It always wins.