An anonymous note about a possible murder

I arrived at Kripalu, a yoga center in the Berkshires, on Sunday night with a bag full of my novels, magazine columns, and comic books. I spread them on the table for my students to see, and then I stuffed them back into the bag and tossed the bag into the corner of the room.

It sat in that corner, untouched, for a week.  

On Friday, I grabbed the bag as I was packing up to leave. Tucked into my copy of Storyworthy was a sheet of paper. Written on the paper was this: 

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Crazy. Right?

In addition to my ten students, the room had been used by several yoga classes, and on our final evening together, my students performed for a group of friends, family, and folks staying at Kripalu that week. I had also performed for a group of about 70 people earlier that week, telling stories and teaching lessons after each, including a lesson on the importance of telling stories. 

A lot of people on campus knew who I was, what I did, and where I could be found. 

There's no telling who left that note in my book or why.

But it seems as if the note might have been left for me and might apply to the work I do. In addition to our organization being called Speak Up, I spend enormous amounts of time convincing people that they have stories to share. Stories that need to be shared. Stories that the world wants to hear.  

This note would seem to fall along those lines. 

I cannot find a Rosalie Gomez who was murdered on the internet. Maybe this is referencing something that happened pre-internet. Maybe it's fiction. I have no idea who Rosalie Gomez might be or if she's even real. 

But I've often said that odd things happen when you begin telling stories. Strange coincidences. Surprising connections.

Earlier that week, while my friend and teaching assistant, Jeni, were swapping stories, we learned that I had been the DJ at her cousin's wedding 20 years earlier, and she had attended that wedding. She barely remembered the day, but I remembered a lot, including details that she couldn't believe I recalled.

"Just think," I said. "Twenty years ago, we were in the same room, at the same wedding. You were 17 and I was 27. Now we're sitting here today at a yoga center in the Berkshires as friends."

That kind of thing happens to me all the time. Tell a story to 100 or 200 or 500 people, and you will find someone in the audience who somehow connects to that moment for often than you would expect.

The world is a surprisingly small place.

But this note is beyond a simple coincidence or unexpected connection. It's something else. Perhaps a bit of fiction scribbled on a piece of paper and tucked into a book called Storyworthy on a whim.

Maybe something more. 

Sadly, I'll probably never know. 

A possible (though not advised) replacement for heart medication

I spent a week at Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Health last week, teaching storytelling to a dozen remarkable people. 

On Tuesday night I performed my one-man show, and on Thursday evening, ten of the storytellers from class took the stage and performed.

It was an extraordinary night.

One of my storytellers had not spoken to a group of people in more than 15 years after suffering a terrible embarrassment in high school. Just standing in front of 50 people was an enormous accomplishment for her. I felt so honored to give her the space and support to help her conquer this enormous fear.

Then she proceeded to make the audience roar with laughter with a hilarious and moving story about her childhood. It turns out that she's a storyteller. 

Several of the storytellers stood before this audience of strangers and told stories about parts of their lives that they had never shared before. Hard parts. Haunting parts. The parts that require more bravery to tell than most people can muster.

There was laughter and tears. Gasps and guffaws. Hilarity and heartbreak. There were lines that I will never forget. "Golden sentences" one of my storytellers dubbed, and she was right. It was 90 minutes of beauty nestled in the quiet mountains of the Berkshires. It was dark outside, but each storyteller shone bright that night. 

After the show, a man approached me. He reached into his pocket, removed a small container, and held it out for me to see. He explained that he suffered from a heart condition, and this was his nitroglycerin. The medication he needed if his heart started "acting up."

"But I feel like I should throw this away," he said. "My heart doesn't need medication. It needs what you did on Tuesday night and these people did tonight. I've listened to all these stories, and my heart hasn't felt this good in twenty years. This is what people need. This is what I need."  

I suggested that he keep the nitroglycerin close in the event a storyteller is not available when his heart started "acting up" again, and he agreed. 

But he was right.

Stories are good for the heart and good for the soul.

Meditation and McDonald's

I've spent this weekend at the world famous Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

With its silent breakfasts, farm to table meals, candle-lit shrines, and slow walking, contemplative guests, the place doesn't exactly match my aesthetic.

I'm sort of like a bull in a China shop here.
A man without a country.
A misplaced, misbegotten vagabond.

I suspect that I'm the only person here armed with a Diet Coke at all times. I definitely swear more than anyone I have met so far. And I was the only person in yesterday's sunrise yoga class wearing jeans and a tee shirt. 

And yet I've had an excellent weekend here, teaching storytelling and performing in their main theater. And it appears that I will be back three times next year, including a weekend alongside Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray, Love, another weekend of storytelling like this last one, and a week-long advanced storytelling workshop in the summer.

Somehow this place and I have found a means of coexisting. I think we may even like each other. 

Still, it may come as a surprise to those who know me well to hear that yesterday morning, I sat atop a rock on a hill in the early morning cold and meditated as the sun rose over the hills. 

While I meditate every morning, it's normally done on the couch.

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Lest you fear that I have lost myself entirely and become something I am not, I followed up this period of meditation with the trip to one of my favorite places in the world, forgoing the world class cuisine of Kripalu for something more fitting of my personal aesthetic. 

I thrive in possibly inappropriately competitive situations.

Next month I will be teaching storytelling at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. This will be my second year teaching at Kripalu and I'm already scheduled to teach there in 2017 as well.

The fact that I teach at Kripalu astounds many. Though my students at Kripalu have assured me that my teaching and beliefs closely align to Kripalu's philosophy and mindset, there are also many way in which I do not seem to fit:

I skip their world class meals and pick up burgers and fries and Egg McMuffins at McDonald's instead.

I was told that I "walk aggressively" and swear more than anyone in Kripalu history.

At silent breakfast, it turns out that even when I don't speak, I still make more noise than anyone else in the room.   

Though I take advantage of their sunrise yoga class, I found the whole thing slow, tedious, and devoid of any competitive incentive. 

This has been my problem with yoga:

 No one wins at the end of a class. 

In fact, it's the competitive element of The Moth that probably helped me to initially fall in love with storytelling and eventually turned me into a teacher of the craft. It's always an honor and a thrill to stand on a stage and perform for an audience, but when my performance is assigned a numerical value and there is a chance to win or lose, I tend to enjoy the experience a lot more.

In fact, if given the chance, I think I'd rather compete in a Moth StorySLAM than perform in any other show. Give me a couple hundred New Yorkers crammed into a used bookstore with teams of strangers poised to judge my story over a beautiful, acoustically pristine theater filled with a couple thousand attentive audience members and zero competition.

Crazy. I know. But probably true on most nights. 

This is why I was thrilled to discover the sport of competitive juggling. No longer are jugglers permitted to just stand and entertain. Juggling is now a full contact physical sport, complete with strategy, teamwork, and body-on-body physicality.

Competitive juggling is tough. And there are winners and losers after every match.

See for yourself:

TEDx Berkshires: Homework for Life

Watch my most recent TEDx Talk, "Homework for Life," below. 

In this talk, I discuss a simple strategy - stumbled upon accidentally - that you can use to slow down time, find greater meaning in your life, and give your future self one of the best gifts imaginable. And if you're a storyteller - on the stage or at the dinner table - there is an immeasurable bonus.  

All I ask is for five minutes a day.  

My "Diet Coke and aggressive attitude" didn't exactly match the yoga aesthetic, but I somehow managed to fit in anyway.

Last weekend, I performed 90 minutes of storytelling to a capacity crowd at Kripalu, a yoga and fitness center in the Berkshires. I spent the weekend at Kripalu, teaching a weekend-long storytelling workshop to about two dozen people, but the show on Saturday night was open to the general public.

The room was crowded and hot, but it went well.  

My weekend stay at Kripalu included a room, meals, and all of the amenities that the facility has to offer. I actually participated in a sunrise yoga session and spent an afternoon hiking around the lake. Despite the fact that my workshop attendees began to refer to me as a "yogi" and repeatedly assured me that my philosophies about storytelling, productivity, and mindfulness fit perfectly into the Kripalu philosophy, it didn't take me long to realize that I didn't exactly fit into the Kripalu aesthetic.

The first thing I noticed was that I walked at least three times as fast as everyone else. I was charging through the hallways like a bull on fire while everyone around me was walking slowly and contemplatively. 

When I looked at the extensive lists of breakfast options, I could not identify a single item on the menu. NOT ONE. Instead, I left the facility and enjoyed an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke at a nearby McDonald's.

I definitely swore more than anyone around me, and I am not a person who typically curses with any regularity. However, no one spoke a single swear word in my presence for the entire weekend, but in the course of my performance and my teaching, I swore a lot by comparison. During my performance, I fired off an expletive in the general direction of a couple people in the audience, causing Elysha to shake her head and offer me a disapproving stare.    

Silent breakfast was impossible for me. It turns out that I make noise even when I'm not speaking. I sigh loudly. Hum. Laugh to myself. Tap my feet. Pound on my keyboard. Audibly scoff. Constantly. 

Also, the concept of silent breakfast struck me as fairly insane. 

But the clincher came at the end of my performance on Saturday night. When the lights came up, a long line of people approached to chat. One woman began to ask if the stories I had told were really true but stopped short, noticing the scars on my face and quickly realizing that the story about my car accident (and therefore the rest of the stories) were true. She traced the scar on my chin with her index finger and said, "You lovely man."

This is something that could only be said about me at a place like Kripalu.

Another woman approached and said, "I wasn't sure if I wanted to come for tonight's show. but you walked into the room carrying a Diet Coke, a McDonald's bag, and an aggressive attitude. These are all things we have never seen before at Kripalu, so I knew it was going to be good."

It was odd to be in a place that seemed so right for me and so wrong for me at the same time.

It's true that the teaching I do as it relates to finding stories in our lives, exploring their meaning, and bringing that meaning to bare in a performance aligns almost perfectly with the recent mindfulness movement (though the word "mindfulness" is kind of stupid and the movement tends to lack the kind of specific, highly targeted, easy-to-follow strategies that I teach). Though I didn't initially believe it, it's true that the philosophies espoused at a place like Kripalu align quite well to my own.  

But at the same time, it's also true that I am happiest and most relaxed when I am doing something. Moving forward. Making progress. Affecting change. Eating a cheeseburger. Hitting a golf ball. Shoving an opponent under the basket. Tickling my kids. Hitting on my wife.  

The quiet, contemplative, farm-to-table, macrobiotic existence is not for me. That level of quiet and thought, absence movement and action, makes me crazy.  

At least for now.