I have always be an avid hiker, a habit that I gained from my father, who would take me on long hikes after church on Sunday afternoon in the Hockley Valley north of Toronto. We would go to Mass, have lunch and then drive the 80 or so minutes from our home in King City to hills and vales of Mono Township where the Hockley Valley lies in all its splendour.
The Hockley Valley, photo credit: Toronto Life.
I always looked forward to it, because the drive itself yields many dramatic views as the terrain was quite hilly. In the fall, there were two or three crossroads which, after a long drive up the hill, yielded a spectacular tapestry of warm autumn reds, ochres, yellows and brown beneath us. After the drive came my favourite part, the hike. We would walk, fairly quickly usually, and with long woodsman’s strides, landing on the balls of our feet to minimize the noise we were making. Sometimes we walked for hours in silence, other times we had conversations about philosophy, religion, mathematics and language. My father would also share his extensive, almost encyclopaedic knowledge of flora and fauna with me. He would point out plants as they sprouted, leaves of unusual or invasive species, and spots where the deer had rested, leaving an indentation in leaves or ferns. He taught me to identify animal tracks, which led me to imagine a world of animal societies interacting and conducting their business along these forest highways. Sometimes he would pause and we would listen to the music of the wind rustling through a stand of trees. He loves that sound, and always remarks that it is the most beautiful melody he has ever heard. I grew to love it too, in fact, I remember it as the song of my childhood.
About a year ago, one of my friends suggested that I read an article about the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku in Japanese. In a nutshell, the idea is that we gain great health benefits from spending time wandering in the forest, breathing in the air tinged with the scent of trees and ferns and the other wonderful things that grow in the forest. Indeed, I was skeptical at first, but there has been some fairly extensive scientific research into the matter, sponsored by the Japanese government, which suggests that forest bathing is an effective way of calming one’s mind and improving one’s well-being.
A snowy spring in April, 2018.
At the time, I was in a particularly stressful moment, with much to do professionally and a lot of travel, which I find exhausting. I started to notice that my walks along the forest trail behind my house did seem to be a salve for my anxious and sometimes racing mind. I looked forward to my walks and even started to schedule meeting with my graduate students or social occasions with friends as walking rendezvous on the trail. I find this a congenial and engaging way of interacting, better than awkwardly sitting in front of one another across a desk or table in an office, café or the campus pub. These walks made me feel better, helping me focus my mind and loosen my body.
When I bought a fitness watch, a Garmin Fenix 5 model, I was astonished to see empirical evidence that these walks were having a remarkable effect on my well-being. Each hike improved my anaerobic and aerobic fitness, burned about 600 calories and dropped my stress level for the rest of the day. As an aside, I have grown to love my Garmin watch and wear it constantly, displacing the other watches in my collection, but that will be the subject of another post.
Indeed, the ability to walk five minutes to the Bruce Trail that was one of the greatest selling points of the new house I bought three years ago. Since moving in, I have walked or run the trail hundreds of times through all four seasons, watching nature change around me, the seasons start and finish, animals emerge and then recede to hibernate. It has been beautiful.
I have shared pictures and snippets of video from my walks on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. My friends have reacted very positively to these posts, encouraging me to continue sharing them, telling me that such and such an image calmed them or that the sounds of the babbling brook brought them joy as they navigated the crowded platform at Bloor and Yonge. As well, I have noticed that pictures I take document serve as a sort of documentary of the cycle of life on along the forest trail.
This year, I have decided to document my trail hikes and runs through a weekly blog post. I will try to share some of the thoughts and feelings that I have had as I amble, trudge, slip, slide and sprint my way around the loops of the Bruce Trail behind my house in Ancaster, Ontario.
I hope you enjoy them and they bring you a little peace, as they do for me. I also hope that they encourage you to get out on a trail near your home and start to experience the joys of forest and field, as well as the benefits they provide to your mind and body.
Last week, I was happy to host my 17th residency as director of the Master of Communications Management program, offered in partnership McMaster University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. It was, as they all have been, a beautiful, warm, exciting and fascinating experience.
We developed the MCM as a school for leaders in the area of professional communications, marketing communications, and related fields.
We saw a need in the Canadian market for a new credential that combines the core courses of the MBA (accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, business ethics, etc.) with core strategic communications courses (organizational communications, market research methods, strategic communications management, digital communications).
To this core, we add amazing electives: negotiation and conflict resolution, data science and analytics, investor relations, strategic reputation management, strategic brand management, advertising law, government and political communications, crisis communications, and executive leadership, among many others.
We teach all of this important, stimulating material using a hybrid learning model, which allows each cohort of MCM students to work fulltime and study at the same time. That means that our students don’t have to put their careers on hold for two years while they achieve their master’s degree.
To further the MCM as a community and as a conversation among professionals, our program’s motto is “The MCM program seeks to develop a learning community based on collaboration, not competition.”
MCM is organized around a magical combination of cohort-based recruitment, in-person residencies, and structured online learning. We admit approximately 20 students every year, from a competitive pool of applicants. They come together from across Canada and the Americas: in the two cohorts currently doing the MCM, we have every Canadian province and territory represented, except Nunavut and the Yukon (but we are working on it!).
Our students are diverse, representing Canada’s beautiful mosaic of diversity, including First Peoples, people of colour, and people who are differently abled. As well, we have international students, mostly from Latin America and the United States who add further depth and texture to our MCM community.
Every cohort is different and comes together to form a community of leaders who live and study together during each residency, of which there are three per year: the first in mid-October, the second in mid-February and the third in mid-June.
MCM residency is a magical, intense, exhausting, exhilarating week where students take two courses taught by tenured McMaster and Syracuse professors as well as leading industry executives, entrepreneurs.
During the Fall and Winter semesters, MCM students take one core business administration course, paired with one strategic communications course — one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. That is our left-brain/right-brain approach! These courses are separated by a long lunch so that our students can catch up with work and life.
MCM is not only about studying and courses. It also about great social events at wonderful restaurants and clubs, excursions to the wine country, lunchtime yoga sessions (gentle ones), roller skating by the sparkling waters of Hamilton Bay, hiking on the trails going through the natural wonderland of McMaster Unversity’s beautiful campus, and many other activities that bond students, faculty, alumni and staff into a warm, welcoming and supportive community of professionals who are also friends! Many of our students refer to their “MCM family”!
On Saturday night, we cap the first day of residency with a Residency Gala Dinner to which we invite a leading light of the communications world to give a personal lecture to the MCM community. Our Residency Gala Speaker Series alumni are a who’s who of public relations, marketing, journalism, advertising, politics, fundraising, and startups. On Wednesday, we host our
On Wednesday, we host our MCM Technical Luncheon Lecture, which features a top expert from the market research, digital comms, analytics, self-improvement or advertising worlds who illuminates us with their thoughts on a cutting-edge phenomenon (eg. Google Analytics, media analysis, artificial intelligence, Facebook advertising, executive leadership skills and mindfulness). We also invite the business community to this lecture – in the past we have been joined by members of several professional associations: CPRS Hamiton, Public Affairs Association of Canada, IABC Golden Horsheshoe, Canadian Marketing Association, Innovation Factory, amongst many others.
Once residency is finished, our MCM courses move to their online phase. Here, students and faculty get together for webinar sessions that simulate the experience of an in-class seminar. The online period lasts between residencies, and ends on first day of the next residency, called “wrap-up day,” where students present, write exams or simply discuss key learnings from the semester that has just ended.
How do we teach in the MCM?
We follow the classic business education model by using the case-study method. This ensures the theories and facts that students explore in their MCM courses are applicable to real-world business scenarios in the private, public and not-for-profit worlds. We take the applicability of our MCM course materials very seriously. In fact, up to 80% of your assignments in the MCM can be applied to your place of work, if you wish to do so. Our students often call me up in the weeks following their first residency to tell me that their performance at work has already been transformed: they feel a new confidence, strength, and knowledge. And that, only after one residency. That is what I mean by MCM being the School for Leaders!
During their sixth term, MCM students work on their capstone project, which is a work of original research that explores a business challenge, often through a case study method. Students write a thorough lit review and gather data through original field research that they analyse to write a paper that they defend orally. The purpose of the MCM capstone project is to make each MCM alum a thought leader in a particular area. Many of our students’ capstone projects are published and almost all are presented to academic or professional audiences. Several of our students have launched successful startups based on their capstone project research! All of our students take great pride in the fact that the capstone makes them an expert in their chosen area of research.
I warmly invite you to learn more about MCM
I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse into the exciting world of the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program. In fact, I hope that you have understood that it is much more than just a program – it is a community of professional friends who support one another long after their last residency and the successful defense of their capstone projects.
Please do contact me if you think MCM might be for you! It would be my pleasure to discuss it with you further. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last few years, I have focused my New Year’s Resolutions on well-being, and I have made progress – in 2017, I built my fitness by doing more cardio, going vegan. I wrote a draft of a book on social media and management, which I hope to get published soon, and have been thinking about another on communication and strategy more generally. I was also definitely more prayerful and mindful in a sustained way. As for building a real life? Well, I discovered that my life is real, just not necessarily as connected to others as I would like it to be – I worked on that and feel much better going into 2018. So in many ways, I feel I met my NYR2017.
Resolutions for 2018:
Find and work with a physical trainer and osteopath to actually build sustainable fitness and well-being. I have found that fitness exercise has revealed flaws in my posture and body balance that I can’t fix myself.
Continue with a plant-based diet.
Publish my book manuscript. Write the next one. Continue the scholarly collaborations I have started, by publishing academic articles.
Continue to explore and build my liberal, progressive Roman Catholic faith and practice.
Learn more about startups and entrepreneurship in the AI, communications analytics, and metrics field.
Take a real vacation, away from home – preferably somewhere warm.
We spend so much time in the waiting room of life, anticipating a future in which the conditions will be right for us to take action.
The first snow fell today, in silent sprinkles. I am watching its flakes drift and glide in a zig-zag as they fall, in a manner similar to leaves.
I am surprised by the thought of thousands of perfectly formed crystals falling from the sky against the bright grey-white light of the winter morning.
Snow, where I live, is the harbinger of change.
Its arrival means that winter nature will be asleep soon, that Christmas is around the corner and that the clock will soon tick over into a new year.
While a new year is a somewhat arbitrary marker in life’s path, it is significant because we make it so.
I ask myself this morning – how do you face a new year without some nostalgia or regret? It must be possible, but how?
I think the answer is in a daily feeling of “nowness”, or mindfulness in today’s vernacular. I have successfully integrated meditation into my life, mostly due, in an amusing twist, to technology. A dear friend introduced me to the Calm app on my phone and my Garmin watch has a feature where it measures my stress and suggests that I breathe. Both the daily meditation from Calm and the breathing helps me to find my centre for the day, or grants a moment’s respite during a stressful hour.
As some of my readers may know, I am a liberal and progressive, yet faithful Roman Catholic. As such, I have always tried to incorporate daily prayer into my life, with varying success and at different levels of intensity over the years. I find that mechanical repetition of prayer becomes a chore rather than something I look forward to, so have sought to find ways of approaching prayer more mindfully, more contemplatively.
One of the methods I use, is listening to Taizé music. These simple, repetitive chants are very similar to the mantras sung by yogis. The Taizé Community is an ecumenical movement that invites all Christian orders to unite in song and contemplation. Taizé songs are sometimes so beautiful that they bring tears to my eyes, making me feel a great emotional release and spiritual uplift. They seem to open a door to the sanctuary of transcendent feeling that comes of gaining a glimpse of the reflected, warm golden light of love.
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward to tomorrow.
Obviously, this is a religious approach to mindfulness and that won’t work for many. I do encourage you to check out Taizé and the Ignatian Examen as both can be practised and enjoyed in a secular, fashion as well.
I have found going through this can help open the door to self-examination and awareness. I have found that being in this state can avoid nostalgia and regret in those moments when we become aware of the flight of time’s arrow. They make us more aware of where the arrow is leading us.
Indeed, they possibly allow us to be in sync with our actions enough that we mindfully and willfully shoot an arrow into the future with each of our actions, confident that it will land in a future place that we will be one day happy to inhabit.
Sometimes, in the dead of summer, we forget that in a few short months, the heat will be replaced by icy winter paths – shivers, tingling faces and a chill wind blowing around the ears.
What does this changeable environment mean?
Being cold reminds me that I am alive.
Today I was in Ottawa, walking along the Mooney’s Bay, late in the evening, feeling the wind penetrate first my coat, then my sweater and finally my shirt, before enveloping my skin, lowering my body temperature.
I looked across the bay and saw sparkling lights strewn across the inky black water, large stars against a black night. The lights danced and bobbed with the wavelets and in the cadence of the cars that passed, obscuring them for a fleeting second, and then letting them wink back into electric flame.
Every day, we see things. Scenes that seem so mundane and boring — the landscapes of the everyday, framed against the sounds and fury of the roads, people’s cries and the general hubbub of the city. We know it so well that it becomes the beat of our lives and eventually goes silent.
What do we replace the noise and sights of the fascinating world around us with, once we no longer notice them?
I think that the answer is that we can never stop noticing them – for it is in this quiet awareness of the world that we draw our own identity. Not only in the rough-hewn categories of sociological or cultural identity, but in the identity that comes of how we appreciate the symphony and counterpoint of the world’s music, urban and rural; in the identity that comes of seeing the forest and its flowers and the light penetrating in beams of light through the branches. In the crackle of snow and ice under our boots as we walk. In the peels of laughter of others reacting to a good joke or a funny situation.
That is the music of life and its visual arts, its tapestries. Our ability to notice and translate what we see and hear is our identity. Our ability to draw inspiration from it is the source of our creativity and, really, our humanity.
We begin life fresh and surprised at the sensory assault of even the limited confines of the birthing room.
After that initiation into chaos, followed by the first reassuring embrace from our mother, we linger through the slow days of childhood, looking forward with anticipation to our adult years, which we think may signal freedom and independence.
The slow pace of childhood accelerates in our twenties, when we spend much of our time in the world of things thought but unsaid, feelings felt but not exclaimed – often for fear of the shame of rebuke and rejection.
How wrong we were to be so hesitant, we think, as time torques and we are slingshot through our thirties and into our forties, and we réalise that indeed, there was nothing to be afraid of. That others would have welcomed the expression of our candid thoughts, rather than be confined to the lonely towers of our mutual fear of the world.
Alas, this period is often triggered by illness and loss. First the loss of beloved family members, then of mentors and then, perhaps most unnerving, of peers and friends and colleagues.
Sometimes the loss is one of disappearance, sometimes it is of mental ability, other times it is simply debilitating illness that takes away the rhythms and cadence of the life we knew with that person. In any of these, the loss is sad and sometimes shocking, for it makes us meditate on our mortality and life’s fragility.
When we watch a friend endure a physical trial, struggling to keep strong mind dominant over a weakened body, we are reminded that our strength shouldn’t be reserved for those epic struggles against the force which pulls us toward the night, but rather that strength should be expressed in the moment in every day. Strength should not be epic, rather it should be a force that, deployed in noble and honourable causes makes for a better, more predictable and secure world for us and those around us.
You see, I have had an epiphany amidst the confusion of the losses I have experienced in the last ttwo years.
And it is simple.
Strength comes not of struggling against others or an idea. Indeed, that is weakness and, in fact, a waste of precious time. Rather, strength comes of working for an ideal. It comes of cherishing the lives of those around us, even those with whom we disagree, and working toward making the case for a better world.
I think that when we adopt the idea of recognizing the vulnerability and fragility of those people who disagree with us, then fear and resentment fade. We can love earnestly and with care. We can put thoughts of control and power behind us.. those thoughts which form an iron cage for our minds and hearts.
The beauty of this is that we are aware of the glorious light of discovery and surprised at the comfort of the caring love of another when we first come into the world. This is indeed a gentle irony to contemplate as we rediscover ease in the midsummer of our lives.
So younger readers, I entreat you to relax your fear of reprisal and express your care for those around you in earnest trust. Youth is a fleeting treasure, like a sun beam across the snow on a grey day in February … a thing to be enjoyed and acted upon.
For those of you closer to my age, may I suggest that you reject fear and insecurity as well as the structures we have put into place in our lives that seems powerful, but now only serve as iron cages of anxiety, stress and fear.
Open this golden door before you are jolted into this realisation by illness and loss.
Last Friday I did an intensely stupid thing and left my wallet on he GO bus from Pearson Airport in Toronto to Hamilton. Wow I felt so dumb and hapless.
I spent the weekend worrying about all the applications I would have to fill out to replace all the cards in the wallet. Plus, it was one of those expensive securid wallets which was a gift and which I really liked.
Well, i got a call from GO Lost and Found today that someone had turned in my wallet… completely intact with everything in it… cards, cash money, Starbucks gold car and presto cards (both of which are basically like cash).
I was so relieved!
Thank God for the person who found my card and turned it in without taking anything.
People like that Good Samaritan make me have faith in the future!
I walked past a homeless man today in Hamilton, who stopped me and told me a story.
He was old, smelled of cigarettes and looked as though he may spent a little too much time indulging in the juice and maybe even some smack. His eyes were grey and vacant, ringed like an ancient tree that had been struck by lightening and cracked open and fallen over, its history laid out under the clouds and in the mist and the vapoury sunlight. His eyes were misty.
I am ashamed to say I tend to walk past — no sadly I would say walk through — people like this on my journey to somewhere important. Too bad I can’t remember any of the destinations. Just the forgetting of the people I passed along the way to them. Anyhow this man’s foggy grey eyes caught me and held me and I listened to him go on for a minute or five or something.
“I wasn’t always a hobo, man,” and he looked at me penetratingly, I couldn’t look away even though I felt he was a little crazy and I didn’t know what to do with that, so I just looked and listened. “Oh yeah. I lived in BC and saw orcas and helped carve totem poles. I walked along the Bow River in Calgary and delivered newspapers. I even lived in Montreal as a bouncer in a club. I’ve had a life.”
“I imagine,” I said, a little nauseated at the triteness of my words. “Sounds like you’ve seen some country.”
“That don’t count for nothing, man. Seeing country is nothing. I made friends with people, I connected. Not no one can take that from me. I got nothing here but I got memories and sadness and a lifetime of things I seen and people who remember me. I got wealth man. I got wealth.”
And then he walked off, teetering on his can, bringing his alcoholism and his need of a bath to another location. But he made me think.
What makes him lesser than another? Is it achievement? His mind and his life were full of experiences– he had touched the lives of hundreds as he zig zagged across our country, a hobo or whatever. In the end, his eyes were full of the joys and pains and loves and resentments and sadnesses and contentments of a life.
And that’s the kicker, friends – life. We only have one. Whether we spend it conventionally or whether we wander, stinky and forlorn, we have life. And life is beautiful. It is unique and rhythmic with sleep and sunset and sunrise and misty mornings and the glory of God’s great creation. An orchestra of sound and light and colour and smells and … life.
That’s why we have to take care of each other and believe in one another. Believe for those who have lost heart and believe for those who never did. We can get to a better place.
The homeless dude had a life. It is precious and serious and important. When we finally see that , a whole world possibility will open before us.
So I was thinking about social media and social networking and how difficult it is to get a handle on the different ways people understand them. It’s a big mashup of old school and personality and metrics that don’t mean anything and bots and fake news and broadcasters and networkers.
What’s a social media strategist to do?
First, it’s important to stop thinking media necessarily ne start thinking network. Think neuron. Don’t think laser. If you want to get electrical about it.
Next think aloneness and blinking screens that make you feel anxious but sort of reassured when they’re on because they give the illusion of voice when actually your sitting silently tapping on glass.
Then think consumerism because sitting quietly is boring and disconcerting and when you shop at least it feels like you’ve taken an action and moved in the misty digital ether.
But then you feel poorer and stupid for spending money and you know that you’ll just add that news pair of sneakers or useless kitchen implement to the pile of stuff you never use but feel guilty for owning when you hear about refugees or the working poor.
At the base of this dilemma for the social marketer is the difference between representation and reality and where the two mix and don’t.
So… digitally everything is representation but in the physical world everything is action. A digital action is just a representation of an action so it feels hollow and unsatisfactory and lifeless and fake. I feel that’s what make us do outrageous things online that we wouldn’t in the real physical world. The digital is the expression of our mind actions whereas the the physical is about how it feels intense when you stub your toe.
Social media communications and marketing success comes when you can somehow make the representation taitkmal digital world and the physica action world cohere together.
There is something strange about taking a commuter flight. Just as when you are a child you get used to going into a rolling box which takes you somewhere fast, you can get used to a claustrophobic tube with two giant seething jet engines balanced on either side of it slipping through the air like a fat unwieldy arrow.
For me, air travel is decided unpleasant and full of annoyances, but it is an efficient way of getting from point A to point B. I have to say that it holds no romance or excitement for me, rather the whole experience from airport to flight to airport is just unpleasant.
I have also had many a white knuckle, stomach-churning turbulence experience as the plane hit air pockets, dropping a few hundred feet at a go or a storm where a phantasmagorical light show outside reminded me not only of my mortality but of the bright lights of the afterlife. Storms in flight are all a little too real for me.
Now, I am grateful for the ability to travel through the air and get where I need to go quickly. I also feel for the long-suffering flight staff who have to deal with sick grumpy people all the time and who seem perpetually exhausted.
It really is amazing how something as unnatural as flying can become a commonplace, though. I sometimes imagine my ancestors who would probably look sceptically at these precarious tubes in the ether and wonder at the fact that humans have taken some aspects of birds and taken flight.
In the end I avoid flying as much as humanly possible because I loathe the experience but I appreciate its efficiency and the kindness of the flight attendants who do their best to make the best of an uncomfortable, unnatural circumstance.