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Tending the Fire

Note: This post first appeared at

Here’s how I am a little different from the other guys who co-founded Soul Degree: I’m an alumnus.

I participated in the June 2019 Retreat in Vermont, along with eight or so other guys who, like me, knew little of what they were getting into. Fewer than 120 hours later, that hodge-podge of strangers had, through the miracle of hiking together, breaking bread together, sleeping and tolerating one another’s snoring together, chopping and hauling firewood together, and talking, laughing, and listening together—hell, let’s just make a new verb: we togethered for five days. And in that process of togethering, the hodge-podge had become a tight-knit band of brothers. A tight-knit band of fire-builders and fire-tenders.

Emerson said that a true preacher deals out to the people his life “passed through the fire of thought.” That is, to find and then deliver wisdom, a preacher considers his or her own circumstances and experiences, his or her own biases, privileges and hardships, his or her own wants, desires, loves, and fears and thinks on them. Perhaps meditates on them. Perhaps sits with them. Until the dawning of…insight.

There are no preachers on a Soul Degree Retreat. Nobody who has prepped the Sunday Sermon, nobody who has mastered life’s challenges nor stands before the Soul Degree bunch dealing out truths. The guides on my retreat, Scott and Chris, are men--like me or you dear male reader, or like some man you know dear female reader. And rather than offer a sermon, what they offer is this:


A roaring, warming, light-filled inferno. And, they invite each man on Retreat to add his life’s kindling and his life’s timbers to that fire so that each man may pass his own story, as he understands it, through the blaze that has been collectively built.

Through that fire, I passed the story of a man unsatisfied in his career, a man overly concerned about comparing his “success” to that of others, and a man who desperately wanted to know the end of the story when he was only at a midpoint. The man, of course, was me.

A great irony is that I have spent much of the past ten years crafting stories—screenplays and stageplays specifically. When I write, I typically figure out the ending of a story before I ever write the first word of the first scene. That works well in screenwriting and writing for the stage. Knowing where the story is going helps me to craft details that foreshadow the ending, or alternatively that set the reader or viewer up for unexpected twists, turns, and surprises.

In life, trying to divine the ending before it arrives works much less well. Better as my esteemed wise man Eckhart Tolle says, to recognize that all we ever have is the Now. Better to move from this Now to the next Now with positive intentions but without the limiting factor of expectation, without clinging to futures that must happen.

As life would have it, in the letting go, I have now find myself working with the originators of Soul Degree to help bring this fire to more men, to enable more men to build this insight-yielding fire for each other.

I encourage you to join a Soul Degree Retreat. When you do, pack a sturdy pair of hiking boots, ear plugs to keep out the snorers, and a good sleeping bag. There’s not much else you need except the things that take up no space in your luggage: bring your story as you understand it and bring your fire.

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