Vacation? What Could Happen?
Could we really be going on vacation and would we survive? After all, it has been 15 years. Would we know what to do? Would we know how to act?
When Wendy and I left corporate America in 1994 she was a VP with Coke and I was running a Silicon Valley high tech hard-disk company. When we checked-into each other and checked-out of the race, we moved onto my motor yacht, Dream Warrior, in San Diego living at the Sheraton Hotel Marina. Making up that we would starve to death and fade away into oblivion, we thought it would be somewhat important to figure out how to make some money. After all, just living an idyllic lifestyle on a yacht in San Diego harbor sounded great, but without an income, it probably would not last. Our book “Defining Moments – Our Life At SeeLevel” chronicles these exploits and how we started Orion.
We began Orion Learning to create a nice even-keeled lifestyle. That did not work out as we expected and by 2000, we had a client list that any consultancy would kill for. These included Pfizer, Abbot Labs, Monsanto, Qualcomm, Comcast etc. We had some nice paydays and we were maxing out our stress levels while living out some sort of strange dream. We realized that we had better check-out on a real vacation before the success killed us. While some friends confided that they felt that our lifestyle was a 365 day a year dream vacation from their perspective, ours was really one of 365 days a year 10 hours a day of constant work. These were punctuated with events that we sponsored which consumed 3-4 days at a time of intense work with very powerhouse teams of people. They were fun events for attendees but, were exhausting for us. These were very hard working times that were both rewarding and productive for the people. Often we needed a week to recuperate.
We set off to undertake a real vacation by jumping a flight to St Thomas and onto a Windstar Cruise Ship. For those of you unfamiliar with Windstar, these are modern sailing ships that are 5 star with only about 200 passengers that go to very exotic islands where the landings are often wet using an inflatable rubber boat. No cruise directors, conga lines or dressing up for dinner… NO extravagant shows either. These are quiet experiences often ECO in nature where you feel like you are on your own private yacht because these 500 to 600 foot luxury experiences are all about a quiet and relaxation. These are not Carnival Cruises.
Our experience was amazing and this first vacation we ever both took together was almost ten years in the making and a welcome relief to be able to check-out. One of the nice things about consulting is when you want to disappear and relax, you can. The bad news is that when you are checked-out, you are not making money and making up all sorts of reasons why you will lose all your customers. Out of sight out of mind?
This first Windstar vacation was a wonderful decompression. We were almost in a meditative state the entire trip. Minimally the emptiness that came from not thinking about anything allowed room for new ideas and perspective that our work compressed brains could not fathom. The blank time inspired what is now known as Keys…our natural personal and pet care business. We learned that for us, we had to empty our “psychic bag” to let new ideas and concepts in. In short, it was our nature to try to fill our 5 pound bag with 10 pounds of stuff, experiences, chores, goals…you name it. Funny as it may sound, our Windstar vacation was really about emptying our over-filled 5 pound bag to fill it with new ideas and concepts.
At our home in Annapolis Maryland, our dear friend Teunis had arrived the night before from the Netherlands. Deep Forest was our Frank Lloyd Wright home nestled in 65 acres of 100 foot tall polar trees about 7 miles west of Annapolis. With the expansive glass doors opening up the deep forest of trees, we all watched as the planes smashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. This was a wildcard for the world and also became a wildcard for us and our business. Unlike many other companies consulting with New York City based companies, our business almost tripled over night. This is a story unto itself, but the intense time fostered another Windstar getaway for us. Now just a few years after our first, this would be a true adventure finding us cruising the west coast of Central America on a total wet landing Windstar ECO adventure. We spent a week jumping on Zodiak’s and exploring the jungles of Panama and Costa Rica up close and personal. There was little time to think about things, and what happened to us was that our “psychic bags” were once again emptied and this time were quickly filled with even more ambitious ideas. Returning, we shared with our closest clients and true friends our ambition to build a natural skin care product company inspired by Wendy’s successful beating of Melanoma in 1997. Our products would help her sensitive skin and those of other cancer survivors, skin disorder victims and people wanting chemical-free products. Friends at Pfizer not only encouraged us, they jumped in with help from understanding of how the skin works, to formulation help and marketing ideas. In fact, our long relationship with the EWG and their Skin Deep project came from the introduction by one of our PhD friends at Pfizer.
Fast Forward 15 Years.
Keys Care, by any standard, is now a successful and strong leader in the chemical-free skin care and natural cosmetics business. Our products are top ranked by the EWG, Safe Cosmetics Campaign and commonly found being used in movies and TV by actors wanting to be chemical-free. Not only do Keys products often out perform conventional makeup and skin care, they are skin therapies making people feel good and solving their problems. The problem was for us that those same 15 years found us back working 365/10 hour days. 2013 to now had been some of our toughest years for an array of reasons that were out of our control. Like a bad fever, in early 2016 the heavy stuff weighing on us broke in a very good way. We shed some old dragons that were draining our cash reserves and found inspiration to launch 10 new natural products targeted at conventional OTC brands like Bactine, Vaseline, Ben Gay and other top brands.
Totally exhausted from the prior few years, we sat in the main salon of our motor coach and took a deep breath. Not sure if we were going to cry or dance for joy, we just sat there looking at each other. Wendy broke the silence with one word. Windstar! What served us in the past would be good enough for now for sure. Would Windstar still be offering some sort of ECO excursion and could it possibly be in the time frame we need? Could we get flights, could we afford it and could we find a place for the furry kids while we were gone.
Was there a special Windstar excursion offering relaxing and quiet adventure? Yes, Windstar’s Yachtman’s Caribbean would launch us from St Marrten cruising a few famous yachting harbors like Yost Van Dyke, Tortola, St Bart’s and Virgin Gorda. Timing was also perfect just post product our new product launch and just before our busy season.
Could we get there. Yes, but it was complicated taking about 8 hours to get to a place just 1500 miles from Orlando airport…doable.
We found a pet resort at Orlando airport that was so nice that we would have rather sent the cat and dog on the Windstar cruise.
The really hard part? Could we disconnect? Could we really check-out, turn off the internet and turn off our cell phones? That was the BIG question. Part of the plan was to travel light with carryon only. So, carrying laptops, tons of camera gear and an array of chargers would have to be replaced with an airplane mode iPhone used only for pictures.
So armed with two lightweight carbon fiber knapsacks, the only technology was an iPad mini for Kindle books, our old reliable iPod Classic 128GB full or our favorite chill music and our two iphones as cameras. Windstar’s are casual cruising, we carried lightweight clothing from Columbia and bought all but our essential toiletries when we arrived in St Maarten. We were traveling as light as a recent high school graduate on their first hitch hiking trek through Europe. But could we disconnect. Could we go off grid? We really worried because even Windstar touted 100% onboard internet. Verizon offered cell data service for $10 a day in even the exotic places we were off tho visit. Could we resist the urge to connect, even just once.
The Fateful Day Came!
We decided to go a few days early to St Maarten to wind down before getting on the ship. We had almost missed our last Windstar because of flights and weather. More so, we had talked about the fact that our last 15 years was intense and we were both so tired that Wendy thought, “maybe we should find a boutique hotel and just sit looking at the beach, drinking Goombay Smashes and eating local food to just unwind.” Made sense to me, so even though the cruise was to leave in the evening of Saturday February 20, we would leave on that Thursday to fly to St Maarten. We packed up the furry ones and headed from our place in Titusville Florida to Orlando Airport talking all the way about how we would truly disconnect and who would crack first. Wendy was sure that I could not last an hour and I was sure that Wendy’s pass-time of reading London’s Daily Mail would get the better of her by at least the first evening.
We dropped the furry kids off and headed for the Hilton hotel at the airport. An early flight next morning to San Juan and then to St Maarten made us grab a local hotel instead of scrambling in the morning. Our pact during this entire trip would be to take everything slow and not resemble the hurry hurry rush rush that we see when people are trying to hustle to their vacations. No, we were going to be like two quiet Jedi’s slipping quietly under the radar of vacation life.
We walked to a local restaurant near our Orlando hotel and declared that our vacation would begin when we both slipped the surly bonds of the internet and cell phones. At the bar, we toasted to a good vacation and toggled our iPhones off into airplane mode. Even though our Verizon service was on standby, we swore the only way we would use it would be if there was a crisis at the factory or that Obama would call needing advise. Neither of which was likely.
Day 1 Was A Surprise!
So, we get up at 0’dark 30 and jump on a van from the hotel with a flight crew. We arrived at the airport and used our Priority TSA status to zoom through the lines. At the gate, we sat away from TVs and people. We had early boarding privleges, got our seats and chucked our knapsacks into the overhead bin. We sat down in our airplane seats and in front of us was a TV screen with CNN on. We have been CNN/News-Free for 10 years. Seriously, but we could seriously not figure out how to turn the damned TV in front of us off. Finally, we figured out how to lower the brightness so we could not see what was going on. We settled back for the 3 hour flight to San Juan, a big layover and then the 45 minute flight to St Maarten. Arriving at St Maarten, it was still the quiet little bustling island that we learned to love on our first Windstar cruise. Instead of paying for airport transfers and all those cruise things, we grabbed a local taxi to downtown Philipsburg to our hotel. Wendy had selected the Pasanggrahan Hotel. It was right on the beach and not too far from the cruise terminal. It took me about an hour to learn how to pronounce it’s name, but it was wonderful from the first moments in the from door.
The Pasanggrahan Royal Guesthouse is St. Maarten’s oldest and most charming inn. Formerly a rooster farm, Governor’s home, V.I.P. guest house, and the Dutch Queen’s Royal Residence, it is ideally located in Philipsburg on a white sand beach amidst enchanting tropical gardens and enclosed within its original stone walls: a green oasis hidden on Front Street.
A national landmark and one of the last bastions of West Indian culture, the Pasanggrahan is secluded and offbeat in the heart of St. Maarten’s capital, and it’s a minute’s stroll to shops, restaurants, casinos, banks and other institutions and activities.
This authentic, colonial style inn has all the special features of a larger hotel including concierge service, the Sidney Greenstreet Bar, boardwalk beach bar, complimentary chaise lounges, beach towels, and social hour. “A special place for special people”. We felt like special people arriving via van-taxi to the courtyard from the narrow main street lined with shops and authentic people.
The first day was a surprise mainly because there was no urge to turn on anything electronic…moreover, we sought to turn anything that attached us to the world, OFF! Unheard of, I climbed into a chase lounge and did fall asleep for a bit. Funny, I woke in a meditative state. I laid there mind empty on the beach for two hours. Nothing entered my mind. That is when something really surprising hit. I had already emptied my 5 pound bag of the 10 pounds of shit that I had accumulated over the last 15 years. It was freaking gone. No longer were the cell phones or internet a worry, I was into what could be best called a true meditative state. Now before you think that we were off to wu wu land, deep meditation is often referred to a clearing the mind of all thoughts. Call it the planning or the unbelievable serenity of the Pasanggrahan, emptying the mind of any thoughts was easy for me. Well, maybe the Goombay Smashes helped a little. Still, it was amazing how easily it would become on the entire trip to empty any thoughts and just “be.”
The day of departure came. We had breakfast at the hotel and noticed a bunch of people waiting for transportation to the ship. There was a sea of bags, suitcases and shopping bags in the hotel lobby. It was a nice day, so we decided to walk the half-mile from the hotel to the ship. We walked out of the backdoor of the hotel and onto the strand toward the ship. It was a short walk and our lightweight roller were doing the job. We approached the security gate to the cruise terminal and the security did not know what to do with us. I guess they are not used to people walking. The security guard walked us to a checkin tent where we saw all sorts of human drama. Once checked in, we walked toward the ship through a small shopping area and then toward the dock passing some mega-yachts. Windsurf, our Windstar ship sat in front of us next to the mega-yacht Eclipse. We both felt very at home because of our life together living aboard our boat. When we approached the gangway a ships officer greeted us. He was German, I think. Surprised to see us with knapsacks in tow, we got a big smile from him, a welcome and directions to check in. Funny as this may sound, this greeting seemed to target us as fun people and somehow the crew befriended us immediately. To our room, we did not have much to unpack and headed up to the top deck to gain some perspective and quiet down before the trip.
The rest of the trip was marvelous and the empty meditation that we experienced stayed with us for the entire trip. Returning to the US was uneventful, but long with long layovers. Even though it was a physically tough reentry, we were both very mellow and stayed that way.
There are a bunch of photos in the gallery below shot with our iPhones that are proof that we were actually on vacation. Though planning to just disengage, the revelation came to me that just about everything in my life had been about filling my 5 pound bag full of 10 pounds of shit. If you cannot relate to this, then you are truly enlightened. For me the revelation came hard that I have always collectively chased something. For me, it had been almost always business. To a fault, I have always operated on the principles of abundance (there is enough for everyone) and FEAR of failure. These are not your typical bedfellows because FEAR is usually associated with scarcity. Even on the tranquil Windstar cruise, I saw people trying to fill every minute of every day with some activity to the point where they were almost falling into their food each night at dinner because they were so tired. I saw this in the young, middle-aged and retired people that I encounter. My hallucination is that the news, day-to-day life and even religions are about cramming so much shit in our proverbial bags that there is no room for something as simple as happiness, serenity, solitude or simply being in the moment. My revelation was how quickly I broke out and into a state of pure total care-less relaxtion. Again, maybe the Goombay Smashed helped.
The Book of Revelations!
No, not the Bible’s book of revelations, but this is a book I am going to write about my revelations on this trip.
Defining Moments was published originally in 2000. It was the story of how Wendy and I met near Santa Fe and embraced the defining moments of our meeting rather then running from them. The history of our 3000 mile year long romance was about really making room in our lives for something and someone besides our things, careers and adventures. Luckily when we met, we had both cleared lots of goop out of our lives weeks prior to our discovering each other . We were both ready for a new adventure without knowing why…and without knowing that our life’s partner was just around the corner Simply, I truly believe that if only one of us had cleared the goop before meeting the other would not have been also ready to embrace the defining moment then and to come. We probably would not have notice the other person and there would not have been the intense connection we both felt at first meeting.
Our first Windstar cleared out space that created Keys. The second released Orion to be a secondary business and propelled Keys to what it is today. This Windstar clearly brought back the basic principles we taught at Orion. Windstar presented us with yet another a new chapter. Another new defining moment.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Solitude!
What started as a fear of being able to disconnect from the world to be together in search of solitude will become a new book. In a matter of moments the first full day of our vacation the book unfolded to me. We both had talked about finding happiness, solitude, reducing our work load and trying to work more efficiently to a point where it seemed like there were no real answers. I thought of the gobs of books written by the enlightened ones about how to “fill” your life with abundance, positive thinking to a point where none of the ideas worked for us. Even Oprah has an entire TV show dedicated to the idea, but I never remember anything quite like I was thinking. Drain before filling!
Inspiration sometimes comes in mysterious ways and forms. It was the sign hanging in a store, shown here to the right, that instantly made me realize that all the things that we had written in the past and what others talked about could not happen if my life was full of stuff, other people’s stuff and society stuff. I stared at this sign in disbelief that all the attempts at books about seeking happiness and personal peace that we had tried were really about first needing to get rid of stuff so it could be replaced with new thought, new ideas and new adventures.
Drain and Fill!
Obviously, my “psychic bag” was full from all the years of nose to the grind stone. To let anything new in, I had to get rid of what was in the invisible bags that I was dragging around. Funny thing was that I found out that most of what was in my bag was pretty useless junk. Opinion, point of view, judgement and a bunch of other useless things were weighing me down. Slowing me down. Worse, what was in my bag that is negative, affected the good things I had stuffed next to them. The simple adage that you cannot mix 5 pounds of chicken salad with 5 pounds of chicken shit and expect 10 pounds of chicken salad comes to mind.
When I laid down in that lounge chair at the hotel, my mind emptied so fast I realized it was how we approached our vacation as much as the tranquil island environment that enabled the draining. What I was seeing, hearing and feeling was the medicine I needed to clear the congestion in my head and heart. Just being, I flushed away everything in the first two hours. I later told Wendy, “My mind just went blank. I could not think of a damned thing for two hours.” Imagine struggling to form any thoughts at all for a person who never could meditate without some thought creeping in every second or two. After another two hours of thought about what the book would be about, I walked back in the room, picked up the iPad, outlined 12 chapters and then put it down until I got back to the US.
“Breaking Free! My Book of Revelations”, is the working title of the new book that is beginning to be fleshed out now. This would be our first self-help book in 15 years. There are currently 16 simple chapters that offer each of us tools to empty our life’s bag of stuff. Some are simple and some can never be achieved. What the reader refills their bag with will be up to them. My plan is to offer some ideas of how to empty it. The drain part.
Thinking about me, I also realize that when I carry around someone else’s thoughts, ideas, philosophies and worse, practices, I am stealing my own life from myself. One of the chapters is titled, “Don’t Let People Give You Their Screaming Monkeys.” Another is “Suspend Judgement.” Yet Another is “No Expectations.” Imagine how much lighter your bag would be if you could live just these titles. Think about it, but not too hard!
What if your goal is to be happy. Can you imagine that if your bag was free of negativity, opinion, point-of-view and being judgmental that there just might be room for a little happiness. Now imagine creating an annual or semi-annual event where you inventory your bag for things that you don’t need or that can’t help you. At this event your ceremonially toss everything out and replace only those things that benefit you. Imagine now if the things you find in your bag actually belong to someone else. Would finding out that the 10 pounds of shit in your 5 pound bag is actually someone else’s? That should really piss you off enough to throw it back to them or at least dump it in the closest waste bin.
More To Come!
So, this was another good Windstar cruise for me and I think Wendy. Even if the book does not make it big, it will be my bible to live by. It will be my book of revelations. I know it will be hard to do, but worth the effort. After all, I think 15 years has made me pretty goopy.
It will be impossible to forget the profound lack of thought that I experienced and just “being” for ten days. Writing the book will help me to create the guide I live by lest I forget what I learned. Over the next few weeks the book will be fleshed out and act as my guide on another mini-working vacation in Key West. I will see if the emptiness of meditation comes as easy under a Chickee Hut there as it did in St Maarten. I suspect it is really not the location, but the state-of-mind of just “being.”
I respect that this book will not be for everyone. Many will not want to read it because I admit it can be unsettling for some. If you are a constant student of self-actualization, it may help. For me, it has become a part of my daily life. Not yet automatic, I have to remind myself of the tools I need to employ. So far, it has really helped me to gain an interesting perspective.
Windstar Vacation Gallery
- 50ml Meyers Rum
- 50ml Malibu Coconut Rum
- 15ml Apricot Brandy
- 60ml Pineapple Juice
- 60ml Orange Juice
- Blend all an shake. Pour over ice. Must have at least three to get into a Island State of Mind!