On the Precipice of Thirty

In just a little over an hour, I will turn thirty.

Three decades. End of my twenties. The beginning of the second third of my life.

As these occasions occur, I think it’s helpful to look back and reflect on how we’ve changed, where we’ve come from, and how we’ve grown.

Ten years ago today, I was living in Los Angeles. I had just completed my sophomore year at Northwestern University and was pursuing an internship at Warner Brother’s Studios, while simultaneously practicing skydiving on the side. I had begun to develop an interest in yoga and adventure travel – and wanted to cultivate a connection to more types of extraordinary events in my daily life.

I identified as straight – had never been kissed – and went to Methodist church once or twice a month. I very much planned on being a successful director/actor combo. I pushed myself to my physical limits, burned the candle from all ends, and preached that sleep was for the weak.

Ten years later – much has changed.

I got my thrill for the unusual sated by living in an ashram for nearly seven years and meditating in an Eastern tradition. While I no longer go to church, my connection to spirituality has increased thirty-fold. I meditate twice daily, practice yoga, and no longer jump out of airplanes.

I have been kissed many times now – have come to accept my orientation as queer – and am marrying the most amazing man that I’ve ever met in just a few months.

I spent much of that decade as vegetarian – and am now not. I gave up the relentless muscle building regimes that I attempted in my teens and early twenties – and have adopted a vantage of body positivity, health, and acceptance of being whatever I am. I strive for downtime, friend time, and excellent work/life balance.

I worked in the Chicago theatre scene continuously before moving to Los Angeles …where I realized that if I were being true to my spirit, the ethos of the entertainment industry ran crosswise to my desires, ethics, and code of conduct. I surrendered a long-held dream of being a movie-star in favor of a life filled with loved ones, community, and trust.

These have been some big changes over the past ten years or so. In reflection, I can say with certainty that I am a much better man and fellow human-being for the experiences and the growth I’ve shared.

I’m far happier, healthier, open, stable, loving, accepting, uncritical, peaceful, and genuinely kind than I was when on the brink of age twenty.

I really feel that I’ve eked out a tremendous amount of maturity and growth from this time.

I wonder what I shall say ten years from now? How will I have spent my thirties? I hope the growth and satisfaction increase exponentially from here onwards.

I once met a man who shared with me his philosophy of life. He divided his life up into thirds. He said that he viewed the first thirty years to be for study of one’s self and the world. The next thirty years are for work and changing the world for the better. The final thirty years are to simply enjoy. Live it up, share love, and enjoy the life/family you’ve cultivated.

I like this outlook on life. As I enter into this middle third, I’m ready to use the skills I’ve developed to make the world around me as positive as it can be.

I’ve spent many years now in meditation and self study. I’ve been learning great depths about myself and the experience of coming to terms with one’s true nature. I’ve been accepting the scary bits, the fears, the darkness. I’ve been expanding the beauty, the brightness, the joy.

I’m ready to use this next decade to continue to grow – and to do my small part in making the world around me a better place to be.

So, here’s to thirty, Everybody!! Mozel Tov!

By Kaelan Strouse

Sometimes You Love People for the Person They Could Have Been

I have an old friend. We were friends in high school.

I remember him as being so poignantly alive – so full of character and spirit. He inspired me and wowed me – and I really think a deep part of me truly loved him.

After high school we went our separate ways, as people tend to do. And then a Christmas or so we reconnected….

And I was appalled. He was so constricted. So tight. So not full of life, or truth, or passion, or all the things I remember him as being.

He was bloated, and blind to reality, and slowly suffocating from his own fears.

I knew another man. And this one I definitely loved. He was the first man I ever fell hard for.

The kind of passion that made me cry when I got within half a mile of his apartment – even two years later – because I was so deeply affected by him.

He was smart, and kind, and spiritual. He was clever and caring. He was a beautiful man, inside and out.

And I saw his potential. I saw what he could grow into being.

But he wasn’t ready to embrace that part of himself. He was not ready to face his truth.

He’d rather hide, and escape, and not confront the reality of life’s most challenging – and often growth filled – moments.

In both of these instances – I cared for these men because who they had the capacity to become – and not who they actually are/were.

And this is so hard to acknowledge and accept.

For those of us who have the capacity to see the potential within another human being (and I believe there is a lot of us), it’s very easy to get caught up in assessing them as the person they might become.

And this is why so many of us stay in unhealthy relationships.

Or forgive abusive friends.

Or endure hostile relatives.

We know – deep down – they are capable of so much more.

But the truth we must learn to acknowledge is this:

They Are Not These People.

These individuals are only so good as the person they are in this moment. They, in actuality and totality, are not just these gems buried inside.

And I can’t love someone for who they might be.

This is why I keep that high school friend at a distance and don’t reach out to him very often. While I love the memory of the boy he was and the man he might have grown into, I cannot abide the man he currently is.

Similarly, I cannot hope that my first real love will come round, face his fears, and acknowledge the capacity to learn and grow that lies between us.

I cannot love him for that – because that is not where he currently is in his psyche.

So – I delete his number from my phone. And I wish my old friend a happy birthday – and that is all.

I send out a prayer and blessings to the universe – thanking them for the light and inspiration that they brought to my life – and wishing them well on their journeys.

And I stay grateful for having the capacity to see beneath the surface – and to see another’s deeper truth.

And keep reminding myself to not get caught up in what another might eventually achieve.

Because they are just not there now.


Letting Go of Needing to Be Extraordinary

I remember in high school being quite taken with the not-quite-so-authentic-or-inspired lyrics of Avril Lavigne:

“I want to know that I

Have been to the extreme

So knock me off my feet

Come on now give it to me

Anything to make me feel alive

Is it enough to love?

Is it enough to breath?

Somebody rip my heart out

And leave me here to bleed

Is it enough to die?

Somebody save my life

I’d rather be anything but ordinary please”

Like I said, not entirely the most inspired bit of song writing ever penned to paper… but it encapsulated a desire that was beginning to pressurize in my chest; a desire to do great and extraordinary things in my life.

An excerpt taken from my daily journal around this same teenage-time reveals my own, modest ambitions towards achieving greatness:

Sept 16, 2002

Life Goals:

  • President of the United States
  • Prime Minister of Britain
  • Be knighted
  • Win at least two Academy Awards for Best Director an Actor
  • Win a Tony Award for Best Actor
  • Win a Nobel Peace Prize

…the list went on from there with at least fifteen more items of a similar nature.  Although I am relatively confident that my fourteen-year-old self was cognizant enough to realize that  A) Several of the items in that list would be tactically impossible due to different laws and regulations, such as nationality; B) Would take multiple life times to fulfill, if at all; and C) Would require substantially different skill-sets and life orientations – and yet, I am not so certain I was fully aware of the unfeasibility of such.

The craving within me to achieve something “Great” was profound beyond measure.  I recollect lying on a heap of crumpled comforter, on the floor of my parent’s master bedroom at sixteen, having my first-ever legitimate panic attack due to the fact that should have already attained something publicly noteworthy and profound in my already advancing years of age.

Long story short: I was a nut-job, hellbent for glory, and totally disconnected with any deep sense of self-worth.

I wanted the profoundly extra-ordinary to manifest in my life and convince me that I was merely good enough.

Sound like a current President we all have the misfortune to be currently acquainted with?

At that time in my life, I really did not have a lot going on to teach me my inherent worth.  I had few (if any) real friendships, I was scared of most everyone I encountered, I was bullied horrendously, I was totally disconnected from my sexuality, and so repressed that I considered myself “broken” because I could not feel what other normal teenagers felt.  I felt really worthless.

And I wanted something glorious beyond measure to tell me I had worth – because I could not find it in myself.

And so, going to college shortly thereafter, I decided to become a professional actor – because assuredly Hollywood and the thundering applause of a raucous crowed would give me that fulfillment.  And, if it wouldn’t be tangibly possible to attain all of those checkpoints on my high school to-do list, at least onscreen I could play a President, King, Physicist and Astronaut and achieve some feeling of that attainment.

Well, life, as she has a way of doing, has kicked me in the gut and pulled the rug out from underneath me, knocking me down, enough times since that point that I began to question that longing.  Why did I want to be a movie star?  What was I afraid of in starting to date other people (something I did not attempt until I was twenty-five years of age)?

Long story cut very short: I eventually started to develop sincere self worth.  I started to learn my “size.”  Learn to know what I had to genuinely offer and what was mere aggrandizement.  I started to genuinely connect to who I truly was, what I wanted, and what I had to give.

A large step in that process for me was discovering meditation.  I truly credit it for giving me my life back.  It taught me to start removing the layers of facade I had unintentionally fabricated, to uncover my truest self beneath.

And – it simultaneously connected me with the mystical – the ethereal – and the divine.

I moved into a meditation ashram right after college – where I learned that I was “special.”   I had unique karma to encounter this practice.  I was blessed.  And that I had a chance to go beyond what normal humans experienced – and live a life that was truly “extraordinary.”

Wait… Sound familiar?  … somehow I traded one dream of self-aggrandizement for another.

In hind sight, I do see there was a dangerous mentality to the tradition I entered.  A promise of specialness. A guarantee of life being more than normal humans (outside the practice) could understand.  And that gave me purpose and a feeling of divine grace.

And then, as all false-idols must, my sacred imaginings shattered to the ground.  The leaders that promised this mystical and otherworldly ideal were revealed to be more human than they presented themselves to be.

And I ended up parting ways from that tradition – heartbroken and distraught.  But still much more alive and authentically myself than I encountered it, thanks to the still-excellent teachings I received.

But in wake of that leaving, I once again have found that craving inside me to be “extraordinary” resurfacing.

Now, I no longer want to be a movie star, or famous, or a figure of social importance.  I actually now desire the simple things: a loving home, a gracious partner, good food, sturdy friendships.


But there’s part of me that wants something so much more – something that I am now beginning to call a connection to the divine.  My experiences in the ashram started to illuminate some glimpses of that for me.

And if I am totally honest with myself – that longing for something more than what we associate “normal” to be – is indeed a spiritual longing.

A desire to return to a state of pure-bliss, pure-awareness, pure-truth that the ancient rishis and “seers” have articulated existing within each and every one of us.

That the longing for the “Extraordinary” is nothing more than a longing to return home – to my Soul.

Spiritual traditions across the globe have articulated that the Earth is just one place conscious beings reside – and that there are other places that we might be more akin to.  That we are “spirits having a physical experience.”

My question is now for myself: how can I truly appreciate and relish the ordinary – while striving for the extraordinary within me – and not through outer glorification?

How can I cultivate the magic, love, light, and prosperity I feel in glimpses in my meditation in the rest of my waking life?

How can I live a life fully empowered, aware, enheartened, and steadfast?

How can I live in truth?

These are my current questions.  Questions to which I am unsure there are solid answers.

What do you think?  Please share your insights and inspirations below!

Namaste,  Kaelan 🙂

5 Lessons My Puppy Is Teaching Me

’Twas the week before Christmas, and in through the door, 

I set down my bags, and heard paws scratch the floor.  

My partner had planned his surprise with much care, 

So I’d arrive smelling pet dander and barks in the air.

Five days before Christmas and I arrived home to my first holiday present from my fiancé: a three-month old puppy.  We had talked about a puppy for several weeks leading up to this date.  But ’til that point he had been adamant that we should wait until spring and the conclusion of the harsh Chicago snow and ice festivities.

So, I was shocked.  And it’s taken the past few weeks for my dog parenting self to catch up with the requirements of this fluffy and lovely new addition to our household.

I had a dog growing up, so the responsibilities of pet ownership weren’t entirely new to me.  And I had done some refresher work, reading some acclaimed dog-rearing books to prepare.  The thing that has caught me most off guard has been this:  the intelligence and insight of my three and a half month old pup.

I’m amazed at his keenness.  I’m surprised by his adaptability and eagerness to learn.  I’m shocked by his ability to clearly demand what he wants – and his willingness to retaliate if he doesn’t receive it (“Oh, really?  You won’t give me that food? …how do you like it if I just pee over here?”).

There have been a few takeaway points that he has taught me about my own behavior, even as I try to school his.

1.  Stop, Watch, and Listen

My puppy, Galileo, is a rescue.  His mother, who was about to give birth to her litter, was in a high-kill shelter in Kentucky.  A rescue group in Illinois got her out on the final possible shuttle before she was scheduled to be euthanatized.  So, Galileo and his sisters were born and raised in foster-care in Des Planes.  I am so glad he had a happy home to live in for his first few months of life – but Des Planes is a very different sort of place from downtown Chicago.

The first several days we took him outside to the busy, city streets, Galileo would shake heartily.  He was scared by all the people, cars, and buses.  Since then, he’s gotten much better; but the city sights are sometimes still a bit overwhelming for him.

In those instances when things are a little much, he always does the same thing.  He sits down wherever he is, gets very quiet, and looks around steadily.  He takes in his surroundings.  Once he’s evaluated the scenario, he will get up and start walking again, regardless of how long it takes him to comprehend and feel safe.

I love this response.  Taking a moment, getting very still, and simply observing.

How often, when things get scary and chaotic do we rush to react?  I know for myself that I tend to immediately dive into “problem solving mode.”  And time and again, I observe that I would have served the situation better by taking some time before responding.

My furry son naturally does this.  He’s wary and patient.  And this ability to stop, watch, and then decide is a skill I myself would like to acquire.

2. Deep Sleep and Good Food Are Critical

Our first two days of puppy ownership were marked by a constantly awake critter.  He never slept at all.  I looked up online that puppies are supposed to sleep fifteen to twenty hours a day, and our little guy was only getting seven.  This wasn’t nearly enough.

We started to find ways to get out little guy to relax and snooze.  Super long walks and play times with other puppies became a must.  We had to tire him out so he could reset in sleep.

Without sufficient rest, he becomes a holy terror.  With regular naps, he’s a loving little guy.

And I’m the same way.  It’s reminding me how much rest and down time I personally need – especially during this time of year where the season is naturally encouraging time for reflection and hibernation.

Similarly, the food our foster mom had been feeding him was dry and he was really disinterested in eating.  When we brought him to the pet store, they noticed his skin was dried out and he already had dandruff.  They recommended a new pet food with fish oil – and Galileo just devours it.  He is eating so well, the dandruff is mostly gone, and his behavior is more stable.

I know for myself that I feel more balanced and at ease when I’m eating nourishing food.  Today, for example, I ate four-day old leftovers for breakfast; and I don’t feel as exuberant as I normally would.  I need to pay clear attention to what I’m putting into my body and how that affects my mood.

 3.  We All Go Through Rough Stages 

My dog is teething.  A lot.  When I peek into his mouth, I see these tiny teeth erupting from his gums.  I’m sure it must hurt him quite a bit.  And to assuage that pain, he wants to chew on everything.  Hands, couches, ribbons, toys.  You name it.  We try our best with chew toys and frozen carrots to numb the pain – but it just sucks right now.  It’ll suck for another two months, and we just need to put up with his incessant need to chew until then.

How hard is it to have that same compassion for one’s self?  When I’m having a rough or painful time, how often do I say, “Kaelan, get over it!  Move on!” instead of giving myself the time or grace that I need.  I feel like I constantly expect resilience and health and grace from myself, and have little enough compassion when I falter.  Can I learn to say to myself, as I say to my dog, “things suck a little right now – and I’m sorry – so do what you need to do and I know it’ll get better in a little while.”  Cultivating compassion for the here and now – and allowing myself to do what I need until things get better.

4.  When Things Don’t Go Your Way, It’s Natural to Retaliate

Our new son is a foodie, like his dads.  He LOVES food of all kinds.  And he gets super pissed if we don’t share what we are eating with him.

Separately, he’s doing really well with potty training: he’s learned to go to the door or scratch on the window when he needs to be walked outside.  But often, after a petulant thirty minutes of begging for our food, he’ll walk over to one of those spots and relieve himself without asking to be let out.  It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I know you can’t be mad because I’m in the area I’m supposed to be at to be let out – but I’m not giving you any warning.”  He plays us – and gets “some of his own back,” as they say.

It’s a normal reaction.  But how willing am I to accept that reaction in myself?  When I feel betrayed or disappointed, I often get upset at myself for getting upset or pissed.  I expect myself to take it in stride and not react.  But I do.

I need to have more compassion for myself for the normal, animalistic responses that happen when things don’t work out.  I don’t need to scold myself for not being perfect – just as I wouldn’t scold the little guy.  I need to let myself feel whatever I am feeling without judgement.

5. Intelligence Can Come in Any Age or Form

My little guy has been in the world for merely a couple of weeks.  Yet, already, he is so intelligent.  He learned his name in a day, to sit in a day, and to lie down in two days.  He figures out patterns and ways of commuting through the world at a lightening pace.  He already understands numerous commands and has developed a non-verbal language all his own.  And all within a hair’s breadth of time!

I am a huge believer in learning taking a tremendous amount of time.  Want to learn something well?  Study it for a decade and then get back to me.  I tend to assume that if someone hasn’t taken many eons to explore something in depth, they are a poor steward of that knowledge.  But here I am, babysitting this little, smart dog, who truly understands and can manipulate events within a brief span.  How can I reconcile these beliefs?

I have to start accepting that people may have tremendous insights and knowledge into subjects, even if they’ve only had brief opportunities to interact with them.  Sometimes profound learning happens all at once.  Sometimes learning takes a lifetime.  I need to accept the possibility that I can learn a great deal from those for whom a topic may be quite new.  I need to allow myself to learn from the proverbial children.


I’m sure that there’ll be numerous other lessons that start piling up over the next several months of dog-parenting.  I’m grateful for what I’m already beginning to learn, and for the lessons yet to come.  Here’s to many more happy and fur-filled months in the home!