David Cain: A Street-Level Look at the Human Experience

Thank you for choosing to join me for my fourth interview in this month-long series of interviews with a few of the people who inspire me to “be excellent”:  play big, explore, and experiment.

Today I am delighted–thrilled beyond words!–to share energetic space with David Cain.

In the online world, David’s work is the “first” that I had been exposed to that combined so many elements that fascinate me: he is a thinker to the core, yet he openly expresses his emotion; his writing style is so full of insights and reflections, in a way that is easily understood or may be contemplated for hours if one chooses; and at the time we first ‘met’ he was traveling—the combination of his photos and his words allowed me to explore and experiment and travel through his eyes. David is the first ‘thinker’ whose message resonated strongly within, and after a year of reading David’s work I was open to reading that of other “thinkers” (thus, enter Raam Dev).

It is my pleasure to share a bit of David’s work, and his personality, with you.

David Cain is the author of Raptitude.com, a street-level look at the human experience –why human beings do what they do, and what it means in real life.

J: Welcome to my space, David. I am so excited to share with you! To begin, the name of your site is Raptitude.com – getting better at being human. May you share with us a little of the origin of your site name and of the meaning behind the words? And what is your vision through your site?

D: When I decided to start a blog, I knew it would have something to do with skills and insights related to quality of life, and I knew I wanted it to be short. So I started making up words by combining others, and raptitude sounded good and snappy. It refers to the fact that happiness, or even just being human, is a skill, an aptitude.

What I’m trying to do with the site is introduce the idea that human beings, at this point in history anyway, are vastly underapplying themselves. As a species, we’re so bad at things that we recognize are so important: getting along, liking ourselves, settling our minds, realizing our personal potential, cultivating honesty and trust. We’re at that awkward stage of growth where we can sense the potential we now have, but we really bungle it a lot of the time. We’re bungling the whole planet trying to get it right. I write about becoming conscious of that problem, and what that means in day-to-day life.

J: What I *love* about your site is that you share with us, the reader, articles that allow us to think (perhaps far outside of the box) such as the series on Douglas Harding as well as my personal all-time favorite Raptitude article Die on Purpose (I live this article every day, and it is refreshing to see someone reflect the idea!). Where do these “ideas” for the articles come from? What inspires you as you are writing?

D: My topic is pretty broad (human beings and how they conduct themselves) so there is inspiration everywhere, every time I go out. Even when I don’t go out, sometimes. If I’m in a contemplative mood, I can just look at my apartment and see exactly how humanity is failing itself :)

And of course I’m not the first one to recognize that humanity has fundamental problems. Philosophers have been talking about the human conundrum forever, same with theologians. I’m convinced religions are all derived from that central idea — human beings have innate tendencies to create extraordinary, senseless suffering for themselves, and there are practices and insights we can pursue to mitigate that tendency. That’s where we get ideas like Christianity’s “original sin”, or Buddhism’s “life is suffering.” Source material is everywhere, I just look at it through the lens of my own life, and write about it in ways that are relevant today.

J: May I ask, what inspires you in general? What would you consider is the source of your power?

D: The incredible beauty and curiosity of what I wake up to every morning. All its unpredictable drama, its swirling forms and emotions. That this all exists, and doesn’t have to. That blows my mind every day  — that there is just so much going on, and we get to wander around in it and play with it all.

J: When you are creating and doubt surfaces (does doubt surface?), what resources do you rely upon as you continue to create?

D: Yes doubt surfaces! Every day. Every time I sit down to write, or even think about it. Often I have something on my mind and I am dying to see it in words, so I just get to it. But of course that can’t happen every time I’m supposed to write. So mostly I rely on what I’ve learned about the shame and pain I feel whenever I avoid writing, that’s what keeps me coming back to my writing chair.

J: You have this unique blend of “thinker”, photographer, music lover, people lover, food lover (and I’m one who doesn’t use labels *grin*). While some writers tend to share “only words” you pour so much of your personality into your work, you are very accessible to your readers. May you share a little about this with us? What allows you to be so comfortable sharing so openly online? And is there anything “off-limits”?

D: While I write about humanity at large, the topic inevitably leads to talking about how people think and what a person’s internal experience is like. So I end up writing a lot about my own life because it’s the only human mind I have direct access to. In other words, “me” is the only topic I have any real authority over. I share my life because that’s the only way I can think of to illustrate a lot of the points I want to make. I’m comfortable with it because it keeps me honest, and because I like that my readers know who I am.

Yes, there are off-limits areas. I don’t want to make people I love feel bad, even though there are sometimes some fabulous insights to be found in interpersonal relationships. So I write about the people close to me only very carefully.

J: May I ask, how did you find your voice?

D: I’ve gotten closer to an authentic voice by writing more, but I wouldn’t say I’ve found my voice yet. Most of what I write I can’t quite stand to read. But it’s getting better.

J: I also know that you love to travel. You made the time for a fabulous eight-month trip through New Zealand/Thailand/Australia. May you share a little about this trip with us? What was your “motivation” for the trip, and what did you “take away” from this trip?

D: I was actually on a much shorter and more miserable trip, staying in the worst campground in the world, when I met two young German guys. They were maybe nineteen, and were traveling all across North America. That really impressed me, and within the day I was planning a trip to Europe. Then somehow I got the idea of going to New Zealand instead, and then it just happened. I went to Thailand and Australia while I was in the neighborhood.

Mainly I wanted to see how such a reserved and travel-inexperienced person would fare on such a long trip in such a faraway place. I knew it would test me and I’d have to grow. I did. I came home much better able to get to know people, and much less concerned with what other people thought of my choices. I also developed a rabid desire to set up my life so that I can travel several months a year.

J: Do you have any future travel plans?

D: Yes, this week I am in New York, and I’ll spend the next five weeks roaming that city and Boston, Vermont and Maine, Montreal and Toronto. In March I’m flying to St. Louis to see Radiohead play.

My next trip after that is probably going to be France and the UK. I have a list of upcoming trips that will last the rest of my life.

J: Okay, may we talk “experiments” for a minute? I recently added an Experiment page to my site. Huge for me because I am known as a “feeler”, yet I experiment in life so I wanted to share that process with my readers. This is going out on a limb for me– I will open my heart and share transparently; yet the “idea” of pass/fail within experiments is a self-limiting belief that I am processing through in this open forum. The one constant I have found that makes any experiment do-able is the ability to “show up” and be present every day. You are the one I credit with inspiring me to take this leap (thank you!). May you share with us a little of your experiment process? And which is the one experiment that has had the most “transformational” effect within your life?

D; Sure. I just pick a habit I’d like to have, and try it for a while and see what happens. About half the time they don’t turn out at all, but that means half the time they do. And I come away from every single experiment with insights about myself I never would have had otherwise.

The biggest transformation came as a result of my experiment with diet. I tried an animal-free diet for 30 days and within a few days I knew I would never go back. I felt so much better physically, I don’t get tired before bedtime, I’ve finally taken control of impulse eating in my life, and had all kinds of other unexpected bonuses. I now abstain from buying or using any animal products altogether. Aside from my diet and health it’s totally changed the way I think about ethics in general, my worldview and my view of the potential for human beings.

J: And, you have this list of things you plan to do before you die. May you share with us a little about this list? What is it’s origin? And, what is the process of living this list?

D: When I was a teenager, I read about the life list of John Goddard, who is best known for having penned a freakishly ambitious life list, and proceeding to do almost everything on it over the next seventy years. I made one of my own, and the a month later I didn’t even know where it was. Then I did another one a few years later and totally forgot about it too.

So I decided I’d make a serious one. Not just a list of things I wished would happen in my life, but a list of real intentions. I am steadily working through it. I’ve got about 150 items and I’m about one-sixth finished, and over the next month I’ll be checking off at least four or five more items while I’m traveling.

J: May I ask, within your life, how do you find your center, what brings you peace? And what brings you joy?

D: Peace and joy for me come from a patient, curious state of mind. And I usually don’t have it. I am constantly getting lost in my head and sometimes it’s weeks before the line grows taut and snaps me back again. Sitting meditation and casual mindfulness really help me achieve that ideal state of mind more frequently, and I still don’t do them nearly enough. I also need to have fun of course, but life brings that to me on a platter when I’m calm and curious.

J: And, what may we ‘expect’ from you in the near future…travel plans, works in progress, life in general?

D: I am writing some bigger projects. Much bigger than blog posts. I’m also very taken with photography and will be including a lot more imagery in my blog. I’m going to be expanding the blog over the next few months. Other than that I will continue to have a great time working through my bucket list.

J: Thank you for sharing your wonderful spirit! In closing, is there anything you would like us to know about you, your message, your voice?

D: Read my blog! Tell your friends!

Really, I just want people to consider the notion that human beings are just getting to know themselves, and we each need some earnest internal work to make good on our potential as individuals and as a species. And it’s totally fun to do. Stay curious.

And, David has a question for you, dear reader, to answer in the comment section, please:

What’s the smartest thing you ever started doing, that you didn’t always do?

Thank you, David! Thank you, dear reader! *Excellent* indeed:)

Much peace and abundant love,


Reminder: Experiment. Explore.  Experience.

Related Posts:

Comments on: "David Cain: A Street-Level Look at the Human Experience" (3)

  1. What a delightful surprise to see David Cain again! His blog was one of the first I started reading three years ago when I entered the blogosphere – Hello there David!!!
    Love your energy, philosophies and experiences – all of which you share brilliantly in your writing!

    Great interview here. Since I’m turning 65, to answer your question would require a lot of space. I’m always starting new things – much like David, I’ll try something on awhile to see if its a good fit – some things I keep, others remind me to move on, keep walking!

    Hugs to you both!

  2. jean sampson said:

    What a meaty post, ya’ll! I am going to spend some time going back through and checking out all the links provided. What a big and exciting life you are creating for yourself, David. Both of your are huge examples of lives being well-lived! Thanks for sharing with us. As for the smartest thing I ever did (I have a LOT of them!)—I think it was starting to exercise when I was 20 and, in spite of asthma and being non-athletic, keeping it up for my entire life. I am very grateful that I was able to begin and then continue and find ways to continue in spite of injuries, etc. I love being a healthy, energetic senior today! I am committed to being an even healthier senior 20 years from now! :D

  3. I was really getting into the philosopher side of you. I was imagining you sitting on a hill and sharing your wisdoms about human beings and their capacity for great things.

    Then bam!…you threw in the one thing I personally think saves our race — humor:~) I loved this line, “If I’m in a contemplative mood, I can just look at my apartment and see exactly how humanity is failing itself :)”

    Seriously, I enjoyed your interview with Joy very much and will visit your site. I like the way you think.

    Joy, thank you for sharing David with us. This is another excellent interview. It makes me want to know more about David and what he is seeking to accomplish.

Please share your voice: "David Cain: A Street-Level Look at the Human Experience"

When you share, we learn!