Thursday, September 17, 2015

A quick explanation for the lack of new articles and posts this year on Hug the Rhino. I'm in the process of retooling the content and website. My goal is to create an improved version of Hug the Rhino that still seeks to answer the question "How can I live a better life for myself and others?" but is less prescriptive and focuses on individual stories that illuminate larger issues. I haven't set a timeline for the new format, so stay tuned! 

Kurt Berning

Seize the Day, 
Hug the Rhino

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I know how embarrassing it is to look at yourself in the mirror and realize you’re overreacting without any semblance of rational thought. Again. All because you Googled "weird skin rash," and now you're convinced you have flesh-eating bacteria and twenty-four hours to live.

I’ve always been a worry-wart, a stressor, an anxiety tornado. When my little sister was born, I scurried up to my mom's hospital bed and stared at her, eyes wide, my brain churning outrageous ideas about how that mini-person came out of her body. “I’ve never seen your eyes so big,” she recounts to me, “you were so scared.” That tendency has unfortunately stuck with me for my entire life.

I used to read Women’s Health religiously. One day there happened to be an article about a woman who lived a completely healthy life; she didn’t smoke, she ate fruits and veggies, and she exercised regularly. She was your model health nut until she discovered she had throat cancer. Wait, what? I did a little research on the Internet to find out more about throat cancer, and after convincing myself that I probably had it too, I caused myself ten times more stress and spent money on doctor’s visits that I didn’t need.

I needed to find a way to digest information like this article without buying into scare tactics. If you ever find yourself fretting over something without any reason or cause, follow these steps:

1. Ask - what is the purpose of this article? 

Is it to inform, shock, entertain? Take a look at the context that surrounds the article and decide what the piece wants you to think or do. You wouldn’t trust health advice from Us or People Magazine, would you?

2. Disconnect yourself from the person in the story
Writers will describe the person as an average, everyday man or woman to make him or her as relatable as possible. “*Gasp!* She eats vegetables, exercises, and has brown hair? So do I! She lived in Denver? So did I!” Realize that each person is different from the next, and that making the subject of the story as relatable as possible is what draws you to keep reading. Don’t put yourself in their shoes.

3. Do objective research after you’re finished reading
Despite what you just gulped down in a hypochondriatic frenzy, you need to conduct your own research. Find the most credible and objective sources possible, such as the Center for Disease Control or reputable medical journals. Ignore the Yahoo! Answers and other discussion boards. Look at the bottom of any article you read for the sources it uses; does it have any?

4. Breathe
Find something to calm yourself. When we’re aroused, excited or angry, we tend to think illogically and jump to the most dramatic conclusion. Take a walk, listen to calming music, or do some slow, deep breathing to get back to your normal state of mind.

5. Schedule a doctor’s appointment
If none of these steps helps, and you have a legitimate reason for concern, schedule a visit to get real answers. The Internet doesn’t know your medical history, and I wouldn’t try typing all of that into the Google search bar -- I've tried. Your body is different from the person in the article, despite how similar the author makes you out to appear.

Tons of publications out there compete for our attention twenty-four hours a day, and they've developed a sneaky strategy that exploits our weaknesses (e.g. fear) to grab it. There's a time and a place for serious health concern, but chances are money-grubbing magazines, websites and television shows aren't the answer.


Seize the Day,
Hug the Rhino

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes. (Average 20-30 min for each story)

Longform nonfiction is about the art of stories. Not the stories we might find in typical news coverage, but stories that can connect us intimately to a certain person, cause or issue. Suicide, gay adoption, hermits, and reparations are only a few of the topics covered by this thrilling collection of writing. 

These 24 articles are more than worth every moment of your time. As a staff we've read hundreds of nonfiction articles this year, and these are our top picks. The majority of the credit for finding these articles goes to Bill Carey (@wcarey22), a good friend, proud member of Rhino Nation, and a News Team Manager at Sports Illustrated. For three years now Bill has distributed a weekly list of nonfiction, and these are the best of his picks as well as a few extra articles. Thank you Bill! #nextChrisJones. 

Happy Reading!

Crime & Police
Gripping stories of murder, police abuse, and the toll of prisons.

The Murders at Lake Waco by Michael Hall
A triple homicide in 1982 "still haunts the many people who have tried to solve it." Was an innocent man executed?

The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass by Sabrina Rubin Erdely
Jesse is a high school student with autism who keeps to himself. Why did an undercover cop target him as a drug dealer?

Zimmerman Family Values by Amanda Robb
Meet the family of one of America's most infamous citizens.

The Witness by Pamela Colloff
"For more than a decade, it was Michelle Lyon's job to observe the final moments of death row inmates - but watching 278 executions did not come without a cost."

Serial Podcast - Season 1 by Sarah Koenig
We couldn't help but include this nonfiction sensation. Though not a traditional long-form article, Sarah writes (and then speaks her writing) with the best of other journalists on this page.

Not your normal sports stories. A coach stops a shooter, a star loses his girlfriend to suicide, and a sky-dive instructor makes an unbelievable sacrifice. Check out the throwback article for a profile that illuminates recent news about concussions in the NFL and NHL. 

Love, Loss and Survival by Chris Ballard
Pro basketball player Ryan Anderson's girlfriend committed 
suicide last year. Now, he tries to move forward.

Do you remember Chardon, Ohio? "In February 2012, an assistant coach faced down a killer in the midst of a school shooting" and saved many lives in the process.

A Fall to Earth by Chris Ballard
"This is the best thing SI has published this year, and maybe the best thing anyone has published." The story of a first-time skydiving experience gone horribly wrong.

A 3-part series from 2011. Derek Boogaard was an NHL player. He wasn't the most skilled, but he had a role - the enforcer, the tough guy who protected his teammates. Boogaard died at 28. After his death, it was determined he had degenerative brain disease. This series traces his life and career from youth hockey to death. It was a Pulitzer finalist.

Civil Rights
Reparations, gay rights, and being transgender at a Women's College. 

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates
"Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole."

"In Mississippi, there is only one clinic where a woman can go if she needs an abortion. The state is trying to close it down." Here is the story of the doctor who flies from out of state to work there.
"What does it mean to be a women's college in the 21st century?"

Max Lenox was born to a crack-addicted mother, given up for adoption and raised by two gay dads. This is the unlikely story of how Lenox became the captain of the basketball team at, of all places, Army.

Eli Saslow is a master of the craft, and each of these articles is a window into the lives of those affected by the US's current immigration policy. 

Javier Flores had a steady job and a happy life with his wife and four kids. But he was an undocumented immigrant and his status eventually caught up with him, forcing him from his family and back to picking limes in the remote Mexican village where he grew up.

The Almost Americans by Eli Saslow
President Obama's executive order on immigration cuts through the heart of one family. The mother, undocumented, will benefit. The father, recently deported to Mexico, will have a harder time rejoining them. Now the family tries to decide: stay in America, separated, or move to Mexico to reunite. This story is paired with the previous story.

Nora Sandigo serves as the legal guardian of 812 U.S.-citizen children born to illegal immigrants who have been deported or face deportation. A crazy story, and a valuable look at an under-reported part of immigration debates. 

Raising graduation rates, and breaking the mold in education.

Who Gets to Graduate? by Paul Tough
How one college is trying to deal with the fact that rich kids graduate and poor kids don't.

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses by Joshua Davis
"These students in Matamoros, Mexico, didn’t have reliable Internet access, steady electricity, or much hope—until a radical new teaching method unlocked their potential."

Captivating Single Stories
Too unique for categories. Stories of a hermit, beating the casino, and the potential perils of too much religious freedom.

The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
The story of a hermit who - after thirty years of living in the woods of Central Maine - came out of the forest one day last year.

The Flaw by Kevin Poulson
"Finding a video poker bug made these guys rich - then Vegas made them pay."

Sinners in the Hand by Sonia Smith
"When is a church a cult?"

And a few extra gems. Stories of our all-volunteer military, a next generation of "meat", and the sad story of the American dog.

The Great Draft Dodge by James Kitfield
"Karl Eikenberry and what Americans lost when they stopped fighting"

"In their secret R&D lab, the scientists at Beyond Meat concocted a plant-protein-based performance burger that delivers the juicy flavor and texture of the real thing with none of the dietary and environmental downsides"

America loves its dogs. So why do we kill 3,000 pit bulls per day?

And that's the list for 2014! Want more non-fiction? Check out the last two years of Best Articles:
2013 - Best Articles
2012 - Best Articles


Hug The Rhino
For a better life

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Britain is one of the best places to live in the world. It's especially fun as an American. If you are lucky enough to be moving to the Britain, or even visiting, you’ll need to know how to do three things - talk to people, get around, and use the bathroom. These might sound simple, but without this advice you'll surely find yourself walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk, shunned by your flatmates, or blabbering on to a Welsh friend about how they were born in England. After a year living in Norwich, England I've gained the knowledge necessary to safely guide you through your first couple months in the British world. 

The best thing you can do while living in Britain is talking with British people. They will know you are American before you've finished your first sentence. You'll hear that Americans are too loud, don't really understand humor, can't properly speak English or spell, have way too many guns and way too many states, are too fat, and probably have never walked anywhere in their life. Damn Yanks. But this is the space where most brilliant moments of learning happen, and if you stick it out and follow these simple steps you'll be conversing happily in no time. 

1. Master the Complicated Geography

It makes sense that without a basic grasp of British and UK geography you'll sound like quite a fool. Here is my simple lesson - 

Britain in part of the United Kingdom. The UK is comprised of four nations: Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland. The first three are British (a geographic term) because they inhabit the island of Great Britain. Though they are all technically British, not everyone appreciates this term. See – Scottish National Party and the recent National Referndum on independence. Here is a quick set of rules:

  1. The English are British and English
  2. The Scottish and Welsh are kind of British, but mostly Scottish and Welsh.
  3. Don't dare call anyone English who wasn't born in England. 
I never knew how important these titles were until I started mixing them up and getting miffed reactions from my British friends. Calling a Scottish or Welsh person English is a big mistake. Watch a great explanation of the UK here:

Knowing the geography includes accepting that British people say the UK isn’t in Europe. Here is a real conversation I had:

British person: So is this your first time in the UK?
Me: Yes, actually I've never even been to Europe before. 
British person: Great, well Europe is right on our doorstep, so you can visit it while you're here. 
Me: Oh swell! Wait...

It’s common to hear that Britain isn’t in Europe. If I had to guess I’d say this is less of an egomaniacal complex and mostly just an easy term to explain you are talking about mainland Europe excluding the Britain. 

2. Memorize some British lingo

While you probably don't want to adopt a British accent for fear of sounding ridiculous and losing your American twang, you won't fit in without mixing a bit of British lingo into your speech. It will mean giving up on classic phrases like "Hey man, what's up?" - but you won't seem like some daft American people try to ignore. Here are a few common 
phrases you should know:

British Phrase:  Are you alright?
Translation: How’s it going?

British Phrase:  I just can't be bothered
Translation: I just don't want to.

British Phrase: 
I'm knackered.
Translation: I'm really tired .

British Phrase: 
Let's meet at half five?
Translation: Let's meet at 5:30?

British Phrase: That's a good shout. 
Translation: Good effort man. 

British Phrase: I need to pop to the toilet.
Translation: I need to use the restroom. 

British Phrase: I've lost about two stone!
Translation: I've lost about 28 pounds!

Sample conversation

British Person: 
“Hiya, are you alright?”
You: “I'm so knackered that I can't be bothered to pop to the toilet, but I'll give it a good shout and be out by half seven. Good news though, I lost half a stone.”

And don’t forget these simple rules:

  • Don't say pants. Pants are underwear. You mean trousers. 
  • Don’t say fanny pack. Fanny is in fact a slang term for a vagina. So is growler. You mean a bum bag. 

Click here for a full list of British slang –

3. Realize you won’t be able to understand everyone.

I have heard a lot of American friends try to imitate English/Scottish accents. Some I even thought sounded convincing, almost dead-on. They never tried to imitate a Glaswegian accent, or someone from the Norfolk countryside. 

The variety of accents in Britain fascinates me to no end, especially coming from the West Coast of the US where we have one accent for 1,500 miles in every direction. When talking to someone new, try your best to figure out their accent. Is it the Sheffield accent or the Leeds accent (these cities are only 45 minutes apart). Is it a posh London accent, or a Cockney London accent? Is it a Scottish accent from Glasgow, or from Edinburgh? Are they trying to speak the Queen's English? Pssh, no one actually talks like that. And some of them are notoriously hard to understand – see the Cornish, Glaswegians, and Yorkshiremen. 

An example of the Glaswegian accent -

Getting around Britain is normally fun and easy. Usually you'll live within walking distance of your two necessities, a grocery store and local pub. Should you need to go farther rail and public transportation systems are top notch. But before you get on a sidewalk or a train, you'll need these insights. 

4. Accept that you’ll always be confused keeping to right or left. 

Above two different tube stations in London. In most countries people walk the way they drive. If on the roads cars moving forward are on the right side, then while walking down the street people walking forward will tend to stay to the right. In Britain things aren't so simple. Be prepared to feel like the only one who doesn’t know what is going on. As shown above the rule is left sometimes, right sometimes. Yet somehow every British person knows which way to walk. Awkward sidewalk interactions are only the cause of people who don't know the system. Said a British friend, "No, there is no rule, you just kind of figure it out."

5. Learn that Train Tickets and the people who check them will be the bane of your existence

Trains are the best way to travel around Britain. Tickets are pretty affordable if you buy in advance, its a comfortable and pleasant ride, and often the scenery is beautiful. But beware - there is a dark side to train travel; train tickets and the conductors who check them. 

The first problem is the sheer volume of tickets. I traveled once every two weeks for a year. And ended up with the above mountain of tickets.

For an advance fare round trip a normal ticket machine spits out at least 4 tickets. One is a receipt of purchase that looks a bit like a ticket, one is a "route" ticket that has the date, start and end location but also isn't a ticket, and one is the actual ticket for each specific leg of your journey with the specific time of each train. Going from Norwich to Leeds and transferring in Peterborough? You'll have seven tickets - the receipt ticket, the route ticket, the return route ticket, the real ticket for Norwich to Peterborough, the real ticket for Peterborough to Leeds, and 2 more of the reverse for the return journey. 
My message to British Rail:

That bring us to our second problem - the conductors who check the tickets. I actually met a few of the Greater Anglia Conductors by working in a local pub. They are pretty nice guys outside of work. But they almost never let people off the hook when checking tickets. My first train ride ever in Britain I had misplaced my Student Fare Card. Actually I had misplaced one of the two parts of the card. Of course it wasn't as simple as one card. I explained that I had just flown into the country and didn't know the system  - but no excuse, I had to pay the full fare. You'll also have to pay full price if you miss a train or get on the wrong train. This adds a lot of pressure to riding trains in Britain - It's a complicated system overflowing with tickets, and if you mess up even one detail you'll have to pay. So double check your ticket and route, and do your best to not mess up. 

Sometimes the most basic bits of life are the most important. Toilets in Britain don't have to be unpleasant - if you know how to manage yourself in the loo. 

6. Brush up on your toilet-brushing skills 

And your aiming skills. 
In the US our toilets are lakes. I was astounded to return to the US and see how much water sits in the average American toilet. It's practically enough to start spilling over the top. In the Britain toilet water level is very low, often just enough to make a 2 inch wide pool above the base of the toilet. Every toilet has an accompanying toilet brush, because it's hard to direct all releases into an opening the size of a pint glass. It's a cultural expectation to use the brush to clean up any messes that you might make, and not doing so caused more than one roommate conflict in my flat. Get used to doing the work yourself, not having the toilet do it for you. 

7. Get ready for the worst sinks ever

That's our sink in the photo above. Ever been punished for wanting to wash your hands? It's a common occurrence in some British sinks.

The British Sink Instruction Manual

  1. Twist the blue handle for cold water.
  2. Twist the red handle to experience 2nd degree burns.
Every day I questioned the science behind this system. My only saving grace was the five seconds it took for the hot tap to go from lukewarm to scalding. In this brief period of gloriously gentle warmth, I was a hand-washing fiend. Luckily some new buildings will have a single faucet (called a tap) and be manageable. A British friend tried to offer some helpful advice, saying "You know, just get a bit of cold, then a bit of hot, and it's fine." I guess growing up in the Britain earns you a tolerance for such extremes. I never fully mastered the system.
Thanks for reading! My fellow American, you are now officially prepared for a successful life in the Britain. Live it up by golly!

*Disclaimer - This guide doesn't include surviving British food, because British food isn't all that bad. Outside of fish and chips stick to nicer restaurants and international cuisine (especially Indian curries) while eating out, and at home British grocery stores will have everything you need to cook great meals. 

Kurt Berning

Hug the Rhino
For a better life

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Odds are that your mind is out of shape. When is the last time you sat still for twenty minutes – in silence? When is the last time you were truly present, with nothing on your mind but the person you are with? Can you stop your thoughts and anxieties and appreciate the beauty of a tree, the sky, almond butter? A better life starts with a better mind. In this article I’ll explain a technique of mind training and development called Meditation – Maybe the single greatest technique to improve your quality of life.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a technique for transformation of the mind. The vehicle for this transformation is daily periods of intentional time that focus and awaken mental attention. Daily meditation practice trains your mind to go beyond habitual thinking and develop concentration, presence, clarity, awareness, and peace. Through meditation you can explore the nature of reality while being truly aware of what is happening in the present moment.  

 Why practice meditation? 

Meditation physically transforms your brain. Researchers at Harvard and Stanford found physical changes in the brain after an 8-week meditation course. Neurons had moved from areas of the brain that stimulate fear to regions that fosteremotional control and wellness. Meditation also has great calming effects, helps your body need less sleep, andreleases your brain from over-thinking. As if those weren’t enough, it can also decrease anxiety and stress, improveyour relationships, improve your creativity and help you focus 

Training and exercise has proven benefits for the physical body and is essential for health, happiness and longevity. It’s pretty easy to see the results when someone loses weight or gets in great shape. Training of the mind is practiced much less – possibly because there are no obvious physical changes. Nevertheless, this mental exercise and training has amazing transformational potential. 

How to Practice Meditation

You’ll need
  • A chair/stool
  • A timer
  • Time
  • A few tips

A Chair/Stool

One of my favorite guided meditations offers this seating advice:

 “Start by finding a comfortable position on a firm, straight backed chair or a meditation stool. If you are sitting in a chair, allow your feet to be flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed and your spine straight, so that your posture supports your intention to be awake and aware.” 

I follow those instructions during my meditations. The two keys are comfort and alertness. It might take some time to find a balance of the two.

The traditional pose also works – Simply sit on the floor or a cushion with crossed legs and a similar alert. This is probably what you think of when you hear “meditation”. I’ve found it’s a little harder on the lower back, but also that your ability to sit comfortably improves over time.

Location Tip - Try to find a quite space to listen to the meditations, or use headphones in a louder space.


A timer is essential for recording your meditations and keeping time during non-guided sessions.  I prefer App’s to do the work for me here, and I use Insight Timer – It’s free, has built-in guided meditations, and keeps tracks of all of my meditation data. Buddhify and Meditate are also great options, available for $2.99 and $3.99 respectively. I’ve found these Apps to be far superior to a pen and paper journal where you have to keep track of my own data.

To record your guided meditations, simply use the “timer” in the App and set it to the length of the guided meditation.


A great starting goal is 10 minutes a day of meditation. Pick a time each day by finding a number where there is no resistance.

As wonderfully stated in A Year of Productivity

“I just shrink the length of the session in my head until I hit a level I don’t feel resistance to. Like, “Could I do 15 minutes? No, I feel resistance, I’m not gonna do it. Okay, what about 10? Still too long, the thought puts me off. Okay, 5? Huh, I don’t feel resistance to that. I feel like I can sit for 5. Boom.”

Since I began meditating about a year ago, there are days where I haven’t meditated or only been able to manage a single minute of silence. That’s ok, it’s part of the process. It’s also possible to practice meditation without taking time to sit still. When Chris Bailey meditated for 35 hours in one week, he spent more than half of his meditation time doing chores, walking, and eating.

A Few Tips

  1. Don’t try too hard- Slowly train your mind and improve. Bring your mind to a natural place of rest.
  2. Don’t try to create happiness and calm – instead create a space in your mind for them to occupy.

 These are the lessons from a series of one minute videos that explain more about how and why to meditate. I would recommend watching them before beginning your practice.

Bringing this back again to the physical exercise metaphor, if you haven’t been physically active the best way to start isn’t to run 10 miles. Start slow, meditate with a group or a friend, be consistent, work through challenges and obstacles, and slowly improve the quality and length of your training.

Other Tools to Begin Your Practice

7 Guided Meditations to Jump Start Your Meditation Practice – See our pick of the best Guided meditations to help you continue your practice.

Tara Brach’s “How to Meditate” - I’ve tried to make these instructions as succinct as possible. For a longer explanation, read Tara’s guide. It includes some especially useful information on “Sustaining a Practice” and “Common Issues for Meditators”.

A Year of Productivity’s Guide to Start Meditation. Provides a good description of breathing meditation, and has a broader wealth of information on meditation.

Good luck starting your meditation practice. In the words of one of my favorite guided meditations:

“May you be well, may you be happy, and may you have ease of being.”

Kurt Berning
Seize the Day,
Hug the Rhino