"Courage is not the absence of fear but the awareness that something else is more important." — Viktor Frankl
Creativity feels good, being free to brainstorm and think and try and test and then scrap it all if it doesn't work and start over from scratch, all of that sounds fantastic when looked at from a distance, no matter how small that distance may be. But the truth is that living as a creative, working to embrace creativity wholly and completely on a regular basis, in between these dryly dull rituals of endless and inescapable routines, to exist as a creative soul and create things with creative energy, that's like wrestling a thousand-pound gorilla inside a thick, dense rainforest, in the middle of the night. It's like facing a crocodile in a swamp where you have no footing, and then standing there in the pitch black with no knowledge of where you are or what's lurking nearby.
Once in awhile you feel something in that darkness, you grab onto it, and for that one endlessly brief moment in time things feel a bit better, you feel a bit more in control, the stuff you're trying to do seems to happen a little easier and then you find yourself suddenly doing it and you start to tell yourself that YES, you can do this, you can work with this, you are a powerful and unstoppable force of nature because now you've found it, that hold, that little thing that seems to make all the impossibility of what it took to get there seem insignificant and unimportant and you forget, very quickly, how much effort it took to arrive at where you are, how much unknown you had to face, how much self-conscious ridicule and self-doubt you had to let go of, how much fear you had to put aside to find that little thing you're now clinging onto, that preciously delicate but incredibly potent little flow you're tapping into, hoping, wishing that it will never stop running, that it will never go away, that you'll never lose it again. But you know that's an unreasonable request from the universe. You know that soon your fantastic grip on this creative world you cherish so dearly will be gone, and you will once again return to being that tortured, naked soul, standing in the dark with so many unknowns all around, so many thousand-pound gorillas ready to wrestle and so many prehistoric crocodiles in these waters, and now you're right here, facing them all over again, looking, searching, waiting for that one thing, that one thread of connection, prepared to embrace that flow at a moments notice, ready to begin, alert, aware, patiently understanding that this wonderful thing called creativity is a gift worth waiting for, a gift worth giving up comfort to stand there, all alone in the dark.
I tell myself that I don’t sweat the little things, that I’m really good at letting things go, but if I’m frank with myself and I take a hard look at the evidence, it’s clear that I do hold on to lots of little things. Many small, rather insignificant things that prevent me from growing and moving forward.
I came across a column article called How We Get Better, written by Steven Pressfield. Steven tells the story of his friend Paul who recently had a writing breakthrough and accidentally discovered his writing voice.
Steven explains how we get better by sharing the observations he made of his friend’s breakthrough. The observation that I found most interesting was number four: “This new voice was not the ‘real’ Paul; it was the artistic Paul.”
When I read any of my old writing, especially the writing that I feel is good, it never sounds like me. It’s as if there was someone else writing it. Was it because I was writing with my artistic voice and not my normal voice (i.e., the voice that I identify with)?
And if there was an artistic voice within me, what was holding it back when I wanted to write? Where was the resistance coming from?
Intrigued, I started scanning my collection of old unpublished drafts. I don’t know why I started there, but intuitively something told me that’s where I should go next, so I listened.
Within a few seconds I came across something that I had written nearly two years ago about not sweating the little things. The draft included two incomplete stories of events that caused me to start writing the draft.
While the stories were incomplete, I immediately remembered the events in great detail and recalled the importance and impact of their lessons.
In both events I had run into situations that seemed impassable. There seemed to be no possible resolution that did not come with repercussions.
But instead of stressing out, worrying, and taking premature action, I took a deep breath and released the situation to the universe.
Almost immediately the situation changed in ways that I never thought possible and both problems were resolved, like a magical missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle falling into a place that I didn’t know existed.
As I read this old draft and recalled the story and the lessons I learned, I realized that the resistance I most often experience actually comes from getting in the way of the natural flow of things.
The problem isn’t that I’m incapable of making more money, producing better writing, improving my social skills, or learning how to cook. It’s that I’m holding myself back from progressing forward by spending valuable time sweating the little things.
When I’m trying to learn how to cook, for example, I hold myself back by giving credence to thoughts of insufficiency.
Instead of looking up recipes online, buying ingredients, and then experimenting, I choose to worry about making something that won’t taste good, or wasting ingredients, or that my being too analytical isn’t compatible with cooking.
(In the past few weeks I’ve overcome a lot of this resistance and discovered that I love cooking, but more on that another time.)
When I’m trying to write, I resist forward progress by holding myself back by giving attention to needless thoughts.
“What if people don’t understand what I’m trying to say? What if I don’t know what I’m trying to say? What if my point is missed and my writing is criticized? What if I do more harm than good in my haste to publish?”
These thoughts, these unrelenting doubts and worries and questions, never seem to let up. They appear to be waiting for one thing and one thing only: for me to give up.
I’m realizing that the key isn’t to challenge these things that present resistance but instead to ignore them, like a raging river ignoring a large rock and flowing around it.
We get better by not sweating the little things but by letting them go and moving on to the next step with fearless bravado. It’s only when we try to take on the whole world, to shoulder responsibility for getting every single thing perfect, that we hold ourselves back from getting better.
Sui Solitaire recently released Kindness Sprouts, a collaborative ebook of kindness and self-care. (She's generously giving all proceeds directly to charity.)
Sui invited me to contribute to the project and asked me to answer the following question, How do you show yourself kindness? This was my response:
I show myself kindness by having the courage to eliminate things from my life that are causing me distress and dissatisfaction. I spent many years feeling caged by my job and caged by my lifestyle. I pushed off doing what I knew needed to be done and sacrificed my own happiness, and for what? For the satisfaction and comfort of everyone else? To conform to what others thought was the best thing for me?
I began showing myself kindness when I started listening to and caring about what my heart and soul were telling me. I began showing myself kindness when I found the courage to be brave and challenge what others expected of me.
When I gained the confidence to believe in my own dreams and stand up to the expectations of others, I discovered that I also needed to learn how to stand up to my own self-imposed expectations. I love technology and I spend many hours of the day working at the computer. When I find myself getting agitated with how much time I've spent in front of the screen, I don't let myself justify the discomfort by saying “that's just what I do.” Instead of being unkind to myself, I walk outside, put my hand on the trunk of a big tree, look up at its outstretched arms, and allow myself to reconnect with mother nature; I allow myself to really feel one with the universe. I'm immediately reminded that being kind to myself is being kind to the world.
Interestingly, ever since writing this for Sui's project I've been going out of my way each morning to spend time in the forest. I drive about twenty minutes to the local state forest and just walk, usually for at least an hour, with my phone turned off and my mind open. My day feels more complete when I start it walking in the forest.
What signifies your existence? What does it mean for you to be alive? When you think about You, what comes to mind? The shape of your smile, the color of your eyes, or the curves of your body? Perhaps your name or the knowledge that you exist in the minds of others?
Who are you? Are you your thoughts or emotions, your history, your successes or failures, or the people you've met along the way? Are you the things that you create? Are those really you?
Breathe. Right now, take a deep breath. Is that you breathing? Look down at your skin. Feel it. Is that your flesh? Put a hand over your heart. Feel your heartbeat. Does that vibration signify you?
If you release all false identity, you'll recognize something that goes much deeper, something more substantial, more concrete.
It's in your smile. It's in the color of your eyes and the curves of your body. It's in your thoughts and emotions, and your successes and failures. It's in every breath, every heartbeat, and every cell of your body. It's in all the people you meet and every thing you create.
Close your eyes. Let go. Allow your essence to emerge. You can sense its presence, the way it saturates everything. You've always felt it, perhaps somewhere in the background hidden behind all that stuff: all the labels added to life, the ideas, the expectations, the subtle judgements.
Your essence is You. It's here, always present, always offering comfort and confidence. It comes from that place where beauty, peace, and love emanate, where dreams originate, where intuition paints a landscape of impossibility with colors of hope.
Your essence has no doubt. It doesn't question itself or feel inadequate. It knows right from wrong and intuitively senses what needs to be done. It rides the line between thinking and feeling, between dreams and reality, between the past and the future.
When you feel your essence, hold it tenderly, embrace it with unconditional love. Stop resisting it. Stop fighting it. Stop judging it. Let go of self-pity and free yourself from the expectation that you are somehow incomplete, lost, or unhappy.
You are complete. You know the answers. You are abundantly enough.
Release your essence. Give it the respect it deserves. Stop trying to change it. Stop regulating its unquenchable thirst for freedom. Stop holding You captive in a cage of reason. Remove the leash, unlock the door, and open your arms. Embrace You.
To lead a life worthy of influence we must avoid the urge to 'fit in', even if doing so means risking judgement. We must be eager to set an example, unafraid to stand alone, and always ready to step into the darkness.
If others choose to judge us for leaving the herd instead of respecting our courage to try new things, let that be a sign they are holding more respect for the status quo than for our individual potential as a human being. We are worthy of more respect than the status quo.
With each step, the ambient light from the house dissipated. The ground was cold and my eyes strained to see where I was going. I dared not turn around or look up, too afraid that doing so would cause a giant creature to materialize from the darkness and swallow me in one gulp.
I was nine years old and although I had long since overcome my fear of the darkness inside the house, the dark forest surrounding the yard still held me hostage.
It was holding me prisoner, preventing me from exploring those places that my siblings wouldn't dream of going. I wanted to take that next step. I wanted to conquer darkness altogether.
One evening, without telling anyone in the house, I opened the back door and stared into the forest. The darkness was incredible. It shrouded everything in mystery, turning the daytime-yard that I was so familiar with into an unknown world of terrifying possibilities. Continue reading
After reading my last blog post, Pemala, a Nepali friend and a regular reader, left the following note on my Facebook Wall:
Reading "The Revolution Starts Here" was very insightful. It gave me the moral support that is lacking in our community.
I have had enough with the Nepali community leaders in Boston who were fighting among each other for position. I took a stand and voiced my opinion in front of everybody. I thought, I could go home and talk about it or I could take a stand and let everybody in the community know what was happening.
I am planning to gather [the] younger generation for suggestions to improve the organization and have more youth involvement. And, I am going to propose that they help organizations like Nepal FREED who is doing something worthwhile for Nepal.
It was incredible to see how writing a blog post could help someone feel motivated to take action and possibly translate into things that would help the children I visited in a remote part of the world several months earlier.
Pemala's message caused me to really dig deep and consider the far reaching effects of our actions. It made me analyze the reasons for my own inaction and gave me the missing piece to the puzzle of why I've been feeling stagnation in my life since returning from my trip overseas.
Her message allowed me to see the role initiative plays in instigating change. Continue reading
As I flip through one of the four airplane magazines from the seat pocket in front of me, I catch myself staring at a tropical beach photo -- you know, the one's you see in travel magazines that have a dozen or so straw umbrellas hovering over lounge chairs, nestled on a beautiful sandy beach overlooking a blue-green ocean.
Suddenly, I realize that I now have the freedom to go to those places. I no longer have to dream about them like everybody else.
It was an exhilarating feeling of absolute adventure -- sort of like what you feel on day one of a two-week vacation, only amplified to encompass an entire lifetime.
I'm writing this post from a WiFi lounge in London's Heathrow airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Bangalore, India. A few short months ago, I never could have imagined myself being here in London.
Now here I am, sitting among dozens of fellow travelers -- some traveling for work, some for pleasure, and perhaps even some nomadic travelers like myself, headed to an unfamiliar place on a mission to rediscover themselves.
The twenty-three hour journey to India is giving me plenty of time to think about the impact this lifestyle change is going to have on my life. Every time I look around the airport and realize that I'm not traveling for work or vacation like most of the people around me, I get this twisted feeling in my stomach when I realize that this freedom is my life now.
The entire world is knocking at my door and nothing can stop me from greeting it.
I'm living the dream I've had since I was thirteen.
I'm a world traveling, nomadic explorer!
When you've got a calling -- when every ounce of your existence is telling you to do something -- there comes a point where you can no longer ignore it. I reached that point where I simply couldn't put this off any longer. Holding it back -- holding it all inside -- was beginning to destroy me. It felt as though my entire life was being slowly extinguished.
But the transition up to this point wasn't easy.
I left a secure job with great coworkers, got rid of my only means of transportation, and reduced my physical possessions further than I thought possible. With no travel experience outside the United States, I'm now on my way to the opposite side of the planet toting just a single backpack and the clothes on my back.
The most difficult part of this transition, however, has been the emotional impact its had on those I love. Nobody likes to intentionally inflict pain on others -- even if it's indirect and will result in your own eventual happiness. It still feels wrong.
When I have tough decisions to make -- when I'm feeling certain conflicts inside -- I don't resort to emotional decisions. I rely on what my morals and my instincts tell me is right and wrong. Sometimes things work out for the better. Sometimes they don't. But whatever happens, I always know that my actions were based on decisions that were made by being true to myself; by being honest with myself.
Being honest and true to myself is very important to me.
What good are we as human beings if we cannot even be honest and true to ourselves? If we cannot even trust our own instinct or listen to our inner calling, what right do we have to exist?
There's only one person who's going to change your life for the better. There's only one person who is really going to make you happy. There's only one person who will make you free.
That person is you.
You cannot rely or depend on anyone but yourself. You have to trust yourself to handle any situation that gets thrown at you. You will handle it. You might make the wrong choices and you might fail miserably, but you'll handle it. And when you come out the other side, you will have learned something. You will have grown. You will have improved.
You have to be ready to accept failure. You have to accept that you don't know a damn thing.
The only way you're going to learn is by failing. Over and over and over. Accept that and suddenly you have no limits. Suddenly there is nothing stopping you from doing what you love. Suddenly the impossible seems doable. Suddenly life has more meaning. Suddenly you are the owner of your happiness.
Travel Update: Be sure to check out The Plan: 6 Months, 3 Countries, and $3,000.
It’s not impossible, but it takes courage. It takes courage to be and to think differently. But the act of being and thinking differently is only different to those looking at you from the outside.
If you make up your mind that you're fully in control of your destiny -- if you decide to choose what you want to believe in -- then you're not being different. You're being you.
Recognize that those who say you're crazy, or those who try to stop you from being or thinking differently, are only confronting their own demons; they're trying to reaffirm their own beliefs.
If others give you advice, listen. If they tell you what you should or should not do, listen. But decide for yourself. Believe in yourself. Be yourself. Continue reading