Give the mind paradise and it will find a flaw. Give the heart hell and it will find love.
In a recent thought that I published, I used the very non-gender-neutral words 'he' and 'his':
A man can lose everything, but if he still has his soul, his heart, his mind, and a quiet place of solitude in which to reflect on all three, he will have everything he needs to regain what he has lost.
In response to this thought, my friend Kit wrote the following:
"This gets to the heart of what’s important in life. Really like it. I find myself disappointed with the English language though. There seems to be no way to write this in a gender-inclusive way without it sounding awkward."
Kit's comment got me thinking about gender equality in writing and language.
I often make an effort to remove things like 'he' and 'his' from my writing so that it can be applicable to both genders. For some reason, in this particular case, the thought of making such an effort hadn't even occurred to me before publishing the writing. But why not?
It hadn't occurred to me because I was writing and publishing the thought straight from my heart, straight from the perspective of a man, as unedited and unfiltered as possible. It felt right to publish it using 'he' and 'his' because I was thinking, writing, and sharing from my perspective. It was something that was coming from me, not from some gender-neutral entity.
Yes, I am a man. My thoughts are coming from a brain situated inside a male body. Why should I discard that fact? Why should I throw away so much information about the very perspective that helped generate the thoughts that I'm sharing? Why should I be afraid to be me? So that I can be politically correct?
I am a man and that is politically correct enough.
Yes, there are probably occasions where writing in a gender-neutral tone makes sense, but if you're sharing something personal, if you're sharing something that came from your heart, don't be afraid to be yourself. You are who you are and that is politically correct enough.
When I talk about following my heart and doing what feels right it may sometimes sound like life becomes a cakewalk, an easy and sunny path you walk down without a care in the world.
The reality couldn't be further from the truth.
Your heart wants you to grow, to be challenged, to face difficulties that seem insurmountable. It wants to nudge you closer and closer to the edge of oblivion, to hold your hand when you're unable to walk and then slowly let it go, challenging you to walk on your own.
It does this with love, the same way a mother holds her child's hand as she's learning to walk, guiding the her to grow to new heights and new potential, encouraging the child to risk what seems like everything, and doing so because the mother knows through experience that falling is part and parcel of living.
But not all difficulty is created equal and not all challenge is meaningful.
It's difficult to climb a hundred stairs, but the meaningfulness of that difficulty changes dramatically when you're climbing those hundred stairs to save someones life. You can climb stairs all day and night and they won't mean as much as that one sprint to save a life.
It might be stressful to manage a team of people and tackle a big project, but the meaningfulness of that project and the worthiness of that stress changes dramatically when the project you're taking on is aimed at accomplishing a goal that, when reached, changes someones life for the better or leaves the world in a better state than you found it.
No matter how many meaningless projects you accept and no matter how many pointlessly stressful situations you face, you can be sure that neither are making you a better person. They're not helping you grow and they're not helping the world become a better place, no matter how much pain you endure.
Your ego wants you to believe that all challenge and difficulty has meaning, that all sources of stress have value and purpose. Your heart intuitively knows that this isn't true. It knows that without spending your time doing things that actually have meaning and purpose behind them, you have no reason for existing.
Your heart is allergic to things that are meaningless, so wear your heart on your sleeve. Put it right out there for the whole world to see. Let it guide you. Let it take you wherever it takes you. Trust it no matter how risky or how illogical it may seem. A true heart calling will always bring you to a place that's worthy of the challenges you face.
If you follow your heart, if you give it your trust and let it guide you, it will lead you to your purpose for existing. Life won't be easy. You won't get through unscathed. You'll fall down and face challenges that seem insurmountable, but every single challenge you do face, every fall and every scratch, will be worth it. It will be meaningful.
If you follow your heart, every challenge you face will make you a better person and for that you'll grow to love your life.
Three years ago I was commuting in bumper-to-bumper traffic when I saw a duck in the grass and felt jealous of its freedom. Yesterday my office was a cafe near the Sydney Opera House. Today I went off-roading in "the Australian bush", visited the largest deep space radio telescope in the southern hemisphere, and walked among wild kangaroos. Think outside the box. Release preconceived notions of reality. The heart can only stretch if the mind is willing to let go.
When was the last time you felt compelled to do something or to change a decision or make a choice that would affect a previously envisioned outcome? When was the last time your own thoughts presented you with the option to overrule yourself?
What action did you take? Did you take any action at all, or did you just listen and then push aside those rebellious, troublemaking thoughts?
I catch myself at times ignoring my inner voice and 'sticking with what I know' because what I know offers a clear outcome, a previously fleshed out series of actions and reactions, a 'plan' that I had previously set in motion and committed to following through with until the end.
But then from nowhere a rebel appears. It starts as a whisper of a thought, easily snuffed out and put in its rightful place in one fell swoop. I return to being sure of myself, confident that my life is in order and that I know where I'm going and what I'm doing.
But then it comes back again, stronger and louder this time, more persistent and sure of itself. It seems to be trying to tell me that my vision of the future is no longer in alignment with what's real, as if it was privy to a bit of information about what lies ahead.
These inner rebels are easy to ignore. They rise up and rebel for seemingly no sensible reason at all, as if their only purpose for rebelling was for the sake of rebelling.
Self-doubt and fear are common rebels that attempt to start a revolution at the intersection of every big decision, every life-changing opportunity.
I've become accustom to the little rebels showing up when I've committed to something, but I'm also learning to cooperate with them, to hear them out and listen to what they have to say.
In doing this I've discovered that all inner rebels are not made equal. Some of them actually have valuable information and practical arguments to present.
Eight months ago I made the mental commitment to hike the Appalachian Trail for my 30th birthday. Hiking the trail is something I've wanted to do since I first learned about it as a child.
I now had the freedom in my life to undertake such an adventure and I was feeling the need for an extended period of exposure to raw nature. In every way, this decision made a lot of sense.
For the next six months I woke up every day thinking about how I would soon be waking up in a tent on the trail, looking forward to spending the entire day hiking in nature. It was an exhilarating thought and every day I felt more motivated than the previous.
However, there were two unforeseeable events that took place during those six months: My sister became pregnant with her second child and a few months after that I was offered a job doing online community support for a WordPress plugin (money has been tight since I quit my job two years ago, and this was the ultimate location-independent opportunity).
My sister never asks me for anything, so when she asked me to be there for the birth of my niece, I knew that I couldn't say no.
The inner rebels appeared shortly after each of these events, but I took care of them. I wasn't going to let their rebelliousness affect my decision to do something that I've always wanted to do.
I could still make the AT hike work out: I'd just fly back in late April when my niece is born and then return and continue the trail.
For my new job, I'd bring a solar panel, a laptop, and a mobile data card so that I could get online every evening and work for a few hours. I'd make the entire adventure a big experiment and document five months of working online and hiking the Appalachian Trail.
As the start date of March 20th grew closer, I found myself building a routine of taking daily walks in the local state forest, walking for several hours and imagining myself already on the trail.
I spent a lot of time creating the mental attitude that would be necessary to spend 8-10 hours a day for 4-5 months hiking outside.
In the process, more rebels appeared. They seemed to come from every direction, vying for my attention and getting louder and more restless with each passing day.
Amongst the chaos there was one rebel who stood out from the rest. He seemed calm and collected and spoke from a place of serenity. In the process of dealing with the inner turmoil of the other rebels, I was attracted to this rebel. I wanted to know how he was so calm and sure of himself.
We met in a place away from the rest, a quiet and peaceful meeting spot, and I listened with an open mind and an open heart.
"The world has changed since you decided to hike the AT. It no longer looks like the world you envisioned when you made that decision."
"What do you mean?"
"If you hike the Appalachian Trail now, you'll need to interrupt your hike to come back to visit your sister. You've always wanted your first hike to be a true thru-hike, a non-stop hike from start to finish. You're compromising that principal by trying to juggle your envisioned world-view with that of what the world is actually turning out to look like."
Everything was starting to make sense now.
"Your new job gives you certain responsibilities that require you to be online at least every weekday; what would happen if you can't get Internet access on the trail? The risk of being unable to fulfill your responsibilities would create inner conflict that would prevent you from enjoying the hike. In fact, not only would you not enjoy the hike, you wouldn't enjoy the job either as it would feel like the source of this conflict."
This rebel was right. In my attempt to hold onto the way I envisioned the future, I was ignoring the obvious: The time was no longer right and as a result, my heart was no longer in it.
This wasn't a rebel of self-doubt or fear; he was the rebel of my heart watching out for me, trying to save me from doing something that was no longer in alignment with my soul.
I believe our soul speaks to us when we're ready to listen. It won't speak in a loud and obnoxious tone. It won't push and shove and jump up and down until we notice it like all the other rebels. It will sit calmly and speak from a place of peace and tranquility. It knows what's real and only wants the best for us.
This why I feel meditation is so important (and why I'm working to develop a regular meditation habit): By creating inner peace and calming our mind, we can hear our heart and soul; the windshield of our intuition becomes clear and we're able to see what's ahead without all the bugs of doubt and fear splattered all over the place.
When the rebel of your heart speaks, invite it to a peaceful place, sit down, and listen.
On the flight to Florida yesterday, a strong storm rocked the airplane. The pilot aborted our landing twice as high winds pushed the plane sideways and lightning filled the sky. Looking out the window I realized that I wasn't afraid to die. I'm ready to go when the time comes because I've been living my life with awareness, following my instinct, my intuition, and my heart. With every step, no regret. I love my life.