When you're following your heart there are no accidents, only serendipitous events propelling you forward along an auspicious journey.
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.
In February 2012, I began a 17-day solo road trip through ten US states, driving a total of 2,498 miles. The following travel notes are from that road trip.
Much like the message in that essay, the journey to Ithaca took seemingly forever, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it because I wasn't focused on the destination.
On the way there I made some interesting observations: I saw someone refilling five-gallon water bottles with water from a stream trickling down from the mountain (there was a pull-off for cars; it looked like that was a common source of drinking water). I also saw a farm with lamas grazing in the... snow.
The road to Ithaca snaked up and down the mountains with an average speed limit of 55mph; it was typical to drive 65mph on these roads with no divider between you and oncoming traffic. I felt like I was on a racetrack for most of the drive once I got off the main highway.
Lots of farms surrounded Ithaca, but they were mostly used for growing feed for the animals (cows, horses). While Ithaca itself felt affluent and modern (especially in the downtown area), only a few miles away in all directions lie farms and communities that hadn't changed much in a hundred years.
I met my friend Molly Yarrington for the first time after arriving in Ithaca and we walked to a small local cafe where there were lots of young people with at least a dozen laptops. It reminded me how much the Internet is changing everything.
What would've once been a town to leave for the "big city" (or 'village' as many signs on the highway called them) is now a place where you can experience small town life while remaining connected to and working within the modern world.
After the cafe we walked around a bit and visited a waterfall (Molly tells me there are lots of trails and other outdoor stuff to do in Ithaca). We then had lunch where the conversations continued.
I ended up spending the night in Ithaca and after doing an interview with Radio Enso, Molly and I continued talking into the early morning.
We talked about a seemingly endless number of things but one topic that we explored on several occasions was that of what to do with our natural talents.
Should we pursue the things that we're naturally good at, or should those things become the foundation for exploring other areas that are of equal interest to us but are perhaps of less natural inclination?
For example, few people know this about me but I'm very military-minded. I genuinely enjoy the hardship, the discipline, and the dedication of soldiers and warriors.
Emotional detachment comes naturally to me, as does the tendency for sacrifice and service. I even generally live the lifestyle of a warrior, only living with what's necessary.
But I have other interests that are in conflict with those natural inclinations. For example I consider myself a humanist and I enjoy philosophy. The concepts of peace and equality are very important to me as well and I seek sustainability and harmony.
If I pursued only the things that I was naturally good at, then I would probably become a solider or focus only on sports or other activities that complement my natural inclinations.
However, if I instead use those natural inclinations to create a foundation from which I can explore other things, then I would create and live a more vibrate and rich life.
Harmony would be built upon a foundation of dedication; sustainability would be created with a willingness to sacrifice. I would create and build things with a tendency for sharing and service.
I feel that I've been fortunate that my interests have always been so varied and so strong that I've never 'settled' on one thing. The closest I've come to 'settling' on something was in the choice of my first career. I didn't like computers any more than I liked space travel, but in my early teens pursuing a career in the technology industry was the most practical choice.
I believe that balance is important and if all we do is pursue what we're good at, then we'll end up living a very one-sided life.
On leaving Ithaca the following morning, I drove by several of the 'finger lakes'. These huge lakes are literally shaped like giant fingers. (See them on the map.)
When meeting someone whose life you admire, it's so easy to compare yourself to everything they've accomplished. It's so easy to make yourself feel insignificant and unpolished. But their life is an example. They're not our competition but rather bright stars illuminating the night sky, evidence of a journey, proof that anything is possible.
Moments of meeting are moments of opportunity, bridges through the chasm of time that connect our souls and give us a chance to learn and inspire, to enrich and enliven, to exchange maps and magic words and open our hearts and minds to new wonders and new possibilities.
We're all going to the same place, but we're all getting there a different way. There is no 'right way' to get there. So when you're meeting those you respect, remember to respect you.
In the past six months I have lived in four countries and called more than twenty-six places home. I've traveled more than twenty-five thousand miles using cars, buses, jeeps, trains, airplanes, rickshaws, taxis, motorcycles, and my own two feet.
I've gotten lost walking at night in Bombay. I've watched thousands of giant bats descend on the great city of Udaipur. I've walked through clouds, surrounded by fields of corn and I've climbed ten-thousand feet into the Himalayan mountains, covered in sweat, sand, and sunburns.
Sitting down to write a summary of the most incredible six months of my life, I found myself faced with the task of telling a story of epic proportions, one that felt on par with the Lord of the Rings and The Odyssey. I considered limiting it to the story of my inner journey, but then I realized that was even more grand than the physical one.