A noisy mind prevents you from hearing the wisdom whispered by the universe.
We all die. We all get hurt, make mistakes, and experience pain that seems impossible to overcome. Life isn’t safe, but a life spent trying to avoid all risk and discomfort is the best way to avoid living at all.
It’s true that some risks are not worth taking, but most risks will mean the difference between living a life on repeat and creating a life forged in sweat, on the steps to a breathtaking summit.
So believe in something impossible. Dream. Search for meaning in your actions. Apologize and forgive. Find harmony in moving forward. Risk. Take action. Do something worthy of your own admiration. But most of all, love, and embrace who you are.
Life is short, and it’s fragile, but it’s worth it.
I have what feels like the entire earth to myself, this huge open expanse inviting me to come play, to run, to sprint, to feel the sand between my toes and the warm breeze on my skin.
But I don't run. I stroll. I feel the lukewarm water lapping gently at my feet and watch as the quiet waves roll in softly and ripple across the infinite sandy expanse.
I close my eyes and inhale deeply, taking into my being the pure energy that surrounds me. It's intoxicating. I cannot breathe deeply enough. It's as if the air itself is so full that my lungs are unable to capture it. My body tingles with overwhelm.
I look up at the stars and exhale a sense of immense gratitude and contentment. If peace itself could be captured in a bottle, this must be what drinking it feels like.
With all the places in the world to visit -- with all the places that my freedom allows me to go -- I suddenly feel no desire to go anywhere, no sense of urgency to see a new place, or to relocate, or to even explore.
What more do I need? Where else will I go? What more could I possibly ask for in a destination?
What was it about this beach in Florida? Was there some energy here that my being was connecting with? Or was this experience perhaps more superficial, more related to the warm weather and the never-ending sunshine?
For the past few weeks I have gone for a walk on this beach near Cape Canaveral almost every single day and incredibly this experience has followed me each time.
I arrive about thirty minutes before sunset and spend two hours or so walking and/or running until the sun goes down and the stars come out.
Each night before leaving I stand in the ocean and look up at the stars, picking out planets and constellations and watching for satellites and shooting stars.
With the ocean before me and the stars and planets above, I can feel my infinitesimal size.
Why am I here? What am I doing? What is my purpose for traveling? Why do I need to go anywhere?
I ponder these questions over and over while simultaneously feeling certain that I won't stop asking them, just as I feel certain that I won't stop traveling. (After all, none of us really do stop traveling. We're in constant motion, whether on this planet or through time itself.)
I'm reminded by these experiences that my travels are not a method of 'searching'; I'm not trying to fill a void or figure out what's missing. Everything I need, everything I ever will need, is already here; I'm already complete.
What travel does is help me strip away all the social conditioning, all the preconceived ideas and expectations that I create for myself. It helps me release all the bits and pieces of identity that I, and others, have plastered all over me in attempt to create a definition and a design that can easily be grasped onto.
Embracing change as a constant requires embracing detachment and movement as constants as well. Letting go is part of moving forward, just as moving forward is inherent in letting go.
Travel helps me rediscover what's already here, what goes with me from place to place, from moment to moment unchanged. Just as the ocean washes away my footprints, so does each moment wash away the previous, leaving behind only what was already here.
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.
Evita Ochel interviewed me for her Evolving Beings in Action series several months ago. Recently, she published an excellent ebook, Evolving Beings: This is Your Year, in which she curates bits of wisdom from 52 evolving beings. I'm including my contribution below.
I was sitting at my desk looking out the window at the Boston skyline when a bird flew past and soared off into the distance. I stopped what I was doing and let my eyes and my thoughts follow him. Was this it? Was the rest of my life going to be a repeat of yesterday? Was I going to spend the remainder of my time on Earth playing it safe and making choices based on what society thought was best?
The thought of that spark dying inside scared me to death. Not doing anything at all became more risky than risking it all. Later that evening I wrote an email to my boss and told him I was leaving in two months. I proceeded to sell everything I owned and, inspired by many who shared online their stories of nomadic travel, I formulated a rough plan to spend six months traveling through India, Vietnam, and Nepal with all my possessions on my back in a small 32L backpack.
I didn't have a lot of money to spend (I lost the three rental properties to the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy the following year), so I budgeted $3,000 for the entire trip. I had no idea how much traveling on a budget would affect the way this journey changed me. The small budget forced me to stay outside of the big cities and living close to the locals opened my eyes to the inequality, the poverty, and the sheer contrast in reality. The misplaced priorities of many of those living in developed countries, including myself, became blindingly obvious.
While I was buying houses, surfing the Internet, and fixing computers, entire families were dying of hunger and living on sidewalks. Children were scrounging for water and sitting in piles of trash. And not just a few people either, but nearly a billion people!
Yet despite all this, most of the people seemed happy. They seemed grateful to just be alive. Their possessions represented necessity, not fluff for simple pleasures, or junk for impulsive wants. Stuff in their lives had meaning and purpose.
It became incredibly apparent to me that in terms of stuff, I needed very little to live a happy and fulfilled life. Things were simply a distraction from what was real and my ability to make a difference in the world was severely limited by how much physical, emotional, and spiritual baggage I held onto.
I have committed to living a frugal, minimalistic lifestyle in all realms: physical, emotional, and spiritual and the freedom this enables allows me to explore all areas of my life with an open mind, an open heart, and an open soul.
Wisdom I Share With You
- Recognize your completeness and the utter beauty that surrounds you and exists within you. Search for the lesson in each situation and donʼt allow fear or pressure from the status quo to enslave your life.
- Find peace and contentment within each moment and be grateful for everything and everyone: we are all connected and each person contributes to supporting the existence of everyone else.
- Free yourself of attachment to things and learn to recognize universal truths. The most valuable things in the world cannot be bought or sold and you already possess everything you need to obtain them. Ask how you can do more with less.
- Look forward, look far into your future, not to create plans or set goals but to anticipate how you will wish you had spent your time. When you die, how do you want the world to look different than today? Is there something that you want to change more than anything else? Go do that. Search for the first step that leads in that direction and then start walking. Ask how your choices affect others and accept responsibility for making the best choice.
- It's easy to get distracted and weighed down by time, but it can either be your friend or your enemy. Time can either be a vessel for change and exploration or a prison for a stagnant and lifeless existence. The choice is yours and the responsibility to do something meaningful with your life is also yours.
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Join me as I cook dinner and contemplate the need for always living mindful and conscious. The book mentioned in the video is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (aff). It's a fantastic book and if you haven't read it, I really recommend you pick up a copy.
Living mindful and conscious is a choice that you can make at any moment, even this moment right now. It's not magic and it's not something you need to have special powers to do. Try it right now. Become aware of how you're sitting, your posture; how your neck feels; relax your jaw and mouth; take a deep breath and collect yourself.
It doesn't take a few hours, or even a few minutes. This takes a few seconds. No matter how busy you are, you do have time to do this exercise. And by doing it, you're going to improve your entire day. Or at the very least, this moment.
I was reading comments by a user on Slashdot and he was talking about how he lives a very simple life. He carries around very few things and he owns very little, however the things he does own he can do a lot with, such as his single computer, a laptop.
It made me start thinking about how much I would like to live a simple life. It made me realize how we accumulate so much stuff because we think we need it, or because we think it will make life easier. Instead of asking ourselves what we could buy to complete a specific task, or to fulfill a specific desire, we should ask ourselves what do we already have that could be used to complete a specific task, or what will we do with the object when our desire for it is gone in a few weeks (or days).
I've started to ask myself, "Do I see myself using this 6 months from now?". If not, then maybe buying it is a waste of money, and peace of mind! I've saved myself from buying lots of things by simply asking myself that question.
Children will often pick something up in a store and say they want it. They will cry and scream until their parents buy it for them, as if their very life depended on having it. And then, the very next day, if not the very next hour, they will put it down and forget it ever existed. They will loose all interest in it.
The sad thing is, most adults grow up and continue the same pointless routine. They see something they want, justify to themselves why they think they need it. Then, after putting down the cash, or the plastic, they add it to their already growing collection of stuff they rarely use, as if they're in a race for less space, trying to collect as much stuff as possible before their last day on Earth arrives.
What a waste. A waste of money, a waste of space, a waste of natural resources, a waste of the peace of mind they never knew they were giving up. And for what? You don't take any of that stuff with you when you're gone.
So next time you're about to buy something, ask yourself if you really need it.