We Influence Our Reality

One day when I was eight, and my dad was thirty-seven, I realized that I will never be able to catch up to his age, that he will always be twenty-nine years older than me. It frustrated me at the time because I wanted to catch up. I wanted to experience what it was like to be thirty-seven and I wanted to share that experience with my thirty-seven year-old dad.

But I couldn't. No matter how badly I wanted it, it just wouldn't happen.

Accepting that fact helped me realize something else: my dad will never get to revisit my age. He'll never get to be eight again. This made me feel proud to be eight. I was lucky to be experiencing something that he could not. No matter how badly he might have wanted to be eight again, he couldn't.

A few days ago I turned thirty-one. My dad is now sixty. We're still twenty-nine years apart.

I always remind myself that what's important is not your age. What's important is that you do not allow your age to influence your reality, to influence what you feel is true within yourself. How old do you feel? That's far more important than how old you are, because how old you are is how old you feel.

You choose and reinforce how old you feel by the thoughts and realities that you embrace, by what you accept and what you tell yourself is true.

I could've spent my entire eighth year wishing that I was thirty-seven, but instead -- fortunately -- I recognized how lucky I was to be eight. Today, I could think about what it means to be thirty-one, or I could think about what it means to be sixty. Or, I could simply live right here right now and enjoy it, the way I did when I was eight.

There's nothing we must handle with more care than the conversations we have with ourselves. We influence our reality, and in no greater place do we influence our reality than within ourselves.

Release Preconceived Notions

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.

Universal Truths

A banana cuts like a banana no matter where you live. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Boston or Sydney or Kathmandu: when you peel a banana with your hands and slice it with a knife, it responds in exactly the same way.

Does this seem obvious? It shouldn’t.

Think about it: you can travel across the entire planet to faraway places where language and culture become alien and where your previous understanding of the world no longer applies.

You can find places where cars drive in the opposite direction, where numbers suddenly change their meaning, and where light switches are on in the off position.

You can find places where a blanket is not just a blanket but a lifeline; where an empty bottle is a shower-head; a shaded sidewalk is a home; a large bucket of water is a source of life; and where cats and dogs are not just domesticated pets to be loved, but food.

Even how you define life and death can change depending on where you go. For some, death brings a sense of loss and represents a time for mourning. For others, death represents a time for celebration and funerals are a way of celebrating life.

But a banana still cuts like a banana. The water in your teacup still responds to your movements in exactly the same way. Birds fly through the air using the same principles of flight they used millions of years ago.

In my travels I can always find things that are different, things that don’t match up with what I already know. It’s not easy to accept those things, to lean into the discomfort of embracing the unknown. But the more I embrace the unknown, the more I find myself recognizing universal truths.

Laughter still feels like laughter no matter where I go. Kindness feels like kindness and authenticity feels like authenticity. It doesn’t matter who it comes from or how alien my surroundings.

The realness of those things doesn’t require thought or thinking; attempting to impose expectations of how they’re supposed to be only clouds the simplicity of their truth.

The truth is, when it’s real, you’ll feel it.

What universal truths have you felt?

Notes: A World of Worlds

Shawnacy Kiker wrote an enchanting, soul-stirring, and enlightening piece of short fiction that does an excellent job explaining how many of us fail to see that our world is just one of billions.

Some worlds are violent. Tinged of red, and harshly outlined. People belonging to these worlds walk with their heads low, pulling their coats tight around their bodies, regardless of the weather, as though wrapping themselves in steel-plated walls. They speak in shields, and the characters of their language have no way to give shape to the word love.

Other worlds are light. They bob and float over the face of the planet, moving in fields of lesser gravity. Those who dwell in light worlds cannot fathom why others choose to live heavy and dark. Thinking of these people, the ones who trudge through the bogs of earth, burdened and half-buried, makes the light ones sink slightly, and so they hang bright curtains on the edges of their world and live inside, cultivating laughter and wondering at the flight of butterflies.

It’s like scifi and fantasy for reality, a poetic trance-like window into the world of what is. Be sure to read the entire piece here.

What's real is now

There is a certain freedom that comes with releasing our hold on time. I wrote an essay last night, the annual placebo effect, in response to the huge volume of change I see occurring around me. Not physical change, but a change in perception. There's a shift in attitudes, a sudden change in priorities, and an increasing emphasis on being reflective, grateful, and aware.

But why now? 

The concept of time is something that has fascinated me for most of my life (I've written dozens of essays related to time over the past few years). No matter how deep into the subject I go, I always come back to one thing: now; the present moment. It's the point in time that moves with us. (Or do we move with it?)

In 2006 I wrote an essay called Timeless Living, where I reflected on the possibility that our perception of time may actually affect the speed at which our body experiences time.

As the "new year" approaches, I've been intentionally avoiding the entire concept of "a new year", because really, what makes it "a new year"? I think that term is a bit misleading and perhaps even dangerous. There's nothing extra new about tomorrow. It's another day, just like today and yesterday.

If I held onto this notion that tomorrow holds some special significance, it would change the way I see reality. Incomplete projects, like my Transparency Report which I had hoped to complete before "the end of the year", would suddenly become sources of stress and disappointment.

But more importantly, thinking about tomorrow as holding some special significance would pull me away from now. And really, now is the only thing I actually have. For all I know, something could happen in the next 14 hours that prevents me from even existing in "the new year".

But there's also a danger in entirely releasing the concept of time: It becomes easy to live only for the present moment, disregarding the future as non-existent or unreal. 

The future is real. We may or may not be physically present in that future, but it's still going to exist, with or without us accepting it.

The balance I attempt to strike is between accepting that now is the only moment in time where I can actually affect anything. The future may be unwritten and I may or may not exist within it, but one thing is certain: my actions right now will reverberate in that future.

There's nothing wrong with creating new years resolutions or setting goals; in fact, I'm an advocate for both, but I don't believe we should feel caged or limited by the framework in which we set those intentions. 

Our concept of time shouldn't be limiting, but rather augmenting. We can use time as a motivation for getting things done, but our foundation in reality shouldn't be based in something that's arbitrary. It should be based in something that's real.

What's real is right now.

The Online/Offline Duality

Are you online or offline? Are you connected or disconnected? Are they your online friends or offline friends? Which persona do they know you by?

I believe the online/offline duality is an unnecessary, even dangerous, concept to live by. 

Relating to the world, and to each other, in terms of real and virtual, to our presence as online and offline, and to our state of being as connected and disconnected, simply removes us from the real reality: we are here.

We are all here. When I communicate with you online, I'm still connecting with you

When I go about my day, I don't differentiate between being 'online' and 'offline'; I'm just me, here, living in the now. I may use different tools at different times for communication, but I'm still one person, communicating in one reality, in one universe, with one group of human beings.

Sometimes I connect with people in different physical places and sometimes with the people right in front of me. But they're both in this world; one isn't less real than the other. 

The Internet is a medium for communication. When we see someone standing several hundred feet away, do we consider them less real than if they were standing in front of us?

When we pick up the telephone and call someone close to us, do we feel alienated from that person, as if they're not quite real?

The medium for communication can change, but that doesn't change reality. There is no duality.

Revealing Reality by Considering the Context

A few hours after arriving in the United States, I tried recording a short video to capture the strange feelings and emotions that I was experiencing, but my thoughts felt too incomplete and scattered. Now that I've had two weeks to process everything, I feel like I can articulate what's going on a little better.

On my last day in India I was taking a taxi to the airport when I felt the driver suddenly tap the brakes. I looked out the front window to find a seven-foot bull strolling up the highway into oncoming traffic.

The cars were all traveling at high speeds but they barely slowed down and instead just swerved around the giant creature. It was as if they were simply avoiding a pothole. That's when I realized that I wasn't even surprised by what I had seen. Continue reading

Homesick in a Strange and Privileged Land

I was holding back tears and trying to swallow intense emotions that were bubbling to the surface. The room was dimly lit and the stadium-style seats were the most comfortable chairs I had felt in more than six months. I looked at the cup of coffee in my hand and, closing my eyes, I slowly touched it to my face and felt the warmth of its contents.

Only 24 hours earlier I had been in another country, a place on the opposite side of the world so foreign and so different that it was easy to forget that I didn't just arrive from another planet. Obvious differences stood out, but it was the subtle differences that really made the biggest impact.

The first thing I noticed was the faster pace of life. It's not so much the physical speed of things, but pace at which you're expected to respond to and process information. Simple things like paying for something at the register or answering the telephone felt hurried or rushed. Even conversations seemed needlessly accelerated. It feels as though you're expected to think, act, and operate like a machine. Continue reading

Floating in a Bubble

The past few weeks have been quite unusual, to say the least. Things around me seem to be happening so fast that all I can do is sit back and watch in awe and wonder. It seems pretty amazing to me that just two months ago, given as many tries as I wanted, I wouldn't have been able to guess that my life would be where it is now.

I've always felt as though everything around me wasn't real, as if my entire life was just a big elaborate dream. (If you've ever had a dream that you knew was a dream, you know how I feel while awake.) I still feel that way, only now I feel like I'm having a dream inside a dream, where in that dream I'm floating in a bubble not sure where I'm going to float to next.

This feeling of the unknown is not something I'm usually comfortable with, but the more time I spent wondering what I should do about it, the more I realized I was missing out on the moment. I am very happy and grateful for where I am now and wasting the moment seems like a horrible thing to do. As I pondered these new events in my life, a little voice in my head began whispering to me, "just run with it and see where it takes you".

We're all living in bubbles. We might have an blurry idea of the direction the wind is blowing us, but we really have no clue how we're going to end up getting there. Each one of us lives a life that we cannot fully predict. We meet people we didn't know we'd meet; we do things we didn't think we'd do; we go places that we previously couldn't have imagined a reason for going. Our bubble floats and bounces around throughout life, eventually bumping into something that makes our physical existence no more. Pop!

But this doesn't mean we should give up all control and just blow wherever the wind takes us. We should be mindful of the present and humbled by the unpredictability of life. Our ambitions, dreams, and purpose should guide us along the way but not create roadblocks. Our life shouldn't be rigid and easily upset by unexpected events. Instead, we should allow our life to flow like water.

Embrace unexpected events in life the same way water embraces an obstacle.