Five Life Lessons from a 31-Mile Mountain Race

I’m not a “runner.”

I never thought of myself as a runner. I mean, I liked to go out for a spin through the woods a few times a week, but I never thought I would pursue much more than that.

Two years ago, I figured I would push the envelope a bit and run a half-marathon. I enjoyed it.

And I couldn’t help but be terribly curious about strange creatures called “ultrarunners.” These are people who like to run distances longer than the marathon, which is 26.2 miles (42km). Races are often up and down mountains, at altitude, with inclement weather. When I listened to their interviews, watched videos, and read articles about them, they sounded both humble and passionate about running for 30, 50, 100 miles at a time.

What could possibly make them want to do that?

As much as I was perplexed, I also found that my intrigue into the sport grew. Before long, I was considering whether or not I should try one.

No, it would take too much time. I’ve never been able to stick to a training schedule very well. The longest I’ve ever run is 14 miles. Sure, I like being in nature, testing my limits, and getting into great shape, but this is a bit beyond me.

Me at the third aid station.

Me at the third aid station.

These were my thoughts as I hit “register” for the Squamish 50k.

The lessons that followed over the next 9 months are about much more than running.

They are psychological and spiritual in nature and apply to the life journey itself.

Ultrarunning as a test of perceived limits

As I implemented my training plan, it soon became clear to me that I was going to have to go beyond what felt possible for me. Well beyond.

If we’re not careful, we can take our “limits” to be simply what we’ve done before. I thought 14 miles was a lot to run a year ago. After many months of training this year, 14 miles was relatively easy.

Something interesting happens when you overcome a limitation a few times. You get suspicious of the whole idea of “limits” in the first place.

At first, 14 miles is a lot. After you run 14.5 miles, you say, wow, that was great. But how the hell can I do 18?

And then you do 18 and think, wow, cool. But 24 miles? Too much.

And then you run 24, and think, hm… I’m seeing a pattern here.

Limits are made-up. Your ability to accomplish something is not restricted by your capability, but by your desire. In other words, I’m sure that if I really wanted to, I could do a 50-mile race, even a 100-miler. I just don’t know if I want to, given the hard work and sacrifices necessary to get there.

This applies to many areas of life. Perhaps you dream of being at the top of your field in your profession. Perhaps you want to achieve a physical goal, like completing a triathlon or squatting a certain weight. Perhaps you want one of your songs to be on the radio.

Whatever it is, you can accomplish it. That’s not to say there aren’t certain criteria that will inform which goal you choose: the goal must speak to your soul and make you feel purposeful on a deep level. And you must be willing to put in the hours.

For example, I love trail running very much, so it makes sense that my goal would be trail running-based. If I were to set an impossible-sounding goal in, say, ice skating or competitive hot dog eating, I probably wouldn’t accomplish it. Not because it’s not possible, but because I wouldn’t be willing to do the work required for success.

My point is, if you have a goal that feels impossible, and the goal is within a field you’re passionate about, that’s a good sign. It’s a sign you’re meant to do it. Your dreams are yours for a reason.

Limits are arbitrary thought-forms. They dissolve with just a bit of pressure.

Ultrarunning as a celebration of the physical

In the very best parts of some runs, running feels like a dance. My mind is quieter, I’m in tune with my surroundings, and intimately aware of sensations in my body.

There’s a sweet spot that is a combination of the right amount of effort and the right amount of ease; the right balance of concentration and the right balance of relaxation. In these moments, it feels like a joyous celebration of having a body.

The body is capable of amazing feats. It adapts and improves according to whatever way it is stressed. When we run long distances, our bodies get better at running long distances. When we get sick, our immune system strengthens and we gain a stronger set of defenses. When we stretch, we get more flexible.

Engaging in some physical activity, be it running, yoga, weightlifting, skiing, or the countless other ways we can intentionally use our bodies, makes us more aware of the wonderful machine we have at our service. Tuning into it makes us want to treat it right.

Ultrarunning as mystical experience

You’ve heard of “flow,” right?

It’s the experience of doing an activity and feeling like you’re not the one doing it. It feels like the activity is coming through you. You’re not playing tennis; tennis is being played through you. You’re not running; you’re being ran.

It might sound woo-woo, esoteric, or “special,” but it’s not. It’s extremely common. I guarantee you’ve had an experience of flow — maybe even today.

And in my opinion, “flow” is a mainstream term for mystical experience. When our sense of a separate self dissolves, that’s a mystical experience. If you’re not the one steering the ship, then a greater force, a divine force, is. If you’re uncomfortable with the spiritual terminology, that’s fine. Think of it psychologically. The personal mind, the ego, gets really quiet, and we tap into the infinite resources we’ve got within.

During some of my runs, I would find myself so deep in flow that I had no sense that “I” was “on a run.” I just felt like part of the landscape.

This experience alone requires no justification or explanation. It’s simply beautiful.

And it just so happens that it helps us function optimally as well!

When we’re in flow, we’re at our best. It’s possible to be in flow during any experience. Parenting, gardening, athletics, making music, theater, etc. Tapping into the state of flow is the secret behind athletes’ greatest performances, guitarists’ greatest solos, writers’ greatest prose.

Whatever activity you enjoy that helps you find flow — spend as much time as you can there!

I would be on a long run, see a massive hill coming up, and just think, “thank god don’t have to run up that hill.” Something greater was going to do it for me.

Ultrarunning, pain, and suffering

There’s a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is one layer of experience, and suffering is an additional layer of experience. The layer of suffering is what we make up about the layer of pain. When what we make up looks real and true, we have real reactions to it.

It might seem strange to say we can be in pain and not suffer. But we can. Pain doesn’t have to have a negative meaning. It’s just pain. And when it’s just pain, we don’t suffer from it.

Here’s an example. There is a particularly hilly run 45 minutes from home. The first time I did it, boy, was it hard. My body was in some pain as I pushed through it. I enjoyed it the whole time.

A few weeks later, I returned to the same run. I was theoretically in better shape the this time. However, I suffered way more the second time. (And not because my pace was faster — it wasn’t.)

My mind was busy. I was comparing myself to previous efforts. I was pushing myself at the wrong times because I wasn’t listening to my body. I was thinking a lot about what was going on. I wasn’t in flow.

And so the experience wasn’t enjoyable. I wasn’t in the moment, and I wasn’t present to the pain. The pain became suffering.

Running was a way for me to cultivate my relationship to pain. And not just physical pain. Emotional pain too. The same lessons apply.

Emotions and physical pain can just be what they are without an added layer of meaning that we construct. And when they are what they are, they cease being experienced as negative. Again, it might sound contradictory to say sadness isn’t negative. But sadness in itself is just sadness. It becomes more dramatic when more thinking is added to it.

In every area of our life, being more in the now, regardless of what Now contains, brings us more peace and wellbeing.

Ultrarunning and the “Why” behind hard work

I’m going to confess something.

I know I’ve been ranting about how much I love trail running for 1500 words. But 2.5 weeks after my race, I went on a short run, and I didn’t like it.

This helped me understand something. In order to put in the hard work, I had to have a strong “Why.” In other words, Why the hell would I want to subject myself to the hard work and sacrifice required to complete my goal race?

20160822_135559

It’s true what they say about BC.

My goal race spoke to me on a deep, soulful level. I wanted to go beyond my previous physical limits. I wanted to spend a lot of time in nature. I wanted to travel to Squamish, British Columbia for the race because I heard it’s beautiful there.

And most of all, I wanted to use running to see what I’m really made of. I became fascinated with what kept me going when my body and mind were completely spent after having run for four hours but with 3 miles still to go before I got back to my car. What’s left when you’ve spent everything you thought you had? At these moments of despair, I had to dig deeper than I’d ever gone in order to continue. That made me feel alive. I kept coming back for more.

In order to achieve the success we dream of, we have to put in hours and hours of hard work.

But hard work in itself isn’t pleasurable. The sacrifice has to feel worth it. When you love it enough, it doesn’t feel like sacrifice.

In a marriage, you’ve got to love someone enough to put up with the inevitable challenges you’ll face. In writing, you’ve got to love the creative process enough to put up with humbling rejection. And in running, the hard work becomes tolerable, even enjoyable, when you love it enough to keep going through the pain.

Because I had a deep Why, I didn’t hesitate when I had to wake up at 3 am to run before a flight to New York. I didn’t question whether or not I was going to try to maintain my running schedule during a two-week trip to Europe. I didn’t stay home if it was cold, raining, or sweltering.

That commitment and discipline becomes possible with a deep Why.

And here’s the truth: right now, my Why is spent. So running 4.5 miles felt like a lot and it wasn’t that fun.

If you’ve got a dream deep enough inside you that it is touching your heartstrings and sweetening the current flowing through your soul, following that dream is going to light you on fire. And that fire can drive you higher than you’ve ever been. Your Why becomes the rocket fuel that propels you past what you previously conceived.

Get curious

Gary Robbins, the race director, is an elite ultrarunner.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bragging. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity and the physical health to get through it.

The experience was as humbling as it was enlivening. Entering the ultrarunning community made me aware of just how impressive some runners are. They blow me out of the water in many ways, and it’s an honor to know them.

The biggest thing I hope to pass on is to get curious. About what you’re capable of. About what makes you feel alive. And dream without editing yourself — your Why lives beyond your editing mind.

What can you experiment with? What do you want to try out?

With all my love,

Jock

5 Hidden Spiritual Meanings Behind Clouds

This post was originally published on the Sivana East blog on July 20.

Thoughts are clouds and you are the sky.

That’s a nice sentiment, isn’t it? It could be a mantra for meditation. Or a meme. It’s also more than just a nice phrase. It’s a powerful description of why we’re perfectly whole, at peace, and loving in our truest form. Thoughts are awfully similar to clouds. Let’s break this down by looking at the nature of clouds and their relationship to sky…

Please head over to Sivana East to continue reading!

The (Real) Meaning of Inner Peace

I’ve spoken to several people recently about inner peace and what it means to them. I’ve been surprised by how often an odd definition of it has come up.

One friend, for example, told me that he didn’t want inner peace. After all, why would he want to just feel relatively happy and calm all the time?

A client also mentioned that he wasn’t quite sure if inner peace is all it’s cracked up to be — after all, if we feel angry or upset, it’s not right to repress it. We have to feel those emotions too.

These interpretations struck me as funny because inner peace means something completely different to me.

It’s not at all about avoiding or repressing certain emotions. It’s not about learning how to only be happy and calm no matter what’s going on (like this robot guy from Parks and Rec).

In other words, it’s not about becoming less human. It’s about becoming more human.

It’s about freedom

Psychological freedom. Freedom to feel anything.

Most of us have rules that we’ve made up for ourselves that say we’re not allowed to feel certain things. We restrict our freedom to protect ourselves. For example, my experiences with depression made me afraid of sadness because I thought it would devolve into depression.

Usually the rules we make up are the result of hurt or pain we’ve received. The rules are walls designed to stop that pain from happening again.

The thing is, those walls end up enclosing us, shrinking our world, and cutting us off from living life to the fullest. Alan Watts said, “you can’t numb yourself to pain without also numbing yourself to pleasure.” Our rules often end up causing us more pain than the emotion we’re trying to avoid.

Our suffering is often the result of the feelings we have about our feelings. In other words, we decide certain feelings are a problem, and so we feel wrong when we have them. On the other hand, if we’re free to feel what we feel without that added layer, things get simpler and feelings pass through us more quickly.

Dismantling the walls and breaking our rules is pretty easy when we know a few basic traits of the mind:

  1. inside every person’s mind is a core of resilience, wellbeing, wisdom, and peace
  2. this core is beyond who we think we are based on our personality, wounds, past, and imagined future
  3. this version of our Selves is always accessible
  4. we don’t have earn, work for, develop, or practice anything in order to experience this wellbeing

(Me telling you these things might not be enough for you to know them for yourself. Obviously, the real exploration has to done by you. I encourage you to find out for yourself if these things feel true. Challenge the objections you have to them.)

Everyday wisdom

Now that I’ve listed these features of our innate wisdom and made them appear oh-so-special, I’d also like to remind you that they’re as common as a sunrise. You’ve probably been in your wellbeing at least once in very recent memory. If you’ve been in flow doing your favorite hobby, absorbed in a great conversation, or find yourself with a nice or grateful feeling for no reason, that’s it. It’s basically a consequence of being present.

The Three Principles teacher Mavis Karn recently told my coaching academy a story about a group of people with mental health challenges with whom she was working. She was speaking with them about this same innate wellbeing that I’m describing, and at first it didn’t make sense to them. These people all had official diagnoses like schizophrenia and bipolar. They had been told for years that they were fundamentally flawed and would probably never fully recover.

Then one of them had an epiphany. “Wait — when I’m playing basketball, I don’t get the impulses I normally do. How can I have a disease that doesn’t exist when I’m playing basketball?”

This was the moment when the light bulb flicked on and he recognized his innate wellbeing.

Here’s another story from my own life. Last week, I was having a crappy day. I wasn’t motivated, I tried to write an article that came out scattered and incoherent, and I felt unpleasant (yes, even life coaches have tough days). I was lying on my bed reminding myself how awful I felt when a new friend gave me a call out of the blue and invited me for a beer. It was such a surprise when he called that I got shocked out of my mood when I answered the phone, and felt completely like myself again. My wellbeing was right there waiting for me, as soon as I stopped believing all of the thoughts I had about being moody.

Why am I spending so much time talking about wellbeing in an article about inner peace?

It’s because seeing the fact of universal wellbeing is a shortcut to the psychological freedom that gives us peace.

Feel anything

In my friends’ weird definitions of inner peace that I listed in the beginning, they thought inner peace meant only feeling good things.

Inner peace means being free to feel anything. It means not being afraid of our experience — which fundamentally transforms it.

We can stop fearing our experience by catching a glimpse of our innate wellbeing. It is our “factory default” to which we we can always return, almost like a safety net. Or better yet — it’s like home. Wherever our emotional adventures take us, we can always return home and remember who we really are. Our deepest core is always whole and undamaged.

(This is the basic feeling of OKness that I refer to in these articles about happiness.)

You're the bird, and your innate wellbeing is your wings.

You’re the bird, and your innate wellbeing is your wings.

Dive deeper

Did this article resonate with you? Do you have a different definition of inner peace? Or would you like to explore how to bring more inner peace into your life? Comment below, send me an email, or fill out my coaching application form to have a free session with me.

Thanks for reading!

To Those of You Who Believe You’re In Control

Dear fellow controllers,

Control is a funny thing. The more of it we seem to have, the deader things become.

Although I am not always free of trying to control things, a few things I’ve learned lately have started to change my perspective on control.

Last year, my then-girlfriend and I took a road trip to Monterey.

We had three days. The first two days, we had lots and lots of plans — I wanted to do certain things, she wanted to do certain things, and we (OK, mostly me) stressed about fitting everything in and “optimizing” (such a robotic word) the trip.

Ironically, the things we did those two days — although they had the makings of cool, novel experiences — didn’t feel enjoyable. Our (OK, mostly my) state of mind wasn’t light, happy, or fun. It was tense.

The third day of the trip was set aside for making our way north along the coast. We had no plans or structure to it, other than needing to be home by the end of the night.

It was by far the best day of the trip. Since we didn’t have preconceived ideas about what we should be doing, we were free to follow any imaginative idea that came to us. We were like Jim Carrey in “Yes Man.” We stopped in Santa Cruz and rode the rollercoaster on the boardwalk. We played arcade games.

IMG_4079 resizeWe kept driving north and stopped for lunch in a tiny, no-name town that would never be a destination. Population 400. We wandered down to the beach and sat in a cave for a while. Then we noticed a stream flowing out of some rocks and into the ocean. We looked upstream and saw a long tunnel stretching for hundreds of feet under the road and to a forest on the other side.

We waded through the stream and sang in the tunnel because it made beautiful reverberations and echoes.

When we got home that night we were both filled with that exciting, refreshing feeling that comes with discovery and adventure.

My memories of the last day are much clearer and more distinct than the other days, and I think it’s because I felt so alive. And I felt so alive because that day felt like I was in the flow of life. I surrendered my plans and let something else guide me.

Is control real?

In this story, the instances in which I felt most alive were the times when I wasn’t in control. I relinquished the idea that “I” was the one directing the show. And miraculously, things still happened. Decisions kept being made. I kept moving forward. I got everywhere I needed to be. And yet, “I” wasn’t making those things happen by my own choice and agency, per se.

In other words, when I let go of the steering wheel, something kept steering.

And not only was it easier, but I felt happier, more alive, and more connected to the loved ones around me.

I began to wonder: is control is real, or is it just a habitual thought pattern I use to feel safer? When I let go of control, the world didn’t fall apart — in fact, it became a nicer place.

After reflecting on this possibility, I started paying more attention to this mysterious current that carries us even when we stop swimming. And I got curious: I wonder what will happen if I give up control in other areas of my life, too? How will it impact my job, my coaching, my athletic performance, my relationships?

I’ve been experimenting with this a bit. And let me tell you — I’m liking the results so far.

When I coach people and I believe “I” have to make an impact, say something wise, or direct the conversation, man do I get up in my head. And that’s not good for connecting or listening. And when I’m not in my head — when I show up and get out of the way — it feels so much easier. And to boot, because there is real listening and connection occurring, the conversations are naturally more impactful.

The same results occur everywhere I play with letting go of control.

Doing so connects us with the essence of Life, so that it can come through and power us. To think we’re separate of that process might make us feel sheltered from the ongoing change that is life, but it also cuts us off from the simple joy of being alive.

calvin

Control and creating results

Control (or the lack thereof) is an important aspect of living a peaceful and enjoyable existence. But how does it apply to our goals and dreams, where we’re trying to bring things about in the world?

This is an area where we can get in our own way precisely because our goals mean so much to us.

Those of us prone to exercising control may think that in order to achieve we need to become perfectionistic, stress about little details, and attach to a particular outcome. But when I look back, those tendencies were rarely necessary to the process or beneficial to the outcome. I may have succeeded in spite of them rather than because of them.

Although it may feel like a leap of faith, we can actually rely on the animating force behind life to move us toward our goals — because that’s what’s been animating us the whole time.

Michael Neill’s “ultimate strategy for success” (and this is a man who has been a success/transformative coach for almost three decades) goes like this:

Show up and aim yourself in a direction, then respond to what shows up along the way.”

If this sounds too simple, good. We’ve been over-complicating it for quite a while.

And if you think about your life, I bet you could come up with a few examples that fit his description.

Consider an accomplishment you’re proud of, or a major life decision you made. Did you decide to undertake these things knowing exactly what would happen, where you would be, and what you would do in each stage of the journey? Or did you just pick where you wanted to go, aim yourself that way, and work with whatever life delivered?

Much of the meandering series of events that constitutes our lives occurs in a way that is just right, without our planning or interference. We take steps forward, opportunities arise, new ideas come to us, we follow the threads. Sooner or later you have a college degree, or you’ve picked a new city to move to, or you land a new job, or you meet your partner.

When we simply show up with the willingness to move and respond, life provides the wind for our sails. The wind is doing the real work. And if that’s the case, then we waste a whole lot of energy trying to make big changes happen out of our control or willpower.

When we see how the system works, we can harness the forces at play to create great things. In fact, it would be better to say they harness us. Tuning into the system brings a new level of ease, freedom, and fun to our lives.

It’s as if we were playing music off the sheet our whole lives, but then find out we can improvise in any key or style we want.

Putting it all together

The things that make Life Life — flow, change, and spontaneity — are opposed to control. When we try to control our lives, we feel cut off from the source of life. The source of life is a wiser, more capable agent of change than our intellect, and it reliably delivers power through us when we don’t try to control. And if control isn’t real anyway, then we can never truly be cut off from the source of life, we can just think we are — and that’s great news.

I hope, my fellow controllers, that we all learn to not be the driver, but the vehicle, and leave the details to the forces behind the curtain. I invite you to test this out for yourself and reply back to tell me how it goes.

With love,

Your ex-control addict

My Two Biggest Takeaways From the Third Weekend of Supercoach Academy

I have a friend who lives in the English countryside in a small town called Ely. It’s just north of Cambridge. When I visited him, he took me to the historic Ely Cathedral.

The massive building dates back hundreds of years — most of it was finished by 1200 AD. The site was originally founded in 673 AD as a shrine to Etheldred, a “queen and saint.” The place has history.

We planned to attend a choral performance in the main hall, which promised to be enchanting given the acoustics and spirit of the place. Right before it started, I asked my friend where the bathroom was.

We surveyed the holy and ancient hall and he replied, “anywhere is a bathroom if you’re brave enough.”

I struggled to keep myself from laughing throughout the performance.

After visiting Cambridge, I took a train into London for the third weekend of Supercoach Academy. This weekend’s theme was Creation. Here are two of my biggest insights from the weekend.

1) Humor is more than just funny

Aaron Turner was the guest teacher this weekend, and he’s one of the clearest Three Principles teachers I know. Something I didn’t know about him before this weekend was that he’s hilarious. He’s a 3P comedian. For a good portion of both days he presented, the entire room was full of laughter.

Aaron and I

Aaron and I

Everyone loves to laugh. Comedic performances are amusing and enjoyable. This weekend helped me realize that there’s more to it than just enjoyment though.

At one point, Aaron was describing his understanding of the principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought. There was a point at which I found it hard to follow, and I wasn’t quite clear on what he was saying. I could feel the cogs beginning to turn as my intellect geared up to try to analyze it, compare it to what I had heard previously, and decode the riddle.

I noticed that that process actually came with an uncomfortable sensation. It came with the heavy feeling of “I don’t get it,” and “I need to understand better,” and “this is complicated.” Have you ever tried to learn a very challenging subject, like calculus? This was the same feeling.

And then, something great happened.

Aaron said something that had us all in stitches.

And suddenly, I didn’t care that I “didn’t get it.” That feeling left me. And since the feeling was gone, I was back in the place of “I do get it.”

The reason that’s so great is because I know the feelings of “I don’t get it” and “this is complicated” aren’t true. In fact, it’s only the thought of “I don’t get it” (and the ones that follow) that makes us not get it. It’s a heavy thought, one of smallness. In my experience, when I do feel like I “understand” the Principles, it comes with a feeling of lightness and simplicity. That’s when my grounding is deepest.

It’s so easy to get caught up in intellectual processing of the Principles. But what Aaron’s humor did was short-circuit that pattern. Laughing is inherently an act of lightness and joy. Those simply took the place of my confusion.

Real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter.I completely skipped over “I don’t get it” and returned to the nice feeling that comes when I do “get it.” I didn’t need to return to try to figure it out because there wasn’t anything in particular that needed to be solved.

Because thought is the only thing that takes us out of our natural, simple aliveness, I knew that going to a place of confusion and heaviness wasn’t based on true thoughts. And the reason I remembered that is because I laughed.

Humor is more than just funny. It’s a reminder of how at any moment, life can become simple and graceful again. It’s a divine gift that inserts us back into that beautiful space. So thanks for cracking us up, Aaron.

2) Creation is our natural state

I took one of Michael Neill’s courses called “Living from Mind” last fall. There was a module about Decisions, in which we explored the fact that decisions come naturally and easily to us. We make thousands of decisions every day. And for the vast majority of them, we do so without thinking deliberately about them. We think about them in the sense that we decide what to do and when, but we don’t “think” about them in the sense of measured deliberation and weighing of pros and cons.

It’s when we feel a decision merits particular attention that we separate it out from the flow of life in which we are always making decisions. That’s when we get caught up with it. In the course, we explored the possibility that decision-making is natural to us, and not something we have to learn how to do properly.

Like decision-making, our minds have other natural strengths, such as focus, flow, and connection.

Another is Creation.

We are creating all the time, every day. We can think “I’m not creative,” but that’s just an arbitrary thought that we’ve gotten used to. Everyone is creative because we are constantly creating our lives.

An Arnold Patent quote goes something like, “We don’t create abundance. Abundance is always present. We create limitation.” There is a similar sentiment behind the famous Rumi poem, “Your task is not to seek for love. Your task is to seek and find all the barriers you have built against it.”

Both of these quotes point to the fact that we are innately loving and creative beings.

This weekend, we explored the space from which creativity flows. By exploring it, and knowing it’s there, and becoming familiar with it, we remove some of the illusion about our apparent lack of creativity.

When we decide that there is something specific we want to bring into the world, we often do the same thing we do that breaks us out of the daily flow of decisions. We grasp hold of it and try to force it. But creation doesn’t work by force. (It’s not that you can’t create something by sheer willpower, but you just won’t have the power of the universe at your back. And it certainly won’t feel easy and graceful.)

Creating by forcing it is ultimately unsustainable. That’s how people burn out, sell out, or drop out. And it’s one of the ways we come to believe that there are limits to our creativity.

Creation is the natural state of the world. Everywhere we look, things are continuously coming into the world from nowhere. From the nothingness flows everything, and eventually it all flows into the nothingness again.

Look at the way each person on the planet made it here. Two cells meet, a cascade of chemical events occur, and somehow — without intention or strategizing (though not without difficulty! thanks mom) — a human being emerges nine months later.

We’re all living reminders of organic, intelligent creation.

What if everything we create from a natural, organic place is like that? We give birth to our creations. We usher things into the world. By not taking the reins and controlling the process, we stay in touch with the source of creativity. This source feeds us inspiration. If there is an action to take, we’ll know. But we are not in charge. While that might be a hit to the ol’ ego, it’s also tremendously relieving.

Maybe you know the feeling. You sit down to write and the words flow from an unknown place. You wake up and hear a song idea in your head. A new business idea hits you and you effortlessly start taking steps to bring it to fruition.

The energy that animates us is also the source of creativity. It’s inside each of us. The more we work with that force, the more we can gracefully bring our creations into the world.

It’s Not Our Job to Change Ourselves

We all know suffering in some form. Maybe it’s an emotional trauma from our childhoods. Maybe it’s extreme stress to make enough money to support a family. Maybe it’s a heartbreak. Maybe it’s depression. Whatever form it takes, we have all known suffering.

Some of us, at some point, decide that we want less suffering. That’s what I did. And that decision took me down many paths. Some were helpful, others weren’t.

It started with me deciding that I am the master of my experience, I am the creator of my reality. That’s what all the self-help stuff was saying anyway. It was up to me to make things better — and if they weren’t better, I was doing it wrong.

Eventually I found out that isn’t a very sustainable approach. I made tiny amounts of progress (I guess it was better than feeling like the victim of my circumstances) and then floundered about for a while.

Now I understand why. It’s because the statement “I’m the creator of my reality” is true in one sense, and not true in another. It is true in the sense that we each have a different experience of life depending our unique individuality and perspective. It’s not true in the sense that we are in charge of our reality.

With this refined knowledge, I renewed my search for reduced suffering.

After more dead ends and more learning, I arrived (with the help of various teachers, sages, and religions) at the fundamental role thought plays in our experience of life. That’s the topic of this post (and it’s an essential building block to what I discuss here, so check it out if you’re interested).

There is a particularly beautiful benefit that comes from tuning into the fact that our thinking is what we experience. The benefit is that the more we see that fact, the more we naturally align with a system that works in our favor.

“The kindness of the design”

Before I describe why there is a kindness to the design of how we experience life that works in our favor, I know there are skeptics out there who would disagree.

There’s a strong case to be made, as was done in this epic post, that “the universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about you.” And interestingly, I don’t think he and I are in disagreement. His point is that at the end of the day, it’s silly not to go for our dreams. Even if we fail spectacularly. The universe is impartial as to whether you succeed or fail; whether you try or hide in the shadows.

Sure.

My point is about something entirely different.

It’s that by waking up to the fact of thought, certain changes begin to happen organically in our lives. They happen with less effort and without needing to set an intention to make them happen. And they are very positive changes.

Relationships improve. Things that used to stress us no longer do. We appreciate what we have more.

Why? How?

It’s because we’re in sync with the way things work. And when we’re in sync, we’re not under the illusion that we are the ones in charge of our thoughts. We’re not under the illusion that we have to initiate and implement change in order to fix ourselves. Simply put, we’re out of own way.

And when we’re out of the way, there’s space for something new to come through.

What comes through comes from a place uncontaminated by our personal thinking — our desires, insecurities, fears, and vices. The space beyond our personal thinking is the source from which it all flows. When we’ve cleared away the log jam that impedes that flow, we’re touching a space of peace and love much more directly.

The more we get familiar with this place — and that’s not something that we have to do, it’s just something that happens when we tune into the system — the less we fight the current.

Imagine what would happen if you were swimming upstream your entire life, and then someone told you, “hey, you know you can swim downstream, right? It’s actually a lot easier.”

You’d have so much more energy. Life would seem so much easier. And then, the river of life actually starts to boost you forward, because you’ve aligned yourself with the direction the river was already flowing. You can harness it’s power to swim really fast and do things with an ease you hadn’t known before. You’d almost start to think there’s an inherent kindness to the river…

And that’s what happens psychologically when we start dancing with (instead of against) the natural features of the system.

For example, since I have looked in the direction of mind, consciousness, and thought as the origins of my experience, my dreams have gotten better. For a long time, I used to almost exclusively have dreams that ranged from neutral to extremely unpleasant. Now I have dreams that really feel like dreams: I get to do crazy things with no consequences, and explore made-up worlds with curiosity.

I’ve found myself naturally and effortlessly being really grateful for my life. The content of my life hasn’t changed drastically, but what I have seems so much more wonderful. (A huge trend in positive psychology right now is instructing people to make lists of what they’re grateful for to increase happiness. That’s great and I’m not knocking that one bit. Still, it has been cool to notice that it also works the other way around: that gratitude is a natural result of getting our minds in tune with psychological principles — no list-making necessary.)

And one of my favorites has to do with the content of my thoughts. Perhaps the single most common strategy in classic self-help and mainstream psychology involves looking at our thoughts and then trying to improve the content of our thoughts. In self-help lingo it’s “positive thinking.” Everyone is correct when they note that positive thinking is a great way to have a better experience of life. But it is usually followed by the imperative that we must control our thoughts by thinking only positive ones. Good luck!

So it was exciting when I recently noticed that the content of my thoughts had become more positive without me doing anything to make it so.

I know that I’ll suffer and drop back into believing my thinking again — it’s not like I beat the game and became a robot alien super guru.

But the prospect of negative thought is less scary than it used to be, because I know it’s not my job to get myself out of it.

The Healthy Addiction

I tend to write articles about inner happiness, the psychological source of our experience, following your dreams, and other nonsense.

This week I’d like to mix it up, because there are no rules. I’d like to talk about another one of my passions. It’s a topic that most people have a lot of feelings about, for better or worse.

Exercise!

The healthy addiction

To start, I’ll mention how unhealthy addiction works.

You take a drug and it gets you high. After the high there is a come-down, in which you usually feel worse than normal (hangover, feeling burnt, withdrawal). Afterwards you slowly return to your baseline feeling state. It looks something like this.

In addiction, you take the drug often enough that you never return to the baseline emotional state. Your body relies more and more on the drug to feel OK, and over time you depend on it to feel normal. The baseline drops and anytime you’re not on the drug you feel incredibly unpleasant, like the lowest graph on the above link.

I used to wonder, why isn’t there a drug we can take that first makes us feel unpleasant, but then raises our baseline state over time as our bodies adapt and rebound?

Until I realized, there is! That’s exactly what exercise does.

Exercise itself is at least slightly unpleasant. We are putting our muscles and our minds through stress as we push ourselves to go a little further than we thought, lift a little bit more than we did last week. That’s one of the reasons we feel resistance to going to the gym, getting out for that run, and staying committed to them long term.

However, what I and many I’ve talked to have noticed, is that when you complete your prescribed exercise routine, you never feel worse than you did before it. Maybe you feel the same, but never worse. And sometimes you feel way better!

And over time, as you keep taking your positive drug, you get stronger and stronger. You have more and more natural energy. There are cognitive and neurotrophic benefits to exercise.

It’s the opposite of what happens in an unhealthy addiction — there’s an initial surge of pleasure, but over time we drop lower and lower. With exercise, there’s initial pain, but over time we rise higher and higher!

And have you heard of the runner’s high?

Supposedly, as your conditioning and endurance capacity improves, you need to run further in order to experience the same post-run endorphin rush.

It’s just like developing a tolerance to a drug — at first, one dose gets you high. Over time, you need two, three, or more times the dose (of mileage) to get you the same effect.

Why do it?

We all know the common reasons to exercise. They have to do with physical health and appearance. While those are important, we are constantly regaled by them.

I’ll skip those ones. I’d rather focus on the emotional and even spiritual reasons to exercise. I encourage you to look for these deeper reasons for yourself as you exercise, because they’ll sustain you longer than superficial goals like having a better body. I’m not saying that’s a bad goal, just that there are other worthwhile ones to emphasize.

I like to trail run. One major reason is that I feel integrated with nature. For some portions of my runs, my thoughts slow down, and my awareness is entirely in my body. I lose my sense of being “Jock” and feel united with the gorgeous land I’m traversing.

Another thing that makes me feel alive when I run on trails is the element of exploration. There’s nothing I love more than picking out a new park or set of trails, striking out, and just exploring. Not knowing where they’ll lead, what I’ll see, or how long it will take is invigorating. I have no doubt that if someone forced me to run the same distance on roads or in town, I simply wouldn’t run. Trail running is a different sport to me.

And lastly, I run to test myself. I’m training for the Squamish 50k, a roving mountain ultramarathon with 8500 feet of elevation gain. Why?

To find out what my limits are.

The journey of preparation for it is a constant confrontation of my perceptions of who I am and of what I’m capable. I have to continually redefine what I mean when I say “long run,” the most important part of my weekly training regimen. When I started, 8 miles was long for me. Now, 18 is long for me. By the summer, I’ll run a 26 mile long run. And the race itself is even longer. Every time the word “long” gets redefined, I also get redefined.

(Part of that is that I get to spend “longer” amounts of time eating.)

via GIPHY

And to make sure I don’t ever get cocky, I am constantly reminded of the elite ultrarunners who conquer the same distances I do but in much less time, at altitude, and with a greater elevation gain. Some of them are motivated by histories of depression and addiction, and running is their salvation. The reasons they run go as deep as the very essence of who they are.

I don’t need to be as good as them — I just want to see how good I can be.

It’s challenging, but so rewarding. Testing myself and reaching new heights is exhilarating. Take it from this 100-year old sprinter:

Wow.

One of my best friends gets the exact same thrill I get from running, but through weightlifting.

It’ll be a little different for everyone. The common denominator is finding reward in challenging yourself and overcoming those challenges. And rejoicing in the wonders of being a physical being with a body.

My intention in this article isn’t to try to motivate you to get exercising, but to share some of powerful reasons I (and maybe you too) feel called to spend an inordinate amount of time doing something that has no glory, no monetary gain, no recognition, and no benefit to other people.

What’s your favorite kind of exercise? What do you love about it?

The Magic of Seeing the Source

Imagine it’s a hot July day. You’ve got the AC cranked up, the blinds shut, you took a cold shower, but you just can’t seem to cool off.

You ignore the fact that you have a fire roaring in the fireplace because you don’t know that fires are hot.

So you call Sears to come check out the AC unit–there’s no way it would be so hot if the AC was working properly. You put your clothes in the freezer for a few minutes and then put them back on (a little trick I used during sweltering collegiate summers in Delaware). You consider going to buy a bag of ice and sit in an ice bath.

Then you ask your neighbor, who’s walking by, if she has any ideas about how to stay cool. She peeks her head in the door and says, “you know fires are hot right?”

Everything seems to make sense now. The solution is simple. You put out the fire.

Here’s another example.

Your left foot really hurts. It’s constantly bruised and in pain. No one, not even doctors, can tell you exactly what’s wrong with your foot. The fact that you spend 12 hours each day kicking a wall doesn’t register surprise in anyone with whom you discuss the foot pain.

You’ve tried everything. Homeopathic remedies. Seeing a chiropractor. Whiskey. Ibuprofen. Whiskey and ibuprofen. Different shoes. Orthotics. The Paleo diet. Transcendental Meditation.

Some of them offer temporary relief, but before you know it, the problem comes roaring back. You can’t seem to figure out the root issue.

Until one day, you look down. Some part of you knew that you were kicking the wall, but it never seemed like it was related to the pain. As you look down, a new possibility emerges: maybe the foot pain comes from kicking the wall!!

Everything is different. You don’t need to try a new strategy, medicine, or technique. You just stop kicking the wall. Soon, your foot is back to normal.

What’s the point?

There’s something magical about seeing the source of a problem. Especially when we’ve been looking for answers in the wrong place for a long time.

Seeing to the source automatically simplifies and clarifies. It removes the necessity to do more work or learn a new skill. It ends the frustration of trying one thing after another without success. The “problem” might not look like such a problem anymore. A lot of times it just dissolves.

Have you ever had an experience like this?

The funny thing is that when we look for ways to change ourselves, our moods, our thoughts, or our circumstances, 99.9% of the time we’re trying to crank the AC without noticing we have a fire crackling. We’re taking ibuprofen without noticing that kicking the wall hurts our foot.

It’s innocent, it’s well-intentioned, and it’s pervasive. And everyone does it (including me). It’s so common to look for love in all the wrong places.

But looking in the right direction has the potential to fundamentally transform our experience of our lives.

So what’s the direction? What’s the missing link that we’re all not seeing?

Thought

It’s that everything we experience is thought. We don’t experience the “outside world.” We don’t experience people, events, or situations. What we experience are thoughts. It isn’t what, but that, we think.

Thoughts aren’t just verbalized sentences. Sometimes they’re more subtle ones we don’t notice we have. Thoughts are an energy that composes our personal realities.

Don’t just take my word for it. Look to see if you can ever have an experience without thought. (Feelings come from thought, so they’re not an exception.) This doesn’t mean try to quiet the mind. It means look to see if thought, in its various forms, is what constitutes our entire experience.

When I first saw that this might be the case, it instantly lightened me up.

And then over time, I started to forget how it’s true 100% of the time in 100% of the areas of our lives.

That first area you see this to be the case is your gateway into seeing the source of our experience. When you walk through the gateway and keep walking, there will be other areas that have closed gates. Those are the areas where it’s really hard to see that it’s thought that we’re experiencing. They are the areas where we feel confused, scared, and insecure. “Well, I can see how my experience of that conflict with my coworkers came from arbitrary, made-up thoughts. But you’re saying my issue with my girlfriend is just thought? No way.”

The reason we feel confused, scared, and insecure, is because we’ve lost sight of the truth. That’s the only way we can suffer. We think those situations feel the way they feel because that’s inherently how they are. They’ve got real, ingrained meaning, and the meaning is confusing, scary, and insecurity-inducing.

As far as I know, we’ll always have those areas. We’ll keep getting insecure.

But over time, we’ll remember in more and more areas of our lives that we’re creating them through an interplay of thoughts arriving and becoming real in consciousness. That’s the only way to have an experience. And seeing that can transform us.

It has the ability to get us out of our own way. It makes us clearer, lighter, looser.

Because

  1. we’re not in charge of our thoughts,
  2. thoughts always change, and
  3. they’re more or less arbitrary,

we can just let thoughts do what they do and dance around. Until they get tired, and go away.

We stop thinking that we’re the dancers on the stage, and realize that we’re the stage and in fact the entire theater. And behind that is an experience of peace. It’s an experience of contentment, love, and enlightenment.

Since thoughts are great actors, we always get drawn into the drama again. Yet we’re always only one thought away from healing and peace.

I know I am making a lot of definitive statements–it makes for good writing. But don’t just accept what I’m saying, or process it on an intellectual level. Look to see for yourself if it’s true in your life. That’s where the real impact and transformation will come from.

Freedom

If there was nothing inherently wrong with you, no pain that could permanently wound you, nothing worse that could happen to you than a thought–what would be possible?

You could stop thinking anything needs to change before you can be happy. You could stop wasting so much energy trying to fix the world in order to feel better. You could relax, because you’re not the one who needs to solve your problems. You could stop fearing your experience.

You could see how you feel is completely independent of whatever is going on in the circumstances of your life.

You could be free.

Mental Strength for Moving Through Trauma and Ending Pain Cycles

This is a guest post by Zaki Shafi.

Mental strength is extremely important to develop and we can all easily agree with that. We face difficult situations daily and we need mental strength to move through them effectively and kindly. Also, most of us have experienced traumas that have shaped us negatively. Mental strength is extremely important to view our past traumatic experiences and to gain insight and understanding from them in order to recover what had been adversely affected.

The conventional idea of mental strength is a tough mind that can handle what life throws at you. Typically, images of martial arts, the strength of weightlifting, meditation on mountain tops or beaches, etc. Although the ideas presented here do not preclude that, they stress that the main source of mental strength is authentic connection with close, trusted ones and most importantly, a greater power.

How does mental strength intersect with trauma?

True mental strength calls for being able to view the painful and traumatic experiences of our lives without falling into old patterns of perspective that were engendered by traumatic experience. It is to be able to view them steadfastly with the eyes of a connected Self (I’ll describe what I mean by a connected Self soon) and gain insight. On a micro scale, we see how we moved through the experiences, the mistakes we made, the emotions it brought about, how relationships evolved after the event, how behaviors and beliefs formed to reinforce the emotions and perceptions of self during the trauma, how it affected interpersonal dynamics, and so on. On a macro scale, we see the pre-existing conditions of pain and belief systems that led to the abuse, i.e, the social conditions of the time, how interpersonal dynamics were expected to be, what belief systems and expectations were existing in the greater cultural milieu, and so on. We gain insight into how we can transform ourselves and our interpersonal relationships into more loving and prosperous forms.

Falling into old perspectives that were engendered by trauma often create a victim mindset. There is nothing wrong with this; it makes sense that we see ourselves as victims of something that “happened to us.” That being said, through the eyes of a connected self, we gain valuable insight into how the greater milieu can grow and develop into a more loving, healthy, connected set of expectations and beliefs. With developed mental strength, we are able to speak of the lessons that have resulted from trauma. We continue to take individual action, ultimately contributing to a healthier, wholesome, more connected, and inclusive culture.

How is mental strength developed?

Mental strength requires a developed familiarity with Source and tapping into an inner self state that exists despite harmful traumatic conditioning to our ego selves. This state of self exists at all times underneath the current ego self and we can learn to tap into it at will. Its characteristics are that of childlike innocence and wonder, a natural ease of confidence and connection, and good-natured humor. We get to be rid of anxiety, negative self-image, and isolation. We get to Be, freely.

Developing a Connected Self State and How it Relates to Childhood

A common theme of an ego self state is an ongoing sense of separation, creating an anxious need for an ongoing striving to connect. A connected self state has a sense of being intrinsically connected to others and is free of the underlying anxiety. A common misconception is that those with superior ego self-images are confident and free of anxiety. It’s not true, those with a sense of themselves as superior also experience the underlying anxiety of having to continuously maintain themselves as being superior by whatever value judgement they and their social circle agree upon. A connected self state is neither inferior nor superior, we are simply and authentically connected to others.

A connected self state occurs as a constant and persisting connection with others and with a greater power. We have experienced this state of connection before and we know it because we deeply feel that everything is OK and in alignment. We can learn to consciously create this connection and to maintain it for great healing, joy, and fulfillment by learning to tap into Source. Many words are used for naming a greater power: Universal Energy, God, Love, I prefer Source — the source of everything, like a majestic and everlasting point out of which flows all energy and into which returns all energy. In a connected self state, we are in active connection with Source, with Love energy.

Children are born from Source into an environment that has the potential to pull and disconnect them from where they came. A child moves seamlessly, learns, integrates, etc. in a connected self state.  A child does not strive to existentially connect to Life; a child is already connected to Life and sincerely open to connection with others. Parents functioning from an unhealthy ego state imprint misunderstandings and illusions upon their child’s development. The unhealthy ego state of the parent is formed from their own traumatic conditioning and inauthentic demands of civilization. Thus the cycle continues unless we break it in ourselves.

Childhood is an extremely sensitive portion of a human’s life. During childhood healthy or unhealthy self-images form. No one escapes some unhealthy messages – even if parents are kind and loving authentically, school social groups for example may inflict harmful energies onto the child’s open state. As such, an adult that has an unhealthy self-image recovers by tapping into Source. Experientially, when we are connected to Source, we have child-like health: untainted, healthy, joyous, and readily connecting. It’s imperative that we learn how to fulfill and clean ourselves internally. The Universe is an energy system and we are conscious energy systems. Is the universe also conscious? I believe so. We can learn to tap into the origin of our energy systems and thus reboot our entire system.

Adults develop mental and emotional strength by repeatedly tapping into Source; repeatedly rebooting and cleaning ourselves. It’s like taking a shower everyday after a long day’s work or brushing your teeth in the morning to get ready for a day; we all need to consistently tap into Source as a daily routine and not just improve our overall health and well-being, we actually recover that innocent and pure state of Being with which we were born into this world.

What are the specifics of tapping into Source and working with trauma?

Tapping into Source releases pure hope and love into one’s system. Repeatedly tapping into source dramatically improves one’s baseline emotional and mental resilience over time. One needs a relatively high degree of exposure to source in order to withstand the emotional onslaught that comes from reviewing trauma and keeping the mind steady throughout the recall experience. While moving through trauma, keep in mind that the thoughts and experiences that you are experiencing are one layer of meaning, that multiple layers are possible depending on your self-state, and that a victim self-state engenders the most self harmful and self crippling of the possible layers of meaning.

There are other perspectives (people take other perspectives also). In connection to Source, or in other words, tapping into deeper self, by its own virtue, a person cannot be in a victim self-state. A deeper self, a connected self is not a victim by definition. (Nor is one a perpetrator, an instigator, interrogator, etc.) A connected self moving through trauma can see a layer of meaning that reveals information useful for the self’s individuation, how particular pain cycles were present in the perpetrators and victims. Indeed one was a victim when the experience happened, one is not a victim when reviewing the experience and so sees it through a helpful, informative, and restorative lens, and how the pain cycles can be ended. The information pertaining to one’s individuation tell how the trauma will give birth to new meaning, strengths, and skills.

There are many methods of tapping in: chakra work, meditation, prayer, some people run or lift weights, my high school calculus teacher has mystical experiences while swimming. While Source is a universal reality from which we all originate and thus share a deep commonality, we are also deeply unique in our ways of connecting to Source.

A hallmark of this journey is that a spark of love makes contact with your soul, you truly believe that this is possible to magnify, and you slowly allow that love to take over your life and recover your real self forever.

The real Self is colorful and vibrant in love. Recovery isn’t going back to who you once were before you hit the dumps. Recovery is about letting yourself be the colorful, vibrant, and meaningful self that is latent within. A person in recovery radiates their authentic, healthy, and whole unique personality, containing the colorful growth that came from healing their trauma. In recovery, the actions and events of life which hurt us become the very things that give our lives meaning and purpose. Trauma becomes compost out of which grows our success.

The purpose of moving through trauma is to end pain cycles. Enlightenment, or seeing that experience is thinking, is not enough to be rid of this pain. We can see that the experience was an experience and leave it at that, attributing no meaning or story to it; but, the heart still aches and wants to know why. We must move through the trauma experience with a connected self perspective, look for the understandings of how pain cycles caused the situation, and commit to ending them within ourselves. Only then will the experience have any lasting positive meaning and emotional benefit. Trauma is an opportunity to understand, and end, a pain cycle that exists larger than ourselves and our individual stories. It gives new meaning to situations; applying this insight into daily life satisfies the heart’s ache and transmutes it into lasting peace.

We must persist through this healing from trauma with a connected self perspective repeatedly. Often times the journey isn’t fully completed the first go around. To complete the process, we must absolve all the pain cycles within ourselves. Then comes the attainment of selfhood and we blend into complete love. While this may sound esoteric, it’s quite ordinary in its true sense. This loving energy is our natural God given state; we recover a state of inner and outer peace which is our innate potential.

Is Not Following Your Dreams Killing You Inside?

I once wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “An Open Letter to Those Who Would Quit Their Jobs.” It got over 1300 likes and over 60 comments, which is a lot for me.

I realized at that point that “jobs” and “work” are topics that hit very close to home for almost everyone. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have strong feelings (good or bad) about their job or the job they want.

We care about the work we do. As in, if you’re doing work you don’t enjoy, it’s really going to bother you.

And if you’re doing work you love, it’ll make your day every day you do it.

Which is why a lot of the comments on that article were critical. Some said it was worthless, and a waste of time to read.

To be honest, I can see why they would say that. Perhaps they opened the article hoping for advice. Maybe they wanted that final kick in the pants to make them quit a job they hate. Or maybe they wanted a coping strategy for how to make do in a job they hated but felt they needed.

I couldn’t give them that. My message at the time was about honestly evaluating your situation and understanding why you do what you do. I wrote that maybe there are legitimate reasons to stay in a job you don’t like–but you better be aware of them. And there are also legitimate reasons to leave it all behind and follow/find your passion. People do it everyday, and they’re always happier afterwards.

It was a reasonable, realistic article. That’s because at that time, I was being reasonable and realistic. I wasn’t exactly certain how to quit and follow my passion, or what I would even do. Could I write, could I coach? I had no idea. But the seeds were planted–I knew I would one day stop working for someone else, for a resume I didn’t care about, down a career path I didn’t care for.

That day has come.

My life is now unreasonable and unrealistic. I’m making crap money. The part-time job I do have keeps me afloat. I’ve put in hundreds of hours working on projects that have no guarantee of bringing any reward. I’ve spent massive portions of my savings investing in coaching school, a coach, and a website.

And I love every second.

I bring this up because if I were to write that article for the Huffington Post again today, it would sound a little bit different.

It would sound a little like this:

Ultimately we don’t matter, so we might as well spend our lives doing something we love

This phrase came to me out of the blue as I was driving down the freeway on a rainy afternoon.

When I reflected on it, my first reaction was that it’s a bit nihilistic. We don’t matter?

Well, sort of. In the sense that, once you’re dead, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve accomplished powerful, world-changing things, or played it safe and led a quiet life. ‘Cause you’re dead.

Nothing is wrong with either option. Do whatever you want. But do you want what you’re doing?

I also mean it in the sense that, for most of us, when we are long gone, we are survived by a dozen or so people with whom we are very close, and by whom we are loved greatly. They will always remember us, and in my opinion there is nothing more important than sharing love while we’re here.

But there are 7 billion more people on the planet, and counting, who don’t give a flying fudgemonkey about your life.

In the face of undeniable, belittling anonymity, who are we trying to please by dutifully submitting to the status quo? By not getting really honest about what we really want, and then doing what we really want?

I used to think–well yeah, that’s great for some people. Other people aren’t made for that sort of thing. Some of us have to responsible. Some of us want to build up a safety net for ourselves, and then our kids.

Again, that’s totally fine if that’s your path.

BUT. What does denying your dreams do to you psychologically?

It blocks you up

I’m not a psychologist. Figured I should say that.

But I do observe things. And I see patterns.

For any of you out there who know what it’s like to go to a job you don’t like, day in and day out, I feel your pain. And it IS real pain right? It’s like you have to swallow a ball of frustration or rage or apathy. Then it gets digested and distributed throughout your body.

And that’s not healthy.

The most extreme example of this is called karoshi — a phenomenon identified in Japan. It literally translates to death from overwork. Young people, who otherwise appear healthy, simply drop dead because they work too much.

I would also venture to say that it’s not just that it’s too much work, but that it’s not fulfilling, rewarding, or satisfying work. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything that could be enjoyable 110 hours a week.

Most people in America aren’t that extreme. Maybe we’re not doing enough to drop dead randomly–but what unseen effects does it have on us? Stress has been called the root of all illness. It puts an incredible strain on your mind and body to force yourself to do work you don’t like to make a living for yourself and your family.

Liguria is on my bucket list

Liguria is on my bucket list

In The War of Art, (which you must read if you plan on pursuing a passion) Steven Pressfield relates the story of a few patients who were diagnosed with cancer. He says that being told you only have a few months of life left radically and unequivocally shows people what is important to them. Many patients begin visiting the places on their bucket list, working on a symphony they’d always wanted to write, and telling their loved ones how special they are. And then their cancer goes into remission.

Now, this is not a scientific assertion. Not every story ends that way. And there are plenty of people who spend their lives doing something they love, then get cancer early and die.

However, it does point to a subtle awful feeling that we all have when submitting to a shit job out of others’ expectations. That feeling isn’t there when we decide to not give a damn and come alive with passion.

Romance and Art

A great analogy for this process exists in the wacky world of romance.

We’ve all heard that you need to love yourself before you can truly love another right?

Well that’s spot on.

If you don’t “truly love yourself,” you enter into relationships consciously or unconsciously looking for good feelings to come from your partner. It distorts love and makes us insecure. Needing approval, affection, and attention from another person becomes a burden on them and desperation in us. That’s not a foundation on which healthy love can grow and evolve.

On the other hand, knowing you can meet your own emotional needs means the other person is free. They can be themselves, and you can come together as two whole people. Because you have everything you need, that person is just about the sweetest bonus you could possibly want. (Not that it’s a cakewalk. But at least the foundation is there.)

A similar thing occurs when we start living in accordance with our dreams.

We dream what we dream for a reason. Your dream is yours because it is the heat of your soul’s potential lit on fire. Our dreams are our deepest thoughts about who we can be on this planet.

Every second we spend knowing our dreams but ignoring them is a victory for the internal forces that try to keep us small.

Every second we spend pursuing our dreams is a victory for the soul. The soul is the essence of life in individualized form. When we get in line with that, man, powerful things start happening.

So, like in romance, when we get real about who we are and what we’re meant to contribute, we start to rectify our relationship with the world. It becomes healthier, stabler, more nourishing.

We chase goals we care about, and we awaken with purpose in the morning. Sometimes we make less money for a while. But the reason it’s a radical shift is because by focusing on our destiny, we affirm to the universe that we have discovered what is more important than money.

Money and Security

Those are what seduce us into lives we don’t love, right? The promise of money, the promise of security.

And when people get those things, they realize they’re still not happy. They must need more money and security. And the hamster wheel spins on.

Hopefully at some point, those of us who chase money and security wake up and notice that the thing we’re really chasing has nothing to do with money or security.

That’s why when I traveled Ghana, the family I lived with was content, despite owning a fraction of what I owned. They had the very thing we all sought.

A different experience of being alive is available when we awaken to our dreams. By wedding our destiny and divorcing our plans, we become energized by the force of god (pick a different word if you don’t like that one) instead of the force of our little minds. By wedding happiness over money, we tell unseen powers that we are worthy of their blessings, instead of looking them in the eye and then turning away.

Like in the Huffington Post article I mentioned above, I still hold that I don’t know what’s right for you.

Except, if you’re anything like me, I do.

I know you have dreams. And by standing by your inner voice that urges you onward to your dreams, I’m standing by who you really are. Not the well-constructed, safe, secure version of yourself.

Despite the tone I’m taking, I know for some people, following a dream doesn’t mean leaving it all behind to travel to India and learn to teach yoga and live in a yurt. It doesn’t have to be drastic. Maybe you’re good with your job, but want to get involved with the animal rights group in your community. Maybe you want to get serious about your hobby–writing short stories, playing the saxophone, growing food in a garden.

It can be anything. You just have to come alive. At risk of sounding trite–you must do what you love.

It will make every day matter to you. It will plant you in a healthy state of mind. It will give you the stuff you’re trying to get by lying to yourself.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Dive deeper

And, if you’d like to discuss this with someone who understands the challenges and and triumphs of this path, sign up for a free consultation call with me. If you enjoyed this article, I’d love it if you subscribed so I can send you weekly reflections–plus you’ll get the new guide I just put together, entitled “5 Mind Shifts to Move from Suffering Straight to Wellbeing.”

Thanks for reading!

Love,

Jock