Right now is a new moment.
This one, right here.
And this one now.
And the next.
Try to remember that.
It’s easy to forget.
The truth of each moment is this: It’snew.
I don’t think our minds truly grasp how profound that is
or how capable life is of being utterly transformed in a moment.
Right now is a choice to hear the truth if another’s intention
a chance to forgive yourself
a time to become who you actually are
a space to exist completely
a moment to see the world a little brighter
a blank slate for anything to happen
a veil to lift
a new sight to see
without changing your vision.
Try to remember that your mind distorts the truth
to learn to let it go
to not take yourself too seriously
to have fun being you
to like yourself
but most importantly to love yourself
then to wholeheartedly love others
to hold up no barriers to love
to sink into the pain when your heart aches like nothing matters
that beauty is in all things, and pain is no exception
that being human is an incredible experience
that there will only be one of you in all of time
that life can and will be incredibly confusing
and that it’s all ok.
Possibilities are the true evasion of the mind.
It’s all within our grasp
all that currently exists,
all that has existed,
and all that is to come.
The magic is that nothing has to happen outside of yourself
for the entire world to transform.
Here’s not only to a New Year,
but to a moment,
a moment that is truly new,
a moment in which our world transforms.
A few months ago I had a dream that I was standing on a beach on a remote island. I stared into the deep blue sea as it produced a gorgeous tsunami that rose far above my head. The dream was reminiscent of video games where you know it’s not actually possible to make that leap, but you do it anyway and it somehow works out. I’ve had dreams about death, escape, and survival for as long as I can remember. When I was five Big Bird chased me with a knife. My dreams have since become more sophisticated. A few months ago my mind played out the complex scenario of opposing military in the middle ages; I embodied soldiers on both sides as well as a princess held captive by another princess who decided to torture me until my death. As my body attempts to rest at night, my mind believes it’s on the verge of extinction and races to figure out the solution. As you can imagine, these dreams are incredibly stressful, and they all revolve around solving the problem of my imminent demise.
And recently, in the Philippines, thousands of people faced their mortality without the grace of time to cradle the struggle of their acceptance. So often we find ourselves fighting against the behavior of other human beings. But, in times of natural disaster it can leave you wondering if there’s a fight to be had. I imagined what it would feel like to have cool water from 20 foot waves wash over my body in ostensible rage or how I’d watch the darkness fall as the walls of my house caved in on me. The feeling is almost unimaginable, but if you allow yourself to go there the human experience of finality is available. Three words sum it up:
This is it.
This is the last moment of my life. There’s no escape, there’s no miracle, and the only thing left to do is accept what is—willing or unwillingly. It’s what I’ve been fighting with in my dreams, what every human being feels in their core: the desire to live. And while none of us wants to die, the truth of our reality now is that our bodies will perish. Maybe the leap to be taken isn’t one in a video game inspired dream, but a leap to accept and surrender to what is.
There’s no such thing as a flaw. To be flawed means there’s something about you that isn’t perfect, that’s not ok as it is. We think to be human is to be flawed. We define ourselves in this way. We say things like, “I’m a flawed human being.” We know we’re not perfect because we think that would mean that we do everything right, we have all the answers, our skin is taught and blemish-free, our bodies are slender and toned, and people laugh generously when we joke and listen intently when we offer insight. Being flawed means that something doesn’t work just right. It’s dysfunctional. I think what’s really flawed is the way we think about ourselves.
Our bodies are manifestations of biology, and we cover them with nice clothes and makeup to create the illusion that we’re not animals. Our minds are a tool of evolution, conditioned by our past, our family, our culture. These things do not make us flawed.
They make us beautiful creatures that have developed the sad condition of self-judgement.
To consider ourselves a flawed species means that there’s something perfect outside ourselves that we’re comparing ourselves to, and it’s not God. We’ve created a cultural image of what perfection is and whatever doesn’t fit within that box is labeled flawed. We allow others to make judgements of ourselves that we adopt as truths. Those truths destroy our sense of self. They leave us with the belief that who we are isn’t ok, that something with ourselves is wrong. If we continue to reject who we are there will only be more division between ourselves and others. There will only be more dysfunction which we’ll inevitably project onto others. The only way to grow as individuals is the only way our culture can grow. We have to accept ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made, to embrace the features of our bodies for the mysterious shapes they’ve formed. We have to find love for the unibrows we pluck away, for the short height that men hide with platform shoes, for the faces women conceal behind layered masks, for the truth of who we are. We have to love all of the things about ourselves that culture has taught us are wrong.
What if, instead, we looked at ourselves as magic? This universe that we’re all a part of is mysterious. Our minds and culture may have done a good job at tricking us into believing we’ve got this thing figured out, but we don’t. There’s so much going on that we’re unaware of. As Brian Swimme has said. “This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.” That is magic. It’s mysterious, amazing, awe-inspiring, magical…And if we can really be in that awe we can begin to see how beautifully perfect everything is—just the way it is.
I’m not talking about the egomaniacs that walk around flaunting their amazing attributes in order to hide the sad truth that they are unbearably uncomfortable with who they actually are.
I’m talking about seeing the undeniable beauty of the human species, a part of this awe-inspiring universe. Maybe if we spent more time in awe of our bodies and minds and less time in opposition to them we’d have a healthier society. The key in having a process perspective, I think, is that you have to recognize the truth that there is perfection in each moment and who you are in this exact moment is exactly who you should be. It’s just too easy to get caught up in the unconscious belief that who you are right now is not ok. And this belief is poison.
So I hope you’ll let go of any of the so-called flaws you think you have. Love those things about yourself instead. Realize that this body is an amazing living thing and, in its natural form, it has nothing to do with culture. Allow yourself to reject culture’s idea of perfection. If we can begin to see ourselves as whole maybe we’ll be able to see that flaws don’t really exist. We’re a part of a gorgeous process that is full of magic and beauty. Nothing has to change for it to be good enough. It’s perfect just as it is. And you’re a part of that. So, that means you are perfect. Imagine that. Really. Imagine it.
Someone I never knew died. Yes, it happens all the time. Only this time, her name was Mitzie and she was my boyfriend’s mother. In June, a month after we began dating, Ricky’s brother, a sweet 29-year-old, gave the gift of his own kidney to his mother. Both patients went in and out of surgery optimistically. Only Ken bounced out of the hospital in days while his mother fought viruses and infections for weeks. Tragically, she fell into a coma and passed away in September. The surgeons are unsure of exactly what happened, and her sons are left in the dust of it all wondering the same thing. Most of us go about our lives expecting our parents to live to see our big moments. Girls expect their Dads to walk them down the aisle, we expect our Mothers to be there to answer the phone when we need reassurance, and we trick ourselves into believing that will be so—until it isn’t.
I had the privilege of being there, with Mitzie and her family, in her last days. I have to admit, there’s an awkwardness in being part of someone’s final days who you’ve never known. But, that only comes from the mind, and the strange feeling that you don’t belong is overridden by a deep compassion for a fellow human being, a woman who meant so much to so many, a person who made her mark in the world and was now stepping off stage. I didn’t have to meet Mitzie to know she was vibrant. I could feel her energy popping off photo paper, shining through her wide smile, forcing you to look right at her even if there were several people in the photo. As I sat at her bedside looking from her photos to her resting body I felt so many things, but what I felt most was the fragility of life. Life is so, so delicate. Our interactions with one another, the way we treat ourselves, the things we do with our time, it’s all so enmeshed that it’s hard to believe we live in a world with such perceived separation. What I say, do, and think makes something in the world different. As I sat at the bedside of another human being whose body was dying and whose soul was fading from this lifetime, I felt how frail we all really are.
A woman who had a life, just as I do, is in the process of ending hers. And just as this is for her it will be for me.
At Mitzie’s funeral, the Reverend read a letter from Renyo, a 15th century Buddhist monk and scholar, called White Ashes:
In silently contemplating the transient nature of human existence, nothing is more fragile and fleeting in this world than the life of a person…Whether I go before others, or others go before me; whether it be today or it be tomorrow, who is to know? Those who leave before us are countless as drops of dew. Though in the morning we may have radiant health, in the evening we may return to white ashes. When the winds of impermanence blow, our eyes are closed forever; and when the last breath leaves us, our face loses its colour.
Though loved ones gather and lament, everything is to no avail. The body is then sent into an open field and vanishes from this world with the smoke of cremation, leaving only the white ashes. There is nothing more real than this truth of life.
The impermanent nature of life brings about a variety of emotions. There are times when I laugh about it, and there are times I feel deep sadness. But, I have no other choice but to accept this truth. I remember sitting with my cousin over dinner in high school as we realized that I’d either be attending her funeral or she’d be attending mine unless, we laughed, we died together on the drive home. The belief that this truth was so far away from our presence made it easier to laugh at. Our minds keep us distracted from the deep truth that our bodies will one day stop functioning and life as we know it will end. We stop and go through life. When we’ve lost someone we suddenly stop, look around us, and think, “What is going on here?” Then the services end and we go back to hiding under our veil of safety. If we don’t think about death we don’t have to feel uncomfortable.
But to not feel something that is part of the human experience is a bigger tragedy than death itself.
If we’re not deeply feeling pain when life calls us to feel it, are we really capable of feeling deep joy? It’s true, what Alfred Lord Tennyson says, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” If we mourn because we love, then that pain, that grief, stems from love and cannot be separate from it. So, the times we mourn are actually not so different from the times we are in love. They all occur in the present, just as our own death will. The moment it occurs it will no longer be a future event to come, but the vividness of life will be at our fingertips. That’s how I’ve come to realize that to truly live I need to feel whatever I’m feeling, deeply, in the present.
The human experience is full of a spectrum of emotions. The joyful ones are not good. The painful ones are not bad. They just are. When I’ve mourned, when my chest heaved with heavy sobs, when layers of tears caked my face, when I ached in every inch of my body, it was beautiful. There is beauty in pain as there is beauty in every bit of life. To feel deep grief means that you’ve loved deeply,and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.
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A friend of mine sent me this video of Spanish humanist and writer, José Luis Sampedro. I’ve paraphrased his beautiful words on dying like a river.
“I would say love is lust for life, lust for living. Love oneself, in the sense that one is a life. For me, life is the great reference. We get a life and we have to carry it out. We have a duty to live, and to live this life. And this life, which is finishing now for me, is finishing without any pain.
I intend to die like rivers.
The rivers reach the sea and is a delight. I’ve watched a river get to the sea. The river comes quietly, slowly, because it’s the end of his course. And I imagine that the waters of the river, which are sweet, come to a time when they themselves are surprised. On one hand they are dazed, and on the other they are glad when they realize they are already the ocean, not the river. That’s what I aspire to, not realizing it, and then suddenly I am no longer the river.”
Change the world. This has been my mantra, and according to this article it’s been the same for most other millennials. Along with my peers, I prefer to purchase goods from philanthropic companies and would take a pay cut to do something that matters to me. But unlike many of them, I’m aware of our true lack in autonomy and the price our world is paying for it.
We’re doing amazing things with technology; we’re helping so many more people, and we know that there are still so many more who need help. I believe that we can create revolutionary change. I believe we will be able to create ideas on our own that we couldn’t otherwise. I believe our ideas will collide with one another, fusing into new concepts that can create unprecedented influence in the world. And I believe we have to do it through discovering who we really are, through freeing ourselves of our cultural chains, and through daring to express the seemingly neurotic ideas that will expose themselves to us. Yes, I think we can solve it all. You might call this collective hubris, but think about it this way:
If the universe has unlimited possibilities, then this has to be one of them.
So, what’s holding us back? We’re unwilling to see the truth that we’ve become imprisoned by the culture, family, and friends we love dearly. We’ve emerged into this world vibrating with potential that has quietly been suffocated until we’ve unconsciously conformed into a cultural robot. The truth is, most of us don’t have a clue who we really are. We’ve just ended up at this time in space as this personality paired with a name, a family, and a history; that is us. We’ve deceived ourselves into believing we’re each unique when we act like everyone else, think like everyone else, and follow the same paths like everyone else. Let’s be honest: very few of us are breaking new ground. The movers and shakers exist, but out of the 7 billion people on this planet I’d dare to say you’d have to squint to see the sliver in the pie chart. In the meantime massive environmental and humanitarian issues float onward.
We’ve spent a long time looking through the window. Now, I think we need to go inward amongst all the trends, all the chaos, all the gossip, and all the goodness. I think we need to look inside ourselves and discover who we really are within a culture that has formed our opinions of ourselves. We need to question what is actually true to us and what we’ve unknowingly adopted that is time to shed. We need to hold compassion for ourselves, love ourselves, and then push that beauty into the world through whichever means comes from our own souls. Only once we know who we are can we create something truly unique- a mark of Michelle or Ryan or Liz or James- that is full of us, not our distorted selves. When we’re able to come from this place and be that in the world, our decisions start to change, our worlds shift and collide, and we will be better poised to create organizations and structures that revolutionarily change the world.
It took a lot for me to realize that wanting to change the world was part of an identity.
This doesn’t mean I don’t really want to change the world. But, I now see that part of looking outward was due to a fear of looking inward and discovering that I’m not actually who I thought I was. I believe we all need to know who we are as the unique individual who happens to be alive at this time in this place- the person who is different from anyone else who has existed and anyone else who will ever exist. I believe that person needs to be true to themselves because their unique contribution means something to all of this, to all of us. We’re so consumed with what’s going on outside of ourselves that we’ve lost ourselves. We’ve absorbed our personas from culture and something beautiful has been lost. But, it’s something we can each reclaim, and once we do that the world begins to change because we’ve changed.
Inspiring words written by Brendan Leonard along with some beautiful footage taken of climber Derek Craig set to one of my favorite songs, The Stable Song, by Gregory Alan Isakov. I wrote out the script for those of you who’d also like to read it or have it.
After all these years I refuse to believe joy costs something or that we have to get on a plane to find it, that it has to happen on our vacation, and that dreams can’t come true on a Tuesday. I don’t know what I want to be, but I don’t think it involves spreadsheets and emails and big paychecks. I know what I give thanks to. I love spicy food, tipping big. I give thanks to vehicles we call home and living off other people’s leftovers. For evolving as a person.
This one is for getting soaked by rainstorms, for cereal and Saturday morning cartoons as a kid, and three legged dogs who run. Walking on Rocky Mountain ridge lines, and stones that skip all the way to the deepest part of the lake. And watching the golden light on the last hour of the day turn the desert into a soft glowing place. When I reach that final minute of that final day I wont think about shitty bosses or what happened on Facebook. I’ll remember riding my bike on the city streets at night, gravel roads that stretch on forever, and all the highs and lows of family. Standing in the middle of icy rivers wondering what it’s like to be a fish and making pretty girls laugh. And friends. Of course my friends. I try to collect moments.
I step back and watch the movie that is my life for just a second because it’s easy to miss the good stuff-the magic-when it happens.
I try really hard to realize it when it’s amazing, and even when it’s not. I know something happens when you finally see a place you’ve seen on postcards and wall calendars your whole life, and I know sometimes a beautiful dress can make a beautiful girl-just like that. The best way to feel the ocean is to dive right into the waves the same way you do with the ocean of people on city sidewalks.
This one is for the idea that money spent passionately is better than any piece of gear you can buy. This one is for trying hard. For wonder. For people who rock out in the car and have the music turned up so loud everyone else waiting in traffic can hear it. And coffee. Thank god for coffee.
We think our heroes have to be good at throwing or catching balls, and then we sit down at a bar stool, drink beer, and watch them have the time of their lives on a TV screen. My heroes are my ballet partners, blind people who cross the street by themselves, and those who discover that inside we are all capable of surprising ourselves.
We all have dreams, but they don’t mean much if we don’t act on them, if we put them in a drawer we label someday for when we think we’ll have more time.
I try to get out there, to go to amazing places, to have incredible conversations with incredible people. I think it all adds up somewhere. And when it does, you’re not doing something, you’re being something. And what I want to be is happy, excited, and inspired. Today, I’m 35. That last rope length that’s for me. For the next 35 because I don’t want to say, “I wish.” I want to say, “Damn that was awesome.”