Persistence

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I don’t want to. Now is one of those times. But I am trying, all the same. I am sitting here patiently, typing words, just to see what happens. I am hoping that I might soon feel like continuing. The weakest hint of momentum may just be enough to see me stick with it a while and churn a little something out. But developing the discipline to sit down when I am not inspired is not easy. It takes a lot of persistence. There are more than a few old roadblocks to break through.

I used to consider myself a promising young writer, though I mostly sat around waiting for the spark of inspiration to strike me. Occasionally a whimsical bit of verse would trickle forth, before falling prey to laziness – my base state for quite some time. I could work on something with a brief initial burst of energy, sometimes even following up with a weak second effort, but so many fine ideas fell flat simply because I could not seem to sustain any interest or discipline. I was ideologically opposed to the structure of discipline; I rebelled against its ‘necessity’. I hosted various vague and untested notions floating about my skull claiming that art should not require effort. I had grown wary of hard work, certainly not due to overexposure. But now I see the great value of structure and discipline in allowing our creativity a channel through which to flow. Seeing projects beyond their birth calls for this kind of commitment and perseverance.

I can’t yet speak from any great track-record of outward accomplishments or publications, as my writing regimen is still quite young, but I can feel the fruit of this routine ripening within me. (I think it’s going to be tasty.) Since the beginning of August, I have been rising at 5 AM every day (with rare exceptions), and after an hour of yoga and meditation (or exercise and prayer, depending who I am talking to – as if there were any difference beyond labels), I sit down at my eastward facing desk and write for three solid hours. Solid may be too firm a word. Solid is the ideal. At the outset, I would sometimes sneak away to play the odd song on the guitar. That is pretty rare now. I often look out the window and marvel at the sunrise playing on the underside of clouds. I close my eyes and breathe a lot. But staying in the seat is the goal. From 6 til 9. (Bathroom breaks are always permitted.) Over time, it has become easier to stick it out. This kind of discipline was never my strong suit, but I have found patience to be a huge ally in the battle of building will power. I can look to my simple meditation practice for developing these seeds of patience. 

I have only been an ‘active’ meditator for about two years now (admittedly, on the surface it looks pretty passive – I just sit there), but the growth I have experienced is astonishing. We are all capable of developing powerful faculties we never thought possible. The trick is doing it for its own sake. As soon as you feel some pressure or obligation, the spark is often lost. Setting goals is still vital, of course, but being able to work without attachment to firm outcomes allows us to discover that the worth of the work is the work itself. This is a most beautiful revelation. We can use incentives and other tools, as we wish, but I believe it is the simple creative release of self-expression in whatever we do that truly feeds us. There is nothing else we need. That fundamental dose of satisfaction is all we are really after, whether we see it or not.

I sat here from beginning to end – from word one to right now – and despite wanting to get up many times, I stuck it out, and I am glad I did. It may not be all that cohesive – meandering much as I did while writing it, jotting thoughts and jumping back and forth to tend to open threads – but I am glad I kept writing. This is such a simple reward. Discipline when exercised feels good in and of itself. Persistence pays. Keep at it.

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On The Unknown

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Striking out into the unknown can be scary. But as we wade into uncharted waters – our hearts beating, our knees wobbling – there is never any doubt that we are alive. This is where life is the richest, and most true. This is where real growth happens. Living in safety nets is a trap. Somehow it seems many of us have gotten it all turned around, and we are seeking comfort, blindly numbing ourselves into lives of oblivion. We’re insulating and isolating ourselves in misguided attempts at self-preservation. The odd fireside night curled up on the couch is all well and good, but if wrapping ourselves in this sort of luxury has become our chief aim, I think it’s time to get back to the drawing board. I only speak about this after living many years trying to secure myself and everything around me to prevent any attack from the ‘dangerous world of the unknown’.

Without seeing it, I was choking myself. I thought I was being smart and strong, weighing every breath before drawing it in, but I was actually preventing myself from truly living. I was building unconscious walls between myself and real life. Stepping into the unknown is frightening, but it is also thrilling, and always rewarding. If we reflect carefully upon the lessons of our courageous forays into the unknown, we will gradually become more willing to throw ourselves into uncertainty, trusting that we can handle it, and learn something of worth.

I learned this as I cycled around Europe. I bought a bike in Madrid and rode for about six-and-a-half months, covering just over 7500 kilometres. I rarely had a map with me and I often rode with no real idea where I was going, following little more than my compass and a whim. These were my braver days. It took a little while to build up to that point – though not as much as you may think. But what I discovered was that over time, living in new surroundings, meeting new people, tasting new foods, discussing new ideas, and trying to speak new languages, I was constantly forced out of my safety net, and I began habituating a heightened alertness to all around me. Instead of feeling anxious about not firmly knowing everything about my surroundings, I began developing a trust of life, completely unconsciously.

I would often stop to couchsurf in cities that I passed through, sometimes staying a week or more to explore, and rest my body. Without fail, every time I left a city to resume my ride, it felt like the first time again – butterflies in my belly, wondering what was around the corner. This taught me something. Stepping into the unknown is always going to feel a bit scary, and we need not try to change that. But we can develop the willingness to step out anyway, changing our attitude about uncertainty, teaching ourselves to embrace it. This is revolutionary, and surprisingly simple.

Courage is not about being fearless, it’s about stepping forward in the face of fear. We can be brave despite ourselves. Even when we don’t feel especially strong, we can fake it, behaving as a brave soul would, thus teaching ourselves what it feels like. And if a particular fear has beaten us before, we don’t need to believe it will beat us always. We can simply shift our perspective and understand instead that we have been chipping away at that fear, weakening it over the years, and all it takes is one bold step to cut through it and abolish it forever. Fears may look serious as they stand in front of us, but they are almost always laughable in the rear-view mirror.

So do something that scares you. You will grow. And you will be glad you did it. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.  And try not to take yourself too seriously – this is a huge obstacle to living a full life. Here again, I speak only from experience. I was caught up in my own mind for much of my life, taking everything I did, made, said and thought so seriously that I had painted myself into a little corner of cowardice, too frozen and afraid to take a single step out of it.

But life finally cracked me open and broke me down – and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. So let’s step out into the unknown together and let life break us down a little more. In braving this chaos, we’re actually being built up, becoming stronger and gentler. Our endurance strengthens, our patience deepens, and our compassion broadens. Only through this surrender to the inherent intelligence of life can we be taught and brought to exactly where we need to be. Right here.  Free of the need to know, and loving it…

Remembering

Remembering can inspire, but it can also enslave. The power to decide resides within. Discerning the subtle distinction calls for great vigilance. Like those we remember today, many of whom died fighting for freedom from oppression, we can stand up and declare freedom from our past, even as we honour it. With clarity and sincerity, we can ask ourselves what we are remembering today. Are we echoing cries of love or fear? Are we serving separation or unity? What would we have ourselves remember?

There comes a point when our attachment to memory cripples our future. Letting go of our past can be frightening. It has held us for so long that we don’t know who we are without it. But if we are brave enough to allow even a glimpse of freedom from it, we will see it doesn’t fade away. It simply takes a lighter shade. We gain space and perspective, clearing cobwebs, allowing powerful resolution. The pain of our past suddenly has less gravity, weakening to the point of levity as old war stories cycle through our minds, losing strength with every orbit. Instead of perpetuating patterns of conflict, we can shed our shells of guilt, shame and blame and see ourselves from a higher plane. There is nothing to be afraid of. We will not lose who we were. We will gain who we are. This surrender of memory will not dishonour those who have died in battle. Far from it. Their sacrifice grows richer as we continue their fight for freedom by laying down our arms, by giving up our grudges, and by learning to see ourselves with wider eyes.

Remembrance Day is a time for reflection. Perhaps we should first look in the mirror and reflect on what we see. What would we like to be remembered for? Does it even matter? When will we ever enjoy the ripple effect of our own lives? Do we really believe soldiers would want us to spend our days looking back at their sacrifice? What would that serve? Are we perpetuating war by glorifying bloody battles of the past? There must be a reason most soldiers chose not to speak about the war when they came home. That was their sacrifice, their cross to bear – to be there and see the horrors of war, to absorb it for us, to protect us from it, and to take it to the grave. The heavy spectre of war swallowed some soldiers whole, mere shells of themselves returning from foreign shores. But many were able to let it go, to make peace with war, and to continue living. We can choose to follow in the footsteps of these courageous soldiers, marching into freedom and beyond, overcoming the wounds of war. Lest we forget that love is the only healer. And we cannot love without first forgiving – both our enemies and ourselves.

Remembering can thus be a means for freedom from memory. But we must remember wisely, and realize we are not who we were. Every memory is remade in the moment – in our minds. The stickiness or sting of memory loves to perpetuate itself, feeding on our feelings. There is a part of us that tries to hold on to the pride or pain of memory by not fully witnessing it. We are hiding from the very memories that we hold closest. We become so wrapped up, so deeply invested in these phantoms, that we lose sight of ourselves. But if we allow some space, gaining perspective, we can stop repeating history through our blind identification with memory. As we release our grip, our memories actually become clearer, more reliable, less warped and coloured by emotional overtones. Nothing need be forgotten, but we can learn to see memory through a new lens, with both a broader and sharper focus. It is only the effort to hold on which holds us back.

When we become encapsulated by our former glory or our outmoded hopes, we lose touch with reality, which is only ever alive in the sacred present. This is the gift of life. This is what the soldiers were fighting for – the chance to be here now. It’s all there is. It’s all there ever was or will be. Instead of remembering what was lost, we can realize what was gained. We can honour our veterans and our memories by accepting the freedom that was won for us. Every war must come to an end. Eventually, surrender is our salvation.

We can honour the fallen wisely by realizing they are already risen. We need not chase them into graves. They died for a freedom which they won just as simply. It can be ours, too. Indeed it already is. So let’s remember with perspective. The peace forever embedded in this very moment is our birthright. Don’t miss out. The most important thing any of us can remember is who we are, right now – especially when wandering through the past. I feel our bravest soldiers would agree. While grass has grown over so many graves, life carries on. I choose to honour their lives by standing up to be who I am right now, and resolving to carry this torch forward.

So as we remember, we can lay down our differing dreams and ideas, we can lay down our rifles, at once respecting and transcending the lines dividing us, and if only for a moment, we can align ourselves with the single spark alive in every heart, binding us together forever. And if we must consent ourselves to the dictates of the ages as they pass by, we can at least remember wisely, walking our winding paths with patience and grace. We can ask ourselves a simple question; what kind of memories would we wish for our future? In the silence that follows – an echo issuing from deep within – we can start building these memories today, the only place we have to play.

poppy