This post was originally published in Sam Osbiston’s online publication Catching Life back in the Spring of 2017. It’s one I worked hard on and really enjoyed creating! I’m reposting here so that you too can enjoy it (hopefully).
As a young girl, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7, I made a bold statement.
I remember my two older brothers and I were arguing, and one of them made a comment condescendingly saying,
“When you grow up you’re going to be lazy and no good”.
I remember feeling weighed down by hurt and confusion. I didn’t understand why anyone who was supposed to love me would say such things. It is only as an adult I realize this is what others tend to do to the brave and wild. They go to great lengths to extinguish our fire before our flames can grow so large they get consumed by them.
Shockingly, my mother stuck up for me. In what felt like a rare moment I heard her say to me,
“No you’re not. You’re going to grow up to be a nice, smart young lady.”
At her words, I remember feeling a tightening around my soul. One that I knew wouldn’t do.
Confronting my mother’s statement, my small frame straightened and I announced,
“No I’m not, I’m going to be a wild woman!”
Wild? Did I even know what I was saying? Did I really want to be wild?
At such a young age, did I know that a song played across my spirit; one that would not be quieted by the everyday expectations of life? Did I know in order to feel a part of this world, to find an inner peace and calm, and to make a mark for myself and for all my kindred spirits, I would need to dance in full force to the rhythm of my inner song?
Was I aware of what dancing the dance would mean, and did I realize living a wild life would require me to stand alone in my truth?
In the time before I allowed my heart and soul to be tightly closed by mediocrity’s vice, yes, I think I did want to be wild. In fact, I think it was knowing these things deep inside the core of my being which made my child-self affirm my future so confidently.
Somehow, I still ended up falling into the grasp of the uninspired life. My dreams clouded and eventually merged with those of others. I found myself operating from a restrained, sensible, and disciplined place, one that had been made for me, instead of by me. While living this carefully constructed life, my persona eventually morphed into that image my mother described.
I most certainly did become a “nice, smart young lady”.
The song, however, still played.
It hummed along in the background throughout the empty successes, the ghost failures, and the misguided loves and heartaches. Eventually, I saw I had given up so much of myself to the conventional, I was left feeling void and drained, like a ghost roaming eternity in search of a redemption it would never find.
I needed to find my way back to Wild. I needed to dance.
I don’t think it was one moment or decision that prompted the dilation of my soul. Rather, I think my untamed heart freed itself slowly, jaggedly, and painfully, like ice expanding and breaking apart the rocky enclosure. One painstaking decision after the other led to the undoing of my sensible persona and the uplifting, and releasing, of my natural spirit.
Slowly, the traditions I held onto so loyally and so dearly began to break away. I started to see through them, past the place where their false core resided, through the thin, filmy residue of the intentions that held them together, and into the heart of the lies they were built upon.
I began to confront my own false narratives which held together the fragments of the model citizen I had become. I stood face to face with my demons, and I broke my own heart several times along the way.
With each broken heart I realized how much I had stifled my own free spirit for the acceptance of others. I waded in the pool of the heavy pain and regret of these realizations. I berated myself for not being my true self, and basked in the guilt of wanting to let go of everything I had built to get away from my natural self.
I allowed life to tell me wild was ugly and outcast, but the more I worked to let the thick, sludgy venom of conformity drain from my soul, the more I began to see the pure, inspired beauty of a spirit so naturally expressing itself in the world. I saw a dormant flower of winter bud into a vibrant Spring blossom.
Truth be told, the further I went down the path less travelled, the further those I had relied upon proceeded down the well traversed path. As I stepped further along my road to authenticity, I saw the inauthentic friendships melt away. And, being honest, watching the happiness of the many while walking among the few caused so much doubt within me, the brilliant light center I had begun to operate from flickered and darkness began to move back in.
But, the song played on, and each time it came down to choosing between sitting this one out, or dancing the time away… more and more often I chose to dance. For I believe, in the end, the feeling of living my truth outweighs that of living the false ideal of others. And, in the end, I have fallen madly, passionately, and deeply in love with a life that is lived purely from the heart.
I’ve been back in “The States”, more specifically back in Oakland, for two weeks. It feels really good to be in a familiar place; living in a familiar house with a familiar pet. All this familiarity means I don’t have to figure out the rhythms of my daily life. It means I can settle back in to where I was, and extend forward from there.
That’s one thing about being on the road that I haven’t talked about all that much; the having to start over in each place I land. Of course, I’m not starting entirely anew each time, but I am having to figure out all the simple things which I took for granted when I lived a more stationary life (i.e. morning/evening routines, knowing where the grocery store was, knowing how to use public transit, knowing the language!… you get the idea).
It’s been nice to not feel demoted back to the beginning and to be able to just live.
My first week back I was diligent about being kind to myself and letting myself recover, physically, mentally, and emotionally, from traveling halfway around the world.
When the weekend came, I kept this “being kind to self” mentally at the forefront when I decided to honor the voices in my head that had been yelling at me to “Get to Walnut Creek!”
Walnut Creek is a smaller town about 20 minutes drive from where I’m staying. It’s quite a normal American city, and in fact when I told the Oakland homeowners I was trying to get there, they looked at me confused.
“Why Walnut Creek? There’s nothing all that special there.”
“No idea, but the voices are a-yelling to go.”
Before I took the short ride over the hills I decided to do some research on the area. I do this frequently. I search for the town on Google Maps, then will look around for places of interest. Finally I’ll save said places to my “want to go” list.
As I was investigating Walnut Creek in this way, I caught myself saving some pretty unremarkable locations to potentially visit: TJ Maxx, Walgreens, Whole Foods. Observing this behavior I thought to myself, Don’t you want to go on an amazing hike or wander the downtown area’s local shops instead?
My answer? Nope!
All I really wanted to do was run errands to some plaza malls in a car. It was a Saturday straight out of my American youth!
Noticing this thought, I saw why I was being called to the town. I was anchoring myself into a familiar day and putting aside the active “self work” for awhile.
It may sound silly, but putting the active work aside was scary! As I considered how my Saturday was playing out, I couldn’t help but hear the OTHER voices (yeah… I have a few in the old noggin. I’m sure you do too should you choose to listen.) asking:
Shouldn’t I be doing something progressive with my time?
Shouldn’t I be hiking or thrift store shopping or walking down whimsical streets reflecting on my life?
Shouldn’t I be working on being courageous?
Shouldn’t I be doing all of this instead of being the quintessential American consumer?
Instead of listening to these voices, I opted to trust my gut and do the activities that made me FEEL calm when I thought about them. (NOTE: I find the italicized voices above FEEL different in my body than the others. They cause me to feel more anxious, tightening of my shoulders and chest, versus feeling calm and expansive.) I also opted to sit with and accept that these activities didn’t seem all that glamorous, and that this was OK.
Looking back, I recognize that by taking this stance, I was, in effect, “doing the work”… but I digress.
It was scary to stop the active work because doing so felt like I was wasting time, being lazy, or being ungrateful for the life I have by not putting said life to use; none of which I want to be. Further, being inactive gave me the perception that all my progress would stop, be thrown away, and I would have to start from square one if I wanted to continue.
I reminded myself that the opposite of all these assumptions is true; stopping active work is very necessary in order to reach my efforts’ full potential.
If I’m always actively pushing forward, I’m not letting the knowledge and learnings I accrue absorb and ruminate in my subconscious. If I don’t let this below the surface work take place, I’m unlikely to manifest and realize the benefits in my conscious life.
NOTE: This is why savasana is so important at the end of yoga practice. It’s not just a time to lay there exhausted and elated that the pain is over. It’s a time to allow the body and mind to absorb the benefits and muscle memory to make the next practice all the better.
I think the hardest part of keeping all of this very important knowledge top of mind, and why I think I still have these anxieties about stopping the active work even though I KNOW the above evidence is true, is because the non-active work doesn’t always have an immediate, concrete outputs.
For example, if I run 5 miles 3 days a week and eat well for a few months, I see my body adjust. The results are not always so obvious with mental and emotional work. It’s not A + B = C like with the exercise and eat right example. It’s more like A + B = maybe bits of C, or A*2 = B – C, or B-3 = A*C…Ok I’m getting out of hand with the math examples; I’ll stop here.
The point is, I find it challenging because the outputs aren’t always apparent and immediately measurable.
That said, I did notice some results after putting aside the active work that Saturday. For most of the day, I felt an immense amount of gratitude for giving myself a break. My brain greatly enjoyed the reprieve from having to decipher and process and thus grew clearer. My soul was able to ease into a quiet night at home with a book I adored, and my body benefited from a restful and refreshing night’s sleep.
Can I be sure these were direct outcomes of giving myself a non-active self-work day? Honestly, I’ll never know. Was the ROI positive in the long term? I have no idea! However, now I can live with the discomfort of not knowing.
I also have come to realize that the results of my active work are STILL not concrete. My actions themselves are concrete, and they make me FEEL like I’m making progress, but if I actually stop and take a hard look at the process, the results remain as nebulous as my non-active work results.
In short, whether I’m actively working on myself or laying in savasana all day I’ll never know “for sure” if I’m “doing it right”.
With that said, I figure I may as well take a chance and look to reap the immediate, short-term benefits that I know will come from choosing to give myself a break when I feel I need one. I’ll take the warm, ease-filled feelings of giving myself permission to do something routine over the sticky weight of pushing “the work” forward any day.
At least that’s the choice I made that Saturday… and that’s enough for a start.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet
On my recent flight from Budapest to Warsaw, I witnessed a tender moment that almost brought me to tears. I was seated on the aisle of a three person row. To my left, a young boy sat by the window, and his father occupied the middle place. About an hour into the flight, just before we started our descent into Warsaw, I observed the father signal for the flight attendant to come over.
They exchanged a few words, of which I knew zero because they were either in Hungarian or Polish, then the flight attendant withdrew to the front of the plane. He returned several moments later with a small package, a toy replica of the airplane we were on. I noted how I’d never seen anyone actually purchase this type of good on a flight before. Doing so always seemed faux paux, but at that moment I couldn’t understand why,.
The man lovingly handed the item to the young boy who gratefully accepted it. I smiled to myself; warmed, and deeply moved by the sweetness of interaction.
I noticed my response, and then took a moment to investigate and break it down. I realized my reaction was based on me viewing the father, who was about my age, through adult eyes. I sympathized with his “being a parent” imposter syndrome that I hear from most of my friends with children, and took joy in assuming his self-doubt dissipated ever so slightly due to his son’s happy face.
I also empathized with the young boy’s point of view. I recognized the immense joy he must have felt after, what to an adult, would be such a simple act, and I let myself sink into the belonging and support he must have held in his young heart.
It was a great moment.
But… here’s the next thought I had:
I have no idea if this story is true.
Yeah, I know what I saw; a man about my age handed a toy plane to a young boy. But, I had no proof that they were even father and son! Did they really feel all the sweetness and joy I described to myself? No clue! The man could be a criminal kidnapping the boy and giving him a toy to keep him quiet, OR he could be a step-father trying to win the love of a spoiled-rotten young child.
I determined that in the end it didn’t matter. What I TOLD myself was my reality, and the story, true or not, brought me joy. This is when the realization happened.
I saw how a simple thought (whether it was true or not) had both changed my mood entirely and crafted my reality. Then it hit me! “What I think has the power to change my outlook on life. If I don’t take ownership of my mindset and what I think, I’ll never be able to architect my best life because someone else will always have power over me.”
Whew… it was a moment, and the resulting thoughts are worthy of some dissecting.
Let’s start with the term “owning my mindset”? To me, this means being in control of how I think about and react to the situations, good and bad, that life throws at me. It also involves being responsible for how I see the world, and the stories I tell myself about what I see.
If I tell myself bad stories about something that happened, my world will probably seem pretty negative. However, if I tell myself good stories, the world will not only seem more positive, but I will also feel empowered to feed the courage I need to make the big changes that make me my best self.
The short synopsis: Lis arrives in Bakersfield with the perception that it’s a rough, and therefore undesirable, place to be. Hoping to make the most of it, she decides to open her mind and heart, and after a few days of owning her mind, she has experiences which exemplify the beautiful side of the roughness. End scene.
I went to Bakersfield with preconceived notions, and I could have held onto the viewpoints that it was a harsh, mean, and dirty place to be. I could have let those define my time in the city. However, when I took ownership of my thoughts, decided I wanted a positive experience, and then let life happen, I was able to see beyond the reputation to the good that surrounded the town. Instead of having a negative experience, I had quite a positive one, and even hope to go back one day.
Reflecting on this, I asked myself, “Sure owning your mindset works in these smaller moments, but if all that’s needed to change your reality is a change in your mindset, how can disease, despair, injustice, and poverty still be so prevalent in the world we live in? How can so many bad and unfair events still be happening to so many undeserving and innocent people? Can people really change their realities by taking ownership of and changing their minds?”
I thought long and hard about this one, as it’s a line I don’t tow lightly, but after sitting with the discomfort of these thoughts, I saw the answer clearly. Yes, changing your mind IS all that’s needed to change YOUR reality, but changing your reality can’t change what happens to you. Let me explain.
It’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Many events take place outside of our heads. People come into our lives and treat us poorly. We lose our jobs due to poor company management. We face injustice due to ignorance and hate. A storm hits our city and takes away our home and all we’ve worked for. These events are out of our control. No matter what happens in our heads, these events transpire.
The good news is it’s not what happens outside of you that defines your reality. Yeah, I said it! So what DOES define YOUR reality? How you think about and react to the external. That choice is 100% up to you!
A great example of taking ownership of one’s mind to shape one’s reality comes from Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime. The book is his story about growing up a mixed race boy in South Africa both during, and after, apartheid. (NOTE: it’s a great read! I highly recommend it!)
Throughout the book, Trevor’s mother is owning her mind, and thus defining her reality. A highly religious woman, she is someone who knows herself, acts from her inner being, and, when good or bad events come her way, accepts and views them through the lens of “God has his reasons”. She knows who she is, and her reality is never swayed. Of course, that doesn’t mean only good things happen to her.
After a harrowing near-death experience, Trevor sits over her hospital bed and says to her, “You’re lucky to be alive. I still can’t believe you didn’t have any health insurance.” “Oh but I do have insurance,” she said. “You do?” he replied. “Yes. Jesus.”
The woman didn’t dwell on the fact that she almost died, she owned her reaction and reframed it based on her deep seated beliefs and inner knowing. Because of this, she didn’t lead with fear, and she didn’t retreat from living to her fullest. She kept on going through life her way, no matter what happened outside of her. I’d wager that she lived the best life she could because of this outlook.
Once I had this definition of “owning my mindset”, I started to ask myself, “How do I DO it?”
If you’ve been reading this blog, the first step should come as no surprise. Like Trevor’s mom in the above example, you have to first:
To know yourself, you must go into some sort of stillness.
This could be a formal meditation practice, or sitting still on the train or bus each day without pulling up something to distract you. It might mean taking 5 – 10 minutes before bed to reflect on your day and ask yourself what brought you joy, what took joy from you, where you showed courage, and where you chose compassion. Any of these options going into stillness in my book.
In a video you’ve seen me mention before, The Art of Stillness, the speaker talks about moving to Kyoto, Japan from Manhattan. He notes how living in a place with limited distractions is “clearly not ideal for career advancement nor exciting for social diversion. But I realized that it gives me what I prize most which is days and hours.” He continues saying, “I’ve found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still.”
However you can make the time and space for it, be still each day and you will no doubt be on the path to self knowing.
It’s important to note that being still isn’t the only method necessary for acquiring self knowledge, nor is owning your mindset and telling yourself good stories the only way to craft the reality you want.
Once you’ve got a stillness practice on lock and you’ve begun observing and owning your mind, you must begin to ask yourself an all important question. This question is imperative to creating an authentic reality:
Where am I lying to myself?
I lie to myself a lot. I believe I do this to protect my status quo way of thinking. As an example, when I was in Budapest earlier this Summer I was getting frustrated at not knowing the language. My lack of knowledge caused me to feel powerless in many of my experiences.
I then observed myself (through stillness) starting to blame this powerlessness on the world around me. I was faulting everything else for my lack. When I started to feel these frustrations I knew it was time to ask myself, “Where am I lying to myself?”
I answered, “You’re the one giving your power away. No one here cares whether you know the language or not. Take back your power.” And that’s just what I did.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~Alice Walker
The situations I encountered which I previously found frustrating didn’t decrease in number, but they DID decrease in frustration because I was now owning my reaction to them. Instead of being embarrassed or feeling vulnerable, I embraced my otherness and love of self. It was a simple mind switch, but it made a world of difference.
So yes, it really is as simple as changing what we think. How can I be so sure? Yeah, these examples are nice anecdotes, but how do I know this can happen out there in the “real world”? Because I’m living it!
Besides the examples I’ve provided so far, there’s the overarching narrative of my life. Oh yeah, I’m going there. Hold on to your hat!
As a woman raised in the rural United States, my entire reality/mindset growing up, what I was told my life needed to be in order for me to live my best self, was one of 1. find a husband, 2. have kids, and 3. be a dutiful wife, mother, and local citizen, and you will find happiness.. I had no other understanding of what life should be.
When I got to my early 30s and was nowhere close to this narrative I TOLD MYSELF I wanted to live, a dear friend said to me, “You know. Maybe you’re lying to yourself. You’re a person who will work to achieve anything you want. If you really wanted this life you say you want, you would have worked harder for it. Maybe it’s not what you want.”
He was right, of course. Once I saw this narrative was not a reality I wanted, but rather a reality taught to me over the course of decades, I realized I needed to get my mind right and align it with my heart. Instead of beating myself up for being bad at finding a husband, a place to settle, or just bad at being a woman in general, I owned my perspective. I took ownership of my mind.
Now, here I am several years later, no longer faking that I want on that traditional path (though the ghosts of it linger, I won’t deny it).
This doesn’t mean only good things happen to me now that I own my mindset. Bad events do still happen, but now instead of letting them own my reality I take my power back and react to them in a much more centered, powerful, confident way. By no longer reacting from fear, I am directing my life, my way.
You can now see how owning my mind, and thus my reality, is the second structure needed to architect my best life. It’s a structure that, much like the first, any of us can work on no matter our environments.
By owning my mind I am in control of how I view and react to what happens outside of me. I’m no longer at the whim of others, or feel under the control of the powers surrounding me. I am my own master, which leaves me feeling afraid, alone, and powerless no more!.
On the contrary, I feel confident, assured, and empowered to act on my own instincts and desires. With these beliefs to anchor me, I can then take the hard, unconventional actions needed to walk my own path toward architecting the life that’s best for me.
Here’s a description of the show from the website: The Informed Life is an interview-based podcast that explores how people from different fields manage their personal information ecosystems to be more effective.
I had a blast chatting with Jorge about my journey; how I choose where to go, what I learn along the way, and, most interesting, what structures I put into place to keep going.
Take a listen when you have 30 minutes of ear time to spare, and be sure to report back on what you think!