Photo taken at The Fortress of Louisbourg south of Sydney, Nova Scotia – Summer 2015.
The path we are all on weaves, transitions, and intersects at the most unusual and sometimes confusing times. As my previous post alluded too, occasionally I’m not sure I’m on the right path. Fleeting, but nonetheless these thoughts pass through my mind. It occurred to me that we are all on our chosen course and yet can sometimes become confused or lost. A thick haze settles in and we become disoriented; unable to see the end of the path. The first question to ask is whether there is in fact right or wrong. A mindful approach to this question would be to simply accept whatever course we are on even as we judge it to be good or bad. Both are appropriate and needed when living in the present moment and it’s a reasonable solution to uncertainty because in fact change is inevitable especially when it comes to our lives and the journey we take.
How do we translate that into something tangible in terms of setting goals for our lives though? Something to motivate us to keep going forward. There are a few different guideposts or markers that I’ve become accustomed to using in my own life that have over the last couple of years provided reasonable guidance. Lately these guideposts have been appearing in various aspects of my life.
Guidepost #1: If you feel something at the pit of your stomach, or you can feel the fear slowly creeping in, you are on the right path.
That feeling is your own mind trying to deal with fear and insecurity of the unknown, physically manifesting itself into energy your body is trying to find a place for. Anxiety for me hits the stomach and in the mind in the form of restlessness and pulling inward. We approach a task or event we’ve never encountered before and there is no frame of reference in our lives that exists to paint a clear picture. Your mind’s initial flight or fright response defaults to fright without having time to analyze the situation further. Perhaps one of the most amazing commencement speeches out there is by writer Neil Gaiman in 2012 to the University of Arts. Throughout his successful career as a writer he makes an incredibly descript picture of this feeling:
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.
The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work, or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures people would gather together and talk about until the end of time. They always had that in common: looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. While I was doing them, I had no idea.”
Where have I seen this in my life. Convincing myself to pick up the camera and focus on photography. This blog. Accepting my first photoshoot (this weekend). Deciding to get off the fence and compete at a powerlifting competition. Reaching out to unknown people through social media and having conversations about mindfulness. Facing the possibility of losing my dog and making decisions about his future. All have this feeling associated with them. The fear of: rejection, failure, inability, loss, and the list goes on. The one thing I’ve noticed, and stuck too however, is when this feeling pops up I push myself to take the next step instead of letting it overcome me. We can’t allow this internal dialogue to push us around. Here I am a couple of years later with no regrets having learned a ton. That’s a good sign. Do I know what success looks for? Not really but I’m not looking for it either because the journey itself is a success.
Meditation that emphasizes the focus on the thought process has also opened this door for me. Returning to my breath thousands of times over has helped me to see thoughts outside of meditation more clearly. This has the benefit of being able to recognize the anxiety and fear sooner. The fright response doesn’t take hold. If all else fails and that fear settles in it is easier now to recognize that as an opportunity rather than backing away in hopes of living to fight another day. It’s an interesting experiment that I can see on a daily basis.
Here is a simple experiment. Take any moment during your day where you reject something immediately. It could be not answering a phone call. Rejecting someone’s opinion over a topic that you may know more about. Choosing not to accept someone else’s decision or doing something that you initially thought possible but now are unsure of. When you have that moment think about how your body responded. Was it immediate? Did you have a chance to sit back and analyze your own emotions? We are faced with an incredible number of decisions throughout our daily lives and in some cases we make those decisions to simply avoid the feeling of anxiety. When it comes to our creative selves that decision becomes even more magnified.
Think about that moment again and recognize whether an anxious feeling is present. What does your body do to manifest that feeling. Do you get queesy? Agitated? As mentioned, my stomach feels uncomfortable and I tend to get restless and shut down. Now as you sit with it and become accustomed to that feeling think about the opposite of your initial reaction. Pick up the phone. Listen to the opinion and don’t react immediately; take their side this time. Accept someone else’s decision and go with it. Our body is sometimes so good at automatically avoiding these feelings we are missing out on opportunities every day. Here’s a good one. I have a question in a meeting and don’t raise my hand or ask. Anxiety about what others will think. Lost opportunity to learn something or have my own opinion heard; which may have been right.
As I’ve been moving down this path I’ve been working to move in those opposite directions. To face the fear and uncomfortable feelings. It’s nowhere near 100% but some of the outcomes have been amazing. So if you see this guidepost take the opportunity to sit with the anxiety and take the next step. Try that task you have been thinking about but putting off. In my case it’s writing. Drawing. Taking photos. Editing. Training and competing. Reaching out to new people and networking. By themselves they all may sound minor but in combination it represents a completely different path. A fundamental shift in my own life.
Guidepost #2: If you find yourself interested in your own life again you are on the right path.
This follows closely behind the changes we make in our decision making process and was a recent revelation to me as it hadn’t occurred to me as a thought. It doesn’t come natural to me to stand back and ask whether I’m more or less interested in what I’m doing with my life. Kevin Costner’s interview on Tim Ferriss’ podcast said this very thing and a small lightbulb went off. He commented he knew he was on the right track even before his career began when he said:
“…I was interested in my life again…”
Such a simple statement yet it wrung true in my mind. All of these decisions and tasks I’ve set in front of myself have really felt as though I’ve woken up in my own life. I’m interested in all of these things! I go to my day job during the day but I find my mind constantly drifting back to these other tasks. Writing. Learning. Photography. Powerlifting. Life. When I’m focused at work it translates into more interest in the tasks at hand and really enjoying the time with co-workers. It’s a signal that the path I’m on is the right path for me. A good friend asked me to be involved in, of all things, a Powerlifting photoshoot this upcoming weekend. If there isn’t a more telling signal that I’m interested in my life again it’s the fact that this has appeared on my path at random.
Kevin went on to add that he had whispers in his own life (think ego / small mind) and recognized the need to keep moving forward:
“Just keep moving, you’re doing fine.”
There is something very reassuring about hearing an Academy-Award winning actor / director talk openly about his own self-doubts and through analysis of his self found his own path and a way to move past these feelings.. A theme throughout this whole process for me; keep moving forward. I knew nothing about Kevin Costner beyond him as an actor and yet here was something we both shared in our lives. A human condition that everyone can relate too.
Two guideposts I’ve found helpful in my life that I refer back to in moments of doubt and anxiety. Recognizing that the fear we all feel is actually an opportunity to move forward and taking the time to self analyze. Standing back and asking ourselves whether we are interested in our life and what we are doing. No to that question doesn’t mean you can’t immediately turn around or move in that direction. It’s yet another opportunity. If you aren’t interested at the moment, why not? What interests you that you have been neglecting or avoiding? Start to come up with a list of things that you might like to try and start with the first one. For me it was photography. Then drawing. Then writing. And so on. Sometimes that first step turns into a slide and we go along for the ride.
Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech: