Paris, France—May, 2019. On a sunny late-May morning in Paris, France, I found myself meandering from my hotel, through the city’s bustling boulevards, around it’s dizzying traffic circles, and along its quaint quiet rues. Lost in the revelry and awe at being in one of the world’s most beautiful and grandiose cities—not to mention being a writer and a hopeless romantic—I leisurely made my way to the Picasso Museum, fully aware of the fact that I was living in the embodied dream of my 17-year-old self.
As Parisians made their way to work and sightseers busily transitioned from one point of interest to the next, in sidewalk cafes throughout the city, locals and tourists picked apart their pain, sipped on espressos, slurped on café au laits, and smoked cigarettes—all the while playing chess, conversing with friends, looking into the eyes of lovers, scribbling into notebooks, and pounding away on keyboards in the hopes of becoming Paris’s next Proust, Camus, or Hugo. With me at the center of the mystery, all around me life was happening.
A short time later, I was once again on the move. While observing all the plaques, museums, statutes, and memorials that commemorated Paris’s most celebrated leaders, artists, writers, painters, poets, and politicians, within me arose a reductionist thought: What is it that unites all these people?
The answer that was returned to me was choice.
What future generations would celebrate about these people were the choices they made and the courage it took to make them—especially when they had no idea what the outcome would be. Instead, they operated on a feeling, a vision, an internal barometer the likes of which Bob Dylan called destiny. “Destiny is a feeling you have that you know something about yourself nobody else does. The picture you have in your own mind of what you’re about will come true.”
With thoughts as such ruminating in my head, I entered the Picasso museum to see a joint exhibition of Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, two titans of 20th century art. As I eyed the works of these masters of form, dimension, and color, it dawned on me that the choices they made were not always about the subject matter, but rather informed by the empty space—or the void—in which they existed.
“Each time I begin a painting, I have the feeling of leaping into the void. I never know whether I’ll land on my feet. Only later do I evaluate the effect of my work,” Picasso said.
Perhaps this is the simplest and most profound statement about the intersection of life and art.
Trusting the Process
Every day, every minute, every second we have a choice—how to live, how to react, how to love, who to love, what to learn, where to put our focus and attention. Whether speaking about art or life, choice is the seed that sprouts the dreaming and creative process. The proper condition to make that acorn of an idea into a great oak is the courage to revisit that dream.
There’s a certain archetype that has no other choice but to be creators. These are people possessed by an other-worldly drive to express through art the feeling of what the intersection of consciousness and the physical world engenders. This is not to say that learning to trust the process and learning to trust their choices is easy. To trust this process is to trust that you will bring back something from the nothingness of where all possibilities exist. This is the process of creation, as well as the purpose of meditation—to lower the noise of the external world to uncover the truths of the internal world. For Picasso and Calder, their art was their meditation, and every time they disappeared into the void, they returned with form, lines, colors, contours, and dimension.
At some point or another all great artists have had to trust this process of losing themselves in the void, for in that merging, in that dissolving of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, we pull into being patterns of energy that already exist. These patterns of energy and information are then processed through the physical vessel of the body and transmuted into form, ideas, creations, relationships, careers, health, etc.
To trust the process is to not know where you will end up, but rather to take the first step of a journey into the unknown. In art, this is the journey of laying the first word from pen to paper, playing the first note of what becomes a song, or sweeping the first brush stroke across a canvas. In this forward momentum of creation, an alchemy occurs that transmutes being into expression. As I said in the epilogue of my book, A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment, “The mystery conspires to support us when we’re living in our truth, and the world more than ever needs truth.”
But how do you get to that truth? The missing variable in this formula is commitment, the thread that strings together the choice to the dream.
The Intersection of Art, Life, and Expansion
What art and life have in common is that they are both processes whereby we extract form from the formless. You can’t do this without commitment, for it’s commitment—which at its root level is focus—that causes an idea to grow and expand. This is why the expression, “Where attention goes energy flows,” exists. Do you need empirical proof?
All you have to do is observe the arc of an artist’s life. Think of the young girl or boy who began sketching images in a notebook and ended their career painting on canvases that filled museum walls or the ceilings of chapels; sculptors who started with a ball of clay or a stretch of wire and ended up creating giant installations in public spaces; or writers who began observing their surroundings in the privacy of their journals and by the end of their life had produced volumes of work. So what is the reductionist thought that ties these people together? Expansion. Each artist had the courage to expand into greater aspects of themselves.
For a visual of what this means, imagine a stick figure of yourself with a balloon drawn around the head. This is ‘you’ and your limited self. Now imagine a much greater circle around the figure consuming the entire page—and imagine it’s always expanding. This is your unlimited self. The space between the limited and the unlimited is the void—it’s the unknown, unmanifested potential, the space each of us are called to expand into.
Whether you’re expanding through the choices you make that are in alignment with what Dylan called your “destiny,” or dreaming of your greater self with your eyes closed in meditation, its only by moving into those unknown spaces—spaces that most often make us uncomfortable—which is precisely the reason you should expand into them—where the new experiences exist that expands our consciousness and awareness, not to mention fuels a fuller, more interesting, more rewarding life.
The Secret They Don’t Teach You in School
The secret they don’t teach you in classrooms is that the unseen world rules the seen world.
What they also don’t teach you is that what you are seeking already exists within the void as frequencies and energetic patterns—the void being the quantum field, or the place from which all things arise. You only need to bring your consciousness to it and match the frequency of that energetic pattern to bring it into being. To achieve this is a constant process of addition and reduction, which in itself is a process of refinement. It’s for this reason that if you want to create something new in your life, you have to continue to revisit the dream with all of your being, for it’s through this process of refinement that you raise your body’s frequency to match that new future or creation.
Within this circle I spoke of earlier are infinite circles that represent greater levels of awareness and consciousness, and at all times, that circle is expanding. Just as science tells us the universe is expanding, so too is the nature of the human spirit and the collective consciousness. The choice is ours whether we want to expand with it or remain in the comfort of our known, predictable self—which keeps us in a known, predictable world.
In those ever expanding layers of consciousness exists the future manifestations of our dreams, but for many of us, a great deal of fear exists in the dream. Why? Because to dream is to risk. The limited self says, “What if it doesn’t work?” But the unlimited self says, “But what if it does?” The latter is the voice of the 17-year-old self, the fearless voice of youth—unencumbered, unshackled, not bound by static, limitation, or barriers. If you revisit that second voice enough times, the “what if” becomes “it will” or better yet, “and so it is.”
So let’s wrap this up, shall we?
The Unfolding of the Universe and the Question of Consciousness
The universe unfolds through the question of consciousness, and seeing as I am apparently a reductionist, as far as I can tell, there are only three questions, the first of which arises in our first moment of awareness. They are:
1. What is this? (This is human consciousness looking outward and observing the physical world)
2. Who am I? (This is human consciousness gazing inward and looking for its relation to the physical world)
3. Is there more? (This is the question that expands human consciousness, and consequently, the universe)
It’s my postulation that there is always more, and in that "more” a better world awaits us. But we are living in a time where we can no longer afford to be complicit and complacent. We have to consciously create that new world, and it’s up to each and every one of us to do our part to expand into it.
Six years ago, when I took off on the journey that would later become my book, while living and volunteering in India for three months, I once asked Sam LaBudde, a scientist, activist, and winner of the Goldmund Prize, how to make a difference in the world. His reply was something that has never left me, so I’m going to share it with you now.
He told me that you need to find that one thing that you absolutely, positively can’t stand about this world and do something about it—whether that’s homelessness; child abuse and the deplorable acts of removing children from their parents at the US border; poverty; human or civil rights violations; animal abuse; the destruction of the ocean and the plastic that poisons it; the destruction of the rain forests; climate change; gun control; autism; the lack of courageous leaders; the lack of compassion in the world, and so on and so on.
“If you don’t know how to do it yourself, then find someone who does and join their cause,” he added. At the time, I was volunteering for MC Mehta, perhaps the world’s most important environmental lawyer and the inspiration behind my book’s character JD Singh.
Here’s the deal folks: Humanity has been asleep at the wheel for too long. It’s time to wake up and get involved, so I am asking you to become a reductionist in your own right. Find out what that one thing is that infuriates you about this world and do something about it. If you’re afraid to step into that, ask yourself these questions: What voice will I have answered to when the future—when history—comes calling? Will it be the voice of the limited self—the one who operates out of fear and contraction? Or will it be the unlimited self—the voice of courage whose nature it is to expand into the greatest aspect of yourself?
Life is a canvas, and it’s time to paint your most beautiful picture, not only for yourself, but for the evolution of humanity. This is not a time in history to think or act small. If you don’t know what that “thing” is yet that calls you into action, I can tell you that you will find the answer in silence, stillness, and the breath.
In the inhale is the ask, in the exhale is the listen.
Find time every day to be still and stay awake to the kumbhaka, the space between the inhale and the exhale. This in-between space is the void, the place from which the universe speaks to us.
It’s also the place from which Picasso and Calder created their greatest works.
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