3. Awareness and Emotions

 Taken on Formentera Island, Spain, June 24th, 2015

Taken on Formentera Island, Spain, June 24th, 2015

A conversation I recently had with a fellow writer triggered within me a very strong feeling of self-doubt. As a result, I began questioning all my decisions about this self-publishing path. It sent me into a heaviness of the heart that was dense and dark, the likes of which I have not known for some time. The more I fed it, the more this anxiety knocked me off my center, and as a result I began to create a story in my head that had no basis in reality.

As I fed the anxiety, the anxiety fed the story, and the story fed a reciprocal feeling in my body. Eventually the voice in my head grew louder than anything I could combat with rational thought.

But here’s the thing about anxiety—it doesn’t actually exist in the external world. It lives in the body as a memory of the past or a fear of the future, and like a parasite on a host, it feeds on our uncontrolled emotions. In my own body, this monster erupts from my heart or my gut, and like a virus it begins to consume everything in its path.

I think most people aren’t even aware of this feeling in their body. Instead of pausing to observe it, they avoid it—the ‘it’ being unresolved or unprocessed feelings and emotions. These feelings and emotions can manifest as fear, doubt, unworthiness, and so forth, but because they make us feel so uncomfortable within our own skin, we numb the feeling with food, alcohol, sex, work, drugs, busyness, exercise, or whatever we need to do to distract us from being confined in an emotional-pain suit, otherwise known as our body.

I think this human predicament has two causes. The first is that we feel isolated, separate, misunderstood, and alone. While these feelings have always been a byproduct of the human condition, it seems it’s become a modern affliction. The second are unresolved wounds.

Like a dormant volcano, when these emotions erupt in us, most often the reality is that we are safe and sound in the present moment, but the feeling in the body—which was engendered by an external experience, the end result of which is an emotion, the root of which is the chemistry in our body—is not the reality of the present moment. Because we are not aware and in control of our internal environment, something in our external environment triggered these old feelings that live in the body. This is why it’s so important to be awake and aware. This is one of the most important steps toward overcoming the self, which at the core is what my book is about. 

That's not to say I've mastered it. Every time we molt an old layer of the self that no longer serves us, another challenge appears in our life. If we look at these challenges as initiations, then we don't become a victim to our life's circumstances. This is but one of many steps on the journey towards mastering the self.

Fall, 2017

 

2. Places and Spaces

 My birthday, July 17, 2011.

My birthday, July 17, 2011.

An “interesting place” is just a point on the map, coordinates comprised of latitudinal and longitudinal lines that allow us to zero in on the ‘idea’ of a physical space in time. A space then is just emptiness until consciousness and awareness is brought to it. This is why I’ve always said travel is not about the places you visit, but the person you are when you inhabit these spaces. Take, for example, the Taj Majal.

The Taj Mahal was a grandiose expression of love, a tomb built by a Mughal emperor to house the body of his most beloved wife. On my 37th birthday, my last full day in India after living there for three months, I found myself painfully aware of being alone, when all I really wanted was love and connection. It didn’t matter that I had just finished volunteering for India’s most important environmental lawyer, a man who sued the State of India over the course of 20 years to create a green zone around India’s most famous monument. He argued that the cultural relevance of the Taj Majal was worth more to India than the short-term gains of Industry, the effects of which had been yellowing and pitting the virginal marble. While I wallowed in loneliness, a couple beside me was celebrating their wedding anniversary. Their awe and enthusiasm could not be contained as they marveled at the extravagant ivory ode to love.

To me, the juxtaposition of these points of view proved that an “interesting place” is only as interesting as the awareness we bring to it. An “interesting place” then is simply a mirror of our internal state of being at that moment in our lives.

When boiled down to its essence, like the breath, being only exists in two states; expansion and contraction. To insert travel into this construct then makes travel a series of micro-choices: Do we bring expansion, which is love, into the places we inhabit? Or do we want to bring contraction, which is fear? I’d be willing to bet my best friend’s 401k that if we all brought love and expansion into the places we inhabit, the world’s borders would quickly evaporate. Think of all the new places we could then visit, interjecting love, connectedness, and goodwill along the way.

Travel is an idea. It is consciousness in motion—a movement through time within a physical reality where our senses comingle with people and ideas. I think it’s safe to say then that the most interesting place I’ve ever visited has been all those places where I’ve been at my best—expansive, engaged, present, aware, and connected to both myself, the people, and the culture. When you travel in this state of being, you can’t help but be a vortex for interesting people and experiences.

A place is only as interesting as the consciousness that is brought to it, for without consciousness, there is nothing.

(posted June 22, 2018)

Note: This was actually an essay I wrote for a travel writer position at The New York Times in the fall of 2017. The assignment was: tell us in 500 words or less about the most interesting place you’ve ever been. The crux of this essay is an underlying theme in ‘A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment.'

 

1. Breakdowns and Breakthroughs

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I had a damn-near breakdown yesterday.

Not the kind that would find me in a psychiatric ward. This one was more of a tortured, anguished breakdown—an internal collapse—a controlled demolition that took with it the support structures upon which I have placed not only trust and faith in myself, but trust and faith in what at my best I view as a magical, mystical, and benevolent universe. 

You see, I’m at the intersection of a 26-year-old dream, and depending on how you cut it, for the last 5-6 years I’ve been laboring to actualize it. The culmination of this intersection is my life’s work, a fictionalized story of a journey I took after my mother passed away. In it, I attempt to express what I’ve been trying to articulate since I was 17-years old—an honest account of my human experience, as well as my understanding of the heart, the soul, love, loss, suffering, and the power of transcendence that occurs through transformation.

The problem, however, is this: For weeks now—if not months—I’ve been wrestling with and vacillating between the idea of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I’ve been standing in the same place where two roads have diverged in the wood, and I—I keep looking for assurances, signs, and signals outside of me to help me make the ‘correct’ decision. I’m right at the finish line of this journey (or the start of a new one depending on how you frame the narrative), and yet I’ve been staring at this fork in the road, paralyzed by what at times has been disabling fear, and at other times crippling uncertainty.

Despite trying my damnedest to live a traditional life—to fit into the mythical 9-5 world where health benefits are provided and 401k contributions are matched—I’ve never been one to do things the traditional way. Why start now? So after much consternation, self-doubt, and anxiety, I’ve elected to bypass the gatekeepers and pursue the unknown path of self-publishing.

What you are reading here is the start of that journey to bring my book, A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment, into the world—a place where once it’s unleased, it’s no longer mine, and that too arouses a sense of fear and uncertainty. I think I have two things going for me, however: it seems like most great ideas in life start with either to-do lists or a moment of serendipity. Fortunately for me, this one started with a little bit of both. So with that said, here’s the start of my to-do list.

  • Start thinking like a businessman and entrepreneur.
  • Think about collaborations.

Fuck…for me that entrepreneur stuff is some other-side-of-the-brain thinkin’.

In this blog we’re either gonna learn a lot about a little, or a little about a lot, but mark my words…we’ll learn sumthin’.

~ Tim

October 18th, 2017