“The seeker is he who is in search of himself. Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’ After all, the only fact that you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not.”
- I Am That, by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
As I flew high above the vast empty wastelands of northern Mexico’s deserts, there was nothing I could do but surrender and trust. For someone who has a secret desire to control things, I seem to have an unhealthy way of throwing myself headlong into the unknown.
I was closing the door on an eight-month chunk of hard-expat living and learning in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; hard living not in the typical pickled-expat way that eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver, but in a way that deeply entwines winter’s long nights and stark beauty. It is, after all, the dormant, internal functions of winter that enable spring to unfold verdant discoveries in blossoms and blooms.
High above the Earth, who I was as a man in my 40s felt no different from anyone I had been since I was 17. In my mind, I was a kid on a flight, in transition from one thing to the next, hoping the gamble would work out, and turning to the written page to navigate my way—all the while documenting the journey of my physical existence notebook after notebook. Despite the deeply-grooved tracks and well-worn neural pathways that wanted me to remain in the adolescent hopelessness of my past, or the fear and anxiety of an uncertain future, like all of my life’s greatest journeys, I sensed I was on the precipice of great adventure.
It was in this manner I was on my way to Seattle. From there, ten days later I had a one-way ticket to New York, and from there I was headed out to parts unknown. I was betting on an opportunity falling into place that would bring me to Europe, but if that didn’t work out, I was a man without a plan, especially since my apartments in Mexico and Seattle would soon be occupied. I had other possibilities, but at the time they only existed as unmanifested potentials.
From where I was sitting that afternoon in seat 21F, my perspective afforded me the awareness that everything I had just experienced for the last eight months—the zeniths of joy and the nadirs of despair—were just external reflections of what needed to shatter within me in order to become more awakened. And by awakened, I don’t mean in the Buddha way or the millennial woke way.
I simply mean I was more free from my past.
This new found freedom was the result of sitting long enough in the fire of one of my life’s more uncomfortable incubation periods. We all pass through these anxious seasons where we find ourselves thinking, Is this it? Is this all there is? But by sitting in the fire, and consequently burning down old parts of the self that no longer served me, I was now free to step into the next evolution of my soul’s incarnate journey.
At least in the present moment, age, experience, and the passage of time demonstrated to me how each time life breaks our hearts, it’s just a reminder to take off another layer of armor, to love bigger, and to be more courageous in our vulnerability and open-heartedness. Like a hurricane wiping out a coastline, when your heart gets crushed—in whatever inevitable form that might take—eventually you have to rebuild. If you’ve gained wisdom from the storm, when it comes time to rebuild, you fortify your structure; not in a walled-off way, but in a way that provides a stronger foundation to better weather life’s next storm. It’s for this reason vulnerability and open-heartedness are critical in this moment of human evolution—because vulnerability and open-heartedness don’t build walls, they remove them.
I had a situation recently where how I was operating in the world was called into question, and this caused me to momentarily shrink in the face of my vulnerability. The passive assault on my character was at first startling and rattling, followed by aggravating and infuriating, followed by observing and pondering. In this story arch, I was strong-armed into paying closer attention to my life’s script, juxtaposing the story I had written many years ago on the cusp of being a young man versus who I had become as a man. It was in the third part of the equation—the pause (which creates the space to observe and ponder)—that I found gratitude towards this person for forcing me to look more deeply within, for it was in the mirror of their unconscious affront that I was forced to take an internal inventory. In doing so, the evidence I found in my external world only propelled me to stand more steadfast in my worth and the vision I held for my life’s journey.
What was called into question by this person—whom by the way I love, admire, and respect—was the idea of hard work, because what this person’s idea of hard work looked like was very different than mine. I eventually realized it was because my way of being in the world fell outside of her construct. Simply put, my work as an artist and a writer looked very different than how she had been spending 10-14 hours a day for the previous three months.
I could have taken offense to this lack of understanding, after all—it’s lack of understanding that’s at the root of all wars, both within and without—but instead I took it as an opportunity to get more clear on how I intend to write the next chapters of my life.
Part of the story I have been writing for most of my life, and the one I will continue to write, is that I don’t have to play by society’s rules. Why? Because I say so. But more aptly said—because I am answering to the unknown path of the calling. Critical to setting out on a path less traveled is the surrendering to, and trusting in, something greater that is guiding me, protecting me, and calling me forward. If you’re on this same path, you know it’s not an easy one.
This begs the question, what is it to trust? To me, it is to venture upon a path you cannot see, to a destination you do not know, on a journey in which you can’t rely on others to light the way. Instead, you must be your own guide by generating the light from within. To successfully tread upon this path is to trust there will be terra firma beneath every step, even when you can’t see the next one in front of you.
Within the spiritual and creative class (a term coined by the American economist and social scientist, Richard Florida), how I live my life is in some regards quite conventional: I am dedicated to pursuing an internal vision that I imagine to be the greatest expression of myself. Outside of these class structures, however, in life’s more prescriptive avenues, I am an anomaly. There’s a part of me that longs for that perceived stability and security found in routine and building the vaulted walls of 401(k)athedrals, but like anyone else who is living by an internal compass, I have no choice but to obey this more vociferous, more dominant aspect of the self that answers not to a boss, but to the calling.
Personally speaking, the purpose of this more dominant aspect of my self is to lead me into the caverns and underworlds of my life, to move through its uncomfortable layers, and into the places and spaces where very little light enters. Ultimately, this leads to the inner-most labyrinth of the self. Perhaps as my life progresses and I move further into this labyrinth, I will find there is no self. As a friend suggested, perhaps I am only an aspect of consciousness observing consciousness itself,
If I can bring light to those dark places, and if I can navigate my way out of the labyrinth, then I will have completed what Joseph Campbell called “The Hero’s Journey.” The purpose of this quest is to bring back meaningful knowledge, information, and wisdom acquired on the journey so that the greater good may benefit.
As a writer, this is the fulfillment of my life’s work and mission. First, my work is to overcome the fear of diving into my life’s muck and mire in search of pearls of wisdom. If I can apply this wisdom to myself, then I can share it with others. Second, my mission is to translate light, frequency, and energy into story so as to lead others to their truth. Just as each has their own path upon which to walk, this is the path of my soul’s journey into the heart of my own human healing.
The gamble I am betting the farm on is that if I can prove as a living example that the revisitation of the dreams and intentions of the internal world (i.e., directed consciousness) manifest in the outer world, then I can teach the lessons of the journey through story. The most important aspect of this story is not about the destination, as Dr. Joe Dispenza says, but about who you become in the process. If I am going to write about these truths, I need to live them.
As I said in my book, A Curious Year in the Great Vivarium Experiment, “The world changes through two things—story and consciousness.” I know from experience there is a certain strata of people who on a daily basis are undertaking this same journey of healing and soul work. They are the tides who are raising the buoys of human consciousness, first by bringing healing to themselves, then to their families, then to their work, followed by their communities. The journey into healing our unmet needs and unconscious wounds of childhood, as well as the perceived wounds inflicted upon us by others, is the most important journey (and the hardest work) any of us will ever undertake, for this is how we change the world. We don’t change the world by conquering men and women, squashing rivals and competitors, or stealing resources from far off lands. No, if we acted in more noble, more selfless ways we would find there’s plenty to go around.
We change the world by conquering the enemy within.
The way I see it is you can look at your life in one of two ways. The first is as a series of lessons where you are the hero of a great journey, and the second is as a series of mistakes and arbitrary happenstances where you are the victim. (This has taken me a long time to learn.) Both stories are born out of the perspective and narrative we chose to weave around our life’s happenings and events. It’s from these happenings and events we build the stories of our lives, and it’s our stories that define us, for better or worse.
Personally, I think the journey of life is just a series of events and interactions designed by a higher, more knowing aspect of ourselves. The purpose of this journey is to create intersections of ideas and collisions of people who force us out of our comfort zones. It’s in the exploration of those outer, less known aspects of our being where we find the space to grow, evolve, and step into expanded versions of ourselves, that is—should we accept the challenge—rather than remain in the safe cocoon of the past and predictable known.
To accept the challenge is to step into the unknown, whether that’s moving to a different country, switching to a different career, or journeying into the very heart of love itself. No matter what facet of your existence you apply this litmus test, to not accept that challenge is to remain on a linear, predictable path—void of soul growth, expansion, love, and the greater self that calls the limited self to emergence. This is the journey of transformation, and to transform is to move or change from one state of being, form, or awareness to another. Therefore, acceptance of the challenge is to allow disorder and chaos into our life so that it may transform into grace and good fortune—all in the name of our individual and collective evolution.
As I step into a new adventure and close the door on eight months in Mexico, my time there was filled with as much joy, expansion, and grace as it was with uncertainty, frustration, and disorder. But I wrapped myself in the chrysalis and sat in the fire, and although you can’t witness it in my external presence, in my internal world, once again the phoenix has taken on a new form, a new being, and a new awareness.
Beyond forging a deeper trust with this internal guidance system and stepping further into the unknown, I am also stepping further into the idea of I AM. It’s my postulation that if you declare “I AM” within the alignment of your words, actions, and thoughts—or mind, body, and spirit—the universe will conform to the declaration of your courage. At least this is what I am attempting to prove to myself, and thus share with others. This is what the journey of the calling is all about, which is also at the heart of what my third book is about. When you accept the calling, you have no other choice but to follow the unknown path upon which your soul leads you.
Of course at the human level, you always have a choice. We call this free will, but if you recognize and accept that the human experience is about the evolution of the soul—that greater aspect of our self that is only limited by language—then you have to trust the personalized inner-guidance system that most often only speaks in whispers, signs, serendipities, and synchronicities. This is the path of the peaceful warrior, and the path of the greatest expression of our human selves.
Speaking of expression, perhaps the current epidemic of modernity is that the majority don’t feel free or safe to fully express themselves, whether that’s at work or in a relationship, in their religion or sexuality, in their despair or joy, or in their victories and defeats. The tragedy in this repression is that at the most elemental root of human expression is the need for connection—the need to be in communion with someone, to be understood and recognized, and to receive the validation that we are not the only one who is experiencing the inner turmoil, tumult, and confusion that arises through the human experience.
That shared internal journey of consciousness is what unites us, creates compassion—and when the physical journey ends—returns us back to unmanifested potential, the source from which all things arise. If we were all engaged in this idea, that we were all one and part of the same source energy, it’s my belief we could finally bring peace and prosperity to the entirety of this planet.
This is my declaration of I AM.
Feel free to comment below about, declare your I AM, share if you feel so inspired, or simply say hi. Also, I just began a newsletter I will send about once a month. If you’d like to receive it, please sign up at my website.
Finally, the opening quote to this essay opens the first of three parts (Spirit, Body, Mind) of my book. To learn more about my book or watch the book trailer, please visit: https://www.acuriousyear.com/.