Barack Obama has been elected president of the United States! Change is possible. People can actually come together and make a difference. I feel hopeful and optimistic about this country. The euphoria will wear off, and the coldness of reality will set in once more, but never underestimate the power of hope, optimism, and change. At a time in my life when personal change has become so important, it’s inspiring to see America take this historic step forward.
We all have a personal mountain to climb. We may not be sure where or what this mountain is at first, but it’s there. Our first glimpses of the mountain may be of a darkened silhouette, shrouded in mist. We know it’s there, and we know our path leads to the mountain, because it’s our mountain. We may not have been told that we needed to climb the mountain. We could spend years skirting around the foothills. But we can’t escape its presence. Something in our gut tells us we need to climb the mountain, that our path lies there. Then there comes a time in our lives when we acknowledge the mountain’s presence. We see it for the first time on a clear day, and as foreboding as it looks at first glance, it’s also beautiful and meaningful. And for a while we’re content to skirt the foothills looking at the mountain, knowing it’s our purpose to climb, but not feeling ready for it. We realize it takes courage to climb the mountain. We begin to feel the desire to do it, but maybe we lack the courage. We look for a way to build our courage, borrow it from other places, but in the end it gets us no closer to climbing the mountain than before. We can climb hills, walk down roads, circle back and forth, but we haven’t climbed the mountain.
At some point, we decide that whatever courage we possess is enough to go towards the mountain. Maybe we’ll climb. We stand at the foot of the mountain, staring in awe at its immensity. This is our mountain to climb. We stay here for a while. If we decide to climb (it’s not a given), we soon become excited by the thought of making progress. This is what we’re meant to do. Every step feels like a real step towards meaning. And that’s enough at first. If we continue, we find that the journey isn’t that different than before, and doubts begin to creep in. How do we know we’re supposed to continue climbing? How do we know if this is even the right mountain to climb? What we fear most is not that we don’t know, it’s that we do know. So we continue to climb the mountain, and it doesn’t feel like much, but we know we’re going up, and that’s enough to keep us going.
As we make our journey, we learn some important lessons. We learn that progress is an upward spiral path. It’s not about getting to a certain point, but circling the same area over and over, each time at a different point of view. We learn that we meet other travelers during our journey, but in the end it’s our mountain to climb, our journey to take. They have their own journey to make. We learn that our uniqueness comes from the mountain, that our journey is truly ours and ours alone. We can watch someone else climb their mountain, but we can’t climb our own in the exact same way. When we accept that it’s our mountain to climb, we will have peace of mind. Eventually we’ll see that we’ve been traveling for a long time. We can never go back to circling the foothills again. Every step feels like progress. Every step has meaning. We find ourselves higher than we could have imagined. We got there with our own two feet, and with our hands that gripped the rocks and pulled us forward even as we stumbled. We’ll look back and see that we’ve come a long way, and kept moving forward, one step at a time, and that it was our mountain.
I want to start off by sharing a couple of useful links.
Take the time to explore these works and you’ll expand your mind.
I’ve been thinking about the question of satisfaction vs. fulfillment, and how it affects the decisions I make in life. I used to make decisions based on how satisfied it would make me. I did the things I liked, and I avoided the things I didn’t like. Drawing, reading, writing, sports, dating, drinking, partying, etc. these were all things I did in order to satisfy some need I had. The need to fit in, for achievement, to feel special, to feel attractive, and so on. And it worked for a while. I continued to do the things I liked to do, and avoided anything that didn’t satisfy my needs.
This would eventually bite me in the ass. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t truly happy. I had concocted such a tangled web of self-deception that the more I unraveled, the more complicated things became. The more I tried to satisfy whatever it was I thought needed satisfying, the hungrier it became. Its appetite (my appetite) was insatiable, and to be honest, the reason I decided to change was due to one simple reason: fear. I saw the dragon, and I was scared.
If I couldn’t feed the need for satisfaction, or if feeding it still left me feeling empty, then I had to find another way. I make it sound easy, but I ended up taking a detour on the road to depression before getting back on the right path. Depression sucks. It was the result of avoiding my personal problems for so long. I was at a crossroads. One direction led to oblivion and nothingness. The other led to hope and love. There came a point during my depression where my choices became so narrow that it really came down to the decision to end the journey right there, or keep going. That was my rock bottom moment. Everything I had done up to that moment, every need I tried so hard to satisfy, meant nothing. If it meant nothing, then how could I go on? If I went forward, all I had was this weak but real sense of love. Love for life, for people, for myself. Was it enough? Could it satisfy me? That’s when I realized what it means to be fulfilled. Love was fulfilling. It had nothing to do with being satisfied.
These days, I ask myself if the decisions I make are self-nurturing or self-indulging. Self-nurturing leads to fulfillment. Self-indulging leads to satisfaction. I’ve been down the path of self-indulgence. I’m still addicted to it. But I’m starting to see another way. You can only give as much to love to others, as you have for yourself.
Courage is not glamorous. It takes courage to be courageous. There’s something I like to call “quiet courage”, which is the ability to be courageous even if no one else notices. I used to think that eliminating my fears meant compensating for them. That is, if I created a protective shield against them I would gain the necessary courage to do what I needed to do. Deep down, I knew this wasn’t true. In fact, I feared this truth. I realized that compensating for my fears was really a way to avoid them. Left in the dark, fears have a way of morphing into something else, seeping into the nooks and crannies of our lives. So what do we do?
We face them, of course. There’s nothing easy about it. It takes courage, especially that of the quiet kind. We’ll get no accolades for facing our inner fears. If that’s what we’re expecting, then any reserve of courage will soon dissipate when we find ourselves alone with our fears. If the strategy is to learn how to face down our fears, then one of the tactics we can use is self-acceptance. The trick is that we must accept all the parts of ourselves, not just the good or bad. Self-acceptance is an act of neutrality. It’s an act of love. And it takes courage. We don’t love ourselves more for being “good”, and hate ourselves more for being “bad”. The more we can accept ourselves for who we really are (good and bad), the quicker we can work on ways of improving. The benefit of this is that we can go forward without being weighed down by guilt or shame. We don’t have to spend our time over-compensating for our fears. We can face our fears and accept them. What’s left is that quiet courage that will only grow stronger. I’ll leave you with Frank Herbert’s litany against fear, from Dune.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Life is one big art project. It’s funny that when I was younger I used to be so sure of who I was, at a time when I knew the least about myself. After all the introspection and soul searching, I’m left wondering, “who am I?”. A basic question with complex answers. I like to dig down to the root of the problem, and when I do, I see things labeled self-acceptance, self-worth, self-belief. A lot of “self’s”, but how can you figure out who you are if you don’t know your “self”. I went down this path from the pragmatic starting point of overcoming procrastination, and found myself in the purple depths of self-help and self-improvement. Meaning comes before tactics, but tactics are needed to find meaning. Is it the chicken or the egg?
I’ll leave you with a useful link to understanding the confounding nature of procrastination.
Thanks for reading.
I’m confounded by life. I’m writing this in spite of…everything. In spite of the work I’ve done, which never seems like it will amount to much of anything. In spite of being too introspective and self absorbed. In spite of becoming more self-aware, and feeling like I don’t measure up to whatever standard I have in mind. In spite of finding a bit of inner peace, and having it yanked from beneath me by depression. In spite of climbing out of the hole of depression, only to stumble (purposefully at times) back into it. In spite of having this ideal picture of what life is about, and not being able to paint a picture clear enough on canvas, let alone being able to fill in the details of a world that’s real and not fantasy.
These are things I’ve neglected; things that have fallen so far off the track I’m just now finding the odd wheel along the side of the road.
- I had a big project I was working on. The clients put their trust in me, and I broke that trust. My sense of personal integrity is in shambles. It’s so forlorn that I don’t have the heart to beat up on it anymore. I’ve begun to deal with it, which doesn’t make me feel that much better, but at least it doesn’t make me feel worse. And feeling good is starting to be overrated.
- My lonely website has been keeping itself company with internet strangers while I’ve neglected it. I’m glad people are still looking and reading. I feel inspired to work on it again. Inspiration, by the way, is also overrated.
- My comics! Oh, how I want to make progress on that, but it’s formidable! Inscrutable! Confounding!
The most important thing I’ve learned during this interval is persistence. It’s because of persistence that I’m able to go forward. To be in spite of.
What possessed me to publicly announce that I’d show some new artwork last week? Over-zealousness? Hubris? Well, the gods exacted retribution, and wouldn’t you know it my computer broke down in the middle of a project. Several days later (and with a lighter wallet…or rather, bank account) I have my computer up and running again. Luckily I have all my work in one piece. Yes, it’s important to backup! I’ve been researching the best way to do that. This incident shows me that I need a better archiving system. I’m not sure if I’m going to be announcing arbitrary deadlines in the future. Maybe I was feeling masochistic last week. I’ll just be mysterious and give out vague promises of new stuff “coming soon”. Just keepin’ it reals, yo.