December 15./ Figs and Lost Opportunities

Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Fig Tree” has haunted me for years. It speaks of a woman sitting at the foot of a giant fig tree. As she looks up, she sees a different life represented by each fig. In one fig, she’s a stay-at-home mother. In another she’s a CEO of a large company. She sees herself as a world traveler, a teacher, a lover. But she couldn’t pick which fig she wanted because if she picked one, it would mean that she would lose the others. Instead, she sits starving at this tree and watches as the fig shrivel and fall to the ground.

Sometimes I see myself sitting at the bottom of that fig tree. I gaze up at the different directions I could choose to go in life and, instead of choosing, watch the opportunities disappear.

There are so many things that I want to do in my life. I’d love to travel the world, study horticulture, live in Europe, work in the NPS – you know, the average bucket list. But unfortunately I don’t have a long enough life to do everything.

Last week, my co-worker was telling me about her little sister. She’s like 6 or 7 and Christmas is still a ~new~ holiday to her. Anyways, my co-worker was telling me how her little sister spends hours on YouTube watching toy reviews to see what she wants for Christmas. Instead of playing with toys that she has, she spends hours looking at new toys.

At first, it seemed a little strange. I never thought about toy reviews on YouTube. It seemed sad that kids would spend so much time watching reviews of toys, envisioning if they wanted that particular one.

But then I thought about myself and my own life. I haven’t been reading as much as I usually do. I’ve been spending a lot more time on Instagram and Amazon. Instead of going out and traveling, I’m living vicariously through famous Instragramers and travel blogs. Instead of going to the gym, I’ve been looking at gymspiration.

It’s so easy to fixate and obsess over a particular lifestyle or thing that you want. Lately, I’ve been guilty of buying things to support this mental fixation. I’ve bought gym equipment that tends to gather dust faster than I use it. I’ve bought extra kitchen supplies that are unnecessary because I’m enamored by what I could do with them. I even bought a zafu for meditating and it’s completely wonderful but I don’t meditate every day like I thought I would.

It takes little energy to lay around in bed and daydream. It takes effort to get outside and build the lifestyle that you want. It’s easy to stay inside and imagine these lives you could lead without actually pursing them. If you pursue them, you may have to give up other lifestyles that you want. If I pursue meditation, maybe I won’t have enough time for working out. Unfortunately there are only so many hours in each day.

This is a first world problem. Not really of much substance. But I think that it causes a lot of suffering. By imagining these lifestyles rather than leading them, we skip over the learning process. We skip all the failure on the way to greatness. So much of our lives is learning from mistakes and genuinely trying new things. We derive satisfaction from effort and overcoming difficulty.

I’m not trying to bash YouTube or Instagram but rather comment on how I’ve noticed my life change in the last few years. I work full time and only have a few hours when I get home each night. Instead of spending that time doing things that I love – mustering up the energy to get out there – I instead lay on my bed and watch others pursue things I’m interested in. I’m so fixated that I don’t notices all the figs falling around me.

Hey, Zen Pencils has a wonderful illustration of the poem I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I highly recommend that you check it out. Click this link to view it: Zen Pencils – The Fig Tree

 

Advertisements

Advice and Idleness

Lately I’ve been thinking about life decisions. I find myself reflecting back to when I first arrived here. On the flight between Atlanta and Charleston, I had a long conversation with another passenger. As our conversation ended, I asked for an opinion. I said, “if you could give advice to a younger person, or younger version of yourself, what would you tell them?”. She said:

“…it’s best to keep many opportunities open when you’re younger. Try to keep many possibilities in your life. She also said that even if you’ve gone a long way in your journey, sometimes you find that you’re on the wrong path. It’s okay to restart or go a different direction. […]

The last words roll around in my head, “it’s okay to restart or go a different direction”. She spoke with regret for cornering herself, and although she didn’t specify what it was, I knew that didn’t want to feel the same way.

Those thoughts have returned and I question if I’m taking the right path. Maura O’Halloran gave up her life in Boston to move to a monastery in Japan. She did this back in the 1980s when her only communication with family or friends was through snail mail or brief long-distance calls. I cannot imagine the amount of courage it took for her to leave everything she knew.

David (AWOL) Miller quit his stable job as an engineer to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. The hike is 2,100 miles long and takes between 4-6 months. While this journey happened in 2003, he didn’t carry a cell phone or have regular connection with his family. It was his first major hike and he didn’t know what would happen. He had faith that it was something he wanted to do and that it would bring him happiness.

Robert M. Pirsig took his motorcycle across the country from Minnesota into California in the 1970s. Hunter S. Thompson hitchhiked through South America in the 1950s. Twyla Tharp moved across the country to escape her family and to eventually start choreography. Bryan Benson and his girlfriend rode their bikes between the Midwest and the West Coast. How can I see these figures sacrificing so much for a dream, while I sit here and idle?

Internally I return to the advice I received on the plane… “it’s okay to restart or go a different direction”… Maybe this path wasn’t the correct one. Perhaps now is the only time to change it. I read letters from last year when I had the same thoughts. So is it time to cut the line and change paths?

282/365

P.S. The Danish song “Tomgang” by Shaka Loveless is stuck in my head. Why isn’t this genre popular here?!

 

To live is to suffer

It’s odd how when we suffer, we can gain a lot of insight into our lives. It’s not until everything goes wrong that we see what was going right before. When our car finally breaks down, we notice how well it was running before. We hate our job but we find that we don’t have any other job we like better.

To suffer is a condition of life. We must constantly tear down and rebuild everything around us. If we don’t tear it down, the walls will crumble anyways. The impermanence of everything assures that. By accepting life as a struggle it ceases to be one.

I wrote last night about a lot of the struggles I was going through. My car broke down, my jaw kept me up all night, and a lot more things were at the forefront of my mind. However, I was unconditionally accepting of it all and let it pass by. I accepted the suffering as part of life’s way of challenging me as a person.

When we stagnate, we become ignorant. When we stop all struggling and suffering, we neglect change. We become ignorant of the things around us. By suffering, we embed compassion and understanding in everyone.

This does not mean that to suffer is good. Rather, suffering is part of life and as much as we wish for only growth, we also have to take a few steps back sometimes. To suffer and to mentally reject it, we fall into another self-defeating track. We must realize that although we will suffer through our lives, we will also have great joys and great losses.

To have is also to lose. To have loved is also to have lost. In great happiness, there is also great sadness. As Osho describes, it is like a great tree; happiness grows towards the sky and branches out, while the sadness buries itself into the ground to form roots. The greater the happiness, the greater the sadness. In everything is its opposite.

Once we realize that life will inexplicably move on, we can accept life as it is and the suffering is not as bad. We can help others who suffer and enjoy life in a different way.

Remember, when you’re going through a tough time, it may become worse but it will definitely become better. Life challenges you and sometimes you will feel like you’re peddling backwards, you’ll feel like everything is wrong, but I assure you, your life is moving forwards. When you struggle, you learn how not to struggle, then you struggle with something else (ad infinitum). See the process as part of life and you will relieve a lot of stress.

164/365

Fail More and Succeed More in Your Life

How we respond to rejection and we recover from failure determines how we live our life. Everyone faces rejection from their peers, society, culture, friends, family, and love interests. It’s undeniable that everyone at some point in their life has failed miserably at something. We all struggle with coming up short and doing things horribly wrong the first time. How we overcome this defines how far we will go in life.

Recently I was talking with a man who was caught up in romantic rejection. It seemed to him that every person he met rejected him immediately and this deterred him from trying to meet with others. So not only was he being rejected but he was rejecting potential opportunities to try again.

Many of us get rejected romantically and move on from it. A person says “no” to a date or a person stops replying to your text messages and we move on. The astounding part is that we all experience somewhere around the same amount of rejection.

By accepting a failure and continuing on, we make progress towards moments when we aren’t rejected. When we accept a failure and continue moving towards our goals, we have already succeeded.

So what I want you to take away from this is that although you may be rejected now, don’t let that stop you from pursuing your dreams. Timothy Ferriss (Author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-hour Body, and The 4-hour Chef) was rejected over 20 times before his first book got published. Now all three of his books are national top-sellers and two of them are New York Times bestsellers.

If you’re doing what you love, like pursuing the arts, then you will probably be rejected a lot. If you aren’t rejected a lot, then you aren’t going out to get enough to show people your work. The same is true with dating; you will probably get rejected. But if you stop after one rejection or let it get you down, you won’t find anybody to be with.

Instead, opt to accept your failures and rejections. When someone rejects you, realize that there are many other people out there. When a gallery rejects your work, realize that there are many other galleries. When you see a failure, congratulate yourself for trying. You’ve gone out and done something.

When you cease to fail, you have truly failed. You have given up and you cannot succeed without first overcoming the stigma of failure. Make the move to fail more in your life, and through it, to find the success that you dream of! If that made sense to you whatsoever, apply it to your life and have a wonderful night.

95/365