“Never Stop Creating”, a letter to my younger self

Dear Eric,

A lot of what you will create in the coming years will be ridiculous. You’ll break every ‘rule’ that you learned in your high school photography class. Most of your images will be blurry and cropped at awkward angles. Then, when you finally decide to start editing your pictures, you’ll over-saturate every one of them.

It doesn’t sound like you’re a good photographer, and honestly, to most people, you won’t be. You have an affinity for laying out in swamps and taking pictures without your shirt. For some reason you think it looks natural to take photos in snow barefoot. You really are strange and I don’t know what you were thinking.

But I know that you love what you do.

You feel a connection to your camera and the woods that you take pictures in. You will learn every inch of those woods. Over the years you’ll drag every friend you can through nettle plants and around beehives, just to show them how beautiful the woods are. One day you’ll even step on a nail because you decided to walk through the snow barefoot. That was foolish but luckily it will heal quickly and you’ll be back outside the next day, back to the crime scene for more photos.

Somewhere along the line you’ll attempt a 365 project. Taking a picture everyday will be difficult. You will fail your first time. And your second. And your third. I won’t tell you how many times you fail because I know that you will keep trying. That’s what makes me proud of you.

It will take you many years before others start to hire you. You’ll take a lot of pictures, most of them will be in your woods, but eventually you’ll take pictures around the world. I don’t want to give any spoilers though. I promise the adventure will be fun but it will also be difficult and full of self-doubt. Just keep creating art anyways. When you lose your best friend, create art. When you feel alone, create art. When nobody understands you, when you don’t even understand yourself, go out into the woods and create art.

I’m writing you today because I want you to know that I appreciate you. You have a lot of courage. In the beginning, your pictures look sloppy and poorly composed. Yet you post them online anyways. Wherever you go, you meet people and photograph them. You encourage others to create art and to express themselves. It’s funny to look back and say that you inspire me but you do. You struggle with self-confidence but you post anyways, that takes a lot.

It will be a long road, life isn’t always easy. You’ll encounter difficulties but you’ll grow from them. You’ll have friendships that come and go but pictures that you can look back on for a lifetime. I also want to let you know that it all works out in the end, there’s nothing to worry about. Life will seem like it’s falling apart but it won’t. You’ll carry on the next day and the day after that.

Also, your pictures matter to me. Take as many of them as you possibly can. Don’t worry about why you’re creating or who you’re taking the pictures for. You can answer those questions later. For now, just stay passionate and do what you love most.

 

Stay goofy and I’ll see you in a few years,

Eric Albee

 

Now.

You know how when you dream you only experience the important details. Think about it for a moment. Do you ever remember walking out to the car, step by step? Or how about unlocking a door and setting your things down after a long day at work? When we dream, we tend to skip the menial tasks. Sure, we take a few steps towards the car but then we skip all the way to opening the car door and so on. Those moments are forgettable anyways. You’ve walked here to there 10,000 times in your lifetime, why would you waste a thought on it.

In fact, we do the same thing in our waking life. We go into a zombie mode when we’re doing simple tasks. There’s no use in being aware of every step we take. You’ve been walking your entire life anyways and you’ll be doing it until you’re dead.

But these moments are the most important. After a long day at work, you walk out to your balcony and lean against the edge. You take a deep breath in and sigh. You see the world in front of you but you’re not living it, you’re not taking it in. That beautiful fucking world is in your eyes. It’s staring at you. But you let it slip away. These moments aren’t worth remembering anyways.

A year later you’ll look back. It was leaning against that balcony that characterized your life. After working a shitty job and coming home in an equally shitty mood, you could let go. It was your relief. That stupid railing where you’d kick your feet and think about how you’d have to go back to work the next day. How you’d imagine a day when you could come home happy.

It’s not the grand moments that make your life. You’ll never find meaning winning the lottery or getting that promotion. You can keep fantasizing though. The true moments, the ones that you’ll look back on and long to relive, are the moments that you forget. They are walking out to your car in the crisp but way-too-fucking-cold mornings or commuting to work. Yes you always got stuck in traffic and you were always 1 minute from being late to work but you always got there. You always made it through.

Remember that when we dream, we skip these details. There isn’t any purpose to them. Why walk when you could just teleport to wherever you want to go. We want life to be in the great moments, Friday night when you go downtown or taking a vacation, but that’s not where life is.

Where it is is right here. It’s right in your goddamn face. It’s you reading these words sitting on your chair/bed/couch. The soundtrack to your life is what you hear right now. It’s the sound of a noisy air conditioning unit or neighbors who never seem to sleep. It’s not a carefully composed symphony. It is what you hear now and it’s happening right in front of you.

I can’t make you to pay attention to it but I want you to know that your life isn’t somewhere in the future. It’s not far away. Nor is it in the past before your horrible life happened. Life is breathing against your nose. It’s pressed its goddamn fingers to your chest and saying “wake up”, “pay attention”, “stop dreaming your life away”.

All you can do is gaze past it. There’s something more interesting over there. You don’t even know where “there” is but it’s definitely not here. It’s definitely not part of your life and you’ll spend your entire life chasing after what you think would make it better. Stop it. Stop making yourself miserable. Stop chasing. Stop searching. It’s right here. It’s right now. Walk to your car. Lean against your balcony. It’s as simple as that. Do everything completely and totally. Don’t let your attention escape. Notice every footstep and breath. Pay attention. Your life is happen now.

No-Mind Language

No mind is the condition when thoughts pass through your head but you don’t place any attention on them. Eventually it’s as if there are no thoughts because what you are taking in through your senses at the moment are more important than your thoughts about it.

Think about a Hawaiian sunset, how catching it is and how beautiful. When you see something very beautiful like that, it’s as if everything else vanishes from your life except what is in front of you. It’s as if your life has peripherals and you spend more time staring at the peripherals than what’s directly in the moment.

Basically no mind is this condition of the absence of thought. It’s like a clearing where you can direct your attention and make thoughts arise as needed. You can act more efficiently and get more out of life.

Much of no mind comes from removing your desire to label everything. This coffee is cold or the palm trees are beautiful. While neither assertion is incorrect or bad, we spend too much of our time labeling things that don’t need to be labeled.

Ponder this for a moment; why do we need to say something is hot or cold inside our heads. We can just accept that our drink is what it is without labeling it. We can look at the sunset without the desire to try to make it tangible. We can walk across the sand and feel the sand without the need to call it soft or hot. We can just leave things at their experience or sensation.

Much of this leans into language. For example, we make action more tangible when we explain what we’re doing. I can go through the process of walking over and picking up a glass of water without thinking about walking over and picking the glass up. We have a fixation on words.

Like I wrote before, there is nothing inherently wrong with words. However, we passively label everything in our lives. This is too hot, too artificial, interesting, boring, great, horrible. We don’t spend enough time without these words.

As I’ve started to study Danish, I learn by labeling the things in my life. For example my friend turns into min ven. After learning many words to describe the objects around my dormitory I realized that I do this in the English language as well. My mind constantly speaks to my body. “Let’s go for a walk”, “I’m hungry”. Rather than making these expressions tangible I could just do them.

It’s difficult to explain but I think by labeling everything, we remove so much of the experience. By saying the sunset is beautiful, we reduce it to a word that is too generic to describe the experience of that sunset. Extravagant, or unique cannot do it justice.

These things which are conversations in our head “wow, that sunset is beautiful” are going nowhere. We are literally thinking them to ourselves. Because we are only thinking them and not communicating with somebody else, we mental reduce our experiences to generic words. We reduce them to much less than the experience of it.

Instead of labeling things, we should just feel them. The sensation of them and what it’s like to experience it. If someone asks, reduce it into language. But if you’re trying to remember something in your head, remember it for it’s sensation and not it’s descriptors.

Experience things as they are, don’t label everything.

112/365

Why you’re thinking too much and need to stop

Have you ever been so caught up in thought that you’ve had someone say your name and you don’t respond? They repeat it a couple times, making themselves more distinct, to get your attention. They wave their hands in front of your face and finally you snap out of whatever trance you were in.

I think that almost everyone lives their life in that trance. The degree that you are spaced out varies but ultimately you are almost always in that trance. The struggle is that one person cannot wave their hands in front of you and make you wake up because you have to do it yourself.

Everyone exists in this trance, where they don’t pay attention. Their mind consumes them and they narrow their vision onto one thing. It’s as if we put binoculars on and stare at one thing – which blocks out everything else that is happening.

In our society, we highly value analytical thought. Or, simply logic. Everything in our existence can be quantified and analyzed until we can determine what it means. We do this because we think that once we understand something, we can control it. If we deduct the reason why we think something happens, we can cause it to repeat (if it’s beneficial to us).

We get so caught up in logic and idolize it that we get clouded with illusion. We start to believe that if we think about something long enough, we have the power to control it. We believe that if we could think of every possible reaction to a situation, we could make it work out in our favor. That’s why we spend so much time thinking of every different way to react to a situation.

However, this power is an illusion. In reality we have incredibly little power to control events and make them work out in our favor. Our ability to analyze has led us to worshiping thought and neglecting something called no-mind. By idealizing logic, we have done something incredibly illogical.

We have caused ourselves to live in our mind constantly attempting to solve problems and think through situations that may never happen. We all seek happiness and well being but we plan for it rather than live in it. If we do this or that, we could be happy. We must think of how to do something to have a good life. The truth is that we have well-being threaded into our existence and if we stop thinking, we can experience find that well-being.

Many of our problems stem from dealing and communicating with other people. When we encounter an emotional problem, we, often more times than not, try to apply logic and solve it. We think that if she moved her dress this way, she must hate us now. We try to apply logic to something that logic cannot solve. Not everything is done with an intent and you cannot deduct every movement from another person.

Logic is this sense is toxic. It erodes the mind because in other situations we can solve the problem simply by thinking about it. However, not everything works off of simple cause and effect – things exist spontaneously. It is an illusion to believe that the more we think, the more likely our solution will work in these situations. Or that the longer we think about something, the more likely we will be able to make it work out in our favor.

Our society equates logic with power, and we believe that we are weak without our ability to think. So when we come to situations where logic is useless, we still elect to continuously analyze it. We don’t understand that sometimes there is no reason. Because of this, we cannot use reason to define something that occurred for no reason.

To solve this problem we need to clear our minds and arrive at something called “no-mind”. This occurs when there are no more thoughts going through a person’s consciousness. That means that thoughts and emotions can pass through the mind, but the person doesn’t attach to them or think about them. It’s like the thoughts are there, but the person doesn’t actively think of them. The thoughts just flow through them and they are detached. Essentially there are thoughts without a thinker.

When have you had no thoughts? Are you able to stop thinking? Let your mind simmer down and when a thought arises, let it go. It doesn’t matter how important you think it is, just let it go. If you practice this, you’ll arrive at holes in your mind. There will be periods where there is no-mind.

Once you accomplish this, you can live life and experience it. You cannot live life in your mind and you cannot control everything. You cannot solve all the problems and apply logic to non-logical situations. By surrendering your control and detaching from your thoughts, you can learn that not everything has to work out in your favor. No amount of logic can control everything.

When you surrender, the illusion of power (or lack-there-of) vanishes. By realizing that you can’t control everything, you realize that you don’t want to control everything. Life is lived by the spontaneity of it.

So when the next time you try to interpret why another person does something, realize that logic doesn’t always apply. Even if you hate to hear it, you can think too much about something. Don’t get caught in that trance because life isn’t about thinking and controlling, it’s about living.

68/365

“The days are long and the weeks are short”

I don’t think a more accurate statement has been said.

Almost two months are I left Mississippi to move over to Texas and it feels like I just left yesterday. I still vividly remember running around trying to gather my things so I could move last minute and just barely making it. At the time it was incredibly stressful! Everyone was putting a lot of pressure on me and somehow I made it through.

When I arrived, I was so stressed out about moving to a new environment. I couldn’t get internet and everything was a total mess. I was almost blinded with possibilities. Something bad was lurking around every corner and for some reason even my stress was stressing me out.

The interesting thing is that when you are stressed out sometimes it feels like there’s no way out. It’s as if you are trapped in a dark box and there’s no way to get out. There’s no real future, except the worst possible outcome, and the only past you can remember seems to be the better times. Everywhere else seems better than where you currently are.

In fact it’s like this pretty often, and I don’t think that I’m the only one. We tend to condition ourselves into habits and when they break sometimes it’s painful. Walking the same way to school every day and then having to go a completely different route. Hanging around the same crowd and then getting separated from them. It goes on and on.

We get used to these cycles and we fear change to them. We fear what may be lurking around the corner. Perhaps you texted someone and they didn’t reply. Your mind can roll around for hours wondering if you’ve said the wrong things. When the person could have simply fallen asleep or their phone died.

We tend to fear change and over-contemplate/complicate our stress. We think and try to rationalize everything in some desperate attempt to control it. And control all the outcomes as well. When something changes that is beyond out control, we become stressed. We cannot control the uncontrollable. We can’t make the train show up on time and we can’t make a person do anything that they don’t want to. It’s just beyond our control.

When I originally moved to Mississippi, I was under an insurmountable amount of stress. My whole life had changed. It felt like every pattern I had in my entire life was gone. Every fraction, everything. I associated all of my habits with who I was. When all of my habits were gone, I felt like there was nothing left of me. I was lost.

I felt like I couldn’t control my life. And in reality, control is a great illusion anyways. The sooner we let go of our need to control the outcomes, the sooner we’ll be free from stress. We see outcomes we want and we try to control everything to get that outcome.

Let me break it down a little bit for you. Here are some common examples of attachment to outcomes;

-I’m buying you a gift, and I expect you to like it.
When I expect you liking the gift, I am attempting to control the situation. Mentally, I’m attached to that outcome. When expectations (outcomes) aren’t met, we become upset or emotions arise. We feel angry that you didn’t like it or we feel upset. We do silly things like place blame on you for not appreciating us. Or we say to ourselves, “we must not really know them”.

-I’m going to take the weekend off and have a great time with my friends!
Here again we’re placing expectations and we’re trying to control our outcome. In this case, the outcome wouldn’t even be objective – it’s entirely open to interpretation. We try to control the weekend and carefully monitor every situation to measure whether it is good or bad. We add the situations up and measure if it was “good” or “bad”. Our expectations are high and often difficult to meet. So it’s easy to come up short then you’re expecting something to be great.

In both examples we see the possibility of stress. If something doesn’t go according to our plan you may as well throw the whole thing out the window. One bad experience could ruin the whole weekend or we may regret having given a gift. Both are such silly results from easily fixable situations.

I write this from my perspective on stress and how I’ve overcome much of it.

We all need to get rid of this anticipation. Throw it out of the window! If something is going to happen, don’t place bets on the outcome. Don’t say, it will be this way or it will be that way. Just let it be as it will be. When we expect something, we set ourselves on a course for disaster. Sure this weekend may be great but what about the next.

When we fail to meet our expectations we cause stress. When we anticipate anything we cause stress. We could anticipate the worst possible outcome or even the best possible outcome. If we anticipate the worst outcome, we become stressed about it. We want to avoid it at all costs. If we anticipate the best outcome, we could be let down by it’s inability to meet our standards.

The solution is to just let things be as they are. If you buy someone a gift, that’s great! It doesn’t matter if they love your gift or not because you are not attached to their reaction. You won’t feel sad if they don’t like it or you won’t feel let down by yourself. It just is what it is. No control over the outcomes, because ultimately you can’t control the outcome. No matter how hard you try!

The same is true about the weekend. If you just live the weekend as it is without applying your expectations, then you won’t be stressed about it. If the weekend was ok, then it was ok. If it was fantastic, is was fantastic. But once you apply your expectation you try to control it. You try to make the weekend the best that it can be and you can easily let yourself down. Maybe you lose your money on the way to a bar or you get called back into work. These things you cannot control.

However, if you just let the weekend be, it will be! You could lose your money but it doesn’t ruin your weekend. You didn’t have expectations and so you never fell short of them. Perhaps you could have a better experience with an alternate path. Maybe instead of hanging out with your drinking buddies, you get together with an old friend and catch up. But because you didn’t apply expectations, you were willing to take things as they come. Your didn’t try to control the weekend and just experienced it as it was.

For me, this has been an incredible life experience. There are many things in my life that are out of my control. An example would be what I’m going to be doing in class tomorrow. I could be working in a lab or I could be learning by a book. I can apply labels and say that I don’t like working in the lab. Then I could dread tomorrow because I’ll be worrying about whether I’ll be in lab or not. I’ll become frustrated with my inability to control what is going on tomorrow. Or in a different way, I could say that I plan on working in the book tomorrow. When I go to class and realize that I was wrong, it could ruin my day. I anticipated something and I couldn’t control it.

That is just a simple example from my life. There are an endless amount of expectations that we constantly place and label on everything. We expect a snow day tomorrow or we anticipate sleeping in. When we take each moment as it comes we can find peace with ourselves.

Eckhart Tolle calls this the “Now”. It’s the moment that we are experience now. Most people don’t live in the moment, they are constantly rearranging what they think they can control in the future, they apply expectations, and they worry if it’s something they can’t control. If only we could all just forget about these and just live now. In the moment. From second to second.

That is why the days feel long and the weeks fly by. All day we anticipate and worry. This, of course, causes the day to feel extremely slow. We stuck in our minds and we mentally try to control everything. We plan all of the things we could say to other people or the actions we could take and we just want to get to that moment. We wait for it, and waiting feels slow. Thus, our days go by slowly as we suffer. Looking back, the weeks fly by. We have not truly lived because we have spent so much time anticipating. When we look back, we see that we actually didn’t have control. The time flew by because while we were anticipating the future, we never lived in the moment. We never actually gained that much experience. Sitting in the waiting room we thought about what we could cook for dinner or what we could buy when we go shopping tonight. We forget to look at what is in front of us and because we never actually looked, we never really remember it. Therefore our perception of time is skewed.

So what should you do?
You should take each moment as it comes. When sometime arises, don’t anticipate. Don’t anticipate good things happening and don’t dread bad things happening either. When the moment arises, you’ll jump to action and resolve it. Right now, in this moment, all you truly have is this moment. You can take it all in or you can think of what you will be doing in the future. The choice is yours. But for me, my path away from stress has led me right to where I am now. Sitting on my extremely soft navy blue blanket, writing a lovely and grammatically erroneous article to you.

I hope you also choose to experience and live in the moment. Experience the moment with me! 🙂

4/365

In the comments below tell me what’s going on in this exact moment with you. Are you sitting or standing? Texting on your cell phone or getting ready for bed? What is the world like where you are standing? Are the walls blue like the ocean or as white as a ghost? Are you feeling tired or energetic? Let me know below! 😀