Tag Archives: brain

STIRRED UP: How Long Since You Felt Your Soul Tingling?

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” –Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the Imagination.” –Emily Dickinson

Hello friend,

I am feeling the tingle! Lately, I have discovered fairies dancing in my chest. My imagination has been soaring. And, perhaps most telling of all, I have been walking around with a twinkle in my eye. My soul is on fire!

All of this can only mean one thing: something new and completely intriguing has landed in my mind. More precisely, it was dropped there like a bomb from the outside. And now it is in there, wreaking havoc on my usual thoughts and priorities. It is, simply put, a distraction. Oh, but what a delicious distraction it is!

It all started a few weeks ago, when, completely out of nowhere, I got a message from an old friend who I rarely hear from. “I was thinking we could collaborate on a little poetry book with you writing and me doing some illustration.” Here would be the appropriate place, if you and I were texting right now, for me to insert the “mind blown” emoji. The idea just totally knocked my socks off, both for its randomness and its supernatural powers of inspiration.

I cannot explain it–though, of course, I will try, because I can’t help myself–but somehow it just reached down into the deepest recesses of my soul and grabbed something that I didn’t realize (or remember?) was there. I have always held in my mind such a romantic image of poets, much the same way I do of songwriters, painters, yogis, and surfers. I suppose it has something to do with tapping into the greater powers of the Universe in ways that the rest of us commoners never do. I have wished, at various points in my life–and perhaps secretly for all of my life–to be one of those people. I long to be more creatively gifted, deeper spiritually, and physically (and geographically) able to paddle out into the ocean to synchronize with the waves and be truly free. Those thoughts send my mind and soul spinning toward Bliss.

Though I write these letters to you and take the crafting of them seriously, I tend to think of my gifts as more of the crafting variety and less of the truly artistic. These words are, I am sure you will agree, not exactly the elegant, dripping-with-beauty prose of a master. I don’t flatter myself that the great American novel is in me just waiting for me to release it any more than I have faith that I will one day paint like Renoir or play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix. But I love to write and am grateful for whatever meager gift I have any claim to. And hey, a guy has fantasies! You think I never dreamed myself penning a rhyme as beautiful as John Keats or William Butler Yeats? Of course I have.

In one of my acting classes so many years ago, the teacher had us all dialed into the poetry of the Romantic Era. Keats, Byron, Shelly, etc.. Challenging as it was for my early-20s brain to absorb their seemingly foreign language, I became quite taken by it. I imagined what it would be like to have that kind of magical gift, who might be my muse, and the writing process of a genius. Because of my lack of true belief, I have never actually put my butt in the chair and attempted it, but don’t mistake that for an absence of fantasies. I have longed to be a poet, just long ago and only in my dreams.

So, when I read that note from my old friend a few weeks ago, it was like the lid was pried off an old, dusty jar that had long been lost (hidden?) in the dark depths of the cellar. It was as though she had uncovered a secret I had never told anyone. My mind was stumbling in disbelief, both that she would ever have considered offering the idea of a poetry book to me, the non-poet, and that she had somehow unmasked that long-buried aspect of my soul’s many and meandering longings. I felt suddenly naked and vulnerable, exposed in a way I hadn’t imagined I could be. How could she know? And even if she had that intuition, the audacity to propose such a daunting challenge was something that all but knocked me over.

My mind was all over the place as I read and re-read her note. “Is she insane? I am no poet! That would be so much fun to collaborate….except that it’s probably been 30 years since I wrote some silly Haiku in high school. What would ever have put this random idea in her head? There’s no way I could do this! I am sure she knows some actual poets; why me? I wish I could pull it off. I need to tell her she is crazy so she can find a true artist to match her illustrative talents. And yet….”

And yet. Those two words would not let the idea drift away quietly, even as my brain suggested it should.

There are these moments in life when the soul will simply not cooperate with the logical, practical brain. We are inexplicably drawn to an idea, a person, or a place. No matter how we explain it away, our intuition/gut/heart/sixth sense/soul/daemon will not let it go.

When I was about 20, my straight-A, medical school-bound brain advised/warned me to stay on the same straight path I had been on since I started kindergarten, but my soul felt a sudden, unstoppable pull in a seemingly opposite direction. A few years later, a similar drive appeared out of nowhere, demanding that I explore Europe, despite never before having any interest in it. In the years that have followed, I have been pulled out of comfortable workplaces and a comfortable career into uncharted waters that somehow begged to be delved into. Just before I wrote you my first Journal of You letter almost six years ago–with no precursor for it in my background and no reasonable amount of available time or energy to pull it off amidst a busy life of work and two little kids–my soul surged to the point of mania to disgorge it from my system and get it onto your screen. It felt like I was on fire inside as I composed it, despite the fact that there was no obvious or logical germination point for the concept. Why???

Only the soul knows.

In the movie Despicable Me 2, one of my favorite lines is when Gru declares, “Evidence shmevidence–I go with my gut!” The most exhilarating moments of my life have been those immediately after I ignored the logical arguments against the thing I had just done, the thing that overtook my soul and simply felt right to me. The thing that made my heart sing and my eyes twinkle. The thing that blew my hair back and gave me the tingle. In those moments, the outcome was far from certain and probably more likely to fail, but I felt so completely true and aligned and pure. I had listened to those cues my soul gives me–the quickened pulse, the hyper-curiosity about the topic at hand, the deep sense of Peace when I imagine myself doing it, the tingles, the tingles, the tingles–and trusted. The end result didn’t seem to matter, even, because I was finally fully connected. Finally me.

Maybe these opportunities are always around us and only need an open-enough mind to sense them and a bold-enough imagination to give them a full whirl through your system to see what kind of feedback you get. But maybe, as I am guessing, these magical possibilities come through our lives like comets or fireflies, beautiful rarities that are so wildly rewarding only if we are fully present for their fleeting but devastating Wonder. If we are lucky, open, and brave enough to participate in their fanciful game, we just might get to ride a few of Life’s comets.

When I read my friend’s unlikely note a few weeks ago, amidst much head-shaking, I finally decided that this is one of my little windows into the Wonder of the Universe and the potential magic of Me. This is a chance to reach into the field of pure potentiality and see if I might become something different, something bigger than I had ever believed possible.

I still don’t know if I can write a poem, and I still would not bet that the proposed project will ever come to fruition. But I am willing to play along with those fairies in my chest. I selected an empty notepad and made it my Poetry Notebook, ready to be filled with ideas, attempts, and maybe even a completed verse of two. On the first page, I jotted down some potential topics. On the second, I wrote my first attempt at a free-verse poem (I have to get past the idea that rhyming is silly). It was awful, of course. But the process plainly tickled me. I grinned and giggled as I wrote. I could feel my soul nodding its approval. Not of the poem, but of me.

I don’t take that approval for granted. I have had plenty of days and nights of a restless soul, a sad soul, an empty soul. Approval feels so much better. So, I am going to keep trying to make music for those fairies to dance to, even if it comes in the form of bad poetry and ordinary letters to you. Life’s tingles are too good and too rare to miss. I don’t know what it will be next that stirs my soul, but I plan to be open to it when it passes my way.

How about you? When was the last time you felt your soul tingling at the prospect of a life change? Open up your journal and tap into your sixth sense. What kind of signals does your intuition/soul send into your body and mind when it is attracted to a new possibility? Butterflies in your stomach? Fixation on the idea? A light heart? Vivid imagery? The urge to dance or run or create? When was the last time an idea appeared on your doorstep–whether generated by you or offered up by someone else–that clearly stirred up your soul, not just your brain? What do you think it was about that particular idea that caused such a reaction? How much potential did the idea have to transform your life? What was your reaction? Did you pay close attention to the cues your soul was sending from the beginning, or did you hold them at bay until they became too strong to ignore? What was the strongest cue? Did you explore the new idea and give it a full whirl through your imagination? Did you take any real action to try it out (e.g. have a job interview, try a class, ask a person to coffee, write a poem, etc.)? Did you feel a sense of Peace that signaled your soul’s approval of your pursuit? How did it work out in the end? Did you change your lifestyle, or did you fail at your attempt and move back to your old routine? Was it a worthwhile failure? Is it always worthwhile to pursue these flights of the soul, no matter how they work out? Do the flights keep you alive? What form have your flights taken in your life? An artistic venture? A new career path? Travel? Study? Romance? Relocation? New foods or exercises? Spiritual seeking? Does your soul remind you in different ways depending on the type of thing it craves? Which is the signal you are most likely to follow? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes your soul tingle?

Twinkle on,

William

P.S. If today’s topic resonated with you, please share it with your community. Let’s remind each other to chase the Light!

P.P.S. If this way of pursuing your Truth by excavating your story appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

 

 

 

The Head vs. The Gut: Who Do You Trust?

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Hello friend,

My wife officially announced this week that she is quitting her job in one month. This is the job that has kept us fed, sheltered, and health-insured for the last 15 years. Does she have another job lined up? She does not.

Meanwhile, I have yet to find that perfect opportunity I have been looking for to make my return to gainful, “real world” employment.

We have two kids, a mortgage, car payments, utilities, and all of the other bills and obligations that make up life in modern America.

Reason dictates that I should be freaking out right now. My stress level should be through the roof. I should have insomnia, high blood pressure, and panic attacks. I should be wetting myself in sheer terror at the great unknown before us. I should be fretting nonstop about the future. I should be pleading with my wife to stay in her safe, solid, insurance-covering job until we both have new ones lined up. I should be reminding her about all of those bills and painting vivid images of worst case scenarios: us homeless, penniless, and forever saddled with “pre-existing conditions”. I should be getting her to freak out with me. I really ought to be blowing my top.

I’m just not.

I wish I could say that the reason that I am not panicking is because I am the flaky, flighty artist type, never in touch with the reality of things like payment deadlines and lapsed coverage. I wish I could tell you I am not freaking because we have done so well at investing over the years that we really don’t need to work; we just do it for social reasons. I wish I could say that I am so elevated spiritually at this point that money does not matter to me.

Any of those reasons might provide me with a logical explanation of why I feel not only unstressed about our family’s financial future but also downright excited and utterly optimistic. Those explanations would give me a rational way to unpack this unbridled confidence I feel bubbling up from some unknown source deep inside of me, causing me to feel an almost uncontrollable eagerness to learn what is coming up next for us.

But those are not the explanations. Sure, I definitely have some flaky artist in me, but I can be as practical and responsible as my parents taught me to be when financial obligations are involved. And, sad to say, we were not one of the early investors in Apple or Microsoft, so that nest-egg explanation doesn’t suit the situation, either. Finally, as spiritually evolved as I like to think I am on my best days, there is no world that I have yet found in which money is not important.

No, if the answer to my serenity and confidence in the face of this potential catastrophe were a logical, rational thing, I would be there already, secure in my understanding.

But there is nothing logical about this.

A rational guy would be outwardly supportive of his wife when she tells him she is quitting her bread-winning job without securing a new one, but inside he would be having a coronary. A logical guy might say, “Well, I’ve been waiting for the perfect job description to fall into my lap for a long time without success, so I am just going to be practical and find whatever will put food on the table.” A rational guy would sense the urgency of the situation and figure out a solution immediately to avoid risking a financial disaster for his family.

Try as I might to summon my most rational, practical self, my system is not letting it in. The panic, the terror, the desperation: I am trying to conjure them, but they are just not coming. They should be here, though. It just makes sense. What gives???

It’s my gut. Call it what you will—instinct, intuition, sixth sense, the still small voice, a feeling—but mine is telling me that everything is going to work out fine. And not just fine, but amazingly well. My intuition tells me that we are on the verge of something even better than we have ever had. Something that keeps those bill collectors off our backs while filling our lives with meaning and inspiration. Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, my gut assures me that good things are on the way.

So……..is that cool, then? Is that really an acceptable answer? Just trust my intuition and act accordingly. Really???

I know that sounds perfectly courageous and correct in the New Age-y, “Leap and the net will appear” kind of way that we are all supposed to arrive at when we become enlightened, but I have to admit that I have wondered more than once: What if my gut is fooling me?

Seriously, what if all this wonderfully calming news from my gut is really just Denial? What if the truth is that I am not tough enough to face the harsh reality of our situation, so my Subconscious or Unconscious mind has decided to disguise itself as my Intuition delivering this pacifying news?

And of course I am buying it! Because it feels good to believe that this is not the crisis a rational person would recognize it as. In fact, it’s the opposite of a crisis; it’s a fountain of good fortune for all involved. That is so much more pleasant to believe! Denial is slippery that way.

As much as I appreciate the sweetly narcotic effects of Denial, however, in the end, what I really want is the Truth.  

Is my intuition right: Are we really on the verge of our greatest thing yet? Or, is the rational bystander in my brain correct: Are we in dire straits and in need of desperate, immediate action?

Is there any way to know which is correct but to pick a course and commit to it, knowing only that the answer will be revealed later? If that is the case, I have to review the evidence. My intuition has been screaming at me every day lately after my brain has spelled out our impending doom in my journal. The instinct has been consistently firing back with feelings of hope, optimism, and belief, as well as an extra little tickle in my heart that gives me the impression that there will be something extra-special involved. I absolutely LOVE that feeling!

That’s it: I’m going with the gut. I trust it!

How about you? Are you more inclined to trust your brain or your intuition? Open up your journal and think back through your toughest decisions and most difficult periods. Which part of you did you trust to lead the way? Are you more inclined to trust your reason and careful analysis? If so, do you make Pros & Cons Lists? Do those lists ever make room for emotion or intuition? Do you think careful consideration and logic are the only way to determine the best course of action? Does it depend upon the type of situation (i.e. maybe the intellect is better for financial decisions but the intuition is better for relationships, or vice versa)? Does trusting your intuition over your rational view of your circumstances really just amount to a denial of reality? At what point is that unhealthy? How often does your head overrule your instinct? Is it possible to overthink it, though, and neglect what your gut is shouting out to you? How about the other way: ignoring reason and doing what your instinct nudges you to do? Is there any way to know ahead of time which part of yourself to trust, or do you have to wait and see how it plays out before you know if it was the right call? Which type of people do you gravitate toward, the analyzers or the intuiters (yes, it’s a new word)? If you had to give yourself a percentage rating (e.g. 70% Head/30% Gut), what would it be? How has that changed, if at all, through the course of your lifetime? Do you wish your rating were different? In which direction? Try to think of the most pressing issue in your life now or in the foreseeable future. Which part of yourself will you lean more upon? How well will you trust your decision? Leave me a reply and let me know: In the battle for your trust, do you go with the head or the gut?

Believe in your gifts,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you—whether intellectually or instinctually–please pass it on. Trust yourself!

A Precious Memory

DSC_0497“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I was shaken this week by a note from one of my dear friends. I have since been unable to let go of the demons it released in me. The note simply said that my friend—who is in her mid-50s—has been experiencing memory loss, both short-term and long-term. It has been going on for a couple of years but increasing to an alarming degree recently. She can do every step in a procedure if it is written down, but if you ask her a few minutes later if she did the thing or how, she hasn’t the foggiest idea. Memories from her past are being lost as well. She is losing contact with the path from which she came.

If you know me at all, you know that the very thought of this completely freaks me out. Of course, my very first reaction to the note was to feel absolutely awful for my friend. I cannot even begin to imagine the sort of terror that must strike her when an episode occurs–when her connection to the past is cut–much less how she has come to live with the reality of that disconnection in her daily existence. And that is exactly what freaks me out.

My brain and the life of my mind have always meant so much to me. Perhaps too much, even. I have always felt extremely grateful to be relatively intelligent, as I have seen the ways it has given me advantages in the world. I have definitely had my moments when I have been an intellectual snob, somewhat looking down my smarty-pants nose when dealing with people who don’t seem to me to be understanding the situation very well, especially if they are arguing against me. I have a way of using the science of Logic to win any argument, even if I am the only one using my scoring system. I am sure it is mostly annoying to the people around me.   I try to not make it about my ego, but I also get some satisfaction in my ability to pick any issue apart in my mind and see it rationally. And because I am over-sensitive, I have played every argument I have ever had over and over in my head a thousand times (so I know who was right!).

The other reason—aside from simple intelligence—that I have so valued the life of my mind is that I have spent so much time there, my mind as my best friend. I think of all the years I lived in cities far away from home, where I hardly knew anyone at all. Then I think of the months I spent wandering around Europe alone, both not knowing anyone and often not speaking the same language as anyone. I also think of the years I spent living in a way that others described “as a hermit,” basically holed up with my books and journals. My primary company was myself, and I relied upon my mind to sustain me. I am so grateful that those years of solitude were indescribably blissful for me. I have always thanked the power of the mind for that.

This is exactly why my friend’s note threw me for a loop. Although I have spent a lot of thought on cancer and its potential devastation on my family, the disease that truly frightens me the most is Alzheimer’s. I simply cannot bear the prospect of being betrayed by my precious mind. Basically every aspect of the disease sounds like my worst nightmare: memory loss, disorientation, misinterpreting spatial relationships, having trouble finding the right words in speaking and writing, difficulty with concentration and reasoning, poor judgment and decision-making skills, struggling with the routine of basic activities, and personality changes. All of those seem absolutely dreadful to me, but the first and most obvious Alzheimer’s symptom—memory loss—really strikes fear deep into my heart. I could not bear to lose the memories that seem to make up the substance of my beautiful life.

I am a personal historian by nature. I love to chronicle my life and that of my family. It would be a dream come true for me to have my parents and all of my aunts and uncles come together and allow me to film them in group and individual interviews about their lives growing up and what they know of my ancestors. In lieu of that, I chronicle my own life. I take thousands of photos every year and keep them well-sorted. And of course, I journal. Although I have never thought that the reason why I journal is to have accurate memories of my life—I do it to maintain clarity about who I am—I must admit that it is a wonderful treat to be able to look back on the 50 or so volumes I have filled to see what I have been doing all these years. Reading through them for “The Journal Project,” I had so many moments when I laughed and said to myself, “I totally forgot about that!” It is fun to have a record of it all to jog my memory.

Now the memories I am trying to create—and document—are of my kids. I try to spend every possible moment with them. I seriously do not want to miss a single thing. I cherish them all, from the giggly moments wrestling on the playroom floor, to the quietly appreciative ones, when I just sit back at a distance on my hammock and watch them spin each other around in the swing in the backyard. In those quiet moments, I am fully aware of just how blessed I am to share a life with them, and I try to burn those memories deeply into my brain so I can hearken back to them as they grow up and I grow old. When the moment allows it, I try to capture them with the lens of my camera, as I do love to sit at my computer and watch slideshows of them from our favorite days. However, I am beginning to see that the best way to fully take them into my heart is to engage with them. To put down that camera and jump into the fray while they still want me to. The magic is in the connection with them, a connection that can only be made when I am fully engaged, fully present.

In fact, what I am learning now is that it isn’t the memories that make up the substance of this life. It is the present moment. This is what we have! This is the only tense where we get to exercise any sort of control. This eternal moment of NOW is where we get to decide, in every moment, who we are going to be. NOW is where we feel Joy. Now is where Peace exists. NOW is when we forgive. NOW is the time we get to choose our attitude and our actions. NOW is when we connect with those we love. The world will always deliver us into new circumstances—with or without money, near or far from loved ones, cursed or applauded, sharp as a tack or being betrayed by your brain with Alzheimer’s—and all we can control is our attitude in the present moment. The precious present.

This is my lesson from this week of fret and concern about losing my mind and my memories. When I look at the other things that have haunted me in recent years—fears of cancer, of losing my parents, of my wife dying young—it seems that the remedy is exactly the same. Stay in the moment, and make the most of every one. If my parents or my wife dies–or if my body gets eaten by cancer or my mind by Alzheimer’s—the only thing that will save me from regret is if I know I gave myself completely when we were together, that we made the most of our time. And that we were present. Completely present in this most precious tense. This is the one silver lining I see for my dear friend who is losing her memory: at least she has the present. She can still find Joy and Peace and Love in every moment, even if she doesn’t remember the specifics of it later. Maybe that is enough. I hope it is.

How about you? What ailments or afflictions do you dread the most? Open up your journal and explore the possibilities. What makes your stomach turn when you think of the possibility of getting it? Is it an injury, perhaps something that does not allow you to be mobile or athletic anymore? I know it would drive me crazy not to be able to exercise or chase my kids around. What about paralysis or infirmity, where you require someone’s help to do even the basics of life, like eating or using the toilet? Do you fear that type of dependence? How about cancer? That one scares the daylights out of me, because I have seen it ravage both the body and the mind. What have you witnessed, and what effect has that had on your fears and on your appreciation for life and for living in the present? On a scale of one to ten, how badly do you dread the prospect of Alzheimer’s or another disease of the mind? Does it make you want to take more photos or videos, or journal more? Or rather, does it just make you want to be better at soaking up each moment you have? Is presence the best answer? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you make peace with your biggest fears?

Be your best right now,

William