Saturday, 28 September 2013

Why You Must Dare To Escape Your Comfort Zone

Lately, I have found myself at a fork in the road.  In truth, I've been here for some time, staring blankly down each path that lies before me, attempting to figure out which is the right one, agonising over which option is most suitable, and utterly unable to decide which is the path that I should take.  Yet, no matter how hard I stared, trying in vain to see through the darkness that obscures each of these futures, I have been unable to fathom the direction in which I need to go.  For some time, I have reasoned with myself that it has been because I was unsure, seeing equal merit in each one, knowing that they all held the promise of the future.  That was until today, when a sudden moment of clarity and insight dawned upon me.  The reason I have not moved forward from the place where I am is because of one reason only: I am afraid.

You see, my life has become far too comfortable.  Take now, this moment for example.  It's 6:04am, I'm sitting up in bed, daylight from an already risen sun streaming in through the window, I'm listening to the early morning calls of the exotic birds drifting in from outside, I've got a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee sitting on the bedside table next to me, my laptop sits on my lap as I type this blog post, and in another browser tab, I'm following the early football kick-off in the Premier League on the BBC sport website from back in England.  Later on, around 9am, I'll take a leisurely bike ride the mile or so down to work, where I'll spend most of the day sitting down at the hotel, chatting, surfing the web, maybe take a swim in the pool or ocean, and generally not do very much, since it's low season here, and there are not many guests around.  This is not exactly a taxing life.  Sure, when work gets busy, it can be full-on, long, physically and mentally demanding and tiring days, but the balance of that is the couple of hours or more I get to spend under the ocean, in my absolute element.  This is perhaps the life of which I always dreamed.

And that is the problem right there.  It is the life that I have always wanted.  I attained my dream, so I should be happy, because that is what I tell everyone else, that the path to true happiness lies in seeking out and attaining your dreams.  Am I now advocating that everything I spoke of before, that everything in which I have believed and gambled on, was nothing other than a falsehood, one of life's lies?  I have been happy.  Very happy. I still am.  I have no need to change where I am or what I am doing.  Diving under the ocean here, with a tank of air strapped to my back, my only means of survival, gives me the utmost pleasure.  Simply stated: I love it.  The vast array of life, from the smallest nudibranch to the graceful ease of a manta ray, the seasonal changes, the unpredictability of the ocean conditions, the chance to see some of the most incredible sights, these are the reasons why I love it.  My dream has been fulfilled.  It's time for a new one.

I have learned that I cannot stay still.  At first, I believed that the cause of my constant need for change was a lack of commitment to any one thing.  I tended to view this in a negative way, as if there was something wrong with me, that I had a phobia of commitment.  What I came to realise was that my heart has been ever urging me on, never letting me settle, driving me forward in search of each new adventure.  My heart is a wild beast and it is hard to tame.  And like all wild beasts, I believe that their rightful place is being free, to wander wherever their will takes them.  There are many things that I want to achieve in this life, many places that I wish to visit, many things that I wish to experience.  I have always known it.  As a young boy, I had a strong urge for adventure, that urge exists in my heart still.  I have to grow and learn, my heart demands it of me.  My whole life has been a series of progressions, of learning experiences, academically as well as psychologically.  I have to continue to do this, until my heart tells me it is time to stop, that at long last, we have found our home.

This is why I find myself at the fork in my path.  I have been looking for something new.  To step away from the path that I am on, to change my direction once more.  But I have felt a great reluctance to change.  At first, I firmly believed it was because none of my options were the right ones for me.  Good options, but not quite right.  Being heartstrong means that I have to feel it in my heart, or I am just nor there.  I could feel none of my options in my heart, and so I knew that I needed to wait a little longer and the right choice would present itself to me at the right moment.  And it did.  I wrote of my moment of epiphany last week in my post, Knowing The Path.  Yet, even after experiencing this moment, there was something that held me back and that confused me.  After the euphoria of my epiphany came some moments of doubt.  Was this truly right for me?

I began to think that the answer was no.  That the choice to go and travel again was not my true path.  Almost, I began to believe this to be my truth, that is, until I had to make the jump across the border to Nicaragua this past week, to renew by tourist visa for Costa Rica.  In the process of travelling on public buses, of watching life unfold before me, of seeing exotic places, of being in some place different, of needing to push myself to know which bus to take and when, walking across the no mans land between neighbouring countries.  All of these things fired up my desire for travel.  Just a moment ago, as I was typing an earlier paragraph, a picture came floating into my mind of a far off distant shore, and in that moment, my heart leapt with a great sense of joy.  I know that it is what I wish to do.

Even though I feel the truth of it in my heart, I am afraid.  You see, I like my life, I like being in Costa Rica, I like having the chance of meeting with a manta ray or a huge school of devil rays.  I like my fully furnished apartment which contains everything that I need.  I like my landlord and next door neighbour, with his super cute, little two year old daughter and his crazy dog called Manny.  I like that I can go into the grocery store and be greeted by the people that work there, because they know me.  I like that I can cycle down the road and see people who wave at me, cars that hoot to acknowledge me, as I wave back.  I like that I can pop down to the bakery, just one minute away and buy freshly baked bread for my lunch.  I understand how life works around here and I like that.  I feel safe and I feel secure in this existence.  I could stay and perhaps I would be content.  Perhaps I might be.  Why risk change and a voyage into the unknown?

I believe that it is this fear of change that prevents many people from achieving their true dreams.  As humans, we enjoy comfort and security.  After achieving the necessities of life - air, water, food, shelter - security and comfort are next.  After all, we have it drilled into us from our earliest days that we must work hard, so we can take out a mortgage to buy a house, so that we can save for our retirement, save for our medical insurance, we must surround ourselves with the trappings of modern life, with possessions that add to our sense of security and comfort.  Unfortunately, the truth is, that we are never as secure as we might believe.  No one is immortal.  No one is immune to illness, disease, or accidents.  No matter how secure you believe your job to be, it is not.  No employee is indispensable.  When a company needs to cut back in order to maintain solvency and profitability, it will do so ruthlessly, without mercy, and the axe can fall on anyone.  I've seen it happen, I've seen first hand how technological advancements affected the workplace.  I was an instigator of those changes, I had a role in affecting the lives of others in a negative way.  It always left a sour taste in my mouth.     

We cling on to all that we have attained because it provides us with a sense of security.  It is the attainment of that security that causes us to sacrifice the dreams of our heart, to forsake the true path in life, the one that would provide us with the greatest sense of happiness and joy.  In this, I am no different.  I too feel the pull of that voice that urges security.  It is a deeply rooted, primeval urge to create security in your life.  But there is a stronger voice that beats inside of me.  The voice of my heart.

My heart rules me.  Its voice is so strong to me, that I cannot avoid its urges.  I must forsake my comfortable life if I wish to follow its call.  My fear of change almost paralysed me.  It almost held me tightly in its grip, telling me that here, in the life I lead now, I am happy and that I possess all that I need.  My heart never ceased its constant reassurances.  My heart knew that it needed to wait only for the right time, when I stood in a moment of silence, to act, and it did.  These other paths that I might take, perhaps I will come back to them on a different day.  Perhaps then, they will be the right paths for me, paths that my heart urges me to pursue.  Until that day, I must follow my heart along our present course.  And that is a course that leads me away from my comfort and security and into the unknown.

If I do not risk change, then I will never grow.  Life is a learning process, I see it as the process of evolving the soul.  Change allows us to learn and to grow.  Taking yourself outside of your comfort zone demonstrates just how much you are capable of, how much we are all capable of, and that always comes as a surprise, it is so much more than you can possibly imagine.  If I stay here on this path, I might be happy, I might enjoy my comfort and security, but I know there will come a time when I will have missed my opportunity of discovery, of growth and of learning.  And rather than the fear of losing my comfort and security, that is my greatest fear in this life.  That is why I must continue to live the life that I do, until the moment when I finally discover my home in another soul.  Perhaps finally then, I will be able to rest.  But I don't think so.  Perhaps I can sum it all up best with the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson:-

"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

My Crazy Life of Dreams

There are some words that you never think you'd find yourself saying.  Some years ago, in Brussels airport, I remarked to a colleague that I couldn't wait to get back home to Budapest.  Those words came straight out with out a second thought, without a moment's hesitation, and it was to mark a significant shift in the way that I saw my life.  Now, some years later, living a very different life, I found myself sitting here in Costa Rica, casually telling a friend that I was heading up to Nicaragua, to renew my tourist visa the next morning.  My life, my crazy life and everything in between.

I always had dreams.  I don't know when they began or how they began, but that really is not important.  All that is important, is that they did begin.  They were not grand dreams, there was no master plan, there was no specific journey that I wished to make, there was nothing that I wished to accomplish.  I was just a boy who gazed out of the car window, who saw mountains, hills, valleys, water cascading down the side of the mountains after a rainfall, forming itself into babbling streams, and I knew that I wanted to be out there, I wished to walk amongst the nature, to be out of doors, a wanderer perhaps, but something more, something much more, an adventurer.

In one of those quirks of fate, I found myself as a ten year old boy, in the classroom of Mr Noon, my year six teacher.  Had my parents not decided to move to the south of England, I would have been sitting in a different chair, a different room, a different teacher.  On the side wall of the classroom, stacked in random order on some shelves, were some tattered, well read, old paperbacks.  Each week, we were allotted reading times and were required to select one of the books and to sit quietly and read to ourselves.  I began with Biggles adventures, following the exploits of the daring World War I fighter ace.  Perhaps I read something after, I do not recall now, and then I picked up one of the books that would change my life.  I pulled it at random and as it slid out from the bookcase, its back cover was facing me.  I turned it over to see a picture of mountains and its title: The Hobbit.

I had no idea what this story was about, but I began to read nonetheless and as I did, I found myself utterly transported into another world, a world that, even though I never knew of its existence before that time, I wanted desperately to find.  Bilbo Baggins is a reluctant hero who seeks out the comforts of home, who revels in them in fact.  When the chance of adventure comes literally knocking on his door, he is afraid of change, he is risk adverse, preferring to stay in the confines of his own world, the one that he knows, that he understands, and that is safe.  Here was something that instinctively I found myself saying, "I would go!", "Oh, for the chance!"  I longed for Gandalf to come knocking on my door.  It was impossible of course.  As I read of the adventures of Bilbo and his companions, I longed for the mountains, for the passes, to see valleys and great forests, to become lost, to fight for a greater cause.  My fires were ignited, yet they would slumber for many more years before I would begin to realise my own dreams and for adventure to come knocking on my door.

JRR Tolkien awoke something inside of me.  His writing, his stories, they created in me the adventurous spirit. But wait a minute.  Did he really, or did that already exist?  Hadn't my mother already been a key factor in that, taking my brother and I off on crazy late night car journeys, spontaneously jumping up to give chase to the sirens of an fire engine, so that we could investigate the goings on, taking me for walks in the woods with the dogs, across the fields, filling my head and my heart with the beauty of the out doors?  In my mother I had a kindred spirit that also sought out excitement and adventure.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Tolkien fanned the embers of a fire that was already there, it was already in my heart and in the blood that I inherited.  Those embers smouldered away just waiting for the right moment to leap up and burn bright.  A fire that was born in the very fibre of my being, and a fire that would eventually consume my heart, and become my life.

Dreams do not need to be big, nor do they need to be significant.  In fact, a dream can be anything that you choose it to be.  Let me rephrase that because this is important: you do not choose your dreams, they choose you.  A dream is anything that fires your heart with passion and desire, one that fuels the imagination and lets it run wild and free.  You know it, because when you think of it, you erupt in a spontaneous smile and a joy that flows from your inner being.  One of my own dreams was nothing more than a desire for adventure.  I didn't know where I was going to go, I didn't know when, nor did I know how I was ever going to achieve it.  I held that dream as a young boy, gazing out of the car window as we drove through the mountains of Scotland.  I yearned to lose myself amongst the mountains, to climb their lofty peaks, to travel the passes between them, and to be out in the wild. 

I think this is also a very important point to make.  A dream does not need to be a complete story, whereby you can see all the way through to the end.  A dream can begin with the first step and nothing more.  I decided to go travelling.  That was all I had.  What happened after was beyond my wildest imaginings and in no way, could I ever have imagined it.  However foolish your own dream may seem, it is not.  It is your dream and as such, it is your true calling.  To not begin it, is to deny yourself the purest form of happiness and the ultimate gift that you can ever bestow upon yourself - the love of self.

I am still in my dream and I never wish to see it end.  My dream is my life, my life is my dream.  They are one and the same thing.  I could never have foreseen this.  I do not know what will come next, I do not know where life is going to take me.  I try not to plan too far in advance, since I wish to live as much as possible in the present moment.  Life will take care of me, as long as I follow my heart.  That is what I have learned on my own particular journey.  Your heart knows what is best for you, it will never lead you astray, it will never betray you.  I know that if I have the opportunity for a new adventure, then I will take it, I will seek to suck out the marrow of life, to take the road less travelled, and to continue to live as deliberately as possible.  The words carpe diem are tattooed on my left arm for a reason.  I live by them.

It's a funny thing this thinking business.  I just had to stop and let a thought run its course, a thought that produced a big smile on my face, and that originated in my heart.  I realised that my quest for adventure will never end.  What will cease is my quest for travel and for the constant change that I continually put myself through.  At some point, I will have had my fill of that type of adventure and I will seek out a different one.  You see, one of my other dreams is the dream of fatherhood, which is perhaps the biggest adventure of them all.  And that is the one adventure I never want to miss.  The one adventure I must not miss.  The one adventure I will not miss.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Knowing The Path

Today, I experienced a moment of epiphany.  These moments never quite occur to you where you might believe.  My moment did not come as I stared out across the vast expanse of the ocean, nor did it arrive as I gazed up to the stars of the heavens, there were no snow-capped mountains in view, no deep lush jungle stretching off into the distance, there was no tumbling cascade of a waterfall.  Instead, it came to me as I stood in my kitchen and I poured out my ritual after dinner coffee.  So, just what was this moment of deep realisation about my life, that refused to contain itself, and that rushed at me, before I was able to add the milk to my cup?

There will always come moments when the light shines forth from within.  These times occur when we are most deeply connected with our hearts, when we are in synchronised rhythm, heart and soul as one.  I've experienced moments of epiphany before and I've written about them previously - standing in the middle of a square in Budapest, sitting on the wall at the waterfront in Wellington.  They never come when we expect them, they arrive unbidden, a moment when it feels as though lightning has struck you, or someone has turned on a light in a darkened room.  I know these moments because when they dawn on me, I cannot stop myself from smiling with a deep sense of pleasure and joy, I want to laugh, to shout and to sing out loud.  This can only come from the knowledge that the thought that is now in your head, originated in your heart, that the thought is the very essence of who you are, who you are meant to be.  That thought is you.

For many years of my life, I was in denial of who I was, who I was born to be.  I was not myself.  I was an imposter, or rather, the imposter was me.  I acted out the life of another person because that is what I thought I should do.  I was a good actor because I fooled many people, I fooled myself.  I could not admit to myself the very thing that it was that I wanted the most in life.  Why?  Simply because I was afraid of what it would mean to me, I was frightened of the consequences.  I lived a life where on the surface at least, I appeared to be happy, but underneath, I never truly was.  My true self was buried deeply within me, covered over, so that it was carefully hidden away, lest it should escape.

I could not have been more wrong.  The journey of my life, the story of my life, is essentially one of discovery.  It seems to me that life had a plan and it was not going to let me go quietly away.  Through so many seemingly random events, meetings and happenings, life found me, it caught me in its grip and it would not let me go.  Life reached through to my inner being, it touched my heart, and it rekindled my desires and my passions.  No, not rekindled, since it implies that once there was a fire and I do not recall there ever being a fire in my soul before life took hold.  But once it did, I was like a piece of driftwood, caught up in the current of a river and unable to reach the shore.  I had to go wherever the water of life took me.  Everything that happened to me, the good and the bad, became necessary parts of my journey, shaping me, helping me to learn, to grow, and to evolve my soul.  This river brought me to a place in my life where I was finally ready to admit to myself who I really was, and to become the man I had been born to be. 

Since this time, I have lived my life as deliberately as possible.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden; or, Life In The Woods, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life..."  I have made decisions to do those things that I wished to do, no matter how ridiculous or foolish they might seem.  My journey has taken me around the world, I have been a backpacker, a dive master, a full time student, a project administrator, a charity street funds collector, and a diving instructor.  I have lived for a time in Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Costa Rica.  I have visited and had short stays in many countries in between.  I have experienced things I never dreamed were possible.  And I have met many wonderful people.  All of this was possible because of one thing: I dared to try.

Back to now.  Nearly eight years since my true journey began, I have found myself wondering what I should do next.  I know full well that I cannot do what I do forever, that the physical nature of the work will take its toll on my body.  I have been giving thought to the need for a retirement plan and a pension, that I will need healthcare in the coming years, that really and truly, I have had a lot of fun and that perhaps finally, it is time to stop and to go and do something far more sensible.  With that in my mind, I have begun to think seriously about becoming a school teacher.  It is something that I believe I would be good at, since I love passing on my knowledge and helping others to learn and to grow.  I have even been complimented on my patience, care and teaching skills.  It seems to be a good fit, a way of returning to normality, of a secure future with a steady income.  But something just hasn't felt right.  As much as I believe I would make a good teacher, the thought of it has not fired me with enthusiasm, the way that I fire up when I talk of scuba diving, the ocean, care for the environment, or travel.  I have been puzzling over why not, when teaching would appear to make so much sense?

This evening, as I stood at my kitchen counter, coffee slowly filling my cup, my moment of epiphany arrived.  In that moment, I knew the path of my life and I knew why teaching is not right for me at this time.  More than this though, this thought that came to me hit me hard, and I smiled because here at last was the truth.  Life is short.  Our time on this planet is but a fleeting moment in which to make our mark and to leave behind our legacy.  There are things that I want in my life: a wife, children, dogs, cats, a family.  Right now, I do not have them.  Why do I want to return to the lifestyle I had before, where I was conforming to what society expected of me, when it went against my true self?  I know that it will make me unhappy.  It will slowly but surely tear my soul apart and it will destroy me.  All that I have learned will be lost, forgotten, and things will be just as they once were, before I began.  I cannot let that happen.  I will not let that happen.

There will come a time when I must forsake this particular part of my journey.  This I know to be true.  That time will come when I have need to take care of something more than myself, when my purpose in life shifts to the provision and care of others - my wife and my children.  Until that time, I am going to go on doing what I have been doing.  I am going to see the world, to travel, to enjoy new experiences, meet new people.  I am going to continue to take a chance on life because I do not know when my last day will come.  I am going to have an adventure.

Thinking of this makes me happy.  Knowing why I have struggled over the last months to understand my direction in life brings me great comfort.  I am still going in the right direction.  Life it seems, is not yet done with me, nor I with it.  The road less travelled beckons to me still.  My heart is singing right now, it is joyful, hopeful and it is ready to go on again.  One day, my heart will be joined by another and when it is, we will journey together, we will make our adventures to share with our children.  And at the moment that she enters my life, those two hearts that have beaten for so long in separate rhythms, will beat to the same tune.  There will always be two hearts, but from that moment on, there will be only one soul.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Your Life, Your Story

There are days in our lives when it feels as if nothing is ever going to work out.  Sometimes, those days stretch into weeks or even months and the feeling becomes inescapable.  It seems as though there is no way out of the darkness that threatens to consume you, to overwhelm you, and to take you down to the bottom of the abyss from which there is no return.  When these times come upon us, and they surely will, just as the sun rises and sets each day, it is easy to despair, to blame ill-luck and bad fortune for all that has befallen you.  How is it then, that you can deal with the bleakness of these situations, how can you keep your head above the waters that threaten to engulf you?

The other day a thought occurred to me.  What if you were to imagine your life story as a novel that had already been written?  A stranger wanders over to a table in a cafe and picks up your book.  They leaf through the pages idly, stopping randomly at a certain point.  That point is now.  At this one point in the story, they know nothing of your past and nothing of your future.  All that they will know of your story is from the letters that they read, those words, lines and paragraphs that describe all that is happening right now.  The stranger in the cafe begins to read.  What will they find?  Who is the main character of your story? What type of story will they believe that they are reading - action, thriller, horror, adventure, romance, or tragedy?

This is exactly what is happening now, when you look at your own situation.  You are reading the chapter that concerns all that is occurring in the present moment.  Unlike the mysterious reader in the cafe, you already know the past, you understand perfectly all of those things, those actions, the decisions, those strange quirks and twists of fate, that brought you to where you are now and that made you into the person that you have become.  Only, just like our reader, you also do not know how the story is going to unfold, you can not know what the future holds in store for you.  If you could, would you even want to flick to the end, to read those last few lines, to discover how your story ends?

Life is like this.  You are here and it is now.  Ahead of you lies many more sentences that you must write.  How your story will unfold is not yet defined.  You hold the pen poised above the paper. The shapes that it makes are your own to make, those shapes create the letters that form the story.  There will be influences and occurrences that are out of your control, but all of these will be necessary to help you, to move the story forward.  Like now, as I write, thoughts come unbidden to my mind, that influence the direction of my writing.  So too will it be with your life, with the events that are yet to come.  You will subtly, subconsciously alter the fabric of the story, bend it to your will, to try to make it flow the way that you wish.  I know this to be true because it is exactly what I have done. I created my own situation through subconscious thought, through positioning myself so that I was more able to take the opportunities that came my way.  I was not aware of it until after, but when I looked back, it was obvious that that is what I had been doing.  I could not alter the events ahead of me, but I could ensure that I was in the best possible situation to take advantage of what came my way.  And in so doing, to reach out for my dreams.  Those events would have come to me, come at me, and perhaps I would not have been able to react in the same way.  I see this as the definition of fortune.  Fortune is the ability to see and to grasp opportunity.  No one, and I mean this truly, no one is born unlucky, no one sits with a dark cloud above their head.  That cloud is of your own making, the way that you view life.  And if you were the creator, so too can you be the destroyer.  You hold the key and you hold the power over it.  The choice is yours and yours alone.

I thought the other day about a very dark chapter in my own life, a time when I was utterly lost, when I could not see any way out of the black that had consumed me.  I was in despair.  Everything that I had cherished and loved was taken from me.  I didn't see it coming and it left me in a state of shock.  In this moment of my life, I thought I was cursed, I believed more than ever that nothing ever worked out for me, that I was unlucky, that there was little point in continuing.  Every night I went to bed, I did not want to wake up because I knew that when I did, the reality of my situation would dawn on my all over again, and it would take me down further.  Had I been in a cafe and picked up my own life story and begun reading at this point, I would have wondered how such a thing could have happened, why someone with a good heart, who always tried so hard for others, could have befallen such a disaster.  And probably, because I'm a sucker for an underdog story, I would want the foolish boy who believed so much in the promise of love, to succeed, to find his way out and to have a happy ending.  I needed that dark chapter of my life, as much as I need the light.  That particular chapter was necessary to bring me to here and to now.  All of these years later, my life has turned into a voyage of discovery and adventure.  I'm still looking for that happiness that can only be found in love, but as surely as eggs are eggs, I don't want my ending to come just yet.  I still have so much to do, so much more to write and so many stories to tell my children.   

And so do you.  There are pages upon pages of blank whiteness ahead of you.  What is behind is gone.  It is done.  Now, here you stand.  At your feet lie a shield and a sword, all around you are the sounds and sights of the raging battle that is life.  It is your decision on whether you fight for the life that you want, whether you raise your shield to ward off the blows that will surely come, whether your swing your sword to strike down your enemies that will try to stop you.  Write you own story.  Don't get caught up in the past, don't think about now.  Instead, look to your future, decide what it is that you want, picture where you wish to go, and then fight for it.  Each strike of the enemy parried by your shield forms a letter, each swing of the sword creates the sentence.  Your story, your book, your ending.  You are not defined by who you are now, you are defined by who you will become and the writing of that story is in your own hands.  So, go write it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Letters - A Poem

This evening, I sat down with every intention to write a blog post about an idea that came to me a few days ago.  The thought was how I see it as necessary to regard your present situation as a single paragraph in the book of your life.  As I was writing, something took over and I began to write whatever came to me.  The urging was to form these words into verse.  And so I did.  I hope you like it.  I called it Letters. 

Form words
That make sentences
Which grow into paragraphs
And become chapters
Of a story
Your life
In a moment
Between each page
Hidden mysteries
Waiting to be discovered
Journeys to be made
No end
Only beginnings
Continuing the cycle
That is life
We are born again
To continue what was begun
Long before
At the very dawning of all
Evolution of the soul
Our task in this life
Take it as far as you can
As high as you can
Walk, learn, grow
Then fade away
Task complete
And live another day
Another life
A different story
Same heart
New letters.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Why Daring Is A Must And Why Routine Is The Silent Killer

Darkness.  My eyes tried in vain to penetrate its cloak, but all that I was able to discern were the vague shapes of the boats, that I knew were tethered to their mooring lines further out.  The quiet was interrupted only by the gentle swells that rolled in, becoming waves that broke upon the shore.  Into this darkness then, out into the deep water, did we venture.  What craziness was this, I wondered.  Crazy?  Perhaps it was, but it was something more than crazy to me, it was adventure and it was daring and it was something that I had wished to do for as long as I could remember.  Now, here I was, here we were, walking out into the depths of the black ink that was the ocean.  The cool water rose slowly up to my chest, I prepared to swim and I thrust my arm out, ready to take my first stroke.  In this moment, life decided to show us its magic and it presented us with a miracle.

Life is full of possibilities, it is full of opportunities, and it is full of miracles.  Every single moment, you are surrounded by them.  The first problem is perceiving them and it is not always easy.  Each of us becomes entrapped in the daily routines of our lives.  We do the same things, we perform the same tasks, and we do them at the same times.  Life begins to become a monotony.  Routine is the silent killer.  It stalks us, it sneaks up behind us and it ensnares us.  It is far too easy to be caught.  I know that myself all too well.

There are many moments in my life when I have a sudden realisation that I have become deeply entrenched in my routines.  Yes, some routines are necessary and helpful.  Take for example my own morning ritual.  I get up, I fire up the laptop (it needs a lot of time to run through its own routines), I put the coffee on brew, I wash my face, I do some push ups, some stomach crunches, I make my cereal with chopped banana and milk, and I pour out the coffee.  While I have been doing all of this, my laptop has become ready to use, so I sit down and catch up on the news, check my e-mails and Facebook happenings.  It's my twenty minutes of peace and quiet before I have to get myself ready and leave for work.  I need it to be able to function in the morning.  It's part of my wake up routine and because of it, I know that at certain times, I need to perform certain tasks and by doing so, I will be ready to leave for work just at the right time.  That all seems quite normal enough, so where is the danger in routine?

Let me use an example.  There are people who commute to London every day by train.  They end up standing in exactly the same spot on the platform and they sit in the same seat of the same carriage, with the same people, every day.  They have become so completely conditioned to their routine.  But that's good though, right?  These people get to hang out and talk with their acquaintances and friends, they know they'll have a seat and they know where that seat is going to be.  It all sounds so logical and it is, which is exactly the problem.

These people are missing out on the chance of making important and new discoveries.  No new opportunities will come their way, no new people will enter their lives, people who may bring with them an important message that could alter the course of their destiny.  These commuters have closed themselves off to chance and in so doing, they have closed themselves off to the opportunity to learn and to evolve.  Life begins to become dull and boring, always the same.  This is the danger with routine.  It prevents us from discovering the new because we seek comfort in all that is old, all that is comfortable, secure and known to us.  Routine blinkers our eyes, it deafens our ears, and it quietens the voice of our heart to all of life's opportunities and possibilities.

So, the first task in beginning to open yourself up to opportunities is to break some of your old routines and habits and to do things differently.  Be spontaneous.  Be a little crazy.  Say yes rather than saying no.  Take a different route to work. Sit in a different seat on the train or bus.  Leave ten minutes later or ten minutes earlier.  I recall a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society, where Mr Keating (Robin Williams) asks the boys to stand up on his desk and to view the world differently.  "You must open your eyes to possibility", he tells them.  This then is the trick.  You need to find your own desk and to look upon your world from another angle.

You also need to heed the voice of your heart and to be a little daring.  The moment that you do, life will reward you.  In order to achieve all that you wish for, it is necessary to step outside of your comfort zone.  Inside that zone, everything is known to you and it is safe.  You can spend the rest of your life in there and you might be content, but you will never have any chance of discovering what lies elsewhere, what incredible things could occur to you, if you were to just take a single step outside.  You will never discover your one true path from the safety of your comfort zone, you will never realise your dreams.  It can be scary, there is no denying it.  It can be a little overwhelming.  That too can happen.  But, it can also deliver to you the most rewarding experiences that will ever occur in your life.  In order to make discoveries we must be bold and we must be daring and we must follow the urges of our heart's.

There are times in my life when I chose to do exactly that.  The time I booked my plane tickets to New Zealand for my first solo vacation, taking that job in Budapest, giving up my career with IBM, booking those tickets to Bangkok, enrolling in university in New Zealand, going to Honduras and becoming a dive instructor.  Each time I have dared, I have been rewarded more richly than I could ever possibly have imagined.  Even in the times when things did not quite go the way I had thought or had planned, I was still rewarded with new experiences, new people and I learned.  Everything that I experienced was necessary.  It has helped me evolve my spirit.  This is how life works.  This is how we discover our true selves.  Each of us is far more capable than we can possibly imagine.

This is exactly what happened the other night.  I had an urge in my heart, I wanted to go night swimming but for some reason, I always knew that it had to happen in a certain way.  When that opportunity presented itself, when I heard the words that asked me if I wanted to take a swim, I could not deny the voice of my heart.  I knew it was this moment, I knew that it had to be right there and then.  I could have said no, it was too late, that I wanted to stay dry, that I wanted to get home, but I did not.  Instead, I dared.  And in the moment of my daring, I opened up myself to the possibilities of life.  There I was, in the water, at the moment in which I thrust my arm forward.  As my finger tips separated water from water, something extraordinary happened, the water exploded with a shimmering light that surrounded my hand and my arm.  I was stunned, amazed.  I did it again and the same thing happened.  Then I lifted my arm out of the water and hundreds of tiny drops of light fell from me, slowly cascading down to fall back into the black of the water and disappear.  Truly this was one of the most incredibly beautiful spectacles I have ever seen.  There in that moment, the two of us shared together a moment of pure magic.  It was a moment when life chose to reveal one of its miracles to us, as if it had been waiting there all of this time, for the right moment, for the moment when we dared.  And by daring we discovered one of life's miracles, we found an ocean of bioluminescence. 

Those same miracles await you too.  They are out there, all you have to do is to believe, to dare, to switch up your routines and to let yourself open up to the possibilities and opportunities of life.  Once you begin to see the miracles, you will never stop.  Once you hear the voice of your heart and heed its message, you can never go back.  Opportunities will come to you. Miracles will occur.  And with them, so too will you come to see and to know the one simple thing that connects every single thing in the universe: love.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Incredible Thread Of Life

This afternoon, I got to thinking about the thread of my life, those significant events that have led me to where I am now, to what I am doing, and who I have become.  It was my plan to sit down and create a list of the events that occurred, and by doing so, to illustrate how seemingly random life can be.  As I was running through some of these events in my mind, something quite remarkable occurred - I experienced an epiphany. 

You see, I had been imagining my chain of events as beginning when I had just turned nine years old.  This was the moment when my parents moved the family from our home just outside of London, down to the south coast of England.  Living by the ocean created my love of the beach and of being in and around water, and helped me to create the dream that I held, of one day spending my life on a palm tree lined beach.  An impossible and crazy notion, but one that was to take hold of my heart nonetheless.

So, beginning with this event, I started to think of others.  There are some that I knew were life changing events: giving up on my high school education so that I could work on a factory production line, going to South Africa for the first time, taking the opportunity to move to Budapest, quitting my job with IBM to go backpacking to Asia.  Some events may not have seemed significant at the time that they occurred, but they were the trigger for a change in my thinking about life: being handed a copy of The Alchemist by a friend, talking about life with Sergio, meeting up again with an old colleague after fourteen years and hearing of his life as a scuba instructor in Thailand.  As I went over these events, I thought about my life when I was working at IBM, and how that had been so significant for my story, how working there had provided me with the very opportunities that were to shape my thinking.  And this was the moment when I was struck by a sudden thought: why was it that I was working at IBM in the first place? 

The answer is because of my father.  My father is a great man.  He is my hero and I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed an affinity with him.  Growing up, I guess that I wanted to be like him.  I used to watch him getting ready for work each morning, putting on his suit and clipping his security clearance badge to his trouser belt.  He used to bring home punch cards and computer paper, copies of computer printed pictures and I used to think how cool he was to work at such an amazing and mysterious place called IBM.  Some weekends, if he had to go in to the office, I would accompany him, sitting and listening to the football on the radio, keeping him updated with the scores, watching what he was doing.  I knew that this was the place that I wanted to work, that I had to work.  It became my dream to work for IBM, to emulate my father, and to give us one more thing in common.

So here's what I realised.  If my father had not worked at IBM, my life would probably have turned out very differently.  Perhaps I would have worked there anyway, but I don't think so.  You see, my family moved to the seaside because of my father's work.  If he had not worked for IBM, then this would never have occurred and I would never have developed my love of the ocean, which in turn would mean that I would never have developed my dream of one day having my home on a tropical beach paradise.  My first significant event was not that we moved home when I was nine years old, it was in fact my father commencing work for IBM back in the late 1960's.  My first significant event occurred before I was even born.

Of course, it is now clear to see how all of the lives that came before us, generation through generation, all the way back to the very beginning of life on this planet, have played some vital role in my own life and my own course of events.  The chain of events that shape our lives can be traced all the way back to the dawning of time itself, to the moment of creation.  Every thing that we do changes the future, not only our future, but the futures of every one affected by the ripples that spread out through time and space.  Everything and everyone is interconnected.  All of the threads of lives intertwine to create the great tapestry of life. 

When I stop and think of how it was that I arrived at IBM, how it was necessary for my girlfriend at the time to be made redundant; how I accompanied her to a job fair at a local hotel; where, feeling bored, I decided on a whim to complete an application form for an employment agency; how that agency contacted me two months later to say there was an opening at IBM for which they thought I would be perfect; how the set of skills that I had acquired since beginning my working life had made me the right fit for the role...  It really is incredible.

Is it fate?  Perhaps.  Maybe my life was always going to be this way.  Perhaps all of these events were preordained, necessary to help create the big picture, vital to some future design.  All I know is that each individual link in the chain of events that have brought me to this moment, is a miracle.  Every thing, every person, every experience has in some way linked together and those links are being formed ahead of me, in my future.  I cannot see them, but what I do know is that when I look back from some moment that lies ahead of me, I will again be amazed at the incredible serendipity that has been my journey.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

We, The Lost

I woke this morning and wanted to write something, so I did.  I began with one line and three words.  I opened my heart and the rest followed.  I hope you like it.

We, The Lost
We, the lost
Seeking the answers
That evade our every effort
Like wisps of mist
Those tendrils of grey
We try to grasp
To clutch in our fist
Fingers enclosed
Holding tightly
But forever gone

Where then shall we begin
To seek that which is to be,
That which is not yet ours to hold?
First, we have to known not where
But for what it is that we seek
Less we walk an eternity
Seeing yet never knowing
Our treasure was right there
A stretch of the hand
To seize and hold

How then will we know?
Job, career, success, money
House, car, vacation
The false gods of modern life
Leading us astray
Further and further from the truth
Blinding us to the obvious
The poisoned chalice
From which we are told
We must drink
Nay, we must gulp
If we are to find that which we seek

Not in that cup will you find it
To seek, is to know
And to know, is to find
There is one place
Where the truest true resides
It is you, it is the pure you
The very essence of life itself
Your soul has every answer
Gathered eons past
Different lives, one spirit

Then look inside and not without
For there is that for which you seek
The beating rhythm of life
That one song of truth
Written for you
And only for you
That you may one day
Wake up from the slumber
As the bird sings at dawn
Hark now, hear its words
Its gentle call
Heed the song of the light
And together,
Shall you go forth
Dear precious heart
Walk with me.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Spiritual Evolution: The Reason Why We Are Here

This afternoon, I fell into a discussion with one of my students about life, or to be more correct, death.  This is not as morbid as you might at first think, since I'm teaching a Rescue Diver course, and we had been talking about life saving and the effectiveness of providing rescue breathing and chest compressions (CPR).  This conversation took on a whole new meaning, when out of the blue, my student told me something that left me dumbstruck and momentarily speechless.

As we were discussing the steps in responding to a non-breathing diver and how, through the use of rescue breaths and CPR, maintaining the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain is absolutely critical, Charlie told me that he was particularly interested in this point, since he had arrived home one day and walked into his brother's bedroom, where he had discovered him laying dead on the floor.  He was not even twenty years old and his brother had taken his own life. 

Charlie told me that his brother had been good looking, that they came from a middle class upbringing, that they needed for nothing, that he was popular and well liked at school, that he dated many girls.  Essentially, that there was no known reason at all for him to have ended his own life so early and so abruptly.  Charlie surmised that his brother had figured out that there was no point to continuing, since he already had everything, there was nothing left for him.  What goes on in the mind of someone who takes their own life, particularly in these circumstances, is not for me to say.  Each of us has our own demons, it is just that for most of us, those demons remain under control and in check.  I know that for myself only too well.  I told Charlie about a good friend of mine who had died unexpectedly and suddenly a few years ago, and we got to talking about life and death, and the reason why we are here.  I have a theory.  I call it Spiritual Evolution.

Spiritual Evolution.  Let me try to explain what I mean by this term.  Spiritual Evolution is the process of developing the soul.  We each develop our own soul through having experiences, meeting people, going places, attaining knowledge, and feeling emotions.  In fact, everything that we do offers us the chance to grow our soul, to move it forward.  As we do this, so too do we evolve our soul's into something more than they were before.  It is growth, advancement, and change.  I see spiritual evolution as our mission in this life.

Everyone has a voice inside of them - the voice of their heart.  That voice tells you constantly what you should do, what is the right thing for you.  Some of us ignore it and some of us heed it.  I believe that by following that voice, we follow our one true path and by walking that path, we walk in the light.  It is on our true path, basking in our own light, that we truly evolve our soul, giving it the best possible chance to attain its goal, its mission.  Our one true path is our spiritual quest, our mission for this life.

How many times have you stopped suddenly, aware that the situation in which you find yourself has happened before?  This occurs often in life and it is my belief that each time that it does, it is because there is a lesson of fundamental importance and consequence to our spiritual journey, that we need to learn and to assimilate.  If we fail to take the correct course of action, the situation will inevitably come around again and again, until such a time that we make the right choice or take the action that is necessary.  The situation may occur in a different place, with different people, but it will be the same lesson that is being shown to us.  When we make the right choices then we have learned the lesson and we are able to move on.  The learning of the lesson evolves our soul and this situation will no longer repeat itself in the same way again.  Déjà vu works in the same way, only déjà vu is our remembrance of the same situation but not in this particular physical manifestation of ourselves, but in a previous incarnation of our physical aspect on this planet - in another life.

Let's put this all together.  The soul is trying to attain its ultimate state, to reach the point of nirvana - the point at which the release of the soul from the physical body in which it exists occurs.  To do that, the soul must evolve.  As we journey through life, the soul is learning, changing and evolving.  When it reaches a certain point of the evolutionary process, there is no more that it can achieve in this life.  At that point, it is necessary for the soul to be released from the physical body in which it resides and if it has not yet reached its ultimate objective, then it is reborn into a different physical body and the process of evolution continues.  On and on.  Time and again.  Until the evolution is complete.

I came up with this theory because I wanted to explain to myself why it is that some people die early. You see, when my friend died, I did not understand how someone who enjoyed life as fully as he had, was taken away.  It seemed to me that it was too soon.  But perhaps it wasn't.  What if his soul had reached its goal for this particular life?  Now it was free to leave and so it found a way of breaking out of the physical body.  I don't know if the soul of my friend exists again on this planet in a different physical form, or whether he has left and moved on to a different realm, I'll probably never know that.  It does not matter though, since when I look back at his life, I see someone who clearly sucked out all the marrow, and then sucked out some more.

An acquaintance of mine, who worked as a nurse in a hospital for the mentally ill, once told me that she did not believe in fate because she was unable to explain why some innocent people needed to suffer at the hands of tormentors and abusers.  "How could that be their fate?" she had asked me.  Well, perhaps Spiritual Evolution helps to explain this.  Even though in this life, they suffered, in the greater scheme of evolution of the soul, perhaps that was a necessary suffering, so that they could assimilate a lesson.  We only see a small piece of the jigsaw puzzle, one single thread in the great tapestry that is life.  How can we truly know what is going on, what is the whole picture in which we are just one tiny, miniscule part?  We cannot.

Let me clarify one more thing, because I know the question is burning away in the back of your mind.  You're thinking to yourself that surely, with the rapid growth in the population of humans on this planet, there cannot be enough souls to populate all of the new bodies that have been born? Right?  Well, here is what I think.  Spiritual Evolution occurs throughout all of life that exists on this planet.  Every living thing has a soul of some kind.  Some are simple, others are very complex.  Each is at a different state in its evolution.  I also believe that all life on this planet must be in equilibrium, meaning that the sum of all life, must always equate to the same answer.  More humans, means less life forms of other types.  Therefore, the number of souls in existence is also balanced by the number of living bodies.  More simply put: all things are one.

So, perhaps Charlie's brother had accomplished all that was needed in that particular incarnation of his physical being, and it was just his time to depart and move on.  In choosing the manner in which he did, it is entirely possible that he passed on a message to Charlie.  Perhaps this event was needed to alter the destiny of Charlie, to steer him towards where he needed to go for his own spiritual evolution?  Without that event in the life of Charlie, maybe he would not have been sitting with me in Costa Rica, learning to become a Rescue Diver and going beyond to become a dive instructor.  No one really knows.  All I know is that I believe in my theory of Spiritual Evolution and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Accepting The Hardest Truth

I don't know why that title came to me. It just did, literally a moment ago and I was compelled to write.  In our lives we are constantly challenged, we have to think, to try comprehend and to understand.  We encounter many different people, many different emotions, some of which create conflict in our souls.  We are taught that acceptance is a good, a trait that makes us more human, that allows our compassion to grow.  We accept those who are different from ourselves, we accept that there is inequality, we accept unfairness, we accept humiliation and bullying, we accept cruelty, we accept humanities rapid and systematic raping and destruction of this planet's ecosystem.  We accept so many things.  To not accept them, is a life of hardship, of rebellion, of standing out, and so it seems that if we wish to get on, we really don't have a choice.  We go quietly in our acceptance and marvel at those who take a stand.  I believe that there is one thing more than any other that we all have difficulty in accepting, which is simply this: I am perfect.

From the moment that we begin to understand our environment, to become cognitive to our surroundings and ourselves, we find that we are showered with love and attention.  It comes from many different sources: our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, their friends, their colleagues, strangers on the street that stop to coo.  We learn from the outset that we are loved, that we are special.  As time passes, this concept is challenged.  As we grow older, the attention that we receive reduces as our importance in the every day lives of those around us also reduces.  It is inevitable, it has to be.  Parents need to return to work; perhaps another sibling comes along who demands our parents attention; as we grow, we become more secure and more able to fend for ourselves; life's priorities change.  There is just one problem in all of this, no one tells us this is going to happen.

As the attention becomes less, you try to figure out why?  Did you do something wrong, something that has upset your parents?  You begin to fight for attention.  You make more noise, you throw tantrums, you cry, you begin to do crazy things, you act up.  This only results in punishment and it becomes clear this was the wrong strategy.  Then, you might try some different tactics.  You begin to over eat, hoping that someone will notice that something is wrong with you, that they will turn to you and give you back the missing attention and love.  Perhaps you begin to take out your frustrations on the perceived cause of your problem and you become cruel towards your younger sibling.  These also prove futile, so what can you do next?  If all of the external factors fail, what is left?  There is you.

Logic leads you to start to believe that you must have done something that has caused this loss of love and attention.  This is not a sudden epiphany moment.  It takes time to fully take hold, like some evil darkness that takes root in your heart, and slowly, imperceptibly, spreads its tendrils around your heart, until it has you.  You begin to perceive that you have done something wrong, that some action that you took was the cause of your downfall, that something about you is the reason.  If we are born as perfect, here then is the moment when we cease to be anything but perfect.  Our illusions are shattered and from this moment on, we begin to find fault with ourselves, we begin to see ourselves differently.

At the same time these thoughts are occurring to us, so too are we learning.  We begin to understand the concepts of tall, short, fat, thin.  We go to school, we are surrounded by many other children, none of whom wish to be seen as any different, none of whom wish to stand out from the crowd, popularity is everything.  An animal instinct rears its head, it is the most primeval of all, survival.  Evolutionary theory is based upon survival of the fittest, and it is no different in this situation.  The strong prey on the weak.  Anything that is different is ceased upon, name calling occurs, and simple teasing often leads to bullying.  For both the bully and the bullied, the concept of different, of imperfection, is reinforced through the act.  The perpetrator would not act, if imperfection did not already exist in their own heart.  Again, we are having the idea that we are less than perfect enforced upon us.

In the New Testament, we are taught that Jesus came to the material Earth to free humanity from sin.  This teaches us that we are born as sinners, that even before we are able to think for ourselves and to form any kind of conscious thoughts of our own, we have sinned.  I personally reject this notion, but it is there, in the Bible, nonetheless.  Once more, we are taught that we are less than perfect, that we have wronged and that is some way, we need to atone for this error -an error that we did not even commit.

We begin to look in the mirror and to see in our reflection the faults and the flaws in ourselves.  This is a process that continues throughout our lives.  Even now, I catch myself doing it.  I look at the white that now grows on my chin if I allow my stubble to grow for a week or more; I see the grey hairs on my head, hiding amongst my blonde; I see a line of hair that slowly recedes, revealing a forehead too large; I see eyebrows that are too bushy, too black; I see frown lines; I see a ear with a squared off top; I wish I were taller; I wish my back didn't arch as much; I see an eyelid that wants to drop when I begin to get tired; I see myself as overweight.  I see so many faults in myself, it is all too easy to do so. 

Every day, I know that I fight against the over whelming urge to think of myself as wrong, ugly, and no good.  Everything points to these things.  I've written before about my adolescent years, I written before of my time being single and my struggles to find love.  There is a large body of evidence that can be brought forth if needed, to prove everything that I believe about myself.  This belief that I formed from a very early age and that I have reinforced, time and time again, by every negative experience and by each time I have failed.  I add to the growing case file with every rejection, with each new failing of my attempts at finding love.  I am the one at fault, it is some flaw in the way I look, some problem with my personality, it is me.  Conclusion: I am unlovable. 

But there is one huge flaw in the case against myself - I made it.  In fact, there is no fact, I made it all up.  It is a set of beliefs and nothing more.  Beliefs can be challenged and beliefs can be changed.  There was a time when people believed that the Earth was flat, that it was at the centre of the universe, that walking on the moon was impossible.  These beliefs were challenged and thinking was altered.  So too, can I do the same with the thoughts that I have of myself.  So too can you.  There is something that is very difficult for people to accept.  We learn to accept so many things in life, but this one, I believe, is the hardest of them all:  I am perfect.

You are perfect.  That is your starting point.  That is where the journey must begin.  Inside of you is a heart that beats to the rhythm of life.  Life is the living, breathing, material form of love.  Your heart is love, pure love.  You have to begin to love yourself and in so doing to accept the truth, that actually, when you strip away everything, to reveal your bare soul, there you will see perfection.  You are a miracle.  You are the result of evolution's greatest creation.  The work of millions of years, the culmination of billions of years that stretch all the way back to the very dawning of creation itself.  Your journey did not start the moment in which you were born, nor the moment in which you were conceived.  It was in the moment of the Creation, when the spark of love ignited the big bang, that your journey began.  Love was the beginning and love will be the end.  You are love and so you need to manifest that in all that you do.  Become love, become your true self, and accept the truth, that you have always been and will always be perfect.  Just be you.


Friday, 6 September 2013

The Unforeseen Rewards Of The Path

Georgia was not normal.  That much was very evident.  Her manner of speech, her demeanour, her physical shape, the way her face looked, everything shouted at me that something was wrong, but whatever it was, I just could not put my finger on it.  Here we were, on the boat, heading out to a dive site, so that Georgia could make her very first dive in the ocean.  To say that I was concerned would be an understatement.  I feared that something was going to go wrong, that she would cause me no end of problems, that would have the potential to place her own life, and mine, in danger.  If I was honest with myself, I'd rather not have been there, I'd rather she had decided she didn't want to dive, I even considered faking an ailment so another instructor would have to take her.  But she did and I didn't, and so there we both were, each of us nervous in our own way.

The previous day, Mike, her father, had come and asked me if his seventeen year old daughter could try scuba in the hotel swimming pool.  Every guest is offered the chance to try scuba try for free, and so I said of course she could.  That was before I knew who Georgia was.  When I was introduced to her, I could see straightaway that it was going to be problematic.  Her size and shape were awkward to say the least, she was not tall, around five feet, and she was very overweight.  At the front of the buoyancy vests we use for scuba diving, is a large Velcro cummerbund and even on the largest vest that we had, it would barely fit around her.  But it was not her physical appearance that caused me most concern though, it was the way and the manner in which she spoke.  She was quiet and apologetic in the extreme, as if everything were her fault, or she was the cause of all of the problems.  Even when the Velcro of the cummerbund attached itself to her swimming costume, she apologised as if somehow, she had caused the problem.  My immediate reaction was that she was suffering from some kind of mental illness, that she was perhaps retarded in some way.  As I worked with her, talking her through how the scuba unit worked and what I needed her to do, I could see that she was intelligent and I also began to see something else.  I started to see that Georgia was possessed of an extremely endearing quality, she had an incredibly soft and sensitive nature.

With my help, Georgia managed to breathe her first breaths under the pool water and afterwards, as I removed her equipment, Mike asked if they would be able to go diving with me the next day, on an experience resort dive (PADI Discover Scuba Diving).  My instinct was to say no, it could not be done, but I had no actual reason for denying them the opportunity, so I asked Mike quietly whether Georgia was mentally sound and I asked him to complete the necessary medical questionnaires before proceeding any further, as I was sure there would be some issues which would prevent them from going.  There were none.

The next morning, I met up with them both again and took them through some basic instruction at the pool, to ensure their comfort, safety and enjoyment in the ocean.  Georgia experienced some issues with a couple of the skills and every time she did, she would stand up and apologise profusely to me. I don't know what it was, but I started to like her very much, I saw through the exterior to her soul inside.  We worked everything through, until I was satisfied with both of their performances.  After we were finished in the pool, Mike explained that Georgia was extremely sensitive and that sudden, loud noises could potentially set off a panicked reaction.  At the time, I thought it was just her general mental state of mind and it added to my nervousness for the afternoon.  I really was not looking forward to the diving.  Under the water, if someone suffers a panic, it can be dangerous and potentially life threatening.  I thought it through and again, I could find no actual reason not to dive, I just needed to take a lot of precautions and a lot of time with them. 

Mike introduced me to his wife and Georgia's stepmother, Samantha.  She thanked me for taking the time to take Mike and Georgia out diving, and then she said, "You are just the right person for Georgia.  You're extremely patient, kind, caring and very sensitive towards her needs.  I'm pleased it's you that is taking them out.  Please bring them back safely to me."  I was extremely humbled by these kind words and they sank into my heart and there, they made a warm glow.

And then, there we were, on the boat, approaching our first dive site.  Full of trepidation and concern, I found myself in the water with Georgia and Mike, ready to begin our descent.  I expected the worst, that Georgia would panic, that there would be some issue.  She gave me none.  Instead, the problem came from Mike, who panicked and forgot the training I had given him during the morning.  Thankfully, I had ensured that the first dive was very shallow, so that if anything were to go wrong, I could minimise any risk of danger.  Back at the surface, I asked Mike if he wanted to return to the boat and sit out the first dive, to take a breather and get himself together, and he agreed.  I descended again with Georgia.

Georgia was no problem at all.  Instead, she gave me perhaps one of my most memorable times under the water with a new diver.  It didn't matter what Georgia saw, whether it was a fish, a sea star, a sponge, or a clam, each time she squealed in delight and pleasure.  When I found her a small stingray that had buried itself under the sand, she pointed excitedly at it and squealed.  As the ray lifted from the sand and glided away from us, I heard her gasp in awe.  Here was someone utterly taken over by her experience, lost in her own delight and wonder, here was someone who reminded me of my own first time on scuba.

Mike decided that he wanted to overcome his panic and fear and to make the second dive.  The three of us descended together and I decided I would take complete control of them both.  I spent my entire dive, holding Georgia's tank in my left hand and Mike's in my right, with me, in the between and just slightly above them.  I was not able to point out any interesting aquatic life forms form them, but that didn't really matter.  They were both happy to be down there and to be together.  As I swam with them, I watched as they held hands and shared this experience, father and daughter.  Then, I saw one of the most beautiful sights, as Georgia formed her hands into the shape of a heart for her father, and Mike did the same back to his daughter.

Back on the boat after the dive, something happened.  Georgia began to cry and Mike put his arm around her and cuddled her.  "Is she okay?", I enquired, feeling very concerned that something had gone wrong, that she had perhaps hurt her ears by not equalising the pressure correctly, or she had been stung by some form of aquatic life.  I was not prepared for Mike's reply.  "Today is the eighth anniversary of her mother's death."  He said it calmly, and it took me a second or two to comprehend what he had said.  Not only was that Georgia's mother, it had also been Mike's wife.  I sat there completely stunned.

Suddenly, things began to make sense.  Georgia's sensitive nature, her constant apologies, her quietness, her anxiety of sudden loud noises, and those words that Samantha had spoken.  All of it came together and as it did, so too did the realisation of what it all meant.  I could of course, not ask a question to Mike about it, I can only guess and surmise, and I'll never be completely sure, but in my heart, I'm feel that I have the right answer.  Georgia was nine years old when she lost her mother in some form of accident.  My guess is that Georgia was there too and in some way, she holds herself responsible for it.

I am not going to end this post on a sad note because there is something very good in all of this.  What I realised yesterday, was that because of my care, sensitivity, empathy and patience, I introduced a young girl to a new experience, an experience that thrilled her and gave her such an incredible memory.  Her father and step mother told me that she will talk about the experience for years to come, and I do not doubt that for one moment.  For a father and a daughter, I helped them share an experience that will bond them together.  But more than any of this, yesterday, because of my patience, my kindness and my empathy, I helped two people to begin to replace a terrible, tragic memory, with something good.  I helped them to have a special, positive remembrance of that fateful day, that took away the life of the woman that they both loved.  Perhaps it is not much, but perhaps it is the first ray of light, on a very dark day.

These are the rewards of the path.  Because I dared to take a chance and to alter my life, I was there when I was needed.  I made the difference.  The universe rewards those that dare to follow the voice of their heart, and it does it in ways that you could never possibly begin to imagine, that you can never begin to comprehend.  Those rewards await you too, they are always there, waiting for you on your one true path.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Beginning Is Everything

It is February 1999 and I'm sitting beside a campfire with a colleague from the local office, we're in a game reserve, a couple of hours drive outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.  It's my first visit to South Africa, I've been here only a few days, and I barely know Sergio, yet here I am, knowing that there is something important, something significant about this weekend.  Perhaps that is only the excitement I feel of embarking upon this little adventure, the kind of adventure of which I had only ever dared to dream.  Perhaps it is the calming affect of the flames and the twinkling lights of the sky above me, but as our conversation turns to matters of life, despite our knowing each other only for a very short time, I feel completely at ease.  A moment arrives and Sergio asks me what it is that I really would like to do with my life, what are my dreams?

As I sit there, staring into the flames, my mind becomes blank.  There is nothing, only a vast emptiness, static through the radio.  I shuffle uncomfortably in my seat, knowing that I should be able to say something, to be able to elucidate a response, but I cannot.  "I don't know", I mutter it, feeling a sense of embarrassment that I cannot articulate any deep seated passions in life, that I don't have any clear vision of my future.  Sergio surprised me then.  Most other people would probably drop the topic, let it go and move on to a subject in which we could both actively engage, but he did not.  Instead, he said something that I was not expecting.  "Yes, you do", he said.

Three simple, one syllable words, that were to change my life forever.  Sergio continued to explain to me that I did know what it was that I wanted, only I had locked it away deeply inside.  "Everyone has something that they wish to do, something that they wish to be", he told me, "Everyone has a true purpose".  Try as I might, that evening, I was unable to find it inside of me.  I knew there were elements of things I enjoyed but these were incoherent, they were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that I saw no way of slotting together.  I had always loved the outdoors and nature.  Each winter I longed for the onset of spring, knowing that this was to usher in the months of summer, and summer meant I could spend time at the beach and in the sea.  I loved to feast my eyes on mountains, rivers, valleys, hills, trees, flowers, grass, wild animals and birds, all of nature, but these alone were not anything that I could do, they were not a plan for the future, they did not constitute a life that I could lead.  Although I had told Sergio that I did not know, I did know somewhere deep inside, that it had something to do with all of these elements, but I feared that to say as much, meant that I would look a little foolish in front of a colleague, and so I remained silent and kept this to myself.

From this time on, I began to give thought to what it was that I really wanted to do in my life.  These thoughts would come and go, and it would take several more years, many different people, many different places, and a single book, before I was to make my own discovery.  But the seed had been truly planted and from this moment on, I had begun to awaken to the possibilities, I was becoming open to life.  I knew back then that there was a desire inside of me to do something different with my life, something that had greater meaning for me.  How then, was I ever going to unlock it and give it the wings that it needed to fly free, if I could not articulate it for myself?  And if I could not articulate it, how was I ever going to be able to bring it to fruition?

I think this is true for many of us.  We have a very clear idea of what it is that we do not want to do in life and we find it easy to say what those things are.  However, when it comes to saying what it is that we do want, we find it incredibly difficult to describe what that is.  I have asked others the same question that Sergio asked me that evening, and I have received similar responses.  People tell me that they do not know what it is that they want, that they know they want to make a change in their life, but they cannot say for sure what that change involves, only that they feel the need to make it.  I hear their words and they echo back through time to my own past.  Having experienced and learned all that I have during my own journey, I know that somewhere deep inside, every single one of us has our own particular answer.  That answer is the truth for your life, it is your one true path.  Discovering it, will allow you to unlock the light that lives inside of you.  So, why is it easier to say what we do not want, but not so easy to describe to someone that which we do want?

I believe that it is primarily out of a sense of fear.  Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of losing your comfort and security, fear of what people will say, fear of what comes after, fear of failure.  There is one other fear: the fear that if you are able to visualise clearly what it is that you want to do, then you no longer have an excuse for not doing it, and if that were to happen, you would live with a constant sense of regret.  All of the time that I could not articulate my own vision and dream, I could not make a start, since there was nothing that I could grasp and work on.  It was like trying to hold on to mist.  In not being able to say what my dream was, I gave myself the ultimate excuse for not beginning, for not doing it.  I know that I used to look at other people, all of whom seemed to have such a clear vision for their lives, and I would feel a sense of inadequacy.  I know that there was a part of me that felt that I was not worthy of achieving my dreams, that I was undeserving of finding my truth, and because of this, I did not believe that I was worthy of making a start.

How did I overcome all these fears?  I simply began.  I think I always knew that I would begin, I waited only for the right moment and the right set of circumstances.  In truth, I didn't just wait, I actively looked for them, I wanted them to come to me, I wanted an excuse to quit my old life and begin the new.  And they did come to me.  When they did, I seized upon them and I made it happen.  I took my first step towards changing my life from the one that I had, to the one that I wanted.  I took that step without really knowing what awaited me down the path.  I took that first step full of fear and trepidation for what lay ahead.  I walked into the unknown and the moment that I did, it was no longer the unknown, it was no longer the fearsome darkness, instead, it became my life.

Even though I began my journey, I still had no true idea of what it was that I was going to do, where it was going to lead me.  I think that was the point though.  My own dream started out as a need for travel, travel that was unhindered by time or any other commitments.  What I did was to give myself the opportunity to make discoveries about life and about myself.  Along the way, I found what it was that I had been seeking, I found the thing that I had never been able to articulate to anyone before.  I discovered the world under the ocean, and from that moment on, my life changed and I began to become the real me, the person I had always born to be.  If I had not begun, I could never have made this discovery.  I would never know it and everything that has happened since would not exist.  Isn't that an interesting thought?

So, you may be sitting there, saying to yourself that I was lucky, that I had good fortune and yes, this is true.  But that would never have come my way if I had not begun, if I had not taken a chance on life.  You may be sitting there telling yourself that you still do not know what it is that you want, that you cannot visualise your own dream.  To you I say this: Open your heart.  That is where the answer lies.  No matter how ridiculous your idea may seem to you, nor how impractical, foolish or silly, if it comes from your heart, then it is your own truth.  It is what you must do.  If you feel afraid to start, consider how you are going to feel knowing that out there is your dream just waiting for you to find it.  I will leave this post with just one word of advice for you: begin.  You see, beginning really is everything.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Sometimes It Helps To Be A Little Mad

There are times when I am asked about my life, about the changes that I have been through, the places that I have been, the things that I have done.  As I explain the events of my recent past, as I describe my experiences, as I list the countries in which I have visited and lived, as I give the reasons for doing what I have done, I hear my own voice as if it were spoken by another.  I hear the tiny vibrations of air that pass between my lips and form into words, and I wonder if in fact, when it comes down to it, could it be that perhaps I am just a little mad?

How then could I explain my life if it were not otherwise?  A person of rational, sound thought and mind would surely not lead the life that I lead.  To have at one time, known a life of comfort and security, of which so many others can only hope, and to have left it all behind, to strike out into the unknown, with no real sense of where I was going, what I was going to do, and what would happen after I did it.  I disposed of all of my possessions, systematically, machine like, devoid of any emotional connection to them.  I decided that everything, except some small mementoes and sentimental items would have to go.  I saw everything only as a link back to the past that I was trying to leave behind, a knot that bound me to my old life that I needed to sever.  It was as though a madness were upon me, driving me on, telling me that these things had to be done.

It is almost eight years now since I heard myself resigning from my job at IBM.  Those words came out in a moment of madness that, at the time, I thought I might come to regret.  I knew nothing back then of all that was to come, I knew only that I wanted some other path for my life.  If it had not been for my madness, I could not know what it was to scuba dive, I would never have stroked my hand down the side of a tiger shark, I would never have pulled my car up on the side of the road and watched a male lion who stood barely six feet away, I would never know what it was to listen to whale song under the ocean, I would never have met so many incredible, inspiring and amazing people, I would never have seen humpback whales leaping from the ocean, I would have never glided with giant manta rays through the ocean, I would never have turned my hand to writing, I would never have helped those people I have helped, nor inspired those I have inspired, I would never have learned all that I have learned, and I would never have understood that the secret to life was held in a single, simple word called love. 

Without that moment of madness, my life would be different.  I cannot say it would have been better or worse.  I know only that which I know now, which is that since the moment when I resigned, I have never felt a single pang of regret for the life that I left behind.  Perhaps down the other path I would have found my love, my partner and my family?  I will never know.  Would I trade that for all that I has happened to me in these eight years?  Never.  That particular dream is still very much alive and one that will come to fruition when the time is right for me and for her.  That is just the way it needs to be.  

If I am suffering from a touch of madness, then from where could it originate?  As I was sitting up in bed this morning, reading and sipping my morning coffee, my thoughts turning towards my chaotic life, I made a decision to begin to write my thoughts down.  As I commenced the writing of this post, I had a thought that leaped out at me.  Perhaps I was born with the madness in my blood and in my soul.  It was not a thing that I planted and grew, rather, it was already within me, biding it's time, slowly growing its roots and waiting for the right moment to push its head above the soil and show itself to me.  That one single moment of time when it knew I would begin to listen to its voice.  So, if I did not invent the madness for myself, if it was already within me, from whence could it have come? 

From our mother's and our father's comes our blood.  From their parents, so too came theirs and so forth and so forth, back thousands of years to the very dawning of human existence, nay, to the very dawning of life on this planet.  With their blood comes the DNA and genetic code, the building blocks of what creates me, what creates you, of what defines how we will look and how we will think.  Is it possible too, that within the blood that pulses through our veins, that we also carry an accumulation of all of our ancestors hopes, dreams, whims and urges?  Within the blood, could there be a secret essence of life, a purpose that drives us ever on.  Perhaps, that is why we feel our dreams and our emotions so keenly from the heart.  The heart is the centre of  the blood flow, everything goes in and out from there, so naturally, that would be why we hold our dreams and our love within our heart's.  Why could that not be true?  That the blood line of our ancestors must go on, ever evolving, ever reaching out, until we have evolved spiritually and fulfilled our one true destiny, until we have accomplished the goal that was set before us at the dawning of time?  I like this thought.  It brings a smile to my lips and a joy to my heart.  The thought that I am continuing the dreams of my father and my grandfather brings me closer to them in spirit.

Even if the blood theory is wrong, it makes no difference.  We are taught from our parents and they from theirs.  With each passing generation, we are moulded by their learning, by their views of life, by their hopes, their dreams, their failures, their joys, their disappointments and most importantly of all, by their love.  From generation to generation, the accumulation of spiritual evolution is passed and as we, in our turn, carry that flaming torch, it is up to each of us to decide how we will write our own story.  How is it that we will help turn the wheel of spirtual evolution and what is it that we will pass down the line, to those that come after?  In the movie Dead Poets Society, there is a moment where Mr Keating (Robin Williams) recites a poem by Walt Whitman that contains the line, "That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse."  What will be the verse that I choose to write in the play of life?

We can chose to move the spiritual evolution forward, we can turn the wheel and in doing so, add our own piece to the jigsaw.  Perhaps ours will be the last, perhaps ours will be only a tiny part of a much greater picture, perhaps ours is a magic piece that brings everything together, paving the way for those that will come after.  All that matters is that we do turn the wheel.  I don't see spiritual growth as a choice, I view it more as a duty.  To carry out that duty, we need only listen to the voice from within - the voice of our heart.

There it is.  The heart.  It always comes back to this one single, beautiful, miracle of nature.  The heart speaks with the voice of love and the voice of love originates from the centre of universe, it is the power that holds everything together, it is THE force of the universe, the force of life.  I've written before of being heartstrong and it is true of every single person on this planet.  The only thing that makes a difference between each of us, is whether we chose to act upon the callings and the urges of our heart's. 

When you look into the eyes of a certain person and in your heart a voice calls out, you are presented with a choice: act, or do not act.  It is that simple.  If I choose to act, then I follow my heart's desire, I follow a whim of madness in thinking and believing that this other person who stands in front of me may feel the same quickening of their pulse, the same racing of their blood in their veins, the same flutter of their heart.  It is the same feeling that occurs when you think of your dreams, when you hold a picture of a certain mountain, an ocean, a river, a desert in your mind, or when you picture yourself as a teacher, an artist, a writer, a singer, a chef, or whatever it is that is your heart's desire.  It is love. 

To be heartstrong is to listen to, and to follow your heart.  I am going to add another attribute of what it means to be heartstrong.  To be heartstrong means that you must be mad, since only the mad among us, dare to dream and not only dream, we dare to follow the voice inside of us.  We are the believers, we are the listeners, we are the walkers.  We are filled with love because love is the force, and we smile, we laugh, we do crazy things, because we of the heartstrong are possessed with a madness.  And being mad certainly helps just a little.

~ ~ ~ 

Oh me! Oh Life! by Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.