Saturday, March 13, 2004

Lessons from the Dark Continent... 

On the plane ride home after over nine months in Europe and Africa, I decided to sit down and summarize what I learned while I was on road. I originally compiled this list as a letter to myself, so it's full of unreferenced quotes and off the wall ideas. Enjoy...

CHOOSING HAPPINESS: No matter where you go, there you are. There is no way to run away from yourself. If you're unhappy, you're choosing to be that way, regardless of your location.

THE MEDIA MODEL: The media severely spins, edits, and manipulates news to serve the interests of advertisers, media stockholders, and the government. There is no sinister ringleader, it's simply a flawed system. Viewers beware.

AMERICANS: Most of the world sees Americans as an ignorant, materialistic, workaholic, violent, culturally self-centered population.

WESTERNIZATION: When people grow up with nothing, and are not constantly bombarded with consumer driven media, they tend to be happier, more peaceful, and more family oriented than their westernized counterparts who have been convinced that happiness comes with a pricetag.

PERSPECTIVE: The challenges we face on a day to day basis are nothing compared to what the majority of the world faces. Our minds love to obsess and our society thrives on bitching and negative news. The world would be a better place if more first-world residents experienced life with the have-nots.

SHORT TERM THINKING: Like the fable of the scorpion and the tortoise, corporations and governments are inherently focused on short term gains, with minimal consideration of long term consequences. It's just in their nature. Two to six year political terms and accountability to quarterly financial results trap these institutions into chasing quick personal gains first, and the good of the world second.

WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE: The world's problems; starvation, overpopulation, environmental destruction, unsustainable resources, rampid disease and poverty are terrifyingly real. While they seem overwhelming, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Indifference, rationalization, procrastination, and fear will lead us to our doom. We are all accountable.

RATIONALIZATION: Beware of your mind. It can spin you unconsciously into misery in a moment. It can rationalize away dreams and opportunities in a cloud of fear-based, uneducated, babble. Dig into your assumptions before you discount an idea. What are they based on? What is really driving them? Don't say you can't do it...ask how can it be done.

SEEK UNDERSTANDING: Everyone is dying to be understood, yet no one is trying to understand. We assume what we choose to assume, and then work ourselves into an unnecessary frenzy. If we all spent a little more time trying to understand those who frustrate us, we would have a lot less frustration in our lives.

LOVE: When you can separate yourself from all the messages telling you happiness comes with a pricetag, you can see that the most important thing in the world is love. The love of yourself, the love of your family, and the love all the people you share your life with. Relationships with living things are what bring richness to our lives. Everything else is a distraction or a mental manipulation.

STAYING PRESENT: It is possible to live vibrantly in the moment and still execute an responsible, driven, plan for the future.

INNER PEACE: Show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and let go of the outcome. Do whatever you can and then accept what comes unconditionally. Expectations and worrying about things outside your sphere of influence are the drivers of unnecessary misery and shortened lives. When you can unconditionally love and accept whoever and whatever comes along, people can sense you inner peace and it spreads into them. Give and you shall receive.

FINDING CLARITY: Clarity comes from listening to yourself. Nothing you can see with your eyes can fix you on the inside. The confusion and chaos of our media-saturated society can be wiped away by making time to spend quietly alone. When was the last time you let yourself "Be" with absolute silence? When was the last time you communed with nature in a place where you couldn't hear any man-made noises? Calm you wild, frantic mind. Relax your shoulders. Everything is exactly as it should be.

MAKING MEMORIES: A rich life is full of unique memories. Beware of your mind's longing for comfort, routine, and repetition. These are the ingredients of a bland life full of the days that run together. There are more great people than you could ever meet and more amazing places than you could ever see. Consciously add that variety to your life. Go on that trip, see that show, say hello to that stranger. In the end, your memories are all you will have. Don't let them blend together into an indistinguishable blob of a life. This ride is over in less than 90 years. Make sure you don't miss it by waiting for someday. There is no someday. There is only this moment. Make it unique.

YOUR ENVIRONMENT: Be very conscious of who you choose to spend your time with and what you choose to spend your time doing. The people and activities of your life shape who you are and who you will become. It is absolutely unavoidable. Consciously create an inspirational, enlightening environment. Choose how you will be shaped. Choose carefully.

TAKING ACTION: The media has convinced the bulk of the population that they are helpless to make a difference. The have convinced us that we only care about ourselves and our purpose in life is to consume. This is insanity. Every massively positive event in history was initiated by people like YOU deciding to DO something about the world. People like YOU writing letter and holding signs. People like YOU starting companies and donating money. People like YOU spreading passion, awareness, and enlightenment. People like YOU risking disapproval to chase a dream. What will be your legacy? How will you be remembered? As someone who stood for something? As someone who made a difference?

DO WHAT YOU FEAR: The hardest, scariest, things in life are the ones that shape your character. Even though your timid, overwhelmed mind is an expert at resisting and avoiding fear and discomfort, When you can push past this false resistance, you end up with accomplishments you will be proud of the rest of your life. A life full of courageous attempts, even though checkered by failure, will always outshine a life full of what if's, fear, avoidance, rationalization, and missed opportunities. Better to have tried and lost than to never have tried at all.

GIVE 100%: Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. Perfectionists tend to give half-assed efforts so if they don't succeed they can justify their failures by convincing themselves they could have won if they would have given 100%. What an insane recipe for regret and wasted potential! When you pour your heart into something you never have to wonder what if. Don't fill your life full of worthless busywork to justify half-assed efforts in the games that count. This is the only way to fully realize all that your life has to offer.

LOVE YOURSELF: The world values you as much as you value yourself. Love yourself and you become more lovable. Give love unconditionally and you will receive unconditional love.

LISTENING: Don't waste life trying to be right and make others wrong. See past you pride to what's most important...the people in your life. When taking part in a conversation, listen. Send your partner energy with your eyes. Don't anxiously wait them to shut up so you can talk about yourself. Don't spend your listening time preparing your next statement. BE in the moment as a listener. Get curious about who they are, what it's like to be them, and what their dreams are. Unlock the potential in your relationship. Process your partner's words deeply, with a spirit of compassion and understanding.

RELAX: When you catch your mind in a tailspin and you notice your shoulders tight, your brow furrowed, and your breathing shallow...exhale deeply...drop your shoulders...and appreciate the incredible wonder and beauty all around you. The world is already perfect, it needs only to be appreciated.

RECORD YOUR LIFE: Writing is one of the most mentally intense things you can do with your brain. Practice it every day. A life worth living is a life worth recording. Don't inflict rules on yourself. You don't have to write about your day. You don't have to remember past events. Just spend time with your present thoughts and watch the pages fill up. There are no rules. There don't need to be lines on the page or grammar in the words. Just capture the fleeting energy of your mind. Track your evolution of thought so you can build new insights from your personal path.

DON'T CLING TO THE PAST: Don't become so attached to your past that you miss the present. Memories are important, but freedom and lightheartedness are more important. Don't let your fear of regret cloud your life and your mind with an unnecessary, clutter-filled burden. Clear out your mental and physical closets to make room for something vibrant and new.

COINCIDENCES: Live each day with an attitude of positive expectancy. Look for the coincidences. Be aware of all the unexplained mysteries surrounding you every day. No one can build an ant, and you don't know how to personally create most of what you see every day. None of us can prove where we came from of where we're going when we die. Appreciate this wonder and mystery and allow it to add a layer of interesting thought to your daily life. Any story COULD be true. Why did you meet who you met today? What were you supposed to learn from them? What were you supposed to learn from that coincidence? What should you do today? All the answers are out there...just waiting to be found and appreciated.

YOUR TABLE OF ADVISORS: When you're getting to know yourself, be very conscious of who is sitting at your mental "Table of advisors". Whose opinions matter to you? Who has shaped you? Why do you want what you want? What outcome are you looking for? Why? Make sure what you think is true about you is actually based on YOUR thoughts and values. You can't change or maybe even understand how your environment has shaped you. The key is to ask the questions and become aware of your drivers to insure they are leading you towards who you want to become.

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