purpose, passion, and why we are all activists

action

I’ve met a lot of people who called themselves activists, people who are championing every cause from protecting the environment to education reform.   I find myself asking the question,  “ What does it mean to be an activist?”

 “That which we are, we shall teach,

not voluntarily, but involuntarily.

…Character teachers over our head…”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Over-Soul

 

How exactly does one define what it means to be an activist? An activist is someone who takes action, usually with a message or cause in mind.   But, if Emerson is right, that we teach by who we are, then aren’t we all activists?   In other words, if in each moment, we have even the slightest amount of free will to choose our actions,  we subconsciously share an unspoken message of what we think is important.

Each morning you wake up with a series of choices; you are a bundle of potential energy and you are free. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of the fortunate who choose how you will spend your day, whether you will go to work, what you will eat, how you will interact with others, who you will be.  You choose your actions according to what you value, and in turn your choices, each moment and each day, are your message to the world.

We often hear the phrase about being mindful consumers, “You vote with your dollar”.   True- we vote on what we value by how we spend our money… if we are again child labor for example, we choose not to spend money at stores or on products that support child labor.   If we are against GMO’s, we don’t buy those either.

However, expressing our values extends a lot further than how we spend our money, we vote each day by how we spend our time.    We choose in each moment what we believe and what we stand for by how we direct our energy.   The way we live our lives is how we shout out to the world, “Here is what I think it’s all about!”  In the words of musician Dan Wilson, what are you going to spend your free life on?  (Dan Wilson- Free Life With Lyrics)

I often forget to ask myself that question, but I’ve had a pretty amazing source of inspiration lately; my uncle.  I was honored that he chose to share his mission statement with me recently;  “ to change the world, one radical at a time”.  He told me he’d like to become a full time activist when my cousin graduates high school.  Become an activist?  If anyone already is an activist, it’s him.  His words and way of being inspire those around him… in fact, they inspired today’s blog.    His action?  Living honestly and courageously sharing his ideas of positive societal change with others with the hope of creating change. If that isn’t activism, I don’t know what is.

So, as you choose the actions that fill your day, your week, and your years, you too are an activist; deciding what you do and who you choose to be.   All of you are wise and wonderful accidental activists…. and I challenge you to ask yourself, and ask often:

If my life is my message, what am I choosing to say?…What am I going to spend my free life on?

Advertisements

Embracing My Inner Dumbass.

Travel Lesson #1: Embrace Your Inner Dumbass

 Before I head off to Thailand, I’m spending a few weeks off the grid, on the Lost Coast of NorCal.  This place is wild and free, and I certainly will be blogging about my experience here.   However, the experiences I had just trying to get here proved to serve as an important travel lesson…that I have a big fat ego, and if I am going to navigate SE Asia solo, I better let go of my need to know anything, get comfortable with admitting cluelessness, and most importantly… start embracing my inner dumbass.

So I have a confession:  blogging, updating Facebook with pictures, and sharing all my adventures with friends have sent me on a bit of an ego trip lately.   I definitely don’t think bragging rights are the purpose of travel, or writing about it- my blog, as well as my upcoming trip, are supposed to be outlets to reveal my authentic experience and  let go of the need for approval in the process…  turns out that is easier said than done.  It’s kind of a ‘one step forward, two steps back process’.    I start out revealing a part of who I am, get just a tiny amount of applause, or start to feel like I know what I’m doing, and my mouthy ego pops back up and says, “Duuuuude, this is awesome!!!! Do more things to earn praise, I love this shit!!!”

Sheeeesh… silly ego.

Fortunately, whenever I start letting my ego do the talking… the universe has a lovely way of serving me up a lesson in humility.  Two days ago, I was all set to take an Amtrak train to Martinez, California, then hop a bus to Eureka, where I had a ride waiting to drive me down the long winding mountain drive to my uncle’s cabin in Petrolia.  Then came the ‘fun’ part…where I got to the station, remembered I’m from Ohio, and have never taken an Amtrak.  I didn’t know the first thing about navigating a large Amtrak station.  However, I like to think of myself as a saavy traveler, so I thought, “ I got this”, and began wandering.  What I did not do was admit to one person how incredibly confused I was- because I figured that would make me look like an ass.  Twenty minutes later,  I finally found my track.  Feeling a sense of confident satisfaction,  I showed the attendant my ticket.

….and was told that my train had left a minute before.

I felt defeated; if I failed at something as simple as catching an Amtrak, how on earth would I navigate the confusion of a new culture in where I don’t speak the language?!   I began to go into panic mode, sure that I would screw up every single part of my upcoming trip to Thailand, positive that this was a sign that I couldn’t handle solo international travel. Sometimes I overreact…

The next train to Martinez didn’t come for five hours, so I had a lot of time to figure out the San Jose Amtrak station/ calm down.  So while I munched on overpriced train station snacks, it hit me… not knowing how to find my track wasn’t an issue, mistakes happen and I was going to make it to Eureka the same day.

However, I did notice my big fat ego and stubborn avoidance of looking like a fool  kept me from admitting that I had no idea what I was doing and asking for help.   Had I asked a bunch of silly questions, I might have looked like a clueless idiot…but  I also might have been an idiot who was riding her train, instead an idiot watching one take off without her.

So… pretending to be in the know for pride’s sake… not working for me this particular day.  It also struck me how  absolutely ridiculous it can be to pretend to know what I’m doing when I was in Palo Alto eating Pho (Vietnamese soup) with my classmates.  So, for whatever reason, I can barely eat sushi with chopsticks.    As the bowl of noodle soup was placed in front of me, my stomach grumbled, and for a split second I thought, “I should probably ask how on earth one eats soup with chopsticks”.  But as I watched everyone chow down,  my loud mouth ego jumped in,  “Don’t be the dumb Midwesterner who has never attempted to eat noodles with chopsticks!”  All the while,  my physical body was saying, “Screw you ego, I don’t care if you grab those noodles with your hands, I’m starving!”

My ego won.

So, I  pridefully asked no questions, picked up the dreaded chopsticks and immediately slopped a pile of noodles all down the front of myself.  For the rest of my meal, the table, my lap, and the floor got covered in Pho.  I pretended not to notice, and  thanks to my pesky ego, I spent half an hour being frustrated as I tried desperately to land one full bite of food in my mouth without anyone noticing me flailing.   Later, when I realized in class I had noodles down my shirt and in my scarf, I realized I  probably need to have it out with my ego, because being prideful is starting to get messy.

So pesky ego, here’s the first blow.  II’m admitting publicly that there are more times lately than not when I’m completely clueless.  Despite my big fat ego, who would have everyone think I have it together, I’m admitting I’m a big dork, and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing.  A lot of times when people think I’m quietly contemplating some deep thought in class, I’m trying to suppress a giggle because I just mentally thought “that’s what she said” about something my professor said.   I act fearless about my upcoming trip, when I tell everyone how awesome it will be, but in reality, I am full of insecurity and doubts.  I often worry that I’ll get there and find out I made the wrong decision, or be lonely, or accidentally end up in Laos because I couldn’t understand Thai and jumped the wrong bus.

I guess when it comes down to it, kicking my pride in it’s arrogant ass is probably the best reason to travel.   In the next month, I’ll be living somewhere where I’m so clueless that I can’t help but be humble… the place where I don’t speak the language, I look and dress strange, and I don’t know how to order food…  a Buddhist country where my ego can’t say “ohhh, look how spiritual I am” because I sure as hell don’t know more about mindfulness than the Thai people… a place where in order to survive, I have to check my ego at the gate, as I’m mispronouncing the three Thai phrases I’ve learned, “Hello”, “Thank You” and “ I’m lost”.

It’s been awhile since I took the travel plunge, and something has changed… I go into this trip knowing how to laugh at myself, knowing that travel, especially solo travel,  is another awesome opportunity let go of  pride and to stop taking myself so seriously.   Screw my ego.  I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have a plan-  I’m going to ask every question and unabashedly look like a clueless idiot.  And when I screw it all up… I’m going to laugh. A lot. Travel lesson numero uno- Embrace my inner dumbass.

car engines, loud noises, and truth.

writersblock

While anyone who knows me will share that I am rarely lacking things to say,  when I’m writing, I struggle every time with the first sentence. I sit down, concepts forming, phrases swirling, but those first few words… I freeze. Next, I start writing awkward phrases, slamming the backspace key like I’m trying to give myself carpal tunnel, and wonder how I’ve communicated a single idea to anyone ever.

Instead of beating myself up for losing my entire grasp of the English language nearly every time I begin writing, I’ve decided to honor the process & start thinking of it like when I warm my car up on a winter morning. It makes this angry squealing noise for about a minute, a noise that upon first impression doesn’t indicate forward motion. It rattles me every time I hear that noise, for a split second I wonder if this will be the morning I don’t make it out of the driveway? Often I notice a neighbor staring, maybe wondering what on earth I think I’m doing relying on a car so obviously needing a tune up. Yet I get behind the wheel, and by the time I drive a block or two, the awkward noise turns into a healthy engine hum. I’m on my way.

It’s like that with writing. As I’m warming up, as I’m dusting my words off, sometimes I feel like all I’m doing is making noise. Awful, awkward, in-need-of-a-tune-up noise. Then I write a couple messy fragmented sentences. Stop. Start. Write a few more. Eventually I warm up, my thoughts no longer hit the page like an engine ready to explode, they come out like the soft hum of forward motion. However, in the same way I feel a pang of anxiety when I see the neighbor staring towards my driveway, confused by the god awful noise coming from my rusty car; “Uh oh, does that girl need a mechanic?!”, the anxiety still exists that the means of transportation I’m relying on is so god awful rusty that I should just take the bus.

The reason I choose to move past the “noise”? I’m as familiar with it as I am with the sounds of a car engine I’ve listened to for eight years. Just as I know which sounds are everyday noises my engine makes, I know that I always am able to write once I get beyond that first hurdle, quieting the noisy rumble of self doubt. And, although some mornings, that noise is almost deafening, the sentences and phrases screeching out like the engine of a decade old Hyandai, I’ll know as soon as I get behind the wheel and let my truth carry me forward, I’ll find the words.

speak-the-truth-even-if-your-voice-shakes1

…………………………………………

I once read somewhere that the average person speaks about 15,000 words in a day. That’s over five million words in a year, the equivalent of fifty full length novels! We are all story tellers, sharing our story every moment we are awake. Every novice writer is given the advice; “Write what you know,” yet if we speak novels worth of words, why does no one ever tell us, “Speak what you know”? In a society that too often encourages us to conceal ourselves, can we challenge ourselves to use more of those 15,000 words to reveal our story, to share who we are underneath? What about using those words to discover who we are to begin with?

As I was discussing my own errors in communication with a dear friend last week, I was reminded that an important part of communicating compassionately is knowing that I am speaking from my own truth, and from the heart not from fear. It’s only when I come from that place of authenticity, of who I truly am, and what I truly mean, then I can let go of others’ reaction. In that moment, communication becomes about showing up and expressing the unshakeable truth of who I am.

Of course, this isn’t easy to do… actually, it’s exhausting and terrifying! Communicating my truth means… yikes… people are going to see who I am, flaws and all. But in doing so, I choose kindness. In accepting and revealing myself for all my insecurities, fears, and fragility, I hope I am giving others around me permission to love their own perfect imperfections. In being vulnerable, I make the statement that I reject the societal norm of concealing my humanity.

And it’s so easy to make excuses…  There are so many ways we learn to rationalize speaking from places other than truth. Sometimes we hold back our truth in an attempt to be kind, afraid that our truth isn’t what someone wants to hear. Other times we are afraid to share our truth because we think it is wrong, unacceptable, not good enough. Sometimes we don’t speak our truth because we simply haven’t embraced it ourselves; recognizing our truth can be scary, especially when it might shake things up, it might shift a situation, it might create change that we don’t feel ready to face. Yet despite the rationalizations, even when it feels uncomfortable, or unnecessary, what I’m starting to recognize is that unless I communicate from a place of openness and authenticity, something feels incomplete, disconnected…

I also recognize that writing for me has always been the way I recognize truth in myself, and for me starting this blog a first step in sharing that with others. However, I’m not going to pretend to be unafraid, have no self doubts. I struggle with communication, I’m a work in progress. Not only am I still working on “speaking what I know”, I’m just working on knowing what I know. As easy as it is to conceal how I feel from others, I can hide it from myself. I keep uncomfortable personal truths wrapped up in layers of self protection, and maybe the biggest part of my journey is removing those layers one by one to find my true self underneath. I think that’s a large part of the human experience, removing all those layers of defenses until we can truly connect with others.

Thus the title of my blog, “Almost open book”. I couldn’t be a completely open book if I wanted to, because I haven’t read all of the pages. What I recognize is that the more able I’m able to recognize my own strength, and ground myself firmly in my own truths, without personal judgment, the more I’m able not only to speak my own truth with kindness, but to listen to others’ truths with acceptance. And while I can’t share what I don’t know, my resolution as I continue opening my world to those around me, is to share the pages I have read, and even when my voice shakes, even when that first sentence comes out as a jumble of awkward noise, to speak my truth.