The Advice We Would Give to our Twenty-year-old Selves. Your Responses.

I asked the question, “What advice would you give your twenty-year-old self?” on Facebook recently and received either via Facebook comments or direct email over fifty responses. The responses I received were candid, thoughtful and contained several very consistent themes. Here they are.

Don’t Be in Such a Hurry, but Don’t Waste Time Either.

Many women, although they love their families very much, expressed a wish that they had taken their time and not rushed into marriage and parenthood so early. In retrospect, they would have taken time to discover themselves, their passions and the world before committing to a domestic life. Both men and women believed that they were in such a hurry to get somewhere else: a career, a home, or a certain lifestyle, that they missed out on the beauty of the present moment that they were in. Others expressed regret that they procrastinated, whether out of fear, naïveté or just plain laziness from exploring and pursuing what was important to them. When young, we live under the illusion that there will always be time in the future to be who we want and to do what we want to do. There isn’t.   The time is always “now” to do what you love.

Don’t Worry So Much.

I spent my time in college and my early twenties fretting over not having enough money and not finding a monetarily secure (and status-securing) job. I wished I embraced poverty more. I didn’t have a car payment, house payment or other debt and I didn’t appreciate the freedom this allowed. I could have done more if I could have let go of the fear of scarcity. A lot of people shared this feeling. The lesson of just letting things unfold, excepting our mistakes as the important lessons they are, and knowing the road is never straight are valuable insights that many of us have gained.

Nothing is Permanent.

Most of us acknowledged that we are very different people from who we were (or thought we were) in our twenties and are living lives other than what we might have predicted. Most of the dramas and tragedies that felt so traumatic worked out just fine and more often made us better, wiser and more resilient human beings. Don’t fret. Don’t hang on. Learn to let go.

Be Braver and Take More Risks.

Many of us followed traditional paths, taking traditional jobs and making traditional life choices because doing otherwise was scary. It’s easier and safer to follow the herd—and very damaging. But we’ve learned that most of the scary outcomes that we feared from failing solely existed in our heads and seem almost comical in retrospect.   We’ve learned that the scariest outcome is the true life left unlived.

Listen More to Your Own inner Guidance and Rely Less on the Direction of Others.

Many of us struggled trusting our own intuition when young. We tended to default to what others—society, parents, teachers, etc.—thought was best for us, often to our own detriment. While it is wise to pay attention to the advice of those who care about us and have had experience, we must remember that others’ experiences, goals and values are not always aligned with our own. Many of our loved ones are more concerned with keeping us safe and secure rather than encouraging us follow our passions. Our destinies are our own. Trust your inner knowledge to know this.

These Lessons Still Apply.

Even though our challenges and our dreams may have shifted since our early adulthood, the lessons and advice about still applies. We have to continue to incorporate them in our lives every day. We may no longer fret over our college major or final exams, but we face the challenges of career change, long-term relationship struggles, or a thousand other things under the sun. Let’s take the advice we gave to our former selves and give it to the present us. It’s still wisdom worth applying.

Sidenote: While almost every response I received from women was honest, direct and vulnerable, almost every response I received from men was self-deprecating and jokey. Hmmm.   There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

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Reflections on Mortality: There’s No Time To Wait

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the mother of someone very close to me. In the mist of the deceased’s loved ones mourning the loss, I inevitably reflect on our mortality and if there is a silver lining to someone’s passing, its the reminder to those left behind of how brief and precious life is.

In 2004, at the age of 58, my mother died of cancer. I wrote about how this event changed me previously (link below) so I won’t retread that theme, but I do want to highlight how keeping an acute awareness of how little time we have on this world is key to having a full, fulfilling and authentic life. A month before she died, I took her and my father to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She had previously never been out of the country. She knew her prognosis: her lifespan was no longer measured in years but in months and days. But the magical part was: I had never seen her so happy. Wheelchair bound, she reveled in bouncing along the bumpy, cobblestone streets, taking in the bright colors of the painted buildings, fabrics and glassware. She loved bartering with the merchants and ordering exotic and beautiful food she knew she would not be able to eat. Sitting on the beach, she watched the ocean for hours.

On the day before we left I pushed her wheelchair out to the sand and we sat and watched the sun set over the ocean. We were quiet for a long stretch of time before she spoke.

“It’s so great to be here, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I love Mexico.”

“Yes, but I mean it’s so great to be here.”

And then I knew what she meant. It was great to be here, alive, now, in the present moment. And I could feel the bittersweet realization she had come to, and I witnessed the sense of peace, not regret, that it gave her.

My mother was able to experience the preciousness and beauty of the world in a heightened way because she knew her time was limited.

But here is the truth that we all run from: Time is limited for all of us. But when we don’t have death breathing down our necks, when we can look to the “indefinite” future that we all believe is our destiny, what do we do?

We procrastinate. We delay. We put off our big dreams and follow the path of least resistance, letting ourselves become consumed with the minutia of the day-to-day trials. This is choosing to live in a false reality. We don’t have the time to put off what we truly want to have in our lives. There is no perfect time to do anything, there is only now.

Start the business of your dreams.

Write your book.

Travel to that exotic land.

Learn that new language.

Ask that girl out.

Help that person in need.

Tell everyone you love that you love them, and I hope you find love for everyone.

Do it today.

 

Read “Six Life Changing Lessons I learned from My Mother’s Terminal Cancer” here:

http://abundantbohemian.com/six-life-changing-lessons-i-learned-from-my-mothers-terminal-cancer/

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

 

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The Value of Boredom

As a lawyer, I’m required to attend annual continuing education classes and recently I sat in on a two-day seminar on an area of my practice. Although very valuable on the whole, there are inevitably two or three presentations that are too dry to hold my interest. In one such presentation my boredom reached a point where my mind began to drift and I was no longer engaged with the activity going on around me. And because I was in a situation where I couldn’t distract myself with Facebook, texting, email, etc., my boredom allowed me to drift into . . . my creative space. Ideas started forming. I pulled out my notepad and began to explore an idea for a new short story. By the time the presentation had ended, I had a rough draft of some fiction that I was excited about.

When I’m not trapped in such a setting, I resist allowing my boredom to last. Now—more than ever–It’s easy to alleviate our boredom through social media, television, books, music or a thousand other things. None of those things are bad, but my forced restrictions that day reminded me the value of resisting these urges from time to time—to allow the boredom to open the doors to what is normally so easy to drown out—our inner creativity.

In the state of boredom we are pushed to turn inward, to ponder, to drift, to contemplate, to explore. And this is the place where new ideas, new solutions for our businesses, new directions for our art and our “ah-ha” moments are giving the freedom to show themselves to us. Like a child trying to get our attention on a busy traffic corner, they can’t be heard until all the movement, honking, and exhausts disappears.

Allow yourselves these moments. Let the discomfort of boredom be the small price you pay for the valuable insights and ideas that spring from it. Boredom is the mental equivalent of a painter staring at blank canvas or a writer a blank page and wondering where to begin. This feeling hovers be between soft anxiety and out-and-out fear.   Don’t run away from it. Here are a few suggestions to spark the gifts of boredom:

  1. When you arrive early and are waiting on someone, leave your phone in your pocket. Just be still and wait.
  2. If you are a runner, every once in a while run alone, without your ipod. Be silent within the movement.
  3. Carve out time to go to a coffeeshop, park, or anywhere quiet that takes effort and time to get to and bring only a notepad and pen. Make a commitment to stay at least twenty minutes.
  4. If you feel really stuck, commit to a retreat, away from home and somewhere in nature with no TV, phone or internet connection. This (from my experience) is surprisingly uncomfortable at first and extremely rewarding by the end.

Boredom has a bad reputation, but can be a very valuable tool. Take advantage and use that tool. You might be surprised what gifts are hidden inside you waiting to be given voice.

 

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

If you like the blog, the best way you can support it is by sharing it with others. Abundantbohemian.com. And thanks.

 

 

How To Self-Promote Successfully and With Integrity

The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard

Whether it be our art or business, so many of us have trouble promoting ourselves. It feels like bragging, narcissism, or selling out. And it can be, if it is done arrogantly or in bad faith. But it is essential if we truly want to share what we have to offer with the world. Others can’t benefit from it if they don’t know it exists.

For example, look at how the Beatles captured America’s attention, as written by Stanley Booth in his biography of the Rolling Stones*:

Two of the Beatles’ records had been released in the United States a year earlier to scant response. Capital Records, who distributed the Beatles’ records in the U.S. spent fifty thousand dollars for what they called a “crash publicity program.” They plastered five million THE BEATLES ARE COMING stickers on telephone poles, washroom walls, and other appropriate places around the country. They tried to get a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to every disc jockey in the country. They made a four-page newspaper about the Beatles and sent out a million copies.

And what happened? The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was seen by seventy-three million people. Does this self-promotion diminish the artistic value of Yesterday or Hey Jude? Does it tarnish the Beatles integrity? Of course not. Their genius touched the lives of millions. But to do that, people had to know they existed.

But how do we self-promote successfully and with integrity? To answer that, I’m going to highlight key points from Austin Kleon’s exceptional book on the topic, Show Your Work.**

  1. Get comfortable with sharing your work. “We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it,” Austin writes.   “If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.”
  1. Don’t be afraid to show the process. Show the struggles, the failures, the mistakes, the growth—as well as the end product. It shows you are human. It lends heft and understanding to what you have created and people value that.
  1. Don’t worry about making what you share perfect. Just make it worth the audience’s time. Thank about not just what interest you, but what would interest your audience. Avoid navel gazing and mental noodling. Speak in plain language. Value your audience’s time. Be brief. Make it the best you can and then put it out there.
  1. Don’t let the sharing of your work take precedence over doing the actual work. If you are spending all your time posting on Facebook about your writing instead of writing, you are poster not a writer. Keep your priorities straight.
  1. Know that your work doesn’t speak for itself. “The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it, ” Austin writes. As I in The Abundant Bohemian, Sculptor Shon Walters had to learn this lesson. “I used to think as long as you made the art and you knew it was good, everything would be okay, and when in doubt just keep making the work,” he told me. “But I learned how much networking and promoting your work matters. My sales increased dramatically once I made the leap from ‘I’m going to make that work as good as I can and I don’t need to talk about it’ to sharing the stories of the work with people.” He writes narratives describing the life of his sculptures and the work that went into creating it. “These stories get into people’s heads and hearts and they have a better appreciation for the work.”
  1. Don’t be human spam. Human Spammers are people who don’t want to want to listen to your ideas; they want to tell you theirs. If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to be a good citizen of that community. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice. Support others that you believe in. Encourage them. Promote their businesses, art, writing, spiritual journey or whatever passion they are pursuing. It is important to give in order to receive.

I’ve struggled with self-promotion myself, but I wrote my book and write on my blog because I believe what I share has value and I hope you do, too. And if you do, then you can help by following the blog, posting comments, liking my Facebook page, or writing a review of the book on Amazon. And if you don’t want to, that’s okay, too. Thanks for reading.

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

*Show Your Work by Austin Kleon can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/Show-Your-Work-Creativity-Discovered/dp/076117897X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427391896&sr=1-1&keywords=austin+kleo

**The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/True-Adventures-Rolling-Stones/dp/1556524005/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427391932&sr=1-1&keywords=stanley+booth+the+true+adventures+of+the+rolling+stones

 

Nick Hornby and the Complexities of Love

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In his charming and humorous latest novel, “Funny Girl, ”Nick Hornby takes us to TV land and swinging mid-1960s London. The titular character is It girl comedic actress Sophie Straw, a “quick-witted, unpretentious, high-spirited, funny, curvy, clever, beautiful blonde.” Her looks and charisma land her the lead role in a new BBC sitcom.

Hornby follows her and her colleagues (costar Clive, producer Dennis and writers Bill and Tony) as “Barbara (and Jim)” becomes a big hit and Britain relishes its postwar cool.

But the biggest success of the novel is Hornby’s thoughtful ruminations on the complexities of love. As the characters transverse the arc of their lives, coming to grips with sexual orientation, fidelity, sacrifice and acceptance, Hornby skillfully addresses the challenges we all face seeking connection with another human being. Here are a few notable examples:

As the character Dennis struggles with his infatuation with his wife, who clearly doesn’t love him back, he says:

How on earth could he love her? But he did. Or, at least, she made him feel sick, sad and distracted. Perhaps there was another way of describing that unique and useless combination of feelings, but “love” would have to do for now.

Most of us have been in this situation: confusing pain and need for love. It’s as unhealthy as it is inevitable in our lives. Let’s hope we learn the difference early on and save ourselves from repeating this form of suffering.

And there’s the lessons learned from the story of the married couple Tony and June, who love each other but endure so much trouble due to Tony’s sexual orientation struggles.

“It’s funny, sex,” she said. “It’s a little thing like a glass of water is a little thing. Or something that falls off a car and only costs a couple of bob to replace. It’s only a little thing, but nothing works without it.”

 We wish this wasn’t true, but it is. A relationship without sex is a beautiful friendship, but as humans, we crave more. It’s that thrust into the divine, that touching of the infinite that loving sex provides like nothing else. And without it—as much as we can deny it to ourselves—we are always left with a sense of deep spiritual longing.

And the need for vulnerable bravery in the search for love, as shown by Dennis when he struggles to muster up the strength to tell Sophie he loves her:

He was finding it increasingly hard to keep it bottled up, however. That wasn’t the point of love, in his opinion. Love meant being brave, otherwise, you had already lost your own argument: the man who couldn’t tell a woman he loved her was, by definition, not worthy of her.

So true. How many opportunities for connection have we squandered because of our fear? Rejection is a small price to pay compared to what we miss by failing to even try. Only by exposing our hearts to the very-real possibility of being broken do we have the chance of having our love reciprocated. So hard, and yet so necessary for a fulfilling life.

And then there is the need to get past our own pathetic, unnecessary fear of . . . looking stupid. When the shy Dennis finally gets the opportunity to spend the night dancing with Sophie, he learns how much we miss when decorum trumps letting our souls free.

He kept moving to the music, just in case she thought he didn’t want to be up there. To his surprise, he did—but then, he wanted to be anywhere Sophie was, no matter how much embarrassment might ensue. And anyway, proximity to Sophie meant that embarrassment was no longer the terrifying ogre he always believed it to be. Perhaps he would wake up the next morning realizing that he’d made an utter ass of himself, but there were worse animals than the ass.

 Love is messy, beautiful, painful, confusing, and ultimately, the reason we are here. Give yourself over to it.

Science has proven our expectations and beliefs shapes our potential. Here’s why and how you can expend your limits and the people around you.

(Plagiarism caveat: I cribbed this story from a fascinating broadcast of NPR’s This American Life.  I provide a link to the full show below.)

Bob Rosenthal, a research psychologist, conducted a study on how expectations change potential through a study using average lab rats.  Even though the lab rats IQs were all equal, he hung signs on all of the rat cages with some of the signs saying the rat in the cage was incredibly smart, and some of the signs said that the rat in the cage was incredibly dumb, even though neither of those things was true.

He next brought in a group of experimenters and told them for the next week, some of them were going to work with incredibly smart rats and some of them were going to work incredibly stupid rats. And their job was to run their rat through a maze and record how well it does.

The results were dramatic.

The “smart” rats did almost twice as well as the “dumb” rats.  Rosenthal’s study proved that the expectations that the experimenters carried in their heads subtly changed the way that the experimenters touched the rats and that changed the way that the rats behaved. So when the experimenters thought that the rats were really smart, they felt more warmly towards the rats and so they touched them more gently.

“We do know that handling rats and handling them more gently can actually increase the performance of rats,” said Rosenthal.

And how does this play out when it comes to our expectations of people? What occurred with the rats holds true for people too, says Carol Dweck, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford.  You may be standing farther away from someone you have lower expectations for, you may not be making as much eye contact. And it’s not something you can put your finger on. We’re not usually aware of how we are conveying our expectations to other people, but it’s there.”

And it happens in all kinds of areas of massive importance.  Research has shown:

That teachers’ expectations can raise or lower students’ IQ scores;

 That mothers’ expectations influences the drinking behavior of middle schoolers;

 That military trainers’ expectations can literally make a soldier run faster or slower.

So what does science know about where we should draw the line? Does it have a clear sense of that? No,” said Dwek. “That line is moving. As we come to understand things that are possible and mechanisms through which a belief affects an outcome or one person affects another person, that line can move.”

The story goes on to highlight Daniel Norris, a man blind since birth, whose mother refused to place the restrictions on him that society usually places on blind people.  She let him climb trees, play on his own, scale jungle gyms.

And yes, even ride a bike.

Yep, a blind kid riding a bike.  And yes, he had accidents, but none worse than any other kid learning to ride a bike or climb a tree.  Through “echolocation,” a process which involves him clicking his tongue in a way that resembles the radar ability in a bat, he was able to learn to identify objects in the environment around him to the point where he saw images in his head of these objects.  A blind man that essentially learned to see.  How is this possible?

“There is a lot of pressure to keep a child safe, and especially in a litigious society,” said Norris.  And the paraeducators [who are assigned to help the blind] can end up doing the work for the kids. [But] when you lighten someone’s load, you don’t allow him or her to expand. [Blind children] are so often discouraged . . . and become slaves to others’ perception. Slaves to what others think they should be doing. And somehow we’re [as a society] comfortable with that.”

This story is fascinating in many ways, but for now I ask you to consider:

How are your perceptions limiting yourself and those around you?  What beliefs about yourself, your spouse, your children or your employees are you holding onto that are limiting their growth and their potential?  How much expansion are you trading for safety? What subtle messages are you conveying that sets the bar too low?

Our beliefs may shape us, but we can shape those beliefs.  Let’s expand them and all grow together.

 

I highly encourage you to listen to the full show from This American Life.  You can find it here:http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/batman

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

 

Striking Differences: An interview with documentary filmmaker Ally Wray-Kirk

You’ve been an educator in public school systems for over twenty years.  Why now make a documentary?  What inspired you?

The culture of our educational systems prioritizes the similarities of our children instead of promoting their differences.  We tend to emphasise  the idea that there is one right way to do things, and everyone is measured constantly up against the same standard.  In the socio-economically disadvantaged communities where I’ve worked there is no art, music and theater in public schools anymore.  Students are rewarded for replicating the status quo and that is causing us to lose our innovators and creators. We kill off their creative spirit before it has time to flourish.  It became important to me to let my students know that there can be more than one way to be right, more than one way to be “correct” about something.  What is different about a child is what makes him or her interesting; this is what we need to encourage and support.  “Striking Differences” is about just that—highlighting the need to accept and celebrate the very different takes on life that extraordinary people have and are making.

How does Striking Differences address this issue?

“What’s different about you?”  Most people struggle with this question.  What’s unique about an individual is often difficult for him or her to pin down when asked but the answer comes out in their stories, their history, their worldviews.  I wanted to capture these stories so I spent two months traveling through fifteen states meeting people from all walks of life and asking them this very question.  The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive and receptive.  Many of these folks are featured in the film but I focus on five individuals leading very different lives, but all following their passions, making it all work without ever compromising their principles.

Do you find these people to have an unusually high tolerance for fear, rejection, or insecurity?

Just the opposite.  They are incredibly vulnerable.  People who really put themselves out there in a big way—whether through their art, their music or their lifestyles—are subject to a high risk of pain and rejection.  But their desire for self-expression, for love and to heal themselves is so strong it pushes them through their fears.

A documentary seems like a huge undertaking.  What would you say to people interested in taking on a creative project like that, but feel it is being their abilities?

Nothing is beyond their abilities.  I didn’t know a thing about making documentaries before I started.  But I studied the process. I sought out mentors.  I learned what I could and then I just dove in, often not knowing what the next step would be but figuring it out as I went.  If someone wants to make a documentary, they can.  They just need the passion and the belief.

Why You?  Why now?

The theme of the documentary—honoring and celebrating our differences—needs to be told and my background and my experiences gave me the tools to tell it.  As a cancer survivor, I no longer can tolerate not doing what I am driven to do.  We have very little time on this planet and we need to pursue what is passionate and authentic to our individual selves.

 

You can learn more about, and support, “Striking Differences: A documentary about differences because similarities are so redundant” at www.strikingdifferences.com.

You can learn about the main subjects of the film via the links below:

-Beth Schindler (Austin, TX) founder of “Queer Bomb” http://www.queerbomb.org

-Sara Gardner aka Smoove G (Bloomington, IN) founder “The Back Door” http://backdoorbloomington.com/

-Kofy Brown (Washington, D.C.) founder of “Simba Music” http://kofybrown.com/

-Danyol aka Tamale Ringwald (Orange County, CA) founder of “Squrrl” http://danyol.com/

-Tony Malson (Spokane, WA) lead singer in “The Devil in California” http://thedevilincalifornia.com/

 

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Processis out now.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

[A1]Tony is the lead singer, but not the founder.

It’s a Time of Transition and Reflection. How Will You Engage the New Year?

As one year winds to a close and a new one approaches, many of us see this as an opportunity to reflect on the past and to think about what we want from the year to come.  Our wishes and goals often manifest in specific things, such as losing weight, finding a new job, or quitting a bad habit.  This year, I invite you to try approaching this idea from a broader perspective.  As I was deciding how I would manifest my own goals for the year, I read Chris Guillebeau’s post on this very topic, and I decided I couldn’t have said it better.  Here are his wishes for (himself and for us) for the new year.  He wants:

 

To wake in the morning full of life and energy, awaiting the day with anticipation and purpose.

To step out into the world ready to accomplish a significant task.
 To engage and initiate instead of merely responding. To take the active choice that you will make something happen.

To maintain harmony and goodwill in relationships. To follow Shakespeare’s adage: love all, trust a few, and do wrong to no one.

To focus on contribution and engagement instead of withdrawal into yourself. (Tip: When you aren’t sure what to do next, find a small way to help someone.)

To pursue productive, meaningful work. To spend most of your time doing something that you and others find meaningful.

To accept that everything you create will likely be flawed in some way, but to create anyway.*

 

Wise advice, I believe.  How will you manifest as your best self in 2015?  I would love to hear.  You can write me atjoe@abundantbohemian.com.  If I receive enough responses, I will post them here on a follow up blog.

*You can read his entire post at http://chrisguillebeau.com/2014-annual-review-looking-forward.

My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian

The Power of the End-of-Year Retreat: A guest post by author Ed Davis.

End of December:

 

Spiritual Retreat

Since the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a downtime for teachers, my wife and I decided in 2011 to go on a spirit retreat—and where better than a cabin in the beautiful Hocking Hills of southeastern Ohio? I highly recommend such an undertaking, but it’s good to go prepared for silence and study.

What, you might ask, is a spirit retreat? First, I don’t consider myself conventionally religious; rather, my spiritual life is eclectic, informed by several traditions, from Buddhism to Catholic to Baptist. As I pondered the Hocking Hills trip, I envisioned something like the solitary retreat I took over a decade ago to Gethsemani, the Trappist Monastery outside Bardstown, Kentucky, home to the late Thomas Merton, famous writer and monk. During that long, hot weekend on the fourth of July, I prayed, meditated and participated in the monastery’s cycle of worship, including rising in the middle of the night for services in the chapel—a moving experience. On this more recent retreat, I intended to delve deeply into Merton’s spiritual classic, New Seeds of Contemplation, as a way to deepen the relationship with my higher power. While I’m not Catholic, I knew that Merton had plenty to say to me.

I admit I was a bit anxious about spending three days in mostly silence; my fear had less to do with being confined in a small space with a simpatico fellow seeker than about my relationship with timeWould I grow bored, restless, or depressed? Worse, would I feel pressure to be spiritual? The forecast that week was for rain, plus it was quite cold. Unlike past visits to Hocking Hills, we weren’t planning to hike much, if at all. We were planning to stay still, and except for one walk in a downpour, we stayed inside the cabin. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, I bore down on what I’d come to do.

Except for meals, we each stayed pretty much in our sacred space:  me on the couch, my wife on a stool at the high butcher’s block table in the kitchen, involved in her own soul pursuits. For hours there was no sound except the roaring furnace and flapping fireplace. Although I’d read Merton’s seminal work twice before, the  mysticism, startling paradoxes and poetic density of New Seeds often left me feeling that his explanation of Christian contemplation was simply too complex for me to grasp, much less practice. By the second day, though, I sensed a breakthrough, and by evening, I thought I understood Seeds better than I ever had.

At the risk of over-simplifying, I think Merton seems to be saying in Seeds that contemplation is never easy, since it’s fraught with so many obstacles (such as religious piety and spiritual ambition); furthermore, it’s about one thing only:  an ever-deeper relationship with one’s intensely personal God, who is not “out there” but right here, acting for and on me now. Thus, God is more an experience than a distant object of worship or study. This is not what the Baptist Church of my youth taught me, and while I’m not bitter about that—it says as much about me as it does about the church I came of age in—I believe I’ve matured as a spiritual seeker, due to the mentorship of Merton and several other gurus, such as Kathleen Norris, (author of Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography and Cloister Walk), Wendell Berry and Thoreau.

I’ve often reflected fondly on that “time out of time” we spent in the Hocking Hills three years ago. The thing about any retreat, spiritual or otherwise, is that you have to go home. You hope to sustain the high for as long as you can, but, failing that, at least continue the growth you began. I hoped the insight I’d received wouldn’t just fuel more ambition, spiritual or otherwise. Looking back now, I see it laid the framework that allowed me to retire gracefully (mostly) from my 35-year teaching career and come to grips with my desire to be a well-published writer. Today, I’m perfectly happy that a small university press published my latest novel. For me, “o’erweening ambition” was a spiritual problem, and becoming more “right-sized” was the spiritual solution. I wish you Godspeed in your own quest for peace and serenity in the sacred place of your choice.

 

–Ed Davis

 

 Ed Davis is the author of  the newly released novel The Psalms of Israel Jones, which is available anywhere books are sold.

We are all lottery winners. Here’s why.

Recently I listened to a podcast about WWI from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.  Dan does fascinating and well-researched episodes on all areas of history, but this one struck me in particular because prior to listening I didn’t understand the scope of devastation, destruction and human costs to that war.  But it taught me a valuable lesson on just how lucky we are to live here, now, in this particular time and place.  It is a gift that human beings have never experienced in the entire existence of mankind.  And we so often take it for granted.

To understand the immensity of this gift, we must break it down to its core.  In our homes we have running, clean, hot and cold water, refrigerators for our food, machines to wash our dishes and our clothes, furnaces for the winter and air conditioners for the summer.  We have aspirin for our headaches and cars to take us wherever we choose.  These “basic” things that most of us have are more luxuries than King Louis the XIV experienced at Versailles only three hundred years ago.  The smart phones in our pockets contain more technology and information in them than Bill Clinton had access to as President only twenty years ago.

The comedian Louis C.K. was on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and sat next to a man who was irate that the plane’s Wi-Fi was down.  Louis pointed out that in less than two centuries ago it took a year for settlers to travel the same distance, a trip that was plagued by attacks and disease and many would die before they ever reached their destination. “You’re sitting in a chair in the sky and you will be there in three hours—and you are complaining?” he joked.  Good point.

In Freakanomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner point out that despite the conflicts and disasters that the news media love to report, we are currently living in the most peaceful time in all recorded history.  Think about that: it is estimated that 108 billion people have lived on this planet.  And we are the ones that get to live here now.  The magnitude of that gift is startling.  We have truly won the lottery.

And that’s the bare basics that almost all of us share.  If you have a good job, you are blessed with something millions don’t have.  Appreciate it.  If you have someone that loves you and loves you back, you have something beautiful that many lonely and broken-hearted folks do not.  Remember that the next time you feel irritated that your partner didn’t pick up his socks.

I’m not minimizing the real human suffering that we all will experience from time to time, but remembering the abundance of gifts we have been given that the majority of all human beings never experienced can alleviate the suffering, give us strength to bear it, and to remind us that despite our troubles, are blessings are so much more.

And the best gift we’ve been given of all?  Because we are so much safer, educated and prosperous and don’t have to worry about our shelter, clothing, food or being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger, we can focus on making the world even better. There is still much to fix, and those living in the 21st century are better equipped to do so than all those who have paved the way for us.  The best way we can thank the people that suffered and died to create the world we’ve been given is to continue the progress forward.  Let’s keep it goin’.

 

If you enjoy, the Abundant Bohemian blog posts, the best compliment you can make is to share it with others whom you believe may appreciate it.  The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live An Unconventional Life is now available wherever books are sold.  I hope you check it out.