Why I Love Darkness

Darkness.

This is my view when I run.

I prefer running at night.

(Warning: In the dark, everywhere is deer crossing–including you.)

In fact, I sometimes just get in my car and go for long drives at night. I like what I see in the dark: Nothing.

Doesn’t sound too sensible, I know, but I’ll explain:

Life Is About Fear

When you were just a little kid, you were afraid of the dark. At least a little bit. You were afraid because you honestly didn’t know if there were monsters hiding in the closet or under the bed. The stories were pretty real to you anyway. The shadows made you hide under the covers.

 

When you were a kid, you lived in that reality. A reality of monsters and heroes, fairy tales, fantasies. Your imagination was an amazing thing. You created your reality by what you chose to think.

Then you grew up. And life hit you hard. Reality set in. You learned how the real world works.

There are no monsters under your bed, and the chance of being bitten by a deadly snake or spider–well in the grand scheme of things, you just don’t have to worry about it anymore. There are more important things to worry about.

(I get why some grown ups stay afraid of clowns, though.)

The fear that crept up now and then in your childhood is replaced by an even darker, broader pessimism, until it demands all your focus and energy.

You know more now. What do grown ups fear? Just as deeply as children (we just learn how to hide it)?

Rejection. Failure. Age. Death. Relationships. Divorce. Bills. Taxes. Crowds. Meetings. Bosses. Work. Customers. Conversations. Criticism. Confrontation. Politics. Government. Terrorists. Responsibility. Disappointment. Hurt. Awkwardness. Wrinkles. Fat. Arthritis. Cancer. Injury. Accidents. Lawsuits. Salespeople.

Life. Reality. It’s all too scary.

But somewhere along the way, for a reason too deep to explore in any less than a book, we lost our childlike optimism.

We lost our ability to think almost anything besides stressful, discouraging, fearful thoughts.

We’re less scared of the dark. But we can’t trust our parents to protect us anymore.

We’re not worried about monsters. But we can’t stop thinking about growing old and frail.

We’re not scared of strangers kidnapping us. But we can’t meet strangers without fearing rejection.

We’re not terrified by legends of ghosts and goblins. We’re terrified of being late to another meeting.

Sharing our toys doesn’t scare us. Monthly payments do.

Movies don’t scare us anymore. But we can’t watch a movie without stressing about the homework we could be doing instead.

And now, as adults, we rarely stop worrying. All we see around us is scary. Relationships, money, age, stress, work. They might not make us cry (in public), but they still scare the hell out of us.

They sap the energy out of us. We’re tired, because with all our worrying, we have no mental room left for genuine excitement.

The Grand Canyon and Almonds

It’s not that we’ve lost our imagination entirely. It’s not that we don’t believe in good and beautiful anymore.

It’s that we’re drowning in the stress and fear surrounding us. Constantly, unrelentingly screaming at us.

You never get too old to appreciate. You never get too hardened to be amazed.

I remember the first time I ever walked up to the edge of the Grand Canyon.

I could not believe my eyes. My jaw dropped. It was … bigger than I could have ever imagined.

To this day, I can still feel that childish feeling of awe.

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Amazing.

Beautiful. We adults can still feel beauty. We just usually have to wait for a vacation.

I wonder, though, if we tried tuning out a little of the fear that directs our daily life, if even a little almond might not just taste amazing, too.

In his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn both humorously and sincerely explores the sensations offered simply by biting into an almond.

Why don’t we explore, anymore?

Why don’t we think of everything in life the way we did as kids?

Why don’t glass elevators in fancy hotels still blow our minds?

Why don’t we live with as much and as intense excitement as we do fear?

Why I Love Running at Night

I will argue from the bottom of my heart and to the end of my days that one of the biggest reasons our lives are missing happiness is that we are paying too much attention to the things that scare us.

You CAN stop thinking about money, work, and relationships sometimes.

We have forgotten that as little kids we created our own happiness by drawing a picture of a beautiful idea or by choosing to wander in the woods.

We have been educated, book-learned, and advertised into a non-stop focus on the exact things that cause us stress.

Who reads novels anymore?

Who thinks happy thoughts anymore?

Who hopes anymore?

Everything around us is filled with stress and pressure. Everything around us is too much to handle.

It’s not that there’s no beauty left to see.

It’s that you can’t pay as much attention as 1st world, 21st century humanity does to fear and sadness–to the stressful things trying to take over our lives–without the negativity drowning out the positivity.

And that’s why I like walking, running, driving, exploring at night. Because there’s nothing there.

There are no businesses to remind us of work.

There are no people to remind us of social pressures.

There are no billboards to remind us of what we can’t afford.

There are no banks to remind us of our budget.

There is no traffic to remind us of the daily grind.

There is no noise to attend to.

No things to look at.

Nothing.

Then, just like a child, your imagination is freed to create something good.

Why does growing up mean reality no longer consists of the thoughts you have, but the things you have to get done in a week?

There is more to reality than to-do lists. A lot more. Go look outside.

It’s hard to attend to something happy when your entire mind has already been monopolized by fearful thoughts, sounds, and images.

What’s Around You Doesn’t Matter Nearly as Much as You’ve Been Told.

That all sounded a little dramatic, didn’t it?

I could have been more short and to the point. Saved time.

I kind of rambled like I liked the sound of my own voice, I guess.

Well alone in the dark, without a judging world, there’s nothing wrong with liking the sound of your own voice.

Alone in the dark, you can think and talk about whatever you need and want, without even a thought of the scary, judging, stressful, demanding pressures around us in the adulthood we’ve learned.

I like to run in the dark, far away from everyone else, because it lets me think and feel.

No distractions, no projects to work on at home, no computer to stare at, no people to watch me, no bustling streets to watch.

Just a perfect darkness to help me let go of the noisy world of fear and get in touch with myself.

It doesn’t have to be dark out–less to distract just makes it easier.

But the bottom line is this: Whatever it takes, we all really need to take some time and get away from the stresses that have swallowed up our lives and dreams in fear.

There can be more to your life.

Our Blindspot

At a public speaking contest I led last week, I got to ask several people to give impromptu speeches to answer a question. They all got the same question. And I got to pick it!

I consider myself a very positive person. But I have to admit, I have a little cynical streak. Just a little one. And it’s centered entirely around the culture of America’s younger generation.

Pop.

#hashtag

I like to believe the information age has better potential for happiness and productivity than debating on Facebook and twerking on YouTube.

Actually, my cynical side is summed up perfectly by New Girl‘s Max Greenfield:

Thanks for the gif, BuzzFeed.

Oh yeah. And BuzzFeed. (You won’t believe what I’m going to write next!)

 

So when given the chance to ask one question of four different impromptu speakers, I came up with this:

“What one value, moral, or life lesson does America’s younger generation most need to learn?”

There were several insightful viewpoints: Conversational skills, ethics, discipline, family values.

It’s really impossible to pinpoint the one thing America’s younger generation would benefit from learning–its one biggest blindspot. But it was good to hear suggestions by people coming from various influences and experiences.

I wondered how I would answer that question.

“What one value, moral, or life lesson does America’s younger generation most need to learn?”

And almost immediately, one word popped into my head:

Quiet.

 

Modern America wakes up with a hangover and flips on the news.

It sits down to breakfast and catches up on all social media activity missed during sleep, filling any gaps with meaningless nutrition facts compliments of the cereal box.

It rushes late out the door to work and speeds down the highway to the tune of talk radio, Katy Perry, and its gnawing screaming dread of the day ahead.

It arrives at work and reads more emails than it can deal with. Scans Google News headlines. Make sure not to miss that one about the guy from Tennessee who’s been hiccuping for 27 years. Priorities, you know.

It plans its day. Creates a to-do list. Mostly just stresses. Suddenly the first two hours are gone.

It catches up on the office gossip. Damn, where do the hours go?

Lunch time. It turns on the TV in the lunchroom so that it doesn’t accidentally spend lunch break thinking. That would be awkward. TV mixes well with more social media browsing on its smartphone. Only the 43rd time its checked Facebook today, after all.

It goes back to work and chats with its co-workers for the next couple hours about the information it just received from the TV and internet. Pushes productivity to the last possible minute. Panics. Stresses some more. Does a little work. Goes home.

On the way home, it listens to loud music to help release tension from the day. Even better idea: It should call a friend and vent about the crappy people it was burdened with today.

It gets home and turns on the TV. Sits in front of the TV screen and rhythmically scrolls its smartphone screen. Need more information!!!

And then suddenly, modern America falls asleep, without having to think a genuine thought the entire day.

And days turn to weeks, weeks turn to years, and years turn into a lifetime that it can’t get back.

Noise, noise, noise, noise, noise.

America’s younger generation needs to shut up and calm down. Let go and chill out.

We need to learn Quiet.

 

I’ve lived in other cultures where people would sit still, silent, and just experience the beautiful life buzzing around them.

I’ve lived in places where you get more accomplished and still somehow have time for a nap, a friendly chat around the dinner table, and a long, peaceful walk.

I’ve seen people who reflect, meditate, imagine, dream. Who feel silence.

I’ve met people who listen, who learn, who receive.

I’ve watched people rest.

I know it can be done. But modern America is determined to make it as damn hard as can be.

 

What could YOU take out of your day, just for one day, to free your mind of a little extra noise, and feel the peace of Quiet?

Yesterday I turned my phone off first thing in the morning and left it off all day long. #BestDayEver. It really was a happy day. So peaceful.

We hear more when we stop bombarding ourselves with all the noise we possibly can.

We think so much more clearly when we stop filling our minds with all the information, drama, and stress we can get our hands on.

We accomplish so much more when we stop trying to do hurried bits of everything.

We rest so much more when we just rest.

I promise you that if you let go of the need for noise, you will feel more peace.

And that is a promise I wish every young person in America will take to heart.

 

Happiness is not hiding. We’re hiding from happiness.

For help finding it, I recommend Jon Kabat-Zinn’s famous book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.

Or just turn your phone off.

Before It’s Too Late

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and mostly live.” – Dalai Lama

~

Tomorrow will be too late to make the most of today.

I’ve always heard people say that at the end of life you’ll regret the memories you didn’t make more than the ones you did. Lately that’s started to resonate with me.

I’ve become scared of death over the last few years. I didn’t used to be. I always figured I’m pretty comfortable with what I expect to happen to me when I die.

My expectations haven’t changed too much, except that now I’ve grown up I’m a lot less sure that the future looks exactly like what I imagine. But I hate the idea of being done with life now. It really bothers me.

Do you ever stop and think, “How did this year go by so fast?” If you’re 20 or older, I know you do. I was talking recently with a friend at work, realizing the past year has flown by about as fast as a month used to drag on when I was 12.

A few years ago I was so obsessed with a few ideas–ideas about what my focus in this life had to be–that when I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted in life, I welcomed the idea of death. I felt like death would be an easy way out. Didn’t bother me at all.

Enter the greatest friend I’ve ever had. I learned to stop taking myself so seriously. To stop analyzing life and start living it instead. She taught me to let go of my expectations, plans, determinations, desires, and just welcome life itself.

She taught me to stop obsessing over my idea of how life should go, open my eyes, and enjoy life as it is. She taught me to stop worrying, stop stressing, and just dance to life’s music.

Here’s why I don’t like the thought of coming to the end of life now. Life is absolutely awesome! Now I want to stick around forever just so I can experience every different amazing thing life has to offer. Every morning I wake up and think, “What do I get to do and see today???”

Now the idea that I’m going to have to move on to whatever’s next before I can learn every language, play every sport, read every book, meet every friend, hike every trail, build every career, and taste every food–that idea doesn’t sit too well with me.

A lot of people are scared of death because they don’t want to deal with whatever’s out there (or not). A lot of people embrace death because they think this life isn’t worth living. But I don’t want to die because I’ve only begun to realize how incredible this lifetime in this world really is.

Stop and think with me. Are we taking life for granted? Are we rushing from one day to the next? Are we plodding mindlessly toward the finish line? Because once we get there, there’s no starting over.

Or are we taking time to stop and smell the roses? How often do we slow down enough to open our eyes, look around, and just go “Wow!”

I think there are a lot more things to make us happy in this life than we’re willing to slow down and notice.

I think that when I get to my 60th or 70th birthday, if I look back and realize I lived life with my eyes closed, paralyzed by fear and insecurity, I will wish I could take it all back and have another shot.

I want to look back and say, “What a wild ride!” I want to remember enthusiastically grabbing all sorts of opportunities, welcoming and mastering challenges, looking for adventures.

Is life really hard and scary enough that we shouldn’t bother enjoying it? Or can we step out in courage and live life, with every little adventure, to the fullest, before we look back and realize it’s too late?

Better Than Dogfighting

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

~

In military aviation, a pilot who can boast five or more aerial victories is given the honorable title of “Flying Ace.” History’s top ace of all time was named Erich Hartmann, who won a shocking three hundred and fifty-two in-air battles. He survived more than fourteen hundred missions and was never wounded. Named “The Black Devil” by his enemies, Hartmann attributed his success to his mentor, a fighter pilot named Paule Rossman.

Paule Rossman was also a very successful ace. But unlike most aces, he couldn’t engage in dogfights. A dogfight is an intense aerial battle in which physical strength is a must. Rossman suffered from an arm injury that made dog-fighting impossible for him. So he had to find a way to compensate for his disadvantage.

Rossman started doing his homework. He was studying the battle, while others were gripping their controls, firing bullets, just praying for the first hit. Rossman refused to go into a confrontation unless he knew he was in position to win. When he attacked, he had analyzed the situation every which way. It was his focused studying that gave him his tremendous success.

The great Erich Hartmann learned his strategy from Rossman. They both made sure to go into each battle fully prepared. They didn’t rush into the middle of dogfights with guns blazing, hoping they would outpower, outshoot, and outluck their enemies. Instead they planned ahead. They studied their options, learned their enemies, and planned careful successes.

These two famous flying aces teach us something important. Success doesn’t come from running blindly into the fight. Success comes from preparing. Success comes from observing, studying, planning, strategizing. Success comes from learning.

Acting without learning is like hoping that brute force and blind courage alone will make you a flying ace.

President Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Just like Hartmann, Lincoln understood one of the key principles of success: Brawn doesn’t win. Preparation does.

Warning: Your “Passion” Might Not Be Working

I keep stumbling upon a quote from the 19th century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. I read it and find myself wondering how Kierkegaard nailed the 21st century right on the head. Here’s our current culture in a nutshell:

“What our age lacks is not reflection, but passion.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Of course, with all our sophistication, we think we’ve figured out how to cheat the system: We redefined reflection (“thinking and talking”) as passion.

We think if our reflection sounds passionate, that’s enough. But we’re wrong. Here’s what I mean:

When was the last time you browsed the internet or visited Barnes & Noble without seeing a new voice in the whole “Live with Passion” and “Succeed with Passion” world?

Books, articles, blogs, speeches, seminars–everyone wants to teach everyone to live with passion. To dream big. To create success. To win.

And we talk and talk and talk about it. We write about it, post about it, and comment about it, so that everyone knows how passionate we are.

But are we really living it at the office? Are we committing and following through with those goals? Are we taking those scary steps we talk about?

See, here’s what always bothers me. We’re GREAT at talking! But talking is just the first step! And while it’s an important one, it’s not nearly enough.

You don’t win at life, realize big dreams, and create success by reflecting. You succeed by acting! And therein lies true passion.

No matter how many hours you spend reading passionate Facebook notes (like this one)  and leaving passionate comments (or passionately clicking “Like”), success and fulfillment take something more. Something way bigger.

If I could make one wish for the personal development world, it would be that people would start adding REAL passion–REAL action–to all the reflection.

Don’t get me wrong: The reflection is great. The more voices out there encouraging each other to do great things, the better.

But there’s a dirty little secret most of us personal development fans won’t admit even to ourselves: For all our passionate reflection, most of us lack the actual passion to get up and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

After all, it’s a lot easier to talk about being successful than to push ourselves to our limits until we really do succeed.

One of these days, we’re going to have to put down the books, get off our favorite success-guru’s fanpage, and actually DO all these great big things we talk about.

There are lots of talkers, but not so many brave and diligent doers.

Or as Kierkegaard would say–lots of reflection, but little real passion!

Of course, you probably needed those first couple motivational books you read. And refreshers are useful. If you’re like me, you even want to help introduce others to the hope that real understanding of personal development offers people. So don’t stop the reflecting.

But until the day you decide to translate that reflection into passion in the real world, you won’t live your dream, you won’t see results, and you won’t make another penny!

No amount of reading about or discussing productivity will make you more productive. You have to actually DO it!

No amount of reading about or discussing leadership will make you a good leader. You have to actually DO it!

And no amount of reading about or discussing millionaires will make you a millionaire. You have to get up, take a deep breath, and start doing the incredibly hard work of making it happen!

In the real world, reflection must eventually take the backseat, and passion must become the main player.

Real passion will mean blood, sweat, and tears.

Real passion will mean risk, nerves, stress, rejection, failure, criticism, exhaustion, and second-guessing.

Yes, all the talk is good for us. We need to be inspired. We need to be refueled. But we can’t forget that the reflection is supposed to serve the action! To carry you through the blood, sweat, and tears!

So once we’ve reflected for a while, once we’ve refueled and gotten inspired, we HAVE to turn it into real passion. REAL passion.

Not the kind that spends all day looking at motivational quotes and inspiring memes so we feel better about ourselves!

The kind of passion that starts turning all the noisy reflection into action.

Only then will you get the results you dream to see.

What real ACTION did you take TODAY to better yourself and inch closer to your dreams?

What will you do tomorrow? Will you spend the day wishing for and dreaming of success? Or will you have the real passion to ACT?