Part I: Passion (less)
Did cliché sayings like follow your dreams and discover your passion assist you in getting where you are today? While checking your work email, do you think, “Yipee! Another update about IBH policy changes from Linda!” and then pinch yourself?
Perhaps growing up I was a bit cynical or just clueless, but those tidbits about dreams and following them felt like that part in a funny movie when the funny disappears because the main character is undergoing some ridiculous epiphany while we awkwardly fumble to sustain interest without falling prey to caring.
Maybe film writers cringe during their own resolutions too, but they understand that at least one character must progress in some form so people feel as though time did in fact pass while they sat there for two hours eating chocolate covered raisins. Life dreams seemed like façades people keep handy in case someone inquires. This seemed much too risky for me. I didn’t want the movie of my life to go through an awkward phase of me realizing my dream sucked, or worse, that I sucked in not pulling it off.
I don’t think I’ve ever been good at knowing something is definitely right, either… especially regarding the right path to take. People like to advise me, “Enjoy the moment, stop thinking so much.” Which moment? The one you think I’m having? I get distracted by everyone’s different perspectives. I appreciate all of them but feel like joining none. This is something that my roommate Carrie doesn’t understand. She feels very strongly about her perspective on life and which friends are going to support it. She’s expert at completely ignoring hindrances. I envy this, but I have trouble adopting it. One time many years back she wanted me to ditch a guy we had picked up and taken to an event. “He has too much negative energy,” she explained. I agreed with her, but I couldn’t write him off so simply. He was learning Japanese.
There were times when I tried to conjure up a life dream, but there was nothing. I wasn’t one of those kids who dreamt about becoming a veterinarian. I imagine them having had a fairly easy time transitioning to a more suitable goal when the time was right. Confidence is confidence, transferable and easily liquidated. I didn’t dream about what university I would attend, my wedding, a city large enough to worship, nor one small enough to worship me. I considered myself a little interested and a lot fearful of everything.
Once I started something, I didn’t like to quit, so I’d plod along, not stopping to consider if I had any passion. Growing up listening to my sister’s pure soprano win awards and make car trips seem shorter, I joined choir. Julie’s athletic talent may explain why I joined every sport short of soccer. I remember enjoying the team-less ones, gymnastics and tennis, the most. Sam’s passion for drugs was enticing when nothing else in high school was, so I became familiar with the types, feelings, and locations. You learn who has clueless or careless parents, and this helps you pity those kids when you need a break from feeling sorry for yourself.
My passion resided in Journalism and English. Journalism may have inspired me if I wasn’t so distracted by Sam, who I could find in the dark room’s tiny closet even though we didn’t technically have sixth period together. He slept in there, hiding from his classes and life. I wanted to join him but there was no room. And though English class inspired me, I regarded it as a means through school, not an end. It’s similar with writing, art, and dancing. I lose track of time doing those things which is a good sign, but what use are they in the end?
For every proponent of dream chasing, there were even more Debbie downers to remind me of the starving artist, the not quite good enough basketball player, the bored housewife, the friendless computer nerd, the liberal arts major living with mom and dad. Those stereotypes have truth in them, but I’m finally realizing that they ignore life’s myriad avenues. Fearing abandoned passions and wrong decisions and people named Debbie, I became accustomed to ignoring choices until someone gave me a push onto whatever conveyor belt was closest.
In a Steve Jobs quote that a friend sent me, I found these sentences appealing, so I painted them onto a huge piece of cardboard and hung it on my wall:
Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
I don’t regret what I’ve spent several years of my life pursuing. I have passion for teaching, but I want to uncover the rest of me. The me who was trying to hide in the dark room’s closet.
My friend Sara introduced me to a band called “The Head and the Heart”. Their self-titled album comforted me on many a rainy bus ride this year, and I like to think of it as my beacon towards the habit of following my heart instead of my head.
Notice how the lyrics say, “Put your dreams away for now, I’ll be gone for some time” Meaning he’s going to get lost in his mind and figure out his dreams, screw yours.
Inspirational music is great, but what else helps or hinders a person in pursuit of a dream?
PART II: How Thinking Stifles Passion
In a post many months ago I modified the saying “I think therefore I am” to include warnings about the dangers of thought:
I think therefore I am disconnected from life.
Stuff like that. Is the connection between body, mind, and spirit central to the follow your dreams adage? Personally, I viewed intellect as superior, health as something you’ll miss if you don’t have it anymore, and spiritual experiences as happening exclusively on camping trips and drugs. Though I grew up attending church, it had a certain waxy, swiss cheese feel that turned me off around the age of 14.
Then, as body and spiritual awareness became important to me a few years ago, I’ve begun to uncover some interesting ideas. Healthy breathing, posture, and organs may seem to require hard work and focus, you know what I mean if you’ve ever gotten into yoga, but this year I’ve learned that maybe it isn’t work at all and shouldn’t be forced. It comes naturally when you decide to care about it, and when you let go of fears and obsessions.
In January, I developed an intense back pain. It started on my way home from Thailand… too many souvenirs in my backpack I suppose. You’re welcome in advance. I figured it’d go away eventually like the time I pulled a muscle swinging off the rope swing at the springs in Austin. But it didn’t go away this time. I saw an Australian-schooled chiropractor several times. I visited the regular doctor here once a week or more for acupuncture, electrode machine therapy, and massage therapy. The pain became more bearable, but still very much present. After four months I had kind of given up hope though I was still going to the doctor. Then my friend told me about his chi massage doctor. “You can go talk to him about it at 3pm on Saturday,” he informed me. So I showed up to a bakery, thinking… actually, I refrained from thinking because the whole situation was too confusing. I was at a bakery for relief of back pain?
Turns out that crammed in the middle of the bakery’s office on the third floor is a massage table where Dr. Wu spends 30 minutes putting pressure on different areas of your body in order to get your blood and energy flowing. Some of what he does hurts, especially when you’re not expecting it, which of course you’re not. He’s ramming his knee into your bum for a solid 45 seconds, grinding his elbow into the sensitive areas slightly behind your armpit, and when he needs you to open your mouth while he forces a ceramic block down your spine, he has to call down to the bakery and get this command translated into English.
“This chi massage,” he explains through my friend’s mom as translator, “will assist your body in healing itself. The reason your back is not healing is because your body’s natural energy flow is disrupted.”
I didn’t expect it to work any better than any of my other doctor visits had, but my back pain was significantly better after the first three massages. Chi (actually spelled qi) is translated as life energy or energy flow. In Hawaiian culture it’s called mana. When Carrie and I first moved to Taipei, we attended a very long qigong session that was somewhat similar to yoga. Asian cultures have many ways to promote healthy qi. The way I view my back problem is that my mind had set up a dictatorship against the rest of me, disrupting the natural flow of things. But, with the help of Dr. Wu and a qi coup, my back pain disappeared completely after about 10 appointments.
When I pointed out to Dr. Wu that I hunch my shoulders and constantly keep certain back muscles stretched and strained, he said, “Yes, but you should not think about this. Your posture will improve naturally as you begin to feel healthier and happier.”
And I did become healthier and happier, even my complexion improved. I’m going to miss Dr. Wu and Laura, the owner of the bakery. She makes me fresh cucumber and apple juice, gives me special teas, and sends me home with free pastries every time I visit. Sometimes I wonder if it was simply their care that healed my back.
I came across similar beliefs about thinking in this article about awareness. The author, Garret Kramer, helps athletes and performers reach their potential. His work has been featured on ESPN and in Sports Illustrated. I especially like what he says about thought in number 6 when he explains that trying to think optimistically is futile:
Those who understand the arbitrary and meaningless nature of thought would never try to change or fix their thinking.
Then in number 10 he addresses issues related to finding your passion: Passion is 100 percent an inside job. We are passionate when our consciousness is elevated; we are passionless when it’s deflated. So, when you lack drive or enthusiasm, don’t look for the explanation in your career or your life. Consider it this way: Young children are passionate and wondrous about everything. Why? Peace of mind and consciousness are their norm.
So, I have now commenced to cease thinking and start enjoying. Who’s with me? And who will let me live with them for free when I come back to Austin in September? By “enjoying” I meant “mooching”.