For someone who is a planner by nature and always organized, one of the hardest things to do is live in the moment. Your mind is always thinking about the next steps and playing out the “what ifs.” As a pilot, you’re trained to always plan for the next few minutes and all of the possibilities should something happen. So it’s not surprising that it takes such a long time for new pilots to truly enjoy being in the moment during their early flying days when the comfort of their instructor sitting beside them is gone. It wasn’t until my Last Flight Before Truly Becoming Nomadic that I felt the overwhelming joy of being completely in the moment while also retaining the confidence of control.
Besides my greatest personal challenge that I wrote about in “Thirsty – My Tongue’s Eternal Battle with a Knife”, I would have to say that truly living in the moment has been perhaps my second greatest challenge. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to question how one could have so many awesome adventures yet have a feeling of not truly enjoying each moment to its fullest. That frequent void adds a mental strain that only further exacerbates the angst that grows in those moments of self-doubt and incompleteness.
Yet this strain is ironically strengthen by the fear of allowing oneself to neglect preparing for unfortunate potentialities and, instead, simply relish the moment. There’s a debilitating belief that doing so (truly living in the moment) will bring bad karma and cause the universe to punish you for being so happy. Hence, one develops a defense mechanism against being smacked back to the harsh reality of life.
Oftentimes, the general response from friends and family is simply, “don’t think so much!” This is truly easier said than done. It’s true that thinking too much (planning too much) causes analysis paralysis and eventually reaches the point of diminishing returns. So it’s that comfortable balance that one must reach, such as with everything else in life and nature.
Drowning in Ideas With No Action
After an exhaustive swing back through the States after spending 5.5 months in Europe, I reached Asia in desperate need of slowing down my mind. Yet, the pressure created by the Paradox of the Pivot only began to grow louder. I spent the initial weeks in Chiang Mai diving into books, such as The Work, Between the World and Me, The Millionaire Fastlane, and Weapons of Math Destruction.
In addition, I supplemented the books with endless hours spent browsing blog posts about business development, personal development, and financial planning, as well as had discussions with close friends regarding entrepreneurship ideas. But after several weeks of information consumption with limited resulting action, I decided to reduce the mental noise. I wanted to allow my mind to take a break and marinate on all that I had ingested.
(It just so happened that my point of over-saturation also occurred during the final blitz of the 2016 Presidential Election. So it was easy and necessary to take a break from all types of media consumption at that point. 🙂 )
Small Actions to Release the Pressure
I stepped back from the fray and allowed my mind to decompress. I dedicated time during my 30-minute Mondays to reflect on simple actions I could take to change my perspective and create more productive energy. Soon I began dedicating time during my day to “listen” to my thoughts and fears. I sought out opportunities to communicate and connect more with fellow digital nomads here in Chiang Mai to learn about their journeys, desires, and perspectives. And I slowly began releasing the internal pressure such that I could feel “limitless rather than limited.”
As the pressure subsided, I began to see the simple actions and opportunities that existed for me daily to disrupt my mental rhythm and engage in activities that slowly penetrated my defense mechanism. I soon found myself having drinks or dinner with like-minded individuals from all over the globe – US, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Costa Rica, Mexico, Turkey, Finland, the UK, and Denmark. I began to see the world from new perspectives and step out of my own head. In doing so, I was able to move away from my internal chaos and see it with a different focus. Almost like one does when they step farther and farther away from an abstract painting. There’s a certain point where the picture becomes clear but it requires you to adjust your perspective to see it.
So through these small actions, I began to feel the creative spark to write again – which always seems to make me come alive. I reflected on my thoughts about my beautiful, yet demanding return to the US, my initial experience transitioning to life in Asia, and eventually my deeper thoughts about the challenge of make significant shifts in one’s life. Days later, I spent afternoons walking through the majestic Wats (Buddhist temples) here in Chiang Mai and using the time to listen to my thoughts. Slowly, I began to find that there was one critical belief holding me back from living in the moment during this remarkable period in my life.
The Spirits Whisper to Me
During my visit to Italy in 2012, I had a spiritual experience. Though, while not religious in nature, I do find that the universe speaks to me at different times. At that particular time, I was over-stressed during my first week of intensive Italian language immersion in Bologna, in addition to having recently taken on a new client back in the States at the start of my second year of self-employment.
After nearly fainting while having my morning coffee at a café on my way to class that Friday, I went back to my apartment to rest rather than attend class. Later that day, I decided to take a train down to Rome to spend the weekend and get away from it all. While walking through the Vatican that Saturday, out of nowhere, I felt a calmness come over me and the following words echoed in my head,
No matter what happens, it’ll all be okay.
Those were the exact words that I needed to hear and they relaxed me in such a way that later that evening, my Italian seemed to flow out naturally as I sat at a sidewalk café chatting with random Romans and joking about how I’m always mistaken for Eddie Murphy. Once I returned to Bologna, my instructor immediately commented on how relaxed I seemed and how much better my language seemed to flow. Sometimes, we simply need to switch things up and listen to our thoughts to regain our balance.
Ironically, I experienced a similar calmness and realization after visiting three local Wats here in Chiang Mai – Wat Phra Singh, Wat Suan Dok, and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Though I didn’t have any words echo in my head during my walks through these magnificent shrines, I was able to experience a quietness that allowed me to listen to my thoughts and peel back the layers of the beliefs that were prohibiting me from feeling “limitless rather than limited.” Then on Thanksgiving Day 2016, after visiting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in the morning, I awoke from a midday nap with a sudden realization – though I am embarking on creating a new path in life, I’m relying on old/outdated directions to reach my new destination.
New Actions Require New Beliefs
If I am to reach new destinations, I need a new set of directions. Recognizing this doesn’t negate the fact that the old directions/heuristics allowed me to achieve success in the past. Yet, these same feelings and beliefs may not help me in the future if I continue to point myself in a direction that limits my potential or causes me to fear the opportunities (i.e. risks) of the future. It goes without saying that our thoughts and experiences shape our beliefs thereby affecting our actions. For substantive change to occur requires new experiences/thoughts to reshape beliefs thereby generating different actions/outcomes.
Though I won’t say in this post exactly what my limiting belief was, I can say that by realizing and confronting it, I have been able step away from the picture of my possibilities and see it in a clearer way. I am able to see that if I continue to fret about the future using thoughts, beliefs, and defense mechanisms from the past, I’ll never truly live in the moment and embrace the power of my new possibilities.
Behind the Pen: I62
I wrote the poem, I62, nearly 17 years ago while a senior in college. It starts with the phrase – In the midst of night at 1:19, I spun from my bed – which is exactly the time that I awoke the night of January 14, 2000 to begin writing the poem. A couple of hours later, when the words subsided and the pen stopped writing, I was left with a reflective piece that would resonate with me again after all these years. Furthermore, it’s a piece that truly illustrates the power of simply listening to your thoughts and living in the moment. The simple fact that I woke up at 1:19 AM that morning and allowed my creativity to stream from consciousness without inhibitions, shows me the power of my possibilities.
I never wish for anyone to experience the story written about in I62, but such is life that it has occurred to many. For those who know me well, know how much I admire the songwriting skills of Natalie Merchant. As I’ve mentioned many times before, she always been the most influential muse in my poetry. She has such a way of taking a very deep, dark, and painful topic and painting it with an optimistic tone. Such is the mood she created in two of my favorite songs by her – Frozen Charlotte and My Skin.
It is perhaps this mood and tenor that I attempted to capture with I62 – finding wisdom and hope in a dark and powerful life moment. Let’s hope that we can all use this story to find that wisdom rather than needing to be smacked by the harsh reality of life before we can truly cherish the moment.
In the midst of night at 1:19, I spun from my bed;
unable to relax my analysis of the things you said.
An hour ago, you laid here discussing your day.
And as you departed my home, I longed for you to stay.
But now I can’t long anymore, for you are gone
Gone from this world and gone forevermore.
If only that car had slowed as you headed home.
We might be here together, instead I live life alone.
How it was such torture for me when you were here,
I couldn’t bring myself to say, “I love you my dear.”
But it was not for lack of reason, but simply time.
For I unceasingly wished to wait until you ushered a sign.
Had I known the previous day when I awoke,
that this may have been the last time we spoke;
I would have revealed the desires I held to.
For this might have prevented your leave
And you would still be here with me
Rather than taking the drive home on I62.
Maybe if I kissed you before you left my apartment,
you wouldn’t be lying breathless on the dark cement.
Maybe if I held you longer before you left,
you would still be in my arms lying at rest.
But I can’t continue to ask these questions,
and I can’t continue to question God’s will.
For only one thing is for certain,
you are now in a place, where I can not feel.
I am unable feel your satin skin and warm hands,
I am unable feel anything of you, “Goddamn!”
I know I will go on to find a new love
but I will always think of you in heaven above.
In you I have learned to “Carpe Deum”
To live in life’s moments and truly seize them.
However, I can no longer reveal the desires I held to.
For this might have prevented my agony
And willingly prevented this tragedy;
Yet, our loving bond lay frozen on I62. – January 14, 2000
Want More – Hit Me Up
If you find this or any of my other work showcased in the “Behind the Pen” series interesting or inspiring, feel free to leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @Jarard29. I’ll happily provide an electronic copy of my entire book of poetry upon request. Be sure to check back from time to time for links to future releases and life stories.