A Lesson Learned in a Virtual World

“Through a painting we see the whole world.” – Hans Hoffman

Recently I had an opportunity to experience virtual reality at Jump Into the Light in the East Village. A incredible journey into what is going to be a world changing technology on par with the car, the airplane and the computer.  I highly suggest it, check it out here: jumpintothelight.com

One of the experiences was painting in the virtual world. I put the headset on and was transported to a three dimensional solid black existence. Like walking in space. My only real barriers were when my physical body would get too close to a physical wall and an artificial  wall appeared in my virtual world. A gentle warning so I didn’t take another step. An ingenious safety feature as you explore the virtual world.  Other than that, I felt as though I was in an infinite space.  An interesting feeling for someone who at this time last year was locked up.

I had a controller in each hand, these were my brushes. I was ready to go. I began to paint, experimenting with the brushes and colors. Each brushstroke appearing on a laptop for those outside of my virtual world to see. A window into my creation.

With any art, there are infinite possibilities. The only limitations are our own minds. How we perceive the way to do something and how we have done it before. Even if it is something we have never done before, we still have a perception of how it is done.  Things we have seen or heard all resting in our mind, ready to be called forth when needed.

This led the gentlemen in charge of the VR painting experience to an interesting realization.

With a wide open space surrounding us we still stand in front of an imaginary canvas and paint. We paint in two dimensions.  So ingrained in our brains is how we do certain things. Or almost everything for that matter. There is a right way, the normal way, the safe way. Anything that falls beyond that feels wrong so we don’t do it. Or, it does not even occur to us. Our neural pathways set in stone.  Shutting off possibilities.

What an incredible freedom to realize I could paint the sky, the floor, three-hundred and sixty degrees around me. Enveloping myself in what I created. I could walk through my art and see it from the other side.  I use the term art loosely, scribbles and doodles is more accurate.

And isn’t that what life really is? Walking through the multi-dimensional canvas that is all around us, exploring every corner that we can? Adding our contribution as we go along? Allowing the world to paint us, and in turn painting the world with ourselves.

I am a paint by numbers and within the lines kind of guy. I am used to moving in a linear fashion. Moving straight through a world of twists and turns. A world of bumps and potholes. Getting upset when the inevitable turn or bump comes along. Not embracing it for what it is.

A chance to learn, a chance to grow.

While in the virtual world I could feel a new pathway being dug, the old pathway resisting but eventually giving way. The excitement and fun too powerful.

I hope I can take this moment, this education and move through my life differently. I hope I can look at something I have seen a thousand times and see it as though I am seeing it for the first time.  I hope to question that which I think I know. I hope to create new neural pathways. And when those have been traveled and worn down to the ground, I hope I am able to realize it and start a new path. A new way.

It took a lesson learned in a virtual world to teach me about the real world.

 

The Storm

A day like any other day. Nothing different, so much the same. The mind a constant river of thoughts, endless and powerful. Me standing on the shore watching them all pass.

Until that one thought, that one dark thought, comes floating along.  The river stops as if frozen in time. I am helpless as I watch the scene unfold. I cannot escape it.

The sky becomes dark, foreboding. The once bright sun hidden behind the clouds of sadness, self-doubt, fear, and unworthiness.  The winds grow strong with tornado force, destroying everything in their path, my feet cemented to the ground.  Forced to watch the damage take place. My world shrinks as the clouds grow heavy and fall to the ground. I am surrounded, the horizon a distant memory. The cold fog clinging to my skin.

I am sad. I am filled with self-doubt. I am not worthy of being loved, being happy, experiencing success or forgiving myself. I question all that I have done, and all that I dream of doing. The voice of negativity dancing in the wind, whispering in my ear.

I catch myself, bring myself back to reality. To the present moment. To walking down Prospect Park West.  My yoga practice in the park a distant memory.  The subjectivity of time a glaring reality. Five minutes becoming a lifetime ago within a moment of thought.

What was just a powerful tornado ripping through the village of my mind is now gone. The air is calm, but the damage remains. The sky filled with the electricity of the storm, the fog still clinging to my skin.

How quickly and how damaging a thought can be. I would like to share the thought that brought me here, but I cannot.  I do not remember what caused the tornado. What has now stained my thoughts with fear, sadness, self-doubt and unworthiness.  The power of a thought to cast a shadow on all other thoughts, yet the thought itself so insignificant that it does not remain.

I think to all that I have read, that I have studied. I remember that I am not my thoughts. I think of every positive trick, tool, anything to snap me out of it. The negativity senses this and tightens its grip around my thoughts. It’s as though my mind wants to be this way.  My mind wants to feel sad, content to walk through the wreckage.  A penance to be paid for the past.  A battle between wanting to snap out of it and wallowing begins.  Wallowing is winning.  Fear, sadness, self-doubt and unworthiness just too strong.

I resign myself that today is just going to be one of those days.

Athena is sitting on my notebook. Our morning routine has begun. Her purring vibrating through the counter top. She chews my pen as I attempt to write, perhaps assisting or casting criticism on my work. The words are flowing, but the shadow of self-doubt is in the ink of every word. I stop writing for a moment. I look into her green eyes.  She is happy. She is content.

I feel a swelling in my heart. I feel the stain of fear, sadness, self-doubt and unworthiness getting washed away. I feel that I am worthy of achieving my goals, of being happy of experiencing success, of leaving my past in the past.

There are no tricks, hacks, tools or things that can be learned from a book to get out of the black hole of negative thoughts.

There is only love.

Love for another, love for yourself, love of an animal. Love of what whatever makes you happy.

Not always the easiest to remember when the tornado is ripping through your mind.

I’m back on the shore, watching the river flow.  The currents dance over the river rocks. Shaping them over time. The sound melodic, hypnotizing.  The clouds have parted and the sun is shining. My skin warm.  My world is wide open, the horizon all around me.

I know the current will grow strong again, I know another storm will come. I know time will freeze and engulf me in the fog of negativity. And that is OK.

I’m going to enjoy the sun for now.

Craig

Life

What do I truly want my life to be?

Realistically and honestly.

What do I want?

This is not an easy question to answer.  For the very reason that it seems so easy to answer. There are answers we all have to this question. The gut reaction, default answers that reside in the front of the brain.  Usually consisting of things, expensive things. The idea of things. Things with a brand name, a cache.

Things are not life.

Recently I was having dinner outside in the Meatpacking District. Two Lamborghini’s pulled up just a few feet from where we were sitting. Ask me what I want at that moment and I would have said, with finger pointed, “That.”

Walking to the park the other day I passed a row of brownstones that I think are amazing. Slightly different design than the standard brownstone. Just beautiful. Ask me what I want as I gaze at them, and again I would point and say, “That.”

Neither of these answers were correct. It has nothing to do with the car or home itself. They were beautiful. But not what I want. In a previous life I chased and pursued these. Chasing a heroin high that would never be enough. They were the default, easy to go to answer.

Why is this? Why, when you ask the majority of people what they want, do they say?

“A Mercedes, a mansion, a Rolex, a Birkin bag, I want to be Rich.”

Et cerera and so on.

Why is this the default mindset of so many, myself included?

Is it the years of “should” drilled into our brains? I should do this, which should lead to that, which should make me happy. 1+1+1=Happiness.

If I buy this car it will make me happy. This watch will make me happy. These shoes will make me happy.  They will until they don’t. They will until the next years model comes out, they will until something better comes along.

When thinking about what I truly want in life I realize it is not things. And yet I still readily fall into it. I just told you I wanted a Lamborghini and a brownstone in Park Slope.  Not small purchases.  Particularly for a guy two million in debt.

Saying it didn’t sit right.  Those were not the right answer to a difficult question. Which is what led me to ask this question.  It is easy to point externally at what you want as opposed to looking internally at what we want, what we should do, what we need to do.

In order to find what is inside we have to dig deep into our minds and hearts and be honest with ourselves. We have dig past the obstacles we find but rarely do. The work is too hard.  Especially when there are answers so readily available.

I used to do landscaping as a living. I have planted hundreds of trees in my life. The homeowner would show me where they wanted their tree planted and I would trace a circle in the grass outlining where I would dig.  Shovel in hand and a pick at the ready I would break ground. Living in the Northeast the glaciers left behind a plethora of rocks in the soil.  I would inevitably strike one of them or a root.  I would chip away, little by little until the obstruction was removed and the tree placed in its new home.  I had very little choice but to do whatever was needed to place the tree where the owner requested. I had to dig.

We don’t do that when it comes to ourselves, but we should.  We start digging, hit our  personal obstacle, and then place the dirt back into the hole. Covering up the obstacle as if it never existed. That level of introspection is difficult.  The truth is hard to uncover and maybe most frightening of all – to start.

After we hit the obstacle we look back to our current lives, but now with a different lens. The lens is now tinted with fear and rationalization.  Why did we start digging? Why did we question what we are doing?  How we spend our time? Life is just fine the way it is.

We’re afraid to truly answer the question because we are afraid we won’t be able to fulfill what is we truly want. Too afraid to uncover the truth about ourselves. Pulling the veil of status quo over our eyes. Life is OK, who am I to ask for more?

Fear of our family and friends judging us for pursuing what it is we truly want.  Society looking poorly on those that don’t follow the normal path.  Those who don’t want the normal things.

Steady job, nice car, nice house.

There is security in those things. And security is nice.  There is a place for security.  But to grow, to understand what it is you truly want, you have to let that security go.

I feel as though there are two schools of thought around work and how we spend our daytime hours.  There are websites dedicated to both, businesses have been created on the shoulders of these two schools.

The older, but still very prevalent school of thought is focused around the 9-5 job. Go to school, intern, get hired and strive for the corner office.  Websites dedicated to maximizing your weekday productivity, impressing the boss and how to enjoy your weekend to the fullest.

The current de rigeur, and gaining momentum everyday, school of thought is around finding your passion.  Being an entrepreneur.

The word has been bandied about so much it has become diluted.

I am not knocking this, I think this is great. It is inspirational seeing so many people pursuing their own path.  I like the way James Altucher frames it when he discusses Choosing Yourself.  I am trying, but it is not easy.

As with anything in life there is a flip side of the coin for both of these options.

Society brainwashing us into what our life is supposed to look like. Judging poorly those that have the courage to say I don’t want to work 9-5 in an office. I want to work a couple of hours a day and spend more time with my family, with my friends, surfing, hiking. Whatever.

And on the other side, I feel as though there is a backlash forming if you don’t know what your passion is and you don’t go for it. So you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. So, as most people do when faced with such a conundrum we do the easiest thing.

Nothing.

Thereby missing the opportunity to learn what it is we truly want.

There is one chapter of Ryan Holidays new book, Ego is the Enemy that stands out in my mind as I write this.  Ryan Holiday is an extremely gifted writer, and this chapter really made me think.  He suggests that instead of finding ones passion we should take it a step further and find our purpose.

Holy crap what did I just do? Passion is hard enough to find and pursue. Now I have to find purpose? How the hell am I supposed to do that?

Which leads back to the question that has been weighing on me.  What do I want my life to be?

It’s so much more than pursuing happiness. I want fulfillment. Doing something that fills me from the inside. This will lead to happiness. But happiness is not the goal. Happiness is the emotion at the top of the sundae. I want to the good stuff at the bottom. I want to know I helped. I made a difference. I would like to serve something higher than myself.

I’ve learned a couple of things about myself as a result of my actions. Life is short.  I do not want to spend it at an office hunched over a laptop staring at a spreadsheet.  I do not want to have a Monday morning conference call with the sales team to discuss my forecast for the month, quarter and year.

And in a sense I’m lucky, that will probably never happen again. Criminal record and all. But I still find myself in a unfulfilling job beholden to the paycheck. The security blanket warm and cozy, protecting me from the cold of bills and financial responsibilities.

I don’t know what my purpose is. But I know this. I don’t want to spend 50 hours a week doing something that doesn’t fulfill me. 1/3 of my life wasted. I don’t want that.  It scares the hell out of me. I’m lucky, I don’t have the accumulation of so much that I feel I have to maintain. I’ve learned to live with less and as such have less to hold onto to. And in turn less that holds onto me.

The more you have the more that has you.  Levels are reached and need to be maintained and then exceeded.  Things take over .

Some of those things are necessary and others are not. We merely think they are. They are things and giving weight and power to them takes away at the beauty of life. We have responsibilities, but we have another that is so often overlooked. The responsibility to ourselves. It is not selfish. Quite the opposite. Fulfilling yourself, doing what brings you joy only serves to make you a better father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend.

Human.

It is so easy to write all of this, the encouraging books and articles I’ve consumed coming out in my own verbiage. A parrot reciting what I’ve been told. But the how, that still alludes me.

Or does it?

I think I need to be more compassionate and honest with myself and understand that I am doing it. I am executing on the “how” with every word I type.  It is taking this knowledge and then improving on it everyday. Not to achieve anything other than challenging myself to improve. There is no prize. This is not about success. This is not about doing better than my contemporaries.

This is about doing better than I did the day before.

Lately I have been feeling as though I’ve been missing an opportunity with this blog. I have trouble articulating what I feel is missing. As I write I can feel it.

It is like kicking something under the couch. You get down on your hands and knees, peer under the couch, remind yourself that you should vacuum under there one day, see the object you are looking for and reach your hand only to feel your fingertips brush against it. So close and yet so far. You position yourself differently, stretch your arm even further, your shoulder straining your fingers as long as you can make them. Only to knock it further away. That is how I feel with this blog.

I feel as though by reaching inside of me to find the words I write there are more, better words just out of my reach. And it’s not words. They are emotions, feelings, who I am truly am. I don’t know if you sense this as you read. But I feel it as I write. So frustrating. My words and emotions getting pushed out of reach behind the couch.

So my challenge, everyday, is to keep reaching for those words.To dig deeper and deeper into my soul and share what I find. A painful but necessary part of the process. I fear sharing what is in there.  But writing, truly great writing is the result of the author purposefully cutting themselves open and pouring the contents on the pages. Any art is this way.  Any business that you are passionate about is this way.

It’s taking what is inside of you, your deepest fears, your darkest confessions, your most joyful, your most intimate and casting it into the world. Emotions that we are normally taught to keep within, shared in small doses with those we trust, those we love. It is completely counter-intuitive to expose oneself in this way.

I’ve read so much on how to live a fulfilling life and finding your passion.  The words encourage me, and  helped me through adversity. I read and read. I am a  voracious consumer of information on how to improve. But with all that I have read I find myself standing at a dead-end. The path no longer laid out in front of me. A wide open space in front of me as far as the eyes can see.

Infinite possibilities. But no road.

I still enjoy the words I read but they no longer pave the way. I grow frustrated. So I did what most of us would do. I double downed. I sought more information, more articles, more motivation, something, anything, to consume to continue laying the bricks in front of me.

It didn’t work. I grew more frustrated. More disillusioned at the process of finding my passion, my purpose. I grew frustrated at the words themselves. Staring back at me from the screen, no longer providing me with what I needed, what I crave. I was running in place at the end of the path. Wanting so badly to continue forward into the wide open space.

From this frustration came the next brick. That next brick was made up of, “F–k it, I will do it myself.” That brick consisted of the realization that my frustration was not with the words and articles I was reading but rather what I expected from them.  I expected them to pave the way. I expected the words to do the work.

I am very thankful for all that I have read and the guidance that was provided.  I am thankful they provided me with the tools I need to build the rest of the road. To forge my own path.  But the rest of it, the real work, that needs to come from me.

I will continue to read, to consume, but not merely for the sake of reading and consuming. For the purpose of doing. And for realizing I have been doing. But I grew stagnant and expected external circumstances to impact my internal well-being.

I want more from myself and what I write and how I live life.

I’m still sticking my arm under the sofa, my fingers just barely touching what is just outside my reach.

And maybe that’s it. I can’t grab that which I cannot articulate.

What is it exactly? What is my purpose in writing this blog? Right off the top of my head it allows me to do what I enjoy. Writing. Secondly, it get me out of my comfort zone by hitting publish.

But these are self-serving, selfish reasons.

Really thinking about it I want what I write to help at least one person. And maybe that person goes out and helps someone else. I want people to enjoy what I write, I want them to be happy they spent a couple of minutes of their time. I want to share and dig deep enough that I touch on the subjects many of us bury inside of ourselves, too afraid to discuss and share. I want people to know we are all connected, that we share so much of the same troubles. That we are not alone.

So, what do I want?

I don’t know. My fingers are still just missing the emotions. I’m still struggling. But I have the tools, I have the desire, now I just need to lay the next brick.

And then the next, and the next and the next.

 

This was longer than usual, I hope you found it worth the time.

Craig

“Hi, I’m a criminal.”

I’m still learning to cope with the aftermath of my actions.  I give my story more weight than it needs or really deserves. I judge myself so harshly I automatically assume others will do the same. It makes connection difficult. I don’t want to take relationships past a certain point. The fear of duping someone into liking me only to find out I’m a criminal. That I served time. That to use the words recently spoken to me, “society needs to be protected from you”.

We don’t meet new people and feel the need to divulge our past discretion’s as a means to be accepted by them.

“Hi! My name is John and I cheated on my girlfriend. Nice to meet you!”

“I’m Amy, nice to meet you. I shoplifted when I was a teenager.”

“Hey I’m Craig.  Before this friendship goes any further you should know I am a white-collar criminal. You OK with that? Great! Let’s grab a drink.”

This doesn’t happen and it sounds ridiculous. And a little funny.  Imagine if we all wore name tags with our past written on them.

And yet, with every developing relationship I feel compelled to share. That with every word spoken I am travelling further down a path that feels like an impending betrayal.  As the relationship grows so does my desire to share, but also my reluctance.  At a certain point a critical mass , in my mind only, is created and then sharing becomes more difficult.

It is when I have something to lose that I feel most lost. The risk of losing what I desperately miss. Connection. I feel like an outsider looking in. Looking in at what exactly? As far as I can tell the door is always open. I am choosing which side of it I stand on. I’m the one who puts myself on the outside.

And for every time I have crossed that threshold and shared not once have I been asked to leave, to go back outside.  Nobody has judged me poorly.  Nobody has grabbed their things and run to the hills screaming in fear. Not that I want that, but it would be funny to see.  I have been met with nothing but kindness, understanding and compassion.  I have been met with fist bumps and high fives.

My desire to share is two-fold. One is to be open and honest. To ensure that people know what they are getting into. The other is to own my story. To not hide behind it, sweeping it under the carpet for nobody to see.  My story does not define me, but I am using this experience to redefine me.

I have to remember some critical things. That I am not my past. None of us are. I am my actions. What I do now and with each day.  I have written similar words before, but when will I start believing them for myself?

And I think it is good to own my story. To accept responsibility for my actions and not hide behind the veil of omission.

I enjoy writing for so many reasons, but one of them is the Ah-ha! moments I get when I put my words on paper or the screen. The epiphanies that come from working through the myriad of thoughts racing through my brain.

I just realized, that by writing this post, by thinking so much about the need to share and the fear of impending betrayal the past and my story cast a shadow on all that I do.  By worrying about a future outcome that has yet to manifest itself I am missing the present moment and the beauty of new friendships.

In wanting so badly to own my story, the story in fact still owns me.

I am not sure how to reconcile that in my mind, all of this is so new to me. But it is part of the journey and I am learning to embrace every part of it.

Thank you as always for reading.

Craig