Freedom

When in prison I dreamed of freedom. Freedom as I defined it then.  As I imagine so many of us would. Freedom of choice.  The ability to go where I want and do what I want. The freedom to take a walk and get lost. The freedom to drive with no particular place to go.  The freedom to eat at any time I choose. Not 6,11 and 4. Everyday. Freedom from time.

I have this freedom and experience it everyday. I am so grateful for it. I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences I have had and will continue to have. I am grateful to live in a world that begs to be explored.

It is within this regained freedom I have grown to understand there is an even greater freedom.

A freedom that I had never lost, but that I never fully realized I had.

The freedom from the demons that haunt me. The freedom to choose how I react.  The freedom to create.  The freedom to think. The freedom to love and forgive.  The freedom to let go.  Freedom from the past and regret. Two sides of the same coin.  Freedom from the future and the anxiety that is inextricably a part of what will happen next. The freedom from fear.The freedom to think beyond how I normally think. The freedom to write, paint, create and think in multiple dimensions.

Nobody can take that away from me. And nobody can give it to me either.

Freedom as I defined it in prison was reliant on time. The passing of seconds, minutes, hours and days. Freedom as I knew it could not be rushed. It could be deceived by following a routine, mini accomplishments throughout the day to signify the passing of time. But the seconds still ticked at the same pace. I was a captive of time.

Freedom as I see it now is reliant on me and directly proportional to the amount of work I put into it.  A journey into myself, one that must be honest and authentic. And with no expectation of a particular outcome.

I hold the key to this freedom.

I made the mistake of looking for the key in the pages I’ve read.  The subjects I study. Looking for that one word or practice that will let me cross over.  I seek the silver bullet that will take care of it all. The magic pill.

It does not work this way. The key is not found within the pages of books. It is not something to look for. It is something that is forged. Deep within.It is forged as the aggregate of every moment that has brought me to the most important moment. This moment. And then the next, and then the next.  It is hard work. And it is part of the journey.

This is for me to work on. However small the steps. Day after day.

Now that I am out of prison I am truly working on being free.

Craig

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

 

 

 

 

Broken Wings and Regrets

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

I opened the door to my apartment building and was greeted by a beautiful day. The morning sun peeking through the leaves, a gentle breeze washing over my skin. I had spent the morning doing what I enjoy. Meditating, writing, exercising.  I felt at ease, I felt as though anything was possible. I was present, there was no past or future. Just this moment.

I turned the corner on seventh and crossed the street to follow the shade.  In front of me on the sidewalk was sparrow. Just sitting there. Cute as could be. I said hello to her. She immediately reacted with fear and began in vain to get away from me. Her wings flapping furiously against the ground. A valiant effort against what I realized was a broken wing.

A death sentence.

I must have appeared as a predator bearing down for the kill. Taking advantage of Darwin’s laws of survival. Her broken wing trying so valiantly but going nowhere. Moving in circles, its small heart beating faster with every revolution. Her fear and helplessness mirroring my own. Through its desperate attempts she ended up in a pile of sand and garbage. A small cloud of dust emerging from her struggle.

She didn’t understand what was happening to her and the futility of her efforts. But she did not give up.

My heart broke. I wanted so badly to pick her up, to heal her. To comfort her. To make the pain and the fear go away. I spoke to her. I tried calming her. She didn’t understand. I didn’t understand.

With every attempt to get closer I drove her away and caused fear to grow. She hopped into the street, oncoming traffic not seeing or not caring about her. I used her fear to my advantage and guided her back to the curb, under a car. This poor little creature didn’t know my intentions. It didn’t understand the words coming out of my mouth. I was trying to calm her, to soothe her and let her know everything was going to be alright. Maybe I was trying to soothe myself.

I ended up leaving her.  My helplessness consuming me. The need to be on time for work a perfect excuse.  Nature will take its course and she will die.

This scene was played out in front of Greenwood cemetery, a haunting backdrop reinforcing the inevitability of death.  The impermanence of life.

I saw in this bird myself. I saw the connection of all living creatures. A broken animal just trying to fly. It being held to the ground by a broken bone, I being held to the ground by fear and self-doubt. Both of us trying to fly. Both of us trying to survive.

I woke up today thinking of her.  My eyes opened to the shadow of regret. I should have done more. I should have tried harder to save this creature. This creature that is made up of the same pieces of the stars and universe that I am.

But I didn’t.

The past became present and I was flooded with regrets of old. Should haves. I should have loved myself more, I should have known that I was enough. I should have known that spending money on things was nothing more than a short-lived high. That there would never, could never be enough. I was pouring all my possessions into a bottomless glass. With every purchase I was locking myself into my own prison. I did not own my things, they owned me.

I should have….

The birth of life was the birth of death. One does not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. Death gives purpose to life. To live a life of “I did” instead of “I should have…”.

With death comes regret. At the end of our life what will we do? Look back at all that we experienced and smile? Or look back at all that we missed?  I do not want my last breath to be one of regret.

The power to live whatever life I want is within my grasp. There is not one external thing that can prevent me from achieving anything I want. Not my past, not my criminal record. Not a damn thing.

Notice I said externally. My one barrier, and it is one that we all share, is myself. I am the roadblock. My fears, my self-doubt, the stories I make up in my head.

I know how, or I will figure out how to navigate any external roadblock I experience. But when it comes to myself, that is another story.

And I suppose that is part of the journey. A frustrating part, but an integral part. How badly do I want the life I want? What comforts am I willing to give up in the short-term to experience true unadulterated joy in the future?

What am I willing to do and what needs to be done to ensure I do not utter these words as life leaves my body?

“I wish….”

Craig

 

 

Finding my Voice

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” ― Shannon L. Alder

Just a couple of months ago I found my voice.  One of the most common means in which we communicate was gone. I thought of putting up “Lost” signs, but I don’t have a picture of my voice and I don’t know how to draw it.

When I was arrested, incarcerated, subsequently released my voice was lost.  A substitute voice taking its place. The register in which I spoke was altered.  My voice became soft and empty.  Sometimes it would vanish completely.  Hiding behind my lips, the words perched on my tongue like a child on the high dive.  Too afraid to jump.

 My voice had become a prisoner of the past. Locked in a cell, the bars made of guilt, shame, sadness and embarrassment.

Part of this was on purpose, a conscious change to separate myself from my actions. I was attempting to be a different person.  Speaking more softly, fading into the background. The words I spoke were spoken with genuine feeling, but they felt hollow.  The words came from the top of my throat, not from within.  I did not have the confidence to deliver them in the proper way.

My opinion no longer mattered. I was a criminal, I had no say.  I had to convey a feeling, a sense of being contrite. I owed, among other things, this debt to society.

I thought, and I still struggle with this idea:

That forgiving myself does not make me a bad person.

It is through time and moving forward that change occurs.  Within this time my voice has returned.  I don’t know how long its been back, nor does it matter. I wonder if those that know me even noticed a difference.

What matters is that I know it, that I feel it, that I can hear it. And it is good to hear and feel. The reverberations through my chest, my words coming from deep inside.  Sometimes I am caught off guard by it. I have my hiccups, my voice faltering at times.  When the ghosts of the past permeate my thoughts the bars of the prison grow and push my voice back into the cell.

There are so many facets to dealing with adversity and growth through pain.  But finding my voice has been an important step.  For two reasons:

1. Not having my voice taught me to listen. To truly listen. To be present in the moment and listen to what is being said. Not how will I sound intelligent or funny the second the other persons lips stop moving.  Pay attention to the next time you are speaking with someone. You will look at their lips and hear the sound of their voice. You speak the split second there is pause in the movement of the lips. This isn’t listening. This is thinking. I am in no way great at this, but it has pointed me in the right direction.

Also, if you’re talking to me and you see me take a deep breath I am not sighing out of boredom. I am focusing on my breath to bring me back to the present moment and what is being said. Probably doesn’t look great from the outside though.

2.  Your words matter. What you think matters. Through listening you learn to speak deliberately with thought and meaning.  Speak your mind, be honest and authentic.  Once words are spoken they exist in the universe for eternity.  They cannot be taken back, the sound waves travel to the furthest reaches of the universe and beyond.

It’s so important in the healing process to find your voice. To not hide behind a voice of guilt, sadness or shame or whatever imprisons you.

I will share a couple of ways I got my voice back.

First, writing this blog. The act of writing, for me at least, is a silent task. My mouth closed tightly as I type, my lips pursed. But these are my words and they are being spoken through my fingers.  There is great power in that.  Whether you write free hand or type, your words are being expressed.  And I have written this before, but this is key: hit the publish button. Share your work. Be heard.

Second, and this may seem silly, but I don’t care.

“Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of my favorite songs. Top five at least.  The words carry so much meaning to me and have accompanied me as I walk this path.  I want to be able to sing this song and sing it well.  Most likely my only venue for performing would be karaoke.  I have a tremendous fear of performing karaoke. It combines two elements I have a fear of; public speaking and performing.

Which means I have to do it.

So I practice.  I sing along as I read the lyrics on YouTube. I sing in the shower.  Original I know.

Through this practice my voice grew.  The voice I wanted to speak with and sing with slowly started to emerge.  Chipping away at the bars that held it back.  I could hear my voice under all of the layers of emotion it was trapped behind.  It wanted to be heard.

Practicing and continuing I was able to find that voice.  Spoken now more genuinely than before the arrest.  I walk taller and with purpose.

“Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself

Follow your heart and nothing else” – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Your voice does not have to be the sound that comes from your mouth. Your voice is you, and however you communicate who you really are. Writing, dancing, painting, playing an instrument.  Whatever is inside of you that needs to come out and be shared.

That is your voice.

So, sing your songs, dance your dance, write as if you will die tomorrow, throw paint on the canvas of life.  Don’t worry what others will think.

Find your voice, it’s in you.

Craig

I am not a Number

Having completed my twenty-four month sentence in Federal prison I am at the beginning stages of supervised release. Essentially probation. My supervised release will run for a period of three years.  During this time I will report to a probation officer.  As part of this process I am required to complete financial disclosure documents.  I understand why I have to do this and accept the responsibilities of my actions.

I received the documents during my initial visit to the probation office.  I didn’t really look at them at the time.  When I got home I decided to start working on them. Grabbing my pen I turned the page and found myself staring into the past.

These were the same forms I was required to fill out before I was sentenced to prison.

Instantly I was transported back in time. Fear and uncertainty shadowing my every step.   The dark cloud of prison looming over me. Moments of joy snuffed out like a candle in the wind.  Unaware of where I would be going, my safety a perpetual concern.  I feared that I had permanently destroyed my life and I would never recover.  As I filled out the documents I was consumed by the same exact feelings I had two years ago.

Shame. Guilt. Sadness. Embarrassment. Self-loathing. Worthlessness

My heart rate increased and my breathing became labored. A panic attack only a few pen strokes away.  I would put the form down, the pressure too much. The memories so strong and powerful. The emotions as clear as the day I first felt them.  The gigantic hole that I have worked so diligently to fill returned. I felt empty inside.  My confidence shattered.

After a week of torment I finished the documents. Only to find out that I did not have to.  The week of anxiety didn’t need to happen. I was relieved and pissed.

I have been asked to complete the forms again.  My heart skipped a beat, my breath became shallow. My initial reaction a carbon copy of the first time.

The forms are very detailed.  How much to the penny do you make, how much do you spend and what do you spend it on?  Individual lines for each and every expense, groceries, phone, clothing, transportation, everything.  A financial dissection of ones life.

I have an acquaintance who is buying a home. She is filling out similar paperwork, but obviously for much different reasons.  Every expense under a microscope, your every purchase analyzed.  We commiserated about the process. About how we feel that we are letting somebody see us in a way most people don’t.

She said how she had put her entire life on those pages.   I agreed with her. I think so many of us who have filled out similar forms have felt this way.

Exposed and vulnerable.  Pulling back the curtain.

How quickly a life can be distilled from all that is into nothing more than a number.

This is how I am being viewed and this how I have viewed myself. I have been complicit in this myopic viewpoint.

So many of us have. So many of us have filled out similar paperwork for whatever reason. We feel exposed as though we are showing our true selves to whomever is on the receiving end of the form.  All because of a number, we fall prey to the judgments of ourselves and the judgments of others. A competitive measuring stick, in a competition that can never be won.

In prison I was a number, 22052-014. I didn’t like it.  Now as a free man I once again find myself being perceived as a number.  So many of us fall into this trap.  It might not be a number written on paper, but the car in our garage, the watch on our wrist or the clothes we wear.

When did we take such a wrong turn in associating our identity and self-worth with how much we make? And in turn how we spend that money?  When did a number and things become who we are?

I have been working diligently to change this perception of myself. To fill myself from the inside and not seek external things to fill the holes inside of me.  It’s a long road, but one worth walking.

I cannot change the perception of others, nor do I want to try. Whoever wants to view me this way can view me this way. Who ever wants to judge my current self against my past self can.

This train of thought has led me to the eternal question:

Who are we and why are we here?

I don’t know the answer to this question. How many people do?

But what I know is this:

These numbers are not me. What I wear, what I drive, where I live are not me. They are not a snapshot of who I am.  They are merely things.

Providing details of what I make and how I spend it may feel personal, but it shouldn’t. This is not being exposed. This is not what matters in life. This is not who I am.  Being authentic, being honest, sharing your fears, your loves, your ideas, your passions.  Writing, painting, singing, doing work you love, opening your soul and showing your true self, warts and all. Experiencing life, not purchasing life. This is being exposed. And through this exposure comes courage.  This is what is important in life.

I am a guy who is trying to keep his head above water. I am a guy who is scared of plenty of thing.  I try everyday to do something I enjoy. To add whatever value, big or small to this world that I can.  Trying everyday to help somebody. Stranger, friend or loved one.  Some days I succeed and other days I fail. But I will approach each new day and try again.

I am not my past.

I am not a number.

I am a free man.

Craig

Mind and Body

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha

I leave my house. Running shoes tied tight. Final stretches complete.  One foot in front of the other. My pace is slow, my muscles tight.  My Achilles heel reminding me of its presence with every step.

I start down 7th as I always do. I decide to take a right, up the hill towards 8th. I cross over 8th and decide to head towards 9th. A spur of the moment decision. Arriving at 9th I see there is no 9th. It is Prospect Park West.

I’m not sure where I am and decide to go left. My sense of direction notoriously bad. In a few short blocks I find myself at the entrance of Prospect Park. Surprised that I live this close to the park.  Excited that this world just opened up to me.  Another reminder of my freedom. A reminder to not take for granted the choice to go left or to go right.

I love parks. Always have. I love being out in nature. I enjoy the city but miss the suburbs for their open spaces, wooded preserves. Being alone with nature. So grounding. A reminder of how beautiful the world is. A reminder of how small we are. A reminder that we are all connected.

I run into the park, almost unsure of what to do with my new-found discovery.  My mind still trapped within the confines of routine. Trying to process the possibilities of my expanded boundaries.  Even with freedom I find myself occasionally trapped.  The mind a powerful prison. Its bars imaginary, yet so strong.

Fears, insecurities, the shadow of the past, the glare of the future.

I see a pine tree branch, it runs parallel to the ground. Ideal for pull-ups. My workout begins. Pull-ups, push-ups, dips on the park benches, jump squats on a box by the softball field, bear crawls between light posts. Focusing on each pull, each push, each step and jump. Each contraction of muscle. My heart pumping, my lungs breathing deeply. Sweat forming on my forehead and chest.  My shirt becoming heavy.

There are no prison walls. There are no bills to pay, no anxiety, no divorces, no money troubles.  The past and the future cease to exist.

It is only me. My mind and body a unified entity with a single goal. The completion of another rep. Pushing myself. Feeling the blood flow to the muscles as they work. Each rep a victory. Each rep a mantra keeping me focused on the task at hand. I feel no pressure. I feel no regret for the past or worry for the future. Only this present moment and each contraction of muscles.

I am within a bustling city and yet alone in the woods. Not afraid of being by myself. Quite the opposite. Embracing myself, feeling at ease through the pain. The pain that only exercise can bring and the pain that those that exercise crave.

The last rep complete, my breath returning to normal, my veins popping from my arms. I leave the park.

Victorious.

I walk home, enjoying the new neighborhood. Realizing it is on my checklist of places I wanted to see.  There is a brownstone, covered by trees, a small fish pond in the front. The sound of the water trickling down makes me smile. I like this home. I like that I can stop in front of it and admire it.

Freedom.

Not just physically, but from my mind. Different pathways opened, old ones closed.

Exercise and freedom. So powerful together. I will do this again. But not the same way. A different path, a different routine. Ruts are so easy to get into and follow. Even more difficult to get out of.

Best not to get in them in the first place.

This is the path back to who I am. This is the path forward to who I want to become. This is part of the journey that will set me free.

Move the body. Expand the mind.

Life is not a Fairy Tale

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

“Life is not a fairy tale.”

I knew somebody who used to say this. She said it in reference to the life I was living. The over the top, seemingly glamorous life of wining, dining and buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

Flying as high as I could possibly go.  Nothing could bring me down. I flew higher and higher, ignoring the ground beneath me. Nobody knowing that I was flying on the wings of fear, insecurity and unworthiness.  I didn’t know that, how could anyone else?

And then the arrest.  My wings clipped I came crashing to the ground.

I went to prison. My wife divorced me. I am financially ruined. I will forever be labeled as a criminal.

Life is not a fairy tale.

And yet, even with all that I have experienced I would argue differently.

Life is a fairy tale.

We have a common misconception of the fairy tale. In the Americanized version there is always a happy ending.  But, there are more than one type of fairy tale.  In the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, in their original unadulterated form, there is sadness,violence, loss and tragedy.

Bad things happen.

The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson did not talk down to children. They did not sanitize their words to make them safer and to shield children from the harsh realities of the world.

What they did was teach children that it is not the tragedy that matters, but the importance of how one navigates through tragedy.

This is where strength is grown. This is where character is created. This is where one finds out who they really are.

It is through tragedy and adversity where resilience is born. It is through tragedy and adversity where we learn that both the worst of life and the best of life can come from the same source.

Pixar has a formula in which they model every one of their stories around. It is simple in its overall premise, complex when you actually think about it and go through the steps your self.

There are three acts to a Pixar story:

Act 1: The protagonist is called to adventure and accepts the adventure.  The rules of the world are established, and the end of Act 1 is in the inciting incident.

Act 2: The protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem. By the climax , they learn what it is really going to take to solve the problem. This act includes the lowest of the low.

Act 3: The protagonist needs to prove they have learned the lesson, usually showing a willingness to prove this at all costs. This is all about redemption – an enlightened character knowing what to do to resolve a conflict.

These three acts are heavily based on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.  The hero’s inner journey is as follows:

 

  1. Limited awareness of problem
  2. Increased awareness of need for change
  3. Fear, Resistance to change
  4. Overcoming Fear
  5. Committing to Change
  6. Experimenting with new conditions
  7. Preparing for major change
  8. Big change with feeling of life and death
  9. Accepting consequences of new life
  10. New challenge and Re dedication
  11. Final attempts, last-minute dangers
  12. Mastery

 

I am using this as a narrative tool of my journey, I am in no way referring to myself as a hero.

In the Pixar scenario I am in Act 2. In Campbell’s inner journey I vacillate between the middle numbers. I am still resistant to some change while I am also committed to change.  I am still overcoming fear. I am experimenting with new conditions.

But what I am realizing is that it does not matter where I am in the journey.

What matters is the journey itself.

I don’t know if there will be a happy ending. Nor does that matter.  I am not looking for a happy ending. Why would I look so far into the future, one in which anything can happen, at an ending I cannot predict when so much magic is happening right now?  I’d like to think that by doing what I am doing now that I will have some impact on my future and that it will be a happy one. But, in reality, I don’t know.

But what I do know is this.  It is about now. This moment. And at this exact moment I am writing this, and I am doing something I love. That is what matters.

Both Pixar and The Hero’s Journey have happy endings. The fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson seemingly do not. I would make the case that they do.

To understand that the beautiful and the horrible can both come from the same source is powerful.  That to navigate through adversity and come out stronger on the other side is transformative.

It is what you do with your circumstances that matters, not the circumstances.  It is enjoying the journey and experiencing all that you can that matters.

That is a happy ending to me.

Craig