The Darkness

The darkness came back last night. With a vengeance. The cage that held it back unlocked by two margaritas and a Corona. Sitting at the edge of my couch. My body tense. My hands squeezing my temples as I screamed.  I could feel the darkness tearing away at my brain. Tears flowing down my face. Begging for the pain to stop. Begging to not feel this way.  I would have welcomed death at that moment.  Not because of the pain, but because I feared I would do this to myself again. And again. That all of my hard work would be so quickly discarded and I would allow alcohol and the darkness to rule my life.  That no matter how much work I do, all it takes is the smallest misstep to take it all down.  I wanted so badly to call someone for help, but didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.

Truth be told, I did not feel worthy of help.

I tried to remember all that I have practiced and developed over the past two years.  My saving graces that pulled me from the darkness and shaped my mind into what it is today. A brain that is closer to my child’s mind than ever before. Clear, open, confident and present. I wanted to show myself compassion and love. Now more than ever I needed it. I went to the mirror and told the face looking back at me that I loved him. I did not recognize the face. I did not know the person staring back at me. His eyes were a different color than mine, his skin a different tone.  I was scared of him.

I wanted to tear off the skin I was wearing, to crawl out from the shell that was encapsulating me.

This is not want I wanted for the night. I had merely wanted to enjoy my new found freedom. I wanted to stop at a neighborhood bar, one that I had walked by before when I could not go in.  My ankle bracelet making me a spectator of the fun going on inside. I wanted to partake in an activity I had done thousands of nights before. One that in the past had brought me joy. Last night there was no joy. There was the opposite. There was a vacuum, sucking all that was good away and pulling the darkness in to take its place.

Alcohol had always given me confidence, allowed me to find my voice. Last night the alcohol muted my voice, it chipped away at my confidence. Writing this now do I see a positive out of all of this. I do not need anything to make me feel confident.

I am confident. I found my voice. And I don’t ever want to lose it.

My mind is my greatest asset. But it balances on a precipice. Dangling at the cliffs edge.  So much work and time to keep it safe, so little to push it over the edge. I feel an impetus to complete my book and any other work I have before it falls off the cliff and into the dark abyss below. I fear the cliffs edge, but don’t know how to walk away from it.

I have been working on another post for almost two weeks now. The words have been eluding me. I wrote this instead. It is not uplifting, it is not a part of my one percent for today. I’ve barely edited this, I don’t know if it will make sense to anybody reading it.

It is raw and it is what I experienced.

It is my truth and it is my fear.

Experimenting

Experimenting.  A test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth, to examine the validity of a hypothesis, or to determine the efficacy of something previously untried. The process of conducting such a test; experimentation. An innovative act or procedure.

Experimenting, as I mean it here, focuses on these lines of the definition;  to determine the efficacy of something previously untried. An innovative act or procedure.

When do we stop experimenting? Why do we do stop experimenting? When do we become afraid of experimenting?

There comes a point in life when we stop trying new things.  When we do this our mind shrinks. Our mind is like a muscle that needs to be exercised, otherwise it will atrophy. When our mind shrinks, our world shrinks.  We do not realize that our world has shrunk, it happens over time and subtlety.  We become comfortable and complacent. We make it through each day and often that is enough.

Our routines and what we know become the boundaries around our mind.  We are safe within the confines of our boundaries, why would we ever leave?  This is how I do “X”, this is what I do on Friday, this is where I go on vacation, this is what I do and this is what I know.  Every time we say or do these things the boundaries we put up around ourselves are drawn closer, an ever tightening circle.  We shut off possibilities.  We choose not to view life and the world in its entirety.

Ask my friends about me and routine. They will tell you I was the King of routine. They would be right.

The neural pathways of my mind carved in stone, I slip into what I call default mode efficiency.  I easily fall into routine, I perform tasks in the quickest, most efficient, tried and true way I know how.  I put blinders on my eyes and only see what is in front of me, nothing more. I have come to the understanding that when I do this, I am no longer present in the moment. I am no longer actively engaged in whatever it is I am doing. I am merely doing. Not being.

I have deceived myself into thinking I am doing my mind a favor by doing this. To execute a task in the most efficient way possible without any real thought.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times when this an enviable skill.  But most of the times it isn’t. I’d rather be present, I would rather be aware and engaged.

I think about when I was young. So many new experiences and challenges.  Big and small presented to me on a daily basis.  My imagination salivating at the opportunity to solve the problems. I think it is within our youth that we do some of our best thinking. Our worlds are huge and anything is possible.

 So I experimented. I would try one way and it would fail. I would try another way and that would fail.  Maybe I would fail over and over again, but I would always keep trying. And then, finally, I would get it right. It is through this process that so many great things occur, and also where the trap of the default mode efficiency kicks in.

Through trial and error we learn so much. But once the correct solution is found the mind grabs hold of it and starts carving that process into the brain. Perfecting the process until it becomes efficient and the blueprint of how you perform task “X”.

 When we are young so many things are new and they are exciting. Our minds expand at an exponential rate. Until the time when they no longer expand, and without experimentation they contract.  We grow secure and comfortable in our constricted worlds, content to abide by the status quo of “this is how it is done”. Our jobs become efficient, our home lives become efficient, our relationships become efficient. We no longer pursue challenges, we cease growing. We become stagnant.

I write all of this now because I can see  how my world had shrunk. And how, without work, it would continue to shrink. Time and repetition have taken their toll and constricted the boundaries of my mind.

I see this now because of my gift of a second chance at life. I have to start over, I have to rebuild – not what once was, but something new. A life that doesn’t have a blueprint, but rather a doodle on a napkin. A rough sketch that points me in the direction I want to go.  Within this opportunity is the ability to experiment. To throw away so much of what I know and start over.

I realize the importance of experimenting and don’t ever want to stop.  Life is a laboratory. Mix this, mix that., try this, try that.  I want to expand the boundaries I have put around my mind. I want to expand my definition of what is possible and to challenge that which I deem as impossible.

The idea for this post came to me because of the dinner I cooked last night for a friend.  I was going to prepare the meal in the same way I had made it in the past. I knew how to do this, it was safe and it was easy. I was going to take the easiest path to prepare something good for somebody I wanted to impress with my cooking skills. At the last-minute and with her encouragement I switched on the fly and made it up as I went along.

Reading this back now it sounds ridiculous. Patting myself on the back for such a small step.  But the rewards. The rewards were huge. It was fun, it was spontaneous, and it tasted delicious. OK, the asparagus needs some work, but the tuna was awesome.  I could feel my mind expanding at what was possible and what I learned.

The act of doing this alone made me realize the importance of just trying.  Doing something new.  My mind lights up when I experiment. Synapses fire, neural pathways are created.  I once again look at the world with a child’s eyes.

I want to always ask myself, what if? What if I did this, what if I tried that?

I want to throw perfectionism out the window and stop hiding behind it. I want to take risks.  I want to always be learning, and always be trying. To understand that I will probably learn more from the failures than the successes.

Our minds are like goldfish, they will expand and contract within the boundaries we put around them.  Pushing the boundaries and what is possible gives the mind more room to play. I want to let my mind roam free. Let it off the leash and see what happens.  By expanding the boundaries of our brains we make room for the big things in life.

Each post I write is an experiment. I don’t know if it will work. If it makes sense. If people will like it. It doesn’t matter. Each post expands what is possible through the power of writing.  I learn something with each post I write.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

My 1% today, and ideally this should happen everyday, is to experiment.

I will walk a different way to work, I will cook something I have never made before, I will change my workout, eat something I have never eaten, go places I have never been. Say “Yes” to as many experiences as I can.  I will change the small to make room for the big. I will do my best to take the status quo and throw it in the garbage.

Every day is a new day. And within each day is the opportunity to experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

A new beginning

NYC

This is what I wrote on May 9th, the day I was released from the Bureau of Prisons. My stream of consciousness without much editing. I spent fifteen months in Federal Prison, four months in a Halfway House and two months in home detainment with a GPS ankle bracelet.

May 9th

I can feel the chapter close behind me and the new one open. As clear as the sky. The second the bracelet was removed and handshakes and well wishes were exchanged. One door closed and another opened.
Leaving the halfway house I saw a piece of graffiti at the end of the bridge.

“Freedom Forever.”

The universe has once again blessed me with a sign. I am so grateful.

I stop for a coffee and croissant. The first sip of coffee as I walk the street is different.  It is delicious, the best sip of coffee I have ever had.  I look around me. The sky is bluer, the clouds whiter and the tulips a brilliant orange and purple. The world is different.

I’m on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. I’ve dreamed of this moment. My first taste of freedom. With every dream I was near water. I wanted to see water. I needed to see water. I look forward to seeing the ocean again. Water touching the horizon. My desire to follow the water to its edge, knowing I could never reach it. The water calms me, it brings me peace.

Everything in my life has led to this point, to this moment. Everything going forward will lead to the next moment.

As I walked to the Promenade I thought back to the sentencing. I found myself no longer standing on the street, but transported back in time.  Standing in the courtroom, the enormity of the room making me feel so small. Surrounded by loved ones, but alone in front of the judge. My life being altered to the point of being unrecognizable. Could this be happening? The trance I had put myself in for the previous years disappearing. Reality facing me head on. Uncertain, unkind and frightening.

I felt a gripping pain in my chest, my heart being squeezed by a gigantic hand. The sadness, the shame and the guilt all wrapping themselves around my heart. Constricting my breathing.  The desperate agony for my wife and our life. What had I done?

I stopped walking. I took a breath.  I said to myself,

“That is the past, it is over. Let it go.”

My body responded with compassion, the hand around my heart let go. My mind released the thought that moments ago was crushing me. The recurring thought that has haunted me for so long.  My chest lightened, my mood improved. The sky was once again blue, the clouds the whitest of whites.

I am free.

None of what I did can be changed. I have no control over the future. I have this moment. And in this moment I am a free man capable of doing everything I dream of.

I walk now with the lessons learned, the clarity what’s important in life. Really important.  I walk now with the courage to be vulnerable. I walk now a new man. Stronger, more confident.  For everything I lost I gained twice in gratitude.

The lessons so valuable, I have no choice but to be the best man I can be. To ignore the lessons would be spitting in the face of those that I love, including myself. All of their and my suffering would be wasted. It would have been for nothing.

I burnt it all to the ground. And now I am emerging from the ashes.

A new chapter has begun.

Find Your Art

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

—Neil Gaiman

I love to write. The act of creating something from nothing.  I love the evolutionary process that writing is. Inspiration, idea, fingers on a keyboard, deleting, rewriting, fine tuning, putting out a finished product that is never actually finished.  There is always another revision. There is always something that can be added and maybe more importantly, deleted.

I believe in the idea that a Muse comes and visits me, giving me the gift of an idea and the inspiration to chase it.  The preliminary inspiration coming on like a bolt of lightning, and I sitting with my empty jar hoping to bottle a little of it. Beginning with one sentence, the floodgates open and the words flow so quickly I struggle to keep up. Worried that I cannot write fast enough, afraid that the Muse will take her story elsewhere before I have a shot at it. Because whatever story the Muse bestows upon you must be told. Whether by you or someone else.

I love when she visits, when I find myself lost within the words, the need to convey the message is so consuming and so powerful.  When the words truly flow, when all the stars are aligned and the story just pours out of me I am transported to another world. Time ceases to exist and I am lost within myself.

Often times what I write brings me pain. To write the story I have to write is to open old wounds and explore the darkest recesses of my mind. Exploring the thoughts and the memories most of us choose to push further away. Dissecting them and making them bleed.  When the last word of the day is written and there is no more blood to give I slowly come back to reality. I’ve traveled a great distance without ever leaving my seat.  It is a spiritual journey, a form of meditation.  I find myself at the crossroads of mental exhaustion and invigoration. A paradox I would not trade for anything.

Writing helped pull me from the darkness. Writing helped save my life. Anguish, pain, disgust, shame, guilt, embarrassment all bonded together to create a new element inside of me.  A dark mass of energy and density. Each passing minute compressing the elements closer to the point of implosion.  Writing was the safety valve that released the energy.  Taking what was inside and putting it on paper.  Those emotions are still present inside of me, but their energy and density reduced to a manageable level.

The act of cutting oneself open, examining what is there and pouring the contents onto the page is magical. I have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible through this art. I know there is so much more. I know there will be more pain, reliving a past I would normally be content to leave behind.  But the fulfillment and enjoyment dictate that I must write. That I must continue to dig. When I feel I cannot dig any deeper I must find a bigger shovel. Because my guess is this where the story truly begins.

Writing is the opportunity to tell your story, whatever it may be and to take ownership of it. But the story is only ours for a short while. When we share it, when we hit publish and send it out into the world to live for eternity on a server in a data center in the middle of nowhere, that is where the magic happens. That is when the story is no longer ours, that is when it belongs to the world.

I am afraid to share this story, I am scared to hit publish. I always am, but I always hit the button. My book will be the most difficult for me to share. The pain I know it will cause.  But I will hit publish. I will take that leap.

I write for me and this is my truth.  I fear what others will say, what people will think.  If I allow those voices to creep in while I write, I will be writing for them and not myself. And what I put on these pages will be false, a polished and refined version of the truth. That is not what I want. I have only begun to dissect my inner self and already I see the power in it. Good, bad, ugly – whatever it may be, that is what I need to put on these pages.  I must be authentic.

I write this now to share the power that writing gave me. I write to share what brought me back from the darkness and near implosion.  The power of finding my art. I had to share and I want to encourage others.  The power to change is at your fingertips.

Find your art.

Find what you have to do, the thing that makes you feel empty if you don’t do it. That thing you wanted to do as a child but life got in the way.  That thing you didn’t realize was missing but now you cannot live without.

Find this for yourself. Find that which fills you from the inside.

I write in the morning, this is when I feel most creative. I wake up at six to write, I have to. Due to my current work schedule I am unable to write Saturday and Sunday.  To wake up even earlier would leave me with little sleep and I would be of no use to anybody, particularly myself. I feel incomplete on those days, I feel empty. I cannot wait for Monday to come so that I can once again write. The ideas and words that have been pent-up all weekend come on like a summer thunderstorm, powerful and beautiful.

Find your art. It doesn’t matter what it is, it doesn’t matter if there is more than one thing. Cooking, painting, carpentry, public speaking, helping others, playing an instrument.

Whatever. Find it. Do it. Embrace it. Never let it go.

Once you find your art there is a second step.  This may be the most critical piece of the equation. It is the scariest.  The one that so many of us stop at, the one that fills us with fear. The piece that makes the magic happen and brings the cycle full circle:

Share it. Share whatever it is with somebody, honestly anybody.  Just share it.

“When something scares me there is magic on the other side.”

-Kamal Ravikant

Love to cook? Have friends over. Love to paint? Set up a gallery in your home and have friends over for an opening.  Play an instrument at open mic night.

Walk to the edge of the cliff and look. Not down into the abyss that you think lies beneath you. Look up, look out, look behind you to see how far you have come.  And as tempting as that firm ground behind you is, you know you don’t want to go back.

You have to take action. You have to take that leap into the abyss. The abyss you think is made of fear, rejection, and judgement.  Once you leap you realize it is none of those, but rather a wide open blue sky of opportunities.  We worry about failure and rejection. The very act of leaping off of the cliff negates rejection and destroys failure.

You took the leap. That is what counts. That is the moment your courage gives you wings. The words of others mean nothing, your actions are all that matter. If you are true to yourself and share your story, your art, your creation, a piece of your soul you have found the magic.

Finding your art fills you from the inside. The need for external circumstances to impact your happiness disappears. You are in control of your joy.

Do what you want and never thought possible. Because it is possible. Do it because you have to. You will bring light into the darkness.  The world opens when you face fear and share your art.  Opportunities abound.

You will become a better, happier person for it. Do it now. Don’t wait for a time when you will be less busy. Be honest with yourself, will that ever really happen? No.  Things aren’t going to magically change and make you less busy. Find the time. It is not selfish. It is an investment in yourself that pays endless dividends to you and everyone around you.

I love writing. Quite frankly I don’t know if I’m any good at it. Nor does it matter. It lights me up and brings me joy.  I feel complete.  Writing makes me better at life. This isn’t about doing it for the money or for anybody else.  Do it for the person who matters most.

You.

Craig

Letting go

“Pain will leave you, when you let go.”

-Jeremy Aldana

I have been thinking about my desire to go on a pilgrimage. The need to explore, to find what is already there, but I cannot see. When I listen to the voice inside me, the Camino De Santiago is the name that is spoken the loudest.  

I think about the journey, the struggles, the people I will meet, the things I will see, the solitude and loneliness. I think about what I hope to find. I think about the pack I will carry, what will I bring, how much will it weigh? How much can I carry and for how long can I carry it? This made me think. 

What about what I carry every day?

The burden that thoughts and negativity carry. Weighing me down, to the point of affecting my posture. Mental weight that affects my body physically. One of the hopes of my journey is to shed some of this weight, to come out of it on the other side lighter than when I started.

But why not now? Why wait for a trip that depending on how I allow fear to influence me may or may not happen?

I, and all us, carry a pack on our backs everyday. We go to bed with them, and we wake up with them. Our packs hold us back, they burden us, they cause us stress. It does not have to be this way. 

I want to let go, it is time to let go, can I let go?

Our packs are sneaky. They slowly grow larger and larger, so subtly that we don’t even realize that we are carrying so much with us. That this weight is with us all of the time. It takes some work to see what it is that we carry. It requires honesty with ourselves to see whats in there.  I see what holds me down, what causes my shoulders to hunch forward from the weight.  There is a lot of shit, and this list isn’t complete. 

I want to let go of: 

The past, the future, of certain people, of thoughts, fear, what was and will never be, who I thought I was, what I thought I could have been, who I thought people were, preconceptions, assumptions, resentment, jealousy, arrogance, self-centeredness, words that were spoken, my sense of unworthiness, expectations, old pain, old hurt, attachments and judgments.

Writing and acknowledging this has provided some relief.  Seeing it on the screen, staring back at me. Knowing that all of this and more is with me everyday. I want to take each one these things out of my pack and discard it. I want to be free of what weighs me down. This is no easy task, that is a lot of things to let go of. 

To do this will require time, patience, empathy and compassion for myself. I will falter along the way, I will stumble and fall. I hope to have the strength to pick myself up, dust myself off and try, try again. I hope I reach out to someone I love if I can’t do it alone. 

The reward of doing this is too great to ignore.

“Sometimes you have to let things go.  Sometimes you have to stop caring for a minute.”

-Trina Etmanskie

I will walk taller without the burden of these things resting on my shoulders.  I will free space in my pack for more important things. Things I care about, things that will direct me towards being the man want to be. I do not have to wait for the pack to be empty before I add to it. Letting go and adding to are not mutually exclusive.  

I know what I want to add and I work on them everyday: 

I love myself. I am enough. I am worthy. I forgive myself.

This too not a complete list, but my beginning.

The amazing thing about adding these to my pack is that they do not carry any weight. None of the positives do. The positives have the polar opposite effect of the negatives. They lift you up, even when the negatives try to push you back down. 

My 1% for today is to begin freeing myself from the mental burdens I carry. This will not be done in one day, it is impossible to say how long it will take. But I have to start somewhere and this is it.

Craig

Learning how to take bigger steps

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

I have this opportunity, this beautiful second chance to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. An opportunity to do all of the things I want to do. My Bucket List.  I feel as though this entry is related to my previous entry, the remnants of its unfinished state still lingering in my brain.

I was made to revisit this by a timely e-mail from Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to be Rich (iwillteachyoutoberich.com). A deceptive company name in its inherent nature to make the reader think of only one thing: Rich=Money and Things. This is not at all what he means.  Rich is defined by the individual. What does it mean to you to live a Rich life?

Traveling, starting your own business, having the time to pursue your hobbies, buying your parents a house?

In the e-mail he discusses Bucket Lists and what separates people who go after their wishes and dreams and people who do not. He discusses how our past actions shape our future actions. Have you spent the past “x” amount of years on this planet without crossing anything off of your list? Chances are going forward that pattern will remain.  He looks at what people want vs. what they have done to get it.

Some of the items on my list are daunting, they seem overwhelming and insurmountable. At least to me.  I have seven figure debt and make twelve dollars an hour.  As a result of my actions I have nothing. No money. No pure freedom. My ankle bracelet keeping me confined to only certain, acceptable destinations. Overwhelm could easily engulf me at this point. But it does not.

I breath and take a step back. This provides me with an opportunity to to look at my list with a new perspective.

I look objectively at the two core issues:

1.  Ankle Bracelet: It limits my movement. So frustrating in a city that begs to be explored and lived in. As I write, I am limited on where I can go in my own apartment. The bracelet requires charging twice a day, I am now tethered to the wall like a dog on a lead.

This sucks. But does it really? My brain is still free. I write this blog, I am writing a book, I am working on starting my own business.  I read, I seek inspiration through those I admire. All things I love to do, and now I have more time to do them. And the bracelet has an expiration date. May 9th it comes off. Freedom. My biggest issue then becomes a fantastic problem to have; balancing everything I enjoy doing so that I can do it all. How many people actually explore the city they live in? Most people take their immediate surroundings for granted, the landscape becoming a part of their everyday. I’ve been locked up like a tiger in a cage, I hope I never forget what that feels like.

2. I have nothing: Not true. I have family, I have friends, I have things I enjoy doing that don’t cost a dime. By reducing what I have I actually gained so much. I have desire. I have more than I can imagine. Everyday I complete a page in my Five Minute Journal (fiveminutejournal.com). I keep a separate gratitude journal when the 5MJ doesn’t have enough room to cover everything I am grateful for. And if I choose to be stuck on the, “I have nothing” mentality I can even flip that on its head and make it a positive.

I have nothing.

Meaning I have nothing to lose. Meaning I can try whatever I want without fear of losing anything. This is very powerful.

When I first read Ramit’s e-mail and wrote the first draft of this post I looked to my past behavior to see if I had checked items off of my Bucket List to gauge what I would do in the future. My first gut response:

Not really.

I was bummed. I felt as though my future ability to check items off of my Bucket List had been cast in stone by my past behavior.  I had written a post about this that was much different than what you are reading today. I let the post sit for the night and it didn’t sit right with me. I was looking at life with my old eyes.

Having this realization I came back to the initial draft with a set of fresh eyes. I cross checked reality against my initial gut feeling. An initial gut rooted in a feeling unworthiness, lack of self compassion and inability to stop and congratulate myself every so often. I focus on what I haven’t done, not what I have.  Making the things I haven’t done grow disproportionately larger.

I have checked things off. I am in the midst of doing that with every word I type. If I look at the list I created in prison I am proud to say I have already checked things off even with my limited finances and freedom.

I need to stop and pat myself on the back for what I have done and look to the items remaining that feel overwhelming. One of the items on my list that brings the most self doubt: Travel.

I have an all consuming need to climb a mountain, hike the PCT, Appalachian Trail or the Road to Santiago. I want to ride a bike down the The Death Road in Bolivia. I want to see Praia Da Marinha in Portugal that is on my Uncle Andy’s funeral card. I feel the need to be by myself, forced to confront who I am. I, perhaps foolishly, believe I will find absolution at the end of this journey. That I will find love and forgiveness for myself.

Travel, the way I envision traveling, seems like it would be an extremely difficult task for me to overcome. Taking the time off, money, what will people say, who will take care of my cat?

So what can I do to change this mindset? How can I rewire my brain? My motivation to rethink this came from a friend. She asked me the top five things I want to do in NYC.  There is a genius and beauty to this that lies in its simplicity.

Only five things. All of which are within my reach. There is no travel to plan, no planes, no hotels, no time off of work to think about. They are simple, executable and best of all things I want to do. Things I may have easily forgone or forgotten had I not put them in a list.

Why did I not do this in the past? Fear. Why would I be hesitant to pursue this now? Fear and unworthiness.  My reluctance in doing this tied to a deep feeling of unworthiness. Who am I to pursue happiness after what I have done? A self imposed penance for my sin. I am working on this and every little bit is a step in the right direction.

What are the top five things I want to see in NYC:

1. The Whitney – I followed the opening of this amazing museum from prison.  Consuming every article I could, envisioning the day I would be able to explore it.  It was a brief reprieve from the mental and physical prison I was in.

2. Prospect Park – The idea of wandering through nature with no real direction, the park was another reprieve from prison.

3. The Guggenheim – I have never been, and have wanted to go for at least fifteen years. It’s about time to check it off the list.

4. Brooklyn Botanic Garden – On my list for about 5 years, time to check it off.

5. The Polo Bar – I want to put on a suit, have a seat at the bar and treat myself.

Adding all of these activities up will equal around $125.00. I can check off five items from my bucket list, for a nominal sum. I don’t know what my experience will be at each place, nor am I going to attach any emotions to them. I will let them unfold as they were meant to unfold.

Where I see the magic in this lies in the ease of actually doing it.  I am not only experiencing new things, I am chipping away at a much larger set of goals. It is having a stretch goal and breaking it down into smaller, attainable goals.  So that at the end of each day I can say I am that much closer to achieving my stretch goal. I can expand my horizons, my comfort zones, I can show myself that I am worthy of doing things that I want. That it is OK for me to experience happiness and joy.  I can chip away at the list, and in turn my unworthiness.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

While I can’t do these things right now, I can do this:

Make a public pledge to myself that I commit to do these things when I am free and able. I am sharing with whoever is reading this and holding myself accountable to cross these items off of my Bucket List. And to further up the ante, I will do them all within a month of May 9th.

This is my 1% for today.

In the meantime I will continue to write, create, and innovate. I can plan, I can do everything now to hit the ground running. I will look at my stretch goals and figure out ways around my internal roadblocks to achieving them. For starters, how much would a big trip cost and how much more do I need to earn to get there? What can I do in order to earn more?

I am not taking a huge step in going to these places, they are all small steps – bu they are steps in the right direction. What I am doing is setting myself up for bigger steps in the future. This isn’t about the five places. This is about moving towards something I want, something I dream of and knowing that I am worthy of doing it.

Craig

A life well lived

“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”

-Samuel Johnston

I’ve read different blogs that address the idea of living life as if you had only one year left to live. Or a month, or a week. How would you act? What would you do differently? What would you change? Rewiring the brain in this way reinforces the impermanence of life and the importance of living each day to its fullest. Living in the moment and making each moment meaningful.

I like the idea of this, it strikes a chord within me. I can say every time I have read one of these articles I am instantly motivated to embrace this lifestyle and live life as if I knew its expiration date. Particularly when the expiration is quickly closing in.

The sensation I get is liberating, it is powerful, it contains a certain magic to it.  Think about how you would change and behave if you knew when you would die.  But the fact is, we’re all going to die. We all have an expiration date. This is a given, we all know this.  So shouldn’t we be embracing life and living with this attitude without the artificial expiration date?

I know I don’t. I am guessing I am around the midway point of my life, I have another forty-two or so years left to live. That seems so far off, I can procrastinate, I think,

“I have plenty of time.”

But do I really? The first forty-two have flown by, with time only seeming to pass quicker every day, month and year.

I can say all of this, understand and accept all of this and yet still struggle to embrace the reality of it and live every single day to its fullest. Maybe that is why I find the artificial expiration date so appealing. The idea of it forces me to think about it now and circumvent procrastination.

I know I would act differently if I were told I have a year left to live. I would travel, I would sing karaoke, I would dance as if nobody was watching, I would tell everybody I loved that I love them, I would push myself beyond my physical and mental limits, I would learn to forgive myself.  I would do everything in my power to have no regrets.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

-Mary Oliver

To write all of this and see it on paper is powerful. The knowledge that all of this is within my grasp is so appealing. And yet, the sensation is fleeting.  I only make it a few days with this new found attitude before I find myself back to normal.

So I am left to think, why?

What happens between reading the article, being motivated and then finding myself back at the status quo in a matter of days?  The easy answer is the knowledge that I have not been given a set expiration date. I feel as if accepting this answer is lazy and only scratching the surface of the issue. True, I know that I do not have a set date, but the energy and inner fire that is created by attempting to shift to this mindset is so great that I feel as if I would never want to let it go. And yet I do.

So I dig a little deeper to seek the truth.

The most common answer that surfaces with this base level introspection is; May 9th.  The day I am no longer under the auspices of the Bureau of Prisons. The day that the GPS ankle bracelet that limits my travel to work, home and the store once a week gets removed. A day of freedom, a day of celebration. The day that my debt to society has been paid in full.

It seems reasonable and exciting to mark this day as the beginning of this challenge. It feels triumphant. It feels like a celebration of freedom and life and pursuing everything I want all lumped into one perfect day. I think anybody reading this would think, “Yes, that is the perfect day to start.”

I feel as though it is an excuse. A perfectly formatted excuse to not act now.

Why do I wait for some magical moment to start something that could be magical?  It is true that I will have more freedom to do all that I dream of doing and seeing come May 9th. But what is preventing me from living life to its fullest right now? The bracelet? Maybe I can’t go skydiving or rock climbing right now. Maybe I can’t explore the amazing city I am lucky to live in. Go visit my family in Connecticut and Florida. Go on a real date with the girl I have been spending time with. Those things are great, no doubt. But they are only facets of a life lived to its fullest. Pieces of a much larger puzzle.

Given my current circumstance I think one way to live life to its fullest means doing all that you can within the confines of your current situation, while at the same time perpetually seeking to blow past the confines you currently have. These confines can be physical, i.e., my ankle bracelet and they can mental i.e., one of the reasons I started 365percent. Challenging myself every day to improve just a little bit, moving past what I define as my current comfort zones.

So while the bracelet may hold me back in a geographical sense, it has no say, no bearing, not a damn thing to do with my greatest asset. My mind. The human mind is our greatest gift.  Our ability to create, innovate and let our imaginations run wild is truly something special. To ask ourselves the question, “What if….” and fill in whatever blank we want and let our minds reach to the furthest corners of the universe trying to figure it out.

And while I feel pretty good about how I spend each day and the time I dedicate to creating, to writing, to innovating, to asking, “what if…?” I still feel as if I want to do more. So the idea of giving myself an artificial expiration date seems so appealing.

Cue the endless cycle and I am back to thinking May 9th is the perfect time to start something like this.

So what gives? Why do I not start now, and pursue what sounds like the way I want to live life?

I need to go deeper than my lack of total freedom. I need to find the root cause of what prevents me from fully embracing this liberating and powerful lifestyle change. I need to understand so that I may do something about it. Because the reality is, even without the artificial date, every day I am closer to death.  Being honest with myself leads me to one word that encapsulates all that I feel.

Fear.

I am afraid of not being able to live life like I fully understood how short it really is.  I fear failing. I fear what my friends and my family will think. I fear appearing foolish. How is it that fear contains so much power when in this instance it is nothing more than a balloon? Something blown up bigger than it should be, and filled with nothing but air. No substance.

How could I fail at trying to live life this way? As long as I try, and continue to try I have not failed. My friends and family want nothing but my happiness. While they may raise an eyebrow at some of this, as long as I am happy they will be happy for me. And maybe I will appear foolish. Who cares at the end of the day? I was arrested by the FBI, my story made the news and I served time in prison. The guilt, shame and embarrassment around that is far worse than appearing foolish for trying to become the best version of myself that I can be. To live this second chance at life with the respect that it deserves.

I would really like to wrap this post up with an inspirational, “fuck it, I am going to tackle this challenge and beat the hell out of it” finale. But that would be a lie. I am still being held back, and I am still trying to figure out “why?”.

Perhaps I need to give up the “why?” and focus on the “how?”

Maybe writing this is the first step, I don’t know.

I’m not really sure I can say this covers my 1% for today. But that is OK. I do other things everyday that cover it. I will write a separate entry about that and how I do my best to cover the 1% everyday.

Thanks,

Craig

Pursuing a dream

“They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.”

Mark Twain  

I have had a passion for cars for as long as I can remember. My father first introducing me to them, my child-like curiosity and desire to know everything about them growing from that moment. One of the best Christmas gifts I ever received was a subscription to Road & Track magazine. I was eleven years old and would wait, not so patiently, for each issue to arrive.  I would read it cover to cover. I would rarely understand the technical aspects, I was interested in cold, hard facts.  Every vital statistic would be etched into my brain; horsepower, 0-60, 1/4 mile (time and speed) and top speed. I would happily recite this information to anybody willing to listen.  Road & Track became my Bible.

The first two exotic cars I encountered were a 1978 Aston Martin Vantage and a BMW M1. I could recite the circumstances around seeing both as if it had happened a minute ago.  I had remote control cars that I would build by hand, carefully maintaining them and then customizing them to go faster. Always faster. I had a go-cart purchased from a neighbor who had grown too old for such things. My father tuning the governor so that it too could achieve the highest possible speed. I was a lucky kid.

I don’t want to say my passion dwindled as I grew older, the sight and sounds of an exotic still stirring my soul, but something changed. My focus went to other things.  Was it a time to grow from childish things? Or was it fear? Fear to chase what I truly loved for fear of destroying it?  It was fear. I chose the safer path. A path that eventually led to a high paying job that allowed me to spend money on things, not experiences.  I became a slave to these things. My perception of what was important in life became skewed. I lost myself in a sea of things.

Fear took over. A deep-seeded feeling of unworthiness consumed me. All of which contributed to my perpetrating my crime.  As I rebuild my life I have focused on what I liked as a child, who I want to be as a man, what values are important to me. How can I be the best version of myself that I can be.

One place to start is to ask the child inside me (inside all of us),

“What makes me happy? What puts a genuine smile on my face and ignites a fire within me?”

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 
― Howard Thurman

For me the answer is cars. Always has been.  So I have been slowly reintroducing myself to my love of the automobile. I say slowly because I still hold a fear of somehow destroying what I love.

I recently watched Urban Outlaw (http://magnuswalker911.blogspot.com/p/urban-outlaw.html), a thirty-two minute documentary on Magnus Walker. A man who followed his childhood passion to become one of the worlds most prolific Porsche collectors and Porsche tuners. The story is an inspiration for anybody looking to pursue their dream, regardless of what it may be. Watching the documentary brought back my childhood feeling of anything is possible. As the film played I realized I would relish the opportunity to work in an environment surrounded by what I love and what I dreamed of as a child.

So today I e-mailed Magnus Walker.  I thanked him for what he has done, the inspiration he is to me.  I asked to be part of his team. Doing whatever it is he had available for me to do.  I told him my story, my crime, my punishment, my desire to die. The gift of a second chance I have been so fortunate to receive. I have no experience with working on real cars, I have never driven on a racetrack. Nor have I even driven a Porsche. But I know what I love and what I would like to be surrounded by everyday.  It is not only the cars, but the passion, the drive and the goal to create something extraordinary.

This may not work out, but I tried. And I will continue to try.  When I am done with my prison sentence and it is time to leave the safety net of my post prison job at the gym I will not conform to how things are “supposed” to be. Maybe what my family would wish for me.  I will not become a corporate drone again, working a soulless job for a fat paycheck and health benefits. Any job I take will be one where I am surrounded by that which I have passion for, a job that I can learn from, a job that matches the set of values I have created for myself and will lead me on the path I want to walk on. I will live life on my own terms, doing what I love.

I was scared to send the e-mail to Magnus. Scared for putting myself out there to a stranger. Scared for what he would think. I took this fear and analyzed it. I asked myself two simple questions,

“What is the worst that can happen?” and “What is the best that can happen?”

The answers were easy. The worst was a “no”. The best was the opportunity to meet someone I admire, move to a city that I was thinking of moving to anyway, being surrounded by amazing cars everyday, learning new skills and fulfilling a life long dream.  My decision became pretty obvious.

My 1% today was pursuing one of my dreams. My 1% was going outside of my comfort zone and reaching out to someone I admire. Sharing my admiration for them, thanking them for what they have done and asking how I can be a part of it.  It is impossible for nothing to come from this, the mere act of sending the e-mail has already provided me with so much.

Craig

Thank You

“Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny. And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.”

-Octavia Butler

I spoke with my friend Rob recently. We were best friends for years, he was one of the Best Men at my wedding (I was lucky enough to have two). We were friends until we weren’t friends. A divide came between us,  a chasm that grew over time. I had no idea why. I blamed him for being too caught up in his own thing.

I was newly married and in love. We were in the honeymoon phase and although I missed my friend I had filled the void. The silence between us grew longer, each passing day adding to its mass.  The silence became a fact of life. That chapter had been closed.  I would probably never again speak to him.

Fresh out of prison and newly divorced led me to conduct a personal inventory.  There was a lot missing. One of the most glaring omissions was Rob.  I missed my friend.

I called him out of the blue, I believe he was shocked to hear my voice. I also believe he was happy to hear it.  We spoke for about an hour. I had always wondered what had happened between us and boy did I find out. Rob, being as insightful and articulate a person I know, laid it all out. I received the verbal equivalent of a punch in the stomach.

I had grown too self consumed, my arrogance and ego had skyrocketed. I had said one too many things that hurt his feelings.  He withdrew not because he was consumed with his own life, but as a means of self preservation. His best friend was behaving in such a way that was damaging to him.  He had to protect himself.

A best friend is one who you confide in, who knows your darkest thoughts, biggest fears and insecurities. They know your hopes and your dreams. They want to do anything to help you achieve them. They know your best of times and your worst of times.  They are the ones standing by you for both of them – especially the bad. A best friend is someone you can be yourself with, someone you can be vulnerable with.  I would trade-in all of my acquaintances for just one best friend.  I’m lucky to have two.

I had betrayed this relationship.  My arrogance, ego and greed had made me blind to my behavior. I was standing at the edge of a lake throwing boulders into the still water, thinking the waves that were created could never reach me.  I was a self centered ass who believed the blame lay on anyone but myself.  A narcissistic attitude of, “it’s not me, it’s you.”

I hung up the phone, tears filling my eyes, an anxiety attack dangling on the precipice.  I felt like shit that I had caused pain to my friend. I also felt joy that we were once again talking and that he had the courage to share his feelings with me. Which in turn made me feel like crap for being such a douche. A vicious cycle.

I replayed the conversation in my head, I listened to what he said. I looked within myself and it was as though a burden I had been carrying had been lifted. I could feel the unraveling of my self centeredness, the untangling of past attachments. I felt free, I felt lighter, my next steps were the easiest I had taken in years.  It was for lack of a better term and hopefully not sounding melodramatic, a life changing conversation.

The next time we spoke I Thanked him. I Thanked him for having the courage to share and for having such an impact on my life. For freeing me from the baggage I had carried for far too long. I will Thank him again. Thank you Rob, I am very fortunate to have you as a friend.

And I will take this opportunity to Thank all of my family and friends for everything that they have done for me during this time. I’ll call you all personally as well, a blanket “Thank You” on a blog seems a bit like a shortcut.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some.”

– Charles Dickens

So my 1% today is expressing Thanks to those who have been there for me, made an impact, helped me and supported me.

Thank you,

Craig

It begins now

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

― William Hutchison Murray

A year ago at this time I was in Federal Prison begging the hand of death to take me in my sleep. Contemplating how I could end my life while I was awake. I was consumed by darkness.

I sit now in my apartment in Brooklyn grateful to be alive and with the gift of a second chance at life. An opportunity to take a shitty situation and turn it on its head. To be the man I want to be. To live life on my terms doing what I love.

I’m going to share with you the details around my crime, my punishment, my gift of a second chance over time. This entry is my first step, this is my beginning.

I am so grateful for my second chance at life and have embarked on the journey of improving myself 1% a day.  This website is what will hold me accountable to that. This is about pushing myself outside of my comfort zones, about doing things that scare me, about helping those in need, about creating the best version of myself I can be. It will be an evolutionary process, but one with a few key objectives:

1. Add value to those around me

2. Live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

3. Live with passion

1% a day for an entire year = 365 Percent

“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

― Viktor E. Frankl

I am nervous as I write this. Worried about what my family, friends and strangers will think about what I have written. I enjoy the act of writing, more appropriately, I love it. But I do not like sharing what I write. I am afraid to share, afraid of judgement, afraid of failing.

So I buried myself in the minutia of creating the site. The template, the background colors, the font, anything and everything to distract me from posting. And quite frankly to talk myself out of doing it. Using the rationalization that,

“I have to wait until it is perfect.”

I realized that this was the voice of Fear. I also realized I am sick and tired of Fear.

365percent.com won’t be perfect and neither will I. I will make mistakes and I will move on. So the layout, the template, the background colors may all change over time. My writing may change, hopefully getting better as I find my voice. But none of that is important right now.

What’s important is this:

Take the first step.  Begin it now.

In this age of over sharing, posting a blog entry may not seem like a big deal.  But it is to me.  Hitting the “Publish” button is going to take courage.  But the tide of fear is changing. I can already feel the relief of taking this step flowing over me.  As with most things in life, the triumph over fear far outweighs the fear itself.

So this is my 1% for today; doing something that scares me.

Craig