Being Relentless in Living Fully: Five Things I Have Learned

The other morning, I found myself rushing out to my car to head to school like any other weekday. The sun was just breaking the horizon, and I was juggling too many bags of work and thinking about beating the early rush along the 25-mile commute.

I could feel the tension building already: stress upon stress from two years of seemingly endless troubles and challenges that I failed to understand: family deaths, loss of work, other matters that are just a part of life itself. I’ve never lost sight on the fact that we all go through this; we’ve all got our stresses in our lives that challenge us to the very core of who we are.

For me, I could see the toll they were taking on my body and my mind; making poor dietary choices and dwelling on those stresses create a very unhealthy lifestyle. And before you know it, the troubles you are experiencing within begin to permeate other areas of your life: friendships, work, social occasions.

So on that morning, as I was fumbling with my keys to unlock my car, I heard the unmistakable song of the American Robin.

“Cheer up! Cheer Up! Cheer Up! Cheerily, Cheer Up!”

Yes. This is the actual song of the Robin.

The bird’s sing-song notes seemed so crisp against the cool Spring morning, and they pierced through the stress building upon more stress. In that one instant, I was carried back to younger days when I was living on Chesapeake Bay, and my mornings would begin with the sweet songs of morning birds like the robin, the wren, and the finch.

Those days weren’t trouble-free, by any measure. My father had just died, and money wasn’t any better, really, than it is today. But nature served as a real solace to me then, and I remained open to the things that brought me peace and that soothed me.

In the busy rush of the world we live in today, I sometimes lose sight of that. Thanks to the song of a single American Robin, I found that peace last week, and since then, I’ve been returning to a relentless approach to living a better life.

While there are so many strategies and structures out there to remain relentless in living fully, I’ve narrowed it down to a good list of five that keep me in my game. My five might be different from what you need. I guess what’s most important is that each of us figures out what works, and then stick to it.

Find Your Focus and Keep It Close. For me, it’s three things: writing, photography, and music. I’ve learned that when I’m struggling, I write less, my camera lens captures nothing but a layer of dust, and my playlists are dark and brooding. It’s almost as if my body is creating an environment to nurture the stress, to make it last as long as it possibly can. I need to be conscious of keeping my journal out in the open where I can write freely and often; I need to carry my camera with me so I can capture life as I see it; and I need to choose the songs that empower me, give me encouragement and strength, that keep my mind clear and my heart open to give, as much as to receive.

Let Go of the Past. Nothing keeps us from being relentless in our living than dwelling in the past. I’m not talking about remembering a great hike along the Appalachian Trail when you were 23 or hearing a Zeppelin song along back roads at 19 with windows down and volume up. Hold on to those moments and cherish them often. I’m talking about regret, or decisions you made hastily, or even opportunities brushed aside or declined. You have to place yourself in the present, embrace what is, and seize the songs that remind you that there is a life all around you to be lived, experienced, and celebrated.

Stay Healthy. We are so tempted to stray from what keeps us mentally and physically healthy. Just remember: The quality of every aspect of your body, mind, and heart is entirely dependent on what you put into your system. And it’s different and unique for each of us. My diet might be a catastrophe for you, and chances are pretty good that your good choices would nauseate me. We need to be mindful of what our body needs, and then give it the fuel to make us relentless machines of power, love, and balance.

Remove the Triggers That Set You Back. This is an important one, because the first three tools to remain relentless make it sound like we all lead happy, care-free lives. The truth is that the things that can stress us out are still in our lives. Staying healthy doesn’t bring back a loved one; there is still great sadness and stress associated with it. We just need to defend ourselves with these tools. Triggers are going to continue to be in our lives that remind us of what was causing us so much stress. We need to be active in removing them as much as possible from our daily routine, as they can set us back faster than a 12-inch cheese-steak sub with extra fried onions and all the fixin’s. For me, those triggers are hidden in word games, songs, and radio stations. If I’m vulnerable to these triggers, I need to be mindful of this and remove them. That might mean deleting an app on my phone (or burying it on that last screen and hiding it in an obscure folder), making a different playlist, or even turning off the radio and finding a good mystery to read. Don’t set yourself up to be vulnerable. Living relentlessly means always providing yourself a little self-check on how you are reacting to the experiences around you. Stay relentless and stay in control.

Embrace Your Spirituality. Whatever spirituality means for you, find your affinity for something greater than yourself and make it present in your life-always. Our communion with a higher entity — even if that’s in the spirit of nature itself — puts everything in context with your place in this world. It sorts through the challenges and puts them in perspective; it prioritizes the things that really matter, like health, peace, and love; it gives you greater strength to confront the things that bring stress and offers the space and faith to work on resolutions. No matter what you believe, your spiritual foundation reminds you that you aren’t alone, and you have the  strength of a higher power with you every step of the way.

If all else fails, remember this: you are most certainly not alone. Sometimes it takes a simple song of a common bird to remind us of how beautiful life is: in this moment and in the hours and days to follow. It’s all about our perspective and our choices.

Choose to embrace the relentless pursuit of a life lived fully.

2015: Living Primal In The 21st Century

This is my last post for 2014. I made some bold decisions in the past year regarding my writing, and I expect to see the benefits in 2015. Not because I can kick back and cherish the fruits of my labor; it’s because I have laid the foundation to really begin doing the hard work (which I love) for many years to come.

And so, with this entry I remind my readers: often, I write to discover an understanding of what I am feeling, of what is — or is not — establishing balance in my life. This post is no different; it is not a judgment on you (or you, or even you). Rather, it is a general conclusion I have made about my own use of social media, of how I, as a highly introverted writer, need to get on in this world to refine my focus and establish a more stable balance of existence. Simply put, I recognize that each of us has a unique path. If my epiphanies work for your journey, then I am grateful. If, on the other hand, we have little or nothing in common, and my words affirm your own place in the world (be it far different than my own), then I am equally grateful.

All good? Wonderful. Let’s move along, then.

Ulysses and the Sirens

Artist: Marie-Francois Firmin-Girard: “Ulysses and the Sirens” (1868)

We have sacrificed a great deal of ourselves in the early years of this 21st century, and as I get older, I am becoming more aware of the pull, the siren-type lull as famed in Homer’s The Odyssey, to resign to passivity and mediocrity.

Bluntly put, that doesn’t lead us to anywhere good.

Nineteenth Century British author Walter Copland Perry called the Sirens in our mythology the muses of the underworld. He wrote, “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.”

For much of 2014, I grappled with the tease of social media, the reasoning behind my dangerous attraction to it, and the manipulation of data by the media and money-hungry conglomerates that have thrown the net far and wide to catch as many consumers as possible. All of this has sucked me in, but out of disgust. It’s like that inevitable accident that you can’t stop watching. You flinch, you grimace, you might even bring your arms up to protect your face.

But you still leave a crack of light open for your eyes to capture it all. That’s where I have been with social media and the battle to live life simply.

And– when I step back, I mean really far back, the bigger picture is even more horrifying.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1997 and starring Jodie Foster, when the masses gather to celebrate the “message of Vega.” They were drawn to experience something that they had never seen before. Immediately, they were lulled in to so much more. This short clip from the movie, to me, captures what Social Media is doing to me and so many of us in the first handful of years of the 21st Century.

This is what I see, at least. We are jumping on a bandwagon that’s been rigged from the start to placate us, to make us doubt ourselves as we pretend to build ourselves up. We buy and sell things, feelings, emotions, lies, deceit, hope, promises, love, and even hate. We persuade, distract, overwhelm, satiate, and lull — yes, lull like the Sirens — each other into false senses of security, comfort, and rescue from chaos. It is the machine of all machines, and we are all cogs in its greater mission. It is the largest force of artificial intelligence, and we are all contributing to the hum of its finely tuned operation.

I want out.

Friends and writers alike tell me it is social suicide to delete social media accounts and make the move to the woods. They tell me that I will never get my writing to “take off” and build on the momentum that I have created over the years. Social media is the number one way to stay in touch, informed, and intrigued. To sever that cord is like walking out of the Superdome in life’s greatest ongoing Super Bowl event that has ever occurred.

I know that, to a large extent, they are right about my career. But more important than any writing dreams I might have, there’s this: I don’t want to lose touch with everyone I care about.

So what to do?

I have to return to one of my old stand-by lines of great wisdom. To quote Emerson (for, perhaps, the 12th time on this blog):

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

That’s it. Right there. I want out, but I want to stay in, too. I just don’t want all the ugly stuff that comes with staying “in.”

Is it any different, though, than watching television? We are given the opportunity to tune in to nearly 1,000 channels at any given moment. We choose the frequency, my friends. We make the choice.

What I have learned in 2014 is that those choices require a lot of hard work, focus, dedication, and commitment. Getting older doesn’t make any of those things easier; in some ways, we have to try even harder to avoid the sirens’ alluring calls. They tempt us to resign to the complacency that social media offers us.

Tempting, yes. All the time. That’s why 2015 is about returning to the Hunter-Gatherer within me.

It’s not going to be easy to focus my energies into the things that matter the most to me. I have to employ a will to seek out my greatest needs and achieve them; I need to do away with everything “processed and refined” in my life and retain the primal goods and meaningful relationships that exist. I need to let them flourish, become the most powerful things in my life, and live genuinely with and among them.

There it is. My focus for 2015: Living Primal in the 21st Century.

I leave you (and 2014) with a great clip from a movie called Facing The Giants (2006). It captures the essence of how I need to prepare for the long haul in 2015. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you need to realize that you can do some pretty once-believed impossible things. For me, I need to remember that it’s a long year, and I can’t lose sight of my focus and my goals, no matter how heavy or burdensome the pursuit might seem.

Just keep going, never give up, never quit, and never stop believing in the greatness within you.

 Happy New Year to all of you, near and far. May these be the greatest of days, regardless of the challenges we will most certainly face along the way.