There is a story about a seeker who travels to the Himalayas, looking for an enlightened Buddha in order to receive personal teachings. This seeker wants the last word on the subject of enlightenment. Walking and trekking for days, he begins to drop his heavy gear as he makes his way to the top of a high peak in Nepal. He drops his tent, his camping equipment, and his heavy backpack.
Stripped of almost everything and having breathed so many hundreds of thousands of breaths, he has finally forgotten about his worldly preoccupations. He is ready to arrive and very ready to listen. He pulls himself up over the final rim of the mountain and looks into the mouth of a cave. Amazingly enough, the Buddha-like master is sitting right there.
Stunned, relieved, and overjoyed, the seeker asks the Sage, “What is the first principle? What is your most important truth and teaching?”
The seeker thinks this is going to be his big moment and that he is about to become enlightened. He is going to discover the one essential thing for him to ponder. And then the Buddha replies: “Dukkha. Life is suffering, life is fraught, life is difficult.”
And the seeker is totally disappointed! He looks around wildly and shouts, “Is there anyone else up here that I can talk to?!!”
I love that story. What do we do when we experience something that isn’t quite what we hoped for, or worse, when we experience something that is truly difficult?
A Buddhist wise guy’s rendition of the First Nobel Truth of dukkha (or dissatisfaction) is that in life pain is inevitable, BUT SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL. How much we suffer depends on us, our internal development, and our spiritual understanding and realization.
By recognizing this, we can learn to use loss and suffering in ways that help us grow wiser and become more at peace with ourselves and the universe.
I believe that this is the time to become warriors for peace and dialogue, not warmongers or mere worriers. We must learn the hard lesson that without the pain of inner irritation, the pearls of wisdom will not be produced within us. I lovingly call this The Pearl Principle: no pain, no transformative gain.
I was lucky enough to interview the very talented and bold author/comedian Jordan Pease. When we began our conversation, I was immediately taken by the 23-year-old’s passion for life and dedication to his craft.
“When I first moved to California from New Jersey, I had grandiose dreams of everything magically falling into place,” said Pease. “But I quickly learned there are numerous amazingly talented people trying to follow the path I’ve chosen. It became clear that if I am to succeed, I need to throw everything into my work.”
“I always had a deep sense of pride in anything I attempted. I was taught from an early age that if presented with an opportunity or a talent, I should give 100 percent of what I’ve got.”
The same is true where his inner-truths are concerned –
“When it became clear that I was gay, I knew I had to be real with my friends and family.”
This included telling his soccer teammates.
“They were totally supportive and treated me like any other player. I worked hard, they worked hard, and that was all that mattered.”
And then his father died.
“I was 19 and in the process of trying to get the balls up to make something of myself. I always felt there was a greater purpose for my life. The challenges I faced (including the death of my dad) pushed me out of my comfort zone and toward LA.”
Pease didn’t know a single person when he made the big move and this didn’t stop him for a second.
“The secret to my success thus far is to never stop. I’ve always got a notebook with me. I never know when inspiration is going to hit or when I may score a gig. So I’m always trying to be one step ahead of the game.”
In 2013 alone, Pease has performed at more than 60 comedy shows throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“I keep hearing tons of excuses from my peers as to why they aren’t working hard toward a goal. One of the lamest is that the economy sucks. I’m going to prove that’s a bunch of B.S.”
Not only does he continue to score gigs, Pease is also the author of two books. His first, Don’t Let me Go, was published in 2010 and is based on his varsity soccer years. The second is a memoir that was published at the beginning of this year. Accidentally Ok satirically chronicles his 90-day adventure through Europe when he was 21.
While Jordan Pease is undoubtably a hilarious human being, I’m most impressed by his willingness to be artfully himself and belief that his wildest dreams will one day come true.
You can’t get much bolder than that!
Enjoy one of his comedy acts, and please pass it on:
Post by Jen Engevik
Project Be Bold
Ever since I can remember, I have been acutely aware of the suffering in the world, both that which is part of the fabric of life such as illness, death, and natural occurrences, and that which we create on our own through the perpetuation of our harmful beliefs and actions toward ourselves and others. It troubled me a great deal, and I often felt overwhelmed by it. I couldn’t make sense of it. At the same time, I recognized that many people deny this aspect of life. I felt quite isolated in my recognition of, and depth of feeling about, the painful aspects of being alive. This combination of factors became the impetus for my commitment to spiritual practice as well as my interest in psychotherapy. I began a very serious meditation practice as well as a great deal of inner work to clear my own harmful patterns.
I later learned that this is referred to as the “gate of suffering” in Buddhist practice–that the acute awareness of the painful aspects of life becomes the entry point into questioning conventional notions of attaining happiness through the acquisition of material possessions and pleasant experiences. That in fact this “gate” or doorway leads to the recognition that suffering is universal, that no one escapes it, and that it links us together as a human family. My response to this truth, as it is for many who recognize it deeply, has been to dedicate my life to learning how to respond to all beings with wisdom and love. This is quite a practice! I have also found that by facing suffering directly, it is transformed. The Heart can grow in its ability to love, and we can come to recognize the workings of Love all around us.
This commitment to using my life to grow in consciousness and living from the Heart has been the underlying force behind the various activities/roles that I have explored. Seeing the suffering in myself and others prompted me to undertake rigorous training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis so as to help others transform harmful patterns that were blocking their authentic life force and ability to express themselves fully. As I continued on in my meditation practice, I was offered the opportunity to teach, and to use this role to help others to turn toward their own pain with compassion, and, eventually, to see that it is possible to use our limited time here to follow the promptings of the Heart, to grow in our capacity for love and wisdom.
Listening to my Heart’s intention to grow also prompted me to explore the Yogic tradition. I completed a Yoga Teacher Training and seriously undertook the practice of Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of Devotion. Bhakti Yoga has taught me, and continues to teach me, how to open to life with gratitude, to recognize that the life force which created everything is large beyond my comprehension, to pay homage to its grandeur and to the energy which caused all that is to come into being. It is a softening practice that asks us to not habitually demand what we want from life, but to surrender and to listen deeply to what life is asking of us! By giving up control of how I think things should be (which often causes a lot of suffering when things don’t turn out according to plan), I have been taken to wonderful places that I never would have expected. And this leads me right to my music!
I never set out to be a singer, or to write songs, but instead wanted to learn to how open my heart to life by singing and chanting. Through this process, I eventually met a man who I thought was going to teach me some well known yoga chants, but instead suggested that I write my own music. Having never been trained as a musician, at first I thought this a preposterous suggestion (!) but eventually I settled into it, and it felt completely right.
I have been singing and writing songs for almost ten years now. I began by using ancient yogic mantras in Sanskrit with my original music. Eventually, I was asked to lead evenings of chanting where groups of people come together and use chant as a heart-opening practice. Continuing to sing, write, and lead others in this practice, has been a great blessing for me and has brought me much joy! Without this as an agenda, I came to meet professional musicians, composers, and singers who were writing songs outside of a spiritual/chant based tradition. Being exposed to them, exposed me to the art of song-writing, and has birthed a whole new aspect of my music.
My journey has been to wake up by transforming the inner suffering, to ignite the Divine spark of the Heart, to fan the flame of this inner fire of love. This is a universal spiritual journey, not owned by any one group, but is the potential of everyone. And so, my songs are now outside of any particular spiritual tradition, they are songs that speak to the Divine spark of Love that lives within us all. At its core, my music continues to convey the same intention that I set as my life’s work many years ago. How do we use our time here wisely? Can the suffering in the world be responded to with Love? How do we evolve in our consciousness to see the Largeness of Life with gratitude, to wake up to its mystery, and the miracle that there is anything here at all? How do we pay homage to that Force that created us and everything that we see, a Force that is wise and loving beyond our comprehension? And how do we recognize that it is this Force that is the guiding Force of our own Heart, whispering to us, and prompting us to follow Love as a path.
It takes great courage to be true to yourself, to go against popular opinion, or stand up for a cause. It takes great courage to face a fear. Courage does not have to be a grand feat, it can be as simple as saying no. We learn to be courageous by confronting and then working through the things we are afraid to do. When we learn to step forward to do something we believe in, even though fear is still present, we will understand what courage feels like.
“The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly.” –Corra May White Harris
– Taken from 365 Ways to Raise Confident Kids by Sheila Ellison & Barbara Ann Barnett
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
I am happy and proud to share a “fresh off the press” interview with one of my favorite authors. Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. She then moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her family when she was two-years-old. After Rhodesia’s war of independence in 1980, her family moved first to Malawi and then Zambia where she met her husband. In 1994, she moved to the United States and now lives in Wyoming with her husband, two daughters, son, horses, cats and dogs.
Alexandra’s books include:
The Legend of Colton H. Bryant (Non-Fiction), Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier(Memoir), and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (Memoir).
I was thrilled when I found out that Alexandra was so very willing to participate in a Q&A session with me for several reasons: Firstly, because aspiring writers need sound advice from accomplished writers on how to be bold enough to write and attempt to be published — secondly, because in my early 20s her book “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” helped me find the will to stare hurts from my childhood down and attempt to process them. And finally, my father Wilmer John Engevik had taken a trip to Zimbabwe a couple of years before he died in 1986…Alexandra’s words gave me an insiders view of the land in which my father adventured into and of which he shared such fascinating tales.
In my mind Alexandra embodies boldness — the willingness to place it all on the line so that others may find hope, beauty and truth…
When did you know you are a writer?
When I was five. My mother was home-schooling me for a couple of years before I went to boarding school. She loves words and books and writing and Art and she used to have me write “stories” from the adventures of our day out on the horses, or about what happened to the dogs and then illustrate my stories. I loved seeing the words make my stories both permanent and safe – once they were on the page they became exciting, as opposed to terrifying. I also loved watching her read what I wrote, her pleasure if I used a tricky, descriptive passage. Every child wants to please their mother, I think , and writing was one way to get my mother’s approval.
How can one be certain that he or she has the skills that it takes to write and be published?
That’s a hard question because I don’t think I ever take that for granted, even after a few books have been published. I guess I would say that in the past I have had the skill that it takes to write and get published, but I never know, from one morning to the next if that gift is still MINE. The more you write, the more likely it is that you will get published, but I wasn’t a good writer at university, and there are plenty of people (myself included, often) who would say that I have a long way to go before I really write well. It’s a moving target, like any art. Only very, very few people are natural at this, I would say.
Writing is a solitary act…have you ever found this to be a challenge?
Not really. I love being alone. I spent a lot of my childhood and a huge amount of my adolescence alone or with dogs/horses. In any case, I am never alone for long. I have three children, dogs, horses, cats, friends – sometimes the challenge is to find enough time to be alone. I also usually have the radio on for company, and I can’t remember the last day when I truly didn’t see another human being.
How did you first enter into writing professionally?
I wrote “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” after writing ten novels which circled around the same subject (all the novels were veiled accounts of my childhood). All the novels were rejected. But “Don’t Let’s Go” got accepted and I was on my way.
Have you ever doubted your writing ability?
At some point every day.
Do you have any suggestions for those struggling with insecurities and fear surrounding a writing project?
Well, I would say that insecurities and fear are part of the process. The trick is working hard enough on your own self (I try to mediate, walk, dig deep and uncover why I am feeling so insecure) to rise above the fear/insecurity arise if I let my ego take over. So much of writing for me is about working on having less ego (zero ego would be best!!) which makes it easier to get out of the way of my work.
How do you select topics for your books? Do you actively search, or do they make themselves known?
Both. I look for stories all the time, but eventually, one will just insist on itself, keep me awake, wake me up, shake me to my core and then I know I have to write it.
In several of your interviews, you have mentioned speaking your truth…in doing so what has it done for you?
I think learning how to be truly “truthful” (which is quite different from brutal honesty which I am sometimes accused of, but I am not sure that’s what I am aiming for) makes us awake, aware, alive. It’s a less safe place to be socially – most of us tell tiny little lies from the moment we wake up both to ourselves and others – but it’s a great place from which to write. I think/hope it makes the work more universal. All humans recognized “truth” when they see/hear it.
Your love for Africa is so very beautiful…I read that you want to return to live one day. What does Africa represent to you?
On the front flap of your book “The Legend of Colton H. Bryant” it reads: “Colton knew there were a hundred ways to die in Wyoming. That’s why he figured there was only one way to live – with all his heart.” What does living with all of your heart mean to you?
It means being very alive to every moment. Living in the gorgeous, difficult fatness of every experience. I think most addictions – to Facebook, alcohol, relationships, texting…whatever it is we do to stop from being where we are – are ways to avoid being completely present in every moment. I have found that working on trying to be here, now, has given me a richer tapestry to live in. It doesn’t mean there isn’t huge amounts of pain sometimes – being awake is an extremely painful process (I really felt this when I was writing ‘Colton’) but I would rather fully feel the pain so that it comes out in some neurosis or on my deathbed.
Finally, I would like to close with something that Alexandra wrote to me regarding our childhoods — I think everyone can benefit from her wisdom:
“I think our childhoods swell to take up too much room in the rest of our lives unless we face them – for all their complicated, difficult, double-edged gifts!”
– Post by Jen of Project Be Bold
Don’t forget to go out and make bold decisions!
Jane Goodall, the famous scientist who has extensively studied chimpanzees and continues to share her findings with the world, in her autobiography Reason for Hope, tells the story of how her destiny unraveled.
In her twenties, without a science degree, yet a profound love for animals and the natural world, she voiced her desire to the universe and her deepest wish became the driving force for her lifelong vocation:
Louis (the scientist that Goodall initially worked for) began to talk to me about his great interest in chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans…(he) was anxious to initiate a scientific study of (them). It would be difficult, he emphasized, for nothing was known; there were no guidelines for such a field of study; and the habitat was remote and rugged. Dangerous wild animals would be living there, and chimpanzees themselves were considered four times stronger than humans. I remember wondering what kind of scientist he would find for such a hurculean task.
When we returned to Nairobi from Olduvai, I continued working for Louis at the museum. But I wasn’t really happy being surrounded by dead animals, or all the killing that went on in order to get specimens for the scientific collection…I understood that dedicated staff felt that it was important to create a permanent record of life-forms that might one day vanish all together. But why was it necessary to have so many specimens of the same species of bird or rodent or butterfly?
Louis still talked about the chimpanzees from time to time. If Only I could do something like that, I thought to myself…something that involved observing and learning, and not killing. One day I blurted out: ‘Louis, I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about it because that’s just what I want to do.”
‘Jane,’ he replied, his eyes twinkling. ‘I’ve been waiting for you to tell me that. Why on earth did you think I talked about those chimpanzees to you?’
I had no training, no degree. In fact, he told me, he preferred that his chosen researcher should go into the field with a mind unbiased by scientific theory. What he had been looking for was someone with an open mind, with a passion for knowledge, with a love of animals, and with monumental patience…when he put it like that of course, I had to admit that I was the perfect choice!
And the rest is history…
All too often we fear that we will never arrive, only to find ourselves just where we need to be, at the right time.
May your dreams not lay hidden in the recesses of your mind — speak them! And you may be amazed at what transpires.
-Team Project BeBold