22 Jan

Life Lessons Online

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I admit it, I’m a self improvement junkie.  Also, a confirmed believer in the silver bullet. A combination, not without its challenges. You see, I’m always looking for that rare melding of a logical process, a significant improvement to some aspect of my life, a short reference time frame, no really weird complex steps and all for under a hundred bucks. That may seem a little rich for a flyer but true fulfillment is priceless.

I’ve been on this journey for a number of years and have watched the formats and the presenters evolve. My first set was a Tony Robbins cassette pack that my office at the time had in their Library. I listened, and wrote and believed that I had the inner power to change my life. At the time I was working as a territory rep for a food wholesaler and grossly underpaid and overworked – at least, if not only,  in my opinion. Tony helped me to become a stockbroker that time. The hook bitten, I was in for life.

There have been many over the years, but the style and focus have taken some definite turns. Along that road I’ve come across some great ideas, some really weird ones and some downright dangerous ones. As most people do with these things, I embrace them wholeheartedly in the beginning, tell everyone I know what a great trip I’m on and then slowly the light fades, my interest wanes and I move onto the next great idea. This leaves me at a crossroads though: if I believe in the goal setters and the power-through-your-weaknesses crowd, I’ve simply given up when the going got tough. If I believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and the reason for failure to launch is because I’m not supposed to, then not following through is the right thing to do.

The easy path is the one I want, but like all things, I believe the true path lies somewhere in the middle. Everybody who has a voice to speak, a pen to write  or a blog to publish has something worth saying. I may not agree with them, but it’s important to hear them out, at least as long as the free trial lasts.

There have been a few though that remain favourites, they’re wisdom sound and they’re paths walkable but not easy. The key I’ve found, at least for me, has been to find the writers who believe that simplicity is more effective than complexity, and that the number of problems, steps and potential solutions is a finite one that is preferably under the number 12.

The authors/writers/bloggers who I admire most are the ones who aren’t trying to sell me a one stop solution (maybe an ebook or two, but that’s ok) – they’re not offering to save my soul, make me rich or asking me to convert to anything I’ll regret when I get really old. They’re mostly just trying to make me happy.They each have unique perspectives and a way of looking at the world that resonates deeply with me. It’s like an old school field manual, it doesn’t give you every step along the way, it simply provides you with knowledge you will need in different situations. Your responsibility is to know the material, keep it close and pull it out when you need it.

So with little fanfare and probably an even littler audience, I bring you my list of people who I think are doing their best to offer me a helping hand, improve the world a little bit and make their way with humility, grace and a brilliant vision of their corners of the world. I don’t know any of these people personally, I wish I did, but feel that I have a connection of sorts after spending a lot of time with the products of their minds and hearts.

For the guide to all things mindful, I turn to David Caine at Raptitude.com. He illuminates the way to the present moment in a way that only a boy from Winnipeg could – with honesty, common sense and a daily expanding grasp of what it means to be in the present moment for those of us in the real world. I also must thank him for the post on flotation tanks – I went to my first session the day I read his post and I have to tell you it rocks!

To learn how to eat, to be lean, healthy and to keep it simple, I turn to Mark Sisson at Marksdailyapple.com. His plan is called the Primal Blueprint and it makes eating well a pleasure. He’s sort of a Paleo guy but with his own way of going about it. As he says, it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. He writes with passion, walks the walk and actively posts and forums about his thoughts and ideas.

Leo Babuata at Zenhabits.net  is all about mastering change and the habits that are so important to a successful, happy life. This is his most recent post:  The Contentment Habit, read it, it’s brilliant. His Sea Change program rocks, but I must admit I’m a fairly new participant, actually, really new. I’ve always followed from afar but never took the plunge till very recently – I’m a member. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen put his uncopyright details on his site. His ebooks and material are all public domain and he’s comfortable with people doing whatever they want with his work. I now understand that meditation doesn’t have to be pretty, you can fall asleep, you can sit on the floor, sit on a mat or in your car… all that matters is that you do it and do it regularely.

Seth Godin doesn’t need any introductions but his work is fascinating. He takes the things that we see everyday as complex and mysterious, or don’t even notice and then explains them to me in a way that I shake my head and wonder why I didn’t see it myself. He’s the rockstar of marketing, and is worth reading for anyone – a little psychology, a little sociology, a little Madison Ave and a whole lot of seeing the world for what it is and understanding how to teach that in a way that gives you conviction. The only thing I will give you is directions: sethgodin.com.

Marc and Angel Chernoff at Marc and Angel Hack Life come out with some of the best ideas I’ve read on how to walk this path we call life. In their own words they’re, “passionate writers, admirers of the human spirit, and full time students of life”. It’s one of those sites that I find when I’m out of sorts or something is bothering me and I can’t quite articulate it, or they’re latest post in my inbox shows me the way.

It’s not an exhaustive list but where I go when I don’t have the answers to the things that matter most to me; my field manual for work, for peace and for all that confuses me on this path I walk.

-Billy

10 Jan

Art as a Journey

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IMG_1448I’ve always seen art as the key to unlocking a path between our minds, hearts and the people around us. Verbal communication is a direct but fleeting medium; the things we say to others are soon forgotten, or at best survive without the exact context and form we used. Art has given me the opportunity to sit back and contemplate my thoughts and feelings, and then choose how to best express them in a permanent form. With the spoken word, so much of what I say is in the moment and a reaction rather than an expression.

As a child and through my teens, pencil, pen and ink where the tools I used to reflect the images in my mind. In those years, the world around me was new and fascinating, the driving force behind my art wasn’t creating new visions, it was replicating the ones I saw before me. The closer I came to reproducing those images with my own hands, the closer I came to what I though of as excellence.

With experience and age came a desire to interpret. I was no longer satisfied with simply copying the images I saw around me, I wanted to reflect my own unique perspective for others to see. The contrast between shadows and light, the opposing intentions of different angles, the flow of structure all captured my attention, but mostly, it was the contrast between the things we have built and the things we were given. I no longer wanted to produce static images, what I wanted to do was capture a moment in time, preserve it for others to see as I saw.

For the next twenty years I moved from film, to digital then to digital SLR. Often the world would seem an opaque copy of itself until an image would draw me in; then it would bloom in full colour and I would scramble to capture the moment.

I’ve always traveled, and the difference between my world at home and the one beyond never ceases to amaze me. I’ve shot thousands of pictures, looking for that one perfect expression. A few have come close, some, while not what I had planned were good images, most were simply a way of filling up my hard drive.

I attended a photography course, and in the instructor’s opening remarks he asked the class how many good photos they thought they could take from a role of 36 exposures. He then polled the class and the responses, predictably, ranged from a low of 10 to a high of “all of them”. He smiled and said he thought we were maybe less discriminating than we should be. He went on to say that if we were able to shoot a few decent photos from a role, a couple of good images a year and one great one in our lifetime we should consider our work a success. His words have stuck with me for many years and formed the basis on how I judge my own work.

As I approached my fifties, I felt a desire to not only replicate and interpret the world around me, I now wanted to create it; to have a free hand in changing the things I didn’t like or agree with, or simply wasn’t attracted to. I wanted to build stories on the images and themes that I saw before me. There are truly great photographers out there who are able to tell an entire story with a single image, I am not one of them though I wish that I were.

Once again I found myself with a pencil in hand and a blank sheet of paper before me, only this time it was the written word. Through a search I did online, I stumbled on a group called Indie Ink. They were a small community of amateur writers from all over the world who would each week put forth a hand crafted prompt. We would each then be given someone else’s and a week to create a piece of flash fiction from it. Part of the criteria was that you had your own blog to post the pieces to, so people in the group could read your work. The posts were then judged and the “best” ones posted on the site. I did this for a year and found myself increasingly drawn to the mystery of fiction writing. The group ultimately disbanded as these things often do, but my passion for writing carries on. I‘ve stayed connected with some of the people that I wrote with, and am always amazed at how small a place this world really is.

So now I write. And while many think the writer’s path is a lonely one, I once again have the privilege to meet inspiring, articulate people who’s grasp of language leaves me in awe. Great words are more than simply a page in a book, they are physical; when you speak them they manifest themselves in sensation, they engage your mind and your heart and connect you to the world around you.

For me, I now understand that my artistic expression isn’t unlike a competitive sport. I’m not competing with those around me, I’m not even competing with myself; my adversary is in the challenge to overcome the limitations I have in producing a work that truly reflects what I feel.

-Billy

07 Jan

Chains of Fools

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I’m awake; my eyes aren’t open yet but the rest of my senses are alive. A silent wind carrying the shadows of salt, seaweed and woodsmoke dances across my face. I can see light on the other side of my eyelids but I’m not ready to let it in. It’s chilly outside but I’m wrapped in a safe, warm cocoon of thick, woollen blankets, soft as only the Irish can spin. My head is nestled in layers of down, clinging to the coolness. From the direction of my feet, the sea rises up and hurdles itself at the beach, short of my resting place it throws wave after wave at the tideline, only to slither back like a giant serpent, pulling the sand and pebbles  across the rocks.  A snap to my left and a hot sting on my exposed cheek opens my reticent eyes – the dying embers of last night’s fire gasp and turn over for the last time before they go dark.

This is a memory, and only memories pull us back from the moment we’re in to another. It’s not a choice, it’s a reaction. When the memories are good, we hold on and fight to make them last – the sweet perfume of  our first love, the opening bars of a song, the soft moisture left over from a first kiss.
These are the windows that draw us to our past. As in all guilty pleasures though, there is a price, nothing is ours without cost. For us who give in to the siren call, there is a dark side –  a jealous mistress.

We walk through our lives, sometimes with ease, often with challenge. We look back on our mistakes and shortcomings, we try to turn away and stand tall. We want to be someone better, but just as we crest the hill, we are slowly entwined by the chains of our past, like Gulliver, bound to the land one small string at at time. Our lover pulls us back to our failings, she screams inside our heads, reminding us of who we are, where we belong.

I am tired of this battle. Torn between the steel grip of who I was and the promise of who I want to be – I  find no solace. It’s not because I haven’t the strength to be a better man, it’s because I’m too weak to throw off the shackles of the past. The harder I fight, the tighter they grow.

I awake this morning and before anything else, I check my thoughts to see if she’s still there; every morning she lays quietly, smug in the knowledge that I feel her presence before I even breathe. It’s stifling and hopeless. I look out the window for distraction and see the old maple that protects our home.

I watch the wind tear at the remaining few samara. They hang on with everything they have, hoping for their summer strength to return, all the while wishing they were free to go beyond the roots of their home. The wind strengthens as does the resolve of the tiny winged seeds, they shudder and tremble in the face of the wind, then give in, they release themselves from who they were and fall free of their past. Before they’ve a chance to drift down and see the end their lives at the foot of the tree they were born, they catch the wind and fly.

Billy