ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. But let me give you permission. It’s been said, you know. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. It’s happening right now. And now. And now. And it’ll keep on happening until, well, it doesn’t. (I’m not actually sure that’ll ever happen. And if it does, we won’t be here to know.)
As Steve Jobs famously reminded us, we’re all dying and we’re all going to die. So why not do what you want to with your life. I mean, imagine how silly we’re all going to feel years later and wiser when we look back and say, I stayed there for how long?
You know that perfect time you are anticipating. (When you graduate, when the kids are grown, when the bank holds more of your money, when you make that promotion, when you pay off the credit cards, when you lose 10 pounds, when you have more time.) The truth is that time is never going to get any closer than it is. Why. Because it’s already here. And here.
Go on, kiss the girl, write the book, form the band, go out on your own, test drive the car, study the language, save the money, use the passport, take the pictures, paint the canvas, buy the poetry, lace up the running shoes, pump up the tires, paint the walls, plant the flowers, grow the vegetables, try downward dog, sign up for dance class, have a child, say Hi, show up.
Whatever it is that you think you can do, Goethe told us, begin.
Your big bank. Your heart-break. Your prejudices. Your anger. Your toxic attitude. Your toxic job. Your toxic relationship. Your stress. Your old ways of doing things. Your self sabotage. Your bad habits. Your clothes you haven’t worn for years. Your fear of the unknown.
Because less is more. And almost everything is inessential. Let me say that again, because it is so entirely counter-everything we are sold in modern life: Almost everything is inessential. Most of all your reluctance to do x, y, or z. Yes, that, most of all. Let it go. Flush it down. Take it out. Recycle it. Compost it. Post it on craigslist. Stack it on the curb. Hang a sign on it. Burn it. Break up with it and change your number.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.
-Antoine de Saint Exupéry
We carry around entirely too much in our days. Like the term baggage, our phones are now great metaphors. The first iPhone was introduced in 2007. In less than eight years, most of the planet cannot function without it or some imitation. Being anywhere without our phones, including the restroom, is cause for panic. A casual glance inside any café or coffee house proves that it is our phones that control our lives and not the other way around. Real life does not care about almost any of what occupies most of our modern time and attention.
With everything that makes you uncomfortable. For all the unnecessary stuff we carry around, there’s an equal amount of important stuff we’re ignoring. Stop running. Stop avoiding. Stop denying. Stop going the long way around. Stop turning around. Stop making yourself busy. Just stop.
Take Pema Chödrön’s advice and lean into it. In fact, take this on as your new daily mantra. No matter what you are feeling. Whether it is reluctance, hesitation, fear, or excitement, anticipation, overwhelm. Stop. Breathe. Sit with it a moment. Lean into it. Become its intimate. Its confidant. Its co-conspirator.
Only then will you know the taste of marrow. Only then can you really understand what it means to seize the day, the moment, this electric now called life. Only then can you truly harvest the sweetness of life. And that, afterall, is the point. To harvest all the beauty you can find. It is your birthright. In this brave new world, we are asked to sow and sow and sow and yet most of us only manage to take home table scraps in return.
That wave of enthusiasm. Optimism. Gratitude high. Belief in the invisible forces that are really in charge. The ones that playfully shape our lives. Wrap the reins around your gloved hands. Tuck down. Kiss your unicorn on the neck. And give her a meaningful nudge with the heel of your boot. Like you mean it.
Then hang on.
And enjoy. Sure you’re scared shitless when she jumps over walls and leaps over crevasses a thousand feet deep. Yes, she’s going pretty fast. Yes, it would hurt if you fell. Yes, you’d probably break something. And it would be so totally worth it.
Feel the wind in your face. Watch the trees rush by. Feel the power in her stride. And marvel at the lengths that life will go to just to make you sit up and take notice. Trust your steed. Trust your hands. Trust the reins. Trust life.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable. (He’s also a novelist, essayist, videographer, painter, bike rider, and sometimes salvager of troubled lives.) He manages his condition, in part, by regular contributions to Reno Tahoe Tonight Magazine and to the borderless virtual tribe known as Rebelle Society. He also finds it helpful to talk with other humans. Feel free to friend him, follow him, or just invite him out for a beer.
Waking Up at Rembrandt’s, his debut novel, has received local and national critical acclaim. The second edition of the novel is available in print (think of vinyl, only for books) and on multiple e-version platforms. There’s also a book of poetry, love jaywalks, available everywhere ebooks are sold. Still on the horizon: a collection of essays, some new paintings, and a second novel, painted oxen, due out just as soon as all the words finish lining up. In the meantime, feel free to visit his website whenever you like. There’s more stuff there. www.tlqonline.com.
I’m just going to come right out and say this: You are okay.
I know that is completely counter-everything that you think and say to yourself all day, every day. It’s also the opposite message you’ve been fed your whole life. The church says you need to be saved. The ad folks say you need more stuff. The army will help you be all you can be. And you probably had a girlfriend who had a tip or two for you.
And then there’s the self-help book, guru, workshop.
There is a nauseating amount of self-help programs out there. From healing family karma to past life regressions to soul retrievals to dealing with money issues. From protecting yourself from energy vampires to how to attract a soul mate to ensuring you never have a bad hair day again. Ever.
And really, who can resist the chance to finally learn the secret handshake.
There are so many of these kinds of things out there for you to trip over that if you weren’t fucked up already, just reading through the list could convince you that you’re broken in ways you never even imagined. But who has the time or the money to be able to fix all these maladies in one lifetime.
And thinking about more than one lifetime is no less troubling.
I recently read about a process that helps you clear karma from your ancestors. Really? This is a thing now? Trust me, I’m issue-rich enough just dealing with my own behaviors and self-sabotaging thought patterns. Don’t tell me I’ve got to bear the weight of the mistakes from generations ago.
What thinks will they think up next?
That may be all you need. Really. Science shows that if we are grateful, we either become happier or we attract more things to be grateful for. Either way, it’s a boon. I’m ok with being happy because I have more to be happy about, or with being happy because I learned to change my thinking. Either way, I’m happy.
Truthfully, I’d be okay with the ignorance-is-bliss variety of happiness. I’d still be happy. Which is the point.
Being grateful is not as hard as it sounds. It’s really just being aware of how ridiculously fortunate we are to be alive. Hey look, this wrapping on my body (called skin) is still keeping all my blood from leaking out all over the room. And check it out, the sun came up again, allowing us to continue to see, eat, not freeze to death.
Also, the color blue is really beautiful.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s so much out there about being “present” that I hesitate even to utter that phrase. But the simple truth is, when we are focused on the present moment, then we are not able to worry about the past or the future. (It’s liberating just to think about, isn’t it?) This one thing has the power to free up all kinds of space in your psyche.
And if you’re not worried about the past, then whatever your ancestors did or didn’t do doesn’t matter one damn bit.
I think the important thing to remember about being present is that you really can’t be anywhere else. We lie to ourselves all the time about this. And we imagine that it takes years and years of discipline to be present. But really, it takes no energy at all. We’re already there. We just have to remember.
Oh, yeah, I’m present. Look there, I’m still present. Even now. Still present.
Finally, being kind just makes us feel better in general. It costs us nothing. I am far from the first person to suggest this. The Dalai Lama, for instance, has often reduced his whole philosophy of life, the universe, and everything to one simple tenet:
My religion is kindness.
And who doesn’t want to be kind. Think about it. Being shitty doesn’t actually make you feel better. If you’re honest with yourself, you’re never mean to someone (even someone you think deserves it) and then walk away feeling better about yourself.
Being kind is the ultimate win-win.
Well, there you go. And it didn’t cost you hundreds or thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars. And you didn’t have to commit to a weekend workshop, or buy a new yoga mat, or even change your diet. (Though, come to think of it, you do look like you could lose a few.)
I’m just kidding. Really.