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I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I have always had an extreme fear of heights. I couldn’t handle walking to the top of the bleachers in the high school gym or auditorium, and even to this day when I am on a roof top I stay several arms lengths away from the edge, just in case. Now that I am regularly in Georgetown, every other day I have to climb a very steep and long escalator, that rises from the Rosslyn metro out to the street level. To the other commuters, it was an escalator, but when I looked up, I saw a mountain. I remember the first climb, I was clutching the railing, half praying and holding my breath as I took cautious steps up the moving escalator, sure that any moment might be my last.
Fast forward to the other day…I was astounded as I effortlessly climbed up the escalator at a brisk pace, and reached the top with not even a glimmer of my past fears. Where did the fear go? Day by day, taking each step, moving a little faster, somehow, I had conquered it. This experience reminded me that all too often we can look at our personal “mountain top” or goals and feel paralyzed with fear. The dream may seem too big, too ambitious, almost impossible. That’s why our daily steps towards our goals cannot falter. Each day, moving through our fear, taking a step a little quicker, a little slower, we inch our way towards the top. It’s important that as we climb, we give ourselves permission to go at a steady pace, maybe to stand still for a moment and regroup when setbacks arise, and to allow sudden bursts of courage to cause us to take a leap. However we make it to the top really doesn’t matter, as long as we don’t get off our path.
What tasks can you do today, to work towards your “mountain top”?
We artists have a tendency to get lost in our art sometimes. We are so good at creating, and finding inspiration, and can get so caught up in our work that when we finally awake from our hibernating haze we realize the rest our lives have fallen to pieces. Bills aren’t paid, relationships are on the fritz, or we simply haven’t had the time to do our hair. As artists, and when I say artists I mean everyone because everyone is creative, we forget somehow that our creative power that brings us such success in professional lives can also be wielded to create success in all areas of our lives. Vision Boarding is a tool I began using years ago to begin using my imagination actively in my life.
I first bought a notebook and cut our images of magazines, and collected inspiring images of role models and quotes I loved and compiled them into a “dream diary” of sorts, where I was allowed to envision myself already living the life of my dreams. I found myself doing it regularly, and sometimes forgetting about it, only to find one day when I opened my journal that I was living into the life I had envisioned. This is a powerful tool that is a great companion for general goal setting and new years resolutions. It’s an active way of tuning your subconscious to the frequency of the life you want to be living.
If you are the type who likes to compartmentalize you can create a vision board for every area of your life: Spiritual, financial, relationships, career, travel etc. Or you can be free form like I am and just start to gather images as the ideas come to you. There’s no wrong way to do it. I used to cut and paste from magazines and paste the poster up on my wall. Now I opt for a slightly lazier method of grabbing images from the internet, and creating a collage which I post on my computer as a screen saver. This way, I am programming myself daily to focus on my goals, because as soon as I turn on my computer, it’s right in my face. Give it a try, you’ll be surprised to see what doors open when you put your creative imagination to work!
How To Create a Vision Board:
1. Write down a list of goals or dreams in all areas of your life. This can include: health, travel, relationships, spiritual life, money, career etc.
2. Get specific. For example: I want to live in a condo is not as specific as I want to live in a 2 BR condo in a Georgetown elevator building, laundry and full gym in the building, with a great view of the water, and walking distance from a yoga studio. This is not time to be polite or compromise like you are sometimes with waiters and ignore what you want and later regret it as you pick out the olives that you hate from your salad. I have noticed, when spending time with really dynamic, energetic people, renown artists and business men/women alike…they never settle. They ask for what they want and don’t faintly wish that it will be delivered, they demand and expect that it will. The universe is giving you a menu for your life, if you don’t tell it that you don’t like fourth floor walk-ups and prefer an open kitchen, you may just have to be grateful for the fact that your quads are getting toned from all that stair climbing. The key point here is ASK for exactly what you want, don’t SETTLE.
3. Find or Create Images and Build your Collage. In this age of computer wizardry, we have the opportunity to photoshop ourselves into any scene we like. If you can’t go to that extent, then you can make copies of photos or yourself and paste yourself into a scene from a magazine. Be creative, and try to make sure you include your own image in as many of your images as possible.
4. Follow up. Make sure you make your visions more concrete by doing some research. For example: do you want to study fly fishing and you have this fantastic image of someone doing it on your board? Then do some research just for fun on where you could study and how much it would cost. The universe can deliver so much easier when you get as specific as possible and when you prove that this dream isn’t just a passing fancy. You must be committed, interested, and dedicated to hold onto the vision until it becomes a reality in your life.
Yesterday I was inspired on my morning drive into Georgetown, by Steve Harvey, the comedian, who signed off his daily radio show with a powerful message: “Never, ever think you have arrived,” he said forcefully. “When you believe you have arrived, you’ve reached a dangerous place, because you stop growing.” He then emphasized that there are different “zones” one can inhabit. The Challenge Zone, the Comfort Zone, and the Coasting Zone.
People in the Challenge Zone, are men and women with visions, who continue to strive for their dreams, attack new obstacles, and have the faith to step out and take action in spite of fear. We all know too well, the Comfort Zone, this is where you go day to day doing only what you’ve already done and fully know you are capable of. No risks, no surprises. The last zone, the Coasting Zone, is where a lot of people live, and don’t even realize it. People in this zone, don’t even do what they know that they can do or have done in the past. This is the zone, where you gave up or didn’t follow through even through you knew you had talent or an exciting prospect, but you convinced yourself it was too hard to try and have settled comfortably into giving the bare minimum.
This conversation was incredibly powerful to me, because I have seen it at work in my life. It is astounding that when I do something that scares the living crap out of me, it always leads to greater and greater success. Success is most definitely NOT a destination, it is more like a dynamic evolution. Nothing about true success is static…yes, positive habits can be formed to make success a way of life, but at the end of the day true success is being willing to truly live your life on the edge. That means taking risks, jumping full-fledged into your passions, having the grace to be a beginner again and again, and harnessing the power of a vision.
What zone are you living in?
One of the things I do, is act, or role-play, so it may seem strange to take advice from me on breaking free from what I love to do the most. When I say role-play, I mean in the context of our daily lives. This includes our many faces as mother, sister, brother, friend, lover, or co-worker. We have those faces, and then we have the faces given to us by society or designated by our professions. For instance, the statement, “I am an actress.” Some other people may say, “I am an African American actress.” People are thrilled by statements like these that include our daily descriptors of race, profession, and gender and are expected to limit the scope of a person.
You know those annoying, sometimes banal conversations you have during late night networking parties: “Oh, so what do you do?” You take a long sip of your cocktail before choosing to answer. “Oh, I am a lawyer.” The interrogator almost sighs with relief, because now he or she knows which box you fit in.
When it comes to ethnicity, I am an interesting case study. Depending on the day, I actually might find it entertaining to watch someone struggle with where I am from. I’ve heard everything: “Somalia, Ethiopia, South of India?” I shake my head to indicate, no. “Then it must be Eritrea? Rwanda? Jamaica?” I shake my head again, and the inquisitor is completely baffled. I have learned to stop telling the truth, because it’s not what they want to hear. They don’t want to know that I love that I could be from any of those places. What they are dying for me to tell them is some cockaninny story about me growing up in a one room hut in Ethiopia, but I usually just let them struggle. When I do tell them the truth, after being egged on way too long for a definitive answer, that I am neither Ethiopian, nor did I grow up in a shack, they are almost offended that I would utter such nonsense. As if I somehow did something deeply wrong, by shattering their accurate perception of who I am. All I can do is shake my head, and walk away.
Getting back to creativity…It’s amazing that we do this to ourselves or allow others to do this to us, to minimize our entire essence into one title or label. Of course we do it because it creates a sense of order, and because if we said “Oh, I am an actress, who makes films, writes screenplays and also enjoys writing non-fiction and poetry from time to time, designing clothes, belly dancing, and occasionally I sing and write music?” People might think we were crazy, scatter-brained, or may be so overwhelmed that they excuse themselves because it was TMI (too much information). Although, I do reply the typical “What do you do?” question with a label most times to avoid the judgemental glare of some stranger, I never restrict my creative expression based on a label given to me by my profession, my peers, my family, or whoever. I know you are proud of what you do, but do you really believe that you should cling so tightly to your personal or professional label at the expense of gifts that fall outside your prescribed “box”? I dare say, no.
Think about it. Perhaps it’ll feel scary, or you may seem crazy to others, but stretching the boundaries of your own idea of who you are and what you are meant to do in this life, may just save your life. You may find yourself stumbling into new realms a novice, but this time away from your claimed “identity” leaves you so inspired that it revitalizes your daily work and provides a new sense of freedom. Each moment builds upon the last and the last, just as each new experience builds upon the latter. It’s not up to you to make sense of why you are a lawyer who is also very skilled at juggling. It is also not your business to avoid juggling, and be jealous of all the jugglers you meet. It is just, simply, your God-given duty to juggle if it brings you pleasure, and share that gift with others.
We all know dream-killers. These are the people also known as playa-haters, jealous drama queens and kings, or staunch conventionalists who cling the holy grail of mediocrity and expect that you should too. The dream-killers that come in those forms are loud and ostentatious, but the worst kind are the silent dream-killers. These agents work with stealth, they are your peers, your family members, your close friends sometimes, maybe even your mate who slowly and methodically erode your dream with doubts by allowing their own personal discontent or jealousy to poison your ambition, by discrediting or comparing your brilliant progress to other “more successful artists”, or by responding to your enthusiasm with a shrug. Both kinds of these species are equally dangerous, but the latter, can enter and leave your world in so much of a tailspin that you can’t find the driven, positive person you once were staring back at you in the mirror. Or if you escape in time, like I always do, you may find a startling sense of creativity unleashed by the release of that negative influence in your life.
As important as fasting via food consumption is for the benefits it has on our mind and body, we can’t forget that certain kinds of life crises and stumbling blocks demand a spiritual fast, in this case a dream-killer fast. That means just as you would put that Twinkie down before you ruin your diet, you decide to not pick up the phone and call that “friend” who wallows and whines, makes you feel like a victim when you know you are powerful, or who throws a sarcastic comment your way whenever you mention your “crazy goals.”
In this dream-killer fast, you make a conscious choice to avoid people and situations that you know are spiritually toxic, and you choose to work on the person who is most often your worst dream-killer, you. That’s right. Weren’t you the one who decided you were too old to take that interesting art class, or stopped playing the instrument you loved cause you don’t have time for hobbies? Maybe you once dreamt of taking a leap of faith and starting your own business, or changing careers. Perhaps you have resigned yourself to a life devoid of passion, slaving away each day at a job you despise and have forgotten than once upon a time you had a real zest for life. The good news is, today is a new day. And it just might be the day for you to start fasting.
When embarking on this fast proceed with caution. Dream-killers are known to be ruthless, and have a keen sense for when they are about to be kicked to the curb. So kick hard, fast, and run for cover.
Most of us go through life chasing things. We chase after money. We chase after fame and recognition, the ideal mate, our dream career. If you live in New York City, you might chase and choose to forcibly push someone out of your way. Or you might be the unlucky receiver of the push, forced to swallow another incident that “made your day.” We chase and chase and at the end of the race we are dead tired, and out of breath. As we stand there frustrated by plans that went awry, panting, and clutching our chests from the rejections we faced, finally we are still. The funny thing is, that right there, in that place of stillness and surrender is usually where the tide begins to turn.
As I began my journey of eating raw foods, I found myself more comfortable in the silence, in stillness. They say we are what we eat, which is probably why the stillness, calm, and vitality of living foods seems to work deeper than just the physical level…it begins to permeate the spirit. We forget as we chase and hunger for things or to get somewhere other than right here and now, that everything originates from silence, everything is born from some form of stillness.
It took awhile getting used to the idea that I didn’t have to chase. I was lead to practice daily meditation because of a series of happenings, one of which was stumbling upon the book by filmmaker David Lynch “Catching the Big Fish.” Immediately, I began to notice, that the act of going within regularly, brought a sense of peace to my everyday, increased my creative output, and let me go with the flow in a way I never had before. Synchronicity, or as I call it the hand of God, became beautifully apparent. I would think of something I wanted to do, or be in need of something to complete a project and the right person, the right form of inspiration, would fall into my path effortlessly. Sometimes we choose to forget that this toxic crazy world we live in, is truly divine underneath it all. We chase our mirage of dreams, only to finally grasp them and discover they are fleeting. All that remains is the silence.