Certainty

 

Certainty is a fascinating notion because no matter how sure you are, there’s always a chance something else will happen simply due to the chaotic nature of the universe.  By definition, the most certainty you can ever have is the thing you control the most: I choose to define that as inner wisdom, essence, what makes us who we are. It will undoubtedly be questioned under duress but when cultivated, it’s the most reliable principle we have – even if you define yourself as the most chaotic factor in the equation you can at least be relied upon to be chaotic.  It’s no secret that I’m fairly erratic in my lifestyle, but I still find comfort in it.

Most people who don’t have many certainties are early on the path of discovering who they really are, but we also encounter people who are overly certain – they don’t have many certainties, but they also don’t have many uncertainties (perhaps those who define certainty as having a job and other things in the world they feel they can rely upon). Logically this would mean they are closing themselves off from becoming more evolved beings, but living on a single level with complete certainty of who they are is a perfectly valid choice.

We are born with characteristics to discover about ourselves – if we don’t like them then we can endeavor to change them or we can learn to live with them.  We also have spaces which can be filled with certainties as we establish them.  Because certainties are consciously made decisions, they define us more than characteristics do.  But once we have answered one question with a certainty, we create spaces for many more – so really, the people with the most certainties are also the people who are the least certain.

Why Skipping New Year’s Resolutions is a Great Decision

…And no, the answer is not “so I can keep making bad decisions all year.”

First of all, I love everything about resolutions.  Resolving to do something means you have made a decision to challenge yourself.  Being resolute means you believe in something strongly.  If you have resolved a problem, you have accomplished something.  All of these are wonderful, positive things.  

So why do we only do it once a year?  It’s not that I am opposed to deciding to change your life on the first of January each year.  I’m opposed to not trying to change your life for the better on every day of each year.  The implication of New Year’s resolutions is that you only make them once each year – and that will make for a very static 365.25 days.  

New Year’s is a pretty arbitrary time to make a resolution – there’s no change in season, nothing exciting really happens for any time in the foreseeable future, and most cultures celebrate a New Year on day just as random as ours.  Any psychologist, life coach, businessperson, or generally successful human will tell you that in order to successfully impact a change on your life, you need an incentive.  Unless you really like the number 14, changing your calendar is a pretty poor one.  Also, a year is a really long time to enact most resolutions – really, you’re setting yourself up to procrastinate.  And lastly, making New Year’s resolutions is such a traditional thing to do that most people don’t even put any thought into it, much less a plan (another thing you need in order to succeed at just about anything, by the way).  

I’m not saying New Year’s Eve isn’t a great time for some reflection – but any time is a great time for reflection, and ideally it would happen more than once each year.  Like everyone else, I lead a busy life and often I need something to remind me to stop for a minute and think of how far I’ve come – and how far I still have to go.  Usually that happens when someone asks me for my “professional opinion” (or I find myself on a plane towards New Jersey), but if looking at the calendar and noticing it’s the 31st December is your motivation then that’s great too.  

Similarly, you should make resolutions any time you feel your life needs a change. I make resolutions on a daily basis, and I tend to be pretty successful with them.  My most successful resolution was made a few years ago.  On 8 February 2009 I decided I was going to go to the gym every day – and I kid you not, unless it was closed or I was off travelling the far corners of the world, I have been to the gym every single day since then (even a gaping wound in my ankle didn’t stop me from a gentle yoga practice).  Sure, the date is just as arbitrary as 1 January, but something that day got me to make that decision and stick with it.  That is a resolution that happened to stay  –  but not all resolutions should.  

As I mentioned before, sticking with one idea for 365 days would make for a static year.  Making a decision with the intent of keeping it for a full year is setting yourself up for failure not only because a year is a long time, but because if your life changes and your resolution is no longer relevant, you will see it as a failure.  I became a vegan about a year ago because I thought it would make my singing voice clearer – sort of important for someone studying to be a professional vocalist.  It was great, and it worked while I was living alone and always cooking for myself.  But now that my situation is different, it’s no longer conducive to my lifestyle.  Had I said “I am never going to eat anything with milk ever again,” I would be feeling pretty down on myself. New Year’s resolutions simply do not allow for the flexibility we need in our lives.

On that note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful, prosperous year and beyond.  I hope you skip the guilt-ridden New Year’s resolutions and instead choose to spend some time reflecting on everything you have and have yet to accomplish 🙂

Mementos

I have a very strong aversion to clutter.  I frequently assess everything I own and chuck large portions of it into a charity bin.  Why I do this I couldn’t tell you; I admit that it is indeed a bizarre habit especially in an American culture where things define who you are and having more always seems to be better.  If I had to guess, I would say this proclivity is rooted in the notion that I like to be ready to flee the country or make a major life change at any given moment, and having to choose which things to bring would slow me down immensely.  I mean seriously, I have my passport with me at all times and if you say “let’s go to Ecuador right now” I would not hesitate to get on the next plane out of Newark- I’ve done it before and I wouldn’t think twice before doing it again.

But I digress.

Today, I was enlisted by my mum to assist with de-cluttering on a massive scale in our attic.  She had attempted this before but could never decide what to get rid of- however after about an hour I had torn through half the place leaving about a dozen big black rubbish bags in my wake.  Clearly, it is not difficult for me to throw away things that “have memories.”

Think about that.  “Things that have memories.”  Isn’t that a strange concept?  Of course things don’t have memories.  People have memories, but because our minds are so full of other mundane nonsense, we forget them.  To try to avoid forgetting our experiences, we trap them inside things. A ticket stub from a concert reminds us of great music; a dried corsage brings memories of prom weekend.

Three thoughts on this: First, if something was that memorable, how could you possibly forget it?  Perhaps it wouldn’t be in the front of your mind often, but the memory of an amazing experience should be burned into your mind.  Second, how often do you dig through your stuff to go through mementos and reminisce, and lastly does it make you happy?  Obviously I speak only for myself, but when I used to go through boxes of old stuff, it usually made me sad to think of times gone by rather than happy to think of good things that happened.  After I realised this, I went through my then-sizable collection of random stuff that evoked memories and instantly weeded out any that didn’t make me remember something positively delightful.  All I was left with were some old student IDs that showed the amusing progression of the enormous amount of hair I’ve cultivated on my head, a dog chain that I used to wear all throughout high school, and one of my dad’s old shirts.  I kept them because it seemed right, but I can honestly say that even these items I don’t think I would miss.

It may seem foolish to try to forget anything negative that happened, but we’re not really defined by them, are we?  We’re defined by how things that transpired resulted in our developing as humans.  We can’t control what happens, but we control how we process it- and going back to dwell on and re-process events will rarely change anything.  I find that happy memories stick with me regardless of whether or not I have physical evidence of them.  And even better, they get evoked unexpectedly by random events- it’s more common for me to hear a song that reminds me of a really fun night I had or to smell something that reminds me of a special person than for me to go digging through a box yearning for memories of days gone by.

To me, the ideal human condition involves total lack of attachment to physical things and the ability to navigate the world without any baggage.  Our concrete past doesn’t have nearly as much bearing on who we are as people as what we learned from it does.  Memories are nice, but they’re little more than an animal instinct- simply put, even a dog can remember being fed and associate its food bowl with mealtime.  Our true advantage as humans is our ability to remember that we liked Indian food last time we tried it, and to find a new restaurant with similar cuisine; to process the past in a way that allows us to gain a greater understanding of the world we live in- why waste time re-learning things you’ve already done through a box of old junk?

Travelling

I have always loved travelling.  Recently, however, my wanderlust has been particularly strong.  Since 2009, my international travels have included the Bahamas, India twice (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Shekhawati, Dharamsala, and Bir), Scotland (Edinburgh, Loch Lomond), the Netherlands, Spain (Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona),  Italy, France, England (London, Rye, Kent, Wadhurst), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), and the Dominican Republic.  In less than 2 weeks I graduate, and two days afterwards I will be off again- starting in London and then most likely heading to Greece (Mykonos or Kos), Morocco (Fez), and the Czech Republic (Prague).

Whew.  Considering I’ve done all that while being a full-time student and also holding jobs, that’s not too shabby.

Edinburgh

Climbing the mountain by Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

Most people want to travel, I don’t think I’m any different in that respect.  The difference is that with me it’s a borderline compulsion.  I find a way to do it even if it means not buying groceries or textbooks or selling half my possessions on Ebay.

Why?  Good question.  I have had many conversations with many people about why I have a constant need to travel.  I think a large part of it is that I feel as though I am a citizen of the world, not any one place.  I don’t necessarily identify with any one culture, though there are some that I prefer to immerse myself in over others.  I love to see how humans in different locations have built unique societies and have such diverse ways of life- I find it astonishing that one species can develop such different cultures based on their geographic locations.  I also love seeing the natural world and all it has to offer.

Is there a deeper reason for my waywardness?  Some say I’m running from something, others think I’m chasing it.  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve always wanted to travel and the only thing holding me back was lack of means.  My mum will tell you that as soon as I got a job and had a car, I was never home.  I don’t often feel a pull to any specific place, it’s more that I’m constantly fighting some sort of force that’s trying to pick me up and bring me somewhere, anywhere.

Regardless of whether or not I’m fleeing or chasing, I still find travelling extremely neccessary.  I think it’s important to be aware of other cultures, other people’s perceptions of the world, and just the phenomenal gift that is life.  Think about it, though: self-awareness.  What a concept.  We are all a part of something greater, there is some sort of force that holds us here.  Self-awareness isn’t just awareness of your own being, but also everyone else’s and how we’re all intertwined.  There’s a sense of unity that I find when I’m outside of my comfort zone, whether it’s sitting in an airport for 15 hours watching all the people in transit or whether it’s walking ancient ruins that were build thousands of years ago by humans just like us.  It makes me realise that deep down, we are all struggling with the same human issues and enjoying the same human pleasures- some things transcend culture and geography.

So maybe I am running from something.  Maybe I am chasing something that I’ll never find.  Regardless, I’m enjoying the trip!

Decisions

I’m at a point in my life where I can sense that a cosmic shift is going to happen soon.  Obviously I’m not clairvoyant- I’m graduating, I’m travelling to Europe for a few weeks, I’m taking a full-time day job- anyone would sense that a lot of major changes are coming very soon.  Hopefully I’m simultaneously continuing my yoga teacher training and picking up cocktail gigs, but either way it’s going to be a massive change for me to be working in an office instead of running around performing and rehearsing and going to classes.  So I’ve been thinking about everything that I’m doing and wondering if any of it is relevant.  I know that all of the above is going to happen regardless of what I do now.  But is this because of the decisions that I’ve made and the things that I’ve done up to this point, or is it because or something else?

This led me to think about predetermination in the bigger picture.  Do any of our actions actually matter, or are our paths already chosen for us?  Was it determined by some power that my life would go the way it’s going before I even started making any decisions?  Are we truly victims of circumstance?

If philosophers have spent centuries pondering this and haven’t figured it out, I don’t suppose I have in my 21 years of experience.  Regardless, how you think your actions affect your life certainly affects the choices you make.  If I truly believed that nothing I did mattered, I wouldn’t do anything I found difficult because if I knew that the outcome would be the same, why would I bother?  Would you?

But are you actually making those choices or has something else determined that you would?  I’ve had to make lots of important decisions lately in all aspects of my life- work, school, relationships- and sometimes I can predict the direct results but sometimes I have no idea what will happen.  How do you make a decision when you don’t have any way of thinking of the results?  Do you even think of the consequences when you decide something, or do you just do what feels right at any given instant?

Clearly in order to function as sentient beings we need to at least have the illusion of choice.  Either that, or we need to give up the idea of consequential thinking and make decisions purely on instinct.  But if that’s the case, what makes us better than animals that do the same?

I am a fairly decisive person, so the notion of whether or not our choices are actually choices has plagued me for as long as I can remember.  I know what I want and I make sure that I get it.  Few things irritate me more than hearing “if it’s meant to happen, it will” or “you’re so lucky” because I like to think that I’ve worked hard for everything that I’ve got.  But at the same time, is it a direct result of my effort or did something else make the decision long before I did?