My Covenant to Myself

For years, I have been told to follow my passions, my dreams, visions. When I first read the Alchemist, I started to watch for signs–I started to listen to my heart. I have endured, as many have, a lifetime of searching, longing for my calling to beckon to me, to scoop me up out of my mundane day-to-day and lift me into the life I am “meant” to live. There has been so much riding on this idea of a calling, a passion, a spark.

Today, as I finished reading the concluding story in a series of books about war, love, magic, and faith, I was overcome by gratitude. As I turned the last page and read the last words, I looked up to see the sun shining through the leaves in the tree above me. The winds came gently, caressing the leaves, tantalizing them with their falls and fall they did, tenderly weaving to the earth. The throes of their last dying life force, in full view for me. I was overcome by the immensity of goodness in the world, as it is inherently just so. The beauty of the leaves falling hauntingly to the ground to feed a new spring touched my soul. I looked to the west and saw the sun fall behind the branches of a tall evergreen tree. The sun spread its rays of light all around it, as it does only when half hidden. I leapt up off the bench I was sitting on and floated up to the top of the tree.

At the top of the tree, the sun lingered above, still in full force. I had climbed beyond the shade into the lingering warmth. As I sat in the tree, the wind swaying me back and forth, I felt pressed to close my eyes and pray. I have never prayed, it was profoundly unfamiliar and yet as I did, I felt only grace. I am not religious and never have been, but as I closed my eyes and felt the sun and the wind, heard the rush of the breeze, smelled the decomposing earth below, I was touched by an energy. All negativity was expelled from me and I was so full of gratitude for everything in my life, the highs and the lows, that I could have burst. I prayed to my own heart and to the energy I felt, offering surrender in return for guidance. I heard a call.

As I swung down from the tree, I closed my eyes once more and returned to the feeling of peace and warmth emanating both from within and all around me. I allowed myself to feel guided in a direction, gently continuing my surrender. I remembered when I was younger, I used to do the same thing, always pausing, walking slowly to allow myself to listen to my heart. I would trust my intuition implicitly, following it everywhere. As I write this, I feel anxious because I am writing about that which I don’t fully understand, because my identity is shifting as I let old realities melt away. And yet, I am at peace because I can feel that my heart has started to guide me once more.

As I step forward into the next phases of my life, it will be with purpose, with direction, and with heart. I know that there will be pain. I know that I will be challenged, as all are on their true paths. I know that I will feel loss and sorrow, too. But more than anything, I will feel like me, and that is all that matters. As I think on what I am called to do, on what my vocation may be, I must share that it is a mystery. That feeling of being scooped up, of being carried to a higher plane of existence is entirely misguided and misleading.

However one might speak of the feeling, whether as one’s heart whispering to them, or as God speaking truth, or as a guiding force, or intuition, the feeling is gentle. This whisper can only be heard in the peaceful moments between actions, in the space allowed for it. This calling is omnipresent, and yet transparent, unseeable. It cannot be heard unless listened for and even still, sometimes is missed. There is no one calling for me, no one vocation or path, there is no one job or mission for my life. The callings are like the quiet caresses of the wind through the leaves on a peaceful day, helping to share the beauty of life, if only we listen.

This summer, this life, the love I have felt, and the losses I have endured… The pain that I have grown through, and the knots in my bark… The warmth of the sun and laughter of children… They all are present both in reality and in the shimmering fabrics of who I am. Every experience I have journeyed through, fought for, surrendered to, avoided, and passionately engaged with, they are all me. My life is eclectic, my fabrics are swirls of colors, glistening in the sun and sparkling in the moon. My life is illegible and unreadable, it is malleable, and yet grounded. It is frightening and seeks the unknown. It is exciting and foreboding, beckoning and full of pain, of love, of joy. I cannot say where my life will lead, but I can promise that it will be mine, lived fully as me.

As I finish writing this pivotal piece, I reflect back through the last months of my life. Each moment coalescing into who I am now, who I am becoming. I have felt profound change on the horizon, unnamed until this moment. I have felt anxious about my future, knowing the stability of my past, uncomfortable with the independence of freedom. I have been strung along through my life, mostly following the guidance of others, the call of society. There are so few things that I have felt authentically proud of, fulfilled by. Things that are amazing to others are dull and colorless to me.

So much of my life has been committed to the machinations of a construct unfathomably large, the hive mind of humanity. It is nearly impossible to escape from the pervasive will of the many. It drowns out the gentle call of my heart.

This summer while in Ghana, I had more free time than perhaps ever in recent years. Much of my days were spent alone, reading in my room or writing. I escaped the doldrums of reality into worlds of fantasy, of magic, and of love. I longed for adventure and even though I was in a foreign country around the world, I looked for it in books. I don’t know if I was afraid to engage, or if I didn’t want to, or if I simply was depressed. Every day was a new challenge because I had to convince my heart to beat, I had to make myself awake. I have felt like this in the past, and especially in some of the parts of my life that others might envy. Throughout college, I have dealt with this feeling of lethargy.

Imagine for a second, if you will, that each person’s energy is like a cup of water being filled. Everyone is different, certain activities might fill one person’s cup while draining another. But every life is a cup. For the last many years, I have been living in a world where simply doing my daily tasks, drains my cup. My environment has torn a hole in the bottom of my vessel and no matter how much I put into my cup, it floods out the bottom. I don’t mean to be depressing or dismal, but I do want to be alarming. I have felt for years that there must be a better way to live life, and I have been searching for it.

In my search I have come across many truths and many ideas that could be true. One of the simplest ideas I have found and developed is the idea of one’s inside happiness and one’s environmental compatibility. Largely, happiness, fulfillment, and joy come from within. There are choices that we can all make to put gratitude before anger, courage before fear, and action before inaction. We can choose to be positive, optimistic in a world full of fear. This is an inside choice and some claim that by turning this dial, it will solve all qualms. I do not quite believe this, though. I think that one’s environmental compatibility is as important as one’s inside journey.

To be fulfilled, a person absolutely must be living their life in a way that is fit for them. Every person is different and it is nearly impossible to look to others for affirmation that an environment matches a person’s vocational necessity. Each of us must walk our own path, paths even. Each of us must listen to the gentle callings of our hearts and align our actions and environment with those callings. Even if I choose all the right things on the inside I still must escape the vacuum of inaction and stagnancy. To live in the world that I want, to align myself with the environment I want, it is likely that I have to create it, manifest it.

My journey forward is set with the intention and the true north of this idea: For my life to be as it should be, I must listen to my heart and manifest the reality that I need. There is nothing stopping me but me. I do not know where I will be guided, I do not know which oceans I will cross first or which people I will come to love. I do not know what beautiful colors will be added to the fabrics of my life. I only know that I must walk forward with the faith that if I listen to my heart, all else will fall into place. I know that I am here on this Earth to do something good, as are we all, and I intend to stride forward, courageously manifesting the world that I know can exist.

I sign this Covenant of the Magnolia Tree with myself.

1. I will always listen for the gentle guidance of my heart.
2. I will have courage in the face of the unknown.
3. I choose to believe that anything is possible and that I can manifest any new reality.
4. I will not hold myself accountable to solve all the problems of the world and will focus on being true to myself, as by doing so, the problems that I can solve will fall before me.
5. I will love compassionately, forgiving when possible, and growing with all I come into contact with.
6. I will act when I hear the call, even if I am terrified of the consequences.
7. I will never again feel ashamed of who I am.
8. I will never give up on myself or my life. I choose life in the face of death.

Faolan Sugarman-Lash

My future is rife with opportunity, to love and to mourn, to grown and to learn. As I set forth, I will bring with me all the experiences that have made me who I am, I am draped in the fabrics of my past. I will choose to help not hurt, to strive instead of balk. I will give of myself the best that I can, always hoping that by being me, I can treat the afflictions on humanity and on our shared home. I will not name myself that which I am not. I am a healer and an artist, I am a visionary and a philosopher, I am a wanderer and I am a writer. I choose to be me.

The Passing Sun

Just 12 minutes ago I was sitting on a bench reading a short piece by Paolo Coelho, which I have pasted blow:

“Manuel needs to be busy. Otherwise he feels that life has no meaning, that he is wasting his time, that society has no need for him, nobody loves him, nobody wants him.

So as soon as he wakes up e has a whole set of tasks to do: watch the news on the television (something may have happened during the night), read the newspaper (something may have happened yesterday), ask his wife not to let the children be late for school, get the car, a taxi, a bus, the subway, but always concentrated, looking into the vacuum, consulting his watch, if possible making a few calls on his cell phone – and making sure that everyone sees that he is an important man, a man useful to the world.

Manuel arrives at work and starts to pore over the pile of paper that awaits him. If he is an employee, he does everything possible for the boss to notice that he arrived on time. If he is the boss, he sets them all to work right away; if there are no important tasks to do, Manuel will see to developing some, creating some, implementing a new plan, establishing new lines of action.

Manuel goes to lunch – but never alone. If he is the boss, he sits down with his friends, discusses new strategies, speaks badly of the competitors, always keeps a card hidden up his sleeve, complains (with a touch of pride) about being overworked. If Manuel is an employee, he also sits down with his friends, complains about the boss, says he is working a lot of overtime, claims in despair (and with a touch of pride) that so much at the firm depends on him.

Manuel – boss or employee – works the whole afternoon. From time to time he looks at his watch, it’s time to go home but he still has a detail to solve here, a document to sign there. He is an honest man; he wants to justify his salary, what others expect of him, the dreams of his parents who went to such great pains to give him the necessary education.

Finally he returns home. He takes a shower, gets into some comfortable clothes and sits down to have dinner with his family. He asks the children about school, his wife how she spent the day. Now and again he talks about his work, just to serve as an example – because he does not like to bring worries home. Dinner over, the children – who are not the least bit interested in examples, duties or any such things – immediately leave the table and go to sit in front of the computer. Manuel too goes to sit down in front of that old apparatus from his childhood called the television. Again he watches the news (something may have happened in the afternoon).

He always goes to bed with some technical book on the bedside table – whether boss or employee, he knows that the competition is great and that if you do not keep up, you run the risk of losing your job and then have to face the worst of all curses: unemployment.

He talks to his wife for a while – after all, he is a gentle, hardworking and loving man who cares for his family and is ready to defend it in any circumstances. Sleep comes soon and Manuel falls asleep knowing that the next day he will be very busy, so he needs to recoup his energies.

That night Manuel has a dream. An angel asks him: “Who do you do this?” He replies that he is a responsible man.

The angel then asks: “Would you be able to stop just for fifteen minutes during the day and look at the world, at yourself, and just do nothing?” Manuel says that he would love to, but he does not have the time for that. “You’re trying to fool me,” says the angel. “Everybody has the time for that, what they lack is courage. Work is a blessing when it helps us to think about what we are doing. But is becomes a curse when its only use is to prevent us from thinking about what our life means.”

Manuel wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in a cold sweat. Courage? How can a man who sacrifices himself for his family not have the courage to stop for fifteen minutes?

Best to go back to sleep, it’s only a dream, such questions lead nowhere, and tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.”

I was struck by this piece and immediately put down my book of stories. I set it aside and said to myself: “I’m going to see how long I can do nothing at all.” I had never posed this challenge to myself before. Guess how long I made it. 8 minutes!!! That’s nothing! However, I learned some very interesting things along the way.

The first thing that I noticed was that as soon as I put my book down, I was bored. Within three second, the most interesting thing in my life was my breath and so I breathed. I took deep breaths, noticing the cool air flowing in through my nostrils, filling my lungs, and then pausing before flowing back out, warm this time. After I few deep breaths, I started to notice that my body was uncomfortable. My left cheek was shaking and I let the tension leave my body. My legs were extended too far, so I crossed them under me. My back, uncomfortable against the bench. I noticed my body and the sensations happening inside myself.

And then, I felt the sun hit my face and I was suddenly hot. It was a cold morning and all of sudden I was sweating. I took off my sweatshirt. I heard the sounds of the birds and of the people passing by. Loud birds and loud people, quiet birds and quiet people. The breeze shimmered through the air and carried with it a cool touch, balancing the hot sun. I noticed finally that the sun had found its way to my face through a small break in the leaves of the tree above me. The sun, so hot, would be there for only a few moments and then would pass. It was uncomfortable and yet fleeting. I realized that all experiences are like the sun as it passes through the leaves, one moment touching us and the next leaving us in shade again. Those fleeting moments, in their brevity, are sacred. Each moment of our lives, no matter the level of discomfort, joy, or sadness is fleeting and deserves attention, presence, and gratitude.

On another note, meditation has always been hard for me and today when I simply decided to actively stop, it naturally happened. I followed my breathing and scanned my body. I noticed the continuously changing nature of life and was grateful for it. Meditation is so often prescribed, when it is the absence of prescription. By simply pausing, one can notice the beauty and brevity of life.

The Breath of Presence

I was just reading some articles by a woman who I have an informational interview with tomorrow morning. She is a coach and seems like a wonderful, insightful, and wise person. However, I was lost in thought about something that happened today… In other words, I wasn’t really reading as much as I was digesting my day. It’s important to digest one’s day before moving into the next day, I have found.

Today I was walking out of a class when a fellow student ran up to me and said loudly “Baylen! … What’s your name again?” I introduced myself formally and she asked, rather out of breath and seemingly panicked, “You’re in my other class right? We have that assignment due tonight! Should it be double-spaced or single-spaced. My team isn’t doing anything to help.” As her whirlwind of questions came at me, I was, at first, rather put off. I was on my way home after a long day and wanted nothing less than to explain a prompt to her and answer her questions. But, I slowed down, and talked it out, which took only a few minutes. She smiled and thanked me and I went on my way.

As I thought about this moment from earlier today, I thought that perhaps I should have first told this girl in my class to take a big, deep breath and then ask me again. It seemed like something rude to do and I’m glad I didn’t do it. But, it did make me wonder: if I had taken a deep breath, would she also have? At that moment I was struck by the simplicity of this action that my mom has been telling me to do for years. I took a deep breath, looked up from my computer and was immediately present. I saw everything in my room, from the Christmas lights near the ceiling, to the photo of New Zealand on the wall. It all hit me at once and I was so grateful for my life and the present moment.

The first thought I had was, “I should write about this.” So, here I am! When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that all it takes to calm down, return to the moment, and welcome gratitude back into life is a deep breath and a pause.

The Generalist

It took me many years to come to terms with what it means to be a generalist. The dictionary describes a generalist as one who is competent in several different fields or activities. For me, it’s a little more personal. Over the course of my life basically nothing has been hard for me to learn or pick up. Everything I’ve ever tried I’ve gotten the basics of relatively quickly. I don’t say this to brag or tout my incredible skills because it’s really not like that.

I was sitting with one of my mentors this summer and he was explaining to me that most people’s lives are lived one finger forward, pointed clearly in some direction. Doctors, musicians, and other specialized paths require this one finger forward approach to life. He then took out his hands and splayed all ten fingers as widely as possible and said “This is you.”At first I was caught off guard and perhaps a little offended when he said this but over the last few months the truth of his statement has resonated with me. I am a true generalist.

I love to learn new things and differing things. My knowledge is disparate, wildly uncorrelated, and yet so important. My experiences vary across the board. It’s been hard for me in my life to find people who really understand what it’s like to be me. Since I was 6 years old or so I have been a nerd, starting with Pokemon cards, then Yu-Gi-Oh! when I was 7, and finally Magic when I was 9, which I still play today. I also grew up in nature, as fully immersed in the reality of dirt and sticks as in the imaginary worlds of dragon-slaying and wizards.

As I got older, I embraced the world of “normal,” taking up sports and school work. I creeped up into the varsity world of sports in high school, eventually achieving MVP of my track team and becoming a captain the following year. This was a big achievement for me because it meant that other people my age understood something about me. Shortly after this it was announced that I had won a pretty huge scholarship for playing Magic in the amount of 20,000 dollars over four years. This was one of the most important moments of my life because it meant that following my passions was as likely to pay off as anything else in life, and probably more so. However, I didn’t tell anyone at my school because I was nervous they would judge me for having weird interests.

Once I got to college, my masquerade as a normal person continued as I picked up alcohol for the first time and immersed myself in the world of partying and classic college. Over the last three years I have slowly been drifting back towards a place where I can feel safe in my own unique, generalist, and wholly different interests. The last few months have really helped me to understand how important it is that I embrace who I am and live all parts of my life fully. I finally feel comfortable sharing my passions about nerdy things with all kinds of people and also expressing my appreciation for a beer after a long day. A large part of growing up is about returning to the comfort with self we all have as young children.

To leave you (perhaps you’re a generalist as well) with a final metaphor: imagine that your life is a blank canvas. I’ll use my life as an example. As I’ve grown and experienced things, those things have started to fill up space on my canvas. Each aspect and experience is a different bubble on the canvas. Let’s say Magic or track or traveling. As each experience balloons outward, they start to overlap. When two bubbles overlap, it’s not that exciting but think about when ten bubbles overlap, when each splayed finger finds its way back to my hands. In this moment, the generalist has found a unique place that has never been reached before. The generalist’s gift is to understand that everything is connected and search the world far and wide for those connections. It’s our jobs as those who can see the big picture to pull together so many disparate ideas and create something new.

The Whirlwind

Sometimes it feels like life is a whirlwind or even a tornado. Everything is flying around at light speed, whipping past. *Whoosh* There goes my weekend! *Whoosh* A random test has appeared! *Whoosh* I’m a senior in college. Well, you get the point. Life comes and goes quickly. Each and every day flies by and the more I do, the faster it seems to go.

It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind. Over the last month or so I’ve been lost in the wind. I’ve been having fun, seeing friends and family, and doing what I want to do (mostly), but I’ve been missing the quiet moments that I love. I haven’t written at all (a shockingly low amount for me). I’ve only had 3 cups of tea in the last month and I haven’t laid in the sun at all. It’s more like my life is living me than the other way around.

Today I was going to go surfing with a bunch of my friends and spend the perfect-weather day outside doing it right. But when my alarm went off (on a Sunday morning, mind you) I simply couldn’t do it. I decided not to go and turned over, letting sleep take me again. I had some major FOMO (fear of missing out) this morning but as I focused on taking my life back from the whirlwind it went away. I cleaned my room, finally finished moving in, did laundry, and then sat down to relax. As soon as I sat down I felt my fingers begging for me to write with them. It has been so long since I’ve written and it feels so good to be back here putting my thoughts onto “paper.”

This particular blog is more of a reintroduction for me than a revolutionary tale for any of my readers, so it might not apply too much to your life. However, I think we can all use a deep breath in the face of the tornado. Our lives are ours to live and we have to remember that. It’s SO easy to get caught up in all the “shoulds” and “coulds” in life and it can be hard to remember what we already have. Sit back and take ten minutes to do nothing but breathe. Go for a walk, soak up some sun, read a book, hammock, I don’t care, just relax!

Get Up Early!!

This morning Seamus (my friend) and I got up at 4:45 to hike a local mountain at sunrise. We woke up groggy and tired but as we started out into the world of adventure, our day began to pick up. We reached the base of the mountain at about 5:20 and then hustled up the incline to reach the top just as the orange and red crested the mountain range to the east. It was magnificent. The sunrise was amazing and because we were so tired, we thought everything was funny (win-win).

The point is: getting up early is hard and takes going way out of most people’s comfort zones but it’s so worth it! By 9am this morning, we hiked a mountain, got breakfast, and got back home. Most days I wake up after 9. The feeling of getting so much done early is amazing, truly.

Given how late it is and how long I’ve been up, I’m keeping it short. Adventure onward 🙂

Loving-Kindness Meditation

This morning I woke up early and did a loving-kindness meditation. In my guided meditation by Tara Broch (here), she instructed me to address myself, to send love inward, and to wish something to myself. In loving-kindness meditations, the meditator first sends love to someone who is easy, then someone a little harder or who is neutral, then one’s self, and finally to all beings. I had done the first two steps so I was used to wishing things to others but when it came to wishing myself something, I was stumped. As I followed my breathing it came to me: “Faolan, love what you do and do what you love.” I felt my being shiver with recognition.

I often tell myself to do what I love and to find my passions but I was surprised at the other half of the statement: “Love what you do.” Or in other words, embrace all moments of my life and all steps taken. To generalize, there are three kinds of moments in life.

  • Highs:
    It is perhaps easy to be grateful for the highs and to love what you do when what you are doing is something you love.
  • Lows:
    I have realized that the hardest, most pain filled times in my life have left me with more compassion, wisdom, and direction than any of the highs. Pain is not to be escaped but experienced. It is the human condition to experience suffering.
  • In Between:
    There are many moments that might at first seem boring, meaningless, or neutral, but these are the ones that make up the majority of our lives. Without being present with these moments and grateful for them, we will miss much of our lives.

Each type of moment exists in our lives and we must truly embrace them all, for that is the only way to live a full life.

As I write this, I realize that what my wish for myself really means is: “Love who you are and be who you love.” It all comes down to authenticity.

PS. To all those who have reached out and thanked me or encouraged me… I am here writing because of you all. Thank you, right back at you 🙂 Writing is a deep part of who I am and it means so much when people read it, and especially when people are moved by it.

A Call to Action

Tears drip down my face and my throat locks in the way that only happens when I’m fending off realities that seem unreal. In the last week there have been three shootings in the US. 32 People are dead and over 50 more are injured. I can’t help but feel the immense pain that must be crushing the families and loved ones of these people. I can’t imagine the frustration they must have and the suffering that they are going through. We have a problem. We must act, we must change, grow, and find the cure.

Last night I was at dinner with my coworkers here in Ghana and they were appalled when I told them that America is not all it’s cracked up to be. I explained that we have problems, too. My coworker couldn’t believe it. He was convinced that America is the land of possibility, of perfection. For so long we have held ourselves to this unrealistic standard of excellence, insisting that everything else be shoved under the metaphorical carpet. There is an ornate and beautiful mask covering the dying husk of what once was. The vast inauthenticity is palpable–the stench unmistakable.

Being in a developing country is a staggering experience. Nothing is covered up. When I was in Accra there were children begging in the streets, walking with canes and crutches and peering mournfully through the tinted windows at me. Here in Bolgatanga, there is real starvation and suffering in the local villages. There is trash in the streets, in the gutters, and in the trees. The water smells of sewage and is a indescribably gross color… And yet I can’t help but wonder if they might actually have it better off here.

Today Andrea (the other GSBF fellow here with me), Moses (our driver), and I travelled to the hills outside of Bolgatanga and when we arrived, began to explore the almost untouched landscape. We ventured into the hills, giant rocks around us and tree-covered grasslands below as far as the eye could see. Eventually I took off running, my shirt had come off, and I tore through the land, bounding over rocks and scrub. I found myself settled on top of a humungous boulder, breathing hard, looking out over the endless landscape, the warm wind running through my hair. I was in awe of the land. I felt like I was living many millennia before my time. I was a primal version of myself. I had no worries about paying bills or what I would do with my life. I simply existed at one with the land, with nature, and with the energy flowing through me.

This act of simplicity, along with many others I have found in the quiet of this “developing” world has left me with a question. What are we developing towards and at what cost? In the US, we name ourselves the most technologically advanced society, the country of dreams, the promised land. People will argue that we have better medicine, modern art, and live longer. Yet, are these things really true and more importantly are they even good? Our modern medicine has left us with 8 Americans dying every hour from opioid overdoses. Modern art can be summed up as a blue dot. And in fact, our average life expectancy is declining. Beyond the accuracy of these statements lies the most important thing I can think of that no one ever wonders about… Why? Why and at what cost? People are dying, our world is dying, animals are going extinct. As someone who is almost always the most optimistic person in the room, things are certainly going down, not up. It’s past time for all of humanity to take a hard look in the mirror and as ourselves “why and at what cost?”

In the series of books I am reading, there is a plague coming. Most people are unaware, like sheep to the slaughter. Our heroes and protagonists are trying to stop it, even if it means making horrible sacrifices. The antagonists and villains are manipulating everyone else for personal gain, willing to let vast swaths of people die. To me, it sounds familiar. If the plague is a metaphor, what could it be representing? Perhaps climate change, perhaps deep mental health challenges, or perhaps drug addictions and overdoses. These are just a handful of the catastrophe-level events that are knocking on our door. The house of humanity and the Earth we live on are being threatened and we are inflicting the wounds on ourself and the other beings that share our home. We must acknowledge what is happening.

Humans are undeniably the most intelligent being we know of with the highest capacity for reflection and for dreaming. What do we have to show for it, truly? When we think about life in the span of thousands of years, the last few hundred are but a blink of a blink, the final paragraph in an epic story. And yet in the last few hundred years we have set into motion multiple waves that could wipe out life as we know it. People claim we are making progress? Progress?! It’s infuriating. We are moving too fast for our own good. We are ignoring symptoms and chasing cures. We cannot continue as we are. We, the people, must change the world, our world–there is no other choice. Together we are strong, together we can do anything.

I do not blame the shooters, they are an effect, not a cause. I do not blame the opioid prescribing doctors. I do not blame the corporations sending CO2 into our heavens. I feel personally responsible. If I have learned anything here in Bolgatanga it is that there is a coin with two sides. On one side there is the innate and tantalizing desire to succumb, to look away, to keep one’s head down. On the other side there are heroics, there is sacrifice, forgiveness, and hope. We must not succumb to fear. We must choose hope. To be selfish, to let our fears lower our heads and force us to resign is to die. We must stand in the face of the storm, arm in arm, and march steadily forward, with empathy for all, our heads raised and our hearts strong.

The reality is that humans are rebelling around the world in many countries and cities. Nature is rebelling and showing us a foreshadow of its wrath. This is the final hour. Humanity must come together, abolishing the ideations of looming chasms between race, between gender, between countries, between parties, between religions. If we continue as we are, we will perish. Each person has a voice and we must use them. We cannot but demand that which must be demanded. The burden is on us, on you, and on me. Never may we be allowed to shirk the responsibility of being human. We are the protectors of Earth, the protectors of the unborn, and the protectors of all beings. We must protect, for if we do not only death will we find.

If you’re riled up, scared, upset, or just feel the need to do something, here are some ways to make an impact:

  1. Start looking into political candidates for the next election. I don’t mean simply watching the debate or talking to friends. Read their policies, inspect their morals, make an informed decision for yourself. (I have been very impressed with the breath and accuracy with which Andrew Yang is addressing issues. If you are interested, watch this video and take the time to listen to him talk.)
  2. Think about how you fill your day and your life. Does what you do line up with who you are? Do you feel inauthentic or anxious. Don’t just shake off those feelings. Make the choice to be you and be brave.
  3. What do you eat? Do you eat meat every day? 14.5% of all greenhouse gasses are from meat. Can you cut it out and eat it only some days. You might be able to cut it out entirely.
  4. Get involved in your community. Volunteer and help the homeless people or pick up trash and sort it into the recycling.
  5. Take a hike or go to nature so that you can understand what there is to lose.
  6. Educate yourself on the problems and some solutions. Open your mind to thinking about different possibilities.
  7. Write to your congress representatives and demand they they enforce universal background checks to buy guns. Tell them to shut down the painkiller epidemic while they’re at it.
  8. Learn about AI and the automated revolution that is coming (shit’s scary).
  9. Breathe, write, or process in your own way. We all need to deal with this in our own ways. We are all unique and have potential to affect change in unique ways. We must do so.
  10. Find someone to share the burden and opportunities with. Struggle through the challenging realizations with someone you trust and then get excited about potential ways to solve our problems.
  11. Finally, don’t give up. Everything we do makes a difference. It’s okay to start small. The world won’t change tomorrow. Change takes time. Every act with your head held high is a step in the right direction.

If you have other ideas, solutions, or thoughts, please share them below in the comments or contact me ( so that I can add them to the list.

In peace,

My Phone Broke and I Couldn’t Be Happier

We are addicted to our phones, every one knows. Companies literally design platforms to addict us. Take a shot of instagram in the morning with your coffee. It’s so, so easy to get sucked into one’s phone. So last night when my phone broke, I was actually excited. There was no frustration or anxiety. Even though I would be cut off from much of the world, I was genuinely happy and excited to see what life would be like without a phone. It’s been about nine years that I have kept a phone in my pocket all day, every day. I haven’t experienced life independent of my phone in NINE years! How nuts is that?

Phones have started to control us over the last years. They were designed to be tools and yet today we are the tools and they are the controllers. People are afraid to miss calls and texts. People seem to think that without their phones, they miss out on their lives. How preposterous! When it comes down to it, we miss way more of our lives when on our phones than when off of them. When I don’t have my phone I am able to truly engage with my life and live in the present. Without a phone the only option is to simply be. It’s impossible to escape to a virtual world and we are forced to live in the real world (bummer, right? *sarcasm*).

Today I was in a village near Bolgatanga checking in on a group of weavers. I was sitting on a rock listening to the birds and watching the villagers work. A giant, densely-leaved mango tree extended over the clearing where the weavers worked. I noticed some children staring at me from across the clearing. I met them a few days before and had played a simple game of catch with them. I knew that they wanted to play. After a few shared smiles they walked over to me and climbed up on the rock. I chose to stay quiet and simply watch them for a bit. Eventually they started playing on their own. They crawled around the rock and eventually started jumping off onto the ground, giggling, and then running back up to do it again. It was such a joy to watch children in their innocence. There is a pure joy that we as adults tend to strip from our lives, thinking that it’s immature or impossible to feel. I firmly disagree with this assessment and promote more pure and authentic joy.

After they tired of this game they brought out a pencil that had been sharpened down to a small, dual-pointed pencil like those from my early childhood. They looked at it and then handed it to me. I started to write my name on the rock and immediately they all crowded around me. They were fascinated by the simplest of actions. Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and yet for these children might never be. I could tell how starved these kids were for intellectual growth. Many of the adults in the village can’t read or write. Trying to imagine what it would be like to live without reading and writing is impossible for me. The inequality of the situation hit me and all I wanted was to help these children and the countless others in the world learn. Without basic skills in reading and writing, 99% of the opportunities in the world will forever be closed to these kids.

After I wrote as much as I could with the tiny pencil I decided to play with it. I put the pencil in the palm of my right hand and reached it out in front of me so that all the children could see it. Then I handed it to one of them and beckoned for her to give it back. She put it back in my hand and soon the kids were taking turns grabbing it and then replacing it. They had so much fun! I was stunned at how simple the game could be to evoke so much joy. Every time they took the pencil, they all broke down laughing. I couldn’t help but laugh along. Eventually I got bored and snagged the pencil back and then leapt off the rock and sprinted away. I looked back and hinted that they should chase me using my eyes and the smirk on my face. They yelled and screamed and took off after me. We ran circles around each other and I escaped them successfully and then turned the game around on them and started to chase them around. I faked left and right and then launched towards them. Each lunge was greeted with new squeals of joy and peels of laughter. It was so much fun. Again, I think that adults are so uncomfortable with the genuine happiness that we have access to all the time. Children know how to make life full of joy and we could learn from them.

This kind of engagement with life and the choice to pursue the uncomfortable is nearly impossible with the constant reminder of a phone. Pretty much everyone I know constantly has their phone within arms reach. When people are bored, they reach for their phones. What if instead of reaching for phones people played tag, chased each other, climbed trees, played board games, had real conversations, or did countless other more fulfilling activities. Even the presence of a phone is toxic. They pollute our lives and give us a constant opportunity to live a surface-level life. We should not be disconnecting from real life and should follow in the steps of these children. True and powerful joy is right in front of us. Genuine connection is in every moment of eye contact and every shared laugh. Make time to live and stop running away from your life. You only have one.

My phone breaking has been a gift. Who would have thought?

Matching Skills to One’s Talents

First of all, let me differentiate between talent and skills. In my opinion, talent is what we’re born with (what we develop as a child) while skills are what we choose to learn. Ideally, our talents support the skills that we choose to learn. For example, the talent (diligence) supports the skill (playing guitar) quite well. I’m not entirely sure that there isn’t overlap, just to clarify. For example, diligence could be a skill as well as a talent because it is practiceable. However, I’m fairly sure that guitar playing is a skill and not a talent because no one starts off better than anyone else at playing guitar. That being said, one person might have the talent of tone recognition while another may be tone deaf. In this case, it would appear that the first person is more talented at the guitar when really they simply have supporting talents.

Today I started learning to code again. It’s like smashing my head against a brick wall while upside down hanging from a rope in a pool of molasses. Needless to say it’s slow going. But, as I learn each new thing, it becomes easier and easier. I really do enjoy the pain of learning it and I believe that it’s because my talents correspond with the skill. I have always loved to solve problems: this is a talent. I am creative: this is a talent (not to say it cannot be learned, because it certainly can be). These talents make learning to code fun for me because as I learn more, the tools in my kit begin to grow.

On the other hand, let’s talk about the skill of listening in groups by being silent. This one is incredibly difficult for me, but is not as painful as learning to code. In classes I am always the one whose hand is perpetually up, like Hermione. I have a lot to say and until I’m proven wrong by an argument that makes sense to me, I’m right. It might be arrogant of me but that’s how I am. The skill of listening in groups is not supported by my talents. My talents here are confidence, quick thinking, and my ability to deal with being wrong in front of others. The talents I am missing are patience and humility. This makes it very hard for me to sit back and watch, even if I could learn more by doing so. Trust me, I’ve tried.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with having the talents that I have, just like there’s nothing wrong about anyone’s unique talents. We are all different and have different talents. The key is to learn the skills that match our talents, and actually, better put, to not learn the skills that we think match our talents because they match other people’s talents. I look up to filmmakers like Sam Kolder and Sam Potter but I don’t think that I should learn to make film because my talents don’t match it. I don’t have the patience to sit and look into the minutia of details in every second of every video–it would destroy me. If I tried to become a skilled filmmaker, it would be much harder for me to do so than for someone whose talents matched this skill. For me to be the best version of me, I have to figure out what skills I genuinely enjoy doing because those are the ones that fit with who I am.

Additional thoughts: I’m pretty sure that most talents can be skills but I think that most skills cannot be talents. On the other hand, I might just be vastly misdefining and representing the word talent. Perhaps talent lies only in our genetics and not in our upbringings. It’s the classic false dichotomy of nature/nurture and I’m not sure that there is a clear answer.

Happy Hump Day,