Start Out And See What Happens

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.


It didn’t matter that I had sealed the seams.  Or that we had a tub floor.  Or that I had put a tarp over the site.  Water was everywhere.

The torrential rains had come just after midnight.  The sound on the tent wall was deafening.  And depressing.

I could only coax a few of the group to start out into that dank October dawn.  A summit looked improbable.

The rain poured unrelentingly.  The trail ran like a river.  Within minutes, I was soaked. And miserable.

Up the slick talus we struggled. The temperature near freezing. The visibility a few hundred feet at best.

And suddenly, the three of us broke through the mist, into a crystal clear windless sky. The sun warmed us and dried us.  Snow flakes shot upward from the cloud deck below like crystal fireworks. Everywhere we looked, rainbows shimmered and danced.

It was as if we had been transported across time to a parallel universe.  Nothing was as it had been. And it was like nothing we had ever seen.

We reveled in our good fortune and marveled in our own private paradise.

Hours later, standing once again in the rain outside our soggy tents, words failed us as we tried to share with our friends who had stayed behind the wonders that we had seen.

Those who didn’t start out could never know.

I learn this lesson time and time again.  From getting out the door for the morning run, to the looming research project, to the unpleasant conversation that needs to happen, to the weights at the gym and the blog that wants to be written.

You gotta at least start.

Julia Cameron in her wonderful timeless book The Artist’s Way says that our job is to show up on the page.

Whether we want to or not, we show up and start out.

It’s what makes a “pro” says Steven Pressfield in the War of Art. An amateur capitulates to resistance; an amateur is always willing to negotiate the project away.

Whether you’re tired or not, whether it’s raining or not, whether you’re fearful or not, whether you’re feeling fat or not, whether you’re racked with doubt or not, whether you hate your job or not, whether you’re motivated or not, whether you’re in shape or not, whether it’s too early or too late, or not, whether you’re inspired or not; it is irrelevant. If you’re a pro, you make up your mind and you do it. You just do it.

Cameron says, “Leap and the net will appear.”  There is a magic in the starting out.  The way unfolds in a manner that can never be imagined locked in inertia.

Goethe writes, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves as well. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise occur. A stream of events issues from that decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen accidents, meetings and material assistance that no one could of dreamed would come their way.”

“What I have learned from this simple philosophy is this,” writes Mel Robbins in this month’s Success magazine. “When it comes to being master of your life, you are never going to feel like doing what you need to do.  It will feel wrong to ask for help.  It will make you afraid to present your business plan.  You won’t want to run when it’s raining outside.  Getting out of bed can feel downright radical simply because you don’t want to. But you have to.”  When the alarm rings, stand up, she says.

I have hit the snooze more times than I care to admit.

But I have walked ridges sculpted by the hand of God, stumbled upon the most beautiful dawns, discovered images in my viewfinder, and found entire stories upon my page, simply by starting out.

Start out. You don’t need to see the whole way. Just start.  And see what happens.

Run It On Empty

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

— T. S. Eliot

I must admit to a peculiar perversity: I derive a certain thrill from playing “chicken” with my gas tank.  When the needle points to E and the light goes on, I begin to conjure and calculate just how far I can get before I really need to tend the tank.  Last week, I put 15.8 gallons in my 16 gallon tank.  I was so proud.

Would that I could extend this predilection to other areas of my life.

Ann, my best friend and constant companion, is away at a writers’ retreat for six weeks. And I’ve been lonely.  But rather than feeling the emptiness, I’ve been running around doing just about everything imaginable to fill the hole: projects and activities and dinners and social engagements. Emailing, texting, Facebooking, faxing. Anything not to feel alone.

This is odd for me, the one who seeks solitude on the high mountain ridges in remote corners of the globe. What is it about this emptiness – this aloneness – that so unsettles, that stirs such fear?

Alone we face our vulnerabilities, our uncertainties, our inadequacies, our insecurities. Alone we are compelled to ask the haunting questions: Where am I going? What is my purpose? What does it mean? Am I enough?

Alone we see the sides of us that are not pretty. Alone we doubt.

Alone we are confronted with: Ourselves.

God knows that there’s enough to distract.  You’d think I was in charge of nuclear security or a multi-national corporation measured by the number of times an hour I can check my Blackberry.  And while I love the Internet, I agree with Nicholas Carr’s new work, The Shallows:  the Internet quickly devolves into Too Much Information; it overwhelms.

In distraction, we fail to connect with who we really are and lose the capacity to live with any depth.  It is only within our own emptiness that we come to know the Authentic, the Significant, the True.  It is only here that we can discover how we are called.  It is only here that we can know our connection to the Source of all this is.

This is the story they tell: A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.

The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.

“It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted.

“You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”

To be empty.  To be alone.

“Alone.  This is when it happens. In silence, alone,” says Gerry Spence in his surprisingly insightful Seven Simple Steps To Personal Freedom. “Without aloneness, without taking the fear of it into the self, without knowing it, what is the use? Birth and death happen there.  And life as well happens there.”

Without this Journey inward, we skitter along the surface of things.  Without Ourselves, we have nothing to offer to the world.

So over these next weeks as Ann writes, I am going to work harder to be with the quiet, to be with the questions, to be empty.

In order to be Full.

And he [the Lord] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind and earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

— I Kings 19: 11-12 (KJV)

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It may be cold, but at least it’s dark.

We turned the clocks back this past week.  The shadows here in New England begin to fall by mid-afternoon.

I rail against it.

Some find the dark cozy and embracing.  They relish the long evenings in front of the fire. They embrace the dark.

I hate it.

I love the Alaska Range in the summer: the long endless days and the midnight sun.  I’d jump from a bridge if I lived there in the winter.

Of course, many folks have taken care of this by moving to places like Southern California, or Belize.  And there are many more who embrace the changing seasons with greater equanimity than I.

But the seasons of change can be another matter altogether.

Most all of us get used to our routines.  Constancy is safe. Secure.

We like predictability.

Anything that disrupts the status quo is, well, disruptive.

We fight change.  Yet change is really the only constant.  It is the rhythm of things. High tide and low; ’til death do us part, or sooner; daytime and night;  in sickness and in health; drought and flood; in good times and in bad; carry days and rest days; generativity and the dark night of the soul.

The legendary Jim Rohn taught so eloquently on the seasons of life:  The seasons always come, Rohn said.  “You cannot change the seasons but you can change yourself.”

Winters always come.  And there are all kinds of them, Rohn said. “There are economic winters, when the financial wolves are at the door; there are physical winters, when our health is shot; there are personal winters when our heart is smashed to pieces.”

Use winter to get stronger, wiser, better.  Get ready for the Spring, Rohn said.  It always follows winter.

“Opportunity follows difficulty.”  Take advantage of the Spring.  Till the earth.  Plant.

In the Summer, nourish and protect.   “Every garden must be defended in the summer,” Rohn taught.  The garden of values – social, political, marital commercial-  the garden of ideas, the garden of all that is good. Be on watch over your garden in the summer.

Reap what you have sown in the fall.  Take responsibility for what you did not sow, for what you did not protect.  But celebrate the harvest.  “Learn to welcome the fall without apology or complaint,” Rohn said.

Embrace the seasons of our lives.  Know them. Use them.

Why do we fight so what is so?

To be with change, to be in its flow; to experience the shifting sands with open hands and open hearts.  To have the courage to accept and say: “and this too.”  Cherish this challenge. It is all we really have.

The seeds of new life blow on the cold winds of November. Winter will come.  But so will Spring.  It is the rhythm of things.

To live fully, deeply into each season of our lives: this is what we are called to do.

Every year we have been witness to it: how the world descends

into a rich mash, in order that it may resume.  And  therefore who would cry out

to the petals on the ground to stay,  knowing as we must, how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?  I  don’t say it’s easy, but what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world be true?  So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east, and the ponds be cold and black and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Mary Oliver

Next And Not Next

“What’s next?” the woman in the third row asked.

I always get this question.

The Denali show draws the athlete and the adventurer, the curious and the courageous, the fanatical and the frail.

They all want to know, “What’s next?”

I have to admit to a certain sense of anxiety and restlessness:  I’m not quite sure yet what’s next.  Sure, we’ve discussed the climb in Patagonia.  Ann is keen on the highest mountain in Greenland.  Talk of the Big E, Everest, looms large.

But there’s nothing firmly on the drawing board.

For me, a next is necessary.

Next is our creative soul. It is the stuff of dreams.  It is the spark that kindles our imaginations. It is what enlivens us and drives us forward.

Without a next, there would have been no Einstein or Newton; no Franklin or Michelangelo; no Shackleton or Mallory or Armstrong.

Without a next, there would be no Hawkins or Gates or Jobs or Zuckerberg.

Without a next, there can be no art or music or literature; no cure for cancer; no vision of a better tomorrow, for ourselves, or for those we love.

Next is the divine living within us.

But we dwell in the now; and not the next.  And that’s the bind, isn’t it?

A colleague of mine died suddenly this past week.  Fifty-one years old.  Wife, children, family, friends all left to grieve in the overwhelming shadow of no next.

All we really have is this moment.  Here. Now.

The not next.

Ann and I get so caught up in our creative lives; our writing, our art.  We get lost in our studio for hours and days.  Our minds swirl with thoughts and plans and hopes and dreams; with projects and business plans and marketing concepts; with mountains to climb and oceans to cross.

And all of us lose our days in “I can’t wait ’til Friday” and “whaddya doin’ next weekend,” and “where ya goin’ for the holidays.” And will the shopping get done and the bills get paid and the groceries get shopped and will the house get cleaned and what about the lawn.

Rocketing forward to the next.  And not stopping long enough to appreciate the grandeur before our very eyes. To watch the sunrise, to feel the wind on our face, to listen to the crunch of the snow beneath our feet.  To know and hold the presence of our child or our lover.

If next is a glimpse of our divinity, then living wholly in the now is our full humanity.

How hard it is to get that balance right.  To be truly present.  To celebrate all that we have, and all that we are.

But how critical a task. Because that’s all there is.

To be be fully present and, at the same time, to be fully engaged in our creative genius is the razor’s edge of the Journey well-lived.

It is the universal struggle.

T. S. Eliot understood that it is only thorough unceasing exploration that we come to know ourselves.

Dorothy discovered that the Emerald City had always been within her.  But only after a very long hike.

“From here on, you will be alone,” the alchemist said.  You are only three hours from the Pyramids.”

“Thank you,” said the boy.  “You taught me the Language of the World.”

“I only invoked what you already knew,” Coelho’s Alchemist replied.

We are full and complete and enough just as we are.  And yet we yearn.

Our lives are abundant.  And yet we want for more.

The Journey and the Dream.  The next and the not next.

One cannot exist without the other.

Even in Kyoto,

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry

I long for Kyoto.

The Zen poet Basho

Stop by for a visit at Hampton Photography.