Stand Up & Live

In a journal entry in August, 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote:

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.

This is a new quote of his that I hadn’t read yet, and, having been minorly obsessed with Romanticism and Transcendentalism in high school (I’m sure my English teachers can attest to that), it brought on this wave of a full spectrum of thoughts. I’ve watched Dead Poets Society about 30 times and can quote Mr. Keating practically from memory when it comes to carpe-ing the crap out of your diem: “Sieze the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” I used a Thoreau quote in my high school year book. I based my AP Studio Art final project off of various Romantic authors’ quotes. And the fact that I live probably only an hour from Walden Pond and have never been baffles me (field trip this weekend?). Yet, despite what I have learned from my “minor” obsession, I face life in terror, almost frozen, waiting for the courage to jump into a world of opportunity and adventure- as I sit down and write.

We live our lives in the comfort of what we know, hoping one day to travel, hoping one day to see something rare, hoping one day to do something that scares us, hoping… We hope as we sit in the familiarity of our own living room, under the safety of our favorite blanket, next to our friends, family, roommates, or others who know us well. And we sit and we hope and we wait and we wait and we wait until suddenly life is passing us by and we wish we had done more when we were younger.Thoreau also wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (Civil Disobedience and Other Essays)

I enter 2016 utterly blessed with a certain freedom that most mid-20s don’t have and I find myself swimming in chances. The words of a thousand adventures are waiting for me make them known, but without the experience, what justifies me to do so?

I enter 2016 wondering why it took me until now to realize that I need to stand up for my own life.

I enter 2016 hoping to make a difference in the world and inspire others, but how vain to do so without taking advantage of my own opportunities to grow? It is important to note that “vain” here doesn’t mean to be narcissistic, but to be futile or useless. Worry is vain. Excuses are vain.

I enter 2016 terrified.

I enter 2016 with one goal: stand up. The biggest thing that has been holding me back is no longer there to strap me in. So, I will stand up and live. Even if only in my own city. I will go see parts of Boston I haven’t visited before. I will venture to Walden Pond. I will explore every option available to me so that when the opportunity comes to travel farther, I will be ready to jump. I will save my money so that I can stand up in Ireland, Montreal, Rome, New Orleans, and other, farther places I’ve yet to see. I may not get there this year, but someday I will, because I will not experience life sitting down anymore. I will go to my grave knowing my song is out there for all who wish to listen; a song about laughter and tears.

Will you stand with me?

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My Solution for Life

And I mean that both ways.

This is my solution- “for life,” meaning that it is long lasting, as well as a remedy for that period of time in which we are living, breathing creatures, who face good times, bad times, challenging times, and joyous times.

Buddhism tells us that suffering is a natural part of life, and boy, do we know it. But part of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that we don’t HAVE to suffer. I’m not saying this because I’m about to go into some pseudo-Buddhist new age spiritual dissection of what we call “life.” I’m saying this because it’s simply true.
In life we suffer and we must come to terms with this.

So what’s your solution, Alex???

Plan.

Let me explain… don’t plan your life moment by moment. Don’t decide that 10 years from now your life will be exactly in order however it is that you want it. We should all have an abstract idea of what we want to GET out of life and from that we should make small, short-term plans that we can relate to that idea.

Give yourself something to look forward to.

Your plans may fall apart, yes. But planning shorter term, smaller scale things in your life give you something exciting to anticipate. And the shorter term they are, the least likely they are to fall apart, because you’re in the full swing of the planning process. It doesn’t even have to be big; it can be something as small as anticipating an upcoming family holiday. For example, I’ll be seeing my family for Thanksgiving AND Christmas (they live multiple states away so that’s a hard thing to do, but we’re making it happen) and everyday that goes by I get more and more excited. On a larger scale, I’ve started planning a road trip 11 months down the road (pun not intended). I just planned out the locations I’ll be stopping, places I can stay, how long it will take to get to each spot, and even booked a motel room for my main destination already! I have a buddy who might come along, and sharing it with him  made me even more excited!

Why is this so important?

I am an optimist that tends to feel the more pessimistic emotions. I’m a walking, talking, oxymoron. I’m a pessimistic optimist. This is because of the chemistry of my brain, in conjunction with my inherited personality. Mood disorders do that to you, but I refuse to let it dictate my suffering. Sure, it wins sometimes, but this is why these small plans are so important for me. They may be important for you for a different reason, but they are important nonetheless. Having something to look forward to gives you a positive outlook on something- no matter how small. It’s a source of positive energy, and positive energy is everything. It’s contagious. It puts a smile on my face to think about these things: seeing my beautiful, loving, laughing 2 year old nephew, my mom, my dad, visiting new places, and going on an adventure I haven’t had the opportunity to experience before-one that will make me feel independent and free. And what is it I say in my tagline? “Smiles are the best souvenirs.” Not only does a smile automatically make you feel just a little bit happier, but a smile can be the result of amazing memories that will keep you happy for the rest of your life. That is why planning is so important in life. Again- not the 10 or 5 or even 2 years down the road kind of planning, but small scale plans for positive and exciting things.

Trick your brain into thinking life is wonderful, adventurous, and filled with amazing opportunities and in the end it really will be.

We suffer in life. We feel pain and disappointment. Things don’t always go our way. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change that. That doesn’t mean we can’t find SOMETHING in life to ease our suffering and pain and replace it with a joy and excitement for life that can overcome that suffering and bring us closer to what we hope to accomplish in our lives and a state of being we can call our own personal “nirvana” (if you’re not on the actual Buddhist path to Enlightenment).

And remember:
Life by nature is both laughter and tears. The smallest moments of joy are vital to our time on this earth.

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