She took my arm
I don’t know how it happened
We took the floor and she said
“Oh don’t you dare look back,
Just keep your eyes on me”
I said, “You’re holding back”
She said, “Shut up and dance with me!”
This woman is my destiny
She said ooh, ooh,
“Shut up and dance with me”
-“Shut Up and Dance,” by Walk the Moon
Average to Adventure
If you want big things to happen, you have to want them more than anything you’ve ever wanted before. There can be not an ounce of doubt in your mind about your ability to get those things. You cannot simply believe that you will win. You have to know.
If you are going to Be Yourself Unapologetically, you have to go all-out-- 110%. You can’t be yourself sometimes and then run comfort-loving, socially conditioned autopilot the other 40% of the time or so. You have to own your life all the time, 24/7.
As Don Miguel Ruiz says, you must love yourself ruthlessly. You cannot allow any negativity in, whatsoever. When people tell you that you can’t get what you want you may hear them, but you don’t have to listen.
Obviously, naysayers don’t come only from the outside—in fact, all doubt and resistance you perceive comes from yourself. You might think thoughts and take actions which steer you away from your desires. In a subjective reality, the doubts of others are really a reflection of your own doubt: by reducing your doubt you’ll reduce theirs. In an objective reality, the doubts of others will become your doubts only if you allow them to. If you accept doubt, then you shall experience doubt.
Maybe you think it’s rational to be what you call “realistic” about things and assume that your likelihood of success is based on the success/failure rate others have had in your pursuit. Perhaps you hope that such realistic expectations will save you from disappointment down the road.
But is disappointment really the worst thing in the world? Is it really better to shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, I probably wasn’t going to succeed anyway” than to give everything you’ve got, fail, and be a little sad about it?
When you take this approach you wrest your control to emotion—an inaccurate and unnecessary idea of emotions, that is. You think life is all about avoiding pain. If you can scrape by with your body unscathed and your emotions just bordering on content, you think you have done a good job.
Fine. You can live that way if you want to.
But what if I told you that the success rate of others doesn’t have to apply to you? You have no idea what they were thinking and believing during this undertaking. You probably don’t know every little action they took—perhaps all the small bits of time they squandered here and there trying to numb their fears. Say that, in theory, 10% of people who try whatever it is you want to do succeed. If everyone thinks this applies to them just as much as the next guy, then how many people should you expect to succeed?
It’s probably for the best that, last Summer, I had never heard of anyone else who tried to complete a 100K ultramarathon at the age of 18. I know now those people (and bolder!) exist, but they are few and far in between. The point, though, is that I had no history to tell me how likely I was to finish the race. No one could say to me, “People your age usually don’t do well in these things,” because people my age don’t try these things. As far as I could tell, I had to forge this path for myself.
The one sole guy I know of in my category (though that may soon change) competed in a 24 hour race, on the same course I attempted a 100-mile race a few months ago. I assume he likewise could not infer from others how he was likely to do. He won. He ran 100 miles. In the middle of Winter, might I add.
If you’re trying out something that other people have, should you pretend not to know the succeed/fail statistics even though you’ve heard them before? You can do that, but you also can choose not to accept them: who gathered that data anyway? You also can acknowledge them and commit to your task regardless of what they say. If you really want it and you know you can do it, then do you think a set of numbers will be enough to tear down your resolve?
Those numbers are there only to scare away people who don’t really want what they say they want or who aren’t ready to get it. The numbers help to keep them from trying too hard at something they’re bound to fail at anyway.
But that doesn’t have to be you—not if you don’t want it to be. But you have to be ready for anything. You have to look to the end result you want and know that it is worth any hardship you may have to endure.
However, if you’re fairly uncertain to start with it might be hard to convince yourself that you want this and can achieve it. Especially for highly worthwhile ventures, wanting and believing may need a few extra doses of insane to suffice. Desire will take on a definition you never could have imagined in average waking life. Belief will defy your understanding of time. The workings of life- of the universe- as you know them will change. The laws of everyday existence will no longer apply to you.
When I was training to race 100K, I would often imagine how I expected to feel upon finishing the race, and I would let the feeling take its place throughout my body. To generate this feeling I simply had to move my attention to my heart, rather than my head. This showed me that my feelings aren’t dependent on external circumstances. Instead, I can choose how I feel, and I can choose to feel amazing. Usually the feeling was one of calm self-assurance, like you would see in a wise monk.
As I went through my runs feeling this way I also learned that, not only are my feelings independent of circumstance (if I so choose this), but they can influence circumstance as well.
When I felt pain I could focus on my heart to help relieve that pain. When running uphill I would choose to feel the way I expected to upon reaching the top of that hill. I might as well have been pulled up by a rope, the task was so much easier now.
Before I went to sleep at night I would envision sending the feelings of my heart to my legs, so as to help me recover quickly and run high mileage (in teens to twenties of miles) every day. But I didn’t just imagine, for instance, a light glowing inside me: I would feel a movement of lively, positive energy from my heart to my body. The best way I can describe this feeling is that my heart shines: “happy” and “excited” don’t quite suffice.
This month and a half was the only time in the last 21 months that I have been 100% injury-free. It was preceded by a school year of muscular fatigue and proceeded by another school year of chronic pain. I also ran many more miles during this time than I do during school, making my “overuse” injuries of the past and present seem questionably-labeled.
I can’t prove that what I am claiming is true, but I attribute my success to this practice of coherent feeling. Similarly to running up hills, whenever a shred of doubt entered my mind about my ability to do this I would think, “Oh, don’t be so silly—I have already completed the race. It is done,” and I would again choose to feel the way I expected to upon finishing.
What I can state firmly is that this practice made fear and doubt a near impossibility for me, and what gets in the way of human endeavors more than these? If I didn’t choose to believe with my whole being (not just my thoughts) that I could do it, I don’t think I would have done it.
So often we focus on what we see and think, but how about how we feel? Do we ever consider that our hearts can serve as a point of guidance just as well as the eyes and the mind?
Once you enter the realm of adventure you’re in a different reality now, and here you play by different rules. Finding the door to that reality is uncommonly accomplished, for most people are too timid to follow its trail. But once you close that door behind you, you will find that these laws play out in your favor. You will find a new existence set in the structures of love and aliveness.
Doubt, you will see, is but a plaything in this world. Sometimes he shows his face and people will laugh at him, but he does not stay long. This parasite of the everyday world becomes an occasional, mild source of entertainment in the world of commitment and possibility. He also may help to reinforce the resolve of the brave adventurers here by encouraging them to listen to their hearts. He reminds them that their journey is a bold one, yet also one which they are destined to complete. Doubt finds no one to attach himself to here, so when it comes time for dinner he returns to the reality of averages.
At the same time, there is virtually no fakery to be found here. These adventurers do not slip home at night, when no one is watching, to express their fears and doubts to their mothers: again, there are none of these to be had. Anyone who does that is best off remaining at home anyway: if they return to the door they will find it now weighs several tons, and it will perplex them as to how they ever might have opened it. It was probably just a dream I had, they tell themselves, when I was a stupid kid…
For those who choose to stay within this new reality, however, there is little need for pep talks or the approval of others or anything of the sort. There is more pep and self-approval within them than a whole motivational seminar of those infected with doubt could ever hope to conjure up.
What one may also find of these adventurers is that they do not need constant reassurance nor do they show off their commitment bombastically to others. Some adventurers will be more compelled to share about their journey while others would rather keep their aspirations to themselves; but all, again, can do fine not hearing the sounds of approval from without. Instead, they only need to feel it in the heart, within.
Biology changes somewhat upon entering the world of adventurers, as here the heart speaks far more loudly than the brain. In truth it does in the average world as well, but there its calls usually go unheard or are misunderstood.
What happens when the everyday man turns whole-heartedly to a life of adventure, then, is that the transmission lines between heart and brain are cleaned, and through this cleaning it becomes clear that the signal from heart to brain is far more powerful than that from brain to heart. They are like firing a missile and squeezing an eye-dropper in comparison.
Of course, it is unfair to say that the brain is inherently flawed: it simply is not as trusting as the heart. Thus, when the heart’s path of output is clogged (like an artery!) the message of the brain which trickles down is one of control, to silence the emotions. Without clear reminding from the heart, the brain forgets just how powerful and useful the emotions can be, if only the brain’s logic will accept guidance from them. The heart, then, must send panic, since panic is the only message in this state of affairs loud enough to be heard. But when panic arrives the brain takes this panic as another confirmation of the heart’s ridiculousness, rather than its competence, and only squeezes more of its resources down the control tube.
How the average man becomes an adventurer is by finally choosing to listen to the panic and other signals sent by his heart, and using his logic to conclude that these uncomfortable sensations mean to show him where has gone amiss, and what he can do to improve. Upon achieving this understanding the man lays down his logic in service of his emotions, and the two may now work together harmoniously. It is through time and practice with this new biology that worthy quests are, at last, not only considered, but wholly committed to with every ounce of one’s being—body, mind, heart, and spirit.
As a servant to the heart, logic still takes the duty of rejecting anything it deems unreasonable. But what is reasonable is no longer limited to apparent, immediate, objective fact: what is now reasonable is the truth, and truth seems reasonable only once it has been allowed into the mind and committed to. In this way truth operates similarly to doubt; but, where doubt seeks to invalidate, truth makes way for love—that is, to connect an adventurer to his best interest, which are (on the surface) his adventures.
The ultimate best interest of the everyday man likewise is adventure, though the first task of truth will be to lead him away from doubt and fear. It is only then that a person can aspire to love.
To those who have never had a glimpse of it the path of an adventurer may look like a lonely one, and indeed it can be. But for the self-assured man solitude is hardly a price to pay in the realization of his dreams; besides, he can meet with far better company on the path of love than he can within the four walls of fear. Those who live in fear are all much the same, on the outside, anyhow.
And if he lives in service to love, does it not make sense that his quest will lead him to a more collective love—if not present companionship and romance, then future contribution and inspiration? There are many paths, brave or not, which can lead to the first two: there are few worthwhile ventures which do not lead to the second. Most heart-led men will find that commitment to themselves yields service to all—even if the fruits of service are not at first apparent.
Dance with Destiny
You see, the song “Shut Up and Dance” is not merely about an attraction to a woman—it outlines the path of adventure. When adventure first calls to a man (or lady! Or other!), it will be almost entirely by surprise. He will have no idea how he thought to take up such a task nor why he feels so compelled to do it. But he is enchanted and he firmly believes he will see the end of his desires, so off to the dancefloor he goes.
Most of the time that he is with his adventure woman he will be totally immersed in her: before long he will forget what it is like to live as an average person. Occasionally, however, he will remember his old life and how much safer it seemed, and here doubt may creep up on him.
But he truly is a reformed man, and his resolve is too strong to be swayed toward the parasite. When he looks in the eyes of adventure he will see little value in looking back at the past again. Not only is she far more beautiful than the women of his past, but it just make sense for him to be with her—even if he can’t totally explain why.
So what for safety?, he says. To him it would be a far greater risk to his life to stray from this wild woman than it would be to love her with every ounce of his being—ounces of strength and resolve he previously could not know were there. When life is measured in livelihood safety is hardly to be found in silencing the heart and living in confused, desperate frustration: that’s a perfect way to go mad, and end up in a prison or asylum with the most dangerous, fear-soaked people on Earth (trust me—I almost went there).
So now whenever doubt arises, he can quickly shut it up and keep moving—dancing, that is. In the world of adventure movement really does become like dancing. When you let your dance moves come to you as they will, without stifling them, you dance your best. What you do may surprise you: there’s almost no way you could have, say, written out your plan for the dance beforehand.
When adventure, the craziest and most beautiful woman in the club, first asked you to dance with her, you probably had no idea as to how you could keep up without stumbling over yourself and looking foolish. But when you let her lead you, you will find even the hardiest tests of stamina, strength, and grace to be well within your means. You will feel yourself exert energy, but more so you will become energized.
Universal laws, as I said earlier, apply differently to you when you dance with adventure, and instead of losing energy to work you will gain energy through it. Likewise, brief mistakes in the dance will no longer seem like overwhelming indicators of incompetence: when they happen you will simply re-find your footing and get back to doing what you do best. Shame and worry have no place here.
When adventure first comes to you you may feel a bit frightened, but you will know that “no” is not an option. You will feel that this is your last chance to choose to live meaningfully: you know you will sink into regret if you don’t do this. You have to do this.
All at once this understanding can be scary, relieving, and exciting, but as soon as you say “yes” fear will not be so relevant anymore. It may come and go like a cold breeze, but it will never pick up and blow you down. When you say “yes” you move out of the house of fear, and compared to the countless millions who continue to dwell within you will no longer be a worthwhile target of fear.
When you run over the hills, across the trails, through the middle of the night, and into the arms of destiny, fear will leave you alone.
The Hardy, Rewarding Way of Life
Adventure calls to everyone-- even the most frightened and inexperienced among us. It may be a long time before the majority of people move out of the house of fear and open the door to the world of adventure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start on this journey right now.
You can choose to see negative emotions as a sign that you need to start acting and seeing the world differently. You can follow inspiration to wherever it calls you. When adventure takes your arm, you can go with her.
While simple, this is not easy. Worthwhile adventures require massive amounts of momentum to even be attempted reasonably, and to maintain this momentum you will have to say no to many of the things you once regarded as normal and took for granted.
You may be unique and alone in this pursuit but you will have the power of a life fully lived at your back, and not even the most intense bouts of mass hysteria can compare to such power. When you commit to a life led by love you will find few things which can stop you. When you are firm in self-assurance you will be surprised at the support you find in life itself.
Even the people who live in fear may pleasantly surprise you. Many, of course, will think you are manic and even dangerous. But some, though they see you as nuts, will be moved by your apparent audacity, willpower, and courage: and you will smile, because you have hardly thought of such things. When you are content with your commitment discipline and fear-defiance will come naturally to you: they are a part of you now.
You will have to face many fears to reach this state of being, and this does not mean that you will be unable to experience fear and doubt in the future. But if you see the commitment through to its end, you will likely, forever from this point on, find it difficult to return to everyday fear-based living for long. Even if your adventure is brief (e.g. your ultramarathon is a month and half from now) you will want that to be part of a larger journey—not just one isolated experience amidst an otherwise pitiful life.
You have seen the other side and this is just not good enough for you anymore. Even if you start trying to silence your heart again the error of your ways will become quickly apparent to you, and you soon will make your way to the realm of adventure once again.
The place of boundless possibility is your home now: you can accept no other. Leave if you wish, but your heart will only scream for you to go back.
So what are you waiting for? Listen to your heart and start living in a way that makes sense to you—on the path of adventure. There is no good reason to ignore her calls, no matter how wild they may seem to your past perspectives.
I'm on this journey too. I don't plan on returning to school this Fall: I feel there are better things I can do with my life, both for my own interests as well as the collective interest. I know I only need 3 more semesters to get a Bachelor's degree, but so what? Those 3 semesters are my time, and there is no amount of time I am guaranteed on this planet. I feel I must go now.
In addition, based on the meaning I've established for my life that degree would probably not help me much. I don't believe that being an employee is the best way I can express myself and contribute to this world. This is not purely an act of blindly passionate selfishness: as far as I'm concerned, this is right for everyone.
I know this won't be all cake and fluffiness. I could very well go broke or hurt myself somehow, and I'll probably be met with oodles of embarrassment. It might turn out that I didn't actually want this as much as I thought I did, or I might just completely wrong about the nobility of my quest. But so what? At least I'll have had the courage to try. When I die I can look back knowing I lived bravely, even if out of alignment with truth.
Besides-- as far as I know, buildings do not stand up on their feet and walk away. If I decide that I'm wrong and I really want to go back to school some day, I'm sure it'll be there. So will all the entry-level jobs. I'll be fine.
Life is probably about to throw a lot of crazy things my way, like Polyphasic Sleep. But damn, am I ready for those things. I'm ready to do whatever it takes to live meaningfully.
Your journey may not be the same as mine, but you're not going to leave me alone in the realm of adventure-- are you?
If you want to fall in love with destiny- if you feel you must do so- then do so indeed. No matter what happens, when you look back at the end of all of this you will only be able to smile.
Shut up and go. :)