one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams
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Wrapping up a Year of Living for Our Dreams

Amelie on the Beach in Virgin Gorda, BVI

It’s been a year since we set out to live for our dreams. Our project has been to dare each other to do all those things we’ve always wanted to do but somehow couldn’t find the courage, the money, the time for. We gave each other and ourselves a year with the idea that we could probably do just about anything we set our minds to for a limited duration.

We started by plotting out a series of adventures, and pushed each other out the door to experience them. Wendy went to India. I started flying lessons. We made friends and made music. We clutterbusted, loved, meditated, traveled, played, and then the most amazing thing of all began to happen. We opened ourselves to new possibilities.

We found that by giving each other license to live more fully, starting in specific, well-defined ways, we set ourselves free in spirit as well as in body, opening ourselves to opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined in advance. No longer confined by our perceived limitations, we we began to feel a strong sense of abundance in our lives that wasn’t related to the size of our bank account. We began to live each day with a renewed sense of adventure, and increasingly to let go of plans to allow the unexpected to happen.

Our last great adventure of the year was to travel to the Caribbean as a family. We enjoyed bright sunshine and warm water for a December week completely disconnected from the Internet, with our computers left at home and our iPhones locked away. Without the distractions of work, school, household chores, and electronic media, we had the time and the space to reconnect with each other in beautiful surroundings, with lasting results. We’ll be back next year.

We’ll return to other adventures we began in 2011 as well. I’ll take another retreat, though likely not to meditate this time; next time I put my life on pause I want to finish a novel. Wendy will return to Asia, but this time I’ll come along. We’ll hit Singapore first, and then probably Bali. We’ll keep paring down the clutter in our lives, leaving only what’s important, which continues to be each other, our dreams, and the things that bring us and those around us joy. The space in our lives is there, and the opportunity, to live adventurously for the rest of our lives, thanks to our year of living for our dreams.

What will you do in 2012? Where will you go?

Sparking the Creative Fire


Fireworks in Woodstock. Yes, they do them in August here, just to be different.

When I was a kid, I frequently had the urge to “make something cool.” But my model airplanes and ships never came out right. The glue smeared, the paint showed finger prints, the masts and propellers tilted at crazy angles.

There was a kid at my school who made his own tusken raider costume, inspired by the just-released first Star Wars movie. The mask was a rendition of the buck-toothed beast done in papier mache, complete with red light-up eyes. It was beautiful, flawless, untouchable.

I wasn’t a maker, I realized. People who were seemed like magicians to me. Still do, and that’s why I’ve made a career of writing about them.

But what to do with that urge to create? As a boy I read constantly, while walking to and from school, in bed at night, every chance I got. Novels, comic books, nonfiction books, it was all cool. Entire worlds held together with stables and glue between colorful covers. I wanted to make my own worlds, and to my great satisfaction, I found that I could. I taught myself to touch type on an old manual typewriter when I was eight. One of my first stories was a humorous alien invasion tale called “The Coming of the Goozer.”

Now, as an adult, even though I’ve made writing my living, there lingers still that urge to make something cool. I love writing about other people’s cool projects. But I still want to make one of my own.

This month, Wendy and I are focusing on creativity as part of our live-for-our-dreams project. I’ve picked up the threads of a kid’s science fiction series I started years ago and haven’t found the time to finish in the midst of big people’s deadlines. Yesterday, while immersed in my story of time-traveling trains, I had a breakthrough when starship appeared on the outer fringes of the solar system and homed in on our rocky little planet. It all makes sense now, who built the time traveling trains, and why. Wendy’s been working on the poetry that she loves and that has similarly been pushed aside over the years.

I believe we all need our own cool projects to work on. Something to lose ourselves in, something no one else need even know about. Maybe its a garden. Perhaps some metal and wood contraption in the basement. Or a knitted sweater or just a perfectly executed vacation. Don’t call it a hobby; that’s an ugly, demeaning word. Instead call it soul work, as opposed to money work. The creative spark resides within all of us. The only question is, what to do about it.

What’s your cool project? If you don’t have one going, what would you like to start, and what excites you about it? Post a comment to share.

Vipassana Meditation: The Art of Living

May was my month for exploring matters of the spirit. For my focus I chose meditation. Specifically Vipassana meditation, a 2,500-year-old practice taught by Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha. I was first drawn to this practice years ago when a good friend of mine came back from a 10-day meditation course a changed man. Calmer. More poised. Less reactive. I’ve been thinking about that transformation ever since, but never quite got up the nerve to try it myself. Until now.

Vipassana meditation is not religious, but it has a strong spiritual component, which makes it a good choice for me as a spiritual practice. I grew up without a religion, but I guess I’ve always had a seeking nature. This year, the year I turned 42, the answer to life, the universe, and everything, as defined by Douglas Adams, seems an auspicious year to find what I seek.

Vipassana means “insight.” Vipassana mediation is a technique for recognizing and turning away from lifelong habits, called sankharas, that result in unhappiness. Buddha is said to have achieved a complete understanding of not just himself, but of the true nature of the entire universe. I guess you could say that he saw God. That’s the goal of Vipassana meditation, the end of the path. I don’t have such lofty aspirations, but even in ten days, the benefits are extraordinary.

I gained a greater sense of calm and equanimity than ever before; a deeper mind/body connection that leads to a sense of well-being and happiness; a perspective on my life that helps me stop sweating the small stuff (i.e., just about everything); a greater sense of compassion for my fellow humans and other beings; a daily practice that helps me realize these benefits every day; and techniques for gliding through life’s inevitable rough spots in the moment, as they happen.

For ten days I and my fellow students arose at 4:00 each morning, sat down to meditate at 4:30, eventually racking up a total of 10 hours of meditation each day. We maintained Noble Silence at all times, not speaking or communicating with each other in any way. The lodgings at the Center were very comfortable, and the food was excellent, though we went to bed without supper each night to keep our minds sharp.

At one point I experienced a gentle cascade of vibrations over my entire body, as though I was immersed in a carbonated beverage. “What is the significance of the vibrations?” I asked the assistant teacher (who we were allowed to talk to). I expected him to answer something along the lines of, if not actual contact with God, at least a peek into His domain. “Nothing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s just a sensation. You are to observe all sensations without reacting to them.” Okay, so I was a little disappointed, but also relieved. Contact with God would be a serious challenge to my calm.

The course I attended was at the Vipassana Meditation Center, Dhamma Dhara, in Shelburne, MA. No payment or even donations are accepted from new students; everything—lodging, food, instruction—is free without strings attached.

Here are a few simple techniques that I learned during my ten days as a monk to help you stay calm, focused, and happier in your life:

-Periodically, throughout the day, make an effort to be aware of physical sensations you are experiencing. For instance, as you walk, try to become aware of your clothing rubbing against your body. Also do this for five minutes immediately on awakening in the morning, and before you drift off to sleep in the evening.

-Observe your breathing without deliberately changing it, particularly during moments of heightened emotion. Pay attention to how it changes as the emotion peaks and then subsides.

-Forgive everyone who has ever done something that you don’t like, whether deliberate or not.

-Relax your grip on the material things in your life and observe, without acting on it, your craving for new things.

-Recognize the impermanence and constantly changing nature of all things, including you, your loved ones, every object and life form around you, and all of your emotions and those of the people around you. Repeat to yourself, through good times and bad: anicca; “this will change.”

Creating a Spiritual Journey

In less than three weeks I will hit the pause button on my life as a mother in Woodstock, New York, and I will press “play” on the soundtrack of my spiritual journey to faraway India.

I like to think of this as a spiritual odyssey, filled with yoga and temples and meditation and the names of the sacred. But really, I have no idea what this journey will turn out to be. A fellow yogi told me, “Whatever you expect of India, it will be something else entirely.” So I will go with openness and no expectations. India has its own plans for me.

I have just a few hopes and prayers for how things will turn out. My initial fervent wish is that I will survive my first day of travel, which will be a doozy. Four flights (yes, four), starting with a red-eye from JFK to Cochin by way of Dubai. Then two one-hour plane hops to Mysore by way of Bangalore. I will arrive at my destination two days later in god knows what state (sleepless, no doubt, but mercifully pumped up on adrenaline and novelty).

In Mysore I plan to seek out an octogenarian Ashtanga yoga master named BNS Iyengar (not to be confused with BKS of the eponymous Iyengar school). Like his more widely known namesake, Mr. BNS was once a student of Krishnamacharya, who is considered the grandfather of modern yoga. Not a bad pedigree. I also like the idea of studying with someone in his 80s who has a lifetime of intensely dedicated yoga under his belt. But Mr. BNS, and India, might have other ideas for me. Another teacher might step forward. Anything can happen.

In the evenings I hope to study philosophy and chanting with a Sanskrit scholar of renown in Mysore and abroad. I have her name and address, and I’m told that this woman of vast knowledge holds classes in her home after dinnertime daily. I will show up and hope for the best.

On the weekend I plan to visit Sera Mey Monastery in Byllakupe, a Tibetan Buddhist outpost. A friend is lovingly arranging for a monk to meet me for a grand tour of the temples. I hear that the sound of monks chanting wakes you at dawn. Here’s hoping that I don’t sleep through it.

Really, it’s a Whitman’s sampler of a yoga holiday in Mysore. I will be there only a week – just enough time to peek behind the curtain of a world of mythic importance in yoga circles. The next week, it’s off to Kerala for a friend’s weeklong 40th birthday celebration. If you have to turn 40, this is definitely the way to do it. About a dozen of us will sleep in a 300-year-old heritage hotel in Fort Cochin, take a cruise of the languid Kerala backwaters, and explore tea and cardamom plantations at the Munnar hill station. I might just have to put a strike-through in “spiritual” for this part of the journey so I can work in a few really great shopping sprees and Ayurvedic massages.

But we’ll see what India has in store for me.

Mapping Out a Year of Adventure

Planning our 2011 dream project has become an obsession of mine. I’m spending way too much time poking around on the Internet, plotting possible itineraries for my spiritual journey to India, which will take place in early spring.

Should I go to Rishikesh, the Himalayan pilgrimage hub and so-called world capital of yoga? I might also be able to swing a visit to Dharamsala, adopted home of the Dalai Lama. To complicate matters further, a friend told me about a wonderful experience she had at a Tibetan monastery near Mysore, home of Ashtanga yoga. And then there is Auroville, the intentional community at India’s southern tip. Somehow, all roads must lead ultimately to Calcutta, where I plan to be present for a friend’s 40th birthday in April. (India travel advice, if you have any, would be gratefully received!)

Meanwhile, Michael and I are working out the details for the rest of our year. More about that in a future post. For now, I will just say that we have hit on an interesting way to structure our project. And I hope it will be inspiring to you too, reader. We have decided to choose a word or two that will sum up our intentions for each month of the year. (Coincidentally, there’s a fabulous Internet movement happening right now that is doing something very similar. It’s called reverb10, and it’s about reflecting on 2010 and manifesting what’s next for you in 2011. The way it works is through one-word “prompts” that inspire self-reflection and a call to action. I signed up to participate, and I thoroughly recommend the experience.)

For December, or what is left of it, we are going with the theme of “Letting Go.” This is a month dedicated to paring down, as we prepare to put some of our resources into our project (e.g., airfare to India). We will be looking at ways to reduce our monthly expenses, as well as at ways to chop through our clutter and become better organized. And we will need to be organized in order to pull off this grand-scale dare-to-live-your-dreams project. (Note to self: Find passport!) So if you’re in need of letting-go tips, you can look forward to getting some right here on this blog as we discover what works – and what doesn’t – on the road toward simplicity.

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