“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” – Paulo Coelho

And so it is that I have discovered something new about myself – yet again. I’ve grown accustomed to living based on a sense of shortage, so much so that I have manufactured conditions to keep myself trapped within those limitations. I give myself deadlines that are incredibly unrealistic and stress inducing. I use automatic savings as a way to hide money from myself because I spend less when I feel broke. I am in constant pursuit of minimalism, so that I can target spending to ethical vendors (fair trade ain’t cheap) and I can stop accumulating things that clutter my limited space. In and of themselves, these are wonderful practices in restraint. But, I have never truly learned to be disciplined. Instead, I tame my environment, so that I don’t have to be.

Let me give some examples of how I have this all wrong. I am afraid that if I have $20 in cash, that money will burn a hole in my pocket and I’ll use it to buy something dumb. When I have lots of time to complete a paper, I will procrastinate until the last minute and then “bang it out.” This all has worked well in the past, but today it’s no longer serving me.


Photo: me.me

I think I’ve pinpointed where this limiting impulse comes from. This is going to sound weird, but I have always felt that I would die young. (I don’t know why and don’t try to make this into a “thing” – it’s not.) This feeling has been with me forever and it has always driven me to accomplish everything I want at the earliest possible opportunity. There’s been no waiting for later, no pause button, and certainly no ease in my sense of urgency. It makes sense that if you think you’ll die at 25, you’d ensure that every hour of every day is packed to the brim with experiences and accomplishments. Ok, so, the thing is that I’m in my thirties and life is a marathon, not a sprint. Going at breakneck speed for so long has got me winded.

The scarcity model has stopped working for me principally because my environment keeps changing.  There’s no use in trying to use my Washington, DC cash-free logic in southern Africa where the internet is shaky (you never really know if the ATM or credit card reader is going to work). I have to learn to keep cash on hand and use it wisely.  Similarly, I have to do better with managing my time – my planner does not have to be completely booked for me to feel productive. When I had a car, that felt like the right approach, but now that I’m taking Lyft to appointments, I realize the cost of being overbooked.


Photo: Mashable

One benefit of moving is that I get to explore new places. But, one thing it has brought me is self-exploration. I don’t get to justify my actions on being coerced by daily circumstances. Eventually, those circumstances will change and I’m left with those same unsustainable bad habits, but no good excuse. In this case, I have to learn to function with discipline in times of abundance, rather than manufacturing opportunities to cry wolf on scarcity.  It’s just not sustainable.

This year, I am intent to break the habit of telling myself that I don’t have enough – time, energy, love, money, knowledge – and I must overcompensate for the deficit. I want to be disciplined enough to build in time to be thoughtful about my actions and decisions and to celebrate the process along the way.

Sure, I could write a paper in one night, but WHY?! It’s just a bad idea. It’s always been a bad idea and an even worse experience. I have time to do it well, to not torture myself in the process, and to be proud of what I produced when its ready, rather than bullying myself with falsified pressure to do it the least enjoyable way in the shortest possible time period.



When I have $20 I have to think about how awesome it feels to have cash, to be able to buy something if I wanted. Better yet, I can be disciplined enough to see beyond the immediate consumerism conundrum and appreciate that I can use that money to buy something if I truly needed it and, thankfully, that’s a priceless privilege that comes with abundance.

Paulo Coelho’s quote reminds me that looking at this from the opposite lens can produce the same results. If I reframe my thoughts, I think I can control my approach rather than continuing to control the environment in which I operate.

Discipline is a craft I’m cultivating in a whole new way.



If yesterday were tomorrow what would you do today?

I’ve been traveling throughout India recently, and more so than any physical journey I’ve been on – I can say that the last few weeks were a mental hike over an emotional roller coaster. In my quest to read 100 books by the end of the year (a decision I only made in August, by the way), a theme has emerged lately. Isolating and enjoying the present, my friend, is what my last two books have in common. And let me tell you, reading over and over again ‘stay in the present moment’ has the exact opposite effect.

And what does now look like for me, you might ask? A list of to-dos – about as long as my middle finger – lay on the right side of me. My computer in my lap, while I sit up in bed – back against the head-board, legs under the down comforter. The dog is on the floor, somewhere, so quiet that if it weren’t for the fact that my door is closed I’d assume he was shitting on my carpet at this very moment. My Blackberry’s red light is blinking and I really wish it’d stop. I have two guests visiting, knocked out in the guest room. There’s tulsi tea on my bedside table. My Skype is on. And I really want to finish reading ‘Cry, the Beloved Country,’ which patiently awaits the completion of this post – but I guess that would be a matter for the future. Eckhart Tolle would say that my now has no complaint worthy characteristics. So, if content is what I intend to become, then it is insane to consider anything other than the present.

But, it’s only human nature to ask what has the journey to now been worth? (Eckhart Tolle would completely disagree with the positing of this question, but Paulo Coelho would humor me – so I’ve switched sides.) It’s no secret that when I left the U.S., I was running away. And while the plan was hatched before it’s necessity was imminent, it’s also no secret that I thought that India had something in store for me – something so compelling and so necessary that it was worth fighting for. Even if it meant that l’d return defeated, earlier than anticipated, chewed up and spat out – I had made a commitment that I would fulfill. (I, for one, think that Paulo Coelho a la ‘Alchemist’ would actually have endorsed my die-hard commitment.) I can say now that maybe it was both curiosity and pride that led me here, but it has been purpose that’s made me stay. It’s not in spite of everything and everyone I left behind deliberately that I have stayed on in this country so long. Perhaps, it’s because I have always known every time I chose to run away in the past that my gut was trading up – good for better.

Maybe it’s self-preservation that puts us on the move forward. Maybe, even a pre-historic nomadic understanding that the food here will deplete if we stay too long, the bears and hyenas will eat our children in the night if we set up camp and become too trusting. Or maybe it’s just that I’m impatient, bore easily, have trust issues, like trying new foods, enjoy new places, appreciate working, and am used to being by myself that I can’t think of any other way to live. But, there always is that temptation to think about the next step. What happens after this?

Both my two most recent reads would halt me there and ask me why I need to know that. What is so lacking at this very moment that I need to fill my present with an imaginary friend named ‘The Future,’ and what is so lacking in my person that I need to fill up my identity with nightmares from the devil on my shoulder nicknamed ‘The Past’? What is lacking at this very moment, if my basic needs are being met, if I have a roof, if I’ve eaten today, if I have all my teeth and my limbs, if there’s toilet tissue in my bathroom, if there are no mosquitos buzzing in my ears, if there isn’t a war going outside my window that no man is safe from? Better yet – what exactly, in this exercise of fishing from the past and the future, fixes whatever might ail my present? If I’m sick, the future doesn’t cure me. If I’m hungry, the past won’t feed me. In both cases, I would have to change my now.

I can’t argue with the argument, but how is it that Tolle & Coelho can be so right and make me feel so wrong? I’m not sure how exactly to enjoy the present without some hippie dippie commitment to tantric divination yoga ayurvedic astrological meditation. Now do you better understand the mental and emotional broo ha ha brewing in me lately? Reading these psychedelic texts has me asking myself questions that don’t have answers yet and plotting ways to enjoy the present more – which, in a half ass backwards kinda way, actually sounds quite a lot like thinking about the future.

So, if anybody finds a way to be fully in the present (and also not seem like an aloof and emotionally irresponsible monk conflating peace with self-imposed isolation), please be sure to share your wisdom with me – no matter how new agey it might seem. It is always possible that this is what I came here for, what I came to learn from this land. Or maybe, I’ve grown as a person here so much so that I can now ask a question whose possible answers once scared me. Shit, does that count as thinking about the past? 

Sigh…I’m off to read my book, because Alan Paton has me pondering the state of the world. And that seems an awful lot easier to understand right now than the best method to ‘stay in the present.’