*Photo taken from Summit of Mt. Herman, overlooking Olean, NY.
Last week I woke to the news that Anthony Bourdain was found dead from an “apparent suicide.” What?! After years of success traveling the planet, bringing the world’s cultures into the homes of those who watched his shows, giving us all a reality check for what it’s like to live in the social structures and microcosms of every conceivable country, after overcoming his own demons of addiction to heroine, and finally becoming a father in his 50s, how is it possible that now the world must live without the snarky-voiced narratives of Anthony Bourdain? The world cruelly rips open the bellies of any and all who dare to live well, you might think. Though I feel despair for Anthony’s choice to die rather than face whatever troubles provoked his decision, I believe there is always a reason to find a way to live. Every life is made for greatness, even those busboys Anthony liked to joke about in his writing, the poor unfortunates who lived on the skids in cities, broke and barely getting by on the meager tips scraped from the bottom of the barrel. Even the homeless, the destitute, the indebted, the migrants, the beaten, the tortured, the addicted, every single person suffering in the world right now deserves to know that even when life is at its most miserable, your life is meant for greatness if you can find the formula for what you are meant to share with the world. This alone will not save you, though. Tony found his greatness, but he didn’t believe it. He didn’t see it for what it is, or he would still be alive.
Last week I failed to climb a mountain I thought should have been a sure thing, an easy achievement to get back into shape for summer backpacking. To say the least, I was surprised and dismayed that the mountain conquered me. I got to the tree line and had to retreat. This surprise could have turned me toward a path in which I started telling myself the story that because I am nearing 50, because I felt so exhausted from a climb without weight on my back, because I am in better shape than ever and I still couldn’t climb, for all these reasons I am doomed if I go backpacking again. I could tell myself the story that backpacking is no longer possible for me, but that would be shortchanging my ability to rally and overcome obstacles. My past is littered with failures, all of which I have overcome, and by overcome I mean that I am still alive and have continued to improve on my own inner workings. Even though life can be a grind, I kept gritting my teeth and moving forward. Believe me, I have had many moments when I wanted to give up, to run away (and I did run away from a lot of things), to escape. What I learned is that no matter how often you run or hide, the same problems will keep coming back to the kitchen door, rapping at the window in the middle of the night, and whispering the worst of your fears through the cracks in the sash. You can rob the world of your life in those moments, or you can decide to find a reason to live.
Lately the world seems like an apocalyptic novel. Every world culture hinges to the others, social media has bonded us all together in a strange and sometimes upsetting web of real-time updates to the especially tragic horrors we visit upon every kind of life, whether human, animal, vegetable, or mineral. We can view humans as a cancer or a magnificent wonder of ingenuity, and both are true, depending on who you are and what you experience. While one person celebrates victories, another wallows in losses so excoriating just breathing can seem impossible. Why is it that some people who have lived through the worst humanity has to offer can overcome those nightmarish experiences and grow into happy, well-adjusted people who genuinely cherish life? Why do some people who appear to have it all figured out and live a life of fame and fortune suddenly decide to check out in a mysterious suicide in a random hotel room on the other side of the globe? It boils down to belief. Not belief in God, not belief in humanity, not belief in being positive. None of those things will bring you comfort, not really. Plenty of people who take their own lives or falter through life on the edge of wanting to die believe deeply in God or their religion. Just saying positive mantras all day will not bring you to believe in them. The kind of belief that will change your life lies only in what you choose to see in the world, and whether or not you believe you can be, do, or have anything you want of it if you are willing to make the time for yourself.
After my failure to climb Mount Monadnock, only three days later I dragged myself up the steep slopes of another mountain. Granted, this other mountain gave me less than half the elevation gain of the hike up Monadnock, but it was still a challenge to climb. As I said in my last post, East Coast hiking tends to be harder in terms of the steep grades. The slopes are far steeper than most out West. No matter how little nor how much it required of me, I made myself go so I would get two things: 1) I gained the success of a climb, and 2) I get myself in better shape so I have more assurance of future success. We have the option of giving up when we peer into the periscope and discover danger ahead, or we can train ourselves for battle so we have the chance to win. If you look at the failure as a chance to grow and improve on yourself instead of an insurmountable obstacle, then failure becomes a friend, a teacher, an opportunity. It’s easy to look at the world through the lens of horror, hate, and division, but why? Because it’s what we are trained to see. The world also happens to be full of loving, thoughtful, generous people who are doing inventive, creative, astonishing feats of human ingenuity. We hear often that lessons must be learned “the hard way.” Who says? Lots of people. Does that make it true? For them, yes, and for anyone else willing to believe it. Belief, as I said, is the key.
If you believe the world is flat, you will find proof because your brain is trained to find the proof of any beliefs you consistently tell yourself. Whatever you heard or saw in your lifetime, if you internalize those experiences into your belief system, your brain spends its day looking for signs of proof. Two people with completely opposing beliefs will see proof of their beliefs in the world around them, and they will both believe their experiences tell them they are right. This is why we have so many people fighting about fake news or the nuances of why New York pizza is better than Chicago’s. Just because you have a belief system which allows you to see what you want to see in the world does not mean you’re necessarily right—it just means your mind finds proof for your beliefs to seem real to you. Truth is still truth, even if you deny it. I mean, no matter how much you want to believe the world is flat, it’s not going to shape itself into a pancake just for you. The only reason you can believe the world is flat is because you’ve never traveled to space to see that it’s actually round. Until then, you can tell yourself all day and all night that the pictures of earth from space are all just a hoax. Like I said, belief systems are built on proof. Plenty of people believe the world is flat. Lack of experience will shape a mind to believe a lot of things that aren’t true. This is also what happens when people don’t believe in themselves.
Obviously, the world is full of a lot of scary people doing a lot of bad things. But how many times in your day do you experience those things? Compare that to how often you encounter people who are kind, thoughtful, polite, or just nice to you. I have a feeling the latter is more correct, though it’s possible you live in a very scary, unhealthy place where you have to fear for your life every day. Those places exist, and I do not doubt their power to keep a person trapped in fear and despair. And yet, I was homeless once. I struggled through vast amounts of trauma over the first 25 years of my life. Most of my life I lived on the edge of poverty and in relationships rife with chaos. Did those experiences make me miserable? Sure, but somewhere inside me I knew there was a better life to be lived, and I searched for it until I learned how to create it for myself. Even though I had no idea how I would find a way to make my life any better, because I saw people living happy, fulfilled lives I knew it was possible. And it is possible. For anyone. For you. Belief is the key.
When you want to learn how to climb a mountain, you go find a mountaineer, not a person who’s terrified of heights. Because I was so terrified of heights and wanted to overcome that fear, I hiked with my husband, who has no fear of heights and loves to conquer mountains. He taught me with patience how to overcome my fear, and now I climb mountains all by myself with no hint of fear. Did I have reasons for my fear? Sure. After being dangled over a 450-foot canyon by my arm, and being told I would be dropped (at a young age)…that certainly filled me with serious phobia. I still have trouble with ladders. But phobias can be unlearned, and so can beliefs. If your belief system falsely accuses you of being an imposter, that you’re not good enough, or you deserve to live in misery, then that is exactly what you will see and experience. People who have achieved fame or fortune aren’t just lucky; they usually follow a path which takes them to that success, and it has to do with belief. Those who do achieve success by accident may not believe they deserve it, and then they live with guilt, shame, a life out of balance. None of us needs to live that way. All of us deserve to be happy, healthy, and safe, and I believe the world has plenty of resources for all of us.
If you have been struggling, please, take the time to center yourself, discover your greatness, believe you deserve to be happy, and discover what you are meant to do in the world. The world needs you. Find the voice of someone inspiring to uplift you, give yourself the gift of a retreat to a place that offers you relief from the troubles of the world, treat yourself to a good meal which will nourish your tired body, go outside when the sun shines and soak it up for an afternoon, head to a bookstore or a library and get a book that can teach you how to change what’s missing in your life. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. A Lakota hoop dancer named Kevin Locke once said, “Every child will unlock a secret.” I believe that’s true. Every individual in this world will experience their own unique way of expressing their knowledge, and when we realize how important we all are to the health of our planet, we all win. I wish Anthony Bourdain had found peace with his journey while he was alive. His death has broken a lot of hearts in the world because he deeply touched so many of us, even without ever meeting him in person. His greatness was obvious to all those who learned from his commentary on world culture and the importance of humility. May we all learn the lesson of how important it is to attend to our inner selves, rather than rob the world of our fortunes.
For those who may be interested in delving deeper into creating a life forged around passion rather than being a slave to despair, I have created a seven-day course I am going to offer for free for the rest of the month. I originally planned to put it up on my website as a paid course, but the loss of Anthony Bourdain has urged me to give it to anyone who might need it right now. It’s more important to me that people get help they need. For the rest of the month of June, the course will be available below this post. Please share with anyone who may need it. We need to be good to each other, take care of each other, and not just offer random acts of kindness, but purposeful and meaningful acts of compassion. Love will be a lighthouse. Get out there and do beautiful things, and believe those beautiful acts will be a healing balm to both the giver and the receiver. Be a lighthouse. Open the kitchen door wide. The world will be what we make of it right now.
Click the link below to sign up for the course: